Beijing, An Ancient City Full of Modern Wonders

China is the largest country in the world, and has experienced unprecedented economic and social growth in the last thirty years.

In 2008, the country hosted the Summer Olympic Games in the capital Beijing, putting the city in the global spotlight and showing the world what an incredible place it is to visit.

Forbidden City

One of the most iconic locations in China, the Forbidden City is a palace complex that was used by emperors for almost 500 years, until 1912.

It has nearly 1,000 buildings on 180 acres, and took over one million laborers 14 years to build.

Now part of the Palace Museum, it provides a rich display of the history of the Ming and Qing dynasties, as well as the Chinese people and their lives.

It is at the top of every tourist list because of its amazing gates, turrets and imperial gardens.

Forbidden City (Google Maps)
Forbidden City

Temple of Heaven

China has a long history of Taoist religious devotion, going back at least 2,500 years. The Temple of Heaven is a large complex of temples dedicated to the worship of the sun, moon and earth.

It was started in 1400, but never entirely completed. It is now open to visitors, who can take in the beauty of the green spaces and parks, as well as the intricate details of the many temples and buildings at the site.

Temple of Heaven (Google Maps)
Temple of Heaven

Tiananmen Square

 Tiananmen Square was originally a gate off the Forbidden City, and turned into a small square in the 1600s. It was enlarged under Mao Zedong in the 1950s and is now one of the largest squares in the world.

It is often used for military parades and shows of force. It was famously the site of student-led protests for democracy, freedom of speech and other issues in 1989.

A picture of a lone student standing in front of rows of tanks has become an iconic image of the event, highlighting the mostly peaceful protest and overbearing military response.

Today, visitors can walk around the large plaza and enjoy the views while learning about the many important historical events that have taken place in this square.

Tiananmen Square (Google Maps)
Tiananmen Square

Mausoleum of Mao Zedong

Mao Zedong was a communist revolutionary and the founder of the current government, the People’s Republic of China.

When he died on September 9, 1976, the entire country mourned his death. His body was laid in state for a week to allow for over one million Chinese to pay their last respects, before he was interred in the mausoleum near the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square.

His body was embalmed and placed in a clear, crystal coffin so that visitors would always be able to see and pay respects to their leader.

Mausoleum of Mao Zedong (Google Maps)
Mausoleum of Mao Zedong

Old Summer Palace

While the Forbidden City provided an official home for the emperor and his government, the Old Summer Palace about five miles away was the primary residence of the leader and his family. It was built in the 1700s and was renowned for its beautiful architecture and designed gardens. It was looted and severely damaged in the 1860s during an international conflict and never fully restored.

After years of neglect and even use as farmland, it was turned into a national historical site, a beautiful respite in the center of one of the busiest cites in the world.

Old Summer Palace (Google Maps)
Old Summer Palace

Palace of Peace and Harmony Lama Temple

The Lama Temple is a classic Buddhist temple and monastery in Beijing that was built in the 1700s, and boasts beautiful architecture and symbolism of peace and harmony throughout the structures.

It was closed during Mao’s reign, but was spared destruction due to high-level intervention. It was reopened in 1981, to both religious use and public visits. Among the most popular destinations within the temple is the 85 foot Buddha carved from a single piece of sandalwood, which was actually included in a Guinness Book of World Records.

Palace of Peace and Harmony Lama Temple (Google Maps)
Palace of Peace and Harmony Lama Temple

Olympic Park

In 2008, Beijing hosted the Summer Olympics, the first ever in the country. The government worked to give the world a great first impression, and constructed several structures for the Olympics to ensure that was the case.

Part of the construction included the Olympic Park stadium, nicknamed the Bird’s Nest. It was famous for the artistic design and large crowd capacity. It will again be used in 2022, when China hosts the Winter Olympics.

2008 Olympics - National Stadium (Google Maps)
2008 Olympics - National Stadium

Beijing is an ancient city, but many people are just learning about the many wonders it has to offer, both old and new. If you have the opportunity, you should certainly take a chance and visit one of the biggest, most dynamic and intriguing cities in the world.

San Francisco

San Francisco is a great American city, with unique history, architecture and culture, from the Golden Gate Bridge to Chinatown, from the Fisherman’s Wharf to the great redwood trees.

Here are just a few of the sites everyone needs to see.

Downtown San Francisco viewed from Twin Peaks (StreetView)
Downtown San Francisco viewed from Twin Peaks


One of the most famous landmarks in the city, Alcatraz Island has a history that goes back long before the city was founded. The island has a long history with the native people who lived around the Bay area.

Alcatraz (Birds Eye)

A little more than a mile offshore, the island was once used as a military prison but is most famous for being the federal prison that handled the worst of the worst criminals, including Al Capone, George “Machine Gun” Kelly and other gangsters, before it was shut down in 1963. Tourists can visit the National Park and learn about the history, even beyond the stories of prison fights, attempted escapes and the like.

Prison cells in Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary (StreetView)
Prison cells in Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary

Golden Gate Park

The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most iconic bridges in the world, and probably the most famous site in San Francisco. The one mile suspension bridge connects the city with Marin County, and has both pedestrian and vehicle access.

Golden Gate Bridge (Birds Eye)
Golden Gate Bridge

When construction of the bridge began, the city set aside 1,000 acres for a public space for the fast-growing community, and named it Golden Gate Park, even though the bridge is not visible from the park. Visitors can spend a peaceful afternoon in the park, enjoying lakes, botanical gardens, a conservatory of flowers, exhibits and museums, all in the midst of a great urban center.

Golden Gate Park (Google Maps)
Golden Gate Park

One of the most unique aspects of the park is the bison paddock, which has been a part of the park since the 1890s. It is currently home to about a dozen bison, or buffalo, and the public are able to view the animals.

Herd of Bison in Golden Gate Park (Birds Eye)
Herd of Bison in Golden Gate Park

Fisherman’s Wharf

Fisherman’s Wharf is a neighborhood on the north end of San Francisco that is a popular tourist destination, with Ghiradelli Square, Ripley’s Believe it or Not, the Wax Museum, and plenty of seafood restaurants. It was established by Italian immigrants after the gold rush, some of whom became fish mongers and restaurant owners.

Fisherman's Wharf Sign (StreetView)
Fisherman's Wharf Sign


The Exploratorium is an educational museum that focuses on human behavior, physics and science, living systems and focuses on weather, environment and landscape.

Exploratorium (StreetView)

It is incredibly hands-on and dynamic, providing new and interactive exhibits and activities all the time.

Exploratorium (StreetView)

Wave Organ

Exhibits from the Exploratorium are spread throughout the city, including the Wage Organ. The Wage Organ is a permanent exhibit built on the bay made of granite and marble, PVC and concrete. The musical instrument is played by the water, as the tide comes in it “plays” the organ, pushing air through the pipes and making unique sounds for the audience.

Wave Organ (Birds Eye)
Wave Organ

Muir Woods

Muir Woods is a national monument, part of the National Park Service about ten miles north of the city. The park is full of old growth redwood trees, some of the oldest and largest living organisms on earth. The trees can be up to 1,800 years old, and grow to nearly 400 feet high. The area was set aside by President Theodore Roosevelt and named after John Muir, who helped to create the National Park system.

Muir Woods National Monument (StreetView)
Muir Woods National Monument

Ferry Building

For decades in the early years, the only way to reach the city was by ferry, so the Ferry Building became the main transportation point for nearly all those entering the city. After increased bridge traffic reduced the need for ferries, the building has been adapted to other uses, including a large and popular marketplace on the first floor. The marketplace has produce, bread and pastries, restaurants and coffee shops, as well as arts and crafts stores. It’s a wonderful place for locals and tourists to spend a Saturday morning.

San Francisco Ferry Building (Birds Eye)
San Francisco Ferry Building

Presidio Park

Presidio Park was originally a Spanish fort, and then Army base, until 1994, when it was turned into a National Park. It is a great natural space in the city, with dirt trails, wooded areas, educational centers and places for performing arts and historical preservation.

Presidio Park (Google Maps)
Presidio Park

Coit Tower

Lilian Hitchcock Coit was a benefactor of the city, donating a portion of her estate to beautify the city. Lilian Coit was a big personality in the early days of the city, including fighting fires before the city had a fire department, smoking cigars and wearing pants long before it was socially acceptable for women. The tower was constructed on the top of Telegraph Hill in Pioneer Park in her honor, in the Art Deco style, and includes a famous mural by the artist Diego Rivera. It has since become a local favorite landmark, providing a great view of Lombard Street, Nob Hill and other city sites.

Coit Tower (Birds Eye)
Coit Tower

Lombard Street

Lombard Street is famous for its eight hairpin turns within one extremely steep block. The entire city is built on hills, and this hill was too steep for vehicle traffic, so it was designed with switchbacks to make it easier to traverse. Tourists love to see the hill, and drive down the one way street at the recommended 5 miles per hour.

Lombard Street - crookedest street in the US (Google Maps)
Lombard Street - crookedest street in the US

These are just a few of the many fun, interesting and unique things to do and see in San Francisco. Anyone visiting the city won’t have time to see everything from Alcatraz to Ghiradelli Square, from Muir Woods to the Presidio, but that’s just an excuse to come back for a second visit, or a third…


Temples, Cathedrals and Mosques from History

Civilizations around the world have always sought out ways to respect and worship their god or gods, and one universal method has been to create grand cathedrals or monuments as gathering places for worship, tribute and homage to their deity.

For thousands of years, communities have constructed at great effort houses of worship.

Let’s look at some of the most amazing creations from around the world.

Notre-Dame de Paris

Notre-Dame de Paris is one of the most famous cathedrals in the world, and deserves all the recognition it gets for its detailed craftsmanship, architectural marvels and beautiful details.

It was started in 1163 and finished two hundred years later, a relatively fast construction for cathedrals at the time.

During the French Revolution, the cathedral was vandalized, dedicated to the cult of reason and eventually used as a warehouse for food before being rededicated as a Catholic cathedral.

It is now one of the top tourist destinations in Paris, and beloved for its stained glass, ornate craftsmanship and legendary history.

Notre Dame de Paris (Google Maps)
Notre Dame de Paris

Chichén Itzá

Chichén Itzá is a large archeological site of the ancient Mayan civilization, and includes several massive temples constructed for the worship of Mayan gods.

The Mayan culture thrived for several hundred years until they were wiped out by the Spaniards and the diseases that came with them in the early 1500s.

The Temple of Kukulkan, or El Castillo, is the most recognizable temple. With its 91 steps on each side, plus one more at the top to make 365, the Mayan understanding of astronomy and science is clear, and the temple played an important part of their worship as well as scientific study.

On the spring and fall equinox, the sun casts a shadow on the pyramid in the shape of a serpent.

Photo Credit:

Excavations and research are ongoing at the site, and visitors can tour the many temples and pyramids, as well as ball courts and other sites.

Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza (Google Maps)
Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat is a vast temple complex in Cambodia, originally dedicated as a temple to the Hindu god Vishnu before being transformed into a Buddhist temple.

Construction started in the 1100s, and it was modified for Buddhism around the 1300s. Though it fell into disrepair in the 1600s, it has been somewhat preserved, and is still frequented by Buddhist pilgrims.

The rectangular outer wall of the temple grounds stretches over half a mile by just under a half mile, giving it an enormous footprint. The interior temple is no less grand, with massive pillars, carvings and bas relief throughout the temple, both on the interior and exterior walls.

In the last 20 years, tourism has skyrocketed at the temple, and visitors from around the world flock to this marvel of dedicated craftsmanship and talent.

Angkor Wat (Google Maps)
Angkor Wat

Hagia Sophia

Originally constructed as one of the first Christian cathedrals, the Hagia Sophia was the jewel of the eastern Roman Empire’s capitol Byzantium.

When it was sacked by the Islamic Ottomans in 1453, it was turned into the city’s first mosque. The design was modified by adding minarets, a mihrab pointing towards Mecca, tombs for sultans as well as other ornate mosaics and artistic crafts common among Islamic and Ottoman structures.

The Hagia Sofia was turned into a museum by the first president of the Turkish Republic in 1935, and has been a renown museum since.

Hagia Sophia (Google Maps)
Hagia Sophia


The Horyu-Ji temple in central Japan is known as the oldest wooden structure in Japan and among the oldest wooden structures in the world. The temple pagoda was built around the 700s AD and many other structures on the site were built around the 800s AD.

While there have been restorations and repairs as needed, these beautiful and ornate structures are still comprised mostly of the original materials.

The pagoda stands over 120 feet high, and the base is buried in the ground for added structural security. One remarkable feature of the temple is that it has withstood over 40 significant earthquakes in its lifetime.

Horyuji (Horyu Temple) (Google Maps)
Horyuji (Horyu Temple)

Looking back over these impressive structures, the dedication and talent committed to the construction and maintenance of these holy sites is impressive and awe inspiring. The hands that built and maintained these temples will never be known, but they should be recognized for their talent and devotion.

Going Back to School with Harry Potter

Kids across the US and the world are going back to school, and on September 1, the kids in some of the most beloved books head back to school, too.

In J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, the wizard and witch students meet at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry for another adventurous year.

Let’s visit some of the places the magical children in the books visited as they prepared for a year at the most magnificent Hogwarts.

Platform 9 3/4, King’s Cross Station, London, UK

Every year on September 1, the wizarding students from across England and Scotland meet at Platform 9 3/4 in King’s Cross Station in downtown London to say farewell to their families and board the Hogwarts Express, bound for Hogwarts in the Scottish highlands.

In order to get to the magic platform, students were required to run at full speed with their belongings towards the wall between platforms, which would open up for the students to catch the special train.

In the real King’s Cross, fans of the story can see a cart “stuck” in the wall between platforms 9 and 10. It’s a fun tourist attraction for Potterheads visiting London.

Platform 9¾. King's Cross Station (Harry Potter) (StreetView)
Platform 9¾. King's Cross Station (Harry Potter)

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

Hogwarts was established more than a thousand years ago, as a school for magical children ages 11 to 17. When Harry Potter was old enough, he too received an invitation to attend school. In the books, it is the central location for most of the magic, mayhem, and mystery of the wizarding world.

For some of the movies, Alnwick Castle in Northumberland was the filming location for Hogwarts. The castle was built in the 1300s, and has been added onto over the centuries. It’s also been adapted in recent decades to work as a school and sometimes as a filming location. In addition to Harry Potter, Downton Abbey specials were filmed there, as well as Elizabeth and other films.

Alnwick Castle (Bing Maps)
Alnwick Castle

Interior of Hogwarts

The scenes inside Hogwarts are some of the most important, and magical, of all the movies. It’s fitting that the scenes were filmed in a school that has been in use nearly as long as the school in the film. Christ Church in Oxford was the site of much of the interior filming, and has been the location for filming other movies and shows as well. The halls are some of the most breathtaking places in the university, and familiar to anyone who has seen the Potter movies.

Christ Church is part of the University of Oxford education system. More British leaders have graduated from Christ Church than any other institution, and it’s associated with many other famous political, scientific, and literary leaders.

Christ Church Cathedral (Birds Eye)
Christ Church Cathedral

Harry Potter’s House

Poor Harry Potter was forced to live in a cupboard in his uncle’s house until he moved away to Hogwarts. The exterior of the home was a real British home, in Bracknell, UK. The city is one of the westernmost towns in the greater London area, and is a perfect location for filming the home of a traditional, average British family.

Filming was onsite for the first film, but after that, the logistics were complicated, and so a film set was created based on the exterior of the house. In 2016, the private residence was put on the market for more than $500,000. No doubt the fame of the house contributed to the high price!

Harry Potter's house (Google Maps)
Harry Potter's house

Diagon Alley

Some of the most enchanting scenes in the Harry Potter movies take place in Diagon Alley, where wizards and witches gather to buy school supplies only magical students need, like wands, owls, and cauldrons. When Harry Potter first visited the market, he made a life-changing visit to Ollivander’s, where he chose his wand, or rather, his wand chose him. It was this wand that changed the future of the magical world.

In real life, Borough Market in downtown London is a market hall that’s been around for hundreds of years. It’s a perfect filming location for such a magical place.

Borough Market (Google Maps)
Borough Market

If you’re a fan of Harry Potter, all these sites will be familiar and fun to see. And it’s exciting to know that they can be visited in real life. If you or your kids are going back to school, maybe you can gather around and watch a Harry Potter movie this weekend to relax and recover from the first week of school. Hopefully it won’t be as exciting or as dangerous as what Harry, Ron, Hermione and their friends experienced!



National Parks

August 25th is the National Parks Service’s birthday! Let’s take a look at some of the beautiful places maintained by the NPS!

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

Among the most famous national parks, Sequoia and Kings Canyon parks are side by side in the California Sierra Nevada mountain range.

Sequoia National Park is named after the famous “giant” trees that are among the largest and oldest trees in the world. They reach over 200 feet, can be 25 feet in diameter, and some are estimated to be as much as 3,500-4,000 years old!

These trees are truly something to behold, but the two national parks also boast some excellent hiking, beautiful vistas, and wonderful opportunities to commune with nature.

Sequoia National Park (Google Maps)
Sequoia National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon in Utah is a unique canyon full of beautiful and breathtaking outcroppings, shaped rocks and valleys. Most unique are the “hoodoos”, colorful limestone rocks that are shaped by wind, rain, snow melt and erosion over thousands of years. These rock formations, ranging from a few feet to several stories tall, can be viewed on various hikes, ranger tours, scenic drives and even overnight backpacking excursions.

Be prepared for any weather–even in the summer the nights at the high elevation of Bryce Canyon can be frigid and even dangerous if you’re not dressed right!

Bryce Canyon (Google Maps)
Bryce Canyon

Assateague Island National Seashore

Assateague Island, a lesser-known park located in Maryland and Virginia, is full of beautiful seascapes, ocean views and most famously, wild horses that roam the island.

Visitors are able to bike, hike, camp, canoe and even drive on the beach in permitted areas.

Assateague Island National Seashore (Bing Maps)
Assateague Island National Seashore

Dry Tortugas National Park

One of the most remote parks in the National Park system, Dry Tortugas National Park is a series of islands off the coast of Key West, Florida accessible only by boat or seaplane.

It includes fun activities for everyone, including touring a lighthouse and an old military fort, camping, canoeing, snorkeling, hiking and relaxing on the beach. Keep in mind that since it is a remote national park, you’ll need to bring everything you need for your stay, including water, food, sunscreen and anything else for your stay on this remote island paradise park!

Dry Tortugas National Park (Google Maps)
Dry Tortugas National Park

Wherever you are, from the west to the east coast, from north to south across the United States, you are never far from one of the 58 national parks and 2017 is a great year to start visiting these national treasures!

Hawaii: Immense Tragedy in Paradise on Earth

Hawaii has been in the news this week, for tragic reasons. An out of control wildfire on Maui tore through the historic and wonderful town of Lahaina, causing as-yet untold damage, and leaving a wake of death and destruction.

As we mourn the loss of life and grieve for those survivors, let’s take a look at the beautiful islands that make up Hawaii, the chain of islands in the Pacific Ocean. And after reading this, hopefully some will take a moment and donate to the Red Cross or another reputable organization.

The terrible fires started on August 8, caused by drought conditions and strong winds from an offshore hurricane. By that afternoon, raging fires tore through Lahaina, as well as other areas on Maui. That night, the city was burned, and lives changed forever.

Waiola Church, Maui

Celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, the Waiola Church in Lahaina is known as a final resting place for some of the royal family of the Kingdom of Hawaii. At one point Lahaina was the capital of the kingdom. The church was built by European missionaries in 1823, and burned down in 1894, and quickly rebuilt. Hopefully, it can be rebuilt once again.

Waiola Church (Birds Eye)
Waiola Church

Haleakala Crater, Maui

The Halekala volcano makes up a large majority of the island Maui. The volcano is also a national park, and provides visitors with a desert environment completely different than the tropical beaches and rain forests many dream of when planning vacations to the archipelago. Nonetheless, visitors love to hike the caldera to view the magnificent sunrise. Scientists are drawn to the area because its unique location and climate provides superior clarity for telescopes peering into the universe.

Haleakala Crater - Maui (Google Maps)
Haleakala Crater - Maui

Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park, Hawaii

Established in 1978, the Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park was created to protect both the beautiful but fragile ecosystems of the Hawaiian sea, beach and mountain areas, as well as preserve and document the native Hawaiian culture. Visitors can SCUBA, snorkel, and do other water activities, as well as hike throughout the many trails.

Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park (StreetView)
Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park

Mauna Loa, Hawaii

Mauna Loa is the largest volcano on earth, and is constantly (in geological time), but slowly, erupting. Although it hasn’t had an eruption in more than 30 years, scientists are always observing it for potential eruptions, as there is significant volcanic activity inside the mountain. Tourists can hike or even take helicopter rides to view the volcano up close!

Mauna Loa volcano lava flow (Google Maps)
Mauna Loa volcano lava flow

Waikiki Beach, Oahu

Oahu is the third largest island, but is home to the most Hawaiians and the state’s capital, Honolulu. The big city is built right on the ocean, providing an amazing blend of relaxing beach life and fun nightlife.

Waikiki Beach is one of the most famous beaches in the world, known for beautiful vistas as well as elite surfing, and it is actually part of the city Honolulu. World surfing competitions are regularly held on the beach, which is suffering from massive and rapid erosion.

Waikiki Beach (Google Maps)
Waikiki Beach

Matsumoto Shave Ice, Oahu

Anyone who has been to Hawaii has had shave ice, and everyone knows that Matsumoto’s ice is possibly the best. Located on the North Shore of Oahu, it has grown from a tiny store to a major tourist destination. The ice is great, and worth the inevitable wait that comes with becoming an international sensation.

Matsumoto Shave Ice (StreetView)
Matsumoto Shave Ice

Diamond Head, Oahu

Volcanoes are an everyday sight in Hawaii, and Diamond Head in the suburbs of Honolulu is a really cool place to visit. It is a beach, a volcano, a tourist destination and a state monument.

Diamond Head State Monument (Google Maps)
Diamond Head State Monument

Diamond Head Lighthouse, Oahu

Diamond Head beach juts out at the bottom of the South Shore of the island, and a lighthouse on the beach helps direct ocean traffic and serves as a Coast Guard site, as well as serves as a cool sight to see for tourists.

Diamond Head Lighthouse (Birds Eye)
Diamond Head Lighthouse

Pearl Harbor, Oahu

Pearl Harbor on the island of Oahu is a military base that was attacked on December 7, 1941, bringing the United States into World War II. The site of the attack has been turned into a memorial for those killed or wounded on that day. Visitors to Oahu should make a day trip to see the memorials and learn more about the attack and the aftermath.

Pearl Harbor (Google Maps)
Pearl Harbor

USS Arizona, Oahu

The USS Arizona was a battleship that sunk during the attack on Pearl Harbor, and is one of the ships turned into a living memorial of the tragic day.

USS Arizona (BB-39) Memorial (Birds Eye)
USS Arizona (BB-39) Memorial

Waimea Canyon National Park, Kauai

Kauai is nicknamed the “Garden Island” and it is breathtaking. Mountains jut out of the ocean, and tropical vegetation thrives. Some areas of the island get more than 450 inches of rainfall a year, more than anywhere else! The rainfall contributes to the unique landscape, which includes Waimea Canyon, which is more than 3,000 feet deep, and visitors love to hike through the park’s trails and enjoy the matchless beauties of the island.

Visitors to Hawaii should be prepared to be blown away over and over, as they view sites unlike anything else in the other 49 states. Volcanoes, beaches, sunrises and sunsets, tropical forests, mountains, valleys and more make this last state perhaps the best.

Waimea Canyon State Park (StreetView)
Waimea Canyon State Park

Hawaii is such a beautiful paradise, but this month, it seems like anything but. If you can, please take a minute to text “REDCROSS” to 90999, which will donate $10 to the Red Cross. Or, go to the Red Cross website and donate there, or donate to a reputable charity of your choice, if you can. Any amount makes a difference.

Remembering the D-Day Invasion at Normandy

On June 6, 1944, Allied forces began storming the beaches of Normandy, France, in an effort to liberate that country, and all of Europe, from Nazi control.

On the 79th anniversary of this pivotal operation, let’s take a look back and learn a little more about how this event helped the Allies win World War II.

Portsmouth Harbor, GB

Much of the invasion of northwest France originated in Portsmouth, Great Britain. Thousands of troops boarded boats on June 5, for the overnight ride across the English Channel to the beaches of Normandy, France.

Evidence of the war still remains, including submerged  portions of Mulberry harbors, which were temporary harbors constructed to help bring material into France from Allied ships after they secured the beachhead.

Mulberry Harbor (Google Maps)
Mulberry Harbor

Omaha Beach

British, American, and Canadian troops each attacked different areas of the Normandy coast, and each section was given a code name. American troops landed at Omaha and Utah Beaches. Landing was tough in the cold, choppy water.

Fighting to take over the beach was intense here, as the area was the most heavily defended by German soldiers.

Omaha Beach (Google Maps)
Omaha Beach

Omaha Beach Memorial

On the beach, there is a memorial called “Les Braves” to honor the 2,400 brave soldiers who gave their lives to take Omaha Beach, and the more than 34,000 men who fought so hard to liberate France by coming up the beach on June 6.

Omaha Beach Memorial (StreetView)
Omaha Beach Memorial

Pointe du Hoc

Dividing Omaha and Utah beaches is Pointe du Hoc, which is a tall cliff jutting into the ocean. Because of its height and position, it was an excellent defensive position held by Germans, and had to be taken in order for the D-Day invasion to be a success.

American Army Rangers scaled the hundred foot cliffs under grave danger, and reached their objective of securing the batteries and guns. Over two days, more than 135 men were killed or wounded.

The bunkers have been turned into a museum, where visitors can see what it would have been like as a German soldier, and how terrifying climbing the cliffs would have been for the Rangers.

Pointe du Hoc (Google Maps)
Pointe du Hoc

Utah Beach and Museum

The other American landing site was at Utah Beach, where the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions parachuted in to help the men who came up the beach from the water.

A museum has been built on the beach to commemorate the attack, all that went into it, and the impact it had on helping to end the war.

Utah Beach Landing Museum (StreetView)
Utah Beach Landing Museum

Azeville Battery

Three kilometres. or just under two miles from Utah Beach, was the Azevile Battery, where the German troops blasted away at soldiers attempting to land on the beach.

It took three days to take out the battery, which is now a local museum.

Azeville Battery (StreetView)
Azeville Battery

Battle of Normandy Museum

Just a few miles inland from the coast is Bayeux, France, one of the first towns liberated as the Allies marched towards Berlin and the end of the war. The city has created a museum that displays a comprehensive telling of the invasion, from planning to execution to final outcomes.

It is an amazing place to learn about the battle, the war, who fought it, and who it was for.

Battle of Normandy Museum (StreetView)
Battle of Normandy Museum

Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial

Thousands of allied soldiers died in Normandy, and their bodies could not be returned to their home countries. There is an American Cemetery in France where nearly ten thousand soldiers are buried and another 1,500 unidentified soldiers are honored.

It is an important stop on any visit to Normandy, to get a feel for the human cost of the invasion, and to honor the dead servicemen, and to leave with a complete understanding of the cost of war.

Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial (Google Maps)
Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial

Statue of Major Richard Winters

There are many other memorials throughout Normandy, including a statue of Major Richard Winters, made famous in the HBO series Band of Brothers. He was a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne Division of the American Army.

Major Richard Winters - Easy Company 101st Airborne (StreetView)
Major Richard Winters - Easy Company 101st Airborne

Memorial to John Steele

In Ste. Mere Eglise, there is a unique memorial to Private John Steele. Steele was a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne who got caught up in a local cathedral, and hung on a pinnacle on the side of the church all night long. Amazingly, he survived the ordeal.

The town used his effigy to remember all those involved in the battle.

Ste Mère Eglise church - John Steele paratrooper (StreetView)
Ste Mère Eglise church - John Steele paratrooper

These are just a few of the many places people can visit, online or in real life, to witness, learn about, and honor the people who fought to liberate Normandy, France and Europe from the grip of the Nazis.

Deep Dive Into History: Conquering Constantinople

Many of us have heard the saying “Istanbul was Constantinople” but not all of us know what it means, or the incredible historical significance of the history behind the saying.

On the 570th anniversary of the fall of Constantinople, let’s take a tour of the ancient city, and learn about the history, at the same time.

Walls of Constantinople

The city, once called Byzantium, was already ancient by the time it was declared the capital of the Roman Empire in 330 AD. Emperor Constantine moved the capital east from Rome, in part to avoid the threat of invasion that continually came from the Germanic tribes. Among other actions to increase the stature of the city, it was renamed Constantinople after the Emperor.

Within a few years, massive walls were built around the city to protect it. And under Emperor Theodosius, the walls were expanded and thickened, and raised to 45 feet high! A second line of walls were constructed, making it impossible for opposing forces to conquer the city.

It wasn’t until the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror came in 1453 with the newly-invented gunpowder and cannon that the walls were breached and the city conquered forever.

Walls of Constantinople (Google Maps)
Walls of Constantinople

Bosphorus Strait

Istanbul is strategically located at the meeting point of Europe and Asia, the two continents divided by the Bosphorus Strait. City leaders protected the city with a chain strung across the Golden Horn, the major inlet bordering the city. For hundreds of years, the chain kept invaders from accessing the Strait and accessing the heart of the city.

Even Mehmed was unable to breach the chain, but he did have an innovative, and labor intensive, way to wage naval warfare on the seaside city. His soldiers actually paved a mile-long path and carry their light ships around the Asian side of the strait, so they could launch a surprise naval attack. This was one of many efforts Mehmed employed to wear down the city’s forces over seven weeks and eventually emerge victorius.

Bosporus Strait (Google Maps)
Bosporus Strait

Fatih Mosque

Mehmed dreamed of conquering the city from an early age. The military strategist recognized the value of the city’s location between Europe and Asia, right in the middle of territories already conquered by the Ottomans.

When he succeeded at capturing the city, he was only 21! Shortly after taking over the city, he made it the capital of the Ottoman Empire. These days, Istanbul is the largest city in Turkey, and in Europe, and one of the largest cities in the world!

Mehmed loved his new capital, and was even buried there in the Fatih Mosque, which he had built in the 1470s. Fatih Mosque means Conqueror’s Mosque. It included several libraries dedicated to theology, medicine, law, and science.

The structure suffered significant damage in a 1766 earthquake, and has undergone several renovations in recent years. It is open to both worshipers and visitors alike.

Fatih Mosque (Google Maps)
Fatih Mosque

Hagia Sophia

The move to Constantinople also marked a shift from polytheism that marked the earlier Roman era to the monotheism of Christianity. Right away, the emperors began construction on churches. The current Hagia Sophia was built in 532, and was the largest cathedral for nearly a thousand years!

Within days of the city’s conquer, Mehmed began turning the Hagia Sophia into a mosque, a jewel of the city and his Islamic faith. The giant domed structure, with its four minarets, is one of the most recognized, and beautiful, holy sites in the world. These days, the building is a working mosque, but visitors are welcome.

Hagia Sophia (Google Maps)
Hagia Sophia


Like many sites in the city, the Hippodrome predated the city’s status as empire capital. A hippodrome was a horse track, and it played an important place in civil society. The hippodrome could entertain 100,000 spectators at its height of popularity.

The Hippodrome was beautifully-adorned, including large horse statues that were taken to Venice, Italy, when Constantinople was sacked in 1204 by the Crusaders.

The place is now a beautiful city plaza called Sultan Ahmet Square, a gathering place filled with historical artifacts thousands of years old. The Turkish government has maintained and restored the site, including showing the path of the original horse track.

Hippodrome of Constantinople (Bing Maps)
Hippodrome of Constantinople

Valens Roman Aqueduct

One of the many reminders that the modern city of Istanbul has a long Roman tradition is the aqueduct that brought water to the city from springs nearly 100 miles away for more than 1200 years. The massive stone structures, with the easily-recognizable arched design, still stand, nearly 2000 years after they were initially constructed.

The ancient city water system passes over Ataturk Boulevard in downtown Istanbul, with cars actually driving under the arches. It’s a truly breathtaking juxtaposition of ancient and modern in one of the world’s most historical cities.

Valens Roman Aqueduct (Google Maps)
Valens Roman Aqueduct

If you ever have the chance, be sure to visit Istanbul, which only got its new name in 1930. It’s undoubtedly one of the most amazing, unique, and memorable places in the world. It’s position at the meeting point between Europe and Asia, where east meets west, where Christianity meets Islam, old meets new; it will certainly change you.

The Coronation of King Charles III

King Charles III acceded to the throne of the United Kingdom when his mother, Queen Elizabeth II passed away on September 8, 2022. His coronation takes place today. He and his wife Camilla will officially be anointed and crowned as the King and Queen of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth realms. In honor of the momentous occasion, let’s look at some of the places that will be featured in the weekend’s ceremonial and celebratory events.

Buckingham Palace

The official London residence of the monarch, Buckingham Palace is where the day’s events will begin, and it’s where the royal family will gather to greet the crowds. After the King and Queen return from the coronation, they will gather on the West Terrace. There will be six minutes of fly-overs from military aircraft, as well as cheers from the armed forces, and lots of jubilation from the crowd.

The Palace is the administrative center of the monarchy, and has been since the time of Queen Victoria. During World War II, the Palace was hit by German bombs several times, once even when the king and queen were in residence! It was on the West Terrace that the royal family greeted rejoicing crowds when the war was officially declared over in 1945.

Buckingham Palace (Birds Eye)
Buckingham Palace

Coronation at Westminster Abbey

The Coronation, where Charles will be crowned and anointed, will take place at Westminster Abbey. The church has been the site of 39 coronations, dating back to William the Conqueror. The most recent coronation was for Elizabeth II, way back in 1953.

The gorgeous Gothic cathedral was originally constructed in 1065, and has been added on to and enhanced, and repaired several times. It was struck by German bombs in World War II, bombed by suffragettes in 1914, and burned several times in its history, but the structure still stands, a testament to the strength and longevity of the British people and their monarchy.

Westminster Abbey (Birds Eye)
Westminster Abbey

Victoria Memorial

On Saturday morning, King Charles and Queen Camilla will leave Buckingham Palace and travel by the Gold State Coach the 1.3 miles to Westminster Abbey. Along the way, they will greet crowds waiting to pay tribute to the royals and witness the monumental event. The procession will involve 4,000 personnel, mostly made up of ceremonial military officials.

The Victoria Memorial, honoring Queen Victoria, sits in front of Buckingham Palace, and is on the route the King and Queen will take to and from Westminster Abbey. The Memorial is often a centerpiece of London’s activity. It is the finishing line for the London Marathon, was a backdrop of Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee, and part of the London Olympics celebrations.

Victoria Memorial (Birds Eye)
Victoria Memorial

Coronation Concert at Windsor Castle

On Sunday, the celebrations will continue, with a Coronation Big Lunch encouraged across the country. This is a British tradition where people gather in their community for a picnic style lunch or gathering to celebrate the coronation, and the country.

Later in the evening on Sunday, there will be a Coronation Concert at Windsor Castle, with 10,000 tickets being given to the general public. Tom Cruise, Katy Perry, Lionel Richie, Andrea Bocelli, and Tiwa Savage will headline the show.

Windsor Castle has played an important part of royal life since it was constructed by William the Conqueror. It was expanded by Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, and then remodeled again in the 1700s. The royal family often stayed here during World War II to avoid the bombings, and Elizabeth II spent most of her time here in her later years.

Windsor Castle (Birds Eye)
Windsor Castle

Crown Jewels at the Tower of London

The coronation is built on tradition and ceremony, and an important part of that is the crown and associated jewels worn by the king and queen. King Charles will wear the St. Edward’s Crown, which is modeled on a crown possibly dating back to Edward the Confessor.

The current crown was built in 1661 and weighs a heavy five pounds! But he will wear at least one other crown during the event. When he leaves the coronation he will wear the Imperial State Crown. Charles will also hold the Sovereign’s Sceptre, and Cross and Orb, which are important symbols representing the sovereign’s authority, and the Christian world.

The jewels, when not being used for the coronation, are kept safely at the Tower of London, where they are often on public display. The Tower was also founded during the reign of William the Conqueror, and originally used as a defensive castle for the king. Later, it has been used as a prison for high-profile prisoners including Anne Boleyn, and as a secure storage for the royal treasure.

Tower of London (Birds Eye)
Tower of London

Whether you’re a big fan of the royal family, or watching the weekend’s events for their historical value, knowing a little about the places and important items will make it all the more fun, and meaningful. And as long as he reigns in generosity and kindness, we can all say, “Long live the king!”

Deep Dive into History: Chernobyl Explosion

On April 26, 1986, the worst thing imaginable happened when a reactor at the Chernobyl power plant failed. Due to human error and a desire to cover up the accident, the meltdown quickly spiraled out of control, causing the worst nuclear disaster ever.

Remarkably, only 31 people died directly from the accident, but hundreds of thousands of lives were impacted from direct and indirect exposure, forced relocation, and fear of radiation exposure.

On the anniversary of the tragedy, let’s look back on what happened, and what things look like today.

Chernobyl Power Plant, Pripyat, Ukraine

During the Soviet era, nuclear power was a preferred source of energy for the Soviet Union, and the Chernoybl Power Plant was built to provide power for the Ukrainian capital Kyiv and the surrounding area.

By 1986, there were four reactors at the plant, with plans to build more in coming years. Interestingly, after Reactor Four suffered the catastrophic meltdown, the other reactors were not immediately decommissioned. In fact, it wasn’t until 2000 that the site was completely taken offline.

Chernobyl Power Plant (Google Maps)
Chernobyl Power Plant

City of Chernobyl, Ukraine

At the time, Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union, and Chernobyl was a small city of 14,000. Many residents worked at or supported the power station just down the road. The city was founded nearly a thousand years ago, and has a rich and varied history. In particular, it was a major center of Judaism in the region, until the community was wiped out during World War II.

Despite being exposed to significant levels of nuclear contamination, the city was not evacuated until six days after the accident. Technically, the city has been abandoned since that time, but about 500 people still live there, with tacit permission from the government. In fact, some of the apartment buildings have been refitted to house the staff who are still working to this day to decommission and decontaminate the area.

During the initial invasion of Ukraine by Russia, a battle was fought in the area, on ground still emits dangerous levels of radiation, putting the soldiers at risk.

City of Chernobyl (Google Maps)
City of Chernobyl

City of Pripyat, Ukraine

Like Chernobyl, the city of Pripyat was abandoned right after the meltdown. The city was home to many employees at the power plant, as well as their families. These people were exposed to dangerous levels of radiation, but over the years, it is unclear how many people died as a result of their exposure.

Also, like Chernobyl, around 500 people still live in the area, in spite of official policies prohibiting anyone remaining in the area. They prefer for personal reasons not to abandon their homes and lifestyles, in spite of the danger, and sometimes lack of privacy as tourists and visitors walk through the areas.

Abandoned city (Google Maps)
Abandoned city

Abandoned Ferris Wheel, Pripyat

One of the most haunting symbols of the disaster is an abandoned Ferris wheel, which was days away from opening at the local amusement park before the meltdown. Now, nearly 40 years later, it remains untouched but slowly decaying, having never carried the children and happy families of Pripyat.

This is one of so many tragically abandoned sites, from hospitals to schools to homes to hotels. The city, along with dozens and dozens of villages, were forced to evacuate in the days after the meltdown.

Pripyat Ferris Wheel - Near Chernobyl (StreetView)
Pripyat Ferris Wheel - Near Chernobyl

Monument to the Chernobyl Liquidators, Chernobyl

Surprisingly, the only people who died immediately after the explosion were workers inside the reactor, and the firefighters who responded to the disaster. These men reported to the reactors, which was on fire, without appropriate clothes to protect them from radiation. Those with the greatest exposure, from where they fought the fires, or for how long, died within days. Others died within three months.

On the tenth anniversary, a memorial to these heroes was unveiled, depicting the firefighters running toward the blaze. The inscription says “To those who saved the world” demonstrating the importance and appreciation of the sacrifices they made.

Chernobyl - Firefighters monument (StreetView)
Chernobyl - Firefighters monument

Third Angel Statue or Trumpeting Angel Monument, Chernobyl

One of the most moving memorials to the tragedy is the Wormwood Memorial, which includes the metal statue of the Third Angel. In the book of Revelation, a verse says in the last days, a star named Wormwood falls from the sky and makes the water bitter, which many felt represented the radioactive waste falling from the sky. Because “Chernobyl” means wormwood or mugwort in Ukrainian, many felt that the prophesy had been fulfilled in the disaster.

The memorial also includes signs of the names of the nearly 200 villages that have been abandoned. All told, more than 120,000 people were evacuated.

Trumpeting Angel of Chernobyl (StreetView)
Trumpeting Angel of Chernobyl

There are so many monuments, intentional and natural, that remind us of the tragedy of that man-made disaster, and the lives that were impacted that day. The entire region stands as a stark reminder of the power we wield, and the great responsibility we have to use that power carefully. We should never forget.