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: Mexpro.com

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!



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.

Famous Gardens Around the World

Spring is in the air, and people are looking forward to spending more time outside. One of the best ways to enjoy the beautiful world as it comes alive after a cold winter is to spend time in the garden.

Lots of cities and communities have gardens and outdoor spaces for people to enjoy. Let’s look at some of the most famous, and most gorgeous community green spaces around the world.

United States Botanic Garden, Washington, D.C.

In the nation’s capitol, the Botanic Garden is actually part of the Capitol complex and is managed by Congress and the Architect of the Capitol. Established in 1820, the main building has been in place at the foot of the Capitol complex since 1933.

The main conservatory has several rooms that each feature a habitat, ranging from rare and endangered plants, orchids, desert plants, and even a jungle room. Nearby are outdoor gardens that visitors can walk through and enjoy while spending time enjoying the nation’s capital. Perhaps the most amazing thing about the garden is that it’s free! All of these amazing, beautiful, and educational features are considered a national treasure, and available to everyone.

United States Botanic Garden (Google Maps)
United States Botanic Garden

Kew Gardens, London, UK

The Kew Gardens in London developed as gardens and landscaped areas for royal residences. Especially supported by the Princess of Wales in the 1750s, the expansive gardens are now considered to be the largest and most diverse collection of plants and fungi in the world, with more than 8.5 million specimen.

Kew Gardens (Google Maps)
Kew Gardens

In addition to the amazing collection of biodiversity, the Gardens have amazing and historically significant structures in which the plants are displayed. The Palm House, built from wrought iron and blown glass, is one of the most beautiful and important Victorian-era structures. There are also beautifully-landscaped areas, complete with walking paths and viewing areas, and even a few tours.

Palm House at Kew Gardens (Birds Eye)
Palm House at Kew Gardens

Gardens at Versailles, France

Just saying the name evokes feelings of opulence and grandeur, even more than 300 years after its heyday. Versailles was once a mere hunting lodge, but under French King Louis XIV, it became the center of the royal world. The massive gardens were as impressive and elaborate as the palace itself, and are considered as important as the buildings.

Palace of Versailles (Birds Eye)
Palace of Versailles

The Sun King spared no expense, and the gardens stretched out from the palace “as far as the eye could see”. Ponds, trees, and other plants were laid out in a formal style that later became known as the “French” garden. Further from the main residence, smaller structures for retreats and entertaining were constructed. These days, the palace and gardens are open to the public, and in 2024, the venue will be the site for the equestrian events for the 2024 Olympics.

Palace of Versailles (Birds Eye)
Palace of Versailles

Gardens of Claude Monet, Giverny, France

Just north of Versailles is one of the most beautiful and inspirational private gardens. Claude Monet, perhaps France’s most famous and beloved artist, was known for his impressionist paintings of nature, especially countryside and water scenes. After his death, the house and gardens fell into disrepair, but were restored in the 1970s, and opened to the public. The ponds on the site inspired the paintings of water lilies for which he’s best known today.

House and gardens of Claude Monet at Giverny (Google Maps)
House and gardens of Claude Monet at Giverny

Some of Monet’s Water Lilies series are on display in Paris’ famous L’Orangerie Museum, which has space designed specifically to display the massive works of art, some of which are longer than 40 feet!

Musée de l'Orangerie (Google Maps)
Musée de l'Orangerie

Butchart Gardens, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

Wealthy Canadian cement manufacturer Robert Butchart and his wife Jennie, followed a popular trend and created a Japanese garden on their property. Inspired by its beauty, Jennie then turned other areas of their home into rose, Italian, and other styles of gardens. They quickly became a popular destination, and continued to develop and expand.

On the 100th anniversary of the gardens, they were declared a national historic site. Entry fees are minimal, and the gardens see more than one million visitors a year!

The gardens also have bird houses, a large collection of statues, a carousel in the children’s pavilion, which is a perfect place to host birthday parties. The Gardens are also home to local entertainment including jazz and classical concert series in the summer, and an ice rink in the winter.

Butchart Gardens (Google Maps)
Butchart Gardens

Keukenhof, Lisse, Netherlands

Considered the “Garden of Europe” the Keukenhof in the Netherlands started out as a castle’s kitchen garden, (“Keukenhof” means :kitchen garden”) and has turned into one of the world’s largest flower gardens. The gardens were first opened to the public after World War II, and now receive around 1.5 million visitors a year.

Every fall, the staff of gardeners plant around seven million tulip bulbs. The tulip has special importance in the Netherlands, and it’s the national flower. The venue also has English gardens, walking paths, Japanese gardens, and pavilions with garden exhibits.

Keukenhof also hosts a Christmas fair, medieval festival, and other events throughout the year. It truly is a national treasure, and jewel of Europe.

Keukenhof (Google Maps)

Is there a better way to appreciate spring than to go outside and enjoy all that nature has to offer? Hopefully you can pop over to a local park or garden and enjoy the great outdoors. Happy Spring!

Read Across America Celebrating Dr. Seuss

Today is National Read Across America Day, where children at schools from coast to coast celebrate reading, books, and storytelling. The tradition began in 1998, as a celebration of reading on Dr. Seuss’s birthday. Dr. Seuss is one of America’s best-loved children’s authors, so on this day, let’s take a look at his life, how he became a beloved author, and celebrate reading!

Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden, Springfield, Massachusetts

Born Theodor Seuss Geisel in Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1904. His family, of German heritage, experienced harassment during and after World War I, but his family was very involved, and he developed a sense of patriotism that stayed with him through his life.

Dr. Seuss is Springfield’s hometown hero, and in 2002, the town unveiled a masterpiece sculpture garden dedicated to the author. It includes five large statues of some of Seuss’s most famous and well-loved characters, including the Cat in the Hat and the Lorax.

The entire exhibit is in the center of the Quadrangle, which is a cluster of museums, libraries, and community structures, including the Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum.

Dr. Seuss National Memorial (Bing Maps)
Dr. Seuss National Memorial

Oxford University, Oxford, England

After graduating from Dartmouth College, he moved to Oxford, England, to earn a PhD in English Literature. And where better than the oldest university in the English-speaking world?

However, it was there that he met his future wife, who encouraged him to commit full-time to a career highlighting his creative drawings. So, he left school after two years and returned to the US, and the rest is for the storybooks.

Oxford University (Birds Eye)
Oxford University

Family Home, San Diego, California

Within a few years, Seuss had a solid career in writing, but it took a detour during World War II, when he used his talents to help the war effort through films and other animations.

After the war, he and his wife moved to La Jolla, in San Diego. The four-acre estate had a four-bedroom house, with pool, and beautiful landscaping. The home was donated to University of California at San Diego after the death of his second wife. A few years ago, the property was divided into four parcels and sold at auction for about $19 million total.

Theodor "Dr. Seuss" Geisel's house (former) (Birds Eye)
Theodor "Dr. Seuss" Geisel's house (former)

University of California San Diego Geisel Library, San Diego, California

The main library of the university system was renamed in Theoror Geisel’s honor. He and his second wife had made several substantial contributions over the years to the university. The library is known for its bold and modern architecture called “Brutalist/Futurist”. The design is fitting for Seuss, as it looks like something that would be found in the pages of his books.

It has more than seven million books, including 8,500 items in the Dr. Seuss collection. This includes his early works, sketches, and manuscripts.

UCSD Geisel Library (StreetView)
UCSD Geisel Library

Library of Congress, Washington, DC

Of course, the OG library in the United States is the Library of Congress. The beautiful structure, which sits across the street from the US Capitol, is one of the largest libraries in the world. It actually has multiple buildings on Capitol Hill, as well as a few more buildings offsite.

It was burned by the British in the War of 1812, and lost much of its original collection. Thomas Jefferson donated his expansive collection of nearly 7,000 books. Sadly many of these were burned in a subsequent fire. Currently, the library has more than 160 million pieces! This amazing collection includes an original Gutenburg Bible, as well as items in more than 400 languages.

Library of Congress (StreetView)
Library of Congress

If you’re looking for some fun and interesting books to read with your little ones, here’s a wonderful list curated for variety and interest, which is sure to entertain all sorts of kids! Here’s to some happy reading. Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss, and thanks for all the amazing adventures.


The World’s Most Romantic City

Paris has long been the city of lovers and love, and one doesn’t have to look long or hard to understand why.

Here are some of the most romantic places in the City of Lights.

Pont Neuf

Meaning “New Bridge” the Pont Neuf is ironically the oldest standing bridge spanning the river Seine in Paris. Completed in 1607, the bridge has long been the heart of the city. It ties together the Left Bank, Ile de la Cite, the island in the center of Paris, and the Right Bank, connecting Paris with its beautiful arches.

Tradition encourages lovebirds to pause and share a long kiss on the bridge, and with the many romantic views from the bridge, you might want to stop for more than one kiss!

Pont Neuf (StreetView)
Pont Neuf

Pont des Artes

Paris is full of romantic bridges, and the Pont des Artes is at the top of the list. A pedestrian bridge, it has always been a special spot for lovers. Around 2008, couples began placing small padlocks on the bridge, engraved with their names, as an homage to their love. However, the bridge soon became overwhelmed with locks and the city had to remove them in 2014. At that time it was estimated there were over one million locks! That’s a lot of love!

While putting a padlock on the bridge is now frowned upon, the Pont des Artes has not lost its romantic luster, so lovers should be sure to stop here for a memorable moment.

Photo Credit: http://www.wikipedia.com

Notre Dame Cathedral

Among the most famous cathedral in the world, this cathedral in the heart of Paris is a must see for any visitor, and lovers are no exception.

The perfect location at the tip of the Ile de la Cite, the breathtaking beauty and elegance of the design, stained glass, and tragic love of Quasimodo, the hunchback of Notre Dame, all help couples feel closer together after walking up and down the cathedral’s long aisles.

Notre Dame de Paris (StreetView)
Notre Dame de Paris

Make sure to share a moment staring at the stunning stained glass rose windows before leaving the cathedral.

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

Eiffel Tower

Possibly the most romantic spot in all of Paris, the Eiffel Tower has rocketed to the top of every lover’s itinerary since its construction in 1889. The unique design, the beautiful park surrounding the tower, and the breathtaking views from the top of the tower are just a few reasons why lovers flock here. It has become one of the most popular places in the world for couples to become engaged, and provides a stunning backdrop to any photographs documenting the special occasion.

Lovers can walk or take an elevator to the top to enjoy the view and even dine at one of the restaurants in the tower. Any time spent here will not be forgotten!

Eiffel Tower (Birds Eye)
Eiffel Tower

Sacre Coeur

The Sacre Coeur basilica is located in the bohemian neighborhood of Monmartere, at the top of the highest hill in Paris. Visitors here are greeted by amazing panoramic views of the Paris skyline.

Street performers, artists and musicians gather around the grounds of the basilica, providing entertainment and fun for all visitors.

Basilique du Sacré-Cœur (StreetView)
Basilique du Sacré-Cœur

Especially at night, when the beautiful white church glows against the night sky, lovers can spend intimate moments together. Many couples will picnic on the grounds with a bottle of champagne and baguette to share. What can be more romantic than that?

Basilique du Sacré Coeur at night (StreetView)
Basilique du Sacré Coeur at night


A short train ride away from downtown Paris, the great palace Versailles has a history of being a landmark of great Parisian extravagance, romantic excess and scandal.

Since Louis XIV moved the court there in the 1600s, royalty lived at or near Versailles, creating much drama and intrigue, including outlandish parties hosted by Marie Antoinette before she and her husband, Louis XVI, were beheaded.

Palace of Versailles (Birds Eye)
Palace of Versailles

The Hall of Mirrors is one of the most famous rooms in the palace, and anyone can feel like royalty walking down the elegant corridor.

Hall of Mirrors (StreetView)
Hall of Mirrors

These days, lovers can walk through the palace and the surrounding grounds, with grand designs and elaborate landscapes. Lakes, gardens, sculptures and additional houses round out the roughly 2,000 square acres of real estate comprising Versailles.

Couples will certainly be able to find quiet moments alone in a garden where they can steal a kiss and make a memory together.

Palace of Versailles (StreetView)
Palace of Versailles

Paris is the most romantic city in the world because of its many beautiful, entertaining and intimate locations where lovers can walk in the footsteps of countless romantics before them and still make memories as unique and fresh as new love.

Whether your love is starting out or has stood the test of time, any couple will love a trip to Paris, complete with stops at these romantic locations.

The Great British Baking Show Comes to America!

As we’re all recovering from the collective holiday overload, while still craving a good dessert or two, many of us are watching the Netflix series The Great British Baking Show (known as The Great British Bake Off in Britain). Watching amateur bakers present fabulous tea cakes, “puddings” and tiered edible desserts makes us all want to be better in the kitchen. Or at least get another Oreo.

But did you know the show is revamping its American series? Sometime in the next few months, we’re going to see judges Paul and Prue, along with Ellie Kemper and Zach Cherry as hosts, with American bakers. In fact, they’ve already got a holiday edition available on Roku!

As we wait for another series of the heartwarming show, let’s take a look at who, and what, we’re going to see on TV.

Welford Park, Berkshire, Great Britain

Welford Park, with its animals and gorgeous flowers, have become famous as the backdrop for the wholesome and fun baking series. The tent becomes home to the bakers, hosts, and judges as they work to awarded a platter and bouquet of flowers, and bragging rights as the country’s best amateur baker.

The grounds have been used since the time of the Anglo-Saxons, when it was used as an Abbey. Henry VIII took over the property of the church during his tumultuous reign, and then passed down through the lines of lesser nobility. During World War I, it was used to help recovering soldiers.

Welford Park (The Great British Bake Off) (Google Maps)
Welford Park (The Great British Bake Off)

Pinewood Studios, Buckinghamshire, Great Britain

The new show may have American hosts and American bakers, but it’s all filmed in Great Britain, just outside London. Pinewood Studios has been a filming spot for decades, and the gorgeous mansion, Heatherdan Hall, has been in a James Bond film and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, to name a few.

Pinewood Studios (Google Maps)
Pinewood Studios

Paul Hollywood’s House, Wingham, Great Britain

The one person who has stuck with the show since the start, Paul Hollywood and his steely blue eyes, recently put his Wingham house on the market. The home, worth around $1 million, dates back to the 13th century, and even has cobblestones in the cellar that likely date back to the Roman period.

The house also has four bedrooms, a guest house, and of course, an amazing kitchen fit for the most famous baker in England.

Paul Hollywood's House (Google Maps)
Paul Hollywood's House

Ellie Kemper’s Family Home, Laude, Missouri

Ellie Kemper, of The Office and The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt fame, is set to be one of the hosts of the American version of the show, and is off to a great start, with the successful airing of the holiday version on the Roku channel in December.

Ellie grew up in Missouri, in one of the richest families in the state. Her dad runs the family bank, her grandmother is the namesake of an art museum, and on and on.

When she was a little girl, the family moved to the Ladue suburb of St. Louis, where she attended a private high school and fell in love with acting. Her brush with fame came early, as one of her acting teachers was John Hamm, who later became famous in his own right.

Ellie Kemper's Family Home (Birds Eye)
Ellie Kemper's Family Home

Marshawn Lynch’s House, Richmond, California

On the holiday edition of the American version of the show, “Beast Mode” brought his game to the tent. The former Seahawks star now works for Amazon’s Thursday Night Football pregame show, and had a blast on the baking show.

When he’s not traveling for football gigs, Lynch resides in a gorgeous $4.6 million home in Richmond, outside San Francisco. The home has five bedrooms, five bathrooms, and amazing views of the inland water of the Pacific Ocean from nearly every room in the house. The kitchen has a double oven, the weight room is kitted out, and the home theater is Super Bowl worthy.

Marshawn Lynch's House (Google Maps)
Marshawn Lynch's House

Nat Faxon’s House, Los Angeles, California

Also on the show, Nat Faxon had a blast baking, but doesn’t seem to spend much time in the kitchen. The Oscar-winning actor and writer grew up outside Boston, and now lives in Los Angeles. He’s mentioned that he misses the seasons, and was sure to live near the ocean so it would feel a little like home.

It’s a perfect place for the funny, good-humored guy to raise his three kids alongside his wife of 15 years, Meaghan Gadd.

Nat Faxon's house (Google Maps)
Nat Faxon's house

If you’re looking for some entertainment, something wholesome, cheerful, and satisfying, be sure to check out The Great British Baking Show in all its versions on Netflix and the Roku channel, or on your local PBS app. It’s as comforting, like a favorite food, and has a lot less calories!