Sightseeing in Russia – Church on Spilled Blood in St. Petersburg

Travel Moscow

St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow’s Red Square has 9 domes.

When you think of fabulous onion-domed cathedrals in Russia, chances are good you’re either picturing St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow, or the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood in St. Petersburg.

St. Basil’s was built in the 16th century to commemorate the Russian capture of Kazan and Astrakhan, and Napoleon’s troops stabled their horses there in 1812.

Travel St. Petersburg

Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood  has 5 domes.

Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, aka Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ, aka Church on Spilt Blood, aka Savior on Potatoes (explanation for that later, and why do the Russians have so many names for EVERYTHING?), is much newer.

But I think it has a more interesting story:

Alexander III commissioned the building in 1883 to commemorate his father who was assassinated on the site two years before – the “spilled blood” refers to that of Alexander II. The cobblestones where he was attacked are inside the church.

Alexander II was also known as Alexander the Liberator. Born in 1818, he became Tsar in 1855 and died in 1881. He may have been the biggest reformist since Peter the Great — another Tsar influenced by his European experiences.

Radical Reforms Engender Radical Revolutionaries. And Spilled Blood.

Alexander the Liberator, aka Alexander the Reformer.

Alexander the Liberator, aka Alexander the Reformer.

First, you should know that Alexander came to power during a period of extremely strict censorship. Criticism of the government was considered a crime, and socially, all Russians conformed to very rigid guidelines defined by class.

In 1855-56, he had a war to wrap up – the Crimean War, in which the Russians fought against several super powers including the Ottoman Empire, the French and the Brits. The Russians were defending the rights of Orthodox Christians in the Holy Land. Russia lost that one.

20 granite plaques along the base of the cathedral commemorate Alexander's reforms. Unfortunately they're written in Russian.

20 granite plaques along the base of the cathedral commemorate Alexander’s reforms. Unfortunately  for us they’re written in Russian.

But Alexander learned some things from the experience. After the Crimean War, he looked to expanding the railways to promote more commerce and bolster military defense.

In 1861 he emancipated the serfs – Russia was one of the last European countries to abolish feudalism. He didn’t just transform them into a peasant agricultural class dependent on landlords (sound like another form of serfdom?), but made them completely independent.

Former serfs were now able to marry without permission, to buy property and businesses, and to actually leave the property where they were born. They were also allowed to vote and sue wrongdoers. It wasn’t all good for the serfs (they didn’t have money to buy land in the first place; many were forced to borrow at extortionist interest rates), but it was a start.

Alexander II also sold Alaska to the U.S. for $7M in 1867. He realized it was too far away to defend.

In 1874 he instituted universal military conscription – all of Russia’s sons had to serve in the army or navy, whether they were nobility, gentry or peasant. Alexander also abolished corporal punishment and the branding of soldiers.

Sound pretty liberal for 19th century Russia? Perhaps he was too radical for the times, as Alexander survived five assassination attempts before the fatal one in 1881, and even that one took two tries.

Death of a Tsar; Birth of a Cathedral

Interior of Spilled Blood is filled with light.

Interior of Spilled Blood is filled with light.

On March 13, 1881, Alexander II was attending a military review in St. Petersburg, traveling in a bulletproof carriage. A member of the People’s Will threw a bomb under the wheels – the explosion killed one member of the party, and wounded many of the people on the sidewalk watching the procession.

According to my tour guide, the bomber was immediately captured, and Alexander II approached him to demand an explanation for the attempt on his life. He couldn’t understand why, after making so many reforms to better the lives of all Russians, anyone would want to kill him.

Church of Spilt Blood St. Petersburg.

Under the central dome.

That’s when a second assassin threw another bomb at the Tsar’s feet, shattering his legs, ripping open his abdomen, and disfiguring his face.

Alexander died a few hours later in the Winter Palace, just days from the 20th anniversary of the emancipation of the serfs. His plans for an elected Parliament, or Duma,  were just completed. His son Alexander III not only failed to carry out those plans for a new, more democratic government, he promptly destroyed his father’s papers. But he did build an amazing cathedral, which he never saw completed.

Church on Spilt Blood Construction

Architectural details of Church of the Spilled Blood

Narrowing this section of the canal to put the assassination site inside the church took over three years.

It took 24 years to build this monument alongside the Griboedov Canal, just off Nevsky Prospekt. Part of the canal was narrowed to accommodate the cobblestones where Alexander II suffered his fatal wounds, within the church.

Built in the Muskovy style to mimic St. Basil’s in Red Square, Russian revolutionaries looted and vandalized the church in 1917, the Soviets closed it in the 1930s, and the cathedral served as a morgue during the Second World War.

After WWII, the Russians used it as a warehouse for produce, which the locals called Savior on Potatoes. Restoration efforts began in the 70s.

Tips for Visiting Cathedral on Spilled Blood

Part of the iconostasis.

Part of the iconostasis.

1. Audio guides and group tours are available in several foreign languages.

2. There’s a tourist market outside of the cathedral, just across the street from the church’s ticket booth. My tour guide told me the quality of the merchandise was generally pretty good, but the prices were geared for tourists (outlandish by her standards).

3. On the opposite side of the cathedral, Griboedov Canal is lined with a multitude of shops and restaurants.

4. This is one of the few Russian sightseeing stops where I didn’t have to check in my coat.

Travel in Moscow – The 1812 Museum

I did not get nearly enough time in Moscow, but did manage to see parts of Red Square and The Kremlin.

Red Square - The Changing of the Guard

Red Square – The Changing of the Guard

Lenin is looking a little worse for wear. Wax museum displays look a lot more real than  he does. And don’t expect to spend more than a minute or two in his tomb.

It’s underground, Lenin’s glass coffin providing the only light. You can’t dawdle, and you can’t take pictures, plus you’ll have to check in your backpacks and purses before going in. Security guards hustle everyone in and out, lickety-split — basically you can expect to walk in, walk around and get out. So in some respects, that was a little disappointing.

Moscow’s 1812 Museum

One of my favorite places though, is the 1812 Museum.  Read “War and Peace” if you want an in-depth look at the War of 1812. It was long and preachy, but the novel gave me a good base for understanding what happened without having to delve into a history book, which is the 5th layer of hell for me.

When I asked my tour guide (hired through Tours by Locals, which I highly recommend by the way) about Tolstoy’s rather cynical views of the war, he adamantly stated, “Oh we can trust Tolstoy.” He went into an explanation of why, exactly, but it was just his very sure tone that struck me as interesting. Russian cultural pride is still running strong — more on that in a moment.

Here are some highlights from the museum, no signs in English, so I was happy to have someone to translate:

Depiction of 1807 Treaty of Tilsit.

Depiction of 1807 Treaty of Tilsit.

Napoleon and Tsar Alexander decide to team up, signing a treaty in the middle of a river at Tilsit– France agreeing to help Russia in their fight against the Ottoman Empire, and Russia agreeing to assist the French in their war against the Brits. Russia couldn’t realistically oppose Britain though, so relations with Napoleon gradually deteriorated.

Napoleon begins his campaign against Russia in June of 1812, and reaches Moscow that September. And now there’s a museum to commemorate the war, which the Russians call the Patriotic War of 1812 (don’t confuse it with the Great Patriotic War, which is how the Russians refer to WWII.)

RussianUniform1812museum

Russian army uniforms of 1812.

Russian Uniforms of 1812

Look for double-headed eagles adorning all things Russian.

Want Bonaparte’s autograph? Try stealing this specimen. And if anyone ever invents time travel, I’m making a stop to steal these seals…with these rings come great power.

NapoleonLetter1812

NapoleonSeals1812

Russian Cossacks were something like a cross between a pirate and a soldier for hire, though they had to supply their own horses, arms, etc. The army didn’t have a lot of control over them.

Nonetheless, they were given orders to slash and burn, leaving very little in the way of food and supplies for Napoleon’s Grand Army on their way to Moscow.

The peasants helped too, using what tools they had available, willingly burning the lands they worked, supplies they stored, and the homes they lived in. This is where we get into that wonderful cultural pride again!

The Russians didn’t call it the Patriotic War for nothing.

Handy weapon of the Russian Peasant

Handy weapon of the Russian peasant

Compare the above photo to French weaponry:

GenBerthierPistols1812

General Berthier’s Pistols

GenBerthier1812

General Berthier’s Ceremonial Sword

NapoleonsCannon

Napoleonic cannon. The man put his mark on everything.

You’ll see abandoned cannon everywhere around the Kremlin. They’re all neatly lined up of course, but you’ll be amazed at how much Napoleon left behind.

Watch Tower Cathedral of Christ the Savior

I found this interesting:

Behind this watchtower in the Kremlin wall, you’ll see Christ the Savior Cathedral.

This cathedral was planned in 1812 by Tsar Alexander, in thanksgiving of mother Russia’s divine rescue from the evil French.

The first version was completed in 1817, but the foundation was unstable.

A second version was consecrated in 1883.

Josef Stalin had the second cathedral dynamited in 1931, partly to use the site for a political monument, but also to recoup the gold in the dome.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, the Russian Orthodox Church obtained permission to rebuild, but it wasn’t completed until 2000.

You’ll see lots of marble and other materials from destroyed cathedrals in metro stations throughout Moscow. What a country!

Tips for touring the 1812 Museum in Moscow:

1. Most museums, and many other public places in Russia, require you to check your coat — there are cloak rooms everywhere. The 1812 museum is no different.

2. The 1812 Museum was also exhibiting Portraits of the Tsars, if you want to attach faces to all of the interesting historical stories. Portraits can get boring, but I found it was helpful to have some visuals to keep everyone straight.

Empress Alexandra, 1852.

Empress Alexandra, 1852.

If you want to be my friend for life, I suggest you buy me this dress. Don’t forget the head piece.

Travel in Russia – The Planes, Trains & Automobiles Edition

Moscow is grittier. St. Petersburg is more refined. Getting there and getting around poses some unique challenges.

Going to Russia – Flying Aeroflub

First, I made the frugal but brave decision to fly Aeroflot – they had the cheapest ticket I could find at the time.

At first I couldn’t check in online, as the Aeroflot site was under repair and a few weeks past the deadline for when those repairs were supposed to finish. Scrolling to the bottom of the page though, I found a link that allowed me to choose my seat and print a boarding pass. An Aeroflot attendant ripped it up at the airport, and issued me a new pass. Same seat, so I was content.

Got on the plane, only to find that the entertainment system was broken. No movies, no games, no map of our progress for 12 hours. My seat mate, who flies Aeroflot regularly, told me this happens a lot. Bring an ipad. He didn’t have anything, so we took turns playing Angry Birds on mine. Apropos, no?

Caution: Icebergs lure drunk passengers practically into your lap. Don't fly Aeroflot.

Caution: Icebergs lure drunk passengers practically into your lap. Don’t fly Aeroflot.

Food was ok, except for the iceberg lettuce salad and French dressing, which I haven’t seen served since the fall of the Communist regime. The chocolate mousse-like dessert was pretty tasty.  The orange mousse-like dessert was tastier.

The return flight was better, though the plane landed two hours later than scheduled. No problem checking in, watched a few movies, and the food was better. No French dressing.  The only other problem was the drunk passengers passing around shots – one of whom kept wanting to lean over our seats to look out the window.

Going Cross Country, or Just Across Town – Trains & Subways

Getting lost in either city is a given, especially when your phone dies halfway through the day and you lose Google Maps. The main problem in that scenario is in reading the street signs, since the Russian alphabet is a form of Cyrrillic.

A Green Line Station in Moscow. I believe this one was used for Communist Party events and as a bomb shelter.

A Green Line Station in Moscow. I believe this one was used for Communist Party events and as a bomb shelter.

For example, the nearest metro station to my hotel in Moscow was the Dynamo station named for Dynamo Stadium, written in Russian like this: Дина́мо. That doesn’t look too bad, does it?

Don’t get too confident though. The only metro station where you can connect with the Aeroexpress Train to Sheremetyevo Airport is Belorussky Station, which looks like this: Белорусский вокзал. ­­How are you supposed to figure something like that out?

Thankfully, a female police officer took pity on me and pointed me in the right direction after watching me study a map in blank confusion for a good 10 minutes.

By the way, Belorussky Station is on the Green Line, at the intersection of the Brown City Circle line. You’ll have to leave the subway station and walk around it to find the entrance for the Aeroexpress Train ticketing.

Russian literacy challenges for Westerners aside though, the subway stations in both Moscow and St. Petersburg are very easy to navigate. Better yet, you can hop lines all day on one pass, if you don’t ever emerge from the underground, for about US$1. Which is good if you’re perpetually lost.

Moscow uses a disposable smart card, which you can load up with one trip or multiple trips. St. Petersburg stations use tokens, which will be replaced with smart cards soon. Buy your trips at the ticket windows or via vending machines in the stations.

Subway stations in Moscow are filled with murals, statues, ceiling paintings...

Subway stations in Moscow are decorated with murals, statues, ceiling paintings. Didn’t notice the same in St. Petersburg, but also didn’t use the subway as much.

On the escalators into and out of the metro stations, stand on the right, and pass on the left. If you stand still on the left, someone will inevitably and not very gently nudge you out of their way.

The Moscow subway stations post maps strictly in Russian, until you get on the trains, which have maps labeled in both Russian and in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). St. Petersburg stations have maps written both ways in the stations and on the trains. Street signs in the Burg are also written both ways, though the IPA is in a much smaller font.

The subway stations in Moscow are works of art. Some of them held Communist Party meetings in the middle of the last century. Most of them are decorated from stone, marble and fixtures of beautiful churches destroyed by the Communists. If I had more time, definitely would have spent an afternoon train-hopping.

Long Distance Rail in Russia

I tried buying rail tickets to and from St. Petersburg online, through the Russian Railways website. Unfortunately, I couldn’t complete my transactions, which meant buying tickets at the last minute.

This forced me into first class on a Sapsan Train, which I loved. The attendant was fluent in English, brought me the Moscow Times in English, offered me American coffee instead of tea. It’s the only way to go, especially since it’s only a four hour trip.

Wikipedia says the Sapsan lines are Russian Railways' only profitable train service.  Considering the crowds, I find that unlikely, but who knows?

Wikipedia says the Sapsan lines are Russian Railways’ only profitable train service. Considering the crowds, I find that unlikely, but who knows?

Returning to Moscow on an 8 hour sleeper train though, I was forced into a “couchette.” Moral of the story? Buy tickets a few days in advance, and take the high speed Sapsan.

One other tip:  Google Translator helped me buy my return ticket. I just handed the agent my phone in which I typed First Class cabin, sleeper train, time, date and destination.  The agent seemed appreciative of my efforts, preferring that to trying to communicate via hand gestures through a bulletproof glass window. Too bad there were no first class sleepers left.

Getting Around by Car

Russian drivers are a bit crazy, but not in the same way as drivers in Rome or New Delhi. Russian drivers seem much more orderly, but they think nothing of pulling up onto a sidewalk and parking their cars on them, especially in Moscow. But then again, check this out:

 

 

Moscow River on the left, Kremlin on the right, with a small taste of Moscow traffic weaving in between.

Moscow River on the left, Kremlin on the right, with a small taste of Moscow traffic weaving in between.

I also watched three cars pull a u-turn from the middle of a gridlocked intersection…a feat I would not have wanted to attempt. Luckily, I wasn’t driving anywhere.  Traffic jams looked pretty bad, even by L.A. and NY standards.

Moscow is full of unlicensed taxi drivers. Just stick out your hand, someone will pull over, and the two of you negotiate destination and price. If you’re walking, they will pull up next to you and ask if you want a taxi. Traveling alone, I didn’t want to try it. Just say “nyet” and keep walking.

Licensed taxis look almost the same as Western taxis, except that there are no meters. I suggest getting a price quote before starting out.

That worked every time except once, when the driver quoted 200 rubles, but then told me it was 2,000 at my destination. He claimed language barriers. But considering he lowered the price to 1, 500 and then 1,000 when I told him I didn’t have the cash, I’m pretty sure I still got robbed. This happened in St. Petersburg. Maybe write down the figure to get confirmation before starting? Better yet, ask the concierge or front desk agents at your hotel to call a taxi for you, and to get a price quote.

Getting Around in Russia, Overall

1. When possible, book tickets in advance. Train tickets however, are nonrefundable, so make sure you ‘re sure of your plans.

2. Translator apps  and body language are your friends. When asking directions it helps to plug your questions into a translator, or to simply pull up a photo of the museum or destination you are trying to find. Add a questioning facial expression and you’re generally understood.

Summer in Mammoth Lakes – A One Day Tour

I had planned on seeing a lot more of Mammoth Lakes than I actually did. Unfortunately, my flight from Los Angeles had to turn back – a severe thunderstorm prevented us from landing, and I wasn’t able to book another flight back until two days later.

Take heart if you’d rather fly than drive though – a flight attendant told us that that was only the second time in her 22 year career in which her plane had to fly back to its point of origin.

Mammoth Village – The Adventure Begins

The great thing about Mammoth Lakes is that there are free shuttle services just about everywhere. However, I opted to take the Reds Meadow Shuttle, which cost $7/adult.

The Reds Meadow shuttle has stops at hiking trails leading to Devil’s Postpile, Minaret Falls, Rainbow Falls, etc.  There are 10 stops for this shuttle, and passengers can freely hop on and off to their hearts content.

So hike a bit, sightsee, then hop back on the bus for a little break.

The Reds Meadow Shuttle is about five miles from town and if you want to see Devil’s Postpile, you have to take it if you’re visiting between June and October. There are a few exceptions for private vehicle access, but the shuttle keeps down traffic on the one lane road, thus protecting both the fragile environment, and lollygagging tourists driving on unfamiliar mountain roads.

Besides, you’ll have more fun as a passenger – the shuttle driver will point out various landmarks and mountain peaks and you can devote all of your attention to the scenery rather than navigating steep hairpin turns.

To get to the Reds Meadow Shuttle, continue along the 203/Main Street and make a right on CA-203/Minaret Road. Stay on Minaret approximately five miles.

You’ll emerge from the woods and see cars parked along the roadsides – these spaces are free. As you get closer to the scenic gondola, rock-climbing wall, etc. you’ll find parking lots where an attendant will collect $10 per car. Go early if you want free parking.

Devil’s Postpile a Rock of the Tectonic Ages

Devil's Postpile a Towering Rack of BasaltWhat is Devil’s Postpile? It’s a national monument established in 1911, a Mammoth Lakes tourist Mecca, and a geologist’s prime example of ancient, columnar basalt.

It’s what’s left of a lava lake estimated to be about 400 feet deep. As the lava cooled, it contracted and cracked, forming the vertical columns. Freezing and thawing cycles over the centuries have sheered off the columns, creating the basalt pillars we see strewn on the ground below.

Signs around the monument instruct you to keep off the rocks – presumably for the same reason you shouldn’t run with scissors. Though I think I’d worry about rattlesnakes too.

Rainbow Falls a Killer Trek for Non-Hikers

The hike to Devil’s Postpile is fairly easy. The trail to Rainbow Falls can be quite another story. Supposedly, this walk is only 2.5 miles from the shuttle stop but it can get pretty steep in some areas.

On my way down I spotted a woman on the trail returning from the Falls on crutches. Then I noticed she was missing a leg. Her group had stopped for a breath, and just as I was passing heard her rally, “Let’s go! The sooner we get to the top, the sooner we can have a beer!” And off she clumped along, her friends surrounding her like a protective posse.

Now who wouldn’t find that inspiring?

Rainbow Falls crashes down about 100 feet, but it had shed its rainbow by the time I got to it. There’s a scenic overlook above the falls where you can watch the massive movement of water and ponder the courage of the crazy souls swimming in the pool at the bottom.

From this overlook you can take a steeper path further down and join the swimmers if you like. I debated. Then I debated some more. Then a few raindrops fell and I took it as a sign from the universe that I should head back to the shuttle.

On the return path, the trail branches off. The path on the left was the trail by which I came: slightly challenging, more or less uphill, but not too bad. The upper trail on the right had a sign for some kind of general store and camping area. I opted for the new trail, which nearly killed me because it was much steeper.

A quarter of the way through it, I was cursing the woman on crutches and all of her beer-guzzling friends.

At the halfway point I figured a knee replacement was in my immediate future, and I had visions of suffocating to death as I could NOT catch my breath. I took many breaks and made it back to the shuttle reeking of sweat and gasping like a fish. You granola groupies would love it.

Ansel Adams Wilderness Razed by Fire

Ansel Adams Wilderness, Mammoth LakesIf nothing else, the trail to Rainbow Falls and the Falls themselves are visually worth the aggravation. I can see why Ansel Adams was so smitten by his muse. But I have to warn you, you’ll see a lot of downed trees everywhere along the Reds Meadow shuttle road, and when you stumble across Adams’ Wilderness you’ll find even more.

The burned stumps and leveled trunks are victims of a forest fire that blazed in 1992. You’ll spot some new growth, but the devastating fire really took a toll on the landscape.

And that concludes my one day tour of Mammoth Lakes. I loved it, though my knees are still berating me.

Next up: a trip to Mono Lake, home of surreal beauty, a soul-soothing stroll, and billions and billions of curious little flies.

Ossuary at Sedlec in Kutná Hora | Keeping Up With the Bones-es

Ok, it was time to venture out of Prague, one of the most perfect cities I’ve ever seen. Prague is gorgeous in its proper lines and uptight architecture. And the natives work hard to keep it clean and everything running smoothly.

View from Charles Bridge Tower in Prague

View of the orderly buildings and Vltava River, from the Charles Bridge.

Seriously, if you have a chance to stop in Prague, make sure you do so. The impressive Charles Bridge itself will be worth the trip.

Anyway…

We were in the Czech Republic belatedly celebrating my birthday and the boyfriend and I decided it was time for a little tour into the Bohemian countryside. I was dying to see the Bone Church (pun half-heartedly intended)…and since this happens to be Halloween weekend, I thought it’d be the perfect time to tell you about the bone collection.

The ossuary is located in Sedlec, a small town in the Kutná Hora district about an hour’s drive east of Prague, at a rather tiny Roman Catholic church called the Church of All Saints. To get a look at the bones, you’ll have to descend a flight of stairs into the lower chapel.

Don’t be afraid. Once you get down there, you will be positively amazed.

Why? Because there are bones EVERYWHERE. Piled up in pyramids, dangling from light fixtures…actually, they ARE the light fixtures. They’re used to hold up candles, decorate the altar and adorn the walls.

And why is there such a massive collection of skulls, femurs and tibias all in one place? Because the Bohemians and many of their European neighbors decided little, old Sedlec is a holy place for burial.

Sedlec Church of All Saints' Towers of Bones

There were four of these pyramidical constructions at the Sedlec ossuary.

Crusading Times

It all started with a local abbot who was sent to Palestine in the 13th century. He brought back some soil from the Holy Land – Golgotha, actually – which he devoutly sprinkled around the abbey cemetery. Apparently European Christians thought this was just great, and so they all wanted to be buried in this particular cemetery, covered in holy dirt, if possible.

Shouldn’t be a problem, should it? Well, enter stage left, the Black Death — and all of a sudden it became a huge problem, as the monastery’s cemetery quickly ran out of burial space. And so the good brothers buried bodies wherever they could.

Which still didn’t stop the dying from wanting to be buried there. No one knows exactly how many skeletons rest in the Church of all Saints, but the current estimate is approximately 40,000.

The Bone Church in Sedlec sports macabre decorations.

Garlands of skulls stream throughout the chapel.

Rumor has it that the initial church was built in the 15th century, and that a semi-blind monk was assigned the task of stacking the bones in an orderly fashion. But it wasn’t until the 19th century when someone decided to get creative with the pieces.

If you’d like to read more about the ossuary at Sedlec in Kutna Hora, go here: http://www.kostnice.cz/. Choose your language: Czech, English or German?

Definitely visit the site before you get to Sedlec though. We missed the fact that the bone-arranging artist (a wood carver named František Rint) signed his work – in bones of course – on one of the chapel walls.

Bone Chandelier at Sedlec Ossuary in Czech Republic.

I would expect a chandelier like this at Vlad the Impaler’s castle…not in a small church in the Czech countryside.

Bhaktapur Nepal | City of Culture & Town of Devotees

Bhaktapur Nepal - Residents off to work?

One of the gates to the city of Bhaktapur Nepal.

We arrived around 8:30 on a January morning to a city enshrouded in mist – one of the most magical sights I’ve ever experienced.

We came from the west, having spent a night in Kathmandu about 10 miles away; and the van we hired let us off at a ticket booth just outside one of the gates. The entrance fee cost US$10, which I only remember because the ticket was printed specifically in English, with a US price listed on top.

Bhaktapur Nepal the Town of Devotees

Early morning fog added a magical quality to Bhaktapur Nepal.

The residents of Bhaktapur were just coming awake, though the shrines and temples all stood silent and somnolent.  Though everything seemed to lie still, we could sense movement here and there. People hurrying off to work, the farms, or wherever they go so early on a January morning.

Even the 3 year old who insisted on accompanying us on this day trip seemed to feel the peace of the place. He was unusually quiet for a young person just coming out of his terrible twos – for the first hour anyway.

As the fog rose and dissipated, the city woke up and came alive. Architectural detail became more apparent, and we all could readily appreciate the craftsmanship of each individually carved window and each tribute to the deities.

Bhaktapur is an ancient city, and once served as the capitol of Kathmandu Valley in Nepal through the 14th through 16th centuries, which may explain so much artistic splendor in the architecture.  However, a 1934 earthquake destroyed many of the temples and buildings in Durbar Square. The German government helped restore much of the city in the 70’s and 80’s, reviving many medieval structures.

Exploring a Bhaktapur Nepal residential neighborhood.

A winding passage through a Bhaktapur residential area.

Despite the significant help from Germany, Bhaktapur inhabitants are very self-sufficient. They farm the surrounding countryside and continue to chip away at ancient stone and wood to maintain the temples and homes within the city walls.  You’ll see scaffolding everywhere, as restoration continues on.

Most of the workers and Bhaktapur inhabitants are Newars, a people grouped by the common language called Nepal Bhasa. The Newaris primarily practice Hinduism, though about 15 percent are Buddhists.

TIP #1: When traveling India and Nepal, don’t be surprised to see specific ticket windows for the natives and separate windows for foreigners or tourists. The fees will differ too.

TIP#2: Some areas of Bhaktapur are off limits to non-Hindus. These areas will be guarded, so no worries about accidentally violating someone’s sacred space.

NOTE: You should know that there are THREE Durbar Squares in the Kathmandu Valley, one at Bhaktapur, one in Patan, and the third in the city of Kathmandu itself – and that UNESCO (or the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) lists the entire valley as a World Heritage Site.

A Travel Conversation on Facebook

Hena Cuevas Airplane announcement arriving in La Paz: “Ladies and Gentlemen, as required by law we will be FUMIGATING the aircraft for INSECTS. This spray is not toxic to humans.” What??? In an enclosed space??? Then sssshhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh as the flight attendants sprayed the entire cabin with insecticide!!!!!!!!!!

2 people like this.

  • Taime Bengochea I am sure that is good for you!

    6 hours ago ·
  • Chris Podbielski Are you KIDDING me?

    6 hours ago ·
  • Zue J-M Hahahhahaahah!! For real? Are you joking?

    6 hours ago ·
  • Ron Palmer Sounds like the treatment for a Samuel L Jackson movie.

    “I’M TIRED OF THESE *bleeeeep* INSECTS ON THIS *bleeeeep* PLANE!!”

    6 hours ago ·
  • Hena Cuevas It was so shocking I didn’t have time to take a picture of the actual fumigation… AND the look on the passenger’s faces!

    6 hours ago ·
  • Chris Podbielski You have the best travel stories Hena…and I know a little blog that could use your input! 🙂

    6 hours ago ·
  • Juline Jordan oh my gosh, Hena – I would have freaked!

    5 hours ago ·
  • Charlene Love OMG!

    5 hours ago ·
  • Christopher Turner Did it work?

    4 hours ago ·
  • Liliana Escalante welcome to Bolivia!!

    4 hours ago ·
  • Malayna Dawn They do that on Sri Lankan Airlines flights too. Everyone covers their noses and mouths and holds their breath. Afterward there’s a lingering scent of cotton candy. But you don’t want any bugs following you home OR on vacation, do you?

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