Touring Fortifications in Transylvania

If you get the opportunity to visit Transylvania in Romania, there is much more to see than the supposed castle of Dracula. Set in the hills of the Carpathian mountains, there are several peasant church fortifications as well as the Fortress in Rasnov.  We took a day tour out of Brasov and were able to visit these locations, although we weren’t able to get inside of the fortress in Rasnov. Seeing the churches that are surrounded by walls with rooms for the villagers to live in during a seige was truly quite fascinating and different than anything else that we saw in other parts of Europe.

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Church in the Fortification in Prejmer

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Fortification in Harman

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Three Stories of Rooms

The first location that we visited was the fortified church in Prejmer, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the strongest church fortification in Transylvania. Apparently it was attacked about 50 times during its history, but only ever conquered a single time in 1611. Not only has it withstood the ravages of battle, it has also withstood the ravages of time as it is still looks the same today as it did hundreds of years ago dating back to when it was first built back in the early 13th century. If you are willing to walk the old wooden stairs and walkways, there are rooms showing what life would have been like for the peasants who took refuge there.

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Prejmer Church

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Room Replica

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Inside of Prejmer Church

Our second stop was to the fortified church of Harman, which also dates back to the 13th century. It was, however, reinforced over the centuries, making it another resilient stronghold. Although time has taken its toll on the frescos of the church, enough remains to allow you to imagine what it must have been like during the days of its usage. There are also seven towers around the fortress walls, making it quite striking to see from the outside. We were there in the heart of winter and it was extremely cold, but that didn’t keep us from enjoying our time in the fortifications and churches. You can also climb to the top of the bell tower if you would like, but be sure to pay attention to the time as the bells still ring at the top of the hour.

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Roof of Church in Harman

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Bell Tower

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Fortress Tower

The final stop on our tour was the Rasnov Fortress. This was meant to be the highlight of the day as it is a large fortress on top the hillside that remains in excellent condition. We should have known something was up when we arrived and the area where tourists had to park was mostly empty. We were told that we could take a little trolley up the steep hillside, but we decided to go ahead and walk. When we arrived at the top, we found that the ticket office was closed, but there was a security guard nearby, so we asked where we could get tickets. We were told that the fortress was closed as they were filming an “American movie” on the grounds and we weren’t even allowed to go any further than the entrance gate. We took a couple of photos and began walking down the hillside. As we walked the road, several large black SUV’s with tinted windows passed us as well as trucks filled with scaffolding and filming materials. We never did find out what movie was being shot or whether there might have been movie stars in those vehicles, but perhaps we will see the movie one day.

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Rasnov Fortress

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Rooms in the Harman Fortification

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Exterior of the Prejmer Fortification

Despite the cold and the disappointment of not seeing Rasnov Fortress, it really was a very interesting day. The countryside of Transylvania has many different things to see, including the town of Brasov, which have a more tangible connection with real history rather than the myth of a vampire.

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Another Room in Prejmer

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Another Tower in Harman

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Church Entrance in Prejmer

 

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Do You Love Where You Live?

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The Mountains of Colorado

A lot of people think that where they live is one of the best places in the world. We have certainly seen some beautiful places, fascinating cities, and gorgeous landscapes, but we find it hard not to think of Colorado as a very special place to live. We recently have had the opportunity to pretty much move wherever we would like within the continental United States, but even after consideration of other locations, we have decided to continue to make Colorado our home. Although flying from Denver isn’t always as convenient as someplace like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston, etc., but we can get to every place we want to go, it might just take us a little longer.

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Rugged Scenery

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Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs

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Leadville, Colorado

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Hiking Near Cripple Creek, Colorado

What we might sacrifice for convenience we more than make up for in the natural beauty and opportunities for outdoor adventure. Regardless of the time of year, heading into the mountains always results in a memorable experience. Like many other travelers, we are often absorbed with going some place new, some place we have never been before, and don’t take enough time to truly explore the treasures in our own backyard. We actually keep a list of places that are within a few hours drive so that we can use a weekend to go and discover some of these unique locations.

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Hiking in Autumn

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Aspen Grove

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Aspen with the Slopes in the Background

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Paint Mines Interpretive Park near Colorado Springs

With that in mind, we thought that we would provide some visual evidence as to why we think Colorado is such a wonderful place to live. This week’s Daily Post Photo Challenge is Tour Guide and we will do our best to take you on a journey across different parts of Colorado and some of the historic towns of the old west. Starting with Colorado Springs and then heading into the high country, there is seemingly something to see around every corner. Do you love where you live and take time to explore it?

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View from Cheyenne Mountain over Colorado Springs

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Outside of Boulder, Colorado

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Cripple Creek, Colorado

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Beaver Creek, Colorado

 

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Philly Cheesesteak

We used to live outside of Philadelphia many years ago and one of our favorite meals were Philly Cheesesteaks. We have tried to get them occasionally here in Colorado and with few exceptions, nothing matches the real thing. Every time we are back in Pennsylvania, we make sure to get an Italian Hoagie and a Philly Cheesesteak, which is what we did a couple of years ago. There are a couple of important things to making a good Philly and that is getting a good, soft, hoagie roll and the other is slicing the meat very thin. We aren’t going to get into a debate as to the best place to get a Philly in Philadelphia, but in our opinion getting one from one of the many food carts downtown is better than most of the famous restaurants. Some people believe that a Philly should be served with cheese sauce instead of real cheese, but we think that provolone cheese is the authentic way to serve a cheesesteak. The only alteration that we made to the traditional cheesesteak was to add mushrooms, which you will find as an option on the food carts, and it just adds a little extra flavor. This recipe serves up to four people and is really delicious.

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Cheesesteak in Collegeville, Pennsylvania (Just Outside of Philadelphia)

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 lb Top Round Beef – sliced extremely thin
  • 1 Medium Green Pepper – sliced
  • 1 Medium Yellow Onion – sliced
  • 5 to 6 Medium Button Mushrooms – destemmed and sliced
  • 2 tbsp Vegetable Oil
  • 1/4 lb Provolone Cheese – sliced
  • 4 Hoagie Rolls
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
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Sliced Vegetables

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Sautéed Meat and Vegetable Mixture

INSTRUCTIONS

Prepare the vegetables being sure to slice each of them in equal thicknesses. Heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the green peppers. After the peppers have sautéed for about 2 to 3 minutes and then add the onions. After about another 5 minutes, add the mushrooms and continue to sauté until they begin to caramelize slightly (don’t over cook them). Remove the vegetables from the pan, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and drain on a paper towel. Turn an oven onto broil at 500 degrees. Salt and pepper the beef and then add the meat to the same pan that you cooked the vegetables and cook until it is just starting to brown (again, don’t over cook the beef). Add the vegetables back to the pan and cook for about 3 minutes, just to combine them and reheat the vegetables. Open the hoagie rolls, being sure not to completely separate the halves, and place them on a baking sheet. Add 1/4 of the meat and vegetable mixture to each of the rolls and place cheese over the meat mixture. Broil for about 5 minutes or until the cheese is bubbly. Transfer to a plate and serve with mayonnaise. You can add lettuce and tomato if you would like, but that isn’t necessarily traditional.

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Cooking the Vegetables

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Cook the Meat Quickly

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Ready to Serve

 

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Beating the Crowds in Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park has such an amazing variety of scenery and wildlife that it is not surprising why people travel from around the world to visit. We have been fortunate enough to go to Yellowstone over a dozen times over the years and every visit has been as unique as the wildlife that we have seen. There have been times when trying to see the park has been a frustrating experience as the cars and RV’s turn the few roads that traverse the park into virtual parking lots. Joining the crowds at Old Faithful and the Grand Prismatic Lake can make it feel more like you are waiting in line at an amusement park rather than enjoying the beauty of one the most spectacular places on earth. Unless you enjoy people watching, there a few tips that should help you have a more enjoyable experience.

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Amazing Waterfall in Yellowstone

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Beauty along the Roadside

  1. Get Off of the Roads – If you want to have a truly memorable experience, talk to the rangers and get a map of the various hiking trails that can be found throughout the park. The rangers will also be able to provide guidance as to which trails should be avoided due to bears or other predators that might be active in the area. Although everyone wants to see wild animals in their natural environment, having a close encounter with a grizzly bear is something that you definitely want to avoid. There are trails to suit almost anyone’s hiking capabilities from the very youngest to the older among us. There are even trails around some of the major attractions that will allow you to see them from angles that other tourists don’t get to see and the lack of crowds will make the experience even better. It is always amazing to us how just jumping onto the trail can transform the park from masses of people into a world of serene isolation.
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    Getting a Different View

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    All Alone on a Trail

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    Views without the Crowds

  2. Go into the Park Early or Late in the Day – Many of the typical tourists that visit the park start their days around 8:00 am and leave the park in time to catch dinner outside of the park. Not only will getting up before dawn and heading into the park or staying until the sun is setting has the dual benefit of avoiding some of the crowds, but also increases the chances of seeing wildlife as the animals are more active as the sun rises and sets. Also, the earlier that you can get to some of the more popular spots, the fewer people you will have to share the experience with. After all, Old Faithful erupts approximately every hour and a half regardless of the time of day.
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    Brown Bear

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    Tranquil Pond

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    Elk Late in the Afternoon

  3. Enter from the North Entrance – Obviously this depends upon where you might decide to stay, but the northern entrance from Montana is usually a little less busy than the West Yellowstone entrance or the southern entrance near Jackson Hole. Both of those entrances are in Wyoming and the southern entrance is probably the busiest. We love combining the Grand Tetons, Jackson Hole, and Yellowstone into a single visit, but perhaps not during the height of the tourist season, which leads directly to the next piece of advice.
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    Amazing Views

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    Getting Away from the Road

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    Grand Prismatic Lake

  4. Go During the Off-Season – Although the only real off-season is winter, the earlier in spring or the later in autumn you are willing to go, the fewer people will be there along side of you. Personally, our favorite time to visit the park is during fall when the leaves are changing and the animals are actively preparing for winter. You need to be extra cautious when hiking in early spring or fall as the animals can be aggressive as they defend their feeding grounds at the end of the year or their newborns early in the year. As we mentioned before, always check with the rangers, regardless of the time of year, before hiking in the park. Don’t confuse the park with a zoo, these are wild animals who just happen to live in an area that is protected.
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    Moose in Winter

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    Seeing the Park Differently

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    Hiking in Autumn

Going to Yellowstone National Park should be on everyone’s list to visit at least once in their lives. You will need several days or preferably a week in order to see as much of the park as possible, so bring your camera, binoculars, and your patience. Hopefully these tips will help make your visit a little better, but just realize that their are a lot of other people who want to see a place with such natural beauty. You will never have the park to yourself, but there are ways to make the most of your experience.

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Amazing Scenery in Yellowstone

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It Almost Doesn’t Look Real

 

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Prague Castle Complex

One of the most amazing places we visited during our time in Europe was the Prague Castle Complex. There are many beautiful castles throughout Europe, but the sheer size and number of structures on the grounds of Prague Castle made it one of the most fascinating. Dating back to the 9th century with new additions being added throughout its history, the complex has the castle fortress, palaces, gardens, cathedrals and churches, a monastery, as well as several defense towers. This is definitely one of those places that you could visit several times and still see something new every time.

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Standing in Front of the Palace

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St. Vitus Cathedral

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View from the Castle Complex

Seeing the castle complex from Charles Bridge is one of the most iconic sights that you will ever see while traveling around Europe. Once you cross the bridge, you enter a city of its own that surrounds the castle. We were on a walking tour, so we didn’t get to go inside of the Royal Palace, the St. Vitus Cathedral, or St. George’s Basilica, but there is so much to see just walking around the grounds. We were there during the off-season and the crowds were still very large and the lines to enter the palace were several hours long and the cathedral was closed during our visit. If you have the time and are willing to wait in the long lines, based on what we have heard, it is worth it to see the luxurious grandeur that awaits you when you enter.

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Waiting in Line

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St. Vitus Cathedral and the Prague Castle Complex, Czech Republic

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Beautiful Building on the Complex Grounds

Walking through the complex, the spires of the St. Vitus Cathedral dominate the skyline and it is a wonderful example of a gothic cathedral. And yet, somehow, it felt unique compared to many of the other gothic cathedrals that we have seen in Europe. There are so many incredible details on the exterior of the cathedral that you are treated to something new around every corner. The colorful fresco above the doors of the cathedral was one of the more interesting features that we saw as we toured around the complex.

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Artwork Above the Doors

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Classic Gothic Style of St. Vitus Cathedral

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Gothic Details

The views from the castle complex are amazing and you are treated to an incredible cityscape that overlooks the ancient red roofs with the modern city of Prague off in the distance. After leaving the palace and cathedral, you walk through the narrow streets of the Golden Lane as well as streets lined with shops and restaurants. Everywhere you look, your eyes are greeted with the fascinating architecture of Prague. There is so much to see in this wonderful city, but visiting the Prague Castle Complex is certainly one of the highlights of any visit. If you want to capture the memory forever, stop at the stand of one of the many artists that are on Charles Bridge and purchase an original piece of art at a reasonable price that captures the sights of Prague.

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Old World Prague with Modern Prague in the Distance

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Walking the Narrow Streets

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Beautiful Architecture Walking Down from the Castle Complex

 

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How Do You Choose Your Next Travel Destination?

Deciding where you want to spend your money and time visiting can be one of the more stressful decisions that anyone can make before traveling. There are many ways to make that decision and some of those might be determined by your personality. Some people are willing to throw a dart at a map and randomly go wherever fate might take them and other people use very rigid logic in making that decision. There are times when you pick a location because it has always been on your bucket list and there are other times when you have a fixed budget and you find a place that fits within it.

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Iceland

We choose our destinations based on a mix of all of those styles. We generally start with a relative date in mind and definitely have a budget in mind. From there we generally start searching airfares for a variety of locations as that is often the bulk of the expense and there aren’t always as many options. We try to go to someplace that we haven’t before and we basically start with several cities across those locations and then look for airfares using different apps. A good example of this was our first trip to South America where we looked at Peru, Columbia, Chile, but ultimately ended up choosing Bolivia.

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Spain

During our time in Europe, choosing a location was far more random, but basically followed the same pattern. We would sit down for dinner on a Wednesday evening and toss out ideas of where to go that weekend and then check prices. Because we were traveling on fairly short notice, availability of transportation and hotels was usually a bigger deciding factor. If there was limited availability, it would normally drive prices up and we would decide to go someplace else.

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Bolivia

We are currently trying to figure out our next big trip that will take place in the near future and are struggling with making a decision. Part of that is due to our own schedules and nailing down a time window and part of that is finding reasonable prices for the places that we are considering. We are leaning towards some place in Asia, but who knows if that is where we will end up traveling. This might sound insane to some people who plan things out years in advance, but for us, picking a destination can be as much a part of the adventure as the actual trip. How do you pick the places that you visit?

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Temples at Mahabalipuram, India

 

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Another Colorado Sunset

One of the things that we love about living in Colorado are the incredible sunsets that we get from time to time. We enjoy seeing sunsets wherever we go, but there is something about seeing a sunset from your own home that is truly special. Perhaps it is the effect of the radiant colors, but watching a sunset is not only tranquil, but usually gives a warm feeling inside. Stopping for a moment and just watching the colors of the sky change and the sun dip below the horizon is almost like a micro-vacation, even if for only a few minutes. One of the things that made this sunset a little unique was that we weren’t facing west, watching the sun drop below the peaks of the mountains, but instead were facing east and seeing the rays of the sun get collected by the clouds. We took the photos with our phones, so the quality might not be as crisp, but you can still get a sense of it beauty. This week’s Daily Post Photo Challenge is Beloved and there is nothing that represents that more to us than these serene moments.

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The Initial View

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Swirling Clouds

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Just Above the Trees

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Consuming the Sky in the End

 

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Apfelwein – A Perfect Drink for the Season

We were reflecting back upon our time in Germany and how much we enjoyed the local beverage of Frankfurt.

Living The Q Life

As we toured through the old city, called Altstadt in German, we came across a wonderful little festival that is going on through next weekend. Besides the food vendors and vendors selling art, clothing, and souvenirs, there were also booths for wine and even better, Apfelwein, or apple wine. It isn’t actually a wine, but is actually a hard cider fermented from pressed apples. Unlike hard ciders that you find in the United States, this wasn’t as fruity, but rather more like a mild beer and quite delicious. It is always served in a lattice-patterned glass called a Gerippte and for larger groups you can get blue and gray pitchers called Bembels.

Apfelwien in Glasses Apfelwien in Glasses

Festival Sign Festival Sign

Clowning Around Clowning Around

Although we have already had our fair share of local beers already, trying the Apfelwein was truly enjoyable, especially with the cool brisk autumn air and the leaves changing on the…

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Crossroads from the Sky

When you fly over a city, you truly get an opportunity to see the layout of a city. One of the things that naturally catches your eyes are the intersections of major highways as you approach or depart from the city. You can imagine the traffic flowing through these crossroads as they try to make their way to their destination. If you have tried to make your way through older cities that have naturally grown over time, you can start to appreciate why the architects of modern cities take a more practical approach to laying out the streets and highways. This week’s Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge are words or photos that contain the letter X. You might have to use your imagination slightly, but here are several photos of intersections that we have seen as we have flown into various cities.

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Flight into Cochabamba

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Going to Quito

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Flying into Lima

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Landing in Frankfurt, Germany

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Highway in Austin

 

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Saint Thomas Cathedral Basilica and Saint Thomas Mount in Chennai, India

After going to several Hindu temples during our stay in Chennai, going to the Saint Thomas Cathedral Basilica was a unique experience. The church is built over the tomb of Saint Thomas, one of the 12 disciples of Jesus, which is one of only three churches in the world to be built over the tomb of a disciple. You should also make time to visit Saint Thomas Mount and Little Mount, which has the cave where Saint Thomas hid. Combined, these three locations create a truly unique experience inside of the country of India.

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View of the Cathedral

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View from Saint Thomas Mount

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Statue as You Climb to Saint Thomas Mount

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Saint Thomas Mount

The original church over the tomb of Saint Thomas was built by Portuguese explorers in the 16th century and then later rebuilt by the British in the 19th century. The current cathedral was finished in the late 19th century and is in the typical Neo-Gothic style. The white exterior is quite striking especially against the blue skies. Unfortunately we were not able to enter the church while we were there, but we understand that it is very beautiful and that you are able to see Saint Thomas’ tomb.

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Standing Outside of the Cathedral

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Cathedral Tower

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Cathedral Spire

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Handprint Worn into the Rock

There are several features that make visiting Saint Thomas Mount and Little Mount quite fascinating. For a small donation, you are able to enter the cave where Saint Thomas hid and there is even a rock that is supposed to have been worn down by his hand. There is also a spring that is just outside of the cave called the Saint Thomas Fountain, which supposed provided healing powers to those that came to listen to him and people still drink from it today in order to be cured. To get to the top of Saint Thomas Mount, where Saint Thomas was speared while praying in front of a cross, you climb up a steep hill and pass by many figurines denoting the history of Saint Thomas. There is a cross carved into a rock that was believed to be carved by Saint Thomas and many believers report that it continues to bleed to this very day.

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Bleeding Cross

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Shrine Inside of the Cave

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Where Saint Thomas was Speared

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Climbing Up the Mount

Seeing both of these locations during our trip was something that was extremely memorable. It can also be a slight refuge from the hectic noises of the city as it isn’t visited by as many people as other place in Chennai.

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Entrance with the Last Supper

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Another View from the Mount

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Bell Tower

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Barred Window Inside of the Cave

 

 

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