In a whirlwind backpacking Eastern Europe trip, I made sure to include Berlin on my MUST SEE places to visit. With missing my train in Prague, because it was my first time using the train in Europe. Then the next train I boarded on caught on fire, making me miss my original tour. Berlin Historical Walks came in for the save! Sean Stewart (my tour guide) taught me how to tour Berlin in 12 Hours or less.
I gave Sean the task of convincing me that Berlin was more complex than what the History Channel teaches. I remember sitting with my Grandma and Grandpa on weekends watching movies about the history of Berlin, and WWII movies.
I also gave him the task of convincing me that the German people weren’t rude, and aloof like I had been told they were before visiting. So come with me, as I go on a walking tour of Berlin with Sean, and learn just how much this country has been through.
Map of the Walking Tour
The purple and orange are where I would suggest you visit. If you plan to visit a museum, you must weigh and measure the amount of time you would like to spend there. Also, factor in a time to grab some street food along the way because all the walking is going to make you hungry. The Yellow is where you can find a bathroom. The Black are other important sites I would suggest you visit if you have the time to travel that distance. Otherwise, all of this can be reached on foot.
Luggage Storage and the Train Station
Arriving at the Train station is going to be very confusing, especially for Americans who are used to driving their cars or taking the subway. This is a whole other animal in public transportation. This train station is complex and easy to get lost in. The ticket counters are on the main level, I suggest you buy your ticket prior to leaving on any tour so you don’t get stuck there overnight – even with a EURail Pass you must have a seat reservation or you can get fined.
The luggage locker is about 2-6 Euros depending on how much time you want to store your luggage. Smaller the luggage the better, because then you can empty out your squishable bags into the smaller lockers that are usually leftover. If you arrive early in the morning, you might get a larger luggage locker – but don’t count on it.
There are four different levels to this train station and is one of the main hubs of connection for much of Europe. Do not expect people to speak English, I can’t recall if they have Wifi or not – but I would get Google translate access on your phone just in case. You don’t want to end up on the wrong train to your next destination. Google translate will be your best friend when getting onto the right train, the right car, and in a good seat.
If you book with Sean (no I’m not sponsored to say this- but I should have been, lol) – he will meet you at the train station to help you figure it out and help you to store your luggage. He will also help you get onto the right train/bus to get back to the station or the airport.
Sites To See During 12 Hours in Berlin
We started our 12-hour tour of Berlin near the Brandenburg Gate then wound our way on foot throughout the town. If you go in the off-season (early spring/late fall), it is not going to be crowded and you can really take it all in without fighting hoards of tourists.
Built around 1790 by Prussian King Frederick William II as the main entry point to the city of Berlin is the Brandenburg Gate. If you look at the top of the gate, there is a large statue, the Quadriga. It is said to represent the statue of the goddess of victory, as she appears to be barreling into the city on her chariot pulled by four horses. I’m a little bit vertically challenged and it was starting to rain, so this picture is as good as you will get of that statue.
This gate has survived and been witness to Napoleon’s seizure of the city, Hitler’s propaganda parade to the presidential palace, World War II. This was on the side of East Berlin and stood firm against all the tragedies of the Cold War. It has morphed, been repaired, altered, and throughout it all still stands as a monument to the resilience of Germany and its people to come back from dark places of history.
Photography tip: The Brandenburg Gate is best shot from Pariser Platz, facing west. I would suggest photographing it at sunset (not pictured) as you get the sun shining through the columns, or during the blue hour with the sky is a brilliant blue and the lights on the gate light up. If you don’t want people in your shot, be sure to take multiple long exposure shots and stack them together in Photoshop.
Memorial of the Berlin Wall
The Memorial of the Berlin Wall is located along the historic Bernauer Strasse, extending 0.86 miles (1.4km) with the preserved grounds behind the last remaining piece of the Berlin Wall.
This memorial reviews the function of this border, how it separated families and destroyed lives. Keeping people from East Berlin, separate from West Berlin. Photographs, oral quotes from speeches, histories written and passed down. The photographs show people trying to escape from East Berlin by jumping from windows, rooftops. East German Police attempting to jump the barbed wire fencing.
The reconciliation church was also blown up after being stuck in the death strip when the wall was built. The Reconciliation chapel is now rebuilt in the same location where the prior chapel was built.
There is also the window of remembrance commemorates the deaths that occurred at the Berlin Wall. While there has been much debate about how many deaths actually occurred. A study done in 2017 estimates that nearly 327 people died at or because of trying to escape past the Berlin Wall. Many of those who died were young men between 18-25 and 10% of them women, one report stated that there was a baby that suffocated inside of a boot in the back of a car.
There were many ways the East Germans tried to escape like on air mattresses, paddleboards (the antique kind, not the new kind), a home built hot-air balloon (where is the movie of that!) and my favorite – a man who shot an arrow across the death zone and zip lined his way across to West Germany.
I highly suggest visiting this memorial and reading the chilling and heroic stories that surround the history of this important place.
Topography of Terror
Located on the former site of the headquarters of the Gestapo and Secret State Police. The original building was badly damaged during WWII, and the remains were demolished after the war ended. When the Cold War began, this area became a fortified area. The building remained rubble until the final structure was formed in 2010 and opened to the public.
The museum is free and well worth the effort to walk through and see some of the darkest days of Germany.
While the location of Hitler’s Bunker, where he took his own life, was highly debated for some time. The final place of the bunker was determined (in 2006) and in one of the oddest places for such a historical site, you will ever see. While it isn’t technically much to see, it is interesting to see how East Germany built the ‘saving face’ apartments right near the Berlin Wall that stood just feet away from West Berlin. Even though the rest of East Germany was starving, they made the appearance that everything was fine and refined in the decadant apartments. Only the most elite and elected were allowed to stay in these apartments, as it was so close to the wall, they didn’t want more people escaping.
There is a sign here to explain how the bunker system was laid out and which bunker was assigned specifically to Hitler. The oddest thing about the former bunker? It is now a parking spot for one of the former East German ranking society members descendants who became million-dollar apartment holders overnight when the wall was torn down. If that isn’t the oddest historical story you have heard, I don’t know what is.
No matter what time of year you visit, this is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful squares in Berlin. The concert hall (the center building) is a perfect balance between the French and German churches. During the summer there are open-air concerts, and during the winter you will find the square transformed into a Christmas Market.
The square was built during the 17th century and the French Protestant community was given one church in the square. The Luthern congregation the other church on the opposite end. Interestingly, the two congregations funded each others church. Sean explained how this would be akin to a Christian building a Mosque. The churches at the time where so at odds with each other, that it shows just how tolerant and inclusive Germans were at that time.
In between the two churches once resided a stable for the regimental horses. This was torn down by Fredrich II and the concert hall was built. If you look at the base of the concert hall steps on the right, you will see a white statue of Fredrich Schiller, a passionate French poet. After the Second World War, the square was in ruins. In the 1970s, the East Berlin government had it rebuilt to how it looks today.
The Holocaust Memorial- Memorial to Murdered Jews of Europe
When I first saw a photo of this memorial, I did not realize these weren’t Jewish graves. These are slabs of concrete arranged in a way to create an interactive art piece, that is meant to cause reflection on what it was like to be a Jew during the Holocaust.
The designer of this Memorial did not give his meaning or interpretation of this piece so that each person visiting could draw their own conclusions. I like to think of it as the outer slabs that are very close to the ground are meant to represent racial slurs, and jokes. As the racial slurs became more severe, they then became accusations that rose too high for any one person to control.
As you walk between the stone slabs they rise higher and higher overhead, until you are standing in the center of the piece and can barely hear the sounds of the city. There is a feeling of apprehension as you are walking through this maze, not knowing who is going to come around the next corner- and really have no place to hide. The only way to stay hidden is to keep moving and hope you don’t run into someone around the next corner.
It was odd walking through this maze as I’m typically very self-aware, and can feel people near me without even opening my eyes. Yet walking among these slabs, I was shocked that someone could round the corner at any intersection and I could barely hear them until we were nearly on top of each other.
After walking through this area, I had an eery sense of dread and felt very disconcerted. The message of the artist certainly affected me and still does to this day.
This beautiful cathedral is located on Museum Island, a central location I highly suggest at least passing by on your way to the other sites. This cathedral was originally built in 1895 but was so heavily damaged during World War II that it was just reopened to the public in 1993.
The first church built on this site was in the 14th century and was used by the Hohenzollern family, whose palace was just across the street. The mausoleum of this family that was housed in this church for centuries has now been moved due to reconstruction. There are still 94 sarcophagi’ of Royal Family members that are housed here today. The main piece to see in this cathedral is the 7,000 pipe organ that hosts over 100 concerts every year.
The Dome of the cathedral is open every day from 9 am to 8 pm (except State Holidays). The admission is 7 Euros, and there are also guided tours you can take as well. If you are only there for a short time I would just pay for a one time pass. If you have more time in Berlin, I would suggest getting the Berlin Pass, because you get access to 200 different sites and public transport.
If you want a realistic view of what life was like in the 1940s under the Deutsche Demokratische Republik, or DDR – this is the place to visit. It takes you into the lives of the people of Germany. From 35 different stations, you can see what it felt like to be ‘bugged’ or ‘wiretapped’, watch TV in a recreated homeroom of the 1940s. I personally didn’t have time to pop in and see this, because I had arrived so much later than planned – but it came highly recommended and is great for families as well.
There are also areas to teach about Media, literature, music, culture, family, private niche, health, equality, diet, childhood, youth, partnership, fashion, border, Berlin, education, and work during that time. You experience first hand what daily life was like from the household citizen to a ranking member of the DDR.
The Library Memorial: Bebelplatz
This is not a traditional memorial, in that it is actually underground. If you are strolling across Bebelplatz, you might miss it because you can walk right over it. If you see people looking at the ground, this is what they are looking at here. It is a memorial to the books that were burned in this spot by the Nazi Germans as a nationwide act against the ‘un-German spirit’.
As you look down through the glass plate, there are white shelves, empty of anything. What should be on these shelves are the 20,000 books they burnt that day on May 10, 1933. The books they burnt were those of independent authors, journalists, philosophers and academics that did not coincide with the regime message.
The bronze plaques you see near this memorial read:
That was but a prelude; where they burn books, they will ultimately burn people as well. Heinrich Heine 1820
If you walk across the square, you might see a pop-up stand of a few people selling books. These are copies of the books that were burned that day, available for purchase at a discounted price.
Soviet War Memorial
The Red Army or Soviet Soldiers are honored in this park. I didn’t realize personally, how much Russia played a part in liberating Germany. There were 80,000 Soviet Soldiers who died fighting to liberate Germany; with 7,000 of them being buried at Treptow park. Treptow park is where the Soviet War Memorial is now housed. It has a triumphal gate entrance and peaceful park that wreaths and flowers are laid on the steps every year.
Just to give you an idea of how many people died in World War II per country (to name a few):
Soviet Union 24,000,000
United Kingdom 450,700
United States 418,500
Unter den Linden
This has been the ‘main drag’ of Berlin since 1791 when the Brandenburg gate was completed. It morphed and changed over the years, until the 1920s when it was a bustling, anything goes type boulevard. The 250-year-old trees adorned this beautiful street, and time period shops glittered at night over the passing crowds. When Hitler took power, he ripped out all the trees and put up Nazi flags, much to the discontent of the public. Hitler later replanted the trees, and after Berlin was liberated the crowds washed through the Brandenburg gate like leaves blowing in the wind.
If you follow this road from Brandenburg gate, you will come across museum island, the memorial to the Jews of the Holocaust, and even a ghost subway, a statue of Frederick the Great, and the tomb of the unknown soldiers and unknown Holocaust victim.
You eventually end up at the Lustgarten park, which was once a military parade route, now turned (and to remain) a beautiful park for the public to enjoy a sunny afternoon.
Named after Elector Friedrich III, who ruled here from 1688 to 1713. This area, once full of Royal Apartments and surrounding fields, is now a lively amusement part of Berlin. This is where many of the tourists flock to shop, visit theatres, and to see the famous Checkpoint Charlie, romanticized by spy book novels.
This area may have been my least favorite area, because of how many tourists were here. They all come in droves to see the gimmicky Checkpoint Charlie, that if you actually look at it – doesn’t resemble a true checkpoint at all. There are pictures of an American Solider and a Soviet Soldier, both who have the wrong time period uniforms on. The American Soldier pictured, actually has a military ribbon on his uniform from Desert Storm….which hadn’t even happened yet.
Sean, my guide, jokingly said that Germany models are paid to stand there with an American Flag and expect a tip to do it. If despite knowing this, you would still like to visit then feel free. Yet, I preferred to take a seat at the cafe across the street and watch the hoards of tourists take their photographic momentos. I refused to take a picture of this, as I don’t really want to encourage people to visit this site and instead visit key points to the winning the war like this bridge that played a huge role in the battles of liberating Berlin.
Sammlung Boros Bunker
It was a little chilling for me to stand on the street corner and see this, now converted, bunker. Sean said that he had a visitor who came, and he started to explain what it was and what it is now used for. A woman in the group chimed in with a shocking revelation. She explained how it felt to be in the bunker with her Mother and sisters hunkered down and feeling the vibrations of the bombs landing.
It gave me chills to think of how scary it must have been for them, yet torn over the crimes their leaders committed against the Jewish people. Yet, as with most of Berlin – they are moving away from their past and repurposing the dark into light.
This bunker now houses a contemporary art collection from international artists’ from the 1990s onward. While I didn’t have time to go in, it is definitely on a ‘must-see’ list for me when I return.
Wrapping Up My Tour of Berlin in 12 Hours – Moving on to Backpacking Eastern Europe
While there was so much more I was able to explore and discuss with Sean (see the video above) this will give you some ideas on how to best explore Berlin in one day. Despite hearing how boring, and rude Germans were/are – I found it to be quite the opposite. The city holds a special place in my heart because of the things I learned.
The people there are private, and passionate and want to move forward from their past – which is what most tourists come there to see. So if you have limited time to see Berlin, I would highly recommend choosing from the map above, book with Berlin Historical Walks (not sponsored to say this ), and I guarantee Sean will be able to change your mind about this city and its people.
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Traveler Tip: Make sure you reserve your seat on the train prior to leaving the train station when you arrive. This will either give you more time, or save you from camping overnight at one of the busiest and most complicated train stations in Europe.
How to Get Around Berlin
The train system in Europe and walking is my preferred method, as it is cheaper than flying to each individual country when backpacking eastern Europe and attempting to get around Berlin.
They also have the Berlin Welcome Card, that for around 20 Euros you can get unlimited public transport and entrance to 200 sites.
Exploring Doune Castle, a popular filming location in Scotland was a little surreal when your standing right in front of it. If you have ever seen Monty Python, or Outlander – then you might recognize Doune Castle.
The History of Doune Castle
A 13th century castle beautifully restored in the 14th century, with open rooms to explore and let your imagination run wild.
This was my second time visiting Doune Castle. The first time I took a day trip from Edinburgh to this beautiful location- I hadn’t given myself quite enough time to really learn the history. What I hadn’t realized was that this castle is mostly all the original stonework from the 14th century with minor repairs. The Wood flooring and roof, however, is mainly from the 1800’s.
Not only is Doune Castle a popular filming location, it was also favored by Royal Monarchs as a hunting retreat, including Mary Queen of Scots at one point.
It was also occupied by Bonnie Prince Charlie during the Jacobite rising of 1745. When he was attempting to take English throne on the basis that he felt he was the rightful heir.
It is now maintained by the Historic environment of Scotland who have kept it in beautiful shape!
Castle Leoch from Outlander
Outlander Tours often come to this location, as it was used as the set for Castle Leoch. This series depicts what it was like during the Scottish Rebellion that led up to the Battle at Culloden.
The series used cranes to hoist the set into the main courtyard of the castle. Then piles of mud, hay and other items to truly recreate a scene akin to that of 18th century Scottish Clan life.
The series follows a woman, Claire Randall back in time, during the Scottish Rebellion – where she meets heart throb James Frasier. Their harrowing adventures, her constant efforts to get back to her own time period – sets an incredibly accurate depiction of life in the Highlands. So if you get a chance to watch Outlander, I highly suggest it – especially if you have Scottish ancestors like me.
The first, and a personal favorite, was when King Arthur rode up to the castle with his imaginary horse and coconut clapper. The French poked their head over the top and an exchange of ridiculous insults ensued – at the end of which there was a cow launched over the walls.
The second scene, was when the knights of the round table met and broke into boisterous song. Using the different outlets in the Great Hall as platforms for song and dance after the wedding.
While there are several other scenes filmed here during this movie, these are the most famous.
Game of Thrones Winterfell Castle
Here is a bit of film history some may not know, that Game of Thrones used this castle as a basis for Winterfell. Winterfell is the home of many of the main characters and heroes of this international hit TV series.
Taking the Tour
I would highly recommend getting the audio tour when you explore Doune Castle. There is a small shop right inside the courtyard area where you can pick up your headset.
The headset plays songs sung here during Monty Python, has Jamie Frasier (Sam Heughan) giving you a large part of the tour through the castle. Let me tell you ladies and gents, his voice is like chocolate to the ears. He is also Scottish, and I find it very fitting that his voice is used to give you a large part of the tour.
If you get to the castle early (or early-ish), then it isn’t too crowded, and you can wander about and let the headset help you recreate the fond memories of the movies in your mind. It is hard to not have a smile on your face when you wander through this incredibly well preserved castle.
It isn’t all about the filming locations though, they also give you a good bit of history about the castle – and guide to to very specific locations within the castle.
The Kitchen is always a favorite place for me, especially at home . To see how they produced food in this place – made me grateful for my modern conveniences.
What surprised me the most was the MASSIVE fireplace that is 18 feet (5.5m) long. There would be several fires all going at once in this area. A kitchen boy would have to sit in this area – with only a window cracked to help air to the fire, make sure they didn’t die, and turn the spits when ordered to. In the winters I can imagine how this might be a coveted spot, but to think about how much smoke he would have to inhale…..induced some coughing.
The Great Tower
This is the main building that you see when you first round the corner from the parking lot. A massive 59 feet x 49 foot (17m x 15m) tall tower is quite impressive height for a 13-14th century building of that time.
The rooms of the Clan leader, or high ranking guest rooms were kept over the kitchen. A clever way for the most important people to stay warm during the cold winter months.
The tower is accessed by a stairwell in the main courtyard. The rooms are empty, but you will notice, this particular tower was quite lavish – as it has a double fireplace.
Exploring Doune Castle – A Scotland Favorite
Exploring Doune Castle is something I could do again and again, and still enjoy the time there because of how well preserved it is. It is also incredibly easy to imagine men in kilts, ladies dresses swishing around the great hall and Christmas feasts in the well heated rooms of the great tower. I spent two and a half hours in this place, and could have stayed for a long picnic if I would have had the time.
While Dunrobin Castle, and Cawdor Castle are some of the more modern versions of these ancient castles. There is something quite special about seeing an empty well preserved castle like this. It makes me think of how I would decorate it, or where I would put the horses and refrigerator. So that being said, Doune Castle is one of my favorite ancient castles in Scotland for the history, the film locations, and gorgeous surrounding countryside.
Belize is a country unlike most in the Caribbean, it is quickly being considered as the next Venice of the South. Luxury hotels, incredible food, and hospitable people make this a truly spectacular place to vacation to. Yet the two things I enjoyed most while visiting Belize were the Lamanai Mayan Ruins and Rio Secreto. I was able to take a cruise to the Western Carribean, and visit this ancient city – learning all about what life was like in ancient Mayan times.
How to Get To Lamanai Ruins
Getting to the Lamanai Ruins is half the adventure! I would suggest picking a tour group as the journey can be quite extensive – but easily done within the time allotted for a shore excursion. The drive from the port to the boat launch is around an hour, from there you take a boat along the New River.
The boat ride is up a very tropical river, albeit hot so be sure to bring an umbrella or a wide-brimmed sun hat. You will likely see Spider monkeys, howler monkeys, a variety of tropical birds, plants, and maybe even a drifting crocodile or two that the guides are great about pointing out to those on the boat.
I would suggest getting a spot on the front to middle of the boat for a nice breeze, excellent view, and a bit of spray from the river as many of the boats do not have shade on them.
You can also drive, but the drive out is long and really bumpy (think four-wheeling in a small van). You can choose either option from the Orange Walk area.
The History of the Lamanai Ruins
Entering the ancient Lamanai city, the guide pointed out mounds of dirt we had to walk over. The two mounds were about 8-9 feet in height, with a trench in between – suggesting that these were strategically dug in order to be used as a defensive protection for the city.
These ruins date back as far as 1500 BC, and have been excavating the ruins here since 1974 so it is still fairly new to the archaeology world. The three temples they have uncovered so far are the Jaguar Temple, The Mask Temple, and the High temple. These are the main highlights in the Lamanai ruins, and unlike Chizen Itza, you are able to climb up the High Temple for a great view over the canopy.
Something I learned about Mayans was that they put their faith in animals, and believe they represent different parts of a person. These animals are called Nuals or spirit animals that help shape our personalities as humans. They are also believed that in worshiping them, it provided a way for the specific power they would hold to enter them.
Temple of the Jaguar
This was my favorite Temple here apart from the high temple because you have to use your imagination to see the Jaguar. It was used up until the 15th century when the Lamanai people were converted to Christianity by the Spanish. The Jaguar is a cleverly structured so that the extensive time to carve the face from stone was avoided. Instead there are slots placed for the eyes, mouth, and nose. The slots placed here were used to leave offerings to the Jaguar God.
The Jaguar was considered the God of the Underworld, but takes the image of the nighttime sun God. He is often connected to fire rituals, which are very sacred to the Mayan Shamans. He is also considered to bring trade, riches, and is connected to the powers of sorcery.
The Mask Temple
This temple was built during 200 BC, and has two massive limestone heads carved carved into either side of the temple. Many historians believe this face represents one of the early leaders of the Mayans.
Beneath the temple, archeologists found a burial chamber with a male and a female buried here with several jade statues. These can be representative of a possible trade route between Copan or Quirigua and the Jade mines of a Guatemala.
The High Temple
The Lamanai Mayan Ruins in Belize are unique in that it has the tallest Mayan Temple, the High Temple. Rising 108 feet (33m) into the sky, this temple provides an incredible view of the canopy surrounding the area. This would have been the tallest building in Mesoamerica and was a bit of a billboard for those on the new river.
The long part of the temple (now deteriorated) once extended the entire length of the open area in front of the temple. This former part of the temple was used for sacrifices, and other offerings to the Gods. The guide told us when they were excavating they found parts of animal bones, and human bones.
The High Temple would have brought them closer to heaven, and allowed them to plot the stars and check the position of the sun. You can still climb to the summit today, but it is quite steep and so make sure you have good knees and are not afraid of heights. Take is slow and steady and you will be awarded with an amazing view.
It is interesting to think about how much science has taught us vs what ancient civilizations would craft in their minds to explain simple processes. It makes me grateful to live in a time and age, where I’m able to know the ‘why’ for most things. Why the stars rotate, how animals function, how to heal the human body – and especially like that human sacrifices for the purpose of religion has become a thing of the past.
The Sunken Crocodile
Lamanai is the Mayan word for Sunken Crocodile, first recorded by Franciscan Monasteries visiting the area in the 15th century. My inquring mind wondered, ‘Why would you name a city after such an ugly creature?’. Crocodiles, in Mayan theology were typically associated with fertility. Crocodiles were associated with the fertility of the soil, and the timeliness of the rains. Later on, the crocodiles were associated with the nobility. The God Itzam Na was commonly associated with the God of nobility.
There are a few things that crocodiles do well, and that is search for life, search for water both which are crucial elements of the earth. The Mayan’s believed that like a terrestrial being they can find water and absorb the energy from it. They also obtain it through a Celestial element by commanding the rainfall. So they believed that the crocodile is both terrestrial, celestial and from the underworld as well – rising from the depths to contact humans and give inspiration.
Water is, and was revered as a sacred element of life – despite all the rain, jungle and resources – the people in Belize have often known drought as much of the surrounding water is undrinkable. So to have animals like Crocodiles search out water sources, I could definitely see the connection of importance to the Mayans and these ferocious creatures.
This Stele was one of the first items found when uncovering this building. I didn’t understand the meaning of this Stela until after I came home and was researching it.
It has a long Heiroglyphic text on it that provided quite a bit of insight into the Mayan culture and religion. Many ‘writings’ with the Mayan Culture were done in images, that were then interpreted.
Stela 9 shows a image of a king dressed in symbolic attire. The symbolism of the attire reflects that of cosmic events (interpreted as acts by the Mayan Gods) that would happen in this area.
This King is wearing a serpent-monster headdress (likely a crocodile) symbolizing his celestial/divine birth/descent to being King of this region of the land. There is a dragon-like serpent head that protrudes from the top of the sceptre he is holding, and has a god appearing from its mouth, which is said to be the patron deity of Lamanai. The God from the sceptre wears goggles and has a curling serpent seeping from the corner of its mouth, both of these images are often associated with the rain-gods, such as Cicoyo/Chac/Cauac/Tlaloc.
While it is hard to see this in the photo, this is an important piece in the Lamanai Mayan Ruins in Belize as it provides further evidence of Mayan culture, their beliefs and images associated with certain Gods they worshiped in this region.
Entertainment without TV in Lamanai Mayan Ruins in Belize
It might be wrong to call it entertainment, the Mayans used it as a way to hold rituals and even ritualistic sacrifices. There are several basketball courts in Lamanai, shaped in an I shape with two slopes on either side. There was a long narrow playing field and two end zones. There was a 20 foot (6m) ring which competing teams would try to score through.
These rings are twice the height of a NBA net. The rules are not well understood as they weren’t documented well. There were, however, end results for the winners….some being not so enticing.
Many Mayans played this game, and often were mere betting on the teams that would happen. Other times it was done as a significant spiritual and ritualistic meaning. The significantly ritualistic events turned spectacle in rigged games where prisoners of war played and were sacrificed in the end.
Mayans believed that the Gods needed needed human blood to keep the sun and moon orbiting for their harvests. Thus it was also seen as a game between life and death, good and evil, with the possibility of the winners becoming demi-gods themselves.
There are over 1300 of these basketball courts throughout mesoamerica. There are over 500 of them in Guatemala alone, where they believe this game started.
While no one knows the exact rules of the ball game, Spaniards who saw the Aztec games in the 1500s reported that two teams of two to five players had to keep the ball in the air without using their hands or feet. They hit the ball with their upper arms, thighs or hips.
The rubber balls they used were of varying weight and size, from the size of a softball to a soccer ball. Solid rubber balls were heavy—up to eight or nine pounds—and could cause serious injury or even death. Games were won mostly by points. Around A.D. 1200, stone circles with a hole in the middle were attached high up on the walls of the ball court, up to six meters high. While getting a ball through the hole was rare, if a player got the ball through the hole, it was an instant win.
I knew there was a reason I have never been a big basketball fan. Now every time you watch a game, think about the opposing team being sacrificed in a blood ritual, lol.
Trade in Lamanai
Lamanai was a great trade route, being so close to the river. There have been remnants of trade materials within Lamanai, namely trade metals like copper dating back to 1150 AD. There was also Jade, bells, clothing ornaments, pins, chisels, axes, needles and fish hooks found.
Learning Mayan Culture
The Lamanai Mayan Ruins in Belize have yet to all be unearthed as funding for it is quite scant, yet I highly encourage a visit to see this ancient city. The Mayan culture was a unique and highly developed civilization for that time period.
It is always fascinating to learn about these ancient cultures, how they made sense of their daily lives, deities they worshiped and how they handled territorial disputes in the Jungle.
A visit to this Mayan city is highly encouraged for all those who have a sense of adventure, and want to learn how these people lived, worshiped, and died.
Tambo Colorado is not a well known Inca Ruin, yet it is one of the best preserved Inca ruin. To see it you must take a tour to the Paracas desert from Pisco. It is a perfect shore excursion full of ancient Incan history. Fascinating elements of the internal engineering in their homes, technology far advanced than I gave them credit for can still be seen. So come take a tour with me in some ruins that even the most seasoned traveler can enjoy.
Shore Excursion in Pisco Peru
Just before my Dune Buggy Adventure in the Paracas Desert, we elected to see some of the best preserved Inca Ruins in South America. We arranged our tour with Emotion Tours Peru, and emailed them our suggested tour. They were accommodating to altering their typical tours, and ensured that we would be back at the ship with enough time to browse a shop or two.
They met us on the dock, clipboard in hand and once everyone was assembled (8 of us), we loaded into the small bus and headed into Pisco.
Passing the surrounding desert was like we were inside a land rover machine on Mars. It was so strange to see the ocean right on the other side of a Sand Dune. It was a stark desert, begging to be challenged by the hardiest of travelers – and yet breathtakingly beautiful against the ocean as a contrasting backdrop.
The drive into town took about 30 minutes, and we unloaded at their tour office to be divided into our respective tours we had arranged. You can pay at the office, but we elected to pay via PayPal before we arrived. I just personally like to ensure that the tour operator will be there since the shore excursions tend to be on limited time. It gave us about twenty minutes more for our tour, as the others waited in line to pay waiting for the spotty wifi to run their cards.
We got into our car with a gentleman who spoke really good English, wearing a bright orange shirt with the Emotion Tours logo on it. My friend Bree and I got into the back of the car, and had a fascinating ride with him on the way out to Tambo Colorado.
Getting to Tambo Colorado
If you do not wish to arrange your travels with Emotion Tours, then I would suggest hiring a private car or hailing a taxi once you get into town. I guarantee this will cost you about the same amount of money as it would to hire the tour company as it can take about 40 minutes to get to Tambo Colorado.
The reason I would suggest going through a private tour company rather than through the ship shore excursion office, is because you beat the bus load from the ship to the ruins and have the place virtually to yourself.
The hallways within the complex are quite narrow and if you really want to take your time to appreciate it, you want to do it without 15 other people behind you pressuring you to keep walking.
Tambo Colorado Ruins
When you first begin traveling, ruined castles hold such an appeal – at least it did for me as an American. Likely because our country is still so new compared to the rest of the world. After traveling for 22 years though, ruins tend to lose their appeal. Yet I was intrigued by the story of the Incas in Pisco Peru.
Most of the information on Inca ruins in Peru revolves around Machu Picchu. With the gorgeous views of the ruins amongst the clouds, but that area has now become quite crowded and commercialized. Tambo Colorado provides a much more authentic look into what the Inca lives were like. The ruins here are so well preserved that you can still see the straw in the plaster, with the tiny rivlets where the 1/4 inch of yearly rain fall has carved out the patterns.
You would think that, by looking at the ruins the people in the village just built this place and called it ancient. Except the way that the complex is laid out, how it points to certain points in the land, the smell of aged wood – it is hard to believe it is from the 15th century.
Enginering within their homes
The Inca king Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui, or Pachacutec is said to have built this place along an important trade route for the Incas. Looking at this large complex, you see several structures, with a large central trapezoid plaza measuring approximately 492 feet (150m) in length. If you look on either end of the plaza there is a Northern Palace (or grouping of structures), and a Southern Palace.
As you wander around the structure, into the rooms – you will see that the original wood is above the door threshold. The plaster still holds the straw, and much of the paint used to both insulate and protect those inside from the sun. In one room you can also see that they had a form of indoor plumbing, where stones were placed strategically to allow water from a well or the river to flow into the home itself. There is not tap, but just a channel that drops into a depression deep enough for a human to stand in.
The architecture of this building was so well done, that even the massive earthquake that hit Peru in 2007 caused only minimal damage to Tambo Colorado.
Our guide told us that the paint that was used on the plaster is the original paint, and despite scientists coming and taking samples to try and repair much of the graffiti on the ancient walls – were unable to replicate because of the natural elements used that are no longer available.
Before this was a protected site, many kids came to this area to carve their names into the walls so that a part of them would remain here forever. It made me so frustrated by the amount of defacement and damage done to this place, I had to talk myself out of letting it ruin my visit. If you ever visit a site like this, or any other in the world – please, for the love of all that is holy and good – do NOT be that ONE who ruins it for the many. Sometimes the damage it causes is irreparable.
Worship of the Land
Facing towards the river, you will see a raised platform; this is where the shaman lived. It is a ceremonial platform called the Ushnu.
This is where sacrifices to the Gods of the earth were made. Our guide told us that the Incas worshiped all things related to the land. They worshiped the mother in the mountain, they worshiped the sun god, they worshiped the river, and the great harvest every year, they worshiped fertility and many other things that are directly tied to survival in such harsh environments in Peru.
Looking at the Inca calendar this is primarily represented, a shifting circle around the harvest seasons and family. Although in modern times Pisco rotates around the tourists that visit this off the beaten path place; the people in Pisco center much of their lives around produce and the livelihood it creates for them and their families.
Why Visit Pisco Peru?
If you want a strikingly unique landscape to explore, with an authentic Peruvian feel – then go to Pisco. It isn’t just Tambo Colorado that you can explore, they are host to so many other activities that will make you feel you are on an adventure of a lifetime in a small corner of the world that not many of the tourists know about yet.
See Flamingos and their babies on the bay, go surfing near the shore, scuba diving right off the beach, dune buggy riding in the Paracas Desert and have a desert under a night sky without light pollution, take a flight over the Nazca lines – ancient symbols drawn into the sands surrounding Pisco – or just make it your backing packing stop on your way down the South American coastline. While many people overlook Pisco for Lima, I personally would skip Lima and head to Pisco for a real adventure and talk a walk in Inca History at Tambo Colorado.
Hep A and Typhoid are recommended. Typhoid is recommended especially if you are staying with friends or relatives, visiting smaller cities or rural areas, or if you are an adventurous eater.
All other recommendations for vaccines are based on your location you plan to visit in Peru.
Be sure to only eat fruit that you peel yourself. The water in Peru is not one you should drink as a traveler, organisms and local bacteria can be different than you are used to. If you drink the water you could be at risk for diarrhea.
Windmills have been recorded since clear back in the 12th century. Most of these records point to windmills being used as some of the first water pumps. The complicated building process, and intricate details of working these gentle giants is amazing in and of itself. When you couple this with the history of Windmills in the Netherlands, it will give you a new appreciation for this natural energy.
The Humble Beginnings
In a letter dated the Thursday after St. Nicholas’s Day of the year, 1299, John the First, Duke of Brabant and Limburg, grants to Arnoldus, named Heyme, as an addition to the territory the latter held in fee from him, the right to erect a windmill between the village of Hamoda van Rode (Sint Oedenrode) and Skinle (Schijndel), in the place which he should consider the most suitable, and for this purpose grants to him the hereditary right of free wind. (The oldest known document containing a reference to windmills is considered to be the privilege which was granted to the burghers of the town of Haarlem in 1274 by the Count Floris V.)– (see source here)
The Necessity of Windmills Increased:
It was the year 1421 when St. Elizabeth’s Flood hit Holland. A heavy winter storm rolled in on the night of November 18th and massive waves brutalized the Dikes, striking them without mercy. The primitive Dikes gave way and all the lower lands of Polder were rapidly flooded. Without our modern technology, nearly 30 villages were swept up in this cataclysmic disaster, killing thousands. The Rijksmuseum holds several paintings depicting this terrible natural disaster. Here you will see the devastation of families being swept away, bodies floating in those towns and being fished out by the surrounding village people. The damage was not only done to their physical surroundings, but would remain like a festering wound on the people of Holland.
The Evolution of the Windmill:
In the next two centuries, the Windmills of the Netherlands would begin to evolve. The Internal structures were adjusted, tweaked, and changed, and the Sawmills were created. This enabled the rapid building of fleets of ships which gave way to the East Indian Company and the Dutch Golden Age.
This is the point in the Netherlands history where their ships, trade, and production of goods shaped much of what the Netherlands is today. The East Indian Company gave rise to the Delft Pottery, Tulip stock markets, and the Dutch people earning the title of ‘The Water People’ because of their ability to flourish not just at sea, but to transform their wetlands.
Abandoning Wind for Steam
The production of Windmills peaked in the 19th century with nearly 9,000 working windmills. The production of items such as artistic pastel colors, flour, wood, chocolate, and yarn also increased. Yet these gentle giants would be abandoned for steam power. Why? Because as a Windmill worker, if the wind was blowing, then you were working. It did not matter what time of day it was if the wind appeared; money was to be made through work. When steam was introduced, the option to sleep during the night became a better situation for its workers and eventually many of the windmills fell into disarray and decay.
Where are the Windmills Today?
In the 20th century, a Dutch Windmill society came through and with the help of numerous donations, many windmills were restored and now preserved in a town called Zannse Schans. Although this town is quite touristic, it gives some lovely views of the iconic Dutch Windmills.
A trip to Kinderdijk (see map to Kinderdijk) will put you right in the middle of a masterful engineering feat and World UNESCO Site as of 1997. This is where you will truly see just how astoundingly simple, yet powerful these gentle giants can be. You will witness the soggy ground of the Netherlands, ride a boat through the waterways, and see Windmills which are still occupied and operated to keep the towns dry.
Kinderdijk is also the site of the old St Elizabeth’s flood, where Kinderdijk actually means ‘Children’s Dyke’ after a cradle had been found bobbing up and down in the water after the flood with, what is assumed, the house cat keeping the cradle steady.
How to Visit these famous Windmills:
Really, no matter what train or bus you get on, you can see windmills along any of your rides. I would recommend visiting Kiderdijk though because of its historical significance and Zaanse Schans for the views and ability to showcase the complexity of these clean energy engineering masterpieces. To get to Zaanse Schans, take bus 91 from Central Station and it drops you off within a 1-minute walk of the start of the walkways to the Windmills. Be sure to check out the Museum inside. The cost is 5.50 Euros for a roundtrip ticket to Zaanse Schans. (Night bus rides cost around 7.50 and the bus drivers do have change, should you need it).
To get to Kinderdijk, leave from Amsterdam Centraal to Rotterdam Blaak and transfer from the train to the 144 Bus towards Ridderkerk. For the most up to date information regarding bus times, visit Rome2Rio.com and take a screenshot before you leave. I hope you enjoyed this post as much as I loved revisiting what I now call ‘my windmills’. My Great-Grandfather was from Holland and actually helped run one of the mills here in my hometown, so these were very special places for me to visit. If you decide to visit, you will be greeted by warm volunteers who love to hear your background story and make you feel as if you are traveling with your uncles. If you have any suggestions on other windmills or picturesque places our Culture Trekking Community can visit, do not hesitate to list them below.
Happy Travels, Happy Tales, and see you on the flip side.
Discover the Legends of Moab Not only is Moab a great place for Jeep Safari’s, hiking, climbing, river rafting and pretty much anything you can think of to do outdoors. The Legends of Moab & its history are something everyone should know, so that travel becomes not just a grand adventure, but a meaningful and educational grand adventure. Here are some of the Legends and History of Moab that I have recently learned about:
History of Dead Horse Point & its Legends:
This is 5200 acres of beautiful deserts, steep cliffs, and sunsets that will knock your socks off. I didn’t realize this was a State Park actually, so be sure to stop by the visitors center and pay the entrance fee.
Where does the name Deadhorse Point come from?
The name Dead Horse Point comes from the story, that in the 1800’s this area was used to herd wild Mustangs. When you walk or drive along the Road you come to an area where, it is said, that a herd of ‘unwanted’ Mustangs was herded into this small area next to the 2000 ft cliff and eventually died from thirst due to the brutality of Drovers during that time.
The truth is, that yes the area was often used as a place to herd mustangs because of the natural corrals that were created by the surrounding cliffs. The story has changed over time but really was just that because it was so often used as a herding location, the unforgiving nature of the desert in Summertime caused many horses to die from exposure or thirst. It seems to depend on where you get your information from, which of these perspectives is true…..I will let you decide.
Interesting facts about Dead Horse Point:
Beyond the Legend, a rather depressing one at that, this place is an iconic photography location for weddings, landscape photography, and filmmaking. You would have seen Dead Horse Point featured in the final shot of the film ‘Thelma & Louise‘.
If you come at sunset, you can get stunning photos of the red rock and play of light and dark on the cliffs and surrounding area. Sunrise is the best time to get the clearest photos of the picturesque Colorado River winding around the canyons. It is also an ideal place for those who love Mountain Biking, Rock Climbing or hiking.
Your hike will begin just at the Visitor’s Center and is 1.5 to 2 miles long with an easy trail, well marked, slight elevation gain. We frequently stopped and took photographs, enjoying the views, to complete the trail it took us 45-minutes, even with all the photography breaks. We took the walk back to the Dead Horse Point Visitors Center, which took about 25 minutes & was accompanied by a spectacularly colorful sunset.
Legends of Moab within Indian writings:
Along Potash Road in Moab, you will find Indian writing and Petroglyphs. These unique and historical drawings are so ancient, that the drawings are typically dated by what is depicted (500 AD for bow and arrows, 1500 AD if horses are seen).
I stood in wonder at how archaic these writings are, what their meaning was to the people of that time period & if we will really ever know why exactly they chose to make the effort of carving them into the stone.
How were the Petroglyphs Discovered?
Archeologists discovered the petroglyphs prior to construction of Potash Road. There are many other Indian Petroglyphs throughout Moab, to view more of them visit Discovermoab.com where a map will be provided & tips on how to find them.
Johnny Depp filmed a portion of Lone Ranger along Potash Road, so if you see the film keep a look out for it.
Dinosaur tracks in Moab:
To see the toe prints of the dinosaurs and more of the Indian Petroglyphs, follow this map and bring your binoculars! One of the few places you can likely see something like this, so don’t miss it!
Legends of Moab and the Fisher Towers:
Located 16 miles South of Moab, with a rather bumpy dirt road that approaches it, is the Fisher Towers. These sandstone giants (of up to 1,000 feet) each have different names, with the largest tower being called the Titan Tower, with the popular climbing route called Sundevil Chimney.
There is not just one tower, but several towers each with distinct names. One of the more famous towers, is the corkscrew tower (part of the Ancient Arts formation), due to its draw for Rock Climbers along the Stolen Chimney route.
These unique natural wonders are 245 MILLION years old! Named after a miner who lived in the area in the 1800’s. Would you rather have a natural wonder or a celestial star named after you? I like to imagine that he was a great cook of fish stew, told wicked campfire stories, and never gave up his dream of finding copper in those sandstone mountains.
Legends of Moab in the Miners Town
In the 1800’s there was a mining town near here. The Mining community consisted of only 75-80 families. The mining, tragically, didn’t last for very long and most of the families moved to other towns for better work. Some of the mines actually still survive today, although most are too dangerous to explore now.
Charles Edward Stuart is a name not often recognized here in America; but if you possess Scottish blood, however, or an affinity for Scottish history, then you most likely know of the Bonnie Prince Charlie and his infamous Battle for Culloden.
Prince Charles Stuart and His Claim for the Throne:
Prince Charles Edward Stuart was born in Rome and lived in a staunchly Catholic household with his father, who would often talk about their heritage (like most Scottish) and who held a claim on the rights to the Scottish and English throne. I like to think that there must have also been talk of Scottish rebellion, and the Jacobite succession in that house because of who Charles became. With Prince Charles growing up in such an environment, those lectures must have transformed him greatly to become the dreamer he became later in life. He had a dream of being able to take back the throne of not only Scotland but England as well because he felt it was God’s will.
Scotland has a very long history of antagonism between Catholic and Protestants, there are thousands of graves throughout Scotland and England as a result of that hatred. As a side note, we as the human race seem to not have learned from our mistakes of the past. We still fight these terrible wars, resulting in THOUSANDS of deaths and refugees…..then eventually mass graves like the one that Prince Charles led many of the Scottish Clans to.
It started in December 1943, when his father named him Prince Reagent. The title of Prince Reagent meant that he could act directly in his father’s name. If we let our imaginations look at his side of the story, where this 21-year-old-boy had just been given a huge amount of power by a father I assume he desperately wanted to impress.
His first act was to raise funds to buy two ships, the Elisabeth and the Doutelle. They were able to sail past the English ships on their way to Scotland, Charles learned that the French fleet that was supposed to be supporting him was badly damaged by storms.
News of his arrival in Scotland spread like wildfire to those who still supported his clemency. Please keep in mind that anyone who was found openly supporting his claim, if discovered by the British was killed (sometimes brutally) for treason.
The Social Shift Towards War:
The Scottish were tired of the suppression of their livelihood, their customs, and the taxes they had to pay to a king they didn’t believe in. Prince Charlie’s Jacobite cause was still supported by many in the Highland clans, both Catholic and Protestant. Bonnie Prince Charlie raised his standards, gathered what little money he could from the Highland Clans, and marched on Edinburgh, which was quickly surrendered to him. I imagine this really encouraged him and made him feel as if God truly was on his side, so he surged on.
On September 21st, 1745, he engaged in the Battle of Prestonpans. By November, he had a band of 6,000 men. They then won the Battle of Falkirk, and after this, the Duke of Cumberland caught up with them at Culloden. Prince Charles knew that he had to defend his military stronghold in Inverness, they were dwindling on supplies and weapons stored there. He chose to engage the English at the Battle of Culloden.
Traveler tip: It takes about a 20 min to reach Culloden from Inverness, so I would recommend leaving in the morning so you get the little bit of the daybreak mist. It’s also the best time to take pictures because there aren’t as many people around.
The Battle for Culloden:
Prince Charles’ army of Scottish Clansmen were exhausted and starving yet they were still asked to go into battle – because God was on their side right? It was the last battle they would fight on British soil — the battle itself only took 1 hour and nearly 1,500 people died that day; over 1,000 of them being Jacobite Scotsman. The Scottish men wore the kilts of their clans and were armed with axes, skindoo’s, swords, and French and Spanish Muskets that were only slightly smaller than those of the British forces. However, the British brought Mortars. It was a quick battle with heavy losses and still stands as a somber reminder of the past.
Traveler tip: If you plan to visit any of the major Scottish Monuments, I would suggest stopping here first. The National Scottish Trust. They manage most of the sites with significant historical value in Scotland.
The Visitors Center at Culloden:
When you arrive in Culloden, you will find a visitors center with items that have been recovered from Culloden. You wander through the history that leads to the battle, and end with a movie, before being led to the field where the fighting occurred. My family history dates back to the 1500’s with the MacKenzie’s and into the 18th-19th Century with the MacFarlane’s, who after this battle, fled to Ireland and then the United States.
Walking through the visitors center, and learning of how difficult their lives were was extremely sobering for me. What if a cousin had died here; buried in the Clan graves around the field where they fell? The different members of the clans were actually identified by their tartan or a small clan sprig in their bonnet. To see the Mounds of earth on the otherwise flat field, that turned out to be where our Clans had eternally been laid to rest.
It made my heart break for the suppression and tumultuous past that Scotland had been under. Yet I am so proud to be Scottish, I have a family crest from both Scotland and Holland. I know their history, I visited their graves, I visited their clan homes and felt that Scotland was really somewhere I could call home. I know what it is to be proud of my heritage and what my heritage actually is. I know why I tend to love the rain and being outdoors now, the excitement I feel when I think about rainstorms and nature.
Traveler tip: entrance costs about $14 & I would plan on spending at least 2 hours there so you can really soak it in. I personally stayed in Inverness right by the river, and then went to see Culloden, several Clan castles nearby & then of course Loch Ness which is a short drive. From there, I traveled to Portree by car to visit the Isle of Skye.
I think it was sad for both sides of the Battle for Culloden. That’s the terrible thing about war, is that their are families on both sides that lost something. But I fear Scotland lost the most in this particular war: After this tragic event, those who survived either fled or were taken as prisoners. The Scottish leaders that were captured, were often kept alive… in slavery and at times torture to ensure their clans were kept in line. The brutal suppression of anything that identified the Scottish as a distinct people was banned.
The kilts were changed over time, but the Scottish spirit and enduring pride will forever live on. It is in our hearts, it is in our minds and will forever be a place I call my home and my heritage.