St.Peter's Square and Basilica
My first stop is in Italy, Vatican City. This is a city within a city of Rome. This is where Pope and some cardinals live. St.Peter's Basilica is at the center of the city. St.Peter's Basilica was build in in the 4th century, but what we see today was build during 16th century Renaissance style. It was names after Peter, who was the head of 12 Apostles of Jesus. The dome can be seeing from many places in Rome, its dominates Rome skyline. Inside is beautiful. It takes your breath away to think that was created by people. Inside you see marble, gold, frescos, beautiful Papal Altar created by Bernini. This church is the sacred place for Christian's, especially for Catholics. Inside many ceremonies were held because of its size, it can hold about 60,000 people. St.Peter's Basilica became a blue print for churches that were build during that period and after. Basilica was build on the spot where Peter was crucified and buried. For Christians, Pope is the closest to God, he is Peters successor, and because of that a very important person. When a Pope dies, another will have to be chosen from cardinals. The conclave is held in the Sistine Chapel, that is near the St.Peter's Basilica. And when cardinals choose a new Pope, the ceremony is held in St.Peters Basilica.
St.Peter's Square during the Papal Election
When you go there, you should approach from St. Peter's Square; exterior of St. Peter's Basilica; nave; right aisle and transept; dome area with baldacchino; Throne of St. Peter; left transept and aisle; and crypt/grottoes. The entrance is free into the Basilica, but be prepared for security check. There are two clocks and both operated electronically now. You will see 3 doors: Holy Door that is used during celebrations, Filoret Door that is in the center, and Door of Death that is used to exit the Basilica when funeral is preformed. Inside the nave there are niches that have statues of 39 various saints that were monumental for Christianity. I would recumbent to take a tour called Mosaic Studio, the Basilica and Cupola. On that tour you will have a chance to go up and see the Vatical City in all its beauty from the top of the Basilica.
My next stop is in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia. This is the most holy place of Islam, Mecca. The birthplace of prophet Muhammad and the religion that he found. He designated the city as place in which direction muslims should offer their prayers. The Kaaba was build by Abraham and when he was building it, God gave him the black stone, that is in the eastern corner of the Kaaba now and believed to have supernatural powers. Islam requires every muslim to pilgrimage to Mecca if they can do so as a part of the Five Pillars of Islam at least once in their lifetime. The Kaaba is build out of black marble on the outside and white marble on the inside.
Mecca is the holy city and strictly forbidden for non-muslim to enter. At the boarder, proof of your religion will have to be verified. Road blocks prevent and discourage non-muslim to enter. There is special airport opens specifically for the time of pilgrimage to help people to get into Mecca. Visitor visa given out with restriction because overcrowding can create chaos. When you get to the outskirts of the city, you given two piece of white clothe, you take a shower and dress yourself into the robes. People are formed into groups and they have a guide who helps to navigate through the process. City gets very crowded when its time for prayer. When its time for prayer, believers go around the Kaaba seven time. The Mosque build like a coliseum to give more room to people. Sacred Mosque is build around the Kaaba, its in the center of it, and its located in Mecca- the city. After the first day of prayer, believers will go to dessert and sleep under the sky as to get an experience of being close to the ground, get grounded.
It is beautiful, but impossible for non-muslim to visit. I think it would be helpful for others to be able to visit, so may be Islam can be understood better. But my time is up and I am on the plane to my next stop, Jerusalem.
Jerusalem is the city that is sacred to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. This city holds churches, mosques, and synagogs. It is located west of the Dead Sea. You fly into Ben-Gurion airport which is located about 45 minutes from Jerusalem. I think for the first visit plan on visiting Old City because it hold most of the sacred cites. You will have options to do tours, but we like to explore by ourselves. We get maps on our phones ( make sure your sim card is for international use) and go on our own to get familiar with the Old City. The city is surrounded by a wall and divided in four quarters-Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and Armenian.
Inside the Old City we are going to see the Dome of the Rock. Its located behind the Wester Wall or Wailing Wall is the better known name for it. It is the last wall of the First Temple. Jews pilgrimage to that Wall in the same manner as Muslim do to Mecca. It is the Holy place for Jews around the world. It represents glory, hope, and redemption.
When you go to the Wall you should be dressed properly and men and women go to different areas, so to prevent impure thoughts. It is a beautiful city and I really wished I had more time to spend there, one day is just not enough.
Since I have been traveling Thailand with my parents for 4 years I like to think that I have become a bit of a pro. My dad used to joke about needed to find places to meditate in each city we visited. I didn’t know what meditation was, only that he needed it because of my mom and I. Even though we visited several meditation monastery’s there was only one that stuck in my mind. I admit, it stuck in my mind because of its name. It makes me smile to say and smile bigger when I think about it. That special place is called Wat Wah Poo Kaew which means Crystal Mountain monastery. Everything about it seems meant to be. On the bus from Bangkok you take a road called Friendship Way to get there, how perfect is that?
Meditation is something many people take very serious. Unfortunately, most of them frown when I walk in because they assume I don’t know their specific meditation techniques. Each monastery has a different style but Wah Poo allows everyone to use their own style which is great because you can choose from all techniques and use parts of each that you like. While Wah Poo prefers you to use “Anapanasati” a breathing meditation, they let me do the Natasha, my own blend of meditations. They have special sessions for high school students several times a month and they last from 3 to 5 days depending on the teacher. Some of the teachers are very old and some are middle aged. The teachers do not speak English so you need to be somewhat “up to speed” on conversational Thai. The monastery is small compared to most others and is built into the hillside with small villages below. On calm days, you can hear the nearby waterfall and sleep to it at night. A meditation monastery is not a vacation for the stomach I must remind you. They serve one really tasty meal a day and if you are not used to it I suggest you hide away a few cups of food for later in the day. Don’t worry, a lot of people do it. There are rarely more than 30 people here at any given day and almost always room for an unexpected visitor. The rooms are very small but separated from the others for privacy. There is running water, bathrooms just like home and electricity. Although this is a great place to enter the world of Buddhist meditation (because of their lax rules) it Wah Poo is considered a favorite of more experienced meditators and is one of the quieter locations that you will find. Meditation requires focus, focus and more focus away from distractions and noise to leave here with the self-discovery you came here for.
OK My travel friends. I have a great review to share with you today. Today we visit an amazing Hindu Temple called the Brihadeeswara Temple in Thanjavur, Tamilnadu, India. Thanjavur is the city's name Tamil Nadu is the Southernmost state in India.
This temple is one of the most amazing temples in the country. It reminds me of a beehive due to its shape and it is so busy. Funny enough some call it Beeswara short for Its actual name. It is a ginormous temple just over 216 ft tall. And if that does not seem impressive then let me continue. The top part of the structure (called the Kumbam) is a major achievement in its own being that it weighs almost 60 tons and is carved out of a single rock. These two architectural features make it unique but it is far from the the end of its best features. It was built by King Raja Raja Cholan in 1010 AD and entirely out of granite.
Inside the temple you will find equally grand idols located around the temple and giant in size with many of the larger ones also build from a single rock, the largest one being 16 ft long and 13 ft high. The main one in the temple is from Lord Shiva and it has three mysterious eyes in it with the center eye closed that carries interesting stories as to why, I’m working to find out which of the twenty stories is true so check back and I will have the case cracked soon, nobody can keep a secret from Natasha. Speaking of stones, the stones you will see used in the temples carry great meaning, powers and environmental uses as well. The lingam stone is an egg-shaped stone that is said to revs up the energy in your body, a rock version of Starbucks. You will find over 250 built into this temple The lingam stone is also thought to have healing powers and bring good luck. Another stone used inside the temple is called the Chandrakanta stone and although it does not have healing powers it is considered a magic stone because it is proven to make the room cool in the summer and warm in the winter. We could use those around our pool.
The temples is designed in such a way that the shadow of the temple never hits the ground. I too had to run all around it to see if it was true, it is! My favorite part of the temple are the carvings known as “Karmas” and total 108. And why is it my favorite part you may ask? Because each carving represents a dance pose which kept me entertained for hours trying to imagine what each dance would have been like. Of all the Temples I visited or studied thru pictures in the travel books, this one stood out as the most impressive to me.