Tag Archives: Unesco World Heritage Site

How to do a day trip to Delphi from Athens

Temple of Apollo

By Lakshmi:

Who?  If you are visiting Athens, you will love a day trip that takes you back in time when Oracles were revered and consulted before any important decisions were made.

What? The archaeological site of Delphi is a UNESCO World Heritage Site which can be easily accessed on a day trip from Athens.

How? You could rent a car, take a guided tour or take public buses.  Guided tours frequently combine Delphi with other destinations, but give you time to take in this beautiful spot.

Why? Picture yourself away from the pollution of Athens.  You are ascending mountainous terrain and your bus chugs along with some difficulty.  As you reach the top, you are greeted with some majestic views and given the right season, lots of flowers in bloom.  Then you spot it….it being the temple of Apollo in Delphi.  You see the impressive columns, you see the tiered landscape and then you see the area that has made kings and commoners climb these steep hills to make it up here.  It is the seat of the Oracle, the soothsayer who sat on a tripod over a fissure in the earth, went into a trance and provided incoherent responses to questions with grave implications.  Kings did not go to war and major decisions were not taken until the questions had been answered by the Oracle and translated by the priests.  Am I in India or Greece?  For centuries now, no major decisions were made in India till the priests and the stars had been consulted and we were seeing links among brethren separated by thousands of miles.

Delphi’s well-preserved ruins along with the archaeological museum are totally worth the visit.  We have been multiple times and each time chose a tour.  Our tour guides created such a sense of history for us, that we would not trade the experience for a solo jaunt up there.  The museum has some unbelievable pieces including the absolutely spectacular bronze charioteer erected in 474 BC.  Please do not skip the museum and take your time to walk through some amazing annals in history.

You can learn more about Delphi at:


Mycenae – Does Homer’s Ballad Come To Life?

By Lakshmi: (Updated Sept 24, 2014)

Who?  If you are visiting Athens, Greece, are a fan of Homer’s ballads or simply love archeology, you will love a day trip that takes you back in time.

What? The ruins of the ancient citadel of Mycenae which are located about two hours from Athens (give or take some time, depending on the infamous traffic).

How? You could rent a car, take a guided tour or take public buses.  We took a guided tour on two separate trips and were blessed with the most amazing guides who built our anticipation, transported us back in time and helped us soak in the place better.

Why? It was Homer’s ballads brought home on CD’s that served as my voice of reason and sanity as I survived some long commutes between Princeton and Washington DC.  Like the Indian epics Ramayana and Mahabharata that I had devoured at a young age, the Odyssey and Iliad were Greek versions of good and bad, war and peace and so much more.  Like many a reader, I had quilted a rich patchwork of images of Agamemnon,  Helen, Menelaus, Paris, Cylopes and more and these were brought to life by the stories that our tour guide narrated en route to Mycenae.  Our arrival at Mycenae was heralded with the guide announcing the discovery of the ruins in the tone of Schlieman, “I have gazed upon the face of Agamemnon.”

To be very honest, I felt a bit let down when I first lay sight on the ruins.  You will need every part of your imagination and a good guide to envision the citadel that existed here in prehistoric times….the many tales of treachery that were cooked here, the bloodshed that happened, the richness of the history, the bloody way in which Agamemnon met his end at the hands of his wife and her lover, and the many graves that once housed the remains of a civilization from a world gone by.  Our guide did a fantastic job showing us the layout of the palace complex, the graves and the few well-preserved landmarks including Atreus tomb, the Cyclopean Walls and the Gate of Lionesses.

Unlike other ruins that we have seen elsewhere in Greece, Italy, Egypt and other locales, Mycenae is a worthwhile visit if only to use your imagination to bring one of our most beloved stories to life.

To learn more about Mycenae and its ruins that have now been classified it as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, click here:


Visiting the Forbidden City – Fact Plus Fiction Makes For Great Experiences

Gate to Forbidden City
Source: beijingholiday.com

By Lakshmi:

When anyone mentions the name “Forbidden City”, it conjures up images of a world gone by.  A place which existed in the annals of history, a palace true to its name that restricted access to the common man and served as the residential quarters for Chinese royalty from the Ming Dynasty to the end of the Qing Dynasty. A million plus workers constructed the 1,000 plus rooms which were occupied by the royal household, their staff and of course the infamous concubines and eunuchs. A place so significant, it is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Several years ago, Anchee Min did a superb job with her historical fiction novel “Empress Orchid” in bringing to life the inner workings of the Forbidden City. Reading the novel transported me to a form of life so exotic and foreign that I felt like I had traveled in a time capsule back in time.

On my first trip to the Forbidden City, I did what I would term as an “express visit”. Pressed for time, my visit was part of a guided tour which included stops at Beijing’s key landmarks. Despite the brevity of the trip, I was seized my an enormous sense of awe as I walked past the moat and the city walls and finally saw what I had only built in my mind. It was like Anchee Min’s novel coming to life.

As I listened to the guide, scenes from the novel formed an elaborate display in my mind. The Emperor at the center of the universe, his wives and concubines collaborating and scheming, his eunuchs guarding what he held closely, the decision-making hierarchy, the powerful role of the Empress Dowager, all flashing by. The names of the various buildings, so appropriate and yet so old worldly (The Hall of Supreme Harmony, The Hall of Preserving Harmony, The Hall of Central Peace and so on). Interestingly, for the number of buildings named after “peace” the place was incredibly political at its heart.

It was a great introductory visit, but left me feeling cheated. There was so much to see and hear. There was so much to sit back and absorb and more importantly it was so important to reflect back on the learnings from this period in history. I felt like the “textbook tourist” who came, saw, took pictures and left without enriching her soul.

Thankfully several years later, I got an opportunity to fix this. This time, we decided to just focus on the Forbidden City for a day. We got to the location independently by cab and took our time to walk around the moat and entered the gates slowly.  At the entrance, we hired a guide who could be with us for several hours, pacing the journey to our interests. And it worked beautifully. The guide shared stories, we chirped in with our questions, our younger daughter eagerly wanting to know what “eunuchs” and “concubines” were and each of us trying our best to answer it in an appropriate manner. We lingered around buildings, admired the architecture and the interesting doors (I have an obsession with doors), examined ostentatious displays from a time gone by, took in the elaborate gardens and most importantly did justice (thanks to a very well-informed guide) to a site that was at the heart of dictating Chinese history.  It was not till we exited the palace and stumbled upon the Starbucks that we realized that our journey to the past had ended with a walk into modern consumerism.

If you’d like to learn more about the Forbidden City, the following link provides all the essentials.


We would recommend getting their on your own (any cab driver handed a Chinese address can get you there).  Guides are available inexpensively at the entrance and doing your own tour is so worth it.

If you’d like to learn more about Anchee Min’s book, please visit: