Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel

When I prepared my Last Will and Testament some years ago, I included specific provisions that I wish to be cremated. I promised my sisters that if they put me in the cold, hard ground, I’d come back to haunt them. But a recent visit to the Monumental Cemetery in Milan, Italy, had me reconsidering that view.

The Famedio, a Neo-Medieval syle building of marble and stone, serves as the entrance to Monumental Cemetery in Milan

In 1838, the city of Milan announced a competition for the design of a new cemetery that would be open to citizens of “all forms and all fortunes” and become a “Monument of Milan.” It took 28 years, but Cimitario Monumentale finally opened in 1866. Being interred here quickly became a status symbol. The city’s elite commissioned famous sculptors such as Luca Beltrami, Giò Ponti, Pietro Cascella, Giò Pomodoro, Giacomo Manzù, Arturo Martini, Lucio Fontana, Medardo Rosso, Vincenzo Vela, and Adolfo Wildt to create tombs and grave sculptures in increasingly elaborate designs.
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The Arch of Peace in Milan, Italy, was ordered built by Napoleon after he conquered northern Italy in 1805.

On March 17, 1805, Napoleon Bonaparte’s armies conquered northern Italy. Two months later, Napoleon had himself crowned at the Duomo di Milano, taking the title “Emperor of the French and King of Italy.” To commemorate his victory, Napoleon ordered a grand Arco delle Vittorie (Arch of Victory) to be built at the point on the famous Simplon Road where his troops had entered the city. Construction began in 1806 but was discontinued when Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo in 1815. Read More

My guide for the day, Valery Brady, began my tour of Chisinau, Moldova, at the Pushkin Museum. Alexander Pushkin, considered to be Russia’s greatest poet and the founder of modern literature, angered Emperor Alexander I with his poem, “Ode to Liberty,” which was critical of the regime. As a result, in May of 1820 he was banned from St. Petersburg for six years. Initially he traveled around the Caucasus and Crimea, but the Russian regime eventually exiled him to Chisinau, where he lived for three years in a typical Moldovan cottage located within what is today the museum compound.

Tour guide Valery Brady serenades me at the Pushkin Museum in Chisinau

Tour guide Valery Brady serenades me at the Pushkin Museum in Chisinau

While I looked around the cottage, my guide serenaded me on the museum’s old upright piano. Valery is a classically trained musician who, in his own words, is doing nothing with his music. As the day wore on it became more and more evident that he was unhappy. Our talk turned to spiritual matters and he asked my opinion on the meaning of life. For more than an hour we discussed subjects ranging from quantum physics to the nature of God. Valery shared with me that he’d been suffering terribly from the loss of two very important people in his life: a young relative and his mother-in-law, whom he had loved dearly. I don’t know what I said or did, but at the end of our tour, he told me he’d started the day believing that there is no point to life, but that I had turned his opinion around 180 degrees. He said everything around him looked different – even the colors were richer – he felt joy in a way that he hadn’t for a very long time. Read More

When you think of Moldova, you must think of Moldovan wine, my tour guide claimed. I understood when he drove me through mile after mile of subterranean cellars, with tasting rooms like this one

“When you think of Moldova, you must think of Moldovan wine,” my tour guide said. I’d come to this Eastern European country with no research and little knowledge; it was just one of four countries in Europe I’d not yet visited and I was curious. Whenever I mentioned the name of the country to anyone, I received a blank stare in return. No one, absolutely no one, had heard of Moldova. My guide explained that grapes have been grown in Moldova for thousands of years. The low rolling hills and Bordeaux-like climate make it the perfect location for wine production and today it is the the most important industry in the country. Read More

The volcano caldera in Santorini, a study in blue, black, and white, seen frm the village of Oia

The volcano caldera in Santorini is a study in blue, and white, with the ominous black volcano cone squatting in the center of the lagoon. Since the beginning of the Christian Era, the volcano has had eight eruption episodes, in 46-47, 726, 1570-1573, 1707-1711, 1866-1870, 1925-1928, 1939-1941, and 1950. Though the average number of years between eruptions is 272, there is an alarming trend that points to an acceleration of eruptions. The interval between the first and second events was 679 years; between the second and third 847 years. But from the 16th century on the interval shrank, with 138, 159, 58, 13, and 9 years, respectively, between eruptions. Read More

The photo that every visitor to Santorini wants to capture, the blue domes and whitewashed houses in the village of Oia, Santorini

This is the iconic photo that every visitor to Santorini wants to capture, the blue domes and whitewashed houses in the village of Oia, Santorini. While I found the scenery visually captivating, I was more curious about the history of the cave architecture of Santorini – how it came about and why it evolved in the way it did. Before the days when tourism became the economic mainstay on the island, Santorini residents predominantly earned a living through fishing, winemaking, and seafaring trade. They lived off the land and in harmony with nature, thus it is not surprising that their dwellings also took advantage of the natural landscape. Read More