Built by the Spanish Empire in 1744, the Alamo (then known as the Mission San Antonio de Valero) was originally a Roman Catholic mission whose purpose was to convert local Native Americans to Christianity. It later became a compound for Texian soldiers and is most well known for the battle that took place in 1836, when Mexican troops under President General Antonio López de Santa Anna launched an assault on the fort’s defenders. The battle lasted twelve days, until the Mexican army finally broke through the fort’s defenses, killing all but two of the defenders. The Texian Army had their revenge a little over a month later, however, when they defeated Santa Anna’s army at the Battle of San Jacinto.
I visited the Alamo several years ago when my organization was holding a meeting in San Antonio. We had considered holding the meeting in Oklahoma City, but at the time all Oklahoma City hotels were booked solid due to a convention, so we ended up in Texas, as usual (most of our member companies were based in Texas, so it was convenient). Since this was my first time in the city, I had to visit this important landmark. I was actually surprised at how small the building is – I had expected it to be much larger. There is a small museum that has a few artifacts on display, but that is about it. If you’re ever in San Antonio, definitely stop by – it is a rather short tour that won’t take up much time, and afterwards you can sample some of the city’s delicious Mexican food.
Apologies for the quality of this photo, but it was taken during my first trip to Russia, when I only had disposable cameras. This is Catherine Palace, the summer residence of the Russian Tsars, and is located 25km southeast of St. Petersburg. It was originally built at the request of Catherine I, the second wife of Peter the Great. The palace was later demolished, however, on the orders of her daughter, Empress Elizabeth, who desired that it be rebuilt to reflect a more modern style. The present palace, completed in 1756, is the result of this construction project. Much of the palace was destroyed during World War II, when the retreating German army set it ablaze. Fortunately, the Soviet and Russian governments have restored much of the palace, including, most recently, the famed Amber Room.
Despite living in London for a year, I didn’t travel around the United Kingdom very much. There were plenty of trips my friends and I contemplated taking, and we would occasionally research rates for a bed and breakfast in the Cotswolds, a few days at the beach in Brighton, a short trip to Edinburgh, or beachfront hotels in Blackpool. Despite this, we usually ended up either going abroad or, if we did travel around the UK, taking short day trips outside the capital.
One trip we did take was to Bath, a very popular tourist destination in the south west of England, located 97 miles west of London. The city is fortunate to host several natural hot springs that provide 1,170,000 litres of water per day at a temperature of 114.8 °F. Throughout its history, these natural hot springs have drawn many visitors to the region, and the city is most well-known for its Roman Baths that are located in the beautiful city center. The original Roman baths were built around 60-70 AD during the Roman conquest of Britain on the orders of Emperor Claudius and contained three baths (a hot bath, warm bath, and cold bath) enclosed within a wooden barrel-vaulted building. These baths were eventually destroyed in the 6th century, however, after the Romans left and the baths fell into disrepair. The present structures date from the late 1700s, and, although you can no longer bathe in these baths due to the unsafe water, it is still a very interesting place to visit from a historical perspective, especially if you have any interest in Roman history.
When the Soviet Union fell, the symbols of that regime – the innumerable statues of Marx, Engels, and Lenin – were brought down as well. Many were melted down, demolished, or sold to wealthy Westerners who installed them in American casinos. Some of these statues still survive throughout the former Soviet Union, however, either in the town squares of small towns or places like Fallen Monument Park in Moscow, which houses a large collection of old Soviet statues, including this one of Stalin. I don’t know how Stalin lost his nose here, but I’d like to imagine that it was the result of a large sledgehammer wielded by an average Soviet citizen.
The above photo is of St. Peter’s Square, located in the Vatican City, the papal enclave in Rome, Italy. The Vatican was one of the first places we visited while in Rome since it was located just a few blocks from the apartment we were renting.
When people ask me for travel advice, one of my most frequent recommendations is to rent an apartment in whatever city you are visiting, especially if you are travelling with a group in one of the more expensive Western European cities (or Eastern Europe, where the majority of my apartment rentals have been). Rome apartments are quite plentiful and extremely well-priced when compared to hotels. Our apartment was very spacious, located in a secure pre-war building with a lovely courtyard, and just steps from the Vatican and many excellent restaurants. Of course, the apartment included a full kitchen so that we could pick up some groceries at the nearby store and save money by having one of our daily meals at the apartment. I much prefer renting apartments to staying in hotels because you get a greater feel for what life is like in the city – something you don’t typically encounter at many of the sterile-like hotels that most tourists frequent. And, of course, the best thing is the price – the money you save by renting an apartment can be well-spent at the local restaurants and pubs!