Exotic Journeys

Mycenaean civilization centered in the Greek Peloponnese during the Late Bronze Age BC left vague memories of a Trojan War.  Greek civilization drew upon this Mycenaean heritage, was spread around the shores of the Mediterranean by Greek colonists, and reached its zenith in Athens during the fifth century BC.  This Athenian “Age of Pericles” produced magnificent works of architecture, sculpture, drama and literature, and the Greek experience continues to resonate throughout our modern Western world—in our literature, art, philosophy and politics.
Turkey is an ideal classroom for exploring our human past: ancient Hittite ruins in the interior; remains of classical Greek cities along the Aegean, Mediterranean and Black Sea coasts; layers of Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman architecture and art throughout the land.  Then there is modern Turkey, a secular state bearing the strong imprint of its founder Kemal Attaturk, but with deep-seated Muslim heritage.  All of this comes together in Istanbul, an ancient but modern city where East meets West.
Egypt’s recorded history predates that of China by a thousand years, and the Great Pyramids of Giza had been standing some two thousand years when the Athenians erected the Parthenon on their Acropolis.  Already in Greek and Roman times therefore, travelers were making their way to Egypt and marveling at its archaeological wonders. One of the early Greek travelers—Herodotus, during the fifth century BC—observed that “Egypt is the gift of the Nile.”   After visiting Cairo and vicinity (including the pyramids), and exploring the temples and royal tombs at Luxor, the best way to enjoy the Egyptian countryside is the way that Caesar and Cleopatra did it—with a Nile cruse.
One thinks first of Morocco’s amazingly varied scenery—beautiful stretches of coastline, majestic Atlas Mountains with13,000 ft. peaks covered with snow, and the deep south, a realm of oases, adobe citadels and lively markets on the edge of the Sahara.  Then there are the cities with exotic names like Marrakech, Fez, Rabat, Tangier and Casablanca—all exhibiting distinctive Moorish architecture from the heyday of Islamic civilization.  Colonized by the Phoenicians, and later representing the western frontier of the Roman Empire, it was from Morocco that “Moors” crossed into Europe and dominated “Moorish Spain” until the thirteenth century.  Indeed Europe is only eight miles away, just across the Straight of Gibraltar.
This ancient land of natural and cultural superlatives encompasses 37 UNESCO World Heritage sites, among them the Great Wall, the Forbidden City in Beijing, Xi’an’s Terracotta Army, and the traditional gardens of Suzhou.  The misty peaks of Huangshan are representative of China’s spectacular scenery.  And for more adventurous groups, present-day China encompasses the western end of the Silk Road—from Xi’an by way of exotic places like Dunhuang, Turpan and Urumqi to Kashgar. Chinese food ranks among the world’s great cuisines, while its distinctive art forms, including acrobatics, martial arts and Chinese opera, add more flavor to the mix.
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