Cool Buildings – The Pantheon

Inside of the Pantheon

Inside of the Pantheon

The Pantheon in Rome makes an immediate impression on a visitor. Don’t just take my word for it – no less an expert than Michaeangelo felt that way too. He famously proclaimed “desegno angelico e non umano”, which roughly means that it was the design of angels and not of man. Built in the second century by the Emperor Hadrian as a temple to all the Roman gods, it is the only major work of Roman Imperial architecture still intact. It’s considered a masterpiece because it is the largest masonry dome ever built.  And at 142 feet in diameter and weighing five thousand tons, it is  pretty much the inspiration for every structure like it erected since.
Also of note: the inside dome is as high as it is wide. At the top is the oculus, one of the most famous features in architecture. The purpose of the oculus is to focus a circle of light into the Pantheon that, tracking the transit of the sun, passes slowly across the interior surfaces as the day progresses. This opening transforms the Pantheon from just brick-and-mortar house of worship into something almost alive as the light moves throughout the day, particularly during the equinoxes.
Cool random facts:
The Pantheon dome remains the single largest, unreinforced concrete dome in the entire world.
For that matter, it was the world’s largest concrete construction until the 20th century.
It’s still unclear what the building was used for, at least originally. There’s lots of speculation, but there is no concrete answer (no pun intended).
The floor of the Pantheon is slanted to let rainwater drain from the building.In the 17th century pope Urban VII had the bronze ceiling from the portico melted down. Although there is some question as to what the bronze was used for it is thought that much of it went to build the canons in the Castel Sant’Angelo.In 609 A.D., the Pantheon was consecrated and dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The consecration as a church basically ensured the Pantheon’s preservation from abandonment and disrepair that happened to so many other buildings in Italy. The removal of any item, no matter how small or insignificant, would constitute a mortal sin. The Pantheon remains a church, and to this day masses and weddings are celebrated.The Pantheon now contains the tombs of the famous artist Raphael as well as several Italian Kings and poets. The marble floor, which features a design consisting of a series of geometric patterns, is still the ancient Roman original.If you’re going to Rome, a visit to the Pantheon should be on your must-see list!

Finding the best place to stay

I’m planning a trip to Europe next year for some friends of mine. They’ve been struggling with the process, and it’s fun for me to do (and I get a little money for the trouble) so everyone wins! But the process of finding the right hotel can be tricky.

Most of the time, the first consideration is price. Finding accommodations can be the biggest travel expense (after airfare) for most people, so it’s important to think about what kind of place you want. Some people love luxury hotels and feeling pampered, while others look at a place to stay as little more than a place for a sleep and bathroom break with as few frills as possible. Of course there are lots of options in between these two – budget hotels, converted monasteries/convents, apartments, houseboats, campgrounds – there are plenty to pick from. So how do you decide? Getting an overview of how much things cost in a particular area is important, because $200 in Rome will get you a much different hotel room than that same $200 in London. So check around a bit before setting your budget.

Beyond price, though, I always emphasize location. Here are some good questions to ask yourself:

  • Is the place you are staying near the attractions you want to see?
  • Is it near public transportation? If not, how much more will you spend to get to where you want to go? This is an important factor, as these costs could include parking, tolls, and lost time (since you never find what you’re looking right away).
  • Do you want to be in a funky up and coming neighborhood with lots of bars and nightlife? Or would you rather be in a quiet neighborhood and feel more like a local?
  • Do you want be in a rustic, historic space, or do you want something modern and glitzy?
  • Do you want to be in a large hotel with tons of amenities, or a smaller B&B or in a furnished apartment/house?
  • Do you want to be a a big city with lots to do, or would you rather be in the country side away from everyone?

It’s important to ask yourself what kind of experience you want to have and then find an accommodation that lines up with that plan.

In Europe, most countries have a rating system from one to four stars for hotels, with one star being pretty basic and four stars being really fancy. I usually target two star hotels because they fit my budget but still allow me some of the conveniences I want, like a private bathroom. But you need to look at what other things you want. Do you need an elevator? Room Service? A bar or a restaurant? Those things usually cost more, so keep that in mind.

However many stars a hotel may have, smaller hotels generally operate a bit differently than the larger ones. They may not have a concierge 24 hours a day, or they may not offer free parking. But they are usually more open to price negotiations than the larger hotels, particularly if you can pay in cash. Conversely, larger hotels usually have higher rates (taxes and amenities cost more), but if you’re traveling in the off season, you might be able to negotiate a deal since they aren’t filled up with business travelers or conventions. I always ask, since the worst they can say is ‘no’. (or ‘non’, or ‘nicht’…)

So how do you research these things? I always try and start with someone I trust, be it a friend, or someone who’s been to that location before, then move on to things like TripAdvisor, guide books, websites, etc. I use that last one sparingly, because the thing about those sites is that it’s hard to know who’s being honest and who’s getting paid to say nice things about a property. It happens more often that you think, and often times it’s not disclosed that maybe that blogger got a free stay in exchange for a rave review, or maybe it’s the hotel owner posting that 10/10. So trust but verify is my motto, and I try to find more than one referral for a particular spot.

Once you’ve found the hotel you are looking for, always book directly with the hotel rather than use a third party site. You get better service and you cut out the middle man, which means you cut down on the risk of an error ruining your vacation.

No matter what your style, you can find exactly what you want just by thinking through all the options. Just remember the point of going somewhere else is to see how people live in that area, and that includes hotels. If you want the same hotel experience that you are used to in America, then maybe you should just stay home.



Love my job, hate the side effects

Yesterday was a crappy day. Really bad, like the kind of day where you eat a whole pint of ice cream (sea salt caramel) and even the sugar rush does nothing for you. And then you’re depressed and feel fat. Ugh.

Here’s the story:

Earlier this year, Tom and I decided to get back on the doggie bandwagon. We adopted 2 wonderful dogs from a local rescue society. The first few weeks were great. It was wonderful to have dogs back in the house again.

Then I went out on tour for most of the next three months, and Tom was stuck with the responsibilities of training them and taking care of them. One was almost 2 years old, and generally mellow and lovable, but the other was 6 months when we got her, and she was all puppy. She was cute, but it’s been a long time since we’d had a puppy. Tom had been working long hours to keep his business afloat, and quite frankly, the puppy stuff was maybe a little too much.

Maybe we should have thought it through more, remembered more about what it was like with our first dogs when they were 6 months old. Maybe it was naive to think Tom could do it alone. Maybe we were irresponsible for picking a puppy in the first place. There are probably many other factors that I can’t think of in the moment that are to blame. Whatever the causes, the situation wasn’t working.

Eventually, the frustration got to be too much. Tom was starting to resent her a little too much, and in his darkest moments, he certainly wasn’t enjoying having her around. Since I was out on tour most of the last 3 months, I wasn’t the one left to deal with all the destruction and manic puppy whirlwind. It was easy for me to say she’s just a puppy and to cut her some slack, but I wasn’t the one dealing with it on a day to day basis.

I hated the fact that he wasn’t happy. I didn’t want him to start resenting me for making him keep her. He didn’t me to resent him for not wanting to keep her. She just wanted to please us and had little control over her desire to leave teeth marks on every object in the house. There was a lot of tension buidling.

It’s one of the challenges of being gone for long periods the time – how do we care for loved ones, and what happens when issues like this arise? Forcing Tom to be the only one to care for her while I was gone wasn’t serving him, nor was it serving her. He was frustrated, I was frustrated, and she was chewing everything in sight. Not a remedy for happiness.

After much deliberation, we decided the right thing to do was give her back to the rescue society so they could find her a new home. She deserves a home where everyone loves her and appreciates her playfulness, her curiosity, and her loving spirit. Sadly, that wasn’t our home.

So yesterday we took her back to the rescue society. They are confident they can find her a new home pretty quickly. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, and to be fair, it wasn’t easy for Tom either. It’s the first time either one of us had done something like this. I admit part of me felt like I was betraying her by giving her back, and on top of that I felt like I was a failure. After all, we agreed to take care of her. But the more generous part of me knows that we are honoring that agreement to take care of her by giving her back. Still, it’s an important lesson to learn.

Being on the road so frequently, it’s a big challenge to have pets and care for them properly. The burden of caring for them shifts to others while I’m gone, and sometimes that’s too much to ask of them or it just doesn’t work out. The downside of constant travel as a career is that I have to make sacrifces. I don’t know if the decision would have been any different if I were home more often. What I do know is that I loved having Dani, and I’m doing my best to make sure she has a wonderful life. Even if that means it’s not with me.

Travel is great, but sometimes it sucks too.



Travel is Narcissistic…what’s wrong with that?

The universe revolves around me

The universe revolves around me

















I was reading The Dish (required reading if you haven’t checked it out) and they linked to this story in Aeon by Clare Evans. Claire is in the band YACHT, and while the article deals with her thoughts about being on tour, this paragraph realy caught my attention:

“Travel is inherently narcissistic. Even if we’re looking to be knocked off our axis, we’re still in the business of self-improvement. People want to go to faraway places and return changed. A lot rides on this expectation. We hunt for perspective, for miraculous connections, but when these moments happen, we don’t always recognise them — or we look in the wrong places. There is a collection of jungle villages around Ubud on the Indonesian island of Bali, which is as remote and humid and disorienting as any foreign place. The landscape is clogged with temples spewing incense, and yet long lines of Western tourists snake out the doorway of the single mountain temple that featured in Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Eat, Pray, Love (2006). It’s easy to laugh at these people. It’s easy to say that they are missing the point, but are they? Maybe they’re just mainlining into the essence of what travel is always already about: pat revelations about the self. When we were in Bali, we went to a different temple, and our dirty tennis shoes looked ridiculous beneath the stiff embroidered sarongs we were commanded to wear. I felt nothing, except for self-consciousness and the impulse to snap a dozen pictures I haven’t looked at since.”

There is truth within that statement, but I don’t agree with all of it. Yes, travel is narcissistic. It’s about me, my life, my relationship to world and how I see myself in it. Thank goodness for that. If there was nothing in it for me, why would I go through the time, expense, and complications to go somewhere else? I learn about the world, meet and connect with different people, get added perpectives on common problems, or sometimes just see some really cool stuff. And there’s nothing wrong with being selfish about it.

But the things that happen on that journey, the experiences, the insights, those are not pat revelations. All of those revelations serve to give me knowledge about the world and about myself.  True, I don’t always recognize them when they happen in the moment, but when I do get that flash of insight, there is nothing sweeter. And these moments don’t just exist independently; they build upon each other and provide context commonality for greater understanding. She’s certainly entitled to determine the value of her own experiences, but I’d never consider any of mine to be ‘pat’. The point of travel is to shake things up so that we look at things from a different angle.

Unfortunately, sometimes we see what we want to see, regardless of what is really there.

What’s going on?

Things have been a little quiet around here as I’ve been traveling quite a bit, but I’m due for a breather over the next few weeks, so you should be seeing a bit more activity around here.

I’ve had a couple of people ask who I’ve been working for this year. This year I’ve been lucky to work for Grand Circle and for the ACFEA. Grand Circle mostly does tours overseas, but they do have 3 tours here in North America, and I’ve been hired to lead the National Parks tour. It’s a great company to work for. They really focus on learning and discovery while on tour, so most of the people who take their tours really want to learn about the areas they go to and really connect with the culture. Grand Circle only hired local guides in the areas they go, so I won’t be giving any of their international tours, but that’s ok. I still like what they stand for and love the National Parks, so I’m happy.

The ACFEA is the Amercian Consulate For Education Abroad. They specialize in taking choirs, bands, and other performance groups on performing tours. In the past they did a lot more international tours, but with the economy being what it is, they now mostly do tours in North America. These groups are usually students, though not always, and the job is much more about logistics than tour directing. It’s a nice break from giving full tours, and I love watching the performances, so it works well for me.

Finally, I just got hired for a National Parks tour by Collette in October. I am very excited about this chance. Collette is one of the companies I’ve been targeting because they specifically do hire U.S. tour guides for their international tours, and if you are hired by them, they do a mix of domestic and international throughout the year, which would be great.

Otherwise, I’ve been sending out resumes to just a couple of other companies, including Rick Steves, YMT Tours, and Kalos Golf Tours, but haven’t had any offers yet. I’ve had a couple of calls from Cosmos, the company I worked for the last 2 years, but I haven’t had availability when they needed me. I’d still like to work for them if possible, but it hasn’t worked out so far.

That’s about it from a work standpoint. I’m focusing on ways to continue to differentiate myself, and I am only targeting specifc companies rather than doing the blanket approach. I like searching out different company philosophies and finding ones that really align with my own travel philosophies, so I’m hopeful that I’ll find more and more work that way.

In the meantime, I’m stuck in Tucson in August, which is not particularly ideal, but at least I have my buddy Ben to keep me company!

Me and Ben

Me and Ben


Trashy Returns

And no, I’m not talking about me. I saw this story about how Sweden is now recycling 96% of its’ garbage, and thought it was really cool. This, in contrast to the U.S., where over half of our waste ends up in landfills. In fact, Sweden is so efficient, they are have run out of garbage, and other counries are paying them to take their trash.

From the article:

‘In order to continue fueling the waste-to-energy factories that provide electricity to a quarter of a million homes and 20 percent of the entire country’s district heating, Sweden is now importing trash from the landfills of other European countries. In fact, those countries are paying Sweden to do so.

You read that correctly, countries are paying to get rid of a source of fuel they themselves produced so that Sweden can continue to have the energy output they need. You don’t have to be an economist to know that’s one highly enviable energy model.’

How cool is that? Do you recycle?