Posts Tagged ‘UNESCO World Heritage sites’

Patagonia: Five Things

Monday, May 10th, 2010

The Perito Moreno Glacier. Photo: Allison Dale

The unseasonably hot and humid weather we’ve had in Washington, DC, lately had our staff discussing cooler climates. This got us thinking about snow, then ice, and then glaciers, which led us to Patagonia. Here’s five things you should know about Patagonia, where during a heat wave, temperatures might reach all of 78 degrees Fahrenheit.1) The explorer Magellan named the region, which includes the southernmost portions of Chile and Arentina, after the native people there. He used the word Patagón, or giant, to describe the group, who were an average height of about 6 feet tall, much taller than the Europeans of the time.

2) Rawson, the capital of the Chubut region of Patagonia, was settled by Welsh immigrants in 1865, as part of an effort by the Argentinian government to attract settlers to areas outside of Buenos Aires. The going was even tougher than they anticipated; the settlers had been told the arid plateau of Chubut was much like lush, green lowland Wales.

3) The Patagonian region of Santa Cruz, in Argentina, is home to a 52-square mile petrified forest. The forest grew 150 million years ago, during the Jurasssic period, and was later buried under volcanic eruptions at the beginning of the Cretaceous Period, when the Andes began formation.

Cave Paintings at the Cueva de las Manos in Santa Cruz, Argentina. Photo: Mariano Cecowski.

Cave Paintings at the Cueva de las Manos in Santa Cruz, Argentina. Photo: Mariano Cecowski.

4) Humans have inhabited Patagonia since 10,000 BCE, if not longer, and traces of past settlements can be found across the region. One of the best known is the Cueva de las Manos (cave of hands), located in Santa Cruz, Argentina. The cave painters used ink made from hematite, and some archaeologists speculate that the young men stenciled their hands on the cave as part of a tribal rite-of-passage ritual. The cave was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999.

5) Some of the most famous residents of Patagonia include the Magellanic penguins of Magdalena Island. Situated in the center of the Strait of Magellan, Magdelena Island hosts 60,000 breeding pairs of penguins. Penguins mate for life, going back to the same nest to meet and breed each year.

Need more reasons to travel to Patagonia? Check out Smithsonian’s new Patagonian Frontiers tour, where you’ll explore the glaciers, islands, and windswept landscapes of Tierra del Fuego, the Beagle Channel, and more.

Ushuaia, Argentina, the world’s southernmost urban center, is 6,500 miles away from Washington, DC. What’s the furthest you’ve ever been from home? Please share.

Photo: Romance in India

Thursday, February 11th, 2010
Romance Blooms in Agra at the Taj Mahal

Romance Blooms in Agra at the Taj Mahal

There are some love stories that have become legendary. Romeo and Juliet, Lancelot and Guinevere, and Scarlett O’hara and Rhett Butler to name a few. Then there are love stories that are actually true, like the love between The Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan and his wife Mumtaz of India. While we may not have their names on the tips of our toungues, their symbol of love is a lasting icon:

The Taj Mahal.

The Emperor created the architectural treasure after his wife passed away when giving birth to his 14th child. Not only were the Mughals wealthy, they were incredibly supportive of the arts - including architecture, gourmet foods, and music. In the mid-17th century, the Emperor built the symmetrical memorial out of white Makran marble, placing his wife’s grave at the center.

While this may have perfected the symmetry of the Taj Mahal, it wasn’t the end of the story. Shah Jahan was overthrown by his zealous and fanatical son Aurangzeb, held under house arrest, and later buried alongside his long departed wife – which technically throws off the symmetry of the building, but doesn’t mar its beauty in the eyes of visitors who flock to it each year.

What was the most romantic thing you’ve done for someone you love?

Take your love to the Taj Mahal on Mystical India, a Smithsonian Journeys Signature Tour.  

Photo: Five Things to Know about Sicily

Thursday, January 21st, 2010
Fishing Boats in Beautiful Sicily

Fishing boats in beautiful Sicily

  1. One of the first groups to live on the island was the Sicani, who arrived from the Iberian Peninsula. Evidence of this group were found in the form of cave drawings dating back to 8000 B.C., and included images of now extinct dwarf hippos and dwarf elephants.
  2. Sicily produces more wine annually than New Zealand, Austria and Hungary combined. The best known local wine is the Nero d’Avola, named after a town near Syracuse.
  3. Many Sicilians are bilingual in both Italian and Sicilian. Although the Sicilian language is taught secondary to the Italian language to its youth, the language is still commonly used on the island. It includes a sizeable vocabulary of over 250,000 words including loan words from Greek, French, Spanish and Arabic.
  4. Sicily is known to be home of the world’s largest and oldest chestnut tree. The Chestnut Tree of One Hundred Horses is believed to be between 2,000 and 4,000 years old and is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as having the “Greatest Tree Girth Ever” with a listed circumference of 190 ft. when it was measured in 1790. The name originated from a legend about Joan of Aragon and her one hundred knights, who during a trip to Mount Etna, found shelter under the tree after a terrible thunderstorm.
  5. Goethe has said of the island, “To have seen Italy without having seen Sicily is to not have seen Italy at all, for Sicily is the clue to everything”

Have you been to Sicily? Share below.

Experience the beauty of the island on our Crossroads of Sicily tour featuring Palermo, Siracusa, and Taormina.  

Video: Diving Inside a Glacier

Tuesday, January 19th, 2010

There are so many things we can learn from the Patagonia region whether from its culture or natural history. Here are a few little facts we uncovered.

  1. Patagonia is one of the least polluted places in the world, due to its remote location, sparse population and the low-impact lifestyle of its residents.
  2. Indigenous to the Patagonia region is the Kawésqar Community of Chile, who arrived in the region around 6000-7000 B.C. and were masters at navigating the waterways of the region. Their community has never been particularly large and maximum population estimates are around 5000. Today, there are only 22 living Kawésqar people and they are fighting to keep their culture and language from extinction.
  3. Scientists noticed repeated blue whale sightings close to shore in Patagonia’s Golfo Corcovado in the late 1990s. The location was actually a breeding location which was relatively unknown until these sightings were recorded. A team of researchers later identified the area as a blue whale nursery, which now provides opportunities to study this endangered species up close.
  4. Glaciers at Los Glaciares National Park in Argentina, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, can reach almost four miles high. The National Park is the 3rd largest ice field in world behind Antarctica and Greenland.

What does it look like inside one of these massive glaciers? Take a look with these people who study glaciospeleology:

Would you scuba dive inside a glacier?

Learn more fun facts about Patagonia on our value-priced journey—Patagonia and the Natural Wonders of Argentina and Chile.  

Best of the Blog: 2009

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009

We’re celebrating our first year of the Smithsonian Journeys blog! We love traveling, but we love sharing our stories even more. Take a look at some of our favorites from 2009.

From all of us here at Smithsonian Journeys, we wish you a Happy New Year!

Self portrait: Petra  Photo by Richard Kurin

Self portrait: Petra Photo by Richard Kurin

Richard Kurin, Under Secretary of Art, History, and Culture here at the Smithsonian, blogged his entries from our Extraordinary Cultures – An Epic Journey around the World tour. Read his testimony that cultural diversity is alive and well in what seems like an increasingly globalized world.

A boy in Bhutan

A boy in Bhutan

Amy Kotkin, Director of Smithsonian Journeys, has been around the world several times over. But traveling from the National Mall to Bhutan had a few surprises. People in Bhutan speak… English?

The tomb of Ramses II on the West Bank

The tomb of Ramses II on the West Bank

Senior Program Manager Jean Glock will never tire of traveling to Egypt, home of some of the greatest archaeological finds the world has ever known. Here’s why.

Mont -St-Michel sits dramatically off the coast of Normandy

Mont -St-Michel sits dramatically off the coast of Normandy

Explore Mont-St-Michel with Sadie McVicker, Education Manager, who beautifully illustrates walking through the gates of the abbey as strolling back in time.

Future Racer   Photo by Alyssa Bobst

Future Racer Photo by Alyssa Bobst

If you adore animals, you’ll love Alyssa Bobst’s personal experience with the dogs and mushers from the Iditarod in Alaska. As our Program Support Coordinator, she’s amazing juggling multiple projects. With 16 dogs on each team and 67 teams competing, she found her calling assisting mushers with their dogs as a volunteer right before the competition.

Our commitment to World Heritage sites is serious business, but traveling to them is so much fun. Here are some of our favorite sites from around the world.

Which World Heritage site will you visit in 2010?