Barton Creek Cave is a remote cave formerly used by the ancient Mayans as a burial and ceremonial site. It is a river cave about 7 km long with a single entrance. We paddle into the cave in a canoe, and on the day of our visit, we were the only ones in the cave. There are bones and ceremonial artifacts among the beautiful stalacites and stalagmites. Our guide decided to turn off the torch when we were deep inside the cave, the quiet lapping of the water against the canoe in complete darkness was a bit eery – gave us insight into how this place, their underworld, felt to the ancient Mayans.
From Yaxha in Guatemala, we continued to the border of Belize by car. The Maya civilization spread across what is now Belize in around 1500 BC, and flourished here until about 900 AD. The main political center in the middle and south of Maya Belize was Caracol, whereas in the north, the most important political center was Lamanai.
Tikal, situated in the El Peten region of Guatemala, is the ruins of the capital of one of the most powerful kingdoms in the ancient Maya World. It remained somewhat prosperous until the decline of the Maya civilization around 900 AD and was eventually abandoned completely and consumed by the rainforest surrounding it. Tikal was rediscovered in 1848 and it is one of the largest archaeological sites of the pre-Columbian Maya civilization. Excavation work is still ongoing and temples still being uncovered. Tunnels have been mapped under the complex which extend 800 km to the opposite side of the country.
Antigua was founded in the early 16th century and was the colonial capital of Guatemala. It is less than an hour away from Guatemala City. Antigua is an outstanding example of Spanish colonial architecture and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. The city is filled with colonial-era mansions, churches, and convents. We did a cultural walking tour with Elizabeth Bell focusing on the city’s history, culture, and restoration efforts. We wandered around the small city and visited the City Hall, Palace of the Captain’s General, the San Jose Cathedral, a jade workshop, and Paseo de los Museos inside the Hotel Casa Santo Domingo.
We drove from Eze to Burgundy passing by beautiful lavender fields in Avignon and Sault and sunflower fields near Beaune. Beaune is the wine capital of Burgundy in the Cote d’Or area in eastern France. The annual wine auction of Hospice de Beaune is the primary wine auction in France. Beaune is surrounded by some of the best wineries in France. We visited several on this trip including Santenay, Clos de Vougeot, and Domaine Faiveley. The medieval town of Beaune is relatively small and very nice for exploring on foot. The Hospices de Beaune or Hotel-Dieu de Beaune, in the center of town, is a former charitable hospital for the poor built in 1443. Nowadays, Hospice de Beaune is a non-profit organzation which owns about 150 acres of donated vineyard land producing excellent wine for auction.
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Ruinpub is the exact translation of its Hungarian name. Ruinpubs are key to the nightlife of Budapest. Not only are they very popular among the local youth, they are also becoming a tourist must see. They are normally opened in derelict or abandoned tenement houses and factory buildings or at empty lots with old furniture from community centers, old apartments, or even city dumps. The mish mash of furniture and decor lend a hippy retro feel to these watering holes, hence the name ruin pub.
Across the Danube on the Pest side of Budapest is where most of the population live and work. It is also where the most notable landmark of Hungary, the Hungarian Parliament, is located. It is currently the largest building in Hungary and the highest building in Budapest. There are guided tours of the building but get quickly filled during peak season, so book ahead if you plan to see the inside of the Parliament.