Focus on Archaeology

Wooden <i>pātaka</i> with elaborate carvings — Auckland War Memorial Museum. Photos by Julie Skurdenis

For three weeks in February 2020, my husband, Paul, and I explored much of New Zealand. Of the six areas we visited — Auckland, Bay of Islands, Queenstown, Franz Josef Glacier, Christchurch and Rotorua — Rotorua was easily our favorite (Oct. ’20, pg. 27).

This was primarily because of the richness of Māori culture found in and near this city located on North Island, one of the two major islands making up New Zealand (the other being South Island). As if Māori culture...

Woodcarving of Māori rowers in the Te Wairoa museum, near Rotorua. Photos by Julie Skurdenis

Undoubtedly, New Zealand is a country of spectacular beauty. Consisting primarily of two large islands — the North Island and the South Island — it is in the South Pacific Ocean. New Zealand is a land of snow-covered mountains, deep lakes, long fjords and verdant valleys as well as gentle hills, sandy and craggy coastlines and farmland.

I first visited many years ago. The opportunity to return came in February 2020. Besides the abundant natural beauty that my husband, Paul...

The Municipal Museum in Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay. Photos by Julie Skurdenis

Buenos Aires has always been one of my favorite cities. I try to visit as often as I can to enjoy its elegant cafés, superlative steakhouses, ubiquitous street and flea markets, great museums and parks and, above all, tango, of which I can’t get enough.

But when cosmopolitan living gets a bit much — especially on month-long visits — my husband, Paul, and I like to slip away for a few days to a far simpler place. Our getaway place is not even in Argentina but is just...

One of the interior courtyards of El Zanjón de Granados — Buenos Aires, Argentina. Photos by Julie Skurdenis

Plaza de Mayo lies at the very heart of Buenos Aires. In 1535, King Carlos I of Spain sent the conquistador Pedro de Mendoza y Luján to establish a fort on the Río de la Plata in what was to become Argentina. This fort was the site of the settlement Mendoza called Santa María del Buen Aire, today’s Buenos Aires.

In 1580, another conquistador, Juan de Garay, moved the settlement a mile and a half from Mendoza’s site, awarding tracts of land to members of his expedition....

The Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania as seen from Gediminas Tower in the Upper Castle on Gediminas/Castle Hill. Photos by Julie Skurdenis

The story of the Palace of the Grand Dukes in Vilnius, Lithuania, and its rebirth began for me many years ago.

I traveled to Lithuania for the first time in the mid-1970s during the bleak years of the Soviet occupation of the country (1940-41, 1944-90). There was no palace visible then, only a park next to Vilnius’ Cathedral (which the Soviets had turned into an art museum). The park covered the site where a palace had stood for centuries until it was destroyed by the Russians...

Cēsis Castle, built around 1213.

Riga, Latvia, was the second stop on a month-long trip that my husband, Paul, and I took to the Baltic states in May-June 2019. As with Tallinn, Estonia, our first stop (Feb. ’20, pg. 47), we had allotted eight days for Riga and, as with Tallinn, we could have spent all eight days exploring this vibrant city on the Baltic Sea, with its Old Town, wealth of Art Nouveau buildings and nearby seaside resort town of Jūrmala.

We also wanted to venture into the Latvian countryside to...

Kuressaare Castle as seen from our window in the Ekesparre Boutique Hotel — Saaremaa, Estonia. Photos by Julie Skurdenis

Tallinn, Estonia’s capital, is one of the gems of the Baltic states, a cluster of three small countries that also includes Latvia and Lithuania. They are all located along the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea in Northeastern Europe.

It would be easy to spend all of your time in Tallinn without venturing beyond. Its Old Town alone, with Hanseatic-era guildhalls and merchants’ houses, kept my husband, Paul, and me happily occupied for three days of our 8-day visit in May...

Staircase and base of Building A at Dainzú. Photos by Julie Skurdenis.

The city of Oaxaca lies about 290 miles southeast of Mexico City in an area enclosed by three valleys. In these valleys developed some of the richest cultures of pre-Columbian Mexico: first, the Zapotecs, whose earliest noteworthy archaeological site, San José Mogote, dates from the 7th century BC (perhaps even much earlier, to the 15th century BC), then, much later, the Mixtecs, who probably arrived in the valleys in the 9th and 10th centuries AD.

Two of Mexico’s foremost...