Focus on Archaeology

La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Remedios on top of the Cholula pyramid. Photos by Julie Skurdenis

For me, Mexico is inextricably linked to its pyramids. Yes, there are colonial-era churches to visit, plenty of them, plus markets full of color and activity, miles of beaches, fiestas throughout the year and — let’s not forget — the fabulous food. But it’s the archaeological sites that keep drawing me back.

Mexico is rich in archaeological sites, many of which boast pyramids built by Mexico’s great Mesoamerican civilizations, including the Olmec, Maya,...

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“Minyi Puru” by Jakayu Biljabu — Yiribana Gallery, Sydney. Photos by Julie Skurdenis

For me, Sydney is the gem of Australia, a vibrant city famed for its iconic Opera House and Harbour Bridge and for its proximity to superb ocean beaches, like Manly and Bondi.

Sydney is a relatively young city. British captain James Cook “discovered” the continent of Australia in 1770. Although Portuguese seafarers might have reached Australia 250 years before Cook did, according to some historians, and Dutch seamen arrived in the 17th century at least 150 years before...

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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...

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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...

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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...

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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....

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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...

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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...

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