World Tourism Day

This Sunday is World Tourism Day, a time when countries across the globe will come together to recognize the cultural, political, and economic value of tourism.

Every time we travel, we take a piece of the destination home with us, and we leave a piece of ourselves there–both landscapes forever altered by our simple act of boarding a bus, or a train, or an airplane.

Where are you going for your next trip? What do you hope to learn from your destination? What do you hope to teach it?


Capturing History: Potala Palace

The Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet, served as the winter home for the Dalai Lama from the 7th century until 1959, when he was forced to flee the region for the safety of India. Though His Holiness is still in exile, thousands of curious visitors visit his ancestral home every year, tracking in dirt and scuffing up his floors.

Picture of Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet

Potala Palace

It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most important symbols of Tibetan Buddhism.

At more than 300 feet high, the palace follows you around Lhasa, drawing in your gaze like the Mona Lisa and begging you to look at it. Its sheer cliffs and step design give the illusion that it is a natural extension of the surrounding mountains, a rocky outcrop that has always been there and always will be.

This post is part of fellow blogger Ed Mooney’s “Capturing History Challenge.” I encourage you to hop over to his site to see the other entries and also to enjoy his beautiful photography of Ireland.

Preparing for the Pope

When Pope Benedict XVI visited Washington, DC, in 2008, I was working near the National Mall and had virtually no interest in religion. But I learned he was going to be cruising down Pennsylvania Avenue in his Popemobile, and really, how often do you see that?

So I took a long lunch and ran through thick, sweaty throngs of devoted Catholics, Protestant protesters, official PopeGear© hawkers, and looky-loos like me to watch a little foreign man sitting behind Plexiglass. He rode by at 10 miles an hour, waving to the crowd in a halty, mechanical motion, and then he was off to his next papal adventure.

Pope Francis’ US visit later this month will draw enormous crowds. If you can go, by all means see him! Go for the history, go for the amusing anecdote. Just don’t go for spiritual fulfillment, because, when you’re shoved into a space with thousands of other bodies and you’re hot and tired and hungry, a two-second glimpse of a man in a car is not going to cut it.

If you want spiritual fulfillment, try these places instead:

1. The Baltimore Basilica


America’s first cathedral was built in the early 19th century in Baltimore, Maryland. Today it is a hodgepodge of neoclassical design, modern renovations, and a spectacularly spooky underbelly. Though open to the public 7 days a week, John Paul II was the last papal visitor.

2. Cathedral of St. Matthew

Picture of the Inside of the Cathedral of St. Matthew in Washington, DC

Located in Dupont Circle in Washington, DC, many Washingtonians walk by this historic landmark every day without ever giving it more than a glance. Its plain exterior is deceptive, though, for inside boasts soaring ceilings, intricate, shimmering mosaics, and the largest pipe organ you’re likely to ever see. The Cathedral of St. Matthew is where part of JFK’s state funeral was held, and it is also a favorite for visiting popes–Pope Francis is meeting with bishops for a midday prayer here.

3. The National Gallery of Art

Picture of the East Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC

Though DC’s National Gallery of Art isn’t bursting with papal visits, it is bursting with Catholic imagery. With everything from coinage to Monet’s Rouen Cathedral, the galleries are the ideal place for quiet, spiritual reflection.