Focus on Archaeology

The Temple of Debod in Madrid, with two pylons in front and a reflecting pool. Photos by Julie Skurdenis

In October 2017, my husband, Paul, and I rented an apartment in the iconic Plaza Mayor in the oldest section of Madrid. Using this apartment as our base, we enjoyed life Madrileño-style, spending weekdays viewingGoyas and El Grecos in the city’s many top-notch museums and weekends strolling in Retiro Park and hunting for treasures in the Rastro flea market.

At night, we nibbled tapas (appetizers) in the ubiquitous tapas bars of our...

My husband, Paul Lalli, in front of a photo of the grand staircase of the <i>Olympic</i>, sister ship of the <i>Titanic</i> — Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, Halifax. Photos by Julie Skurdenis

Ask anyone what the greatest disaster at sea is that they can think of and almost invariably the answer will be “the sinking of the Titanic.” 

Shortly before midnight on April 14, 1912, the Titanic, on her maiden voyage from Europe to New York, struck an iceberg and sank within three hours early on the morning of April 15. Only 705 survived. More than 1,500 died in the cold waters of the North Atlantic.

My husband, Paul, and I flew to Halifax, Nova Scotia, in...

Re-created Vikings’ blacksmith shop and church — Norstead, Newfoundland. Photos by Julie Skurdenis

He is generally credited with being the first European to “discover” the New World. If you think that the “he” is Christopher Columbus, think again. Nor was the year of discovery 1492, as most of us were taught in grammar school. It was AD 1000.

The one who should be credited with the “discovery” is Leif Erikson (his name in Old Norse is Leifr Eiriksson), whose father was Erik the Red and whose ancestors originally came from Norway. 


Castillo de los Tres Reyes del Morro, otherwise known as El Morro — Cuba. Photos by Julie Skurdenis

Quartet of Havana fortresses

Havana’s long, rich history stretches back to the time of Christopher Columbus. 2019 will mark the 500th anniversary of the founding of this city on the island of Cuba in the Caribbean. Because of its strategic location, it is not surprisingly a city especially rich in fortresses. Four of them stand within sight of each other on either side of the bay leading into Havana Harbor.

Why so many fortresses? In 1511, Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar...

San Cristóbal Cathedral as seen from the Palacio de los Condes de Casa Bayona — Plaza de la Catedral. Photos by Julie Skurdenis

Old Havana, on the Caribbean island of Cuba, is a city made for walking. Many of the streets are pedestrian-only, closed off to vehicles except for people-powered pedicabs. The streets in this oldest part of the city are crowded with locals, who live and work here, as well as with tourists. 

Walking is by far the best way to experience a city, to notice the details that make it unique and to feel its day-to-day pulse. This is especially true for Old Havana.

Old Havana is...

Totem poles at Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, North Vancouver. Photo by Julie Skurdenis

Totem poles are the monumental masterpieces of the Pacific Northwest. They are scattered over an area that includes the province of British Columbia in western Canada along with Washington and Oregon states in the northwestern corner of the continental United States plus southeastern Alaska. 

Erected by a people who had lived there for thousands of years and whom Canadians call “First Nations,” these totem poles are objects of great beauty — aesthetically...

Wall of antiquities near the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta — Torcello island, Venetian Lagoon, Italy. Photos by Julie Skurdenis

On almost every one of my many trips to Venice, Italy, over the years, I have been drawn to the small island of Torcello. Situated in the Venetian Lagoon about 6 miles northeast of Venice, Torcello acts like a magnet. The more crowded Venice becomes, the more I am drawn to Torcello. 

On my latest trip to Venice, for five weeks in September-October 2016, I needed Torcello more than ever. Though I love Venice — as does my husband, Paul — at some point midway through...

Interior of Scola Tedesca, one of Ghetto’s still-existing five historic synagogues — Venice, Italy. Photos by Julie Skurdenis

2016 marked the 500th anniversary of the founding of the Ghetto in Venice, the first ghetto in the world. In March 1516, Venetian Doge Leonardo Loredan decreed that “Jews must all live together… in the Ghetto of San Girolamo…” which is in Cannaregio, one of the six sestieri, or sections, into which Venice is divided. 

The Ghetto was then an abandoned foundry area where metal had once been cast. In the Venetian dialect, ghètar means “to cast...