Navigation Menu
Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Great Barrier Reef, Australia

January 222014

Background:

1615 miles across, in the Coral Sea just off the coast of Queensland, the Great Barrier Reef is home to an immense 2900 smaller reefs and thousands of species of fish, corals and sponges. The reef runs almost parallel to the Queensland coast, starting on a level with Cape York and ending on a level with the town of Bundaberg. As well as these underwater creatures, the 900 small islands that are within the Great Barrier Reef also house many species of plants, land-dwelling animals and birds.

Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Formed around 25 million years ago, the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia is the only structure visible from space that is 100% alive. Some of the hundreds of species of underwater animals found there use the Great Barrier Reef as their permanent home, but also as a place to migrate to and breed in (such as the humpback whale). There are several endangered species of clam, sea-cow and green sea turtle there, which is why it is such a protected area.

Today the great barrier reef is one of the seven wonders of the underwater and natural worlds, amongst other prestigious titles and its tourism industry is huge.

Formation:

While the rock foundations that now support the Great Barrier Reef were formed as many as 65 million years ago, the waters were simply too cool to support coral growth until 24 million years ago. Even though corals did grow at this time, and during several periods afterwards, there were also a number of geological situations that meant the survival of any reefs was impossible. As a result, we can deduce that the reef that exists just off the coast of Australia’s Queensland today actually rests on a platform made from the reefs formed 18 thousand years previously.

The reef that we see, dive into and explore is actually only 1000 years old and considering it is so young, the rate at which global warming is affecting its growth is worrying for the future formation of this one of the seven wonders of the underwater world.

Why it Was Chosen:

Not only is the Great Barrier Reef one of the seven wonders of the underwater world, but it is also one of the seven wonders of the natural world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site as well!

CEDAM International, the American Diver’s Association which stands for Conservation, Education, Diving, Awareness and Marine Research) named the Great Barrier Reef as one of the seven wonders of the underwater world when it compiled the whole list in 1989. The seven wonders of the natural world were compiled much more recently in 2008.

Considering the Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest reef, it would make no sense to have left it out of the seven wonders of the underwater world list. We can only hope that it being so well respected can help to conserve this natural wonder and keep it growing for many thousands, even millions of years to come.

How Can it Be Seen?

Visiting the Great Barrier Reef is incredibly, easy, considering it lies just off the coast of one of Australia’s most populous well developed states. The Great Barrier Reef is perhaps the only one of the seven wonders of the underwater world that has its very own airport (HTI/YBHM) making it very quick and easy to fly there directly.

Once you arrive at Great Barrier Reef Airport and check into your hotel or other accommodation you should head straight for the Great Barrier Reef marine park, where 1.6 million tourists visit every year for diving, snorkeling and boating excursions. The marine park is actually a conservation effort that will point you in the direction of diving schools that respect and help protect this natural wonder. As you can imagine, too much interference with the delicate marine life within the Great Barrier Reef can cause it to die.

The Great Barrier Reef is a huge yet diverse place for tourists to travel to. The activities that you will find here have made Queensland well known for not just diving and snorkeling but also other activities like surfing and canoeing. Spending a 7 day holiday vacation at a nice hotel that you booked in Queensland through Expedia is easy since they have great prices on rooms year round. Keep in mind that the seasons are different in the land down under. What this means to you is that December through February is their summer months.

More Information»
The Iguazu Falls

The Iguazu Falls

The Iguazu Falls

November 182013

More Than One Wonderfall Experience

If you are anything like me, you are looking for the slightly understated bucket list of wonders; something that is special, not just because someone else says so, but because you can feel it in every bone rattling through you. To think about grand wonders, particularly natural, I could only think of one type of ‘structure’.  Waterfalls have always drawn my attention; how important to life water has and always will be and the magnificence of its cascading waters gushing with immensity.

Sunset over Iguazu
The Iguazu Falls SF Brit / Foter.com / CC BY

Now you may think about the grand scales of Victoria and Niagara; but with sparse locations to breathe in the magnificence, the delivery of expectation oft meets an unanticipated end. Personally, I feel some people are simply unable to absorb the singular capture upon their eyes. This isn’t to say they’re not marvels to behold; only that they are more difficult to contextualise; a journey to view the largest waterfalls possible almost seems too easy with one trip and one sparse set of view-points.

Iguazu Falls Argentina

Iguazu Falls Argentina

Iguazu is a waterfall with a difference; it isn’t a singular waterfall; it isn’t one massive drop from the top; it’s a collection of waterfalls that spans a huge 2.7 kilometres in width. This width allows for a diversity of view-points and experiences that few places except true wonders can produce where can you surround yourself with 260 degrees of water at the Devil’s Throat; the name in itself wreaks power and wonder in accordance to its view.

Iguazu Falls Argentina

Iguazu Falls Argentina

The Iguazu (Iguaçu) Falls has been superseded in history by the waterfalls of Niagara and Victoria Falls for too long; if you ask someone what they know about Iguazu Falls, they ask “Where?” First seen by European eyes in 5141, it is legend that a god once planned to marry a woman until she fled with her mortal-lover down the Iguazu River. “In rage, the god sliced the river, creating the waterfalls and condemning the lovers to an eternal fall” (Wikipedia, Iguazu Falls).

With 275 separate drops, 1756m3 of water passes over Iguazu Falls every second; to put that into further context, 1 cubic metre is equal to 1000 litres of liquid. With such force and velocity, I argue that there is no other wonder as unrivalled for the integration of both power and beauty; it is little wonder why legend has a god involved with its formation.

With Iguazu meaning “Big Water”, there is no understatement to these set of cascading falls being both powerful and harmonic; the surrounding areas were soon recognised as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, yet the waters have been found to be receding approximately 3mm per year.

Sitting on the borders of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay, there are three unique places you are able to pass through to get to Iguazu Falls; the Paraguayan town of Ciudad del Este is potentially the most adventurous, with a so-called centre for contraband and cheap electronic goods, it’s a location that contrasts the idyllic Falls compared to the small town of Puerto Iguazu in Argentina and the city of Foz do Iguaçu in Brazil.

Cruise excursions from the Iguazu River has become ever more popular with European and US tourists; travelling through Brazil with full amenities and comfort, many people have found it to be more relaxing and less stressful – and with Devil’s Throat being on the Brazilian border, the apparent best views for this announced New Wonder means visits to this isolated area has become ever-more accessible and encouraged. Furthermore, excursions are often on the cruise visa, making the overall experience easy and without worry.

However, depending on which country and way you choose to explore from, you will receive your own unique travel experiences and culture to enhance your overall experience at the Iguazu Falls; whether because it’s on your bucket list or because you simply want to see the magnificence of nature, this is what I can only call, a Wonderfall.

More Information»
The Medina of Marrakesh

The Medina of Marrakesh

Medina of Marrakech, Morocco

July 162013

Since its establishment at the end of the eleventh century, Marrakesh has been a city where culture, economics and politics converged, to create a powerful centre of influence. The city’s long and complex history, beginning with the founding Almoravids, through to the golden age of the Almohad dynasty in the mid-thirteenth century, is visible in the city’s magnificent architecture, and vibrant atmosphere. The city is home to several renowned monuments that reflect the significant cultural influence of the city, as its inhabitants transformed the notion of the urban landscape. Today, many of its monuments and landmarks are renowned worldwide, and the heart of the city, the lively Medina, is a UNESCO World Heritage Centre.

The architectural jewels of the Medina

The magnificent minaret of the Koutoubia Mosque immediately makes a striking impact upon the skyline of the Medina. While it may not be that high, reaching 77 metres in all, it towers above the palm trees and low lying buildings surrounding it. Built in a traditional Almohad style and topped with four copper globes, it is the largest ancient mosque in the country, decorated with ornate arches and hosts a cool garden within its plaza.

The late nineteeth century Bahia Palace, while relatively young amongst its neighbouring monuments, captures a blend of traditional Islamic architecture and Moroccan mosaic work. Inside the complex a network of walled gardens winds through, with groves of orange, cypress, jasmine and banana trees. Although the Palace is used predominantly by the Moroccan Government, parts of the complex are open to visitors, who can tour its varied craftsmanship.

Marrakech sunset

Marrakech sunset

Though diminished in its extent, Marrakesh’s original reputation as a centre of culture and learning can still be experienced today in the Ben Youssef Maddrassah, the fourteenth century Islamic college that is the largest of its kind in Morocco. No longer active as a resident college, the Madrassah is open today to visitors to explore its vast clusters of cells, that surround the open courtyard, carved in cedar, stucco and marble. Across the square from the mosque lies the Koubba el Badiyin, the oldest construction in the city, taking visitors back to the earliest roots of the Medina’s history.

Explore the craft and cuisine of the souqs

The underground souqs, or markets of the Medina show off the vibrant atmosphere of the area, with stalls selling wares of all kinds, from local crafts, brightly coloured textiles and ornate metal works, as well as street foods, fragrant spice merchants and baked treats, filling the narrow, winding alley ways. Alongside the market sellers are henna artists, musicians, fortune tellers and more, combining to create a charming and exciting ambiance, that reflects the constantly changing and evolving Medina.

Medina of Marrakesh

Medina of Marrakesh

Just a short distance away from the hustle and bustle of the Medina are Marrakesh’s luxurious riad guest houses. Cool and spacious, these large guest houses are the ideal place to stay in Marrakesh, surrounded by the lush countryside. Though they are just minutes away from the buzzing energy of the Medina, they also provide a serene, tranquil getaway, and the perfect place to relax

Author : Stephane Abtan

Stephane Abtan is the owner & director of Dar Ayniwen, a romantic hideout in the Marrakech Palmeraie district. He was born in Morocco and has an ever lasting passion for his native red city.

 

More Information»
Florida Southern College

Florida Southern College

FSC, Lakeland, Florida, United States

July 12013

Florida Southern College (FSC), is a distinguished private college in Lakeland. Not only is it a respected college, but it is also home to the biggest collection of architecture designed by Frank Lloyd Wright located in one site, making it an irresistible draw for architecture enthusiasts. If you are planning on visiting Florida at some point, here is a guide to what you will find and the tours that are on offer.

Florida Southern College

Florida Southern College

The ‘Child Of The Sun’ Collection

The collection of Frank Lloyd Wright buildings at FSC have led to it being listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Known as the ‘Child Of The Sun’ collection, it consists of the following buildings:

– Annie Pfeiffer Chapel (the first and best example of his work here)

– Buckner Building

– Water Dome

– Watson/Fine Building

– Ordway Building

– Polk County Science Building

– The Esplanades

– Seminars

– Danforth Chapel

Pfeiffer Chapel HABS, FLA,53-LAKE,1A-14
Florida Southern CollegeFoter.com / Public Domain Mark 1.0

Wright was 69 and at the peak of his fame when he started work on the campus. He designed the buildings following a proposal by Ludd M. Spivey, who was the president of FSC at the time, who wanted to plan a new kind of college during The Great Depression to increase enrolment. Wright thought that many colleges could do a lot better architecturally, and so he accepted.

Arranging Tours to the College

Florida Southern College

Florida Southern College

Due to the presence of the buildings, it is no surprise that FSC’s campus was voted the most beautiful in the USA by The Princeton Review in both 2011 and 2012. You can see just how attractive it is by arranging a tour to visit the collection, and there are a number of options to choose from.

The self-guided tour is available most days and is completely free. You can visit at any time and after picking up a map in the visitor centre you can spend as much time as you want admiring the buildings’ exteriors.

There are also guided tours available, including the Basic Tour and the In-Depth Tour. The Basic Tour lasts an hour, and during the tour you will find out all about each of the structures from an expert guide, who will also take you inside Annie Pfeiffer Chapel. On the In-Depth Tour, you will also get to go inside all the buildings when possible, and it lasts an extra hour. Reservations are advisable for all guided tours, but not essential.

The college also offers group tours, private tours for up to six people, and the Behind the Scenes Tour, on which you will get to see places that are not available on the other tours. There is also an Archives Tour available, on which you can find out more about the McKay Archives, which includes designs and photographs by Wright.

Make sure you also visit the Visitor Centre during your trip. This opened in 1992 and is located in the William M. Hollis Exhibition and Seminar Room. Here you will find drawings, photographs and other artefacts, as well as exhibits designed by Wright that are on loan from other sites.

If you are not staying in Lakeland during your time in Florida, it is still easy to reach FSC. Lakeland is not far from Tampa, so you can easily arrange a day trip here. It is slightly further from Orlando, but it is still an easy drive, you can rent cars from the airport from Alamo.co.uk.

Visit FSC During Your Time in Florida

Florida Southern College is a worthwhile attraction for any architecture enthusiast, and especially for fans of Frank Lloyd Wright. It may not make it onto the main list of attractions for things to do in Florida on your holiday, but it is certainly worth taking a tour and enjoying one of the most important architectural sites in the state.

More Information»
The natural phenomenon of Aurora Borealis
June 282013

If you are looking to indulge in a natural phenomenon, then visiting the Northern Lights is a must. Also known as the Aurora Borealis, this incredible marvel showcases a strikingly beautiful coloured display. The explosions of magnetic energy shine 60 or 70 miles above the earth’s surface. Aurora takes its name from the Roman Goddess of Dawn, whilst Borealis is titled after the Wind, and the Roman God of the North.

Aurora Borealis
Aurora Borealisalf07 °,° / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

The Science Behind Aurora Borealis

Each and every sighting of the Northern Lights is exclusive and you can never be certain which colours you will see. The one truth about nature’s phenomenon is – it has been captivating sightseers for generations. This spectacular display is formed when certain particles connect with the Earth’s magnetic shield, these particles then journey to the North Pole where they interrelate with the atmosphere’s upper layers. The released energy is what we call the Northern Lights.

Northern Lights
Northern Lightseir@si / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Where To View The Northern Lights

One of the best places to view the Northern Lights is in Alaska. As dawn takes place, a variety of colourful light bands dance across the night sky. This display is so renowned; travellers often visit from far and wide. Whilst in the vicinity, many will also take part in activities such as skiing, snowmobiling and dog mushing. Although these pastimes are extremely fun, they are also quite fast-paced and as such, travel insurance is imperative. In order to source the best annual holiday insurance available, the best place to look is online. Many providers will often offer better deals on annual policies, so if you travel repeatedly, this option may be cheaper than taking out a single cover each and every time.

Dog sledge tours allow visitors to partake in a new experience and one that commands some of the most spectacular scenery on earth. Watching the midnight sun come to light, as it covers the mountains, is a truly magical occurrence.

Guided snowmobile tours generally take around half a day to complete and such an excursion offers an insight into the Alaskan traditional way of life. It’s also an extremely thrilling pastime as many of the sleds are exceptionally fast-paced.

Alaska is one of the most celebrated places to visit the Aurora Borealis, mainly because its geographic location lies directly beneath the auroral oval. Guests are invited to take part in both one day and multi-day excursions in order to witness the lights in action. August 21 to April 21 is the best season to visit nature’s most magnificent natural wonder.

The Viewing Conditions

Ideal viewing conditions should be cold, crisp and clean, and the skies should boast zero clouds with little light. Depending on where you choose to view the lights and at what time of year, the display can last from as little as a few minutes to as long as five days.

The Aurora Borealis extends ten times higher than a jet aircraft and often spreads hundreds of miles into space. Travellers will regularly see vivid yellows, greens, purples and blue pattern light up the evening sky, which makes for an experience like no other.

If it’s not already on your bucket list, make sure you add the Aurora Borealis now. As well as Alaska, there are a number of other places to view this spectacular display, including Denmark, Scotland, Canada, Greenland, Finland, Iceland, Russia and Sweden.

In Denmark, alterations in both the gases and altitudes create a variety of hues, whilst Scotland tends to showcase only a vivid green light. Lake Superior in Canada is an excellent viewing spot, as the lights not only illuminate the sky, they also showcase reflections from the lake.

Iveta Ivanova is an enthusiastic traveller and trip review blogger who loves discovering the world`s beautiful places. She tries to seek out the less explored touristic destinations and reveal them to other travellers. Make sure to book the best annual holiday insurance from http://www.annualtravelinsurance.com when travelling. You can follow her on Twitter @IvetaSIvanova and Google+ https://plus.google.com/104324707679934155318/posts.
More Information»
Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne

Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne

Melbourne, Royal Exhibition Building

June 272013

Located in Melbourne’s stunning Carlton Gardens, Melbourne’s magnificent Royal Exhibition Building was finished just in time for the 1880 Melbourne International Exhibition. It was a smashing success.

Lasting eight months, the exhibition attracted over a million people to the eight hectares of exhibition space. More than 30 countries displayed their industrial, cultural, and technological achievements to all comers, bringing knowledge from all over the world to Melbourne.

Melbourne Royal Exhibition Building

Melbourne Royal Exhibition Building

The Royal Exhibition Building was from then on logged into history as a major event venue, even hosting the opening of Australia’s first parliament in 1901. In 2004, it became Australia’s first building to win status as a UNESCO World Heritage site. It still hosts exhibitions and events in connection with the Melbourne Museum.

History of the Royal Exhibition Building

The Royal Exhibition Building shares some stylistic similarities with the State Library of Victoria and the Melbourne Town Hall, as all three buildings were designed by architect Joseph Reed.

In designing the Royal Exhibition Building, Reed modeled the dome on that of the Florence Cathedral, and the building’s main pavilions on buildings in Normandy, Paris, and Caen as well as the Rundbogenstil architectural style in Germany. As designed, its Great Hall covered more than 12,000 square metres and its temporary annexes many more. The building was finished within a year.

Royal Exhibition Building

Royal Exhibition Building

Right off the bat, the Great Exhibition Building was the site of not just one but three major historic events. Following 1880’s historic Melbourne International Exhibition was the Melbourne Centennial Exhibition of 1888.

When Australia won its status as the Commonwealth of Australia on the first of January 1901, the building was the site of the opening of the very first Parliament of Australia in May of that year. The parliament moved to Victorian State Parliament House soon afterwards, while the Victorian Parliament ended up using the Exhibition Building for 26 years.

When the Australian National Flag was designed and chosen, one of the first new flags was flown over the Royal Exhibition Building. It measured a full 5.5 by 11 metres in size.

The Royal Exhibition Building in the 20th Century

Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne

Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne

Unfortunately, the Exhibition Building was not well maintained in the early part of the century. By 1948, its existence came to a vote before the Melbourne City Council — should it be knocked down, and replaced by office blocks? The building survived… but only by a narrow margin.

A fire in 1953 burnt down the wing which had once been home to Melbourne’s aquarium. Regular weekly dances, car shows, boat shows, and other commercial expositions occupied the building during the 1940s and 1950s.

For the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, the Royal Exhibition Building was the venue for a number of events. Basketball, wrestling, weightlifting, and the fencing component to the modern pentathlon all took place there.

Students of all stripes also got to know the Exhibition Building. Among other uses, the Victorian Certificate of Education and State High School Matriculation exams took place there until the 1970s.

The Exhibition Building narrowly survived demolition again in 1979. After the grand ballroom was demolished, it was only a public outcry that saved the main building.

Just four years after the hundredth anniversary of the Melbourne International Exposition, Princess Alexandra bestowed upon the Exhibition Building the royal title, giving it the name Royal Exhibition Building. This was an important moment in the building’s history. Thanks to the new title and a conservation assessment done by Alan Willingham, the building saw a thorough restoration over the next twenty years.

A little while later, the Melbourne Museum was built next door. This was a controversial decision, and the controversy had far reaching effects. In order to protect the Royal Exhibition Building, the opponents of the museum’s construction nominated the Exhibition Building as a World Heritage Site in 1999.

By 2004, both the Royal Exhibition Building and the surrounding Carlton Gardens were granted the status of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, making the Exhibition Building the first building in Australia to get a spot on the list. As for the museum, it’s embarked on major projects to help restore and preserve the Exhibition Building and its grounds.

Nowadays, the Royal Exhibition Building still sees use for commercial exhibitions and trade shows, like the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show. Students use it too, with at least six different high schools and universities holding their exams in it.

Seeing these buildings for yourself is now a realistic possibility. The internet allows one to plan a trip to the area with little to no difficulty in a short time. Planning your trip to Melbourne can take mere moments, whether you’re from a nearby country or another continent. This is great if you want to take a group on a historical tour of these historical buildings, or if you just want to take a vacation and take in an exciting new culture. There is no excuse not to at least investigate this endeavor, as there are countless options for a wide variety of price ranges.

Click here to learn more

 

photo by: Wilson Afonso
More Information»
The Hot Springs of Chongqing – A Tranquil Retreat
June 272013

The city of Chongqing may not be the first place you think of visiting when planning a trip to China. However, the area has a host of natural landscape features including gorges, caves and hot springs to entice you.

More Information»
Ancient Kyoto – Tenryu-ji Temple

Ancient Kyoto – Tenryu-ji Temple

Tenryu-ji Temple, Kyoto

June 142013

Kyoto is a city located centrally on Honshu Island in Japan. In the olden days, it has been the royal capital of Japan for over 1000 years. It now happens to be capital of the Kyoto Prefecture. It also forms a big part of the Kyoto-Osaka-Kobe metropolitan area. Kyoto used to be the primary center for garden design and for secular and architecture. That was in the days from the 8th to the 17th century. It was during this period that it had a pivotal role in creating the cultural traditions of Japan.

Tenryu-ji
Tenryu-ji Templejohn weiss / Foter.com / CC BY-ND

This was particularly true in the case of gardens that appeared to have a huge influence on the whole world after the 19th century. China had already passed on its Chinese and Buddhist influences. The city of Kyoto was developed on the lines of Chinese cities like Changshan, which was then the capital of Tang China.

History:

After the war in the year 1185, a samurai military regime was set up at Kamakum but the imperial court continued to stay at Kyoto. Among the most significant examples of architecture of those times was the Sekisui-in at Kozan-ji. Even this one was over with the formation of the Muromachi Shogunate. It was during this time that very big temples of Rinzai Zen sect, like Temyu-ji, were built. This time also saw the makings of the beautiful Zen gardens. Saiho-ji is an example.

Garden
Koyoto Tenryu-ji Temple Garden7_nana / Nature Photos / CC BY-NC-SA

By the turn of the 14th century, Muromachi Shogunate had reached the peak of its regime that was mirrored in structures like Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. This later went on to become Rokuon-ji, a Buddhist temple. There was also a villa of a later shogun, called Ashikaga Yoshimasa that had been constructed in a sophisticated style. This one too was transformed into Jisho-ji. They decided to convert the Garden design into a form of pure art.

Woods around Ginkaku-ji
Ginkaku-ji, KoyotoJames Nash (aka Cirrus) / Foter.com / CC BY-SA

Unfortunately, a large part of Kyoto was demolished during the Onin War that lasted between 1467 and 1477. However, a new urban class resurrected it again. This class substituted the nobles who had escaped when the war took place. Later, it was in 1568 that Oda Nobunaga rose to power. Toyotomi Hideyoshi followed him. Hideyoshi finally united Japan and constructed a 23-kilometer wall to surround Kyoto. This caused the center of power to shift to Edo which today we know as Tokyo. At this point, a Shogunate came to be formed under the Tokugawa Ieyasu. Their authority was given custom material in Kyoto along with building of the robust castle, Ngo-jo. At that time, Hideyoshi’s defenses were pulled to bits.

Construction and development of Tenryu-ji Temple:

Tenryu-ji Temple stands in the center of Sagano district. This is a very attractive tourist area in Kyoto. This Zen Buddhist temple has a beautiful Chisen-kaiyu-shiki garden. This was created by a genius garden designer by the name of Muso Soseki.  Sogen-chi pond and the arranged rocks of Ishigumi are very pretty. The head temple of Rinzai Zen sect is the Tenryu-ji. It also happens to be one of the seventeen World Cultural Heritage places in Kyoto.

In 1339, priest Muso Soseki proposed to Ashikaga Takauji – the first Muromachi Shogun, and brother Tadayoshi the construction of a temple to commemorate the deceased Emperor Go-Daigo. He was the one to have coordinated initially with samurai brothers to defeat the Kamakura Shogunate. There was immediate agreement with the priest. However, the just-established and new Shogunate government lacked adequate funds. They were compelled to start trading with China to be able to complete the Temple’s construction. In 1345, finally, the Zen temple was unveiled officially with Muso Soseki appointed its head priest. Sadly, the temple buildings have caught fire many times since then but they have been reconstructed each time and to this day this temple portrays the glory and beauty of its epoch.

Author: Teresa Jens works as a travel agent for one of the leading European travel companies.  One of her main duties is to find good flight (in Swedish flygresor) deals for her customers.
More Information»
Mecca’s Masjid al-Haram

Mecca’s Masjid al-Haram

Masjid al-Haram, Mecca, Saudi Arabia - the "Grand Mosque"

June 122013

One of the most distinctive religious sites in the world, the Masjid al-Haram in the city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, is visited by literally millions of pilgrims every year. At its heart sits the Kaaba, a distinctive black cube and the point towards which all Muslims, around the world, pray.

Never still
Mecca’s Masjid al-HaramOmar Chatriwala / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Masjid al-Haram History

Legend has it that the Kaaba itself was built by Ibrahim (Abraham), the progenitor of Judaism, Islam and Christianity. Prior to the advent of Islam in the 7th Century AD the site is believed to have been a temple of worship for local pagan tribes, but when the Prophet Muhammad came to the city he had the pagan idols removed and established a mosque in its place.

The Greatest Mosque Al-Masjid Al-Haram  , Mecca | أول بيت وضع للناس
Masjid al-Haram Mecca Hossam all line / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Until the beginning of the 8th Century the Masjid al-Haram was a small structure, little bigger than a house, built around the Kaaba. As Islam gained more followers and came to dominate the region, so a bigger mosque was built. By the 750s the building had lost its wooden columns and acquired granite ones, and this structure would remain for almost 800 years, when there were a number of renovations, each making the mosque larger still, throughout the 16th and 17th Centuries.

The Kaaba in Al-Masjid al-Ḥarām (The Sacred Mosque), built by the Prophet Abraham as a place to worship God
Mosque Al-Masjid Al-Haram , MeccaOmar A. / Travel Photos / CC BY-NC-SA

Though elements of the ancient mosque survive much of the current structure, which can accommodate up to an astonishing 4million pilgrims during the Hajj, dates from the 1950s when the Saudi royal family carried out the first major works for over 300 years.

Hajj

One of the ‘Five Pillars of Islam’, the Hajj is the pilgrimage to Mecca undertaken by millions of Muslims annually. For many centuries the journey itself was perilous, involving dangerous sea crossings or travelling – either on foot or horseback – across arid, unforgiving deserts. Nowadays, thankfully, with the advent of aircraft it’s a great deal safer, not to mention easier!

Though a number of large, luxury hotels have been built in recent years to accommodate the sudden influx of visitors many stay in the so-called “Tent City” of Mina; a vast campsite with over 100,000 air-conditioned tents!

Hajj takes place from the 8th until the 12th day of Dhu al-Hijjah, the last month in the Islamic calendar, during which time a number of rituals are performed, including Tawaf. This is the act of walking seven times in a clockwise direction around the Kaaba and – if possible – kissing or touching the famous Black Stone.

The Black Stone

The very oldest part of the Masjid al-Haram is without doubt the “Black Stone” (or al-Ḥajar al-Aswad), set into the corner of the Kaaba. It’s known to have been worshipped in pre-Islamic times, and Islamic tradition holds that the stone fell to Earth from Heaven, and was used by Adam and Eve as the first altar. This has led many to suggest it may have been a meteorite whose crash landing was observed by some of the region’s earliest inhabitants, and that this story was then handed down through the generations.

 

Umrah 2012
Masjid al-Haram “Black Stone” FFaruq / Foter.com / CC BY-ND

There have been many attempts to destroy it over the years, and fragments of it were chipped away. As a result, descriptions of the stone – which is housed within a large metal frame– have changed dramatically through history, but after many centuries of being kissed and touched by countless pilgrims it’s currently described as being polished smooth and almost metallic in appearance.

The Masjid al-Haram Today

Today, having been used as a place of worship by Muslims for over 1,400 years, the Masjid al-Haram covers an area of over 350,000 square feet – or the equivalent of around 90 football fields – and even when it’s not being visited by pilgrims from around the world can comfortably play host to almost 1million worshippers. Unusually – considering the rules on gender segregation in other parts of Saudi Arabia – the Masjid al-Haram is one of the few major mosques in the world where men and women congregate together.

However, recent years have seen some controversial developments near the site, and in particular the construction of the Abraj Al Bait skyscrapers (the world’s second tallest), which stand only a few hundred metres from the Kaaba itself and overlook the mosque, dominating Mecca’s skyline. Can it be very long before the Maasjid al-Haram itself has another makeover?

Author – David Llewellyn, who writes about travel and tourism for Anjum Hotels
More Information»
Experience Natural Wonders and Texas History at Longhorn Caverns
June 112013

Located in the beautiful rolling hills of the Texas Hill Country, Longhorn Caverns provides visitors a rather unique opportunity to experience the natural beauty of caverns whose story is intertwined with Texas history.  Daily tours are offered, but special themed tours and concerts also take place for those that want an extra special experience.

longhorn cavern
Longhorn Cavernseschipul / Foter.com / CC BY-SA

Unique Cave Formation

While Caverns form in a variety of ways, the most common way is gradual dissolution of limestone.  Dissolving limestone did contribute to the formation of these caverns, and visitors will see a few stalactites and stalagmites formed by the slow dripping of dissolved limestone that are signature features in many caverns.  However, Longhorn Caverns is unique in that it was also formed simultaneously by the cutting action of water.  An ancient underground river flowed through the limestone bedrock, forming beautiful, curvaceous chambers of smooth rock that are distinctive amongst caves.

Entrance to Longhorn Caverns
Longhorn Cavern State ParkJ. Stephen Conn / Foter.com / CC BY-NC

The Human History Interwoven with Nature

Longhorn Cavern’s history, for better or worse, has been closely intertwined with human history and has played an important role in several defining moments in Texas and U.S. history.  The first humans to use the caverns were Comanche Indians, possibly for shelter and for making tools out of the flint that was in ready abundance in the area.  The Native Americans were driven out during the 1860’s during the Civil War, when the caves were then used by the Confederate Army to secretly manufacture gunpowder.

longhorncavern45
Longhorn Caverns Historymlhradio / Foter.com / CC BY-NC

Once the Civil War concluded, the Indians and Old West outlaws utilized Longhorn Caverns as shelter. The most well known bandit to seek shelter at the caves was probably Sam Bass, the infamous train robber and bandit who executed the single biggest robbery of the Union Pacific Railroad, escaping with $60,000 in spoils.

The caverns utility as a “secret” location continued during the Prohibition era of the 1920’s when the chambers were used as a speakeasy nightclub.  In 1931, the caverns and surrounding ranch land were re-civilized when they were purchased by the State of Texas to form a state park.  Improvements to the cave and park were completed by the Civilian Conservation Corp, a nationally funded project created by President Franklin Roosevelt to provide employment to families suffering from the Great Depression and complete needed infrastructure projects around the country.  Since 1932, the caverns have been open to the public, and in 1971 the park was dedicated as a National Natural Landmark.

Unique Tours and One-of-a-Kind Concerts

Visitors to the caves can participate in a number of tours to enjoy the caverns and their cool, comfortable year round 68 degree temperatures.  The Daily Tour is offered several times a day ($12.99 for adults and $8.99 for children over 2) and provides visitors with a guided, 1 ½ long tour of the major chambers along the paved path within the cave.

Specialty tours are also available but must be reserved in advance.  The Wild Caves Tour gives people the chance to explore the caves in a way that was previously only available to professional spelunkers.  Participants can climb and crawl through passageways and areas off limits to other tours.  The Photography Tour gives photographers the chance to bring in their equipment and adequate time to set up shots for fabulous photographs.  Geology buffs will appreciate the Geology Tour lead by the onsite geologist, who will go in depth about the natural geologic formations.  Visitors who want to be titillated by the ghost stories will enjoy the Paranormal Tour.  Listen to the ghost stories, or if you are a ghost hunter, bring your paranormal equipment to attempt to record signs of paranormal activity that others have successfully captured.

Concerts are also held periodically, and reservations are a must as they typically sell out in advance.  Make sure to check the calendar of events or call ahead to find out if a concert is taking place during your visit.  The acoustics of the cave chambers are remarkable and lucky concert goers will be treated to a live performance unlike anything they have heard before.

Guest blog post courtesy of Teri Freitag/The Highland Lakes of Burnet County. Connect with the author on Facebook and Twitter.

More Information»
Tulum Ruins

Tulum Ruins

Tulum Mayan Ruins Mexico

June 112013

The Tulum Ruins Overview

While Teotihuacan and Chichen Itza gain more visits, travellers to Mexico should not forget to check out the Tulum ruins. As one of the last cities to be inhabited and built by the Mayans, the structures remain surprisingly well preserved. Archaeological buffs will fall in love with the mystery surrounding the buildings and site. A visit to the site lets you transport back in time to learn more about the fascinating Mayan culture and civilisation.

Tulum Ruins, Mexico
Tulum Ruins, Mexicoarcher10 (Dennis) / Travel Photos / CC BY-SA

History and Information

The walled city of wonder gets its name from the Mayan word for ‘wall’. The city did carry another name previously. Zuma, meaning dawn, was its initial name due to it facing the east towards the Riviera Maya. While the city was in its pomp in the 13th century with over 1,000 inhabitants, it’s believed to first date back to 564 A.D. Its grand age is made apparent when contrasted with nearby city Cancun with its luxury resorts and bustling nightlife while closer to home a shopping centre is in close vicinity. Still, it remains one of the best preserved Maya ruins, just another reason why travellers shouldn’t miss out. Perhaps it’s something to do with the seven metre thick walls. This and what appear to be watchtowers led to the belief Tulum acted as a fortress. However, it has been widely agreed the city was also an important seaport used for trading goods and provided a sea route to Central America. As the only Mayan city built on a coast, valuable items such as jade, obsidian and turquoise were exchanged. The city was brought to its knees when Spanish conquestors invaded Mexico. But the assailants also brought Old World diseases, disseminating the native population and thus the city was left deserted.

Mayan Ruins of Tulum
Mayan Ruins of TulumCasaDeQueso / Beach Photos / CC BY-NC-ND

The Tulum Ruins

There are a number of ruins to see; the main structures being the Temple of the Frescoes, the Castillo and the Temple of the Diving God.

While the coloured murals found in the Temple of Frescoes have faded somewhat over time, what’s left is still impressive. Spread over three levels, the first shows the Mayan world of the dead, the second showcases the living while the third represents the creator and rain gods.

The Castillo is the tallest building on the site. With commanding views of the ocean for miles, it’s believed to have been used as a lighthouse, guiding trade ships to the shore. When climbing to the top, it’s best to negotiate the steep steps sideways to make it easier.

Temple of the Diving God gains its name from the fascinating sculpted head which appears to be diving towards earth from the heavens. It’s been suggested the figure presents a deity where he protected the people of Tulum and the ancient city was the centre of his cult.

Patches of red can be seen on several of the structures, which suggest the buildings were painted red during the Maya period.

Tulum Mayan Ruins Mexico
Tulum Mayan Ruins Mexicoarcher10 (Dennis) / Travel Photos / CC BY-SA

Visiting The Tulum Ruins

A tip when visiting any ruins, it’s recommend you book a guided tour or have a good guide book to give you a full explanation of the city. Despite the sites compact nature, visitors can quite easily more than a few hours viewing the structures, taking pictures and visiting the beautiful beach below. For a truly unique experience, it’s possible to arrive at the site via a catamaran, giving you an indication what it would have been like to be faced by this outstanding facade. It’s advisable to arrive late in the day as hoards of tour buses arrive at 9am, particularly as the site could get crowded quickly – the site closes at 5pm.

Location of The Tulum Ruins

Located 82 miles south of Cancun on the east coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, the surrounding scenery couldn’t be more picturesque. A beach complete with golden soft sand and turquoise waters creates a stunning backdrop to the ruins. That’s not to mention the incredible weathered grey cliff in which the ruins perch upon.

Tulum Beach, Mayan Ruins, Mexico
Tulum Beach, Mayan Ruins, Mexicoslack12 / Beach Photos / CC BY-NC-ND

Summary

Only a short journey to popular holiday destination Cancun, visitors would be missing out on this well preserved world wonder if they didn’t make the trip. The Tulum ruins present a perfect opportunity to learn more about the history and culture of the Mayans. Visitors can marvel at both the magnificent and mysterious structures. And if the ruins don’t leave a lasting impression on you, the trip to the beach will.

Author: Dan Perdomo – travel blogger who plans of travelling the world – when he wins the lottery. He enjoys treating himself to luxury holidays with Sovereign Luxury Travel.

More Information»
Palace of Versailles

Palace of Versailles

Palace of Versailles

June 102013

The History of Versailles:

Versailles was originally created by Louis XIII on his hunting trips, as a cabin. Louis XIV expanded the palace into one of the largest palaces in the world, smaller in land area (for the entire complex) than the Forbidden City in China, but the largest in total land area (larger than Buckingham Palace at least). And according to Wikipedia, the world’s largest palace is the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, built for the Ottoman Empire and its sultan; then Istana Nurul Iman, in Brunei, and the Apostolic Palace in Vatican City.

Château de Versailles - L'Orangerie - 26-05-2007 - 17h31
Palace of VersaillesPanoramas / Foter.com / CC BY-ND

After the French Revolution, the Palace of Versailles was used as a museum. During the Napoleonic Wars, Napoleon’s wife lived in the Palace.

During the Franco-Prussian War, when Prussia captured Napoleon III and his army, they also captured Versailles. There, in the Hall of Mirrors, they proclaimed the unity of Germany, and thus created the German Empire, and took Alsace Lorraine, causing French anger at Germany, and a willingness and urge to fight against Germany.

The opportunity had arisen, and the French took it. They declared war. After World War I, in the hall of Mirrors, of Versailles, in the Treaty of Versailles, Germany was blamed for causing World War I, and heavy war reparations were imposed on Germany.

In World War II, Germany invaded France once again, and took over France this time. When France was finally freed, the Fourth Republic was established. However, it was abolished, and replaced with the Fifth Republic, which is modern-day France, and it is believed that the Fifth Republic has committed more money to restoring Versailles than the amount of money Louis XIV spent on creating the palace.

Where is the Palace and Park of Versailles:

Versailles was the royal chateau in France, where the King of France resided, and where he kept all the nobles. Versailles has a long and rich history – being a museum, a palace, a house, and having varying purposes. Currently, at this moment in time, it is a wealthy suburb of Paris, and about 20 kilometers south of Paris itself.

Why should you choose the Palace and Park of Versailles:

Versailles is an area that is the symbol of the French monarchy. It is one of the largest palaces in the world, and 3 million people visit it each year. You can enter Versailles for free on the first Sunday of every month from November to March. They even have their own gift shop!

Versailles is actually one of the Google World Wonders! Versailles is extremely famous – why else would 3 million people visit it each year? 3 million each year translates into 30 million each 10 years, and 300 million in a century (except it would increase over time), which is more than 2 or 3 times the population of Russia (except that would increase over time as well)!

How to get to Versailles:

The official website of the Palace of Versailles is at Chateauversailles.fr(English Website). To see if you are eligible for free entry, you can go to their tickets and rates page. To order tickets, check their tickets page. It takes about 35 minutes to get to Versailles from Paris (excluding traffic).

In order to get the Versailles from Paris, you could use the roads as outlined below with Google Maps. On the way there, you could check out other Parisian areas of interest, such as the Louvre, and you could see the Eiffel Tower on some roads. Just remember – Versailles is huge palace, one of the largest in the world.

This guest post was written by John Lin from Unifiniti, a website devoted to travel tips and history articles.

More Information»

There is a special building set on the north coast of Cape Evans on the Ross Island in Antarctica. This is an ancient and historically rich site with a story and it is called Scott’s Hut. The British Antarctic Expedition (1910–1913) built it in the early 20th century. This was also referred as Terra Nova Expedition. Robert Falcon Scott was the leader. They needed to choose a base for the operations of the 1910–1913 Expedition. Scott was not in favor of reoccupying this hut. The initial place where this hut was situated was at Hut Point that was a good 20 km to the south of the Cape Evans. The one reason was that it was really cold for use as living quarters whereas the other was Discovery – the ship of Scott had once been shut in by sea at this location of Hut Point. This is why this time Scott wished to start a base more on the northern side.

outside the hut
Scott’s Hutsandwichgirl / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Description:

Scott’s Hut was assembled in Britain and then ferried across to the south with the help of a ship. It was in the shape of a rectangle.  It was padded by seaweed that was sewn into a quilt and stuffed between double-planked walls. The roof is a 3-layered sandwich made of two layers of rubber ply. Acetylene gas provided light inside and a kitchen with a stove that used coal fuel served to heat up the place. This hut had dedicated rooms to sleep in and to work in as well. It even accommodated a building that could hold up to 19 ponies! In addition to this, there was a utility room. A huge effort went into the designing of this hut and especially to protect it from the severe cold. Terra Nova expedition members are known to have mentioned that this hut was quite comfortably warm. A cross is established on the hill just behind this hut but this one has no relation to Captain Scott. This was built to remember 3 members of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Ross Sea Party who had perished nearby. Another cross is visible in memory of the Captain Scott himself as well as his companions – this is on the top of Observation Hill.

laboratory
Captain Scott, Scott’s Hut sandwichgirl / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

How Scott’s Hut was utilized:

It was during the freezing winter of 1911 that 25 of the Terra Nova men actually lived here. It is from this point that Scott and his companions left for a trek to the South Pole. They never returned! This was the reason many of the men stayed on in this hut for another full year trying to find their friends’ bodies. Yet again after a few years, others found this hut useful when a whole lot of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Ross Sea party stayed here. Their vessel called Aurora broke loose and floated off in the spring and was ultimately lost. This hut thus happened to become a permanent shelter for a lot of such shipwreck victims. However, this hut was abandoned in 1917 but the structure and everything that there was in it have since remained extraordinarily well maintained until today thanks to the constant sub-zero temperature conditions which act as a preservative.

adelies
Antarctica, Scott’s Hut sandwichgirl / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Decay and Preservation at Scott’s Hut:

Scott’s Hut remained exactly as it was for as long as up until 1956. This was when some expeditioners from the US extracted it out from beneath the thick snow cover! It was like a miracle how well preserved the hut had remained. Countries such as New Zealand and the UK have been regularly attempting at restoring both Scott’s Hut as well as the Discovery Hut. It’s amazing how some of the food items have remained fine though some extent of bacterial decay is apparent. Visitors who see this say that the seal preserved at Discovery Hut now smells rancid, that there is fungal decay seen in the hut’s fabric. Both the Scott’s Hut and Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Hut have thus been included in the List of the world’s 100 Most Endangered Sites. These were once again listed in 2006 and 2008 where Sir Ernest Shackleton’s hut was included in a combined proposal along with Scott’s Hut on Cape Evans together called Scott’s Hut and the Explorers’ Heritage of Antarctica.

Discovery Hut
Scott’s Hut – the Explorers’ Heritage of AntarcticaBlue~Canoe / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND
Author: Teresa Jens lives in Denmark. She works as a travel agent for one of the leading European travel companies. In her spare time she likes writing about her trips (or like they say in Danish rejser) on her travel blog.
More Information»
Monkeying Around in Kathmandu
June 32013

A Cautionary Tale

I’ve always wanted to go to Nepal. Ever since I can remember, I’ve wanted to see the Himalayas and explore the crooked, rickshaw-crowded streets of Katmandu. When I finally went with my (new) wife and her kids a few years back, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d spent some time in Korea and Thailand as an English teacher before I got married, so I was relatively confident I could handle anything that Nepal had in store for us.

I was completely wrong. Nothing could have prepared me for Katmandu. It was a different world, completely unlike anything I’d ever seen before. Barefoot children competed with mangy stray dogs for scraps of food in enormous piles of rotting garbage that spilled haphazardly into the street. Humpbacked cows wandered free and unmolested, lying down in the middle of intersections and ignoring horn-blasting drivers and the press of passerby.

Electric rickshaws sprouted clouds of thick, black smoke as they chugged past street corners where hawkers sold kukri knives and bead bracelets carved from sandalwood. Lepers, their faces ravaged by crusty, greenish-yellow scabs, crawled through the crowds on whatever was left of their limbs. Sandwiched between buildings were Hindu shrines—statues of Ganesh and Shiva decorated with bright red tikka powder and garlands of orange chendumalli.

Then there were the monkeys.

The first thing you need to know about the monkeys that live in Kathmandu is that they don’t look anything like the monkeys you see on television. The monkeys that live in Kathmandu are rhesus monkeys—ugly, tan monkeys with dark, beady eyes and vicious teeth.

Family of Rhesus Monkeys
Family of Rhesus Monkeys, KathmanduGinger Me / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

The second thing you need to know is that Rhesus monkeys are violent scavengers. They hang out in packs, in plazas and on top of temples, screeching and snarling at anyone who gets too close. They will not hesitate to attack anyone foolish enough to carry food on their person. Needless to say, rhesus monkeys are dangerous—but no more so than raccoons. If my wife and I had been traveling alone, monkeys would not have made our list of top five things to worry about.

We were not traveling alone. We were traveling with my wife’s kids, both of whom were exposed to Disney movies like Tarzan and Lion King at a very young age, and were consequently raised to believe that rhesus monkeys are friendly, humorous creatures.

We did our best to keep Daniel, my stepson, and his sister, Hanna, away from the monkeys we encountered. If you’ve ever taken small children with you to Southeast Asia, you know that this is actually much more difficult than it sounds. So it wasn’t long before Daniel and I met a man who’d managed to get a leash around one of the little monsters and was offering to sell it for 500 rupees (about $6.00).

Daniel immediately asked if we could buy the terrible little creature. I tried to explain to Daniel that it would be impossible to take a half-wild Rhesus monkey home with us, but there are certain facts that ten-year-olds simply refuse to accept. When I told my stepson that they wouldn’t let us bring a monkey on the plane, he suggested that we mail it to our home address back in the states. When I told him we couldn’t mail a monkey to America, Daniel tried to convince me that we could smuggle it onto the airplane in a duffle bag.

This conversation went on for some time, mainly because the man holding the monkey’s leash kept lowering the price, insisting that the monkey was tame and that it’d make a great pet. Eventually, my wife and her daughter—who’d been exploring a jewelry shop across the street—wandered back to join us.

Before I had a chance to explain the situation to my wife, the monkey decided that it’d finally had enough. It leapt from the man’s shoulder and landed on top of Hanna’s head, where it got tangled in her hair and panicked, scratching and biting before stumbling to the ground and scampering as far away as its leash would let it get.

The whole thing was over in a split-second, before I or my wife had a chance to react. Hanna screamed and started crying, frightened but still okay. My wife scooped her up and tried to comfort her while I bellowed angry curses at the man holding the leash, who’d suddenly lost the ability to speak English.

My wife managed to calm Hanna down and the four of us piled into a nearby taxi. We told the driver to take us to CEWIC (a nearby clinic that catered to expats and tourists) so we could get Hanna a rabies shot.

There we were, dealing with a frightened, sobbing eight-year-old who’d just been attacked by a wild animal and Daniel still wouldn’t give up—he absolutely insisted on listing off more reasons we should buy that damn monkey.

According to Daniel, the monkey’s violence against his sister was not a reason to refrain from purchasing the animal. With the impeccable logic of a ten-year-old who won’t take no for an answer, he explained that the monkey’s ferocity was actually a good thing. The animal would double as both a pet and an extra source of protection, attacking any burglars who tried to break into our house.

Needless to say, my wife and I had finally run out of patience. While my wife dealt with Hanna’s rabies shot, I dragged Daniel outside and explained to him, in no uncertain terms, that if he didn’t shut up about the monkey, his mother and I would sell him to the man who’d been holding the leash.

I have to admit, it was not my proudest moment. I’m ashamed of how quickly I resorted to deceitful fear tactics, but cut me some slack—I’d only been married to his mom for six months and I was still getting the hang of the whole parenting gig (which, for the record, is absolutely nothing like teaching). In my defense, any day that includes an animal attack and a visit the doctor qualifies as an incredibly stressful day—especially when you’re in a foreign country.

After obtaining degrees in English Literature and English Secondary Education, Sean Lords went to Seoul, South Korea where he lived for three years teaching English abroad. He has since returned to the States, married, and is currently working on his Master’s degree.
More Information»

Overview 
If you’re looking for the ultimate hike at some point in your life then you could do a lot worse than attempt the Appalachian Trail. Giving it its full title of The Appalachian National Scenic Trail may be more apt due to the fact that it stretches for a huge distance and commands some of the most spectacular views on the East Coast of the United States, perhaps even the world. Most people (maybe for the sake of saving time) call it by its shortened name, the A.T.

The Appalachian Trail
The Appalachian TrailNicholas_T / Foter.com / CC BY

History and Information 
The idea of the Appalachian Trail was first formed in the mind of one Benton MacKaye in the early 1920s. A forester by trade, MacKaye’s dream was at first shunned by many but it gained publicity and popularity as the twenties wore on and became the main project of what was then known as the Palisades Interstate Park Trail Conference; as early as the fall of 1923 the first part of the trail was opened. Since that time there have been many extensions and re-routes meaning that there has never been a completely accurate measured length; most estimate that the entire trail is somewhere around 2,200 miles but it really depends on who you believe!

The Route 
The A.T. passes a staggering number of highways, rivers and side trails through its meandering 2,000+ miles. The official route starts at the base of Springer Mountain in Georgia before passing through an amazing twelve states before reaching the end at Mount Katahdin in Maine in the north-easternmost corner of the country. Due to its immense size and the fact that it passes through almost a quarter of the United States, it is maintained by several organisations; most notably the Appalachian Trail Conservancy which is voluntary and has been in existence since the early days of the trail.

Shady Valley
Mount KatahdinNietnagel / Nature Photos / CC BY-NC-SA

Hiking the trail 
You would be mistaken for thinking that anyone would be crazy enough to hike the trail in one fell swoop. There are a few hundred people who have the time, inclination and the energy to attempt the full length of the trail in one season. Thru-hikers – as they’re known – tend to start the trail in the spring with the aim to finish before the cooler weather returns in the early Fall. Maintaining a steady pace over such a distance is essential if you want to successfully complete a thru-hike. The majority of people, however, tend to hike the trail over the course of many years. Not everyone can take the strain and a lot more certainly can’t take the time off work!

Hiking the Appalachian Trail
Hiking the Appalachian TrailJeffrey Stylos / Foter.com / CC BY

Nature 
As you are generally hiking across the wilderness for the majority of the trail, you are no doubt going to encounter some dangers along the way – especially if you’re a thru-hiker – so you need to be prepared. A first aid kit isn’t going to get you very far if you come into contact with a black bear, but thankfully sightings and encounters are very few and far between. Snakes, however are a danger so be sure to keep your ears and eyes peeled.

There are countless spectacular sights along the route including a stunning view of the Delaware River from Mount Tammany and the beautiful Rangeley Lakes in Maine (close to the start or the end depending on which direction you decide to hike).

Summary 
The Appalachian Trail is certainly one of the wonders of the modern world. From the idea of one man less than 100 years ago it has become one of the most popular and celebrated hikes in the world and offers a wide range of challenges to both walkers and nature lovers alike. Three million plus hikers have Benton MacKaye to thank for this original plan and the hundreds of workers and volunteers that have made the trail into what it is today.

Ben Gallivan is a travel writer for Appalachian Outdoors, stockists of trail gear from big names including Life Is Good
More Information»
The Inca Trail
May 312013

Despite its remote location some 2,430 metres up on a mountain ridge, the ancient Inca city of Machu Picchu is still one of the most visited historical sites in the world. Situated in Cusco in the Peruvian Highlands, the iconic ruins receive around one million visitors every year. The majority of tourists reach the famous monument through a combination of bus and train, however, it is far more rewarding to arrive at Machu Picchu having completed the Inca Trail, as outlined in the reasons below.

Inca Trail, Machu Picchu
Inca Trailszeke / People Photos / CC BY-NC-SA

Getting Fit

The challenge of the Inca Trail shouldn’t be underestimated. The 27 mile hike includes walking at high altitude for up to seven hours a day. In order to complete the entire trek it takes determination and a reasonable level of fitness. Unfortunately, some people who don’t come prepared fail to finish the Inca Trail. However, if ever there was a reason to encourage yourself to get fit, then hiking up to Machu Picchu is it.

Inca Trail local community
Support the Inca Trail local community@abrunvoll / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Support the Local Community

Walking the Inca Trail is not cheap, however, a lot of the money you spend will go towards maintaining the trail and Machu Picchu, which are two of the biggest components of the local economy in Cusco. As well as the upkeep of these two famous attractions, your money will help to support the local people who work on them, such as the guides and porters.

Walking the Inca Trail
Walking the Inca Trail@abrunvoll / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Ruins and Sights along the Trail

But for the incredible draw of Machu Picchu, many of the ruins along the Inca Trail would be tourist attractions in their own right. Ruins encountered on the path include Phuyupatamarca, a former town in the midst of a cloud forest, and Huillca Raccay, a one-time Inca fort. The trail also leads walkers along a genuine Inca constructed road and goes through a variety of different environments, including sub tropical rainforest, mountain passes and alpine tundra.

The Best View

Being down in amongst the ruins of Machu Picchu is a captivating experience, however, the true beauty of the ancient city really becomes apparent from afar. The best viewing point from which to take in the entire site is from Sun Gate, a pass at the end of the Inca Trail that overlooks the whole of Machu Picchu.

Sacred Valley - Inca Trail, Peru
Inca Trail best view, Perutom_allan / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Beat the Crowds

As one of the most popular tourist attractions in the world, it’s not surprising that Machu Picchu gets busy. The crowds at the site really start to build up from around 9am; however, if you walk the Inca Trail, you’ll reach the Lost City before sunrise, well before the majority of other tourists arrive. You’ll have the ancient settlement to yourself, with the peace and time needed to fully explore Machu Picchu.

Appreciate the Incas

The task of building an entire city without machinery or computer programs seems an impossible one by modern standards. Yet somehow the Incas managed to overcome the difficulties of working on a mountain ridge to construct Machu Picchu entirely by hand. Once you’ve completed the Inca Trail and are taking in the city at close quarters, you’ll appreciate this astonishing accomplishment more than most.

Andreas is a freelance journalist from England. He writes about a variety of subjects including travel, wildlife and sport. This article was written on behalf of Peru for Less, one of the leading Inca Trail providers.
More Information»
Alaska Whale Watching

Alaska Whale Watching

Alaska Whale Watching

May 302013

The expansive wilderness of Alaska has inspired brave adventurers, frontiersmen, poets, artists and authors for hundreds of years. In a world overcome with technology, the defiant 49th state remains largely untouched by the modern day, both on land and in the water.  While Alaska’s terrain is dominated by grizzly bears, wolves, caribou and eagles, the seas surrounding the massive state belong to the whales.

Whale watching has proven to be a huge tourist draw for Alaska as several species migrate through the waters off its coastline or seek refuge in the area.  With the density of whales in the region, sightings can be all but guaranteed during peak migration periods. Along with whales, visitors to Alaska are likely to catch glimpses of other wildlife such as harbor seals, ice seals, fur seals and countless species of seabirds.

Alaska Cruise / Whale Watching (croped)
Alaska Whale WatchingMaxChu / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

When to Visit

As a general rule, whale watching season in Alaska runs from May through September. The first whales to make it to Alaska are grey whales.  Pods begin arriving in April, with number increasing significantly in May and June. Beluga whales can also be spotted starting in the spring, and follow a much looser migration pattern through the summer and early autumn months.

Things begin to kick into high gear in June and July.  This is when a group of approximately 500 humpback whales arrive off the coast of Alaska each year.  Often weighing in excess of 35,000 kg and reaching lengths of 15+ metres, humpback whales are among the largest animals on Earth.  Despite their size, these enormous creatures navigate effortlessly through the water and often give spectators quite a show by leaping out of the water and crashing back down below the depths of the ocean.

Blue whales are probably the most elusive of all the whale species off the coast of Alaska.  They are usually found during July and August, though they rarely swim close to the shoreline as they prefer more open waters.

Minke whales along with orcas and various species of dolphins and porpoises often appear as added bonuses to late summer and early autumn whale watching tours. Fin whales, bowhead whales, bairds whales and even sperm whales have also been spotted off Alaskan waters, but to not appear with the same regularity as blue, grey and humpback whales.

Where to go

Each species of whale have their own favourite spots along the coast. One of the more popular locations for whale watching in Alaska is Seward. Many whale watching tours depart from Seward and make their way to Kenai Fjords National Park.  These areas are well known to contain many orcas, humpback whales, blue whales and fin whales during the summer months.  The fjords also offer stunning natural scenery for landscape and wildlife photography enthusiasts. If Seward proves to be too difficult to get too, multiple tours also part from the larger city of Homer, Alaska.

Nearby Prince William Sound is also home to numerous humpback whales, blue whales, dolphins and porpoises in the summer and arguably has even more scenery than Kenai Fjords. Further south from Kenai and Prince William Sound is the isolated Glacier Bay National Park.  Only accessible by sea and air, this area is frequented by grey and humpback whales in the summer.

Cruise Options

If you book a summer cruise to Alaska, you have a good chance at spotting whales. However, dedicated whale watching tours offer a better chance to see these amazing creatures up close and personal.  Whale watching tours come in many forms.  Daily excursions from places like Seward and Whittier are perfect if you are in Alaska over the summer and are short on time.  While sightings can never be guaranteed, there is a good chance to spot grey and humpback whales on small day-long cruises.  Smaller boats have the ability to get closer to whales than larger boats, so look for ships that carry less than 100 passengers.

Dedicated multi-day whale watching cruises are the best option for true wildlife enthusiasts. These cruises can be a little pricey, but the opportunity to visit multiple locations and observe several species of whales, dolphins and porpoises in the wild is well worth it.  Many longer cruises also combine wildlife hikes and excursions on land with whale watching, allowing passengers to truly soak in the breadth of the great Alaskan wilderness. Two to five day cruises depart from Alaska regularly and can be booked well in advance.

One final option is to book a cruise from Seattle or British Columbia to Alaska.  This journey takes several days and must be booked in advance. If this option sounds attractive to you, book cruises departing around June for a chance to follow migrating whales up the coastline towards the cooler waters of Alaska.

Post contributed by Korah Morrison, working for College-Paper.org – the best student’s helper. Get 20% discount with –blog20- promo code.
More Information»
Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park

May 292013

Overview:
The Yosemite National Park spans across the counties of Tuolumne, Mariposa and Madera, and reaches across the Sierra Nevada mountain chain. It is internationally famed for its natural splendour, as it is home to a series of granite cliffs, waterfalls and all manner of flora and fauna.

Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Parkchensiyuan / Foter.com / CC BY-SA

Yosemite’s geology is defined by its granitic and ancient rocks, with its overall shape formed 10 million years ago after the Sierra Nevada was tilted. It is said that over 1 million years ago an accumulation of snow and ice moved down the river valleys, eventually forming the U-shaped valley which now provides stunning vistas of the rest of Yosemite. The National Park is now characterised by the mountains, riverbeds and canyons which vein throughout it.

Although Yosemite Valley is by far the most popular location in the park, it only accounts for 1% of the overall area. To be sure, there is a plethora of other areas in Yosemite National Park that are just as delightful, such as the Dana Meadows and the Pacific Crest Trail.

Merced River, Little Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park
Merced River, Little Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National ParkSteveD. / Foter.com / CC BY

In 1984, Yosemite National Park was deemed a World Heritage Site, ensuring that its entirety is preserved from outside intervention. Wildlife such as deer, marmots and bears call Yosemite home, as do a large variety of reptiles, amphibians and birds.

People:
The Paiute and Sierra Miwok civilisations inhabited Yosemite Valley for nearly 3,000 years, until American settlers began exploring the greater area. US Army Major Jim Savage led his battalion into Yosemite Valley in pursuit of the Ahwahneechees, a civilisation of Native Americans living in the area at the time; this became known as the Mariposa Wars.

The Ahwahneechees were eventually captured in battle and their camp was burned down. The US Army settled them on a reservation, and later eventually let some resettle in Yosemite again. However, the Ahwahneechees became violent again and were later eradicated altogether.

An “Indian Village of Ahwahnee” was reconstructed behind the Yosemite Museum for visitors to observe.

Lower Yosemite Falls, Yosemite National Park (#70)
Yosemite National ParkChristopher Chan / Travel Photos / CC BY-NC-ND

In 1855, the first group of tourists visited Yosemite, including the entrepreneur James Mason Hutchings. Hutchings and his companions were the first people to heavily publicise Yosemite, encouraging newspapers and magazines to write about the valley. One of the original tourists was the artist Thomas Ayres, who eventually held an exhibition in New York City, further promoting tourism for Yosemite.

Where it is today:
Yosemite National Park is now one of the world’s greatest natural wonders, and can be explored in a variety of ways.
There is a variety of hiking trails which can be embarked upon, where the park’s beauty is unavoidable. You will also be able to drive through some parts of the national park, which provides a good opportunity for visitors to observe the park’s night sky. Tioga Road in particular is a popular driving route in Yosemite, which is usually open between May and November.
Rock climbing is a popular and crucial aspect of Yosemite, and classes can be taken to learn the basics of rock climbing if you are new to the sport.
Winter activities such as downhill skiing are also available during the cold period, although many roads in the park are usually closed down during this time.

Our knowledge:
Yosemite National Park covers an astonishing 761,268 acres, with every inch of space filled with a variety of wildlife and plant life.
The area has a rich and difficult history, with native tribes having been chased out by American settlers in the 1800s. Since then, Yosemite has gone on to become one of the world’s most visited  landmarks, with over 3.7 million people visiting it every year.

Post contributed by Amy Labbadia – a travel writer for the luxury tour operator Wanderforth, specialising in holidays to the USA
More Information»

St Lucia

St Lucia is an island found in the Caribbean, famed for it’s diverse typography, stunning beaches and of course the friendly caribbean culture, attracting and welcoming visitors to the island every year.

Despite St Lucia featuring a host of activities, attractions and natural beauty spots including a zipline tour of its rainforest and the world’s only drive in volcano, one of the most poignant and renowned landmarks of the island remain the Pitons.

The Pitons

The Pitons of St Lucia gracefully protrude from the south west coast of the island in a region known as Val Des Pitons, an area which borders the quaint southern villages of Labourie and Soufriere.

The Gros and Petit Pitons - St. Lucia
The Gros and Petit Pitons – St. Luciawhl.travel / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

The Gros Piton is the largest of the two and is located south of the slightly smaller and aptly named Petit Piton. The Gros Piton stands around 786m tall, with the tip of the Petit Piton reaching a height just 47m below. The ocean bed adjacent to the Pitons is a sheer drop travelling as deep as the the Pitons themselves. The two volcanic spires are one St Lucia’s most photographed beauty spots as their imposing beauty can be visualised from any aspect of the western coast.

Pitons of St Lucia
Pitons of St Luciamrtopp / Travel Photos / CC BY-NC

The Pitons are recognized for their natural beauty and importance to the island by the UNESCO World Heritage Found, which protect the land in which they are situated ensuring that over development will not occur.

The Birth of the Pitons

The Pitons for all their beauty are actually ‘Volcanic Plugs’, a name which slightly downplays their brilliance. They are part of a collapsed stratovolcano which overlies a tectonic plate within an area known as the Soufriere Volcanic Centre. The movement of this plate led to the birth and collapse of the volcanos. The rocky masses that make up the Pitons are the remnants of lava which plugged two volcanos before their collapse.

The sheer expanse of the stratovolcano is hard to contemplate, as at 7km in diameter the depression caused by the volcanos collapse nearly covers the whole of Soufriere. The centre of this depression is where the active Sulphur Springs are found.

Living on the Pitons

As well as the marvelous residences of the Sugar Beach Resort, nestled between the Pitons, the two landmasses also provide a habitat for a varied and somewhat endangered wildlife. Over 148 species of plant life have been found on Gros Piton, closely followed by 97 species on Petit Piton. From all of these flourishing specimens eight are very rare types of tree. The Gros Piton is also home to around 27 bird species of which five of are endemic.

Living on the Pitons of St Lucia
Living on the Pitons of St Lucia“Cowboy” Ben Alman / Water Photos / CC BY-NC-ND

From the small 617 km² landmass of St Lucia, it is obvious then that the mere 29 km2 that form the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Pitons play a vital role in St Lucia’s ecosystem.

Hiking the Pitons

One of the most fulfilling attractions of the island, is hiking to the top of the Pitons. It is hard work but the exhilaration is rewarded with awe inspiring views and photographs to cherish for a lifetime. On average you can expect to spend a long two to three hours attacking the relentless ascent of the Gros Piton, so only the fittest need apply!

Hiking on the Pitons of St Lucia
Hiking on the Pitons of St Luciatiny_tear / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

The majestic Pitons dominate the the skyline of St Lucia,creating aesthetics that define the country; featuring on the countries flag, naming the national ‘Piton’ beer and being painted on just about all tourist memorabilia. It is no wonder then that this year the St Lucian tourist board have been invited to enter the Pitons into the ‘8th Wonder of the World Award’ held by VirtualTourist.com.

This article has been written by Sugar Beach Residences Caribbean Property

More Information»
Topkapi Palace – Istanbul, Turkey

Topkapi Palace – Istanbul, Turkey

Topkapi Palace - Istanbul, Turkey

April 32013

TopkapiPalace was built by Sultan Mehmed II who conquered Constantinople. Construction for Topkapi began in 1460 and was completed in 1478. The palace served as the primary residence of the Ottoman Sultans for around 400 years (1465-1856) of their phenomenal 624 year reign. While the palace has been altered and expanded upon many times, Topkapi retains its original layout and remains true to its original Ottoman baroque architectural style.

Palace Location

Topkapi is situated on Seraglio Point overlooking the Sea of Marmara and offers stunning views of the Bosporus from various points inside the compound. It is a hilly site and one of the highest elevations near the sea. The acropolis of the ancient Greek city of Byzantion once stood on the site. There is an underground cistern built by the Byzantines in one of the courtyards which was used throughout the Ottoman period. Of interest, also on the grounds are the remains of a small Christian Church which were recently excavated.

topkapi palace 2

Palace Layout

The builder, Sultan Mehmed II, was responsible for Topkapi’s basic layout. His private quarters were at the highest point of the hill on which the palace was built. The palace is made up of four main courtyards and several smaller buildings sweeping toward the Bosporus shore. The palace was home to 4,000 people at its height. The entire complex was surrounded by high walls, many of which go back to the time of the Byzantine Acropolis.

Topkapi, unlike Versailles in Paris and Schonbrunn in Vienna, was not built subject to a strict master plan. Topkapi evolved over the span of many centuries with Sultans adding and changing various elements to meet their needs and tastes. This resulted in an asymmetrical architectural arrangement, though the main layout designed by Mehmed II is preserved.

Most of the major changes to the TopkapiPalace can be attributed to the reign of Suleyman from 1520 to 1560. Under Suleyman, the Ottoman Empire expanded considerably and Suleyman wanted his residence to reflect this glory. Many new buildings were constructed and many existing ones enlarged during his reign.

Following a fire in the kitchen in 1574, Sultan Selim II rebuilt and expanded the palace rooms that were destroyed. This restoration led to the expansion also of the harem, baths, private rooms and many pavilions along the shoreline. By the end of the 16th century, Topkapi palace appeared very much like it does today.

The palace is not one single structure, but a compound of substantial size. There is a variety of low buildings built around courtyards all connected with galleries and walkways. There are trees, gardens and fountains throughout the grounds to form a serene, refreshing environment. Life in the palace revolved around the courtyard.

Palace Functions

Topkapi was the primary residence of the sultan and his court. Originally it was also the seat of government and as such access was strictly monitored. The palace was a city unto itself containing mosques, hospitals, schools, bakeries and its own mint. Access and egress were of little consequence to the palace inhabitants as they had everything they needed within the confines of the palace.

Attached to the palace was a society of sultan-approved artists and craftsmen referred to as the Community of the Talented which produced some of the best work in the entire Ottoman Empire. Residents of Topkapi lacked for nothing. This lifestyle was typical of Sultan’s palaces throughout the Ottoman Empire.

Topkapi Palace Today

In the early 1850’s, the palace became unable to handle all the requirements of state ceremonials and protocols and the sultan moved his court to the DolmabahcePalace on the Bosporus.

Topkapi palace today is a museum. It became a museum by government decree in 1924. The palace museum is a vast complex of hundreds of rooms, but only a few of the most important are accessible to the public. Nonetheless, treasures abound and should not be missed. Besides fine examples of Ottoman architecture, there are large collections of porcelain, imperial robes, various weaponry, Ottoman miniatures, Islamic calligraphic manuscripts, murals, Ottoman treasures and jewelry. Needless to say Topkapi is heavily guarded.

topkapi palace

TopkapiPalace is one of the wonders of Turkey because of these treasures and artifacts but also because of the light it shines on the life and times of the Sultans of the Ottoman Empire, one of the wealthiest empires the world has ever known.

More Information»
The Grand Bazaar – Istanbul, Turkey

The Grand Bazaar – Istanbul, Turkey

The Grand Bazaar - Istanbul, Turkey

March 252013

The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, Turkey is one of the largest and oldest covered market places in the world. The bazaar is comprised of 61 covered streets and over 3,000 shops attracting from 250,000 to 400,000 visitors every day of the week but Sunday when the bazaar is closed. The Grand Bazaar is located within the walled city of Istanbul in the city’s center.

History

Construction of the Grand Bazaar’s central space began in 1455 A.D. just after the Ottoman Empire conquered Constantinople. The Ottoman Sultan, Mehmet II, constructed a building to house the trading of textiles. The building was completed in 1460. Very near the building was a center for bakers, a slave trading market and a second-hand store.

Around 1545, Mehmet II, no longer a Sultan, built another market and moved his textile trade business there while the original market devoted its trade to luxury goods. First these two buildings were distinct trading entities. Little by little, though, shops formed between and around the buildings giving birth to a comprehensive shopping center conveniently in a single location. Perhaps this was the original one-stop-shopping convenience department store so popular today.

The beginning of the 17th century saw the Grand Bazaar in its final configuration. The vast extent of the Ottoman Empire covering three continents, and the empire’s control of roadways between the continents of Asia and Europe established the Grand Bazaar as the hub of trade in the Mediterranean region. At this time, there were 3,000 shops comprising the bazaar with out-buildings for storage. There was no roof over the marketplace as yet.

Continuous devastating phenomena both natural and unnatural primarily fires and earthquakes plagued the area from 1515 to 1894, the year of a strong earthquake that wracked all of Turkey. Before the last quake according to an 1890 survey the Bazaar had 4,399 active shops, textile traders, 2,195 rooms, a mosque, many fountains and a mausoleum. After the 1894 earthquake only nine shops remained enclosed within the structure.

The original textile market was defunct by 1914 due to intense European competition and was acquired by the city of Istanbul. The former market became an auction house for the famous Turkish carpets.

The last restoration of the huge complex took place in 1980 following previous rehabilitations due to fires in 1943 and 1954. The Grand Bazaar that is seen to this day is the product of that final 1980 reconstruction.

grand bazaar 2 istanbul turkey

The Grand Bazaar Today

This thriving originally Byzantine market employs 26,000 people and is one of the major attractions in Turkey. The year 2011 marked the historic landmark’s 550th birthday and in that year was the most visited monument in the world according to the Grand Bazaar’s Artisans Association.

The bazaar today consists of jewelers, goldsmiths, small antique shops, tailors, and carpet and textile dealers. There are also vendors hawking souvenirs, designer original handbags, clothing and other such luxury items as well as the usual knock-offs of designer fashions and expensive watches. Visitors to the marketplace can find everyday items at modest prices to priceless antiques, artworks and jewels. Price haggling is expected for all goods regardless of cost. Along with the thousands of shops are several hundred small restaurants, coffee and tea shops.

The bazaar is a city within a city with all the smells, labyrinthine pathways, raucous voices and noises of a large metropolitan area. It is one of the most colorful places on earth.

grand bazaar istanbul turkey

The significance of the Grand Bazaar lies not only in its rich history but in the richness it adds to the lives of locals and tourists in modern times. There are many covered market places in the world, but none so unforgettable as Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar.

More Information»

bosphorusOverview

The Bosphorus, also known as the Istanbul Strait, is the body of water that defines a portion of the border between the European and Asian continents, both of which are located in the country of Turkey. The Bosphorus joins the Sea of Marmara with the Black Sea in Istanbul, Turkey to complete the separation of the two continents lying within one country.

Geological History

Evidence supports the theory that in ancient times the northern end of the Bosphorus was blocked by dirt and rocks. There was no outlet to the Black Sea at this time. The water level of the Black Sea was below that of the Aegean Sea, the Sea of Marmara and the Bosphorus.

An earthquake removed the blockage to the Bosphorus and water flooded from the Bosphorus into the Black Sea inundating the coastal settlements. This could be the source of the legend of Noah’s flood and the myth of Noah’s Ark considering that Mount Ararat is also in Turkey.

Navigating the Bosphorus has always been a challenge. As stated earlier the Bosphorus flows like a river between the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara. The current becomes very strong in places, which is difficult enough to navigate. Add to this the fact that below this surface current is another current flowing in a direction opposite to the top current, and it is clear that the strait has always been and always will be a constant threat to ships attempting to cross it.

People of the Bosphorus

The Bosphorus has been a waterway of significant importance since the most ancient of times. Ulysses passed through the waterway and Byzas, the founder of Byzantium, sailed the Bosphorus up and down in search of an ideal place to establish a village. It should be noted that Byzantium became Constantinople named after the Roman Emperor Constantine who ruled Byzantium from 272 to 337 A.D. Constantinople is now known as the present day city of Istanbul.

bosphorus bridge

Why the Bosphorus Remains Today as One of the Seven Wonders of Turkey

There is no place else in the world where one is able to cruise down a waterway between two continents while remaining in one country. This is awesome in itself. Add to this wonder that the Bosphorus is the world’s narrowest strait still used for international navigation to this day. The shores of the Bosphorus are heavily populated as the major city of Istanbul actually straddles the strait.

For the residents and tourists alike there are two bridges that cross the strait so one can move easily between the Asian part (Anatolia) and the European part (Rumelia). The first bridge, known as the Bosphorus Bridge was completed in 1973. The second, Bosphorus II, was completed in 1988 and is about three miles north of the first bridge.

Of interest, there is a third bridge in the planning stages that remains top secret as the Turkish government does not want to encourage a huge boom in land prices in the area, which is sure to be the result once the word gets out. The Turks love their Bosphorus.

Cruising down the Bosphorus at night offers the most magnificent view of any city anywhere in the world.

More Information»

ephesus turkey

In the Beginning

Ephesus began life as an ancient Greek settlement, then a major Roman City on the Ionian Coast, which is now present day Seljuk, Izmir Province, Turkey. Ephesus is the best preserved of the classical cities of the Eastern Mediterranean.

Ephesus is also cited as one of the seven Churches of Asia mentioned in the Christian Bible’s Book of Revelation and there are many claims that the Gospel of John was written here. One of the most striking features of Ephesus is how many layers of civilizations are laid bare for all to see, walk through and gain inspiration in the present day.

Ephesus’ environs were already inhabited in the Neolithic Age circa 10,000 B.C. as has been revealed in archaeological excavations. The Bronze Age which followed exhibits burial grounds from the Mycenaean era circa 1500 B.C. where ceramic pots have been discovered. Historical scholars believe the area surrounding Ephesus was founded as a territory called Apasa notable as a Bronze Age 14th century B.C. settlement of Hittites. Homer refers to the area as Ahhiyawa in the period of the Mycenaean Expansion also during the 14th century B.C.

Ephesus as it is called today was established as an Attic-Ionian settlement in the 10th century B.C.. Legend has it that Prince Androcles of Greece founded the city after being forced out of Athens upon the death of his father. He considered Ephesus as the true site of the Oracle at Delphi.

ephesus turkey 2

The Conquerors

Ephesus was attacked by the Cimmerians in the 7th century B.C. The city rose from the ashes of this defeat very soon after its conquering. The 6th century B.C. was one of prosperity for Ephesus. In the following years, the Lydians and then the Persians claimed the city as their own. Alexander the Great in 344 B.C. easily captured Ephesus as the city offered up no defense. Upon the death of Alexander the Great, Ephesus was ruled by Lysimachus, a Macedonian companion of Alexander the Great. The preservation of the great works of art that are part of the Ephesus wonders of today is attributed to the period of Lysimachus.

Today

Any visitor to Ephesus will be astounded by the visible record of the many layers of civilizations that bring such an overwhelming sense of history to the place. There is unmistakable evidence all around of the ancient civilizations that once claimed this Mediterranean city as home and left their buildings, roads, temples, and way of life to posterity.

Visitors to Ephesus today are allowed to walk along the streets as citizens would have when the various civilizations were thriving and alive. The streets, buildings, monuments and temples are well marked to give the visitor a better understanding of what they are viewing, when the particular structure was built, its purpose and historic significance.

As one wanders throughout the various streets, buildings appear on different levels putting the visitor back into ancient times and ancient civilizations. Given the treasures to be discovered here, it is difficult to point to one or another and declare that as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The entire site is the true wonder of the ancient world and remains so to this day.

More Information»
Taj Mahal, India
August 262011

Taj Mahal, IndiaBackground:

The Taj Mahal is the most famous monument to a man’s love for a woman. It was built as a mausoleum for Mumtuz Mahal, the wife of the Emperor, and stands as a symbol of her husband’s grief at her passing.

The Taj Mahal combines Persian, Indian and Turkish architecture. The exterior is elaborately decorated, but in keeping with Muslim law, none of the art represents people. Instead ornate patterns decorate the walls. Herringbone inlays and geometric designs predominate, and floor tiles are laid in tessellating patterns. At each corner of the Taj Mahal’s grounds, a minaret rises towards the heavens.

The interior of the Taj Mahal is even more elaborate; here jewels and semi-precious stones are often used to create designs. Light filters into the chamber through intricately-carved screens, making temporary patterns of brightness and shade.

The main chamber holds two cenotaphs—empty tombs—beautifully decorated. Mumtuz Mahal’s cenotaph is enthroned in the center of the chamber; it’s festooned with jewels and bears verses praising her beauty and virtue. The cenotaph of her husband, the Shah, sits to the side and is inscribed with the words, “He traveled from this world to the banquet-hall of Eternity on the night of the twenty-sixth of the month of Rajab, in the year 1076 Hijri.”

The real tombs of the Shah and his wife lie downstairs, immediately below their cenotaphs. Muslim law dictates that tombs should be plain and undecorated, and the bodies lie in simpler state and face Mecca.

Several buildings surround the Taj Mahal. Some of them contain the remains of Shah Jahan’s other wives, and one is the tomb of Mumtuz Mahal’s favorite servant. In addition, two identical buildings sit centered on the western and eastern sides of the grounds. The eastern building is a mosque, still used for religious services. Its western twin was probably used as a guest house.

The entire complex is set in the midst of a beautiful garden, graced by fountains and broad pathways of trees. The centerpiece is a long pool which reflects the image of the Taj Mahal.
Between 2 and 4 million people visit the Taj Mahal each year. The monument is open on weekdays, except for Fridays, the Muslim holy day.

History:

Shah Jahan was the powerful Mughal Emperor. He loved his third wife, and he was stricken with grief when she died delivering their 14th child in 1631. He immediately began plans to build a memorial in her honor, and construction on the Taj Mahal began the following year.

The main structure—the mausoleum—was completed in 1648, and it took another five years to finish the gardens and the buildings that surrounded the mausoleum.

Shah Jahan was eventually overthrown by his son, and was incarcerated until his death. His son had his body interred in the Taj Mahal.

The Taj Mahal wasn’t well-maintained after his death, and was damaged during British colonial rule. British soldiers defaced it, scrawling graffiti on its gates and prying jewels from the walls. Eventually the British government began restoration work, which was completed in 1908.

How To Get There:

The most direct route is to fly to New Delhi and then take another flight into Agra. The Taj Mahal lies about five miles outside town, and buses and trains go to the site regularly. You can rent a car if you want the freedom to sight-see on a wider scale. Cycle-rickshaws are a romantic option, but they’ll take a little longer.

Where to Stay:

The Oberoi Amavilas Hotel is an oasis of beauty and charm. The décor is elegant, and the view of the Taj Mahal will take your breath away. At $400-500 per night, you pay a premium price—but in return you receive quality service and amenities. Reviews of the hotel are almost unanimous: It’s well worth the price.

The Lauries Hotel was built at the height of British colonial rule, and an atmosphere of the past fills the place. The hotel offers huge rooms and plenty of colonial ambience, but you won’t find a television in your room. You won’t find many other guests, either; tourists haven’t yet discovered this gem, where a room costs under $50 a night!

More Information»
Machu Picchu, Peru
August 262011

Machu Picchu, PeruBackground:

Machu Picchu was constructed in the 1400’s, and may have been intended to be the palatial estate of the ruler–or Sapa Inca–Pachacuti. The site was quickly abandoned during the Spanish conquest, and was forgotten by the world for centuries.

Hiram Bingham, an American historian, brought the site to the world’s attention in 1911, and Macchu Picchu quickly became a major tourist site. Much of it has been restored, and the restoration work continues.

Some historians believe that Machu Picchu was a religious site. Evidence of sacrificial offerings has been found, and some of the stone buildings at the site have carved niches that Inca used for religious purposes.

The site is strategically located in a saddle between two high mountains, and it is bordered on three sides by the Urubamba River. The river and the altitude combine to form a thick cover of fog, especially in the morning. The Incans terraced some of the surrounding mountains, and had enough land to grow more crops than they actually needed. Natural springs provided a constantly-fresh source of water; and these factors, combined, rendered Machu Picchu very easy to defend.

Machu Picchu is separated into an Urban Section and an Agricultural Section. The Urban section boasts temples, private residences and parks, and an impressive rock-carved irrigation system provided drinking water and supplied the beautiful fountains scattered throughout the site. Most structures were built with in typical Incan style, with rocks cut to order and then assembled without any mortar. The Incas also developed strategies to keep their homes from collapsing in the event of an earthquake.

History:

Machu Picchu was built at the peak of Incan culture. The site was probably chosen because of its proximity to mountains that had astrological significance to the Incan people.

Machu Picchu was probably abandoned in response to the Spanish conquest, as its people either fled or were decimated by smallpox. Spain had a fortified settlement about 50 miles away, but never found the site. This is significant, because it means that Machu Picchu offers a pure glimpse of Incan culture without any European influence.

The site was rediscovered in 1911 by Hiram Bingham, who noted that native peoples were still living in some of the buildings. National Geographic featured Machu Picchu in their magazine a few years later, arousing further interest in the site.

How To Get There:

Are you up for a trek?

Cuzco has the nearest airport, and the city is the main arrival point for travelers to Machu Picchu. Getting to Machu Picchu is a bit trickier. Most people go by train. There are two main options: The VistaDome Railway meanders over mountains and through the heart of Inca country, offering spectacular vistas. If you’re returning to Cuzco for the night, though, you’ll have just four hours on-site before the train departs. The Hiram Bingham offers a leisurely trip complete with brunch, afternoon tea and entertainment, and returns after six hours spent on-site.

If you’re fit, and want adventure, you can walk the Inca Trail. It typically takes 4 days to make the 28- mile trek through lush jungle and past native villages. Government-enforced restrictions currently allow tour groups only in an effort to prevent destruction of the environment.

There is a road—of sorts! By all reports it’s more of a dirt path that twists and winds up steep mountainsides with no guardrail between the unwary tourist and a long plunge. Travelers are advised to avoid it.

Peru recently restricted entry to Machu Picchu to 2,500 people a day. Travel agencies advise people to buy their tickets in Cuzco, since they are no longer always available at the site.

Where To Stay:

Many tourists return to Cuzco for the night, but you’ll be able to fully explore the ruins if you stay near Machu Picchu. The Incaterra Machu Picchu is an upscale hotel located in a private park in the rain forest. Perks include birding and ecological hikes, plus the usual amenities, but the cost can run up to $500 a night.

The Plaza Andina Machupicchu is more affordable at up to $100. The décor isn’t stylish, but the staff is helpful and the rooms are clean and well-appointed.

More Information»

Great Wall of China, ChinaBackground:

The Great Wall is now a symbol of pride for the nation of China, but the world had all but forgotten it until fairly recently. Mao Zedong had been in power for years when he began to promote the Great Wall as a symbol of Chinese ingenuity. The ancient ruin, forgotten for centuries, began to stand for hope in the country that had torn apart by war and famine.

By that time, though, much of the wall had crumpled into the dirt, and other portions were in poor repair. The problem continues into the present, and though some of the Wall is in good shape, other portions are expected to disappear soon, victims of erosion from the sandstorms that sweep the region. The older sections of the Wall, made of clay and packed dirt, are more vulnerable to erosion than the later additions; the sections that are in good condition are those that were built at a later date with bricks.

The Great Wall was not just a wall; a road ran along the top of it, wide enough for ten soldiers to march side-by-side. Guardhouses were placed along the top, and when the Wall was manned with armed soldiers, it was a formidable barrier.

History:

Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China, conquered and consolidated nearby states and formed the Qin (pronounced ‘chin’) dynasty in 221 B.C.E. He knew that he had to fortify his kingdom against the roving bands of Manchurians that often attacked from the north, so he ordered the construction of a long barrier wall. This wall incorporated parts of earlier walls, but used cutting-edge construction techniques. The manpower needed for a project of this scope was staggering, and historians speculate that between 1 and 3 million people were involved in the construction.

History and time aren’t kind, and most of the Great Wall has disappeared. Portions remain, and they’re impressive enough. Unfortunately, there is no way to know exactly how long the Great Wall was, or the exact route it took. We do know that it performed its job admirably, keeping raiding parties from invading China.

It worked so well, in fact, that later dynasties went to considerable expense to repair and extend the Great Wall. The Ming dynasty outdid them all in the 1400’s, using stone and brick to construct a barrier that was more durable than the earlier rammed-earth versions.

How To Get There:

There are several portions of the Great Wall that are currently open to the public, but the four most popular are within an hour’s driving distance of Beijing. The Bandaling portion of the Wall is restored and offers great scenery—but it’s often very crowded. The MuTienYu pass has been restored, too, and is in better condition than any other portion of the Wall. It passes through heavy forests, so the scenery is particularly beautiful; but there are many hills, so walking this portion of the Wall is more difficult. The ShiGuan and JuYongGuan passes are also convenient to Beijing.

Fly into the sophisticated Beijing Capitol International Airport, and if you’re spending the night in Beijing and don’t mind spending an extra $20, the airport’s pick-up service will take you directly to your hotel.

Several sections of the Wall are less than an hour’s bus ride from the airport, although you may want to rent a car if you’re going directly to the Wall.

Where to Stay:

If you want a hotel near the Great Wall, consider trying Commune by the Great Wall. This private facility offers breath-taking views of the Wall—and modern amenities. Commune welcomes children effusively, offering perks and amenities geared specially for the younger crowd. You can leave your children at the Kid’s Club, a villa furnished with lots of kid-friendly activities, while you catch a movie at Commune’s private cinema. It’s expensive, though; prices start at $250 a night.

The China Guide, a tour company, offers the other end of the spectrum, giving tourists a chance to sleep on the Great Wall. Sleeping bags are provided for the night, and an English-speaking guide stays with you. A full two-day package costs between $200-300, depending on the number of adults on the tour.

More Information»
Colosseum, Italy
August 262011

Colosseum, ItalyBackground:

It has seen more bloodshed than any other location in the world. Its proper name is the Flavian Amphitheater, but most of the world knows it simply as the Colosseum, and its image is instantly recognizable around the world.

The Colosseum reflects the Latin meaning of its name—‘colossal’. It could seat over 50,000 people, and it took up 6 acres of land. Its construction was a marvel of engineering: the outer wall was built with no mortar, and designers used innovative techniques to evacuate the huge structure quickly, creating 80 numbered entrances to facilitate the flow of foot traffic.

The floor of the arena was made of wood, which was then covered by sand. Under the floor lay two maze-like levels of underground passageways and cages, which were used to contain gladiators and the wild animals that would take part in the games.

The Colosseum was the site of gladiatorial games in which slaves or criminals fought to the death as the crowd went wild. The defeated gladiator was expected to accept his death without flinching; but the winner went on to fight another day. These games often included animal shows, which were in reality hunts staged for the specific purpose of slaughtering many animals. Over the years millions of animals died so that Romans could be entertained, and historians believe that several exotic species were rendered extinct by the Roman desire for entertainment.

More than a few people met their fate in the Colosseum, too. It’s impossible to know exact numbers with any certainty, but historians estimate that at least 500,000 people and 1 million animals died there.

History:

The Colosseum was a project of the Emperor Vespasian. The Emperor chose a flat site, once crowded with slums full of poor inhabitants. The area had been conveniently decimated a few years earlier by a great fire, though, and construction began in 72 C.D. The Colosseum wasn’t completed until the reign of Titus, three years after Vespasian’s death. The games held to inaugurate the amphitheater lasted for days and resulted in the deaths of 9,000 animals.

The structure of Roman society was strictly observed in the amphitheater’s seating. The Emperor held the most spacious seat, and Vestal Virgins were honored by receiving seats next to him. Senators and other important men had excellent seats, too; but the poor were stuck in the higher seats—harder to reach, and much more distant from the action.

An earthquake caused part of the southern wall of the Colosseum to collapse in 1349. People considered the rubble to be fair game, and many pieces of the structure were carried away and used to complete other building projects. The Colosseum continued to be picked over as time went on, and large pieces of it were lost to history forever. At one point the Colosseum’s marble exterior was burned to make quicklime!

In the 1700’s, the Church began to express its concern over the destruction, and it looked for ways to protect the Colosseum. Pope Benedict decreed that the amphitheater was a holy site because it was saturated with the blood of Christians who had been martyred there. No hard historical evidence backs up this assertion, but the Pope’s statement may have prevented the complete destruction of the amphitheater.

How To Get There:

Rome, Italy has two airports. The Leonardo da Vinci International Airport is the largest and busiest, and many tourists chose to fly into this airport. Connections into the city are easy to make from this airport.

The Ciampino International Airport is geared toward low-cost travelers, but it closes overnight and provides cash machines only in the departure area.

Where To Stay:

Many of the hotels located near the Colosseum don’t offer rooms with accessibility features, so be sure and ask before you make reservations.

For a special experience, try the Hotel Palazo Manfredi, a small 5 star hotel that offers many amenities, including both views of the Colosseum and tickets of admission. Rooms range from $375 to $525, and you should book in advance.

La Camere della Principessa is a bed and breakfast located close to the Colosseum. The rooms are decorated in the Italian style, and rent from $100-250 a night.

More Information»
Petra, Jordan
August 262011

Petra, JordanBackground:

An ancient city of stone lies hidden in a Jordanian valley between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba. Petra is carved out of solid rock, hidden by towering pillars of stone, and accessible only by narrow gorges carved through cliffs. Even the city’s name means ‘rock’. Petra, the Rock, was once a thriving center of trade. It was eventually abandoned, and rediscovered in modern times.

Modern visitors to Petra have to navigate the steep downward path through “the shaft”, a corridor about 10 feet wide that was formed by fissures in the rock and then widened—slightly—as the earth settled. At the bottom, the path turns and visitors catch their first glimpse of Petra in the form of Al Kazneh, or ‘The Treasury’. First-time visitors know what they’ll be seeing: but the first glimpse is still hard to take in. Al Kazneh, Petra’s best known building and most iconic image, is carved right into the cliff face.

Al Kazneh isn’t the only building, though; the rest of the city lies just beyond. The sights include a Roman amphitheater hewn out of the rock, and numerous lavishly-carved tombs. Most of the houses in Petra collapsed during earthquakes, but temples and sacrificial altars remain. The largest free-standing building in Petra is the Great Temple, which contains beautiful art work and demonstrates the willingness of Petra’s rulers to spend time and money to make their buildings more beautiful.

Petra is ancient, but it faces problems that threaten its future. Tourism has taken its toll—the site is visited by hundreds of thousands each year—and so have restorations of the site, which have been badly-executed. Water has been channeled and drained improperly, causing erosion; floods have extended the damage. The government, realizing that the problem was serious, recently began cooperative efforts with the Petra National Trust, an organization designed to protect the site.

History:

Experts believe that Petra was carved into the rock about the year 1500 B.C.E.; but it had been a place of refuge from much earlier times. In fact, it is mentioned in the Bible more than once. The original inhabitants were ancestors of the Nabataeans, although the culture was heavily influenced by Egypt and Greece. Eventually Rome came into possession of the site, and Nabataean rule came to an end.

Petra was located in a dry, desert region, and the Nabataeans became experts in the art of using and conserving water. They created a system of dams, canals and reservoirs, and were able to keep their land irrigated.

The Nabataeans were traders, and they traveled the Silk Road as far as China, trading spices and other goods. Petra, as their capital, became an important center of trade. But Rome changed many of its trade routes as more and more land came under its control. These changes led to a decrease in Petra’s trade, and eventually to the city’s decline. It sustained heavy damage from an earthquake in 363 C.E. Abandoned and weakened by time, Petra fell victim to thieves who raided tombs and carried precious artifacts away.

The city was all but forgotten for centuries, particularly in the Western world. Then, in 1812, it was ‘discovered’ by Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, a Swiss adventurer.

How To Get There:

You’ll fly into Queen Alia International Airport in Amman. Travel time between Amman and Petra is between 3 and 4 hours, and you can make the trip in several ways. Jett buses are inexpensive, air-conditioned, and comfortable; or you can rent a car in Amman for about $250 a week and make the drive yourself.

Where To Stay:

Believe it or not, there’s a 5-star hotel right across from the entrance to Petra. The Petra Movenpick offers wonderful views, Bedouin décor, a sauna and a gym. Costs range from $160-250 a night.
The Qasar al Bint Hotel isn’t fancy, but you can’t do better for rates of $40-60 a night. Guests who have stayed here report that the staff is helpful, and that the relaxed feel to the hotel gave them a sense of local life.

Jordan is a Muslim country, and they are conservative in their dress. Visitors who don’t want to offend should wear conservative clothing.

More Information»
Chichen Itza, Mexico
August 262011

Chichen Itza, MexicoBackground:

Chichen Itza, the Mayan city of stone, has been standing for almost 2000 years. The details of the city’s founding are unknown, and centuries later it was abandoned for reasons that remain shrouded in mystery. One thing is certain: Chichen Itza was built by the Mayans, who erected this Wonder of the World without draft animals, wheels, or metal tools. The same people created a system of writing, developed a calendar, and drew charts of the night sky while Europe plunged into the Dark Ages.

Chichen Itza is located in the Mexican state of Yucatan. The region is arid, but Chichen Itza was founded near two cenotes—deep wells of natural water—which made habitation possible. In fact, Chichen Itza means ‘at the mouth of the well of Itza’, so even its name hints at the importance of the two cenote.

History:

The cenotes were central to Mayan life, and not just because they provided fresh water. Chichen Itza was dedicated to the worship of Mayan gods, and one of the cenotes was used for ritual sacrifice. People were thrown into the cenote as an offering to the god of rain. Archeologists have explored the cenote thoroughly, dredging up artifacts like pottery and gold–and human skeletons.

El Castillo, the great temple, stands near the center of Chichen Itza. Dedicated to Kukulcan, the plumed serpent-god, the step pyramid rises 75 feet; and because there are 365 steps leading to the temple at the summit, archeologists believe it may have also been used as a calendar. Two huge serpent heads are carved into the bottom of the steps on the northern side, and each year on the equinoxes, the interplay of sun and shadow gives the impression of a snake descending the stairs. Like all the structures at this site, El Castillo has been bleached white by the years. Once, though, it was painted in vibrant colors and decorated lavishly.

Just beyond El Castillo lies the largest ball court in ancient Mesoamerica. Two high walls embrace the playing field where skilled athletes played pok ta pok, a game of life and death. Pok ta pok was played by two teams of six players, and the goal was to get the ball through a ring that jutted, 21 feet high, from one of the walls. Players could use any body part except their hands. The feat seems insurmountable, and in fact, the ball seldom made it through the ring. When it did, though, the captain of the scoring team was honored by being decapitated as a sacrifice to the gods. And it was an honor, because a player who died this way went straight to heaven.

The Caracol is the most atypical building on the site. It doesn’t follow the usual Mayan taste in architecture; the building is round, and contains a spiral staircase, which led to its nickname, ‘the snail’. In the ceiling and walls are windows that open up to particular stars; archeologists believe that this building served as an observatory.

The area around Chichen Itza depends heavily upon tourism—and the tourists come! At least a million people visit this out-of-the-way site each year. Some tourists make it a point to visit on one of the equinoxes so they can watch as the plumed serpent descends the steps of El Castillo.

How To Get There:

You can fly into either Cancun or Cozumel. Cancun’s airport is larger and more up-to-date, so it’s the best choice in most cases. The drive from Cancun to Chichen Itza is about 2 hours, and rental cars are available. You can also take a public bus or join a tour group and let them transport you.

Where to Stay:

Hacienda Chichen is located next to Chichen Itza, and offers cottage rooms for $143 – $373 a night. The hotel is quiet, the staff is helpful—and the location is perfect!

If you’d rather avoid the crowds, try the Hotel Delores Alba Chichen. It’s a little further from the ruins, but at $44 – $71 a night, the price is definitely right. The rooms aren’t fancy, but they’re immaculately clean, and the staff is eager to please. Best of all, guests experience the ‘real’ Yucatan.

More Information»

Christ the Redeemer, Brazil

Background:

It towers over the city. The largest Art Deco statue in the world, Christ the Redeemer looks down on Rio de Janiero, Brazil, arms open wide as if to gather the city in his embrace. The iconic statue is instantly recognizable; for most of the world, it has come to symbolize Christianity. But for the residents of Rio de Janiero, Christ the Redeemer embodies the very essence of their city.

Christ the Redeemer is 130 feet tall, and towers far above the city from its perch on Corcovado Mountain, 2,400 feet above sea level. At one time people had to climb 220 steps to get to the statue’s platform. People felt that the arduous undertaking was well worth the effort: the view from the top encompassed the city, the mountains, and white beaches. Now, though, escalators and panoramic elevators make it easier to get around, and visitors can experience the view without enduring the climb.

Tijuca Forest National Park, the largest urban forest in the world, is located below Corcovado Mountain. The platform of Christ the Redeemer offers an incredible view of the forest, which was planted by hand in a successful effort to conserve the country’s supply of water.

History:

The idea for a religious monument on Corcovado Mountain was proposed in 1921 and the idea was accepted enthusiastically by the people, who were predominantly Catholic. People from every corner of Brazil donated money through the Church and debated what form the statue should take. A simple cross was considered, and many liked the idea of a statue of Jesus holding the world in his hands. Finally the people chose a representation of Jesus standing over the city, holding his arms out as if in embrace.

Heitor da Silva Costa, a local engineer, designed the statue, and it was sculpted in France out of reinforced concrete by Paul Landowski. Then it was shipped to Brazil, where it was covered with soapstone for durability and placed in its current location. Construction of Christ the Redeemer took almost ten years. The statue was unveiled on October 31, 1921, and illuminated by lights designed by Marconi.

In anticipation of a visit from Pope John Paul II in 1980, the city of Rio de Janiero decided the statue was dirty. They decided to wash it. The job took 500,000 gallons of water and several tons of soap—but the Pope saw a clean statue! In addition, Christ the Redeemer has gone through several restorations. In 2003, escalators and elevators were added, and a restoration in 2010 repaired lightning damage to the structure using stone from the same quarry that supplied the original building materials. Christ the Redeemer was unveiled after this restoration, and the country celebrated by lighting it with the colors of Brazil’s national football team.

In 2007 the statue was named one of the new wonders of the world.

How To Get There:

You’ll fly into Galeão-Antonio Carlos Jobim International Airport. From there you can rent a car, catch a taxi, or use the bus service, which departs every half hour.

Once you’re in Rio, the most interesting way to get to the statue is via the Corcovado Railway. The train has been running since 1884, making it older that the statue. In fact, the train transported pieces of the statue during its construction. The Corcovado Railway offers a scenic tour of Rio de Janiero as it makes its way to the statue.

Where To Stay:

If you’re a luxury addict—and don’t mind spending some extra money–you should consider staying at the Copacabana Palace. A favorite of the rich and famous, the Copacabana Palace is on the beach and boasts a 7-room luxury spa. Rates start at $660 a night, but you can pay up to $1000 if you want to experience all the amenities.

You might not run into as many celebrities at the Arena Copacabana Hotel, but it’s less expensive, and still has great view and good service. Expect to spend $198 to $512 a night.

The Martinique Copa Hotel is a few blocks from the beach. The staff is friendly, though, and the accommodations are charming. Room rates range from $174 to $221 a night.

More Information»
Grand Canyon, USA
January 72010

Grand Canyon, USA

Background:

The Grand Canyon, in Arizona, US, is one of the largest and most impressive example of erosion by water, along with Victoria and Niagara falls. It has been named as a UNESCO world heritage site, and one of USA Today’s seven wonders of the world, and both these titles mean that it is very well protected.

The Grand Canyon is a series or gorges, spanning 227 miles and with cliffs reaching 5280 feet in height. Today it is primarily the site for the Grand Canyon National Park and tourist attraction, but less than 5 centuries ago it served as a place to live for Native Americans, the Pueblo people and after that Europeans immigrants.

Because the Grand Canyon is located in a place such as Arizona, it makes the ideal site for a family holiday, or couple’s vacation for a fortnight. There are many historic parks, zoos and water parks located in Arizona, so you could fill your week with visiting these, and an awe inspiring visit to the Grand Canyon to finish it off. Because the Grand Canyon is protected by a National Park you can take tours and take the paths that make your day out safe.

History:

This entirely natural structure was formed as many as 40 million years ago, but it didn’t look the way it does now overnight.

40 million years ago was when the Colorado River was first formed; the same Colorado River that caused the flooding of much of western America and prompted the construction of the Hoover Dam in order to tame it. This river started from small tributaries and grew gradually into a lake, or basin. Currents within this lake started to form grooves in the river bed and the Colorado river started to snake in and out of the rock; eroding it over millions of years to form what we know as the Grand Canyon today.

Along with the formation of the deep gorges that run through the grand canyon, and the cliffs that encompass them, are various caves which provided shelter for indigenous peoples and eventually European immigrants in the sixteenth century. Today, the water that runs through the gorges of the Grand Canyon continue to erode the rock around them, although we will not notice the differences in our lifetime. The Grand Canyon has taken 40 million years to get to this point, so who knows what the next 40 million will bring?

How to Get There:

There are three international airports near the Grand Canyon: Phoenix Sky Harbor, Flagstaff Pulliam Airport or The Grand Canyon Airport which is closest to the actual attraction.

This may seem like the best choice at first, but it’s important to remember that you will want to stay in a more metropolitan area in order to find restaurants and thing to do on the days that you’re not visiting the canyon. For this reason it’s best to fly to Flagstaff Pulliam Airport and either rent a car from there, hire a taxi or take a bus to your hotel, or the attraction itself.

Where to Stay:

You can choose from camping ground accommodation around the rim of the Grand Canyon, or alternatively a comfortable hotel in one of the towns nearby, such as St. George, Bullhead City, Flagstaff or even the ever-exciting Las Vegas.

Spring Hill Suites is a great hotel in Flagstaff, which is also by highway 40 which runs to the Grand Canyon and has wireless Internet, room service, laundry services and a restaurant with room delivery. A couple’s room here for one night costs from $119 to $129. Alternatively, you could try a stay in Flagstaff’s Holiday Inn Express for $130 to $199 per night.

More Information»

masai mara

Background:

There are many significant natural and man made shifts that happen on earth once a year: the change from winter into spring, the day the clocks go forward, the end of one year and the simultaneously beginning of the next. Yet perhaps one of the most impressive shifts that only one part of the world sees, is the Great Migration of Serengeti and Masai Mara.

These vast national parks; the Serengeti within the country of Tanzania and Masai Mara reaching into Kenya, play host to a huge array of wildlife, including rhinos, elephants, giraffes, lions, wildebeests, cheetahs, hippopotami and many different species of antelope. The great migration of many of these animals begins in July, when they move from the increasingly hot southern Serengeti, to the cooler, northern Masai Mara. Then when the seasons shift and the Masai Mara becomes too cool again in around October, they come all the way back, some 100 miles, to the southern Serengeti again.

The reason this great migration takes place is that the animals are constantly on the lookout for the greenest vegetation, and the largest bodies of water. As the Serengeti heats up, these dry out, or die out, and there’s nothing to eat or drink. This great migration is not done just for fun; it’s done for survival.

Due to the location of the Serengeti and Masai Mara to the equator, and in eastern Africa, the climate here is loved by tourists, and the fact that rare species of animals can be seen is a huge attraction. As a result, there are many different safari tours.

masai mara 2

History:

The animals of the Serengeti and Masai Mara have been migrating every year for millions of years previously. It’s a natural instinct that they should move either away from the hotter weather during summer, or further towards it during winter, in order to get enough food and drink.

The Great Migration is not always a happy story, however. Predators who rely on the meat of other animals rather than fresh vegetation will follow the great herds of antelope, zebra and wildebeests, in order to kill and feed. Some animals, such as the lame or mothers with very young offspring, will find themselves lagging behind the bigger groups and as a result much more vulnerable to attack.

The future for the Great Migration is shaky, depending on how global warming pans out. Since the Serengeti is so close to the equator, we may find that as Earth heats up, the animals cannot live there at any time of year. As a result, the boundaries of the Masai Mara national park may need to be extended towards the north in order to allow the animals access to water that hasn’t dried up, and vegetation that hasn’t died.

How to Get There:

There are several airports in Tanzania, so you will need to choose wisely to fly to the one that’s nearest the Masai Mara and Serengeti National Parks. The name of this airport is Kilimanjaro International Airport, which is situated near Arusha. KLM airlines fly regularly to and from this airport, and once you land there are rental vehicles available from the airport itself.

We do highly recommend you fly to this, the nearest airport, however, as the roads around the Serengeti and Masai Mara are not always safe. Long car journeys should be avoided, if possible, unless you are taking a guided tour driven by an experience driver in an off road vehicle.

Where to Stay:

We have compiled a list of three possible hotels in Arusha, near Serengeti National Park, since this is the area nearest to Kilimanjaro International airport when you land.

Those on a tight budget could stay at La Jacaranda hotel for approximately $50 per night, including a restaurant and good quality rooms. For a slightly higher budget, try Kibo Palace hotel (rooms cost around $193 per night with swimming pool, gym, restaurant, room service and business center), and for those on a high budget, we recommend the luxurious African Tulip, for around $210 per night.

More Information»
Maya Ruins
January 72010

Maya Ruins

Background:

Dotted around Guatemala, Northern Belize, Mexico and Honduras are remains of structures, buildings and monuments built by the Mayan people; an ancient civilization with a very rich history.

There are 8 main sites of the Mayan ruins that are still standing today, namely:
Tikal – a c.700 AD city in Guatemala
Caracol – another city except from c.500 AD and situated in Belize
Chichén Itzá – a monument and center for pilgrimage located in Mexico
Tulum – a coastal Mayan site present until c.1200 AD
Kabah – a ruin with elaborate and intricate carvings on the wall which was used from c.800 AD to c.900 AD
Palenque – another site located in Mexico thought to be magical, present from c.600 AD to c.700 AD
Coba – a partially excavated network of roads and pyramids in Yucatan, Mexico
Uxmal – the most extravagant and complex of all eight Mayan sites, built shortly before c.1000 AD.

All eight of these structures can be seen within what is known as the ‘Mayan area'; a stretch of over 625 miles in the Mesoamerica region that is separated loosely into three sections: the northern Maya lowlands, the central/southern Maya lowlands and the southern Maya highlands. Each area has a different climate, and of course a different elevation. Today it is possible to visit all eight of the Mayan ruins, and using their locations to draw up an itinerary can make for one of the most enjoyable and fulfilling two-week vacations in the Western hemisphere.

History:

These eight entirely man made structures were built by the Mayan people between c.500 AD and c.1200 AD. However, after archaeologists found ancient remains in Cuello, Belize and carbon dated them, the culture itself is said to have been first founded as early as c. 2000BC or even c. 2600BC.

Mayan culture didn’t come to its peak until the classic period in c. 250AD and the civilization started to collapse in c. 800AD; a process that went right up until c. 1200AD. Despite this, and the fact that there may have been many attacks upon the Mayan structures, buildings and monuments they built, the eight that still remain are largely in very good condition. Kabah in Yucatan, Mexico, for example, showcases the ‘palace of masks'; a room filled floor to ceiling with masks of what could be monsters, or the Mayan rain god Chaac. They are in exceptionally good condition with every one still present.

Some of this preservation can be attributed to the fact that every one of the eight Mayan ruins is a UNESCO world heritage site (and therefore protected from damage), but we cannot deny that the Maya civilization was obviously exceptionally knowledgeable in building techniques, materials and the quality of their constructions.

How to Get There:

Belize lies on the eastern coast of the Maya area, but also mid way between most of the ruins. You can fly directly to Belize City Municipal Airport, which is not far at all from Belize city center; a busy area with lots to see and do, as well as lots of places to stay. This is a great place to use as your ‘base’ and then travel from there to see the ruins.

There are several educational tours you can take of the Mayan ruins, many of which are done by coach. You may wish to choose a tour that provides you with accommodation along the way.

Where to Stay:

The Radisson Fort George Hotel and Marina is a great choice of hotel for those on a mid range to luxury budget. At around $190 per night, you get access to the hotel’s swimming pool, business center, gym, restaurant and free parking.

If your budget is a little lower, then you could choose from either the Black Orchid Resort, which offers rooms at around $110 per night (plus swimming pool, free parking and restaurant), or the Glover’s Atoll Resort for the much lower price of approximately $70 per night. Of course, these are just three options of hundreds of hotels in Belize City and the surrounding area.

More Information»
Internet
January 72010

Internet

Background:

Nobody can argue that the creation of the Internet is not a huge achievement of our time. This worldwide computer network keeps people on the other side of the world at our fingertips, providing communication and information on just about anything almost immediately.

Telephones have been allowing us to communicate with others farther than speaking distance since 1876, but while this was also a revolutionary development, the Internet allows us to do so much more. We can speak to other people on the Internet using software called Skype, but we can also see them using Skype video calling too. What’s more, we can set up web pages to convey information that anyone can access, at any time of day and spend however long they want to looking at it, reading it, or interacting with it. It has, in effect, completely changed the way we interact with the world around us, as we can find out about news stories the instant they are published, not only via news organization websites, but also through word of mouth on social networking sites such as Twitter.

In today’s society the many millions of network connections that make up the Internet have become invaluable. Business conglomerates rely heavily upon it to organize sales and deliveries, and a huge portion of modern advertising takes place online.

It was estimated in 2009 that one quarter of the entire population of the world now uses the Internet, and as computer resources improve and servers become more powerful, this number is only expected to rise.

History:

The very first examples of the Internet were developed as early as 1960, just after NASA had launched the robotic space craft Sputnik and subsequently needed networks to link the radar systems at opposite ends of the USA together. This program soon developed into a larger network and was linkable to other networks such as one developed for the US Air Force by Paul Baran.

Email and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) didn’t come about until 1988 when the US Federal Networking Council began to work on making it commercially available. The most popular ISP throughout the 1980s and 1990s soon became Telenet (later renamed Sprinter), as this network had been present in various US cities from 1970, but as yet only governments had been authorized to connect to it.

The development of the Internet took almost thirty years, and it wasn’t until the 1990s that it was finally made officially commercial and people all over the world could use it. In fact, to say that the entire development took 30 years is untrue, as the Internet continues to develop even today, and as far as is foreseeable, at no point will it ever come to a standstill.

How to Get There:

The Internet can be accessed from anywhere that has a valid Internet connection. If your computer has a wireless card, then you can connect to the Internet anywhere you go without needing to be plugged into anything, although computers without wireless cards need to be plugged into a house or building’s wall in order to access the World Wide Web.

To get an Internet connection you first need a computer with a built in modem. If you have a laptop and wish to access free wireless Internet offered in many cafes and libraries then you’ll want to install a wireless card too. For desktops it’s quite easy, however, to simply connect directly to a modem using an Ethernet cable. Next, you will need to choose an ISP (Internet Service Provider), choose one of their payment programs and book an appointment for them to connect you. This might involve visiting your house, or sometimes just connecting you over the telephone.

Providing there’s a WiFi (wireless) signal around, any Internet enabled device (be it a laptop computer, smart phone, video gaming console or cell phone) you can access the Internet and almost any web page on it. In fact, if you’re reading this then it’s almost certain that you’re already there!

More Information»

Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument

Background:

While you might imagine a marine national monument to be a statue or large structure built in the sea to signify a country or continent’s culture, this one couldn’t be further than the truth. The Papāhanaumokuākea Marine National Monument is, in fact, an entirely natural structure existing in the ocean at the site of the northwestern Hawaiian Islands. It’s not just the islands and coral reefs that are included within the National Monument either; there are 360 thousand kilometers squared of water surrounding them, which are home to many different species of fish, birds and mammals.

Papāhanaumokuākea Marine National Monument is a constantly evolving, natural structure comprising ten islands, several coral reefs and atolls, many of which provide a habitat for fish, marine life, birds and mammals and it is the largest protected area of the ocean on earth. In fact, it’s larger than all of the USA’s national parks put together. Just some of the endangered species living there include the green sea turtle, Nihoa finches, Laysan finches and the Hawaiian monk seal. The site was first known as the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument, when US president George Bush named it in 2006, but then just one year on it was commissioned that it should be renamed the Papāhanaumokuākea Marine National Monument. Before this, it first became a protected site in 1909 when Theodore Roosevelt, the US president at the time, investigated the over-harvesting of some species of birds living there, and ordered that conservation should start.

History:

The Papāhanaumokuākea Marine National Monument was formed over the past few thousands of years, when rocks were swept out to sea, or formed in the ocean by volcanic activity, and coral reefs began to grow on them, as well as vegetation and wildlife upon the islands and atolls there. The monument itself is an entirely natural structure, formed by the earth alone, but now protected and maintained by man.

In the past there have been a few events that have caused the species living around the Papāhanaumokuākea Marine National Monument to go into decline. Most notably has been the lobster fishing that went on during 1980 to 1990. This has now been banned, and to conserve the islands and reefs there has been a total fishing ban commissioned for 2011. The other significant event that affected the species inhabiting this area was the marine ecosystem shift that happened during the same two decades. This may have also come as a result of the extensive lobster fishing, but now that UNESCO has named it as one of its sites, and is working to protect it, we can hope that the wildlife will recover again.

How to Get There:

While there is an emergency landing strip on the Midway atoll, commercial flights cannot be taken there. As a result, the best option for visiting the Papāhanaumokuākea Marine National Monument is to fly to Hawaii’s airport (Honolulu International – HNL) and travel nearer to the monument from there.

Unfortunately, it’s only possible to visit the Midway atoll of Papāhanaumokuākea Marine National Monument just as a tourist. The area is highly protected and conserved, and visitors need to have an approved permit for education, research, special ocean use, conservation and management, Native Hawaiian practice or recreation only on Midway atoll.

Where to Stay:

If you manage to obtain a permit to visit Papāhanaumokuākea Marine National Monument, then you’ll want to find accommodation in Hawaii; perhaps in Honolulu.

For a luxury option, try Ilikai Hotel & Suites where rooms start at around $130 and go right up to $500 per night. This hotel includes a gym, top quality restaurant, beauty salon and outdoor swimming pool amongst other features.

If your budget is a bit lower, then you could try Ohana Waikiki East on Kaiulani Avenue, where rooms start at around $95 per night. This hotel also includes a swimming pool, business center and a gym.

More Information»
Polar Ice Caps
January 72010

Polar Ice Caps

Background:

As planet earth lies on an axis, it has two poles that are at the northernmost and southernmost points all through the year. Due to their distance away from the sun, these two poles are also the coldest parts of the earth, and spend the majority of the year completely frozen into what’s better known as the Polar Ice Caps.

The Polar Ice Caps do experience seasons, but they are very different to the ones that we are used to. During summer, the days continue into the night, with the sun never setting and darkness never arriving. During this season a large amount of the polar ice caps melt, only to freeze again when it turns to winter. Of course, during winter, there are no ‘days’ but only dark night for months on end. There are some areas of Iceland, near the polar ice caps, that experience these seasons and are also inhabited by people. It’s these areas, such as the city of Reykjavik, Iceland, that are the best places to visit if you want to see the polar ice caps in person. You can even visit the lagoons which have hot springs, warm enough to bathe in.

Outside of these particular areas, however, the polar ice caps are uninhabitable. It’s only on their outskirts that peoples such as Inuits have set up their homes. The hostile weather, extreme temperatures below 0 and lack of vegetation makes it very difficult to sustain a family there.

History:

The polar ice caps have been present on earth for many millions of years and were most certainly not built by man. The north pole has an average temperature of -34° Fahrenheit, while the south pole is generally much colder.

The polar ice caps have, for years, been a central part of keeping the earth cool. They don’t do this by being cool directly, but instead by their ice reflecting the sun’s rays away from the earth’s surface. Now that they are melting increasingly fast, they are losing this ability to stop the sun’s rays from warming up the earth, and as a result global warming is perpetuated.

NASA have been monitoring the ice caps since the 1970s, and have found that they are melting fast. There is a specific type of ice that stays frozen all year round, known as ‘perennial ice’ and between 1980 and 2000 the amount of this ice has reduced by 20%. The future for the polar ice caps looks bleak, depending on how global warming progresses over the next few decades. While little ma happen before 2050, we could be seeing increasing numbers of floods, tsunamis and much heavier precipitation.

How to Get There:

Reykjavik has its own airport, where Icelandair flights regularly go to and from the city. From the east coast of America this should take no longer than six hours.

From Reykjavik airport you can then fly by helicopter to various destinations, including Jokulsarlon lagoons with their hot springs, but you should be aware that this is the most expensive way to travel. There are also several buses and train services running to and from the airport, and you can visit central Reykjavik to do some sight seeing via bus, too. For direct transport to your accommodation, try one of the many taxis that wait at the airport.

Where to Stay:

Hotel Reykjavik Centrum is a high class hotel right in the center of the city. Here you’ll find luxury rooms, at around $250 per night. This is, of course, the most expensive option and many visitors will prefer to keep to a more modest budget. If this is the case then you may wish to try the Hilton Reykjavik Nordica where rooms are around $140 per night.

The best budget option for good quality hotel accommodation in Reykjavik are the Castle House Luxury Apartments, which cost around $77 per night. This hotel also has free high speed Internet.

More Information»

Old City of Jerusalem, Israel

Background:

Towards the north-east of Israel lies the Old City of Jerusalem, a religious site housing over 200 monuments pertaining to Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

The entire site stretches 0.35 square miles within the modern city of Jerusalem, and is contained within walls reaching between 16 and 46 feet in height. Four quarters make up its area, the Christian quarter, the Muslim quarter, the Jewish quarter and the Armenian quarter, each of which reflecting the cultures and traditions of the relevant religion or ethnicity. The Jewish quarter is home to one of the most famous and revered monument in Judaism: the Western Wall. Jewish people take pilgrimages to the Old City of Jerusalem to visit this wall, also known as the ‘wailing wall’ and ‘Kotel’ and pray at it.

Within the Christian quarter lies the Church of the Holy Sepulchre; one of the holiest places in the world for Christian people, as the Sepulchre is said to be Christ’s tomb, and it’s believed that it was here that Jesus was also crucified. The Christian quarter borders onto the Muslim quarter, which is the largest of ll four and has a significant population, and houses Temple Mount; a very important religious site for Islam and Judaism.

Today the Old City of Jerusalem has been reconstructed in various places (including the surrounding city walls) but only to the point where it accurately reflects the way that it looked when it was first built in the year 70 AD.

History:

The Old City of Jerusalem wasn’t expanded upon until around 1860, when it began to grow outside of the Old City walls, into what we know today as modern Jerusalem.

Before this expansion, the Old City of Jerusalem dated back to the year 70AD when it was built by the settlers and rulers there at the time. The four quarters that it is comprised of have existed for many centuries since, but they have not always been within the same parameters that they lie in today. The layout of the Old City of Jerusalem that we see today was not built until the 1800s.

Several wars and disputes have rocked the Old City of Jerusalem since it was built almost 20 centuries ago. The most recent happened on April 13th 1990, when Greek Orthodox Christians and Palestinians were protesting against Jewish people living in the Christian quarter. Before this the most significant war was during the Arab-Israeli war of 1948 when much of the Jewish quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem was destroyed.

In between these two catastrophic events, the Old City of Jerusalem was named as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1980. Because of this various areas of the city are protected.

How to Get There:

The nearest airport to the Old City of Jerusalem is Atarot airport, although unfortunately this has had to be closed due to violence and fighting in the region.

Therefore, visitors to Jerusalem will need to fly to Ben Gurion International airport to the west (and closer to the coast) of the city. From here it’s a 45 minute drive to the Old City, so you may wish to find a hotel that is halfway within that distance. From the airport there are various buses and a high speed railway service to the center of Jerusalem, and closer to the Old City itself.

Where to Stay:

For mid to luxury range accommodation, try the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Jerusalem. At this hotel you will find rooms start at around $150 and go right up to $650 per night for an extravagant stay.

The Jerusalem Gate Hotel, on the other hand, offers mud range stays for visitors on more of a budget. Rooms here are usually around $120 per night. If you’re looking for budget accommodation, then the Jaffa Gate Hostel in Jerusalem is perfect. Rooms start at around $50, unless you wish to stay in a shared dormitory where rooms are much cheaper (around $20 per night).

More Information»
Potala Palace, Tibet
January 72010

Potala Palace, Tibet

Background:

Standing at 170 meters tall, and 400 meters wide from east to west, the Potala Palace is home to thirteen stories of rooms, each of which were mostly used for and by the various Dalai Lamas who inhabited it.

Each of the palace’s surrounding walls – built atop the 100ft tall ‘Marpo Ri’ hill – slope towards the bottom, where they are at their most thick; some reaching up to 16 feet in width. If it weren’t for the fact that they were thinner at the top, it would be a huge surprise that the palace had ever been damaged, as it was by Chinese shells during the Tibetan uprising in 1959. It had also been damaged many years before that, again by war but also by various lightening storms, and it wasn’t until the fifth Dalai Lama came to live in Potala Palace in the seventeenth century that it was rebuilt to be much the same palace that we see today.

Potala Palace is not simply one building with many rooms, but various different palaces all built into one. There are halls where the Dalai Lama used to hold political conferences and talks, courtyards where entertainment such as opera would be held, chapels for worship and murals painted on the walls of this luxurious location.

Today Potala Palace provides no residence to anyone, as the Dalai Lama is no longer based there, but it is instead a museum of Chinese life that anyone can visit at any time of year.

History:

Potala Palace was built originally in the year 637 by the Chinese, under the commission of the Emperor Songtsen Gampo. The Emperor wanted it to function as a place where he could retreat to and spend time in meditation. At the time, however, Potala Palace looked much smaller than it does today, as it was during the 1600s that additional palaces were added on to it, to form the structure that we know today.

In between Emperor Gampo’s inhabitance and this great expansion, Potala Palace suffered damage from wars and lightening strikes, which actually prompted its restructuring and the expansion in the first place. During this time it was also the primary residence for spiritual leader of the Tibetan Buddhists, the Dalai Lama. Each successor to the original Dalai Lama took residency at Potala Palace right up until the 14th (and present) Dalai Lama, who fled from the palace in the late 1950s to India when there was an invasion from the People’s Republic of China. Since this event, Potala Palace remained briefly empty, before being renovated to its former glory and turned into a modern day museum of the history of China.

How to Get There:

Potala Palace is located in the city of Lhasa, which is also home to the Lhasa Gonggar Airport. The airport is around an hour and a half away from Potala Palace by car, but if you find a hotel in the middle of this distance you will break up the journey nicely. Once you arrive at Lhasa Gonggar airport you can catch a train, bus, taxi or rented bicycle to your accommodation.

Lhasa City is located in South Eastern Tibet, not far from Bhutan and Nepal, so if you’re planning a long holiday you could visit these countries too.

Where to Stay:

If you’re looking for a budget hotel stay near Potala Palace in Tibet then a good choice is the Shang Bala Hotel; a 3 star accommodation on Dan Jie Lin road, Lhasa. Rooms here are, on average, $55 per night.

A good mid-range to high value hotel in Lhasa, Tibet is the four star Jardin Secret Hotel on Jhinzu West road, where rooms cost around $75 per night. However, if you’re looking for a more luxury, expensive stay in Lhasa then try the Jin Bo Grand on Linkuo North Road, where rooms are around $175 per night.

More Information»
Hoover Dam, USA
December 212009

Hoover Dam, USA

Background:

The Hoover Dam is one of the world’s largest concrete structures and the 38th greatest producer of hydroelectric power. Built in the 1930s, it was designed to tame the Colorado River and also irrigate the dry land of Western America. The structure remains intact today, with a bypass running along the top of its 60 story height.

Farmers living in western America first tried to tame the ‘Mighty Colorado’ river in 1901 by building a canal system further towards the west called the ‘Imperial Valley’ but suddenly the river became more wild and in 1905 it flooded the valley and destroyed the canal system. It created an inland lake that took up 150 square miles and precious farmland was lost, bankrupting the families. In 1907 farmers, citizens and people who wanted to move to the west started looking at where they could place a dam. Another problem in the west was that the desert land there was arid and desperately needed irrigation. After four years of testing, plans for the Hoover Dam then began to go ahead as it could kill two birds with one stone.

In total, the Hoover Dam was to cost $165 million; a bill that the government was anxious of, but knew it was necessary. Luckily, the developers realized they could harness the hydroelectric power produced by the dam and sell it (primarily to the busy and bright city of Los Angeles), to fund the cost of its construction. The plans were finally commissioned in 1929 and construction was allowed to begin.

Construction:

When plans for the Hoover Dam were drawn up in the mid 1920s, professional and experienced engineers deemed it physically impossible. However, construction began in 1930 and proved those engineers very wrong indeed.

In the three years before the Hoover Dam began its construction, many men in Las Vegas were out of work due to a depression, so they took trains to the site of the Hoover Dam and found jobs there. The only problem was that construction didn’t start for another year. Colorado soon became overrun with the families of these men who had moved with them in wagons and set up their lives in fields, waiting for construction to start for a full year. The conditions were squalid, with most people living in shabby tents. The temperature reached highs of 50 degrees Celsius and many feared for their lives as they baked in the hot sun day after day.

Finally construction started and the men risked their lives for very little pay. In total 112 died during the construction of the Hoover Dam, but just 6 years later in 1936 the Dam was complete, and the future of Western America was about to change considerably. Today there is also a two lane road running along the top of the dam, also known as part of the U.S Route 93. There is now also a Hoover Dam bypass project in place, with the Colorado River Bridge just 1500 feet south of the Hoover Dam itself.

How to Get There:

Luckily for those who wish to visit the Hoover Dam, it is located right by some of Western America’s biggest cities, i.e. Las Vegas, Los Angeles and San Diego. You may want to visit these places first and then travel to the Hoover Dam as part of a week or fortnight long holiday.

Flying to Las Vegas McCarran airport is your easiest option, and there are plenty of hotels, restaurants and means of entertainment in this city. From your accommodation you can rent a car, or catch a taxi to the Hoover Dam itself. At this one of the seven wonders of the industrial world you can take a guided tour.

Where to Stay:

Your best bet for comfortable accommodation is to stay at a hotel in Las Vegas, as this area is close to shops and restaurants, whereas this is not necessarily the case right by the Hoover Dam.

If you’re looking for a budget stay in Las Vegas then try the Inn Link (Siena Suites) lodge where rooms start at as little as $44 per night. For something more mid-range try the Sunset Station Hotel with rooms starting at $100. For luxury stays, however, we recommend Loews Hotel which was renovated in 2007. Rooms start at around $230. All of these hotels are within 15 miles of the Hoover Dam.

More Information»
Panama Canal, Panama
December 212009

Panama Canal, Panama

Background:

In the early 1500s one of the biggest problems involved in trade between Asia, Peru, Ecuador and southern America was the problem of the ships having to travel 14,000 miles around Cape Horn, rather than being able to cut directly through the isthmus better known as Panama.

Plans were put forward to the King Charles V in 1524 who approved them, and various others were approved right up to 1880 when it was finally commissioned. This route would not only speed up the time it took for stock to be transported from one port to another, but it would also reduce the amount of crime and violence that sailors experienced (their ships were often attacked in attempts to steal the goods).

The classic engineering designs that were used for the three sets of locks that the Panama Canal includes still exist and are still used to this very day by various large ships and freighters in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. It’s also possible to sail down the Panama canal in a private boat on holiday, or on a cruise ship and many people enjoy seeing this part of the world from a leisurely cruise down this man made canal.

Today it stands at 41 miles in length, cutting through Panama from the Atlantic ocean to the north-west, diagonally down to the Pacific ocean in the south-east. It serves around 14000 ships which sail through it annually; the same number of miles that these ships would have had to travel before the canal existed, on a route around Cape Horn.

Construction:

Like many projects conceived of in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries, construction of the Panama Canal was interrupted by wars that were waged between many countries to try and gain control. The first plans were drawn up in 1529 under Charles V’s reign as this kind of venture was well worth the benefits in trade and the reduction in crime that it would provide.

Actual construction of a canal through Panama did not begin until 1880 when Frenchman Ferdinand Marie de Lesseps (who had previously designed and built the Suez canal) was assigned the role of project leader. Unfortunately de Lesseps’ efforts failed due to landslides and disease such as yellow fever which swept the construction workers. In the early 20th century the USA took over the project, were successful and the Panama Canal was eventually finished and ready for opening by 1914.

The construction of the Panama Canal is thought, in total, to have taken 27500 workmen’s lives. The route through the Panama Canal is less than half that original journey, at just 6000 miles through three sets of locks (soon to become five when the upcoming expansion plans are put in place).

How to Get There:

Panama has its own airport, also known as Tocumen International Airport (PTY) so flying into the country internationally is simple.

Tocumen International is near the southern end of the Panama Canal, so once you’ve landed you will be traveling up the canal towards its southern end that opens onto the Pacific Ocean. Of course, you may not want to have to travel back up the canal to Tocumen again, so you can then take a flight from smaller northern airport known as ‘Marcos A Gelabert’, although this airport is smaller, and you may need to catch a connecting flight.

Where to Stay:

There are several hotels near Tocumen International Airport as it is located just to the east of Panama City; the most busy and well populated area of Panama. One such hotel is the luxury Intercontinental Miramar Panama hotel, right in the city center, where rooms start at around $240 per night. Here guests will find a spa, restaurant, gym with fitness instructors and marina with yachts available for renting.

For a mid range hotel try the Crowne Plaza Panama, where rooms start at around $190 per night, or if you are on a lower budget then the Veracruz Hotel where rooms start at $62 per night.

More Information»

First Transcontinental Rail Road, USA

Background:

Today it takes just 6 hours, a quarter of a day, to travel from the East coast of America to the West. In the 19th century, however, it could take up to six months, hopping from one train to another and taking risks along the way.

At least this was the case up until the early 1860s when the US Government approved plans for what was known at the time as the ‘Pacific Railroad’. The concept had been around for many decades previously, but it wasn’t until this time that the Government and the Pacific Railroads Acts decided that it was essential for improving trade and reducing the crime that people experienced when trying to cross America.

The First Transcontinental Rail Road did a lot to improve the tourism industry in America and traffic problems in many of its large cities, as well as improving the postal system (reducing the average cost of posting a letter from the east coast to west considerably) and the trade of goods overall. Perhaps one of the main reasons that the first transcontinental rail road was chosen as one of the seven wonders of the industrial world is that it comprised so many different types of engineering; from building tunnels through mountains to assembling wooden bridges across rivers.

Today the First Transcontinental Rail Road is still in use, but not entirely. Over 100 miles around the Sierra Nevada Mountains is still in operation, and hundreds more miles of the original tracks can still be seen across America.

Construction:

Mark Hopkins, Leland Stanford, Collis P. Huntington and Charles Crocker are four names that crop up continuously when the First Transcontinental Rail Road is discussed, and this is because they were the four main investors in the project.

The ‘Big Four”s investments allowed the hundreds of construction workers (the majority of whom were Mormon) to build the 1800 miles of train track that ran from Sacramento, California in the west to Omaha, Nebraska in the north east of America. At their peak, the construction workers could manage ten miles of track in just one day, but sometimes the logistics of carrying food, materials and tools to the site where they were working meant that this was delayed. Construction of this railroad meant blasting through mountains to construct tunnels, and erecting wooden bridges across large bodies of water. This project didn’t just involve laying track on dry, flat land.

The construction of the First Transcontinental Rail Road took a total of six years, with celebrations held at Promontory, Utah on May 10th 1869 where the final golden spike was hammered into the ground. It was at this point where the Central Pacific Railroad met the Union Pacific tracks and the project could be declared complete. To this very day, one of the very last golden spikes can be seen at Stanford University (in the Cantor Arts Centre), California.

Upon completion the First Transcontinental Rail Road became the best and fastest way to travel across America, until 1959 when American Airlines released their first non-stop flight from East to West.

How to Get There:

It is still possible to travel on the same track that was laid well over 100 years ago across America, but only in certain parts. Areas of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and also Utah and Wyoming still have operating train tracks, so if you were to visit them you would need to fly as close to one of those areas as possible.

Natrona County Airport is small, but you could get a connecting flight to there, via a larger airport in the US and then start your train journey from there, through Utah and ending up in the Sierra Nevada Mountains on the west coast. From here you can quite easily travel down through bustling, exciting California to LAX airport and then fly home.

Where to Stay:

If you spend the majority of your stay near the Sierra Nevada Mountains, then you should definitely check out the Rodeway Inn right by Yosemite National Park. In Winter this hotel is right by a skiing hot spot, but in summer it’s also perfect for mountain biking, golfing and other outdoor pursuits.

Alternatively, for a luxury stay further into the metropolitan area, you could try the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Sacramento where rooms are approximately $270 per night. This hotel is located near shopping malls, an IMAX theater, museums, jogging trails and wine tasting day trips which should keep you busy during your stay.

More Information»

London Sewerage System, England

Background:

The 1800s was a smelly, unhygienic time for citizens of London, England. Greater London’s waste system was essentially an open sewer, with bacteria such as ‘vibrio cholerae’ causing cholera outbreaks and various other epidemics that threatened the population of the capital city.

In 1958 the smell that surrounded London because of the open sewer became almost unbearable and hygiene was at its very lowest. This prompted the London Government to sort out the problem once and for all, and they commissioned the construction of what would be known as the London Sewerage System.

Built in the late 1800s, the original London Sewerage System still makes up a small section of the one that’s in use today. It comprises six intercepting sewers, 21,000 kilometers of smaller sewers and several pumping stations to serve the areas where gravity cannot promote the easy flow of sewage to the east. The waste is diverted away from central London, to the Thames Estuary so that sanitation is at its highest where the greatest number of people live. The sewer system was designed by Joseph Bazalgette; the Metropolitan Board of Works’ Chief civil engineer who managed to incorporate its construction into the roadworks of London, and what was to later become the London Underground train system’s circle line as well.

Due to a huge increase in population since the 1850s, London’s modern sewerage system is around 100 times bigger than Bazalgette’s original construction. At the time, however, this design was revolutionary and desperately needed.

Construction:

Construction of the London Sewerage System began in 1859 and went on for six years until completion in 1865. 318 million bricks were used for job, as well as 670,000 meters squared of mortar and concrete. The main sewers that made up this system spanned an incredible 450 miles, not to mention the six interceptory sewers which ad a total length of 100 miles.

The pumping mills, used at various point along the Victorian London Sewerage System, were (and still are) mostly house-like structures where people would work to keep the sewage flowing in the right direction. The sewers were designed to largely run using gravity, but the pumping stations ensured that in areas the needed it, the water and sewage levels were raised to keep it flowing towards the east (or in the case of the north and south sewers, flowing to Beckton and Crossness treatment works respectively). Abbey Mills Pumping Station, along with a lot of the pumping stations from the Victorian sewerage system, has been renewed.

The London Sewerage System was repaired and reinforced in the 1900s, as was the treatment of the water throughout it so that the North Sea and the Thames Estuary would suffer less waste pollution. It is now 100 times bigger, so that it can cope with the increase in population and therefore the huge increase in waste in the capital. Compared to 250 years ago, the water flowing through London is much cleaner and much more safe.

How to Get There:

As you can imagine, visiting the actual sewers of London would be an unpleasant trip, considering they are all still in use today. It is, however, possible to visit the old Abbey Mills pumping station in Stratford, as a new one has been built to replace it, but the old one still stands.

To get to the Abbey Mills pumping station from abroad you should have no problems as London is served by three main airports: Heathrow, Gatwick and Luton. Heathrow Airport is the nearest to Abbey Mills pumping station and once you land it is a 22 mile taxi ride across central London to Stratford.

Where to Stay:

Luckily for visitors, London is full of budget, mid range and luxury hotels. Try the Hotel Ibis on Romford Road for mid-range rooms starting at around £75 ($121 USD) per night. Budget rooms, on the other hand, can be found at Hotel Citystay on Bow Road where they start as low as $73 per night. Do bear in mind, however, that Hotel Citystay only has 19 rooms within it, so you will need to book early.

If you’re looking for a luxury hotel nearer London then look no further than the Four Seasons Hotel in Canary Wharf. It may be a further drive from the Abbey Mills pumping station than the others, but the luxury rooms are worth it.

More Information»
Brooklyn Bridge, USA
December 212009

Brooklyn Bridge, USA

Background:

In 1870 the New York Borough of Manhattan was largely populated and in danger of overcrowding. The borough of Brooklyn, however, which was located just over the East River, occupied a much larger area and was only populated with around 400,000 people. The obvious choice was to encourage growth outside of Manhattan, into Brooklyn, but with the East River in the way this wasn’t easy. In 1870 construction began on the Brooklyn Bridge, connecting Brooklyn and Manhattan via the East River.

Vehicles, pedestrians and bicycles alike are allowed to cross the Brooklyn Bridge (known as the New York and Brooklyn Bridge, until officially shortened in 1915), making it the ideal tourist spot. Many people visit New York on weekend trips and fortnight-long holidays, incorporating the bridge into their itinerary. Photographers find it one of their favorite spots as you can take pictures at any point along it, during day or night (when it’s lit up quite spectacularly) and from almost any angle.

While the Brooklyn Bridge has seen tragedies such as people committing suicide from it and into the East River below, and an attempt in 2003 by Al Qaeda to destroy it, it is also a very well loved part of the New York skyline to this very day. In 2008 elaborate celebrations took place to mark the Brooklyn Bridge’s 125th anniversary, including a live Brooklyn Philharmonic performance, a firework’s display and the construction of a temporary faux-telectroscope connecting New York with London via a live video link.

Construction:

The bridge was designed by John Augustus Roebling, although unfortunately he was unable to see out its construction. His foot had slipped into some pylons right at the beginning of the project, crushing his toes and as a result they had to be amputated, leaving him unable to walk. Later he caught tetanus from the injury and this was the cause of his death.

John’s son, Washington Roebling, continued the project until he too suffered problems as a result of construction. This time Washington suffered decompression sickness as a result of working underwater for extended lengths of time and not being exposed to pressure first. The symptoms were severe and by communicating with his well-learned (particularly in mathematics and bridge engineering) wife Emily, the couple were able to complete construction on the bridge that took a total of thirteen years.

Construction on the Brooklyn Bridge also cost an estimated £15,100,000, weighed 6620 tons and spanned 6016 feet in total length. 27 construction workers died during its construction, not including John Augustus Roebling.

The Brooklyn Bridge was opened on May 30th 1883, allowing 150,300 people to cross it in those first 24 hours alone. At this time the Brooklyn Bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the world, and very first steel wire suspension bridge to have ever been built. It is perhaps because of these dimensions and feats that the Brooklyn Bridge has been named as one of the seven wonders of the industrial world, and also as a National Historic Landmark in 1964.

How to Get There:

Luckily, New York is one of the most metropolitan cities in the world, and therefore has a large commercial airport that almost any medium commercial airport will fly to internationally. The distance from this airport (John F Kennedy Airport) to the Brooklyn Bridge is just under 20 miles, so it’s very easy to travel there as soon as you land.

We recommend you rent a taxi to take you to your accommodation for your stay, and then take another taxi, rented car or rented bicycle from there. Remember, you can walk across the bridge, so it’s worth looking at bus timetables and taking a leisurely stroll from one end to the other.

Where to Stay:

There are hundreds of hotels in the New York – Brooklyn area, which means visitors have a huge amount of choice here.

On the Manhattan side of the bridge you could try the Wall Street Hotel, which offers very modern luxury rooms at around $240 per night.

On the other side of the bridge and closer to JFK airport, however, is the Howard Johnson (also known as the ‘HoJo) hotel, which offers budget to mid range rooms for around $135 per night. There are also other Howard Johnson hotels in this region, such as the one in Long Island, or one in North Bergen.

More Information»

Bell Rock Lighthouse, Scotland

Background:

For centuries sailors who sailed around Arbroath, Eastern Scotland were terrified of becoming shipwrecked on what was known as ‘Bell Rock’. This rock was actually an underwater reef, invisible from the surface of the water until the Bell Rock Lighthouse was built upon it in 1807.

Its construction wasn’t finished for three years, but once it was standing, the Bell Rock Lighthouse began saving lives of fishermen and sailors in the area (estimated at six ships per winter season). At 115 feet tall, the lighthouse is hard to miss and can be seen from buildings on land. It warns ships to this very day, that there is a rock below that extends 1427 feet in length under the surface of the water. It was lit on February 1st 1811; well over 200 years ago, and was capable of an intensity of 1,900,000 candela. This incredibly bright light reached up to 34 miles out to sea.

The Bell Rock Lighthouse is not just a conical shaped tower, either. Inside its Aberdeen granite walls are five compartments, not including the light room that stands upon its summit. This also contains glass panels and light reflectors, to increase the range of the light that was once emitted from it to warn ships who come close.

Apart from when a helicopter crashed into Bell Rock Lighthouse in 1955, the lighthouse has been operating since its construction over 200 years ago. It is is still in use today, having had no alterations or repairs to its structure.

Construction:

Robert Stevenson, a young Scotsman and ambitious architect designed the original Bell Rock Lighthouse, but had his plans dismissed by the Northern Lighthouse Board on the basis that the reef was too dangerous to build such a large structure upon, and that it would cost £40,000. However, when the HMS York struck Bell Rock in 1804 and lost over 400 of its crew members, the Northern Lighthouse Board awarded the job of building Robert Stevenson’s Bell Rock Lighthouse design to John Rennie; a revered and most respected British engineer at that time.

To this day it’s uncertain who should take credit for the Bell Rock Lighthouse design and construction, considering Robert Stevenson still worked on the project, but only as Rennie’s assistant. They based their eventual design on John Smeaton’s Eddystone Lighthouse which had already been standing for 50 years.

The seas around Bell Rock were so harsh that construction could only take place in summer, in two hour bursts during the day before the workers had to retreat back to calm(er) water. Rennie was barely seen during this time, only having visited the rock twice, and the rest of the time Stevenson and the 60 construction workers fought through their seasickness and the awful conditions they built under. After a while of trying this system, the team decided to build a beacon house on the rock, so that they could reside there and not have to keep sailing to and from Bell Rock. The project, in total, cost around £61,339, which was the original budget, plus 50%.

How to Get There:

As you can imagine, visiting the Bell Rock Lighthouse itself is not recommended, as it marks the spot where thousands of sailors have died. The seas in Arbroath are very choppy, even in the calmer summer months, and the risk of being smashed against the huge Bell Rock reef is simply too high.

You can, however, get close to the Bell Rock Lighthouse by joining a fishing trip in a large boat. To get to Arbroath you will need to fly to Dundee Riverside Airport, and then catch a taxi to Arbroath for no more than £30 ($49).

Where to Stay:

The Rosely Country House Hotel is one of the best hotels to stay in, in Arbroath and is located on Forfar road. This Victorian style luxury hotel has single bed and breakfast rooms starting at just $73 per night, or double rooms from $97. This is great value for the quality of stay you will enjoy, even though you will need to call a taxi or rent a car to get to the center of Arbroath.

The Inverpark Hotel, on the other hand, is located right on the coast where you may be able to get a room with a view of the Bell Rock Lighthouse itself.

More Information»
SS Great Eastern
December 212009

SS Great Eastern

Background:

Between 1854 and 1858, construction on the SS Great Eastern (also known briefly as ‘Leviathan’) was ongoing. This gigantic ship was intended for commercial use, to sail from Britain to Australia without needing to stop once to refuel. Her mass was five times as large as the biggest ships around at the time, and no attempt at a ship of these proportions had been attempted until she was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel; a pioneering engineer and ship designer.

Unfortunately for Brunel her first launch attempt in 1857 went disastrously wrong. The steam winches employed to pull the ship out to sea failed and the ship moved only a few feet, killing operators in the process. It was not until January 31st 1858 that a successful launch was made and. Brunel was completely out of pocket trying to make up for the failed launch with his own money.

After its troubled maiden voyage the ship then went on to sail to America in 1860 and made many other voyages for the next five years. By 1865 the SS Great Eastern was being used to lay cable in the ocean and by 1888 she had been used as a static show boat and sold at auction.

So while the SS Great Eastern was certainly not without problems, it was undeniably the most incredible show of engineering for its time, exhibiting a design that was way ahead of its time and dimensions that no engineer or construction worker had catered for in the past.

Construction:

As you already know, the SS Great Eastern transatlantic iron steam sailing ship was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Brunel was a British engineer who not only built ships, but also the Great Western Railway system, plus various tunnels and bridges across the country.

The SS Great Eastern featured six sailing masts (providing 18 148 square feet of sail in total), gas illumination (an incredible luxury at that time), five funnels, a double hull, and twelve watertight compartments. Such a ship had never been conceived of until Isambard’s design in 1854. It could hold 4000 passengers at one time, although on its maiden voyage the total number of paying passengers didn’t exceed 40.

This enormous ship stood at a total length of 692 feet, and the 56 foot paddle-wheels, 24 foot four-bladed screw propeller and five engines that were used to propel it through the water were estimated to provide 8000 horsepower. A man named Daniel Gooch bought the SS Great Eastern at auction for just £25,000 in 1864, even though the materials it was built out of were worth £100,000 on their own.

Today very little remains of the construction, engineering and pioneering design of the SS Great Eastern as it was broken up and the materials reused to reinforce parts of the Rock Ferry on the River Mersey after 1890. However, visitors can still see her top mast which was purchased by Liverpool football club and placed outside their Anfield stadium over a century ago in 1890.

How to Get There:

The SS Great Western no longer stands as a ship today, as it was sold for break up in 1890. It is certainly possibly to visit the site where the majority of its materials were used: the Rock Ferry on the River Mersey, although they are largely indistinguishable as steam ship parts.

The best piece of material to have been saved from the SS Great Western is its top mast which is featured at Liverpool FC’s Anfield stadium to this day. To travel here you can fly to one of the main London airports (Gatwick, Luton or Heathrow) and then catch a coach or train to Liverpool. Alternatively you fly directly to the Liverpool John Lennon airport, providing your nearest airport offers this service.

Where to Stay:

If you are visiting the Liverpool Anfield stadium to see the SS Great Eastern’s top mast then we recommend you stay at the Beatles themed four star Hard Days Night Hotel on North John Street, where rooms start at around $163 per night. Visiting the mast alone will not take up a holiday or even a weekend or whole day, so you will want to plan to see a football match or perhaps take a walk around the Tate Gallery.

Alternatively, rooms at the Liverpool Marriott Hotel (city center) start at around $130 per night and include very luxurious and comfortable rooms.

More Information»

Leaning Tower Pisa, Italy

Background:

Like the Roman Colosseum, the Leaning Tower of Pisa is one of the seven wonders of the medieval world that is located in Italy. Unlike the Colosseum, however, this wonder is most well known for its unusual stance, and the fact that it has managed to last so many years without toppling over.

Built as a Cathedral tower, within the City of Pisa in 1173 and designed by Bonanno Pisano, the leaning tower was laid upon flawed foundations. The substrate beneath it was too loose to support the weight of the tower and as a result it soon began to lean south west at a 3.99 degree angle.

At the time, this Cathedral was considered a reputable work of art. It has a 7-bell chamber, added in 1372 and exhibits Romanesque architectural style. However, its construction was carried out over 177 years due to the fact that it began to lean. Today this is the main reason that so many people come to see the tower, and although many have suggested it should be corrected, the only restoration has been to discolouration of the walls and a correction in the lean from 5.5 degrees to 3.9

Current State:

Contrary to what you may believe, the leaning tower of Pisa can be visited in person and even entered. There are 294 steps inside which make up the spiral staircase and via these it is possible to reach the top, and see the six open galleries along the way. At the belfry at the top of the tower, the seven bells are still in place.

This tower has been incredibly well preserved since it was first built over 800 years ago. This may be because it has been well known as the ‘leaning tower’ and it has become a national treasure for this very reason and a well preserved one. One other contributing factor to its longevity was the fact that there were battles between Pisa and Genoa, Florence and Lucca shortly after its construction. It was therefore left alone for a considerable time which left enough time for the unstable substrate below it to harden and become safe enough so that the tower didn’t topple over when further work was carried out on it.

We can be fairly sure that the Leaning Tower of Pisa that we see today is almost identical to the one that was built in 1173. Apart from, of course, the fact that it now leans at 3.9 degrees rather than 5.5.

How to Get There:

Pisa has its own airport that is very easy to fly to from most European airports and some US ones too.

The tower itself is only two and a half miles from the airport, but it’s likely that you’ll want to check in to your hotel and drop off your luggage first. Luckily for visitors, Pisa is a well populated and quite tourism-led city so it’s very easy to get around. There are lots of taxis, several buses and you can even rent scooters to get around quickly and easily providing you have a UK driving license.

Where to Stay:

For a hotel stay with a view of the tower included within the price, try the Villa Kinzica Hotel. This mid range accommodation has a restaurant and air conditioned rooms, for around $150 per night. Due to the tourist-led nature of this city, most of the hotels have rooms at around this price and few go much lower than $100 per night.

For a luxury stay in Pisa, try the Hotel Relais Dell Orologio, where rooms start at around $200 per night. A stay at this hotel includes a breakfast buffet, marble bathrooms and wooden beam ceilings in many of the rooms.

More Information»
Hagia Sophia, Turkey
December 112009

Hagia Sophia, Turkey

Background:

Built as a Roman public building (also known as a ‘basilica’) this huge Cathedral situated in Istanbul, Turkey, now stands as a museum after having also been a mosque during its rich history.

The reason the Hagia Sophia was chosen as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world was because of its quintessential Byzantine architectural style. It embodies the culture and design of the time it was built (532 AD) as well as including Ottoman influences within its décor and structure. It is quite a sight to behold; surrounded by four pointed minarets stretching high into the sky, the building is topped by a magnificent dome with forty windows around its base.

There were two churches that existed on the site of the Hagia Sophia before it was built; each of which considered a wonder of the world in their own right. The first church, built in c.360 BC, was burned to the ground during riots, and the second church was built in c. 415 BC was also burned down in c. 532 BC by the Nika Revolt. The third church built on the site is the one that we know and can visit today; adorned with pendentives, minarets, decorative urns, mosaics and marble doors.

Today the Hagia Sophia is used as a museum, although many are campaigning to restore it back to being a practising church, and a small section of it is used as a mosque for the staff to pray inside during their shifts.

Current State:

The third church that was built on this site is the one that we know today, and it is the main one that was ever to be considered a wonder of the medieval world. It has, over its time, been reconstructed and maintained, but the majority of what we see today is what was built originally in c.532 BC by the Emperor Justinian I.

The Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque in 1453 and much of the restoration occurred then under the order of sultan Mehmet II. It wasn’t until this mosque was then converted into a museum that the carpets were removed to reveal the beautiful patterned marble floors. These are still visible today, along with all the original mosaics and Byzantine religious artwork that this structure was drenched in. The interior of the dome has, in particular, undergone a lot of restoration over the past decade.

The only discrepancy about the Hagia Sophia’s authenticity is due to re-constructive work that was carried out in 1847, 1848 and 1849. Many people are doubtful that the tomb claiming to hold the Doge of Venice, is, in fact, nothing more than a symbol of his death.

How to Get There:

Istanbul’s Ataturk International Airport is just a 40 minute drive from the Hagia Sophia itself, so you may choose to stay in a hotel somewhere in between and navigate this part of Turkey’s largest city by taxis or rented cars. The Ataturk International Airport is a busy and large one, so there will be plenty of taxis waiting outside and also tourist operators to help you find your way to your accommodation.

Bear in mind that the Hagia Sophia is closed on Mondays, and opens at 9 from Tuesday to Sunday, closing at 7.30 so you will need to visit between those times.

Where to Stay:

There are almost 100 hotels within just one mile of the Hagia Sophia, so as you can imagine this is an incredibly metropolitan area, with lots of choice for visitors.

Try the Hippodrome Hotel located less than half a mile away from the Hagia Sophia, for a mid range stay (rooms cost approximately $145 dollars per night). Or you could have a luxury stay at the Orient Express Hotel with rooftop pool, for around $190 per night. The best budget hotel in this area of Istanbul is the Ersu Hotel, where rooms will set you back around $85 per night.

More Information»

Porcelain Tower, China

Background:

The Porcelain Tower of Nanjing in China is perhaps one of the youngest of all the seven medieval wonders of the world to have existed. It was built on the south banks of the river Yangtze in the early 1400s, under the rule of the Yongle Emperor who also designed it, as a tower of pilgrimage and a place of worship.

This structure is set apart from others because of its exquisite beauty. It was an octagonal pagoda, adorned with approximately 140 lamps hung on it to illuminate the tower at night. The Porcelain Tower of Nanjing was also built with porcelain bricks that reflect sunlight, which made it a bright and beautiful sight to behold on the horizon. These white porcelain bricks were glazed and dyed with red, green, brown and yellow patterns to create the images of animals, people, flowers and certain scenarios.

For its time, it was also one of the tallest man made structures in China, standing at 79 meters high and with a base of 29 meters. It was named ‘Bao’ensi’ which means ‘Temple of Gratitude’ and it was used for religious worship right up to the start of the Taiping Revolution in 1850. Today this medieval wonder is in ruins, but reconstruction at the hands of the Chinese government has started again. This means that it is certainly possible to visit Nanjing and see where the tower once stood, but you cannot walk right up to the wonder’s ruins because construction work in commencing there.

Current State:

Today the Porcelain Tower of Nanjing does not exist, as it was destroyed by both natural and man made events during its history.

In 1801, during an electrical storm, the Porcelain Tower was struck by lightening. This caused considerable damage to the top three floors, knocking them to the ground, but the tower was still very much in use right up until 1850 when the Taiping Revolution caused more trouble. The rebels at this time wanted to stop the citizens from using the tower as a hide away or as a means to attack them from above, so they destroyed the stairs inside. The tower remained standing, but unused until 1856 when these very same rebels destroyed it completely in anger and attack.

For a long time the rubble and ruins remained at the site where it once stood on the bank of the river Yangtze, but now that the Chinese Government have decided to rebuild and reconstruct this medieval wonder of the world, that rubble has been cleared. While the area of Nanjing is beautiful and a great place to visit, anyone who wishes to see the remnants or the Porcelain Tower of Nanjing in any form may wish to wait until it has been fully reconstructed.

How to Get There:

If you live in the US or Europe, then flying to Singapore Changi International airport and then getting a connecting flight to Nanjing Lukou International airport is probably the easiest and most sensible option. Once you’ve made this connecting flight the Porcelain Tower of Nanjing is north of the airport, up the S123 airport expressway to Yuhuatai.

From Yuhuatai (or Qixia if you choose to travel further along the expressways by taxi or rented car) you will need to take either a bus, train or taxi to the wonder itself, which is only around 10 to 15 miles away. Alternatively, you could take a cruise boat up the River Yangtze.

Where to Stay:

The Crowne Plaza Nanjing Hotel & Suites is a mid range four star hotel with rooms starting at around $100 per night. For a mid to budget stay, try the three star Jiang Nan Hotel in Nanjing where rooms are $68 to $70 per night. Or alternatively there is the Grand Metro Hotel in Nanjing with rooms for around $90.

If you’re really looking to push the boat out with your stay in Nanjing then try the Sofitel Galaxy Nanjing, which is one of the closest hotels to the Porcelain Tower. This hotel offers double room prices at around $165 per night.

More Information»
Great Wall of China, China
December 112009

Great Wall of China, China

Background:

In c.221 BC, during the Chin Dynasty, China was subject to invasions from the North. At this time it was the Emperor Qin Shi Huang who ruled, and he who commissioned the construction of what was to be known as the Great Wall of China.

Although this original Great Wall of China didn’t survive completely, it was rebuilt in the centuries later and even to this day the wall that was built during the Ming Dynasty still stands. It is 5,500 miles in length, stretching from Lop Nur in Western China, to Shanghaiguan in Eastern China, and incorporates not only stone wall, but also defensive barriers and trenches too.

The construction of the Great Wall of China, also known in China as ‘Wan-Li Qang Qeng’ which literally translates to ten thousand li-long wall (‘li’ is around 5000 kilometres), was an incredible feat. Builders used whatever they could that was in the area, because transporting stone was so difficult. When building on mountains, they used the rock from them, but then when on flat ground they used tightly compacted earth. Valencia commented that all the materials used to build the Great Wall of China were enough to build a wall around the equator, five metres high and one metre thick.

Today the Great Wall of China is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one that is fiercely protected as it is in danger of being lost to the sands of the Badain Jaran desert. However, it is still very much open to tourists; many of whom take up the challenge of trying to walk certain lengths of it.

Current State:

Many sections of the Great Wall of China have become damaged, to the extent that they cannot be traversed by tourists or hikers. In the west, particularly, the wall of is very susceptible to weather erosion because it is mostly constructed from mud. It looks starkly different to how it did in the second century BC, when its entirety was only interrupted by rivers or trenches; both of which were still useful in protecting China against invasion.

Other areas of the wall have been eroded by the sand storms that so very frequently blight the area, and continue to do so. The cube-shaped lookout towers along its length no longer disappear and in certain areas where towns and villages are nearby, there is a great deal of graffiti on the wall. It’s thought that if needed, certain parts of the wall may be used by locals to repair buildings and bridges in their own towns. Some sections have been repaired, such as the tourist centres in Northern Beijing, and it’s hoped that further measures will be taken to protect this UNESCO world heritage site and one of the seven wonders of the medieval world from sand storm erosion in the future.

How to Get There:

It’s best to visit the Great Wall of China in Spring, when the views from the mountain include scenes of lush greenery as well as the great workmanship too.

There are also various airports along the length of the Great Wall, but perhaps the biggest and most easy to fly to is the Beijing Capital International Airport. From there you can catch shuttle buses and minibus services to your accommodation in Beijing and then take a tour operators excursion right the wonder itself. There are many ways to visit it, but most involve taking a bus and then walking.

Where to Stay:

Beijing is a large city, so there are plenty of hotels to choose from which will match your budget.

One of the very best budget hotels in the area is the Double Happiness Courtyard Hotel where rooms are on average around $81 per night. Alternatively you could try the Holiday Inn Central Plaza which, although further outside of the centre of Beijing, has a gym, restaurant and swimming pool.

For a far more luxury stay, try the Regent Beijing where rooms start at around $190 per night. Here there is a business centre, swimming pool, restaurant and gym.

More Information»

Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa, Egypt

Background:

Joining the Pharos statue in Alexandria, Egypt as two of the world’s wonders, the Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa are underground tunnels which were used as private tombs.

Unlike the Pharos which was built in c.290 BC and then destroyed in the 1300s, the Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa were built in the 1st century AD and still exist today. In fact, they were only discovered in the year 1900 when one unfortunate donkey disappeared into an opening where the catacombs lay beneath. Even today they can be explored by the general public, who enter the tombs via a spiral staircase, where bodies were once lowered in by ropes to the chambers below. As well as well organized and beautiful tombs, there is also the Hall of Caraculla, which was essentially a mass grave.

When they were built, the Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa were intended for the exact purpose that their name suggests: as a tomb. There are many different types of architecture found here, comprising Egyptian, Roman and Greek culture and style, which was typical of the time and of the traditions relating to tomb design in the 1st century AD. However, their original creation was intended for just one family and indeed there have been three original sarcophagi found within them. However, they were later expanded and built upon so that other people – non family members – could also be buried there, yet no archaeologists know exactly why.

Current State:

Because the Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa were covered over for so many centuries, they have been left in much the same state as when they were built. Visitors can still walk down the spiral staircase that leads onto the tombs, and see the well down the middle of these stairs where bodies were carefully lowered to their burial site. Even the designs on the walls when you reach the chamber below is still intact and certainly reminiscent of 1st century AD Egyptian style.

On this first level lies a banquet hall where the living would feast and remember the recently deceased. Also here is the gruesome Hall of Caraculla mass burial chamber where both people and animals were buried followed their death at the hands of Emperor Caracula. On a lower level, down another set of spiral stairs however, is a chamber adorned with sculptures and statues. Here there are the three sarcophagi and around the edge of this chamber there are 91 separate wall sarcophagi; each of which would fit three mummified corpses.

Considering they are many hundreds of years old, the Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa are in incredibly good condition, and they are a great testament to the architectural style of the time.

How to Get There:

For anyone who wishes to visit these eerie, yet fascinating and awe inspiring catacombs, travel is easy. Alexandria has its very own airport (known as either Nhouza airport or Alexandria Internation airport) so you can fly directly to the area.

From the airport you can take a taxi to your hotel and then a minibus to the catacombs themselves, or alternatively one of the many double decker buses that operate in the city. Public transport is certainly recommended, as this is a tourist area where buses and trams are prevalent, and also shield you from the hot sun that you shouldn’t walk in for too long. The extensive tram network is, in fact, the oldest in Africa.

Where to Stay:

Because Alexandria is a main city in Egypt and one with a busy port, there is no shortage of budget, mid range and luxury hotels.

If you’re on a tight budget then try the Radisson Blu Hotel a little further out of the centre of the city, where rooms start at just $141 per night, or perhaps the Sheraton Hotel Montazah at $120 per night. For a great mid-range hotel, try the Sofitel Cecil Alexandria where rates are usually around $226 per night and finally, for a luxury stay take a look at the Four Seasons Hotel where the average room price is $530 per night.

More Information»
Colosseum, Italy
December 112009

Colosseum, Italy

Background:

The Colosseum in Rome, Italy, is one of the most iconic tourist draws in Europe. Upon stepping inside this millennia old amphitheatre, visitors get a good feel for the medieval life of the time when it was used to entertain, even though what stands there today is just a skeleton of its former glory.

Built thousands of years ago in c.80 AD, the Roman Colosseum amphitheatre was used mainly for Gladiatorial events where trained Gladiators would fight against each other to their deaths, watched over by the thousands of people that could fit inside the venue. Theatrical performances were also put on there for Royalty, as were animal hunts and fighting, not forgetting executions of criminals. Archaeologists and historians have estimated that the human death count within the Colosseum reached 500,000 and the animal death count double that.

The Roman Colosseum was built following the Jewish War, almost as a political peace offering from the war’s victor Emperor Vespasien. It was built on the site where the Vespasien’s predecessor, Nero, built his extravagant and overly-expensive personal palace, and was meant to restore the land to the citizens of Rome. With all this in mind, it’s easy to understand just why the Colosseum is so well protected and still well loved after all these years; it is the perfect portrait of the flamboyance and extravagance of the time, which was counteracted by the mass death and love of brutality that was prevalent then too.

Current State:

The Colosseum in Rome is considerably damaged in comparison to how it stood in c.80 AD. This is due to a number of reasons, some human and some natural.

In the 16th century AD, when the Colosseum was used as a Christian site, many religious figures and even citizens believed that the sand that covered the floors was sacred as it was tainted with the blood of the martyrs who had died there. This soon led to quarrying of the site, with architects taking parts of the actual building to reinforce or build their own churches elsewhere.

There were also earthquakes and both natural and man made fires which gutted the Colosseum, which have resulted in the structure that we see today. It’s still very much possible to go inside, as the floor has been partially reconstructed, even though there are chambers below that level. Visitors can also still walk around parts of the walls and balconies, as there is a museum dedicated to Eros in one of the outer walls. Considering this structure is well over 1900 years old and has survived tectonic activity, fires, wars and constantly repetitive use, it has been incredibly well preserved.

How to Get There:

Rome has its very own airport, and it’s a big one, so traveling to the city is very easy. Simply catch a flight there and then choose your mode of transport.

This is a metropolitan city that’s busy at all times of the year, so think carefully about whether you want to be transporting yourself via scooters or cars. There are plenty of buses that operate in Rome, and trains too so you could even find accommodation outside of the noisy hustle and bustle, but travel in each day to see the sights.

Visit tourist operators in the centre of Rome for information on limousine tours and even walking tours around the whole city that incorporate a look around the Colosseum.

Where to Stay:

Rome is full of restaurants, cafés, entertainment and accommodation, so finding a hotel to match your budget should be easy.

For accommodation on a lower budget, try the three star Relais Rome Sweet Home Fore Imperiali hotel right in the very centre of the city. Rooms at this hotel start at $100. For a mid range stay, try Hotel Viminale, where rooms start at around $120 during the peak summer season. Luxury stays in Rome, on the other hand, are well suited to five star ‘The Inn at the Roman Forum’, where rooms start at $250 per night.

More Information»
Stonehenge, England
December 112009

Stonehenge, England

Background:

Few of the wonders of the world, whether natural, industrial, modern, ancient or medieval still remain a mystery to us today, yet Stonehenge is just that. Nobody can be sure of why it was built and what official purpose it served, but it holds a great deal of historical fact and emotional significance for a great number of people across the world.

Located in the county of Wiltshire, England, Stonehenge is essentially a circle of stones; some supporting others. The earthworks (mounds of earth, artificially created) that surround the stones have been confirmed to have been constructed in c.3100 BC, yet within the earthworks and ditch the actual Stonehenge stones may have been constructed in c.3000 BC or later, between c.2400 and c.2200 BC. Many archaeologists believe they were intended for religious use, and even to this day Pagans and those who worship the sun visit Stonehenge at the summer solstice (the longest day of the year) to celebrate. Others believe that Stonehenge was created as a way to view the stars at night, and others believe that it symbolises a place for the dead, as there are several burial mounds in the area too.

Over the years it has been suggested that Stonehenge could not have been constructed using normal, neolithic human methods to move such large and heavy stones and therefore supernatural forces must have been at work. However, several archaeologists have since proven that there are various techniques that could be used all those thousands of years ago.

Current State:

Stonehenge is still very much standing strong today, although it looks very different to how it did five thousand years ago when construction began.

At first farmers began deforestation in the area, clearing trees and woodland. There was a monument erected some 2300 feet from the Stonehenge site in c.3500 BC, but the very first Stonehenge stone structures didn’t appear until around c.2600 BC when it’s estimated 80 stones were laid, possible in two rings. Before this, timber was used to fill holes which stood just inside the ditch and bank that were constructed in c.3100 BC and filled with animals bones and flints. Later, between c.2600 and 2400 BC there were around 30 large sarsen stones brought to the site and erected in a 110ft diameter circle, with stones resting on top of them in the same fashion we see today. Between c.2400 BC and 2280 BC the stones were rearranged in various ways, including in a horseshoe shape. These rearrangements finally ended in approximately C.1600 BC, in the arrangement we see today.

It is possible to visit the Stonehenge site today, although the only times that visitors are permitted to actually touch the stones are the spring and autumn equinoxes, and the summer and winter solstices.

How to Get There:

The nearest commercial airport to Stonehenge is at Bristol, although flights are far more regular and readily available when you fly to Heathrow airport in London.

From here it takes around an hour and a half to drive and there is a motorway (the A34) running right past the Stonehenge site, so by car is the perfect way to travel. You can either rent a car from London Heathrow, or take a train halfway to Basingstoke and then rent a car from there, from one the agencies such as Thrifty car hire. From here it takes around 40 minutes to get to Stonehenge along the A34.

Where to Stay:

Although you may choose to as it is a larger, more metropolitan area, you do not have to stay in a hotel in Basingstoke. The Best Western Red Lion hotel is within walking distance of Salisbury bus station, and provides three star accommodation for between $268 and $308. Another luxury hotel is the Old Mill Hotel and Restaurant; a 15th century historical building in Harnham.

For a cheaper stay, try the number 2 Park Lane Bed & Breakfast is great quality accommodation in Salisbury, with rooms ranging from $98 to $131 per night.

More Information»
Victoria Falls, Africa
December 42009

Victoria Falls, Africa

Background:

Ask someone what the biggest waterfall in the world is called and a lot of the time, they’ll answer ‘Niagara Falls’. While it’s certainly large, Angel Falls is in fact the highest, and Victoria Falls is the longest; stretching over 1700 meters.

Located between Zambia and Zimbabwe in Southern Africa, Victoria Falls is the world’s largest curtain of water, with an incredible 546 million cubic meters of water falling down its 328 foot drop every minute during flood season. This waterfall lies on the course of the Zambezi river; an epic interruption in its constant flow.

Victoria Falls’ beauty is unparalleled by the fact that there is another cliff edge facing the curtain of water, but one which is dry; giving visitors the ideal spot with which to view this natural wonder. However, the spray from such a huge amount of water travels for miles and anyone coming close to the falls is likely to get wet! Many tourists choose to hike around the falls, take the train over the Victoria Falls Bridge to look down into the gorge below, and also fly over it for spectacular views.

For the nearby Mukuni Village, Victoria Falls has brought a great deal of industry as visitors like to see their annual Lwiindi Festival (held each July) and also visit the Mosi O Tunya National Park when they visit. This wonder is certainly not short of things to do and ways to see it and the area makes a great week-long holiday in itself.

Formation:

Victoria Falls formed in much the same way that every other waterfall on earth begins its life. The fast flowing water that ran along the Zambezi river gradually started to erode the soft stone that lay on its bed, so that it fell away and the river ran into a decent. Over many thousands of years this erosion becomes more necessary and far more extreme, until the water flow became so steep that it began to fall in a curtain. As this became more pronounced, the spray of the water when it hit the plunge pool below causes the cliff side to start eroding inwards, making this curtain of water in turn more pronounced. While the falls were only discovered around 105 years ago by explorer David Livingstone in 1855, they are estimated to be an incredible 150 million years old (at least!).

The Victoria Falls gorges, on the other hand, have been forming very gradually over the past 100,000 years; a process which has been caused by the erosion of the water in the Zambezi river. This fast flowing water coming from Victoria falls has caused a series of zig-zagging gorges which look spectacular from the air.

How to Get There:

Victoria Falls is accessible either via Victoria Falls Airport in Zimbabwe or Livingstone Airport in Zambia. From there, trains, buses and taxis are readily available to take you to your individual accommodation.

See one of the many tourist boards for information on the hikes and walks that go around the Victoria Falls basin.

Where to Stay:

If you are willing to stay in self catering accommodation during your stay at Victoria Falls then you can find rooms for as little as $65 per night, although when staying in a foreign country this is not always the most desirable option.

For a luxury stay, try the Stanley and Livingstone hotel where rooms start at $200 and go up to $274 USD per night. This hotel has Victorian style decor and overlooks a waterhole where various species come to drink (buffalo and elephants to name two). The Royal Livingstone is another beautiful luxury hotel located inside the Mosi O Tunya National Park.

More Information»
Paricutin Volcano, Mexico
December 42009

Paricutin Volcano, Mexico

Background:

Also known as Parķutin volcano, this natural structure earned its status as one of the seven wonders of the natural world due to the speed at which it formed itself. Over just nine years it grew to the height of 3170 meters and farmers who lived and worked in the nearby area at the start of its growth said that they could see the difference in its formation from going to bed at night and waking up in the morning.

Paricutin volcano is located in Michoacan state, Mexico, where it began to form in 1943. It’s this recent formation that makes it totally unique from other volcanoes on earth, as it is the only one to have been seen from it’s very beginning by human eyes. It has remained dormant since 1952 when it stopped erupting after its initial formation. It has claimed three lives, but only due to lightening strikes during the eruption.

Although Michoacan, Mexico is an area that lies on volcanic land, it still came as a shock to the farmer Dionisio Pulido who owned the fields that Paricutin Volcano was formed in. It would be hard for any person to be shocked when the ground beneath them begins to part and grow several feet into the air! Obviously today his land can no longer be used for farming purposes, but it is a strong tourist draw instead, with many tourists and volcanic enthusiasts coming to see this very young natural wonder.

Formation:

Dionisio Pulido was tending to his crops in the fields that he owned on February 20th, 1943 when he saw that the ground in front of him had opened into a fissure. Without time to investigate he said that there was thunder, followed by the ground being raised by almost 8 feet into the air. It was then that he fled, obviously aware that something significant was happening below his fields.

What was happening was the formation of one of the world’s youngest volcanoes. Over the next two days the volcano grew an incredible 150 feet and then continued to erupt frequently over the next eight years. It was forming along what is known as the ‘Mexican Volcanic Belt'; an area of high volcanic activity stretching 700 miles across the south of the country. Perhaps for this reason it shouldn’t have come as such a shock to Dionisio, but the fact that only one other volcano had formed since the mid 18th century, this occurrence was agreed by scientists and geologists to be extremely rare.

The formation of Paracutin and other volcanoes in this area has, in turn, made the farming soil far more fertile and even though volcanoes may be dangerous, Michoacan is more populated than it has ever been before.

How to Get There:

Uruapan airport is the closest airport to the Paricutin volcano to its western side, but General Francisco J. Mujica International airport is not far away either and is on the east of the volcano. You can fly to either of these from most major European and American airports and from there may wish to take a train or taxi closer to the volcano and further into the state of Michoacan.

The easiest way to visit the volcano itself is to hike, as the area is highly populated and there are no major highways leading to it. The terrain here can be steep, but it is grassy and fertile so specialist gear is not necessarily needed.

Where to Stay:

Uruapan is the nearest city to Paricutin volcano, so this is likely to be the best area to find accommodation. Prices start at as little as $65 to $94 USD per night at three-star Hotel Mi Solar, or up to $111 in Mansion del Cupatitzio. Hotel Concordia is perhaps the cheapest in the area with rooms starting at just $40 per night.

There are two wonderful luxury hotels right near Paricutin volcano itself, however, and these are five star Mision del Sol Resort and Spa (starting at $303 per night) and five star Villa Montana hotel and spa (starting at $262 per night).

More Information»
Aurora Borealis
December 42009

Aurora Borealis

Background:

The seven wonders of the natural world do not all have to be on the ground, or even be physical structures that can be touched and the Aurora Borealis is the perfect example of that.

These lights that occur mainly in the northern hemisphere of planet Earth (hence their alternative name ‘the northern lights’) but also occasionally in the southern hemisphere too are such an unusual display of nature that they remained a scientific phenomenon until very recently. They can appear as flowing, moving waves of light (known as Quity Arces), thin strips of light (Diffuse Patches) or sheets of glowing light (Raide Arces) and they glow green, blue, red and yellow.

The aurora occurs solely in the sky and mainly in areas closest to the northern closest to the northern magnetic pole (currently located in Canada). They appear most during September and October, and then again in March and April although they do not appear every night and many people’s expeditions to see them prove unfruitful. Perhaps it is their elusiveness and unpredictability that makes them such an appealing one of the seven wonders of the natural world, but their natural beauty is, of course, the main attraction.

The northern hemisphere is a hostile, arctic environment. Despite this, many keen photographers take trips out there in an effort to capture the lights on film. Many also take video cameras to capture a time lapse recording of the lights, as they move slowly but in beautiful patterns.

Formation:

The aurora has most likely been around for many thousands of millions of years, even before the most basic life forms began, yet we still have the knowledge of how they are created. It wasn’t until around 1741 that the link between the magnetic poles and the northern lights was discovered, and up until 2008 the mysteries behind their formation have been slowly unraveling.

Aurora Borealis and Aurora Australis (southern lights) are formed when particles from the sun – also known as ‘solar wind’ – hit the earth’s atmosphere. They are charged highly with energy which is lost when they collide with other atoms, or when they emit a photon of light; a process which results in the lights that we see. Solar wind particles always occur in parallel with the earth’s magnetic field, which is why we often see them as ribbons or waves of light moving in a certain direction.

Their individual color depends entirely on the make up of the emission that the solar wind molecule gives off. Green and maroon colored aurora occur when the molecules emit oxygen, whereas blue lights occur when nitrogen is given off. Red lights can indicate either oxygen or nitrogen.

How to Get There:

The Aurora Borealis is not just found in one city or even country in the world, so it is up to you to choose where you would like to see them. Reykjavik in Iceland is a wonderful place to see the northern lights, as are many areas of Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Finland, Norway and Sweden. Each of these countries have main airports which are easily flown to, although if you are aiming for the magnetic pole then you will need to consult an arctic expert for advice on the necessary hiking gear, tents and/or vehicles to get you there.

Where to Stay:

For anyone who isn’t a professional arctic explorer or at least vaguely familiar with what’s required of this type of trip, it’s best to stay in one of the hotels in a more populated and interesting place in the northern hemisphere such as Reykjavik in Iceland, Lulea in Sweden or Rovaniemi in Finland.

The advantage with staying in a place that’s more populated and metropolitan than somewhere nearer the north pole is that there are other things to visit during the daytime when the Aurora cannot be seen. Also, you will be able to stay comfortably in these places for days on end, making your chance of seeing the northern lights higher.

More Information»
Mount Everest, Himalayas
December 42009

Mount Everest, Himalayas

Background:

Neighboring countries Nepal and Tibet are separated in a very unique way; 8850 meters up on the mountain ridge of Mount Everest in the Himalayas, Asia.

Mount Everest gained its name in 1856, when the Royal Geographic Society decided to name is after British surveyor-general of India, Sir George Everest. It wasn’t until 1953 that the first successful hike right to Mount Everest’s summit was achieved, and it was done by the late New Zealander Sir Edmund Hillary who died in 2008.

Sir Edmund Hillary was the person to have recorded Mount Everest’s height for the very first time, although that figure differs greatly from the height that Everest stands at today. This is because Everest still lies on the tectonic plates that were once responsible for its formation and as they are still active, Mount Everest gets pushed up by 4mm and towards the Northeast by 3 to 6mm every year. That’s an average height increase of 22.4cm since Sir Edmund Hillary first recorded it in 1953.

The higher levels of Mount Everest are certainly not a tourist attraction, considering the mountain has so far cost 210 explorers their lives. There are, however, certain climbing and walking routes along the mid to lower levels of Mount Everest where tourists can try their hand at hiking a great deal of the way up. It’s advised that anyone who is going to attempt this has training and buys professional equipment for the job and the conditions are cold and the oxygen thin.

Formation:

Mount Everest was formed approximately between 30 and 50 million years ago by plate tectonics (the movement of the tectonic plates which hold the earth together miles below its crust).

When two tectonic plates move together, but come too close into contact and experience too much friction, there can either be an earthquake (to disperse the immense energy), or the displacement of earth materials around it. In the case of Mount Everest, the earth was pushed upwards from under the Tethys sea when the Indian subcontinental plate and the Eurasian plate collided, forming a mountain shape which simply never smoothed out again. Since Mount Everest has been shown to increase in height by 4mm per year, we can assume that one significant plate tectonics event formed the mountain, but over those millions of years it has grown significantly taller than it was originally.

During the various glacial ages that the world has seen over the past 50 million years (the latest being 20,000 years ago), Mount Everest’s pyramidal shape was sculpted by the erosion of glaciers that moved slowly across it. In fact, there are glaciers still present in the Himalayas today which continue to alter the shape of this ever moving, ever changing, awe inspiring natural structure.

How to Get There:

The nearest airport to Mount Everest is the Tribvhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu, Nepal. From there you can travel nearer to Mount Everest by train or buses that leave from the airport several times per day.

If you’ve sorted out how to get to the Himalayas and find yourself at the foot of Mount Everest with no way of seeing it from its summit, then you could explore the possibility of flying over it instead. There are various tour operators in the area who will take your over Mount Everest and the surrounding Himalaya mountains for around $150 (USD) per person.

Where to Stay:

There are many hotels in and around the Himalayas, but if you’re going to visit this area of Asia then you may as well do it properly, and stay in a hotel that exhibits a proper view of this famous mountain.

This hotel is known as ‘Hotel Everest View’ and you can certainly imagine why. You can fly easily from the main airport in Brazil to the smaller airstrip in Syangboche, very near to where the hotel is located. It sits within the Sagarmatha National Park, some 12,729 up! From here you can see Mount Everest very clearly, through the gap between the two slightly smaller mountains that sit aside it.

More Information»

Harbor of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Background:

On the North Eastern coast of Brazil lies the state of Rio de Janeiro, which has a capital city of the very same name. This city is well known for a number of things, including the stunning mountains that surround it, great carnivals and of course the statue of Christ the Redeemer that overlooks the city below. Rio de Janeiro’s most famous feature, however, has to be its harbor, which formed entirely naturally and was colonized in the 16th century by Portuguese explorers.

The harbor of Rio de Janeiro is in fact a bay which spans an immense 88 miles in length. As a result the majority of the city of Rio de Janeiro is spread across it, giving hotels, shopping malls, office blocks, music venues and even housing some incredible views. Perhaps one of the best views is of Sugarloaf Mountain; a 1299 foot tall peak on the Guanabara Bay peninsula.

‘Rio de Janeiro’ means ‘River of January’ in Portuguese; the name given to the area by the 16th century explorers when they thought they were sailing into a wide-mouthed river, rather than Guanabara bay (they bay that precedes and leads on to the harbor at Rio de Janeiro).

Formation:

The harbor at Rio de Janeiro as we know it today was colonized in the 16th century, and modernized in the 20th century. Yet the actual structure of the bay has been around for millions of years, gradually being eroded by the waves that came through Guanabara bay and hit the land behind it.

It was the Atlantic Ocean that surrounds this area of Brazil that was responsible for this erosion; a process which earned the harbor of Rio de Janeiro its prestige. The erosion occurred in such a way that if you look at the bay from different angles, it can look like a river mouth, or even a lake. Evidence of the harsh sea conditions that caused this kind of formation can still be seen today from October until March, which is the state of Rio de Janeiro’s rainy season.

Unfortunately the formation of the harbor at Rio de Janeiro is coming to a close, as the Guanabara bay peninsula which forms its western ‘arm’ is being sluiced using pipes so that this metropolitan city can expand. Where this expansion and development will lead we cannot be sure, but one thing’s for certain; the shape of Rio de Janeiro’s harbor is changing fast.

How to Get There:

Luckily for visitors to the Harbor of Rio de Janeiro most major airports fly directly the Rio de Janeiro itself, and because it is such a well populated and metropolitan city there are many places to stay as soon as you step off the plane.

The airport (GIG), also known as Galãeo International Airport, is Brazil’s largest airport, located on Governador Island. Once you step off the plane it is just 12.5 miles to Rio de Janeiro’s central city area, so you can travel by bus, taxi or rented vehicle (motorbike or car) from there to your chosen accommodation.

Where to Stay:

Rio de Janeiro is a largely metropolitan city, so there are plenty of hotels (budget, mid range and luxury) to choose from there.

Prices start from as little as $47 per night, although for this price you will be looking at a very budget style hotel or hostel. The Martinique Copa Hotel (three stars) is a great mid-range hotel, which has rooms at a much lower rate than many that are similar ($194 per night).

Perhaps the very best luxury hotel in Rio de Janeiro is five star Copacabana Place complete with gym and swimming pool. Rooms are at an average price of $566 per night.

More Information»

Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Background:

Lying just a few miles off the coast of Queensland, Australia, is the Great Barrier Reef; the only living thing visible from space and one of the seven wonders of the natural world.

Its total area comprises approximately 133,000 square miles and within that live thousands of different species of marine life. To be more specific, there are around 1500 species of fish, 4000 species of mollusk and 400 different types of coral (both hard and soft). As well as this there are marine animals such as the severely endangered sea-cow (also known as the dudong or manatee) and the large green turtle, which face extinction if the Great Barrier Reef’s climate isn’t protected.

Measures are being taken to preserve the Great Barrier Reef and it has been named as a UNESCO world heritage site as well as one of CEDAM International’s seven wonders of the underwater world too. Whether the efforts of the organizations will prevent damage to the reefs and the endangered species that rely on it we cannot be sure. Global warming and the disposal of effluents are largely to blame.

The Great Barrier Reef has become a huge tourist draw for those who wish to see the world’s largest coral reef, with many opportunities for diving, snorkeling and seeing the reef from the air.

Formation:

Amoebas and fish may be born and die within a matter of months, but life within the Great Barrier Reef has been going through cycles for many, many millions of years.

It’s estimated that the actual corals that we see today started growing just off the coast of Queensland are around 18,000 years old. However, in order to grow they first needed a basis upon which to attach. This ‘base’ is in fact the skeletons of the corals that came before them and subsequently died due to a huge change in environment such as temperature, sea level or both. These corals that came before the Great Barrier Reef that we know today had been growing on and off for the previous 24 million years, upon limestone rocks that were formed 41 million years prior to that.

One of the most beautiful things about the Great Barrier Reef is the fact reefs before it have come under such harsh conditions that they have died, yet in turn supported their successors. We can see fish, marine life, marine plants and corals live and die each day at the Great Barrier Reef, but we know that this is all part of a continuous cycle. Where it will lead, who knows!

How to Get There:

The Great Barrier Reef has its very own airport (Great Barrier Reef Airport, also known as Hamilton Island Airport) so you can fly there directly, or catch a connecting flight from New York, Paris, Bangkok or from your nearest airport. This brings you to one of the closest islands to the Great Barrier Reef itself and you can take various boats to the area of the ocean where the corals lie.

Depending on how you wish to explore the barrier reef, you may want to research the different types of excursions available. A cruise boat will let you see the reef from above the water, or you could choose a small luxury yacht so you can get a closer look, or a standard boat but one which lets you dive or snorkel.

Where to Stay:

Your best choice for visiting the Great Barrier Reef is probably to stay in a hotel on Hamilton Island, so that you are near both the wonder and the airport. There is regular transport between Hamilton Island and Queensland mainland so you can take day trips there too.

Unfortunately, however, if you are looking for a budget stay then you may wish to stay in Queensland as rooms at Hamilton Island generally start at around $300 (USD). For a mid-range stay, you may wish to try Palm Bungalows, where rooms start at around $270 a night. Or perhaps five-star Beach Club where rooms start at $523.

More Information»
Grand Canyon, USA
December 42009

Grand Canyon, USA

Background:

Located in Arizona, US, the Grand Canyon is the one of the world’s deepest gorges, with cliff edges measuring up to a mile in depth. While it is not the deepest on the planet, the Grand Canyon is recognized mainly for its extreme beauty and the fact that all 227 miles of it is consistently awe-inspiring.

Before 1540 when Europeans immigrated to the Grand Canyon, this site was used as a habitat for Native Americans and later as a pilgrimage site for the Pueblo peoples. When Theodore Roosevelt became President of America he worked hard to preserve the area as he appreciated its great beauty, and also enjoyed hunting there. Today, the Grand Canyon lies within the Grand Canyon National Park, which in itself is considered a natural wonder of the world. This park is used to conserve the area that it comprises, allowing tourists to visit and explore it safely, without damaging any of the natural structures.

The Grand Canyon has also been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, which (along with the fact that it is a national park) has helped to protect it from various proposals, such as the damming of the Colorado River that runs within it.

While from the cliff tops the Grand Canyon may look like a dry and arid region, the same cannot be said for the land one mile below. In the deep valleys of this gorge there are rivers, rapids and even perfect conditions for white-water rafting; which many visitors to the area enjoy.

Formation:

Some 40 million years ago, the Colorado River was formed. It grew gradually, being fed by various tributaries, to form a basin. After 23 million years this river grew to a point where it began to erode the land that it ran through, boring deep into the earth below.

Over the next 17 million years this erosion continued to the point where a gorge was formed, bringing with it such natural structures as caves and canyons. This time line brings us to the present day, where the grand canyon is one of the most spectacular natural structures on the planet, and one which continues to be formed all the time.

All those millions of years ago it was unlikely that the Grand Canyon would’ve been occupied by humans for a very long period of time. Indeed, ancient artifacts have been unearthed there, but these date back just 12, 000 years; not a very long time in Canyon’s long history. Humans evolved 200, 000 years ago so we know that they most definitely did live within the Canyons caves, but whether earlier species of the homo genus lived here too (e.g. homo erectus, Neanderthals or homo habilis) we cannot be entirely sure.

How to Get There:

The Grand Canyon has been preserved by the Grand Canyon national park that it exists within and as a result this has made it possible for tourists to come and visit the area safely, without causing any damage to it. It can be found in the state of Arizona, which has a number of sights to see in it besides the Canyon, so a trip here can span a fortnight, rather than just a couple of days to see the Grand Canyon.

To get there by air you can fly to any of the three airports that are nearby. The Grand Canyon actually has its own airport (The Grand Canyon Airport) although if you are staying in a hotel near Phoenix or are planning to see the rest of Arizona first then you can also fly to Phoenix Sky Harbor or Flagstaff Pulliam Airport. From here you can rent a car or take a bus to the Southern rim of the Grand Canyon. There are also a number of tour operators offering coach excursions in and around the Grand Canyon National Park, so even if you fly to the southern rim you won’t miss out on its northern side.

Where to Stay:

If you are a couple staying in the southern rim then you might enjoy Maswick Lodge which was renovated in 2006 and lies within walking distance of the Grand Canyon’s rim. Alternatively you could try the Holiday Inn Express for a budget stay suitable for individuals, couples and families. Perhaps the best hotel near the Canyon’s southern rim is the Red Feather Lodge.

At the northern rim you could try one of the many comping grounds there, or if you are a group of young people then try the Phantom Ranch (dormitories separated by gender). For a standard lodge or hotel stay then you should get in contact with the Grand Canyon Lodge, who offer a range of single, double and family rooms.

More Information»
Northern Red Sea

Northern Red Sea

Northern Red Sea

November 242009

Background:

The Red Sea is a water inlet, located between Asia and Africa. The northern section of this inlet has been named as one of the seven wonders of the underwater world, namely because of its extreme beauty and the biodiversity of marine life there.

Northern Red Sea

Northern Red Sea

The Northern Red Sea consists of water from the Indian Ocean, yet because it is almost a lake and surrounded by sand, the climate here has changed to support a rich variety of life. The position of the sun at various times of year is what gave the red sea its namesake, as it turns the water all shades of red, orange and yellow. The Northern Red Sea also has a climate distinctly different to that of the southern end of this inlet, as there are two bands of monsoons that move over it.

The marine life living in the Northern Red Sea is a wonder in itself. Over 1000 different species of fish, 400 species of coral (both hard and soft) and also many birds above the water live there, giving anyone who visits an eye opening experience. Many divers, both beginners and professionals, choose the Northern Red Sea because of its tranquil, warm waters (it is a tropical sea) and of course the biodiversity.

Formation:

The formation of the Red Sea (and thus also the Northern Red Sea) occurred over the course of many millions of years. It’s thought to have begun as many as 55 million years ago, speeding up slowly and ending at least 23 million years ago. This formation occurred due to plate tectonics and tectonic activity below the earth’s crust, causing the two continents of Arabia and Africa to split apart (as they were once one large continent).

Even today the formation of the Red Sea continues, and at some time in the future it will become an ocean, although not in our lifetimes. At one time in ancient history the entire Red Sea was closed off at its southern end. This doesn’t mean to say that it was a lake, though, as the position of the continents at that time meant that it was open at the northern end instead.

Why it Was Chosen:

Unlike some of the other underwater wonders such as the Galápagos Islands and Lake Baikal, the Northern Red Sea  doesn’t only hold marine life that is endemic. There are plenty of species of plants, fish and corals living within it that also live in other oceans, but this only adds to the level of biodiversity here.

The main reason that CEDAM International, the American Diver’s Association (Conservation, Education, Diving, Awareness and Marine-Research) chose the Northern Red Sea for one of its seven wonders of the underwater world was its beauty. The water shimmers red and orange when the sun hits it at a certain angle, and diving and snorkeling there is said to be spectacular. Due to global warming the Northern Red Sea’s marine life could be in danger of dying out and therefore CEDAM chose it as an underwater wonder to further preserve it for future generations to enjoy.

How Can it Be Seen?

If you are planning to visit the Northern Red Sea then you should not dismiss the idea of diving, or at least snorkeling. The marine life here is spectacular, with vibrant colors, unusual species and an incredible energy. Once you arrive there you will find tour operators in the area quite easily who offer all kinds of excursions, from beginners diving, to canoing and snorkeling sessions.

Although the Northern Red Sea is an incredibly popular spot for diving, snorkeling and sailing, the surrounding lands are also very popular for Safaris and there are many tour operators offering this kind of excursion in Africa. Due to the Dahlak archipelago in the Northern Red sea, it’s also possible to rent luxury yachts and travel boats to do some island hopping and simply explore the region.

To get to the Northern Red Sea you can fly to Marsa Alam airport at the southern end of the Red Sea and travel up by train, coach, cruise boat or rented car. Alternatively, you can fly to Egypt (Hurghada airport) and you are already at the Northern Red Sea itself! Taking a cruise boat around the Red Sea from Hurghada is highly recommended as you will also get to see the Southern side.

More Information»
Lake Baikal, Siberia

Lake Baikal, Siberia

Lake Baikal, Siberia

November 242009

Background:

Located in Siberia (central Asia) some 445 meters above sea level, lies Lake Baikal; the world’s largest and deepest lake.

Due to its sheer size, Lake Baikal has an incredibly diverse set of climates, with deep-sea marine life existing on its floor and birds and mammals living off the marine life from its shore. The lake also changes dramatically throughout the year, spending January to May completely frozen, then unfreezing and becoming completely crystal clear for some of summer and then experiencing extreme algae blooms in the autumn months which turn the water murky and almost soup-like.

Lake Baikal, Siberia

Lake Baikal, Siberia

This lake is home to some of the world’s highest levels of biodiversity, with thousands of different species of fish and marine plants. Omul fish and Nerpa (Baikal Seal) are the most well known animals to be living in the lake and are also endemic, meaning they exist nowhere else in the world. This kind of biodiversity is put down to the lake’s large surface area and the ability for high levels of oxygen to be passed into the water to support life.

Lake Baikal is known as the ‘Sacred Lake’ and it comprises more water than the entire mass of all the lakes in Northern America combined.

Formation:

Lake Baikal is believed by scientists throughout Earth to be at least 25 million years old and at the most 30 million years old (during the late Paleogene geological period). Although nobody can be entirely certain, it’s thought that Baikal began as a simple (yet comparatively large) river bed, joining a series of small lakes together and being fed by rivers coming from Mongolia and Zabaikalia.

Over those many millions of years these smaller lakes joined each other and Lake Baikal’s immense basin began to form. The movement of tectonic plates beneath the Earth’s surface is certainly believed to have influenced the shape of Lake Baikal’s mountainous areas and therefore probably the depth of Lake Baikal’s basin too. However, the natural folds of the earth are also thought to have made a difference and scientists and geologists across the world today still cannot agree on the exact way it formed.

Why it Was Chosen:

At present there are high levels of water mixed with waste products being pumped into lake Baikal, which is one of the main reasons that CEDAM International (the American Diver’s Association) chose it for one of their seven wonders of the underwater world. CEDAM (conservation, education, diving, awareness and marine-research) International began this project in 1989 with the aim to preserve and protect endangered areas of the world that needed conservation.

Lake Baikal is also very unique because the majority of the species that live within it are exclusive to the lake itself. These sponges, coral, plants and marine life do not exist anywhere else on the planet, and if they were to die then the world’s biodiversity would be severely affected.

UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) also chose Lake Baikal as one of its World Heritage sites, bringing more protection to the area.

How Can it Be Seen?

Lake Baikal has formed within a suburban area of Siberia and it’s therefore very easy to visit. It is a huge tourist draw for this area of Asia, and there are several ways to travel there, including via railway, air and rented vehicles. Nizhneangarsk Airport is located towards the northern tip of the lake and from there you can travel on the Baikal-Amur mainline railway service to the main focal points of the lake.

Alternatively, you can fly to Irkutsk Airport at the south of the lake. If you wish to explore the area of Asia surrounding lake Baikal first, then your best move is to take the Trans-Siberian Railway service which makes a main stop at the lake. Both Irkutsk and Nizhneangarsk have a number of hotels and places to eat and find entertainment because they have become the main tourist airports for the lake. Listvyanka, located in Irkutsk, is the ultimate tourist area with a seven story hotel.

Due to the climate in Siberia the lake is frozen for a large part of the year. If you travel there in July to October, however, then it’s often possible to take diving excursions in certain areas. Be warned though; the lake never really gets ‘warm’!

More Information»
Galápagos Islands, Pacific Ocean
November 242009

Background:

The Galápagos Islands are an archipelago within the Pacific Ocean, all thirteen (main islands) of which are deemed volcanic. This is perhaps not surprising due to their distribution around the tectonic plates below, and their proximity to the equator.

Galapagos Islands, Pacific Ocean

Galápagos Islands

While it is believed that South American tribes first discovered the Galápagos Islands, their discovery wasn’t documented until 1535 when Bishop De Berlanga’s ship sailed off course (destined for Peru) and landed accidentally there. Several expeditions were made to the Galápagos Islands hence, but it wasn’t until the 1830s that the island became inhabited by man.

The Galápagos Islands gained their name from one of the species that lived on it; the Galápagos turtle that had already been named by Spanish explorers because of its strange shell shape. Many explorers after this time studied the animals that lived there, primarily because the species’ differed greatly from those found inland and on other continents. Charles Darwin visited the islands in 1835, where he studied the animals further and found that the species even different between the islands that make up this archipelago. His studies prompted the creation of his survival of the fittest theory and thus the backbone to The Origin of Species, published in 1859.

Formation:

Scientists and geologists are still unsure of how exactly the Galápagos Islands were formed and when, although they do know that the proximity to the equator means that there is increased volcanic activity. Couple this with their specific location above active tectonic plates, it’s almost guaranteed that they were formed from volcanoes, and remain to be volcanic themselves.

The formation of each of the Galápagos Islands is only an estimation and due to studies on tectonic plate activity, scientists now know that the Islands cannot be older than 5 million years. The island also change formation all the time, with the latest specific change occurring in 1954 when the seabed was uplifted by 15 feet and a significant amount of magma was released through a fissure (hydrothermal vent), where it then cooled on the surface of the ocean.. Volcanoes on the islands themselves are also often erupting, with the latest in 1998.

Why it Was Chosen: 150 words on why CEDAM International (American diver’s association) chose it for one of the seven wonders

Even in 1835 when Charles Darwin explored the islands, significant damage to the wildlife there had occurred because inhabitants had brought other species to the island which were then killing off the existing ones. Tortoises were also taken by explorers to provide sustenance on their ships and many species were made extinct this way.

CEDAM International; the American Diving Association chose the Galápagos Islands to be one of their seven wonders of the underwater world because their aim for this project was to protect underwater structures that needed preserving. The  Galápagos Islands may not be entirely underwater, but they were formed there and much of the volcanic activity that continues to form them occurs there. The prestige that Darwin also brought to the Islands is also brought to the Islands and the fact that they inspired him to write The Origin of Species also gives us more reason to want to protect this area of the world.

How Can they Be Seen?

Much of the recreation on the Galápagos Islands revolves around the exquisite wildlife that is found there, so if you’re a nature lover then it’s perfect. Be warned though, the islands are located on the equator, so when it’s hot, it’s hot!

The Galápagos Islands are home to the world’s only penguins that live on or around the equator and with certain tour operators you can swim alongside them. You may also visit the famous Galápagos turtles and tortoises that gave this archipelago its name, and also scuba dive with whales and dolphins around the islands.

If you plan to fly directly to the island then you will need to fly first to Quito airport and then make stops in Guayaquil and finally in Baltra. If you fly to Equador, however, then there are several cruise liners that offer very scenic and enjoyable boat tours to and around the islands. Once you arrive at the Galápagos Islands themselves, you’ll need to travel around them by boat, but there is a lot of choice here; from slow cruise boats to fast speedboats and luxury yachts. Unfortunately, tourists cannot visit all thirteen of the main Galápagos Islands as some of them are protected (they are a UNESCO World Heritage site after all!).

More Information»
Deep Sea Vents

Deep Sea Vents

Deep Sea Vents, Yellowstone National Park

November 242009

Background:

Also known as ‘Hydrothermal Vents’, the Deep Sea Vents are perhaps the only one of the seven wonders of the underwater world that exist in a number of places on earth. While they can also occur above sea level, deep sea vents are small volcano-like structures that pump out gases and heated water from beneath the earth’s crust.

Deep Sea Vents

Deep Sea Vents

Typically occurring on or near tectonic plates and volcanoes, these vents simply release energy (in the form of heat) from the friction caused below. Much of the chemicals they produce actually provide basic marine life with sustenance and in turn animals up the food chain receive better quality food.

The most well known group of deep sea vents lie in Yellowstone National Park, North-Western US, where there is significant geothermal activity both below and above sea level. Earth is not the only planet believed to have housed deep sea vents either, as the remains of some have been found on our own moon and Jupiter’s moon (Europa) is also believed to have them today. These vents are often known as ‘black smokers’ or ‘white smokers’ due to the color of the plume that they emit. The latter are generally cooler than black smokers, due simply to their mineral composition.

Formation:

Because the existence of Deep Sea Vents remained unknown until at least 1949, it is not possible for them to have been man made; they are entirely natural. Existing as much as 8200 feet below the water’s surface, it is extremely difficult to even explore deep sea environments of this nature, let alone build structures of this kind here.

Deep sea vents were and continue to be formed during a period of significant geothermal or even volcanic activity. Some continue to grow during subsequent activity, but they also often break and fall down, as the ‘Godzilla’ vent in the Pacific Ocean did when it reached 40 feet.

The vents themselves are formed when cold water travels down through mid ocean ridges and heats up when it reaches the molten rock beneath. Here the oxygen is removed from the water and minerals and metal flow into it (e.g. sulfur and zinc), before it is pushed up again through the deep sea vents at extremely high temperatures.

Why it Was Chosen:

CEDAM International (the American Diver’s association) named the seven wonders of the underwater world in 1989 for one reason: to raise awareness of underwater structures, in order to preserve and protect them from damage. In the case of the Deep Sea Vents this may have been a clever prediction, considering it wasn’t until 2007 that scientists, geologists and marine experts released a report saying the vents would not be resilient to damage from global warming.

The Deep Sea vents were not only chosen because they were in danger of damage, but also because of the way that they support life under the sea in a fundamental way. When submerged underwater, these hydrothermal vents spew out huge levels of chemicals and minerals that fish, sponges, whales, sharks and corals depend on for their health. If they were to become damaged and stop providing this sustenance, we would find a huge decline in marine life and biodiversity in our oceans.

How Can it Be Seen?

Unfortunately it is not possible to visit the deep sea vents, unless you are a geological expert. This is entirely due to their depth, which can reach up to a mile and a half below sea level. These depths cause immense pressure that crushes the human body and thus exploration must be carried out in submarine equipment. It’s also extremely cold at these depths, so you would not want to stay down there for very long.

The good news is – some vents exist above sea level and one of the best places to see this kind of geothermal activity is at Yellowstone National Park; a 2,219 acre park that extends mainly through the US state of Wyoming, but also through Idaho and Montana. Here you can go hiking, skiing, camping, fishing and also take tours of the geysers, which erupt around 200 to 250 times every single year (giving you a good chance of seeing one on the day that you decide to go!). Don’t worry; although the water that erupts from these natural structures is very hot at first, it cools on impact with the air and so cannot burn you, but will simply get you wet.

More Information»
Belize Barrier Reef, Belize

Belize Barrier Reef, Belize

Belize Barrier Reef, Belize

November 242009

Background:

The Belize Barrier Reef belongs to the 900 kilometer long Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System in the Atlantic-Caribbean region, which stretches from Cancún to Honduras. The Belize Barrier Reef itself is the second largest barrier reef in the world, beaten only by the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Queensland, Australia (also one of the seven wonders of the underwater world) and it is home to over known 500 species of reef fish and 86 species of soft and hard corals, although what has been discovered is said by experts to be only a small percentage of what is actually there.

Belize Barrier Reef, Belize

Belize Barrier Reef, Belize

This particular section of the Mesoamerican barrier reef is 300 kilometers long, and while it may not house the kind of biodiversity that the Palau Reefs exhibit, the Belize Barrier Reef was described by Charles Darwin as “the most remarkable reef in the West Indies”. Within this 300 kilometer stretch are over 200 small islands, 3 atolls (rings of coral that surround a lagoon of water) including the well known Great Blue Hole and also 450 cays (small raised islands of sand above reefs). It is this diversity in structure that allows the tourism industry to thrive at the Belize Barrier Reef.

Formation:

The Belize Barrier Reef is a completely natural underwater structure, whose coral is thought to have been formed within the past 500,000 years. While this is relatively young for a barrier reef, the limestone rocks that the Belize Barrier Reef corals have grown upon may be anywhere from 2 to 135 million years old, and the atolls somewhere in between. Of course these dates are so far back into history that it’s impossible for marine biologists and geologists to give any specific dates.

Due largely to the discovery of stalactites in the underwater caves found in the Belize Barrier Reef, geologists have discovered that the Belize Barrier Reef was not created by volcanic activity (as many reefs are) but instead by the most recent glacial period instead. The formation of the Belize Barrier Reef has been entirely natural, although over the past forty years there has been a lot of damage done to the reef and wildlife that lives within.

Why it Was Chosen:

In 1989 CEDAM International (CEDAM = Conservation, Education, Diving, Awareness and Marine-Research) put together the seven wonders of the underwater world, comprising the structures and regions of the world that they deemed worthy of such a title. Due to the Belize Barrier Reef’s unusual structure, great beauty and need for conservation CEDAM added it to their list without question.

As well as being one of CEDAM’s seven wonders of the underwater world, the Belize Barrier Reef system located in Belize was also named as a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in the mid 1990s. This only served to add to the barrier reef’s great prestige and there is no sign of this natural, underwater wonder losing any interest from scientists, marine biologists and geographical experts worldwide, not to mention the thousands of tourists that visit each and every year.

How Can it Be Seen?

At one time, Belize was central to the Mayan people and as a result this central American country is steeped in rich history and culture, as well as the tourism brought to it by the Belize Barrier Reef. As a result Belize is the perfect place to enjoy a holiday both on land and off, as you explore both the barrier reef system and the tropical forests.

Travel to the Ambergris Caye for scuba diving and snorkeling excursions, as this island is the closest land to the reef. From here you can also visit the esteemed Great Blue Hole, Shark Ray Alley, Lighthouse Reefs, Mexico Rocks and Hol Chan Marine Reserve.

Flying to Belize is simple from a number of US airports such as Houston, Dallas, Miami, Atlanta and Charlottesville, although from Europe it is a little harder. The nearest airport to the barrier reef is the Philip S W Goldson International Airport (BZE) around 11 miles away, where you can catch a taxi to the city center (no tipping). There are also several water taxis and major cruise lines that pass through Belize, so you can visit the nearby regions as well as Belize and its reef.

More Information»
Palau Reefs, Palau

Palau Reefs, Palau

Palau Reefs, Palau

November 242009

Background:

Over two million years ago in Micronesia (a subregion within Oceania) significant volcanic activity – now known as the Pacific Ring of Fire – occurred. From this the 343 islands that make up the island state of Palau were formed and the limestone rock basis for the Palau Reefs was in place. At this time, homo habilis inhabited the earth, but not the island of Palau and all that lived there were the basic coral species that had begun to grow on the submerged limestone.

Palau Reefs, Palau

Palau Reefs, Palau

Palau remained uninhabited until homo floresiensis evolved around 18,000 years ago, yet the first humans to lay eyes on the 300 species of sponges, 1500 species of fish and 550 species of hard and soft corals that live here were from Indonesia in c.2000BC. Since then, the island state of Palau has also been under Spanish, German, British, Japanese and American rule. At present Palau is an independent region, gaining a lot of tourism and notoriety due to its beautiful reefs.

If the reefs in Palau today were to be destroyed and returned back to smooth, limestone rocks they could not simply begin regrowing over the next decade. What lies there today is the result of millions of years of development, where corals have formed skeleton bases which the next generation of coral builds upon again.

Formation:

The Palau Reefs are believed to have formed around 2 million years ago, long before the more developed species of the homo genus had evolved (I.e. homo sapiens, Neanderthals and homo erectus). They started very basically at first and gradually developing into the rich and biodiverse environment they are now. Due to this time frame these islands are all-natural; having had no intervention from man.

Life began in the form of basic corals, on a Palau Island limestone surface during the Pleistocene geological age. From then these corals separated into hard and soft species over two million years, with sponges and reef fish joining them at a much later stage. Quality versus quantity certainly applies to this one of the seven wonders of the underwater world, as Palau’s reefs are quite small compared to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, but even still they are home to an incredibly diverse number of species; some critically endangered.

Why it Was Chosen:

It was the American Diver’s Association CEDAM International (CEDAM stands for conservation, education, diving, awareness and marine research) who nominated and chose the Palau Reefs for one of the seven wonders of the underwater world in 1989. CEDAM chose the wonders in accordance to their quality of marine life, and whether we should keep them well preserved as protected sites.

As the Palau Reefs in Micronesia are home to various endangered species (both plant and animal) and there has been a considerable level of coral bleaching over the past few decades, they have been identified as needing conservation. The fact that they also home thousands of different species of fish, 550 different species of hard and soft corals, plus 300 different species of sponges makes it the ideal candidate for one of CEDAM’s protected and very much revered seven wonders of the underwater world.

How Can it Be Seen?

One of Palau’s leading industries today is tourism, meaning that it’s incredibly easy to visit the region and many of the 343 islands that comprise it.

Getting to the Palau Islands usually means a bit of plane hopping, as there are daily flights from Guam’s airport and twice-weekly flights from Manilla, but also chartered flights from airports in Korea, Taipei, Taiwan, Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya and Japan. The nearest airport outside of Palau is Guam, where flights take approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes. For this reason you may wish to put together an itinerary, where you stay in one of these countries for a couple of days before traveling to Palau.

Once you arrive in Palau there are plenty of tour operators offering diving excursions (daily) from Koror and you can see other attractions such as the jellyfish lake and even swim with dolphins. If diving is not your thing, or you’re bringing small children with you then there are snorkeling tours available, as well as placid canoe tours that allow you to see the reefs from the surface of the water, sailing charters and day trips to the Palau Aquarium at the Palau International Coral Reef Center.

More Information»
Great Pyramid of Giza, Egypt, 2650BC

Great Pyramid of Giza, Egypt, 2650BC

Great Pyramid of Giza, Egypt

November 82009

Overview:

Although it’s not an official title, of all Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt is the undisputed king. This could be because it was built so many centuries before the rest, in c.2650BC, or perhaps because it remained the tallest man made structure in the world for over 3000 years until the 1800s. On the other hand, it could be the undisputed king because it is the only one of all seven that still stands today, despite its age. Whatever reason you would like to choose, this structure is a man made marvel.

Great Pyramid of Giza, Egypt

Great Pyramid of Giza, Egypt

Due to its age, it’s difficult to know the exact details of the construction of the Pyramid, let alone how the slaves working on it managed to lift each 2.5 ton stone to rest on top of the previous. It’s widely believed, though, that the Great Pyramid was a tomb built for King Cheops (also known as Khufu), who died in C.2566BC. There are three chambers within the Pyramid, one known as the ‘Queen’s Chamber’ which lies high up, the Grand Gallery and the King’s chamber, where the sarcophagus was laid.

The greatest mystery surrounding the Great Pyramid of Giza is where the incredible amount of treasure King Khufu almost certainly would have been buried with, his body and the lid of his sarcophagus went, and how. As far as archaeologists have found, there were no exits made by robbers (many pyramids were robbed at this time) as the slaves who built the structure left granite plugs to block off the chamber entrances.

People:

It was Abdullah Al Manum, an Arab leader of the Muslim state, and his team that first explored the Great Pyramid of Giza in just c.820AD. They discovered the Queen’s Chamber, the King’s Chamber and the Grand Gallery but after finding the King’s chamber empty, they stripped it of its limestone casing for their own buildings in Cairo; an act that was thought to have been carried out in revenge.

The ancient Greek historian Herodotus also documented many details about the pyramid, although modern day historians maintain that much of what Herodotus wrote was sensationalist and exaggerated. Nineteenth century astronomer Richard Proctor held an opposing view of the pyramid to Herodotus and many archaeologists after him. Proctor analyzed the pyramid and explained the chambers and positioning of the structure would have allowed great views of the paths of many stars; he believed it was used as an observatory.

Where it is Today:

The Great Pyramid of Giza is – astoundingly, considering it was built thousands of years ago – the only one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World that still stands today. It remains a very popular tourist attraction in Egypt and it’s easy for anyone to visit, if they fly to Cairo airport.

Tourists can take a day trip to the pyramid, or antiquity tours of temples and ruins near the pyramid, along the River Nile that last anywhere from 4 days to a fortnight. If you do decide to visit the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt then it’s a good idea to investigate tours that allow time to go inside, as there is a limit to 150 people at any one time and this is an experience not to be missed. Tourists must also buy their tickets to go inside the pyramid themselves, and considering the office opens at 8.30am they should always arrive early.

Our Knowledge:

We can find out a great deal about this pyramid and the smaller ones that surround it simply by visiting and taking one of the many guided tours that are available to visitors. However, if you don’t want to spend such a large amount of money on a holiday in Egypt then there are various museums around the world with displays dedicated to the Great Pyramid of Giza and its rich history. One such example is in Room 64: Early Egypt, of the British Museum in London, England, where one of its original Fourth Dynasty limestone blocks is kept.

Much of our knowledge of the Great Pyramid of Giza comes from ancient documentation made by historians such as Herodotus. However, because his documentations are thought to have been greatly exaggerated, much of what we know is an approximation made by modern day archaeologists, scientists and historians.

More Information»
Hanging Gardens of Babylon, Babylon (Iraq), 600BC

Hanging Gardens of Babylon, Babylon (Iraq), 600BC

Hanging Gardens of Babylon, Babylon (Iraq)

November 82009

Overview:

In ancient Babylon (known as Iraq today, not far from the city of Baghdad) the King Nebuchadnezzar had a dilemma on his hands. He had married Amyitis, who was the daughter of the King of Medes, in order to bring both of their nations together. Yet Amyitis was homesick for the fertile soils of her homeland and Babylon was very hot, dry and desert-like. To cheer her up, Nebuchadnezzar commissioned the construction of an array of ‘hanging’ gardens, on terraces within the city’s walls.

Hanging Gardens of Babylon, Babylon (Iraq)

Hanging Gardens of Babylon, Babylon (Iraq)

Although they are called the ‘hanging gardens’ the plants and trees imported from Medes were much more likely to have overhung the terraces and grown up from them instead. Because these terraces reached up on the sides of mountains, walking alongside them may have given the illusion that they were hanging above the citizen’s heads. Great measures were taken to insure the trees and plants remained well-watered and a team of employees were there at all times to transport water from the river Euphrates on to the top terrace of the gardens, so that the water then trickled down to the lower levels.

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon is perhaps the least well documented of all the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, perhaps because it is one of the oldest, although the Great Pyramid of Giza came well before. One thing we can be sure of, is that the Hanging Gardens only survived for around 100 years until they were destroyed by war.

People:

Robert Koldewey, a nineteenth century German archaeologist was the man who found the outer walls of the city of Babylon and even excavated where the cellar of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon may have been. He also found a room with holes large enough to contain the chain pumps that would have irrigated the plants and trees in the gardens, although many other archaeologists argue that this room is too far away from the river Euphrates to have been able to function adequately.

Although we cannot be sure of who the actual inventor was, where they were from or what their name was, we should give credit to the person or team of inventors who discovered the chain pump. Without this design, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon would have most likely dried out and died, leaving Queen Amyitis living in a city still very far removed from the climate she was so desperately pining for at home.

Where it is Today:

The walls of the city of Babylon were destroyed just one century after the Hanging Gardens of Babylon were constructed, and with the gardens being the most delicate structure of all, the plants, trees and grasses died. The foundations for the gardens survived until the 2nd century BC, when they were rendered dysfunctional by a series of severe earthquakes.

As a result this means that the site where the gardens once hung can be visited, in the current city of Al Hillah, Iraq. However, there are very few remains of where the gardens actually were and there is a lot of controversy between archaeologists as to where the gardens actually lay. Unlike many of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, unfortunately we cannot visit excavated remains kept in museums either.

Our Knowledge:

It was fifth century BC historian Herodotus who documented much of what he saw of the gardens at Babylon, although it’s widely believed that he exaggerated some parts. The basic structure for the hanging gardens were, however, still around in the first century BC when historian Strabo was alive to comment on them and as a result gave modern day archaeologists and historians a way to reconstruct what they may have looked like and how they may have worked. Diodorus Siculus also documented details of the hanging gardens, stating that they were made with stone slabs with tile, asphalt and reed covering them.

Nobody can be one hundred percent sure of where the Hanging Gardens of Babylon were originally constructed, but it is possible to visit the approximate site and the cellar of the gardens today.

More Information»
Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, Turkey, 550BC

Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, Turkey, 550BC

Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, Turkey

November 82009

Overview:

In ancient Greece the Goddess of fertility Artemis (also known as Diana) was, quite simply, a big deal. The citizens of Ephesus – a city in Anatolia – worshiped her deeply and at around c.800BC the very first Temple of Artemis was built. Over the next three centuries the Temple of Artemis was destroyed up to seven times and rebuilt again. The first Temple to be hailed as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World was one of the later ones, built in 550BC and paid for by King Croesus of Lydia who had invaded and conquered Ephesus.

Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, Turkey

Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, Turkey

Fourth century BC architect, Philon, said: “I have seen the walls and Hanging Gardens of ancient Babylon, the statue of Olympian Zeus, the Colossus of Rhodes, the mighty work of the high Pyramids and the tomb of Mausolus. But when I saw the temple at Ephesus rising to the clouds, all these other wonders were put in the shade”. The Temple consisted of over 100 columns which were needed to support the immense roof and a rectangular foundation that measured 150 feet in width and 300 feet in length. It was used primarily as a place to worship the Goddess Artemis, but also as a marketplace.

While at one point Ephesus was a busy shipping port and trade center, it began to struggle financially and its citizens moved away from its swampy marshland to the more fertile and pleasant mountains. When explorers came to Ephesus in 1100 expecting to find a bustling, busy city, they were surprised to find a deserted land where the Temple of Artemis once stood.

People:

Despite King Croesus having so cruelly invaded Ephesus, destroyed the existing temple and taken over the city, he was the man who consequently funded the construction of the next magnificent building, one which was four times larger than its predecessors. The man who Croesus employed to design and construct the temple is thought to have been called Theodorus, although little documentation of this exists today.

On principle Herostratus should be left out of this story, but unfortunately his name is central. Herostratus was a young rebel, desperate to have his name remembered for hundreds and thousands of years to come. He burnt the Temple of Artemis that Croesus had commissioned to the ground, in an attempt to become famous. Luckily, it was rebuilt by the architect Scopas of Paros soon after and, according to Pliny the Elder, the new temple was “one that merits our genuine admiration”.

Where it is Today:

Much of the Temples of Artemis remained undiscovered until 1869 when a team of British Museum archaeologists, led by British engineer, architect and archaeologist John Turtle Wood, finally found the remains and the many foundations that were constructed there. They had been searching for many years, each time almost begging for further funding from the British Museum for the project. When it was finally found it took a further five years to excavate, during which time many remains and artifacts were taken back to the museum for display.

In its original place today stands one single column which marks the site where the temple lay. This column is not intact, however. It was made by the remnants found on site and put together to appear as one of the original columns.

Our Knowledge:

As with many of the other Seven Wonders of the Ancient World such as the Mausoleum of Maussollos in Harlicanassus, Turkey and the Colossus of Rhodes in Greece, we must thank the famous first century AD historian Pliny the Elder for what we know of the Temple of Artemis. Pliny not only documented its exact proportions, how long the temples took to build and the materials that were used but also the feelings evoked in those who looked upon each one.

Those who are interested in seeing the remains of the last Temple of Artemis can either travel to the city of Ephesus in Greece to see the singular column, or visit the ‘Ephesus Room’ which was opened in the British Museum, London when John Turtle Wood and his team had the remains shipped back to England.

More Information»
Statue of Zeus at Olympia, Greece, 435BC

Statue of Zeus at Olympia, Greece, 435BC

Statue of Zeus at Olympia, Greece

November 82009

Overview:

Perhaps one of the oldest traditions still alive today is the Olympic Games. Just as they do now, the games were practiced once every four years in ancient Greece, but there were was one fundamental difference; the temple of the Gods that had to be present at each event.

Statue of Zeus at Olympia, Greece

Statue of Zeus at Olympia, Greece

At around c. 470BC the number of people from around the Mediterranean who were attending the games reached a crescendo and it was decided a larger, more impressive and worthy temple was needed. The Temple of Zeus was designed and built soon after, but it was deemed too ‘empty’ and a statue of the God himself was needed. Architect Phidias was paid for the job and by 435BC the impressive Statue of Zeus sat on his golden throne within the temple. Critics often commented that the Temple of Zeus was supposed to be his home, and that it was strange his head almost touched the roof even though he was sitting. Others dismissed this view, saying his size depicts his great power and he shouldn’t be any other way.

The statue’s skin was plated with ivory, with golden hair and beard. He sat atop a golden, ebony and ivory throne which also sat in a pool of water and oil. That pool was used by Phidias and his descendants to coat and protect the statue of Zeus, as the ever-changing temperatures of Olympia meant that it may crack.

For an incredible 827 years the Statue of Zeus remained at Olympia, studied, looked at and worshiped by many. It was removed in c.392AD when a Christian came to the throne and taken to Constantinople instead.

People:

The main hero in this story is, of course, Phidias who was the architect who created the statue. He was very well revered by the Greek community for years. Unfortunately, Phidias was very close to the ruler of Athens; Pericles, who had deeply upset and angered his enemies. Unable to attack or get revenge on Pericles directly, the enemies spread rumors about Phidias, saying he had carved his and Pericles’ names into his works throughout Greece. This was something deemed unacceptable by the Greeks and Phidias was incarcerated where he died before even being convicted.

Libon if Elis is another person who should be noted within this story as he was the architect who designed and constructed the Temple that Zeus’ statue was to reside within. Although Phidias gains most of the acclaim for the Statue of Zeus, it was actually Libon who was responsible for the design.

Where it is Today:

The statue was removed from the Temple of Zeus in c.392AD when it was taken by Greeks to Constantinople in order to save it. Unfortunately some sixty years on, a fire gutted Constantinople and took the Statue of Zeus with it, leaving no remains. The Temple of Zeus itself, however, remained standing even throughout the Christian Emperor Theodosius I of Rome’s reign. Today all that remains at the site of the Temple and Statue of Zeus in Olympia is a few of the temple’s thirteen magnificent pillars, but nothing of the original statue which was deemed to be one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

Visitors to modern day Olympia can still visit the site of the stadium where the original Olympic Games took place. This stadium has been restructured and preserved until this very day, even though it is around 2500 years old.

Our Knowledge:

Much of what we know of the Statue of Zeus at Olympia, Greece is all thanks to the traveler Pausanius, who wrote travel guides in the mid second century. He, of course, saw the statue of Zeus in Constantinople and was able to document his appearance in quite some detail. We have also gained knowledge from ancient Greek coins, which have the image of Zeus’ statue printed on them.

Members of the public today can visit the Louvre National Museum of France to see remnants of the Temple that the statue resided in for all those 800+ years. Phidias’ workshop was also discovered by German archaeologists in 1954 and can still be visited today where it still stands just to the West of where the Temple of Zeus once stood. Although they are not still there now, the tools and materials used to construct the Statue of Zeus were excavated there.

More Information»

Overview:

In c. 377BC a man named Mausolus became ruler of Anatolia, a region in Western Asia, as he had inherited the land from his father, King Hecatomnus of Milas. Mausolus married his sister Artemisia (as was the tradition then; to keep power and wealth strictly within the family) and deemed Halicarnassus the capitol of this region, and his home.

Mausoleum of Maussollos at Halicarnassus, Turkey

Mausoleum of Maussollos at Halicarnassus, Turkey

During their reign as King and Queen, Mausolus and Artemisia adorned Halicarnassus with beautiful objects, sculptures, art and architecture, and they had always planned to have a beautiful tomb resurrected for them to be placed in when they died. Unfortunately Mausolus died earlier than was expected, leaving his wife distraught and determined to build the shrine they had talked about together. She asked the most prestigious and revered artists and architects of Greece to work on the tomb, considering Mausolus had been such a lover of Greek culture. The Antipater of Sidon (a historian of the era) thought the Mausoleum was so beautiful it should become one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

Before Mausolus died he had conquered the Greek island of Rhodes and during the tomb’s construction the Rhodians heard of his death and set a fleet of ships to conquer Halicarnassus back in rebellion. Despite her grief, Artemisia formulated a flawless battle plan by hiding her own fleet of ships and ambushing the Rhodians once they had arrived. Her army then sailed back to Rhodes in the Rhodian ships to make the citizens think their army was returning in victory, only to find their island to be conquered once again.

People:

As with many of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, Pliny the Elder (a first century historian) is to thank for much of the fine details that we know of the Mausoleum of Maussollos at Halicarnassus today. Pliny documented that even after Artemisia died the workers carried on construction of the Mausoleum, as it was a testament to their own hard work and skill as well as to the lives of their rulers.

The Briton Charles Thomas Newton was another very prominent figure within the story of the Mausoleum of Maussollos at Halicarnassus, as he was the man who rediscovered the ruins of the sculptures and statues held within the Mausoleum when it fell. He made sure these remnants were rescued as well as they could have been and displayed for the world to see until this day onwards.

Where it is Today:

At present, all that stands in the place of the original Mausoleum is the foundations that it once lay upon. The tomb itself was destroyed in the 15th century by a spate of severe earthquakes and once it had fallen the individual tombs of Mausolus and Artemisia were raided by either Moslem people or a team of crusaders. Much of the high quality marble that the structure was made from was taken to reinforce the walls of Bodrum Castle, south western Turkey, when it fell.

These sections of marble can still be seen today, whereas some of the sculptures and the statues of Artemisia and Mausolus were discovered by 19th century archaeologist Charles Thomas Newton when he dug a series of tunnels and found the site of the tomb in 1857. These are now displayed in the Mausoleum exhibit room of the British Museum for all to see, some 2360 years after they were first built.

Our Knowledge:

First we should owe our thanks for the knowledge we have of the Mausoleum to Artemisia for choosing such skilled architects to build the structure. If it weren’t for their talent the tomb may have fallen much earlier than the 1400s and we would not be able to see parts of it in the British Museum and Bodrum Castle today.

Secondly we should thank Pliny the Elder, but most importantly Charles Thomas Newton who went to great lengths to find the remains of the Mausoleum of Maussollos at Halicarnassus. Not only did he buy plots of land that he could only assume were home to the tomb, but he also dug a series of tunnels beneath the ground the find it. Thankfully his efforts were fruitful and his greatest achievement is still shown at the British Museum in London today.

More Information»
The Pharos of Alexandria, Egypt, c.282BC

The Pharos of Alexandria, Egypt, c.282BC

The Pharos of Alexandria, Egypt

November 82009

Overview:

The Pharos of Alexandria was a large tower, standing at around 330 feet tall, on the island of Pharos, Egypt. It was used primarily to both guide ships towards the island’s port and also to warn them of the dangerous sandbars just off the coast of Alexandria. Shortly after its construction the Pharos of Alexandria began life as a lighthouse, although exactly how the fires inside were sustained at its summit remains unconfirmed.

The Pharos of Alexandria, Egypt

The Pharos of Alexandria, Egypt

It was Ptolemy Soter, a general of the late King Alexander the Great (who also lead the Greek island of Rhodes through the wars of the succession) who made himself Ruler and ordered that the Pharos of Alexandria be built on this island, not far off the coast of Alexandria. Ptolemy Soter didn’t live long enough to see the full construction of the building, but his son, Ptolemy Philadelphos did.

Construction on the lighthouse began in c.305BC and finished in c.282BC, just 22 years after another of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Colossus of Rhodes, had been built under Ptolemy Soter’s instruction. It would appear that Ptolemy Soter had a lot of wealth to spend on these two projects being built almost at the same time, across the Mediterranean sea. However, Ptolemy gained hundreds of millions of pounds from selling the siege equipment and weaponry left at the walls of Rhodes after several failed attempts to invade it by another general of King Alexander the Great, who was known as Antigonus.

People:

Although Ptolemy Soter forbade the architect who designed the Pharos of Alexandria from taking credit for the work, he died before its construction was complete. This gave the architect, Sostratus of Cnidus the perfect opportunity to carve his name into a wall of the tower and be recognized for the incredible feat anyway.

For its time, the Pharos of Alexandria was an engineering marvel, and perhaps even more so if reports of a statue atop the tower are to be believed. Nobody can be sure, but if there was a statue then many believe it was of two people: Castor and Pollux (the twin sons of the King of the Gods; Zeus), Zeus himself or the God of the seas, Poseidon. Many people, however, do not believe there could be a statue on top of the Pharos of Alexandria as it would have been damaged and fallen when the fires were lit.

Where it is Today:

The Pharos of Alexandria stood on the coast of the island for over 1500 years, which gives testament to the great skill and prestige of Sostratus’ architectural ability. It finally fell at some point between 1303 and 1323. The ruins of the lighthouse stayed for a while but by 1480 they had been washed away by the sea. Reports tell us that two large earthquakes on the East side of the Mediterranean basin in the early 14th century caused the tower to be damaged beyond repair.

Where the remains of the Pharos of Alexandria lie today is two-fold. Some of the remnants still lie in the Mediterranean sea, right next to Qaitbey fort. Others, however, can be easily viewed by the general public in an amphitheatre in Alexandria called ‘Kom el Dikka’. Had Sostratus’ efforts been any less well thought out or any less skilful then these remains would certainly not be here today.

Our Knowledge:

We can thank the Arab explorer Ibn Battuta for visiting the island of Pharos and also Alexandria several times throughout the late 13th and early 14th centuries for the information we know today.

To this very day many people still visit the place where the Pharos of Alexandria lighthouse once stood. The tower’s strong foundations are now the proud home to the fort of Marmeluke Sultan named ‘Qaitbey’, which he ordered the construction of in the late 15th century. The fort is completely open to the public and makes a great day out for families interested in this island’s intensely rich history so this is the place to go if you want to find more details. A short trip to Alexandria to visit the theater showing the Pharos of Alexandria remains is also well worth visiting.

More Information»
Colossus of Rhodes, Greece, c.280BC
November 82009

Overview:

The death of King Alexander the Great in c. 323BC was an unexpected one which meant that no plans had been set in stone for a successor. Arguments over who should rule the Greek Empire broke out between Antigonus and the two other generals, Ptolemy and Seleucus, with whom he had previously divided Rhodes. Many attempts were made by Antigonus’ son Demetrius to invade Rhodes, but these attempts were defended and Demetrius’ army had to leave hundreds of millions of dollars worth of weaponry and siege equipment at the city’s walls. Ptolemy and the people of Rhodes sold the equipment and celebrated by using the money to build a great statue of their God, Helios (God of the Sun).

Colossus of Rhodes, Greece

Colossus of Rhodes, Greece

The statue was known as the Colossus of Rhodes and it stood well over 100 feet high, making it one of the tallest man made structures in the world. It was this height and the intense story behind it that earned the Colossus of Rhodes its title as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

Construction began in c. 304BC once the materials and how it should be built had been decided upon. Sadly, just 56 years after its completion a strong earthquake hit Rhodes and cause the Colossus to break at the knees and after an Oracle to the city claimed reparation of the statue would be catastrophic, it was never to be seen standing in Rhodes again.

Of course, the Colossus of Rhodes cannot be seen today and remnants of the statue cannot be found anywhere in the world, but the story of its existence lives on.

People:

The Greek architect Chares is possibly one of the most important people in this legend as he was the man who led the project to construction and completion. He also fought for Rhodes before the sculpture was even a concept and indeed before Demetrius lost his equipment. In turn, Chares is the man who inspired Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, the architect who worked on the Statue of Liberty that we know today as the ‘modern Colossus’.

Another important name for the Colossus of Rhodes was the historian Pliny, who lived hundreds of years after Colossus was built. He reported on the statue, saying that even after its destruction it would still have been a marvel and also told of its construction taking around 12 years. Without this information from Pliny (who was also known as Pliny the Elder) we would know considerably less about this wonder of the ancient world than we do today.

Where it is Today:

It wasn’t until AD654 that the ruins of the Colossus of Rhodes were removed from the place where it fell. The broken pieces were bought by a Jewish man and were transported all the way to Syria by camel. These remnants are now nowhere to be found, which is not surprising considering they would be thousands of years old by now.

What stands in place is hard to comment on, because there are conflicting views over where the Colossus of Rhodes stood in the first place. Some believe Helios’ legs straddled the breakwater at the harbor entrance, whereas others believe it was located further inland and away from the water. Either way, those who are interested in the Colossus can still visit the Greek Island of Rhodes (which is also now a World Heritage Site) and picture how it would have felt to be around when the Colossus was still there.

Our Knowledge:

As we’ve already said, we owe much of what we know about the Colossus of Rhodes to Pliny the Elder; a historian who lived centuries after the statue had fallen. Without Pliny writing this information down and having it passed on through subsequent generations, we may have lost a great deal of the important details that keep this spectacular story together.

Of course, there is also a lot of information documented on the Internet about Chares’ sculpture, but the Greek Island of Rhodes is the place to visit if you want to learn about the ancient traditions and lifestyle of that era, and also the details of the war that brought its construction about.

More Information»
Panama Canal, Panama, 1914

Panama Canal, Panama, 1914

Panama Canal, Panama

November 32009

Overview:

The Panama Canal is one of the largest and indeed the longest man made structure in the world. For many hundreds of years, since the 1500s, sailors and engineers had wanted to build a canal on this route, but construction didn’t begin until 1880. The purpose of the Panama Canal is to provide a shorter and safer route from the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean (and vice versa). Before the canal was built ships had to travel 14000 miles around Cape Horn, as opposed to the  6000 miles that the Panama Canal occupies.

Panama Canal, Panama

Panama Canal, Panama

Construction on the Panama Canal ended in 1914 when it was opened and to this day it provides an incredibly important shipping route for freighters and large ships in Southern America. There are three sets of locks along the Panama Canal, each of which demonstrate classic engineering designs. There is currently an expansion programme in progress at the Panama Canal which proposes two new sets of locks, plus the deepening of the Culebra Cut and the widening and deepening of Gatun Lake. These efforts are expected to be complete by 2014, with construction having started at the end of 2006.

Location:

As you can probably tell, the Panama Canal is located in Panama, a republic located on the isthmus connecting Northern America to Southern America. The climate here is tropical due to its location close to the earth’s equator, and given that Panama is surrounded by the sea and coastlines, much of the culture here is geared toward beach tourism for European visitors. This also means that despite the official language being Spanish, many people here speak English too. The coffee trade is also very successful here, meaning that many of the coffee shops and restaurants sell top quality drinks.

Interesting Information:

The construction of the Panama Canal has, unfortunately, not come without great tragedy. By the time it was ready to be opened in 1914 it was estimated that 21,900 workers lost their lives in total. This was largely due to the extensive spread of yellow fever and malaria, but also because of the landslides that the building of the canal brought with it.

Today, of course, the Panama Canal is entirely safe and visitors can travel down it in a matter of hours in anything as small as a yacht, up to anything as big as a cargo ship.

How to Get There:

Visitors to the Panama Canal can either fly to Tocumen International Airport (also known as Panama Airport: PTY) easily from other countries and continents. The Marcos A Gelabert International Airport is also located at the bottom (southern) part of the canal, so a journey can be taken from there, to the north of Panama also, although this airport is considerably smaller and many airlines may not fly to this port directly. From each airport it is easy to rent a car or motorcycle to travel to the canal, or alternatively jump in a taxi to get to the docking ports.

Where to Stay:

Four star Hotel Bocas del Toro is located not far from the Marcos A Gelabert airport, so this may be your best choice if you have had a long and tiring flight. Rooms at this hotel start at $126 and go right up to $270 for rooms with an ocean-view balcony. For a budget stay, you can always try the Centroamericano hotel in Panama zone 3, where a room for one night will cost between $44 and $60. This one is a little further away from the Panama Canal, but it is also closer to the Tocumen main airport in the city.

Getting Around:

Of course, once you arrive at the Panama Canal itself the best and only way to travel is by boat or yacht. Getting to the canal’s docks, however, will require either a rental car, motorcycle/scooter, a taxi or one of the many buses that serve the republic. The best port to arrive at for tourists is the Pacific Port.

More Information»
Delta Works, Netherlands, 1950 to 1997

Delta Works, Netherlands, 1950 to 1997

Delta Works, Netherlands

November 32009

Overview:

Delta Works is a complex network of structures in the Rhine-Meuse-Scheldt Delta of the Netherlands. It was designed to shorten the length of the coastline along the Netherlands, to prevent the extensive flooding and storm damage these areas were experiencing.

Construction on the Delta Works began in 1950, but these efforts were not intended to be completed at once, hence the ceasing of construction almost half a century later in 1997. The Delta Works consist of dikes, dams, storm surge barriers, sluices and locks. Oosterscheldekering is the largest structure in all of the Delta Work’s thirteen. It was originally intended to become a freshwater lake, but fishermen and environmentalist campaigners fought to keep Oosterschelekering’s estuary mouth open so that Oyster fishing could still carry on. It now has a storm surge barrier instead of a full dam.

Delta Works, Netherlands

Delta Works, Netherlands

The Delta works have been named as one of the seven wonders of the modern world by the American Society of Civil Engineers and they are fully functioning today. Anyone can visit these structures at any time of the year, although some are only active when storm surges or other flooding threats are imminent.

Location:

The Netherlands lies to the North-West of Europe, protected from the North Atlantic Ocean only by the United Kingdom. ‘Nether’ means ‘low’, which reflects its position in Europe; it is the ‘low lands’ which are susceptible for flooding, hence the need for the Delta Works.

This country is home to tourist destinations Amsterdam and Rotterdam where there is a rich culture and many traditions. Besides visiting the storm surge barriers, sluices, locks, dams and dikes of the Delta works you may also wish to stay in one of these two cities for a short weekend or even a week long break.

Interesting Information:

Although the Delta Works had been in construction for three years by this time, they were not quite built up enough to prevent the terrible flooding in the Netherlands in 1953 when around 2000 people unfortunately died. There has been minimal flooding since then, and each of the Delta Works structures is expected to prevent flooding for a minimum of 250 years.

The total cost to build every one of the Delta Works structures is estimated at $7 billion. An immense 15% of this cost ($105 million) went on primary research to ensure that the structures were being built in the correct places to prevent flooding from happening again.

How to Get There:

KLM is the main and national airliner serving the Netherlands, but there is a range of airports you can travel to, depending on which of the Delta Works you wish to see. Amsterdam Schipol is quite far from the Delta Works area, although you may wish to stay there for a few days to look around the metropolitan city. Much nearer the Delta Works themselves is Zeeland airport; there is easy access from here to the A58 from here also, so you can rent a car after your flight in order to get around.

Where to Stay:

If you choose to stay in Amsterdam before seeing the Delta Works then one budget option is the Best Western Apollo Museumhotel, or there is a luxury option of the Barbizon Palace Hotel; just over the road from the train station that takes you directly to Amsterdam Schipol airport.

By the Delta Works themselves you can stay at the three star Golden Tulip Westduin in Vlissingen (a pretty, Dutch beach town) from $118 per night, or alternatively there is the four star luxury option at Amadore Grand Hotel Arion (also situated in Vlissingen) from $233 per night.

Getting Around:

There are both bus and boat commercial tours that take visitors around each of the Delta Works structures all year round. They provide food and drinks, as well as a tour guide fluent in English and Dutch and these tours usually stop at optimal viewpoints next to the dams, locks, sluices, dikes and storm surge barriers so they can be seen and photographed easily.

More Information»
Itaipu Dam, Brazil and Paraguay, 1984

Itaipu Dam, Brazil and Paraguay, 1984

Itaipu Dam, Brazil and Paraguay

November 32009

Overview:

Itaipu Dam is possibly the most quintessentially ‘modern’ of all seven modern wonders of the world, because it produces power for our millions of electric lights, showers, ovens, televisions and all the other gadgets we rely on so heavily today. To be more specific, the Itaipu Dam (located on the border of Brazil and Paraguay) is the largest hydroelectric power station in the world. It takes the gravitational force of the water against the dam and produces enough power from it to serve 78% of Paraguay and 26% of Brazil without any emissions into the atmosphere whatsoever.

Itaipu Dam, Brazil and Paraguay

Itaipu Dam, Brazil and Paraguay

Construction of the Itaipu Dam on the Paraná River began in 1971 and didn’t finish until 1984; some thirteen years later. It’s been running non stop ever since it was opened, although more and more units have been added to the Dam so that it can supply larger areas. At present there is a total of 18 units.

The Itaipu Dam is 100% more environmentally friendly than its popular coal power plant counterparts. Each year it prevents 67.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide from being pumped into the atmosphere. It was named as one of the seven modern wonders of the world in 1995.

Location:

The Itaipu Dam lies on the Paraná River, on the border between Paraguay and Brazil. Paraguay is one of the world’s largest countries, with a population of around six million. It has been given the nickname the ‘Heart  of America’ as it lies right in the centre of south America and is entirely landlocked. Brazil lies to the north and north-east of Paraguay and has one of the world’s richest cultures, plus it has the fifth largest population on earth. The main language spoken in Brazil is Portuguese, whereas those in Paraguay speak either Spanish or Guarani.

Interesting Information:

Itaipu Dam cost $19.6 billion to build, much of which went on re-routing the Paraná River. This was done to allow an older section of the river to dry out, for the dam to be built there, before being re-routed back to its original course. Another huge cost was the sheer amount of concrete needed to build the Dam, an amount which totalled 15 times more than what was used for the Channel Tunnel.

The water inside the Itaipu Dam lake weighs an incredible 29 billion tonnes. It is this dead weight that allows the gravitational push of the water to be converted into power for Brazil and Paraguay.

How to Get There:

The nearest airport is the Guarani International Airport, just 2.8 kilometres west of the Itaipu Dam. There is a tourist agent called Paraiso Golf just 9.4 kilometres away from the airport, whose staff are there to help you to arrange a car rental or bus travel following your flight. Simply grab a taxi from the airport to this agency to arrange how you will visit the Itaipu Dam.

Once you arrive at the Itaipu Dam by taxi, bus or rental car you can take a basic guided tour for just 15 Brazilian Reais, which equates to around $8.50 dollars.

Where to Stay:

The nearest hotel to the Itaipu Dam is located in Iguazu Falls and is called ‘Best Western Casablanca’. Rooms here range from between $70 and $140. Alternatively you could stay at the Bella Italia Hotel in Iguazu Falls for between $65 and $113. Both of these hotel accommodations are within easy driving distance of the Itaipu Dam and they also both provide comfortable and good quality service to all guests. For luxury stays why not ask at the Paraiso Golf travel agency when you step off from your flight at the Guarani International Airport?

Getting Around:

If you have visited the Paraiso Golf travel agency to rent a car, then your mode of transport will already have been sorted out. At the Itaipu Dam itself visitors can take a free tour bus, where the tour guide is fluent in three languages. Passengers are taken along the Dam and also to the side of it so it can be seen in its full glory.

More Information»

Overview:

In early January, 1933 construction began on the Golden Gate Bridge, a suspension bridge over the Golden Gate (North American Strait). The bridge was designed to make it possible to drive easily from the county of Marin to San Francisco city and its primary designer and engineer was Joseph Strauss.

Golden Gate Bridge, USA

Golden Gate Bridge, USA

America’s Golden Gate Bridge stands out from others of its kind due to its orange-red color; picked out to help visibility in thick fog and also to complement the environment that surrounds it. Due to its photographic nature and esteemed beauty, the bridge was named one of the seven modern wonders of the world by the American Society of Civil Engineers, amongst the CN Tower, the Channel Tunnel and the Panama Canal.

Since construction on the structure finished in 1937, the Golden Gate Bridge has been used for transporting a wide range of vehicles as it incorporates part of the California state route 1 highway and the US route 101. Anyone can visit the bridge providing they can visit the US and many people choose to stop before the bridge and take photographs from the surrounding landscapes. It also shouldn’t go unnoticed that the Golden Gate Bridge links to one of the USA’s most popular states – California – where there is much to see and do.

Location:

The Golden Gate Bridge runs between San Francisco city and the county of Marin. San Francisco is the 12th most inhabited city in the US, meaning it is busy and vibrant. There are many theatres, concert halls, museums and a baseball park for tourists to visit during their stay. Marin, being a county rather than a city, is more toned down and has a strong association with new age concepts and therapies. It’s also a very beautiful place so if you enjoy photography or simply getting down to nature then it’s a great place to visit and find accommodation in.

Interesting Information:

The Golden Gate Bridge finished construction at a cost of approximately $35 million, which was over $1 million under budget. This was great news for the San Francisco government who couldn’t afford previous plans for the bridge which stood at $100 million. Its full length is 8981 feet and it is 90 feet wide at any given point.

In 1996 famous French record breaker Alain Robert (also known as the ‘human spider’) climbed up between two of the cables leading to one of the main cables that holds the bridge. In total Robert had climbed 745 feet.

How to Get There:

SFO is the acronym for San Francisco International Airport, which is where you will most likely be flying to if you are not already situated in the United States. It’s a large airport with a large range of different airlines, budget, mid range and luxury. There is also an airport in Marin county if you prefer to stay there. If you are already living in the United States, or are visiting another region first then you can also drive very easily to the Golden Gate Bridge, providing you find your way to either the California state route 1 or the US route 101 highway.

Where to Stay:

If you are particularly interested in visiting the Golden Gate Bridge then it’s only right that we should provide you with a list of hotels that overlook it. For a budget stay there is a Travelodge hotel in Presidio, San Francisco. Alternatively, La Luna Inn is a modern and fresh boutique budget hotel with rooms between $89 and $109 per night. For a mid range to luxury stay you might like to visit the nineteenth century Victorian Casa Madrona hotel, which has rooms costing between $149 and $299 per night.

Getting Around:

Considering its great network of highways and the bridge itself, the best way to get around this area is to drive. Visitors to the area can rent a car right next to the San Francisco International Airport at ‘Thrifty Cars’. Or alternatively from Hertz Car rental just a little way down the Bayshore Freeway from the airport (it would be easy to catch a taxi to there).

More Information»
CN Tower, Canada, 1976
November 32009

Overview:

By the time the 1970s hit Canada, the country’s provincial capital Toronto already had several skyscrapers. However, none of these provided TV, radio or telephone signals for the rest of the city, which meant that signals here were weak. Plans went ahead to build a structure taller than all the rest that could project signals downwards onto the surrounding city and improve entertainment quality and communication. This was known as the CN Tower.

CN Tower, Canada

CN Tower, Canada

At the point of the plans, engineers on the CN Tower and onlookers from the streets below were unaware that this would become the world’s tallest tower when it was to be opened in 1986. Today there is some controversy surrounding the ‘world’s tallest building’ title. The CN Tower’s website claims that it remains the tallest building in the world, whereas the Guinness Book of Records maintains that it is the world’s tallest free-standing tower. Either way, today the tower is used to transmit television, radio and cellular signals (e.g. Motorola) and visitors to the tower can also enjoy spectacular views from the observatory in the tower’s Sky Pod, some 1135 feet above street level. Here there is also a revolving restaurant and a glass floor on the observation deck.

Location:

Toronto, located in the south of the province Ontario is Canada’s provincial capital city and the most populous area of the country. Not only this but it’s also one of the world’s biggest and most successful financial centres, so it’s not just a tourist or suburban area. Largely due to the CN tower itself some of the leading industries within Toronto include television production, telecommunications and media. Tourism is also a very successful market here, meaning there are plenty of places for visitors to stay and sights for them to see during their stay.

Interesting Information:

Construction of the CN Tower began on February 6th 1973 and finished in March 1975 when the antenna was constructed. A total of 1537 workers joined in the building of this structure that is estimated to weigh and immense 130,000 tons. Near the top of the tower is the 360 restaurant which revolves to show diners the full view over the city and surrounding regions. Each revelation of the restaurant takes 72 minutes and at any one time it can hold a maximum of 400 people.

In terms of broadcasting, the CN Tower is capable of transmitting FM Radio, VHF Television and microwave transmission amongst various others.

How to Get There:

There is one main airport in Toronto, providing a quick, simple and direct way for international visitors to see the CN Tower. Upon arriving at the Toronto airport visitors then have a number of options for getting to their accommodation and around the rest of the city.

Of course residents of the United States, or those who have travelled through there can simply drive through by car or bus, or take a train journey. Renting a car is generally quite easy but it should be noted that Toronto becomes very cold in Winter and those who are inexperienced in driving in snow and ice should be careful.

Where to Stay:

For visitors looking for a luxury stay in Toronto, the nearest four to five star hotel is the SoHo Metropolitan in the theatre and entertainment district. The Windsor Arms is a cheaper hotel but one which still offers very high standards of service, on St. Thomas street a little further North.

Most hotels can be reached easily via the metro, street cars or bus routes, although following a long flight you may wish to take a taxi from the airport to your hotel first. From there it’s a good idea to gain public transport advice from the receptionists where you are free of bags and well rested.

Getting Around:

There is a subway system, several bus routes and also some street cars to take you around. Day and weekly passes for the buses and the metro are recommended if you want to get around and see a lot during your stay as this will save you money overall.

More Information»
Channel Tunnel, England and France, 1994
November 32009

Overview:

Although the Channel Tunnel was a 20th century venture, the idea to link Great Britain with France was one that had been around for 192 years before it was actually built. In the early 1800s engineers proposed an under-sea tunnel, but fears over breaches of national security thwarted the plans and nothing was attempted until 1988 when construction on the Channel Tunnel, or ‘Eurostar’ began.

Channel Tunnel, England and France

Channel Tunnel, England and France

It took six years to build the tunnel and the opening ceremony in 1994 involved French president Mitterrand and the English Queen taking channel tunnel trains from their countries which touched nose to nose in the center, to symbolise the new connection between both nations.

Today the channel tunnel, commercially known as ‘Eurostar’, now runs services from London to Calais, via the tunnel itself and also via the Channel Tunnel Rail Link at St. Pancras station. At its deepest, the channel tunnel dips to 250 feet below sea level and services do not just include train services for passengers, but freight trains and services for vehicles too. Customers can park their vehicles on the ‘Eurotunnel Shuttle’ train where they are free to either stay inside their vehicles, or walk around the carriage.

Location:

The Channel Tunnel itself runs through the English Channel from Folkestone near Dover, England to Coquelles in Pas-de-Calais, France, although in England there is the Channel Tunnel Rail link which extends from Folkestone back to London St. Pancras. Neither Folkestone nor Coquelles are notorious tourist spots, but it’s incredibly easy to travel from these final Eurostar destinations to more ‘built up’ areas of interest, such as the French capital of Paris, where L’arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower can be found, or London where many people like to visit Buckingham Palace, Westminster and Big Ben.

Interesting Information:

Even though this 50km under-sea tunnel has only been around since 1988, the structure has some intriguing and surprising stories attributed to it. To start with, the original cost estimation was 80% less than the final construction costs, which reached £4650 million, although the final cost of the entire project has been said to be approximated £10 billion. With a workforce of 15000, construction spanned seven years and met in the middle of the two countries when complete. There was a fire in the channel tunnel in Winter 1996, although normal service resumed just three days after it happened and nobody was injured.

How to Get There:

Within the UK it’s easy to get to the channel tunnel via the Channel Tunnel Rail Link in London St. Pancras station, as all main towns and cities have services to there. If you are driving to the channel tunnel in the UK then exit the M20 motorway at junction 11A. If you’re coming from the other side in France then leave the A16 motorway at junction 42. From there you can find somewhere to park by the checking in booths, or board the Euro Shuttle inside your vehicle to drive to specific destinations in on the other side.

Where to Stay:

Coquelle in France has been mainly built up around the fact the Channel Tunnel entrance is there. As a result there are restaurants, supermarkets and most importantly a range of hotels from budget to luxury, including Etap and Ibis. In Folkestone passengers on the Channel Tunnel might like to stay in the Salisbury hotel which actually overlooks the English Channel, or the Burlington three star hotel and The Carlton hotel which are both also very nearby. Rather than staying at a hotel in these areas many Eurostar passengers prefer to take another short train journey on to London, Lille or Paris.

Getting Around:

From either end of the channel tunnel it’s easy to catch connecting trains or buses to more built up areas. The Channel Tunnel Rail Link takes you right to central London, where you can travel onto smaller regions, or sightsee. Residents of France or the UK can take their vehicle onto the Euro Shuttle where they join the motorway and navigate to their final destination that way.

More Information»
Empire State Building, USA, 1931

Empire State Building, USA, 1931

Empire State Building

November 32009

Overview:

In 1930s America, on St. Patrick’s day (March 17th) a team of workmen in Manhattan, New York embarked on what was to become the world’s tallest building for almost half a century onwards. The Empire State building was to join the Chrysler and 40 Wall Street buildings in a fight to become the tallest building on the planet.

Empire State Building, USA

Empire State Building

410 days and almost $41 million later, construction of the Empire State Building finished. The time it took to complete remains a record for a building of its height to this very day. It was officially announced open on May 1st 1931, when the US President at the time Herbert Hoover switched on its many thousands of lights. Today the building is celebrated for its early 20th century Art Deco style and with public tours of its floors. On days when the weather permits, visitors can see the states of Massachusetts, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and NY from the building’s observatory on its 86th floor.

Not only is the Empire State Building one of the seven wonders of the modern world but it has also been hailed as a National Historic Landmark, giving testament to the seven million man hours it took to build, and the incredible race for the title of world’s tallest building, which was such an incredible feat at the time.

Location:

The Empire State Building was built on 5th avenue in the metropolitan New York borough of Manhattan. Fifth avenue itself is home to some of the world’s most prestigious shopping centres and stores, such as Saks, Gucci and Banana Republic.

As the Empire State Building is located in one of the most popular tourist destinations in the US, it attracts a huge number of tourists during both the summer and winter seasons (New York is particularly atmospheric at Christmas time). Fifth avenue also runs along Central Park’s eastern edge, meaning visitors to the Empire State Building can see the park in its entirety from the observatory on floor 86.

Interesting Information:

Empire State Building visitor tours are jam packed with facts, so we won’t spoil it for you completely. We can, however, tell you that there is an incredible 1860 steps to the 102nd (topmost) floor. Don’t worry though, you won’t have to climb them as there are elevators and escalators taking visitors to the most important floors of the building. You won’t be able to visit the very summit of the building, as this is 443 metres above ground level and marked by the top of the lightning rod. This metal structure gets hit by bolts of lightning approximately 100 times every year, protecting the surrounding buildings and area of New York from being hit during electrical storms.

How to Get There:

The easiest way to get to New York is to fly to one of its three airports. The John F Kennedy (JFK) airport in Queens is the biggest and is the most likely to provide flights to and from your destination. From there, take a taxi ($45 not including tip), Express Shuttle Bus or the New York City subway. The latter two will cost you just $2.00 to and from the centre of the City. From there you can take a taxi or bus from your hotel, or walk around the city to see the other sights at the same time.

To visit the Empire State Building itself you will need to buy tickets for entry, which range from $15 to $20.50 depending on your age. However, if you’re part of the military and are in uniform you go free, as do toddlers under the age of five. If you wish to visit the observatory as well then you will need to pay an extra $15.

Where to Stay:

The range and diversity of hotels and accommodation in Manhattan is large. If you’re looking to really splash out for a luxury stay then try the five star Lowell Hotel just off 5th avenue where double rooms range in price from $850.00 to $1650 per night. For a mid-range but stylish and comfortable hotel try The Crowne Plaza in Times Square (1605 Broadway) from $299 to $899 per night. Good budget hotels include The Jane Hotel where rooms start at just $99, or the trendy ‘Ace Hotel’ right near Madison Square Park.

Getting Around:

There are hundreds of taxis in Manhattan, but prices depend on where you stay and where you go. Ask your hotel receptionist how much a fare to the Empire State Building is, or whether you can buy an all-day bus pass to see other sights. There are taxis or buses to the nearest subway station; the subway is generally the cheapest form of transportation in New York.

More Information»
All Listing Types All Locations Any Rating

Listing Results

  • Great Barrier Reef, Australia

    Great Barrier Reef, Australia

    Underwater World

    Read more
  • The Iguazu Falls

    The Iguazu Falls

    Natural World

    Read more
  • The Medina of Marrakesh

    The Medina of Marrakesh

    Medival World

    Read more
  • Florida Southern College

    Florida Southern College

    Modern World

    Read more
  • The natural phenomenon of Aurora Borealis

    The natural phenomenon of Aurora Borealis

    Natural World

    Read more
  • Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne

    Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne

    New 7 Wonders

    Read more
  • The Hot Springs of Chongqing – A Tranquil Retreat

    The Hot Springs of Chongqing – A Tranquil Retreat

    Modern World

    Read more
  • Ancient Kyoto – Tenryu-ji Temple

    Ancient Kyoto – Tenryu-ji Temple

    New 7 Wonders

    Read more
  • Mecca’s Masjid al-Haram

    Mecca’s Masjid al-Haram

    New 7 Wonders

    Read more
  • Experience Natural Wonders and Texas History at Longhorn Caverns

    Experience Natural Wonders and Texas History at Longhorn Caverns

    Natural World

    Read more
  • Tulum Ruins

    Tulum Ruins

    Ancient World

    Read more
  • Palace of Versailles

    Palace of Versailles

    New 7 Wonders

    Read more
  • Scott’s Hut and the Explorers’ Heritage of Antarctica

    Scott’s Hut and the Explorers’ Heritage of Antarctica

    New 7 Wonders

    Read more
  • Monkeying Around in Kathmandu

    Monkeying Around in Kathmandu

    Modern World

    Read more
  • The Appalachian Trail

    The Appalachian Trail

    Natural World

    Read more
  • The Inca Trail

    The Inca Trail

    Ancient World

    Read more
  • Alaska Whale Watching

    Alaska Whale Watching

    Natural World

    Read more
  • Yosemite National Park

    Yosemite National Park

    Natural World

    Read more
  • The Wonderful Pitons of St Lucia

    The Wonderful Pitons of St Lucia

    Natural World

    Read more
  • Topkapi Palace – Istanbul, Turkey

    Topkapi Palace – Istanbul, Turkey

    Modern World

    Read more
  • The Grand Bazaar – Istanbul, Turkey

    The Grand Bazaar – Istanbul, Turkey

    Modern World

    Read more
  • The Bosphorus: A Wonder of Turkey

    The Bosphorus: A Wonder of Turkey

    Modern World

    Read more
  • The Ancient Preserved City of Ephesus, Turkey

    The Ancient Preserved City of Ephesus, Turkey

    Modern World

    Read more
  • Taj Mahal, India

    Taj Mahal, India

    New 7 Wonders

    Read more
  • Machu Picchu, Peru

    Machu Picchu, Peru

    New 7 Wonders

    Read more
  • Great Wall of China, China

    Great Wall of China, China

    New 7 Wonders

    Read more
  • Colosseum, Italy

    Colosseum, Italy

    New 7 Wonders

    Read more
  • Petra, Jordan

    Petra, Jordan

    New 7 Wonders

    Read more
  • Chichen Itza, Mexico

    Chichen Itza, Mexico

    New 7 Wonders

    Read more
  • Christ the Redeemer, Brazil

    Christ the Redeemer, Brazil

    New 7 Wonders

    Read more
  • Grand Canyon, USA

    Grand Canyon, USA

    Modern World

    Read more
  • Great Migration of Serengeti and Masai Mara, Africa

    Great Migration of Serengeti and Masai Mara, Africa

    Modern World

    Read more
  • Maya Ruins

    Maya Ruins

    Modern World

    Read more
  • Internet

    Internet

    Modern World

    Read more
  • Papāhanaumokuākea Marine National Monument, Hawaiian Islands

    Papāhanaumokuākea Marine National Monument, Hawaiian Islands

    Modern World

    Read more
  • Polar Ice Caps

    Polar Ice Caps

    Modern World

    Read more
  • Old City of Jerusalem, Israel

    Old City of Jerusalem, Israel

    Modern World

    Read more
  • Potala Palace, Tibet

    Potala Palace, Tibet

    Modern World

    Read more
  • Hoover Dam, USA

    Hoover Dam, USA

    Industrial World

    Read more
  • Panama Canal, Panama

    Panama Canal, Panama

    Industrial World

    Read more
  • First Transcontinental Rail Road, USA

    First Transcontinental Rail Road, USA

    Industrial World

    Read more
  • London Sewerage System, England

    London Sewerage System, England

    Industrial World

    Read more
  • Brooklyn Bridge, USA

    Brooklyn Bridge, USA

    Industrial World

    Read more
  • Bell Rock Lighthouse, Scotland

    Bell Rock Lighthouse, Scotland

    Industrial World

    Read more
  • SS Great Eastern

    SS Great Eastern

    Industrial World

    Read more
  • Leaning Tower of Pisa, Italy

    Leaning Tower of Pisa, Italy

    Medival World

    Read more
  • Hagia Sophia, Turkey

    Hagia Sophia, Turkey

    Medival World

    Read more
  • Porcelain Tower of Nanjing, China

    Porcelain Tower of Nanjing, China

    Medival World

    Read more
  • Great Wall of China, China

    Great Wall of China, China

    Medival World

    Read more
  • Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa, Egypt

    Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa, Egypt

    Medival World

    Read more
  • Colosseum, Italy

    Colosseum, Italy

    Medival World

    Read more
  • Stonehenge, England

    Stonehenge, England

    Medival World

    Read more
  • Victoria Falls, Africa

    Victoria Falls, Africa

    Natural World

    Read more
  • Paricutin Volcano, Mexico

    Paricutin Volcano, Mexico

    Natural World

    Read more
  • Aurora Borealis

    Aurora Borealis

    Natural World

    Read more
  • Mount Everest, Himalayas

    Mount Everest, Himalayas

    Natural World

    Read more
  • Harbor of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

    Harbor of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

    Natural World

    Read more
  • Great Barrier Reef, Australia

    Great Barrier Reef, Australia

    Natural World

    Read more
  • Grand Canyon, USA

    Grand Canyon, USA

    Natural World

    Read more
  • Northern Red Sea

    Northern Red Sea

    Underwater World

    Read more
  • Lake Baikal, Siberia

    Lake Baikal, Siberia

    Underwater World

    Read more
  • Galápagos Islands, Pacific Ocean

    Galápagos Islands, Pacific Ocean

    Underwater World

    Read more
  • Deep Sea Vents

    Deep Sea Vents

    Underwater World

    Read more
  • Belize Barrier Reef, Belize

    Belize Barrier Reef, Belize

    Underwater World

    Read more
  • Palau Reefs, Palau

    Palau Reefs, Palau

    Underwater World

    Read more
  • Great Pyramid of Giza, Egypt, 2650BC

    Great Pyramid of Giza, Egypt, 2650BC

    Ancient World

    Read more
  • Hanging Gardens of Babylon, Babylon (Iraq), 600BC

    Hanging Gardens of Babylon, Babylon (Iraq), 600BC

    Ancient World

    Read more
  • Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, Turkey, 550BC

    Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, Turkey, 550BC

    Ancient World

    Read more
  • Statue of Zeus at Olympia, Greece, 435BC

    Statue of Zeus at Olympia, Greece, 435BC

    Ancient World

    Read more
  • Mausoleum of Maussollos at Halicarnassus, Turkey, 351BC

    Mausoleum of Maussollos at Halicarnassus, Turkey, 351BC

    Ancient World

    Read more
  • The Pharos of Alexandria, Egypt, c.282BC

    The Pharos of Alexandria, Egypt, c.282BC

    Ancient World

    Read more
  • Colossus of Rhodes, Greece, c.280BC

    Colossus of Rhodes, Greece, c.280BC

    Ancient World

    Read more
  • Panama Canal, Panama, 1914

    Panama Canal, Panama, 1914

    Modern World

    Read more
  • Delta Works, Netherlands, 1950 to 1997

    Delta Works, Netherlands, 1950 to 1997

    Modern World

    Read more
  • Itaipu Dam, Brazil and Paraguay, 1984

    Itaipu Dam, Brazil and Paraguay, 1984

    Modern World

    Read more
  • Golden Gate Bridge, USA, 1937

    Golden Gate Bridge, USA, 1937

    Modern World

    Read more
  • CN Tower, Canada, 1976

    CN Tower, Canada, 1976

    Modern World

    Read more
  • Channel Tunnel, England and France, 1994

    Channel Tunnel, England and France, 1994

    Modern World

    Read more
  • Empire State Building, USA, 1931

    Empire State Building, USA, 1931

    Modern World

    Read more