Thursday, April 17, 2014

Siena – World Heritage Site

Siena, a city in Tuscany, Italy is the capital of the province of Siena and the historic centre of Siena has been declared as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Siena is one of the most popular tourist attractions for traveler to Tuscany and is famous for its cuisine, museums, art, medieval cityscape and the Palio, a horse race which is held twice each year.

This historical town of Siena Italy is located conveniently between Florence and Rome and is a home to a various historical landmarks as well as tourist attractions. One of the most amazing towns square is the Piazza del Campo, where the Siena Town Hall and Civic Tower are found with many great restaurants.

Visitors come to Siena, Italy from Rome or Florence at Siena’s central train station or one can take an intercity bus to reach this medieval city. The closest airport to Siena is the Amerigo Vespucci Airport in Florence while the Pisa’s Galileo Galilei Airport is also some distance away. Besides this, there are also two to three buses daily between Siena and Bologna Airport.

Reach Siena by Train from Pisa

One can also reach Siena by train from Pisa as well as Florence by changing at Empoli while the Siena railway station is at the bottom of a long hill outside the city walls where travelers with luggage can hire taxi or bus from the stop near the station.

Buses are also available from Florence as well as from Rome, Milan and from various other towns in Tuscany and beyond. Siena is linked by road to Florence by a superstrada, which is a form of toll free autostrada and the same to Florence is indicated on some road signs with the letters SI-FI, related to province abbreviations.

No automobile traffic is allowed within the city and several huge car parks are available immediately beyond the city walls. The car parks, La Fortezza and Il Campo are the nearest to the centre while free lots are located further on. Commercial traffic is only allowed during morning hours within the city.

An Intriguing Medieval City

Siena is an intriguing medieval city which was once a major military, trading and banking center. This walled city rivaled Florence in prestige and power and is a home to various beautiful cathedrals and churches. The Siena Cathedral is one of the examples of Italian Romanesque Gothic architecture and its main façade was completed in 1380.

 Its axis runs north south which is unusual for a cathedral and this was because it was intended originally to be the largest cathedral in the world with an east west nave and a north south transept. On completion of the transept and the building towards the east wall, they fell short of funds and the rest of the cathedral remained abandoned.

The famous Gothic octagonal pulpit by Nicola Pisano is inside which is supported on lions with the labyrinth inlaid on the flooring, traversed by penitents on their knees. There are also some preserved renaissance frescos by Domenico Ghirlandaio within the Sacristy and below the Duomo in the baptistery, is the baptismal font by Donatello, together with Lorenzo Ghiberti, Jacopo della Quercia and other 15th century sculptors.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Cusco a Charming and Fascinating City

Cusco is a fascinating and a charming city in southeastern Peru near the Urubamba Valley of the Andes mountain range and is the capital of the Cusco Region and the Cuzco Province. The city had a population of 510,000 in the year 2009 and located at the end of the eastern area of the Knot of Cuzco, it has an elevated height of around 3,400m (11,200 ft).

 This destination was the site of the historic capital of the Inca Empire which was declared in 1983 as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Moreover it also a major tourist location with almost two million tourists visiting this place every year and has been designated by the Constitution of Peru as the Historical Capital of Peru.

Several people believed that the city was planned as an effigy in the shape of a puma, a sacred animal and under the Inca; the city had two sectors, the urin and hanan which were further divided to cover two of the four provinces Chinchasuvu (NW), Kuntisuvu (SW), Antisuvu (NE) and Qullasuvu (SE).

Lost City of Inca, Machu Picchu

Each of these quarters had a road leading from it to the corresponding quarter of the empire where each local leader had to build a house in the city and live for some time of the year in Cusco, in the quarter only, corresponding to the quarter of the empire within his territory. After the Pachacutis rule and at the demise of an Inca, his title was passed on to his son and the property was handed over to a corporation which was controlled by his relatives which is known as split inheritance.

The title holders each had to build new house adding new land to the empire to enable them to own the land his family would need to maintain after his death. Many of the tourists are lured by its cobbled streets, with its unique combination of colonial and religious splendors which are built on the high stone foundations of the Incas. Within the close quarters of the city is the country’s biggest draw card, the `lost’ city of Incas, Machu Picchu which is a lofty Inca citadel standing tall on an isolated mountaintop.
Flamboyant Fiestas and Carnivals

Cuzco boast of a list of flamboyant fiestas as well as carnivals where the nation’s past pagan collides solemnly in a colorful manner with Catholic rituals and modern Latin American mayhem. One can enjoy the breathtaking attitudes of the Andean peaks as you descend through cloud forest painted with rare orchids to lush lowlands of the Amazon jungle which can be done while trekking on foot, or mountain biking, river running or availing the local buses and trucks which drive the tourist to these remote areas of this destination.

Once can find some of the most fascinating archaeological site in and around the Inca’s ancestral homeland in the Sacred Valley of the Rio Urubamba with quaint colonial towns, artisan markets along with fascinating trekking routes to fulfill a trekking expedition.

Peru has two basic seasons of wet and dry and the rainy season is from November to April where traveler can look forward to brief afternoon showers during this period while during the rest of the year, it is dry with warm days and cold nights.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Essaouira - A Fortified Town

Essaouira is an exceptional piece of late 18th century fortified town which was built according to the European contemporary of military architecture in North African context and is surrounded by a wall influenced by the Vauban model. Since its foundation, it has been a major international seaport trading center connecting Morocco and sub Saharan African with Europe and the rest of the globe.

Essaouira is a city in the western Moroccan region of Marrakech-Tensift-Al Haouz on the Atlantic coast and the city had been known by its Portuguese name of Mogador or Mogadore since the 16th century. Archaeological indicate that Essaouira had been occupied since prehistoric period and the bay at Essaouira was partially sheltered by the island of Mogador which made it a peaceful harbor protecting it against strong marine winds.

This destination had been considered as one of the best anchorages of the Moroccan coast and the Carthaginian navigator, Hanno who visited this place in the 5th century BC established the trading post of Arambys. During the middle Ages, a Muslim saint by the name Sidi Mogdoul was buried in Essaouira and this could probably be the origin to the name Mogador.

Cultural and Natural Sites

The Mogador archipelago consists of a huge number of cultural and natural sites of Outstanding Universal Value and its relatively late foundation when compared to other medina of North Africa was the outcome of the Alaouite Sultan Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdullah whose desire was to make this small Atlantic town a royal port as well as the chief Moroccan commercial centre which would be open to the outside world.

For a long time Essaiuira was known as the Port of Timbuktu and became one of the major Atlantic commercial centers between Africa and Europe by the end of the 18th century and during the 19th century. It was during the 18th century that the present city was built by Mohammed III with the intention of reorienting his kingdom towards the Atlantic for increased exchanges with European powers choosing Mogadore as his main location.

His objective was to establish a harbor at the nearest point from Marrakesh and the other was to cut off trade from Agadir in the south which was supporting the political rival of Mohammad III and the inhabitants of Agadir had to forcibly relocate to Essaouira.

UNESCO Listed World Heritage Site

The first thing any tourist feels is walking around the fortification which is a sheer temptation and from the Kasbah’s Sqala, the old artillery platform of the medina’s maritime rampart, the scene over the port’s Sqala together with the ocean’s coastline and the medina which is a UNESCO listed World Heritage Site is simply awesome.

In the souks, at street levels, which surround the Clock tower, one will find some of Morocco’s best marquetry craftsmen fashion sandarac wood along with ancestral precision. Close to the medina’s Sqala is the Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdullah museum, presenting beautiful collection of regional art works and marquety furniture, costumes, jewelry rugs and much more.

Besides these there are also Arabo Andalusian and Gnaoua musical instruments which are accompanied by singing and dancing promoted at an international festival every year in the month of June with programs that include jazz and world music.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Bora Bora surrounded by Lagoon and Barrier Reef

Bora Bora
An island in the Leeward group of the Society Islands of French Polynesia and the most romantic island in the world, Bora Bora, is world famous for its glinting turquoise lagoon, with dazzling white sandy stretches of beach and luxurious resorts.

The island is located around 230 km northwest of Papeete and is surrounded by a lagoon and barrier reef. In the center of the island lie the remnants of an extinct volcano from two peaks, the highest point at 727 meters namely Mount Pahia and Mount Otemanu.

The resorts have been a tempting retreat for couples for over forty years with their special amenities which have been fined tuned to perfection. Each resort has been designed with their own individual blend of unique romantic atmosphere for guest to choose from. An hour’s flight from the island of Tahiti or Moorea, the island of Bora Bora with lagoon of blues and greens is a great getaway for couples.

 This amazing island is love at first sight, with its lush tropical slopes and valleys blossoming with hibiscus where the castle-like Mount Otemanu reaches the skies and the palm covered motu border the lagoon like a necklace.

A Major International Tourist Destination

Bora Bora is a major international tourist destination and is famous for its aqua centric luxury resorts and Vaitape being the major settlement is on the western side of the main island opposite the main channel in the lagoon.

Bora Bora has a population of 8,880 according to 2008 census and the island’s economy is driven solely by tourism. The produce of the island is limited to what is obtained from the sea and the coconut trees, the copra, which were historically of economic importance. Since the past few years, several resorts have been built surrounding the lagoon.

Thirty years ago, the first over the water bungalow on stilts over the lagoon was built by Hotel Bora Bora and presently over water bungalows are a standard feature of most Bora Bora resorts where the bungalows range from cheap, basic accommodations to very expensive and luxurious resorts to stay in.

Scuba Diving and Snorkel - Popular Attraction 

Besides the attractions of aqua centric resorts there are also other attractions on land like the WWII cannons. The island is served by the Bora Bora Airport on Motu Mute in the north and Air Tahiti provides daily flights about five or six, to and from Papeete on Tahiti.

There are no public transports but rented cars and bicycles are the recommended mode of transport besides small two-seater buggies for hire in Vaitape and there is also the possibility to rent motorboat to explore the lagoon. Scuba diving and snorkeling in and around the lagoon are popular activities for the tourist where one will find many species of sharks and rays inhabiting the water body.

There are also a few dive operators on the island offering their services in manta ray dives as well as shark feeding dives to those who are interested. Besides the existing islands of Bora Bora, the new manmade motu of Motu Marfo is another addition in the northeastern corner of the lagoon on the St. Regis Resort.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Chama - The Oldest, Longest, Highest and Scenic Railroad

At the foot of the 10,000 ft Cumbres Pass, lies a small town of Chama in Mexico which is bordered by the Rio Grande and Santa Fe national forest, offering various outdoor adventure, the most popular being the ride on the vintage railway, one of the oldest railroad. Chama, a cute little hidden town is a setting for the Cumbres and Toltec Steam Train which is a 3 ft – 914 mm narrow gauge heritage railroad running between Chama, Antonito and Colorado.

It runs over 10,015 ft (3,053 m) Cumbres Pass, through Toltec Gorge from which it derives its name. The trains operate from both ends meeting at the midpoint and presently the railroad is the highest narrow gauge steam railroad in the United State. The Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad, a vintage steam locomotive driven excursion train leaves either from Antonito, Colorado or Chama and as one journeys through it they get an amazing experience of journeying through spectacular mountains, canyons and valleys.

It takes one to the highest elevation in America in rail and its narrow gauge train ride is the most beautiful setting for anyone travelling by train in the oldest, longest, highest and scenic in North America.

A Living History Museum

This railroad is a living history museum which was built in the late 1800s which travels in 3 feet wide narrow gauge where the trains are pulled by historic steam engines. Steam engines carried passengers as well as goods from one place to another before roads linked the towns of the Rocky Mountains.

The railroad has been designated both as a National and State Registered Historic Site as well as a National Civil Engineering Landmark. The trains depart every morning from Chama, New Mexico and Antonito, Colorado and in peak seasons, trains are available in both directions every day of the week, meeting at Osier, the midpoint of the line where lunch is available.

Passengers have the option to continue on their train journey to the end or switch trains to return to their original destination, again with the option of a motor coach return to their original terminal. Reservation needs to be done especially during peak seasons though in rare cases, at times seats are available for last minute travelers.

Parlor Car and Gondola

Passengers are provided with standard seats in the coaches or first class seats in a parlor car while gondola without seats is usually provided for first class and standard riders who would prefer to ride in the open air. Besides this, a concession car with provision of snacks and gifts, along with bathrooms on each train is also made available for the travelers.

All the passenger trains are pulled by historic steam locomotives which earlier worked on this line as well as the others of the Denver and Rio Grande Western, while heavy trains out of Chama may have two locomotives for Cumbres Pass.

The steepest part is the east bound from Chama and hence the steam engines tend to work hard giving out an acoustic and visual show and the balance ¾ of the east bound trips is downgrade with the locomotive being fairly quiet. Westbound from Antonito, the grade is comparatively less though the locomotive tends to work harder especially on the last few miles to Cumbres Pass.