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.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Krakow - Poland’s Second Largest City

Poland’s second largest city, Krakow, is a historic and visual gem covering both banks of the Wisla or Vistual River. At the foot of the Carpathian Mountains lies the metropolitan area which has over 1.4 million inhabitants and the city has grown from Stone Age settlement to the most important city of Poland. On Wawel Hill, it began as a hamlet and was reported as a trading center of Slavonic Europe in 965. Krakow reaffirmed its role as a major national academic and artistic centre with the establishment of new universities as well as cultural venues at emergence of the Second Polish Republic in 1918 and through the 20th century. As the royal capital for over 500 years, this city has absorbed plenty of history as well as talent through the centuries and is presently a treasure trove of Gothic and Renaissance architecture. Krakow’s centerpiece and the most sought after attraction site, is the Wawel Castle where most of the tourist find themselves drawn towards the Old Town with its soaring Gothic churches and gargantuan Rynek Glowny or the Main Market Square which is the largest in the nation. Outside the Old Town are the former Jewish quarter Kazimierz and its silent synagogues, reflect the tragedy of the past.

A Centre of Science, Art and Culture in Poland

Krakow is blessed with attractions and diversion of a modern variety with a good number of restaurants, music clubs and bars, tucked in its narrow alleyways. Krakow has been the centre of science, art and culture in Poland for over a thousand years and has plenty of attraction in store for the visitor. Wawel Castle is a symbol of national identity and this Renaissance palace was built in the 16th century, the original being smaller was built by King Boleslaw Chrobry in the early 11th century besides the dedicated chapel to the Virgin Mary. Kazimierz III Wielki had turned it into a Gothic castle and when burnt down in 1499, Zygmunt I Stary had commissioned the new residence. The current palace was restored back in place within 30 years, designed by Italian architects and inspite of further extensions and alteration, this three storey structure has been preserved till date complete with a courtyard arcaded on three sides. Most of the coronations, entombments and funerals of Poland’s monarchs and well known personalities over the centuries were conducted in this cathedral. As one wanders through this monument, it seems like a tour through Polish history with many outstanding artist leaving behind a wealth of magnificent work of art which has made this cathedral an amazing artistic achievement as well as Poland’s spiritual sanctuary.

Famous Ultra Deep Salt Mine

Southeast of Krakow’s city centre, some 14 kms, is Wieliczka, famous for their ultra deep salt mine which is operational for 700 years. Everything within its depth has been done by hand from salt blocks and it has an eerie world of pits and chambers. Moreover this mine has been included in UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1978. The Basilica of the Assumption of Our Lady also known in those parts as the Mariacki or St. Mary’s Church overlooks the Rynek from the northeast side where the first church built on this site was in 1220 and was oriented eastward. After its destruction during the Tatar raids, its construction of the basilica began with the foundation of the previous church.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Rotterdam – A City With Vibrant Life

Rotterdam – A City With Vibrant Life
Rotterdam a city of many faces is a tough port city with amazing nightlife, sophisticated shopping centers, all combined in an artistic city. It is a city bursting with energy, a diverse, multi ethnic community, intensely interesting maritime tradition with a wealth of top class museums. Rotterdam is an architecture city of Holland with stimulating innovation and its always changing skyline is very amazing.

It is an awesome destination to explore and should be visited on a trip to Holland if on a high speed train on the way to Amsterdam or to the south. It is a city with many attractions like the Spido harbor tours, the historic Cruiser Rotterdam, the Euromast panorama tower and the Rotterdam Zoo. Museums like the Boijmans - Van Beuningen, the World Arts Museum and the Kunsthal exhibition centre are worth visiting. Rotterdam is also an excellent place for shopping at big market square with fresh produce, flower and cheese and the modern Rotterdam metro service can take you to the big Alexandrum Mall within a few minutes. The shops in downtown Rotterdam are open all through the week.

Various Street Markets 

Several weekly markets in various districts of Rotterdam covers the Binnenrotte square from Blaak to shopping street Meent containing more than 400 stand and the largest street markets of the Netherlands is at Binnenrotte, near Railway Station Rotterdam Blaak, which is an underground station and the other being in the South of Rotterdam, Afrikaanderplein.

One will find a wide selection of goods from mobile telephone accessories and other stuff to Dutch cheese, affordable fashion items, fresh fruits, flowers, vegetables and fish besides Dutch and other imported products. A visit to their street market in Rotterdam will give the visitor an experience enabling them to meet multi cultural local people. Near the Blaak area one will find fresh produce like fruits, fish, cheese, vegetables, flowers and candy and in the vicinity of Meent, clothes, vintage goods, fabrics and souvenirs, and smart phone accessories are available. In the afternoon, the markets get quite crowded especially at weekend while on rainy days the street markets have functional shelter of plastic covers. A visit to the Rotterdam can be clubbed with street market shopping since the market square is connected to the Meent and Hoogstraat shopping streets.

Marketing with Live Musical Performance

In summer one can visit the Rotterdam Summer Sunday Market at Binnenrotte near Blaak which has different themes during the summer season like fabric or books, though they are slightly smaller. Their city lounge is centrally located on the market square offering a variety of stalls with appetizing snacks and cold drinks. One could also get the opportunity to taste some of the famous Dutch fries or exotic snacks from the multi cultural communities in Rotterdam.

There is also a lifestyle market besides the traditional street market, known as the Swan Market which is diverse with creative goods and are organized on several weekend a year at different areas in Rotterdam like the Grotekerkplein and Museumpark. This market offers jewelry, fashion, vintage, accessories, kid stuff together with affordable art as well as snacks and drinks accompanied with live musical performances.