Thursday, February 25, 2016

Bourtange, Netherlands


Bourtange – Best Surviving Star Fort

Bourtange, a village in the municipality of Vlagtwedde in the Netherlands is situated in the region of Westerwolde, east of the province of Groningen near the German border. Fort Bourtange had been built during the Dutch Revolt in 1593 and was used till 1851. It was restored to its mid-18th century state in 1960 and is presently an open air museum.

The fortified town of Bourtange is a remarkable destination with its spectacular architecture together with beautifully renovated state, making it one of the best surviving examples of a star fort in Europe. It is one of the largest citadels in the Low Countries and its distinctive star shape, together with its cobbled streets and well-restored historical architecture makes a pleasant day trip for visitors.

The small community living in and around the fort which are about 430 inhabitants in total tend to cater to the needs of the visitors through their friendly hotels, cafes and an abundance of related activities in summer. The star shaped fort had been designed and built on the orders of William I of Orange during the Dutch Revolt against Spain.

Control Main Road through Bourtange Swamps to Germany

The fort served a simple purpose that of controlling the main road through the Bourtange swamps to Germany. Groningen city together with its surroundings were yet under Spanish control during that time and obtained their supplies from allies in Germany. It is said that the assignment to build a fort was given, according to some sources, to Diderick van Sonoy, who was one of the leaders of the Dutch `Geuzen’, the Calvinist Dutch nobles who took on the battles with the Spaniards.

Adriaan Anthoniszoon was the one who drew the designs of what would become a 5 sided bastion and the work commenced in 1580. The fort was barely completed when the city of Groningen was finally taken and the fort had been modified to suit a new purpose and became a part of the border defence lines of the three provinces of Northern Netherlands. It was enforced and stretched many times during wars which trailed and as the swamps around Bourtange gradually dried up, the importance of the fort slowly declined.

Restored Between 1964 and 1973

In 1577, the Spaniards took control of Groningen, following the choice of Count George de Lalaing, governor of Friesland, Groningen and Drenthe, for the purpose of supporting Spain instead of the United Provinces fighting for their independence. The existence of the fort was to cut the supplies to the Spanish forces that were stationed in Groningen.

The plan worked and in 1594, Groningen was re-captured.The protection of Bourtange had been strengthened many times particularly in 1665 and 1672 in war against Bernhard von Galen and in 1742 it reached its maximum extend. With the drying up of the marshes together with the development in artillery results in drastic decline in the use of the fortress and in 1851, the fortified town had its embankments dismantled with its trenches filled up with earth and its military facilities sold or out of control. The grounds were only restored to its earlier glory between 1964 and 1973.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Paris 'Pont de l’Alma

'Pont de l’Alma

Pont de l’Alma – An Arch Bridge in commemoration of the Battle of Alma

Pont de l’Alma, an arch bridge in Paris is across the Seine and was named to commemorate the Battle of Alma during the Crimean War on September 1854, wherein the Franco-British alliance had gained victory over the Russian army. The Parisians seems to be very fond of the Pont de l’Alma with its popular statue that represents a Zauave soldier.

Built on the orders of Napoleon III in 1854, the Pont de l’Alma is towards the western area of Paris and became a household name all across the globe in August 1997 after the heart-breaking death of Princess Diana. The ordinary Tunnel du Pont de l’Alma that runs beneath the Place de l’Alma on the Right Bank became popular since it was the theatre of the most high profile tragic events of the late 20th century, the car accident where Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed had been killed 31st August 1997.

 The scale of the emotion caused by the tragedy was such that the monument which had already existed on the Place de l’Alma, the Flame of Liberty became a makeshift monument to Diana’s memory, overnight. Several people came to the site of her death and laid flowers at the foot of the sculpture as a mark of respect to Princess Diana.

Pont de la Tournelle – To Gauge the Water Level

It tends to lead from the Paris Sewer Museum and the Musee du Quai Branly towards the Left bank to the reputed brasserie Chez Francis on Place de l’Alma where one can locate a reproduction of the flame of Bartholdi’s Statue of Liberty. Since then, the Flame of Liberty has become an unofficial memorial to Princess Diana.

 It is said that the Pont de l’Alma is decorated with four huge statues inclusive of the French soldier that used to measure the level of the Seine when it had been flooded. The Zauave statue was traditionally utilised as an unofficial standard of indicating the rise of the water level of the Seine till it was moved to this new pier that was slightly elevated.

The Parisian would know that the river was flooding when the water would reach the foot of the statue. The present Pont de la Tournelle is utilised to gauge the water level. From the bridge, one can get remarkable glimpse of the Eiffel Tower. France had received a sculpture of the Flame of Liberty as a sign of gratitude from the U.S.A. in 1989 for the restoration work that was done on the Statue of Liberty.

Donated on the Occasion of the Centennial of the International Herald Tribune

It was created with the donations that were raised by readers all over the world on the occasion of the centennial of the newspaper’s publication in Paris. It is said that the 3.5 m tall Flame of Liberty of the Place de l’Alma is a full sized copper replica of the torch of the Statue of Liberty that guards the entrance of New-York Harbour.

It tends to stand on a grey and black marble pedestal that is placed just above the exit of the tunnel and was presented by the International Herald Tribune. The commemorative plaque which is placed at the foot of the Flame has the inscription `The Flame of Liberty – An exact replica of the Statue of Liberty’s flame offered to the people of France by donors throughout the world as a symbol of the Franco-American friendship. On the occasion of the centennial of the International Herald Tribune.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Hokkaido, Japan


Hokkaido – Second Largest/Northern/Least Developed Island of Japan

Hokkaido is the second largest, northernmost and also the least developed of the four main islands of Japan. Hokkaido means Northern Sea Circuit and was formerly known as Ezo, Yezo, Yeso or Yesso. The Tsugaru Strait separates Hokkaido from Honshu though the two islands are lined by the underwater railway called Seikan Tunnel.

 The Seikan Tunnel is the world’s longest rail tunnel which is the only land link that Hokkaido has to Japan’s main island of Honshu. The trains through the tunnel, ferries and airliners seems to be the only means of reaching Hokkaido and the only way to enter Hokkaido by car is to ship it across one of the various car ferries. The train network of Hokkaido is said to be limited though it is more than sufficient for travel between the main cities.

Access, however to several of the interesting places like Hokkaido’s various national parks would require either depending on infrequent and expensive buses, renting your own car or trying luck at hitchhiking.Its capitalSapporo is the largest city of Hokkaido which is also the only ordinance designated city. The weather is harsh in winter with plenty of snowfall below zero temperature and frozen seas.

Extensive Vistas/Untouched Wilderness

The summer is not as hot and humid as in the other areas of the country. With its unchanged nature, Hokkaido tends to draw several outdoor lovers comprising of skiers and snowboarders in the colder seasons as well as hikers, campers and cyclist during June to September.

Hokkaido is frequently considered to be the country’s last frontier by the Japanese and unlike Japan’s other islands, is a place of extensive vistas and untouched wilderness. Being the second largest island of Japan, less than 5% of its population tend to live there inclusive of most of the country’s lasting native inhabitants, the Ainu. Hokkaido provides an appealing range of riches which establishes a rarely seen side of Japan for foreign as well as Japanese tourists.

 Moreover, it also offers a seductive variety of onsen or hot spring baths with facilities of lavish luxurious modern resorts as well as simple hot spring pools deep in the mountains. Hokkaido continues to represent the natural wilderness together with several great national parks.

Ever Present Hot Spring

For most of the tourists, the scenery looks like northern Europe with rice paddies together with concrete burrows that is characteristic of the rest of Japan replaced by rolling field as well as faux-German cottages. But the ever present hot-spring resorts in most of the island are a reminder that one is still in Japan.

Hokkaido is Japan’s largest region comprising of Japan’s total northern island together with its surrounding islets. It is cooler than the rest of Japan and the lack of Japan’s humid and rainy season tends to make it a popular national location between May and August. Some of the inland areas of Hokkaido have a continental climate with daily large and yearly temperature variation.

Most of Hokkaido had been settled by the Japanese during the last 100 years when compared to the thousands of years of Japanese history and pre-history. Prior to that it was inhabited only by the hunter gatherer Ainu culture owing to which its architecture as well as the cities was much more modern and was based on western-like grid layouts.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Beto Carrero World, Brazil


Beto Carrero World – Biggest Theme Park – Latin America

Beta Carrero World is considered to be the biggest theme park in Latin America which is located in Pehna Estate of Santa Catarina, about 200 km from Curitiba and in the vicinity of the best beaches of Santa Cartarina, Brazil. The park was opened on December 28, 1991 and is the sixth best amusement park in the world, having a complex of fourteen kilometres divided into nine theme areas.

Presently it is the biggest and most complete park in Brazil with 15 million sq. m surrounded by Atlantic Rain Forest in are markable area of the coast. This amazing location is a destination for people of all ages. Besides the fundamental attractions there are also theme areas such as Wild West, Pirates Island Zoo with shows like Magadascar, Fast and Furious and Monga which are quite well-known.

The show tend to take place at different times and are an opportunity to relax between the various attractions available. The park comes with a complete infrastructure to enable the tourist with leisure moments of relaxation. Besides this there are several other options of restaurants, coffee shops, snack bars and ice-parlours.

Theme Park/Zoo/Shows

There are also huge parking lots, lockers, found and lost departments, drugstore, medical services, changing rooms as well as a Bradesco bank branch. Tourist could take some of the souvenirs available from the various shops available.Beto Carrero World opens at 9 am and the attractions can be enjoyed till 6 pm where travellers could purchase their tickets and explore the place.

Beta Carrero World was the vision of Joao Batista Sergio Murad who had grown up in rural Sao Paulo. He was a smart businessman and after careers in radio, rodeo promotion and marketing, eventually made his dream come true when he had inaugurated Beto Carrero World at the age of 54.

He had adopted the name of Beto Carrero as a stage name owing to his cowboy character which had been featured in some of the Brazilian movies. Beto Carrero World comprise of the theme park, a zoo and shows. Similar to the Disney World, the theme park comprises of various different locations like the Avenue of the Nations, Radical Adventure, Pirate Island, the Wild West, and Animal World, fantasy Land and the German Village. Besides this the attractions comprise of huge roller coaster, a Ferris wheel and a huge castle.

Radical Adventure – Hotspot for Thrill Lovers

The Radical Adventure for instance is a hotspot for thrill lovers, which offers a collection of exciting rides like the nauseating FireWhip, which is a suspended looping rollercoaster that reaches over 60mph. More serene attractions are in Fantasyland, Pirate’s Island, Old West, German village Nation’s Avenue and the Animal World where the latter is a big hit with the youngsters due to its 171 species, 700-animal zoo and the world class primate centre.

Beto Carrero World had not yet launched its latest rollercoaster, The Chiller, till the time of going to the press, but is likely to open very soon. Beto Carrero World tends to have plenty of competition in Brazil with other main theme parks which include Playcentre and Hopi Hari both of which are in Sao Paulo.

 Besides these, other options are Six Flags Mexico, which are the only Six Flags Park in Latin America and Fantasilandia in Chile which features not less than 18 high adrenalin rides.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

City Guide: Luanda, Angola


Luanda – Capital & Largest City in Angola

Luanda was formerly known as Sao Paulo da Assuncao de Loanda, the capital as well as the largest city in Angola. It is the country’s most famous and important city, major industrial, cultural, urban centre and primary port. It is situated on the coast of Angola with the Atlantic Ocean and is both the chief seaport of Angola as well as its administrative centre.

It is also the capital city of Luanda Province and the third most populous Portuguese speaking city in the world after Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, both in Brazil. Besides it is also the most populous Portuguese speaking capital city in the world ahead of Brasilia, Lisbon and Maputo. It has metropolitan inhabitants of more than 6 million. Luanda is divided into two sections, the Baixa de Luanda – lower Luanda, the old city and the Cidade Alta – upper city or the new city.

The Baixa is located near the port, having narrow streets together with old colonial buildings, though huge new constructions have now covered huge spaces beyond these traditional limits, together with various previously independent centres like Viana have been unified in the city.

Seat of Roman Catholic Archbishop

Luanda is considered to be the seat of a Roman Catholic archbishop and is also the location of several of Angola’s educational institutions inclusive of the private Catholic University of Angola as well as the public University of Agostinho Neto. Moreover, it is also the home of the colonial governor’s Palace and the Estadio da Cidadela, the main stadium of Angola having a total seating arrangement of 60,000.

A totally new satellite city known as Luanda Sul has been built and the capital city of Luanda is constantly growing. The inhabitants of Luanda are mainly members of African ethnic groups, generally Ambundum Ovimbundu and Bakongo. The official and the most extensively used language is Portuguese though many Bantu languages are also used mainly Kimbundu, Umbundu and Kikongo. There is substantial minority population of European origin, particularly Portuguese together with Brazilians as well as other Latin Americans.

A significant community of Chinese has been formed over the last decades and a smaller Vietnamese community. There are few immigrants from other African countries also comprising of small expatriate South African community.

Luanda – Mixed Race

Several people of Luanda are a mixed race of European/Portuguese and native African. Since the mid-2000s, immigration from Portugal seems to have increased owing to the recession and poor economic situation of Portugal. The port of Luanda functions as the largest port of Angola, connecting Angola to the rest of the world. Major expansion work of this port is also in progress. A new port is being developed at Dande around 30 km towards the north.

Luanda is the beginning point of the Luanda railway which goes east to Malanje. Civil war has left the railway non-operative though the railway had been restored up to Dondo and Malanje. In recent years, the population of Luanda had grown tremendously owing to large part to war-time migration to the city that tends to be safe when compared to the rest of the country. In 2006, however, Luanda has envisaged an increase in violent crime especially in the shanty towns which surround the colonial urban central.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Minoan Palace of Knossos, Greece


Palace of Knossos Constructed by Minoans

The Palace of Knossos is placed south of modern day Heraklion towards the north coast of Crete. Constructed by a civilization known as the Minoans, it covers an area of 150,000 square feet which is the size of over two American football fields and was surrounded in ancient times by a town. Knossos is the ancient Minoan palace.

King Minos who was famous for his wisdom and later one of the three judges of the dead in the underworld would give his name to the people of Knossos and through addition, the ancient civilization of Crete – Minoan. The settlement had been established much before 2000 BCE but destroyed probably by fire. Some claim that it could be tsunami. Knossos has been recognized with Plato’s mythical Atlantis from his discussions of the Timaeus and Critias.

It is also known in myth as the most legendarily, through the story of Theseus and Minotaur. As per the myth adjoining the ancient city, King Minos had hired the Athenian architect, mathematician as well as inventor Daedelus to design the palace and the palace was constructed so smartly that no one who entered in could find their way back without a guide.

Knossos Flourished Through Maritime Trade/Overland Commerce

Other versions states that the palace itself had been redesigned in this way though the labyrinth in the palace which had been built to house the half-man/half-bull, the Minotaur. To keep Daedelus from disclosing the secrets of the palace, Minos had him and his son Icarus locked in a high tower at Knossos as prisoner. However, Daedelus had fashioned wings made of wax and bird’s feathers for him and his son and managed to escape from the prison.

But Icarus flew too close to the sun and his wings melted and he fell to his death.Minotaur, the monster-child of the wife of Minos flourished on human sacrifice with Minos making demands on the gallant youth of Athens to feed the beast. It was Theseus of Athens who with the help of Minos’s daughter Ariadne killed the Minotaur and freed the young people, returning triumphantly to his home city.

Under the rule of Minos, Knossos seemed to flourish through maritime trade and overland commerce together with the other great cities of Crete, Kato Sakro and Mallia. The city was destroyed and then re-built, twice.

Ceremonial & Political Centre of Minoan Civilization/Culture

The site gained importance when it had been excavated and restored by a team led by British archaeologist Arthur Evans, in the early 20th century. The palace of Knossos had been the ceremonial as well as the political centre of the Minoan civilization and culture.

 The palace had been abandoned at some unknown point of time towards the end of the late Bronze Age, ca. 1380-1100 BC. The abandoning inhabitants were possibly Mycenaean Greeks who could have earlier occupied the city-state and were utilising Linear B as its administrative script opposed to Linear A, the earlier administrative script.Based on the excavation at the site, the first palace had been massive in size having very thick walls.

The ancient pottery that were discovered throughout Crete at several sites, portray that the island was not united under a central culture at this time and hence the walls of the palace were probably constructed to this size and thickness for the purpose of defence.