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Experience and impressions

Norway, Norway
Aurora borealis
There are few sights as mesmerising as an undulating aurora. Although these appear in many forms – pillars, streaks, wisps and haloes of vibrating light – they’re most memorable when taking the form of pale curtains wafting on a gentle breeze. Most often, the Arctic aurora appears as a faint green or light rose but, in periods of extreme activity, can change to yellow or crimson. The visible aurora borealis, or northern lights, are caused by streams of charged particles from the sun, called the solar wind, which are directed by the Earth’s magnetic field towards the polar regions. Because the field curves downward in a halo surrounding the magnetic poles, the charged particles are drawn earthward. Their interaction with electrons in nitrogen and oxygen atoms in the upper atmosphere releases the energy creating the visible aurora. During periods of high activity, a single auroral storm can produce a trillion watts of electricity with a current of one million amps. The Inuit (Eskimos) call the lights arsarnerit ('to play with a ball'), as they were thought to be ancestors playing ball with a walrus skull. The Inuit also attach spiritual significance to the lights, and some believe that they represent the capering of unborn children; some consider them gifts from the dead to light the long polar nights and others see them as a storehouse of events, past and future. Norwegian folklore attributes the lights to old maids or dead maidens dancing and weaving. The lights were seen as a bad omen and a sign that God was angry, and people who mocked the superstition risked incurring the ire of God. The best time of year to catch the northern lights in Norway is from October to March, although you may also see them as early as August. Oddly enough, Svalbard is actually too far north to catch the greatest activity.

Masjid-i-Vakil, Shiraz, Iran
Masjid-I-Vakil
Outside the Arg I walked over to what Bradt refer to as the Bagh-I-Nazar. This is described as ‘a small octagonal reception Pavilion of Karim Khan Zand’. Now Bradt says that, it used to house a small local museum. However the only building that matched this description was a museum, looked quite nice as well – but it was closed. No one nearby seemed to be entirely sure whether this was the Bagh-I-Nazar and I decided to move on. The Masjid – I – Vakil, a 1773 construction was supposed to be walking distance. Bradt say that it is out of bounds to foreign tourists, but I was able to get in without any problems. There is some reconstruction work going on though – with one of the workmen willing to give impromptu guides (in Farsi) – but he usefully did point out the foundation stone. It’s a very large mosque with massive dusty stone pillars and a large courtyard with grass growing between the paving stones. It’s difficult to imagine that just next door is a heaving market with hundreds of people. As usual with these places the only other tourists seem to be Iranian school children and the odd Europeans. Next to the mosque is the Vakil bazaar (18th century, whose rents paid for the mosque). Like bazaars in other cities this is covered, with two of the original four caraveranserai remaining. These were places for traders and travellers to stay, now they seem to be used as offices and warehouses. In Nishapour (north eastern Iran) I had seen a caravanserai converted into a museum and in Isfahan into a kitsch hubble/bubble tea shop.

Jalil Khayat Mosque, Erbil, Iraq
Jalil Khayat Mosque
The Mosque allocated in a very distinct area of Erbil city capital of Kurdistan Region, surrounded by four streets (two of them are main streets), the land area is about (15000m²). The mosque building relies on Islamic architecture and al-Abbasi design except the domes, which built, relying on OTTOMAN Mosques. The Mosque is distinguished by hugeness skeleton, many domes, and tow high minaret, intermediate the mosque skeleton big and huge dome, the height of the main dome (48 meter), and the diameter (20 meter), and around the main dome (four half domes), (twelve quarter domes) and (four domes on the corner) There are also many domes distributed around the Mosque, with the presence of two high minarets with (75 meter) high beside the main sanctum together with domes which cover the sanctum gives a nice architecture view to the mosque. The two minarets are designed and built relying on Islamic architecture, with a square base, and the second nave with an octagonal shape and the third nave with a circular shape, in additional to the columns which bear the crescent. The mosque project is consider the first mosque in Kurdistan Region and Iraq in variegation, design, ornament and skeleton where as the big sanctuary (which specified for men praying) which take about (1500 prayer). The sanctuary has been ornamented from inside by hand which took one year of hard work, as all inside walls and domes carefully variegated and golden ink used to write verses of the Holly Koran. The chandeliers used for lighting consist of original crystal and all the metal gold plated 24 K gold. The second sanctuary specified for woman for praying and listens to the Friday speeches, can take (300 prayers), and also variegated and ornamented from inside. The mosque includes two main gates on the main street, the first main gate is (25 meters) of height covered by a big dome and two half domes, the second gate is built relying on Islamic architecture and covered with bricks, there are also several gates on side streets. On the left side of the big sanctuary there is a big hall can take (300 persons) for the religion occasion, the ceiling of the hall variegated with mirror ornamented and lighted by chandelier which includes original crystal and gold plated. The hall includes annex for food service. Beside the occasion hall there is a grave yard with octagonal shape, over it a circular dome, with a separate entrance. The path ways leading to the occasion hall and other mosque annex and halls is beside the sanctuary and around consists of a corridor built relying on (Al-Abbasi design of corridors) decorated and covered with bricks and colored ceramic. There are three places ablution and annex for departed and pray on, the mosque includes a kitchen to arrange food for poor people at owner expenses. Under the mosque at the basement floor there are several rooms designed to be a library or introduce different services to the mosque. During ten years from the beginning of the project and until the completion hundreds of believer and faithful people work to build this project and introduce this edifice to the Erbil City to be a living evidence during history, beside other Erbil edifice.

Sultan Al Mansur Qalawun Mosque, Cairo, Egypt
Qalawun Mosque in Old Cairo
This impressive complex is one of several Mamluk madrassa/mausoleum complexes that still stand along Al-Muizz Street. The Madrassa of Sultan Barouq and the Mausoleum and Madrassa of Al-Nasir Muhammed are also along Al-Muizz Street, but of these two only Sultan Barouq’s religious school is open to tourists. The Qala’un Complex, dating from 1285, is the oldest and most impressive of these structures, built to memorialize Mamluk rulers of Cairo. The complex is built at the heart of Islamic Cairo at a place known as Bayn Al-Qasreen, or ‘Between the Two Palaces, named for the two Fatimid Palaces that originally stood here. Like most of the Fatimid buildings in the city, these palaces were built over by subsequent rulers who sought to erase the influence of the Shi’a dynasty. Qala’un actually built his complex on the foundation of one of these palaces. Qala’un’s memorial included a large hospital, a madrassa-style mosque (distinguished by the teaching spaces on each of the four wall for each of the influential schools of Islamic thought) and finally his mausoleum. The hospital was state of art in its day. It offered 2000 beds and many rare amenities to patients. It was working up until the late-Ottoman period (19th century), but was demolished in 1910. The highlight of the Qala’un Complex is the mausoleum. It was modeled on the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, but it stand out in its own right. The building was restored as part of the project to revive the entire Al-Muizz Street and it now stands out as one of the most beautiful monuments in Cairo. In fact, it is regarded as one of the most beautiful buildings across the Muslim World—a mausoleum to compete with the famous Taj Mahal of India.

La boqueria (mercat sant josep), Barcelona, Spain
The most spectacular food market
Barcelona's most spectacular food market, also known as the Mercat de Sant Josep, is an explosion of life and color graced with wonderful little tapas bar-restaurants (with counter seating only). Stall after stall of fruit, herbs, wild mushrooms, vegetables, nuts, candied preserves, cheese, ham, fish, poultry, and provender of every imaginable genus and strain greet you as you turn in from La Rambla and wade through the throng of shoppers and casual visitors. Under a Moderniste hangar of wrought-iron girders and stained glass, the market occupies a neoclassical square built in 1840 by architect Francesc Daniel Molina. The ionic columns visible around the edges of the market were part of the mid-19th-century neoclassical square constructed here after the original Sant Josep convent was torn down, uncovered in 2001 after more than a century of neglect. Highlights include the sunny greengrocer's market outside (to the right if you've come in from La Rambla), along with Pinotxo (Pinocchio), just inside to the right, where owner Juanito Bayén and his family serve some of the best food in Barcelona. (The secret? "Fresh, fast, hot, salty, and garlicky.") Pinotxo—marked with a ceramic portrait of the wooden-nosed prevaricator himself—is typically overbooked. But take heart; the Kiosko Universal, over toward the port side of the market, or Quim de la Boqueria both offer delicious alternatives. Don't miss the herb- and wild-mushroom stand at the back of La Boqueria, with its display of fruits del bosc (fruits of the forest): wild mushrooms, herbs, nuts, and berries.

Cannes, France
CANNES AT A GLANCE
Backed by gentle hills and flanked to the south by the heights of the Estérel, warmed by dependable sun but kept bearable in summer by the cool breeze that blows in from the Mediterranean, Cannes is pampered with the luxurious climate that has made it one of the most popular and glamorous resorts in Europe. Its graceful curve of wave-washed sand peppered with chic restaurants and prestigious private beaches, its renowned waterfront promenade strewn with palm trees and poseurs, its status-symbol grand hotels vying for the custom of the Louis Vuitton set—this legend is, to many, the heart and soul of the Côte d'Azur. A tasteful and expensive breeding ground for the upper-upscale, Cannes has long been a sybaritic heaven further glamorized by the ongoing success of its film festival, as famous as (and, in the trade, more respected than) Hollywood's Academy Awards. About the closest many of us will get to feeling like a film star is a stroll here along the famous La Croisette promenade, lined with fancy boutiques and lorded over by the Carlton hotel, the legendary backdrop to Grace Kelly in To Catch a Thief. Nearly 60 years later with life imitating art, a whopping $53 million worth of jewels was stolen from this same hotel, one of many high-profile heists to hit Cannes during the summer of 2013. Settled first by the Ligurians and then dubbed Cannoïs by the Romans (after the cane that waved in its marshes), Cannes was an important sentinel site for the monks who established themselves on Île St-Honorat in the Middle Ages. Its bay served as nothing more than a fishing port until in 1834 an English aristocrat, Lord Brougham, fell in love with the site during an emergency stopover with a sick daughter. He had a home built here and returned every winter for a sun cure—a ritual quickly picked up by his peers. Between the popularity of Le Train Blue transporting wealthy passengers from Calais, and the introduction in 1936 of France's first paid holidays, Cannes became the destination. La Croisette, which starts at the western end by the Palais des Festivals and leads over to the Jardin Alexandre III, is precisely the sort of place for which the French invented the verb flâner (to dawdle, saunter): from the broad expanse of mostly private beaches to the glamorous shops and luxurious hotels, which these days are filled with the not-so jet set and conventioneers. info by fodors.com

Ubud, Indonesia
Ubud is one of the world's most magical destinations!
Ubud was the cultural, artistic, and spiritual heart of Bali centuries before the tanned, toned, and bejeweled began to sashay through the hallowed haunts of south Bali. Perhaps Ubud's destiny as a point of confluence was sealed in the 8th century by Rsi Markendya, a wandering priest from Java, who (legend has it) found the perfect patch for meditation where the eastern and western branches of the Wos River meet in Campuhan. This holy site is now Guning Lebah temple. Ubud's position as a center of the arts developed under Tjokorde Rai Batur, king from 1850 to 1880, a member of the Satriya family of Sukawati, who had been significant supporters of the arts and culture over the centuries. Ubud's modern cultural prominence is a result of a fortuitous meeting of one of the scions of the House of Ubud and Walter Spies, who came to Denpasar in 1926. At the time the arts in Bali were undergoing a process of redefinition, as the traditional forms of patronage and funding, namely the rajahs and the temples, were under Dutch colonial rule and were no longer sources of wealth. Survival meant innovation and an important meeting of the minds. Walter Spies came to Ubud on the invitation of Prince Sukawati, and, together with friend and fellow artist Rudolf Bonnet, encouraged and financed individual artists in developing new styles that put art and artist ahead of tradition. This is known as the Pita Maha. At about this same time Bali became the bohemian destination for glamorous artistic society, Dorthy Lamour, Charlie Chaplin, and Noel Coward loved it, Margaret Mead and her lover Gregory Bateson got married on a ship en route to Bali, and Barbara Hutton fell head-over-heels for Walters Spies who had a different sort of partner in mind altogether. By the early 1960s, Ubud had attained fame as a unique artists' community. Enter Arie Smit, the most well-known and longest surviving Western artist in Ubud, whose Young Artists school of painting in Penestanan earned him an enduring place in the history of Balinese art. In the following years the entire artistic region around Ubud flourished, including the enclaves of Campuhan, Penestanan, Sanggingan, Nyuhkuning, Padang Tegal, Pengosekon, and Peliatan. Nearby are the centers of wood carving at Mas and of silverware at Celuk. Described by many as one of the world's most magical destinations, Ubud, despite the advance of yoga centers, spas, villas, and luxury hotels, remains relatively unchanged. The town has taken a stand against the encroachment of tourism and has defended its cultural practices and artistic endeavors against the influx of outsiders. By order of decree no McDonald's, Starbucks, or KFCs are allowed within its boundaries. by frommers.com

Holy Chapel (La Sainte-Chapelle), Paris, France
Beautiful Sainte-Chapelle
Built by the obsessively pious Louis IX (1226–70), this Gothic jewel is home to the oldest stained-glass windows in Paris. The chapel was constructed over three years, at phenomenal expense, to house the king's collection of relics acquired from the impoverished emperor of Constantinople. These included Christ's Crown of Thorns, fragments of the Cross, and drops of Christ's blood—though even in Louis's time these were considered of questionable authenticity. Some of the relics have survived and can be seen in the treasury of Notre-Dame, but most were lost during the Revolution. The narrow spiral staircase by the entrance takes you to the upper chapel where the famed beauty of Sainte-Chapelle comes alive: 6,458 square feet of stained glass is delicately supported by painted stonework that seems to disappear in the colorful light streaming through the windows. Deep reds and blues dominate the background, noticeably different from later, lighter medieval styles such as those of Notre-Dame's rose windows. The chapel is essentially an enormous magic lantern illuminating 1,130 biblical figures. Its 15 windows—each 50-feet high—were dismantled and cleaned with laser technology during a 40-year restoration, completed in 2014 to coincide with the 800th anniversary of St. Louis’s birth. Besides the dazzling glass, observe the detailed carvings on the columns and the statues of the apostles. The lower chapel is gloomy and plain, but take note of the low, vaulted ceiling decorated with fleurs-de-lis and cleverly arranged Ls for Louis. Sunset is the optimal time to see the rose window; however, to avoid waiting in killer lines, plan your visit for a weekday morning, the earlier the better. Come on a sunny day to appreciate the full effect of the light filtering through all of that glorious stained glass. You can buy a joint ticket with the Conciergerie: lines are shorter if you purchase it there or online, though you'll still have to go through a longish metal detector line to get into Sainte-Chapelle itself. Sights aside, the chapel makes a divine setting for classical concerts

Musee Rodin, Paris, France
MUSÉE RODIN REVIEW
Auguste Rodin (1840–1917) briefly made his home and studio in the Hôtel Biron, a grand 18th-century mansion that now houses a museum dedicated to his work. He died rich and famous, but many of the sculptures that earned him a place in art history were originally greeted with contempt by the general public, which was unprepared for his powerful brand of sexuality and raw physicality. During a much-needed, multiyear renovation that has closed parts of the Hôtel Biron (it's set to finish in late 2014), the museum is showcasing a pared-down, "greatest hits" selection of Rodin's works. Highlights Most of his best-known sculptures are in the gardens. The front garden is dominated by The Gates of Hell (circa 1880). Inspired by the monumental bronze doors of Italian Renaissance churches, Rodin set out to illustrate stories from Dante's Divine Comedy. He worked on the sculpture for more than 30 years, and it served as a "sketch pad" for many of his later works. Look carefully and you can see miniature versions of The Kiss (bottom right), The Thinker (top center), and The Three Shades (top center). Inside the museum, look for The Bronze Age, which was inspired by the sculptures of Michelangelo: this piece was so realistic that critics accused Rodin of having cast a real body in plaster. There's also a room (condensed during the renovation) of works by Camille Claudel (1864–1943), Rodin's student and longtime mistress, who was a remarkable sculptor in her own right. Her torturous relationship with Rodin eventually drove her out of his studio—and out of her mind. In 1913 she was packed off to an asylum, where she remained until her death. For €1 you can enjoy the 7 acres of gardens. If you want to linger, the Café du Musée Rodin serves meals and snacks in the shade of the garden's linden trees. As you enter, a gallery on the right houses temporary exhibitions. An English audioguide (€6) is available for the permanent collection and for temporary exhibitions. Buy your ticket online for priority access (€1.80 extra fee).

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