Adventure Travel in Nature’s Elements

Adventure Travel in Nature’s Elements

When you think of adventure travel, there are so many ways to make adrenaline can rise in countries other than your own. From traditional, like rafting and safaris, to the less so and almost dangerous (think bull running in Pamplona), travel can be an adventure anywhere. But there is something about communing with nature’s elements (Earth, Air, Fire, and Water) to make adventure travel even more raw and exciting. Leaving out fire with the presumption that no one really wants to burned to a crisp whilst on their vacation, we’ll show you adventure travel in each of the other three elements: Land, Air, and Water.

LAND
The best adventure travel one can partake in on land is a safari. Ride on horses or in a jeep alongside zebras and other animals and get back to the basics of living. Or not – the best thing about the safari is its high level of customization. Tour operators go to great lengths to create a package that fits your exact needs and wants, including luxury locations for overnight lodging and sumptuous meals. For the more adventurous, tree top lodging is an excellent choic, like the lodges in the Aberdare National Park, Kenya. Reportedly, this is where Queen Elizabeth was told of her father’s death in 1952 and the fact that she was now the Queen of Great Britain.

Low Point: Cost. Safaris are quite expensive and you are lucky if you can actually fi nd anything under $4,500 per person for a 8-nights stay. To this, you would also add travel fare, expensive if you come from outside Africa, as is probably the case. You should be able to continue to adventure travel in the years to come as well, ratherSafaris are a particularly great place for romance and we know of many couples whose love has blossomed under a canopy of Kenyan trees. Talk about romantic: a cocktail by the fi re in a luxury camp like the Meru Camp, in Kenya, followed by candlelit dinner in your tent (and the tent is not that thing you bought at the local Wal-Mart and spent half a day setting it up. Think large, comfy, stylish, and luxurious – straight from the movie Out of Africa). Kenya is usually the preferred destination for safaris, with amazing national parks and reserves such as the Mwingi National Reserve or the Masai Mara (not the best choice if you want to have more privacy with your loved one: it is one of the most popular locations, so it is usually filled with groups of tourists). Other traditional destinations are Kruger Park in South Africa, as well as several destinations in Namibia, like the Etosha National Park.

than splurge it all in one trip.

AIR
What is it about hot air ballooning, the best travel we’ve found for the element of air, that makes it adventurous? Not necessarily a great question ask yourself after the recent accident in New Zealand that killed eleven people… but honestly nothing matches the ability to see beautiful places from up high, combined with the human and ancient fascination of flight and the danger of it all. An interesting way of combining all these is a hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia, in Turkey. The big bonus about Cappadocia is the unusual scenery volcanic rock, whose erosion led to a variety of shapes and forms, best observed from above, but there is so much more that you can enjoy in the region, including visits to historical and cultural sites (ancient churches, dining halls, and even entire cities carved into caves and underground).

Low Point: A hot air balloon ride usually takes 2-4 hours, so it will be just a small part of your travel plan. You need to find other adventurous things that you can do on your trip or move on to other attractions. Not a problem, when the “Valley of Love” is just a few minutes away. Spend a few hours hiking, horseback riding, or four-wheeling in the valley and discover old cave homes not inhabited for thousands (yes, thousands) of years. One look at the tall, slender, and quite erect formations of volcanic rock that make up the valley, and you’ll quickly understand why it is called (even by locals) the Love Valley.

WATER
For adventure travel on the water, rafting is one of the best choices you can make and Costa Rica is the best country to do it in. The rivers in the Cost Rica are fast and make for a great rafting experience because of their excessive rainfall and the challenge of numerous rapids. You also have a wide range of options, depending on your skill and desired level of adventure you are willing to go for. If you are a beginner, the Pejibaye River is a good choice, most of it being an easy float. If you want more, the Reventazon River offers a wider selection, with the route from the Powerhouse to Tucurrique  (about three miles) being a good combination longer.

Antarctic Cruise

Antarctic Cruise

An Antarctica Cruise is most likely one of the most passive adventurous things you can do in your lifetime. Think of it: traveling to the most remote part of our world, which just happens to be the coldest on earth, encountering penguins, spotting enormous whales and remembering for the rest of your life how lucky you are to have had this opportunity.

WHAT TO EXPECT
There are several things you should expect as you consider an Antarctic cruise. First, this is not necessarily the place with the most diverse array of animals or birds in the world. Less than 20 species of birds live here and no land mammals. However, you will likely see lots of penguins, especially if you travel in November or December (early Spring in Antarctica), when most of the penguin species lay their eggs on land. Whales, including orcas and humpback whales, as well as seals will also entertain
you.

Second, you should know that you will be in the coldest place on Earth. The lowest temperature ever recorded on Earth was here, in July 1983 – -89.2 degree Celsius, about -129 degrees Fahrenheit: too cold for most living things to survive. Because it is so cold, the only period of the year during which people are able to cruise is from November to March. But you’ll still need to bring plenty of warm clothes.

Third, it is really about the scenery. Yes, there is ice and snow everywhere, but this is different from the ice and snow you may know from home. Here, the ice and snow are moving actors in the landscape, breaking away and strolling across the sea or simply standing still, jutting out of the water as majestic guards of the overwhelming views. You will go ashore during your cruise, so you will be able to directly interact with all this and see the animals up close and personal. Just remember your ice-hiking boots to protect you from the cold and from some potentially nasty slips and falls on the icy terrain. On your journey you will likely pass through the Drake Passage—between Cape Horn, the southernmost tip of the American continent, and the Antarctica Peninsula—at 500 miles is the narrowest part of water between Antarctica and any other land. For many, this is a rite of passage and you should embrace it as such, thinking of the explorers who passed through there at some point or another, albeit during a much more dangerous time.

HOW DOES IT WORK
Obviously, as this is a cruise, you will travel by ship. But there is great flexibility when it comes to the length of the cruise, with many around 8-10 days, but some as long as four weeks (Antarctica’s Far East cruise, from Quark Expeditions, takes from December to January and takes the visitor along the east coast of the continent). Most of the cruises are around the Antarctica Peninsula, but the actual route taken will depend on whether you leave from Latin America (in Latin America, you will start from the Southernmost town in the world, Ushuaia) or Australia.

PRICING
There is something for everybody there, but you will expect to pay at least $7,000 for an 8-day cruise. Depending on the number of days and the conditions on the ship, it can go as high up as $35,000-$40,000.

BOTTOM LINE: Splurge or Save? If you want to take an Antarctic cruise we would recommend you go with the less expensive cruise options rather than splurging on a $30,000+ cruse, as you’ll enjoy the same cold weather and the same amazing sights (whales, penguins, ice bergs, etc.) at any price point, but maybe with a bottle of sparkling wine rather than French champagne.

Travel Firsts My First Visit to Amsterdam’s Red Light District

Travel Firsts My First Visit to Amsterdam’s Red Light District

Not only is prostitution legal in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, it is very much on display and open for business in a very retail, store-front kind of way in the city’s Red Light Districts. So famed (or infamous) is the red light district, that as a tourist of course I had to visit one just to say I went.

I (a female, traveling with a male) arrived at Amsterdam’s main Red Light District (RLD) around 12:30 am. The main RLD is in the Walletjes area (between the Centraal Station and Nieuwenmarkt) while the other two are in Singel (between Raadhuistraat and Centraal Station) and de Pijp (behind the Rijksmuseum). I was glad I went with a male, as there were some dodgy characters on the street and the single females seem like more of a target.

True to what I’d heard, the ladies really are on displays like in stores – they sit and stand in little window boxes in their respective brothel. Talk about a strange site! It’s like walking through a shopping center but instead of shopping for clothes you’re shopping for people. The brothels which are open for business are lit up on top by a thin red neon light, hence the district’s name, giving everything an eerie hue. and They call to passersby to come “watch before you buy”. I was a little surprised to realize that the women were motioning to me just as often as they were to my male companion; no discrimination here!

In addition to the girls on display another thing I couldn’t help but notice was the huge ‘NO PHOTOS’ signs (camera with a line through it). They are serious about not taking pictures and if you so much as reach for your camera or hold up your phone, nice policemen will come tell you to stop.

We did not “watch before you buy”, nor did we buy, and I noticed there weren’t a whole lot of other people doing so either. I thought this was due to the poor economy but instead it was apparently the time of day we were there – things picked up at 1am as we were leaving. I guess prostitution is one business immune to economic downturn to an extent. After 1am when the tourists dissipate, people really get down to business in the RLD, so if you’re only there to window shop and not make a purchase, you’ll be more comfortable going between dusk and 1:00 am.

First Time in North Korea

First Time in North Korea

This is definitely a ”first” for many and, for most, a last as well. It is not that North Korea is not an interesting country, in its own way, or that it is not worth going to, but its remoteness, its lack of contacts with the outside world (there are only a couple of direct flights from the Sunan International Airport that operate on a daily basis, mostly to China and Russia) and the constant feeling of being watched and carefully supervised make it a place I would not want to go back to. So, bottom line, if you are willing to accept restrictions on your freedoms and travel back to Stalinist times, this is definitely an adventure not to be missed. You will be one of only 2,000 annual foreign visitors in the country.

Since we are talking limitations on travel, your flight will likely come in from Beijing. You do need a tourist visa to get into North Korea, but usually this is not a problem (unless you are a journalist, which would kick the ball into a completely different dimension and make this a double-adventure issue) and is usually handled by one of the travel agents that will take care of your trip (no, this is not one of those trips where you buy your flight tickets on Expedia and send an email to your chosen hotel – you’ll need a professional agent). If you have trouble getting a visa (residents of some countries do) then consider signing up for a teaching job teaching English, the employer will take care of the legalities of entry into the country.

The first thing that will shock you in the airport is that your passport is retained “for security issues”. It is never very clear whether it is your security they are worried about or the security of the country itself (you dangerous traveler you) or that of the Kim triad (to which we will refer later in this article).

The most revered Kim is Kim Il Sun, Eternal Leader, which translates into his picture being posted through the city (and country). You will be amazed to see he has not aged a bit, despite being dead since 1994. Kim Il Jung, Dear Leader, joined him recently, to the dismay and sadness of the entire nation. His successor, Kim Jong Un, is yet to be named, although Great Successor seems to be the word of choice. As a good word of advice, restrain yourself from saying anything bad about all these leaders and their policies, no matter how absurd you feel they are (and they are, they really are): you are likely to be under some sort of surveillance throughout your trip. Your tour will cover at least one or two of Kim Il Sun’s statues and you will be asked to lay a wreath of flowers at his mausoleum (you would be wise to comply with this request).Much of the architecture you will see around the capital is a combination of Stalinist architecture (read “monstrous buildings”) and veneration of the three Kims that have led the country since its independence and appearance as a nation in 1948. Some of the interesting architectural points on your tour will be the Juche Tower, the Palace of Culture and the Arch of Triumph (not quite the same as Napoleon’s).

If you do get a chance to go outside of the capital, you will likely be surprised by the wide highways with almost no cars on them, as well as, in general, the strangeness of activities such as cutting the grass by hand or cleaning the pavement by hand. You will become used to the guide telling you about the “greatest” this and the “largest” that – some of these are even true: the largest hotel in the world was started in Pyongyang, but construction was stopped because of a lack of funds. There remains a gruesome silhouette that dominates the city.

FUN FACTS ABOUT NORTH KOREA

  • The work day in North Korea has a three hour rest period in the afternoon. Kind of Mediterranean, isn’t it?
  • Many buildings have no elevators because of uneven intervals between the floors.
  • North Koreans must abide by state mandated rules about their clothing and hairstyles, so everyone looks more or less the same.
  • Kim Jong Il’s biography states that he was born under a double rainbow.
  • Traffic lights have an additional, fourth light (blue), signaling when the car can turn right. This is when they work…

NOT SO FUN FACTS ABOUT NORTH KOREA

  • North Korea has the fifth largest military in the world, with 20 % of the population aged 17 to 54 in the army
  • Military spending is around 25 % of the North Korean GDP
  • It is believed that North Korea has at least 6 nuclear weapons.
  • 60% of North Korean children suffer from malnutrition, with most of the food going to the military

WATCH IT!
Before you go (or instead of) watch the Dutch documentary “Welcome to North Korea”, which won an Emmy award for best documentary in 2001 (yes, it will still be relevant today).

BOTTOM LINE
This is really an adventure trip, because, wherever you are coming from, it is likely you have only experienced this if you lived in Stalinist Soviet Union in the 1930s or in some of the former Communist states in Europe. It is an experience worth undertaking, if only to understand what happens when there are no checks and balances, when groups of individuals are allowed limitless power and when they decide to run social experiments on the population they are supposed to be serving. On the adventure side, have no fear: stick with the rules, respect what your guide says, don’t speak badly of the Leaders and you will be all right to tell the story.

Sandboarding

Sandboarding

If you are in Peru and someone comes up to you and invites you to go sandboarding with him, don’t look at him like you both had too much to drink last night: sandboarding is not only a cool adventure activity today, but also one that Egyptians and Chinese reportedly used to practice over 1,000 years ago.

WHERE TO DO IT
In Peru, this is an especially awesome undertaking. For one reason because Peru is home to the largest sand dune in the world, the Cerro Blanco, standing 2070 meters above sea level. Since it is less likely that you will be able to say that you have climbed the highest mountain or traveled the seven seas, at least you have sandboarded the highest dune! Other sandboarding options include the dunes at La Huacachina de Ica or several along the coast of Camana, but trust us: if you are going to do this, go for the very top.

Peru Adventure Tours offers a custom sandboarding tour, complete with transportation in sand buggies and additional options, such as a tour of the dunes. The company is flexible in offering you a customized package, so shoot them an email, let them know what you want out of this experience, and leave it to them to plan something great. The prices are not outrageously expensive either: depending on what you want, the package will likely cost around $70 per person.

THE ESSENTIALS
The most important part of the equipment is the sandboard, which is a little different from the snowboard you might know, mainly because the surface itself is different in consistency and texture. The base of your sandboard is harder and the laminex material it is made of makes waxing an absolute necessity before going downhill (if you take a tour package, you will be briefed on all this, but you will be an A+ student if you’ve read this article beforehand and come prepared).

MORE ESSENTIALS (AKA MUSTS)

  • Go early: the main difference between sand-boarding and snowboarding (other than the obvious sand vs. snow) is the environment: sand=dessert=hot weather. So, if you are not on the dunes by 6.30 or 7 am, it will get too hot for you to do too many descends and it will be a missed opportunity. You will sleep when you are dead, anyway, as the song goes. Another interesting idea is in the late evening, once the sun has gone down: the lights from your sand buggy will create a unique experience on your way down.
  • Go with the tour option or, at least, make sure you choose an option where a sand buggy regularly takes you to the top of the dune for every trip down: you will really appreciate this once you realize how much you would have to otherwise had to walk uphill.
  • You pick up speed really fast: if you are a beginner, remember that falling to your side (on your backside) is always a great way to stop if you start going too fast. And the safest as well!
  • Keep your clothing light: the weather will get very hot and the experience will definitely be more enjoyable if you are dressed adequately for this. That said, when you fall (for most people it won’t be a matter of if, but when) the sand is quite scratchy and uncomfortable, so you might want to avoid shorts. A pair of light cargo pants would be ideal.

Beginner or expert, however you get down the dune you can expect a fast ride down – faster than on snow! If you can’t stand up and board, an easier way is to sit on your bottom on the board, hold on to the sides, and ride it like a sled.WHAT TO EXPECT
Half the fun of sandboarding is getting there. You’ll feel like you’re on a real live roller coaster as dune buggy speeds up and down sand dunes, slipping and sliding at breakneck speeds. Fortunately the drivers are skilled and your likelihood of rolling is minimal, but even if it happens, you’re surrounded by a steel frame, so passengers are unlikely to get hurt.

BOTTOM LINE
Sandboarding is a truly unique adventure that you might want to try at least once in your lifetime. The fact that you are going downhill, but outside is hot and you don’t see white all around is only part of it. If you are deterred about going all the way to Peru for this (although, remember, it is the highest sand dune in the world), you can always try other locations, include several in the US (Arizona and California are a couple of good picks, with the likes of Yuma Sand Dunes, Carmel Beach or The Pit in
Sand City).
Marathons in June

Marathons in June

It is probably unnecessary to explain why this is part of our adventure section, but one can remember that the first guy who tried the feat, namely the Greek soldier, Pheidippides, perished in the attempt. With all this introductory encouragement, the month of June has some excellent events for those who are passionate about running marathons, with additional fractional options for those of you who are passionate, but don’t have the stamina (or desire) to run the entire course.

Rock ‘n’ Roll Seattle Marathon & Half Marathon (June 23rd).
The best thing about this marathon is that it is in Seattle and by Seattle, we mean the entire fun part of downtown. The full course also takes you to Seaward Park, one of the landmarks of Seattle, an amazing forest laid out on a peninsula going into Lake Washington (however, by the time you get here you will have experienced about half the marathon, so those physical cramps might hold you back a bit from enjoying the scenery). The bands and cheerleaders along the way help make this a great experience. On the down side: there have been complaints about Cytomax handouts (too rare) and other offerings that are necessities for the runner during the course (water and bathrooms). At the same time, the number of hills in the city itself is less pleasant when you are letting your lungs out. Overall, a fun course to try at some point!

Stockholm Marathon (June 2).
Right at the beginning of the month, the Stockholm marathon is one of the several organized on the Old Continent. You’ll find tradition, culture and history all on this marathon course. Although only 30 some- years in existence (the inaugural edition was in 1979), the beginning and end to the course is right at the 1912 Olympic Stadium, so it gives a historical sensation to the whole deal. The Stockholm Marathon is also a chance to visit much of the old part of the city, with such sites as the Royal Palace or the City Hall, which is still wonderful, even during this time you are putting in tremendous efforts. The city is relatively mild when it comes to the ups and downs of the course and the Swede’s organizational skills are an extra plus.

Cork City Marathon (June 4).
We like Cork, the second largest city in Ireland, so the Cork City Marathon is one of the choices we make here. The course is also nicely done so that you get in as much of the city views as possible, including a run through the marina and passed Blackrock Castle. The Irish are passionate throughout the course, so you will get plenty of encouragement, which, as you runners out there know, sometimes makes the difference between finishing and not finishing. The weather is not always the best: occasionally hot, you can add to that some strong gushes of
wind.

If you want a great place to relax after the Cork City Marathon, book in advance a room at the amazing Liss Ard Estate, in Skibberen. Although it is about 80 kilometers from Cork, this historic house is set in amazing scenery, with ample gardens and a great breakfast, just the right thing for to unwind after the race.

Travel Firsts: First time on the Amazon River

Travel Firsts: First time on the Amazon River

The trip in the Amazon jungle was my “trip of a lifetime”. You know what these are: those trips that you plan for years and years and then you start saving money for them for more years and years, until they finally happen. The sheer size of the Amazon River gave it a legendary figure: second longest river in the world, but with the largest waterflow and an average discharge that is greater than all the next seven largest rivers combined. Almost 50 kilometers wide during the rainy season, 1,100 tributaries and I should probably stop here.

A trip to the Amazon River is not one of those trips in which you jump in your car on a whim and drive from Berlin to Paris or from Washington DC to Boston. You need a tour company to guide you and choosing one is not the easiest task. You want to get as much of the experience as possible (agreeably, this is a place where you are less likely go back just whenever you feel like it), but without getting anything else, like animal bites or near death experiences. This is why when selecting the company, I tried to look beyond the marketing part of it and read more in depth as to what the company offers. I stopped at Green Tracks (http://www.greentracks.com) and not only because their sustainable message appealed to me, but also because I looked at their staff and found that the people running the day-to-day trips and tours have backgrounds in anthropology or environmental studies. So, they definitely seemed like the right people for a trip to the Amazon.

The second big choice that I had to make was the type of trip to select from Green Tracks (and trust me, they have a lot). After much consideration, I chose the Amazon Camping Trip, mainly because I liked how it was presented as a trip for “those wanting to experience the rainforest on their own terms and indulging their personal interests”. On my own terms…Cool! Usually I had to fight for having anything on my own terms and here they were offering it right up front. The camping trip is in the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve, a great place for spotting animals and birds, navigating small rivers and canals and just feeling great about being in the rainforest (let’s call it the jungle, from now on, it just sounds so much cooler).

He reason I am going so fast through this part is because I wanted to tell you more about what this trip actually meant, other than talking about all these things you get to do. Camping in the jungle is probably the best experience ever. First, this is not a honeymoon safari, where being in the wild actually means staying at a luxurious lodge. Camping in the Amazon actually means spending time on the ground, in the jungle, in tents, hearing the sounds of the rainforest, the thrill of the wilderness, the danger of wild animals (yes there are snakes, so be careful). Second, there are no words to describe what this amazing experience really means to a person: you have to try it yourself. If I did it, anybody can (and no, the piranhas don’t go chasing you in the boat!). Have fun and be sure to send us photos!So, it all started in Iquitos, in Peru. We visited the confluence of the Ucayali and Marañon rivers, where the whole Amazonian madness begins as these two rivers merge to produce the Amazon. We stayed at the Pacaya-Samiria Amazon Lodge and then spent 4 nights camping in the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve. I experienced all the excitement I expected to and desired on this trip: I fished for piranhas, I took the canoe down Yagua Creek (and by the majestic “I”, I mean of course that I was accompanied every second of the way by one of the professional guides), and I met some of the locals in a riverside village.

Making your own shrimp bisque

Making your own shrimp bisque

The shrimp bisque remains one of the favorite traditional French dishes. Its origins are from Charente, in the Western part of France (our favorite source for culinary inspiration, with great reason!), where the abundance of seafood (aka shrimp as well) makes this a wonderfully fresh and tasty dish.

This is a recipe by celebrity chef and Barefoot Contessa Ina Garten (Ina, we all love you here at Destinations Uncovered), but I will tell you my own experience of making the bisque, starting with shopping for shrimp. You would need about a pound for 4 servings and my tip is that you don’t buy the cheapest and, hence, the smallest shrimps: you will have a harder time peeling them. It’s also a good idea to buy shrimp with the head on: you need to make some seafood stock, and what you peel off the shrimp is the best for that. So, once you are home, you can start cleaning your shrimp: take off the head, peel off the hard shell and throw everything peeled into a big pot with boiling water – as said, this will make your stock (great stuff!) Let boil for about 15 minutes, then strain and set aside. You also have to devein the shrimp, meaning that, with a sharp knife, you take out the stringy vein on the back of the shrimp (it’s really not as disgusting as it sounds). Yes the cleaning and deveining bit can take some time, so start this at least a few hours before you’re ready to cook and serve. Set your clean shrimp aside.

The second important part of your bisque is the leeks. Take about 3 leeks and chop them. Cook them in olive oil until they are light brown: you want them tender but not burnt obviously (you have probably read this in all recipes…there is just no better way of saying it). Ina says 10 minutes, which is about right, but use your best judgment rather than time. Add garlic (about 3-4 cloves – you can never have enough garlic in a dish) and season with some cayenne pepper. Then, add the shrimp. Here is the key to cooking the shrimp: you cook them only until they turn pink-anything over that will make your shrimp too chewy, ruin your dinner and end the world (ok, maybe we are exaggerating here). The cognac and sherry go in to complete this great mixture: don’t overdo it, maybe about ¼ cup of each. Now comes the really fancy stuff: everything goes in the food processor and is blended to a puree.

The last part of the making of this soup involves melting ½ stick of butter in a pot (those of you who love Ina know that butter is never to be missed in her dishes), then adding ¼ all-purpose flour and 2 cups of half and half. Stir and then add the pure, the stock (yes, remember the stock?), 1/3 cup of tomato paste and salt and pepper.

Enjoy!

The Tower of David

The Tower of David

The Tower of David or Jerusalem’s Citadel is one of the best examples of medieval military architecture in the Middle East. Located near the Jafa Gate and thus guarding this legendary entry to the city, the Tower of David unites hundreds of years of both confrontation and peaceful co-existence between the three main monotheistic religions – Judaism , Christianity, and Islam.

Although your expectations may be higher, this was not actually built during the time of King David, but it is probably one of the best places to find out more about the incredible history of Jerusalem. The Museum of the History of Jerusalem is hosted in the Tower of David and covers the evolution of the city from the first documentary mention, in the 2nd century BC. Very well organized and with explanations in English, Hebrew or Arabic, the museum takes you from the Canaanite period through the Roman and Byzantine periods to the British mandate and present time. The collections are priceless, going back to a 4,000 year-old figurine and the royal seal of the Crusader Kings, featuring the Tower of David itself. Some of the legendary orders of the Crusades, like the Templers, are also presented in the exhibition dedicated to that period of time.

We’ve left the best for last (isn’t that how it is usually done?): 20 projectors, 10 video players, 14 computers and 14 loudspeakers combine to make one of the most spectacular lights and illusion show in the world and a great way to complement what you have seen in the museum. It’s not only the illusions (think unreal walls and roaring flames), but the colors and sensations you are likely to discover that should make this a point to tick on your “to do list” this travel vacation, not to mention it’s pretty darn instructive. The show lasts for 45 minutes and takes place on several nights during the week. Tickets are about $15 for adults (well worth it).

By the end of your visit, having seen thousands of years of Jewish and Christian history while watching Muslims, Jews and Christians come and go through the city and changing how things were beforehand (like the conversion of churches into mosques and Islamic schools by Saladin), you start to better understand things and appreciate the apparent unity and oneness of the people here today.

The Tower holds a Guinness World Record for the longest painting ever made, a staggering 500 meters in the citadel courtyard. The best thing about it is that two thousand Jews and Arabs all joined together to make the thematic painting,“A Dream of Peace” in 1993.

Venice Around the World

Venice Around the World

Venice, with its beautiful canals, bridges, and gondolas dotting the city, has a unique romanticism travelers can’t find anywhere else. Or, so they think. So enthralled with Venice is the world, that many cities claim the title of Venice of the region just because of some distant resemblance to the spectacular city. Usually the existence of any water feature—including, but not limited to, canals, rivers, or springs—seems enough for a city to aim for that title. Some of these cities are worth a visit for their particular charm, quite often not associated with any similarities to Venice.

VENICE OF THE EAST

Suzhou bills itself as the Oriental Venice, but was named so by Marco Polo, who was Venetian, so probably knew what he was talking about. The city is on the Grand Canal, one of the ancient Chinese waterways that linked many of the country’s cities 2000 years ago. On the outskirts of the city the Weichang River is a rectangular canal that encircles most of the historical area, with several smaller canals linking the sides of the rectangle. For more small-town Venetian feel and less the bustle of a big city, water towns around Suzhou are not to be missed. Tongli, Zhouzhuang, and Xitang come complete with gondolas and small   arched bridges over the canals. Among these, Tongli is so well preserved that it is now a preferred location for shooting movie scenes.

VENICE OF THE WESTVENICE OF THE NORTH
Amsterdam vied for this title with St. Petersburg and won, although both cities are sometimes referred to as Venice of the North. The canals in Amsterdam make as many as 90 small islands, all linked by around a thousand bridges. The name of the city comes from a dam built on the River Amstel in the 13th century. The number of boat tours abound and are a great way to see the city, including the boat houses. We think Amsterdam is the closest thing to Venice there is.


VENICE OF THE SOUTH
Monasterevin, in Ireland, is not so much about the canals, as about waterways. However, the charm of the small town cannot be denied, in part because of the drawbridges that gives the entire setting a historical allure. If you want a more urban setting, Nantes, in France, is also sometimes referred to as the “Venice of the West”. The medieval castle (which we will cover in a future issue) and the cathedral are also worth seeing.

The only real Venice of the South is the original Venice. But other southern countries fancy themselves little sisters to the famed Italian water city. The country of Venezuela actually means “Little Venice”, yet few cities would qualify as canal towns. Further east, several cities in the Southeast Asia frequently lay claim to being the “Venice of the South”, as the region is prone to floods, leaving many cities full of canals quite often. The southernmost Philippine island of Tawi-Tawi is so devoid of land that houses and markets are built on stilts as extensions around the island. They call themselves the Venice of the South, but if there is more water than buildings then we aren’t sure it qualifies…

The city of Davao, also in the Philippines, is another contender for the Venice of the South title due to its frequent floods, which turns the streets into canals, whether the people like it or not. Nevertheless, Davao is known for its natural beauty and is worth a visit if you are in the region. In one of the waterside markets in the Philippines be sure to pick up their favorite fruit, the Durian, know as the King of Fruits”, for its large and prickly size.

Just like Venice has its own Grand Canal, so does Suzhou, only that in this case, the Grand Canal linked Beijing to Hangzhou, which means that it was significantly longer, with about 1,776 kilometers in length. What is even more amazing is that much of the canal dates back at least 2,500 years, with the oldest parts going back to the 5th century!

South East Asia’s Smelly Fruit
The Durian is known for its un-aromatic qualities, as it smells like a rotten onion. Some say it tastes as bad as it smells, but others like both the taste and smell. But the durian also has reported nutritional and medicinal value, other than its monarchic trait and the questionable culinary one: a pharmaceutical company in New York launched a short-lived health supplement in the 1920s based on durian.