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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.

Culture and spirituality in the Dogon Country, Mali

Culture and spirituality in the Dogon Country, Mali

Dogon Country, in Mali, is an exquisite experience for a traveler; allowing one to witness the unique combination of spiritual creativity and with the environment. What should you expect in Dogon Country? First, a unique architecture, adapted to the particularities of the land and second, a fascinating cultural blend of historic traditions and spiritual rituals.

HABITATS
Dogon people populated mostly the plains, but also the cliffs, as well as the occasional intermediary plateau. The traditional Dogon architecture is a one-room hut constructed out of mud with thatched roofs and build in the plains. Most are houses, but some are Binou shrines, essential for the relationship of the tribe with the spiritual world, as well as grain storage buildings, and the toguna, larger buildings where men meet to interact and sort out conflicts.

Although the Dogon initially populated these regions to escape from the spread of Islam in Ghana in the 14th century, parts of Islam have been blended into traditional Dogon faith of Animism, the belief that non-human entities are spiritual beings. Some of the mosques you are likely to see across Dogon country likely belong to other people, like the Fulani, who live in the same region and are predominantly Muslim. Up on the cliffs, you have the caves, used mostly as burial sites. It is said that the Tellem people inhabited the region previous to the arrival of the Dogon, with their caves much higher up on the cliffs. When they arrived in this area, the Dogon believed that the Tellem could actually fl y, since they thought there was no physical way possible for anyone to live that high up.

Music and the Dogons
The jazz and musical scene in Mali is quite diverse and produced some amazingly talented musicians. One of the greatest in this category is Ali Farka Touré. His connection with the Dogons? One of his songs is called Hawa Dolo and is a Dogon song…

Oh, these Dogons…
Needless to say, the Dogons are a very interesting people. We know they originated from Ghana, as mentioned, but they believe they have some sort of cosmic connections and that most of their knowledge comes from extraterrestrials. Arguments in their favor: in their first meeting with Western anthropologists, in the 1930s, they referred to a star that was only discovered with modern technology in the 1970s…Of course, they called it Po Tolo rather than Sirius B (much more starly), but still…


How to explore
UNIQUE TRADITIONS
Second, you have an unique culture that blends a diversity of Animist traditions, which see a spiritual world even beyond living things, and Dogon customs. The most well-known to the rest of the world are the use of masks in funeral traditions. The initial role of masks was as part of a ritual that would ensure the safe passing of the soul into the other world. Commercialism has taken over today, as the tradition is usually held in the presence of tourists, who are charged money for the spectacle and even for a ritualistic ceremony customized for the tourist. Dogon sects like the Binou, the Amma or the Mono still have their own particular customs and rituals, including worshiping totems and sacrificing goats and chickens on ritual altars, all interesting to see for someone outside the culture. Be sure to observe the interaction between the Dogons themselves and between Dogons and the outside world: their culture is based on harmony, and this is manifested in their relationships, including in their greetings and general approach to life. For example, when you meet someone, even if for the first time, expect to spend a lot of time talking about the family and how they are. They are always “sewa”, which means fine, which is why the Dogons have also been called the Sewa people.

You can explore the area by starting in the southwest, at Gani-do and make your way across RN14 through Bankas, Koporo, and Madougou. A guide is most useful, especially one provided by Mali Discovery Tours in Bamako.

Bottom line: Dogon Country is a true cultural adventure, but it is also physically challenging, with a difficult terrain and climate and no abundance of food and drink. You will never have a debate between saving and splurging here…

Culture and spirituality in the Dogon Country, Mali

Culture and spirituality in the Dogon Country, Mali

Dogon Country, in Mali, is an exquisite experience for a traveler; allowing one to witness the unique combination of spiritual creativity and with the environment. What should you expect in Dogon Country? First, a unique architecture, adapted to the particularities of the land and second, a fascinating cultural blend of historic traditions and spiritual rituals.

HABITATS
Dogon people populated mostly the plains, but also the cliffs, as well as the occasional intermediary plateau. The traditional Dogon architecture is a one-room hut constructed out of mud with thatched roofs and build in the plains. Most are houses, but some are Binou shrines, essential for the relationship of the tribe with the spiritual world, as well as grain storage buildings, and the toguna, larger buildings where men meet to interact and sort out conflicts.

Although the Dogon initially populated these regions to escape from the spread of Islam in Ghana in the 14th century, parts of Islam have been blended into traditional Dogon faith of Animism, the belief that non-human entities are spiritual beings. Some of the mosques you are likely to see across Dogon country likely belong to other people, like the Fulani, who live in the same region and are predominantly Muslim. Up on the cliffs, you have the caves, used mostly as burial sites. It is said that the Tellem people inhabited the region previous to the arrival of the Dogon, with their caves much higher up on the cliffs. When they arrived in this area, the Dogon believed that the Tellem could actually fl y, since they thought there was no physical way possible for anyone to live that high up.

Music and the Dogons
The jazz and musical scene in Mali is quite diverse and produced some amazingly talented musicians. One of the greatest in this category is Ali Farka Touré. His connection with the Dogons? One of his songs is called Hawa Dolo and is a Dogon song…

Oh, these Dogons…
Needless to say, the Dogons are a very interesting people. We know they originated from Ghana, as mentioned, but they believe they have some sort of cosmic connections and that most of their knowledge comes from extraterrestrials. Arguments in their favor: in their first meeting with Western anthropologists, in the 1930s, they referred to a star that was only discovered with modern technology in the 1970s…Of course, they called it Po Tolo rather than Sirius B (much more starly), but still…


How to explore
UNIQUE TRADITIONS
Second, you have an unique culture that blends a diversity of Animist traditions, which see a spiritual world even beyond living things, and Dogon customs. The most well-known to the rest of the world are the use of masks in funeral traditions. The initial role of masks was as part of a ritual that would ensure the safe passing of the soul into the other world. Commercialism has taken over today, as the tradition is usually held in the presence of tourists, who are charged money for the spectacle and even for a ritualistic ceremony customized for the tourist. Dogon sects like the Binou, the Amma or the Mono still have their own particular customs and rituals, including worshiping totems and sacrificing goats and chickens on ritual altars, all interesting to see for someone outside the culture. Be sure to observe the interaction between the Dogons themselves and between Dogons and the outside world: their culture is based on harmony, and this is manifested in their relationships, including in their greetings and general approach to life. For example, when you meet someone, even if for the first time, expect to spend a lot of time talking about the family and how they are. They are always “sewa”, which means fine, which is why the Dogons have also been called the Sewa people.

You can explore the area by starting in the southwest, at Gani-do and make your way across RN14 through Bankas, Koporo, and Madougou. A guide is most useful, especially one provided by Mali Discovery Tours in Bamako.

Bottom line: Dogon Country is a true cultural adventure, but it is also physically challenging, with a difficult terrain and climate and no abundance of food and drink. You will never have a debate between saving and splurging here…

Travel Napoleon’s World

Travel Napoleon’s World

FIRST STOP: AJACCIO
It’s hard to believe that the incredible journey of a self-made man to world-wide glory and power starts in the unassuming French island of Corsica, in the town of Ajaccio. The city of Ajaccio is the capital and largest city of Corsica and some say it is among the most beautiful seashores of the world (hopefully, not all of them are proud inhabitants of the city itself). The city was built on the seaside and became one of the preferred destinations for privileged tourists in the 19th and 20th centuries wanting to enjoy the beauty of the sea without the crowds. In addition to myriad sites reminding the visitor that Napoleon was born and lived part of his life here, be sure to enjoy the views from a walk along one of the cliffs. The western cliff wall (La corniche du Couchant), for example, is about one and a half hours long and offer fantastic views of the sea and the beach, as well as the medieval towers known as the Genovese Towers (although not all of them are Genovese).

In 1764, the Bonaparte family moved into the house at Rue Saint Charles 20000, where Napoleon was born in 1769 (according to legend, on a Louis XVI couch). Damaged during the troubled times of the French Revolution, as the family had sided with the Republic, the house was enlarged and renovated, with new furniture added, much of which you can see today. The house became a museum in 1967 and is now filled with Bonaparte memorabilia.

SECOND STOP: EGYPT

“Soldiers, forty centuries are looking down upon you from these pyramids” – this is what history records Napoleon as saying before the Battle of the Pyramids, where his French army won a decisive victory against the Turks and the Mamluks. There are as many as 138 pyramids in Egypt, although the most famous ones are the three pyramids of Giza, just outside Cairo. The largest of these, the Pyramid of Khufu, is known as the Great Pyramid and is the only remaining wonder of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, as well as the oldest one.

Visiting the pyramid is a task that takes you back to mysterious times: you enter through the Robbers’ Tunnel and move around throughout smaller tunnels, both ascending and descending. Be sure to arrive early: there are only 150 tickets being given out in the morning and another 150 tickets in the afternoon. You can always take a private tour from Cairo, which will allow you to tour at a leisurely pace and with an interesting commentary. As with many things in Egypt, tours from Cairo are reasonably cheap (only a couple of dollars) but be sure to add a tip at the end, a treasured custom in Egypt.

Napoleon’s expedition to Egypt did not have a solely military purpose: it was also a scientific expedition, with as many as 150 of the most renowned French scientists of the time joining in the quest. Their goal was to get a better understanding of Egyptian civilization and to play a role in evaluating what to take home to France. Among their greatest discoveries was the Rosetta Stone, which later led to the deciphering and translation of hieroglyphics, in 1822.

THIRD STOP: NOTRE DAME DE PARIS
Napoleon was already an accomplished general and the ruler of France by the time he had reached Notre-Dame on his journey. He had reformed France, reviewed its budget, started construction projects and a legislative and judiciary work that would culminate with the Civil Code, on which much of European law is still based. For anyone, this would have been enough for ten lifetimes, but not for Napoleon.

Napoleon was crowned Emperor of France the Cathedral of Notre Dame by the Pope himself (usually, it was the emperor that went to Rome for the crowning ceremony, but, to showcase his power, Napoleon had the Pope travel to Paris for his coronation. In a total break with French heritage, Napoleon replaced the traditional fl eur-de-lis, symbol of the French monarchy, with bees. The bees had been recently recognized as the symbol of the first Merovingian kings. Napoleon did his own thing to the very end: he took the crown out of the Pope’s hand to crown himself, then crowned his wife, Josephine, an event immortalized in a famous painting by Jacques-Louis David. Napoleon knew the truth that behind every great man is a great woman.The Cathedral of Notre Dame was built in the Classical Gothic style on the oldest part of Paris, the Ile de la Cite, mostly in the 12th and 13th centuries. The church withstood centuries of devastation and troubled times, including during the Protestant Wars, the French Revolution and the Second World War, to remain one of the most recognized symbol of the French capital and of Gothic architecture (pay extra attention to vaults, gargoyles and other recognizable features).

FOURTH STOP: BRNO, THE CZECH REPUBLIC
It was not really at Brno that Napoleon made this stop, but in Brno’s outskirts, in Austerlitz, which witnessed one of his greatest victories and one of the best military achievements of modern history.

The city of Brno, now in the Czech Republic, was for a long time the capital of the medieval province of Moravia. It is a worthy stop not only because of its medieval buildings, such as the Spilberk Castle, but also due to its modern architecture. One such example is the Villa Tugendhat, built in the 1920s and a symbol of modernism in Europe. The house is an early example of the functionalism style of architecture, characterized by a focus on the purpose of the construction and a simplification of structure and decorations. The Villa Tugendhat also witnessed the signing of the document that confirmed the division of Czechoslovakia into the states of Slovakia and the Czech Republic, in 1992.

The Battle of Austerlitz is considered by many to be Napoleon’s greatest military achievement. In 1805, he thoroughly defeated a combined Russian and Austrian army. For the next two years, the Great Army, as the French army became known, would win a string of victories against the Russians and Prussians and become the most powerful state on the continent. Decline would then follow, but for now, Austerlitz represented the height of the Napoleonic glory.

To celebrate his amazing victory at Austerlitz, the following year (in 1806) he commissioned the building of the Arch de Triomphe, which graces this month’s cover. Work on it was stopped for about 10 years after his defeat, but was continued later as a monument to all French forces in all wars.

The Battle of the River Moscow or Borodino took place about 150 kilometers from Moscow and was one of the bloodiest battles in the Napoleonic history. The Russian army, in constant retreat after the French invasion, decided to take a stand and fight to protect the capital. The cry of victory however is subject to interpretation: the field remained in French hands and the Russians retreated, but the staggering losses on both sides made this a very indecisive victory. The great Russian writer Tolstoy wrote “War and Peace” in a cottage in a small village that was part of the large battlefront.FIFTH STOP: MOSCOW
Napoleon stayed in the Kremlin (fortress in Russian, but more of a citadel in the case of the Kremlin in Moscow—with as many as four palaces, four cathedrals and a range of other buildings on its grounds) during his month in Moscow, with the obvious symbolism of having conquered the residence of the Grand Dukes of Moscow and, later on, of the Tsars themselves. With Peter the Great, in the 17th century, however, the Kremlin was no longer used as the imperial residence: Peter moved the capital to St. Petersburg. Napoleon blew up significant parts of the citadel, as a good-bye message on his departure from the city.

SIXTH STOP: FONTAINEBLEAU
By the time Napoleon reached Fontainebleau, he was a shadow of his former glory. Once the ruler of Europe, Europe had now turned against him, at all levels. Even in France, once so loyal, people began to grumble that so much blood had been spilled for the ambition of one man… a familiar complaint heard the world over.

It was at Fontainebleau that Napoleon abdicated, for the first time, upon pressure from his generals in   1814. He attempted suicide with poison, but the poison, made especially for such occasions of defeat, was several years old and did not work. On leaving the palace and going into exile on the Island of Elba, Napoleon would say, to his troops “Adieu my children! I would like to clasp every one of you to my breast: I shall at least clasp your flag”. Talk about an electrifying speech. Unfortunately, not many soldiers were left to electrify: his campaigns in Russia and Germany in 1812 and 1813 had led to the disappearance of nearly an entire generation.Every French king has lived at the Palace of Fontainebleau at a time or other, with many born there. Many royal guests, such as Peter the Great of Russia, have also stayed at the palace, which was initially a hunting lodge, a trend we’ve seen before in the Palaces of Versailles (France) and Schonbrunn (Austria), but expanded and transformed by Francis I into what it is today. Important architects and painters of the Renaissance worked on it, including Italian import Primaticcio. The Nymph of Fontainebleau, now at the Louvre, was made by the Italian sculptor Benvenuto Cellini.

SEVENTH STOP: THE ISLAND OF ELBA
Several sites are associated with Napoleon in Elba, the most interesting being his town house and his holiday house, about an hour away by bike (you can actually rent a bike from the city and cycle to the house – although one of the hills is a tough challenge). Each house is worth a short tour, as is a walk in the town of Portoferraio. Read about activities at all price points in Elba in our 50-500-5000 article this month.

After Fontainebleau, Napoleon was assigned sovereignty over the small island of Elba, off the Italian coast. He set about organizing the small state with his usual energy. After a year, he left Elba to stage one last comeback – he was defeated at the Battle of Waterloo and was exiled to the Island of Saint Helena.

A famous English palindrome (a sentence that reads the same backwards and forwards) was attributed to Napoleon: “Able was I ere I saw Elba”. Too bad Napoleon didn’t actually speak any English (apparently, there was a time when you could get by with only French).

LAST STOP:
Napoleon initially had to content himself with a small tomb on the island of St. Helena, which didn’t even have his name on it, because of quarrels his British guardian, Sir Hudson Lowe, regarding the choice of name (would it be Emperor Napoleon I or simply General Napoleon Bonaparte?…).

However, when his remains were returned home to Paris in 1840, and laid to rest in the Dome des Invalides, the postmortem situation improved significantly. His sarcophagus was exquisitely designed by the architect Visconti, who also worked on the church to make it more in line with the prodigious nature of the emperor and who designed the mausoleum out of beautiful red porphyry on a green granite
base.
Napoleon’s son, who never reigned and died young of tuberculosis, often lovingly referred to as the Eaglet or Napoleon II among the fans, has a small tomb in the wall on the same level as the Emperor. His remains were brought there during Hitler’s occupation of Paris. Parisians, always in for a laugh, wrote on the wall: “less bones and more coal”…
Stockholm

Stockholm

The Swedish capital city spreads over fourteen islands in Lake Malaren and has everything a visitor would like to see in one of the major European capitals: lots of history, an urban development that showcases the natural features of the land and locals who often seem to be taken for a pastoral picture of simpler and more peaceful times. The city was first documented as early as 1252, when it had become an important post in the local and regional iron trade. It is sometimes known as the Venice of the North

Huge virgin landscapes, cold, short days in winter, lots of snow, near eighteen hours of light in summer, Abba, the Vikings, tall beautiful blond Goddesses (no, really: goddesses!), Alfred Nobel, the actress Ingrid Bergman, the paradox of social policies that reach perfection in a capitalist society, director Ingmar Bergman and his beloved actor, Max von Sydow, writer Stieg Larsson and his posthumously successful trilogy (should I stop?…), are just a few that come to mind when thinking of Sweden. Stockholm, its capital, embodies a unique landscape, with nature, history and modern living coming together in harmony here. Just so that you don’t get lost, here is your list of five “must sees” in Stockholm:


2. The Skansen Museum
. Here, on the island of Djurgarden, Sodra Djurgarden, to be precise, the open air Skansen Museum takes one back to another way of life. Built at the end of the 19th century, this was one of the first museums in Europe to display real dwellings and other buildings in the village, transplanted here and transformed into museum exhibits. Try to connect with the rural past of this amazing people and imagine life as you walk the streets of the museum and enter the farm houses.1. Gamla Stan, the Old City, with a visit to the Royal Palace, whose notable neighbor is the Swedish Parliament. Sweden is, after all, a monarchy. Like many royal palaces throughout the world, this palace’s history dates back to medieval times. It started as a fortress and has been rebuilt over and over again, until it reached its present form, tribute to the Baroque style. This huge palace, even for the standards of a European royal palace, houses museums, a Treasury, countless royal apartments, a library, the royal Chapel and a Royal Guard that looks over all these. It is usually open from 10 am to 5 pm during the summer days and from 12 pm to 6 pm during winter. Make sure you join one of the guided tours that can tell you a lot more about everything you’ll see.

3. Markets, especially the Östermalms Saluhall, likely to greet you with smells and visions of the simple and yet satisfying products that have been present on tables from those of the Vikings to the most demanding food critics’ of the twenty first century: meats such as moose and reindeer, fish, like salmon and herring, but also French and Italian cheeses, Spanish and Italian ham and countless of other food products from Sweden or around the world. Taste them on the spot and satisfy your own hunger.

4. A boat tour. A boat tour is a good way to expand you view of Stockholm and explore some of the related landscapes. It would take you from island to island and further from the Lake Malaren that houses them all into the Baltic Sea. Beautiful landscapes and buildings that complement them are testimonials to the Swedish talent of paying respects to nature even in the capital city.

5. Vantage Points. If you are someone who enjoys taking spectacular, panoramic shots (and even if you aren’t), don’t miss some excellent locations for observation. The first one is from the gardens of the City Hall. The Old Town is at your feet and it is wonderful to rest while taking all in. Further up, and more amazing, but also further away, is the Monteliusvagen, a quarter mile path that walks along the island Sodermalm (you have to walk off all those hams and cheeses ate at the Östermalms Saluhall market). With the higher vantage point here, the views are all encompassing and your snapshots as well as your mental photos will be breathtaking, especially at sunrise or sunset.