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.

The Nod

The Nod

CROSS-CULTURAL DIFFERENCES: NODDING
Cultural differences are not only manifested in traditions or in spoken language, but also in our body language. A very simple gesture is the nod. For most of the world, including China, Western Europe, the U.S., and Africa, the nod is strictly defined to mean yes (head goes up and down once or twice) and the sideways nod or shake of the head from left to right usually means no. There is also a general acceptation that the frequency of the nod is used to make a point and emphasize the individual’s belief: a more frequent nod left-right places more emphasizes on
negation.

THE REVERSE NOD
Against the logic of all “nodding” countries, there are people in this world who decided to reverse the nods and their meaning. It is the Bulgarians who do so, as well as their neighbors from Macedonia and Albania: to them nodding up and down means no. Reverse nodding have been observed with the Greeks and Turks as well and even in places with similar Mediterranean culture, like Naples in Italy. In Turkey a sharp upwards nod of the head is actually considered a very rude “no”, as in “No way, what are you thinking, you silly tourist?!” and is often accompanied by a “tsk” sound made with the tongue.

No matter how hard you try, you will most likely never be able to change the way you nod, as it is something so etched in our brains it is second nature. So, if you are in any of these countries, try to   say yes or no instead of the nod or you might find yourself agreeing to something you really don’t want, like the traveler in Sofia Bulgaria who, when asked if he wanted corn on his cheese pizza shook his head from side to side, which of course was translated as a yes, and he had to learn to like corn pizza that night.

NODS AND SHAKES
If you think reverse nodding isn’t enough, the Indians have a mixture of nod and shake that translates into something that is neither. The head goes right-left and front-back with a seemingly chaotic movement that makes one wonder whether the interlocutor is trying to tell you something or simply alert you that he is in great pain and not feeling well. It is neither, but it is also difficult to explain, since the meaning varies. It usually means yes, but it can also mean thank you, as well as the fact that your interlocutor is really getting what you are saying. Bottom line: the wobble is usually a good thing, so don’t worry about what else it might mean.

STIFF NODS
The nod is sometimes a very stiff and polite form of greeting, especially in Japan. The Japanese are very particular about their greeting, so this is always done depending on the relationship between the two persons. The general rule is that the greater the bow, the greater the respect, so, if you are old or have a better position in the company, a short nod of the head suffices, even if you can no longer see your conversation.

The Stave Churches of Norway

The Stave Churches of Norway

Stave churches are wooden churches from the Middle Ages, located in Scandinavia (mostly in Norway). Ok, we’ve cleared that up; so, what is so unique about stave churches and why should you see them? There is more than one thing. First, they are entirely built out of wood and built in the 12th and 13th centuries, making them an amazing feat of survival in and of themselves. Second, the stave churches are a unique combination of local architecture, with singularly their Norwegian decorations and framework, Christian and Viking designs, the fascinations of the Runic alphabet (the Viking’s alphabet) and a certain Romanesque spatial outlook to the entire construction. A final reason to see them (while you still can) is that there are not many original stave churches left in the world: from a total of around 1,000, there are only around 25-30 churches to still be enjoyed today.

The architecture of the stave church differs depending on its size. The smallest churches are simple, with one nave and a roof with wooden shingles that rests directly on the walls. As the church gets bigger, the design is more complicated as well. The Borgund Stave Church, for example, one of the best preserved and well-known, has an area in the middle with a higher ceiling and an aisle that surrounds this part. The roof is supported by pillars around this central area. The Borgund Stave Church should be one of your stops on the tour: other than the intricate design of the roof and the fact that it is very well preserved (it still stands in its original form    though it was built around 1150), it is a great example of the mixture of Christianity and Paganism in these parts. Several rune inscriptions, a reminder of Pagan times, read “Ave Maria” or “Tor wrote these runes in the evening at the St. Olav’s Mass”.

The largest stave church is in Heddal. So large it looks like a castle. Built in 1250, it was restored several times throughout history, including once in the 20th century, which makes it a very well conserved construction. The legend has it the church was built in three days by five brothers (quite a feat, if you think of it). Even some of the new stave churches, like the Church of St. Oluf, are worth a visit, at least to see how the modern architects were able to continue medieval traditions.The stave church of Urnes is also an interesting stop in your stave churches tour, if only because it is the oldest stave church in Norway. Not as architecturally impressive as the Borgund Church, it compensates with some unique architectural innovations for the time, such as the use of semicircular arches (trust us: it is really more difficult to make these out of a solid piece of wood) and impressive capital structures with cubical terminations. Viking and Pagan traditions are obvious here as well, notably in the sculptural work on the outside of the church. Don’t miss the view of the entire surrounding landscape, taking you back to medieval times in its simplicity and beauty.

BOTTOM LINE
The stave churches are unique in their architecture and their capacity to withstand centuries. Because they are so amazingly well preserved, visiting a number of stave churches is like stepping back into medieval times – you can almost see the knights and fair maidens walking through the doors and hear the lyricist play.

WATCH IT!
Max Manus is a famous Norwegian resistance fi ghter from World War II. So famous that a movie with the same name was made after his experiences in the war. A living James Bond…

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…

Marriage proposals

Marriage proposals

In Great Britain and some of the Nordic countries, the woman can actually do the proposing as well, but only on February 29, so once every four years. In Finland, when this happens, if the man does not accept the proposal (talk about miscommunication), he needs to provide enough cloth for the woman to make a dress (this seems like a thing right out of the Middle Ages, can you hear the troubadours?)

As mentioned, the size of the stone seems to be an important issue for the parties involved in the marriage proposal. This is not necessarily something to do with the superficiality of modern times: even in Ancient Egypt, diamonds were an important part of the marriage proposal, because they were thought to protect the woman. Placing the ring on the fourth fingers of the hand also goes back to that time and place: apparently, there was a belief about a direct line going from the finger to the heart. The Romans, always the pragmatists, went with a simple iron ring (if they had lived in the 21st century, studies would surely have been done to see if marriage actually works out if you only have an iron ring – maybe yes, maybe no).

In many cultures, even today, it is inappropriate to do the actual proposal yourself, be you man or woman. There is an entire ritual related to the marriage proposal and it is usually the custom to hire a specialized person to do it as a go-between. This obviously makes a lot of sense in some of the cultures where the young ones don’t have any say whatsoever in the decision about who to marry (they call it “arranged marriage” for a reason).

Superstitions about marriage proposals are numerous and listing them will not help the timing of your perfect proposal. Keep this in mind, however: June is a good month, because the name comes from the Roman goddess of love (Juno). Wednesday is a good day for a proposal, but stay away from Saturday (bad day, not in the least because you might be drunk at the end an evening on the town, so the proposal will lose its meaning). And don’t you think about marrying someone whose name starts with the same letter as yours.

The hand on which the ring is worn varies around the world as widely as proposals do. Orthodox Christians and Eastern Europeans, as well as people in Germany, Austria, Greece, Russia, Spain, Slovakia, India, Colombia, Venezuela, and Poland wear the ring on the right hand. Jewish couples wear the wedding ring on the left hand, though it is placed on the right hand during the marriage ceremony. In The Netherlands, Catholics wear it on the left, all others on the right, while in Belgium the choice of hand depends on the region of the country. A traditional reason to wear the wedding ring on the right hand stems from Roman custom. The Latin word for left is “sinister”, which has evolved into the negative meaning of today, while the Latin word for right is “dexter”, a word now evolved into “dexterity”. The left hand’s negative connotation and the right hand’s good one (even then) made the right hand the obvious choice. Except in the United States, where the ring is still worn on the left hand based on historical legend that says the left hand is closer to the heart.

We all know the basics about marriage proposals: man loves woman, man hopes woman loves man. Man buys very, very expensive engagement ring (a tradition especially important in the United States ) and keeps hoping. Then, man proposes. Yes, this is basically all there is to it, except that traditions on marriage proposals do vary from culture to culture.

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…

Rome On $50… $500… $5000

Rome On $50… $500… $5000

Walking the streets of Rome is always free and much of the art is on the streets, as well as in small churches around the city that boast impressive collections that rival many museums. Many of the main basilicas are free, including St. Paul’s Basilica, Santa Maria Maggiore or San Giovanni in Laterano. Some of the tourist attractions are free on particular days, like the Vatican Museums on the last Sunday of the month.

A piece of advice if you are in the “$50 a day” budget: buy your meals and drinks in a grocery store, they will always be cheaper than eating out. Make it a romantic dinner with some ciabatta bread and cold cuts, a nice bottle of Chianti (even at $5 a bottle) and some sauce for your bread (a wide variety for only a couple of dollars). However, if you really want to enjoy a homemade genuine local meal, you can get away with spending no more than $20/meal in a local neighborhood pizzeria or trattoria (try to avoid what screams out as a “Tourist Place” (lots of English menus and waiters) – go a bit off the beaten path).Other attractions are not free, but are not overly expensive. Visiting the catacombs right outside the city costs around $10, while the average museum ticket ranges from $12 to $15 (although this is 33 % of your budget…). Combination tickets are a good option for several visits, such as a visit that includes the Coliseum, the Roman Forum and the Palatine. You can buy one at the entrance of any of these.

Rome is a relatively big city, so you might want to consider purchasing a combination ticket or a pass for moving around. A one-day ticket is around $6, and a three-day ticket is around $15. These can be purchased in tobacco shops, newsstands, vending machines or in the main buss or metro stations.

The main daily expense will be your lodging, taking as much as half or more of the budget. The number one choice for low cost accommodation is student hostels/ dormitories ranging from $20/night to $30/night. The Yellow Hostel (44 Via Palestro, 5 minutes from the Ter mini Central Station) charges about $30/night, similar to the Hostel Alessandro Palace (Vicenza, 42). Another option is to book a room further away from the center or outside the city for more or less the same prices, especially since you can take the metro to many of the historic locations in the city. In Flaminio Village, the cheapest double room in the low season is $30 and in the high season is $42. So, travel in the low season (Rome is amazing no matter when you go and it is reasonably warm in winter as well), have a dinner from the store and don’t pay for your museums and you will still have a couple of dollars left to buy a traditional Roman gelato.

Many sites in Rome are free, like the Pantheon

$500 will get you much further than $50 in Rome (in case you haven’t figured that out). You should be able to afford a meal in a more upscale place (but, again, stay away from the beaten path), with a wider variety of options than pizza and pasta. You could also take a few coffee breaks between the touristic destinations (remember that the coffee is cheaper if you drink it at the bar than at the table – usually about half the price).

Do visit the Vatican museum on any day other than the last Sunday of the month, when it is free and extremely crowded (you’ll pay 15 euros, so about $20), the Coliseum, the Palatine Museum and the Roman Forum (between $15 and $20) and the Galleria Borghese (8.50 Euros, about $11). Take a walk on Via Corso, famous for its fashion stores and purchase a stylish clothing item or accessory (even with your budget, you should stay away from some of the jewelry stores, like Bulgari).

With a $500 budget, you are moving from your cheap accommodation into a 4 or even 5 star hotel. The prices start at $100 per person per night and may vary by quite a lot depending on the location and accommodation conditions. You can spend around 150 to 200 Euros of your budget on your lodging and stay in a very nice hotel, like the Hotel Forum Roma (Via Tor de’ Conti, 25-30) – always cheaper if you buy it through Priceline or some similar site, with views of the Forum, Piazza Venetia and the Coliseum.

If you’re in Rome and you have $5,000 in your wallet, this is really the place to splurge and spend it all. For one, you can afford to eat in a fancy restaurant in the center of the city. Our pick (from a large array of fancy restaurants in Rome) is the Mirabelle Restaurant, at the top of the Hotel Splendide Royale (Via di Porta Pinciana, 14), not only for the menu (95 Euros per person for a 3-course dinner), but also for the fantastic view of the city. This is when you feel like going out and taking the views of the city. Otherwise, you can stay in and hire a chef to cook for you (yes, you can actually do that!). Think about taking a cooking lesson as well, which is around $400-$500 per course (everything depends on the chef, of course).

Your afternoon coffee will now be at the historical Cafe Greco ( Via Condotti 86), right next to the Piazza di Spagna, where a small cup of cappuccino costs 8 Euros. It no longer matters, since 250 years of history are breathing down on you. Be sure to match a great desert with your coffee,maybe a chocolate cake or a Viennese ice cream (everything is really delicious).

Visiting museums and other historical attractions and shopping should be no issue on this budget and you can go for a more personalized option, like a personal guide just for you, someone who can let you in on some of the secrets of Rome. In addition, you may consider purchasing some bottles of good wine and food delicatessen to bring home as a souvenir (a Brunello di Montalcino, always a good option, is from $55 upwards). At night, you should get acquainted with the city’s nightlife, including pubs, clubs or concert halls.

We left the greatest perk of all to the end: you are no longer sleeping in a hotel. You can now literally live like pope by renting the apartment in which Cardinal Felice Peretti lived before he became Pope Sisto V in the 16th century for only around $2,000 a night. The apartment retains a nice historical charm with all the modern amenities.

The Stave Churches of Norway

The Stave Churches of Norway

Stave churches are wooden churches from the Middle Ages, located in Scandinavia (mostly in Norway). Ok, we’ve cleared that up; so, what is so unique about stave churches and why should you see them? There is more than one thing. First, they are entirely built out of wood and built in the 12th and 13th centuries, making them an amazing feat of survival in and of themselves. Second, the stave churches are a unique combination of local architecture, with singularly their Norwegian decorations and framework, Christian and Viking designs, the fascinations of the Runic alphabet (the Viking’s alphabet) and a certain Romanesque spatial outlook to the entire construction. A final reason to see them (while you still can) is that there are not many original stave churches left in the world: from a total of around 1,000, there are only around 25-30 churches to still be enjoyed today.

The architecture of the stave church differs depending on its size. The smallest churches are simple, with one nave and a roof with wooden shingles that rests directly on the walls. As the church gets bigger, the design is more complicated as well. The Borgund Stave Church, for example, one of the best preserved and well-known, has an area in the middle with a higher ceiling and an aisle that surrounds this part. The roof is supported by pillars around this central area. The Borgund Stave Church should be one of your stops on the tour: other than the intricate design of the roof and the fact that it is very well preserved (it still stands in its original form    though it was built around 1150), it is a great example of the mixture of Christianity and Paganism in these parts. Several rune inscriptions, a reminder of Pagan times, read “Ave Maria” or “Tor wrote these runes in the evening at the St. Olav’s Mass”.

The largest stave church is in Heddal. So large it looks like a castle. Built in 1250, it was restored several times throughout history, including once in the 20th century, which makes it a very well conserved construction. The legend has it the church was built in three days by five brothers (quite a feat, if you think of it). Even some of the new stave churches, like the Church of St. Oluf, are worth a visit, at least to see how the modern architects were able to continue medieval traditions.The stave church of Urnes is also an interesting stop in your stave churches tour, if only because it is the oldest stave church in Norway. Not as architecturally impressive as the Borgund Church, it compensates with some unique architectural innovations for the time, such as the use of semicircular arches (trust us: it is really more difficult to make these out of a solid piece of wood) and impressive capital structures with cubical terminations. Viking and Pagan traditions are obvious here as well, notably in the sculptural work on the outside of the church. Don’t miss the view of the entire surrounding landscape, taking you back to medieval times in its simplicity and beauty.

BOTTOM LINE
The stave churches are unique in their architecture and their capacity to withstand centuries. Because they are so amazingly well preserved, visiting a number of stave churches is like stepping back into medieval times – you can almost see the knights and fair maidens walking through the doors and hear the lyricist play.

WATCH IT!
Max Manus is a famous Norwegian resistance fi ghter from World War II. So famous that a movie with the same name was made after his experiences in the war. A living James Bond…

Taking the photo of your lifetime

Taking the photo of your lifetime

The Taj Mahal is unarguably of the most recognized buildings in the world and its beauty has attracted many photographers who try to CAPTURE in an image everything they see before their eyes. THEREFORE, OUR first advice: don’t aim for the MOST unique photograph! The photo will be unique for yo u and your experience as a photographer however yo u do it, so don’t expect NO ONE ELSE WILL HAVE EVER TAKEN the same photo , from the exact same position. Remember that there are so many things that make up a photo that yo u will have every chance to make it unique.

Some very interesting photos can also be taken outside the actual complex. The Mahtab Bagh (or the Moonlight Garden) is a great spot across the Yamuna River that was created with the purpose of reflecting the Taj Mahal in its pools, thus amplifying the effect. It is a good spot for a peaceful photo (tripod included), although it is somewhat decrepit. Another interesting choice is to go by primitive boat on the river and take your photo there. Great advantage: you can almost not see the crowds from there! Enjoy taking these photos and don’t forget to share the result with us at https://www.destinationsuncovered.net/talkback.phpIt’s always a good idea to frame your main object of a photo with or within something. With the Taj Mahal, you get two choices: the south offer lawns and pools, while the east and west have the Jawab and the Mosque, wonderful architectonic ways to frame your photo. Both are a great choice, but a personal pick would go for the latter: after all, the Taj Mahal is a monument to humanity and it is only natural that it should be framed by such grandiose structures as well.Some of the usual advice you get when making photos of monuments applies here as well. “Go early” is something you hear a lot and the less familiar with realities of travel believe this is because you want to get the excellent light that is only at dawn. At least in this case, that is not the reason: the light at dusk is just as compelling for an amazing photo opportunity. The “go early” advice is more linked to the fact that there are (hopefully) fewer visitors at that moment of the day. Obviously your best photo of the Taj Mahal is one where you don’t have a Japanese couple holding the tip of the Taj in their hands (the cheesiest photo ever, almost as cheesy as holding up the Tower of Pisa). So, if the jet lag makes it hard for you to sleep, just get up, take your camera and go.

Tips on equipment
Organizationally, it is always best to travel light and this is no exception. Pick one type of lens: in this case, the best choice is a wide lens, because the Taj Mahal is nothing if not enormous and you want to get as much as possible in your shot. Don’t bring a tripod: you aren’t allowed inside with it and the bottle of water you can take instead will be more valuable. You are also not allowed with bags inside, so leave out any additional instruments you normally use.