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Showing posts with the label landmarks

Snippets of Hong Kong

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2019 and 2020 have been challenging years for Hong Kong. Protests against the local government, general population unrest, and as of this writing, the threat of a deadly coronavirus have rendered unto this megacity several blows that might take a few years to recover from.
However, make no mistake about it, Hong Kong is still very much one of the world's great cities. Located at the crossroads of the West and China, this former British crown colony is one of the world's most significant financial centers, busiest commercial ports, and home to the highest number of skyscrapers of any city in the world.
All photos were taken on a trip with friends, years ago.

* To get an idea of how skyscraper-dense the HK skyline is, one must head to Victoria Peak, the highest point in the city!

Cordoba - Capital of Caliphates, Kingdoms, and Empires

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On any journey to the Iberian peninsula, it is easy to focus all of one's time, budget, and attention to the more popular and glamorous cities of Madrid, Barcelona and Lisbon. However one cannot truly appreciate the richness of Spanish culture, without experiencing the city of Cordoba.
One of the most important cities back in the Middle Ages, yet overlooked today, Cordoba has been inhabited for thousands of years; with its earliest inhabitants thought to be the Neanderthal humans whose fossils can be found all over this area of Spain.

* Later on becoming a Roman settlement, whose people left their mark by constructing this fascinating and sturdy bridge that still stands to this day running across the Guadalquivir River! 

The Two Lives of St. Isaac Cathedral

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Due to decades of Soviet Communist rule, something startling happened to cathedrals and churches across the Russian Federation. With its chief creed of having no religion except the ideology of socialism, all churches within the vast Soviet empire were secularized; meaning they were stripped of their religious significance and turned into museums.

* And what's truly amazing about all of this is that these churches are not just simple places of worship; a lot of them are among the largest, grandest, and most majestic churches on earth!

Sights and Sounds of New York City - Part 1

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There is undoubtedly no other city as iconic as New York City, whose five boroughs of Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx, and Staten Island are rich in history, character, and culture; forever immortalized in numerous movies, TV shows, stories, and songs.
Originally a Dutch colony settled in 1624 named New Amsterdam, New York City has grown to become what is is now: the most populous and visited city in the US, home to the United Nations and the Statue of Liberty, the fashion, media, and financial capital of the world, the very symbol itself of the great United States of America.
And it is said that in New York City, even buildings, squares, and streets are world famous. Here are some of NYC's most famous tourist locations: Part One Times Square
* At the center of New York is the pedestrianized intersection of lights, sound, and spectacle known as Times Square.

Himeji: Japan's Largest and Most Majestic Castle

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In a country of over 100 castles, one stands-out to be Japan's largest, most visited, and most revered: Himeji. Located an hour away by train from Osaka, Himeji Castle is the finest example of the prototypical Japanese castle architecture.

* So iconic that the Castle has actually been featured in period movies, television series, and games like Civilization Revolution and Shogun Total War.

A Night Walk Around Old Town Sevilla

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Definitely one of the advantages of staying in a hotel right in the middle of the city center is the ability to wander around and experience the city after the sun has gone down.
A Spanish city changes at night. Somehow it becomes even more vibrant and authentic as locals, offered a temporary respite from the hustle and bustle of the daily barrage of tourists, are now free to come out, dine, and socialize; the Spanish way of rewarding one's self for a hard day's work.

* And in Old Town Sevilla, the UNESCO World Heritage Site is wonderfully lit and conducive for romance.

The Shocking Origin of Russia's Church on Spilled Blood

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As far as Russian landmarks go, few rival the spectacular Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, located at the heart of St. Petersburg. 
In fact, this structure along with St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow are top-of-mind for when one thinks of icons that are "authentically Russian".

* However, this awe-inspiring building holds a very dark and shocking origin story.

Downtown Helsinki and Other Highlights

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Helsinki, capital of Finland, is your quintessential ideal European city: heavily pedestrianized, fantastic public transportation, full of green open spaces and mid-rise buildings, and a general feeling of safety especially for foreigners.
It is also known as the credit card capital of Europe; and indeed one can buy anything (even street food) with a Visa or Mastercard on hand! 

* A fact which came in handy in the city's Market Square!

Nara: City of Sacred Deer

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No trip to Osaka would be complete without a stopover at the enchanting city of Nara.
While history and culture buffs will love the collection of temples, shrines, and ruins that altogether make up the UNESCO World Heritage "Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara" list, most travelers come for a different activity all together: the feeding and photo opportunity with wild Japanese deer. Tōdai-ji Temple
* And the most popular location for this activity can be found on the grounds of Todai-ji Temple.

Sevilla Cathedral: The Largest Cathedral in the World

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In the medieval competition for recognition of the title of "Champion of Christianity", Spain certainly talked the talk and walked the walk. 
Not content with colonizing the Americas and the Philippine Islands in the name of Christ and waging a crusade to reconquer the Iberian peninsula from the Muslim Moors, Spain also built herself several iconic and unrivaled churches; among which is the Cathedral of Seville.
Also known as the largest cathedral in the world!

* And burial place of famed explorer, Christopher Columbus.

The Hermitage: Museum and Former Home of the Russian Emperors

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If one wants to truly see how diligently focused and meticulous the Russian Tsars and Tsarinas were in trying to outdo their European neighbors in culture, wealth, and grandeur, one only has to look at their insane collection at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.

* The Hermitage Museum is a sprawling art museum that is second only in terms of size to the Louvre in Paris.

Helsinki: One of the World's Most Livable Cities

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Finland is a country of extremely positive circumstances. Despite being the most sparsely populated country in the European Union, it has one of the highest per capita incomes in the world with very high marks in levels of education, economic competitiveness, quality of life, and human development.
Finland is also consistently on the list of "happiest people in the world", has been awarded "most stable country" continuously for six years (2011-2016), and is at the top of the Global Gender Gap ranking, meaning men and women are treated almost equally in terms of pay, opportunities, and benefits.

* And this utopia of a country is ruled from its capital Helsinki, which certainly lives up to its country's accolades by being named "world's most livable city" a bunch of times in the past two decades.

Fushimi Inari and the Shrines of Kyoto

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Along with the futuristic megacity of Tokyo and the foodie heaven of Osaka, no trip to Japan would be complete without visiting its cultural capital, Kyoto.
Home to the Japanese imperial court for over a thousand years, Kyoto is full of palaces, temples, shrines, and gardens; which thanks to not being targeted by Allied bombing during World War II, has been preserved in all its authenticity. This is Part 3 of our Kyoto Series: Shrines.
Fushimi Inari-Taisha

* And hands-down, the most requested photo spot in all of Kyoto, is this pathway leading to Fushimi Inari-Taisha. Prepare to battle with dozens of tourists over what is essentially the same shot (lol!).

Royal Alcazar of Seville: Home to Spain's Medieval Kings

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The wonderful thing about Seville is that the city is compact and highly pedestrianized; with all its tourist attractions within walking distance of each other.
Located in the area heralded as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, next to the imposing Cathedral of Seville and impressive General Archives of the Indies, stands the Royal Alcazar of Sevilla.

* Also known as the Royal Castle of the Christian Kings.

The Golden Pavilion and Other Temples of Kyoto

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Along with the futuristic megacity of Tokyo and the foodie heaven of Osaka, no trip to Japan would be complete without visiting its cultural capital, Kyoto.
Home to the Japanese imperial court for over a thousand years, Kyoto is full of palaces, temples, shrines, and gardens; which thanks to not being targeted by Allied bombing during World War II, has been preserved in all its authenticity. This is Part 2 of our Kyoto Series: Temples.
Kinkaku-ji Temple: The Golden Pavilion

* The most famous of all of Kyoto's Temples, the Golden Pavilion is made of, you guessed it, gold; with the top two floors of the building covered in pure gold leaf.

The Art of Spanish Bullfighting at the Famous Maestranza

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A few things come to mind to be as innately and inherently Spanish, as Bullfighting. Also known as corrida de toros (running of the bulls), the blood sport is an icon of Spain. And there's nothing quite like this deadly struggle between man and beast to conjure up the passion and bravado of Spaniards everywhere. 

* At the center of the bullfighting world is this massive stadium of the Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza de Caballeria de Sevilla (whew, what a mouthful), more affectionately referred to as the "Maestranza".

Anastasia and the Grand Burial Place of the Romanovs

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Before St. Petersburg became what it is today, the finest of all Russian cities full of magnificent palaces, grand churches, and impressive monuments, the center of power lay in the citadel that Peter the Great himself founded, the Fortress of Peter and Paul.
It was from here that the Russian Empire exercised its constabulary might; using the island-fortress as a prison for political opponents and execution site for those the empire deemed too dangerous to live. Despite that rather grim reputation; however, the fortress contains what is perhaps the greatest treasure of the former Russian Empire.
For it is here that all the Russian Emperors and Empresses, Princes and Princesses are entombed.

* And for contemporary standards, there is no more famous Russian royal family than that of Tsar Nicholas II, the last Emperor of Russia.

Vasa Museum: The Most Impressive Ship Which Never Sailed

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What happens when you build a ship so armed to the teeth, that it was meant to be the most powerful vessel of its time; laughing at the face of the scientific theories of buoyancy and weight distribution? 
It sinks, of course! And during its maiden voyage too! This is the story of the Swedish warship, the Vasa. 

* And for over 300 years, the Vasa peacefully rested at the bottom of the sea until being successfully raised, whole and intact, in 1961!

Plaza de Espana: A Tribute to the Spanish Empire

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At the peak of its height, the Spanish Empire ruled supreme over territory that now includes Western and Southern United States, Mexico, half of South America, the Philippine Islands, Naples and Southern Italy, and the Low Countries (Netherlands and Belgium).
To showcase the diversity and cultural richness of its formerly vast and far-reaching empire, Spain held the Ibero-American Exposition in 1929 with the city of Seville playing its host. 

* And at the center of the Exposition, stood the splendid Plaza de España, one of Sevilla's main landmarks and an icon of Spanish tourism.

Crossing No Man's Land: A Journey from Finland to Russia

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The end of the Cold War in the early 90's ushered in a lot of positive changes for Europe: military deescalation, the emergence of democracy in the former Soviet Bloc countries, a more relaxed atmosphere across the continent, and the opening of tourism. Finally, Western tourists found themselves being able to take a peek behind the Iron Curtain and actually visit Russia itself. 
From Finland's capital, Helsinki, we drove past the densely wooded countryside of Finland, into the no man's land that signified the neutral zone between the former adversaries of the Soviet and Western powers, and finally into Russia.

* Unlike border control procedures within the European Union, the experience of entering Russia is an adventure in itself! Entry can take over a couple of hours with immigration officials having the discretion to take as much time as they wish.