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Showing posts with the label scenery

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! 

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.

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.

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.

Other Cultural Attractions of St. Petersburg

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Thanks to its prime location on the Neva River, at the head of the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea, St. Petersburg has become a cruise ship destination hotspot. 
And when visiting this majestic city, it is not enough to see the sights from its streets, plazas, and squares; for some of St. Petersburg's most majestic views can only be seen from the water!

* A typical St. Petersburg cruise generally starts along the vast and open Neva River, which is filled with water vehicles of all types: rowboats, sailboats, motorboats, luxury yachts, and massive cruise ships.

Viking Route on the Baltic Sea: Sailing From Sweden to Finland

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While sailing across the Baltic Sea has historically been of the raiding type (i.e. Vikings sailing along the coasts of Scandinavia, Northern Germany, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Finland), there is a much more extravagant, comfortable, and blood-less way to get around, and that is via an overnight cruise.
Here are some memories from our voyage from Stockholm, Sweden to Helsinki, Finland.

* Our home for tonight, the dazzling Silja Serenade: full of restaurants, indoor pools, duty free shops, a night club, casino, and several drinking spots (hurrah!).

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".

The Palaces of Kyoto: Home of the Emperor

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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 1 of our Kyoto Series: Palaces.
Kyoto Imperial Palace

* From 794 AD to 1869, Japan was ruled by its Emperor from his Imperial Palace in Kyoto.

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.

Novgorod: The Birthplace of Russia

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While the general public is very much aware of Moscow, as the capital of the Russian Federation and the former Soviet Union, and of St. Petersburg, the most European and Imperial of all Russian cities, few know the history, vastness, and grandeur of the early Russian people.
Russia in all its greatness started as a small city in the patch of land directly between Moscow and St. Petersburg; the city known as Novgorod.

* It was my great pleasure and honor to be able to visit and explore the Cradle of Russian Civilization.

The Portuguese Palace of Sintra

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Sintra is one of Portugal's most visited (and Instagram featured) tourist destinations! 
A triumph of Romanticist architecture, the town is stocked-full of areas to explore: palaces, ruins, historic estates, villas, gardens, cafes, and Michelin star restaurants.

* And from this view, we can see why Sintra is one of the Iberian peninsula's most sought after real estate markets; home of some of the wealthiest people in the European continent!

Trinity Lavra: Russia's Most Important Monastery

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An integral part of WHY I travel is my personal desire to visit and pray in as many spiritual centers as I can. Christian, Buddhist, Shinto, Muslim, Hebrew, I personally believe that each faith offers wisdom, guidance, and philosophies to help us be what we were meant to be: good human beings and dependable people. 
In Moscow, I had the privilege of visiting the Russian people's most important monastery and spiritual center, the Russian Orthodox Church of Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius.

* Located almost two hours from downtown Moscow, the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius can be found  in the town of Sergiyev Posad.

Stockholm: City of 50 Bridges and Pop Music

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There really is something special about them Scandinavians. From the land of the "world's happiest people", Denmark, we now travel across the narrow strait, to the "world's cleanest country", Sweden. And lets not forget the land of attractive blonde men and women, Swedish meatballs, pop music hits, and ABSOLUT Vodka.
At the center of all of this is Stockholm, capital of Sweden; a city spread out across fourteen islands, linked by over fifty bridges.

* Stockholm is exactly how I imagined it to be: architecturally impressive, progressive, extremely walkable, and clean.

Mt. Fuji: Japan's Most Sacred Mountain

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When I used to picture the land of the rising sun as a child, somehow Mt. Fuji and its perfectly shaped cone always came to mind. You know the school activity: draw a horizontally-longer triangle on a piece of paper, add criss cross lines near the peak to signify snow, add a sun behind the peak, and you have Mt. Fuji.  It was grand yet mysterious, elegant yet mystical.
So when I had the opportunity to visit Tokyo, I knew that it was the right time to pay my respects to Japan's most sacred of mountains.

* And boy did she not disappoint! Despite the freezing temperature, what a view!

Roadtrip: Denmark To Sweden

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I personally love long drives. There is nothing quite like spending a day on the road looking at wonderful scenery armed with a good book or a solid podcast on my iPod (yes an iPod), to get the creative juices flowin' and the life batteries rechargin'. There was plenty of this to be had on our road trip from Copenhagen, Denmark to Stockholm, Sweden.  

* Our trip would take us from Copenhagen, up the coast to the Danish city of Helsingor, where we would then board the ferry to take us across the Oresund strait, separating Denmark and Sweden, to arrive at the Swedish city of Helsingborg, continuing on across the Swedish countryside until we arrive at its capital, Stockholm.