June 09, 2013
The United Arab Emirates is a country consisting of 7 different emirates, or principalities. Abu Dhabi is the capital and chief center of commerce. The UAE population in 2010 was estimated as slightly over 8 million of whom only 13% were UAE nationals or Emiratis. The majority of the population is from Southern Asia and provides the work force for the service industry and related businesses.
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi is the third largest mosque in the world and can accommodate over 40,000 worshippers. The main prayer hall can hold 7000 people. There are seven German chandeliers incorporating millions of Swarovski crystals.
The skyline of Abu Dhabi showcases some amazing architecture as does its sister city, Dubai. Currently the tallest building in the world is Burj Khalifa, 2717 feet high, overlooking the city of Dubai. It is also home to one of the most famous hotels in the world, Burj al Arab, whose sail-like design is unique.
Though modern, fantastic architecture is the norm, there are still pockets with an Old World feel such as the colorful markets with their array of spices, fabric, shoes and gold.
May 11, 2013
One of the largest flower extravaganzas in the world has to be the annual International Flower and Garden Festival at Epcot which occurs every March, April and May. The Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow or Epcot was a dream of Walt Disney, originally to be a model community of tomorrow with about 20,000 inhabitants. He wanted to show how technology and innovation could improve the quality of life for all. After his death, however, the concept was shelved but the park is dedicated to the celebration of human achievement through innovation and international culture.
It opened October 1, 1982 on 300 acres, twice the size of the Magic Kingdom. It had almost 11 million visitors in 2011 making it the third most visited theme park in the United States. During the Festival there are over 100 topiaries, figures of Disney characters throughout. The intense colors of the myriad flower beds are almost overwhelming. The combination of natural beauty combined with the seemingly endless creativity of the Disney staff make for a memorable experience.
March 30, 2013
While standing in line waiting for the entry to open I think I mentally prepared myself for possible disappointment. It would not be the first time that my expectations outstripped the reality of an event. The handsomeness of the red entry gate was duly noted as we shuffled behind the jostling crowds waiting our moment to actually see the treasure ahead.
No matter how many pictures you have seen of the Taj Majal, nothing adequately prepares you for the sheer physical impact of its beauty. It's a palpable thing: the weight of it on your senses. It is much, much larger than you might imagine: 164,071 square feet. But it shimmers in the morning light and appears almost weightless. Close to 3 million visitors are drawn to it annually. The immensity of the masses there at any given time is dwarfed by the vastness of the complex.
It was built by Shah Jahan as a tribute to the love of his life, his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal. She died giving birth to their 14th child in 1631. Over 20,000 people worked on the construction of the complex.
Thirty-five different precious and semi-precious stones were used to create the piedra dura, or marble inlay work, of flower designs found both on the interior and exterior of the mausoleum. All in all, a stunning work of art worth traveling across the world to see.
March 27, 2013
Udaipur is considered Rajasthan's most romantic city. The City Palace rises above Lake Pichola and is comprised of 4 major palaces and several minor ones as successors to the original builder, Udai Singh, kept adding on to the original edifice.
Jag Niwas, now Taj Lake Palace Hotel was begun in 1743 as a pleasure palace by Maharana Jagat Singh II. This was the site for an early James Bond movie, "Octopussy".
The colorful saris of the members of a wedding party add to the celebratory nature of the occasion. That is a marked contrast with the solitude of an untouchable who is cleaning up rubbish from the street.
A young child playing dress up is a symbol of hope for the women of India who are beginning to find their voice.
January 31, 2013
For years I have wanted to go to India to try and photograph the tigers. Sadly, there are more in captivity, 5000 + in the United States (usually owned by individuals), than are there are in the wild in Asia. It's estimated that today there are only 3200, down from the 100,000 that so existed only 100 years ago.
I chose Bandhavgarh National Park to visit because it has the highest density of Bengal tigers in the world. Currently it is estimated to have around 45 tigers in the 248 square miles of the park. That's one tiger for every 5 ½ acres. Despite the "density" that's still like looking for the proverbial needle in the haystack. For reference, Central Park in New York, the most visited urban park in the world only has 1.3 sq. miles of land. All that to say, we did not see a tiger on any of our three safari drives. We did see tracks, scat and scratch marks on trees and those cats are really tall when they stretch out!
However, just seeing new wildlife is always exciting. The spotted deer sported some very impressive racks which would make their Southern white-tail cousins very jealous. The Golden jackals we saw had coloring very similar to our red foxes. The park is a paradise for bird watchers. Around 350 species have been sighted there. The Crested Hawk Eagle was a particularly regal looking raptor with its top knot swaying in the wind. Time spent close to nature is never wasted, so although the tigers were ever elusive, India didn't disappoint with its great diversity of wildlife.
January 03, 2013
Jaipur was the first truly planned city in India and was begun in 1727 by its founder Maharaja Sawi Jai Singh II, a brilliant Hindu prince. The old city was called The Pink City because of the terra-cotta –colored lime plaster that coats its walls and old buildings. Seven miles north of the city is the former capital of the area, The Amber Fort that was the seat of power from 1037 to 1727 when it was moved to Jaipur. It contains palaces, pavilions, temples and gardens.
One of the greatest accomplishments of Sawi Jai Singh II was his creation of the largest medieval observatory in the world: Jantar Mantar which houses 18 instruments erected between 1728 and 1734. Many of these were inventions of the Maharaja himself and are still relied on today to predict weather and the coming of monsoons. It is surreal to see these very contemporary, sculptural pieces in the middle of an ancient city.
The City Palace houses a large collection of royal costumes, daggers, swords and exquisite miniature paintings. The Peacock Courtyard features four beautifully painted doorways.
One of the most elegant hotels in the state is The Taj Rambagh Palace Hotel which was formerly the hunting lodge of a Maharaja and dates back to 1835. Here one gives a real flavor for the opulence of the colonial period of India.
December 30, 2012
For the next few months I will focus on a different city that I visited in a recent trip to the Middle East. Delhi is the capital of India, the world's largest democracy now boasting 1.2 billion people. The city's population has topped 20 million. It's only fitting that Asia's largest mosque, Jama Masjid, is located in the capital city. It was constructed by Shah Jahan, the builder of the Taj Majal. It was commissioned in 1656 and took 5000 laborers 6 years to complete. Up to 25,000 worshippers can be accommodated at one time.
Rajghat is the Memorial where Mahatma Gandhi, "The Father of the Nation" was cremated. Thousands visit the site to pay homage to this courageous, internationally influential man.
Lal Qila, Red Fort, was also built by Shah Jahn and was the headquarters for the Mughal empire from 1639-1857. It covers almost 1 ¼ miles.
The street scenes are a riot of color as seen in the fabric and produce that fill sidewalks and roadsides.
November 30, 2012
Iceland possesses an amazing array of diverse ecosystems. 10% is covered by lava; 11% is covered by ice caps and 75% of the country is without vegetation. Despite the extreme harshness of much of this land, where there is vegetation it can be as lush as Ireland, complete with numerous rainbows.
As you drive the Ring Road, roughly an 8-day trip, you are constantly surprised. You might see huge glaciers looking like they will soon engulf the farms which look tiny against their flank. You will discover that the largest waterfalls in Europe are found here. Some are vast abysses unfettered by fencing and unspoiled by kiosks selling souvenirs. You may be the only person or just have a handful of others reveling in this display of Nature's raw power.
In the South East you can take a boat ride in the iceberg-filled lake of Jokulsarlon. The opening scene of a James Bond movie, A View to A Kill, Was filmed here. The best time weather wise to visit is during the summer months when in addition to warmer weather, the sun never really sets.
October 03, 2012
Nantucket was the center of the whaling industry from the late 17th century to the mid-19th century. Captain Ahab and another character from Melville's Moby Dick were from Nantucket. In the Twentieth Century it became a retreat and playground for prosperous folks from other parts of New England. The town has one of the greatest concentrations of pre-Civil War buildings of any town in the country and developers have carefully maintained the integrity of that architecture. The Brant Point Lighthouse was built in 1746. In 1834 The Atheneum was built as a private library. It burned in the Great Fire of 1846 which destroyed much of the town. It was rebuilt as a beautiful Greek Revival structure and opened as the town's library in 1847. Colorful flowers run riot over the island in contrast to the grey of many of the houses.
September 04, 2012
Florida is home to an amazing variety of both seasonal and permanent waterfowl residents, as well as other wildlife. These pictures are from Central Florida, where despite the high concentration of humans (there are 50million + tourists just in the Orlando area annually) the wildlife has easily adapted. You see gators in ponds at golf courses as well as in the parks. And egrets, herons, cormorants are fairly commonly seen fishing at resorts, city parks and even along the highways. Florida is a bird watchers' paradise. Carry a pair of binoculars while you're in this state and you may discover that wildlife behavior can be as fascinating as and sometimes eerily similar to human behavior.
Sandhill cranes are some of the largest birds in our country and stand over 3' tall. Their call is almost like a lawnmower at a distance…very mechanical sounding. The Great White Egret is not quite as tall, but is around 30" high. Their beaks are yellow and their legs and feet are black. They were hunted almost to extinction by 1900 because their beautiful plumes were used to decorate ladies' hats. The Snowy Egret has a black bill, black legs and yellow feet. They are about 26-27" in height. The Green Heron is much smaller than the other three. It is 16-22" tall and is more secretive. Generally its head and back are green but its neck and chest are a rich chestnut. They feed at the edges of all types of bodies of water.