Doha, the capital of the tiny state of Qatar, is not exactly my kind of place. It may be an impressive human achievement of clawing an urban oasis from the clutches of unforgiving desert. Yet, shiny and brand new, Doha largely lacks the appeal of cities with long history and local character. Up until the early 20th century, Doha just like most other settlements on the Persian Gulf, was a small fishing and pearling town ravaged by economic depression after the introduction of the cultured pearls in the region in the 1930s. Its fortune reversed – just like Dubai’s – with the discovery of oil and later natural gas, and a steady stream of petrodollars that followed. In a rush to modernize, most of the remnants of Doha’s previous self were eradicated to make space for highways crowded with ubiquitous Nissan pick up trucks, expensive hotels, and futuristic-looking sky scrapers. Read the rest of this entry
Last year around this time I pulled together the best of my cherry blossom shots from past seasons. It’s time to augment the collection with fresh images of these delicate and ephemeral blossoms that I never get tired of. Spring is finally here in Washington after a long wait, and with it the blossoms are in full force. So are the throngs of visitors but I tried my best to crop them out and fill the whole frame with white, pink, and blue. This poem captures the mood of today well…
“Shining spring day
Falling cherry blossoms with my calm mind”
~ Kino Tomonari
It made me look through my own photo collection to find beautiful abandoned places I’ve come across. Here are my top five. How about you? Have you taken any photos of desolate yet striking locations that you’d have to share? If so blog about it and link back – which I guess would officially make this my first-ever travel theme post! Read the rest of this entry
Starý Smokovec was founded in 1793 and the early settlement grew around the local mineral water springs. Now it is a popular tourist destination adored by skiers and hikers alike, conveniently located on the Tatra Electric Railway line that connects it to the city of Poprad and fellow resort towns Tatranská Lomnica and Štrbské Pleso. Read the rest of this entry
The tower was build between 1230 and 1250 and the reason for its location is as obvious today as it was back then – it’s a great observation point. The top of the hill is green, leafy, and and serene. And the climb up 127 steps from the tower’s base to the viewing platform is well worth it. Red roofs and church steeples, streetcars rumbling along narrow streets, and ancient trees lining even narrower allies. But as great as the view is from above, Durlach only gets better from up close. And there is one thing in particular that makes it so: fountains, fountains everywhere! Read the rest of this entry
With the conclave electing the new pope about to begin, Vatican is at the center of attention. This tiny state in the Eternal City of Rome occupies only about 44 hectares yet wields tremendous power over the Catholic faithful that stretches around the world. Although Vatican City has existed in its current form only since 1929, its history goes back to the very roots of Christianity as it evolved from a persecuted sect within the Roman Empire to an empire of its own, with popes for centuries equal to kings. Prior to the unification of Italy, popes ruled over the extensive Papal States. Vatican is all that’s left of them today, reducing the pope’s power from considerably temporal, or worldly, to more purely spiritual. Read the rest of this entry
I recently heard an NPR radio program that made me think back to my trip to Hanoi. For me Hanoi was an unexpected discovery, a place full of life and charm. But that was not my original association – and it’s not for most people who upon hearing “Hanoi” think solely about the dark days of Vietnam War (or American War as it is called in Vietnam). The radio story was about a former American fighter pilot, John Borling, who was one of the prisoners of war (POWs) released in 1973 after almost seven years of captivity. He spent these long years in what POWs ironically called “Hanoi Hilton” – the infamous Hoa Lo prison. Read the rest of this entry
As someone who grew up in Poland, I’m no stranger to snow. LOTS of snow. But in DC a significant snowfall that sticks is a rare occurrence. A dusting now and then, sometimes an inch or two of accumulation that lasts a few days, maybe just one or two big snowstorms during the season – or none at all. As the Northeast is being pounded with a serious blizzard, we have been spared this time. But even though it’s a dry and sunny day here, watching dramatic images from up north makes me think of snow-covered Washington. This is a collection of photos from different years and different snowstorms, including the mother of them all – February 2010 “snowmaggedon.” Enjoy! Read the rest of this entry
“It’s the grandest thing I ever saw!” exclaimed Adolph Francis Bandelier standing at the rim of New Mexico’s Frijoles Canyon in 1880. He was born in Bern, Switzerland but his family emigrated to Illinois when he was eight. Fascinated with the history and culture of American Indians in the Southwest, he became one of the foremost anthropologists and ethnologists of the Pueblo people. Today the Bandelier National Monument, named after him in 1916, remains a witness to the native people’s ancestral history on this land and a testimony of one man’s determination to bring that history to life.
In 1890, Bandelier wrote novel titled The Delight Makers, a fictional tale in which he re-imagines the life of pre-Columbian Pueblo Indians. The novel opens with a description of the Frijoles Canyon as Bandelier saw it. Over a hundred years later that was exactly the view I was taking in on a cold January day and my reaction was the same – it’s the grandest thing I ever saw!
Frijoles Canyon was formed following the eruptions more than a million years ago of a nearby volcano, now collapsed into a giant Valles Caldera. The eruptions were so powerful that they produced volumes of ash 600 times greater than the eruption of Mount Saint Helens. Soft compressed volcanic ash, or tuff, formed steep and easily carved walls of the canyon. Read the rest of this entry
Christmas season in Kraków is unforgettable for many reasons. Festive Old Town churches, sausage sizzling in cosy street booths, colorful street decorations, and that special holiday spirit in the air. But there is one thing in particular about the holidays that’s uniquely special to Kraków: szopki, or nativity scenes (singular: “szopka”). What makes them unique? Szopki are not just classic displays of the creche with Baby Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Rather, they are elaborate structures that include a mix of Kraków’s architectural hallmarks, with a cast of colorful figurines giving homage to the Newborn – or simply going about their business.
While nativity scenes are common in many countries and date back to St. Francis of Assisi’s 13th century re-enactments of the Christmas story, Kraków szopki are a peculiar twist on that tradition. In their current form they date back to the 19th century when local craftsmen – trying to make a living in a winter season when construction work stopped – started to earn extra income by making the Christmas story come to live in a new way. To preserve the craft, Kraków created an annual competition in 1937 for the most beautiful szkopki. The competition still takes place every year in December at the Main Square and the winners are then displayed in the nearby Krzysztofory Palace. Read the rest of this entry