Sunday, April 29, 2012

#995 Mrauk U, Myanmar (Burma)

The first amazing thing about Mrauk U is its isolation. To get there, you have to fly to Sittwe, which is a tiny little town in Rakhaing State on the western coast of Myanmar, and then take a small boat for several hours up a river to reach the Mrauk U site.

The next amazing thing is the size -- ruins and temples are scattered over several kilometers. The best way to see them all is by bike. European travellers who visited in the 16th century compared it to the large cities of Europe for its greatness.

The third amazing thing is that some of this ancient Rakhaing capital is current after centuries. The Buddha statues still have flowers and offerings, and many of the temples have active monks and nuns participating in rituals and chants. Many Buddhas are still dressed on a regular basis, and many temples are still painted and repaired. On the other hand, and this is amazing too, many are derelict and ruined. Why one survived and another didn't is an interesting puzzle.

The fourth amazing thing is the living civilization that is threaded throughout and is continuing to exist - the fields and farms next to temples and palaces, the children that come up to you while you're on the sites, the bullock carts sharing the narrow dirt roads. The sense of timelessness exists here -- people seem like they are living as they were when it was a great city.

The fifth amazing thing is that almost no one has heard of it.

Kothaung Temple
Outside of Kothaung Temple

Outside of Kothaung Temple

Inside Kothaung Temple
Inside Kothaung Temple

Saturday, April 28, 2012

#996 Washington, DC, USA

Downtown Georgetown - older than Washington, DC, itself.
Washington, DC, may not have been the first capital of the United States, but its carefully planned layout and design have created a beautiful legacy. Composed of 4 cardinal areas (NE, NW, SE, SW) spanning out from the Capitol building itself, it is a leafy, pretty, orderly city filled with a strong cultural life and a center for internationalism (which is what drew me!) including embassies, the World Bank, the IMF, the OAS, and several top universities.

The Washington Monument
I think that DC is amazing for its parks and public spaces. I love the big greens, the solemn monuments and memorials, the picturesque Arlington Cemetary, the waterfalls above Georgetown, the riverside parks, and the oasis of peace in the middle of the city: the Theodore Roosevelt Island. DC impressed me by how great and different the various suburbs are -- each unique and famous in its own right: Georgetown, Adams-Morgan,  Eastern Market, Chinatown, Union Station, and further out in Virginia and Maryland: Alexandria, Arlington, Bethesda, Silver Spring, etc, etc.

The various museums that make up the Smithsonian Institution make up one some of the most impressive collections of culture and history in the world, and while you may disagree, I think they have pretty nice weather too!

The Smithsonian Institution Information Center
Georgetown University
Looking at Roslyn from the Potomac River

Sunday, April 22, 2012

#997 Tbilisi, Georgia

Mother Georgia - Karlis Deda
The old town of Tbilisi is famous for it's ornate colored balconies.
Georgians are warm, welcoming, friendly people, happy to share their wine, cha-cha, history, stories, and laughs. Tbilisi is the center of this delightful culture. Sprawled along the picturesque Mtkvari River, with the large Narikala castle-fort overlooking it (and of course Mother Georgia), Tbilisi is a pretty capital, and compact enough for nice walks around the center.

Rumored to be founded for it's hot thermal baths, and famous for them since the Byzantine era, it is now the political, cultural, religious and education capital of this small Caucasus nation. It is peppered with orthodox churches (The Georgian Christian Church is the second oldest Christian faith in the world) and nearby Mtskheta houses the current archbishop.
View of  Narikala fortress.
Mtkvari River. The large Tsminda Sameba Cathedral in the center  has only been finished quite recently.

The folk dancing in Georgia is pretty amazing and Tbilisi is a great place to see it -- the women glide over the floor as if they take no steps (like ghosts), and dance on their toes (without wooden toe shoes like in ballet). The men jump and kick in true Caucasus fashion-- fascinating to watch!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

#998 Queenstown, New Zealand

View of Queenstown from Skyline. Downtown Queenstown bottom left, with Kelvin Heights and  Frankton Arm behind. Fernhill is on the right below the gondola cables.
I think it's important to get this one in early on: this is my beautiful home. When I close my eyes I can picture the Remarkables and Lake Wakatipu, and it is always a comforting thought because it is just so spectacular.

Where else in the world can a town of around 10,000 (2006) offer 4 different ski fields, rafting, the home of bungy jumping, jet boating, tramping, fjords, bird-watching, sailing, hiking, camping, historical train rides, gold-panning, picking fruit, tiger-moth flights, heliskiing, movie sets, kayaking, wineries, nightclubs, bars, restaurants, lake-side sitting, eel viewing, 4 golf courses, ballooning, a canyon swing, waterfalls, mountains, horse riding, paragliding, parapenting, ziptreks, skydiving, hanggliding, river boarding, river surfing, cruises, sheep stations, gondolas, beaches, not to mention shopping and scenery!

It is the ultimate town for the adrenaline junky and yet just as fun for kids wanting a fun activity or older visitors who want a peaceful, classy visit.

Unfortunately it was quite a cloudy day when I took these photos!

View from beach at Sunshine Bay looking down Lake Wakatipu towards Kingston (left) and Walter Peak (right) with Cecil Peak in the center.

View of Frankton Arm with the Remarkables in the center behind Kelvin Heights. Frankton on the left in the distance.

View from Fernhill.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

#999 Merv (Mary), Turkmenistan

In this modern day and age, it is hard to imagine the world's biggest city in the world melting into nothing more than a few piles of dirt. Merv, also known as Mary, which is in the middle of the deserts of Turkmenistan, was once the biggest city in the world, and as construction was mostly in mud-brick, most of what it was is now very flat, almost as if a giant raindrop fell and reduced it to sludge. Walking through it meant lots of the silty brownness collected on our shoes, and that has been happening for so long, it's a wonder anything still remains at all. 
A major oasis-city that was part of the chain of centers of the Silk Road, Merv does not really have any modern inhabitants, although pilgrimage sites and religious monuments (Muslim and pre-Muslim) are scattered within the walls. Alexander the Great visited, and it was home to Zoroastrians, Buddhists, and many other religions.
I find it an amazing place because hardly anyone's heard of it. It's incredibly isolated, and visitors are quite rare. It is abandoned, yet majestic. Important, yet forgotten. A huge area left wild, with rich history and, of course, a really difficult place to get to.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

#1000 Machu Piccu, Peru

View from Machu Piccu back toward the small town of Aguas Calientes.
Waking up at an ungodly hour to join the line for the bus in Aguas Calientes, and driving along the sheer canyon of the Rio Urubamba, marveling at how much water and the fast current in it, and seeing the Hiram Bingham Memorial Highway rise up the steep face of the jungle walls is an impressive journey in itself, but to be capped with stepping out of the trees and having the intact, ancient, organized stone walls emerge laid out below you is all of what makes Machu Picchu such an amazing experience. Machu Picchu's ruins are impressive in their own right, but to be placed in such an incredible, inaccessible place is what makes them such a part of every traveler's checklist.

First viewed from afar or visited by foreigners at the end of the 1800s (see wikipedia), but made famous by Hiram Bingham of Yale University (which also holds many of the artifacts from there) it was made accessible by in insanely windy, steep road in the 1950s/60s. Thousands visit each day, so many that the Peruvian government capped it in recent years, requiring (a limited number of) tickets for entry. Whether you choose to walk up from town, or climb either Huaynapicchu (the steep cliff behind the famous photo) or the Machu Picchu Montana (behind you in the famous photo), or just visit the ruins and museum itself, you will have an amazing time. Even the most hardened voyager cannot help but be impressed that such a city was built in such a place, surrounded by such beauty.

The Incas, famous for being one of the most important pre-Columbian civilizations of South America, was actually quite short lived in comparison to many civilizations (only a few hundred years). Their constructions were incredible because of the lack of mortar used and stability that continues through earthquakes, and the sheer size of many of the stones they used.

Machu Picchu is amazing because all buildings are almost exactly as they were when the residents left because the Spanish didn't discover or conquer it. Some stones crumbled, and jungle grew over much of it, but otherwise it gives us a view into how it was. It's also amazing because of it's inaccessibility and defensibility. Only 8 paths led in, one of which was the Inca bridge past a sheer cliff (shown at right). Another is the famous Inca Trail which leads up from the Rio Urubamba several turns back along the river to pass high over the mountains to form complex trade routes. The city included agricultural, residential, religious and municipal areas, and was militarily well-equipped. Amazing!

 The stone bridge
 A morning view
 The first view of the morning 
 The view from the top - 'Montagne'
 Looking back towards the Inca Trail from Montagne
Another Montagne view

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Beginning

I was inspired today after reading about the end of the awesome blog 1000 Awesome Things and my weekly check of PostSecret. My passion is travel and places, and so this blog is my intention to share some of the cool places I've been to or would like to visit. I hope you enjoy them and are inspired to travel!

Note: All photos are originals by me (Natalya Marquand) unless otherwise stated/sourced.