Thursday, June 28, 2012

#968 Kerala, India

Kerala is a vibrant state in southern India.With the highest HDI in India, and a prosperous economy and culture, it's a pretty cool place. They are majority Malayali people speaking the Malayalam language, and have a mix of Hindus, Muslims, and Christians. How can a place with an unpronounceable capital city such as Thiruvananthapuram not be exciting, and other cities like Kochi and Kozhikode? Spices, elephants, street parades (see the fantastic costumes in the film below), beaches, unique fishing nets, and a lovely climate too!

One of the most unique things about Kerala is its canal house boats. Beautiful ratan constructions with pretty arched windows, they offer all the services of a house or hotel, but moving gently down the rivers and backwaters. Beautiful waterways and birdlife, while the people on the shores wash their clothes or swim in the rivers and wave hello!

One other thing that it is common to see are the traditional martial arts and theatre performances. The energy of the martial arts is impressive and was used for training warriors. The Kathakali theatre tells ancient Hindu tales -- have a look at these videos and see the expressiveness! And yes, in the film below the man is cutting off the woman's breasts.  


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

#969 Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul is one of the most amazing, beautiful cities in the world. It has been such a crossroads of cultures between Asia and Europe, and between all the religions and the cultures of the old and new worlds. And there is so much to see! My favorites:
1. Aya Sophia -- originally a Christian Basilica, and now a mosque, it is an enormous conglomerate of architectural styles and heritage. 
View from Aya Sophia to Blue Mosque.
Aya Sophia Mosque
2. Carpet shop in an old bath house.
3. The Blue Mosque - a tribute to the Ottoman Empire's rule over most of the Islamic World.

4. The Great Mosaic Museum - Discovered underneath a series of shops being built, this is one of the biggest complex of intact Roman era mosaics that I've ever seen -- room after room after room, underneath a house.
5. The Roman cistern - underneath a suburb of Istanbul is the massive, decorated Roman cistern, which is still a storage facility for water after several millenia!
6. Topkapi Palace and Gardens -- this is a massive complex with several courtyards, a harem, small pagodas, and beautifully decorated buildings. It was forbidden for non-royals to enter, and has generated much mystique over the centuries of Ottoman rule.
Inside the harem 
7. The Bosphorus -- Taking a ferry to one of the other areas of Istanbul is one of the most enjoyable things to do -- you can get a view of the city from the water, including the ancient palaces that lined the shore. See how big the Aya Sophia and the Blue Mosque are in comparison to their surroundings.

 8. The Grand Bazaar -- a shopper's heaven in an old building with lots to buy and even more to look at -- loved having a cup of tea here!

This has so many things on traveller's checklists -- such an interesting place to visit!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

#970 Seoul, South Korea

The walk up Pukansan, one of the many climbable mountains to the north of Seoul.
I spent a year working in Korea when I was fresh out of university, and I have to say that I have very fond memories of a vibrant place. Because I worked evenings I think I was probably more nocturnal so am sure I missed lots about Seoul, but what I did see impressed me. I loved Dongdaemun and other old city gates, sitting in the middle of large roundabouts. I enjoyed all the different products and food for sale in Namdaemun market with its golden ginseng stalls. Seoul Tower had great views over the city -- and what a landscape. Lots of sharp tree-lined hills with excellent walking trails (Koreans are fit!).

Very close to the border with North Korea, the DMZ is a very interesting place to visit, a sober memory of what is still an officially unresolved conflict.

Memories on a fence in the DMZ.
The Korean architecture in places like the Deoksaegung and Gyeongbokgung Palaces was incredibly picturesque: I particularly liked the green decorations underneath the eaves. Other places like Bongeunsa Temple often had beautiful decorations to celebrate festivals.

Seoul has a lot of things going for it: a harmonious social mix of Christians and Buddhists, lots of Noriban (Karaoke), exciting vibrant street festivals, great shopping, a general orderliness and a fantastic subway system.

Perhaps not on everyone's itinerary, I enjoyed Itaewan (the foreigner's district!), the nearby ski fields such as Yongpyong, the handy port of Incheon, the War Memorials
gawking at the many US GIs (loved their TV channel!), and seeing movies at COEX Mall. 
And something I particularly remember as an English teacher: children, all with high-tech phones watching tv well before smart phones even existed. A very cool place!