Sunday, July 29, 2012

#955 Galway, Ireland

When I rented a car in Ireland, I drove coast to coast, and the first place in the west that I aimed for was Galway.

A beautiful port town, with pretty harbor-front houses, it was memorable even if it was raining, although maybe I remember it because it's where I had to pay 1000 euros to fix the dent in my rental car because I didn't pay attention to where I was reversing...

Regardless of that, it is a pretty place, with castles (Lynch's Castle, Menlo Castle), canals, cemeteries and a nice pedestrianized main street. While being the third largest city in Ireland, it feels like a cozy quaint town as well.


Saturday, July 28, 2012

#956 The Blue Hole, Belize

I have never really been a destination diver, but more of an opportunistic one: When there's a dive shop and good diving and I have time, I'll try and fit in a dive or two. The Blue Hole in Belize is an exception, however. Two hours boat ride from the nearest caye through open water, the Blue Hole has to be something you are determined to get to. And it's worth it.

It's a deep dive (120 ft/40m) so quite short (around 8 mins at the bottom), with not so many fish or coral, although sharks are common. What I loved the most were the massive stalactites that we swam through at our deepest depth -- bigger than I've seen in most land caves, but very unique to be seen underwater (they only grow on land, of course). It was formed as a cave in the limestone millions of years ago and collapsed into a cenote. With the rise in sea levels most likely just after the last ice age, it is now underwater in the middle of a pristine, magical reef (Lighthouse Atoll) near the second largest barrier reef in the world (running the entire length of Belize's coast). Amazing place!

Sources of photos: Please note that these photos are not my own. I simply did not have the equipment to take deep dive photos and neither the time nor the money to do a fly over. Credit for these photos should go to:,,,,,

Friday, July 27, 2012

#957 Niagara Falls, USA/Canada

Forming part of the border between these two enormous countries, Niagara Falls on the Niagara River is the collective name for the three sets of falls between Canadian Ontario and American New York. The highest flow rate of any falls in the world, the volume of water passing is visually impressive and the spray can be felt from quite far away. Check out these photos from the boat tours and the walk under the waterfall to get an idea of how much water there is everywhere. A major tourist attraction for both sides, they are loud, wet, wild and impressive.

Monday, July 23, 2012

#958 Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

An other-worldly place with plugs of limestone rock shooting up from a peaceful, picturesque bay as if someone decided to create a maze of rock, but then it eroded into the sea, Ha Long Bay literally means 'Dragon descending', and it's the kind of place where the mythology that named it seems like it could happen there.

With thousands of islands ranging in size, many with caves and minimal vegetation, the bay stretches several kilometers and from the place where you set sail in order to visit the many islands, you can't see the open sea. The distinctive twin sail boats with trapezoidal yellow sails are not a fast journey and feel timeless, despite the modern amenities.

Pictures: Film, 1998

Thursday, July 19, 2012

#959 Svaneti, Georgia

Hidden high in the western Caucasus mountains of Georgia, well above the snow line in winter, is the Svaneti valley. It's picturesque steep hills criss-crossed with cool creeks and gushing mountain streams, the summer pastures green and lush but the mountain peaks always snow-capped.
Svaneti's mystique lies in its history. Its inaccessibility provided a safe haven for those in the valleys and plains below in times of conflict and war, particularly during the time of the marauding Mongols. Valuables, jewelry and riches were brought up the valley and stored in special towers, accessible only through one door, so easily defended. The towns of Mestia, and the villages of Lenjeri and Latali hold towers and relics of this time, with the prescence of many simple stone towers, still maintained in old fashioned ways, where the stone walls are black with soot from fires and the wooden frames and animal husbandry haven't changed in centuries. The UNESCO World Heritage listed tower-houses are starting to crumble, but those that remain are a connection to stories and heritage and a testament to isolation.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

#960 Bran Castle, Romania

Dracula's Castle in Romania is a happening tourist spot these days, despite the fact that neither Dracula nor Bram Stoker who wrote about it lived or even visited here. So this place is amazing because it is a testament to advertising, propaganda, and the impact of a good story!

Bran Castle, which is really more of a big house than a castle, is one of many interesting sites in the Carpathian mountains. It is built on a high hill, next to an even higher hill of green meadows and forests, but lacking much of a view over the castle. It's architecture is interesting with odd shaped courtyards, multi-level rooms and winding corridors and staircases. Full of charm and well maintained with a bear skin rug, the decorations are evocative of 18th century country living.

While I can commend it for being ambianced-filled, it was disappointingly roped off and full of tour groups, so perhaps not so amazing after all?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

#961 Esfahan, Iran

Beautiful, romantic, historic Esfahan: even the name sounds beautiful and evokes emotion! If ever there was a city to evoke the essence of Iran and Persian culture, Esfahan is a pretty good place for it. With its hot summers and cool winters, its iconic blue-tiled domes and muqarnas (the sheer quantity of which is an Islamic architecture buff's dream), the fantastic shopping, and its place on silk trade routes of antiquity, it is memorable and atmospheric.
Its Naghsh-e Jahan Square (Imam Square) is one of the biggest public squares in the world, and is faced with buildings each spectacular in their own right. With Ali Qapu Palace, the Grand Bazaar, Madrassas, Mosques, across the river there is even Vank Cathedral, it is a mixture of heritage and culture.
12th C Pol-e Sharestan Bridge of 33 arches.

The Grand Bazaar during the lunch hour siesta.
One mosque off of Iman Square

Thursday, July 12, 2012

#962 Ngapali Beach, Myanmar (Burma)

If I had to pick my favorite beach in the world, I think it would have to be Ngapali Beach in Myanmar. I should say right at the start that my ideal beach does not have many people on it. I am not someone who goes to the beach to people watch. I go for beautiful long stretches of sand, palm trees and uninterupted wilderness. I love local fishing villages, I love seafood, and I love longs walks on the beach passing quaint little centers. Ngapali has it all -- a funky airport (where it feels like you´re going to land in the sea or crash into a cliff), good food, small and large resorts, a stunning fishing village with picturesque boats, drying fish and smiling local people and spectacular scenery. Whether its a massage in the nearby village or a bicycle ride through the rice padi fields, rustic hotels or high class --it´s here. As the sun sets into the ocean, and the 
!tide brushes the floorboards, while I sit in my hammock, I am in heaven 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

#963 Mekong Delta, Vietnam

The Mekong River is one of the most impressive in South East Asia, flowing through several countries: China to Myanmar, Laos to Thailand, then Cambodia before ending its journey in Vietnam. Its name is of Lao and Thai origin and has been a trade route for centuries, although its flows change greatly from season to season. You can see the fresh water pink dolphin (although quite rare now), a softshell turtle, crocodiles and wave to the many different peoples living along the banks, but what I loved the most were the number of people who lived on the river itself. The trade was as it has been for centuries and the superstitions continued, such as putting eyes on the boat to prevent bad spirits.

Note: These pictures are so old they were taken with film: Christmas 1998.