Thursday, August 30, 2012

#941 Water towers, Kuwait

It's a pretty interesting phenomenon when something as functional as a water tower becomes a national symbol, but that is what has happened in Kuwait, whose traditional desert culture only leaves tents and camels in the changing sands. Anyone who has been to Kuwait has most likely driven past or seen these three iconic towers, a peculiar, yet award-winning architecture, built in 1977. Surely such uniqueness should be celebrated!?

Think this aerial photo is absolutely beautiful, but it isn't mine! The oil wells on fire in the desert after the Gulf war helped to create the sureal image.

Kuwait Towers 1991
Inside the towers during the war. Photo courtesy of
These water towers are also memorable for those who have lived in Kuwait:

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

#942 Aden, Yemen

Very few people know that during the Cold War, it wasn't just Korea, Vietnam and Germany were split in half. Another country that fell victim to the power plays of the powers was Yemen. The capital of South Yemen was the city of Aden, an ancient shipping city, with connections to Africa, the Middle East and the Indies because of its strategic location on the Gulf of Aden (across from the Horn of Africa in Somalia). Infamous today for the bombing of the USS Cole in 1992 which occurred in its harbor and was the start of awareness of Yemen's long terrorism connection which continues to this day. Aden, however is a much more interesting city than just that. 

It was a British port in the Colonial era (a convenient stopping off point en route to India), and one particularly interesting hapstance was when a group of Indian-origin migrant workers built a fascinating Zoroastrian temple on the top of the hill above the city. Zoroastrian temples are used to place the bodies of the dead with the intention that the vultures will pick the bones clean so that they can be collected and stored. The temple is no longer functioning as a temple today in conservative Islamic Yemen, but remains a fascinating relic of a bygone era. 

Another really fantastic historical feature of the city are its series of water cisterns that sit at the bottom of the hills that surround the city. These (the Cisterns of Tawila, named for the Wadi Tawila) form the remains of a highly sophisticated water collection system that supplied the city with water from the hills perhaps as far back as 115BC. They were rediscovered and reused in the 19th Century and can still be used today if needed, although water has not filled them for 15 or so years and they are threatened with development and erosion.

In addition to these features, it is a beautiful city, with cream houses creeping up the brown hills, overlooking the clear blue Indian Ocean. It remains a busy shipping lane despite being one of the poorest and forgotten corners of the world. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

#943 Krakow, Poland

Beautiful cityscape from Wikipedia, as viewed from the Krakow Mound.

Beautiful Krakow: ancient, academic, artistic, cultural, catholic, charming!

From the main square, the Ryneck, the biggest square in Europe, a delight in summer when it's filled with restaurants and cafes, with it's unusual twin brother towers of the old St. Mary's basilica and St. Peter and Paul church to the Wawel Castle and the military-like Barbican, there are many things to see. The ancient university can be seen in the Collegium Magnus, and the old city is a UNESCO World Heritage site. World War II has left a fresh history in it's ghetto and graveyards across the river in formerly-Jewish Kazimierz.

Majestic poignant music, quaint little old streets, and a history of monarchies, duchys, small tribes, as well as Napoleon, Hitler and Stalin. Krakow is the cultural heart of Poland, with heritage as old as it's ancient city can have.

I feel sad that I have only visited Krakow in the middle of winter, when the Wistula River is frozen and the snow deep, but that means that I have a summer gem to return to, discovering a whole new city.
Outside the Sukiennice -- the main square, the Ryneck.
Looking up at Wavel Castle
View of the Wistula River
Photo courtesy of Nellie Bednarek
Krakow Street. Photo courtesy of Nellie Bednarek
Mulled wine stand. Photo courtesy of Nellie Bednarek
Sukiennice market. Photo courtesy of Nellie Bednarek

Thursday, August 23, 2012

#944 Pyramids at Giza, Cairo, Egypt

On every traveler's bucket list, and probably the most famous national icon of anywhere in the world, the pyramids of Giza are of course the only remaining wonder of the ancient world. Massive, beautiful, ancient, myth-laden, impressive, they lie in the same complex as the Sphinx. No longer easily climbed, they still pose a majestic site for all to visit. Millenia before
Christ, Egypt's complex society was functional and distinct, leaving a legacy for all who lived in the area to pass on from generation to generation.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

#945 Nga Hpe Chaung (Jumping Cat Monastery), Inle Lake, Myanmar (Burma)

If I ever became a Buddhist monk, I think that I would choose to live at this monastery in the middle of Inle Lake -- where else in the world could I possibly meditate and pray, AND be with cats all the time? Teaching an animal like the cat is difficult, as those who have tried must already be aware, so when you visit this monastery and see the astonishing visions of cats jumping through hoops on demand, it is impressive. And because they are lazing around all over the place in the rest of the time, it is cat-lover heaven. Yes, a tourist trap, perhaps, but a unique one!

Monday, August 20, 2012

#946 The Mezquita, Cordoba, Spain

The first time I heard about the Mezquita in Cordoba, I was studying Moorish and Islamic architecture in Morocco. Seeing slides of this beautiful construction made me long for many years to visit it. The first thing that stuck in my memory were the magnificent double arches in striking pink and white stripes. The arch itself is an amazing construction, but to have two so beautifully decorated, with the lower one free standing, and replicated over and over to make an Alice in Wonderland, icing-on-the-cake magic was original.

Originally built as a mosque by the Moors that controlled Southern Spain (Al-Andalusia), after the Spaniards pushed the Muslim empire back into North Africa, the building had a 16th Century cathedral built in the very center, which tended to make it much darker, and many other features were added. The technical complexity and unity of the original mosque are astounding and a wonder of the time (it was started in 785 by Abd ar-Rahman I). Ironically, it was not originally a Muslim site -- he purchased half from the Christian community in order to make the mosque.

Of the original 1300 columns, an astounding 850 remain, creating a forest-like interior, and some are uniquely bubbled, creating a more cloud-like image. The domes also display a complex geometry and beauty that has withstood the test of time to remain solid and as pretty as when they were created, although with the addition of Catholic imagery.

Source: Lonely Planet Spain, 4th Edition