Friday, January 31, 2014

#719 United Nations Headquarters, New York, NY, USA
Built in 1952, this collection of buildings on the bank of the East River in New York City serves as the main offices of the United Nations, supplemented by other offices in Geneva, Vienna and Nairobi. Due to a treaty with the United States, the territory is under sole administration of the UN, but in exchange for police, fire and other services, they do comply with US and NY laws. This means it has 'extraterritoriality status' though with limitations -- don't try and commit a crime here -- unless you have diplomatic immunity of course! It was not a quick or simple decision to built it in this location, and the process of securing the site and the construction took several years from the organization's origins in 1945.

I think this is a pretty amazing place -- where else in the world is so purely international? I think the things that happen here also make it amazing -- we are living through an age of unprecedented cooperation and internationalism. The globalization (good and bad) can be focused here.

Cool facts:

  • Only one film has been filmed here with permission: The Interpreter (2005).
  • Alfred Hitchcock filmed Cary Grant in North By Northwest illegally and using a matte painting.
  • The Amazing Race had one episode here using the flags.
  • The building appears in the game Grand Theft Auto IV but is called Civilization Committee Building.
  • A 2001 telephone poll revealed that 67% of callers were in favor of moving the UN Headquarters out of the country.
  • When the US failed to pay its UN dues, Russian diplomats suggested moving the headquarters to St. Petersburg.
  • It is located in Turtle Bay in Manhattan.
  • All 15 of the UN's specialized agencies' headquarters are located in other countries.
  • The Rockefeller family estate was offered as an alternate location but was rejected because it was too far from Manhattan.
  • A Board of Design Consultants made up of representatives from 12 countries was responsible for its design.
  • The property was originally a slaughterhouse before it became UN headquarters.
  • The UN originally dreamed of an independent city for itself but realistically downsized its plans.
  • The building met some, but not all of the city's fire and safety codes.
  • The office of the Secretary General is on the 38th floor.
  • Diplomatic Immunity of UN staff can be (and has been) waived by the Secretary General.
  • All mail sent to the UN is sterilized.
  • The General Assembly hall has a capacity of 1800 people and it is the largest room in the complex. Each delegation has six seats with three seats behind them.
  • The complex has undergone several renovations, including to install sprinklers, fix leaks and remove asbestos. -- All 193 UN member flags are flown in alphabetical order along with the UN flag.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

#724 Dolgellau, Snowdonia, Wales

I cannot really say that I have spent a lot of time in Wales, but one place I have been to is Snowdonia -- my mother wanted to climb Cader Idris, but realized soon upon arrival that it is not so easy as just an afternoon hike!

Roughly translated as 'meadow of groves', it is a small stone village with narrow alley-like streets similar to many others in Britain, but it is a excellent base for exploring Snowdonia National Park and doing the Mawddach (River) Trail. Historically, it was settled after it was established as a serf village (maerdref) around the early 12th century. It has variably had influence from the wool industry, Quakerism, a minor gold rush, and now tourism.

What's there to see? A pleasant church (built in 1716), standing stones on the village green, the 12th century Cymer Abbey, Camlan field (supposedly site of the last battle of King Arthur), pretty arched bridges, as well as historical narrow-gauge heritage railways. Lovely hiking nearby!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

#725 Caravanserai (Hotel), Sheki, Azerbaijan

There are a few hotels in the world that can truly evoke history, and make the visitor feel like they are living in the past, maintaining the sense of the time without sacrificing (or putting too many) modern comforts. Sheki's Caravanserai is one place that can make that claim, although in winter it is a bit too true to its origins (i.e. too cold!). It's dowdy sparsely furnished rooms with living areas are atmospheric and excellently priced and dinner can be had in the garden restaurant beyond.
The Silk Road transported many goods in the middle ages from China and Asia to Europe, and as the caravans of merchants moved across Eurasia's land mass, they tended to stay in well-established centers. They are also dotted along Persia's 'Royal Road' which stretches from Sardis to Susa.
File:Carvansara plan.gif
Needing space for both their animals and themselves, the Middle East's hostelry were the Caravanserais (Karavanserays), a word that has both Turkish and Persian origins. Secure stone walled enclosures of 2 or 3 floors, with a communal courtyard space and rooms for all levels facing into the courtyard (and occasionally also onto the street beyond), they were places to recover from the hard journeys. Sheki had five by the 18th century representing the various Persian merchant factions (Esfahan, Tabriz, Lezgi, Ermeni and Taze) but only two of the buildings have survived. Merchants stored their goods in cellars, traded on the first floor, and lived on the second, but it was also a place for travelers. The one in Sheki is just down the road from the Palace of the Khan's Palace (#750).
Another Karavanseray in Sheki is not currently accessible to the public but holds shops on its lower level.
Source: Mark Elliot's Azerbaijan 4th Edition,_Azerbaijan

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

#729 Doubtful Sound, Fjordland, New Zealand

In the middle of Fjordland's amazing 14 sounds, Doubtful Sound is the longest. It has three arms, Hall, Crooked and First Arm on the southern side of the fjord, with Thompson and Bradshaw Sounds connecting to the north.

Named by Captain James Cook in 1770 because as he sailed by in the Endeavour he 'doubted' that an exit would be easy due to the very steep/high mountains preventing a breeze from blowing and knowing that Easterlies (needed to get out of the sound) were rare! (This was in spite of begging by the naturalist Joseph Banks who wanted to collect samples.) It wasn't until 23 years later that the sound was explored by Spanish Alessandro Malaspina, who actually sent hydrographer Don Felipe Bauza to land on Maracaciones Point, and of course this island is now named after him. Many other Spanish place names remain in the sound as a legacy from this trip (Febrero Point, Pendulo Reach, Malaspina Reach).

In order to get to Doubtful Sound (aside from sailing into it from the Tasman Sea), you have to take a short cruise across Lake Manapouri to West Arm, past the powerstation, over Wilmot Pass (a unique piece of road in itself in that it is connected to no other road in New Zealand, and is the most expensive road in the country), before arriving at a small jetty in Deep Cove.
The mountainsides are so steep that there really isn't a place where a jetty can be built for the many ships that come into the sound, so the platform that is currently used does not actually go to the bottom of the sound but angles back into the cliff sides.

Formed by glaciers millions of years ago, Doubtful Sound is 430m at its deepest point and around 90m where it has shallow sills. Tides affect the sounds, but the variation of depth only ranges from between 2.5 and 3m. While the water has an average of 11 degrees Celcius, in the shallower places it can reach as high as 15 degrees.

At various times home the area has been home to a quartz mine, whalers, sealers, the crew building the Manapouri powerstation over Wilmot Pass, fishermen, and now, mostly tourists. Maori legend says that the sound was created by the godly figure Tu-Te-Raki-Whanoa who came wielding a magical adze, fashioning long inlets as protection from the stormy seas. When he created Doubtful Sound (Patea) he was assisted by four young sea gods Taipari, who created the arms.

Wildlife is the main reason people come to Doubtful Sound. The rare crested/tawaki penguin can be found here, along with the blue penguin, who can usually be seen swimming in the water, as can the resident pod of 60 bottlenose dolphins. Fur seals are seen at the Nee Islets near the entrance to the sound, and many different types of whales and orca occasionally venture into the sound. Temperate rainforest (only found elsewhere in the world in Patagonia and the US/Canadian Pacific Coast) means dense jungle vines, plants and ferns, which blend well with the beech (tawhai), and other native trees. It is also a prime bird-watching destination.
The narrow passage between Bauza and Secretary Islands is the Te Awaatu Channel Marine Reserve, which is 30m in places and popular with divers. On the western side of Elizabeth Island, there is also the Taipari Roa Marine Reserve. Deep Cove's biodiversity has also been affected by the inflows of fresh water that are discharged from the Manapouri Underground Power Station on the other side of Wilcot Pass at the edge of Lake Manapouri. Grono Bay holds the remnants of an 1800s sealing station, but as the practice began to be stopped by the New Zealand government in 1875 and the season was closed permanently in 1946, little remains and preservation of nature is the priority. Connected to Mount Aspiring, Westland, and Aoraki National Parks, it is part of the UNESCO World Heritage area known as Te Waipounamu.
Manapouri village receives 1,143mm of rain a year, West Arm receives 3786mm, and Deep Cove had 5290mm. Why would you want to go in the rain? Because that is when you'll see the millions of waterfalls cascading down the sides -- there is no area of catchfall so what falls from the sky falls straight off the mountains. The clear, calm days are beautiful too because then the mirrored reflection of color shines back at you in lively greens, browns, blues and golds. Deep in the sound itself, the water is brown, stained by the tanin washing down from all the organic matter on the sides of the fjords. It is actually just the freshwater surface layer, which only partially mixes with the salty under-layer. This tanin also makes it difficult for light to filter down into the water, so black coral, which is normally only found below 40m, can be found as shallow as 10m, perfect for divers.

My trip to Doubtful Sound was an overnight cruise with Real Journeys -- what a great way to experience such a beautiful place!

Sources: - and their Doubtful Sound Visitor Information Brochure