Category Archives: CitiScapes
A morning in Alaska is a wonderful treat to wake up to. The first rays of light ignite the sky in wonderful hues of orange and blue. Last night, we were too tired to drive outside the city and shelled out $7 to park in a parking lot. It now seems that the price was a good one to pay for a nice sunrise overlooking a stream. I should add that the stream is directly below the hill where we have spent a wonderful night.
The morning is rather early – the sun comes up at about 5:30AM, and plenty of local birds chirp to greet the new day. The days are rather long too – last night the sun went down at about 10:30PM – much later than when the young boys and girls packed the local bars and started grinding on the dance floors. We enjoy the smell of fresh air and our first morning in Anchorage. The RV was comfortable to sleep in and quite spacious to move about as well. Freshening up and making breakfast was as simple as in the comfort of our home. I quite like the idea of traveling like this. Omelets and cereal is on the menu, and we have a full plate.Tags: alaska, anchorage, CitiScapes, CulturalScapes, Landscapes, RV
It has been a while since we traveled through as picturesque a land as Alaska is. I’ve heard an awful lot about Alaska, its meadows and glaciers, but it is a land that has eluded me for atleast a few years now. the trip has been in the making for a good 7 years, and I am glad to be on a plane to wander the land for myself.
There is no plan for the trip – I should actually say that the only plan is to take an RV and wander throughout the state – or as far as the roads allow us to. It should be a first class adventure and we are prepared to boondock along the highways or on the “Bridge to Nowhere” – we ar prepared to look out for wildlife and for 20 hours of sunlight but as I realize after the trip, no amount of preparation can prepare you for a trip of a lifetime through one of the most precious and pristine landscapes on the earth.
I board an early morning flight to Portland, OR with a long layover before departing for Anchorage. The Portland airport is small, but has some nice restaurants for a quick breakfast. I lounge around and read a book – it is William Dalrymple’s The White Mughals - an excellent travel companion, sipping a whole lot of coffee to keep me awake for the long days ahead.
Before long, I am on board to Anchorage – the flight is uneventful except for the last half an hour when we cross over the Kenai peninsula and the Kenai Fjords – it is a breathtaking sight from the air. We coast along the Turnagain Arm and had I not lost myself in the moment, I would have fired up my camera and gone clicking. Nevertheless, the pictures are etched in my brain and can be recalled at a moment’s notice. The weather in Anchorage is perfect at 60F at 4PM in the afternoon. The air feels damp and I am told that it has rained for the last 32 days consecutively – a record of sorts in Anchorage. I take solace in the forecast for the next 10 days which looks bright and sunny.
I make my way to pick up the rental RV from ABC Motorhomes. It is the first time I have rented an RV and it takes me a little while to get used to the humungous dimensions of the vehicle. The rental staff is extremely friendly – and it is one of the few customer service transactions that you remember for a long time. The RV is a modified Ford F150 with a huge container attached to the chassis and equipped with all amenities I’d like to see in my own home – a TV, DVD player, refrigerator, 2 queen sized beds, a generator, cooking range, microwave, and of course a bathroom and shower. slowly, I make my way to a nearby Walmart and safeway to pick up some groceries and essentials for the trip – I have been advised that a mosquito repellant is a necessity and I make sure I have enough of it.
I make a quick stop at the airport to pick up my wife and our travels are underway. The air is still moist from the rains and there are some dark clouds in the sky. It is almost 10PM, and the sun is still about 20 degrees about the horizon, but since the rays are slanting, the temperature is not much higher than 50 degrees. The whole sky is golden in color and it is a beautiful sight. Towards the east, we can clearly see a rainbow that contrasts magnificently against the golden evening. We drive around downtown Anchorage and reach a parking lot just overlooking a hill with a clear view of the sunset. It costs us $12 to park for the night and it is short walk to the downtown. We walk to the downtown after sunset and it starts to drizzle – although the sun has gone down the horizon, the light does not fade away until much later.
We enjoy a nice dinner at Ginger – a contemporary thai restaurant in the heart of the downtown. The food is excellent and so is the service. The tandoori chicken skewers are awesomely fresh and a perfect pre travel dinner for us. elsewhere in the downtown, people are lining up outside clubs for a wild Thursday night of dancing and partying. We are too tired to join the crowd and decide to call it a day. On board our RV, we fire up the generator, and settle down for a cozy night’s sleep.Tags: alaska, AlaskanScapes, anchorage, CitiScapes, CulturalScapes, fjords, ginger, Kenai, Landscapes, rainbow, RV
It is a relaxed day – off to a late and slow start. It is April – spring everywhere, but already the onset of summer in Vegas. It is about 90 degrees at 11AM. We decide to walk the strip and admire the splendor of the casinos.
Top picks are:
1. Venetian for its canals and the designer shopping
2. Bellagio for its glass sculptures, the fountains, the greenhouse… this place has a lot of stuff packed in on place
4. Caesar’s for its fantastic restaurants
5. Luxor for a bit of a historical detour in the maddening city
6. Wynn for a round of golf!ArchitectScapes, bellagio, canal, casino, CitiScapes, las vegas, lions, mgm, Top Things to Do, venetian
Las Vegas – the sin city, is a tremendous amount of fun. Everyone says “Do Vegas right” – but there is no one way of doing it right. There is stuff for everyone and then som e more for what your wildest imaginations have never thought of.
I have been to Vegas many a times, but this is the first visit with my wife – and Vegas never disappoints as a romantic spot. A glamorous hotel, a few shows, candle light dinners, poolside fun – these is the minimum that you can expect on the Las Vegas Strip – We are at one of the newest properties – the Planet Hollywood towers – intended as timeshare condos, the building opened up just 3 months ago. It is very modern and swanky! Life is good after a long flight.
The car rental is a big pain – particularly because we went on for the cheapest rental available at Fox – they are located off the off airport rental center and that’s how they avoid the taxes. The other thing you have to be aware of is that there are no “free hotel shuttles” from the airport to the hotels – that adds to the cab business in the city – and a ride to the strip hotels won’t set you back by more than $15-20.
Its been a long day after work, so lets catch up with Vegas tomorrow after a night’s rest!Tags: ArchitectScapes, CitiScapes, las vegas, planet hollywood, strip, Top Things to Do
The city of Luxor seems friendly. Unlike Cairo, it is not overwhelming to step out into the streets. We are certainly pleased not to be harassed by people trying to sell us cheap memorabilia. Perhaps it is also because we are close to the Nile docks, and not at major tourist attractions. A sign outside a shop promises not to hassle us, so we walk straight in. True to their word, the owners do not bargain – a refreshing change indeed.
As the site of the ancient Egyptian city of Thebes, Luxor has frequently been characterized as the “world’s greatest open air museum”, as the ruins of the temple complexes at Karnak and Luxor stand within the modern city. The Philae offers a well organized tour to the temples in the evening when they can be seen under the lights and it should be an excellent photography experience.
For now, we venture more into the small town of Luxor. It seems to be a modern city, but it is at once striking to see that the economy depends heavily on tourists. We spot a Pizza Hut and a KFC, and they are about the only restaurants open in he mornings near the docks. There are a lot of shops that sell trinkets and gifts from Egypt, as well as Alabaster stone artifacts and as this picture on the right shows, tourists can shop for all luxury brands under one roof and at huge discounts. And yes, they have the quality.
Egypt of course is famous for its papyrus as well. Papyrus was first manufactured in Egypt as far back as the third millennium BC. Nowadays, it can be bought off the streets, in big and small shops and is a favorite artefact for travelers.However, not all papyrus sold in Egypt is an original hand made piece of ancient paper. We are tempted to buy papyrus paintings and make our way into a shop in hte local bazaar – just steps off the docking location. The shop is rather large – something not apparent from its much smaller outer facade. Papyrus paintings are hung all around and clearly the shop caters to the whims and appetites of the tourists. The owner is courteous and we have a rather long conversation in broken English on the art of papyrus making. In the god old days, all papyrs was hand made – but after tourists infested Egypt in large droves, a small cottage industry took shape up north near Alexandria that automated the process. The synthetic papyrus is cheaper, stronger and the colors hold up for a lifetime. In contrast, the hand made papyrus is a dying art and very few artisans are helping keep the tradition alive. It was only revived in the late 1960s as a way to protect the ancient art forms. In short, tourists should look for the following tips wile buying papyrus:
1. It should be fairly opaque
2. It should have a criss-cross pattern
3. It should have a memory – so that if you crumble it, it regains its original form
4. Real papyrus is hand painted – to test this, apply a little water to the edges of the color to check if it comes off – if it does, you are looking at a real hand made painting.
Our shopkeeper is courteous enough to tell us about these minor details – perhaps we are his first customers for the day and he is eager to make a deal. This reminds me of the small shop owners in India – they routinely give a good discount to their first customers in anticipation of good business for the rest of the day. We are pleased by the artwork and buy up almost 10 paintings, in different sizes – they will make excellent gifts for family and friends.
It is a hot afternoon – the temperature is almost 90 degrees F (33C) and we make our way back. Back on the boat, we are served a sumptuous lunch, we meet some new folks on board and just relax and wait for the heat wave to die down.Tags: ArchitectScapes, ArtefactScapes, CitiScapes, CulturalScapes, egypt, EgyptianScapes, ferrari, karnak, luxor, papyrus
Day 4 in Cairo
Cairo is often known as the city of a thousand minarets – notably for its Islamic architecture. Islam might be the dominant religion of the state, yet 15% of Egyptians are not Muslims – they are Coptic Christians and Jews. This is exciting because as a traveler one can experience a variety of cultures and do away with the stereotypes that are thrown at us everyday. the hidden gem in Cairo is known as Coptic Cairo – a part that belongs to the Coptic Christians. Back in the 5th century, Coptic Christians developed a dramatically different understanding of Christianity – the exact differences are still disputed, but I understand that they Celebrate Christmas on the 7th of January which corresponds to 25th December in the Julian calendar. This is all fascinating for us, only because we have never heard about such differences in a predominantly Islamic state. I have known that Christianity flourished in the Middle East before the 15th century or so, but to experience it in person will be a unique experience – we are really looking forward to an excellent day out exploring the not much talked about parts of Cairo.
We are now pretty bored of our usual elaborate breakfast at the hotel and don’t care much about the fresh fruits and juices – it is striking how quickly we take certain luxuries in life “as a given”. Two days on our own in the city has emboldened us today – we hire a cab for a one way trip to Coptic Cairo. It is a short ride and leaves us poorer by EP50.
The cab drops us off at what seems like a heavily barricaded part of the city. This is what is also known as the Old Cairo. It is suddenly apparent that the Coptic part of Cairo is heavily guarded and it may not be an entirely peaceful co-existence – although no sectarian violence has been reported, it is apparent that these folks live a separate life within Egypt. It is estimated that there are about 50-60M Coptic Christians worldwide.
We get off from the cab and start walking towards the barricaded area. Suddenly, a well built man springs up besides me and demands to see my passport. I refuse. A short period of nervous conversation ensues. Seeing the argument a cop comes towards us – he explains that the guy is an unmarked cop and for security reasons I needed to show my passport. They ask us if we have ever been to Israel – I reply in the negative and for some reason they are relieved. They shake my hand, apologize and disappear as suddenly as they appeared.
We move ahead to another surprise. Our driver from the 2nd day owns a souvenir shop right outside the Ben Ezra synagogue. We tell him that we will shop after we are done with the sightseeing.
The complex is pretty huge – and consists of a number of monuments. The entire place is very well kept – and renovated periodically to preserve the ancient treasure. This is quite in contrast from the Islamic monuments that have been left to degrade on their own. Our first stop is the Hanging Church. The actual monument dates back to the 8th century, but legend has it that a church has existed here since the 3rd century. The church is dedicated to Saint Virgin Mary and it is believed htat hte first family lived here for a while. The church has numerous holy icons and the most famous is a painting known as the Monalisa of Egypt, which shows the virgin Mary, Jesus and Moses. There are a number of helpful volunteers who enthusiastically guide us around the church and explain the historical significance.
Just outside the hanging church is the Ben Ezra synagogue – it lies in a labyrinth of bylanes below the ground – ancient remains of houses can be seen all around – some of them are still occupied and there are a number of shops. Bargain shopping is always fun – but I guess the Jewish quarter is less inclined to reduce their prices. At one point, one shopkeeper told me that he will sell me a trinket for a million dollars – just because I had quoted a bargain price that was not to his liking. I didn’t buy it. The synagogue itself is well kept – in the ancient times the ground floor was for men and the upper floor was for women – this practice is now discontinued. In the 18th century, a number of Hebrew manuscripts and writings from the Quran were found in the store of the synagogue dating back all the way since the 8th century. They are secular in nature and depict life in Turkey, Europe, Russia, and India etc.
Outside, we stop for a quick brunch and shop for some trinkets at the local market. We wander through the local bazaar – and take a short taxi ride to the Nilometer. This unique piece of art, architecture and utility was rendered obsolete after the construction of the Aswan Dams controlled the flooding of the Nile every summer. In the Pharaohnic times, the government imposed taxes on farmers based on the level of the Nile – higher the level, better the rains/floods, and more the crop and hence higher taxes. Not many people visit this part of Cairo’s history – the attendant at the Nilometer gives us a private tour before it closes for the day at 4PM.
We take a walk along the banks of the Nile and head over to the hotel to pack and take the Sleeping Train to Luxor. We hail a taxi from the Nilometer and settle with the driver for EP60 for the ride – but on reaching hte hotel he asks for EP300. It is not before the hotel concierge intervenes and settles for EP90 for the trip. I dislike it when locals try to rip off tourists. I am sure that it happens in all parts of the world, but it just leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Later in the evening we will head out towards the Giza railway station.
C77H3C4XBUDHTags: ArchitectScapes, ArtefactScapes, cairo, church, CitiScapes, CulturalScapes, egypt, EgyptianScapes, giza, jesus, sleeping train, synagogue
Day 2 in Egypt – after a real good night’s sleep, we are eagerly looking forward to walking up to the Pyramids and getting an early start. The afternoon heat can be quite sapping and we plan to take it easy then.
The breakfast at the hotel is quite a surprise – it is elaborate and tastes good too. Perhaps it has something to do with locally grown produce – i suspect it is “green”. There is a large variety of fresh juices – guava, melon, watermelon, orange – well supplemented with sausages, ham, eggs, cereal, hash browns, – fresh fruit and a whole lot of other stuff I cannot remember. We spot another Sikh couple from Atlanta walk in to the dining hall – they nod to us and come over for a brief chat. We pack some hash browns for the day and head out for our sojourn with history.
Although the pyramids are less than a mile away, we decide to hire a cab for the day – the guy promises to take us to the monuments at Saqqara and Dahshur as well – for EP165 it is not a bad deal. We reach the pyramids before the tourist buses can make it – and enjoy a brief moment of quite admiration. It is a bit disappointing to note that there are no boards/plaques/commemorative stones that outline a succinct history of the pyramids – and most people have to resort to guides or travel books to figure out the historical perspective. No two guides tell the same story, so the monuments are doubly perplexing and enigmatic at the same time. The locals do not waste a moment to sell you their stuff – or to ask you to pose for pictures with their camels, or try the traditional headgear etc. — All of this come s at a cost – also known as “bakhsheesh” – and ranges anywhere between EP10 and 50. A polite “no” will not drive them away – so one has to be stern in order to enjoy their day out.
The Pyramid of Giza was built for King Khufu – and is a testament to ancient architecture – With 3million blocks of stone, each weighing 3 tonnes – the monument is colossal. The pyramid complex is huge – so in hindsight taking the cab was a wise decision. One of the pyramids has a giant hole on its north facade – legend has it that one Sultan Othman tried to destroy the pyramid, but gave up after a year of trying. One can go inside the pyramids, but it is restricted to a few hundred people a day and if you can manage to get the tickets early. We decide to go inside the pyramid at Dahshur – to skip the long lines of tourists at Giza. Next stop was the Sphynx, with its broken nose. The statue is huge and is awe inspiring. Numerous legends surround its construction and partial destruction.
Ancient people did believe in supernatural occurrences and their lives revolved around appeasing the natural powers. Hence the construction of elaborate temples and deities, and a firm belief in afterlife – that led to the construction of these giant monuments. The Pharaohs and the subjects all believed in the superiority of afterlife – where all people possessed a soul and could be welcomed into the company of the gods -and made it the ultimate goal of human existence. From an economic perspective, construction activity created a number of jobs for the local population and they were quite dedicated workers. Even the laborers believed they could have the company of gods in afterlife if they worked without malice.
Next we trek up to Saqqara – about 30 kms south of Cairo – it is most notable for its step pyramids – the earliest known pryamids that perhaps served as prototypes for the smooth faced pyramids built in Giza. We have a quick lunch at the base of the pyramid – it is a tented restaurant and surprisingly even though it is 40 C outside, we hardly feel the heat in the tents – the manager welcomes us with music and we dance our way inside. It is back to falafals, kebabs, guava juice and pita bread as we get a taste of local cuisine away from the city. We make it to Dahshur before sunset – to take a look at the bent pyramid – and to visit the inside of another pyramid – there are no tourists here and I just pay EP5 to the guy manning the entrance of the pyramid as bakhsheesh. (there is an official ticket required to go inside) the complex. The inside of the pyramids are predictably narrow – with 3 small chambers – most of hte artefacts have been taken out and the rooms are largely empty. It can get a bit claustrophobic and it is advisable to stay out if you cannot handle the steep access way down the pyramid shaft. It is certainly worth a visit specially if you are on budget travel and dont want to spare the extra money to see the interiors of a pyramid.
Our last and final stop for the day is the light and sound show at the Pyramids of Giza. This is not to be missed under any circumstances. For photographers, I suggest using a camera with a tripod with a long exposure time to capture incredible pictures of the Pyramids.
[ad#Google Adsense-2]Tags: ArchitectScapes, cairo, CitiScapes, CulturalScapes, egypt, EgyptianScapes, giza, Landscapes, pyramid, sphynx
This feels like a dream come true – an Egyptian honeymoon. It has been a whirlwind scramble from across the globe to get to Cairo – I have been in Lake Tahoe, Chicago, Hong Kong and New Delhi the last 4 weekends – I am hoping this will be a relaxed outing as compared to the life changing events in the last few weeks. Since this is a travel blog, I will spare the readers the details – so back to Cairo.
We board Etihad from New Delhi – it is a 3+ hour flight to Abu Dhabi – a layover for another 3 hours, and a 3+ hour flight to Cairo. There are no direct flights which would have saved us a few hours. The flights themselves were uneventful – the airport at Abu Dhabi is a pleasure to sore and tired eyes though. The international terminal 1 is an excellent piece of interior design – the roof stand on a central pillar that rises from the ground and forms an enclosed structure like a shell – the shell is then divided into a lower and an upper foyer with ample large open spaces. Large hexagons are pained all across the pillars and roof – so they at once look like a part of the whole. The net result is that it is easy to navigate from one gate to another – without walking for miles to reach any other part of the airport.
The airport at Cairo is by all means a contrast to the one at Abu Dhabi. The immigration process is leisurely, the people are somewhat friendly, and the building is in a dilapidated condition and the maintenance leaves much to be desired – notwithstanding that Cairo is high on the tourist map and the second busiest airport in Africa (after South Africa). In the absence of walkways, planes are neatly parked planes on the tarmac – and we take a bus to the terminals.
We cant help notice that everyone around us is smoking – much to my chagrin indoors. This seems to be the favorite activity around and is not looked down upon by the locals. Our luggage arrives smoothly, and we are off to the city. Unlike as in the US, the luggage trolleys are free of charge – supported by ads.
It is Oct 6 and apparently it is a holiday in Egypt to commemorate the beginning of the 4th Arab-Israeli war in 1973 – the war lasted 20 days and restored pride in the Egyptians. After much deliberation in 1978 Israel returned the Sinai peninsula back to Egypt and the countries made peace.
A man comes up to us and addresses me as “Maharaja” or a king – I wonder if it has to do with my turban – which was once a symbol of royalty in India. He is quick to arrange for a ride to our hotel in Giza. Damage: 150 Egyptian Pounds(EP) or $30. Since it is a national holiday, the highways are deserted. It takes us about 40 minutes to get to the hotel – on a regular day the same ride would take about 2 hours. We check -in to the Le Meridian and are given a corner suite with an excellent view of the pyramids – well, only when the smog clears up!
1. Smog – too much of desert sand mixed with polluting cars blanket the entire city.
2. Cars – all brands, all makes, all years – anything goes as long as it has 4 tires. I can spot a Maruti 800, Alfa Romeo and Porches.
3. Tourist Police: Seems to be everywhere – we feel safe in spite of not knowing the language.
4. Language: Everyone seems to speak or understand a bit of English – so getting around is not a problem.
We are too tired to wander out of our hotel – so we just call it a day during mid afternoon.
We wake up to hunger at around 9PM and are delighted to find that there is a nice marketplace nearby – we venture to savor some local Egyptian fare – falafals and kebabs! The eateries are open till late inthe night and offer a good sampling away from the modernist hotels. The marketplaces remind me of eateries in New Delhi and the like. At a nearby restaurant, we sample some lentil soup, pita bread, falafals and kebabs, along with home made mango juice. To a starving man, everything is just excellent – the real test of food will start tomorrow and I am eagerly awaiting!
The day is off to a fantastic end!Tags: abu dhabi, airport, ArchitectScapes, cairo, CitiScapes, CulturalScapes, egypt, EgyptianScapes, giza, maharaja, pyramid
We are in Chicago for a U2 concert tonight. It seems to be oversold – lines of people trying to get in to catch a glimpse of their beloved Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen – Live at the Soldier Field.
It feels great to be back in a city that you love – and Chicago is in many ways like coming home. I love the city, the food, the people, the downtown and all that the lovely city has to offer – the views from the Soldier Field complex are amazing and the shore along the lake still has an element of romance associated with it – quite unlike many other large cities. I adore the Crystal Gardens at Navy pier.Tags: chicago, CitiScapes, CulturalScapes, U2