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Everyone Should Visit the Emerald City

Friday, Jul 6 2018 by

Seattle, known as the Emerald City, is the largest city in the Pacific Northwest and a dynamic, vibrant and growing city. It is a major business hub; Microsoft, Amazon, Starbucks, Nordstrom, and Costco all have their headquarters in or near the city.  It has long been a center for the American jazz scene, the start of the grunge music scene, as well as a huge sports city, with successful NFL and MLB franchises.

Seattle has a unique history, culture, and economy, and it all comes together in an amazing blend that is entertaining and fulfilling for residents and tourists alike.

If you’re lucky enough to visit Seattle, be sure to check out these places!

Seattle skyline view from Kerry Park (StreetView)
Seattle skyline view from Kerry Park

Space Needle

Seattle’s most famous site, the Space Needle was built in 1962 when the city hosted the World’s Fair. It is over 600 feet tall and serves as an observation tower.

Seattle Space Needle (Birds Eye)
Seattle Space Needle

It has an observation deck at the top, as well as a rotating restaurant so diners can have a full view of the city. Renovations due to be complete in mid-2018 will include a glass floor so diners can even enjoy the view below them!

Space Needle (StreetView)
Space Needle

Pike Place Market

Pike Place Market is over 110 years old, and is Seattle’s top tourist site. It is a fully functioning farmers market, with produce, meats, seafood and other food, as well as artisan crafts and wares for sale, entertainment always on hand, and a fun atmosphere for everyone who visits.

Pike Place Market Sign (StreetView)
Pike Place Market Sign

It is particularly famous for the fishmongers who have a reputation for throwing large fish across counters rather than walking around the stalls with their wares, keeping business moving and entertaining the customers at the same time.

Pike Place Market (Birds Eye)
Pike Place Market

First Starbucks

Baseball and apple pie may be America’s past time and favorite food, but coffee, and Starbucks coffee at that, is possibly America’s favorite, and most famous beverage. The green logo is an internationally recognized symbol, and it all started in Seattle.

It was founded in 1971, and moved locations in 1976 within the Pike Place Market. The storefront has not changed since that time, and is so famous and important to Seattle that it is now officially historically significant to the city.

Anyone can stop by this place credited for the resurgence of good coffee and the establishment of the coffee culture in the United States.

First Starbucks (Google Maps)
First Starbucks

Safeco Field

Whether you’re a huge baseball fan or just a curious tourist, stop by Safeco Field in the summer to catch the Mariners play a home game. The stadium has a unique design, with a retractable “umbrella” roof that covers the field and players while leaving the sides open to allow the team to play outside even in the rain. That’s a perfect stadium for “Rain City”.

Safeco Field (StreetView)
Safeco Field

Seattle Public Library

All libraries are institutions of knowledge and learning on the inside, but some like Seattle’s Central Library are also breathtaking marvels of architecture and design on the outside.

Seattle Public Library by Rem Koolhaas (Birds Eye)
Seattle Public Library by Rem Koolhaas

It is an 11 story structure of steel and glass, with “floating platforms” that extend beyond the floors below them. Tours of the architecture and design are available, or visitors can walk through the halls, quietly of course, on their own.

'Seattle Central Library' by Rem Koolhaas (StreetView)
'Seattle Central Library' by Rem Koolhaas

Mt. Rainier

Visible from Seattle on a clear day, and about an hour south of the city is Mt. Rainier, an active, and potentially deadly,  mountain volcano in the Cascade Mountain Range. Because of the significant amount of ice on the mountain, if it were to erupt, it would pose a grave threat to the Seattle metropolitan area.

But that doesn’t deter visitors from flocking to the mountain to appreciate the glaciers and snow capped peak, as well as the amazing hiking the mountain provides. It takes about two days to summit the mountain, and only about half of those who start the hike complete it successfully. But even if you don’t climb, you can enjoy the mountain from whatever vantage point you select.

Mount Ranier (StreetView)
Mount Ranier

Seattle is a fabulous place to visit, and is easily accessible with the SeaTac Airport close by. So, take some time to plan a trip to this energetic, unique and growing city.

Whether you’re there for a few days or few weeks, you’ll find so much to see and enjoy, you’ll be planning your next trip before you leave!

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What's North Korea Really Like?

Thursday, Jun 28 2018 by

North Korea is always in the news these days, but for as much as we hear about the country, most people know very little about the so-called “Hermit Kingdom”.

It’s difficult to get permission to enter the country, and tourists are required to have North Korean escorts whenever they leave special tourist zones. Pictures are often staged or prohibited outright, so even those who see the country often cannot show what it is really like.

For those not lucky or daring enough to visit the country in person, we’ve got a virtual tour right here!

Pyongyang

Pyongyang is the capital and largest city, with over three million people. It was bombed heavily during the Korean War, and rebuilt with a Soviet communist influence. Huge grey buildings dominate the landscape in much of the city.

Pyongyang skyline (StreetView)
Pyongyang skyline

 

Tower of Juche Ideal

The 560 foot monument commemorates the 70th birthday of regime founder Kim Il Sung and the principles that he used to create his own brand of nationalist communism. He preached a unique blend of self-reliance, independence, and communism, which North Koreans call “Juche” that has molded the country’s outlook.

The Tower of Juche Ideal reminds viewers of their strong values and encourages unity against all outside forces.

Tower of the Juche Ideal (Juche Sasang Tap) (Google Maps)
Tower of the Juche Ideal (Juche Sasang Tap)

Tourists can visit the top of the tower, which is the second tallest tower in the world.

Juche Tower & Worker's Party of Korea statue (StreetView)
Juche Tower & Worker's Party of Korea statue

Ryugyong Hotel

This hotel, nicknamed the “Hotel of Doom” is the largest structure in North Korea, but it is still uncompleted. It was supposed to be completed in 1989, but it was beset by a multitude of delays and problems.

Construction briefly resumed in 2008 but again stopped in 2013, and has not progressed since then.

Nonetheless, it is the tallest building in North Korea and the uniquely design pyramid structure dominates the Pyongyang skyline.

Ryugyong Hotel (tallest building in North Korea) (Google Maps)
Ryugyong Hotel (tallest building in North Korea)

Kaeson Amusement Park

Not everything in North Korea is about working for the good of the state. The Kaeson Amusement Park in Pyongyang is a small fun park with at least ten rides, including a roller coaster imported from Italy.

Happiest Place in North Korea (Google Maps)
Happiest Place in North Korea

USS Pueblo

In 1968, the American spy ship the USS Pueblo was captured by a North Korean submarine in a highly disputed international event which has never been resolved. American soldiers were held in prisoner of war camps for nearly a year before being released, in terrible health conditions, over the Bridge of No Return.

The ship has been on display as part of a larger museum system since 2013.

USS Pueblo (Google Maps)
USS Pueblo

Demilitarized Zone

The two Koreas have had a tenuous peace since the cessation of hostilities in 1953, but the war between them is technically not over. A line was drawn between the two countries in 1953 as part of the ceasefire, which has been called the Military Demarcation Line.

Along either side of this line is the demilitarized zone, DMZ, which serves as a buffer between the two countries to reduce potential hostilities.

Small Military position next to DMZ, North Korea (Google Maps)
Small Military position next to DMZ, North Korea

However, many military bases, installations and temporary facilities have been established right along the Zone, and North Korea is constantly found to be in violation of the DMZ space. For example, they have attempted several times to tunnel under the Zone into South Korea.

3rd Infiltration Tunnel (Google Maps)
3rd Infiltration Tunnel

Bridge of No Return

Tourists and normal visitors cannot visit the DMZ, but soldiers are stationed all along the border of the DMZ, in a constant state of readiness.

The Bridge of No Return was constructed after the war to allow prisoners of war to cross back into their country of origin. It earned its nickname when prisoners held by South Korea were taken to the bridge and given the chance to remain in the democratic South Korea, or return to communist North Korea.

If they crossed the bridge, they could never return, which is how it earned its name.

Bridge of No Return (Google Maps)
Bridge of No Return

Panmunjom

Nicknamed the “Truce Village”, Panmunjom is a former village where the armistice was signed in 1953.

Truce Village, The (Google Maps)
Truce Village, The

It has since become a site of high tensions, where propaganda is continually broadcast from North Korea in an attempt to intimidate South Korean soldiers and convince their North Korean counterparts that their government is superior.

It has been in the news recently as high-level talks between North and South Korea, and even a potential site for talks between North Korean and US officials in relation to the proposed meeting between President Donald Trump and Leader Kim Jung Un.

Kijong-dong (Google Maps)
Kijong-dong

Guard Post Ouellette

On the South Korean size is the Guard Post Ouellette, where presidents, prime ministers and other government officials go to see the DMZ firsthand. Tourists can get relatively close to the DMZ, but cannot visit Guard Posts or military camps, as they are always on high alert and not suitable for civilians.

Guard Post (OP) Ouellette (Google Maps)
Guard Post (OP) Ouellette

The country of North Korea is fascinating, and out of reach for most of us, except for a virtual guide. The country puts so much effort into projecting a strong and confident image, but even a virtual tour shows that the country lags behind most of the world in progress and independence.

If you ever make it to North Korea, be careful and let us know all about your trip when you return!

 

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Great British Castles

Thursday, Jun 7 2018 by

With all the focus on the recent royal wedding between Prince Harry and Megan Markle, it’s a perfect time to take a virtual tour of some of Britain’s amazing castles. There’s Windsor, where Harry and Megan were married, and Buckingham in London, but there are many more castles all throughout Great Britain that can take your breath away.

Windsor Castle

Windsor Castle, located outside London, is the largest inhabited castle in the world, with a permanent staff in residence since the queen and her entourage stay there most weekends. It was built by William the Conqueror, and has continually been inhabited by aristocracy and royalty since then, making it the longest-inhabited castle in Europe.

It has a classic fortification encompassing 13 acres, complete with a small town, a church, a motte and bailey design, and a keep in the center of the castle grounds.

Windsor Castle (Birds Eye)
Windsor Castle

The King Henry VIII Gate is a prominent and attractive entrance to the lower ward of the castle grounds.

King Henry VIII Gate at Windsor Castle (StreetView)
King Henry VIII Gate at Windsor Castle

St. George’s Chapel has recently gained international fame as the venue for the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Megan Marke in May 2018. The Gothic structure can hold about 800 people for such events. It is the resting place of many kings, queens and other royalty, including Henry VIII, Jane Seymour, George V and George VI and their wives, and it is the planned resting place of the current queen, Queen Elizabeth II and her immediate family members.

St. George's Chapel, Windsor Castle (Birds Eye)
St. George's Chapel, Windsor Castle

Buckingham Palace

Easily the most famous castle in Great Britain, Buckingham Palace is located in Westminister, a small city within London. It has been the main royal residence since Queen Victoria, and now serves as the administrative center for Queen Elizabeth II.

Buckingham Palace (Birds Eye)
Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace itself is an iconic part of the royal image. Tourists from around the world gather to view the royal residence, hoping to catch a glimpse of Prince William or Harry, and have a little fun thinking about what it’s like to be royalty.

Buckingham Palace (StreetView)
Buckingham Palace

Visitors love to see the changing of the guard, a ritual as famous as the palace itself. The Queen’s Guard, in their iconic red jackets and tall bearskin hats, march back and forth in front of the main gate, keeping the queen safe and tradition in tact.

Changing of the Guard, Buckingham Palace (StreetView)
Changing of the Guard, Buckingham Palace

Warwick Castle

Warwick Castle is an ancient castle originally built at the time of William the Conqueror and reinforced over the next few hundred years as it played vital roles in several wars throughout England’s history. It played a crucial role in the coming to power of the first major royal dynasty, the Plantagenet family.

Warwick Castle (Birds Eye)
Warwick Castle

The castle has iconic medieval features including large towers, the motte and bailey design, and a dungeon complete with torture devices. The castle has daily showcases of castle life including jousting and tournament events. Additionally, exciting amateur but accurate battle reenactments often take place outside and around the castle.

Medieval encampment at Warwick Castle (StreetView)
Medieval encampment at Warwick Castle

Stirling Castle

Anyone who has seen Braveheart or is familiar with Scottish history will know how important Stirling Castle is. Stirling Castle is built on a large hill that has been home to fortifications and settlements since at least the third century CE. Some even believe it is where King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table met.

Stirling Castle (Google Maps)
Stirling Castle

The first castle was constructed around 1110, and was a major center of Scottish government by 1200. Most of the castle structures and fortifications were built in the 1400s and 1500s. Several battles between England and Scotland during the Wars of Scottish Independence were fought here, including the famed Battle of Stirling Bridge where the outnumbered Scots routed the English. However, success was fleeting and the war continued for several more decades. England and Scotland continued to fight one another until their eventual unification in 1707.

Stirling Castle (StreetView)
Stirling Castle

William Wallace, the hero of the Battle of Stirling Bridge, was so famed for his bravery and merciless efforts for Scottish independence that when he was captured by English forces, the King ordered him hanged, drawn and quartered. Wallace is now a Scottish national hero, and the Wallace Monument in Stirling honors his memory.

William Wallace statue (StreetView)
William Wallace statue

Hever Castle

Hever Castle in Kent, England, has been around since the 1200s and was enlarged and enhanced in the 1400s, with a distinct Tudor influence on the design. The strong Tudor influence can be felt throughout the castle and the grounds, including a Tudor style garden maze.

Hever Castle maze (Bing Maps)
Hever Castle maze

However, it later fell into disrepair and it wasn’t until American millionaire William Waldorf Astor purchased it that it was renovated for use as his private residence. It was eventually sold and is now open to the public.

Hever Castle (Google Maps)
Hever Castle

It was particularly important in Tudor England, as it is the childhood home of Ann Boleyn, second wife of Henry VIII. It was later given to Anne of Cleves, the fourth wife of Henry VIII.

British history is much older and broader than even these castles can show, but they are am important and famous part of the history and country. Anyone who wants to really get a feel for the island’s history must make sure to stop at at least one castle!

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