Behind the Scenes of Dune: Part Two

Dune: Part Two came out last month, and since then it’s broken all sorts of records, including earning over $600 million, raking in more money on opening weekend than any other film earned all year, and making way more money than even the first Dune did for its opening. Even now, it’s incredibly popular, and has fast-tracked production for the next installment of the sci-fi story.

Let’s take a look at some of the starring actors and locations from the film.

Timothée Chalamet

Making his debut more than a decade ago in Interstellar, Timothée Chalamet has become a major star, with a varied film repertoire, and credit for both artistic and blockbuster successes. At just 28, he’s already been nominated for an Oscar, and won several major accolades. And, he’s been dating celeb powerhouse Kylie Jenner for over a year now, so he’s really got it going on!

Born and bred in NYC, the dual American and French citizen bought a house in Beverly Hills in 2022. The home, formerly owned by Kate Upton and Justin Verlander, set him back about $11 million. The beautiful property has privacy-enhancing landscaping, a tennis court, pool, and great views. Inside, the four bedroom, five bathroom house has distinctive features including a fireplace that takes up an entire wall, in-home theater, wine cellar, and more. The house has been owned by several celebs in addition to Kate Upton, including Kenny G and Pete Sampras!

Timothee Chalamet's House ( Formerly Kate Upton and Justin Verlander's) (Google Maps)
Timothee Chalamet's House ( Formerly Kate Upton and Justin Verlander's)

Zendaya

Since getting her start on the Disney Channel in 2010, Zendaya has been known for her beautiful, piercing eyes, and amazing acting ability. Starring in Dune is just her most recent success, she’s been in the Spider-Man franchise, indie films, television shows, and more.

She has bought a few homes in the LA area, including this gorgeous place in Encino, which offers more space and privacy than some more famous zip codes in the area. The six-bedroom home is more than 80 years old, but several renovations have kept it up-to-date, perfect for the knockout celebrity.

Zendaya's House (Google Maps)
Zendaya's House

Josh Brolin

Josh Brolin’s father has had a long career in Hollywood, but Josh took a long time to determine that he, too, wanted to be an actor. But, once he did, his career has been stellar. His acting in Dune brings to life one of the most interesting and charismatic individuals in the story, and he deserves all the praise he gets for the role.

He left Hollywood a few years ago when he bought a home in Atlanta. While he put it up for rent last month, the $3.25 million home just north of the city in the upscale neighborhood of Buckhead, has five bedrooms, six bathrooms, and 6,500 square feet of living space on 1.5 acres of land. Of course it has a gourmet kitchen, gym, theater, extra sitting and entertaining rooms, and  more.

Josh Brolin's House (Google Maps)
Josh Brolin's House

Wadi Rum, Jordan

Filming the desert scenes of the sci-fi film in a realistic environment was critically important to director Denis Villeneuve and his crew. They picked the Wadi Rum location in Jordan because it had both a “scary” quality and the rocks mixed among the sand described so vividly in the books. And just like on the planet of Arrakis, the area is known for deadly windstorms, but fortunately doesn’t have any sandworms.

A wadi is an area that is desert except when it rains; then it’s flooded with rushing rainwater that helps give it an eerie and unique landscape formation ideal for an other-worldy tale such as Dune.

Wadi Run - The Valley of the Moon (StreetView)
Wadi Run - The Valley of the Moon

Liwa Oasis, Abu Dhabi

While the wadi was great for some angles, the sand dunes in the book were best filmed on site in Abu Dhabi, where the vastness of the desert spread out before the camera, giving the viewer a visual feast of Arrakis in all its dangerous beauty.

Filming wasn’t so hard; the crew and actors stayed at a resort at the oasis, an area of water and vegetation that sprouts up in the desert. In many ways, it helped them feel more in character, and unified them as a team, far away from the distractions that might normally overwhelm a movie crew.

Liwa Oasis ("Star Wars") (StreetView)
Liwa Oasis ("Star Wars")

Ålesund, Norway

About a world away from the desert of the Middle East, Ålesund on the coast of Norway, was the perfect setting for the water-rich world of Caladan. The bays and inlets, as well as the dramatic cliffs, were perfect for portraying the paradise Paul Atreides left behind to follow the directive of the emperor, and eventually fulfill hundreds of years of prophesy and his own destiny.

Ålesund is a small but beautiful coastal city that attracts visitors for its Art Nouveau architecture, great river and ocean kayaking, and amazing hiking.

View of Ålesund from Mount Aksla (StreetView)
View of Ålesund from Mount Aksla

It’s so fun to look at where the stars live and worked while making both Dune films, it only makes us want more! Because the first two installments of the books-turned-movies were so successful, it’s all but guaranteed that there will be more breathtaking films to carry on the story in the next few years. And we can’t hardly wait!

Famous Irish-Americans

Today is St. Patrick’s Day, when everyone is Irish! While the holiday is celebrated around the world, people in the US take the holiday, and perhaps the excuse to drink a little extra beer, to the next level.

In honor of the day, let’s take a look at some famous Irish-Americans.

John F. Kennedy

John F. Kennedy might be one of the most famous Irish-Americans. In fact, at the time of his campaign for president in 1960, some people hesitated to vote for him due to ethnic and religious discrimination against Irish-Americans.

However, Kennedy never shied away from his heritage. In fact, when he was president, he took a historic trip to Ireland and visited several places, including his ancestral home in Dunganstown, in Wexford. His great-great-great grandfather was born here, and the Kennedy family still owns the property.

The Kennedy Homestead, ancestral home of the Kennedy clan (StreetView)
The Kennedy Homestead, ancestral home of the Kennedy clan

Taking his Irish heritage seriously, Kennedy and his wife Jackie named their beautiful Virginia estate Wexford, after his ancestral home. Sadly, the home on the 166-acre farm outside Washington, DC was completed only a few weeks before he was assassinated in November 1963.

The home, with five bedrooms and five bathrooms, had been designed by Jackie herself as a retreat for the family, and was a perfect getaway for the talented equestrian. Ronald and Nancy Reagan rented the home during their presidential transition in late 1980. It sold a few years ago for just under $3 million, well below the $4+million asking price.

John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy's House (Former) (Bing Maps)
John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy's House (Former)

Barack Obama

You might not realize it, but Barack Obama has Irish heritage! A true American in the sense that his heritage includes many waves of immigrants, his great-great-great-grandfather came the US in 1850, one of millions who fled economic hardship and chased the hope of a better life across the ocean.

Obama and his wife Michelle own several homes across the US, but after they left the White House in 2017, they took up residence just a few miles away, in the tony Kalorama neighborhood of DC. They first rented, then bought, this gorgeous brick mansion, for about $8 million. Jeff Bezos lives in the neighborhood, along with several diplomats, the Kushners, and more. The house has more than 8,000 square feet; plenty of room to enjoy their privacy after eight years in the limelight of the presidency.

Barack & Michelle Obama's Post-White House House (Birds Eye)
Barack & Michelle Obama's Post-White House House

Alec Baldwin

A man who has reigned in Hollywood for decades, and even portrayed a president on television, Alec Baldwin is one of the most famous Irish-Americans. He’s spoken several times about how his Irish Catholic upbringing influences him now, and even named his daughter Ireland!

Alec and his wife Hilaria live with their seven kids in Vermont, having moved here in 2022, leaving behind the Hamptons in New York, and taking up a more rural, family-centered life up north. The 55-acre estate has a main house listed as having three bedrooms, but there’s got to be plenty of space for seven kids among the 3,600 square feet of living space. And if it’s not enough, there’s an 1,800 square foot guest house!

Alec Baldwin's House (Google Maps)
Alec Baldwin's House

Zooey Deschanel

Zooey (just like her big sister Emily) is another famous Irish-American actor. She grew up in Los Angeles, with a director dad an actress mother; her career choice is basically a family business.

In 2019, she started dating another famous sibling, Jonathan Scott, who works with his identical twin brother Drew in the property business. The two, along with Zooey’s kids from a previous marriage, bought a gorgeous home in the Brentwood area of Los Angeles in 2020. They dropped a stunning $9.5 million for the 6,500 square-foot home on a one-acre lot. It’s in a great location, has an amazing yard that includes a pool and tennis court, and gorgeous, spunky interior that perfectly fits the couple’s personalities.

Zooey Deschanel & Jonathan Scott's House (Google Maps)
Zooey Deschanel & Jonathan Scott's House

Michael Flatley

While everyone knows Michael Flatley, the famous Irish dancer, what may be a surprise is that he was actually born in the US, not the Emerald Isle! His parents both emigrated to the US, where they met at an Irish dance hall (of course) and got married. They passed their love of Irish dance to their son, and the rest is history.

He got his break on the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest, and created a dance troupe that toured the world for decades. He set a Guinness World Record (fitting for an Irishman) for the fastest feet, tapping 32 times per second!

With a remarkable estimated net worth of more than $350 million, he retired to an impressive Irish mansion called Castlehyde house. It’s reported to be more than 50,000 square feet, and has a long and storied history. While he’s tried to sell it from time to time, and can’t live there right now due to poor repairs after a fire, he’s committed to keeping it and getting it fixed.

Michael Flatley’s House (Google Maps)
Michael Flatley’s House

The Irish have a strong heritage in the US, and they have done so much to make the country a wonderful melting pot of culture, tradition, and experiences. On St. Patrick’s Day, have a drink to celebrate the Irish in all of us, and may the Irish blessing prove true for you:

May your blessings outnumber the shamrocks that grow, and may trouble avoid you wherever you go.

Oscar Contenders

The 96th Academy Awards are upon us, and on Sunday we will watch as awards are given out for best films, best actors and actresses, best music, costumes, cinema and more.

Let’s check out some of the people who might be taking home one of the coveted gold statues as a reward for all their hard work.

Dolby Theater, Los Angeles, California

Once known as the Kodak Theater, the Dolby has hosted the event since it opened in 2002 (except when it was hosted at a smaller venue during COVID). The Art Deco design of the building is a perfect backdrop for the night’s lead up to the main event: the red carpet walk where celebrities walk, pose, and answer questions about who designed their dress and who they think will win.

The megawatt entrance routine is as important to many fans as what happens inside the venue. Entire magazines will be dedicated to who wore what, who looked the best, and whose outfit flopped on the biggest fashion night of the year.

Dolby Theatre (StreetView)
Dolby Theatre

Jimmy Kimmel’s House, Los Angeles, California

Jimmy Kimmel, famed late-night talk show host, has hosted the Oscars three times, and will come back this year to make it four times. His hosting style is funny and relatable, and he makes everyone feel welcome.

Kimmel has been a mainstay in Hollywood for decades, hosting his late-night comedy show since 2003. He’s incredibly successful, and has the usual real estate collection to go with his fame. One of the most amazing homes in his portfolio is the Hollywood Hills home he bought in 2008 for around $6 million.

This house is about 5,500 square feet, with a modern design throughout the four bedroom, 4.5 bathroom house. The house is a great neighborhood, where celebs like John Krasinski have been neighbors at some time or other. Right now, his sister-in-law lives there, but he still owns the house.

Jimmy Kimmel's House (Google Maps)
Jimmy Kimmel's House

Bradley Cooper, New Hope, Pennsylvania

Bradley Cooper is no stranger to Academy nominations, having received 12 so far, for acting and other roles in the movies! This year, he is nominated for the best actor award, though he’s not the favorite to win in a strong year.

Cooper has been involved in several of the highest-grossing films, and has a net worth of more than $120 million. With that money, he recently bought a farmhouse in Pennsylvania. He’s from the state, and is a huge Eagles football fan, but it seems the reason for his purchase is his new girlfriend Gigi Hadid, who spends much of her time at her mother’s farm nearby.

The farmhouse and property set him back around $6.5 million, and comes with a house built in 1704 and 33 acres of land. The massive house doesn’t look 300+ years old inside. It’s been renovated and upgraded to have a very modern kitchen, fitness room, and gorgeous open space. With six bedrooms, there’s plenty of space for everyone to enjoy each other and their own space at the same time.

Bradley Cooper's House (Google Maps)
Bradley Cooper's House

Carey Mulligan, Devon, United Kingdom

British actress Carey Mulligan has married a fellow Brit, Marcus Mumford, who she actually knew growing up. Now, she’s a successful actress, nominated for the third time in the best actress category.

She and her husband bought a 16th century farmhouse about a decade ago, for around $2.7 million. The estate is a real English farm, with a main house, lots of outbuildings, and plenty of space for their three kids. The house maintains some old looks, with a thick white brick exterior, dark wood window frames, and wood floors. But it’s got lots of modern upgrades, including a full-on recording studio, perfect for the founding member of Mumford and Sons.

Carey Mulligan's House (Birds Eye)
Carey Mulligan's House

Emma Stone, Los Angeles, California

Emma Stone has already won an Oscar for best actress, and she’s up again this year for her role in Poor Things. She’s the favorite to win, but if she gets another gold statue, she’s going to be taking it to a new house.

She had lived in this cute 3,200 square foot home in Comstock Hills since 2019, but put it on the market in January. It was sold, most likely for well over the $3.9 million asking price, as it sold in about ten days.

It’s not clear where the successful actress, her husband and child will be calling home next, but with her commercial and critical success these days, they can go anywhere! And with her reported net worth of more than $40 million, she can certainly afford it!

Emma Stone's House (Google Maps)
Emma Stone's House

Billie Eilish, Los Angeles, California

Already an Oscar veteran at just 22, Billie Eilish is certainly a musical prodigy. She won an Academy Award for her song in No Time to Die a few years ago and is back in the category for her original song for the movie Barbie. Billie is an incredibly talented musician, and comes from a talented show biz family.

Her parents were in the business long before she and her brother were in the picture, and lived in this small but happy home. Her brother Finneas is her collaborator and producer, and shares in her amazing success. The duo even recorded her first album in the house!

While she has bought her own home, she still spends many nights at the family home, including one night a year ago when a burglar was arrested at her address.

Billie Eilish's House (Google Maps)
Billie Eilish's House

As always, the Academy Awards will be a night full of music, comedy, entertainment, and surprise as Hollywood’s elite celebrate another amazing year in film.

 

 

Beijing, An Ancient City Full of Modern Wonders

China is the largest country in the world, and has experienced unprecedented economic and social growth in the last thirty years.

In 2008, the country hosted the Summer Olympic Games in the capital Beijing, putting the city in the global spotlight and showing the world what an incredible place it is to visit.

Forbidden City

One of the most iconic locations in China, the Forbidden City is a palace complex that was used by emperors for almost 500 years, until 1912.

It has nearly 1,000 buildings on 180 acres, and took over one million laborers 14 years to build.

Now part of the Palace Museum, it provides a rich display of the history of the Ming and Qing dynasties, as well as the Chinese people and their lives.

It is at the top of every tourist list because of its amazing gates, turrets and imperial gardens.

Forbidden City (Google Maps)
Forbidden City

Temple of Heaven

China has a long history of Taoist religious devotion, going back at least 2,500 years. The Temple of Heaven is a large complex of temples dedicated to the worship of the sun, moon and earth.

It was started in 1400, but never entirely completed. It is now open to visitors, who can take in the beauty of the green spaces and parks, as well as the intricate details of the many temples and buildings at the site.

Temple of Heaven (Google Maps)
Temple of Heaven

Tiananmen Square

 Tiananmen Square was originally a gate off the Forbidden City, and turned into a small square in the 1600s. It was enlarged under Mao Zedong in the 1950s and is now one of the largest squares in the world.

It is often used for military parades and shows of force. It was famously the site of student-led protests for democracy, freedom of speech and other issues in 1989.

A picture of a lone student standing in front of rows of tanks has become an iconic image of the event, highlighting the mostly peaceful protest and overbearing military response.

Today, visitors can walk around the large plaza and enjoy the views while learning about the many important historical events that have taken place in this square.

Tiananmen Square (Google Maps)
Tiananmen Square

Mausoleum of Mao Zedong

Mao Zedong was a communist revolutionary and the founder of the current government, the People’s Republic of China.

When he died on September 9, 1976, the entire country mourned his death. His body was laid in state for a week to allow for over one million Chinese to pay their last respects, before he was interred in the mausoleum near the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square.

His body was embalmed and placed in a clear, crystal coffin so that visitors would always be able to see and pay respects to their leader.

Mausoleum of Mao Zedong (Google Maps)
Mausoleum of Mao Zedong

Old Summer Palace

While the Forbidden City provided an official home for the emperor and his government, the Old Summer Palace about five miles away was the primary residence of the leader and his family. It was built in the 1700s and was renowned for its beautiful architecture and designed gardens. It was looted and severely damaged in the 1860s during an international conflict and never fully restored.

After years of neglect and even use as farmland, it was turned into a national historical site, a beautiful respite in the center of one of the busiest cites in the world.

Old Summer Palace (Google Maps)
Old Summer Palace

Palace of Peace and Harmony Lama Temple

The Lama Temple is a classic Buddhist temple and monastery in Beijing that was built in the 1700s, and boasts beautiful architecture and symbolism of peace and harmony throughout the structures.

It was closed during Mao’s reign, but was spared destruction due to high-level intervention. It was reopened in 1981, to both religious use and public visits. Among the most popular destinations within the temple is the 85 foot Buddha carved from a single piece of sandalwood, which was actually included in a Guinness Book of World Records.

Palace of Peace and Harmony Lama Temple (Google Maps)
Palace of Peace and Harmony Lama Temple

Olympic Park

In 2008, Beijing hosted the Summer Olympics, the first ever in the country. The government worked to give the world a great first impression, and constructed several structures for the Olympics to ensure that was the case.

Part of the construction included the Olympic Park stadium, nicknamed the Bird’s Nest. It was famous for the artistic design and large crowd capacity. It will again be used in 2022, when China hosts the Winter Olympics.

2008 Olympics - National Stadium (Google Maps)
2008 Olympics - National Stadium

Beijing is an ancient city, but many people are just learning about the many wonders it has to offer, both old and new. If you have the opportunity, you should certainly take a chance and visit one of the biggest, most dynamic and intriguing cities in the world.

San Francisco

San Francisco is a great American city, with unique history, architecture and culture, from the Golden Gate Bridge to Chinatown, from the Fisherman’s Wharf to the great redwood trees.

Here are just a few of the sites everyone needs to see.

Downtown San Francisco viewed from Twin Peaks (StreetView)
Downtown San Francisco viewed from Twin Peaks

Alcatraz

One of the most famous landmarks in the city, Alcatraz Island has a history that goes back long before the city was founded. The island has a long history with the native people who lived around the Bay area.

Alcatraz (Birds Eye)
Alcatraz

A little more than a mile offshore, the island was once used as a military prison but is most famous for being the federal prison that handled the worst of the worst criminals, including Al Capone, George “Machine Gun” Kelly and other gangsters, before it was shut down in 1963. Tourists can visit the National Park and learn about the history, even beyond the stories of prison fights, attempted escapes and the like.

Prison cells in Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary (StreetView)
Prison cells in Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary

Golden Gate Park

The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most iconic bridges in the world, and probably the most famous site in San Francisco. The one mile suspension bridge connects the city with Marin County, and has both pedestrian and vehicle access.

Golden Gate Bridge (Birds Eye)
Golden Gate Bridge

When construction of the bridge began, the city set aside 1,000 acres for a public space for the fast-growing community, and named it Golden Gate Park, even though the bridge is not visible from the park. Visitors can spend a peaceful afternoon in the park, enjoying lakes, botanical gardens, a conservatory of flowers, exhibits and museums, all in the midst of a great urban center.

Golden Gate Park (Google Maps)
Golden Gate Park

One of the most unique aspects of the park is the bison paddock, which has been a part of the park since the 1890s. It is currently home to about a dozen bison, or buffalo, and the public are able to view the animals.

Herd of Bison in Golden Gate Park (Birds Eye)
Herd of Bison in Golden Gate Park

Fisherman’s Wharf

Fisherman’s Wharf is a neighborhood on the north end of San Francisco that is a popular tourist destination, with Ghiradelli Square, Ripley’s Believe it or Not, the Wax Museum, and plenty of seafood restaurants. It was established by Italian immigrants after the gold rush, some of whom became fish mongers and restaurant owners.

Fisherman's Wharf Sign (StreetView)
Fisherman's Wharf Sign

Exploratorium

The Exploratorium is an educational museum that focuses on human behavior, physics and science, living systems and focuses on weather, environment and landscape.

Exploratorium (StreetView)
Exploratorium

It is incredibly hands-on and dynamic, providing new and interactive exhibits and activities all the time.

Exploratorium (StreetView)
Exploratorium

Wave Organ

Exhibits from the Exploratorium are spread throughout the city, including the Wage Organ. The Wage Organ is a permanent exhibit built on the bay made of granite and marble, PVC and concrete. The musical instrument is played by the water, as the tide comes in it “plays” the organ, pushing air through the pipes and making unique sounds for the audience.

Wave Organ (Birds Eye)
Wave Organ

Muir Woods

Muir Woods is a national monument, part of the National Park Service about ten miles north of the city. The park is full of old growth redwood trees, some of the oldest and largest living organisms on earth. The trees can be up to 1,800 years old, and grow to nearly 400 feet high. The area was set aside by President Theodore Roosevelt and named after John Muir, who helped to create the National Park system.

Muir Woods National Monument (StreetView)
Muir Woods National Monument

Ferry Building

For decades in the early years, the only way to reach the city was by ferry, so the Ferry Building became the main transportation point for nearly all those entering the city. After increased bridge traffic reduced the need for ferries, the building has been adapted to other uses, including a large and popular marketplace on the first floor. The marketplace has produce, bread and pastries, restaurants and coffee shops, as well as arts and crafts stores. It’s a wonderful place for locals and tourists to spend a Saturday morning.

San Francisco Ferry Building (Birds Eye)
San Francisco Ferry Building

Presidio Park

Presidio Park was originally a Spanish fort, and then Army base, until 1994, when it was turned into a National Park. It is a great natural space in the city, with dirt trails, wooded areas, educational centers and places for performing arts and historical preservation.

Presidio Park (Google Maps)
Presidio Park

Coit Tower

Lilian Hitchcock Coit was a benefactor of the city, donating a portion of her estate to beautify the city. Lilian Coit was a big personality in the early days of the city, including fighting fires before the city had a fire department, smoking cigars and wearing pants long before it was socially acceptable for women. The tower was constructed on the top of Telegraph Hill in Pioneer Park in her honor, in the Art Deco style, and includes a famous mural by the artist Diego Rivera. It has since become a local favorite landmark, providing a great view of Lombard Street, Nob Hill and other city sites.

Coit Tower (Birds Eye)
Coit Tower

Lombard Street

Lombard Street is famous for its eight hairpin turns within one extremely steep block. The entire city is built on hills, and this hill was too steep for vehicle traffic, so it was designed with switchbacks to make it easier to traverse. Tourists love to see the hill, and drive down the one way street at the recommended 5 miles per hour.

Lombard Street - crookedest street in the US (Google Maps)
Lombard Street - crookedest street in the US

These are just a few of the many fun, interesting and unique things to do and see in San Francisco. Anyone visiting the city won’t have time to see everything from Alcatraz to Ghiradelli Square, from Muir Woods to the Presidio, but that’s just an excuse to come back for a second visit, or a third…

 

Temples, Cathedrals and Mosques from History

Civilizations around the world have always sought out ways to respect and worship their god or gods, and one universal method has been to create grand cathedrals or monuments as gathering places for worship, tribute and homage to their deity.

For thousands of years, communities have constructed at great effort houses of worship.

Let’s look at some of the most amazing creations from around the world.

Notre-Dame de Paris

Notre-Dame de Paris is one of the most famous cathedrals in the world, and deserves all the recognition it gets for its detailed craftsmanship, architectural marvels and beautiful details.

It was started in 1163 and finished two hundred years later, a relatively fast construction for cathedrals at the time.

During the French Revolution, the cathedral was vandalized, dedicated to the cult of reason and eventually used as a warehouse for food before being rededicated as a Catholic cathedral.

It is now one of the top tourist destinations in Paris, and beloved for its stained glass, ornate craftsmanship and legendary history.

Notre Dame de Paris (Google Maps)
Notre Dame de Paris

Chichén Itzá

Chichén Itzá is a large archeological site of the ancient Mayan civilization, and includes several massive temples constructed for the worship of Mayan gods.

The Mayan culture thrived for several hundred years until they were wiped out by the Spaniards and the diseases that came with them in the early 1500s.

The Temple of Kukulkan, or El Castillo, is the most recognizable temple. With its 91 steps on each side, plus one more at the top to make 365, the Mayan understanding of astronomy and science is clear, and the temple played an important part of their worship as well as scientific study.

On the spring and fall equinox, the sun casts a shadow on the pyramid in the shape of a serpent.

Photo Credit: Mexpro.com

Excavations and research are ongoing at the site, and visitors can tour the many temples and pyramids, as well as ball courts and other sites.

Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza (Google Maps)
Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat is a vast temple complex in Cambodia, originally dedicated as a temple to the Hindu god Vishnu before being transformed into a Buddhist temple.

Construction started in the 1100s, and it was modified for Buddhism around the 1300s. Though it fell into disrepair in the 1600s, it has been somewhat preserved, and is still frequented by Buddhist pilgrims.

The rectangular outer wall of the temple grounds stretches over half a mile by just under a half mile, giving it an enormous footprint. The interior temple is no less grand, with massive pillars, carvings and bas relief throughout the temple, both on the interior and exterior walls.

In the last 20 years, tourism has skyrocketed at the temple, and visitors from around the world flock to this marvel of dedicated craftsmanship and talent.

Angkor Wat (Google Maps)
Angkor Wat

Hagia Sophia

Originally constructed as one of the first Christian cathedrals, the Hagia Sophia was the jewel of the eastern Roman Empire’s capitol Byzantium.

When it was sacked by the Islamic Ottomans in 1453, it was turned into the city’s first mosque. The design was modified by adding minarets, a mihrab pointing towards Mecca, tombs for sultans as well as other ornate mosaics and artistic crafts common among Islamic and Ottoman structures.

The Hagia Sofia was turned into a museum by the first president of the Turkish Republic in 1935, and has been a renown museum since.

Hagia Sophia (Google Maps)
Hagia Sophia

Horyu-Ji

The Horyu-Ji temple in central Japan is known as the oldest wooden structure in Japan and among the oldest wooden structures in the world. The temple pagoda was built around the 700s AD and many other structures on the site were built around the 800s AD.

While there have been restorations and repairs as needed, these beautiful and ornate structures are still comprised mostly of the original materials.

The pagoda stands over 120 feet high, and the base is buried in the ground for added structural security. One remarkable feature of the temple is that it has withstood over 40 significant earthquakes in its lifetime.

Horyuji (Horyu Temple) (Google Maps)
Horyuji (Horyu Temple)

Looking back over these impressive structures, the dedication and talent committed to the construction and maintenance of these holy sites is impressive and awe inspiring. The hands that built and maintained these temples will never be known, but they should be recognized for their talent and devotion.

Going Back to School with Harry Potter

Kids across the US and the world are going back to school, and on September 1, the kids in some of the most beloved books head back to school, too.

In J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, the wizard and witch students meet at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry for another adventurous year.

Let’s visit some of the places the magical children in the books visited as they prepared for a year at the most magnificent Hogwarts.

Platform 9 3/4, King’s Cross Station, London, UK

Every year on September 1, the wizarding students from across England and Scotland meet at Platform 9 3/4 in King’s Cross Station in downtown London to say farewell to their families and board the Hogwarts Express, bound for Hogwarts in the Scottish highlands.

In order to get to the magic platform, students were required to run at full speed with their belongings towards the wall between platforms, which would open up for the students to catch the special train.

In the real King’s Cross, fans of the story can see a cart “stuck” in the wall between platforms 9 and 10. It’s a fun tourist attraction for Potterheads visiting London.

Platform 9¾. King's Cross Station (Harry Potter) (StreetView)
Platform 9¾. King's Cross Station (Harry Potter)

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

Hogwarts was established more than a thousand years ago, as a school for magical children ages 11 to 17. When Harry Potter was old enough, he too received an invitation to attend school. In the books, it is the central location for most of the magic, mayhem, and mystery of the wizarding world.

For some of the movies, Alnwick Castle in Northumberland was the filming location for Hogwarts. The castle was built in the 1300s, and has been added onto over the centuries. It’s also been adapted in recent decades to work as a school and sometimes as a filming location. In addition to Harry Potter, Downton Abbey specials were filmed there, as well as Elizabeth and other films.

Alnwick Castle (Bing Maps)
Alnwick Castle

Interior of Hogwarts

The scenes inside Hogwarts are some of the most important, and magical, of all the movies. It’s fitting that the scenes were filmed in a school that has been in use nearly as long as the school in the film. Christ Church in Oxford was the site of much of the interior filming, and has been the location for filming other movies and shows as well. The halls are some of the most breathtaking places in the university, and familiar to anyone who has seen the Potter movies.

Christ Church is part of the University of Oxford education system. More British leaders have graduated from Christ Church than any other institution, and it’s associated with many other famous political, scientific, and literary leaders.

Christ Church Cathedral (Birds Eye)
Christ Church Cathedral

Harry Potter’s House

Poor Harry Potter was forced to live in a cupboard in his uncle’s house until he moved away to Hogwarts. The exterior of the home was a real British home, in Bracknell, UK. The city is one of the westernmost towns in the greater London area, and is a perfect location for filming the home of a traditional, average British family.

Filming was onsite for the first film, but after that, the logistics were complicated, and so a film set was created based on the exterior of the house. In 2016, the private residence was put on the market for more than $500,000. No doubt the fame of the house contributed to the high price!

Harry Potter's house (Google Maps)
Harry Potter's house

Diagon Alley

Some of the most enchanting scenes in the Harry Potter movies take place in Diagon Alley, where wizards and witches gather to buy school supplies only magical students need, like wands, owls, and cauldrons. When Harry Potter first visited the market, he made a life-changing visit to Ollivander’s, where he chose his wand, or rather, his wand chose him. It was this wand that changed the future of the magical world.

In real life, Borough Market in downtown London is a market hall that’s been around for hundreds of years. It’s a perfect filming location for such a magical place.

Borough Market (Google Maps)
Borough Market

If you’re a fan of Harry Potter, all these sites will be familiar and fun to see. And it’s exciting to know that they can be visited in real life. If you or your kids are going back to school, maybe you can gather around and watch a Harry Potter movie this weekend to relax and recover from the first week of school. Hopefully it won’t be as exciting or as dangerous as what Harry, Ron, Hermione and their friends experienced!

 

 

Happy Birthday, Cameron!

Cameron Diaz is one of Hollywood’s most successful actresses, with her films grossing more than $3 billion! She’s the fifth-highest earning actress in US sales. Not only does she know how to act, she’s not afraid to make bold choices, like stepping back at the height of her career.

After a few years away from the camera, she’s recently come back, to film a Netflix movie that will be released soon. The actress, author, wife, mom, and activist is celebrating her 51st birthday today, so let’s wish her a happy birthday by taking a peek at some of her amazing real estate choices.

Mansion in Montecito, CA

In 2022, Cameron and her husband, Good Charlotte guitarist Benji Madden, bought this gorgeous, 11,000 square foot mansion in tony Montecito, California. They dropped about $12.5 million for the six-bedroom mansion that models a Lake Como villa.

The 1.75 acre estate has an in-home movie theater, gorgeous interior decor like high ceilings and stunning chandeliers, as well as stunning vistas of both the ocean and mountains.

Cameron Diaz & Benji Madden's House (Google Maps)
Cameron Diaz & Benji Madden's House

Mansion in Beverly Hills, CA

Just two years before, the happy couple bought another mansion in Beverly Hills, for about $14million. The 1949 house has been renovated to have all the amazing, modern amenities like retractable glass walls, his-and-hers bathrooms, marble showers, and more.

In addition to the seven bedrooms in the main house, there’s also  guest house, detached garage, landscaped pool area, outdoor entertaining areas, and plenty of parking for all their guests.

Cameron Diaz & Benji Madden's House (Google Maps)
Cameron Diaz & Benji Madden's House

Older Beverly Hills Mansion

Cameron bought this mansion in 2010, when she dropped $9.3 million for the 5,000 square foot home with two living rooms, detached guesthouse, tennis court, swimming pool, hot tub, and everything a Hollywood star would want. The neighborhood is full of celebrities, and she even bought the house from Candice Bergen.

While it’s obvious she doesn’t live here anymore, she’s kept the property all these years. It’s an amazing property, and certainly a great investment.

Cameron Diaz's House (Birds Eye)
Cameron Diaz's House

Apartment in New York City, NY

Cameron is a born and bred California girl, but she’s maintained residences in New York for decades. She bought this three bedroom apartment in the high-end Walker Tower in Chelsea in 2013. She paid close to $10 million for the property, and has invested even more to give it the chic, classy feel that has landed it in architectural and design magazines all over.

Cameron Diaz's apartment (Google Maps)
Cameron Diaz's apartment

Nicole Richie and Joel Madden’s Mansion in Beverly Hills, CA

Cameron’s in-laws, Nicole Richie and Joel Madden, also live in Beverly Hills. In 2021, they bought a modern mansion for $10.2 million. The home is in a gated community that many celebrities call home, including Serena Williams and Hilary Duff.

The home was designed in the 1980s, but suffers none of the Brady Bunch-era design crimes. It was redone in 2019, and has very modern features, including high ceilings, white interior, huge windows, and beautiful gold accents. Outside, the lawn has a gorgeous pool, and amazing views of the mountains, the valley, and Los Angeles.

Nicole Richie & Joel Madden's House (Google Maps)
Nicole Richie & Joel Madden's House

Jim Carrey’s Mansion, Los Angeles, CA

Cameron Diaz has been in films for nearly 20 years, and she’s had so many hits. Her breakout role in Jim Carrey’s The Mask put her on the map as a strong actress who could hold her own with Hollywood’s most intense actors.

Jim has had as successful a career as anyone, and has the real estate to prove it. He has owned the same sprawling 12,700 foot mansion for nearly 30 years, but recently put it on the market for an asking price of $29 million. The property sits on two acres, has five bedrooms and nine bathrooms, vaulted ceilings, home theater, and even a waterfall pool. Whoever ends up with this house will be one lucky duck.

Jim Carrey's House (Google Maps)
Jim Carrey's House

As she’s celebrating her 51st year, we can see Cameron has so much she can enjoy and cherish. So, let’s take a second and say, Happy Birthday!

National Parks

August 25th is the National Parks Service’s birthday! Let’s take a look at some of the beautiful places maintained by the NPS!

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

Among the most famous national parks, Sequoia and Kings Canyon parks are side by side in the California Sierra Nevada mountain range.

Sequoia National Park is named after the famous “giant” trees that are among the largest and oldest trees in the world. They reach over 200 feet, can be 25 feet in diameter, and some are estimated to be as much as 3,500-4,000 years old!

These trees are truly something to behold, but the two national parks also boast some excellent hiking, beautiful vistas, and wonderful opportunities to commune with nature.

Sequoia National Park (Google Maps)
Sequoia National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon in Utah is a unique canyon full of beautiful and breathtaking outcroppings, shaped rocks and valleys. Most unique are the “hoodoos”, colorful limestone rocks that are shaped by wind, rain, snow melt and erosion over thousands of years. These rock formations, ranging from a few feet to several stories tall, can be viewed on various hikes, ranger tours, scenic drives and even overnight backpacking excursions.

Be prepared for any weather–even in the summer the nights at the high elevation of Bryce Canyon can be frigid and even dangerous if you’re not dressed right!

Bryce Canyon (Google Maps)
Bryce Canyon

Assateague Island National Seashore

Assateague Island, a lesser-known park located in Maryland and Virginia, is full of beautiful seascapes, ocean views and most famously, wild horses that roam the island.

Visitors are able to bike, hike, camp, canoe and even drive on the beach in permitted areas.

Assateague Island National Seashore (Bing Maps)
Assateague Island National Seashore

Dry Tortugas National Park

One of the most remote parks in the National Park system, Dry Tortugas National Park is a series of islands off the coast of Key West, Florida accessible only by boat or seaplane.

It includes fun activities for everyone, including touring a lighthouse and an old military fort, camping, canoeing, snorkeling, hiking and relaxing on the beach. Keep in mind that since it is a remote national park, you’ll need to bring everything you need for your stay, including water, food, sunscreen and anything else for your stay on this remote island paradise park!

Dry Tortugas National Park (Google Maps)
Dry Tortugas National Park

Wherever you are, from the west to the east coast, from north to south across the United States, you are never far from one of the 58 national parks and 2017 is a great year to start visiting these national treasures!

Deep Dive in History: Woodstock Music Festival

The rainy, wet weekend of August 15-18, 1969 has become one of the most memorable, and idealized, events in music and cultural history.

In honor of the crazy, groundbreaking, legendary weekend, let’s look back on that weekend, and some of the people who performed at Woodstock.

Max Yasger’s Farm

About 100 miles outside of New York City is Max Yasger’s farm, the site of the music festival billed as “3 days of peace & music” with headliners Joan Baez, the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and more.

Max was a dairy farmer who accepted the offer to rent his land to host a large music festival. It was not without opposition, or problems. His neighbors largely did not support his decisions, and the event itself caused considerable damage to his property.

No one anticipated that the concert would turn into the chaotic event it did. About 50,000 people were expected to attend, but at its peak, there were at least 400,000 young adults who wanted to listen to music, protest the Vietnam War, and celebrate the counterculture of the era. And no one was ready for that many people. There was insufficient food, shelter, and hygiene facilities for the festival, and the festival caused significant damage to Max’s farm, and to neighboring properties.

In spite of the problems, Max never regretted his decision. He sold the farm a year later and retired to Florida, and died not long after that.

Site of Woodstock Festival (Google Maps)
Site of Woodstock Festival

Bethel Woods Center for the Arts

In 1996, New York billionaire Alan Gery bought the site of the 1969 festival and turned it into a performing arts center and amphitheater. It opened in 2006, and later that year, Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young performed at the same place they performed 37 years earlier.

The center has three main performance areas, an event area, an educational area, museum, and more. It has been an important contributor to the regional economy, bringing much-needed revenue to the area.

Bethel Woods Center for the Arts (Birds Eye)
Bethel Woods Center for the Arts

Jimi Hendrix

Of the many performers at the three-day concert, perhaps the most famous performer, and performance, is that of Jimi Hendrix. He headlined the event, playing the last set on Monday morning. By that time, the peak crowds of 400,000 had dwindled to 30,000, but the moment was no less iconic.

The set included a rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” that is often cited as the “greatest performance of all time”. His ripping chords are famous even today, instantly recognizable to millions of music fans.

Sadly, Jimi passed away about a year later of a drug overdose at the Samarkand Hotel in London, UK. The hotel is still open, and provides both hotel rooms to travelers, and long-term apartment rentals.

Samarkand Hotel (StreetView)
Samarkand Hotel

Janis Joplin

Janis Joplin was a young, extremely talented singer on the rise when she performed at Woodstock. For various reasons, her performance was significantly delayed, and by the time she took the stage, she didn’t give the performance she wanted.

Just like Jimi, Janis’s life was plagued by illicit drugs, and on October 4, 1970, she was found dead at the Landmark Motor Hotel in Los Angeles.

Landmark Motor Hotel - Janis Joplin Death Site (StreetView)
Landmark Motor Hotel - Janis Joplin Death Site

Joan Baez

Joan Baez was another headliner at the festival, known for her beautiful voice, amazing guitar skills, and strong counterculture activism. In fact, when she performed at 1 am the first night, she was six months pregnant with her first child, and her husband was in prison for refusing to fight in Vietnam.

Joan has since had an amazing career as a singer and performer, and has dedicated so much of her time to causes she supports. She still speaks out about important issues whenever and wherever she performs.

For many years, she has maintained a beautiful and private residence in Woodside, California. She raised her son, dated several famous people (including Steve Jobs) but always said she was meant to be alone.

Joan Baez's House (Birds Eye)
Joan Baez's House

Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia

Not all performances were mind-blowing like Jimi Hendrix. The Grateful Dead, who performed hours late and in wet conditions, gave a notoriously poor performance. They blew their amps and delayed their concert for hours. When they did play, they were shocked and electrocuted, making everything even crazier! They did play a very long and epic version of “Turn Your Love Light On” which will be remembered forever by fans.

Fortunately for millions of Dead Heads around the world, the bad gig didn’t ruin their careers, and the Grateful Dead are one of the most successful and famous bands of all time.

Lead guitarist Jerry Garcia stayed with the band for 30 years, until he passed away in 1995 in a drug-related death. He was living with his third wife Deborah Koons in Nicasio, California at the time.

Jerry Garcia's House (former) (Birds Eye)
Jerry Garcia's House (former)

More than half a century later, the weekend music festival in Woodstock, New York, remains one of the most enduring and influential events in music history. Millions who weren’t even born then can recognize the Jimi Hendrix guitar riff, or sing along to Grateful Dead tunes, and mourn the early passing of Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix.

Long will the music and memory of the weekend live on.