Let’s Celebrate Arbor Day!

“I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree…”

So begins the famous poem by Joyce Kilmer paying homage to the simple beauty of nature’s wonderful shade-giving, air-cleaning, botanical marvel. In honor of national Arbor Day in the US, let’s take a look at some of the most amazing forests and trees around the world.

Daintree Rain Forest, Queensland, Australia

The Daintree Rain Forest in Australia is the oldest tropical rain forest in the world, and part of the largest rain forest on the continent. The area is unique in that the canopy extends to bright white sandy beaches, or sometimes right to the water’s edge. It also has breathtaking peaks and valleys, making it an area of incredibly diverse geology as well as biology.

Daintree River National Park (StreetView)
Daintree River National Park

Avenue of the Baobabs, Madagascar

The baobab tree is a remarkable and unique tree, dominated by its thick trunk that swells with rainwater, and topped with short, leafy tops. These trees can live up to two or three thousand years After decades of being subjected to deforestation as humans take over more and more land, these trees are now protected and promoted in several countries where they are native.

Several species are unique to Madagascar, and the country has recently promoted ecotourism around the trees. The Avenue of the Baobabs is a long dirt road lined with the breathtaking and unique trees reaching 100 feet high. It’s a spectacle to behold, indeed.

Baobabs trees (StreetView)
Baobabs trees

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Uganda

Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, which borders the Democratic Republic of the Congo, was named in part because of the challenging topography of the area, and because of the thick growth that makes it an ideal habitat for some of  the protected species in the forests, including the endangered mountain gorilla.

The forest has incredible biodiversity, from ancient plant life to butterfly species not seen anywhere else, to more than 300 types of birds. Those lucky enough to travel to this region will be richly rewarded for their efforts.

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (StreetView)
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

Angel Oak Tree, South Carolina, USA

The Angel Oak Tree in Charleston, South Carolina, is a famous tree estimated to be around 400-500 years old. It’s at least 65 feet tall, and the branches extend at least 200 feet, creating a breathtaking and peaceful atmosphere. The tree is protected under local ordinance, and is a major tourist attraction for the region.

As it has stood for centuries, it has witnessed much of the history that shaped America. Legends say that the spirits of former enslaved people stay in or near the tree, and appear around the tree as angels, hence the name.

Angel Oak (StreetView)
Angel Oak

Aokigahara, or Sea of Trees, Japan

The Sea of Trees on the northern side of Japan’s Mount Fuji, is one of the most famous forests in Japan. Fertilized by the ash from Mount Fuji, it has areas of dense, lush, and peaceful growth.

However, the forest is famous both for having a varied and beautiful forest landscape, and for being a popular place for people to go to attempt self-harm. The forest has such a strong reputation that there are signs at the entrance encouraging people to seek help, and crews regularly check for people in need of help.

In recent years, several movies and short films have been made about the forest, which unfortunately promotes the forest’s more unsavory reputation.

Aokigahara - Suicide Forest or Sea of Trees (StreetView)
Aokigahara - Suicide Forest or Sea of Trees

Black Forest, Germany

The Black Forest in Germany and Switzerland is so famous, there’s even a cake named after it! The forest is a favorite destination for hikers from all across Europe. Beautiful trees, mountain lakes, deep valleys, it’s a gorgeous landscape that leaves everyone who visits refreshed and renewed.

The region has a strong culture, with traditional dress, foods, and crafts related to life in the mountains and forests. The clock makers of the region are especially famous for their cuckoo clocks, which have been carved from wood from the nearby trees for hundreds of years.

Nordschwarzwaldturm (Google Maps)
Nordschwarzwaldturm

This day dedicated to trees gives us the perfect opportunity to appreciate the beauty and life-giving resources of trees from around the world. Happy Arbor Day!

 

Happy Birthday, William Shakespeare

While the Bard was born 457 years ago today, his works are as popular as ever, with plays being performed on stages large and small, from the local high school to Royal Shakespeare productions.

Today, let’s celebrate the world’s most famous playwright by looking at his life, and legacy.

Birthplace, Stratford-upon-Avon, UK

While April 23 is celebrated as William Shakespeare’s birthday, we don’t know for sure that this is the day he was born. The official record only notes his baptism on April 26. Generally, babies were baptized when they were three days old, so it would make sense he was born on April 23. Saying he was born on this date holds additional appeal, as it’s also the day he died, 52 years later.

His birthplace is now a small museum, where visitors can see where the writer grew up with his many siblings and learn about his father’s business endeavors, which were conducted one one side of the building.

Shakespeare's Birthplace (StreetView)
Shakespeare's Birthplace

King Edward XI School, Stratford-upon-Avon, UK

Shakespeare probably attended school just down the street at a well-regarded grammar school, where he learned Latin, the English alphabet, and religious studies.

It’s presumed he attended school here because he came from a wealthy family, and it was the only school in the area. Boys of his age and station have attended this school for hundreds of years.

The school, still in use, has embraced its reputation as being “Shakespeare’s School” and celebrates his birthday with a procession from the school to Shakespeare’s grave, where students lay a wreath.

King Edward the Sixth "Shakespeare's" School (StreetView)
King Edward the Sixth "Shakespeare's" School

Royal Shakespeare Theater, Stratford-upon-Avon, UK

Shakespeare’s hometown really loves being known as the birthplace of the Bard. Several theaters, performing arts centers, and historical places are dedicated to their most famous son. There are also countless restaurants, stores, and gift shops that capitalize on Shakespeare’s name.

The Royal Shakespeare Theater, managed and run by the Royal Shakespeare Company, officially opened in 2011, with Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip overseeing the festivities. The new theater can hold 1,000 people, and hosts about 20 performances per year.

Royal Shakespeare Theatre (StreetView)
Royal Shakespeare Theatre

William Shakespeare’s Grave, Stratford-upon-Avon, UK

Shakespeare moved to London when he was in his late 20s, but retired in Stratford-upon-Avon after a successful career. He passed away on his 52nd birthday, perhaps after a heavy drinking session with friends that resulted in a fever.

He was buried in the town church, and his resting place has since become an important place for visitors to see when they come to the town to learn more about and pay respects to the famous wordsmith. The slab covering his body has a sternly-worded warning against moving his body, so his bones were left undisturbed when the chapel was recently renovated.

William Shakespeare's Grave (StreetView)
William Shakespeare's Grave

Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, London, UK

Shakespeare grew in success in London as a playwright, and eventually had a troop of performers who put on his works. They built a theater, which was named the Globe Theater. The original caught fire during a performance of Henry VIII in 1613. It was rebuilt in 1614, but closed down a few decades later.

A recreation of the theater was built in 1997 near the original theater’s location. Like in Shakespeare’s days, patrons can pay a smaller admission fee to stand and watch the play, rather than sit in a seat.

Shakespeare's Globe Theatre (Birds Eye)
Shakespeare's Globe Theatre

Juliet Balcony, Verona, Italy

While there’s no evidence that Shakespeare ever visited Italy, several of his most famous plays are staged there, usually in Verona. One of the most famous scenes in all of theater was staged by Shakespeare on a balcony in Verona, between two “star-crossed lovers” in Romeo and Juliet.

Over the years, a balcony on a private entrance has become famous as the “Juliet Balcony”. While it’s a private residence, visitors love to stop by and imagine the passion that was felt those many years ago.

Famous balcony of Juliet at Villa Capuleti in Verona. (Birds Eye)
Famous balcony of Juliet at Villa Capuleti in Verona.

Kronborg Castle, Denmark

While Romeo and Juliet may be the most famous love story, Hamlet is likely the most famous play ever written. Period. Kronborg Castle is largely agreed to be the model for Elsinore, the castle in Hamlet. It’s likely that a troop of actors who had toured the castle described it to the Bard, who then wove those details into the famous tragedy.

Kronborg Castle (Google Maps)
Kronborg Castle

Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, D.C., USA

While Shakespeare was an Englishman, the largest repository of his works, as well as contemporary literature, is actually in Washington, D.C. at the privately-owned Folger Shakespeare Library. It holds hundreds of folios, or first edition volumes of works, including poems, plays, and other works.

A theater associated with the library puts on several Shakespeare and Shakespeare-related performances.

The library has become a wonderful place to study, learn more about, and enjoy Shakespeare’s work.

Folger Shakespeare Library and Theater (Google Maps)
Folger Shakespeare Library and Theater

Shakespeare’s work is so readily available, from the famous Leonardo Dicaprio/Claire Danes Romeo and Juliet, to zombie movie Warm Bodies based on the same play, or even the Lion King, based on Hamlet. It’s simply amazing to see how much Shakespeare still influences the arts today. Happy Birthday, William.

Cuba, a Small Island with Lots to Offer!

The little island about 90 miles south of Florida is a beautiful, culturally rich country that many in the United States know very little about.

While most of the world can visit Cuba anytime, the neighbor to the north has strict and fluctuating travel restrictions preventing most Americans from visiting the island paradise. For them, this virtual tour will have to do.

Cuba (Google Maps)
Cuba

Havana

The capital of Cuba, Havana, is the largest city on the island. It was founded around 1519 and has been occupied since then. The architecture reflects the history of the city, providing five hundred years of history through the buildings of the city. Havana is the biggest and most dynamic city on the island, any visitor will certainly want to spend a lot of time here.

Havana street and El Capitolio (StreetView)
Havana street and El Capitolio

The Capitol Building was built in 1929, long before the current communist regime came to power, when it was long used for other purposes. The architecture and design are intricate, and have been maintained by the current government, even though it is not an official governing building.

Capitol of Cuba (Google Maps)
Capitol of Cuba

Old Havana

Old Havana is one of the city’s gems. It is the oldest part of the city, located on the water. It has beautiful promenades, historical architecture, fortresses, cathedrals and culture any visitor should not miss.

Old Havana (Google Maps)
Old Havana

Paseo del Prado

Dividing Old Havana and Central Havana is the Paseo del Prado. Like its namesake in Madrid, the promenade is lined with important and beautiful buildings, and is a perfect place for a relaxing afternoon stroll.
Paseo del Prado - Havana (StreetView)
Paseo del Prado - Havana

Castello del Principe

This old fortress was built in the days of pirating and international disputes, but was used as a prison right up until the Cuban Revolution, and housed early  pro-communist revolutionaries. It has since become a national monument to honor the revolutionaries who inspired the current government.

Castillo del Principe (Google Maps)
Castillo del Principe

Havana Cathedral

In the heart of Old Havana lies a Cuban treasure: Havana Cathedral. The Baroque structure is one of the oldest cathedrals in the western hemisphere.

Havana Cathedral (StreetView)
Havana Cathedral

Old Partagas Cigar Factory

Cuban cigars have a reputation for being the best in the world, and the Old Partagas Cigar Factory has been making them for over 160 years. Visitors can tour the working factory and site, but plan ahead because it is one of the most popular tourist sites in Havana.

Old Partagás Factory (cigars) (StreetView)
Old Partagás Factory (cigars)

El Malecon

El Malecon is a promenade and boardwalk that provides both a buffer for buildings against the ocean and a wonderful place for friends and lovers to take an evening walk after dinner and before heading out to enjoy Havana’s vibrant nightlife.

Cruising the Malecon in an old red convertible (StreetView)
Cruising the Malecon in an old red convertible

Guantanamo Bay Naval Base

Unless you’re in the US military, you can’t visit Guantanamo Bay, but the site is one of the most famous, and controversial, locations on the island. The US government has long leased the land from the Cuban government, but since the communist revolution, the government has balked at the foreign military’s presence and refuses the payment as a token protest.

Guantanamo Bay (Google Maps)
Guantanamo Bay

The military base is the site of the contentious Camp Delta, where the US government holds detainees captured during the “War on Terror”. Originally intended to be temporary, these prisoners are essentially permanent residents of Guantanamo Bay.

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If you’re an American, you better hurry and visit Cuba soon because the administration is reversing recent policies that opened relations between the two countries. If you live anywhere else, what are you waiting for?

 

Deep Dive into History: Apollo 13

After President Kennedy’s challenge to send Americans to the moon, the entire country was caught up in the space race, and Americans were the first to reach the moon on July 16, 1969. In less than a year, there was a second successful trip, and a third planned.

The Apollo 13 mission never made it to the moon, but the expedition that launched on April 11, 1970, captivated the attention of America as it suffered catastrophic damage and the crew and ground support worked to bring the spacecraft back to earth.

On the anniversary of the expedition, let’s look back at the events and locations of that heroic mission.

Mission Control, Houston, Texas

“Houston, we have a problem” is one of the most popular modern-day catchphrases. Jim Lovell was talking from outer space to Mission Control at the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, when he uttered this phrase (actually he said, “Houston, we’ve had a problem” but it was slightly muffled on the intercom).

After a routine fuel test resulted in catastrophic damage to the spacecraft, Lovell, Fred Haise, and John Swigert had to abort their plans to walk on the moon and instead just hope they could return to earth. The three highly-trained astronauts worked with the ground crew to figure out exactly how the crew could use gravity, inertia, and the little remaining fuel they had to make it home to earth.

It was from this Mission Control building in Houston that countless engineers, scientists, and mathematicians worked tirelessly for five days to ensure the crew returned safely to earth. The building is still used for NASA and space-related work.

Christopher C. Kraft Jr. Mission Control Center (Birds Eye)
Christopher C. Kraft Jr. Mission Control Center

Kennedy Space Center, Florida

The mission launched from NASA’s Operational Launch site, which was later renamed the Kennedy Space Center for the man who inspired and supported the pursuit of spaceflight. Here, visitors could watch the launch from a safe distance, far from the massive heat and flames from the burning fuel that launched the craft into space.

Kennedy Space Center (StreetView)
Kennedy Space Center

Cape Kennedy Shuttle Launch Complex, Florida

It’s from this area that Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo launches took off. The complex has dozens of launch sites, and Apollo 13 was set up on LC 39-A. This launch site is still used. In fact, SpaceX launches Falcon 9 rockets regularly from the exact same pad that launched Apollo 13.

Visitors to the Kennedy Space Center can also see rocket launches. If you want to see a rocket up close (about seven miles away for safety), this is the place!

Cape Kennedy Shuttle Launch Complex (Google Maps)
Cape Kennedy Shuttle Launch Complex

Saturn V Rocket, Huntsville, Alabama

The astronauts were launched into space by the massive force of the Saturn V (five) rockets, the engineering marvel that changed the world. Much of the research and development for the rocket were conducted at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, AL.

On the 30th anniversary of the project, a full-scale replica was put on display outside the Center. The 363-foot rocket is still on display, garnering visits from space history buffs from around the world.

Saturn V rocket (Google Maps)
Saturn V rocket

Saturn V Rocket, Kennedy Space Center, Florida

An original rocket, not a replica, is on display at the Kennedy Space Center. Visitors can walk under the massive rocket and get a feel for just how much work, and energy, went into getting astronauts safely to the moon and back.

Saturn V rocket (StreetView)
Saturn V rocket

Command and Service Module on Display, Kennedy Space Center, Florida

After the astronauts realized they had a problem, they worked with the ground crew at Mission Control to find a way to survive the unthinkable. They quickly moved from the larger command module into the tiny lunar module, which was designed only for two people to take a short trip to and from the moon. Instead, the three men spent five days in the cold, cramped container as they worked to come home.

Looking at this Apollo-designed module helps people visualize just how risky the endeavor was, and how much the men endured in outer space.

Apollo Command/Service Module (StreetView)
Apollo Command/Service Module

USS New Orleans

Before the days of space shuttles, astronauts were launched on top of rockets, situated in spacecraft. They had enough fuel and power to navigate in outer space and launch a return to earth. Using calculations and careful planning, the crew would be able to predict their landing location. Navy ships would wait in the area to retrieve the heroic space travelers. After flying more than half a million miles to the moon and back, they could predict their landing within two miles!

The Apollo 13 crew, after surviving a five-day ordeal, splashed down into the Pacific Ocean, and was picked up by the USS Iwo Jima. On site for support was the USS New Orleans. This ship picked up the crew from Apollo 14, and was used in the movie Apollo 13 starring Tom Hanks.

USS New Orleans (LPH-11) amphibious assault ship (Birds Eye)
USS New Orleans (LPH-11) amphibious assault ship

Home of Astronaut Jim Lovell, Chicago, Illinois

Jim Lovell was already an experienced astronaut when he was assigned to command the Apollo 13 mission. He and two others were the first men to ever reach the moon. They circled the moon on the Apollo 8 mission, in preparation for the Apollo 11 space landing. He also flew on two Gemini missions.

Jim’s calm demeanor and ability to lead the crew helped them return safely to earth. After retiring from NASA, Jim and his family eventually moved to Lake Forest, on the outskirts of Chicago, Illinois. Now 93, Jim still lives in Illinois, for at least part of the year.

In 1994, Jim wrote a book that was quickly turned into the captivating film Apollo 13 starring Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon and Bill Paxton. This film helped revitalize interest in space exploration, and reminded people everywhere of what the astronauts went through on their harrowing journey through space.

Jim Lovell's House (Birds Eye)
Jim Lovell's House

Tonight, perhaps you can look at the moon and stars, and reflect on what a wonder it must be to leave earth. Take a moment to appreciate all that Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert, and Fred Haise, as well as the countless men and women on the ground, went through, and how fortunate they were to make it back to tell their tale.

 

 

 

 

Best Places to Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day

On St. Patrick’s Day, everybody is Irish, and everyone is celebrating. And this year, perhaps more than ever, people need a reason to celebrate. While many events are on hold or smaller than in the past, it’s still a day for fun.

Let’s look at some of the best places to be this March 17 as people around the world celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. And with a little Irish luck, we’ll all be out in the streets next year.

Dublin, Ireland

There’s nowhere better to celebrate than Dublin, Ireland, and this year the celebrations are back on. On St. Patrick’s Day, the city throws a parade of epic proportions. More than 50,000 people view the parade along its two mile route, which comes close to the new location of the iconic statue of the city’s favorite fishmonger, Molly Malone. It was on Grafton Street but is now even closer to the parade route at its new location on Suffolk Street.

Molly Malone Statue (Sufolk Street) (StreetView)
Molly Malone Statue (Sufolk Street)

Guinness Brewery

Is there a better place to spend St. Patrick’s Day than seeing the Guinness Brewery? A Dublin landmark since 1759, the Guinness Brewery first occupied a small area at St. James Gate.

Guinness Brewery St. James' Gate (StreetView)
Guinness Brewery St. James' Gate

The brewery now takes up several city blocks and is one of the most important landmarks in the city. Guinness is as Irish as four leaf clovers, or St. Patrick himself, and everyone should raise a pint on St. Patrick’s Day.

Guinness Brewery, Dublin (StreetView)
Guinness Brewery, Dublin

Blarney Stone

In the south of Ireland, in County Cork, is Blarney Castle, home of the Blarney Stone. Legend has it the stone, which was built into the castle’s high tower wall in 1446, will give whoever kisses the stone the gift of gab, or eloquence. The stone has become a major tourist destination in Ireland, but you’d better bring a buddy to hold you as you pucker up, because the stone is hard to reach on your own.

Blarney Castle (Google Maps)
Blarney Castle

Boston, Massachusetts

Outside Ireland, there is no greater concentration of Irish people than in Boston, Massachusetts, and these folks know how to party! From parades to Irish rock concerts, to drinking with a hundred thousand of your closest friends, it’s the best place outside Dublin to be.

After a two-year hiatus, this year’s celebrations are back on! The parade will be held March 20, and the traditional Dropkick Murphy’s concert is on too! We’ll all be shipping up to Boston for these events!

Lots of visitors make a stop at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston to learn about the country’s most famous Irish-American.

'John F. Kennedy Presidential Library' by I. M. Pei (Birds Eye)
'John F. Kennedy Presidential Library' by I. M. Pei

One great place to gather for celebrations is historic Faneuil Hall, which always has a full schedule of events and entertainment for the Irish holiday.

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New York City, New York

New York City has a long and storied history with the Irish, and celebrates its Irish heritage in a big way. The city has a parade full of bagpipes, dancing and entertainment. The parade goes up 5th Avenue, past many major landmarks including St. Patrick’s Cathedral, of course.

The parade has been going since 1762, which makes it older than the United States itself. And after a Covid-induced break, we’ll all be happy to party on the streets of New York once more.

Saint Patrick's Cathedral - New York (StreetView)
Saint Patrick's Cathedral - New York

New York City was a major destination for Irish immigrants during years of hunger and famine. The Irish Hunger Memorial was constructed in 2002, to keep the memory of the Great Famine alive, and recognize the sacrifices of those who left Ireland, and the suffering of those left behind. Stones from every county in Ireland were included in the memorial.

'Irish Hunger Memorial' by Brian Tolle (Birds Eye)
'Irish Hunger Memorial' by Brian Tolle

Chicago, Illinois

Right up there with Boston and New York, Chicago celebrates like they mean it. On the Saturday closest to St. Patrick’s Day, the city holds a huge parade and dyes the Chicago River green. Visitors can catch the parade at Grant Park, a destination for Chicago public entertainment and activities. This year, the parade was held on March 12, and it felt good to see all the green again.

One Grant Park under construction (Google Maps)
One Grant Park under construction

People often gather along the banks of the Chicago River early in the day to watch as it’s dyed green for the holiday. The green color only lasts about five hours so make sure you get a good spot  early. Lots of people gather on Wacker Drive and the surrounding bridges to get a great view of the river.

35 East Wacker Drive (Birds Eye)
35 East Wacker Drive

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Halfway around the globe, St. Patrick’s Day is a big deal in Buenos Aires, Argentina. A huge expat community of Irish, as well as a city that loves to party, makes for a great St. Patrick’s Day celebration. Festivities include a large open air festival, near Reconquista Street.

The afternoon parade starts on Avenida de Maya and ends up at Plaza San Martin, where there are additional festivities, including food trucks, music, and, of course, beer.

Plaza San Martín (Google Maps)
Plaza San Martín

No matter where you are this March 17, don’t forget to wear green, kiss someone, and of course, have a beer or two. Because on St. Patrick’s Day, everyone is Irish, and everyone deserves to party.

Slava Ukraini!

The entire world has been watching events unfold in Ukraine these past two and a half weeks. Beautiful landmarks and historic sites are settings for unspeakable tragedy and human suffering.

Let’s take a few minutes to learn about the beauty and history of Ukraine, and find ways to help the people of this beautiful nation.

Kyiv Percheska Lavra

This beautiful Orthodox monastery is more than 1,200 years old, is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Monks established an order in the caves, creating catacombs, underground chapels, and other living spaces. Above ground, there is a cathedral, which was destroyed in World War II and rebuilt, a great bell tower, and some smaller churches.

The site is both a working religious monastery and pilgrimage destination, as well as a state museum.

Kiev Percheska Lavra (StreetView)
Kiev Percheska Lavra

Rodina Mat, Monument to the Motherland

The Motherland Monument was built after World War II when Ukraine was a Soviet republic. Controversial from the start, the 335-foot tall statue pays tribute to those who perished in defense of Kyiv and Ukraine.

It has strong Soviet and Russian overtones, and has become a mixed symbol in recent years as Ukraine has shifted ties toward democratic, western and European ideals. Nonetheless, it is a beautiful structure that stands guard over the capital city night after night of terrible bombing and shelling from Russians attempting to capture the city, and the country.

Rodina-Mat - The Motherland Monument (StreetView)
Rodina-Mat - The Motherland Monument

Kyiv TV Tower

Built in the Soviet era, the TV tower in central Kyiv, was a symbol of strength and was the tallest free-standing metal structure in the world until 2012, when the Tokyo Skyree was completed.

It was built on top of a Jewish cemetery, in problematic disregard for the interred underneath the structure. On March 1, a Russian missile struck the tower, cutting television communication to the residents of the city for hours, and killing five civilians.

Kiev TV Tower (Google Maps)
Kiev TV Tower

Babi Yar Massacre Site

In 1941, Germans occupied Kyiv and rounded up the city’s Jewish population. More than 33,000 thousand Jews were shot between September 29-30 and  buried in a ravine. Over the coming years, the occupying Germans would murder and bury countless others here, including Soviet soldiers, Roma, and other “undesirables”.

This site, sacred ground to many, is close to the TV tower, and was damaged by the bombing by Russian soldiers.

Jewish masacre site Babi Yar (Google Maps)
Jewish masacre site Babi Yar

Independence Square

Kyiv’s central square, or maidan, has often been the gathering place for protests and social movements. In 2013, when the government rejected popularly-voted on moves for closer integration with Europe, people began protesting in the square.

Protests grew into an entire revolution emphasizing Ukraine’s desire to be more democratic, more aligned with Europe, and rejecting corruption by oligarchs and government leaders.

More than 100 people died in the revolution, now referred to as Euromaidan, or the Revolution of Dignity.

Independence Square (Google Maps)
Independence Square

Monument of the Third Angel at Chernobyl

In 1986, the Chernobyl nuclear power plant experienced a catastrophic meltdown. The town was evacuated and is still nearly entirely abandoned. People can visit the grounds, but are not allowed to step off the guided paths.

Russian soldiers have taken over the power plant and international organizations are concerned about the risk to people at the site, and around Ukraine, if the plant is damaged.

There is a monument at Chernobyl of the Third Angel referred to in the Book of Revelation, which prophesied that a great explosion would rise up and cover the earth. The meaning of that monument is more appropriate now than ever.

Trumpeting Angel of Chernobyl (StreetView)
Trumpeting Angel of Chernobyl

Monument to the Founders of Odessa

One of the greatest cities in Ukraine was founded by Catherine the Great in 1794, and the port city has become an integral part of the culture and economy of Ukraine. A statue built in honor of Catherine and the other founders was erected in 1900, but dismantled under the Soviet regime.

It was reconstructed in 2007 in honor of the city’s history, and is now a major tourist destination.

Statue of Catherine the Great (StreetView)
Statue of Catherine the Great

Odessa Opera and Ballet Theater

The Odessa Opera and Ballet Theater is one of the city’s cultural treasures. The original structure was built in 1810, but burned down. It was rebuilt in 1887, and the new structure has a unique design that enhances acoustics. Even a whisper on the stage can be heard in any part of the theater.

These days, the theater is protected by sand bags and blockades as Russian soldiers may bear down on the city at any time. Performers even sang songs as they stacked bags to protect the iconic landmark from a potential invasion.

Odessa Opera and Ballet Theater (Google Maps)
Odessa Opera and Ballet Theater

These are just a few sites in Ukraine that have been loved for years, seen by millions, and treasured by all. If you are interested in helping the people who have had to flee their homeland for safety, and able to donate, here are some links that have longstanding reputations of doing the most good.

UNICEF

Save the Children

Salvation Army

 

Cool Clocks from Around the World

For many in the United States, tonight is one of the roughest nights of the year as we set our clocks forward one hour, and we lose an hour of sleep. For the next week, we’re all going to be tired, a little bit cranky, and those who have kids will be cursing whoever thought it was a good idea to mess with time.

As we try to stay awake, or struggle to fall asleep, let’s take a look at some of the coolest, tallest, or most famous clocks in the world.

Big Ben, London, UK

Big Ben in London is the world’s most famous clock tower. It appears in movies, books, shows, and stories. But did you know that “Big Ben” actually refers to one of the bells, not the clock tower itself? Recently renamed the Elizabeth Tower, the iconic structure was completed in 1859. Since then it has become one of the most recognizable symbols of the United Kingdom.

But if you come to London to climb the tower, you’ll be disappointed. Only UK citizens are allowed inside, and they must have reservations, be over 11, and be able to climb the entire structure without help.

Big Ben (StreetView)
Big Ben

Astronomical Clock, Prague, CZ

The Astronomical Clock in the Old Town Hall of Prague, in the Czech Republic, is oldest operating astronomical clock in the world, and probably the most famous. It is more than just a time-tracking device, it’s a work of art.

The bold blue and gold clock also has twelve apostles that show up hourly, as well as people representing Greed, Vanity, and Lust. A figure representing Death strikes time, which is an apt metaphor for life passing by.

Visitors to Prague can easily stop by and see the clock; a crowd often gathers on the hour to see the special effects that have been inspiring and entertaining people for hundreds of years.

Prague astronomical clock (1410) (StreetView)
Prague astronomical clock (1410)

Hilo Tsunami Clock, Hilo, Hawaii

Not all clocks tell current time; some show a moment when time stood still. On April 1, 1946, an earthquake off the coast of Alaska caused a tsunami wave that traveled all the way across the Pacific. Nearly five hours later, a 46-high wave came ashore at Hilo, on the island of Hawaii, killing about 160 people and destroying more than 1,300 homes and buildings.

The water washed into the city, and over a town clock, stopping time at 1:04 am. The town was rebuilt, and the people took that clock and turned it into a monument to remember those who perished, and honor those who survived.

Prague astronomical clock (1410) (StreetView)
Prague astronomical clock (1410)

Spasskaya Tower, Moscow, Russia

Spasskaya, or Savior, Tower in downtown Moscow, is a tower built in 1491, with a clock on the side that was added sometime before 1585. The face of the clock is 20 feet across, which helps people even far away tell time.

The tower is at the gate of a tower that surrounds the Kremlin. It has long been a very special place for citizens of Moscow, as it has been considered holy and to hold special powers. When Napoleon, upon taking the city in battle, entered the Kremlin through the gate, he refused to take off his hat or dismount his horse. Immediately, the wind knocked his hat off, and just a month later, it would be clear to the conquering leader that he could not take Russia. The clock tower marked the moment when Napoleon lost Russia.

Spasskaya Tower (Google Maps)
Spasskaya Tower

Biggest Cuckoo Clock in the World, Triberg, Germany

Everyone loves a cuckoo clock, and what could be cooler than a gigantic clock the size of a house? German and Swiss craftsmen have long made ornate and amazing cuckoo clocks, but this cuckoo clock the size of a real house in Triberg was completed in 1994, as part of a quaint park designed for hiking and touring on the outskirts of Triberg.

The clock was built based on actual cuckoo clock blueprints, and using traditional cuckoo clock techniques and weights to measure time. Twice an hour, the clock chimes and puts on a small show. If you’re interested in seeing the inside and mechanics of a cuckoo clock, you can tour the building.

Biggest cuckoo clock in the World (StreetView)
Biggest cuckoo clock in the World

Urania World Clock, Berlin, Germany

Alexanderplatz, an urban plaza in downtown Berlin, is one of the most dynamic and interesting areas of the city. The World Clock in the plaza actually tells the times of 148 cities in the world at the same time! Looking something like an atom or the universe, the clock is both a design and engineering marvel.

Built during the Cold War, the clock was a neat way to be reminded that there was a world beyond the borders of East Germany and the USSR. These days, it has an additional social significance, and is the site of protests and gatherings for people trying to change the world.

Urania-Weltzeituhr (StreetView)
Urania-Weltzeituhr

Flower Clock, Viña del Mar, Chile

The most unexpected, and beautiful, clock on this list is hands down the Flower Clock in Viña del Mar, Chile. Built in 1962 to celebrate the city hosting the World Cup, the clock is a fully-functional clock made out of flowers. Long after the games were over, the clock is still a landmark in the city. The hands are solid material, while the face of the clock, including the numbers, are made entirely of flowers and greenery.

The most recent design has more than 7,000 low-growing plants and flowers, and each number of the clock is made up of 100 or more flowers. The clock tells accurate time as it is set to a digital GPS, and is visible 24 hours a day.

Viña del Mar flower clock (Google Maps)
Viña del Mar flower clock

From a famous tower to a life-sized cuckoo clock to a clock made entirely of flowers, people around the world have found some really cool, and really memorable ways of telling time.

Mardi Gras: Let the Good Times Roll!

It’s Fat Tuesday, which means it’s the last, and craziest, celebration of Carnival or Mardi Gras. What originated as a Christian celebration of levity and indulgence leading up to Lent, Carnival season has morphed into celebrations of epic proportion that turn cities like New Orleans, Rio de Janeiro, and Venice, into outdoor festivals for days and even weeks.

Carnival season carries on the festivities of Christmas, starting on Twelfth Night in January and ramping up to Fat Tuesday or “Mardi Gras” in French, the last day of celebration before Ash Wednesday, ushering in 40 days of restraint and reflection.

French Quarter, New Orleans, LA

Many of the first residents of New Orleans were French, and established what is now called the French Quarter, with its old-world architecture and feel.  Along with their architecture and language, the French settlers also influenced many traditions in NOLA, including the Mardi Gras celebration. “Mardi Gras” means “Fat Tuesday” in French, which is the biggest day of celebrations before Lent.

The French Quarter’s buildings are recognizable by their colorful two-story brick structures with balconies of decorative wrought iron, and narrow streets. Many of the parades and festivities start or go through the French Quarter. Even after Mardi Gras, the French Quarter is the heart of New Orleans.

French Quarter (Google Maps)
French Quarter

Bourbon Street, New Orleans, LA

Bourbon Street in the French Quarter is the center of the party year-round, and especially during Mardi Gras. The alcohol-fueled parties go late into the night and are definitely for grown-ups, and are what people think of when they imagine a Mardi Gras celebration.

Many parades and events take place on or near Bourbon Street, and people rent rooms and stand on balconies to party, throw beads and trinkets, and have a good time with friends and strangers alike.

Bourbon Street (StreetView)
Bourbon Street

Sambadrome, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Carnival celebrations in Brazil are among the most festive and unique in the world. Blending African, indigenous and European influences, the music, costumes, and celebrations are flashy, elaborate, and extravagant. While Carnival parades the world over include costumed dancers, the samba dancers in Rio are a step above the rest.

The twelve major samba schools have produced such elaborate and talented performances that the dancing is the highlight of the parades, and have even spawned their own Carnival tradition, and venue. The Sambadrome was built in 1984, and can hold 90,000 spectators. So now, in addition to the many block parties, samba dancers parade through the long venue as both celebration and competition.

Sambódromo (Google Maps)
Sambódromo

Samba School Mangueira in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Samba, which is heavily influenced by indigenous and African dance styles, is a major part of Brazilian Carnival traditions. Dancers go to school to learn to dance, and there are at least twelve major dance schools in the capital city.

The Samba School Mangueira has one of the best reputations, and is one of the oldest. It is named after its neighborhood Mangueira. It is not a wealthy area, but is a favela, or poor area of improvised housing, where many urban Brazilians live in difficult situations.

GRES Estação Primeira de Mangueira (StreetView)
GRES Estação Primeira de Mangueira

St. Mark’s Square, Venice, Italy

Carnival originated in Venice, likely starting in 1168 to celebrate a military victory, with dancing in St. Mark’s Square. Parties quickly developed as celebration before Ash Wednesday and Lent, when people were expected to refrain from celebrations, eating meat, and other indulgences. Venetian celebrations often included elaborate masks and costumes, and the masks were such a popular part of the celebration that they extended on past Carnival into regular usage.

Carnival was outlawed when the Republic of Venice fell in 1797, and brought back in 1979. These days, nearly three million people come to Venice to celebrate Carnival each year.

Saint Mark's Square (Google Maps)
Saint Mark's Square

Rialto Bridge, Venice, Italy

Current-day Carnival kicks off with a water parade, which is fitting for the city built on a lagoon. Led by a gondola decorated as a rat, homage to the city’s reputation of having many rats, hundreds of highly-decorated boats are guided down the Grand Canal. Some boats are decorated in elaborate themes, and others are simple boats with costumed passengers. Whether they go all out, or just dress up, it’s a chaotic but fun way to start a weeks-long party!

Rialto Bridge (StreetView)
Rialto Bridge

While the celebrations are all wrapping up this week, it’s fun to learn about the longstanding and important traditions that are celebrated worldwide as people prepare for the traditional forty days of restraint. While each locality does it their own way, we can see the fabulous traditions that tie them all together. As they say in New Orleans, “Let the good times roll!”

Paying Tribute to America’s National Parks Feb 26

Today in 1919, Congress established the Grand Canyon National Park, protecting the area from further development and preserving the incredible landscapes for future generations to visit and enjoy.

Let’s take a look at some of the incredible national parks across the United States.

Grand Canyon National Park

One of the most recognizable landscapes in the entire world, the Grand Canyon in Arizona is an amazing place to visit. The Colorado River carved the mile-deep canyon over millions of years. The gorgeous, multi-colored rocks and sediment left bare by the river are stunning, and the miles-wide gap from rim to rim are beautiful, breathtaking, and humbling for all those who visit.

People can hike, bike, and ride horses down into the basin of the Grand Canyon, or they can simply travel to the rim to enjoy the vistas and reflect on their place in the world. Either way, you’ll never forget your trip.

During the day in summertime, the area can get hot, but since it’s a desert, it still gets cold at night. And if you choose to venture onto one of the amazing trails, you must always be prepared. The weather can change within minutes, from sunny and dry to flash flood producing rainstorms that can be deadly.

Grand Canyon (Google Maps)
Grand Canyon

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 high, 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

The horses are beautiful and visitors can get very close to them and other wildlife, but it’s important to remember that they are wild! Be sure to pack plenty of water and sunscreen when for your visit to this seashore park!

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 you might want 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 2022 will be a great year to start visiting these national treasures! Perhaps you’ll be inspired to dust off your hiking shoes and camping gear, and have a “grand” adventure of your own!

The Winter Olympics Begin!

The 2022 Winter Olympics kick off today, the second Olympics hosted by China, and the second hosted in Beijing. This will make Beijing unique among hosts, being the first city to host both the summer and winter games.

As we enjoy the spectacle of the opening ceremony, let’s take a look at some of the places we’ll see on television during the next two weeks. China will also host the Paralympics in March.

National Stadium, Beijing

The 2022 Olympics will officially start and end in the National Stadium. Also known as the Bird’s Nest, the stadium was built for the 2008 Summer Olympics, and has been used for sporting events since then.

The stadium is called the Bird’s Nest because of the unique exterior design, which is even more breathtaking in the dark. It can hold up to 80,000 spectators. This Olympics, all the spectators (other than official representatives from other countries) will be from China, in an effort to limit the spread of Covid-19.

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

National Speed Skating Oval, Beijing

Many of the Olympic venues are repurposed sports arenas. The National Speed Skating Oval in Beijing is the only venue built specifically for the 2022 Olympics. It will host speed skating competitions.

The unique oval shape is intended to reflect the Temple of Heaven, an important religious structure in the center of Beijing. The arena can seat up to 12,000 spectators. After the Olympics, it will be used for ice hockey

National Speed Skating Oval under construction (Google Maps)
National Speed Skating Oval under construction

National Indoor Stadium, Beijing

Constructed for the 2008 Summer Olympics, the National Indoor Stadium was designed to resemble a folding Chinese fan, and cost nearly $100 million to build. It was originally used for gymnastics and handball, but will be the site of ice hockey competitions in the Winter Olympics and Paralympics in 2022.

The Stadium can hold up to 20,000 individuals. It will be an interesting series, as hockey is usually a fan favorite, with vocal and involved spectators. This year, fans are allowed to clap but not cheer, chant, or make any loud noises; all in an effort to limit the spread of Covid-19.

Beijing National Indoor Stadium - 2008 Summer Olympics (Google Maps)
Beijing National Indoor Stadium - 2008 Summer Olympics

Genting Snow Park, Hebei

It’s not uncommon for some events to be held in multiple cities, and this competition is no different. The nearby city of Zhangjiakou in the province of Hebei is about 160 miles from Beijing, but is a landscape defined by mountains and valleys. In a country that is rapidly developing and growing, this region has intentionally been left less developed, which is perfect for outdoor snow competitions.

With the newly-constructed rapid rail system connecting Beijing and Zhangjiakou, it only takes about 50 minutes to get from the capital city to the center of the ski competitions. Speeds top out at 220 mph, which is fast even for the fastest alpine skier!

Several outdoor snow-based events will be held in the region. The Genting Snow Park is the venue for snowboarding and freestyle skiing. It is designed for about 5,000 spectators.

Genting Snow Park (future site) (Google Maps)
Genting Snow Park (future site)

Capitol Indoor Stadium, Beijing

The Capitol Indoor Stadium has been around since 1968, and has played an important role in international diplomacy before it was used as an Olympic venue in 2008. Several international table tennis competitions were held here, breaking down political barriers between East and West, and creating the nickname “ping pong diplomacy” for sporting and other events that help promote peace and understanding.

Here, some of the most exciting and popular events of the winter games will be held. Figure skating and short track skating competitions will be held in the indoor stadium, so people will become very familiar with the venue by the end of the games.

Capital Indoor Stadium (Google Maps)
Capital Indoor Stadium

Beijing National Aquatics Center, the “Ice Cube”, Beijing

During the 2008 Olympics, swimming events were extremely exciting, especially with US swimmer Michael Phelps winning a record-setting eight gold medals. The National Aquatics Center, nicknamed the “Water Cube” for its unique tall, brightly-lit appearance, has been repurposed to host curling events.

Its nickname has also changed, at least for now, to the “Ice Cube”, a great name for a venue hosting a game that was originally played on frozen lakes and streams in the dead of winter.

Beijing National Aquatics Center - 2008 Summer Olympics (Google Maps)
Beijing National Aquatics Center - 2008 Summer Olympics

The Olympics and Paralympics will be unique, different from all other games. Covid-19 will have a huge impact on the games, with daily testing, strict enforcement of social distancing and athlete interactions, and no cheering from the fans. But no matter what, under any and all circumstances, humanity will find a way to meet for two weeks, so we can cheer on athletes who have dreamed, worked, and fought for the right to be called an Olympian.

No matter what, the Olympic spirit, like the flame, will burn on.