Deep Dive into History: Life and Times of Mahatma Gandhi

More than 150 years ago on October 2, a boy was born in a small Indian village, the son of a successful though uneducated father and his fourth wife. He was the fourth child and third son from the marriage, so it would have been understood if he had stayed close to home all his life.

And yet, this boy grew to become one of the world’s most influential, memorable, and revered advocates for freedom. He was so loved and revered, he was called “Mahatma”, which is a name of respect and honor in Sanscrit.

His legacy lives on, and his influence is still felt, and appreciated, to this date.

Let’s take a deep dive into the life and legacy of Mahatma Gandhi.

Watson Museum, Rajkot, Gujarat, India

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born on October 2, 1869, in a small town in western India. When he was a young boy, his family moved to  Rajkot in what is today Gujarat.

Here, he was married (in an arranged marriage) when he was 13. He graduated from high school, and at 19, left his wife and young child to attend law school in London.

The Watson Museum in Rajkot is an outstanding museum, with amazing collections of crafts, coins, sculptures, and temple statues, and other artifacts from the Indus valley. It provides a wonderful education of India’s history and context for the man who changed the country, and the world.

Watson Museum (Google Maps)
Watson Museum

Railway Station Memorial, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa

As a young lawyer, Gandhi moved to South Africa. Here, he was often forced to confront racial discrimination. While traveling, he was beaten and kicked off a train for refusing to leave his seat among the “European” passengers to sit on the floor.  Later, outside Pietermaritzburg, he was kicked off the train for refusing to leave first class.

In South Africa, he, like all other Indians, was not permitted to walk on the sidewalk. This inequality enraged Gandhi, and he spent more than 20 years in South Africa fighting for the rights of Indian immigrants and others. Motivated by progress, and a longing to return home, he eventually decided to move back to continue the fight for equality in India.

This monument to Gandhi outside the Pietermaritzburg Train Station, was dedicated by Bishop Desmond Tutu, himself a great advocate for equality and human rights.

Mahatma Gandhi statue (StreetView)
Mahatma Gandhi statue

KwaZuluNatal Museum, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa

An amazing educational experience, the KwaZuluNatal Museum in Pietermaritzburg has exhibits focused both on the natural history of the region, as well as the cultural history.

It also includes an exhibit on the significant Indian population of the region, which grew in numbers during the hundreds of years that both countries were British colonies.

Natal Museum (StreetView)
Natal Museum

Yerwada  Central Jail, Maharashtra, India

Gandhi moved back to India and immediately began agitating for India’s freedom from Great Britain. He preached a message of non-violent protest. He encouraged all Indians to stop working with the British government, and to be willing to suffer and die for the cause of independence for India, all without harming another person or property.

This policy deeply frustrated leaders, and Gandhi was often singled out for punishment. He was jailed at the Yerwada Central Jail in Pune twice over his protests.

The jail is still used today, and is often reported to be overcrowded and unsanitary. It is a great reminder that Gandhi’s sacrifices were real, the struggle for freedom was easy, and is not over.

Yerwada Central Jail (Google Maps)
Yerwada Central Jail

Assassination Site, New Delhi, India

Gandhi and the people of India sacrificed a great deal, and shortly after World War II, Britain agreed to leave India. India, the second-largest country in the world, is made up of devout religious followers of many traditions, which haven’t always gotten along. Gandhi hoped Indians could find a way to coexist, but shortly after independence, the country broke up along religious lines, creating what is now India, Pakistan, and later Bangladesh.

Millions of people moved between the countries, much to Gandhi’s dismay. On January 30, 1948, Gandhi was gathered at a mansion in New Delhi, part of a multi-religious prayer session. He was approached by a Hindu nationalist, who shot him three times up close. He died shortly thereafter.

The site at Birla House, renamed Gandhi Smriti, is marked with a beautiful canopy that evokes peace and acceptance.

The Martyr's Column (assassination of Mahatma Gandhi) (Google Maps)
The Martyr's Column (assassination of Mahatma Gandhi)

Raj Ghat Memorial, New Delhi, India

Followers of Hindu teachings are often cremated, to release their soul as quickly as possible, so they can be reborn. Gandhi was cremated the day after he was assassinated, in downtown New Delhi. At the site of his cremation, a memorial was later created to honor India’s “Bapu” or father.

The memorial represents a funeral pyre, with a black platform and eternal flame.

Raj Ghat and associated memorials (Google Maps)
Raj Ghat and associated memorials

National Gandhi Museum, New Delhi, India

A museum to Gandhi is nearby, helping Indians and visitors to learn more about the man, his mission, and his impact around the world. It is also a treasure of information and history of the country Gandhi lived, and died, to create.

National Gandhi Museum (Google Maps)
National Gandhi Museum

Gandhi Memorial Museum, Madurai, India

After his death, people in India wanted to honor Gandhi, and elected to build a museum in his honor. The funds for the grand structure were collected by citizens of India, from the poorest to the richest.

It was dedicated by then-former president Jawaharlal Nehru in 1959. The museum includes a piece of the cloth Gandhi was wearing when he was killed, as well as pictures, artifacts, and information about Mahatma, the sage of India.

Mahatma Gandhi Memorial (Google Maps)
Mahatma Gandhi Memorial

These days, there are so many things we can learn from Gandhi, from his desire to treat people equally, to choosing non-violence to achieve his goals, and his desire for religious cooperation. On this anniversary of his birth, let us strive to adopt the best parts of Gandhi, and make our world a better place.

Talking about Pirates

Ahoy! There “rrrrr” a lot of silly holidays, but today’s gets the gold for being rrrreally fun, matey! It’s Talk Like a Pirate Day! So, let’s see some of the places the best, worst, and most famous buccaneers spent time, hid their treasure, and menaced unsuspecting lads and lassies of yore. Be sure to honor the holiday and read on with a true pirate voice!

Port Royal, Jamaica

Pirates ravaged the eastern coast of the US and Caribbean for hundreds of years, from the earliest days of Spanish explorers until countries began to combat piracy more effectively.

Port Royal in Kingston Harbor of Jamaica was the economic hub of the Caribbean for hundreds of years, and was also the epicenter of piracy in the region. An English settlement, leaders of Jamaica permitted and even encouraged targeted attacks on Spanish fleets and settlements. The infamous Blackbeard even took up residence with his family at Port Royal!

Eventually, the citizens grew tired of the pirates, and the port city became a place of reckoning. Calico Jack, Charles Vane and others were hanged, and Mary Read died in prison. A 1692 earthquake and tsunami devastated the city, which was overtaken by Kingston as the most populous and important city in Jamaica by the 1750s.

Port Royal (Google Maps)
Port Royal

Blackbeard’s Castle, US Virgin Islands

Edward Teach, a British sailor turned vicious pirate known as “Blackbeard” because of the fuses he would light in his mane, sailed the Caribbean in the early 1700s.

Legend held that he used Skytsborg tower on St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands as a look out during his raids and runs from the law. Eventually, the tower became known as “Blackbeard’s Castle” further cementing his larger than life reputation as a wicked pirate.

Blackbeard's Castle (StreetView)
Blackbeard's Castle

Charleston, South Carolina

Charleston, then known as Charles Towne, was one of the earliest English settlements in what is now the United States. With its proximity to the West Indies and protected harbor, it was an attractive economic, and pirate, hub.

Brothels and taverns were common business establishments, especially near the harbor. Pirates could hop off their boat and in minutes, be relaxing with a drink and a lovely lady for an evening.

Blackbeard terrorized the port in May 1718, holding the city hostage with his fleet of ships, demanding a chest of medicine! This feat earned him a reputation for terrorizing sailor, soldier and civilian alike to get what he wanted.

Stede Bonnet, the “gentleman pirate”, was caught near Charleston and taken to the city, where he was hanged on December 10, 1718.

Charleston Harbor (Google Maps)
Charleston Harbor

New Providence, Bahamas

The island of New Providence in what is now the Bahamas was settled in the 1650s as people moved to developing Caribbean and Atlantic settlements.

However, the island and the settlement of Nassau (now the capital city), poorly controlled by any government or leadership, quickly became a haven for pirates, who even outnumbered the civilian population by 1715.

A few years later, a stronger leader finally purged the area of pirates by giving them a pardon if they gave up their criminal ways, and promising a swift capture and execution if they did not.

New Providence (Google Maps)
New Providence

Pirate Island, Île Sainte-Marie, Madagascar

Pirates weren’t limited to the area around the Caribbean. In fact, the Pacific Ocean may have had as much pirate activity as anywhere else!

Ile Sainte-Marie off the coast of Madagascar became known as “Pirate Island” because of the many pirates that would stop there for provisions, water, and to wait out the winds needed to sail back to Europe from their thieving off the coast of what is now India.

After one pirate raid preyed upon a ship owned by the Mughal emperor, English and Mughal efforts combined to eliminate piracy in the region, and political and economic changes in the area reduced the reward for pirates by the 1720s.

Pirate Island, Île Sainte-Marie (Google Maps)
Pirate Island, Île Sainte-Marie

Captain William Kidd’s Sunken Ship, Off the Coast of Dominican Republic

The story of Captain William Kidd is the classic, tragic pirate story. He spent time raiding along the coast of Madagascar, acting with tacit authority from the English government to attack ships from certain countries.

When he realized that he was considered a pirate back home in England, he rushed back to the Atlantic in an effort to clear his name. He first stopped at the small Caribbean outpost of Anguilla, hid his ship, treasure and crew and sailed on to New York. There, legend has it, he buried more treasure.

Unfortunately for Kidd, he was captured, convicted of piracy, and executed.

For hundreds of years, people searched both for the rumored buried treasure and his hidden ship. The ship was discovered in 2007 off the coast of the Dominican Republic. It is still being studied and excavated. Sadly, there’s still no word on the buried treasure…

Captain Kidd's Shipwreck discovered near Catalina Island (Google Maps)
Captain Kidd's Shipwreck discovered near Catalina Island

These are just a few of the many exciting, scary, and captivating stories of adventure, intrigue, and murder. Perrrrfect for a day like today, right Matey?


The Best Zoos in the World and around the Corner

June is known as the Great Outdoors Month. It’s the perfect time to have fun doing things outside, and going to a local zoo is one of the easiest, and most entertaining things to do. Nearly every town or city has a zoo, large or small, where people can check out cool animals and have a great time with friends and family. Here are some of the world’s best, and most popular zoos.

Tiergarten Schönbrunn, Vienna, Austria

Operating since 1752, the Tiergarten Zoo within the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna, Austria, is known as the longest-continually operating zoo in the world. In addition to the wide variety of animals from pandas to polar bears and penguins, it has a center for popular and endangered farm animals, highlighting the agricultural way of life so central to Austrian heritage.

Beyond the amazing wildlife, it is a beautiful zoo designed with landscapes and vistas that rival the animals in the enclosures.

Tiergarten Schönbrunn (Vienna Zoo) (Google Maps)
Tiergarten Schönbrunn (Vienna Zoo)

San Diego Zoo, San Diego, California

The San Diego Zoo constantly makes, or tops, lists of the best zoos in the world. It was a leading institution in open-air enclosures, modeling a more natural and healthy way to allow animals to live and thrive in captivity. The exhibits are divided by region, making it educational and more realistic for visitors. The huge zoo has a Skyfari Tram to make getting around easier.

The zoo focuses on breeding endangered animals, including koalas, pandas, Sumatran rhinos, and more. The zoo is also famous for being the site where Jawed Karim filmed the first video ever uploaded to YouTube, fundamentally altering social media and information sharing.

San Diego Zoo (Birds Eye)
San Diego Zoo

National Zoo, Smithsonian, Washington, D.C.

The National Zoo in Washington, D.C. is part of the Smithsonian Institution, and is a rare zoo in that is is free to visitors. The zoo has a reputation for helping endangered animals, and has successfully bred giant pandas several times.

The zoo has several fun activities for guests throughout the year, including Boo at the Zoo, Zoolights around the winter holidays, and Easter Monday, which was an Easter egg event created to counter segregated Easter egg rolls in the first half of the 1900s.

Smithsonian National Zoological Park main entrance (StreetView)
Smithsonian National Zoological Park main entrance

Singapore Zoo, Singapore

Relatively smaller compared to other zoos, the Singapore Zoo on the small island nation of Singapore, is nonetheless known as one of the best zoos in the world. It’s a newer zoo, and was designed in the more animal-friendly style of open, natural enclosures that allow the wildlife to enjoy a better quality of life.

The zoo uses moats, glass walls, trenches and other “hidden barriers” to create a more attractive experience for visitors and a better environment for animals.

Singapore Zoo (Google Maps)
Singapore Zoo

Bronx Zoo, New York, New York

One of the biggest and most visited zoos in the US is the Bronx Zoo.  The zoo was designed with stunning Beaux-Arts structures and ironwork. It is a stunning place to visit, in the heart of the biggest city in the US.

Since its inception in 1899, it has focused on animal conservation. Recently, the zoo helped breed three Chinese alligators, which were released into the wild. The zoo has also worked with endangered rhinos, flamingos, monkeys, and other animals that have been adversely impacted by humans.

Bronx Zoo (StreetView)
Bronx Zoo

Berlin Zoological Garden, Berlin, Germany

Berlin’s premier zoo has been around for close to 200 years. It has one of the most well-developed and varied collection of animals, and is said to have the most species and animals of any other major zoo.

It is one of the most-visited zoos in the world. The zoo focuses on breeding European animals, protecting species from extinction, and working to reintroduce animals to local habitats.

In 2005, the zoo gained international attention when a polar bear was born at the zoo and rejected by his mother. He was raised by zookeepers, and became an international celebrity. Sadly, he passed away in 2011 after drowning in the enclosure while suffering from a brain disease.

Berlin Zoo (entrance) (Birds Eye)
Berlin Zoo (entrance)

Beijing Zoo, Beijing, China

The Beijing Zoo was built on old dynastic grounds, and is the oldest zoo in China. It exhibits on Chinese and Asian wildlife. Giant pandas, red pandas, Chinese tigers and Chinese alligators are some of the rare and endangered species housed at the zoo.

The zoo has a beautiful design, modeled after Chinese gardens with natural growth, ponds and pools, and delicate structures. More than four million visitors walk through the distinctive front gate each year to see the land and marine life, as well as the flora and fauna on display at the Beijing Zoo.

Berlin Zoo (entrance) (Birds Eye)
Berlin Zoo (entrance)

Henry Doorley Zoo, Omaha, Nebraska

It may be a surprise, but the Henry Doorley Zoo in Omaha tops most lists for biggest and best zoo in the world. The city of barely 500,000 is regarded for the zoo, which has a stellar reputation for conservation, education, and research.

It has one of the world’s largest indoor rain forests, the world’s largest swamp and the world’s largest nocturnal exhibit. Just a few years ago, a renowned African grasslands exhibit opened to house several elephants that had been evacuated from southern Africa during an extensive drought. This is just one of many ways the zoo has developed an international reputation for conservation and safe-keeping of all sorts of animals.

Henry Doorly Zoo (Birds Eye)
Henry Doorly Zoo

From around the world to around the corner, these are some amazing zoos! Go check out your local zoo and enjoy nature, wildlife, and just being outside.

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)

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!


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)

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.

Let’s Celebrate Earth Day

It’s Earth Day! Let’s celebrate our planet and work to protect it for the future by taking an environmentally-friendly, virtual tour of some of the most beautiful, breathtaking, and unique places on the planet.

Sequoia National Park

In central California, Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park are home to some of the world’s oldest, and biggest, trees. These sequoia trees, related to the redwoods of northern California, can grow to 250 feet high and 30 feet wide.

The forests are large, cavernous, and quiet. It feel almost hallowed, being among some of the oldest living things on earth. These trees need to be seen to understand their size and massive presence. There are many options to visit the area, you can take a day trip or plan a longer trip, camping or staying in nearby hotels as you take in the remarkable beauty of the large forests.

General Sherman (StreetView)
General Sherman

Amazon River Basin

It wouldn’t be a fitting review of the Earth’s wonders if we didn’t include the Amazon, the world’s second longest river, and largest by volume. It stretches from western South America in Peru, across all of Brazil, and empties into the Atlantic Ocean.

The river, and the surrounding rain forest, are some of the most important lands on the planet. More than three million animal species and 2,500 tree varieties spread across the land. The region provides about 20 percent of the world’s clean water, produces 20 percent of the earth’s clean air, and is the most important carbon sink.

Adventurous travelers can take a guided cruise along the river, or stay in a jungle lodge in the Amazon rain forest. Make sure you pick one that is sustainable and treats the native people, plants, and animals with respect and  consideration.

Amazon River (StreetView)
Amazon River

Mount Danxia, China

As the second largest country on earth, China is certainly going to have some breathtaking sights, and the Danxia range in Guangdong tops the list. Mount Danxia was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010, as part of the overall land form.

The colorful sandstone and conglomerate rocks have been worn in unusual and uneven fashion, leaving jutting columns, interesting holes, and gorgeous naturally-occurring rainbow rock forms. With places named Red Cliff, Sleeping Beauty, and Father Stone, you can tell the place is a unique and breathtaking place to visit.

Mount Danxia (StreetView)
Mount Danxia

Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

One of the largest waterfalls in the world, the amazing Victoria Falls on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, is a truly remarkable site to behold. Rainbows from the massive mist are visible constantly, and during full moons, you can even see a “moonbow”!

More than a mile wide and 354 feet deep, it is a global tourist attraction. There’s a “Devil’s Pond” right near the edge of the falls where brave visitors can take a dip in the Zimbabwe River right at the point of no return.

Visitors often come to the falls as part of a safari, but be sure to plan at least a day or two to take in this most memorable natural wonder.

Victoria Falls (StreetView)
Victoria Falls

Bora Bora

Bora Bora is a small group of islands in the Pacific Ocean that make up part of French Polynesia. The islands formed from now-extinct volcanoes, and jut out of the ocean to more than 2,000 feet high. At the center of the islands is a lagoon created by the volcanoes, which is always calm, peaceful, and breathtakingly beautiful.

The green plant-covered mountains create a stunning contrast to the crystal blue water and brilliant white sand beaches that many consider to be the most beautiful place in the world.

People who visit Bora Bora plan a trip of relaxation in luxury hotels designed to integrate the beauty of the island into every feature of the rooms, stretch out on the gorgeous beaches, and spend lots of time SCUBA diving or snorkeling in the unequaled blue waters. But visitors need to make sure their activity on the island doesn’t negatively impact the island, preventing it from being appreciated for years to come.

Hilton Bora Bora Nui (StreetView)
Hilton Bora Bora Nui

These are just some of the many, many beautiful places around the world. But, you don’t have travel across deserts, mighty rivers, or great mountains to appreciate our planet. Today, and every day, you can step outside, appreciate the world around you, and vow to do something to preserve it for yourself and the future. Happy Earth Day!

2020: So Long, and Farewell

Well, 2020 was a year to remember, to say the least. Let’s take a moment to reflect on the past, so we can put it behind us and really look forward to the future.

Australian Wildfires

The world should have known 2020 would be intense on January 1. Already on that date, Australia was in the middle of one of the worst fire seasons in the country’s history. No region was spared, with 80 percent of the population impacted, more than 500 million animals killed, and 34 people killed.

Fires even threatened urban centers such as Sydney and the capital, Canberra. The smoke was so bad in the capital city that residents were forced indoors and could not enjoy the summer weather at places like the famous Commonwealth Park.

Commonwealth Park (Google Maps)
Commonwealth Park

Impeachment of President Donald Trump

For much of 2019, the US news focused on the pending impeachment of President Trump. In December, the US House of Representatives voted to approve articles of impeachment against the President.

In January 2020, the trial began in the Senate. However, the President was acquitted of all charges, on a nearly party-line vote. Nonetheless, the indictment by the House will serve as a black mark on President Trump’s legacy, and will be one of the biggest stories of 2020.

US Capitol Building (Google Maps)
US Capitol Building

Kobe Bryant

On January 26, 2020, Kobe Bryant boarded a helicopter with his oldest daughter on their way to a basketball camp. Not long after takeoff, the helicopter crashed, killing all nine passengers on board. Bryant’s death shook the nation, as he was only 41, and was still very involved in basketball, charities, and most importantly, being a father to four girls.

Kobe and his family lived in the exclusive Pelican Crest community in Newport Coast. The custom-built house with views of the coast has nearly 16,000 square feet of living space spread out over four floors.

After his death, fans gathered outside the community’s gates and left flowers and other items in a makeshift memorial.

Kobe Bryant's House (Google Maps)
Kobe Bryant's House

Harvey Weinstein

After years of speculation and rumor, Harvey Weinstein was finally charged with committing sex crimes against women in 2018. The trial commenced in January 2020, and on February 24, he was convicted, and later sentenced to 23 years in prison.

For the next 23 years, Harvey Weinstein will call the Wende Correctional Facility in upstate New York his home.

Wende Correctional Facility (Google Maps)
Wende Correctional Facility

Weinstein sold his house in the Hamptons in 2018 for $10 million, less than what he paid for it six years earlier. This is just one of many properties he sold following his arrest.

Harvey Weinstein's House (Former) (Google Maps)
Harvey Weinstein's House (Former)

Covid-19 Pandemic

The thing on everyone’s mind for most of the year has been the spread of Covid-19 throughout the world, causing a global pandemic.

While no one knows where the virus initially started, some of the earliest reported cases spread at or near a wet, or seafood, market in the Chinese city of Wuhan. It was first diagnosed in late winter 2019. Thousands quickly fell sick and many died, indicating the virus was extremely contagious, causing global concern.

Huanan Seafood Market (Google Maps)
Huanan Seafood Market

The virus came to the United States in early 2020, and hit metropolitan centers very hard. New York City was the epicenter of the initial outbreak. The city was so overwhelmed that they even prepared a makeshift hospital at the Javits Convention Center. Fortunately, it was only used for a short time before the first wave subsided in the area.

'Jacob K. Javits Convention Center' by James Freed (Google Maps)
'Jacob K. Javits Convention Center' by James Freed

Death of George Floyd

On May 25, George Floyd was killed while in police custody outside a convenience store in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He had allegedly passed a counterfeit bill.

Site where George Floyd was murdered (StreetView)
Site where George Floyd was murdered

The frustration with Floyd’s murder and continued police brutality and racial discrimination boiled over into massive protests, riots, and demonstrations across the country. Government leaders embraced the protests in many places, including Washington, D.C., where the city renamed the plaza outside the White House as Black Lives Matter Plaza.

"Black Lives Matter - Defund the police" on 16th. Street NW (Google Maps)
"Black Lives Matter - Defund the police" on 16th. Street NW

Beiruit Explosion

In the late afternoon of August 4, a large explosion occurred in downtown Beirut, the capital of Lebanon. The blast was caused by improperly stored ammonium nitrate that had been stored at the city’s port for several years.

The blast was so strong it was felt in neighboring countries, killed at least 204 people, and wounded more than 6,500. It caused more than $15 billion in damage, and both the cleanup and investigations are still ongoing.

Building Explosion, Beirut, Lebanon (4 AUG 2020) (Google Maps)
Building Explosion, Beirut, Lebanon (4 AUG 2020)

Kamala Harris

On August 11, Kamala Harris made history. Joe Biden selected her as his running mate, making her the first African American, first Asian American, and third woman to be a part of a major party presidential ticket. She again made history on November 3, when she and Joe Biden were elected to lead the US for the next four years.

A current Senator for California, she maintains a home in the tony LA neighborhood of Brentwood, as her husband is a famous Hollywood attorney.

Kamala Harris' House (Google Maps)
Kamala Harris' House

West Coast Wildfires

It wasn’t enough that much of Australia was on fire earlier this year; the western US also experienced one of the worst fire seasons on record as well. More than 37 people were killed in fires that spread across California, Oregon, and Washington states.

Fires raged across the west for most of the summer and much of the fall. Fires destroyed thousands of homes, including in Shaver Lake, California, where movies such as Captain America had been filmed.

Shaver Lake ("Captain Marvel") (StreetView)
Shaver Lake ("Captain Marvel")

Alex Trebeck

American game show host Alex Trebek announced in 2018 that he had pancreatic cancer, and passed away on November 8, 2020 from the disease. The 80 year old had become a beloved American cultural icon as the host of Jeopardy! He hosted the show for 37 years.

Trebek and his wife had a 10,000 square foot mansion in Los Angeles, but his wealth and fame didn’t stop him from doing everyday things like taking out the trash, which he was seen doing on a regular basis, even when he was fighting cancer.

Trebek set an example for all to follow. In a pre-recorded show that aired after his death, Trebek gave words of encouragement for the world, saying “There are more and more people extending helpful hands to do a kindness to their neighbors, and that’s a good thing.. Keep the faith. We’re going to get through all this and we are going to be a better society because of it.”

Alex Trebek's House (Google Maps)
Alex Trebek's House

Covid-19 Vaccines are Rolled Out

In what might be a sign that 2021 will be better than 2020, multiple vaccines for the Covid-19 virus were approved for use in the US and other countries in December.

On December 10th, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave “emergency use authorization” to Pfizer’s vaccine, and on December 18th, they gave the same authorization to Moderna’s vaccine. These two vaccines will help people all over the world by giving them immunity to Covid-19.

The work at the FDA in 2020 has been a bright spot in what has otherwise been a difficult year for many.

Food and Drug Administration (Google Maps)
Food and Drug Administration

Here’s to hoping the vaccines will help and that Alex Trebek was right and that 2021 will be more rewarding, and less newsworthy, than 2020. Happy New Year!


International Assassinations!

Murder has always been a common method of taking out enemies, whether it be a personal rival or political foe. When the murder is planned out in advance and executed in cold blood, it’s often referred to as an assassination.

Here are some of the most interesting and notorious international murders in history.

Franz Ferdinand-Sarajevo, Bosnia

While all deaths are tragic, the death of Archduke Franz Ferdinand at the hands of a separatist assassin actually led to a world war and the deaths of more than 16 million people.

On June 28, 1914, the Archduke and his wife were traveling in Sarajevo, in the province of Bosnia-Herzegovina when a member of the Black Hand separatist group attempted to murder them with a grenade, which failed. Later in the day, they were riding to visit some victims when their driver got lost and drove into an ambush where the Archduke and his wife were shot and killed by another member of the group. The incident led to a series of treaties being called into force, leading to all the major countries of Europe and eventually the United States in the most destructive war the world had ever seen.

Where WWI started - Franz Ferdinand assassination (Google Maps)
Where WWI started - Franz Ferdinand assassination

Thomas Becket-Canterbury Cathedral, England

Thomas Becket was a British nobleman and eventually Chancellor to King Henry II. He was so trusted by the king that when the Archbishop of Canterbury died, he appointed Becket as the new Archbishop even though Becket wasn’t even a priest! However, Becket took his religious calling seriously and refused to bend the will of the church to that of the king, who eventually allegedly called for him to be assassinated.

On December 29, 1170, four knights of the king’s service approached Becket in Canterbury Cathedral and stabbed him to death. After his murder, religious followers throughout England and Europe began to venerate him and he was canonized a saint in 1173. Pilgrims and well-wishers can visit Canterbury Cathedral, although Becket’s bones were destroyed by King Henry VIII.

Canterbury Cathedral (Bing Maps)
Canterbury Cathedral

Gandhi-New Dehli, India

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born in 1869 in India, and while living abroad in South Africa, became an activist for civil rights. He led India’s movement for independence from Great Britain using only nonviolent means, and in 1947, the country was granted its independence. However, many people felt his methods were too accommodating to Great Britain and Pakistan during the post-liberation negotiations.

Gandhi was shot three times by Nathuram Godse in New Dehli on January 30, 1948. He died immediately or nearly immediately, and the entire country mourned his death. Over two million attended his funeral procession. The site of his death was turned into a memorial so that the country could continue to pay their respects to their country’s liberator.

The Martyr's Column (assassination of Mahatma Gandhi) (Google Maps)
The Martyr's Column (assassination of Mahatma Gandhi)

Caesar-Rome, Italy

“Beware the Ides of March” is an old saying that warns of bad things happening in the near future. According to legend, Julius Caesar, the first dictator of ancient Rome, was given this warning from a seer, foretelling he would be dead before the day was over. As Caesar made his way toward the Senate, a group of his friends and peers who were upset with his recent power grabs accosted him and stabbed him 23 times.

As Caesar was stabbed, he is said to have remarked to his favorite protege and follower “et tu, Brute?” meaning, “You too, Brutus?”. Once he realized that even his faithful follower had betrayed him, he surrendered to his fate.

Caesar’s murder was one of the most famous, and most impactful in history, as it led to an entire change in the political direction of the Roman Empire.

Julius Caesar's Murder Site (Google Maps)
Julius Caesar's Murder Site

Pope John Paul II-St. Peter’s Square, Vatican

Pope John Paul II was a very popular and well-regarded leader of the Catholic faith from 1978-2005. He was born in Poland in 1920, and grew up under Nazi rule in Warsaw. Through the years, he was elevated in the ranks of the Catholic Church, eventually becoming elected Pope in 1978 after the untimely death of Pope John Paul I.

On May 13, 1981, he was entering St. Peter’s Square in an open vehicle, greeting the crowd when a lone gunman Mehmet Ali Agca shot him three times, severely wounding him. However, apparently the man of God was watched over that day, because he survived the attack and even forgave his shooter. No concrete motive or theory could explain the shooting.

St. Peter's Square (Google Maps)
St. Peter's Square

One significant result of the shooting was that from then on, the Pope nearly always traveled in a specially designed vehicle that allowed the leader to be visible to his followers while protected by bulletproof glass. Because of the unique design, the vehicle was nicknamed the “Popemobile” and it traveled with the leader wherever he went in the world.

Popemobile of 2016 (StreetView)
Popemobile of 2016

If nothing else, these tragic murders (and attempted murder) show that these crimes happen for mundane, random and insane reasons, and can have impacts that literally change the course of the world.

Beautiful Places Around the World We Can Enjoy from Our Living Room

While most of us are practicing social distancing, now is a good time to take a virtual tour of some of the most beautiful natural wonders around the world.

Mystic Falls, Yellowstone

Mystic Falls in Yellowstone National Park is just one of hundreds of breathtaking sites to see in the park. It is a 70-foot waterfall that can be reached by a short 1.2 mile hike in the Upper Geyser Basin. The waterfall cascades down the mountain canyon, providing a beautiful and calming view for those who reach the destination.

For those hiking in real life, take the clockwise route to take advantage of the easier slope and to enjoy a dramatic reveal of the falls when you reach your destination.

Mystic Falls (StreetView)
Mystic Falls

Uluru, Australia

Uluru, formerly known as Ayers Rock by non-indigenous Australians, is a massive rock formation that juts up nearly 3,000 feet from the surrounding area. It is sacred to the Aboriginal people, and is one of Australia’s most famous landmarks. The formation is nearly five miles around, and is a great tourist destination.

Visitors will be in awe of the rock’s beauty and how it appears to glow red at sunrise and sunset, and change colors throughout the day.

Uluru / Ayers Rock (Google Maps)
Uluru / Ayers Rock

Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe and Zambia

Flowing from the Zambezi River is Victoria Falls, named in honor of Queen Victoria of Great Britain. The waterfall is considered the largest in the world because of its combined width and height, though it is neither the single widest or tallest waterfall.

The waterfall is dramatic because of the vast plateau that extends for hundreds of miles in every direction. The falls rest on the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia, and serves as a symbol of how nature’s beauty cannot be contained to any one country.

Mosi-oa Tunya / Victoria Falls (Google Maps)
Mosi-oa Tunya / Victoria Falls

Grand Canyon, Arizona

The Grand Canyon in the southern United States is one of the largest, and most breathtaking, canyons in the world. It has been carved by the Colorado River over two billion years, and visitors are impressed that the small, muddy river has created something so vast and beautiful.

Visitors to the Grand Canyon National Park can hike into the valleys and walk along crests and ridges to take pictures of some of the most impressive views of nature’s slow and steady progress.

Grand Canyon (Google Maps)
Grand Canyon

Lake Como

Lake Como in Italy is famous for being a vacation spot for the rich and famous, but it’s no wonder people flock to its shores, because it is one of the most beautiful and peaceful places on Earth. The lake was formed by glacier activity, and the mountain lake retains some feel of ancient, more peaceful times.

Villas and small villages dot the lake’s perimeter, adding to the quaint, delicate feel of the region that immediately invites visitors to relax, settle in and become part of the surroundings.

View of Lake Como from Castello di Vezio (StreetView)
View of Lake Como from Castello di Vezio

Mount Everest

No list of Earth’s amazing locations would be complete without a mention of Mount Everest, the largest mountain in the world, nestled in the beautiful Himalayan mountain range. It peaks at nearly 9,000 feet, making it as remote as you can get on the surface of the Earth.

In the last century, climbing the mountain has become a goal of endurance climbers, celebrities, and people looking to break down barriers; but most of us just look at the icy wonder in amazement and appreciate the pristine beauty of the tallest peak in the world.

Mount Everest (Google Maps)
Mount Everest

These are just a few of the beautiful places on Earth that we can all enjoy from indoors, and soon we’ll be out and about enjoying the beautiful scenery closer to home.

This Month in History: February

February may be the shortest month, but it’s still packed with history. Let’s look at some of the important things that have happened in Februaries past.

February 4: Charles Lindbergh is Born

Charles Lindbergh, the world famous pilot of the 1920s, was born in Detroit, Michigan on February 4, 1902. As a small child he moved to Little Falls, Minnesota, where he developed his interest in mechanics and flying.

Charles A. Lindbergh Childhood Home (StreetView)
Charles A. Lindbergh Childhood Home

Lindbergh became famous when, at 25, he flew from Long Island, New York to Paris, France, without stopping. The flight propelled Lindbergh into the national spotlight.

In 1932, his young child, Charles Lindbergh Jr., was kidnapped for ransom and found murdered several weeks later, in what was called the “Crime of the Century”. The murder changed the Lindbergh family, who temporarily moved to Europe for safety and privacy, and remained out out the spotlight as much as possible.

Lindbergh kidnapping home (Birds Eye)
Lindbergh kidnapping home

February 6: Aaron Burr is Born

Aaron Burr was born on February 6, 1756. He was a decorated war hero, lawyer, senator and even vice president. But what he’s famous for is being a participant in the most famous duel in American history.

Burr was born in Newark New Jersey, attended Princeton University, and then enlisted in the Continental Army at the start of the war. He became a national hero, and rode that fame to a political career that peaked with him serving as Thomas Jefferson’s vice president.

However, after years of personal feuding, Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr fought in a duel on July 11, 1804, where Burr killed Hamilton. He was never prosecuted for the murder, and served out his term as vice president before receding from the national spotlight and dying in relative obscurity in 1836.

Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr - site of fatal duel (Bing Maps)
Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr - site of fatal duel

February 11: Nelson Mandela is Freed from Prison

Nelson Mandela (1918-2012) was an anti-apartheid and revolutionary fighter in South Africa, who worked for equal rights his entire life. His radical work, including promoting armed conflict in the fight against apartheid, led to a life sentence in prison, where he continued working for equality.

He served 18 years in the prison on Robben Island, which has been turned into a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Robben Island (Google Maps)
Robben Island

Visitors can see the cell as it would have looked when Mandela lived there.

Nelson Mandela's Cell (Robben Island) (StreetView)
Nelson Mandela's Cell (Robben Island)

After 27 years, much international attention, and even sanctions against the government for their racist policies, the South African President released Mandela on February 11, 1990. Mandela went on to become the first black president of South Africa and a global advocate of equality and human rights.

February 12: President Clinton Acquitted in the Senate

This historical event seems fresh in the minds of many Americans, as Congress again deliberates whether to impeach and remove a sitting president. After a lengthy investigation by a special prosecutor and impeachment by the House of Representatives in December 1998.

The case then went to the Senate, where the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court presided over the proceedings. Over the next few weeks, senators considered all the facts laid out on the charges. On February 12, 1999 the Senate voted on the charges: Whether the president had committed perjury and whether he had obstructed justice. Both votes did not reach the two thirds threshold required to remove President Clinton from office.

He served out his term in relative popularity, but has never outlived the reputation of having been impeached, even though he was not convicted.

US Capitol (StreetView)
US Capitol

February 14: St. Valentine’s Day Massacre

During the 1920s, Prohibition Era gangsters ruled the cities of New York and Chicago. The likes of Al Capone and other gangsters fought for control of the lucrative alcohol markets and often resorted to violence. On February 14, 1929, seven men associated with the North Side gang were assassinated in broad daylight in Chicago by four men, including two dressed as police officers.

While the crimes were never solved, it was assumed that Al Capone and the Chicago police were involved in the murder to gain the upper hand in the underground alcohol market and as payback for a murdered son of a police officer.

Site of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre (Google Maps)
Site of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre

February 20: John Glenn Orbits the Earth

During the 1960s, the United States and the Soviet Union were in a tight race to see who could escape the confines of the Earth, and the Soviets were off to a head start. The United States worked hard to catch up, and in 1962, NASA launched John Glenn into space from their pad at Cape Canaveral. He was the first American to orbit Earth, and did so three times before returning safely, and upon reentry he became a national hero.

Cape Canaveral Complex 14 (Google Maps)
Cape Canaveral Complex 14

February 22 George Washington is Born

On February 22, 1732, George Washington was born to a prominent Virginia family. While his family was elated at his birth, no one could have known that the baby born that winter day would someday change history.

George Washington's Boyhood Home (Birds Eye)
George Washington's Boyhood Home

Washington rose to prominence in the Virginia militia and was called upon when the colonies revolted against the British. His military and political acumen helped win independence from Britain. Later, he became the first president of the new country, the United States of America. He retired to Mount Vernon, his plantation outside Alexandria Virginia.

George Washington's Mount Vernon Plantation (Birds Eye)
George Washington's Mount Vernon Plantation

His birthday is commemorated each year on the third Monday in February, and is called President’s Day or Washington’s Birthday. It’s the least a grateful nation could do to honor their first and perhaps greatest leader.

So many important, and world-changing, events have taken place in February, and there’s no doubt that important things are taking place even now that will shape the future of our world.