October 8 Bond. James Bond.

The latest installment of the James Bond series, No Time to Die, comes to US theaters on October 8 after three Covid-related delays, and it’s certain to be worth the wait. Daniel Craig leading up the cast for the fifth, and final, time. In honor of the film, let’s take a look at where some of the most exciting and memorable scenes have taken place.

MI6 Headquarters

MI6 is the nickname of the super spy agency, Secret Intelligence Service. Its headquarters in Vauxhall, in London, is a mainstay in the James Bond series plots. It is where Bond works with his supervisor, M, and the super cool research agent Q, who constantly creates amazing spy tools, fast cars, and other gadgets to help Bond always gain the upper hand.

MI6/SIS headquarters (StreetView)
MI6/SIS headquarters

Dr. No’s Lair, Crab Key, Jamaica, Featured in Dr. No

The first James Bond film, Dr. No, was filmed largely onsite in Jamaica. The evil villain Dr. No has a secret lair in Crab Key island, where he tries to use radiation and other tools to try to start a war between the Americans and Russians. Fortunately, Bond is able to overpower the evil scientist and avert a third world war. And at the end of the day, he has a new love interest, of course.

007 Dr. No's Crab Key Island (Google Maps)
007 Dr. No's Crab Key Island

Fort Knox, Kentucky, Featured in Goldfinger

In the third installment of the series, James Bond discovers an evil man running a global gold smuggling ring. Bond tracks Goldfinger, for whom  the film is named, to Fort Knox in Kentucky. Here, Bond fights the evil villain who is trying to rob the gold depository. Bond, along with the troops stationed at Fort Knox, were able to save the day. Later, Bond and Goldfinger fight on an airplane and Goldfinger is tragically sucked out the window to his death before Bond ends the film stranded in the water with the beautiful Pussy Galore.

Fort Knox, U.S. Bullion Depository (Birds Eye)
Fort Knox, U.S. Bullion Depository

Himeji Castle in Japan, Featured in You Only Live Twice

In the fifth Bond film, James Bond is investigating the mystery of a hijacked American spacecraft. Clues lead Bond to Japan, where he crosses the islands on the tail of another SPECTRE villain. On the way, Bond encounters ninjas training at Himeji Castle, which is the largest and most popular castle in the country. Eventually, Bond discovers a secret SPECTRE lair inside a volcano and prevents the US from launching nuclear weapons at the USSR.

Himeji Castle (StreetView)
Himeji Castle

Pyramids of Giza, Featured in The Spy Who Loved Me

In The Spy Who Loved Me, Bond is paired with a Russian spy to track down a missing submarine stolen by an evil businessman and scientist Karl Stromberg. The team travels across Egypt, including to the Pyramids of Giza, as they track down the scientist and search for answers about the submarine. Stromberg wants to start World War III and create an underwater world, but Bond and his Russian spy partner work together and are able to avert nuclear war and kill Stromberg.

Pyramids of Giza (Google Maps)
Pyramids of Giza

The Demilitarized Zone, Featured in Die Another Day

Die Another Day starts with Bond infiltrating a North Korean military base to uncover information about conflict diamonds. He is captured and held as a prisoner by the North Koreans until was to be traded in a prisoner exchange at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea. Eventually, Bond tracks the evil villain back to the DMZ. There, it’s revealed the villain, Graves is secretly a North Korean Colonel who is planning to cut a path through the DMZ to allow North Korean troops to invade South Korea. After a high-stakes fight on an airplane, Bond kills the villain and once again saves the day and the world.

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

Lake Como, Italy, Featured in Casino Royale

Daniel Craig made his Bond debut in Casino Royale in 2006, and has been the lead in the series ever since. In Casino Royale, Bond travels across Europe playing high-stakes poker and other risky games to track down a man intent on using a planned terrorist attack to make a fortune. After averting disaster but losing his lover, Vesper Lynd, in the process, Bond tracks the evil villain Mr. White to a house in lovely Lake Como, Italy. There, he shoots the villain in the leg and introduces himself as “Bond. James Bond”.

James Bond's House (Casino Royale) (Bing Maps)
James Bond's House (Casino Royale)

Westminster Bridge, London, Featured in Spectre

In the 2015 Bond film Spectre, Bond goes rogue to avenge the death of M, and find a reason for all the suffering he has endured. From Mexico to Austria, to Morocco, Bond is on the trail of SPECTRE once again, only to end up back in London. There, it is revealed SPECTRE is attempting to infiltrate MI6 itself, and only Bond and his trusted team can stop it. After preventing a major catastrophe and murder of his newfound female companion, Bond must fight one more battle against Blofeld, the founder of SPECTRE. Bond bravely shoots down Blofeld’s helicopter, which crashes into London’s Westminster Bridge. Bond ensures Blofeld is arrested, and then leaves with the lovely Swann. He has saved the day once again.

Westminster Bridge (Birds Eye)
Westminster Bridge

Bond has traveled the world countless times as he’s saved the world from nuclear attack, avoided World War III, and prevented terrorists from seizing control of national intelligence, gold supplies, and more. It’s going to be a wild ride from the start in Bond’s newest film No Time to Die, premiering in the US on November 20, 2020.

 

 

 

 

 

The US Open Tennis Championship

The US Open Tennis Championship has been in full swing for nearly two weeks now, and it will wrap up later this week.

As these amazing athletes compete on the court for the last of the annual Grand Slams, let’s take a look at the venues, people, and history involved in one of tennis’s greatest, and most historical, events.

USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, NY

The fourth, and final, Grand Slam, is held annually at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, New York. There are a total of 22 courts among three stadiums, which are among the largest-capacity in the world. The Arthur Ashe Stadium is the largest tennis stadium in the world, and even features a retractable roof.

The tennis center is named after famed tennis champion and female tennis advocate Billie Jean King. She has long been considered one of the best female tennis athletes of all time.

USTA National Tennis Center (Google Maps)
USTA National Tennis Center

International Tennis Hall of Fame, RI

In 1881, the first national tennis competition in the United States was held at the Newport Casino in Rhode Island. Contrary to what the name implies, the facility was designed as an athletic center for well-to-do residents, rather than a gambling facility.

The nation-wide tennis event was held here until 1914, when the event moved elsewhere. In 1954, the building was turned into the Tennis Hall of Fame. The hall includes 252 inducted members, from 23 countries.

There is a museum dedicated to the game of tennis, retelling the history of tennis from its medieval, royal starts, to today, as well as memorabilia and other interesting exhibits. Fitting in with the modern age, these exhibits are accessible virtually, as well as in person.

International Tennis Hall of Fame (Google Maps)
International Tennis Hall of Fame

Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne, AU

The professional tennis season has started with the Australian Open in January or February nearly every year since 1905. The event has been hosted in several Australian cities, and even in New Zealand, but since 1972, it’s been hosted in Melbourne.

It boasts the highest attendance of the four grand slams, with more than 800,000 attending in 2020, and has been held at the Melbourne Park since 1988. The Rod Laver Arena is the largest of the courts, named after a three-time Australian Open winner and world-renowned player. The stadium was the first tennis stadium to have a retractable roof, for indoor play in hot or wet conditions.

Rod Laver Arena (Birds Eye)
Rod Laver Arena

Roland Garros, Paris, FR

The French Open, officially called “Roland-Garros” after famed French aviator Roland Garros, is held in May each year. Roland-Garros is played at the eponymous stadium Rolland-Garros in Paris. The tournament is known as the most difficult of the Grand Slams because it is played on clay, which makes the game more challenging, and because it requires more rounds to the championship, and other reasons.

The now-unique clay court was once a common feature of tennis courts. The courts at Roland-Garros are actually limestone covered with a thin, hard-packed layer of crushed brick, which mimics the natural clay court well without the drawbacks of the old style. The red courts are a hallmark of the tournament, and are important to the identity of the meet.

Roland Garros (Google Maps)
Roland Garros

Wimbedon, London, GB

On the heels of the French Open comes Wimbeldon, the oldest and most prestigious tennis championship. Officially called the “Championships, Wimbledon”, the event is unique because it is the only one of the Grand Slams still played on grass.

The event takes place in late June and early July, and is held at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, in Wimbledon, an area of London. Players must follow a strict all-white dress code, and spectators often dress up. The event has the added prestige of royal attendants, as many members of the British royal family enjoy watching the sport. Prince William and his wife Kate love to attend the event.

The stadium installed retractable roofs in 2009, to allow athletes to compete in inclimate weather, which is a great feature considering the summer weather in England can be rainy.

All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club (Google Maps)
All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club

Tennis has a long, and formal history. Knowing a little more about where it came from, and where the athletes compete these days, makes the fast-paced, aggressive sport even more exciting and engaging. Game, Set, Match!

The Tokyo Olympics, Late But Still Great

Last March, Covid-19 spread throughout the world, bringing everything to a standstill. Even the Summer Olympics in Tokyo were delayed.

The world is reemerging from a yearlong hibernation, and we are finally having the 2020 summer games. They will run July 23 to August 8, and will be a much-needed celebration of sport and life, and a great distraction for the entire world.

The Paralympics, the international sports competitions for athletes with disabilities will follow on in Tokyo and Japan from August 24 to September 5.

Let’s take a look at some of the important locations for this year’s competition.

Temple of Hera, Olympia, Greece

In ancient times, a flame was kept burning during the Olympic games as a symbol to honor the gods. In modern times, the flame has become a symbol of the competitive spirit of the games.

The flame is lit at the Temple of Hera, at the ancient temple site in Olympia, Greece. The temple is the oldest of the temples on the grounds, and has been restored somewhat after an earthquake struck the area nearly two thousand years ago.

A few months in advance of the games, women representing the vestal virgins who once presided over the temple light a flame using a parabolic mirror, marking the countdown to the Olympics.

Ruins of Olympia (site of the ancient Olympic Games) (Google Maps)
Ruins of Olympia (site of the ancient Olympic Games)

Nahara, Fukushima, Japan

In March 2020, the flame was already on its procession in Japan when the games were cancelled. The flame was stored in the National Stadium, waiting to continue the journey.

Exactly one year later than scheduled, the journey began again. The first destination in Japan held great significance, as Fukushima is one of the areas hardest hit by the devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck the country in 2011.

The flame traveled across Japan, and the lighting of the cauldron in the Tokyo National Stadium was an important part of the opening ceremony on July 23.

Fukushima-Daini nuclear powerplant (Google Maps)
Fukushima-Daini nuclear powerplant

National Stadium, Tokyo, Japan

The National Stadium in downtown Tokyo was entirely rebuilt in anticipation of the summer games, at a cost of $1.4 billion. It was designed with traditional Japanese architecture in mind, and has both metal and wood throughout, including wood from all 47 prefectures in the country. It can hold 68,000 people, and has a partially-covered roof, as well as live plants built into the actual structure.

The stadium will be used for the opening and closing ceremonies, as well as  track and field, women’s soccer finals, and other events. This is the center of the games, and from the opening ceremony to the end of the closing events, it will be here that the Olympic flame will burn.

Olympic Stadium - Tokyo (Google Maps)
Olympic Stadium - Tokyo

Yoyogi National Gymnasium, Tokyo, Japan

Japan hosted the 1964 Olympics, and built several sports facilities for the events. The Yoyogi National Gymnasium was revolutionary when it was built, and still sticks out today with its famous suspension roof.

The arena can hold about 13, 000 spectators, and hosts concerts, as well as hockey, futsal, and basketball events. This summer, the handball events will be played here.

Yoyogi National Gymnasium (StreetView)
Yoyogi National Gymnasium

Sapporo Dome, Sapporo, Japan

While the games are centered in the capital city, events are spread around the country both to promote the best experience for the athletes and to bring the games to the people of Japan. Soccer games in particular will be played around the country.

Preliminary soccer games will be held in the Sapporo Dome, in Sapporo, in northern Japan. The stadium is used for both soccer and basketball games, and was a venue for the 2002 men’s FIFA World Cup.

Sapporo Dome (Google Maps)
Sapporo Dome

Nippon Budokan, Tokyo, Japan

Another legacy stadium from the 1964 Olympics is the Nippon Budokan, which was built to host the judo competitions. Since then, the venue has been used to host many martial arts competitions (“budokan” translates into “martial arts hall”). But perhaps the most famous entertainment was when the Beatles performed there in 1966.

This year, judo and karate competitions will be held here, similar to the 1964 Olympics.

Nippon Budokan (StreetView)
Nippon Budokan

Tokyo Big Sight, Tokyo, Japan

The Tokyo International Convention Center, known as the “Big Sight” is a large convention and expo center in the harbor area of Tokyo. The structure is a distinctive feature in the Tokyo skyline, with the eight-story inverted four pyramid conference tower topping off the building.

The Big Sight will be the dedicated media center for the Tokyo Olympics, hosting broadcasts, press events, and the media for the games.

Tokyo Big Sight (Google Maps)
Tokyo Big Sight

Fukushima Azuma Baseball Stadium, Fukushima, Japan

Japan is a baseball-crazy country, which is why the sport has been brought back for the competition in 2021. Some of the first games will be played at the Fukushima Azuma Baseball Stadium, which was built in 1986 and can hold up to 30,000 people.

The location was chosen to honor the region, still recovering from the earthquake and tsunami a decade ago.

Fukushima Azuma Baseball Stadium (Google Maps)
Fukushima Azuma Baseball Stadium

Yokohama Stadium, Yokohama, Japan

After some preliminary rounds are played in Fukushima, the remainder of the baseball and softball competition will take place in the Yokohama Stadium, in Yokohama, which is just outside Tokyo.

The stadium, which holds about 35,000 spectators, will be a prominent feature for Japanese viewers of the games, as they tune into see their home team compete against the world on their soil.

Yokohama Stadium (Google Maps)
Yokohama Stadium

There is no substitute for the excitement and magic that surround the Olympics. The amazing opening ceremony will introduce Japan to the world, with their unique culture, music, history, and style on display.

The athletes will represent their nations in friendly competition on a world stage. The closing ceremonies will highlight the friendships made, the victories achieved, and then at the end, it will introduce the world to the next summer Olympic host: Paris.

And at the end of it all, the flame will go out.

Until 2024.

July’s Deep Dive into History: Russia’s Last Czar

Czar Nicholas II of Russia and his family met a tragic end on July 17, 1918, when they were executed by Bolshevik revolutionaries in an effort to quell any potential uprising in support of the Czar and his family.

On this historic date, let’s take a look back at the life and death of the last Czar of Russia.

Alexander Palace, St. Petersburg, Russia

Nicholas was born on May 18, 1868 in the Alexander Palace, outside St. Petersburg. He was the heir-apparent to the third-largest empire in history, spanning three continents and including more than 125 million people.

The Alexander Palace was built by Catherine the Great for her favorite grandson. Czar Nicholas and his family loved the palace, and it was one of their preferred residences.

After Nicholas abdicated the throne, the family resided here until they were moved to their final residence in Yekaterinburg.

Alexander Palace (Google Maps)
Alexander Palace

Livadia Palace, Livadiya, Crimea

The Romanov dynasty owned estates across the empire, including an estate in Livadiya, Crimea in present day Ukraine. It was in a palace here that Nicholas’s father died, and Nicholas was consecrated as Czar Nicholas II.

The czar broke ground on a new palace in 1909. The family spent many of their summers at the new palace, which had 116 rooms, and an exterior structure with four unique facades, all made of Crimean limestone with marble features.

The palace was later the site of the important Yalta Conference that helped map out the post-war landscape between the Allied victors at the end of World War II.

Livadia Palace (Google Maps)
Livadia Palace

Dormition Cathedral, Moscow, Russia

For 350 years, the Dormition Cathedral inside the Kremin in Moscow was the site of the coronation of Russian monarchs. Nicholas was crowned czar of Russia on May 26, 1896. His coronation was the last.

The next day, during a celebration set for the people of Moscow, nearly 1,000 people were killed due to poor crowd control. That night, Nicholas and his wife Alexandra, were obligated to attend a formal gala, but the people of Moscow resented the action and never forgave their new czar for his perceived disregard for their suffering.

Dormition Cathedral (Google Maps)
Dormition Cathedral

Winter Palace, St. Petersburg, Russia

The Winter Palace in St. Petersburg was the official palace of the Russian Czar for nearly two hundred years. It was designed and built in the 1750s, and was a massive, impressive palace fit for the large empire arriving on the national stage.

The palace is reported to have 1,500 rooms, 1,800 doors, and nearly 2,000 windows. It is more than 500 feet long and 100 feet high.

By the time Nicholas II was Czar, the palace was reserved for formal events, due to security concerns. Czar Alexander II had been shot nearby and passed away in the palace, and after that, the Romanov family didn’t feel safe there.

Even though the royal family did not live in the palace, it was still the symbol of imperialism that the Bolsheviks fought against, and it was the site of several riots.

Winter Palace (Google Maps)
Winter Palace

Birthplace of Rasputin, Tyumen, Siberia

Nicholas and Alexandra had four daughters, and finally, in 1904, a son. Alexi was born with hemophilia, a blood disorder that left him at risk of severe bleeding from minor injuries. Alexandra especially sought to help Alexi, and reached out to anyone peddling a cure.

Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin, a Siberian peasant and self-proclaimed holy man, found his way into the Czarina’s good graces. He came from Tyumen, a small village in Siberia, the cold central region of Russia.

Pokrovskoye - Rasputin's place of birth (Google Maps)
Pokrovskoye - Rasputin's place of birth

Murder Site, Moika Palace, St. Petersburg, Russia

Yekaterinburg (Google Maps)
Yekaterinburg

As Alexi’s health continued to worsen, Alexandra relied more and more on the healer. Many people, including several nobles, resented this influence at a time when the Czarina was largely ruling the country.

A group of men conspired to murder Rasputin. According to lore, on December 30, 1916, he was poisoned, poisoned again, and shot three times at point blank, but only succumbed to his injuries after being dropped into a freezing river with his hands tied.

No matter, he did die that night, at the Moika Palace. The noble family who owned the palace were incredibly wealthy, and owned more than 40,000 works of art, including works by Rembrandt and other famous artists. The home is now a museum, so visitors with a sense of history, or a morbid curiosity, can take a tour of a famous crime scene.

Moika Palace - Rasputin's place of death (Google Maps)
Moika Palace - Rasputin's place of death

Murder Site of the Romanov Family, Yekaterinburg, Russia

As Russia exited World War I, beaten, broke, and divided, political unrest overtook the country. The czar and his family were targeted by the powerful Bolsheviks, who advocated a policy that was later labeled communism.

Nicholas abdicated the throne and fled with his family, first to the Alexander Palace. They eventually ended up in Yekaterinburg, a thousand miles from Moscow.

In the early morning of July 17, 1918, the family was woken up and taken to the basement of the house. There, they were met with a firing squad. Because the women had sewn jewels into their clothes, it took several shots for them to die, dragging out the scene tragically.

Yekaterinburg (Google Maps)
Yekaterinburg

Burial Site, Yekaterinburg, Russia

Shortly thereafter, the bodies were buried in an unmarked grave nearby. It wasn’t until 1979 that some of the bodies were discovered. The remaining two were discovered in 1998. Genetic testing on the family members proved conclusively that the remains were the Romanov family and their trusted servants.

Romanov (Tsar Nicholas II) family former burial site (Google Maps)
Romanov (Tsar Nicholas II) family former burial site

Final Resting Place, Peter and Paul Cathedral, St. Petersburg, Russia

After more than 75 years of communist rule, the Soviet government collapsed. This and many other events have led to a restored reputation of Nicholas and his family. They have been interred in the Peter and Paul Cathedral alongside nearly every other great Russian monarch.

The family have also been recognized as saints in the Russian Orthodox Church.

Romanov (Tsar Nicholas II) family former burial site (Google Maps)
Romanov (Tsar Nicholas II) family former burial site

Nicholas, while he was widely regarded as a weak leader, was a wonderful father and husband. He loved his family, did everything he could to protect them, and looked out for their comfort and safety until the very last moments of their lives. No matter his governing, he will be remembered for doing his best for his loved ones.

Perfect Places for a Destination Wedding

June is wedding month, and nothing says love like a destination wedding.

Let’s take a look at some of the most gorgeous, romantic, and awesome places you can tie the knot!

Four Seasons Bora Bora

If you’re going for a high-end, picture-perfect beach wedding that no one will ever forget, you can’t go wrong with the Four Seasons Bora Bora! Considered one of the most beautiful places on earth, the Pacific island is perfect for an intimate wedding and honeymoon, or a grand celebration of love with your friends and family.

The Four Seasons was completed in 2009, and has established a wonderful reputation as a five-star resort where all your needs are catered to and every experience is perfect. But, it does come with a hefty price tag, since even the simplest bungalow at the resort will set you back a few thousand dollars a night. But it’s worth it to get married in paradise, right?

Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora (Google Maps)
Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora

Tunnel of Love, Las Vegas, NV

If Bora Bora’s perfection doesn’t appeal, or isn’t in your budget, you can always head to Las Vegas. With plenty of Elvis impersonators ready to marry you, or just serenade the happy couple, it’s a memorable place to say “I do”.

The Little White Chapel has been marrying people for at least seventy years, and has married the likes of Britney Spears, Frank Sinatra,Judy Garland, Michael Jordan, and about 800,000 other happy couples.

They have even tapped the market of express weddings. If your wedding is just a stop on the way to the destination, you can get hitched at the Tunnel of Love.

Tunnel of Love: Drive-thru Wedding Chapel (Birds Eye)
Tunnel of Love: Drive-thru Wedding Chapel

Hotel Ritz, Paris, France

Paris is known as the world’s most romantic city, so a destination wedding to the City of Lights is perfect. The Hotel Ritz in downtown Paris is known as one of the world’s most luxurious hotels, and has been since it was created in 1898. It was one of the first hotels in Europe to have electricity, indoor, in-suite bathrooms, and in-room telephones.

With marble, gold, and crystal finishings, this hotel is pure elegance. If your heart is set on an unforgettable, chic, and elegant wedding and reception, and you can afford the best Paris has to offer, you should book the Ritz for your destination wedding.

Hôtel Ritz Paris (Google Maps)
Hôtel Ritz Paris

Kinnity Castle, Ireland

Ireland has a long reputation of being a romantic, idyllic country that evokes feelings of love, happiness, and peace. Kinnity Castle in central Ireland was originally built nearly a thousand years ago. It has been destroyed and rebuilt and added onto over the centuries, and is a romantic, magical place for a couple in love.

The four star hotel loves to host weddings and receptions, with a view that will take your breathe away. The wedding photos will be phenomenal with a gothic castle, green hills, and gorgeous blue sky to accent the happy couple. The evening ceremony and reception will be unforgettable with fine china, candles flickering, and gorgeous stone walls to emphasize the momentous day.

If you want to start your union with the luck of the Irish, Kinnity Castle should be your destination.

Kinnity Castle (Google Maps)
Kinnity Castle

Biltmore Estate, North Carolina

If you love the idea of a castle wedding, but want to get married in the United States, you should put the Biltmore Estate on your list. Constructed for American “royalty” George Vanderbilt, it remains the country’s largest private residence.

Couples are able to reserve space in one of the many ballrooms, reception rooms, or outside venues across the estate’s 8,000 acres. Some have an elegant and stated feel, while others highlight the mountain setting while still providing an elegant, full-service event fit for anyone wanting to live like royalty for a day.

Biltmore Estate (StreetView)
Biltmore Estate

Disney World, Florida

If you’re fun-loving, young at heart, and feel like your love story is a fairy tale, what better place to marry your own Prince Charming than at Disney World?

Disney has a reputation for catering to your every fantasy, and getting married at the Magic Kingdom is no exception! Whether it’s an intimate ceremony or a large celebration, Disney will not disappoint.

One of the highlights of  a Disney wedding is that you can be Cinderella in your own ornate carriage, with footmen to make sure you feel like the princess on your special day. Often, weddings are marked by a private fireworks display; how cool is that!

If you choose to host a destination wedding at Disney World, or any of their resorts, it will be a perfect way to start your “happily ever after”.

Disney World's Cinderella Castle (Birds Eye)
Disney World's Cinderella Castle

These are just a few places that are famous for making saying “I do” feel special, but anywhere there are two people who love each other and are willing to pledge their loves to one another is as magical as any castle, as special as any five star resort, and as memorable as any big reception. After all, love is all you need.

 

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!

February Deep Dive into History: Japanese Internment Camps

February’s deep dive into history focuses on one of the darker periods in the recent history of the United States: When the US government forced more than 100,000 Americans of Japanese descent into internment camps during World War II.

The Executive Order permitting the action was signed on February 19, 1942. By fall 1942, camps had been opened across the United States, and were filled with unwilling residents, who stayed there until after the end of World War II.

Pearl Harbor

On December 7, 1941, Japan’s military bombed Pearl Harbor, the Navy base in Hawaii. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor by Japan, it was clear the US would go to war against the Asian country.

Pearl Harbor (Google Maps)
Pearl Harbor

In reaction to the attack, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066. This order gave the War Department the authority to forcibly relocate Americans with ties to Axis countries. This included people from Germany and Italy, but most relocated persons were of Japanese descent.

Both legal residents and American citizens were rounded up and housed in internment camps for the duration of the war, and in some cases, even after the war ended.  Because more Japanese Americans were relocated than people of other backgrounds, it has shows just how racist the measure was, as it had no basis in fact and was not applied consistently across the country.

Manzanar

Manzanar was one of the ten internment camps. Located at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains, the area is known for its hot summers and cold winters. This made life difficult for the roughly 11,000 involuntary residents.

The barracks were not designed to keep out the heat and cold, and didn’t even always have walls between family areas. Bathrooms and showers had no privacy, not even separating men and women.

Manzanar Internment Camp (Google Maps)
Manzanar Internment Camp

While media reports stated that the residents were well-fed and cared for, the truth was that residents were held there against their will, and treated as criminals. The camp was surrounded by wire fencing, with guard towers all around. While the towers were taken down after the war, they have been reconstructed as part of the restoration taken on by the National Park Service.

Visitors can walk around the site, and get a real feel for what it would have been like here during World War II.

Guard tower at the Manzanar National Historic site (StreetView)
Guard tower at the Manzanar National Historic site

Topaz

The Topaz Relocation Center in central Utah, housed nearly 11,000 Japanese Americans, mostly from the San Francisco area. Like at Manzanar, the barracks were not sufficient to keep the residents protected from the elements, especially the harsh cold of the high desert winters.

The area is now a National Historical Site, and has a permanent museum and exhibits that tell the stories of the people who lived there from 1942-1945.

Topaz War Relocation Center (Google Maps)
Topaz War Relocation Center

Tule Lake

The Tule Lake internment camp in northern California originally held residents from northern California and Washington and Oregon. However, it was soon turned into a maximum security camp to house so-called “disloyal” Japanese residents and American citizens who failed a mandatory loyalty questionnaire.

The camp housed more than 18,000 inmates at one point, and was under marshal law for more than a year due to unrest and complaints about unsanitary conditions.

The site has been turned into a National Landmark, which is important for American history as we work to reconcile the poor decisions made by the government during a time of national crisis.

Tule Lake War Relocation Center (Google Maps)
Tule Lake War Relocation Center

Rohwer

Not every camp was in the western United States. The Rohwer War Relocation Center was located in Arkansas, in what was swampy marsh land that hadn’t even been completely cleared and prepared for residents when the first groups arrived from California.

This camp held around 9,000 inmates, and was the last to close in November 1945. Unlike most other camps, the site was not largely abandoned, but many of the resources built for the relocated inmates were taken over and used by local residents for years. Only the cemetery is clearly marked as a remnant of the war. It has been designated a National Historical Landmark.

Rohwer War Relocation Center (Google Maps)
Rohwer War Relocation Center

Supreme Court

Residents did not all go willingly to the internment camps. Many petitions and complaints were made, and one even made its way to the US Supreme Court. The case Korematsu v. United States was heard in 1944.

Fred Korematsu had worked hard to avoid being sent to a camp, but was found and arrested. His case worked its way to the Supreme Court, who decided the internment, while suspect constitutionally, was permitted in times of national crisis.

President Gerald Ford repealed the Executive Order and issued a formal apology in 1976. President Ronald Reagan issued an order that compensated survivors. Later in life, Korematsu was recognized as a civil rights icon, had his conviction overturned, however, the Supreme Court ruling still stands.

US Supreme Court (StreetView)
US Supreme Court

Looking back over these events and locations, it is important to remember what happened in World War II. As Frank Korematsu said, we will only heal when “we learn that, even in times of crisis, we must guard against prejudice and keep uppermost our commitment to law and justice”

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 I. M. Pei (Google Maps)
'Jacob K. Javits Convention Center' by I. M. Pei

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!

 

Dreaming of a Warm Christmas

While much of the United States and Europe are used to having a white, or at least cold, Christmas, it doesn’t snow everywhere in December. In fact, Australia and New Zealand celebrate Christmas in the middle of their summer season! Let’s take a look at some cool, or should I say, warm, places where people celebrate the holidays Down Under.

Bondi Beach, Sydney, AU

What could be better than spending Christmas on a beach, knowing that your friends back home are braving the cold, snow, and ice to get to grandma’s house?

Bondi Beach, just outside Sydney, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Australia, and a favorite residential area for the rich and famous.

The beach is beautiful, soft and welcoming; the water is a gorgeous blue-green color, and the atmosphere is fun, buzzing with sunbathers, swimmers and beachwalkers. It’s no wonder this is considered one of the best places to visit in the whole country!

Bondi Beach (Google Maps)
Bondi Beach

Port Arthur, Hobart, Tasmania , AU

Tasmania has a reputation as a little bit wild and adventurous. Indigenous people have lived there for thousands of years, but the Europeans who came here established a penal colony on the island, and from there, established a foothold on the rest of the island.

Tourists can visit Port Arthur, a city that started out as a penal colony on the far south point of the island. There, they can visit an open air museum on the city’s history, and see the ruins of the large Convent Church, which was built by the inmates.

Port Arthur (StreetView)
Port Arthur

Lord Howe Island, AU

Off the coast of Australia near Sydney is Lord Howe Island, which is an absolutely lovely place to visit. The island has the softest sand beaches, subtropical forests, and beautiful clear water. The area is great for SCUBA diving, wildlife watching, hiking, and swimming. If you don’t want to be cooped up this Christmas this would be a great place to visit.

Lord Howe Island (StreetView)
Lord Howe Island

Uluru, AU

One of the classic images associated with Australia is Uluru, a large sandstone feature in the middle of the desert of the Northern Territory. The rock once known as Ayers Rock is a sacred place for indigenous people, and is a breathtaking site for visitors.

If you visit, you should try to see a sunrise or sunset on the rock, which is when it’s most stunning. The nearest town is Alice Springs, about 230 miles away, so be prepared for any contingency if you plan to camp or spend a lot of time in the area.

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

Kangaroo Island, AU

If you want to see kangaroo, as well as a lot of unique Australian wildlife, you should consider going to Kangaroo Island off the southern coast of Australia. The island has kangaroo, of course, but also koalas, sea lions, and penguins. The island is also famous for its unique honey bee, and delicious honey.

The island is such a gem, with national parks, preservation areas, and tours available to see all the native wildlife. This place should be on every traveler’s bucket list.

Kangaroo Island (Google Maps)
Kangaroo Island

Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, NZ

Aoraki, also known as Mount Cook, is the tallest peak in New Zealand, and it’s a major destination climb. The 12,000 foot mountain peak is a feat best left to trained climbers, but anyone can enjoy the national park’s beautiful mountains, lakes and meadows, and wildlife.

The best time to climb the mountain is between October and January, when the snow on the lower parts has melted, and the weather is cooperative. So, it coincides perfectly with a holiday visit!

Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park (StreetView)
Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park

Penguins at Stewart Island, NZ

What could be cooler than seeing a whole bunch of penguins on your vacation? Stewart Island is New Zealand’s third largest island and is a great place to see animals unique to the area. Visitors are making up a larger and larger portion of the island’s economy, and they are especially flocking to penguin habitats. The island has several, which can be visited, but it’s important to follow all the safety protocols to avoid interfering with the wild animals.

Stewart Island (Google Maps)
Stewart Island

These are just some of the amazing sites you can see if you choose to leave the cold weather of the north and venture down south to see what the other side of the world is like. G’day mate, and have a great time!

Celebrating Hanukkah

Happy Hanukkah! Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, is possibly the most famous Jewish holiday, at least in the US, due in part to it coming each year around the same time as Christians celebrate Christmas, and in part because it has a festive, gift-giving theme.

Hanukkah, also spelled Hanukah or Chanukkah, takes place for eight nights and days during late November or early December. The dates vary, as the calendar for Jewish holy days is set by the Hebrew calendar, not the Gregorian calendar. This year, it’s celebrated from December 10 to December 18.

Western Wall

Jewish tradition states that, after the Maccabbees purged invaders from the Second Temple and Jerusalem, they were ordered to purify the temple and light the lamps in the temple at night. They only had enough oil for one night, but through a miracle, the oil lasted the eight days needed for new holy oil to be made.

All that remains of the Second Temple where this miracle took place is the famed Western Wall. It was sacked in 70 CE by the Romans. Today, it holds religious significance for both Jews and Muslims alike, and they have built religious traditions around the wall, which can be visited in Jerusalem.

Western Wall (StreetView)
Western Wall

Al-Asqa Mosque

Jerusalem, and the area of the Second Temple in particular, hold religious significance in Islam as well. The followers who conquered Jerusalem built the Al-Asqa Mosque, one of the holiest sites in Islam, on top of the Temple Mount, the hill where the Second Temple once stood.

Al-Aqsa Mosque (Google Maps)
Al-Aqsa Mosque

Dome of the Rock

Also located on the Temple Mount is the Dome of the Rock. The Dome protects a rock which is believed by Islamic, Jewish, and Christian faiths to be where Abraham nearly sacrificed his son Isaac, where God created the world, and a particularly holy place on earth. Islamic tradition holds that this is where Muhammad began his night journey to heaven.

Dome of the Rock / Temple Mount (Google Maps)
Dome of the Rock / Temple Mount

Knesset Menorah

The menorah is the most well-known symbol of Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights. Because the oil burned for eight days, the memorial candelabrum has eight equal branches and a ninth that is larger or offset, which is used to light the other candles.

Outside the Knesset, Israel’s legislative body, is a large bronze menorah. It is about 15 feet tall, weighs four tons, and has several reliefs on it that depict Jewish history.

Knesset Menorah by Benno Elkan (StreetView)
Knesset Menorah by Benno Elkan

While Hanukkah is celebrated around the world in people’s homes, some places are well known for their community celebrations of the Festival of Lights.

Jerusalem, Israel

There is no better place to celebrate Hanukkah than in the place where it all started: Jerusalem. There are so many celebrations throughout the capital city that there’s something for everyone to enjoy. The Western Wall Museum and other locations in Old Jerusalem and the Jewish Quarter celebrate Hanukkah with special sincerity, as they are on the sites that make the holiday holy.

The Old City is walled in, and accessible through several gates, including the Lion’s Gate. As you walk through this gate, you can imagine how the Jews of the past felt celebrating Hanukkah and other events in the city, and feel connected to them.

Lions' Gate (StreetView)
Lions' Gate

New York City, New York

New York City is home to one of the world’s largest and most active Jewish communities, so it’s fitting that the city has several large menorah-lightning events. One Jewish organization has worked to have a Guinness World Record for the largest menorah.

Assembled and lit each year at Grand Army Plaza, opposite the famed Plaza Hotel, the menorah is a great symbol of light and the hope for peace the world over.

Grand Army Plaza (Birds Eye)
Grand Army Plaza

Paris, France

There is nothing better than celebrating the Festival of Lights in the City of Lights. There are many celebrations throughout the city, but a fun one is on the Champs de Mars, at the Eiffel Tower. The ceremonial lighting of a 30-foot menorah is followed by an outdoor concert. It’s December, so bring a jacket!

Eiffel Tower (Birds Eye)
Eiffel Tower

Charleston, South Carolina

For the past 15 years or so, the city of Charleston has held a “Chanukah in the Square” to kick off the holiday, with the lighting of a menorah, latkes, dancing, and fun. Charleston is home to the longest-running synagogue in the United States. Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim Synagogue was founded in 1749, and is an important landmark and anchor to the old southern city.

Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim Synagogue (Birds Eye)
Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim Synagogue

This year, more than many, the Festival of Lights is a beautiful symbol that a “little bit of light dispels a great deal of darkness” (Rabbi Schneur Zalman). We can all agree that we need more light and joy in 2020. Happy Hanukkah!