Beijing, An Ancient City Full of Modern Wonders

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

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

Forbidden City

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

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

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

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

Forbidden City (Google Maps)
Forbidden City

Temple of Heaven

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

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

Temple of Heaven (Google Maps)
Temple of Heaven

Tiananmen Square

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

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

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

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

Tiananmen Square (Google Maps)
Tiananmen Square

Mausoleum of Mao Zedong

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

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

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

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

Old Summer Palace

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

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

Old Summer Palace (Google Maps)
Old Summer Palace

Palace of Peace and Harmony Lama Temple

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

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

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

Olympic Park

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

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

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

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

Temples, Cathedrals and Mosques from History

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

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

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

Notre-Dame de Paris

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

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

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

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

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

Chichén Itzá

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit:

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

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

Angkor Wat

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

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

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

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

Angkor Wat (Google Maps)
Angkor Wat

Hagia Sophia

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

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

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

Hagia Sophia (Google Maps)
Hagia Sophia


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

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

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

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

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

Best Beaches in the World

It’s July and if you’re not at the beach, you probably want to be. So, let’s take a look at some of the most amazing beaches in the world, and at least for a moment, pretend to be in paradise.

Grand Baie, Mauritius

Grand Baie on the northern side of the small island country of Mauritius, is definitely one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. The white sand, peaceful beaches, and perfect climate make it a top destination. And there are wonderful hotels, villas, and resorts that cater to every level of guest. It has an active nightlife, wonderful art and shopping scene, and overall wonderful atmosphere for whoever is lucky enough to visit this tiny paradise off the coast of Africa.

Grand Baie (Google Maps)
Grand Baie

Rasdhoo, Maldives

The Maldives are made up of more than 1,000 small islands in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of India and Sri Lanka. Most of the islands are uninhabited, but about 200, including Rasdhoo, have been settled. The remote island relishes its reputation as being removed from the hustle of the world, instead focusing on the natural beauty of the island.

Because it is part of an atoll, the water is calm and a beautiful emerald green color that one will never forget. The friendly and helpful demeanor of the local residents will make this visit one to remember for a lifetime!

Rasdhoo (StreetView)

Marigot Bay, St. Lucia

Marigot Bay in St. Lucia seems like a hidden gem, tucked in between steep, tree-covered hills. Described by author James Michener as “the most beautiful bay in the Caribbean”, the bay is a must-see for anyone considering a beach vacation. White sandy beaches surrounded by lush hills, with a serene bay protected from the waves, it is a perfect place to visit.

The island may have been visited by Columbus, but it was inhabited long before Europeans came to the island. The island nation has much to offer visitors these days, including an amazing volcano where you can actually drive within a few hundred feet of the lava flow, zip lining, SCUBA diving, rain forest excursions, and more.

Marigot Bay (StreetView)
Marigot Bay

Railay Beach, Thailand

Like Marigot Bay, Railay Beach in Thailand is surrounded by mountainous cliffs. The mountains actually separate the island from the peninsula from the mainland, and provide an amazing vista for beachgoers. In fact, because of the high cliffs, visitors can only reach the secluded beach via boat. The cliffs also provide the most amazing natural cover for swimmers, who can swim into caves carved into the limestone.

The separated beach actually has a developed tourist industry, with shopping, dining, and even resort options. On one side of the beach, you can have a rustic experience complete with hiking, and on the other, fine dining, resort hotels, and shopping. This place has it all.

Railay Beach (StreetView)
Railay Beach

Ambergris Caye, Belize

Ambergris Caye is the largest island on Belize, and one of the most beautiful oceansides in the world. The blue ocean turns a bold teal as it gets closer to land. The beaches are a tropical paradise, the local culture is fun to experience, and the water activities are endless. Sunbathing, sailing, and swimming can keep you busy for days.

The Belize Barrier Reef, one of the longest reefs in the world, is just off the coast, and it is perfect for swimming, snorkeling, and SCUBA diving. Also off the coast is the Great Blue Hole, a sinkhole about 400 feet deep and 1,000 feet wide. The unique feature, listed as one of the ten most amazing places on earth, is a bucket-list destination for skilled divers.

Ambergris Caye (largest island in Belize) (Google Maps)
Ambergris Caye (largest island in Belize)

Whitehaven Beach, Australia

Whitehaven Beach is regularly named the best beach in the world, and it’s no surprise why.  Named after a town in England, Whitehaven is the perfect moniker for the beach, with its unique, soft, silica sand. Bright white, the sand retains no heat from the sun and is cool under foot on even the hottest of days.

It’s not just the sand that makes this beach one of the best in the world. It’s off the coast of the Great Barrier Reef, which has some of the best diving in the world. It’s also one of the most eco-friendly beaches, and has a great reputation for being clean, free from even tobacco pollution, as smoking is not allowed.

Whitehaven Beach (StreetView)
Whitehaven Beach

If you aren’t able to visit these beaches in person, you can simply imagine an oceanside paradise. Just close your eyes, imagine the warm sun, and listen to the sound of the waves washing up on shore.

June’s Deep Dive into History: Napoleon Bonaparte

Napoleon Bonaparte was a minor aristocrat who rose to power after the French Revolution. He was crowned Emperor of the French on December 2, 1804. He then nearly succeeded in conquering most of Europe. But on June 18, 1815, Napoleon’s luck turned one last time, and he was defeated at Waterloo. He was banished (for a second time) to Saint Helena, where he died at age 51.

On the anniversary of Napoleon’s greatest defeat, let’s look back at the life of one of the world’s greatest historical figures.

Birthplace in Ajaccio, Corsica

Napoleon was born on August 15, 1769, into a large family of minor nobility. His family lived in the ancestral family home, which had been in the family since 1682.

The home was eventually donated to the French government, and in 1962, it was turned into a national museum. It’s now one of the island’s most popular tourist attractions.

In order to move up in society, Napoleon’s family enrolled him in French military school when he was nine years old, and he only returned to his home island a few times after his youth.

Maison Bonaparte (StreetView)
Maison Bonaparte

Campaign in Egypt and Syria

Napoleon demonstrated his military genius early. At the age of 27, he was promoted to major general and given control of an entire army. Then, he began planning a campaign in Egypt and Syria, to prepare France to invade Great Britain.

Napoleon’s troops fought many battles in the Middle East and North Africa, and had some major successes. The Battle of the Pyramids, where French troops scored a decisive victory, led to Napoleon seizing Cairo and taking over rule of Egypt.

Great Pyramid of Giza (StreetView)
Great Pyramid of Giza

Chateau Malmaison, Paris, France

When Napoleon returned to Paris, he took up residence at the Chateau Malmaison, a large estate just outside the city. His wife Josephine had purchased it for 300,000 francs, and spent more money restoring the home.

Josephine lived here after her divorce from Napoleon, until she passed away in 1814. Napoleon took up a brief residence there before he was exiled. Later, the house was abandoned, ransacked, and partly destroyed. In the 20th century, it was restored and is now an important historical site.

It was while living here that Napoleon seized power and made himself leader of France. Within a few short years he went from being a temporary leader to an all-powerful emperor. After years of chaos and turmoil, the people of France largely welcomed Napoleon and the stability he promised.

Malmaison castle (Google Maps)
Malmaison castle

Crowned Emperor at Notre Dame, Paris, France

Notre Dame has long been the religious center of Paris, but it was not the where the Kings of France were crowned. This event usually took place in the Cathedral of Saint Denis, just outside the city. However, Napoleon chose to be crowned emperor in Notre Dame.

Pope Pius VII participated in the coronation ceremony, but unusually, he gave the crown to Napoleon, who crowned himself. This sent a clear message: Napoleon was not controlled by the Catholic church.

Notre Dame took nearly 200 years to build, and was finished in 1345. In 2019, the roof caught fire and caused an international outpouring of grief and sympathy. The cathedral is still open, but with limited areas open to the public.

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

Place Vendome Column, Paris, France

Part of what the French people, and people even today, loved about Napoleon was his aggressive and successful military campaigns that brought pride and victory to the people of France after years of internal turmoil and international struggle.

He defeated combined armies of the Great Britain, the Prussian Empire, and the Russian Empire at the Battle of Austerlitz, in modern day Czech Republic. He had a monument erected in honor of the victory in a plaza named for the battle. The column was destroyed by revolutionaries in 1871, but later reconstructed, and is still on display in the plaza.

Place Vendôme Column (StreetView)
Place Vendôme Column

Home on Elba

After Napoleon tried to conquer all of Europe, Europe fought back, and the combined forces conquered France and forced the now-former emperor to exile on Elba, an island off the coast of Italy. He had two homes, including this home in Portoferraio. It is now a museum where people can learn about Napoleon, his reign, and his improbable escape from Elba after less than a year in exile.

Napoleon Bonaparte's home (former) (StreetView)
Napoleon Bonaparte's home (former)

Route Napoleon, France

Napoleon refused to remain away from power, and from France. After a short time on Elba, he broke free and seized power over France, declaring himself emperor once again.

There are now markers and paths along the route Napoleon took along the French Riviera. It starts in Golfe-Juan, where Napoleon landed and began his fateful campaign that ended just a few months later at Waterloo.

Route Napoleon, Prairie de la Rencontre (StreetView)
Route Napoleon, Prairie de la Rencontre

Waterloo, Belgium

Immediately after taking power in France, the forces of Europe and England rallied to oppose Napoleon, knowing that the militaristic emperor would not stop until he was king of all Europe, or removed permanently.

Napoleon and his troops faced forces from a dozen countries on a field outside Waterloo in present-day Belgium. On Sunday, June 18, forces began fighting. The British Duke of Wellington repelled the French forces all day, and with help from the Prussians, defeated Napoleon.

Today, the site is preserved, with a large man-made mound with stairs and a giant lion statue on top. Tourists can pay a small fee to climb the 226 steps up the mound and get a good look at the entire vista, literally a place where the fate of the world hung in the balance one fateful day.

Lion hill of Waterloo (Google Maps)
Lion hill of Waterloo

Residence on St. Helena

Once again, Napoleon was banished. This time, however, he was banished to an island 1,200 miles off the coast of Africa, closer to South America than to France! The tiny island is a protectorate of the United Kingdom, and it was here Napoleon lived out his last days, in a large home built specifically for him.

While the out of the way island has few tourists, this and other locations related to Napoleon are available to the public.

Longwood House (Google Maps)
Longwood House

Les Invalides, Paris

In downtown Paris, Les Invalides was founded as a hospital for veterans and others, and Napoleon added crypts for famous military leaders. After his death in 1821, Napoleon was interred at Les Invalides in a giant sarcophagus.

Les Invalides (Google Maps)
Les Invalides

In spite of, or perhaps because of, his attempt to conquer all of Europe and Russia, Napoleon remains a larger than life hero in France.


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.

Japan’s Must-See Destinations

Japan is an ancient country, built on strong traditions of beauty, formality, respect for harmony and appreciation of nature. These characteristics can be found throughout the country. If you’re lucky enough to visit Japan, consider some of these cities and sites to visit to make sure you really take in the beauty and harmony of Japan and it’s culture. You won’t regret it!


The nation’s capital and one of the world’s biggest and most important cities, Tokyo is certainly on everyone’s list of places to visit.

Senso-Ji Temple was built in 645 AD, making it Tokyo’s oldest temple and one of the oldest in Japan. The large red gates are famous, and are a must-see for visitors. The five story pagoda temple was mostly destroyed by bombing in World War II, but it was painstakingly reconstructed and is still absolutely breathtaking to visit.

Sensō-ji Temple (StreetView)
Sensō-ji Temple

Hachiko Square in the Shibuya area of Tokyo is the busiest place in the city. The square is named after a loyal dog Hachiko. Hachiko would wait for his owner every day at the nearby train station. The owner died while at work and never returned to the station. Hachiko nevertheless went to the station every day for nearly ten years, hoping each day his owner would return. His loyalty became legendary, and the vibrant square is named in his honor.

Hachiko Square (Google Maps)
Hachiko Square


Just south of Tokyo is Kamakura, a former capital city of Japan full of ancient cultural and religious sites, including the Great Buddha, or Daibutsu, which is a bronze statue over 40 feet high that was built around 1200 AD.

Kamakura Daibutsu (Great Buddha of Kamakura) (StreetView)
Kamakura Daibutsu (Great Buddha of Kamakura)

A temple surrounding the Buddha was destroyed in 1498, and the Buddha has since sat in the open air, where he has found harmony in the world in spite of his surroundings.

Great Buddha of Kamakura (Google Maps)
Great Buddha of Kamakura

Mount Fuji

At over 12,000 feet, Mount Fuji is Japan’s tallest and most famous mountain. Visible from Tokyo on clear days, the mountain’s pristine beauty provides a stark contrast to the bustling city. It’s cone is nearly symmetrical, and is covered in snow about half the year, contributing to it’s picturesque feel.

Mount Fuji (Google Maps)
Mount Fuji

Mount Fuji is an active volcano that last erupted in 1708, but visitors are able to hike to it’s summit, and over one million people do it annually.

Mount Fuji (StreetView)
Mount Fuji

The mountain has a long history in Japanese culture, in religious creation myths as well as romantic and historical poetry. Because of it’s scared nature, women were not allowed to summit the mountain until the 1800s.

Crater of Mount Fuji and Ken-ga-mine (StreetView)
Crater of Mount Fuji and Ken-ga-mine


Kyoto holds the essence of Japan, full of history and culture including geisha, maintained in authentic traditions.

Many cities have a “Sakura (Cherry Blossom) Alley”, but Kyoto’s is among the best. The beauty, peace and romantic feel of the trees and landscaping make this a top destination for anyone in Japan in March or April.

Sakura (Cherry blossom) alley (StreetView)
Sakura (Cherry blossom) alley

Kinkaku-Ji, or the Golden Pavilion Temple, is one of Kyoto’s most popular tourist destinations. Dating back to the 1300s, the pavilion burnt down in the 1950s, but has been rebuilt, paying tribute to different Japanese architectural styles.

Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion Temple) (Google Maps)
Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion Temple)

Another one of Kyoto’s beautiful sites are the Sagano Bamboo Groves, some of the most beautiful woodlands in the world. Visitors can walk or bike around the woodlands, have tea within the forest in specially designed restaurants, and enjoy the blending of natural and man made beauty.

Sagano Bamboo Groves (StreetView)
Sagano Bamboo Groves


Most cities in Japan are especially recognized because of their ancient history, but Hiroshima is famous for more recent history. In 1945, the United States bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki in an effort to end World War II. Many thousands of civilians died, and the war ended shortly thereafter, but the repercussions of the bomb continue to be felt today.

The Peace Memorial is centered around the only building left standing at the epicenter of the bomb, which has been preserved in it’s state immediately after the bomb blast to remind visitors of what happened at that site .It is an important and stark site, which leaves a strong impression on those who visit it.

Hiroshima Atomic Bomb Dome - Ground Zero (StreetView)
Hiroshima Atomic Bomb Dome - Ground Zero

Surrounding the Memorial is the Peace Memorial Park, dedicated to the legacy of the bomb blast and to the commemoration of its victims. It has several memorials and statues paying respect to the dead, including a special memorial for the children who suffered. The memorial and park focus not only on commemorating the event and aftermath, but emphasize the need for peace throughout the world.

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park (StreetView)
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park

Not all of Hiroshima and it’s surrounding area was destroyed in the blast. Much of Japan’s signature ancient architecture and landscaping are still evident in the region.

Itsukushima Shrine, built on the Itsukushima Island, is an ancient sacred place that has housed several shrines and temples over the years. The one visible today was built on piers in the bay so that it would appear to float during high tide, with a special gate famous throughout all Japan.

Torii of Itsukushima Shrine at low tide (StreetView)
Torii of Itsukushima Shrine at low tide

The gate can be visited on foot during low tide, or by boat during high tide. The shrine and gate have significant symbolism and deep meaning to Japanese and Shinto followers.

Itsukushima Shrine - "floating" Torii Gate (Google Maps)
Itsukushima Shrine - "floating" Torii Gate

Anyone planning a trip should expect to spend much of their journey being impressed, in awe and without words at the natural beauty, stunning architecture, efforts to blend the two in harmony, and the crazy bustle of the megacities throughout Japan. It will instill a desire for more beauty, harmony and peace in your own life long after you leave the island.





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.

The Winter Olympics Begin!

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

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

National Stadium, Beijing

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

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

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

National Speed Skating Oval, Beijing

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

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

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

National Indoor Stadium, Beijing

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

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

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

Genting Snow Park, Hebei

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

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

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

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

Capitol Indoor Stadium, Beijing

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

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

Capital Indoor Stadium (Google Maps)
Capital Indoor Stadium

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

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

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

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

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

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




Ski Resorts Around the World

It’s the middle of winter, it’s cold outside, and it’s the perfect time to be outside. Outside skiing, that is! Let’s take a look at some of the best ski resorts, so you know where to go when you plan your next winter vacation.

Whistler Backcomb, British Columbia, CA

Whistler Backcomb is one of the busiest and biggest ski resorts in North America. It was the location for alpine ski events for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, for which the resort upgraded and expanded its facilities significantly. And even if you’re not an Olympian, you’ll have a spectacular time at the expansive resort.

Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort (Google Maps)
Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort

Aspen/Snowmass Ski Resort, Aspen, CO

The remote area of Colorado of Aspen is an unlikely place for the rich and famous to spend their free time, and money, but Aspen is one of the most popular areas for skiing, and being seen skiing, in the world.

Aspen Snowmass is a four-resort complex near Aspen, Colorado. One of the smaller resorts, Buttermilk, is often the host location for the Winter X Games. When it’s not being used as the location for intense sporting activities, it’s a great location for kids and new skiers learn their way around the slopes.

Aspen Ski Resort (Google Maps)
Aspen Ski Resort

Deer Valley, UT

Utah has some of the best skiing in the world. The high altitude and low humidity make for great snow, and the weather is so great, you can ski more than 300 days a year. The resort was one of the locations for the alpine events of the 2002 Winter Olympics hosted by Salt Lake City.

Talented and adventurous skiers love Deer Valley because of the back-country skiing, where snowmobiles and helicopters drop skiers to ski down crazy uncharted slopes until they reach civilization again.

Deer Valley Ski Resort (Google Maps)
Deer Valley Ski Resort

Heavenly Valley and Palisades, Lake Tahoe, CA/NV

Lake Tahoe in the Sierra Nevada mountain range is a short drive from Los Angeles and other California cities, so it’s become a popular getaway destination. Nestled in the mountains, year-round outdoor recreation has developed in the area.

Tahoe has multiple ski resorts, including Heavenly Valley, the largest. It’s also known as the location where singer and actor Sonny Bono died after crashing into a tree.

High Atop Heavenly Valley Ski Resort (StreetView)
High Atop Heavenly Valley Ski Resort

Palisades Tahoe Resort, formerly known as Squaw Valley, was host to the 1960 Winter Olympics, and is known for its difficult ski trails. It has 30 chairlifts and other ways to get skiers to the tops of the six peaks within the resort.

In 2021, the owners changed the name of the resort due to the offensive nature of the word “squaw” to both Native Americans and women in general.

Sundance, UT

Another great Utah resort, Sundance is one of the more popular resorts in the world; not least because it’s owned by celebrity of the ages Robert Redford. When it’s not ski season, the resort is home to the annual Sundance Film Festival, where films are screened, judged, sold, prepared for mass distribution, and given critical exposure.

Robert Redford's Sundance Resort (Google Maps)
Robert Redford's Sundance Resort

Bretton Woods, New Hampshire

While some of the most famous ski resorts are in west coast mountain ranges, good skiing can be found all across the United States. Bretton Woods in New Hampshire has been rated among the best resorts in the world.

The resort is also famous as the location of the 1944 international meetings that established the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, which govern internation

Bretton Woods Ski Resort (Google Maps)
Bretton Woods Ski Resort

Ski Dubai, Dubai, UAE

The last thing you’d expect to find in a desert is a ski resort, but wealthy Dubai in the United Arab Emirates has one of the coolest ski resorts around! Ski Dubai was once the largest indoor ski resort in the world, and while it no longer has that record, it’s got a 25-story ski lift, a toboggan area, and it even has penguins!

Ski Dubai is part of the world-renowned Mall of the Emirates, one of the premier shopping centers in the world. Along with the skis and penguins, visitors can also pick up designer goods, see live theater, or have an amazing dinner at one of the high-end restaurants in the mall.

Ski Resort in the Desert (Google Maps)
Ski Resort in the Desert

Innsbruck, Austria

Not once, but twice, Innsbruck hosted the Winter Olympics. There are nearly a dozen ski resorts within an hour of the city, all of which have amazing reputations for advanced runs, great snow, and easy access from the airport and city.

Many upgrades and new facilities were constructed for the Olympics, including a permanent bobsled, luge, and skeleton track that is still in use today.

Olympic Sliding Centre Innsbruck (Google Maps)
Olympic Sliding Centre Innsbruck

These are just a few fun places to visit, for skiing and outdoor activities in the winter, no matter where you find yourself!