Unique Travel Through Superstitious Africa

Majority of tourists visiting the big attraction in Africa, Kenya, all scramble towards the beaches at the coast and to see wild animals in the African bush that was recently named the seventh wonder of the world – Masai Mara. But little do they know that there are several other attractions in Kenya which are yet to be explored.

The eastern part of the country which includes the Ukambani districts of Machakos, Makueni Mwingi and Kitui have enough of their share of attractions including wildlife, unique terrain and breathtaking small mountain ranges that are perfect for both climbing and picnics as well.

The country’s two major rivers, Tana River and Athi River crisscross Ukambani and both boast of a wide variety of animal life including crocodiles, turtles and a wide range of fish species that are only to be found in Africa.

It is also worth noting that it is only in Ukambani where one can find a rich culture including the world acclaimed wood carvers in Wamunyu whose products are exported the world over and bring to the country millions of dollars in foreign exchange every year. They curve unique works that include wild animals and the local people in traditional gear. A wonderful keepsake to carry back home after an unforgettable holiday.

These wood curvers have been at it for as long as they or anybody else can remember and got their unique skills from their parents and grandparents who passed it down the line for centuries and have ensured the skills are not lost in spite of upheavals including inter community wars with their war like neighbors, the Masai.

From Wamunyu in Machakos district,a visitor will be amazed as he travels along Kitui road right through to Kitui town itself and the outskirts where you are greeted by a large boulder known as Ivia ya Nzambani in the local language which means “The Stone of Nzambani”. This stone has a long history and an amazing myth that surrounds it.

According to legend, there was once a local who desired to be a woman in spite of being born a strong man and had attempted consulting the gods for several years but all his efforts were fruitless but this did not dampen his spirit and determination to one day become a woman.

It is said that his wishes were granted on one chilly morning when the gods told him through a dream the night before that if he wished to change his sex, he should go round the giant boulder seven times without stopping which he did enthusiastically. Alas, the villagers desires were achieved when after completing his seventh circuit, he went for his crotch and to his pleasant amazement, it wasn’t there anymore. He had been turned into a woman. To this day the locals still believe that if one wants to have a sex change, you just have to go round the boulder seven times.

There is only one catch though. Going round the magic stone is a five kilometers trek in rough terrain, so even completing one lap is a Herculean task.

From Kitui you will come to Mwingi district where strange things happen with mological explanation happen all the time. It is here where the belief of the supernatural is strongest and the locals are known to practice witchcraft with impunity as they compete with each other to see who is the most powerful among them. With a little persuasion they may just be able to put up a show for tourists who promise never to tell what they see.

It is also in Mwingi where the Arab population is surprisingly large and are the economic giants of the town and control the major businesses there. Many of them have been here for generations since their ancestors landed there during the thriving slave trade in the 18th century.

The area is among the driest in the country and in Africa as a whole and there are places in the district that do not receive a drop of rainfall for the three years at a time or more. There is also talk that there are large deposits of coal and oil in the area that is yet to be exploited.

Kenyans usually refer to Mwingi as the cursed district of Ukambani mainly due to the harsh weather but the area boasts of a lot of wildlife like chimpanzees, baboons, hyenas, antelopes and a host of other smaller wildlife including deadly snakes.

Moving from Mwingi, you will come to Makueni which is host to a number of wildlife sanctuaries including the Amboseli National park and plenty of tourist lodges which can be accessed from the Nairobi-Mombasa highway at Mtito Andei which is about 300 km from Nairobi, the modern capital city of Kenya. Here you will be able to see the big five animals, namely lion, buffalo, leopard, elephant and cheetah.

Kosice, Slovakia

As I planned out my trip, I found Slovakia to be a wild card. I knew that I would visit many countries and cities according to my own interests, readings and recommendations from friends and fellow travelers but I knew very little about Slovakia. I had a week to spend in Slovakia before heading to Budapest to rendezvous with my girlfriend and since I knew so little about the country, I decided to divide my time between two cities. From Krakow I caught an overnight train to Kosice, the easternmost major city in Slovakia. On my journey through Europe, Kosice-scarcely thirty miles from the Ukrainian border-would mark the furthest penetration into the continent and the furthest place from home that I have ever yet visited.
Kosice came highly recommended by Lonely Planet guide book. The center of town boasts the easternmost gothic cathedral in the world. The old town has many shops, restaurants and cafes to explore as well. At this point in my journey I indeed looked forward to these attractions but I really was interested in making my way into the hills for some decent hiking. My entire trip to this point had been centered on major cities but in Kosice I found a town that was surrounded by countryside rolling into the distance so relaxation, hiking and sightseeing would be my priorities during my stay.
I arrived in town very early in the morning. The train station is located on the outskirts of town but I quickly discerned the route into the old town where I could find accommodations. As I made my way into the old town I noticed many beautiful spires and old buildings that reminded me of the edifices that I had seen in Prague. I was curious to see the similarities between Czech Republic and Slovakia, nations that were one throughout my childhood. I needed to cash a traveler’s check and find lodging at the tourist information center but as I arrived in the center of town, I realized that nothing was open and I would have to wait a few hours.
I sat around a public park in the center of town, which is called the Hlvana. The heart of Kosice, the Hlvana is a long pedestrian courtyard about one hundred yards wide and a quarter mile long. The cathedral stands at one end of the square and the state theatre stands at the other. Nothing was open and it was a beautiful morning so I sat enjoying the sunshine when at 9 O’clock I received quite a surprise. In the central park of Kosice several powerful fountains leapt into life. Much like the dancing waters in Las Vegas or Disney World, the town of Kosice has installed a series of dancing fountains that shoot to amazing heights and sway back and forth. From hidden speakers blared forth classical music tunes that are timed along with the fountains. I must confess that I found these fountains to be more comical than anything else. They don’t fit in this small town set in the eastern Slovakian hillside but belong, rather in gaudy American tourist traps like the Bellagio or Epcot Center.
Soon the tourist office opened and I was able to acquire some Slovakian currency and directions to the most promising hostels in town. I wound my way to nearby accommodations at the Ubytovna Mestsky Park hostel. The hostel offered many amenities at reasonable prices. I spent the equivalent of $10 per night for lodgings and at the restaurant downstairs I enjoyed great breakfasts for an additional $5 per day. I had my own room with a large bed, skylight and closet. After a shower and shave, I set out into the city to visit some of its primary attractions.
My first visit was to the Cathedral of St. Elizabeth. The cathedral literally dominates the town. The portion of Slovakia in which Kosice lies, was historically a portion of Hungary which was ceded to Czechoslovakia by the Trianon treaty after World War I. The cathedral marks the last resting place of Ferenc Rakoczi, the Hungarian patriot who was exiled for leading an 18th century uprising against the Austrian Empire, which controlled Hungary at that time. The tomb is marked by the red, white and green of Hungarian flags. The interior of the cathedral was solemn, antique and very beautiful. As I sat in one the pews, taking in the atmosphere of the cathedral it occurred to me that as Kosice was once part of Hungary and that the cathedral is the eastern most Gothic cathedral in Europe, this cathedral must also mark one of the furthest outposts of Catholicism. Further east one would find the Orthodox churches of Russia, Ukraine and Asia. I began to thus appreciate how this small town marks an important boundary between East and West.
From the cathedral I made my way around the Hlvana checking out the principle buildings in town. I grabbed a modest lunch at one of the outdoor cafes and browsed through the windows of the main shops in town. At the opposite end of the Hlvana I visited the State Theatre. This massive 19th century structure rivals any of the large theatres that I have seen elsewhere in Europe and the United States. The large domed tower and ornamented façade are one of the most beautiful buildings in town. As the day wore on and I made my way back to my hostel I was struck by a military memorial. Several white plaques written in Russian marked the names of brave men who gave their lives in defense of the country. The most harrowing symbol, however, was the Hammer and Sickle that still adorned this memorial.
That night I enjoyed dinner at one of Kosice’s most inviting restaurants. Bakhus is Lonely Planet’s first recommendation for dining in Kosice. The restaurant and beer garden is tucked away from the Hlvana with lots of tables and umbrellas in a courtyard. At dusk the restaurant was filled to capacity of people eating, drinking and having a good time. I sat down to a dinner of beef stronganoff served by friendly, English speaking staff. The food was superb and reasonably priced. I wanted to go hiking the next day so after dinner I made my way home for a good night’s sleep.
The next day I packed my day bag with a picnic lunch and Swiss army knife for my journey into the hills. Unfortunately, getting out of town was harder than I thought. I would set out for the hill side, which I could clearly see on the horizon, but would wind up lost in a maze of side streets on the outskirts of town. The suburbs of Kosice were a grim sight of factories and long rows of boring, grim and utilitarian communist housing blocks. By this point of my trip I was used to communist architecture, which really is a blight across Eastern Europe.
Eventually I decided to follow the main highway out of town, which crossed a river and eventually rose into the hills. Once around a high bend, the city was out of sight and I beheld a magnificent countryside of rolling hills, farmland and forests stretching in all directions. I followed the highway to the beginning of the forests where I planned to explore and have lunch. The fields were brimming with wild flowers, reeds and buzzing insects. I came upon a dirt path that led away from the highway, which I followed into the forested hill side. I wandered into a dense forest along a beaten path that went on for a few miles. I did not want to wander too far, as I did not know where I was going. I came upon a cut into the forest where power lines passed through. There was an abundance of cut wood so I set up a small campsite and built a fire.
After lunch I decided to head back into town. As I made my way back through the forest I came upon a group of Slovakian boys and girls. They were all about eight years old and evinced a curiosity in me and clearly they wondered what I was doing in the forest where they regularly played games. None of them spoke English but apparently one of them had spent some time in France and spoke French so I was able to communicate through him. They talked with me as I made my way back into town. They asked many questions about America. Some of the boys were very interested to discover my interest in hockey and were impressed as I named several Slovak players on various NHL teams. They were a very nice and well behaved group of kids and when we got into town I bought them all ice cream at a café before saying my goodbyes.
I spent the rest of my time browsing around Kosice looking for decent shopping. I found the pickings to be pretty slim. Any contemporary clothing stores offered clothes far behind current fashions. I did find some thrift stores, however. I bought for about $5 a tweed sports coat that fits perfectly and that I still have today. There wasn’t much else to do in Kosice after two days exploring so I made arrangements for my trip to Bratislava and read until it was time to catch the train out of there. Still, Kosice stands out in my mind as a unique stop along my journey. There is very little tourist presences in Kosice and it is very beautiful and rural. I feel that in those three days I got to see a side of Europe that most people never see.

How to Cope With Painful Ears While Flying

The pain, pressure, popping and clogging that accompanies flying is not enjoyable for anyone. Approximately one-third of all people who fly suffer from ear problems of one sort or another. The problem of painful ears comes about as a result of changes that take place in air pressure. This number increases for those who suffer from a cold, a sinus infection, an ear infection or seasonal allergies. Generally speaking, ear discomfort becomes worse as the plane begins its descent and sometimes the pain can even become more severe once the plane touches down although usually landings equal relief.

Most commercial airplanes are pressurized in such a way that they are able to minimize the negative effects that passengers and staff will suffer due to changing altitudes at 39,000 feet, however the cabin of the airplane itself will only be able to replicate this particular atmosphere when it reaches 7,000 feet. This explains while many people find that their ears suffer both when it comes to takeoffs and landings, although landings tend to be more extreme.

What brings about the pain when flying?
There is a small space located behind the eardrum and most of the time this space is filled up with air. A tiny channel known as the Eustachian tube connects this area to the back part of the nose. The Eustachian tube helps to keep the air pressure on both sides of the air balanced out equally. As an airplane begins its descent the air pressure becomes greater the closer the plane gets to the ground and this causes pressure in the eardrum. In order to remedy this situation, the middle ear needs to increase the pressure it contains to match the rate of the air pressure that is rapidly changing in the plane. If there is any congestion or blockage in the Eustachian tube whatsoever that is capable of preventing the flow of air, the eardrum then becomes more and more tense and stressed due to the level of outside pressure that is pushing its way into the eardrum. In this way the eardrum needs to stretch in order to cope with the unequal level of pressure. This causes a great deal of pain to the individual.

Pain during flying can occur for a number of different reasons. When a person is suffering from a head cold and has swollen membranes in the ear this can cause the Eustachian tube to become blocked and therefore bring about pain due to altitude changes. Any type of ear infections or throat infections can cause painful ears while flying, as can seasonal allergies such as hay fever, etc.

Any condition that causes mucus to develop in excess in the tubes of the ears can bring about a problem when flying. In the most severe of cases, the middle ear can fill up with fluid during or immediately after a flight, which can then cause an ear infection to develop. Sometimes the eardrum can even burst if the ear is inflamed or damaged enough due to congestion or blockage because of air travel. Some people have Eustachian tubes that are very narrow and therefore can easily become blocked with mucus whereas other people might have Eustachian tubes that do not drain as well as they are supposed to. Women generally have shorter Eustachian tubes then men and for that reason often suffer worse when they fly.

How to prevent pain in the ears while flying
It is recommended that those individuals who are suffering from any kind of respiratory problem such as colds, ear infections, throat infections and so on do not indulge in air travel until they are feeling better. There are cases of course when it is impossible to cancel or delay travel plans until your health is better. If you have blockage in your ears or are suffering from a build up of mucus or even if you are a person who simply experiences ear pain when flying read on for some tips of how to alleviate this problem so your plane trip will be a more pleasant one.

Try the valsalvas manoeuvre
The valsalvas manoeuvre goes like this- pinch your nose and then blow hard against your nose, not your mouth, but not so hard that you injure your nose. This action forces air both up and into the Eustachian tube and makes it possible for the pressure behind the eardrum to become equalized. When you do this you should feel a popping sensation in your ear. This means that the manoeuvre has worked properly. You should put this action into play as soon as you sense that the airplane is beginning to descend and you feel that the air pressure is changing. Repeat the action a number of times (every few seconds for optimum effectiveness) until you are assured that the plane has touched down on the ground.

Reach for antihistamines
Antihistamines in the form of anti-histamine tablets can be purchased at most drugstores and they are an excellent way to help prevent ear pain during air travel. Take an antihistamine at a full dose and make sure you take it both the day preceding your travel as well as the day that you plan to travel on. Antihistamines should help to limit how much mucus is produced in your head.

Decongestants are a good idea
Use a decongestant nasal spray approximately one hour before your plane is expected to begin its descent. Then spray the decongestant again five minutes after that and continue to spray every 20 minutes until the plane is on the ground. An excellent decongestant nasal spray to buy is one that contains the ingredient Xylometazolene that can be found at most pharmacies. Menthol sweets (such as cough drops) also act as decongestants and can serve to effectively open up the tubes of the ears and to also decrease the quantity of mucus that develops. Decongestants have a way of shrinking tissue that has become swollen as well as reducing the amount of secretions that are taking place.

Swallowing and yawning
Both swallowing and yawning regularly during takeoffs and landings can help to equalize pressure on either side of your Eustachian tube and this goes a long way in alleviating sinus and ear pain and discomfort.

Chewing gum
Chewing gum is also another way to keep the passages in your head open because the chewing action works in very much the same way that swallowing and yawning often does. Some people also say that sucking on a hard candy has much the same effect as chewing gum as far as equalizing air pressure.

EarplugsSome travellers sear by earplugs as a way to decrease ear discomfort during flights. Earplugs help to restrict the flow of air and therefore make it possible for the inner ear to have more time to adjust to the changes in air pressure that are taking place inside the plane. For the best results possible, always put in your earplugs before the airplane takes off (not during take off) in order to give your ears an opportunity to adjust to the presence of them. Leave the earplugs in until you are assured that the airplane has completely reached cruising altitude. As a general rule, give yourself 10 to 15 minutes after the seatbelt sign goes off before you remove the earplugs as your ears need to adjust to the earplugs coming out just as they needed to adjust to them going in.

Museo de La Salle Cavite, Philippines

Museo de La Salle was constructed through the help of concerned community who helped Bro. Andrew to conceptualized the whole museum in October 1996. It was through his initiative which was then supported by the local government illustrating the 19th century Ilustrado lifestyle being shown in the museum collection. Museo de La Salle is in Dasmarinas Cavite, a city that is rich of Philippine culture where the influence of Spain greatly affects Philippine architecture. Dasmarinas as the torch of light symbolizing nationalism, history and culture that is why De La Salle University upholds this recognition and opens the door for anyone who wants to experience history through museo.

Inside the halls of Museo de La Salle, a rich collection of antiques depicting how people lived during the Spanish occupation. It showcases the “Bahay na Bato” or the Antillian House or the so called the modern ” Bahay Kubo”. Pieces of clothing from the different Filipino made fabrics and accessories or jewelries, shoes and other garments both from the donation of individuals. Paintings are everywhere that Filipinos are known for our artistry. Primarily, the museo opened to eduate students and people who are eager to learn the history of the Philippines. The collection are progressing throughout the years as many are encouraged to donate art pieces, historical objects that will contribute to the museo.
The museo is basically a large stone house being passed form one generation to generation and is preserved through the years. It is owned by Illustrados, a high or rich social class. The house divided into rooms such as bedrooms, worship area, living room, kitchen and dining area. Each room has specific theme and illustrating the materials as though you are walking in a house turned into a museum. Unlike other museum where there is a mix collection to almost anything, museo de La Salle is primarily for the collection of 19th to 20th century art pieces. The interior as well as the exterior are both preserved and renovated by top architects, designers and planners so that the museo will magnify the richness of Philippine culture.
Architectural details in the interior designs and furniture whre kept in close attention by Joey that brings the project into larger scale. The designs were inspired from Constantino House in Balagtas, Armedo-Gonzales House in Sullipan, Apalit Pampanga and Panlilio house in Bacoor Pampanga. There was an extensive research done to the details of tiles, color, texture and organization as if it had live undisturbed throughout time.
The areas in the Bahay na Bato are Zaguan which is the ground floor usually the pace as the modern time called garage. The calesa is a horse chariot where it can enter in the ground floor. In the museo, they had showcased Filipino costumes, embroidery and weaving also photographs were displayed in frames. Generally the bahay na bato depicts how the rich people lived, the social class or the elite. The cuartos or the bedroom are also magnanimous with large bed in their intricate carvings and woodworks were one piece is always a masterpiece.
Museo de La Salle also depicted how Filipino are so attached to religion showing signs of religious places like Capilla or Oratorio which is the holy place in the house. There you will find statues of Saints all dressed in golden robs. Sala or the living room is the most accommodating room where narra furnitures were carved with flowers all in minute details. The window is also a work of art made of sea shells.
Museo de La Salle is simply the gift of La Salle to the community of Dasmarinas and for the Philippines. Just an appreciation of how rich we are in our original art, that is something to be proud of. Those generations who have not witnessed what does this history books describe can now concretely see and appreciate all of this by visiting to the ” Bahay na Bato”.
In Cavite where one of the first civilization was established, many of the remains of the history can still be felt by hand. The culture is still alive along the walls and floors around the Bahay na Bato but they are just used as landmarks and architectural legacy of our forefathers. Museo de La Salle has served its purpose of preserving history and keeping our culture alive for the next generation to see.

Samal Island, Philippines

Samal Island is a distant away from the shores of Davao, being known for its white sand beaches and several resorts that cater tourists and locals. Its virgin islands were well protected from commercialization to preserve the ecotourism.
For almost quite a while, Samal has been one of the subjects I had made for my ecotourism designs, since the island is a potential for development. Many designs apprehended to be passed in order to enhance the beauty of the island that will invite tourists. The several islands including the vanishing islands is one of the attraction. Tourists are welcome for scuba diving, site seeing and swimming due to the rich underwater wildlife.
Getting to Samal is as easy as getting one ride bus to the next stop as for the locals using bus or jeepney, these modes of transportation carried over to a water vessel and transported to the island. You may also have ferryboats exclusively for Paradise island resort customers. The ferryboats are waiting in interval in the Lanang shores while another exclusive boats are in Sta. Ana Pier. Wind and Wave and several other boats servicing through the island are available for booking in Sta. Ana Pier. You may choose on going to Talikud and Vanishing island.
Samal is very convenient for those who want to unwind and getting in touch with nature. One of the famous resorts you will find here is the Paradise Island. The towering coconut palms and mangrove along the sides keep the air and water clean. They had preserved the beauty of the nature by establishing only few huts and well maintained food courts. Inside you will find a mini zoo where all kinds of birds found in the island are present including turtles, snakes, monkeys and deer. They also cater for stay in customers or tourists in the island, amenities are present like tennis table and playing area for children. The resorts are open all year round. What is beautiful in this place is the serenity being close to nature. The resorts here are prohibited from too much commercialization to prevent pollution and keep the beauty of the nature. Even when swimming at the shores, you still find small fishes leaping over the shores.
The vanishing island where it is appropriate for scuba diving is breathtaking. When going to the middle of the island at high tide, you will only find three huts that were made for those staying in the island. You can walk through the vanishing island at knee high however beware to the depth of some are not the same. Always carry with you a life jacket when swimming is not your forte. The local government keeps the vanishing island to be a mangrove sanctuary, most of the people visiting the island have with them mangroves to be planted. This is to shelter the fishes and secure the coral reefs.
A main attraction around the island is the Pearl Farm, where there is also a sanctuary for pearls. A resort where tourist can stay with different bonus packages. You will experience the fabulous site for sunrise and sunset. The establishments are designed according to the culture of Mindanao where you will find a replica of houses for Maranao and other tribes in Mindanao. The weather in Samal is just amazingly perfect where it is free from typhoon. The crystal clear coastline rich with underwater life.
Caves are found in Talikud Island, hiking is the best activity in White Stone Mountain and go fishing in San Jose Muslim Fishing village. Hagimit falls are just spectacular as going to the beach in Pena Plata.
There is so much outdoor activities you can enjoy for you and your family. No noise from the city, all are calm and simple. People living in the island are hospitable to accommodate tourists. No wonder the island was chosen as dream cities of the future by the Institute for Solidarity in Asia or ISA.
Plans for the Samal Island to be part of the tourist attraction in the Philippines are laid out for the next five to ten years. A world-class eco-tourism that will boost and enhance Samal Island. What is important of developing the area excite the tourism industry without disregarding the natural beauty of the island.
I can really see the potential of Samal Island for so many ways just when the local government will open its doors by providing transportation to the island, getting people to access the tourist areas.

Discovering The Land of China

If you are anything like me, when you think about China, you think about Communism, the long history of the nation, a vastly different way of life or perhaps you have thought about that cheap, dollar store item that you got in your stocking this past Christmas, or maybe even pearls or jade. China is so much more and a very interesting place to visit.

Have you ever thought of a visit to China? I had always been interested in the country and when my sister in law announced that they were adopting a baby from China, well, and then I became very interested.

With the little one that they brought back, they also brought back several guide books, videos and such. Now, armed with the information from my family and after reading books I am ready for my trip to China.

If you are planning to visit China, chances are that the air fare will be the most expensive thing that you will need to save up for. The Chinese Yuan (currency) is about 0.127877238 US dollars. So the exchange rate is pretty good. I have heard of people just going to China for shopping trips! Stores are plentiful and merchandise is pretty cheap there. Besides the obvious touristy things that you will want to pick up while you are there such as silk goods, pearls, teas (the tea ceremony is a big deal there). Everyday articles also can be found at fairly reasonable prices there such as shoes. My nephew picked up around ten pairs of shoes for very little money (they are brand names or look alikes).

Hotels and eating in China are not hard to find as long as you do your homework. The hotels are such names as the Sheraton and the like, but may not be up to the standards of a North American four standards, but just the same, they are comfortable and the restaurants that are well known here such as Pizza Hut and McDonalds are there as well, but you might not find the exact same food as you would here.

Suggestions while visiting China:
Do plan to hire a guide. This is a must as there are places that the average outsider cannot go (your guide can help you determine when and where to visit) and you will truly enjoy the trip more with an experienced guide that speaks English and knows his or her way around things and the country at large. You will no doubt want to see landmarks such as Tiananmen Square (though they will deny anything happened there) and the Great Wall, a guide is what you will need.

If you have children, you will want to plan ahead, do some homework and look into what you will be doing with your family as there is not a lot for children to do. You will not find Disneyland wannabe or any such thing. If your teens or children are not interested in history or shopping, it is best to plan a adults only type of trip.

If you are somewhat shy, China is not the place to shop. Store merchants will constantly be calling out to you (and since you are Caucasian, you will stand out) and the store workers will be wanting to bargain with you. My sister in law said that shopping was exhausting. Also the homeless will be relentless in their seeking of help. You will find that they will play on your sympathy by using their children (which shows that the total Communist way of life is not truly the case in China, but leans towards more of a legalist society).

You will want to keep in mind that Beijing will be hosting the 2008 Olympics and is preparing to do so. This means that there is a lot of ongoing construction and no doubt chaos in order to ready the city.

You will always need to keep your wits about you. I am saying this because although there is not a lot of crime, pickpockets and purse snatchings are a serious problem there. NEVER flaunt your jewellery, money or anything else that would attract the attention of a thief. Also you will not want to carry any valuable papers in your purse (such as your visa, etc). My nephew had a backpack on and my brother in law had to shoo away someone that was trying to open the zipper! You should also be careful in what you say in China. You will not want to mention anything that is disrespectful to their culture, way of life or ethics or morals.

China can be a fascinating place to visit to discover its history and other experiences and once you go you will have memories that will last a lifetime.

Jaipur: One of India’s Most Historic Cities

India is one of those countries with flavor all its own – it’s not crowded with skyscrapers and commercialism like the rest of the world, and the abundance of temples, natural scenery, sacred spots, and beautiful architecture makes it a wonderful tourist destination. If you only have enough time to visit one city in this remarkable country, consider Jaipur. Every attraction from historic buildings to old forts to markets is represented here. If you like nature (either in the form of scenery or animals) you won’t leave disappointed.

First let’s visit some stunning outdoor attractions that showcase India’s charm. Although the place known as Kanak Vrindavan Gardens isn’t directly in Jaipur, it’s close enough to the city to be worth it. If you travel this little paradise and it still isn’t exactly what you’re looking for, Balsamand Lake and Garden is another option. There is a palace here as well, and most of the area dates to the 1200s. For the right price, you can stay in the hotel that graces the shores of the lake. Those who can afford it may be able to get a lakefront room.

Want yet another choice? You shouldn’t miss Ranthambore National Park while visiting Jaipur and its surrounding areas. Don’t forget to stop by and see the legendary tigers that live in the park, and check out the beautiful architecture and ambiance. The jungle atmosphere certainly adds to this Jaipur gem. This is one of the must-see attractions for those traveling to India. You will have to check back often and see when and if visitors are allowed inside, and if automobiles of any kind are accepted at the time you’ll be visiting. Sisodia Rani Palace and Garden is available for a fourth option.

Speaking of palaces, if you’re visiting mainly to see historical buildings, one of the most beautiful architectural attractions is the Hawa Mahal (known in English as the romantically-named Palace of the Winds). You won’t believe how many red windows are scattered together; you still won’t be able to figure out how the workers did it, even as you stand below it. The palace is a huge masterpiece, unlike anything else in the world. Hawa Mahal was built in the very late 1700s and still looks brand new. Countless windows give the palace a friendly yet ominous effect. This is definitely one of the places you will be using your camera the most.

Another big attraction in Jaipur is the Amber Fort. In many ways it is just as beautiful as Hawa Mahal, with arched windows, columns, and beautifully muted colors. For a truly memorable vacation, take the elephant ride to the fort and tell your friends and family that you rode an elephant in India. I personally think this is one of the most fascinating things you could possibly do in this country. The Amber Palace can be found close by. Make time to truly look at all the places available for exploration. India isn’t a hustle-and-bustle kind of place, but one where time seems to go slowly

The City Palace of Jaipur should not be missed during your trek through the city. You will notice a distinctly Middle Eastern design that seems to somehow be out of place among native Indian architecture, but the arches and patches of Moorish decoration make the palace all the more beautiful. The rooms are stunning, big and open, with opulent decor and elegant columns. If you want to experience the ingenuity of architects from years past, spend a few hours at the City Palace.

No trip to India would be complete without visiting some of its many famous temples. Jaipur has a few offerings; at the Monkey Temple, you will probably see some of India’s wildlife in the form of – you guessed it – monkeys. If you like animals and didn’t get your fill at Ranthambore, you get two attractions (history and nature) at one time at the Monkey Temple.

For a different temple trek, try Birla Manthir Temple. This is a typical Indian temple with breathtaking marble construction and a simple but beautiful facade. Take heed, however, that you’ll be asked not to film when you go inside, so hopefully you will be able to find postcards or some other reminders of what you’ve seen once you are done with the tour.

By Lacie R. Schaeffer

Krakow; the Heart of Historic Poland

I went to Krakow on recommendations of many people that I met along my journey backpacking through Europe. Krakow and Warsaw are the two largest cities in Poland and the principle attractions for tourists. Krakow located in the south of Poland, however, was closer to the circular route of the rest of my journey through Europe. My journey to Krakow consisted of two train rides that carried me from Prague through eastern Czech Republic where I would transfer in Katowice to a smaller train to Krakow. The train wound its way through some of greenest country that I had yet seen in Europe. There were many forests and fields along the journey as well as heavily developed industrial areas. I thought a great deal about history as the train carried me through this land of sorrow.

Poland, through the centuries, has been through countless trials which have tested the mettle of these proud people. Poland was absorbed by the Russian Empire during the Napoleonic Wars as punishment for siding with the French. Poland would not be an independent nation again until the reapportionment of Europe after World War I. Poland would again be dragged into war in 1939 as the Poles were on the receiving end of the full fury of the blitzkrieg. Poland was completely subdued by Nazi Germany in weeks and its Jewish population was among the first rounded up and exterminated in Europe. The overwhelming majority of Polish Jews did not survive the Holocaust. After the war Poland, like most of Eastern Europe, next suffered the horrors of Soviet Occupation. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, however, Poland has enjoyed a rare spell of independence and peace. I was highly intrigued to visit a place that had been the stage of so much history, and looked forward to my stay.

After the change in Katowice, several helpful people boarded the train advertising hostels in Krakow, including transportation from the train station. As all of them were young I figured that they must be students working a summer job for the hostels. This observation was further confirmed when I learned that during the year the hostels doubled as dormitories for local universities. After learning about the facilities and prices of a few places, I chose my hostel and lined up with the rest of the tourists who were going to the same place. Once the long, hot and bumpy train ride came to an end I was soon settled in a hostel located fairly close to the center of the city with free kitchen, laundry and internet access for the equivalent of $12 per night. I was soon to find that the prices of everything in Poland were a welcome blessing to my beleaguered bank account.

I was exceedingly hungry when I arrived so one of the first things I did in Krakow was head straight to a butcher shop to buy some Polish Kielbasa. Back home I had always loved Polish kielbasa but found that it was always so expensive for a few links. In Poland, I soon discovered that homemade kielbasa tasted infinitely better and only cost about a dollar per pound. Needless to say I bought several pounds which I merrily boiled and ate with sauerkraut and mustard throughout my stay in Krakow.

After a few days in Poland I really began to feel the differences in the country. The climate is cool and damp. It rains a great deal; in fact, several times during my stay I had to take cover under some awning or covered walkway from surprise downpours. Everywhere are the reminders of the nation’s often dark past. From the window of my hostel I could see huge communist housing blacks, cheap corrugated tin shacks, industrial smoke stacks and nuclear power plants. Any wandering off the beaten path in Krakow quickly leads to endless streets of utterly non-descript dilapidated buildings or outright slums. Poland is unique demographically as, unlike any place I had yet visited in Europe, it is extremely insulated. There are very few immigrants from Asia or Africa. The Polish people are also very distinct in appearance. Some people are extremely large grim faced peasants who look as though they could smash through walls with their strength and vitality. There are also many petite blonde women with distinct Eastern European faces. The people seem somewhat aloof and rarely during my visit did I spend much time chatting or mingling with the locals.

Krakow is a very easy town to get around. The old town is very small and highly centralized. A quick walk from my hostel down town led to the oldest portion of town. Old Town Square, an enormous public square filled with merchants and gigantic flocks of pigeons, is the heart of Krakow. At the center of this square is the Cloth Hill Market, a palatial market filled with vendors selling some of Poland’s most beautiful handicrafts. The wares for sale at the market are extremely reasonable prices. You can buy hand carved wooden chess sets for less than ten dollars, vanity boxes for less than twenty. Poland also sells enormous quantities of Baltic amber, which literally washes ashore on from the Baltic Sea. Merchants sell coveted sterling silver and amber jewelry at extremely reasonable prices along with hand crafted crystal ware. Surrounding the Cloth Hill Market on the perimeter of the square is an excellent selection of bars, clubs and restaurants. In the neighboring streets are statues of Polish heroes and martyrs, churches and cobblestone promenades lined with more shops and restaurants.

Not far from the town square lies Wawel Castle. Wawel Hill is an ideal fortification, with a commanding view of a bend in the Vistula River below. Human beings lived on Wawel Hill as far back as the Paleolithic era. During the medieval period, Wawel Hill was a bustling center of trade and, recognizing this, the first Polish kings built their palace on the hill. The current incarnation of the castle was first built during the 16th century by King Sigismund I. The King engaged the best German and Italian artists to build his Renaissance masterpiece. Today the palace exists as a masterpiece of different artistic styles. The castle, a natural fortress is surrounded by large brick walls. It is a comparatively squat castle but does boast a number turrets and cupolas of green copper that are, perhaps, its signature feature. Its interior courtyard is surrounded by a fine two tiered arcade with windows that look out over the city below.

The nearby cathedral of St. Stanislaus and St. Wenceslaus is the final resting place of many Polish monarchs from the medieval period. The cathedral is Poland’s national sanctuary and was almost the burial place of Pope John Paul II. Much like the castle, Wawel Cathedral was commissioned by King Sigismund I-who is himself buried there-and executed by various Italian architects and artisans. It is considered one the finest examples of Italian renaissance architecture north of the Alps.

After my walking tour through the principle monuments of downtown Krakow, I spent a few days relaxing, shopping and enjoying myself. Luckily my hostel was filled with lots of young people looking to have a good time and I had no problem finding people to hang out with. My two roommates and I went to dinner at the John Bull Pub, which is a old English pub and restaurant located on Old Town Square. One night another group of guys from the hostel and I also discovered an extremely cool underground bar, Club Uwaga, which had been dug into the earth below Old Town Square. Club Uwaga has antique chandeliers, sconces, large wooden tables and various stone chambers to discover as well as good music and reasonably priced drinks. Although I was only in town for four days, I got the distinct impression that in Krakow there are plenty of options when you want to have a good time and enjoy a night of music, drinking and dancing.

On my third day I returned to the train station in order to buy a ticket to the small town of Oswiecim. Oswiecim is a small, industrial town located about forty miles from Krakow. It has a small population but very good rail access to the rest of Europe. These are the very features the Nazis recognized in Oswiecim in 1940 when they built their first and most infamous concentration camp there. The Polish refer to the town as Oswiecim but the camp as Auschwitz.

The train ride was long and bumpy. As the train came to a halt in Oswiecim, I stepped down to the platform in what appeared at first glance as an extremely small and forlorn town. Since I had just missed the bus to Auschwitz and it was located less than a mile away from the station, I decided to walk. There were many factories and empty lots but very few people or residences. I could not help but think how perfect this town was suited to the vile purposes of the Nazis. No bombing missions or spy planes would ever find this small place in the middle of the Polish countryside. As I approached the camp I began noticing abandoned chemical works from the war. The large rectangular buildings still stand intact but with broken windows and instruments strewn haphazardly inside. Finally I came to the camp.

You have to enter through the visitor’s center. The walls are covered with quotations from various international dignitaries about Auschwitz and the Holocaust. I purchased a guide book and made my way out toward Auschwitz I. The first camp at Auschwitz was originally a barracks for the Polish Army. In 1940, as the Nazis were looking for a location to test out their proposed methods for the “Final Solution” Auschwitz was mentioned. The first prisoners were Polish political prisoners. Later came Soviet POW’s. As the SS perfected the grisly methods of torture and murder that would become the hallmark of the Holocaust, Auschwitz I became the template upon which later death camps would be based. While Auschwitz I held as many as 20,000 prisoners, the Nazi’s quickly exhausted its capacity and soon realized that they would have to construct a larger camp. This led to the construction of Auschwitz II, a few kilometers at Birkenau. Birkenau would be the principle camp in which the vast majority of the 1.1 million Jews killed at Auschwitz would die. A third camp was also established at Monowitz; this camp was placed under the direction of the German chemical manufacturer IG Farben and was designed to use the slave labor of the camps to produce synthetic rubber.

During my visit I was able to walk around and photograph Auschwitz I. As I approached the camp I was able to quickly discern the infamous “Arbeit Macht Frei” inscribed over the entrance gate to the camp. The complex of buildings looked like it could have been anything: a hospital complex, a modest school or research facility. The buildings were constructed of a plain red brick with wooden roofs. The most telling feature, however, was the labyrinth of barbed wired electric fences that surrounded the place. Small signs with skull and bones signaled the danger from these fences. Today most of the buildings are exhibits detailing different aspects of camp life. One building houses monstrous collections of shoes, eye glasses, hair and prosthetic limbs take from prisoners. Another building shows the sleeping conditions-burlap sacks and straw placed upon wooden floors and wood planked sleeping bunks. Yet another building housed illustrations created by artists who had been in the camps of daily life and death in Auschwitz. I visited the bathrooms, kitchens and infirmary where thousands of people received just enough food, medical care and sanitation to keep them barely alive. The furthest blocks from the entrance, however, were reserved for the worst. The last block in Auschwitz I, known as the “Death Block” was devoted to the uses of the Gestapo. The German Secret Police used this block as a means of torture and murder for thousands of various political prisoners. Some prisoners were placed in cells too small to lie down, others were suffocated and still others were starved to death. In a courtyard adjacent to the Death Block, thousands of prisoners were lined up against a stone wall and shot. These places, bathed in respectful silence, are a living shrine. The flag of Israel flies over the remnant of the stone wall where people were shot.

The crematorium is outside the fence. It is a small, squat structure, but from its roof rises the ominous spire of its chimney. The Nazis destroyed the crematorium when they evacuated the camp but the Polish government has restored the building and its ghastly implements. Inside one can see the shower room where people were gassed. The ovens were also reconstructed meticulously. They resemble any kind of furnace at first glance. Installed on the floor, however, are short tracks leading to the ovens where the SS had once installed carts designed to convey bodies into the oven more conveniently. Everywhere in Auschwitz is the same disgusting efficiency with which the SS blithely did away with countless human lives. Once outside again, I felt some small measure of comfort to behold the scaffold where Rudolph Hoss, first commandant of Auschwitz, was hanged in 1947 for his crimes against humanity.

Visiting Auschwitz was no easy matter. The place does not necessarily exude evil; it actually seems rather pedestrian at a glance. Surrounding the camp are large trees and green fields stretching into the distance. However, knowing what happened there, recognizing the camp as the embodiment of the evil to which men can sink, makes it very hard to stand. I took very few pictures and most stood in stunned silence just to be there. I do feel that it is the duty of anyone who is able to see these camps at least once in their lives. They should see them and tell other people what they saw.

I spent my last day in Krakow lounging around town. I bought some souvenirs and gifts at the Cloth Hill Market. I did research at an internet café about my next destination, Slovakia. I enjoyed visiting Poland. The country bears many scars, but it is recovering and growing into its own. The Polish people are proud and determined to make their nation a successful part of the EU and they will succeed. As time goes by, more and more Poland will become a cultural treasure to behold.

More Than Athens: Great Greek Getaways

There is more to Greece than Athens; that much is obvious, but what exactly does the country offer in the realm of smaller, lesser-known tourist spots? For some reason the country doesn’t seem to be as popular as other destinations in this part of the world, but lack of scenery is certainly not the reason. Greece’s stark cliffs, jutting above entrancing valleys below, make the country one of the most beautiful in this part of the globe.

The part of the Bible known as Thessalonians comes from the place-name Thessalonica, a Greek city whose very name evokes mystery. That same city (although much larger and influential than in its ancient days) is now called Thessaloniki. If you are interested in ancient history or Biblical history in particular, you should by all means travel here, but if you want more in a vacation, Thessaloniki has more to offer. For history-lovers who seek a sophisticated pasttime, try the Museum of the Macedonian Struggle or Museum of Byzantine Culture. You will also find outdoor shops, churches and other spiritual attractions.

If you want to explore ancient Greek cities you should definitely take at least a day in Piraeus. It is in many ways a modern city, but with enough culture to intrigue history lovers. There are many things to do, from theaters (check out Delfinario and the Municipal Theater of Piraeus) to churches (many to choose from; there are even temples named for Greek deities) to statuary (a figure of a lion is one of the city’s most famous attractions). Anyone traveling to Piraeus by the harbor would see this statue, and so the city was once called Porto Leone. Make sure to study the history of the city before going; it will make your trip more interesting.

You may have heard of the legends surrounding the Oracle of Delphi, but you may not have realized that the city is loved not only for its history, but for its beauty and scenery. Stunning mountains and woodland are scattered throughout ancient columns and other ruins that attest to Delphi’s former glory. Parts of some buildings are still standing; usually only columns remain, but part of the Treasury of the Athenians is still intact and shows the graceful building style that became famous in Greece and Rome. The remains of the Theater of the Sanctuary arc out gracefully from the high plateau while rocky cliffs soar over the spectator seats. This is not a place to visit without a camera.

Though not part of the mainland, various islands play a part in Greece’s makeup; some are more famous than others. The aspiring traveler should research Santorini before finalizing vacation plans. Those choosing to visit Santorini will be absolutely amazed by the beautiful neighborhood of Ia, where small white homes abound and a few blue roofs make the view interesting and picturesque. Also in Santorini, you can find ruins of former settlements and learn their history and importance. Some of the settlements are now known as Akrotiri and Thira. To explore Thira more thoroughly, drop by the aptly-named Archaeological Museum of Pre-Historic Thira in Santorini.

If you’ve decided to limit your Greek vacation to some of the more well-known islands, you can choose between the Northern Aegean Islands, the Northern Sporades, the Ionian Islands, the Cyclades, and Crete. Crete is probably the most familiar of all of these, and for good reason; there is literally something for everyone, and if you leave Crete without finding something specifically tailored to your needs, it’s because you just weren’t looking hard enough.

Are you a museum-trekker? The Historic Museum of Crete, Archaeological Museum, Historical and Folk Art Museum, and Iraklion’s Archaeological Museum should keep you busy for days. For those who love the great outdoors, you shouldn’t miss the stunning views to be found at Dikteon Cave and Samaria Gorge National Park. If you thought Greece couldn’t get any prettier, you’ll be surprised after you visit these terrific places.

Perhaps the most interesting and unusual attraction is the Palace of Knossos. For those familiar with Greek mythology, the minotaur (the kind of creature you wouldn’t want to bump into in the night) lived among the many twists and turns within the palace. Whether or not you believe the stories, it’s an eerily exciting place to visit. You will find many ancient sites in this part of the world, and Crete is no exception; don’t forget to visit the Malia Ruins.

By Lacie R. Schaeffer

South Florida Shopping Destinations

Some notable shopping malls can be found in South Florida’s Miami-Dade and Broward Counties, and they’re highlighted by the surrounding scenery and the different kinds of shops they have which are usually upscale or trendy. These include famous chains like Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, Abercrombie & Fitch, Banana Republic, Kenneth Cole and so on. Another memorable aspect of the malls is just the overall design.

A good example of design is the Dolphin Mall in the western part of Miami. Just off the 836 highway, this mall emulates a tropical bazaar with outdoor kiosks and blasting Latin music. Basically it reflects Miami’s multicultural scene with splashes of Latin and Caribbean ambiance. But the kinds of stores and eateries found in this mall are quite varied. One of the other highlights of this mall is its location. For travelers wanting to do some last minute shopping, the mall is only five miles west of the Miami International Airport and minutes away from Florida’s Turnpike which connects this region with the central part of the state (305-DOLPHIN).

Now if a traveling shopper wants a waterside shopping experience oddly enough there is only one such mall. The Bayside Marketplace (305-577-3344) in Downtown Miami is not very large but does have great waterfront views and access to the city’s famed waters via tour boats. Many operators compete with each other to offer the best price for their short water tours. The kiosks are quite attractive and are probably the best ones shoppers will find in the region due to their one-of-a-kind nature. While its location is great, getting there can be a real nightmare when considering the city’s infamous traffic. Plus parking in the Marketplace is quite expensive. The best bet is to park somewhere along Miami’s metro rail system, which charges a small fee, take the train to the Government Center stop then hop on the free Metro Movers that leaves one a short walking distance from the Marketplace.

Sawgrass Mills (954-846-2300) is Florida’s largest outlet mall and one of the top draws in the entire region. But more importantly it is arguably the best place to go shopping based on the mall’s large variety of stores. Located in Sunrise, the mall is fairly easy to reach from Fort Lauderdale, Miami and Boca Raton (eleven miles from Fort Lauderdale and about thirty minutes from Miami and Boca Raton). One good thing about the mall is that it’s fairly easy to find parking, something that cannot be said for other rival malls like Aventura Mall or the Shops at Sunset Place. Although it can be quite a trek to the actual shops if parking is found in the outer parts of the lots. It’s good to know that many area hotels provide shuttle services to the mall and public buses go there as well.

The mall is supposed to have a vague shape of an alligator but that has gotten harder to discern with new additions like the outdoor Oasis and the Colonnade Outlets. The Oasis is a good place to just have a great time if one is out on a date or want a memorable dining experience. The outdoor region features a GameWorks where kids young and old can indulge themselves with video games and food, a movie theatre, restaurants like Cheesecake Factory and more.

Other noteworthy malls that should be tried are the Falls in Miami, (it’s similar to the Bayside Marketplace with its large open-air shopping that surrounds lagoons and waterfalls. 305-255-4570), Aventura Mall (one of the larger malls in South Florida with several upscale stores and an annual farmer’s market. Located in the northern Miami-Dade city of Aventura, just north of ultra-chic Bal Harbour and Miami Beach, 305-935-1110) and the Broward Mall in Plantation (an elegantly designed, sprawling center with lots of national chain stores, 954-473-8100).

Aside from the parking situation with some of these shopping destinations the only other real caveat are the central kiosks. These are small stands strategically placed in the center halls of the malls and are run by overly aggressive salespeople who pester shoppers to sample their products. It is very annoying and makes shoppers feel as if they have to go through an obstacle course just to avoid them. Some may enjoy the bazaar like feel but others may not. But that shouldn’t stop anyone who has time while in South Florida to try the shopping experience, it’s quite memorable. – – J. L. Soto