Monthly Archives: March 2014

Shop like a king-Dubai Mall



Shop like a king-Dubai Mall

Love to shop? So, are you the kind of a person who likes to go around and check out different stuff? If the answer is no, then Dubai mall is the place to be! Placed aptly in the middle of the city to attract tourists and locals as well, the Dubai mall is a mixture of cultural pride, architectural wonder and engineering magnanimity. Covering the size of a mind-boggling 50 football fields, the sheer size of the Dubai mall makes it the place-to-be for anyone who visits Dubai. The mall was opened to the world in the year 2008 with more than 1200 shops operating from it. Yes, you read it right, a whopping 1200 shops make up for the sheer size of the mall. The mall operates all 365 days of the week and there are about 65 million approximate visitors to the mall every year. Anyone who actually sees the mall will describe it as a city within a city. The mall accounts for a number of stores ranging from children’s play stores to health clinics to restaurants, name it and you have it. The size of the mall is so humongous that it makes it impossible for one to take a look at the entire mall in a single day.

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Have you ever wondered how it’s like to walk through a glass surrounded with water all around? To add a bit of spice to it, maybe some sharks and fishes? Well, if you want to experience what it feels like to be inside one of the largest aquariums in the world, then Dubai mall is the place to be. Having the dimensions of 51m x 20m x 11m with the world’s largest viewing panel at 32.8m wide and 8.3m high, the open glass panel gives the best in class to everyone who is viewing the aquarium with a crystal clear view thanks to the specially designed glass from Saint Gobain. Rated to be one of the star attractions of the mall, the aquarium is one of the best of its kind and it is absolutely free as well. There is also a tunnel to the aquarium which gives a closer look at the marine nature. The tunnel having limited capacity cannot be made free and thus the entrance to the tunnel is a paid one. There is also an option for the tourists to have more fun with the sharks in the tank with the “Shark Diving Program”, wherein the tourists are let inside a cage and let inside the aquarium. The cage is specially designed to prevent the sharks from attacking the tourists. The tank houses more than 33,000 living animals, with over 250 species which includes 400 sharks as well.

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Have you ever wondered if it is possible to have Ice in the middle of a barren desert? If the answer is no, then think again! The Dubai mall even features an Olympic sized Ice Skating rink which is open to the general public. All the gears that are required for Ice hockey and other Ice related sports are provided by the vendors in the mall.

Apart from this, the entertainment and restaurant section in the mall is a huge crowd puller as well. The cinema halls in the Mall houses 22 screens with movies from around the globe being screened.

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The mall is not all about the interior looks and stalls that it houses. In front of the mall is the Dubai Fountain, which is one of the biggest and the best fountains in the world. Reaching an incredible height of 450 feet, the Dubai Fountain is regarded as the tallest performing fountain in the world. The Fountain is an absolute treat to the human eye at night as it is lit up with more than 6,600 lights in total. The desert climate however pays a huge toll on the fountain and thus it takes a huge workforce to clean it up as well.

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The sheer size of the mall makes it a huge challenge for the maintenance crew to clean up the mall every single day. And with the number of people visiting the mall every day, the task is almost impossible to be carried out. But thanks to the workforce that cleans up the mess every day, the mall looks sparkling new like its day 1, every single day. The mall closes at 10 pm on working days and midnight on all other days. After the working hours, a workforce of about 100 people walk through the mall, seeping, vacuuming and polishing about 1.5m square feet of the malls’ area every single day.

One of the main crowd-pullers in the mall is the KidZania, where children in the age group of 4-15 experience the complexity of the adult world. Completing the facility with an Airplane simulator, the facility aims at bringing the complexity of the adult world to children thereby allowing them to learn better and evolve better in the real life situation by learning from the miniature situation. So, be it an adult or a grown-up, if you want to have some fun with your loved ones, then Dubai Mall is the place to be.

 

 

 

The Best of Bali, Ubud



The Best of Bali, Ubud

ubud baliUbud is an incredible town situated in the middle of the Indonesian island of Bali. It is the heart of Bali. It is known as the cultural centre of Bali. It is also famous as an arts and crafts hub and has been the pertinent centre for fine arts, music and dance. It is also popular spot amongst the backpackers. Ubud is the best place to stay if you are visiting Bali as it offers a beautiful nature, culture, inspiration as well as comfort. The main reason for people visiting this place so much is for the scenic rice fields, small villages, palaces, ancient historic temples, rivers, mountains, art and craft communities, etc.

Ubud is so cramped up with attractions that it seems like a visual assault at times. When travelling to Ubud, make sure that you give at least a week to this place to understand it completely and know the culture and people here. People come here for two to three days but they fail to understand what is going on around them and the beauty of this place. So if you want to enjoy it completely make sure you give it enough time.

Some of the remarkable sites in Ubud are:

Goa Gajah

Goa Gajah also known as the Elephant Cave was built in the 9th century. It is a temple inside a cave. The entrance of this cave is an ornately carved demon’s mouth. Inside the cave there are some statues of lingam and yoni as well as of Ganesha. There are huge carved guards that stand around the pools near the entrance and then a little path leads you to a waterfall, rice fields and Buddhist stupa fragments. This place is also listed in the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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Gunung Kawi

Gunung Kawi in Tampaksiring situated near the river Pakrisan is presumed to be the burial complex of King Anak Wungsu and his many wives. After climbing down 371 steps, the location at the bottom of steep valley lined with paddy rice fields is spectacular. The small complex on the south side of river is said to be built for the King’s wives whereas the larger complex was for the king himself. There are structures carved into the sides of the steep river valley.

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Tirta Empul

Tirta Empul is regarded as one of the holiest temples in Bali. It was built in the 962 AD. It is a Hindu temple famous for the holy water where the Balinese come to bathe and purify them physically as well as spiritually.

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Agung Rai Museum of Art

This museum was built by Agung Rai and it functions as an art gallery and cultural centre. It has some of the best fine art collection. There are some episodes of Mahabharata told in the form of paintings that hang on the walls here. There are also some paintings famous Indonesian painters like Raden Saleh and Affandi.

Monkey Forest

The Monkey Forest is a nature reserve and a temple complex in Ubud. Officially called as the Mandala Wisata Wanara Wana has a large population of the monkeys. It also houses three holy temples. However, one should be aware of the monkey bites as that could be a while visiting this monkey forest.

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Bali Bird Park

This park is spread over an area of 20,000 square metres. This park is a home to about 5000 birds with more than 200 different species of them. It is a famous tourist attraction here in Ubud. The bird that attracted the most attention here is the Bali Mynah.

In addition to the above famous tourist attractions are the many other temples in Bali, The Ubud palace, Bali zoo, The Botanic Garden, etc. While in Ubud you can also go for white water rafting on the Ayung River. It is a wonderful experience that you must have. Also there are many yoga and meditation centres where you could go and have a spiritual experience. Or you could go and have a Balinese massage and relax yourself and get pampered in many of the spas present in Ubud. Also, you could learn to cook the delicious Indonesian cuisine at the cooking classes here.

And lastly don’t forget to shop when in Ubud. You can visit the famous Ubud market and shop there. There is a large assortment of art and jewellery shops. You can find many wood carvings, batik shirts, sarongs and souvenirs specially aiming at the tourists. But you need to be careful while buying here as the merchants sell at very high rates to the tourists. So make sure you have good bargaining skills before you enter the market. You could also visit the markets on the road to Ubud from Sanur. The small villages here are known as crafts villages and specialize in art and craft materials. You can find some wood carvings, silver jewellery, paintings and stone carvings here. It is one of the best areas to find Balinese artwork.

Ubud market

So Ubud is one place you cannot afford to miss when in Bali. With so many temples, palaces, museums, beautiful environment and a unique culture it makes sure that there is something in store for everyone who visits this place.

The Heart of the Kingdom: Riyadh, Saudi Arabia



The Heart of the Kingdom: Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

The culture of Saudi Arabia is a rich one that has been shaped by its Islamic heritage. The national capital and the largest city of Saudi Arabia, Riyadh, is situated in a desert region on a large plateau, in the heartland of the Arabian Peninsula. As the capital, Riyadh has come to its own and no longer the ‘secret city’ which was a little known to the outside world. It has now its  own radio television production complex, satellite colleges, schools, hospitals, clinics and the largest and most modern university campus in the kingdom. The skyline is dominated by skyscrapers like The Kingdom Trade Centre, the tallest building in Riyadh at 300m and Al Faisallah Tower. Riyadh resembles a modern American city with motorways and flyovers, international hotels, high rise blocks and neon blazing shopping malls.

A man looks at central Riyadh from the Faisaliah Tower - Saudi Arabia, December 14, 2003...

Riyadh is a city having continental climate as the climate is hot and dry in the summer long months and moderate during day and cold during night in the winter short season. The rain scarcely fall here and it is accompanied often with wind and storms. The best time to visit Riyadh is from December to March.

How to get here?

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If you are flying in from any major city in the world, you will land at King Khalid International Airport, which is about 40 km away from the city centre. There is a regular SAPTCO (Saudi Arabian Public Transport Company) bus service from the airport to various hotels and the centre of town. The roads are well maintained and you can drive in from Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Turkey by your own vehicle or International Bus services. There is a limousine service from the airport to your destination. The rates are decided by the government here.

Accommodation and Food

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There is a good range of hotel accommodation throughout the city. There are hotels of all grades in Riyadh from deluxe to third class A and B. You can easily find apartment hotels featuring kitchen, sitting rooms and bedrooms including cleaning services, access to pools and exercise rooms and sometimes even free parking. There are some holiday villages too which provide amusement parks attached to facilities for sleeping. The best among luxurious hotels are Al Waha Palace Hotel, Four Seasons Hotel, Hilton Garden Inn, Crowne Plaza and famous Radisson Blu Hotel.

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Riyadh might be the last place where you would die starving. There is a long chain of restaurants, bars, cafes, hotel and street food corners here. There is Assaraya, a famous Turkish Restaurant with their homous, mutabal, Houbous, kebab, chicken and veggies. Cheesecake Factory has a wide selection of cheesecakes. You can enjoy delicious shawarma at Alrayan restaurant and Chicken Terriyaki at Golden Royal Chinese Restaurant. Aside from the restaurants and hotels wherein both families and singles can enjoy, there are numerous coffee shops and restaurants which are mostly for singles.

The Attractions

National Museum

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The National Museum of Riyadh is a landmark structure in the skyline of Saudi Arabia. It was established as a symbol of country’s educational and cultural development and is one of the most popular destinations of Saudi Arabia. Inside the Museum you can find a display of different types of antiques, manuscripts, documents and display boards that showcase an erstwhile era. Various lectures and workshops are also held at the National Museum on frequent basis.

Kingdom Centre Tower

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Kingdom Centre Tower is a skyscraper located on King Fahan Road. It is considered the most luxurious building in the region, highly favored by local and international visitors. It has total build up area of 300,000 square metres and 300 m high, overlooking the whole Riyadh. The Kingdom centre is the landmark architecture that is famous for its magnificent structure, design and appearance with unmatched distant visibility distinguishes it from any other building in the region.

Al Aghar Equestrian Club

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Al Aghar Equestrian Club is located at the Diplomatic Quarter, next to the Janadriyah village in Riyadh. It is one of the largest equestrian clubs in Saudi Arabia covering an area of 60,000 square metres and was founded in 1410 AH. The club facilities include stables with capacity of up to sixty horses. The entry is free for all. You can rent your own viewing room complete with private service and dinner included if you wish to see some race.

King Abdulaziz Historical Center

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KAHC is located in center of Riyadh just next to famous Water Tower and houses the National Museum With interesting  items through out the history. KAHC tells the story of the founding of the modern Saudi State by the Bedouin King Abdul Aziz. The exhibits are well laid out with a clear narrative and give a good insight into the evolution of the Kingdom. Along with the life history, the collection of king’s cars is a treat to watch.

Granada Center

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The Granada Center is an exciting shopping destination situated in the heart of Riyadh, Ghirnatah. It covers the area of 140,000 square metres of the 466,000 square metres originally designated for the center’s development. The center is a blend of modern art, cutting edge design and luxurious landscape. It offers five anchor stores and an extra showroom for electronic goods, in addition to the 235 shops featuring the latest fashion trends and world renowned brand names.

While spending time in Riyadh, don’t forget to get Black Stone Spa and Dunking Donuts and pay a visit to the Tahlia Street, a great shopping area of the city.

Crystal Caves Naica mines- Chihuahua, Mexico



Crystal Caves Naica mines- Chihuahua, Mexico

naica4The Naica mines are located in the State of Mexico named Chihuahua. The mines are working mines and are best known and recognized for its extraordinary selenite crystals. The municipality of Saucillo is located in Naica and the Naica mines are lead, Zinc and silver mine operated by Industrias Penoles which is Mexico’s largest lead producers. These caves of crystals are approximately 1,000 feet which is equal to 300m below the surface in the limestone host rock of the mining area. This chamber of crystals contains giant selenite crystals which are the largest crystals ever discovered in the history. The selenite crystals were developed and formed by hydrothermal fluids emanating from the magma chambers whereas when the carven was discovered, the miners were drilling through the Naica fault it made them curious as it would flood the mine area.

MexicoCrystalCaveThe locals in Mexico City call the caves as “Sueva de los Cristales” which means cave of the crystals. This place is also known as the Crystal caves of Giants and cave of the giant crystals. In reality, there are three co-joined caves and is one much larger than the other one. This caves are home for vast fingers of selenite which rise in columns and they are so tall that they dwarf then human beings and making them crawl across the areas. These caves are not open for the general public as they are not that safe but a special entry can be made possible.

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The translucent crystals are measured up to 36 feet in height and weighs about 55 tons on an average. They are considered as the largest natural crystals ever been discovered on earth which attracts the geologists and scientists in their hordes as well the tourists and are considered as a great form of attraction. Though the place is not meant for the tourists as a person cannot stand inside the cave more than a few minutes as the temperature inside is very high and heats up inside.

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The location of this cave is underground and beneath there is a pool of magma rising up to the core of the Earth and as discussed it is really very hot down there. The temperature is almost up to 150 F which is 65.5 C which has been recorded in the largest cave while the smaller ones are baked up to 100 F.

naicacave-of-crystals03These Gigantic crystals have been growing since more than over 5,00,000 years. As the underground water seeps down through the porous limestone bed, the caverns become flooded over time as there is a change in the atmosphere. The underground water in here is rich in gypsum minerals and oxygen. The gypsum in the water solidifies into Selenite crystals because the magma heat works like a mob on the cooker while maintaining the water at a simmering steady temperature of 122 F for half a million years.

naicaaThe mining in this area began in 1794 when the Tarahumara people had been very much aware about the gold and silver in the Naica hills. The origin in the Tarahumara language seemed to be a shady place perhaps there was a grove of trees tucked away by a small canyon spring in this small canyon. They had even extracted some of it with the help of small scale surfing digging method. They even found zinc and lead in the ground in the 19th century which was even more valuable than gold and silver and this is the moment when the first ever mining company on a large scale was formed tunneling deep into the Earth. The caves are kept empty and free from water the companies which own them. Their pumps extract almost 22,000 gallons of water per minute with the help of the system and machines used. The operation done is an expensive one and is likely to be ceased soon.

naica minesThe penetrating heat is nearly forgotten as the crystals pop into the view on the other side of ‘Eye of the Queen’. The entire panorama is lighted and the cavern has a depth and impressive cathedral like appearance. When inside the great cathedral of crystals, the pressure of intense heat creates a gamut of emotions in a human being and perhaps lead to the creation of hallucinations. During the time of Russian Revolution, the mine used to produce a great deal of wealth for the state. The revolutionary troops entered the town and demanded money from the owners of the mines which ultimately lead to shutting down the mines from 1911 to 1922 as one of them was assassinated when he refused to pay the revolutionary troops.

naica little-crystalsThe mines were closed down in 1912 when an extraordinary burrowing was discovered at a surprising depth of 400 feet. And was named as the Cave of Swords. This cave was considered as the most impressive cavern and some of the crystals have grown to around 6.6 feet while others cloister together covering all the walls of the cave. Some of these crystals were broken down and taken away by the geological wonders to experiment and to be exhibited in the museum all around the world. Yet the mining opened again in the year 1922 with the extraction of gold, zinc and lead and even finding small selenite crystals lying around occasionally.

naica seleniteIn the year 2000, in the month of April, two brothers were working for Industrias Penoles Naica mines named Juan and Pedro Sanchez. They had been given orders to drill a new tunnel into the previously unexplored drilled ones to a depth of 984 ft and when this occurred both the brothers stood still and stared at the awe-inspiring caverns now known as the crystal’s cave.

Rosetta Stones and Parthenon Sculptures: British Museum, London



Rosetta Stones and Parthenon Sculptures: British Museum, London

The_British_MuseumThe British museum in London is a famous tourist attraction which has been dedicated to human history and culture. It was established in the year 1753 proving it to be very ancient and it is largely based on the collections of the physician and well known scientist named Sir Hans Sloane. The museum was first opened to the public on 15th January 1759 in Montagu House in Bloomsbury which is on the site of the current museum building. The collection of sculpture and art in this museum is remarkable and the number sums up to more than 8 million works and it falls among the largest and the most comprehensive place in existence. The work displayed in here has been originated from all the continents of the world which includes illustrating and documenting the story of human culture from its very beginning times till the present scenario.

british-museumThe expansion of the museum over the following two and a half centuries was largely due to the expansion of the British Colonial footprint and it ended in the creation of several branch institutions. The famous objects in the collection of this British museum includes the Elgin marbles also known as the Rosetta stones and the Parthenon sculptures.

British-Museum-Rosetta-StoneThe Rosetta stone in the museum is kind of a tablet of black rock known as Granodiorite and it is included as a part of the largest inscribed stone that would have stood up to 2 meters of its height. The section of the stone that remains is roughly rectangular in shape and it measures one meter high with 72 centimeters width and almost 30 centimeters from the front till to the back.

British museum Rosetta stoneThe Rosetta stone was discovered in Egypt at Fort St Julien in El-Rashid which is known as Rosetta and was dated from the Ptolemaic period of 196 BC. The stone is one of the most important object in the British museum and holds the importance to understand Egyptian hieroglyphs which is a script made up of small pictures which were used originally in ancient Egypt for religious texts but unfortunately the writing died out in Egypt in the fourth century AD itself. Until the stone was discovered the writing was still a mystery and the knowledge as of how to read the hieroglyphs was lost. The stone kept in the museum is broken down from a bigger stone slab.

Elgin_Marbles_British_MuseumAnother famous attraction of this museum are the Parthenon Sculptures. The sculptures in London are also known as the Elgin Marbles which have been on permanent public display in the British museum since 1817 and absolutely free of charge. In the museum the sculptures are seen by the world audience and they are even actively studied and even researched to promote the understanding of the Egyptian culture worldwide. Even the museum has published the results of its research extensively all around.

London British Museum top best exhibits Parthenon sculpturesThe story of cultural achievement throughout the world from the dawn of human history has been told by the British museum over two million years ago until the present day situations and the Parthenon Sculptures are a significant part of the story. The museum is unique resource for the world. The Parthenon Sculptures are a vital element in this interconnected world collection as they are a part of the world’s shared heritage and transcend political boundaries which has been suggested by the research.

bmThe popular term Elgin marbles is widely used and it refers to the collection of stones objects including sculptures, inscriptions and architectural feature. It was acquired by Lord Elgin during his time as the ambassador to the Ottoman court of the sultan of Istanbul. Specifically it is more refer to as the sculptures, inscriptions and architectural features which were acquired in Athens during 1801 and 1805. Later on they were acquired by the British Parliament from Lord Elgin in 1816 and finally was presented in the British museum as a piece of sculpture for the admiration of the visitors.

bbmThe sculptures from the Parthenon which is displayed in the British museum is roughly the half of what was actually received. The sculpture is 247 feet of the original 524 feet of frieze. There exists only 15 out of the 92 metopes, 17 figures from the pediments and various attractive pieces of architecture which was received earlier. The 17 figures from the statuary from the east and west pediments. Elgin’s acquisitions also includes objects from the other buildings.

britishmuseumFrechtheion which is a caryatid described as a column and other architectural members, Propylaia which is again an architectural member and the last one that is the Temple of Athena Nike which consists of four slabs of the frieze and architectural members. It is observed that besides the acquired sculptured from Lord Elgin the British museum also had a collection of sculptures from the Parthenon which includes fragments from the society of Dilettanti and from the Steinhauser, Cockerell, Inwood, Smith-Barry, Colne Park and Chatsworth collections which are not a part of the collection and have lost their connection and significance whereas all the sculptures from the Parthenon in the British museum are always on a permanent display for the visitors. It is a blissful sight to observe the beautiful sculptures and marvelous architecture which have been discovered from the ancient Egyptian times in the British museum. The visitors get an open chance to explore their inner talent of excavating the beauty of the ancient medieval art.

Manneken Pis, Brussels



Manneken Pis, Brussels

When most people see our Manneken Pis , the first reaction is always one of the amazement  ”Look , how small he is ! 161 cm tall  naked boy urinating into a fountain basin is known as Manneken pis which is located at the junction of Rue De Eikshaat,exactly the lane next to Brussels Town hall from the famous Grand Place.It is within a walking distance of most central hotels too. It is perched on the top of a  curved edge urinating into the basin.It was perched on a 6 feet column which was built on request by Daniel  Raessens in 1619.It was designed by Hieronymus Duquesnoy the elder and put to place in 1618.

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 History

This statue has been stolen many times but the statue has always find his way home It was stolen and damaged by a prisoner in 1817 and as a consequence , the Manneken Pis was re-cast. . There are several legends behind this statue. One of the legend was Godfrey III .He is one of the famous legends of the statue.The reason behind the statue was during the troops of the two year old lord were battling against the troops of Berthouts, The troops had put the infant in the basket and in order to encourage the troops they had hung troops basked in a tree.And from there,the boy urinated on the troops of Berthouts . This is the significance behind this famous statue.

Towards, the end of 17th century, this statue became very important to the city life. He is very famous around the globe.It remains the emblem of the rebellious spirit of city of Brussels. It is an icon that represent the city of Brussels and Manneken Pis is one of the most famous tourist attractions in Brussels.He has been happily peeing in Brussels for more that 400 years. The small boy had an adventurous life over the centuries. He  has been  also given a very popular name ” little Julian”

Tradition

There is a tradition of dressing this statue several times each week , according to a published schedule which is posted on the railings around the fountain.His wardrobe consists of several different costumes.His wardrobe counts more than 900 suits.During big events, he is adorned with luxurious clothes.The first costume presentation was in 1698. The changing of the costume on special days is a special ceremony .He has been regularly given new outfits . On special occasions , the Manneken Pis is attached to the beer keg and he urinates beer which is served to the onlookers to help them celebrate the special occasion.

 

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The ceremony of statue being attached to the beer keg is indeed a special one. Cups will be filled of water and served to the people passing by.Many of his costumes present the national dress of the nations whose citizens come to Brussels as tourists ,others are the uniforms of traders , proffesionals ,associations , branches of the civil and military services. There is also a statue of Manneken Pis in Tokushima ,Japan which was a present from the Belgium Embassy. Since 1987, Manneken pis had a female  equivalent Jeanneke pis . Sometimes , the statue is dressed as an “African farmer ” and he urinates “milk”.The stunt was organized by veterinary without borders to draw attention to the fact that milk is the major source of nutrition in africa. The main motives of the africans is to improve the living conditions of the  natives and their livestock.

 

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Manneken pis means as much to Brussels as the Eiffel Tower and statue of liberty means to Paris and Newyork . It can be said that Paris has a tower , London has a Gate, and Brussels has Manneken pis.During high seasons , the visitors around the world gather to see the little statue. This statue has earned its respect and reputation in all these years.It is one of the top 10 tourist attractions  Brussels. People who visit always cherish the great memories and they might get the national dress from their country of origin be used as the costume of the statue.

This statue has played a large role in city’s history .It has provided sufficient amount of water to the city dwellers.This little naked boy gets special attention before any public celebrations when he is dressed  in a rangeful colours of attires from his extensive wardrobe. It attracts many visitors and it is worth going to see it.Whether there is local or public celebrations . Manneken Pis always get involved. Some of the costumes are given as gifts and have come all over the globe , while the other attires came out of an enormous local collections of more than 800 costumes.

The people of Brussels accept it the way it is . Afterall , a thing does not always has to be big to be beautiful.Brussels would have been continuosly flooded if he would be the size of statue of liberty.It is so symbolic of the free-minded spirit of the Brusselseirs .Numerous legends have sprung up around this symbolic figure.

He is constantly relieving himself and it seems that each and every person wants to get associated  with Manneken Pis. It is one of the priceless work of art that is definitely to be appreciated.

This statue is open for viewing all the time , and its sight is absolutely free – You need not spend a penny to admire this incredible work of art.

Feast On The Last Supper: Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan



Feast On The Last Supper: Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan

Fast paced, fashion forward and filled with activity, Milan is no doubt a modern city. But amidst high fashion houses and busy streets, you will see an abundance of reminders of its glorious past, particularly in its churches. The Santa Maria delle Grazie is one such architectural marvel. Besides being a house of devotion and faith for Catholics the world over, it is home to one of the finest pieces of Renaissance art, Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper found in the refectory of the Dominican convent.

Santa Maria delle Grazie

This masterpiece of Gothic architecture is visited by historians and laymen alike. Evoking images of the 15th century with every inch of its structure, it is the perfect location to travel back in time and revisit the glory of the Italian Renaissance. Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, a trip to Milan is incomplete without a visit to the Santa Maria delle Grazie.

History

Duke Francesco I Sforza of Milan commissioned architect Guiniforte Solari to build the Dominican convent and church in 1463. Santa Maria delle Grazie was to be built where a monastery with frescoes of the Madonna delle Grazie lay. Under Guiniforte, the convent was completed in 1469 and the church in 1490.

Just two years after its completion, the new Duke Ludovico ‘Il Moro’ Sforza decided to remodel the entire structure and use it as a family mausoleum. He appointed Donato Bramante as the principal architect of this project who brought to life one of the most outstanding examples of Lombard Renaissance style architecture. He is said to have expanded the structure, adding huge semi circular apses, a cupola bordered by colonnades, a beautiful monastery and the refectory. However, there is very little documentary evidence linking Bramante’s genius to the construction of Santa Maria Della Grazie except for similarities in his other works bearing the same blend of Gothic and Romanesque style.

Santa Maria delle Grazie interior

The structure bears many traces of a new era in European art in its frescoes and architectural detailing. Amongst frescoes by artists like Gaudenzio Ferrari and Donato da Montorfano, Da Vinci’s The Last Supper in the refectory is the most celebrated and critiqued of them all, commissioned by Ludovico Sforza in 1495.

The Dominican monks continued to run the church and added new embellishments to the structure from 1553 to 1778. The church and the convent were used as barracks and a military warehouse during Napoleon’s rule when religious congregations were inhibited. Church control was restored to the Dominicans in 1905.

On 15 August 1943, during World War II, the convent and the church were bombed by British and American planes. The refectory was largely destroyed, but some walls stood standing, including the one on which The Last Supper was painted which had been sandbagged for protection.

The Structure

The clash between Solari’s and Bramante’s architectural styles in evident on close observance of the structure.

The seven square chapels on the sides of the Church (except the furthest one on the left) are dedicated to the Virgin of Graces. Milan’s elite clans entreated patronage of those chapels to use as mausoleums for their loved ones. These were then adorned with breathtaking works of art. Sculptures by Antonello da Messina are preserved in the Chapel of Santa Caterina. Gaudenzio Ferrari’s frescoes (Stories of the Passion) are housed in the Chapels of the Adoring Virgin and the Holy Crown. There is a fresco by Bramantino in a little cloister next to the tribune. Frescoes illustrating the Resurrection and Passion by Bernado Zenale were also found in the church.

The monastery is built around three courtyards and comprises the northern end of the church and an arcade with Gothic capitals embellished with leaves. Opposite the arcade, you find the Chapel delle Grazie, the Chapter House and Locuturio rooms and the library built by Solari.

The southern portion of the structure is comprised entirely of the Refectory containing Da Vinci’s The Last Supper and The Crucifixion by Donato da Montorfano.

The church gardens offer a welcoming, relaxing air in contrast to the hustle and bustle of the Piazza.

Donato Bramante’s Sacrestia vechhia (The Old Sacristy) today is the seat of a Dominican Cultural Centre where the brethren conduct conferences on spirituality, philosophy, literature, art and sociology. Music concerts and artistic exhibitions are also held here.

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A true pinnacle of distinction in art and an insignia of Western Civilisation, this 460 cm by 880 cm fresco by Leonardo da Vinci was commissioned by Ludovico Sforza in 1495 and is painted on an end wall at the refectory of Santa Maria delle Grazie. It was to be the centerpiece of Sforza’s family mausoleum.

The Gospel of John is the theme of the fresco where Jesus announces over supper that one of his disciples will betray him. This epoch making moment of Christian history is so remarkably depicted in Leonardo’s work, that it is one of the most scrutinized paintings in the world. The apostles were said to have had different reactions to Jesus’s declarations and these are very realistically depicted in the eerily lifelike details of the facial expressions in Da Vinci’s masterpiece.

The use of natural light and pigments results in a unique mélange of Florentine and chiaroscuro perspectives.

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Leonardo da Vinci painted in a unique medium called Tempera Forte on a two-layered plaster surface and not in oil. This wasn’t damp proof and left the painting susceptible to the elements. Napoleon Bonaparte even let his troops use the frescoed wall as target practice. Thus, despite numerous restoration attempts, the fresco remains just a shadow of its former self.

This however, hasn’t reduced the number of visitors coming for a glimpse of Da Vinci’s brilliance. So large is the number of footfalls that you have to make a reservation to go and see it.

Feast your eyes on The Last Supper. The paint may be fading and crumbling but Da Vinci’s powerful, redolent and poignant portrayal of betrayal will touch you with its spirit.

Manhattan Isle: Roosevelt Island



Manhattan Isle: Roosevelt Island

The Roosevelt Island is one of the islands in the New York City’s East River. It is a narrow island compared to all other islands of the river. It lies in between the island of Manhattan to its west and the borough of Queens to its right. Unlike Manhattan it is not very densely populated. It belongs to the City of New York but is very different from the busy and fast life of the city. Even being part of the most densely populated and world’s biggest metropolitan city, it is very different from New York and is a whole new different world in itself. It is a planned neighbourhood of the city which lies on the small island and is no bigger than a football field. It was bought by the New York City in 1828. Many hospitals, mental asylums and health care centres had been built here. It has been named and then renamed several times in history. It was once known as Blackwell’s Island after the farming family who lived there. It was also once called Welfare Island, Varkens Eylandt and Minnehanonck. The New York State decided to lay a plan to build a housing of 10,000 people in 1970s along Roosevelt Island’s main street which is probably the only street on the island. Most of the residential buildings on the island are rental buildings. There are also some commercial buildings and many others are soon growing towards privatization. The planned area along the roadway resembles an Olympic Village or cookie cutter college housing.

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Roosevelt Island is part of the Manhattan which has long been lost under the shadow of the Erector-Set Queensboro bridge in new York’s east river. It has long been the home of insane prisoners, mental patients and UN workers. But now it is known for its beauty and also its uniqueness. Every New Yorker should once visit the Island through its whole length, from the Four Freedoms Park on the south end to the lighthouse at the north end. It is amazing that you will always remain in the sight of the river. The island was believed to be haunted by a lot of people once but it had developed a lot since the past 15 years. The scenic beauty of Manhattan and Queens along the perimeter of the river is breath taking. Despite the creepiness of the asylums and prisons, you will certainly like the place. There are not many restaurants and clubs here but you will certainly enjoy sitting along the river on a fine day. The best time to visit the island is during the summers.

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The best part of the island is sky tram to get there. You can take a trip of the sky trams using your metro card. The trams are super clean, always on time and the staff is friendly. People usually take the tram to witness the great view it has to offer of the city beneath. The ride takes you along the Queensboro bridge to the Roosevelt Island and lets you admire the city from a small distance. Alternately, if you are afraid of heights, you can use the F train to get to the island which is one of the deepest subway stations in the New York City.

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Once you are in the island, you may visit the South Point Park located in the southernmost tip of the Roosevelt Island. It is very peaceful and quiet place with lush green surroundings. It has two historic landmark buildings of Small Pox Hospital and the Strecker Memorial Laboratory that was built as the nation’s first centre for study of pathology. If you want to go for a run, have a walk or just sit, relax and read a book then this is the perfect place for you. You can enjoy all this with the view of the grandiose Manhattan Skyline. The park is never overcrowded.  Another attraction of the island is the North Point Lighthouse and it is totally worth hitting both the points of the island. It is a tall 50 feet high lighthouse. It is surrounded by a lighthouse park which is a famous picnic spot. You could just spread out your blanket and relax through the whole day. It was built to navigate the boats and is probably the smallest lighthouse you will come across. It was restored in 1998 and is now a tourist attraction. Going one block south of the lighthouse, you will find another place worth visiting known as Octagon. It was once a mental asylum but had now fallen due to years of neglect. It is currently a lobby of 500 unit apartment building and also has a rotating art exhibit. The place was reopened in 2006 as a residential community but tourists could still enter the building to see its original state and its flying staircase. There is also an adjoining gallery but photos are prohibited.

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Roosevelt Island is kind of a weird place but its weirdness is what attracts attention. But it is only a nice place to visit rather than to live as it is difficult to have basic business amenities at this place. There is very limited number of stores here. People do only 12% of their shopping from this place. There is just one grocery store, one library, one bar and one starbucks.

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The Best Kept Secret in the Caribbean-Curacao Island



The Best Kept Secret in the Caribbean-Curacao Island

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“Bon Bini”! Welcome to the hidden gem of the Caribbean Sea, Curacao Island. Curacao is one of the ABC islands off the Venezuela coast which includes Aruba and Bonaire. This exquisite island situated to the south of the Caribbean Sea flaunts clear turquoise waters, sparkling sand beaches, colorful architecture, exotic cuisines and friendly locals.

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Curacao has a tropical climate, with dry months from January to September and the wet season from October to December. All round the year there prevails a warm sunny climate with occasional showers and cool trade winds blowing through the island. Dutch is the official language of the island but English and Spanish is also predominantly spoken here apart from Papiamentu, the native language of the region. Those who want to travel by air can arrive at the Hato International Airport or they can arrive by sea at one of the two docking spots for cruise ships, Curacao Mega Pier or the Curacao Cruise Terminals. Once you arrive at the undiscovered island you can get around with rented cars, taxis, buses or even ferries.

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The best way to start discovering the place is at the heart of island itself, its capital, Willemstad. Willemstad is one of the world’s richest cities in terms of diversity and culture. For that reason the port is one of the six UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Caribbean to preserve its unique European-African heritage. The city has several walkways which you can use to explore it. It has a multitude of small markets bustling with vendors which attract numerous shoppers. You can also enjoy a mid-day meal at an outdoor café that sprawl the city and maybe get to know a few of the locals who love to socialize with visitors. St Anne’s Bay divides Willemstad into two districts, Punda on the east and Otrobanda on the west.

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At Punda you will find the magnificent Fort Amsterdam which was built by the Dutch for protection when they had captured the city in the 1600s. In the present day the fort has duty free shops and restaurants and also acts as the Government’s Palace. Another well-known fort is Fort Nassau built on top of the hill to protect St Anne’s Bay and a part of the city. The fort is open to visitors and sports a restaurant that overlooks the bay. The ‘Floating Market’ in Punda is renowned for fresh produce and fish that it sells in mini boat fleets that comes all the way from Venezuela. Otrobanda, “The Other Side” is similar to Punda with its Dutch influenced architecture with an upbeat bold palette and lavish mansions with members of high social standing living here. The Queen Emma Bridge that connects the two districts is a must see. Also known as the “Swinging Old Lady” it swings open to allow ships to pass by. At night the bridge can be seen in all its grandeur with its new vivid lights. It is hard to miss the Queen Juliana Bridge which is one of the highest bridges in the world, with a stunning view around the city of Willemstad.

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It would be a sin to miss the breath taking beaches of Curacao. The long stretches of white sand along the crystal clear waters are known for its world class diving and snorkeling experience. Pleasant currents and excellent visibility makes it easier to see the brightly colored corals and the vast collection of marine life. Beaches such as Alice in Wonderland, Big Knip, Little Knip, Mambo Beach, Barbara Beach have several dive centers, restaurants, hotels and are recognized for their nightlife bashes. For those of you who are bold enough to hit the waves, apart from diving and snorkeling you can also try windsurfing and para sailing. Mountain biking, rock climbing and rappelling are a few adrenaline packed adventure sports that you could attempt. On the other hand there are additional sports that are comparatively relaxed but nonetheless exciting like jeep safaris, sea kayaking, horseback riding, fishing and even golfing. You can visit the unique Hato Caves formed after the sea level dropped from coral and lime stones. Beautiful stalactites and stalagmites are found here along with water pools and a waterfall.

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The cuisine of Curacao is a blend of various cuisines from around the world such as Dutch, Spanish, and Indonesia. You can try the delicious authentic local food at a variety of restaurants found all over the region. Dishes like Bami (Long noodles with vegetables and meat), Kabritu (Stewed goat), Rijsttafel (Table serving rice with up to twenty accompanying dishes), KeshiYana (Stuffed cheese-one of Curacao’s most popular dishes) and Sunchi (Meringue “kisses”) will definitely leave your taste buds tingling and mouth salivating. Curacao is also celebrated for its annual carnivals in which all the locals participate with vigor. The carnival routes keep varying every year but they definitely pass through Otrobanda so make sure you book your hotel around that area and arrive early to catch a good spot. You can join the carnival and dance along with the friendly citizens adorned in colorful costumes in the brightly decorated streets. If you get to join the parade then don’t miss the chance as it will be an experience you will never forget.

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Curacao is an island where the old meets the new. Its ancient European charm makes the place unique. The country’s culture and beauty leaves you overwhelmed and wanting for more. At the same time all the activities taking place here makes it such a bustling and exciting area. Curacao is definitely the heart of the Caribbean Sea, real and different.

The Symphony of Lights: Hong Kong



The Symphony of Lights: Hong Kong

Few things in the world can generate that instant sense of beauty that mesmerizes you and simply bowls you over. The sunrise sunset and the colours of the sky have captured human eye since for ever. It is simply impossible to expect mankind to not imitate this play of light and colour. Human make errors in tons but when they get it right they give you ecstatic display. The Symphony of lights is one such wonder that man has got just right! If you think Victoria Bay is panoramic cityscape in itself, think again for sound and light can give a spin to beautiful and make it breath taking.

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So Whats the Symphony of lights anyway? It is a rhythmic show of music and light jumping off 45 buildings surrounding the Victoria Harbour. The Australian firm Laservision developed this particular attraction which was brought by the country for 44 Million Hong Kong Dollars.  Till date there have been over 4 million spectators for this marvel. Hong Kong lights up and dances for 10 minutes every day with the visitors becoming a part of the country every night.

This show has managed to ace it every night since its inception seven years ago, i.e. in 2007, thus prompting the Guinness world records to name it as the world’s largest light and sound show. The show is systematic with light and sound playing their parts flawlessly to say the least. The song and narration is in English thrice a week i.e. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. This is for the wide tourists that make up the big chunk of spectators. It’s in Mandarin on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Sundays are reserved for Cantonese. Thus the show carters to a wide range of people making everyone very happy.

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Be warned, my friends for the show may be cancelled due to emergencies, without prior notice. When Tropical Cyclone Warning Signal No.3 or above or the Red/Black Rainstorm Warning Signal is issued at or after 3pm on the day, the show will be suspended. No show will be staged even if the signal is removed before 8pm on that day. Check with the meteorological dept. to confirm clear skies.

There are stupendous fireworks from the decided buildings on special occasions like Chinese New Year and Christmas.  One can even catch the show on radio, sans the light of course. On New Year’s be ready for special treat. At 11:40 the show begins with the trademark display of lights. In the last 20 seconds of the year, fireworks decorate the sky with countdown. However the 20 seconds firework is from two trademark buildings alone. As soon as the clock strikes midnight, sixteen more buildings join in the celebration, decorating the sky. The world watches the live telecast since 2007.

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There are 44 buildings that participate in this show with lasers or LEDs or even simple lights. The show has propelled the city as one tasty tourist destination. For the lights can be enjoyed from the Victoria Bay cruise as well. The other popular vantage points are Star Avenue to the coast beside the Hong Kong. Cultural Centre and the waterfront promenade on Wan Chai Golden Bauhinia Square. The best said place to watch the display is Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront between the Avenue of Stars and the Hong Kong cultural Centre. Do not worry for display is totally free of cost from the best location.

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Here is one added advantage for those who take the cruise. The stated is the Skyscraper symphony. The add ones are 1.5-hour evening sightseeing cruise, Music and commentary, Stunning evening views of Hong Kong and the harbor. The best for last, unlimited drinks served from the open bar during the cruise. I can see the twinkle now!

Now moving on to the meat of the subject, the show has five themes which take you through the energy and spirit of Hong Kong. The five steps are awakening which starts of the show and gives life to the buildings with dancing lights of rainbow colours. The next step is the energy which spreads out the light all over the city in form of beams signifying the vibrancy of it all. The next step is Heritage which uses the two traditionally lucky red and gold colours. Here the display is to the tunes of Chinese Musical instruments symbolizing the rich and diverse culture of Hong Kong.

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The fourth theme of the display is Partnership. This one is stupendous for its send out searchlights across the harbour to show a connection to the opposite side. The harmony, on all levels, is simply gorgeous. And the last theme of everyday is Celebration. This one reminds everyone of a Kaleidoscope. The patterns and swirls are all a part of grand celebration which shows Hong Kong as Asia’s world city.

One can’t deny that the vision is worth your time in the city. It is deeply ingrained part of every visitor and local that binds them together. It is not uncommon for the visitors to bid goodbye to Hong Kong with this lavish show. So dig in your heels and find the safe spot to let the lights dazzle you.