Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Years Eve Fireworks (Sydney, Australia)

Every year, many cities around the world welcome the new year with a burst of fireworks, showcasing their city's special landmarks and culture. Being the middle of summer, Sydneysiders jam-pack both shores of the harbour or jockey for prime position among the thousands of pleasure craft and yachts, enjoying picnics, family, friends and frivolities in the warm Sydney air.

For around a quarter of an hour on the stroke of midnight, fireworks shoot and tumble from around and upon the spectacular Sydney Harbour Bridge. They make for a joyous and uplifting start to any year. A special symbol is lit on the bridge marking the significance of the particular blossoming year. To all of you, best wishes for 2009. Enjoy some photos from the new year of a couple of years ago.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas and 100 Posts

To all my readers, my best wishes for the festive season. Appropriately it represents the one hundredth post to Travel Wonders. Gathered from a wide number of websites are wishes for a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year in forty different languages.

Afrikaans - Geseknde Kersfees en 'n gelukkige nuwe jaar
Amharic (Ethiopian) - Melikam yelidet beale Melikam Addis Amet (መልከም ልደት)
Bulgarian - Vesela Koleda i chestita nova godina!
Chinese Cantonese- Sing Dan Tung San Fae Lok. Gung Hai Fat Choi (聖誕節同新年快樂. 恭喜發財)
Chinese Mandarin - Shen Dan Kuai Le Xin Nian Yu Kuai (聖誕快樂 新年快樂)
Cherokee - Danistayohihv & Aliheli'sdi Itse Udetiyvasadisv (ᏓᏂᏍᏔᏲᎯᎲ & ᎠᎵᎮᎵᏍᏗ ᎢᏤ ᎤᏕᏘᏴᎠᏌᏗᏒ)
Croatian - Sretan Bozic
Czech - Stastne a vesele vanoce a stastny novy rok!
Danish - Glaedelig Jul og godt nyter
Dutch - Vrolijk Kerstfeest en een Gelukkig Nieuw Jaar
English - Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year
Eskimo (inupik) - Jutdlime pivdluarit ukiortame pivdluaritlo!
Estonian - Rõõmusaid jõulupühi ja head uut aastat!
Finnish - Hyvää joulua ja onnellista uutta vuotta!
Flemish - Zalig Kerstfeest en Gelukkig nieuw jaar
French - Joyeux Noel et Bonne Année!
German - Frohe Weihnachten und ein glückliches Neues Jahr!
Greek - Kala Christougenna kai evtichismenos o kainourios chronos!
Hebrew - Chag Molad Sameach v'Shanah Tovah (חג מולד שמח ושנה טובה)
Hungarian - Kellemes karacsonyi uennepeket es boldog ujevet!
Icelandic - Gleðileg jsl og farsælt komandi ar!
Indonesian - Selamat Hari Natal dan Selamat Tahun Baru!
Italian - Buon Natale e Felice Anno Nuovo!
Japanese - Meri Kurisumasu soshite Akemashite Omedeto!
Korean - Meli Kliseumaseu jal ji naego saehae pog manhi pateuseyo (메리 크리스마스 잘 지내고 새해 복 많이 받으세요)
Latvian - Priecigus Ziemsvetkus un Laimigu Jaungadu!
Lithuanian - Linksmu Kaledu
Norwegian - God Jul Og Godt Nytt Aar
Polish - Wesołych Świąt i Szczęśliwego Nowego Roku!
Portuguese - Boas Festas e Feliz Ano Novo
Romanian - Craciun fericit si un an nou fericit
Russian - S nastupaiushchim Novym godom i s Rozhdestvom Khristovym! (С Рождеством Христовым и С наступающим Новым Годом)
Serbian - Hristos se rodi. Srećna Nova Godina (Христос се роди. Срећна Нова Година)
Slovak - Veselé vianoce a Štastný nový rok
Slovene - Vesele bozicne praznike in srecno novo leto
Spanish - ¡Feliz Navidad y próspero año nuevo!
Swedish - God Jul Och Ett Gott Nytt Ar
Thai - Suk san wan Christmas sawatdii pimaï (สุขสันต์วันคริสต์มาส และสวัสดีปีใหม่)
Turkish - Noeliniz kutlu olsun ve yeni yilinis kutlu olsun!
Vietnamese - Chúc Giáng Sinh Vui Vẻ và Chúc Năm Mới Tốt Lành

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Gorge-ous Flume (New Hampshire, USA)

In the heart of New Hampshire, a few miles south of the Old Man of the Mountain in Franconia Notch State Park lies a natural travel wonder carved out of rock over millennia. A superb three kilometre (two miles) walk traverses covered bridges, glacial rocks, tumbling waterfalls and a staggering narrow passage called Flume Gorge. In fall, the reds, bronzes and yellows of the surrounding trees provides a dazzling backdrop to nature’s work. One youthful tree demonstrates the fight for life as it seemingly grows out of a rock, its eager roots exploiting small flaws in the rock face to soak nutrition from the soils below.

The walk starts crossing a 200 year old covered bridge, one of the oldest in the country. Protected from the elements with a roof, covered bridges extended the life of typical wooden bridges tenfold in areas of savage winters and provided better footing for people and stock animals during the icy months. Today they appear as a footnote in history littering the New England states with a feeling of yesteryear.

Following a dirt path, you soon arrive at the walk’s highlight. Named after artificial waterways used by loggers to transport heavy tree trunks from mountainous areas, natural Flume Gorge extends for a length of 250 metres and narrows to around five metres – the towering walls encroaching till you feel like you can touch both sides at once. A narrow boardwalk with stairs clings to the sheer rock wall only metres above the dark gushing waters which have eroded through the granite bedrock. You can feel the passage of time as you look up to witness the rock walls stretch over 80 metres skyward, permanently covered in a rich mat of mosses, ferns and flowers from the scant light which penetrates the gorge’s depths.

Exactly two hundred years ago this year (1808), this gorge was discovered by a 93 year old woman named Aunt Jess who stumbled across the gorge while fishing. It is difficult to imagine such an elderly woman strolling this rocky and uneven country and being the first to sight such a stunning offering of nature.

Walking upstream, Avalanche Falls creates a huge din as it cascades towards the gorge. Further on, past further falls, a second covered bridge sits above a peaceful pool constructed primarily from a centuries old Sentinel Pine which fell in a hurricane. This statuesque tree was estimated to be over 50 metres high and almost five metres in circumference.

Through further woodland paths, dripping in vibrant autumnal shades, the loop path circles back around to the starting point. Take a gentle hour and a half to contemplate a meandering stream shaping nature’s path through this little natural treasure trove deep in the heart of New England.

Other USA Posts
The Fall Kaleidoscope (New England)
Unveiling Nature’s Grand Masterpiece (Grand Canyon)
Rifling Through the Mystery House (San Jose)
Feeding Frenzy (Alaska)
Bears, Crabs and Eagles on the African Queen (Alaska)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Photo of the Week - Elephants at Night (Kenya)

Two favourite photos taken outside my hotel late at night-time with a family of elephants digging at the salt-pan with their tusks and eating the mud. The photo was on a very slow exposure, hence the somewhat ghost-like qualities of some of the elephants because they just simply wouldn't keep still for me.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Crystal Wonderland (Lake Cave, Western Australia)

Margaret River, south of Perth in the remote south-west corner of Australia, is a travellers delight rich in great sights and experiences. Blessed with a Mediterranean climate, fine soils for wine production, world class surf beaches and towering karri forests which blaze in a kaleidoscope of colour in spring during the wildflower season, Margaret River has dramatically grown in popularity in the last ten years.

With its limestone base, nature has worked its magic over many years leaving a number of mesmerising show caves, including Lake Cave, to wander and enjoy.

Starting with a long walk down some 350 stairs (though you are reminded that this is the path out too) past groves of slender statuesque karri trees, which stand over 20 metres in height, the cave entrance beckons in a gaping collapsed cavern. It feels like entering Middle Earth with spider webs hanging from above and a deep ladder marking the first steps into the inky depths below.

As your eyes adjust from the dazzling sunshine, you can see a tranquil lake covers much of the main chamber in this underground wonderland. Upset only by the occasional drip from above, it creates a perfect mirror for the delicate expressive crystalline formations. Giant straws fall from the cave’s ceiling built over many thousands of years as a miniscule ring deposit of calcite remain from each delicate drop of the limestone-enriched water.

Undoubtedly, the highlight is the Suspended Table. A large crystalline slab supported from above by a pair of columns hangs tantalisingly a few centimetres above the subterranean lake. The floor on which it once sat was swept away leaving this five tonne formation dangling in thin air.

At the end of the cave there are seats where you can enjoy the peaceful environment, the unusual decorations and the remarkable reflections in the lake. Lights are extinguished to get a true feeling of suffocating darkness (and no, you can’t see your hand even an inch away from your face!) before an array of coloured lights transforms the cave into a fairy grotto shimmering before your eyes (see lead photo – note the suspended table in the centre of the image).

Lake Cave is one of several caves in the Margaret River region and makes for a worthwhile hour to explore this crystal fantasy world.

Other Australia Posts
Climbing the Coathanger (Sydney Harbour Bridge)
An Obsession with Size
Invasion of the Termites (The Pinnacles)
And Then There Were Eight (Great Ocean Road)
Photo of the Week - Olympics and Opera House

Other Cave Post

Underground Fantasy (Skocjan Caves, Slovenia)

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Photo of the Week - Sunrise over the Masai Mara (Kenya)

The sun rises for another day over the weathered and dusty plains of the Masai Mara National Park, silhouetting a typical acacia tree.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Viking Stonehenge (Kåseberga, Sweden)

Fifty-nine huge sandstone boulders in the shape of a large ship stand proudly in a grassy green headland that pokes into the chilly waters of the Baltic Sea in the southern-most part of Sweden. Scientists are undecided as to the real purpose or timing of these rocks but the most popular theories suggest a construction date of around 500 – 600 A.D. just before the start of the Viking period. Some claim it is a burial monument (though no evidence of bodies have been found) while others claim it is an astronomical clock. As for a number of monuments around the world from such early times, this one highlights the remarkable affiliation and comprehension that older civilisations had with the cosmos as the stones aligns with the summer and winter solstices. Mid-summer dawn is highlighted by the sun streaming directly over the largest stone in the ship.

Ales Stenar (Ale’s Stones) is in the tiny fishing village of Kåseberga (population around 100), a scenic and comfortable bike ride over flat farmland of around 18 kilometres through flat farmland from the historic town of Ystad (bike hire is easy from Ystad). The medieval Ystad is probably best known as the home town of Henning Mankell’s fictional police detective, Kurt Wallander and boasts a lively town square and beautifully preserved houses, churches and buildings.

Almost 70 metres (220 feet) in length, the height of a person and 20 metres (65 feet) across, in true Scandinavian spirit this unusual travel wonder is open for all to see – no fences, no entry charges, no souvenir stands and no tacky trinkets. Reassuringly, there was no graffiti on any of the stones. Probably horrifying to local archaeologists, children climb on the rocks for that ultimate family photo while cattle graze contentedly on the rich pastures.

Near to Ales Stenar in the small harbour area overlooking a pebbly shoreline is the irresistible offerings of the local smokehouse and fish-shop. It is difficult to imagine anything more relaxing than feeding on super-fresh fish or sampling the traditional flavours of smoked mackerel, salmon or pickled herring while watching the impossibly long summer days meander into the evening. They even sold knäckebröd, a kind of crisp rye bread which was supposedly eaten by the Vikings, as it stayed edible for the length of their voyages. A chilled beer would have been perfect but there was sadly none to be found (though probably a good thing from the viewpoint of the 18 kilometre return ride!).

Whether fascinated by the capabilities of ancient civilisations to construct complex calendars or host ornate burials or you’d simply enjoy a pleasant afternoon eating and drinking to the sounds and smells of the Swedish foreshore, Ales Stenar is a worthwhile diversion in travelling southern Sweden.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Travel Website with a Difference - Passports with a Purpose

In this festive season of giving, Beth Whitman at Wanderlust and Lipstick along with a group of fellow travel bloggers to raise money to assist reducing world poverty. Working with the charitable organisation Heifer International, they are encouraging people to spend $10 each on raffle tickets for an impressive list of donated prizes, including three nights in Hawaii, baseball tickets, numerous gift vouchers, luggage and books.

Having travelled in a number of countries suffering from famine, war, drought or hardship, the sight of poverty first-hand has a profound effect. The web, television and newspapers often cover stories of the shocking and sad conditions that many of our fellow man are caught up in around the world and highlight the extreme difficulty that many people find themselves, in situations that are out of their control. At times, it is difficult to know what to do about it.

Well here is a way that you can make a difference.

Travel bloggers around the world are helping spread the word through their blogs about Passports with a Purpose. Help make a difference and buy one or more raffle tickets and do your part in improving someone's life. Also email your friends to help promote this most impressive cause. Let's make this initiative a huge success for such a worthwhile cause.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Sexual Surprise in Nepal’s Heart (Kathmandu, Nepal)

Once the central shrine to the hippie and flower-power children of the sixties, Durbar Square in the Nepalese capital of Kathmandu remains an evocative travel wonder. With an astonishing collection of over fifty immaculately carved, quasi-Oriental wooden buildings strung across three loosely connected squares, Durbar Square throngs with worshippers, workers and tourists.

Durbar Square is a place for soaking up time, watching people, chilling out and absorbing the sights, sounds and smells of this area which once fronted the royal palace.

Women sell vegetables, fabrics and supplies neatly presented on old sheets spread on the ground in front of five hundred year old temples. Old men with leathery creased faces focus on a card game in the shade of another ancient temple. Rattly rickshaws rumble across the neighbouring streets while hawkers accost tourists with their varied collection of curios and handicrafts. The sweet aroma of spices and incense waft through the narrow alleys. Travellers, probably in preparation of a trek into the towering Himalaya, snap photos and wander aimlessly among the historic structures. A sprinkling of sadhus with their painted faces and brightly coloured robes present a strange mixture of religious spirituality and fund-raising enterprise encouraging photography for a heavily bartered fee.

The triple-roofed Maju Deval temple is a popular meeting point and sits across from the Kumari Bahal, which houses the Royal Kumari. This young girl is a living goddess and stays in her house except when she is paraded a couple of times per year on religious or ceremonial occasions to bless the people. She remains in this role until the onset of puberty with her first period which marks her return as a normal human and a new candidate is ritualistically selected.

The carvings on the various temples are extraordinarily ornate. Firstly they appear to be in a neat pattern but closer inspection shows each tiny face is carved with their own unique expression and character.

More striking is seeing the carvings on the pillars for the multi-layered roofs. Explicit carvings of sexual activities decorate the roofline. More startling is the intermix of men, women and animals in just about all imaginable (and several unimagined) combinations and sexual positions that adorn these historic buildings in all their technicolour glory. While clearly espousing tantric principles, a number of these depictions challenge any balanced thinking and are probably illegal. It seems bizarre that such extreme erotic imagery decorates these religious buildings in a region of such conservative sexual values.

Meander the streets and alleyways around the main square, enjoy the intricate carved wooden temples and palaces and take your time to let life unveil in all its Nepalese glory in this timeless history-rich travel wonder.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Travel Website with a Difference - Visa Sponsors Where the Hell is Matt?

A few months ago I wrote about Matt Harding and his website
Where the Hell is Matt. It is a kind of travel blog which took on a life of its own when Matt recorded brief jigs in front of many of the world's greatest travel wonders. Visa sponsored him to travel across Asia for two weeks recording his unique dance in the various countries to make up a new advertisment.

His newest video has attracted over 13 million hits and includes visits to locations as wide spread as Bhutan, Kuwait, Christmas Island, Iceland, Zanzibar, the DMZ in Korea, the iconic Timbuktu, Paris and my home town of Sydney with the Opera House in the background.

I suspect Matt can hardly believe what started out as a bit of fun has resulted in this dramatic change of life.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The World’s Largest Advent Calendar (Gengenbach, Germany)

Deep in the Black Forest in south-west Germany, lays a timeless gem of half-timbered houses and cobbled streets. Delightfully untouristy, this medieval travel wonder is a mixture of city gates, narrow laneways, and steep-roofed, romantic houses with scarlet and white blooms dribbling from their window boxes.

In the 24 days up to Christmas, the salmon-pink baroque town hall (rathaus) in the triangular-shaped main square becomes the main feature. Early each evening in the shadows of a huge central Christmas tree, one of the town hall’s 24 backlit windows (two rows of eleven plus the two roof windows) is ritually unveiled showing a colourful festive image – undoubtedly making it the world’s largest Advent calendar.

Behind the town hall, the plain exterior of St Marien’s church is in stark contrast to the richly decorated interior. The walls and ceiling are covered with detailed, colourful frescoes from various stories of the bible and the altar is lit in a shimmering golden light.

This small town is rich in such traditions hosting a rousing street carnival, traditional in this area, called fastnacht or fasend, where participants in garish outfits and large wooden masks dance down the streets in a large parade.

Ease back in one of the small cafes and feast on hearty country lunch from the neighbouring farms or indulge in a large calorific slice of the famed black-forest cake. Enjoy the slow-paced, historic and elegant village of Gengenbach, especially over December with the giant illustrated Advent calendar.

Photo Source: Advent, fastnacht

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