Thursday, September 4, 2008


Las Vegas

Las Vegas, Nevada is a vibrant pulsating city and the largest adult playground in the world. It is a community that was created from the wastelands of the Mojave Desert in Nevada specifically to provide a gambling and entertainment oasis for the titillation seeking residents of post-war Los Angeles. Everything in Las Vegas has been done (or overdone) on a grand and spectacular scale. Along the Las Vegas strip, a black glass pyramid rises over a hundred meters above the desert with a larger than full sized replica of the Sphinx at its entry. Next to it, sits a larger than life castle with garishly colored turrets. Across the street, is a scaled-down skyline of New York City complete with a Brooklyn Bridge and a Statue of Liberty. Beyond that, you can see a half-sized replica of the Eifel Tower, a near full sized replica of the Piazza San Marco from Venice and a large volcano that erupts flames every thirty minutes. In Las Vegas, you often ask yourself, "Is this really a city, or am I visiting some futuristic amusement park on another planet?"

Luxor Hotel
Luxor Hotel

On any given evening in Las Vegas, you will find hundreds of entertainment events such as the renown Las Vegas stage shows, world class sporting events, performances by world famous entertainers plus music, dance and comedy at large and small venues throughout the city. This city never seems to sleep. The frivolity continues long into the night and the serious gamblers continue their pursuit of riches until well after the morning sun has risen on a new day.

The city was created by a reputed gangster

In 1931 gambling was legalized in the barren desert state of Nevada while it remained illegal in the more populous neighboring state of California. As early as 1940, the first hotel casino named El Rancho Vegas was constructed on the outskirts of a sleepy desert community in the Mojave Desert of southern Nevada known as Las Vegas. A second hotel casino named the Last Frontier was opened a year later. Both profited from their proximity to the large gambling population living in Los Angeles and other southern California communities. In December of 1946, Bugsy Siegal a reputed New York gangster, then living in Beverly Hills California, and managing various illegal gambling operations on the West Coast, built a lavish new hotel casino named the Flamingo. He dreamed of creating a whole new resort city in the desert dedicated to gambling and entertainment. Unfortunately, Bugsy was shot to death in his Beverly Hills home in 1947; so he never got to see his dream fulfilled; but the legacy of lavish hotel casinos controlled by gangsters persisted in Las Vegas for many decades to come.

Today, this desert gambling oasis is a thriving city with more than one million inhabitants and over 38 million visitors a year. It is one of the fastest growing cities in the USA, with up to 5,000 new residents settling there every month. It has fourteen of the fifteen largest hotels in the USA and over 130,000 rooms available to visitors. Gambling and entertainment are still its biggest attractions and its largest industries. Supposedly, all the mafia gangsters have been removed from the Las Vegas gambling scene, only to be replaced by large corporate owners. (Is that an improvement?) In 1999, Oscar Goodman, the flamboyant lawyer whose spirited defense of many reputed gangsters and criminals earned him the unofficial title of "mouthpiece for the mob", was elected mayor of Las Vegas. He seems to be a most appropriate character to lead the government of "Sin City" USA.

Las Vegas Boulevard is "the Strip"

Las Vegas is located in the southwestern corner of Nevada near the borders of California and Arizona. It is 275 miles (450 km) from Los Angeles and less than a four-hours drive on excellent interstate highway. The city is situated in a broad flat desert valley surrounded by barren arid mountains. It receives only about 2 inches (5 cm) of rain per year; yet the city is an oasis of green grass, flowers and palm trees all subsisting on imported water. A vast checkerboard of low suburban homes sprawls across the valley floor for dozens of miles in every direction with new tracts of houses eternally sprouting like fields of cactus in the surrounding desert.

Las Vegas Welcome Sign
Las Vegas Welcome Sign

All the action is centered on one broad avenue that stretches from the southern fringe of the city northward for a dozen miles until it reaches the heart of old downtown. This is Las Vegas Boulevard, commonly known as "the Strip". McCarran International Airport is located adjacent to the southern end of the Strip, and nearly all of the major casinos are lined up along its sides. A drive down Las Vegas Boulevard takes you past the pyramid of Luxor casino, the skyline of New York casino, the Eifel Tower of Paris casino, the great tent of the Circus casino and the lofty tower of the Stratosphere casino. Eventually, it takes you to downtown Vegas and Fremont Street, home of the historic old gambling parlors like Binyons and the Golden Nugget. Just driving down the strip past all these spectacular casino resorts is a fantastic experience. At night, "the strip" comes alive with miles of colored neon and millions of dancing, pulsating lights.

The Bargains are often "off the Strip"

Most of the newest, grandest Las Vegas casino hotels are located along the southern end of the strip near McCarran Airport. Even the smallest of these newer casino hotels has over 2,000 rooms with MGM Grand offering more than 5,000 rooms. Each casino contains thousands of slot machines, hundreds of gaming tables, multiple restaurants, numerous shops, theaters featuring "Las Vegas Shows" plus numerous bars, cocktail lounges and smaller entertainment venues.

Along the northern part of the Strip, a few miles away from McCarran Airport, and also in the downtown area even further north, the casinos are older and a bit less spectacular. That means they usually offer their accommodations, their all-you-can-eat buffets, and their shows at bargain prices to entice you to come and gamble at their facility. There are also a few large casino hotels like Sam's Town and Boulder Station located well away from the strip. Those isolated casinos often offer some super-saver bargains.

Las Vegas Weddings

Las Vegas Wedding Chapel
Las Vegas Wedding Chapel

Since the early days when Las Vegas was but a sleepy town in the desert, Nevada has had a reputation as a very permissive state that allowed legal gambling, legal prostitution and easy divorce. Many California citizens would drive across the state line to Las Vegas in order to obtain quick-and-easy divorces from their unwanted spouses. Since divorces were often instigated by the desire to marry a new mate, Las Vegas began offering quick-and-easy weddings to go along with the quick-and-easy divorces. Wedding chapels sprouted along the Strip to accommodate this unique industry of legal mate swapping.

Today, many other states offer quick no-fault divorces, so the "Las Vegas divorce" is no longer in great demand. The city has, however, kept its reputation for quick-and-easy marriages. The wedding chapels are still visible along the strip and in the downtown area near the Clark County Court House. Nearly all the major casinos have wedding chapels or wedding rooms. The City marriage office is open until midnight every weekday and open 24 hours a day from Friday until Sunday. If you suddenly decide you want to get married at 4AM on a Sunday morning, you can easily do it in Las Vegas.

Las Vegas Entertainment

Since the time of Bugsy Siegel, Las Vegas has been renowned not only for its gambling, but also for its free flowing liquor, its fine dining and its extravagant entertainment especially at the Las Vegas Shows. All these original ingredients are still available in even greater variety and quantity in modern-day Las Vegas.

Las Vegas Entertainment
Las Vegas Entertainment

The famous old Las Vegas Shows were typically variety shows featuring headline entertainment, well known bands, scantily-clad dancing girls and ribald humor. You can still find some of those shows on the Strip. The afternoon performances and the early evening performances are usually toned-down family-oriented presentations, while the late night performances are more adult oriented featuing nudity, risque humor and adult themes. A typical old-time Las Vegas Show in family-oriented theme is held at the Stratosphere Casino every afternoon, and the admission is very reasonably priced.

Some of the newer shows are even more extravagant productions than the old-time ones. Cirque du Soliel runs about a half dozen fabulous productions in Las Vegas including: Mystere, Ka, O, and Zumanity. Each production is set in an immense specially-constructed theater with fantastic sets and technological marvels. The prices are fairly expensive, but they are certainly amazing feats of entertainment.

At least two or more Broadway-style productions of musicals or plays are constantly featured in Las Vegas. There are a number of Las Vegas "regulars" playing at Casinos throughout the city, and new famous, world renown entertainers appear for limited engagements nearly every week. In addition to all this, there are free shows and free entertainments available at many of the casinos nearly every day. There is certainly no lack of entertaining diversions in this town.

Disney World

Disney World is a huge resort complex

Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida is not just a theme park, but a huge resort complex covering 47 square miles. The resort contains four separate theme parks, three water parks and 99 holes of golf on several different courses. Miles of outdoor recreation are available including hiking, biking, boating and swimming. It has three separate areas containing shopping, dining and entertainment facilities as well as a fourth area with nightclubs. A fairly new addition to the resort is the state of the art sports complex where Disney hosts a wide variety of sporting events. Finally, there are about 18 Disney owned and operated hotels and several non-Disney hotels in the resort. All this combined with many other attractions in the Orlando and central Florida area can be quite overwhelming.

Cinderella's Castle
Cinderella's Castle

No other Disney Park equals Disney World in Florida

No other Disney resort comes close to the size and diversity of Disney World Florida. If you have previously visited one of the other Disney resorts such as Disneyland California, Disneyland Paris or the new Disneyland Tokyo, you should still visit Disney World in Orlando, Florida. All other Disney resorts consist of a single theme park and are quite small compared to the massive resort complex in Florida. Each of the other parks are no larger than the Magic Kingdom theme park in Disney World, which is only one small part of the complex. Remember, that only the resort in Orlando, Florida is referred to as Disney World or Walt Disney World. The other parks are usually called Disneyland. The size and diversity of the Disney World resort ensures that it will probably remain the number one vacation destination in the world for years to come.

The main attractions at the resort are divided into four theme-parks

Magic Kingdom, the first theme park built at the resort, has rides, shows and attractions divided among seven fantasy areas. This is the place to find all your favorite Disney characters and attractions.

Epcot, the second theme park built at the resort, is divided into two areas: Future World and World Showcase. The attractions in Future World are based on modern and futuristic advances in communication, transportation, energy, agriculture and much more. World Showcase allows you to explore culture, cuisine, shopping and entertainment from many countries including Canada, UK, France, Japan, Morocco, US, Italy, Germany, China, Norway and Mexico.

Light Parade
Light Parade

The Disney-MGM Studios offers behind-the-scenes looks at the making of movies and popular TV shows and provides live original shows. There are also a number of thrilling rides or attractions based on blockbuster movies, which provide exciting stunts and amazing special effects.

Animal Kingdom is the newest and largest theme park to open in the Disney World resort. This 500-acre park is divided into three areas: The Real, The Mythical and The Extinct. The Real area features live animals in exotic landscapes and provides a safari-like experience. In The Mythical area, guests come face-to-face with magical and make believe creatures. In the Extinct Area, dinosaurs come to life.

Disney Tranportation
Disney Transportation

The Water Parks are a great way to cool off

The four theme parks are the heart of Disney World, but there are many other attractions including three full-sized water parks. Typhoon Lagoon is a tropically landscaped 56-acre water park based around a huge wave pool that covers 2.5 acres and holds 2.75 million gallons of water. At certain times the pool is even used for surfing. Blizzard Beach is Disney's newest and largest water park and the most interesting. It is made to look like a snow-covered ski-resort and offers the most slides and the most thrilling attractions. River Country, the first water park built at Disney World, is actually a roped-off section of Bay Lake and is designed to give the feeling of "an old swimming hole." It is the most tame and relaxing. Spending a day at one of the Disney World water parks can be a pleasant break from the theme parks as well as a great way to cool off from the hot Florida sun.

There are many recreational activities

Disney World offers lots of outdoor recreation. It has five challenging 18-hole golf courses as well as a 9-hole beginner's course and a 36-hole miniature golf course for family fun. If you prefer tennis there are many courts throughout the resort including Disney's Contemporary Resort Racquet Club. Water sports are plentiful including water-skiing, parasailing, fishing and many types of boat rental. For the extremely adventurous, there is the Richard Petty driving experience where you can drive an actual Nascar racing car. The car has about 600 hp and can attain speeds of up to 160 mph.

Disney World even offers cruises and education

Disney World has still more vacation options such as the Disney Institute and the new Disney Cruise Line. The Disney Institute offers many great hands-on classes designed for fun and education. It is located in the Disney World resort so you are still close to all the other attractions as well. The Disney cruise line combines a Disney World resort vacation with a Caribbean cruise. You stay at the resort in Florida for several days, then board a Disney cruise ship and sail to Disney's own private-island resort in the Bahamas.

Los Angeles, California - Overview

Los Angeles is the largest city in California and the second largest city in the United States of America. It is located on the southern coast of California about 75 miles (120km) north of the Mexican border and 400 miles (600km) south of San Francisco. The original name of the city was "El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reina de los Angeles" or "The Village of Our Lady the Queen of Angels", but the name was shortened for obvious reasons.

Los Angeles is spread across a coastal plain

Los Angeles Freeway
Los Angeles Freeway
Photo Credit © Corel

Los Angeles is situated on an irregularly shaped coastal plain about 30 to 60 miles across. It is bounded on the west by nearly 60 miles of Pacific Coast beaches and ocean cliffs. The San Gabriel and San Bernardino Mountains form a 2500-meter high wall to the east. The Santa Monica Mountains define its northern limit and the Santa Anna Mountains define the southern.

Los Angeles natives inhabit the entire plain, from the local hills to connecting valleys to the slopes of the mountain ranges. The city now covers over 1000 square-miles composed of dozens of interconnected communities. High-rise buildings only exist in a few isolated clusters. From nearly every vantage point, you can gaze across miles of low rooftops with palm trees towering above.

Los Angeles is composed of many interconnected communities

In order to commute between these widely dispersed neighborhoods, Los Angeles has constructed a remarkably efficient road system of broad streets, avenues and 10-14 lane wide freeways. These roadways enable people to quickly navigate across the vast metropolitan complex at most times; however, avoiding the freeways between 7 to 9 AM and 4 to 6 PM, when millions of cars clog the roads during the rush hour commute, is recommended. Air pollution caused by all of these cars on the roadways combines with the moist air from the Pacific Ocean to form a dirty gray haze known as Los Angeles Smog.

Unlike most cities, Los Angeles does not have a distinct urban center. It is a collection of individual communities tied together by a complex network of roads and freeways. Each community offers a uniquely different character. Together, they make up this huge metropolitan complex called Los Angeles.

Hollywood Hills
Hollywood Hills
Photo Credit: © Corel

Hollywood, Beverly Hills and the Beaches

Along the Pacific shore, Malibu, Santa Monica, Marina Del Rey and Palos Verde are high-class residential beach communities. Venice Beach, on the other hand, is known for bikini clad roller bladers, muscle-bound weight lifters and an odd assortment of slightly off-beat characters. Long Beach is a thriving seaport with a vibrant commercial district and oil wells. Laguna Beach houses a large artist's community.

Hollywood is the historic home of the old movie studios, and Beverly Hills is still the home of the movie stars. Here you can drive along the western terminus of historic Route 66 on Santa Monica Boulevard. You can stroll along famous Hollywood Boulevard and the Sunset Strip. In nearby Burbank, you can visit many modern movie and television studios. In Anaheim, you can see the original Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm.

Downtown Los Angeles is certainly a commercial district, but it is no more the urban center of the city than many other neighborhoods. Near the downtown area are ethnic neighborhoods with large Asian populations called, Korea Town, China Town and Japan Town. Nearby are several predominately Afro-American neighborhoods and many predominately Hispanic-American neighborhoods.

Los Angeles is served by four major airports

Los Angeles has four major airports: Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), Burbank-Glendale Airport, John Wayne Airport and Ontario International Airport. In addition, the Orange County Airport is less than one hour from the city and San Diego International Airport is within a two-hour drive.

San Francisco, California - Overview

San Francisco is on the coast of California about 400 miles north of Los Angeles. It is situated along the shore of a large bay sheltered behind the California Coastal Mountains. The city is renown for its steep streets with panoramic views of beautiful San Francisco Bay and the surrounding mountains. It has a very moderate climate with warm summers and chilly winters but without extremes. Constant breezes off of the Pacific Ocean keep the summers from becoming too hot and also prevent freezing winter weather. Take a sweater, as the evening breezes can be quite brisk all year round!

Trolley Car
Cable Car
Photo Credit: © Corel

San Francisco was built by "forty niners" with gold fever

Oakland and Berkeley, California lie just across the bay from San Francisco and are easily accessible via the Bay Bridge. The more famous Golden Gate Bridge spans the narrow inlet that extends from the Pacific Ocean into the bay. The Golden Gate Bridge connects San Francisco with a mountainous peninsula called the Marin headlands that is primarily known for beautiful scenery and expensive homes with spectacular views. Sausalito, a small village on the bay shore of the Marin headlands is famous as a local artist's community. Alcatraz Island with its abandoned prison is situated in the middle of San Francisco Bay. The city of San Jose lies about 30 miles south of San Francisco at the southern tip of this extensive bay. The area near San Jose and Santa Clara is known as "Silicon Valley", home of the largest concentration of electronics and computer firms in the USA.

San Francisco was founded in 1776 when father Junipero Serra constructed the mission San Dolores to Christianize the local native Indian population. At the same time, Spanish troops constructed a Presidio, or fort, to protect this colony for the Queen of Spain. By the middle of the nineteenth century, the village of Yerba Buena, consisting of whalers, traders, adventurers and pirates, occupied the present site of San Francisco. In 1848, gold was discovered in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains about 100 miles to the east. By 1849, San Francisco was inundated with "forty-niners" as the gold seekers were commonly called, and the population of the city exploded. Ever since, it has remained the center of commerce, entertainment, culture and tourism for Northern California.

Cable cars on steep streets overlook a turquoise San Francisco Bay

San Francisco is one of the most popular vacation destinations in the USA. Steep streets lined with Victorian era houses, a great turquoise bay surrounded by low mountains, and antique cable cars that still shuttle passengers up and down the city slopes all make San Francisco one of the most picturesque cities in the US.

The city has developed a unique character from its mixture of diverse cultures including Native American Indians, Spanish colonials, gold seeking adventurers and numerous European, African and Asian immigrants. This is reflected in the great San Francisco cuisine found in the many fabulous restaurants of the city.

Among the many attractions of San Francisco are the ethnic neighborhoods like Chinatown and Japantown with their traditional shops and restaurants. Each of these communities houses a large population of Asian immigrants and has a unique oriental character. North Beach is renown as an Italian neighborhood, the Mission District as a Hispanic community and Castro Street for its gay and lesbian population.

Excursion boats from Fisherman's Wharf visit Alcatraz

Golden Gate Bridge
Golden Gate Bridge
Photo Credit: © Corel

The Embarcadero, a broad avenue along the bayfront, is now lined with shops, restaurants and tourist attractions including several piers that have been converted to specialty shopping malls. Most famous is the historic Fisherman's Wharf which still hosts a fleet of working fishing vessels as well as fish markets, seafood restaurants and gift shops. Excursion boats and ferries depart from piers near Fisherman's Wharf. They are a great way to see the sights around the bay. The Alcatraz tour takes you to "The Rock" and allows you to visit its abandoned prison. This trip usually fills up, so it is best to make your reservations at least one day ahead. You can also take a ferry to visit the USS Hornet Aircraft Carrier Museum in Oakland, or you can ride a ferry to Sausalito and Tiburon for some sightseeing and shopping.

A cable car line terminates a few blocks from Fisherman's Wharf, and many tourists congregate there to watch the motormen manually rotate the cars. This is a good place to photograph the cable cars but not a good place to board one as the wait can be long. It is easier to take a bus or taxi to the downtown area where you can quickly board a passing cable car. Golden Gate Park and Seal Rocks, along the Pacific side of the city are worth visiting.

Wine Country, Big Sur and Yosemite are not far away

Other California tourist attractions are located near San Francisco. Across the Golden Gate Bridge, the first pullout on the right provides a nice view of the city from across the bay. If you follow the small road under the highway and climb the mountain behind the bridge, you will be rewarded to some spectacular views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the bay area. From the top of the mountain the road continues high above the Pacific Ocean with pullouts at many scenic vistas and hiking trails. This road eventually leads to Stinson Beach, a popular Pacific Ocean swimming and surfing area, and to Muir Woods, an impressive reserve of Giant California Redwood trees.

Beautiful Monterey Bay is an hour-and-half drive south along the scenic Pacific Coast Highway and Big Sur extends about 100 miles further. Napa and Sonoma valleys, in the heart of California Wine Country, are just an hour drive north of San Francisco. The Sierra Nevada Mountains and exquisite Yosemite National Park are within a half-day drive to the east.

New York City

New York City is the "Big Apple"

New York City is located on the eastern coast of the United States about 1000 miles north of Florida and 200 miles South of Boston. It is situated at the mouth of the Hudson River, and is divided into five districts called boroughs. Long Island stretches almost 100 miles to the east of New York City and the state of New Jersey lies just across the Hudson River to the west. The "Big Apple", as the city is often called, is the largest city in the US with over 7 million residents. It is filled with a diverse mixture of inhabitants including immigrants from many countries. Some of its many neighborhoods, such as Chinatown, Little Italy, and Spanish Harlem reflect the rich ethnic heritages of the resident's original homelands.

Central Park
Manhattan and Central Park

Manhattan borough, the business and commercial center of New York City, is situated on a large island in the middle of the Hudson River. Just south of it, across the main harbor, lies the borough of Staten Island, a large residential community. Across the East River branch of the Hudson, the boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens are situated on the western tip of Long Island. The borough of Bronx is on the mainland to the north. New Jersey lies across the Hudson to the west.

Manhattan Island is the heart of New York City

Manhattan Island is about two miles wide and over 12 miles long. It contains most of the business, economic, entertainment and cultural sights of the city. A four-miles long by half-mile wide Central Park, located at the very center of the island, neatly divides the city into sectors. The southern part of the island is called "Downtown" and the section directly south of Central Park is called "mid-town". Everything from the middle of the park to the northern tip of the island is usually called "Uptown". The part of the island closest to Long Island is called the "East Side" and the part closer to the Hudson River is the "West Side". The two neighborhoods lying on either side of Central Park are called "Upper East Side" and "Upper West Side".

The numbered streets of Manhattan all run east-west beginning with First Street just above Greenwich Village, and extending all the way up to 218th Street at the far northern tip of Up-town. Avenues run north-south beginning with First Avenue on the East Side and extending to Twelfth Avenue along the Hudson River on the West Side. These numbered Avenues are interspersed with named Avenues such as Park Avenue, Lexington, Madison and Broadway. Broadway is a bit unusual as it starts out as a typical north-south avenue in the middle of the island downtown, but angles sharply to the west just below Central Park and continues on up the West Side to the top of the island.

Navigation in Manhattan is not difficult

Navigation in Manhattan is not difficult as long as you remember compass directions and use the proper terminology. Subways and Busses go "uptown" when heading north to the higher numbered streets and go "downtown" when heading south. They go to the "East Side" or the "West Side" when crossing the island. Building Numbers, especially on the avenues, often do not follow a logical pattern. When asking directions, always try to specify the nearest intersection of streets and avenues. For example: "On Broadway, near 42nd Street" or "near Third and fifty fourth".

Manhattan Bridge
Williamsburg Bridge

Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island are bedroom communities

Brooklyn is across the East River on the southwestern tip of Long Island. It is accessible via bridge or tunnel. This borough is nearly four times as large as Manhattan Island and has a population of about four million. It is one of the primary bedroom communities for New York City. Unlike Manhattan, there are few tall buildings in Brooklyn. Typically, the tree-lined streets are filled with brownstone townhouses and small apartment buildings. There are very few hotels in Brooklyn, but those few offer a quiet alternative to the noisy hectic streets of Manhattan. Coney Island Beach and Amusement park are located along the southern shore and John F. Kennedy Airport lies just east of Brooklyn.

Queens is north of Brooklyn on the tip of Long Island. It is also a residential community with many high-rise apartment complexes. LaGuardia airport, Shea Stadium and the crumbling ruins of the old World's Fair are located there. There are a few hotels near the airport. The Bronx is another mainly residential community almost due north of Manhattan on the mainland. The large and impressive Bronx Zoo is located there.

Times Square
Times Square

Staten Island is due south of Manhattan across the main harbor basin. It is most easily reached via the Staten Island ferry from Battery Park on the southern tip of Manhattan. The ferry ride offers spectacular views of the New York skyline and the Statue of Liberty and is absolutely free for all pedestrians. Staten Island has a small town atmosphere with many single-family homes.

Three airports serve New York City

There are three major airports near New York City. John F Kennedy (JFK) airport is on Long Island about 12 miles east of Manhattan. LaGuardia is in Queens about 6 miles from downtown and Newark airport is across the Hudson river in New Jersey about 12 miles to the southwest of the city. Ready access is available from each airport via taxi or bus. Public transportation is excellent in New York City. Busses, subway trains and taxis provide the most convenient means of transportation. New York City is one of the few cities in the USA with adequate train service. Commuter trains cover most of the nearby communities and neighboring states. Longer distance passenger trains travel the east coast corridor and go to many major cities across the country.

New York is the "city that never sleeps"

New York is one of the most exciting cities in the world. It is often called "the city that never sleeps." In fact, Times Square at midnight seems more vibrant and active than most other cities at noon. New York has many tourist attractions like the Statue of Liberty, the United Nations headquarters, the Empire State building and over 300 museums. It is renown for its wide variety of entertainments including the world famous Broadway theaters. There are over 30,000 restaurants in New York City plus countless bars and clubs. If you like big cities and lots of excitement, the Big Apple is a great place to visit.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Canada: ehh!

British Columbia

bcgoose.jpg (10716 bytes)

The Land

British Columbia is Canada's westernmost province and one of North America's most mountainous regions. B.C. is bordered by the province of Alberta, the Yukon Territory and several U.S. states, including Alaska. Given its location, British Columbia is a gateway to the Pacific and Asia. Sometimes simply categorized as part of Canada's "West," the province is actually a distinct region both geographically and culturally.
The variety of its landscape is the main reason for B.C.'s distinctiveness: its 947 800 km2 offer remarkable topographical contrasts. Where the Pacific Ocean reaches the continent, it meets a chain of islands, large and small, running from north to south. Some of these islands are nestled in fiords carved in the majestic Coastal Mountains, which rise more than 2000 m above sea level.

To the east of the Coastal Mountains lies a rolling upland of forests, natural grasslands and lakes. Farther east, the Rocky Mountains (with peaks more than 4000 m high) separate B.C. from neighbouring Alberta. In the north, a small corner of the province is occupied by the Great Plains.

The province's climate equals its topography for variety. For example, the mild coastal region receives abundant precipitation - from 130 to 380 cm of rain a year - while the interior has a continental climate. Other parts of the province are almost desert-like, with very hot summers followed by very cold winters.

The History

The Aboriginal peoples of British Columbia developed a rich and complex culture. Because of the diversity of the Pacific coast - mild to cold climate, seashore to mountains - the tribes that settled in this area developed completely different cultures and languages.

The coastal inhabitants were experts at wood sculpture, as their totem polls attest even today. They were also famous for their skill and courage in whaling. As for their social system, it was marked by occasions such as the potlatch - a ceremony in which important gifts were given to guests - and by theatrical displays.

In 1774, the first Europeans, under the flag of Spain, visited what is now British Columbia. In contrast with eastern Canada, where the English and French were the two nationalities fighting over territory, Spain and Russia were the first countries to claim ownership of certain parts of British Columbia. In the 18th century, the Spanish claimed the west coast from Mexico to Vancouver Island. At the same time, the Russians were making an overlapping claim for control of the Pacific coast from Alaska to San Francisco.

In 1778, Captain James Cook of Great Britain became the first person to chart the region. The first permanent colony, in present-day Victoria, was established by the British in 1843.

When gold was discovered in the lower Fraser Valley in 1857, thousands of people came in search of instant wealth. To help maintain law and order, the British government established the colony of British Columbia the following year. In 1866, when the frenzy of the gold rush was over, the colony of Vancouver Island joined British Columbia.

The colony was cut off from the rest of British North America by thousands of kilometres and a mountain range. The promise of a rail link between the Pacific coast and the rest of Canada convinced British Columbia to join Confederation in 1871.

The People

The majority of B.C.'s inhabitants are of British origin, but the population is enriched by immigrants and descendants of immigrants of all nationalities. More than 100 000 British Columbians are descendants of the thousands of Chinese who took part in the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway in the late 19th century. Today, Vancouver has North America's second-largest Chinese community. In addition, more than 60 000 of B.C. inhabitants are from India and over 16 000 from Japan. British Columbians of Asian heritage have contributed tremendously to the province's economic and cultural vitality.


The Land

The westernmost of Canada's three Prairie provinces, Alberta lies between the 49th and 60th parallels, at virtually the same latitude as the United Kingdom. Alberta is 1217 km from north to south and between 293 and 650 km in width from west to east. Nearly equal in size to the state of Texas, the province covers an area of some 661 185 km2.

Roughly half of the southwestern section of the province is dominated by mountains and foothills - striking reminders of the glaciers that, over millions of years, formed, moved and receded in the area. Peaks of the Rocky Mountains located in Alberta range from 2130 to 3747 m in elevation.

The foothills, which form a gentle link between mountain and prairie landscapes, feature heavily forested areas and grasslands used for grazing cattle. Beneath their surface, the foothills contain some of the province's richest deposits of sour gas and coal.

The remainder of the province - approximately 90 percent of the land area - forms part of the interior plain of North America. The plains include the forested areas that dominate the northern part of the province and the vast stretches of northern muskeg that overlay much of Alberta's oil and gas deposits and oil sands.

Alberta has what is known as a continental climate. It is characterized by vivid seasonal contrasts in which long, cold winters are balanced by mild to hot summers and an unusually high number of sunny days, no matter what the season. Although cold air covers the whole province in winter, it is frequently replaced in the southwest by a mild wind, the "chinook," funneling through the mountains from the Pacific Ocean.

The History

The Aboriginal people, whose ancestors are thought to have crossed the Bering Sea from Asia thousands of years ago, were the first people to live in what is now Alberta. The Blackfoot, Blood, Piegan, Cree, Gros Ventre, Sarcee, Kootenay, Beaver and Slavey Indians, speaking a variety of Athapaskan and Algonkian languages, were the sole inhabitants of what was then a vast wilderness territory.

The early Albertans, particularly the woodland tribes of the central and northern regions, became valuable partners of the European fur traders who arrived in the 18th century. The first European explorer to reach what is now Alberta was Anthony Henday, in 1754.

Peter Pond, of the North West Company, established the first fur-trading post in the area in 1778. The Hudson's Bay Company gradually extended its control throughout a huge expanse of northern North America known as Rupert's Land and the North West Territory, including the region occupied by present-day Alberta. From that time, the region was fought over by the Hudson's Bay Company and the North West Company, each of which built competing fur-trading posts. The rivalry ended only in 1821, when the two companies merged.

Expeditions led by Henry Youle Hind and John Palliser found parts of the region to have exceptionally good land for farming, especially the fertile belt north of the Palliser Triangle, a particularly arid zone. As a result of these findings, the British decided not to renew the license of the Hudson's Bay Company and, in 1870, the North West Territory was acquired by the Dominion of Canada and administered from the newly formed province of Manitoba.

New Foundland

The Land

Nestled into the northeast corner of North America, facing the North Atlantic, is Newfoundland, Canada's most easterly province. Lying between the 46th and 61st parallels, the province consists of two distinct geographical entities: Newfoundland and Labrador.

The island of Newfoundland, which forms the southern and eastern portion of the province, is a large triangular-shaped area of some 112 000 km2, while the province's total area is 405 720 km2. Located at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River, the island is about halfway between the centre of North America and the coast of western Europe. The island of Newfoundland is separated from the Canadian mainland by the Strait of Belle Isle in the north and by the wider Cabot Strait in the south. The mainland, Labrador, is bordered by northeastern Quebec. Approximately two and a half times as large as the island, it remains a vast, pristine wilderness, where the northern lights, or aurora borealis, flicker over the largest caribou herd in the world.

The province's coastline, stretching over more than 17 000 km, is varied and scenic with its bold headlands, deep fiords and countless small coves and offshore islands. The interiors of both Labrador and Newfoundland have a rolling, rugged topography, deeply etched by glacial activity and broken by lakes and swift-flowing rivers. Much of the island and southern and central Labrador is covered by a thick boreal forest of black spruce and balsam fir mixed with birch, tamarack and balsam poplar. Northern Labrador is largely devoid of forest and is marked by the spectacular Torngat Mountains, which rise abruptly from the sea to heights of up to 1676 m.

Newfoundland's climate can best be described as moderate and maritime. The island enjoys winters that are surprisingly mild by Canadian standards, though with a high rate of precipitation. Labrador, by comparison, has the cold winters and brief summers characteristic of the Canadian mid-North.

The History

The central region of the island of Newfoundland was once the home of the now extinct Beothuk Indians. The first Europeans to visit Newfoundland were Norsemen, who arrived in the late 10th century. (The Norse settlement at l'Anse aux Meadows was the world's first cultural discovery location to receive recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.) Other early visitors, the Basques, Portuguese, Spanish, British and French, staged fishing expeditions in the 16th century and probably even earlier.

In 1497, the Italian seafarer Giovanni Caboto (John Cabot) went to investigate what lay in the northern section of the western Atlantic. John Cabot landed on the island on June 24, 1497, on the feast of St. John the Baptist. Cabot called the new land "St. John's Isle" in honour of the saint and claimed it for Henry VII of England, his patron and employer.

Anglo-French colonial warfare shaped the history of Newfoundland during the 1600s and 1700s. France, already well-established on the mainland of Eastern Canada, began to make claims to parts of Newfoundland. In 1662, France established a fort and colony at Placentia, despite protests from British merchants and fishermen. The Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 ended a long period of raids and skirmishes by both nations and reconfirmed British sovereignty over Newfoundland and the fishing banks.

The people of Newfoundland were granted the right to vote for an elected assembly in 1832 and, after much debate, Newfoundland was given responsible government in 1855. In 1865, Newfoundland postponed the decision on whether to join the Dominion of Canada. Following World War II, the question of Newfoundland's future status became an issue once again. A public referendum was held on the subject in 1948; Newfoundlanders voted in favour of joining the Canadian Confederation. Newfoundland became Canada's newest province on March 31, 1949.

The People

The province's present population of approximately 574 000 is largely descended from settlers from southwestern England and southern Ireland who immigrated to Newfoundland in the late 1700s and early 1800s. The pattern of settlement was mainly determined by the fishing industry, a population distribution that has persisted to this day. The Avalon Peninsula and northeastern Newfoundland, the traditional base for the fisheries, continue to be the most heavily populated areas.

St. John's, the historic commercial centre and capital of the island, is the province's largest city, with a population of approximately 172 000. Other major centres are Grand Falls, Windsor and Corner Brook. The smaller communities - called outports - remain, nevertheless, a major element in Newfoundland society. The twin towns of Labrador City and Wabush, which together form the largest urban community of Labrador, are based on the iron-ore mining industries of the area.

In the early 1800s, disease and conflicts with settlers reduced the Beothuk Indians to extinction. There were, and still are, a relatively large number of Inuit concentrated in the coastal communities of northern Labrador.

Monday, August 25, 2008

India: Where Bollywood Starts


The founding of present day Bangalore is attributed to the Magadi Chieftain, Kempe Gowda, who laid its foundations in 1537. According to local folklore the present name Palace in Bangalore Image Bangalore, derives from 'Bendakalooru' or the town of boiled beans, a name given by Veera Ballala, a king of the Vijayanagar dynasty, who having lost his way in the forests was given a bowl of boiled beans by a kindly woman here. However that may be, the founding of the city is traced back to 1537 and it has seen the rule of the maharajas of Mysore mainly. One of the factors that has gone in to make Bangalore the fifth largest city in India today is its mild and healthy climate. A large number of people, many from outside the region have thus made the city their permanent home. Thus the city has a fairly large number of people who are retired from active life and others who are here for exclusive pleasure seeking.

Often termed as a garden city, Bangalore's climate has also drawn towards itself a large number of industries like the HAL and the Indian Telephone Industry and has become Image a premier manufacturing and commercial centre since the 1950s.

Amidst all this hectic activity, the city offers itself as an ideal base to explore the fascinating and culturally rich state of Karnataka. Visitors will find the ruins of the once powerful Vijayanagar empire, the sculpted wonders of Belur and Halebid, the awesome mausoleum of Bijapur and much more within easy reach. The city by itself offers extensive shopping opportunities, a rich fanfare of cuisine, hotels to suit all pockets and much cultural and other entertainment.


Chennai, the largest city in southern India located on the Coromandel Coast of the Bay of Bengal, Chennai Beach Image developed after 1639 when the British East India Company
established a fort and trading post at the small fishing village of Chennai.

Over the past three and a half centuries, the small fishing village has grown into a bustling metropolis which is especially known for its spaciousness which is lacking in other Indian cities, This characteristic is exemplified by the long esplanade called the Marina and which is lined by impressive buildings which remind the casual visitor of the long and inseparable association the city has had with the British.

Even elsewhere in the city, one cannot fail to notice the dominant British influences in the form of old cathedrals, buildings in the Indo-Saracenic style of architecture, wide tree lined avenues.

However, though the English legacy is undeniable, Chennai has continued to be a centre which has blended the foreign influence with the traditional Tamil-Hindu culture. As a city it continues to maintain the best of south Indian traditions. This is not surprising because the region was an important centre of Pallavan culture long before the British came here and the traces of which are to be found in the numerous old temple. Image

Thus, the unwary visitor will find Chennai more than just a gateway of South India. He shall find it a convenient base to peep into the varied aspects of traditional south Indian culture and life styles which inter- mingle with the modern city complete with its plush hotels and restaurants- offering a range of continental and typical, south Indian cuisine, long and uncrowded stretches of beaches, modern shopping centres which offer traditional handicrafts, textiles and much more peculiar to this part of India.

Besides the modern city itself, there are several interesting towns like Mamallapuram and Kanchipuram, each with a rich collection of ancient temples and an array of traditional handicrafts which are very much their own.

Sprawling on the banks of the river Yamuna, Delhi, Bahai Temple the capital of India, typifies the soul of the country. In time the city conceals within its bosom annals of civilisations that flourished for more than three thousand years. Indraprastha, according to legends, the city founded by the Pandavas in the times of the epic Mahabharata (circa 1500 B.C.), was located near the Old Fort that stands on a large mound overlooking the river.

Qutab Minar Since those early days many dynasties and rulers flourished on its regal soil. The legacy of that past survives in the many monuments left behind by the regents, each a chronicle of the glory of its time and an imprint of the character of the ruler. Today, the city is a curious blend of the modern and traditional, skyscrapers, beautiful gardens and wide tree-lined avenues perpetuate the Mughal passion of landscaping and architectural excellence. More important, however, Delhi blends within its folds the great cultural variety of India; an unceasing range of activity, a million ways of saying 'You are Welcome'.

Mumbai - The business hub of India

Mumbai a cluster of seven islands, derives its name from Mumbadevi, the patron goddess of the Koli fisher folk, its oldest inhabitants. Mumbai Image

Once a Portuguese princess' dowry and later an adornment of neo-gothic British architecture, Mumbai today, is more than just a metropolis. It is infact an enigma of mud huts & sky- scrapers, age old traditions & high fashions, the industrialists' heaven & movie makers' hollywood.

A lovely natural harbour and winding creek set off the city of Mumbai from the long, narrow coast of Western India.

Mumbai pulsates with activity. It is a city that is disciplined by no time frame-neither by day nor night. Mumbai is also the country's financial powerhouse, the nation's industrial heartland, and its economic nerve centre. Dazzling shopping arcades, exciting sport activity, night clubs and discotheques, theatre and music, gourmet restaurants and interesting sightseeing - Mumbai offers the visitor a heady mix of all this and more.


Architectural wonder in stone

Within a radius of 3 kilometres, on the banks of the river Yamuna, rises the crescent-like Agra Fort. Designed and built by Akbar in 1565 A.D., the fort is surrounded by a 70 foot high wall. It houses the beautiful Pearl Mosque and numerous palaces including the Jahangiri Mahal, Diwan-i-khas, Diwan-i-Am and Moti Masjid.

The fort has four gates and is enclosed by a double barricaded wall of red sand stone. Many buildings were constructed within the fort of which very few remain till date. One of the most significant ones is the multistoreyed Jahangiri Mahal built by Akbar for his wife Jodha Bai.

The Mahal is reached through an impressive gateway and its inner courtyard consists of beautiful halls, profuse carvings on stone, exquisitely carved heavy brackets, piers and cross beams. Most of the panels in the eastern hall are decorated with the Persian styled stucco paintings in gold and blue. It is believed that a century later, most of the structure were dismantled by Shahjahan and were replaced with white marble pavilions covered with intricate inlay work. Of which the most prominent ones are - the Diwan-i-khas, the Mausam Burj and the Shaha Burj. Away from the waterfront he built the Moti Masjid and the Diwan-i-Am.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

South Korea

Gyeongbokgung Palace

Gyeongbokgung Palace

Gyeongbokgung Palace

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Seoul, Jongno-gu, 1 Sejong-no


Palaces/ Fortresses/ Gates


-Travel phone +82-2-1330 (English, Korean, Japanese, Chinese)
-Administration Office +82-2-732-1931 (Korean) - +82-2-734-2457 (Korean)

Homepage (English, Korean)


Built in 1395, Gyeongbokgung Palace is also commonly referred to as the “Northern Palace” because it is located more toward the north, compared to the neighboring palaces of Changdeokgung (Eastern Palace) and Gyeongheegung (Western Palace). Gyeongbokgung Palace is arguably the most beautiful and remains the grandest of all the five palaces.

The premises were destroyed by fire at the time of the Japan's occupation of Korea during 1592-1598. However, all of the palace's 7,700 rooms were later restored under the leadership of Heungseondaewongun in the years of King Gojong (1852~1919) .

Remarkably, the most representative edifices of the Joseon Dynasty, Gyeonghoe-ru Pavilion and Hyangwonjeong Pond are still relatively in tact. Woldae and the sculptures of Geunjeongjeon (The Royal Audience Chamber) represent the past sculpture art which was the trend back then.

The National Palace Museum of Korea is located south of Heungnyemun Gate, and the National Folk Museum is located east within Hyangwonjeong.

Jongmyo Royal Shrine

Jongmyo Royal Shrine

Jongmyo Royal Shrine

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Seoul, Jongno-gu, 1-2 Hunjeong-dong


Monuments/ Historical Sites


-Travel phone +82-2-1330 (English, Korean, Japanese, Chinese)
- +82-2-765-0195 (Basic English, Korean)

Homepage (English, Korean)


Jongmyo Royal Shrine is the primary place of worship for the kings of the Joseon Dynasty. It was built when the first King of the Joseon Dynasty, Lee Sung-Gye(1335-1408) founded the Joseon Dynasty. Jongmyo Royal Shrine is registered as World Cultural Heritage because the tradition and customs such as the memorial services and traditional music are very well preserved.
There is a trifurcated paths in front of the main gate of Jongmyo Royal Shrine. The middle path between the slightly raised roads is for the dead kings, the east road for the king and the west road for the prince. The road in the middle is connected to Jeongjeon, and the roads on both sides are linked to a room for preparing a memorial service after performing their ablutions. After properly preparing the body and mind, the king and the prince move to Jeonsacheong. Jeonsacheong is where foods for the memorial ceremony are prepared. With the yard in the center, the buildings of Jeonsacheong are square-shaped. The main building, Jeongjeon is where mortuary tablets of kings are preserved and memorial services are held. Only this place has maintained its tradition so far, even though enshrining successive kings was originally handed down from China. Jeongjeon has 19 rooms where each room worships each king. There is Gongshinjeon within a wall of Jeongjeon which enshrines the sincere lieges.
The music of Jongmyo Royal Shrine memorial services is produced by instruments, singing, and dances that date back from over 500 years ago. The melody is also handed down in the same as it once was during this time. This ceremony is the oldest complete ceremony in the world and is held on the first Sunday of May, yearly. It is a great chance to see the grandeur of a traditional ceremony.

Seokguram Grotto (Mt. Tohamsan)

Seokguram Grotto (Mt...

Seokguram Grotto (Mt.Tohamsan)

Seokguram Grotto (Mt... Seokguram Grotto (Mt. Tohamsan)


Gyeongsangbuk-do, Gyeongju-si, Jinhyeon-dong


Temples/ Religious Sites


-Travel Phone +82-54-1330 (English, Korean, Japanese, Chinese)
-Bulguksa Temple Tourist Information Center +82-54-746-4747 (English, Korean, Japanese, Chinese)


Seokguram, located on Mt.Tohamsan, is the representative stone temple of Korea.

The official name of Seokguram, National Treasure No. 24, is Seokguram Seokgul. Designated as World Cultural Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1995, it is an artificial stone temple made of granite. The construction started with Kim Dae-Seong (700~774) in 751 during the reign of King Gyeong-Deok (742~765) of the Silla Dynasty (57 B.C.~A.D. 935) and it was finished twenty-four years later in 774, during the reign of King Hye-Gong (765~780).

Seokguram is known to have been built with Bulguksa Temple. According to the history book Samgukyusa of the Goryeo Dynasty (the country that unified the Korean peninsula at the end of the Silla Dynasty, 918~1392), Kim Dae-Seong had built Bulguksa for the parents who were alive, and Seokguram for the parents of his former life.

Seokguram is an artificial stone temple made of granite, and is located on the eastern peak of Mt. Toham. Inside the round-shaped main hall, there are the Bonjon Statue, Bodhi-sattva and his disciples. Seokguram was built to preserve these statues. The Bonjon figure wearing a generous smile is seated on the stage engraved with lotus flower design. The rounded ceiling looks like a half-moon or a bow and has a lotus flower decorated cover on it. As the sunrise from this spot is so beautiful, many people climb the mountain at daybreak.

Asan Spavis

Asan Spavis

Asan Spavis

Asan Spavis


Chungcheongnam-do, Asan-si, Eumbong-myeon, 288-6, Shinsu-ri


Hot Springs/ Bath Houses/Spas/ Jjimjilbangs


-Travel Phone +82-41-1330 (Korean, English, Japanese, Chinese)

Homepage (Korean)


Spavis located in Asan is water park resort accommodating up to 3,000 people and contains both indoor and outdoor spa facilities. Through all seasons outdoor facilities offers open-air spa pool, while indoor facilities offer many health benefits such as 7-8 water physiotherapy facilities including the Bade Pool. Moreover, leisure facilities such as family pool, jasmine pool, cave pool, sauna, health promotion center and 35583 sq. ft. area of outdoor swimming pool are popular.

Oedolgae Rock

Oedolgae Rock

Oedolgae Rock

Oedolgae Rock


Jeju-do, Seogwipo-si, Cheonji-dong


Rare Animals/ Plants/Spectacular Cliffs & Rock Formations


-Travel phone +82-64-1330 (Korean, English, Japanese, Chinese)
- +82-64-735-3543 (Korean, English, Japanese, Chinese)

Homepage (English, Korean, Japanese, Chinese)


Oedolgae sits not far from the shores of Sammaebong Seougwipo City. It is an amazing rock 10 meters in circumference and 20 meters in height and is also known as the Changgun Rock. It is surrounded by beautiful islands such as Bum Island, Sae Island and Seonnyu (fairy) Rock. Oedolgae was also a filming location in 2003 TV drama series, 'Daejangguem' where Hansangoong (Mee Kyung Yang) faced her death under a false accusation while being carried on Daejanggeum's(Young Ae Lee) back. Fantastic rocks of Oedolgae and fields of reeds in the extensive ranch is a perfect place to go trekking. The sunset of Bum Island, which can be seen from Oedolgae, has long been an essential stop for tourists going to Jeju Island.