Sep
05

5 Things to Do in Queens, NY

The US Open is held in Queens, one of New York City’s five boroughs and home to the most culturally and ethnically diverse communities in the United States. If you’re attending the US Open and you’re not from New York, you might wonder what there is to see and do in the neighborhoods that whiz past you as you take the 7 train to the Mets-Willets Point station.

Though few tourists and visitors venture into Queens, favoring Manhattan and Brooklyn over the other boroughs, there are lots of “only in New York” experiences you can have in this under-visited borough.

Here are five things to do in Queens while you’re in town for the US Open, or really any time when you want to check out the cool attractions in this region of NYC:

1. Time travel in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.

You won’t have to wander from the US Open grounds to act on this tip, as the tennis stadiums are located in the park’s boundaries. The park–New York City’s second largest–was host of two New York World’s Fairs (1939-1940 and 1964-1965); several relics from those fairs remain on display today. The large Unisphere sculpture is the most visible and photogenic of these relics, but the most interesting (and the ones that are closest to the US Open venue) are the mosaics and time capsule that serve as snapshots of mid-century pop culture.

And those snapshots aren’t without controversy. Read this interesting article from local radio station, WNYC, to learn about the “mosaic mystery.”

Time Capsule Mosaic

Time Capsule Mosaic

Image: calestyo

2. Eat your way through Flushing’s Chinatown.

One stop beyond the US Open on the 7 train is Flushing, home to New York City’s lesser-known Chinatown. As busy and bustling as Manhattan’s Chinatown, Flushing is, well, flush with Chinese restaurants specializing in most regional cuisines, though locals in the know tend to visit Flushing for dim sum.

Get off the 7 train at Main Street, come to street level, close your eyes, spin around, and wherever you’re facing when your eyes open, head in that direction to find an authentic Chinese restaurant.

Flushing's Chinatown

Flushing's Chinatown

Image: Terry Ballard

3. Walk Flushing’s Freedom Trail.

Barely familiar even to New Yorkers who consider themselves connoisseurs of the little-known, Flushing’s Freedom Trail is a walking path with historically significant sites that offer important insights into both New York’s and America’s past.

Along the path, you’ll find the home of the man who invented the carbon filament light bulb and New York City’s first public high school, as well as the oldest house of worship in the city.

A stop on Flushing's Freedom Trail

A stop on Flushing's Freedom Trail

Image: Francisco Collazo

4. Visit the Louis Armstrong House Museum.

Harlem and Greenwich Village are more famous for their roles in musical history, but Queens is a surprisingly rich repository, too. For almost 30 years, Louis Armstrong lived in a modest house in the Corona neighborhood; today, the house is a museum that is open to the public.

Though it’s a bit out of the way, it’s a must-visit for serious Armstrong fans, as the house has been preserved as it was when he and his wife lived there.

Louis Armstrong House Museum

Louis Armstrong House Museum

Image: Paul Lowry

5. Watch the sunset from Gantry Plaza State Park.

Long Island City, one of Queens’ neighborhoods and the closest one to Manhattan, sits on the East River and has perfect, unobstructed views of Manhattan, best seen at sunset. Take the 7 train to Vernon-Jackson, walk west on 50th Avenue all the way to the water, and enjoy the view from the end of one of the piers or from your own hammock at the northern end of the park.

Gantry Plaza State Park

Gantry Plaza State Park

Image: Francisco Collazo

Aug
10

America’s Favorite Farmers’ Markets

It begins in early June–my obsessive tracking of the quality of sweet corn.

At that point in the season, it’s early–far too early–for the kernels to burst with juicy, sunny, sweetness, but every week I buy half a dozen ears, roast them in the oven, and offer my estimate of how many more weeks we have to wait for the corn to hit its peak. That high point lasts two weeks at most, but I enjoy every minute of it.

I’m fortunate to live in New York City, which has year-round farmers’ markets, but I asked around the office and among TravelMuse followers on twitter and Facebook: What are YOUR favorite farmers’ markets?

Here are some of their answers:

1. Pearl Farmers’ Market, San Antonio, Texas

The Pearl Farmers’ Market is located along the banks of the San Antonio River and features the goods of producers whose farms are within 150 miles. Typical Texas fruits and veggies–like the variety of peppers shown here–aren’t the only items on offer; there’s also grass-fed bison, heritage pork, and charcuterie.

San Antonio

Image: Gruenemann

2. Santa Monica Farmers’ Market, Santa Monica, California

This farmers’ market, considered one of the largest and most diverse growers-only farmers’ markets in the U.S., was a top pick among staffers and TravelMuse twitter followers. Its website reports an average of 9,000 shoppers at its weekly Wednesday market.
Santa Monica

Image: Sharon Mollerus

3. Cold Spring Farmers’ Market, Cold Spring, New York

This farmers’ market in the Hudson River Valley is open year-round, but it’s best in the summer, when it’s held on the grounds of Boscobel, a historic house-turned-museum with this view of the Hudson River. Bonus? You can picnic on the Boscobel grounds after you do your shopping.

Cold Spring

Image: ScubaBear68

4. Mountain View Farmers’ Market, Mountain View, California

Mountain View is one of the five biggest farmers’ markets in California and a regular winner of “favorite farmers’ markets” contests. The variety of vendors and the market’s proximity to the Salinas Valley (aka: “America’s Salad Bowl”) make this market a top pick.

Mountain View

Image: IrisDragon

5. Nicollet Mall Market, Minneapolis, Minnesota

The Nicollet Mall Market is convenient for people who live and work in downtown Minneapolis, and it’s an ideal place to pick up lunch during the summer. It’s also close to public transportation. And the eggplant! Isn’t it gorgeous?

Minneapolis

Image: Cultivate Landscapes

6. Ballard Sunday Farmers’ Market, Seattle, Washington

As its name suggests, the Ballard Sunday Farmers’ Market is open on Sunday only. Year-round, through sun, snow, wind, and rain, Ballard says it’s “more reliable than the post office.” Other reasons to visit? Hard cider, honey-smoked albacore, and other Pacific Northwest-inspired treats.

Ballard

Image: Brian Glanz

7. Pike Place Market, Seattle, Washington

Yes, another market in Seattle, but how could we leave Pike Place off our list? It’s probably one of the most-visited markets in the United States. Plus, it’s not strictly a farmers’ market; open “19-1/2 hours a day, 362 days a year,” Pike Place is known for its fish and seafood, too.
PIke
Image: angelan.

8. Aptos Farmers’ Market, Monterey Bay, California

Any farmers’ market worth its salt should have live entertainment, and Aptos does. In addition to what looks like some absolutely delicious corn, Aptos serves up live bluegrass and accordion music, and it offers a variety of classes, including pickling and canning.

Aptos

Image: DavidDennisPhotos

Aug
02

Olympic Sites in Mexico City and Vancouver

What becomes of an Olympic venue once the Games have ended? We take a look at Olympic sites from the 1968 Games, hosted by Mexico City, and the 2010 Games, hosted by Vancouver.

Mexico City

Mexico’s capital, Mexico City, hosted the Olympic Games in 1968. The selection of Mexico City was significant for a number of reasons: it was the first time the Games had been held in a Spanish-speaking country, the first time they had been held in Latin America, and the first time they had been held in what was considered a “developing” country.

UNAM

Photo: Julie Schwietert Collazo

For a brief moment, it looked like the International Olympic Committee would cancel the Games, as a massacre of student and civilian protesters occurred just 10 days before the Games’ Opening Ceremony. The IOC decided not to cancel the Games; however, the world’s biggest sporting event was definitely politically charged that year and Mexican officials were relieved that the Games concluded without significant incidents.

Today, many of the venues that hosted athletic competitions during the 1968 Olympics remain active sporting sites for Mexican athletes, and are open to the public. Arena Mexico, not far from the city’s main square, the Zocalo, hosted wrestling matches in 1968 and continues to do so today. Popular lucha libre spectacles are held here regularly, drawing massive crowds eager to watch this beloved and uniquely Mexican sport in which masked and costumed wrestlers try to best one another.

Another Olympic venue you can visit for both a sense of the past and a dose of local culture is the Estadio Olimpico Universitario (University Olympic Stadium) at UNAM, Mexico’s largest and most prestigious university, located in the south of the city. The site of the Opening and Closing Ceremony of the 1968 Games, as well as many track and field events, today’s it’s the home field for the popular Pumas soccer team.

Vancouver

Vancouver was one of the most recent Olympic hosts, so it’s hardly a surprise that many of its venues are in excellent condition and are open to the public for recreational purposes. One of the most popular spots for locals in Vancouver is the Richmond Olympic Oval, which was the site for speed skating competitions in the 2010 Winter Olympics. After the Games, the entire complex was converted into a 23,000 square foot fitness and recreation center that’s open to the public on a membership basis. There’s a 31 route climbing wall, a paddling center, two Olympic size skating rinks, and dozens of courts for badminton, basketball, and volleyball. Don’t feel like working out? You can take a guided tour of the venue instead.

Vancouver

Photo: tgreyfox

One of the most popular Olympic sites in Vancouver–and one of the most accessible, too– is the Olympic cauldron, which remains in its original location near the convention center. It’s ideal for a photo opp. Besides the Cauldron itself, the natural views here are spectacular, with the North Shore Mountains visible in the distance.

To learn more about other Olympic sites you can visit in North America, check out our feature article, “Destinations of Champions”.

Jul
25

5 Things to Do in Cancun This Summer

Cancun isn’t just for Spring Breakers hoping to escape Mom’s and Dad’s watchful eyes. Though high schoolers and college students descend upon Cancun for one party-hardy week each spring, the rest of the year tends to be much more mellow. But maybe you don’t know what Cancun has to offer beyond the ubiquitous souvenir t-shirt from Senor Frogs. If that’s the case, here are six things to do in Cancun this summer.

1. Swim With Whale Sharks

Whale sharks, the largest animal in the seas, spend four months of the year (May-September) off the coast of Cancun, and visitors can see them—and even swim with them—by taking an excursion with a licensed tour operator. The whale sharks are gentle giants, gliding slowly through the water as they feed. You can watch them from your tour boat or swim alongside them with a guide; this activity is recommended for travelers ages 10 and up.

Swimming with whale sharks in Cancun. Photo: CollazoProjects.com.

Swimming with whale sharks in Cancun. Photo: CollazoProjects.com.

2. Swim With Dolphins

If whale sharks seem too overwhelming or if you’re prone to seasickness, you can stay on land and swim with dolphins in the Cancun Interactive Aquarium’s pool. You’ll be introduced to the animals by a professional trainer, who will stay with you in the pool throughout your session. During your time with the dolphins, you’ll see how they’re trained and watch the commands they can fulfill. This option is also better for younger children, as there is no minimum age limit to participate. Before or after your swim, you can also visit the aquarium’s museum, which features touch tanks and other displays.

Swimming with dolphins at the Interactive Aquarium. Photo: CollazoProjects.com

Swimming with dolphins at the Interactive Aquarium. Photo: CollazoProjects.com

3. Go to the Zoo

Cancun isn’t just about marine animals; at CrocoCun Zoo, you can also have one-on-one encounters with land mammals and reptiles, including parrots, crocodiles, snakes, monkeys, and more. A professional guide leads you on an hour-long tour through the well-kept, humane zoo; during the tour, you are invited to touch, hold, or feed most of the animals.

Kids touch a crocodile at CrocoCun Zoo. Photo: CollazoProjects.com

Kids touch a crocodile at CrocoCun Zoo. Photo: CollazoProjects.com

4. Explore Mayan History

2012 is a particularly important year in Mayan history, as the Mayans’ long-calendar reaches its end. Travelers with a particular interest in archaeology and indigenous history have been visiting Cancun’s and the Riviera Maya’s Mayan sites in large numbers this year; why not join them? You can take a day trip drive to the most-renowned site, Chichen Itza, which is 60 miles from Cancun proper, or you can stay closer to the city and visit El Rey, a 47-structure site in Cancun. Other sites within 60-80 miles’ driving distance include Tulum, Xcaret, Xel-Ha, and Ek-Balam.

The main temple at Ek-Balam, a Mayan site. Photo: Donna Arioldi.

The main temple at Ek-Balam, a Mayan site an hour outside of Cancun. Photo: Donna M. Airoldi

5. Take a Day Trip to an Isla

Cancun has several islands—Isla Mujeres, Isla Holbox, and Isla Contoy—off its coast that are increasingly gaining the attention of visitors. Mujeres and Holbox are known for their laid-back, takin’-it-easy pace, while Contoy is a national park that invites supervised eco-tourism visits limited to 200 people per day. Ferries run from Cancun’s Puerto Morelos to the islands; though you could easily do a day trip to Isla Mujeres and Isla Contoy, it’s recommended that you stay at least overnight to have time to enjoy Isla Holbox, which requires a longer trip from Cancun. Once there, you can relax on the beach, snorkel, fish, or kiteboard.

Limiting visitors to Isla Contoy means you're likely to find a stretch of beach to yourself. Photo: Alaskan Dude.

Limiting visitors to Isla Contoy means you're likely to find a stretch of beach to yourself. Photo: Alaskan Dude

Jun
28

Incredible Capture: Pulpit Rock, Norway

Though Norway may be better known for Vikings and salmon, Pulpit Rock is one of its most famous attractions. Located in western Norway, visitors must hike about two and a half miles, climbing about 1,982 feet along the way, to reach the gorgeous views afforded at the edge of this cliff. See the original post on the NileGuide blog

pulpit rockImage: Today is a Good Day/Flickr

Jun
20

Craving a rush of air, adrenaline and great views? Check out these stunning jump-off spots that will leave you breathless in more ways than one.

1. Bungee jumping at Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

Located between Zambia and Zimbabwe, Victoria Falls is the largest waterfall in the world – so it should go without saying it is an ideal place to fall 111 meters with a cord attached to your ankles. We wonder if the fall’s namesake Queen Victoria ever felt the rush of plummeting off this waterfall? We guess not.

Image: On The Go Tours/Flickr

2. Base jumping from the Sky Tower, New Zealand

People from all over congregate to the 328m Sky Tower, distinguished as one of the tallest free-standing structures in the Southern hemisphere. Feeling the need for speed? This base jumping spot is the place for you – jumpers reach up to 85km/hr while on their way down. On top of this fast and extremely high fall, you also have to worry about wind entering your equation. Fortunately, base jumpers use a guide-cable-controlled to avert the jumper from bumping into the building.

Image: Andy Beal Photography/Flickr

3. Skydiving over Lake Taupo, New Zealand

Take skydiving to the next level by flying above one of the last active volcano regions in New Zealand. It is very popular for people to experience one minute of freefalling in this 15,000 feet drop. Also, if you are a skydiver on a budget, skydiving over Lake Taupo is known for low-cost jumps. We’re not sure if this is a good thing or not.

Image: Antoine Hurbert/Flickr

4. Hang gliding the mountains of Bariloche, Argentina

Hang gliding in Bariloche, Argentina is said to be an incredible experience any time of the year, but summer has been recognized as the truly best time.

Image: patrícia soransso /Flickr

5. Zip lining the treetops of Durango, USA

If you are an adrenaline junkie jonsing for the great outdoors, then it is time for you to zip line through the treetops of Durango, Colorado. As you travel high up amongst the trees, you can spot reptiles and birds from an incredible vantage point. Sounds like an ideal day to us.

Video: Gary Gaurdreau/Vimeo

6. Paragliding Babadag Mountain, Turkey

In October the small resort town of Oludeniz hosts an annual Air Games week for all the air lovers around the world. Located at the foot of Babadag mountain, be one with nature as you para-glide through the mountains, cedar forests and shores of the Mediterranean.

Image: babadag.com


Love this topic? Read the whole post on the NileGuide blog

Jun
15

5 Prison-Turned-Hotels

Anyone with even a slight appreciation of irony would enjoy knowing that hellish prisons around the world, closed down because of overcrowding and human-rights abuse, have reopened as posh hotels and kitschy hostels. [Read the full post at the NileGuide blog.]

1. The Liberty Hotel – Boston, USA

Image: Ben+Sam/Flickr

Although The Liberty Hotel might have the gosh darn coolest design of any hotel on our list, it certainly wasn’t always that way. Back when The Liberty Hotel was the Charles Street Jail, the place was so overcrowded and nasty-gnarly, the US District Court ruled it was unconstitutional for even criminals to live there.

Image: liluinteriors

Constructed in 1851, the Charles Street Jail was designed by famed Boston architect Gridley James Fox Bryant, who created a massive granite structure with an octagonal rotunda, a 90-foot tall atrium, and 30 arched windows that measured 33 feet high. A mix between a Gothic cathedral and a fortress, the Charles Street Jail was once home to Malcolm X, Sacco and Vanzetti, and Boston mayor James Michael Curley.

Image: The Liberty Hotel

After failing inspections, the Charles Street Jail was closed to inmates in 1990 and renovations began to turn it from an all-around dump into one of the swankiest hotels in Boston. The Liberty Hotel maintained the grand exterior and rotunda while totally refurbishing the jail cells into rooms considerably bigger than the original 7 x 10 foot floor plan.

Interested in rubbing shoulders with the “in” crowd without paying the big bucks to spend the night? Grab an appetizer at The Liberty Hotel’s restaurant Clink (teehee) or a drink at their bar, Alibi (haha), which has an impressive array of celebrity mug shots. Oh, The Liberty Hotel, you’re so clever.

Image: The Liberty Hotel

Jun
15

la recoleta

Image: Trey Ratcliff/Stuck in Customs/Flickr

Located in Buenos Aires, the La Recoleta Cemetery contains the graves of famous people including Eva Perón, Raúl Alfonsín, and presidents of Argentina. Built around 1732, the cemetery surrounds the Our Lady of Pilar convent and a church, and contains incredibly beautiful crypts such as the one captured above.

The city that surrounds the cemetery is the bustling capital of Argentina. Full of tango, art, and hundreds of bookstores, it’s no surprise that a culture with such a flair for life would have a similar flair for the after-life. [via NileGuide]

Jun
15

9 Secret Cave Cities

There were two recurring themes that surprised us while researching cave dwelling cultures from around the world:

1. Mongols.

2. George Lucas.

Read on to see where we’re going with this.

1. Cappadocia, Turkey

Image: Curious Expeditions/Flickr

Image: sputnik 57/Flickr

The Cappadocia region of central Turkey has some of the strangest, most incredible geology anywhere on earth. And for 3,500 years, humans have managed to build 200 incredible cities in this rocky, mountainous terrain. Lucky for modern day visitors, the cave cities in Cappadocia provide thousands of years of history and miles of caves to explore. And on top of that, all the artifacts found within the caves have been incredibly well maintained over the centuries. The dry, arid weather inside the caves has made for almost perfect conditions for preserving the artifacts, and there is still undoubtedly much more to be discovered.

Image: whl.travel/Flickr

Image: drreagan/Flickr

Along with constructing incredible cave complexes, the multiple groups that have called Cappadocia home also utilized the unique Fairy Chimney rock formations native to the area – turning them into homes. Found only in a few places on earth, the formation looks like a tall pyramid with a large rock balanced on top. Native cultures hollowed them out and used them as freestanding dwellings. Pretty cool huh?

Image: Vin60/Flickr

2. Vardzia – Southern Georgia

Image: en.wikipedia.org

We certainly don’t envy any 12th century monarch. With the Mongols terrorizing Europe, it must have felt like your chances for survival where slim. So when Queen Tamar of the Caucasus heard that the Mongol army was at her doorstep, she demanded the impossible: Build an impenetrable fortress on the side of the Erusheli mountain. Although it seems barely feasable by modern day standards, in 1185 construction began.

When the complex was completed it had 6,000 apartments on 13 levels, a throne room, a church, and an exterior of terraces for growing crops. Incredibly Vardzia also had an irrigation system and a secret entrance only accessible via a hidden tunnel.

Image: onbangladesh/Flickr

Image: zigurdszakis/Flickr

Luckily, it worked in protecting the queen from the Mongols. Unluckily, a hundred years later a massive earthquake in 1283 destroyed much of the complex, exposing the interior apartments that were originally hidden inside the mountain. Even after the damage, monks continued to live in what was left until being attacked by Persians in 1551.

It is now open to visitors, and a small group of monks maintain the incredible ruins.

3. Petra – Jordan

Image: paalia/Flickr

The Nabataeans established Petra around the 6th Century BCE as their capital city. An important stop on the Middle Eastern trade route, Petra’s iconic structures weren’t built until around zero AD. The most famous ruin, Al Kjazneh or “The Treasury”, has an incredibly detailed facade carved out of a sandstone rock face.

Image: To Uncertainty And Beyond/Flickr

Image: tympsy/Flickr

Many of the details of the Greek-influenced architecture has been lost over the years, but it still makes for an incredible site. Although it isn’t known what The Treasury was constructed for, it was deemed a World Heritage Site is 1985. But perhaps even more exciting than that, it was also in Indiana Jones an the Last Crusade.

Image: archer10(Dennis)/Flickr

4. Coober Pedy – Northern Australia

Image: DuReMi/Flickr

The small town of Coober Pedy has 3 great things going for it. 1: It is the Opal Capital of the World; 2: It is the set location for 3rd Mad Max movie; and 3: It was used while filming Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Other than that, living there is pretty rough. Located in a desolate strip of land in northern Australia, temperatures hover at around 105 degrees Fahrenheit for most of the summer. Along with the sweltering heat comes 20% humidity. Not such a comfy place to live – especially since power to run air conditioning is pretty expensive all the way out in the middle of nowhere.

Image: DuReMi/Flickr

Image: DuReMi/Steel Wool/Flickr

To combat the insufferable temps the original opal prospectors in 1915 built underground homes, and to this day that’s how most of the town lives. One of the only modern additions? Chimneys that can be seen from above ground.

Since it’s become somewhat of a tourist attraction in the past 20 years, Coober Pedy offers a few underground hostels in case you’re dying to live like the locals.

Image: whale05/Flickr

5. Uplistsikhe – Eastern Georgia

Image: Lidia Ilona/Flickr

Located 5 miles from Gori, the city of Stalin’s birth, Uplistsikhe is an ancient town built into the soft rocks of eastern Georgia. Some structures have been dated all the way to the Early Iron Age, but Uplistsikhe really began to hit its stride in the Middle Ages when it was a major stop in the Silk Road. At its peak the city housed a population of around 20,000 residents who lived in 700 caves. Unfortunately in the 13th century, Mongol invasions left the city ravaged. Already weak, subsequent earthquakes struck soon after, which severely damaged the rock city and left it largely uninhabitable.

Image: masterplaan/Flickr

Image: masterplaan/Flickr

Today only around 150 caves remain, many of which have barely survived. One of the most incredible structures still left standing is the 9th century church of Uplistulis Eklesia. Although the church was Christian, it was built directly over a previously constructed pagan sun temple. No matter what your religious bent the views from the church are pretty darn incredible.

Image: SusanAstray/Flickr

Image: Mart Laanpere/Flickr

6. Yaodong in the Loess Plateau – China

Image: Next Stop Beijing

For centuries, inhabitants in the Loesses Plateau in northern China have been building their houses into the side of steep cliffs. Cave dwelling may seem like an ancient tradition, but recently Yaodongs have been praised for their eco-friendly construction and sustainability. Modern Yaodongs are constructed carefully with proper precautions, but this wasn’t always the case. When the 1556 Shaanxi earthquake hit northern China, an astonishing 85K people died when their cave homes caved in on them.

Image: Clare’s Research Trip 2010-2011

Image: en.wikipedia.org

Today there is an estimated 40 million people who call Yaodong home including one famous former resident, Mao Zedong.

7. Matmata – Southern Tunisia

Image: Panegyrics of Granovetter/Flickr

If the interior of these buildings look familiar it’s probably because you’ve seen one before. Remember in the beginning of the first Star Wars movie? Yep, Luke Skywalker’s Aunt and Uncles home was actually filmed in a troglodyte house in Matmata, Tunisia. Troglodyte complexes have been built by the Berbers that live in this region for centuries, possibly even since Egyptian times. They are created by digging a large central pit, and then creating artificial underground caves around it.

Image: 10b travelling/Flickr

Image: Syromaniac/Flickr

Even though these homes are ancient, it wasn’t until 1967 that they were “discovered” by the outside world. After 22 days of consistent rain, the small and private community of Matmata were forced to contact authorities when many of their homes began collapsing. It was previously thought that only nomadic tribes lived in the area, and officials were shocked when they came to investigate and found the troglodyte homes.

Image: matee, but who cares?/Flickr

In response to the flooding, above ground homes were built, but as soon as the underground dwellings could be repaired the new homes were abandoned.

8. Bamyan – Central Afghanistan

Image: AfghanistanMatters/Flickr

The modern story of Bamyan is a tearjerker, so prepare yourself.

Bamyan was once an important religious center for Buddhists, and at one point 2,000 monks built their homes in caves in the sandstone cliffs above the city of Bamyan. In addition to creating magnificent paintings inside the caves, the monks also built two massive statues of Buddha between 544-644. Standing 180 and 121 feed high, these were the largest standing statues of Buddha anywhere in the entire world – modern day included. Tragically in 2001 the Taliban intentionally destroyed the statues, calling them an “affront to Islam” and blowing them up with dynamite.

Image: United Nations Photo/Flickr

Previously the Taliban also used the monks’ caves to store ammunition, but once they were driven out of the region the caves became reoccupied with locals looking for homes. Amazingly, the new cave dwellers have found more treasures in the caves, including the world’s oldest oil paintings and a 62-foot reclining Buddha statue.

Image: Tracy Hunter

Image: Tracy Hunter

9. Kandovan – East Azerbaijan Province, Iran

Image: basheem/Flickr

When the Mongols invaded Iran in the 13th century, Iranians fled all over the country. A community ended up in northwestern Iran, and found a bizarre rock formation they decided to call home. These cone structures were created by eroded volcanic ash, and have made incredibly temperate and sturdy houses for the past 700 years.

Image: Eliza_Taibihi/Flickr

Most homes built in Kandovan are between 2 and 4 stories tall, and have actually made this very remote village a popular tourist destination within Iran.

Image: basheem/Flickr

Read the whole post on the NileGuide blog

Jun
11

On the island of Crete – the largest of Greece’s islands – stands the Church of Livadia. It has quite the colorful interior, reflecting Crete’s distinctive culture from the rest of Greece.

Livadia greece church

Image: Wolfgang Staudt/ Flickr

The island has its own poetry form, Mantinades, along with music and indigenous dancing. The people of Crete also often wear traditional dress in everyday settings, including knee-high black riding boots and black shirts. Most of the population is Greek Orthodox, and religious holidays play an important role in gathering the people of Crete together. (via NileGuide)