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One of Turkey’s most iconic buildings is Istanbul’s magnificent Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya in Turkish), a one-time Greek Orthodox church turned into a Mosque and eventually converted into a museum over its 1500-year history.
The Hagia Sophia was an architectural masterpiece in the time it was built (532AD) and to this day it’s still an impressive two-storey domed structure that has survived the test of time against wars, loots, and a number of natural disasters.
While the outside structure itself is not nearly as breath-taking as that of the nearby Blue Mosque, the inside of the Hagia Sophia is incredibly beautiful. The building maintains aspects of both the Christian and Islamic religions in a unison that is not seen anywhere else.
One of the greatest assets of the Hagia Sophia is its collection of mosaic murals, dating back to its many centuries as a church. While the mosaics were covered with white plaster after the building was taken over and converted into a mosque, extensive restoration work has seen many of the mosaics restored.
I visited the Hagia Sophia twice during my time in Istanbul and was able to appreciate the graciousness and history of this great building both as much on my second visit as I did the first time!
Love is in the Air.
This is possibly the most romantic street sign ever, a little piece of humour I found in the streets of Brussels, Belgium, during my trip in August 2013.
Happy Valentine’s Day! And may you get as much action as this ‘no entry’ sign!
As I noted in my post about Brussels, one of the little surprises that I really enjoyed about Brussels were the murals depicting some of Belgium’s Beloved Comic Strips.
I have learned since my visit that there is an official Comic Strip Route which includes 42 pieces in the centre of Brussels alone, plus a bunch of others in some of the city’s suburbs… and I am almost tempted to go back to Brussels just to check it out!
On my post about Antwerp, Belgium, I referred a few times to a local legend about a giant: a legend that kept popping up in various parts of the city, and which is embraced by the city as part of its folklore.
Well, the legend, as it goes, is about a giant named Antigoon, who lived in Antwerp two thousand years ago. The giant built a fortress at the edge of the River Scheldt, and demanded passing boats to pay a toll. If the sailors were unwilling or unable to pay, the giant would cut off one of their hands, and throw it into the river.
Eventually, the giant was slain by a Roman warrior (Brabo), who proceeded to pay homage to the giant’s victims, by cutting the giant’s hand off, and throwing it into the River Scheldt.
The legend is meant to explain where the name of the city, Antwerpen, came from; in Flemish, “hand-werpen” means “throwing hands.” The idea of Antigoon’s hand, now sunk at the bottom of the river, also symbolizes that the river is now a free sailing zone, important as the city’s port has been Antwerp’s biggest source of revenue through its entire existence.
The Giant’s legend is visible throughout the city: the Brabo Fountain outside City Hall in the Grote Markt, built in 1887, depicts the hero Brabo throwing the hand into the river; a sculpture of a giant’s hand is found in Mair Street, the city’s main shopping street; there is also a statue of a giant at the entrance to Het Steen, the city’s fortress. Even more, the hand is even depicted in the city’s coat of arms!
Last week I made my way over to the Tower of London to check out the World War One memorial poppies, a beautiful (free!) art installation running through the Summer and Autumn until November.
The exhibition, named Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, contains over 888,000 ceramic poppies, which are being “planted” in the Tower’s moat over the summer. There will be one poppy for every British military casualty of the First World War.
One of the coolest parts of this installation is that it continues to evolve throughout the summer, as new poppies are planted every single day, continuously growing the display until all ceramic poppies are planted.
Throughout the summer, anyone is able to buy a poppy (for £25.00), which they’ll receive as a keepsake once the installation comes to an end in November.
If you are in London, go check out Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, it’s well worth the trip over!
I saw this Mayan Calendar, sculpted out of sand, during my recent visit to Playa del Carmen, in April 2013.
This sculpture was part of a new initiative by the city to offer more displays of public art. The artist who sculpted the calendar was in the process of creating another sculpture (which seemed to be multiple mayan people in a boat), but I had to leave Playa del Carmen before I got to see the finished product!
In December 2012, in commemoration of the end of the Mayan Calendar, the city of Playa del Carmen unveiled a beautiful bronze monument to commemorate a new era of light and prosperity. The structure, titled Portal Maya (Mayan Gateway), is the first of its kind in the small Caribbean city.
The monument, standing over 50 feet high, portrays a man and a woman, being pushed upwards by a spiral of wind and water, and holding hands. All around the spirals, the sculpture includes depictions of other elements important to the area including a jaguar, shells, people from the past and present, and two rings from the Mayan ball game.
The monument is visually striking, especially with the beach and turquoise waters of the sea in the background!
The 18th of May is International Museum Day, and to celebrate, here is a list of five of the top museums I’ve visited. I chose the museums below based on different merits, in order to avoid over-lapping in geographical areas or museum types.
1.Musée du Louvre – Paris, France
It really should be no surprise that the number one spot goes to the Louvre Museum, one of the world’s biggest collections of international history artifacts, housed in a beautiful historic monument.
The Louvre receives over 8 million visitors every single year, making it the most visited museum in the world. With over 35 thousands artifacts from all through history, including some of the world’s most valuable pieces of art (including Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa), the museum is impossible to cover on a single visit.
Aside from the significance of the items housed within the museum, the building of the Louvre is fantastic: from the 12th Century initial structure to the modern glass pyramid entrance built in 1989, the building is a work of art in itself.
2.Museo Nacional de Antropología – Mexico City, Mexico
Mexico’s most-visited museum, the National Museum of Anthropology, opened in 1964 within the realms of Mexico City’s famous Chapultepec Park. The museum contains one of the most impressive collections of pre-hispanic artifacts in all of Latin America, and is one of the world’s most impressive museums of anthropology.
The architecture of the museum is impressive in itself: 23 exhibition halls surround an open-air patio covered by an enormous squared concrete ‘umbrella’ supported by a single column. From the ‘umbrella,’ a circular waterfall falls multiple metres down into a large pond in the courtyard.
The exhibition halls include archeological and anthropological artifacts from over 50 different pre-Hispanic cultures around Mexico, as well as post-Hispanic textiles and artifacts. Perhaps the most famous piece of history found at the museum is the “Stone of the Sun,” known as the Aztec Calendar.
3.Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, USA
Popularly known as “The Met,” the Metropolitan Museum of Art is the largest museum in the USA, and one of the largest collections of art in the world.
The main building of the Met (the one I visited) is located in New York City’s Central Park. The museum contains an impressive amount of art from all over the world, separated into various halls, by geographical area.
The most dominant permanent exhibits at the Met represent Ancient Egypt, classical Rome and Greek sculptures, European art (including famous works of art by the Masters of the Renaissance), as well as a large collection of American art. There are also large permanent exhibits dedicated to Oceanic, Oriental, and Islamic art, as well as a significant amount of modern art.
The vast amount of art from so many different places in the world and different periods in time, make a visit to the Met entertaining. There is so much to see that it is virtually impossible to see everything in one go. Definitely a must visit place on any trip to New York City.
4.Musei Vaticani, Vatican City, Italy
Italy is home to many of the greatest art museums in the world, but one of the most impressive is the Vatican Museum, within the walls of the Vatican City.
My main reason for choosing this museum out of any other museum in Italy is because of the impact it had on me, due to a large concentration of incredible works of arts (both paintings and sculptures) packed within the walls of the museum. To make the experience even more overwhelming, the art pieces are housed within beautifully decorated rooms and halls that are as impressive as the art itself.
The halls of the Vatican museum allow visitors to move in one direction only (there are too many visitors to the relatively small museum, to allow otherwise), guiding them from room to room; the final part of the museum is the Sistine Chapel, with its famous wall and ceiling murals by Michelangelo.
The Sistine Chapel is much smaller than I imagined, and will be crowded in any visit; nevertheless, the mural paintings are beautiful. Even without the Sistine Chapel as a finale, the Vatican Museum is impressive, and well worth the 2-hour line up to enter.
5.Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington, New Zealand.
Located in the beautiful waterfront area in Wellington’s Central Business District, Te Papa Tongarewa – Museum of New Zealand, is a great museum that delves into the history of New Zealand.
The Te Papa museum covers everything from the geographical formation of New Zealand, to Maori culture, to history, to modern life. There is also a large exhibition room teaching about New Zealand’s endemic plants and animals, both those that have now become extinct, and others, like the iconic kiwi, which are still part of today’s fauna.
Surprisingly, the Te Papa museum is free of charge, although a non-compulsory donation is recommended (and very well-earned). The museum Is well worth a visit to get a good introduction into everything related to New Zealand, in a short time!
International Museum Day is here, so let’s celebrate the importance of museums to our education and understanding of other – and our own – cultures.
Which are your favourite museums?
Kitsilano, a neighbourhood located across False Creek south of Vancouver’s downtown core, is home to Vanier Park.
I only discovered Vanier Park in 2012, after returning from Australia (despite having lived in Vancouver for 14 years now!). I always saw the park across the harbour from Sunset Beach in downtown, but never actually made the track over.
As I took biking as a hobby last summer, I visited Vanier a few times over the summer, and got to really fall in love with it. While there isn’t a beach in Vainer Park, the park has a huge grass area perfect for playing sports, having picnics, or simply hanging out. The park also has amazing views of downtown Vancouver, and is home to some pretty cool museums, such as the Vancouver Space Centre, the Maritime Museum, and the Museum of Vancouver.
The park can easily be reached from downtown via a ferry from Yaletown right into the park, or by walking / biking along the False Creek seawall!
Below are some pictures I took during some of my adventures over to Vanier, so you can see why this park kind of stole my heart.
Cockatoo Island is a small island in the Sydney Harbour, which is easily accessible by a 20-minute ferry from Circular Quay.
The island is heritage listed due to its historic significance to the city, with visible remains from its past as both a penal colony and a shipbuilding dock over a period spanning almost two centuries.
After the docks at Cockatoo Island stopped producing ships, the island was uninhabited for a decade, before opening up to the public in 2007. The island makes for a great, unique day trip while in Sydney, and also hosts special events every so often. You can also opt to overnight at the island, by renting a tent!
During my time in Sydney in 2011, Cockatoo Island hosted an awesome event called “OUTPOST: Art from the Streets.” OUTPOST celebrated the ingenuity of graffiti art, recycling, and even t-shirt design. The setting of the old buildings and tunnels in the island was perfect for such a unique art exhibit.
The show ran for five weeks in November and December 2011. Unfortunately, plans to hold a second instalment of the show in April 2013 have fallen through.
With or without OUTPOST, Cockatoo Island is still well worth a visit; to this day I praise this small island as being the top uncommon attraction in the city, and I recommend it to anyone planning to visit.
Below are some shots from OUTPOST, many in which you’ll be able to appreciate why a visit to Cockatoo Island is worth taking a trip over.
One of the reasons why Kakadu National Park, in the Northern Territory of Australia, is so important to the country, is because of its extensive Aboriginal history. The history, both past and present, of Aborigines in the park, is also one of the main reasons why the 20,000 sq km park has been declared an important World Heritage Area.
Australian Aborigines are recognized as being one of the world’s oldest cultures. In Kakadu National Park, Aborigines have continuously lived for a period between 40,000 and 50,000 years, including present day. There are various establishments specifically designated for Aborigines within the confines of Kakadu itself, many of which are off-limits to visitors (and non-Aborigine Australians), due to cultural and spiritual reasons.
Kakadu National Park is also home to the largest concentration of rock art in Australia, with many of the paintings dating multiple thousands of years back. Rock art has been traditionally painted for as long as the Aborigine culture has existed, and consists of paintings created using only four earth colours: red ochre, ochre, black, and white. The most extensive style of rock art found in Kakadu is often referred to as ‘X-ray paintings,’ as they depict humans and animals with detailed insides, as if they were under an x-ray.
Some of the rock art drawings depict day-to-day activities and guides (hunting, traditions, maps, etc), while others tell the story of mythological Aborigine legends. It is said however, that even the paintings that appear mundane are set in a higher realm of storytelling, in the era that Aborigines refer to as Dreamtime.
It is surprising that the paintings around Kakadu are still in such good conditions after multiple millennia, considering they are out in the open air. It’s quite impressive to witness first hand art that is so ancient.
Kakadu National Park is located about a three-hour drive from Darwin, Australia. There are many tours which depart Darwin to visit Kakadu,or you can visit on your own. Be aware the park is HUGE, so you do need at least two days to visit, so you can get a good taste for it!
Christmas is almost here, and the 12 days of Christmas activities list in Vancouver, Canada, have almost come to an end. Today’s treat, is a Christmas classic not exclusive to Vancouver – one of the season’s most famous ballets; one who most people surely have heard of at some point in their lives.
Day #11: Goh Ballet Academy’s ‘The Nutcracker’
On Friday the 21st of December 2012 I went to see the Goh Ballet Academy’s production of the classic Christmas tale: ‘The Nutcracker.’ This was the first time I saw ‘The Nutcracker‘ and the first time I ever went to the ballet – I really enjoyed the experience!
The story is reminiscent of ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ but set in a Christmas world. The ballet, composed by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, was performed for the first time 120 years ago just this past week. This classical ballet continues to have multiple yearly productions all over the world; the ballet today continue to captivate the minds and hearts of the audience. And it’s easy to see why: because it’s truly magical.
‘The Nutcracker‘ is a beautiful story about a girl, Clara, who is given a wooden nutcracker as a Christmas gift during a Christmas party. As Clara falls asleep, she goes into an adventure along with the nutcracker, who soon becomes a handsome prince.
When Clara falls asleep, the set around her grows bigger, giving the illusion that she has shrunk. Shortly, a band of rats (and impossibly adorable little kids, dressed as mice), led by the rat king, attack the girl. The nutcracker comes to the rescue, along with his army of toy soldiers, and after a battle, the king rat is defeated.
The nutcracker (who has now turned into a handsome prince) and Clara go on to an enchanted winter wonderland, where they are greeted by a the snow king and queen, along with dancing snowflakes. Then, they take a sleigh over to a beautiful place (the Kingdom of Sweets) where they are entertained by a number of performers from all corners of the world: Spain, Arabia, China, and Russia. There is also a sequence of dancing flowers, before the Sugarplum Fairy takes to the stage, dancing various numbers along with a prince.
At the end of this beautiful string of ballets, Clara, with the wooden nutcracker in her arms, is woken up by her mother. The ballet ends leaving the viewer with the question of whether the entire thing was a dream, or if the girl was actually transported to the beautiful wonderland.
Goh Ballet Academy’s Take on the Ballet
Let’s begin with the sets. The sets were amazing. The detail on every component of each set was impeccable, and it was sometimes hard not to pay as much attention to the set itself as to the performers. There were a few set changes: the outside of a mansion, then the inside of it, followed by a winter wonderland in Act I. Act II begins with a Heaven-like set, complete with clouds, before moving to the Kingdom of Sweets, a beautiful city-like set, which appears to be carved of wood.
Costume-wise, the costumes are fantastic. Everything from the beautiful glittering tutus of the fairies and snowflakes, to the outfits of the citizens and the soldiers, to the stereotypical clothes of the world performers, to the rat disguises, were captivating. There was so much detail and care put into the costumes that they enthralled the viewers, make everyone feel connected to Clara’s adventure.
As for the ballet itself, it is outstanding. The principal dancers in this production are members of the New York City Ballet and are expectedly talented. What was surprising (simply because of the hype given to the guest stars), is our local talent. Vancouver’s own Goh Ballet Academy has some admirable dancers. Everyone, from the older, more experienced dancers, to the little children dressed as mice, were a joy to watch. The synchronicity of the performers in some of the numbers, when there were a dozen of them dancing along, was admiringly perfect.
Kudos as well to the Vancouver Opera Orchestra for providing their talent to bring to life the magic of The Nutcracker with Tchaikovsky’s beautiful music. Another talented bunch, hidden under the stage, out of sight, but a crucial part of the story telling!
Goh Ballet’s The Nutcracker only played from the 19th to the 23rd of December 2012, at the Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts. However, if you get the chance to see the ballet in your city or in a future year (I know we get a production of it in Vancouver every year – this year we got two different ones!), I’m sure you won’t be disappointed!