Category: World Cultures

The Sunlight in Athens

The Sunlight in Athens

Attica was a very small country according to modern notions, and Athens the only large city therein. The land barely covered some 700 square miles, with 40 square miles more, if one includes the dependent island of Salamis. It was thus far smaller than the smallest of our American “states” (Rhode Island = 1250 square miles), and was not so large as many American counties.

It was really a triangle of rocky, hill- scarred land thrust out into the Aegean Sea, as if it were a sort of continuation of the more level district of Bœotia. Yet small as it was, the hills inclosing it to the west, the seas pressing it from the northeast and south, gave it a unity and isolation all its own. Attica was not an island; but it could be invaded only by sea, or by forcing the resistance which could be offered at the steep mountain passes towards Bœotia or Megara. Attica was thus distinctly separated from the rest of Greece.

Yet Attica had advantages which more than counterbalanced this grudging of fertility. All Greece, to be sure, was favored by the natural beauty of its atmosphere, seas, and mountains, but Attica was perhaps the most favored portion of all. Around her coasts, rocky often and broken by pebbly beaches and little craggy peninsulas, surged the deep blue Aegean, the most glorious expanse of ocean in the world. Far away spread the azure water, — often foam-crested and sometimes alive with the dolphins leaping at their play, — reaching towards a shimmering sky line where rose “the isles of Greece,” masses of green foliage, or else of tawny rock, scattered afar, to adapt the words of Homer, “like shields laid on the face of the glancing deep.”

Above the sea spread the noble arch of the heavens, — the atmosphere often dazzlingly bright, and carrying its glamour and sparkle almost into the hearts of men. The Athenians were proud of the air about their land.

The third great element, besides the sea and the atmosphere of Athens, was the mountains. One after another the bold hills reared themselves, cutting short all the plainlands and making the farmsteads often a matter of slopes and terraces. Against the radiant heavens these mountains stood out boldly, clearly; revealing all the little gashes and seams left from that long-forgotten day when they were flung forth from the bowels of the earth. None of these mountains was very high: Hymettus, the greatest, was only about 3500 feet; but rising as they often did from a close proximity to the sea, and not from a dwarfing table-land, even the lower hills uplifted themselves with proud majesty.

These hills were of innumerable tints according to their rocks, the hue of the neighboring sea, and the hour of the day. In spring they would be clothed in verdant green, which would vanish before the summer heats, leaving them rosy brown or gray. But whatever the fundamental tone, it was always brilliant; for the Athenians lived in a land where blue sky, blue sea, and the massive rock blent together into such a galaxy of shifting color, that, in comparison, the lighting of almost any northern or western landscape would seem feeble and tame. The Athenians absorbed natural beauty with their native air.

Behind each of these mountain masses is another piece of Attica not visible from Athens. Between Hymettus and the eastward sea lies the Mesogaia Plain. It is larger and more fertile than the plain of the Cephissus, and yet figures little in history, for no highroad passes through it. Attica’s back-parlour, should one say? Behind Pentelicus lies the plain of Aphidnae, lying saucer-like with a ring of hills around it and a piece of rising ground in its centre. The great plain behind Parnes does not belong to Attica but to Bœotia. Parnes is the one landward boundary of the Attic peninsula. Towards the west her soaring ridges dip to Mount Aegaleus, and behind these is the sea-girt Thriasian plain around Eleusis, now reckoned as Attic territory.

The Athenian loved sunshine, and Helios the Sun God was gracious to his prayers. In the Athens of to-day it is reckoned that the year averages 179 days in which the sun is not concealed by clouds one instant; and 157 days more when the sun is not hidden more than half an hour. Ancient Athens was surely not more cloudy. Nevertheless, despite this constant sunshine and a southern latitude, Athens was striken relatively seldom with semitropical heat. The sea was a good friend, bringing tempering breezes. In the short winter there might be a little frost, a little snow, and a fair supply of rain. For the rest of the year, one golden day was wont to succeed another, with the sun and the sea breeze in ever friendly rivalry.

The climate saved the Athenians from being obliged to wage a stern warfare with nature as did the northern peoples. Their life and civilization could be one developed essentially “in the open air”; while, on the other hand, the bracing sea breeze saved them from that enervating lethargy which has ruined so many southern folk. The scanty soil forced them to struggle hard to win a living; unless they yielded to the constant beckoning of the ocean, and sought food, adventure, wealth, and a great empire across the seas.

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London: The capital of an empire on which the sun never sets

London: The capital of an empire on which the sun never sets

We all know that London stands on the Thames, that it is the capital of an empire on which the sun never sets, and that it has the right to call itself the largest and richest city in existence, perhaps the greatest congregation of human beings to which history ever had a chance of preaching on that old text, the rise and fall of so many a Babylon. We ought to know how it measures at least a dozen miles in length and breadth, and how it contains five millions or so of people, to which some half as many must be added if we take in its outer area.

We can learn that it counts a million of houses; that its myriads of streets, if set on end, would reach across Europe; that it includes some sixteen thousand acres of open spaces; that yearly it lays twenty miles of fresh pavements, and adds new inhabitants enough to make a country town, while it is always swallowing some old village in its insatiable maw.

Those who have an appetite for such figures may further be instructed that every year its port harbours more than twenty thousand vessels of all flags, that every day nearly nine thousand trains run into its stations, and that every hour about ten million gallons of water are drawn for its various needs, flushing out in subterranean channels more than one cares to count or measure.

London: The capital of an empire on which the sun never sets

The above are but samples from an imposing stack of statistics, that might be drawn upon by way of helping the imagination to realize what London is. Unimaginative and uninstructed eyes have long been content to leave the matter thus: “The cities of London and Westminster are spread out to an incredible extent. The streets, squares, rows, lanes, and alleys are innumerable. Palaces, public buildings, and churches rise in every quarter.” I am using the pen of Miss Lydia Melford, whose first sensation in those thronged thoroughfares was like that of the fabulous Scot, at a later date found waiting shyly up an entry in Fleet Street, as he explained, till the people had come out of church.

But next arises the question, What is London?–one to be less readily answered. Not every Londoner could say off-hand whether Hampstead, for instance, belongs to his hive, nor in what sense it includes Norwood or Kew. London was once a walled city about the mouth of two small brooks flowing into the Thames; then, escaping from this confinement, like the genius released by a fisherman in the Arabian Nights it quickly spread itself over the surrounding heights and flats, till, from an area of some square mile or so, it had expanded more than a hundredfold. Sovereigns in vain bade its growth come to a stand, their proclamations as idle as Canute’s commanding the waves. Not less vainly lords cried out against the citizens who presumed to neighbour their parks and gardens, sooner or later to be ploughed up by streets.

A century ago sociologists of Cobbett’s stamp vituperated that “wen” whose bulk seemed a danger to national health; and by the end of the century the tumour was swollen five times as great. Not that it has grown so much out of proportion to the general body, if we may accept Mr. Matthew Bramble’s indignant calculation, made several generations back, that “one-sixth part of this whole extensive kingdom is crowded within the bills of mortality.” That is much the same ratio as London proper now bears to England, its own thicker outskirts and the rest of the United Kingdom being eliminated, which, if brought into the sum, would make it work out in favour of the capital’s increase.

When we come to boundaries and definitions, we are met by the truly British want of system, symmetry, regularity, through which London was allowed to straggle and struggle up into a confused rough-cast conglomeration of materials stuck together by chance or by rule of thumb, cross-divided for different purposes, to be managed by divers and sometimes overlapping authorities.

There are citizens who, till the consideration be brought home to them by rate-collectors or other call to civic duty, do not care to know in what parish, borough, Poor-Law union, Parliamentary division, or what, they have their home; and on the edge of London some may be hardly clear what right they have to call themselves Londoners. The City, as it is styled, honoris causâ, forms an independent core, round which strangers must be taught to distinguish between the County of London, by law established, and the wider circle that has come to be known as Greater London.

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Stunning high-end hotel built in a cave in Cappadocia

Stunning high-end hotel built in a cave in Cappadocia

A 5-star stay here includes balconies and fire pits — but watch your head.

Nestled among the limestone caves of Cappadocia, Turkey, lies the 30-room, 5-star Yunak Evleri hotel. Carved into a mountain, the structure includes 6 cave houses and a 19th-century Greek mansion. The rooms are predictably quiet, but don’t worry, there’s also wireless.

Enjoy the panoramic views and a drink by the fire. Or check your email. Yes, it has Wi-Fi.

Much of the Yunak Evleri hotel was carved into soft limestone cliffs. Each room features a patio. No special effects needed. This one-in-a-million hotel has to be seen to be believed.

Each bedroom has a spa with either a Jacuzzi or a steam shower. The rooms are decorated in Ottoman-era furniture and feature all the amenities of home. Even on hot days, the cliff walls keep the rooms nice and cool.

If you’re on the tall side, use caution when getting up in the morning. There’s more to the hotel then the rooms. Enjoy the view with other lucky guests.

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Ten things travel guidebooks don’t tell you

Ten things travel guidebooks don't tell you

If you don’t find a hotel or restaurant in a guide, a bad review may be why.

1. We’re already out of date.

After more than a week in $5-a-night hostels in Peru, Caitlin Childs was looking forward to a hot shower and a comfortable bed. But when she got to the Hotel Paracas, there was no hot shower, no bed – and no hotel. “It had been leveled in an earthquake the year before,” says Childs, a graphic designer and frequent traveler. It turned out her Footprint Peru Handbook – the latest edition – had been published a year and a half before her July 2008 trip.

Even without earthquakes, much of the information covered by guidebooks changes too fast for book publishers to keep up. Restaurants close, quaint markets lose their cachet, and trains change their schedules. If it’s essential to your trip, make a phone call before you go, says Peggy Goldman, the president of Friendly Planet Travel, a tour operator. Never rely on a guidebook for key information like whether you’ll need a visa to enter a country and how much it will cost, or what vaccinations you might need, Goldman says, because those facts can change rapidly. Although the guidebook’s web site may have more up-to-date information, travelers should still check with the consulate and look for CDC alerts for the latest information.

2. No news is bad news.

There’s simply not space in most guidebooks to include negative reviews – so a hotel or restaurant that isn’t in the book might not have made the cut for a reason, says Thomas Kohnstamm, a former Lonely Planet guidebook writer and the author of the memoir, “Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?” Guidebooks are also trying not just to inform but to sell potential travelers on the idea of a particular destination, he says. The end result: Every beach is beautiful, and the people of every country are “some of the nicest people in the world.” “It’s supposed to be an unvarnished take on places but you have to be pretty PC about everything,” Kohnstamm says.

It’s true that space is limited, so if something isn’t in the book, “there may be a reason,” says Ensley Eikenburg, the associate publisher of Frommer’s travel guides. The exception: “There are certain iconic places that can be overrated, and that’s something we encourage our writers to say,” she says.

3. We haven’t actually been there.

It’s called a “desk update”: Writers use the phone, the Internet, stories from other travelers and even old-fashioned books to research a destination, but they never actually go there. The practice is common throughout the travel industry, Kohnstamm says. And with tight budgets, some publishers simply never ask how writers are getting their information.

Eikenburg, of Frommer’s, admits that the company does desk updates, but only on a few titles that cover multiple countries, while Lonely Planet’s Americas publisher, Brice Gosnell, says that the company’s contracts with writers always require travel to the location they’re covering.

4. We’re relying on you to catch our mistakes.

There’s essentially no fact-checking process for most guidebooks, Kohnstamm says. “They might do a random check, but mainly they’re trying to rely on the writer” to get things right, he says. (Lonely Planet and Frommer’s say fact-checking is the writer’s responsibility.) In practice, and with the prevalence of the “desk update” (see No. 2), that may mean waiting for readers to point out errors or out-of-date information. Jeffrey Ward, the founder of Savvy Navigator Tours, says he once wrote to Fodor’s to let them know that the index to their South Africa guide was from a previous edition, making it very difficult to quickly look up restaurants or sites while out walking around. Ward says the company sent him a free copy of a corrected book within a couple of months.

5. That “easy” hike is only easy for experts.

In 2007, a 32-year old hiker died taking what a guidebook had described as the “easy way” up Tryfan, a 3,000-foot mountain in Wales. “The definition of ‘easy’ is relative depending upon your experience, your physical ability, your footwear, clothing and kit, and your party,” explains Chris Lloyd, a spokesman for the local Ogwen Valley Mountain Rescue Organization. Death by hiking is fortunately uncommon, but Brian King, the publisher of guidebooks for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, says his organization frequently hears complaints from less-experienced hikers who feel the books make scrambling over boulders sound like an easy day’s stroll. “We could probably do a better job of accommodating the day hiker,” King says.

6. We ruined that secluded spot we mentioned.

Brian Ghidinelli thought he and his wife were the only tourists in Old Hanoi’s winding streets – until they walked into a Lonely-Planet-recommended restaurant, which was packed with other travelers, some with their own Lonely Planet Vietnam guides on their tables. “While we ate, several more pairs walked in with guidebook in hand,” Ghidinelli, an entrepreneur and experienced traveler, says. Accidentally walking into a tourist trap can have financial consequences, too. In Ghidinelli’s experience, hotels and restaurants recommended by the guidebook tended to cost 25% or 30% more than those that didn’t cater to tourists.

7. We’re terrified of your smartphone.

Ten years ago, guidebooks to popular destinations like Walt Disney World or Paris were common on the New York Times best-sellers list, says Michael Norris, a senior analyst for Simba Information, a market research firm that covers publishing and media. These days, the physical books just don’t sell as well as they used to, in part because so much information is now available for free online – TripAdvisor, anyone? – and can be accessed on the spot with a GPS-equipped phone.

8. Going to Estonia? We don’t really care.

Guidebook writers sent to less well-traveled destinations are often hindered by tiny budgets, Kohnstamm says, explaining that books about popular destinations command the majority of the companies’ resources. “The rest get sort of short shrift,” he says. Other publishers see it differently. Frommer’s doesn’t spend more on the more popular guides either, Eikenburg says. “If one of our customers buys our guide to Panama and it’s not accurate, then we’ve lost that customer to the competition when they go out and buy an Italy guide or an Alaska guide,” she says.

9. We’re tourists too.

Guidebooks can’t always be trusted for “insider” tips on what the locals eat, how they behave or what the cultural norms are in a country, says Bryan Schmidt, who has traveled to six countries on four continents over the last ten years. Guidebooks for Brazil, for example, will recommend places to get “authentic” feijoada, a traditional meat and bean stew – but Schmidt, whose wife is Brazilian, says even those meals are designed for tourists. Of course, some may see that as a blessing: The truly authentic dish involves “a lot of pig ears and pig snouts,” Schmidt says.

“It’s possible to overcome the challenge of not being from a place, but it just takes a lot of time,” says James Kaiser, the author of several independent guidebooks to national parks. Kaiser says he likes to spend about two years doing research so he can get to know locals and see how a place changes over time. Of course, even locals can make mistakes. Kaiser grew up near Acadia National Park in Maine, but his first guide to the area included a recommendation of a picnic spot for families that he came to regret. “Nude bathing was not uncommon,” Kaiser says. “I learned the hard way to triple-check my information.”

10. Don’t take all of our advice.

Some travelers feel guidebooks encourage a frenzied, see-it-all approach to tourism. “I have a really good friend who’s a lawyer, and she prepares for a trip the same way she prepares for a murder trial,” says Friendly Planet Travel’s Goldman. Relying on a guidebook for minute-by-minute planning robs a trip of spontaneity, she says. “The true reason for travel is the absolute thrill of discovering something all by yourself.”

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Wisdom from the Indian Ancestors

Wisdom from the Indian Ancestors

So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart. Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view, and demand that they respect yours. Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life.

Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people. Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide. Always give a word or a sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend, even a stranger, when in a lonely place. Show respect to all people and grovel to none.

When you arise in the morning give thanks for the food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself.

Abuse no one and no thing, for abuse turns the wise ones to fools and robs the spirit of its vision.

When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song and die like a hero going home.

Chief Tecumseh (Crouching Tiger) Shawnee Nation 1768 – 1813

“When the Earth is sick, the animals will begin to disappear, when that happens, The Warriors of the Rainbow will come to save them.”

Chief Joseph Lower Nez Perces band of the Wallowa Valley 1840 – 1904

“These (sacred) ceremonies do not belong to Indians alone, they can be done by all who have the right attitude…and who are honest and sincere about their beliefs in Wakan Tanka (Great Spirit) and follow the rules.”

“Survival of the world depends on our sharing what we have, and working together. If we don’t the whole world will die. First the planet, and next the people.”

Ceremonial Chief Frank Fools Crow Teton Souix 1890 – 1989

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It’s Time for The World Cup: Introducing South Africa

It's Time for The World Cup: Introducing South Africa

Every country in the world displays some diversity, but South Africa, stretching from the hippos in the Limpopo River to the penguins waddling on the Cape, takes some beating. It befits its position at the southern end of the world’s most epic continent, with more types of terrain than photographers can shake their zoom lens at.

There’s the deserted Kalahari, Namakwa’s springtime symphony of wildflowers, iconic Table Mountain and Cape Point, Kruger National Park’s wildlife-stalked savannah (scene of the famous lion-buffalo-crocodile battle watched more than 40 million times on YouTube) and, running through the east of the country and into Lesotho, the Drakensberg. KwaZulu-Natal’s iSimangaliso Wetland Park alone has five distinct ecosystems, attracting both zebras and dolphins.

If you’re interested in another kind of wildlife, hit the nightclubs on Cape Town’s jumping Long St or sample African homebrew in a township shebeen (unlicensed bar). When it’s time to reflect on it all, do it over seafood on the Garden Route, curry in Durban’s Indian Area, a sizzling Cape Malay dish, or a braai (barbecue) in the wilderness – accompanied by a bottle of pinotage produced by the oldest wine industry outside Europe.

Of course, it’s impossible for travellers to South Africa to remain oblivious to the fact that, despite the rise of ‘black diamonds’ (middle-class black folk), racial inequality persists here. Black and coloured townships face problems such as a horrific HIV/AIDS rate and xenophobic tensions caused by economic refugees from nearby countries.

Nonetheless, South Africans are some of the most upbeat, welcoming and humorous folk you’ll encounter anywhere, from farmers in the rural north who tell you to drive safely on those dirt roads, to Khayelitsha kids who wish you molo (‘good morning’ in Xhosa). Another point of unity in the diverse country is that, in malls and minibus taxis, bush pubs and shebeens, two popular topics of conversation are the 2010 FIFA World Cup and recent political upheavals. Most people believe that hosting football’s mightiest tournament will be as great a moment for South Africa as its Rugby World Cup triumphs in 1995 and 2007. And there’s still time for you to get over there and join the fun!

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