Posts Tagged With: architecture

Country no. 46 on my World Karaoke Tour: everything is bigger in Dubai

This is a cheesy souvenir photo I purchased on the 124th floor of the Burj Khalifa. It was taken in front of a green screen, and the background was then superimposed.

Rising over one-half mile into the Dubai sky, the Burj Khalifa is currently the world’s tallest building, a superlative it’s claimed since 2008. (Sources disagree on the precise extent of the Burj Khalifa’s verticality; depending on which website you ask, its height is either 2,717 feet or 2,722 feet. Regardless, it’s fair to say that this particular edifice is damn tall.) At this writing, an even more skyscraping building, imaginatively dubbed The Tower, is under construction across town in Dubai, and is slated to be finished in 2020. The elevation at which The Tower will top out has not yet been determined, but is expected to exceed that of the Burj Khalifa. Both the Burj Khalifa and The Tower, however, will be dwarfed by the Jeddah Tower in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia — also on target for completion in 2020 — which is planned to ultimately soar to 3,307 feet above ground level. That’s a full kilometer!

While Dubai stands to lose the distinction of possessing the loftiest man-made structure on the planet, it will remain an embarrassment of riches for urban architecture geeks like me. In recent decades the city’s skyline has experienced explosive growth, to the point where Dubai now ranks third among all world cities in number of skyscrapers (defined as buildings at least 150 meters, or 490 feet, in height); as of this writing, Dubai boasts no fewer than 173 skyscrapers. (The two cities with even more skyscrapers than Dubai are Hong Kong and New York City.)

Architecture: new and old

A pair of stratospheric erections (Get your mind out of the gutter; I’m using the word “erection” as a synonym for “building”)

Obviously, the Burj Khalifa is — for now — the signature landmark not just of Dubai, but of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the nation to which that city belongs. Soaring above the many other skyscrapers of Dubai (at least until The Tower surpasses it), the Burj Khalifa is visible from points throughout the sprawling metropolis. Continue reading

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Country no. 45 on my World Karaoke Tour: increasing my Q-rating in Qatar

On Doha’s waterfront stands this statue of of Orry Oryx, a mascot who was created for the 2016 Asian Games (which were held in Doha). An oryx is a type of antelope.

What’s the correct way to pronounce “Qatar”? Prior to my brief visit to that tiny nation on the Arabian peninsula, I’d been under the impression that the proper pronunciation was something approximating “Cutter.” But when I was aboard my Qatar Airways flight from Amman, Jordan to Doha, Qatar in January 2017, the narrator of the safety video that was played before takeoff pronounced the name of the airline as “Kah-TAHR Airways” — thus creating an uncertainty in my mind. So I chatted up a couple of the flight attendants to discuss this issue. Those FA’s, residents of the nation in question, agreed with their employer’s video and told me that they too recite the name of their homeland as “Kah-TAHR.” While internet research reveals a continued divide on this issue (see, for example, the results of this google search), I’ve adopted the pronunciation adhered to by Qatar’s flag airline — and by actual Qataris who work for that carrier.

Karaoke and sightseeing in Doha

Regardless of the right way to orally identify the world’s only country whose English name begins with the letter “Q,” I spent a couple of nights in that country — and specifically in its capital city of Doha — during the first week of this year. It was a brief pass-through, shamelessly tacked on to my itinerary in the hopes that I could add another country to my World Karaoke Tour. 🙂 Israel had become country no. 44 on that tour in the waning days of 2016; and after I failed to find karaoke during an otherwise spectacular sojourn in Jordan, it was my aspiration that Kah-TAHR or Cutter (as you prefer) would earn the distinction of becoming the 45th country in which I’d karaoked. Continue reading

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In George Washington’s footsteps: visiting the oldest house in Manhattan

George WashingtonTo travel to a house in Manhattan that was built when New York was still a colony of Great Britain, you don’t need a DeLorean. You only need to head a few miles north of the city’s usual tourist sites.

250 years ago, a British military officer named Colonel Roger Morris constructed a summer villa for him and his wife, in what’s now the Washington Heights neighbourhood of New York City. (In those colonial times, only the southern tip of Manhattan contained residential settlements. The area that Morris chose for the location of his second home was relatively secluded.) That home, an exemplar of the Palladian style of architecture, still stands today; it’s now known as the Morris-Jumel Mansion, and it’s the oldest house in Manhattan. (A handful of even older homes survive in New York City’s boroughs of Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Staten Island.) And it’s open to the public as a museum.

What began life as Colonel Morris’s summer dwelling is renowned less for its original owners than for some of the illustrious personages who later stood within its walls. Perhaps most notably, this residence can legitimately claim that “George Washington slept here” — and on multiple occasions, no less. First, during the Revolutionary War in 1776, then-General Washington appropriated the house as his headquarters for about five weeks. (The Morrises, who were Loyalists, had fled the house at the start of the war.)

The façade of the Morris-Jumel Mansion, built in 1765.

The façade of the Morris-Jumel Mansion, built in 1765.

This room served as Washington's bedchamber and study when he temporarily occupied the house in 1776.

This room served as Washington’s bedchamber and study when he temporarily occupied the house in 1776.

In July 1790, during his first term as President of the fledgling United States, Washington returned to the house, as part of an area sightseeing expedition that he led for family members and his Cabinet. Continue reading

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H-Bomb’s Sunday photo, week 62: an art museum in Mexico City

Happy Sunday, people. On this day in history in 1867, the British Parliament passed the British North America Act, which created the Dominion of Canada as part of the British Commonwealth. Pursuant to that act, Canada became a country effective July 1, 1867 (although it didn’t become fully independent of the British Parliament until 1982).

This week’s featured image comes to you from a different part of North America: Mexico City, where a new art museum opened in 2011. Called El Museo Soumaya, it was built to house the collection of Mexican telecom magnate Carlos Slim Helú, who according to Forbes is the second wealthiest man in the world with an estimated net worth of $77.1 billion. (Bill Gates, of course, ranks no. 1 on the Forbes list.) Designed by Fernando Romero with assistance from the firm of the legendary Frank Gehry, the aluminum-clad exterior certainly has a distinctive appearance:

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The interior is kind of a knock-off of New York City’s Guggenheim Museum, with ascension between levels accomplished via a gently sloping ramp that curves around the outermost portion of the floor plan. (There’s also an elevator.) Continue reading

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Cambodia: spiders and snakes but no karaoke for me in Siem Reap

anchored at AngkorAfter adding Thailand and Singapore to my World Karaoke Tour, I aimed to make Cambodia the 38th country in which I’ve done karaoke. What had motivated me to go to Cambodia — and specifically, to the city of Siem Reap — was the chance to see a bucket list attraction, the Angkor Wat Temple. Things didn’t quite go according to plan. By the time I left Siem Reap, I had failed to sing karaoke; and although I made it to Angkor Wat, that temple has not been crossed off my bucket list, for reasons that I’ll explain.

No singing in Siem Reap

The main nightlife thoroughfare in downtown Siem Reap is Pub Street. As its name implies, that avenue is lined with pubs, as well as restaurants. The area also abounds with vendors hawking street food. And one end of Pub Street intersects with the night market, a strip of stores that offer a wide variety of souvenirs.

Pub Street in Siem Reap.

Pub Street in Siem Reap.

Perhaps the most unusual street food peddlers (compared to what I’d encountered in prior travels) operated a cart whose culinary offerings included tarantulas and fried snakes. Continue reading

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H-Bomb’s Sunday photo, week 59: people taking selfies at Angkor Wat

During the past week, I participated in a personality interview via Skype which served as the third round of the audition process for a nationally televised quiz show. I’ll let you know if things go any further with that. (And yes, during that interview, I name-checked this blog, as well as mentioning my World Karaoke Tour.) 🙂

Anyway, this week’s featured image comes from my recent visit to the Angkor archaeological site near Siem Reap, Cambodia — and, specifically, from the Angkor Wat temple that is so identified with Cambodia that it appears on the national flag. The temple’s towers — one central tower, rising to a height of 213 feet, surrounded by four shorter towers — form a distinctive and recognizable profile. Visitors enjoy documenting their pilgrimages to the site:

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(And yes, I realize that the photos being taken as depicted above aren’t true “selfies,” as they’re being taken by persons other than the subjects. But I did see plenty of people using the now-ubiquitous selfie sticks in front of the temple.)

The temple was built in the 12th century. The city of Angkor of which it was a part was the capital of the Khmer empire and at its peak may have boasted more than a million inhabitants; indeed, it is claimed that Angkor was the largest city in the world prior to the Industrial Revolution. Today, that former megalopolis, and the copious ruins that it contains, are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Is Angkor Wat on your bucket list?

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H-Bomb’s Sunday photo, week 58: the White Temple in Thailand

I just enjoyed a satisfying couple of days attending the New York Times Travel Show. But it’s that time of week where I share an image from one of my voyages outside of New York City.

This week’s featured photo comes from Chiang Rai, Thailand. The Wat Rong Khun (known informally as the White Temple), was built in the style of a Buddhist temple, by an eccentric Thai artist, Chalermchai Kositpipat, in 1997. Actually I shouldn’t say “built” in the past tense; new buildings and bizarre artworks continue to sprout on the site. The focal point of the property is the temple (also known as the ubosot) that’s painted in white and covered with fragments of glass.

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This photo was taken during my visit to Thailand in December 2014.

Would you like to visit the White Temple?

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H-Bomb’s Sunday photo, week 55: the house that Thomas Jefferson built

Cheers on a Sunday afternoon. Just 3 days now until I leave for Rome, the latest stop on my World Karaoke Tour! But first things first; I have this week’s featured photo to share with you.

Today’s image comes from Charlottesville, Virginia, a town about 116 miles southwest of Washington, DC. Charlottesville is best known for being the home of the University of Virginia (UVA), which was founded in 1819 by Thomas Jefferson — the third President of the United States, and a great polymath. Also in Charlottesville, Jefferson built a remarkable house, which he called Monticello. (Technically, the Monticello name, which means “little hill” in Italian,” refers to the entire 5,000 acre plantation on which the house originally stood. Today, the property includes 2,500 or so of the original acres)

Typical of Jefferson’s genius, he was self-taught in architecture, and he modeled the design of his home after drawings by the great Renaissance architect, Andrea Palladio. (In turn, Palladio had been heavily influenced by the architecture of ancient Rome, and the design of Monticello is considered a superb example of the Classical Revival style.) Monticello was completed in 1809, after 40 years of planning and construction. Here’s what the end result looks like:

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This photo was taken during my visit to Charlottesville in June 2008. As you can see, the property has been exceptionally well maintained and preserved by the private foundation that runs it. Monticello, together with the nearby UVA campus, is a UNESCO World Heritage site. By the way, you can also take a tour of the house’s interior.

Do you like visiting historic homes?

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A golden temple and a remembrance of spilt blood in Amritsar, India

IMG_20140325_160016_965_1No one seems to know quite how many temples there are in India, but an accurate count would surely reveal numbers running into the thousands. However, it’s difficult for me to imagine that any of those religious houses could be any more beautiful than the main pavilion of the Golden Temple in Amritsar. I was there during my trip to India that took place from March to April of this year. (Earlier during the same trip, India became the 33rd country on my World Karaoke Tour when I sang in New Delhi.)

A city of about 1.1 million people (ranking 34th in population among India’s cities, per the 2011 census), Amritsar is situated in the Punjab state in northwestern India. Its airport makes it very accessible; I flew there round-trip from New Delhi, a journey with a flying time of about one hour (and my return flight from Amritsar to New Delhi on Air India was my first time flying on a Boeing 787. It was a beautiful and comfortable plane.) Like most of the rest of India, Amritsar is also easily reached via passenger rail service.

The main purpose for my inclusion of Amritsar on my itinerary was my desire to see the Golden Temple, although while in town I also visited a non-religious site of historical significance, as you’ll see. In addition, I’ll tell you about a unique day-trip opportunity from Amritsar. Continue reading

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Country no. 35 on my World Karaoke Tour: singing in the Dominican Republic’s oldest karaoke bar

dominican_flagFrom swashbuckling pirates to beaches gleaming with white sand, the Caribbean is replete with both dramatic history and natural beauty. Yet until this year, my world travels had never taken me anywhere in that 1 million square mile region. For shame! Finally, during Memorial Day weekend in 2014, I made my long-overdue first foray to a Caribbean destination: Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. And it was there that the country often abbreviated to “DR” became the most recent addition to my World Karaoke Tour.

Getting to the DR proved a more arduous journey than expected for a trip that only involved a four-hour flight. My departure out of JFK International Airport on Friday night, May 23 was delayed — first due to thunderstorms passing through the New York City area, and then due to the need to wait for the pilots of my aircraft to arrive at the airport. You see, due to the initial weather-related delay, the crew that had originally been assigned to my flight would have exceeded the FAA’s permissible limit of working hours for one day if they had gone ahead and piloted the plane. So my fellow passengers and I from JetBlue Flight 810 had to wait for a new captain and first officer to make their way to JFK. As a result, my flight, originally scheduled to depart at 9:00 pm, didn’t end up pushing back from the gate until close to midnight. We landed in Santo Domingo at about 4:00 a.m., and I finally got checked in to my hotel at about 5:30 a.m.

Of course, the important thing was that now I had arrived; and the next night I would be able to do some karaoke!

Karaoke: chanting in Kantabar

The venue for my Dominican singing debut was a tavern called Kantabar. Run by the husband-and-wife team of Steven (who owns it) and Anais (who manages it), Kantabar was the very first karaoke venue in the Dominican Republic. It’s been in operation for some 20 years now. Continue reading

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H-Bomb’s Sunday photo, week 50: a waterfront plaza in Venice

I hope you are having a fine weekend, wherever you’re reading this from. My latest news: I’m just a few days away from putting a deposit down for a trip to North Korea! I know it’s a controversial destination, but it promises to be a very interesting tour. In the meantime, I have a new picture of the week to share with you. This week’s featured image comes from the incomparable Italian city of Venice. It shows a plaza called the Piazzetta San Marco.

Bella Venezia

On the left side of the frame is the Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace); on the right is the Libreria Sansonvino (a building erected in the 16th century as the state library, which the great Renaissance architect Palladio once described as the richest and most ornate building ever constructed). Dead ahead are the famed columns of San Marco and San Teodoro; and in the background is the Lagoon, with the island of San Giorgio Maggiore partially visible across the water on the left.

This photo was taken from the balcony atop Basilica San Marco. It was taken during my visit to Italy in August 2004. It’s hard to believe that it’s been over 10 years now. I really need to get back!

Have you been to Venice? If you’ve been there, do you miss it?

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H-Bomb’s Sunday photo, week 49: an elegant arch on the Mississippi

Happy Sunday! Last night I applied online for a Cambodian entry visa. I’m now just three months away from visiting Angkor Wat!

Today’s featured image, which comes from St. Louis, Missouri, is of a landmark that’s much more modern than a 12th-century temple complex. St. Louis’s iconic structure is the Gateway Arch, the centerpiece of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. Completed in 1965 and rising from the west bank of the Mississippi River, this stainless steel-clad arch was conceived by Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen. Although it was controversial when chosen as the winning entry in a design competition, in my opinion the shape of this monument (mathematically described as a catenary curve) has proven to be graceful and timeless. Here’s a view of the Gateway Arch, together with the downtown St. Louis skyline, as seen from across the mighty Mississippi.

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This photo was taken during my visit to St. Louis in July 2014. By the way, you can go to an observation desk at the top of the 630-foot-high arch. That’s an experience in itself, as it involves riding a special elevator system that was ingeniously engineered to ascend in a curve.

Do you like the appearance of the Gateway Arch?

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H-Bomb’s Sunday photo, week 48: French colonial architecture in Panama City

Hello everyone! Less than three weeks from today, I will be auditioning for the television quiz show “Jeopardy!” That audition will take place in central Pennsylvania. However, today’s featured image comes from a place that’s much more distant from my home base of New York; it takes us to Panama City, Panama.

In that capital city’s historic district known as the casco viejo (old city), you’ll find some French colonial architecture. Yes, I said French, not Spanish. 🙂 It’s a legacy of the era in the 19th century when France had undertaken to build what eventually became the Panama Canal. (The French ultimately pulled out of the project, and construction of the canal was taken over by the United States under the energetic leadership of President Theodore Roosevelt.)

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With details such as wrought-iron balconies, these buildings are more than a little reminiscent of New Orleans’s French Quarter. This photo was taken during my visit to Peru and Panama in November and December, 2013. By the way, Panama City was also the location where I had my all-time greatest karaoke experience!

Do you like European colonial architecture?

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H-Bomb’s Friday Photo, week 43: magnificent columns in an Egyptian temple

I hope you’re all having a great Friday. Earlier this week I celebrated my birthday, and I’m looking forward to another year filled with adventure!

This week’s featured image comes from a country that’s synonymous with adventure: Egypt. Specifically, it’s a photograph taken at the Temple of Hathor — a Greco-Roman temple complex in Dendera. The portion of that temple known as the Large Hypostyle Hall contains columns that are approximately 50 feet high:

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Although parts of the temple date back to the third century B.C., the Large Hypostyle Hall was added during the reign of the Roman Emperor Tiberius, who ruled from 14 A.D. to 37 A.D. (It’s believed that earlier temples also dedicated to Hathor were built on the same site as early as 4,000 years ago.) Hathor was a deity worshipped by the ancient Egyptians who was typically depicted with bovine features. She was the goddess of love, joy, and motherhood.

This photo was taken during my trip to Egypt in September 2012. Dendera, the location of the temple, is about 50 miles from Luxor.

Are you awed by grand structures like this that were built thousands of years ago?

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H-Bomb’s Friday Photo, week 42: a Russian palace to rival Versailles

Hello everyone, and another happy Friday to you! This weekend I’ll be attending the New York Times Travel Show right here in New York City. I’m excited to learn more about potential future destinations for my World Karaoke Tour, and to reconnect with some of my favourite people from the travel world!

While I look forward to the travel show and related festivities, it’s time for me to share with you a photograph from travels gone by. Today’s featured image comes from the Russian Federation. Peterhof Palace is a spectacular complex of palaces and gardens on the Gulf of Finland, 19 miles from St. Petersburg. This is what its main building looks like:

Peterhof Palace

Peterhof was laid out in the 18th century by Peter the Great, who used it as his summer home. In its opulence it’s been compared to the great French palace at Versailles. An easy day-trip from St. Petersburg, Peterhof can be reached from that city via a 40-minute hydrofoil ride down the Neva River. The reason everyone’s back is to the camera in this image is that the folks in attendance were all watching a show marking what the palace’s website described as the “celebration of opening fountains.” (In front of the main palace is a cascading series of fountains.) That celebration included fireworks and martial music. When I set out for Peterhof on the day of my visit, I had no idea that such an event would be taking place; it was really nice to stumble into it and experience such a festive atmosphere.

This photo was taken during my trip to Russia, Ukraine, and Moldova in May 2013.

Do you enjoy visiting grand palaces like this one?

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