Posts Tagged With: photography

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

Categories: Airlines, Asia, travel, World Karaoke Tour | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Country no. 44 on my World Karaoke Tour: this year in Jerusalem!

I’m not sure why it took me so long to finally make it to Israel. Although I’m an atheist, I was raised Jewish, and the “land of milk and honey” is therefore my ancestral homeland. Plus, the country is a bonanza for a history buff like me. Some of the earliest civilisations in the world arose in areas that are now encompassed within Israel’s borders.

Jerusalem, the capital city, is renowned as one of the most beautiful metropolises in the world (and when I visited, Jerusalem didn’t disappoint in that regard). It also played significant roles in the formation of three major world religions, and is still regarded as sacred by those religions’ adherents. Anyway, I visited Israel for the first time in my life in December 2016. When I did, and the expectations that I’d formed over several decades were matched to reality, I was impressed by my experience.

Singing in Jerusalem

The historical and cultural aspects of my initial sojourn in Israel will be covered in a future post, as they deserve a fuller discussion. But we all know what’s most important for this blog when I’m reminiscing about a destination. 🙂 When I landed at Ben Gurion International Airport, I looked forward to adding Israel to my World Karaoke Tour. Just about a month earlier, Hungary had become the 43rd country in which I’d karaoked; and now I was eager to increase that country count once again! Continue reading

Categories: Asia, travel, World Karaoke Tour | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Country no. 43 on my World Karaoke tour: I’m Hungary for singing!

15179134_10154185271582198_7860121907890043812_n-1Budapest, the Hungarian capital, is a classic Eastern European city. Grand architecture; coffeehouses in abundance; and relics of the days when the city lay behind the Iron Curtain and under Soviet control. Budapest’s history, like that of so many European metropolises, harks back to Roman times; the Roman settlement was called Aquincum, and was itself preceded by a Celtic town whose inhabitants had dubbed it Ak-Ink (meaning “Ample Water”).

Adding to its allure, the modern incarnation of Budapest is bisected by the storied Danube River (the source of the “ample water” of which the Celts spoke); and that river — along with the Chain Bridge that spans it — make for some spectacular scenery. (The hilly area of Buda rises on one side of the Danube, while the Pest section is situated on the opposite side. In 1873, Buda and Pest, which had previously both been independent towns, merged to become the single magnificent city that we know today. True story.) During my first visit to Budapest, in November 2016, an additional attraction presented itself: Budapest is home to one of the Christmas markets that Europe is known for.

While I desired to thoroughly sample Budapest’s charms, there was one further, high-priority, item on my agenda when I descended upon that city. Since you know me, you know that it was inevitable that I would want to sing karaoke there. 🙂 Continue reading

Categories: Europe, travel, World Karaoke Tour | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

A 2,200-year-old stone army and more: a brief visit to Xi’an, China

20160527_132453-01Maybe you can’t take it with you, but Qin Shi Huang (QSH) sure tried. The first emperor of a unified China, QSH directed the construction of thousands of terracotta warriors, assembled to protect him in the afterlife. This stone army — consisting of not only soldiers but also horses and even chariots — was interred with him in a vast necropolis when he departed from the mortal world in 210 or 209 B.C.

Eventually the burial site was lost to history, and it remained no more than the stuff of legend for over two millennia. Then, in 1974, QSH’s terracotta protection force was serendipitously discovered by a group of farmers who were digging for a well in what is today the city of Xi’an. The archaeological site has become a museum complex where you can explore some of the massive pits that have been unearthed, and view the terracotta fighting units arrayed therein.

When I made my first voyage to China in May 2016, an excursion to Xi’an was on the agenda, principally so that I could view the terracotta army — although Xi’an is actually a city of nearly 9 million inhabitants that offers a variety of attractions. Because I was there for one main reason, I hadn’t alotted much time for the city, and consequently I didn’t see very much of Xi’an’s other points of interest. Here’a an account of my activities during my two night stay. Continue reading

Categories: Asia, travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 22 Comments

Taipei unplugged: highlights of my stay in the Taiwanese capital

small Taiwan mapMy introduction to Taipei in late May to early June of 2016 was memorable in part because I sang in a karaoke taxi in that city — thereby making Taiwan the 41st country on my World Karaoke Tour. But I wasn’t only there to sing. A city of some 2.7 million inhabitants — the capital and largest city of the island nation of Taiwan — beckoned me to explore it!

My sojourn in Taipei came in the midst of a vacation during which I checked off two bucket list items (the Great Wall of China, and the Terracotta Army in the Chinese city of Xi’an), and which culminated in my tour of North Korea, a country rarely visited by Westerners. It would have been easy for Taipei to be overshadowed by such high-profile destinations. Nevertheless, Taipei left just as much of an impression on me as any of my other stops in East Asia this past spring. Moreover, as you’ll see, my visit to Taipei lasted slightly longer than planned, although the circumstances that extended my time on Taiwanese soil weren’t necessarily a positive highlight. 🙂

Taipei 101: a skyscraper like no other

As an architecture geek who’s enamoured of supertall skyscrapers (“supertall” being a classification that applies to edifices at least 300 metres, or 984 feet, in height), one attraction that I particularly looked forward to checking out while in town was the Taipei 101 building. Indeed, I even chose a hotel across the street from it. Taipei 101 didn’t let me down.

Getting to know the building

Opened to the public on the last day of 2004, Taipei 101 stands 1,474 feet tall at its roof, and 1,671 feet tall at the tip of its spire. From the time of its completion until 2009, it was the tallest building in the world; that title was wrested from it by the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, which I’ll be seeing in person in early 2017. 🙂 As for Taipei 101, its distinctive profile has been likened to a series of Chinese food takeaway boxes, piled one on top of another; it’s also evocative of multiple levels of that most traditional of Asian architectural genres, the pagoda. Further contributing to its unique appearance is its green hue. Incidentally, its name derives rather prosaically from the fact that it rises 101 floors above ground. (It also has five subterranean levels, which house a parking garage.)

My very first first daytime activity after arriving in Taipei was an ascension to Taipei 101’s observatories. It boasts indoor observation decks on the 88th and 89th floors, and an outdoor observation platform on the 91st floor. That outdoor observatory encircles the building at an altitude of 1,285 feet — the second-highest alfresco viewing platform of any skyscraper in the world. Continue reading

Categories: Asia, travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

A classically good time in Rome: how I spent my third visit to the Eternal City

wine with dinnerMy third visit to Rome, which happened in late November 2015, wasn’t only about karaoke — although I did go singing on multiple nights, thereby finally managing to add Italy to my World Karaoke Tour after a previous failure to accomplish that in 2004. 🙂 Enjoyable pursuits also filled my daytime hours. This post is about the ways in which I occupied my time when I wasn’t descending upon the karaoke bar. As you’ll see, my activities constituted a mix: I experienced new attractions that I hadn’t made it to during my 1993 and 2004 excursions to the Italian capital, while also stopping by to say “Ciao!” to some of my favourite landmarks in the city built on seven hills. There was, however, one commonality among the various sights I took in: if you’ve been reading this blog for any significant length of time, you’re aware that I’m passionate about history. Throughout my stay, I indulged that passion in a city that’s as steeped in history as any other.

The Spanish Steps: at least I was able to look at them

Situated just off the Piazza di Spagna, the Spanish Steps (Scalanita di Spagna) consist of 135 stairs linking the plaza to the Trinità dei Monti church above. They were installed from 1723 to 1725 and are a renowned meeting place and a mecca for people-watching — somewhat akin in both respects to London’s Trafalgar Square. Continue reading

Categories: Europe, travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Country no. 40 on my World Karaoke Tour: a valentine to the Bahamas

Supreme CourtIn November 2015, after two failed attempts in the previous 22 years, I finally succeeded in adding Italy to my World Karaoke Tour when I sang in the Eternal City of Rome. At that point, the tally of countries in which I’d karaoked had just climbed to 39. Jetting off to the Bahamas a few months later, I sought to increase the country count to 40. Spoiler alert: that goal was realized. And I did it in a manner nearly unprecedented in my karaoke travels.

Ordinarily, karaoke is an evening activity. Indeed, it’s not uncommon for the karaoke festivities at a particular bar or restaurant to get underway at 10:00 pm or even later. But this past February, in the Bahamian capital of Nassau, I found a venue that allows patrons to sing all day long — not just after the sun has gone down. And on Valentine’s Day afternoon, I sang there right after lunch! Before we get to the details of this latest international karaoke appearance, I’ll provide some background on the destination where it happened.

A little bit about Nassau and vicinity

Geographical overview

Often regarded erroneously as part of the Caribbean, the Commonwealth of the Bahamas is actually located in the western Atlantic Ocean rather than the Caribbean Sea. It does belong to the West Indies, a grouping that essentially consists of all of the island nations and overseas territories that lie between the United States and South America. Nassau is situated on the northern coast of New Providence, the most populous (but only the 13th largest by area) of the more than 700 islands that comprise the country. (A note for my fellow geography geeks: the collection of islands that makes up the nation of the Bahamas is part of the Bahama Archipelago, which includes not only the country of that name but also the British overseas territory of Turks and Caicos. The Bahama Archipelago is also known as the Lucayan Archipelago.) Continue reading

Categories: Caribbean, travel, World Karaoke Tour | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 33 Comments

Ten things I’m looking forward to in 2016 (and a couple more that I’m hoping for)

42762094_sI think it’s fair to say that any year when you undergo heart surgery is a rough one. By that standard, 2015 was challenging for me. Not that the year was without its magical moments; seeing Angkor Wat and Mount Rushmore in person were certainly bucket list experiences, and after I recovered from my operation I increased the number of countries on my World Karaoke Tour to 39 by singing in Rome.

On a non-travel-related note, in July I moved to a new apartment — still in Manhattan, but in a much better building, with far superior management to the slumlords who own the apartment that I vacated, and in a nicer neighbourhood. My new residence provides me with more pleasant surroundings — a big plus, since on the vast majority of my days I’m not off globetrotting, but am hanging out in my home base of New York City where I work full-time as a lawyer.

Me at Mount Rushmore in July 2015.

Me at Mount Rushmore in July 2015.

So with my surgery 110 days in the past, 2015 is ending on a high note for me; and as the world prepares to begin using its 2016 calendars, I have heaps of exciting plans for the year ahead. Here are the things that I’m most looking forward to in the upcoming 366 days (remember, ’16 is a leap year!):

1. Charleston, South Carolina for New Year’s

Tomorrow I’ll be flying to Charleston, South Carolina; it’ll be my first-ever visit to this city in the southern U.S. that I’ve long sought to experience. In 2014, readers of Conde Naste Traveler magazine voted Charleston the no. 1 city in the U.S. to visit, and the no. 2 city in the world to visit. I look forward to finding out firsthand why Charleston makes such a spectacular impression on its visitors. While in town, I’ll be taking in historical sights as well as reconnecting with some old friends who reside in the area. And Charleston is where I’ll be ringing in the new year. Because this is a karaoke travel blog, I feel obligated to mention one more aspect of what’s in store for my sojourn in Charleston: either in the last days of 2015 or the very beginning of 2016, South Carolina will become the 21st U.S. state in which I’ve sung karaoke! (Technically, my tally will then stand at 20 U.S. states, plus the District of Columbia, which lacks statehood status. But I’m trying to keep things simple here. 🙂 )

Stock photo of some historic homes in Charleston, South Carolina.

Stock photo of some historic homes in Charleston, South Carolina — the city in which I’m going to start 2016!

Continue reading

Categories: Asia, Europe, travel, World Karaoke Tour | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

Viva Las Vegas: stunning views, a quest for a motorcycle, and karaoke during my eighth visit to Sin City

Las Vegas selfieEarlier this month, I made my eighth annual visit to Las Vegas. For the fifth year in a row, my trip to Sin City was in conjunction with the annual Trivia Championships of North America (TCONA). At TCONA, I had my usual awesome time convening with some of the smartest and most knowledgeable people in the United States (and even a few from other countries like Canada and Norway). It was enjoyable to reconnect with some really cool and interesting people who share my passion for learning as much as I can about every subject in the world, and whom I’m honoured to call my friends. Moreover, it was equally rewarding to make new friends who meet that description. As well, competing against a self-selected group of elite trivia players, in the diverse array of individual and team contests that TCONA offers, pushes me to improve myself and perform as well as I can.

As I do every year, I also managed to slip away from TCONA to experience an attraction in Las Vegas outside of the Tropicana Hotel where the event is traditionally held. Of course, it also goes without saying that my latest long weekend in Vegas included karaoke. 🙂 Finally, being that I was in a town where gambling has been known to take place, I also managed to squeeze in a little bit of that pastime — and came across a new twist on the blackjack tables that I tend to hit.

The view from Paris: très jolie

The Strip is renowned for its themed hotels, including several with sections that mimic world landmarks.  For example, if you roam the grounds of the New York, New York hotel, you’ll find replicas of iconic Big Apple structures ranging from the Statue of Liberty to the Brooklyn Bridge to the Chrysler Building. At the Venetian, you can take a gondola ride among doppelgängers of some of Venice’s most legendary sights, such as the campanile (bell tower), the Rialto Bridge, and Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square). And then there’s the destination that was the subject of my August 2015 non-TCONA excursion in Las Vegas: the Paris Hotel, and one portion of it in particular.

While the Paris boasts reproductions of the venerable Arc de Triomphe and of several other Parisian edifices of note, the hotel’s centerpiece — and a key component of the skyline of the Las Vegas Strip — is a one-half scale duplicate of the most celebrated symbol of the City of Lights: the Eiffel Tower.

The view from the top: it’s not the Champs-Élysées, but it’s pretty darned nice

The Eiffel looms over the Paris Hotel, as seen from behind the fountains of the Bellagio across the street. This photo was taken during my very first visit to Las Vegas, in November 2008.

The replica of the Eiffel Tower looms over the Paris Hotel, as seen from behind the fountains of the Bellagio across the street. This photo was taken during my very first visit to Las Vegas, in November 2008.

Las Vegas’s version of la tour Eiffel features an observation deck 460 feet above ground level. (By way of comparison, the highest observation level in the actual Eiffel Tower in the city of Paris is 906 feet above the ground.) Continue reading

Categories: North America, travel, World Karaoke Tour | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 25 Comments

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

Categories: North America, travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

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:

P1030332

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

Categories: H-Bomb's Sunday photo, North America, travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

H-Bomb’s Sunday photo, week 61: a leopard in a tree in South Africa

St. Patrick’s Day may be almost upon us, but my thoughts today are of a place that’s vastly different from Ireland. This week’s featured image comes from the safari that I took in South Africa. One of the highlights of my safari was seeing members of each of the traditional “Big Five” species: elephant; lion; Cape buffalo; rhinoceros; and leopard. Leopards are agile creatures and they like to hang out on tree branches, high above the ground:

OLYMPUS CAMERA

This guy was sleeping up there for a while. I couldn’t imagine catching my zzz’s in such a precarious perch; I would be afraid of falling off. 🙂 Anyway, this photo was taken during my visit to South Africa in September 2011.

Would you like to go on safari?

Click here to follow me on Twitter! And click here to follow me on Instagram!

Categories: Africa, H-Bomb's Sunday photo | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

H-Bomb’s Sunday photo, week 60: Agatha Christie slept in this Egyptian hotel

Less than two weeks from today, I’ll be auditioning for the quiz show “Jeopardy!” That audition will take place in Washington, D.C. Of course, Washington is just a hop, a skip, and a jump from my home base of New York City, compared to some of the destinations to which my adventures have taken me.

For example, today’s featured image comes from Aswan, Egypt, about 433 miles south of Cairo but nearly 6,000 miles from Manhattan. Standing on the east bank of the Nile in Aswan is the The Sofitel Legend Old Cataract Aswan hotel. Before it was a Sofitel property, when it was simply the Old Cataract, this was the hostelry in which Agatha Christie, sitting on the terrace of her guestroom, penned her novel Death on the Nile. The hotel’s ballroom also appeared in the 1978 film based on that novel.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Old Cataract was built in 1889, and in addition to Ms. Christie, its roster of distinguished guests through the years has included the likes of Tsar Nicholas II; Winston Churchill; Howard Carter (the guy who discovered King Tut’s tomb); Margaret Thatcher; Princess Diana; and Jimmy Carter. The hotel was expanded over the years, and was extensively renovated and restored from 2008 through 2011. This photo of it was taken during my visit to Egypt in September 2012. I did not, myself, lodge in this 5-star property; I was on a cruise down the Nile, during which I slept aboard the boat.

Do you like staying in historic hotels?

Click here to follow me on Twitter! And click here to follow me on Instagram!

Categories: Africa, H-Bomb's Sunday photo, travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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:

document

(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?

Click here to follow me on Twitter! And click here to follow me on Instagram!

Categories: Asia, H-Bomb's Sunday photo, travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

white temple edited

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

Would you like to visit the White Temple?

Click here to follow me on Twitter! And click here to follow me on Instagram!

Categories: Asia, H-Bomb's Sunday photo, travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: