Dec 31, 2007

A New Year’s Toast To My Readers

I’d like to thank all the readers who have traveled with Escape From New York in 2007. I wish you a 2008 filled with happiness, good health and peace. And may all your travel dreams be fulfilled.

This year marked the inception of Escape From New York and there will be many more journeys for us to take in 2008. Below are highlights of some of the places we traveled to in 2007:

Filipina Domestic Workers Hong Kong –Possibly Hong Kong’s largest ex-pat community.
Temple of Heaven Park Beijing – All eyes will be on Beijing in 2008. In the run up to the Summer Olympics I’ll be posting regularly on this city.
Bangles India –Much more on India to come.

Essaouira Morocco – Dreamy perfection.
Moroccan Blue –It’s good to be blue in Morocco.

Latin America
Real de Catorce Mexico— Sshhh it’s our secret. Far off the beaten path not much has been written about this magical town yet.
Maximon Santiago Guatemala—I’ll be writing more on the fascinating religious fusion in Guatemala in 2008.

I’ve enjoyed discovering some excellent travel blogs this year and will be posting on some of them in the coming year. If you are like me and read a lot of blogs a great way to keep track of them all is to subscribe through a feed reader which consolidates the latest posts from the blogs you read all in one place. It’s straightforward and easy to set up. You can subscribe to Escape From New York through the link at the end of this and every post or by clicking on the Subscribe in a Reader link at the top of the right hand column of this page.

Photo: Brooklyn Bridge at Night

Dec 28, 2007

City Icons—Hong Kong China

Hong Kong’s icon is without a doubt its skyline. Modern, excessive and constantly updated it never ceases to dazzle.

Since its inception the cityscape has continued to reach further into Victoria Harbor through land reclamation. It seems that almost every year a new landmark skyscraper is added.

There is no shortage of choices to take it all in. For an overhead view go to Victoria Peak just before dusk to see the sprawling metropolis by day. On a clear day you can see for miles into the New Territories. Stay to watch the buildings light up at night.

Across the harbor is Tsimshatsui with its long waterfront promenade. Here you can see the neon of the skyscrapers reflect on the waters of the busy harbor by night. The Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center pictured above changes colors every few minutes.

The quick ride across the harbor from Central on the Star Ferry also provides breathtaking views.

Dec 25, 2007

Seasons Greetings From New York City

You just never know which celebrities you might bump into in New York City.

The man of the hour was photographed cruising down 5th Avenue on Christmas Eve in this:

Happy Holidays from Escape From New York.

Dec 20, 2007

Green Line Beirut Lebanon

The lingering physical scars of Lebanon’s Civil War are most visible along the green line in Beirut.

You can’t see the green line, which stretches to the sea, in the same way you can view the remains of the Berlin or Warsaw Ghetto walls. It is a non physical boundary that cut Beirut in half, separating Christian East Beirut from largely Muslim West Beirut. The name refers in part to the vegetation that grew in the no man’s land in between the two during 15 years of war.

Today you see damaged battle weary architecture next to brand new structures. Buildings pock marked by bullets stand out in contrast to rebuilt neighbors that now out number them almost 20 years after the war ended.

Dec 18, 2007

Corn And The Maya Guatemala

You are what you eat has an entirely different meaning for the Maya. The corn they have cultivated for thousands of years is not only a staple in every meal it is an identity and the basis of the Mayan civilization. They are people of the corn and consider the rest of us wheat people.

The Maya believe the Gods made several attempts to create people before they got it right. The first attempt was animals, the second a person made out of mud, followed by people carved from wood. The final and successful attempt was creating people from maize.

Everywhere we went in Guatemala there were cornfields. Some of the fields went on as far as the eye could see while others were small plots in the back garden of someone’s home at the end of a dead end road. The golden patches in the hillsides you see in the photograph are cornfields carved into the steep terrain of the surrounding volcanic landscape of Lake Atitlan.

Dec 17, 2007

Window Watching San Miguel de Allende

When is the last time you stopped to peer at, not through, a window?

And a block or two later stopped again?

The allure of the color and details of the architecture of San Miguel de Allende in Mexico’s colonial heartland can provoke this obsessive behavior.


Dec 16, 2007

Citizens Of The World Blogs

Imagine if we were all required to spend at least one year of our lives living overseas? How different do you think the world would be?

While there are countless travel blogs to peruse the ones that keep drawing me back are written by a unique nomadic tribe, Citizens of the World. These are people who can pick up sticks, navigate a new land, thrive doing it and wouldn’t have it any other way.

One such blog is the Cool Travel Guide penned by Dubai-based professional travel writer Lara who, with her husband, travels the globe to write guidebooks and articles. Check out her recommendations on the 10 Places You Must Go in 2008.

Another favorite read is My Marrakesh, which I have posted on before. Written by Maryam, My Marakesh chronicles the lives of an American family in Marrakesh building a guest house. It also features beautiful design. Check out her post on the beautiful treasure she found in Bamako, Mali.

These two are the inaugural entrants into Escape From New York’s blog roll. I will be adding more excellent travel blogs periodically.

Photograph: Colorful woven caps for sale in one of Marrakesh's souks (markets) in the medina (old city).

Dec 13, 2007

City Icons – Djemma el Fna Marrakesh Morocco

Marrakesh’s icon is much more than a landmark. It’s an experience. Djemma el Fna the city’s massive square in the medina or old city is like no other.

Snake charmers, acrobats, musicians, monkey handlers, fortune tellers, traditional healers, dentists and water sellers all compete for attention beckoning passers by and fascinated tourists. And this is just during the day.

Prime time to visit Djemma el Fna is at dusk when the square really starts coming to life. Food vendors with plumes of smoke hovering over their stalls set up en masse among the sea of humanity. The outdoor eateries are occupied by diners feasting on local delicacies.

Enthusiastic crowds, six people deep gather around story tellers narrating ancient tales. Nearby the drums of musicians beat well into the night.

Be warned. If you stop to watch performers or click a photograph you will be expected to pay a tip and be pursued if you don’t. A few dirhams will usually do.

Another good way to take it all in is from one the roof top cafes overlooking the square, which Unesco declared a World Heritage site in 2001.

Dec 11, 2007

Roman Baths Beirut Lebanon

The Romans never failed to recreate the comforts of home when they conquered. In downtown Beirut the remains of public Roman baths are located behind the city’s banking street and within a stone’s throw of the Grand Serail, a majestic building housing government offices.

The archaeological site contrasts with the latest layer of civilization in the city, the modern buildings next to it in the rebuilt downtown. It wasn’t discovered until the 1960s and was restored to its present state in the 1990s.

The atmosphere is almost park like with benches to sit on and relax. The baths are open to the public and there is no admission charge.

Dec 10, 2007

Man Mo Temple Hong Kong China

Hong Kong’s Man Mo Temple is tucked in between clusters of residential high rises in the traditional neighborhood of Sheung Wan. Built in the 1840s Man Mo is one of Hong Kong’s oldest temples and houses two deities, a civil (Man) and a military deity known as the God of War. Incense bearing worshippers quietly pray to the Gods.

Man Mo is Hong Kong’s most popular temple on the tourist circuit. On any day you will see buses parked outside and small groups of sightseers marveling at the ornate ceramic rooftop and abundance of burning incense coils hanging from the ceiling on the inside.

Open 7 a.m.-5 p.m. the temple is located on Hong Kong Island at the corner of Hollywood Road and Ladder Street about a five minute walk from the mid levels escalator. Hollywood Road is a shopper’s paradise lined with stores selling antiques, curios and in recent years chic home design stores. It is easy to visit the temple before or after a shopping spree.

Dec 7, 2007

Carnivals of Cities and Travelers

Are you procrastinating? Putting off pesky tasks? Why not take a staycation and traverse the world from where you sit. And what better way to armchair travel than an online carnival hosted by travel bloggers. This week’s Carnival of Cities was hosted by An American in Oslo, who included my post on Rome’s most famous talking statue.

Next week’s Carnival of Cities, which goes live Monday, will be hosted by Mary Jo of The Seattle Traveler. The same Mary Jo somehow finds time to pen a second blog in addition to being a full time travel pro. On her Fly Away CafĂ© blog she hosts the Carnival of Travelers each month. The latest has a music theme and included my post on Salsa in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The Perceptive Travel blog also included this post in a Travel Linkfest.

These gracious hosts live in cities I would love to explore and photograph one day.

Photo: Coney Island, New York City

Dec 6, 2007

Public Buses Guatemala

The public buses in Guatemala are a colorful affair. They are on their second lease in life having started out as school buses in the U.S.

Art on wheels, each is meticulously repainted and often named after saints or women. We spotted several Esmeralda’s.

The transport has been nicknamed chicken buses by gringos who have shared seats with poultry toting passengers. Larger cargo without a heartbeat is piled on top.

Volcanoes reflect in rear view mirrors of the buses traversing the highlands. Drivers navigate the winding mountain roads at break neck speed passing all other traffic along the way with complete confidence or abandon depending on your point of view.

Dec 4, 2007

Cocktail Hour Real de Catorce, Mexico

The saloon doors swing open at 6 p.m. in Real de Catorce Mexico, a respectable time for cocktail hour to begin in this remote former mining town perched high in the mountains

The prime real estate, bar stools, was never occupied by women. This appeared to be a men only establishment.

Only those 18 or over are allowed to enter. Martini sippers should also keep walking. It is probably safe to assume beer is the beverage of choice and that there is a fine selection of tequila.

Dec 3, 2007

Maximon, Santiago Atitlan Guatemala

The man in the black sombrero and large tie likes to drink and smoke. Meet Maximon. He lives in the village of Santiago on the shores of Lake Atitlan in Guatemala.

Maximon is a deity or saint found in the highlands of Guatemala. A product of the religious fusion of Catholicism and the beliefs of the Maya, he is thought to be part Maya god, Spanish conquistador and saint. He also goes by the name San Simon (Spanish) and Rilaj Maam (Mayan) in other parts of the country. It is proper protocol to leave him offerings of cigarettes and alcohol if you visit him to pray and ask for blessings.

In Santiago Maximon comes out once a year during Semana Santa or Holy Week when he is paraded in the streets. The rest of the year he resides in one of his attendant’s homes. We found him in a small building down a narrow alley in a dark room with a dirt floor where he stood in the middle.

It is easy to visit him. Children in Santiago will approach you and offer to take you to him for a few quetzals, Guatemala’s currency.