Aug 29, 2010

City Icons – Palace of The Winds Jaipur India

The Palace of the Winds or Hawa Mahal is probably the most photographed site in Jaipur, Rajasthan. But the majority of people who visit it on an organized tour of the Pink City participate in what could be considered a drive by shooting. Without the benefit of time they hop out of their vehicle, marvel at the Palace’s beauty for a few minutes, shoot some photos and move on.
The more adventurous may take an extra minute or two to dodge camel carts, rickshaws, buses, trucks, cars and the occasional elephant and navigate their way to the concrete divider in the middle of the city’s busiest street to get a shot with a wider angle.
If you find yourself in Jaipur make the time to get to know the Palace a little. You’ll soon learn her beauty isn’t just on the outside. You can enter the inside of the five story facade and peer out one of the honeycombed windows for a bird’s eye view of the city. The sandstone structure built in 1788 by Maharaja Sawaj Pratap Singh was designed so that ladies of the royal household could view the outside world without being seen.

To enter the Hawa Mahal walk around the block to the back. Admission is 30 rupees and it is open from 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m.

Aug 22, 2010

Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall

Chiang Kai-Shek knew how to roll. The black bulletproof Cadillacs he favored would have made an old school gangster proud or more likely green with envy. The one in the photograph below dates from 1955.
You can see the sedans and other mementos from his life on display on the ground floor of the National Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall. The blue and white structure, the colors of the Taiwanese flag, has 89 steps--one for each year the former President of the Republic of China lived. A large statue of him sits at the top.
The memorial resides in the massive square of a compound that also houses Taipei’s National Theater and National Opera House. In the early morning you’ll find people practicing Tai Chi in the compound.
The memorial is located on Hsinyi Road and open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. To get there take one of the Metropolitan Rapid Transit (MRT) trains to the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial station.

Aug 15, 2010

Guanajuato Mexico

Guanajuato, nestled in the mountains of Mexico’s colonial heartland, feels and looks like a small laid back southern European city. Unlike Europe it is devoid of the bus loads of tourists and high prices that typically go hand in hand. It is pollution free and its charming cobblestone streets clean.
The architecture of this silver mining city may be influenced by the Spanish but the colors are divinely Mexican--cobalt blue, lime green, bold oranges and citrus yellows.

A World UNESCO Heritage Site, there is plenty to see. Sites include its basilica, theater, the beautiful Universidad de Guanajuato and the house where Diego Rivera was born. A former granary building complete with hooks where revolutionaries’ heads were hung, was the site of a rebellion during the War of Independence and is now a museum.

But the real joy is walking its steep cobblestone pedestrian alleys which if you have the energy reward you with beautiful vistas if you venture high enough. A chorus of roosters who crow throughout the day will cheer you on. Turn a corner and you come across another beautiful square with fountain and cafes, where you can rest and sip a café con leche.

Guanajuato is about 3-4 hours from Mexico City and well serviced by Mexico’s intercity bus services. Entrance to the city center is through a subterranean traffic tunnel, once a riverbed, which snakes through the city center for a few kilometers.

We stayed in the heart of the hills at bread and breakfast Casa De Pita for 130 pesos a night. The same family has owned the building for many generations. Ask the host about her other location a few minutes walk up the hill, a full casita which we rented for about 550 pesos for the second night.

Aug 5, 2010

Mexico City’s Zocalo

The zocalo, or public square, is the heartbeat of Mexico’s cities, towns and villages and the granddaddy of them all is in Mexico City. Also know as Plaza de la Constituci√≥n, it is one of the largest public squares in the world behind Tiananmen Square in Beijing and Moscow’s Red Square.
The political and historical center of the city it is flanked by the Presidential Palace worth a visit alone for Diego Rivera’s murals. It also boasts the largest church in Latin America, the Metropolitan Cathedral.

The Zocalo and its immediate surrounds stand on the site of the ancient Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan, which was conquered by Spain’s Hernan Cortes in the 16th century. Adjacent to the main square is the Templo Mayor, which was the main temple for Aztec Tenochtitlan. It was almost completely destroyed by the Conquistadores and its remains, now a museum, were rediscovered in 1978.

Today circles of indigenous or Aztec dancers perform to the sound of beating drums and people line up for shamans to conduct prayers and spiritual cleansing rituals. Festivals, concerts and cultural events all take place in the zocalo, which is also the epicenter of protests. When I was there in June a tent city of protesting teachers and electricians took up half the square while a huge screen was being set up to broadcast the World Cup. The tent city was cleared before the games began.

To get to the zocalo you can take the Metro to the zocalo stop on line 2 or catch one of the yellow and green buses on Paseo de la Reforma, the city’s main thoroughfare. Look for buses that say zocalo and make sure you have four pesos in change.