A Day as a Tourist in Afghanistan


When I started planning my trip across Central Asia, I always had the idea that it would be fascinating to visit one of the most talked about places on the planet.  A place where tourists really don’t get.  In 12th century Spice Route Afghanistan was an important stop to visit the shrine of Ali, even Genghis Khan felt it was worth a visit or a razing.  If you think about it, Afghanistan hasn’t been as safe as it is now, for the past decade, and even before that it may have been since the 50’s that it was a place that outsiders could visit.  After getting all my visas for the variety of places I was going I got in a good conversation with my traveling partner about the possibility of visiting the city of Mazar-e Sharif.  I had a friend on Facebook who I connected with over the past couple of years and have been asking him all about life in Afghanistan.  Zaki, my good facebook friend said he’d be willing to show me around his town.  It really came together and Zaki fulfilled his promises.  Not only that, he ended up spending a couple of extra hours waiting at the border for us to get through.  After getting through security and walking across the bridge at Termez going through Uzbekistan and Afghanistan security we finally made it and what an adventure it was.

Strolling in a Burka in the Park

Is there really anything to see in Afghanistan?  Oh Yes!!

Shrine of Ali and Blue Mosque Afghanistan

Shrine of Hazrat Ali, also known as the Blue MosqueThe Shrine of Hazrat Ali, also known as the Blue Mosque, is a mosque located in the heart of Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan. It is one of the reputed burial places of Ali ibn Abi Talib, cousin and son-in law of Prophet Muhammad. The site includes a series of five separate buildings, with the Shrine of Hazrat Ali being in the center and the mosque at the western end. The site is surrounded by gardens and paths including an area with white pigeons.  You can see more of them in my pics in this post. Read more about the Ali shrine on Wikipedia

Our Afghan Driver

Our driver, the head of security in Mazar-e Sharif, and the uncle of our friend Zaki.

Driving in Afghanistan

We all piled into Zaki’s uncles taxi and headed out from the border for the city.  We decided we didn’t have enough time to make it to Balkh, but we were anxious to see the Blue Mosque and Shrine of Ali.

Afghan House

On the drive to Mazar-e Sharif, about an hour from the border, we drove by a number of homes build by mud bricks and natural elements.

Desert Sands of Afghanistan

The sands of the desert working their way to the road.  It won’t be long before the sands need to be handled.

 

Peace in Afghanistan

Peace to Afghanistan!

Blue Mosque Begging

This little guy was persistent.  He didn’t speak a word of English and I don’t know what he was saying, but he was carying a can of hot ashes and mumbling something in a persistent manner.  He wouldn’t let go of my clothes.  I’m sure he was very poor and hoping for assistance, but not sure what I could do to help.

Do you want Gum

These young boys were a joy to talk to.  While language wasn’t our forte, I had some real moments where we exchanged smiles and introduced ourselves.

Blue Mosque of Mazar-e Sharif

My friend and I with our Afghan Friends Zaki and Hamid in front of the Shrine and Blue Mosque of Mazar-e Sharif, Afghanistan.

Afghanistan IT University

IT University.  Talking with Ahmad professor at the technical college in Mazar-e Sharif.

 

Full Burka with kids

Mother in Burka with her sons…

Full Burka with hand holes

Burka with Arm holes and lady with Hijab

Burka Peek

Burkas

One of the differences between Afghanistan and all of neighbors to the north is the Burka.  In terms of cultural differences I found it to be the most start contrast.  I’ve been around a lot of Hijabs (head scarves) in a variety of places, and even ran into a lot of Saudis in black full burkas in Kuala Lumpur, and Dubai.  I haven’t gotten use to it.  It’s really a fascinating thing.  The women cover up when they go out.  It not only keeps the sun off their faces, but keeps them from being attractive to men outside the home.  The thing that really surprised me was seeing women that would pull up the burka to interact with their kids at the park.  I wasn’t expecting that.  Based on what I’d heard and gathered on TV I was really worried they were going to get in trouble.  In this far north town in Afghanistan, there were plenty of women in the city that both wore and didn’t wear the burkas.  It did seem like most that didn’t wear the full burka would wear the hijab.

I grew out my beard for months in planning on my visit across Central Asia and “the Stans” coming to Afghanistan hoping to blend in, but ended up not noticing too many beards.  I did see some good beards, but for the most part the young men in their twenties would shave, and the older men involved in business seemed to shave into mustaches.

Afghanistan Beard

I wore an Uzbekistan hat and a shirt I also got in Uzbekistan a couple days earlier.  I’m sure it confused the locals, but at the time I wasn’t going for American, even though I’m sure I came across as traveler or tourist which may not necessarily be a be a best practice.

The locals were a mix of stand offish, and quite a bit curious.  I only had a couple of stares that came across as mean ones.  I ended up in a line at the mosque and park to visit the toilet, or what was really just a line of Turkish style toilets or better said, hole in the ground.  First time I’ve waited nearly 5 minutes in a toilet line for a squat style toilet.  The conditions weren’t great.  A few more public toilets would be a good thing when they decide to open up the town as a tourist attraction.

Why did I decide to come to Afghanistan?

I have been told that I’m crazy for wanting to visit a country at war.  In reality, I found a people very in need of outside love.  They are ready for outside investments, education, access to more.  I’m sure there are many challenges to getting the right kinds of services in.  The youth are very anxious to better understand the world, and connect.  I’ve had a number of facebook messages since my visit.  There’s so much hope.  I pray for my friends Zaki and Hamid, and the Admad at the technical school.  Be anxiously engaged in a good cause.  Hamid wants to be involved in security, and Zaki wants to be successul in consulting and IT.  Personally, I’m very anxious for this area to blossom.

This far north the risk wasn’t as great.  It really is tightly controlled.  We saw the drone balloon, and there were reminders that we were being watched.  Even crossing the border we went though a couple of check points, and got some strange looks, but overall, it wasn’t as challenging as I thought it would be getting in and out.

Getting the visa for Afghanistan took less than a week, the easiest of the visas on our Central Asia tour.

I felt like we timed this right.  We spent an afternoon, I wish we could have seen Balkh which was another hour and has so much more history, but based on our plan of get in and out while seeing what we could in daylight, we did pretty well.  I have no regrets really.  I have been blessed in my life to live where I do and I hope the time I spent in this part of the world has helped me and my perspectives and outlooks on life, and I hope that the time I spent with my new Afghani friends helps spread peace and inspires them in their righteous pursuits.

Peace Tree Afghanistan

These pigeons look like doves.  They bring peace and happiness to the people.  They make people smile and laugh.

So do I recommend Afghanistan?

I think for those who are real travelers, yes. Mazar-e Sharif has a lot to offer as does Balkh based on my research.  At this point, our strategy of in and out, worked quite well.  We weren’t there long enough to cause a stir, which I find has been a great strategy for us. Whenever we feel like we might be going to an area involving any kind of risk, we play it safe and not spend too much time in any one area, and we don’t back track.  We’re always moving.  That’s been a great strategy for us.  We try to be unpredictable, so no one could plan anything.  I don’t have a death wish, it really was a fairly safe and calculated risk.  On my pursuits to see and connect with folks in every country in the world, this was an important one for me.  I still have strong feelings for the people I met.  It really makes this place very real to me now.  I think that’s really important.  When there’s a war on the other side of the world in an unknown place that’s being fought in a way that’s unimaginable, it’s easy for ignorant people to say, just bomb the place.  I have friends there, and it means something to me.  The only way to find peace is to find empathy and understanding.  Travel has helped provide a mechanism for that.  I’ve never met a military person who would want to go back to Afghanistan to visit, but I would.  I have friends there that are great people who are making a difference for life in there town.

I admit I am a bit of a travel junkie, and I believe that there are good people everywhere as do many of those that visit every country in the world… a pursuit of mine.

You can read about some of my extreme travels to Iraq (Kurdistan), Tunisia, Venezuela, Egypt

Bob Marley Adventure Guide to Reggae Jamaica

Bob Marley Tour of Jamaica

I’ve been wanting to go to Jamaica really bad.  When a few of my friends were asking when we’d go,  I knew I was going to be in Orlando and said why not?  At first I was planning on a dive, but most of my friends that were joining weren’t divers, so instead we made this an interior trip.  Why not explore the parts of the island that the tourists miss and be real travelers and go on adventures .  I did see a lot of Jamaica and I write about the other parts of Jamaica in my follow up post “Get all right in Jamaica”.

I was excited to connect with one of the greatest artists  Bob MarleyRobert Nesta “Bob” Marley (6 February 1945 – 11 May 1981) He’s had such an impressive impact on the music industry with popularizing Reggae on the world scene and bringing light to Rastafarian way of life.  More than just having a few Bob Marley songs, I’ve met some real Rastafarians that helped me understand it’s more of a lifestyle.  Many wouldn’t realize the commitment of the Rasta folks including not drinking alcohol and eating veggie.  Most seem to focus exclusively on the fact that marijuana is accepted and taken religiously.  It was in Zanzibar where I really gained an appreciation for the Rasta music and sacraments.  It was then that I really wanted to visit the island and see what it was all about.  In addition, it was visiting the grave of Haile Selassie I and the castles of the empire of Ethiopia that made me feel like I both needed to learn the ancient and modern manifestation of what was going on with the line of Solomon and Bob Marley as a Prophet?  There was a lot I needed to learn.  There were really three main places on the island we visited.  Most of the tours be prepared to pay $20 USD on the spot.  For some reason most of the attractions on the island are twenty US dollars and yes you can pay in USD or Jamaican Dollars (approximately 9 or 10 to 1), while we were there it was even better to pay in USD as the dollar was stronger, wasn’t even worth exchanging the money…

1. Bob Marley Experience – House and Record Label on 56 Hope Road in Kingston, Jamaica (also where the attempted assassination took place) Tour required to see the house.

2. Trench Town Culture Yard – Birthplace of Reggae and where Bob Marley learned to play and where he lived after running away a few blocks. (a bit rough) Tour available. More on Trenchtown on Wikipedia

3. Birthplace, Mausoleum, and first home of Bob Marley in Nine Mile, his real retreat on his grandparents land.  Deep inside the island. (Multi hour drive from Kingston or much closer from Ocho Rios) Tour required to get to the mausoleum.

10014800_10152392629918783_903542766_o

There are a few ways to see the islands of the Caribbean, and while many simply get the all inclusive resort and catch a cab or van to their particular resort with a big fence and a private beach.  If they leave they are visiting a tourist attraction called an excursion where the entire path and time is laid out where very little interaction with the *real* islanders happen.  This trip on the other hand was the complete opposite.  While I did see a few attractions, where I drove, slept, ate, and spent my time was amongst the people.

1973465_10152392629453783_1429379901_o1077156_10152392629663783_1624147027_o

Popular Bob Marley Statue… One Love, One Life!

1965503_10152392630403783_146449652_o

I had some great opportunities to visit the homes of Bob Marley.  There are really three main areas to visit.

Bob Marley House on Hope Road – Bob Marley Experience

680508_10152392630433783_1294828681_o

This is the house where Bob Marley lived until his attempted assassination in 1976.  The house is now known as the Bob Marley Museum in Kingston, Jamaica dedicated to the reggae musician Bob Marley. The museum is located at 56 Hope Road, Kingston 6, and is Bob Marley’s former place of residence at his peak. It was home to the Tuff Gong record label which was founded by The Wailers in 1970.  They don’t allow any pictures to be taken inside the home, but there’s a great collection of the news, records, and history.  The guide takes you from room to room giving you history about Bob Marley and his success concluding in the theatre where they show a number of music videos and you get to listen to his music as it evolved over time.

1920964_10152392631643783_1416849064_o

Trench Town, Kingston Culture Yard – Birthplace of Reggae and where Bob Marley learned to play guitar – Not a place some tourists will want to drive by themselves.  But for the adventurous traveler you’ll find a poor part of Kingston where the cement is the walls, floors, and many live in small spaces.  The place itself has a rough history.

Bob Marley’s mom moved to Trench town, a poor but cultural part of Kingston a few streets up from the Culture yard.  Bob moved to Trench town when he was 12 and wanted to stay on first street.

10012923_10152392632588783_893785617_o1780095_10152392632938783_867179251_o

Today Trench Town boasts the Trench Town Culture Yard Museum, a visitor friendly National Heritage Site presenting the unique history and contribution of Trench Town to Jamaica. Trench Town is the birthplace of rocksteady and reggae music, as well as the home of reggae and Rastafari ambassador and prophet Bob Marley.

“Though raised as a Catholic, Marley became interested in Rastafarian beliefs in the 1960s, when away from his mother’s influence. Marley formally converted to Rastafari and began to grow dreadlocks. The Rastafarian proscription against cutting hair is based on the biblical Samson who as a Nazarite was expected to make certain religious vows including the ritual treatment of his hair as described in Chapter Six of the Book of Numbers.”

1913472_10152392633213783_1591965878_o10014766_10152392632273783_1146513164_o

Trench Town Culture Yard… birthplace of Reggae and where Bob Marley ran away from home and learned to play guitar.  There you can see his first guitar and see his room.

1518531_10152392632088783_872616553_o1072161_10152392632373783_1787538205_o

Left: Bob’s first guitar.  Right: Statue of Bob Marley in the Culture Yard.

1265240_10152391308153783_31564030_o1956671_10152391310438783_2004645456_o

Out in Ocho Rios the Ganja smoking is not welcome in some areas, but you can find people who can get you whatever your heart desires.  There are many plants all over the island.

1900771_10152392631318783_1938597759_o132949_10152392636208783_1003176217_o

This weed seems to spring up everywhere.  I can’t say I tried any, but I did see a few plants and was offered much of the Reggae sacrament.

Bob Marley Mausoleum, Resting Place, Birth Place and first home in Nine Mile.

977089_10152392636713783_1741491025_o1966313_10152392635873783_511127811_o

Bob Marley’s home where he grew started his life on his grandparents property.  The mausoleum in Nine Mile (deep in the island) contains family members on his mothers side of the family.

 

1617505_10152392635158783_915355338_o1973462_10152392635563783_1007423856_o

While I couldn’t sit on the bed, I was offered the rock which was where many songs of inspiration came to the Bob.

1465795_10152392635928783_596628370_o1912243_10152392636883783_1047901406_o

I had an incredible time on the island.  I’ll follow up this post with the non Bob Marley things I saw, but felt like the Reggae experience was worth a post alone.  I hope this post can stand as a reference that there’s a lot to see to better understand the great legend of Bob Marley, one of the most influential singers of the decade a man taken before his prime.

10012914_10152392637698783_757528825_o

The landscape in 9 mile is beautiful.  In my opinion it’s worth the drive.  You get to see a very different part of the island and if you can find a way to relax with the people… I recommend slowing it down and listening to the music.  Don’t be so afraid to leave your resort.  Jamaica is amazing!

In my search for the origins of Reggae I found Marcus Garvey and read all about Haile Salasie I, then looked up more quotes on his rein.  You can also get a lot more history of Bob Marley with tons more detail on Wikipedia.

10 Must See Attractions In and Around Copenhagen Denmark the City of Cyclists


Copenhagen CyclistsCopenhagen bikes

One of the best ways to see Copenhagen, Denmark is the way the locals do.  On the seat of a bike.

Bicycles play a major role in the life of any local in Copenhagen. The bicycle is transportation for work, school, even night on the town with a date or night at the opera.  A special bike famous from Copenhagen is designed for transporting construction materials or appliances, bringing children to kindergarten, going for a ride. No matter what the purpose will be, the bike is the answer.Why do they pick a bike over a car or public transport?  It’s the fastest way of getting around in the city!

Nyhavn houses and bikes Nyhavn bridge

1. Nyhavn

One of my favorite parts of town is Nyhavn.  These beautiful buildings have so much color and character.  First you must stroll along this street either on the seat of a bike or strolling along on a walk.  There are canal tours for those who want to see it from the water side as well.  Great food along there as well.  I often ended my day along Nyhavn.

Nyhavn Panorama of the Canal

If you’re in Copenhagen for a conference, or cruise, or a holiday.  You will find plenty to do to fill your 24 hours in beautiful Copenhagen.

Amalienborg Palace Changing of the Guard

2. Amalienborg Palace

Amalienborg Palace is the Danish monarch’s winter residence on the waterfront in Copenhagen.  It’s in Copenhagen, so not hard to get to. Time your visit to watch the changing of the guard.

Denmark%2520142Denmark%2520141 (1)

3. Frederiksborg Castle

is a palace in Hillerød, Denmark part of the . It was built as a royal residence for King Christian IV.  Heading out to this place could be part of a day trip.

It is on the Castles tour from Copenhagen: North Zealand and Hamlet Castle tour There are multiple tours, so you’ll need to decide what you want to see most.

Denmark%2520179

4. Carl Bloch paintings

If you like religious art. I highly recommend tracking down the Carl Bloch (very famous Danish Painter) paintings in the Carl Bloch’s paintings in the Frederiksborg Palace collection.  They are very moving and are considered some of the best in the world.

royal courtyardamazing rooms Inside the palace

After I got home and started looking through all of the pictures from my castle tour I noticed I couldn’t tell which photos where from which palace.

Elsinore Castle - Kronborg Castle

5. Kronborg Castle

complete with moat, in Helsingor known as Elsinore Castle from  Shakespeare’s Hamlet.  This castle is a couple hours outside of Copenhagen.  Ask about it in relation to a castle tour.  Lonely Planet details: Hamlet Castle Tour

If you do have multiple days and looking at day trips out of Copenhagen, consider Malmo Sweden.  It’s an easy train ride over a very long and fun bridge.  There are a few things to see, and easy to make an afternoon out of it.

baby angels pipe organ Columns

The halls are so ornate I ended up taking hundreds of photos of columns, and gold and amazing sculptures and art work.  My first trip to Copenhagen was one of my first trips to Europe, and hence blew my mind in terms of seeing so much history and royal wealth.  It was mind numbing to see multiple days worth of palaces, castles, and cathedrals with so much history.  My eyes are now much more trained to recognize the history.  Now when I look at a marble column that doesn’t match I can imagine that it was likely borrowed from an earlier time period likely from a pagan temple.

Europe and africa 220 Denmark%2520005

There are quite a few palaces, parliament buildings, castles, and historic buildings within and near Copenhagen.  Consider a Castle tour or two. Your head will be spinning with ancient places that you’ll be wondering what it was or what it is.

Tivoli at nightTivoli Gardens in Copenhagen

6. Tivoli Gardens

(Left – above at night, right from SAS Raddison Blue hotel window)

Tivoli is ancient and modern at the same time.  The structure and property has been an old amusement park from 1843.  It is world famous and shows up in many movies and may be the most famous places to visit in Copenhagen. Inside the garden you’ll find amusement park rides, activities and exhibits.  In the winter it becomes a winter wonderland decorated with lights and mechanical elves and Christmas decor.  I use Tivoli and the Train Station as a landmark when I’m walking around the city.  As well I will often try to book hotels close to Tivoli as it’s very central to downtown Copenhagen and walking distance of all of the good stuff including the Stroget walking street.

Strøget – The Strøget is 1.1 kilometers long and claims to be the world’s longest urban pedestrian zone.  It’s a very enjoyable walk with interesting high street shops.  You may find this is the best route from place to place on your bike or strolling along.

We did end up going up the round tower Rundetaarn at night.  It was interesting. It has specific time periods where it’s open.  Apparently it’s the oldest observatory in Europe.  It is worth tracking down.

Frederiks KirkeMarble Church domeFrederiks Kirk

8. Frederiks Kirke (The Marble Church)

this stately building is well worth a visit (above)

Speaking of churches. There are some other great churches in Copenhagen.

Church of our Lady Copenhagen

9.  Church of Our Lady

This church has a very special feel with amazing sculptures. This church is all focused on a greater than life sized Christ and his apostles grace the church.  As well a massive pipe organ plus a second story filled with columns in a very bright white church.   It has a very strong spirit about it.  This church is in Copenhagen and easy to walk to and open till 5pm most days.

Christus CopenhagenBertel Thorvaldsen's Sculptures

All of the sculptures were designed by Bertel Thorvaldsen.  If you like his work. There is a museum dedicated to his works next to the Christiansborg Palace.

Speaking of sculptures.  There’s one statue that most guidebooks will tell you that you can’t miss.  It’s the Hans Christian Anderson Little Mermaid Statue in Copenhagen.  It’s become quite the icon for the city.  She’s also loved to be hated.  She has gone through some rough times herself as she often gets chopped up and stolen.

Little Mermaid at Night - Copenhagen  Little Mermaid Copenhagen Denmark

10. The Little Mermaid

This isn’t the only statue in Copenhagen, but she is the most famous.  Since she’s by the water there are multiple ways to view her.  She is out near the old fort.  It’s quite a walk from downtown, but not impossible.

If you like art and statues.  Be sure to take it in.  There is a lot of variety around the city that is worth checking out.

Denmark%2520067 Denmark%2520058

EAT!!

The Main CourseVenison fancy salad2 forks

Traditional meatballs and potatoesThey love to eat in Copenhagen.  The Danish are known for their food.  They have very elaborate long sittings with a variety of wines, beers, and non alcoholic drinks as well, I tried a rhubarb drink.  Often when you sit down to dinner at a nice place in Copenhagen, you’re sitting down for a 4+ or up to 6 course meal.  I think I had 5 forks in one meal.  They keep bringing out plates and plates of different little dishes of food for you to eat.  There’s a lot in the presentation.  The portions are small in the fine dinning arena.

Then there’s the traditional meat and potatoes.  Often meat balls and some small vegetables.  You can also get open faced sandwiches.  Copenhagen does have a variety of food, but in most cases you are committing yourself to relaxing and enjoying yourself.  If you’re use to American style, where you are there for the food and not the ambiance, you may have to let your waiter know when you need them.

Christiania Beer  Art of Christiania

10. Christiania

Alternative living… was founded in 1971 when a group of citizens knocked down the fence to an abandoned military area and set up a new hippie community, completely independent of the Danish government.  In 2012 the Christiania fund bought the land.  It’s now a bunch of artists, but they’ve gotten creative.  They now have their own beer.

This place is unique in the world.  It’s a bit of burning man every night.  It’s a place that means different things to different people and the expression that comes from it has a wide variety as well.

– Real freedom of different types to different people: Check your politics and biases at the door.

– Anarchy – No RULES! Well, this has definitely changed over time.

– Shared living, shared everything.  Those hey day are over.  Now you’ll find there are businesses and art studios, where years ago anyone would be obliged to share.

– A place to do drugs in peace without the law.  There are still soft drugs a plenty.  Be careful with your camera.

– While capitalism was what they were trying to get away from, there’s quite the little cottage industry from the artists during the day, and at night it’s the bars and cafes

There has been spouts of violence in the past, but this is really a unique place.  I have really enjoyed my time there, but it’s not or everyone.

Vor Frelsers Kirke - The Church of our Saviour

Vor Frelsers Kirke (The Church of our Saviour)

is located at Christianshavn and was built in the years 1682 to 1696.

I hope you enjoyed this story among some of the others that I have posted.  I put this post together for my sister, Tamra who is doing a cruise from Copenhagen.  I hope she enjoys it.  She has a passion for travel that’s contagious.  Please like or rate the post, and I definitely welcome feedback.  As a traveler I love telling the stories and pointing out places to see or things to do.  I’ve been to Copenhagen twice, most recently in January and the first time with my wife.  I loved it both times. I’m sure you’ll love it too.

Joel in Copenhagen

Walking tour of Quebec French Canada: 5 Things You Can NOT Miss!

Chateau Frontenac

896813_10151647120268783_885997247_o

Canada’s Castle – Chateau Frontenac

5 Things Not to Miss in Quebec City!

1. Chateau Frontenac – top of the hill. In all the pictures… this is the big amazing castle.

castle panorama

2. City Hall and Parliament building and and the nearby Wall with various entrances to the old city

parliament

3. Gates/Wall/Stronghold The Plains of Abraham – site of battle during the 7 years war or French & Indian War (great museum Musée de la civilisation nearby with interactive exhibits)

towers

4. Notre-Dame-des-Victoires Church –bottom of the hill in Old town great walking area.

church panorama

5. Ice Castle at the Winter Carnival/Ice hotel first ice hotel in the Americas. The hotel has a four-month lifespan each year before being brought down in April – The city is must see during the winter.  It’s a winter wonderland from what I could see.  If you like ice sports, check out Crashed Ice a downhill ice cross world championship with high vertical drops high speed and sharp turns.  During the summer it’s the music festival… so there really is something here all year round.  4 great seasons… never too hot.  Looking for a something different?  Go on the haunted tour and hear a different set of stories completely.  I ran out of time, but know that old town would be fascinating to see in dark with stories.

nt side of the history.  For kids I also recommend tracking down the old cannon ball in the tree.  It’s weird history! cannonballtree

One story says that the cannonball landed here during the Battle of Québec in 1759 and overtaken by the tree.  Another story says that it was placed here on purpose to keep the wheels of horse-drawn carriages from bumping the tree when making tight turns. Frommers Includes it on their walking tour of Quebec City.

Here are some additional impressions of the city and some of what I learned about this beautiful amazing historical city…

1608 Quebec City is one of the oldest cities in North America. The old stone walls surrounding Old Quebec (Vieux-Québec) are the only remaining fortified city walls that still exist in the Americas north of Mexico, and declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1985 as the ‘Historic District of Old Québec.  I spent a few days there and learned so much.  One of my favorite cities in North America… Amazing walking city, the old town is really one of the most beautiful.  Interestingly, all I can think of that’s comparable is another former French city which I love to visit, and walk around… New Orleans.  It has the charm of the old world, but has an incredible history that goes back to the founding of the Americas when the Europeans invaded or discovered or both.

899345_10151647768363783_677562243_o

899240_10151647952363783_628300677_oI spent a few days in Quebec, but it was a huge history lesson of North America that made me realize I really didn’t learn anything about Canada in school and there is a lot more to early pre-America/pre-Canada history when France, England and Spain where figuring things out with the various native tribes.  Interesting you’d think there would be a comparison between James Town 1607 (First permanent English settlement? According to Canada it’s St Johns in Canada 1583 the oldest English-founded city in North America) and Quebec City but according to wikipiedia it’s Santo Domingo that is the oldest continuously inhabited European established settlement in the Americas in 1498.

Jamestown 1607 the first permanent English settlement in the Americas (in 1618).

St. John’s 1583 is the oldest English-founded city in North America

Quebec City 1608 is one of the oldest European founded cities in North America

I found this article on Wikipedia to be fascinating in showing the real oldest cities in North America incorporating all of what the Spanish were doing, but also incorporating the age of what was already in place listing Kaminaljuyu Guatemala as the oldest at 1500BC, but doesn’t appear to be continuous… still a great list.

Here are a few stereotypes I had heard up to this point.  Canadians were the ones that didn’t want to flight the revolutionary war and ultimately were a liability.  I really didn’t know much about French Canada at all other than that they were French and somehow in the middle of Canada which didn’t make sense.    There really is so much of US history that you need to learn from outside of the US.  I’m serious.  I learned a ton.  Castles in Canada?  Yep, Quebec City is the last remaining walled city in North America, north of Mexico.

image

This map shows which tribes were aligned with the blue as French  and the red as English

I had to look up more.  I wasn’t ok with 1607 vs. 1608… who was first?  I think we need a history debate. St. Johns vs. Jamestown…896571_10151647761853783_467293664_o “Referred to as "North America’s Oldest City", St. John’s is the oldest settlement in North America to hold city status, with year-round settlement beginning sometime before 1620 and seasonal settlement long before that. It is not, however, the oldest surviving English settlement in North America or Canada, as is often believed, as it was preceded by the Cuper’s Cove colony at Cupids, founded in 1610, and the Bristol’s Hope colony at Harbour Grace, founded in 1618. In fact, although English fisherman had begun setting up seasonal camps in Newfoundland in the 16th Century, they were expressly forbidden from establishing permanent settlements, hence the town of St. John’s not being established ’til circa 1620. As Jamestown,Virginia also, did not exist ’til 1619 (prior to that, its settlers were obliged to live within James Fort), St. George’s, Bermuda (strictly-speaking, not in the Americas at all, but an Atlantic oceanic island), established in 1612, is claimed to be the oldest continuously-inhabited English town in the New World, and is also suggested to have been the first.”  — Crazy.  What you learn in History class appears to not be consistent.  Must depend on Canadian or US History class…  Cause you could argue that French explorer Jacques Cartier built a fort at the site in 1535, where he stayed for the winter before going back to France in spring 1536, but please don’t rely on me for the history of Quebec City and Canada.  I’m still soaking it in.  Lots to learn.

What happened in the US prior to the revolutionary war is best learned in…. Canada.  Sounds crazy, but did you know where George Washington learned how to be a good General?  He led troops against the French in Canada fighting for the British

896209_10151647770663783_1514039607_o

Beautiful Old Town: Amazing little shops in really old buildings.

I also learned that the French built strong relationships with the individual tribes to create alliances.  They paid off the Indians (First Nations/Native Americans), and that’s why they fought for the French in the French and Indian war against George Washington.  Now it kinda makes sense why the early Americans weren’t so happy with the native tribes.  For me it filled in a few blanks.  I still won’t begin to understand why the trail of tears, all of the mistreatment and poor handling since.  Visited an indigenous group in Panama recently and wished there was still groups living like they did in the old west and prior.

Man amazing how political this post already is, but that’s what went though my head. 

896037_10151645679018783_1880081189_o

Pictured: Quebec National Assembly

895824_10151647930013783_68076590_oQuebec independence has played a large role in the politics of the province. Referendums for sovereignty in 1980 and 1995 both voted down by voters with the latest in a narrow margin. In 2006, the House of Commons of Canada even passed a symbolic motion recognizing the "Québécois as a nation within a united Canada."

Pictured Left: View of Old Town Quebec City next to the St Lawrence River

Most people live in urban areas near the Saint Lawrence River between Montreal and Quebec City

Chichen Itza Mayan Masterpiece Pyramid Perfection and Wonder of the World (6 of 7)

pyramids of chichen itza

Visit of Christ to the Americas

This post is in a series of 7 posts on the 7 Wonders of the New World

 

When I was planning our Cancun vacation, my wife was thinking… we’ll chill on the beach at an all inclusive resort, and I was thinking… we’ll grab a rental car and pick up as many of the Mayan temples as possible within a 2 week period.  Finally I can see one of the 7 finalists of the new 7 Wonders of the World – Chichen Itza.  As a traveller I was anxious to see real wonders of the ancient world. I love temples, I love archeology, and I love the mystery that surrounds these massive new world temples. I also was incredibly interested in Tulum on the coast, and my ultimate Tikal the Mayan Capital.  We know so little about the Mayans, but I was surprised to find out they weren’t totally wiped out.  There is a group of Mayans that give the tours in Tulum, and they speak the ancient Mayan language.  It’s so, so sad that the culture has so much of who they were.  They lost everything.  A few documents recently were rediscovered in Germany referred to as the Mayan Dresden Codex.  Mayan Temple of Chichen ItzaWhich some point to as the source of the 12, 21, 2012 apocalyptic date or the beginning of 1000 years of peace, but “A German expert who says his decoding of a Mayan tablet with a reference to a 2012 date denotes a transition to a new era and not a possible end of the world as others have read it…The interpretation of the hieroglyphs by Sven Gronemeyer…He said the inscription describes the return of mysterious Mayan god. Continue reading on Examiner.com German Mayan researcher’s 2012 conclusions.  Cool.  Beginning of the end of the world or return of a Mayan god… Bearded white god?  (By the way, ask to see the rock carving of the bearded god at Chichen Itza.  It’s pretty cool.  If it’s Lief Erickson or Jesus or insane stone carver it’s mind numbing given the carvings all around it.  Seriously fun stuff.  You gotta enjoy the speculation and not get too caught up either way, since we can’t know.

While I don’t think the end will happen in December 2012 (No one is suppose to know the day or hour when Jesus is coming back Matthew 24:36), I have used it as an opportunity to be prepared for disaster.  In my church, we have been asked to have a year supply of food on hand in case of disaster.  It has paid off with members all over the world.  As recent as the tsunami in Japan and earthquake in Hati, the members who obeyed have been blessed. As a member of the LDS Church there is a fascinating Book of Mormon back story of Christ in the Americas and Artists often paint pictures of Christ appearing to the righteous people in 3 Nephi 11 with the back drop of Tulum.  There are Mormon tours all over this region.  In fact we discovered that more Mayan Temple of Tulumthan 30% of the guides in Tulum were Mayan members of the LDS Church.  It’s understood that there really hasn’t been any LDS revelations on the locations, and anything discovered is purely speculation.  Our guide at Tulum was actually a Mormon Bishop named Mosiah.  It was a quick tour, which really didn’t add any info on what we had already got from our tour in Chichen Itza.  He shared pictures of Tulum where light shines through specific building on April 6th, and sold us a tree of life medallion.  Great stories.  Amazing place.  While I didn’t necessarily subscribe to all he shared, I was fascinated with the history of the Mayans, he being one himself.  The PC accepted story is that Mayan calendar simply points toward a new era.  Great.  Others are looking for the Age of Aquarius.

Dean%2520taking%2520it%2520inThese grandios temples are mucho bueno.  Very incredible.  Left: My trooper, Dean at Chichen Itza.  This is 3 of 7 New Wonders for him.  He’s been to Machu Picchu and the Great Pyramids in Egypt.

Travel Tip: I do recommend highly recommend seeing Chichen Itza.  I do recommend getting a negotiated tour there.  There are some inscriptions and history that you’d miss otherwise.  There are a lot of things to point out in the area.  There are half a dozen buildings and a great ball court area, and you need to know more about the rules of that game and what happens to the winners and losers.  Those stories you must hear.  There’s a lot of inscriptions and interpretations and stories you need to hear.  We got the 2 hour guided tour, that we negotiated on the spot after we arrived.  It wasn’t too outrageous.  There are a lot of people that can give tours, so shop around and negotiate.  Don’t take the first rate you hear.  Many hotels in Cancun can arrange transport and tour as well.  Just don’t over pay.  There is a lot of cushion.  In relation to Cancun both Tulum and Chichen Itza are both day trips. There is a toll road all the way to Chichen Itza from Cancun. You’ll pay 20-30 USD for that trip one way! We decided we’d take the scenic route on the way there, and hurry back. It is a difference of about an hour. You can get to other ruins as well including Coba. I didn’t make it to Coba, we were with my wife’s family and Jeff got sick, so we missed out on that one, but that’s ok because my eye was on the ultimate prize of Tikal, Jaguar temple the largest temples in the new world.  In contrast to Chichen Itza, I do not recommend the tour in Tulum.  The buildings are a lot smaller, things are close and if you did this one after doing Chichen Itza there’s a lot of overlap.  Our tour may have ultimately been 15 minutes of explanation and he didn’t even walk the whole thing with us.  Don’t miss the views from either side of the temple near the water.  There are some great photo shots by of Tulum by the water.  Another reason to do your research of Tulum ahead of time and get the guided tour at Chichen Itza.

Continue reading “Chichen Itza Mayan Masterpiece Pyramid Perfection and Wonder of the World (6 of 7)”

Rediscovered Europe: Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia & Herzegovina

Island in Bled Slovenia

I had seen most of Western Europe when I visited the Balkans, but I wasn’t prepared for the beauty and raw elements of war I would see.  Mountain views, lakes and valleys that would rival the best of Switzerland, rivers that rival the beauty of Idaho’s and untouched wilderness, the bridge in Mostar rival the arches of the canals of Venice, but evoke an emotional response.  The worst of the war torn parts remind me of some parts of Beirut.  Even the West Bank has been more cleaned up than some of the pits out of the buildings in Sarajevo.  The stories of the rebuilding of the Synagogue in Sarajevo… How many times can a building be rebuilt?

Night in Zagreb, Croatia

In contrast, Roman emperors vacationed in Croatia. croatia_bosnia Dubrovnik and Split are incredibly scenic and would rival that of any ports in Italy or France, and a fresh seafood or fish dinner would cost you much less.  I guess what I’m saying is, I loved it.  Belgrade and Sarajevo are the hidden gems of Europe, the passion and life, and recent history to blow your mind.  The travelers looking for secrets in Europe.  Here’s a great place to start.  It’s the Balkans.  Some of my best friends in Europe.  There’s something that goes deeper here.  Relationships are stronger, and go deeper, you can feel it.

My trip started in Zagreb the capital of Croatia with a night tour. We met up for a great dinner and ended up walking around parliament, and old town Zagreb. Zagreb itself did avoid much of the conflict in the Balkan conficts/wars that happened back in 92-93.

Remnants of the war are still visible.  There are more reasons to come and visit than the incredible night life.  There are fresh memories that will teach the world a lesson… this lesson is war is not kind to anyone.  War should be avoided at all costs, and the horrors and nightmares of war are real.  Those who only vacation at Disneyland or Disneyworld and spend their vacations with the Grand Canyon as the ultimate bucketlist need to come for a visit.  This land has a lot of lessons to teach. 

image

When we got close to the Republik of Srpska we came across these signs.  After spending time at the Cambodia land museum, I have been convinced that land mines do more danger to the citizens that have to live with these than any good they do for the military.  There are some crazy stats on how much the people are impacted by these.

 

Now before you think it’s all doom and gloom, that’s totally not the key take away.  It’s the opposite.  In fact my friend Michael, who I was traveling with, recently wrote about his experience on this same trip.  I highly encourage reading about his writeup on the former Hapsburg empire – Serbia, Romania, Bosnia & Herz, Montenegro, and Croatia. This trip started with a fellow colleague who lived in Croatia, Toni Frankola, a speaking team of Michael Noel, and Paul Swider.

This place is amazing, but as an American tourist, that gets a rise out of seeing something unlike anything I can find within the US or Western Europe.  I get excited. This was one of the best Europe vacations I’ve ever done.  I’ve seen Dubrovnik and Mostar on the front page of Bing on multiple occasions.  They really are spectacular.  The castle in Belgrade was an awesome place to walk around.  The cultural music and dancing we got at night was spectacular.  Very fun environment.  I think it was a good thing for Toni as well, as he recognized some of the tunes, and was surprised to see the similarities between Croatia and Serbia.  Good stuff.

25708_381158112913_2547739_n

Continue reading “Rediscovered Europe: Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia & Herzegovina”

Cappadocia Turkey: Underground Cities and Cave Churches

Cave Houses and Ferry Chimneys

Cave Houses and Ferry Chimneys
Cave Houses and Ferry Chimneys

When I first learned about Cappadocia, I was up late watching a late night Sci Fi show on Ancient Alien God theory.  The spokey of underground cities where 20,000 people could live in caves.  The spoke cave cities of 13 levels deep and how for thousands of years these caves had lasted time.  No one really knows how old these caves are… you can’t carbon date a cave.  They think they are at least 1700-2000 years old.  These caves helped save Christianity at a time where it was illegal and the Romans were looking to wipe it out!  How do we know?  There are hundreds of early 3rd and 4th century cathedrals built by these Christians.  IMG_6663They went on to say there are 36 such cities that could support a hundreds of thousands of people…. underground!  Some cities are connected by 9 KM tunnels.  Only 10% of the caves had even been excavated.  What!!?  Seems to me like we’d learn more about ourselves and where we came from if we knew more about these caves.  Why have I not heard of such an incredible place before?  I immediately added it to my list.  About 6 months later, when I was planning a trip to Sofia, Bulgaria I remembered these incredible stories and decided… I must go.  I priced it out and for less than $200 I could visit this place.  You can fly to within an hour of the place.  I decided I needed to see how much of this was real.  Much to my surprise, these crazy facts were real!  I read as much as I could and gasped at the amazing pictures on any image search.  I dare you to look.  If you’re a world traveller, you’ll immediately add this to your list, and if not it will be a bucket list item.  Don’t wait till you’re too old for this one.  Remember there’s hiking and walking in caves.  You don’t want to hurt your back.

How this destination of underground city supports a population larger than most civilizations at the time still boggles my mind.  No way.  Too incredible.  Who wiped out these ancient people?  Who were they, what did they believe?  Was it an attempt to escape an alien overlord?  Doesn’t matter.  Despite whether you believe aliens built the multiple thousand year old tunnels or believe it was the Hittites an ancient civilization that’s no longer around, the mystery of these crazy tunnels and underground cities are no less of a wonder.  There’s a lot you can read about Derinkuyu, the largest underground city in the world, less than 30 minute drive from Goreme.  562343_10150787036148783_613898782_11776192_940521962_n[1]It’s only been available for tours since 1969.  There are plenty of tours that take you on organized tours or you can rent a car and take it at your pace.  The tunnels are excavated.  I went 8 levels deep on my tour and there were at least 4 or 5 tunnels that went off into the dark, one such tunnel my guide explained went to the next city.  In the underground city you’ll find a winery, church, animal stalls, wells, ancient phone system, ventilation shafts,  and a morgue.  I visited all of these places on my tour.

Continue reading “Cappadocia Turkey: Underground Cities and Cave Churches”