Array ( [total] => 41 [pageSize] => 24 [page] => 0 [results] => Array ( [5628] => Array ( [iID] => 5628 [tTitle] => Of beaches and prisons [tSlug] => of-beaches-and-prisons [iTime] => 1464472800 [iUpdate] => 1464896962 [tDescription] => Brazil, like most catholic countries, celebrates Corpus Christi, that is, the belief that blood and body of Christ are truly and really present in the Eucharist. On the day of the celebration, often, there’s a procession of altar bread and wine, displayed in a monstrance, which often looks like a solar disc on a pedestal. We bumped in to one such procession while we took the opportunity of the associated long weekend by heading out to Ilha Grande, one of the most popular tourist destinations in Brazil. On the coast, roughly halfway between Rio and Sao Paulo. Now, nearing winter, the island is pleasantly quiet, with the majority of tourists being foreigners, who don’t have the luxury of heading out to Ilha Grande whenever they feel like it, or only when it’s nice and hot. And, yes, though daily temperatures easily rose above 25 degrees, I once or twice felt it a good idea to wear a sweater, at night. But, then, being too lazy to get up and get one, and still feeling quite comfortable drinking a cold beer, overlooking the bay in front the island's main, only, town, meant that what constitutes 'cold' is rather relative. Ilha Grande also has a more notorious side to it. For almost a century, the island was closed to the public, first because it housed a leper colony, and then, until 1994, a high-security prison, home to some of the most dangerous prisoners in Brazil. Now, tranquility is king, but some two dozen people were killed as recently as 6 years ago due to a mudslide after heavy rains. But, times were much tougher, particularly between the late 1960 until the prison closed. After the 1964 coup, political prisoners were also being sent to Cândido Mendes, the prison, which, after they started to collaborate with the more regular, and typically more violent, inmates, resulted in the creation of perhaps Brazil’s deadliest crime syndicate, the Red Phalanx, or Falange Vermelha. Perhaps originally coming from a political ideology, the group changed its name to Comando Vermelho in the early 1980s and now primarily engages in arms and drug trafficking, active in roughly the northern half of the South American continent. Conditions in the prison deteriorated, with the Comando Vermelho in control. In 1993, just a year before it closed, photographer Andre Cypriano spent several months documenting the daily life of those stuck in this Brazilian version of displeasure. Upon closing, residents of the island were shattered, the prison and its network being their sole income. But, quickly reinventing themselves and the island, realising the tropical appeal of tourism on their abandoned island, things turned around quickly. The prison has been torn down, the outer walls all that still stand, but one former prisoner, Julio de Almeida, who once managed to escape but was sent back after four years in Rio, ended up staying on the island for over 50 years. He still lives close to the prison, where we accidentally bumped into the man. We found our way to Dois Rios, the little cluster of houses next to the former prison, by bike. The 9 kilometres or so from the island’s main settlement belies how tough the climb actually is. The reward, besides gawking at the little settlement, is a gorgeous and almost empty beach. A popular trek is the hike to Lopes Mendes, a beach some two hours away by foot, through the jungle. But, so popular, if with gorgeous blue water, that, even now in late autumn, it felt a bit like being on the beach in Copacabana or Leme. On the trek to Lopes Mendes, the second most common tourists, after foreigners, were Paulistas, Brazilians living in Sao Paulo. All of them easily recognisable by their clothes and behaviour. But, in Vila do Abraão, the main village of the island, it was also easy to spot the lower middle class Cariocas, people from Rio, many of them having taken the slow, but cheap, municipal bus from Rio, saving almost two thirds on the price of the faster, intercity bus. We traveled with them on the way back to Rio, passing the distant Carioca communities, now filled with those forcibly displaced to make room for the upcoming Olympics. [iCategory] => 12 [tURL] => [iViews] => 1540 [iClicks] => 0 [iRating] => 0 [iVote] => 0 [iVoters] => 0 [iRedirect] => 0 [tISBN] => [iLocation] => 1487 [iOldID] => [tCover] => [iAccess] => [iHot] => 0 [tTemplateName] => default [iHideMap] => 0 [iForSale] => 0 [iImages] => 10 [iFullImage] => 0 [fLatitude] => -23.1408 [fLongitude] => -44.1671 [tLocation] => Vila do Abraao [iPrimaryCategoryFeatured] => 0 [tCategory] => Blog [iCategoryFeatured] => 0 [iPrimaryCategory] => 12 [categories] => Array ( [12] => Array ( [iID] => 12 [tName] => Blog [tSlug] => blog [tDescription] => Find my upcoming travel plans over at Dopplr and a listing of major (and some minor) travelogues over on the travelogues section. [iOrder] => 1 [iActive] => 1 [tType] => article [tTemplateName] => default [iFeatured] => 0 [iPrimary] => 1 ) ) [flickrTag] => 20160529 ) [5621] => Array ( [iID] => 5621 [tTitle] => Discovering Kosovo [tSlug] => discovering-kosovo [iTime] => 1457132400 [iUpdate] => 1457132400 [tDescription] => According to over half the world's countries, Kosovo is europe's newest addition as a country. Some 110 countries have recognized Kosovo's independence, but one major one not handing over this privilege is the country it want's to secede from: Serbia. Now, the conflict has died down, even though a strong outside military presence still exists, and public transport links between the two neighbouring countries have resumed. Just before entering Kosovo, a small military convoy overtook my bus, but the border formalities were nowhere near as ambiguous as they were in the region some two decades ago. Kosovar border guards were now mostly confused by my presence (“You are a tourist!?”). They first realized I'm from Iran and, perhaps considering the current influx of refugees, had to get a second opinion. A border guard was brought in who spoke reasonable German, asking a bunch of questions, but, mostly, this was due to the man's confusion; why on earth would I want to spend a few days in Pristina? "And, you work in Holland?" "No, I work in Brazil." They eventually decided my arrival was a non-event and quickly sent me on my way. With a smile, I somewhat jovially thanked them in a bunch of local languages, trying to get the correct word in. The first guy, with an even bigger smile, corrected me, "This is Kosovo! Enjoy your day!" Trying to cross, a few days later, from Kosovo to Serbia, did not work at all. Though Serbia recognizes Kosovo's right in administering its own territory, it still considers it a part of Serbia, meaning that there is no official border crossing between the two and the crossing is unavailable to foreigners. I had this worry in the back of my mind from the moment I entered Kosovo and, indeed, Serbia did not let me in. I had to backtrack to Macedonia and then cross into Serbia from there. Pristina, Kosovo’s capital, is like a Turkish bazar town, where all the buildings were updated in the second half of the 20th century. As a result, the town isn’t very interesting architecturally. But, particularly also due to its relatively high presence of international NGOs, UN and EU officials, the many cafes and restaurants are very good but also surprisingly affordable. People, too, were great, probably in part due to the large portion of nationals who have lived abroad in Europe. Many spoke English or German. Perhaps because few tourists come to visit, everyone was interested in a chat. And, thankfully, the country is not completely devoid of touristic sites to visit, specifically focused around its Serbian orthodox history. [iCategory] => 12 [tURL] => [iViews] => 1270 [iClicks] => 0 [iRating] => 0 [iVote] => 0 [iVoters] => 0 [iRedirect] => 0 [tISBN] => [iLocation] => 1472 [iOldID] => [tCover] => [iAccess] => 1462236487 [iHot] => 0 [tTemplateName] => default [iHideMap] => 0 [iForSale] => 0 [iImages] => 6 [iFullImage] => 0 [fLatitude] => 42.6574 [fLongitude] => 21.1623 [tLocation] => National Library [iPrimaryCategoryFeatured] => 0 [tCategory] => Blog [iCategoryFeatured] => 0 [iPrimaryCategory] => 12 [categories] => Array ( [12] => Array ( [iID] => 12 [tName] => Blog [tSlug] => blog [tDescription] => Find my upcoming travel plans over at Dopplr and a listing of major (and some minor) travelogues over on the travelogues section. [iOrder] => 1 [iActive] => 1 [tType] => article [tTemplateName] => default [iFeatured] => 0 [iPrimary] => 1 ) ) [flickrTag] => 20160305 ) [5619] => Array ( [iID] => 5619 [tTitle] => Roman Thessaloniki [tSlug] => roman-thessaloniki [iTime] => 1456614000 [iUpdate] => 1456614000 [tDescription] => It's striking to actually see, first hand, the architectural similarities between not just the religious architecture in Greece and Turkey, and Greece and Russia, not a surprise to most, but also the similarities between these two and the rock churches in Lalibela, in Ethiopia. Interestingly, it gives the impressive churches in Ethiopia, none of which have straight lines, together with their paintings of a more hopscotch variety, painted by less gifted artists, a somewhat cargo cult feeling. The Thessaloniki fortress, inside the acropolis, in the northeastern corner of the old walled city, is currently under renovation but, either way, not exceptionally impressive. One aspect of the construction is intriguing, however; the south facing entrance, an imposing gate, with, now, only a small entrance. Many of the stones used in its construction were appropriated from far and wide: a large Arabic inscription above the door, a host of mediaeval crests as well as a series of columns, embedded into the walls, not all straight, some upside down. In orthodox religious paintings, patron saints of churches, or their founders, are typically depicted with a miniature version of the building in question, in their hand. These miniature churches can also be found on street corners around Thessaloniki, where they are used for leaving offerings. This is reminiscent of how East Asians have little shrines in their garden or outside their front door, regularly on stilts or on a pedestal, very much like the little churches in Thessaloniki. Impressive is the Rotunda, a fourth century circular edifice about 26 meters high. With six meter thick walls, it's not hard to compare it with either the Parthenon in Rome, though perhaps not as impressive in its construction, and the Castel Sant'Angelo, right next to the Vatican. The building's explanatory plaque explains the conversion of the building into a mosque after the city falling under Ottoman control, with the construction reverting to a church after the city's liberation in 1912, after some 400 years. If it's still liberation after 400 years, some 16 generations, what hope is there for Europe absorbing the current influx of refugees and calling them their own? It's hard to overstate the current refugee crisis. Nigel Farage complains about Europe not doing enough in the face of mass immigration, a handful of European countries close their borders, Pegida demonstrations in Germany attract more and more right wing as well as mainstream supporters, but it's Greece that suffers the bulk of the flood. Thessaloniki has a relocation center on the edge of town, while north of the city, close to the border with Macedonia, a refugee camp with thousands of refugees, Idomeni, sees the Greeks being forced to deal with the consequences of the Syrian war. Several NGOs operate inside the camp, for which volunteers from all over Europe come to prepare food and distribute clothes. Some of them I met in Thessaloniki after they had spent a few weeks on the border. What surprised me the most was the presence not just of Syrians, but also of, according to these volunteers, Afghans and even Bangladeshis. Some of he latter were making a living in the center of town, selling sneakers and sunglasses while on the lookout for patrolling police. When the police did show up, the vendors ran off, throwing their goods over their shoulders, using a rope threaded through all of them. One of them left a fake and lonely green All Star behind. A confused German tourist called out to the running Bangladeshis: "eh, you forgot a shoe!" [iCategory] => 12 [tURL] => [iViews] => 1248 [iClicks] => 0 [iRating] => 0 [iVote] => 0 [iVoters] => 0 [iRedirect] => 0 [tISBN] => [iLocation] => 40 [iOldID] => [tCover] => [iAccess] => 1462225168 [iHot] => 0 [tTemplateName] => default [iHideMap] => 0 [iForSale] => 0 [iImages] => 7 [iFullImage] => 0 [fLatitude] => 40.6444 [fLongitude] => 22.9294 [tLocation] => Main train station [iPrimaryCategoryFeatured] => 0 [tCategory] => Blog [iCategoryFeatured] => 0 [iPrimaryCategory] => 12 [categories] => Array ( [12] => Array ( [iID] => 12 [tName] => Blog [tSlug] => blog [tDescription] => Find my upcoming travel plans over at Dopplr and a listing of major (and some minor) travelogues over on the travelogues section. [iOrder] => 1 [iActive] => 1 [tType] => article [tTemplateName] => default [iFeatured] => 0 [iPrimary] => 1 ) ) [flickrTag] => 20160228 ) [5588] => Array ( [iID] => 5588 [tTitle] => Under construction [tSlug] => under-construction [iTime] => 1436047200 [iUpdate] => 1436047200 [tDescription] => Baha'i have a knack for building pretty temples in gorgeous locations. It's taken them a while to get the numbers up, with currently the 8th one being constructed in Santiago. The South American temple, under construction and expected to be inaugurated next year, is situated in the foothills of an extension of the Andes, on the east side of Santiago. With gorgeous views of the city, the temple will be illuminated from the inside and, eventually, visible from large parts of the city. After inauguration, the temple will be open to all, but, for now, visits need to be arranged in advance and can only be done on some weekends. I was lucky, though at the moment, even on a tour, getting very close to the temple is an impossibility. As a consequence, it's difficult to appreciate the scale of the temple and the grounds, both seemingly giving a nod to the rather gorgeous Baha'i temple in Delhi. [iCategory] => 12 [tURL] => [iViews] => 2440 [iClicks] => 0 [iRating] => 0 [iVote] => 0 [iVoters] => 0 [iRedirect] => 0 [tISBN] => [iLocation] => 1426 [iOldID] => [tCover] => [iAccess] => 1462235590 [iHot] => 0 [tTemplateName] => default [iHideMap] => 0 [iForSale] => 0 [iImages] => 2 [iFullImage] => 0 [fLatitude] => -33.4765 [fLongitude] => -70.5116 [tLocation] => Bahai temple [iPrimaryCategoryFeatured] => 0 [tCategory] => Blog [iCategoryFeatured] => 0 [iPrimaryCategory] => 12 [categories] => Array ( [12] => Array ( [iID] => 12 [tName] => Blog [tSlug] => blog [tDescription] => Find my upcoming travel plans over at Dopplr and a listing of major (and some minor) travelogues over on the travelogues section. [iOrder] => 1 [iActive] => 1 [tType] => article [tTemplateName] => default [iFeatured] => 0 [iPrimary] => 1 ) ) [flickrTag] => 20150705 ) [5534] => Array ( [iID] => 5534 [tTitle] => Nazca lines [tSlug] => nazca-lines [iTime] => 1404684000 [iUpdate] => 1404684000 [tDescription] => Built on top of an old Inca capital, the town of Nazca was leveled by an earthquake in 1996. The central square, Plaza de Armas, the name almost every central square in Spanish speaking Central America seems to be blessed with, is pleasant, and though the town is reasonably lively, now, the city's primary reason for existing is the tourism industry surrounding the Nazca lines in the nearby barren desert. Recently, a series of pyramids were uncovered nearby, which could increase interest in the region significantly. Rediscovered by accident, on one of the first commercial flights in Peru's coastal region, the gigantic figurines etched in the rocky ground are impressive and, indeed, almost unnoticeable on ground level. On my first day, I tried exploring some of the lines on foot from a nearby town, but, without the overview, it was impossible to locate any. That said, some are viewable from a small observation tower, and those, smaller than some, would be noticeable at ground level, if you'd know what to look for and where to look. A second viewing point, from a central hill, reveals none of the figures, but does allow for seeing a bunch of the slowly fading straight lines that seemingly go on forever into sheer nothingness. With the discovery of the pyramids, the growing consensus seems to be for the Nazca lines to have been extensions of the religious functions performed at the pyramids, the individual Nazca figures perhaps representing individual peoples from the greater region. Perhaps not as exotic as Von Daeniken would have like, but still utterly fascinating for the scale of the whole project. Besides the lines and the pyramid, there's a nearby Inca burial ground where artifacts and mummies crowd the surface, as well as the tallest dune in the world, ideal for sand boarding. [iCategory] => 12 [tURL] => [iViews] => 1812 [iClicks] => 0 [iRating] => 0 [iVote] => 0 [iVoters] => 0 [iRedirect] => 0 [tISBN] => [iLocation] => 1354 [iOldID] => [tCover] => [iAccess] => 1462234733 [iHot] => 0 [tTemplateName] => default [iHideMap] => 0 [iForSale] => 0 [iImages] => 10 [iFullImage] => 0 [fLatitude] => -14.6938 [fLongitude] => -75.1145 [tLocation] => The tree [iPrimaryCategoryFeatured] => 0 [tCategory] => Blog [iCategoryFeatured] => 0 [iPrimaryCategory] => 12 [categories] => Array ( [12] => Array ( [iID] => 12 [tName] => Blog [tSlug] => blog [tDescription] => Find my upcoming travel plans over at Dopplr and a listing of major (and some minor) travelogues over on the travelogues section. [iOrder] => 1 [iActive] => 1 [tType] => article [tTemplateName] => default [iFeatured] => 0 [iPrimary] => 1 ) ) [flickrTag] => 20140707 ) [5529] => Array ( [iID] => 5529 [tTitle] => The capital of Bolivia [tSlug] => the-capital-of-bolivia [iTime] => 1403560800 [iUpdate] => 1403560800 [tDescription] => Half the continent claims Simon Bolivar as it's liberator, and rightly so, but only Bolivia was named after the man, also serving as it's first president (sort of, he apparently was given the title but never personally ratified it). The country's second president gave his name to the capital, Sucre. Indeed, La Paz it's not, though that is by far the most important city economically. Another world heritage site, Sucre is cute and endearing, and has a completely different feel from Potosí. Presumably because Potosí boomed under colonial rule, while Sucre gained ascendency at independence, nearly 300 years after the rise of Potosí. Also, as the city is a kilometer nearer to sea level, temperatures don't nearly drop as much at night, making the climate pleasant, even in winter. But, even though it's a capital, the city nearly comes to a standstill on Sundays. That is, virtually everything is closed and the townspeople are out and about, enjoying the sun in one of the parks and pay their respects at the city's cemetery. At the cemetery, similar to La Recoleta in Buenos Aires, particular guilds or groups have their own pavilion. So, there's the union of railway workers, a university building, etc. But, though there are some decent mausoleums, most people are buried inside walls, five rows high, each grave fronted by a niche, virtually all covered by a glass window, behind which are flowers, photos and other mementos. Employees of the cemetery, young teenagers, walk around with stepladders so that those who need to access the niche of a grave on the third row up or higher can do so. June 23rd is San Juan night in Bolivia. Juan, john, for John the Baptist, supposedly was born six months before Jesus, and this is his birthday that's celebrated, making the day the only commemoration of a saint's birth, as opposed to his death. 21 June, the pagan day hidden behind this Christian commemoration, is the winter solstice in the Southern Hemisphere, but in the north, it's the start of summer. In Europe, particularly in the parts that have a stronger pagan connection, like Ireland and south east Europe, Saint John's day is celebrated with bonfires and jumping over them, implying a cleansing ritual. In Bolivia, the 'coldest night', is also celebrated with fires, and with fireworks. I climbed up a hill in the evening for an overview of Bolivia's capital at my feet, and specifically in the surrounding hills, a number of bonfires were lit. There was little jumping over the fires, though in some Bolivian towns, this too is a common practice. Perhaps the most intriguing site in Sucre is a dinosaur theme park, hosted by the cement factory on the edge of town. In 1998, half a mountain having been cut open for producing cement, workers stumbled upon what turned out to be the largest collection of dinosaur footprints in the world. Rising up to 300 meters in the air, near vertical, and about 1.5km long, the wall has thousands of footprints. Occasionally, due to its fragile nature and the continued mining nearby, parts of the wall come sliding down, only to reveal a new layer full of footprints. [iCategory] => 12 [tURL] => [iViews] => 1481 [iClicks] => 0 [iRating] => 0 [iVote] => 0 [iVoters] => 0 [iRedirect] => 0 [tISBN] => [iLocation] => 1343 [iOldID] => [tCover] => [iAccess] => 1462097169 [iHot] => 0 [tTemplateName] => default [iHideMap] => 0 [iForSale] => 0 [iImages] => 5 [iFullImage] => 0 [fLatitude] => -19.0426 [fLongitude] => -65.2634 [tLocation] => Parque Bolivar [iPrimaryCategoryFeatured] => 0 [tCategory] => Blog [iCategoryFeatured] => 0 [iPrimaryCategory] => 12 [categories] => Array ( [12] => Array ( [iID] => 12 [tName] => Blog [tSlug] => blog [tDescription] => Find my upcoming travel plans over at Dopplr and a listing of major (and some minor) travelogues over on the travelogues section. [iOrder] => 1 [iActive] => 1 [tType] => article [tTemplateName] => default [iFeatured] => 0 [iPrimary] => 1 ) ) [flickrTag] => 20140624 ) [5528] => Array ( [iID] => 5528 [tTitle] => The riches of Potosi [tSlug] => the-riches-of-potosi [iTime] => 1403301600 [iUpdate] => 1403301600 [tDescription] => High up in the mountains, the actual peak that has catered for the city's wealth overpowers the city. Luckily, it's on the south side of town, not casting an eternal shadow. The city was founded as early as 1545, when silver was first found in the Cerro Rico, the rich hill, and for a while, it made Potosi the richest city of the Americas. Silver is still mined here, and the conditions are abysmal, but the city has lost its former supreme glory, though walking around downtown feels like walking around in some lost part of the Mediterranean. While Uyuni is, if a village, an outpost, Potosi is a proper town. Ornate Catholic churches, proper museums, a host of hotels, not just catering to tourists, and an extensive, if grubby and chaotic, infrastructure. Still, the city only has a measly 150000 inhabitants (compared to Uyuni's 20000). Tourists mostly seem to skip Potosi, though they also seem to cluster together in what can be called a backpackers' alley in the southeast part of town. But, undeservedly so. The town is cute, the people are friendly, and the sights are worth visiting. Smoking inside pubs and restaurants is still allowed. How many countries still condone this?  The thing to experience in Potosi is the silver mine. Several outfits run half day trips inside the mine. Touted as 'the real thing', they are, in the sense that you enter a real, working mine, passing by some of the 16000 miners still working inside or on the mountain, doing their backbreaking work, day in, day out. Conditions are pretty bad. The miners earn between 10 and 20 euros per day. Not a gravy train, and many miners don't make it past 50, though also a far cry from day laborers in less developed countries. Still, I was inside the mine for a good two hours, walking and crawling through tunnels and low passage ways. It was more than enough for me. Equally interesting was that not only was the day of my visit Aymara new year, a somewhat controversial indigenous celebration of the winter solstice, it was one of the very few days on which Pachamama, comparable to the concept of Mother Earth, was honored through the slaughtering of many, many llamas. At the mine entrances, llamas were fed coca leaves, spirits, sodas and beers, before their throats were slit open, their blood collected and then sprayed in the mine entrance or on nearby buildings. The national spirit is a 96 proof hard liquor which, when being offered to the gods, is poured on the ground before being consumed, in exactly the same way as central Asian customes dictate. Inside the mine, several displays of gods, deities or idols were on display. The most interesting one represented uncle George, a bastardization of the devil. In colonial times, miners, according to our guide, would stay underground for up to six months, just like the devil lives underground. With red skin and big horns, George also was wearing gummy boots and sported a huge penis. There's a noticeable Taiwanese community in Potosi. And, seemingly, a huge surplus of lawyers and pharmacies. In the reasonably nice Museu de la Moneda, the first mint in the Americas, the guide posited the dubious claim that the US dollar symbol derived from the marker used to designate money coming from the mint in Potosi, a superimposed S and I. I thought it was reasonably well established that the sign for the dollar derived from the superimposing of the U and S, though it turns out there is some controversy around this. Nevertheless, it seems the most widely accepted explanation is not the superimposing of the U and S, but of a P and S, the shorthand for 'peso'. [iCategory] => 12 [tURL] => [iViews] => 1393 [iClicks] => 0 [iRating] => 0 [iVote] => 0 [iVoters] => 0 [iRedirect] => 0 [tISBN] => [iLocation] => 1341 [iOldID] => [tCover] => [iAccess] => 1461977641 [iHot] => 0 [tTemplateName] => default [iHideMap] => 0 [iForSale] => 0 [iImages] => 11 [iFullImage] => 0 [fLatitude] => -19.5642 [fLongitude] => -65.755 [tLocation] => Cerro Rico [iPrimaryCategoryFeatured] => 0 [tCategory] => Blog [iCategoryFeatured] => 0 [iPrimaryCategory] => 12 [categories] => Array ( [12] => Array ( [iID] => 12 [tName] => Blog [tSlug] => blog [tDescription] => Find my upcoming travel plans over at Dopplr and a listing of major (and some minor) travelogues over on the travelogues section. [iOrder] => 1 [iActive] => 1 [tType] => article [tTemplateName] => default [iFeatured] => 0 [iPrimary] => 1 ) ) [flickrTag] => 20140621 ) [5502] => Array ( [iID] => 5502 [tTitle] => European Brazil [tSlug] => european-brazil [iTime] => 1399932000 [iUpdate] => 1399932000 [tDescription] => Just like in Paraguay and, apparently, in Uruguay and northern Argentina, people walk the streets with leather bound metal cups, sipping a tea-like concoction called mate with a metal straw. Here, slightly different from in Paraguay, the cups are filled to the brim with herbs, which slowly mix with the water to make the popular beverage. It's so common, and so public, that it's like an alternative to smoking. So popular, even, that strewn around the city are hot water fountains to refill your cup or flask. Porto Alegre itself is mildly interesting as a city, but also pleasantly mellow. The city's main museums are comparative backwaters, though the former gasworks, now a cultural center and exhibition space, hosted an awesome photography exhibition by Sebastiáo Salgado. It's been a very long time since I was this impressed with a photography exhibition. I was also lucky to catch the tale end of a large farmers market next to the largest city park. On the Saturday, it was filled with people, many sipping away at their mate. Later on the same day, I had a 'buffet the dog'. Baffled by the Portuguese word 'dog', it turned out to be a build-your-own hot dog. The next day, checking out a German-style windmill in a city park popular for Sunday strolls and sporty affairs, I stumbled upon a couple of Dutchmen from Brabant, promoting their locally made stroopwafels, handing them out for free. Fairly popular in Brazil already, the typical Dutch caramel cookies are sold in one of the countries major supermarket chains and are exported all over he country. Not as good as the real thing, they were pretty decent. And miles ahead of the stroopwafels from Brood, locally made in Uganda. The province, Rio Grande De Sul, prides itself in its German-Italian heritage, like in much of southern Brazil, to the extent that there's a small movement that wants to secede from the rest of the country, taking pride in the, according to them, un-Brazilian southern efficiency. But, indeed, the city did feel like having even more of a European feel to it than São Paulo or Curitiba, I specifically noticed the much smaller number of cafés and eateries along the city's main roads. Porto Alegre also has something of a claim to fame. It hosts one of the only two Brazilian temples of the Religion of Humanity, a secular religion (yes, this seeming contradiction in terms exists), a rather small spiritual grouping which nevertheless had a version of their central tenet make it to the flag of Brazil, "Ordem e Progresso", "Order and Progress". I visited the temple in Porto Alegre at a time it was supposed to be open, according to the city's tourist brochure. But, no. And, it seemed to not often open its doors at all. [iCategory] => 12 [tURL] => [iViews] => 4698 [iClicks] => 0 [iRating] => 0 [iVote] => 0 [iVoters] => 0 [iRedirect] => 0 [tISBN] => [iLocation] => 1311 [iOldID] => [tCover] => [iAccess] => 1462195275 [iHot] => 0 [tTemplateName] => default [iHideMap] => 0 [iForSale] => 0 [iImages] => 11 [iFullImage] => 0 [fLatitude] => -30.0276 [fLongitude] => -51.2168 [tLocation] => Rock n Hostel [iPrimaryCategoryFeatured] => 0 [tCategory] => Blog [iCategoryFeatured] => 0 [iPrimaryCategory] => 12 [categories] => Array ( [12] => Array ( [iID] => 12 [tName] => Blog [tSlug] => blog [tDescription] => Find my upcoming travel plans over at Dopplr and a listing of major (and some minor) travelogues over on the travelogues section. [iOrder] => 1 [iActive] => 1 [tType] => article [tTemplateName] => default [iFeatured] => 0 [iPrimary] => 1 ) ) [flickrTag] => 20140513 ) [5488] => Array ( [iID] => 5488 [tTitle] => On top of the world [tSlug] => on-top-of-the-world [iTime] => 1393023600 [iUpdate] => 1393023600 [tDescription] => Voted one of the modern wonders of the world in 2007, Rio's star attraction is the statue of Christ the Redeemer. Built in the early 1930s, Christ looks out over Rio from atop a 715 meter high boulder and is visible from much of the city. And, because the statue faces sunrise, you have to get there early if you want the best photos. Obviously worth the visit, more for the views than the statue, I suspect that it's Brazil's more recent emerging from the world's nether regions into the global consciousness that resulted in Christo Redentor's elevated status. Though the geology is slightly different, the overall experience is remarkably similar to looking down on Cape Town from atop the Tafelberg. But it's not like the two are really geologically similar. When South America and Africa were joined at the hip. What is now Rio was roughly tied to where you now find the border between Angola and Namibia. Not built for even moderate streams of tourists, it pays to buy your tickets in advance, online. I had to wait nearly two hours, upon arrival, for the first available spot up the mountain in the furnicular. At the statue it's very crowded, the smell of sunscreen is pervasive and every tourist is trying to get the same photo. Hands outstretched, in a copy of the redeemer, but with a smile on their face, as opposed to Christ's solemn expression. But, perhaps, the statue's implication is a bit more ambiguous. From atop Corcovado, it's easy to spot the favelas, the slums, on the city's steep hillsides. Only recently starting to be more properly incorporated in the city's economic infrastructure, perhaps Christ is actually just welcoming everyone into the new Brazil. [iCategory] => 12 [tURL] => [iViews] => 2726 [iClicks] => 0 [iRating] => 0 [iVote] => 0 [iVoters] => 0 [iRedirect] => 0 [tISBN] => [iLocation] => 1290 [iOldID] => [tCover] => [iAccess] => 1462169043 [iHot] => 0 [tTemplateName] => default [iHideMap] => 0 [iForSale] => 0 [iImages] => 31 [iFullImage] => 0 [fLatitude] => -22.9516 [fLongitude] => -43.2111 [tLocation] => Christo Redentor [iPrimaryCategoryFeatured] => 0 [tCategory] => Blog [iCategoryFeatured] => 0 [iPrimaryCategory] => 12 [categories] => Array ( [12] => Array ( [iID] => 12 [tName] => Blog [tSlug] => blog [tDescription] => Find my upcoming travel plans over at Dopplr and a listing of major (and some minor) travelogues over on the travelogues section. [iOrder] => 1 [iActive] => 1 [tType] => article [tTemplateName] => default [iFeatured] => 0 [iPrimary] => 1 ) ) [flickrTag] => 20140222 ) [5487] => Array ( [iID] => 5487 [tTitle] => Brazilian dress sense, and lack of it [tSlug] => brazilian-dress-sense-and-lack-of-it [iTime] => 1392850800 [iUpdate] => 1392850800 [tDescription] => It might be a prerogative of the favela I'm staying in, but it appears that the fabled beauty and dress sense of brazilians is limited to bare chested men and overweight, scantily clad women with big asses. Any time during the day. The national snack seems to be fried dough with sugar or cheese. Or both. Even though there are plenty of public spaces with fitness equipment, both readily used and in good shape, the fried snacks seem to have the upper hand. It does appear that, specifically the women, dress better, that is, show more skin in more flashy outfits, in the evenings, but that's not at all necessarily a good thing. And, tattoos, virtually everyone sports tattoos. Women seem to have a knack for putting an image on their backs, near a shoulder with, I suspect, the name of their kid. But that's just one type of tattoo or many. And some are completely covered. The situation is a bit better in the south of the city. The further south you go, Cariocas, inhabitants of Rio, look and dress better. This goes on until you reach the far south, the legendary beach of Ipanema, where the objective appears to be for each to outshine everyone else's beauty, where you go to see and be seen. The whole southern area feels like a slightly-off Mediterranean tourist destination. Multi story carbon copy apartment buildings (but Art Deco!) with somewhat run down, reasonably authentic and terribly popular restaurants and bars on the ground floor. And, at least a few of these restaurants are properly authentic, Garota de Ipanema, where Jobim and Vinícius composed the Bossa Nova classic The Girl from Ipanema. In fact, outside of the favelas, the city mostly feels decidedly European. Whether it's the Art Deco, occasional art nouveau and neoclassical, or the ethnic makeup of the city's inhabitants, it's not easy to internalize the fact that Europe is many thousands of kilometers away. Also limited to the favelas is the regular sound of fireworks. Not really used much to celebrate joyous occassions, they're deployed by drug dealers and runners to communicate with each other under the noses of the UPP, the Police Pacification Units, who constantly, heavily armed and wearing bulletproof vests, patrol the streets of the slums that are lucky enough, or not, to have been included in the new Brazil. But, sometimes, the fireworks are really gunshots. Here, in the run up to Carnaval and the prolonged celebration of Brazil being part of the BRICS, and going through a prolonged economic rise, the general mood appears to be decidedly positive, if perhaps also somewhat guarded. Though the latter might be more related to the underlying currents of violence than anything else. But it's the evangelical churches and lotto stores that draw the biggest crowds, anywhere in town. Signs of a still struggling economy. In the Zona Sul, sitting in a cafe, a girl quickly walked past, leaving a small piece of paper on my table with a few roasted nuts on them. Leaving them for what they were, she came back a few minutes later to sell me more of them in a small packet rolled up like an elongated finger. She had been giving out free samples. A note on ethnicity Brazil, and I suppose the big cities in particular, is a surprising cultural and ethnic hodgepodge. Besides the mix of indigenous, Portuguese and black, there is also a large amount of other nations represented in the ethnic makeup of the country. Having been called the most influential Brazilian politician of the 20th century, Getúlio Vargas was also the country's longest serving president, first as dictator, then elected, president for a total of 18 years until his suicide in 1954. Vargas is a typical Hungarian name and, it turns out, Brazil has a population of some 100.000 ethnic Hungarians, although some estimates put it at double that. But, 100.000 is peanuts. German Brazilians make up a grand total of some 12 million, on a population of about 190 million. Not too far behind an estimated 15 million black Brazilians. And Brazil has the largest contingent of Japanese outside of Japan, totalling some 1.5 million. Their immigration was fuelled by the abolishment of slavery in Brazil in 1850 and the end of feudalism in Japan, both resulting in a need for cheap labor and a way out of poverty. A lot of Italians also immigrated around the same time as the Japanese started coming in, and for similar reasons. Their numbers are now at around 4 million. [iCategory] => 12 [tURL] => [iViews] => 5274 [iClicks] => 0 [iRating] => 0 [iVote] => 0 [iVoters] => 0 [iRedirect] => 0 [tISBN] => [iLocation] => 1289 [iOldID] => [tCover] => [iAccess] => 1462128830 [iHot] => 0 [tTemplateName] => default [iHideMap] => 0 [iForSale] => 0 [iImages] => 13 [iFullImage] => 0 [fLatitude] => -22.9875 [fLongitude] => -43.2007 [tLocation] => Posto 9 [iPrimaryCategoryFeatured] => 0 [tCategory] => Blog [iCategoryFeatured] => 0 [iPrimaryCategory] => 12 [categories] => Array ( [12] => Array ( [iID] => 12 [tName] => Blog [tSlug] => blog [tDescription] => Find my upcoming travel plans over at Dopplr and a listing of major (and some minor) travelogues over on the travelogues section. [iOrder] => 1 [iActive] => 1 [tType] => article [tTemplateName] => default [iFeatured] => 0 [iPrimary] => 1 ) ) [flickrTag] => 20140220 ) [5471] => Array ( [iID] => 5471 [tTitle] => A mountain of fire and lingams [tSlug] => a-mountain-of-fire-and-lingams [iTime] => 1372370400 [iUpdate] => 1372370400 [tDescription] => The only one of the six Indian cities I visited on this trip which did not recently have its name changed, Tiruvannamalai is famous for one thing, a huge Dravidian temple. The tallest of the temple's gopurams, towers, is over 60 meters high. And although typically they are rainbow colored, here, they are all white. The temple celebrates Vishnu as a lingam of fire and, at its yearly festival, attracts hundreds of thousands of followers. For the event, followers walk around or climb the mountain, barefoot. There are 8 lingams spread out on the cardinal and sub-cardinal points on the circular route that goes around. And, according to the Lonely Planet, there is the field of the thousand lingams... somewhere. But none of the locals I asked had ever heard of it. As the temple is right next to an extinct volcano, I'd say its likely the location used to be inhabited by fire worshippers who were brought into the Hindu fold by introducing them to Vishnu... as a lingam of fire. Who can argue the red hot penis? But, the city has little else to offer. On my first day, I had covered all the sights. What to do on my second day? Faith to the rescue. I ended up on a surreal drinking binge in a dark subterranean den, with an Indian sadhu who claimed to be French, was an expert in massage, lived in a cave but was an electrician. He explained to me how he was 'getting rid of things', as this was his last incarnation. He had enough money, or so he said, and was going to ask NASA to send him on a one way trip to the moon. I explained that if he played his cards right, he could get himself to Mars instead, for free. "Mars? Is this a new planet?" [iCategory] => 12 [tURL] => [iViews] => 4872 [iClicks] => 0 [iRating] => 0 [iVote] => 0 [iVoters] => 0 [iRedirect] => 0 [tISBN] => [iLocation] => 1264 [iOldID] => [tCover] => [iAccess] => 1462200505 [iHot] => 0 [tTemplateName] => default [iHideMap] => 0 [iForSale] => 0 [iImages] => 7 [iFullImage] => 0 [fLatitude] => 12.2317 [fLongitude] => 79.0692 [tLocation] => Sri Arunachaleswarar temple [iPrimaryCategoryFeatured] => 0 [tCategory] => Blog [iCategoryFeatured] => 0 [iPrimaryCategory] => 12 [categories] => Array ( [12] => Array ( [iID] => 12 [tName] => Blog [tSlug] => blog [tDescription] => Find my upcoming travel plans over at Dopplr and a listing of major (and some minor) travelogues over on the travelogues section. [iOrder] => 1 [iActive] => 1 [tType] => article [tTemplateName] => default [iFeatured] => 0 [iPrimary] => 1 ) ) [flickrTag] => 20130628 ) [5468] => Array ( [iID] => 5468 [tTitle] => Chennai: Home to an apostle [tSlug] => chennai-home-to-an-apostle [iTime] => 1371852000 [iUpdate] => 1371852000 [tDescription] => It's generally accepted by scholars, though not proven, that when Aryans circled the Caspian and, eventually, settled in present day Iran, they also pushed south the, what were called, Dravidian former city dwellers in the Indus Valley, the region in the north west of India as well as parts of Pakistan. Up to that point, it's suspected that Tamil, or more specifically, the Dravidian languages, were spoken throughout India. However, with the arrival of the Aryan tribes in the north west of the Indian subcontinent, the end result was of the Tamil thriving in the geographically shielded region of what is now Tamil Nadu, with a culture and specifically a language that's miles away from the north, centered on a city, Chennai, once known as Madras, that's the fourth biggest city in India. This also means that Tamil, and the other members of the Dravidian language family, are not Indo-European. In fact, the Dravidian languages have confused scholars over the years, only tentative links having been established with Elamite, in south western Iran, and the Uralic, sometimes called Finno-Ugric, language family. Basically, it means Dravidian languages, including Tamil, are darn old. Similarly, the ethnological status of Dravidians is a contended issue. Ethnologists either considered Dravidians on the edges of the Caucasian race, similar to Ethiopians, on another end, or of being a race on their own. Recent research suggests that the truth lies in the middle: Indians appear to be a mix of at least two ethnicities, one of which might indeed be Indo-European, with the further south you travel on the subcontinent, the more mixed the gene pool becomes.  After the Aryan conquest of the north west, the Tamil became a sea faring powerhouse, trading with the Romans, Phoenicians, Chinese and, much later, the Dutch and British, leaving a lasting legacy in countries like Vietnam, Cambodia and Indonesia with, even today, one of the official languages of Singapore being Tamil. Though there are quite a few sights in the province, for both its size and importance, Chennai, being the fourth largest city in India, has few sights on offer. There's an old British built fort and, of course, a bunch of temples. The best part, probably, is the region's food. Veggie galore! The city, to a large extent, is an eclectic collection of rubble, but one thing I thought obvious was the role women appear to occupy in day to day affairs, holding regular, customer facing jobs all over the place. The city also has a Christian claim to fame. St. Thomas, doubting Thomas, is said to have set up shop here, in the first century no less, before being martyred. Supposedly, his hand print, left during a narrow escape, and the type of relic now more typical of Islam or Buddhism, can still be seen in a cave nearby. More astonishingly, the church of St. Thomas in Chennai actually holds the apostle's tomb. Or, rather, once did, as the relics were taken away in the third century to finally settle in Italy. Only three of the apostles have working churches on top of their graves, all in relatively far flung places, considering their sedentary nature during their time as apostles: Rome, Santiago de Compostela and Chennai. An outstanding temple in Chennai is the Shiva Kapaleeshwarar Temple, an architecturally typically Dravidian construction and with its inner sanctum off limits to non Hindus. All over the floors of the temple were fresh and fading, some on white, some in color, chalk abstracts, presumably invoking the gods and semi gods for protection. The chalk abstracts can also be seen here and there in the city, on the street in front of the entrances of shops or houses. But, what was very unique to the temple was these people's apparent strong dislike for coconuts: a round, low to the ground, concrete container saw what looked like a young family with siblings, handing coconut after coconut to one specific girl, having her head covered but with her arms bare, smashing each coconut to pieces within the concrete receptacle. Due to its size, less a destination, if impressive, Chennai's municipal beach is the longest municipal beach in the world, after Miami's. Gorgeous wide beaches, but not too easily accessible from town. The city's few sights are awfully spread out, which means you can't really see them without your own transport. The tuk-tuks, rickshaws, bajajes, or whatever you prefer calling them, are staffed by mostly annoying drivers, but are possibly your only real option unless you want to spend time uncovering the details of the city's bus network. And the only way to really drive down their prices to acceptable levels is to accept stopovers at a few trinket selling tourist traps. Yes, you can make the number of stopovers at shops which give the rickshaw driver a kickback a part of your haggling. The rickshaw drivers don't get an actual kickback fee on sales, though. they get a 'coupon' for every load of tourists they bring in, whether it's one, two or three in the rickshaw. The coupon is nothing more than a handwritten receipt from the shop in question, with which, my driver told me, he can simply go to a gas station, any gas station according to my driver, and claim a liter of petrol. With a liter of petrol costing about 1 euro, stopping at three shops meant that my driver effectively more than doubled the fee he received for the 3.5 hours or so I took of his time (I paid him 2.5 euros). Of the 3.5 hours, though, perhaps as much as 1.5 was spent driving to these three shops and me having to deal with the shopkeepers. Two were very tiresome, while one pretty much just let me browse his shop. Thankfully, though the tiresome ones clearly were not used to taking 'no' for an answer, I know the value of many things, but also the price of many others, particularly the kind of products shops like these sell, particularly after having spent the last 10 weeks in the region. So, just like they were bullshitting me with free tea and free almonds, I gladly returned the favor verbally. A Chennai institution is the chain of restaurants called Hotel Saravana Bhavan. Indeed, just like in Uganda, it seems, restaurants call themselves hotels, but this one has made it big. With 26 branches in the city and two more in a nearby city, but no others anywhere else in India, at least according to their own listings, it's an achievement they've got the bulk of their branches abroad, in countries ranging from the UK to France, to Singapore and the USA, as well as all over the Middle East. [iCategory] => 12 [tURL] => [iViews] => 2491 [iClicks] => 0 [iRating] => 0 [iVote] => 0 [iVoters] => 0 [iRedirect] => 0 [tISBN] => [iLocation] => 1258 [iOldID] => [tCover] => [iAccess] => 1461975455 [iHot] => 0 [tTemplateName] => default [iHideMap] => 0 [iForSale] => 0 [iImages] => 21 [iFullImage] => 0 [fLatitude] => 13.0815 [fLongitude] => 80.2861 [tLocation] => Fort St. George [iPrimaryCategoryFeatured] => 0 [tCategory] => Blog [iCategoryFeatured] => 0 [iPrimaryCategory] => 12 [categories] => Array ( [12] => Array ( [iID] => 12 [tName] => Blog [tSlug] => blog [tDescription] => Find my upcoming travel plans over at Dopplr and a listing of major (and some minor) travelogues over on the travelogues section. [iOrder] => 1 [iActive] => 1 [tType] => article [tTemplateName] => default [iFeatured] => 0 [iPrimary] => 1 ) ) [flickrTag] => 20130622 ) [5434] => Array ( [iID] => 5434 [tTitle] => The rock churches of Lalibela [tSlug] => the-rock-churches-of-lalibela [iTime] => 1356649200 [iUpdate] => 1356649200 [tDescription] => Legend has it that king Lalibela was drugged and, in a coma, was told by god to recreate Jerusalem in his backyard. The wide variety of building styles used in Lalibela's churches seem to suggest a much longer period for construction than just the reign of one man, but scholars do seem to agree on the churches having, roughly, been constructed during Lalibela's reign, in either the 12th or 13th century. Also, several of the names for the town's landmarks hark back to Jerusalem. The stream flowing through the village of a mere 15000 is the river Jordan, the largest collection of churches have as their focus the 'tomb of Adam', just like Golgotha in Jerusalem is said to contain Adam's grave. Lalibela's 11 churches are a testament to decay, if anything. In various stages of decompensation, it's reasonably clear that, once upon a time, these churches must indeed have been a reasonable second Jerusalem. Now, faded, crumbling, and, as they must have been when built, out of kilter, filled with ragged and mostly old believers, the churches are indeed still in active use, but by a people who would in no way are able to maintain the former glory, let alone construct something similar from scratch. Begging for pens, bags or, straightforward, money, even the authorized guards of the churches go out of their way to show you a shortcut, hoping for a 40 eurocent tip. How the mighty have fallen. The church of St. George, shaped like a Greek cross and one of the few churches not covered by a roof by order of UNESCO, is still quite impressive, if still off kilter. [iCategory] => 12 [tURL] => [iViews] => 4036 [iClicks] => 0 [iRating] => 0 [iVote] => 0 [iVoters] => 0 [iRedirect] => 0 [tISBN] => [iLocation] => 1206 [iOldID] => [tCover] => [iAccess] => 1462225175 [iHot] => 0 [tTemplateName] => default [iHideMap] => 0 [iForSale] => 0 [iImages] => 11 [iFullImage] => 0 [fLatitude] => 12.0317 [fLongitude] => 39.0412 [tLocation] => Church of St. George [iPrimaryCategoryFeatured] => 0 [tCategory] => Blog [iCategoryFeatured] => 0 [iPrimaryCategory] => 12 [categories] => Array ( [12] => Array ( [iID] => 12 [tName] => Blog [tSlug] => blog [tDescription] => Find my upcoming travel plans over at Dopplr and a listing of major (and some minor) travelogues over on the travelogues section. [iOrder] => 1 [iActive] => 1 [tType] => article [tTemplateName] => default [iFeatured] => 0 [iPrimary] => 1 ) ) [flickrTag] => 20121228 ) [5433] => Array ( [iID] => 5433 [tTitle] => Not the ark of the covenant [tSlug] => not-the-ark-of-the-covenant [iTime] => 1356476400 [iUpdate] => 1356476400 [tDescription] => With the rich history, mythical, mystical and real, and with the prominent place Aksum, even now, holds for Ethiopian Christians, the town and it's sights are a major letdown. The invisible centerpiece is the Ark of the Covenant, supposedly the actual container built to house the tablets with the ten commandments, given by god to Moses. Tradition holds that the queen of Sheba, of whose existence there is no contemporary historical evidence, visited King Solomon in Jerusalem, was more or less tricked in having sex with him and ended up returning pregnant, mothering the future king Menelik, who then went back to claim the Ark as his own, supposedly returning with a thousand Jews of each of the tribes, 12000 Total. All Ethiopian kings since have claimed direct lineage from Solomon and it is why, for example, the last emperor of Ethiopia, Heile Salasie, was called the lion of Judah. But, also, Ethiopians were amongst the first to adopt Christianity as a state religion, together with Armenia and Georgia and, because of these early victories over the Roman empire, the country has St. George as its patron saint, just like Georgia, Egypt and England, to name a few. In popular culture, the ark residing in Aksum only became common knowledge in the 17th century and is now housed in a small, rather boring, chapel close to the center of town. On one side, there is a nice 16th century church, perhaps on the site of the first church in Africa and off limits to women, on the other side, there's an imposing, not exactly getting it right, church built under Heile Selasie's patronage, while roughly under this modern church, in a museum, there's an impressive collection of crowns and crosses, very badly displayed. Sadly, the whole thing is very underwhelming, not in the least because the chapel with the ark is completely off limits, only one person having access to the chapel itself, but also because the churches and museum are simply not very interesting, or at least poor cousins of their cousins the world over. And the trick that, after paying a sizable amount for entering the grounds, a caretaker has to open up the churches for you, which really are closed, stays close, and then expects, however timidly, a compensation for his efforts, is a bit annoying. Granted, our 'guide' was friendly and helpful, but the setup is still a ploy. Other sights include mildly interesting collections of stelae, a few ruins and a few tombs. Little remains of the early Aksumite kingdom. Whether once ruled by Sheba or not, wealthy it once was, spanning both sides of the red sea. The founders, Sabaen, were once thought to be Arab, though recent evidence suggests it more likely that there was at least a significant local, African, component to it as well. Also, it has been shown that the Sabaens, one of the three 'people of the book' as mentioned in the Quran, were in fact likely Manacheans, followers of Mani, a third century prophet whose amalgamation of religions once had followers from Carthage to China, while the faith died out after the arrival of Muhammad. Still, it is then no surprise that Ethiopia's form of Christianity is an obvious mix of Jewish and Christian faiths, with perhaps a sprinkling of Zoroastrianism, Mani's third ingredient to his religious mix. Within striking distance, the rock churches of Tigray, semi-monolithic as opposed to Lalibela's monolithic churches, are said to be a worthy visit, but are also difficult to get to, and can require a lot of hassle with their religious caretakers. If they haven't gone off to market, collectively. Also nearby is the site of the biggest African defeat of a colonial power. Menelik II curbed the Italians' intentions in 1896, defeating them at the battle of Adwa. Important to Ethiopia, little remains at the battle site. Perhaps most fun was had on the terrace of the Yeha hotel. Staff crumble up uneaten bread which is then fought over by hornbills, squirrels and hawks, which also try to score the squirrels. [iCategory] => 12 [tURL] => [iViews] => 2471 [iClicks] => 0 [iRating] => 0 [iVote] => 0 [iVoters] => 0 [iRedirect] => 0 [tISBN] => [iLocation] => 1204 [iOldID] => [tCover] => [iAccess] => 1462173535 [iHot] => 0 [tTemplateName] => default [iHideMap] => 0 [iForSale] => 0 [iImages] => 20 [iFullImage] => 0 [fLatitude] => 14.1321 [fLongitude] => 38.7192 [tLocation] => The Aksum stelae [iPrimaryCategoryFeatured] => 0 [tCategory] => Blog [iCategoryFeatured] => 0 [iPrimaryCategory] => 12 [categories] => Array ( [12] => Array ( [iID] => 12 [tName] => Blog [tSlug] => blog [tDescription] => Find my upcoming travel plans over at Dopplr and a listing of major (and some minor) travelogues over on the travelogues section. [iOrder] => 1 [iActive] => 1 [tType] => article [tTemplateName] => default [iFeatured] => 0 [iPrimary] => 1 ) ) [flickrTag] => 20121226 ) [5395] => Array ( [iID] => 5395 [tTitle] => 27 photos of 27 days in the Caucasus [tSlug] => 27-photos-of-27-days-in-the-caucasus [iTime] => 1340661600 [iUpdate] => 1340661600 [tDescription] => I came back from a good four weeks in Turkey and the Caucasus just last week. Here are the photographic highlights of my stay in the Caucasus. Technically only three countries, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, the Caucasus effectively is home to six. Besides the three internationally recognized countries, there's also Nagorno-Karabakh (NKR) (technically in Azerbaijan) and Abkhazia and South Ossetia (both technically in Georgia). Then Dagestan (technically in Russia) sees occasional flashes of separatism. I visited Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and NKR, with quite a bit of back and forth between the individual countries, as several of the borders are closed. Azerbaijan and Armenia can't get along because of Armenia's support for NKR's fight for independence from Azerbaijan. And Turkey and Armenia don't like each other much, due to Turkey's inability to recognize the mass killing of Armenians in the late 1910s as a genocide. Day 1: A braai in Baku I arrived in Baku the night before, staying with an old friend from my university days. It being close to the end of the school season, the parents of the local international school had come together to throw a braai (bbq) in preparation for the start of the summer. Coming home not too late, it was the first of many nights where my friend's homebrew kept us going till late. Day 2: Baku's flame towers My Caucasus visit was triggered by Baku's hosting the Eurovision Song Conest. In the evening, we attended a private party where some of the contestants were performing at an outside venue on Baku's boulevard, but during the day, we checked out some of the sights of Baku, which saw its property development sped up in preparation for Eurovision, while a lot of the city was cleaned up for exactly the same reason. More on my first impressions and more on what Azerbaijan did in preparation for Eurovision. One very impressive construction are the flame towers, three towers with a host of LEDs on their facades, which come alive at night, displaying all sorts of imagery. Indeed, from 'regular' flames, to flag waving individuals. Day 3: The loneliest church in Azerbaijan During and after the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, pretty much all Armenians either got out or were kicked out of Azerbaijan. On Baku's Fountain square, you can find an Armenian church which hasn't been used for some 20 years, that is, since the conflict. Though sealed off from the public, the Azeri government so far has had the sense not to knock it down. Day 4: First Eurovision semi final With so many countries wanting to participate in Eurovision, specifically after the fall of the wall and the break ups of both the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, the contest consists of two semi finals and the resulting finals. The 'big five', the five countries ponying up most of the money for Eurovision, don't have to qualify for the final, and neither does the previous year's winner. Also, one of the Eurovision rules is that, every year, the shows have to start at exactly the same time. But with Azerbaijan being a few time zones ahead, Baku is further east than Baghdad, it meant we only saw the start of the show at 12 midnight. Typically, countries either take their entry too serious, or send some campy act, often with hot babes or boys. Interestingly, it's always very hard to predict which countries will do well and which won't, striking the right cord at the right time being very important. More on my Eurovision impression. Day 5: On a fact finding mission to Sumgayit Azerbaijan lacks both political and press freedom, which means it's hard to uncover facts. The general story on the street was that all improvements to Baku were only superficial and done solely because of Eurovision. So we decided to check out the nearby town of Sumgayit, a industrial hotbed under Soviet communism and, supposedly, a sad backwater now. The industrial graveyards apparently still exists, but we found that the city and the surrounding area is quickly being refurbished. As tourism was obviously not common in this little town, clearly, these upgrades were not being done specifically for Eurovision. More on what to see and do in and around Baku. Day 6: The Dutch Indian The second Eurovision semi final saw the Dutch entry, Joan Franka, perform. Dressed up like an American Indian, I met her during the private party the weekend before, where I told her that I thought her outfit would cost her a place in the finals. Perhaps that was the reason, but she indeed didn't make it. This evening also saw Sweden, the later winner, perform, as well as Turkey, easily the campiest act of this year's Eurovision. The crowd went totally apeshit for Turkey, Azerbaijan being a, mostly, Turkic country, which is intriguing, as homosexuality is very much disapproved of in the country. More on my Eurovision impression. Day 7: Talking to the Azeri opposition Earlier, enjoying a beer in one of Baku's pleasant garden cafes, we were accosted by representatives of the pro-democracy movement Sing for Democracy, immediately after which they were kicked out. We met up with them again later, strangely, in the exact same cafe they were kicked out from, to get a better understanding as to what their views were on press and political freedom, Eurovision and whatnot. The talk was interesting, though the language barrier was tough. More on the Azeri oppositionDay 8: On the streets of Baku Sweden easily beat Russia at the evening's finals at Eurovision, though the popular vote was a tight race, the professional jury widening the gap between first and second place. During the day, I explored more of Baku, where the weather brought out the best in, mostly, the young women. I also stumbled upon a large billboard using rage faces to promote a cell phone service. Day 9: Taking the train to Sheki As with mosts former Soviet republics, the train network in Azerbaijan is still cheap and pretty decent. A sleeper train, where I had a whole compartment to myself, was going to bring me to the town of Sheki, in the north of the country, in the foothills of the Caucasus. Trains are not so popular anymore in the Caucasian countries, primarily because, though cheaper and much more comfortable than busses, they also tend to be significantly slower. And, for some strange reason, you'll occasionally find that a city's train station can be kilometers away from the actual town. Day 10: Of Norway and Azerbaijan Just north of Sheki, even closer to the Russian border, there's the village of Kish, which hosts an important, and ancient, church, said to be the first church in the Caucasus. Thor Heyerdahl came here several times to do explorations and concluded that there had to be an ancient connection between his native Norway and the people of Azerbaijan. Perhaps far fetched, it's not total conjecture, but still speculation, at best. More on the Azerbaijan-Norway connection. Day 11: A trek to Tbilisi With the Azeri rail network going through Sheki doesn't go onwards to Tbilisi in Georgia, I either had to backtrack or take road transport to get to Georgia. I chose the latter, which meant I had to travel the 275 kilometers in six stages, which took the majority of the day. Perhaps the strangest experience I had was after crossing the river separating the two countries at the Matsimi border crossing, when suddenly I became aware of hordes of birds happily chirping away. Weren't there any birds on the Azeri side? Tbilisi was rainy and gloomy, but the sunset over Peace Park was impressive. Day 12: What seperates Europe from Asia Technically, the whole of the Caucasus is in Europe, but I'd say that the cultural boundary between the two countries runs right through it. Azerbaijan has bidet showers (bum guns) installed in all of its showers, as does Armenia in most, whereas Georgia has none. QED. Note that, with Georgia and Armenia being Christian, and the oldest Christian nations on earth at that, this divide is not along religious lines. Tbilisi is a nice enough city, but on my first few days, I found the fabled Georgian hospitality a bit lacking. Not that it was bad, it simply didn't match up to the stories. More on Tbilisi. Day 13: Where Stalin became a man Near to Tbilisi is the town of Gori, where Stalin grew up. The slum neighborhood he was born into has long been leveled, though the house he lived in as a boy still stands, with its own mausoleum covering it. Behind this construction, the Stalin museum is slowly changing from purely celebrating the former dictator to dealing with a slightly more complex image of the man who was personally responsible for defeating Hitler and murdering millions of Soviets. More on my visit to Gori. Day 14: Taking the bus to Yerevan With trains only going once every two days, I was forced to take a bus through the gorgeous landscape of Armenia. Intertwined with Armenia's identity is the mountain Ararat. Said to be where Noah crashed his ark after the flood, both Armenians and Georgians claim being descendents from Noah through his great-grandsons. Sadly, with Ararat completely being in Turkish territory and with the political issues between the two countries, Armenians can see the mountain every day, looming on the horizon, without ever being able to visit. Or rather, only being able to visit by having to go through Georgia first. More on my trip to Yerevan. Day 15: The sights of Yerevan I felt Yerevan was less pretentious and more friendly than both Tbilisi and Baku, probably helped by the fact that three old acquaintances, now friends, were showing me the sights of both the city and the surrounding area. Armenia being the first country that adopted Christianity as a state religion, it's particularly this that instills a lot of pride with Armenians. Also, the Armenian churches are the source for how both European churches and mosques look. More on Yerevan. Day 16: Ancient Christianity Perhaps because Armenia was the first country to adopt Christianity, the religion here is infused with more pagan aspects than elsewhere, the stone crosses, khatchkar, being one example, the Armenian 'eternity symbol', part of Armenian iconography, but essentially a sun, is another. Also, before Christianity was adopted just after 300 AD, the Greeks were already enjoying the spoils of the country, one leftover being the gorgeously situated Garni temple, just outside of Yerevan. Day 17: Going to the most remote European capital Nagorno-Karabakh isn't recognized as a country by most, so Stepanakert (Xankendi to Azeris) is really only the most remote provincial capital, but still. With the train network, coming in from Baku, no longer running due to the province having declared independence from Azerbaijan, the only way to get in is by bus from Yerevan. The journey is slow, but gorgeous. Though our two hour delay due to a breakdown was really unnecesary. More on my trip to Stepanakert. Day 18: Inside Nagorno-Karabakh Nagorno-Karabakh is said to be an excellent destination for hikers, and the country certainly is very pretty, but besides nature, it also doesn't have too much to offer. Stepanakert is pleasant, but also very quiet. What once was the cradle of both Azeri and Armenian culture, the nearby town of Shusha, was all but annihilated during the Nagorno-Karabakh war. Though effectively being governed as a province of Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh does issue its own visas. And if you have one in your passport, forget about entering Azerbaijan. On the visa, you'll find the symbol of Nagorno-Karabakh, the statue of grandmother and grandfather, just outside of Stepanakert. More on Stepanakert and the sights around the city. Day 19: The caves of Goris Back in Armenia, the town of Goris is known for its caves, 'old Goris', where the locals used to live before settling in the actual town. A cute but sleepy lttle town, the city was designed by a German architect, meaning the streets are neatly laid out on a grid. A nearby megalithic structure, funnily enough called Stonehenge, is believed by some to be as much as 7500 years old. More on my visit to Goris. Day 20: Tatev monastery With Armenia's dramatic landscapes and early adoption of Christianity, there are plenty of monasteries in scenic locations. Tatev, now mostly only a tourist attraction, is one of them, perched on the edge of a ravine. Tatev was an important medieval university and was built on the site of an ancient church. More on my visit to Goris. Day 21: Perhaps the best brandy in Europe One of the things Armenia is internationally renowned for is its Ararat brandy, the factory now being owned by Pernod-Ricard. They do tours of the facilities on weekdays and I was lucky enough to arrive just in time to attend the last tour of the week. Or rather, to stumble into the tour just before the tasting started, the best part of the tour anyway. Being very affordable, I brought home a few bottles, only to finish one off with my host, later in Batumi. Day 22: An easy day in Yerevan With trains to Tbilisi only going every second day, I had an easy day in which I could shelter from the dust storm covering the city. To chill, I spent a few hours in the lovely Yellowstreet restaurant, where a yoghurt soup was one of the courses that kept my inner Babak a happy man. Armenia, though tiny, has two distinct cultural regions, east and west. Not only do these regions' dialect differ, also their foods are different, with the west being more mediterranean, while the east is more middle eastern. Day 23: Older than Rome Yerevan is about as old as Rome, and officially even a bit older, though you wouldn't know it from the way the city presents itself, there being very little ancient architecture around, very much unlike Rome. The old fortress of Erebuni, the original Yerevan, where the city was founded nearly 3000 years ago, is just outside the town proper and clearly shows the strong historical and cultural links with ancient Persia. Day 24: Modern dance in Tbilisi Having to stop in Tbilisi before my onward travels to the coastal town of Batumi, I attended a modern dance performance at a cute little theater in Tbilisi's old town. Just like in other former communist countries, performing arts are still an important, and affordable, form of entertainment. The show wasn't too bad, I suppose, although watching modern dance isn't my favorite passtime. More on my inbetween days in Tbilisi and Yerevan. Day 25: The gorgeous National Gallery I skipped Georgia's museums during my first visit to Tbilisi, so I went and explored several now, the best one easily being the National Gallery, hosting several photographic exhibitions and a cute, if pricey, cafe overlooking the museum's gardens. Most exhibitions had a link with Georgia, several specifically with the Black sea. Day 26: Georgia is looking west Back in the day, it was Jason who arrived on Georgia's Black Sea coast in search for the Golden Fleece, which he managed to obtain with the help of Medea, whom he later married. Particularly Batumi, the town on the Black Sea coast facing west, has taken this as the excuse to put Georgia firmly in Europe, thanking Medea for her actions by putting up a statue of her in the town's square. Day 27: East meeting west Shortly before the second world war, the Azeri Kurban Said wrote the excellent Ali and Nino, a love story between a muslim boy and a Georgian princess. Set during the first Azeri oil boom, it's the perfect love story where east meets west and recognized all over the Caucasus. Baku has a bookstore called Ali and Nino on its main square, but Batumi goes one step further, having a moving statue on its sea front. The statue has Ali and Nino who, seemingly move towards each other and then through each other, uniting and separating every day. More on Batumi. The next day, I took a bus for Trabzon, from where I flew to Istanbul to get back home. Adieu for now, pretty Caucasus. [iCategory] => 12 [tURL] => [iViews] => 7673 [iClicks] => 0 [iRating] => 0 [iVote] => 0 [iVoters] => 0 [iRedirect] => 0 [tISBN] => [iLocation] => 1140 [iOldID] => [tCover] => [iAccess] => 1462200297 [iHot] => 0 [tTemplateName] => default [iHideMap] => 0 [iForSale] => 0 [iImages] => 1 [iFullImage] => 0 [fLatitude] => 0.29893 [fLongitude] => 32.6227 [tLocation] => GOAL apartments [iPrimaryCategoryFeatured] => 0 [tCategory] => Blog [iCategoryFeatured] => 0 [iPrimaryCategory] => 12 [categories] => Array ( [12] => Array ( [iID] => 12 [tName] => Blog [tSlug] => blog [tDescription] => Find my upcoming travel plans over at Dopplr and a listing of major (and some minor) travelogues over on the travelogues section. [iOrder] => 1 [iActive] => 1 [tType] => article [tTemplateName] => default [iFeatured] => 0 [iPrimary] => 1 ) ) [flickrTag] => 20120626 ) [5391] => Array ( [iID] => 5391 [tTitle] => Always can do one more [tSlug] => always-can-do-one-more [iTime] => 1339020000 [iUpdate] => 1339020000 [tDescription] => The little town of Goris in the south east of Armenia, gateway to both Nagorno-Karabakh and Iran, is cute enough, with it's German designed grid structure and reasonably well kept stone houses. Sadly, the ancient history museum was nowhere to be found, until I did find it, minutes before leaving the town. Sad, because it supposedly contained a stone sculpture dating back some 4000 years. But the city does have, like every itself respecting former Soviet backwater, a children's park, with brightly colored, if somewhat fading, rides. Weirdly, the merry go round occasionally blared out Butterfly, a DDR classic. The thing to see while in Goris is the Tatev monastery, some 30 kilometers from the town. Yet another church and monastery, dramatically situated on the edge of a ravine, it's location is gorgeous, even though I'm starting to get my fill of Armenian churches and monasteries. Another interesting nearby site, also some 30km away, but in another direction, is the Armenian Stonehenge, often called Karahunj, not to be confused with the nearby town of Karahunj, found in yet another direction from Goris. Generally accepted to be, at most, up to 5000 years old, some put its age at around 7500 years and claim it to be built by the mother of all civilizations. [iCategory] => 12 [tURL] => [iViews] => 3796 [iClicks] => 0 [iRating] => 0 [iVote] => 0 [iVoters] => 0 [iRedirect] => 0 [tISBN] => [iLocation] => 1173 [iOldID] => [tCover] => [iAccess] => 1462200710 [iHot] => 0 [tTemplateName] => default [iHideMap] => 0 [iForSale] => 0 [iImages] => 13 [iFullImage] => 0 [fLatitude] => 39.3794 [fLongitude] => 46.2509 [tLocation] => Tatev monastery [iPrimaryCategoryFeatured] => 0 [tCategory] => Blog [iCategoryFeatured] => 0 [iPrimaryCategory] => 12 [categories] => Array ( [12] => Array ( [iID] => 12 [tName] => Blog [tSlug] => blog [tDescription] => Find my upcoming travel plans over at Dopplr and a listing of major (and some minor) travelogues over on the travelogues section. [iOrder] => 1 [iActive] => 1 [tType] => article [tTemplateName] => default [iFeatured] => 0 [iPrimary] => 1 ) ) [flickrTag] => 20120607 ) [5390] => Array ( [iID] => 5390 [tTitle] => As fast as lightning [tSlug] => as-fast-as-lightning [iTime] => 1338847200 [iUpdate] => 1338847200 [tDescription] => Nagorno-Karabakh, as much as Armenia, if not even more so, is gorgeous in its alpine pristineness. However, there's also quite little to see if you are not a nature freak. It's pleasant to walk around Stepanakert, but it's hardly a thriving metropolis, with even some spots almost next to the main thoroughfare where urban farming is practiced. And though the central square is quite attractive, particularly for the buzz of the hordes of teenagers and twentysomethings floating back and forth, presumably because there is very little else to do in town, on the whole, Stepanakert does, ehm, somewhat, lack in attractions. Perhaps the most interesting site is Agdam, billed by some sources as the 'Heroshima of NKR', it's right on the border between Azerbaijan and NKR and has been, first, completely shelled and, then, utterly abandoned. However, it's not too clear whether the city is off limits or not. It most certainly was a few years ago. Still, some of that feeling can easily be had in what once was one of the most important towns in the Caucasus, Shushi, just 9km from Stepanakert and considered, once, a hub of both Azeri and Armenian culture. The town was severely shelled during the NKR war twenty years ago, and the city center is still mostly a collection of destitute, bombed out buildings. Though a few apartment blocks have been rebuilt, a nice new hotel has been put up and two lovely little churches are nicely refurbished, it's still mostly a very sad little town. Also somewhat underwhelming is the seat of the Artsakh (NKR's name for itself) archbishop just outside the town of Vank, in the monastery of Gandzasar. Some 40km out of Stepanakert, to get there you can choose between your own taxi, hitching, or the 9am bus. There's also a 4pm bus and, in fact, a rather nice hotel, shaped like a boat, in Vank, so I suppose you really have four options. I took the bus, but that also means you have to slog the remaining 2.5km uphill to the monastery. Doing the latter, a good sense of achievement later, the views from the hilltop where very nice, but the church wasnt too extraordinary. Just outside of Stepanakert you can find what is generally considered the symbol of NKR, two large heads peering out from behind a hill, as if two giants are standing just behind the clearing, checking to see whether you are actually behaving yourself. Looking quite good on postcards and tshirts, the actual sight of them was a bit of an anticlimax. Much smaller than I expected, they are also currently being renovated, wrapped up in cranes, sheets and scaffolding. A bit further on, the now disused train station that once served the province lies in dilapidated state. The line connects to Yevlakh, in Azerbaijan, where I passed through a good week ago, on my way from Baku to Sheki, where the line splits between going north, to Sheki, and west, to Tbilisi. And, once, south, to Xankendi. There is a train line which connects Yerevan to Iran, though I don't think there are any passenger services. And it dives into Iran shortly after leaving the Armenian capital, meaning it leaves the whole of the south east of the country for what it is, with no chance of Stepanakert ever being hooked up. At least not until Armenia and Azerbaijan get their shit together, which, incidentally, would also probably do wonders for the NKR economy. One reason why NKR fascinated me was the name of its capital. Stepanakert obviously consists of two parts, the first being a reference to Stephan, while the second part, 'kert' means 'garden' in Hungarian. I was hoping for an obscure Ugric, Hungarian, connection. Not so. Armenian is an Indo Eropean language and derives from the Hurro-Urartian language group, which has its roots in Anatolia, modern day Turkey, and its, most likely, closest neighbour is Greek. 'kert', in Armenian, is an old word for 'construct'. More likely, there *is* an etymological connection with the Farsi word for 'work', 'kar'. I find Armenian a difficult language to hear, very foreign to the ears, and occasionally do think it has audible connections to Greek, but also to Hebrew, a member of the totally distinct Afroasian language family. Particularly western Armenia is said to have multiple connections, not in the least in its cuisine, with the Levant. Remnants of Soviet times When traveling by train through Azerbaijan, you have to buy your ticket with your passport. Taking the bus in Nagorno-Karabakh, you can also only buy your ticket with your passport. If you are going to the town of Vank. But not if you are going to Shushi. Or if you are leaving the country. Getting a visa for NKR is easy, a formality. But you do have to specify where in the country you will be going and, when leaving the country, you have to hand over an accreditation note you received when getting the visa. [iCategory] => 12 [tURL] => [iViews] => 4478 [iClicks] => 0 [iRating] => 0 [iVote] => 0 [iVoters] => 0 [iRedirect] => 0 [tISBN] => [iLocation] => 1171 [iOldID] => [tCover] => [iAccess] => 1462144476 [iHot] => 0 [tTemplateName] => default [iHideMap] => 0 [iForSale] => 0 [iImages] => 19 [iFullImage] => 0 [fLatitude] => 40.0576 [fLongitude] => 46.5332 [tLocation] => Gandzasar monastery [iPrimaryCategoryFeatured] => 0 [tCategory] => Blog [iCategoryFeatured] => 0 [iPrimaryCategory] => 12 [categories] => Array ( [12] => Array ( [iID] => 12 [tName] => Blog [tSlug] => blog [tDescription] => Find my upcoming travel plans over at Dopplr and a listing of major (and some minor) travelogues over on the travelogues section. [iOrder] => 1 [iActive] => 1 [tType] => article [tTemplateName] => default [iFeatured] => 0 [iPrimary] => 1 ) ) [flickrTag] => 20120605 ) [5388] => Array ( [iID] => 5388 [tTitle] => The most pleasant Caucasian capital [tSlug] => the-most-pleasant-caucasian-capital [iTime] => 1338674400 [iUpdate] => 1338674400 [tDescription] => As far as first impressions go, Yerevan easily beats Tbilisi and Baku to first place for being most pleasant. The city radiates a friendly air, It's (mostly) warm and dry with clear blue skies, surrounded by mountains, relatively small, packed with museums, street cafes and art, it's cheap, the girls are quite gorgeous and people appear to be very friendly and talkative. On the whole, Yerevan appears to be friendlier, more genuine and less pretentious than its two neighboring capitals. Downtown Yerevan is in reasonably good shape, while there's still quite a bit of refurbishing going on, though not nearly as much as in Tbilisi. However, driving into town from the provinces, it does seem like there's very little economic activity outside of the capital, which is probably related to the estimate of MicroSoft's representive to Armenia's estimate that about 2.5 billion USD gets remitted to Armenia every year, on a budget of about 18 billion.  Sure, my appreciation for Yerevan is helped by an excellent host in my hostel, as well as the outstanding welcome I received from a friend of an old acquaintance. But also, the three nights I have scheduled in Yerevan will not be enough to see the minimum of sights I want to see in and directly around Yerevan. The city seems to have more to offer than its Caucasian neighboring capitals. In the field Susan, her husband Hayk and their business partner Arman took me out for the day into the gorgeous countryside outside Yerevan. We saw a host of impressive churches as well as a few monasteries. Armenia was the first country to adopt Christianity as it's state religion and prides itself in its Christian tradition. Also, the Sunday we were out being some particular saint's commemoration day, most of the churches saw elaborate services, overrun with Armenians and, seemingly, all the foreign tourists in the country, not too many in itself, which meant a lot of chanting, including impressive call and response singing by male and female choirs. One typical Armenian manifestation of Armenian Christianity are khachkar, stone stele, typically bearing a cross and other Christian iconography. Apparently, khachkar only started appearing in the ninth century, even though I can't shake off the thought that there might be a connection with Turkic stele, or, simply, gravestones in general. As in, if you have a bunch of Turkic stele lying around, and you've just shaken off Muslim control over your little country, perhaps you'd want to add insult to injury by reappropriating their grave stones. It's not complete conjecture, the Lonely Planet briefly mentions khatchkars' pagan origins, but I can't find anything about this online. An often recurring motif in Armenian Christian art is a facetted circle which, I'm told, represents eternity. Sure, but it's obviously pagan in origin, having no parallel in conventional Christianity, I suspect representing the sun as the eternal 'center of the universe' and the earth's movement around it, a leftover from an earlier heliocentric religion, perhaps Armenian's adoption of the Zoroastrian Ahura Mazda as Aramazd as the father of all gods. Interestingly, Armenians celebrate Vartavar (roughly translated as 'rising of roses'), around the time of the summer solstice. Derived from a pagan holiday, kids,and teenagers sprinkle water on as many people as they can. Songkran, Thai new year, obviously comes to mind. There might be a connection between Armenia's and Thailand's festivals, and it's not even too much of a stretch, at least on the surface of things. Vartavar, celebrating the new harvest, is associated with the pagan fertility god Astghik. predating the introduction of the Hellenic and, later, Christian, pantheon to Armenia. Her name means 'little star'. The festival is currently celebrated 98 days after easter, but that's obviously a Christian superposition. The word 'Songkran' derives from the Sanskrit Sankranthi, referring to the transmigration of the sun from one zodiac sign to another. Celebrating the new year with Songkran, now in April, the festival is a derivative of the Indian Makar Sankranti, celebrating the sun's transition from Sagittarius to Capricorn, roughly the 21st of December, and with that, harvest time, at least in some parts of India. Perhaps the splashing eachother of water is to commemorate that the water isn't needed for the land, because it's harvest time? [iCategory] => 12 [tURL] => [iViews] => 4021 [iClicks] => 0 [iRating] => 0 [iVote] => 0 [iVoters] => 0 [iRedirect] => 0 [tISBN] => [iLocation] => 1166 [iOldID] => [tCover] => [iAccess] => 1462233744 [iHot] => 0 [tTemplateName] => default [iHideMap] => 0 [iForSale] => 0 [iImages] => 30 [iFullImage] => 0 [fLatitude] => 40.1923 [fLongitude] => 44.5159 [tLocation] => Cascade [iPrimaryCategoryFeatured] => 0 [tCategory] => Blog [iCategoryFeatured] => 0 [iPrimaryCategory] => 12 [categories] => Array ( [12] => Array ( [iID] => 12 [tName] => Blog [tSlug] => blog [tDescription] => Find my upcoming travel plans over at Dopplr and a listing of major (and some minor) travelogues over on the travelogues section. [iOrder] => 1 [iActive] => 1 [tType] => article [tTemplateName] => default [iFeatured] => 0 [iPrimary] => 1 ) ) [flickrTag] => 20120603 ) [5382] => Array ( [iID] => 5382 [tTitle] => Of Norway and Azerbaijan [tSlug] => of-norway-and-azerbaijan [iTime] => 1338156000 [iUpdate] => 1338156000 [tDescription] => Azerbaijan is a pretty country and there's lots to see. But it's also not the easiest country to get around in, unless you've got your own transport. Sheki, in the far north west, sometimes written Shaki, is worth visiting, but not too easy to get to. Busses take a reported 7 hours, my train took 11, but as that was an overnight, nearly empty, sleeper, for a mere 9 euros, the trip was very pleasent. Still, Sheki train station is a baffling 17km from the town of Sheki, meaning you have to pony up an additional 3 euros for, and deal with the hassle of, a shared taxi to drive you to your hotel. Sheki is in the foothills of the Caucasus. Surrounded by green pillows of mountains, with the snow-capped Caucasus as a backdrop and looking out over green plains, Sheki is most certainly picturesque. Also, the old town is in the process of getting a complete makover, in the wake of Baku's refurbishment, meaning that in one or two years, Sheki will be one hot and gorgeous tourist destination. Besides the nice surroundings, perhaps the biggest draw is the Caucasian Albanian church in Kish, a few kilometers north of Sheki. 'Albanian' in this context, has no connection with the country Albania on the Adriatic sea. The former's name is derived from the name surrounding kingdoms used to denote the area in the Caucasus, whereas the name of the latter most likely derives from the name of a settlement on the Adriatic coast in modern day Albania. An etymological coincidence. Legend has it that, already in the first century AD, a disciple of a disciple of Christ founded a church in Kish. Recent findings make this unlikely, but what has been shown is that the church was built on an ancient cultic site and has been a center of worship for millenia. These findings were a result of a cooperation between Norway and Azerbaijan, where one of the researches was the late, great, Thor Heyerdahl. At some point in his illustrous career, he compared rock paintings from Gobustan, close to Baku, depicting boats made from reeds, with similar boats from his own Norway and started wondering. Then, Odin was, in most contexts, the supreme god of the Norse pantheon, the Aesir. People from Azerbaijan call themselves Azeri. Aesir, Azeri. OMG! Heyerdahl claimed that the Odin myth stated that Odin led his people from east of the Black sea to Scandinavia. I can't find corroboration of this, except an obscure reference in a book on Google booksearch, but even if this is indeed true, it sounds more like Vikings adopted a foreign pantheon than that people actually migrated and founded Norway. Interesting, certainly, but without somewhat stronger evidence, this makes Heyerdahl almost look like von Daeniken. Then again, Vikings coming down to the Caucasus for raids and maids is pretty much an accepted fact, as is shown in this image. Either way, Sheki is worth a visit. The place to stay at is the gorgeous Karvansarai. At least until they open the completely refurbished and even bigger karvansarai just to the west of the curren tone. Dinner is to be had at Celebi Xan (which means, weirdly, that Jackie Selebi has a Turkic name). Their sheep-tail-fat kebab is pretty darn good. But bewar that it is... pure, and only, fat. [iCategory] => 12 [tURL] => [iViews] => 4154 [iClicks] => 0 [iRating] => 0 [iVote] => 0 [iVoters] => 0 [iRedirect] => 0 [tISBN] => [iLocation] => 1157 [iOldID] => [tCover] => [iAccess] => 1462026379 [iHot] => 0 [tTemplateName] => default [iHideMap] => 0 [iForSale] => 0 [iImages] => 13 [iFullImage] => 0 [fLatitude] => 41.2495 [fLongitude] => 47.1932 [tLocation] => Caucasian Albanian church [iPrimaryCategoryFeatured] => 0 [tCategory] => Blog [iCategoryFeatured] => 0 [iPrimaryCategory] => 12 [categories] => Array ( [12] => Array ( [iID] => 12 [tName] => Blog [tSlug] => blog [tDescription] => Find my upcoming travel plans over at Dopplr and a listing of major (and some minor) travelogues over on the travelogues section. [iOrder] => 1 [iActive] => 1 [tType] => article [tTemplateName] => default [iFeatured] => 0 [iPrimary] => 1 ) ) [flickrTag] => 20120528 ) [5375] => Array ( [iID] => 5375 [tTitle] => Of pizza and Mongols [tSlug] => of-pizza-and-mongols [iTime] => 1337119200 [iUpdate] => 1337119200 [tDescription] => Istanbul gets more rain than London, though it doesn't have the reputation for it. Still, upon my arrival, a steady drizzle was making my choice of wearing shorts and sandals a poor one. I upgraded my dress and later even added a sweater and went in search for baklava. One new addition since my previous visit is the excellent metro connecting the airport with the edge of downtown Istanbul, for a mere 2 Lira, some 85 eurocents, though the machine issuing the tokens did eat on of my lira first. Also good, close to the entrance, a supermarket selling heaps of baklava. I'm staying in an area called Fatih, where I found a place calling itself "Best place in Istanbul's old city" through Airbnb. It's nice, but maybe that's overdoing it a tad bit. Airbnb will be the death of the conventional hostel. I'm paying 15 euros for a double room in a private home, comparable to the price of a hostel bed in a dorm. Sure, you don't get the same social experience, but the advantages are legion. Inside the suburb of Fatih, there's the sub-suburb of Zeyrek, a world heritage site where dilapidated wooden houses are stacked on top of each other, fairytale like, at almost impossible angles. And kitties! So many kitties! Dinner was had at the excellent Fatih Karadeniz Pidecisi, serving Turkish pizza. A Turkish pizza is most often oblong, somewhat shaped like a human eye, with upstanding edges. The fillings are typically cheese, meat and, more often than not, a soft fried egg. Mine was served with a stick of butter. Next to me, three men ordered four pide, where the sides were so much standing up, that they touched along the length of the pizza, except for having a small hole in the middle. They threw in their sticks of butter, picked up the pizza at both ends and proceeded to rock their pizzas back and forth, letting the melted butter slide from one end of the pizza to the other. Then, pizzas were wolfed down. I was a bit surprised at the cost of my meal, pide now apparently going for upwards of 10 lira, about 4.50 euro. Restoring my faith in economic disparity, though, my breakfast the next day, of a big toasti, ayran en tea, was a mere four lira, not even two euros. Closeby, also the seemingly only Greek Orthodox church not converted to a mosque after the takeover of Constantinopel by the Turks in 1453. The oddly named Church of St. Mary of the Mongols was already a church and nunnery from the 7th century onwards, but only achieved its later prominence in the late 13rth century, when one Maria Palaiologina rebuilt the church and nunnery after herself having been away for 15 years. She returned to Istanbul because her husband had died. Her husband being the khan of the ilkhanate, the portion of Chinggis' empire centered around Persia. Hence the name. [iCategory] => 12 [tURL] => [iViews] => 2062 [iClicks] => 0 [iRating] => 0 [iVote] => 0 [iVoters] => 0 [iRedirect] => 0 [tISBN] => [iLocation] => 1146 [iOldID] => [tCover] => [iAccess] => 1461986327 [iHot] => 0 [tTemplateName] => default [iHideMap] => 0 [iForSale] => 0 [iImages] => 2 [iFullImage] => 0 [fLatitude] => 41.0293 [fLongitude] => 28.9492 [tLocation] => Church of St. Mary of the Mongols [iPrimaryCategoryFeatured] => 0 [tCategory] => Blog [iCategoryFeatured] => 0 [iPrimaryCategory] => 12 [categories] => Array ( [12] => Array ( [iID] => 12 [tName] => Blog [tSlug] => blog [tDescription] => Find my upcoming travel plans over at Dopplr and a listing of major (and some minor) travelogues over on the travelogues section. [iOrder] => 1 [iActive] => 1 [tType] => article [tTemplateName] => default [iFeatured] => 0 [iPrimary] => 1 ) ) [flickrTag] => 20120516 ) [5065] => Array ( [iID] => 5065 [tTitle] => That's one big mosque you got there [tSlug] => thats-one-big-mosque-you-got-there [iTime] => 1292540400 [iUpdate] => 1292540400 [tDescription] => Casablanca, though probably the most cosmopolitan of morocco's cities and certainly the commercial hub, is also a tad bland. The city is very new, with only hundreds of inhabitants when the French embarked on their development spree in the middle of the 19th century. Even so, the old medina, the part of Casablanca within the city wall, was constructed within the last two hundred years, not even making that bit of the city visually appealing. Perhaps to combat the more practical side of the country, the late king Hassan II embarked on a project that ended up costing some 500 million dollars, mostly funded by the public, building what is now the highest construction in the country and one of the largest mosques in the world. The minaret stands at 210 meters and, due to the open space around it, feels less impressive from the outside than it actually is. Inside, though, and one of only two mosques open to non Muslims in the country, the building does impress. With wood carving done by some 6000 craftsmen, the hall with room for, literally, tens of thousands of worshippers, does leave you in a sense of awe. Interesting is that though the motifs ate slightly more moorish, the insides of the mosque could easily be mistaken for a church. Interestingly enough, it was designed by a Frenchman. Later, I stumbled upon, what seemed to be a dilapidated synagogue. Not too odd, as most of the once thriving Jewish community has left the country. Nevertheless, Casablanca still is home to the only Jewish museum in the Arab world. Similarly the cathedral of the holy heart, just off the parc de liege Arab, was put out of it's misery already in the fifties, only decades after it was commissioned, and now serves as a cultural center, supposedly. I tried to get in, but was shooed away for doing so. [iCategory] => 12 [tURL] => [iViews] => 4054 [iClicks] => 0 [iRating] => 0 [iVote] => 0 [iVoters] => 0 [iRedirect] => 0 [tISBN] => [iLocation] => 1043 [iOldID] => [tCover] => [iAccess] => 1461977360 [iHot] => 0 [tTemplateName] => default [iHideMap] => 0 [iForSale] => 0 [iImages] => 10 [iFullImage] => 0 [fLatitude] => 33.6083 [fLongitude] => -7.63292 [tLocation] => Hassan II mosque [iPrimaryCategoryFeatured] => 0 [tCategory] => Blog [iCategoryFeatured] => 0 [iPrimaryCategory] => 12 [categories] => Array ( [12] => Array ( [iID] => 12 [tName] => Blog [tSlug] => blog [tDescription] => Find my upcoming travel plans over at Dopplr and a listing of major (and some minor) travelogues over on the travelogues section. [iOrder] => 1 [iActive] => 1 [tType] => article [tTemplateName] => default [iFeatured] => 0 [iPrimary] => 1 ) ) [flickrTag] => 20101217 ) [5049] => Array ( [iID] => 5049 [tTitle] => Mdina and Rabat [tSlug] => mdina-and-rabat [iTime] => 1291676400 [iUpdate] => 1291676400 [tDescription] => Visiting the silent city, the colloquial name for Mdina, pronounced emdina, and the initial capital of the island, was a bit like wandering through an open air museum. Colossal architecture, imposing fortifications, along, indeed, quiet streets. The town, now with only a few hundred inhabitants, it's claim to fame being the apostel Paul having set up shop in the adjoining suburb of rabat for three months after being shipwrecked on his way to Rome, supposedly preaching Christianity, not accidentally the island's favorite fable. The bible supports Paul's sojourn on the island, but doesn't mention how the man came to his end. Apocryphal stories recount, though, that the man, sadly, was beheaded, in Rome, after having started to tell the Romans how cool it was to accept Jesus into their lives. In fact, the stump of pillar on which the man was, allegedly, beheaded, can be found in Valletta, in the church of St. Paul's shipwreck. They also somehow managed to obtain a peace of the man's wrist bone, now encased in a silver semi-open glove and kept behind glass. Above Paul's cave now stands St. Paul's cathedral, in Rabat, and in the nearby Mdina, another saint paul's cathedral stands on the spot where, supposedly, the then ruler of the island, the roman Publius, met Paul for the first time. Also an interesting church, though nowhere near as interesting as the co-cathedral in Valleys, Mdina's real gem is the cathedral museum, which houses a slew of wood prints by the artist Albrecht Duehrer. Nearby both these villages is the fairly modern town of Mosta. That city's main sight is the Mosta Dome, the fifth biggest dome in the world. [iCategory] => 12 [tURL] => [iViews] => 2845 [iClicks] => 0 [iRating] => 0 [iVote] => 0 [iVoters] => 0 [iRedirect] => 0 [tISBN] => [iLocation] => 1036 [iOldID] => [tCover] => [iAccess] => 1462144923 [iHot] => 0 [tTemplateName] => default [iHideMap] => 0 [iForSale] => 0 [iImages] => 12 [iFullImage] => 0 [fLatitude] => 35.8873 [fLongitude] => 14.4036 [tLocation] => Fontanella [iPrimaryCategoryFeatured] => 0 [tCategory] => Blog [iCategoryFeatured] => 0 [iPrimaryCategory] => 12 [categories] => Array ( [12] => Array ( [iID] => 12 [tName] => Blog [tSlug] => blog [tDescription] => Find my upcoming travel plans over at Dopplr and a listing of major (and some minor) travelogues over on the travelogues section. [iOrder] => 1 [iActive] => 1 [tType] => article [tTemplateName] => default [iFeatured] => 0 [iPrimary] => 1 ) ) [flickrTag] => 20101207 ) [4982] => Array ( [iID] => 4982 [tTitle] => Is that a camel in your goody bag, or... [tSlug] => is-that-a-camel-in-your-goody-bag-or [iTime] => 1286143200 [iUpdate] => 1286143200 [tDescription] => There's no accurate census information available, but it's generally estimated that 60% of the people in Sierra Leone are muslim, though it's likely to be less in the coastal areas, where much of the population originally consisted of former slaves returning from oversees, Krios, almost all of them being Christian. At the same time, the Christian religion in Sierra Leone is heavily fragmented, with, besides the more common denominations, a host of smaller splinter groups making up the religious landscape. My favorite is probably The Flaming Bible Church. I mean, seriously? With Islam not as much fragmented, except perhaps into the few common streams, it's Islam which is often the more prominently visible religion in the country. There are plenty of buildings operating as churches, but the mosques are just a tad more... present. Up till recently, Freetown's most prominent mosque was on the edge of of the peninsula in downtown Freetown. However, in the middle of last year, Europe's favorite dictator, Muammar al-Gaddafi, was responsible for opening the Freetown Central (even though it's way out of town) Mosque. Not too overwhelming, but probably also the largest mosque in the country. Information is scant, but it seems that the World Islamic Call Society which is headed by Gaddafi, sponsored the building of the mosque, as well as some associated facilities. The word on the street is that, besides the financial impetus, Gadaffi also donated a bunch of camels. When we visited the mosque on Saturday, it took us four hours to get there and back, while it's perhaps only 10 kilometers away, as the crow flies. We did not see any camels. Trying to discover more information on the mosque, to little effect, I did stumble upon older news reports which mentioned the Sierra Leonean minister of defense. This, in relation to Gaddafi. His name being the surprising Paulo Conteh, not to be confused with the Italian singer Paulo Conte. (The name Conte derives from 'count', whereas Conteh is 'African'.) Conteh at some point was the country's 400m sprint record holder. Perhaps, then, it shouldn't be too much of a surprise the man showed up at the Hash, running like a pro. UNICEF and the stone age Last week, I applied for a vacancy at UNICEF. Not only is their application procedure a huge pain, which requires the recruit to fill in form after form in an archaic, unfriendly, slow, and bordering on the counter intuitive, online environment, what's worse, which took me a while to realise, is that the system was designed for Internet Explorer for Windows, something which was confirmed in a subsequent email conversation with their IT department. The online environment does not mention this to its users, which is extremely bad form and, I'm sure, puts a sizable portion of their potential recruits off from trying to finalize an application. The worst of the application is its use of pop ups. Some get through the pop up blocker, but some don't. Because the way the javascript has been coded, Chrome and Safari don't even mention popups are blocked while Firefox, for a fraction of a second, does display a warning. For so short a time, however, that the message is unreadable.  Though enough to get me on the road to a solution, I'm probably also more persistent than most, looking for a solution. One would think that an organization like UNICEF would have the resources available to develop an online system which is cross browser and cross platform compatible. Apparently, not so. [iCategory] => 12 [tURL] => [iViews] => 6371 [iClicks] => 0 [iRating] => 0 [iVote] => 0 [iVoters] => 0 [iRedirect] => 0 [tISBN] => [iLocation] => 1027 [iOldID] => [tCover] => [iAccess] => 1462194975 [iHot] => 0 [tTemplateName] => default [iHideMap] => 0 [iForSale] => 0 [iImages] => 4 [iFullImage] => 0 [fLatitude] => 8.46232 [fLongitude] => -13.173 [tLocation] => Freetown Central Mosque [iPrimaryCategoryFeatured] => 0 [tCategory] => Blog [iCategoryFeatured] => 0 [iPrimaryCategory] => 12 [categories] => Array ( [12] => Array ( [iID] => 12 [tName] => Blog [tSlug] => blog [tDescription] => Find my upcoming travel plans over at Dopplr and a listing of major (and some minor) travelogues over on the travelogues section. [iOrder] => 1 [iActive] => 1 [tType] => article [tTemplateName] => default [iFeatured] => 0 [iPrimary] => 1 ) ) [flickrTag] => 20101004 ) [4965] => Array ( [iID] => 4965 [tTitle] => Death [tSlug] => death [iTime] => 1284933600 [iUpdate] => 1284933600 [tDescription] => Last Friday, Goal staff and many others, including myself, attended a memorial service for a Kenyan expat who passed away a good week earlier. The service was pretty bad, with the minister, during the service, advertising the church's services, listing various options for renting out the venue, as well as their individual cost. Contrary to popular opinion, Sierra Leone is extremely safe, as far as crime and violence go. It's diseases which kill people left right and center. Naomi, the Kenyan expat, hadn't felt too great for a few weeks, though doctors here weren't able to diagnose the problem. She went back to Kenya on sick leave, only to be admitted to intensive care upon arrival, where she passed away a week later, still, as far as I know, undiagnosed. Naomi's wasn't the only death in our vicinity since my arrival a good month ago. Since entering the country, it's come to my attention that... + The wife of one of the Goal driver's died. + The son of one of the house guards died. + An German expat intern, an acquaintance of the head of the Goal office in Kenema, though not working for Goal, died. + Naomi passed away. + A friend of the partner of one of the Goal expats died. + A Goal expat was helping out a young couple with HIV/AIDS and a kid. The husband of the couple died. + The father of a friend of the partners of two Goal expats died. + The brother of a hasher died. The only 'natural' death was the last in the list, a man in his seventies dying of cancer. The only other death for which, as far as I know, the cause was known, was the man who died of the consequences of HIV/AIDS. All the other deaths were of unknown cause. So many young people dying for unknown reasons is what I find worrying. If you're in your thirties, say, you're not supposed to die. You're supposed to live to a ripe old age. Of course, that's me looking at the world through the eyes of a privileged first worlder, which is exactly the reason I'm worrying in the first place. And it's perhaps also because death is so common here that few seemed to take offense at the minister hawking his services during his service. Downcast as the expats were at the death, the locals see it every day. Or at least, much more often. Case in point being the following. The infant mortality rate in Sierra Leone is around 80 per 1000 live births, among the highest in the world. With about 40 births per 1000 people and a population of about 5 million, there are about 200.000 births per year and, hence 16.000 children dying per year, or some 50 per day. To compensate, the country's fertility rate is 5 births per woman. Life expectancy is amongst the lowest in the world, at some 55 years, though this is still significantly higher than countries like Zimbabwe or Swaziland, where it's 45 and 48 respectively. It's a good thing that the HIV/AIDS prevalence rate is so very low here, well relatively to other sub Saharan African countries, estimated at under 2%, with less than 60.000 people living with HIV/AIDS. With the low quality of healthcare, a higher prevalence rate would surely kill of large portions of the population very quickly. Upswing On a more positive note, Niamh and I celebrated at the Freetown's hash annual posh nosh, more commonly known at other hashes as the AGPU, the Annual Grand (or General) Piss Up. Decent food, decent drinks, dancing and lots of fun. And an overly friendly (read: grabby) Lebanese cook. Rebuild After Disqus stopped working properly for most posts on my site, I figured it was time for another upgrade. For the initiated, I started using the Smarty templating engine. Extremely useful as it also allowed me to seriously tone down on the amount of code I need to maintain myself. The amount of work needed was minimal, perhaps one full day's work. Unfortunately, though surfing the web, on most days, here in Sierra Leone, is barely doable, actually uploading files to a server is almost always an impossibility. As a result, it has taken me a few weeks to get the work done. As a bonus, Facebook likes now seem to work properly again as well. [iCategory] => 12 [tURL] => [iViews] => 3124 [iClicks] => 0 [iRating] => 0 [iVote] => 0 [iVoters] => 0 [iRedirect] => 0 [tISBN] => [iLocation] => 1026 [iOldID] => [tCover] => [iAccess] => 1461892060 [iHot] => 0 [tTemplateName] => default [iHideMap] => 0 [iForSale] => 0 [iImages] => 0 [iFullImage] => 0 [fLatitude] => 8.47661 [fLongitude] => -13.2839 [tLocation] => Chez Nous [iPrimaryCategoryFeatured] => 0 [tCategory] => Blog [iCategoryFeatured] => 0 [iPrimaryCategory] => 12 [categories] => Array ( [12] => Array ( [iID] => 12 [tName] => Blog [tSlug] => blog [tDescription] => Find my upcoming travel plans over at Dopplr and a listing of major (and some minor) travelogues over on the travelogues section. [iOrder] => 1 [iActive] => 1 [tType] => article [tTemplateName] => default [iFeatured] => 0 [iPrimary] => 1 ) ) [flickrTag] => 20100920 ) ) ) Keyword: religion ::