Meet Monemvasia, A Hidden ‘Fortress Town’

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Discovering a secret town? Well that's one way to get off the beaten path. We've seen a few hidden towns in our day (mostly in America), but never one quite as beautiful as the town of Monemvasia, Greece. Perched on an island off the east coast of the Peloponnese, Monemvasia's name means "single entrance" in [...]

Discovering a secret town? Well that’s one way to get off the beaten path. We’ve seen a few hidden towns in our day (mostly in America), but never one quite as beautiful as the town of Monemvasia, Greece. Perched on an island off the east coast of the Peloponnese, Monemvasia’s name means “single entrance” in Greek. The “hidden” spot boasts a massive Byzantine fortress (hence the nickname “fortress town”), but one thing is definitely in plain sight — the huge selection of nearby beaches, open to tourists and locals alike.

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Poet Yiannis Ritsos once called Monemvasia “a ship of stone,” and those who have visited rave about “rugged, salt-of-the-earth beauty” that provides “a refreshing escape” from the real world.

If you need to unplug, hideout on the island and spend your days looking for traces of byzantine, Frankish, Venetian and Ottoman influences in town, which mean there are impressive architecture and history nearly everywhere you turn.

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Though if you’re in for a bit of adventure, the best attraction on the island is theKastania Cave.

Described as a must-see attraction by tourists, the cave took millions of years to form and is packed full of rare geological wonders. And right next door, you’ll find a cafe and a church that was once visited by pirates. Sign us up!

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Experts say Greece is great in the winter, meaning now is a perfect time to go. Escape crowds, indulge in the delicious Mediterranean cuisine, and explore the ancient history of Monemvasia.

You can reach Monemvasia by cruise or bus, and a ferry is available during the summer months. We’ll see you there!

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(h/t Reddit)

The Gateway to Kilimanjaro

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Each year, more than 50,000 people set out to climb Africa’s highest peak, joining a revered tribe of dedicated adventurers. But in the shadow of Mt Kilimanjaro, nestled in the foothills, another tribe reigns supreme. The Chagga clan, one of more than 260 tribes in Tanzania, has been living in the laidback village of Marangu [...]

Each year, more than 50,000 people set out to climb Africa’s highest peak, joining a revered tribe of dedicated adventurers. But in the shadow of Mt Kilimanjaro, nestled in the foothills, another tribe reigns supreme. The Chagga clan, one of more than 260 tribes in Tanzania, has been living in the laidback village of Marangu since the 19th Century, and their descendants, the Bantu people, began migrating to this area along the slopes of Kilimanjaro in the early 11th Century. The village’s mountain landscape, interlaced with streams and picturesque waterfalls, gave Marangu its name, meaning “place of water.”

More than just a starting point for the mountain’s most popular climbing route, Marangu welcomes those who spend more time here with green gorges, fields awash in banana groves and coffee plantations. It also gives insight into a fascinating local lifestyle and culture – an experience that most travelers miss. For those who linger, a cultural tour led by a dedicated guide is the key to discovering Marangu’s charms, for beyond its modest, one-road center, the rest of the village – hidden by swathes of the jungle – is difficult to navigate alone.

We met our guide Ludovic Tilya outside the Babylon Lodge, a handsome budget hotel with simple but comfortable rooms set amid lush tropical gardens, located a short stroll from the center of town. The previous night’s rains had cleared to reveal glorious blue skies, and we set off on a winding muddy track that led to the village’s forest-fringed back streets. Locals threw curious glances our way; in these lesser-traveled lanes, mzungu (white people) visitors are few and far between.

Marangu, Tanzania
Scenes from Marangu. (Richelle Harrison Plesse)

We weaved in and out of luxuriant banana groves peppered with the odd coffee plant, Royal Poinciana tree (also known as the flamboyant tree due to its flamboyant display of brilliant, flame-red flowers) and yucca. The latter, Ludovic said, holds spiritual significance for the Chagga people, who also use its leaves for weaving, healing purposes or as a symbolic means of settling disputes (much like the offering an olive branch). A smattering of pretty, petite houses peered out from behind manicured gardens, a surprise against the surrounding untamed greenery.

Rounding a corner we crossed a clearing, where a trio of young children was playing a game of Ring Around the Rosie. There were shy giggles when they spotted us, but they let their guard down as soon as they saw our cameras, insisting on playing with the dials and scrolling through the pictures we’d taken. A few steps away was a local primary school where recess had begun, and where boisterous boys and girls in cobalt blue uniforms laughed and chatted excitedly. Happily posing for a few snaps, they jostled for our attention, but stern words from the headteacher sent them running and they disappeared in an instant.

Leaving the kids behind, we set off in search of a local banana beer brewer. Bananas are big businesses in Tanzania – in fact, the succulent yellow fruit is the staple food of the local Chagga people and the twice-weekly Marangu market is the country’s largest for the sale of the regional specialty. Banana buyers come from all over the country, with local women clad in brightly patterned kangas (cotton wraps) peddling their finest, freshest produce.

The twice-weekly Marangu market, Marangu, Tanzania
The twice-weekly Marangu market. (Richelle Harrison Plesse)

We found the “brewery” – a small wooden hut set among a banana plantation – deeper in the Marangu jungle. An elderly, heavy-set woman pruned the banana trees, while an enormous cauldron filled with the fruity tipple bubbled over a nearby open fire. Known locally as mbege, the concoction of millet and bananas is the traditional brew of the Chagga people. With most of the work done by hand without any help from modern technology, its production is a lengthy and labor-intensive process. The result is a sweet, slightly sour boozy beverage, one that’s knocked back at several Chagga festivities, including weddings, births, rites of passage, and even wakes. Later in the day, we came across a group of locals gathered at an open-air bar to pay tribute to a deceased loved one, swigging from small buckets to drown their sorrows after the funeral.

While the beloved banana beer is an ever-present feature of contemporary Chagga culture, the open-air Chagga Live Museum offers a glimpse into the tribe’s traditional way of life. The museum’s vast underground cave – a hideout during ancient tribal wars – is a must-see. Entire Chagga families – up to 60 at any one time – would seek refuge in this elaborate system of narrow tunnels during the Maasai raids, bringing livestock along with them. For centuries, the rival tribe would steal cattle and take Chagga women and children as slaves, a practice that reached its height in the 19th Century and continued until the mid-20th Century. When we climbed down a rickety ladder into the dark chamber, the smell of damp was overwhelming.

Coming up for air, we headed for the approximately 50m-tall Ndoro Waterfall, reached after a steep, unnerving walk into a deep gully. Our guide Tilya constantly pleaded with us to go “pole pole”, which means “slowly” in Swahili.

The scenery was a handsome reward for our efforts; the cascade was flanked by towering cliffs blanketed in dense forest, home to the rare Colobus monkey. We cooled off with a quick dip in the rock pool’s icy waters and the blistering afternoon sun was quick to warm our shivering bodies when we emerged.

As the sun showed signs of disappearing behind the trees, we began our return trip to the lodge, stumbling upon a choir rehearsal along the way. Standing on the lawn outside of a church,  Around two dozen men and women formed a semi-circle around a conductor; the woman in the center kept time with a small drum while everyone else stamped  their feet in unison.

A choir rehearsal in Marangu, Tanzania
A choir rehearsal in Marangu. (Richelle Harrison Plesse)

Our 18km trek through Marangu was, of course, nothing compared to the Kilimanjaro challenge that draws most travelers to the village. But listening to the choir’s uplifting melodies and perfect harmonies, I realized there was no tribe I’d rather have gotten the chance to be a part of.

 

Source: BBC Travel

Seven Unknown Architectural Wonders

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  We’ve all heard of the Colosseum, the Great Wall of China, and the Taj Mahal. But what about the world’s undiscovered architectural wonders: the man-made marvels where most crowds don’t stray? Related article: Friends want life advice? Tell them to travel more To uncover a few of those hidden structures, we turned to question-and-answer [...]

 

We’ve all heard of the Colosseum, the Great Wall of China, and the Taj Mahal. But what about the world’s undiscovered architectural wonders: the man-made marvels where most crowds don’t stray?

To uncover a few of those hidden structures, we turned to question-and-answer site Quora, asking “What are some lesser-known architectural landmarks in the world?

Palace of the Parliament, Romania
The world’s largest, most expensive and heaviest civilian administrative building, Bucharest’s Palace of the Parliament is truly an unknown wonder. “Built by hated communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu… the building is so huge that it is difficult to take a photograph that does its scale justice,” said Quora user Jann Hoke, a lawyer who worked in the palace in the mid-1990s.

Bucharest Palace, Quora, Husna Haq
The Palace of the Parliament in Bucharest, Romania has some 3,100 rooms covering 330,000sqm. (Thinkstock)

Built in 1984, the neoclassical building has 12 stories (with eight additional stories underground), and some 3,100 rooms covering 330,000 sqm. The project cost an unprecedented 3.3bn euros, but it also cost the people of Bucharest much of their city. To build the Palace of the Parliament, one-fifth of central Bucharest was razed, including most of its historical districts, more than 30 churches and synagogues, and some 30,000 homes.

“The patterned carpets on the main level, which run through hundreds of yards of wide corridors, were woven inside the building during construction,” Hoke said. “Weaving them outside and bringing them in was not feasible due to their sheer size.”

Great Mosque of Djenne, Mali
Built in 1907, the Great Mosque of Djenne is the largest mud structure in the world, constructed almost entirely of sun-baked earthen bricks, sand, and a mud-based mortar and plaster. It is considered one of the greatest achievements of the Sudano-Sahelian architectural style and was designated a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1988.

Mali, Great Mosque of Djenne, Quora
The Great Mosque of Djenne, in the Niger Delta region in central Mali. (Francois Xavier Marit/Getty)

The mosque’s three minarets are decorated with bundles of Rodier palm, which double as scaffolding for the annual repairs – a tradition that’s become a local festival in April and May.

“The brutal North African summers bring out cracks in the mud and weaken it over time,” said Quora user Abishek Lamba. “Before the yearly rains that follow, the locals get together and re-coat the entire building with clay from a dried-up pond.”

Derawar Fort, Pakistan
A fortress of monumental proportions, Derawar’s 40 stunning bastions rise from the desert in a striking square formation. Combined, the fort’s walls form a circumference of some 1,500m and stand some 30m high.

Derawar Fort, Pakistan, Quora
To visit the Derawar Fort, visitors must hire a guide with a four-wheel-drive vehicle and make the daylong trip through the Cholistan Desert. (Nadeem Khawar/Getty)

“This is a magnificent structure in the middle of the Cholistan Desert,” said Quora user Faisal Khan. “Many people don’t know about the Derawar Fort. Even most Pakistanis don’t know of it.”

And for good reason: to get to the fortress, visitors must hire a guide with a four-wheel-drive vehicle to make the day-long trip from the city of Bahawalpur, Pakistan through the Cholistan Desert to the fort, where special permission from the amir, or local leader, is needed to go inside.

Chand Baori, India
One of the most overlooked landmarks in India, Rajasthan’s Chand Baori is a spectacular square stepwell, 13 stories deep, with walls lined with scores of double staircases that descend some 30m to the bottom of the well, where a pool of emerald green water awaits.

Chand Baori, India, Quora
The symmetrical steps of Rajasthan’s Chand Baori stepwell make a mesmerizing maze. (Thinkstock)

The mesmerizing maze of symmetrical steps “appears to form a never-ending path deep underground,” said Quora user Vipul Yadav. With its 3,500 steps, Chand Baori is “one of the deepest and largest of its kind in the world”.

Built by King Chanda of the Nikumbha Dynasty between 800 and 900 AD, Chand Baori was designed to be as practical as it was pretty. Due to the structure of the well, the bottom of it remains cooler than the surface, critical in the hot, arid landscape of Rajasthan.

Stari Most, Bosnia-Herzegovina
If every great architectural landmark has a story, Bosnia-Herzegovina ‘s Stari Most has a comeback story.

“The Old Bridge, or Stari Most as it’s called by locals, was built of 456 blocks of local stone in 1566 by the Ottoman Turkish architect, Mimar Hajrudin,” said Quora user Haris Custo. “It was the heart of our city for 427 years.”

Bosnia, Stari Most, bridge
A diver tests his bravery by diving off Bosnia’s Stari Most into the icy waters of the Neretva River below. (Getty)

The hump-backed bridge is located in the city of Mostar, where it crosses the Neretva River. At 4m wide, 30m long and 24m high, it is one of the country’s most recognisable landmarks and is one of the finest examples of Islamic architecture in the Balkans.

But in the 1990s, the bridge was destroyed by Bosnian Serb and Croat forces during the Bosnian war. After the war, the city – and the bridge – began rebuilding. “It took almost 10 years to make that idea come to life, and in July of 2004 a new ‘old bridge’ was open again,” Custo said.

While the bridge has changed since its reconstruction, one long-time tradition remains: locals still dive off the bridge into the icy waters of the Neretva to show off their bravery and skill.

Great Wall of India
We have all heard of the Great Wall of China, but few know that India also has its own Great Wall, which has been long overshadowed by its neighbor to the East,” said Quora user Ayush Manu. The Great Wall of India, also referred to as Kumbhalgarh, is the second-longest wall in the world, after the Great Wall of China. Located in Rajasthan, the wall is 4.5m thick in some areas, extends for 36km and has seven fortified gates.

The Great Wall of India, Kumbhalgarh, Quora
The Great Wall of India, or Kumbhalgarh, remains an unknown treasure to most of the world. (Thinkstock/Franck Camhi)

Rana Kumbha, a local ruler, commissioned the wall in 1443 to protect his fort, situated on a hill above.

“Legend has it that despite several attempts, the wall could not be completed,” Manu said. “Finally the king consulted one of his spiritual advisers and was advised that a sacrifice be made, and a volunteer offered his life so that others will be protected. Today, the main gate stands where his body fell and a temple where his severed head came to rest.”

The wall was enlarged in the 19th Century and now protects more than 360 temples located within its walls, but it remains an unknown treasure to most of the world.

Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque, Iran
Quora user Mona Khatam described the Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque – an architectural masterpiece of Safavid Iranian architecture – as “a study in harmonious understatement”.

Located in Naghsh-i Jahan Square in the city of Isfahan, the stunningly elegant mosque was built between 1603 and 1619 during the reign of Shah Abbas I. It is named after the ruler’s father-in-law, Sheikh Lotfollah, a revered Lebanese scholar of Islam.

Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque, Iran, Isfahan
Iran’s Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque is “a study in harmonious understatement”, said Quora user Mona Khatam. (Thinkstock)

The mosque is unusual in that it features no minarets or courtyard. “This was probably because the mosque was never intended for public use, but rather served as the worship place for the women of the shah’s harem,” Khatam said.

As such, the prayer hall is reached through a long, twisting, underground hallway, and the decoration on the mosque is extraordinarily exquisite.

“The dome makes extensive use of delicate tiles that change color throughout the day, from cream to pink,” said Khatam. “Inside the sanctuary, you can marvel at the complexity of the mosaics that adorn the walls and the extraordinarily beautiful ceiling, with its shrinking, yellow motifs. The shafts of sunlight that filter in through the few high, latticed windows produce a constantly changing interplay of light and shadow.”

 

Source: BBC Travel