Monday, March 30, 2015

2015 - Niagara Falls State Park

In March, we decided to go visit Niagara Falls State Park since we thought it would be interesting to see Niagara Falls on the USA side since we always see it from ours.

Niagara Falls from USA at the Observation Tower
Niagara Falls State Park is the oldest state park in USA dating back to 1885.  Since we went during winter, there were a number of things that we under construction or blocked off due to weather.  So, while we did not see everything, we saw about 90% of what I expected to see.  We took a little under 2 hours to walk through the park.  This consisted of us going to the visitor's centre, observation tower, prospect point, terrapin point and the three sisters islands.

Rainbow Bridge
Based on what we saw, I would say just stick to the Niagara Falls portion of the park because I felt that the Three Sisters Islands weren't very interesting, but the other four points are worth visiting for the views and they aren't very far apart (although on the map, it may seem like they are).

Rainbow with Rainbow Bridge!
While it was interesting to see the falls from the USA side, I can see why people like viewing it from Canada.  If you are in the area though, to get to the state park, all you need to do is cross on foot at the Rainbow Bridge and once you have cleared customs, you are in the state park.  The park is free and there is parking available (lots 2 and 3 are free, lot 1 is $10).  I wouldn't go out of my way to visit, but if you are near, it is worth a stop just to see what it is like.

Future POIs - Linderhof Palace [Munich, Germany]

Germany actually has a Department of Palaces to maintain all the palaces that exist in the country and among them is Linderhof Palace which is the smallest of the three palaces (Neuschwanstein, Linderhof, and Herrenchiemsee) built by King Ludwig II and is also the only one that he lived to see completed.
Linderhof was originally a forester's house used by King Ludwig II and his father Maximilian II during their hunting trips but was later remodeled and redesigned into the current palace that you see today.  This was a slow transformation which took place starting in 1869 and ending in 1886 which is also the year in which King Ludwig II passed away.

Within the palace complex, there are also the following buildings: the Grotto, Moorish Kiosk, Hunding's Hut, Moroccan House, and Hermitage of Gurnemanz.

The Grotto was built as the king's representation of the First Act of Wagner's 'Tannhäuser'.

The Hunding's Hut was inspired by the First Act of Wagner's 'Valkyrie'.

Hermitage of Gurnemanz was inspired by the Third Act of Wagner's 'Parsifal'.
Moroccan House was a piece that Ludwig bought and imported.  Originally built in Morocco for the World Exhibition of 1873.
Moorish Kiosk was another piece that Ludwig bought after seeing it at the World Exhibition of 1867.
Pictures not allowed in the palace, royal lodge and King's House.

Generally open from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm with tours available in English for both the palace (about 25 minutes) and the grotto (about 10 minutes).  Admission is 8.50 euros for palace and park buildings.  For information go to

Come back next Monday for another Future Point of Interest.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Past POIs - Buckingham Fountain [Chicago, Illinois]

In 2014, we made a road trip to Chicago and one of the sites that we stopped at was the Buckingham Fountain. Having watched Married with Children for years as a teenager, I never actually knew where the fountain from the intro sequence was from nor what it was called, now I know both.

Buckingham Fountain
The fountain was donated by Kate Buckingham in memory of her brother, Clarence Buckingham, and was built at the cost of $750,000 in 1927.  Since then more than $3,000,000 was spent on restoring the fountain due to climate and age.

This fountain is located in Grant Park and is quite hard to miss, so do come and have a look if you are near since it is free to see.  Unfortunately when we came, the fountain was not turned on.  The fountain operates from 8:00am - 11:00pm from mid-April to mid-October with regular water shows (every hour on the hour for about 20 minutes) and evening coloured-light shows after dusk.

Buckingham Fountain Sea Horse
The fountain itself is meant to represent Lake Michigan and the four sea horses that surround it symbolize Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana, all of which border the lake.

Some interesting stats, the center jet shoots water vertically to 150 ft (46 m).  It contains 1,500,000 gallons (5,700,000 litres) of water.  During the water show, more than 14,000 gallons of water is shot through the jets per minute.

Come back next Friday for another Past Point of Interest.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Future POIs - Sedlec Ossuary [Kutná Hora, Czech Republic]

Sedlec Ossuary, also known as the Bone Church, is a underground Roman Catholic chapel located in Kutná Hora, Czech Republic.  It is actually located underneath the Church of All Saints and contains the bones of about 40,000 people who died from the plague and the Hussite wars in the 15th century.

Bone Chandelier (from
Originally, all of these bones were buried in the church cemetery, but throughout the years starting in 1511, the bones were arranged to be part of the chapel.  The present arrangement dates back to 1870, when František Rint of Česká Skalice, a Czech wood-carver, was asked to arrange the bones and skulls as you see today in creative decorations such as bells, a coat of arms and a chandelier.  You can actually see his name, in bones, on the right-hand wall over the last bench.  Fun fact, the chandelier contains all the bones of a human body.

Bone Coat of Arms (from
It costs 80 CZK for admission to both the Cathedral and the Church.  From Prague, it is about 120km, easily accessible by car, by train, or even by bus.

Come back next Monday for another Future Point of Interest.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Past POIs - Ollantaytambo [Cusco, Peru]

In 2014, we went to Peru to do the Machu Picchu Inca Trail hike and one of the stops that we made was to Ollantaytambo which is usually part of the Sacred Valley tours.  Since there were three of us, we decided to rent a private driver for the day and we told him where we wanted to go and Ollantaytambo was one of the stops.  Unfortunately since our driver didn't speak much English, we just wandered around and tried to understand and appreciate the sites on our own.

Bottom of Ollantaytambo
Ollantaytambo is a town but tourists come to see the archaeological site right next to it.  Original, it was the royal estate of Emperor Pachacuti during the Inca Empire.  During the Spanish conquest of Peru, it was the stronghold for the Inca resistance lead by Manco Inca Yupanqui.  Now, it is the starting point of the tree-day, four-night Inca Trail hike.

From the base of Ollantaytambo
The terraces that you see (multi-level areas) were built for agricultural purposes.  The terraces provided them with the ability to farm on terrain that they otherwise wouldn't be able to.  The different levels also allowed them to tap into different micro-climates which changes dramatically from level to level.  You will find these terraces all over Peru.

Off in the distance, you will see a set of structures that looks almost like a series of townhouses, these are actually storehouses.  Since they were built at such high altitude, it meant more wind and lower temperatures which protected their contents from decaying quickly.

Store House
Well worth a visit if you are in the area.

Join me every Friday for another Past Point of Interest!

Monday, March 16, 2015

Future POIs - Fisherman's Bastion [Budapest, Hungary]

This enormous white structure is built atop a hill providing you with fantastic panoramic views of the city.  Locally known as Halaszbastya, Fisherman's Bastion was built in 1902 to celebrate the 1000th birthday of Hungary.

You will notice that there are 7 turrets, these 7 turrets represent the 7 Hungarian tribes that originally founded the country back in 895 (yes, 895, not 1895).  There is a bronze statue of St Stephen who was the first Hungarian King (1000 - 1038).

At the center of this is the Matthias Church, you may find it odd that the bastion surrounds it and that is actually because during the restoration and redesign of the church, the bastion was being built and it incorporated the church within its design.

While it looks imposing from below and you would think this was a fortification, it actually wasn't.  It was built to serve as a viewing terrace which is why there are so few actual walls.

Be sure to come during the day and night for a different view of the surrounding areas as well as the Bastion itself.  The Bastion is actually open all year round, day and night and is free!  You only need to pay if you want to go up the turrets.

Come visit again next Monday for another Future Point of Interest!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Past POIs - Trevi Fountain [Rome, Italy]

In 2013 my girlfriend and I went to Italy and our first stop was Rome which has an enormous number of things to see regardless of what you are interested in and one of the stops that we visited was Trevi Fountain (or Fontana di Trevi in Italian).

Main section of Trevi Fountain at night
Trevi Fountain is the largest Baroque fountain in the city and one of the most famous fountains in the world.  A long time ago, soldiers used to be lead here by a virgin woman for water and an acqueduct termination point was constructed here around 19 B.C. by Agrippa.  In 1629 Pope Urban VIII thought the fountain wasn't dramatic enough and commissioned work to be done which unfortunately was incomplete since the project was abandoned when the pope died in 1644.  And it stayed this way for almost 100 years until Pope Clement XII, in 1730, called for a competition to complete the fountain and it took until 1762 to complete and it is what you see today.

The fountain is 26.3 meters (85 feet) high, 49.5 meters (160 feet) wide and spills 80,000 cubic meters of water every day!

Legend has it that if visitors throw a coin, using your right hand over your left shoulder, into the fountain, they will likely return to Rome.  Because of this, an estimated 3,000 euros are thrown into the fountain every day!  For those curious, this money is used to subsidize a supermarket for the needy.

Main section during the day
The site is free to visit, so make sure to stop by during the day and at night for a different view on the fountain.  It is actually conveniently located a short 5 minute walk from Barberini train station, so you have no excuse to miss it if you are in Rome!

Due to age, size, and popularity, this site has and is going through various restoration efforts to make sure that it is here to last.  In 1998 the fountain was refurbished with extensive cleaning and repairs made to it.  And in more recent times, 2013, Fendi announced that they would spend 2.2 million euros over 20 months to restore the fountain making it the most thorough restoration in the fountain's history.  As of December 2014, the fountain pool has been drained and scaffolding now covers the fountain for it's repairs which are expected to be completed by October 2015.

Majority of Trevi Fountain
There is a lot to this fountain and after reading up and learning about it, it is all quite neat but if you aren't interested in the details, you can skip the remainder of this post.

The giant columns that you see that span what looks like 2 stories is called a 'giant order' which is an architecture design found in many buildings.  At the top of the columns you will notice that intricately designed caps, these are Corinthian pilasters.  Taming of the waters is the theme of the facade.  Oceanus on a shell-shaped chariot is the main focal point and center of the facade.

Left of Oceanus is Abundance holding a horn of plenty (looks like a basket of fruits and vegetables) and at her feet is a toppled over vase which is spilling water.  Above her is a relief (an image depicting a scene) of Agrippa commanding his generals to build the acqueduct.

Right is Health who is holding a cup which a snake drinks out of.  Above her is a relief of a virgin lady showing the source of water to the soldiers.

Near the top are 4 ladies, each meant to depict the good effects of rain on Earth fertility and the four major produces that depend on water.  From left to right:

Statue #1 - holds a horn of plenty and symbolizes abundance of fruit
Statue #2 - holds ears of wheat and symbolizes fertility of crops
Statue #3 - holds a cup and bunches of grapes and symbolizes products of autumn
Statue #4 - is adorned with flowers and symbolizes joy of prairies and gardens

Above the 4 statues is the following inscription: CLEMENS XII PONT. MAX. AQUAM VIRGINEM COPIA ET SALBRITATE COMMENDATAM CULTO MAGNIFICO ORNAVIT ANNO DOMINI MDCCXXXV PONT VI.  This translates to Clemens XII Pontifex Maximus decorated the Virgin Acqueduct and committed it with abundance and salubrity to the magnific cult in the Year of the Lord 1735, 6th year of his pontification.

Below this is another inscription: PERFECIT BENEDICTUS XIV PONT. MAX. which translates to Benedict XIV Pontifex Maximus made perfect.

And just below this but above Oceanus, Abundance and Health: POSITIS SIGNIS ET ANAGLIPHIS TABULIS IUSSU CLEMENTIS XIII PONT. MAX. OPUS CUM OMNI CULTU ABSOLUTUM A. D. MDCCLXII which translates to The statues and the reliefs were decreed to be placed here by Clemens XIII Pontifex Maximus and the work was solved from every further work and care in the Year of the Lord 1762.

Below the 3 main statues, there are two male statues next to two horses.  The male statues are Tritons and the two horses are hippocamps (in Greek mythology they are half horse and half seahorse).  The Triton on the left is trying to control a hippocamp trying to get away which the Triton on the right is older but in control of his hippocamp and is holding a twisted shell to announce their passage (much like how in the past, trumpets or horns were sounded for the arrival of someone important).

I hope you enjoyed the history lesson.  I wish I knew this information prior to going because I would have spent more time viewing the details and understanding the fountain.

Join me next Friday for another Past Point of Interest!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Future POIs - Old Town Square [Prague, Czech Republic]

Most main squares are to be visited when you go to cities new and old.  There is almost always a great amount of history since it was the main place where people would go.

From 500px
The Old Town Square was founded in the 12th century and houses many interesting buildings as well as some historical items.  The buildings here are not limited to the Old Town Hall, Church of Our Lady before Týn, St Nicholas Church, the Kinský Palace (which is now an art museum), an astronomical clock, and the monument to Jan Hus.  As well, in the pavement of the square are memorial stones (tributary crosses) marking the execution of 27 Czech lords in 1621.

In my opinion, the astronomical clock is the most interesting item in this square.  The astronomical clock was installed in 1410 making it the world's third oldest astronomical clock and is the oldest one that is still working.  Mounted on the southern wall of Old Town City Hall.  Be sure to come on the hour to see an hourly clockwork show.

You can get a bird's eye view of the square by visiting the Old Town Hall located in the square itself.

Be sure to come back next Monday for another Future POI.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Past POIs - Hassan II Mosque [Casablanca, Morocco]

While writing the posts about future POIs, I thought it would be equally interesting and informative if I look back at places that I have been to and learn some history behind them.  Do note that I only started writing in 2013 so I may cover places that I haven't written about on this blog but have been to prior to my writing.  The pictures included will be from my experiences though.

Hassan II Mosque

In 2012, I went on my first major trip with my friends and we went to Morocco as a group and our first stop was Casablanca.  Our first, and only, major point of interest in Casablanca was Hassan II Mosque.

Built in 1993, this mosque is the largest mosque in Africa and the 7th largest in the world.  The mosque hall is large enough to house 25,000 people and an additional 80,000 on the outside grounds.

Exterior archway
The minaret (the tower part of the mosque) is currently the world's tallest religious structure at 210 m (690 ft).  At the top is a laser which is electronically operated at nights and is pointed towards Mecca.

Being located right by the Atlantic Ocean provides the mosque with a wonderful view of the surround area although it has caused some issues due to the original construction not accounting for the salt water causing structural deterioration.  Within 10 years of the mosque's completion, they had extensive restoration work done which amounted to a cost of 50 million euros.  This restoration effort should give the building an additional 100 years of life.

If you are in the area, be sure to check it out.  It is quite a stand out point of interest, although it may be because I personally feel that it seems out of place since the surrounding area is being rebuilt.

Be sure to check back every Friday for another Past POI.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Future POIs - Untersberg [Salzburg, Austria]

Untersberg is a part of the Berchtesgaden Alps, which is between the borders of Germany and Austria, that is less than 16km away from Salzburg which provides you with a great view of the surrounding areas since you will be 1,776 m (5,827 ft) above sea level.

From Wikipedia (view of Salzberg)
From Wikipedia (view of the mountain range)
The location is actually very easy to get to from Salzberg since there is a city bus (bus 25) that takes you there.

There are several trails that lead you to the top or if you like, there is a cable car which was open to the public in 1961 that takes you up over 1,320 m (4,300 ft) in 8.5 minutes (costs 22 euros to go up and down or varying costs going and down depending on the season).

Be sure to come back next Monday for another Future POI.