Monthly Archives: August 2011

UNESCO World Heritage Site #149: Archaeological Ensemble of Tárraco

Posted by on August 8, 2011

UNESSCO World Heritage Site #149: Archaeological Ensemble of Tarraco

UNESSCO World Heritage Site #149: Archaeological Ensemble of Tarraco

From the World Heritage inscription:

Tárraco (modern-day Tarragona) was a major administrative and mercantile city in Roman Spain and the centre of the Imperial cult for all the Iberian provinces. It was endowed with many fine buildings, and parts of these have been revealed in a series of exceptional excavations. Although most of the remains are fragmentary, many preserved beneath more recent buildings, they present a vivid picture of the grandeur of this Roman provincial capital.

The Roman remains of Tárraco are of exceptional importance in the development of Roman urban planning and design and served as the model for provincial capitals elsewhere in the Roman world. Tárraco provides eloquent testimony to a significant stage in the history of the Mediterranean lands in antiquity.

If you drove through the city of Tarragona you might not think it was anything special, even if you saw the Roman ruins in the middle of town. However, this was one the Roman capital of the entire Iberian peninsula. Julius Caesar, Augustus, Pompey and Hannibal all visited here. As Roman ruins go, Tarraco isn’t the greatest in the world. What is lacks in the spectacular ruins it more than makes up in history. The ruins of Tarraco are an easy one hour drive from Barcelona by car.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #148: Catalan Romanesque Churches of the Vall de Boí

Posted by on August 7, 2011

UNESCO World Heritage Site #148: Catalan Romanesque Churches of the Vall de Boí

UNESCO World Heritage Site #148: Catalan Romanesque Churches of the Vall de Boí

From the World Heritage inscription:

The churches of the Vall de Boí are an especially pure and consistent example of Romanesque art in a virtually untouched rural setting. The group of churches is a remarkable example of an important constructional style in human history, like that of Romanesque art, to which it contributes characteristics that are appropriate to both its religious and its secular aspects. The Vall de Boí illustrates the continuous occupation of an area of land. The churches that were built in the Middle Ages at the instigation of a single family symbolize the affirmation and geographical settlement at the time historical Catalonia was created.

The Vall de Boí is screened by the high peaks of the Beciberri/Punta Alta massif, in the high Pyrenees. Its scenery is one of woodland and meadows, adjoining and surrounding the small villages. The Arab invasion of the Iberian Peninsula never penetrated the valleys, but they were exposed around the beginning of the 2nd millennium to cultural influences, brought there by merchants, by itinerant monks and by Christian pilgrims travelling to Jerusalem and Santiago de Compostela. In the 11th century new cultural styles were brought into Catalonia from Italy, particularly Lombardy. This new cultural movement was late in reaching the remote Vall de Boí. The exceptional number of Romanesque churches in the valley is attributed to the fact that large quantities of silver came into the region.

The Vall de Boi isn’t hard to get to but you do have to go out of your way to get there. This site is a collection of 10 12-13th Century churches which reside in the small villages of the Vall de Boi. The churches, like many in the Catalonian region, are of a Romanesque design. In fact I saw many churches throughout the Catalonian Pyreneese which were very similar in style and age to the churches found in the Vall de Boi. Beyond their architecture, what makes many of the churches special are the frescos which can be found inside. Most of the frescos have undergone or are undergoing renovation. If you visit the Vall de Boi, take the time to visit Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici National Park. It is a beautiful Pyrenees park easy driving distance from the Churches.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Sunday Featured Traveler: Anil Polat, Traveling in Northern Iraq

Posted by on August 7, 2011

I am reviving a new feature this week where I feature other notable trips and travelers on Sundays. Today’s featured trip is from Anil Polat who blogs at Foxnomad.com. Anil is from Turkey and has been traveling around the world for several years. I met him this year in Valencia, Spain during the European Gran Prix. I remembered reading on his blog about a trip he took to Iraq and thought it was fascinating and asked him if he’d be willing to share his story with my readers. All photos in this post are from Anil.

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UNESCO World Heritage Site #147: Madriu-Perafita-Claror Valley

Posted by on August 6, 2011

UNESCO World Heritage Site #147: Madriu-Perafita-Claror Valley

UNESCO World Heritage Site #147: Madriu-Perafita-Claror Valley

From the World Heritage inscription:

The cultural landscape of Madriu-Perafita-Claror Valley offers a microcosmic perspective of the way people have harvested the resources of the high Pyrenees over millennia. Its dramatic glacial landscapes of craggy cliffs and glaciers, with high open pastures and steep wooded valleys, covers an area of 4,247 ha, 9% of the total area of the principality. It reflects past changes in climate, economic fortune and social systems, as well as the persistence of pastoralism and a strong mountain culture, notably the survival of a communal land-ownership system dating back to the 13th century. The site features houses, notably summer settlements, terraced fields, stone tracks and evidence of iron smelting.

The Madriu Valley in Andorra is a beautiful and preserved region of one of the smallest countries in the world. Despite the size of Andorra, the Valley is large enough for a full day of hiking with the option of overnight staying in the mountains. The valley is still used for grazing by local farmers. If you do get a chance to visit Andorra take the time to go up into the valleys. The country may be small, but not so small as to preclude a wilderness experience.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #146: Poblet Monastery

Posted by on August 5, 2011

UNESCO World Heritage Site #146: Poblet Monastery

UNESCO World Heritage Site #146: Poblet Monastery

From the World Heritage inscription:

Santa María of Poblet presents a unique blend of architectural forms generally reserved for distinct applications. It has served as one of the largest and most complete of the Cistercian abbeys, as a massive military complex, and as a royal palace, residence and pantheon. It is a unique artistic achievement and one of the most perfect expressions of Cistercian style in the 12th, 13th and 14th centuries. The abbey contains masterpieces from every period such as the great alabaster retablo by Damian Forment (1529).

Poblet presents a unique blend of architectural forms. First and foremost, it is a Cistercian abbey, one of the largest and most complete that exists. North of the church, laid out in the usual way, is a group of monastic buildings that include the great cloister with its fountain, chapter room, monk’s dormitory, parlour and its annex, closed cloister, monk’s room which is now a library, calefactory, refectory and kitchens.

The Poblet Monastery is an easy day trip from Barcelona. Total driving time is about 90 minutes depending on traffic. There are tours offered throughout the day in the monastery but they are only in Catalan and Spanish. There are small guidebooks available in English and German. The Monastery is a working monastery and you will see monks walking around the premises.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites

A Year Traveling With the iPad

Posted by on August 4, 2011

This is an overview of my year of traveling with an iPad. I’ve taken it overseas, used it on road trips, navigated with it on city streets and used it on the beach as well as in the mountains. I’ve probably done as much as anyone has in terms of traveling with this device since it was launched in 2010.

Over the last few months I’ve been seeing a lot of other travelers with iPads. I’ve been rather surprised at how quickly they have become popular. They seem to have overtaken netbooks with the travelers I see in hotels and hostels. My guess is that over the next 5 years tablets and the iPad in particular will become the primary computing device travelers use, at least for short term trips. They are lightweight, cheap and are capable of mobile internet in a large part of the world.

I’m well aware that this “review” is really late to the game as the iPad has been out for a while and is already on its second generation. Nonetheless, I’ve had many people ask me if they should take their iPad with them on trips of if they should buy one for an extended around the world trip.

I have owned both an original iPad as well as an iPad2. My original iPad was a 3G GSM and my iPad2 is a 3G CDMA model. The only accessory I have purchased for either model was a case: a rubber covering for the original and the smart cover for the iPad2. I have not used a keyboard with either iPad and have also been traveling with an iPhone and MacBook Pro as well.
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UNESCO World Heritage Site #145: Wadi Rum Protected Area

Posted by on August 4, 2011

UNESCO World Heritage Site #145: Wadi Rum Protected Area

UNESCO World Heritage Site #145: Wadi Rum Protected Area

From the World Heritage inscription:

The 74,000-hectare property, inscribed as a mixed natural and cultural site, is situated in southern Jordan, near the border with Saudi Arabia. It features a varied desert landscape consisting of a range of narrow gorges, natural arches, towering cliffs, ramps, massive landslides and caverns. Petroglyphs, inscriptions and archaeological remains in the site testify to 12,000 years of human occupation and interaction with the natural environment. The combination of 25,000 rock carvings with 20,000 inscriptions trace the evolution of human thought and the early development of the alphabet. The site illustrates the evolution of pastoral, agricultural and urban activity in the region.

I’m so glad Wadi Rum was added to the World Heritage list. It was one of the most deserving locations that I’ve visited that was not on the list. I spent two nights in Wadi Rum in a bedouin camp and it was great experience. Wadi Rum is famous as the location where the movie Lawrence of Arabia was shot. The stunning desert backdrop made it an obvious choice for an epic film. Oddly enough, TE Lawrence never passed through Wadi Rum during the actual Great Arab Revolt.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage sites.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #144: Ningaloo Coast

Posted by on August 3, 2011

UNESCO World Heritage Site #144: Ningloo Coast

UNESCO World Heritage Site #144: Ningloo Coast

From the World Heritage inscription:

The 604,500 hectare marine and terrestrial property of Ningaloo Coast, on the remote western coast of Australia, includes one of the longest near-shore reefs in the world. On land the site features an extensive karst system and network of underground caves and water courses. Annual gatherings of whale sharks occur at Ningaloo Coast, which is home to numerous marine species, among them a wealth of sea turtles. The terrestrial part of the site features subterranean water bodies with a substantial network of caves, conduits, and groundwater streams. They support a variety of rare species that contribute to the exceptional biodiversity of the marine and terrestrial site.

I knew that eventually someplace I visited would be declared a world heritage site after I visited. This happened for the first time this year when the Ningaloo Coast and Wadi Rum were added to the list. I debated about how I should count them: should I add them to my list as I visited them, or put them later down the list reflecting when they were added? I eventually decided to add them as they were put on the list, not when I visited. If I put them on my list based on my visit then I could get in a nightmare situation of having to renumber everything, every year. So, even though I visited back in 2008 I’m counting it between sites I visited in 2011.

The Ningaloo Reef is the largest fringe reef in the world and is overshadowed by the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Also, because the northwest part of Australia gets so few tourists, few people know about it.

I went swimming with whale sharks on the Ningloo Coast in 2008. Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos of the sharks themselves because I didn’t have an underwater camera. I did, however, get some photos of humpback whale tails which unfortunately is the best I can do.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #143: Kluane / Wrangell-St Elias / Glacier Bay / Tatshenshini-Alsek

Posted by on August 2, 2011

UNESCO World Heritage Site #143: Kluane / Wrangell-St Elias / Glacier Bay / Tatshenshini-Alsek

UNESCO World Heritage Site #143: Kluane / Wrangell-St Elias / Glacier Bay / Tatshenshini-Alsek

From the World Heritage inscription:

The Kluane/Wrangell-St. Elias/Glacier Bay/Tatshenshini-Alsek national parks and protected areas along the boundary of Canada and the United States of America are the largest non-polar icefield in the world and contain examples of some of the world’s longest and most spectacular glaciers. Characterized by high mountains, icefields and glaciers, the property transitions from northern interior to coastal biogeoclimatic zones, resulting in high biodiversity with plant and animal communities ranging from marine, coastal forest, montane, sub-alpine and alpine tundra, all in various successional stages. The Tatshenshini and Alsek river valleys are pivotal because they allow ice-free linkages from coast to interior for plant and animal migration. The parks demonstrate some of the best examples of glaciation and modification of landscape by glacial action in a region still tectonically active, spectacularly beautiful, and where natural processes prevail.

Wow. I can’t even express how amazing Kluane National Park was. I had a the pleasure of flying over the ice fields on two separate days in both a helicopter and a fixed wing airplane. The images were incredible. I have so many I have no idea how I’m ever going to be able to pick the best ones. Kluane doesn’t get as many visitors as the parks on the Alaska side of the border because it is more difficult to reach, but it is well worth the effort if you can make the trip.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.