Monthly Archives: December 2011

My 10 Most Memorable Hotels of 2011

Posted by on December 29, 2011

I stay in a lot of different hotels. A LOT of hotels. They range from 5-start luxury hotels to youth hostels. Some I pay for myself (aka the cheap ones) and others are provided by tourist boards (aka the nice ones).

The majority of the places I stay at all sort of blur into one another in my memory. There is nothing about them which makes them stick out and I often forget where I even stayed in a given city. However, there are a few places which I do remember.

I don’t do hotel reviews, so I’m not claiming that these properties are the “best” nor am I giving them any sort of rating. I’m also not saying that the hotels not on the list weren’t any good. These hotels just had something about them which made them stick out in my mind. Sometimes it was the view, sometimes it was the history of the building and other times it might have been the service.

You will notice that these properties are also all over the map. I’ve included 5-star resorts, youth hostels, business hotels and even a truck stop. The hotels are listed in chronologically, in the order in which I stayed in them in 2011.
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UNESCO World Heritage Site #171: Archaeological Ensemble of the Bend of the Boyn

Posted by on December 28, 2011

UNESCO World Heritage Site #171: Archaeological Ensemble of the Bend of the Boyn

UNESCO World Heritage Site #171: Archaeological Ensemble of the Bend of the Boyn

From the World Heritage inscription:

The monuments of the Bend of the Boyne display longevity of settlement whose origins are found in Neolithic settlements The various monuments, particularly the great passage tomb, represent important cultural, social, artistic and scientific developments over a considerable length of time. Nowhere else in the world is found the continuity of settlement and activity associated with a megalithic cemetery such as that which exists at Brugh na Bòinne. The passage tomb complex represents a spectacular survival of the embodiment of a set of ideas and beliefs of outstanding historical significance unequalled in its counterparts throughout the rest of Europe.

The World Heritage site of the Bend of the Boyne (Brugh na Boìnne in Irish) covers some 780 ha and takes its name from the fact that it is defined on the south, east and west sides by the River Boyne; part of the northern boundary is formed by the River Mattock. It is essentially a ridge running east-west with three low hills on it (Dowth, Knowth and Newgrange). These three great burial mounds dominate the whole area, and are surrounded by about 40 satellite passage-graves, to constitute a great prehistoric funerary landscape. Its intense ritual significance inevitably attracted later monuments, both in protohistory and in the Christian period. The importance of the site is enhanced by the fact that the River Boyne communicates both with the Celtic Sea and the heartland of Ireland, and so it has considerable economic and political significance.

The Bend of the Byone is a collection of ancient burial mounds that date back many thousands of years before the arrival of Christianity.

The most interesting thing about the burial chambers is that each one points in a different astronomical direction. The one I visited, Newgrange, is aligned with where the sun rises on the winter solstice. The alignment is such that it compensates for the hills in the region. Each year there is a lottery to allow people to enter the chamber for sunrise on the solstice. The chamber can only hold about a dozen people, but over 20,000 people enter the lottery each year. There is no guarantee that winning the lotter will let you see the sun ray which enters the mound as weather conditions could prevent it.

To visit the Bend of the Byone, take the train to Drogheda and from there take a taxi. Drivers should know where it is. If not tell them you are going to the Newgrange visitor center.

Near by is also the location of the Battle of the Byone, which was fought between Catholic King James and the Protestant King William in 1690.

This was the twelfth and final stop on my Eurail trip of UNESCO sites in Europe.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

December 2011 Question and Answers

Posted by on December 28, 2011

December 2011 Q&AI hope that everyone is enjoying their holidays. Since I’ve arrived back in Wisconsin I’ve been spending my time editing photos and trying to catch up on work which has piled up over the last few months. I had over 4,500 from the last 2 months and I’m now down to 2,000. You can see some of my results in my Galapagos Island photos. I’m also starting to get ready for my trip to Antarctica in January.

I thought I’d take a break from my photo editing to answer some reader questions. As always, you can submit questions via my Facebook page. (more…)

UNESCO World Heritage Site #170: Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd

Posted by on December 27, 2011

UNESCO World Heritage Site #170: Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd

UNESCO World Heritage Site #170: Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd

From the World Heritage inscription:

The four castles of Beaumaris, Conwy, Caernarfon, Harlech and the attendant fortified towns at Conwy and Caernarfon are the finest examples of late 13th century and early 14th century military architecture in Europe, as demonstrated through their completeness, pristine state, evidence for organized domestic space, and extraordinary repertory of their medieval architectural form.

The castles as a stylistically coherent groups are a supreme example of medieval military architecture designed and directed by James of St George, King Edward I of England’s chief architect, and the greatest military architect of the age.

The extensive and detailed contemporary technical, social, and economic documentation of the castles, and the survival of adjacent fortified towns at Caernarfon and Conwy, makes them one of the major references of medieval history.

The castles of Beaumaris and Harlech are unique artistic achievements for the way they combine characteristic 13th century double-wall structures with a central plan, and for the beauty of their proportions and masonry.

There are several significant things about the castles of Edward I in Wales:

1) The castle and walls of Conway might be the best preserved medieval city walls in Europe. The only other walls I’ve seen which were this quality were in Dubrovnik, Croatia. You can walk almost the entire

2) Caernarfon Castle is currently the location where the Prince of Wales is crowned. The round platform in the photo is the location of the crowning ceremony.

3) The entirety of the castles were part of the final conquest of Wales by the English. Having difficulty conquering the Welsh, Edward I created a ring of castles in the north of Wales to surround the mountains making it difficult for the Welsh to kick the English out.

I found the castles to be perhaps the most interesting attraction in Northern Wales.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage sites.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #169: Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and Canal

Posted by on December 26, 2011

UNESCO World Heritage Site #169: Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and Canal

UNESCO World Heritage Site #169: Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and Canal

From the World Heritage inscription:

The Pontcysyllte Canal is a remarkable example of the construction of a human-engineered waterway in a difficult geographical environment, at the end of the 18th century and the start of the 19th century. It required extensive and boldly conceived civil engineering works. The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct is a pioneering masterpiece of engineering and monumental architecture by the famous civil engineer Thomas Telford. It was constructed using metal arches supported by tall, slender masonry piers. The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and Canal are early and outstanding examples of the innovations brought about by the Industrial Revolution in Britain, where they made decisive development in transport capacities possible. They bear witness to very substantial international interchanges and influences in the fields of inland waterways, civil engineering, land-use planning, and the application of iron in structural design.

Of the many world heritage sites I’ve visited, I’ve had the biggest surprises visiting the industrial themed sites. They don’t get the same amount of attention as the ancient sites do, but they are just as important to the development of the modern world.

The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct doesn’t look like much at first, but at the time it was constructed in 1805, it was truly a wonder of the world. The aqueduct carries water traffic 126 ft (38.4m) above the valley which it crosses. It is considered perhaps the greatest engineering achievement of the great 19th Century engineer, Thomas Telford.

The aqueduct can be cross on foot or by canal barge. During the summer, there are many barges which carry passengers across the aqueduct.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.