8 Facts You Might Not Have Known About Thailand

Thailand is one of the most visited countries in the world. Yet, there are many facts which people might not know about the “Land of Smiles”. Even though I’ve spent almost a half year here in total, there are still things I’m learning about the country. As I am spending the month of October in Bangkok, I thought it would be a good time for another installment of “8 Facts You Might Not Have Known…”

Continue reading “8 Facts You Might Not Have Known About Thailand”

Historic Center of Cordoba

UNESCO World Heritage Site #185: Historic Centre of Cordoba
Historic Centre of Cordoba:
My 185th UNESCO World Heritage Site

From the World Heritage inscription for the Historic Center of Cordoba:

Cordoba’s period of greatest glory began in the 8th century after the Moorish conquest, when some 300 mosques and innumerable palaces and public buildings were built to rival the splendors of Constantinople, Damascus, and Baghdad. In the 13th century, under Ferdinand III, the Saint, Cordoba’s Great Mosque was turned into a cathedral and new defensive structures, particularly the Alcázar de Los Reyes Cristianos and the Torre Fortaleza de la Calahorra, were erected.

The Historic Centre of Cordoba now comprises the streets surrounding the monument and all the parcels of land opening on to these, together with all the blocks of houses around the mosque-cathedral. To the south this area extends to the further bank of the River GuadaIquivir (to include the Roman bridge and the Calahorra), to the east to the Calle San Fernando, to the north to the boundary of the commercial centre, and to the west to incorporate the AIcázar des Los Reyes Cristianos and the San Basilio quarter. The city, by virtue of its extent and plan, its historical significance as a living expression of the different cultures that have existed there, and its relationship with the river, is a historical ensemble of extraordinary value.

Of all the UNESCO sites I have visited in Andalusia, I enjoyed my short time in Cordoba most of all. I found the old town to be quaint, peaceful and relaxing. The center of the city is the mosque/cathedral. As far as I know, it is unique in the world as it is both a former mosque and the current cathedral for Cordova. After the Reconquista, the Catholic Church took over the central mosque and built a Christian church right in the middle of the building. It makes for a fantastic architectural clash.

Cordova is easy to get to by high-speed train from Seville or Madrid and is definitely worth the trip. It is one of the places in Spain I would love to return to, to stay for an extended period of time.

Overview

Historic Center of Cordoba

The Historic Center of Cordoba is a cultural UNESCO World Heritage Site in Spain. It was inscribed into the list in 1984 as an urban community and landscape. This UNESCO property consists of a Mosque-Cathedral along with its surrounding quarters. This area is a perfect example of how the city flourished during the time of the Islamic Caliphate in Cordoba.

Cordoba is part of the Andalusian region of Spain. It was also conquered by the Moors during the 711 AD along with the rest of the region. This conquest transformed the urban landscape of Cordoba and making it a cultural center.

About the Historic Center of Cordoba

Historic Center of Cordoba

The Historic Center of Cordoba is not only notable for its concentration of cultural and historic structures, it is also the largest of its kind in Europe. A decade after the site was inscribed into the UNESCO list, it was extended to include the old town. Within the historic center of Cordoba, you will find a wide range of monuments that showcase the heritage of Arabics, Christians, and Romans, that all had an influence on the urban landscape of the city.

In 1236, after the Moors abandoned the city, it became largely Christian again. The mosque was converted into a Christian cathedral. This was under the command of King Ferdinand III. He built new defences on top of being able to convert to mosque into a cathedral. It also helped for the newly Christian city to develop and grow. The historic city centre consists of palaces, fortresses, and churches. Even though the city no longer held political power with the new Christian rule, it remained to be an important commercial center due to the presence of the copper mines in Sierra Morena.

Some of the most notable monuments found within the city’s historic center include Alcazar des los Reyes Cristianos, Torre Fortaleza de la Calahorra, Alcazar, San Basilio District, and the Roman bridge over the Guadalquivir River. The Alcazar was a Moorish castle that was adapted for Christian use in the 14th century. On the other hand, King Henry II also re-worked the Calahorra Tower in 1369. Meanwhile, the following historic monuments are part of the historic old town that was added to the UNESCO property during the extension in 1994: Episcopal Palace, Royal Stables, and the Diocesan Fine Arts Museum.

Travel Tips

Historic Center of Cordoba

Want to visit the Historic Center of Cordoba? Take these travel tips before you go:

    • Why go? It is considered as one of the richest cultural gems in the world, not just in Spain. In particular, the historic center of Cordoba is the perfect example of how two different religious beliefs can co-exist.
    • To travel to Cordoba, you must take a flight via the Seville airport. There are buses that travel from the airport to a railway station wherein you must travel another 40 minutes to get to the historic center.
    • There are plenty of hotels and accommodations in the Jewish quarter that you can choose from during your trip to Cordoba. Some of these hotels are 18th century palaces that feature Moorish architecture.
  • The historic quarter is made up of small streets and alleys, whitewashed courtyards and squares. Hence, tourists who visit are encouraged to walk to explore the historic town.

View the complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Spain.

View the list of all of the UNESCO World Heritage sites I have visited on my travels.

Last updated: Sep 15, 2017 @ 2:29 am

6 Things that Make a Great Hotel Room

I have spent well over 1,000 nights in hotel rooms since 2007. You could say I’ve become a minor expert on the subject of hotel accommodations.

Many of the things I look for in a room are not the things that most hoteliers seems to care about. There seems to be an obsession amongst some high end hotels with the thread count of their sheets and the number of pillows they can put on a bed. I don’t think these really matter to most people.

Regardless if you are a business traveler or traveling with a family on vacation, it is necessary for modern hotels to have certain amenities to cater to the 21st Century Traveler. Continue reading “6 Things that Make a Great Hotel Room”

Alhambra, Generalife and Albayzín, Granada

World Heritage Site #184: Alhambra, Generalife and Albayzín, Granada
Alhambra, Generalife and Albayzín, Granada: My 184th UNESCO World Heritage Site

From the World Heritage inscription for Alhambra, Generalife and Albayzín, Granada:

Unique artistic creations, the Alhambra and the Generalife of Granada bear exceptional testimony to Muslim Spain of the 16th century. They form an exceptional example of royal Arab residences of the medieval period: neither destroyed nor changed by the alterations of radical restorations, the Alhambra and the Generalife appear to have escaped the vicissitudes of time. Despite the development that followed the Christian conquest, the Albayzín still bears witness to the medieval Moorish settlement, as its urban fabric, architecture and main characteristics (form, materials, colours), were not changed when it was adapted to the Christian way of life, to survive as a remarkable example of a Spanish-Moorish town.

If you were to make a short list of the most important heritage sites in the world, the Alhambra would almost certainly make the cut. It is not only an architectural marvel but also serves as Spain’s greatest monument to the period of time when the Moors ruled the Iberian Peninsula. The historical and cultural significance of the meeting of the Arab and Christian worlds can still be seen in Spain today in the names of many places, architecture, and food.

If you are in Grenada, a visit to the Alhambra should be at the top of your list. Make sure to buy your tickets in advance or arrive very early, as there are a limited number of tickets available every day and they do sell out quickly.

Overview

Alhambra, Generalife and Albayzín, Granada

Alhambra, Generalife and Albayzín, Granada is a cultural site listed as one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Spain in 1984. This property is a collection of various sites noted for its exemplary reminder of Moorish Spain. During the 8th century, the Iberian Peninsula was conquered by the Islamic Moors of Northern Africa. Since the initial conquest, there was a struggle between Moors and Christians that lasted for centuries thereafter. The Nasrid Dynasty was the last of the Muslim dynasty to take over Spain until they were all banished in 1492.

The many years of struggle against the Moorish folks have also resulted in lasting evidence in various aspects of life in this part of Spain, but it is most evident in the architecture. The urban landscape and the medieval European heritage combine to the Alhambra, Generalife and Albayzín, Granada being named as a UNESCO site.

About Alhambra, Generalife and Albayzin, Granada

The UNESCO property of Alhambra, Generalife and Albayzín, Granada is located on two hills located next to each other. These two hills are only separated by River Darro. Both Alhambra and Albayzin represent the medieval district in Granada, Spain. You will find beautifully preserved Arabic quarters in these parts of the city. This is also where you will find one of the best preserved monuments from the Moorish era in the area, which includes the Alhambra fortress and residence, and the gardens of the Generalife.

Alhambra, Generalife and Albayzín, Granada

Alhambra, also known as the “red fortress”, is a complex made up of a palace and fortress. This was built for by the Moorish monarchs that once ruled Alhambra. The first mention of this fortress was in the 9th century. The city of Alhambra was transformed into a palatine city during the rule of the Nasrid Dynasty, which led to the building of the beautiful gardens that are still preserved until today.

The Palacio de Generalife is another distinctive structure that emerged from the Moorish rule in Granada. It was the summer palace and country estate at that time. The palace was built for by the Nasrid dynasty in the 14th century.

Albayzin, on the other hand, is the residential district in this UNESCO site. This residential area was included in the UNESCO protected area because it exhibits the Moorish influence when it comes to town planning and architecture. In fact, exploring Albayzin will showcase a harmonious co-existence of the Nasrid buildings with that of the Christian buildings. The small squares and narrow streets were part of the Medieval town plan that was adapted from the Moorish influence. This area is considered today as one of the best examples of Moorish town planning. Aside from being a premier example of Moorish town planning, Albayzin also earns a nod from UNESCO for its excellent state of preservation. They have maintained the original residential character of this town.

This UNESCO property was inscribed in 1984. Ten years later, it was extended with the Albayzin quarter added to the protected area.


View the complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Spain.

View the list of all of the UNESCO World Heritage sites I have visited on my travels.

Last updated: Sep 15, 2017 @ 12:51 am

Renaissance Monumental Ensembles of Ubeda and Baeza

UNESCO World Heritage Site #183: Renaissance Monumental Ensembles of Úbeda and Baeza
Renaissance Monumental Ensembles of Úbeda and Baeza: MY 183rd UNESCO World Heritage Site

From the World Heritage inscription for the Renaissance Monumental Ensembles of Úbeda and Baeza:

The examples of architectural and urban design in Úbeda and Baeza were instrumental in introducing to Spain of Italian Renaissance design criteria but had their origins in the Islamic period. The exceptional feature of this cities lies on the fact that they have structured in a dual complementary and inseparable fashion. This duality makes them operate in many aspects as a single city, with their own affinities and features and differential shades of meaning characterizing their morphology and historical development until present times. The central areas of Úbeda and Baeza constitute outstanding early examples of Renaissance civic architecture and urban planning in Spain in the early 16th century and achieved exceptional development characterized by the influence of humanism. This development of constructive solutions in the field of stereotypy made it possible to adopt complex architectural solutions, which have had an evidenced and relevant impact on the architecture of Spanish America, confirming, in this versatile way of dialogue with the American cultural world, their character of an open and universal project.

The two small towns, Úbeda and Baeza, some 10 km from each other, are located in southern Spain between the regions of Castile and Andalusia, on the northern slopes of the valley of the Guadalquivir River. Being on the frontier of the two regions, the towns have assumed a character of contrasts, which is reflected in the urban fabric that is of Arabic and Andalusian origin and more northern influences. In the 8th century Moorish conquest the towns became fortresses, which quickly attracted fortified urban settlement with a characteristic layout of narrow irregular streets. Úbeda was conquered by he Christian army of Ferdinand III in 1233-34, playing a role as a frontier fortress after the fall of Granada in 1492. Baeza, a minor settlement in the Roman times, was taken over by the Christians in 1226-27. Both towns prospered for a time in the 16th century, and have survived until the present day. They are an exceptional example of the distribution of urban functions so that the sum of the monumental site of Baeza (public, ecclesiastic and educational) and of Úbeda (aristocratic and palaces) make up a complete Renaissance urban scheme of high architectural quality.

I drove to the towns of Ubeda and Baeza on my way to Granada. They are very close and if you visit one you can easily visit the other. It can also be easily visited on a day trip from Granada if you are in the area.

That being said, I didn’t think this was one of the most stellar examples of a World Heritage site. Baeza was far more photogenic than Ubeda and it was easier to walk around the city to explore its heritage. Of the Spanish UNESCO sites I’ve visited, I was least impressed with this one. It is definitely on the margins of what I would call “world heritage”. They are nice towns, but I don’t think they quality as world level.

Overview

Renaissance Monumental Ensembles of Úbeda and Baeza

The Renaissance Monumental Ensembles of Úbeda and Baeza is a cultural UNESCO World Heritage Site in Spain. This is a collection of multiple sites located in Ubeda and Baeza. The sites were awarded the World Heritage Site status in 2003. It consists primarily of an urban landscape that contains post-medieval and European monuments. According to UNESCO, the sites that were included in the protected area showcase the best examples of Italian Renaissance architecture in these parts of Spain. These two towns are located in the Andalusian province of Spain.

In the 16th century, both Ubeda and Baeza developed their wealth. They ended up competing in terms of creating the best and most elaborate Renaissance buildings. The aristocratic families seem to be the driving force for these developments. However, the Renaissance buildings located in both towns were a work of Spanish architect Andres de Vandelvira.

About the Renaissance Monumental Ensembles of Ubeda and Baeza

The Renaissance Monumental Ensembles of Úbeda and Baeza is a collection of sites recognized by UNESCO for its cultural and architectural value. To be specific, the architectural features that were featured in both towns reflect the culture and society of these towns during the 16th century. Among the structures included within the UNESCO listing were Renaissance and Isabelline-style buildings, walled cities, cathedrals, and more. All of these structures were built in the 16th century.

Ubeda

Renaissance Monumental Ensembles of Úbeda and Baeza

The townscape of Ubeda is one that will impress, no doubt. Along the edge of this historic town, it is filled with green olive groves. This is the first sight you will relish before making your way into the town that is filled with facades of carved stones and whitewashed houses. For the best of Renaissance architecture in the city, head to the Plaza de Vazquez de Molina Square. You will relish the sight of old architectural wonders such as the Las Cadenas Palace, El Salvador Chapel, and Santa Maria de los Reales Alcazares Church. These buildings will make you feel like you are being transported back in time to the height of the town’s wealth in the 16th century. The civil character of the buildings in Ubeda is therefore undeniable.

Baeza

Renaissance Monumental Ensembles of Úbeda and Baeza

Baeza is a neighboring town of Ubeda in Spain’s Andalusian province. It is the other half of the Renaissance Monumental Ensembles of Úbeda and Baeza. Like Ubeda, Baeza is also rich in artistic wealth and monumentality. But unlike Ubeda wherein the civic character is prominent among the Renaissance and monumental buildings, religion is the key element for Baeza. This charming town features various Renaissance cathedrals that are among its most valuable treasures. The cathedrals offer distinctive Renaissance details such as flower ornamentation, pinnacles, braids, and diamond-shaped points. Two religious structures that are notable in Baeza for their artistic beauty and cultural heritage are the Seminary of San Felipe Neri and Palace of Jabalquinto.

Here are a few more notable structures to explore when you visit the Renaissance Monumental Ensembles of Úbeda and Baeza:

  • Plaza del Populo Square
  • Baeza Cathedral
  • The Old University of Baeza

View the complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Spain.

View the list of all of the UNESCO World Heritage sites I have visited on my travels.

Last updated: Sep 14, 2017 @ 8:28 pm

UNESCO World Heritage Site #182: Sian Ka’an

UNESCO World Heritage Site #182: Sian Ka’an
UNESCO World Heritage Site #182: Sian Ka’an

From the World Heritage inscription:

Sian Ka’an is situated on the eastern side of the Yucatán Peninsula in the state of Quintana Roo. Where possible, boundaries were defined to coincide with natural features: the site is bounded by the Caribbean Sea and the barrier reef to a depth of 50 m in the east; by the junction between the marshes and semi-evergreen forests in the south-east; and by the junction of Chetumal and Espiritu Santo bays catchment basin in the south. The northern and north-eastern boundaries are defined by the limits of farming cooperatives. The northern sites can be reached by a dirt track from Tulum, whereas Punta Pajaros is only accessible by boat or aircraft.

Sian Ka’an lies on a partially emerged coastal limestone plain which forms part of the extensive barrier reef system along the eastern coast of Central America. Much of the reserve lies in a zone of recent Pleistocene origin which still appears to be in a transitional stage. A large series of sinkholes (cenotes) exist in the area and are characteristic features of the Yucatán and Florida peninsulas. The hydrological cycle is complex and the water table is permanently close to the surface. There is little surface running water within the reserve as it usually filters fairly rapidly through the shallow rendzina and saskab (granular whitish and brittle limestone) soils, and the limestone rock to subterranean channels. Owing to their hardness the waters in the reserve are generally very clear. A geological fault crosses the reserve from south-west to north-east, influencing its topography and hydrology. In general, soils are unsuitable for agriculture.

Most people who travel to the Riviera Maya region of Mexico probably go to visit is famous beaches or Mayan ruins. They are probably unaware of the ecological treasure located nearby in Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve.

My day in Sian Ka’an was spent cruising through mangrove swamps in an outboard boat, photographing birds and exploring old Mayan structures.

If you should visit Tulum, Playa del Carmen or even Cancun I’d strongly suggest taking a trip away from the tourist hotspots for half a day and visit Sian Ka’an. Its a unique place to explore a mangrove ecosystem and it will give you a chance to see what the region looked like before the arrival of Europeans.

Overview

Sian Ka’an

Sian Ka’an is a natural UNESCO World Heritage Site in Mexico that was inscribed in 1987. Prior to being named as a natural UNESCO World Heritage Site, Sian Ka’an is already a biosphere reserve. It belongs to the Tulum municipality in Quintana Roo, Mexico. The site itself was established in 1986, which means that it earned Mexico the nod from UNESCO only a year after its establishment.

Sian Ka’an is famous as a tourist destination because of its sublime natural beauty. In fact, many would go as far as to claim that this is the most impressive part of the Yucatan Peninsula in terms of natural beauty and resources. It is therefore the second most visited attraction next to the Mayan ruins in Mexico.

About Sian Ka’an

The protected area that belongs to the UNESCO site of Sian Ka’an is estimated to be about 780,000 acres in land area. A part of this protected area consists of land area while some parts belong to the Caribbean Sea, specifically the coral reef system that belongs to the area encompassed by Sian Ka’an. In addition to this, there are also 23 archaeological sites linked to the Mayan civilization that are also included within the protected area. Today, it remains as the largest protected area within the Mexican Caribbean.

Sian Ka’an

The high biodiversity value of the Sian Ka’an protected area is part of the reason why it was recognized by UNESCO. There are thousands of flora and fauna species that inhabited this region. The following is a list of the biological species found in the protected area of Sian Ka’an:

  • Yucatan Black Howler Monkey
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Yellow-Lored Amazon
  • Ocellated Turkey
  • Wood Stork
  • White-Nosed Coati
  • Jaguar
  • Black Iguana
  • American Crocodile
  • Morelet’s Crocodile
  • Spotted Paca
  • Puma
  • White-Lipped Peccary
  • King Vulture
  • Tamandua
  • Brown Pelican
  • Neotropic Cormorant
  • Margay
  • Ocelot
  • Jabiru
  • Central American Agouti
  • Tayra
  • Baird’s Tapir
  • American Flamingo, etc.

Protection of the UNESCO Site

Sian Ka’an

Since Sian Ka’an was named into the UNESCO list in Mexico, there have been strong efforts to preserve it. To be specific, scientists, students, rural promoters, and international partners have worked to push over 200 conservation projects in the use of natural resources in the area. There are also environmental policies put in place to improve sustainability and to ensure that the resources available in the area will last for many more years to come.

There are several companies operating eco tours in the protected area. These are closely monitored by the authorities to ensure that the policies are not violated and that the resources are not depleted in the process. As one of the most spectacular and ecologically diverse spots in the world, UNESCO and the local authorities that manage the protected site want to keep it that way.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

The Single Biggest Thing You Can Do To Stay Safe While Traveling

I’ve been extremely fortunate traveling. In over five years traveling in over 100 countries I have never been robbed, mugged or even had anything stolen in my hotel room. Cross my fingers, I’ll be able to keep this streak going indefinitely.

That being said, I try not to do anything that will get me in trouble. I attempt to look and act rather innocuous, which means that hopefully some other unlucky traveler will get targeted instead of me.

However, in the course of my travels I’ve met many people and heard many stories of travelers who weren’t so lucky. In a shockingly large number of them, there was a theme which keeps cropping up. A thing that travelers keep doing, which is putting them at significant risk.

I have heard enough of these stories to be convinced that if you just do this one thing, the odds of bad things happening to you while traveling would be greatly reduced.

What is the secret?

Continue reading “The Single Biggest Thing You Can Do To Stay Safe While Traveling”

Amy’s First Passport Stamp

With half a decade of non-stop travel under my belt, I can talk about a lot of subjects related to travel. The one thing I cannot talk about, however, is what it feels like to travel for the first time. Recently my assistant Amy made her very first trip outside of US/Canada. I asked her to write about her experience traveling abroad for the first time.

In the comments, feel free to share your first time traveling outside of your home country. Everyone remembers their first time and everyone has a different story.

Here is Amy:

A Cross in the Pyrenees near Vall de Nuria
Growing up, my parents weren’t all that big into travel. While we had family vacations, they were always short road trips. So when I graduated from high school, I had been in only 5 states (all of them bordering my home state of Texas) and had never flown in a plane. When I finally did fly for the first time, I flew Dallas to Lubbock. That short haul flight was not all that impressive, nor was Lubbock, but it did prove to me that I could do it and there was nothing to be afraid of.

In the past ten years or so, I’ve definitely broadened my horizons. I’ve been to 34 US states, including Alaska and Hawaii. I have lived outside of my home region for a significant portion of time, and I definitely love the rush of adventure. That 18 year old that was afraid of flying? She herself grew into a glider pilot, and married an airline pilot. I now easily jump on and off flights, fly standby and can calculate the best routes better than the average gate agent.

However, one thing still eluded me – foreign travel. Continue reading “Amy’s First Passport Stamp”