September 8, 2018

THE COLOSSI OF ABU SIMBEL

Three hundred kilometers south of Aswan right in the middle of the Nubian desert close to the border of Sudan, stands this humongous stone temple dedicated to the Egyptian god Ramesses. Rising 21 meters (that’s about 7 stories), the four enthroned statues of Egypt’s greatest pharaoh-god who was described as “a powerful lion with claws extended and a terrible roar”, sat in silence gazing into eternity while facing the sun that rose in the east. I think the primary purpose in building this was to instill awe and fear in the hearts of his enemies, the Nubians who were living at the farthest southern periphery of his empire.   Centuries…

August 30, 2018

THE WALK ALONG THE WARTIME TUNNELS OF LAGAZUOI

During the First World War, there was bitter fighting here in this rugged, rocky mountains between the Austrians and Italians. Soon after war was declared, the more inferior Austro-Hungarian troop retreated into this part of the Dolomiti mountains to wage a high-altitude war at almost 3,000 meters. It soon turned into a tunnel war as both sides dug, in abandoning frontal assaults which was useless in the mountains. So the aim was to blast off the enemy from the peaks with the one occupying the higher elevation having the advantage. It must’ve been hellish for the soldiers of both sides who fought not only the enemy but also the cold,…

August 18, 2018

ONBOARD THE BERNINA EXPRESS

There are two great train journeys in Switzerland. One is the Glacier Express that runs between Zermatt and St. Moritz and the other one is the Bernina Express that runs from Chur/St. Moritz to the southern Italian city of Tirano. Like they say, from the glistening glaciers to the swaying palms since it starts from the Alps and winds its way far down below to the Italian border.   We boarded the Bernina Express in the dead of winter and were greeted with an all-white landscape throughout the journey as the train slowly picked its way through thick snowdrifts that mostly covered the railway tracks while negotiating 55 tunnels and…

August 7, 2018

GOING ON SAFARI

Kruger National Park is in the northern part of South Africa in Mpumalanga and Limpopo Province, about 400 kms. from Johannesburg. It is one of the world’s largest wildlife-watching places where you will find Africa’s Big Five (buffalo, rhino, elephant, lion and leopard) along with some other 140 mammals and 500 species of birds all living in the bushveld. The park is huge with an area of 19, 624 sq. kms. and the distances are great, stretching 329 kms. from north to south and 80 kms. from east to west. There are 2,600 well-paved all-weather roads meandering around the great sweep of this vast plain in what is seemingly an…

July 25, 2018

EL CAMINO DE SANTIAGO: A PILGRIMAGE TO SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA

Today, July 25, is the Feast of St. James, Christ’s Apostle whose remains are believed to be buried in the northern Spanish town of Santiago de Compostela which has become a pilgrimage site for Christians since the Medieval times. I biked the pilgrimage route back in 2014 and this is what I went through…..   Finally, after years of procrastinating, I found myself on the way to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, biking the whole 750km. route from Pamplona close to the French border. With a backpack filled with some clothes, a camera, some Granola bars and a bottle of water, I pedaled away on a bright morning along the…

July 18, 2018

ONE NIGHT IN PIAZZA SAN PIETRO

The large square right in front of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican is the first place that people find themselves in when they come visiting. Right in the center stands an obelisk topped by a Cross that came all the way from Egypt which was erected in the 16th century. Previous to that, it stood in the middle of Nero’s Circus where brutal games were held and early Christians were executed. Ironic, isn’t it? Bernini designed the square including the curving colonnaded arcade that had four columns deep above which were sculptures of different saints standing on the roof. Pope Alexander II had it designed in such a way…

July 12, 2018

THE BOEING FLYING FORTRESS

It can be argued that the B-17 was the one that brought Nazi Germany down to its knees. Day and night, it struck deep into enemy territory mostly unescorted, laying to waste the industrial might of Hitler and his capacity to sustain the war. It dropped almost half of the 1.5 tons of bombs used in Europe. This strategic bomber carried a crew of ten and bristled with 50 cal. machineguns that made it a formidable opponent of the Luftwaffe’s fighters. With its high-altitude bombing run, it put the plane out of reach of most anti-aircraft fire thus making it almost invulnerable from flak, hence the nickname. I shot “Sentimental…

July 6, 2018

THE MEDIEVAL ISLE OF MONT ST. MICHEL

Some 2 kms. off the Normandy coast of France lies this 100-hectare island that is both a fortress and a monastery with a cathedral at the top. It has been a strategic location since ancient times because it was easy to defend, helped by the high tide that could isolate it or drown invaders trying to scale the high walls. The topography exemplifies the feudal social structure of that time with God and the Church at the top with the clergy’s living quarters below and the houses for the small population of fishermen and farmers at the base. It used to be isolated from the mainland during high tide but…

June 28, 2018

COUNTING SHEEP IN PASSO GIAO

During our exploration of the Italian Dolomites, we stopped for the night in Passo Giao and stayed in one rustic hotel which was located right by the side of the two-lane winding road. The Giao Pass is a high mountain pass with a rocky peak called Nuvolau (2,574 m) which has quite a large pastureland at its foot. Next morning, while having coffee on the balcony admiring the view of the mountain range, I saw this big herd of sheep – a thousand or so – heading up the hill. So I got the camera and rushed outside to catch them feeding on the grass on the slopes. It was…

June 24, 2018

MONACO: C’EST LA MAGNIFIQUE!

Hemmed in by mountains on one side and the sea on the other side, this small Principality that is only 2 sq. km. has thrived well and prospered in what has become a playground for the rich. Just look at all the multimillion-dollar yachts berthed in the harbor! Even its architecture has a florid display of decorative elements ranging from colorful turrets in the balcony to sinuous caryatids, blending into a picturesque fantasy of luxury that is a throwback to the 19th century Belle Epoque (Beautiful Era). We spent half a day here as part of the tour package from our cruise ship which docked in nearby Cannes. There was…