A couple of weeks ago I took a trip to Moab, Utah and spent some time at one of my favorite places: Arches National Park. The landscapes within Arches are spectacular and like no where else on earth, at least not that I am aware of. With so many interesting things to see and so many unique shapes, shadows and colors, it was the perfect place to practice some HDR photography.
Most people agree that societies should foster the happiness of their citizens. The U.S. Founding Fathers recognized the inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness. British philosophers talked about the greatest good for the greatest number. Bhutan has famously adopted the goal of Gross National Happiness (GNH) rather than Gross National Product. Even China champions a harmonious society. So, just how happy are we, and more generally speaking, how happy are the societies we live in? In an attempt to answer those questions, the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) developed the World Happiness Report and on September 9th, the body released the second edition of this interesting look at the world we live in.
As if the Bavarian Alps (Oberbayern) aren’t beautiful enough with the Wetterstein Mountains and the towering peak of the Zugspitze framing up some truly spectacular panoramas, non-natural beauty abounds throughout southern Germany. If your neck gets strained from looking up too much, you can always take a break and soak in some street level beauty in the form of the intricate and colorful fresco houses in towns like Garmisch, Grainau and Obergammergau. Known throughout the region as Lüftlmalerei or simply Luftl, these fresco paintings date back to the 18th century when wealthy shopkeepers, farmers and craftsmen chose to display their wealth in the form of decorative frescoes painted on the facades of their shops and homes.
Luftl come in different shapes and sizes and depict varying scenes and subjects, but typically they represent motifs from the Bible, portraits of the “house saint,” or snapshots from daily rural life. The paintings also began to incorporate and accentuate the architectural features of the houses such as windows and doors. Originally, these colorful paintings were applied to fresh lime plaster by mixing water with a chosen pigment. Upon application, the wet plaster absorbs the pigment and when dry, the resulting chemical reaction permanently affixes the colors into the plaster. This process obviously takes a long time and great care must go into cleaning and maintaining the frescoes, so modern, weatherproof techniques have taken over, but the resulting murals are no less captivating.
Next time you decide to go trekking or tramping through the Bavarian Alps, be sure to save some energy to walk around the villages you pass through. A turn around every corner, a deviation down nearly every alley or a bicycle ride through the winding streets and surrounding countryside will certainly keep your eyeballs and your imagination entertained. In fact, some of the houses and frescoes scattered across the region are so immaculate, the line between the folk tale depicted in the fresco and surrounding reality can easily become blurred.
Today is Mandela Day. We wish a healthy and happy 95th birthday to Nelson Mandela and as he spends his 41st day in hospital in South Africa, hope for a quick recovery. But Mandala Day is more than simply celebrating the birthday of this great and inspirational man. The purpose is to inspire individuals to take action to help change the world for the better, and in doing so build a global movement for good. You can learn more about what others are doing and what you can do to help achieve that worthwhile goal on the Mandela Day website.
Earlier this month, Transparency International, the anti-corruption and pro-transparency think tank based in Berlin, Germany released their 2013 Global Corruption Barometer. The comprehensive survey revealed that a startling 1 in 4 people had paid a bribe in the last 12 months and that over half of the people surveyed believed corruption had worsened. The good news is that people still believe they can make a difference when it comes to fighting corruption and are willing to take action to snuff it out.
For this edition of Flashback Friday, we’re reminiscing about situations that are bound to come up eventually if you travel long enough, far enough and to enough different places. These situations can happen to newbies and seasoned travelers alike, can involve humans, animals and the environment, and they can pop up anywhere from the subways of New York City, the streets of Paris, or the jungles of Africa. We’re talking about scary travel encounters. Have you ever experienced a tense situation on the road or had any scary travel encounters?
Times Square is one of the most iconic and recognizable places in the entire world. As such, it is a huge tourist attraction and on any given day, thousands of people descend on Time Square to soak in the scenery, get entertained by buskers, the Super Mario Brothers or the famous naked cowboys, and bask in the glow of arguably the largest concentration of electronic billboards and advertisements on the planet. Its easy to get caught up by the sights, sounds and smells of Times Square, but on a recent trip to the Big Apple, my curiosity was sparked by another aspect: how much power does it take to keep all of the signs, lights and billboards in Times Square lit up 24/7?
Jacques Cousteau was one of the greatest explorers and adventurers of our time, but he was also a scientist, researcher, filmmaker, author, innovator and conservationist. When he passed away in 1997 at the age of 87, the internet was still in its infancy, but globalization and global interconnectedness were already relevant terms and Cousteau also saw that interconnectedness in the environment and in the oceans where he spent so much of his life.
“However fragmented the world, however intense the national rivalries, it is an inexorable fact that we become more interdependent every day.”
Those words rang true when Cousteau first spoke them many years ago and now, nearly two decades after his death, they hold even more significance. So get out there and travel, get connected and meet the people with whom we share this great planet.
While we always advise people to stay flexible when planning an overseas trip and not to rely too heavily on guidebooks, etc., it does pay to do your homework before heading out for multiple reasons. Apparently this past weekend, Jennifer Lopez failed to do just that when the pop singer flew with entourage in tow to Turkmenistan to serenade and sing happy birthday to Turkmen strongman Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov. Little did the diva know that Turkmenistan doesn’t really have the best human rights record on the planet… in fact, it is one of the worst.
When I first read Mark Jenkins’s book Off The Map, a tale about his bold and adventurous crossing of Russia on a bicycle immediately following the collapse of the Soviet Union, one of the things that stuck in my mind was his description of the cars Russian KGB agents shadowed them in throughout their landmark journey. The “rumplesuits,” as Jenkins affectionately referred to his suspicious handlers, drove around in “sharkmobiles.” No matter how fast they pedaled, the group of cyclists could never shake the sharkmobiles. I tried to formulate an image of this so called sharkmobile in my mind and all I came up with was some sort of exaggerated version of a 1956 Cadillac Coupe de Ville. With it’s menacing eyes, a grill full of sharp teeth and fins extending from the rear, the Russians must have been driving something similar to the Cady. It wasn’t until I first saw a Lada 1500 (also VAZ 2101, 2103, 2105 and 21073), that I think I actually saw what Jenkins was referring to. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t, but somehow, sharkmobile seems to fit the Lada 1500 and its just one Russian automotive design that remains unique and confined to this part of the world.