The Jain Temple of Ranakpur

The spectacular Jain Temple of Ranakpur, India

During our 16 months in India, I dragged Thomas from one temple to another. Yes, I have a bit of an obsession, a rather insatiable appetite for architecture… temples, mosques, churches, fortresses, walled cities… I can’t get enough. (Stop laughing! If I have to spend hours watching him photograph every bug between Hong Kong and Rajasthan, he can visit a few temples.)

Well, my somewhat obsessive quest took us to one of the Grand Daddies of Indian architecture, the Jain Temple of Ranakpur, a VERY small, one-kiosk town northwest of Udaipur. Considered one of the masterpieces of Jain architecture, the huge fortified temple opens up into a surprisingly large multi-storied structure containing a series of vaulted chambers supported by 1,444 pillars. Each pillar is carved with unique designs ranging from sensuous dancers to geometric patterns to fine floral motifs. If you have never seen Jain carving, you are in for a treat.


The Mezquita of Cordoba with 360 Panorama

The Mezquita, CordobaClick for 360 panorama

The Mezquita of Cordoba, Spain is unlike any other building we’ve ever seen. Built on the ruins of a Visigoth church between 784 and 987AD, the Mezquita is the largest surviving Moorish mosque on the Iberian peninsula. It’s world-renowned for its stunning arched hypostyle hall and exceptionally ornate mihrab. When Catholic rulers regained control of Cordoba, they cut an enormous chunk out of the heart of the sprawling medieval mosque and constructed a towering cathedral right in the middle of it. The result is a unique mosque-church hybrid with wildly contradictory architectural and artistic styles. We love it!!! And so does Continue…

Prague Virtual Tour

The real thrill of Prague is simply getting lost in the city’s narrow lanes and side streets taking in the history. So for those of you who have never had the opportunity to explore Prague (and, of course, for Prague fans), we put together a little virtual tour using full-screen Google street views. We’ve chosen six popular starting points, but don’t be afraid to set out on your own and explore. Guide to Google street view controls

Just Click the Upper-Left Corner of a Starting Point Below

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  1. Old Town Square (Dlouhá) – This is the heart of Prague’s stunning old town. The striking Gothic Church of Our Lady before Týn rises up on the far side of the square when the street view first loads. Take off in any direction. If you want a challenge, walk to the clock tower at the 14th century Old Town Hall to check out the astronomical clock, and then head south by southwest and follow the crowds towards the Charles Bridge.
  2. Charles Bridge – Prague’s most lively and photogenic bridge over the Vltava. When the street view loads, if you turn to your right, you can see the famous Continue…

Wat Si Chum 360 View

Perhaps the most spectacular site in Sukhothai is the enormous Buddha in the ruins of Wat Si Chum. The Buddha’s stunningly elongated fingers are one of the most photographed things in Thailand. (There’s a picture of Thomas in the typical pose in our previous mini-pictorial.) To share this amazing location with everyone, we’ve put up a 360 panorama, so whirl around to your heart’s content.

By the way, I should mention that photographing this site without people in the picture – something which is necessary to make a 360 in such an enclosed space – was no easy task. Thomas is right outside convincing the hordes to stand back while I hurriedly snap away.

Petronas Towers

If you visit Kuala Lumpur, you have to make the architectural pilgrimage to the city’s world-famous Petronas Towers. At 451.9 m (1,483 ft), Malaysia’s beautiful twin towers reigned supreme from 1998-2004. But after Taipei 101 and now Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, which dwarfs every building on the planet, these beauty queens have long lost their title.

Don’t feel too bad for them, they still remain the tallest twin towers and the dramatic Sky Bridge is the highest such structure in the world, so those who love superlatives should be satisfied. They’re so impressive that we thought they merited one of our 360 panoramic views.

Unlike other skyscrapers around the globe, the focus here is walking across the Sky Bridge rather than zooming up to the upper viewing deck. If you want to walk across the bridge, which is not truly fixed to the buildings but rather designed to allow movement (yikes), you need to get to the towers at latest 8 AM in the morning to line up for tickets. (7 AM would be a safer bet.) Be warned that your actual assigned time to visit the bridge might be much later in the day, so don’t plan on moving on too quickly.

Tickets to walk across the Sky Bridge, which are listed as free in many guidebooks, now cost 10 ringgit. In addition, you are tortured with a video on the importance of Petronas and the petrochemical industry, a major snooze-fest. Visitors who want to go to the viewing deck on the 82 floor (still not the top) pay 40 ringgit. A more expensive premium trip is also available including lunch.

What Would Grandma Mary Do?

Langkawi Pantai KokClick on the panorama above to enlarge

At times, Langkawi seems like one money making scheme after another. Although the island is 478 square kilometers and it’s filled to the brim with tourists, public transportation is conspicuously absent. Instead, visitors can use the over-priced taxis governed by one hell of a well-organized taxi mafia.

Pantai Cenang too overdeveloped? Want to get out and explore the island and you don’t feel like shelling out a ton of dough on taxis? Just join an expensive, cookie-cutter island hopping tour. Or how about a $60 snorkeling tour? (Are you people serious? Is this Monte Carlo?)

No, in the spirit of independent travel (and thriftiness) Thomas and I, armed with a map, decided to rent a motorbike and drive around the island on our own. First stop, the bay at the base of that stunning karst ridge that I showed in my last posting.

We wound our away along the well-paved streets past gas stations, hotels, a couple of attractive rice fields, the airport, a police academy, a mall, and some apartment buildings until we came to Pantai Kok, which seemed refreshingly green and impressively undeveloped. We parked our bike and wandered down to the beach for a swim.

Being the grandchild of the renowned world traveler and celebrated adventuress, Grandma Mary, I always have to see what lies around the next bend. I strolled along the beach past some bungalows to a series of boulders extending out into the ocean. Working my way up onto the the smooth boulders, I continued to work my way around the bend. (I should mention here that climbing boulders to get to an unknown destination is also a trait I share with my grandma, who injured herself climbing a waterfall in her sixties.)

And there it was. Certainly the most Continue…