Malta and Gozo Pictorial

Malta and Gozo Pictorial

As we mentioned in Spring Hiking in Gozo, Malta is one of the Mediterranean’s most interesting, underestimated and misrepresented destinations.

Despite the fact that Malta often markets itself as a cheap beach destination for package tourists, we’re huge fans of the tiny nation because it boasts a rich cultural and natural heritage including multiple UNESCO World Heritage sites.

For romantics, Malta is home to the exceptional walled cities of Valletta and Mdina, both of which receive my official stamp of approval as a walled city freak. For archaeology buffs, the megalithic temples of Hagar Qim, Ggantija, and the mysterious Hypogeum of Hal-Saflieni are among the oldest surviving structures in the world, predating even the Egyptian pyramids. For naturalists, the arid landscape of Gozo offers a selection of beautiful cliff-side hikes as well as gorgeous sapphire waters.

In fact, the two islands offer so much, we decided to put together a pictorial to show off its treasures. I should mention that, somewhat ironically, the people most likely to be disappointed by Malta are beach enthusiasts. Hmmm.

Note: These scenes were photographed in 2005 when Hagar Qim was still uncovered. Since then, a rather unsightly shelter has been built over the site to protect it from the elements. Good for posterity, bad for visitors with cameras.

Berlin Festival of Lights

The Berlin Festival of Lights 2012 just ended last night and, as you can see in our pictorial, it was absolutely mind-blowing. The event was crawling with visitors and photographers scouring the city for colorful light art, dancing laser animations, and full-facade video projections that turn Berlin into “the place to be” in Europe in late October. It’s an amazing concept to encourage visitors to explore and interact with Berlin’s unique architectural heritage – and we absolutely loved it!

Flashback: Egypt 1994

In a time of great tension, we thought we would flash back to 1994, a somewhat less volatile period when Thomas and I spent two and a half months in Egypt. It’s an amazing country with an unparalleled history; we desperately hope it remains open and accessible to outsiders. If the pictures look old, that’s because they are from the last millennium. 🙂

Neighborhood Graffiti

When I think of Berlin, I think of graffiti. The colorful spray paint art is everywhere in the city. Although the most famous canvas is probably the Berlin Wall, massive works of art can also be found under bridges, on subway cars, on facades, and down narrow alleyways. Walking around my neighborhood, I snapped away as I encountered giant aliens, cartoon character cocktails, and amazing sunflower fields.

This is just a small sampler of Berlin’s graffiti art, but I know there will be a lot more to follow. 😉

Sukhothai Historical Park

While there may be some debate among historians, Sukhothai is generally considered the birthplace of Thai culture. The sprawling Sukhothai Historical Park preserves what’s left of the first capital of Siam and makes for a leisurely day out biking through the ruins. The site features a series of crumbling monasteries, temples, stupas, palaces, and stunning Buddha statues as well as portions of the original city fortifications.

While not on the same scale as the Southeast Asian super-monuments of Bagan and Angkor Wat, Sukhothai is still quite impressive and rivals the grandeur of Ayutthaya. For its historical and cultural significance, Sukhothai has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it’s definitely worth a day or two on the way north to Chiang Mai.

As with Ayutthaya, the Thai government has been playing around with ticketing and ended up with a rather absurd and impractical zone system. To make the situation worse, the current government has eliminated the combined ticket which requires visitors to buy individual tickets for each zone. Because the majority of the best preserved monuments are in the core zone, most visitors limit themselves to that single ticket. Despite the bureaucratic missteps, Sukhothai represents one of Thailand’s architectural and historical highlights.

Bali Pictorial

Those who know us well – especially fellow nomads – have expressed surprise that we spent so much time in Bali, a destination they associate with package tourism and sprawling resorts. In all honesty, I avoided Bali on my first trip to Indonesia ignorantly dismissing the island as little more than tourist central. But guess what, Bali is beautiful.

While it’s true that portions of Bali have embraced the dark side of tourism and a visit to Kuta can leave you cringing as hordes of drunk Australians stumble their way through the streets, the larger island provides plenty of room for off-the-beaten-track exploration. There is much to discover here: Bali’s unique Hindu culture and architecture is visually stunning; colorful festivals and parades occur throughout the year; the sand runs the spectrum from powder white to glistening gold to charcoal grey to jet black; and the lush tropical center of the island provides for great walks. Perhaps the greatest discovery for us was that the scuba diving is absolutely world-class (and I don’t say that lightly.)

We liked Bali so much that we decided to put together a pictorial to share some of the island’s unique beauty. (I’ll admit the pictorial is a bit culture heavy, but – hey – how many more pictures of rice terraces can we post?) 🙂

Tulamben Underwater Pictorial

As Thomas mentioned in his piece on independent diving in Tulamben, one of our major goals during our 14 dives here was to practice our underwater photography skills.

We spent hours exploring every inch of the U.S.S. Liberty as well as the neighboring sites of Coral Garden and the Drop-Off. We sat at 25 meters waiting next to small cleaning stations where eels and fish allowed themselves to be cleaned by half a dozen species of cleaner shrimp.

We experimented with ISO, flash output, shutter and aperture settings, and custom white balance to see what would produce the best pictures. And gradually we got better. Underwater photography isn’t easy especially with the limited equipment we carry with us. Staying still underwater while focusing on something that is half an inch long requires some serious effort. Despite the challenges, we have produced our first complete underwater pictorial. Even Jacques Cousteau had to start out somewhere. 🙂

Malaysia Pictorial

From the futuristic Petronas twin towers to the stunning reefs of Sipidan, the colonial backstreets of Malacca and Penang to the wildlife of the great Kinabatangan River, Malaysia truly deserves the cliched title of “the land of contrasts.”

As we move on to the remote Indonesian state of Kalimantan in southern Borneo, we have put together another pictorial to capture just a bit of the visual overload in Magnificent Malaysia.

Penang Pictorial

Twenty years ago, I passed through Penang on my way to Sumatra. My two days here were enjoyable, but now I realize that I saw absolutely nothing during my short stay. Wow, did I underestimate this place.

Fortunately, Thomas and I had the opportunity to return and take some time to explore Penang’s amazing cultural and natural heritage. It takes time to appreciate the depth of Penang. No place more deserves the title of World Heritage Site. For that reason, I’ve put together a pictorial to share Penang’s treasures with everyone.

Kek Lok Si Illuminated

To celebrate the year of the rabbit, Penang’s massive Kek Lok Si, the largest Chinese temple in Malaysia, has been decked out with 12,000 red and yellow Chinese lanterns as well as over 250,000 decorative bulbs. In addition to the temple, the newly constructed super-pagoda built to house Kek Lok Si’s 30 meter (100 ft) Kuan Yin statue is also being lit up each night. The twinkling complex sitting high above historical Georgetown gives a whole new meaning to the term “Buddhist enlightenment.”