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Steve and Pattie

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Wed
2
Apr '14

San Francisco city of coffee and fog

san-franciscoCoffee has become one of the great pleasures of the 21st century. For many years, coffee was something that was simply consumed to wake you up and give you that extra boost when you slowed down.

From Max Packs to percolators, coffee was a weak, unpleasant warm drink that was often dolled up with a few teaspoons of sugar and some half and half. Brands like Folgers and Hills Brothers were the absolute bottom of the barrel offering cheap beans, ground to the lowest common denominator. At one point, the chicory infused coffee from the French Market Cafe in New Orleans was considered gourmet as was the Antigua instant produced in the fields of Guatemala.

All of this changed with the arrival of Starbucks, Peet’s and Seattle’s Best brands. Seattle was, of course the birthplace of the coffee revolution. The dreary Northeastern weather was the perfect setting for the development of the new coffee mania that started in the 1990s.

Coffee became all about the bean and the quality; dripped, turkif-ied, expresso-ed and no longer percolated. Of course, Seattle couldn’t do it alone. A city like San Francisco would become the epicenter of the new coffee mentality with coffee addicts waiting for a delectable fix.

The dank climate here, chilly and wet in the winter, chilly and dry — and foggy — in the summer, yielded the perfect climate for the enjoyment of coffee in all its varieties and blends. The flavors of Ethiopia, Nicaragua, Sumatra, Jamaican Blue Mountain, etc. would foster a gourmet palate among the citizens of this foggy town.

San Francisco is a city known for its dining. There are literally hundreds of terrific restaurants. This is not a city where you have to spend a lot for a great meal. A cheap Thai restaurant or a small Mexican cafe can yield some pretty superb cuisine for a minimal price. There’s something in the air here that created a similar interest in coffee drinks.

Whether traveling the globe to taste the various flavors or trying the latest, low fat, mocha latte, San Franciscans, fogged in, chilled and saddled with gourmet palettes demanded the best from their coffee purveyors and a level of interest previously devoted to various wines both from California and Europe. Maybe it’s something in the water, the air, or the fog!

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Sat
7
Sep '13

Las Vegas – the City of Joy

Las VegasLas Vegas, which means meadows in Spanish, was established as a city in the year 1905.

Establishment of the city was important because when iron spring clustered in this area, which was actually a desert, Las Vegas turned into an ideal refueling and rest stop. However, soon the water supply proved inadequate to support the approximately 800 residents of the city and about a century ago the water spring started drying up when the population increased at an excessive rate following the growth of the gaming industry.

At present, Las Vegas is struggling a lot to meet its energy and water needs for the city’s more than 500,000 citizens and for 30 million tourists who come to the Sin City every year. Some of them choose this place to spend vacations but a majority of the tourists come here to enjoy the Strip’s excesses.

Climate of Las Vegas

The climate of Las Vegas is both a hot desert and a subtropical type because of the Mojave Desert on which the city lies actually. Throughout the year, Las Vegas enjoys good sunshine almost every day. The average rate of sunny days every year is about 300 and the total number of hours of sunshine in a year is 3,800.

The summer season that continues from June to September is very dry and mostly hot and then the average temperature goes up to 92.6 degree C. However during night, temperature goes down to 80 degree C. Winter stays there for a very short period (Only November and December). December is the coolest month in winter and during December, the temperature goes down to only 47 degree C. The mountains that surround the city mount up snow when it is winter but it is a rare scenario to observe. Only in the Las Vegas valley, snowfall continues for more than one week.

Economy of Las Vegas

Economical and financial growth of Las Vegas depends on three pillars:

  • Gaming,
  • Tourism
  • Conventions

The development of these three industries in turn promotes the growth of the restaurant, hotel and retail industries.

Tourism

The hotels and casinos of Las Vegas are mostly located in the downtown area which always attract Tourists. Downtown, most of the casinos are located in Fremont Street and the Stratosphere is the biggest of all those casinos. At present, bars are being developed alongside the casinos to entertain the different demographic of people visiting Las Vegas. It also helps in creating new attractions in the city, other than the Strip.

Why Las Vegas is a City Of Joy

Las Vegas is the city that offers at least something to everyone and while visiting the city one must not miss any of the best attractions of the Sin City as this will keep the trip incomplete. Las Vegas’ Strip is a world famous place that allows visitors to enjoy a cool walk on the hot desert, to take a stroll through downtown to enjoy the vibrating, dazzling lights of the city.

If you don’t visit the Strip you will miss the world’s famous recreations such as erupting volcanoes, the Egypt Sphinx and the Eiffel Tower (the light made replica of the original monuments) that are situated in front of most of the casinos and the hotels. And of course you should at least make one stop in one of the casinos and try one of the games, like Texas Holdem or blackjack.

Tourism in Las Vegas offers top-notch entertainment that includes concerts and shows, different attractions and world famous resorts. Nightlife in Las Vegas includes music show, art displays and special desert trips. There are several museums (both historical and entertainment) to enlighten all members of the family, including kids. Downtown Las Vegas offers an energetic display of different colors with a touch of nostalgia and of course a glimpse of the city’s future.

A bold approach

The casinos are the best attraction of the city, but the growth of this industry is to some extend being responsible for its declining condition as well. Actually, every year the casino gamblers generate more than 5,000 tons of waste that is again deposited to the land fills that increase pollution levels.

Las Vegas is already suffering from water scarcity and the remaining water bodies are further getting polluted due to increasing pollution level. However, the casino authorities have taken a bold approach to save the industry and the city together. If they succeed in this approach, Las Vegas can overcome water scarcity issue in future.

Most of the casinos now have back-house sorting stores where they recover these wastes to utilize them for other purposes. The casinos are including professionals who help in retrieving aluminum, paper and plastic products from the rubbish. They then compact the rubbish in bales that are ready to be sold in nearby markets. Food wastes are either being send to the closer pig farms or in composted. Environment experts around the world are appreciating this bold approach.

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Sat
16
Feb '13

Los Jaivas

ChileIf South American popular music were an endurance contest, Los Jaivas from Chile would have to be one of the front-runners.

After 34 years and 11 albums, this Chilean band – whose name means “The Crabs” – still know how to cultivate a happy dance vibe. They did just that at their gig last Saturday, mixing rock and Andean music and fluctuating between heart-felt drumming and gentle poetry accompanied by panpipes.

Apart from songs from “Hijos del Tierra” (“Sons of the Earth”), their latest album, the band must also have been blasting out a few old favorites, judging by the reaction from the mainly Chilean audience. Surrounded by people shouting along to the words, we felt like an impostor amongst true Jaiva groupies. Kindly, the groupies informed me that, as I wasn’t Chilean, I couldn’t be expected to know the lyrics.

The room full of obsessive fans was not an anomaly; Los Jaivas are such an institution in this country, that, we thought, it would be strange to be Chilean and not to have picked up the words to their more well-known songs at some point.

Their success may be due to the years when they improvised constantly in an effort “to let our subconscious open up, and to find something that was ours, something personal,” says Claudio Parra, one of the band’s two keyboard players. “This process led to the creation of our style, which is indigenous and Chilean, a result of the music we always listened to.”

The misnomer of “rock band” which many have tagged on Los Jaivas arises from their formation in the ’70s, Parra says. “It’s a generation thing” that has left its mark on their style, he says, but the group are far from rockers.

Originally from Vina del Mar, they started out playing at local parties and progressed gradually to international fame. Now based in France, they still come back to Chile regularly, and last weekend played to a full house at La Fabrica in Bellavista in a scene which could have been straight out of MTV. Machinery statues, metal doors and high ceilings reminiscent of the club’s origins as a factory give the place an industrial ambiance. On the night we visited, there was a suitably cool-looking audience, as well, who, chilling at spread-out tables, resembled the likes of Jameroquai fans with floppy hats and over-sized trainers. It was only the older generation section of the audience who gave the game away that we weren’t gathered there to see Jameroquai, but rather Los Jaivas.

The young, lycra-clad drummer, Juanita, wearing a spangly star on her forehead, makes for a bizarre contrast with the other four members of the band, who look like gray-haired friendly uncles. Which is exactly what the two keyboard players, Eduardo and Claudio Parra, are to Juanita, who replaced her father, their brother, Gabriel, as the group’s drummer after he tragically died in a car crash in Peru in 1982.

Together with Gato Alquinta and Fernando Flores, the three brothers originally started out in 1963 under the name of High Bass, mixing together cumbias, sambas, bossa nova and the twist, along with other rhythms. They first struggled for a few years, sometimes needing a cash advance just to make end meets. In 1969, when they decided to concentrate on improvising, they changed their name to Los Jaivas, and although over time they returned to composition, they still retain the freedom to improvise in solo parts.

From the original, mainly electrical instruments they used in the ’60s, they now tease out rhythms on drums, acoustic guitars, rain sticks, bells, tambourines and a trutruca, a long pipe that makes a fulsome, resounding harmonious bellow which would be much more at home in the mountains than Bellavista, but sounds beautiful all the same. The Sampona panpipes, another traditional Andean instrument, are used liberally and bring a vibrant sadness to the music which is complimented by the urgency of the drumming. There is obviously great communication between the group, which Claudio Parra attributes to them living all together with their families in one huge house, first in Argentina when they left Chile in 1973, and then for the following 10 years in France.

It is the experience of being based abroad that allows the group to be objective about Chile and to keep developing musically. Being away from home has also put their music onto an international footing in terms of audience and lyrics. “Hijos de Tierra,” the title song of their 1995 album, observes, “We are children of the earth, and its word is our history.”

But even having lived aboard for so many years, toured around the world and made a lot of money there still remains a quintessential Chilean element to their poetry. Part of this is how they express the paradoxical soothing effect of Chile’s turbulent geography; it carries on doing its own thing, erupting when it wants, regardless of what the human race is up to: “Volcano, in my beating heart your insolent lava heals my wounds.”

A regional but also universal environmental anger surges in “Bosques Virginales” (“Virgin Forests”), directed at the wanton misuse of Latin America’s natural resources and questioning the madness and barbarity threatening native woods. The song challenges modern utilitarian economics, insisting that the woods are where “everything is you (the forest), without more reason for being than the illusion of eternity.”

Like these native trees, Los Jaivas too are rooted in Chilean culture. Claudio Parra believes that the future of that culture depends on the creation of a Ministry of Culture, so that “the control is taken out of private hands, and can be given back to the people, a move which requires action from the government.”

La Fabrica at Ascencion 426 is open Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m., with either live music or a disco, there is also a restaurant that most people can afford as the average price per person is $10.

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Thu
22
Nov '12

Cha Am, Thailand

Cha AmCha Am is by far the most popular beach of Petchaburi province.  The beach itself is a clean white sand beach stretching over 7km long, and offers a variety of accommodations.  Arrays of shops and recreations abound in the area: water scooter, horse riding, banana boating, golfing or even para-gliding.

The north and south end of the beach provides more quietness and are more suitable for leisurely pursuits such as sunbath, swimming or just observing the coastal environment and the locals’ way of life.  Compared to the crowded and brassy ambience of Pattaya, Cha Am offers an alternative of a peaceful and less touristy seaside resort ideal for a relaxing getaway.

Cha Am beach was established after Hua Hin had been taken up by the royalty and dignitary as the imperial resort.  A group of aristocrats had pushed the clear-up of this sea-front mangrove forest to build a new seaside village in 1921.  They built a route from the railway station to this beach, and another road along the beach.

A cart-path was cut behind the sea-front plots of land.  The prince called the new village Sahakham Cha Am.  Since that time the site has undergone several developments, including the establishment of modern roads and the opening up of new resorts as well as myriad of facilities to serve tourists.  Nowadays, Cha Am ranks among one of the most frequented weekend resort towns.

Apart from the beautiful sand beach, there are many attractions around Cha Am and most of them are within short reach.  Here are some of the points of interest you may like to stop by while you are in Cha Am.

Maruekkha-thayawan Palace
This palace was once a seaside summer palace of the royal family.  Designed by an Italian architect during the reign of King Rama IV, it comprises of three two-storey wooden buildings adjointed to each other by elevated walkways.  Today the palace is open for public viewing.

Hua Hin
Hua Hin is a well-known seaside resort of Thailand and the oldest one of its kind.  The beach extends about three kilometers southwards of the fishing village.  It boasts a fine white sand, quality resort hotels, many water sports opportunities and boasts to be as popular as when it was first established.

Phra Nakhon Khiri Historical Park
Phra Nakhon Khiri Historical Park, or more locally known as Khao Wang, represents a fantastic mixture of traditional Thai, Chinese and Western architectural styles.  Its construction was commissioned by King Rama VI for himself and royal guests.  The park comprises of palaces, temples, royal halls and groups of building sprawling on Mahaisawan Hill.

Kaeng Krachan National Park
This park is the largest national park of Thailand.  Visitors to Kaeng Krachan will find plenty of outdoor activities available here such as trekking along the mountain paths, visiting cliffs and rock formations, boating in Kaeng Krachan Reservoir and watching various species of birds.

Khao Luang
The cave is located at about 3 kilometers away from the township inside Khao Luang, and boasts a fine collection of magnificent stalagmites and stalactites which reflects the sun beams filtered through the ventilating hole at the top.  In addition to the beautiful natural environment of the cave, there are also several Buddha images built by King Rama V.

Phra Ram Ratchaniwet (Ban Puen Palace)
The construction of this palace was commissioned by King Rama IV who conceived it to be his retreat in the monsoon season.  It was modeled after the palace of Keiser Wilhelm in Germany and a German architect was ordered to design and overlook its construction.  The final product is an impressive combination between the Baroque and Art Nouveau architectural styles.

Wat Kamphaeng Laeng
Wat Kamphaeng Laeng is the biggest and oldest historical site of the province and perhaps of the country since its historical relics suggest that Petchaburi was a great settlement from 12th-13th century.  The dominant architectural style of this temple is influenced by the Khmer’s style.  The wall is made of laterite and there appears the Dvaravai stucco mouldings in patterns of Naga or serpent gripped in the mouth of dragon and the lotus petals on the capitals of columns.

Wat Yai Suwannaram
This well known temple houses a fine collection of mural paintings which can be dated back to Ayutthaya period.  The ubosot enshrines the main stucco Buddha image in the posture of subduing mara and a cast figure of the former Supreme Patriarch Taeng-mo.

Wat Ko Kaeo Suttharam
This temple was built during the late Ayutthaya period and has a unique architectural style characteristic of its time.  There are various mural paintings depicting ten previous lives of the Lord Buddha.  The wooden panelled walls of its exterior-walls or Fa Prakon are regarded as the most beautiful in Thailand.  Sala Kanparian, the pavillion, has a superbly-carved wooden pulpit by the river is called Sala Mahesuan.

Wat Phuttha Saiyat
Wat Phuttha Saiyat is more popularly known by the name Wat Phra Non by the local people.  The temple houses one of the four largest statues of the reclining Buddha or Phra Phuttha Saiyat in Thailand.  The statue is presently enshrined in Phra Wiharn (formerly laid outdoor) which contains inside many Dvaravati and U-thong Buddha images.

Wat Mahathat Worawihan
Wat Mahathat Worawihan was built according to the Buddhist precept by erecting a temple inthe middle of the town to enshrien Bhudda relics.  The temple is believed to have been bulit 800 years ago and has in its collection a variety of historical and artistic artifacts.

Shopping
The famous souvenirs of visitors to Cha Am are sweets which are mostly made of tanot (palm) sugar, flour, eggs and coconut cream, and handmade crafts made of seashells.  Other souvenir iems include woman accessories and housewares made of hemp, products of palm sugar and a variety of processed fruits.  Sweet shops can be found in abundance around Khao Wang, along Phetkasem Road and in the town center.

Dining
Cha Am is a paradise for dining because you’ll find a cornucopia of restaurants serving both local food and seafood along the beach road.  The dishes are prepared upon request and generally have reasonable prices.  In addition, there are many food sellers who walk around selling fruits and skewerd meat balls or dried squids right up to your beach chair.

Golf
Golf has been a very popular outdoor pastime in Cha Am.  There are several fine golf courses that they are usually very full most weekends, so reservation in advance is recommended.  Many of the hotels run FOC shuttles and most clubs can arrange pickup and drop-off to any hotel.  Visitors can request for more information from the hotel’s information counter.

Watersports
While most of the larger resorts will plan watersports activities for you upon request, you can make arrangements with small operators on the beach (for a significant savings). Most resorts forbid noisy jet skis, but the beaches are lined with young entrepreneurs renting them out for 500B ($12) per hour. Windsurfers and Hobie Cats are for rent at most resorts or with small outfits along the beach (starting at 300B/$7.30 and 600B/$15 per hr. respectively).

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Sun
22
Jul '12

Beautiful Peru

Machu Picchu

The Inca Empire is one of the important part of Peru’s old history. The most important Inca sites are Winay Wayna, Pikimachay and last but not least Machu Picchu. These sites are not only of major archeological importance, but also most popular with tourists.

From the 13th to the 16th century, the Western side of Peru was part of the Inca Empire. The Incas were a highly civilized people, with a complex religion, sophisticated building techniques, and a rigidly structured society.

The arrival of the Spanish in South America in the 1530′s wiped out the Inca civilization: many of the Incas were massacred by the Spaniards, who wanted to steal the vast amounts of gold and silver jewelry that the Incas treasured, and those who survived died of diseases brought by the invaders.

However, many fascinating relics of the powerful Inca Empire still survive in Peru today. Huge numbers of tourists come to Peru every year to explore these enchanting sites and learn about the history of South America.

Machu Picchu
Clinging to a mountain ridge high in the Peruvian Andes, the ancient Inca site of Machu Picchu draws in adventurous tourists from around the world. Having originally been built in the 15th century for an unknown purpose, Machu Picchu was abandoned in 1572 as its inhabitants fled from the conquering Spaniards or died of the diseases they carried.

Machu Picchu is sometimes referred to as the “Lost City of the Incas” because it is extremely well-preserved but completely deserted by its original inhabitants. Since Machu Picchu’s discovery by the American historian Hiram Bingham in 1911, archeologists have struggled to understand how the Incas could have brought stones to this site, which is almost 8,000 feet above sea level, and raised them to construct the various buildings that are still standing today.

Despite its remote location, thousands of visitors flock to Machu Picchu every year. Some of the buildings have been reconstructed, but there are also many originals that have survived through the centuries. The Temple of the Sun is one of the main attractions of the site due to its amazingly intricate stonework. A sundial is carved into a stone close to the temple; its design is primitive but still effective even today.

Still not seen enough?
Then visit the Amazon Jungle. Peru has the second largest portion of the Amazon rainforest of all the countries it covers, the Brazilian Amazon being the largest part. The Amazon constitutes 60% of Peru and is an area of huge biodiversity, making it a fascinating place to visit.

Despite covering such a vast area of Peru, only 5% of the total population inhabits this region, meaning that it is largely untouched by mankind. It is here that you will see wildlife that can be found in no other area of the world. The more adventurous may wish to participate in some of the more energetic activities that the natural features of the Amazon rainforest provide, such as canoeing, while thrill seekers may wish to face the dangers posed by piranha fishing.

These are many things to do and see in Peru for a trip of a lifetime.

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