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Archive for February, 2009

London – St Paul's Cathedral

Posted in United Kingdom  by admin on February 9th, 2009

For three hundred years St Paul’s Cathedral has served as one of the enduring symbols of London, a role it richly deserves. Completed in 1708, Sir Christopher Wren’s masterwork is recognized the world over by its large dome and classical architecture.

The fame of the dome is particularly ironic since the plans, third in succession after two rejected models, didn’t call for one. Wren took advantage of a clause in the commission permitting him to make ‘ornamental’ changes.

And, in effect, the large dome – visible from several parts of London far away – is just an ornament. In the interior is a much smaller dome directly underneath and between the two a large cone-shaped structure supporting the 850-ton lantern.

Outside, astride the large dome are two towers and an extraordinary classical facade. Though it forms the entrance, the view is less familiar since photographs typically concentrate on the famous dome, which lies on the other side. The west side offers an especially good view. From here, visitors can take in the columns and the clock tower.

Whether viewing from outside or in, though, there are several outstanding features and dozens of smaller ones of interest.

One of the more popular interior features is the Whispering Gallery. The result of the way sound waves move within an arched structure, a person can stand at one corner and whisper and be heard far away. It can be reached by a muscular climb up 259 spiral steps. Most find the effort well repaid.

Someone standing far away beneath the opposite side of an arch can still hear plainly what was said. There are often several pairs trying this at once, though. The sound is clearest if you can find a time when no one else is testing the effect.

But the main interest lies less with physics and more with art. One example is the 20-foot oak model representing Wren’s second major attempt at gaining approval for a design. Another is the large pipe organ, commissioned in 1694 and still functional.

Several other functional, yet artistic, elements are around the cathedral. One, Wren’s memorial, contains an epitaph from his son. It reads, translated from the Latin: ‘Reader, if you seek his monument, look around.’

Many other plaques, carvings, statues and other memorials to the powerful and famous of London’s past are within the cathedral: in the south transept Admiral Nelson, in the north aisle the Duke of Wellington.

There’s also a memorial in the south choir aisle of the poet John Donne, Dean of St. Paul’s before the current building was erected. The disastrous London fire of 1666, destroyed the original. Almost ten years elapsed before construction was begun, followed by more than another 30 until completion. That gives some idea of how construction projects were carried out 300 years ago.

Undergoing a £40 million ($71 million) restoration to celebrate it’s 300-year anniversary, many of the building’s surfaces have been cleaned and restored. Now is an especially good time to pay a visit.

The Cathedral is easy to spot and also easy to reach via the London Underground, i.e. ‘the tube’ or subway. Exit at St Paul’s station.

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Panama Canal

Posted in Worldwide Travel Destinations  by admin on February 7th, 2009

A great vacation and one that is educational and fun as well is a trip to Panama City, where you and your family will see first hand the Panama Canal. Let’s take a look at a typical itinerary.

Day 1 – Arrive Panama City

Upon arrival at the airport you will be met and transferred to your hotel where your Panama family vacation begins.

Days 2 and 3 – Chiriqui Highlands

Cloud forests, volcanic peaks and coffee plantations create the remarkable landscape of the Chiriqui Highlands. Along with beauty, there is plenty of fun to be had here too. Enjoy these family tours:

* White water rafting trip down the Esti River. It is beginner-friendly and a great opportunity to get a glimpse of the tropical surroundings, including cormorant kingfisher birds, otters, tropical trees and orchids.

* Take the Zipline Canopy Tour where you will wind your way through a course in La Amistad International Park. The excitement of gliding from platform to platform high in the rainforest canopy is indescribable.

Days 4 and 5 – Bocas Del Toro Archipelago

Bocas is a scattering of seven islands off the northwest coast of Panama and there is a unique funky and relaxed ambience throughout the region. Your family excursion to Bastimentos Island to snorkel and explore the wildlife rich rainforest will make for an unforgettable day.

Also included are:

* Go hiking in the Bastimentos National Marine Park where you will find white-faced titi monkeys, sloths and red poison dart frogs (that aren’t poisonous at all). Bring your sneakers and get those cameras ready! It’s a beautiful hike.

* You’ll stop at coral reefs and mangrove isles for some snorkeling. There is a large variety and an abundance of fish here – keep an eye out for sea horses, barracuda, and clown fish.

* Most children traveling with us share letters with a local child of similar age before leaving on their adventure. While on the family trip we organize a pen-pal meeting with a scheduled activity like soccer or hacky sack. It’s amazing how such interaction can be a real eye-opener for everyone involved.

Days 6 to 8 – Panama Canal

There is something very moving, for children and adults, about seeing the Panama Canal for the first time. The enormity of this engineering marvel boggles the mind. The vast jungle that had to be divided, the massive locks, and then there’s the forty ships that pass through the canal every day. Your family will see it all on this Panama adventure.

Also included are:

* Miraflores Locks is a mile long and is part of a lock system that takes ships from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific and return. After watching a ship go through the locks, be sure to go to the museum.

* See how the Embera Tribe lives. Explore their native dances and traditional artwork during your time in the village. These friendly indigenous people will also go over how and why they moved to their current village on the Chagras River.

* Voyage across Gutan Lake in the Panama Canal, passing gigantic cargo and passenger ships. Children are never disappointed with how immense some of these vessels really are. Many dwarf everything in sight! And of course you’ll see plenty of wildlife too – iguanas, crocodiles and peacocks just to name a few.

Day 9 – Depart Panama City for Home

This is sure to be a memorable, educational, and fun trip for the entire family. Take plenty of pictures for the family scrapbook.

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