Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The world's oldest skyscrapers: Shibam, Yemen


Originally uploaded by krhocevar_postcrossing
It was a happy day at my house when an official Postcrossing postcard arrived from Yemen. For ages now, I've been contemplating the best subject to discuss in my post about this mysterious country. Finally, I've decided something: some places in this world are so unique, and so different from what we know, that posting some words on a blog will never truly do it justice. Yemen is such a place, so I'm posting a video I think will be much more instructive than anything I can write. It's a little over 9 minutes, so it's an investment of time, but you'll see what the streets of Shibam look like, you'll see a traditional ceremony, see the food the locals eat, and learn a little history. I've never seen a place anything like it.

A few words first: Shibam is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, because it is said to be home to the world's oldest skyscrapers. It is a walled city and the first known example of urban planning based on vertical construction, and has been called the Manhattan of the desert. Some of these buildings, made of mud brick and up to eleven stories tall, are over half a millennium old. Shibam itself is over 1700 years old.

The economy of the region of Hadramaut is largely agrarian. Cities exist mainly as a place to sell and distribute goods produced on farms. The region is home to the Arab ethnic group the Hadhrami, which has its own Arab dialect. The Hadhrami have diaspora communities around the globe, particularly in Singapore, India, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

Please enjoy the video, I really did!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Krka National Park, a Croatian gem.


I'm pretty fascinated with Croatia, I have to admit it. And among the many beautiful scenes I've viewed on postcards from that country, I think their national parks might be among the loveliest of all.

This gorgeous postcard, which came from rlicul a few months ago, shows Krka National Park, an area surrounding the beautiful Krka River. (Which has its own impressive and informative website.) In particular, the postcard displays the beautiful Skradinski Buk waterfalls, the most popular area of the park. These cascades travel for 400 meters (1312 feet) and descend a total of 47 meters (154 feet), and they end in a broad, clear, and beautiful pool that is a popular spot for visiting swimmers. Nearby the cascades is the village of Skradin (click for stunning panoramic photo), an award-winning cultural experience with old mills, crafts, and other experiences for visitors. It was founded as an Illyrian settlement, Scardona, prior to its takeover by the Romans, and has been a settled area for thousands of years. Roman ruins are another important area to visit in Krka National Park.

Recently I received a postcard
showing another breathtaking spot inside Krka National Park: Visovac Island. This place, which perhaps looks like a tropical oasis or possibly heaven on earth, is actually very sacred ground: it is home to Our Lady of Mercy Franciscan monastery. This beautiful monastery was founded in the 14th century by Augustinian monks, and then expanded and adapted by Franciscans who escaped from Bosnia during the Turkish invasion of the 15th century. The present incarnation of the monastery was built in the 18th century. Housed in the monastery's historic library is a particularly rare incunabula of Aesop's fables (1487), a collection of sultan's edicts, and a sabre belonging to Vuk Mandusik, one of the best-loved heroes of folk epics. This monastery is still a very holy place; although ferries do take visitors to the island, they are only allowed to stay for 30 minutes in order to maintain the piety of the monks who live there.

This is a really nice video showing some beautiful spots in Krka National Park. You can view it here, or if you click on it and go to Vimeo, you can view it in HD. Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Folk dance of Turkey: Horon


Not too long ago, I featured the dance of the Whirling Dervishes of Turkey here on Postcard Voyager, a dance reserved for an elite religious sect. Here I'm back again, ready to feature another traditional dance of Turkey, this time a folk dance from the Black Sea region in the northeast of the country. The back of this card provides very little information about the name of this dance, or even what part of the Black Sea coast it comes from, but I've managed to deduce some information based on how the dance looks and videos I've been able to find on Youtube. :)

Turkey has many folk dances, and the one featured here is called the horon. The name comes from the Turkish word "horom," which refers to a line of six or seven corn stalks tied together to form a lattice. From a distance, it appears to be a line of people joining hands with their arms raised. The horon is the most well-known dance of the Black Sea region (and is also performed in other countries located on the Black Sea, such as Bulgaria), and is meant to suggest the actions of fishermen, the swimming fish, and the sea. It features alert and tense shivering movements and sudden squatting. The horon is traditionally performed by a line of either men or women, but generally not both at the same time, except in rare cases called "rahat horon," or "comfortable horon." In these cases, the dance is slower, simpler, and more relaxed. (source: University of Florida website) The people of the Black Sea region live in fertile, isolated valleys, and are known for their merriness and their lack of inhibition. They remind me of Mediterranean peoples of Greece, and probably their culture was influenced by similar forces.

I've found another interesting website describing the people of Turkey's Black Sea region. As you know, it's important not to stereotype groups of people or consider them to be "all the same." However, it can be useful to determine typical traits. This is how a man of the Black Sea (or a "Laz") is described:
"He sports a majestic nose and speaks Turkish with an outrageous accent. His diet consists of hamsi (Black Sea anchovies), cooked to the legendary one hundred recipes that include hamsi bread and hamsi jam, with corn bread and dark cabbage to accompany. He dances a wild horon to the syncopated, manic tunes of his kemençe (bowed instrument that sounds like a fiddle). His oddball sense of humor makes him the butt of an entire genre of jokes. To a certain extent these jokes correspond to those of the Polish, Scottish, Marsilian or Basque variety, but they lack the crude ridicule that characterizes some of the latter. In most stories he either pursues an altogether wacky idea, or responds to situations with an insane non-sequitur. The best ones contain a hint of self-mockery, and it is not really clear who the joke is on. Inevitably the most brilliant Laz jokes are invented and circulated by the Laz themselves." (source: Kara Lahana)

I'd like to share this wonderful video (from what looks like 1971 or so) showing the horon in a very rustic village performed by a little old lady in all black.

Now watch this more modern and complicated version of the horon. It gets better and better starting at the 1:20 mark, so stick with it, it'll be worth it, trust me.

(h/t to Pinar for sharing the beautiful postcard with me!)

Saturday, April 10, 2010

A sad day in Poland.


My sincerest condolences to the nation of Poland over the terrible loss of President Lech Kaczynski, his wife, and other government officials. My heart is full of sadness for you all, and could not imagine withstanding such a terrible loss myself.

My thoughts are with you.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Berlin ist schön! (Germany Vacation Part 3)


Berlin is beautiful! Let's hope so, because it's the final stop on our three-part Germany tour. To get to Berlin, we'll have to take the train from Bremen, with a change in Hannover. Berlin is full of things to do - we could stay for weeks and not see everything. So what do we do in our short time here?

It would be wise to partake of Berlin's historical points, because it played a significant role in Europe after World War II. We should visit Checkpoint Charlie and the East Side Gallery. The East Side Gallery is a memorial section of the Berlin Wall which still stands, and is covered in murals by artists all over the world. (You can see it in virtual tour format - when you reach the webpage, read the history, then close it and follow the arrows on the ground through the opening in the wall - the murals are on the other side.) Next we'll visit the Brandenburg Gate, comemmorating the border between East and West that once stood there.

Next we'll want to stroll over the Reichstag, a five minute walk from the Gate. The Reichstag is home to the German Parliament, and from the top, offers a marvelous view over central Berlin. After taking in the view we'll head over to the Museum Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and home to a number of fascinating museums and the Berlin Cathedral, seen on the postcard. Our tour guide Anja suggests visiting the Pergamon Museum, where many ancient excavation have been reconstructed, including the huge Pergamon Altar, the Market Gate of Miletus, and the Ishtar Gate. The Pergamon Museum houses an Antiquities Collection, an Islamic Art Museum, and the Middle East Museum.

After enjoying Museum Island, we might decide to take a day trip to Potsdam to see the Palace of Sanssouci, the former palace of Frederick the Great, King of Prussia. It has been said that it rivals Versailles in France.

Sadly, this is the end of our trip through Germany. It's been splendid - not the real thing, but close! I hope you enjoyed the tour! Look for travels through Turkey with my friend Pinar coming very soon. ;)

Friday, March 12, 2010

Welcome to Bremen! (Germany Vacation Part 2)


Continuing our journey through Germany, we've hopped on a train in Cologne and now we're on our way to Bremen, three hours northeast of Cologne. Bremen is located in North Germany, and the city has been shaped by its close relationship with sea trade and the Hanseatic League. You can enjoy an interesting overview of the city at Bremen in 3 minutes. Important stops on our visit to Bremen will be the Bremen Town Musicians statue (a story by the Grimm Brothers, seen on the card to the left), the statue of Roland, Bremen's protector erected in 1404, and the Bremen Town Hall. We can wander through the Schnoor quarter, Bremen's oldest with houses dating to the 15th century. After wandering a while, we can stop at the new Universum, a hands-on science museum with about 250 exhibits.

After a day in Bremen, we're going to spend a day in Bremerhaven, about 40 minutes north of Bremen, and situated on the North Sea. We'll take a boat ride down the River Weser to get from Bremen to Bremerhaven, and then perhaps we'll head to the Klimahaus, which you can tour in 360 panorama. The Klimahaus takes the visitor on a journey along the 8th line of longitude, through the many different climates of the world. After the Klimahaus we'll go to the German Emigration Center, which details the history of German emigration to many countries. After our day in sunny Bremerhaven, we'll head back to Bremen to hop on a train to our final destination... which we'll visit in my next post!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Germany Vacation, Part 1: Cologne


As part of the Make Me Smile Round Robin I started several months ago, I started an experimental group called "I need a vacation," where the participants plan an itinerary for one another on the backs of three postcards. I am so excited with the results! Anjaaustel sent me on a wonderful trip through north Germany, complete with directions on which trains to take and what sights to see! So I thought I'd take you along with me. You can see her own text below; I'm just reiterating her own itinerary. I've spent a bit of time investigating many of these places, so I encourage you to click each of the links to get the most out of your virtual travel experience!

Our plane will land in Frankfurt, and then we'll take the hour-long ICE train to Cologne. When the train crosses the Hohenzollern Bridge over the Rhine, which you can see in the postcard image, we'll see the Cologne Cathedral for the first time. The train drops us right in front of the cathedral. Click here for your virtual tour of the interior.

After thoroughly exploring the cathedral, we're off the explore the Roman-German Museum next door. Cologne was founded as a Roman settlement, and the museum was built over an existing Roman mosaic.

Next we head down the stairs to walk along the Rhine for a while. We head into town a few blocks to visit the Chocolate museum and the Olympics and Sports Museum, and maybe take a break to have a pint of Kölsch, the local brew (and also the local dialect).

We continue our stroll around town and head to the Kölner Zoo, one of the best in Germany. We'll take our time here, because it's our last stop in Cologne. Tomorrow we'll head to another destination, a post which I'll share with you... tomorrow. ;)

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Whirling Dervishes and the Sema


"Whirling dervish" just seems like an exotic, mysterious thing, doesn't it? I never knew quite what it was, but when I received this postcard in the mail from one of my favorite Postcrossers, pinuccia, I decided it was time to learn more about it. As my repeat readers will know, I have two favorite posting themes - dances and food. Today, it's a dance.

"Whirling dervish" is a colloquial name for members of the Mevlevi Sufi order, an Islamic sect founded in Konya, Turkey by Celaleddin Mevlana Rumi in 1273. The dancing ritual that the Mevlevi are famous for is called the Sema. Sema represents the mystical journey of man's spiritual ascent through mind and love to "Perfect," the state in which the follower grows through love, deserts his ego, and finds truth. To me, this all sounds
remarkably like Hindu mysticism, which I suppose could have influenced this sect in some respect.

The dance is divided into four parts - a song of praise to the Prophet Mohammad, followed by a bowing process and the removal of the black robes. The main dance, called the Four Selams, consists of the dancers, called semazen, spinning around the Sheikh. The semazen represent the moon, and the Sheikh represents the sun. The semazan spin on their right foot with their right palm facing upward toward heaven and the left hand pointing toward the ground, to represent a sort of communion of heaven and earth, as well as the spiritual ascension that believers experience. The Four Selams represent recognition of God, recognition of unity with God, ecstasy associated total surrender, and peace of heart due to divine unity. The ceremony is concluded with a recitation from the Holy Qu'ran.

From what I gather, the Mevlevi sect was abolished by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and the monasteries were converted to museums. Decades later, the brotherhood was revived by the Turkish government as a "cultural association" - mainly for tourism reasons, I suspect. Now the brotherhood tours the world performing the ceremony.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Olympics time - go USA!


Are you enjoying watching the Olympics? I know I am. Here's a postcard showing the beautiful Eden that is the home of the 2010 Winter Olympics. You can read more about the site of the 2010 Olympics by reading my blog post from December 1.

Keep up to date and support the US Olympic team here.

Saturday, February 6, 2010



To celebrate my first blizzard since moving to Pittsburgh three years ago, I thought I would post a collection of beautiful winter postcards I've received through Postcrossing. Here in Pittsburgh, the world is white, and the city is completely shut down. (In order these cards show: Utrecht, Netherlands; Bavaria, Germany; St. Petersburg, Russia; Kinderdijk, Netherlands; Copenhagen, Denmark; Norway; Germany; and Tallin, Estonia.)

Monday, February 1, 2010

Buddha Says Hello from Hong Kong


This Buddha statue is located at Po Lin Monastery on Lantau Island, Hong Kong. His official name is the Tian Tan Buddha, and he was constructed out of bronze in 1993. The rest of the info comes almost directly from Wikipedia:

1. The base is a model of the Altar of Heaven or Earthly Mount Tian Tan, the Temple of Heaven in Beijing. (Hence the name.)
2. It is one of the five large Buddha statues in China.
3. He sits on a lotus throne on top of a three-platform altar.
4. It is surrounded by six smaller bronze statues known as "The Offering of the Six Devas" and are posed offering flowers, incense, lamp, ointment, fruit, and music to the Buddha. These offerings symbolize charity, morality, patience, zeal, meditation, and wisdom, all of which are necessary to enter into nirvana.
5. Buddha is 110 feet (34 meters) tall, and weighs 280 tons (250 metric tons).
6. Buddha's right hand is raised, representing the removal of affliction. Which is perfect, because my friend Iris sent me this postcard to cheer me up after a bad day.

To me, Hong Kong seems like a really fascinating place. As many people know, Hong Kong was a British territory from the mid 1800s until 1997, when governance was formally handed over to the Chinese government. As a result, Hong Kong is a unique blend of East and West - it has one of the world's leading economies, and it is among the healthiest and most well-educated regions in the world. Western institutions like fast food restaurants and a Hollywood-style film industry
are integrated with a very serious belief in feng shui and other folkloric beliefs - for instance, buildings often lack any floor with the number 4 in it, due to its resemblance to the word "die" in the Chinese language.

In Hong Kong, most people speak Cantonese, but English is also an official language, and many people speak it primarily or as a fluent second language. About 95% of Hong Kong's population is of Chinese descent, with small but visible enclaves of Indians, Pakistanis, Nepalese, Vietnamese, Europeans, Japanese, Koreans, and Filipinos. Interestingly, mainland Chinese do not have right of abode in Hong Kong, nor can they enter the territory freely.

About 90% of those living in Hong Kong practice a mix of local religions - mainly Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism. About 8% of the population is Christian, and there are smaller groups of Sikhs, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, and Baha'i. Religious freedom is guaranteed under the Basic Law.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Postcard Voyager: The Twilight Edition


So, it's no secret that I'm a big Twilight fan - love the books, love the movies. I've read them and watched them over and over again, and I have a hard time explaining why. I mostly take comfort in the fact that about a billion other women (and a few men) feel exactly like I do.

So imagine my joy and surprise when, out of the blue, a very kind Postcrosser contacted me asking for a private swap - I had a card she really liked - and offered me postcards from Forks in return! And not only that, but she goes there regularly and can get them for me anytime I want. *insert hallelujah choir here*

Long story short, she sent me a great envelope full of beautiful postcards from Forks, Washington, the small town on the Olympic peninsulawhere the Twilight series takes place.
Fortunately for my legitimacy as a blogger, this also happens to be the location of a pretty amazing UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Olympic National Park, home to one of the world's few temperate climate rainforests. If you've seen the Twilight movies, you've seen these blindingly green forests on the big screen - they are really something.

The park has three distinct areas - a rugged coastline, glaciated mountains, and temperate rainforest. Quite a variety for such a small area. I'm fascinated by the rainforest - because it's situated on a fairly isolated peninsula (cut off from the continent by mountains), the plant and animal life has evolved in its own unique way, so that many species exist no where else on earth. Additionally, the rainforests are among the northernmost areas of the continent to not be glaciated, so it was a refuge for species escaping the encroaching ice.

As Twilight fans will know, this area is also home to several Native American groups - the Quileute, located on the La Push reservation, and the Hoh people along the Hoh River. It is clearly a treasure, a place unlike any other on the earth.

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