Friday, March 28, 2014

Irish Hunger Memorial, New York City

The Irish Hunger Memorial is located on a one-half acre site at the corner of Vesey Street and North End Avenue in the Battery Park City neighborhood of Manhattan.

I stumbled across the memorial during my 2008 trip to New York City and was fascinated by this strange but wonderful memorial to the millions of Irish people caught up in the terrible famine that swept across Ireland during the mid-1850s. The memorial is dedicated to raising awareness of the Great Irish Famine - referred to by the Irish as 'The Great Hunger', which killed over a million people in Ireland between 1845 and 1852.

The Great Hunger" began in 1845 when a blight destroyed the Irish potato crop, depriving Ireland of its staple food. By 1847 millions were starving and dying. Between 1847 and 1852 the famine led to an exodus from the Irish countryside as hundreds of thousands of Irish immigrated to New York. Today, some 800,000 New York City residents can trace their ancestry back to Ireland.

Construction of the memorial began in March 2001, and despite its proximity to the World Trade Center, the memorial was completed and dedicated on July 16, 2002.

Click to enlarge
The site utilizes stones, soil, and native vegetation brought in from the western coast of Ireland and contains stones from all of the different counties of Ireland. Some of these can be seen in the video below. The memorial also incorporates an authentic rebuilt Irish cottage of the 19th century.

The size of the cultivated area of the Memorial, one-quarter of an acre, is significant. In 1847, Sir William Gregory proposed an additional clause to the Irish Poor Law stipulating that no person occupying land of more than one-quarter acre was eligible for any relief. This law had a devastating effect and contributed to the suffering.

Nearly two miles of text have been installed in illuminated bands that wrap around the base of the Memorial. The text includes some 110 quotations, including autobiographies, letters, oral traditions, parliamentary reports, poems, recipes, songs and statistics.

My chance discovery of the Irish Hunger Memorial was one of the many serendipitous moments I had as I wondered around Manhattan in 2008, and this and many similar moments are what I enjoy most about travel and visiting new places.

The song in the video is The Old Northern Shore, and appears on the wonderful Tom Russell album, The Man From God Knows Where. 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Bridges of New York City

On each of my visits to New York City, I have made a point of getting out on the water and examining the city from a different perspective than most visitors enjoy.

This has involved joining Circle Line Cruises that either circumnavigate the whole island of Manhattan, or by joining the wonderful Hidden Harbor Tours that explore parts of  the lower New York harbor that very few people, visitors or New Yorkers, ever get to see up close. The three cruises/tours listed below are all aboard the beautiful replica 1920s style yacht, Manhattan. The tours are run by Classic Harbor Line, and depart from Pier 62, at the Chelsea Piers.

New York City Bridges, Infrastructure and Architecture tour
This weekend sees one of those on water excursions taking place under the auspices of the New York chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIANY): the New York City Bridges, Infrastructure and Architecture tour.
On Saturday, March 29th, 2014, the AIANY will be sailing under all 18 bridges that link Manhattan to each of the other four city boroughs. John Kriskiewicz, a professor of Architecture and City Planning, will provide informed and relevant historical details and information about each of the 18 bridges, as well as other commentary throughout the tour. To quote from the email I received:
“Step aboard the luxurious yacht Manhattan for a full round-Manhattan cruise that takes an in depth look at the engineering marvels of New York City's fantastic, historic and wildly different bridges, tunnels, infrastructure and mass transit feats!  Tour includes content on city planning, Robert Moses, housing and architecture as well! 
Being low to the water and designed for comfort and small groups, guests are sure to have excellent views and photo opportunities. There is room for all in our elegantly appointed, cushioned and climate-controlled observatory, or guests may enjoy the outer teak decks when weather permits.”
If you are unable to make it to this weekend’s tour, don’t despair, the tours will continue right through until December 28, 2014. You can view the full list of available dates and make your bookings here…

When: Saturday March 29th
$76 per person | Buy Tickets
DISCOUNT CODE: Use the online code EBLAST10 to receive a $10 discount off the price of each ticket! NOTE: This code is only good for the AIANY bridges tour this weekend (March 29, 2014). It does not apply to the two tours listed below.

AIANY Lower Manhattan Boat Tour
The 1920s style yacht, Manhattan.
If you can’t make it to one of the New York City Bridges, Infrastructure and Architecture tours, you might want to join one of the Lower Manhattan Architecture Tours which begin in April. Again, informed commentary is provided by members of the American Institute of Architects' (AIA) New York Chapter.

The information provided is general enough for the casual visitor, yet detailed enough for the locals, design students and professionals! Again, your craft will be the elegant 1920s style yacht, the Manhattan. Tour participant will experience a comfortable and unique tour through the Hudson and East Rivers from the climate-controlled and enclosed back-deck observatory or (weather permitting), you can promenade on the outer decks for fresh air and unobstructed views of the lower Manhattan skyline.

When: April 20-October 30, 2014.
$46 per person | Buy Tickets
NYC Sunset Cruise Champagne Sunset Cruise
For the romantically inclined, why not get out on the water and experience a beautiful New York City sunset. You will also have a chance to enjoy the illuminated cityscape during a comfortable and unique NYC Harbor cruise along the Hudson and East Rivers. A full bar and specialty NY State wines by the bottle are available for purchase aboard the Yacht Manhattan, and one complimentary drink is also included.

Currently, tours are scheduled to take place from March 28-May 28, 2014. I would assume that more date will be added for the summer and autumn months.

$52 per person | Buy Tickets.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Paris In The Snow

Some people love Paris in spring, others in the hot, tourist crowded months of summer, and still more in the quieter, cooler weeks of autumn. Of course, I would be happy to see Paris during any of those seasons, but as it happens, on my return to the City of Lights―after an absence of more than 30 years―I went in the midst of a cold, windswept, snowy December. And I loved every minute of my ten days there. Well, almost every minute (see an earlier post One Ring to Scam Us All.

Living as I do in Adelaide, Australia’s ‘Athens of the South’, the only time I have ever seen snow in quantity was when I lived and worked in London during the early 1970s; again on one brief road trip through Australia’s Snowy Mountains (and that was well after the snow season had ended); and during my 2010 visit to Paris.

While I had no personal issues dealing with the cold and heavy snow falls, my camera certainly did. From time to time the mechanism would freeze up, and the lens would refuse to adjust its focal length which proved frustrating, especially when I was trying to capture images and video footage of interest. However, I was more than happy with most of the material I eventually got.

This very brief video and photo compilation documents several hours spent on the streets of Paris during that visit in 2010.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Sedona, Arizona

Welcome to Sedona — "Arizona's Little Hollywood". Sedona was the location for more than sixty Hollywood productions from the first years of movie making through to the 1970s.

Aficionado’s of B-Grade Westerns (and a fair smattering of A-Grade shoot-em-ups), will recognise Sedona’s signature red rocks which featured prominently in dozens of Hollywood productions including Johnny Guitar, Angel and the Badman, Desert Fury, Blood on the Moon, and 3:10 to Yuma. Mind you, in these and many other movies the locations masqueraded variously as Texas, California, Nevada, and even the Canadian border territory.

When John Ford’s production of Stagecoach pulled into town in 1938, it kicked off thirty years of A-picture activity—some forty-four features through 1973. During those years, many of Hollywood’s biggest names were photographed in front of Sedona’s signature landscape, including Errol Flynn and John Wayne, and James Stewart, Robert Mitchum and Elvis Presley―to name just a handful.

Located up and down both sides of Sedona’s main street are numerous tributes to the many well known actors and actresses who came to town to appear in the Westerns that helped make them famous. Each of these memorials features an image of the actor and a list of all the movies he or she appeared in.

If you are a movie buff, and especially if you like Westerns, a visit the Sedona Motion Picture Museum (in the town’s main street), is an absolute must if you want to learn more about this fascinating period in Sedona and Hollywood history.

By the by, Sedona was named to honor Sedona Arabella Miller Schnebly (1877–1950), the wife of Theodore Carlton Schnebly, the city's first postmaster. Sedona, the woman, was apparently celebrated for her hospitality and industriousness.

I also stopped by Slide Rock State Park. Originally the Homestead of Frank L. Pendley, who arrived in the canyon in 1907, Slide Rock State Park is a 43-acre historic apple farm located in Oak Creek Canyon. 

Penley’s pioneering innovation saw him create a unique irrigation system still in use by the park today. The park is named after the famous Slide Rock, a stretch of slippery creek bottom adjacent to the homestead. Visitors can slide down a slick natural water chute or wade or relax along the creek.

Native American History
Of course, long before Frank L. Pendley, arrived in the canyon, and long before Sedona Arabella Miller Schnebly, and the many Hollywood A-listers turned up, the first documented human presence in the Sedona area dated back to between 11500 to 9000 B.C., which by any measure makes these modern visitors (especially myself), Johnny-come-lately’s.

However, even native tribes were supplanted and replaced by a succession of other native peoples over these thousands of years. Paleo-Indians by the Sinagua people, who were in turn replaced by the Yavapai and Apache peoples. Thankfully, descendants of the Yavapai and the Apache are still with us today. Despite being forcibly removed from the Verde Valley in 1876, to the San Carlos Indian Reservation, 180 miles (290 km) southeast, about 200 Yavapai and Apache people returned to the Verde Valley in 1900. Today their descendants comprise the culturally distinct―but single political entity―now living in the Yavapai-Apache Nation.

More Information

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Brooklyn Bridge

So much has been written and said about New York City's iconic Brooklyn Bridge that there is nothing new I can add to the thousands of books and articles already out there. I would venture to say though, that no visit to New York City is complete without at least going to look at the bridge.

If time allows, a walk across the bridge (Manhattan to Brooklyn) is highly recommended, if only because once you get to the Brooklyn side - especially if you make your way down to the Brooklyn Heights Promenade - your efforts are rewarded with some of the best views of Manhattan's skyline.

Better yet, time your visit for either early morning, or late afternoon/early evening (my favorite hours) to catch the light and shadows that play over skyline and East River. Yes, it’s a cliché, but the term ‘magical’ is entirely appropriate.

For the record, the Brooklyn Bridge is one of the oldest suspension bridges in the United States. Completed in 1883, it connects the boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn by spanning the East River. It has a main span of 1,595.5 feet (486.3 m), and was the first steel-wire suspension bridge constructed.

The bridge was initially designed by German immigrant John Augustus Roebling. While conducting surveys for the bridge project, Roebling sustained a crush injury to his foot when a ferry pinned it against a piling. After amputation of his crushed toes he developed a tetanus infection which left him incapacitated and soon resulted in his death, not long after he had placed his 32-year-old son Washington Roebling in charge of the project.

Washington Roebling in turn suffered a paralyzing injury as a result of decompression sickness shortly after the beginning of construction in January, 1870. This condition left him unable to physically supervise the construction firsthand.

Roebling conducted the entire construction from his apartment, aided by his wife Emily who provided the critical link between her husband and the engineers on site. Under her husband's guidance, Emily studied higher mathematics, the calculations of catenary curves, the strengths of materials, bridge specifications, and the intricacies of cable construction. She spent the next 11 years assisting Washington Roebling, helping to supervise the bridge's construction.

When the Brooklyn Bridge opened for use on May 24, 1883, it was the only land passage between Manhattan and Brooklyn. Fittingly, since Washington Roebling was too ill to leave their apartment, Emily Roebling was the first to cross the bridge.

Despite my opening comments regarding having “nothing new” to add to the volume of material already extant about the Brooklyn Bridge, here, set to the music of Frank Sinatra, is my personal tribute to this magnificent feat of engineering:

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Friday, March 14, 2014

Tonlé Sap Lake, Cambodia

The Tara at its mooring on Tonle Sap Lake
During my trip to Cambodia I booked a 'sunset cruise' on Tonlé Sap Lake, the largest fresh water lake in Southeast Asia. Since I knew nothing about the lake and the people who live on, or around its perimeter, I was constantly surprised by the amazing resourcefulness of these people and their way of eking out a living in what appear to be the most trying circumstances.

The Tonlé Sap (Khmer for "Large Fresh Water River", but more commonly translated as "Great Lake") is a combined lake and river system of major importance to Cambodia. The Tonlé Sap Lake is linked to the sea via the Tonlé Sap River, which converges with the massive Mekong River in Phnom Penh (see my earlier post: Phnom Penh River Cruise).

There are around 170 floating villages with some 80,000 inhabitants living on, and around Tonlé Sap Lake. The GECKO* Environment Education Center, which I visited, is located in Chong Khneas commune, and consists of seven villages housing around 5,800 residents. The Commune, has some of the largest floating villages on the lake. Among the facilities and services to be found in the Commune and other floating villages are schools, fish wholesalers, gas stations, restaurants, churches and pagodas, police stations, medical services―and karaoke bars!

Floating classroom under construction
Information panels at the GECKO centre provide some background information to life on Tonlé Sap Lake. For instance, in a typical floating village life expectancy at birth is 54 years. Twelve percent of all children die before the age of five, and one out of two are malnourished. Average annual income of most households is less than $500USD. Annual population growth is 2.4%, while the literacy rate is 46%, which is 17% below the Cambodian national average.

In the video we get glimpses of this floating village life. We see children playing in the lake, people fishing, a floating restaurant, a shop, a crocodile farm, and more. During the trip on the lake, we were told the two partially built wooden structures that I have includes images of, were destined to become floating classrooms. Note also the numerous television aerials attached to village homes. Televisions and other electronic devices are powered by car and truck batteries.

Part of my meal on the Tara
My trip on Tonlé Sap culminated with a meal on the Tara, which is marketed as “The Biggest Boat on the Tonle Sap Lake”. At more than 41 metres in length, I can confirm that I didn’t see any other craft on the lake that came even close to the size of this vessel. Despite the claims on the company website that the Tara can carry more than 250 passengers (elsewhere it states 300), there were just four of us on this outing.

Using the services of my hotel, I booked the US$33.00 Sunset Tour direct through the Tara website, and experienced no problems from hotel pick up, during the tour itself, or subsequent return to my hotel. I point this out, since some of the reviews on Trip Advisor are highly critical of similar tours, especially those booked through other agencies. Visitors report being approached by beggars, and feeling pressured to donate a bag of rice (at a cost of US$80), to an ‘orphanage’ they were taken to visit. Other reviewers have complained about the conditions of the crocodile farm, and other places visited during similar tours.

I’m not sure what they were expecting. Cambodia is one of the poorest nations in Southeast Asia, and the people living in these floating villages, and around the perimeter of Tonlé Sap are among the poorest in Cambodia. If you are expecting flush toilets and pristine facilities in a floating village, you will quickly realise that you are not going to find them either on this tour, or in many other places outside of your hotel or one of the major cities.

Floating restaurant and store on Tonle Sap Lake
Reading through some of the Trip Advisor reviews, it is also apparent that some visitors made their own ad hoc arrangements to tour on the lake. Using unregistered and unqualified ‘tour guides’ is simply asking for trouble, whether in Cambodia or anywhere else for that matter. Clearly, dealing with authorized guides and tour operators is the best way to avoid many of the problems some reviewers complain about.

It is also worth pointing out (since the Tara website doesn’t) that the vessel remains permanently moored during your visit and meal while on the boat. The actual tour and journey that eventually gets you out to the Tara is on a much smaller, faster boat similar to the small craft seen in the video.

The Tara Boat Sunset Tour is sold as a four hour tour (3:30pm-7:30pm), which begins when visitors are picked up at their hotel or guesthouse around 3.30pm―in a much appreciated air-conditioned vehicle―and returned to their accommodations at the end of the tour.

During the tour to the Tara we made two stops. The first to the already mentioned GECKO Environmental Education Centre, and a second stop at the village Crocodile and Fish Farm. I don’t know if the crocodiles in the crocodile farm are the same species as the rare Siamese Crocodile, which are an endangered species, or a different species of crocodile, but either way, I found the whole trip on the lake to be one of the highlights of my Cambodian visit.

Sunset Tour Price Includes:
Pick up at 3.30pm, 4 hour tour from time of pickup to time of drop off
Free Pick up & return in A/C Taxi
English speaking guides
Meal and drinks included on the Tara
Tour of floating village of Chong Khneas
Tour of Gecko Environmental Education Centre
Tour of Crocodile & Fish Farm
All Check Point fees included in Price
Children 12 or under, half price. 5 or under FREE
$33.00 Per Person - Tours from 3.30pm to 7.30pm

*GECKO―Greater Environment Chong Khneas Office

More Information

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Phnom Penh River Cruise

Floating homes on the Tonle Sap River, Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
During my visit to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, I treated myself to a two hour river cruise down the Tonle Sap River to where it joins the Mekong River. For AU$15.00 I had the whole boat to myself (along with the young operator and his family), and as the short video below shows, I tried to capture aspects of everyday river life as seen on, and along these two great river systems.

The most notable aspect of life along the rivers are the hundreds of ramshackle homes built along the water line, and especially on the rivers themselves. As dirty and muddy as the water of these rivers may be, the water is used for washing clothing, bathing, cooking and cleaning. From my direct observation, the homes do not have sewage systems of any description, unless you regard human waste falling directly into these rivers as a 'sewage system'.

Never the less, these shacks and floating towns are home to thousands of Cambodians. Indeed, I was amazed to see whole floating villages during another cruise I undertook on Tonle Sap Lake. I have extensive footage of that outing as well, and will add it to this blog soon.


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A Visit to The Eiffel Tower

I have been sitting on hours of video footage from my 2012 vacation for far too long, and since I am soon to embark on another extended journey, in which I will undoubtedly accumulate hours more video footage and thousands of photographs, I thought I’d put together a little film of my visit to the Eiffel Tower.

I have written about this trip already Notre Dame Cathedral, The Sound of Angels Singing and Viva Le Revolution!, and on several other entries so I won’t repeat myself today. Use the search box at top left to find these and other items relating to my travels. Anyway, since I had the footage, here―to the tune of Gypsy Dance by Topher Mohr and Alex Elena―is a look at my visit to the Eiffel Tower.

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