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6 Feb 2009: Dubai, UAE

 
There is only one special reason behind my intention to see the Burj Al Arab (“The Sail”) hotel in Dubai. My Chinese friend, who is in his mid-thirties, died in a suicide attempt. His death came as a shock to me, as he always a cheerful guy with positive life outlook. It was said that before he committed suicide in Shanghai, he flew to Dubai and stayed at Burj Al Arab, one of the most expensive hotel in the world – the cost of staying in a suite begins at US$1,000 per night! One mystery remains: why he travelled all the way to stay at Burj Al Arab?

The Burj Al Arab is a 7-stars luxury hotel located in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE). It is the second tallest hotel in the world at 321 m and stands on an artificial island out from Jumeriah beach. The hotel’s iconic structure is designed to symbolize Dubai’s urban transformation and mimic after the sail of a boat.

It was a Friday late afternoon and I had a couple of spare hours before flying out from Dubai. I took a cab to Jumeriah beach and there it stood … right before my eyes, a beautiful silhouette in the dusk. 

Burj Al Arab in the dusk

Burj Al Arab in the dusk

The hotel is not open to the public, unless you are a staying guest at Burj Al Arab or has a reservation with any of its restaurants.  Every evening, you will see a crowd of tourists jostling at the entrance, taking a peek at this majestic hotel from a distance and taking furious snaps at it.  

No entry sign for non-guest

No entry sign for non-guest

Close-up view of Burj Al Arab

Close-up view of Burj Al Arab

For the remaining afternoon, I took a leisure stroll along the Jumeriah beach, snapped these shots …

Along Jumeirah Beach

Along Jumeirah Beach

Jumeirah Beach Hotel

Jumeirah Beach Hotel

Guess what is this? Yes, it is a common bus-stop in Dubai

Guess what is this? Yes, it is a common bus-stop in Dubai

African violets re-planted along the roads

African violets re-planted along the roads

This is one of the trips simply made to satisfy myself that I had “been there, seen it” and ticked it against my check-list!

Before leaving  the beach, I spent a couple of minutes to give blessings to my friend, wherever he may be now.

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21 May 2007: Agra, India

It is a nightmare to be in India in the month of May.  The most tiring thing about summer in India is that the heat is so relentless – it’s extremely hot, sunny, and dry!

My trip to the Taj Mahal started with a 3-hours ride from Gurgaon (New Delhi) to Agra, a city on the banks of the Yamuna River in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, India. Agra was the capital of the Mughal (Muslim rulers of India) emperors from 1526 to 1658 and remains a major tourist destination because of its many and rich Mughal-era buildings, most notably the Taj Mahal and the Agra Fort.

The Taj Mahal , one of the seven wonders of the world,  is highly regarded for its architectural beauty. The Taj is a beautiful monument built by a Muslim Emperor Shah Jahan in the memory of his dear wife and queen Mumtaz Mahal. It was constructed over a period of twenty-two years (1630 – 1652), employing twenty thousand workers and costed 32 Million Rupees.

There is a gate which you enter into the Taj Mahal. Verses of the Holy Qur’an are inscribed on the gate and at the top of the gate are twenty-two small domes, signifying the number of years the monument took to build.

Taj Mahal - Entrance (1)Taj Mahal - Entrance (2)

 Taj is built entirely of white marble and is said to glow in the light of the full moon. It is highly acknowledged as a masterpiece of symmetry – the Taj stands on a raised, square platform with its four corners truncated, forming an uni-equal octagon. 

Taj Mahal (2)

Taj Mahal (9)

 Directly under the central dome is the tomb of  Mumtaz Mahal.  The entire mausoleum is decorated with inlaid design of flowers and calligraphy using precious gems such as agate and jasper. The main archways, chiseled with passages from the Holy Qur’an and the bold scroll work of flowery pattern, give a captivating charm to its beauty.

  The Marble Art (1)    The Marble Art (2)

The Marble Art (5)The Marble Art (7)

 In his late years, Emperor Shah Jahan was overthrown and made a prisoner by his son at the Agra Fort.  He spent the last 8 years of his life gazing at the Taj Mahal from the Agra Fort,  which is across the Yamuna River.

Taj Mahal (5)

 After the Taj Mahal tour, we were introduced to the making of replicated marble carvings of the Taj Mahal.

The Art Behind TM (1)The Art Behind TM (2)

The Art Behind TM (3)The Art Behind TM (4)

It was 3 pm when we started making our way back to New Delhi…another 3 hours of bumpy rides , baked under the hot sun. But I guess, the sacrifice is worth every cent! There is a stop-over at the Country Inn, where we got to see the traditional Indian puppet show; now sadly a declining and dying art.

Country Inn - Puppet Show (2)

PS:  (Extracted) There was a longstanding myth that Shah Jahan planned another mausoleum in black marble across the Yamuna river. The idea originates from fanciful writings of Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, a European traveller who visited Agra in 1665. It was suggested that Shah Jahan was overthrown by his son Aurangzeb before it could be built. Ruins of blackened marble across the river in Moonlight Garden, Mahtab Bagh, seemed to support this legend. However, excavations carried out in the 1990s found that they were discolored white stones that had turned black. A more credible theory for the origins of the black mausoleum was demonstrated in 2006 by archeologists who reconstructed part of the pool in the Moonlight Garden. A dark reflection of the white mausoleum could clearly be seen, befitting Shah Jahan’s obsession with symmetry and the positioning of the pool itself.

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My conference in Chicago has just ended. I am extending my transit at Beijing for a couple of days. It was a wonderful chance for a family trip with my parents; they had worked away decades of their lives without taking long breaks. Since their market stall is undergoing major renovation for 18 months; they finally agreed to join a Beijing tour. The plan has to be timely executed – JL accompanies them to meet up with me in Beijing. We will then join a three-days local tour, follow by one-day extension on our own. 

Day 1 | 4 Sep 2005: Beijing, China

Like most Chinese-led tour, the tour itnerary is fully packed with activities. Ours start with a BIG BANG at one of the wonders of the world – the Great Wall of China (万里长城).

The Great Wall of China

Located at about 60 km northwest of the Beijing City, the Ju Yong Guan (aka, Ju Yong Pass, 居庸关) is the nearest section of the Great Wall to the Chinese capital. It is connected to the famous Ba Da Ling (八达岭) Great Wall and in the ancient time, both these sections of the Great Wall serves as a military stronghold to guard the same 100m wide 20 km long and deep natural pass running through the mountains in the Chang Ping County (昌平县).

Climbing the Great Wall may be a tall order. The steps come in many variable heights and in some part of the climb along the wall, it does get fairly steep. We were told that in the olden days, these paths were designed for people riding up on horses. I would recommend the climb only to the sure-footed people in good physical condition.

According to a popular belief, the Great Wall is the only architecture that is visible to the human eye from the moon. I guess the best way to prove this urban legend is to plant your determination to scale the incredibly steep stairway and ramparts. For Chairman Mao (毛泽东) once said: If you haven’t been to the Great Wall, you aren’t a real man (“不到长城非好汉”).

JuYong Guan is regarded as one of the three greatest passes of the Great Wall of China  – the other two great passes are Jia Yu Guan (嘉峪关) in the Gansu province (which I had visited in 1997)  and Shan Hai Guan(山海关) in the Hebei province. It is not just another military stronghold, but a beautiful scenic spot by itself with majestic pass, beautiful flowers and lush trees dotting the olive-green mountains and valleys. Not a surprise to me that it has earned its name as one of the eight best scenery of Beijing.

The winding Great Wall is not merely a strong defensive structure but a complete and rigorous fort composing of countless passes, watch towers and beacon towers.  These fortifications were carefully arranged in certain manner to allow control of the military command system at all levels. To enhance the communication between the armies during reinforcements, the signal towers (or beacon tower) are often built at the hill tops for their visibility.

Climbing up the Great Wall is no easy feat. It requires both physical stamina and patience following closely behind the hordes of people right in front of you. 

Personally, I found descending to be the most difficult. Fortunately, the walls have handrails to help the tourists. And the weather was kind too.

At the end of the day, it were all these difficulties that made it all worthwhile and satisfying in climbing the Great Wall. Now for the testimony with simple thumbs-up while they are catching their breaths

Peking Roast Duck

The reward for all those hard work is a treat to the prized Peking Roast Duck (北京烤鸭). Beijing is the founding place of the authentic roasted duck with signature thin and crispy skin. Fattened ducks,  specially bred for this dish, has air pumped under the skin through the neck cavity to separate the skin from the fats before roasting it in an oven until it turns shiny brown. The roasted Peking Duck is typically sliced in front of the diners by the chef. It is ready to consume simply by spreading the Chinese sweet sauce on the steamed pancake (春饼) and wraping it around the duck skin, spring onion and cucumber. The Peking Duck is made known to the world by a restaurant chain named Quan Ju De (全聚德). It was established in 1864 by founder Yang Quanren (楊全仁), who developed the hung oven to roast ducks. But the local told us that Bian Yi Fang (便宜坊烤鸭) is the oldest Peking duck restaurant in Beijing. And as its name suggests, Bian Yi Fang is the cheaper but quality alternative.

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Day 2 | 5 Sep 2005: Beijing, China

It was an early, bright and sunny morning. The whole Beijing city was already bursting with life. With a population of close to 20 million people, this Chinese capital is 14 times bigger than Singapore! As we passed by the Beijing National Museum, we chanced upon a display Beijing 2008, the proud host of Olympics in the year 2008.

The Forbidden City

Our journey into the elusive and mystical world of the royal began here at the Meridian Gate (午门 or “Wumen” gate). It was the front entrance to the Forbidden City (紫禁城).

The Forbidden City is constructed by the third emperor of the Ming Dynasty Emperor Yongle ( 永乐, 1402 – 1424), whose name means “perpetual happiness” in Chinese. Emperor Yongle had an ambition dream to build a massive network of structure to reside all his government offices, officials and imperial families together. He made the bold decision to relocate the capital from Nanjing to Beijing. After a painfully long construction time, the Forbidden City was finally completed in 1420 and became the home to many emperors from the Ming Dynasty to the last Qing Dynasty for the next 500 years. The Forbidden City is located at the exact center of the ancient city of Beijing. It was rumoured that the palace has more than nine hundred buildings and reputed to have a total of 9,999.5 rooms (half room less than 10,000 rooms often associated with the Celestial Palace) as the number 9 was solely reserved for the emperor. However, according to surveying by the Palace Museum, only 8,600 room existed.

There are three main halls in the Front Court of the Forbidden City. This is the Hall of Supreme Harmony (太和殿), the largest hall primarily used as the ceremonial centre of imperial power such as coronations ceremony or imperial weddings.

The Hall of Central Harmony (中和殿) is the smaller used by the Emperor to prepare and rest before and during ceremonies.

The Back Palace (后宫) is the residence of the Emperor and his family. The Hall of Mental Cultivation (养心殿) has a significant in history of the Forbidden City – it was here that from the time of Emperor Yongzheng (雍正, 1678 – 1735)  the Qing Emperors lived and ruled the Empire.

The Hall of Mental Cultivation has a front and a rear hall, which served as the emperor’s bedroom. Facing the entrance wall is a huge piece of jade carving (玉壁). There were several sayings for the presence of this jade. It was commonly believed that Qing Emperors could see the round jade afar while reviewing their affairs of the state. The jade served as a reminder to maintain his virtue like the jade and calmly reflect on his words and actions (“比德如玉,面壁静心”). Another saying was the round jade symbolized the well that drown Qing Emperor Guangxu’s favourite concubine Zhen (珍妃, 1876 -1900) and the square structure was to prevent her unrestful soul in haunting Empress Dowager Cixi (慈禧太后, 1835 – 1908).

As we spoke of the notorious Empress Dowager Cixi, we arrived at the East Warmth Chamber (东暖阁). I was eager to see the famous chamber with a yellow blind. It was behind this yellow curtain that the Empress Dowager attended to state affairs sitting behind a curtain (垂帘听政). She corruptly ruled China for forty-eight years – initially, as regent and domineering mother of her son Emperor Tongzhi (同治, 1856 – 1875) and subsequently as regent to her nephew, Emperor Guangxu (光绪, 1871 – 1908) after her son died.

 

Throughout the palace, we could see many copper and iron vats. In fact there are 308 copper and iron vats, of which 18 are copper vats inlaid with gold. And the use of these vats? As a firefighting equipment at the Palace, of course! How about winter? In winter, they were covered with quilts and had lids on, with heating from a fire underneath to keep the water from freezing.

The Pavilion to Usher in Light (延晖阁, “Yan Hui Ge” Pavilion)  was constructed in the Ming Dynasty with a rolled gable roof covered with yellow glazed tiles. Facing the Hill of Accumulated Elegance (“Dui Xiu Shan” Hill, 堆秀山), it was the place where the emperors selected their concubines and the venue which had inspired Qing Emperors Qinglong, Daoguang and Xianfeng in composing poems.

The Imperial Garden was where the royal members came to relax. The garden is a labyrinth of old trees, pavilions and footpaths paved with mosaic patterns made from small stones. Here is one that’s at least 500 years old.

As we exited from the northern Gate of the Divine Prowess( 神武门 orShenwumen” gate), memory flashed back the poignant scene whereby the “Last Emperor” Puyi (溥仪) was driven out of the Forbidden City through this gate in 1924.

Tian’an Square

Taking a decent photo at Tian’anmen Square (天安门广场) can be very challenging. This world’s largest city square was simply packed with thousands and thousands of tourists and locals. See what I meant?

After some observations, we finally learnt the trick to “evict” the crowd was to shoot your pictures from this empty square, right in front of the portrait of Chairman Mao.

Ironically, this Gate of Heavenly Peace turns out to be the central of Beijing. On its north lies the Forbidden City. To its east is the National History Museum. In its south is the Chairman Mao Mausoleum and Qianmen (front gate) while the Great Hall of the People is in its west. 

正阳门, "Zhengyangmen" Gate

Long Queue into the Chairman Mao Mausoleum

In front of the Tian’an Square is a pair of massive stone columns, known to the Chinese as Hua Biao (华表). The traditional Huabiao is usually carved with images of dragons, phoenix and other meaningful patterns. However, these Huabiao have squatting beasts at the top of the column, one facing away from the palace while the other’s head facing towards the palace. In the legend, the beast is called named Hou (“犼”). The symbolic Hou that faces “towards the palace” is to hope that the emperor does not indulge himself in the palace but spends time outside to visit his subjects. The other Hou with its head away from the palace hopes that emperor will not be overly obsessed with sightseeing and will return promptly back to the palace to deal with affairs of state.

For us, we need the Hou to quickly point and lead us out for lunch!

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DAY 1 | 9 June 2005 – Paris |

After 13 hours of flight time, we finally touched down at Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport at 7 am. As we walked towards the immigration checkpoint, my mind flashed through images of Steven Spielberg’s film “The Terminal”, the story of a man “without a country” spending over 15 years in this airport, starring Tom Hanks. The film is said to be inspired by the 18-year-stay of Mehran Karimi Nasseri in the Charles de Gaulle International Airport, Terminal I from 1988 to 2006. 

We checked into The Courtyard by Marriott Paris Neuilly, a hotel located in the residential neighborhood of Neuilly Sur Seine near downtown Paris. This hotel is an easy access to the main attractions and monuments of the city: the Champs Elysées, Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower, Louvre Museum and Notre Dame de Paris cathedral.

The easiest way to travel within Paris (and for most part of Europe) is using the Paris Metro. It has 16 lines and over 300 stations, covering a total distance of 214 km. We bought two-day travel cards, which allowed us to commute unrestrictedly within Paris.

JL in Metro

Louvre Museum

Our first stop was at the Louvre Rivoli station. Louvre, the most visited museum in the world, is housed in the Louvre Palace and is located on the right bank of the Seine River. In front of the Louvre is a glass pyramid entrance, designed by a renowned American architect, I.M. Pei. The glass pyramid allows the natural sunlight to come in on the underground floor.

CSJL at Louvre

We spent nearly 4 hours in the Louvre Museum and of course, we finally witnessed the smile of Mona Lisa!

JL & mona lisa smile

Notre Dame

The next destination was to the Notre Dame de Paris (‘Our Lady of Paris’ in French). Notre Dame de Paris (1163 – 1345), one of the finest French Gothic cathedral in the world, was among the first buildings in the world to use the “flying buttress” (arched exterior supports). In the early 19th century, the cathedral was in such a bad state of disrepair that the city planners were thinking of tearing it down. Victor Hugo, a French novelist and renowned author of Les Miserables, was a great admirer of the cathedral. He wrote his novel the Hunchback of Notra Dame to raise awareness of the cathedral’s heritage. This novel sparked renewed interest  to start campaign for collecting funds to restore the cathedral.

CSJL at Notre Dame

notre dame 03

notre dame 02

The architecture of this cathedral is astounding and exquisite. Near the entrance of the choir, you can see a sculpture of Virgin with Child. Virgin Mary, with a crown adorned on her head, is carrying baby Jesus on her arm, who is playing with the fastening of her cloak. JL lighted a candle here to pray for well wishes.

 notre dame 04

JL at Notre Dame 01

We were feeling especially tired and hungry, as we passed through the streets in St Michael. Finally settled into a quick service Chinese restaurant.

 JL at St Michaels 01  

St Michaels 02

Eiffel Tower

We devoted the rest of the evening for Paris’ most iconic landmark. Named after its designer (Gustave Eiffel), the Eiffel Tower (completed in 1889) is the tallest building in Paris at 324m, which is equivalent to about 81 levels in a conventional building. It was built to celebrate the French Revolution. There are total of 3 levels  – the first and second levels are accessible by stairways and lifts and the third level brings you to the observation platform.

JL with Effel 02

Effel 04Effel 01

The queue up to the Eiffel Tower was long one. But once we reached the third level, we found the hours spent in the long queue very worthwhile. Right before our eyes was a spectacular bird-eye view of this beautiful city and the Seine River. We took a picture of our Singapore National Flag at the observation platform.

 Effel top view 05

JL at Effel top 03CSJL at Effel top 01

I always like to plan Europe trips during summer for two main reasons. First, you can travel light (no clogging of winter clothes in your suitcase) and secondly, daylight is proloned till very late evening (you can practically do sightseeing till you drop!). It had been a long day and we were both dog-tired; after reaching the hotel at 10 pm, we headed straight to bed.

DAY 2 | 10 June 2005 – Paris |

With a good night rest, we were ready to explore Paris again. We checked out from the hotel, dumped our luggage with the concierge, and hit out to the street. Breakfast was brisk and confined to some nice bakery we picked up on the way to the subway.

JL at breakfast

Arc de Triomphe

We alighted at the Charles de Gaulle – Etoile station to see Paris’ well-known monument, Arc de Triomphe. The arch was commissioned by Napoleon in 1806 to commemorate his victories, but ironically, he was ousted before the arch was completed. It was only completed in 1836 during the reign of Louis-Philippe.

CSJL at arc de triomphe01

On the inside and the top of the arch are engraved with the names of generals and wars fought. Underneath is the tomb of the unknown soldier from World War I . The top of the arch is a viewing platform from where you have great views of the Champs-Elysees. Probably the most famous avenue in the world, Champs-Elysées is bordered by cinemas, theaters, cafés, luxury shops, beautiful gardens with fountains and some grand buildings.

arc de triomphe03

arc de triomphe06

  arc de triomphe_triumph of napoleonarc de triomphe08

Basilique du Sacré-Coeur

The journey to the Basilique du Sacré-Coeur was an interesting one. As the Sacré-Coeur was built on top of the Montmartre Hill, we took a tram up the hill.

Basilique du sacre coeur 01

Basilique du sacre coeur_elevator

This Roman Catholic Basilica has three arches, which are adorned by two statutes of French national saint, Joan of Arc. There is a mosaic in the apse, entitled Christ in Majesty, which is among the largest in the world.

JL at Basilique du sacre coeur

Basilique du sacre coeur 03

Orsay Museum

We had lunch at a cafe at Place du Tertre, overseeing the Sacré-Coeur Basilica, before proceeding to our next destination – the Orsay Museum. The Musée d’Orsay is a museum housed in a grand railway station built in 1900. It is the home to many sculptures and impressionist paintings. We spent the rest of the afternoon here in this fabulous museum.

JL at Orsay 01

Orsay 01

This was our last stop in Paris. After returning back to Marriott Courtyard Neuilly to collect our luggage, we headed to Concorde Hotel to catch an airport shuttle bus to the Beauvais Paris Airport. Tonight, we are taking Ryan Air (an European budget airline) to fly into Rome. Soon after midnight, we arrived at the Rome Ciampino Airport.  Taxi is very expensive in Rome but at that wee hour, all other public transport had ceased operations. The cab ride to Hilton Rome Airport costed EUR 90!

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DAY 3 | 11 June 2005 – Italy

We stayed at Rome Airport Hotel. The hotel offered complimentary shuttle bus rides to the city’s attractions 8 times a day. 

Piazza del Campidoglio

Our first stop was the Piazza del Campidoglio, located at the  Capitoline Hill. This square was designed by Michelangelo, including the two palaces on the opposite sides of the square, as well as the grand flight of steps. This long, beautiful staircase to the Piazza del Campidoglio is known as the “Cordonata” and was specially built for the triumphal entry of the Emperor Charles V in 1536. At the center of the square is a replica of a statue of Marcus Aurelius (a “wise” Roman Emperor). I could not help but to admire the beauty of Michelango’s works and talents. This was a great “substitute” since I did not plan to see the statute of David in Florence.

JL at Piazza del Campidoglio 02

JL at Piazza del Campidoglio 04

JL at Piazza del Campidoglio 05

Piazza del Campidoglio 04Piazza del Campidoglio_Marcus Aurelius

Victor Emmanuel II Monument

Next to Piazza del Campidoglio is the Victor Emmanuel II Monument (Il Vittoriano). This enormous white marble monument was built as a tribute to Victor Emmanuel II, the first King of a united Italy. Again, there is a large flight of stairs leading to the Altar of the Nation, dominated by a colossal 12m long equestrian statue of the King.

JL at Capitoline Hill 03

We were fortunate to be one of the first few visitors to the monument, which was great for photo taking. Facing the monument was a tomb of the unknown soldier, guarded by two sentries of honor. Here, JL paid tribute to him.

JL at Capitoline Hill 09

At the top is long corridor pathway with several 15m-high columns. Here, you get magnificent views of the city.

  JL at Forum 11
 
Capitoline Hill 08
 
Roman Forum
 
 Next, we arrive at the Roman Forum. This place was the center of life in imperial Rome, but today, the forum looked like a disorderly collection of ruins. What’s left were the remains of many buildings from different periods; a litter of temples, basilicas and triumphal arches.
  
CSJL at Forum 100
 
You really need a good guide and ample time to fully appreciate the forum and the vast history. Given our tight itinerary, our visit is limited to visual surveys of ancient building beyond our ignorance. One of them is the Temple of Castor and Pollux with only three pillars remain at this site. The original temple was built in 484 BC, the current ruins date from its last reconstruction in 6 A.D. The temple was built by the roman dictator Postumius who vowed to build the temple if his army would beat the Tarquin Kings who previously ruled Rome. According to the legend, Castor and Pollux, mythological twin brothers, helped the Roman army to victory and announced the victory at the forum.
 
Forum 100
 
The first Temple of Saturn was built during the last years of the kings. It was inaugurated in 497 BC. The current ruins date from 42 BC. The temple was used as the state treasury (Aerarium). It also housed the banners of the legions and the senatorial decrees. 
 
Forum 103
 
Colosseum 
 
In contrast to the Forum, the Colosseum is probably the most impressive legacy of the Roman empire. Originally known as the Flavian Amphitheater, the Emperor Vespasian (founder of the Flavian Dynasty) started construction of the Colosseum in AD 72. It was completed in AD 80, the year after Vespasian’s death. The amphitheater was built on the site of an artificial lake, part of Nero’s huge park in the center of Rome which also included the Golden House (Domus Aurea) and the nearby Colossus statue. This giant statue of Nero also gave the building its current name.
 
The queue to the Colosseum was extremely long; we joined the guided tour which cut the waiting time by half.
 
JL at Colosseum 01
 
The building is elliptically shaped, measuring 188m by 156m and reaching a height of 48 meter. The Colosseum could accommodate more than 50,000 spectators who could enter the building through more than 80 entrances.
 
Colosseum 01

The emperors used the Colosseum to entertain the public with free games. Those games were a symbol of prestige and power and an avenue for an emperor to increase his popularity. These games were held for a whole day or even several days in a row. They usually started with comical acts and displays of exotic animals and ended with fights to the death between animals and gladiators or between gladiators. These fighters were usually slaves, prisoners of war or condemned criminals.  Above the ground are four storeys, the upper storey contained seating for lower classes and women. The lowest storey was preserved for prominent citizens. Below the ground were rooms and cages containing wild animals and mechanical devices. The cages could be hoisted, enabling the animals to appear in the middle of the arena.

Colosseum 06 

Colosseum 03

Trevi Fountain

The Fontana di Trevi or Trevi Fountain is the most famous and widely regarded as the most beautiful fountain in all of Rome. This impressive monument dominates the small Trevi square located in the Quirinale district. The work was commissioned by Pope Clement XII in 1732 and Nicola Salvi finally complete this monumental baroque fountain in 1762. In the centre of the fountain is Neptune, god of the sea. He is riding a chariot in the shape of a shell, pulled by two sea horses. One of the horses is calm and obedient, the other one restive. They symbolize the fluctuating moods of the sea.
Fontana de Trevi 04
 
A legend says that you will return to Rome if you throw a coin into the water.  With our back to the fountain, we each tossed a coin over our shoulders. Someday, we will return….
 
 CSJL at Fontana de Trevi 01
  
Spanish Steps

We heard so much about the spanish steps, we just had to see it for ourselves.  The piazza di Spagna or Spanish Square is one of the most popular meeting places in Rome. The Square is connected to a French church (Trinità dei Monti) on top of the hill via a long staircase, known as the Scalinata della Trinità dei Monti or Spanish Steps. The elegant staircase consists of 137 steps over twelve different flights. It was a hot day and the steps were crowded with tourists and locals; we quickly took a picture and a sip from the fountain. 

Piazza di Spagna (spanish step) 01
 
Piazza Navone
  
The Piazza Navone is arguably one of the most beautiful squares in Rome. The square is built on the former Domitian’s stadium, built by emperor Domitian in 86 AD. Hence the long, oval shape of the square. Another eyecatcher is the baroque church of Sant’Agnese in Agone, and this street busker?
 
Piazza Navona _Bustler 01
 
The main attraction of the Piazza Navona are the three fountains. The central and largest fountain is the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (“Fountain of the Four Rivers”). It was constructed between 1647 and 1651 on request of the Pope Innocent X. The design of the fountain was first commissioned to Borromini, but it was ultimately handed to Bernini. The fountain features four figures, each representing a river from a different continent – the Nile, Ganges, Danube and Rio della Plata.
 
CSJL at Piazza Navona _Fountain of the Rivers
 
Piazza Navona _Fountain of the Rivers (Nile) 
 
Piazza Navona _Fountain of the Rivers 03
 
The two other fountains on the piazza are the Fontana di Nettuno (Neptune fountain) at the northern end and the Fontana del Moro (Moor fountain) at the southern end. The Fontana del Nettuno (or “Neptune Fountain”) was built in 1576 by Giacomo della Porta. Giacomo della Porta also built the Fontana del Moro.
 
Piazza Navona _Fontana del Nettuno 01
 
This was our final destination. The best way to explore Rome is by foot and we had a long day and managed to cover so much ground in Rome within a day by leverging on the late summer nightfall.

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14 May 2005: Toronto Downtown, Canada

Finally got a chance to visit Toronto downtown. My business meeting ended early, giving me a couple of hour in the downtown. Unfortunately, I did not have my camera with me; these pictures taken from my mobile phone did not turn our great.

CN Tower

Dubbed as Canada’s “Wonder of the World”, the Canadian National Tower (or commonly knowned as CN Tower) is one of the world’s tallest buildings. Towering at 553m (or 1815 ft) in height, the CN Tower has long been a source of pride for Canadians since 1976 – they had demonstrated the ability to build a tower taller than any other in the world. The CN Tower was erected for a more practical reason. In the 60s, the construction boom created major telecommunications problems in this downtown. The reception issues was solved after building the CN Tower. 

 cn tower1
 
Eaton Centre
 
The Eaton Centre is one of the most visited retail establishment in Canada. The mall was named after an Irish immigrant, Timothy Eaton, who came to Canada more than 150 years ago. He built his first store in 1869 and the Eaton organisation started to build this mall in late 1970s. The mall is modelled after Milan’s Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, which has a similar design of a glass-domed ceiling that runs the length of the centre. The Eaton Centre is six stories tall and houses more than 285 stores and restaurants. You can find just about anything you need here.
 
toronto downtown011
 
I was surprise to see a Hard Rock Cafe directly across the Eaton Centre, with the iconic electric guitar. The cafe’s motto “Love All, Serve All” was adopted from Tigrett’s guru Sathya Sai Baba.
 
toronto downtown051
  
Metropolitan United Church, Toronto
 
Leaving the Eaton Centre, I chanced upon the Metropolitan Wesleyan Methodist Church at the corner of Church Street, a gay-oriented community. This neo-Gothic church unites the Methodists, Presbyterians and Congregationalists …
 
toronto downtown041
 
Further down Church Street is the St.Michael’s Cathedral. Built by William Thomas in 1848 and financed by the Irish immigrants, this is one of the oldest Roman Catholic cathedral in Toronto.
 
toronto downtown031

It was a short adventure; nonetheless, I took it as a bonus treat.

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