Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Christmas 2014 and Review of the Year

It was a lovely Christmas.

It is traditional at this time of year to reflect upon the year past. The achievements, the tribulations, the highlights and lowlights. 2014, eh? Perhaps I might muse upon what 2015 holds. Or perhaps I might not.

Hmm. I think I won't.

Anyway, I hope you all had a lovely Christmas too, and I hope 2014 was good, and 2015 will be equally as good for too.

Friday, 26 December 2014

Buster Bros

Balloons are terrorising the world's landmarks. Who do you call? The Buster Brothers, of course.

This was a game released in the early 1990s (it was called Pang for the Spectrum, which was what I had back then). It featured bubbles floating around, that caused instant death if touched. Naturally, in such a scenario, you would fire harpoons at the bubbles, causing them to divide in two. Arguably, two smaller balloons is as even more dangerous scenario, but shoot them a few more times and they would disappear. The world's landmark would be safe!

I'd love to pretend that at a young age - I would have been about 11 or 12 - Buster Bros aka Pang made a big impression on me, stirring my desire to visit all the exotic places on the list. But I don't think I ever owned it. I recall its existence, and possibly even played it, but other games made a far bigger impression on me, such as Football Manager 2, the wizard arena combat of Chaos, and the space trading game, Elite 2. I do not appear to have become either a football manager, a wizard, or an interstellar wanderer, making me wonder if my youth was slightly squandered.

Anyway, I took a look online and have found screenshots of many of the landmarks featured in Buster Bros. Most of them happen to be on my list, indicating that Japanese software developers of the late 80s/early 90s were right on the nose with their research. Here, across a selection of different computers, are the ones we agree on - the Hagia Sophia, Borobudur, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, Himeji Castle, Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, Neuschwanstein Castle, the Acropolis, Sacre-Coeur, Sagrada Familia, Tower Bridge, Easter Island, and the Pyramids.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Old Pictures: Marina Bay Sands

The Marina Bay Sands isn't terribly far up on my overall list but it's still a pretty standout building. A long park/pool/leisure complex plonked on top of three skyscraper hotels, it's a hugely distinctive addition to Singapore's skyline and it's not one you're going to confuse with anything else. Let's quickly remind ourselves of what it looks like.

Friday, 19 December 2014

The Longlist: Kuthodaw Pagoda

What's the Longlist? It's the list for all the other great man-made spectacles in the world that haven't quite made my shortlist. I don't feel the need to research them or visit them, but as long as this blog is about the world's best man-made structures, they deserve some kind of mention. Today, Kuthodaw Pagoda, in Mandalay, Burma.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Country Review: Bolivia

Dates there: 4th January to 8th January 2014: 5 days

Bolivia's Wonders: none

On the Longlist: Tiwanaku

We were warned about La Paz before we went: it's crowded, it's squalid, it's chaotic, it's dangerous. Left to my own devices, I would probably have given it a miss and skipped straight from Peru to Chile. But Danielle was intrigued. Despite the above reports, a few others filtered through, saying that yes, sure, it's all these things, but it's also fun. So we went. And yes, it was fun.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Old Pictures: Borobudur

Borobudur, in central Java, is a 9th Century Buddhist temple kind of thing. It doesn't really know what it is, because it's also a bit like a pyramid, and a bit like a hill. It's a one-off. Our guide described it as a book made out of stone. Whatever it is, these days it looks like this:

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Country Review: Peru

Dates there: 6th December 2013 to 4th January 2014, 20th to 24th February 2014: 35 days

Peru's Wonders: Machu Picchu, the Nazca Lines

Also visited: Winay Wayna, Saksayhuaman, Arequipa Cathedral

On the Longlist: Ollantaytambo, Kuelap, Moray, Choquequirao, Chan Chan

Danielle was very impressed. Usually, she is regarded as more petite than most, but in Peru she became a giant. The average height of a Peruvian woman is 4 foot 11½ inches (151cm) but remember, this is just the average. Many are much less. If you're short in stature and are fed up of feeling that way, go to Peru.

Friday, 5 December 2014

The Longlist: Akashi Kaikyo Bridge aka the Pearl Bridge

If you look closely, you might notice a new tab in the horizontal green bar at the top of this page. It says "Longlist". If you click on it, it explains a little more about my Longlist, but basically it's for all the other great man-made spectacles in the world that haven't quite made my shortlist. I don't feel the need to research them or visit them, but as long as this blog is about the world's best man-made structures, they deserve some kind of mention. Today, the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge, also known as the Pearl Bridge, in Kobe, Japan.

Take a look at the Golden Gate Bridge, the classic mighty suspension bridge, and once the biggest one on earth. I visited it in August of this year.

Uh-huh. Pretty impressive. The towers are 227 metres from top to water, and the main suspension span in the middle is 1280 metres. Now, let's take a look at the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge, which from now on I'm going to call by its supposed nickname of the Pearl Bridge, because it's a lot easier to write.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Old Pictures: Sydney Opera House

I have 39 Wonders still to visit, and 14 previews still to write. They will begin next year. In the meantime, I'm going to allow this blog to ramble around like a slightly senile geriatric. The very observant among you may have noticed The Longlist tab, which has appeared on the green bar above. Clicking on that will explain its purpose. I will be writing about each of the places there, in time. Also, in full rambling mode, I'm going to write about the countries I've been to on these travels, from the perspective of a budget traveller looking for World Wonders (that is, my perspective). And I'm also going to be digging up some old pictures and photos of Wonders, either in construction or from ye olde times. Likely, there will be a few others bits and pieces too. Anyway, for today, let's begin at the beginning (in terms of the order I've visited things at least) and take a look at some old pictures of the Sydney Opera House.

Friday, 28 November 2014

Model Wonders: Part 6 (Europe Edition)

Despite the many, many requests I get, on a daily basis, from big-name magazines and academic journals, offering big money to enquire after and photograph my collection of miniature World Wonders, I always refuse. "No," I tell them, gently but firmly, "I don't want to tarnish the purity of my collection. It would be like a celebrity mother selling pictures of her baby. There are some things which should not be exploited for commercial gain. This is one."

However, for my dear reader, I am more than happy to show you the European collection of models from my recent travels. Here they are.

(please note: I would also be more than happy to exploit this for commercial gain if any big-money magazines really are interested. Likewise, a baby, should I acquire one.)

Palace of Versailles


Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Burness Corner: The Forbidden City

My erstwhile travel companion from September 2011 to April 2012 gives his views upon the Wonders we visited. Today, Beijing's Forbidden City.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Unofficial Wonders Part 3: Europe

There's more to life than just official Wonders - there are unofficial ones too. I encountered a load of them on my recent travels, as recently highlighted, and so here are some more. Unscheduled and unresearched, they all stopped in me in my tracks in the way that a busy father, possibly with a freshly-made gin-and-tonic in hand, might stop suddenly upon seeing his children playing happily in the garden and think, "Yeah, things are pretty good." Does that imply that I secretly regard myself as the father of all monumental construction and that the world is my garden? Hmm, no, I didn't mean that. I'll take the gin-and-tonic, though.

These are all from Europe and are just the examples I happened to jump into a photograph with. There could have been many more - Italy alone is so stuffed with castles and cathedrals and medieval towers that if it were a pepper, then it would be, well, really too stuffed for its own good. Yet, what a tasty pepper.

Temple of Olympian Zeus, Greece

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Burness Corner: Ellora Caves/Kailasanathar Temple in Ellora

It has been over a year since my last Guest Corner, and over 18 months since my erstwhile travel companion, Burness, gave any of his views. Burness travelled with me through Asia, from September 2011 to April 2012, visiting 14 countries and 22 candidate Wonders. He initially showed some enthusiasm for writing up his own opinions and submitting to my short interviews, but this eventually waned. However, after numerous gentle reminders, I have managed to get a few more interviews from him. Today we have the Ellora Caves of India, with particular focus on its main temple, Kailash Temple, also called Kailasanathar.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Model Wonders: Part 5 (Americas Edition)

It may have been a dream (I can never quite tell), but just the other day I was ambling down the street when a group of youth stopped me. "Nev," they said as one, "It goes without saying that we closely follow your visits to prospective World Wonders, and have enjoyed your recent visits to the Americas and Europe. However, we recall you used to buy models of your Wonders, as we saw originally here, then here, then here, and finally (but still over two years ago) here. Do you still do such a thing, and if so, will you be making an update on your purchases over the last year?"

"Thank-you for your kind words and enquiries," I responded, after a moment's consideration. "I have indeed been buying models of all my Wonders, plus a few other ones too. Look, here they are:"

Machu Picchu

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Unofficial Wonders Part 2: The Americas

There are 105 candidate Wonders on my list, but they are not the be-all and end-all: I don't think they are the best 105 structures and sites out there. They just constitute my shortlist to filter down to an eventual top Seven. It's not uncommon when I'm Wonder hunting to encounter something off-list. Some of these I already know about, some are a surprise, but I feel they deserve at least an honorary mention.

I call these Unofficial Wonders and there surely hundreds, if not a lot more, out there.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

New Additions To The List: Part 6

It has been around 18 months since I made any changes to my list of candidate World Wonders, and rather a lot has happened since then. As time has gone on, my list has become more and more fixed; now two-thirds of the way through, it's possible that this could be my final amendment. But probably not.

Anyway, let's cut the waffle. The following are the new additions to the list, or the ones I have considered but rejected. It should be said that rather a lot has been considered in the last 18 months, and the below ones represent only the most heavily pondered, i.e. if they didn't make it, they came pretty damn close to being given the thumbs up.

1. The Baha'i Gardens in Haifa, Israel: ACCEPTED.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Home For Good - And Future Plans

Danielle and I got home, after ten months of travelling, last week. It’s been a busy week. In that time, we have found and moved into a new (rented) flat, bought a (banger of a) car, and attended my cousin’s wedding in Strathpeffer (in the Pavilion). Danielle has secured short-term work, and is looking for something longer term, and has started a part-time Masters. I am waiting for offshore work. The process of settling in has begun. The travels are over.

But the Wonder hunting has not.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Days 537 to 539: Cancun finale

Cancun is a ghastly place, that I'd usually avoid at all costs. Except at these costs - £419.90 for two people to fly from Cancun to London Gatwick. Just over £200 each to fly around ten hours. Not bad, hence Cancun is the setting for the end of our travels.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Days 533 and 534: Tulum and Merida

Perhaps as we roll into the last week of our travels after ten months we've become jaded. But both Tulum and Merida, highly rated by the Lonely Planet, failed to excite us at all. Both seemed shabby and nondescript. They weren't awful by any measures, just with a sense of "Is this it?"

Monday, 22 September 2014

Days 526 to 532: Palenque and Flores and lots of buses

When the ancient Maya rulers of Palenque and Tikal, were building their cities and kingdoms, they weren't thinking about people like myself and Danielle. Palenque and Tikal were both built in the jungle, and after everything went downhill, they were lost there too, for centuries. In the meantime, the Spanish popped by and took over everything and built a bunch of colonial cities, entirely unaware of these lost jungle cities. In 1810, modern Mexico squared up to Spain, cracked its knuckles, and had a couple of years of war before Spain said "Alright, go on," and gave Mexico independence. Guatemala followed suit about a decade later. The ruins of both Maya cities were discovered, explored, and to some degree excavated. Both became tourist sites and UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Great - but they were still in the jungle, and both Mexico and Guatemala have had better things to do than build vast straight flat motorways direct from their capital cities to the ruins. Meaning that unless you're willing to shell out rather a lot on flights to the local airports, the only practical method of getting to either location is buses. Hours and hours and hours of buses. Bumpy buses, old buses, little buses, uncomfortable buses, hot and cold buses, winding paths, hills up and down, and inevitably many delays: Palenque and Tikal by road are missions to get to. Maya civilisation - next time build your empires on some nice flat plains, please.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Day Scotland: The Independence Vote

Today is rather an important day in Scotland: the people there are voting whether or not to make the country fully independent. I'm currently in Mexico, and will be in Guatemala tomorrow (my blog will soon be catching up with all this) and so am missing what is a very exciting - or for some, worrying, I guess - day for the country. Fortunately, my mother has kindly voted on my behalf, with a proxy vote - thanks mum.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Days 522 to 526: San Cristobal de las Casas

San Cristobal de las Casas: what a long name for a place. As far as I can tell, the name is a fusion of the Spanish for St Christopher, possibly named after a church in the town, with the "de las Casas" being named after some 16th Century priest called Bartolome de las Casas, who did the radical move back then of suggesting that the natives were, you know, not all that bad and shouldn't be mistreated so much. Very nice, but it's a shame that the local Maya name hasn't caught on - Jovel. Short and punchy, and with a far more apt meaning - "the place in the clouds".

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Days 518 to 521: Puebla and Oaxaca.

Our visit to Puebla was just overnight, and so pretty fleeting. A couple of hours south of Mexico City, it was a whole world away from the capital's intensity. With the nation's tallest cathedral at the heart, the city of Puebla had a small town feel, and the streets were lined with quaint colourful buildings.

Monday, 8 September 2014

63. Wonder: Teotihuacan

(For the Teotihuacan preview, please click here.)

Days 512 to 517: Mexico City

Mexico City is sinking. When the Spanish came in 1519 and dethroned the Aztecs, they settled on taking over the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan, dismantling it and building Mexico City in a style more to their suiting. In this manner, the small colonial capital grew. But there was a problem. Cathedrals and palaces and other such large stone buildings are heavy, and Tenochtitlan was situated in a swamp. The modern day consequences of this are very visible in even just a casual wander around the city.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Days 502 to 506: San Francisco

"Wake up!" My happy sleep was disrupted by Danielle. She was in a mild state of tizzy. "I think I've felt an earthquake!" she said.

I tried to process this. "Uh... Don't be ridiculous. San Francisco gets these all the time. It's no big deal. Go back to sleep."


Friday, 15 August 2014

Days 491 to 493: St Louis

Before arriving in St Louis, the sum total of my knowledge about the city was this: it has a big steel arch, hence my reasons for going in the first place, and it is currently experiencing some very high profile media attention about racial tensions and alleged heavy-handed policing. Well, you can add this one to the list: St Louis is great.

(Also, to my great surprise, it's pronounced St Lewis, not St Lou-ee, despite being named after the French king and saint, Louis IX. I've still not got used to this yet, and am not sure if I approve. St Louis residents: sort this out.)

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Friday, 8 August 2014

Days 485 to 486: Chicago

We spent four days in Montevideo: nice, but a little dull. We three days in Lima: one would have been more than enough. And we spent three days in ghastly Naples. Yet we spent barely two days in Chicago, wonderful, cool, beautiful, exciting Chicago. What the hell?

Friday, 1 August 2014

57. Wonder: CN Tower

(For the CN Tower preview, please click here.)

Days 476 to 480: Toronto and the Donuts

Every now and again in a man's lifetime, something very special happens. A moment of magic that changes everything, so that everything else in that lifetime can be measured as pre- or -post event. In Toronto, that happened to me. I discovered this:

Monday, 28 July 2014

Days 470 to 475: New York

Here are some facts about New York.

1. It is a city. A big city.
2. It is made up of five districts, or boroughs as they are called here. They are Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx, and Staten Island, but the only one visitors care about is Manhattan. Some of them occasionally pretend to be interested in Brooklyn, but they're not really.
3. Manhattan is stuffed full of skyscrapers, many of them very famous. Other cities also have a lot of skyscrapers but none of them are as cool as Manhattan's. As far as is possible with skyscrapers, which are a concept that only became possible in the late 19th Century, Manhattan has historic skyscrapers. Seven of them were, at one point, the tallest buildings in the world.
4. Danielle and I were there, from Tuesday 22nd to Sunday 27th July.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Out Of The Mouths Of Babes

As the last review, on the Sagrada Familia, might have suggested, we were in Barcelona. But only for a few days. Originally, the plan had been to spend a couple of weeks in northern Spain, then pop back to Scotland for a weekend of weddings, before continuing the travels. But for the last few months, Danielle's wisdom teeth have being causing her a lot of discomfort, and so we decided to pop back to Scotland for a couple of weeks. She had a couple of her wisdom teeth removed, and we spent a lovely week up north, in the country, at my mother's house.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Days 459 to 467: Rome

Rome. It's quite a famous city. It may be the most influential city of all time. The Romans turned it into the most fabulous city in the world two thousand years ago, and ever since then it's been on a roll. The Catholic Church set up shop there, Renaissance art flourished, and spaghetti carbonara was invented. It was the very obvious capital for a unified Italy from 1870. It's had its ups and downs, but there's no doubt Rome has lived a very full life. The evidence is all around. Rome is packed full of history, monuments, ruins, all gloriously spread across the city like juicy currants in a hot cross bun.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Days 456 to 459: Sorrento

Sorrento is a coastal holiday town on the edge of the bay of Naples, about an hour in a dreadful train away from the dreadful Naples. It's... ok.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Days 453 to 456: Naples

Naples is an absolute dump. Finally, Italy doesn't deliver.

Pisa, Lucca, Florence, Siena, Perugia, Milan, Verona, Venice, and Bologna: all were wonderful, all I would happily return to. Even Genoa I'd happily spend some more time in, although I think Danielle would leave me to it. But Naples. Oh, Naples. Am I still in Italy? Is this still Europe? Or have I been transported to somewhere in the third world, a city piled high with rubbish and patrolled by people who look like they've just failed the auditions for Jersey Shore?

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Days 451 to 452: Bologna

"Where are you off to next?" the Hilton receptionist asked, upon check-out.
"Ah, the city of arches!"
"Uh... yes?"