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Destination Jerusalem

Iconic Jerusalem Hotel Transformed into Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem

April 10th 2014

Waldorf Jerusalem.jpg

After seven years of construction and an investment of $150 million, the only internationally branded luxury hotel in Jerusalem, Waldorf Astoria, has officially opened for business right before the Passover holiday. Welcoming its first international guests who reserved rooms for the April opening on Thursday, the Waldorf Astoria in Jerusalem has once again returned to its historical role of serving as a landmark destination for tourists.

Formerly known as the Palace Hotel which originally opened in 1929, the current 'grand luxury' hotel has sparkling crystal chandeliers that cost over $2 million, Italian-made furniture and rugs, and hundreds of glass mezuzahs made in the Czech Republic. 

"This is Israel's biggest and longest restoration project in Israel," said Guy Klaiman, the General Manager of the Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem who has had 25 years of working in the Hilton enterprise abroad. Read more ..

Destination Crimea

Can Crimea Reclaim Its Role As Russia's Beach Getaway Of Choice?

April 3rd 2014


In 1782, as Catherine the Great was pondering whether to annex Crimea, her lover and military adviser Grigory Potemkin urged her on, arguing: "Russia needs its paradise."

More than two centuries later, Russia has once again reclaimed its "paradise" with the forced annexation of the Black Sea peninsula. But it remains to be seen whether Crimea, in turn, can reclaim its past reputation as a bustling tourist draw and beachfront to the elite.

Writers Alexander Pushkin, Anton Chekhov, and Lev Tolstoi all sought out Crimea's exotic climate, extolling its virtues in their work. In the Soviet era, the peninsula was the preferred playground of the Communist elite and cadres of favored bureaucrats and students.

Crimea's luster, and infrastructure, has crumbled in the post-Soviet years. Many Russians are now accustomed to traveling abroad, flooding the beaches of Turkey, Spain, and the French Riviera. Those who still choose Crimea are drawn more by cheap prices and summer rave parties than by past notions of luxury. Read more ..

Malaysia on Edge

China Examines Satellite Images of Possible Malaysia Airlines Jet Debris

March 22nd 2014

Malaysia's defense minister says a Chinese satellite has spotted a large object floating in the Indian Ocean southwest of Australia where officials hope to find a Malaysia Airlines plane that has been missing for more than two weeks.

"Chinese ships have been dispatched to the area. Beijing is expected to make an announcement in a few hours,'' Malaysian Defence Minister and acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told reporters.

He said on March 22 that he had been informed that a Chinese satellite had spotted an object 22 meters (72 feet) by 30 meters (100 feet).

However, he said there was still no confirmation that debris detected by a satellite in the Indian Ocean several days ago was from a missing Malaysia Airlines plane. Read more ..

South of the Border

The Soul and Sounds of Acapulco

March 16th 2014

As dusk stirs, Acapulco’s Zocalo, or town square, becomes a cacophony of sounds. On a given day, visitors might hear a woman street musician playing a violin, the municipal orchestra soothing a mainly older audience, a poet reading revolutionary verse, or a clown tickling the old funny bones.

On one side of the old plaza, the pirate CD vendor cranks up a sample of popular banda music, while cavernous-like murmurs drift out from the Cathedral with its Virgin of Soledad, the protector of Acapulco. And like clockwork, noisy grackle birds lay down the back track in a tree-stand chorus.

Despite their historic importance, Acapulco’s Zocalo and adjacent barrios witnessed hard times in recent years. As crime and violence intensified and tourism plunged, businesses shut down or downsized. Read more ..

Aviation Edge

Malaysia Airline Flight Disappearance was 'Deliberate Action'

March 15th 2014

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Malaysian, American and other authorities investigating what happened to a missing jetliner en route to China one week ago are concluding that its disappearance was a deliberate action.

Malaysia's prime minister confirms that whatever took Flight 370 off course was not an accident.

Najib Razak told reporters Saturday the transponder of Flight 370 appears to have been deliberately switched off before the airliner turned back, flew west over peninsula Malaysia and then shifted to a northwest heading.

Najib said, "Up until the point at which it left military primary radar coverage these movements are consistent with deliberate action by someone on the plane."

But the prime minister emphasized that hijacking is not the only possibility authorities are considering for the suspicious actions.

The Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 with 239 people on board was en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur. Read more ..

Destinaion Israel

Voluntouring in Israel

February 17th 2014


Voluntourists to Israel are sure to return home with a better experience of how to share responsibility to heal, repair and transform the world. Going on holiday can mean relaxing or sightseeing, tasting new foods or learning firsthand about new cultures. A growing segment of vacationers, however, goes abroad to work for free.

Voluntourism – volunteering and tourism — has been cited as one of the fastest-growing sectors of worldwide tourism. Israel, a top destination for a myriad of reasons from historical to cultural, biblical to religious, is proving to be a leading location for voluntourists as well.

People of just about any age can farm, perform dentistry, respond to emergency calls, serve in the army, work in animal or environmental conservation, pick fruit on a kibbutz or make a person in need smile.

“Volunteers can make a difference even if they come for an hour,” says Deena Fiedler, spokeswoman for the national food bank Leket Israel. “They’re in our fields or in our packing warehouse; they’re preparing sandwiches, rescuing surplus food. They’re making a difference. We couldn’t do what we do without the volunteers.” Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Vice President Biden's LaGuardia Gaffe Provokes NYC Mayor De Blasio

February 8th 2014

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) defended LaGuardia Airport on Friday after a high-profile swipe from Vice President Biden.

Biden this week compared LaGuardia Airport to a “third-world” facility while he was speaking at event touting Amtrak service in the Northeast.

De Blasio said Biden was wrong about his city’s oldest airport.

“I respect the vice president, but I think his comments were inappropriate,” the mayor said during a press conference.

“As a proud New Yorker, I didn’t like that comment, and I think it was not the right way to talk about it,” de Blasio continued.

Biden made the remark in a speech on Thursday in which he warned the U.S. is falling behind other countries in airport and other infrastructure developments. Read more ..

Destination California

Whale Sightings Break Record in Southern California

January 21st 2014

Blue whale

Tourists are flocking to the southern California coast for whale-watching tours.  In the last month, a record number of the huge marine mammals have been seen off the coast of Long Beach, just south of Los Angeles.  Marine biologists are trying to figure out why.

Near two of the busiest ports in the United States, ships are not the only giants moving through the ocean.  Captain Dan Salas of Harbor Breeze Cruises has been seeing sprays of water coming out of the ocean, followed by splashes from giant tails.

“In the last month or so we have seen so many whales that it’s been just absolutely incredible,” he said. Salas runs whale watching cruises off the coast of Long Beach seven days a week throughout the year.  He said typically visitors had a 75 to 80 percent chance of seeing a whale. Read more ..

Destination Mars

Ten Years of Roving Around Mars

January 8th 2014

Mars rover family portrait

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is celebrating the 10th anniversary of its Mars Exploration Rover Mission (MER), which began with the arrival of its robotic vehicles Spirit and Opportunity on the red planet in 2004. The anniversary event, held at the National Air and Space Museum, in Washington, featured a panel of NASA scientists discussing the achievements of the vehicles that have landed on Mars so far, and the future plans for exploring the planet.

A golf-cart sized vehicle named Spirit landed on Mars on January 4, 2004, while its twin, Opportunity, touched down three weeks later on the opposite side of the planet.

Although designed to operate for only 90 Martian days (Martian days are about 40 minutes longer than days on Earth), both rovers functioned much longer, and provided mission scientists huge amounts of information about Mars. Geologist John Grant, who was involved with the mission, said the rovers greatly enhanced scientists’ understanding of the planet’s geologic history. Read more ..

Brazil on Edge

Brazil Beefs Up Security in Advance of Soccer's World Cup Tournament

January 7th 2014

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The Brazilian government has established a special unit to complement police to subdue demonstrations that are expected to be held during the World Cup, which begins in June. Ten thousand members will be selected from state police forces nationwide and stationed in the dozen cities that will host World Cup games, Col. Alexandre Augusto Aragon, who heads the elite National Security Force, told reporters. “We have been concerned with this [security during the World Cup] since before the protests that took place last year, because we don’t wait around for things to happen,” he told the website G1. “The violence of recent protests is what scared us.”

The Brazilian government is taking steps to preclude any incidents should protests occur during the World Cup. During last year’s Confederations Cup, more than a million people demonstrated on the streets nationwide in a single day. The demonstrators were protesting the billions that have been spent on the World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, which will be held in Rio de Janeiro, at a time when funding for social services is lacking. Read more ..

Destination Israel

Christian Tourists Welcomed to Holy Land

December 28th 2013

Jerusalem snow

This Christmas season, two new sites — devoted to the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene – are ready for visitors. Sound and light show at the Mary of Nazareth International Center.

Did you know that the majority of tourists to the Jewish state are not Jewish but Christian? In 2012, nearly 60 percent of the 2.88 million visitors to Israel were Christians, and about a third of those were pilgrims come to visit holy sites.

This Christmas season, two major, privately funded innovations are being promoted by the Israeli Tourism Ministry, which is putting increasing resources into existing and new Christian tourist sites.

The International Center Mary of Nazareth, located next to the Roman Catholic Basilica of the Annunciation, is run by an ecumenical French Catholic community with the aim of creating unity among Christians of different denominations and with other religions through the example of the Virgin Mary. Read more ..

Destination Israel

Dan Hotels Israel Wins First Place in Market Test Survey

December 24th 2013

King David Hotel

The Management of the Dan Hotels takes great pride in announcing that once again it is the Dan chain that has come top of the guest list!

All the large hotel chains in Israel participated in this survey which took place during September and October 2013 in accordance and cooperation with "ACSI" (American Customer Satisfaction Index). It involved 612 guests who stayed in hotels in Israel during the previous 12 months and the results clearly show how the Dan Hotels comes top in nine of the thirteen categories analyzed, with the main ones being, customer satisfaction; willingness to recommend; and willingness to return.

"This is a great achievement and we all very proud of the results" commented Rafi Baeri, Vice President Marketing and Sales. "It is always a challenge to ensure customer satisfaction for the long- term but achieving first place for eight years in a row (since 2005, when the survey began) is very gratifying and ensures customer loyalty for the future. It is even more of a triumph this year as we have also managed to improve on Dan's perception by our customers as compared to previous years." Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Better User Interface Design Could Mitigate “Automation Addiction” and Other Flying Errors

December 16th 2013

USAir ditch in Hudson

Amid news reports on the National Transportation Safety Board hearings regarding possible causes of the Asiana plane crash at San Francisco International Airport in July, questions have been raised about pilots’ overreliance on or failure to understand cockpit automation and even whether pilots are sufficiently trained to fly without it. Eric Geiselman and colleagues propose that user interfaces that take advantage of avionics’ underlying data and logic could enable pilots to better cope with extraordinary circumstances like the unavailability of an instrument landing system, as was the case in San Francisco.

In Geiselman et al.’s October Ergonomics in Design article, “Flight Deck Automation: A Call for Context-Aware Logic to Improve Safety,” the authors describe prototype designs that could mitigate errors leading to accidents and incidences such as the A330 Air France Flight 447 crash in 2009 and the airport overfly of Northwest 188 that same year. Read more ..

Destination Washington DC

US Botanic Garden Wows Holiday Visitors

December 11th 2013

Oklahoma City Botanical Gardens

It’s winter in Washington and its cold outside. But inside the U.S. Botanic Garden, in the heart of the nation’s capital, the temperature’s warm and the holiday spirit is high.

Each year, the huge greenhouse is decorated with seasonal displays that have charmed visitors for almost a decade.

Executive director Holly Shimizu said the winter exhibit, “Seasons Greenings,” is one of the garden's most popular attractions “because it helps get people in the holiday spirit.”

Natural wonders
Highlights of the exhibit include artistic representations of landmark monuments and buildings in Washington that look like replicas of the real thing.

Nestled among colorful Poinsettias and other seasonal greenery, there are model-like structures such as the White House; Washington Monument, complete with blinking red lights; Lincoln Memorial with a miniature President Lincoln inside; and an interpretation of the U.S. Capitol, which is just a few steps away from the gardens. Read more ..

The Holiday Edge

Chinese Sculptors Bring Their Talent to US Holiday Ice Show

December 10th 2013


No matter what the thermometer shows about the weather in your neighborhood - this next story will keep you cool.  For the Christmas holiday, a huge attraction at the Marriott Gaylord National hotel near Washington, DC is made entirely of ice.  Actually, more than 900,000 kilograms of ice! 

Walk inside a massive white tent and the noise hits you first, followed by the brisk air. You're hearing the sounds of forklifts and chainsaws, slicing through ice. 

The temperature is minus 12 degrees Celsius....the air turns a smoky color when someone exhales. But it must be this cold to preserve the 6,000 massive blocks of ice. Carvers are chipping the blocks into life-sized characters from a children's Christmas storybook. The carvers only speak Mandarin, like Xu Rui who is the art director of the exhibit. “We learn it since we were really young," said Xu Rui. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

Congressional Democrat Voices Concern over U.S. Parts for Iran's Jets

December 10th 2013

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A senior Democrat is lashing out at a provision of the nuclear deal with Iran that could make it easier for the country to repair its aging fleet of civilian aircraft.

A little-noticed provision of the deal paves the way for U.S. companies such as Boeing and General Electric to inspect and repair Iran's American-made planes inside Iran. But Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs panel and a hawk on Iran, says the planes could be used to promote terrorism and support Syria's Bashar Assad.

“America should exploit some of the vagaries in the agreement’s language and prevent Boeing from repairing Iranian aircraft until we have a final deal,” Sherman said in a statement Tuesday. “Otherwise we will have made a permanent irreversible concession in a 'temporary' agreement.” He said he opposes “licensing parts and services needed to repair Iran's American-made planes because they have been used to support some of Iran's worst activities.” Read more ..

Destination South Sudan

South Sudan, World's Newest Honeymoon Destination

December 8th 2013

Christian church closeup

When newlyweds fly off on their honeymoon, they head for the sandy beaches of the Cayman Islands, Tahiti, the Maldives and -- landlocked South Sudan?

That's where Australian couple Matthew and Emily Albert headed on their honeymoon, and they came away with enduring memories and some words of advice for the authorities in the world's newest nation: ease up on visa requirements and improve transportation, and South Sudan could become a hot tourist destination.

"We were made to feel very welcome from the outset and got to see a country that is pristine in so many ways -- pristine in terms of not being overly done for tourists but also in terms of the environment and magnificent scenery," Matthew Albert told South Sudan in Focus. But just as the couple is likely to face a few bumps and challenges along the (hopefully) long road of marriage, they ran into a few in South Sudan. "The biggest challenge was transport, just getting from one place to another," Albert said. Read more ..

Destination Zion

We're Marching to Zion

December 6th 2013

Amish buggy

Amish, Mennonite and Hutterite pilgrims meet with Israeli Chief Rabbi on a tour meant to build a relationship of blessing between Anabaptists and Jews.

When Israeli Chief Rabbi David Lau entered the conference room at the Chief Rabbinate in Jerusalem with Parliamentarian Aliza Lavie, a group of 31 Anabaptist Christians was in the midst of singing a medley of hymns, harmonizing so beautifully that staffers had been standing in the halls to listen. No one seemed fazed that the hymns were not Jewish, least of all Lau.

“I ask you to continue your singing, because we heard it together [as we approached the room] and it was amazing,” the revered rabbi told the awestruck pilgrims. “Sing something about Jerusalem.” And so they found their voices again: “We’re marching to Zion, beautiful, beautiful Zion; we’re marching upward to Zion, the beautiful city of God.” This extraordinary scene was, for many of the visitors, the apex of the third Anabaptist mission to Israel. It spanned November 24 to December 1, 2013, including most of the Hanukkah holiday. Read more ..

Destination Israel

The Top Eight Things to do in Israel on the Eight Days of Hanukkah

December 1st 2013


Torch Relay
The annual Hanukkah Torch Relay marks the beginning of the holiday in Israel. People line the road from the city of Modi’in to the Western Wall (Kotel) in Jerusalem’s Old City, passing a burning torch from hand to hand. The torch then lights the giant hanukkiyah (menorah) at the Western Wall.

Modi’in, located between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, is believed to have been the home of Hanukkah’s heroes, the Maccabees, and the place where the Maccabean revolt began.

Sufganiyot (doughnuts) are by far the most popular Hanukkah food in Israel. Every year, Israelis eat a whopping 24 million of these calorie-heavy-sugar-covered-fried treats made especially for the holiday.

Strawberry-jelly-filled ones are the most ubiquitous, but don’t miss out on the other fillings: halva, dulce de leche, chocolate, pistachio cream and more.

Diets aside, Hanukkah foods are usually fried in oil to remember the Maccabees’ victory over their oppressors and that one flask of oil miraculously burned for eight days in the rededicated Temple in Jerusalem.

Many dishes also contain cheese to celebrate Judith’s victory over the powerful Assyrian army (she gave Holofernes, an invading general of Nebuchadnezzar, salty cheese to make him thirsty, wine to make him drunk, and then beheaded him).

The traditional holiday menu also includes latkes (potato or cheese pancakes fried in oil), svinge (traditional Moroccan Jewish fried fritter), loukoumades or bimuelos (fried honey puffs) and chocolate coins. Read more ..

Destination Virginia

Claude Moore Colonial Farm Steps Back in Time

November 28th 2013

Small Farm

On the outskirts of Washington, there's a place where it seems time has stopped.  Claude Moore Colonial Farm is a U.S. national park in McLean, Virginia, which recreates and reenacts life on a tenant farm around the year 1771.  The vast majority of Virginians at that time were tenant farmers, who grew tobacco to pay their rent and buy food. 

When you visit the Claude Moore Colonial Farm, you step back almost two and a half centuries, to a time when this part of America was under British Rule.

Life was governed by the rhythms of agriculture. People worked from dusk to dawn - and in the colony of Virginia, spent much of their time growing tobacco. The U.S. Park Service created the farm just before the 1976 U.S. Bicentennial celebration.  But facilities manager Jon David Engle says it’s now privately operated - unlike any other national park in the country. Read more ..

The Friendly Skys on Edge

Deadly Russian Plane Crash Shines Spotlight On Regional Carriers

November 18th 2013

USAir ditch in Hudson

As Tatarstan residents mourn the 50 victims of a plane crash in the republic's capital, Kazan, the disaster has cast a harsh spotlight on the safety of Russian regional carriers.

The Boeing 737 operated by Tatarstan Airlines crashed on November 17 while trying to land in Kazan, killing everyone on board.

Investigators say the plane, which was flying from Moscow, slammed into the ground while making a second attempt at landing before bursting into flames. They are looking into pilot error and technical problems, including equipment failure.

Among the mourners laying flowers at the airport on November 18, many had angry words for Tatarstan Airlines and Russian aviation authorities. One mourner, named Dmitry, called the tragedy "unimaginable -- it's awful, just awful." Read more ..

Destination Galilee

Celebrating The Olive In The Galilee

November 5th 2013


Artisinal olive oil. It has an attractive ring, but think what “artisinal” means. You associate it with ancient traditions that living people continue to maintain – with the material products of those traditions.

But when you pick up a bottle of olive oil, you’re probably thinking of salad, not imagining the physical labor involved in making it. I learned about Israel’s olive crops and the mix of ancient and modern methods of producing olive oil, on a tour of the Galilee olive festival this week. Laurie Balbo reported on the olive tree’s historical origins in this fascinating post.

Every October and November, the the Ministry for the Development of the Negev and the Galilee,  the Galilee Development Authority and the Olive Council sponsor the Olive Branch Festival celebrating the olive harvest. Enjoying the cool fall weather, visitors tour villages throughout the Galilee, the Golan and the valleys where olives and their oil are a culture unto themselves. In the north of the country, it’s an opportunity to meet Druze villagers whose livelihood depends largely on olive oil production. We’ve reported on our Druze culinary experience in this post. And if you like olive oil, you can take advantage of the chance to buy it fresh – almost right off the tree. Read more ..

Destination Istanbul

Bosporus Tunnel Opens Linking Europe, Asia

October 30th 2013

Istanbul's main square

For the first time, Turkey has connected its European and Asian sides with a railway tunnel. The Marmaray tunnel, which runs underneath the Bosphorus Strait, will link the Asian and European shores of Istanbul. Concerns and criticism, however, surround what is being described as one of the country's greatest-ever engineering projects.

Tuesday’s opening ceremony for the Marmaray railway tunnel drew thousands. Addressing the crowds, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan invoked the country’s historical past.

It was the dream of Sultan Abdulmescid [the Ottoman sultan from 1839 to 1861] to build this tunnel, he said. "Today we have fulfilled this dream. We have many historical projects to finish for Turkey and Istanbul. This is in the service of the people," said Erdogan. Read more ..

Destination Virginia

Virginia’s Colorful Autumn Foliage Dazzles Tourists

October 26th 2013

Autumn leaves forest

Each autumn, a wooded stretch of highway high in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia attracts crowds of tourists who come to admire the colorful fall foliage on the Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park.

This couple from Maryland is enjoying the array of colors from one of the nearly 75 overlooks on Skyline Drive.  The view reminds Sandra Andrade of a palette of watercolors.

“Different colored trees, it’s just like everyone is having a party. So colorful!," said Andrade. Apart from passing cars, Bob Bryant enjoys the serenity.

“What you see and what you hear, which a lot of it is nothing, which is just a wonderful thing to hear when you live in the city," said Bryant. Park ranger Sally Hurlbert says visitors come from all over the United States and around the world.

“They’re from China, from India, they’re from all over. South Africa. I’ve had people from the Ivory Coast,"  said Hurlbert. Mihuie Lee is from South Korea. “Here is very calm and very beautiful," said Lee. Read more ..

Destination Tiberias

12 Cool Things to do in Tiberias for FREE

October 25th 2013

Caribe Crucero

Flowing with natural hot springs, brimming with Christian and Jewish holy sites and hugging the shores of the Sea of Galilee, Tiberias is a top tourist stopover for visitors to Israel. The city boasts many historical and religious sites as well as water recreation options.

But required tourist hotspots usually translate to opening one’s wallet at every other turn. ISRAEL21c presents 12 things to do in Tiberias without spending an agora.

1. Old Tiberias Walking Tour
On Tuesdays, a local tour guide takes tourists through the archaeological park (next to Sheraton Moriah and Golden Tulip hotels) and then to the promenade, past the Turkish citadel, to the famous Etz Hachaim synagogue of Rabbi Haim Abulafia, and the Scottish Compound (see below). On Fridays, he leads a free tour of the city’s historical sites. Every Sunday, Monday and Thursday, a walking group leaves from the Tiberias Tourist Information Center (04-672-5666), and the Tiberias Hotel Association (04-672-4549) offers free Saturday morning walking tours revealing the history behind the walled Ottoman city to today’s contemporary hotel industry. Book in advance and reconfirm. Read more ..

Destination Russia

Christian Audio Programs To Play On Russian Trains

October 4th 2013

russian bullet train

Passengers on Russian trains will soon be treated to special audio programs designed to broaden their knowledge of history, philosophy, and religion – more specifically, Russian Orthodoxy.

Under the initiative, headed by a senior figure at the Moscow Patriarchate, a compilation of programs previously hosted by Radio Rossii journalist Lyudmila Borzyak will become available on more than 200 long-distance trains in the coming months.

Topics will include stories from the lives of famous Russian saints, including Princess Olga and Prince Vladimir; the early days of Christianity in Russia; and the formation of the Russian state.

Travelers will also have a chance to learn more about classical philosophers such as Thales of Miletus and Pliny the Younger, and about the history of different inventions. "We believe this project will help foster a higher level of culture and instruction in society," said Yelena Miroshnikova, a spokeswoman for the state-owned Russian Railways. "It also aims to encourage personal values such as respect for our country's historical past, kindness, and spiritual growth." Read more ..

Destination Negev Desert

Winemakers Revive Ancient Negev Wine Route

October 1st 2013

Israeli Wines

Nine wineries make modern use of the ancient Nabatean grape-growing terraces in Israel’s Negev Desert, a perfect climate for the craft.

Hannah and Eyal Izrael founded Carmey Avdat, one of nine Israeli vineyards established along the path of the old wine and spice routes in the Negev Desert highlands. These farms have brought back to life ancient grape-growing terraces from a forgotten civilization.

“During our travels through the Negev, we came upon a hidden riverbed with remains of an ancient farm and vineyard. We instantly fell in love with the place and decided that we would establish our farm at the site, which had been a vineyard during the Nabatean period more than 2,000 years ago. We established the Carmey Avdat Farm there in 1998,” recounts Eyal Izrael. Read more ..

The Edge of Climate Change

Surge in Tourism Impacts Glaciers in Northern Indian State

September 28th 2013

Melting Glaciers

Environmentalists say retreating glaciers and melting snows on high Himalayan peaks could impact millions of people in the Indian subcontinent who rely on rivers fed by the massive ice sheets on the mountains. A surge in tourism is impacting the mountains in India’s northern Himachal Pradesh state.  

Tucked in the high Himalayas, the picturesque hill town of Manali in the Kullu Valley thrives on the tourists who come to escape the scorching heat of the Indian plains.

D.S. Aditya, Manager of Sterling Resorts in Manali said a snow-covered pass that lies 50 kilometers up a snaking mountain road is a huge draw.   “Wherever you go there is one destination which is famous. If you visited in Manali, Rohtang is main attraction," Aditya said. "Because of the snow.” Read more ..

Destination Cairo

Cairo’s Garbage Workers Built Seven Extraordinary Cave Churches

September 19th 2013

Cave Church Cairo

We already have great respect for the Zabbaleen in Garbage City, the minority Coptic Christians who make a living sorting through Cairo’s trash, and then we saw these extraordinary Cave Churches over on Amusing Planet.

Historically marginalized and evicted from Giza in 1970, a community of Coptic Christians took up residence at the foot of the Mokattam hills in south east Cairo.

Burned by their previous experience, the religious group hesitated to build permanent churches in their settlement, which is now lined with mountains of trash, until 1976, when a fire broke out in Manshiyat Nasir.

The first 1,000 square foot cave church was carved at the foot of Mokattam mountain. The largest in the Middle East – the Monastery of St. Simon the Tame, a Coptic Christian saint – has an ampitheater that boasts a seating capacity of 20,000 devotees. Read more ..

Destination India

Optimism Abounds in Beautiful Kashmir - the 'Switzerland' of India

September 14th 2013

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Many Kashmiris can remember when calm returned to the Himalayan region following nearly two decades of insurgent violence. Militant attacks dropped after India and Pakistan signed a 2003 cease-fire deal, transforming Indian-controlled Kashmir’s economy.

Gulzar Beigh stopped working as a laborer and instead rented a boat, or “shikara,” to ferry a new surge of visitors to the valley. He made an average of $250 a month last year. “Tourism really improved here in the last eight years. The number of tourists increased,” Beigh said as he paddled his shikara across Dal Lake. “My friends and neighbors are all involved in the industry, some sell jewelry, some sell shawls.” Read more ..

Destination Philadelphia

Diversity Keeps Fans Returning to Philadelphia Folk Festivals

September 10th 2013

Smithsonian Folklife Festival

When The Stray Birds kicked off their first song at the 52nd annual Philadelphia Folk Festival in mid-August, they were unknown to many of those sitting in the sun at the Old Poole Farm in Schwenksville, Pennsylvania.  But by the time the group finished their last performance at the festival, the young, bluegrass-picking, classically-trained trio from Lancaster, Pennsylvania had a long line of fans waiting to buy CDs and get them signed.

That’s what’s so special about a festival like this one near Philadelphia: you come in to see headliners such as The Mavericks, or the legendary Todd Rundgren and leave loving The Stray Birds.

The very first Philadelphia Folk Festival was held in 1962 and is now the oldest continuously operating folk festival in the United States. Put on then, as it is now, by the Philadelphia Folk Song Society and a staff of 30 volunteers, the first event ran two days with a lineup that included Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, The Greenbrier Boys and Pete Seeger. Today, more than 2,000 volunteers are needed to make sure the four-day festival runs smoothly. Read more ..

Travel Safe

Passengers 'Experiencing a Different TSA' at the Airport

September 3rd 2013

airport crowd

Transportation Security Administration (TSA) chief John Pistole said on Monday that the agency was working to change its perception among airline passengers.

Since its inception, critics have frequently lambasted the TSA with accusations ranging from security theater to invasion of airline passengers' privacy.

But Pistole said in an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Monday that the agency's switch to "risk-based" procedures were helping to change its perception among frequent fliers.

“We have undertaken some fairly significant changes both in policy and in procedures, so more and more people are experiencing a different TSA at the airport,” Pistole told the paper. In particular, Pistole touted the TSA's "Pre-Check" known behavior program, which allows passengers to volunteer information to the agency in exchange for the possibility of receiving expedited screening. Read more ..

The Edge of Nature

Feather Forensics Prevent Aviation Accidents

August 31st 2013


Minutes after U.S. Airways flight 1549 took off from New York’s La Guardia Airport in 2009, pilot Chesley Sullenberger radioed the control tower:  "This is cactus 15-49, hit birds, lost thrust in both engines returning back towards La Guardia.”

Sullenberger had few options and made an emergency landing in the Hudson River. The passengers and crew were evacuated safely. The plane had hit a flock of Canada geese.

“The Canada goose is a beautiful bird. I love birds, but there is a place for birds and there’s a place not for birds and you do not want birds around the airfield, especially large-bodied birds,” said Carla Dove, director of the Bird Identification Lab at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington.

It was Dove who identified the birds that brought down Flight 1549.  As director of the Bird Identification Lab, she manages a reference collection of 620,000 bird specimens housed in floor to ceiling cabinets on the sixth floor of the museum. “[The collection] is about 150 years old," Dove said. "We probably have about 85 percent of the diversity of birds of the world represented here. So there are 10,000 species. We have about 8,500 in our collection.” Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

European Hi-Speed Rail Targetted by al-Qaeda

August 20th 2013

Italian Hi-Speed Rail

Al Qaeda has been plotting attacks on high-speed rail networks in Europe, according to a German media report. The information reportedly came from the US National Security Agency (NSA) listening in on top operatives. A report by the German daily newspaper Bild on Monday said that al Qaeda leaders have been plotting attacks on high-speed rail networks across Europe. The group was possibly targeting trains and tunnels or planning to sabotage railway tracks themselves and the electric cabling serving them.

The terrorist attacks were reported to have been a "central topic" of a conference call intercepted by the NSA, involving high-ranking al Qaeda operatives.


Destination Pennsylvania

Competition Pushes the Limits of Longwood Gardens Organ

August 18th 2013

Longwood Organ

A century ago, American industrialist and philanthropist Pierre du Pont put his fortune to work planting an elaborate garden in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. Not only were there landscaped grounds and large fountains, du Pont built over one-and-a-half hectares of grand, glass-enclosed greenhouses, or conservatories. Oh yes, and a massive organ with more than 10,000 pipes.

A greenhouse might seem an odd place to put a grand pipe organ. But the conservatories at Longwood Gardens are no ordinary greenhouses. Paul Redman, Director of Longwood Gardens, explains what du Pont had in mind when he had the organ built.

“His palace, that he created, was our palace of flowers and the conservatories," he said. "And that was really where he entertained his family members and friends. And so why not have a ballroom, where he could have very large dinner parties for his friends and family? And why not have an organ as well?” Read more ..

Travel Safe

Planning for a Safe Trip

August 15th 2013

airplanes shadows

In light of the current U.S. State Department global travel warning, it seems an opportune time for a discussion on how to prepare to travel safely. Perhaps the most important key to remaining out of harm's way while traveling or working abroad is to know and understand -- in advance -- some of the idiosyncrasies of each country's bureaucracy and the security risks that have been identified for your destination. This knowledge and guidance will then allow you to decide whether to even travel to a particular destination. If you do decide to travel, it will help you plan and implement proper precautions for the environment you will be visiting. Fortunately, finding safety and security information for your destination country is easier than ever in the Internet age. Read more ..

Destination New York State

FDR and the Hudson River Valley

August 14th 2013


The twelve years of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s presidency are arguably the most significant years of modern times. They include the Great Depression, World War II and the Holocaust and they laid the foundation for virtually every important development since then from atomic energy to the internet. To gain an understanding of that period, you can do no better than to visit the beautiful Hudson River Valley community of Hyde Park, N.Y. site of the Roosevelt Presidential Library, Museum and residence. 

Located some 2 hours from New York City, Hyde Park was home not only to the Roosevelt family but also to the Vanderbilts and other moguls of the Gilded Age. Many of their mansions and estates have been meticulously preserved and are open to visitors. Hyde Park is also the home of the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), a former seminary now the foremost culinary academy in the United States. Its exquisite Bocuse Restaurant is open to the public and is renowned for exceptional French cuisine at bargain prices.

For us, however, the principal attraction is the FDR Presidential Library and Museum, together with “Springwood” the Roosevelt family residence.  The museum which was originally opened in 1941 was reopened on June 30, 2013 after an extensive $30 million renovation and overhaul. It is laid out in such a way that you can literally walk through the various periods of FDR’s presidency beginning with America in the midst of the Great Depression. Among the highlights which caught our attention was a photograph of people lining up at the entrance of the Bank of the United States with a large sign reading “Bank Closed” in Yiddish. A few feet further on is a replica of a 1935 kitchen, complete with groceries of the period on its shelves. There you can sit at the kitchen table and listen to several of FDR’s famous Fireside Chats on a vintage radio. Read more ..

Destination Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi Five-Star Leisure at Saadiyat Island Puts Ecology First

July 28th 2013

Caribe Crucero

A five star hotel will offer chefs, tennis and golf pros, hairdressers and masseuses, but the Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi just upped the ante by adding a marine biologist to its permanent staff. The resort’s resident marine expert will be organizing workshops and eco-excursions to educate and entertain guests, but her primary mandate is to ensure that the hotel adheres to strict environmental standards laid down by the emirate.

Located on the natural island of Saadiyat, Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi Hotel and Villas sits adjacent to Saadiyat Beach, a nine kilometre stretch of environmentally-protected white sand beach on the edge of the turquoise Arabian Sea. The area is home to an abundance of wildlife including hawksbill turtles and bottlenose dolphins (like the ones found in an Egyptian private pool).

Marine biologist Arabella Willing joined the team from a sister hotel in the Maldives. Previously, she was a volunteer teacher on a remote island in the very north of the country, educating some of the most isolated communities about sustainability, marine life and the effects of coral bleaching. Read more ..

Air Wars

NYC’s De Blasio Threatens to Pull JFK Airport Slot From Saudi Arabian Airlines for Blocking Israelis

July 16th 2013

Saudi Airlines

Saudi Arabian Airlines discriminates against Israeli nationals attempting to fly the airline out of New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, the city’s Public Advocate Bill de Blasio said Monday, citing a probe his office conducted of the airline. At a July 15 press conference in Times Square, De Blasio said that he sent a letter today urging Khalid Abdullah Almolhem, Director General of Saudi Arabian Airlines, to change the policy or else face consequences.

“Saudi Arabian Airlines uses U.S. airports and yet bans Israeli citizens from being able to fly on their airline,” he said. If the airline does not change their policy, “we will act to make sure they’re excluded from United States airports, starting with JFK,” De Blasio said. In addition to JFK, Saudi Airlines also flies out of Washington D.C.’s Dulles International Airport.

The issue was originally brought to the attention of De Blasio’s office by passengers who attempted to fly the airline, but were rebuffed. An investigation into the matter by his office confirmed the airline’s prejudice. Attempts to book tickets by a staffer in his office posing as an Israeli national both through the airline’s website and over the phone proved the complaints were founded on truth. Read more ..

The Ancient Edge

Inscription from Time of King David Found Near Temple Mount

July 14th 2013

Jar fragment King David Jerusalem

Working near the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, Hebrew University of Jerusalem archaeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar has unearthed the earliest alphabetical written text ever uncovered in the city.

The inscription is engraved on a large pithos, a neckless ceramic jar found with six others at the Ophel excavation site. According to Dr. Mazar, the inscription, in the Canaanite language, is the only one of its kind discovered in Jerusalem and an important addition to the city's history.

Dated to the tenth century BCE, the artifact predates by two hundred and fifty years the earliest known Hebrew inscription from Jerusalem, which is from the period of King Hezekiah at the end of the eighth century BCE. A third-generation archaeologist working at the Hebrew University's Institute of Archaeology, Dr. Mazar directs archaeological excavations on the summit of the City of David and at the southern wall of the Temple Mount. Read more ..

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