China: Where Antiquity Meets the Future

As well known today for its turbulent modern history as its ancient and proud culture, this once mysterious country has lately reemerged onto the world stage, and in recent years, embarked on a rapid evolution that has made it one of the most important players in world economics and politics.

This dichotomy – being simultaneously old and new – is reflected in China’s landscape. From the ultramodern skylines of Shanghai to the imposing imperial palace in Beijing; from the bustling shopping district on Nanjing Road to the tranquil canals in Suzhou; from the trendy 798 Art Zone to the Great Wall that has been guarding the country for millennia; some Chinese live in soaring high-rises, while others live in traditional courtyards. These two radically different faces of China are equally fascinating, and both are as true as the other.

Beijing

Beijingers take pride in the capital’s history, its revered temples, palaces, and proximity to the Great Wall. This historic appeal is enlivened with creative dining and nightlife, and edgy contemporary art scene. Beijing was the capital of China as early as the 13th century when imperial commands were issued from the Forbidden City and sent to the remotest outposts of the Chinese Empire. Today, China’s ponderous political directives are composed in neighboring Zhongnanhai. But stroll through Tiananmen Square, and you will instantly sense the continuing significance of what is arguably China’s greatest city.

Beijing provides access to both reconstructed and “wild” portions of the Great Wall, superior opera companies, the most delectable roast duck, the most elegant palaces in China, and one of the world’s largest public squares, to name just a few of its rich historical and cultural treasures. The grounds of the former imperial capital envelop the Forbidden City, which is also surrounded by the pure soul of Beijing: the city’s grid of charming hutongs. Lose yourself in these narrow old alleyways – where whole communities still thrive – and you will see Beijing at its more authentic.

Shanghai

Younger, brasher, more hedonistic, Shanghai is often defined by its futuristic skyline. The view from the ground, however, reveals exceptional heritage and art deco architecture alongside China’s most eclectic and progressive fashion, restaurants, and clubs. Perhaps the least Chinese city in China, Shanghai has been molded since the mid-1900s by the cosmopolitan influence of European, American, and Japanese residents.

Formerly a sleepy fishing port, Shanghai – which means “on the sea” in Chinese – has always been associated with water. Over the years, this watery setting has brought Shanghai prosperity as a port. The city is split in two by Huangpu River – the area to the west is called Puxi, while the area to the east is called Pudong. Puxi is the older central part of the city, where the Bund and other attractions from the city’s colonial past can be found, while Pudong is the rapidly developing area across the river, where most high-rises and the Special Economic Zone is located.

Xi’an

Xi’an is the capital of the Shaanxi Province, which is considered the cradle of ancient Chinese culture. The city of Xi’an, or Chang’an as it was known then, with more than 3,000 years of history, was the capital city of 13 dynasties and home to 73 emperors, starting from the Zhou Dynasty dating back to 1046 BC.

The ancient city was also the starting point of the Silk Road. Traders from as far as Ancient Rome brought goods and ideas to Xi’an, and took away Chinese goods and ideas back to their native land. Unfortunately, constant wars in recent centuries have destroyed much of the city’s heritage, but the city remains one of the most popular tourist destinations in China, if for the famous Terracotta Warriors alone.

Suzhou

The city of Suzhou is as beautiful as a classical Chinese painting, with ample water running through the city and stunningly arranged classical gardens that line the canals. In 1997, the classical gardens were inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

This ancient city dates back to the Kingdom of Wu, from the 12th to the 4th century BC, before even the time of the first emperor of China. After the kingdom was conquered, the city continued to be the center of the Wu culture, which flourished in these parts. Today, Suzhou is a core city of the Yangtze River Delta Economic Zone. It is an epicenter of China’s silk production and trade as it was in ancient China, and its beautiful canals and tranquil gardens continue to inspire scholars, artists, craftsmen, and travelers every day.

Chengdu

Chengdu is the capital and largest city of the province of Sichuan in southwest China. It is located on the fertile plains of the Red Basin and has had a long history of prosperity. It is sometimes known as the “Land of Milk and Honey” for its agricultural wealth.

The city contains five urban districts, four suburban districts, nine counties, and is home to 14 million people. The culture of Chengdu is considered relaxed and highly livable, unlike other major Chinese cities. The foothills of the mighty Tibetan Plateaus are just an hour to the west of Chengdu, making the city an access point to Tibet.

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#QuadGoals: ShinyFPV

This week’s #QuadGoals feature goes to Frank Arapovich, known in the FPV community as ShinyFPV. The New Zealand-based pilot lets us in on his latest quad build:

Drone Pilot: ShinyFPV

Video created with this quad: There and Back


About this quad:

“My favourite quadcopter is my ImpulseRC Alien 6 Inch. I have had it for well over 2 years now and I built it early on in my FPV journey. From the maiden flight I fell in love with it, I have never felt so connected to a quadcopter like I have with this one. It is still my main quad and even with all the hard crashes and having it being lost and crashing into the ocean. I have always re-built it and flew it again. The only thing I have ever replaced on it is a bottom plate. The rest of the frame is original (something that I cannot say about the electronics though) hard crashes and salt water tend to destroy such things. But I have always stuck to the original setup with this quad and I use Flyduino Kiss FC v1 and Kiss 24 Amp ESC’s. They have been rock solid for me.

Even though I loved flying this quad, I always thought I should be flying 5 inch quads and being the fastest I could be and do all the craziest tricks like all the top pilots were doing. But I found myself to be aimless and unfocused in my flying. I would go out just for the sake of flying itself and not really enjoying it and I did this for a long time. And to be honest I was not enjoying it. I built so many different quads and none of them gave me the feeling that I had when I flew my Alien 6 inch. So I took a step back from FPV. I re-evaluated what I wanted from it and I found what it truly meant to me and that is exploration.

I love exploring new places and I love exploring new places with FPV. SO I combined the two and got into mid to long range flying and I have not looked back. I now travel to all sorts of different places and I take my quadcopter and with me and my wife and children we go together on FPV trips and explore all that there is available to us and I couldn’t be happier with that.

So I guess I have a bit of a message to convey and that is; Find your own groove and do what makes you happy.”


DRONE PARTS:

ImpulseRC Alien 6 Inch
Kiss FC v1 with fw RC33aa Dynamic Filter set to High and 1K loop time
Mr Steele PDB FW 2.5
Kiss 24A with fw v110gRC11 Dshot 600
BrotherHobby R5 2306/2450
Dalprop Cyclone T6040C
Foxeer HS1177 Cam with 2.5 mm Lens
ChinaHobbyLine 4s 2200 70C Batteries
TBS Unify Pro HV 800mW
TBS Crossfire Micro TX 2.40 fw
TBS Crossfire Nano
TBS Immortal T antenna and a Diamond
TRUERC AXII Antenna with SMA (Long Version), TRUERC X²-AIR 5.8Ghz x2 Crosshair Antenna, IBCrazy 5.8 GHz Single Mad Mushroom
Fatshark Dom v3, with FuriousFPV True-D 3.5 running 3.7 FW
FrSky Taranis X9D plus, Open TX 2.2
GoPro Hero 6 Black recording at 2.7k 60fps Superview. Protune Flat enabled and I then usually make some minor colour adjustments in Adobe Premiere Pro CC 2018. GoPro image stabilization enabled.

Romania: The Heart of Transylvania

 

With excellently-preserved medieval castles, fairy-tale villages, and luxurious Black Sea resorts, Romania is one of the fastest growing tourist destinations in the world. The country is linked with one of the most popular characters in literature – Count Dracula. You will find many castles and streets named after this famed character.

Whether you prefer weaving in and out of the green slopes of Transylvania or viewing the painted monasteries with quiet wonder, hiking through the Southern Carpathians or learning about the people’s revolt against its Communist regime, Romania will hook you in. Perhaps you prefer to soak in the medieval history and culture by touring a castle perched on a cliff’s edge, or you like the more thrilling version of the tour, complete with the tales of Count Dracula and the real Vlad the Impaler. Or maybe you just like visiting a beautiful European country that still retains its authentic feeling of being something “real” rather than the overcrowded hotspots of countries further west.

Bucharest

Bucharest is both the capital city and the largest city in Romania. Sometimes known as “Little Paris,” a nickname gained in the 20th century, Bucharest was always known for its residents who live the high life. Despite the Communist-era blocky buildings, its most beautiful spots include lovely boulevards, open green spaces, and charming 17th-century buildings. Although much of the city was destroyed in World War II, you can still see its old charm in the Cismigiu Gardens and Herastrau Park, streets such as Soseaua Kiseleff, and, of course, the Arcul de Triumf, which was intentionally built as a replica of Paris’ Arc de Triomphe.

Brasov

Brasov is known for its authentic medieval atmosphere and charming old city center. You can take a stroll around the town, enjoying its lovely Renaissance, Baroque, and Gothic architecture, or you can get a feel for some of Romania’s past defenses by checking out the old fortifications here. Whatever you do, you will enjoy the history positively oozing from every nook and cranny of this delightful walled city. Check out the Council Square, which is supposedly where the Pied Piper led the Hamlin children. From here you can view the red roofs of the houses (which previously belonged to the city’s merchants), as well as the 13th century Old Town Hall in the center of the square. As the most massive building in the city, Black Church (which isn’t black at all) should be easy to find. If you visit in the summer, you can catch one of the three organ concerts held here every week.

Sibiu

Sibiu is the cultural capital of Romania. A place of bohemian charm that has drawn some of the world’s most famous musicians, Sibiu was also the center of the country’s first modern developments, including its first hospital, school, library, pharmacy, and Romanian-owned bank. More recently, Sibiu was the elected European Capital of Culture in 2007, illustrating the fact that its cultural relevance is far from over. You can expect some kind of festival to be going when you visit, and if not then one of its many regular concerts or performances should suffice.

Sibiu is divided into two parts: the Upper Town and the Lower Town. There are many squares to stumble upon in the Upper Town, the largest of which is the Great Square. The Great Square, a UNESCO monument, is home to the Brukenthal Palace as well as its Roman Catholic Church. Of course, this is also where public executions, as well as other happier public activities, took place. Be sure to climb up the Council Tower to get a fantastic view of the entire city.

Timisoara

As one of Romania’s largest cities, Timisoara is filled to the brim with art and culture. Lovingly nicknamed “Little Vienna,” Timisoara is known for its lovely architecture, beautiful performances and artistic displays, and cosmopolitan city life. The public squares in Timisoara are a significant part of the appeal of this city. Victory Square is home to the Romanian Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral, which includes a memorial to those who died during the Revolution of 1989. To learn more about this important piece of history, visit the Memorial Museum of the 1989 Revolution. Cross the city center to get to Union Square, which served as the center of commerce during the 1700s. It also was the place of choice for certain public events, including military processions and religious ceremonies.

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#QuadGoals FrankheadFPV

Welcome to the first edition of “Quad Goals,” where we feature the gear that some of the top FPV pilots are flying. Find out what equipment the pilots use and hear stories about what makes these quads special for the pilots. Our first pilot is Frankhead FPV, a master of the long-range flights. It takes a special quad to fly distances as long as he does, so he lets us in on his secret for perfecting the long-range game.
Drone Pilot: FrankheadFPV
Video Created with Quad: Skårasalen Cliff Diving

About This Quad:
“Funny story about this quad…I had just dived Europe’s highest cliff face ‘The Troll Wall’ in Norway, (at 1700m high) and while flying back to myself I started to feel the battery lose power! Shortly after, the quad slowly loses altitude as I watched on painfully through the fpv camera. The video feed cuts to static and I figured it must have crashed in the forest about 400m from where I was standing. I gather my gear and start walking to where I think it had crashed. I was interrupted in my search as I discover a river 50m across, consisting of ice cold glacier melt water blocking my path! Hmmm, I knew the quad was somewhere on the other side of that river, so I got down to my underpants and tried swimming across. The water was freezing cold and the current was strong! so I gave up disheartened, having lost a 4th quad in 2 years.
Later that day I drove to a nearby town, and I saw that one of the shops had children’s body boards for sale! So I went in and bought one. I then drove back to the river with a determined smile on my face! 20 minutes later I am standing by the river once again in my underpants, with my FPV goggles on my head, but this time armed with a kids body board. I start swimming across. Immediately the current takes me and I am suddenly 100m down river and still halfway to the other side… I paddle harder and eventually I get to the other side, now 200m down river! It takes me 3 hours of searching in the forest to locate the quad and an additional 45 minutes to dislodge it from the canopy of the tree it was perched in. I yell for joy as my shaking of the branches eventually causes it to fall to the ground. I think to myself how strange I must appear to someone watching this ridiculous scene unfold.  But then I realise there is no one around. I am 15m up a tree, in nothing but underpants and fpv googles and I am on the other side of an ice cold river. No one comes here, ever. I think to myself, “If I fall out of this tree, I am totally screwed”, so I very carefully climb my way down. I pick up the quad and head back to the river, this time taking into account the strength of the current. So I start swimming from a location upstream and arrive exactly where my clothes and belongings were situated on the other side of the river. It was an eventful afternoon.
If I hadn’t retrieved the quad, I would have lost quite a lot of footage from this summer, so I am glad I got it back!
The quad has a range of about 2km, and a flight time between 4 and 6 minutes. It is such a joy to fly these devices and nothing quite matches the feeling of really being connected through FPV. Once it can behave the way you want it to, and you learn to fly it confidently, anything is possible. Nothing beats the feeling of surfing jagged mountain peaks, diving cliffs or getting up close with exposed glaciers. Being able to share the footage of our adventures is an added bonus.”

DRONE PARTS –
Frame: Custom homemade design
Flight Controller: Revolt V3
FPV Camera: Runcam Swift
5.8g Antenna: Aomway Cloverleaf
Receiver: Crossfire Micro

RADIO GEAR –

FPV GOGGLES – 

Colombia: Where Contemporary Meets Colonial

Colombia is a South American giant awakening to its vast potential. In this diamond-shaped tropical nation, you will find a cornucopia of natural wonders side by side with sleepy villages and vibrant cities. A place where tourism is now blooming, and turmoil and guerrilla conflict are yesterday’s news. The country is physically stunning, ecologically astounding, and culturally vibrant.

The cobblestone plazas of Villa de Leyva, Popayán, and Bogotá, the capital city, still echo with the boot steps of Spanish conquistadores. And tiny time-warp colonial villages color Colombia’s rural highways. Geographically, Colombia is a triptych of the coastal plain, soaring mountains, and velvety jungle. Rivers teem from the Andes into the Amazon Basin and the seamless sponge of Choco’s Pacific coast – vast rainforest homes to jaguars, monkeys, poison dart frogs, and other wildlife species of every stripe, spot, and hue.

Bogotá

European in character, Latin American in soul, Bogotá is Colombia’s capital of over 10 million people. In two decades, Bogotá has transformed itself into a surprising tourist destination and welcoming city that is Colombia’s epicenter of business, politics, and entertainment. Much of the city is a hodgepodge of redbrick and concrete buildings. Different architecture – from art deco and modernist to Gothic and Renaissance- lines the city’s streets. Bogotá today is being hailed as the “Athens of South America” – a sophisticated tableau of architecture, action, and art.

The high-rise condominiums of Los Rosales, stylish malls of Santa Barbara, trendy restaurants and boutiques of Zona Rosa makes the city a cosmopolitan center of sophistication. Full of cathedrals and museums, the 400-year-old centro historico is also the government headquarters.

Cartagena

Hot, sultry, filled with bright color, tradition and the sound of music, Cartagena de Indias has been an important port on the Caribbean ever since it was founded in 1533. The cruise ships have returned to Cartagena, where ancient fortresses still echo with the clash of cutlasses and the roar of cannon. The old walled city is the heart of Cartagena. Protected from storms and pirate attacks by the fortress, the old city full of cathedrals, convents, and ancient mansions painted in soft tropical colors – guava green, papaya yellow, tangerine – reflects Colombia’s positive future while showcasing the best of a picturesque past. This area is today known as El Centro and features restaurants as well as a section known as Getsemani which is worth a daytime stroll.

Rosario Islands which comprise a small archipelago on the southern part of the Bay of Cartagena offers crystal clear waters and multicolor reefs ideal for recreational diving. Beach lovers will also find refuge on Playa Blanca with its white sands and crystal clear waters.

Medellin

The second largest city in Colombia, Medellin is a principal industrial and manufacturing area, as well as a commercial flower growing region which is famous for its orchids. A beautiful city that is modern and vibrant yet true to its regional characteristics, Medellin was founded in 1616 within the scenic Aburra valley. Plan your visit around early August to attend Feria de las Flores, the famous Medellin flower festival.

Visit the Basilica de la Candelaria, which is one of the few colonial buildings left in Medellin. Also, tour the Basilica Metropolitana which is situated in Parque de Bolivar. The Basilica was completed in the early 20th century and is believed to be the largest brick church in South America. At Pueblito Paisa, you will find a replica of a typical Antioquia village, complete with handicraft shops. Plaza Botero features displays of several works by Fernando Botero, the internationally renowned Medellin sculptor who specializes in oversized human figures.

Popayan

Founded in 1537 at the foot of Volcan Purace, Popayan is situated in the Andean cordillera. The churches of Popayan rank high on the list of things to do in this Colombian town. Visit Iglesia de San Francisco which is noted for its beautiful side altars. Iglesia La Ermita is Popayan’s oldest church which dates from 1546 and boasts frescoes and an impressive altar. Capilla de Belen offers panoramic views of the city.

Stroll through the streets of Popayan for a closer look at the two-storeyed colonial houses which feature small balconies on the second floor. Just outside of Popayan to the northeast is the town of Silvia, home to an indigenous community of Gambinos. The town holds a weekly market on Tuesdays where the Indian natives dress in traditional clothing and sell handicrafts as well as fresh produce. Set off into the wilderness to Parque Nacional Purace, which is situated to the east of Popayan. Its landscape features the snow-covered Purace volcano which rises 4780m, waterfalls, hot springs and lakes.

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Indonesia: A Vivid Tapestry of Nature, Cultures, and Spirituality

Most countries offer you an insight into a different culture, but Indonesia, with its dozens of historical influences, offers something dramatically more. The strands of varied customs, religions, legends, and modernity are woven into intricate patterns that reveal themselves in layers. Sometimes, when a country is transformed by tourism, it pays a heavy price in terms of cultural losses. Not so in Indonesia. For every stretch of silver beach filled with sunbathers from nearby luxury hotels, there are plenty of villages rich in traditions that date back not just centuries but for millennia.

Indonesia is the largest island nation in the world comprising more than 17,000 islands. The landscape is mostly rugged. Shallow seas patterned with coral reefs surround mangrove swamps and coastal plains reaching back to dense rainforest. The mountains and geological structures are mainly volcanic, with many of the volcanoes still active, for this is a region of geographic turmoil.

Bali

Bali attracts a variety of people, from backpackers and expats to families and newly married couples. This tropical island, once quiet, has become world famous thanks to its incredible beaches, rice fields, waterfalls, as well as its unique cultural, spiritual and artistic environment.

If you have come to Bali in search of intriguing culture and a relaxing ambiance, Ubud is your destination. Avoid its two busy streets and stay in a quiet area overlooking the rice fields. Attend a yoga class, cycle through the rice terraces or watch the macaques climb the roof of the Ubud Monkey Forest. Do not miss the mysterious Elephant Cave and immerse yourself in the Tirta Empul baths, which date back to the 9th century.

Located on the slope of Mount Agung,  Mother Temple is composed of 22 different temples. The main temple is Pura Penataran Agung, an extensive sanctuary with different areas representing the seven layers of the universe. At the top of the Mother Temple is Pura Pangubengan, a darkened stone temple offering beautiful views of the complex.

Jakarta

The capital of Indonesia is a busy metropolis, famous for its colonial relics, beautiful mosques, numerous shops, and family entertainment. Located in the northwest corner of the island of Java, Jakarta is chaotic but also has plenty of flavor and color. Founded in the 4th century and colonized by the Dutch East Indies, Jakarta has long been served as a critical Indonesian port.  The city of over 10 million population has a multifaceted culture with Javanese, Dutch, Chinese, and Arabic influences.

The best-known tourist sight in Jakarta is the 140-meter-tall Monas, often just called the National Monument. It is situated in the famous Freedom (“Merdeka”) Square, and you can go into its observation deck to see views of the entire city. The Presidential Palace is also worth a visit, as the current functioning office of the president of Indonesia, and is free to tour on weekends (but make sure to reserve ahead of time and dress somewhat nicely). You also shouldn’t visit Jakarta without seeing the National Museum, which is 200 years old and a famous icon. It will help you better understand the natural and human history of Indonesia, and you can also see an excellent elephant statue. The nightlife in Jakarta is active and fun, with plenty of bars and clubs to choose from.

Sumatra

While Java offers a rich history and culture, Sumatra is a paradise for nature lovers and thrill seekers. Here you can surf some the best waves in the country, hike through the thick tropical jungle in search of red-haired orangutans, or dive and explore the magnificent underwater world. Toba Lake has been a must in Sumatra for decades: it is the largest lake volcanic lake in the world, with an intense blue color. Observe orangutans in the virgin jungles of Bukit Lawang, as well as tigers, rhinos, elephants, and leopards. You can also swim with sharks and turtles in the coral garden of Pulau Weh, walk through the heart of the matriarchal village of the Minangkabau, and climb up to the steaming peaks of the volcanoes that surround the mountain village of Berastagi.

Bandung

Bandung is a Javanese city with a mountainous backdrop, a pleasant climate, and a relatively bland center until you come across its famous art deco architecture. The fourth largest city in Indonesia, Bandung boasts a population of nearly 3 million and is known for its universities that make it the intellectual center of Java. Condensed traffic and buildings in need of repair only make up the first layer of this city – upon closer inspection, the city’s hidden character is exposed with some incredible street art.

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Mexico: Fiesta of Fireworks

Easy to stereotype but harder to comprehend, Mexico is nothing if not diverse. Spanish invaders, European immigrants, and indigenous people from a variety of ethnic traditions have over the centuries created a complex national character and cultural lexicon. From this diversity have emerged folk art and music, paintings and poetry. Intense and passionate, Mexicans hide their emotions under a mask of serenity and indifference.

Marching south from the U.S. border for around 700 miles are the eastern and western ranges of the Sierra Madre (literally, “mother mountain”). In between, the Mexican Plateau cradles a series of lesser ranges and highland valleys, and in the north, the Chihuahua and Sonora Deserts. Surrounded by the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortes, the Baja California peninsula is equal parts desert and mountain, with eight main mountain ranges, dozens of islands, and a combined coastline of about 3,000 miles. Mountaineers are inspired by some of the continent’s tallest peaks – including Pico de Orizaba, Iztaccihuatl, and La Malinche.

Mexico City

The capital and the largest metropolis of Mexico, Mexico City is also the most buzzing, buzzing and action-filled city. Berated continuously as a center of crime and a ‘dirty city,’ it is beginning to transform itself in a big way. Mexico City isn’t for everyone. The cantinas, shops, street stalls, and roads are rife with chaos at any moment of the day, but these experiences are exciting, as long as you’re vigilant.

Plaza de Tres Culturas is the most famous square in the city rich with culture and history, representing the amalgamation of pre-Hispanic and Spanish influences. Palacio National, the colonial palace, is the birthplace of many of its policies and laws that have made Mexico what it is today. Stroll through Mercado de la Merced filled with street stalls selling fresh produce, souvenirs, and clothes. If you’re a fan of traditional Mexican mariachi bands, you will love Plaza Garibaldi. In true flamboyant Mexican style, they play hearty tunes with trumpets and guitars, approaching the odd spectator to serenade.

Southern Mexico

Oaxaca City is the place to visit excellent museums and impressively restored baroque churches, as well as to shop for folk and fine art. Learn about one of Mesoamerica’s earliest civilizations at the hilltop archaeological site of Monte Alban. At nearby Mitla, ancient artisans produced exquisite geometric mosaics from the area’s fine limestone.

Squeezed between Oaxaca and Guatemala, Chiapas is an undervalued state. It’s 391 miles east of Oaxaca City to Chiapas’ most popular tourist destination, the colonial city of San Cristobal de las Casas, with beautiful churches, inexpensive hotels, and loads of handicrafts for sale. Visit more highland towns and don’t overlook the magnificent Maya ruins at Palenque.

If you eschew overcrowded Mayan ruins like Tulum and Chichen Itza, seek out Campeche’s fantastic, lesser visited ruins of Calakmul. This, and smaller Maya sites, lie within the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, nearly two million acres of tropical forest providing a haven for jaguars, spider monkeys, and howlers.

Baja California

Though superficially barren and desolate, the Baja California peninsula has long entranced scientists and adventurers. “The very air here is miraculous, and outlines of reality change with the moments,” wrote author John Steinbeck. “A dream hangs over the entire region.” A similar feeling inspires a more modern cadre of adventurers, dedicated to exploring every crevice and cove of Baja.

Seated at the bottom of a C-shaped bay, the sophisticated capital city of La Paz is famous for its streaky vermillion sunsets, observed equally well from a solitary, sandy beach on a turquoise inlet or an open-sided restaurant along the bayfront promenade. Nearby are excellent deep-sea fishing and diving sites.

Northwest Mexico

Lunar-like and otherworldly, the landscape of El Pinacate is as beautiful as it is barren. Huge, craggy craters rise in startling contrast to the flatness of the surrounding desert, and in the western portion of the 1.8-million-acre park, winds build shifting dunes hundreds of feet high. Geologists and photographers are especially drawn to the rich textures and striking hues of the region.

Sonora’s beaches are backed by cliffs ranging from rust to red to gold. The simple fishing villages and unpretentious towns from Puerto Peñasco to Guaymas have long provided fresh seafood and a relaxing atmosphere. Puerto Peñasco is the first seaside town on Sonora’s 600-mile coastline. Sandy beaches, rocky coves, and extreme tidal variation attract shell collectors and lovers of long walks.

Paquime, the most prominent archaeological site in northern Mexico attracts plenty of history buffs. Inhabited since about 700 A.D., this historic site began to blossom after 1150, reaching its apogee in the 15th century before being abandoned.

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France: La vie en rose

The boundaries of France are mainly natural: the English Channel and the Ardennes hills in the north; the Atlantic Ocean in the west; the Pyrenees in the southwest; the Mediterranean in the south; the Alps in the southeast; and the Jura and Vosges Mountains and the Rhine River in the east. To these striking features add the Massif Central and its huge extinct volcanoes.

The distinctive style associated with France and Frenchness is rooted in an extraordinarily rich history that is full of contrasts. Hardly surprising, given all the riches, the French are extremely proud of their cultural heritage. Education is highly valued, and discussion of artistic and intellectual matters is taken for granted as part of everyday life.

Paris

Paris has the well-earned reputation for being one of the most beautiful, exciting, and romantic cities in the world. Often called the City of Dreams, Paris has been a mecca for aspiring artists, writer, thinkers, and adventurers since the earliest times. Stroll down almost any street in Central Paris, and you pass evidence of its past in the narrow, twisting medieval byways and awe-inspiring churches; in the ornate 17th-century Renaissance palaces that flaunt incredible wealth; in Napoleon’s classically inspired monuments; and in the sweeping tree-lined boulevards of Baron Haussmann’s 19th-century revamp of Paris.

Packed into the center of the grand city on the Seine are some of the world’s greatest museums, the most beautiful buildings in France, including the Eiffel Tower, and all possible luxuries. Paris continues to be a sophisticated, vibrant, living city, the economic and cultural center of France. The creativity of today is evident in the exciting new buildings and modern paintings and sculpture that dit harmoniously alongside the treasures of the past.

French Countryside

For all the splendors of Paris, and of the provincial cities such as Nice and Marseillaise, France is predominantly a country of villages. Rural France varies from region to region – from the gray, granite fisherman’s cottages to the thatched and half-timbered Normandy hamlets nestling among apple orchards dotted with cows, to the flat, Roman-tiled, red roofs of Provencal hill villages clinging in terraces to steep slopes.

Significant regional differences in climate, geography, and culture have given rise to the immensely varied and rich agriculture that contributes so strikingly to the diversity of the French landscape – and, of course, produces France’s fabled cuisines and wines.

Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur

Provence and Côte d’Azur is a jumble of orchard-dotted valleys and snowy peaks, turbid rivers, and bubbling springs. Mixed in are Roman ruins, pebbly beaches, bird-filled marshes, and dark forests. There are lively cities like Nice and Marseille, and sleepy medieval hill towns.

Old and new, traditional and modern, natural and artificial all combine to create this enchanted land, a varied and contradictory realm indeed. Provence is celebrated for its fruity wines, abundant fruits and vegetables, Romanesque architecture, year-long calendar of festivals, friendly people, lilting accent, famous beaches … all good reasons to explain why everyone from the ancient Romans to movie stars have been lured here.

Stroll through the produce-filled markets, luxuriate in the shade of centuries-old plane trees, and sip pastis in an old village square. Pick either the Quintessential Provence tour, centering on the charming towns of Avignon, Aix, and Arles; or the French Riviera tour, a celebration of beaches, contemporary art, and glitzy nightlife.

Rhône Valley and Auvergne

The Rhône Valley is not only a significant road and rail route and intersection of geographical areas, but it also combines different natural environments which have resulted in a variety of flora and fauna. The Pilat Regional Nature Park alone boasts some 90 species of bird. The beautiful mountainous region of the Monts du Lyonnais is famed for chestnut groves, with vineyards and orchards in the low-lying valleys. The wines of Beaujolais spread the region’s name far beyond the boundaries of France.

Situated at the confluence of the Rhône and the Saône, Lyon is a World Heritage Site. The “city of light” is magnificent at every level, from its architectural and cultural heritage to its contemporary wealth and renown.

What makes the Auvergne so unusual is the presence of a large number of volcanoes which, although extinct, constitute a significant feature of the landscape. They vary in appearance depending on their formation, type, and age. Clermont-Ferrand is the natural capital of the Auvergne. The city center is built on a slight rise, all that remains of a volcanic cone. The old houses built of the volcanic rock in the “Black Town” huddle in the shade of the cathedral.

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Indonesia: A Vivid Tapestry of Nature, Cultures, and Spirituality

Most countries offer you an insight into a different culture, but Indonesia, with its dozens of historical influences, offers something dramatically more. The strands of varied customs, religions, legends, and modernity are woven into intricate patterns that reveal themselves in layers. Sometimes, when a country is transformed by tourism, it pays a heavy price in terms of cultural losses. Not so in Indonesia. For every stretch of silver beach filled with sunbathers from nearby luxury hotels, there are plenty of villages rich in traditions that date back not just centuries but for millennia.

Indonesia is the largest island nation in the world comprising more than 17,000 islands. The landscape is mostly rugged. Shallow seas patterned with coral reefs surround mangrove swamps and coastal plains reaching back to dense rainforest. The mountains and geological structures are mainly volcanic, with many of the volcanoes still active, for this is a region of geographic turmoil.

Bali

Bali attracts a variety of people, from backpackers and expats to families and newly married couples. This tropical island, once quiet, has become world famous thanks to its incredible beaches, rice fields, waterfalls, as well as its unique cultural, spiritual and artistic environment.

If you have come to Bali in search of intriguing culture and a relaxing ambiance, Ubud is your destination. Avoid its two busy streets and stay in a quiet area overlooking the rice fields. Attend a yoga class, cycle through the rice terraces or watch the macaques climb the roof of the Ubud Monkey Forest. Do not miss the mysterious Elephant Cave and immerse yourself in the Tirta Empul baths, which date back to the 9th century.

Located on the slope of Mount Agung,  Mother Temple is composed of 22 different temples. The main temple is Pura Penataran Agung, an extensive sanctuary with different areas representing the seven layers of the universe. At the top of the Mother Temple is Pura Pangubengan, a darkened stone temple offering beautiful views of the complex.

Jakarta

The capital of Indonesia is a busy metropolis, famous for its colonial relics, beautiful mosques, numerous shops, and family entertainment. Located in the northwest corner of the island of Java, Jakarta is chaotic but also has plenty of flavor and color. Founded in the 4th century and colonized by the Dutch East Indies, Jakarta has long been served as a critical Indonesian port.  The city of over 10 million population has a multifaceted culture with Javanese, Dutch, Chinese, and Arabic influences.

The best-known tourist sight in Jakarta is the 140-meter-tall Monas, often just called the National Monument. It is situated in the famous Freedom (“Merdeka”) Square, and you can go into its observation deck to see views of the entire city. The Presidential Palace is also worth a visit, as the current functioning office of the president of Indonesia, and is free to tour on weekends (but make sure to reserve ahead of time and dress somewhat nicely). You also shouldn’t visit Jakarta without seeing the National Museum, which is 200 years old and a famous icon. It will help you better understand the natural and human history of Indonesia, and you can also see an excellent elephant statue. The nightlife in Jakarta is active and fun, with plenty of bars and clubs to choose from.

Sumatra

While Java offers a rich history and culture, Sumatra is a paradise for nature lovers and thrill seekers. Here you can surf some the best waves in the country, hike through the thick tropical jungle in search of red-haired orangutans, or dive and explore the magnificent underwater world. Toba Lake has been a must in Sumatra for decades: it is the largest lake volcanic lake in the world, with an intense blue color. Observe orangutans in the virgin jungles of Bukit Lawang, as well as tigers, rhinos, elephants, and leopards. You can also swim with sharks and turtles in the coral garden of Pulau Weh, walk through the heart of the matriarchal village of the Minangkabau, and climb up to the steaming peaks of the volcanoes that surround the mountain village of Berastagi.

Bandung

Bandung is a Javanese city with a mountainous backdrop, a pleasant climate, and a relatively bland center until you come across its famous art deco architecture. The fourth largest city in Indonesia, Bandung boasts a population of nearly 3 million and is known for its universities that make it the intellectual center of Java. Condensed traffic and buildings in need of repair only make up the first layer of this city – upon closer inspection, the city’s hidden character is exposed with some incredible street art.

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