Bocche di Cattaro

BOCCHE di CATTARO, in Italian (Bay of Kotor), BOKA KOTORSK (Serbian and Montenegrin) , known simply as BOKA (The Bay) is a winding bay in the  Adriatic Sea in south-westernmost Montenegro, just off the coast of Puglia, where it is wedged in a fjord coast for about 28km, creating a unique landscape suspended between sea and mountains.  Here is a great lake in which ships are moored .  These boats are precisely created for the sea and certainly not for closed waters.
The bay is about 28km long with a shoreline extending 107.3km.  It is surrounded by two massifs of the Dinaric Alps : the ORJEN mountains to the west and the LOVCEN mountains to the east.  The narrowest section of the bay, the 2,300metres long VERIGE STRAIT, is only 340mts wide at its narrowest point.  The bay is a RIA of the vanished BOKELJ River that used to run from high mountain plateaus of Mount Orjen.The outermost part of the bay is the Bay of TIVAT.  On the seaward side is the Bay of HERCES NOVI.  The inner bays are the Bay of RISAN to the northwest and the Bay of KOTOR to the southeast.
Going down to the sea level, you can discover a small, but ancient city, declared  World Heritage by UNESCO in order to preserve the historical centre, its walls its Churches and the Cathedral of Saint Tryphon with its 12 squares and the TORRE DELL Clock.
The Flour Square includes the PIMA Palace and other buildings dating from the 17th and 18th centuries.  The Cathedral of Saint Tryphon dominates another town square (originally built in the 9th century) after the catastrophic earthquake of 1667.  The remarkable façade with 2 towers is a unique example in Montenegro and frescoes dating back to the 14th century.  Near the Cathedral you can visit GRGURIN, a building that houses the maritime museum and its impressive collection of historical records of all the civilisations that have flourished in the Bay of Kotor.  Continuing along the road that runs along the Salt Lake, you can meet the surreal PERAST ( a small village) full of ancient buildings and fronted by two small islands, dominated by four Churches.  Continuing further, you go to RISAN, a town of ancient origin, in which the Romans built exceptional buildings  ——- whose mosaics are still visible ——- with the marble from Greece.
Most of the inhabitants are Orthodox Christians, declaring themselves on Census Forms as either Serbs or as Montenegrins, while a minority are Croatian.  The Bay region is under the protection of UNESCO due to its cultural heritage.  Today, the Boka has about 100 Catholic Churches and about 200 Orthodox Churches.



GIETHOORNS ( Goat Horns), the name originated from the first inhabitants’ discovery of hundreds of goat horns. 

Giethoorn is a village in the Dutch Province of OVERIJSSEL.  It is located in the municipality of STEENWIJKERLAND, about 5km southwest of STEENWIJK.

It used to be an auto-free zone, but nowadays, exceptions are made.  It became locally famous, especially after 1958, when the Dutch film-maker Bert Haanstra made his famous comedy FANFARE there.  In the old part of the village, there were no roads (though a cycling path was eventually added), and all transport was done by water over one of the many canals.  The lake in Giethoorn was formed by peat-unearthing.


Tourism has had a relatively small influence on the old traditional town.  The village, still only fully accessible by boat, is one of the several places commonly known as the Venice of the North or Venice of the Netherlands.


Giethoorn has 180 bridges.  Giethoorn is a very popular attraction among Chinese tourists.  The village of only 2,620 inhabitants sees between 150,000 to 200,000 Chinese tourists every year.


Since all transport is done buy boat, Giethoorn has punts (traditional flat-bottomed boats that are used for transport over the canals.  Giethoorn has a long shape and is separated into three tiny settlements : NOORDEINDE, MIDDENBUURT & ZUIDENDE. The DORPSGRACHT is the central canal that connects these separate settlements.  The farms and houses are separated from each other by small canals.  The BULTRUGBOERDERIJ is a common type of farm in Giethoorn.  It seems to have a large bump because the barn is larger than the house in front.

Giethoorn is so peaceful, so different and has such simple beauty, that it hardly seems real ——- gently gliding along small canals past old, but pretty, thatched-roof farmhouses.  You can turn down a side street (another small canal) and drift under a wooden bridge where an elderly resident may be strolling over to see a neighbour.


Giethoorn is Holland’s “water village”, and the loudest sound you can normally hear is a quacking of a duck or the noises made by other birds.  The little village is so dependent on its waterways that many houses cannot be reached by road.  When the postman delivers the mail, he travels by punt.


Boating has been a popular tourist attraction here for years, with 90km of canoe trails and scores of motorboats to rent, but now, instead of conventional outboard motors, the hire shops stock so-called WHISPER- BOATS ———– dinghies driven by electric motor.  There are three canal-side museums to visit and the SCHREUR shipyard, where the Giethoorn punt is built.

Kampong Ayer

Brunei water village.

KAMPONG AYER or the WATER VILLAGE (Malay : KAMPONG AIR) is an area of Brunei’s capital city BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN, that is situated over Brunei Bay.  39,000 people live in Kampong Ayer.  This represents roughly 10% of the nation’s total population.  All of the Kampong Ayer’s buildings are constructed on stilts above the Brunei River.

As part of His Majesty’s plans to improve the standard of living for the people in Kampong Ayer,  King Hassanal Bolkiah decreed to build modern 2-storey stilt houses made of concrete in the centre of Kampong Ayer, starting around 2013 – 2014.  These houses would be given to the people in need of a new house who were not wishing to live on land.


Built entirely of stilt houses and wooden walkways, this cluster of 42 villages, housing more than 30,000 inhabitants, is the world’s largest Water Village.  The Water Village is really made up of small villages linked together by more than 29,140metres of foot-bridges, consisting of over 4,200 structures, including homes, mosques, restaurants, shops, schools and a hospital.  36kms of board-walks connect the buildings.  Private water taxis provide rapid transit.  Most of these taxis resemble long wooden speedboats.  From a distance, the Water Village looks like a slum.  It actually enjoys modern amenities including air-conditioning, satellite television, Internet access, plumbing and electricity.  Some of the residents keep potted plants and chickens.


The district has a unique architectural heritage of wooden with ornate interiors.  People have lived in Kampong Ayer for over 1300 years.  Antonio Pigafetta dubbed it the “Venice of the East”, when the fleet of Ferdinand Magellan visited in 1521.  The district is a culturally important part of Brunei that preserves the nation’s river dwelling origins.  According to geography Professor Abdul Aziz of the UNIVERSITI BRUNEI DARUSSALAM, this is the largest and most famous water settlement of Southeast Asia.  It was historically the very core of Brunei and one of the most important centres of trade in Borneo.

In order to preserve Kampong Ayer as Brunei Darussalam’s  most valuable heritage, the Government, through the District Office, has provided it with numerous facilities including foot-bridges, concrete jetties, piped water, electricity supplies, telephones, a school, mosques, clinics, a police station and a marine fire station.  All of the six Water Village MUKIMS (districts) are collectively known as the Kampong Ayer, but are identified as separate MUKIMS for administrative purposes.


Kampong Ayer retains much of the historical features of the 16th century.  The traditional lifestyle of its inhabitants ——– fishermen, river traders (PADIAN as they are called in the Malay language) and artisans making and selling traditional handicrafts (silverware, brassware, wood carvings and cloth weaving) ——- has remained unchanged. since then.


Visitors can have a personal experience of this heritage by taking one of the many water taxis that ply daily between the water taxi jetty in front of the Yayasan in the centre of town and the Water Village itself.

Forgotten cities


FORGOTTEN CITIES or DEAD CITIES were inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2011, under the name of Ancient Villages of Northern Syria.

They are a group of 700 abandoned settlements in north-west Syria between Aleppo and Idlib. Around 40 villages, grouped in eight archaeological parks, provide an insight into rural life Late Antiquity and during the Byzantine Period.  Most villages which date from 1st to 7th centuries became abandoned  between the 8th and 10th centuries.  the settlements feature the well-preserved architectural remains of dwellings, Pagan Temples, Churches, Cisterns, Bath-houses, etc,.


The Dead Cities are situated in an elevated area of limestone known as limestone Massif.  These ancient settlements cover an area 20 – 40km wide and some 140km long.  The Massif includes 3 groups of highlands : 1st Northern Group of Mount Simeon and Mount Kurd; 2nd group of HARIM Mountains and 3rd group of ZAWIYA Mountains.

Chris Wickham (framing : The Early Middle Ages — 2006) argues that these were settlements of prosperous peasants.  The impressive remains are the result of the prosperity of peasants who benefited from a strong International Trade in Olive Oil at the end of Antiquity.

Another argument is that these prosperous cities flourished because they were located along major trade routes in the Byzantine Empire.

The majority of the Dead Cities are well-preserved and tourists can access the sites quite freely despite the on-going excavations and some restoration work, though some them are quite difficult to reach without a guide.


 ** KALOTA CASTL & CURCHES : —— The Castle was originally built as a Roman Temple during the 2nd century AD.  After converting to Christianity, the Temple was turned into a Basilica within the 5th century.  There are two well-preserved Churches near the Castle : the Easter Church built in 492 and the Western Church of the 6th century.  ** KHARAB SHAMS Basilica, one of the oldest best-preserved Christian structures, dates to the 4th century.

** FAFERTIN CHURCH : A half-ruined Roman Basilica, dates to 372AD and is located 22km north-west of Aleppo.  It is among the oldest-dated Churches in the world.  ** SURQANYA Village, located 23km north-west of Aleppo, preserves the remains of an old Byzantine settlement and with a half-ruined 6t century Chapel.


** KAFR KIRA, located 24km north-west of Aleppo, has many half-ruined Churches dating back to the 4th and 6th centuries.  ** SINHAR Settlement, known as SIMKHAR, is located 24km north-west of Aleppo, is an isolated valley.  Its Basilica is among the oldest Churches in Syria and dates back to the 4th century, while the nearby Chapel is 6th century.


** MUSHABBAK BASILICA, a well-preserved Church from the 2nd half of the 5th century (around 470) is located 25km west of Aleppo, near the town of DARET A’ZZEH.

** BARAD, an ancient settlement, 32km west of Aleppo, has many old Basilicas.

** AIN DARA TEMPLE, an Iron age Syro – Hittite Temple, dating between 10th and 8th centuries BC, is 45km north-west of Aleppo.

Many other Sites and Dead Cities in the area are located at various distances around Aleppo and Idlib..



SRINGERI, also written as SHRINGERI, is a hill town and taluka headquarters located in CHIKKAMAGALURU District in Karnataka.  It is the site of the first MATHA (SRINGERI SHARADA PEETA) established by Adi Shankara, Hindu theologian and exponent of the ADVAITA VEDANTA Philosophy in the 8th century CE.  It is located on the banks of the River Tunga and is also an historical temple (1,200-years-old).


The name SRINGERI is derived from RISHYASHRINGA —- a nearby hill which is believed to have contained the hermitage of RISHI VIBHANDAKA and his son.  The Rishi appears in an episode in the Ramayana, where a story narrated by VASISHTHA, relates how he brought rains to the drought-stricken Kingdom of ROMAPADA.

According to legend, ADI SHANKARACHARYA is said to have selected the site as the place to stay and teach his disciples because when he was walking by the Tunga River, he saw a cobra with a raised hood, providing shelter from the hot sun to a frog about to spawn.  Impressed by the place where natural enemies had gone beyond their instincts, he stayed here for twelve years.  He also established MATHAS in the northern (at JYOTIMATH, near Badrinath), eastern (at PURI) and western (at DWARKA) quarters of India.


SRINGERI is home to a number of historic temples.  Of these, SRI SHARADAMBA Temple & SRIVIDYASHANKARA and PARSHWANATH Jain Temple are prominent.  Other historic temples nearby are HORNADU, KOLLUR & KALASA.


(1) SHARADAMBA TEMPLE, dedicated to the Goddess of learning and wisdom, has grown from a simple shrine dating to the time of Adi Shankaracharya.  In the 14th century, VIDYARANYA is said to have replaced the old sandalwood image with a stone and gold image.  The Temple structure itself continued to be made of wood till the early 20th century.  After an unexpected fire that damaged the structure, the current structure was built in the traditional South Indian CHETTINADU Style of Temple structure.


(2) VIDYASHANKARA TEMPLE was built in commemoration of the Pontiff Vidyashankara, around 1357 – 58 CE.  It was built by Vidyaranya, patron-saint of HARIHARA & BUKKA, the brothers who founded the VIJAYANAGARA Empire.  The niches in the Temple have a number of sculptures from Hindu Mythology.  Inscriptions in the Temple record contributions made by several Vijayanagara Emperors, but the Temple was probably built on an earlier Hoysala site as it combines Hoysala and Vijayanagara architecture features.  The Temple architecture is also an exhibition of the astronomical expertise of Medieval South Indian Temple builders.  The main Temple Hall features  12 pillars designated for the 12 signs of the Zodiac.  Windows and doors along the Temple walls are arranged such that EQUINOXES sunrise views reach the Deity.  The northern and southern gates enable the sunrise view from the Hall during SOLSTICES.  The Temple was built in the year 1338 AD.  It stands on a high plinth and commands a magnificent view from the hills and the slopes all around.  It is more or less a rectangle with  APISIDAL east-west ends.  On the western side is the GARBHAGRIHA, with VIDYA GANAPATI on one side and DURGA on the other side of the entrance.  On the other three sides are shrines to BRAHMA, VISHNU & MAHESHWARA with their consorts.  In the eastern half of the structure is a MANTAPA with 12 pillars, huge monoliths carrying large figures and carrying heavy projecting CORBELS on top.  The central ceiling is an exquisite piece of workmanship with lotus and pecking parrots.  The VIMANA over the GARBHAGRIHA rises magnificently with SHIKARA, MAHAPADAMA & STUPI.  The rest of the roof is made up of sloping channelled slab.  The basement is elaborately sculpted with animals, Siva, Vishnu, Dasavatara, Kali, Shanmukha and so on.  To a student of Hindu Iconography, this Temple is a veritable storehouse of sculpture.


(3) THE ZODIAC PILLARS, in the Vidyashankara Temple, are popularly known as RASHISTAMBHAS (Zodiacal Pillars).  Among the many delicate carvings, lions that are engraved in biped positions on the pillars may be mentioned.  There are stone balls inside the growling faces of the lions and they can be moved inside their mouths.


Since SRINGERI is situated in the MALNAD Region, the best time to visit is between October and March.

Shaki, Azerbaijan


According to Azerbaijani historians, the name of the town goes back to the etymology of the Sakas, who reached the territory of modern-day Azerbaijan in the 7th century BC, and populated it for several centuries.  In the Medieval sources, the name of the town is found  in various forms ——- SHEKE, SHEKI, SHAKKI, SHAKNE, SHAKKAN, SHEKIN.

There are traces of large-scale settlements dating back to more than 2,700 years ago.  The Sakas were an Iranian people that wandered from the north side of the Black Sea through DERBEND Passage and to the South Caucasus in an area called SAKASENA.  The original settlement dates back to the Bronze Age.


The main Temple of the ancient Albanians was located there. SHAKI was one of the important political and economical cities before the Arab invasion.  Shaki is surrounded by snowy peaks of the Greater Caucasus, in some places reaching 3000 – 3600metres.  Shaki’s climate includes a range of cyclones and anti-cyclones, air masses and local winds  The mountain forests around the area prevent the city from floods and over-heating during summer.  The main rivers of the city are the KISH & GURJHANA.  During the Soviet Rule of Azerbaijan, many ascended to Shaki to bathe in its prestigious mineral springs.


A home to ancient Caucasian Albanian Churches, religion is highly important to the people of Shaki due to its historical religious diversity.  There are many Churches and Mosques in the city.  Some Churches, such as the Church of Kish, are thought to be approximately 1,500 years old.  The Khan’s Mosque —– OMAR EFFENDI MOSQUE & GILEILI MINARET are considered important places of worship in the city.

During 1850 – 1870, Shaki became international silk-production centre.  More than 200 European Companies opened offices in the city, while silkworms to the tune of 3 million roubles were sold to them in a year.  Shaki relies on its agricultural sector which produces tobacco, grapes, nuts, cereals, cattle and milk.  The main production facilities are the silk factory, gas-power plants, brick factory, wine factory, sausage factory and a dairy plant.


In 2010, Shaki was visited by 15,000 foreign tourists from all around the world.  The city boasts of houses with red roofs.  In pop culture, probably the most famous feature of Shakinians are their nice sense of humour and comic tales.  Shaki has always played a central role in Azerbaijan Art.


The city’s central and main open city squares are dominated by two Soviet Towers.  Many public places and private houses are decorated with SHEBEKE (a wooden lattice of pieces of coloured glass, held together without glue or a single nail).  The technique is complex and known only to a few artisans, who pass their meticulous craft from generation to generation.


The Palace of SHAKI KHANS,  of which was the summer residence, still remains one of the most visible landmarks of Shaki.  Constructed in 1762, without a single nail, it is one of the most marvellous monuments of its epoch.


The SHAKI CASTLE, built between 1743-1755,is near the village of NUKHA .  Protected by numerous bastions, the fortress is entered by two main gates from the north and south.  At the height of the KHANATE, the fortress contained a gated palatial complex and public and commercial structures of the city, while the residential quarter was situated outside its walls.  It was restored extensively between 1958 & 1963.



ZAKOPANE, the undisputed winter capital of Poland is just as charming in summer.  Take a lazy stroll up a hill or snowboard downhill —– the old town has the power to mesmerise everyone.


Even before you reach this modest peasant resort town, you want time to slow down and gradually come to a standstill.  The scenic road route from Krakow to Zakopane, in Poland, is enough to mesmerise you.  What you see on both sides are little picturesque hills dotted with pine trees and country-like mustard-brown wooden chalets  — a topography that is bright and yellow-green in summer and buried in purple-white snow during winter.  As your destination draws close, the TATRA MOUNTAINS seems to move towards you.

Zakopane cottage

The typical old-world cottages are what define Zakopane.  These pearls of architecture set on high, square stone underpinnings, have steep, shingled roofs and boast of folk furnishings.  There are huge verandas, attics covered with separate roofs and opulent wood carving decorations.  VILLA KOLIBA, is the first building erected in Zakopane style.  Artist Stanislaw Witkiewicz’s eccentric  design is a big attraction on this oldest street (KOSCIELISKA STREET) bordered with time-honoured houses.  A delightful residence converted into a museum since 1993, every little detail here —- from curtains, artefacts, historical photos to handicrafts and coffee pots —- bears a cultural stamp.

Zakopane street

Climb the hill outside the town to visit the Chapel of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in JASZCZUROWKA, built in 1904 – 1907 by Goral carpenters.  This beautiful, historic Church resembles the shape of a Highland hut.  Its ornate turrets, dainty detailing on the roof and the stained-glass windows are picture-worthy.

Tatras mountains

The TATRAS, the only Alpine mountains in Poland, charm you with sky-high rocky peaks and valleys, treasuring post-glacial tarns and unique flora and fauna.  Tatra’s solid-rock walls, with varying difficulty levels, are a perfect school for those planning to scale the highest mountains in the world.

Zakopane tatras mountains

Zakopane is also the winter capital of Poland, and if you have mastered the art of skiing and snowboarding, take the challenging ski routes from KASPROWY WIERCH, where snow sometimes remains till the month of May or enrol for beginner lessons on a number of easy slopes.

Zakopane trek

Zakopane hotel

When near the Tatras, OSCYPEK is an absolute must-taste.  Handmade in a very traditional manner using wooden tools, it is smoked cheese made out of salted sheep milk, and often served fried or grilled with fresh cranberry sauce.  If you are lucky, you may be able to catch a live folklore music performance by dapper, red-cheeked locals dressed in  their traditional costume of white shirt, vest and knitted pants.  Glass painting is another unique form of art practised in this region.

OSCYPEK Zakopane

Laidback or adventurous, foodie or nature-lover, ZAKOPANE offers something unique to everyone.