Monthly Archives: November 2017

Happy Albanian Independence Day!

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November 28th, 1912 is when Ismail Qemali, founder of the modern Albanian state and its first head of state and government, declared Dita e Pavarësisë (“Independence Day” in English) from the Ottoman Empire!

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On this day the Albanian flag was raised by Ismail Quemali in Vlore, Albania to publicly proclaim the independence of Albania from its Ottoman authorities.

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In case you don’t know much about Albania or Albanians (You probably aren’t from New York ha!) – Albania occupies the southwestern portion of the Balkan Peninsula. It’s coastline extends along the Adriatic and Ionian Seas within the Mediterranean Sea. Despite its small size, Albania is home to the largest and most ancient bodies of fresh water in Southern Europe. Lake Shkodër is the largest lake in Southern Europe, sprawling out from Albania into Montenegro.  Lake Ohrid in the southeast is shared with Macedonia and is one of the most ancient lakes in the world and a very popular vacation spot!

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Some fun and interesting facts about Albania:

  • In the evenings, the locals like to walk.  But it’s not just a walk.  Known as xhiro, it’s an official evening walk where every resident comes out to get some fresh air and catch up with their neighbors.  In many towns, the roads close to cars for certain hours! Apartment blocks empty and everyone gathers at various places, walking and talking until nightfall. How nice!!
  • Kinda like our Indian head-bob – when an Albanian is agreeing with you, they will shake their head, and when they are disagreeing with you they will nod.  Be warned and avoid confusion – Yes means no and no means yes!
  • According to a 2015 World Risk Report compiled by the UN, Albania is one of the countries in Europe most at-risk from natural disasters – mainly from flooding. In 2010, the country was hit by major floods, forcing as many as 7,000 families to be evacuated.
  • Though small, Albania boasts more than 3,250 species of plants, which accounts for 30% of all flora in Europe.
  • The Albanian town of Berat, a Unesco Old Town, was rated as one of the most beautiful places in Europe!

One more quick amazing thing about Albania: Mother Teresa ❤

Many countries in Eastern Europe are starting to really trend lately in tourism. Albania is becoming a popular tourist destination and it’s easy to see why! The beaches are GORGEOUS!! Also, it’s Europe and what’s Europe most famous for? CASTLES!!!! 🙂

Some of the BEST places to check out in Albania:

BERAT

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Close your eyes and imagine a beautiful castle on a hill. Now book your flight! Located on a hill at the left bank of the river Osum in the middle of the country, you can find Berat Castle, (originally called Kalaja) a fortress overlooking the town of Berat.

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Berat is also called “ the city of a thousand windows”, because of the large window fronts on the typical house. Berat is a great destination for those who love history and culture.

TIRANA

Tirana is the capital city of Albania. Located on a river some 30 kilometers away from the coast on one side, and on the other it is enclosed by hills. The small cafés at the side of the roads are full of energy most of the times and the city has a really pleasant charm!

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Those who want to immerse into the culture of the country should go to one of the museums or to the Palace of Culture. The Skanderberg place with the famous equestrian statuette should definitely be on your list, as it is the town’s landmark. It actually forms the center of the city, from which roads go to all directions like a star.

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Another place to visit is the Et’hem Bey mosque with the clock tower of Tirana. The capital furthermore contains a castle, of course, which is a great tourist destination. The numerous political facilities, universities, the botanical and zoological gardens, as well as the numourous parks and gardens are all worth a visit, if you have time, as well.

ALBANIAN RIVIERA

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Perhaps the most popular tourist destination, the riviera has a growing reputation as an important music location. The Night life is very popular and draws young people from all across Europe! Beaches are truly inviting! Newly built hotels and attractions also allure tourists and promise a great holiday.

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Also, the countryside is unique and lays behind the beaches. Large, picturesque and dramatic mountain settings extend for miles; and within the mountains, hide numerous small fairytale-like villages!

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GJIROKASTRA

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This southern city was elected UNESCO world cultural heritage due to its unique Balkan-style architecture. It contains small castle-like houses made of stone and is located at the side of a hill connected with artisticly winding roads.

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Gjirokastra has also many cultural attractions, such as museums, theaters and religious places found in large numbers. Additionally every five years they celebrate the national folklore festival in the castle of the city!

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DURRES

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The STUNNINGGGG city, Durres, at the coastline of Albania is the most important harbor city in the country. Cultural events take place all over the year, particularly at the amphitheater, which is one of the most important attractions of the city! The impressive ancient building could provide place for about 20.000 people. Aside from culture and history, Durres is a top spot for beach days and it’s a fun name to say over and over! 😛

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KRUJA

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Kruja is located at the side of the Skanderberg-mountains. The most important building in the town is the Kruja castle, which is a national sanctum for the Albanian people. Further places next to the town are the tomb of Sari Saltiks and the national park Qafe Shtama. This small town has a large historical background and can also be visited as day-trip from the capital Tirana or from Durres.

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VLORA

Another fun name to repeat over and over (and yes, I am getting the correct pronunciation, my coworker is Albanian from Montenegro 🙂 ) Vlora, also known also as Valona, is located in south-western Albania where the two seas, Adriatic and Ionian, meet. Vlora enjoys a beautiful position because it is the gateway to the Albanian Riviera!

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Three stunning things to see in Vlora are the beaches, the port and the town centre.  The town, with its wide boulevards decorated by huge palm trees, has a real southern Mediterranean feel to it! Definately a place not to miss!

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Who would have thought this tiny Eastern European country would be filled with such beauty, history and energy! I’m planning my trip, are you?! Happy Independence day Albania!!

 

-Karen Bahri

 

 

 

 

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A peak inside the Gem of Zanzibar – Stone Town!

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Stone Town is not just any town – it’s a delight for the senses not to be found anywhere else in the world!

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Stone Town is a city of prominent historical and artistic importance in East Africa. Also known as Mji Mkongwe (Swahili for “old town”), it is located in the old part of Zanzibar City, which is the main city of Zanzibar, in Tanzania.

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Its architecture, which mostly dates back to the 19th century, has STORIES to tell, as it reflects the diverse influences of Swahili culture – yet also giving a unique mixture of Arab, Persian, Indian and European elements.

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The buildings are honestly a feast for the eyes, despite their deteriorating condition. That only adds charm and character to the entire painting! Stone town was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000 due to it’s distinct archetecture.

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The most well-known feature of Zanzibari houses are the finely decorated wooden doors.

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You won’t find these giant wooden masterpieces anywhere else in the world! Elaborately carved with astonishing detail, the heavy doors in Stone Town are quintessentially ‘Zanzibar’, and served as a valuable glimpse into the homeowner’s place of origin, profession and economic status.

For example, the Indian doors were crafted by skilled tradesmen out of imported teak. The large brass studs have their origins in India, where they were once used as a defense against charging war elephants. In Stone Town, however, they were used only as decorative pieces and symbolic markers of wealth.

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Arab doors have intricately crafted frames with Arabic inscriptions at the top. The chain, lotus and pineapple are common and culturally significant motifs.

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The heart of Stone Town consists of a maze of narrow alleys lined by houses, shops, bazaars and mosques. The streets bustle along with bicycles and motorbikes as they are too narrow for cars. Stone Town can easily be explored on foot.

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Of course, the beaches in Zanzibar are RAVISHING, but this UNESCO World Heritage Site is definitely worth a stroll at some point during your holiday in which you feel like exploring. Trust me, it’s worth it – It is utterly captivating!

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I hope this has given you a good glimpse of a little town you may never have even heard of! Stone Town has an interesting history. Everything about this place will make you feel alive – from the melting pot of African, Arab, Indian and European cultures; the vivid shades of every color imaginable; the textures; the vibrant energy of the seafront and markets; and the locals who greet you with a “jambo!” (hello) and “karibu” (welcome) everyday!

To add to your itinerary, if you have been following me for a while, almost a year ago I wrote about the most unusual and amazing place to check out on the Indian Ocean off Zanzibar (which got a lot of buzz, thank you muah!). You can check that here:

https://karenskaleidoscope.wordpress.com/2017/01/24/the-rock-a-luxurious-fairytale-in-the-indian-ocean/

And OF COURSE I’m sure the main reason for your holiday would be for the astonishing beaches, with a day or so excursion to Stone Town, so I don’t want you to forget what that beautiful pond looks like 😁 —–>

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-Karen Bahri

 

 

 

 

The Coolest Accomodations near the Northern Lights

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The Northern Lights are definitely something one must experience in life. What an incredible experience to witness with your own eyes! To get the best of it, you would want to stay at an equally incredible hotel, but of course! Nature’s most spectacular light show, the Aurora Borealis, can be viewed in a range of purpose-built spaces, from glass igloos to luxury suites. Some fun ways to experience the Northern Lights, if you can take on the cold, are snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling as well as a dog sled tour. If you are not so adventurous though, and hate the cold, here’s a list of places you really wouldn’t have to leave the comfort of to experience the Northern Lights. I broke it down to Finland, Iceland and a bonus track from Sweden, because otherwise we would be here forever!

 

FINNISH LAPLAND

Arctic TreeHouse Hotel

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Located on the Arctic Circle in Rovaniemi, Lapland, this resort has individual Arctic TreeHouse suites. They are housed in exclusive Scandinavian wooden design, which combines local tradition and Lappish heritage. With one side comprised of a panoramic window you get spectacular views over the treetops! The units rest on short stilts and overlook a shallow valley, with a clear view of the Northern Lights.

https://santaparkarcticworld.com/arctic-treehouse-hotel

Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort

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This igloo village contains igloos made of glass, which have been designed so that windows don’t frost over or steam up. During the coldest part of the season, the accommodation range extends to traditional snow igloos, providing the option of a more authentic Lapland experience! Also, this hotel has ski-to-door access and ski equipment, bike rental and car rental are available as well as lots of other activities!

http://www.kakslauttanen.fi 

Levin Iglut

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This Lapland hotel also offers glass igloos from which to observe the Arctic skies in comfort. It also offers a part-subterranean Northern Lights House – complete with large windows enabling you to watch the lights play. Guests can also choose to enjoy the kaleidoscope above from the house’s private terrace, where a hot tub provides comfort from the cold winter evenings.

ICELAND

5 Million Star Hotel

When I give my five million dollar advice to people, I often say not to live life in a bubble – but this time, I’m telling you to please live life in a bubble!!

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About 1.5 to 2 hours east of Reykjavik by car, the 5 Million Star Hotel offers five individual bubble rooms to watch as the Northern Lights dance over the night sky! Each bubble—named Una, Asta, Thorunn, Valdis, and Maria—is kept inflated by a slight over-pressure from a noiseless ventilation system that also prevents humidity. They also include heating elements with a thermostat so the bubble stays warm all winter. That’s key, given the remote location of all the bubbles and the fact average daily temperatures dip to 28 degrees Fahrenheit in January. The bubbles are totally transparent, but privacy is maintained by ensuring that no other rooms ever overlook a guest’s space – also to maintain privacy, the company does not provide the exact address of the pods until after they have been booked and secured with a down payment. What an out of this world experience to be resting in your bubble as the Northern lights shine directly above you! INSANEEE!!!!

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https://www.buubble.com/

ION Luxury Adventure

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An abandoned inn turned boutique, eco-friendly hotel in Iceland, the ION Luxury Adventure Hotel’s concrete and glass facade rises from the Icelandic landscape like a set piece in a science fiction fantasy! This amazingness is where modern design meets Iceland’s incomparable natural landscape. The hotel provides a peaceful and remote escape with stunning architecture, access to spectacular natural sights like glaciers, volcanoes, and lakes as well as amazing views of the Northern Lights.

http://ioniceland.is/

Hotel Ranga

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This hotel is in a geographical region that has very favorable conditions for viewing the Northern Lights. Built log-cabin style, the traditional design of this countryside hotel (two hours from Reykjavik) offers cozy and intimate interiors. Guests are met in reception by the sight of a polar bear statue towering more than 10ft-high! Upstairs, a balcony wraps around the hotel’s bar, at night providing a backdrop of twinkling stars and, if you’re lucky, the green shimmer of the Northern Lights.

https://www.hotelranga.is/

Northern Lights Inn

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Visitors to the Northern Lights Inn are provided with detailed aurora forecasts and enjoy impressive views from the panoramic windows of the hotel’s restaurant. The inn is just a short walk from the hot-springs of the island’s famous Blue Lagoon. If you’re lucky, you can bathe in the waters of the spring and watch as solar winds trail ribbons of green light through the thermosphere!

http://www.nli.is/welcome

SWEDEN

Icehotel

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I am pretty sure I posted about this a while ago if you follow my Instagram (karenskaleidoscope – followwww). Icehotel is a world famous hotel and an art exhibition made entirely of ice and snow. Annually constructed, The Icehotel offers the ultimate cool accommodation! Guests can nap wrapped in thermal sleeping bags atop beds of reindeer skins, as the temperature inside hovers between -5C and -8C. There are more traditional rooms and chalets for the less adventurous. The hotel offers overnight excursions in search of the Northern Lights, and guests can choose between a snowmobile or their very own howling dog sled team! The Icehotel is famous for creating incredible sculptures of art out of the ice! Definitely something you HAVE to check out!!

https://www.icehotel.com/

This is just a small list of accommodations to consider so you can lie back, open your eyes and get lost in the intricacies of the zodiac and if possible, the kaleidoscope of the Northern Lights! The Northern Lights should be on anyone’s bucket-list who enjoy exploring the phenomenal mystery of mother nature!

-Karen Bahri

Best places to catch the Most Beautiful Sunsets in the World

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Best places to catch the Most Beautiful Sunsets in the World

 

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I love sunsets! I love taking pics of sunsets! I love sunrises! I love taking pics of sunrises! Basically, I love a pretty sky. Read on for your guide to where in the world you are guaranteed to catch a colorful, beautiful, picturesque and awe-inspiring sunset.

OIA, SANTORINI, GREECE

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Well if this wasn’t a given! Santorini, known for its distinctive white and blue architecture, is one of the most beautiful places in the world! The sunset can be captured perfectly as the village of Oia is set on a rugged Cliffside giving onlookers the perfect spot to watch the sun as it reflects on the crisp white buildings and then sets into the Aegean Sea.

IPANEMA BEACH, RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL

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The sunset is so stunning in Ipanema because it sets behind the rocky hillsides that border the coast. One of the best places in Rio to watch the sunset is Arpoador Rock which is located between Copacabana and Ipanema. Arpoador juts out into the ocean giving you an unobstructed view to the west along Ipanema beach. You will be in awe as the sun dips into the Gulf of Mexico in a magnificent array of pink and orange!

NORTH CAPE, FINNMARK, NORWAY

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North Cape, Norway is so far north it’s nearly in the Arctic Circle! Therefore during the summer, the sun hardly ever sets. Visitors can take in the midnight sun (the sun that sets just to the horizon, but never fully sets. OMG huge on my bucketlist!!!!) Seeing this strange sunset phenomenon can be a once in a lifetime experience!

AO KAO BEACH, KOH MAK, THAILAND

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Located in Trat Province in Thailand, Koh Mak is world famous for its stunning sunsets. Koh Mak features idyllic, serene nature with no skyscrapers or cityscape to obscure the sky, making the nightly setting sun into the horizon an unforgettable experience!

BAGAN, MYANMAR

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If you’re looking to snap a few dramatic sunset photos, head to Bagan, Myanmar’s Valley of Temples. Each night as the sun drops low in the sky, it lights up the outlines of more than 2000 ancient temples, pagodas, and monasteries that have sat in the Valley for a thousand years! There are so many locations throughout Bagan to capture stunning sunset views. You may also wish to snap photos of the sacred Buddhist and Hindu temples at dusk, but for a birds-eye view book a hot air balloon ride over the Valley.

ULURU, AUSTRALIA

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Uluru, or as some call it Ayers Rock, undergoes a dramatic transformation each night when the sun sets over the Australian outback. The rock cuts a striking silhouette across the sky as the sun paints it golden, deep red, orange and other hues before it turns black under the cover of night. Hike to the top of the dunes for a stunning view of Uluru and the nearby ancient rock formations known as Kata Tjuta.

THE AZORES, PORTUGAL

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The lovely islands that make up the Azores archipelago sit off the coast of Portugal in a nearly empty stretch of the Atlantic Ocean that allows for unobstructed views of the water, sky, and brilliant sunsets! Spread across 374 miles, this autonomous region of Portugal offers endless opportunities for soaking up the last rays of the sun.

MILOVAIG, ISLE OF SKYE, UK

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The Isle of Skye is an island in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland. While the entire island offers a stunning view of the sun setting, one of the best spots to catch it is the pier at Milovaig, which offers onlookers a multi-colored, breathtaking scene.

DIAMOND HEAD, HONOLULU, HAWAII

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Nearly anywhere on Oahu is a great place to catch a sunset, but climb up Diamond Head, which is a volcano and state monument, and you’ll be able to catch the gorgeous setting sun over legendary Waikiki beach.

TAJ MAHAL, AGRA, INDIA

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I love my India! It is incredible. Everything about the Taj Mahal is beautiful – everything. It has become an international destination to visit at dusk, because of the beautiful sunsets that occur behind it and the stunning colors that reflect around the building. hashtag colorful india #colorfulindia #colourtheworld #sunsets

 

-Karen Bahri

Kazan, Russia’s Temple of All Religions:

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The Temple of All Religions, or the “Universal Temple”, is an architectural complex in the Staroye Arakchino Microdistrict of Kazan, Tatarstan, Russia.

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As one reviewer on tripadvisor stated:

How much longer are we going to be divided by different religions? God equals Good. Here is one creation in the name of Greater Good.

Clustered tightly on a small plot of land, the complex consists of several cupolas, minarets and spires representing the religious architecture of 12 major religions of the world. There is a Christian cross, the Muslim crescent, the Star of David and the Chinese dome.

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Because it is not a functioning temple, no ceremonies are actually performed inside. The building is basically a cultural center which also serves as the residence of its owner – Ildar Khanov, and his assistants. Khanov is a local artist and philanthropist who practices spiritual healing upon willing subjects. Khanov is known for his efforts in the treatment of alcoholism, drug addiction, and various other diseases. His former and current patients help him to maintain and develop the Temple, either by direct involvement in the construction work or through sponsorship.

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Khanov believed that all religions are equal, and the Temple of All Religions was his way to bring them all under one roof. It was started in 1992 and still currently under construction.

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As the story goes, Ildar Khanov, a graduate from Kazan Art School, was an eccentric individual who claimed he met Jesus when he was just three years old. It was during the difficult years of the Great Patriotic War. Khanov almost died of starvation when Jesus saved him and showed him heaven and hell. According to him, it was then that he embarked on his journey as an artist and healer.

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The Temple has become a popular landmark in the city of Kazan, which takes pride in the peaceful combination of different cultures including Islamic Tatar, Orthodox Russian, and others. Khanov describes its mission, a “temple of culture and truth”. The Temple is visited both by tourists and by people seeking Khanov’s healing touch.

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-Karen Bahri