World’s longest aerial tramway opens in Armenia

On October 16, Armenia became home to the longest aerial tramway in the world. The three-and-a-half mile track consists of just two stations – without any other supporting tower structures.

The new tramway takes passengers from the village of Halidzor to the Tatev Monastery. In the past, visitors had to make a 40 minute drive up the side of the mountain, but now they’ll be able to make the same trip in just 11 minutes.

The aerial tramway was built by Swiss-Austrian firm Garaventa-Doppelmayr, who are the engineers behind other famous tramways like the Jackson Hole Big Red and the new Peak2Peak ropeway in Whistler.

Construction of the new Wings of Tatev ropeway cost $18 million, and was fully funded by benefactors.

To learn more about the Tatev Monastery and its importance to the nation, head on over to Armenia Now.

[Photo credit: AP/Hayk Badalyan]

Photo of the Day (8.19.10)

“Clang, clang, clang went the trolley,” sang Judy Garland in Meet Me in St. Louis, giving the most charming mode of transportation its own theme song. Except this trolley isn’t in St. Louis or even San Francisco, it’s in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, part of the oldest operating tram system in South America. Whether you call it a tram, a trolley, a streetcar, or a cable car, this Flickr photo by AlexSven captures the old-timey fun (also, suspenders are the most charming way to hold up pants). Nowadays, trolleys are making a comeback, with new or extended routes planned for many cities in the United States including St. Louis, Memphis, New Orleans, and Little Rock. Kennebunkport, Maine is even home to a trolley museum.

Find a fun way to get around on your travels? Upload your pix to the Gadling Flickr pool and it might be featured as a future Photo of the Day.

Flying above Madrid in a cable car

Madrid’s museums and bars are a great place to spend a trip, but if you need a quick vacation from your vacation, check out the cable cars between two of Madrid’s best parks. Known as the Teleférico, they go from Parque del Oeste to Casa De Campo, Madrid’s largest park.

Built by a Swiss company and inaugerated in 1969, the system has two sets of cables, one set for going up and the other for going down. Eighty cabins hold five people each and the route goes for 2.5 km (1.6 miles) and gets up to 40 meters (131 feet) up in the air.

I rode this for the first time yesterday with my four year-old son and needless to say he loved it. We were attending a communal birthday party for a few of his friends so the little squeaky voices kept me from having a serene ride over the treetops, but I did get splendid views of the park, the river, the Royal Palace, and the cathedral.

On the Casa del Campo side is a kids’ indoor playground, a mediocre but not too overpriced restaurant, and an outside terrace for the adults to drink a beer and look out over the trees and skyline. So if you’re looking for a fun thing to do with your kids when you’re in Madrid, give the Teleférico a try. It makes for a good getaway from the big city. If you want something more substantial, try hiking in the community of Madrid.

Photo courtesy J.L. de Diego.

Dim Sum Dialogues: Ngong Ping

The world’s largest outdoor seated bronze buddha.

It sounds more like an obscure sports statistic than a record for a religious statue – and it left me to wonder – where does the largest indoor standing silver buddha reside? My skepticism about the buddha at Ngong Ping was barely trumped by my interest in finally visiting a historically and culturally significant monument in Hong Kong – fantasizing that it must have been built at least a few hundred years ago by devoted buddhists that used sacred, ancient methods of construction.

And yet again, my assumptions failed me.

The buddha was built in 1993. Nineteen Ninety-Three. The same year Intel shipped the first Pentium chips. The same year that the first corrected images from the Hubble telescope were taken. Hardly the timeworn, historical relic that I had pictured. I suddenly felt bitter and betrayed, like someone was trying to pull a fast one on a poor foreigner. But it seemed to sum up the story of Hong Kong; a new shining structure built upon a connection to Chinese heritage, in the hope of attracting foreign dollars.

The obvious tourist-trap nature of it made me reluctant to make the 45-minute trek out to Lantau Island from the center of town – fearing that I would only go home disappointed. The only attractive factor seemed to be the Ngong Ping 360º – a 5.7km long cable car ride (also owned by the MTR corporation) that whisks MTR passengers from the Tung Chung stop to the village of Ngong Ping in new cable cars with (wait for it) glass bottom floors.

So when a friend came to town, I tucked away my anti-tourist snobbery and splurged on the $160 HKD “Crystal Cabin” ticket for the 360º – a $60 step up from a regular cabin ticket, but worth every cent. It’s a fun and disorienting feeling to hover across water, trees, and mountains – something that initially takes several minutes to adjust to. The path of the cable car provides panoramic views over the Hong Kong International Airport and several outlying islands – assuming that the weather is clear, which isn’t a safe bet on most days in the territory.

When the cable car ride was over, I suddenly found myself in a modern Chinese “village”, which is simply a strip mall disguised with traditional Chinese architecture and light music playing over a carefully hidden ambient sound system. The words that entered my head as I walked through the development was “China-in-a-box”. A packaged, polished, and easily digestible version of the China that is ironically nowhere to be found on the streets Hong Kong. An orderly collection of Chinese memorabilia, ready to be sold shipped back to the country of your origin.

I was ready to turn around and go straight home as soon as I saw the painfully familiar glowing green letters that practically spells tourist trap: S-T-A-R-B-U-C-K-S. Everything I had feared was true, and the icing on the cake was the whipped cream on the carmel frappachinos of tourists lounging at green patio tables. The only thing that stopped me from turning around was the beautiful, faint sound of someone plucking a guzheng.

It was a sound that I had heard only in recordings before, and had hoped to witness in person since my arrival in Hong Kong. A sound that when I followed it, led me to the doors of a (wait for it) traditional wooden tea-house. The type of tea-house that I had dreamed of discovering weeks earlier, sans a wise old man with a long grey beard. There were scheduled tea-samplings and lessons for how to brew Chinese tea properly, antique tea sets and a diverse selection of leaves. In an instant, my prejudice against Ngong Ping was turned upside down. Maybe it was a fabricated, lustrous version of a China that can’t be found on the streets of Hong Kong – but it had just satisfied my expectations as a foreigner with one fell swoop.

The rest of the day was spent visiting the buddha, a buddhist temple, and wandering through several nature trails that surround the village. I let go of my bitterness as I read the displays that documented the construction of the buddha. I had to concede that it was still an impressive attraction and feat, even if it wasn’t crafted out of thin air by hundreds of devout buddhist hands, and even if it did cost an estimated $68 million USD to build.

On the ride back in the Crystal Cabin, I looked down at my feet gliding above the densely forested mountains. The sound of the guzheng still rang in my ears, and I was thankful that I had spent the day as a dreaded tourist.

So if you’re planning on visiting Hong Kong, I’d recommend putting Ngong Ping on your agenda. But please, skip the Tazo® in favor of some local pu-erh or oolong…

What is cooler than riding the worlds longest unsupported ropeway span?

Well, jumping off it of course! That is exactly what 2 base jumpers did a few days ago at the new Peak2Peak ropeway in Whistler. Peak2Peak connects the slopes at Whistler mountain with those at Blackcomb mountain allowing skiers to pick the slope with the best powder.

The ropeway itself is an amazing piece of engineering, designed and built by Austrian firm Doppelmayr. The project features an astounding 1.88 miles of cable between just 2 of the towers, making it the longest unsupported span of any ropeway in the world.

The ride alone was clearly not enough to celebrate the opening, so Red Bull (of the “gives you wings” soda) paid 2 base jumpers to climb on top of a gondola, and make the jump to the ground, almost 1400 feet below.

At about 1:05 into the clip, you get a view from the ground, looking up at the gondola, giving you an idea just how insanely high this thing is.

(Via: Gizmodo)