You can help save an ancient Egyptian palace

The palace of Egypt’s most enigmatic pharaoh needs your help. Akhenaten ruled from c. 1351-1334 BC and is famous for his devotion to the god Aten, an aspect of the Sun. His worship became more and more exclusive over the years and while he wasn’t a monotheist in the strict sense of the word, he certainly alienated the priests of other temples. He also left the traditional capital and built his own by the Nile at Amarna.

Since 1997 the Amarna Project has been restoring this one-of-a-kind site for posterity. In the spring of 2011 they’re planning a major project to finish work on the Royal Suite, where Akhenaten himself lived. They’ve set up a webpage at JustGiving where you can contribute to the project. Conservation Architect Surésh Dhargalkar and his team will be doing the work, and the donations will go toward their pay and materials. You can read more about their work here.

Once Akhenaten died, the worship of the Aten fell out of favor and his city was abandoned to the sands. Thus Amarna makes a unique slice of time for archaeologists to study and an important place to preserve.

Special thanks to Andie over at the Egyptology blog for bringing this to my attention.

[Photo of Aten temple at Amarna courtesy user Markh via Wikimedia Commons]

Last Ottoman dies, but the civilization endures

It was only a blip on the world news last week, but historians will remember it as the end of an era. Ertugrul Osman, the last heir to the throne of the Ottoman Empire, has died at the age of 97.

He was the last grandson of Sultan Abdul-Hamid II, and would have become Sultan himself if the caliphate hadn’t been abolished in 1922 as the remnants of the Ottoman Empire remade itself into the Republic of Turkey following defeat in World War One.

Osman reportedly never wanted to be Sultan, but if the empire survived he would have ruled over a civilization of great artistic achievements. The Ottomans may be a thing of the past but you can still enjoy Ottoman art, especially the architecture that graces all parts of the former empire, which once stretched west from Istanbul almost to Vienna, and south across the Middle East to Yemen and west into North Africa.

Ottoman architecture took its cues from Byzantium, an empire that ruled much of the area the Ottomans took over, as well as the refined styles of Iran. The gallery shows a sampling of what to expect as you journey through the former empire.


Amazing Race 14, recap 8: Bangkok, Thailand has helpful taxi drivers

With the million dollars becoming more attainable as the playing field narrows, some teams are becoming more cagey and mistake prone. One team member is tossing aside manners while another temporarily tossed aside shoes. The Amazing Race 14 continues to be a lesson in how to travel wisely and what mistakes not to make.

Thailand continued to be a lovely backdrop for this week’s episode. The teams left Phuket for Bangkok where the first stop was a boat yard where the colorful painted wooden long boats are parked. Who got there first depended upon which taxi driver knew the directions and Bangkok traffic. Bangkok traffic can be the absolute pits. Even going a mile can take more than an hour. I know because I’ve sat in traffic not knowing that I could have walked faster.

At the boat yard, one member from each team were to put together a propeller correctly so the team could then travel to the next destination, Peninsula Pier via one of the long-tail boats. This was one of the times I felt compelled to shout out at the TV, “No, no, no, don’t leave your stuff!” when sisters Kisha & Jen and brothers Mark & Michael headed off without their bags. This is not just a lesson for The Amazing Race, but for any travel experience. Leaving baggage behind in taxis or on docks is not a good idea. Not only did it give them problems later, instead of enjoying the process of traveling, they were worried and distracted wondering how to get their belongings back.

Having the teams use the canal system and rivers to get around was a wonderful way to highlight the life along the water. There were shots of houses and temples as the teams glided by. Only Jaime and Cara commented on the color of the water. Not the stuff you’d want to swim in, but people do. When I was in Bangkok on a long-tail boat ride, there were smiling kids waving and bobbing as we passed. Ferries and long-tail boats are one way people move about the city.

Once the teams arrived at Peninsula Pier there was a choice between two tasks. Margie & Luke, in the lead, chose the one where they had to become dentists at “The Street of Happy Smiles” to outfit five Thai people with dentures. This was a hoot to watch but I hoped that the participants were handsomely compensated for their efforts–not Margie & Luke, but the ones who were fitted with dentures. After watching Margie breeze through this task, I’d say she could get a job in a dentist’s office for sure. She fit dentures like a pro. The shots of this task were fast to follow, but I’m hoping that each person who needed dentures had their own sets of dentures in their own stash so that teeth sets that were put in one person’s mouth didn’t end up in another’s.

All the other teams joined up with a party taxi where they sang a Thai pop culture karaoke song with women who may or may not have been transvestites. Everyone had a blast with this task, although Jen & Kisha didn’t have their stuff, including their passports and money, and Mark & Michael who were way behind because they had their taxi take them back to the dock to retrieve their bags before they continued with the race. Still, all sang away in a manner reminiscent of William Hung. Remember him from American Idol? She Bang. She Bang!

I’ve been to Bangkok several times and have never seen one of these party taxis. I’m curious. Here is a link to one driver who does have passengers sing karaoke to pass the time.

Because of Margie’s ability to kick it through tasks, she and Luke arrived at the Pit Stop at Phya Thai Palace first. For her quick thinking ways, they won a trip to San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Jaime & Cara, who I don’t like much, at least I don’t care for Jaime because she’s so rude and catty, came in 2nd. Michael & Mark’s fondness for rule breaking got them in trouble again. Because they paid off taxi drivers with their belongings since they didn’t have any money left after their taxi ride back to the dock, gave them a four hour penalty. Thus, Kisha & Jen who had to go back from the Pit Stop to get their passports before they could check in, were able to beat them.

My respect for Thai taxi drivers went way up. The drivers were seen waiting for long periods of time, giving rides for free and bartering for fare. Bangkok is such a wonderful city and this episode highlighted some of the reasons why.

This was a non-elimination round which gives Mark & Michael a chance to catch up. Kind of. They’re going to be starting three hours behind everyone else and have their own Speed Bump to boot and Margie & Luke, as nice as they are, are devious and can’t be trusted. I’m waiting for Jaime to get hers. Seriously. She’s the type of person you don’t want to travel with if you want to treat people with kindness and patience and be a good guest.

Take the kids to Austria

I did not know that crystal is measured in carats. I didn’t need this bit of insight for the notion of a 300,000 crystal to be impressive. Apparently, this is one of the many unique items on display at Swarovski Crystal Worlds in Wattens, Austria. According to MSNBC, this is the second most visited tourist attraction in the country – after Vienna‘s Schonbrunn Palace. Swarovski also has the smallest, which measures a mere 0.8 millimeters.

The art workshops, sculpture garden and playground also make Swarovski Crystal Worlds a great destination for kids, proving that Europe isn’t just for adults.

Eileen Ogintz asks: “Who says kids will be bored in Europe?”

In Austria, there is plenty (even beyond Swarovski). Childrens can dress up as royals at Schonbrunn Palace and later stop by the Imperial Zoo. In Innsbruck, they can traverse a bridge that dates back to 1080 and marvel at the fact that The Goldener Adler hotel has more than six centuries of history.

Perhaps the favorite for kids is Aqua Dome in Langenfeld. It’s less than an hour from Innsbruck and boasts thermal mountain waters. For the youthful – at least at heart – there is a waterslide, climbing wall … and plenty of supervision. Let the kids go nuts while you soak in the warm mountain water in a futuristic hot tub or relax on the ice grotto.