Category Archives: History

Burj Khalifa; At The Top Sky

This post is dedicated to Gerard Moore Junior (taku tama arohaina) whose generosity took me to the top.

From a distance, Burj Khalifa is alarmingly fragile. Up close it’s terrifyingly tall. At night, it’s a slender silhouette of gold light against the ink-black sky. In the daytime, it cuts like a giant blade of steel and glass into the blue.


For a while, I admired this stellar centrepiece of downtown Dubai from below. But, as mountains are to adventurers, so are towers to travellers. They compel us to climb them. From the Eureka to the Eiffel, I’ve conquered a few. In the end, I had to do the Burj Khalifa too.

Yet, I was nervous, as I waited with my fellow travellers for the At The Top Sky tour to the Burj Khalifa’s 148th floor. The couches, cushions, potted palms, Arabian coffee and platters of dates in the SKY Lounge did nothing to dispel the disturbing pictures haunting my thoughts. In one I was stranded in a lifeless elevator, deep in the burj’s concrete core. In another I clung to a flimsy ledge that tilted slowly into space. Was Burj Khalifa, a tower too many, too high?

Still, when the time came, I put my fears aside and followed our guide, Ahmed, into one of the burj’s 57 elevators.

As we soared skywards at an ear-popping 65 kilometers per hour, with the urgent drums of the Burj Khalifa’s dedicated elevator music beating ever faster, images of tall city landmarks streamed past.

Somewhere, up beyond the very tallest of them, we stopped for the Burj Khalifa’s story. It’s a bold tale and Ahmed told it with righteous pride. It began with a big dream – of a mighty burj, or tower, that would stand as an emblem of Dubai and as an iconic landmark to the world.

12,000 people, of 196 nationalities, from 149 countries, came together to build the dream. Chicago architect Adrian Smith designed it, taking inspiration from the ancient towers of Islam and the desert flower, hymenocallis, or spider lily. In 2004, construction began. 6 years, 22 million man-hours and 1.5 billion dollars later, it was completed. At 828 metres, the Burj Dubai was the world’s tallest building. On January 4, 2010, it opened, re-named as the Burj Khalifa, in honour of Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the UAE. That same year, it won the World Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat’s Global Icon Award. The dream had come true.

Now, here I was at the heart of that global icon, surrounded by world wonders. I was at the centre of the largest vertical city on earth, home to the world’s highest nightclub, library and mosque. I was heading for the highest outdoor viewing platform on the planet, 555 metres from the ground.      

With the music winding to a crescendo and with outlandish feats of celebrity daring playing out on the elevator walls, we soared up again. I stared, mesmerised and horrified, as a grinning Tom Cruise flapped around the burj’s spire while Spiderman inched up its sheer glass walls.     

…there were flowers

The lift delivered us to an oasis of quiet, calm, and stillness. There was soothing orchestral music. There were flowers. There were waiters with trays of drinks and petit fours. There were smiling hostesses to guide us around. There was soft carpet patterned with rippling sand. There were armchairs beside tall windows which curved out into the sky.

I sat and looked down. Below, Dubai fell into patterns. Buildings shaped into cylinders. City blocks formed squares, rectangles and triangles. Roads curved and cut between them, curled into petals and pointed in parallel rows towards the horizon. Parks and gardens became bands and circles of green.  Ponds, pools and streams turned into oblongs, ovals and wriggling snakes of blue. Then, defying the order of the built city, there were patches of parched dirt – some etched with the beginnings of future construction, others just fragments of desert.   

… the patterns of Dubai…

On the world’s highest viewing platform, safe behind a solid glass wall, I stood in the sky. I felt rushes of fear and exhilaration, of arrogance and awe. I could see all the way across the desert to the end of the earth. I could see where the sea dissolved into the sky. Below, the city was tiny and fragile. People were slow-moving specks. Big words, like omniscient and omnipotent came to mind.

…where the sea meets the sky…

In a dark theatrette, I waved my hand through a tube of light and watched myself take flight on giant screen.  Launching from the burj’s spire, I glided through space, circling around landmarks, swooping over rooftops, between buildings, through windows, into shops and houses, into the everyday lives of old Dubai. I peered over the shoulders of men smoking shisha and women stirring pots. I chased after children in the streets. Now I really felt superhuman.

I could have lingered on high forever, in this rarefied state, but in truth, I’m a mere mortal. I belong on earth. I need the noise, the sun and the warm air below.

“Leaving already?” asked the hostess at the elevator. I’d been there for hours but she seemed sorry to see me go.

Down on level 124 I was back in the busy real world. I was swept from the lift into a photo studio. There was a flash. Minutes later, a picture showed me smiling foolishly from a beam on the half-built burj. I joined the memorabilia hunters in the souvenir shop. Among mugs and key rings, I found something new and slightly unnerving – leftover burj bolts. I circled the deck. Below, the neat patterns of Dubai had disappeared.

One swift, silent elevator and a long, slow escalator took me down to earth.

The People who built the Burj Khalifa

I wandered alone in the quiet ground floor gallery where the At The Top Sky experience ends. Here, interactive stations tell the stories of the people who built the Burj Khalifa.

It’s a perfect finale. It is fitting that the last words on the greatest project in human history should come from the architects, engineers, contractors, artists, tradespeople, craftspeople and labourers who worked on it, shaping 330 cubic metres of concrete, 31,400 metric tons of steel, 103, 000 square metres of glass and 15, 500 square metres of embossed stainless steel into the world’s most iconic tower.  

Cost of the At The Top Sky Tour – 500 dirhams. Value – priceless.



Kia ora rawa atu, Gez

Te Whare Taonga o Rotorua

To truly understand and appreciate Rotorua, you need to know at least a little of the forces that have shaped it. The best place to find out about them is the Whare Taonga o Te Arawa, or the Rotorua Museum.

Te Whare Taonga o Rotorua
Te Whare Taonga o Rotorua

Located in the old Tudor bath house in the Government Gardens, Te Whare Taonga o Rotorua is a treasure trove of information on the region’s volatile volcanic landscape, vibrant Maori culture and fascinating history, as well as the people who have made it their home.

When you enter Nga Pumanawa o Te Arawa (the beating hearts of Te Arawa) on the ground floor, you’re in the world of the Te Arawa Iwi (the local tribe). Interactive multi-media displays trace their journey across the vast Pacific and through the centuries to modern day Rotorua. You’ll see how the environment shaped their way of life and hear the myths and legends that explained and ordered their world, including the poignant tale of Rotorua’s own star-crossed lovers, Hinemoa and Tutanekai. You’ll meet their chiefs, their respected elders and even some of their arch enemies. You’ll learn how European settlement and tourism changed their lives forever. A special exhibition and a film tell the bold, brave, lucky and, all too often, tragic stories of the Te Arawa B Company of the Maori Battalion. Displays of exquisite taonga; art, carving, jewellery and clothing show the skill and craftsmanship of generations.

The Museum’s cinema experience, also on the ground floor, gives both the scientific and the mythological explanations for this amazing volcanic region. It shows the stunning Pink and White Terraces and then subjects the viewer to a somewhat unsettling sensurround portrayal of the eruption of Mount Tarawera.

Down in the bowels of the building, you can explore the baths and treatment rooms of the “Great South Seas Spa” which operated here in the late 18th and for half of the 19th century. You’ll also and hear all about the bizarre therapies it offered! For those with an interest in engineering and architecture, the labyrinth of pipes and the vaulted ceilings are a must see.

Climb the sweeping staircase to second floor and you’ll find an exhibition dedicated to the time when the bath house was Tudor Towers, a cabaret restaurant. All the great names of local entertainment did a stint there. There are storyboards and photo displays and some great memorabilia.

Climb further on up through the attic and from a viewing platform high on the roof you can take in the view of the lake and the city and inspect the Tudor exterior of the Great South Seas Spa.

Hampton Court Palace Gardens

If hours are easily lost in Hampton Court Palace’s halls and apartments, days are easily lost in the 60 acres of Hampton Palace Gardens.

Hampton Court Palace Gardens
Hampton Court Palace Gardens

Over the centuries, many people added their own touch of beauty to the Hampton Court Palace gardens.

The Wilderness garden began as orchard in Henry VIII’s time. In the 17th century it became a series of intertwining paths with a maze of tall hedges. Today, only the maze remains. The Knot garden, although laid down in modern times, replicates the Henry VIII’s original.

The 13 fountains and the parterre of the Great Fountain garden were the work of William III and Mary II. The Privy, established in 1702, was King William’s private garden. The Orangery was built to nurture Mary II’s exotic collection which included cacti, orange and lemon trees.

The Yew trees were planted by Queen Anne.

The grapevine, which still yields delicious grapes, was planted in 1768 by the renowned landscape gardener, Capability Brown. The sunken Pond gardens which once held freshwater fish are now planted with flowers, similar to those available in different wildlife pond collections. Some would have preferred the freshwater fish to remain, but the pond flowers now welcome an array of different wildlife to the garden, making it a beautiful, picturesque setting.

The flower beds are Victorian and the herbaceous borders were added in 1920.

The 20th century garden was converted from a horse paddock in the 1970s to train apprentice gardeners.

Last but not least, the snippet of sky on the header of this Travelstripe Blog was snapped above the Rose Garden at Hampton Court Palace.


Hampton Court Palace

Just 30 minutes by train from London Waterloo, on a picturesque tree-bordered bend in the Thames and set in 60 acres of rambling gardens, is magnificent Hampton Court Palace.

Hampton Court Palace
Hampton Court Palace

Hampton Court Palace was the home of Henry VIII and his first wife Catherine of Aragon. When Catherine was ousted after failing to give Henry a son, his second wife Anne Boleyn moved in. Henry’s third wife, Anne of Cleves, was banished to Hampton Court when their marriage was annulled and lived here, in exile, until her death.

Hampton Court was also the home of Cardinal Wolsey in the 1520s, until he fell from favour with the King and was beheaded for treason.

Despite the many subsequent occupants and renovations to the palace, it still has the stamp of the court of Henry VIII. The kitchens which, when the King was in residence, fed up to 800 people on the most exotic fare, are the largest surviving 16th century kitchens. The Chapel Royal was the scene of Henry’s son Edward’s baptism and of his marriage to his last wife, Catherine Parr. In the Tiltyard, which now houses a café, Henry displayed his skill with the jousting stick or watched tournaments from the towers. He showed off his athletic prowess playing Real Tennis on the Royal tennis courts which are still in current use. It was Henry who enclosed the 250 acre Home Park for hunting. Today, it is home to 350 fallow deer, as well as a golf course and the annual Hampton Court Palace Flower Show. And somewhere among the ancient spears, shields, pistols and muskets displayed in extraordinarily complex and really beautiful formations in the guard room of the King’s Apartments, there must surely be one that was grasped in the hand of the hot-blooded warrior King.

Most of the rest of the Palace and gardens speaks of later reigns. The King’s and Queen’s apartments were built for the monarchs’ ceremonial and state lives. Those of King William III, completed in 1700 and furnished with magnificent period tapestries and works of art, are said to be the best baroque apartments in the world. The Queen’s apartments were originally intended for his wife, Mary II, who unfortunately died of smallpox in 1694, before they were completed. The Banqueting House, overlooking the Thames, where William held small private parties, was built in 1700. In 1837, George II decorated and furnished the private informal apartments now known as the Georgian Rooms. The Queen’s apartments were furnished and decorated for his Queen, Caroline.

Hours are easily lost in the splendid rambling halls and apartments of Hampton Court Palace.


The Making of modern Manchester

With the sweeping progress of the Industrial Revolution, Manchester became the world’s first modern city.

Urbis and the Printworks
Urbis and the Printworks

Soft water from the nearby Pennine Ranges made it the perfect place for cotton manufacture and by 1830, 80% of the world’s cotton was processed here. The city mushroomed as factories sprang up and eager workers flooded to them.

The wealth and prosperity of 19th century Manchester have left a legacy of great monuments, streets, squares and buildings, like Picadilly Gardens with its statues Robert Peel and the Duke of Wellington, the grand old Corn Exchange, the stunning Midland Hotel, the Majestic Town Hall and lovely Albert Square with its Thomas Worthington statue.

The first modern industrial city gave birth to many other world firsts. The Manchester Guardian was the world’s first workers’ newspaper, produced in the largest print works in the world. The world’s first passenger rail trip ran between Manchester and Liverpool. The Manchester ship canal was the first to link ocean-going ships to a British city. Finally, at this time, the church at the end of Deansgate became Manchester Cathedral under the name of the Cathedral Church of St Mary, St Denys and St George and the Victoria Porch, with a figure of the Queen sculpted by her daughter, Princess Louise was added. Sadly but inevitably, slums, social problems and pollution followed in the wake of the great industrial growth of the period.

After the Blitz of World War II, much of the heart of Manchester was rebuilt, including the beautiful circular library and St Peter’s Square with its Cenotaph. At this time too the stained glass of the Cathedral replaced the windows shattered in the Blitz.

The last fifty years in Manchester have seen great development and growth, with such greats as the giant 1960s Arndale Shopping Centre, one of Europe’s largest. Work continues to reverse the environmental damage of the Industrial Revolution and its aftermath. Run-down areas, such as the Salford Docks have been re-developed and the city has adjusted to accommodate new kind of urban dweller and to cater to their 21st century life-style. This has prompted many people to move into the Manchester area. A look at man and van hire in Manchester will show that the logistics of making the move happen couldn’t be easier.

However the catalyst for the most important changes of the last fifty years was the 1996 IRA bombing which destroyed much of the area surrounding Arndale and the Print Works. From the ashes of the destruction has come Manchester’s most exciting development yet. The old print works is now a buzzing neon entertainment centre, facing a square where the Manchester eye turns against a background of little mediaeval buildings. Behind them, the spire of Manchester Cathedral stands against the sky. It faces onto a small square of green bounded by Chetham’s Music School and the Corn Exchange, now home to a complex of smart shops. Last but not least, there’s the sensational Urbis exhibition Centre, which points like a giant glass and steel phoenix back towards the old city.

Manchester is a great city with great vibe. It is an exciting place to pass through, to pause for a some time and, I should imagine, to live in. It is vibrant, dynamic and alive with promise.

A brief history of Manchester, from Roman to Mediaeval times

The Roman invasion, the Danish marauders, the Saxon settlers, the Norman Conquest, the Industrial Revolution, the World War 2 blitz and the IRA bombing, Manchester has endured and survived them all, rebuilding and reinventing itself for over almost two thousand years, to become the vibrant modern metropolis that it is today. Its streets and its architecture tell its long and fascinating story.

Manchester Cathedral
Manchester Cathedral

Manchester’s first century AD Roman past can be mainly seen in the reconstructions of walls, stables, barracks, granary and gardens at North Gate, although excavations have uncovered defensive ditches and Salford’s Camp Street marks the site where the first tents were pitched.

The only relic of Saxon times is the Angel Stone, which is mentioned in the Doomesday Book and was the foundation stone for the Church of St Mary, built at the end of Deansgate in the 8th century. The Danes 9th century legacy is found only fragments of language like “gat”, Danish for “street” found in today’s Millsgate and busy, commercial Deansgate.

The Norman Conquest and settlement of 1066 has left more behind it. The historic area of Castlefield, where the Norman town was established, still remains as a vibrant and picturesque part of the new city.

In the lands surrounding Manchester, Norman manors and castles still stand. The names of those early Norman settlers are prominent in the establishment of early Manchester, like Thomas de Gresley, whose son was granted the Great Manchester Charter, in 1301. It was De Gresley’s medieval successors who built the 15th century Hanging Bridge, founded the Chetham’s Music School library and established the Collegiate Church, in 1421. The Arch and the west wall of the Mediaeval Collegiate Church still stand within the tower of the present Manchester Cathedral.


The Maracana

They say that Brazil is governed by three great passions – religion, the beach and football ( in Portuguese, futebol). It stands to reason, then, that along with the statue of Cristo Redentor and Copacabana, Rio’s Marancana stadium is one Brazil’s most famous landmarks.

A fragment of the front of the Maracana
A fragment of the front of the Maracana

The Maracana was built to host the 1950 FIFA World Cup tournament. It was designed by local architects Miguel Feldman, Waldir Ramos, Raphael Galvão, Oscar Valdetaro, Orlando Azevedo, Antônio Dias Carneiro and Pedro Paulo Bernardes Bastos and the foundation stone was laid on August 2, 1948.

Although the stadium was still unfinished, on June 16, 1950, the inaugural match took place. The historic first ball was placed in the Maracana’s goal by Didi and the Rio de Janeiro All-Stars defeated São Paulo All-Stars 3 to 1. Eight days later, on June 24, 81,000 spectators crowded into the still unfinished stadium to witness its first World Cup match. Brazil beat Mexico 4 to 0 and Ademir scored the stadium’s first FIFA goal. On July 16, 1950, an estimated 210, 000 people turned out at the still uncompleted stadium to witness Brazil’s shock loss to Uruguay in the final round disaster which has gone down in football history as the “Maracanazo”.

Although the stadium was not finally completed until 1965, it continued, throughout the fifteen years following the World Cup, to draw enormous crowds to Rio club games and to Brazilian football cup finals.

In 1966, the Maracana was officially re-named Estadio Jornalista Mário Filho, after the Brazilian journalist who had been a tireless campaigner for the construction of the stadium. However, the old name Maracana refuses to die and it is still the one best known to soccer fans the world over.

The Maracana has seen great Brazilian football moments. In 1969, Pele scored the 1,000th goal of his career there, against Vasco, in front of 125,000 spectators. In 1989, Zico scored his final goal for Flamengo at the Maracanã, taking his goal tally at the stadium to 333.

It has also seen tragic times. On July 19, 1992, an upper stand in the stadium collapsed.  Three spectators were killed and 50 more were seriously injured. After this incident, the Maracana became an “all-seater stadium” with a greatly reduced capacity. It was closed for renovations in 2006 and re-opened in January 2007 with an all-seated capacity of 88,992.

Since the 1980s the Maracana has played host to numerous non-football events. Pope John Paul II has said mass here. On January 26, 1981, Frank Sinatra sang to crowd of 150,000 here. 180,000 people gathered to hear Tina Turner, in 1988 and again to hear Paul McCartney in April 1990. Sting, Madonna and the Rolling Stones have all played twice at the Maracana. Great music festivals, like Rock in Rio, have taken place here. On July 13, 2007, the stadium hosted the opening ceremonies of the XV Pan American games. Then, of course there were the FIFA World Cup games of 2014.

In 1998, the Maracana was classified as “real estate”. In Brazilian terms this means that it is a heritage site and is there to stay, which is a wonderful thing for the millions of football fans who consider it sacred soil.



As the name suggests, Cinelandia was once the domain of movie dreams.

Rio Branco, Cinelandias
Rio Branco, Cinelandia

It was built on the vision of Mayor Pereira Passos at the beginning of the 20th century.  Laying waste old, narrow streets and run-down buildings, broad, new, Parisian-style Avenida Rio Branco forged a path from the inner city to the sea. Monuments to the nation’s grandeur, like the art nouveau Biblioteca Nacional and the neo-classical Museu de Belas Artes stood side by side with glamorous cafés terrasses. The centerpiece of the Avenida Rio Branco was the magnificent Teatro Municipal, designed by the Mayor’s son, Francisco Oliveira Passos and modeled on the Paris Opera. A romantic sculpture in the Piazza told the story of a young country nurtured by the church and sheltered by the state.

When it was finished this wonderful new area became the domain of Rio’s smart set – there to see and be seen.

In the 1930s Avenida Rio Branco lit up with neon and the city’s first cinemas opened their doors on silver screen dreams for a new smart set.  Pereira  Passos’ great domain became Cinelandia.

All this is still there, down in Cinelandia but its grandeur has faded. The mosaic pavements are dotted with broken tiles. The Teatro Municipal is shrouded in scaffolding while the Biblioteca Nacional and the Museu de Belas Artes are jaded. Most of the cinemas are now evangelical Christian churches, opening their doors on a new vision.

Rio’s dispossessed and homeless wait at the bus stops, but not for buses. Skinny kids play near the statue under the indifferent gaze of the stone padre. Still, Cinelandia is a “must see” in Rio, a special glimpse of what it once was, what it has become and what it could be.

French Rio Centro

Although the Portuguese Royal family had fled Europe ahead of Napoleon’s army, their respect for French culture was as strong as their fear of French military might. In establishing Rio de Janeiro as the centre of the new Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil and the Algarve turned to France for inspiration. All over old Rio Centro there are lovely little pockets of la belle France.

Rua Ouvidor, Rio Centro
Rua Ouvidor, Rio Centro

The first regent, Dom JoaoVI, drew heavily on the expertise of the French Mission which arrived in Rio in 1816. The Mission brought many artists, including Jean Baptiste Debret and Nicolas Taunay, who were instrumental in the development of a national art. It also brought a number of paintings which were to form the basis of a national collection.  Most importantly, the Mission brought architects like Grandjean de Montigny, who shaped much of the cityscape of old Rio, including the beautiful neo-classical building in Avenida Branco, which is now the Museu de Belas Artes. De Montigny’s greatest triumph, however, was the Casa Franca-Brasil on Rua Visconde de Itaborai. This magnificent neo-classical building has twenty four Doric columns, made of wood, but painted in a trompe l’oeil marble effect, supporting a huge dome with a central skylight. It first opened in 1820 as the city stock exchange. After stints as a customs house and a bank archive, the Casa Fraca-Brasil is now a cultural centre.

Over the next century the people of Rio continued to look to France. The Belle Epoque took its own special form in Rio Centro. Narrow, quaint Rua Ouvidor is lined with cafes, bars and tiny shops with an air of old Paris. The Confiteria Manon and even more so, the Confiteiria Colombo, in Rua Concalvas Dias, have all the style of Parisen Salons de Thé. The faded grandeur of Amarello, on Cinelandia’s Avenida Rio Branco, smacks of the brasseries of Paris. Nearby, the Teatro Municipal, designed by Francisco Oliveira Passos and opened in 1909, is modeled on the Paris Opera.

Rio’s architectural and cultural debt to France was brilliantly acknowledged in 2009’s  Carnaval. Samba school Grande Rio chose France in Rio as its theme and not only rebuilt old “French” Rio, but also brought to life the “style de vie” of those times. The coup de grace was that the French Government funded the venture!


Two Rio Centro churches

Just as important a part of Brazil’s early history as the Portuguese Crown was the Catholic Church and houses of worship form much of the landscape of Rio de Janeiro’s historical centre. Many of them are clustered around the Praca XV Novembre and the Paco Imperial.

Igreja do Nossa Senhora do Carmo da Antigua Se
Igreja do Nossa Senhora do Carmo da Antigua Se

Diagonally opposite the Paco Imperial, on the corner of Rua 7 de Setembro and Rua Premeiro de Marco is the Igreja do Nossa Senhora do Carmo da Antigua Se, or Carmo Church. It was built in 1761 and the carved rococo interior was finished by master sculptor Inacio Ferreira Pinto

The history of Carmo church is as closely linked to Brazil’s as the Praca and the Paco. The ashes of Pedro Alvarez Cabral, who discovered the country, lie in the main crypt. The Portuguese Royal family worshipped here. Princess Isabella was married here and the ceremony of the anointing of the Emperors Pedro I and Pedro II took place here.. In its 250 year life, many Rio babies’ heads have been wet at the beautiful marble baptismal font, many young Carioca brides have walked down the aisle under the magnificent painted ceiling, to their groom, waiting at the silver ornamented altar.

Just off Rua Premeiro de Marco in Rua Ouvidor, is the Igreja Nossa Senhora da Lapa dos Mercadores. Built by the local congregation of street vendors, it is far more modest shrine than Nossa Senhora do Carmo da Antigua Se. Still, with its exquisite carved wooden ceilings and walls as well as its stunning sacristy skylight, it is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful churches in Rio. Although the church saw no great royal occasions, it was however, touched by an important piece of Brasilian history and still today bears the mark. During the Naval revolt of 1893, cannon fire toppled the marble statue of the Madonna from the bell tower. The Madonna survived and was restored to the tower and the cannonball now rests in the sacristy.

These are just two of Rio Centro’s many religious houses. There are many other churches, monasteries and convents, all with their own beauty and interest