Peace Brings Treasured Travel To Vietnam The Discovery Of A Well In The Tower Of The Pulci In Florence Old Barney A Visit To Barnegat Light New Jersey The Ghan A Great Australian Train Journey

Vietnam is a paradise for both the outdoor adventurer and city explorer alike. Winding down 3,444 kilometers of coastline from the northern Red River Delta near the Chinese border to the Mekong Delta at the southernmost tip of the Southeast Asian peninsula, Vietnam is a splendid blend of picturesque coastline and lush inland terrain. The region’s history of conquests and wars makes travel to Vietnam today a rich and rewarding experience during this time of precious peace.

During the 20th century, Vietnam was at war for nearly 45 consecutive years with different countries. After French and Spanish forces ravaged the area, most of the south became a French colony by 1867. Finally in 1945, Ho Chi Minh declared Vietnam’s independence, sparking a French rebuttal and attracting international interest of U.S., Russian and Cambodian forces. Minh’s dream of an independent (communist) nation was not realized until 1989 when the U.N. subdued the conflict with Khmer Rouge and pulled Vietnamese troops out of Cambodia.

Urban and Pristine Wonders of Vietnamese Travel

National identity has become an integral part of life for this war trodden state and today the proud Vietnamese are more willing to embrace foreign travelers and share their magnificent cultural history as their economy begins to mature. Visit the economic capital of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) in the south to witness the vibrant and progressive culture that has taken root in Vietnam. While there, explore the extensive botanical gardens, Buddhist monasteries, and stop by the Binh Soup Shop, which was the secret Viet Cong headquarters in Saigon during the Vietnam War. In the far north, the capital city of Hanoi is a bit more relaxed, speaking to ancient Vietnamese culture and 1000 years of history along the streets of the Old Quarter. Visit the intriguing One Pillar Pagoda build by Emperor Tong in the 11th century and replenish your spirits in the Bach Ma Temple, the city’s oldest and most revered.

Retreat to the captivating beauty of Vietnam’s wilderness for a more tranquil portion of your journey. Tropical rainforests abound in the protected area of Ba Be National Park, located close to the Chinese border in the north. The local Tay people live in stilt houses and contribute cultural significance to the area. Take an elephant ride through the expansive Yok Don National Park for a chance to see monkeys, birds and even leopards. If confined spaces don’t trigger nightmares, the Phong Nha Cave is a must see. This UNESCO World Heritage Site was created 250 million years ago and boasts a cavernous entanglement stretching thousands of meters below ground. Portions of this natural wonder are open to the public daily. For the claustrophobic, travel to Halong Bay in the Gulf of Tonkin, another World Heritage Site, which is dotted with more than 3,000 tiny islands with cliffs and white sand beaches that cascade into the surrounding sparkling waters.

Due to the country’s broad north-south range, Vietnam is a wonderful country to explore any time of year. The sheltered forests and increased speed of the coastal cities offer an invaluable variety for a perfectly balanced journey. Travel to Vietnam to discover this underestimated Southeast Asian gem.

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It is in this horse-shoe shaped palace, whose two wings stretch from Palazzo Vecchio to the Arno, that actually creates the square itself; the porticoes on the western side open off into Via Lambertesca, a narrow street that leads right into the heart of the oldest part of the city, the mediaeval area that Vasari partly demolished to make room for his new creation.

It was here that the mafia car-bomb exploded on the night of May 27th 1993, on the corner between Via Lambertesca and Via dei Georgofili, killing five people and causing damage to the artistic heritage of Florence. The explosion seriously damaged the upper rooms of the Uffizi and disembowelled the ancient house and tower of the Pulci family beneath it, from 1932 the seat of the historic Academy of the Georgofili, specialized in agricultural studies and the conservation of the territory since 1753.

The tremendous sight is still a vivid memory for all the rescuers who first arrived on the scene after the explosion: this time the small palace of the Georgofili, which had survived so many wars and floods, seemed really to have suffered its death blow. One half of its facade (200 square metres) had been completely destroyed, shattered in the explosion, a huge pit, about ten metres deep, had opened up in the interior, while the whole of the south wall, which faced onto the Courtyard of the Caldaie, was in danger of collapsing, because it had been shifted 10 centimetres by the impact. The attic-flat that had been created at the top of the tower in the early 20th century had crashed to the ground, covering the bodies of the four people who lived in it with rubble: the caretaker of the Academy, her husband and their two little daughters, one aged nine and the other only two months. The fifth victim was a student who lived in the house opposite, which was also directly hit by the explosion.

Florence has always replied to barbaric acts such as this by immediately getting on with mending her wounds and rebuilding everything that has been damaged “as it was and where it was”. Once the huge patrimony of books belonging to the Academy (50.000 volumes plus 4.000 essays from the archives of the Georgofili) had been carried away to safety and all the rubble removed, the walls that were still standing were reinforced and the ones that had been destroyed were reconstructed. Traditional techniques were combined with advanced technological solutions: the roof and bent tiles were made by hand, the corbels and capitals carved by Florentine craftsmen but use was also made of mortar injections, chains, steel plates and bolts. Great care was taken during restoration to keep to certain basic rules which were to ensure that the newly reconstructed areas of the building could in some way be recognized from the original. Therefore a zig-zagging fracture line divides the floor of the huge Assembly Hall on the first floor, to delimit the area that fell to the ground, and another line on the facade, a vertical one this time, divides the ancient decorated walls from the new.

Two large canvases by the painter Bartolomeo Bimbi were unfortunately irreparably damaged and could be replaced. This catastrophe, however, led to some unexpected and extraordinary results, like the discovery of seven small rooms, which were once part of the State Archives, later walled up and forgotten and now available for the use of Academy of the Georgofili once more. Above all it revealed the existence of a well and staircase system that leads up from the cellars to the upper floors and which probably is the last trace of the house that the Florentine land register of 1427 noted as being the property of Jacopo di Francesco de’ Pulci and father of Luigi, a friend of Lorenzo Il Magnifico and author of the poem “Morgante”. The house and tower still bear the name of the Pulci family even today, in spite of the fact that the building appears to have passed to the Gherardini family after 1433.

The well and the staircase that winds around it and reaches the top floor of the Uffizi Gallery are now free of the walls and plaster that once hid them; the grey stone archivolt and steps have been restored in order to form a single and harmonious unit with the various rooms of the Academy.

Apart from being an unexpected reward for all those who worked on restoring the building, this discovery is yet another demonstration of Giorgio Vasari’s skill in construction, as he managed to incorporate the ancient tower of the Pulci family into the revolutionary architecture of the Uffizi without destroying it.

In fact the original project included plans to expropriate and demolish at least 43 houses and towers in order to build the new palace of the “Uffici” or offices, but Cosimo de’ Medici decided that this would be far too expensive in the long run and therefore the most of the buildings were spared though they were eventually incorporated into the new construction. The Tower of the Pulci and the results of this extraordinary restoration work can be visited daily during the hours in which the Academy of the Georgofili is open to the public and that is from Mondays to Fridays, from 3.00pm to 6.30pm.

Barnegat Light, NJ is the home to “Old Barney” a historic lighthouse located at the northern tip of Long Beach Island. Long Beach Island, or “LBI” as the vacationing folks like to say, is a narrow island nearly twenty miles long and six miles at sea off the coast of Ocean County, NJ.

The lighthouse is a destination in and of itself, if lighthouses are something that you like. Like all lighthouses, this one has distinctive markings: the top half is red and the bottom half is white. Built in 1859, the current lighthouse is the second one for that site. The original, constructed in 1824, was in disrepair and sorely in need of being replaced. Thus, the present lighthouse — fondly called Old Barney — was constructed.

Barnegat Light is the second tallest lighthouse in the US. It served those at sea and on land with distinguishment until its light was extinguished forever in 1965, made obsolete by electronic navigation. In the late 1980s the lighthouse was shut down for three years for much needed repairs, but then reopened to visitors. Old Barney remains a popular visitor destination and is now a state park. Nearby attractions include the beaches, fishing, historic homes, and neighboring communities on the island. LBI is easily accessible to Philadephia and New York City and is a favorite destination for those who travel to the Jersey Shore.

The Ghan is a living legend in Australian history and offers the ultimate journey through the heart of the Australian continent. Named after Afghan cameleers who originally helped open up the desert interior of Australia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Ghan is at once a luxury railway train and a 3000 kilometre railway journey that meanders from the fertile Adelaide countryside through the rusty red hues of Central Australia to the tropical splendour of the Top End.

The railway line began its colourful life as the Northern Railway in 1878, at the height of a national railway boom, in the hope of developing the pastoral and mining potential of the Australian interior. Soon becoming known affectionately as The Ghan, by 1891 the line reached from Port Augusta to the outback town of Oodnadatta in northern South Australia. Oodnadatta remained the end of the line for the next forty years.

In 1895, in an effort to advance construction of the line, it was stated that “the interior was not all desert, but had extensive areas of good land fit for cultivation and a variety of tropical products”. The line was finally extended to the Central Australian town of Alice Springs in 1929, and remained there until 2003 when a major project to extend the line through to the Northern Territory capital, Darwin, was completed.

Until 1929, almost all goods to Alice Springs were transported by camel trains driven by Afghan tribesmen adept at handling these hardy ‘ships of the desert’. The camel trains would meet the train at the railhead in Oodnadatta and carry goods ranging from pianos, motors, and furniture to food supplies, mail, newspapers and clothing on to Alice Springs. The arrival of the camel trains was always a time of great excitement. The camels remained a viable means of transport in Central Australia for so long because the development of motor transport was hindered by a lack of well formed roads and the reliable availability of fuel supplies.

Part of the Ghan’s legendary reputation derives from the many mishaps which occurred during the early years of its operation. The 1520 km journey from Adelaide to Alice Springs passed through some of the driest and most difficult country on earth. Normally dry rivers would frequently flood after a downpour and run several kilometres wide, sweeping railway tracks, bridges and other infrastructure away in their path. Sometimes the train would not arrive for weeks or even months. At one point during the 1970’s the Ghan was not sighted in Alice Springs for 3 months and essential supplies had to be flown into the town daily.

By 1980 the Ghan’s route had been relocated a considerable distance to the west, and the line upgraded from narrow gauge to the wider Australian standard gauge. In the process, many new bridges and earth works were completed, and the Ghan’s reputation for unreliability became history.

Today the modern Ghan is a world-class luxury railway and renowned attraction for travellers wishing to experience the real Australia in comfort. The 3000 km journey from Adelaide to Darwin via Alice Springs takes two days, and passes through just three other towns of any size, Port Augusta in South Australia and Tennant Creek and Katherine in the Northern Territory.

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