California USA


The Land
The Golden State, California takes its name from a make-believe island filled with gold in a Spanish novel.California is located on the along the Pacific Coast and is bordered by Nevada on the east, Arizona (southeast), Mexico (south), Pacific Ocean (west), and Oregon (north).
At 158,648 square miles, California is the 3rd largest state. The highest elevation is Mt. Whitney in Inyo-Tulare County at 14,494 feet. The lowest elevation is Death Valley in Inyo County at -282 feet below sea level (lowest elevation in the United States).Entertainment and Tourism. Hollywood has long been the world capital of motion-picture and television film production, in turn drawing numerous tourists. Other popular California tourist attractions include Disneyland, Sea World, the San Diego Zoo and other theme parks, San Francisco, Tijuana (just across the Mexican border from San Diego), and California's spectacular national parks and miles of beautiful beaches.With mountains to the east and deserts to the south, California has the best of all worlds. You can Snow Ski in mountains then drive less then two hours and be in soaring high temperatures all in the same day.The highest temperature recorded was 134° while the lowest was -45°.National Parks & Monuments include Channel Islands, Death Valley, Joshua Tree, Kings Canyon, Lassen Volcanic, Mojave, Redwood, Sequoia, Yosemite, Cabrillo, Devil's Postpile, Lava Beds, Muir Woods, Pinnacles.
The History
Spain claimed and occupied California in the interest of increasing Spanish and Catholic influence. The Spanish colonization was highly authoritarian and subject to all the inefficiencies of centralized planning. To their credit, the Spanish envisioned the native population as playing an important role as Catholic citizens, but the mission/presidio system failed to adopt the Indians to this role and failed to attract a sufficient number of Spanish settlers. When Mexico fought and obtained independence, California lost virtually all its centralized support. As members of an isolated community, Californians spent three decades in political confusion (at one point, a Californian-based republic was declared). The richest families turned to the one industry guaranteed to earn a comfortable living -- selling hides and tallow generated from the virtually free cattle that roamed vast ranchos. In an attempt to increase the non-Indian population, foreigners of all types were admitted.Soon a sizable minority of Yankees grew, dominating the merchant class and entering into important positions in the political and social structure. The defense of California, completely neglected by Mexico and lacking support from unstable California administrations, led to the unusual condition where any of several world powers could have easily occupied California. In point of fact, the Yankee residents themselves were the first to do it, in the Bear Flag revolt of June 1846. Just one month after, due to the Mexican-American war that in turn stemmed from the Yankee takeover of Texas, the American Navy took control of California without firing a shot.Most Californians were resigned to inevitable Yankee rule, though a revolt at Los Angeles led to a pocket of Californian resistance lasting from September 1846 to January 1847. California was officially made a territory with the end of the Mexican-American war February 2, 1848, nine days before gold was discovered at Sutter's Mill.Through some local PR efforts, and support in late 1848 from President Polk himself, a gold mania swept the States and the world resulting in the remarkable 49er migration. The population soared, quickly (and brutally) overwhelming the Californian and Indians. Political leaders seized the moment to obtain a constitution and voter's ratification by November 1849, with recognition by the U.S. congress in October 1850.Meanwhile, the great influx of miners was redirected to farming, trade, and business. The beauty, richness, and climate of California -- as well as a lack of options for bankrupt miners -- kept the population here long after the gold mania died down. The State of California, a chaotic mix of ethnicity’s and incomes, hopes and cynicism, was born. During World War II, U.S. citizens of Japanese descent were rounded up and confined in internment camps. Though the government claimed it was necessary for security reasons, the effort was driven largely by greed. While the Japanese Americans were locked up, their farms were sold to white farmers. Today, thousands of Mexicans contribute to the seasonal migrant labor hired to gather and pack crops.
The People
Not all Californian's have cement pools or are movie stars but with a State population that just exceeds the entire population of Canada, California has the largest percentage of millionaires in the U.S.More immigrants settle in California than any other state, more than one third of the nation's total in 1994. The most numerous group of immigrants are Asians and Pacific Islanders, though many Mexicans emigrate to California, either legally or by illegally crossing the border between California and Texas. Whites remain the largest ethnic group but, for the first time, no longer constitute the majority. Hispanics make up one third of the population in California, which also saw a boom in Asian immigration.The 2000 census put California's population at 33,871,648. The State Capital is Sacramento, other major cities or towns include Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose, San Francisco, Long Beach, Fresno, Oakland, Santa Ana, Anaheim.

Alaska USA


The Land
The Great Land, The Last Frontier, Land of the Midnight Sun; once called Seward’s Folly and Seward’s Icebox, Alaska takes it name from a Aleut word meaning 'great land' or 'that which the sea breaks against'.Alaska is located in the Northwest of North America; the northernmost and westernmost state and is bordered by the Canada's Yukon Territory and British Columbia (east). The Gulf of Alaska and Pacific Ocean (south), Bering Sea, Bering Strait, and Chukchi Sea (west), and Beaufort Sea and Arctic Ocean (north) surround the remaining land mass.
At 656,424 square miles Alaska is the largest state. The highest elevation is Denali (Mt. McKinley) 20,320 feet. The lowest elevation is sea level.Alaskan weather is greatly influenced by extremes in daylight. At Barrow, on the Arctic Coast, the sun is not seen from late November until late January. In summer, when Alaska is 'the land of the midnight sun', Barrow residents enjoy continuous daylight from early May to early August. The state’s highest temperature was recorded north of the Arctic Circle, in Yukon Flats, where standing water slowly cooks during the long summer days. The record lowest temperature, taken at Prospect Creek, is the lowest in the United States but not in North America.The highest temperature recorded was 90° while the lowest temperature on record in the United States, -79.8 degrees was observed at Prospect Creek Camp in the Endicott Mountains of northern Alaska on Jan. 23, 1971.National Parks & Monuments include the Bering Land Bridge, Denali, Gates of the Arctic, Glacier Bay, Katmai, Kenai Fjords, Kobuk Valley, Lake Clark, Noatak , Wrangell-St. Elias, Yukon-Charley Rivers, Admiralty Island, Aniakchak, Cape Krusenstern, Misty Fjords.
The History
In 1725 Peter the Great sent Vitus Bering to explore the North Pacific and in 1728 his ship sailed through the Bering Strait. By 1741, first the Europeans, Vitus Bering, a Dane working for the Russians, and Alexei Chirikov discovered the Alaskan mainland.Spanish explorer Juan Perez discovers Prince of Wales Island in Dixon Sound in 1774 and between 1776 and 1778 Captain James Cook (Britain) reaches King Island, Norton Sound, Unalaska. From 1784 through 1799, Russia establishes settlements at Three Saints Bay, Kodiak. Catherine II grants a monopoly of fur trade in Alaska to Grigorii Shelikov and a trade post is built at Old Sitka, Three years later, Indians massacre Russians at Old Sitka; only a few survive.By 1804 Russians return to Sitka and attacked the Kiksadi fort on Indian River. Russians lose the battle, but the Natives were forced to flee. A Russian Orthodox diocese was formed in 1840 and Bishop Innokenty Venianminov given permission to use Native languages in the liturgy. By 1847, Fort Yukon was established.In 1853 Russian fur trappers had found oil seeps in the Cook Inlet and Coal mining began in 1857 at Coal Harbor on the Kenai Peninsula. The sale of Alaska to the U.S. by Russia begins in 1859, two years later Gold is discovered on the Stikine River near Telegraph Creek (the Gold rush is still many years away).The Land Purchase to the U.S. Sale ($7,200,000) is finalized in 1867.Gold discovered in 1872 near Sitka and in British Columbia (Cassiar) and again in 1876 south of Juneau at Windham Bay, Gastineau Channel (1880) and Mastadon Creek (1894).Dawson City is founded in 1896 at mouth of Klondike River. Skookum Jim, a Tagish Native, first discovers gold in Rabbit Creek and another major gold discovery is unearthed at Bonanza Creek.The next three year (1897-1900) sees the great Klondike Gold Rush.By 1914, surveying begins for the Alaska Railroad, City of Anchorage is born as a construction campsite. Fort Richardson is established in 1940; construction begins on Elmendorf Air Force Base, two years later Japan bombs Dutch harbor and invades the Aleutians. Oil well drilled in 1953 near Eureka on Glenn Highway marks the beginning of Alaska's modern oil history.Natural and man-made disasters plagued Alaska through most of the 1960's and 70's starting with the devastating Good Friday Earthquake in 1964 then the Fairbanks Flood in 1967. The Trans-Alaska Pipeline completed from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez in 1977, eleven years later (1989) The Exxon Valdez, a 987-foot oil tanker carrying 53 million gallons of North Slope crude, grounds on Bligh Reef spilling 11 million gallons into Prince William Sound.The Alaskan Territory became the 49th State to Unite under America on January 3, 1959.
The People
The first Europeans visited Alaska in search of furs and whales and built few communities. The gold rush of 1898 swelled Alaska’s population by about 30,000, and later gold rushes drew more people. More people arrived during World War II, when military bases were constructed and Alaska was linked to the Lower 48 states by the Alcan Highway. The construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline in 1975-1977 boosted the economy, and the population increased by 37.3% between 1980 and 1990.Today, there are five distinct Native groups in Alaska: The Northwest Coast Indian, Inupiaqs, Yupiks, Aleuts and Athabascan. Native peoples remain strong in Alaska. In 1992, Natives comprised 16 percent of the state’s population. The 1997 census put Alaska's population at 609,311. The State Capital is Juneau. other major cities or towns include Anchorage, Fairbanks, Sitka, Ketchikan, Kenai, Kodiak, Bethel, Wasilla, and Homer.

Japan Holidays

Events and Holidays

Though Japan has often been criticized for throwing itself headlong into the 21st century at the expense of its culture and tradition, one thing is certain—in Japan holidays remain a vital cultural component. Though often obscured by the ubiquitous neon of downtown Tokyo and the proliferation of fast food restaurants, centuries-old festivals and more contemporary Japan holidays are observed and enjoyed throughout the year. To witness and participate in these ancient rituals is an opportunity that makes a trip to Japan all the more worthwhile. A highlight of the calendar of Japan holidays, then, is a helpful tool to any traveler planning a trip to the land of the rising sun.

Japanese festivals, or matsuri, seem to be happening at any given time in Tokyo and Kyoto. The New Year festival begins at the stroke of midnight on the 31st of December when every temple bell throughout the country begins to toll. The bells toll a total of 108 times to represent the 108 evil human passions. The New Year bell ringing ritual is known as Joya no Kane, and the public at large can be seen in their finest kimono, paying respects and actually striking the temple bells.

After the New Year holiday, Golden Week is the next major festival. A celebration of the arrival of spring, Golden Week begins on April 29 and usually stretches until the middle of May. In Kyoto, you can watch as local geisha in traditional costume perform ritual dances at the Gion Kobu Kaburenjo theatre in Gion. Kyoto also hosts many lively blossom viewing parties during Golden Week. Indeed, the true attractions of this festival are the myriad cherry, azalea, and rhododendron blossoms that shower both city sidewalks and the countryside.

The festival of Obon punctuates the mid August heat. One of the most ancient of Asian holidays, Obon is the time when spirits of the dead revisit the world of the living to drink some sake, tell a few stories, and generally enjoy the earthly comforts they can’t access in the afterlife. During Obon, Japanese citizens usually return to their hometowns to clean up grave sites and offer prayers to the souls of their departed ancestors. Like many Asian holidays, Obon is a week-long affair lasting from August 13 to 19. For travelers visiting Japan, the highlight of the festival occurs when lamps and fires are lit by families to guide the spirits of their departed ancestors during their earthly sojourn.

Near the Kiyomizu-dera (once an ancient burial site) in Kyoto, thousands of these paper lanterns are strung by gravestones, and the grounds remain open to visitors throughout the night. The festival’s finale occurs on the 16th of August at 8 pm when the dead are sent back to the other world with the light of immense bonfires in the shape of Chinese characters burning from each of Kyoto’s five hills. As far as Japanese festivals go, Obon is an amazing display and one of the most awe inspiring and spiritual of all Asian holidays.

Japanese festivals continue throughout the autumn months in the rural areas when many city dwellers head to the country side to admire the fall multicolored foliage. Also worth seeing in November is the annual Grand Tea Ceremony at the Kitano Tenman-gu Shrine in Kyoto. Perhaps the most precise of Japanese festivals, the ceremony is conducted by venerable tea masters in memory of an honored shogun who first conducted such a ceremony at the spot in 1587.

Kansai District

Kansai District

The Kansai district is arguably Japan's most historic region and home to both the Himeji Castle—a UNESCO World Heritage Site—and Ise Shima National park, the most prominent ocean park of Japan and a major source of cultured pearls. The Kansai district encompasses seven of Japan's 47 prefectures, and includes the important port cities of Kobe and Osaka. Also within the Kansai District is Japan's former capital, the cultural and architectural wonder, Kyoto. Travel to the Kansai district became easier when the Kansai International Airport outside Osaka was opened in 1994. Today, many tourists visiting the Himeji Castle and Ise Shima National Park bypass Tokyo altogether, and head straight for the cultural heart of Japan.


A city of half a million, Himeji is only an hour's train ride from Osaka and Kyoto. The city is most famous for its magnificent castle. Comprising 83 buildings with ingenious protection devices dating from the beginning of the Shogun Period, the large, fortified Himeji Castle was a response to the advent of modern firearms. Throughout Japan only about a dozen of these large-scale Medieval castles exist, and of these Himeji is the finest example. Not only is the Himeji Castle an impregnable structure, but its white plastered walls and elegantly layered roofs are aesthetically pleasing as well. From a distance the Castle seems to float above the town like a cloud or cap of snow. And despite sustained aerial bombardment of the city in WWII, Himeji remained unscathed and today is a United Nations World Heritage Site. The Castle is a fifteen minute walk from Himeji's central shinkansen (bullet train) station.

Ise Shima National Park

Overlooking the beautiful islands of Toba Bay, the Ise Shima National Park is a perfect place to fly kites on the long stretches of beach, check into a quaint bed and breakfast, or, in the summer months, swim and sail off the coast. For the more cultured tourist, the Ise Shima National Park is also a pearl lover’s paradise. The region is known mostly for its Mikimoto cultured pearl industry. Pearl Island in Toba Harbor is the site where the first cultured pearl was produced in the beginning of the 20th century. Between Toba and the town of Ise—famous for its many Shinto shrines—is Futamigaura beach. Vacationers are drawn to this rocky coastline to see the famous Wedding Rocks. This pair of relatively inconspicuous rocks is named Izanagi and Izanami; and as male and female they symbolize the “first couple” in traditional Japanese history. Along Futamigaura you can find a number of intimate bed and breakfasts to choose from.

So while the Kansai District has many enticing larger cities, it is the smaller town of Himeji, and the windswept coast of the Ise Shima National Park that beckon tourists seeking a more serene, and more personal side of Japan.

Notre Dame Paris

Notre Dame Paris

Under the auspices of Bishop de Sully, the construction began in 1160 and was completed around 1345. During the construction many events occured such as in 1297, the King Louis IX was canonized as St. Louis, and in 1304, Philip the Fair celebrated his military victory by riding his horse up and down the aisles in the Notre Dame. By the 17th century, it was very fashionable to loathe the Notre Dame.
In the eighteenth century, alot of the medieval glass was removed simply to make the building lighter, and medieval fittings and furniture were often replaced by those in later styles.However, it was not until the French Revolution in 1793, when the Parisiens took a disliking to anything that was "royal" that they destroyed the statues and stripped all "anti-republican" art from inside as well as outside. And, in the following year, the French revolutionary government outlawed religion and Notre Dame was officially renamed as the Temple of Reason.
For some time, the French revolutionary government held propaganda shows in the building.
Yet, it was in 1802, when Napoleon ruled France that he reintroduced Catholicism with a solemn ceremony in the newly rechristened cathedral. Here is where he crowned himself emperor.
"Historical Landmark"
Notre-Dame is now viewed as one of the key defining examples of the style which was to become known as Ile-de-France Gothic, by the early nineteenth century few Parisians valued their medieval past very highly. Interest in the medieval building was largely rekindled by Victor Hugo's novel Notre-Dame de Paris. For twenty years, Viollet-le-Duc worked at Notre-Dame, adding the spire, consolidating the fabric and replacing missing or defaced sculptures.
The Inside
Interior, the immediately striking feature, if you can ignore the noise and movement, is the dramatic contrast between the darkness of the nave and the light falling on the first clustered pillars of the choir, placing an emphasis on the special nature of the sanctuary. Nearly two-thirds glass, it is the end walls of the transepts that admit all this light as well as the two magnificent rose windows coloured in imperial purple. These, the vaulting, the soaring shafts reaching to the springs of the vaults, are all definite Gothic elements, yet, inside as well as outside, there remains a strong sense of Romanesque in the stout round pillars of the nave and the general sense of four-squareness.
"Not to miss"
Before leaving, do not forget to walk round to the public garden at the east end for a view of the flying buttresses supporting the choir, and then along the riverside under the south transept, where you can sit in springtime under the cherry blossom.
And in front of the cathedral, in the square separating Notre Dame from Haussmann's police Headquarters, is what appears to be and smells like the entrance to an underground toilet. In fact, it is a very well-displayed and interesting museum, the crypte archeologique, in which are revealed the remains of the church which predated the cathedral, as well as streets and houses of the Cite dating as far back as the Roman era.
On the pavement by the west door of Notre-Dame is a spot known as kilometre zero. This is where all of the main road distances in France are calculated. For the Ile de la Cite is the symbolic heart of the country, or at least of the France that in the school books fights wars, undergoes revolutions and launches space rockets.