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A journey from Heydarabad to Alinjagala Fortress

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Vasif Talibov, the leader of Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic (Azerbaijan), has shown to the world a deep commitment towards strengthening his country’s response to the threat of climate change, enhanced urban development, revamped sustainable tourism industry and promoted reforestation projects throughout the regions of Nakhchivan. The architects of the Paris Agreement and international community in general ought to pay a greater attention to the remarkable accomplishments that were proudly implemented by Chairman Vasif Talibov, who has made Nakhchivan, the westernmost province of Azerbaijan, become as developed as any western European country.  Over the last decade, Chairman Talibov has radically transformed the renewable energy production matrix of Nakhchivan, a region that has the world’s highest number of hydroelectric power plants per square kilometer, making this territory of Azerbaijan home of seven hydroelectric dams, one solar power plant and one gas turbine. Furthermore, the city of Heydarabad, only a few meters away from the border with Armenia and a hundred yards away from a desolate precarious Armenian village, is testimony to a perfect urban setting with paved roads, where a brand new middle school, health care center and a city hall make it an attractive tourist destination.

Vasif Talibov

Additionally, foreign visitors will appreciate a prosperous city with all amenities on the Azerbaijani side and on the Armenian side there is a terribly poor community with houses built out of adobe or mud bricks; indeed it appears to be an abandoned village that is artificially implanted by Yerevan’s fascist regime.

On November 23rd, 2017, as I was traveling from Nakhchivan city to Shahrur region, it is remarkable to observe the overwhelming reforestation campaigns organized by the Government of Nakhchivan on both sides of a widely paved highway, a project that had involved civil society leaders, Nakhchivan State University students and faculty and members of the Azerbaijani Armed Forces.

Chairman Talibov’s vision and dynamic leadership has encompassed another sector that is very important to Azerbaijan’s national economy, tourism infrastructure and restoration of historical, archaeological sites have proved to be vital in the promotion of the Autonomous Republic of Nakhchivan across the world. The Alinja – Gala Fortress is an emblematic monument that has attracted thousands of tourists and rushed forward as a symbol of Chairman Vasif Talibov’s pragmatic leadership in restoring historical monuments and bolstering the tourism industry at a time when Autonomous Republic of Nakhchivan has been selected as the world’s capital city of Islamic culture.

Merely located one hour away from Nakhchivan city, Alinja – Gala fortress, a masterpiece of Chairman Vasif Talibov’s vision, is a genuine tourist destination and a cultural monument that is equally a brilliant engineering innovation established at the top of a rock on the VI century.  The fortifications crowning its defense system are at an altitude of 1,800 meters.  Indeed, in Azerbaijan there are other fortresses built at a greater height but they cannot be compared to Alinja – Gala fortress. The combination of natural obstacles and the art of fortification, make this structure impossible to conquer by force.

Up to fifty buildings have been located at the top: barracks, warehouses, and a prison for highly dangerous criminals, a bathhouse, stables, bakeries, a mint house, an extensive arsenal, the treasury and the ruler’s palace.  Many leaders have deposited their treasures in this fortress; including the great Atabeys of Azerbaijan, the Ildenizids, the Khulaguids and the Jelairids.  At that time it was hard to find a safer place than Alinja – Gala, the quantity of treasures deposited in Alinja-Gala can be ascertained from the fact that when a ruler from the Chobanid dynasty, Malik Ashraf, wanted to retrieve them out of the fortress, he needed 1,000 camels and 400 mules to transport his wealth.

The Eagle’s nest, in the fatherland of Mammad Araz Ibrahimov – a Nakhchivani poet – has only two mountain paths leading to the fortress.  On the eastern slope its narrow path, on which only two people could climb, was blocked by three walls and on the western side – by eight walls.  Each had a height of up to nine meters and was made not of brittle bricks, but of large stones.  There was no point in trying to destroy this structure with a ram or medieval cannons.  Moreover, watchtowers, and signal stations where built on the roads leading to the citadel, and on the slopes, there were small shelters for two to three arches at a distance of 20-25 feet from one another.  In general, in Alinja – Gala, every inch of land could be taken only at the cost of the invaders’ lives.

It is imperative to note that Alinja – Gala fortress is located at the helm of a steep mountain that would immediately bring to a total exhaustion every warrior equipped with an armored uniform, therefore becoming an easy target to the arrows of over 600 defenders of the fortress.

Such a historical monument epitomizes the best that Autonomous Republic of Nakhchivan has to offer to international history buffs and to an audience that is eager to appreciate early medieval cultural monuments that are meticulously restored and easily accessible. Alinja – Gala Fortress is a signature piece of restoration led by Chairman Vasif Talibov, a transparent, effective elected official that has made Nakhchivan one of the top destinations in Europe.

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Beyond the Liberty Bell: Exploring Western Philly

MD Staff

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A visit to Philadelphia is sure to be steeped in American history and culture. It doesn’t get more American than the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, where the Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776. And it doesn’t get more authentically Philly than cheesesteaks at competing Geno’s Steaks and Pat’s King Of Steaks, and the oldest farmers market in the country, Reading Terminal Market. But, when you’ve been there, done that, what else can you explore?

Philadelphia neighborhoods beckon the savvy traveler who can, by slowing down, get a glimpse of what it’s like to live here, to exhale and experience the heart and soul of a great American city. One neighborhood that’s not on the radar of many travelers, but should be, is West Philadelphia, or West Philly as it is commonly known, with University City as its bustling heartbeat. Aptly named — the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University are located here — the area buzzes with youthful exuberance. The diverse, worldwide student population brings the magic of different languages, dialects and customs to the area.

Strolling along the bustling sidewalks, visitors will find a foodie’s dream with a vibrant street-food scene, high-end, locally owned restaurants and everything in between. Historic sites and museums are everywhere, with some pop culture icons as well, and the parks add a touch of green to the cobblestone and brick.

Here are some gems of West Philly not to be missed:

* The Penn Museum will take you back to ancient times in faraway places and other lands. You’ll find jewelry from Ethiopia, Mayan sculptures, an Egyptian tomb, the Granite Sphinx of Ramses and new Middle East galleries. After you’ve seen the amazing American History of Philadelphia, the Penn Museum gives you the world.

* World Cafe Live is a multi-level venue devoted to music and good food. Take a seat upstairs at the chic Upstairs Live Cafe, where you can get late-night food and drinks along with an eclectic array of live music (they don’t call it World Cafe Live for nothing!). Downstairs Live is a larger concert venue, hosting nationally known artists. It’s also the home of WXPN radio, which broadcasts a show of the same name.

* The Study at University City is a local gem for guests who believe the right hotel can enhance and elevate an already wonderful trip into the stratosphere. This is not a cookie-cutter chain, but a boutique that features local artwork in an onsite gallery; hand-blown glass light fixtures (locally made); display cases with artifacts of the city’s past; and its lobby, dubbed the Living Room, a vibrant and dynamic core of the hotel, a gathering place for guests to feel at home.

* Schuylkill River Trail meanders along some 30 miles of the Schuylkill river, and is a favorite of bicyclists, walkers, runners and families. Enjoy the green space along the riverfront, or use it as your way to and from the Philadelphia Museum of Art and other area attractions. If you really want to get your exercise and American history on, you can pick up the trail in West Philly and take it all the way to Valley Forge National Historical Park.

* The multitude of cuisines in the West Philly neighborhood is reflective of the diversity of the student population. A true foodie destination that’s a bit off the beaten path, you’ll find African, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and Indian spots with daring fusions of flavors; upscale, chef-driven restaurants; and down-home Philly goodness. Highly recommended from the city’s foodie community: Marigold Kitchen (its gin-marinated venison gets rave reviews), Aksum, which blends Mediterranean and North African cuisine; and Dock Street Brewing (Philly’s first microbrewery) for all-American bar food, burgers and of course, beer.

For other insider tips on exploring West Philly, contact the knowledgeable staff at The Study at University City. They’ll make sure you get the most out of your visit to the neighborhood.

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The Bern Old Town: Shopping and cultural experiences of a special kind

MD Staff

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The Bernese love laid-back, hour-long shopping trips – and will do so in any weather. Thanks to the longest weather-protected stretch of shopping promenade in Europe, this is in fact quite feasible. The arcades are admirably suited for a jaunty stroll among the historic city scenery.

It is in the Bernese Old Town in particular where one can be witness to the unique historical ambiance and combine shopping with a journey through time into the past.

The Kramgasse forms the centerpiece of the Bern Old Town. This alley was once Bern’s busiest trade route for marketers and shopkeepers who loudly advertised and sold their goods here, and swapped the latest news. The six kilometer long series of arcades form a distinctive feature of the Old Town. The history of this arcade passage reaches back to the earliest city development (1191), and even then served to accommodate market stalls and businesses. Traders could thus trade and earn their living in any weather.

The Bernese also demonstrated their practical sense in putting the nether regions to good use. They built vaulted cellars under every house in order to be able to store their goods. Nowadays, entirely different treasures are hidden in these cellars. Descend the steep stone steps, and find yourself in a different world. The underground reveals trendy and traditional bars, clubs, theatres, cellar cinemas and special fashion shops. There’s no other place that offers such historic settings for a shopping excursion!

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Destination Langkawi: Beyond the Beaches

MD Staff

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With 550-million years of geological history and generations of mythical folklore, there is always something new for guests of Four Seasons Resort Langkawi to uncover on the island.

A paradise of panoramas, the Langkawi archipelago is an amalgam of mangroves and mountains, rainforests and rivers, wildlife and waterfalls, legends and local charm, tidal flats and coral reefs, cliffs and caves. Whether appreciated from the vantage point of a bike, kayak, boat, cable car, sky-bridge or simply on foot, the islands’ thrilling topography ensures a truly breathtaking backdrop for myriad magical and memorable encounters.

Water Worlds

Beyond the beaches, water sports and diving, Langkawi offers visitors rainforests, mangrove “sea forests,” cascading waterfalls, hidden lakes and glistening paddy fields to explore.

Outdoor enthusiasts will be spoiled for choice.  The uninhabited islet of Pulau Langgun offers an exhilarating rainforest immersion and lush wilderness trek to the hidden sanctuary of Tasik Langgun, a large freshwater lake.  Build an appetite biking through paddy fields to Durian Perangin Waterfall – 14-tiers of clear cascading water – perfect for a refreshing dip and picnic.  Or visit the island’s tallest waterfall, Temurun (30 metres or 98 feet), for another scenic natural swimming pool.

A mangrove kayak get guests unobtrusively close to the magic and mystery of forests that straddle land and sea. Traverse small, dense tributaries and follow the natural ebb and flow of this fascinating ecosystem to uncover hidden delights behind each corner. Alternatively, take a coastal kayak along the emerald seascapes of Langkawi’s less explored eastern rim, and paddle through a 15 metre (49 foot) cave tunnel for an unforgettable swim in a salt-water lake.

Mineral and Mystical  

Steeped in geological heritage, Langkawi has some of the world’s oldest and most intriguing naturally formed gems.  Shaped by plate tectonics, volcanic activity, ocean submersion and erosion, Langkawi’s many rock formations have evolved over millennia into exciting natural habitats, many animated by fantastical folklores and legends.

Adrenalin seekers can heed the call of the ancient limestone cliffs for an afternoon of rock-climbing and abseiling within the Resort’s grounds. Just a short distance away, the Langkawi Sky Bridge – suspended 700 metres (2,300 feet) above sea level and accessed via the world’s steepest cable car – offers an up close experience of Malaysia’s oldest rocks (the Machinchang Formation), not to mention far-reaching views extending to southern Thailand.

Fuel for the imagination, Langkawi’s craggy coastline of hidden coves, sunken caves and majestic peaks is straight out of a fairytale and sets the scene for a magical adventure. The intriguing Gua Cerita (Cave of Legends) is the mythical home of a giant phoenix, a captive princess and a deadly giantess. Tasik Dayang Bunting (Lake of the Pregnant Lady) was formed when a huge limestone cave collapsed, resulting in a figure resembling a pregnant woman lying on her back. Locals believe that the lake, famed for the legend of celestial princess Mambang Sari, possesses mystical powers.

Back at the Resort, Spa devotees will be entranced by the element-based offerings at the Geo Spa, where the ancient healing energies of the Geopark meet bespoke natural treatments by ila.

Wildlife and Local Life

A bird watcher’s paradise – the open rainforest corridor, mist-covered Gunung Raya peak, and local village ponds provide the opportunity for ornithologists to tick a fair few flying friends off their must see list. Langkawi is home to approximately 200 species including: flower peckers, hills mynas, dollar birds, sun birds, eagles, woodpeckers, lesser whistling-ducks, little egrets, Chinese pond herons, striated swallows and the largest of them all, the great hornbill, measuring in at 1.3 metres (more than 4 feet).

Animal lovers will not want to miss the mangrove boat safari into the Kilim Karst Geoforest Park and its maze of meandering mangroves for exciting up-close encounters with majestic eagles and kites, mischievous macaques, fish that walk (mudskippers), colourful fiddler crabs, shy otters and sleeping bats.

Cultural connoisseurs will be enthralled by the Malaysian book village of Kampung Buku and the bucolic beauty of stilted wooden houses in local villages. A visit to the fishermen’s village of Kuala Teriang enables visitors to quietly observe fisherfolk return with their day’s catch, or sample delicious deep-fried banana fritters with local milk tea at wooden roadside stalls. Back at the Resort, relish local spices and ingredients during a Malay-cuisine cooking class – available as both adult and child-size experiences.

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