The Masada Fortress.

Finally, after years of dreaming, I got the chance to visit!

Masada is the name of a ruined ancient fortress on the top of a 450 m mountain on the Israeli shore of the Dead Sea. It is notorious for a legend of the mass suicide of a thousand of Jews hiding there from Roman troops. After the Jewish revolt against Rome (1st century AD), was suppressed and Jerusalem fell into Roman hands, a group of surviving rebels settled in the fortress together with their families. The Romans besieged Masada but failed to capture it protected by forbidding vertical cliffs. Besides, the food and water supply seemed set to last for years. In the end, the Romans made a huge embankment in the lowest part of those fortifying cliffs, rolled in a battering ram and broke through a wall. Having realized the hopelessness of the situation, the besieged Jews chose death instead of slavery.

According to legend, a dozen warriors were selected and charged with slaughtering the others – including women and children – before destroyed food supplies and burning down the wooden buildings. Amid the carnage, they drew lots and one was left to stab his comrades in arms and, finally, himself (thereby committing a great sin). That’s how the story goes, and the evidence suggests it’s true. At least the remains of the fortress and embankment remain to the present day, adding weight to the story. Archeologists have even found earthen bowls with names – maybe these were the very vessels used to choose which warrior would be left to slay his comrades and finally himself. For the rest of the story see here.

Masada

More: A legend or a history? …

Rome On The Run.

It’s years since I’ve had a tourist trip to Rome. I visit the Eternal City on business from time to time, but as a tourist … it’s been five, maybe eight years since I last had the chance. That’s why, having got a free day today, I decided to embark on a whistle-stop tour to stimulate my mind and stir my emotions, without wiping myself out in the process. I’d recommend it to anyone who doesn’t mind spending six or eight hours on the go, always on their feet apart from a quick bite for lunch …

More: Rome On The Run.. . .

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Tuscan Melodies.

Rides come in all sorts of different shapes and sizes. On water skis, under sail, on horses, bikes, motorbikes, rollerblades… But for some reason what really gets my heart pumping are rides of the very fast kind in motor cars. And here I am – at the stage of the season of the Ferrari Challenge. Italy, Tuscany, the Mugello Circuit.

Ferrari Challenge? Let me give you a quick guide. It’s something between the German autobahns and Formula-1, and everyone’s in a Ferrari F458 Italia. This is what it looks like:

Ferrari F458 Italia

More: The roar of the Ferrari engines in Ferrari chassis …

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Euro-Volcano.

There are hardly active volcanoes in Europe; well, not including those unpronounceable ones in Iceland, that is. Mainland European volcanoes are to be found only in Santorini in Greece and in Italy. And it’s of course Mount Etna that’s the champion in terms of height (but not necessarily on other attributes – Santorini is much more colorful and generally far more impressive to look at).

So, Mount Etna. It’s only a few hours from any point in Europe, so if any Europeans reading this still haven’t been to a real smoking volcano, Mount Etna’s for you for your first volcano visit. It’s always advisable to wait for the next eruption to ensure the experience is a maximally intense Magical Mystery Tour, but here eruptions are real frequent – so you shouldn’t have too long to wait. So off you pop – to Sicily!

The one con: they don’t let you get to the very top! Eh, what’s that all about? What a let-down! The wide area around the peak’s surrounded by a white rope barrier and you’re not allowed to cross it, so taking in the breathtaking fantastical landscapes here is possible only from a cordoned-off tourist viewing area well below the summit.

There’s an attendant pro though: it’s possible to step over or go around the “barrier”, and no one seems to keep watch so you can get away with it! Naughty!

Mount Etna

More: volcanic caves and Godfather background …

A Great Ocean Road Trip.

G’day!

The Great Ocean Road, Australia. I can now say I’ve been there, traveled that, got the… confirmation: it’s another must-see place in the world. And +1 to my list…

Great Ocean Road

So just what is the Great Ocean Road? Surprisingly, it’s a road. It’s also great, as in both great – super, and great – long; and it mostly hugs the ocean shore. It was built in the early part of the last century along a stretch of the craggy coast of the southeastern Australian state of Victoria. It’s rich in heritage, incredibly curvy, and offers breathtaking views from the road itself and also just off it a little inland – you just need to leave the road a hundred meters or so to get extra special views at the right, marked places.

More: a two-way trip…

A 16-Hour Flight, and a Day that Never Was.

Flight Plan Map

Yesterday I set myself a personal record – my longest plane journey: 8575 miles, in just under 16 hours. The route we took is the third longest in the world at the moment, but bizarrely enough it doesn’t make the top-ten longest in terms of time taken to fly. It’s probably due to the wind over the Pacific Ocean assisting the plane and saving time (and kerosene). Info on the longest air routes in the world is here.

More: From Paradise Island to Surfers Paradise …

The UK’s PR Disaster: Heathrow.

In Geneva we’d been told all sorts of horror stories about London’s Heathrow Airport recently having been turned into a nightmare of delays, huge lines and other horridness you’d normally expect from some backward banana republic, not the UK. Strange, I thought – just last week I was in England and all was OK at its main airport. Now? There’s just one word to describe it: chaos. Lines for both security and passport control were two hours long, and we hear they can get even longer. It’s so bad it resembles the hellhole that is New York’s JFK, or Moscow’s Sheremetevo about ten years back.

We were lucky – we weren’t heading for the UK. We were just connecting there. Thank goodness. Otherwise we’d have had to have joined in the fun. So here’s a warning to anyone going to the UK soon: be prepared. Make sure you’ve plenty to read, listen to, and/or watch on-the-go! I can’t imagine what’s going to happen here later this year when the Olympics start… I think getting to France first might be the best option – and coming through the Channel Tunnel!

More: It’s always sunny in… Geneva

Twice Around the World in 50 Days.

Bonjour, mes amis!

Over the next two months (a dozen days under, to be more precise), I’ll be on a non-stop ultramarathon-esque “avia-run” that’ll take me twice around the planet. In all it’ll take in around ten countries in four continents. Looking at our flight/event schedule, even I – the experienced on-the-roader that I am – got a bit overwhelmed/fearful for a few brief moments; but this quickly transformed into excitement (I’m like that) about this monster tour. I’ll be in every continent besides Africa, South America and Antarctica (the latter – the biggest shame to miss out; oh how I want to get back there!).

My route is as follows: Russia – Switzerland – Bahamas – Australia – Italy – Israel – UK – USA – China – Germany – Belgium – Russia. The airlines are already rubbing their hands with glee :) And I’m edging closer to my millionth air mile with Sky Team. I need to get there soon though, as T.T. is threatening starting using a private jet for these extended jaunts – and those miles of course wouldn’t go towards my million with the Sky Team :)

The KL guys and/or gals I go with on these lengthy forays understandably have a tough time keeping up with such intensity and tempo, so somewhere along the way I usually switch them round – kind of a support-rotation – so that it’s not too overwhelming and exhausting for them (T.T., peering over my shoulder while I’m writing this, interjects here: “and we need them alert, or not at all!!”).

The first time round the globe I’ll be doing with K.A. (who’s that? It’ll come to light soon). This is her first go at a month of constantly changing time zones, climates, airlines, hotels, and food and drink, plus impression overload. She’ll be fine. She’s a real trooper.

Right now we’re in Geneva – the our first stop on our trip. Here’s the view from the office where we had a very important meeting with some very important folks:

Geneva

More: The nice people around…

Shanghai – Slow Trains, Fast Cars.

Ni hao, all!

Shanghai – what a place. It’s really quite something. I mean in terms of its size (massive), the quantity of skyscrapers (plenty), the size of two of its airports (huge), and the number of stack interchanges and double-decker highways that crisscross the city (it contains probably several hundred miles of eight-lane roads – incredible). Blade Runner-esque Tokyo – move over! But I’m never lucky with the weather when I visit. This time Shanghai was once again covered with a haze so thick I could only see a few miles into the distance.

Tokyo

More: Maglev experience and F1 Shanghai-style