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WOW Traverses Eastern Europe

The magazine tagged along with Guillermo (Will) Martinez of The Vineyards, who traveled throughout Eastern Europe with his parents and sister, who traveled from Mexico City to meet him there. “All of us had been to Europe before so we thought that Eastern Europe would present a unique opportunity to see a different side of the continent,” he explained.

Will took WOW on a three and a half week trip through Hungary, Vienna, the Czech Republic, Poland and Russia before concluding the trip in Amsterdam. “I can tell you for sure that our favorite place was Moscow,” wrote Will, who described Russian food as fantastic. “Not only is the city spectacular, full of history and art, the Russians take great care of their city and are very organized, very clean and they make you feel at home.”

He added, “Red Square is not as big as I imagined, but it is very well preserved. The Kremlin was magnificent.”

From Russia, Will submitted some photos of WOW in front of three impressive Russian Orthodox Cathedrals, two in the Kremlin/Red Square area and one in St. Petersburg.

Located on the north side of Cathedral Square of the Moscow Kremlin is the Cathedral of the Dormition. The Russian Orthodox church, constructed between 1475–1479, was designed by Italian architect Aristotele Fioravanti and built by Moscow Grand Duke Ivan III. Between 1547 and 1896, it was the site of the coronation of Russian tsars, including Ivan the Terrible, the first Russian Tsar. It serves as a burial place for most patriarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church (the eastern equivalent of the Roman Catholic popes) The church is dedicated to the Dormition of the Theotokos, a phrase that refers to the passing of Mary, the mother of Jesus, from her earthly life.

The Cathedral of the Dormition replaced another cathedral, built between 1472 and 1474, after it collapsed during an earthquake, which are quite rare in Moscow. Following the 1917 Russian Revolution creating the Soviet Union, the Russian leadership closed all churches in the Kremlin and the structure was converted to a museum. With the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1990, it resumed periodic church services and was returned to the Russian Orthodox Church in 1991.

Cathedral Square lies within the heart of The Kremlin, the official seat of the Russian government and home of its president. It holds two other cathedrals. The Kremlin, a word that means fortress, is an historic citadel that includes five palaces, four cathedrals and the Kremlin wall along with its towers. The wall forms an irregular triangle encompassing 68 acres.

Red Square lies adjacent to the east side of The Kremlin and is considered Moscow’s main square. The cities’ major roads emanate from the site. The most famous building on Red Square is the colorful and architecturally dramatic St. Basil’s Cathedral, built between 1555–1561 under Ivan the Terrible. Under the Soviet Union’s policy of state atheism, the church was confiscated and turned into a museum in 1928, a status it continues to hold.

Rounding out Will’s trifecta of cathedrals is St. Isaac’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg, Russia. A Byzantine church originally belonging to the Russian Orthodox Church, it was built between 1818 and 1858. Designed by French-born architect Auguste de Montferrand, the church was dedicated by Tsar Alexander I. The cathedral’s main dome, which is 333 feet high and plated with pure gold, dominates the skyline of St. Petersburg. It was painted gray during World War II, however, to make it less conspicuous to passing bombers. It has since returned to its golden glory. After enjoying the cathedral’s breathtaking interior, visitors who climb the steps of the church’s colonnade can also enjoy a magnificent view of the city.

St. Isaac’s Cathedral was confiscated and converted to a museum after the Russian Revolution. While still a museum, it has returned to occasional service as a church during major feast days.

We thank Will Martinez for sharing his trip with WOW!

WOW us With Your Spring Break Trip!

Hillsborough County School District’s Spring Break runs from March 10-14. If you’re heading of state on a fun adventure, be sure to take WOW along for the fun. Send in a photo of you holding WOW (and include a sentence or two identifying where it’s taken) and you can win between $40 to $100.

By Chris Barrett, Publisher

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WOW Tours the Great Cities of Italy

Last July the Gabadage family from The Greens enjoyed a wonderful vacation in Italy.

While WOW’s editor customarily writes this feature, this month’s WOW in the World was written by Gangul and Nimna Gabadage, who, along with their parents, Namal Gabadage and Arosha De Silva, went on the trip.

Take it away, Gangul and Nimna…

Our trip included popular and fascinating tourist destinations in Italy like Rome (Roma), Venice (Venezia), Florence (Firenze) and Pisa. Simply strolling around these historic cities sparked wonderful feelings in all of us.

All the cities, especially Rome, are filled with ancient history and art. We were fortunate to see some major sites in Rome, including the Roman Forum, The Colosseum, the Pantheon, St. Peter’s Square, the Vatican Museum, the Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain.

The Colosseum is one of the world’s greatest structures, featuring great architecture and engineering. It used to be an amphitheater built to accommodate games and gladiator fights. It was amazing to see the remaining passageways and tiered seating areas.

Another interesting work of art was Rome’s Trevi Fountain, a beautiful water fountain with great sculptures, including Neptune, the god of sea. A tradition holds that if you throw a coin into its water, you will be guaranteed to return to Rome. We therefore made sure to follow the tradition.

The Vatican Museum contains the beautiful and famous artwork from artists such as Raphael and Leonardo Da Vinci. We spent most of our visit admiring the sculptures and famous art.

We visited the Leaning Tower of Pisa, about an hour train ride from Florence. This popular tourist destination gets many visitors, who marvel at its unusual leaning.

The Uffizi and Accademia Galleries and Duomo Cathedral make Florence a must-see city. The Uffizi is a gallery featuring the work of famous artists such as Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Botticelli and Raphael. One of the world’s most famous sculptures, Michelangelo’s David, is the reason to visit The Accademia. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take any pictures inside these galleries.

The Ponte Vecchio (the old bridge) is another Florence highlight. Loaded with shops – particularly gold jewelers, it’s the oldest bridge in Florence.

Our Italy trip was worth every second. Even though we saw a lot, there are even more sights in Italy still to see.

Fortunately, we tossed that coin in the fountain.

By Gangul and Nimna Gabadage

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WOW in Wales and Venice

WOW traveled far and wide throughout Europe this past summer.

This month we share two Westchase families’ adventures with their favorite magazine.

Marty and Catherine Hamilton and their children, Erin and Ellis, took a trip to the United Kingdom during summer break. “These photos were taken at White Castle (not the little burger place) and Grosmont Castle in Wales,” explained Marty.

“Wales is home to the remnants of the original ‘Britons,’ Marty wrote. “Owing to its many mountains and valleys where the native inhabitants for centuries fought off/waited out invasions from Romans, Saxons, Vikings, Normans, and finally the English, the Welsh are part of the United Kingdom but have retained a distinct culture.  The ‘British’ living in England were at some point conquered by all of the above.”

Marty went on to explain the origins of the castles the family visited. “The Normans, following their victory over the English at Hastings in 1066, turned to a conquest of Wales over the next 200 years.  Since the always feisty Welsh resented this, the Normans (who excelled in military organization) found it necessary to build lots of castles – very well built, state-of-the-art for the 12th century castles – on the borders of their newly acquired territory.”

Most of the castles, Marty added, are still standing today amidst farms, villages and towns in Wales. “Our favorites are the smaller, more remote castles where we usually are the only ones around and the kids are free to climb on walls and do lots of unsafe things,” he wrote.

Meanwhile Ilaria Venditto and her children, Leonardo and Veronica, headed south to Venice, one of the more popular tourist destinations in Italy. Venice, of course, is famous for its construction on a number of islands at the top of the Adriatic Sea between the Po and Piave Rivers. The entire city is a World Heritage Site.

Prior to the unification of Italy between 1815-1871, Venice was a major maritime power throughout the Middle Ages. The city served as a crucial link between Europe and Asia, serving as the launching site of The Crusades. Venetian wealth, rooted in the trade of Asian silk, spices and grains, helped finance a number of artistic movements, thus sparking the Renaissance throughout Europe. Its modern popularity, rooted in romance, can be credited to its unique location and the fact that its historic architecture emerged unscathed from World War II, which leveled portions of many European cities.

Venice actually sprawls across an archipelago of 117 islands carved with 177 canals which are spanned by 409 bridges. Its historic portion is inhabited by 60,000 Venetians, many of whom make their livings catering to the 50,000 tourists who visit the city daily.

We thank the Hamiltons and the Vendittos for sharing their travels with WOW! Be sure to take the magazine along with you on your adventures outside of Florida in the coming months. If you snap some photos and send us a few sentences about your trip, we’ll thank you by sending you $40-100 if your photos appear here!

By Chris Barrett, Publisher

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From Equator to the Near Arctic

In July, WOW went to extremes, trekking through equatorial jungles and mushing with huskies near the Arctic.

Dawn Spina and Mike Shannon of The Greens kick off this month’s adventures.  In late July the couple enjoyed a 10-day primate safari in Uganda. Uganda is located in central east Africa and neighbors Kenya, Rwanda, Congo and Tanzania.

Wrote Dawn Spina, “Our trip was to celebrate Mike's 50th birthday. We visited three national parks during our journey along the equator. They first one was Kibale National Park, where we tracked chimpanzees through the rain forest. The second stop was Queen Elizabeth National Park, where we had more of a traditional vehicle-based safari and saw lions, many species of antelope, elephants, warthogs, cape buffalo and mongoose. We also had a several hour boat safari where we were able to see herds of hippos, elephants and buffalo (plus a few crocs) bathing and relaxing in the afternoon sun.”

Dawn continued, “The highlight of our trip was a visit to the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, where we tracked mountain gorillas over two days plus had the opportunity to see them in our campsite on two different occasions!”

Dawn and Mike weren’t done with thrilling animals, however. “Upon our arrival back to Westchase, we were greeted by 50 cows for Mike's birthday. All in all, a trip of a lifetime!”

The next stop took WOW to an area of Alaska just outside the Arctic Circle, which will receive significant attention from many Westchase children in coming days. In late July, however, Linda and Joe Odda of Stockbridge took a cruise from Vancouver to Alaska. Though the whole trip had many remarkable experiences, the dog sled run on Mendenhall Glacier was the one they most wanted to share with WOW.

What follows is Joe's recap of the trip:

About 12 miles away from the state capital, Juneau, Mendenhall Glacier is 12 miles long and ranges in depth from 800 -2,400 ft. The weight of this mass of ice is so enormous that the pressure at the lower levels results in two phenomena. The first is that the glacier actually “squeezes out” all colors of the spectrum except for blue; that is why a formally-defined glacier has a light blue color visible at its face. Second, ice is compressed to such a density that it is considered a metamorphic rock and takes a long time to melt. Mendenhall Glacier moves forward several feet every day. It forms Mendenhall Lake as large portions break off at its face. Each year, the entire glacier receives about 100 feet of snow.

On July 28, three helicopters took the wave of dogsled riders for the 12-minute ride from outside Juneau, Alaska to the dog camp. It was unusually warm and sunny at sea level (60s), but when the Oddas landed on the glacier, they were glad to have heavy jackets and boots with cleats. Staff members, however, were in their shirtsleeves. To them it was Florida in July, even up there.

Every May about 160 dogs are also placed in helicopters to ride up to the campsite from the Juneau area. They have comfortable individual houses and dedicated guides. Typically 40 dogs are cared for per guide. The camp tents, kitchen equipment and other facilities are brought up the same way. In September the whole process is reversed and the area is restored to its pristine condition. This is part of the Tongass National Forest and it is vigorously protected.

The dogs in the photo are not the full-maned, squat huskies most tend to associate with the Arctic. That original husky (Siberian or Malamute) has been bred with other types of dogs to create a long-legged, slender animal with considerable speed and exceptional endurance. Their guide noted that during the more than 1,000 mile Iditarod race in March, these huskies will run in 18-dog teams for six to eight hours a day, and each dog can easily pull its own weight.

Linda’s and Joe’s sled carried the two of them and a driver. They noted a tug as the pull lines tensed up at the start, but once underway, it was a smooth and fast ride. Due to the unusual warmth, guides stopped the sleds occasionally to let the dogs cool down. However, after hydrating with a few mouthfuls of snow, every dog was barking and pulling to start running again – their instinct to move quickly and for long periods of time is astonishing. Nearly all of their 10-dog team loved being petted and praised.

Yes, Joe and Linda would do it again and hope their neighbors will have the opportunity, too.

We thank Dawn Spina and Mike Shannon and Linda and Joe Odda for sharing their adventures with WOW.

We always want photos of your travels with WOW. If you’re headed somewhere fun (outside of Florida) over the upcoming holidays, be sure to take us along – a simple photo and a sentence or two about where you visited can win you a check between $40-100!

By Chris Barrett and Joe Odda

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WOW in City and Forest

Over the summer WOW visited a very popular tourist destination and even hit the trail a bit closer to home.

Perhaps the European destination that has appeared most frequently in our WOW in the World feature is the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France. This is likely because the tourist attraction is one of the world’s most popular.

This month we feature photos of both Morgan Kelly and Marcy and Jay Bunn, who visited the site.

The Eiffel Tower was constructed just over two years by Gustave Eiffel for the 1889 World’s Fair (Exposition Universelle), which also commemorated the centennial of the French Revolution. Offering a panoramic view of the French capital, the tower was originally intended to last only two decades. It was, however, the tallest man-made structure in the world for 41 years. Its usefulness as a radio-signal jamming tower during World War I convinced the city of Paris to keep it in place. The tower now welcomes 7 million visitors annually, 75 percent of them coming from outside of France.

At 1,063 feet tall, the tower is the tallest building in Paris and stands a few feet higher than the Chrysler Building in New York City. The tower has three levels. The first two are accessible by stairs and feature restaurants. The third and highest level is only accessible to the public by elevator.

Over the summer Johnny and Marcy Bunn, along with their son, Jay, traveled to London to visit their daughter, Pauly. Marcy Bunn wrote that her daughter, who recently graduated from FSU with a degree in in Hospitality Management, was working at a five-star hotel there. Wrote Marcy, “We took a quick trip to Paris on the Eurostar train, where we cruised the Seine, had a champagne lunch on the Eiffel Tower, toured the Louvre, and returned to London – all in 13 hours!”

WOW, however, was also packed along for an adventure of a different sort. Each summer Glencliff resident Ken Blair and his wife, JoAnn Gratt, hit the road to allow Ken and some friends to hike a different segment of the Appalachian Trail. While JoAnn joins her husband for day hikes, she then drives ahead in the couple’s RV to meet him at a predetermined destination. “He carries bear spray while I carry hair spray!” she’s told WOW before.

This summer’s adventure took Ken to Virginia. “This year the section hiked was in rural southwest Virginia near the ‘booming metropolis’ of Wytheville,” he wrote. “As usual, torrential downpours occurred daily, leading to mudslides. Additionally, the normally bubbling streams turned into raging rivers.  As always, it was an unforgettable adventure!”

A rustic American icon, the Appalachian Trail (known simply as A.T. by its aficionados) has a fascinating history. Stretching 2,200 miles from Mt. Katahdin in Maine to Springer Mountain in Georgia, it is designated a National Scenic Trail. While beautiful, it features such hazards as dangerous weather, bears, biting insects, venomous snakes and steep grades. Passing through 14 states, the trail is maintained by over 30 trail clubs and managed by the National Park Service and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. The trail, originally proposed in the 1920s by forester Benton McKaye, was slowly cobbled together through the 1930s. Earl Shaffer of York, Pennsylvania, was the first person to hike the entire trail in one continuous outing in 1948. In 1998, Shaffer, then almost 80, hiked the entire trail again, also making him the oldest to do so.

Aided by 250 very rustic shelters and camp sites, thru-hikers more commonly hike south to north. They begin in March or April and finish their treks in early to late fall.

We thank the Kelly family, the Bunns and Ken Blair for sharing their adventures with WOW.

We always want photos of your travels with WOW. If you’re headed somewhere fun (outside of Florida) over the upcoming holidays, be sure to take us along – a simple photo and a sentence or two about where you visited can win you a check between $40-100!

By Chris Barrett, Publisher

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WOW in Historic Europe

This past summer found WOW tucked into carry-ons, suitcases and backpacks headed throughout the world.

The response to our request that residents send in their photos to help keep this popular feature going has been wonderful. We have received some great photos and stories to tell that will last the next few months. If you sent one or several, rest assured that you’ll eventually see them here.

Yet we always want more photos of your travels with WOW. If you’re headed somewhere fun (outside of Florida) over the upcoming months or holidays, be sure to take us along – a simple photo and a sentence or two about where you visited can win you a check between $50-100!

This month we share some photos from Eastern Europe – or, as those born before 1990 know it, the former Soviet Bloc.

Our first photo is Shires residents Christopher and Samantha Collazo holding April’s WOW in Wenceslas Square in front of the Czech national museum in Prague.

Yep, you guessed right. Wenceslas Square – really a wide and long boulevard rather than a square – is named after Good King Wenceslas of Christmas carol fame. While the song was written in 1853, its subject, who is memorialized with a statue on the square, lived 900 years earlier. When alive, Wenceslas was never actually a king. He was merely the kindhearted Duke of Bohemia. Wenceslas, however, was murdered in 935, possibly at the hand of his own brother, Boleslav the Cruel, who, with that name, will likely be waiting a very long time before a Christmas carol is written about him. After Wenceslas’ death, the Holy Roman Emperor, Otto I, posthumously granted him the regal title of king.

Wenceslas Square, lined with hotels, offices and restaurants, is traditionally home to the nation’s great political demonstrations.

Alas, the Collazos couldn’t step into the national museum in the square because it closed in July 2011 for extensive renovations expected to last through June 2015. The main museum building, built by Czech neo-renaissance architect Josef Schulz between 1885-1891, is in need of refurbishing, in part because of military attacks in 1945 and 1968.

History buffs will immediately grasp the significance of these dates. The first, 1945, dates to the final months of World War II. With Hitler in retreat, Soviet soldiers fought to free Eastern Europe from domination by Nazi Germany’s armies and the museum was struck by a bomb. The second dates to the Prague Spring, when residents of that city sought to overthrow the domination of the Soviet armies, who, after kicking the Nazi armies out, decided they preferred their own occupation of Czechoslovakia. The Soviets, of course, occupied nearly all the eastern European nations, known as the Soviet Bloc, during the Cold War from 1945 through 1990. The Prague uprising of 1968 was brutally crushed and the museum’s façade was badly damaged by Soviet machine gun fire.

Prague ultimately didn’t see its political and economic freedom until the Velvet Revolution in 1989 brought writer Vaclav Havel to power. In 1993, the country of Czechoslovakia, created after World War I destroyed Austria-Hungary, amicably separated into two countries, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Like America’s Smithsonian Museums, the Czech Republic’s national museum consists of a number of buildings aimed at preserving natural history, science and the political history and culture of the nation. It was founded in 1818.

Our second photo memorializes another artifact from the Cold War. It depicts Bennington resident Marybeth Lambert and her family’s foreign exchange student, Mira Hartmeier, at Check Point Charlie in Berlin. Marybeth, along with a group of students from Alonso High School and Mr. Bruce Busch, toured Germany this summer. 

Checkpoint Charlie – or Checkpoint C – is the name the western allies, led by the U.S., gave to the most famous crossing at the Berlin Wall. At the end of World War II, Soviet armies occupied the eastern part of Germany while the U.S. and its allies occupied the West. During the nearly five-decade long Cold War, the country was thus divided politically and physically. On top of it, the capital of Germany, Berlin, was completely surrounded by East Germany. Yet, at the end of World War II, it too was divided into two parts, with the western portion run by the western allies and the eastern part controlled by the Soviet Bloc. The freedom of the western portion of Berlin gave many Germans who wished to flee the Soviet Bloc the opportunity to do so simply by crossing into that portion of the capital. In 1961, the Soviet Union decided to end this escape to the West by constructing the Berlin Wall.

Often appearing in Cold War spy movies and novels, Checkpoint Charlie was the sole Berlin Wall border crossing into East Berlin for the western allies. While the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 and the official booth marking the checkpoint was removed in 1990, its location is currently marked by a booth built to look like the first constructed in 1961. It remains a popular tourist destination in the German capital.

We thank the Collazos and Lamberts for sharing their adventures with WOW.

By Chris Barrett, Publisher

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WOW Tours Yellowstone and Grand Tetons

Some of the best known national parks out West proved a popular draw for Westchase travelers this summer.

In August’s WOW we ran a photo from one stop of the Steinfeld family’s tour of the national parks. Steven and Debbie Steinfeld and their children, Brett and Rachel, saw one of their photos from Mount Rushmore appear. This month we share one of their photos taken west of that location.

Brett and Rachel are shown holding WOW in the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. Unlike the more famous Grand Canyon in northern Arizona, Yellowstone Park’s Grand Canyon is just 24 miles long and 800-1,200 feet deep. It lies just south of Yellowstone Falls, which can be seen behind Brett and Rachel. Yellowstone Park’s 3,500 square miles largely sit in northwestern Wyoming but tiny portions of it are in Montana and Idaho.

Famous for its geothermal features like Old Faithful, Yellowstone sits atop one of the world’s giant calderas (or supervolcanos), an area where the earth’s crust thins and rests atop a giant plume of magma. Yellowstone’s caldera historically has erupted, decimating life across much of North America, approximately every 600,000 years. Its last major eruption occurred 640,000 years ago.

Yellowstone National Park’s history begins in 1806 when explorer John Colter, who took part in the Lewis and Clark expedition, set off on his own trek and returned east with tales of the park’s geothermal springs, boiling mud, steaming rivers and geysers. His story was dismissed as delirium and people talked of the area as “Colter’s Hell.”

Colter’s Hell now sees 2 million happy visitors annually.

After an 1871 geological survey prompted the federal government to remove Yellowstone’s lands from public auction, President Ulysses Grant created Yellowstone National Park in 1872.

Yellowstone has one of the most impressive collections of large mammals in North America. Visitors regularly spot gray wolves, lynx, grizzly and black bears, bison, elk, moose, deer, bighorn sheep and even mountain lions.

A few weeks after the Steinfelds’ visit, Village Green residents Monica and Brendan Barrett, along with their daughters Lila and Julia, also visited Yellowstone. There they discovered that even during the summer months, nighttime lows can get quite chilly. The late June morning the family watched Old Faithful erupt, the temperature was 33 degrees with snow flurries.

The Barretts also visited glacier-cut Grand Teton National Park, a 310,000 acre park lying ten miles south of Yellowstone. There Lila and Julia Barrett posed in front of the peaks for which the park is famous.

While President Calvin Coolidge created a 96,000 acre park called Grand Tetons National Park in 1920, much of the beautiful, adjacent valley of Jackson Hole remained in private hands, open to ranching and mining. The modern park owes its existence to the founder of Standard Oil, now known as Exxon/Mobil. Having visited the area in the early 1900’s, John D. Rockefeller was concerned about its commercial exploitation and secretly began to buy up tracts of valley land through the Snake River Land Company. When nearby landowners discovered what he had done and learned he planned to turn the area over to the national government to add to the national park, they were outraged and fought the effort throughout the 1930s. Submitting to pressure, Congress prevented its addition. After a frustrated Rockefeller threatened to sell it, in 1943 President Franklin Roosevelt ultimately extended federal protection over the valley by naming it a National Monument, using solely his executive powers to do so. In 1950 it was joined with other land to form the current park.

Grand Teton, the highest mountain at 13,775 feet, is 700 feet higher than the second tallest peak, Mount Owen. The range’s name came from 19th century French-speaking fur trappers, who referred to the range as les trois tétons (the three teats). The name was later shortened to Tetons.

We thank the Steinfelds and Barretts for sharing their adventures with WOW.

By Chris Barrett, Publisher

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From San Juan to South Dakota

In recent months WOW has enjoyed the tropical temperatures of the Caribbean and winter-like temperatures out West.

The trips were taken by the D'Auria family of Greenhedges and the Steinfelds of Stamford.

In February the D’Aurias traveled to Puerto Rico, a Caribbean island that has been a U.S. possession since the Spanish-American War of 1898. Wrote Sue D’Auria, “My husband John and I were there to visit our daughter, who is clerking for a federal judge in San Juan. (Puerto Rico is a part of the federal court system and is in the same circuit as most of New England!)”

The D’Aurias are pictured in front of one of the turrets (known as a bartizan or garita) at the 16th century citadel of Castillo San Felipe del Morro. The fortress, lying at the entrance to San Juan’s harbor on the northern coast of Puerto Rico, was constructed beginning in 1539. A small fortress at that time, its expansion continued sporadically over four centuries.  Constructed on a promontory (or morro) and named for King Philip II of Spain, the fortress protected the harbor’s entrance and one of Spain’s most significant colonial ports. In 1587 Engineers Juan de Tejada and Juan Bautista Antonelli designed and began additional construction on the fortress, significantly expanding the structure to its recognized form today. (Similar Spanish fortifications can be seen in Cuba, the Dominican Republican and nearby Saint Augustine, FL.) The fortress, whose walls are 18 feet thick and rise 145 feet above sea level, have experienced attacks by the English under Sir Francis Drake and the Dutch. The last military bombardment the fort experienced was at the guns of the U.S. Navy during the Spanish-American War. In 1961, the fortress became part of the U.S. National Park Service and was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983.

The garita, or domed sentinel box in front of which the D’Aurias are standing, has become an iconic cultural symbol of Puerto Rico and appears on the U.S. commonwealth’s license plates.

Crossing an ocean and a half dozen states (as the seagull/crow flies) will take you from San Juan to the Black Hills of South Dakota. June found the Steven and Debbie Steinfeld, and their children Brett and Rachel, doing a tour of a number of national parks out west. While we’ll run some other shots of their trip in September, their trip culminated in a long car ride to South Dakota to a mountain named after Charles Rushmore, a New York attorney who traveled to the state to secure a mining claim for New York businessmen in 1884 and 1885.

That peak attracted the interest of an American sculptor named Gutzon Borglum forty years later. A native of Idaho and the child of Danish immigrants, Borglum was sculpting the head of Robert E. Lee on Stone Mountain in Georgia when he was contacted by South Dakota resident and historian Doane Robinson. The “father of Mount Rushmore,” Robinson proposed to Borglum that he carve a mountain to bring fame and visitors to his state. While Robinson suggested carving the likenesses of Western heroes like Lewis and Clark, Red Cloud and Buffalo Bill, Borglum insisted on figures of more national renown.

Mount Rushmore thus contains the 60-foot heads of four U.S. presidents representing the first 150 years of the country’s history: George Washington, the country’s first president and American Revolutionary War hero; Thomas Jefferson, the U.S. third president and author of the Declaration of Independence; Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th U.S. president who constructed the Panama Canal, broke up massive corporate monopolies (trusts) and fought for the rights of the common man (Roosevelt also owned a ranch in the Badlands of the Dakota territory, where he spent two years living after the 1884 death of his first wife); and Abraham Lincoln, the 16th U.S. president who saved the Union and issued the Emancipation Proclamation during the U.S. Civil War.

Jefferson’s bust was originally sculpted to the right of Washington. Unstable rock led to its dynamiting and recarving to Washington’s left prior to its completion, costing Borglum two years of work.

Nearly 400 hundred men and women worked on the mountain carving between 1927-1941, providing valued if difficult work during the Great Depression. Notably, no deaths resulted during the long project despite its height and the fact that 90 percent of the granite rock was carved using dynamite. When only three to six inches of rock were left to the carving surface, dynamiting was halted and workers drilled holes – called honeycombing – to weaken the remaining rock so that it could be shaped by hand.

The work was overseen by Borglum, and his son Lincoln after Borglum’s death in March of 1941. While initial plans for the project called for the presidents to be sculpted from head to waist, lack of money during World War II prompted the national government to declare the sculpture finished in 1941.

WOW thanks the D’Aurias and Steinfelds for sharing their travels with WOW. (To show our appreciation, each received a check for $50.)

Submit Your Photos!

At deadline WOW had no more photo submissions for its WOW in the World feature. We need our readers’ help to keep this popular feature going. If you travel out of state, don’t forget to bring along your WOW! Simply take a photo of you or your family holding the magazine in a fun spot and send it in. Doing so can earn you up to $100!

By Chris Barrett, Publisher

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WOW in Asia

WOW’s travels recently brought it to Afghanistan and Japan.

Between October 2012 and late April of this year, Shires resident Vince Kirsch, a retired Navy officer currently working for the Department of Defense, was stationed in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul. Vince is shown on a rooftop with Kabul’s impressive Hindu Kush mountains behind him.

The country’s capital and largest Afghan city, Kabul sits in eastern Afghanistan at nearly 5,900 feet above sea level. Along with the Kabul River the city occupies a narrow valley in the midst of the Hindu Kush Mountains.

Nearly three and a half millennia old, the city has been fought over by many empires because of its strategic location along Asian trade routes. Since 1978 the city has been the on-and-off again battleground of different political factions, supported by such foreign governments as the former Soviet Union, the U.S., Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Iran, which have wrestled for influence and control in the region. In the aftermath of September 11, 2001, the Taliban’s control over Kabul ended and the U.S.-supported government of Hamid Karzai – with the support of the U.S. and NATO – has since attempted to extend its control over the country from the city.

Another Westchase resident traveled a bit farther to the east. Wrote Greens resident Keiko Omori about her recent two-week trip with her husband, Stephen Straw, “My husband and I went to Japan, where I'm originally from, to see my family in April.”

She added, “During the stay, we took a bus trip (overnight) to Kyoto, where these two pictures were taken.”

Keiko explained that the first picture was taken at Nanzen-ji Temple, a Zen Buddhist Temple built on the site of an emperor’s palace in 1291. There she had the great fortune of seeing the springtime cherry blossoms. “I felt lucky to see the cherry blossoms at this historical, sacred place as it is very difficult to guess (even for a weather person) when the cherry blossoms will be in full bloom.”

The second photo was taken at Kodai-ji Temple. “I'm standing in front of Kaisan-Do (Founder's Hall), a national cultural asset, inside of the temple,” Keiko wrote. She explained that the temple is one of a number of original buildings that have survived a series of fires since 1789. “This place was definitely old but at the same time I felt full of peace and even love looking over the surrounding ponds and garden.”

We thank Vince Kirsch and Keiko Omori for sharing their travels with WOW. Be sure to submit your travel photos with WOW this summer!

Submit Your Photos!

At deadline WOW had no more photo submissions for its WOW in the World feature. We need our readers’ help to keep this popular feature going. If you travel out of state, don’t forget to bring along your WOW! Simply take a photo of you or your family holding the magazine in a fun spot and send it in. Doing so can earn you up to $100!

By Chris Barrett Publisher

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WOW Visits the Kandahar Province

Green Beret Lieutenant Colonel Tim Creighton, a four-year Greens resident and 26-year veteran (10 years in the Infantry and 16 years as a Green Beret), is currently assigned to the First Armored Division as a combat advisor to an Afghan National Army unit in southern Afghanistan. He submitted the story and photos for this month’s WOW in the World feature. Rather than simply incorporate his observations into an article written by staff, WOW decided to run Lt. Col. Creighton’s story in his own words. WOW thanks him, his wife Carmen Gloria and his daughter Sarah for their sacrifices and his service. We all look forward to his safe return!

WOW has traveled to friendly places far and wide with our residents. Recently the magazine accompanied a hero to a land that has experienced decades of war.

Last October Greens resident Tim Creighton, a 26-year veteran of the U.S. military, departed the U.S. Special Operations Command at MacDill AFB – and his Westchase home and family – for Fort Bliss, Texas to conduct training in preparation for his deployment. He then departed Fort Bliss in December and arrived in Kandahar, Afghanistan four days later. The flight included stops in Bangor, Maine; Leipzig, Germany; and Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. His deployment is scheduled to last nine months.

Afghanistan, officially called the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, is a landlocked country with a population of around 30 million inhabiting an area of approximately 250,000 square miles, making it the 42nd most populous and 41st largest nation in the world. It is bordered by Pakistan in the south and the east, Iran in the west, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan in the north, and China in the far northeast.

Afghanistan is one of the world’s poorest countries due to decades of war. Its unemployment rate is about 35 percent; roughly the same percentage of its citizens lives below the poverty line. About 42 percent of the population lives on less than $1 a day, according to a 2009 report. Literacy rates within the population are low, around 28 percent, with the female literacy being as low as 10 percent.

Tim and his 18-man advisor team are based out of Forward Operating Base Pasab in the Zharay District of Kandahar Province. They are responsible for assisting the Afghan Army with increasing their ability to defeat the Taliban insurgency as coalition forces prepare to depart at the end of 2014. The advisors work daily with their Afghan counterparts, often developing close friendships. One would think that forming close friendships would be difficult due to the wide linguistic and cultural barriers that exist between Americans and Afghans. Tim, however, says it’s actually quite easy. “Whether working with Chileans, Jordanians, Thais, or Afghans, we all share one thing in common – we’re soldiers. Soldiers across the world have the natural ability to bond due to a common profession and pride in what they do,” he said.

Tim’s counterpart, an Afghan Brigadier General, is a very capable officer whose career has spanned the Soviet occupation of the 1980s, the country’s civil war and Taliban control of the 1990s, to the present day fight against Taliban insurgents. Tim stated, “My counterpart is an extremely professional officer and decent man. We share many commonalities and have wide-ranging discussions about a variety of topics, many of which are not military-related. I absolutely consider him a friend.”
The current Afghan Army is comprised of many interesting soldiers. Some attended KGB-run intelligence schools in Moscow during the Soviet occupation; others joined the mujahedeen to fight against the Soviets; while others enlisted in the Northern Alliance to fight against the Taliban. “It is quite fascinating to sit down and drink chai (tea) with some of the soldiers and listen to the stories from their past. In many instances, these soldiers have known nothing but war their entire lives. It is a humbling experience when you consider the hardships that many of these individuals have endured throughout the years,” Tim said.

The American advisors interact with the Afghan soldiers using Dari and Pashto-speaking interpreters. The interpreters are either U.S. citizens or local English-speaking Afghans hired through a strict vetting process. Tim’s interpreter, Habibi, is a U.S. citizen whose family lives in San Francisco. Tim also considers Habibi a good friend and wouldn’t mind visiting San Francisco in the future when Habibi returns home.

Upon completing the tour, Tim will return to Tampa, where he’ll again be assigned to U.S. Special Operations Command at MacDill, AFB. Tim’s wife and daughter, Carmen Gloria and Sarah, keep him up-to-date on the comings and goings of things happening in Westchase and around the Tampa area. They are able to talk regularly through Skype and telephone. As Tim often says, “Behind every good soldier off at war is a better wife back home doing the work of two while keeping everything together.”

By Tim Creighton

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WOW in Sicily and Colonial Williamsburg

This month we share WOW’s visits to two very different locales

Last summer the Callan-Spallino family of The Bridges spent the summer in Sicily, from which mom, Rossana Spallino, hails. Jim Callan and Rossana Spallino’s children, Giovanna, Francesco and Elisa, are pictured holding WOW outside of Sciacca on the southwest coast of Sicily. On a map Sicily is the island that the boot-like Italian peninsula appears to be nudging with its toe. While unique in many ways from the Italian mainland, Sicily, like the island of Sardinia, is part of Italy.

Offering beautiful views of the Mediterranean Sea, Sciacca, located in the province of Agrigento, was founded in the fifth century B.C. by the Greeks as a thermal spa. The modern town still retains much of its architecture and layout from medieval times, when it was bloodily contested over centuries by two baronial families, the Luna and the Perollo. The feuds halved its population.

More recently, the Wynne family of The Vineyards made a trip to Colonial Williamsburg and Jamestown in Virginia. Amanda, Dave, Natalie and Emery Wynne traveled to the popular tourist sites in November and submitted photos of their trip to Jamestown. While predated by nearly a century by the Spanish establishment of Saint Augustine, Jamestown was the first permanent English settlement in the U.S. Its fort rose on the James River in the colony of Virginia in 1607, about 20 years before John Winthrop and the Puritans arrived in Massachusetts Bay.

Jamestown is part of the Historic Triangle of Virginia, which also includes Colonial Williamsburg and Yorktown, where Lord Cornwallis’ surrender to George Washington ended major fighting in the American Revolution. Colonial Williamsburg, however, is a recreation of colonial life in Virginia between 1699 to 1780 and its building are far less rustic than the primitive Jamestown fort.

Natalie and Emery are depicted at the entrance to the Jamestown Fort, while their father, Dave, and Emery are depicted in a recreation of a Powhatan home (the Native American group on whose land the Jamestown Fort was constructed).

Wrote Amanda Wynne, “The museum there is really amazing and the girls had a blast learning about our American history, as did Dave and I.”

We thank the Wynnes and the Callan-Spallino family for sharing their travels with WOW!

Submit Your Photos!

After its May edition, WOW will be completely out of photo submissions for its WOW in the World feature. We need our readers’ help to keep this popular feature going. If you travel out of state, don’t forget to bring along your WOW! Simply take a photo of you or your family holding the magazine in a fun spot and send it in. Doing so can earn you up to $100!

By Chris Barrett, Publisher

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WOW Parks Itself Out West

This month Westchaser Nimna Gabadage tells of his family trip to two of our great national parks – with WOW along for the ride.

Over last summer the Gabadage family from The Greens, including Nimna, his brother, Gangul, and their parents, Namal Gabadage and Arosha de Silva, visited Yosemite National Park in California, Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona and Arizona’s famed Meteor Crater.

Formed by water erosion by the Colorado River and located in north central Arizona, the Grand Canyon is one of the most powerful and iconic landscapes in our country. “The view of the rugged, multi-colored, and beautiful rock layers was breathtaking,” Nimna wrote. “To see this fascinating natural wonder, we had some short hikes in the South Rim between viewpoints and rode the Grand Canyon shuttle buses when we were tired.”

The Grand Canyon, covering 1,900 square miles, is the 15th oldest park in the National Park Service. While earlier presidents, including Theodore Roosevelt, had attempted to protect the area for future generations, U.S. Senate opposition kept the Grand Canyon from being named a national park until Woodrow Wilson’s signature in 1919 made it so.

Nimna and his family also visited Yosemite National Park in California. “From granite cliffs to beautiful waterfalls, this is a nature lover’s paradise,” he said. “The overlook from Glacier Point was my favorite part of the Yosemite hikes,” he recalled, adding that he could see Half Dome (Yosemite’s famous granite rock formation, which appears to Nimna’s left in one of the photos) and Yosemite Valley from there. The Gabadages also took some short hikes to Bridal Veil Falls and to the Lower Yosemite Falls.

Covering over 760,000 acres, Yosemite, lying in central Sierra Nevada range in California, played a key role in the creation of the national park system. It was the first piece of land the federal government voted to set aside specifically for preservation and public use. The park was created by the Yosemite Grant, signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1864. While ceded to California as a state park, damage from commercial interests that heavily logged and grazed the state lands led President Theodore Roosevelt, a noted conservationist, to take the land back in 1906 as part of his newly created National Park Service.

Nimna was also photographed with the park’s most famous inhabitants. “Another thing to explore in the Yosemite was the Mariposa Grove, which is the home to the giant Sequoia trees,” Nimna wrote. “The most fascinating thing was to me the Tunnel Tree. We strolled through a tree! It is hard to believe that these trees can extend up to 25-feet thick.”

The Gabadages also made a journey about 100 miles southeast of the Grand Canyon, as the crow flies. Their goal was the Meteor Crater in Arizona, where Nimna is pictured with his brother Gangul. The well-preserved natural crater was created by an impact 50,000 years ago before humans arrived in North America. “I really enjoyed the sight of the meteor crater and also the very fascinating movie they showed before the tour,” Nimna wrote.

The meteor crater was initially thought to have been created by volcanic activity. It wasn’t until 1903 that a mining engineer named Daniel Barringer proposed that it had been caused by an enormous, iron-metallic meteorite. After winning mining rights to the area, Barringer was convinced he would find up to $1 billion in iron ore at the bottom of the crater. By 1950 his explanation for the crater’s creation was widely accepted and studies of meteor impacts explained why the expected iron was missing – most of it vaporized with the intensity and heat of the impact. Barringer’s descendants still own the crater, however, and charge admission for visits.

We thank Nimna, Gangul and Namal Gabadage, as well as their mom Arosha de Silva, for sharing their trip with WOW!

Submit Your Photos!

WOW is currently running low of great vacation photos taken with WOW. In the coming months, we’d love to tag along with you on your trip and, afterwards, share the story here. When you head out of state, don’t forget your WOW! Doing so will earn you up to $100!

By Chris Barrett, Publisher

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WOW at the Capital and in Canada

WOW continued its travels throughout North America this summer.

Among other exciting places, it traveled to the capital of the U.S., Washington, D.C., and to Canada.

The first two photos show Jackson and Nathan Ring of The Bridges at the White House and the Lincoln Memorial. The Ring brothers traveled with their parents, Karen and Sean, to the capital over their summer vacation.

The White House, of course, is the official U.S. president’s home and office complex. The existing White House is actually the fourth presidential mansion. Prior to the construction of the District of Columbia, our first U.S. president, George Washington, lived in three different presidential mansions, two in Manhattan and one in Philadelphia, the temporary U.S. capital for ten years. The first U.S. president to live in the White House was John Adams, the second president of the U.S. (Adams also lived in the Philadelphia mansion that housed Washington.)

Construction of the White House began October 1792 and its builders included American slaves. Originally called the President’s House, the President’s Palace or the President’s Mansion, the public simply began calling it The White House beginning in 1811 and the name was formally adopted by later presidents.

The building’s original construction was a simple neoclassical rectangle designed by Irish-born architect James Hoban, who had previously designed the Charleston County Courthouse. Thomas Jefferson added the east and west colonnades (designed by Benjamin Latrobe), which connect to the East Wing (built starting in 1901) and West Wing, which holds the president’s Oval Office (finished 1946). The north and south porticos that shape the mansion’s current façade were added after the War of 1812, when the White House was gutted and almost completely destroyed when the British set fire to it.

The Lincoln Memorial, designed by architect Henry Bacon, is a more recent addition to Washington, and is graced by a statue sculpted by Daniel Chester French. It sits on the western edge of the national mall.

Construction of the Lincoln Memorial began in 1914 and was finished in 1922. Its dedication was attended by Robert Todd Lincoln, the president’s 79-year-old son. The monument is also an important site for the Civil Rights Movement. During the March on Washington in 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his I Have a Dream speech from the steps of the memorial, where a marker sits commemorating that historic moment.

Last summer also saw a Keswick Forest family head farther north, this time to Hopewell Rocks in New Brunswick, Canada. In our third photo, Jack Hessefort, Heather Greeley-Hessefort and Claire Greeley stand at water’s edge during low tide. “The Hopewell Rocks is one of New Brunswick’s premiere tourist attractions,” explained Heather. “The Flower Pot Rocks are in the Bay of Fundy and are covered by the extreme tides (the highest in the world) twice a day.”

The Flower Pot Rocks appear directly behind and to the rear right of Heather (center) in the photo. While the photo makes them appear part of the cliff, the flower pot rocks are actually separate rock formations. The tree-topped rocks are scoured by tidal waters as they pour in and out, carving them away so their bottoms are narrower than their tops. At high tide the area where they are standing is completely covered with water.

The Bay of Fundy is located in the northeast part of the Gulf of Maine and lies between the Canadian provinces of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. The difference in water depths during high and low tides can range from 48 to 54 feet. In contrast, most beaches near Tampa Bay see tidal ranges of only 1.5 to three feet.

We thank the Rings and the Greeley-Hesseforts for sharing their travels with WOW!

By Chris Barrett, Publisher

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WOW at the London Olympic Games

What do James Bond, Queen Elizabeth, Mr. Bean and WOW have in common?

You guessed it! They all dropped by the London Olympic Games last summer.
While WOW didn’t parachute into the stadium, it was carried to the Olympic venues by two different Westchasers!

Last July Sylvaine and Mike Clarkin of Keswick Forest travelled to Switzerland, Sylvaine’s native country, to visit her family. “We were in Switzerland visiting my family and went for a weekend in London for the Olympics,”she said. Stating it was amazing to see all the athletes performing, Sylvaine remarked, “Once in a lifetime!”

The Westchase community was also represented at the London Olympics by Devan Martin, a Shires resident and University of Florida sophomore. She performed at the event with the Gator Marching Band. Devan’s mom Ginnie wrote, “The Gator Band spent nine days in London, playing at venues such as The Mall and Victoria Park, as well as at an event with First Lady Michelle Obama and soccer superstar David Beckham at the residence of the U.S. ambassador in London.”

The London Olympics were held July 27 through Aug. 12. The USA topped the medal count with 104 overall medals while host country Britain placed fourth, just after China and the Russian Federation, with 65. With the addition of Women’s Boxing, the London games were the first to have women participating in all sporting events.

It was the third time London has hosted the Olympics, with 1908 and 1948 being the previous years the city hosted the games. London was also supposed to hold the 1944 Olympics, but those games were postponed due to World War II.

Devan Martin is shown standing in front of the Olympic rings, hanging from the Tower Bridge. Often mistakenly called London Bridge from the nursery rhyme, Tower Bridge opened in 1894 and is an impressive representation of Victorian architecture. (London Bridge is the next bridge upriver.) A bascule and suspension bridge, Tower Bridge spans the River Thames, joining the East End borough of Tower Hamlets to the Southeast borough of Southwark. The bridge, which took eight years to construct, is 800 feet long and its two towers stand 213 feet high. Its 200-foot central span can be raised to let river traffic pass through. It’s crossed by an estimated 40,000 pedestrians and drivers daily, who must observe a 20 mile per hour speed limit (meant to help preserve the structure) or risk an automated fine due to the cameras catching speeders on the bridge.

In 1952 a double decker bus had just started crossing the bridge when the south bascule began to rise. Making a quick decision to accelerate, the bus driver cleared a three-foot gap, falling six feet to the opposite side, which had not yet started to rise. Amazingly, there were no injuries.

The Olympic rings hanging from the bridge were 82 feet across and 37.7 feet high. They weighed 13 tons and cost £259,817 to make (roughly $418,900).

Sylvaine Clarkin is pictured standing in front of the Olympic Stadium, where the track and field events as well as the opening and closing ceremonies were held. The stadium seats 80,000 and construction of it began in 2007 and finished in 2011. The stadium was also an important venue for the 2012 Summer Paralympics.

We thank Devan Martin and the Clarkins for sharing their travels with WOW!

By Chris Barrett, Publisher

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WOW Volunteers Over the Summer

Community service is near and dear to WOW. Over last summer WOW had the opportunity to tag along with Westchase residents who served abroad.

In June Alex Faedo of Castleford spent a week in the community of Santa Rosa de Calamuchita as a member of an Argentine Mission Team. While in Argentina, he delivered food boxes to families and worked at a local camp for children. Although Alex plays baseball for the Alonso Ravens, he had a great time learning and playing Argentina's favorite sport – soccer. Wrote his mother, Kristie Donovan, “He feels very fortunate to have visited such a beautiful country and to have had the opportunity to help others while making so many new friends.”

Santa Rosa de Calamuchita is located in Cordoba, a province in north central Argentina. The town was established in 1700 after the Dominican order established a mission there, named after St. Rosa de Lima, patron saint of Latin America and The Philippines. The town’s current population is about 10,000.

Our next WOW in the World submission came from nearly the same latitude, but across the Atlantic on a wholly different continent.

July found Brian, Kelly and Kristen Keefer of The Greens traveling to volunteer at N/a’an Ku Sê, a wildlife sanctuary for orphaned and injured animals. The sanctuary is located in Windhoek, Namibia, a country located in southwestern Africa.

In the family photo, Kristen Keefer is holding Sheila, a 3-week-old orphaned baby baboon, whose mother was accidentally shot. Sheila chose Kristen as her surrogate mother and became attached to her around the clock. The trip to Africa was a graduation present to Kristen from her grandfather.

During their two week stay at N/a’an Ku Sê, the Keefers interacted with cheetahs, leopards, lions, baboons and other exotic animals on a daily basis.

N/a’an Ku Sê is partnered with the Jolie-Pitt Foundation to conserve the land, cultures and wildlife of Namibia. It works to advance environmental conservation as well as education and medical assistance to Namibia’s San Bushmen community. For more information, visit http://www.naankuse.com

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The city of Winhoek, located in the center of Namibia, is the country’s capital. Located at 5,600 feet above sea level at the site of a permanent spring that had long attracted pastoral communities, the city was originally founded in 1840. Later abandoned during war, the city saw a second founding in 1890 once Namibia had become a German colony. Development of the city accelerated after 1907 and it currently is home to nearly 325,000 people.

We thank Alex Faedo and the Keefers for sharing their travels – and service – with WOW.

By Chris Barrett, Publisher

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WOW up North and Far East

In recent months WOW visited two U.S. military installations in the Middle East

Lieutenant Colonel David Hoffs, a resident of The Greens, is now home from a long deployment abroad. Over the summer, however, Hoffs submitted a photo from his work site. “I realize that folks usually send in pics from fun and highly recognizable locations, but I don't think the WOW has ever been to Afghanistan,” he wrote. “I would try to get a picture in a more historic location within the city, but given the potential IED (Improvised Explosive Device) and insurgent threat, we're not authorized to stop our vehicles for ‘sightseeing’ pictures.”

While Hoffs added a smiley emoticon to the message, his comment was a reminder of the risks the members of our military face in their service to our country.

The city Hoffs was referring to was Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, where he served as Director of Intelligence at the ISAF Special Operations Forces Fusion Cell.

Hoffs is shown holding WOW at North Kabul Afghanistan International Airport. “The Soviet Army controlled it from 1979 to 1989 and the Taliban took over the airport in November 1996 until they lost control in late 2001,” he explained. “The northern side of the airport has been used by the United States armed forces and NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) since 2002. A new terminal was built on the civilian side of the airport and opened to international flights in 2009, and there are three Afghan airlines which use the airport as a hub.

Kabul, the fifth fastest growing city in the world with 4 million residents, is located in eastern Afghanistan at an elevation of 5,900 feet. It’s the largest city in Afghanistan.

More recently Brentford resident Marty Hamilton, a veteran, visited Qatar. “These two photos were taken about 30 miles apart,” he explained. “One is the skyline of downtown Doha, Qatar, and the other is from Al Udied Air Base with a U.S. barracks and bomb shelter in the background. I would have taken a photo of the flight line but that is frowned upon. Whether it's on the nose of a B-17 or a flat rock in the desert, given time, the troops will create interesting paintings.”

Qatar, an independent country lying on a peninsula just off Saudi Arabia, is one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Blessed with an abundance of oil and natural gas, it lies in the center of the strategically significant Persian Gulf, just across the water from Iran. Home to an absolute monarchy, the country is only 4,500 square miles and hosts a population of just under 2 million. Qatar served as the headquarters and the main launching site of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Much closer to home, The Otero-Cesiro family of Harbor Links/The Estates, consisting of Brian, Tyler and Brendan Otero and Anna Marie Cesiro, visited New York City in June where they are pictured atop the Empire State Building. “This was the boys' first trip to the Big City and they were very excited,” wrote AnnMarie, who stated the family made the stop en route to a family reunion.

One of New York’s famous skyscrapers, the Empire State Building stands 102 stories with its antenna spire reaching 1,454 feet. Built in just 410 days at the height of the Great Depression, it was the world’s tallest building for 30 years after its 1931 completion. It is now the third tallest skyscraper in the U.S. and fifteenth tallest in the world. In July 1945 a B-25 bomber, lost in fog, actually crashed into the Empire State Building, killing 14. Elevator operator Betty Lou Oliver, however, survived a 75-story plunge inside one of the elevators, which still stands in the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest elevator fall survived by a person. Oliver died in 1994.
We thank David Hoffs, Marty Hamilton and the Oteros for sharing their travels with WOW.

By Chris Barrett, Publisher

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WOW in Iceland and Yosemite

June and July found two different Shires families on the same frigid island in the North Atlantic.

Shires resident Samantha Collazo traveled with her dad, Ruben, to Iceland as part of a graduation trip through many different European countries. Once there they had a photo snapped of them holding the March WOW in front of the Hallgrimskirkja church in Reykjavik. The sixth tallest architectural structure in Iceland, the Lutheran church was designed by its architect to resemble the basalt lava flows commonly found on the island. It was constructed between 1945 and 1986. It is one of Reykjavik’s best known – and visible – landmarks.

In July Dean and Linda Landsman of The Shires decided the best way to beat Florida’s heat would also involve a trip to the Arctic. Wrote Linda, “We did an eight-day cruise around Iceland and crossed the Arctic Circle!  This is a picture of us in front of the GullfossWaterfall, outside Reykjavik.  It was beautiful!”

The Gullfoss Waterfall is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Iceland. Located on the Hvítá river in the southwest of the island, the waterfall drops in multiple stages before entering a steep 105-foot crevasse, giving the impression from a distance that the significant river is simply vanishing into the earth.

A bit closer to home found a third Shires family enjoying a waterfall and other beautiful sites during their trip to the national parks and other interesting sites out west. Doug and Nancy Wood and their son Jack are shown at Vernal Falls in Yosemite Park. Located in east-central California, Yosemite is famous for its granite cliff, beautiful waterfalls and impressive groves of giant sequoias. Vernal Falls, at 317 feet, is located along one of Yosemite’s popular trails. When it is swollen with spring thaw, the waterfall’s mist soaks nearby hikers.

A four-hour drive then found the Woods in San Francisco, where Jack is shown at a famous site where a popular Discovery Channel TV program is filmed. M5 Industries is Jamie Hyneman’s movie and television special effects company now largely dedicated to the filming of Mythbusters.

We thank the Collazos, Landsmans and Woods for sharing their travels with WOW.

By Chris Barrett, Publisher

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Island Life Suits WOW

WOW kicked off its pre-summer travels with some island hopping through the Antilles, the island chain that curves downward from Puerto Rico to South America.

Our first photo shows Stamford resident Paula Hough holding May’s WOW at Point Udall on St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Paula travelled to St. Croix with her father Paul, who was participating in a triathlon race. “Point Udall is the eastern-most point in the U.S.,” wrote Paul Hough. “A sundial known as the Millennium Monument was built above Point Udall for the New Year's celebration in 2000 – it marks the azimuth of the first U.S. sunrise of that year.”

A tiny clarification: while Point Udall certainly is the eastern-most point in the U.S. by travel, it is not by longitude. The true easternmost point in the U.S., based on longitude, can be found on Semisopochnoi Island, Alaska.

The U.S. Virgin islands lie in the Leeward Islands of the Lesser Antilles, about 40 miles east of Puerto Rico. The Virgin Islands were named by Christopher Columbus for Saint Ursula and her virgin followers on his second voyage to the New World, which occurred in 1743. The islands were subsequently held by many other powers, including Spain, the U.K., Netherland, France and Norway-Denmark.

The U.S. Virgin Islands consist of the main islands of Saint Croix, Saint John and Saint Thomas. Previously called the Danish West Indies, chain was purchased by the U.S. from Denmark as part of the Treaty of Danish West Indies. The U.S. took possession of the islands on March 31, 1917 and their residents were granted U.S. citizenship in 1927. While they are an unorganized, unincorporated U.S. territory and they elect their local government, they cannot vote directly for president. Their Congressional representatives may vote in committee but may not participate in floor votes. Interestingly enough, after a draft of their new constitution was rejected by the U.S. Congress in 2010 for failing to acknowledge federal sovereignty and protect civil rights, the U.S. Virgin Islands will reconvene its constitutional convention this month to redraft the document.

Our other photos show Rachel and Mark Starner of The Greens. After marrying March 16, the couple honeymooned at Cap Maison Luxury Hotel Resort and Spa, located in Cap Estate, St. Lucia.
They’re shown holding the March WOW at the resort.

Also part of the Antilles, St. Lucia, however, belongs to the Windward Islands much farther south than the U.S. Virgin Islands. St. Lucia is also an independent country. Measuring about 240 square miles, it’s inhabited by 175,000 people. Historically, the island changed possession between Britain and France a number of times. Currently it has a two-party parliamentary democracy based on British common law. St. Lucia is part of the Commonwealth of Nations, associated with the U.K.

We thank the Houghs and the Starners for sharing their travels with WOW.

By Chris Barrett, Publisher

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From North to South

The spring and summer months have been filled with exciting travels for WOW!

Late March found WOW traveling in Western Europe, the area of the world outside the U.S. where WOW has been photographed most. For this trip, WOW tagged along with Mark Ragusa and his son Austin of Harbor Links/The Estates. Mark took a number of photos during their visit to London, Paris and points between, including Point du Hoc, the cliff top four miles west of Omaha Beach in Normandy.

Here Austin is pictured holding the March WOW in front of the Arc de Triomphe, one of the most famous monuments in Paris. The 164-foot monument was commissioned after Napoleon’s victory at Austerlitz, marking the height of the French emperor’s success. It honors those who fought and died for France in the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. It sits at the western end of the Champs-Élysées; twelve avenues radiate outward through Paris from its location.

Housing the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I, the arc’s inner and outer surfaces are inscribed by the names of French victories and generals. The arc is so large that Charles Godefroy famously flew his biplane through it in 1919 to mark the end of World War I. (The famous newsreel of the feat can be found on YouTube by searching for plane and Arc de Triomphe.

Kingsford’s Anika Smith and her father, Jim, sent in some photos taken a bit farther south. The family visited South Africa with the February WOW. Anika is pictured in front of Table Mountain. Part of Table Mountain National Park, the flat-topped peak is a prominent tourist attraction rising nearly 3,600 feet above Cape Town. Hiking is popular on the mountain and a cable car also takes visitors to the plateau at its top.

The Smiths also sent some photos of Anika holding WOW and posing with animals at Seaview Game Park, about 25 minutes outside Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape. In addition to housing a large number of lions, the game park allows visitors to see giraffe, antelope, monkeys and even a crocodile up close. Anika is also pictured here at the game park because it is the first time WOW has ever been eaten by a lion.

Which fills WOW with pride. (Or perhaps it’s the other way around!)

We thank the Ragusas and the Smiths for sharing their travels with WOW!

By Chris Barrett, Publisher

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Sí, WOW Habla Español!

From Mexico and Honduras to Spain, WOW has visited many Spanish speaking countries in recent months.

This month we run a first – two unrelated residents holding different editions of WOW in the exact same foreign locale at the same time!

Back in March, 17 Westchase residents and one Virginia couple set sail on the Royal Caribbean Jewel of the Seas for a long weekend cruise to Cozumel, Mexico. Wrote participant Nancy Sells of Harbor Links, “The destination was not as unique as the fact so many friends were able to travel together.”

Holding the January WOW on the ship is Maureen Engel of The Shires. Meanwhile Katie Gailbreath of Greenhedges stands to the right holding the February WOW.

Who are between and behind them? According to Nancy Sells, “Those sailing together were Kathy and John Prible, Rose Ann and Leo Lorenzo, Katie and Hays Gailbreath and Marianne and Michael Sapsara of The Greens; Bernie and George Estock, Dick Terry, Kathy Smith and Nancy and Dale Sells of Harbor Links; Maureen and Ken Engel of The Shires; Bill Bartel of The Bridges; and Kathi and Ken Bergerson of Virginia.”

Nancy added, “Some of the activities enjoyed in port by the group were snorkeling, shopping and visiting the Mayan ruins.”

All of the Westchase women on the cruise met through the Northwest Hillsborough Newcomers Club and are still members of the group.

Our second photo is of Maggie Mularz of Chelmsford. Maggie is pictured holding the January WOW with ten residents of Orphanage Emmanuel in Guiamaca, Honduras. She worked at the orphanage for half a year before returning in March.

Orphanage Emmanuel is a faith-based home for abused and abandoned children. Living at the orphanage at the time, Maggie wrote, “Emmanuel is a forever home. We have children who are mothers with week-old infants to 20-something-year-olds who would be unable to live independently outside because of disabilities. The children live, go to school and work on the farm, in the store, or in other areas of vocational training on site in our expansive compound.”

Maggie mentioned the orphanage depends upon donations and needs even simple items like socks, underwear and washcloths; readers can visit http://orphanageemmanuelhn.weebly.com for more information.

Our third photo shows West Park Village resident Becky Brown. She’s holding last November’s WOW in Barcelona, Spain in front of Casa Batlló, which Becky described, tongue in cheek, as “a famous gaudy building by architect Antoni Gaudí.” Commissioned by textile industrialist Josep Batlló, the home was built between 1904 and 1906. It’s notable for its nearly complete avoidance of straight lines.

A top name in Catalan architecture, Gaudí worked in Spain in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and is best known for his design of the fascinating and unique Cathedral of Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, which was recently featured in WOW in the World. Casa Batlló’s Web site states, “Many influences – oriental, neoclassical and neo-Mudejar among others – can be seen in his architecture; however Gaudí mixed these styles with new solutions and materials.”

An interesting thing to note: Gaudí did not actually inspire the use of the word gaudy, an adjective meaning ostentatiously ornamental and garish. That word dates to the 16th century and comes from the Latin word gaudium, meaning joy or delight.

We thank Becky Brown, Maggie Mularz, Maureen Engel, Katie Gailbreath and Nancy Sells for sharing their travels with WOW!

By Chris Barrett, Publisher

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WOW in the Caribbean, Europe and Asia

During the late summer and winter months of 2011, WOW traveled to the far corners of the world.

Among other fun places, it went along on one Westchase couple’s honeymoon!

Bridges residents Jennifer and Andrew Duff recently celebrated their first anniversary on May 14. After getting married last May, Jennifer and Andrew went on their honeymoon the following August and took WOW along with them. The trip took them to the Sandals resort in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, where they took time out by the pool and a nighttime beach party to take some photos with the magazine.

Located on the north central coast of Jamaica, Ocho Rios does not, as its name suggests, have eight rivers nearby. The name is thought to be a British corruption of the original Spanish name, Las Chorreras, which means “the waterfalls.” That name was likely inspired by nearby Dunn’s River Falls. The town is probably most notable for its appearance in Dr. No, the very first James Bond film, released in 1962. A former fishing village, Ocho Rios has been transformed by tourism and is now a port of call for cruise ships.

In our second photo Joey Lechman, 8, the son of Joe and Dinny Lechman of Keswick Forest, holds the November 2011 WOW above Rothenburg, a walled medieval town in Germany. His father, Joe Lechman, stated the family’s European trip was to take delivery of a new car for his mom. “It’s the greatest deal known to man and no one knows about it,” Lechman stated.

Lechman’s mother purchased Volvo C70 convertible for seven percent off its price. As part of the deal, Volvo threw in two round-trip tickets, a one night hotel stay and paid to ship the vehicle to the U.S. once the Lechmans were finished with their European tour. In the new Volvo, the Lechmans visited Denmark, Sweden, Germany, France, Switzerland, Italy and Austria.

Rothenburg ob der Tauber, which sits behind Joey Lechman in the photo, is located in Bavaria in the south central portion of Germany. Its name means “red fortress above the Tauber,” as it sits on a plateau above the Tauber River. The town’s first structures date to the 10th century. The city itself was founded in 1170 with the building of Stauffer Castle. Much of the town’s protective wall and buildings were built in the Middle Ages and were protected from changes by laws adopted in the late 1800’s. The town’s quintessentially German architecture has attracted tourists for years.

Also carrying the November 2011 WOW along with them on their trip to Asia were Christopher and Michelle Evanich of Bennington.  Their travels took them to Ngong Ping on Lantau Island in Hong Kong, where they visited the Tian Tan Buddha. “To get to the statue,” the Evaniches explained, “we had the option of a six-hour hike, a 1.5-hour bus ride or 45-minute cable car ride. We chose the scenic cable car ride.”

The Tian Tan Buddha, which reportedly can be seen from Macau on a clear day, was constructed between 1990 and 1993. Nicknamed the Big Buddha, it is 112 feet tall and weighs 250 tons. Its bronze skin is supported by a steel skeleton. Visitors who pay a fee can enter the Buddha, which is said to contain some of the cremated remains of the founder of Buddhism, Siddartha Gautama. To reach the statue, visitors must scale 240 steps.

WOW thanks the Duffs, Lechmans an Evaniches for sharing their travels with WOW!

By Chris Barrett, Publisher

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WOW Along the East Coast

In the past year WOW made a number of stops along the East Coast.

From the Appalachian Trail in Georgia to the Freedom Trail in Boston, WOW toured the country – and made a very special stop in Virginia to welcome home a hero.

Courtney and Callie Mehl of Chelmsford, along with their cousins, are seen here with the July 2011 WOW. Together they visited Paul Revere's house in Boston's North End. During their annual summer vacation on Cape Cod, the girls’ parents, Kurt and Penny Mehl, decided a little American history was in order. The family therefore took a side trip to Concord, Lexington and the Freedom Trail in Boston to learn about the American Revolution. A surprising fact they learned was that Paul Revere was captured by the Redcoats before he was able to warn the colonial militia in Concord that the British forces were coming. Revere’s ride of April 18, 1775, was actually completed by Dr. Samuel Prescott, who escaped capture to give the ultimate warning.

September’s WOW found itself further south along another trail. Marc and Luiza Holtzberg of The Bridges, along with their children Daniel and Adina, traveled to Georgia for some hiking. Their trip took them to Len Foote Hike Inn at Amicalola Falls State Park, where Marc and his children are pictured. From there (just north of Atlanta), they headed farther north to hike to the summit of Springer Mountain, the beginning of the Appalachian Trail. Each year between two to three million hike portions of the Appalachian Trail, which runs roughly 2,180 miles from Georgia to Maine, passing through 14 states. “We had to hike through two gaps (mountain passes), one of which had a vertical rise of 500 feet over a quarter of a mile,” wrote Marc Holtzberg. “The next morning we hiked back to civilization and went to Helen, where we rode tubes down a river whose temperature was a balmy 68 degrees.” 

Our final photo shows a special visit the February 2013 WOW made to Virginia. There Greens residents Amy Jackson and her son Dylan welcomed Amy’s brother, Randy, home from his deployment. Amy wrote, “The USS Bataan was out to sea for almost 11 months.  My brother is in the Navy and stationed in Virginia.  Their boat arrived into port on Feb. 7, and set a record for the longest deployment since World War II.” Amy, Randy and Dylan were joined by Amy’s mom Elaine for the occasion. “This was a very special day, as some of the sailors met their new babies for the first time, and families were reunited.” 

Amy concluded, “We’re glad WOW was able to witness this amazing experience with us!”

We thank Amy for including us in her family’s special reunion and thank her brother Randy – and all our generous service men and women – for their service to our country.

We also offer our thanks to the Mehls and Holtzbergs for sharing their travels with WOW!

By Chris Barrett, Publisher

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WOW Reaches the Taj Mahal

Last summer WOW achieved a longstanding goal!

The magazine visited one of the most recognizable landmarks in the world with the Bhat family of Castleford. During their visit to India in August, the Bhats snapped an elusive photo of WOW in Agra, India, at the Taj Mahal.

WOW’s previous efforts to get a photo at the Taj Mahal ended in confiscation and failure. In the past, the mother of WOW Business Manager Tracy Urso carried the magazine to the landmark but security guards confiscated her copy of the WOW as she was attempting to take a photo. She even had to bribe them to get her WOW back!

Chaya Bhat, however, pulled it off! Here she is pictured in front one of the world’s most famous and beautiful tombs. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Taj Mahal is a mausoleum constructed by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died while giving birth to their 14th child. The mausoleum is a wonderful example of Mughal architecture, which reflects influences from Persia, Turkey and India.  Located in north central India, the Taj Mahal was finished in 1648 during the height of the Mughal Empire, founded by descendents of the Timurids of the Central Asian steppes and invader Genghis Khan. Mughal emperors reigned from 1526 to the beginnings of British colonization of the Indian subcontinent in the early 1800s. At its height the dynasty ruled over vast areas of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and even Nepal.

As the result of her getting a photo with WOW next to one of its most wished-for sites, Chaya Bhat received a check for $100.

Last summer also saw the Ballehr family of The Greens travel by plane, train, automobile and bicycle through Europe. Bruce, Kathi, Kelsey, Tyler and Trey Ballehr generously shared the trip with WOW and sent along several photos of the magazine at various sites. They made the trip to Europe to visit their old friends, the Shapiro family, who lived near the Ballehrs several years ago in Stamford. Once in London, the Ballehrs ran into another Greens family, the Splaines. (In January, WOW ran the Splaines’ photo at Stonehenge.)

During their European trip, the Ballehrs visited the United Kingdom, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and Spain. They rode the London Eye, visited a German castle, swam in the Mediterranean Sea off Ibiza, Spain, and took an adventurous bike ride into the Amsterdam countryside.

Returning home, Kathi Ballehr wrote, “We had to say a sad goodbye to our friends the Shapiros for now. We are looking forward to their return to Westchase in the near future.”

We thank the Bhats and Ballehrs for sharing their travels with WOW!

By Chris Barrett, Publisher

 

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WOWing Europe

Last summer WOW made a number of visits to different corners of the Old Country.

The Weerapperuma family of Abbotsford travelled to Spain and Portugal this summer before heading across the Strait of Gibraltar to Morocco.

The Weerapperumas submitted a number of photos of their visits to places such as Seville’s Plaza de Toros de la Maestranza, one of the oldest bullrings in Spain; a Tangiers marketplace, located on the North African coast where the Mediterranean meets the Atlantic Ocean; and the FC Barcelona stadium, the highlight of the trip for Dilina and Nipuna Weerapperuma, who are big soccer fans.

Shown here are Dilina and Nipuna at Sagrada Familia, the most famous Gaudi designed Roman Catholic Church in Barcelona. An expiatory cathedral (whose construction is funded entirely by donations), Sagrada Familia has been under construction since 1882 and should be completed by 2026.

Dilina is also shown across the strait from the Rock of Gibraltar, a British overseas territory located on the southern end of the Iberian Peninsula. Located at the entrance of the Mediterranean, the limestone formation was thrust upward during the Jurassic period when the African tectonic plate collided with the Eurasian Plate. Then a lake, the Mediterranean Sea dried up. Later, the Atlantic broke through the Strait of Gibraltar, creating the Mediterranean Sea.

Stamford’s Karen and Paul Hough also traveled to Europe last summer with the August WOW. They visited Regensburg, Germany, where Paul raced in the Ironman Regensburg.  Wrote Paul, “Regensburg is the fourth oldest city in Germany and the finest preserved medieval city north of the Alps.  The city center is a UNESCO World Heritage site.” 

Paul is pictured on Stadamhof Street, which was the site of the race’s finish.  St Peter's Cathedral is seen in the background.  He’s also shown at Walhalla, about seven miles outside of town on the Danube River. The monument memorializes distinguished German speakers through scores of plaques and busts. “It is Germany's most important national monument,” wrote Paul. “It is named after Valhalla (the Hall of Dead), modeled after the Greek Parthenon and was opened to the public in 1842.” 

We thank the Weerapperumas and Houghs for sharing their travels with WOW!

By Chris Barrett, Publisher

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Two Hemispheres in Contrast

This month WOW shares photos from two trips separated by a year and half the globe.

This past July saw the Johnson family of The Shires heading to Central America. “The week of July fourth we took the WOW with us to Belize City, Belize,” The Johnsons wrote. “WOW accompanied us as we journeyed one and a half hours outside of Belize City to Nohoch Che'en Park, where we trekked through the jungle to go cave tubing.

Dan and Angela Johnson are shown with their two sons, Danny and Kyle.

“The Belize Caves Branch Cave is one of several subterranean sites that were carved out of the limestone foothills of the Maya Mountains by the very active Caves Branch River,” the Johnsons explained. “Belize is unique in that it has the largest cave system in Central America and the Belize Caves Branch is part of this natural wonder – most as yet unexplored or mapped.

“The site provides us with an excellent example of the erosive power of water, and the natural wonders of Belize.”

The Johnsons added that archeological evidence suggests the Mayans visited the site to conduct important rituals. “Our guides were very knowledgeable,” they concluded, “And on route, pointed out many plants that the Mayan people used for medicines and food. They even had us snack on termites and play with tarantulas!”

This month’s photos, however, also feature a trip made in late 2010 to India by the Subbamaran family of The Bridges.

Wrote Vaidy Subbaramaran, “We spent most of our time in Chennai and Bangalore, in South India. We had also planned a stay at a resort facility in Coorg in the Western mountain range in South India. The Cauvery river originates in the mountains near Coorg and Karnataka state has opened up several points along the Cauvery river banks for tourists to get up close to some domesticated elephants. Of course, there are forest reserves where you can get a chance to see wild elephants, besides other wild animals.

“On our way to Coorg, we stopped at a tourist spot on the banks of the Cauvery river, took a boat ride and got close to a few elephants. We had taken along our recent WOW magazine and used the opportunity to take a photo with an elephant receiving a bath in the Cauvery river!”

In addition to Vaidy Subbaramaran, the photo shows his wife Charu and their son Arun. The second photo also includes two of Charu’s nephews. Vaidy explained, “Coorg is also home to the Appey (pronounced app-ee) or "Abbey" falls, which in the local Coorgi dialect actually means "falls"! We also took a photo with the WOW magazine on a small suspended bridge near the Appey falls.”
We thank the Johnsons and the Subbamarans for sharing their trips with WOW!

By Chris Barrett, Publisher

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All Things San Diego

Among other places, the June WOW visited San Diego with different Westchase residents. Both Heather Greeley-Hessefort of Keswick Forest and the Patterson family of Radcliffe took the WOW along on their trips to Southern California.

Mignon and Don Patterson, along with their children Lila and Luke, took WOW along during their visits to Legoland California, the San Diego Zoo and Tijuana, just across the U.S.-Mexico border. Lila and Luke Patterson are pictured at the zoo and Legoland.

Describing her photos, Heather Greeley-Hessefort wrote, “WOW got to see the historic Gaslamp Quarter, which reminded me of Ybor with the restaurants and shops.” Heather added, “The WOW also accompanied me inside and into the dugout of PetCo Park, home to the San Diego Padres.  I wasn't there as a Padres fan (Go, Rays!).  My company held their annual Employee of the Year awards dinner there.  It was a wonderful event and I had a little bit of home with me.”

While originally settled by Native Americans, San Diego Bay’s modern history began as a Spanish military post and mission in the 1700’s. Even after it became part of the U.S. in 1850 as the result of the Mexican-American War, San Diego remained a sleepy, small town of less than 1,000 residents until newcomer Alonzo Horton arrived. Horton purchased land closer to the bay, built a wharf there and began promoting the town’s development. Since the early 1900’s San Diego’s economy has been strongly tied to the presence of the U.S. military there.

We thank Heather Greeley-Hessefort and the Pattersons for sharing their trips with WOW.

By Chris Barrett, Publisher

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From Stonehenge to Diamond Head

The June WOW proved a well traveled magazine. Among other places, it visited the UK and the islands of Hawaii.

That month Jack and Sam Splaine of The Greens visited England to attend their aunt’s wedding. “It was the first time they had been to the U.K. and they really enjoyed it,” wrote their dad Steve,
“especially the fish 'n' chips.”

The boys also had the opportunity to visit Stonehenge, a prehistoric monument located in the English county of Wiltshire. While archaeologists still debate its purpose, it was likely erected sometime between 3,000-2,000 BC. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Stonehenge might have served as an early burial ground and it may also have been used as an astronomical observatory or a religious site. Each of the monument’s standing stones is around 13 feet tall, nearly seven feet wide and three to four feet thick. They each weigh around 25 tons.

June also found the Cushing family of Kingsford making a trip to Hawaii, which included an excursion to the top of one of the island chain’s most recognizable landmarks, Diamond Head. Wrote Laurie Cushing, “The Monday after school got out we flew for 10.5 hours to O'ahu with the WOW in our carry-on. In celebration of Hannah graduating from elementary school and our 13th wedding anniversary, we spent eight days exploring the island. We snorkeled, fed bonefish, went to a luau, toured the Pearl Harbor Memorial and the Dole plantation, saw sea turtles trying to beach themselves for a nap, had lots of shaved Hawaiian ice, golfed, body-surfed the waves in Waikiki and climbed Diamondhead. It was quite a trip!”

Diamond Head, an iconic Waikiki image, is actually the top of a volcanic tuff cone of on the Hawaiian island of O'ahu. While called Lē'ahi by native Hawaiians, the cone was dubbed Diamond Head by 19th century British sailors, who mistook calcite crystals in the rock for diamonds. The volcano Diamond Head rims has been extinct for 150,000 years. A popular tourist destination for visitors to Honolulu’s hotels, the hike to its top take one to two hours. Tom, Laurie, Hannah and Emma Cushing are pictured at the top.

We thank the Splaines and Cushings for sharing their trips with WOW.

By Chris Barrett, Publisher

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From Santa’s Neighborhood to Sri Lanka

Thanks to two Westchase families, the June WOW likely saw the greatest climatic and latitudinal extremes of any edition.

The month begin with the Butt family of Harbor Links undertaking a 16-day land and cruise tour of the U.S.’s northernmost state, way up in Santa Claus’ neighborhood. Jeff, Michelle, Andrew and Caroline Butt carried the June WOW on a long journey to the Arctic Circle along Alaska’s Dalton Highway.  Explained Michelle, “Our journey to the Arctic Circle began with an eight-hour van trip north from Fairbanks along the Dalton Highway. The Dalton Highway has recently been made famous by the History Channel show Ice Road Truckers.  Once we arrived in glamorous Coldfoot, AK (really just a truck stop), we flew from north of the Arctic Circle by small airplane back to Fairbanks!”

The month, however, also saw the June WOW in a country that sits just seven degrees north of the equator – Sri Lanka. The Gabadage/DeSilva family from The Greens visited Yala National Park and Sanctuary, where they stayed overnight in a bungalow with no walls! Nimna Gabadage wrote WOW with a description of the great experience his brother Ganjul and he had. “During a four-hour safari Jeep ride through the dangerous jungle, all sorts of exotic animals awaited us, including giant water monitors and elegant peacocks – not to mention groups of troublemaking Grey Langur monkeys.”

Nimna also sent in photos of a number of the animals living in the sanctuary. “There were wild boars moving in packs, herds of spotted deer and hulking black sloth bears,” he wrote. “Whether it’s herds of Asian elephants aimlessly lumbering through the dry plains eating scorched grass and weeds or two playful Sri Lankan leopard cubs tussling with each other on the dirt road just a meter in front of you, Yala National Park had it all.”

WOW thanks the Butts and Gabadages for sharing their travels with us!

By Chris Barrett, Publisher

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WOWing the Biltmore

In July two Westchase families took WOW along to visit one of America’s most famous houses.

After the White House, perhaps the most famous house in America is the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. Visiting the estate this past summer were Amanda, Dave, Natalie and Emery Wynne of The Vineyards and Mary and Neal Banks of Castleford.

In addition to a photo of both Natalie and Amanda Wynne at the Biltmore, the Wynnes also sent in a photo of Natalie and Emery enjoying a breathtaking view of the Blue Ridge Mountains at milepost 294 of the Blue Ridge Parkway. The stop features the Moses H. Cone Manor and Memorial Park.

In addition to their visit of the Biltmore, Mary and Neal Banks also visited the lakeside resort of Skaneatelles, New York. 

The Biltmore Estate consists of both the Biltmore House and its grounds, located in beautiful Asheville, about 50 miles from the Tennessee border in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The Biltmore House, the largest privately owned home in the U.S., was designed by architect Richard Morris Hunt in the Châteauesque-style and completed in 1895 at the height of the Gilded Age. The estate was owned by George Washington Vanderbilt, II, the grandson of Gilded Age robber baron Cornelius Vanderbilt, who made his fortune from an extensive steamship and railroad empire. Its grounds were designed by one of America’s most renowned landscape architects, Frederick Law Olmsted, famous for designing Central Park and Prospect Park in New York City.

Its once far more extensive grounds consisted of 125,000 acres of forests, 85,000 of which were sold to the U.S. government by George Washington Vanderbilt’s widow and now serve as a significant part of the Pisgah National Forest.

Still owned by one of Vanderbilt’s descendents, the Biltmore House was opened to the public in March 1930. Family members lived there until 1956, when it permanently became a house museum. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1964.

We thank the Wynnes and Bankses for sharing their travels with WOW.

By Chris Barrett, Publisher

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From the Far East and the Near West

Early July found the June WOW in several famous European places.

Over the summer Debbie and Steven Steinfeld of The Fords took a whirlwind tour of London. In just one day the indefatigable couple visited Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace, caught Les Miserables in a West End theater and scratched another item off Steve Steinfeld’s bucket list: a visit to Wimbledon during the tennis tournament. Steve remarked that seeing the tournament’s games simultaneously played on many courts offered a unique view of an athletic event most Americans see play out on one or two.

June’s WOW also accompanied the Dukat family of Bennington, who submitted photos from Pompeii, Pisa and Paris.  In one Rachel, 17, and Regina, 11, pose in front of one of the plaster casts from the remains in Pompeii, destroyed by Mt. Vesuvius’ eruption in AD 79. Located near Naples on Italy’s western coast, Pompeii was abandoned yet rediscovered in the 18th century.

The Dukat sisters were also photographed holding WOW in front of a Notre Dame Cathedral gargoyle and the Leaning Tower of Pisa. The tower was constructed between AD 1178-1319 and began to sink and tilt soon after the construction of its second floor. Wrote their father Rob, “Going up the tower is pretty crazy. Due to the lean, it feels like you're going through one of those fun house tunnels with the lights spinning around you.”

A contemporary of the Leaning Tower, Notre Dame Cathedral, a Gothic Catholic cathedral in Paris, was built between 1163-1345 and is the setting for The Hunchback of Notre Dame. “We climbed up about 200 or so steps to get to the bell towers and facade around them,” wrote Rob Dukat. “You could see and touch the 13-ton bell Quasimodo would ring.”

WOW thanks the Steinfelds and Dukats for sharing their adventures with us!

By Chris Barrett, Publisher

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From the Far East and the Near West

In early June Westchase families’ summer travels took one family to San Francisco and another to Vietnam.

The Simmons family of The Vineyards took along the June WOW for their trip to California. While Brian Simmons attended the Apple Worldwide Development Conference from June 6-10, his wife Suzie and daughter Maggie, 7, took in the city’s sites. Suzie Simmons graciously sent in a photo of Maggie in front of the rotunda of the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre. The theater, which hosts both concerts and performances, was originally constructed in the Marina District for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition. Because its construction was considered temporary and it had deteriorated badly by the 1950’s, it was demolished and constructed anew in 1964. In 1969 it became home to the Exploratorium museum and since 1970 has also housed a 1,000-seat theater.

June also saw the Huynh family of Castleford send make a trip abroad. Wrote the Huynhs, “In June 2011, we visited our native country of Vietnam.  It was an exciting first visit to Vietnam for our daughters.”

In the photos Kayla and Megan Huynh are standing in front of the former Saigon City Hall, which dates to 1908, and Notre Dame Cathedral in Saigon, which was completed in 1880. Explained the Huynhs, “Their architecture reflects French influence as Vietnam was a French colony for a century.  In fact, the bricks used to build the cathedral were shipped in from France.”

With the fall of Saigon in 1975, the city’s name was changed to [vulgarity] Chih Minh City. The Saigon name however, is still commonly used by both Vietnamese and foreigners, particularly for the central part of the city.

We thank the Huyns and the Simmonses for sharing their fun with WOW.

By Chris Barrett, Publisher

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