Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Leaning Tower of Pisa - is still leaning

Our next day destination was Pisa to see the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa. Just like the Eiffel Tower, I have heard of this historic monument since my childhood. In fact when I heard of it being leaning, I wondered whether it would be there when I grow up as then there were predictions of its falling down one day. But thankfully, it is still leaning and has no signs of falling and I finally had a chance to see it in all its grandeur and might.
My wife and son standing outside our Motel before leaving for Pisa
 The early morning deserted roads of Milan
We left Milan by road and headed towards Pisa - distance of some 285 kilometers and took us three and half hours to reach the town of Pisa. As I mentioned in my previous post, the roads in Italy are not of very quality. But road leading to Pisa was very pathetic - specially the last 20-30 kilometers and the speed limit was 30 KMPH due to its patchy and bumpy road. I wondered why the Italians could not have it repaired as Pisa is one of the famous tourist attractions of Italy.

The Pisa Tower (Torre di Pisa) or the Leaning Tower of Pisa (Torre pendente di Pisa) is a campanile, or freestanding bell tower which is part of the city's cathedral surrounded by high rising walls. The tower rising to a height of some 55.86 metres developed a fault while it was still being built but for unknown reasons it continued to be built the same and was leaning right from the outset. Thus on the lower side, it stands 55.85 metres (the leaning side) and 55.67 metres on the higher side. Many efforts have been made, specially between 1990-2001 by putting counter weights to stabilize its unintended tilt. As of now the tower is horizontally displace 3.9 metres from its center.

We entered the Pisa town and the sign posts took us to the compound where the cathedral and the Pisa's Tower are located. Vehicles, other than special, are not allowed to enter the compound, so we parked our car outside the compound in a large car park. And it was here that I first caught a glimpse of the Tower for the first time in my life.
As we started moving towards the compound, the view of the Tower became cleaerer and seeing it bit by bit added to our enthusiasm till we reached inside the compound and saw its full might.

As per Wikipedia, the construction of the tower occurred in three stages over 199 years. Work on the ground floor of the white marble campanile began on August 14, 1173. The tower began to sink after construction had progressed to the second floor in 1178. 
The cathedral compound was already full with tourists and visitors enjoying the Pisa's landmark in full bright sunny day and mind you even in October it was quite hot and precipitating.
 My family and me joining them in a slefie

 The architecture from the close quarters - the entrance to the right is used for those adventuring to stair up to the top 

 The Pisa Tower side by side the city's cathedral
Like all historic and tourist intensive places, there are shops selling souvenirs and clothes exclusive to the city besides a number of eateries selling local Italian cuisines, pizza being the most sought out dish by the tourists. We too bought a few souvenirs and ate freshly baked pizza - something that we had never tasted like before.
 My wife poses in front of one of the souvenir's shops
 A homemade tram for the city tour of tourists

The old building dating back more than two hundred years now house motels and shops on ground floor

We had to travel to Florence to see the famous statue of David and thus hurriedly packed up our visit to Pisa - adding yet another nostalgia to our memory lane for it may not be possible to revisit Pisa again as there are many other destinations in Italy yo visit. But it is not all for Pisa visit as I will talk about the bronze man of Pisa in my next post. 

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Sunday, June 18, 2017

Pakistan humiliates India by a 180 runs victory in ICC Champions Trophy final

What a great display of cricket by Pakistan cricket team today at The Oval, London when they beat India to win the ICC Cricket Champions Trophy 2017 by 180 runs.
Batting first, the Pakistani batsman showed their resilience against Indian bowlers and were undeterred to keep scoring without any fear. Fakhar Zaman (picture above) showed his mettle by scoring a ton and made 113 before being caught. Babar played well too but could not complete his half century and was caught at 46.

Hafeez and Imad were at crease when Hafeez hit sixes in plenty to take the score to 338 in 50 overs.

Coming to bat, two Indian fortresses fell for nothing, Sharma was LBW right on the second ball of the first over. Kohli the next man in was dropped at slip but was caught right on the next ball - both fortresses fell by superb bowling of Amir. But then there was no end - all major batsmen fell without crossing 30s. It was only Pandya, a bowler, who stood to his ground and scored 76 before being run out. India was all out for 158 in 33.3 overs.

Amir and Hassan took three wickets each, while Shadab took two wickets. Hassan also received the Golden Ball award for bagging most wickets throughout the tournament. He dismissed 13 players. He was also declared as the Player of the Tournament. Fakhar Zaman was declared the Man of the Match for his superb century (113).
Pakistan this won the final by 180 runs - a superb win over India which had unleashed a immense propaganda all over the media to downplay Pakistan. But Pakistan played a superb match and won over the arch rival Indians and won their first ever ICC Trophy Championship.

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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Pakistan beat England and marches into ICC Champions Trophy Final

The winning embrace: Hafeez and Babar

It was a great day at Cardiff for Pakistan when it smashed the hosts' batting order line and restrict them to just 211 runs in 49.5 overs in the first semi final of ICC Champions Trophy being played in England. Bairstow scored 43 and Root 46.

Batting first, the English batting line miserably crumbled against superb bowling of Pakistani bowlers. Hassan took three wickets, while Junaid and Raees two wickets each.

Like their batsmen, the bowlers too could not contain Pakistani batsmen who played superbly with two half centuries of Azhar and Fakhar. Azhar scored 76 while Fakhar scored 56. Pakistan won by 8 wickets.

Hassan with 10 wickets in total tops the bowlers for the Golden Ball Award. Pakistan will face winner of second semi final (India vs Bangladesh) being played on 15 June.

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Monday, June 12, 2017

Pakistan beat Sri Lanka by Three Wickets to Qualify for ICC Semis

Team Pakistan beat Sri Lanka in a crucial match of ICC Champions Trophy by there wickets to qualify for the semi finals.

Sri Lanka batting first were all out in 49.2 overs for 236. Chasing the target, Pakistan completed the 237 target in 44,5 overs.

Captain Sarfaraz and fast bowler Amir were at the crease and played superbly to win the match for Pakistan. Sarfarz hot a fifty and his ended the match with a mighty four. Sarfaraz was 61 and Amir at 28 when the match ended in Pakistan's favour.

Pakistan now meet England in the semi final.

Photo: Jubilant Sarfaraz after hitting the four and winning the match for Pakistan

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Sunday, June 11, 2017

Nadal Eying his 10th French Open Roland Garros Title Sunday 11 June 2017

The French Open title now coming to an end with ladies single final finally ending in J. Ostapenko favour who beat S Halep today in an easy win over final. But the men's final on Sunday today will be a great final for it is French Open master and nine time winner Rafael Nadal is appearing to take his 10th record title when he meets Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland today.

Rafel Nadal who has shown his resilience despite his injuries to reach the final beating  sixth ranked D. Thiem in straight sets 6-6, 6-4 and 6-0 may carry the day against his opponent  Wawrinka whom he had a favourable record of winning 15-3. His latest win over Wawrinka was at ATP World Tour Masters 1000 Monte Carlo in 2016.

In in interview, Nadal says, "It's true that 10 is a beautiful number, but actually my favourite is nine. But sure if it becomes 10 it will be my favourite." So let us see who carries the day today. I pin my hopes on Nadal.

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Saturday, June 10, 2017

Mambo Italiano - Here we come Italy !!

Sometimes childhood dreams and memories come true unexpectedly as I always dreamed of visiting Switzerland and the day came when I was almost sixty to visit Switzerland and walked through this heavenly country. Like Switzerland, Italy too had been on my wish list since my childhood, a wish that sprouted by seeing View Master slides of Venice, Rome and Pompeii and of course the famous song  Mambo Italiano, sung by many artists including the famous Dean Martin, which my father used to play on his HMV gramophone - the days of 78 RPM vinyl records. 
Coming back to Italy, after staying two memorable days in Switzerland, we drove to Italy and headed for Milan or Milano as the Italians call it. Due to shortage of time as we had to rush back to Germany where my son was studying and had his exams coming,and could not got to Rome, Venice or Pompeii which I always wanted to visit and see the dreadful scenes of that horrible day when it was covered under volcanic ash after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. I will still make an endeavorer when I visit Germany next time.
Thus due to shortage of time, our visit remained restricted to Milan and a visit to the still leaning tower of Pisa. We desecrated from the lush green mountains of Switzerland covered with low clouds to the Italian plains - feeling an almost 180 change in temperature and landscape as Italy is devoid of vegetation and one goes on and one for hundreds of miles with barren landscape or scanty vegetation covered with dust. We were lucky that our hotel was very near the city center and made it easy for us to move about easily, though parking of car was always a problem. 
The roads in Italy are not as good as Germany or Switzerland - in fact after coming from Italy I do not lament about state of affairs of roads in Pakistan as I now find these much better than those in Italy. But despite all odds, Italy is a fashionable country where stores and malls are flooded with latest women and men fashion, clothes, bags and shoes. And Milan is famous for its fashion stores for its second richest city after Paris both in wealth and fashion. It is also well known for many international fairs, including Milan Fashion Week and the Milan Furniture Fair.

Soon after reaching our hotel and freshening up, we hit the nearest markets from where my wife bought a number of bags, a treasure she still cherishes. In fact the show cases artfully loaded with bags and shoes are so tempting that one cannot resist these and coming out of shops with more bags in hands than we had before. 
While my wife was busy looking for her tastes, my sons were looking for Italian pizza and we soon found a place and the cheese pizza we had was something I had never tasted like that before. I will talk about it in my next post. We remained on the roads and nearby places for as long as we could walk and enjoyed the first night in Milan to our best.

The orange ATM 1500 tram is an iconic symbol of Milan which zooms past and one has to be very careful when crossing roads
I do not know whether dirty dancing comes in the ambit of Mambo style of dancing, but when the Mambo Italiano was first sung, there certainly weren't dirty dancing and from today's standards, the mambo style of dancing was certainly very romantic and refreshing
Those who haven't heard of the song Mambo Italiano, can now click play and listen to this beautiful song starring once Hollywood's darling Sophia Loren:

I will talk more of my stay in Italy in coming posts - so don't go away!!

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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

4th Pakistani to scale Mount Everest

It was a great day for Pakistan when Abdul Jabbar Bhatti, a retired Colonel of Pakistan Army's elite Special Service Group (SSG) and doctor by profession became the fourth Pakistani to conquer the formidable Mount Everest, the highest peak in the world.

Earlier three Pakistanis, including a woman, have scaled the 8,848 metres high Mount Everest. These include Nazir Sabir (2000), becoming the first Pakistani to scale the Everest. Following him were Hassan Sadapara (2011)  and first Pakistani female climber Samina Baig (2013).

Unlike all previous three climbers who hailed from the Gilgit-Baltistan area and were hardened to scale the Everest by birth as they lived among mountains all their lives, Bhatti hails from the plains of Punjab and undertaking such an adventure with no childhood exposure to mountain climbing is indeed a big feat.

Colonel Bhatti (R) achieved this remarkable feat at 14:30 local time on Sunday, 21 May 2017, . 

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Friday, May 19, 2017

Close encounter with hungry lions at Lal Sohanra National Park

We often see hosts on Discovery, Animal World or National Geographic channels confronting wild and deadly animals - sometimes even to the extent of risking their lives. But they generally remain safe as all safeguards are taken by the team filming the event and guards at right nearby to prevent an ugly situation.

But what do you call an adventure, closing on to a group of hungry lions completely unprepared at very close quarters? Madness of course, but such adventures have their own charm and life time memories.. And this is exactly what I did and while I still enjoy my adventure, I sometimes think what if the lioness sitting close to me had jumped and got hold of me - well if she had, I would not have been writing this post today.

Lal Sohanra is a man made jungle spread over thousands of acres 35 kilometres east of Bahawalpur district of Punjab province of Pakistan and is considered to be the largest national parks of south Asia. UNESCO has declared Lal Sohanra national park as a Biosphere Reserve. Beside breeding rare back bucks and Neil Guy, the park also has an enclosed area where a lion and his four lionesses roam freely.

As per Wikipedia, there is a large variety of wild life that include wildcats, jackals, rabbits and bustards. The park is littered with a large number of reptiles like monitor lizard, Russell's viper, Indian cobra, saw-scaled viper, wolf snake, John's sand boa, and spiny-tailed lizard. As for birds, there are over 150 species of birds including the largely extinct houbara bustard, griffin vulture, crested honey buzzard, marsh harrier, hen harrier, laggard falcon, peregrine falcon, kestrel, Eurasian sparrow hawk, Egyptian vulture, lark, shrike, wheat-ear, and barn owl. Lake Patisar, a large body of water in the center of the park, is ideal for bird watching. In mid-winter, the lake is regularly home to between 10,000 and 30,000 ducks and common coot.

Now coming back to the lions and my adventure. While visiting the park, we saw a pride of a lion and four lionesses resting some distance away from the dirt track we were riding. Finding this a lifetime opportunity as tourists find during lion safari in the African jungles, I stopped the car and came out and asked my family to follow the suit, who reluctantly also came out. Now there we were standing some 30 feet from the nearest lioness as can be seen in the photo above. I took a snap and asked one family member to take my photo with the lions in the background.

Perhaps the photographer panicked and shoot a photo with nothing in it. And during this time I had my back towards the lioness who could have easily jumped and grabbed me - luckily she did not and we hurriedly got in the car and slowly moved on. I can still feel those gazing pale eyes of the big cat who spared me for God knows why.Unknown to us, it was almost the meal time of the lions and soon we saw a truck coming with fresh meat pieces and threw in front of the lions.

That was my adventure that nearly cost me my life - and ain't gonna take such adventure ever..Would you ever?

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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Goodbye Switzerland

It has been a while that I last wrote about my Schengen Travelogue and could not continue writing about the rest of the countries and places I visited during my memorable travel a few years ago. In my last post, I wrote about the Zürich Film Festival which was our last destination in Switzerland before saying good bye to my childhood dream country and travel to Italy.

After two days in Switzerland, though we should have stayed a month there and I wished I could had it not been for the exams of my son studying in Germany to whom we had gone visiting, we left our motel in Lichtensteig, a small town some 57 kilometers due east of Zürich early morning and set our course to Italy - our next destination.
We got up early morning with a bright sunshine, falling on the contours of lush green hilly landscape, and packed up all set to leave, though really not wanting to. Before we moved out of the motel, I drank the last cup of hot fuming Swiss coffee while sitting in the motel balcony feeling the cool scented breeze and thanking the Allah Almighty for having afforded me to come and visit Switzerland - a heaven on earth indeed.

 My wife and boys posing  just outside our motel

 Filling up for Italy

 Spectacular view of Lake Zürich
 Lake Zürich behind, we preserving our presence for forever
 Don't hit the cows !!
The family selfie before we moved on to find the spectacular view of the Uri Lake to our right. I wish we had time to go down and had the ride in the steamer which we could spot from the above.

Uri Lake with its ocean blue and green hues was a spectacular scene watching it almost from the above. We could sail boats, motor boats wading through its blue waters while big steamers also sailed bye us and we could see tourists enjoying their sail - something of a life time remembrance. 

The photo below with sun rays peeing between the two mountain crest simply spellbound me. The photo did not come out as it was there right in front of me but is imprinted on my memory - something that can be described in words.

Skirting the mountain peaks obscured by clouds, we finally started to descend on our way to Italy. Those who have traveled by road from Switzerland to Italy would know a stark difference between the landscape of both countries. While Swiss landscape was lush green, captivating and refreshing, the plains leading to Italy were devoid of vegetation and landscape to enjoy. From then on to Milan, our next three-days stop in Italy was straight drive - looking front only.
 We entered Milan or Milano as they call in Italian with refreshing memories of Switzerland and looked forward to Italian hospitality, music and dances. 

But passing through Switzerland was not over yet - upon return from Italy, we again passed through Switzerland and Austria, though briefly on our way back to Germany. I will write about Italy in my coming few posts and going back -so don't go away !!

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