Today with the popularity of the Internet, t seems quite simple to figure out an individual’s personal history. Social networking sites, virtual phonebooks, personal websites … with all of this information you can learn not only where someone lives but even what he/she had for lunch yesterday!
But the globe has not always been connected by the worldwide ties of the web. In fact, if we travel back just one or two generations, we find that it may be considerably more difficult to decipher an individual’s personal history.
Because of this, many people find that they are uncertain of their family’s history and origins. Perhaps all you have is an old shoebox filled with sepia-toned photos, crinkled hand-written letters, and a few treasured family heirlooms. Your family history can seem like an undecipherable puzzle.
Fortunately, it is not impossible to piece together your family’s roots. You do need a little bit of time and patience.
Here is how to get started:
(1) Begin with those treasured family photos and heirlooms.
Collect as many birth certificates and other family documents as you can. Wills, land deeds, and immigration records can be especially helpful here. Always check the back of photos for names and dates that may be written.
If you or a family member have old books that have been passed down through generations this is a great place to look for important information as well. In Europe as early as the 1500s it was very common for families to record births and deaths in the front of an important family book, such as a Torah or Bible.
If you are borrowing important documents from other family members, make sure to either keep them in archival safe storage or just make a copy for yourself and leave the original with your family member. Try putting all of your documents and photos in chronological order. This can be a crucial step in figuring out how your family moved from one area of the world to another.
(2) Take the time to interview your relatives.
You can do this in person, over the phone, or by email. Start with your parents and move up from there. Make sure you record each relative’s answers in writing. Some sample questions you may wish to ask about are:
Where and when were you born?
Did other family members live in the same area as you?
How did you come to live in that area?
Did you have a phone/electricity/running water/etc.?
The answers provided will help to guide you to new questions. It can be fun to ask about favorite pets, foods, chores, and the cost of treats such as candy and toys.
Don’t be nervous about speaking to distant relatives such as a great-aunt with whom you do not frequently correspond. Especially if you do not have a lot of living blood relatives this will be a very necessary step for you. This may sound cliché, but it is important for you to speak to relatives before it is too late. I am certain that he or she will understand this and be happy to oblige.
(3) Begin to construct your family tree.
This is where you will begin to see the pieces of your family puzzle come together. Your goal is to be able to lay out your family history in a chart, or what we more commonly refer to as a tree. To access a free Family Group Sheet and Pedigree Chart, follow this link: http://genealogy.about.com/library/lessons/blintro1c.htm There are also some good directions here on how to use these resources.
(4) Focus on a specific surname, individual, or family.
Focusing on an entire genealogical chart can be rather overwhelming. So once you have pieced together your family tree, you may want to pick one surname or individual on which to focus.
For example, if you were able to gather the most information about your great-great-grandmother, allow yourself to trace her path. Now don’t forget that political boundaries have changed over the years. So even if you find that your great-great-grandmother appeared to have lived in two different cities, it may simply mean that the name and/or boundaries changed during her lifetime and she was living on the same piece of land.
(5) Visit the place where your family lived.
Sound impossible? It’s not! Deluxe Kosher Tours can help you do it. Combining a DKT trip with your genealogical research can be an absolutely rewarding experience. It gives you the chance to check out cemeteries, synagogues, and courthouses that may be relevant to your family history firsthand. Bring copies of your research, your camera, and plenty of pencils with you because your learning experience will continue on your trip.
To find out when DKT is traveling to your family’s native country, check out our tour schedule now.
Visiting the country where your ancestors lived can be an extremely exciting and rewarding experience. You’ll have the opportunity to walk the land where your ancestors walked and visit many of the very same places. You may even have the opportunity to find your family name in a Jewish cemetery. It’s an amazing way to bring yourself closer with your family heritage.
From prosperity to persecution, the history of Jewish life in Vienna, Austria, is extensive. There are few European cities that are so closely intertwined with Jewish history.
By visiting Vienna today you can see many memorials to the hardships that Jews in Austria have suffered. You will also see tributes to the great accomplishments to many famous Viennese Jews, including Franz Kafka, Theodor Hertzl, Martin Buber, and Sigmund Freud.
Did you know that, during the Jewish Renaissance, three out of four Austrian Nobel Prize winners in medicine were Jewish? More than half of Austria’s physicians and dentists were Jews, and so were more than 60% of the lawyers. Today, Vienna is enriched not just by its waltz, but also by its long, rich Jewish history.
When touring Jewish Vienna, a great place to start is with the Jewish Museum Vienna, which is made up of two branches: the Jüdisches Museum in the Palais Eskeles and the Museum Judenplatz.
The Palais Eskeles is a residence in the city center not far from St. Stephan’s cathedral. Originally, the museum opened in 1896, which makes it the oldest museum of its kind in the world. The museum was, however, closed by the Nazis in 1938 and not re-opened again until 1989.
The museum has a permanent exhibition of the history of Jews in Austria, which is spread out over four floors, and the renowned Judaica collection by Max Berger. There are also between six and eight special exhibitions every year. The museum has now shown some 150 exhibitions and attracted over 1.2 million visitors from all over the world.
The collections in the Jewish Museum Vienna provide outstanding documentation of the history of the Jews in Austria over the centuries. There are approximately 15,000 objects, which are among the most important archives of Jewish cultural history from the Habsburg empire, the First Austrian Republic, interwar Vienna, and the Nazi era. Many of the items are on display in the Viewable Storage Area.
The next stop on your tour of Jewish Vienna will be at the very heart of medieval Vienna, at a charming square called Judenplatz, or Jew’s Square. Here you can see two memorials. The first is for Gottfried Ephraim Lessing, a German humanist and enlightenment writer.
The other one is Vienna’s Shoa memorial, or Memorial for the Jewish Victims of the Holocaust. The memorial was designed by artist Rachel Whiteread and is made up of a large concrete cube that depicts outwardly facing library walls and book spines. On the ground around the memorial the names of the places where 65,000 Austrian Jews were killed are inscribed.
The somber memorial was unveiled in the year 2000. At the same time, the Judenplatz Museum, which documents the history of Vienna’s Jews in the Middle Ages, was opened. The Judenplatz Museum offers archeological findings from the excavations on Judenplatz, as well as a multi-media presentation of Jewish life in the Middle Ages, a medieval city model, and documentation about the medieval synagogue.
Your tour of Jewish Vienna does not stop here; there is even more to see! Some other sites you will enjoy visiting include the Schoenberg Center on Schwarzenbergplatz and the Sigmund Freud House at Berggasse 19. You can also visit the Central Cemetery, where you will find the grave sites of some of the most important and influential Viennese Jews.
For more information about the many attractions of Jewish Vienna, you can visit the Jewish Welcome Service website at www.jewish-welcome.at/. The site’s whole purpose is to welcome you to the city of Vienna and to inform people all over the world about Jewish Vienna.
Embarking on an adventure in arctic Greenland has the potential to be unlike anything you have ever experienced before. The landscape here is so vast, and creates a startling impact with its diversity.
In southern Greenland you’ll gaze upon a sterling sea covered in icebergs and looming glassy glaciers, all of which contrast with the intensely green landscape and leafy tundra. It’s this divergence that really makes Greenland unique, as well as highly memorable.
While in Greenland, there is surely no lack of things to do and see. (Make sure to do them all well bundled — even in the summer the highs here are only around 50 degrees Fahrenheit!)
Here are the top 5 amazing things to do while you’re in Greenland:
(1) Trek to the Ice Sheet
The Greenlandic Ice Sheet is a gigantic ice cap that, in some places, is up to 100,000 years old. The ice sheet has covered large parts of Greenland for the last 2-3 million years. But active glaciers and constant melting have meant that the ice has been recycled many times.
At its highest point, it is 10,500 feet thick. You can fly, sail, drive or walk to the fringe of the ice, and in some places you can step out onto it, an experience that makes you feel like you are in a different world.
Thrill seekers looking for a challenge also have the chance to trek across the ice sheet. It is an extreme sport and one that requires great competence as well as special permission. There are, however, a handful of companies in Greenland able to offer this option to their customers.
(2) Watch Whales
During the summer months, you can see Humpback, Minke, and Fin whales in Greenlandic waters. During the winter, you may spot Beluga, Narwhal, or Bowhead whales.
Humpback whales are the largest, weighing up to 66,000 pounds, yet somehow they manage to be the acrobats of the group. They can be seen jumping out of the water, flicking their tails and flippers. The Humpback whale is easily recognizable because of its humped dorsal fin and white flippers.
(3) Witness the Midnight Sun
For those who live in Greenland, Midnight Sun is not just an occurrence, but also a lifestyle and a state of mind. Daylight around the clock challenges the traditional concepts of night time and day time. Midnight Sun can be experienced north of the Arctic Circle for a period lasting from one day to five months, depending on how far north you travel.
In central Greenland, Midnight Sun occurs from the end of May until the end of July. During this period, the soft, warm rays from the low-lying sun make the surrounding scenery appear ethereal and dream-like. Icebergs and hilltops glow in a colorful bath of pink, purple, yellow and red light — a breathtaking sight.
(4) Try Transportation by Dogsled
Dog lover, snow lover, nature lover, adventure lover… Any of these will definitely get a thrill from embarking on a dogsled ride.
You can ride in a dogsled as a passenger in Tasiilaq, which is located on Greenland’s east coast. Then after a couple of days of training, you can qualify for a license to drive a dogsled!
What makes dog sledding really unique is that it is possible only in the area north of the Arctic Circle and in Eastern Greenland. This area is known locally as “the dogsled district.” Sisimiut and Kangerlussuaq are the two most southerly towns on the west coast from where it is possible to drive dogsleds during the winter and spring.
(5) Witness Ilulissat Icefjord
Ilulissat Icefjord is an UNESCO World Heritage Site and Greenland’s biggest natural attraction. You may have heard about it in the news lately because it is at the center of international focus on global warming. Because of this, Ilulissat Icefjord has recently been visited by many politicians and diplomats, including John McCain and Nancy Pelosi.
Ilulissat Icefjord is the pre-eminent glacier in the northern hemisphere. The site consists of Sermeq Kujalleq, the most productive glacier draining the inland icecap on Greenland, and the iceberg-filled fjord named Kangia. Ilulissat Icefjord is situated in western Greenland, north of the Arctic Circle.
Piamonte, which is known in English as Piedmont and literally means “foothills,” is a region of northern Italy that is made up of the provinces of Torino, Alessandria, Asti, Cuneo, Novara, and Vercelli.
One of the factors for which Piamonte is well known is its interesting geographical position — it is surrounded by France, Switzerland, and northern Italy. This places it firmly at the center of European development trends and contributes to the dynamism of this region, which is balanced between old tradition and new innovation.
Among the many attractions that draw tourists to the Piamonte region are the mountainous site of the 2006 winter Olympics, the great food and wines, pre-eminent textiles, technology and car production, the Savoy palaces, the film industry, art, and architecture.
Here are some attractions that you will want to be sure to see during your trip to Piamonte, Italy:
Valsesia is known as “the greenest valley in Italy.” However, one of its most famous attractions is not green at all; it’s pink. Monte Rosa is the name given to the mountain which fills the sky with a rosy pink glow during winter sunsets. Even the tracks left by the skis along the mountainside glow pink. Monte Rosa is a wonderful site for mountaineering, skiing, and other winter sports.
The hilly, mist-shrouded area known as the Langhe is a lush, scenic region filled with silver green poplars and climbing vines. The Langhe is an area devoted (almost entirely) to the cultivation of wine grapes and hazelnuts. In fact, the region is home to more than 900 wineries, which can be visited for wine tastings.
Langhe literally means “strips of land” and the region consists of three separate areas. The Upper Langhe is wild and rugged with thick oak woods that are occupied by wild boar and nearly 50 species of orchids. The Middle Langhe is filled with hazelnut groves, and the Lower Langhe is home to the many vineyards.
The Great Lakes
Three lakes at the foot of Monte Rosa — Orta, Mergozzo, and Stresa — offer many wonderful attractions. Surrounding the lakes are a number of churches, parks, cottages, and villas that make up a quaint sort of “small Switzerland.”
Another main attraction is the island of San Giulio at the center of Lake Orta. You can take a boat out to the town of San Giulio to visit the Basilica, wander around the tiny alleys, and pop into a local café.
The Monferrato is another region of Piamonte that is well known for its wine. The principal wines produced here are Barbera d’Asti, Barbera del Monferrato, and Freisa d’Asti. The rolling landscape of the Monferrato is covered with orchards, gardens, and vines.
Here you can also witness a great variety of historical architecture and visit the ghetto, which was the home of the area’s Jewish residents until the emancipation of the Jews occurred in 1848. Make sure to also visit the synagogue, which was built in 1595 and said to be one of the most beautiful in all of Europe.
Did you know that the barking deer is just one of the rare mammals that calls Thailand home? Really, I couldn’t make this up! Until quite recently, however, I thought that a barking deer was only a creature that existed perhaps in a cartoon or video game. It was my good college buddy Jamie who recently shared with me the news of this interesting creature from her home in Bangkok.
Jamie is an American citizen who had lived here in the United States all her life. Up until recently, that is, when she decided to travel to Bangkok, Thailand, to work with the Goodwill Group.
She has been working with disadvantaged Thai women to help teach them basic computer skills, and she also teaches English classes for three hours a week. The tenure of her stay is planned for four months … but at this point I’ll be surprised if she ever comes back!
In each email she writes me, all Jamie can do is rave about how wonderful Thailand is and how welcoming all of the people are. Plus, Bangkok is definitely a foreigner-friendly city. The American dollar is the most widely accepted foreign currency there.
Bangkok is the spiritual, economic, and political center of the country. It holds an eclectic mix of both old traditions such as street markets and new attractions such as a huge shopping mall called the Siam Center.
Thailand is known as the “Land of Smile,” and according to Jamie’s emails the people of the city of Bangkok are super friendly, charitable, and hospitable. A term that is commonly used in Thailand is “nam jai,” which means helpfulness. Jamie’s job really does personify the spirit of nam jai.
Working with the Goodwill Group is a role that obviously brings countless rewards. The women are so grateful to her that they have begun calling her Jaidee, which in Thai means “good hearted,” instead of her American name.
One of Jamie’s concerns in moving to Bangkok for four months was that she would not have a place to attend Shabbat morning services. The country of Thailand is 95% Buddhist, so she assumed that there would not be a Jewish community in Bangkok. How pleasantly wrong she was!
Thailand has always stood for religious tolerance. Because of this, a little over 100 Jews escaped from Nazi Germany in the 1920s by fleeing to Thailand. Later in the 1950s and 1960s, Jews began to immigrate from America, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Iran. In 1964, the Jewish Community of Thailand was established.
For services, Jamie attends Beth Elisheva, a synagogue in Bangkok. The synagogue was consecrated in 1979 and was named in honor of Elizabeth Rosenberg Zerner, who was the first Thai-born daughter of the first Jewish citizens in Thailand. The synagogue maintains both a Sunday school and a nursery school, and it even has a communal barbecue every other week, followed by English classes.
From what Jamie has written, it seems that Beth Elisheva has truly made Bangkok feel like home.
I’ll bet all it takes is for me to say the word “Egypt” to create a clear mental picture in your mind, right? I am sure you are envisioning the looming sphinx and massive pyramids towering before a brilliant teal sky. It’s an awe-inspiring vision.
Yet I can tell you firsthand that it is hard to imagine the true awesomeness of Cairo until you have visited it yourself.
One of the things that struck me immediately when flying into the city of Cairo is how incredibly diverse it is. Yes, it is mostly a desert landscape. But it is dotted with spots of bright healthy green, especially along the banks of the Nile River.
While I was awaiting my taxi, I used the free WiFi at the airport to scope out a few facts about the country. Egypt is about four times the size of the state of Michigan with about eight times the number of people. Michigan is about 40% water, whereas Egypt is less than 1%. Thus, if you see water within the country, you can pretty much rest assured that it is the Nile.
While traveling from the Cairo International Airport to my hotel by taxi amidst quite a bit of traffic, I was surprised to see many billboards advertising products such as Aquafina bottled water and Coca-Cola. Since I didn’t want to drink the tap water, it was reassuring to see that the comforts of home would be available to me.
Another surprise came when I noticed that most of the road signs were written in both standard Arabic and English. While Arabic is the most commonly used language in Egypt, English is frequently used within government and commerce.
As in most highly populated cities, the homes are built “up” rather than “out.” The city is filled with tall apartment buildings, each dotted with numerous satellite dishes.
As I was inching along the highway in my taxi, I noticed the Great Pyramids of Giza set against the horizon. It creates such an amazing dichotomy: These landmarks that are literally thousands of years old are set in the background of a modern, and very busy, city.
Just as I sat admiring the pyramids in the distance, I noticed an interesting sign on the side of the road. It depicted a horn with the international “no” sign of a big red circle with a cross through it. I immediately understood it to mean “no honking.” Interesting, since there was definitely quite a bit of honking going on.
Like I said before, it’s really difficult to imagine the majesty of the Great Pyramids until you have witnessed them for yourself. They are the last surviving wonder of the Seven Wonders of the World, and it is incredible that they have survived for somewhere around 5,000 years.
From the city of Cairo, the pyramids are a quick taxi cab ride away. Or, if you prefer, you can take an air-conditioned micro bus. Once you’ve arrived at the pyramids, you can get around by foot, by buggy, or by my method of transportation, a camel ride. (Be prepared to pay a small fee if you would like to take photos of your camel.) It’s well worth a few bucks for this once-in-a-lifetime amazing experience.
Have you heard of the country of Burma? Many people haven’t. It is a little country located in Southeast Asia between India and China.
You may have heard the name Myanmar, which since 1989 has been promoted by military authorities in Burma as the name of the country. The name Myanmar has not been approved by any sitting legislature in Burma, but it has been accepted by many countries and the United Nations.
This name is not recognized by the United States because it is one that was chosen by one of the most insensitive and brutal military dictatorships in the world.
Currently, approximately 42 million people live in the small country of Burma. And for years now, these people have been locked in a great, desperate struggle for freedom. The country’s military rulers, the State Peace and Development Council, have run the country with an iron fist for the past 20 years. They assumed power from a 26-year socialist dictatorship.
Among a total of 168 countries in the world, Burma ranks 164 on freedom of expression. Among 191 countries, it ranks 190 in public health care.
In 1988 students, professionals, and others launched a nationwide uprising aimed at bringing an end to authoritarian rule. Millions of civilians courageously marched through the streets, calling for freedom and democracy.
The military responded by gunning down thousands of these peaceful demonstrators and imprisoning thousands more. The leader of the demonstrations, Min Ko Naing (pronounced Min Ko Nine), has been held behind bars ever since. He is among approximately 1,400 political prisoners.
The most recognizable face of Burma is 1991 Nobel Peace Prize recipient Daw Aung San Suu Kyi (pronounced Daw Aung Sawn Sue Chee). She is the daughter of one of Burma’s most cherished heroes, General Aung San, who led his country’s fight for independence from Great Britain in the 1940s and was killed for his beliefs in 1947.
Suu Kyi has followed in her father’s heroic footsteps with her calm but passionate advocacy of freedom and democracy in the country. For her advocacy, she has been in and out of prison since 1988. Presently she is held under house arrest.
The Burmese military regime continues its brutal domination over its people. Numerous governments, non-governmental organizations, United Nations bodies, and international organizations have documented Burma’s widespread problems.
These currently range from human rights violations to complete deterioration of healthcare and public education. The authorities have also worked to silence all forms of free speech or thought. Thousands have been imprisoned for merely voicing their desire for a free and democratic country.
So how can you make a difference?
We can use our liberty to help promote the freedom and liberty of the Burmese people. To become involved in Burma’s fight for freedom, visit the following links:
The US Campaign for Burma – http://uscampaignforburma.org/join-now
Help Save the Kids of Thailand and Burma – http://helpsavethekids.com/index.php/about/
The Burma Campaign UK – http://www.burmacampaign.org.uk/index.php/burma/donate/donate-now
Foundation for the People of Burma – http://foundationburma.org/
The Mae Tao Clinic – http://www.givetoburma.org/
One of the best parts of traveling to faraway places is the chance to experience the diversity of culture and tradition that exists in each location. During a visit to Myanmar (Burma), visitors must take the time to visit the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market.
There you will be able to see how people of this region have bought and sold vegetables and other items for a hundred years. Of course, many say that the market is not as authentic as it was once and that it has become geared more to the tourists that to the locals.
While there is certainly some truth to this, it still remains a fascinating thing to see the small boats full of fruits, vegetables, meats and other items clog the waterways while all vying for the best spot in which to barter with the buyers – both locals and tourists.
The floating market once featured small paddle boats. Today, the waterways are shared by larger boats that are powered by small engines. It is on these boats, called longboats, that tourists can travel in to reach the markets.
There are guided tours available that will bring you to the market and include an English-speaking guide that will stay with you throughout your time there. When your shopping is done, you will be transported back to your hotel.
Seeing the markets with a tour guide is recommended rather than going it alone. With Deluxe Kosher Tours, a guided tour to the markets is included in your package.
Some who have visited the market describe it as being two distinct markets. The first is for the tourists. You will be able to find very reasonably priced souvenirs and other such items. The other part of the market is the one where locals would visit.
That is where spices and fresh food items can be purchased. Some of the vendors cook right on their boats and sell their freshly cooked items to market goers. While not all of the food will be appropriate for those trying to keep kosher, much of it will be just fine.
The market is only open until noon each day, so you will need to plan to arrive early in order to be able to spend any time there. Past visitors have found wonderful bargains such as silk scarves for $5 and intricately carved small wooden boxes for $2.
An important piece of advice to keep in mind when visiting these markets is to never pay the first price asked. The vendors expect you to bargain with them, and that is part of the fun! See how great of a deal you can get on any of the thousands of items being offered at any given time.
While part of the excitement is seeing what kind of bargains you can get, the other part of the charm is viewing life much as it would have looked in this city a hundred years ago. Sure, the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market has morphed into something that is as much for tourists as for locals, but it is also a place that is legitimately part of the history of the area. If for no other reason than that, it should not be missed.
Over the last century, the Jewish population of Egypt has greatly fluctuated. In the year 1922, the number of Jews living in Egypt totaled approximately 80,000. In 2004, the number stood at approximately 100.
By visiting Egypt today, you’ll find an active Jewish community despite this very small population.
During ancient times, a large number of Jews settled in Egypt during the Persian Empire, which took place from 550-330 BC. Within the Bible, it is also documented that a large number of Jews took refuge in Egypt after the fall of the Kingdom of Judah and the assassination of the Jewish governor in 597 BC.
Additional waves of Jewish immigrants settled in Egypt during the Ptolemaic and Roman eras, from 400 BC to 641 AD. In 882 AD, a very significant Jewish site in Cairo, Egypt, was founded.
At this time, Abraham Ben Ezra, who came to Egypt from Jerusalem during the reign of Ahmed Ibn, purchased what was then a Christian Church for the amount of 20,000 dinars. The Coptic Christians of Cairo were forced to sell to their church to the Jews in order to pay the annual taxes imposed by the Muslim rulers of the time.
Once the building was converted to a synagogue, it became a place of pilgrimage for North African Jews and the site of major festival celebrations. The famous medieval rabbi Moses Maimonides worshipped at Ben Ezra synagogue when he lived in Cairo.
Today, when you visit the Ben Ezra synagogue, what you’ll see is a result of numerous renovations and restorations that have been completed over the centuries. The first structure collapsed, but a new structure was carefully built to resemble the original. The building that remains today has stood since 1892.
While the Ben Ezra synagogue is no longer a place of worship, it is still an important Jewish landmark, and a place that is certainly worth visiting. It is open to tourists and visitors daily, and is considered to be the most significant Jewish site within Cairo, and perhaps all of Egypt.
Jewish monuments within Egypt are somewhat rare, which is a result of the Suez crisis in 1956, and the war between Israel and Egypt that began in 1967. During this time, Jews living in Egypt were expelled from the country.
One of the most famed attractions at the Ben Ezra synagogue is a marble shrine which contains a rock that, according to local tradition, was prayed before by Moses. The synagogue is decorated with geometric and floral patterns, contains two levels, and many tall windows through which the sun beams brightly during the day.
In addition to Ben Ezra, within the area of Cairo you will find two operating synagogues for the current Jewish population of about 25 people. The Adley synagogue, which is located in downtown Cairo, and the Maadi synagogue, which is located in Maadi, a small town to the south of Cairo.
These two synagogues open alternately for Jewish holidays. The Adley synagogue is open to tourists, and also houses a library of Jewish books.
In Cairo you will also find the Israeli Academic Center, which is the result of the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty that stipulated each side was to set up a cultural center in the other’s country.
Even for the well-seasoned traveler Antarctica provides an experience that is surprising and unique. The landscape here is seemingly unearthly and, for most people, is unlike anything they have ever seen before.
In recent years it seems that the word has gotten out about the wide variety of amazing sights in an area that was previously thought to be entirely stark and desolate. Historically speaking, Antarctica has become the goal of explorers only in recent times. In fact, the South Pole was not even reached until my grandfather’s lifetime!
During the 1997-1998 tourist season only 9,600 people visited the continent. One decade later, from 2007-2008, 32,000 tourists set foot in Antarctica while another 13,000 took part in over-flights or cruised through. In 2010, up to 80,000 tourists are expected to visit Antarctica.
It is for this reason President Obama announced that stricter modifications to the Antarctic Treaty were needed.
The Antarctic Treaty was first created 50 years ago in order to protect Antarctica’s fragile environment and diverse wildlife. It is the interest of many countries around the world to continue to ensure that tourism to Antarctica is conducted in an environmentally responsible way that does not disrupt the continent’s delicate ecosystem.
Despite this, Antarctica is still a magical place to visit. It is important for visitors to simply understand their environmental impact and do their best to limit this impact. Because Antarctica really doesn’t have any “residents” so to speak, it is the responsibility of visitors to insure that their activities are environmentally friendly and not invasive.
Antarctica offers a landscape and wildlife habitat that is literally unlike any other in the world. The ethereal destination is filled with towering mountains, sparkling icebergs, and looming glaciers. More than 99% of Antarctica is covered with ice, and this contains about 70% of the world’s fresh water.
The thick ice that covers Antarctica makes it the highest of all continents. Its average elevation is about 7,500 feet. Antarctica has no trees or bushes at all, with its only plant life consisting of algae, lichens, and mosses.
So just how cold does it get in Antarctica?
It’s both the coldest and windiest continent. The lowest temperature on earth was recorded here in 1983 at the Russian base at the Southern Geomagnetic Pole. The temperature was recorded at -128.6 degrees Fahrenheit!
Now you would think that in these extreme conditions there would be a lack of wildlife in Antarctica. But it is actually quite the contrary. In fact, it is the continent’s wildlife that really attracts the most visitors. There are no land-based vertebrate animals here; all vertebrates are dependent on the sea.
The ocean surrounding Antarctica is teeming with life. Six species of seals and 12 species of birds live and breed in the Antarctic. Crab eater seals are the second most numerous large mammal on the planet (after humans). The population of krill here has been estimated as outnumbering the human population on earth!
When many people think of Antarctica, the first animal that comes to mind is the penguin. Indeed, penguins are perhaps the area’s most famous inhabitants. Early Antarctic explorers actually thought the penguins were fish and classified them as such.
Penguins do travel more like fish than like birds as penguin are superbly designed to “fly underwater.” Penguins are able to propel themselves underwater at speeds up to 25 miler per hour. There are four species of penguins that live and breed in the Antarctic: Adelie, Emperor, Chinstrap, and Gentoo.
If you have always wanted to see whales in the wild, then Antarctica has something extra special in store for you. Eight different magnificent species of whales live in the waters surrounding the continent: Blue, Fin, Humpback, Minke, Orca, Southern Right, Sei, and Sperm.
Today the entire area around the continent of Antarctica has been declared an international whale sanctuary. Whaling activities are closely monitored by the International Whaling Commission (IWC).