The Towers of Wind

Many things made and still make Persia famous today. Going along the line of Persian inventions, today we find the Towers of Wind 🙂 AKA the mother of air conditioning devices.

The towers of wind are found all over Iran. And they have to be! Desert weather, unbearable temperatures and the inhospitable heat has always made it imperious to find a solution since ancient times.

How did ancient Persians survive the torrid heat?

The Tower of Wind is basically a ‘wind catcher’, a building designed to refrigerate hot air. These towers, normally connected to water channels, are capable of storing water so efficiently that even during summer water can feel nearly freezing.
The invention proved so effective that it rapidly spread out in many Middle-eastern and Asian countries.

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(c) wikipedia. This is a very simple scheme of how a tower of wind with qanat works. Basically, hot air, thanks to wind pressure, is pushed down the tunnel where the contact with water cools it down and then pushed inside the building through its basement. Always due to pressure, hot air is naturally expelled out of the high tower. There is never dust in these towers because the sand is carried outside by the underground water flow.

Their invention is certainly credited to the Persian Empire but we are still not sure today if the first Tower was actually built in Iran. What we know is that one of the oldest of these magnificent towers is about 3,000 years old and located in the city of Yazd.

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The Dolat Abat Garden in Yazd. The tallest tower of wind in Iran.

Yazd is a desert city which has been able to maintain its ancient architecture, and as such, it represents today a beautiful example of Iranian planning engineering.

The Towers of Wind may come in different designs. The ones you find in Iran all come with a qanat, meaning underground water flows, which aggregates an even better cooling effect.

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These Towers made it possible for very hostile environments to become fit for residential use. Inhabitable.

Its invention was widely applauded in the region, becoming an integral part of sacred temples and palaces.

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Always because of the arid conditions, gardens in Persia were extremely important and taken care of.

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Canneto di Caronia: a Poltergeist town

Dear Reader,
Remember Sicilians and superstitions saga on this blog?
Well, mystery and curiosity struck again and Stanito & staff are right there on spot.

It all happened one day, when I receive this piece of news via e-mail:

The mystery of Caronia’s fires, a 10 year long-lasting nightmare. 
A trip to Canneto di Caronia, in the province of Messina, through people and houses burnt down by mysterious fires that have stricken the area since 2004. 
TVs, fridges, washing machines and even couches and sofas catch fire seemingly without an explanation… 

And then the video:

As part of my Sicily plan, Canneto di Caronia was set towards the end of the trip.

What Happened?

First incidents are dated back to 2004 so it’s been going on for about 13 years now. This bizarre phenomenon revolves around spontaneous combustion of mattresses, beds, cars, and devices like fridges and mobile phones, even when these are switched off. Quite obviously, the events couldn’t but attract the attention of physicists, geologist who gave all sort of explanations. Villagers were not convinced though…

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Theories:

Grounded theories vary. It could have been simply arson or old devices and poor electrical cables simply gave up.
Well, arson was ruled out when the devices that caught fire were unplugged. Then something happened: in 2007 an Italian newspaper published a leaked report from Civil Protection, concluding that aliens were the only plausible explanation as the result of the two investigation led to ” 15 gigawatts high power electromagnetic emissions that were not man-made”. Investigation remained open attributing the causes to simply “unknown electromagnetic radiation”.

And then something even more incredible happened! The Vatican’s chief exorcist, Gabriele Amorth, backed the villagers true fears by saying the following: “these fires are caused by the Devil. I have seen incidents like these before. Demons occupy houses and appear in electrical devices”. The interview in Italian is right here.

Another report also detailed a possible UFO landing close to the village, citing “burnt
imprints which have not been explained were found in a field.”

What’s Canneto di Caronia like today?

Years have gone by and eventually the town emptied considerably. Don’t forget that this is the region where superstitions have a big role in people’s lives (read my post on Sicilian superstitions for more on the subject). The episodes have attracted the attention of geologists, physicists and volcanologists, NASA experts without providing an accurate scientific explanation so far or a logical real conclusion to the case. Naturally, the villagers are blaming supernatural entities like UFOs, poltergeists, or other demonic forces, prompting them to evacuate the town.

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Some of the villagers came back but the town still remain in ghost state…

 

 

How to Enjoy Mexico: understand its background first!

Dear Reader,

It’s been almost three since I moved to Mexico and I don’t feel I have fully explained this wonderful country. I wrote several posts on it and it will probably take several chapters to even slightly envision what Mexico is and it’s worth doing so. I want you to feel it as if you were here with me exploring this remarkable land.

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The beautiful and shining Guanajuato town.

It sounds so basic and futile when you think about it, as if by reading the title the imminent thought would be “oh come on, no need for guidelines”. But believe me, there is a science behind the enjoyment of a new city or even country, especially one you hope to survive without stress and melancholy. You might also think that all it takes is to join a tour or simply read about it on a travel guide.

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Learn how to make tacos. It’s fundamental in order to understand how delicious they can be…

Let’s take Mexico as an example. Mexico is a huge country full of colours, culture and above all contradictions. They say that here in Mexico you will find four stories: the one the Government wants you to believe, the one academic institutions want to teach, one that foreigners want to explain. And the last one, the one you have to discover yourself. And this is mine.

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Cute little restaurant in MexcaltitĂĄn, the Venice of Mexico

Certain beliefs and conceptions of reality characterise some populations more than others, and Mexico recalls images of ancient civilisations, plundering Spanish conquistadores and moustachioed revolucionarios. The many contradictions of this vibrant country lie in its unique history and are deeply reflected in the character and personality of the people. The expansive friendliness of norteños (Mexicans from the northern states) compared to the more defensive and rebellious southern Chiapanecos (people from Chiapas state). Mexicans can be intensely fatalistic, resigned even. And when the mood takes in, they are hedonistic and carefree. A reserved poker face will suddenly give way to astonishing warmth and familiarity.

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Indigenous children from the sort of forgotten state Chiapas

We know Mexico’s first hundred years were bloody while the last eighty-five years have been at peace; it shares a long land border with the United states and yet they couldn’t be more different.
When the Spanish brought Catholicism, the missionaries took a very pragmatic approach to it and incorporated many beliefs from earlier religions. That’s why there are so many religious festivals here like Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), the Muxis (gay/transgender divinity festival), the Guelaguetza and many others that blend Catholic celebrations with indigenous rituals.

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Mexico is dual.

It emerged from its bloody history and claimed its place in the modern world. And now globalisation and free trade is altering Mexican society once again.

 

Rebellious and Fashionable Iranian ladies

Dear Reader,

time to break the backward image most people get from just hearing the name “Iran”.
There are many things to say on this regard but this time I will start with a small preview on women fashion…

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Too modern and too conservative at the same time. Fashion in Iran is more than The Rich Kids of Tehran and highly linked to a strong feeling of rebellion. Stay tuned for my story.

 

How to take Photos with your Mobile

Dear Reader,

It’s time to learn something new today 🙂
Experience teaches us a lot, especially when we’re on the road. Nothing makes a story more beautiful and interesting than colourful eye-catching photos taken on the go.
Most of us travellers rely on good cameras with settings. However, as we travel and share instant snaps on our blog or social media, we often recur to smartphones. You need to be able to use your smartphone well, especially if you go to places where cameras are either not welcome or you don’t have time to set up your regular camera. Smartphones are more conspicuous and with technology that allow us to do wonderful things.

So here are few tips I learnt myself 🙂

Think Mobile

Before using a picture, look at it on your smartphone and ensure your main subject is clear and any writing, such as a sign, is legible. Keep in mind that most people will check your photos and articles from their phones so make your shots mobile friendly and neat.

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If you’re able to read the 007 commemorative sign then it’s a successful mobile-friendly photo

Keep it Simple

I learnt that my most popular photos are the simplest ones. They don’t have many people in them, multiple props, and complicated staging. The most effective images so far have been those with simple subjects, such as a close-up of a situation, object, person or even buildings.

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Play with Light and Shadow

Both Samsung (S7 series) and iPhones allow you to adjust the lighting by simply tapping on the screen so pay attention to your scene’s lighting. Bright light and deep shadows create a stark contrast that can make your photo more interesting and dramatic.

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Natural light inside the peacock dome
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The Masjed-e Jāmé of Isfahan was a tad darker than the peacock dome mosque so here all I did was slightly augmenting the contrast level.

Sometimes you’re lucky enough not to need any of these 🙂 just because the light is so naturally beautiful and unique (Iran has plenty of these places where light is so mystical you can play with it for hours). So before you start thinking about tapping on the screen of your phone, analyse your surrounding and catch the elements already at your disposal.

Follow the Rule of Thirds

If your subject is a person or more people, have them closer to either side, or along the top or bottom, rather than in the center. This is the rule of thirds, where you basically break an image down into thirds (both horizontally and vertically) so that you have 9 parts.

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The Rule of Thirds

Studies have shown that if you place the subject along the intersection lines rather than the center of the frame – the photo becomes more balanced and will enable a viewer of the image to interact with it more naturally.

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If you divide this photo in 9 squares, my face comes right up to the lower right intersection.

An exception: Faces. Faces can be anywhere in the frame.

Subject / Try different Perspectives

Mix big and small things and create an interesting contrast with different perspectives. For example, put a subject close to the camera and others in the background to create a more spaced composition.

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The Salisbury Cathedral from a dark side.

You can either take a typical frontal photo of the Jame Mosque like this one…

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Or you can be creative by simply changing angle like my friend Marina did with this photo of me under the crystal-turquoise arch and make it sensational.

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Don’t Zoom and Don’t Flash

I learnt using my own flash is a terrible idea, just as bad as zooming.
If you really must use artificial light because you’re either in a dark setting or because you want to give your photo a magazine look, get help from a friend. Ask your friend to point their smartphone flashlight (or a proper flashlight, if available) at the subject from a different angle of yours.

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This photo was an experiment using my friend who was sitting next to me and her iPhone flashlight. The room was already very well lit but her flash allowed me to highlight the food in more detail.

Don’t photograph directly with Instagram

Instagram comes with a preset square mode that will not allow you to crop or give your subject proper focus. It is better that you take your photo with your regular camera vertically (regular full-sized portrait mode). This way you will be able to visualise more and not be limited to format constrictions. You can always edit the photo later, just get the first one properly sized.

Use interesting elements

Be creative and use the elements around you to make a photo interesting. Most of the time it will spontaneous but consider spending some time analysing the surrounding to create an appealing photograph in such way that it almost tells a story on its own.

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My subject was the balcony_restaurant San Fernando, however, what makes this photo attractive are the live musician dedicating their tunes to the restaurant’s clientele.

 

Add a focal point and varied textures

When setting up your photo, ensure you have a subject in the foreground that provides a focal point. Use varied textures that create an interesting contrast.

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A flower I found on Ometepe Island, Nicaragua. Notice the blurred background.

Blend in and Ask for Permission

Before snapping a photo of a local merchant or nomads, always ask. No need to invasively snap a quick shot and run (you probably wouldn’t like it done to you either). If you ask you’d be surprised at how receptive people are to smiling 🙂

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Nomads of Iran. It is a distinct luck to actually find and interact with them

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And last but not least…

Say NO to selfie sticks!

The idea of a selfie is having an impromptu photo of yourself with a background that you like. And as such, it should look like a rustic spontaneous shot. A stick defies this logic because it forces a selfie to look like anything BUT a natural moment.

Not only selfie sticks are very annoying (blocking views, turning a memory trip to a self-aware photo trip) and have a lot of tourist destinations now banned them, but also the angle that the stick creates is unoriginal and fake given the effort of hiding who’s taking the photo.

 

Take normal selfies. Be natural.

 

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Photo of the Day: Stanito in Esfahan

Dear Reader,
One of the best benefits of traveling in company is that casually your travel buddies are excellent photographers. My friend Lichix took this photo of me in Esfahan while visiting the stunning Masjed-e Jameh Mosque, the biggest mosque in Iran and the pioneer of Islamic architecture.

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With this post I’m opening a thread of How-To posts dedicated on how to take beautiful pictures in places where the camera is not very welcome. Stay tuned! 🙂

Stoic Belgrade

Dear Reader,

there are more cities in Europe that deserve your attention aside from the typical already too-beaten capitals and fancy sparkling towns.

So, in an effort of continuing our off the beaten path philosophy, forget for a moment about Paris, London, Rome and Madrid and let’s move towards east and land in the heart of Former Yugoslavia. The beautiful and laid-back Belgrade.

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I decided to join my friend Riccio and visit this vibrant city as it is the home town of my mother’s family and I ended up discovering a true artsy and unpredictable beauty.

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In spite of its set backs and destruction derived from recent conflict, Belgrade brazenly holds a classical and artistic look worthy of any European capital without being too glossy and chic.

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It is one of those places that I dearly love visiting as it fights to prove any misconception people may have towards Serbians.

Even though post-war lingers on, Belgrade has an underlying confidence and artistic cloak to it.

Belgrade’s history is long and and with many layers. Destroyed and tarnished many many times, Belgrade holds a strategic position in trade roads and it is the joining point of two rivers: the Sava and the Danube.

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Poser Stanito overlooking the joining rivers Sava and Danube

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Former capital of Yugoslavia from its inception as a kingdom in 1918, throughout the post World War II socialist era, right up until Serbia was the last man standing in 2006. Serbs are known for being warriors and proud of their heritage, however, many Belgraders still express a ‘yugonostalgic’ longing for the multiculturalism and porous borders of the socialist era due to their shared origins and languages. Together with its neighbours, Serbia shares the same spoken language while only the writing is different as Serbia is the only one that uses the Cyrillic alphabet).

Yugoslavia was first a kingdom and then, after World War II, a socialist regime headed by the still much-loved Marshal Josip Broz Tito who attempted to reinstate a pan-Slavic identity and bring the religious disparities under one roof.

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Street graffiti

Belgrade, with its rich culture, is the city the breaks the Balkans backwardness and veiled progress. In spite of being a European capital, Belgrade has a harder time to prove its attractiveness and worth. While still recovering from war and bombing, Belgrade’s modern side twists into an interesting artistic side.


Belgrade have lived through many traumatic Yugoslav wars until 2001, which ended in a sort of pan-Slavic experiment. The violence perpetrated by Serbian forces led the socialist republic into a whirlpool of international banishment while internally struggling under repression for many years.

Just take a walk down Nemanjina St. to realise how Belgrade’s recent past lingers on people’s minds. Here you will see the Yugoslav Ministry of Defence building harshly bombed during the NATO attack in 1999 and such view dominates the entire landscape.

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However, Belgrade prevails. Its gastronomy is simply delightful and night life make it one of the most hip-happening cities in the eastern side.

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Stanito eating delicious Gibanica

Despite the long lasting tumult, people in Belgrade know how to have a good time. Cafés and bars are heaving day and night, and their terraces are a simple reminder of European elegance. In few words, Belgrade enjoys the Mediterranean lifestyle of Greece, Croatia, Italy without really having a coastline. Bars are fancy and beautiful, filled with people from all over the region.

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Do you want to have fun in the Balkans? Come to Belgrade 🙂

 

 

Chiapas, the forgotten state

Dear Reader,

One can never generalise about cultures and countries in general. Least of all those countries with such diversities as Mexico.

Mexico is BIG and ethnically very diverse. Migrants from distant lands and the already existing indigenous communities inhabit this country. In fact, the second article of the Mexican Constitution asserts that the country is a pluricultural nation originally founded upon the indigenous peoples.

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Indigenous people are located in many states of Mexico but the biggest concentration is found in the state of Chiapas, south border of Mexico with Guatemala, and Oaxaca.

With chilly pine-forest highlands in the north, sultry rainforest jungles, attractive colonial cities and filled with remnants of the Mayan civilisation, Chiapas nonetheless looks completely cut off from the rest of the country.

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It is the perfect off the beaten path destination for those adventure seekers willing to explore the frothy waterfalls and eco-indigenous jungle reserves. But we will explore this side on a second post.

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Overlooking San Cristobal de las Casas

Talking about the situation in Chiapas comes with contrasting versions depending on whom you ask. There is strong ongoing propaganda from both the government and the Zapatistas, whose claim on the government’s violation human and constitutional rights of community members eventually culminated in the 1994 Zapatista uprising, but I won’t get into that.

Instead, I will tell you why Chiapas seems and looks so isolated and distant from the rest of Mexico, both culturally and geographically.

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Cañón del Sumidero

It has significantly underdeveloped infrastructure compared to the rest of the country, and its significant indigenous population with isolationist tendencies keep the state distinct culturally.

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Children I met in Zinacantan, indigenous town in the central Chiapas highlands. In spite of San Juan de Chamula being the neighbouring, famous indigenous and very commercial town in the area, Zinacantan still doesn’t experience the touristic crowds that its neighbour does. 

Cultural stratification, neglect and lack of investment by the Mexican federal government has exacerbated this problem in several aspects. One of them, is the lack of telecommunication in the mid-south Chiapas where communication system is instead provided by Guatemala (when you book a hotel in south Chiapas don’t be surprised if the dial number starts with +502).

Another aspect concerns the condition of federal highways and cross-state roads.

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About road blocks. There are periodic road blocks randomly located throughout the state. It is common to find them on the road between San Cristobal and Palenque. They are sporadic and unpredictable, sometimes blamed on the EZLN (the Zapatista movement), and look like simple tree trunks cut off and thrown in the middle of the road (I was not able to take pictures of the one we experienced but Google offers many examples of it).

On the positive note, Chiapas does indeed offer spectacular landscapes, wildlife and the peace you’ll never have elsewhere in Mexico.

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Be a Local, not a Tourist

Dear Reader,

if you enjoy my adventures and follow my blog, it is probably because you and I share the same travel style. We don’t behave like common “tourists” but rather like “travellers” who walk a lot and enjoy a place like locals do. For this post I’m using the photos I took in Iran as it depicts what an off the beaten track destination is.

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Being a tourist is perfectly fine when you are a person who is more comfortable around other foreigners and want to document every sight and corners with your camera but, even then, with very little effort you can make of your journey something special if you pack accordingly and merely use your guidebook as a generic reference and no more. When you travel, curiosity will always be your best friend. Off the beaten tracks are always so much better than the regular trails because they’re cheaper, more interesting, and most likely you will not feel oppressed by sellers and beggars.

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Stanito in Abyaneh, sleepy town in central Iran

Look around you. What are locals doing? Where are they eating, drinking and shopping? The more observant you are the more real the experience will be.

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This is kashko badem-jan, the best eggplant dish I have ever had…

Start by finding locals who speak English and ask for advice on what untapped sights you should see.

Eat what locals eat. It sounds obvious but it bears repeating. If you want to feel like a local eat and drink like one. Ask around what are the local typical dishes, the ones that are low key and far from being posh. In case you can’t find anybody to ask, have a look around  markets and bazaars and look for those spots where you see locals lining up for food.

Walk on foot as much as you can and use local transportation to get to really know a town like locals do. This is how you find about the best places, personal experience speaking here 🙂

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A lovely evening with Qashqa’i nomad friends near Chemarhahijn

Unless you go to sporty countries, conflicted places or nations that are hard to access, I suggest forget about bus or guided tours.

Try to immerse yourself in the local culture rather than standing out everywhere.

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The nomad tent used for supper and entertaining the guests.

Explore the less-beaten areas and explore locations where tourism simply doesn’t drive the economy and people. You’ll interact with locals. This way your objective will turn into learning and experiencing new things, rather than to take a relaxing break from everyday life filled with selfies. A traveler may consider a trip a journey rather than a vacation.

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If you already consider yourself a traveler, it’s likely that you are already surrounding yourself with locals. And even then, you can still improve your trip 🙂 try getting more involved with them.

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Find a spot in town where locals seem to gather, like a town square or popular restaurant, and spend the day there. Strike up conversations with people of all ages. Ask questions about the local culture and talk about common interests; at the very least, you’ll leave with a broadened worldview. Don’t turn your nose up at tourists, and don’t avoid popular attractions simply because they’re packed with foreigners. This because ok, the Colosseo is constantly packed with tourists, but then, how can you go to Rome and not see this wonder?

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Stanito in Esfahan, Iran, photo taken by Alicia Venegas.

 

 Do you want explore in depth what off the beaten track destinations really are? Check these other two amazing blogs: The Velvet Rocket and The Unusual Traveler.