Tour Percée Double Arch in Saint-Pierre-de-Chartreuse, France

Tour Percée Double Arch in Saint-Pierre-de-Chartreuse, France

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The double arch is the largest in the Alps.

French mountaineer Pascal Sombardier knew his high-altitude neck of the Alps well. Or so he thought. In 2005, when he was out on a hike in the Grand Manti section of the Chartreuse mountain range, researching locales for a book on unique destinations in the area, he was stunned when he spotted what looked like a giant double arch.

Sombardier took some photographs and shared them with the mountaineering community to learn more about this formation. Nobody had ever recorded it before, and through his discovery the world came to know of the existence of the natural wonder, dubbed the Tour Percée double arch.

Spanning 105 feet, the huge natural arch is the largest in the Alps, but it remained largely hidden because of its geography. There were no paths leading up to the base of the arch, and the structure itself lies within a bowl, making it invisible from below. While viewing it from the air, people often spotted the tower but the arch itself was out of sight.

Even though it’s been 12 years since it was first spotted, it is still largely off the grid and extremely difficult to access. Of course, Sombardier included the arch and the story behind its discovery in his bookwith one of his photos of the arch splashed across the book cover. 

Travel

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May 2, 2017 at 03:06PM

Tour Percée Double Arch in Saint-Pierre-de-Chartreuse, France

Tour Percée Double Arch in Saint-Pierre-de-Chartreuse, France

http://ift.tt/2qvU5oU

French mountaineer Pascal Sombardier knew his high-altitude neck of the Alps well. Or so he thought. In 2005, when he was out on a hike in the Grand Manti section of the Chartreuse mountain range, researching locales for a book on unique destinations in the area, he was stunned when he spotted what looked like a giant double arch.

Sombardier took some photographs and shared them with the mountaineering community to learn more about this formation. Nobody had ever recorded it before, and through his discovery the world came to know of the existence of the natural wonder, dubbed the Tour Percée double arch.

Spanning 105 feet, the huge natural arch is the largest in the Alps, but it remained largely hidden because of its geography. There were no paths leading up to the base of the arch, and the structure itself lies within a bowl, making it invisible from below. While viewing it from the air, people often spotted the tower but the arch itself was out of sight.

Even though it’s been 12 years since it was first spotted, it is still largely off the grid and extremely difficult to access. Of course, Sombardier included the arch and the story behind its discovery in his bookwith one of his photos of the arch splashed across the book cover. 

Travel

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May 2, 2017 at 03:04PM

Internet Archive Headquarters in San Francisco, California

Internet Archive Headquarters in San Francisco, California

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Internet Archive headquarters

With the stated mission of providing "universal access to all knowledge," the Internet Archive is one of history’s most ambitious cataloging projects. So far millions of books, movies, television, music, software, and video games have been collected and digitized by the project, and that’s not counting the billions of websites they’ve been archiving over the past two decades with the Wayback Machine.

Fitting of such an ambitious project, the archive’s brick-and-mortar headquarters are also quite grand. The old Christian Scientist church in San Francisco‘s Richmond district was chosen largely because the church’s front resembled the Internet Archive’s logo: the Library of Alexandria’s Greek columns. Inside the beautiful building you’ll find dozens of employees and volunteers digitizing everything from old home movies, to old LPs, to 8-bit video games.

Inside the church’s main room, with its still-intact pews, there are more than 120 ceramic sculptures of the Internet Archive’s current and former employees, created by artist Nuala Creed and inspired by the statues of the Xian warriors in China. Among the figures is internet pioneer Ted Nelson, the late genius hacktivist Aaron Swartz, as well as Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle. Also found in this room are some clever art projects, such as a "zip line" (a zip disk on a fishing line), by the organization’s artist-in-residence, as well as some of the archive’s massive servers, which also serve as the building’s heaters.

Travel

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May 2, 2017 at 02:43PM

Internet Archive Headquarters in San Francisco, California

Internet Archive Headquarters in San Francisco, California

http://ift.tt/2pV5DF7

Internet Archive headquarters

With the stated mission of providing "universal access to all knowledge," the Internet Archive is one of history’s most ambitious cataloging projects. So far millions of books, movies, television, music, software, and video games have been collected and digitized by the project, and that’s not counting the billions of websites they’ve been archiving over the past two decades with the Wayback Machine.

Fitting of such an ambitious project, the archive’s brick-and-mortar headquarters are also quite grand. The old Christian Scientist church in San Francisco‘s Richmond district was chosen largely because the church’s front resembled the Internet Archive’s logo: the Library of Alexandria’s Greek columns. Inside the beautiful building you’ll find dozens of employees and volunteers digitizing everything from old home movies, to old LPs, to 8-bit video games.

Inside the church’s main room, with its still-intact pews, there are more than 120 ceramic sculptures of the Internet Archive’s current and former employees, created by artist Nuala Creed and inspired by the statues of the Xian warriors in China. Among the figures is internet pioneer Ted Nelson, the late genius hacktivist Aaron Swartz, as well as Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle. Also found in this room are some clever art projects, such as a "zip line" (a zip disk on a fishing line), by the organization’s artist-in-residence, as well as some of the archive’s massive servers, which also serve as the building’s heaters.

Travel

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May 2, 2017 at 02:38PM

Bukit Cina (Chinese Hill) in Malacca, Malaysia

Bukit Cina (Chinese Hill) in Malacca, Malaysia

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Bukit Cina, Malacca's Chinese cemetery.

In the midst of urban Malacca, a 820,000 square foot (250,000-square-metre) hill provides a verdant, peaceful respite from the hustle and bustle of the city. This entire hillside is a Chinese graveyard, allegedly the largest outside of China, with over 12,000 graves, some of which date to the Middle Ages. 

In the mid-15th century, Hang Li Po, daughter of the Chinese Ming Emperor, was sent to be married to the sultan of Malacca, Mansur Shah. The couple established their residence on the hillside, later dubbed Bukit Cina, or Chinese Hill. Though there were Malaysian elements to the estate, it was overrun by the princess and her 500-person entourage, so its culture and design were overwhelmingly Chinese.

After Mansur Shah’s reign ended, the forested Bukit Cina was razed by Portuguese missionaries, who established a monastery atop the hill in 1581. It was officially designated a Chinese cemetery by the Kapitan Cina (a Dutch-appointed colonial official charged with governing the Chinese population) in 1685. There were some previous burials, including members of Hang Li Po’s party and a prominent warrior who died during conflict between the Portuguese and Indonesian Acehnese invaders. Thousands of Chinese who died in Malaysia would join them in the centuries to come.

By the 20th century, the cemetery had fallen out of use and become overgrown. In 1984, when local government announced it would be developing housing and commercial property on Bukit Cina, it was met with public outcry. Hundreds of Chinese Malaysians came out to protect their ancestral history, and the cemetery was left alone. 

Today, Bukit Cina is open to the public as a park. Its forested paths have become a popular spot for walks and jogs among the medieval graves. A Chinese World War II memorial can be found on the property, as well as temples and wells built by Sultan Mansur Shah. The best-known is the Hang Li Po Well, built specifically for the princess but used by the public, which is now treated as a wishing well.

Travel

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May 2, 2017 at 02:02PM

Bukit Cina (Chinese Hill) in Malacca, Malaysia

Bukit Cina (Chinese Hill) in Malacca, Malaysia

http://ift.tt/2oVdLW3

Bukit Cina, Malacca's Chinese cemetery.

In the midst of urban Malacca, a 820,000 square foot (250,000-square-metre) hill provides a verdant, peaceful respite from the hustle and bustle of the city. This entire hillside is a Chinese graveyard, allegedly the largest outside of China, with over 12,000 graves, some of which date to the Middle Ages. 

In the mid-15th century, Hang Li Po, daughter of the Chinese Ming Emperor, was sent to be married to the sultan of Malacca, Mansur Shah. The couple established their residence on the hillside, later dubbed Bukit Cina, or Chinese Hill. Though there were Malaysian elements to the estate, it was overrun by the princess and her 500-person entourage, so its culture and design were overwhelmingly Chinese.

After Mansur Shah’s reign ended, the forested Bukit Cina was razed by Portuguese missionaries, who established a monastery atop the hill in 1581. It was officially designated a Chinese cemetery by the Kapitan Cina (a Dutch-appointed colonial official charged with governing the Chinese population) in 1685. There were some previous burials, including members of Hang Li Po’s party and a prominent warrior who died during conflict between the Portuguese and Indonesian Acehnese invaders. Thousands of Chinese who died in Malaysia would join them in the centuries to come.

By the 20th century, the cemetery had fallen out of use and become overgrown. In 1984, when local government announced it would be developing housing and commercial property on Bukit Cina, it was met with public outcry. Hundreds of Chinese Malaysians came out to protect their ancestral history, and the cemetery was left alone. 

Today, Bukit Cina is open to the public as a park. Its forested paths have become a popular spot for walks and jogs among the medieval graves. A Chinese World War II memorial can be found on the property, as well as temples and wells built by Sultan Mansur Shah. The best-known is the Hang Li Po Well, built specifically for the princess but used by the public, which is now treated as a wishing well.

Travel

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May 2, 2017 at 02:00PM

Congress Warns 5 Airline Execs They Must Improve Customer Service

Congress Warns 5 Airline Execs They Must Improve Customer Service

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Associated Press

United CEO Oscar Munoz (foreground) was one of five airline executives take questions Tuesday from a Congressional committee. Lawmakers were concerned airlines do not offer proper customer service. Associated Press

Skift Take: Congress is not happy with U.S. airlines. That’s for sure. But how much will Washington do about it? Here’s a prediction: Probably not much.

— Brian Sumers

At a committee hearing, members of Congress on Tuesday implored U.S. airlines to focus on customer service, telling several airline executives, including United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz, that they and their constituents no longer will tolerate policies that do not prioritize passenger needs.

“Seize this opportunity,” Bill Shuster, a Pennsylvania Republican and the chairman of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee said, “Because if you don’t, we are going to come and you’re not going to like it.”

That Shuster used a hearing to threaten airlines in such harsh language was unusual. He has long been among the industry’s most passionate defenders, often siding with airlines on contentious issues. But on Tuesday, even he appeared skeptical, asking how airlines could treat some customers so dismissively.

United’s April 9 incident came up often, with Shuster and others asking how airlines could be so cavalier with how they oversell flights. Representatives also asked about other recent events, including a confrontation between an American Airlines crew member and a mother over a stroller. They questioned executives about other matters, too, including fees and a lack of competition in some markets.

“Two million people will fly today — or something close to two million,” Shuster said. “And they’re tired of being treated inappropriately and without courtesy. Something is broken, and the obvious divide between passengers and airlines needs to be addressed.”

Five executives appeared, representing Alaska Airlines, Southwest Airlines, American and United. Munoz, accompanied by United President Scott Kirby, was the only CEO present. William J. McGee, a consumer advocate, also joined the group.

Among the executives, Munoz was most contrite, repeatedly apologizing for the incident in which United employees in Chicago called airport security to remove a passenger from a flight. The passenger was seriously injured, and received a settlement from United after threatening to file a lawsuit. Munoz called it a “mistake of epic proportions,” and summarized several changes the airline announced last week to ensure nothing similar happens again.

“We had a horrible failure three weeks ago,” Munoz said. “It is not who we are. It is not this company. And frankly, it is not this industry.”

Still, Tuesday’s hearing was more of a fact-finding mission than anything else. Executives made few promises they had not previously announced. And though several airlines promised better training for airport agents, in many cases, executives defended the industry’s existing commitment to customer service.

Focus on overbooking

Several representatives wanted to know why most U.S. airlines often overbook flights, or sell more tickets than they have seats.

It was a question Bob Jordan, Southwest chief commericial officer, seemed to relish answering, since his carrier recently announced it would stop overbooking flights next week. One lawmaker asked if this policy change — Southwest will be only the second carrier to stop overbooking, along with JetBlue Airways — will cost profits. “We are not going to go broke,” Jordan said. “I promise you that.”

But other executives defended overbooking, arguing the practice helps keep airfares lower. They noted that, on many flights, not all passengers show up. If airlines don’t overbook, they said, they might fly with empty seats, and that would lead to lower revenues.

“By overbooking flights in 2016, Alaska was able to list for sale 675,000 more seats than it could have had if it stopped letting customers buy tickets when flights were full,” said Joe Sprague, the airline’s senior vice president of external relations. In some cases, he said, the airline was able to accommodate lucrative last-minute business travelers on flights that were already full.

“Frankly, having those additional seats available for sale allows us to keep fares low,” he said. Still, he said, Alaska is evaluating its overbooking policies.

Usually, airlines can guess how many passengers will not show up, and adjust how many tickets it sells accordingly. Sometimes, though, airlines make errors, and they must remove passengers from flights. They prefer to ask for volunteers — an airline might offer travel vouchers to a passenger who agrees to take a later flight — but sometimes not enough customers volunteer.

Many lawmakers said they didn’t think it was fair to remove paying passengers because the carriers miscalculated and sold too many seats. Executives from United, American and Alaska generally agreed, promising they would offer more lucrative packages to ensure they can find more volunteers. The airlines do not like telling passengers they cannot board, the executives said, and prefer to have volunteers.

United is now allowing agents to offer up to $10,000 in travel vouchers to solicit volunteers. In the past, when the cap was much lower, customers volunteered to take another flight in 96 percent of instances where a flight was oversold, Kirby said. He said he expects the number of volunteers to increase now that agents are authorized to increase payouts.

“We view overbooking, particularly in situations where we can incentivize a customer to take an alternative flight, as a win-win for both airlines and those customers,” Kirby said.

Executives also reminded Congress that they sometimes end up with too many passengers for reasons not related to selling too many tickets. Sometimes, for example, they must switch to a smaller aircraft at the last minute, and there are not enough seats for everyone. Other times, pilots and flight dispatchers ask that passengers be removed because of weight-and-balance issues.

Fees a concern

When oil prices spiked in 2008, most U.S. airlines started charging fees for checked luggage. The carriers, led by American, said they had to recoup their increased costs.

But fuel is cheaper now, and in 2016, according to data released Tuesday, U.S. airlines made a combined $13.5 billion in after tax-profit. With business strong, some lawmakers asked why airlines still charge for checked luggage. According to the government, airlines earned $4.2 billion in baggage fees last year.

But with one exception — Southwest, again — airline executives said they’re not interested in free bags. “We view charging for checked bags as one of the ways we keep all the other fares low,” United’s Kirby said.

American is keeping the fees because it doesn’t want customers who do not check luggage to subsidize people who do. American wants passengers to “pay for just the choices they intend to consume,” said Kerry Philipovitch, senior vice president of customer experience.

At Southwest, however, Jordan said not having bag fees makes the most sense. “We try to make policies that just make sense for the customer,” he said. “We feel like if you are going to travel it makes sense that you can bring your clothes along.”

Responses were similar for change fees. Some representatives asked how some airlines could charge as much as $200 to make changes on a domestic ticket. “They are mostly about our ways of offering low fares to customers,” Kirby said.

The government said Tuesday that U.S. airlines generated $2.9 billion from change fees in 2016. Only Southwest does not assess them.

More threats

Shuster was not the only representative to make veiled threats against airlines. Duncan Hunter, a Republican from California, complained that some nonstop routes have no competition at all, including from San Diego, near where he lives, to Washington, D.C. Only United flies between the markets.

“I have heard a lot of you talk about competition,” Hunter said. “Explain that to me. I think that’s a joke. It’s an absolute joke that there’s competition in the airline industry.”

Executives responded that many routes have nonstop competition, including from ultra low cost carriers Spirit Airlines and Frontier Airlines. Southwest’s Jordan said the industry has never seen so much competition. “The best measure is probably fares,” he said, adding that ticket prices fell 3 percent in the fourth quarter of 2016, compared with 2015.

Executives also noted that airlines compete fiercely for one-stop passengers between most U.S. markets. Passengers who want deals can connect, they said.

Hunter, however, was skeptical. “Competition, really quick, is Jack in the Box, and McDonalds and Wendy’s. … Having only one airline that flies one straight shot, out of all the airlines? That’s not competition.”

Meanwhile, Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat from Washington, D.C., wanted to know why United Airlines has a 37,000-word contract of carriage, a document that describes the airline’s rights for each ticket. Other airlines have similar contracts, which, among other things, describe an airline’s rights to bump passengers.

Norton said she wondered why airlines can’t list policies on one page, in an easy-to-understand format. All the airlines agreed it could be done more simply, but only Alaska’s Sprague said one page might be possible.

Overall, Norton said she was disappointed in airlines.

“Essentially you represent four regional monopolies,” she said. “You’ve been able to do everything you want to do — add on fees for basic services that we take for granted. It’s as if you have to tip a corporation to do what they used to do for free as a courtesy.”

Represenative Mike Capuano, a Massachusetts Democrat, criticized airlines for constantly returning to Congress to ask for infrastructure improvements, but not making investments in customer service. He called on airlines to improve — and quickly.

“If you want to keep treating us this way, fine,” he said. “I guess we can only do so much. But there will come a day when Congress won’t accept it anymore on behalf of the American people.”

Travel

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May 2, 2017 at 01:03PM

Tiny Gadheim Will Be the New Center of the EU, Thanks to Brexit

Tiny Gadheim Will Be the New Center of the EU, Thanks to Brexit

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article-image

Gadheim, population 89, is a quiet village surrounded by farms in central Germany’s wine country. It may be just a small dot on the map, but Gadheim is about to be a symbolically important dot. When Brexit is finalized in 2019, the town will be the new geographic center of the European Union.

The exact coordinates of the new center of Europe lead to a field of rapeseed owned by Karin Kessler. An EU flag will soon fly there to mark the spot, but Kessler has mixed feelings about the designation. "The fact that it’s only happening because of this Brexit is a bit of a shame for me," she told German news site The Local.

The geographic center of the EU shifts each time a country joins or leaves. The current center is in Westerngrund, about 37 miles northwest of Gadheim, but it has only held the title since 2013, when Croatia joined the coalition. Before that, the inclusion of Bulgaria and Romania put the center in Meerholz, Germany. If Scotland votes to withdraw from the United Kingdom and independently rejoin the EU, the geographic center will move (slightly) once again, back toward Westerngrund.

There are several methods for geographers to pinpoint the geographic center of a country or landmass, and there has been much debate over the years of how it should be determined. One way is with an actual pinpoint. The geographic center of the contiguous United States, for example, was identified in 1918 when someone at the U.S. National Geodetic Survey (NGS) balanced a cardboard cutout of the lower 48 on a point to find its center of gravity. The coordinates were only 20 miles off the actual center, calculated through a later survey, near Lebanon, Kansas. The NGS puts the geographic center of the entire country—Alaska and Hawaii included—just a few miles from the point where the borders of South Dakota, Montana, and Wyoming meet.

article-image

Modern methods have made the calculations of geographic centers much easier, but that doesn’t make them controversy-free. A geographer at the University of Buffalo, Peter Rogerson, developed a computer program that calculates the precise mathematical center of any state or country. The program deposed Rugby, North Dakota, as the center of the North American continent, a title the small town has prominently claimed since 1931. The new center of the continent is 145 miles southwest in the appropriately—and entirely coincidentally—named Center, North Dakota.

If there’s one thing Gadheim can learn from all of this, it’s that their new status is probably temporary.

Travel

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May 2, 2017 at 12:35PM

Check out the New TPG Office in NYC at Our Next Reader Event

Check out the New TPG Office in NYC at Our Next Reader Event

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Over the past couple of months, The Points Guy team has been growing rapidly — we’re now a team of more than 15 people across several departments: editorial, marketing, operations and social media. To accommodate the growth, we finally moved to our own 8,000-square-foot office in Manhattan’s Flatiron District and it is truly #AvGeek heaven.

We moved into the new space just about a month ago, and while we’re still applying the final touches, we’re excited to host readers at our office for the next reader event, which we’re calling “Travel to TPG.”

tpg office

We’d like to welcome you to our new office to check out the space, mingle with the team (including TPG himself) and talk points and miles. Like other TPG reader events, there’ll be food and drinks to enjoy while chatting about your best redemption and favorite vacation destination. Plus, you’ll leave through either the economy or first class elevator door with a TPG “swag bag” so you can flaunt your loyalty on all of your upcoming travels.

Here are the details of the event:

  • What: A TPG reader event and exclusive happy hour to meet the TPG team and a behind-the-scenes look at the new TPG headquarters.
  • When: Thursday, May 11 from 6:30pm-8:30pm.
  • Where: The new TPG HQ in Manhattan’s Flatiron District (you’ll get the address once you’re confirmed as a guest).
  • How: To enter, tweet @thepointsguy with a link to your favorite TPG post. Be sure to include #TRAVELTOTPG in the tweet.

tpg office

We’ll be selecting our favorite responses and follow up with a formal invitation to the event via Twitter — so be on the lookout. If you’re selected, you and a plus-one will get a spot on our guest list to check out the new space.

We look forward to welcoming you to our new space!

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May 2, 2017 at 12:33PM

WPA Murals of the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House in New York, New York

WPA Murals of the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House in New York, New York

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Bowling Green is one of downtown Manhattan’s busiest public thoroughfares. Whether making their way to embark for the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, or to have their photograph taken by Arturo Di Modica’s Charging Bull, or Kristin Visbal’s new addition, the bronze Fearless Girl, the park throngs with tourists and Financial District workers. The small Green itself, the oldest public park in New York City, is dominated by one the city’s most beautiful examples of Beaux Arts architecture, the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House.

Currently home to the National Museum of the American Indian, a bankruptcy court, and the National Archives of New York, the opulent building receives little of the vast foot traffic passing through Bowling Green. Which is a pity, for inside is one of the most remarkable examples of the WPA murals born out of the Great Depression.

When Cass Gilbert completed the stunning U.S. Custom House in 1907,  a few years before embarking on the Woolworth Building, New York was still principally a port city, one of the greatest and busiest in the world. Lower Manhattan was dominated by slips, piers, and docks. According to the GSA, the Custom House, “was a bustling place of activity as brokers and custom agents worked together building the wealth of this nation.”

One of the first buildings visible to ships sailing into New York Harbor from the Atlantic, the Custom House, named after Alexander Hamilton, was designed to be monumentally awe-inspiring. The U.S. Customs Service itself dated back to 1789, and is the oldest American Federal Agency, responsible for levying and collecting duties on the endless goods flowing into one of the world’s principal ports.

The grand nature of the Custom House and the business conducted inside was displayed in the vast central rotunda, with help from a series of murals, painted by New York artist Reginald Marsh, depicting daily life in the harbor. The eight vast murals were commissioned by the Treasury Relief Art Project as part of the New Deal, funded by the Works Progress Administration program.

Magnificent in scale, detail and execution, Marsh’s murals show the golden age of New York’s harbor: enormous steamliners dwarfing tugboats, automobiles being lowered onto docks, waterfronts bustling with stevedores, longshoremen, unending lines of immigrants, overshadowed by the dominating and ever-growing Manhattan skyline.

New York’s time as one of the greatest port cities in the world has long since passed, and the U.S. Custom House vacated the beautiful building overlooking Bowling Green for 6 World Trade Centre in 1973, where it was destroyed during the September 11th attacks. But visitors venturing inside the free museum, craning their necks upwards, will see a remarkable painted reminder of a vanished past.

Travel

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May 2, 2017 at 12:02PM