Gilbert: Friendly atmosphere, picturesque weather

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Updated 17 August 2014
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Gilbert: Friendly atmosphere, picturesque weather

Gilbert, Arizona is strongly asserting itself in US rankings as one of the safest and most family oriented towns in the country. According to the findings of the 2014 Best and Worst Cities for Families by Wallet Hub, Gilbert came in 9th place out of 150 cities across the United States.
The first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of Arizona could be an image of a vast desert, the Grand Canyon of course, maybe even a cowboy, or a saguaro cactus. Fans of Hollywood Westerns perhaps envision the location for countless classic movies. These are all things associated with the 48th state, however, the town of Gilbert just southeast of the capital Phoenix is putting Arizona on the map for different reasons.
The Wallet Hub ranking also places Gilbert 2nd in Lowest Violent Crime Rate Per Capita. When it came to the Least Percentage of Families Below the Poverty Line, Gilbert tied for 3rd with two other cities, Plano, Texas and Rancho Cucamonga, California.
High ranking is not new to the town of Gilbert. BusinessInsider.com named Gilbert the 5th Safest City in the US in 2011. In 2013, Gilbert was bestowed top rankings by The Daily Beast as the 8th Most Thriving City in the US, and the 2nd Safest City in the US by Law Street Media. Gilbert public education has also received accolades. For example, Gilbert Classical Academy, which was founded in 2007 and serves 7th to 12th grade, was ranked 28th last year in the US News & World Report Best Schools List. In addition, it placed in the top five high schools in the state by SAT scores.
The development of the town of Gilbert traces back to the year 1902 when the Arizona Eastern Railway solicited landowners to donate right of way to complete their railway expansion. Property owned by William “Bobby” Gilbert became the site of the new town that flourished and was named after him. Gilbert became known as the “Hay Capital of the World” up until the late 1920s, as it was a major agricultural community. On July 6, 1920, after almost two decades of growth, Gilbert was incorporated into Arizona. It was not until the 1970s that Gilbert expanded into its current borders. Although the population was less than 2,000 people during that time, Gilbert foresaw rapid expansion in its future. Since 1980, the population has doubled every five years, making the current number 217,000. The estimated population of Gilbert for the year 2030 is 305,000. Moreover, the population of Gilbert is characteristically young. The median age is 31.5 years old and 36.9 percent of the population is under 19.
With a population that is growing and youthful, recreation in Gilbert is vigorous and vibrant. For the outdoors inclined and physical activity lovers, Gilbert offers a wide range of fun options. Shopping centers are abundant and varied. For history buffs, old downtown Gilbert provides their fix. Even foodies can enjoy the restaurant scene here in Gilbert. Local restaurants such as Joe’s Farm Grill and The Coffee Shop (located in Agritopia) have been featured on the famed Food Network.
Amanda Elliot, from the Office of Economic Development for the town of Gilbert explains the growth as well as appeal of this destination.
My first question is:

What is the status of international tourism in Gilbert? Would you say it is high or low?
Thirteen percent of Arizona’s overnight visitation was made up of 5 million international overnight visitors in 2012. In Gilbert, international visitors are primarily from Mexico, Canada and Gilbert’s Sister Cities (Newtownabbey, Northern Ireland and Leshan, China).
Marketing Gilbert as a destination on an international level is a very expensive endeavor. Therefore, the majority of the community’s efforts have been focused domestically. However, Gilbert has been exploring ways to better market to the international community and has taken small steps in this direction in Canada, Mexico and China.

Why should tourists visit Gilbert? In other words, what does Gilbert do to promote tourism in general and more specifically what does it have to offer to international tourists?
Gilbert may be a large city, but its friendly atmosphere and unique amenities are a draw for visitors. Some of the premier amenities include:
Riparian at Water Ranch — The Riparian at Water Ranch features hiking and equestrian trails and provides an opportunity for wildlife and bird watching. Close to 250 species of birds have been sighted and many people come from different states and countries to see the beautiful and sometimes rare birds. The park boasts covered picnic areas, a dinosaur dig site and campsites that can be reserved for a desert getaway. The Riparian also has the only Phoenix Metropolitan area astronomy observatory open to the public.
Agritopia — Agritopia is a magnet for foodies, farmers and tourists interested in seeing first-hand how a desert residential community is addressing urban farming. The community offers a garden open to non-residents and paths to view the organically-grown crops. The hub of the neighborhood is a small plaza, which overlooks the farm. Here, visitors will find a coffeehouse, a nationally recognized farm-to-table restaurant and an honor system farm stand.
Gilbert Museum — With a vast collection of vintage artifacts, photographs, oral histories and archives, the Gilbert Museum is a great place to step back in time and discover life of Western United States settlers.
Heritage District Dining — Gilbert’s Heritage District, rich with buildings resembling the “wild-west” is home to premier dining spots in the Phoenix Metropolitan area. The locally unique neighborhood restaurants are authentic, offer exceptional food and radiate charm. When visiting the Heritage District, it is easy to see why the community is called #DeliciousGilbert.
Hale Theatre — The Hale Center Theatre has a legendary heritage as the longest continuously running, privately owned and operated theater company in America. This 110-seat theater in the round offers weekend matinee and evening shows.
Shopping — Gilbert’s shopping experience ranges from well-known brand names like Coach at the San Tan Village Mall to artisan shops and markets located within in the Heritage District, which offers a variety of merchants who provide quality goods for thrifty-minded visitors.
Big League Dreams — If you’ve ever dreamed of playing in a big league ballpark, Big League Dreams is the place for you. The fields are built as scaled-down replicas of famous ballparks including Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium and Wrigley Field.

Finally, what is your message to potential visitors? What would you say to invite our readers to visit the town of Gilbert?
Located in the southeast valley of the Phoenix metropolitan area, Gilbert is the 5th largest city in the state of Arizona, the 2nd safest city in the United States, and has gained national attention for its friendly atmosphere, picturesque weather and unique amenities.
Gilbert has over 9.8 million square feet of retail for shopping and more than 700 acres of designated open space for recreation and entertainment, providing a thriving and diverse community. Gilbert is home to seven golf courses, six major parks, four community pools, four community recreation centers, a performing arts center, a privately-owned theater, an indoor ice arena, a riparian preserve and the Big League Dreams Sports Complex. Throughout the year, Gilbert is host to numerous festivals, a weekly farmers market and a bi-weekly art walk.
In addition, Gilbert is central to many of Arizona’s scenic attractions including the Superstition Mountains, location of the legendary Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine and Tonto National Forest which contains scenery ranging from rugged desert to cool pines.
From its old downtown water tower to its vast shopping centers, Gilbert, Arizona holds something for everyone. Whether you enjoy nationally recognized cuisine, scenic hikes, a game of golf, or a renowned theater, this thriving city with its friendly and family oriented atmosphere is the place to visit.

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World Cup 2018: A Muslim-friendly travel guide

Updated 13 June 2018
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World Cup 2018: A Muslim-friendly travel guide

Moscow

Both Tunisia and Iran are based in the vibrant 800-year-old Russian capital, renowned for its golden domes and stunning orthodox architecture. It is home to the famous Russian ballet and a wealth of art, culture and iconic scenery, including the breathtaking Red Square. A truly multicultural capital, Moscow is home to a sizeable Muslim community, which first began to settle here around the time of the Golden Horde. If you want to explore some of the capital’s Islamic heritage, visit the historic Muslim area, Zamoskvorechie, and head for the ‘Historical Mosque,’ built in 1823 by Muslim tatars. Reopened in 1993 after a lengthy closure under communism, the mosque has recently undergone a major refurbishment. Along with the 10k-capacity Moscow Cathedral Mosque (pictured), it is the capital’s most significant Muslim building.
Halal Food: You’ll find plenty on offer, from highly rated restaurants including Mr. Livanets (Lebanese), Dyushes (Azerbaijani), and Gandhara (Asian) to halal food carts.
Mosque: The Moscow Cathedral Mosque on Pereulok Vypolzov.
Qibla: South.

Saint Petersburg

Saudi Arabia’s national team will be based in this bastion of Russian imperialism, known as the Russian ‘Venice’ for its stunning network of canals, neo-Renaissance architecture and its plethora of culture, arts and all things splendid. Visitors can enjoy a wealth of museums, galleries, open promenades and the finest dining in the northern hemisphere — talking of which, sun lovers will be delighted to know that during the World Cup the sun will barely dip below the horizon. Muslim visitors should not miss the St. Petersburg Mosque’s sumptuous Central Asian architecture and mesmeric blue tiles (pictured) — a design inspired by Tamerlane’s tomb in Samarkand, Uzbekistan.
Halal Food: Limited, in comparison to Moscow, but both Eastern European restaurant Navruz and Oh! Mumbai (Indian) have received generally positive online reviews.
Mosque: St. Petersburg Mosque on Kronverkskiy Prospekt.
Qibla: South-east.

Grozny

Egypt’s ‘Pharaohs’ should feel right at home in the Chechen capital, which is home to a huge Muslim population (its coat of arms features a mosque), making it one of the most halal-friendly destinations on our list. The mosque in question is the city’s flagship monument and main tourist attraction, the Ottoman-style Akhmad Kadyrov Mosque. Modelled on Istanbul’s Sultanahmet Mosque and sited in a serene location on the west bank of the Sunzha River, it is part of an ‘Islamic’ complex also housing the Russian Islamic University, Kunta Hajji, and is the spiritual headquarters for the Muslims of the Chechen Republic. Much of Grozny is still being rebuilt after being virtually destroyed in two wars with Russia in the 1990s and 2000s, much of it through investment from the UAE.
Halal Food: Chechnya is majority-Muslim, so you’ll be spoiled for choice, from fast-food chain Ilis to high-end restaurants in five-star hotels.
Mosque: Akhmad Kadyrov on Prospekt Putina.
Qibla: South-west.

Voronezh

Morocco are based in quiet (at least until the tournament starts), picturesque Voronezh. The city is littered with lush green spaces and stunning churches. It’s home to a large orthodox Christian community, as well as small Jewish and still-smaller Muslim ones. The city’s beautiful 114-year-old synagogue on Ulitsa Svobody is a popular tourist attraction. Those looking for more ‘familiar’ heritage should head to the Kramskoy Museum of Fine Arts on Revolyutsii Avenue, home to an impressive collection of ancient Egyptian works of art on stone and sarcophagi.
Halal Food: Very sparse. The Asian restaurant Bahor bills itself as offering the “only halal food in Voronezh,” and there are reportedly a couple of grocery stores selling halal meat, one in the city’s central market.
Mosque: While no official mosque has yet been built in Voronezh, Muslims do gather to pray. According to Halalguide.me, there is an informal mosque on Ulitsa Gvardeyskaya.
Qibla: South.

Essentuki

Essentuki, which will host Nigeria in its Pontos Plaza Hotel (pictured), is famous for its health spas and mineral water, so the 'Super Eagles' should at least be able to relax after their games. Muslim visitors may want to drop by Kurortny Park, where the drinking gallery was inspired by Islamic Moorish design.
Halal Food: Hard to find. There is a kebab house that may be able to provide halal options. Otherwise, head to the area around the mosque in nearby Pyatigorsk.
Mosque: The nearest mosque is 25 minutes drive west in Pyatigorsk, on Skvoznoy Pereulok.
Qibla: Southwest.

Kaluga

It’s all about space exploration in the city where Senegal will be based. Space travel pioneer Konstantin Tsiolkovsky taught in Kaluga in his early years. The town’s main attraction — unsurprisingly — is the Tsiolkovsky State Museum of the History of Cosmonautics, reportedly the world’s first space museum. Second billing goes to the rocket scientist’s quaint old wooden family home.
Halal Food: Very hard to find. Asian restaurant Chaikhana and Russian eatery Solyanka (pictured) appear to cater to alternative dietary requirements, and may be worth a call.
Mosque: The town’s main mosque is a converted building off Ulitsa Annenki.
Qibla: South.