Friday, May 15, 2020

Sweden is a destination for the ages

Eketorp: Iron Age fortress on the island of Oland in Sweden
(Courtesy: Allie_Caulfield from Germany -- 
licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license0
SWEDEN — Mention Scandinavia and the first thing that comes mind is likely to be the Vikings. Three of the five Nordic countries, Norway, Finland and Sweden, make up a trio of peninsulas that extend like vast fingers of land that eventually yield to the sea, each with its own personality and characteristics that have been shaped through the centuries at the hand of Mother Nature herself.

With such geographical proximity to water in a region where the Arctic Circle comprises enormous chunks of land that were once buried beneath massive glaciers, it's little wonder the indigenous people took to the sea in search of food, shelter and a warmer climate.

Tanum is known for its ancient well-preserved rock carvings
(Courtesy:  Håkan Svensson (Xauxa) --
licensed under the Creative Commons GNU Generic license) 
Much of what scientists have learned about mankind's innate instincts for exploration has been learned thanks to relics, bones, architectural ruins and the artistic renderings of the Vikings themselves and their ancestors.

In Tanum, Sweden, situated in the northern part of the Bohuslän province in the western region of the country, there is an abundance of Bronze Age rock carvings that are rich in artistic achievement for their varied depictions of humans and animals, weapons, boats and other symbols that represent the cultural and chronological unity of the life and beliefs of the people living in Sweden between 1700 BC and 500 BC.  

Receding glaciers provided the smooth rock canvasses
(Courtesy: (Fred J-- Public Domain)
As the glaciers of the Scandinavian Ice Sheet slowly receded to the north about 14,000 years ago, they left behind a sizable area of gently curved granite bedrock which became the “canvases” that were used by Bronze Age artists to record their history.

Today there are at least 1,500 known rock carving sites in northern Bohuslän concentrated in certain areas, including the parish of Tanum. The sheer number of carvings at Tanum alone (approximately 600) make it a stunning virtual outdoor laboratory with which to compare data in a concentrated area. 

This continuity of settlement combined with the ongoing practice of agriculture, as illustrated by Tanum’s rock carvings, archaeological vestiges and modern landscapes demonstrate a remarkable permanence over the span of eight thousand years of human history.

Iron Age homes, Eketorp
(Courtesy:Håkan Svensson (Xauxa)
 licensed under the Creative Commons GNU Generic license)  

Since 1994 the Rock Carvings at Tanum have been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Cultural Site. Other than the carvings on display at Vitlycke Farm, all of Tanum's rock carvings are situated on private property.

Tanum is a place where the age of rocks reveals much about human life on the planet through the rocks of ages.

From the Bronze Age to the Iron Age another candidate for UNESCO World Heritage status can be seen at the southern part of Oland, a small island situated off the southeastern coast of Sweden.

The Longhouse was the 
main gathering spot 
(Courtesy: pixabay)
Eketorp is an Iron Age fort that was extensively reconstructed and enlarged during the Middle Ages. Over the centuries Eketorp has been used as a defensive ringfort thanks to its circular design, a medieval safe haven and a cavalry garrison. More recently in the 20th century it was further reconstructed to become a heavily visited tourist site and a location for the re-enactment of medieval battles.

Eketorp is the only one of the 19 known prehistoric fortifications on Öland that has been completely excavated, yielding a total of over 24,000 individual artifacts.

The original fortification was built around 400 AD, during a time when Oland had established contact with the with Romans and other Europeans.

Over the centuries Eketorp has been rebuilt three time
(Courtesy:Håkan Svensson (Xauxa) == licensed under the Creative Commons GNU Generic license) 
Most researchers believe the ringfort was constructed and used initially as a gathering place for religious ceremonies as well as a place of refuge for the local agricultural community when an outside enemy appeared. 

The circular design of the stronghold is believed to have been chosen because the terrain is so level that attack from any side was equally likely. The original diameter of this circular stone fortification was about 187 ft, however in the next century the stone was moved outward to 260 ft in diameter.

At this juncture there were known to be about fifty individual cells or small structures within the fort as a whole. Some of these cells were in the center of the fortified ring, and some were actually built into the wall itself.

The ringfort was mysteriously abandoned in the middle of 7th century, remaining unused until the early 11th century when it was reconstructed in large part by building upon the original structure. A second exterior defensive wall was added and as a cost measure the stone interior cells were replaced.

In its current incarnation, Eketorp Fortress is primarily a tourist site that allows visitors the opportunity to experience a medieval fort that was typical of the region.

museum within the castle walls displays some of the 26,000 artifacts that were retrieved by the National Heritage Board during  the decade long excavation ending in 1974.

Inside the fort visitors are greeted by employees wearing the correct costumes, from the period 400-650. There are daily activities during the summer season (mid-June to mid-August), which include bow and arrow, bread baking and many activities mainly towards children.

There are also some small typical thatched roof dwellings scattered throughout the grounds.

Be it bronze, iron or any time in between, Sweden is a destination for the ages.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Important tip for post-pandemic travel

Travel was booming before COVID-19, but what can fliers
do to change flight reservations when things are normal
(Courtesy: Chinneeb -- licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license)
CHARLOTTE, NC With the recent upheavals in every aspect of daily living created by the coronavirus pandemic,  none has been more confusing than the travel industry.

Timing was just about ideal to send travelers and suppliers alike spinning out of control in a frenzied effort to salvage schedules, alter vacation plans, decide whether to cancel or postpone and, in the process, make the adjustments in a cost efficient manner.

Under normal circumstances airlines in particular have rules that are designed to discourage changes which can be very expensive, especially if those changes involve an entire family. In the case of the  COVID pandemic however, the whole world was suddenly engulfed in a situation that developed so quickly that making a last minute adjustment about whether or not to proceed could become a major hassle under the usual airline guidelines.

Appropriately, for the most part, airlines, cruise lines, hotels, resorts and other hospitality businesses quickly waived their normal change fees and allowed for postponements and/or cancellations without penalties. 

But here's the dirty little secret travelers need to know about when things return to pre-pandemic lifestyles and the travel industry gets back to recovering some of that lost revenue; "By federal law, every commercial airline must hold your reservation for at least 24 hours and allow you to cancel it within those 24 hours, even if you already paid." 

(Read it for yourself. Click on the link aboveand scroll down to Bullet Point #4)

Believe it or not the law has been on the books for nearly a decade, since April 2011. It also requires commercial airlines to notify you of this right. For example, airlines aren’t allowed to suggest, whether on a website or on the phone, that your reservation is non-refundable during those first 24 hours. And whomever you deal with when making a cancellation request during the first 24 hours must offer you a full refund in the original form of payment.

Don't be surprised if you didn't know about this because most people don't, and you had better believe that even if the airline does honors your request, it's practically guaranteed that they won't inform you of it unless you ask.

 Be sure to keep in mind:
·                         To be eligible for the 24-hour cancellation right, you must have made your reservation at least a week before the flight’s departure.
·                         Travel websites are not subject to this rule (only commercial airlines are), so if you book through one of them, you may be subject to less-favorable rules. On the other hand, some of these websites do give you longer than 24 hours in which to cancel, but you should always check to find out what kind of commitment you’re making if you book on one of those websites.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) says that not all airlines are in compliance with the law. For example, airlines that reference the cancellation right only on a “customer service” page (small print that most customers never bother me to read), is not complying.

So now you know. When the lockdown lifts, you'll better prepared to handle your own travel destiny regardless of the changes in our post-pandemic world. Should you run into a problem getting a refund contact the DOT as soon as possible. It may further assist them in their efforts to encourage airlines to do a better job of serving their customers.

Friday, May 1, 2020

Laughing through WWI with "The Wipers Times"

During World War I the Sherwood Foresters kept morale 
high in the trenches with a satirical newspaper 
(Courtesy: Army National  Museum London)

YPRES, BELGIUMDuring World War I, while stationed at the front line in Ypres, Belgium in the early part of 1916, several members of the British 12th Battalion known as the Sherwood Foresters discovered an abandoned printing press while on patrol. 

With the aid of a sergeant who had been a printer during peacetime, Captain Frederick John Roberts, MC, became the editor along with Lieutenant John ("Jack") Hesketh Pearson, DSOMC, sub-editor of a satirical trench newspaper called The Wipers Times.

"Wipers" was the affectionate name British "Tommys" used for Ypres (pronounced 'EE-pers') because it was difficult for them to say. Tommys was slang for the everyday ordinary British fighting soldier, especially during  World War I.

Ypres was destroyed during the First World War
(Courtesy: In Flanders Fields Museum)
Though neither Captain Roberts nor Lieutenant Pearson had any prior journalistic background, they wholeheartedly immersed themselves into their project using the slogan "Am I as offensive as I might be?" which became its primary theme throughout its two-year lifespan.

Roberts was inspired and motivated by the fact that no matter how poor the muddy, rat-infested conditions were in the trenches there was always room for humor to lift the spirits of his men and to keep their morale as high as possible under nightmarish conditions.

Humor in the trenches 
(Courtesy: Army National Museum  London)
By February 12, 1916 the new publication rolled off the press for the first time with a distribution of about 100 copies.

Due to limited availability and the cost of paper, print runs were small. Despite that, readership was significant because each copy passed through many hands, with parts read out loud in dug-outs and trenches.

Until publication was interrupted when a German shell destroyed the press, the magazines appeared on a regular basis as often as possible. The size and layout remained consistent until end of the war, however the name changed several times according to where the 12th Battalion was posted at any given time.

Over its brief two-year life The Wipers Times somehow managed to put out 23 issues before its demise. When reading it today, a great deal of the humor is lost due to changes in vocabulary and its use, the internal military jargon of the times, secret words and language known only to the men in the field and other "lingo" that would have little or no meaning for the man on the street even then, much less today.

Extra! Extra!
(Courtesy: Army National
Museum London)
The story was made into a film in 2013 entitled The Wipers Times. Although some of the humor is lost, the black and satirical scenes perfectly capture the essence, the mood and the eternal optimism of the men. Subscribers to Amazon Prime can watch the movie as an included feature in their package.

When thinking about The Wipers Times some other movies with similar themes come to mind; The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill, But Came Down a Mountain (1995 -- The indomitable human spirit to unite for a common cause), Good Morning, Vietnam (1997 -- Humor to ease the horrific ravages of war), The Green Book (2018 -- Overcoming the struggle against ethnic prejudice)

Germany began using gas as a weapon in WWI, as 
depicted Sgt John Singer in this painting
(Courtesy: Imperial War Museum London -- public domain)
In the final analysis both Roberts and Pearson were awarded medals for gallantry during the Great War.

So if you're looking for a good popcorn munching coronavirus flick, The Wipers Times just might do the trick.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Bayeux, France: From William the Conqueror to D-Day

Evening shrouds the twin-spired Bayeux Cathedral 
(Courtesy: pxhere)
BAYEUX, FRANCE – One of the best things about Bayeux, France is that it has something for just about anyone. Though it traces its history as far back as the 1st century BC, Bayeux becomes most interesting about a thousand years later during the time of William the Conqueror.

William the Conqueror
(Courtesy: bayeux tourism)

Situated slightly more than four miles from the shores of the English Channel, Bayeux has the distinction of being one of the first cities to be liberated during the Battle of Normandy in 1944.

With the Germans defending Caen, about 19 miles to the southeast, Bayeux was relatively untouched during the D-Day invasion while Caen was completely demolished.

Ten days after the D-Day assault, Charles DeGaulle made the first of two major speeches in Bayeux in which France declared its allegiance to the allies.

Battle of Hastings (1066) re-enactment
(Courtesy: Poliphilo --Public Domain) )
It was during the 11th century that Bayeux came into its own with five villages arising beyond the walls of the city.

William the Conqueror, who was known as William the Bastard until winning the Battle of Hastings in 1066, became king of England on Christmas Day at Westminster Abbey in the same year.

Slightly more than a decade later, in 1077, William's half brother Odo, Earl of Kent, completed the Romanesque Bayeux Cathedral, an event which King William attended.

Bayeux Tapestry
(Courtesy: Bayeux Tapestry)
Soon however, Bayeux began to lose its prominence after William made his capital in Caen.

Among the artifacts in Bayeux is an embroidery depicting the Battle of Hastings featuring over 50 scenes in a single piece of cloth that is roughly 230 feet long and 20 inches high. Only a couple of scenes at the far end have been lost over the centuries.

The "Bayeux Tapetry", as it is called, is believed to have been woven in England as a display around the interior perimeter of Odo's cathedral.

The "tapestry" offers a wealth of information about
life in the 11th century
(Courtesy: Bayeux Tapestry)
Though somewhat cartoonish in its appearance, the fact that so much of the tapestry has remained intact for a thousand years is nothing short of a miracle. The details of the story offer a priceless depiction of the life and times of medieval England and France including elements of battle, strategy, clothing and weaponry among others.

Though William was French, many analysts believe the tapestry was created by English artisans. Nevertheless, the storyline is clearly from the perspective of  the French.

Today, the tapestry is housed in the Musée de la Tapisserie de Bayeux just down the street from the cathedral.

German artillery still faces
(Photo: peabod)
Day trips to the D-Day landing beaches are easily done from Bayeux. On clear days, the cathedral spires of Bayeux can be seen from the rolling countryside of Longues sur Mer. For visitors, Longues sur Mer is one of the best places along the Normandy coast to view the massive German bunker emplacements that still face the English Channel and, of course, England.

Strolling through the area, it is difficult to imagine that this now peacefully serene landscape has been the site of so much turmoil over the past millennium.

Entering Bayeux from Caen at the first roundabout in the city, travelers pass a statue of Gen. Dwight David Eisenhower, commander of the allied forces on D-Day.

Gen. Eisenhower is the first to greet visitors to Bayeux
(Courtesy: normandy war guide)
The statue is cast in bronze and is the creation of sculptor Robert Dean. The site was dedicated on June 5, 1994, during the 50th anniversary of D-Day.

As a side note, an identical statue also stands outside the American Embassy in Grosvenor Square in London.

Today the city of Bayeux proudly pays for the upkeep of the statue that was initially commissioned by the Battle of Normandy Foundation.

Filled with dozens of narrow streets and pleasant outdoor cafes, Bayeux is an ideal place for a day trip in Normandy or to use as a base thanks to its proximity to so many other historic sites.

The Old Mill
(Courtesy: peabod)
Best of all for shoppers, Bayeux is filled with quaint boutiques featuring fashions, souvenirs and antiques that rival almost anything in Paris.

Bayeux, France is more than a place to merely drive through en route to another destination. Take time to discovery its half-timbered architecture and delightful restaurants. Stop in and try a croque monsieur, a specialty of the region consisting of baked or fried ham and cheese on toasted French bread.

Bayeux is an undiscovered medieval gem
(Courtesy: Anton Bielousov --licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0
Unported license )
In French, croque monsieur means "gentleman crunch" but it's a sure thing that the ladies will enjoy it as well.

And while you're at it, sip a glass of Calvados, the lethal regional drink made from apples. The operative word being "sip."

Bayeux, France may not be on the tip of your tongue right now, but once you visit, you won't soon forget it.

Friday, April 17, 2020

A love affair with Pablo Picasso

Angela Rosengart beside two etchings Picasso did
of her when she was 19 
(Courtesy: rosengart collection)
LUCERNE, SWITZERLAND – Angela Rosengart was only a teenager when she met Pablo Picasso for the first time. Today, at the ripe young age of 90, the Swiss art collector from Lucerne fondly recalls more than 50 encounters with the charismatic Spanish artist, most notably the five occasions when she posed for him.

The museum is a two minute walk from the Chapel Bridge 

For years Rosengart displayed her collection of Picassos in a historic but unobtrusive gallery on a side street in the Old Town of Lucerne. In 2002 however, the exhibition expanded and moved to a neoclassical building across the River Reuss in New Town. Situated on Pilatustrasse, across the street from the railway station and in the shadow of the famed Chapel Bridge, the new display actually represents three Rosengart collections, each with its own floor.

Rosengart Museum, Lucerne
Over the years Rosengart also met Miro, Matisse, Braque and Chagall, but none of them could match the aura of Picasso. “It was those deep, piercing Spanish eyes,” she says, “They felt like arrows, and I very much felt that.”

After sessions ranging from 20 minutes to three hours, Frau Rosengart says she was exhausted each time because her soul felt “burned” by the experience.

Following the footsteps of her father Siegried who developed her interest in art and collecting, Frau Rosengart’s exhibition includes about 60 Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings, over 125 water colors and drawings by native son artist Paul Klee and 32 oils plus more than 50 drawings by Picasso.

Siegfried Rosengart became Picasso’s principal dealer in Switzerland and held eight exhibitions of the artist’s work between 1956 and 1971. Each catalogue cover was designed by the artist himself.

For years the Rosengarts frequently visited Picasso in the south of France, and it was this unique life-long friendship that has a subliminal effect on visitors to her gallery today.

David Douglas Duncan met Picasso for the first time when
the artist was taking a bath
(Courtesy: rosengart collection)
Part of the magic lies in a collection of black and white photographs by American photojournalist David Douglas Duncan that chronicle the artist’s life. Duncan and Picasso became close friends, and he was the only person who was allowed to photograph many of Picasso’s private paintings.

Duncan made a name for himself as a combat photographer. Duncan, who died at 102 in 2018, first met Picasso while on assignment for Life magazine. The artist invited him to enter as he was taking a bath. Unable to resist the opportunity, Duncan’s photographic instincts took over and the friendship grew from there.

One of five portraits
by Picasso
(Courtesy: rosengart
Later, Angela purchased Duncan’s entire collection of Picasso images. When combined with her personal collection of Picasso’s work, the artist comes to life in ways that are difficult to describe without a personal viewing.

The five portraits of Angela, which Picasso gave to her, are the centerpiece of her exhibition. Though Picasso was passionate in his love for women, his sketches of Angela are “compassionate” in a manner that presents his subject as the chaste, innocent teenager she was. In that sense, the etchings are uniquely different from most of Picasso’s other portraits.

Rosengart believes that perhaps the reason for the lovingly platonic representations of her was due to the fact that Picasso’s childhood sweetheart’s name was Angela.

Says Rosengart of Picasso’s portraits, “He only wanted to know whether my mother liked them.”

The haunting, penetrating eyes of genius 
(Photo: peabod)
Angela Rosengart never married. If she had, she says she would have never been able to amass her collections.

Despite that, when one of Siegfried’s clients became frustrated that Angela’s father would not sell one of his prized Picassos because he had promised it to his daughter on her wedding day, the bemused Picasso pragmatically asked, “Then why didn’t he marry Angela?”

Thanks to their close association with the artist, the Rosengarts were able to watch Picasso at work on several occasions. That relationship allowed them to reserve some of the renderings while the paint was still wet.

So intimate and personal are Angela Rosengart’s collections that she never lends to other galleries. For her, a stroll through her museum is like visiting with old friends.

Other artists are featured 
as well, like Renoir
(Courtesy: oskar reinhart foundation)
The Rosengart collection features the works of Monet, Renoir, Pissaro and Chagall as well as those of Paul Klee, who also holds a place deep in Angela’s heart. But it is the works of Pablo Picasso she holds most dear.

You see this is a love story about a triangle between a photographer, an artist and a collector. It is a story about life, living and friendship and though it was not sexual, it was every bit as passionate and intimate.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Irish legends are a good way to tour the country

The dramatic Cliffs of Moher are a favorite site

IRELAND -- Every country has its own unique legends and folklore; Norway has its trolls, Scotland the unicorn, Germany the fairy tales of the brothers Grimm and the Lorelei.

So, too, does Ireland with its leprechauns and their pot full of gold at the end of a rainbow.  In Ireland, it sometimes feels as if there’s a myth on every mountain, a story in every field and a legend wrapped around every lake, river and stream.

Celtic crosses are
(Courtesy: pixabay)
There's a cornucopia of Celtic myths that can be brought to life by talented locals and storytellers who use the time honored oral tradition of telling their tales. At the drop of a hat they paint glorious word pictures of epic tales, magical feats and characters full of courage and passion. 

Among the standout places where it all comes together is the stunning UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Giant’s Causeway in County Antrim, with its very name deriving from ancient stories of a conflict between the Irish hero Finn McCool and his Scottish rival Benandonner.

According to legend Finn McCool built the
Giant's Causeway to connect Ireland with Scotland
(Courtesy: pxhere)
Some say the astonishing 40,000 hexagon rocks at the Causeway were carved as stepping stones to Scotland by the mighty McCool so the rivals could set up a fight.

Certainly, clues as to Finn’s existence are left behind in rock formations such as the Giant’s Boot, the Wishing Chair and the Giant’s Granny, not to mention the iconic stones themselves.

Kinnagoe Bay,
County Donegal
In Irish mythology, the Tuatha De Danann (People of the Goddess Danu) were a race of deities and heroes skilled in art, science, poetry and magic. One of the places they are associated with is the ancient Grianán of Aileach, a stone fort that still stands on a hilltop in Inishowen, County Donegal.

The fortress was built on the site of a former Tuatha de Danann palace, which legend says was called the Palace of the Northern Princes. The views from Aileach are stunning at this particular site. 
Dingle Peninsula

Much of the appeal of this attraction however, lies in the belief that St Patrick once visited the site in the fifth century to baptize the local chieftain, Eoghan, from whom Inishowen gets its name.

Many Irish legends also find their origins in the country's Ancient East where long ago mythical beings lived and where the landscape remains imbued with their legacy.

At the Rock of Cashel, visitors will discover a spectacular collection of medieval ecclesiastical buildings in County Tipperary.  According to legend, the devil took a bite from a mountain known as the Devil's Bit and spat it back out. It landed in the middle of Tipperary's countryside and remains there today as the Rock of Cashel.

The Rock of Cashel in Tipperary
(Courtesy: pixabay)
Another popular myth centers around the River Boyne, which holds the secret to the legend of the Salmon of Knowledge and the mystical Hill of Tara. The Hill of Tara is the inauguration place and seat of the High Kings of Ireland in County Meath.

This special place serves as a port to the fairy world in the best-selling Artemis Fowl books for young adults, and in the upcoming Artemis Fowl movie that mixes Irish mythology with James Bond adventure.

The scenic wonder of County Antrim's dark hedges
Moving south, you will discover the origins of the legend of the Tir na nÓg (Land of Youth), as well as the final resting place of The Children of Lir. The four offspring of King Lir were turned into swans and banished by their evil stepmother to live on the lakes of Ireland for 900 years.

When restored to human form by a local monk, they died instantly, and it is said they are buried at a beauty spot in the picture-perfect village of Allihies in County Cork’s Beara Peninsula. All that remains today are some large white boulders.
Irish scenery is breathtaking
Finally,  there's the tale of the Irish  baker who invented a time-saving machine that allowed him to slice four loaves of bread at one time instead of the traditional single loaf.

In so doing,  the baker, without realizing it, had invented the world's first "four-loaf" cleaver!

Naaahh...That's not even a real legend, but if you believe it, join us after the next rain storm and help us find that pot of gold at the rainbow's end.