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.