The Road to Nowhere – WIF 10 Cent Travel

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Ancient Places

That Might Have

Actually Existed

Myth and legend are full of wondrous places that capture the imagination and have inspired generations of adventurers to explore the world in search of their treasures. Often they come up empty-handed, but every once in a while there seems to be a sliver of truth to the tales of these mythical places. Let’s take a look at 10 that may have been based in some degree of reality.

Let us take you away…

10. Atlantis

The story of Atlantis can be traced to the Greek philosopher Plato. He spoke of the fabled land back in 360 BC. In Plato’s telling, Atlantis was a land of rich and powerful people who were technologically advanced. It was not a complimentary tale though, and his stories about it were meant to illustrate that their knowledge and might had corrupted them as a people.

For most of history these tales were regarded as allegorical, used by Plato to illustrate a point. There are no other writings of the time that ever mention anything like Atlantis, so it was generally considered just to be something he made up to be illustrative. Not everyone believes that was the case though.

In more recent years, the belief that Atlantis may have been based on Minoan society has achieved some notoriety. The Minoan kingdom, ruled by King Minos, was said to be remarkably wealthy and advanced and had spread across much of Ancient Greece.

Minoans had paved roads and were believed to have been the first Greek society to use a written language. And then one day they vanished. It’s believed that sometime around 1600 BC a massive earthquake set off the volcanoes on the Minoan island known as Thera, burying it and destroying the culture forever.

9. Norumbega

Norumbega was said to be a legendary land of riches, named for an Algonquin word for the area, discovered by the Vikings well before North America was settled by Europeans. It showed up on maps in the 1500s and was situated around modern-day New England.

Archaeological evidence doesn’t support the idea that the Vikings ever settled anywhere that far south, and there’s only one confirmed Viking settlement in North America that exists in Newfoundland. That doesn’t mean there weren’t others though, and there is some evidence to suggest that perhaps Vikings did in fact settle farther north in places.

So what about Norumbega? The people of Boston commissioned a statue of Leif Erikson in the 1870s, in honor of his discovery of this legendary land.

In Viking tales, North America was called Vinland, or at least that’s what some people believe. Other historians who have analyzed the often contradictory data presented in Viking sagas have determined that Vinland couldn’t be where the Vikings landed in Newfoundland because of the lack of certain features like salmon and grapes. It’s believed that those things were found farther south around Martha’s Vineyard, perhaps as far down as Boston, which would have lent itself to the Norumbega myth.

8. Shangri-La

The legendary city of Shangri-La traces its origins to the works of British author James Hilton. He wrote of the city in his 1933 novel “Lost Horizon.” According to Hilton, Shangri-La was essentially an earthly paradise hidden within the Kunlun Mountains. While many have dismissed the story as pure fantasy created by Hilton, others believe that there’s some truth to them. Especially because Tibetan myths hold that there were several such cities hidden within the mountains.

In 1998, explorers trekking through the area discovered an area that they believe may have actually inspired the Shangri-La story. To the best of their knowledge, no Western humans had ever set foot in this place. Called “The Hidden Falls of the Tsangpo,” this valley of lush greenery was hidden even from satellite imagery in the mountains.

7. El Dorado

The legendary city/kingdom/empire of El Dorado is arguably one of the most interesting in all of mythology. Conquistadors searched throughout South America to find this place, which was apparently a vast city made of solid gold. While some legendary places were based entirely in fiction, and other places like Xanadu turned out to actually be real, the truth about El Dorado is a complete sidestep from either of these things.

Perhaps the results of the same phenomena that happens during the telephone game, when you tell a story to one person and they tell it to another, and they tell it to another, and the details get muddled, the truth of El Dorado also changed over time.

The idea that El Dorado was a golden kingdom came from something a little less vast, but still pretty impressive. El Dorado was no kingdom, but a king. Archaeological evidence shows that El Dorado was a person who was, for all intents and purposes, golden. This Chieftain would be covered from head to toe in gold and every day would bathe in a sacred lake to wash the gold off before applying it again the next day.

Unlike most other legends, this makes El Dorado curiously true and false at the same time, sort of like Schrodinger’s cat: neither outcome was expected, but not entirely false either.

6. Camelot

The story of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table is a pretty fantastic one, especially when you consider it involves pulling a magical sword from a stone, and a wizard. These things are generally not found in real life history. Despite that, there’s some evidence that Arthur’s stomping grounds, better known as Camelot, was an actual real place at some point in time even if Arthur was never a real man, or perhaps a gestalt of several kings.

Retired British Professor Peter Field believed he stumbled upon the actual location of Camelot while doing some research. Based on his findings, he came to the conclusion that Camelot was a Roman fort at Slack, to the west of Huddersfield in West Yorkshire.

The Roman fort, called Camulodunum, was strategically placed but currently exists underneath a golf course, so any excavation is probably going to have to wait a few years.

5. Hy-Brasil

Said to be located off the coast of Ireland, the island of Brasil, sometimes called Hy-Brasil so as to not confuse it with the South American country, is supposedly hidden except for one day every seven years. You don’t need to have a degree in geography to know that’s not a realistic feature of most islands, which is why it’s generally considered to be purely fictitious.

Despite the mysterious nature of the island, there have been accounts of people discovering similar places over the years. The island appeared on maps as early as the year 1325 and continued to appear on maps all the way up to the year 1800.

Several explorers and sailors claimed to have either seen, or even visited the island, though most who went in search of it came back empty-handed. It’s been theorized that the Porcupine Bank might be the actual source of the story — a raised shoal in the general vicinity where Hy-Brasil was said to exist.

4. Hanging Gardens of Babylon

Constructed in the 6th century BC by King Nebuchadnezzar II, the legendary Hanging Gardens of Babylon were supposed to be quite the sight to behold. Cascading gardens that reached 75 feet in height and featured flowers, herbs and all manner of exotic plant life to such an extravagant degree they became known as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. And as far as anyone knew in modern times, they had never existed at all.

In order for such a garden to have existed, an impressive irrigation system had to have been constructed to bring enough water into the desert for all the plants to thrive. No evidence in modern times has ever been found to indicate such a massive undertaking ever existed around Babylon. It doesn’t necessarily mean it didn’t exist though.

According to research by Dr. Stephanie Dalley, the reason we never found any evidence of the Hanging Gardens in Babylon was that they were never in Babylon in the first place. She believes she discovered evidence of their existence and the ancient city of Nineveh, part of the Assyrian Empire.

Dalley’s research shows Assyrian King Sennacherib was responsible for an extravagant garden about a century before the supposed Babylonian version. His writings describe such a thing, including irrigation technology thought to not exist until four centuries later.

3. Zerzura

West of the Nile, somewhere in the desert in Egypt or Libya, was said to be the legendary oasis of Zerzura. Written accounts of it can be traced back to the 13th century, mentioning a city that was as white as a dove. It was said that it is ruled by a sleeping king and queen; it was guarded by black giants, and it was full of treasures.

Numerous European explorers set out to discover the location of Zerzura in more modern times, some as late as the 1930s. It was in 1932 when Hungarian Explorer Laszlo Almasy led an expedition through the desert and discovered a series of wadis. Though there was no shining white city with a sleeping king, the truth was that they did discover some oases in the desert that had been clearly visited by the local Tebu nomads who had built huts around the area.

It’s worth noting that in the recounting of Almasy’s tale, he started his day of discovery by dusting the desert sand off of his plane. Had there been something in that area in the past it’s just as likely that the desert had swallowed it and only the vegetation remained. Regardless of whether there was a real city or not, the oasis does seem to exist and it’s possible something else may have once been there as well.

2. Thule

In ancient Greek and Roman writings, the farthest north you could get was a land called Thule. It was in the 4th century BC when Greek explorer Pytheas came to Athens with stories of this land where the sun never set and the land and ocean came together in a sort of jelly-like substance. So that was weird.

In later years some people came to believe that perhaps what Pytheas was describing was Iceland or even Greenland, but the details didn’t always line up. In time people came to believe that perhaps Pytheas had just made up the entire story. The only problem was he had been consistently reliable with what he had written about in the past. And the fact remains that his description of the Arctic summer was accurate. When you go far enough north, you will reach places where the sun stays up for days at a time. It would be a remarkable thing for him to have just guessed that.

Pytheas claims to have discovered the land six days across the sea from the Orkney islands. The people there were said to be fair skinned and with light hair, and barbarians by his description. In later years the Nazis would latch onto this story and mount their own expedition to find Thule, believing it to be the birthplace of the Aryan race.

Obviously the Nazis never found this mythical land of Aryan supremacy, but there were enough details of a land that clearly existed somewhere in the Arctic to confirm that wherever Pytheas had gone, it was likely a real place.

1. Sodom and Gomorrah

In the biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah, God told Abraham that the two cities were going to be destroyed because of how wicked the inhabitants were. Abraham’s nephew Lot lived in one of those towns and Abraham didn’t really want to see him destroyed. Only Lot and his family were worthy enough to live, so they were told they could flee just as long as they didn’t look back. But as they left, Lot’s wife took a peek and was turned into a pillar of salt. As for everyone else in town? Nothing remained.

You’d think the historical evidence for two cities destroyed by God himself would be pretty thin. But there is a belief that the two cities did exist and the ruins are currently near a former peninsula of the Dead Sea in Israel. As for God’s wrath, it took the form of an earthquake that was believed to hit the region around 1900 BCE, and naturally occurring petroleum and other gases in the area may have actually exploded and rained fire at the time.


The Road to Nowhere

WIF 10 Cent Travel

THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 69

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 69

…All of a sudden she is losing the “pretty face” tag and buying into real journalism, irrespective of cashing in on Space Colony or not…

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Francine’s shiny sports car sits conspicuously close to the entrance of the station, where lighting is2031 Model Corvette brighter and security tighter, for her new four-wheeled two-seater. For the first time in the Chevy’s 550 mile life, its rear tires lay down matching black stripes on a paved surface, through gears 1 & 2. She uses every side-street-shortcut available, ignoring some red lights and praising the cooperating green ones. Her biggest roadblock is the exit/entrance ramp from the South Sam Houston Tollway, those damned tolls are always backed up on the weekends.

As expected the lanes are stuffed with Houstonian peons, but the far right lane is closed for maintenance. Risking scratches to the Honeysuckle Red Fiberglass front end, she plows through the gate, leaving the metal breakaway logjam in her wake.

The dusty display of driving catches the eye of a Tollway officer, who stands pointing an accusing finger at the violator whose picture has been taken and there will be a price to pay. The scornful look on his face produces momentary guilt from Francine, for 2 meaningless seconds, and then she is back laying rubber as she jumps on the 45, watching the speedometer leap past 100 in two-shakes of an angry man’s finger.

Once on the Interstate she finds it free of southbound traffic, free to focus her memory on the mysterious Arabic caller that started these present events in motion. This went down in such rapid succession that she was afraid that some important detail would fall through the cracks of awareness.

The most amazing thing about this whole ordeal, now an international big deal, was the wide exposure she had fallen into. Her name is on more tongues tonight than in any single Texan year in the last 10 and her agent is probably on the phone with news directors in the #2 & #1 markets, if not network television.

Related imageAll of a sudden she is losing the “pretty face” tag and buying into real journalism, irrespective of cashing in or not. For the second time today, Francine steps back to examine her soul, wondering just what has come over her. The “values” transformation is in direct opposition of everything she had become up to January day into night.

Pre-disaster Francine was a bitter person, so caught up in vanity that she never learned how to relate with all people, not just the important ones. Her idea of intimacy was to string along a poor sucker local TV broadcast exec, allowing him to think he had a future with a “trophy” catch.


THE RETURN TRIP

visual-journalism

Visual Journalism

Episode 69


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Did You Hear About the…? – WIF Urban Legend

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Strange – World

As a species, human beings share a love of stories. Some are based on real events. Others are pure fiction, and in some cases the line between the two can be blurred or uncertain.

Urban legends tend to fall into the latter category, but they can be found in some form in every culture and society.

These are 10 examples of some of the stranger urban legends to be found.

10. Killer Electric Fans

South Korea is amongst the most scientifically advanced nations on the planet. Despite this it’s also home to a peculiar modern day urban legend that has little or no scientific support.

Some South Koreans believe that leaving an electric fan switched on overnight can be fatal. It’s not entirely inconceivable that an electric fan might on very rare occasions malfunction and catch fire, but this isn’t what believers are worried about. The fear is that anybody who goes to sleep in a closed room with an electric fan running might never wake up.

While this particular urban legend is almost entirely unique to South Korea, and while there’s very little evidence to back it up, it’s none the less prevalent enough that even major fan manufacturers issue warnings not to leave fans pointed at people overnight.

It seems that the roots of this particular urban legend can be traced back to 1927, when an article was published warning that electric fans circulating stale air could lead to nausea or even suffocation.

9. The Zambezi River God

In 1955 an Italian construction firm began work on the Kariba Dam on Zimbabwe’s Zambezi River. It would produce huge amounts of hydroelectric power, but at the cost of forcing thousands of locals from their homes and their land.

Some warned that the Zambezi River God would be angered into unleashing floods and dire retribution. This serpent-like creature known as Nyaminyami is said to inhabit Lake Kariba and act as protector of the Tongan people.

The Kariba Dam engineers weren’t concerned. The giant structure’s defenses were designed to withstand anything up to a once-in-a-thousand-year flood.

Despite their confidence, in 1957 the dam was hit by that thousand-year storm. Damage was extensive and several Italian construction workers were killed. Construction was delayed by several months until work could begin again.

In defiance of all their calculations a second even larger flood followed just one year later. Several more workers were killed, their bodies falling into the dam’s still-setting cement from where they could not be recovered.

Construction of the dam was finally completed, but not before 82 construction workers had lost their lives. Some believe the completed dam has cut the Zambezi River God off from his wife, and that even to this day he is working to destroy it.

If so then he seems to be making progress. Engineers warn that the Kariba Dam is now in dire need of extensive repairs and at risk of collapsing entirely, with catastrophic consequences.

8. Spring-Heeled Jack

With a population in excess of two million people, 1830s London was the most populous city in the world. It was a global hub of science, invention, and innovation, and in 1829 it introduced the first professional police force anywhere in the world.

Despite all this London was a city in the grip of fear. A mysterious figure was attacking young women across the city, and the police seemed powerless to apprehend him.

It wasn’t even clear if the menace was human. Eyewitnesses reported him as having a demonic appearance, the ability to spit flames, and even leap huge distances in one bound. He came to be known as Spring-heeled Jack.

Mass hysteria presumably played a part, but fear of Spring-heeled Jack was very real. The newspapers, who knew a juicy story when they saw it, were only too happy to run articles on this shadowy character.

In 1838 a man named Thomas Millbank, somewhat worse for wear in a London tavern, boasted that he was none other than the mysterious Spring-heeled Jack. He was promptly arrested for the attack on a victim named Jane Alsop. However, he soon had to be released. Jane Alsop remained adamant that her assailant had breathed flames. If Millbank had indeed been able to manifest this ability, he stubbornly refused to do so.

Whether there ever was a single real person behind the legend of Spring-heeled Jack is difficult to say for sure, but the legend lives on and occasional sightings continue to be reported even to this day.

7. The Black Bird of Chernobyl

The mere mention of Chernobyl is enough to conjure up feelings of unease. The name is inextricably linked to the worst nuclear accident the world has ever seen, and it’s seared into our collective consciousness as something dark and terrifying.

Most people know the story well enough. A nuclear reactor in the Soviet power plant melted down, and only good fortune and heroism prevented a far greater disaster that would have rendered much of Europe uninhabitable.

The supernatural aspect of the story is less well known. Thousands of people were evacuated after the meltdown, but many still speak of a horrifying apparition that appeared as a harbinger of disaster.

In the weeks leading up to the catastrophe they claim to have seen a terrifying humanoid creature with huge wings, and eyes that glowed like hot coal. This airborne apparition came to be known as the Black Bird of Chernobyl.

Whether this was an urban legend created after the disaster or whether it has some basis in reality is impossible to say for certain.

6. The Deadly Drop Bear

Australia is home to some of the deadliest animals in the world. If the snakes, spiders, jellyfish, and the lethal blue-ringed octopus weren’t enough, there’s also the drop bear.

The creature is said to be a relative of the koala, but considerably less appealing. Roughly the size of a leopard or a large dog, drop bears are ambush predators.

They live in the forests where they hide in the canopy waiting for unsuspecting prey to pass beneath. Dropping from the trees they use their powerful arms and venomous bite to subdue their prey, and sometimes even attack humans.

In reality the drop bear is an urban legend created to scare and amuse tourists, and occasionally play pranks on unsuspecting journalists. Curiously enough, however, during the last Ice Age Australia was home to a carnivorous marsupial that lived and hunted from the trees, similar to the mythical drop bear.

5. Bodies in Sydney Harbor Bridge

Sydney is one of the world’s most famous cities, and it seems to be Australia’s hot spot for urban legends. If they are all to be believed then there is a secret network of tunnels beneath the streets, a hidden lake populated by giant albino eels, escaped big cats on the loose, and even a prehistoric river monster.

Other urban legends are linked to Sydney’s architecture, such as Sydney Harbor Bridge.

The bridge opened in 1932 and became famous across the world. However, its construction came at a cost in human lives. The official figures state that sixteen people were killed in falls, construction accidents, and in one case from tetanus after suffering a crushed thumb.

Local legend has it that this is not the full tally of fatal accidents. Several workers are rumored to have fallen into the structure as it was being built. Since these dead bodies would be bad for publicity, not to mention difficult and expensive to retrieve, their grisly demise may have been covered up.

4. The Wendigo

In November 2019, Gino Meekis was hunting grouse in the forests of northwest Ontario. Whilst there he heard a wailing noise unlike anything he’d encountered in more than twelve years of hunting.

Gino was sufficiently unnerved to pull out his phone and take a recording, and that subsequently sparked an online debate as to what exactly was responsible for the eerie noise.

One suggestion was a grizzly bear, but that species had never been sighted in the region. Others speculated it may have been a wendigo.

Bumping into a grizzly in the forests is dangerous, but it would be vastly favorable to an encounter with this terrifying supernatural beast.

The Wendigo of legend is said to be fifteen feet tall with a stinking, rotting, emaciated body. Its lips are tattered and bloody, and it’s haunted by a constant hunger for human flesh. The beast is constantly hunting for victims, but no matter how much it eats it can never satisfy the craving.

This monstrous creature has made its way into modern medical parlance. The thankfully rare psychological condition of Wendigo Syndrome is characterized by a desire to consume human flesh.

3. The Rock Star’s Parakeets

There are plenty of urban legends surrounding animals or beasts whose existence is questionable at best.

This one is slightly different as it concerns tens of thousands of parakeets that have made their home in London’s parks.

The parakeets definitely exist, but they equally definitely aren’t indigenous to Britain, and nobody is entirely sure where they came from.

One popular suggestion is that Jimi Hendrix is responsible. He’s said to have released two of the birds, Adam and Eve, into the skies of London whilst stoned in 1968. The multitude of parrots now resident in England are said to be descendants of this first pair.

The idea has even been investigated by researchers at Queen Mary University. Unfortunately, whilst it’s possible that Hendrix may have added to the parakeet population, they concluded the birds are too widespread to all be descended from a single pair.

2. Aka Manto

The yokai are a group of supernatural beings and monsters that populate Japanese folklore. Varied in their appearance and temperament, some are benevolent, others are cruel, and one has an unusual predilection for women’s bathrooms.

Descriptions of Aka Manto’s appearance varies, but he is always depicted as wearing a mask and a red cape. The supernatural being is said to periodically appear in public or school toilets offering the occupier a choice between red and blue toilet paper.

Neither of these is a good option. Choosing the blue paper results in being strangled to death, but opting for the red paper is no better and leads to death by laceration.

Aka Manto is also wise to anyone who might try to trick their way past him by requesting different colored toilet paper to the ones he offered. Their fate is to be dragged off to the underworld and never seen again.

Fortunately, all is not lost. Politely declining Aka Manto’s offer of toilet paper will cause him to leave in search of another potential victim.

The legend of Aka Manto can be traced back to at least the 1930s, and he’s said to be still haunting public toilets to this day.

1. NASA’s Billion Dollar Pen

In 1957 the Soviet Union launched the first ever satellite into space. It didn’t do anything other than whizz around the planet emitting regular beeps, but it was sufficient to spark a hugely expensive space race with the United States of America.

America would claim victory by landing men on the moon in 1969, but there were a huge number of challenges to overcome before that point could be reached.

Even something as simple as writing proved to be problematic in space. It turned out that regular pens just didn’t work in zero gravity.

The American response was to begin a lengthy research project and sink billions of dollars into a solution. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union took a cheaper but far more straightforward approach and used pencils instead.

Many people are aware of this story, but it’s not actually true. It’s an example of a particularly successful urban myth, one that’s now so firmly embedded in our collective psyche it’s unlikely to ever go away.

The reality is that the American space program, just like the Soviet one, initially switched to using pencils. When a pen was developed that could be used in space, it was designed independently of the U.S. Government or military by an inventor named Paul C. Fisher.

NASA approved them for use in space and purchased a grand total of 400 of them at the modest price of $2.95 each. The Soviet space agency bought some too.


Did You Hear About the…?

WIF Urban Legends

THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 31

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 31

Was one of your fares a beautiful woman and two little girls perhaps?…

escape2-001

Aldona Afridi continues his defection to save Space Colony 1

“We must cross the Golden Horn to get reach Galata.”

The Golden Horn is an inlet of the Bosporus, the narrow band of water separating them from the mosque. The main bridge that connects Galata to Stamboul is choked with evening traffic and in the waters below is Image result for the bosporus waterwaynearly as busy, with floating forms of alternative transportation. Boatmen take their fares in the same dinghies driven by a hundred generations, bobbing side-by-side with a number of larger commuter boats.

A certain ferry commands Aldona’s attention. He scans each bow for the name Mother of the Black Sea, the ship of escape for (his wife) Fatima and the girls. It may be either under-sail or moored, are they aboard or are they ashore, in the safe confines of the mosque?

“There are many a ferry tonight, Saied,” the driver notices his passenger’s keen interest.

“Is the Mother of the Black Sea one of them?”

“Oh yes Saied, the largest of them, with the many lights no doubt. It is docked for the night.” He smiles fondly at the thought; the daily visits by the Black Sea ferryboat are a boon to the taxis.

“Docked this afternoon you say? Did you have any fares from that boat?”

“Oh my yes Saied, every docking brings many fares.”

“Was one of your fares a beautiful woman and two little girls perhaps?”

“No, but I may have seen such a group coming down the ramp, more baggage than my humble cab can carry. I think poor Muhammad XXVII may have gotten them, not good for his bad back.

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Turkish traffic

“Can we go faster; I need to get to the mosque yesterday?”

“We will kill more than pecking chickens…The world has gone mad for haste….”

“I don’t care; get us out of this stagnant mess.”

Never let it be said that a good taxi driver does not enjoy a challenge, especially if it involves driving obnoxiously; foot to pedal, hand on horn.

And the race is on!! The resourceful combination of a jet ski and a golf cart squirts through gaps barely wider than a bicycle, prompting Afridi to scrunch his shoulders and close his eyes. But as in old movie sight-gag, they magically appear on the other side, clear of the bottleneck.

So, leaving the trail of tangled auto, with their fist-shaking drivers behind, the Sultan Ahmet Mosque is mere minutes away in Galata, the commercial hub of Old Constantinople.

All in all, Afridi has time to loosen the noose around his neck, having left the hardest roads behind. That he lives to tell the tale is testimony to his firm resolve and evidence of his good fortune. When he was back in that cold river, bullets splashing like rain around him, his long-term welfare was undecided at best. Hopefully there will be sympathetic ears to hear his story, at the end of his cross-continental campaign, ending here in the land of the Great Crusades.

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THE RETURN TRIP

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Episode 31


page 30

THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 29

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 29

…You can disembark any time you like, but you can never leave.” On a dark desert byway, dusty breeze in my hair, the warm smell of opiates rising up in the air…

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Afridi must have drifted off, despite an effort to keep one of them peeled. The sun is giving back the day, silhouetting the domes of Constantinople’s many mosques, and others who have chosen this old city as a destination, begin to stir noisily. This entire foreign hubbub trims the much welcomed mental respite for a psychologically fatigued traitor/defector/fugitive/ husband/father.

The conductor/funnyman goes out of his way to sweep Aldona’s berth, perhaps feeling personally responsible for the success of whatever the man is up to. Surely he has done the same for an untold number of equally fascinating patrons.

“I was awake, sir,” responds Afridi to the bonus care. “Say, please take these as a token.”

afghan-noteHe takes possession of several rumpled Afghani notes given him and is truly impressed, so much so that he reaches into his own pocket to fetch a business card, which is printed with magnetic resonance. “Use this in Istanbul, a value that trumps money; it contains my name, the password is “ByZantium”. {Please note that it is abdullah-ashtaar-001electronically case-sensitive}

He hands him his card.

Double A meets double AA. “Your kindness will rewarded by the Creator of us all. Perhaps we will meet again.”

You can disembark any time you like, but you can never leave.” On a dark desert byway, dusty breeze in my hair, the warm smell of opiates rising up in the air…

Aldona Afridi extracts what he can from the cryptic statement, while holding a key to a most ancient of world capitals in his hand. Within moments the bullet train swooshes to an abrupt stop, compelling people and objects to spill to the front of each car; standers go down, sitters double over, and sleepers tumble in their blankets. Those new brakes really work.

But they have arrived at Marmaray Station as promised, safely and on time.

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THE RETURN TRIP

Constantinople by Gianomo Franco

Map of the island of Constantinople, created in 1597 by the Venetian Giacomo Franco

Episode 29


page 28

THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 28

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 28

“…this must be your 1st trip on the New Orient Expressmy lonely friend.”…

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In 2030, (again) after a famed and fabled past, the New Orient Express, that had halted the contiguous run in 2009, from Paris all the way through to Istanbul, a train-traveler can still take a (faster version) train from one end to the other; 2000 luxurious European kilometres.

Writers have forever taken advantage of its romantic whistle-stops and melting pot passenger list. Taken at face value, the spin of those yarns will have the seats of this long-train runnin’ occupied, in large part, by spies, opiate dealers, murderers, and the like.

In the second to last car is the restaurant coach and seated in the rear, trying his hardest to look inconspicuous {innocent}, is Aldona Afridi. Now you can add a Talibanistani defector to the list of unusually unusual passengers; fitting right in with the stereotypical fictional ne’er-do-wells. Just don’t stare at them.

In an attempt to make a goose-chase out of his flight to freedom thereby covering his tracks, Afridi had flown to Paris, instead of the logical land-way across the Persian Plain and Euphrates Valley, where Nutkani and his tribesmen were previously nipping at his heels.

The most gregarious of the conductor corps strolls down the aisle, stopping to chat with folks of all derivations, some of which would rather not, acting as if they were all long-lost friends. Afridi chooses Conductor“mute” as his origin, but is compelled to mouth, “What time Istanbul?”

“Last stop Bucharest…” he shares his answer, then pointedly asking, “…this must be your 1st trip on the New Orient Express, my lonely friend.” After 20 hours on the rapid rail, passengers should be more aware of the schedule.

“Will we get there before dusk?” he rephrases, hoping to elicit a more precise response from the mustachioed kibitzer.

“Romanian officials are asking questions, searching the whole train…for a defector my instinct tells me.”

Just what Afridi wanted to hear; like a priest preaching a sermon on hell in front of pews packed with hardcore sinners? Had he known that the rascally conductor was pulling his strange-unusualleg, using his uncanny ability to guess why passengers have chosen to ride this disreputable rail, Aldona would have been spared the mounting anxiety that threaten to make a wreck of him.

Chuckling on his way, the conductor whispers cryptically, “You will arrive at railhead before dark, my itchy friend. People who choose the New Orient Express are immune from border inspections…just be aware of the  people around you!”

The jovial ticket taker’s laugh echoes loudly, yet the cause of his amusement seems of little consequence to the other diners. Anonymity is the unspoken creed of this illustrious train.


THE RETURN TRIP

new-orient-express-001

Episode 28


page 27

By the Wonderful Sea – WIF 10 Cent Travel

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Remarkable Ocean

and

Sea Settlements

Ocean cities. Settlements in seas. Famed writer Jules Verne was on to something with “Propeller Island,” after all. (see below)

In this account, we explore some of the most ingenious ways in which human settlements have taken a marine form that thrive in modern times, while paying respects to some real-life versions of Atlantis found below the waves.

10. MS The World

The brainchild of Knut U. Kloster, MS The World is remarkable and globally unique condo at sea. With everything from sports facilities to a grocery store, this “largest residential yacht on the planet” is an apartment ship with 165 residential apartments, in total measuring 644 feet, 2 inches long and 98 feet wide. A board of directors elected by the residents, plus committees, plan out the ship’s travel routes, budgeting and on-board activities, along with shore stops.

The attractive vessel is a place to reside, with its fully livable apartments that range from its little studio residences to middle ground studio one or two-bedroom apartments, regular two-bedroom apartments, all the way up to three-bedroom suites with a full range of amenities. One to three expeditions (typically informed by 20 or more relevant experts, for planning) take in culture, scenery, and natural history of places like Madagascar, the British Isles/Hebrides, and the Northwest Passage.

9. Kansai International Airport

A masterpiece of Japanese engineering, Kansai Interntional Airport, opened in 1994, is an airport in the middle of the sea. Well, in the middle of Osaka Bay, offshore of Japan’s main island, Honshu, to be exact. Originally planned to be floating, the airport was instead built on sand, creating a runway-shaped construction surrounded by water, with all the amenities expected at an airport.

The airport is connected to Honshu by a narrow strip for rail and road transport, and has been judged as an engineering disaster due it its history of sinkage into the soft sands and mud of Osaka Bay and the subsequent costs. The airport nevertheless received recognition as an American Society of Civil Engineers “Civil Engineering Monument of the Millennium” award recipient in April 2001. The airport notably weathered a 120 mile-per-hour typhoon in 1998 and survived the 1995 Kobe earthquake without destruction despite the thousands of deaths on Honshu.

8. Jules’ Undersea Lodge

While not quite a full city or even a town, Jules’ Undersea Lodge is a most unique hotel that requires SCUBA certification for guest access. Located in Florida, the structure is located 21 feet below the waves. Celebrity visitors to the lodge have included Aerosmith lead singer Steven Tyler and former Prime Minister of Canada Pierre Trudeau.

The lodge itself is located in a mangrove environment with 42-inch windows while hot showers, music and movies, beds with a view of wild fish outside, and a kitchen containing a microwave and fridge are present in the lodge. A variety of stay packages ranging from just a few hours to a full overnighter are available, along with dive training if the required certification is not already held by visitors.

7. Palm Islands

The United Arab Emirates is a land home to some of the world’s most remarkable feats of marine engineering. Take the Palm Islands, a set of stunning marine archipelagos with rays and centerpieces that can be most fully appreciated from aerial views or space photographs. The islands include Palm Jumeirah, a precisely palm leaf shaped archipelago, Palm Deira Island, and Palm Jebel Ali, located along the Dubai coastline. Started in 2001, the developments contain a vast array of dwellings and commercial buildings constructed on the rays and stems. Breakwaters protect the construction works on the islands.

The project scale was most impressive. The first of the Palm Islands, Palm Jumeirah, utilized a whopping 3 billion cubic feet of sand, dredged from the Persian Gulf, built into the palm shape with GPS, while mountain rock totaling seven million tons was used to form the seven-mile breakwater protection system. Near the Palm Islands are two more human-made archipelagos, The World, named after its construction in the likeness of a map of the Earth, and The Universe, built to resemble the Milky Way Galaxy.

6. Neft Dashlari (Oily Rocks)

Extending from overturned scrapped tankers and connected by trestles and pipes is an expansive ghost city in the Caspian Sea. Located off the coast of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Neft Dashlari, or Oily Rocks, is one of the strangest urban areas on the planet. A ramshackle yet industriously constructed network of oil drilling facilities, stores, and apartment buildings stands bizarrely perched throughout the settlement. Neft Dashlari gained the amenities of an entire town including stores, educational facilities, and homes, plus libraries and service centers. Dormitories with five stories and hotels were among the grander structures built.

The community was literally built on top of overturned ships, which serve as building foundations. The site holds the Guinness World Record for being the first ever offshore oil platform. Neft Dashlari is now largely abandoned, with only some settlement remaining. A dark episode in the history of Neft Dashlari was the perhaps less than surprising, with the disappearance of three workers following the collapse of living accommodations into the Caspian Sea.

5. The Boat City of Aberdeen Harbour

Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China, has a complicated cultural history. Aberdeen Harbour exists in stark contrast to the towering and densely clustered skyscrapers for which Hong Kong is famous. Here in the harbor, there are large congregations of boats on which dwellers live and work. Restaurants are included in the amenities offered by the “boat city,” adding significantly to the tapestry of the village as a unique attraction.

Despite some viewing the floating neighborhood as a visual disturbance, the boat city is gaining an established place in Hong Kong’s culture. Movie depictions of Hong Kong make good use of the boat city for both panoramic views and as the setting for great action scenes. In historic times, the pirate life of the boat city was colorful, to say the least.

4. Ko Panyi

The image is incredible. One of Thailand’s most fascinating sights is the aerial view of Ko Panyi. With multi-colored roofs, the buildings of the village on stilts extend outward in a rough question mark shape around the base of a precipitous stony island, formed from a single mini-mountain that rises from Phang Nga Bay. Ko Panyi is in southern Thailand’s Phang Nga Province on the Malay Peninsula, between the Thai border with Myanmar to the north and Malaysia to the south.

A testament to the resourcefulness of its founders, Ko Panyi was established by Toh Baboo, friends and family who were Muslim ocean travelers who arrived around 200 years back but were unable to settle on land as foreigners upon arrival in Thailand. Today, the 300 families numbering almost 1,500 individuals live in the village that clusters around the rock. Dwellings, restaurants, a mosque, and even a floating football pitch are among the features of the village.

3. Fadiouth, Senegal

In the African nation of Senegal, a section of coastline known as Petite Côte is a village of fishers that is divided between a land-based section of settlement, Joal, and a much stranger island portion of the village, Fadiouth. Joal-Fadiouth’s two sections are connected via a wooden footbridge, 1,312 feet in length. Fadiouth is bizarre because it is on an entirely human-made island, and that island is made from discarded yet rather precisely placed seashells.

Over the last century (and more), villagers have been toiling at a two-fold project. On one hand, they have been harvesting marine mollusks for food, and on the other, casting the shells aside. This has created the huge midden that grew into the island supporting Fadiouth. Fastened by mangrove roots and other coastal wetland plants, the shell island resists the tides. The theme everywhere is shells. The famous cemetery is made of shells, while streets and buildings sport shells. The population is Christian and Muslim and is known for its close community held together by residential embrace of religious diversity.

2. Halong Bay Floating Villages

Vietnam is home to a spectacular floating village group that has achieved world recognition for its cultural and architectural uniqueness. Amongst pillar-like mountains that emerge from the waters of Halong Bay are four floating villages comprised of multiple buildings on rafts that form a fishing community. The four villages in Halong Bay contain 1,000 villagers and are named Cua Van, Ba Hang, Vong Vieng, and Cong Tau.

Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the villages provide a base for fishing lobster, shellfish, finned fish, and squid. Larger vessels resemble land-based houses in their design, while smaller boats are moored to the dwelling boats, which can themselves move around or anchor to neighboring dwellings to allow convenient forays through the bay. The largest village, Cau Van, hosts the Floating Cultural Center, which seeks to preserve the villages under the auspices of the Ha Long Ecological Museum.

1. Urban Rigger

A floating apartment is a novel concept and even more-so when the apartment complex is made of recycled structures. The Urban Rigger project in Copenhagen, Denmark is just such a remarkable development, with 12 studio apartments for students fashioned from shipping containers. Floating by the shoreline in the Copenhagen neighborhood of Refshaleoen, the project was designed by Bjarke Ingels Group after being first dreamt up by Urban Rigger CEO Kim Loudrup, who encountered great challenges in finding his son student housing in Denmark.

Students appreciate the sustainable, livable design of the mini community on the water, the first residents having arrived in 2018. The shipping containers that make up the apartments focus on making the best use of natural light and are fitted with their own bathrooms and kitchens, while common areas include gardens, a gym, and laundry facilities. Residents can go for a swim right from their doorstep.


By the Wonderful Sea

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Things That Kill, Not All from China – WIF Lists

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Urban Hazards

That Could

Kill You

The urban environment can be scary. While the dangers of the outdoors and wilderness survival are well publicized, city planners, businesses and the public alike struggle with how to mitigate the dangers with which the urban environment is fraught. Let us now explore the chilling survival dangers that may face us vulnerable humans in the wild, wild world that is the city. Eerily, some of the worst hazards come from attempts at charity, efficiency, or green innovation.

10. Monster Icicles

It is less well known than it should be that urban environments juxtapose walking areas for pedestrians with perfect places for icicles to drop from great heights. This can be deadly. In cities with cold winter climates, sufficient precipitation and the presence of tall buildings, such as St. Petersburg, Russia or New York, USA, a perfect storm exists that has, tragically, caused numerous injuries and in some cities, repeated fatalities. Environmental sustainability measures centered on making buildings more energy efficient have perversely created increased danger to the public in certain cases.

A 2010 article in the International Journal on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat describes how buildings built to be energy efficient (or renovated to be energy efficient) release less heat, saving energy but dramatically increasing the accumulation of potentially dangerous ice formations on the outside of skyscrapers. When temperatures rise, ice chunks fall to the city streets below. Icicles forming as water drips down the edges of buildings has caused tragic deaths, most notably in St. Petersburg, Russia where in a single year (2010) a shocking five people died and 150 were injured after being hit by huge falling icicles or ice chunks. Senseless carnage! Novosibirsk, the third most populated city in Russia, also saw a cold tragedy toward winter’s end in 2015 when a 20-year-old woman was killed by ice falling 14 stories from a canopy. Blame has been placed on officials for failing to ensure dangerous ice was removed.

9. Killer Dumpsters

Dumpster diving is a popular activity for the homeless, those trying to save a few dollars, or certain “freegans” trying to make a political or economic statement about thrown away food. Yet another kind of dumpster diving (for dumpster contents that are not garbage) have claimed several lives, prompting calls for a ban. These are the clothing donation bins that have caused seven deaths Canada-wide since 2015. The complicated mechanism of these bins, designed to prevent theft can crush people between metal plates aided by their own body weight as they reach into the bins in an attempt to retrieve clothing.

The problem is worst in Canada, for reasons still in question, but deaths have occurred elsewhere globally but in fewer numbers. People have been found dead in clothing donation bins, while in other cases, screams were heard but the victim died of crushing and suffocation before they could be helped. For example, help came too late to save one woman whose vehicle was still running beside a bin that she entered at night, only to get caught up and be left hanging from broken limbs. Efforts to curb the deaths include outright bans or voluntary removals of bins in certain jurisdictions, along with engineering team efforts to design a safer system.

8. Stray Bullet Strikes

Stray bullets can arise from surprising sources and travel in the strangest trajectories, killing people in cities who had nothing to do with either celebrations, gang violence, or warfare. Bullets travel farther than people commonly understand, less accurately than often believed, and can ricochet or achieve a lethal potential falling in an arc after being fired into the air. A growing number of people in the United States have lost their lives when a bullet entered their home or hit them in the street. Just one Baltimore street saw a three-year-old killed and then a nine-year-old girl injured by stray bullets in two separate incidents. These cases of accidental urban shootings are examples of a growing problem. Between March 2008 and February 2009, over 300 people were hit by stray bullets in the United States.

A variety of demographics were represented in an analysis of those hit, and those who were identified as responsible in stray bullet cases. Shockingly, children formed 30 percent of the victims. The urban threat is not primarily a street issue, as 68 percent of victims were struck indoors, including 40 percent being accidentally shot in their own homes. There is also an urgent need to stop the celebratory firing of live rounds at events such as New Years around the world. Senseless fatalities, such as the 2014 deaths of two children in the Philippines when bullets fired to celebrate New Years struck them in their home, serve as an example.

7. Airplane Crashes

Urban airplane crashes kill more people than you would think. Look out: the sky is not falling, but its contents just might. We might think of aircraft travel as safe, but when accidents happen, they are notably catastrophic a lot of the time. Furthermore, those on the ground are at risk, especially in cities. Tall buildings present easily struck obstacles, while lower buildings and roads may be hit if a runway is missed. Global aviation disaster records show around 200 crashes that caused fatalities on the ground. The single worst ground fatality event in aviation history resulting from an accident was the crash of an Air Africa Antonov-An-32B into a street market in the Democratic Republic of Congo that killed at least 225 and injured.

In 1992, a notable disaster took place when approximately 100 people in an apartment building in Amsterdam lost their lives as an airliner flew into the building, causing an immense fireball. Terrorism caused the most serious incidents, the 9/11 terrorist attacks killing more than 2,500 people on the ground. Large aircraft are also known to shed heavy parts, but a more common danger comes from small planes crashing in suburbs, such as one recent case in Southern California where four people in a house died when an 8-seater Cessna broke up in mid-air and caused the house to explode into a fiery mass upon impact.

6. Accidental Drug Exposures

The use of illegal “recreational” drugs presents significant risks to users. However, as prohibited street drugs get more potent and deadly, the potential for collateral damage in urban areas to non-users rises. The appearance of fentanyl as an illegal substance often used to cut less potent drugs poses an extreme threat to law enforcement and the public. An increasingly abused substance on the streets that is of medical origin, fentanyl often comes in a fine powder. If inhaled, even a tiny amount of this drug (that is around 50 times stronger than most forms of heroin) may dangerously inhibit respiratory function, easily causing death. In one case, first responders assisting an overdose victim themselves experienced symptoms of an overdose, prompting emergency management authorities to highlight the risks of accidental exposure.

If this was not enough, another substance originating from fentanyl, carfentanil, is around 100 times more potent than regular fentanyl. Terrifying! In addition to the growing threat caused by these rogue opioids proliferating in world cities, drug use poses other threats. Discarded needles are becoming ubiquitous, showing up in garbage cans, at bus stops, and in playgrounds, parks, and even townhouse common grounds. Accidental sticking with discarded needles may lead to exposure to bloodborne diseases if accidentally touched in a way that the skin of the unwitting handler is broken. Means of exposure include handling garbage, walking in grass, or picking up clothing in which a needle is present.

5. Extreme Smog

Major urban centres like Los Angeles, Beijing, and London continue to provoke health conditions and contain significant quantities of toxic smog. Extreme incidents involving smog have marked some of the low points of urban history, the London Killer Fog of 1952 being one of the most notorious examples.  The fog only lasted five days, but the chemical reaction between sulfur dioxide, natural fog, and nitrogen dioxide, creating highly corrosive sulfuric acid fumes in the city. Poisoned badly, 12,000 people died, while 150,000 were so sick they required hospitalization. By 1956, the Clean Air Act was passed to get control of the deadly risks of urban coal burning.

Despite the improvements, London today still has air that has become comparable to New Delhi or Beijing, two large cities known for their frequent air quality advisories. London’s problem with nitrogen dioxide continues, exacerbated by sunlight, which produces ozone pollution. Cities such as New Delhi, however, suffer from worse particulate pollution, yet the levels of potentially life-shortening nitrogen dioxide in London are significantly worse than conditions in a city as large as New York, putting a strain on health services. Air pollution in China causes around 1.1 million premature deaths annually, part of a constellation of problems that prompted Premier of the State Council Li Keqiang to declare “war on pollution” in China, with the intention of “making our skies blue again.” Efforts are focused on reducing steel production and coal-fired energy generation, which are key polluters.

4. Freak Urban Floods

Cities are often built in low-lying areas, while the removal of vegetation and construction beside watercourses in urban areas exacerbates flooding. Urban floods are especially dangerous due to the presence of electrical wires, with electrocution a noteworthy result of certain urban floods. Even in areas that might be thought of as being more dry, flash floods can pose an extraordinary risk in urban locales. In the large Saudi Arabian city Jeddah, 2009 and 2011 saw floods roar through the desert city, killing over 100 people. A lack of proper drainage and flood absorbing vegetation presents a challenge that must be addressed through better installation of natural infrastructure such as constructed wetlands and drains to slow and absorb floodwaters.

Furthermore, urban industry poses the threat of some very strange floods. Eight deaths resulted when thousands of gallons of beer were accidentally released into the streets in the “London Beer Flood” of 1814, while the “Great Boston Molasses Flood” in the United States in 1919 killed 21 people and injured 150, when a huge tank full of molasses broke and let out a wave of molasses 15 feet tall that rushed through streets and buildings, creating a half mile long swathe of destruction and death as people were trapped and drowned in the sticky substance.

3. Infrastructure Failures

We typically trust bridges, power pylons, overpasses, and roads to be well constructed. But a surprising number of deaths take place in cities around the world when the stress of everyday use does not match up to engineering projections and design provisions. Infrastructure collapses in developing countries or political jurisdictions without sufficient engineering codes are expected, but it may surprise people how many disasters have occurred in jurisdictions where infrastructure is thought to be quality and safe.

Between 1989 and 2000, more than 500 bridge failure disasters occurred in the United States! It is often not the result of an earthquakes, but floods or the negligence of a single motorist colliding with critical bridge support structures that sets off a collapse. Other times, engineering mistakes fail to take into account the enormous cumulative load from traffic, settling, and torsion or settling forces, leading to gradual failure or a sudden, catastrophic collapse. Collapses of overpasses above traffic are also some of the worst types of infrastructure collapse risks in cities. So, when you are traveling on a bridge, or below underpasses, you might want to think about the merits of not getting stuck under an overpass or on a bridge that possibly leads nowhere.

2. Asbestos Exposure

Urban exploring, where enthusiasts often illicitly traverse old factories, office towers, and tunnels, enjoys popularity but it can be very risky due to the chance of encountering asbestos. Asbestos, once welcomed as a problem solving “wonder material” with its fireproof insulator properties, is proof that the worst hazards are not always man-made, but natural in origin. Massive quantities of asbestos were once incorporated into urban structures of all kinds. Asbestos formed of minute, dangerous fibers can get into the lungs, where they cause serious inflammation and, eventually, lung cancer.

In the urban environment, almost any older building could be a dangerous storehouse of asbestos fibers. Even careful acts of urban exploration may cause ceilings, walls, stairwells, or old insulation panels to give way, releasing asbestos. No wonder asbestos exposure constitutes the number one threat to the urban explorer, according to Jason Robinson, who founded the Ohio Exploration Society. Not only urban explorers, but renovators and construction workers are confounded by the asbestos threat. Many urban construction projects have the potential to unleash massive quantities of asbestos when past construction work is disturbed. Dealing with asbestos is a liability but also a significant business activity, with workers suiting up until they resemble astronauts in a bid to get rid of the danger.

1. Gas Leaks & Carbon Monoxide

Colorless, odorless, and hard to notice, carbon monoxide remains an insidious and quick killer responsible for numerous deaths from small and large scale equipment failures and also installation mistakes. The substance is a dangerous, but formed of two completely harmless substances that make up your food, your body, and the air around you, albeit in a different molecular order. One molecule of carbon binds to one molecule of oxygen in a byproduct of certain combustion reactions, but the danger is much greater than the sum of the parts. Carbon monoxide is capable of physically replacing the oxygen in your bloodstream.

While taking the place of oxygen, this impostor chemical fails to provide the life sustaining support that oxygen lends. Eerily, the chemical has no taste, smell or color and is often not detected until death results, particularly if the victim is asleep. Many deaths have resulted from blocked chimneys, use of fuel burning machines indoors, or leaving a car running in an enclosed space. A number of deaths result every year, while lower levels of poisoning that cause headaches, nausea, and dizziness — or even seizures — may be misdiagnosed. Maintenance of equipment and avoidance of unsafe practices, followed by installation of monitors, are key ways to avoid fatal incidents.


Things That Kill,

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Polska on a Dime – WIF 10 Cent Travel

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 Must-See Places

in Poland

Poland. A land of record holding attractions. A heavily wooded country in places, beautifully urbanized in others, Poland is a gem of European intrigue with a complex history scathed by the tragedies of armed conflict. In this account, we showcase a visitor’s 10 must see sites in surprising Poland, including the world’s largest castle and a mysterious forest.

10. Malbork Castle

Did you know that “The King of Castles,” the largest castle on the planet (by land area) is in Poland? Poland’s Marlbork Castle is a medieval gem that should rank well in any world itinerary of castle tours. Built in the 13th Century, Marlbork Castle, known as the Castle of the Teutonic Order in Malbork, consists of a castle and associated fortress construction close to the Polish town of Malbork. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the magnificent building attracts visitors looking to tick “biggest castle” off the touring achievements list.

Marlbork Castle is near the River Nogat in northern Poland, built out of brick and typifying Gothic architecture. The construction reflects the Teutonic Order state located in Prussia, where militant German monks fought crusades against Prussian and Lithuanian pagan tribes from the south coast of the Baltic Sea. The crusaders also attacked the Kingdom of Poland, a Christian Kingdom. Thus, the castle is seen as a symbol of the violent religious conflict that embodies much of Europe’s grand but often troubled history.

9. Bialowieza National Park

The primeval forest of Bialowieza National Park is the refuge of the majority of the world’s few remaining European bison, Poland’s national animal. Also designated as a World Heritage Site, the huge relict tract preserves the last of the temperate forest that once grew lush and mysterious across much of the European continent. The first national park to ever be established on the European continent, Bialowieza was declared a protected area in 1932 and stands out for its exceptional diversity. Along with the huge bison, other species seen here include lynx, wild boar, wolves and red deer.

Despite the relatively cool climate of Poland and surrounding lands, 12,000 animal species call the park home. Also known as the Zubr, the European Bison that define this park are iconic giants as Europe’s largest land animal in existence. During the Second World War, pressures on the bison increased, being seen as a source of meat in challenging conditions. Their survival in the refuge stands out as a heroic work of conservation in European history, an accomplishment of the Bison Breeding Center located in the park, the place where all bison left in the world originate.

8. Tatra Mountains

Poland is a country with diverse and fascinating geography, spanning from high mountain Europe to the Baltic Sea. In the south of Poland lies the Tatra mountain range, which is the highest set of mountains in the Carpathian range.

Tatras National Park contains spectacular cave sites as well as mountains, offering the visitor a glimpse of Poland’s most spectacular geographical region. Lakes in these mountains are impressive, particularly Morskie Oko, a lake whose name means Eye of the Sea in English. Morskie Oko is the Tatra Mountains’ largest lake, ranking fourth in depth and located within the national park. The conifer trees, rock outcrops and high elevations contrast sharply with brilliant blue waters that seem tropical in nature until you see the snow beyond. A destination for world class sight-seeing, rock climbing, hiking and caving, as well as paragliding, mountain biking and wildlife viewing, the “Polish Alps” — as they are sometimes called — are a lesser known great attraction of Europe worth any visitor’s time. Strict environmental protection policies are in place to preserve the flora and fauna of the park.

7. Tri-City

Poland is not all about farmland, forest and castles. It is also a seaport nation, with an impressive section of Baltic Sea coastline to offer visitors. Gdansk and and two other coastal municipalities, Gdynia and Sopot are known as the Tri-City, a municipal area with spectacular coastal architecture that is most whimsical, combined with heavy industry and a population of around one million.

The National Maritime Museum in Gdansk showcases seafaring and fishing history of coastal Poland, while the city has some dark history as the place where the first bullets were fired in World War II during the German invasion of Poland. The Solidarity Social Movement also first broke through the Iron Curtain in Gdansk 40 years afterward. Sopot is a lighter destination, established as a sort of recreation zone for European ruling classes of old. Spas, beachfront resorts and summer homes define the often bustling coast of Sopot. Gdynia offers a different sample of Poland, with a more subdued style. Art Deco, socialist and communist architecture are all juxtaposed here, along with fascinating relics, such as the Polish World War II battleship ‘Blyskawica’, now a visitor’s attraction and military exhibit.

6. Wawel Royal Castle

Considered a cultural icon of Polish history as well as a masterpiece of European royal architecture, Wawel Castle is located in the center of one of Poland’s most famous cities, Krakow. The 11th century saw construction of a small castle by King Boleslaw I Chrobry.

King Casimir III the Great renovated until the Royal Castle was a grand Gothic structure, only for it to burn in 1499. Zygmunt I Stary created the current palace, Italian-inspired and representing Renaissance glory. The cultural and political center of Poland throughout the 16th Century, Wawel Royal Castle is a museum in modern times, consisting of five distinct sections open for visitation. These are the Crown Treasury and Armory, the State Rooms, the Royal Private Apartments, the Lost Wawel and the Exhibition of Oriental Art. These works and the stunning grounds of the castle give visitors a most memorable experience of Polish Royal history. A survivor of history, Wawel Royal Castle was vandalized by Swedish and Prussian forces, Austrian-occupied in the 19th century with intent to make it a mere barracks and then re-incorporated into Poland following World War I. Restoration was underway between the two world wars, continuing once World War II hostilities ceased. Much improvement has been made to the rooms and the castle exterior.

5. Zamosc

Dating back to the 1500s, Zamosc is a Renaissance town that offers a time capsule-like experience for visitors, giving an authentic glimpse of ancient Poland with strong Italian architectural influence. The sights of the town range from churches to a grand old university to historic dwellings that reflect the lengthy history of this unique master planned town. The community is located in close proximity to the Ukrainian border. Attractions are diverse and visually pleasing in the town that was built as a collaboration between the great Italian designer Bernardo Morando, and chancellor Jan Zamoysky, after whom the town is named. Zamosc was not only built with specific architectural ideas in mind.

The town was planned with care on a larger scale to be a multicultural hub of European social and commercial exchange, strategically placed along the trade route that connected western and northern Europe with the Black Sea coast. Interestingly, the construction in Zamosc reflects efforts to implement tolerance, as the town contains religious buildings that serve as locations for a variety of faiths to worship.

4. Wroclaw

Peaceful yet vibrant, full of life Wroclaw is a jewel of Polish cultural life. Visitors to the Western Polish city will marvel at the stunning and innovative Gothic architecture that is juxtaposed on unique geography. Wroclaw is spread across riverside lands and a remarkable 12 islands, built by the River Oder, which flows from the Sudeten Mountains to the Baltic Sea. Founded in the 900s, the city has changed hands an incredible number of times. Wroclaw has been under Polish, Silesian, Bohemian, Hungarian, Prussian and German as well as Austrian Habsburg Dynastic rule in its history.

The city survived Mongolian sieges and Nazi occupation, ultimately being returned to Poland after World War II. A remarkable 130 bridges span the city’s watercourse zones, connecting whimsical and grand architectural sites and urban park lands. Visitors can wander the human-scale streets and take in the towering Church of St. Elizabeth, the grand Wroclaw Town Hall, and the market square, Rynek.

3. Wieliczka Salt Mine

The southern Polish town of Wieliczka holds a secret attraction from Poland’s industrial legacy under the surface of the Earth. A source of salt since the Neolithic era, Wieliczka Salt Mine provided table salt from the 13th century up to 2007. Salt price drops and mine flooding led commercial mining to stop in 1996, but the mine is anything but closed. Designated an official Polish Historic Monument (Pomnik Historii), the former royal salt mine offers visitors a chance to explore shafts, passageways and remarkable mining equipment, including giant cogs and horse-operated treadmills.

The mine is also home to amazing underground architecture, including four chapels, each with immaculate detailing. Statues were created from rock salt by miners and stand to this day, while modern artists have added to the collection. To prove the salt mine has it all, there is even an underground lake. Together with nearby “sister” royal salt mine Bochnia Salt Mine and the Zupny Castle, Wieliczka Salt Mine is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

2. Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum

The single darkest legacy among many from the Nazi government’s military occupation of Poland is the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum. With that name comes a diabolical past that historians have ensured will not be forgotten. Located in Oswiecim, the memorial and museum encompasses the two camps, named Auschwitz I and nearby Auschwitz II-Birkenau, with infrastructure connecting the two sites included in the memorial site. It is here that disturbing relics ranging from camp fences and watchtowers to bunkers and railway tracks used to transport prisoners can still be found.

The ghastly relics include the actual crematoria used to dispose of murdered victims of the Third Reich, while an interesting asset includes the crude gallows used to hang SS-Obersturmbannfuhrer Rudolf Hoss, the first commandant of Auschwitz. Countless Jewish prisoners, as well as members of targeted ethnic groups, dissidents and others deemed targets of persecution by the Nazi regime were imprisoned at Auschwitz. A shocking 1.1 million people were killed here, including men, women and children. The museum and memorial was established in 1947, a relatively short time after the camp’s eventual liberation near the end of World War II.

1. Warsaw Uprising Museum

Warsaw, Poland’s capital, survived the Nazi invasion that sought to permanently take Poland as a new land asset of the Third Reich. Despite the damage, Warsaw is a city of both architectural and military historical interest. The Warsaw Uprising Museum is a Polish site of national pride that contains five display levels that document the Polish city’s efforts to overthrow German occupation force rule in 1944.

Opened 60 years after the liberation of Warsaw, the museum is within what was once a tram power station, constructed to commemorate the 1944 Warsaw Uprising by remembering the fighters for a free Poland. Exhibits include displays that portray the conflict of occupation era resistance, while a much newer section that opened in 2006 focuses on the history of Allied force supply air drops and includes a faithful replica of a B-24J bomber.


Polska on a Dime

WIF 10 Cent Travel

Alpha Omega M.D. – Episode #268

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Alpha Omega M.D. – Episode #268

…After Captain Ford, his crew and remaining passengers, et al had left Karachi, their odyssey continued for another ten days…

Pacific Clipper Route      As for the Pacific Clipper, the first thing Captain Robert Ford did, once they had landed at LaGuardia Robert Ford-001harbor on January 5 1942, was to radio Colombo, Ceylon and the British Embassy there. He did call his family, knowing that Pan Am had done so in advance for him, but it is the fate of a woman he barely knew that haunts him, and as it turns out, will continue to haunt him for the rest of his life.

Pacific Clipper Take-off    After him, his crew and remaining passengers, et al had left Karachi, their odyssey Pan Am Clipper2continued for another ten days, across the Arabian Peninsula, the sands of the Sahara, the expanse of the Atlantic Ocean to the tip of South America, then finally and mercifully, New York City.

Ford Map-001 The loss of one passenger will taint the joy of flying, for a flyer without parallel. Instead of retirement, he is granted two weeks leave and a reassignment to an Atlantic Clipper route. He will china_clipperdo so dutifully, if not unceremoniously.

In the two-week layover, he writes out a complete debriefing for his friend, Lyn, so she can fill in the blanks for her war mystery, The Hawaiian Spy. He promises a visit to Tallahassee on his summer vacation. Not an altogether disagreeable notion, even for her. Friendship is friendship, after all.

Pan Am ClipperPan Am Hat-001fords-flight-route1937 CC P.I.-001

As in the case of their country, they find: a lesson not learned  is the hardest lesson of all.

End of Chapter Fourteen


Author’s note:

What I enjoy most about writing Historical Fiction is being able to weave stories, like Robert Ford’s Pacific Clipper WWII ordeal, into the fabric of ***Alpha Omega M.D. – Granted he never actually had a passenger go missing from his Pan Am Clipper on the island of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), but what fun it was to include characters Carolyn Hanes (Constance Caraway) and Sara Fenwick (Fanny Renwick) in on one of the most amazing stories that no one knows about.

One sunny Sunday, while knee-deep in writing this book, I came upon a feature article in the Chicago Tribune’s Travel Section. Somewhere in my old-fashioned stack of research material is that article. At the time, I could not put it down, nor could I let it rest.

As it is with the construction of any book, one writes one-day-at-a-time and a once well-planned story takes a sudden turn. And so it did; from a story about a kindly Southern doctor – to a fictional fiction writer who takes a holiday aboard one of Pan American Airways flying boats, WWII breaks out, she loses her companion and blah, blah, blah etc…

I would like to thank the faithful readers of the Writing is Fun-damental (WIF) blog, for allowing me to share my book, along with this amazing story with you. – Gwen

*** THE LIFE AND TIMES OF A BLACK SOUTHERN DOCTOR – ISBN 978-1-4691-9018 Xlibris Publishing

For the real story behind the Pacific Clipper, (Daley, Robert, 1980, An American Saga, Juan Trippe and His Pan Am Empire, Random House, New York)  follow the link below:

Captain Robert Ford’s Factual Pacific Clipper Story

Pacific Clipper-001



Alpha Omega M.D.

Episode #268


page 249 (end ch. 14)