Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel
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Oh my GOD! Look at that one,” I said, pointing to a dull grey stone lying at the bottom of a crumbling wall of limestone. Heather Cowper, who writes the ever popular travel blog Heather on her Travels, and I scrambled over the boulders that littered the beach to get a closer look.

It’s the reverse impression of an Ammonite fossil,” I explained. It was huge and definitely not a specimen I was going to collect. Notwithstanding its size and weight, which would have cost me a fortune to ship, I no longer have a home in which to display it. This one was meant for a local who is as addicted to rockhounding as I am.

Giant Ammonite fossil on the beach at Lyme Regis (center of photo, on the ground) awaits a collector

Giant Ammonite fossil on the beach at Lyme Regis (center of photo, on the ground) awaits a collector

Heather and I were headed for the Ammonite Pavement, a geologic formation I had learned about the previous day from the friendly owner of a rock store in the town of Lyme Regis, in Dorset, England. Best seen at low tide, this flat shelf of dull grey limestone, located on the western reaches of Monmouth Beach, is famous for the thousands of fossils it contains. Most prevalent are Ammonites, an ancient sea creature related to our present-day squid. During some cataclysmic event, the details of which are unknown, there was a mass die-off of Ammonites. They sank to the sea floor and were embedded in the mud, where their tentacles and soft body parts decomposed, leaving only their coiled, Nautilus-like shell. Read More

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I never know what will ignite my travel imagination. Sometimes it’s an overheard comment made by a fellow wanderer. Other times I read about a city or place of great natural beauty and think, “I have to go there.” In this case, it was a map that piqued my curiosity. Knowing that I like to hike and that I’m also nuts about rocks, my friend and fellow travel blogger Heather Cowper, suggested that I consider Dorset, England, also known as the Jurrassic Coast for the proliferation of fossils that can be found along its beaches. I promptly pulled it up on Google maps and began examining the southwest coast of England. Midway between Swanage and Portland, a perfectly circular cove caught my eye and I zoomed in. Just above the cove was the town of West Lulworth, gateway to the South Coast hiking path. I followed the map westward to Man O’ War beach and Durdle Door. Even the names were intriguing! And that was all it took. I was hooked; I simply had to visit Lulworth Cove and hike the trail.

Lulworth Cove, seen from South Coast trail leading toward Durdle Door

Lulworth Cove, seen from South Coast trail leading toward Durdle Door

I arrived late in the afternoon on a chill, blustery day. Too excited to wait for morning, I snuggled into my crushable down jacket and headed out for my first view of the cove. Tentacles of icy air crept down the back of my neck as I trudged down the hill past ancient stone cottages with two-foot thick thatch roofs, but I would not be deterred. Tugging the zipper up to my chin, I lowered my head into the wind and plodded on. Minutes later the cove spread before me. Low grey clouds spit fat drops of icy rain, but not even the abominable weather could dampen my wonder at the perfectly circular inlet, broken only by a narrow entry at the headland, where choppy seas poured in. Read More

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The crowd assembled in Liberation Square gripped their small British flags, eagerly awaiting the moment when re-enactors would come pouring into the plaza, dressed in vintage WWII uniforms. As the last strains of “Beautiful Jersey” faded away, cadets from the Royal Jersey Militia Army mounted a rear wall and came rushing through the onlookers, handing out hard candy and apples. Joyful cheers and frenzied flag-waving egged the soldiers on to the second floor balcony of the Pomme d’Or Hotel, where they raised the Union Jack, just as they’d done 68 years earlier during the liberation of Jersey from German occupation.

Members of the Royal Jersey Militia Army, dressed in vintage WWII uniforms, await the signal to re-enact the liberation of the Isle of Jersey at the end of WWII

Members of the Royal Jersey Militia Army, dressed in vintage WWII uniforms, await the signal to re-enact the liberation of the Isle of Jersey at the end of WWII

Perhaps because of their location just a handful of miles off the coast of France, the Channel Islands, which include Jersey, Guernsey, Sark and eleven other small islands, were the only bits of British soil ever captured by the Germans during World War II. Early in the morning on July 1, 1940, a German ultimatum was dropped over the Isle of Jersey, the largest of the Channel Islands. Residents were commanded to show their surrender by flying white flags over all the buildings. They complied by hanging out sheets and pillowcases and painting a white cross in the middle of Royal Square. Bailiff Coutanche appealed to islanders to stay calm and follow German orders, then drove to the airport to meet the invaders, who promptly commandeered the Pomme d’Or Hotel as its headquarters and raised the detested swastika from its second floor balcony. Read More

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Green and pink-haired teens clustered around the tattoo shops and clothing stores, pawing at leather dominatrix outfits and vintage hi-top sneakers imprinted with the Union Jack. I had come to Camden Markets to experience London’s alternative fashion scene but within minutes the seething crowds had frazzled my nerves. Abandoning my plan to be a pretend fashionista for a day, I headed instead for the locks on Regent’s Canal, the other site for which Camden is famous.

Minutes later I was standing on a quaint stone bridge, looking down on dozens of long, skinny boats painted in riotous colors and designs, lined up and waiting for their turn to pass through a series of three locks. Descending to canal level, I watched boats motor into the narrow locks two-by-two, with barely half a foot of clearance between them. After tying up securely, the captains clambered onto the shore, manually closed the rudimentary timber gates, and inserted metal cranks into a mechanism that allowed water to either flow in or be pumped out. Once the water level equalized, the gates were again opened and the process was reversed for boats going in the opposite direction. Fascinated, I sought out one of the captains as he waited for water in the lock to empty, and asked about his odd-looking vessel.

Narrowboat motors into lagoon after negotiating narrow locks at Camden Town London

Narrowboat motors into lagoon after negotiating narrow locks at Camden Town

They’re called narrowboats,” he explained. “They were originally built to haul goods up and down the canals of England, but nowadays they’re mostly used for pleasure cruises, though we live aboard ours year round.”

“There’s so many!” I exclaimed, noting the long line waiting to pass through the locks.

“It’s a bit of a traffic jam this weekend,” he laughed. “There was a festival this weekend in Little Venice and everyone is heading home.

Where’s home for you?

Ah, well, that’s an interesting question,” he said. It was a familiar response; as a nomad I use the exact same words whenever anyone asks me where I am from. “We just go from mooring to mooring most of the year. Sometimes we tie off in one place for the winter, when stoppages (repairs) make travel impossible.” Read More

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Dull gray skies spit rain and the wind tore through my hair, but no amount of bad weather could wipe the grin off my face as I steered the Tall Ship Lady Avenel down the River Thames. As luck would have it, my visit to London had coincided with a press event held by the Royal Borough of Greenwich to announce that more than 50 tall ships would be returning to Greenwich in September 2014 for the Tall Ships Regatta. I held the giant red wheel steady as we sailed through the Thames Barrier, taking in the magnificent views of the O2, the Old Royal Naval College, the Cutty Sark and Canary Wharf, wondering how I got so lucky.

England-Royal-Borough-of-Greenwich-Naval-College-Gardens-Tall-Ships-Event-Sailing-Lady-Avenel-Thames-Barrier

Sailing the Lady Avenel Tall Ship down the River Thames

Earlier that afternoon, Greenwich city officials and business representatives had gathered to launch the Royal Greenwich Festivals 2013, which showcases the very best in dance, music, art and theater throughout the summer. Following a mini-performance by contemporary dancers and a trampoline artist who flew so high he appeared to be climbing the side of the Old Royal Naval College, they boarded the stately Lady Avenel, where they signed the official contract to bring the Tall Ships Regatta back in 2014, the first major Tall Ships event since London hosted the Tall Ships Race in 1989. Read More

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During my first trip to the United Kingdom two years ago my friend and travel writing compatriot, Mike Sowden, took me on an architectural walking tour of York’s old city walls. As we neared the megalithic York Minster Cathedral, he asked what cities I had visited in England.

“Only Newcastle and here,” I said.

“You haven’t been to London yet?” he asked, astonished. “Good for you,” he added after a few moments of reflection. “So many tourists only visit London and think they’ve seen England.”

St. Mary’s Axe, one of London's modern skyscrapers, is affectionately known by its nickname “the Gherkin”

St. Mary’s Axe, one of London’s modern skyscrapers, is affectionately known by its nickname “the Gherkin”

This time, I decided it was finally time to visit London and see for myself what the hype was all about. Fortunately, after a miserably long and cold winter, the sun came out on the day I arrived and stuck around for the better part of a week. Hoping to see the most important sights, I walked for hours each day. Crossing over to the north shore of the Thames I meandered down to the Tower of London and Tower Bridge, then back into the financial district for a close-up view of unexpectedly avant-garde skyscrapers that dominate the skyline. St. Mary’s Axe, affectionately known by its nickname “the Gherkin” soars skyward like a giant ‘conehead.’ Just down the street, the Lloyd’s building looks for all the world like a stack of spiral-bound notebooks plunked down on a library shelf. Nearby, tourists and locals alike rubberneck at the city’s newest skyscraper, currently under construction, which features a startlingly concave, gravity-defying design. Read More