Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel
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From the roof of Thermae Bath Spa I looked out over Tudor and Georgian rooftops with row upon row of cylindrical black chimneys as Charlotte Hanna, assistant sales & marketing manager for the spa, gave me a primer on the history of Bath, England. Archeological evidence suggests that humans were visiting and worshiping the hot springs in Bath as far back as 8000 B.C., but it wasn’t until 2,000 years ago, when the Romans colonized Britain, that written documentation began. The invaders wrote of a lush, uninhabited valley where natural hot springs bubbled up from the ground. Locals lived in forts atop the seven hills that surround the valley, descending each day to graze their livestock, fish, and to worship the water. But each night they retreated to their hilltop abodes, leaving the pristine valley to Sul, the pagan goddess of water, healing, and wisdom worshiped by Britons. “Clearly, the ancient people of Britain considered this a spiritual site,” Charlotte explained.

Thermae Bath Spa in Bath, England

Thermae Bath Spa in Bath, England

The Romans erected a temple to Minerva, their own goddess of wisdom and healing, but acknowledged the pagan goddess by naming the site Aquae Sulis, which means waters of Sul. By the first century AD they had constructed the Roman Baths, a five-foot deep rectangular basin lined with 45 sheets of lead and topped by an enormous barrel-vaulted hall. People from all over the Roman empire flocked to the the site: Germans, Italians, the Gauls (French), Spanish, northern Africans, some as slaves but many as travelers determined to visit what had by then become one of the most important destinations in the Roman empire. Read More

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The young man was so intent upon spray painting the brick wall that he didn’t notice me. He was tall and willowy, wearing baggy jeans and checked shirt, but with a respirator covering his nose and mouth it was hard to tell much more. His mural, on the other hand, screaming out in blood-red block letters, was anything but nondescript.  I interrupted to ask why he was painting a mural on a brick wall when he knew it would likely be covered over within days.

He paused and swiped at beads of sweat running down into his eyes. “Just for the love of it. It’s the way I express myself,” he replied. He didn’t much care that other street artists would paint over it. “There’s sort of an unwritten agreement that we don’t paint over other work when it’s brand new, so at least I know it will be seen for a little while. And when it’s gone I’ll paint another one.”

Local graffiti artist adds his touch, even though it will be painted over by another artist within a week

Local graffiti artist adds his touch, even though it will be painted over by another artist within a week

Travel blogger Heather Cowper and I had embarked upon a walking tour earlier that day, specifically to view street art in her home town of Bristol, England. We’d begun on Nelson Street, home to See No Evil, the UK’s largest permanent street art project. Inspired by large-scale street installations in Melbourne, Australia and Lisbon, Portugal, street artist Tom Bingle, better known by his street name Inkie, began looking around for a location in Bristol that would be appropriate for such an installation. Read More

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One of the first things I noticed upon arriving at the house of my friend, Heather Cowper, was the framed reproduction of a postage stamp hung in her family dining room. The illustration features a sea captain at the wheel of a ship passing beneath Bristol’s famous Clifton Suspension Bridge. Steering one-handed, the captain grips an unfurled banner in the other, upon which the words “Gert Lush” are prominently displayed. When I asked the meaning, Heather explained that it’s a term exclusive to Bristolians.

It means very good or lovely,” she said. “As in, ‘That’s really Gert Lush!‘”

Her kids promptly made fun of her accent; Heather is a transplant from London and may not have quite mastered the local dialect, but in every other way she and her family are true Bristolians who are passionate about their city. After two weeks of wandering around Bristol, it was easy to see why.

Poster displays the Bristol motto "Gert Lush," meaning "very good"

Poster displays the Bristol motto “Gert Lush,” meaning “very good”

Though archeologists have found evidence that the area was inhabited 60,000 years ago, the city of Bristol is believed to have been founded around the year 1000. It was known as Brycgstow in those days, an Old English word meaning ‘the place at the bridge.’  With its stone bridge and location at the confluence of the rivers Avon and Frome, by the 12th century it had become an important port city with a strong presence in shipbuilding and manufacturing. Because the River Avon was plagued by high tides that left the banks a muddy, nonnegotiable mess at low tide, the town built a “floating harbour” to remedy the problem, however despite their attempts to hold onto the number one position in shipping the industry gradually migrated to Liverpool where better port facilities were available. Fortunately, over time Bristol has become well established in other industries, including aerospace, defense, information technology, and financial services. Read More

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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