Bunhill Fields Cemetery, London, UK

When in London, assuming you’re a fan of all things historical and/or literary,  green spaces worth exploring on a nice sunny day are her graveyards. One of the most famous of these is Bunhill Fields Cemetery. While this land was “formally designated” by the city leaders to that purpose in 1665, it was believed by them to have been functioning as a common burial ground since the early Roman period, and even possibly before. This is why the area was at that time referred to as “Bone Hill,” and over time became Bunhill, its name today. In 1867 city health officials deemed the cemetery “full” an no more bodies could be buried here. Then, an act of Parliament while deciding its future designated the land as open green space and it has been protected as such ever since.
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This “Green space” is located in the section of London known as the Islington, and is listed as Grade I on the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens. It is a short northeast walk from The Barbican Center, where you can still see remnants of the historic Roman city walls still standing today.  This graveyard, as such, was initially outside of “The City” (which is how Londoners refer to the historic fortress protected by the walls on three sides and wide expanse of the Thames River on the fourth), and because it was not consecrated land adjacent to a church, it was where people could bury friends and family who were disdained by that august institution (think poets, writers, actors, and religious non-conformists, etc.).  The ground is also less than half a mile, about an 8 minute walk, directly west of where Shakespeare initially hung out, where the Theater and Curtain are located; this was before he moved to the land south of the Thames River, near where the reconstructed Globe theater now sits.
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The reason this land was outside of London proper, as laid out by the Romans (the fortified city) … was most likely because it was a type of wetland, a moor, better for feeding livestock and farming than as support for heavy stone buildings. Initially it belonged to the church but in 1315 it was granted to the mayor and the people of London. In 1498 the land was reserved to allow soldiers to practice military exercises and archery. Then, in 1665 the city decided to formally convert the land into a burial ground for people who had died because of the plague, and hence most likely never received last rights, and could not be accommodated by churchyards.
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Because the land was unconsecrated — i.e., not attached to a church, [England had already separated from the Catholic Church back in 1534 during the time of King Henry the 8th], the land became popular with “non-conformists” essentially political/religious dissenters, the Protestants (of various alignments) who refused to join the Church of England (the then state religion, led by the monarch rather than the Pope).

[Going out on a bit of a limb here, as the religious history of this period is NOT my strong suit… but, as I understand it… (correct me if I’m wrong)]
For example, among these were the “Separatists” … a group that we in America refer to as the Puritans/Pilgrims (which any historian will tell you are a names they would not have recognized, it wasn’t how they referred to themselves). But, this group was only one of among a whole variety of Protestant sects popping up in the period. This was happening because the bible had been translated into English, and was now being produced cheaply by printing presses instead of painstakingly by priests, so that people had started to read and interpret the book for themselves, rather than relying on priests to tell them what was in it. And some of those began to feel that the church should be HOLY, and that while the Pope was corrupt, Kings (or Queens) weren’t much better. That they were too political and “of this world” to lead their church — that it should be “purified” of government influence and corruptions — hence why we in the US lump them into one big group of “Puritans”.  But also among the dissenters were some who were just not aligned to any specific group… although as I understand it, all christians HAD to go to church on Sundays (In 1570 Elizabeth began allowing the first Muslims to legally live in England, and Cromwell in 1657, allowed Jews to resettle in England after they’d been expelled in 1290), so Christians were no longer alone in the country.
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This unconsecrated ground consisted of about four acres (1.6 hectares), and London residents were buried here for almost 200 years, between 1665 and 1854 — by which time the city walls were essentially down or absorbed into other buildings (a fact rediscovered during the WWII blitz), and what was considered to be London had expanded well past it.  While today only about 2,000 gravestones and monument are still visible, its believed that as many as 123,000 people are interred there before it was considered too full to continue using, as already discussed, in 1867.
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At that time, improvements were made, these including the planting of trees and shrubs, and the installing of nice looking gates marking off pathways and open spaces, while protecting the gravestones. After WWII (and the blitz) landscape architects were brought in to maintain and or restore the most historic bit, while also making the park aspect more appealing to locals.
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Members of a cricket teams I ran into passing through park

Of course, beyond these places being pleasant green spaces, they are also a tourist destination in part because it’s a chance to pay your respects to famous people who in their lifetimes did something or produced something that has meaning to you today.

In this cemetery you will find among other notables the remains of the great Romantic poet and painter, William Blake (28 November 1757 – 12 August 1827) — or at least a monument point out the general location (I have a feeling the original stone may have been destroyed in the blitz)

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While like many of the greats, the value of his work wasn’t fully recognized until after his death…. in fact his contemporaries thought he was a little bit off his rocker. Although he was a committed Christian, many of his poems and paintings are deeply religious in nature, he was none the less equally hostile to the Church of England (actually, organized religion in general — a man of my own heart), which is why he was buried in this graveyard. Blake, who was 19 years old when the American revolution broke out was a man of his time and influenced by the ideals and ambitions of the revolutions that occurred during it, at least at first… when he got older, what happened in France during “the terror” soured him on them. These ideals can be seen in the lyrics of one of his most famous works a song that every school child in the country probably knows by heart, and one that at this point is so closely associated with England that you’ve probably heard it in any number of BBC productions, not to mention the wedding of Prince William to Kate Middleton, the hymn “Jeruselum”

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England’s pleasant pastures seen?

And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark Satanic mills?

Bring me my bow of burning gold:
Bring me my arrows of desire:
Bring me my spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire.

I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England’s green and pleasant land.

 

In reality, it was a mostly part of a larger works, that until it was set to music in 1916 by sir Hubert Parry, at the behest of the government who wanted a hymn to put into the Church of England that supported WWI (1914-1918), it was mostly obscure. Also, one has to wonder what a man who was so anti the church must have felt to have his words turned into a hymn to be sung within it.

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In addition to Jeruselum, back when you were  in school you may have learned two of his other poems, “The Tyger” and “The Lamb”, which are often taught together

“The Tyger by William Blake”

Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies.
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain,
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp,
Dare its deadly terrors clasp!

When the stars threw down their spears
And water’d heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger Tyger burning bright,
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

“The Lamb by William Blake”

Little Lamb who made thee
Dost thou know who made thee
Gave thee life & bid thee feed.
By the stream & o’er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing wooly bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice!
Little Lamb who made thee
Dost thou know who made thee

Little Lamb I’ll tell thee,
Little Lamb I’ll tell thee!
He is called by thy name,
For he calls himself a Lamb:
He is meek & he is mild,
He became a little child:
I a child & thou a lamb,
We are called by his name.
Little Lamb God bless thee.
Little Lamb God bless thee.

Another great name from British literature was the Novelist Daniel Defoe. Although he was a prolific writer with as many as 545 titles have ascribed to his name, works that included satirical poems, political and religious pamphlets….  some of which resulted in his being thrown into Prison by Queen Anne (there’s a huge statue of her in front of St Paul’s Cathederal, and Olivia Colman won her Oscer for playing her in the movie The Favorite) for being a dissenter …. today he’s really only known for one thing… namely, for being the author of Robinson Crusoe, published in 1719, and thought to be second most translated work ever written, after the Bible. His second most remembered work is probably the novel “Moll Flanders
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For all that success, it seemed to me fairly obvious from what’s written on Defoe’s grave that he must’ve died poor with only a very basic gravestone marking his body because this grave was paid for through fundraising from the children of Britain
Daniel De-Foe
Born 1661
Died 1731
Author of
Robinson Crusoe
This Monument is the result of an appeal in the Christian World Newspaper to the Boys and Girls of England for funds to place a sutable memorial upon the grave
of
Daniel De-Foe
It represents the united contributions of seventeen hundred Persons
Sept 1970
— in fact according to Wikipedia, I wasn’t totally off the mark, in spite of the fact that the monument was created in 1970… because he died while in hiding from his creditors —
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The third famous person to be buried here is John Bunyan, the author of Pilgrim’s Progress. Bunyan was another famous non-conformist who rejected the Church of England, a political/religious stance that landed him in jail for 12 years, during which time he wrote his most famous work. In addition to that seminal work, he had 60 other volumes published, most of them expanded sermons.
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If you’re not a familiar with it, while Robinson Crusoe was the 2nd most translated book after the bible, this books is right up there having been translated into 200 languages. And since it was first publish, has NEVER been out of print and became one of the most published books in the English language; by 1938, 250 million copies of the book had been sold and 1,300 editions had been printed — I counted over 25 different editions for sale today on Amazon, and this is 250 years after the author’s death.

 

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The guy who took the picture of me with the tomb was the Chinese guy in the image above, and after he asked why this guy was so important that I wanted the photo take with him. So I told him, “back in the day most people didn’t own a lot of books. If you were a protestant the odds are that unless you were VERY rich you most likely only owned two of them, the first was a copy of the bible, and if you could afford it, your second purchase was a copy Pilgrim’s Progress. Back in the day it was one of the most well read books in countries where Protestants lived. Today while most English speakers have heard of the book, they probably have never read it nor do they know why it was important, unless they studied it for a University course.”

For two centuries Pilgrim’s Progress was the best-read book, after the Bible, in all Christendom, but sadly it is not so today.

When I ask my classes of young and youngish evangelicals, as I often do, who has read Pilgrim’s Progress, not a quarter of the hands go up.

Yet our rapport with fantasy writing, plus our lack of grip on the searching, humbling, edifying truths about spiritual life that the Puritans understood so well, surely mean that the time is ripe for us to dust off Pilgrim’s Progress and start reading it again.

Certainly, it would be great gain for modern Christians if Bunyan’s masterpiece came back into its own in our day.

Have you yourself, I wonder, read it yet?

—J. I. Packer, “Pilgrim’s Progress,” in The Devoted Life: An Invitation to the Puritan Classics, ed. Kapic and Gleason (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press: 2004), p. 198.

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The Thames tidal project… because I can

This is more for me than anyone… but since I’m staying a friend’s place that sits RIGHT on the thames, a view I seriously doubt I’ll ever enjoy again, I’ve decided to document it.

Every-time it’ll be about the same view of the thames and St. Pauls …  what will change is the light and the tides. The Easiest way to register the hight of the low tide is if you look at side to side width of the beach and which buildings it wraps around or doesn’t. For high tides you need to pay attention to how high up it comes (obviously)…

Also, Rather than wait till the end of the trip, I’m just going to add to this as I get more images till I leave this location.

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Day I arrived in UK: March 2, 11:29 am

Once upon a time when I was in my late 20’s I lived in a room in a shared SF house — my room was in the basement and only had windows at the very top of the walls to let in some light, no view…. but the living room and patio had the most amazing view ever, so I didn’t care. It was right across the bay from San Francisco with a totally unobstructed panorama from from all the way south to San Jose to Richmond which was on our side of the bay north of us. Every day we watched the smog roll north from San Jose which stung our eyes and throats at 3pm (going from clean air to city air all at once is kind of an eye opener), and in certain seasons we’d watch the fog roll in over SF… sometimes it’d hit us, but not always. And I never thought to visually document it — was too busy living my life and writing my dissertation.

[Note how big the beaches are here…. March 6 9:55 am — I haven’t seen it this low since]

While the changes of the Thames aren’t as drastic as the ones in I enjoyed in SF, I realized I could be watching the variations in the tide…. So like in the video above unbeknownst to me the tide around the time I got here was unusually low because a few days later I finally got to see a high tide where all the beaches were underwater and green algae on the sides of the walls was entirely covered (and I’m kicking myself that I didn’t grab my camera at the time), and then suddenly I became aware of the changing nature of the water and a few days later — when I never spotted it quite that high again, I decided to try to document it …. so that’s what this is.

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March 11, 5:50 pm, almost no beach

Anyone who watches enough TV about historic Britain sort of knows this… we’re constantly hearing characters talking about how they have to leave London by ship catching the outgoing tide, or at high tide… or “we need to wait for the tide.”

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6am March 13th, Rainy day, beach is exposed but no where near as much as in the video above

You can see from the photos it took me a few days to realize what I wasn’t paying attention to: for you guys, In fast it wasn’t till the 13th of March (two weeks after I arrived) that I really started to pay attention.

This image is the same day, where the one above is 6am this next one is around 9am — in fact I’m doing three from the same day here…

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March 13, 9AM, 3 hours later Rains cleared and beach is GONE, but not the highest tide I’ve seen

An hour later, 10am ….

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Still March 13, 9:58 am, if you look tide is just a bit higher here

below is STILL march 13, but at 1:51pm… compare this to 6am and you’ll see the tide here is lower that it was when I first snapped it in the morning…  the beach extends farther to the left and right

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March 13, 1:51pm

 

 

 

 

 

 

George Inn, London’s last surviving galleried coaching Inn

The George Inn is the last surviving galleried coaching Inn in London, i.e., think a historic motel for people traveling around England by horse led coaches. These were places travelers could come and spend a night while waiting for a connecting coach to a different location, or just come for a drink.
[Also, as I discuss at the very end of this piece, don’t skip it… Shakespeare and Dickens both frequented this place, and it’s adjacent to a location important to Chaucer]

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A panorama shot, the building is straight not curved, that’s just a photo distortion

First established during the Medieval period in 1542, (making the business 480 years old) and then known as “George and Dragon”, after the legend of Saint George and the Dragon — but later becoming known as just The George — the inn had to be rebuilt in 1677 after Great Fire of London, this pub is now a National Trust building, and hence protected from modern re-development of the land.

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From my perspective, It’s a bit like walking back in time to Jane Austen’s London.

While not as big as it once was (there’s no room for carriages to turn around anymore, or for horses to be housed), it’s still worthy of a visit.

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As the sign above says, in the late 1800’s the north part of the complex was pulled down (what would have been to the opposite side of what is now the outdoor patio area) the building that remains still has its original exteriors, interiors and even a few gas lanterns … something that has almost entirely disappeared from London because well… fire hazard, and as I said it was already rebuilt once after the great fire, they don’t want to have to do it again).

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No lightbulb, this is gas powered

Finding it was a bit of a challenge (I walked by it twice) as it’s hidden down what on first glance looked to just be yet another alley…

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I actually stopped a local girl in her early 20’s asking her to take this picture for me. I’m standing by it’s front gate just off the street’s sidewalk, and yet she was a little shocked; she told me that she walks down that street multiple times a week and had no idea it was there nor its historic relevance.

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Note the name embossed into the paving stone at the edge of the street

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Huge outdoor seating area in the area where the horses and carriages used to be
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The view from inside the courtyard looking out the narrow alley to the street beyond

 

After looking around the courtyard area I went into the building itself and walked around exploring the place and taking pictures. At the time I didn’t realize it was a National Trust building and was half expecting someone to give me shit for not buying food or a drink. But their behavior, kind of not taking any issue with my being there, is explained now that I know this. National trust buildings while they might double as businesses or even private homes, are first and foremost historic places owned by the government/Trust. that are open to the public and their structures kept ‘healthy’ by money from the trust.

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That said, at a certain point I decided I was getting thirsty and decided to order my first Shandy of this trip to England

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Note Tudor exposed beams the undulating floors

Shandy’s are my pub drink of choice; if you’ve never heard of it its British beer watered down with lemonade and it’s how local kids get turned into alcoholics… oops did I say that out-loud? …  introduced to alcohol.

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Because of covid I was initially going to drink it outside but then I realized the 2nd floor was accessible and I had not seen anyone going up there, and it was more than a bit chilly that day…

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So I took my glass upstairs — not the easiest feat for me, I’m not great at stairs under the best of conditions and having to take a very full glass up them without spilling it was a challenge — to happily discover I was all alone up there.

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After my drink I got ready to leave and spotted an elderly woman who came into the inn’s yard but with no apparent intention of staying… she was just there to see it and took a few pictures. First I asked her to take a picture for me (see below)

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Then we got to talking and she confirmed my suspicions that she, like I, was a history buff. Then she told me her next stop was the recently discovered Roman floor mosaics that I had read about two weeks ago while still in the USA, so I asked if I could join her… and she said “of course.”

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Lastly, a thing of note, for people with a literary bent…. it is known that both Shakespeare and Dickens frequented this Inn. Not only that, but Dickens, who had the misfortune to spend some of his life living in Marshalsea Prison, just a block or two away from this location…  refers to the Inn in his novel Little Dorrit, a book about a girl born and raised at that same prison (one doesn’t tend to think about this, but most of the time places authors refer to in their novels, particularly ones set in what where then current times, include buildings that readers might recognize, and this was true in the works of Dickens).

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Also, while it’s no longer there, just to the right of the George, off of the adjoining road called Talbot yard (see map below) there used to stand another establishment called The Tabard, that today is only memorialized with a single blue plaque (not much to see, it’s kind of sad)

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That inn was established in 1307 (so 200 years OLDER than the George), and was also rebuilt after the Great fire of London, but was later torn down in 1873 — it had been there for FIVE HUNDRED AND SIXTY SIX YEARS!!!!! While sadly the building no longer exists, its name should ring a bell for those of you familiar with the works of the poet Geoffrey Chaucer. He referred to it in his seminal work The Canterbury Tales because it famously was where people in the 1380’s, who were making the pilgrimage to the Shrine of Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral, would first spend a night, and as such it is mentioned in his 14th-century literary work. The inn’s proprietor was a man named Harry Bailey

Bifel that in that season on a day,
In Southwerk at the Tabard as I lay
Redy to wenden on my pilgrymage
To Caunterbury with ful devout corage,
At nyght was come into that hostelrye
Wel nyne and twenty in a compaignye
Of sondry folk, by aventure yfalle
In felaweshipe, and pilgrimes were they alle,
That toward Caunterbury wolden ryde;
The chambres and the stables weren wyde,
And well we weren esed atte beste;

Kolaportið Flea Market Reykjavík Iceland

On the topic of… if only I had like a month of doing nothing and going nowhere, I would catch up on all my back log of blog posts that I haven’t gotten around to writing up…

HA HA HA HA

I guess that wasn’t it. We’re a year into Covid and JUST NOW I’m finally getting to this post… Was here September 28th, 2019, and its now August 2021… OOPS…

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The Kolaportið Flea Market in the old part of Reykjavík is, according to Wikipedia, Iceland‘s ONLY flea market.

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It is open on Saturday’s and Sundays (only), and is located inside a large warehouse type building across the street from the harbor.

457EBD16-E3FD-498D-8465-A39FAA67F4C2.JPGGoods sold include used stuff, from clothing to books, as well as brand new hand knit sweaters made by local artisans (intended I think for the tourist market).

I say this because once upon a time, back when I was in high school (almost 40 years ago) we had an exchange student from Iceland and according to her ALL the women in Iceland knit … and did so obsessively. In fact according to her this was so culturally normative that it was a matter of course that they were allowed to do so while in class listening to the teacher lecture — and she found the fact that American schools banned her from doing so off-putting. Without those busy hands she found it significantly harder to concentrate. Now granted, that was 40 years ago, but I doubt things have changed radically in the years since…  As such, I find it HIGHLY unlikely that locals buy these sweaters. In fact I’m pretty sure 99% of what is sold here (with the possible exception of things like the home baked pastries) is really only for the tourist market, and I’ll get back to why I think that that…2A833EC2-0B17-497D-8311-5E03FB1D4042.JPG

Well let me correct myself…. in addition to fresh baked stuff, locals who live or work close to the market might pick up some of the fresh fish type stuff here (which also includes traditional fermented shark — which has to be fermented in order to be edible — a dish so inedible that TV shows use it in food challenges) mostly because it’s convenient.

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BUT… other than those two sorts of things that are sold here, everything ELSE is really aimed at the tourist market… And the way you should know this is … if you were there long enough to do comparative pricing, you wouldn’t buy most of what is sold there. In particular, all the candies that tourists pick up to take home as gifts.

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I will say this however, this is a GREAT place to TASTE said candies, get an idea of what you like…. and then take a picture of the item (you can ignore the name or brand) and then look for the same said item in any of the minimarts and grocery stores scattered around town.

This might seem like an odd comparison but go with me on this… I compare it to buying mattresses in the USA. In the USA, no two mattress stores have the same items in stock (if you’re looking at brands, styles or item numbers), so that you can’t do price comparisons. Don’t believe me? Try it (with the possible exception of say Ikea mattresses and the foam mattresses). We had a close family friend in the business who first explained it to us, and then years later I became buddies with one of the mattress kings of the San Francisco bay area, and he confirmed it when I brought it up. They might all be the same brands… but when you then try to find that one style/item number in a different store… you can’t. It’s intentional to keep you from price shopping.

(Instead what you need to do is to get down the specifics … how many springs per square inch, what tensile strength are the springs, how much padding, what type, etc., all the info most people never pay attention to… and then go to other stores finding the mattresses that meet those specifications)

With regards to the candy sold at the flea market, it’s pretty much the same thing. They take the candy and ‘rename’ it and repackage it…. and then double or triple the price. It’s why they can afford to give it away as samples.

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So for example, the Puffin Eggs (black licorice covered in chocolate and than a white candy coating), which I totally fell in LOVE with and could not find anywhere else…. however, upon researching on line as to where else they might be sold, I discovered it was ONLY available in the flea Market and some gift shops (also aimed at tourists) — but that it was just like what I said about the mattresses. What they really are is a candy called Djúpur, which is common as dirt in Iceland, and you can pick it up at 1/3 the price at any normal food market or gas station in small single serve bags … it is also sold in massive bags at the duty free as you’re leaving the country (and even cheaper if you pit stop at Costco, which if you’re in Reykjavík is pretty much on the route to the airport — for those who don’t realize it, your membership is good world wide at ANY Costco, the only issue is which credit card they use which varies — also make sure to check in at the membership desk first where they might have to issue you a temporary card– again depending on the country).

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With puffin eggs (and the other candies of that sort) what you’re paying for is the picture of the puffins and cute name… which is heck of beans more impressive to kids than the actual packaging which is kind of plain.

Icelandic sweaters and products - Freyja Djúpur Liquorice and Chocolate Pearls (150gr) Candy - Shopicelandic.com

Returning to the flea market, if you chose to buy there keep in mind that most vendors only accept cash. There is an ATM located inside the market but the line can be quite long, so it is recommended to get out cash in advance

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Hello from Disney World!! Yet, AGAIN…

For anyone who reads me regularly (I have no idea if that animal exists) I’m still taking a vacation from my vacation. BUT, as I don’t actually own a home I have to be somewhere, and since it’s winter, I’m once again in Florida doing the snow bird/Disney World thing. I have rented a master suite in an apartment in the amusement park capitol of the world in the home of an Airbnb host I’ve gotten quite friendly with during previous stays (so it’s a bit like being at a friend’s home, but not quite), bought myself the obligatory yearly Disney pass (which makes economic sense after day 10) WITH the photo pass option, and have been going to the parks pretty much nightly. Regarding the pass, got talking with some other folks who I noticed were taking advantage of EVERY photographer in the park, and the father said he did the math and you need to have 8K photos taken before the extra cost of the photo option makes sense… I’m not sure I agree as most of my friends can’t take a decent photo and you don’t get the photoshopped in extras at home without a lot of work.

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I’m liking my new Hawaiian style ears, the flowers look surprisingly realistic up close

Regarding Why go to Disney YET again, particularly since when I left here two years ago it was with a case of extreme boredom. Well… After all my recent falls, I don’t feel safe walking most places anymore. My right foot seems to start dragging whenever I get fatigued, and if the walkways aren’t level, which most city streets are not, I run the risk of tripping. The past 3 months I’ve been staying in places that were pretty suburban and I’ve barely gotten ANY exercise… and put on more than few pounds as a result.

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Disney walking areas are VERY level, as in you could be inside a mall while outdoors, level. And just walking from parking (I tend to arrive in the evenings so I park at the back of the lot) to the park and one rotation around the park itself gets me 1 hour aerobic exercise according to my apple watch, and about 10K steps… takes me about 3 hours to pull that off, but it happens. I haven’t stepped on a scale but my belt has gone from the last hole to the 2nd one… so I think I may be loosing some of what I gained.

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The line, top right, is for Jungle Cruise (a 5 minute wait), but you get the idea, as that queue is normally 45 minutes to an hour long

Got here about Jan 7 and for most of the week the parks were still pretty packed, but just this past weekend there was a visible drop in attendance which should continue till about Spring break (early April) … at which point I’ll head back north. So in otherwords the first few days didn’t get on any rides because I’m no fan of standing in line for more than 10 minutes … but just this weekend I was able to walk right onto (with no standing and waiting at all) It’s a Small world, The Haunted Mansion, and Spaceship Earth over at Epcot (all of this done at or around 7pm +, i.e., after the tourists have gone to dinner or home, or were watching the fireworks show).

That said, my mornings are still spent playing World of Warcraft while listening to books on tape, just like in the last post. The newest books include:

Lafayette in the Somewhat United States
By: Sarah Vowell

Sarah Vowell, whose voice on this audible book you may recognize if you were a fan of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (because Jon was a fan of hers), is a historian/comedian who with her squeaky/nerdy voice imparts a lot of wit, sarcasm and comments that had me full out laughing into her work that you might miss if you read it instead of listened to it. This is the sort of book where I want to now, having heard it, buy a paper copy, and listen again while underlining and highlighting the text — because she says some really insightful things about our history that at 55 and having been a history major I’ve never heard before and went, “DUH! that makes so much sense… why haven’t I heard that before?”

In the Shadow of the Sword: The Birth of Islam and the Rise of the Global Arab Empire, By: Tom Holland

Was originally assigned this book for a class on Israel and the Arab nations, or some such, which I ended up dropping during the first week (could already tell the professor and I would be at loggerheads and I had over enrolled anyway … but a few years later decided that since the book was on Audible I’d get it and listen… I vaguely remember our professor had only assigned various chapters telling us the book goes WAY off topic, and boy does it. It almost feels like the writer knew a lot about Christian and Jewish civilizations of the period around the time of Muhammad, and wanted to throw all that in since what we actually about about the development of the nations under the umbrella of Islam is kind of sketchy other than there’s actual secondary independent historical evidence that the guy actually existed, which is more than you can say for Jesus or pretty much anyone in the old testament, let alone Moses. So, in short the book is hard to follow, and harder to remember because there’s so many details and no central storyline.

Jane Austen at Home: A Biography
By: Lucy Worsley

Fascinating book. I’m an Austen fan, have read most of the books, seen all the movies (and different versions of… including the modern retellings)… and have even watched any number of documentaries about the lady… and MOST of what was in this book was eye opening for me. For any serious fan of the lady and her work, this is a must read. That said, I listened, not read… and the reader is VERY good…. Worsley does the intro and the little extra bit at the end, and sad to say her writing is easier to take in when not read by her.

That said… am currently working my way through:

This book focuses on the British fascination with murder. Apparently once public hangings and the ability to trounce all over active murder investigation scenes was denied the British public, this morbid need was replaced with murder mysteries. Or at least that’s Worsley’s theory. She then goes through a history of famous murders and talks about how they worked their way into English Literature. Apparently for instance, readers of Dickens’ time would have known Oliver Twist was a crime novel based on the title, as a twist was slang of the time for someone who hung from a noose; and Austen’s Northanger Abbey wasn’t a romance so much as a sendup of the popular horror novels of her age (the heroine is a young girl who’s read too much of them goes to the abbey expecting ghosts and horror — as the world Abbey would be another keyword in a title that would communicate to readers of the time that this would be a horror book, only to discover more realistically disturbing issues, such as how many rich people of Austen’s time owed their wealth to slavery… something the Austen Biography I read just before this had also discussed). …. but like I said I’m not done with this book yet.

Bucket list item achieved!! Northern lights viewing: Reykjavík, Iceland

To paraphrase my friend who stayed with me for part of this trip, while people may come to Iceland wanting to see all the gorgeous geography, for those of us from more southern climates, what we are most hoping to see is the dancing lights of the Aurora (green lights) Borealis (Northern). In this post I’m sharing what I learned about your options for seeing them, if you’re based in Reykjavík. Firstly, unless you have a proper camera and tripod, you’re going to want to look on line for an app that tricks your smartphone’s camera into taking long exposure photos (I used an app called NorthernLights) unless you own one of the newest phones that already have that function built into them. And then you’re going to want to find a way to get away from the light pollution of Reykjavík at night — if you can’t see most of the night stars, you won’t be able to appreciate the Northern lights.

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Taken with my iPhone on my 2nd time out — during a solar storm

Over the course of my one week stay I went on two different $100 tours to try to see the lights. The first time, my first night in Iceland, was a total bust. This was partially because of partly cloudy skies — the nights before and after all the northern lights tours were cancelled because of rain. But also, and almost more importantly, because there was in fact barely anything to see that night — even if the skies had been clear. No dancing light, no brilliant green stripes. At best all the sun was offering up that night was a bit of light green haze that just lightly lit up part of the northern sky… it was there (enough that the tour company felt no necessity to follow up on their guarantee or a 2nd trip or a full refund if it had not been), but realistically it really wasn’t what anyone would have flown all the way to Iceland in hopes of seeing.

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Look closely, See the slightly greenish spot on the right side of this image? That’s it — taken with my iPhone

In fact, the high price tag we’d paid felt a bit like a rip off. When initially researching the prices for these tours, the prices kind of boggled my mind and initially I’d contemplated that it might just be cheaper to just hail a taxi and ask him to take us someplace dark… but in reality, as the week progressed, and after discovering just how insanely expensive taxis are in Iceland, the $100 round trip on a minibus seemed like a bargain. There’s nothing like Uber or Lyft in Iceland (i.e., more affordable taxis), so your choices are rent a car, take a bus tour (of varying sizes), or hire a taxi — which could easily run you $250 or a lot more by the time you’re done.

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“Go to Joy Iceland” was the name of the first tour company I took

The group shot above was taken of the 17 of us in the minibus on my first trip. I’m posting it as proof that the problem had not been because I was trying to take pictures of the Aurora with my iPhone… that’s me in the front row in the green coat/red hat, my friend who flew up to see Iceland with me is standing next to me wearing the purple coat and scarf … This shot was taken by the tour guide using his TOP of the line camera with a fancy lens, on a tripod, using a long exposure and with about 2 seconds of bright fill lighting flashed at us … see those slightly lit up patches on the right side of the image … seriously, that’s IT! That’s all we got that night. The Driver did his best and went to about 3 different locations, drove us around for about a full hour there and back — headed towards the middle of the island on the Golden Circle road, and we got to see lots of stars as he dogged the cloud cover, but mother nature just wasn’t helping him out with regards to the Aurora lights.

This is why, pretty much EVERY Northern lights tour you sign up for will start with a very LONG and detailed apology from the guide. This includes a lot of trying to explain scientific realities as to why you might not see anything that night and it’s not their fault. Be prepared for the fact that your fellow tourists may or may not grasp said science, and that they’ll end up wasting precious time asking questions that the guide has already explained, but they just didn’t grok it; the smaller the group, the less time wasted on said questions being one of the benefits of not taking a big bus. In fact I think half the job of the tour guide is to … if you get a night like we did that first night … make a really big deal about ANY Northern lights, no matter how pathetic, that might show up that night, just so that the company doesn’t have to take you out a 2nd time as promised in their guarantees.

As such, be prepared for the reality that you MIGHT have to go out more than once during your trip before you see anything. There is a cheaper $40 option, which means taking a huge passenger bus along with 120 other people. The major difference between opting for a minibus (20 passengers) over a full sized one (other than the aforementioned time wasted on explaining science to folks who have difficulty grasping it) seems to be that smaller vehicles are allowed to take dirt roads and take advantage of small concrete parking areas (big enough for about 2 cars max) that the Icelandic government has created for tourists on the sides of the roads. It’s important to remember that in Iceland the ring road wasn’t completed until the early 1970’s and even the ‘heavily’ traveled highway from Reykjavík to the international airport in Keflavík is only ONE lane in each direction… and not even a very wide single lane. AND NONE of these roads have large shoulders built into them to allow for pulling safety to the side. According to one of our tour guides, who spent a lot of time explaining how to drive safely in Iceland to us (while he was driving), the roads are so narrow that if a tourist stops anywhere other than one of these designated areas, trucks might just barrel through and run them off the road — and under the law, its the fault of the person who parked so as to partially block the road.

The big busses (clearly) can NOT take advantage of either dirt roads, or the tiny concrete lots on the sides or roads, and are by necessity relegated to taking you ONLY to locations that have big parking lots AND are out in the middle of nothing… of which there’s only a few within an easy drive of Reykjavík. If the sky is clear of clouds and the solar winds strong enough, the reality is that it doesn’t matter which option you take, you’ll see the show. HOWEVER, if that’s not the case — and the sky in Iceland is rarely clear of cloud cover, the smaller the vehicle you book the better the chance they can find a legal place to park that is both away from any light sources and where there’s a lot of visible stars, i.e., the best place to see the lights.

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That said, while we were waiting for our tour (the first one) this Minibus showed up, which was unlike any other we saw. It’s big wheels, and stood much higher than normal, and clearly was designed for off road travel. For myself, while I could see wanting one of these for a daytime tour, but I’m seriously doubting that the extra expense (I’m guessing it cost a lot more than our ~$100 per person), was going to be worth it… for all the reasons previously discussed.

The first time we went out (my friend and I together) was on the first night of our trip, a Monday night, and like I said … nothing. My friend didn’t stay as long as I did, and left on Friday at around noon. By that evening I found myself to be SO exhausted by the previous three days of tourism that I pretty much collapsed into my bed at around 3pm and couldn’t even go to get food. I survived on what was left in our fridge, some Icelandic yogurts (called Skyr — similar to greek yogurt, but with a milder flavor), and smoked lamb and traditional bread that had been gifted to us by our Airbnb host.

The next morning as I was touring around town, I kept hearing everyone raving about how intense the northern lights had been the night before, that the sky had been cloudless for the first time all week, and how the event had been so intense due to a massive solar storm, that you could have seen it from town if you just walked over to the bay and looked North. Let’s just say I was kicking myself. I went right back to my room and tried to book a tour for that night, but the company I had used the first night was fully booked, as were the next two companies I tried. So I got an idea and walked over the Aurora center (a museum near my rental, where you can see a fake Northern lights display and learn about the phenomena), and with the help of the staff found a ‘good’ (according to them) tour group that still had available seats for that night for about the same price I paid the first time.

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With the 2nd tour, which was led by a company called “BusTravel Iceland” we got picked up, taken to a parking lot, and then transferred to a 2nd bus of the same size (???) — this group killed about an hour of my time for no purpose, which I was not happy about, before finally hitting the road to our destination. Because of how intense the light show was expected to be that night, they only took us on about 15 minutes away from town on the road southwest towards the airport, and then only about three minutes along a dirt road on to the adjacent lava field (so that the headlights of cars wouldn’t bother us). Once there, lets just say that not only did I get to see the massive green stripes I’d been dreaming of, but even dancing lights were seen, where the you can see the strips moving around. We even got to see multiple colors as the lights danced, with bits of purple and pink flickering along the edges (unfortunately this wasn’t something my camera could pick up).

[Time lapse video of the Northern lights found on Youtube]

Initially my camera was failing me and causing me a lot of frustration. It would initially work, but then after a shot or two would stop. There was an Indian woman in our group who’d read something about how the automatic night shift feature in the iPhone interfered with the app’s software, and when we went into settings and turned that off sure enough my phone started working well. I had to restart the app after changing the settings, but then it was working again and continued to … the light show kept coming and going for about a half hour, and then stopped… we waited a bit just to be sure it was done… and then the driver said they probably wouldn’t be back till about 4am

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The next morning my friends who work in the computer industry were all complaining about the interference from the solar storm, and one of them posted this image, which shows what I’d been watching the night before.

Hamam al-Basha, i.e., The Old Turkish Bathhouse Museum, Acre, Israel

If you’re ever in the historic town of Acre, Israel (it’s one of the oldest continuously inhabited ones on the planet), I strongly suggest a visit to Turkish Bathhouse Museum. Granted this museum dedicated to the Ottoman Bathhouse tradition (which they inherited from the Romans) is incredibly touristy, but that said, it’s multimedia presentation designed to bring history to life, is in my opinion what makes the Hamam Al-Basha one of the most entertaining and educational tourist attractions in the whole city, and worth at least a full hour’s worth of your time.

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When I first told my Israeli friends I was planning to spend a full 29 days in Acre’s old city, one of them literally blurted out, “WHY?! There’s NOTHING to DO there!” IF what you’re looking for is things like night clubs and theater, then they’re right… however, IF you’re a fan of all things historic… which I am… then they’re entirely wrong.

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The city of Acre is located on the western edge of the Northern district of Israel, just above the modern city of Haifa, and importantly (from the historic perspective) is one the only natural ports along the Holy land’s Mediterranean coastline. That is why it was one of most important port cities in the world during crusader period, when it served as the foothold for the almost all of the Christian Knight’s into the birthplace of their religion during that period. It’s important to remember that while the first Crusade, an attempt to take back the area from Islamic rule, came over land via Turkey, the second and third ones both came over sea, and utilized their heavily defended fortress port city of Acre — which they were able to keep control of the whole time —  as their base).

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As a result of its historically changing ownership, Acre (english)has many different names, in Hebrew it is Akko, while in Arabic it is Akka, and there are a few other names besides. Like I already said, this city is often overlooked by Jewish tourists to the country, because its past is predominantly Muslim and Christian. However, that said, it is also one of the oldest continuously inhabited human settlements on the planet, with most of its pre-crusader heritage still buried under a thousand years of other historically important buildings — and yet to be discovered (although you CAN see some of it if you know where to look).

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That said, the Turkish Bath Museum, also known as Hamam (sweat bath) El Basha (sort of like “The Prince”) in Arabic… (or The Prince’s sweat baths) … can be a bit hard to find in the twisty alley ways of Acre, although you’ll see signs all over town pointing out the way to it.

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The next thing to be aware of is that buying tickets for Acre’s attractions is kind of tricky.

As shown in the photo above, the multi-site ticket includes :
Hospitaller Castle/Knights’ Halls    – the city’s main attraction.
Templar Tunnel – and another, smaller tunnel.
Pasha’s Turkish Bath/Hamam al-BashaOkashi Museum -a small art museum.
Treasures in the Walls Museum
Rosh Hanikra

While these tickets may be purchased at multiple locations, but the main one is the visitor’s center, and if you do it there you get to see a short 15 minute movie on the history of the town.

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Ticket booth at the visitor’s center

The #1 attraction in town is the The Hospitallers‘ Fortress (Aka the Knights’ Halls)… but you can NOT buy a ticket for that which does not includes a mess of other things, the Templar’s tunnel (which it totally worth seeing), the Treasures in the Walls Museum (which is part of the tickets but not mentioned on ANY of the description signs for said tickets… IF you’ve seen everything else and still have time go see it, but if you skip it you won’t have missed out on anything special) … and a pathetic excuse for an art museum displaying all of the lesser pieces of Avshalom Okashi which is a complete waste of time (I graduated from one of the top Art schools in the world, and WHY the city demands you see this collection I don’t know).

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Basically it’s a collection of his works that no museums or collectors wanted (you’re not allowed to take photos while inside the museum, probably because they don’t want word getting out about how bad this collection sucks). Okashi was a painter so influential that while he’s often mentioned alongside other better respected artists, poor Avshalom doesn’t even merit his own Wikipedia page — even though he somehow DID manage to get his own museum. He was a very lessor part of the Ofakim Hadashim or New Horizons art movement in Israel, which helped to develop a distinctively abstract Israeli sensibility to art, which is still highly influential today (Israeli art doesn’t look quite like any other art style, but there is a cohesive feel to most of it). And he chose to live his final years in Acre, so I’m guessing when he died his family were stuck with a bunch of paintings no one wanted, not even them, and they left them to the city.

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To the combined Fortress ticket you can add one to the Baths…. or you can buy a ticket for the baths and the tunnels that does NOT include the #1 attraction… the Fortress… You can NOT however buy a ticket JUST for the #1 attraction, which is Fortress
or a ticket to the #2 attraction: the Templar Tunnels,
Or one for the Baths…
SO, you will HAVE to buy a combo ticket of some sort to see any of those —
And the tickets to the Fortress all include the aforementioned hideous art collection and the Treasures in the Walls Museum (which isn’t bad, but shouldn’t be considered any sort of priority if you’re on a limited schedule).

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With the ticket to the baths comes an audio guide, available in 8 languages

… the good news is it’s good for all of that year (if you buy it Jan 2019 it’s good through Dec 2019… If you buy it at the in Dec 2019 it expires at the end of that month), and it’s fully transferable — you can hand it off to friends or relatives who live in Israel to use whatever bits you haven’t. As such, your best bet is just to buy the either the combined ticket WITH the baths, or IF you intend to go up to Rosh Hanikra anyway (its at the Lebanese border and they do NOT provide transportation to get up there) [However, keep in mind that the ONLY historical attraction in Acre NOT included in any of the combined tickets (which include all the Arab controlled attractions), is the one to the old English Prison, which is controlled by the Israeli military.]

The package of tickets that I had initially bought, to my chagrin as I had SPECIFICALLY told the woman at the counter of the visitor’s center (where the Knight’s hall is) that I wanted to see the baths…

only to find when I arrived to the baths that what she had sold me did not include it!! (Be sure to double check your tickets.) So, when I got there… this guy said as far as he was concerned it wasn’t worth the extra price, and offered to quickly first walk me through the whole thing while explaining to me what was going since they couldn’t give me the headset because I didn’t have a ticket.

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He was more than bit annoyed when after he was done, I decided I wanted go ahead and pay for a combined tunnel and bathhouse ticket… which meant seeing the tunnels a second time.

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After you buy your ticket and get your headphones, you’re led into a outdoor courtyard area, where sit and wait for the next introductory overview film to begin — each film lasts about 15 minute, with a few minutes between to allow the room to clear and for the next group to enter

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While there (I had about 14 minutes to wait upon entering) I met and got friendly with one of the local cats, who seemed a great deal more domesticated than most of the cats of Acre …. the place is TEAMING with feral cats. This guy was following me around and demanding more scratches….

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The above picture is the entry room, just as you enter from the patio area …  Here you take a seat and enjoy a 15 minute movie that is projected onto the one empty wall to the right, which you listen to with your headphones…

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The movie focuses on the history of Acre and the building of bathhouse during the Ottoman empire, and the audio tracks come in eight different languages: Hebrew, Arabic, English, German, French, Spanish, Italian and Russian. (The Chinese and Japanese tourists don’t seem to come here much.)

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In addition to explaining its history, it also explains the cultural importance of the bathhouse to the community (it was much more than just a place to take a bath) up through modern times, when it was it fell into disuse because of the advent of modern plumbing.

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Note the image top right and compare to the tableau below

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After the movie you’re led into a long hallway lined with lithographs that narrate the sorts of things that would take place here…. and if you pay attention you’ll notice that many of the statues arranged throughout the bathhouse (so as to bring the place to life) were based on these drawings.

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After that hallway you turn into what had been another one lined with a series on rooms on either side, but when they converted it into a museum they removed the interior walls  (the ones that would lined the hallway) so that they now serve as the stages for a series of tableaus of what would have occurred within those areas.

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And as you approach some of the rooms, films with dialogue are played on their back walls in order to make the tableaus even more lifelikeUNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2c2c.jpg

Notice how this photo (with me in it) is the same room as the one above, only the movie which had triggered upon my first having entered had played out. That said, if you didn’t get to see the little movies, or the sound track was off, I found if you leave the room heading back towards the main film room… and then WAIT for that film to finish for the next group and then reenter this section, you’ll get a second chance to see it all…if you have that time to do that…  the soundtracks and such seem to be timed on how much time they designers believe it will take for people to move through, rather than being triggered by actual movement.

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After you pass through the hallway of small tableaus, you will pass through a doorway into a very large room circular, where the steam bath was located… 7w25W1pASp+%3949t40pgw_thumb_ebae.jpg

… and it has actual steam which is kind of cool. Again in this room there is a sound track that coordinates with a film played on one of the walls, and also from ONE of the statues which a moving face projected onto it, just like the tech you see at Disney world in the Haunted Mansion.

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This larger central room is circular, but sits in a square building… as such at the corners of the square are a series of smaller rooms that you can sort of peer into. I suppose the center of the room was the hottest location, too hot for some, and the side rooms while still steamy brought the temperatures down a bit. All in all I found my visit here highly enjoyable and other people I talked to also said they really enjoyed this museum.

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The Templar’s Tunnel, Acre, Israel

In the historic city of Acre, Israel, is a 350 meters/985 feet long tunnel. It is known as the Templar Tunnel, because it is believed to have been built by the Knights Templar during the crusader period (1095 A.D. – 1492), and though lost for over 700 years, it was rediscovered in 1994, and is now one of the city’s major historic tourist attractions.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_e6ee.jpgThe city of Acre  is located on the western edge of the Northern district of Israel, just above the modern city of Haifa, and importantly along her Mediterranean coastline. She has many different names, in Hebrew it is Akko, while in Arabic it is Akka, and with a few other names besides. Often overlooked by Jewish tourists to the country, because its past is predominantly Muslim and Christian, it is one of the oldest continuously inhabited human settlements on the planet.

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While her history is long and varied, for the purposes of this blog I’m interested in the Acre’s role during the Medieval period; when because of its location on one of the very few natural ports in The Holy Land, and hence was of great strategic importance to anyone wishing to take part in a Christian pilgrimage to the area, she served as the capital city of the Crusader states.

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The tunnel had been essentially lost for 700 years, but it’s import had been “rediscovered” in 1994 because a woman living in one of the homes built above it. When they dug down to figure out the problem, they stumbled upon the tunnel, which had been converted into part of the towns sewage system.

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Evidence of its sewage system past is still there

As the saying goes, you can’t dig a hole anywhere in Israel and NOT find something of historical importance. Although converting the tunnel to a sewage pipe probably happened after the time of the Mamluks — slave soldiers, not unlike the unsullied in the Game of Thrones— who during the Mamluk Sultanate kicked the crusaders out of the area, at which point not only had its import probably been already forgotten, but history is written, and as often erased, by the victors.

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A public bathroom located directly across from the eastern entrance to the tunnel, and above the tunnel (kind of funny if you think about it)

Between 1291 when the Mamluks kicked out the crusaders and 1920, when the British were granted the mandate by the League of Nations to take over control of Palestine from the Turks’ collapsing Ottoman Empire, the fact is no one in the area cared about Templars, let alone their tunnel.  All the glory was to the Muslim empire that had taken it back from invading Christians… so turning their tunnel into a sewage pipe was probably seen at the time as fitting and appropriate.

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Once re-discovered The Acre development company, in co-ordination with Israel’s Antiquities Authority, cleared away the dirt and excrement filling the tunnel, and found whatever of historical value there was within it; all the while preparing it to serve as a local tourist attraction whose doors initially opened to the public in 1999… although repairs, rehabilitation, and extension of the tunnel continued through 2007. Today, the water that once carried you-know-what out into the ocean still runs (you can even see where it enters into the now destroyed Templar castle), but now people throw coins into it instead, supposedly for good luck.

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The Knights Templar, or Templars, were a catholic monastic military order that have long served as a focus of fascination and urban myths, both good and bad.  They were founded in 1119 to protect pilgrims who came to see the holy lands from Muslims and highwaymen (being a pilgrim during that period was a very dangerous activity, with dead bodies littered along the paths); initially WILDLY popular with the faithful, once the Crusades were over and the holy land was lost support for them faded, at which point their size and wealth made them a convenient target for a deeply in debt King Philip IV of France, who was deeply in debt to them financially. They were then completely disbanded by Pope Clement V.  If you want to learn more about them I found this GREAT pod cast about them by the guest host Dan Jones, who is an internationally best-selling historian/author of non-fiction works.

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The tunnel runs from what is believed to be the destroyed Templar palace on the western part of the city, on the Mediterranean’s edge, whose remaining walls are now shallowly submerged beneath the water (but still visible)

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The tunnel, according to one of the multiple short movies shown in the tunnel (this one is just towards the eastern end), is thought to have been built to go under another the Pisan quarter (a quarter within the city of Acre that was controlled by people from the Republic of Pisa) who were not friendly with the Templars and tended to charge them taxes to pass through their area…

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and, in addition to that would try to stop the Templars from taking “sacred relics” related to the story of Christ out of the city. [I say sacred relics in quotation marks because one sort of has to, like the 16th century Dutch humanist Erasmus, question their authenticity. To quote his commentary on just how many places claimed to own pieces of the true cross… “if all the fragments were collected together, they would appear to form a fair cargo for a merchant ship.”] The Templars, didn’t take kindly to the Pisan’s interference in their business, and in response built this tunnel…traveling UNDER the Pisan quarter, from their castle to the port

Location map of Akko Port; A) The sea-front of the Pisan quarter (insert Fig.6); B) The Western Basin, (insert Fig. 2b) 
[source of the photo, “New insights on Maritime Acre revealed by Underwater and Coastal Archaeological Research”]
In the image above, the destroyed Templar’s Palace is the Green roundish thing at the bottom left of the town, the Templars tunnel is shown as a line of red dots, the sea-front of the Pisan quarter is marked as A, while the port that the Templars were trying to get to is in the Western Basin, marked B (I’m not sure WHY they couldn’t just park boats alongside their castle, but apparently they couldn’t.

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So of course there are TWO entrances to the tunnel… the EASY one to find is adjacent to the destroyed palace directly adjacent to the big parking lot and the world-renowned Uri Buri restaurant (considered one of the three restaurants in all of Israel, and the country’s best location for seafood). At the bottom of the stairs at this entrance is a set of two buttons, either of which will initiate an audio narration describing the tunnel (no video). However, if a large group is coming through, I strongly suggest waiting till they’ve passed to push it as you won’t hear it otherwise.

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The tunnel’s “Eastern Entrance” is now marked on Google (Feel free to send me chocolate in thanks)

The hard one to find is buried in the alleyways of Acre across the alley from that public bathroom I showed earlier … in fact when I first arrived in town Google maps did NOT have EITHER of the two doors marked!!! (As in all manner of folks can be found wandering around trying to find the bathroom! Not to mention the Eastern entrance to the tunnels) While I was there I submitted a request to Google that they fix that, marking for them exactly where it was located… and if you’re wandering around the town trying to find that entrance using Google maps, you can thank me for the fact that

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Eastern Entrance

By comparison to the easy to find entrance (which is kind of plain and squished) the eastern entrance is actually quite fancy looking on the inside, even though it’s really easy to miss on the outside (especially when the doors are not open for business). And the squishiness is not just at the entrance… At that east end of the tunnel, the ceiling is very low…. [well either that, or (much more likely) the walkway for tourists is placed very high up within the tunnel because that end is close to the Mediterranean, and probably dips down lower than the other side does, and as such is deeply flooded with water.]

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At this end are two narrow tunnels, one in each direction, with ceilings that become progressively taller (or shorter if you’re coming from the other end). That said, from the perspective of the average tourist, it starts out with you having to bend down very low in order to pass (the ceiling was at about the height of my arm pits), and then the further into the tunnel you go (heading east) the higher the ceiling moves (the bottom picture I was JUST able to stand full height to 5’4″ — my travel buddy that day was a few inches taller than I).UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2be6.jpg

At this point in the tunnel (picture upper left) she was just getting to where she could stand tall… and the walkway — which is you look is clearly elevated (there was the equivalent of a little river running under it) is lit up, and had little glass windows embedded into it showing where various archeological finds were discovered — the originals are in a museum, these were just pictures of the objects found. And the ceiling gets taller the further east you go (which supports my elevated walkway theory), until you get to this point in the tunnel, where the ceiling gets REALLY tall and vaulted… and they seem to have found a 2nd layer to it or some such

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all photos of the same location, but from different angles

The above photos are taken of the same location but looking both directions — double tunnels at one side that join at this point into one huge tunnel. As you can see at this point in the tunnel (on the left side of the photo above) there’s yet another movie screen showing more about the history of the place, that once again comes with narration in either Hebrew or English. The movie doesn’t restart, the track being played just switches languages based one which button you press, even if its mid film.

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From that point on, instead of two narrow tunnels it’s one wide one…  but still with the windows in the walkway where they found things…. and the blue wall is where the easter exit/stairwell is located.

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As you can probably tell from the photos (no I did not change my T-shirts while in there) I actually traversed the tunnel twice. The first time was on a temperate day (high of 68 — 70 F) with a new friend who I had met the night before at the Airbnb I was staying at (an American girl doing her post doctoral studies at Tel Aviv University). The 2nd time I went on a hot day (closer to 85 F), and I decided to go there thinking that in the tunnels it would be cooler… I was wrong… while it wasn’t as hot as outdoors it was HUMID down there, because of all the water running under the walkway, and therefore the even less comfortable the outdoor heat which was dry.

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In order to go into the tunnel you’re going to need a ticket… and this is where things get a bit complicated (see above). You COULD buy a ticket to go to the tunnel which includes the Turkish baths (you can’t get one to just the tunnel) … but … The MAIN attraction in Acre is the Hospitallers‘ Fortress (aka Knight’s Halls)… and in order to see it you HAVE to buy the combined ticket. As such, if you have ANY interest in seeing that you’ll want to buy the combo ticket… I strongly suggest including the Turkish Bath… but if you’re in town with no car, do not get the Rosh Hanikra ticket as that is very far away and does not include any sort of shuttle bus to get you there.

In fact the ONLY attraction NOT included in a combined ticket combination (which includes all the Arab controlled attractions), is the ticket to the old English Prison, which is controlled by the Israeli military

Nzar Khoury Guest House & Airbnb, Acre, Israel

If you’re ever in the historic town of Acre, Israel (it’s one of the oldest continuously inhabited ones on the planet) and looking for a place to spend the night that is nothing fancy, but clean and HIGHLY affordable, look no farther than Nazar Khoury’s Guest House. I stayed here for almost a full month, and LOVED IT. If you want to book with him you can either call him directly (see number below), or use Booking.com, Agoda, or Airbnb (like I did — you may need to be signed into your Airbnb account in order to see that link, I’m not sure).  That said, while he has four different rooms available, his place is so much more affordable than the other places in town, that he tends to be full almost continuously (or at least was while I was there). UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_de83

Be warned, this is NOT a fancy hotel, with elevators and bell boys, but rather his family home that he grew up in, which he has converted himself in order to accommodate guests. He runs it himself (the guy in image above) and for the most part does a pretty good job of it … If you stay here you’ll be getting an authentic experience of how the locals live.

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His home, which is located about four floors up, has a patio that overlooks the mediterranean ocean and the old Ottoman built seawallramparts of this historic, and once militarily strategic town.

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The wall is currently being renovated; I was hoping they’d leave this long enough for me to get a shot of the sun setting in the middle of it, but no luck, it was only there for a few hours.

It is an almost idyllic place to sit and enjoy the ocean. While there you can also get to know some of his other guests (I met more than few people that way) as you all watch the setting sun while nibbling on the free munchies he provides.

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This picture (above) was taken at around sunset — as you can tell by the golden color of the stones, and if you look up towards the Nzar Khoury sign, you’ll spot some guests, particularly the guy in the black shirt, talking to each other while enjoying said it from the patio — next to him was in fact his wife (who was distracting him from the view).

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The moon, just moments after the sunset

The great part about having stayed at the Guest House for almost a month was how many different sunsets I was able to watch… no two ever exactly the same

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From his home you can easily see Acre’s famous lighthouse, and Haifa across the bay.

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On VERY clear days you can just make out the second holiest Bahá’í temple in the world, known as the Shrine of the Báb, it’ll look like a vertical strip from the top of the of the mountain to the bottom, with one very large building in the middle of it. I know all about the Bahá’í because one of their temples isn’t far from the home where I grew up, north of Chicago. But like I said, you can only see it on VERY clear days… otherwise the fog and or smog (depending on the color — fog is white, not brown) will block you from seeing it.UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2ba6.jpg

Just to the right of the lighthouse is the remains of a submerged crusader castle. On days when the wind is low and the water is still, you can just make out the walls of the various rooms of the building…

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_df48.jpgon other days you’ll see fishermen (who aren’t actually supposed to be there, but the police don’t stop them) fishing either off the exterior wall of that castle, or netting up fish caught in the pools they create.

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Getting to his place is however NOT the easiest thing for people with mobility issues (it is NOT wheelchair accessible). The image above is the first set of stairs you’ll need to climb. These were built by the ottoman controlled Acre and were built more to be comfortable for horses pulling carts, then they were for humans. That said, the built-in ramps would have been a lot more helpful if they were filled in (so to speak). If you try pulling a suitcase up them, or a cart, the wheels will constantly slip off to one side or the other. (I’ve not seen anyone even TRY to negotiate them with a wheel chair.)

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The Stairway and Church’s doorway, decorated for the wedding

Nzar’s home — which is built upon the remains of a Crusader Church — is just next door to the St. Andrew’s Church (Greek Catholic), which is accessed from the parking lot by that same stairway. So, if you’re lucky, as I was, from his balcony you’ll be able to watch an Arab wedding party ceremoniously lead the bride to the altar.

At the top of the stairs you make a hard left (if you go right you see the church’s front door which is usually locked) and you’ll see the big metal door that marks his entrance

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The guest house’s  doorway and staircase

Push it open (it’s never locked)… be careful not to pull the handle (sometimes it’ll come off)… and you’ll see a very uninviting steep staircase that’s about 2 stories high with a banister that is just a rusty pipe bolted to the wall… that wiggles a bit if you lean on it (so don’t if you don’t absolutely need to). That said, while I was there a 90-year-old gray-haired grandmother with a seriously bent back put me to shame on those stairs.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2b6d.jpgOnce inside you’ll see an apartment with VERY high ceilings. These are traditional to the region, and act as a sort of natural air conditioning system, as the heat rises above your head, and the cold drops to floor level. That said, no two spaces are on the same level. All the bedrooms are a step up to a place where you can leave your shoes, and then another step up to the bedroom area… the en suite bathrooms are yet another step up.

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The skylight viewed from above

My bedroom, where I stayed, has a skylight (image of it from the building’s roof)… but it’s currently the only one like that does. Unfortunately there were no way to block that light… so I ended up having to go to sleep earlier than normal in preparation for an 8am wake up (after a 6 am one, at which point I covered my head with a pillow)

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The setting sun as viewed through the doorway to the patio

At night, Nzar lights up his sign, so you can still easily see it from the parking lot below. IF you’re in one of the rooms that lines the back alley, as I was, and pop your head out the window, you’ll an large number of swallows (who you can watch at around sunset feasting on the mosquitos, G-d bless them), hanging out on the electrical and telephone wires that line the way.

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That said, I WARN YOU… they wake up really easily from things like the flash on your camera; and if awoken, they will fly around like crazy idiots for the next hour or so, chirping noisily. DO NOT WAKE UP THE SWALLOWS. That said, if you’re there during Ramadan, as I was, the wake up call before sunrise to allow muslims a chance to have breakfast, is ALSO going to wake the birds… you’ve been warned (ear plugs are your friend, as is a pillow over your head).

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Me, blogging while sitting on the patio on an overcast day

The Agrodome Farm Show, Rotorua, New Zealand

If you’re in Rotorua, New Zealand, and looking for a low exertion activity (with air-conditioning) that’s entertaining for the whole family — and a bit educational, I STRONGLY suggest a visit to the Agrodome. This 40-year-old “award-winning” Farm Show takes place on a 350 acre farm, that you can also pay to take a guided tour of (mostly a riding tour rather than a walking one, so also good for people with mobility issues). The attraction is really geared towards families, and their family priced ticket is a bit of a deal, as it costs the same as two adults and a child, while allowing three children. And if you check their website, they sometimes offer on-line ticket discounts. The show lasts an hour, and only happens three times a day, so make sure to time your arrival accordingly.  It’s a highly entertaining show, that’s in my opinion, and worth the $36.50 (NZD) [$24.03 USD] — even though the price seemed a bit steep to me at first.

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We arrived at the Agrodome pretty much first thing on our arrival into Rotorua, which I now know is one of the major tourism meccas for both for folks who are road-tripping through New Zealand and locals. As in, pretty much anyone who does the trip is going to be spending a day or two here taking in the sites, which include geysers, and other geothermal activities — mud pools, i.e., mud so hot it bubbles and is utilized for things like high-end full day spa treatments, etc.,. In addition, other attractions of interest to tourists have developed in the area, including multiple Māori cultural daytime and dinner shows, etc., rides of various types, and attractions like the Agrodome.

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To put it in perspective for Americans, Rotorua is a bit like the Wisconsin Dells area north of Chicago, the Gatlinburg area in the great smoky mountains, or the Canadian side of Niagara Falls (which is all casino’s, etc.). All of these locations began as places that people came to in order to appreciate the natural wonders of mother nature… but tend to have devolved over time into decidedly working and middle-class tourist traps, as the majority of their day-to-day customers tend to be nearby locals who can’t afford travel further afield. In ANY town like this, all the attractions tend to be a bit overpriced, I suppose this is done partly in order to make the customers feel like they’re buying something of value. (‘It’s expensive so it must be good’, being a pervasive misconception by the average customer that marketers utilize when positioning a product.)

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Again my favorite quote from American Gods by Neil Gaiman comes to mind

“So what is this place?” asked Shadow, as they walked through the parking lot toward a low, unimpressive wooden building.
“This is a roadside attraction,” said Wednesday. “One of the finest. Which means it is a place of power.”
“Come again?”
“It’s perfectly simple,” said Wednesday. “In other countries, over the years, people recognized the places of power. Sometimes it would be a natural formation, sometimes it would be a place that was, somehow, special. They knew that something important was happening there, that there was some focusing point, some channel, some window to the Immanent. And so they would build temples or cathedrals, or erect stone circles, or…well, you get the idea.”
“There are churches all across the States, though,” said Shadow.
“In every town. Sometimes on every block. And about as significant, in this context, as dentists’ offices. No, in the USA people still get the call, or some of them, and they feel themselves being called to from the transcendent void, and they respond to it by building a model out of beer bottles of somewhere they’ve never visited, or by erecting a giant bat house in some part of the country that bats have traditionally declined to visit. Roadside attractions: people feel themselves being pulled to places where, in other parts of the world, they would recognize that part of themselves that is truly transcendent, and buy a hot dog and walk around, feeling satisfied on a level they cannot truly describe, and profoundly dissatisfied on a level beneath that.”
― Neil Gaiman, American Gods

That said, IF you get there early (before the final show — which is the one we attended, off to the left side (as you’re facing the stage) of the theater there’s a petting zoo type area with baby animals and ducks

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…they will be taking part in the show later…  However, if you wait till after the final show… they might not be there, as its sort of a holding area (I’m guessing they go back to see their mom’s afterwards).

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The show begins with a sort of “fashion show of sheep” beginning with the local star, the Marino. In case you’re unfamiliar, this breed produces the finest and softest wool of all the varieties. While expensive it is AMAZING, and any item made of it is utterly worth the investment. MOST my socks, with the exception of my compression stockings  (edema runs in my family) are merino wool — and have been since I experienced my first pair. First time I saw them was in shop catering to outdoorsy types, and I was like “$20 for a pair of SOCKS?!! Are you MAD?” but the staff members assured me that they were entirely worth it. They challenged me to buy one pair, wear them for a full week without washing, and then sniff them. Seriously… not only do these wick moisture from you feet, but they also naturally kill foot oder issues… AND they are incredibly sturdy and last way way way longer than any other socks I’ve ever owned (and never stretch out over the course of a day).

Each is led in individually, introduced to the crowd, and its particular attributes described… so for instance the breeds like Merino, that produce wool that’s great for clothing, while others are desirable more for their meat than their wool.

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In the above image he’s introducing the Drysdale breed; this New Zealand created breed is raised primarily for its wool. It was developed in the 1930’s by crossbreeding a genetically freakish Romney ram with unusually coarse wool another Romney and a Cheviots resulting in a new breed of genetically modified sheep. One of the freak attributes is that both genders have horns, and its wool grows so quickly that it has to be shorn twice a year…. and the wool it produces is coarse and sturdy, so it is great for things like rugs…

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The full selection of “beauty sheep” on display

Once all the sheep have been led in and introduced, that is when you’ll get to see, the thing I was most hoping to see…. a sheep being sheered

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You, or more likely your older kids, might be chosen from the crowd to come up on stage and experience the joys of milking a cow

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or the excitement of feeding baby lambs and alpacas (who are ridiculously cute)

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and then you’ll be able to watch demonstrations of sheep dogs showing off just how smart and capable they are.

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Initially, a single dog is asked to herd around the stage a small bunch of ducks, the ones from the petting farm area, proably because there simply wasn’t room to do it with sheep. But then a different dog is asked to displayed something far more impressive, the ability to jump on top of the sheep’s backs, running across them like stones in a stream …

something the dogs need to be able to do in order to get a better vantage point from which to view of the entire flock, and be able to protect them from possible threats

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such as wolves, AND then they do it as a pack, multiple dogs run on stage and they do it together… even running past each other without falling off. I was impressed, having not known they could do it.

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After this highpoint of the show, the audience was invited to come up on stage, pet the dogs and take their pictures with the sheep…. and folks didn’t need to be invited twice…

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people raced up there really quickly and competed with each other for the best photos and to pet the animals

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we took our time and I waited for the crowds to clear off….

After that, I of course insisted that I have a chance to check out the gift shop. For the most part it was pretty much the same stuff you see in almost every other gift shop in Australia, so not really that big of a deal. That said…

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I had spotted this toy, which was a stuffed animal with actual sheep’s wool as the coat and thinking I might want to buy it looked at the tag to do my normal “look but don’t buy” then…. go home and find it on-line for probably less money than at an impulse driven shop (like this one). While doing so I definitely noticed that it doesn’t actually SAY made in NZ anywhere on the tag … but in way that sure as hell would lead the less trained observer to assume it had been… and I was like, “HEH, their gift shop is selling NZ stuff not made in NZ!” (and knowing what that told me about the politics of the owners) …. and then when I got home and googled it, sure enough! There was actually a legal suit brought against this souvenir company for misleading tourist into thinking they were buying NZ goods.