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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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;

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.

Memorial of New Zealands Worst Train Accident, in Tangiwai

In Tangiwai, a rural Māori community in New Zealand, about half way between the rural towns of Rangataua and Waiouru, just off the side of highway 49, is a memorial to the worst train accident in the country’s history. The catastrophe occurred on Xmas eve in 1953, when the rail-bridge over the Whangaehu River collapsed beneath an express passenger train traveling from Wellington to Auckland, resulting in the death of 151 souls.

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A local school group was brought here to learn about the disaster

The disaster happened because the Islanders at that time suffered from a lack of understanding of the full risks associated with being directly downstream from an active Volcano, in this case, Mount Ruapehu (see images above and below).

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Note the Volcano and the reconstructed bridge in the above photo

Volcano’s are beautiful, and their eruptions result in rich black fertile earth at their bases that is wonderful for farming, and this is why so many farming communities are located directly at their bases all around world — in spite of their being some of the most violent forces on earth.

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For example: think about the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum located at the base of Mount Vesuvius (a volcano) in Italy, or the town of Kagoshima in Japan which sits directly adjacent to Mount Sakurajima, which is so active that residents have to walk around with plastic umbrellas to keep the volcano’s ash out of their hair.

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The cause of the Tangiwai disaster was in part seriously bad luck. Almost 10 years earlier in 1945, Mount Ruapehu, the volcano whose nearby presence is the source of the area’s sustenance, had erupted creating a thick layer of ash at the top of the mountain.

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Over the next 8 years, water collected in the cone of the volcano, forming a lake, held in place in part by that same layer of ash. Earlier that evening, at around 8pm, the water (heavy with lava, ice and ash) had broken through and rushed downhill via the Whangaehu River (whose headwaters are the yearly melts off the glacier that sits atop the volcano — see the pictures above taken in during NZ’s summer), and at approximately 10:15pm, the force of flood had taken out many of the railroad’s bridge’s supports…. but unfortunately, not the bridge (which the driver might have seen).

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The disaster happened only about 5 minutes later, at 10:21pm, and as I said resulted in the death of 151 souls; the recovery was horrific and continued for days as bodies were found hanging in near by trees, washed downstream by the river, or buried in banks of sand and mud; 21 of these bodies of the victims were never identified, and the bodies of another 20 souls, who were believed to have been on the train, were never found.

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Here are two videos about the disaster from youtube. The first is very short, 1.5 minutes video posted by the Auckland War Memorial Museum:

This second video is a full 20 minute TV show about bad days in history that focuses on the disaster:

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Fitzroy Gardens, Melbourne Australia and The Not Captain Cook’s Cottage

[Updated – forgot to add some stuff before] Melbourne refers to itself as the garden city of Australia, and Fitzroy Garden is one of the city’s many landscaped gardens that earns it that title. The most famous attraction located within the garden is Cook’s cottage, which some sites advertise as having belonged to the famous Captain Cook, the explorer who ‘discovered Australia’; historical buff that I am, this made me excited to see it, but that claim — if you come across it, is wrong. It was never his, it was one of his parent’s homes, and he never lived there. That said Fitzroy Garden where the house is located, is free to explore, but the Cook’s Cottage itself — which has been one of the major tourist draws in Melbourne since it was first moved here in 1934… is NOT, free that is…

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Me, standing as close as you can get to the house without paying a fee

Fitzroy Gardens, in the suburb of East Melbourne. To be technical about it… It’s not actually IN Melbourne, which is one of these TINY dot on the map cities that has never annexed adjacent suburbs so that it could ‘grow’, like Chicago or New York City did, and has ‘neighborhoods’ that are legally separate entities; as such you really have to think of it as the greater Melbourne area when visiting, because Aussies seem to get very irritated when we call East Melbourne, just plain old Melbourne… because it’s not.

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“Technically” considered to be the Oldest building in all of the greater Melbourne area, as it has been dated to at least 1755 [Melbourne was founded in 1835], the cottage had belonged (at one time) to the father of James Cook (1728 –1779), the famous British explorer, navigator, cartographer, and captain in the Royal Navy, who was also the first “recorded” European to “discover” Australia…. That said, the man who “discovered” Australia MAY have (we don’t know for sure that he ever did), at best, slept there… when/if he visited his folks in his home town (one has to assume he may have at some point)…. so yes, the connection is a bit tenuous …

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Originally located in the village of Great Ayton in North Yorkshire, where Captain Cook was born, the building was brought to Melbourne in in 1934 by the Chemist and Philanthropist Russell Grimwade, who gifted it to the State of Victoria in honor of the celebration of the upcoming 100 year anniversary of the settlement of Melbourne (1835). The owner had put it up for bid, on condition that it be moved to someplace else “in England”, but (according to Wikipedia) when the highest local bid had been £300 versus Grimwade’s bid of £800, she was ‘convinced’ to change that requirement to “in the British Empire.”

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Originally sold as the home of Captain Cook’s early days, the cottage is now only called “Cook’s Cottage” because later historians, rightly, called foul. While the initials J.C. and the year of 1755 had been engraved into a lintel above one of the doors… the JC did not denote James Cook the son and Captain, but rather James his father, a farm laborer who was originally from Scotland.

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The engraved lintel (covered in plexiglass, I assume for its protection from vandals)

What is not known for sure, however, is was the house built in 1755, or possibly rebuilt… or just purchased by Cook’s father. Also, since James Cook, the Jr., was born in 1728, and had moved away from home at 16 — which was normal at the time, he would have been 27 by 1755, the year engraved probably with his own home; this, in fact, was was the same year he had joined the Royal Navy in hopes of greater advancement, after having already served in the British Merchant Navy where he had been promoted about as far as he could in that profession, i.e., already an adult man with a career and his own private life…. Therefore, it is HIGHLY unlikely that he had actually ever LIVED in the house, at best he may have visited, it was therefore a misleading to continue to call it “Captain Cook’s Cottage”…

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The laminated 3-ring notebook you can reference if you want to know more about the house

The Cottage itself is open every day from 9 to 5, but you have to buy a ticket. These can be found across the walkway at the information building/Visitor Center and Conservatory, which also has a cafe, where you can have a meal, pamphlets about other things to see and do in the area

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And of course a gift shop…. with some very cute items for sale that I had not seen elsewhere, so worth checking out if you’re shopping for souvenirs

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I think these were hand-made Xmas tree ornaments, but they’re cute enough that even I’d buy them … the seemed to be made of pine prickles shoved into a form, sculpted and painted, or something of the like

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Although a bit steep for a rubber ducky at $14.95 AUD, I was seriously tempted to buy one of these …. afterwards I found a few other museums with sections devoted to Captain Cook that also sell them… for the same price. I might give in and buy one next time see it.

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Once you have purchased your ticket you cross over to the cottage and enter through a gate that scans your ticket (like at the airport). Inside were two docents dressed in period garb whose job it was to help orient you, or have their pictures taken with you (which I didn’t opt to do), or help you into the garb if you wanted to dress up yourself… but for the most part it’s all self guided.

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There were two 3 ringed notebooks of laminated pages devoted to the spot if you bother to take the time to notice them (almost no one did) located just in the doorway of the home (where folks would remove their coats and muddy shoes, I assume). The house consisted of a kitchen/living room/dining room with a running voice narrative that sounds like it’s supposed to be Captain Cook’s mother, talking about what it was like to live and work in the house

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Upstairs there was a narrow flight of stairs that were a lot steeper than we’re used to (most definitely NOT disability friendly), and required that visitors make way for each other going up or down

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You find a master bedroom, with more written explanation (and no voice narrative)

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and two small bedrooms, one upstairs and one down

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And in the back of the house is an herb garden

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Around the back/side of the house is the stable, which has been converted into a sort of museum/movie theater

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I am pretty sure I watched four different movies that were on display there, one about Captain cook discovering Australia, one about the sale and transport of the house, one about the history of the house, and one about his parent’s lives. One of the cool things was there were three screens, one of which was showing the same movie at the same time, on a smaller screen, with Chinese subtitles. Every time Chinese visitors stepped in I would point them towards that, because they tended to walk in, see the main screen, hear the English, and looked a little sad… only to have me point out the Chinese screen and have their faces light up… I’m thinking one of the docents should have been in there doing that.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2526.jpgBeyond the cottage, I found that overall Fitzroy is less of a garden, in my mind (relatively few flowers), and more of an urban green space, with tree lined avenues that before air-conditioning probably offered much needed shade in the summer heat. While it has some boring almost obligatory stuff, like the Grey Street Fountain… UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2514.jpg

…. and the River God Fountain, both of which are perfectly nice

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…these looked pretty much like any old fashioned/classic fountain and garden you’d find in any park …anywhere (especially in France or the UK). What’s cool/different about the garden is that it tends towards things that are a bit more fanciful and fun, such as it’s children’s playground, which has a dragon slide and a giraffe like swing set

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And a model Kentish Tudor village. The story on this is kind of cute in that all the homes were built by an elderly pensioner, Mr. Edgar Wilson who lived in the UK and liked to build these things out of concrete, just for fun, as his hobby. He gifted them in 1948 to Melbourne in appreciation of the food that Australia sent to England during WWII

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The town included a scale model of the house owned by Shakespeare’s wife (the one he quickly abandoned) the widow Anne Hathaway. I will admit that when I read the garden had a Tudor Village, I was expecting something radically different from what I found. In my minds eye I expected to find some full or at least half sized Tudor homes that you could walk through … maybe with some staff, sort of like what I had found at Cook’s cottage…. at least tall enough for small children to enter… but nope

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Instead I found a collection of homes that at best might come to my knee, and the homes are all completely fenced off, so little kids can’t really enjoy them much either… and adjacent to the Tudor village I found the the Fairies Tree

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which I was sad to see was ALSO surrounded by a fence, so that you can’t get up close and personal with it. BUT after I got home and studied it I understood why — did NOT find any description of this at the spot. This tree isn’t some modern thing made for kids to play on … The Fairies tree was carved back in the 1930’s by a local artist and author by the name of Ola Cohn, into the stump of a 300+ year old River Red Gum tree which had been original to the garden. Ms Cohn (who was of Danish extraction) was a well known (her portrait hangs in a museum in Canberra, and the link includes an image of her carving the tree) and respected local artist, who went on to be appointed a Member of The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, an order of chivalry — a sort of knighthood, for her work in the service of art. Because she’d carved it into what was then already a dead tree, there’s been issues with degradation and rot over time, so that in 1977, in order to stop the rot, they had to pull the whole thing out of the ground, removed wood that had already rotted — they found a perfectly preserved mummified Brushtail possum at that point (!!!), and then treated the remaining tree with chemicals to stop any further rot… remounted the tree into a concrete base and returned it to the garden.

So I get the history of the things, and why they might want to preserve them… but I have to think little kids don’t really enjoy either of them much as a result. So Nice but kind of meh…

I think my favorite fountain was the Dolphin Fountain, which seemed to be much more modern in construction….

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in fact it turned out to have been built in 1982, and for some reason the park’s website said that it was “controversial” but didn’t explain why…

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After some research I found this website explaining, some of the argument was regarding WHERE in the garden this $30,000 gift payed for by Dinah and Henry Krongold and created by a sculptress by the name of June Arnold should go… or if it was suited to the Fitzroy gardens at all because it wasn’t in keeping with the garden’s naturalism (???)

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Not surprisingly, little kid (according to what I’ve read) LOVE this fountain as it’s the only one they’re actually allowed to interact with… I saw parents lifting their small children up on to the rocks, etc.

Eight Hour Day Monument, Melbourne Australia

This monument, commemorates the institution of the eight-hour work day movement, which began in Australia in 1856 following organized protests by Melbourne’s stonemasons, i.e, HIGHLY skilled and necessary workers who worked for the local government. The 888 concept went on to become one of the central tenants of the Union movement, dictating a human need for 8 hours of sleep, and 8 hours of living (being with family, relaxing, etc), and not just a life of solely work and sleep. Although there were two such movements in Australia, one in Sydney and the other in Melbourne, according to this website, Australians credit the Melbourne one for improving workers rights in Australia at large because while the stonemasons in Sydney had achieved the same a year earlier, their brothers in Melbourne managed to do it with no loss of pay (i.e., same total wages, while working fewer hours). As such, it’s Melbourne that therefore gets the credit. The entire state of Victoria (where Melbourne is located) went on to pass the Eight Hours Act in 1916, 60 years later

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The top of the monument shows 888

[When considering the success of the Melbourne movement in 1856, it’s important to keep in mind some key points: 1) the Melbourne area was first purchase, invaded, or incorporated as a settlement — depending on your point of view, by settlers from the penal colony in what is now Hobart in Tasmania, in 1835 — always with the intent of making it a city; 2) the milestone which was achieved (traditionally only given to towns with Cathedrals) in in 1947, upon completion of the Old St. James (Anglican), by declaration of Queen Victoria; and 3) it became the capitol of the newly formed State of Victoria in 1951  — as it’s population doubled in year, and then grew exponentially as a result of one of the world’s biggest gold rushes, as gold was found in nearby places like Ballarat (where the Sovereign Hill park is located). The combination of factors meant that the government NEEDED these guys, whose skill sets were in short supply, happy and working. To quote Wikipedia:

“The 1850s and 1860s saw the commencement of Parliament House, the Treasury Building, the Old Melbourne GaolVictoria Barracks, the State LibraryUniversity of MelbourneGeneral Post OfficeCustoms House, the Melbourne Town HallSt Patrick’s cathedral, though many remained uncompleted for decades, with some still not finished as of 2018.”]

However, the 8 hour work day, 40 hours a week or short-time movement, while it did achieve some of its earliest success in Melbourne was NOT, in origin, an Australian idea; although, based on the little amount of testing I have done I think more than a few of my Aussie friends would be surprised to know that. The slogan: “Eight hours’ labour, Eight hours’ recreation, Eight hours’ rest” was actually coined by Robert Owen, one of the founders of utopian socialism and the cooperative movement, in 1817. It was these sorts of movements… that were popular in that period, that resulted in social experiments — mostly failed, like Lagrange Phalanx experiment in Indiana. A shorter working day was also part of what the Chartist movement reformers (1838 to 1857) in the UK were fighting for

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That said, it was not Australia, but rather Uruguay who in 2015 first instituted a national 8 hour workday, with Australia following five years later in 1920, but with a 6 day workweek; Australia didn’t achieve the 40-hour, 5 day work week until 1948.

Ernest Hemingway’s house, Key West, Florida

IF you go to the Florida Keys, the home of Ernest Hemingway, is a MUST SEE. Back in December of 2016 when I was staying in the Miami area I got into my car and after four hours of driving, made it to Key West. [Warning, if you are allergic to cats, or phobic of them, this is NOT the place for you!!!]

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For those who don’t know who is (SHAME ON YOU)… he won the Nobel Prize for Literature and the Pulitzer Prize for his novel the The Old Man and the Sea

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(although some argue it is actually one of his lesser books, and that the wins were more for, For Whom the bell Tolls, which was also nominated for both but didn’t win anything, although everyone felt should have… hence his next hit won the prizes) ….  And of course he is considered one of the great American authors, as well as one of the greatest authors of modern literature.

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Part of what Hemingway was famous for was what was called the Ice-burg theory of writing, namely that it’s not only ok, but BETTER to omit everything other than the surface elements of a story … as he had needed to do as a journalist.

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He believed any deeper meanings should always be implicit. That this helped to create a concentration of focus on the part of the reader, creating a sense of immediacy. The goal was to get the most from the least by pruning your language down to the minimum of the minimum.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_51a1.jpgThere’s a 2012 movie … made for TV … Called Hemingway & Gellhorn, with  Nicole KidmanClive Owen about his relationship to one of his wives, Gellhorn, a famous war journalist of her time, where you see him ripping out sheets from his typewriter, crumpling them up and filling a garbage can with them, all because he had used one word too many in a sentence … life was a lot harder for writers before the invention of the world processor

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One of the things I learned while there was he also received a bronze star for his work as a war correspondent.

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I had wanted to stay in the Keys for at least a week, but Airbnb’s seemed to be non-existent and hotel rooms were completely out of my price range…. so DROVE the four hours down, bought my ticket to see the house …  its open 9am-5pm, 365 days a year. Admission for an adult was $16, which wasn’t horrible. The picture above was around 3pm when I arrived, the one below was folks still streaming an hour later … again a week day, and OFF season…

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I was kind of seriously surprised that on a week day off-season I still had to book a tour, but the good news was they have them pretty much every 15 minutes, and I only had to wait about a half hour till the next open one….

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The home is a National Historic Landmark

That said, if your going ON season, or on a weekend, I’m thinking booking your tour in advance might be a good idea….  Did I mention I had to wait a half hour (2 tours had to clear) before there was one with space for me… on a weekday, OFF season…

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The BAD news is because it is such a popular destination, 1) parking can be a bit difficult, 2) the tours are large, even in the off-season on a mid-week day, 3) they shuffle you through there pretty quickly, so there was no time for me to take any notes…. and I’m writing this thing in Feb of 2019… so like… at this point, I’m not remembering much.

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The good news is There’s an app for that!!!! For $5.99 you can essentially see everything I did, and hear the tour I heard…

That said…

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I do remember that this wall amused me somewhat… the center photo is of him, the four surrounding him are of his four different wives…. which made the next thing REALLY ironic…

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Quick rehearsal before the event

The Hemingway Home is a REALLY popular locations for locals to get married

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The buffet setup: Note the lighthouse in the upper right corner

I mean, isn’t this a bit like using your divorced mom’s wedding dress? I.e, probably BAD luck for the longevity of your wedding?

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Other than that, one of the big “attractions” of the place is the HUGE family (40-50 of them) of polydactyl six-toed cats,

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The cats are everywhere in and around the home, which is their home, that you are only visiting… although most of them are either very friendly, or more than willing to be petted, as is their due

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And the lives of each and every cat has been commemorated. They all have names, often those of Great writers or Hollywood stars…. although not always

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And you will find them everywhere in the house… so for instance Hemingway kept a private writing studio in an apartment above his garage, that he had initially constructed a catwalk (get it?) allowing easy access to it from the 2nd floor of the house.

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Catwalk, get it? Cat Walk…. (I crack myself up)

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And even there (which is now only accessible via a staircase, I found a cat

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SO, if you do NOT like cats, or have a sever allergy to them… Hemingway’s home is NOT for you. VE2ZKMhRT2aP9PKpfHh8pQ_thumb_51f7.jpg

After leaving the home, I wandered a bit… the other things I might have liked to see where already closed or closing soon at that point, so … like the light station, which closes its gates to new customers at 4:30pm

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Apparently there’s also this cute little tourist choo-choo-train shuttle which tours tourists around the island… but that didn’t interest me, and it was getting time to do the 4 hour drive BACK to Coconut Grove, just south of Miami, where I was staying.

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One of the things that sort of amused me was that not a block away from the Hemingway House I discovered that apparently locals are allowed to keep pet chickens, and they are NOT required to keep the penned up… or at least that was the impression…

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Based on the number of really fancy looking roosters I saw running around free. After that I drove the four hours back….(No I was not listening the audio book of old man in and the sea while doing it). That said, I stopped at a place called the Key Largo Fisheries on the way back, which a friend whose family goes down to the Keys regularly suggested to me as a MUST stop (closes at 8pm, so I really had to make time in order to get there early enough to have a meal)…  That said it totally lived up to the promise of VERY fresh fish cooked simply

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This amused me, it was in their bathroom