Archive for June, 2008

We are absolutely thrilled to tell you that Condé Nast Traveler features, in its July 2008 issue, a MAJOR seven-page article on a voyage to Antarctica with Travel Dynamics International aboard the Corinthian II. The piece, entitled “Love in a Cold Climate,” should be available online in about a week, so in deference to that esteemed publication, we won’t reprint the entirety of it here — and we strongly suggest that you leap to your nearest newsstand to check out the rapturous photos, enthusiastic guests, and tremendous experiences from writer Sue Helpern’s adventure — but we can relay that the article takes an excellent vantage point of observing Antarctica with reference to the effects of global warming. Ms. Helpern devotes much praise to Corinthian II and Travel Dynamics International’s staff. Here’s a glimpse:

A former Peace Corps volunteer and a graduate of Columbia University, Frick has been leading trips for a company called Travel Dynamics [International] for fifteen years. This is his twenty-fifth trip to Antarctica. He has been around long enough, and is savvy enough, to know that one unseasonably long summer, or two or even three, do not make a trend. But because Travel Dynamics specializes in what can be called intellectual adventures–arranging trips for the Yale Alumni Association or the Smithsonian, for instance, that bring naturalists and historians and experts of every stripe along for the ride–Frick is up on the science, too. That is what makes warm days like this one, and the image of four seals huddled on a shrinking mat of snow, seem like visions of the future. For here is the cruel paradox: Antarctica, which is as physically removed from human civilization as it is possible to be, is experiencing climate change more rapidly than any other place on earth.

Oh yes, there’s more. Much more. If you want a sublime sample of what a TDI trip is like, click here —> (more…)

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Everyone knows about that annual tempting of fate known as running with the bulls in Pamplona. It’s one of those festivals that make the saner among us scratch our heads in confusion and wonder, “How was that ever a good idea?”

But just because it is Europe’s most famous oddity certainly doesn’t make the Pamplona festival an isolated case. Indeed, the more traditions and customs one comes across, the stranger the Old World starts to look. Just in Spain alone there are two monumental annual food fights: one, in the town of Bunol, involving tomatoes; and who could forget the famous grape war of Binissalem. Up north, in Basque Country, it gets even stranger. There, young villagers hang from a live goose’s neck until the poor animal expires — all in the name of tradition.

Over in Greece, the island of Chios erupts in an annual fireworks war on Orthodox Easter pitting one parish in the town of Vrodandos against the other. In Belgium, they swallow live fish. In Turkey, camel wrestling is all the rage. And in the town of Malanka in Ukraine, residents dress up as Nazis and create simulated wartime checkpoints once a year to celebrate the end of World War II.

In short, there is no end to odd European festivals and traditions. And with the Euro 2008 football championships running through the month of June, SPIEGEL ONLINE thinks it’s time to expose Europe for the strange place it is.

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Since this was announced five minutes ago, we haven’t yet made any plans to visit it — but don’t count us out.

Archaeologists in Rihab, Jordan, say they have discovered a cave that could be the world’s oldest Christian church. Dating to the period AD 33-70, the underground chapel would have served as both a place of worship and a home. It is claimed that it was originally used by a group of 70 persecuted Christians who fled from Jerusalem. These early Christians lived and practised their faith in secrecy until the Romans embraced Christianity several hundred years later. Click here for more from the BBC.

If you’re interested in visiting other important Mediterranean sites from early Christian history, join us on The Classical World and Times of St. Paul in August, or Emperors, Conquerors and Saints: Exploring Turkey’s Cappadocia and the Turquoise Coast in October ’09.

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Chios is a lovely place. It’s a tiny Aegean island just five miles from the coast of Turkey. It’s one of the places reputed to be the birthplace of Homer, and its 11th-century monastery Nea Moni is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We visit it on our Undiscovered Greece cruise. A really placid, peaceful, soul-nurturing island that — with prodigious paradoxicality — on the night before Easter Sunday looks like this:

That’s because two opposing parishes in the town of Vrodados spend the evening just before Orthodox Easter Sunday firing thousands of homemade rockets at each other’s church — while the more pious among them attend mass inside.

The result looks a lot like warfare. Tens of thousands of missiles — some estimates go as high as 80,000 — fly back and forth through the night sky, leaving streaks not unlike tracer bullets. The projectiles are prepared throughout the year by so-called “gangs” from the two parishes, Saint Mark and Panagia Erithiani. Even though making such rockets is illegal, the authorities mostly turn a blind eye to the fireworks tradition.

Read more on this inspired tradition of celebratory lunacy from Spiegel Online. But really, why would you ever want to read an article on the subject when you can see the entire rocket battle here?

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It’s going to be 97 degrees in New York City today, and if you’re feeling anything like the TDIBlog right now, you’re desperately thinking of ways to stay cool. The picture above should do the trick. Oh, Canada! Forgive us our American triumphalism of yesteryear. Your forests and Francophonic felicities will satiate our summer sweatiness.

Quebec City, the beating heart of French culture in North America, turns 400 years old next month, and the city’s turning out a year’s worth of festivities in honor of the anniversary. TDI will be there for it, next summer right about this time, as we cruise Canada’s Historic Cities and Waterways. The Guardian reports,

To experience the sudden impact of Quebec City, don’t arrive by air or land. Sail up the estuary of the St Lawrence as it narrows between cliffs and rugged hills.

(We do that, you know.)

“Is there any city in the world that stands so nobly as Quebec?” Rupert Brooke asked upon arriving in 1913. “The citadel crowns a headland, 300ft high, that juts boldly out into the St. Lawrence. Up to it, up the side of the hill, clambers the city, houses and steeples … It has the individuality and the pride of a city where great things have happened.”

The Guardian, charmingly, backtracks on its Left-leaning slant to tell us all the ways the Anglophone world has infiltrated and integrated its history with this Québécois UNESCO World Heritage Site, noting that

“Remember,” one of the residents told me, “this is the heart of French civilization in America.” Yet there’s a paradox. The city prides itself on its Gallic flair and European feel. Yet its modern buildings are standard North American – and much of the historic architecture drew its inspiration from Britain.

The Conservatoire d’Art Dramatique, for instance, trains young Quebec actors in a neoclassical edifice on a hilly side street. But it was built in 1824 as Trinity Chapel of Ease. On a nearby street you’ll find a research centre of Hôtel-Dieu Hospital in a building that began life as St Patrick’s Church. The Anglican cathedral, one of the few in North America to practise the art of change-ringing, was completed in 1804 and modelled on London’s St. Martin in the Fields.

Read the full article here and make sure to visit, on its 400th anniversary, as we cruise the St. Lawrence Seaway from the Atlantic to Lake Ontario next June. It’s the perfect way to imagine yourself amid cool breezes this furiously hot summer day.

Roosevelt and Churchill met twice at the Château Frontenac in the early 1940s. In tribute to those meetings, busts of the two leaders adorn a park beside the National Assembly. A bust of Mackenzie King, the Canadian prime minister who hosted the events, is nowhere to be found.

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From the esteemed Mediterranean Archaeology blog of Ioannis Georganas, and immediately following our previous discussion of Queen Zenobia and powerful women of antiquity, we learn that:

University of Manchester researchers have revealed how women, as well as men, held positions of power in ancient Greece by right of birth.

Women were thought to have had little power in ancient Greece, unless they married a powerful man and were able to influence him. But a team of researchers testing ancient DNA from a high status, male-dominated cemetery at Mycenae in Greece believe they have identified a brother and sister buried together in a richly endowed grave, suggesting that she had as much power as him.

Professor Brown recalled: We were surprised to discover what appears to be a sister buried beside her brother in the high status, male-dominated grave circle. The implication is that she was buried in Grave Circle B not because of a marital connection but because she held a position of authority by right of birth.

DNA analysis has therefore enabled us to glimpse the factors contributing to the organisation of the higher echelons of society at the beginning of the Mycenaean age.

Read more here.

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In October of 2009, Travel Dynamics International will undertake a strikingly original cruise called Remarkable Women of Antiquity and their Times. In it, we’ll be traveling into Syria, to the splendid ruins of Palmyra, to have a look at the reign of Queen Zenobia.

Palmyra? Zenobia?
What’s that? Who’s she?

Shame on you. Clearly you’ve not recently delved into Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Granted, not many of us these days have time for a ramble through a three-volume, 2700-page epic filled with lots of obscure names, arch diction, and an occasionally tedious rendering of centuries of appalling, unmitigated slaughter. But, hey, that’s what we at the TDI blog are here for. Here are the tasty bits for your robust historical delectation, to whet your wanderlust. Here’s the story of Palmyra and Queen Zenobia, which takes place in the middle of the 3rd century A.D. It’s pretty good prose, right?

Amid the barren deserts of Arabia a few cultivated spots rise like islands out of the sandy ocean. Even the name of…Palmyra, by its signification in the Syriac as well as in the Latin language, denoted the multitude of palm-trees which afforded shade and verdure to that temperate region. The air was pure, and the soil, watered by some invaluable springs, was capable of producing fruits as well as corn. A place possessed of such singular advantages, and situated at a convenient distance between the Gulf of Persia and the Mediterranean, was soon frequented by the caravans which conveyed to the nations of Europe a considerable part of the rich commodities of India. Palmyra insensibly increased into an opulent and independent city, and, connecting the Roman and the Parthian monarchies by the mutual benefits of commerce, was suffered to observe an humble neutrality, till at length, after the victories of Trajan, the little republic sunk into the bosom of Rome, and flourished more than one hundred and fifty years in the subordinate though honourable rank of a colony. It was during that peaceful period, if we may judge by a few remaining inscriptions, that the wealthy Palmyrenians constructed those temples, palaces, and porticos of Grecian architecture, whose ruins, scattered over an extent of several miles, have deserved the curiosity of our travellers. The elevation of Odenahus and Zenobia appeared to reflect new splendour on their country, and Palmyra, for a while, stood forth the rival of Rome; but the competition was fatal, and ages of prosperity were sacrificed to a moment of glory.

Continue below the fold to read The Grand Yet Lamentable History of Queen Zenobia, who defied the powerfully potent purple-garbed panache of the Roman Emperor Aurelian. Note, this is Edward Gibbon we’re talking about here, who’s a man, and Englishman, and a 19th-century Englishman to boot. So we earnestly entreat you to read any perceived sexist, classist, racial, nationalistic, or any other presumptions as the author’s and NOT our own. Hey. Give him a break. He’s just a man.


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