Back in the day, there was only one bridge in London: the London Bridge. This meant that anything coming into London by boat would have to pass the tower. Hence giving it the importance it had as a defence building. It was also the highest building around, I would imagine making an impressive sight.
The Tower of London is not as bloody as they make it seem. There were only 22 executions that actually took place within the Tower. It was also not meant to be a prison but its location meant that to was quite convenient for it to be so.
The Tower of London was also not meant to be a zoo but in the 1200s the King received exotic animals such as elephants and polar bears as gifts and thus a zoo was started. It remained there for 600 years. In 1835 the zoo part of the tower closed and all the animals where moved to the new London Zoo in Regent’s Park.
It is known that the Crown jewels are kept in the Tower of London. What is not known is that the oldest and only original item of the jewels is a spoon. The story says that after the English civil war, the parliamentarians that won wanted to get rid of the Crown and thus the jewels. They sold the jewels cheaply and an employee bought the spoon. When the Royalty was re-established this said individual sold the spoon for a lot more, making it a worthwhile investment. The rest of the jewels were never recovered, most of them were melted into weapons.
The Tower of London is now also a residence for about 140 people. These people are the Yeoman Warders or Beefeaters – which name comes from their role as food tasters to the King when they ate his beef to ensure it wasn’t poisoned. To be part of the Beefeaters, individuals must have completed 22 years service in the Forces and be at least a former warrant officer holding the Good Conduct and Long Service medals. A fair requirement for your own pub at the Tower of London I would say!
A ferry ride east from the bustling centre of Lerwick into another world is Bressay – a quiet, rural island with friendly people. The 340 residents are still grieving the closure of the single school and celebrating the re-opening of the only hotel in the island. The hotel houses the pub in the island. An Anglo-Bulgarian couple bought the premises after being closed for 3 years. They have invested time and money to refurbish the place and make their living out of it for the past 18 months. Now, the Maryfield House attracts locals to the pub, people from Lerwick looking for a different dinning option and random tourists from all over the world.
The pub has a collection of shields from the Up Helly Aa festival in Shetland. Some date from the 70s and had been semi-abandoned in the island resident’s attics. It was the perfect ambience for an English vs. Colombia world cup game. And the celebrations that continued into the night.
In Northern Norway there is a city which was built just over a century ago for the export of iron ore from Sweden, Narvik. The port is ice free all year round unlike ones in Sweden. This industry and the city’s location were reason enough for this place to be badly bombed in the Second World War. The effects on the city architecture are more brick and concrete, with fewer traditional wooden buildings in the city centre.
Being at the base of mountains and fjords allows Narvik to have a cable car, the Narvikfjellet, which offers a spectacular ride with views of the scenery, Ofotfjord and the city. Plus a place to have waffles and hot chocolate at the top.
A wonder of nature happens every winter when five ocean currents host the annual migration of the Norwegian-Arctic cod, or ‘Skrei’; these fish come down from the Barents Sea to the Lofoten Islands to spawn.
Eager fishermen catch this variety of fish, gut it, decapitate it, scale it, tie it in twos and hang it out to dry in order to preserve the fish. The fish does not freeze into pieces, but it doesn’t rot either. The fish simply dries in racks in the Nordic sun and wind from late winter until spring. Then, it is bone dry and easy to transport, but still retains its key nutrients; 1kg of this dried fish has the same nutritional value as 5kg of fresh fish!
The entire fish is consumed: the tails and body is exported to Spain, Italy, Portugal and the rest of Europe. The heads are sent to Nigeria to be cooked in soup. The livers are made into medicinal oil. And the tongues are kept as a Norwegian delicacy for tourists from near and far.
Stavern is an old port favoured nowadays during the summers when its population grows ten fold. Beaches, art displays, open areas and history, combined with events which are organised almost all year around since its opening to public in the 1990s make this little town in Larvik a preferred destination amongst Norwegians. Music concerts are amongst the most popular concurrences which have had such success that even Elton John has come to this little town to stage.
The Gunpowder building is noteworthy; separated from the rest and built of stone and brick (as opposed to wood as the other buildings), just in case things get heated.
Other buildings in the area are wooden and with a colour so particular that it has become its own color name: stavern yellow. Not easily missed!
This is a replica of a viking boat. The original boat was a burial boat for a queen and was found under ground along with many artefacts including a wagon. The boat was reconstructed using the traditional ways used thousands of years ago and the same materials.
A second boat is now being built. It is another replica of a cargo boat that will recreate a journey that will last 4 years to complete. People are invited to join part of the journey and live a true viking experience.
With so much to do around the area, Denmark is a popular tourist destination. It is surrounded by beautiful beaches and tall forests and a small town which is home to 5,000 people. The Denmark region is known to the aboriginal community as ‘Koorabup’ meaning ‘place of the Black Swan’. The Bibbulmum Track, one of the world’s great long distance walking trails, crosses the town. This walk is nearly 1000km. Other walking, or running, tracks are just as spectacular, if not as long.
Before the introduction of spotter planes and drones, a network of fire lookout trees was built across the south-west forests of Australia. The aim: to spot fires that were hidden at ground level by the giant Karri forests during the hot Aussie summers.
The first Karri fire lookout tower, was the Big Tree, constructed in 1938. This lookout was lost years later to a bushfire. After this tree, eight other lookouts followed between 1937 and 1952, including the Gloucester Tree chosen as a fire lookout in 1947. Gloucester Tree is 72 meters in height though the lookout is at 61 meters. Although the Gloucester tree was originally pegged with wooden pegs, now all the trees are pegged with metal pegs which are easier to grip. They are regularly checked for any faults. The Gloucester Tree has 153 pegs.
Nowadays climbing up the giants is an attraction for tourists that rewards them with amazing views at the top. No one has died making their ascent to the three trees lookouts but two people have had heart attacks after climbing the trees.
It is said that there are around 350 caves hidden underneath the area of Margaret River.
If you are willing and fit, you can descend the 350 steps down to the cavern entrance to a not so hidden limestone cave: Lake Cave. Before entering, look up and admire the seemingly never-ending karri trees. As you enter, watch out for Headache rock and splitting headache rock.
Lake Cave is the deepest tourist cave in the South-West of Australia with a depth of 62 metres; its chamber is only 82 metres long but what it lacks in size it makes up in beauty. Lake Cave is renowned for the Suspended Table: an almost 5 ton column of calcite that hangs from the ceiling “suspended” above the crystal clear lake. The water dissolved the sand bank underneath the structure leaving it as a wonder to all who visit.
Whilst the existence of the cave was known to Australian indigenous, in 1867 it was found by accident by an European sixteen year old while out searching for lost cattle. The woman reported the discovery to her family but it took them 30 years to re-discover the entrance. One of these early explorers searched through the dark using nothing but a candle and later became one of the first guides.
Lake Cave was opened to the public in 1901 and from its beginnings work was done to allow visitors whilst preserving the cave. The cave at this time was called “Queen of the Earth”.
Percy the big pelican is 41 years old this year. Built in 1977 it has lived a long life full of adventures; including capsizing in the Noosa River. After that near death experience, Percy got restored for over $10,000 and took 6 months to complete. It is now mounted on a trailer and is sometimes used for street parades. The pelican can rotate its head, blink its eyes, open and close its bill, flap its winds and even wiggle its tail, all controlled by a collection of levers, pulleys and ropes from within.
Nowadays parked in Noosaville in front of Pelican Boat Hire, by the river, serving if nothing else but a good reference point for morning runs or a landmark for locals.