Monthly Archives: December 2019

Schizoid Wales

Wales and it capital Cardiff are not easy to write about.  Wales is a part of the United Kingdom, but will it remain so?  I read recently that one of the unintended consequences of Brexit might be the dividing of this European nation into 3 separate countries–England, Scotland, and Wales.  This might happen because the alliance is uneasy.  Since the Tony Blair days in the 1990s, Wales has had a semiautonomous legislature, and Scotland has voted on whether to remain in or leave Great Britain.  The Welsh assembly now makes laws that affect only this part of the United Kingdom.  Wales mostly sends its own teams to international competitions.  Leaving won’t be easy or fast.  Wales was incorporated into the United Kingdom only after a series of wars, and the Welsh people retain a strong sense of their separate identity.

Most of the citizens of Wales that is only on average 60 miles wide and 170 miles long live along the Bristol Channel in the southern part of this kind-of country.  All signs here are in both English and Welsh even though the King’s English predominates.  The committed Welsh speakers live in the north, which is hard to get to from the south.  To go to the north part by train by the fastest way requires leaving Wales and traveling  through England.  Ruth and I were told that to avoid offense while there we should think of and refer to Wales as a separate country.


Cardiff seems like 2 cities.  There’s the old part with the main train station, the castle, and most of the regular shops.  Then there’s the Wales Millennium Centre that requires a trip on public transportation or a rental car to reach.  It’s south of Butetown on Cardiff Bay and contains several important attractions, some of which are relatively new.  There’s the old, historic Norwegian Church where native son and international celebrity/writer Roald Dahl was baptized that is now an arts center.  South of it are the World of Boats maritime museum and the Doctor Who Experience.  This long-running and still popular TV series has been made in Wales since 2005.  There are lots of restaurants and public sculptures here, but the 2 entities that dominate the area are a modern shopping center with a movie theater and an arts complex that everyone calls The Armadillo.   This is appropriate because this building providing lots of live entertainment looks a bit like an armadillo.  The materials used in its construction represent Welshness.  The front of it looks like a lot of carved words that make no sense but they do. They read, “In These Stones Horizons Sing” in English and Welsh.  When we were there a huge car show was in progress on the large expanse of concrete in front of it.  This is a must-see part of Cardiff.

I would like to go back to see the scenic part of Wales between the south and north and experience the flavor of Welshness that I was told exists only in the upper part of this somewhat restless country within a country.


ps  The painting up top represents the historic opening of the Queen Alexandra dock in Cardiff in 1907 that Alexandra and her husband, King Edward VII, attended.


Ocmulgee Mounds NHP

One of Macon, GA’s best attractions is the Ocmulgee (pronounced Oak-mull-gee) Mounds National Historical Park.  A former National Monument, Ocmulgee is the largest archaeological dig in the United States and is definitely worth seeing.  It’s very similar to an attraction I’m very familiar with called Cahokia Mounds.  In fact, they derive from the same culture.  In addition to the cornfield, temple, and funeral mounds at Ocmulgee, there is a fully restored Earth Lodge that’s the best reason to visit.

The people who laboriously built these mounds carrying baskets of dirt to each mound site and their descendants, the Mississippian Culture, have lived here for 12,000 years. The traders who exchanged furs for guns and their descendants have been in the area for less than 300 years.  The mound-builders’ village overlooked the Ocmulgee River.  The mounds were used for public ceremonies.  Excavation of the village site and the mounds began in 1933, and 2½ million artifacts have been found.  Ice didn’t occur here, but mammoths and saber tooth tigers came to the river and were hunted for food.  About the time the humans began building the mounds they learned how to make pottery that was as fine as the ceramics found all over the American southwest.  The human effigy shown below was used as a bottle stopper. The film available in the Ocmulgee Visitor Center shows early humans hunting now extinct animals and is worth seeing.  At its height this was a population center for 2,000 people, making it one of the largest concentrations of humans on the planet.

Over 2,000 found artifacts are seen in the visitor center, and some cabinets show how they are sorted and stored.  After looking at this, I recommend walking to the nearby Earth Lodge.  You will have to stoop to enter it.  The doorway was purposely made low to humble all who entered.  The floor is the original one and is estimated to be 1,000 years old.  This reminded me of the mounds I have seen in Europe especially the ones in Ireland at Newgrange built by Stone Age farmers in the Boyne River Valley.  Like in Ireland sun rays entered this Earth Lodge twice a year in what are now the months of February and October and shone directly on the fire pit.  This engineered phenomenon shows the brain power of Stone Age humans.

The 11 mile Ocmulgee Heritage Trail will take visitors along the Ocmulgee River but not to this National Historical Park. The trail ends downtown at New Street not too far from the also-worth-seeing Tubman Museum.  The permanent display about Harriet is upstairs in a museum that mostly displays contemporary African-American art, and the Tubman Museum is a fine tie-in to the current movie about her called Harriet.  On a nice day, folks like to kayak or canoe on the river and hike this trail.  These are only 3 of the notable attractions in this Georgia city.




I heard about the Casata della Marmore recently and got to thinking about waterfalls.  Some are natural, like Niagara; and some are made by human engineers, like Casata.  I have hundreds of photos of waterfalls I have seen during travels, and they are dramatic and usually taken in a crowd of photographers.  Most people look at them, take a few pictures, and leave.  Why do we like these cascades so much?  Some come straight down in a rush like the one above taken in Iceland.  Some flow haphazardly down a steep mountainside like the one at the bottom, and others separate into multiple thundering streams, like Shoshone Falls below in Twin Falls, Idaho.  No matter how they flow, the really big ones attract a crowd.

The most dramatic cascades I have ever seen are the Iguazu Falls between Brazil and Argentina.  Ruth and I were lucky enough to get under one of them with an entire soccer team.  Or unlucky, depending on the way you view experiences.  The most unexpected falls were the one in Greece at Edessa.  Seen partially below, they were created by earthquakes but adapted by humans to provide free electricity and to make textile factories possible for the benefit of the local economy.  One of my favorites is isolated Palouse Falls in a Washington State Park in the southeastern part of my state.

The Casata della Marmore is the tallest human-made waterfall in the world.  It was created during the Roman Empire in 271 BCE.   The Romans were great engineers and needed to drain a swamp to kill mosquitoes.  The Casata della Marmore resulted.  Today someone in an Italian hydroelectric plant flips a switch 2 times a day to start the flow of a plunging waterfall to the Nera Valley below.  The drop is 541 feet, and this Casata has become a major tourist attraction, but only twice a day.  I do not have a photo of this phenomenon. Yet.


Towns Named Decatur


The largest town named Decatur is in Illinois.  Ruth and I went through it many times on our way to Champagne-Urbana and Chicago.  There isn’t much to do in Decatur for the roughly 76,000 humans who live there.  The only point of interest listed is Scovill Zoo.   The 2nd largest Decatur appears to be in Alabama.  It’s reported that about 55,000 people live there.  Number 3 is Decatur, Georgia, with a population of about 20,000.  it is near Atlanta.  This seems to be the liveliest Decatur of all with, according to one travel-oriented website, 21 points of interest.

Depending on which source you believe, there are 17 towns named Decatur in the United States.  Wikipedia adds Decatur, Wisconsin, to its list.  The other Decaturs are much smaller than the 3 identified above.  There are Decaturs in New York, Missouri, and Ohio.  The most westerly town named  Decatur is in Washington, my state.  It is on Decatur Island and I have not been there.  When a researcher tries to find out why there are so many Decaturs and asks the meaning of “Decatur”, he or she is told that they are towns in Illinois and Georgia.  That’s it!  So, who or what is Decatur?

Researching, I learned about Decatur Island in the San Juans.  These are very scenic and diverse islands in Puget Sound near Canada’s Gulf Islands.  There are 4 major streets named Decatur somewhere.  There are several Decatur counties in the United States.  There is even an asteroid named Decatur.  He must have been important, but I still didn’t know who Decatur was.

But then I found out about Stephen Decatur, American naval hero and a force in the War of 1812 about the time that the American frontier was moving west.  Since so many towns are named after political figures, it’s logical to assume that settlers moving toward the Mississippi River would establish towns and name them after a naval hero or national figure.  There are, after all, 27 Madisons in the United States, and President James Madison, who was the President at the start of the War of 1812, wasn’t exactly a George Washington or Abraham Lincoln.  To ensure credibility, I went back to find out why at least 17 towns are named Decatur, and the first 10 or so I checked were indeed named after Stephen Decatur.  All 17 counties were named for him.

Who was Stephen Decatur, Jr?  That’s him up top thanks to Wikipedia.  He rose to the level of Commander in the U.S. Navy.  Decatur served in the two Barbary Wars and captured a major ship named the USS President in the War of 1812.  He  commanded several famous ships like The Enterprise and The Constitution.  He also supervised the construction of several vessels.  He had an illustrious career and lived in Washington, DC but never went into politics because he died relatively young in a duel with James Barron.   In his early 40s Stephen Decatur made some remarks about Barron’s conduct.  Barron was facing a court-martial at the time.  Barron challenged Decatur to a duel when this was a far more common way to settle a dispute.  A good shot, Decatur expected to merely wound Barron, who survived the battle.  Decatur was shot and died of his wound, had a major funeral, and had several towns named after him.





Georgian Cheltenham’s Charms

Cheltenham is a good place in England to spend a couple of nights despite its reputation for snobbery.  We did not find it so.  In fact, an employee in its train station practically walked Ruth & me all the way so we would not miss our modest motel.  Cheltenham is a city of more than 100,000 in the Cotswolds with good and easy rail service to London and bus service to many desirable destinations.  From Cheltenham we went to and returned the same day from Broadway, Winchcombe, Sudeley Castle, Gloucester Cathedral, and Chipping Campden.  Like Bath, which is 50 miles south of Cheltenham, this city is known for its affluence, Georgian architecture, and cosmopolitan spirit.

Cheltenham is still like what most of England used to be.  It’s not a place for Brexit supporters and those who favor multi-cultural atmospheres.  There seem to be many schools here where students wear traditional uniforms, manners are taught, and outsiders are discreetly talked about behind their backs when criticism is deemed necessary.  Some would say it’s a white-privilege kind of city that’s known for its many festivals which invite people here to experience its old-fashioned charms.  It is, in fact, named “The Festival City” and its calendar noted wine, chili, and horse race festivals.  There was a festival almost every month.  Literature about Cheltenham raves about its cultural life, its wide tree-lined streets, its walkability.   Like Bath, it’s known for its springs and spas that once specialized in treating and curing tropical ailments.   I was not surprised to learn that poet Alfred Lord Tennyson lived here and that it’s home to the world’s oldest literature festival.

Connecticut Hall, 1752, Yale’s oldest building. Yale University campus, New Haven, Connecticut.

Cheltenham’s Georgian architecture is outstanding and obvious.  It was the most popular style in England in the late 17th and most of the 18th century.  Based on the designs of Italian architect Andrea Palladio, Georgian buildings meant symmetry and proportion with frequent columns, fan lights over doors, many windows with pediments often over them, and elegant interiors.  Many times larger Georgian buildings gently curve.  They are orderly to excess.  We walked by Neptune’s Fountain many times on our way to The Promenade where busses to elsewhere could be boarded.  A fountain reportedly modeled on Rome’s too touristy Trevi, Neptune seems to be Cheltenham’s major Italian icon.