An archaeologist and writer who caught the travel bug early on and still hasn't shaken it. He's currently writing a book on Harar, Ethiopia. Sean is the author of numerous books including BYZANTIUM: AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY and the historical novel A FINE LIKENESS, set in Civil War Missouri.
The tiny Persian Gulf island nation of Bahrain is home to one of the most mysterious ancient civilizations of the Middle East.
Archaeologists have long known about a civilization called Dilmun. It's mentioned in many Mesopotamian texts as a wealthy place of "sweet water." Even the Epic of Gilgamesh mentions it, but all the sources were vague about its location.
It wasn't until the middle of the 20th century that excavations in Bahrain uncovered impressive cities and temples and proved that Dilmun was located there. Archaeologists found that Dilmun had been an important center for the Persian Gulf trade route that flourished between the Mesopotamian civilizations in what is now Iraq and the Indus Valley in southern Asia around 2000 B.C. Dilmun's trade connections also extended to civilizations in Oman, Turkey, and Syria.
Dilmun owed its importance for being one of the few spots to get fresh water along the route. Ships would stop there to rest and fill up on supplies, and Dilmun became an important player in world trade.
Now the Bahraini government is looking to make Bahrain a destination for heritage tourism. Of the two UNESCO World Heritage and five tentative sites in Bahrain, five belong to the Dilmun civilization. One of the most important, the ancient city of Saar, is now undergoing restoration after a recent excavation. The BBC reports that Bahraini archaeologists have shifted their efforts from excavating more of the site to developing it for tourism and exhibiting the many artifacts they've uncovered, such as this seal dug up near Saar.
It's an old tradition here in Europe: sit down for a meal and at the center of the table is a little bottle of olive oil for using on your bread and other food. In the finer restaurants you'll often get a dipping bowl too.
Now the Guardian reports that the European Union has banned serving olive oil in anything but sealed, throwaway containers. The EU says this is to stop fraud, claiming some restaurants substitute cheaper olive oil than what they advertise, a bit like how some bars put cheaper brands into their top-shelf liquor bottles. In fact, few restaurants actually advertise which olive oil they're serving.
The new move is also supposed to improve hygiene, although of course it will increase the amount of trash restaurants produce.
Several newspapers are lambasting the move, saying it's pointless meddling by a bloated bureaucracy that should be tackling the economic meltdown. The move has already passed, however.
So the next time you go to Europe, your authentic local meal will be a little less authentic.
A famous skate park on the South Bank of London may be turned into yet another stretch of retail sameness.
Underneath the Southbank Centre, which is home to several performing arts centers, is a covered area that looks like a cross between a cellar and an overly graffittied parking lot. It's been a meeting ground for skateboarders for 40 years. Every day you can see them doing tricks on the concrete ramps and benches while tourists and locals stop to watch and take photos.
Now the Southbank Centre wants to use the skate park as retail space to fund its new Festival Wing. It's offered to turn an area under a nearby bridge over to the skateboarders, but the local skateboarding community has rejected this, saying the new place wouldn't have the same history or sense of tradition. They've started the Long Live Southbank movement and launched an online petition to save the skate park that's garnered more than 38,000 signatures. They've also filed a request to the government to make it a protected community space.
While I'm not a skateboarder and am only in London part of the year, I'd be sad to see this place go. I've always enjoyed strolling along the South Bank. There's an open, lively feel to it that you don't get in most parts of the city, and the skate park is a big part of that. I always stop to watch the skateboarders do their thing. It's obvious that this place is important to them in a way that it isn't to me, and I don't want their community to lose it.
The 25-year-old climber first had to convince her family to allow her to make the attempt, and then had to undergo rigorous training to climb the world's tallest peak. She was part of a four-person team called Arabs on Top of the World. The team also includes Sheikh Mohammed Al Thani, the first Qatari, and Raed Zidan, the first Palestinian to make the attempt. Masoud Mohammad, an Iranian, is also on the expedition.
The team is working on a rotation system with other expeditions, so the men are currently trying to make the ascent.
The team isn't only making history; they're also making a difference. They're trying to raise $1 million for educational projects in Nepal. A donate button can be found on their website. This is a cause near and dear to Moharrak's heart. She's currently a graduate student in Dubai.
On June 9, 1863, Union cavalry crossed the Rappahannock River and attacked the Confederate cavalry under the legendary general J.E.B. Stuart. A swirling battle of some 20,000 horsemen ensued and while the Union troops eventually retired, they had proven themselves. Before this, both sides saw the rebel cavalry as superior. The Battle of Brandy Station began to change that perception.
The Trust's press release quotes historian Clark "Bud" Hall as saying that Fleetwood Hill is "without question the most fought over, camped upon and marched over real estate in the entire United States. This unpretentious little ridge has seen more military activity than any other piece of ground in American history."
The Civil War Trust only needs to raise another $193,000 and they have matching funds from the American Battlefield Protection Program and the Commonwealth of Virginia. Donations can be made here. Considering the site's historic importance, it's certainly a better way to donate money than supporting someone's Kickstarter vacation.
A senior official in China has urged Chinese tourists to improve their behavior, the South China Morning Post reports. Vice-Premier Wang Yang said the "breeding" of some Chinese tourists leaves something to be desired and there are problems with them, "talking loudly in public places, jay-walking, spitting and willfully carving characters on items in scenic zones."
Mr. Yang is backing up his warning. He made the comments at a meeting where the Communist Party passed a law that will allow travel companies to cancel their contracts with tourists who "violate social ethics." While the wording is vague, it basically means tour companies can send embarrassing guests home.
Needless to say, this bit of news is causing much snickering in the Western press, but personally I haven't noticed that Chinese tourists are any ruder than any other kind of tourist. Having lived in tourism epicenters such as Madrid and Oxford, I've seen plenty of Chinese tour groups and never witnessed any spitting. The only bit of obnoxiousness I saw was a group walking through Oxford with a tour leader giving her spiel on a megaphone. Yeah, passing through the dreaming towers of academe with a bloody megaphone. The Oxford police must have put a stop to it because I never saw it again.
Considering that the Chinese come from a culture where international tourism is a very recent phenomenon, I think on the whole they behave quite well. As China reaches out into the world, however, the government has become increasingly image conscious, doing such PR blitzes as putting on grandiose Chinese New Year's shows in places like the Estonian capital Tallinn, a city with only a tiny Chinese population.
So congratulations to Mr. Yang for being overly cautious. If only David Cameron would tell the English not to go on drunken stag trips. If only Barack Obama would tell Americans to not be so damn loud and arrogant. Yes, these stereotypes only apply to a small minority, but it's those obnoxious few that we tend to remember.
Archaeologists excavating at Lincoln Castle have discovered the remains of an early Christian community, according to a Lincolnshire County Council press release.
The team, which was digging inside the castle to clear the way for an elevator shaft, found the remains of a church that dates back at least 1,000 years. Inside a sealed niche in the wall they found human bones. They had been wrapped in finely woven cloth and while the cloth has long since disappeared, it left its impression on the surrounding mortar. Excavators theorize that these may be the remains of a holy person, as it was common to put relics in church walls and altars in order to make them holy.
An even older find included several skeletons and a stone sarcophagus. The archaeological team is planning to put an endoscopic camera into the coffin to see what's inside without disturbing it.
The Queen's Gallery at Buckingham Palace, London, is putting on a fashion show, although the fashions are more than 400 years out of date.
"In Fine Style: The Art of Tudor and Stuart Fashion" examines the luxurious clothing and jewelry worn by British monarchs and members of their court. It focuses on the two dynasties of the 16th and 17th centuries with everything from ornamental armor for a teenaged Prince of Wales to a bejeweled case for storing the black fabric patches that Queen Mary II stuck on her face to emphasize the whiteness of her skin.
Many of the items are on display for the first time, such as a diamond signet ring given by King Charles I to his wife, Queen Henrietta Maria, in 1628. It bears her cypher and the royal coat of arms. Another never-before-seen piece is a pendant of gold, rubies and diamond with a miniature portrait of Queen Elizabeth I. There are also some elegant articles of clothing like a pair of lacework gloves.
Of course, most costumes and jewelry from this period have disappeared, no matter how important their owners. To augment the exhibition there are more than 60 portraits showing royalty and nobility wearing their finest, including a startling portrait of a Duchess dressed as a man.
Where does this look like to you? I guessed central Mexico based on the Spanish signs and the mixture of dry soil and lush plants. Actually it's Brazil. The next view I looked at showed the characteristic onion domes of a Russian Orthodox Church. I guessed Russia and was correct.
This is an addictive new online game called Geoguessr. It gives you random Google Street View images and you have to click on a world map to guess where they are. You're awarded points based on how close you are.
It's surprisingly addictive. My young son, already a fan of Google Maps and MarineTraffic.com, is becoming obsessed with it. So am I. The best way to wrack up points is to explore a little. Start heading down a foreign street, studying traffic signs, plants, and passersby. They'll all give you clues as to where you are.
It's also really difficult. I've mistaken Korean writing for Chinese, the Australian Outback for Nevada and New Zealand for Hawaii. No matter how well traveled you are, this game will trip you up and make you want to play again. So if your boss has stepped out of the office for a drink, click on Geoguessr and spend some time learning a bit about how the world looks.
It sounded like one of those crazy ideas that should have led to fun and adventure and ended in triumph. Instead it ended in tragedy.
Richard Swanson, pictured here, of Seattle, decided to raise money for charity by dribbling a soccer ball 10,000 miles to Brazil in time for the 2014 World Cup. Sadly, The Guardian reports that he only made it as far as Oregon. While walking down US Highway 101 near Lincoln City he was hit by a pickup truck on Tuesday and killed. The police have ruled it an accident and the driver has not been charged.
Swanson was only two weeks and about 260 miles into his trip. He had been posting updates about his journey on his Facebook page, including a photo of the last meal he ate, a hearty breakfast in Lincoln City just hours before being killed.