The Most – and Least – Honest Cities?

Posted on Sep 26, 2013 | Comments Off on The Most – and Least – Honest Cities?


Reader’s Digest conducted a global, social experiment to find out the relative honesty of several cities. The reporters “lost” 192 wallets in cities around the world. In each, they put a name with a cellphone number, a family photo, coupons, and business cards, plus the equivalent of $50. They “dropped” 12 wallets in each of the 16 cities  selected, leaving them in parks, near shopping malls, and on sidewalks.

The results:

Most honest: Helsinki, Finland. Wallets returned: 11 out of 12.

Mumbai, India. Wallets returned: 9 out of 12.

Budapest, Hungary. Wallets returned: 8 out of 12.

New York City, U.S.A.. Wallets returned: 8 out of 12.

Moscow, Russia. Wallets returned: 7 out of 12.

Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Wallets returned: 7 out of 12.

Berlin, Germany. Wallets returned: 6 out of 12.

Ljubljana, Slovenia. Wallets returned: 6 out of 12.

London, England. Wallets returned: 5 out of 12.

Warsaw, Poland. Wallets returned: 5 out of 12.

Bucharest, Romania. Wallets returned: 4 out of 12.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Wallets returned: 4 out of 12.

Zurich, Switzerland. Wallets returned: 4 out of 12.

Prague, Czech Republic. Wallets returned: 3 out of 12.

Madrid, Spain. Wallets returned: 2 out of 12.

Least honest: Lisbon, Portugal. Wallets returned: 1 out of 12. Oh, and the couple that returned the wallet were visiting from Holland.

Of the 192 wallets dropped, 90 were returned—47 percent. As we looked over our results we found that age is no predictor of whether a person is going to be honest or dishonest; young and old both kept or returned wallets; male and female were unpredictable; and comparative wealth seemed no guarantee of honesty. There are honest and dishonest people everywhere.

Read more: http://www.rd.com/slideshows/most-honest-cities-lost-wallet-test/#ixzz2fy7yGPbi

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Thailand’s Elephants – An Educated Appraisal

Posted on Sep 12, 2013 | Comments Off on Thailand’s Elephants – An Educated Appraisal

John Roberts Anantara's Conservation Director

Brave New World (or why you should support your local trekking camp)

By John Roberts
12 September 2013 04:25:00

This is a repeat of a blog written by John Roberts, the expert behind the elephant training program of Anantara Golden Triangle. The original can be found here: http://elephant-tails.anantara.com/Brave-New-World–or-why-you-should-support-your-local-trekking-camp-/


Ladies and gentlemen, I believe have seen a future for captive elephants in Thailand, at least the foreseeable future (I reckon that to be about 5 years) and I’m here to tell you that, unless we do something constructive, it is bleak.

The future, I believe, of the captive Thai elephant is to spend ten/twelve hours a day walking in a circle with three people on her back, without rest, without good fodder, without jungle time.  The future is to emulate a machine.

The reason for this is not, I believe, cruelty, the reason is ignorance.  Ignorance on the part of some new camp owners who have no idea about elephants, ignorance on the part of the guests who know nothing about elephants but want the experience of sitting on one as, as yet, they have no idea there are other ways to get close and, yes, ever forgiving no matter how many times they prove me wrong, ignorance on the part of the mahouts who have never actually worked, & I mean really worked, liked the old days in the forest or in the logging yards, their elephants so really don’t have an idea how much, or how little, elephants can stand.

The old style trekking camps are not, were never, like this.

So what has changed?  Well, exactly what we said would change.  Thailand has suddenly been discovered as a tourist destination by our very large, very populous neighbour to the North: China.

Every tourism operator worth the title businessman is configuring his business to welcome Chinese guests.  Don’t get me wrong, this is a great thing for Thailand and for the globe, for wildlife in general – “the Chinese” are so often demonised as the cause of all wildlife and ecological ills, I’ve pointed out in these pages and on the web how I’ve not found this to be true in travels to my little part of that massive country, that the chance to actually engage guests that have traveled down the river to join us and explain our points of view have been enlightening and have fallen on fertile ground – despite what many would have you believe wildlife conservation is not an unknown concept in China and most of the folks I’ve had the pleasure of talking to have been keen to learn more, the wild elephants in Xishuangbanna & Pu’er are far more tolerated when they visit a village than they are in some other parts of Asia.

What does every guest, from wherever in the world, want to do when they come to Thailand? (well, yes, that too, oh, yes, and that as well – Thailand is popular for many reasons) but also ride an elephant.  It is kind of one of our trademarks.

I’ve told you before that riding an elephant, an elephant trek in the saddle, is not an inherently bad thing – anyone who tells you it is is either projecting their dislike (which I share) of having captive beasts onto your decision making (while ignoring the history involved and the fact that, until a month ago, an unridden elephant was an unfed elephant) or trying to push their own business agenda.

My point is that, when you welcome even .0001% of the Chinese traveling population to Thailand you are welcoming a lot of people, I’m not sure of the figures but as I travel around Bangkok and other tourist cities, a little empirical study shows me that it won’t be long before our Northern neighbours become the number one nationality to visit.

What’s more China is a boom country, these aren’t your dodgy backpackers grumbling about paying more than 20 baht for a bowl of phad thai, these are guys that are happy to pay a fair price for what they get.

Perfect guests and a lot of them.

So, if you’re a Thai businessman with no consideration that elephants can get tired, you have an unlimited supply of guests and a limited supply of elephants what are you going to do?  …and this is the future and I have seen it:

You get as many elephants as you can and you have them walk in circles for ten/twelve hours a day (the mahouts eat lunch on their eles) they can drop off one set of guests, walk fifteen ele paces unladen (though, obviously with the saddle and ropes still on) and pick up two new guests, follow the arse of the elephant in front of them for fifteen minutes along a well trod route until they get to the ‘off’ platform drop their guests, walk fifteen unladen paces….

Repeat until your legs give out.

From my perspective the guests may as well have paid to get on a merry go round, would at least be merrier – still, what you don’t know, you don’t know and everyone gets to say they’ve been on an elephant, gets a photo to take home.

Now, as I said above, trekking is not inherently bad, when it becomes bad is when it is overdone.  When the saddle is not removed between treks, when there are too many treks, where rubbed skin is not dealt with where – and this is important – the elephant HAS to work in order to make money/food.

That’s when mahouts push elephants to and then beyond their limits.

Interestingly (& we’re losing elephants to this phenomenon here but this is not what that’s about) despite the earnings promised to mahouts and owners for taking their elephants to these camps – it’s a good time to be a mahout if you just want to make money, the bust time is over, the money these camps are offering on a base salary + tip + ‘working minute’ bonus is huge – the old guys are resisting.

The old mahouts from Surin (some of our guys) and ‘other’ big elephant owning community from the mountains above Chiang Mai so far want no part of it, I think this is because they’ve all done hard work on their elephants, they’ve all seen mahouts work elephants too hard – back in the old days up in the forest when the work was truly hard – they know the damage that can be done.

Young guys without that experience and with the promise of a lot of ready cash, well, they’re off (in some case overruling the direct order of very respected elders).  What can we say?  The money’s huge.

So, what can we do?

Well, support your local Trekking Camp for one, I’m thinking the ones up in Chiang Mai, but in other places too, camps run by families that have, for generations, looked after elephants – be it in the logging or the tourism business – stuck by the eles in the hard times and, yes, made a profit in the good times.  Camps that employ vets, or work with the Government vets, camps that understand elephants, nutrition and workloads, places that know elephants need to rest.

Of course, it would be easier for me to give you the opposite advice – we are not a trekking camp, it would be easy for me to join the rising tide of voices calling for the abandonment of trekking, come ONLY to my camp, we’re the only ones doing it right!

But hey, we actually care about elephants, and that is bad advice.  An unridden elephant is no longer an unemployed elephant, in the current climate the owner or mahout will have no choice but to make an unridden elephant a violently overworked, undernourished elephant.

If you want to visit a camp with a no hooks, no chains message, that’s your right – but believe me every captive elephant/human interaction is a form of control, some camps really do not use hooks and chains but they use other control methods, some better, some worse day to day, all worse when things get out of control; most camps just use different control methods when you’re around and revert to hooks and chains when you’re not.

But do go if that’s what your conscience tells you to do.

However, please do not use your visit there as an excuse to push your opinion on others – I have been watching the “boycott trekking and let the industry collapse” campaigns (the “go only to the camp I went to” campaigns) for ten years now.

I’ve seen one or two informed reports and a thousand campaigning websites come and go for ten years and guess what?  The trekking industry is far, far stronger than I’ve ever seen it, the price to buy an elephant to take it trekking is now almost three times what it was ten years ago (partially thanks to people buying elephants to prevent them from trekking but mostly within the business).

This industry ain’t going to collapse any time soon – it’s growing and mopping up every able bodied elephant – the ONLY result of informed (and ‘informed’ is a funny concept; I’ve been living in elephant land for fifteen years now, have visited camps of all colours and messages by surprise and pre-announced, undercover and overt, spoken with, drunk whisky with, elders, mahouts, campaigners, camp owners, researchers, soul searchers, scientists and conservationists and I’ve seen no evidence of many of the ‘facts’ that turn up on campaigning websites, how folks who’ve spent far less time, traveled to far fewer places and not sat with as many people get their information with enough certainty to feel they can present it as factual is anyone’s guess).

Sorry, start that paragraph again the ONLY result of ‘informed’ guests (even the entire Thai traveling public of a single European nation) boycotting the camps that look after elephants properly is that the elephant owners will have no choice but to take a payrise and join the new camps that do not.

The trekking industry when controlled and limited by people who see their elephants as an asset and who understand the physical, and to a certain extent mental, needs of an elephant may not be perfect but it is neither demonic nor dangerous and it is currently the only sustainable answer for the majority of captive Thai elephants.

Rather than demonise these folks with spurious claims why not work with them as we have, to introduce positive reinforcement training, as the Thai Elephant Conservation Centre do to introduce the mahouts to basic health care and education, as we both do to offer veterinary support? – talk to them, in fact, you’ll probably find they understand these things far better than you gave them credit for and use these techniques far more commonly than you’ve been told.

In the meantime we’ll continue to happily welcome our Chinese guests, give them our points of view and, as we do with all guests, both sides of every argument, we’ll work (as we already do on ivory and conservation education issues) with media from our Northern neighbour and with Chinese language media within Thailand to ensure that a bigger picture is pushed out there – ensure that as many people as possible understand that 15 minutes on the back of an elephant walking in a circle is not the only elephant experience available and that elephants can get tired.

We’ll explain that trekking is not inherently a bad thing and that an informed choice of camp is essential and we’ll keep our attention on the English reading world too to continue to explain the same thing but may add the message that a demonising website based on lies and inaccuracies, or even an informed report based on anti-captivity prejudices (which, again, I share), will do nothing to help even the elephants in question and, if 100% successful, will make the lives of those elephants violently worse.

In short, check it out first and ensure it’s a good one but support your local trekking camp.

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Flight by Flight Upgrade Auctions

Posted on Sep 9, 2013 | Comments Off on Flight by Flight Upgrade Auctions

How much would you pay for the lie-flat bed and quilted duvet?

The good news is that getting bumped up to Business Class just got more affordable. Last month, Iberia became the latest carrier to roll out an online auction scheme that allows customers to bid for seating upgrades.

“Everyone knows that if no one is sitting in seat 2a when the plane takes off from London to New York, it’s a loss for the airline. But everyone in economy wants that seat,” explains Ken Harris, the founder and CEO of Plusgrade, the software company that developed the system. “The idea was to help correct that, and do it intelligently.”

The setup works differently for each airline, depending on their specifications. Some carriers offer upgrades to First Class as well.

Who is allowed to participate in the bidding process also varies. Often, the selection process is determined by the route and the number of leftover premium seats. On occasion, a customer’s frequent flyer status might also come into play.

Auctioning off flight upgrades

Furthermore, bidding is blind; customers enter how much they’re willing to pay, and if that number exceeds other bids (and the airlines keep that information top secret), they win. The cost of an upgrade is extremely variable, depending on the airline, season and route.

Carriers are shy to reveal how much is necessary in securing a winning bid, though it’s fair to say the price is less than a full-fare, Business Class ticket.

The idea that you can simply smile at a ticket agent and get gifted a free upgrade is a romantic notion that simply doesn’t happen.
Ken Harris, Plusgrade

The concept has gained traction with the airline community. A dozen carriers have already introduced upgrade auctions to their websites with the help of Plusgrade and he expects to double that number before the year is out.

Still, one can’t help but wonder if the airlines risk eating into their premium revenues.

Jamie Baker, an airline analyst at JP Morgan, says it’s a possibility.


“If airlines make it too easy to pay for an upgrade, it might dilute what the traveler would initially be willing to pay for that ticket,” he notes. “As a result, airlines tend to control the capacity of award seats. There’s a certain amount of experimentation in the process that is required.”

Harris, however, seems confident the bidding system will not impact premium-seating sales.

“There’s no guarantee that simply because you’ve requested an upgrade, you’ll receive it,” he says.

“If you want to sit in Business Class and your budget allows you to do so, you should buy that seat. It’s the only guarantee you won’t be sitting in the back of the plane on your next trip across the ocean.”

This service is for the passenger that just wants to treat himself for a little extra, and can live with the uncertainty.
Stephanie Kunath, Austrian Airlines

Austrian Airlines has one of the more democratic approaches to the process. Everyone, regardless of frequent flyer status, can bid on an upgrade, assuming any are available on the flight in question.

The airline isn’t worried about hurting their profits, because they view the full-fare seats and auction upgrades as two different products, even though passengers who win an upgrade receive the exact same benefits as someone who paid up front, including access to premium lounges and extra baggage allowances.


“This product is for a completely different type of group,” explains Stephanie Kunath, Austrian’s director of revenue management and business development.

“It’s not for the business traveler who really wants to fly Business Class and needs a 100% guarantee that he can. It’s for the passenger that just wants to treat himself for a little extra, and can live with the uncertainty.”

While bidding for seats might not hurt an airline’s bottom line, the advent of these auctions will likely eat away at the number of free upgrades awarded passengers.

“It probably will erode the complimentary upgrade process to a certain degree, and airlines do run the risk of offending their elite traveler, who has become accustomed to complimentary upgrades,” says Baker.

Harris, however, argues that free bump-ups are the stuff of fantasy.

“Free upgrades are really only given by necessity in operational situations or given to frequent flyers,” he says. “The idea that you can simply smile at a ticket agent and get gifted a free upgrade is a romantic notion. It simply doesn’t happen.”

From CNN

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Child-free zones on airlines: good idea or discrimination?

Posted on Aug 23, 2013 | 4 comments

Aug 22, 2013

Following Malaysia Airlines’ famous move to ban all babies from first class in 2011, another airline has created child-free zones on their planes.

Huffington Post reports that Scoot, a budget Singapore-based airline, will enact “ScootinSilence,” where passengers can be upgraded to a 41-seat cabin of the plane (rows 21 to 25) where children under the age of 12 are banned for roughly $14USD.

What’s more, the child-free cabin will have more legroom than the rest of the airplane. Check out the plane’s floorplan here

Of the move, Campbell Wilson, the airline’s CEO, said, “No offense to our young guests or those traveling with them – you still have the rest of the aircraft.”

AirAsia X also introduced a quiet zone earlier this year.

iTravelTree doesn’t understand why more airlines don’t take steps to point out the need to brief parents on pressure equalisation so the child doesn’t start the flight with an ear ache? That would remove many of the problems of sharing flights with young passengers. Meanwhile, more leg-room plus peace and quiet for $14 more: that sounds like a deal, Scoot.

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Antarctica and The Boys Who Wouldn’t Grow Up

Posted on Aug 21, 2013 | Comments Off on Antarctica and The Boys Who Wouldn’t Grow Up


This week, Fern Siegel of the Huffington Post reviewed a play about the friendship between J M Barrie, author of Peter Pan, and Robert Falcon Scott, valiant hero of Antarctica. The review is at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/fern-siegel/stage-door-the-mythmakers_b_3777716.html.
It started us thinking of unlikely friendships of the time. Perhaps the most unlikely was the dinner of Old Boys of London’s Dulwich College where Sir Ernest Shackleton (Antarctica and the Endurance) was seated alongside PG Wodehouse (creator of Jeeves and Bertie Wooster). Now that would be a conversation to sit in on but apparently they got on very well.

The Mythmakers

Posted: 08/19/2013 7:59 am

Friendships can be tricky, especially when people are as seemingly different as J.M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan, and R. F. Scott, the Antarctic explorer. They are the subject of The Mythmakers, a UK import for the New York International Fringe Festival, now playing at Teatro Latea August 20, 24 and 25.

Written by Rose MacLennan Craig and Richard White, The Mythmakers addresses the relationship between two men at the top of their game.

The intimate 70-minute production examines an Edwardian friendship loaded with affection and respect, but kept at a certain emotional distance. Barrie and Scott are adept at articulating their passions, but less successful at dipping into the subtle recesses of the heart.

At first glance, they may seem an unusual pair; but their relationship, portrayed with great feeling by Steve Hay (Barrie) and Jonathan Hansler (Scott), is quietly engaging.

Both were celebrities in pre-World War I England. Barrie had once dreamed of becoming an explorer, but pursued a literary career instead, to great acclaim. Conversely, Scott, heralded from his first South Pole expedition, longed to be a writer, but family pressure pushed him into a naval career.

What they share is a passion for adventure; though Barrie’s exists in the realm of imagination. He dreams of accompanying Scott to the South Pole, which the explorer describes as a place of “terrible beauty” with “ice as architecture.” Scott is poetic in his imagery, lured by the dangers of the icy kingdom. Barrie is envious of his fearlessness. YetMythmakers, nicely directed by Sarah Berger, records the moment they became estranged, just before Scott left for his final, deadly journey.

In fact, when Scott died in 1912, Barrie was heartbroken. Among Scott’s undelivered letters, found when his body was discovered, a poignant one to Barrie read: “I never met a man in my life whom I admired and loved more than you…”

Today, movies often reduce male friendship to a silly bromance of boys who refuse to grow up. Barrie and Scott remind us that adult friendships are based on deep, abiding connections. And though both are better at discussing big themes versus their respective domestic travails, The Mythmakers provides a peek into the mind-set of two compelling figures.

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Hydro Majestic Hotel Begins Again

Posted on Jun 15, 2013 | Comments Off on Hydro Majestic Hotel Begins Again

Hydro Majestic Hotel


The much-anticipated revitalisation of the iconic Hydro Majestic Hotel has commenced in early 2013, a $30 million redevelopment aimed at reviving its golden age.  Owners Huong Nguyen and George Saad are behind the grand revival. The couple paid $11 million for the property five years ago.  Following almost four years of detailed planning and review, the Hydro is scheduled to open in two stages, with Stage (1) building works scheduled for completion in April 2014. Opening is scheduled for July 2014.

The long awaited opportunity to peel back the layers and rediscover the essence of the most famous historic holiday resort in the Blue Mountains has arrived. The refurbishment scheme will see the hotel’s facilities, interiors and gardens – which now stretch more than a kilometre across the escarpment – revitalised to a world-class standard. Past glories, architectural and design aspects, and lost atmospherics are to be revived and rediscovered, while a touch of the here-and-now is set to take the building into the future.

Stage One will include the revitalisation of the majority of the existing buildings including the Casino Building, The Wintergarden, The Billiard Room and Cat’s Alley, The Delmonte Building and Conference Rooms and The Majestic Ballroom. This famous and fondly remembered space will have a beautiful new Lobby and pre-function area and will also include a large garden reception terrace.

Casino Lobby Artists impression

Casino Lobby Artists impression

majestic ballroom Artists impression

majestic ballroom Artists impression

winter garden Artists impression

winter garden Artists impression


The new Mark Foy Pavilion will reflect the spirit of the much-loved Easter Show Pavilions of Sydney’s old showgrounds. Operating as a magnificent interactive living history space and the vibrant Providores showcase – demonstrating the best regional gourmet food and wine of the area: A Taste of The Blue Mountains. This retail and exhibition space will be a tourism destination: a place to discover the history of theHydro, including multimedia screening suites, tours and places to discover the amazing produce of the Blue Mountains and surrounding regions (including Bathurst,Mudgee, Orange and the Western Plains).

Hydro View

The Boiler House (which has been neglected for decades) is to be restored, celebrating the fact that the Blue Mountains was wired for electricity four days beforethe Sydney metropolitan region. The Boiler House will be opened to the public for the first time in history, and is to include the gallery and beautiful Megalong Terrace Café looking over the breathtaking Majestic Point Lookout.

The new Majestic Point Lookout, picnic and market grounds will provide public access to the best views of the Megalong Valley. Located 10 minutes drive from Jamison Valley in Katoomba, the lookout provides a panoramic vista for picnics, music and the lost art of public promenading!

The rejuvenation and expansion of the accommodation facilities at the Hydro Majestic are planned for 2 years following the opening of Stage One. During this time the Belgravia Wing will be used to house the Hotel Management Institute, an exciting new hospitality school with its first intake scheduled for Feb 2014 .

The challenges of adding another layer of history to these significant buildings have not been taken lightly. A team of highly regarded heritage experts, architecture specialists and designers have been enlisted to realise this vision, with particular weight being given to examining and respecting the Hydro Majestic’s social history and heritage.

The team has been assembled by Sydney based hotel investors and is under theguidance of the acclaimed heritage consultant Graham Brooks with Jonathan Bryant of Graham Brooks & Associates, with over 30 years of professional experience inAustralia, Asia, UK, Europe and US.
“We are all proud to play a key role in the revival of the much loved Hydro Majestic at Medlow Bath,” said Brooks. “The Hydro Majestic Hotel has developed eccentrically over time under the guidance of retail baron Mark Foy, from relatively humble beginnings as an Edwardian house hotel and hydropathic resort to its glory years as a grand hotel and resort between the two World Wars. Throughout, it has enjoyed periods of great success and periods of lengthy decline. Despite recent refurbishment under previous owners, the hotel has become increasingly run down, with a host of inherent short comings that have never been appropriately or comprehensively addressed. We are delighted that the current scheme to rejuvenate the hotel includes a comprehensive plan to revive gardens, interiors and facilities to a truly world class standard.”

The team philosophy is mindful of the past but always has an eye to the future, to ensure the hotel continues to live well beyond current generations. Our alterations choose to borrow from the existing structures, enhance the old and provide a feeling of total renewal.
The vision for the rejuvenation is to continue the Hydro Majestic’s unique and eclectic combination of architectural styles; where additions made to the hotel over the past hundred years reflect time and place. Architect Ashkan Mostaghim of Mostaghim &Assoc has created a series of magnificent new additions for Stage One and Stage Two of the development. The Mark Foy Pavilion and the new Belgravia and Mark Foy Wings add the 21st century layer to this famous Australian landmark – with absolute style and reverence for the staged form that is the Hydro Majestic.

International interior designer Peter Reeve of CRD will create luxurious, new, and historically-inspired interiors which reference the past and fold into the present with absolute luxe. They will work to harness the atmosphere and mood of the Hydro Majestic with a range of carpets and rich textiles based on period influences, timbers and stones, referencing the austere beauty of the Edwardian, the generosity of the Art Nouveau of the Belle Époque and moments of Art Deco.

Using the whites and soft tones taken from its original palette and expressed against the elegant contrast of ebonised timber and Black Japan, the interiors will work to reflect the Hydro’s flamboyant origins under the auspices of the retail baron Mark Foy. Design cues are also seen in the Raffles of Singapore and the Lavinia in Sri Lanka – sister hotels in a time of Empire, reflecting the flavour of the original Hydro Majestic.

The Avenue of Pines is to be reinstated with magnificent new landscape plantings reflecting the great gardens of the Blue Mountains and inspired by legendary landscape architect Paul Sorensen. The historic croquet lawn will live again, plus a beautiful new garden terrace entry to the Majestic Ballroom and lookout and escarpment aprons, encompassing a unique horticultural vision incorporating both European and Australian plantings.

Steeped in historical and social significance, the newly renovated Hydro Majestic Hotel, with its outstanding facilities, fine dining and accommodation, is set to offer an enormous boost to tourism and employment in the region and will re-establish the Blue Mountains as a glamorous national and international tourist destination.

The Hydro’s original owner Mark Foy was a visionary and this next chapter aims to continue his grand vision for the Blue Mountains.

Official Site

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The “Mary Rose” Museum has opened in Portsmouth

Posted on Jun 2, 2013 | Comments Off on The “Mary Rose” Museum has opened in Portsmouth

29 May 2013

The Mary Rose: A Tudor ship’s secrets revealed

Graphic: Cutaway showing the Mary Rose
By Eleanor WilliamsBBC News

More than 30 years after it was raised from the seabed – and almost 500 years since it sank – the secrets of Henry VIII’s flagship, the Mary Rose, are being revealed to the public – along with the faces of its crew.

Just yards from where it was first constructed from 600 oak trees near Portsmouth’s naval docks in 1510, the wreck of the Tudor warship now stands on view in its new £35m home.

Where once stood a proud, cutting-edge ship built for war, now lies a reconstructed array of wooden decks and pillars, withered by their hundreds of years at the bottom of the Solent.

Standing nearby are some of the men who shared a grave with the ship for hundreds of years, their faces now reconstructed and displayed for the first time.

Viewed through windows on three separate floors, the preserved wreck stands opposite some of its 19,000 artefacts recovered from the depths.

Mary Rose cannonsThe Mary Rose carried both new modern bronze cannons and old medieval wrought iron ones.

Within the exhibition the recreated decks, dimly lit interiors and groaning sounds of the sea outside all combine to give the sense of being on board the 16th Century vessel.

The crew’s quarters are all visible, while rows of cannons line the main deck, pointing out of the open gunports ready to be fired at enemy ships.

It is a Tudor time capsule – dubbed “Britain’s Pompeii” by historian David Starkey – and its custodians cannot wait to show it off.

“What we’re aiming to achieve here is a mirror image of the ship and to show artefacts where they belonged,” explains Nick Butterley, exhibition co-ordinator.

“So many things in this gallery you can immediately look at and understand what they are. That’s one of the real beauties of the collection, how realistic and normal it feels.”

Every artefact on show here is an original piece found with the wreck. Some of the cannons were still sticking out of the gunports when it was discovered in 1971.

The Mary Rose was raised from the seabed of the Solent in 1982, and has been on display before, but it is only now that insights into life on board are being shown to the public.

Forensic scientists, more used to working with murder victims, have recreated the faces of seven of the about 500 men who died when the ship sank in 1545.

The new Mary Rose Museum has been dedicated to them, and it is through them the story of the ship is now being told.

Curators had no list of crew names, just numbers. Only the names of the vice admiral, Sir George Carew, and the master, Roger Grenville, are known.

Maritime archaeologist Alex Hildred was part of the team who excavated and raised the wreck and has since studied the human remains to discover more about the men and boys – whose ages range from 12 to 40 – found on board.

“You’ve got a really good glimpse of Tudor males at a moment in time,” she says. “It’s a healthy, living population, you are not looking at a churchyard.

“They were pretty well fed once they were on the ship – we know that from the diet. But there had been severe famines in the 1520s, so some of their bones have got evidence of vitamin deficiency, such as rickets or sometimes scurvy from the fact that they suffered as children.

“They’ve also got a lot of healed fractures – which is what you’d expect on a warship – a number of broken noses, one arrow wound and some arthritis. These guys were used to lifting heavy things.”

The human remains found are displayed in galleries at the bow and stern of the ship, along with thousands of artefacts.

“This is where we personalise the collection, trying to show that these objects belonged to real people who lived and sadly died on the ship,” explains maritime archaeologist Christopher Dobbs, giving the BBC a guided tour.

Forensic artist Oscar Nilsson explains to Robert Hall how he created a model of one of the sailors who drowned on the Mary Rose

“One thing that’s so powerful about the Mary Rose collection is that we found a number of chests in the ship and they tell us about an individual person, because they contain the objects that belonged to a person.”

He says the master carpenter’s chest, for example, contained three plates, a tankard, a sundial, a book and even a backgammon set – indicating “quite a wealthy person”.

“We also, just outside the carpenter’s cabin, found the skeleton of a dog,” he adds.

“It’s these tiny insights that we’ve got into Tudor life, as well as the obvious things like guns and rigging, that really make our display so exceptional.”

Trapped and drownedWhen the Mary Rose was built, it was part of a new generation of modern carvel-built ships – planks laid side to side – which featured gunports with lids, allowing heavier guns to be carried.

The warship fought its first battle in 1512 against France after King Henry VIII joined Pope Julius II’s Holy League against the French the previous year. It fought many more over the next 34 years.

Mary RoseThe recovered wreck is on show behind glass walls opposite the artefacts

But Mary Rose’s life as a serving Navy ship came to an abrupt end on 19 July 1545, when it sank during the Battle of the Solent while, once again, leading the attack on the French invasion fleet.

Francis I was attempting an invasion of England with 30,000 soldiers and more than 220 ships – much larger than the more well-known Spanish Armada 43 years later.

Christopher DobbsMaritime archaeologist

The English had about 60 ships and 12,000 soldiers, but managed to fight off the French who eventually retreated the day after the Mary Rose sank.

Only 35 men survived disaster, according to contemporary records. Many would have been trapped under the anti-boarding netting and drowned.

Legend has it that Henry VIII watched in horror from Southsea castle along with the wife of Vice Admiral Sir George Carew.

As the ship sank, the cries and screams from the drowning men and boys could be heard back on land. The loss of the ship is said to have affected the king deeply.

Accounts on what happened that day differ, but one survivor claimed the ship had just fired its guns on one side and was turning to fire from the other when the wind caught its sails and plunged the open gunports below the water, which sank it.

French historians claim its forces were responsible for sinking the Mary Rose in battle.

For the next 300 years the Mary Rose – like a snapshot of Tudor military life – lay undisturbed on the seabed.

Even though many items from the wreck were raised by early pioneering divers John and Charles Deane in 1836, the site was then lost again for another 100 years.

It was finally located again in 1971 and, since then, divers have made 27,000 dives to the wreck site outside the entrance to Portsmouth Harbour.

One chest got archaeologists particularly excited when they discovered it had a secret compartment. Mr Dobbs says they thought it may contain something valuable the wealthy owner was trying to hide.

“It was like a time capsule within a time capsule, within a time capsule,” explains Mr Dobbs. “But it only had a pin in it.”

“Maybe this once was used to hold together some important papers that have not survived. We will never know.”

But there are many more secrets the team is still hoping to reveal and the new museum is being heralded as a new beginning for the Mary Rose story.

Many of the items found have still not been identified, but as artefacts go on display the curators hope they are identified by experts in various fields who share their knowledge.

“We had the bishop of Portsmouth here last week and he saw this book cover and pointed out it was probably the ship’s bible cover,” Mr Dobbs adds.

“We are learning more as we go along.”

Sweden’s Vasa ship

The Vasa ship in Stockholm

The only other maritime achievement comparable to the raising and restoration of the Mary Rose is that of the 17th Century Vasa warship in Stockholm in 1961.

The flagship of King Gustav Adolf, it sank on its maiden voyage in 1628 because it had been built top heavy and did not have enough ballast.

Like the Mary Rose, the Vasa lay undisturbed on the seabed for more than 300 years.

In 1956, divers Anders Franzén and Per Edvin Fälting relocated Vasa off Beckholmen. In 1961 it was raised, refloated and moved to a dry dock.

For 17 years the Vasa was sprayed with Polyethylene Glycol (PEG), the same type of wax scientists later used to preserve the Mary Rose.

But the Vasa looks much the same as it did the day it sank because shipworms do not thrive in the brackish water of the Baltic.

Source: Vasa Museum

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Fogo Island Inn now open

Posted on May 31, 2013 | Comments Off on Fogo Island Inn now open

The Canadian Press

On a gorgeous rocky shoreline where slabs of granite meet the moody North Atlantic, one of the most intriguing gambles in Canadian tourism will soon play out on Fogo Island off Newfoundland.

The new Fogo Island Inn looms over the brightly painted salt box homes and fishermen’s sheds in Barr’d Islands, one of 10 distinct communities that are home to about 2,400 people.

The Fogo Island Inn is the culmination of a major community revitalization project. The building’s rugged minimalist architecture balances traditional influences with a contemporary sensibility, which architect Todd Saunders has made and built just for Fogo.

A cultural destination in its own right where visitors and locals meet, the Inn includes an art gallery, heritage library, cinema and rooftop sauna. Each of the 29 guest rooms is unique, with every detail chosen with purpose and handcrafted by locals. A new artist’s studio on Fogo Island called Squish (meaning off-kilter). It’s one of four new studios built to host artists from Canada and around the world.

A three-year building project expected to cost more than $25 million.

The inn won’t be just any place for weary travellers to lay their heads. Its 29 rooms with panoramic ocean views, hand-crafted furniture and quilts, locally inspired cuisine, rooftop hot tubs, saunas, conference space, and a publicly accessible art gallery, library, and cinema are meant to please discerning tastes.

Multimillionaire Zita Cobb, a native Fogo Islander who is the driving force behind the new inn, says there’s a niche of well-to-do tourists who will pay for a unique, world-class travel and cultural experience, she said there’s no reason why Fogo Island’s natural beauty should not draw big money as successfully as other exotic, albeit warmer, destinations.

The ebbs and flows of a troubled fishery have threatened Fogo Island’s survival in the past, and its future is by no means secure.

Cobb is investing more than $10 million of her own money in the inn as the provincial and federal governments add $5 million each.

“There’s risk, no question,” she said in an interview. “I mean, to do nothing is a gamble.”

Marketing Fogo
One of Cobb’s biggest marketing challenges is the widespread notion that her beloved home is on a freezing rock in the Far North. In fact, it boasts what she describes as seven seasons including hot summers, snowy winters, the ice season around March and April when mammoth icebergs drift south from Greenland, fog, rain and sun in May and June, and spectacular berry picking in the fall.

It’s a place where caribou roam, seals frolic, and people go out of their way to share directions or a good story.

A slender woman who all but hums with energy, Cobb was the only girl among seven siblings raised on Fogo Island in Joe Batt’s Arm – an inlet community named for a popular early settler, as legend has it.

Cobb moved back to the island six years ago after making her fortune as a high-tech executive and ending a long run in the corporate fast lane. Now 54, she helped create the Shorefast Foundation, a federally registered charity that aims to use business as a tool to rejuvenate the local economy in ways that work for people, not against them, she said.

“Business is not unethical. It has just been practised that way too often and for too long.”

Cobb stressed that any profits from the inn, which has already created dozens of construction jobs and is expected to employ up to about 50 people when it opens next spring, belong to the people of Fogo Island and the nearby Change Islands.

But the inn will not be Fogo Island’s saving grace, Cobb said.

“Fogo Islanders are pretty darned good at saving themselves, which they’ve done for centuries,” she said. “I’m just another Fogo Islander trying to do my bit.”

Keeping it undisturbed
Wherever possible, renewable features were incorporated into construction of the inn such as a wood-burning heating system and rainwater cisterns for laundry and toilets.

If you go: Fly to Gander, rent a car and drive about 30 minutes to catch the ferry in Farewell, which takes about an hour to Fogo Island. It’s about a four-hour drive to Farewell from St. John’s.

“We’re trying absolutely to not disturb a single lichen we don’t have to destroy,” Cobb said of the land around the 44,000-square-foot building on four levels.

Three small white crosses still standing between the new inn and the sea are testament to her respect for what she calls “sacred” surroundings. They mark a decades-old pet cemetery that’s believed to be the final resting place for at least one horse, a dog and a cat, Cobb said. They will stay.

The asymmetrical X-shape of the structure is a metaphorical intersection of old and new partially supported on stilts, recalling the fishing stages where generations of Fogo Islanders cleaned, salted, and dried their cod.

Minimal outdoor lighting will create a “dark-sky” effect for star gazing. And guests will be escorted down a foot path from the nearest parking lot by two Newfoundland dogs named Make and Break, after the old-style engines, who will live at the inn.

Artists welcome
Four smaller buildings around the island are studios for artists, filmmakers, and writers invited from Canada and around the world to spend a few months.

Author Lyn Hughes arrived earlier this summer from Sydney, Australia to work on a new novel. As she settled into her dramatic new work space perched on a seaside rock, she expressed no doubt that Zita Cobb is on to something big.

“This is a very, very rare place on our planet, a very special place,” she said. “The only place I can even compare it to that I’ve been is the Azores Islands of Portugal.”

Nicole Decker-Torraville, owner of Nicole’s Cafe, said many Fogo Islanders have great hopes for the new inn, mixed with some fear and skepticism about whether it will succeed. She is part of a small wave of 20- and 30-somethings that have moved back and want their own children to have the chance to stay.

“They can travel, but they’ll know this is their home.”

Frank Lane of Tilting, an Irish settlement on the island’s east coast, is a traditional small boat builder who hopes the inn will create new jobs but help preserve old ways.

“It’s going to be a wonderful building. I don’t know if it’s going to be for me,” he said with a smile.

“You know, I might not have the money to stay there.”

 Fogo Island Inn

Behind the Scenes

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Travel Gear – Walk this way to the Top of the World

Posted on May 30, 2013 | Comments Off on Travel Gear – Walk this way to the Top of the World

Bally Everest

Until May 29, 1953, conquering Everest had remained an unachievable dream for mankind.
It was eventually down to two members of a British team to achieve the impossible – New Zealand bee-keeper and mountaineer, Sir Edmund Hillary, and a Nepali Sherpa, Tenzing Norgay.
The pair reached the summit at 11:30 am local time on 29 May 1953. Both acknowledged it as a team effort by the whole expedition, but Tenzing revealed a few years later that Hillary had put his foot on the summit first.
When Sherpa Tenzing Norgay took his final steps to the top of the world, he made that journey in a pair of Bally Reindeer-Himalaya boots, forever linking the Swiss brand to this momentous achievement.

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