Monthly Archives: December 2016

Civil War history through the lens

Alexandria, Virginia, may be most celebrated for its colonial connections to George Washington, but this charming city near the nation’s capital also claims the title of longest Union-occupied Confederate city during the Civil War. As spies, civilians, runaway slaves and soldiers intermingled in the city’s cobbled streets, elegant Carlyle House became a hospital that served wounded soldiers from both sides. The perfect setup for conflict, right?

Indeed, this fascinating period in Alexandria’s history has been captured by the PBS drama Mercy Street (pbs.org/mercy-street), now in its second season (it airs at 8pm on Sunday nights). The story centers on two volunteer nurses – one a staunch Northern abolitionist, the other an entitled Southern belle – who duke out their philosophical beliefs. Making it even more poignant, the series is based on real-life events inspired by diaries, journals and letters of Alexandrians who experienced four years of war firsthand.

Today, many of the historical places featured in the series are open to visitors to Alexandria, with Mercy Street -related special events and exhibits mounted through the year as well as walking tours organized by Visit Alexandria.In the meantime, read on for our list of seven sites featured in this drama that TV and history buffs alike shouldn’t miss.

Probably most famous for Major-General Edward Braddock’s 1755 visit during the French and Indian War, Carlyle House is an elegant colonial manse. The wealthy Green family, portrayed on Mercy Street, lived there in the mid-1800s and opened a luxury hotel on the property in 1848. When Union troops seized the hotel complex, they turned it into Mansion House Hospital.

The second floor interprets period hospital rooms, and you can read some of the patients’ letters and journals, as well as see Frank Stringfellow’s original field case. Stringfellow was a Confederate spy who went on to marry Southern belle Emma Green … what better cover than to hang out in a hospital?

 

Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum

Glass bottles fill the shelves of this colonial-era apothecary shop, which George Washington knew quite well. The Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary remained open throughout Alexandria’s occupation during the Civil War, when the Green family of Carlyle House and the Union quartermaster stopped by for everything from liquid opium (laudanum) to dental equipment to window panes.

 

Do You Plan to Visit in Chisinau

Quick, name a wine- and food-loving European city within range of ancient monasteries and world-class vineyards! You’re probably thinking of something in France or Italy. How about Chişinău, Moldova? Now better connected than ever by air to western Europe, this leafy capital makes an appealing – and affordable – short break, offering a nice mix of accessible sights, hopping nightlife and post-Soviet exoticism.

 

Day On

Morning

Day one is walking day, so fuel up at Coffee Molka, a quirky cafe that doubles as a coffee museum. This is where you can ogle antique presses and grinders while sipping coffee brewed over hot sand – an old Turkish method; make sure to ask for a demo. From here it’s a short stroll over to the Army Museum, home to a moving exhibition on repression under the Soviets. The deportations and other crimes committed by Stalin in Moldova are documented in vivid detail through dioramas, collages and sometimes graphic videos.

Once you’re sufficiently introduced to the horrors of Chişinău’s past, it’s time to enjoy the pleasures of its present. Walk northwest on the city’s main drag, B-dul Ştefan cel Mare, which contains some fine examples of fin-de-siècle architecture such as the City Hall (at No 83) and the Organ Hall (at No 81), as well as some imposing Soviet specimens. Veer southwest a couple of blocks to the grand National Archaeology & History Museum, marked by an old Soviet helicopter in the courtyard. It capably documents the 2000-year-long history of Moldova with some 300,000 artefacts. Art aficionados may prefer the well-rounded National Art Museum nearby. Both museums are on Str 31 Aug 1989, a bar and restaurant hub, so you’re well positioned for lunch.

 

Afternoon

Sample as much Moldovan cuisine as you can in 48 hours – it’s similar to Romanian food, with Russian influences. Start at Pani Pit, where Moldovan country dishes like grilled rabbit mingle with beef tartare. Eat in the peasant-themed downstairs dining room or outside in the pleasant courtyard.

Chişinău’s spiritual heart lies in two adjacent central parks; explore these after lunch. Grădina Publică Ştefan cel Mare şi Sfînt is named after Moldova’s national hero, Ştefan cel Mare, a warrior prince who defended the borders of the Moldavian principality from the Ottomans more than 500 years ago. His statue is in the southeast corner of the park. Nearby, Chişinău’s very own Arc de Triomphe marks the entrance to Parcul Catedralei. Here you’ll find the city’s main Moldovan Orthodox church, the 19th-century Nativity of Christ Metropolitan Cathedral with its impressive bell tower. You might get lucky and catch a service or a wedding here, accompanied by beautiful Orthodox choral music.

The Nordlandsbanen rail route

A journey on the Nordlandsbanen will allow you to experience fascinating tales of the past, to be stirred by the power of nature, and to taste the fresh flavours of the region.

 

The journey

Though perhaps less well-known than the Oslo-Bergen train ride, the Nordlandsbanen, which stretches northwards for 729km between regal Trondheim and spirited Bodø, could certainly lay claim to being the more unique route. As well as being Norway’s longest train line, it also crosses the Arctic Circle, one of the few railways in the world to do so.

An efficient service and spacious, comfortable trains make it a delightfully sedate way to make the ten-hour journey, but it’s the huge diversity of scenery that’s most appealing. Gently rolling, emerald-green fields rest under huge skies, and Norwegian flags whip proudly over the pillar-box red hytter (cabins) dotted haphazardly over the hillsides. Moments later, the train will track its way through dense woodland, a wall of pine trees on either side of the train breaking just long enough to snatch a two-second-long postcard of mist haunting the treetops in a shadowy forest beyond.

Then, coasting out of a tunnel, the ground falls away to one side, and suddenly a 100m-high waterfall appears. Plummeting into a churning white froth below, the roaring deluge plays out silently on the other side of the train window. Such spellbinding scenes speed past repeatedly, and then evaporate into the distance, only to be replaced by another a few moments later.

 

Highlights of the Nordlandsbanen

All aboard at Trondheim

Before you board the train in Trondheim, take some time to explore the picture-postcard pretty city itself. The compact centre is relatively flat and easy to explore on foot or by bike. Marvel at the mighty Nidaros Domkirke, an ornate Gothic cathedral built on the burial ground of the much-revered Viking King Olav II, then linger as you cross over the quaint Old Town Bridge for views of the 18th-century waterside warehouses.

Trackling with your first bike tour

Deciding to go really is the hardest part. Setting the date (and having a rough idea of duration) helps concrete your trip, giving you a deadline to work towards. First-timers should head off during the warmer months and – unless you’re keen to channel Sir Ranulph Fiennes – pick an easy route for the first week or two. Training before your tour helps, but it’s not imperative – you’ll get fit on the road.

 

 

Buy the right kit

Invest in the essentials: a good free-standing tent, a decent touring bike, waterproof panniers (bike bags) and a cooking stove. Opt for a sturdy, steel-framed touring bike with steel front and rear racks to hold your panniers. Your bags should be hard-wearing as they’ll carry everything you need such as the tent, stove, sleeping bag and mat, electronics and clothing.

Every gram and inch counts. Opt for lightweight gear and use dry bags to compress your clothes. Resist the urge to overdo it and blow your budget on gear that might not last; real kit gems such as baby wipes, mosquito spray and chlorine tablets often cost virtually nothing.

 

Plan the right route for you

Wherever you’re planning to cycle, consider ditching main roads as they’re busy and often uninspiring. Countries such as the Netherlandsare renowned for their flat and bike-friendly trails, while thrill-seekers tend to make a beeline for the likes of Tajikistan and Patagonia.

Asia traditional sports

A crowd roars as a favourite local wrestler pins his opponent for the championship. A rumble of shock as a single horse-and-jockey fall to the back of a long field of galloping racers. Tense anticipation as kok boru captains astride their horses struggle for possession of a goat carcass and control of the game. For the Central Asian nations, language and history are not the only ties that bind.

 

Nomadic sporting traditions handed down over thousands of years have been used in Central Asia to train for work and for war. Almost all are played exclusively by men, although women’s Kyrgyz wrestling is sometimes present in modern competitions.

A resurgence in the popularity of these games across Central Asia, as well as the hosting of international competitions such as the World Nomad Games, in recent years has also transformed them into a vehicle for sharing the region’s culture with the broader world. Watching these traditional sports is a rich addition to any trip through the region.

 

Kok boru

Kok boru – or goat-carcass polo – is the most famous of Central Asia’s traditional sports, and certainly the one that grabs the most headlines. Historically, the sport was used to train young shepherds to protect their herds from predatory wildlife and prepare them for the realities of war. Legend says that the game, whose name translates as ‘grey wolf’ in the Turkic languages or ‘goat grabbing’ from the Persian buzkashi, was created when a group of horsemen on the steppe cooperated to catch the wolves that worried their livestock.

The modern version is played in most of Central Asia with two teams fighting for possession of the carcass, known as the buz. The team that tosses it into the kazan goals on either end of the field the most number of times wins. Kok boru is a central feature of the Nowruz festival throughout the region, as well as many national holidays.

 

Equestrian wrestling

Er enish consists of two wrestlers on horseback attempting to throw one another off. The rules are simple: the first to touch the ground loses. The primary focus is rider versus rider, of course, but skilled combatants also train their mounts to get into the game.