The Wandering Scot

An occasional travel journal.

Carcassonne: Medieval Walls

I’m enjoying the historic medieval French city of Carcassonne.  It is perfectly formed, with magnificent double curtain walls, a grand fortress, tall round towers with spiky roofs, portcullis gates, the works.  It is very cool!

Note that this is not like one of those recent Chinese “restorations” of Ancient City Walls.  Mais non!  This is an authentic 19th c French restoration!  By an eminent architect who had a very clear vision of what a medieval walled city ought to look like and spared no expense to implement it!

Alas, some pettifogging historians objected to some of the details, and so in the 1960s some of the towers got re-restored with more plausible battlements and flattish tile roofs.  But most of that wonderful 19th c. vision is still intact.

Kidding aside, the bases of the walls and most of the castle made it into the 19th c, so the restorative creativity was mostly around the battlements and the roofs.  The core structure is real.  And it is seriously impressive!

The Restored Castle
The 1960’s Re-Restoration

Idaho: The Black Sun

The Black Sun

I was in Idaho Falls for the 2017 US Total Eclipse.  The local authorities had been unsure what to expect: hotels had sold out far in advance and there were fears of a vast insurge of eclipse watchers up Interstate 15 from Salt Lake City.  So Starbucks and the local police had all hands on duty.

I had paid a premium price for a hotel room within totality, but  I strolled a couple of miles further away from the Interstate to a quiet park in order to have a relaxed view of the great event.  Like others, I was struck by the abrupt change from the almost-normal daylight provided by a tiny sliver of visible sun, to sudden dusk-like totality.  And the sight of the Black Sun in the sky was extremely cool.

As predicted, totality was accompanied by loud noise from the local wildlife, in this case in the shape of much loud “Yay”ing from young primates.   ☺   But contrary to the fears of the local authorities, there were no giant traffic jams, cell phone outages, or mass cannibalism. Alas.

The Eclipse Watching Hordes

Kosovo: Bill Klinton

I’m in Prishtina, Kosovo, on “Bill Klinton Boulevard” admiring the Bill Clinton Statue. A few feet away is the “Hillary” dress store, which proudly displays photographs of a visit by Hillary herself in 2010.

Why are the Kosovars so fond of the Clintons?  The answer is on the document in Bill’s hand, dated 24 Match 1999, which is when NATO, led by the USA, launched air-strikes to protect the Kosovars from a wave of ethnic cleansing launched by the Serbs.  A nation-saving intervention for which the Kosovars remain grateful.

Temple of Poseidon

I’m at Cape Sounion, near Athens, visiting the Temple of Poseidon. In ancient times its splendid white marble columns were visible from far at sea and it was a very welcome landmark for sailors returning to Athens. The surviving columns and base are still an impressive sight.

 

Poseidon has been kind to California recently, blessing us with some delightful rain this last winter. I wanted to show my appreciation to the god, so I had brought a small offering to the temple, a box of baklava.

I ceremoniously thanked the god for his kindness and then offered up the baklava. Following tradition, after the god had had a moment to consume the essence of the offering, I then disposed of the physical remains. It was delicious.

The site guard seemed mildly puzzled by all this, but wisely decided to let it be.

Vietnam: Cu Chi Tunnels


I’m at the Cu Chi Tunnels museum outside Saigon. This area was a Viet Cong stronghold during the “American War” with a network of over 200km of low-tech tunnels.

Most tunnels entrances are tiny and well hidden. And the tunnels themselves extremely narrow.  But my guide showed me one tunnel entrance that was poorly hidden and relatively large.  Why large?  Because it was a trap.  Unfortunate GIs faced with a choice of tiny tunnels or this lucky large one would often opt for the easier choice.   Which generally did not end well.

The situation was pretty ghastly for both sides.  The Viet Cong (and local villagers) faced saturation bombing and gas attacks.  The incoming GIs faced elusive disappearing defenders and a wide variety of low-tech but very effective traps.


After dutifully and painfully crouch-walking down a 120 yard section of very cramped tunnel, I celebrated my escape by paying for ten rounds with an AK47. I’m not really into guns, but I couldn’t resist the chance to fire such an iconic weapon at such a historic site.

Addis Ababa: Red Remnants

From 1974 to 1987, Ethiopia was ruled by a ruthless Marxist-Leninist regime known as the “Derg”. They renamed themselves in 1987, but were only finally overthrown in 1991. There are still odd traces of them in Addis Ababa.

The statue of Lenin is long gone, toppled in 1991. But a striking Soviet-style obelisk, known informally as the Derg Monument, still survives. It towers 50 meters tall, decorated with a hammer and sickle, and topped by a giant Red Star. It’s quite impressive. At the moment it is augmented by some placards mourning the death of Fidel Castro.

A few hundred meters away is the other side of the story, the Red Terror Martyrs Memorial Museum, which commemorates the several hundred thousand victims of the “Red Terror”, a lethal rampage primarily aimed at rival Marxist-Leninist groups. It’s a good small museum, outlining the rise of the Derg and then the horrors of the Red Terror itself.