The History of Shipbuilding

Ships are a huge part of world history and have been an important tool to every civilization. Before now, boats were used to explore other continents around the world, fighting and pillaging other vessels in the process. Let’s take a look back into the past to remember the pioneering ships that shaped our world.

8th Century: Viking

The Viking Empire dominated Europe from 793 AD to 1066 AD, until they were driven out by King Alfred the Great. Boats were a symbol of wealth and power for the Vikings, as skilled ship builders cost a lot of money. The most popular Viking design was called the Gokstad, which was sturdy and clinker-built. The vessel can be identified by its up-turned ends that finish in a stylistic swirl.  Even though the Gokstad could only be pushed along with paddles, the ship could travel at the speed of 10 knots! If you’re ever in Norway and fancy finding out more about the Gokstad, there is a museum dedicated to Viking ships in Oslo, the original home of the Viking colony.


15th Century: Chinese Treasure Ships

The treasure ships were used during the Ming dynasty in the early 15th century. They were at least twice as long as the European ships at the time, and each ship had a 2800 ton capacity. But what were these grand vessels used for? The prestigious admiral Zheng He led a fleet of treasure ships on seven expeditions. This fleet consisted of 62 treasure ships and approximately 190 smaller ships. Historians say that Zheng He went to India, Thailand, Africa, Arabia and Brunei during these voyages, in order to trade gifts and be entertained by their leaders. The renowned politician used the presents from China (typically fine silk) as a shrewd political tactic, scaring the leaders of foreign lands into submission with his large fleet and obvious wealth.

18th century: Pirates

Black Beard is the most famous pirate of the 18th century, plaguing the shipping lanes of North America and the Caribbean throughout the early 1700s. Historians say that Black Beard was a sailor called Edward Teach that turned rogue, stealing a French ship and renaming it as the Queen Anne’s Revenge. Shrewd and dangerous, Black Beard looted other vessels on a regular basis with his conniving crew. His skills in pillaging made him a household name during the Georgian era, and his infamy still continues to this day. The Queen Anne’s Revenge was recently discovered off the coast of North Carolina, full of Black Beard’s cannons, anchors, gold dust, lead shots, animal bones and scientific instruments. The archaeological dig of the ship-wreck is still in progress, continuing to educate us about Black Beard’s adventures and the man behind the name.


Spring 2015: Britannia

Now that you’ve seen the past – you can look forward to the future! Britannia cruise liner is going to be the biggest of its kind, housing top-notch entertainment, fantastic eateries and gorgeous swimming pools. Britannia is a vessel that Britain’s Viking and Pirate counterparts could only dream of, as it is larger than the Shard and even the Eiffel Tower! The cruise liner is currently being built in a shipyard in Monfalcone and will be let loose on our oceans in spring 2015.

ship build 4



Solstice Traditions

During the winter solstice, the path of the sun starts turning towards the north after reaching the southernmost position. The word solstice actually means that the sun is standing still.  For those in the northern hemisphere, this is the longest night of the year and the shortest day.  In the southern hemisphere it is the shortest night of the year and the longest day. For most of us, the solstice marks the changing of the seasons.

sunset over the cabins

The winter solstice is celebrated by many societies around the world. It marks the official beginning of winter and a festival is often held to commemorate the last harvest. Celebrations usually reflect on looking into a cold winter and hoping for a warm future.  Though celebrated in different ways and with different names in various countries and cultures, these festivals are a bonding of hope and warmth, when families come together and give symbol gifts and indulge in feasting. This corresponds with the ebbing of the sun.

valley forge trees

In Iran, it is celebrated as the Shab-e-Yaldaa and as Rohatsu by Buddhists. North India celebrates it as Lodhi and in Scandinavia; it is celebrated as the Beiwe festival. East Asia celebrates the winter solstice as the Dongzhi festival and in Mali it is the Goru. It was known as the Yule (Yule-time anyone?) in Europe in earlier years courtesy of early Germanic tribes.  Christmas itself was actually selected to be on December 25th by early Christians (Romans) in order to help win over some of the Pagan cultures commemorating the the winter solstice and the Sun God, pretty soon they were celebrating the ‘Son of God’ instead.

Russian Winter Festival in London

The ancient cultures of Egyptians and Babylonians also celebrated the winter solstice and had festivities. The Romans celebrated it as the Saturnalia. It was not limited to just Europe but was also celebrated in the Eastern countries. In Tibet, the solstice was celebrated as Dosmoche. The Japanese celebrated this period as Hari kuyo. It was Native American celebrations that ultimately introduced mistletoe and holly into the Christmas celebrations.

Saturnalia in Buenos Aires Botanical Gardens

How will you celebrate the solstice? What are you most looking forward to this winter?

A Walk Through Valley Forge

Today would have been George Washington’s 279th Birthday. With only one natural tooth left the day he was inaugurated as President (it’s true!), I can only imagine what he would have looked like today at 279. Growing up outside of Philadelphia, the seat of the Continental Congress and where the Declaration of Independence was signed, there’s a lot of history. One of the original colonies,  there’s a lot of old (for America) history here.  The area is dotted with homes, barns and farm buildings dating back to before the Revolution.

With so many buildings hanging “George Washington slept/drank/ate here” signs, being so close to history is something I’ve always taken for granted. In fact, my favorite place to run in the area is Valley Forge National Park, a short drive from my parents. For those of you who don’t remember, Valley Forge is where the Revolutionary Army spent the winter of 1777-1778 and became an army instead of ragtag group of settlers. Although no battles were fought over 2,000 soldiers died of cold, malnutrition and disease.

A few weeks ago, with too much snow on the ground for a run, we slowed down a bit and took a walk around the park. Taking time to enjoy the natural beauty and appreciate it as a historical site, not just a nice place to run, here’s a walking tour of the park through some photos we took along the way.

Cabins in Valley Forge

Grass in the Snow

Lone cabin in a snowy field at Valley Forge

Park Bench at Valley Forge

Sledding at Valley Forge

Cabins at Valley Forge

Deer at Valley Forge

Reflection of a tree - Valley Forge

"Worm" fence at Valley Forge

A winter's sunset over a cabin at Valley Forge

Toasts around the world

As most travelers know, many friendships are forged over a drink. Here’s a few toasts that will keep you covered no matter where you go.

  • Skål – This word comes from the old Norse word for ‘bowl’ and is now used across all Scandinavian countries to toast. Contrary to some beliefs, there is no relation to the word ‘skull’ but rather to the word ‘scale’.Prost – This German toast comes from the Latin word ‘prosit’ which wishes “that it be good!” As always a good focus on the drink at hand just be certain your beer selection is worthy of German culture. Maintain eye-contact from the toast’s start to its finish.
  • Salud – To your health everywhere that Spanish is spoken. To make things nice and easy French, Portuguese and Italian speakers say Santé, Saúde and Salute respectively. All come from the Latin ‘sal?s’ meaning ‘health’.
  • Gan bei – The Chinese will command you to ‘dry the cup’ or ‘drink it all.’ Etiquette is important in China though so expect the host to be the first to toast. (Gan Bei is Mandarin and not all of China uses Mandarin. The Cantonese equivalent, another dialect westerners are likely to encounter, is Gom Bui!).
  • Nostrovia – This Russian toast, also ‘to health’ is actually a misspelling of Na zdorovje. The best part about this toast is that it works not only in Russian but across most of the Slavic world and even in Polish. Wait for the host to offer the first toast before even touching your food!
  • L’chaim – L’chaim, l’chaim, to LIFE. Everything in Judaism is done to life and drinking is no exception. While you’re at it, a big ‘Mazel Tov’ or congratulations may be in order as well!
  • Kampai – Like the Chinese version of cheers, this Japanese version also refers to an empty cup. Rather than a command though think of it as a noun – empty cup. To some this might still be a command but to some ‘zen-like’ individuals it is a toast to all that you have to learn in order to fill your cup of life. Whatever you do, make sure the ‘Kampai’ has finished before you take your first sip!
  • Did you know that we’re Glenfiddich Explorers? You can catch this and many of our other lists on their website!

    Loi Krathong Festival

    IMGP0845Before we left on this journey I got the crazy idea that maybe we should festival hop our way across the world. You know, experience a country through its holidays? Ever practical, Danny shot the idea down for logistical reasons, it would involve too much land jumping. Fortunately we’ve caught a few festivals here and there on our travels, mostly out of sheer luck, and they’ve always been interesting experiences. We were bummed to have missed the autumn traditional boat races in Laos, but excited when we saw a poster in Bangkok for the Loi Krathong Festival. IMGP0800

    Loi Krathong originally probably celebrated the spirit of the water, and traditionally people release small banana leaf boats, decorated with flowers and candles into the river on the night of the full moon. Coinciding with Yi Peng, or the lantern festival celebrated in Northern Thailand, the entire festival is called a festival of lights and basically its just a good excuse to have fun. After catching a floating parade and fireworks in Bangkok we headed to Chang Mai, in northern Thailand to see the festival in its full glory.

    Three days of fireworks, parades, parties, music, street markets, food and of course lanterns.IMGP0886People released their own small boats into the rivers and causeways, but the real festival in Chang Mai was in the air. Each night hundreds of thousands of white paper lanterns were lit and released into the air. Couples, families and friends gathered around each lantern and launched it into the air. Like small sparkling stars, the lanterns floated around in the sky following the wind. It was magical, although more than a few did crash and burn!

    Chang Mai has two special markets, the Sunday Market and the Night Market. Combining these two with the festival left us wanting nothing, from food to crafts to crazy nick nacks. IMGP0838 The streets were crowded as huge colorful parade floats, with beauty queens and religious depictions rolled by. Although we didn’t actually see it, there is supposedly a float just for the infamous lady boys. According to the lady at our hotel, they’re they best looking women in the parade. Decked out in flowers, lights, glitter, lady boys and fabric, the parade was a feast for the eyes.

    At the end of the festival, we set off our own lantern for good luck in the upcoming year.