Monthly Archives: May 2014

UNESCO World Heritage Site #274: Historic Town of St George and Related Fortifications, Bermuda

Posted by on May 30, 2014

UNESCO World Heritage Site #274: Historic Town of St George and Related Fortifications, Bermuda

UNESCO World Heritage Site #274: Historic Town of St George and Related Fortifications, Bermuda

From the World Heritage inscription:

The historic town of St George with its related fortifications is an outstanding example of a continuously occupied, fortified, colonial town dating from the early 17th century and the oldest English town in the New World.
St George is a picturesque and outstanding example of the earliest colonial English urban settlement in the New World.

Its associated fortifications graphically illustrate the development of English military engineering from the 17th to 20th centuries, being adapted to take account of the development of artillery over this period. Discovered in 1505 by the Spanish captain Juan Bermudéz, Bermuda was later stocked by the Spanish as a place of refuge in cases of shipwreck. The permanent settlement of St George began in August 1612 with the arrival of a governor, a clergyman, and 60 settlers, to be joined a few months later by 600 more people. A watchtower was built on Fort George Hill and the foundations of several forts were laid to guard the entrances to St George’s Harbour and Castle Harbour. The Crown assumed responsibility in 1684 for the colony, of which St George remained the capital until the mid-19th century. During this period Africans and Indians were brought to Bermuda; their descendants make up the majority of the multiracial society of today. For the next century the economy of the island centred on the cedar tree, used for ship construction.

The mid-18th century was a time of economic stagnation for the town, but military activities during the American Revolution (1776-83) saw the beginning of a boom. The Corporation of St George was formed in 1797. St George was to remain a strategic military location for the next two centuries until the US naval base closed in 1995. The economy picked up again with the development of the tourist industry in the later 19th century. The Town and its Corporation’s efforts to save historic buildings began as early as 1920.

St George was a garrison town from its earliest days, and military installations developed on the eastern side of the town. The first of many barracks were built on Barrack Hill in 1780, such as residences for senior officers, officers’ messes, hospitals, a garrison chapel, etc., followed during the course of the 19th century. These were constructed in standard British military style but using local materials. At the end of the American Revolution, Britain made St George’s Island its main naval base. Work on the dockyard began at the turn of the century, with drastic changes in the system of fortifications, with the construction of forts George, Victoria, St Catherine, Albert, and Cunningham (on Paget Island). The fortifications continued to serve until the coastal defence came to an end in 1956.

The architecture of Bermuda is unique, and has changed little in its basic elements since the end of the 17th century. The simple, well proportioned houses, of one or two storeys, are constructed with load-bearing masonry walls, rendered and painted in pastel colours, and roofs of stone slabs painted white. Some of the houses, such as Bridge House, the Hunter Building, or Whitehall, are impressive mansions, dating in their present form from the 19th century and embellished with imposing balconies and verandas. There are several churches, the most important of which is St Peter’s Church, the oldest Anglican Church site in continuous use in the Western Hemisphere. The Ebenezer Methodist Church of 1840 is a fine building in neoclassical style.

I really enjoyed my time in Bermuda. It is a peaceful, laid back island with a great deal of history to go along with the sun and sand.

The only downside to Bermuda is the cost. Everything there is very expensive. Expect to pay at least $20 for every meal and over $200/night for a room during the high season.

St. George, the area where the world heritage site is located, is in the northernmost part of the island. I’d highly recommend renting a scooter which will allow you to visit most of the fortifications and historic buildings in the span of a few hours.

Fort St. Catherine (shown above) is also a museum which charges an admission of $7 to enter. Many of the other forts are free and you can walk around them as you will. If you are in the southern part of the island, consider taking a ferry to St. George where you can then explore the historic buildings.

Comparing Gary Arndt’s and Francis Tapon’s West African Experiences

Posted by on May 25, 2014

My friend and author, Francis Tapon, has been traveling around Africa for the past year. While I was sailing up the west coast of Africa this year, he had been traveling across similar territory by land.

Given how different our trips were, I thought it would be interesting for Francis to compare his observations about Africa with mine. Although his experience in Africa has been much more extensive, we’ve come to similar conclusions about some things, and very different conclusions about others.

He has also begun a Kickstarter campaign to help fund the pilot episode of the Unseen Africa TV show. All money raised will go directly to the production of the pilot.

Take it away, Francis….


Although Gary and I explored West Africa around the same time (he went through a few months after I did), our experiences were radically different. So it’s understandable that we sometimes reached different conclusions. It’s equally remarkable that we often agree with each other. What follows is a comparison of our two trips through West Africa, with a focus on three West African countries.

But first, a bit of background on how Gary and I met. Probably like you, I first bumped into Gary in cyberspace. Soon thereafter, I was on his “This Week in Travel” show to discuss the sexiest country ever: Moldova.
(more…)

UNESCO World Heritage Site #273: Medina of Marrakesh

Posted by on May 20, 2014

UNESCO World Heritage Site #273: Medina of Marrakesh

UNESCO World Heritage Site #273: Medina of Marrakesh

From the World Heritage inscription:

The capital of the Almoravids and the Almohads played a decisive role in the development of medieval planning. Marrakesh (which gave its name to the Moroccan Empire) is the textbook example of a large Islamic capital in the Western world. With its maze of narrow streets, houses, souks (markets), traditional crafts and trade activities, and its medina, this ancient settlement is an outstanding example of a vibrant historic city.

Marrakesh was founded in 1071-72 by Youssef ben Tachfin on the site of the camp where Abou Bekr had left him in charge. From that point forward, Marrakesh was no longer an occasional stopping place for the Almoravids. It became the true capital of these conquering nomads who succeeded in stretching their empire from the Sahara to the Ebro and from the Atlantic to Kabylia.

The original layout of the medina dates back to the Almoravid period from which there still remain various monumental vestiges (ruins of the so-called Abou Bekr Kasbah, Youssef ben Tachfin Mosque and Ali ben Youssef Palace, not far from the Koutoubia, the pool and the ‘Koubba’ of Ali ben Youssef Mosque which were discovered in 1955, Bab Aylan gate, etc.). In essence it is an adaptation of the older urban model of Marrakesh.

The walls of the medina were built in 1126-27 following the order given by Ali ben Youssef. The planting of the palm groves, which at the present still cover a surface area of roughly 13,000 ha to the east of the city, has also been credited to the Almoravids. When in 1147 this dynasty bowed to the attacks of the Almohads led by Abdel Mou’men, the task of purification that was carried out did not spare the monuments which, for the most part, were destroyed by the victors. Nevertheless Marrakesh remained the capital. Under the Almohad rulers (1147-1269), Marrakesh experienced new and unprecedented prosperity.

Marrakech is an amazing city. Unfortunately, I visited at the tail end of a 30 day trip up the west coast of Africa, where I had little to no internet access. I spent most of my time in Marrakech catching up on work.

I did get a chance to visit some of the highlights of historical Marrakech, but there is so much more in the city that I’d like to make a return visit. In fact, I’d like to do a proper trip through Morocco and visit the remaining world heritage sites in the country which I haven’t visited.

Day 31, West Africa Cruise – Agadir to Marrakech, Morocco

Posted by on May 19, 2014

Latitude: 30° 25.2′ N
Longitude: 9° 37.72′ W

Our arrival in Morocco marks the last day of our trip.

Most of the countries we visited on this tour had very low numbers of tourists. Morocco was one of the exceptions. Because of that, I assumed that going through customs and immigration for Morocco would be the easiest of the entire trip, especially considering we did it just 2 days earlier when we landed in Dakhla.

I was mistaken.
(more…)

Day 29-30, West African Cruise – At Sea, Off the Coast of Morocco / Punta del Rosario, Fuerteventura, Canary Islands

Posted by on May 17, 2014

Latitude: 28° 29.64′ N
Longitude: 013° 51.49′ W

I’ve decided to merge these two days because our visit to Fuerteventura was the shortest of all our ports of call. We had limited time on the island because the ship had to get to Agadir, Morocco the next day at a set time.

I had previously visited the Canary Islands in 2011 and it was a great experience. I visited most of the islands, but never got to El Hiro and Fuerteventura, so our stop on the island was interesting to me in that it was one of the few islands in the Canaries which I hadn’t visited.
(more…)

Day 28, West Africa Cruise – Dakhla, Western Sahara

Posted by on May 15, 2014


Latitude: 23° 50.5338′ N
Longitude: 15° 51.4997′ W

No one knew what to expect in Western Sahara. Last year, the West Africa trip ended in Senegal, so even the staff didn’t know what to expect. It isn’t a place that most people even know about, and the name doesn’t really lend itself to much more than sand.

Before I get into the details of what we did, however, I think a bit of backstory about Western Sahara is in order.
(more…)

Day 26-27, West Africa Cruise – At Sea, Off the coast of Mauritania

Posted by on May 13, 2014

Latitude: 21° 05.20′ N
Longitude: 17° 51.30′ W

As the cruise is winding down, I thought it was worth it to take a moment to talk about the passengers on the ship.

Prior to boarding the ship in Cape Town, I suspected that the other passengers would be well traveled people. West Africa isn’t the sort of trip a first time traveler takes.

My suspicions were right.
(more…)

Day 25, West Africa Cruise – Dakar, Senegal

Posted by on May 12, 2014

Latitude: 14° 41.7956’ N
Longitude: 17° 27.9840’ W

In Senegal, we were given two different options. The first was to visit the Bandia Reserve and have lunch at the Pink Lake. The second option was a tour of the city and a trip to Goree Island.

As Goree Island is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and one of the first dozen in the world at that, there was no way I could pass that up.

The day started in central Dakar where the government buildings are located. This part of Dakar is one of the nicest areas we’ve seen on the entire trip and was on a par, or surpassed, Accra, Ghana. It had the feel of a French Colonial city and was quite clean. Unlike what we found in Sao Tome and other countries, you could take actually photos of the guards in front of the presidential palace!
(more…)

Day 24, West Africa Cruise – Banjul, The Gambia

Posted by on May 11, 2014

Mangrove forest in The GambiaLatitude: 13° 18.1922’ N
Longitude: 16° 36.9651’ W

The Gambia is the smallest non-island country in Africa. It is also one the rare countries which borders only one other country: Senegal. In fact, on a map, The Gambia looks like a finger being stuck down the throat of Senegal (if you don’t believe me, go look at a map!)

Carved from the area immediately surrounding both banks of the Gambia river by the British, the Gambia marks a significant turn for the trip. From our previous stop in Sierra Leone, we’ve moved closer to the Sahara. The population is significantly (but not yet exclusively) Muslim, the landscape is drier and, unlike Sierra Leone, The Gambia actually has tourists.
(more…)

Amateur Traveler Interview – St. Helena

Posted by on May 9, 2014

For a record 8th time, I’ve had the pleasure of joining my This Week in Travel co-host Chris Christensen on the Amateur Traveler podcast. Similar to my past appearances, the topic dealt with very small places. This time we talked about my recent trip to the island of St. Helena, located 1,500 miles off the coast of Africa in the Atlantic Ocean.

Amateur Traveler Episode 417 – Travel to Saint Helena