Andorra’s 44 Years of World War finally Ended, 1958

The time one disregarded European state forgot to end the ‘Great War’

For its main belligerents, World-War-I lasted from 1914 until 1918, yet bizarrely Germany remained at war, technically, with one country for another 40 years.

Andorra is a European minnow state of 468 km (181 sq mi) and just 76,000 call it home.

It was also one of the first nations to declare war on the Germans and Austro-Hungarians yet, after the unfettered hurly-burly of mass war, the fact it didn’t possess an army meant Andorra’s govt. weren’t exactly central players in the peace talks of WWI’s end.

For this mountain enclave, ‘The Great War’ continued unabated until 1958, according to this report in the New York Times on September the 24th: 

World War I is over for this 191 square mile Pyrenees Republic. Andorra, a participant, was not invited to the Versailles Peace Conference ending World War I. The decree, ending the state of war was signed yesterday.”

Finally, these great nations could breathe a sigh of relief and begin to look to the future once again.

For Andorra, WW1 lasted 44 years! (du.edu)
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The ‘Baltic Gold’ Gift from The Sea, 2015

The oceans have always proved bountiful for coastal communities, providing not only sustenance but valuables lost in the sand or washed ashore from shipwrecks. For the people of the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad in 2015, however, the sea gifted a hoard of ‘Baltic Gold’. These gemstones gave them a much needed boost to their bank accounts when the economy was sluggish. Read about this gift from the sea.

Amber is hard, transparent fossilised tree resin, the sort famous for entombing tiny insects from prehistory for us to marvel at in their original state.

It is a gemstone used to make jewellery and a variety of decorative objects, and has been appreciated for its colour and natural beauty since Neolithic times.

It’s also pretty valuable, with 2020 valuations for Baltic Amber (the source of 95% of the world’s amber) worth between $13–15 per gram.

In 2015 Christmas came early for residents of Pionersky in the Russian Kaliningrad region on the Baltic coast as a storm began washing up large deposits of ‘Baltic Gold’. Locals flocked to the beach to line their pockets.

Some, dressed in wetsuits, waded out up to 30 metres (100 ft) into the sea to catch large amber chunks, each worth hundreds of dollars, in cages.

The less intrepid combed the shoreline for smaller pieces, being able to collect a handful in just five minutes of feverish searching.

Even pensioners forgot their ailments and age and scratched the frozen soil with sticks like babies in a sandpit.

The timing could not have been better as these presents from nature helped people out during the country’s economic crisis and raised people’s spirits.

With amber valued at 10-20 dollars per gram, this amber was a modest windfall for the Russians (dailymail.co.uk)

The Dancing Plague, 1518

It baffles people now as it did then, when hundreds of people around 16th Century Strasbourg danced and danced till they could dance no more. Read about its potential cause and the remedies phycisians came up with

One Summer’s day in 1518 down a narrow street in Strasbourg, France an odd thing occurred; people turned to notice a woman dancing.

Why? No one had a clue but she continued ever more feverishly and without a break for four to six days.

More alarmingly within a week, 34 others joined in and within a month there were around 400 dancers, predominantly female.

This ‘Dancing Plague’, as it became known, took such a hold on them they couldn’t stop, not to eat or rest and many died from exhaustion, stroke or heart attacks. For a period, the plague was killing 15 people a day.

The crowd could not stop dancing until utter exhaustion forced them to collapse. (thepsychologist.bps.org.uk)

So what caused this bizarre behaviour? The most plausible explanation is that it was a psychogenic disorder — a physical illness that’s believed to arise from emotional or mental stressors. People were going through particularly tough times, even by Medieval standards, with the region riddled with starvation and disease and this accounted for them being exceptionally stressed.

Local physicians were sought out and advised that the afflicted shouldn’t stop until the dancing wore off. To this end the city authorities took over two guildhalls and a grain market, even building a stage for musicians to open, essentially, the world’s first-ever disco.

Yet, it was a disaster as the illness underwent a dramatic growth; performing dances in more public spaces allowed this psychic ‘contagion’ to spread.

One historian states that a marathon runner couldn’t have lasted the intense workout that these men and women did hundreds of years ago.

The Most Baffling Book Ever Written- The Voynich Manuscript, 1400s

The Voynich Manuscript has professional code breakers scratching their heads even now trying to decipher its meaning, filled as it is with exquisite illustrations and an unknown language.

The Voynich Manuscript is possibly written in a proto-Romance language (newatlas.com)

A book was once written that’s had everyone from cryptographers to professional code breakers scratching their heads in bemusement. Who wrote it, What does it mean, or even, what language is it written in? No one really knows.

The Voynich Manuscript, named after a Pole who purchased it in 1912, has been carbon-dated from the early 15th Century. It’s a fantastic piece of craftsmanship — too good to be some prank. It’s over 240 pages long and written in a language which no one’s been able to identify and crammed with 6 types of exquisitely drawn illustrations:

  • Plant/herbal — none of which have been clearly identified.
  • Astronomical/Astrological — includes suns, stars, moons, some symbols of zodiac signs and female figures arranged in concentric bands.
  • Balneological — dense text interspersed with images of small nude women.
  • Cosmological — circular diagrams, includes a 6 page foldout with a possible map of islands or ‘rosettes’ connected by ‘causeways’ with castles and a possible volcano.
  • Pharmaceutical — many labelled drawings of plant parts ranging from the mundane to the fantastical.
  • There’s also a recipe section.

Very weird. The best guess for its purpose is that it was a kind of medieval technical manual to cover medieval or early modern medicine. 

Experts speculate that the Voynich Manuscript contains a meaningful text in some European language that has been hidden in the VM ‘alphabet’ through a cypher of some sort; this was the working hypothesis for most 20th-century deciphering attempts, including an informal team of NSA cryptographers led by William F. Friedman in the early 1950s.

In recent years, further research by a scholar at the University of Bristol, England has revealed the book is possibly written in a proto-Romance language that was spoken centuries ago and is the forerunner of modern languages like Spanish, Italian, French and Portuguese. And the scholar theorises that Dominican nuns compiled the manuscript as a reference book for Maria of Castile, Queen of Aragon—Catherine of Aragon’s great-aunt.

As of 2019, however, this research is also far from conclusive and the mystery of the Manuscript remains, for now.

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5 Fabulous Towns for Foodies and Connoisseurs

Cheddar, UK

West Country Farmhouse Cheddar (coombecastle.com)

If you like any cheese at all it will likely be Cheddar cheese; it is the most widely eaten cheese in the world. With a mild taste, inoffensive to even the most trepid palate, it’s popular either sprinkled over a dish like your favourite pizza, stuffed into a ham and cheese sandwich or just eaten by itself.

Officially Cheddar cheese is described as ‘a relatively hard, off-white, sometimes sharp-tasting, natural cheese made from cow’s milk’.

Since the 12th Century the cheese’s popularity has grown and now Cheddar cheese has a place on millions of people’s dinner tables.

Cheddar is a town of 5000 residents and is nestled at the foot of a stunning gorge on the southern edge of the Mendip Hills in England.

Cheddar Gorge is the town’s centrepiece; with its dramatically steep, craggy walls, and a slaloming road running through, it’s breathtaking for drivers who cannot resist the urge to take their eyes off the road.

It is the caves of Cheddar Gorge that provided the ideal humidity and steady temperature for maturing the cheese in the past, and they still do. These caves, alongside the nearby Wookey Hole Caves, are now a popular family day out.

Cheddar, and its breath-taking gorge (countrylife.co.uk)

As a popular tourist destination Cheddar boasts plenty of bars and restaurants where you can sit outside and gawp at the rock walls around you. Can you still get the finest Cheddar cheese in the world there? Most definitely!

The Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company is family-owned, independent, and has been making award-winning cheeses since 2003. Their Cheddar Cheese is still matured in the caves.

Then there is The Original Cheddar Cheese Company which opened its doors to business all the way back in 1870 and their shop and café are located at the same spot at the mouth of Cheddar Gorge. The shop is now world-famous and remains family-operated today.

Pilsen, Czech Republic

The world-famous Pilsner Urquell (theeverydayman.co.uk)

There are a gazillion types and sub-types of beer out there and none more popular than Pale Lager, otherwise called Pilsner. Described as a ‘very pale-to-golden-coloured with a well-attenuated body and a varying degree of noble hop bitterness’ …whatever that all means.

It does go down a treat on a hot Summer’s day, I know that much, and millions agree.

Pilsner came about in the early 19th Century as a result of a fermenting process imported into Bohemia from neighbouring Bavaria and that produced a beer with a longer shelf life. It’s popularity took off from there. It is no surprise that the people of the modern Czech Republic state, of which Pilsen is its fourth largest city, love the drink so much they only half-jokingly refer to it as a soft drink, or ‘liquid bread’.

Pilsen is a fine city of 175,000 residents, and it packs quite a punch to entice visitors with.

Its spacious town square is rimmed with townhouses showcasing grand Austro-Hungarian architecture and in its centre sits St Bartholomew’s Cathedral which offers a breathtaking vista from its church tower – the tallest in the country.

With its history, many parks, and landmarks like the iconic Prazdroj Brewery Gate it is no surprise that Pilsen was European Capital of Culture, 2015.

The Pilsner Fest in full swing (mistoprodeje.cz)

Its real draw is as the capital for beer lovers. One of the world’s biggest pilsner brands, Pilsner Urquell, still has its brewery in the City and is a mecca for lager lovers the world over. Visitors to the brewery can enjoy guided tours where they will learn about the history of Pilsner’s famous beer and, of course, enjoy a glass or three; nowhere does it get any fresher than straight from the company’s beer cellars.

And the highlight of the city calendar is the Pilsner Fest. Whilst in the neighbouring German city of Munich they have their world-renowned Octoberfest, also in October Pilsen hosts a two day festival of beer of its own which draws bigger and bigger crowds every year.

Cognac, France

The unique Cognac brandy (vinepair.com)

Cognac is a unique brandy produced by twice distilling white wines. So while it does indeed taste like brandy, it reflects the exclusive flavour sensations not found in other brandies.

Unlike Cheddar cheese, what makes it so sought after is that it must be made according to strictly defined regulations; namely, it must be made in or around the town for which it is named. As a result the Cognac commune, in the Charente department in southwestern France, is the centre of the universe for lovers of the iconic brandy.

So what of Cognac the town? It’s inhabited by 18,000 and is absolutely dripping with fine historical architecture. It has its own medieval quarter of unusual buildings, built between the 15th and 18th centuries, and situated on narrow cobbled streets and which contain sculptures of the salamander, the symbol of King François I, as well as gargoyles and richly decorated façades.

With its red banner, Hennessy’s Cognac Maison (blog.ruedesvignerons.com)

Over 200 producers of Cognac ply their trade and five of the biggest of them have their ‘Grande Marque’ Cognac houses in the town centre. They are Hennessy, Martell, Otard, Camus and Remy Martin, and each welcomes visitors with open arms.

Surely there is no more authentic place to enjoy a glass to sip on than in Bar Luciole on the banks of the Charente River. With more than 130 varieties of Cognac, whatever you order the team can provide a personal introduction to each and every one of them.

Every year in the last weekend of July the Cognac Festival is held, and is a very popular event. Fishermen’s huts are converted for the occasion and visitors can sit around tables and savour delicious cognac cocktails, and each night revellers can let their hair down dancing and foot-tapping at two concerts.

Camembert, France

Moist, soft, creamy camembert (countryliving.com)

Camembert is a moist, soft, creamy, surface-ripened cow’s milk cheese. It was first made in the late 18th century at Camembert, Normandy, in northern France. It’s a divisive cheese due to its strong taste. However, for those who enjoy stronger varieties of cheese Camembert is delicious and quite healthy too. So nutritious, in fact, the cheese was famously issued to French troops during World War I, becoming firmly fixed in French popular culture as a result.

It is now internationally known, and many local varieties are made around the world, yet the original Camembert, named Camembert de Normandie, can only be made from raw, unpasteurized milk from Normandes cows.

The quaint village of Camembert in Normandy, France (normandyfoodie.wordpress.com)

Meandering along quaint country lanes around Camembert, in Normandy, northern France you’ll be struck by the verdant hedgerows and the patchwork of pastures where cows sedately ruminate upon their lot under the glorious French sunshine.

It’s a lovely corner of the world, even if it sits off France’s radar as a top tourist hotspot. Yet, the village of Camembert is somewhat petite, but any fromage fan need not stray far from the village to find all the top sights (and smells) related to this much loved cheese.

At the Maison du Camembert you can learn all the history and secrets of camembert cheese production, then gorge on some gooey goodness inside the round, cream-coloured building next-door which resembles a round of camembert.

You can also visit the very home of the woman who invented Camembert, Madame Harel was inspired to create Camembert by a passing Brie cheese maker during the French Revolution in the beautiful, imposing 17th Century Beaumoncel Manor. Do check it out!

And there is no better place to stock up on Camembert than at the last remaining cheese farm located in the village – the Durand Cheesemonger at the Héronnière Farm.

The nearby Vimoutiers village is a great base to discover the area from.

Frankfurt, Germany

The much loved Frankfurter hotdog (washingtonpost.com)

Not to be confused with similar sticks of meat like the ‘Vienna Sausage’ the Frankfurter Wurchen aka ‘Frankfurter’ or ‘Hot Dog’ to most of us, is a cheap, tasty and versatile dish best eaten with little slices of gherkin or roasted onions, or even sauerkraut then topped with mustard or ketchup.

With protected geographical status since 1860, the authentic Frankfurter is a thin parboiled sausage made of pure pork in a casing of sheep’s intestine, and its taste is teased out by a special method of low-temperature smoking.

Yet, where did it get its name from? Frankfurt in southern Germany is the nation’s 5th largest metropolis and one of Europe’s major financial hubs. A city where the River Main flows past tree-lined embankments, and tourists and city workers relax on their lunch breaks to the backdrop of sleek skyscrapers clustering the city skyline.

Frankfurter fans should flock to the Kleinmarkthalle. A cultural melting pot; a culinary Aladdin’s Cave; this indoor market place has over 60 vendors and its Frankfurters are the best on the planet.

The Main Festival, to the backdrop of the Frankfurt skyline (frankfurt-tourismus.de)

Frankfurt is home to a number of other Teutonic, culinary delights than just frankfurters, this includes its own ‘Apfelwein’ apple wine and pastries. Visitors can delight in Frankfurt’s drinks, foods and vivacious vibes at its many festivals, such as the Main Festival and Fressgass Fest.

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