The 5 Most Famously Named Towns in Europe

There are quite a few towns behind the names of famous… ‘stuff’. (the now-renamed) Asbestos in Canada or Balaklava in Ukraine are two examples.

Some of these quirky towns really are the centre of the universe for fans of the ‘thing’ and, in this article, we find out about five of these towns, the connections they have and what makes them so worth discovering.

Rugby, UK

44.9 million fans enjoyed South Africa’s triumph over England in the 2019 World Cup Final (rugbyworld.com)

It was during a game of football being played at Rugby School in 1823 that a schoolboy named William Webb Ellis, being the cheeky scamp that he was, caught a lofted ball and decided to run with it instead of letting the ball hit the pitch as he should have. And so, Rugby Football was born.

This game, where fifteen players fight to force an oval ball across the line in the opponents’ half, is known for its combativeness which overspills into borderline violence, and it has the highest number of catastrophic injuries in any team sport. In its two most popular forms — Rugby Union and Rugby League — it is one of the most popular team sports in the world; 857 million people watched the World Cup in 2019.

The birthplace of rugby football as you’d expect boasts many attractions which stir the passions of sporting enthusiasts. A town of 70,000 people, Rugby offers a pilgrimage for those who want to immerse themselves in the history, culture and development of the game. First stop should be the World Rugby Hall of Fame. In this state of the art sporting temple visitors discover rugby’s greats and the moments that defined the sport.

Then there is the Webb Ellis Rugby Football Museum. Housed in the building in which a man named James Gilbert made the very first rugby football in 1842, this little museum is especially popular and they still manufacture hand made balls here which visitors can buy from its shop. You can also take a stroll along the Pathway of Fame to learn about some of the greats in the game and see William Webb Ellis immortalised in statue.

The world-famous Rugby School (brittanica.com)

Rugby School is where the game was born and is one of the most famous private schools in the country. It is close to the town centre and a walk around its perimeter gives an excellent view of its imposing Victorian architecture and, more importantly, the hallowed field the first ever game of rugby football was played.

Naturally Rugby has its own rugby club — the Rugby Lions. Although its team plays in just the 6th tier of the English rugby union system, it is a venerable club which was founded in 1873 and is just one of four clubs entitled to an all white team kit.

Pilsen, Czech Republic

The hugely popular Pilsner Beer (outdoortrip.com)

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 breath-taking 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 Pilsenfest may be overshadowed by the Octoberfest, yet I had loads of fun at the 2016 event (festivaly.eu)

It’s 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

Cognac is almost exclusively produced in the environs of Cognac, France (normandin-mercier.fr)

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 for example, 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.

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.

Hennessy’s Grande Marque cognac house on the banks of the Charente River (blog.ruedesvignerons.com)

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.

Marathon, Greece

The ‘genuine’ Marathon race from Marathon to Athens is still ran every year (tornosnews.gr)

You’ll be no doubt familiar with the origins of the popular Marathon race; in Ancient Greece in the year 490BC an Athenian army heroically defeated a Persian invasion force at the village of Marathon. Legend has it that a herald was sent to deliver news of the victory to Athens. He ran the whole way and arrived at Athens so utterly exhausted, he collapsed dead immediately after the good news passed his lips.

And so, the Marathon race came into being to commemorate this feat, measured out at 26.2 miles (42.2km) – the distance that messenger had run. It is now an Olympic event and seen as the ultimate physical challenge to attempt in a lifetime. Around 500 marathon events are held annually worldwide.

The town where the first ever Marathon set off from is an unassuming place but a tumulus (burial mound) still stands where the Greek casualties of that famous Battle of Marathon were laid to rest. Roughly 30,000 people call it home.

It is proud of its associations with the running event; unsurprisingly one of the biggest Marathons is the one which recreates the first one over 2,500 years before. The Athens Classic Marathon has been held annually since 1972. It sets off from Marathon town, faithfully following the original route to a grandstand finish at the Panathenaic Stadium in the capital.

The Tomb of the Athenians is in the environs of what is an otherwise unassuming town of Marathon, Greece (ancientgreeceexperience.com)

Taking from the tradition of the Olympic Torch the race features the Marathon Flame, which is lit at the Battle of Marathon Tumulus and carried to the stadium in Marathon before the beginning of each race. 16,500 runners took part in 2019 and the current record was set in 2014 by Felix Kandie with a time of 2:10:37.

Enthusiasts absolutely must visit the Marathon Run Museum if they visit the area; with more than 4000 exhibition pieces this is the no.1 place to discover the history of the modern Marathon Race.

Cheddar, UK

Ubiquitous around the world, nothing beats the original cheese, ‘cheddared’ in the caves of Cheddar Gorge, Somerset, England (bbcgoodfood.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 and to ‘cheddar’ is actually a technical term – referring to the process of cutting up the curds, stacking and then turning them by hand as they drain and firm up under their own weight. Since the 12th Century the cheese’s popularity has grown and now Cheddar cheese has a place on millions of people’s dinner tables.

The town of Cheddar is a modest one 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.

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!

Cheddar village is nestled in England’s most impressive gorge (cornersoftheworld.co.uk)

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.

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10 Facts about the Blue Whale – the Largest Animal to Ever Exist

Read about these 10 jaw-dropping facts that show just what massive proportions the Blue Whale has.

Whales are amazing creatures which inspire awe, fear and respect due to their sheer size.

As marine creatures that reside in either the depths or the poles, humans knew very little about whales over the course of history; many feared or revered them.

In Old English the word Whale means ‘giant sea fish’ yet, interestingly, they are not fish at all, but mammals.

Like us, they breathe air, are social, feed their babies with their own milk, take extraordinarily good care of their young and teach them life skills.

The giant among giants is a type of baleen whale named the Blue Whale, a gentle creature that grows larger than any of the massive dinosaurs or beasts that once roamed on land or swam in the oceans.

Here are 10 jaw-dropping facts about this animal that show just what massive proportions it has.

1. A Giant among Giants

The Blue Whale isn’t just the largest animal in the world, it is the largest animal to have ever existed .(propelsteps.wordpress.com)

Far bigger than land behemoths like the Argentinosaurus or the mighty Megalodon, the Blue Whale is the largest known animal to have ever lived.

An adult Blue Whale can grow to a massive 30m (98 feet) long. Stood up it would be almost the height of the Tower of London. It can weigh more than 190,000kg (418,878lbs) – about the same as 40 elephants, 30 Tyrannosaurus Rex or 2,670 average-sized men.

2. Deep Breath!

The Blue Whale can dive as deep as 100m (aquariumofpacific.org)

Blue Whales can dive for up to an hour at a time, going to a depth of 100m (328 feet); this is some way short of the 300m a nuclear sub can go to and it’s nothing compared to a whopping 2,250 metres (7,382 ft) the Sperm Whale can plunge to; even so they need highly efficient lungs to survive.

Two enormous blowholes, big enough for a small child to crawl into, allow the fast and efficient exchange of oxygen. Blue Whales exchange between 80 and 90 percent of oxygen in their lungs each time they breathe, compared to just 10 or 15 per cent in humans.

3. Can you Hear My Heart Beating?

(cbc.com)

Oxygen is pumped around its enormous body by an equally massive, four-chambered heart. Weighing some 900kg (1,984lbs) – and the size of a Mini car – the Blue Whale’s heart beats once every 10 seconds, pumping 220 litres (48 gallons) of blood through its body.

It beats so loudly it can be heard from 3km (1.9 miles) away through sonar equipment. What’s more Blue Whales’ major arteries and veins are so large that a little kid could swim along them, imagine that!

4. Skin Deep

A Blue Whale’s skin markings are unique, much like fingerprints. The pale bluish-grey colour gives the species its name, although the skin can also look silvery grey or tan, depending on the light.

A blue whale has between 80 and 100 long grooves running along the length of its throat and chest. These allow its mouth cavity to be so vast and stretchy that it can engulf a volume of water equivalent to its own body mass.

5. No Time (or Capacity) for Tears

Its eyes are merely the size of grapefruits. (pinterest.com)

Blue Whales have relatively small eyes for their body size – each about the size of a grapefruit – and their eyesight is thought to be weak.

They have no tear glands or eyelashes. At the depths in which they often live the water is so dark that vision serves little purpose, and only hearing is really necessary for navigation.

6. Sound You Out

Despite having no external ears, Blue Whales are believed to have excellent hearing, using air sinuses and bones to detect sound. They communicate using low-frequency whistles or rumbling noises which can travel hundreds of kilometres away and reach 188 decibels – louder than a passenger jet.

The Sperm Whale is even louder: its communicative clicks have been measured at 230 dB.

7. Big Mouth

(pinterest.com)

Their gigantic mouths — big enough to house 100 people — can capture enormous quantities of prey with each gulp of water, filtering the nutritious krill from the expelled water with stiff bristles that grow from the roof of the mouth.

During the summer months, they eat up to 6,000kg (13,228 lbs) of krill a day.

Their tongues alone are heavier than most adult elephants!

8. Turning up the Heat

Blue Whales reach sexual maturity between five and 10 years of age. They seek warmer equatorial waters before embarking on an elaborate mating ritual that involves the male and female rolling over one another, diving in a deep dive, then suddenly swimming to the surface to copulate.

The males have the biggest penis in the animal kingdom, about 30cm (12 inches) in diameter when erect and 3m (118 inches) in length. You wouldn’t want that fella at the urinal next to you!

9. Thirsty Babies

Blue Whales are placental mammals and the foetus develops in the uterus of the mother. The developing foetus grows quickly and after seven months, it is about 3.5m (11.5 feet) long.

The calf is born tail first at 12 months and weighs about 2,700kg (5,952 lbs), swimming immediately to the surface for air. It suckles on its mother’s two nipples, feeding on up to 180 litres (46 gallons) of fat-rich milk a day, allowing it to grow at a daily rate of 90kg (198lbs). Weaning occurs at around seven or nine months, when the calf is some 15m (49 feet) long.

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10. Population Counts

(freezeframe.ac.uk)

It is thought that there were once more than 250,000 Blue Whales. Now it is estimated there are between 10,000 and 25,000 left in the world (as of 2020).

After decades of being hunted for their meat, oil, and other valuable body parts, they are now classified as an endangered species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List.

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