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Cape Cod, the famous summer haven for New England vacationers, is also an infamous death trap for some of the world’s smallest and most endangered sea turtles. Kemp’s ridley sea turtles spend their summers foraging along the coast, before they migrate south to warmer waters. But the turtles often become trapped in Cape Cod’s treacherous hook, and wind up stranded on beaches. “Suddenly the cold comes, and they get stunned and can’t swim,” says James Manning, an oceanographer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Manning is co-author of a new study on the turtle strandings, published December 4 in PLOS One.
The endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtles have been in trouble for decades, overharvested by humans and often caught in shrimp trawls. In 1947, more than 40,000 nesting females were recorded during a Kemp’s ridley arribada, or mass nesting event. In 1985, the same population produced just 702 nests, according to a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service recovery plan. The turtle population living by Cape Cod has become uniquely imperiled: Warming waters encourage them to linger longer in the north—and then cold weather comes. In the fall of 2014, approximately 1,200 sea turtles, almost all of them Kemp’s ridley turtles, were stranded on the beaches of Cape Cod Bay—a new record. Scientists knew that sea turtles get stranded most often when cold waters make them inactive and helpless against currents, Manning says. But they weren’t quite sure what temperatures triggered this shock, and which region of the bay the turtles were coming from.
Manning, who is not a biologist, never set out to study sea turtles. He researches oceanic currents using satellite-tagged instruments called drifters, which can be tracked as they move through the bay. Consisting of a metal frame and four fabric sails, the instruments operate like weather balloons, sending back measurements such as temperature and location. Manning first launched drifters in the early 1990s, to understand how lobster larvae moved around in their first few weeks of life. “Where do they go, and where do they end up?” he says. “All these questions can be answered with drifters.”
These same questions applied to the mystery of the stranded Kemp’s ridley sea turtles. Manning had dozens of drifters dispatched in Cape Cod Bay, carried out to sea by approximately 50 different lobsterman, commercial trout fisherman, or whale-watchers. “Fishermen are always interested because it’s their ocean, and they want to know where the water goes,” Manning says. Almost all of the drifters ended up stranded on shore, and provided valuable data on their routes. One is still going: “It’s now approaching the Gulf Stream, heading off the Carolinas.”
In New England, drifters don’t look like ordinary oceanographic equipment. The trackers are crafted in high school classrooms, built according to scientific standards and decorated according to each classroom’s vision. “It’s funny what they come up with,” Manning says. “Sometimes it’s turtles, and sometimes it’s cartoon characters.” Manning’s favorite drifter in recent memory sported a detailed painting of a mermaid. He recently learned he wasn’t alone in his appreciation. “That drifter was found by a fisherman who liked it so much that he took it out of the water and took it home,” he says. (It had already served its purpose by the time of its rescue.)
According to Manning, the study’s most significant finding is that Kemp’s ridley sea turtles are more likely to strand when water temperatures drop below 50.9 degrees Fahrenheit. But he’s careful to stress that many facts of the turtle’s behavior around Cape Cod remain a mystery. For example, researchers aren’t sure if Kemp’s ridley turtles spend most of their time at the surface or submerged in the midwater, hundreds of feet below, where the currents are less affected by wind. The researchers are still split on the best way to answer this question. “We’ve considered divers, but the turtles are very little and it’s hard to find them,” Manning says.
Recently, researcher Felicia Page at the University of Rhode Island has been launching several new kinds of drifters, designed to imitate turtles at a number of depths. This past fall, Page launched the typical drifters painted by local students along with miniature sailboats, tiny wooden turtles the size of Kemp’s ridleys, and her own newfangled invention, a drifter with a weighted turtle attached to a retractable tether, mimicking how sea turtles might swim in midwater. “There’s still so much uncertainty about these turtles,” Manning says. “This will always be an ongoing study.”
On February 10, 1840, Queen Victoria married Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. The sumptuous wedding breakfast included a 300-pound fruitcake. Her wedding was widely influential, and is said to have inspired traditions ranging from the exchange of engagement rings to brides wearing white. The couple also served fruitcake, which, although typical at the time, now seems reserved only for Christmas. Nevertheless, future British royals followed in Victoria's footsteps and served fruitcake on their big day.
Today, the choice has a lingering effect: Thanks to fruitcake's longevity—along with a longstanding tradition of guests and dignitaries receiving slices of royal wedding cake in elegant boxes as souvenirs—pieces of Victoria's cake still exist. And hers are not the only slices of centuries-old cake floating around today as collectibles.
The main cake at the wedding breakfast of Queen Victoria was three meters tall and decorated with a massive sugar figure symbolizing the nation of Britain blessing the couple. Fruitcake for big occasions had long been a British custom, as their rich fruits, sugar, and liquor were costly. Victoria and Albert's cake fit the bill: According to a report at the time, it was made of "the most exquisite compounds of all the rich things with which the most expensive cakes can be composed, mingled and mixed together into delightful harmony."
The association between fruitcakes and weddings even gave rise to a number of customs. When tiered wedding cakes became the fashion, along with less-heavy cake recipes, the top tier remained fruitcake. New couples still occasionally set it aside to eat on their first anniversary or the baptism of their first child. (Fruitcake's dense texture and traditional soaking in alcohol means it lasts longer than your typical cake.)
Boxed royal wedding-cake souvenirs emerged from the tradition of sending slices of un-iced "groom's cake" home with guests in the 17th century, writes Carol Wilson in her article Wedding Cake: A Slice of History. One piece of Queen Victoria's cake, preserved in a silver box, came with a hand-written note: "To Dream upon." Unmarried people sometimes slept with pieces of wedding cake under their pillows, in hopes of dreaming about their future spouse. The wedding cake of a queen would likely be especially potent.
More than a century later, then-Princess Elizabeth's wedding cake was even more spectacular than her great-great-grandmother's. At nine feet tall, it weighed 500 pounds. Many of those pounds were made up of ingredients sent in from all corners of the British empire, earning it the title of "the 10,000 Mile Cake." The Australian Girl Guides made a particularly large contribution to the wedding, and the Queen sent a tier back to them in thanks.
Through the 20th century, boxed cake souvenirs persisted. In fact, they've become collectors' items, going for thousand of dollars at auction. A slice of wedding cake from the wedding of Wallis Simpson and the Duke of Windsor sold for $29,900 in 1998. Last June, Julien's Auctions in Los Angeles sold five slices of royal wedding cake that spanned nearly 40 years of ceremonies. From the wedding cake of Princess Anne and Captain Mark Phillips in 1973, to that of Prince William and Catherine Middleton in 2011, the slices of fruitcake came enclosed in neat tins or boxes. If it seems strange that so many slices of royal wedding cake still circulate, wonder no more: Ancillary cakes were often baked for the occasion, and some were even donated by bakers hoping for royal acknowledgement.
The tradition of boxed fruitcake souvenirs, however, has been bucked: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's cake wasn't fruitcake, and it's unlikely that their lemon-and-elderflower cake would last for decades anyway. But needless to say, no amount of sugar, alcohol, or preservatives will make decades-old cake taste good. The royal wedding cakes that have survived are long past their shelf life.
This story originally ran on May 1, 2018.
Puerto Vallarta’s modern history can be traced back to the 19th century. Its historic district encompasses areas like Old Vallarta and the Romantic Zone.
The area known as "Gringo Gulch" lies precisely here, atop a ravine-sided cliff next to the River Cuale. Gulch was the hideaway for celebrities the likes of Liz Taylor, Richard Burton, and Jack Huston during the 1950s and 1960s. Constructed in 2012, the Iguana Bridge connects the low-lying River Cuale Island and Gringo Gulch via a structure that is equal parts bridge and stairs.
The bridge draws inspiration from its namesake animal (which also inspired the 1964 Huston-directed movie, The Night of the Iguana). Covered in tiles of different shades of green, the bridge has an iguana appearance.
The architecture throughout the region is a mix of Vallarta style (an innovation by architects Fernando “Freddy” Romero and Guillermo Wulff) and authentic 19th-century villas. It required a bridge that also mixed different styles, with an influence as ancient as the saurian iguana.
Ein Gedi Nature Reserve in Israel covers a lot of ground, from the upper reaches of the Judeaen plateau to the banks of the Dead Sea, the lowest land point on Earth. Its sun-baked topography seems inhospitable, but it makes a lovely home for the rock hyrax, a small mammal that intermittently pierces the region’s usually cloudless sky with a suite of squawks, chirps, and barks. Long a source of bemusement to tourists, the small mammal’s communiques have been the subject of a 20-year scientific study. Researchers have been looking at the hyrax’s calls through a linguistic lens, and are now checking to see whether a particular rule of human language applies beyond our species.
The research, published in the journal Evolution Letters, set out to discover whether hyraxes abide by the “Law of Brevity,” which holds that words used more frequently in communications will generally be shorter than the less common ones, and explains why we often shorten words in common parlance, such as “TV” for “television” and “uni” for “university.” This is essentially an optimization strategy, with the most commonly used words requiring less effort to produce.
“You’re basically trying to save energy,” says Vlad Demartsev, a biologist now at the University of Konstanz in Germany, who led the research in Ein Gedi while he was at Tel Aviv University. “You need to use energy to produce those longer words. Humans are slightly lazy so they have a tendency to shorten those words, and find some different code.”
We already know that hyraxes—guinea pig–shaped cousins of the elephant—have syntax and dialects. Demartsev and his team wanted to see if they had a sense of brevity, too, just like thousands of human languages. Specifically, they wanted to know if the most common calls among hyraxes were energy-efficient. So they hooked some hyraxes up to a surveillance network.
“We basically fitted tiny recorders, the size of a one euro coin, on each animal, and recorded them for a week,” says Demartsev. “Any call they made was recorded. Their whole routine, all interactions, we had the audio.”
There are two ways for a common call to be considered optimized for energy efficiency—it can be short, or it can be soft. The results paint a complicated picture of hyrax interactions. Among females, who live in tight-knit groups (maybe with one male), calls that are longer but softer are more common. And males, most of whom live alone, in general go loud—the better to reach distant females with a come-on. As anyone who has hiked Ein Gedi knows, males sing long-winded, complex love songs.
“We can’t say for sure, but we think that for humans the length of the word or informational unit is the cost-determining factor,” Demartsev says, “while for animals volume is much more crucial.
“It’s wasteful, because you’re basically trying to show off and advertise your quality, how rich and strong you are,” he adds of the male repertoire. “You cannot show off by being very economical. You have to brag a bit.”
Before it became a 21st-century battleground, Aleppo’s historic Old Quarter embraced the world’s longest and oldest network of souks—Arabic for covered markets. There were 45 in all, dating back to medieval times and forming a 13-kilometer labyrinth where Syrians and foreigners came to shop, work, and socialize.
Between 2012 and 2016, government and rebel forces fought for control of Aleppo, which was then Syria’s biggest city. By the time government troops regained control of the Old Quarter, almost all the souks and all but a hundred of their 1,600 shops had been damaged or destroyed—demolished by explosives, pitted by shrapnel, and charred by fire.
Syrian authorities and foreign heritage organizations aim to bring the Old Quarter back to life by rebuilding the souk network bit by bit. One of the first sections to be restored is the Saqatiya souk, a 100-meter cobblestone alley containing 53 shops. Saqatiya means a seller of meat offcuts, and under the souk's arched roof, vendors once again shout their wares, including fresh meat, nuts, sweets, clothing, and toiletries.
Al-Saqatiya, sometimes spelled al Saqatiyah, re-opened in 2019 and is a short stroll from the 11th-century Great Mosque, Aleppo’s war-damaged spiritual heart. Reconstruction of the souk cost $400,000 and took about eight months, the Associated Press reported. The project employed about 60 workers and was funded and supervised by the Geneva-based Aga Khan Trust for Culture, which promotes the restoration of historic sites as a catalyst for social and economic development. Syrian architect Bassel al-Daher said about 30 percent of Saqatiya was damaged in the war. He told AFP that its reconstruction was “the project of a lifetime.”
Aleppo’s location, midway between the Mediterranean Sea to the west and the Euphrates River to the east, put it at the center of international trade for millennia. Long-distance caravan trains brought Persian silks, Indian pepper, and other valuable cargoes to the city. Products found their way west by way of European merchants who lived in Aleppo from at least the 16th century. They tapped into a multi-ethnic and multi-faith commercial network that stretched as far as China.
Cornish legend is, well, legendary. It runs through Cornish culture like tin in its land, and mystery awaits around every corner.
Less than a mile southeast from Lanyon Quoit sits Madron Well, where the water that bubbles from an underground spring is reputed to have healing powers. While the spring itself isn’t easy to see, it is marked by a nearby wishing tree festooned with colorful strips of material known as clooties and more obscure items such a toys or wooden shapes (think a colorful version of Blair Witch).
Many pre-Christian religions venerate wells and springs as sacred sites. Here under the shade of the clootie tree, Pagan custom dictates that after the ritual has been complete, the clootie placed by the pilgrim will disintegrate, and so too will the illness or disability.
Around 100 yards from the well stands a chest-high rectangular structure open to the elements and covered in moss and vegetation. To one side is a stone dais that is recognizable as an altar and gives away this structure’s purpose as a chapel. The current structure was built in the 12th century atop an old pagan site and is named, like the nearby village, after the Cornish hermit Madron, who became the patron saint of cures and protection against pain. The chapel became a baptistery, and the nearby well supplied the necessary water via a leat, or artificial waterway. The chapel’s north facing entrance is unusual in Christian belief, as it is considered the devil’ door.
For the more inquisitive, there is a second, more indistinct well about half a mile across a muddy field from the chapel. This is the original well, where many legends abound, including one about a paralyzed local named John Trelille, who, in the 12th century, bathed three times in the well, after each time spending the night on a nearby hillock named St Madron’s bed. At the end of the ritual, he was cured of paralysis. His miraculous recovery was verified by the Bishop of Exeter, and the resultant publicity attracted pilgrims throughout medieval times.
Unmarried women would also visit the site and place a straw crucifix upon the surface of the well water. The number of bubbles rising to the surface would indicate the number of years until they would be married. This ceremony was said to have stopped in the 19th century.
Nestled in the middle of the Forest of Dean is St Briavels, a small town in Gloucestershire few people has heard of. Its history is a rather intriguing one, to say the least.
The town, though most of it actually predates the Norman times, was established around the Norman castle originally built as a border stronghold against Wales, then garrisoned by Miles FitzWalter, Earl of Hereford, in the early 12th century. Its main sources of income were quarrying and forestry, as the forest is rich in minerals. Naturally enough, the castle is made of locally harvested old red sandstone and limestone, which may have given the building its grim and robust appearance.
Fast forward a couple centuries to when King John would visit and hunt in the forest every November, always lodging at St Briavels Castle. He allegedly expanded and renovated the former fortress—funded by the taxes he increased and collected, as is expected of this notoriously villainous monarch. Some of the surviving rooms, hall range, and curtain wall are thought to have been built by him.
Some time after John's death, the castle was turned into a quarrel (crossbow bolt) factory, and soon it became the national center of quarrel manufacture, the resources provided by the iron mines in the Forest of Dean. The castle's most iconic feature, its magnificent gatehouse, was built around this time by the order of King Edward I.
In the next centuries the castle slowly began to lose its former splendor. In the 17th century it became a jailhouse, primarily a debtors' prison. Prisoners were not treated as nicely as the guests of the youth hostel today, and, following the prison reforms in the early 19th century, its function as a prison ceased and the building, especially the court and jury rooms, started to be used as a local school.
After this the castle became nearly uninhabitable until it was restored in the early 1900s as a family country house, and then finally became a youth hostel in 1948. The castle (along with its curtain wall) has been classed as a Grade I listed building and scheduled monument.
Today, St Briavels Castle is also considered one of the most haunted castles in England, as there have been numerous reports of supernatural activities from the visitors and guests, such as the cries of a baby in King John's Bedroom, the restless spirits of prisoners in the Hanging Room, a grey lady wandering in the corridor, and poltergeist phenomena throughout the building.
In May 1968, workers at the Hartuv quarry in the Judean Hills were quarrying with explosives. Each blast was much like the one before, until a strange gap opened up in the rock face. Peering inside, the men discovered a large cave, its roof dripping with stalactites, the oldest of which would later be dated to around 300,000 years old.
After its discovery, local authorities decided to keep the cave a secret, fearing the ancient formations would be damaged if it were opened to the public. Seven years later, on March 16, 1975, the cave was declared a nature reserve and its secrets were revealed.
The Avshalom Cave, also known as the Soreq Cave, has since become one of Israel’s most incredible natural wonders. From the roof of the 50,000-square-foot cavern hangs a forest of stalactites, the largest more than 13 feet long, slowly formed over millennia by the slow dripping of water through cracks in the ceiling. Rising up from the floor beneath them are a series of towering stalactites, while some stalactites and stalagmites have joined to form pillars.
The result is a strange subterranean world of bizarre formations, with organic-looking shapes that resemble coral reefs and tentacles. Other formations have been compared to a whole range of objects: elephant ears, ice cream cones, the Lion King, and the U.S. Capitol Building.
The whole effect has been made even more trippy since the installation of a modern lighting system. For years, the cave was illuminated by the white light of automobile headlamps. This, however, triggered photosynthesis and the algae inside the cave began to grow, threatening to cover the bare rock formations in a uniform smudge of dark green moss. The park officials then tried using ultraviolet light at night to kill the algae, but the algae eventually developed an immunity to UV light.
In 2012, a new anti-algae tactic was employed. A lighting system was installed that used only a limited part of the color spectrum, with shifting shades of orange, blue and green. Not only did this help to control the algae, it also gave the cave an otherworldly appearance that made the whole experience all the more memorable.
At the time, some park officials had mixed feelings about the new lighting, worrying it would detract from the cave’s natural beauty. Boris Kripak, a Russian-born archaeologist who worked at the cave, told the Las Angeles Times: “We don’t want to turn the cave into a discotheque.” But he also admitted that the shifting colors, which range from bright orange to deep purple, had given new life to the ancient cavern, saying “It’s like the cave is breathing.”
The Gadsden Pacific Toy Train Operating Museum is a volunteer-run museum with around 15 trains operating on seven various layouts. The exhibits cover more than 6000 square feet of indoor space. The museum is also home to outdoor layouts as well. They even have a small train that gives rides during open houses.
The museum has been around for nearly 20 years and is a must-see when in Tucson. The museum also hosts several community events each year including a Polar Express event, train shows, and birthday parties. You can even rent out the museum for weddings.
This hidden gem can be difficult to navigate. The various corridors that make up this shop are filled with a collection of items the owner has amassed over the years.
From creepy dolls and wooden tobacco pipes, to boxes with old photos and skis from another century—you can find just about anything obscure inside this shop. Another highlight of the shop os the owner, who's mood perfectly reflects the shop's nature and surroundings. You'll surely find something special amidst all these treasures.