The Sudwala Caves

As some of the oldest caverns known to man, the Sudwala Caves in Mpumalanga, South Africa are a magnificent display of natural beauty.

Come along as we explore these riveting corridors of ancient masterpieces, and we’ll discover together what makes these caves such a popular attraction!

History of the Sudwalas

Because of the great antiquity of the Sudwala Caves, we only have a small glimpse of what has taken place there; we can guess that it has sheltered many people over the millennia, as primitive artifacts and tools have been found deep in the cavern’s recesses.

In the 1800s, they were a hideout for Prince Somquba as he tried to gain the throne from his brother and royal heir Mswati. The caves supplied fresh water, and provided plenty of room for men, animals, weapons, and other supplies. Somquba named them in honor of Sudwala, one of his officials.

The Sudwalas were later used by the Boer army for storing supplies during the South African War.

In 1965, a man named Philippus Rudolf Owen purchased the caves and opened them up to the public. An enormous chamber near the mouth of the caverns has been named the PR Owen Hall in his honor; this amphitheater-like room reaches 121 feet to the top of its dome, and has a diameter of 230 feet!

Modern Tours

The Sudwala Caves are open year-round, and the basic entrance fee is around $7.00. They also offer guided tours that can take you over a mile into the caves. This lengthy (4-hour) trek, called the Crystal Tour, costs around $32.00, and will lead you along the ultimate cave exploration experience, including getting a little wet and dirty!

While the terrain of the tour is easy enough for most people, it is not an advised endeavor for individuals with back or knee problems; nor is it a choice activity for anyone who experiences claustrophobia easily, as some of the passageways are a bit tight.

The highlight of the tour is a chamber full of glistening aragonite crystals that dazzle the eyes with their beauty. You may see a few of the many horseshoe bats that reside in the caves as you walk along the tour; you’re also likely to see some strange naturally-occurring mineral formations along the way with names like the Rocket and the Screaming Monster. 

Let’s Go!

So, are you ready to go exploring? Tie on your hiking boots and get ready to experience one of the most intriguing caves in the world!

National Museum of the Resistance: The Most Important Museum You’ve Never Heard Of

The world is full of obscure museums, but most of them are obscure for a reason.

Typically, such places are devoted to select topics that appeal to only a select few, and frequently they are located in out of the way places. 

The National Museum of the Resistance, however, breaks the mold. Located in cosmopolitan Brussels, Belgium, the museum enshrines wartime artifacts with a particular emphasis on World War II and the Belgian Resistance to German occupation of their country.

The mainstream appeal and placement in a large and prominent city make it somewhat baffling that this museum, which opened its doors on the 28th anniversary of D-Day on June 6, 1972, isn’t more renowned.

An Historic Building

The building itself that houses the museum is historically important, as it was the site of the publication of a satirical newspaper, Faux Soir, that spoofed the Nazi propaganda publication Le Soir (which means “the evening”). At great risk of personal danger to themselves, members of the Belgian Resistance produced and distributed this publication, managing to spread tens of thousands of copies throughout Europe. Unfortunately, the Gestapo arrested fifteen of the people involved in the satire’s production and at least two of them never returned from the prison camps to which they were sent.

A Somber and Meaningful Collection

Included in the museum’s archives are items such as an original edition of Faux Soir, a radio set that the Resistance recovered from a downed allied plane, and a violin scavenged from Mauthausen Concentration Camp (it is thought that the violin was played during executions). Make no mistake, this is a sobering yet compelling and ultimately very important place to visit. After all, it is said that everyone who ignores history is doomed to repeat it.

Unfortunately, due to renovations the National Museum of the Resistance is currently closed. Hopefully it will re-open soon, because the world is always in need of reminders that freedom is never free.

Everything You Need to Know About the Trap Music Museum

Everybody’s familiar with rap music, but have you ever heard of trap music?

Trap music is gritty, with raw lyrics that express what it’s like to grow up feeling “trapped” in a society that greatly limits opportunity based upon things such as race and wealth. 

The Trap Music Museum at 630 Travis Street NW in Atlanta, GA, is similarly gritty and seeks to accurately recreate the experience of living a bleak, drug and violence-filled existence on the margins.

What to Expect

The museum recreates a corner store through which museum-goers enter a simulated trap house, complete with drug den living room, a kitchen that appears to be used for cooking crack, and other weapons, before finally, inevitably, is a reproduction of a jail cell. The purpose is to accurately replicate the culture from which trap music springs rather than to glorify the criminal lifestyle.

Beyond the Museum

Besides the museum itself, there is a bar that is host to Trappy Hour from 4-10 pm every Thursday, when patrons can book half hour private tours of the museum for $20 per person, with a complimentary glass of champagne and 2-for-1 drinks. There is also Escape the Trap, a 30-45 minute escape room experience that for $30 per person includes admission to the museum.

Plan Your Trip

Admission to the Trap Music Museum is $10 per person and parking is available nearby for $10. The museum is open 4 pm to midnight on Friday, noon to midnight Saturday, and 2 pm to 10 pm Sunday. Admission is only available to those under 18 before 8 pm. Escape the Trap is open 7 days a week at various times, with private tours of the museum given Monday-Thursday.

The Trap Music Museum is a unique experience that seeks not just to represent trap music itself, but the culture that is its source.

The Nickajack Cave

What once was a massive cave system full of corridors, spectacular mineral formations, and historical artifacts has now been reduced to a small fraction of its accessible area;

but what was stolen from Nickajack Cave through the rising waters of the Nickajack Dam has been preserved through legends and stories of its fascinating past.

Get ready for an intense evening of fluttering bat wings and tales of near-death SCUBA experiences!

The Times They Are A-Changin

For hundreds of years, Nickajack Cave has played a part in human history; American Indians, settlers, the confederate army, and countless adventurers have taken advantage of the shelter and mineral resources of the cave. What was considered to be the world’s largest stalagmite stood majestically in the deep recesses of Nickajack, and for a time, the cave was publicized as a tourist attraction.

It is claimed that, during a low point in his life, Johnny Cash wandered into the cave in the 1960s with the intent to get lost and die; but in the process, he experienced a spiritual awakening and found God. This moment changed the course of his life, and as he felt a divine guidance leading him back to the mouth of the cave, he emerged a new man.

In 1967, everything changed, and Nickajack Cave would never be the same.

Rising Water

The Tennessee River (on which Nickajack Cave is located) was so difficult to navigate by boat that it was decided a dam needed to be built to regulate the water flow. The Hales Bar Dam was the first attempt, completed in 1913. It was located further up the river where the cave was not affected by its reservoir. The Hales Bar had some faults however, and continual leaks prompted the construction of a new dam.

The Nickajack Dam was constructed 6.4 miles downstream from the Hales Bar Dam, and it was completed by the end of 1967. As the water gates were officially shut, the new dam’s reservoir began to fill, and the Nickajack Cave flooded almost completely, burying everything (except a few hundred feet at the entrance) in water.

The Nickajack Today

Today if you visit Nickajack Cave, you will find the entrance rising out of the water only by about 15 feet, and blocked by fencing. But you can still take a thrilling boat ride to the entrance’s cove and see thousands of bats emerge from the cave on warm summer evenings; it is quite the experience to sit in the middle of the shadowy flutters as the bats search for insects near the surface of the water (Don’t worry, they don’t fly into you). Just be sure to take plenty of lights; it will be dark as you head back to the boat launch.

Entrance into the cave is strictly prohibited, and violation can cause serious risk, as was found out by David Gant in 1992. No doubt, you will hear all about the foolhardy SCUBA diver and his friend as you interact with the locals, as well as how the entire Nickajack Reservoir had to be lowered in order to save his life!

No visit to Marion County, Tennessee is complete without a trip to Nickajack Cave. 

Are you ready?

There’s No Place like the Judy Garland Museum

If you’re planning a trip to Grand Rapids, MN, including a stop to the Judy Garland Museum is a must.

The museum includes the entertainer’s childhood home, the Children’s Discovery Museum, and of course, the Land of Oz exhibit. So, embrace the magic and follow the yellow brick road.

It’s No Longer Just a Dream

A walk through the modest 1920s home where Frances Ethel Gumm, a.k.a. Judy Garland began life’s journey offers a poignant glimpse into the star’s history.

The museum includes an array of memorabilia from Garland’s extensive film and musical career as well as her personal effects. Scripts, personal letters, photos, jewelry, and clothing combine to create the lasting legacy of her career.  

The most extensively memorialized aspect of the museum includes mementos of Dorothy’s heroic journey through Oz. Here, you’ll find the carriage ridden into Oz, which incidentally, once belonged to Abraham Lincoln.

Secure your own legacy and request to have a personal message engraved on the museum’s yellow brick road.

The Case of the Missing Ruby Slippers

When Dorothy’s missing ruby slippers mysteriously vanished from the museum in 2005, the case went cold. It wasn’t until a phone call in an attempt to cash in on insurance money and subsequent FBI sting operation in 2018 that the iconic slippers were returned to their rightful owners. It proves once again that, “There’s no place like home.”

The Children’s Discovery Museum

The interactive exhibits are designed for children aged 12 and younger. Included among the adventures are Treesa the Talking Tree, a dinosaur dig, and Lions and Tigers and Bears exhibit.

The Wizard of Oz Festival

The third week of June every year is set aside to participate in activities that celebrate Judy Garland’s life and career as well as the iconic production of The Wizard of Oz. The three-day festival includes memorable film clips, concerts, and dining.

The Mysterious Parallel Forest

Does your idea of fun include a close encounter of the paranormal kind?

That’s exactly the type of experience many who’ve visited the Parallel Forest in the Wichita Mountains say you’ll find under the canopy of the symmetrically lined red cedars.

Where Is the Parallel Forest?

A five-minute drive south of Meers, OK, on State Route 115 will bring you to the general location of the Parallel Forest. There are no signs indicating you’ve reached your destination, you simply have to look for a cement pad and a stand of cedar trees tucked into the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge.

The fact that you must rely on your map skills and powers of observation to uncover such a hidden treasure adds to the site’s urban-legend mythology.

What Is the History of the Parallel Forest?

The Parallel Forest’s physical history is completely manmade. That is to say that in 1912, the U.S. Forestry Service requisitioned 16 acres for the planting of cedar trees, which when mature, were to be harvested and used for such practical purposes as fence posts and railings.

The trees were planted in a strictly symmetrical pattern – each tree in every direction was placed exactly six feet apart to keep it from spreading too far out as it grew. Through the years, the trees were saved from the ax because they were eventually included within the boundaries of a reorganized public use area, known as the current wildlife refuge. They’ve maintained their parallel appearance, this grove of 20,000 trees.

What Is the Parallel Forest Legend?

The cedars’ branches, captivated by the wind, creak and sway in quiet unison. Shadowy light forms dimly-recognized shapes that create the backdrop for the imagination to flourish. Growls and moans, cries and howls, disembodied voices and headless visitors are just a few of the experiences visitors have reported over the years.

Do You Dare Visit the Parallel Forest?

There are those who’ve experienced nothing short of the exquisite beauty of nature while venturing into the Parallel Forest. Where do you stand when asked to brush up against the supernatural? Is it an adventure you would dare to encounter?

Manhattan’s Poster House Museum is Dedicated to Graphic Arts

Posters as advertising billboards are graphic art as well as history.

The Poster House Museum at 119 West 23rd Street in the Chelsea neighborhood exhibits posters from around the world.

This is the first museum in the United States to focus on the graphic art of posters from the late 1800s to the present.

Exhibits

The Poster House opened in June of 2019 with a special exhibit of the work of Alphonse Mucha titled “Art Nouveau/Nouvelle Femme”. The exhibit “Designing Through the Wall: Cyan in the 1990s” details the graphic form of using the blue-green cyan for contemporary design. Future exhibits include posters from the 2017 Women’s March and “100 Years of Chinese Posters”. A collection of hand-painted movie posters from Ghana will also be on display.  

The Art Of Advertising

This is a celebration of the art of persuasion using posters to advertise everything from beauty products to concerts, exhibits, and events such as movies or plays. This is where business and commerce meet art and artists. Posters are the artwork of advertising.  A poster must be visually appealing as it usually communicates its message asking the public to buy or participate in an event that will cost money.

The Poster House is a “living archive” of contemporary poster design as well as those from the past. Posters developed from photos and even computer-designed art are also on display. The posters reflect the fashion and morals of different times over a 160 year period. They are part of the pop culture of the past where different print media and techniques were used to create the posters.

Extras

The museum features a gift shop and cafe along with a special children’s exhibition. There is also a classic poster photo booth and a modern digital poster wall.

Let’s Go!

Poster House is open Wednesday through Monday from 11:00 am to 6:00 pm. Admission is $12 for adults with children under 18 admitted free. Students and seniors pay only $8.00. This is a new experience for New Yorkers and visitors in a city that offers many museums. 

Featured Article

Start Hiking Today

Talk about fresh air and great scenery while getting some exercise.

Whether you are looking to clear your head, reduce stress, lose weight, or just have some fun, hiking, trekking or bushwalking may be the sport for you.

Hiking is a recreational activity that is great for your general well-being. It is economical and convenient since it doesn’t require any special equipment.  There are no rules, and as long as you are healthy and can walk, you can hike.

There is no age limit when it comes to hiking. This is an activity that can be enjoyed by toddlers and the elderly. You can hike almost anywhere provided; it’s not a prohibited area.

Brief Hiking Stats

Hiking is probably the oldest outdoor activity, it started about half a million years ago during the Stone Age when man learned how to stand upright and walk. Back then, people hiked out of necessity to hunt and gather food. The oldest hiking milestone was in 1874 when Gardiner, Grove, Knubel, Sottajev, and Walker conquered the summit of Elbrus the highest mountain in Europe. One of the most recent was when Karel Sabbe smashed the Appalachian Trail record by four days. Some of the finest hiking trails in the world include;

·      Appalachian Trail in the United States

·      Pennine Way in the United Kingdom

·      Balkans, Montenegro and Albania

·      Tahoe Rim trail in the United States

·      Camino de Santiago trail in Spain

Hiking as a Social Activity

Though some people prefer to hike by themselves, hiking can be more fun in a group. This can be your family, friends, workmates, or even a hike with your partner for some special bonding. This is a recreational activity that can improve your social skills and bonds as well as help you make new friends.

Hiking for Health

Hiking is an excellent sport for people who want to exercise and can’t afford gym membership. It is also great for those who are living a sedentary lifestyle, and want to begin working out.  The elderly can also hike comfortably, especially if they can’t engage in vigorous exercise. Hiking not only gives you a good workout, but also allows you to interact with nature, therefore, refreshing your body, mind, and soul.

Hiking Events

If you wish to hike competitively, you can enroll for the Hiking World Championships. You can also join an organization that encourages hiking for a cause. For instance, The Wilderness Society that routes for the preservation of rights of way in parkland, foot, and bridle paths. It also protects recognized natural spaces from encroachment.

To start hiking, you only need the best hiking shoes. All you need is to invest some time.

Visit Platform 9 3/4 For Your Harry Potter Needs

From the well-known Harry Potter series came Platform 9 3/4.

It took root and grew in the hearts and imaginations of people all around the world. Have you found yourself dreaming of visiting the platform and escaping to the wizarding world lately?

PLATFORM 9 3/4 FACTS

  • While the Harry Potter series is a fantasy fiction series, Platform 9 3/4 has been made into a real location to visit. 
  • Platform 9 3/4 was released to the public in 1997 via the first Harry Potter book: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.
  • King’s Cross Station in London was one of the primary locations set in the books, helping define the series and setting the barrier to the entrance that led students on their journey to Hogwarts and the wizarding world beyond. 
  • Between 2005 and 2012, the famous marker and trolley were relocated all around King’s Cross Station, until finally finding its permanent home between departing platforms 9 and 10, as described in the series. 

THINGS YOU MUST KNOW BEFORE VISITING PLATFORM 9 3/4

Any fanatic of Harry Potter only dreams of the day they’re accepted into Hogwarts and able to escape the muggle world by visiting Platform 9 3/4. It’s a dream come true. While we’ve brought the magical world into our homes, we can access parts of that world with simple travel.

Find your way to the platform at King’s Cross Station by taking the London Tube. Whether you’re coming straight from the Heathrow, Gatwick or Luton airport, there is a direct tube link to get you there within an hour. There are also 14 bus routes that give you easy access when attempting to get on the Hogwarts express in time. If you’d rather travel a little more privately, take a taxi and you’ll be there in no time. 

When visiting Platform 9 3/4 you’re encouraged to dress in your house colors to show your spirit for whichever house the sorting hat placed you in. Be sure to make a pit stop at one of the platform stores to pick up some gear before your arrival. Are you in Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff or Slytherin? 

Important disclaimer: Muggles – humans – should not attempt to cross the barrier as it remains quite solid to those that don’t harness magic in their family. While getting your letter to Hogwarts is exciting, only true wizards and witches can cross the barrier to board the Hogwarts Express. Once you board the magical train, enjoy your journey to start your classes at Hogwarts school for wizards and witches, located in Scotland. On your ride over, snack on a chocolate frog or some of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans.

If you’ve made it through Platform 9 3/4, I wish you a great journey in the wizarding world! 

Sources:

Platform 9 3/4 Facts – https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/platform-9-3-4

Getting to King’s Cross Station – https://www.tripsavvy.com/guide-to-kings-cross-train-station-london-4174017

Bayterek Tower: A Symbol of Prosperity for Kazakhstan

Bayterek Tower is a stunning monument and observation tower located in Nur-Sultan, formerly Astana, the capital city of Kazakhstan.

From the tower’s notable height to its color and shape, to the golden observatory, every aspect of the tower’s design is steeped in symbolism and celebration of the Kazakh culture.

Symbolism in Numbers

The architect, Akmurza Rustembekov, designed Bayterek Tower with the symbolism of numbers in mind. The tower was built to a height of 97 meters, to celebrate the year 1997, when Nur-Sultan, then Astana, became the capital city of Kazakhstan.

Prior to 1997, the capital of Kazakhstan was Almaty, about 1,300 km to the southwest. The government of Kazakhstan feared that Almaty was too susceptible to damaging earthquakes, and too close to the Chinese border for comfort, and relocated the capital North and East to Astana. In preparation for the new capital’s celebration, construction of the Bayterek Tower began in October 1996. The sparkling golden egg observation tower, spans 22 meters and overlooks the picturesque Kazakh capital from 86 meters above ground. Inside the observation tower sits a wooden globe at the center of a flower with 17 petals to symbolize the world’s religious movements.

Samruk and the Tree of Life

The symbolism that Rustembekov built into tower’s design derives from an old Kazakh legend about the great bird of happiness, Samruk, and the golden egg she laid among the branches of the Tree of Life, a poplar tree. The legend varies based on the region, but it is generally agreed that the egg symbolizes the sun, and is laid by Samruk in the Tree of Life. The sun is later swallowed by the dragon Aydahar, a representation of the light and dark cycles of summer and winter, day and night, good and evil.

Even the name of the tower, Bayterek, is the historic name of the Tree of Life, symbolizing strength and prosperity. As a celebration of the new Kazakh capital, the Bayterek Tower succeeds admirably by combining an uplifting sense of prosperity and bright hopes for the future with profound insight into depths of Kazakh folklore and history.

Sources:

“The Bayterek Tower”. Explore Astana. http://www.astana-kazakhstan.net/attractions-2/culture-and-entertainment/the-bayterek-tower/. Accessed 23 August 2019.

“Bayterek Tower”. Astana Hotels. http://www.astanahotels.ru/eng/astana/bayterek.htm%20Bayterek%20Monument. Accessed 23 August 2019.

“Why Did Kazakhstan Move Its Capital?” Infoplease. https://www.infoplease.com/askeds/why-did-kazakhstan-move-its-capital. Accessed 23 August 2019.

“Baiterek – A Symbol of Modern Astana”. Advantour. https://www.advantour.com/kazakhstan/astana/bayterek.htm. Accessed 23 August 2019.