Bee Gees Getting Blue Plaque While Monty Python Passed Over

blue plaqueAny traveler in the UK is familiar with the Blue Plaques. The plaques mark the spot of a famous event or building, or where a famous person has lived, worked, or died.

English Heritage has recently announced that due to government budget cuts, half of the shortlist for new plaques will be canceled, with such big names as Beatles manager Brian Epstein and Monty Python’s Graham Chapman missing out, the BBC reports.

Some forty other prominent people have received the go-ahead, including comedian Peter Sellers and actor David Niven.

Blue plaques help bring context to a walk through UK cities and towns. A stroll through London can show you where Dickens worked in a sweatshop as a child, Marx researched “Das Kapital” and Jimi Hendrix spent his last days.

Other organizations put up similar plaques. The Heritage Foundation and Thame Town Council have announced they’ll unveil a blue plaque for Bee Gees singer Robin Gibb at his home in Oxfordshire. Near my house in Oxford is this blue plaque honoring Sir Roger Bannister, who ran the first mile under four minutes. He helped carry the Olympic torch this year.

It’s a shame some people won’t get blue plaques, but at least they didn’t give one to L. Ron Hubbard.

Potter Fans Want Quidditch To Be An Olympic Sport

Could Quidditch be played at a future Olympics?Harry Potter fans from around the globe have descended on Oxford, England, to take part in the first major international quidditch tournament and to promote the sport for possible inclusion in future Olympic Games. Players say that the real world version of the fictional sport, created by author J.K. Rowling, is as physically demanding and competitive as Rugby and less ridiculous than some of the other sports that are already included in the Olympics.

In the Harry Potter books and films quidditch players fly around the playing field on magical brooms while attempting to score goals on their opponents. Since no one has figured out how to create a flying broom just yet, the game was adapted for play on the ground instead. In 2005, a group of students from Middlebury College in Vermont came up with a set of rules for the sport, which features teams of seven and employs three different balls. In a nod back to the original source material, each of the players are also required to keep a broom between his or her legs at all times.

Since its creation the rules of the game have been refined and ground quidditch has taken off across the globe. The sport is now played by 700 teams in 25 countries around the globe and while many players are obviously Potter fans, an increasing number have never read the books or seen the movies. They’re all drawn to the unique combination of rugby, dodge ball and tag that makes the sport stand out from any other.

Whether or not quidditch will ever get included in the Olympics remains to be seen. Before it can achieve that level of recognition, it first must become more universally recognized around the world as a true sport and create an international governing body. Once that is achieved, that governing body can file an application to be included in the Games as a demonstration sport. After that, a second application can be filed for full inclusion in the next Olympics.

While I have to admit the game actually sounds kind of fun, the thought of running around a field with a broom between my legs just seems ridiculous. Then again, curling uses brooms and it seems way sillier than this.

[Photo credit: Christopher Capozziello/Getty Images]

New Ancient Egypt And Nubia Galleries At Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

Ancient Egypt
The Ashmolean Museum in Oxford has always been famous for its collection of art from Ancient Egypt and Nubia (Sudan). It recently revamped these galleries as part of a major remodel.

While the new galleries reopened in November, I didn’t want to write it up until I got to see it for myself. The old galleries were dark, cramped and had endless cases crammed with artifacts. In other words, they were arranged in the old style. Museums are changing, though. The trend these days are to have brighter, more open and inviting spaces that reduce museum fatigue. Most of the Ashmolean got this treatment back in 2009, and after a big fund raising effort the famous Egyptian and Nubian galleries have also been revamped.

As you can see from the above picture, the gloomy old galleries have been opened up. Signage has been improved with lots of detailed information about each piece. The Ashmolean has become the poster child of new museum design, and its impressive collection certainly helps make it a world-class destination.

Personally I walked through the galleries with mixed feelings. Creating more space means displaying fewer artifacts. The crowded cases filled with dozens of figurines or amulets are gone, replaced by displays showing single pieces or at most half a dozen. As one of my friends complained, this slants the displays towards the best objects, while the more day-to-day objects familiar to the common people aren’t represented. She also pointed out that you lose the chance to compare typology, how the appearance of artifacts change over space and time.

On the other hand, the new galleries are definitely a more user-friendly experience. All the objects for which the galleries were famous are still there, like the phallic statue of the god Min, the Shrine of Taharqa and a Roman-era female mummy complete with golden tits. While obsessive archaeology buffs will be a bit disappointed with the new look, most visitors will find it a pleasant change.

All photos courtesy copyright Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford.

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Travel Dilemma: Old Favorite Or Someplace New?

travel
I’ve just spent four days in London, where I saw friends and did some work before heading up to Oxford for two weeks. My family and I do this every Easter and summer. It’s good for my kid’s English (we live most of the year in Spain) and my wife and I both have plenty of work to do up here.

While I love these regular trips, there’s always a nagging pressure in the back of my head to travel to someplace new. We could just as easily spend Easter in Tunisia. In fact, it would be cheaper! Then there’s that hike I’m planning in Scotland for September. While I love hiking in Scotland, why not do that hike in Montenegro like I’ve been talking about?

Or I could skip the hike and take a slow boat up the Gambia River, or visit the pyramids of the Sudan. The world is big and my time is finite. Should I really be going back to the same place over and over again?

Gadling’s own Annie Scott came up with ten reasons you must revisit. Her reason #10 is the most important one: “to check in on friends.” We’ve been coming to Oxford and London regularly enough that they aren’t so much trips as they are homecomings. I wouldn’t want to sacrifice that for the sake of simply seeing new sights. Even going somewhere a second time, like I did when I revisited Harar last year, allows you to look up old acquaintances and turn them into friends.

Revisiting a familiar place has so many rewards… and yet the rest of the world beckons.

It’s a constant struggle. Some places like Oxford, I won’t let go, since they’re a part of my wife and son’s lives too. Harar I also don’t want to let go, but that’s my own thing and an expensive thing at that. The rest is a delicate balancing act, one that I feel I’m never getting entirely right.

So do you prefer to travel to a new place or an old favorite? Take our poll and share more of your thoughts in the comments section!

Photo courtesy Archibald Ballantine. No, that’s not me with the map.

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Britain’s Heritage Cities are ready for visitors


Britain's Heritage Cities are ready for visitors


Thanks to the London Olympics, which will open on July 27, and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, 2012 is expected to be a boom year for tourism in Great Britain. In the hopes of capitalizing on this trend, six historic cities have teamed up to get noticed by travelers intent on venturing beyond the English capital.

Bath, Carlisle, Chester, Oxford, Stratford-Upon-Avon, and York, Britain’s so-called Heritage Cities, are trying to lure tourists with eight itineraries that explore their shared history. The Literary, Visual and Performing Arts tour, for example, takes in Oxford, Bath, and Stratford with stops at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and the Bodleian Library, the model for Hogwarts Library in the ‘Harry Potter’ series. Meanwhile, travelers interested in England’s North Country may want to follow the Great Castles, Stately Homes, and Gardens tour, which visits three countries (England, Wales, and Scotland) and three Heritage Cities (Carlisle, Chester, and York), and includes stops at a 12th century castle, the homes of Beatrix Potter and William Wordsworth, and sections of Hadrian’s Wall.

Beyond exploring these cities in a package tour, Britain’s Heritage Cities website offers a glimpse of the top 10 attractions in each town. Did you know that York is considered the most haunted city in Europe? Or, that the city of Chester still carries on the medieval tradition of town criers? The most oh-so-British traditions and folklore live on in these Heritage Cities, so it may be worth checking them out while the past is still present.

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