DayZipping launches Android app, brings fresh trips to fresh places

It wasn’t quite a year ago that an Atlanta-based startup dubbed DayZipping set out to change the way people interacted with new places. But having a growing pool of day trips — journeys that can be completed within one to eight hours by foot, bike, car or train — only does a user so much good on the big screen. At last week’s Google I/O conference, the company launched their first foray into the mobile realm: the DayZipping Android app. All of the daytripping goodness found on the web, packaged into a free, intuitive mobile app. Simply load up the program on your Android phone or tablet, search for a location that you’re heading to, and see a whole host of possible day trip options added by fellow travelers who have already done the hard work for you.

We’re told that an iOS version should bring the same functionality to iPhone users in mid-to-late summer, but given the haste at which an Android build can be injected into the Market, the company’s using Google’s mobile OS as a proving ground. As for planned upgrades? They’re looking to integrate the mobile app with your web account so that you can save trips for offline viewing and get customized suggestions on the go. In other words, you could have rated trips in Atlanta, and the app will generate suggestions in San Francisco even if it’s your first visit to the area. Long-term, the outfit wants to provide in-app reviews, a direct way to receive a deal or purchase agreement (think local deals based on where you’re tripping), and group messaging functions if the code can be hammered out. Hit the Market here to give it a go — who knows what trips you may discover in your backyard?

From myth to Empire: Heracles to Alexander the Great

Today’s royals have nothing on the ancients.

Alexander the Great and his predecessors enjoyed a sumptuous lifestyle that beats anything William and Kate will ever enjoy, not to mention real power as opposed to lots of TV time. Now an amazing new exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England, gives an insight into the life of the royal family of Macedon.

Alexander the Great conquered much of the known world before his death in 323 BC, but he didn’t come out of nowhere. He was the second-to-last king of a proud royal lineage that traced its roots to the legendary Herakles. Heracles to Alexander the Great: Treasures of the Royal Capital of Macedon, a Hellenic Kingdom in the Age of Democracy looks at the development of one of the ancient world’s greatest royal families. Their palace was almost as big as Buckingham Palace and what remains shows it was much more luxurious. There was gold, silver, ivory, and jewels everywhere, and plenty has made it into this exhibition. There’s everything from ornate golden wreaths to tiny ivory figurines like this one, which graced a couch on which a king once quaffed wine and consorted with maidens. It’s good to be the king.

The displays focus on more than 500 treasures from the royal tombs at the ancient capital of Aegae (modern Vergina in northern Greece). Three rooms show the role of the king, the role of the queen, and the famous banquets that took place in the palace.

%Gallery-122395%Especially interesting is the gallery about the role of the royal women, who are often overlooked in all the accounts of manly battles and assassinations. Women had a big role to play in religious life and presided at holy festivals and rites alongside men. They also wore heaps of heavy jewelry that, while impressive, couldn’t have been very comfortable.

The banqueting room shows what it was like to party in ancient times. Apparently the master of the banquet diluted the wine with varying proportions of water to “control the time and degree of drunkenness”!

There are even items from the tomb of Alexander IV, Alexander the Great’s son with princess Roxana of Bactria. Alex Jr had some pretty big shoes to fill, what with dad conquering most of the known world and all, but he didn’t get a chance to prove himself because he was poisoned when he was only thirteen. At least he went out in style, with lots of silver and gold thrown into his tomb with him.

This is the first major exhibition in the temporary galleries of the recently redesigned Ashmolean. Expect plenty of interesting shows from this world-class museum in coming years.

Heracles to Alexander the Great: Treasures of the Royal Capital of Macedon, a Hellenic Kingdom in the Age of Democracy runs until August 29, 2011. Oxford makes an easy and enjoyable day trip from London.

[Image © The Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Tourism – Archaeological Receipts Fund]

Madrid daytrip: a Renaissance castle and Spanish Civil War bunker

Madrid has a lot to offer–tasty tapas, wonderful wine, and amazing art. There’s so much to do in the center of town it’s easy to spend your entire vacation there without ever seeing the outskirts. Yet several daytrips offer a different look at Spain.

One possibility just opened up last year. Near the Metro stop Alameda de Osuna on the outskirts of town, the city government has recently opened a Renaissance castle and a Spanish Civil War bunker.

The castle is called Castillo de Alameda de Osuna, and it guarded an important road between Madrid and the city of Alacalá de Henares. Alameda was a village back then; Madrid was barely a town. The castle was home to the local duke and was built in the 15th century when Spain was becoming a major empire. It was improved in the 16th century and is a good example of a small Renaissance fort. A deep stone-lined moat is the first line of defense for a thick square fort with towers at the corners. Cannons and men with matchlock rifles would have defended the walls and it would have been tough to take. Sieges at the time were deadly affairs and the attacking army preferred to try and starve the fort into submission. The defenders made sure to have plenty of food stored up and some sieges lasted for a year or more.

You can find out more information at Castillosnet, including a handy Google map showing how to get there. The website is in Spanish but if you hit the little British flag at the top it will put it through Google translator, always an amusing experience.

The bunker stands right next to the castle, on the brow of a low hill with a clear field of fire across what would then have been open countryside. Madrid was under siege for much of the Civil War and many such bunkers remain. You can see several when hiking near Madrid.

While the city of Madrid is working hard to restore the castle, it still needs a lot of work. An ugly fence surrounds the place and gets in the way of the view, plus the park next to it is filled with trash and dog shit. Reconstruction on the castle isn’t complete and parts of look like a building site. The castle and bunker are open Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays from 10am to 9pm. Admission is free. The Metro stop is about forty minutes from central Madrid at the end of Line 5. While the place isn’t ideal, it’s well worth a visit for any history buff.


Two sublime day trips from London

A few days into a recent 8-day trip to London I was spent. This followed Portobello Road and Covent Garden shopping sprees, a delicious Guinness-oyster pie at Borough Market, a night of clubbing in Shoreditch (the masterful DJ Carl Craig spun at Plastic People), and a day of intensive art immersion (including Christian Marclay’s excellent film “The Time” at the White Cube gallery). The perfect palliative to minding too many gaps and aching blistered dogs proved to be two sublime daytrips.

The picturesque medieval town of Lewes, about an hour south of London, is set on a hill above the River Ouse. Its winding cobblestone streets, lined with locavore-minded restaurants, traditional pubs serving locally-brewed ales, unique boutiques and antiquarians, lead up to the ruins of an 11th century Norman Castle. The town’s charms have attracted many, including Virginia Woolf, American patriot Thomas Paine, and the Rolling Stones’ Charlie Watts, but my primary motivation for this jaunt was timing.

Each November fifth, for the past 405 years, Lewes has celebrated the fire-filled British holiday of Guy Fawkes Night with more fervor and pageantry than anywhere in the U.K. The evening’s incendiary bacchanalia includes throngs of torch-wielding and elaborately-costumed marchers, young men racing through town towing barrels of burning tar, whole roasted pigs on spits and massive bonfires. The holiday, which commemorates a foiled-attempt in 1605 to overthrow the British Government (and is rooted in ancient pagan rituals), is like nothing you will find in London.

%Gallery-111983%The same can be said for the Cotswalds, the gorgeous west-central English countryside roughly an hour-and-a-half west of the capital. This officially designated “Area of Outstanding Beauty” lives up to its billing with gentle rolling hills, idyllic villages and ornate churches built with indigenous honey-hued limestone. Here there are still single-lane roads slicing through pastoral farmlands dotted with sheep and thatched-roof houses.

The best way to take-in the Cotswolds is by car, which you can easily rent in the nearby town of Oxford. Driving on the left side for most Americans is certainly a challenge; but not nearly as treacherous as avoiding the brightly plumed pheasants swooping down kamikaze-like towards my oncoming windshield. My route along the northern half of the area’s famed Romantic Road provided an excellent overview. This included stops in Woodstock where I glimpsed the grand Blenheim Palace; Grand Tew, a speck of a village (pop. 152) with a 16th century pub; Bourton-on-the-Water, a.k.a. “The Venice of the Cotswolds;” and the wondrous Broadway Tower, a small 18th century castle that once served as a refuge for Arts & Crafts movement founder William Morris.


In the last decade the Cotswolds, much like the Hamptons, have become a haven for London’s boldface names. The likes of Lily Allen, Damien Hirst, Kate Winslet and Stella McCartney regularly come here to escape London’s bustle and recharge their batteries. There’s no reason lesser-known individuals on extended urban safaris can’t do the same-it certainly made my Indian food in Islington the next evening that much tastier.

God save the Queen, and London to be sure, but for excursions outside the sprawling capital, God save Britain’s National Rail. It is user friendly, affordable and surprisingly comfortable. You can easily purchase same-day round trip tickets. London’s Victoria Station to Lewes and back costs about $32; London Paddington to Oxford is $42. A rental car via EasyCar, a subsidiary of the low cost air-carrier EasyJet, cost about $75. The rental agency is located a block from the Oxford train station and operates through Avis.

Jesse James robs his first bank

The Civil War was over. In Missouri, defeated Confederate soldiers trudged home and tried to pick up their lives. This was harder in Missouri than many states. Many discovered their land had been seized during the war for nonpayment of taxes, and now Union veterans farmed their fields. New Missouri laws forbade ex-Confederates from voting, holding public office, teaching, or even preaching. Former rebels were left bitter and marginalized.

Former guerrillas like Frank and Jesse James felt even more bitter. Their war had been more brutal than most people’s, and adjusting to defeat and peacetime wasn’t in their nature. Jesse bore at least three wounds from the war. The tip of the middle finger of his left hand had been shot off. The most accepted story of how this happened was that he shot it off himself while loading a pistol. Being a good Baptist, Jesse wouldn’t swear even in this situation, and shouted out “Dingus!”, which became his nickname for the rest of his life. The second injury was a bullet through the chest courtesy of a German immigrant who objected to having his saddle stolen.

The third injury is a source of mystery. In 1865, as the war was winding down, Jesse got shot through the lung. Some reports say he got this in a gunfight, but Jesse himself later spread the story that he was shot by Union troops while trying to surrender at the end of the war. This story served two purposes: it made him look like the victim of Yankee oppression, and it acted as an alibi for the first daylight bank robbery in the United States in peacetime.

At 2pm on February 13, 1866, it was snowing in Liberty, Missouri. The Clay County Savings Association was open as usual. The bank’s cashier, Greenup Bird, sat at his desk. His son William sat at another desk to his left. Nobody else was in the bank when two men wearing Union army overcoats walked in and warmed their hands by the stove. After a moment one went up to the counter and asked for change for a ten-dollar bill. William got up to help the customer and was greeted with a pistol pointed at his face. The other man also drew his revolver and both leapt over the counter, telling the astonished father and son that they better be quiet or else.

%Gallery-108291%One robber gave William a smack with his gun and pushed him into the vault, demanding the money. Meanwhile the second robber told Greenup to give him the cash on his desk. Once they’d taken all the money, the robbers pushed the two bank workers into the vault and shut the door. They neglected to lock it, however, and after a few tense moments Greenup and William came out, opened a window, and shouted that the bank had been robbed.

At that moment a group of about a dozen mounted men galloped past. One fired at a pedestrian who was also sounding the alarm. This was George Wymore, a student at Liberty College. Ironically, one of the founders of this college was none other than Robert Sallee James, Frank and Jesse’s father. The bullet tore through George’s body and he fell to the sidewalk dead.

Townspeople quickly formed a posse, but the robbers got away. Back at the bank, Greenup and William tallied their losses: almost $60,000, more than $3.5 million in today’s value. There was no insurance in those days, no FDIC. Many farmers and merchants lost their life savings. Greenup and William lost their jobs when the bank failed.

Everyone thought that ex-guerrillas had done the deed. The robbers’ trail led to a crossing of the Missouri River frequently used by bushwhackers during the war. Plus everyone knew the guerrillas rode fine horses and carried revolvers just like the robbers had. Several suspects were named, all former members of the bushwhacker band of Bloody Bill Anderson. Frank and Jesse were part of that band too. Most scholars of the James gang are convinced that Frank helped rob the bank that day, but did Jesse? The two leading James biographers disagree. Ted Yeatman, author of Frank and Jesse James: The Story Behind the Legend, thinks Jesse was still bedridden from his lung wound. T.J. Stiles, author of Jesse James: Last Rebel of the Civil War, thinks Jesse exaggerated the seriousness of his injury in order to have an alibi for his early crimes.

Whatever the truth, the robbery has become part of the Jesse James legend. The Jesse James Bank Museum in Liberty has restored the bank to what it was like in 1866, complete with the original vault and safe. An easy day trip from Kansas City and the Jesse James farm at Kearney, it offers a glimpse into a time when the wounds of the Civil War were still raw.

So what was the war like for Frank and Jesse James? We’ve already looked at Jesse James in the Civil War, but what was it like for his older brother Frank, who was in the war from the very beginning? Come back tomorrow for that part of the story.

Don’t miss the rest of my series: On the trail of Jesse James.

Coming up next: Frank James: the war years!