Dull And Boring: Two Weird Town Names That Go Great Together

What’s life like in a boring town? What’s life like in a dull one? Now a proposed trans-Atlantic collaboration aims to answer this important question.

Boring, Oregon, and Dull, Scotland, want to become sister communities. Local promoters say their towns are neither dull nor boring, and they should play on their weird town names to get more tourism.

One Boring website says the Oregon town of 12,000 is “an exciting place to live” and gets its name from early resident W.H. Boring. It’s unclear how Dull, a small village in Perthshire, Scotland, got its name. Similar words in Gaelic mean either “snare” or “meadow.” Indeed, there are some wonderfully dull meadows nearby. Boring has natural attractions too, including the Boring Lava Field from a boring extinct volcano.

If all this isn’t dull and boring enough for you, check out this list of weird town names. Too bad they missed my favorite, Knob Lick, Missouri!

[Photo courtesy C. Jill Reed]

What Is The Highest European Capital?

I’ve lived in Spain part time for eight years now and I’ve been under the impression that Madrid is the highest European capital at 667 meters (2,188 feet) above sea level. You see the “highest capital in Europe” claim everywhere, including city tours, travel websites and even the second edition of “City Guide Madrid” by Blue Guides.

A friend who just came back from hiking in Andorra, however, told me that’s not true. Andorra’s capital, Andorra la Vella, stands at 1,023 meters (3,356 feet) and takes the prize for highest European capital. While its population is only a bit over 22,000 and the city governs one of the smallest countries in Europe, size doesn’t matter in this contest.

Andorra la Vella is nestled in the Pyrenees Mountains between Spain and France. My friend tells me there are numerous day hikes from town that take you into spectacular valleys and peaks past alpine streams and waterfalls. The winter ski season is justly famous. The city is pretty cheap too. Sounds like I’ll have to do an Andorran series sometime soon.

Defenders of Madrid can nitpick, though. Andorra is a co-principality and you could make the case that it isn’t a fully independent country. The President of France and the Bishop of Urgell in Spain act as co-princes. Like other European monarchs, however, they don’t have much power in the day-to-day running of the country. Andorra is a parliamentary democracy with an elected Prime Minister. Andorra has all the other trappings of nationhood as well, such as a flag, diplomats and membership to important international bodies such as the EU and UN. So it looks to me that the common statement that Madrid is the highest capital in Europe is wrong.

It just goes to show that you can’t believe everything you hear and read.

[Photo courtesy Gertjan R]

A Challenge: Learn All Of The Countries In The World

While in DC a couple of weeks ago with fellow Gadling writers, a few of us hopped into a taxi on our way to dinner. Our driver was an African man from a country he kept under wraps. He told us that if we wanted to find out which country he was from, we’d have to earn our way to the answer through his impromptu trivia. And so we tried to answer his questions.

“You have to exercise your anthropological and geographical versatility to comprehend my country of originality,” he teased us.

“I can guess the continent,” one of our writers chimed.

“Oh yes, guessability, no problem, Madam,” he cooed.

“West Africa?” she guessed.

“Well,” he drew out the word for a few seconds. “I will formally agree but I will formally disagree with you. I am an individual of complexity. You want a clue?”

“Yes,” we all answered in unison.

“OK. I am going to give you a complex geographical clue. Let me see. Name me 11 countries in the world that have four letters,” he began.And so we began: Oman, Iraq, Iran, Peru, Togo, Mali, Fiji, Chad, Laos, Cuba and Guam. Our geography scavenger hunt continued, question after question, until we arrived at our destination. The driver moved to DC from Sierra Leone.

After exiting the taxi in DC, I couldn’t get the ride and the driver’s questions out of my mind. I felt ashamed that I couldn’t definitively pinpoint Sierra Leone on a map. I found this to be both humiliating and humbling.

It’s been a loose lifetime goal of mine to learn geography as thoroughly as I can. To scratch the surface, my first geography goal is to learn the names of all of the countries in the world. This may sound ambitious, but it shouldn’t be considered a far-fetched goal for a writer who regularly writes about travel. I decided to finally begin learning geography the way I’ve always intended to learn it this past weekend. A houseguest showed me Sporcle, a website filled with quizzes, interactive games, trivia and other knowledge-based, time-wasting activities. When I saw “geography” listed as a section on the site, I knew I had found my resource for learning the world’s countries.

After spending an hour on the site, I knew all of the countries in Africa. I went back again the next morning to make sure I’d retained the information and I had. I’m now moving on to the rest of the continents. Never again will I lazily accept my fate as an American who hasn’t bothered to learn the names of the nooks and crannies throughout our world. Why should I think it enough to know the names of only 70 percent of the countries in the world? Why shouldn’t I know them all?

For a long time, I didn’t think it was incredibly relevant – not relevant enough to bother learning, at least. But I knew, like many do, the names of a hearty chunk of countries. These are the countries that come up in conversation, news and friends’ vacations. Moving forward, I am challenging myself and readers alike to learn the names of all of the countries in the world, at the very least. From there, let’s learn about the countries and their respective cultures in depth and begin travel planning, but first, let’s learn the names.

**Update 05.27.2012: I did it!**

Time-Lapse Video Shows Europe’s Changing Borders, 1000 AD to 2003

This quirky time lapse shows how Europe‘s borders have expanded, contracted, and expanded again. We’re pretty sure the original intent was to help those studying for a World Geography test or the like, but it’s a fun tool for travelers too – is the area you’re visiting this summer a part of the original Hapsburg empire? Has the hotel you’re staying in always been in France? Watch it. We’re sure you’ll enjoy.

Visiting The Royal Geographical Society, London

While London isn’t exactly known as an adventure travel destination, unless you’re crossing Elephant and Castle late at night, it is a place where adventure travelers gather. The British are some of the best explorers in the world and their Royal Geographical Society is a meeting place and resource for those who want more out of travel than a cruise to the Bahamas.

The society was founded in 1830 to further knowledge of the world and its cultures. It has sponsored numerous expeditions, including famous ones led by heroes such as Sir Ernest Shackleton and Sir Edmund Hillary. This work continues today.

I popped in there for the first time earlier this week to use their archives. I’m planning a trip to a remote castle in northern Ethiopia that hasn’t been properly explored since 1868, and of course the folks at the Royal Geographical Society had the original maps! Thanks to them, now I won’t get lost when I head into the Ethiopian highlands – well, hopefully not.

The archives are a great resource for travelers planning their next adventure. There’s also an excellent series of lectures and exhibitions. Currently there’s an exhibition on the castles and monasteries of medieval Serbia.

So if you’re in London but pining to ride an elephant through Borneo or climb the mountains of Antarctica, check out the Royal Geographical Society.