Famous travellers and place names

A map of Marco Polo’s Asia and adjacent countries

What’s in a name? We motored from Boston to New York and then on to Washington, in the same afternoon… No, we were not racing along a superhighway in the USA in a Ferrari, but rather driving in England, where New York is a sleepy hamlet and Boston, an old market town in Lincolnshire, while Washington is a community in Durham County.

There are historic old towns, which have had their names commemorated by emigrants from England to the USA a couple of centuries ago. There are many names of places, which attract tourists just by their names alone.
For example, Hell in Norway. Here you can buy a postcard showing the railway station covered in snow and ice with the senders almost always suggesting on the postcard, ‘Hell has frozen over’ or, similarly, Paradise in Newfoundland in Canada.
There are other places around the globe, which require tourist participation. In Scandinavia tourists are usually asked to leave the bus, as they reach the Artic Circle, so everyone can ‘jump over’ this imaginary line.
We used to fly Scandinavian Airlines over the North Pole from Copenhagen to Tokyo and on the way back were given a special certificate for the day which we lost on crossing the International Date Line.
Almost everybody, who has crossed the Equator on a cruise ship has experienced the traditional ‘King Neptune’ initiation.
To stand in Times Square in New York or Trafalgar Square in London to count down the New Year are special occasions, which make the celebratory tours worthwhile and very memorable.
Being an avid reader, I have to admit that our pleasure trips sometimes centre around favourite authors, while my better half often seems more fascinated by famous people.
An example, London for me is the home of Charles Dickens and his wonderful stores peopled with fascinating characters, while my husband would rather head for the War Museum to see, where Sir Winston Churchill spent his nights, when he was the British was leader in WW II.
In Singapore, we can almost combine our interests by staying at Raffles Hotel, named after the city state’s founder, Sir Stamford Raffles. The hotel was one of the favourite haunts of the writer, Somerset Maugham, who was also a ‘real’ travel writer with Chicago to the fore in The Razor’s Edge and Cap Ferat on the French Riviera, his retirement place.
I can never visit Dublin in Ireland without calling into St. Patrick’s Cathedral to read his own epitah of Jonathan (Dean) Swift, the satirist, novelist and preacher… “where savage indignation no longer lacerates the heart”… And we both enjoy exploring the streets of Dublin made famous in James Joyce’s Ulysses. Joyce knew Dublin so well that he once boasted that he would be able to draw the city, street by street, if it was ever to burn down,
When it comes to not so recent famous names, Ibn Battuta comes to mind, now also the name of a massive shopping mall in Dubai. He was a Moroccan traveller, who is said to have visited every Muslim country during a 30-year journey, when the Arabs ruled the seas. He returned to Fez to relate his adventures to the Sultan and one cannot visit this wonderfully named city without thinking of Ibn Battuta.
Marco Polo was another great traveller, who one always remembers, when discovering the modernity of present-day China. When Marco Polo returned from a 17-year stay in Cathay, accompanying his father and uncles on their second visit to this forbidden country, he wrote a best selling medieval travel book entitled: Travels of Marco Polo.
How can one visit China today without imagining Marco Polo and his relatives, as they crossed the Gobi desert on camels, as one flies across it in the comfort of a modern jet aircraft?
Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark, is another city, which I defy you to visit without thinking of famous writer, this time Hans Christian Andersen with his Little Mermaid story immortalised in a statue in the city’s harbour.
There is one place, which understood the allure of names. In the 19th century in order to attract tourists, a little Anglesey Village in Wales changed its name to ‘Llanfairpwllgwyngyllogogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogoch’ which translates from Welsh as ‘the church of St Mary in a hollow of white hazel near a rapid whirlpool and near St. Tysilio’s church by the red cave’.
This was a successful name transformation, for this is the longest place name transformation, for this is the longest place name in Britain (56 letters) and the only reason tourists visit is to read the name and of course, send postcards.
Finally, a quote from an unknown travel writer: “Some good advice for travellers from one who knows: Take twice the cash and half the clothes.”

Speaking Out
by Jonna Simon