Top 15 Safety Tips for Hiking

Top 15 Safety Tips for Hiking

Reading Time: 7 minutes

How many times has your Mom told you that you need to be careful? Well in this case she is right, Hiking in any terrain can be hazardous if you don’t have at least a basic knowledge of safety tips for hiking. Here are my own top 15 safety tips for hiking that I personally utilize when I go out on an adventure.

Top 15 Safety Tips For Hiking

Tell Someone Where You Plan To Hike

Tell someone where you intend to go with a map of stops you plan to make and where you plan to park. Leave some dirty laundry for the dogs to sniff should you get lost. I know this sounds really silly, but living so close to the Wasatch Front Mountains in Utah, we hear about people being lost, falling off trails all the time. Despite avalanche warnings, the high river swells, and inclement weather – there is always the ONE person who doesn’t listen or thinks it does not apply to them.

Top 15 Safety Tips For Hiking

Wear Bright Colors When Hiking

Wear bright colors so you can easily be spotted, for winter avoid light colors as it can blend in with the snow. Summertime wear a reflective vest. If you haven’t seen the movie 127 hours, you should. It takes place in Utah, and the guy made all the wrong choices when it came to safety. The only thing he had going for him was to cut off his arm after being pinned in a crevice.

Top 15 Safety Tips For Hiking

Stay On the Trail and Set A ‘Turn Back Time’

Stay on the trail and set a time limit for your final destination or turn back spot. Even if you don’t make it to the final destination it is better to be safe rather than sorry! I get lost incredibly easy due to my inability to tell if I’m headed North or South etc… I always stay on a known trail that has a name and try to stick to the well worn or trampled trail as I know I will always be able to turn around and go back.

Top 15 Safety Tips For Hiking

Bring Water and/or a Water Filtration System With You

Bring a Lifestraw or a camelback with the water you will need, a snack and an emergency blanket should you find yourself lost overnight. A flashlight can also serve as a beacon should a helicopter be flying overhead at night. I like to bring flashlights that are manually charged in addition to my headlamp. This way if your batteries on your headlamp were to go out, you could still manually charge the handheld flashlight.

Top 15 Safety Tips For Hiking

Bring a First Aid Kit

Bring a small first aid kit complete with Band-Aids and a sling. The classic triangle sling or even a bandana can be used to create a tourniquet. This will account for the more serious injuries and small cuts or blisters. Band-Aids for the blisters and minor cuts, a snake venom kit should you be hiking in the bush or the desert. Check local hospitals if snake bites are common and where the nearest facility is with anti-venom. I know that in Utah, we have to be careful in the summertime when the snakes are more active. Do not bring your pets on trails that warn of snakes on the trail as this can make them more defensive and likely to attack. I also like to bring along my trusty Swiss Army Pocket Knife…..I always say, “You can never go wrong with a bandana, pocket knife, and duct tape”.

Top 15 Safety Tips For Hiking

Wear Sun Protection

Wear Sunscreen, especially at higher elevations as Sunburns are often more likely to happen. I have seen skin cancer cases that have left my patients disfigured and debilitated, some even that have progressed to melanoma. So do yourself and your loved ones a favor, wear at least an SPF rating of 30 with a hat. If you have a bald head, don’t forget to cover that up & put sunscreen on your ears, neck, and chest. Wear sunglasses that have full coverage of UV rays.

Heat Stroke And Dehydration Precautions

Know what Heat Stroke and Dehydration look like, and what the best way to treat it in the wilderness is. Check weather patterns and never start a hike that looks like there will be lightening, when you are on the side of the mountain, you may as well put a target on your back that says, ‘hit here first’.

Top 15 Safety Tips For Hiking

Wear Supportive Shoes

Wear shoes that are supportive and slightly above the ankle joint. I have seen so many broken ankles over the years, and not from just missing the curb. You can be hiking along, hit a rock in just the wrong way. Your balance can be thrown off, you try and catch yourself, and *SNAP*, 4-6 months on crutches. Depending on where you break your bone will determine if you need to have surgical intervention. So be careful people, as much as I like doing ORIF’s of the Ankle, it is miserable for the one getting it done to them.

Top 15 Safety Tips For Hiking

Wear Proper Clothing

Moisture-wicking clothing and cotton clothing that is UV resistant. A good rule of thumb is that if you can see light through your clothing, so can the sun. Even in the Summer months, a fleece sweater stuffed in the bottom of your rucksack is a good rule of thumb. If someone was to sustain a bad fall and go into shock, having an extra layer around can save someone’s life.

Top 15 Safety Tips For Hiking

Use Common Sense

Don’t take people up on dares of ‘Who can climb that shale 80% grade to the top of the mountain the fastest and not fall off the sheer cliff’. I feel this is more common sense than an actual safety tip. However, my six years in the operating room taught me one thing, common sense is not so common.

Have a Contingency Plan for if You Get Lost

If your situation is really dire, start making signs pointing to where you are with twigs or rocks along the trail. This way if someone is coming to look for you they have a way to track you down.

Remember that the Sun rises in the East and sets in the West. This can give you a little more direction.

If you find a river or a water source, it will typically lead to civilization. This is my personal observation because of how most of the towns we know today are centered around a water source. It may be difficult to follow the water source directly, but following the sound of the stream or river to the collection pools/lakes is also a good idea. This will also provide a large open area for people to more easily spot you.

Top 15 Safety Tips For Hiking

Know Your Limitations

Know your physical limitations! When hiking with other people, I have had to teach myself to listen to my body and what it is telling me. Only the best hikers and climbers in the world can make it to the top. You have to listen to your body, pace yourself and enjoy the hike, you don’t have to sprint up the trail! STOP when you feel like you have run out of half of your energy stores.

Pack a Snack

Keep plenty of water and energy supplying snacks in your bag. Your body needs nourishment, not junk food. I always keep dried fruit in my bag along with some carrots. These do not need to be refrigerated, don’t get smashed in my bag and are lightweight. If you feel yourself start to get tired (I’m not talking muscle burn) snack on the energy supplies you brought. I always know when I need a snack because I suddenly feel like I need to lay down under the nearest tree and take a nap.

Top 15 Safety Tips For Hiking

Bonus!

Make sure to check yourself and your dogs for ticks and any creatures that may want to hitch a ride home with you.
 

Safety First

So there you have it! These are my Top 15 Safety Tips for Hiking. If all else fails, just remember that panicking never helped anyone. My Grandma always tells me that, “worrying is like sitting in a rocking chair, rocking back and forth all the time, but never really going anywhere”.
Most of all, have fun and enjoy nature, but please don’t try to conquer it. Mother nature is both a beast and a beauty, she will always win and bites hard with a sure finality if you try and challenge her.

Do you have any tips on how to hike without GPS?

What about if your GPS fails in the middle of a hike?

Leave a comment below and let me know your thoughts!

Happy Travels, Happy Trails, and see you on the Flip Side 😉


Disclaimer: Please consult your Primary Care Physician before attempting any strenuous activity. Train properly for each trail you are attempting to hike. Check AllTrails.com for GPS coordinates, difficulty level for each trail and the conditions of the trail. If you are hiking in a national park, check with the local ranger station on trail conditions or warnings for the area.

Top 15 Safety Tips For Hiking

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Camping with the locals in Doi AngKhang, Thailand

Camping with the locals in Doi AngKhang, Thailand

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Deep in the remote mountains of northern Thailand, the peaceful retreat camping in Doi Angkhang, a world away from the bustling streets of Chiang Mai. The main attractions around this small town are the projects run by the Royal Agricultural Research Centre. Within the compound, colorful flower gardens showcase the technical expertise of scientists and gardeners. Further on, picturesque tea plantations and fruit farms welcome visitors to explore and buy the local produce.

Camping with locals in Doi Ang khang Thailand

Just a few decades ago, this region bordering Myanmar was lawless and inaccessible. Poppy plantations and opium factories dotted the landscape, as drug smugglers ran their business with impunity. In recent times, however, a determined drive by the Thai government to introduce agriculture reforms and improve infrastructure has driven the drug trade out of the area. Today, Doi Angkhang is popular with locals seeking refuge from the tropical humidity. With a temperate climate averaging between 20°c to 25°c, most visitors come here to hike, camp or just spend a night in the only resort for a short getaway.

Camping with locals in Doi Ang khang Thailand

Traveler Tip: Check out this Two Week Itinerary in Thailand

Getting to Doi Angkhang

It takes 3.5 hours to get here by car from Chiang Mai, with the last hour crawling up steep uphill slopes and navigating relentless hairpin turns. There is no public transport going up to Doi Angkhang, so you’ll need a private vehicle to make the trip up.

Camping with locals in Doi Ang khang Thailand

If you can find a group of travel companions, you can hire a private minivan or Songthaew for 2 days and share the cost. You can find plenty of tour operators in Chiang Mai, or take a bus to Fang and find a driver there for slightly less.

The Camping Experience

Accommodation in Doi Angkhang is very limited, with a single resort and several guesthouses in town. But the best way to spend the night here is in a tent, camping alongside locals in a forest clearing overlooking the valley below.

The Campsites in Doi Angkhang

While there are several campsites in the area, each with its own unique viewpoint. Occupying several strips of terraces directly facing east, the campsite managed by the National Parks is the prime spot for catching the sunrise. A tent here costs 200 Baht per night, which is affordable even for locals. In front of the rows of tents, the valley extends far into the distant mountain range.

Camping with locals in Doi Ang khang Thailand

On weekends and national holidays, there may be a lot more visitors to the campsite (I DID say that this was popular with locals!). Fret not, for just further down the road, to the left of the National Parks campsite, is another site run by the Thai army. A small army camp marks the entrance, and you can rent a tent and pay the pitching fees at a small booth nearby. Local families also rent out small plots of land around the area for overnight camping.

Equipment for Camping With Locals in Thailand

You don’t need to bring your own tent to pitch here. Everything can be rented at an affordable rate, and it’s all set up for you to crawl into. For security, you’ll just need a padlock to secure the tent while you’re out. If you’re renting from the National Park office, you may choose to rent a sleeping bag or a set consisting of a sleeping mat and a blanket. Temperatures may drop to single digits on the Celsius scale at night, so be prepared to tuck in for warmth. A row of shops across the road from the campsite sells other common camping equipment like gas stoves, bottled water, and toiletries. They stock pretty much everything you need for a comfortable outdoor camping experience, so you really need to lug them up the mountains.

Camping with locals in Doi Ang khang Thailand

Bathroom Facilities Available in Doi Angkhang

A short distance from the tents, shared bathrooms are available for all campers to use for free. Housed in two separate blocks for each gender, the bathrooms are relatively basic with no heated water and limited toilet paper. It’s cleaned daily before the bulk of campers congregate in the afternoon, but expect it to get progressively dirtier as night comes.

Camping with locals in Doi Ang khang Thailand

You can get hot water showers at the shops across the road for around 100 Baht each time. With the nice cool temperature though, most campers will just skip the shower for the night – it’s part of the outdoor experience after all!

Dining Available in Doi Angkhang

No camping trip is complete without cooking a meal over a campfire. In Doi Angkhang, locals do it with a twist, as the shops prepare a mookata feast to be delivered and cooked right in front of your tent. Mookata is a social dining experience, where food is either grilled on a metal plate or cooked in a broth that is collected in a shallow trough running along the side. In Doi Angkhang, 400 Baht will get you an earthen stove, the mookata hotplate, charcoal to last for 2 hours, and enough ingredients to make a meal for 2 people.

Camping with locals in Doi Ang khang Thailand

Choose a shop to purchase the set, and a shop assistant will carry everything down to your tent and prepare the fire. As the campsite gets dark at night, it’s best to prepare a headlamp to free your hands while cooking AND eating (remember to use separate pairs of chopsticks for handling raw and cooked food!). If all these sound too troublesome, the shops also sell cooked food at affordable prices. As these family-run establishments double up as their homes, you might even be invited to join them for a meal if you’re lucky!

Camping with locals in Doi Ang khang Thailand

Catching the Sunrise

One of the highlights of camping in Doi Angkhang is catching the sunrise from the front of your tent. All tents are pitched on a terrace with an unblocked view, so there’s really no excuse to miss it. At 6am, wake up and partially wiggle out of your sleeping bag to unzip the flap of the tent entrance.

Camping with locals in Doi Ang khang Thailand

From the comfortable confines of your tent, you can watch a magnificent sunrise without taking a single step out. If you’re feeling active or need a boost of energy to start the day, the cool air of Doi Angkhang is ideal for a morning jog or a short hike into the woods. Otherwise, roll back into your tent to catch a few more hours of sleep.

Packing and Moving On

Most campers pack up and head back down by 10am. Checking out is straightforward, as you return all your sleeping bags or mat to the office, and then collect your driver’s license or identity card from the park ranger. From the campsite, you can head towards the Royal Agricultural Research Centre to visit the gardens and plantations, and then further on to the army base at the Thai-Myanmar border.

Camping with locals in Doi Ang khang Thailand

Alternatively, head back down the mountain towards Fang, and return to Chiang Mai (3.5 hours) or Chiang Rai (2.5 hours). If you have an extra day to spare, do check out the Chinese village of Mae Salong (3 hours), which has picturesque tea plantations to visit and an interesting background story worthy of a Hollywood movie!


Tours to Doi Ang Khang Thailand

Full Day Tour to Royal Doi Ang Khang Projects

Three Day Motorcycle Tour to Doi Ang Khang from Chiang Mai

Where to Stay Near Doi Ang Khang Thailand

Book with Airbnb and get $30 off your first booking

Booking.com

Guest Author: Gary is an avid backpacker and part-time geek. He started 2-Week Trips, a travel blog dedicated to independent backpacking vacations, as a resource for the gainfully employed to embark on exciting adventures around the world.

An Interview with Amsterdam

An Interview with Amsterdam

Reading Time: 9 minutes

I personally found this interview with Emma from Amsterdam to be compelling as My Heritage is largely Dutch. Emma is a receptionist at ClinkNoord, the Hostel I was staying at. She was a petite woman, tall, with blonde hair and blue eyes.

After looking at her, I felt as if I compared to my Scottish Ancestors more than the Dutch as I am 5’4″ tall. She had a sweet unassuming smile with an open countenance, but also a professionalism that would make you not want to challenge her in a duel of wits. Although she consented to my interview, she did not want to have any photos taken of her, so I apologize I cannot provide more of a visual for you. Read the full interview below:

Interview with Amsterdam - Culture Trekking - #Amsterdam #Netherlands #peopleofAmsterdam

The People of the Netherlands: 

Me: How do the people in Amsterdam identify themselves? Stoic, Kind, helpful, funny, laid back?
Emma: I believe that people here are open-minded, blunt, optimistic, and yet always in a rush. They are typically blonde with blue eyes and are very tall as well.
Me: Do you feel that your culture and traditions have changed in any way in the last 10 years?
Emma: The Dutch culture is fading away, the smaller villages still wear clogs, but it is very modernized and different than what it was.

Interview with Amsterdam - Culture Trekking - #Amsterdam #Netherlands #peopleofAmsterdam
Culture Trekking in the Netherlands

Me: How can we as tourists help maintain your culture?
Emma: Clean up after yourselves! Please do not throw garbage on the street, the Dutch people are a very clean people, even in the streets.
Me: How many days off a year do people get in the Netherlands?
Emma: 20 days and if you work for a company you can get another 5 days, especially if you are a teacher.
Me: If I moved to the Netherlands, how would you suggest I assimilate into the culture?
Emma: Connect with people in the bigger cities as most of them speak English. You want to speak Dutch if you are planning to live in the smaller towns.
Me: What languages are spoken here?
Emma: Dutch, English for the younger people, and German for the older people.

Interview with Amsterdam - Culture Trekking - #Amsterdam #Netherlands #peopleofAmsterdam
Culture Trekking in the Netherlands

Me: What is the best mode of Transportation here?
Emma: (laughs and responds with a grin on her face) You must use a bike or a bus. You can trust Uber, but it takes awhile to drive through cities.
Me: What are the major religions here?
Emma: Catholic, Protestant, Muslim
Me: Are people here devoted to their religion?
Emma: Yes
Me: What are the biggest Misconceptions people have about the Netherlands?
Emma: That the people are arrogant with strong opinions. The thing is, is that people in the Netherlands know their shit and it comes across as arrogant, but it really isn’t true.
Me: What are your favorite memories of this city and why?
Emma: The beach for sure, and the flower fields, cows coming into my backyard. This was usually at my Grandparents house that the cows would come into the flower fields.

Interview with Amsterdam - Culture Trekking - #Amsterdam #Netherlands #peopleofAmsterdam
Culture Trekking in the Netherlands

For the Tourist: 

Me: What are some Festivals that you think are worthwhile for people to visit?
Emma: Tomorrowland, Mystery land, and the Pinkpop Festival is very very popular with a lot of big artists, Justin Beiber was there last time.

Me: What are the biggest tourist traps that you see here?
Emma: The tourists come and get caught up with the drugs here. There is also an area that I would say to avoid called Bijlmer area, it is a homeless area and can be dangerous.
Me: Where are the best places to eat Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, and get a beer?
Emma: For breakfast, I would say the Pancake Bakery which is here in the Netherlands about a 10 min walk from ClinkNoord. Then for lunch, we don’t really eat a lunch, just eat a snack or something. For Dinner, I would say Jordaan or Hannover streets you can find really great places to eat all along those streets. If you want a good beer, you can really go anywhere in Amsterdam but the type of beer is what will make the difference. So for the beers, I would suggest getting: Amstel, Heineken, Grolsch, Hertog Jan, or Bavaria.
Me: How do you tip at restaurants?
Emma: We don’t really expect a tip, but if the bill is 13.50 you might round up to 15 euro so that you don’t have change. We like the round numbers here, but I would say do not tip more than 5 euros for a meal for one person maximum.
Me: I have noticed that they charge you for bottled water here, and tell you that you cannot have tap water. How would you as a local get around this, or is there a way around it?
Emma: They tell you they can’t give you tap water, but it is not true. You can ask for tap water and they cannot refuse it, it is a way for the restaurant to make more money. So how I usually get around it, is to say, ‘Can I have tap water, to begin with’, and then you can bring a water bottle for in between meals.

Interview with Amsterdam - Culture Trekking - #Amsterdam #Netherlands #peopleofAmsterdam

Me: What is one of the best-hidden gems in the Netherlands?
Emma: Haarlem, it gives you a really good local experience and it is right next to the beach where they have fairs and different experiences for the tourist and for the locals.
Me: Are there places in the Netherlands that you would say are Romantic?
Emma: Romantic in Holland? (She smiles a huge smile and stifles a laugh) Dutch people aren’t Romantic….we just light a candle and call it romantic. (Laughs again).
Me: Where is the best place for nightlife in the Netherlands?
Emma: The Sugar Factory is really nice, also Melkweg or Paradiso are great places for nightlife that aren’t super crazy.
Me: Where are the best places to go for outdoor adventures and hiking?
Emma: The Flatlands, the forest, they have caves here that are fun to explore and Veluwe.
Me: If you were to get hurt doing these fun adventures, what number could you call for an emergency in the Netherlands?
Emma: Call 112 for emergencies, or just ask someone to call the paramedics for you because they will know the area better and how to direct them to get to you.

Interview with Amsterdam - Culture Trekking - #Amsterdam #Netherlands #peopleofAmsterdam
Culture Trekking in the Netherlands

Schooling in the Netherlands: 

Me: What are the school systems like here?
Emma: At 3 years old the parents decide if they want you to go to school, from 4-6 the kids go to Kindergarten, 6-11 reading and writing school, 11 years old and older is High School until 17-18 where you decide if you want to go to a higher education. We have here MBO, HBO, and the University. The MBO is a practical industry school, HBO is the economy school and you must be smart to go here, and then the University is where the smartest people go.
Me: Does it cost anything to go to a lower level school?
Emma: Yes, the parents have to pay to send you to school. The government can give you money for this, but you have to pay them back in 12 years.
Me: How do they advance grades?
Emma: You have to pass a test after each grade. If you do not pass you can take it again, but after you fail the second time then you go to a lower level.
Me: What about higher education, how are people able to access that?
Emma: it is much harder because you have to have money to do that….lots and lots of money.

Interview with Amsterdam - Culture Trekking - #Amsterdam #Netherlands #peopleofAmsterdam
Culture Trekking in the Netherlands

The Family Unit in the Netherlands: 

Me: How does the family unit work here?
Emma: It depends on how close the family is. Young kids go to the city & leave their parents. Some stay and buy a house if they have a good job.
Me: Who wears the pants in the family, or who is in charge?
Emma: Mom definitely wears the pants in the family. Dad is the money. Dad typically goes to work, eats, sleeps, and repeats day after day after day.
Me: Where do the elderly go when they can no longer walk? Who takes care of them?
Emma: They go to the old folks home where their family can visit them. They do not move into your home because you have to work and then take care of them all the time and it just creates a bad situation.
Me: What is the view on feminism, gay, or minorities here? Are they treated equally or do you notice a societal difference in how they are treated?
Emma: It is an unusual thing to separate them, but I see that the younger generations are ok with it. The older generations are still traditionalists and have a hard time, but if you look at forms that people fill out there is options for man, woman, or other. We were actually the first country to approve gay marriage.

Interview with Amsterdam - Culture Trekking - #Amsterdam #Netherlands #peopleofAmsterdam
Culture Trekking in the Netherlands

Me: Is having children common here?
Emma: yes
Me: Do people get Maternity leave here?
Emma: Yes, you usually get 5-6 months of maternity leave.
Me: What age do people here get married?
Emma: Typically in their twenties.
Me: Are their customs associated with marriage you would like to share?
Emma: Not really, they just go to the church, they might have a reception and eat some cake. Then there is a party in the evening with a dinner and a DJ. The party typically lasts all day.
Me: Is it common to live together prior to getting married?
Emma: Yes
Me: What is the classic place that people get married here?
Emma: The city hall (laughs), there is no special place, you go, you get married and it’s done. If you go on Monday morning actually you can get married for free at City Hall.

Interview with Amsterdam - Culture Trekking - #Amsterdam #Netherlands #peopleofAmsterdam

Politics, Stereotypes, Citizen Rights: 

Me: What are the common stereotypes that are encountered here?
Emma: It is always the immigrant’s fault, and people feel it is always those from Serbia, Turkey, or Morocco.
Me: What are the different political parties here?
Emma: There are a lot of different parties that represent different things like the animals, religion, elderly, economy, immigrants and religion.
Me: Can you vote?
Emma: Yes, from the age of 18 you can vote.
Me: Are the citizen’s allowed to do demonstrations? Who are the people that typically do this?
Emma: There aren’t usually demonstrations here. There was a time where Kindergarteners were demonstrating because of the low salary for the teachers.
Me: What are the Police and the Military system like here? Do you have confidence that they would protect its citizens in the event of a terrorist attack?
Emma: You don’t want to call the police because they will want to do a ton of paperwork. The citizens take care of the problem themselves and just beat the people up because they don’t trust the police.

Interview with Amsterdam - Culture Trekking - #Amsterdam #Netherlands #peopleofAmsterdam

The Ending: 

Me: How do you say thank you in Dutch?
Emma: Dankjewel  (sounds like Dunk-ya-vell)
Me: Well a big Dankjewel to you Emma for taking the time out of your day to answer these questions I really appreciate it.
Emma: No problem, they were interesting questions and some of them made me think a little bit.

Interview with Amsterdam - Culture Trekking - #Amsterdam #Netherlands #peopleofAmsterdam
Culture Trekking in the Netherlands

Emma was so kind in answering my questions, and I was so grateful that she was willing to do so as it was so difficult to find someone to Interview in Amsterdam. I personally found the Dutch people to be a people motivated by duty. Duty to make their lives better for themselves, their family, and their country. There is a certain pride within them from being Dutch, but I felt that it was not as forthright as other places I have encountered like Texas. They are a quiet, clean, kind people as a generalization and humble enough to not want to be on camera or have photos taken.

I really enjoyed my time and all of the cities I was able to visit while in the Netherlands. Stay tuned for more posts on Edam, Haarlem, Zannse Schans, Den Hague, Delft, Jordaan, Kinderdijk, and Dordrecht. If you would like my full itinerary please email culturetrekking196@gmail.com
Should you ever visit the Netherlands, make sure to stop by and say hello to her at ClinkNoord, she is a receptionist there and like most of the Dutch, is tall, blue-eyed with blonde hair and looks like she stepped out of a magazine.

Have you been to the Netherlands yet? What was your favorite place to visit? 

Like it? Pin it 🙂 Sharing is caring


For more locations to visit in the Netherlands read: 
Windmills of the Netherlands

ClinkNoord: A Hostel Run Like a Hotel

Make a wish in Giethoorn: The Venice of the North

Kinderdijk Windmills – a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Corrie Ten Boom and The Hiding Place, A WWII Hero

Things To Do In Den Haag

Berlin History at a Glance

Berlin History at a Glance

Reading Time: 9 minutes

I grew up with a Grandmother who does not want anything to do with Germany. This was mostly due to the fact that she was raised in the time of World War II and was taught to loathe all things, German. I dated a guy once with the last name of Jorgens, and she asked how he spelled it, he told her, ‘J-O-R-G-E-N-S’. She asked if it was German origination, and he responded smiling with a yes, and she unsubtly responded with, “I hate Germans”, after which she walked off. I laughed it off because the spiciness and frank Dutch personality of my Grandmother is something that is very endearing to me.

Her German aversion was a drawback to my perception of the German people, despite my efforts to not let it affect me, it did. I was slightly nervous to go to Germany, as I thought it would be full of people with suppressed military regime like attitudes. After visiting, I feel I can say, the German people are definitely not who I had imagined them to be. It gave me a greater understanding to learn their history, how the circumstances of World War II came about & things they were literally bribed with to go along with the mastermind that created one of the darkest moments in World History. So let us explore a little bit of its tumultuous past so we can better connect as a Culture Trekking Community. For my German friends, please feel free to comment/add your thoughts as well.

Berlin History at a Glance:

Berlin has West Slavic roots with the meaning related to the Polabian stem Berl, meaning swamp. Since Ber at the beginning of Berlin sounds like the German word Bar – for Bear, a bear actually appears in the coat of arms.

Berlin History

The earliest evidence of settlements dated is from 1192 from wooden house parts. Berlin came into being in the 13th century with it being the major stopping point for two important trade routes.

Berlin became the capital of Margraviate (1417-1701) with Frederick I became the elector of the Margraviate of Brandenburg which ruled until 1440. The 15th Century saw those of the Hohenzollern family rule Berlin until 1918. First, they operated as electors, then crowned themselves Kings of Prussia, and if that wasn’t enough – why not just call them German emperors. In 1529 the electors of the city actually converted to Lutheranism.

The Thirty Years War

The Thirty Years War between 1618 and 1648 devastated all of Berlin, 1/3rd of its houses were utterly destroyed & HALF of the city population was killed. What was it all about you ask? Religion actually. When Holy Emperor, Ferdinand II tried to force his people into Roman Catholicism in order to create a unified country. It seems the Protestant Unions that formed did not like this, they did not want him as their ruler. The Protestant League actually chose the Calvinist Frederick V as the Kingdom of Bohemia.

Berlin History

Those of the Catholic faith favored the Emperor and were severely angered, Frederick V was expelled. Multiple Countries became involved because of atrocities viewed from all sides, these were some of the countries involved: Sweden, Spain, Netherlands, France, Italy, and Austria. This war devastated entire regions with famine and disease that resulted in HIGH morbidity and mortality and devastated the populations of both Germany and Italy. Finally, the Thirty years war ended with the Osnabruck and Munster treaty, part of the larger Peace treaty of Westphalia.

Check out the 10 day itinerary in Berlin to do what the locals do

The Kingdom of Prussia

The Kingdom of Prussia (1701-1918) came about when the Margraviate of Brandenburg had been in personal union with the Duchy of Prussia. In 1701 the Elector of Brandenburg crowned himself King Frederick I in Prussia after a Dual state was formed with the Kingdom of Prussia. This was the first time that Berlin actually started to grow after merging with 4 other sister cities surrounding it.

Berlin History

Frederick the Great

1740 saw the coming of Frederick the Great, or Frederick the II; this is the time Berlin saw the first whispers of The Enlightenment, although a 7-year war with Russia was a problem. Then followed the conquest of Napoleon Bonaparte who granted Berlin self-governance in 1806.

Brandenburg and the First World War

1815 Berlin became known as the Province of Brandenburg spurring the Industrial Revolution that transformed Berlin all the way into the 19th century. During this time, more cities merged with Berlin and was then known as The German Empire (1871-1918) War was inevitable, the First World War struck in 1918 and Berlin’s name changed yet again to The Weimar Republic (1919-1933) – civil unrest plagued the city & the roaring 1920’s influenced the city greatly. Despite this Berlin became a central hub for leadership, science, arts, humanities, and film. This was also the time that Albert Einstein was rising from the poverty he was born to and quickly won his Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921.

Berlin History

The Third Reich

Yet with every success, Berlin has seen since its inception, war always seemed to follow. In 1933 the infamous Third Reich (1933-1945) was established, with Adolf Hitler as its leader. People in Berlin were trying to recover from the years of war and rebuilding cycle. Quality jobs at the time were very low, and it was often hard to find work. If you did find work, you typically worked overtime without getting paid to do so. The story of World War II began in these conditions when Hitler came into power and offered the people a ‘better Germany’.

One where all of the sudden you were able to find a job, get healthcare, have paid time off – the cities were being rebuilt, quality homes were being vacated. On the whole, most locals were in the dark about the atrocities that happened. What was happening in Germany at that time is similar (but not equal) to what nationalist governments do today with their people, they praise all the good things politicians or governments are doing & twist the truth into seeming not so horrible as the rest of the world may see it as. It wasn’t until later that the people started to gain a better understanding of what was happening to the Jewish people.

Berlin History

Under the Reichstag Fire Decree gained power and was established as a party leader under emergency conditions after the Reichstag caught on fire. He ruled for the next 12 years under this decree, and when elections came up half of the opposition was already put into concentration camps. His approval rating at the time was around 80%. At the time there were Jewish people in the government, they had money. The population of Jewish people in the city was 160,000 in 1933. Thousands were imprisoned after Kristallnacht in 1938 and put in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. Overcrowding caused shipment of these poor souls to Auschwitz during World War II, with Auschwitz now being known as a major death camp. In the Battle of Berlin air raids destroyed much of the city with 125,000 civilians being killed.  

Berlin History

After 1945 defeat of the Third Reich Berlin received many of the refugees from Eastern Europe. The Western Allies occupied the West side of Berlin, and those from the Soviet Sector occupied East Berlin. All 4 great powers (America, France, United Kingdom and the Soviet Union) shared governing responsibilities which led to increased tensions in the Cold War era with people being sectioned off into different areas based on nationality and political affiliations. After World War II Berlin was divided into East and West with a wall surrounding West Berlin from 1961-1989. In 1990 Germany became reunified and again Berlin became the capital.

The Cold War

At the end of World War II, Germany was divided amongst the Allied forces under the Postdam Conference. Those four powers included the United States, Great Britain, France and the Soviet Union. Peace was short lived as the splitting of Berlin into Russian control on the East side, and the other 3 countries on the West side, became ever more competitive and aggressive towards one another. Tensions continued until there was a Blockade by the Soviet Union in June of 1948 where all supplies were stopped from reaching West Berlin. After a distinction of ‘East’ and ‘West’ Germany was established….conditions on either side became increasingly different.

Berlin History

Under the rule of the 3 other allied forces, the economy flourished in West Berlin. As the Soviet Union ransacked and pilfered all valuables from the East side….conditions deteriorated significantly. When East Germany finally became its own country in 1949 privileges of its citizens were severely restricted. By the 1950’s most of the citizens had had enough. Hundreds of thousands East German citizens were crossing the border into West Berlin. Most of those who were able to escape were young professionals that were flown into West Germany for work. By 1961 nearly 2.7 million people escaped East German. The Soviet Union tried to circumvent this mass exodus by attempting to take over West Berlin, even threatening Nuclear Warfare. In the middle of the night August 12th, 1961 the Berlin wall was completed.

Holes were dug for concrete posts, stringing barbed wire, telephone wires were cut and railroads were blocked for all 91 miles of it. Whatever side you decided to be on the night of August 12th was the side you were doomed to stay for the next 28 years. Three days after its initial construction it was replaced by concrete blocks and topped with barbed wire again. In 1965 it was replaced again by a concrete wall with steel. The most ominous version was the one finished in 1980…a 12 foot high, 4 feet wide concrete cage. Later additions included an inner wall that created a ‘no man’s land’, 300 feet of the deadly ground. Boarding up windows and guarding stairways thwarted the escape attempts. Sewer lines connecting East and West Berlin were shut off and re-routed. The ‘Death Strip’, created in 1960 with a standard order to ‘shoot on site’.

Berlin History

Extra security was taken with guarding the wall. No one could work on the same shift or station twice. Escape and coercion between guards was thwarted by frequent rotation. The guards were also instructed to shoot without warning, 69 people died that first night. The fall of the wall happened rather quickly, on November 9, 1989. An East German official, Gunter Schabowski, was questioned by a reported on when restrictions on travel visas to West Berlin would be lifted. He responded without hesitating to think of his response as, “Immediately, without delay”. The East Germans were supposed to be required to go through a lengthy Visa process to get into West Berlin. A hoard of East Germans approached the wall telling Harald Jager, the chief officer on duty, the news.

With limited communication, confusion, and increasing nervousness on the part of this officer who was expecting his cancer results the next day…opened the gates to West Berlin. The excitement ballooned from there and soon hundreds were arriving at the wall. Armed with chisels, hammers they chipped away at it until the Berlin Wall finally fell. A portion of the Berlin Wall still remains and is memorialized on Bernauer Strasse street. It is surreal to think that such oppression happened, literally, within my lifetime. (For my fellow Americans, if you are male and want to see a piece of the wall, a portion of it is housed in the Venetian Men’s restroom behind a protective glass covering).

Berlin History

How is Berlin Now?

After the fall of the Berlin wall, Germany was reunified in October 1990. Since 2000 it has been the center of a cosmopolitan entrepreneurial scene. There are many Germans that want to make amends for the past. Remarkably there is a lot of construction and rebuilding still happening in Berlin. The city is clean and modern, yet still faces it’s past with an open mind, heart & courage to do so. I told my guide, Sean Stewart of Berlin Historical Walks, that his job was to change my mind about Berlin & make me love Germany because I had been taught the opposite.

I left Berlin that evening, heart aching for that which the people had both witnessed. Where there is heartache there is also hope, this country is stunningly beautiful, the people are ever so kind (at least of what I observed), they care about their city and have the courage to face their past & celebrate the future. Berlin humbled me in ways I did not anticipate nor expect. I cannot wait to return to explore more of not only this city but the country. Happy Travels, Happy Tales, and see you on the flip side 😉

What is your favorite part of Berlin’s History?

Would you add anything to this brief summary on Berlin’s History?


Where to Stay in Berlin

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What to See in Trinidad & Tobago (from a local)

What to See in Trinidad & Tobago (from a local)

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Meet Suzanne Bhagan a fellow travel blogger extraordinaire from Hot Foot Trini. She gives you tips on what to see in Trinidad and Tobago, recipes, and how living there has been.

Hi Suzanne, I’m so glad you decided to be featured on Culture Trekking! I’m really excited to be able to connect with Trinidad and Tobago through you, its always such a pleasure for me to meet locals and get the inside scoop & learn about the culture and people. 
So let’s start by just asking some questions about you if that’s ok, and then we will move onto your country and what it has to offer visitors.
Me: What are some of your hobbies?

Suzanne: I like traveling (of course), reading, and hiking. When it comes to reading, I enjoy reading fiction or nonfiction set in different countries, particularly if written by authors that call those countries home. Regarding hiking, I like climbing hills and mountains. Nothing like Mount Everest though!

Me: What do you do for work?

Suzanne: I’m a freelance writer and editor. I’m also a Meaningful Travel Insider (MTI) for GoAbroad. As an MTI, I research and write blog posts on meaningful travel, work, and study abroad.

Me: Who are you closest to in your family and why?

Suzanne: I’m closest to my husband, Jesse. He’s my favorite travel buddy. He’s great because he’s very resourceful and solutions-oriented when we’re on the road.

Me: What is your biggest aspiration or dream right now?

Suzanne: My biggest aspiration (of all time) is to write a travel book. I don’t have a theme yet but I’m working on it!

Me: What is it that drives you to get up every morning and be disciplined to see that dream fulfilled?

Suzanne: I continue to write and blog as much as I can about traveling, studying, living, and working abroad. I also devour lots of travel fiction, nonfiction, blogs, and articles. I’m generally very self-motivated and deadline-oriented so getting the work done is not a problem. Plus, I love doing what I do and that’s enough motivation in itself!

Me: What is your most embarrassing moment?

Suzanne: Too many to mention. I tend to block out embarrassing moments. 

Me: That’s ok, I do too unless something reminds me of what I did that was embarrassing and then I end up laughing at myself at random which just adds to the embarrassment. Alright, next question: What is something you have personally done that you are really proud of?

Suzanne: I’m really proud of the fact that I was able to live in a country (Japan) where I didn’t even speak the language.

what to see in Trinidad and Tobago

So let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of Trinidad and Tobago. I first learned about you when you posted something on She’s Wanderful about how immigration officers didn’t believe your passport was real because they didn’t realize it was an actual country. How frustrating and anxiety-driven that situation must have been!

Me: What is it like for you to have people not realize it is an actual country?

Suzanne: It’s pretty annoying. Sometimes, I get tired of the blank faces and wish I had a map to show them that it actually exists. Without a map, it’s hard to explain where my country is because many people out there aren’t too clued up on world geography. For example, many people I’ve met thought Trinidad and Tobago was in Africa or the US! Go figure!

Me: Why do you think it is not well known to the world yet?

Suzanne: It’s not very famous because it’s not well-marketed in the global tourism industry. For example, it’s not the typical Caribbean country most people think of, like Jamaica or Barbados. However, travelers can learn more about my country because there are a lot of novels based in Trinidad and Tobago. I highly recommend A House for Mr. Biswas and Miguel Street by VS Naipaul and A Brighter Sun by Sam Selvon. These novels capture Trini culture very well.  

Me: Do you think that driving tourists there would be beneficial for the country/people?

Suzanne: Tourism is well established in Tobago, the smaller island. A lot of tourists also come to Trinidad, the bigger island, for Carnival (a huge festival similar to the one in Rio but with its unique flavor). However, tourism isn’t a big money spinner in my country because the economy is more energy-driven (oil and gas etc.).

Me: So tell me about the people there. How would you describe the people of the country compared to the rest of the world?

Suzanne: Trinidad and Tobago is very diverse. The population is made up of people who came from all corners of the world: Europe, Africa, India, China, and the Middle East. The native population, the First Peoples of Trinidad and Tobago, has also remained but is quite small.

Me: What is something you are proud of that your countrymen do that you find yourself often bragging to your friends about?

Suzanne: I’m pretty proud that the people of Trinidad and Tobago created the steelpan, the only acoustic musical instrument to be invented in the 20th century. Every Carnival, there’s a massive steel orchestra competition called Panorama. It’s a must-see for visitors. I’m also proud that Trinidadian-born fiction and travel writer, VS Naipaul, won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2001. We also have a fantastic literary festival for Caribbean literature, the Bocas Lit Fest.

Me: What types of religions are in Trinidad and Tobago?

Suzanne: There are so many religions in my country: Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Spiritual Shouter Baptist, Orisha, Rastafarianism, even Baha’i.

Me: Honestly, I haven’t even heard of some of those so I may have to go do some personal research before I can even think about asking more questions on that one. I really like the fact that there are in fact so many different religions in your country. I’m a big believer in that. Ok, so next question: 

Me: What is a spot you would frequent as a child?

Suzanne: As a child, I loved to go to the beach. In Trinidad, I loved Maracas, Las Cuevas, Mayaro, and Manzanilla beaches.

what to see in Trinidad and Tobago

Me: What are 3 hidden gems of Trinidad and Tobago that you wish people knew more about?

Suzanne: I wish more people knew that Trinidad and Tobago is a birder’s paradise. One of the best places to see them is Asa Wright Nature Center. I would also like tourists to visit the Temple in the Sea at Waterloo. This temple has a great story behind it. Trinidad and Tobago is also a chocolate powerhouse so visitors should check out the cocoa estates on both islands. Chocolate in Trinidad and Tobago is made from trinitario cocoa beans grown there, the highest grade of cocoa beans in the world. It’s the real stuff!

Me: What is your favorite food there that you can’t seem to get anywhere else?

Suzanne: Bake and shark, hands down!

Me: Food is always a great way to connect with people, I’m definitely going to look those up for sure. Do you have a favorite recipe that you would like to share with the Culture Trekking community to try?

Suzanne: One of the easiest things to make is Trinidadian corn soup

Me: Is it safe to travel in your country as a single female or with a family?

Suzanne: That’s a tough one. I would suggest that single females and other travelers be cautious when traveling alone in Trinidad and Tobago because there is a crime problem. Find a reputable tour operator or local guide to show you around.  

Me: What about racism? I know racism is a hot topic right now in the United States. How do those in Trinidad and Tobago handle that, or is it something not frequently thought of?

Suzanne: Although many locals claim “all ah we is one,” racism still affects everyday living in the country. It’s something that subtly permeates every level of society. Many people ignore it or pretend it doesn’t exist.

Me: Would those in the LGBTQ be welcome and safe there? If not what would be some suggestions you have for them when traveling?

Suzanne: Trinidad and Tobago, like many other Caribbean islands, still has a very conservative attitude when it comes to gender and sexuality. LGBTQ travelers are welcome but may get unwanted attention from some locals.

what to see in Trinidad and Tobago

Me: Are there areas you would suggest avoiding while there?

Suzanne: Avoid crime hot spots like Laventille, Enterprise, and Beetham.

Me: What are the major tourist traps?

Suzanne: I don’t think we have any tourist traps in Trinidad and Tobago!

Me: Do you have any favorite camping spots or hiking trails you would suggest?

Suzanne: Hiking is very popular on both islands. I would suggest going with a local guide or tour group because the trails are not signposted and you could get lost in some areas. I highly recommend hiking to Paria beach and Rio Seco waterfall.

Me: What about your favorite hidden beaches?

Suzanne: You can access hidden beaches by boat on both Trinidad and Tobago. You need to hire a local guide to get all the deets.

Me: When I say home, what does that picture look like in your mind?

Suzanne: In my mind, home is not a place. It’s the people who matter most to me.

Me: That is such a beautiful thought, I’m definitely going to remember that one. How do families there spend time together?

Suzanne: Different families do different things but in general, families spend time eating out, going to the cinema and malls, visiting relatives, going to the beach or river, and vacationing at beach houses across the two islands.

Me: What are marriages like there? Does the woman or the man propose? I need to find a country where the woman can propose myself, lol.

Suzanne: Marriages are generally love matches but there are a few arranged unions. Man or woman may propose although traditionally, men propose.

Me: Do you have any closing thoughts for my readers you would like them to know or take away from this?

Suzanne: I would love for your readers to learn more about Trinidad and Tobago and the rest of the Caribbean. We are so much more than beaches!

Me: Well Suzanne, it really has been a pleasure speaking with you and I hope one day to be able to meet you in person. You sound like a fascinating person, with loads of adventures awaiting you around the corner. I appreciate you taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer my questions and help my readers learn about your fascinating culture and connect with Trinidad and Tobago. I hope that they have been as enthralled as I have been in reading your answers. Thank you so much for your time and if my readers wanted to get in touch with you, how would they do that?

Suzanne: They can check out my blog: Hot Foot Trini or connect with me on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter.


Alright folks, that is it for today. I hope that you enjoyed this featured follower post. I want to sincerely thank Suzanne Bhagan for participating and being willing to answer all these questions. I love being able to connect with different cultures and communities throughout the world. 


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Irish Workhouses Suffering and Survival

Reading Time: 11 minutes
Irish Workhouses- History of Suffering & Survival – BY GUEST AUTHOR ROXANNE When I was planning my trip to Ireland, it was very important to me to visit Irish Workhouses.  My grandmother’s family immigrated from Ireland in the 1850s, after surviving the Great Hunger, and the workhouses.  I wanted to better understand my heritage, and the depths of horror they endured, so I routed our itinerary to the Portumna Workhouse Center. Condition before repairs Visiting Portumna was educational, enlightening, and emotional.  When I returned home, I was anxious to tell friends of this experience, and how it impacted me.  I was proud to learn of the strength and the tenacity of the Irish spirit that my ancestors must have had, and that I identified with.  I was sadly surprised to find that no one even knew what the Irish Workhouses were. Over 33 million Americans claim to have an Irish heritage or ancestry, but very few  know of the Irish Workhouses.  They can cite many facts and myths about Ireland, with St. Patrick and the Catholic Church topping the list, closely followed by potatoes, the famine, and the long-standing conflict with Great Britain.  Yet, each of these pieces of history is interwoven with the history of the workhouses. [caption id="attachment_7392" align="alignleft" width="239"]Statues depicting the poverty stricken residents Poverty stricken Irish Family depicted in these statues[/caption] Huge waves of desperate poor emigrated out of Ireland in the mid to late 1800s, to escape and avoid, the workhouses, starvation, and the oppression enforced upon them by the British.  Their posterity and heritage spread throughout the western world.  The descendants of the Irish around the world outnumber the citizens of Ireland, by 7 times! Of course, the Irish themselves have tried to push the workhouses from their memories.  They were not the inherent reason for their suffering, rather a symptom of the overall degradation. But their presence of a workhouse in nearly every community, and their detestable conditions resulted in them becoming a symbol of the suffering, and all of the wrongs put upon the Irish people for centuries. This all started all the way back in the 12th century.  Prior to that, Ireland was an independent country, with a Celtic heritage, traditions, and language.  There were small kingdoms across the land, and the rulers of each reporting to a singular, High King.  The Norse, commonly referred to as Vikings, had established footholds throughout north-western Europe, but it was in the 1170s when a powerful Anglo-Norman invasion took place, and the last High King of Ireland, Roderic O’Connor, was defeated, that gave Henry II the opportunity to take control of Ireland. For 6 centuries, Ireland was ruled by England, through a system of Earldoms, with each Earl reporting to the throne of England, with all of the laws and taxes that typically came with that rulership.  A series of attempted overthrows took place, but the English authority remained intact through each.  It was in the early 18th century when a most detrimental blow to the Irish people took place: the enactment of the Penal Laws. [caption id="attachment_7391" align="alignright" width="339"]Staff of infirmary at Portumna Workhouse Staff of infirmary at Portumna Workhouse[/caption] At that time, nearly 75% of the population of Ireland were poor Catholics. The Penal Laws punished them for their faith.  Catholics were forbidden from practicing their religion, from teaching, entering the army, any civil service position, or legal profession.  They could not own a horse worth more than 5 pounds, own or bear arms.  They could not purchase land.  If a Catholic already owned land, it would be divided among his successors upon his death, but, if one heir converted to the Protestant religion, he became the sole owner, leaving his siblings with nothing. Within 100 years,  the majority of the Irish became homeless laborers, with no available work.  The majority survived by what was known as the Conacre system.  A landowner (a Protestant English citizen) rented small cabins and a plot of land large enough to graze a cow and raise a garden of potatoes, to a laborer for a single season.  The worker was “paid” for his work, and his rent was taken from his earnings.  The poor had little money for anything but rent, but they at least had food.  If the laborer did not “earn” enough to cover his rent, he would be evicted. Read about the Conacre system to get a better understanding of the dire situation these Irish families were placed in. [caption id="attachment_7393" align="alignleft" width="432"]Story photos created by Portumna Workhouse Center 1 Children in the cold Workhouse[/caption] By 1800, when the British monarchy fully claimed ownership of Ireland, it then had to assume responsibility for the conditions. One Royal Commission after another assessed the problem of poverty in Ireland and enacted laws to “improve” the situation, which had virtually no effect.  They enacted the Public Works Act, through which Irish poor were hired to build roads, and other such infrastructure needs.  However, the poverty was too extensive, and too little work was available.  In 1838 it was finally determined that the power of the Poor Law Commissioners, who oversaw workhouses in England and Wales,  would be expanded to Ireland. Ireland was divided into 130 “Unions”, which were based upon the already existing Townlands system. Each Union had an elected board of governors, but only ratepayers (tax paying landowners) could vote.  In January 1839, architect George Wilkinson was hired to design and oversee the construction of a workhouse for each union.  The overall design was the same for each newly built construction, with cost and durability being the primary concerns. Overhead View Portumna Irish Workhouses The typical setup of the workhouse, became known as an H Block style, with the structures set up in the formation of a letter H.  There was a central acceptance building, which also housed the governors meeting rooms, and the storerooms, and on each side were the male and female dormitories. Life at the workhouse was meant to be unpleasant.  It was a common belief that poverty was a result of laziness.  Workhouse life was to be so undesirable that it would only be seen by the poor as the last resort.  Workhouses in England and Wales already had dozens of rules and restrictions, but those in Ireland were even harsher. Read the rules of the workhouses. Any citizen who owned even the smallest parcel of land could not enter the workhouse without turning over the ownership of this land.  Any citizen so destitute they sought sustenance at the workhouse could not enter the workhouse unless his entire family also came to the workhouse. [caption id="attachment_7394" align="alignright" width="348"]Story Photos created by Portumna Workhouse Center @ Child in Irish Workhouse Center[/caption] Upon entry, the destitute and starving citizens would often be required to prove their need, sometimes although many were near death.  They would be inspected, medically assessed, and then split up.  Families were required to enter together but they were not allowed to stay together. Only children under age 2 could stay with their mothers.  Children from 3 to 15 were separated into the girls and boys dormitories.  At 16 they were treated as adults and separated into the men’s and women’s dorms. The dormitories were set up in stark white fashion, with the walls lime washed, for sterilization purposes.  Bedding consisted of straw mats laid in rows on the floor.  Heating was provided by a single fireplace at one end of the room, so those at the far end received little warmth at all. Anyone unable to support themselves outside of the workhouse would be required to work, for their keep, while in the workhouse. Sitting idle, at any time, was not allowed.  The women attended to the housekeeping tasks, including cooking, cleaning, laundering, and mending.  Laundry included boiling linens in huge vats and laying them out overheated metal piping. Mens work included breaking stones, cutting wood, and tending the land around the workhouse, as well as physical repairs on the structures themselves.  Even the elderly and infirm had duties to their abilities, which included picking oakum.  This was a process where lengths of used rope, such as from fishing boats, were unwound strand by strand, to pick out the impurities.  This same task was often given to prisoners as punishment.  The rope could be rewound and sold by the workhouse for profit.

Daily workhouse schedule[37]
6:00Rise
6:30–7:00Breakfast
7:00–12:00Work
12:00–13:00Dinner
13:00–18:00Work
18:00–19:00Supper
20:00Bedtime
Sunday was a day of rest. During the winter months inmates were allowed to rise an hour later and did not start work until 8:00 am.[37]
The general work schedule of the inmates including a 10-hour workday, starting at 0700, with a one hour break for the lunch/dinner meal.  Despite this labor, it was expected that the diet in the workhouse would be less satisfactory than the typical diet of those outside of the workhouse in the community.  Since most Irish were in a dreadful state of poverty, they were eating very little.  So the diet in the workhouse consisted of 2 meals per day for adults, a breakfast of a thin oatmeal porridge, called stirabout, and a bunch of potatoes and milk.  Children were more fortunate, being afforded a supper, which consisted of bread and milk. Conditions in the workhouse were miserable as planned, but the staff hired by the elected board of governors often let them go beyond deplorable.  When inspections did occur, there were often notes in regards to the sad state of hygiene and health of the inmates. [gallery ids="7385,7380,7384" type="rectangular"] In 1945 a potato blight spread throughout western Europe, causing the potato crop to go black, and die.  Although this impacted millions of people, nowhere was it as devastating as in Ireland, where the poor lived on potatoes for sustenance.  Had this blight affected only one year, recovery may have been possible, but it continued for 4 years.  Over a million Irish died of starvation during the famine, and it became known as the Great Hunger. The saddest fact of the famine was that other crops were growing in Ireland, as well as livestock.  But wealthy landowners and farmers continued to sell and export this food, while the poor Irish starved. [caption id="attachment_7390" align="alignleft" width="395"]Reconstructed women's dorm Reconstructed women’s dorm[/caption] The workhouses were designed to house 600 to 800 persons each, but more and more citizens who could no longer bear the hunger sought a refuge.  At times as many as 1200 poor would be present in these workhouses on a given day.  The school rooms and even stables were used to house inmates.  Waves of disease spread through, and large numbers of inmates died.  In some cases, mass graves were used. Conditions were so bad, that in 1848 the British government finally took two further actions.  They began actively supporting emigration.  The landlords greatly supported this, because the fewer people there were on their land, the lower their rates, or taxes, were.  Hundreds of thousands of the poor saw emigration as their most viable option and left by whatever means they could, many with a term of indenture.  Conditions on the transport ships were horrid, and thousands died of disease during the voyages, to be buried at sea. The government also voted to expand the Poor Law Unions, adding another 32 unions.  The Workhouse which I visited, in Portumna, was one of the additional 32 established.  Built in 1852, it came into existence after the worst of the Great Hunger.  Nonetheless, the available records make the despair of conditions clear. [caption id="attachment_7381" align="alignright" width="339"]Barren Barren Workhouse floor[/caption] From the beginning, the ratepayers opposed the establishment of this Union, voting to abolish it and send the paupers elsewhere.  They were overruled by the Dublin Commission.  It is also clear, that despite the poverty and suffering of the people, that many saw the workhouse as economic opportunities. Even priests and chaplains argued over salaries and refused to provide their services, even to minister the dead.  Farmers signed contracts to provide food of certain types and qualities, but instead failed to meet the terms of their contracts, or provided food of a far inferior quality. Portumna was a smaller workhouse built to house 200.  Most of the time it was open, it’s occupancy was around 125.  Still, it’s history is one filled with sorrow, suffering, and loss.  Today, it is one of few left standing in almost it’s complete original composition. During the Irish Revolution, in the 1920s, many of the workhouses were burned down by one side or the other, to prevent the opposition from using the houses as a military base.  Once Irish freedom was won, the remaining workhouses were shut down, but the buildings were used for county hospitals. Over the decades after the closure of the workhouse, and then the closing of the hospital, the Portumna structures were used for many things, housing different businesses, including a knitting company, an agricultural show, a textiles company, and a packing company, then warehouses and storage, then sat vacantly.  It wasn’t until the 1990s that today’s center was envisioned.  The following is from the Workhouse Centers informational materials:
Portumna Workhouse is one of the last remaining buildings of its kind in Ireland and a conservation order was placed on it which ensures its structural survival. The complex lay derelict and covered with ivy for a number of decades and in 1999 South East Galway Integrated Rural Development Company, a voluntary local development group, approached the Western Health Board with a view to conserve the site and reusing it for the benefit of the area.….. The Irish Workhouse Centre opened to the public in 2011 and tells the story of the Irish workhouse as an institution. The project is led by a voluntary board and a team of local volunteers guide the visitors around the complex.
The story of Portumna is unique.  It has been said that the workhouse is regarded as the most despised of all institutions ever imposed upon Ireland, representing all of her people’s suffering.  But it is a history that must be told and remembered, and the Portumna Workhouse Center has taken on that task.  Gradually they have worked to restore the center, as time and funds are available. [caption id="attachment_7383" align="alignnone" width="972"]Irish Workhouses before refurbishing began.-1 Before restoration of workhouse began in Portumna[/caption] As said at the onset of this story, I visited Portumna to connect with my own family history.  My grandmother’s family experienced the misery of the workhouse, before escaping to the United States.  Walking through the dormitories, seeing the straw mats, seeing the laundry vats, hearing the stories, understanding the separation of husband and wife, mother and child, was powerful in itself.  To know that my family survived this life, was overwhelming. I cannot hope to truly convey the suffering and the fear of the poor Irish, nor their hatred for the workhouses and the landowners. Seeing it first hand gives a glimpse.  If you have Irish ancestry, you owe it to yourself to understand this heritage, and the strength it took to bequeath you with the life you have today.  Visit the Portumna Workhouse Center if the chance arises. Main entrance Portumna Irish Workhouses Center To be honest, the experience was so absorbing, that I never had the thought of taking my camera from my bag.  It is only thanks to the volunteer staff at the Portumna Workhouse Center that I have photos to share. Plan your visit to Portumna Workhouse Center Check out their information about Portumna community activities and involvement
About the Author: Roxanna Keyes is a mom, grandma, and a Senior Distribution Manager, for the US Postal Service, in central Illinois. While she has dedicated a significant portion of her life to her career, she has learned that life, and making a living, are not the same thing, and too many of us confuse the two. She started her blog Gypsy With a Day Job to encourage others to recognize that fact before it is too late and to inspire them to see the world, and to live out the adventures that make the stories of their life worth sharing.]]>

Culloden Battlefield Visitor Centre, Scotland’s Past And Future

Culloden Battlefield Visitor Centre, Scotland’s Past And Future

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Charles Edward Stuart is a name not often recognized here in America; but if you possess Scottish blood, however, or an affinity for Scottish history, then you most likely know of the Bonnie Prince Charlie and his infamous Battle for Culloden.

Battle for Culloden

Prince Charles Stuart and His Claim for the Throne:

Prince Charles Edward Stuart was born in Rome and lived in a staunchly Catholic household with his father, who would often talk about their heritage (like most Scottish) and who held a claim on the rights to the Scottish and English throne. I like to think that there must have also been talk of Scottish rebellion, and the Jacobite succession in that house because of who Charles became. With Prince Charles growing up in such an environment, those lectures must have transformed him greatly to become the dreamer he became later in life. He had a dream of being able to take back the throne of not only Scotland but England as well because he felt it was God’s will.

Scotland has a very long history of antagonism between Catholic and Protestants, there are thousands of graves throughout Scotland and England as a result of that hatred. As a side note, we as the human race seem to not have learned from our mistakes of the past. We still fight these terrible wars, resulting in THOUSANDS of deaths and refugees…..then eventually mass graves like the one that Prince Charles led many of the Scottish Clans to.

It started in December 1943, when his father named him Prince Reagent. The title of Prince Reagent meant that he could act directly in his father’s name. If we let our imaginations look at his side of the story, where this 21-year-old-boy had just been given a huge amount of power by a father I assume he desperately wanted to impress.

His first act was to raise funds to buy two ships, the Elisabeth and the Doutelle. They were able to sail past the English ships on their way to Scotland, Charles learned that the French fleet that was supposed to be supporting him was badly damaged by storms.

News of his arrival in Scotland spread like wildfire to those who still supported his clemency. Please keep in mind that anyone who was found openly supporting his claim, if discovered by the British was killed (sometimes brutally) for treason.

Battle for Culloden

The Social Shift Towards War:

The Scottish were tired of the suppression of their livelihood, their customs, and the taxes they had to pay to a king they didn’t believe in. Prince Charlie’s Jacobite cause was still supported by many in the Highland clans, both Catholic and Protestant. Bonnie Prince Charlie raised his standards, gathered what little money he could from the Highland Clans, and marched on Edinburgh, which was quickly surrendered to him. I imagine this really encouraged him and made him feel as if God truly was on his side, so he surged on.

On September 21st, 1745, he engaged in the Battle of Prestonpans. By November, he had a band of 6,000 men. They then won the Battle of Falkirk, and after this, the Duke of Cumberland caught up with them at Culloden. Prince Charles knew that he had to defend his military stronghold in Inverness, they were dwindling on supplies and weapons stored there. He chose to engage the English at the Battle of Culloden.

Traveler tip: It takes about a 20 min to reach Culloden from Inverness, so I would recommend leaving in the morning so you get the little bit of the daybreak mist. It’s also the best time to take pictures because there aren’t as many people around.

Battle for Culloden

The Battle for Culloden:

Prince Charles’ army of Scottish Clansmen were exhausted and starving yet they were still asked to go into battle – because God was on their side right?
It was the last battle they would fight on British soil — the battle itself only took 1 hour and nearly 1,500 people died that day; over 1,000 of them being Jacobite Scotsman.
The Scottish men wore the kilts of their clans and were armed with axes, skindoo’s, swords, and French and Spanish Muskets that were only slightly smaller than those of the British forces. However, the British brought Mortars. It was a quick battle with heavy losses and still stands as a somber reminder of the past.

Battle for Culloden

Traveler tip: If you plan to visit any of the major Scottish Monuments, I would suggest stopping here first. The National Scottish Trust. They manage most of the sites with significant historical value in Scotland.

Battle for Culloden

The Visitors Center at Culloden:

When you arrive in Culloden, you will find a visitors center with items that have been recovered from Culloden. You wander through the history that leads to the battle, and end with a movie, before being led to the field where the fighting occurred. My family history dates back to the 1500’s with the MacKenzie’s and into the 18th-19th Century with the MacFarlane’s, who after this battle, fled to Ireland and then the United States.

Walking through the visitors center, and learning of how difficult their lives were was extremely sobering for me. What if a cousin had died here; buried in the Clan graves around the field where they fell? The different members of the clans were actually identified by their tartan or a small clan sprig in their bonnet. To see the Mounds of earth on the otherwise flat field, that turned out to be where our Clans had eternally been laid to rest.

Battle for Culloden

It made my heart break for the suppression and tumultuous past that Scotland had been under. Yet I am so proud to be Scottish, I have a family crest from both Scotland and Holland. I know their history, I visited their graves, I visited their clan homes and felt that Scotland was really somewhere I could call home. I know what it is to be proud of my heritage and what my heritage actually is. I know why I tend to love the rain and being outdoors now, the excitement I feel when I think about rainstorms and nature.

Traveler tip: entrance costs about $14 & I would plan on spending at least 2 hours there so you can really soak it in. I personally stayed in Inverness right by the river, and then went to see Culloden, several Clan castles nearby & then of course Loch Ness which is a short drive. From there, I traveled to Portree by car to visit the Isle of Skye.

I think it was sad for both sides of the Battle for Culloden. That’s the terrible thing about war, is that their are families on both sides that lost something. But I fear Scotland lost the most in this particular war:
After this tragic event,  those who survived either fled or were taken as prisoners. The Scottish leaders that were captured, were often kept alive… in slavery and at times torture to ensure their clans were kept in line. The brutal suppression of anything that identified the Scottish as a distinct people was banned.

The kilts were changed over time, but the Scottish spirit and enduring pride will forever live on. It is in our hearts, it is in our minds and will forever be a place I call my home and my heritage.

Battle for Culloden

Where To Stay Near Culloden Battlefield

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The Space Between Israel and Palestine, a Fragile Peace

Reading Time: 7 minutes
A boy flying a Palestinian flag near Jewish Settlements[/caption] Despite Palestinian’s being supported by forces of Syria, Egypt etc… By 1949 Israel forces controlled 70% of the land of Palestine & had pushed well past their borders established in the U.N. plan of 1947. When the 750,000 Palestinians who fled due to fighting tried to return to the now Israeli State, they were permanently barred by the Israeli government. The descendants of those refugees number around 7 million. Given the tensions, and the recent Genocide, I can see their point of view of wanting to be overly protective of their people. I also see the Palestinian view of frustration, because no matter where you are in this world, home is still home, and never being able to return would be very heart breaking. To this day there are millions of Palestinian refugees that have a very hard time finding decent jobs & many more still living in refugee camps in the Gaza strip, west bank, Lebanon and Jordan. The Jewish people needed a refuge from the storm of World War II & a safe place to be able to heal; but in giving them that, a large number of Palestinian refugees was created. [caption id="attachment_3693" align="alignnone" width="4608"]Between Israel and Palestine Jewish Men praying at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem[/caption] As the Israeli state became more established, there was segregation, there were rights denied to Palestinians who had stayed — including privileged housing that is and was denied to them, but allowed for the Jewish people. This gave rise to the 6 day war, where Israel was able to seize the Golan Heights from Syria, the West Bank from Jordan, and the Sinai & Gaza strip from Egypt’s control; the Israeli State now controlled all of Israel, including the Holy Sites within Jerusalem. Israel now was able to govern those Palestinians that they had fought for decades. Then in 1978, Egypt and Israel signed the Camp David Accords, and gave the Siani Peninsula back to Egypt. This was very controversial to many Arab states, but over time the other Arab states were able to come to peace with Israel even if they never formally signed a peace deal. [gallery ids="4187,4188" type="rectangular"] The Gaza Strip and the West Bank were intended to be areas where Palestinians were allowed to live and raise their families. When I visited Israel, it seemed that the Palestinians were boxed in with barbed wire and from friends I have living there, the living conditions are not good at all. There is rationing of power, water, infrastructure and resources. While on the Israel side, the Jewish people have managed to turn it into a thriving Metropolis that attracts thousands of visitors and tourists every year. The Palestinians were not happy with the Israeli rule, and the Israeli & Palestinian conflict ensued. The Palestinians began to fight back, including with acts of terrorism; backpack bombs, bombs in Maternity wards and buses– none of this was going to help with peace talks for either side. The Palestinians who were struggling against Israel wanted to end the Israeli occupation entirely. The fighting was very brutal, at one point Israel actually began to invade Lebanon (1982). [caption id="attachment_4246" align="alignnone" width="3000"]Between Israel and Palestine Police fences were randomly placed throughout the city in Jerusalem for precaution[/caption] Unfortunately, the State of Israel, has started putting Jewish settlements inside the Gaza strip, they partition those areas off, and when the Palestinians complain, they are hushed quietly but also forcefully at times (according to reports). Because they are backed by the Israeli army, they have allowed them to come into Palestinian sections and destroyed hundreds of homes, orchards and agricultural lands. If there is resistance by the Palestinians, they are punished with raids, arrests and assassinations. Some assume that this is an attempt to make life so hard for the Palestinians that they will be too afraid to resist, or they will just leave. Why would the Jewish people want to live in these areas at all? Some chose to move to these settlements for religious reasons, some for political reasons, and some… just because the housing was so much cheaper than the housing near all the Holy sites throughout Israel. Between Israel and Palestine By placing these settlements within the Palestinian occupied lands, it will make it much harder for the Palestinians to ever have a Palestinian state. Currently the settlers have been numbered above 700,000. In 1987-1999 was the first Intifada, or the first Palestinian uprising; the Israeli’s lost several hundred and the Palestinians over 1,000. About this same time that this was happening in the West Bank, Gaza created its own army called Hamas; a group of violent extremists that felt they were defending their ‘state’. By 1993 it was clear from the destruction and devastation on both sides, that a peace deal would need to be made. This is when the Oslo Accords was signed by leaders on both sides. This accord was suppose to be the first step in Israel withdrawing from Palestinian lands, and potentially allowing a Palestinian state. This was when the Palestinian authority was established and allowed Palestinians a little bit of authority to govern themselves in certain areas. Members of Hamas launched a series of bombings to try and sabotage the process. Because of this, the Israeli’s began to protest the peace talks, and called the Israeli Prime Minister of the time Hitler and a Nazi. After the 2nd round of the Oslo Accords was signed, the Prime Minister was then shot to death by a far right Israeli in Tel Aviv. [caption id="attachment_4184" align="alignnone" width="4000"]Between Israel and Palestine An Israeli flag flight near the traditional site where Jesus Christ was believed to be Baptized[/caption] By 2000-2005 with the failure of Camp David II summit, Palestinians began to give up hope for peace. The Palestinians rose up with the Second Intafada or uprising, and this one ended up being MUCH more violent than the first Intafada. This conflict produced 1,000 Israeli deaths, and 3,200 Palestinian deaths. This uprising change the tone of the conflict for Israeli’s, they became much more doubtful and skeptical that the Palestinians actually wanted peace, and not just their total destruction. This is when all the walls, checkpoints, and increased Israeli military presence came into Israel to not make peace, but manage the violence and protect its Jewish citizens. [caption id="attachment_4185" align="alignnone" width="4000"]IMG_3345 Barbed wire along the road to the Jordan River, where Jesus Christ was believed to be Baptized[/caption] This left the Palestinians feeling that peace will never come, and are feeling the growth of an ever increasing Israeli occupation through the settlements. Israel ends up withdrawing from Gaza, Hamas then gains power, ends up splitting from the Palestinian authority rule in a short Civil war. This is when Israel places the Gaza strip under a massive & suffocating isolation, because of all the violence originating from the Gaza strip. Unemployment in the Gaza Strip rises up to 40%, and living conditions have deteriorated even further with nearly 1.8 million Palestinians living within a 25 mile by 7 mile wide area, and an estimated 1.1 million Palestinian refugees between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. [caption id="attachment_4216" align="aligncenter" width="704"]Between Israel and Palestine The Area of the Gaza Strip Compared to Los Angeles in the United States[/caption] In the West Bank the Israeli government is still putting up settlements, and the Palestinians are getting increasingly frustrated by this… which then leads to violence and riots. Because of the continued and long history of war, and violence, most Israeli’s have become apathetic to the situation; and the government manages the conflict to the point that most Israeli’s don’t know about it. There are brief periods when the violent groups will rise up, and the deaths that occur from this violence are largely Palestinian (due to US backing of the Israeli Army). So as you can see, on both sides, there are extremists that use Violence to derail peace. It is a thin line that both leaders must walk in order to make peace talks both happen and take effect without risking their own lives & keep the area relatively stable. Until BOTH sides are able to be at peace, and not seek for the opposing sides total destruction… peace will not happen, only relative stability. [caption id="attachment_4194" align="aligncenter" width="488"]Between Israel and Palestine A flag and Menorah are proudly displayed atop an Israeli buidling[/caption] The Israeli occupation on Palestinian lands (according previous accords signed), cannot peacefully last much longer. Whatever we see come next will be much worse, it is a struggle on both sides of each one wanting the other’s destruction. I don’t know what the right answer is, and I have friends on both sides of this conflict. I have to be careful of what I call the land there. If I’m talking to my Jewish friends, it is ‘Israel’; if I’m talking to my Palestinian friends, then its ‘Israeli occupied Palestine’. [caption id="attachment_4197" align="aligncenter" width="679"]Between Israel and Palestine Dome of the Rock in Israel a Sacred site to Muslims[/caption] Now I feel I have a better understanding of why there is a need for the barricades, barbed wire etc…. on both sides. All in all, it just makes me sad. Its not just about religion, its about both sides wanting to protect their lands, people, and children. I do not personally feel the US should solely be involved in this, especially if they have something to gain through some export from Israel. I don’t really want to get into that political portion of this conflict. All I can do is listen to both sides, encourage peace, pray for it & try not to ruffle anyone’s feathers by talking about my opinions on the matter. Don’t let this conflict discourage you from visiting Israel though, it really is incredible to be a witness to thousands of years of history & see for yourself what Israel is today. Much love to both sides, and may God bring you both peace in this time of heartache and turmoil. [gallery ids="4207,4208,4209,4210,4200,4198" type="slideshow"]


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Ramadan Made Simple : An American Perspective

Reading Time: 7 minutes

**The purpose of ‘Ramadan Made Simple’ is to educate, not offend. To those who are of the Muslim faith, feel free to comment and help educate us all, and Rhamadan Kareem to you**

From all the movies I have watched of Muslims bombing Americans, treating women poorly & the mysterious secretive nature of the religion — to be honest I started to become afraid of Muslims & those who wore Hijab’s. So me, being who I am, set out to face my fears and educate myself on what the truth was. I don’t like to give into the mainstream media, and I’m not a ‘follow the crowd’ kind of personality.

As fate would have it, I started working for a Muslim doctor in Las Vegas, and ended up rubbing shoulder with his friends & colleagues who were also from the same religion. He was actually from Pakistan, and after 2 years of working for him & with a nurse who converted to the religion, I learned a lot & my perspective radically changed.

Bottom line, they are human beings, who find passion in their religion that gives them a sense of community – when many do not treat what they believe with much respect. No matter what religion you come from, there will always be the ‘few’, who skew the perspective of the ‘many’. Being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (aka: Mormon, as the public calls us- see LDS.org for more on this), we also have a problem with this aspect and many assuming we are part of the “Sister Wives” – which couldn’t be further from the truth. I think this is why I wanted to learn more, because I know how it feels to be misunderstood, and have people assume things about me that aren’t true.

Quiet frankly, it is hurtful & makes me feel more isolated when people don’t bother to ‘seek first to understand’ instead of just Ass-uming. So after several years of observing, learning, reading (yes, even read ‘The Koran for Dummies’ lol)

What I Learned About Rhamadan:

1- It Is Deeply Religious

It is a deeply religious time for them, which is celebrated as a family. And follows the Lunar Calendar, which means it is a few days earlier each year. This year it begins on 5/27/17

2- Preparation Is Extensive

Days of preparation happen beforehand, each country is different in what they prepare but typically involves special dishes rich in calories and electrolytes that help sustain them throughout the day.  (Below is Harrira, a traditional soup made for Rhamadan that is a Tomato base with spices and is very very delicious)

3- Timed By The Sun

Rhamadan begins and ends with the phases of the Sun and coincides with their calls to prayer. The Morning prayer of Fajr (must eat & hydrate for the day BEFORE this prayer); and Maghrib (eat til you are sick, and celebrate the day with family & friends). For local times on call to prayer (for education, I found this App for Iphone and Samsung)

  • Fajr: it is a prayer & intention of the heart, you fast to show your obedience to Allah (God) and submit your will to his for your life.

4- Why is it required?

Rhamadan is one of the 5 pillars of Islam, or one of the 5 major lifetime commitments that they believe is required by God to be rewarded for in heaven. It is also the Lunar calendar month in which the Quran (their Holy Book) was revealed & in a way is a world-wide celebration for showing God how much the appreciate the direction it provided them.

Note: If you read about when their Prophet Mohammad was inspired to found this religion & belief system, it was in a time of a lot of turmoil – where women were sold, bought, killed. Pagan beliefs were rampant & it was a call to leave that aside and live life as a higher law and it ended up saving thousands of lives within the region because of its founding.

My Soap Box:

Whenever a life is saved, I am deeply grateful to whatever source helped to save it. Working in the medical field and seeing the frailty and emotional struggle with physical ailments; consoling those who have lost a loved one — it takes a lot out of me emotionally.

So realizing this bit of history, made me particularly grateful to their Prophet Mohammad for providing an avenue in which lives could be saved during its founding. While I know that their are lives lost in the current situation with terrorists and bombings, this is not the first time that lives have been lost in the name of religion. Christians have slaughtered those of the Jewish faith, Romans caught Christians and put them into gladiator pits and drug them behind chariots for sport and their are centuries of people doing this over and over and over….in the name of religion.

This does not diminish the pain or the loss experienced by those that have lost their lives in the battle against terrorism; it is a cruel, hateful & heart-breakingly evil thing that is happening in and to our world. But the best way to battle that, at least in my opinion, is by education, reaching across the isle and showing forgiveness, spreading understanding not spewing words of hate that further isolates us from our fellow human beings. History is going to keep repeating itself until we as the human race can stop labeling, self labeling, identifying others as ‘bad’ ‘wrong’ or ‘crazy’, just because they believe something different than us.  #endofsoapbox

5- Practicing Discipline

They feel that abstaining from food is a way to practice discipline and restrain for the human desires of this life. Muslims believe (similar to Mormon beliefs) that the body is a vessel that was given to us by God to allow our spirits (or celestial bodies) come to Earth and be tested with all the associated trials that come with being human. (We are spiritual beings having an earthly experience, not the other way around). So in a way, it is their way of proving to God that they are focused on improving their spirituality & hope (if done correctly & with true intent of the heart) that he will accept their fast. In accepting their fast, they will be rewarded when their life is over. It is also a way for Muslims to appreciate all that God has given them, to feel what it is like to be hungry and thirsty all day; so as to soften their hearts to the hungry and sick. Which strengthens empathy, which in my opinion is something we definitely need more of in this world of ours.

6- Are There Exceptions During Rhamadan?

There are those who are exempt of course!

Children generally don’t participate until they hit puberty, but because most of them want to be ‘a grown-up’ they end up at least doing a meal or two with their family.

Those on menstrual cycles & women during childbirth

The elderly or those with health problems

My thoughts: totally reasonable, and glad there are exceptions honestly, and after researching it, these individuals have the option to just go and feed the poor one meal a day for each day of the fast to substitute for what they can’t do themselves.

7- There Are Six Things That Make Fasting Invalid

Intentional Eating or Drinking

If someone eats or drinks due to forgetfulness, a mistake, or coercion, then his fast is still valid and should continue to fast.

If you choose to eat or drink, for any reason, then your fast will become invalid.

My thought: reasonable, as a Mormon we fast once a month at the beginning of the week, with the same idea. 

Intentional Vomiting

If one is overcome by the urge to vomit, and vomits unintentionally, then he should continue to fast.

My thought: well who would want to eat anyway if they are vomiting. 

If someone chooses to vomit, for any reason, then his fast will become invalid.

My thought: if they are vomiting intentionally, well they likely need a lot more help and should get the reason for vomiting intentionally looked at (ie/ Binge and purging is a serious issue that should be addressed by a Psychologist and Nutritionist) 

Intentional Sexual Intercourse

If one has sexual intercourse while fasting, then he must perform kaffaarah, expiation of the sin. (Fasting continuously for sixty days or if unable then one should feed sixty poor people).

My thought: women will love this idea, lol, but if you think about it, sex puts your mind into a dirty lustful place. So if the idea is to clear the mind and have it more in-line with the thoughts of God; well abstaining from sex is likely not the best thing to be doing during your Holy month. 

Menstrual or Childbirth Bleeding

The fast becomes invalid during menstrual or post-childbirth bleeding. Even if such bleeding begins just before sunset, the fast of that day is invalid and the day must be made up at a later time.

My thought: this was a little irritating to me, mostly because I hate my menstrual cycle and don’t feel women should have to fast longer because they are on the cycle. But on the flip side of this thought, its likely better to not fast when you are on your menstrual cycle and just delay it, because you are likely to already be bitchy & then to add Hangry on top of that — well there would be no more Muslim men left if they had this deadly combination. Just my opinion, take it or leave it. Regarding Childbirth, I totally agree, no woman should be fasting when growing a human being in their belly; it would be harmful for the child. 

8- The Three Day Festival Is Amazing

The Holy month of Rhamadan ends with a 3 day festival (massive amount of food and several parties) called Eid el-fatir. And who doesn’t love a party 😉 In the end I came to appreciate a small part of what makes up Islam and its people, and have learned so much from my friends who are part of this religion.

I haven’t met one Muslim yet who hasn’t been warm, kind, inviting, and patient with me and my questions (which at times I know were slightly rude and racist– my apologizes).

Taking Time To Understand

So as with anything in our lives, if you are afraid of it, seek first to understand — and in the end you will be able to make a very personal & educated decision on if those fears you had were founded or not. It is ok to disagree, it is ok to get angry at the attacks that are happening by these terrorists & protect your lives/livelihood and families; but its not ok to lump an entire religion into one package.

So my takeaway? Its a month of reflection, giving thanks, abstaining from our animalistic human natures & coming closer to our divine nature. Developing our spiritual selves, helping those that are less fortunate & remembering the history of how human kind was drastically changed by a book called the Quran.

I have tried the ‘give up something for lent’ & now after studying and reading all of this (ok and participating in some of the parties associated with this), I might just have to give it a try in my own way. Focusing on my spiritual side and realizing that I am a spiritual being having an earthly experience.

I hope that this article has been informative to those not of the Islamic faith, and I truly hope my Muslim friends feel I have given honest opinions in a way that has not offended them or what they believe, to you I say Rhamadan Murbarak & Rhamadan Kareem 🙂

Useful Terms:

Rhamadan Murbarak (Congratulations its Rhamadan, or congrats on the month of blessings for this month)

Rhamadan Kareem (Have a generous Rhamadan, or generous in the way of have generous blessings from God this month)