In this episode of 80 Days: An Exploration Podcast, we’re (sort of) exploring the history of the North Pole, and in particular, it’s significance to the Christmas season. We also conduct our now-traditional Christmas quiz, and give a brief update on Season 6. From all of us, have a very merry festive season, and we’ll see you in 2023.
In this episode of 80 Days: An Exploration Podcast, thanks to our backers on Patreon, we’ll be talking about Kalmykia, a republic and country of Russia located directly north of the North Caucasus in Eastern Europe, between Ukraine and Kazakhstan, only around 200 miles or 350km north of Georgia. The Kalmyks, of Mongol origin, migrated to the Caspian region in the 17th century from Central Asia. They were mainly nomadic cattle breeders. Kalmykiya was established in 1920 as an autonomous oblast (region); in 1936 it became a republic, which was abolished in 1944 when the Kalmyks were exiled for alleged collaboration with the Germans during WW2.
The territory of Kalmykia is unique in that it has been the home in successive periods to many major world religions and ideologies. Prehistoric paganism and shamanism gave way to Judaism amongst some of the Khazars (who included Muslims and Christians in equal or greater numbers as well). This was succeeded by Islam with the Alans while the Mongol hordes brought Tengriism, and the later Nogais were Muslims, before their replacement by the present-day Buddhist Oirats/Kalmyks. It now stands as the only Buddhist region in Europe.
The republic covers an area of around 76,000 square kilometres (or almost 30,000 square miles), making it a similar size to Panama, Czechia or the US state of South Carolina. With a population of about 275,000 residents Kalmykia ranks among the smallest of Russia’s federal districts in terms of population.
The Kalmyks benefit from their relatively high levels of education and strong international connections. Overseas communities are found today in many parts of Europe and in the United States. The head of the religious establishment in Kalmykia itself was born in Philadelphia before being recognized by the Dalai Lama as a reincarnation of a Buddhist saint.
The capital and largest city of the republic is Elista, which has gained a reputation for, of all things, international chess. And for you Star Wars fans, the Ewok language was based on Kalmyk, because George Lucas thought it sounded so odd.
As we mention in the episode, this finale to season 5 was voted on by our Patreon backers, and thanks as always to all of them for their support. You can sign up to Patreon to get a say in the episodes we cover in the seasons to come.
In this episode of 80 Days: An Exploration Podcast, we’ll be talking about Hawaii, and specifically the Big Island of Hawaii. Which is also called Hawaii.
Hawaii is the southeasternmost of the Hawaiian Islands, which make up the US state of Hawaii. The island makes up 63% of the archipelago’s landmass, but only 13% of its total population. The island is the third largest island in Polynesia, behind the two main islands of New Zealand. With a total area of around 10,000 km2 (or 4,000 square miles), Hawaii is similar in size to the islands of Puerto Rico or Cyprus, or our old friend Gambia.
With a rich history and culture, Hawaii and its sister islands flourished as ancient societies, developing unique religions and customs, that is until the arrival of one Captain James Cook. In 1779 the famous explorer made his second and final landing here, and would not make it off the island alive. By the end of the century, the islands came under the protection of the British Crown, and missionaries soon followed, changing island life forever. The 1800s brought modern developments and the consolidation of the Kingdom of Hawaii, but ended in the annexation of the territory by the United States, a controversial episode to this day. In 1959, Hawaii becomes the 50th State, now famous for tourism, spam and pineapples. Hawaii Island, also known simply as The Big Island, is today home to around 185,000 people, and due to ongoing volcanic activity, Hawaii is the only US state that is still growing.
In this episode of 80 Days: An Exploration Podcast, we’ll be talking about the only walled city north of Mexico on the American Continent – Quebec City. The capital city of Canada’s Quebec province, the city is located on the St Lawrence River, around 500 kilometres from the Eastern coast of Canada, and around 700km northeast of New York City. Founded in July 1608 by Samuel de Champlain, a French explorer, Quebec City originated as Stadacona, a Iroqious Native American settlement, before the arrival of Europeans. A base for the French exploration and colonisation of what would become New France, Quebec remains a hub of French-Canadian culture and history, with French serving as the primary language, as throughout the wider province of Quebec. In 1775, American troops led by Benedict Arnold attempted to invade and take over Quebec City in the Battle of Quebec to “liberate” the region from the British. The siege was unsuccessful, however, and Quebec did not become the 14th colony; instead, it remained under British rule until Canada became its own country in 1867. Today, the city is home to just over half a million residents, making it the eleventh-largest city in Canada, similar in urban population to Albuquerque, New Mexico or Dublin, Ireland. The city’s curious name was taken from the native term for “where the river narrows” after its location on the banks of the St Lawrence River.
Flag of the City of Quebec (left), and the province of Quebec (right)
In this festive episode of 80 Days: An Exploration Podcast, we’ll be taking a look at some Christmas traditions from around the world that we’ve discovered. We’re also joined by a special guest or two, as you’ll hear early on in the podcast. Hopefully this episode provides some distraction from the world at large, and brings a bit of festive cheer. Merry Christmas from all of us at 80 Days.
In this episode of 80 Days: An Exploration Podcast, we’ll be talking about Ulaanbaatar, the capital city of Mongolia. Its modern name means ‘Red Hero’ and it is a city that has had many names including Urga, Örgöö, and Ikh Khuree. Ulaanbaatar was originally founded in 1639 as a nomadic Bhuddist monastery, essentially a moveable city, and was not permanently settled at its current location in 1778, where it became a crucial trading hub between Russia and China. The city is located in present-day north central Mongolia, around 1000km or 700 miles northwest of Beijing and about 500km or 300 miles south of Irkutsk, Russia. Its current population is around 1.5 million, meaning it contains around 50% of Mongolia’s residents, and is comparable in population to San Diego or Munich.
At the end of the 17th century, present-day Mongolia became part of the area ruled by the Manchu-led Qing dynasty. During the 20th century, Mongolia struggled against strong influences from the Soviet Union and China, until the Mongolian Revolution of 1990 led to the establishment of a multi-party democratic system. In terms of climate, it can be extremely chilly here. The city experiences an annual average temperature of −1.3°C (around −30 Fahrenheit) and temperatures in January are as low as −36 to −40 °C, making it the world’s coldest capital city.
In this episode of 80 Days: An Exploration Podcast, we’ll be talking about Paris, or rather, what lies underneath it — The Paris Catacombs. What began as a network of mines beneath the city which spanned approximately 200 miles or 322 km soon morphed into something much more. A crisis in the 18th Century quite literally shook the foundations of the city, prompting the creation of an ossuary or network of catacombs beneath the city, which would go on to become home to generations of Parisien dead. Throughout the centuries, these catacombs have become a city beneath the city, and have been host to a number of wild and wonderful tales, including revolutions, occupations, secret cinemas and even heists. At this point, I’d normally tell you the population of the place we’re discussing, but we can only approximate for this one, and it’s possibly a record for this podcast — around six million, all of them (as far as we know) dead.
In this episode of 80 Days: An Exploration Podcast, we’ll be talking about Gabon, officially the Gabonese Republic, an equatorial country on the west coast of Africa. Originally inhabited by Bantu tribes, the area we now know as Gabon was first explored by Europeans in the 15th Century. Local inhabitants began to sell slaves to Europeans in the 18th and 19th centuries, which established the region as a hub for the slave trade. In 1910, Gabon became one of the four territories of French Equatorial Africa, and fifty years later became fully independent. Since then, the politics of the country has been dominated by Omar Bongo, Gabon’s second president, and his son Ali Bongo, who succeeded him in 2009.
Gabon has a total land area of around 257,000 square km or just under 100,000 square miles, making it around the same size as the UK, New Zealand or the US state of Oregon. Gabon is bordered by Equatorial Guinea to the northwest, Cameroon to the north, the Republic of the Congo on the east and south. Gabon is home to just over 2.1 million people, with the vast majority of those being in Libreville, the largest city and capital, lying on the Komo River, near the Gulf of Guinea. The official language is French, although many Gabonese people speak various mother tongues according to their ethnic group, of which there are over 40.
Gabon is one of the most prosperous countries on the continent, with the fifth highest GDP per capita in all of Africa, while almost 85% of Gabon is covered by rainforests, 11% of which has been dedicated for national parks.
In this episode of 80 Days: An Exploration Podcast, we’ll be talking about Paraguay, a small South American nation sometimes referred to as the “heart of South America”, bordered by Argentina to the south and southwest, Brazil to the east and northeast, and Bolivia to the northwest. One of only two landlocked countries in South America, the other being Bolivia, Paraguay was home to a number of Native Indian groups, most prominently the Guarani, before being colonised by Spanish conquistadores in the early 1500s.
During the 17th century, Paraguay became home to a large number of Jesuit missions, where the native Guaraní people were settled and converted to Christianity. Following independence from Spain in the early 19th century, the country was involved in a number of regional conflicts and subject to the whims of numerous dictatorial governments. This period culminated in the disastrous Paraguayan War, which began in 1864 and resulted in the country losing up to half of its prewar population and up to a third of its territory. Since colonisation, the Guarani culture, language and traditions have remained integral to the country’s national identity, and the majority of modern day Paraguayans are mestizo, descending from a mix of settlers and Guarani. The country has around seven million inhabitants today, and has a land area of around 400,000 sq km or 150,000 sq miles, comparable in size to Norway and slightly smaller than the US state of California. Despite a history of poverty and political repression, Paraguay often ranks as the “world’s happiest place” based on global polling data.
We’re (finally) kicking off season five! In this episode of 80 Days: An Exploration Podcast, we’ll be talking about Kaliningrad, formerly Koenigsberg, a city on the Pregolya River, at the head of the Vistula Lagoon on the Baltic Sea. This city has a storied history, having been originally established as a Sambian or Old Prussian settlement, before being administered by the State of the Teutonic Order, the Duchy of Prussia, the Kingdom of Prussia, the German Empire, the Weimar Republic, and Nazi Germany. Shortly after the second world war, Königsberg and the lands surrounding it were incorporated into the USSR, being renamed Kaliningrad.
City Flag of Kaliningrad
As a major transport hub, the city is home to the headquarters of the Baltic Fleet of the Russian Navy, and is one of the largest industrial centres in Russia. It is situated within the Kaliningrad Oblast, which is separated by around 400km from the next nearest Russian Oblast, bordered by Poland to the south, Lithuania to the north and east, and the Baltic Sea to the west. It is therefore impossible to travel overland between the Oblast and the rest of Russia without passing through at least two other countries. As of 2010, only a small number of ethnic Germans remain in the city, with most of residents being recent immigrants from other parts of the former Soviet Union. With a population of around 450,000, the city is similar in size to Miami, Florida, or Tallinn, Estonia, and is the 40th largest city in Russia. Kaliningrad and the lands surrounding are home to the world’s largest deposits of amber, with over 90% of the world’s supply.
One of the few remaining remnants of Old Prussian culture are the so-called “babas” (or “Old Hags”) which are stone figures up to 2m tall of warriors and priests scattered around Poland. Read more about them on Atlas Obscura.
Read more on the Sambians and their burial traditions here.
The 1963 book Balts by Gimbutas, Marija is available on Archive.org