Myth Trivia: Fun with place names and geographical oddities

If geography teachers spent more time highlighting the quirks of our planet, it might be more interesting for their students and a great learning experience as well.

The sign at the railway station in this Welsh town with an incredibly long name offers a helpful pronunciation guide as well. (Image via Wikipedia entry on the town, CC 1.0 license)

CHARLOTTE, N.C., August 23, 2017 – If geography teachers spent more time highlighting the quirks of our planet, it might be more interesting for their students and a great learning experience as well. Here are some examples.

United States geographical wonders:

Let’s begin at home with several fun facts you may not have known.

The honor of the oldest city in the United States goes to St. Augustine, which was founded on September 8, 1565 by Spanish admiral Pedro Menendez de Aviles, who also served as the first governor of Florida.

Speaking of Florida, did you know that Walt Disney World in Orlando covers 46 square miles? That’s not only larger than the island of Manhattan, New York, but twice the size.

Traveling westward to the Pacific Ocean, it is interesting to note that Hawaii is the only state in the U.S. that grows coffee, generally known as Kona coffee, named after a town on the Big Island.

Meanwhile, Alaska is not only the most northern state in all of America. It’s also the most western state as well and is the only state that extends into the Eastern Hemisphere of the globe. Thus it claims to be the most northern, western and eastern state in the nation.

Still on the west coast but south of Alaska, we arrive in Los Angeles, which was originally called El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reina de los Angeles del rio Porciuncula. Translated, it means “The Village of our Lady the Queen of the Angels of the Porciuncula River.” We’ll stick with Los Angeles.

Maine is the only state whose name has just one syllable.

Finally, in 1811 and 1812, three earthquakes that measured 8 on the Richter Scale occurred in approximately the same region of the U.S. That combination of quakes they caused the Mississippi River to flow backwards in the area and also created Reelfoot Lake in Tennessee.

Now, onto some European surprises:

Venice has long been regarded as one of the most romantic cities in the world. But did you know that all gondolas in Venice must be painted black unless they belong to a high ranking official? Incidentally, if you stand behind a gondola and look toward the bow of the boat, you will see that they all bend to the right.

Europe is the only continent in the world without a desert.

Did you realize that the official language of England was actually French for more than 600 years?

When it comes to population, Rome was the first European city to reach a million people. According to historians, that number was achieved in 133 B.C. London, on the other hand, did not have a million people until 1810 and New York surpassed the mark in 1875. Today, there are more than 300 cities in the world that have populations exceeding 1 million.

If Italians speak a language with an abundance of vowels, the Welsh make up for this with a tongue-twistingly heavy dose of consonants. You might think a a certain tiny village in Wales might want to change its name, if only to make its pronunciation easier. At any rate, Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwyllllantysiliogogogoch is the longest town name in the world, and the third longest destination name. That’s a distinction worth hanging on to. Note also that there are 4 I’s together in the middle of the town’s two-part name.

On the other hand, Sweden and Norway both have places names called “A,” both of which are, naturally, the shortest place names, meaning “river.”

Speaking of letters, Mount Circeo on Cape Circaeum on the west coast of Italy was once called “Aeaea“, a place name with all vowels and no consonants.

(Two other destinations claim vowel-only locations, but those names have only four letters instead of five: Aiea in Hawaii and Eiao is one of the Marquise Islands. But they’re not in Europe.)

Best of the rest:

You would think that a place with a name that is 85 letters long would have the distinction of being the longest geographical name in the world. Actually, a hill called
Taumatawhakatangihangak oauauotamateaturipukaka pikimaungahoronukupokaiwhe nua kitanatahu” was the longest until a site in Thailand surpassed it, according to the Guinness Book of Records.

The Maori phrase for the hill’s name is translated as “place where Tamatea, the man with the big knees, who slid, climbed and swallowed mountains, known as land-eater, played his flute to his loved one.”

Today, at 163 letters, the longest place name honor goes to Thailand’s “Krung thep maha nakorn amorn ratana kosin¬mahintar ayutthay amaha dilok phop noppa ratrajathani burirom udom rajaniwes¬mahasat harn amorn phimarn avatarn sathit sakkattiya visanukamprasit.” We don’t have the translation, alas.

With all the trouble in the Middle East today, it may be difficult to believe that Damascus, Syria is the oldest continuously inhabited city in existence. Damascus predates Rome, which was founded in 753 B.C., by a couple thousand years.

Finally, let it be known: A hamlet is a village without a church and a town is not considered a city until it has a cathedral.

Now, with all those long names to think about, it’s time to for us to rest a “spell.”

About the Author: Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.

Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (
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