Thursday, February 16, 2017

Basel & Ernst Beyeler: State-of-the-art in Switzerland

The Tinguely Fountain in Basel is a favorite for all ages
BASEL, SWITZERLAND  Ask ten people where is the oldest public art museum in the world? Unless you area from Switzerland, you might guess Italy, France or Spain, but you would be wrong.

Italy does claim three of the top ten, but not the oldest. The Louvre in Paris is also among that list as is the British Museum in London.
Basel's Fine Arts Museum is one of the oldest and best in the world  (wikipedia)
Would you be surprised to learn that Basel, Switzerland takes the honor with the opening of the Amerbach Collection in 1671. In fact, per capita, Basel probably has the highest percentage of quality art of any city its size in Europe. And you better believe that Baselers take that distinction seriously.

Nearly three centuries after Basel went "public" with its art, it became the first city in history to hold a public referendum for the purchase of art when the Fine Arts Museum bought several works by Pablo Picasso in 1967.
Picasso as photographed by
David Douglas Duncan
In many ways, it was the alignment of the stars, geography and history that played a significant role in Basel's love of art.

Situated at a bend in the Rhine River where Germany, France and Switzerland meet, Basel became a major crossroads in the commerce of the day along the river.

Switzerland is also one of the oldest, if not the oldest, democracy in the world, which gave the country a strong commitment to making things public for all of its citizens.
The Roman ruins of Augusta Raurica outside Basel  (wikipedia)
With the advent of the printing press and mass communication now a viable commodity, literacy rates increased dramatically throughout Europe and personal philosophies began to change with the Protestant Reformation from an emphasis on religious ideals to a greater awareness of the humanities.
Beyeler Foundation, Basel

 By 1970, three gallerists, Trudi Bruckner, Balz Hilt and Ernst Beyeler conceived the idea of establishing an international art exhibition in Basel. This year marks the 47th anniversary of Art Basel which presents 20th and 21st century art from the world's premier galleries and their patrons.

Today, the Basel art fair has expanded to Hong Kong and Miami Beach as well with a reputation for showing the highest quality work from international galleries and collectors throughout the world.
Basel sits on a bend in the Rhine bordering France and Germany  (wikipedia)
In its inaugural year in Basel, 90 galleries participated from 10 countries attracting over 16,000 visitors.

By 2015, Art Basel accounted for 98,000 visitors over a six day period with 284 galleries presenting works from 33 countries in Basel alone. The exhibition represented the contributions of more than 4,000 artists.
Art Hotel Der Teufelhof
With 77,000 visitors in Miami Beach and 70,000 more in Hong Kong, the combined patronage for the three cities amounted to approximately 245,000 patrons in 2015.

Basel native son Ernst Beyeler, one of the founders of Art Basel, was not always an art a collector. He had originally intended to become an economist but, in another quirk of fate, World War II kept him from leaving Switzerland. As a result, Beyeler became and apprentice in an antique book store in Basel and, when the owner Oskar Schloss died, Beyeler took over at the age of 24.

Beyeler had a natural instinct for artistic quality and, within two years, he held his first exhibition of Japanese woodcuts.
One of Ernst Beyeler's pieces looks out to the grounds of his museum  (wikipedia)
In the early 1960s, Beyeler purchased 340 works of art from American collector G. David Thompson. The collection included art by Braque, Cezanne, Paul Klee, Matisse, Monet, Picasso and Mondrian. Beyeler later purchased 70 more pieces by Alberto Giacometti from Thompson.

By 1970, Ernst Beyeler and his two colleagues opened the international art fair in Basel, and it has been a resounding success ever since.

Oddly enough, over the years, Beyeler's personal collection had grown so vast, that there was no place for him to display his exhibition. After spending several years searching the world for an appropriate exhibition space, Beyeler came to the conclusion that he should create the museum in his home town of Basel.

When the Beyeler Foundation opened its doors to the public, the sheer size of the collection astonished the art world and made it an overnight sensation. "The Washington Post" valued the collection at more than $1.85 billion and the "New York Times" called him "Europe's pre-eminent dealer in modern art."
Every room at Der Teufelhof is unique  (art hotel der teufelhof)

"The Daily Telegraph" described him as "the greatest art dealer since the war", who "assembled one of the world's most impressive collections of 20th-century paintings."
A Tinguely contraption is always filled with whimsy 
Ernst Beyeler died on February 25, 2010 at the age of 88. He, along with countless other artists and collectors from the city of Basel, Switzerland, have established a reputation for presenting world class modern art that transcends the meaning of creative genius.

This year, Art Basel in Switzerland runs from June 15-18.

In a city where art thrives for art's sake, Basel is one of the best kept secrets in the world.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Wanderlust can be dangerous and incurable

The glorious splendor of Monet's gardens at Giverny  (

CHARLOTTE, NC It is a well-documented adage that if you travel long enough and far enough you will ultimately encounter life-altering experiences. I have been fortunate many times over in that regard, and with that thought in mind, I wish to share some of my personal adventures in the hope of creating a bit of wanderlust for you.
Steam train in Scotland
Like many Americans, when I began traveling I was addicted to the automobile.  No matter where I went, the thought of not having wheels to get me around was foreign to me, until I discovered trains.  Wonderful, delicious trains.  Panoramic trains.  High speed trains.  Luxury trains.  Overnight trains.  Narrow gauge trains.  Funiculars.  Cogwheels.  Rack railroads.
French TGV races past the Riviera near Nice  (
On a train I can read, or sleep, or walk to the bistro car for something to eat.  I have restrooms and a place to wash my hands and face.  I don’t have to read a map or understand road signs.  If I miss a train, another will come along in an hour or so. 

At a railway station, I can find food, exchange money, get directions, book hotel reservations, get a newspaper, ask for information and even replenish items such as toothpaste or shaving cream and the like.  Trains usually connect city-center with city-center, so your are literally in the heart of a destination when your arrive.

All you need to do is "train" yourself.
Tilting Cisalpino in Italy

I have personally experienced the rush of being in the engineer’s cab of a French TGV traveling at 186 mph while passing another TGV from the opposite direction.

In the air, I flew on one of the famed Concordes before the fleet was grounded by a horrible accident and SSTs disappeared from the lexicon of aviation forever.
British Airways Concorde takes off  (wikipedia)
I even rode in the cockpit for an hour just before the pilots landed at Kennedy Airport in New York. 
Michelangelo's magnificent Sistine Chapel frescoes (wikipedia)
I viewed the Sistine Chapel ceiling before, during and on the first day of its completed restoration.

I felt the oppression of Russia and Romania under their Communist regimes and visited the former Yugoslavia before it was ravaged by war. 
Shakespeare's Globe, London

I toured the new Globe Theater in London while it was still under construction.

I was lucky enough to be in Stockholm one winter for the presentation of the Nobel Prizes. 

There was a dugout canoe trip on the Orinoco River in Venezuela searching for fresh water dolphins while fishermen stood on the shore catching piranhas in their nets.
World's highest waterfall, Angel Falls in Venezuela  (wikipedia)
I rode a camel in Lawrence of Arabia's desert, and on another occasion, toured Petra on horseback. 

Travel has broadened my knowledge of art. I have learned something of music and visited the apartment where Mozart once lived in Vienna, which surprisingly functions today much as it did centuries ago.
Abby Library, St Gallen

There was a visit to the exquisite Abby Library in St. Gallen, Switzerland and whitewater rafting above the Arctic Circle in Sweden.

Travel has provided me with a personal list of "favorite things.”  I developed a fondness for Sherlock Holmes after watching Jeremy Brett bring Conan Doyle’s character to life on the stage in London.
Sherlock Holmes statue Meiringen

So intrigued did I become that I even went to Meiringen, Switzerland to climb to the crest of Reichenbach Falls where Holmes and his arch-enemy, Moriarity, fought to the death in The Final Problem.

In Italian Days, Barbara Grizzuti Harrison taught me about the seductiveness of balconies, especially those that are hidden so as to allow the anonymous, voyeuristic pleasure of watching the world down below. 

Never underestimate the view from a balcony  (Taylor)
Sidewalk cafes have much the same appeal, only from street level where I can still be anonymous, yet become an active participant in the eternal, yet ever-changing pageant of life.

Another aspect of my evolution is walking.  I have come to realize that setting out by foot in a new destination can lead to all sorts of interesting treasures.  The serendipitous elation of finding something new when it is least expected, produces an optimism within me that I cannot describe. 
Statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio  (wikipedia)
And then there are colors.  Little did I realize that color can be so markedly different from one place to the next.  Scandinavian colors are nothing like those of Italy or Normandy.  The Impressionists figured it out.  Monet and his cohorts painted the same scenes over and over again because the dappled light of northwestern France changes so rapidly. 
Colors and shades are different everywhere,  Chateau Chambord, France  (wikipedia)
Landscapes come alive in varying shades and textures that burst into a kaleidoscope of hues.  Pastels turn to vivid brilliance and in seconds become muted earth tones or silhouettes, altered by the eternal movement of the sun amidst ever-changing clouds.
The Duomo in Florence is a mixture of earthtones and breathtaking architecture  (wikipedia)
Florence, Italy, on the other hand, is a city of earth tones and mist; umber buildings, caramel facades, toasted hills, amber bridges and eggshell sculptures.  It has a gentle light.  There is a subtle softness that adds character to its ancient monuments and vintage architecture.  It isn’t the same texture as the colors of Venice, Rome or Amalfi. 
Summer colors in Sweden are intense and vibrant  (wikipedia)
In Scandinavia the light is intense.  Everything is chiseled and bold.  It’s as though life is viewed in High Definition.  Everything is magnified; lustrous; vibrant.  Colors are deep and primary. 

The sun isn’t soft in Scandinavia.  It doesn’t play hide and seek with the atmosphere as it does in Normandy.  Nor is it subdued like Florence.  In Scandinavia, light is flamboyant. There is no such thing as mellow light.  It is electric. 
Taj Mahal, Agra, India -- The world awaits to be discovered  (Taylor)
Travel in its own unique way presents new worlds beyond the old. Search and discover with an open mind and you will never be disappointed.

Friday, February 3, 2017

A lifetime of travel reflections

The Matterhorn overlooks Zermatt in Switzerland  (wikipedia)
CHARLOTTE, NC Years ago, while traveling with a group of writers, a colleague said at dinner that "almost every story you read is a travel story, whether it's news or fiction or biography, it's still a travel story.” I never thought about travel in quite that way before, but from a certain perspective it does make sense. Life itself, is, by definition, a journey.  
Ovieto's Duomo (wikipedia)
 Pulitzer Prize winning author, Edith Wharton, expressed similar feelings when she observed, "The foreground is the property of the guidebook and of its product, the mechanical sightseer; the background, that of the dawdler, the dreamer and the serious student.  Dawdle…”

For me, travel is a continual process of personal metamorphosis.
Gateway to the Taj Mahal in Agra, India  (Taylor)
I want to see exotic places, to learn about other cultures, to discover perspectives about the world that aren’t always the most comfortable or convenient places to travel.  I’m not necessarily looking for out-of-the-way places or difficult-to-reach spots on the map, though they also appeal to me if there is something there that I want to discover.  It’s really more about trying to figure out how the world meshes together.  How others view this big blue marble spinning through space and from where they derive their perspectives.
Girls day out, India  (Taylor)

Over the decades, I have even come to understand how certain times of day affect my attitude.  I adore the serene, soothing freshness of a new day.  Barbara Grizzuti Harrison described an Italian dawn as arriving "with theatrical brush strokes."

So too has early morning in another country become, for me, a time of renewal.  I cherish those precious golden moments when the veil of night lifts to reveal the dewiness of daybreak.  When the world seems cleansed with coolness and moisture that beckons through a scrim of earth-clinging clouds; whispers in flowers and trees, gently nourishing them in clear, tiny droplets of life, caressing them in a misty shroud. 
Claude Monet's Japanese Bridge at Giverny  (wikipedia)
Istanbul's Hagia Sophia  (wikipedia)
That time of day when a peach-colored sun is little more than a formless shape in the sky, innocent and subdued, dispersing gradations of light across the horizon. 

When birds are hushed silhouettes with wings, made all the more distinct by the backlit palette of a delicate pastel sky; a sky that will swiftly yield to the frantic turmoil of commerce and enterprise. 
Lush tropical beauty of St Barths  (Taylor)
Dawn or early morning is that fleeting portion of the day when tranquility prevails with muffled sounds that introduce a sunrise, all unified into a single uplifting serenade.  Daybreak is a symphony for the soul.
Day's end, Belize  (Taylor)

Late afternoon, on the other hand, frequently has a sense of completion for me.  Cary Grant expressed it best in one of his films when he spoke the line, "Days die like people die, fighting for every ray of light before giving up to the darkness.” 

For whatever reason Grant's description a tired world beaten down by the hustle and bustle of humanity is an accurate summation of my own feelings about that time of the day.
Leopard waits patiently in a tree, South Africa  (Lasater)
Many times I wish I could find a way to share more of the people and places I have experienced.  In my own way, I have accomplished most of what I wanted to achieve and more from a travel perspective. At the same time, there is so much more I want to see and to experience because I know that, as Somerset Maugham once wrote, "the good traveler has the gift of surprise." 
The floating market outside Bangkok is always colorful
Traveling keeps you young, at least in spirit and in mind, if not body.  I never know if my most recent journey will be my last, or how many others may follow.  I have been blessed with years of blissful globe-trotting, and I have rationalized in my heart that if I never travel again, I can be thankful for the wishes that have been fulfilled to provide me with a treasure chest of memories.  I carry them permanently and deeply within my soul.  They are memories that can never be taken away.
Guess who's coming to dinner, Antarctica  (Sacundo)
Travel is  intoxicating.  It was, and is, my passion, and I can not escape it.  I frequently reflect upon another quote by Barbara Grizzuti Harrison who said, "My unconscious mind reached a deep intuitive understanding of the past (my past), only to see more levels, deeper levels, hidden pasts.  It meanders sinuously among artifacts lost and found, unknown but known.  It travels many ways to arrive in the same place."
And I also recall the words of Daniel Boorstin.  "A traveler goes in search of people, of adventure, of experience.  A tourist goes for sightseeing.  Just like the question is more interesting than a statement, and a road more intriguing than a map, I aspired to be a traveler.  Be brave.  Go through open gates.”
World's tallest waterfall, Angel Falls in Venezuela  (wikipedia)
Today, I pray for more open gates so that I can do as Edith Wharton once suggested and "Dawdle..."

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Stockholm: Sweden's glorious archipelago capital

Stockholm is built on 14 islands that give it charm like not other place on earth  (
STOCKHOLM Stockholmers love to  describe their city as "the best of the old, and the best of the new." For travelers, that makes it the best of all worlds.

Built on 14 islands, Stockholm is a thriving Baltic archipelago situated at the mouth of the country's third largest lake, Lake Malaren, and the Baltic Sea.
Gota Canal between Stockholm
and Gothenburg  (wikipedia)
The Swedes have had plenty of time to "get it right" with settlements dating to the Stone Age in the 6th millennium BC. It was officially founded as a city in 1252 by Birger Jarl, a Swedish statesman who established the Old Town (Gamla Stan) on the central island.

Due to strong trade routes, the Vikings had already begun building Gamla Stan around 1000 CE. Two and half centuries later, Stockholm was a bustling community on the Baltic thanks to the Hanseatic League.
Nobel Prizes are awarded each December in Stockholm  (wikipedia)
Unless you enjoy cold and darkness, Stockholm is hardly a winter destination, though the annual Nobel Prize ceremonies are held at the Town Hall on the 10th of December each year.

Summer compensates however, and when the summer sun appears with its "long days journey into night," the Swedes become sun-worshipers of the first order. Heads pop out of woolen sweaters and the "turtle's" heads all point in unison to those glorious rays of warmth that produce nearly 20 hours of daylight.
Golden fields and traditional
red/white colors

Summers in Stockholm are where golfers can play 18 holes after dinner.

There was a time in the middle of the 20th century when Stockholm was embarrassing
for the Swedes. 

The waters surrounding the city were so polluted they had become an environmental disaster.

But no longer.

The industrious Swedes went about the task of cleaning out the slums, including many historical buildings, as well as undertaking an environmental crusade to return the natural purity of its water to the highest standards. So successful were they, that visitors who catch a fish today can take it to a restaurant and request the chef to prepare it for dinner. Oftentimes, the restaurant will do it as a source of pride.
Drottningholm Palace, the summer residence of the royal family  (wikimedia)
While the traditional "blue-eyed, blonde" image is largely a myth (there are plenty of brown-eyed brunettes to ogle as well), there is no mistaking the Scandinavian features that make Swedes among the most attractive people on the planet.

Scandinavian personalities are typically reserved particularly upon meeting someone for the first time. Once that shy veneer is removed however, you quickly discover people who are fiercely loyal in their friendships.
Midsummer's revelers

Unlike many places in Europe, Scandinavians are well aware that their languages are not readily spoken anywhere else. Therefore English is a primary second language and Swedes are usually happy to "practice" with visitors. Just remember, that their innate shyness may keep them from telling you they are fluent, and most Swedes will humbly admit to only speaking "a little bit" of English.

Gamla Stan is an ideal starting point for visitors to tour the city. Its ancient cobblestone streets and buildings are picturesque and, because Stockholm is a city of islands, the Old Town creates a world all its own with its sense of isolation.
Interior of Fem Sma Hus in Gamla Stan  (
For lunch or dinner, Fem Sma Hus sets the a perfect mood. The ancient brick arches of five small houses that have been tastefully blended into a delightful restaurant are filled with the ambiance of centuries past.

In the evening there are pubs and lively bars to suit any taste, including Dixieland jazz. The vibe is young and, in summer, the nights are long.

Stockholm is a traveler's gold mine thanks to its diverse attractions surrounded by its aquatic setting.
Historic Skansen is the world's oldest outdoor museum  (wikipedia)
Skansen is the oldest outdoor museum in Europe and the unification of Mother Nature, historic architecture, wildlife and traditional costumes make it ideal for a day long outing and/or a picnic.
Home sweet home

Drottningholm Palace,  is one of three UNESCO World Heritage sites in Stockholm. It is also the best preserved of the ten royal palaces around Lake Malaren as well as the permanent residence of the Swedish royal family.

Arguably the best way to get there is by boat which is a pleasant hour-long excursion. Boats depart regularly from Stadshusbron.
The amazing warship Wasa was almost intact when it was
raised  (
Scandinavia's most popular museum is the Wasa Museum which houses the 17th century Swedish warship that sank in the harbor on its maiden voyage in 1628.

When the Wasa was discovered and raised in the 1960s, it virtually intact because the cold water temperatures had preserved it from any parasitic marine life.
The UNESCO Woodland Cemetery known as Skogskyrkogården
Another UNESCO site is the Woodland Cemetery, or Skogskyrkogården. Designed by Gunnar Asplund and Sigurd Lewertz, Woodland Cemetery reflects the architectural evolution of Nordic Classicism to Functionalism.
The Lucia is a Swedish Christmas tradition  (wikipedia)
These are just a few starters, however. You can also visit the Town Hall where the Nobel Prizes are awarded each year. In fact, at the Town Hall restaurant you can even order the exact meal served at the Noble dinner for any year, right down to the wine. Advance notice is required, however.

As they say, Stockholm is simply the best of the old and the best of the new. Discover it for yourself and see just how "Swede" it is.