Saturday, May 20, 2017

Les Ilets de la Plage on St, Barths offers three night stay at a great price

Les Ilets de la Plage is a little bit of heaven in paradise
(Les Ilets de la Plage)
ST. BARTHS -- One of the best things about travel is finding a special rate that allows you to live like royalty. St. Barths has long been an oasis of solitude for luxury travel, making it a popular destination for celebrities and jet setters from around the world.
So here's a little secret for sunworshippers who thought St. Barths was beyond their budget. Les Ilets de la Plage is offering a three-night summer package from now until July 10, 2017 for a two bedroom Garden Villa for $255 per person based on occupancy of four, or $300 per person for a one bedroom garden villa.
Lush St Barts  (Taylor)
Rates increase on July 11 until August 31, but they are still a bargain when compared to other  elegant properties.
Among the best features of Les Ilets de la Plage is the privacy of this family owned and operated property with its stunning views of the best known and most popular beach on St. Barths, St. Jean Bay. Not far away is St. Barths north shore with its array of trendy bistros and boutiques.
St. Jean Beach is the most popular spot on the island
Les Ilets de la Plage is a tiny, understated resort featuring 11 villas on  St. Jean Beach. The four one-bedroom beachfront duplex villas feature covered terraces which open to a grassy area that spills into the sand and surf.  There are also seven hillside villas built on the slope from the beach in traditional Caribbean ranch style surrounded by gardens filled with tropical flowers and palm trees. Each villa has a view of the gardens or St. Jean Beach.
St, Barths harbor  (Taylor)
Accommodations are simply, but elegantly appointed with fully equipped kitchens, air conditioned bedrooms, sitting area, Wi-Fi, satellite television and en-suite bathrooms. A concierge is on-duty throughout the day to assist guests with other services such as rental cars, restaurant reservations, babysitting, boat charters and the like.
Best of all the three night package for a one bedroom is based upon double occupancy with a third person staying for free. Amenities include croissants, pastries and a morning newspaper delivered to the door plus a bottle of Rose.
Livin' is easy on St Barts  (Taylor)
Food can be expensive on this hilly jewel that nestles about 22 miles southeast of St. Martin, so to further reduce costs you may want to budget by shopping at local stores and taking advantage of the kitchen in the villa.
For getting around, a rental car is probably the best way to see everything, however, if beach life is your cup of tea then
Les Ilets de la Plage will more than satisfy your needs as the perpetual Caribbean sunshine makes its way across the cerulean sky.
Tucked beneath the palms on St Jean Beach
(Les Ilets de la Plage)
Gustavia Harbor is a focal point of activity on St. Barths with plenty of shopping, quaint boutiques, eclectic cuisine and a bit of history to boot. Surrounded by shallow reefs, the area of St. Barths is just under 10 square miles. It is the only island in the Caribbean that is of Swedish origin, and the Three Crowns of the Swedish national arms still appear in the island's coat of arms.
Christopher Columbus was the first European to visit the island in 1493, naming it after his brother Bartolomeo. During the next century the island began to take shape under formal colonization.
St. Barths became French in 1946 with electricity coming to most of the island 15 years later in 1961. Electricity proved to be the turning point as hotels and tourism sprang up almost overnight.
In the early 1990s St. Barths boasted of two cooking schools: the St. Barts Cooking School emphasizing classical French cuisine and Cooking in Paradise which focused on creole dishes. Even today, food is one of the primary attractions to St. Barths with more than 70 restaurants of which a significant number offer gourmet specialties.
Landing on St Barths is a thrill ride (Taylor)
You will also find "snacks" which the French call "les snacks" or "les petits creux" that include sandwiches, pizza and salads. Even so, compared to other places in the world, "les snacks" can be pricey.
St Barts Beach is pristine  (Taylor)
No matter. Just think of the money you saved at Les Ilets de la Plage, lay out in the sun and then splurge for one night out on the town and you have the makings of an ideal mini-vacation.

Oh, and by the way, there's a three bedroom villa as well!

Friday, May 12, 2017

Sicily's hillside riviera; Taormina

Mt Etna, Europe's largest active volcano, does sound and light shows in Sicily  (Rauters)

TAORMINA, SICILY  Taormina is to Sicily what the Amalfi Coast is to mainland Italy. That statement alone is enough to entice travelers to the tiny mountain village famed for its majestic panoramas.
Taormina is "lifestyles of the rich and famous" Sicilian-style and one look around is all you will need to understand why.
Before 734 BC, when the Greeks arrived in Sicily to build a town called Naxos, the region was already inhabited. Before long, colonists from Naxos had built Tauromenion, and visitors have been beguiled ever since.
Isola Bella is Sicily's best beach
Mention the word "island" and travelers immediately conjure images of beaches. Taormina does not disappoint with "Isola Bella" being accessible by a cable car, it is, without doubt, the most famous beach in Sicily.
The noted French short story writer, Guy de Maupassant, once described Taormina as "all that seems made on earth to entice eyes, spirit and imagination."
By the late 19th century, three artists working in different genres of creativity had much to do with putting Taormina on the map as an elegant travel destination.
Taormina is a treasure trove of art, architecture, history and culture  (Taylor)

Wilhelm von Gloeden did much of his photographic work in the area filming male nudes. So extensive did his reputation become that there is some speculation that early on Taormina became infamous as a gentleman's destination.
The Greek Theater in Taormina is alluring  (Taylor)
German painter Otto Geleng helped change that image with his collections of paintings in Italy. Though he exhibited in mostly in Berlin, Geleng's landscapes of the southern regions of Italy captured the imagination of northern Europeans thanks to sensational views and the stunning light of Sicily.
While exhibiting in Berlin and Paris, critics of Geleng claimed his paintings of ruins, sea and mountains were unrealistic because such scenes were unfamiliar to other people living in other parts of Europe.
Geleng challenged them to visit Taormina with him with the promise that he would pay all expenses if he had misrepresented the truth in his art.
Everywhere you turn there is
something to see (Taylor)
The first important tourist to visit Taormina was Johann Wolfgang Goethe who wrote at length about the city in his book titled "Italian Journey."
Thus through words, paintings and a touch of scandal, Taormina became crossroads of tourism that has been on-going for more than a century.
One of the most dramatic locations in Taormina is the Greek amphitheatre, the Teatro Greco, which is framed by mountains, including the active volcano Mt. Etna, as it peers from above toward the Straits of Messina and mainland Europe in the distance.
Sicily looks out to the toe of Italy's boot  (Taylor)
As with so many Green theaters of the day, the acoustics are every bit as spectacular as the ruins themselves, with the ability to hear people speak in normal tones and be heard on the back row of the structure.
Ashes swept from an Etna
eruption (Taylor)
Today, Taormina nestles atop the ancient site of the city which is about 800 feet above sea level. The rock-face is steep and almost isolated, but it is crowned by a Saracen Castle which rises another 500 feet.
Perched on its cliff overlooking the Ionian Sea, Taormina's character thrives within the architecture of ancient churches, lively bars, excellent restaurants and lovely boutiques and antique shops.
Market day is always a colorful experience  (Taylor)
Just 45 minutes away by car, a popular excursion is to visit Europe's largest active volcano, Mount Etna. Etna is a restless mountain, choosing to erupt with regularity though inconsistently. Though it posts no danger to villagers, when Etna is in tune, it often puts on spectacular sky shows that later leave Taorminians sweeping up piles of ash from the streets.
If nothing else suits, Taormina's Isola Bella is the place to be
At the end of the day, stop in at a local cafe and order a granita to top off your experience. The refreshing concoction of Italian shaved ice is the ideal way to "play it cool" or to be enthralled by the power of Mother Nature erupting from the center of the earth.
The Greek Theater says it all  (Taylor)
Taormina may not be the easiest place in the world to reach, but 
once you are there, you know you have "discovered"  a place that is truly special.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Crete: A mixture of myth, legend, reality and the city of Knossos

Frescoes adorn a portico at the Palace of Knossos  (wikipedia)
CRETE Traveling to Greece presents a tiny, but not insurmountable set of adjustments that most other destinations rarely encounter. Chronologically Greece is difficult because you have to think backwards in time in order to go forward. Everything is BC which means dates go in decreasing order.
Daedalus and Icarus are Greek
myths  (wikipedia)
Despite that, Knossos on the island of Crete, which dates to the Bronze Age, is a fascinating place to visit with its legends of King Minos and its famous Labyrinth. Knossos is considered by many to be the oldest city in Europe, and that fact alone makes it alluring.

The first settlement dates to around 7,000 BC while the first palace is estimated to be roughly four thousand years old with a date of 1,900 BC.

Thanks to its location, roughly equidistant from the European mainland, Africa and Asia, Crete has long been a crossroads. The city of Knossos is evidence of that with its ruins that appear more Egyptian than Greek.
Daedalus builds the Labyrinth at Knossos  (wikipedia)
Knossos was discovered in 1878, but it was another 22-years before English archaelogist Sir Arthur Evans began excavating the site. Not only did the size of the excavation exceed Evans expectations, but so, too, did the discovery of two ancient scripts which he labeled “Linear A” and “Linear B.”

Evidence from the layering allowed Evans to determine that Knossos had been part of the Aegean Minoan civilization which flourished from approximately 3,650 BC to 1,400 BC and predated both the Mycenaean civilization as well as Ancient Greece.
Fearsome Minotour

The palace was unquestionably the center of all things ceremonial and political during the Minoan period. It is a maze of human presence with workrooms, living areas and storerooms near the central square.

One of the striking aspects of Knossos is the distinctive red coloring that can be seen everywhere. The palace’s indoor and outdoor murals provided graphic insights into life on Crete as it was nearly 6,000 years ago.

For travelers, the Greek mythology is arguably the most enticing aspect of the ruins. King Minos lived in a palace at Knossos where he had the architect Daedalus build an elaborate labyrinth with which to contain his son the Minotaur.
The North Portico at Knossos on the island of Crete (wikipedia)
A labyrinth is a massive maze which becomes so confusing to navigate that it is virtually impossible to escape unless you know the key. Fearing that Daedalus would reveal the secret of the Labyrinth, Minos kept the architect and his son Icarus trapped within the maze.

However, being an inventor as well as an architect, Daedalus designed two sets of wax wings, one for himself and one for his son, so they could fly out of the Labyrinth in case of an emergency.
Fresco where the colors are still brilliant even after thousands of years  (wikipedia)
The myth says that Icarus’ youthful exuberance got the best of him during his flight, going ever higher until he got too close to the sun. The wings melted and the boy fell to his death in the Aegean Sea.

As for the Minotaur, he is a mythological creature with the head of a bull and the body of a man who was described by the Roman poet Ovid.

According to the legend, the king’s daughter Ariadne fell in love with an Athenian named Theseus who had volunteered to slay the Minotaur. Ariadne gave Theseus a ball of thread which he used to mark his path into the Labyrinth.
Map of ancient Crete, Knossos is in the north center of the map
Following his victory over the beast, Theseus and Ariadne fled Crete, but he later abandoned her on the island of Naxos.

Part of the difficulty in separating truth from reality in Greece is not only the chronology of events, but also sorting out what is real and what is legend. While Minos was a fictional character, the Labyrinth of Knossos does exist and it is easy to see how the combination of time lines, civilizations, mythical creatures and real people can eventually become a muddle.

Added to the story is the fact that there has been some speculation that Crete is actually the result of a volcanic eruption on another Greek island called Santorini. According to some analysts, Crete may actually be a link to the lost city of Atlantis.

Fresco depiction of Greek women on Crete  (wikipedia)
Anyway you look at it, Knossos on the Aegean island of Crete is an enjoyable outing. It is, in its own way, the Pompeii of Greece.

For the most enjoyable experience, keep your curiosity to a minimum as you sort out the names and dates and you will be pleasantly rewarded just as long as you don’t get lost in the Labyrinth.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

A primer on the world of European rail passes

The TGVs of France are among the fastest most efficient train
in Europe (wikipedia)
EUROPE  Rail travel through Europe is one of the fastest, most efficient ways to see the continent. Rail passes also include hidden practical bonuses many travelers never consider when planning a trip such as no high cost fuel expenses, travel city center to city center, eliminating parking costs, no more reading maps, ability to stretch your legs, on-board restrooms, food services and even an opportunity to work, take a nap or just relax.

Many American travelers frequently overlook the benefits of rail travel in Europe because we have become so dependent upon cars, or so unfamiliar with high quality rail service, that we fail to consider an alternative to the automobile.
Italy's high speed Italo
Rail Europe is a traveler's one stop shop for all things related to traveling by train, but with a little advanced understanding of how rail passes work will put you way ahead in the game of trying to manage the seemingly overwhelming number of tickets that are available.

In the simplest of terms, there are only two basic types of pass. The first is a consecutive day ticket and the second is called a "flexipass."
Trains take you city center to city center faster than planes
in many cases  (wikipedia)
The consecutive pass originated back in the days of "if-it's-Tuesday-it-must-be-Belgium" travel to Europe. At that time, a trip to Europe was considered a one-in-a-lifetime opportunity so travelers would go for extended periods and wear themselves out trying to see everything in a single itinerary.
Railway stations are your home away from home  (wikipedia)
A consecutive day rail pass was good for a given number of days such as 8, 12, two weeks or even as much as one or two months. Once validated however, if they did not use the pass every day, travelers felt as if they were losing money because they were not getting the full value of their rail ticket.

Thus evolved the "flexipass" which allows travelers to choose how many days they would like to ride the trains and to designate how long they plan to be in Europe. For example, a couple might opt to use four days of train travel within a two week period, thereby allowing them to ride the rails on any four days they chose until the validation period runs out.
Trains operate in any kind of
 weather (wikipedia)

Those two basic concepts have led to an infinite number of off-shoots and that is where passes can begin to get confusing.

As time went on, and travelers became more savvy, and the demand for a limited number of countries on a pass arose. Many visitors opted for a single country pass since they were only planning to stay in Germany, France or Italy, for example.

In an effort to make rail passes more flexible and adaptable for train riders, Rail Europe developed several plans that give a traveler virtually unlimited options while, at the same time, reducing fares.

National passes that are good for only a singe country have become very popular and, since all the travel is in a single country, the price is lower.
Steam train crosses Glenfinnian Viaduct in Scotland
Later, Rail Europe developed combination passes which include two, three, four or five countries depending upon the length of time a traveler plans to be in Europe.

The benefits of these passes are the bonuses which are often one of the most overlooked features of traveling by train. With a Swiss Travel Pass, for example, pass holders can use virtually every form of transportation in the country just by showing their pass. There are supplements for some of the most popular mountaintop excursions, but these are almost always discounted at 25 to 50%.
A British Sprinter train races through the countryside
Better yet, for visitors to Switzerland a rail pass allows free admission to nearly 500 museums throughout the country.

Certain countries are grouped together as a single destination such the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg.

Le Train Bleu restaurant
is a reminder of an era past
To simplify things even more, rail passes have evolved so that  visitors can select several countries that border each other. Riders can choose which countries they desire based upon their individual travel program.

A Saverpass is a product which can be used by 2 to 5 people traveling together for a nice discount.

There are also Youthpasses providing special rates for travelers under 26, while children and youths who are under 16 and traveling with an adult or guardian often can ride for free.
A vista along the Cambrian Coast in Wales  (wikipedia)

Keep in mind that railway stations can be like your personal tourist office away from home where you can get information, schedules, food, restrooms, lockers, gifts, medicine and, in some places, book a hotel.

Rail pass prices go from calendar year to calendar year so there is no need to worry about changes in any given year.
Germany's sleek and comfortable ICE  (wikipedia)
Traveling by train through Europe is easy, fast, convenient, efficient and relaxing. A little reading on how rail passes can be your biggest ally will make you a true believer.

All it takes is a little basic training.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Germany's best places to visit according to Jen

Neuschwanstein Castle was Lugwig II's masterpiece
GERMANY -- Meet a travel blogger who goes only by the name of Jen. Jen has come up with a unique concept that lists the 100 best things to do in several countries in the world.

Using Jen's top 100 from Germany, here are some of her suggestions. To view the entire group just click on the link above to discover dozens of ideas for your next trip to Germany.

Steps to Sans Soucci Palace
Here are several suggestions listed in no particular order that were included because they sounded intriguing or fit into a familiar category in which we concurred with Jen.

Black Forest -- Situated in the southwest of Baden-Wurtenberg in the central German highlands, the Black Forest is a name familiar to us all. With dense woods, green and rolling hills and quaint half-timbered houses nestled beside cobblestone streets in sleepy villages, the Black Forest has much to offer travelers of any type including families with children.
The old castle in Baden Baden on the edge of the Black Forest
The Black Forest is easily accessible from the railway station in Freiburg (1 hr) or Karlsruhe (1 hr 20 mins). The nearest airport is Stuttgart.
Goslar Square is filled with olde world charm
Goslar -- Some people say the tiny village of Goslar in lower Saxony is the prettiest town in Germany. Founded in 922 and featuring more than 1,500 beautifully preserved timbered houses from various periods of history, Goslar  justifiably earned the designation as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1992.

Don't let the size fool you. There is plenty see and do including the old market place, pewter museum, the Stabkirche and the Rammelsberg silver mine which has been in continuous operation for over 1,000 years.

For visitors who enjoy off-season travel, the Christmas market is quite simply a must-see event. Goslar is around 25 miles from Brunswick (approximately 1 hour by car or train) and 50 miles from Hanover (around 1,5 hours). The closest airport is Hanover-Langenhagen.

Saalfeld's Fairy Grottoes defy the imagination
Saalfeld Fairy Grottoes -- Situated on the perimeter of Thurigia's slate mountains is the town of Saalfeld. Since 1530 alum has been extensively mined in the area to such a degree that the excavations have produced magical fairy grottoes. So impressive have these caves become that they are now designated by the "Guinness Book of Records" as the most colorful cave grottoes in the world.

There are regularly scheduled guided tours which include the history and geological composition of the mines along with stories and legends that have evolved with the caves.

The Saalfeld Fairy Grottoes attract over 160,000 visitors each year and are situated 1.5 hours south of Leipzig by car or train.

Hildesheim has been lovingly reconstructed after being leveled in World War II  (wikipedia)

Hildesheim -- Hildesheim is Germany's Phoenix that has risen from the ashes. Though completely destroyed during World War II in an air raid in March, 1945, one of Germany's oldest cities was lovingly restored between 1984 and 1990.

Hildesheim pre-World War II

Taking advantage of skilled professionals, Hildesheim is a miracle of restoration, returning to its glorious past when it was the seat of the bishopric beginning in 815. Today it is still regarded as one of the loveliest market places in the world.

It is located about 25 miles south of Hannover and is easily accessible by car or train in about 40 minutes.

Palace of Justice in Nuremburg where the war trials took place

Nuremberg Castle -- Chances are the name Nuremberg is familiar even if Nuremberg Castle is not. The oldest parts of Nuremberg's Imperial Castle date to the beginning of the 13th century, however it also served as an important fortress for the Roman Empire during the Middle Ages.

Of particular interest is the Deep Well which is probably as old as the castle itself. The well can only be visited as part of a guided tour. Other sites which can be seen on your own are the Palace and its Imperial Chapel and the Kaiserburg Museum.

The castle is 6 minutes by car of 15 minutes by bus for the railway station.

Germany isn't Germany without
beer  (wikipedia)

Hamburg Dungeons: Much like castles there's an eerie appeal to dungeons for travelers, and Hamburg's dungeons are among the most popular in Germany. A 90-minute program takes visitors through 600 years of history with reenactments that include the Inquisition, the plague, the great fire, a torture chamber, a variety of special effects and two rides.

Children 14 and under must be accompanied by an adult while the dungeons are not recommended for children under 10.

Subway stations Stadthausbrucke or Baumwell are close to the dungeons as well as "Miniature Wonderland" and Hamburg Port. Steinhuder Meer, where the dungeons are located, is just 22 miles northeast of Hannover. The nearest airport is Hannover-Langenhagen.

Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses in Wittenburg
Martin Luther's Home -- This year marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation and the largest Reformation museum in the world can be found in Wittenburg where Luther put forth his "95 Theses." The Luther home was originally a monastery and later became part of the university.
Martin Luther  (wikipedia)

To travel to Wittenburg, Berlin and Dresden in October to celebrate Luther's anniversary, just click on this link "In theFootsteps of Martin Luther" for more information.

These are just nine of Jen's top 100 sites in Germany. She also included Neuschwanstein, the Romantik Road, the Fairy Tale Road, the Zugspitze, Checkpoint Charlie, Museum Island, Kurfurstendamm, Sanssouci Palace, Cologne Cathedral, Berchtesgaden Eagle's Nest, Heidelberg Castle and Brandenburg Gate plus dozens of others.

Berlin's Brandenburg Gate is a powerful symbol of Germany unity
If you thought you had problems trying to figure out where to go in Germany before, now you have more than enough options to overwhelm you.