Thursday, July 20, 2017

South Carolins's biggest international sporting event in history set to begin Saturday

The BMX World Championships get underway next with riders from over 40 countries  (

ROCK HILL, SC - Looking for something to do as the final sultry days of July give way to the Dog Days of August? Look no further than Rock Hill, SC when the biggest international sporting event in South Carolina history  takes place from July 22 - 29th with the BMX World Championships.

The BMX competitions in off-road bicycle racing are speeding into Rock Hill from more than 40 countries with 3,300 athletes and coaches for week long activities at the Novant Health BMX Supercross Track in Riverwalk.
The BMX Championship will be the largest in SC history

The facility, among the finest in the world, opened in 2014 as a training facility for world class cyclists as well a recreational track for adventurous riders to develop the necessary disciplines of the BMX sanctioning body the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI). The UCI is recognized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and administers and promotes cycling worldwide.

Accordingly, the Novant Health BMX Supercross track was built to the specific and demanding standards of the UCI and, as such, has been honored with the upcoming BMX cycling event. The world class Olympic caliber facility is located off Interstate 77 about 10 miles south of the Charlotte, NC city limits and only 30 minutes from Douglas International Airport.
BMX racing is filled with ups and downs ( 
It's the first time the BMX championships have been held in the United States since 2001 when Louisville, KY played host to the event prior to the 16 year absence. Last year the championships were held in Medellin, Colombia.

Some 20,000 enthusiastic spectators are expected to be on  hand for the races. The Opening Event gets underway in downtown Rock Hill on Saturday, July 22 with a gala fireworks display wrapping up the festivities at the BMX site later that evening.

Historically the sport's popularity gained attention in the 1970s when youngsters began racing their bicycles in southern California. Today, 2.6 million people, of which 74% are under the age of 24, are involved in BMX racing throughout the United States. BMX is an abbreviation for "bicycle motorcross."
BMX became an Olympic sport in
2008 (wikipedia)
In 2008, the IOC sanctioned BMX racing as a full medal sport in time for the Olympic Games in Beijing, China. It was the first youth oriented action sport in the Summer Olympic Games.

As part of city's commitment to promote the region as a popular location for recreation facilities and events, and in an effort to enhance economic development by providing superior facilities for its residents, Rock Hill built the BMX track on land donated to the city with a $5.615 million revenue bond.

Repayment is based solely upon collateral from Rock Hill's local 2% food and beverage tax on prepared meals and not with property taxes.

Co-chairs for the 2017 World Championships community outreach are Gerry Shapiro and Sig Huitt while Mark Sexton is chairman of event logistics. John Gettys heads up the Sports Commission.
The action is always fast and furious  (wikipedia)
Other Riverwalk cycling facilities include the Giordana Velodrome which opened in 2012 with a 250 meter world class cycling facility, approximately 7 miles of natural surface mountain bike trails along serpentine paths that parallel the Catawba River and a 1.1 mile closed road course called the Criterium which provides a safe place for cyclists to ride with minimal interaction with pedestrians and motor vehicles.

Future plans call for a Cyclocross  ( 
Future expansion includes a Cyclocross course that will combine bike racing with paved and off-road sections featuring man-made or natural obstacles to challenge riders.
Events get underway Saturday, July 22  (
In the past decade, sports tourism has added more than $140 in direct economic impact for community businesses.

It all gets underway on Saturday and runs throughout the week. For information contact  Katie Quinn or Laurie Helms

And as August approaches, you can be certain it won't be any hotter than the action in Rock Hill during the last week of July.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Roman holiday in Switzerland

The amphitheater at Augusta Raurica conjures images of ancient
Rome  (wikipedia)
AUGUSTA RAURICA, SWITZERLAND  Switzerland is hardly a destination most travelers think of when they want to discover the ancient Roman Empire. So it is surprising to many to learn that Augusta Raurica, about 15 miles east of Basel, is the oldest known Roman colony on the Rhine River.
Achilles dish Augusta Raurica
Founded by Lucius Munatius Plancus around 44 BC, Augusta Raurica is an archaeological oxymoron of sorts that thrived along the banks of the Rhine nearly 2,000 years ago.
There are two schools of thought regarding the settlement since there has been no evidence uncovered as yet from the period.

Some scholars believe the colony was disrupted by a civil war that occurred after the death of Julius Caesar.
Augusta Raurica was a community of 20,000 people at it peak
Others place the site of the Plancus village closer to modern-day Basel than to Augst.

Either way, there are ruins that confirm the existence of a civilized Roman society which played a significant role in plans by Augustus to conquer two other colonies bearing his name; Augusta Praetoria, now Aosta situated at the southern end of the San Bernardino Pass, and Augusta Vindelicum or Augsburg, as we know it today, which was an outpost on the Danube.
Remnants of past glory
The three Augustae form a geographical triangle spanning the Alps with three major conquests by Augustus.
Recent excavations have determined that the city was well defended to the east, west and north thanks to a high plateau just south of the Rhine.

During the 2nd century AD, Augusta Raurica prospered thanks to it proximity to the river and its importance as a commercial trading center as well as being the capital of a local Roman province. With an estimated population of 20,000 inhabitants, the settlement exported smoked pork and bacon to other parts of the empire.

As with most Roman cities, Augusta Raurica had most of the important amenities including an amphitheater, a main forum, several smaller forums temples and public baths as well as the largest Roman theater north of the Alps.
Typical Augusta Raurica residence (wikipedia)
By 1442, some fifty years before Columbus discovered America, Switzerland had already been a democracy for more than 150 years. The communities of Augst and Kaiseraugst were split along the Egolz and Vioenbach Rivers. The western land was given to Basel which officially became a canton (state) in 1501. The eastern portion became part of the Hapsburg territories until it was annexed by Switzerland in 1803 following the Napoleonic wars.

Driving east along the road which parallels the Rhine from Basel, it seems odd to discover an ancient Roman outpost sitting seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Take time to stop. The ruins are fascinating and the Roman Museum houses artifacts for the Roman city that combine with the surprising history of the site.
Roman coins are among the artifacts that have been found
Among the treasures is the most important archaeological discovery since excavations began: the silver treasure of Kaiseraugst was discovered in the fortress between 1961 and 1962. It is believed to have once been the property of a Roman commander.

The museum also features a reconstruction of a Roman house, with various exhibits depicting domestic and commercial life during that time.

Roman aquaduct (wikipedia)

As with any unusual site, the outdoor museum and ruins of Augusta Raurica are a pleasant diversion for a few hours of discovery. These are the stuff of real travel; "travel for travel's sake." For these are the "in-between" places that beckon to be discovered.
Augusta Raurica was the oldest Roman settlement on the Rhine
As an anonymous writer once said, "Every place is undiscovered until you discover it yourself."

Augusta Raurica lies within the realm of "bucket list" territory.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Walking in Martin Luther's footsteps 500 years later

Wittenburg is the town where Luther posted his 95 Theses and
changed the world forever  (wikipedia)
GERMANY, July, 2017 – On October 31, 1517, a monk and professor of theology named Martin Luther was instrumental in establishing the Protestant Reformation. This year marks the 500th anniversary of the act of defiance that prompted the Reformation movement. Luther's primary motivation was against the selling of Indulgences by the Catholic Church, a method for Catholics to buy their way into heaven.

For the church, Indulgences were actually a strategy to raise money. Luther wrote to his bishop, Albert of Mainz to protest the sale of "free passes" into heaven, claiming that only God had the power to admit souls into paradise.

According to legend, Luther posted his objections, which today are known as the "Ninety-five Theses," on the door of All Saints Church in Wittenburg, Germany.

Martin Luther (wikipedia)
While at least one account disputes that Luther nailed his protests on the door, the story is widely accepted as one of the turning points in the history of religion and the world.

Another scholar, Hans Hillerbrand, has also written that Luther had no intention of creating a controversy with the Catholic church, believing instead that his argument was merely an intellectual dispute that should be debated as an objection to church practices.

Whichever is true, the result was basically the same, and Christian pilgrims from all over the world will make their way to Wittenburg, Germany and other historic sites in 2017 to witness to locations where their faith was solidified against the Catholic church.
Sanssouci Palace in Pottsdam just outside Berlin  (wikipedia)
Coincidentally, and perhaps intentionally, a new Vaticandocument was drawn up earlier this year that officially recognizes Martin Luther as a "witness to the gospel." The document reverses hundreds of years of anti-Luther tradition saying "after centuries of mutual condemnations and vilification, in 2017 Lutheran and Catholic Christians will for the first time commemorate together the beginning of the Reformation."

In general, the proclamation was greeted enthusiastically by most in the Vatican, however, as with any change, there was also some resistance. Strangely, most of the backlash came in defense of Jews rather than Catholics, given that Luther was fiercely anti-Semitic.
Remnants of the Berlin Wall
Believing the end of the world was close at hand, Luther feared that the pope would unify Jews and the Muslim Turks against his "true" Christians which would result in an unholy coalition among God's enemies.

Writing in his book "On the Jews and their Lives" Luther could almost have been mistaken today for a Muslim in his thinking about Jews: "Let their houses also be shattered and destroyed… Let their prayer books and Talmuds be taken from them, and their whole Bible too; let their rabbis be forbidden, on pain of death, to teach henceforth any more. Let the streets and highways be closed against them. Let them be forbidden to practice usury, and let all their money, and all their treasures of silver and gold be taken from them and put away in safety. And if all this be not enough, let them be driven like mad dogs out of the land."
Berlin's Brandenburg Gate is a symbol of unified Germany
Luther continued, "In sum, the Jews are the Devil's children, damned to hell."

Countering Luther's arguments, the Vatican responded saying  “Catholics are now able to hear Luther’s challenge for the Church of today."

Christian travelers and history buffs can journey to the locations where these major world events took place with an October tour called "Footsteps of Martin Luther." The eight day itinerary includes tours of Wittenberg, Dresden, Berlin and Eiselben, including the house and the city where Luther was born.
Berlin's State Opera House
Other inclusions are All Saints Church, Sanssouci Palace, the Brandenberg Gate and much more.
Departure is October 6, 2017.
Within two weeks of his protest, word of the theses had spread throughout Germany, and two months later the entire continent of Europe knew about them.
The floodgates had opened as students from all corners of Europe were flocking to Wittenberg to hear Luther speak.
In 1520, Luther was threatened with excommunication, and in April, 1521, he was ordered to appear before the Diet of Worms.
During his testimony in Worms, Johann Eck asked Luther whether the copies of the writings he had placed on a table were his and, if so, did he stand by his opinions.
You can spend an entire day Museum Island in Berlin
Luther acknowledged authorship but requested some time to think about the second part of Eck's question.
The following day, Luther made a speech that he was not able to recant his beliefs. Upon concluding he remarks, it is said that Luther raised his arm "in the traditional salute of a knight winning a bout."
Boats on the River Spree in Berlin  (wikipedia)
According to Michael Mullett, Luther's stance and his speech were a "world classic of epoch-making oratory."
Steps to Sanssouci Palace, Pottsdam  (wikipedia)
And so half a millennium later, the debate continues with a new twist, how Christians can separate Martin Luther the man who defied the pope and hated Jews from the "true witness" to the gospel of Christ.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Delightful Bermuda on NCL's Norwegian Dawn

Norwegian Dawn arrives at the Naval Dockyard in Bermuda
BERMUDA  There are two types of sea-going cruisers in the world; those who love to be on the water those who don't.

Veteran cruisers can also be broken down into smaller categories such as devotees of a single line such as NCL, lovers of certain ships, fans of cruising in general and destination cruisers.
Bermuda's Royal Navy Dockyard is a happening spot (Taylor)
Plus, there are  three basic types of cruises, and it is important to know the differences before you book.

First, there are beach cruises that sail throughout the Caribbean, Bermuda and other sun-drenched ports of call. For the most part, these cruises appeal to younger passengers and are generally 4 to 7 days in length.
Life at sea  (Taylor)
Scenic cruises sail to places like Alaska, Hawaii, Africa and other destinations that can be as enjoyable by ship or land. Ships often provide a sense of security for people who have a spirit of adventure but prefer the perceived comforts of a ship.

Most travelers in this category are seniors which means the on-board entertainment will generally be less active and the ship will be asleep before midnight.

Finally, the third category is destination cruises which include itineraries through the Greek islands, the Baltic or the Mediterranean etc. These ships are usually somewhere in between in the age category and tend, overall, to be more international.
Most ships are glitzy (Taylor)

The most important thing to decide is which category cruise best suits your lifestyle.

With that in mind, there are a number of other things to consider before sailing out on the trip of a lifetime. For example, do you want to be at sea for most of the trip or would your rather be in port? Does the point of embarkation make a difference? Consider the order in which things matter to you; food, entertainment, shore excursions, size of the ship, length of the cruise and size of the staterooms.

Cruisers can save money by choosing an inside cabin as opposed to one with a sea view or a balcony.
Life has a different pace in Bermuda  (Taylor)
If you sail from Boston, New York, Charleston, Los Angeles, Miami or any other American port, keep in mind that you are still departing from the United States and, therefore, are not getting the benefit of at least one extra port.

If that is important to you, consider sailing from San Juan or Mexico for a Caribbean cruise, or choose from a port in Europe, Asia, Africa or South America in order to enjoy the benefits of one or two different destinations.
Free train shuttle runs all day
While this may not sound like important at first, select cruises that are in no more than one port each day. Many Greek cruises, for example, often cram two ports into some of their daily outings. The problem is that there isn't enough time to see anything. A four hour excursion to Mykonos takes time to disembark and re-embark leaving limited opportunities for sightseeing.

If you do two islands in the same day, there is also transit time at sea to reach the second destination.
The dockyard isn't big but it has everything a traveler needs  (Taylor)
In that regard,  cruising to Bermuda may just be one of the most ideal cruise itineraries going. NCL's Norwegian Dawn sails on Friday afternoon at 4 pm and arrives at the Naval Dockyard in Bermuda by 1 pm on Sunday. That allows passengers two days at sea to get to know the ship and what activities most appeal to anyone's particular lifestyle.

The Dawn remains in port from Sunday until early evening on Tuesday with ample short excursions, easy access to the ship and more than enough time to explore the entire island.

The final two days are again at sea allowing time to relax and enjoy the benefits of being what cruising is all about.
Clocktower clocks has four
different times (Taylor)

Shipboard activities are in abundance and there is an excellent variety and choice of restaurants.

Though the ship is large, capacity approximately 2,000 with a crew of 1,000, it is well designed to accommodate the numbers without feeling overwhelmed by a ocean of people.

There are some negatives however, and these are important for travelers on a budget. NCL charges for all drinks including soft drinks and refills. Cocktails are expensive but not exorbitant.

Internet services are overpriced. Furthermore, if you have difficulty with access once you have logged on, the clock is ticking all the time you are trying to link to the net.

Another service to beware of is the spa. Massages and spa treatments are also nearly double the cost of similar services at home.
Cake decorating is one of
numerous classes (Taylor)
Perhaps most disturbing however, is the sales pitch that comes after the massage which completely destroys all the benefits of the process. In fact, the spa will even call you the night before you arrive in port to ask if you want to purchase any spa products.

Overall the negatives are minor, but they can mount up over the time you spend at sea when you are a captive audience. Pay attention, be cautious and enjoy all the cruise line has to offer.
The Oracle gets ready to race in the America's Cup  (Taylor) 
Then again, there is always the wonderful serendipitous nature of travel which can provide surprise benefits you never considered. In June, the America's Cup took place in Bermuda. It was a chance to observe one of the oldest and most prestigious sporting challenges in the world, and you could do it from the upper deck of the Norwegian Dawn.
Dawn breaks in Bermuda and everything is ship-shape  (Taylor) 
Land travelers will likely never completely warm to the advantages of cruising, but for people who love to be at sea, NCL's Bermuda itinerary is a marvelous trip to consider with generally good value for the money.

You won't be disappointed as you sail the Atlantic from dusk to "Dawn." 

Friday, June 23, 2017

Try the “Mountain Man” restaurant near Montreux, Switzerland

Chateau Chillon in Montreux, immortalized by Lord Byron, sits
in the shadow of Le Montagnard  (wikipedia)

VALLON DE VILLARD, SWITZERLAND -- This is a story about perseverance and dedication. In its own personal way it is a love story for it say everything you need to know about  human spirit It is about humility. It is a .story about a Swiss chef who rarely left his beloved hills overlooking Lake Geneva outside Montreux, Switzerland, and it is a story about the determination to do something with your life that brings pleasure to others through your own talents and gifts

His name was Hans Odermatt, and he was one of those people you never forget.
Lord Byron would have
enjoyed knowing Hans
Odermatt  (wikipedia)
It wasn’t so much his hand-knitted woolen socks that made him distinctive.  Nor was it his home-made wooden sandals with broad leather straps.  It wasn’t even his Santa Claus beard that grew down to his chest.  Rather it was his indefinable and intangible spirit; an aura that touched nearly everyone who walked into his little restaurant in Vallon de Villard (Villard Valley), the mountains  that overlook Montreux, Switzerland.

Hans Odermatt was a simple man.  In his youth, he was a carpenter by trade.  When the armies of the world surrounded Switzerland in the 1940s, Hans left his beloved mountains and traveled to Australia where he learned to speak English.

Later, when the war was over, he returned to Zurich where he enrolled in culinary school before moving back to the hills of Lake Geneva.
Steamers criss-cross Lake Geneva between Switzerland and
France throughout the summer  (wikipedia)
Using his life’s savings, Odermatt purchased a 17th century farm in the 1960s.  Recalling the carpentry skills of his earlier life, Hans went to work on the stable and transformed in into a restaurant.  Working with his own hands by day, Hans gradually and methodically built his dream.  In the evening, in order to earn enough money to pay his bills, Odermatt prepared fondue and raclette for the villagers who lived in the countryside.
Golden Pass train glides past
vineyards above Lake Geneva

The restaurant was rustically appointed with wall paintings by Alexandre Guhl and decorated throughout with a large collection of old farm implements. Even today, visitors are captivated by the depictions of traditional Swiss country life that permeate the restaurant. 

When the restaurant was completed, Hans Odermatt continued refining his culinary techniques by expanding his menu and perfecting his craft.  Soon, Le Montagnard Restaurant became well-known throughout the region.  So popular did his establishment become that the rich and famous quickly discovered Odermatt’s kitchen.  William Holden.  Richard Nixon.  Richard Burton.  David Niven.  Even Charlie Chaplin and Charles Lindbergh were visitors at Le Montagnard
Fireworks light up the Geneva sky in August  (wikipedia)
Each night, when his cooking chores were finished, it was Odermatt’s routine to sit in a corner booth of his restaurant with a glass of red wine and proudly observe his domain.  Elegant cuisine, its preparation and the pure enjoyment of his customers savoring each delicious morsel became a passion for the little Swiss chef.

For many, the thought of personally preparing meals for some of the most celebrated people in the world might have been a powerful aphrodisiac for their ego, but not for Hans Odermatt.  When asked about his famous clientele, Odermatt answered humbly, “It’s the villagers who are most important to me.  They come every night, and the rich and famous don’t spend any more than the peasants do.”
Mary Shelley wrote
Frankenstein while staying
in Geneva  (wikipedia)

Indeed, Hans Odermatt was a simple man, for he understood the blessings of life.  He had a sixth sense about what made life worth living; what true quality of life was all about and a love of the natural order of things he saw daily in his beloved hills of Switzerland.

Hans Odermatt is gone now. He died doing what he loved most, cooking in the place he built with his own hands. Today Le Montagnard still operates with limited service, much as it did during the early days when Hans Odermatt served his traditional Swiss specialties to his neighbors on the hillside.

As Hans would express to others, he had no need of a calendar because he could tell what day it was in the spring by where the flowers bloomed on the hillside outside his window. 
The majestic breathtaking Alps add to the aura of Montreux and
Byron's Castle of Chillon  (wikipedia)
Hans probably never heard of Thanksgiving, but he was a man who lived each day of his life with thanksgiving in his heart.

Le Montagnard means “The Mountain Man.”  It’s easy to find.  Just take a taxi from Montreux about 4 miles up into the hills.  The driver will know where it is.

And somewhere from a corner of heaven Hans Odermatt will be watching you dine with a glass of red wine in his hand.

(*Author's note: Pictures of Hans Odermatt are rare and difficult to find. I possess one transparency that was taken in his corner seat at Le Montagnard. When I am able to get it digitized, I will add it to the article.)