Thursday, December 1, 2016

The open-air museums of Europe

Ancient farmhouse at Seurasaari in Helsinki  (wikipedia)
Europe -- Before the Industrial Revolution changed the world, Artur Hazelius had the idea to bring rural culture to a single area filled with traditional houses and farmsteads of a country along with gardens and animals so that people would never forget their heritage.

In so-doing, Hazelius created the first outdoor museum on the island of Djurgården in Stockholm, Sweden. Within two short decades, there were nearly 20 more open-air museums scattered throughout northern Europe.
Ballenberg horse-drawn carriage
(ballenberg.ch) 
The experiment to preserve rural life among rapidly growing industrialized societies was a resounding success as traditional customs and occupations that might have disappeared into the annals of history were saved for future generations to enjoy.

Most American visitors miss these outdoor treasures in their never-ending pursuit of guidebook attractions, but a traveler should experience at least one or two in order to bring the picture of our own heritage into focus.

Here are some of the best open-air museums in Europe in alphabetical order.
Swiss farmhouse at Ballenberg near Interlaken  (wikipedia)
Ballenberg (Switzerland): The Swiss took longer than usual to open their outdoor museum known as Ballenberg near Interlaken. Featuring more than 100 rural houses and farm buildings from all over the country, the structures could not be maintained in their natural environment so each was carefully dismantled and then re-built at Ballenberg on 165 acres of land.

Dwellings contain farmhouses, workers quarters, alpine huts and stalls, barns, store-houses, wash-houses and drying ovens along gardens, fields, pastures and meadows that have been arranged according to traditional historical models.


Ballenberg is a living museum where master craftsmen work with traditional tools to create exhibits and provide insights into the early history of the country. In addition a few hundred domestic animals on the property give it an animated ambiance as life was hundreds of years ago.

Though the Swiss had discussed the concept much earlier, it did not come up for serious consideration until 1963 when the Swiss Federal Council set up a commission to explore the idea. Fifteen years later, Ballenberg became a reality as one of the newest outdoor museums in Europe.
Half-timbered house at the Freilichtmuseum in Germany
(wikipedia)
Black Forest Open Air Museum (Germany): In German the word for Open Air Museum is Freilichtmuseum or “Free Light Museum.” The Black Forest Open Air Museum focuses upon six fully furnished farmhouses with the centerpiece being the Vogtsbauerhof which was actually constructed on the site in 1612. Travelling craftsmen perform exhibitions inside the house on a regular basis.

Hotzenwaldhaus dates from 1756 in Hotzenwald and is used for demonstrations of Black Forest textiles.

Dairy and livestock farming are on exhbition at Falkenhof which came from Dreisamtal and was built in 1737.
Old German storage house
(wikipedia)

Woodworking demonstrations are conducted in the 1730 building of  Schauinslandhus  from Schauinsland.

The oldest building in the park, built in 1599, is Hippenseppenhof from Furtwangen-Katzensteig features costumes and clocks from the region.

Finally Lorenzenhof  (1608) was brought in from Oberwolfach in the Kinzig valley for forestry management, glassblowing and a collection of regional stone and minerals.

The museum is open daily from the end of March until early November. It is said to be the most visited open-air museum in Germany welcoming some 13.5 million visitors since it opened in 1964.
Unusual farmhouse from early Sweden (wikipedia)
Norsk Folkemuseum (Norway): King Oscar II’s open-air museum near Oslo, Norway opened in 1881, making it the first of its kind. Initially the plan was to display 8 to 10 building styles from Norway dating to the Middle Ages, but the king eventually lost interest because of the cost of the project.

King Oscar’s influence however, was instrumental in making Scandinavia a haven for similar projects and the Oslo Open Air Museum is a thriving enterprise today.
Early Swedish village at Skansen in Stockholm  (wikipedia)
Skansen (Sweden): If you only visit one open-air museum in your life, Skansen in Stockholm is the one to see. When King Oscar gave up in Norway, Artur Hazelius carried the idea to fulfillment in Sweden opening the world’s first open-air museum in 1891.

Skansen is more than a park. Rather it is a miniature historical rendition of the country represented in buildings ranging from farmsteads in Skåne in the south to the indigenous Sami (Lapps) of the north.

Venues range from the early 16th century to the first half of the 20th century and the park features domestic and wild animals, folk music, dancing and costumed performers who demonstrate the social conditions of each period.
A day at Skansen
(wikipedia)


Only three of the roughly 150 building are not original, but those were painstakingly copied from examples that were found.

Oddly enough, the oldest building in Skansen comes from Telemark in Norway.

A fun way to reach Skansen is by the funicular that has been operating since 1897 on the northwest side of the property. It’s approximately 650 feet in length with a rise of about 115 feet.
Stable at Seurasaari in Helsinki, Finland  (wikipedia)
Seurasaari (Finland): The Finnish contribution is an island in Helsinki consisting mainly of old wooden buildings from other parts of the country. What makes Seurasaari different is that it is situated in a heavily forested landscape inhabited by an abundance of wildlife.

The island is most popular on Midsummer’s Day when people gather throughout the park to celebrate the longest day of the year.

A bride is chosen to be married at the chapel in the park, and then she and her new husband are rowed in longboats to a small outcropping of rock at ten o’clock where they light a bonfire of longboats standing on end.

Europe is filled with open-air treasures that are frequently missed by
American travelers. For something new and different, take a deep breath and savor the open-air of the Continent.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

The Rock Church in Helsinki is an architectural masterpiece

The Luthern Cathedral dominates the skyline of Helsinki  (wikipedia)
HELSINKI, FINLAND Helsinki, Finland is a city of the sea. Seeping into the Gulf of Bothnia, she is known as the “Daughter of the Baltic.” And one of the most popular attractions in this thriving Scandinavian metropolis is an architectural wonder called Temppeliaukio church.

Problems with the pronunciation? Don’t worry, just call it the “Rock Church.”
Natural light bathes the sanctuary in an array of colors  (wikipedia)
Situated in the heart of Helsinki, the church is located at the end of Fredrikinkatu in the district of Töölö. At first glance it appears to be nothing more than a huge out-cropping of rock bulging above the street. A closer look however, quickly reveals a street-level entrance to one of Finland’s most interesting buildings.
Finnish architect, Eliel
Saarinen (wikipedia)


Finland is a country known for its creativity in furniture design, crafts, glass-making and architecture.

It is also a land that has given us such illustrious architects as Alvar Aalto and the father/son team of Eliel and Eero Saarinen. If the name Saarinen is unfamiliar, Eero’s contribution to the American landscape is not. It was Eero who designed the St. Louis Arch which represents the “Gateway to the West” in the United States.
Shades of purple, natural rock and a copper ceiling are unique features of the Rock Church  (wikipedia)
Temppeliaukio is a story about an architectural competition that began more than seven decades ago in the 1930s. A plot of land was selected in Helsinki for the construction of a church, but the contest committee became unhappy with the initial results.

In 1936 a new contest was announced with the implementation of the project awarded to Johan Sigfrid Siren. In 1939, the outbreak of World War II interrupted construction for a second time.
Aalto Vases (Wikipedia)


After the war, a 16-year hibernation followed until a third contest was announced in 1961. This time the honors were awarded to the Suomalainen brothers, Timo and Tuomo.

Due to financial considerations, plans for the church were reduced to about one-fourth of the original concept.

Eight years later, in September of 1969, the church opened directly inside the hollowed out granite that once occupied the square. Throughout the autumn of 1969 more than 100,000 visitors came to the church and the sanctuary was frequently full during services.
Alvar Aalto stamp  (wikipedia)


By 1971, the name was changed from Taivallahti to Temppeliaukio, or its more popular designation as the “Rock Church.”

Interior designs bathe the sanctuary in natural light from a skylight in the copper dome in the center of the building.
The Gibralter of the North, Suomenlinna Fortress greets visitors who arrive by boat  (Wikipedia)
Among the unanticipated bonuses from the project are the outstanding acoustics created by the rock surfaces that comprise the interior walls. While the Suomalainen brothers did give acoustic considerations for the walls at first, they were not part of the initial design entry.
Sibelius monument honors Jean
Sibelius  (Wikipedia)


When Finnish conductor Paavo Berglund gave Mauri Parjo, an acoustical engineer, some background on utilizing the wall surfaces to take advantage of the exposed rock, the brothers rethought the idea and opted to the acoustical elements to their concept.

Today, when it is not in use as a house of worship, the Rock Church is often serves as a popular concert venue.
The Rock Church organ enhances the surroundings with music
(Wikipedia)
Even with its mid-20th century design, like so many things in Finland, the Rock Church retains a contemporary ambiance. Finns are inherently lovers of nature, so it is not surprising to see colors that reflect the various shades of granite and other types of stone within the country.

Benches are constructed of native Birch. The floor is polished concrete while the pulpit is reinforced concrete. The altar is made of evenly sawn granite while water trickles from cracks in the rock along specially designed ducts.

The copper dome spans a diameter of nearly 80-feet, and the distance from the highest point in the floor to the top of the dome is 42-feet.
Aalto's Finlandia Hall
(Wikipedia)

Though Temppeliaukio has no bells, the organ, designed by Veikko Virtanen, features 43 stops and 3001 pipes.

Despite its beloved status today, the history of the Rock Church is not without controversy. During the early stages of construction, many citizens of Helsinki wanted a traditional cathedral on the site.

At that time, a major famine was grabbing news headlines from a place called Biafra which had seceded from eastern Nigeria in 1967. Many Finns believed the construction of the church was an extravagance and immoral at a time when the money could be better spent on Biafran relief.
The Esplanade is a favorite spot in the summer  (Wikipedia)
Today the Rock Church is no longer controversial. Though not a landmark that would make a traveler visit Helsinki on its own, it is definitely an attraction that will enrich your stay.
Helsinki is a cultural center and the home of the Rock Church  (Wikipedia)
Temppeliaukio is the product of Finnish ingenuity. Ingenuity that transformed a massive lump of stone that everyone “took for granite” into a living “rock of ages.”


Thursday, November 17, 2016

Make your own Funky Chocolate in Interlaken, Switzerland

Spend some time making delicious Swiss chocolate at the
Funky Chocolate Club in Interlaken  (Taylor)
INTERLAKEN, SWITZERLAND Listen up you health food fanatics: According to the brochure for the “Funky Chocolate Club” in Interlaken, Switzerland, “Chocolate comes from cocoa, which is a tree. That makes it a plant. Therefore, chocolate counts as a salad.” Yeah Chocolate!

Ask just about anyone what Switzerland is famous for and chances are the answers will be, cheese, mountains, watches, scenery, cuckoo clocks and, of course, chocolate. Now the first five might be obvious choices, but since Switzerland doesn’t have cocoa beans why is their chocolate so famous?
Funky Chocolate also makes
its own delights  (Taylor)
The answer, of course, is because Switzerland makes up for its lack of one resource with an abundance of another, which is cows.

Simply import the cocoa beans, and the rest is history.

Now people who enjoy interactive travel can get a true taste of Swiss chocolate at the Funky Chocolate Club in Interlaken.

It all began when two college friends, Tatiana and Michaela dreamed about opening their own chocolate shop. It was a natural idea considering their mutual passion for chocolate, so their conversations frequently ended with discussions about their chocolate inspiration.
Preparing a fresh batch of Funky Chocolate  (Taylor)
After going their separate ways for a while, their paths crossed again in Interlaken.

By June, 2014 the dream had become a reality as the two entrepreneurial chocolatiers opened for business and never looked back.
Children love making their own
chocolate creations (Taylor)


Not only do Tatiana and Michaela make their own chocolate delights, but they also hold daily workshops where they teach visitors the history of chocolate and then let them make their own delicious creations.

Big kids have fun too
(Taylor)
Workshops are held daily at 2, 4 and 6 pm and reservations are required. Each session lasts approximately an hour and everything you need from aprons, chef’s hats and the ingredients are supplied.

Under the happy guidance of Funky Chocolate’s professionals, you not only learn techniques, tips and tricks of tempering the chocolate, but melting, pouring and filling the molds with your own personal designs which you can later take home to share with family and friends.
Chocolate in its natural state before it becomes "Chocolate"
(Taylor)
The Funky chocolatiers will teach you everything you need to know about tempering, but consider that even a bad day in the world of chocolate is never worth losing your “temper.”
Cocoa beans are the main ingredient
(Taylor)


In 2000, a movie titled “Chocolat” starring Juliette Binoche told the story of a single mother and her six-year-old daughter who open a chocolate shop in rural France. Over time the townspeople begin to recognize that there was something joyfully mysterious and magical about the chocolate. By the end of the movie, chocolate had turned the entire village into a place filled with joy.


Tatiana and Michaela have taken that story and turned it into a living workshop where nobody ever leaves their store without a smile, though there may be a few brown smudges at the corners of their mouths.
Making chocolate is addictive...so is eating it  (Taylor)
To build your own chocolate magic the price is 65 Swiss francs for adults and 59 for children between the ages of 4 and 14. The shop is located at Jungfraustrasse 35 in Interlaken, which, given the famous Jungfraujoch that towers over the city, makes the site easy to remember.

Interlaken itself gets its name because it is situated between two beautiful lakes; the Lake of Thun and the Lake of  Brienz. Lake steamers ply the waters of both lakes each day with spellbinding vistas and scenery not to mention  countless nearby villages or along the shores such as Thun, Spiez, Brienz and Meirengen to mention a few.
The Lauterbrunnen Valley is a waterfall paradise  (Wikipedia)
There are also numerous day trips which include trains to the Jungfrau, Schilthorn, Brienzer-Rothorn and Schynige Platte.

For a valley filled with seemingly thousands of waterfalls, the magnificent Lauterbrunnen Valley is unrivaled.
The end result after all the creatures were stirring  (Taylor)
But at the end of the day, there is always that Funky Chocolate that beckons your sweet tooth. Once you savor the taste of your own homemade concoctions, you will immediately know why Swiss chocolate is “udderly” delicious.



Thursday, November 10, 2016

France and Sweden meet in St. Barts

Paradise beckons on St. Barts, where life is easy  (Taylor)
ST BARTS – It was known as Ouanalao in 1493 when Christopher Columbus discovered St. Barts. That was the name given to it by the native Carib Indians. Over the past 500-plus years, St. Barts, also known as St. Barths, has been “re-discovered” many times, and was also re-named Saint-Barthélemy after Columbus’ brother.

Today, St. Barts is the St.-Tropez of the Caribbean, appealing to the rich and famous with its secluded location approximately 22 miles southeast of St. Martin. The island is accessible by boat, which takes slightly more than an hour, or by a 15-minute plane ride.
Landing in St. Barts is part of
the initiation  (Taylor)

Travelers arriving by air are always intrigued by the nerve-wracking landing pattern which features barely missing a hilltop highway on one end of the descent or hitting the beach at the other end.

Historically, the French came to St. Barts in the 1600s, followed briefly by the Swedes. In fact, St. Barts was the only Caribbean island that was a Swedish colony for any length of time, but even that lasted less than a century.
Picturesque Gustavia Harbor is the ideal size  (Taylor)
Thanks to the earliest influence of its settlers before the Swedes arrived, St. Barts has retained its French ambiance, despite its capital city being called Gustavia.
Life has its own pace  (Taylor)

Oddly enough, the tiny island of hills and twisting roads has no casinos or golf courses, yet it continues to attract celebrities from around the world with its elegant yet rustic accommodations, gourmet cuisine, chic boutiques and pristine stretches of white sand beaches.

At just under ten square miles, 9.5 to be exact, St. Barts is easily explored in a few hours. Then again, visitors don’t journey to this little paradise for exploration. Columbus took care of that. No, this is a place be seen and to make the scene.
The swimming pool at Le Village (Taylor)
Though food is expensive on St. Barts, do not be put off by the jet-setting image of the island. It’s easy to get around the topsy-turvy terrain, but you do need a car. St. Barts features dozens of great beaches and more than its share of character. This is a place to relax and savor the quality of life.
Swedish influence is part of
St. Barts history  (Taylor)
The island came into its own in 1945 when Remy de Haenen landed his plane on a goat pasture that eventually became one of St. Barts’ best known attractions: the airport.

Later de Haenen built a home on nearby St.-Jean Bay which is now the famous Eden RockHotel. Eden Rock was recently rated the fifth best Caribbean Resort Hotel by “Conde Nast Traveler”.
Eden Rock is one of the best known properties on St. Barts  (Taylor)
By the mid-1950s, the ultra-rich discovered this secluded Caribbean treasure, and it has not been the same since.

David Rockefeller bought two plots of land, including one on Gouveneur Beach. Before long the Rothschilds arrived, and to “keep up with the Joneses”, developed an estate in a coconut grove next door to the Rockefellers. Today the Rothschild property has become Hotel Guanahani & Spa.
St. Jean Beach is a favorite for beach combers  (Taylor) 
If the Rockefellers and Rothschilds say a place is worth visiting, ‘nuf said. Soon the president of the American Ballet Theatre opened a four-room hotel on top of Mount Lurin called Les Castelets in 1975, with the dining room becoming the first great restaurant on St. Barts.
Cheeseburger in paradise
(Taylor)

The following year, Jimmy Buffet arrived to establish Le Select. The first disco on St. Barts was an institution on the island until it burned in 1991.

Les Castelets quickly attracted the rich and famous from around the world, including the likes of Mikhail Baryshnikov.

With the arrival of Hurricane Luis in 1995, Les Castelets was heavily damaged, but both the island and the hotel quickly bounced back.
Le Village is the only four-star hotel on St. Barts  (Taylor)
Also adding to the mystique of St. Barts in 1995 was the appearance of Brad Pitt and then fiancée, Gwyneth Paltrow, who were captured in nude photographs by paparazzi at Hotel le Toiny.

St. Barts posts signs forbidding nudity on the beaches, but keep in mind it is a French island and topless sunbathing is not uncommon. Besides, nobody seems to care or even notice.
A lush, tropical Eden where every hill brings a new surprise  (Taylor)
In truth, the laissez-faire, nonchalant ambiance of St. Barts is as much an attraction for celebrities as the pricey accommodations and meals, because nobody bothers them. That relative anonymity is worth its weight in gold.

A trip to St. Barts is like stepping into Paul Gauguin’s world with room service.
Secluded uncrowded beaches
(Taylor)


St. Barts is a place to shed the rhythms of hustle and bustle and discover yourself in glorious sunshine, superb dining and eternal beaches.

For a bit less extravagance, but with all the comforts, Le Village is the only 4-star property on the island. Operated by Catherine Charneau and her three brothers, Le Village was the first hotel on St. Barts to offer air conditioning.
St. Barts is both chic and rustic and a great place to do nothing
at all  (Taylor)
To truly enjoy St. Barts, just bring something good to read and some sun tan lotion.
Read a book and take a nap in a rope hammock  (Taylor)
Getting a marguerita and a cheeseburger in this paradise might cost a little more, but you can always hit the beach in your bikini, mono-kini or no-kini and that doesn’t cost a thing.