Friday, October 5, 2018

Conde Nast's 20 best travel destinations -- or are they?

Pena Palace in Sintra, Portugal...Sintra did not make the list
(Courtesy: Estoril Tourism)

CHARLOTTE, NC — One guaranteed way to start a conversation, and oftentimes some controversy, is to publish a list of "The Best or Worst of Anything."

Ask what were the ten best teams in the history of the NFL and it will begin a debate. Or try to rate the top heavyweight boxing champions to start a discussion. Who are the best rivalries in sports or what were the best westerns in the history of the movies? Most of the time it is fun, but it can also lead to some heated arguments. 

Dubrovnik, Croatia at dusk
Another non-vote getter
(Photo: Taylor)
Recently Conde Nast Traveler published a list of the 20 places everyone should visit before they die. Obviously that was a red flag for any red blooded travel veteran; first to see how many someone has personally been to and second a challenge to commence discussion and debate.

Listed below is the Conde Nast group, followed by a few options that were neglected but could or should have easily been included. It's all subjective, of course, but it's fun to consider.

Sensoji Temple Asakusa in Tokyo (Photo: Public Domain)

Tokyo, Japan: One of the interesting things about Tokyo, which is the capital of Japan today, is that Kyoto, the former capital is actually nothing more "To" and "Kyo" in reverse.

With 35 million people, Tokyo is the largest metropolitan city in the world which, by itself, is incentive enough to visit. If you need more enticement however, Conde Nast says Tokyo has more Michelin-starred restaurants than any city in the world.

Lucerne is definitely a favorite for Americans  (Photo: Taylor)
Lucerne, Switzerland: Lucerne is especially appealing to first-time visitors, but it's also a place that beckons travelers regardless of how often they have been there. Nestled in a bowl surrounded by the Alps, the Lake of Lucerne flows into the River Reuss beneath the ancient wooden Chapel Bridge. Lucerne, with its historic legends about the unification of the confederation is also popular with the Swiss themselves.

Budapest is known for its bridges across the Danube
Budapest, Hungary: Revered by many as one of the most beautiful cities in the world, Budapest has more than 100 thermal springs which make taking a bath there one of the great travel pleasures in the world.

Divided by the Danube with Buda on one side and Pest on the other, it is connected by several bridges, of which the Chain Bridge is the first, most famous and most beautiful. By the way, Budapest celebrated its 1,000th anniversary in 1896.

San Francisco's Trolleys are world famous 
San Francisco: Arguably one of the top three most naturally beautiful cities in the world, the Golden Gate, Fisherman's Wharf, Lombard Street, Chinatown, Alcatraz and the famous trolleys are ample ammunition for any city to attract visitors.

Ornate columns inside Hagia Sophia in Instanbul

Istanbul, Turkey: Another divided city, and the only one that sits on two continents, Europe and Asia, Istanbul is one of the most intriguing destinations in the world. Don't miss the covered bazaar, the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace or the Pera Palace Hotel where Agatha Christie wrote much of Murder on the Orient Express.

Front view of the Imperial Palace in Kyoto, Japan

Kyoto, Japan: For over 1,000 years Kyoto was the Imperial capital of Japan. Today, it is one of the most beautiful cities in the country thanks to the preservation of many shrines, temples and historic buildings. If you want to see Japan as it used to be, Kyoto is the place.

The Wailing Wall is a gathering place for prayer in Old Jerusalem
(Photo: Taylor)
Jerusalem, Israel: The name alone captures the imagination. As a pilgrimage site for Christians, Jews and Muslims, the layered religious history that lies beneath its streets and around every corner make the Old City of Jerusalem a must-see destination. Even the streets and markets, though different today than they once were, still resemble the ancient iconic images of the past.

Dublin at sunset is peaceful and serene (Courtesy:

Dublin, Ireland: Dublin's Trinity College with its Book of Kells is one of the first places on a traveler's agenda. Following that, no trip is complete without sampling a drink at the Jameson Distillery or Guinness Storehouse. Among Dublin's most endearing qualities is the friendliness of the people which almost certainly guarantees a good time.

Vancouver, BC has a fabulous Chinatown
Vancouver, Canada: Vancouver is another of the three most naturally beautiful cities in the world. The coastal seaport city with its aquarium, Chinatown, Stanley Park, the historic steam clock and hundreds of miles of seaside and forested trails make Vancouver one the best ports in the world for cruising or to start or end a vacation.

There are also stunning rail journeys to Whistler and through the Canadian Rockies.

San Miguel de Allende, Mexico is famous for its art and architecture (Courtesy:
San Miguel de Allende, Mexico: Though not one of the better known destinations on the Conde Nast list, San Miguel de Allende is noted for it vibrant colors and picturesque cobblestone streets. La Gruta Hot Springs make Mexico's "Disneyland" a great place to savor a therapeutic bath inside a cave.

The famed Sydney Opera House as seen from the Royal Botanical
Gardens  (Courtesy:

Sydney, Australia: Nearly everyone recognizes the famed Sydney Opera House overlooking Darling Harbor. As with the Irish, Australians are full of life and friendly welcoming charm that add to any travel experience. A helicopter ride over the harbor and city is a must, along with a visit to the "Rocks" to hang out with locals. Be sure to do a walking  trip across Harbor Bridge.

Outside the city, a day trip to the Blue Mountains is a popular excursion.

Cable car climbs to Table Rock in  Cape Town  (Photo: Taylor)
Cape Town, South Africa: For years South African tourism suffered because of its racial policies, but today, it is making a comeback. Cape Town has much to offer both inside and outside the city. The cable car to Table Mountain is a good place to start while a ride along the coast is also a must. You will surprisingly discover penguins along the way plus lots of other unexpected delights.

Best of all, Cape Town is near South Africa's wine country and it is also a gateway to Kruger National Park. Do not miss the thrill of spotting the Big Five in the wild (lions, elephants, leopards, rhinos and cape buffalo) on a safari.

The fame Arc de Triomphe on the Champs-Elysees in Paris
(Photo: Taylor)

Paris, France: 'Nuff said. Paris speaks for itself. Known as the "City of Lights", the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Arc de Triomphe, Notre-Dame, Champs-Elysées, the Opera House and Montmarte are just the beginning to whet your traveling appetite.

The Merlion in Singapore is one of its most popular attractions
(Photo: Erwin Soo --
Singapore: Singapore is almost always a surprise because it is so clean compared to most large cities in the world. Singapore is the world's only island city-state which automatically makes it unique. Among the most popular attractions is the Supertrees which are solar powered mechanical trees reaching as high as 160 feet and built to mimic the ecological functions of actual trees.

The Gardens by the Bay should also be on your agenda.

Venice, Italy: Conde Nast rates Venice among its top 20 cities in large part because of its uniqueness, history and art. Venice often gets mixed reviews from travelers however, who either love it or hate it with very little in between.

The canals, of course, give Venice its character along with St. Marks Square, Saint Mark's Basilica and the famed Rialto Bridge. Many visitors also enjoy the delicate intricacies of hand blown Venetian glass and bringing home a souvenir mask that can be purchased nearly everywhere.

Hong Kong Harbor never sleeps (Photo: Taylor)
Hong Kong: Hong Kong is almost the New York of Asia. The harbor is one of the primary gathering spots, but it, too, is also a "city that never sleeps."

Be sure to ride the world's longest escalator, if for no other reason than to say that you did it. You can also dine at the world's cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant, Tim Ho Wan where you can savor their legendary Dim Sum for slightly more than $6.

Night falls on Prague, a favorite destination for Americans
Prague, Czech Republic: Frequently referred to as the most beautiful city in the world, Prague is typically on everyone's list of favorites. Historic Charles Bridge, Prague Castle, Old Town Square and it astronomical clock are among the treasures to behold.

Known as the "City of a Hundred Spires", Prague is a place that "in-spires" as well. Don't forget to bring home at least one piece of Herend Bone China.

Many people mistake Tower Bridge for London Bridge in
England's capital  (Photo: Taylor)

London, England: So much of British history and literature is tied to the United States it is impossible not to include London. Linked by a common language (for the most part), London and the U.K. are often appealing to first-timers wanting to overcome the fear of language barriers and other perceived travel barriers.

Theater, museums, art and shared history are among the appeals that make London a favorite choice regardless of how many times you have been there before.

Sometimes called the "Venice of the North" Bruges is famous for its canals  (Courtesy:
Bruges, Belgium: Bruges is a favorite due to its medieval charm and storybook ambiance. Conde Nast says it is sometimes referred to as the "Venice of the North" but then so is Stockholm, Amsterdam and St. Petersburg.

Much of the appeal of Bruges is that it was largely built between the 12th and 15th centuries and today remains much as it did hundreds of years ago. Make sure you bring home some lace.
New York's famous Rockefeller Plaza is always busy

New York: While some would argue whether New York should top the list, there are many more who believe it to be the absolute best city in the world. The restaurants are incredible and nightlife scene that is incomparable.

Though New York is certainly not the true "America", the "Big Apple" has something for everyone including an energy that cannot be found anywhere else on the planet.

Now comes the time for debate and challenge. Large cities and small that are on the cusp of making the list could easily replace some of Conde Nast's choices.

In the larger city category there are Stockholm, Rome, Rio, Vienna and Dubrovnik.

The Victor Emmanuelle Monument in Rome is often called "The Wedding Cake" by locals  (Photo: Taylor)

Stockholm is a beautiful city built on 14 islands. While Rome can be congested and dirty, it does have a bit of everything including art, museums, history, religion and cuisine. Rio de Janeiro suffers from bad publicity due to high crime rates but it is also among the three most naturally beautiful cities in the world with magnificent beaches which are frequented by the best looking women in the world.

Vienna is a city where the music never stops and the walled Croatian city of Dubrovnik is difficult to beat. And what about Berlin?

For medium and small towns, some that were overlooked are Sintra in Portugal, Italy's Florence, Ravello and Orvieto or, perhaps, Rothenburg in Germany. The arcaded streets of Switzerland's capital city of Bern is another great choice.

These are but a few alternatives to the Conde Nast list. It's wonderful game to play and a great way to ice breaker for  your next party with guests who love to travel.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Switzerland is a place where you can ride up and down from heaven

The Matterhorn rises over the Swiss village of Zermatt

SWITZERLAND — In a country that is more vertical than horizontal, the Swiss have never let the magnitude of their alpine geography stand in the way of great transportation opportunity.

Ever since hoteliers and railway engineers pooled their talents to create the most efficient transportation network in the world, the Swiss have been creating wondrous new ways to see their country.
Stanserhorn observation tower
(Photo: Taylor)
Way back in 1893, for example, in the tiny village of Stans (about a 20-minute train ride from Lucerne), locals began using public transportation to make their way to nearby Stanserhorn Mountain for hiking.

Rising nearly 6,000 feet above sea level, the mountain is famous for its views of Lake Lucerne more than a mile below.

Fast forward to June, 2012 when the new double deck open top "CabriO" cable car was unveiled. The CabriO actually allows passengers to ride on top of the car, with room for 30 people on top and 60 more in the lower cabin.

Top o'the line on the roof of the CabriO  (Photo: Taylor)
Unlike earlier cable car incarnations, the "CabriO" is not suspended by a single cable from the top. Instead it glides along two cables at the side of the cabs making the ride considerably smoother and far less jarring when it crosses transfer points.

Surprisingly, there is little sensation of height other than the breathtaking scenes that surround the passenger’s magnificent unimpeded views of alpine pastures and mountain peaks during the six minute journey to the top.

Grinder used to excavate the
Gotthard Base Tunnel
(Photo: Taylor)
In December, 2016, the Swiss opened the most "boring" rail project in history with the inauguration of the 35.5 mile Gotthard Base Tunnel, the longest and deepest railway tunnel in the world.

In so-doing, the Swiss trimmed more than 30 minutes from the commute between northern Switzerland and southern Switzerland, making the accomplishment not only an engineering marvel, but adding even greater efficiency to an already superbly efficient transportation network.

Looking through the Gotthard Tunnel toward the 3-mile access
road  (Photo: Taylor)
For decades it has been possible to cross the massive St. Gotthard Pass by rail or car (weather permitting) but the new tunnel saves valuable time for businessmen who have little interest in sightseeing.

Among the more recent developments in Swiss transportation was unveiled between April 6-8 of 2018, with the introduction of the "Staubern", a cable car that transports passengers from the Rhine Valley to the top of Staubern Mountain in eastern Switzerland.

Now Switzerland has introduced the world's first solar powered
cable car  (Courtesy:
In a country that has more cable cars than Holland has tulips, why would the Staubern make news? The answer is simple: it's the world's first solar-powered cable car. Operating to the Staubern Restaurant and Guesthouse at an altitude of just under 6,000 feet, the Staubern brings new meaning to the term "cablevision."

Travelers should know that all Swiss cable cars, funiculars, rack railroads and other forms of mountaintop transportation, always have restaurant and restroom facilities at the summit.

Into the clouds  (Photo: Taylor)
Situated between the cantons of St. Gallen and Appenzell Inner Rhodes (a Swiss canton is similar to a state in the U.S.), the Staubern is on the cutting edge of cable car technology.

As this column is being written, the village or Zermatt is preparing to open the highest cable car in the region. Known as the "Matterhorn Glacier Ride" the high wire act will connect Trockener Steg with Klein Matterhorn (Little Matterhorn) at 12,740 feet, Europe's highest cableway station.

The Matterhorn Glacier ride is called the "Ferrari in the Air"
Nicknamed the "Ferrari in the air", the state-of-the-art lift has the capacity to transport 2000 people per hour to the Matterhorn glacier while reducing travel time to just 9 minutes.

The Matterhorn Glacier Ride is scheduled to open September 29th.

See the "Big" Matterhorn from
"Little" Matterhorn
Travelers wishing to experience all of the newest transportation services in Switzerland need only wait until March of 2019. That's when arguably the most famous Swiss train, the Glacier Express, will inaugurate Excellence Class service on the 7-hour journey between Zermatt and St. Moritz.

Every seat is by a window in Excellence Class panoramic cars
on the Glacier Express (Courtesy:
Excellence Class will feature high-quality full service and modern design as guests are treated to a truly exceptional journey across the Swiss Alps and their majestic  panoramas. Among the features, each traveler will enjoy a window seat.

When push comes to shove, Switzerland has the finest
transportation network in the world  (Photo: Taylor)
Excellence Class offers personal travel guidance, a trendy bar area, a premium multi-course lunch and many more amenities – all included. Capacity in the coach has space for 20 guests with a surcharge of CHF 420, regardless of the type of ticket a passenger is holding.

You see traveling in Switzerland is mountains of fun, where the Swiss never fail to rise to the occasion and where the sky is NEVER the limit.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Some common travel errors and how to solve them

Part of the "fun" of travel is the lessons that are learned along the
way  (Photo:  Public Domain)

CHARLOTTE, NCThe first half of a familiar adage goes "To err is human..." When it comes to travel, the second half makes little difference because "forgiveness" is usually overruled by a guy named Murphy.

All too often, travelers do not do their homework when they plan a trip, and that mistake comes back to haunt them with spinning wheels, less than adequate accommodations and, worst of all, wasted money on your once-in-lifetime adventure.

Here are some of the most common mistakes made by travelers and how to avoid them.

Unless rafting is what you set out to do, you could be "up the
creek" paddle and all (Photo: Taylor)
Overly ambitious planning: What sounds and looks good on paper frequently doesn't work in reality. Many people, especially first-timers, want to see everything in one fell swoop. It ain't gonna happen.

No matter how often you visit a place, things change and there is no way to see all a destination has to offer in a single visit or ten.

The best thing to do is to make a list of what are the most important sights you want to see before you go. When you arrive, take a three hour city tour (they are usually hop on/hop off style) and get yourself oriented. That way you have some idea of where things are so you (hopefully) don't keep going back and forth across the city.

If you are doing more than one city or country use the same plan and follow this simple rule; schedule some time to rest and relax, because you are NOT going to see everything. If you try, you won't remember half of what you did see.

Hotel brochures are not always accurate  (Photo: Taylor)

When European travel really kicked in following World War II, the idea was to do a single "Grand Tour" that became known as the "If it's Tuesday, it must be Belgium" tours. They still exist but they are less than satisfying. As a result are actually "cookie cutter" itineraries and they don't work very well regardless of whether you book a tour or travel independently.

Traveling on the "cheap" isn't always better: This one can be tricky. Certainly everyone wants to save money, but cutting costs so thin that you fail to see the entire destination is foolish. After all, you scrimped and saved to take the trip, and then if you deny yourself the best part of it by not spending a few extra dollars to see it, you have wasted the experience.

Guidebooks are great for suggestions on places to eat and sightseeing...up to a point. Sure you can find some neat little spots for dinner that have been recommended by someone else, but part of the fun of travel is to discover things on your own.
Be careful...local cuisine could give you a bad case of "turista"
(Photo: Taylor)
Most restaurants and cafes post menus outside so that you can get an idea of what they offer just by walking past. Some of the best places are those you just happen upon. If the atmosphere appeals to you and the menu looks good, just pop in and try it. Chances are, if there are lots of locals inside, then you've hit the jackpot.

Many restaurants also offer tourist menus. Eye those with caution to be sure you are getting exactly what you want. All too often they are "Americanized" to suit our tastes and do not at all reflect traditional local cuisine.

Yes, sometimes you can, and will, make a mistake, but when you do find that treasure, you'll forget all about the bad choice. Besides, that's half the fun of travel.

Why pay less for a hotel two miles outside of town if you have to take a taxi or some other form of transportation to go back and forth? The money you save by being within walking distance could more than make up for getting cheaper accommodations.

Always negotiate ground transportation services up front
(Photo: Taylor)
Youth hostels typically have cheap rates for the rooms, but if you have to pay for towels, soap, butter and other standard amenities, you might realize that it is less expensive to stay in a tourist style two-star hotel.

In other words, be frugal, but don't be afraid to splurge now and then to see something you really don't want to miss.

The best rule of thumb is to "pack half of what you need and twice as much money."

So you spend a couple hundred more dollars. After you get home, that extra money will be long forgotten if the trip is a success.

Don't be afraid of language barriers or mistakes: For many novice travelers the fear of non-English speaking locations is traumatic. One thing to do is to make your first international trip is to England, Scotland, Ireland or some other place where "English" is spoken.

Just remember, it won't be American English and, even though they say they are speaking our language, you may not understand accents, dialects and/or idioms. It may be an eye-opener but it will usually cure the language barrier disease immediately.

Hometown traffic rarely compares to what you find abroad
(Photo: Taylor)
In most large destinations throughout the world, keep in mind that English is the universal language, so you can always duck into a quality hotel and find someone with whom you can communicate.

A great tip is to learn how to say "Please", "Thank you", "Good morning" or "Good evening" in the native language. A DON'T forget to smile. Be patient. Most people are willing to help. If they are rude, just let it go.

Another suggestion is the main train station. In the U.S. we are so addicted to our cars, we forget, or don't realize, that most of the rest of the world travels by train.

Train stations can be a weary traveler's refuge (Photo: Taylor)
Railway stations are "Yellow Pages for the soul" because you can get everything there; English tourist information, food, change, sometimes hotel reservations, gifts, restrooms, lockers, ground transportation and newspapers and magazines. Best of all, they are usually centrally located which makes it difficult to get lost.

Plan well, do your homework and the need for prayer will be reduced  (Photo: Taylor)
As for mistakes, so what. That's part of the adventure. Remember travel is a learning experience. Nobody is going to do everything right the first time out. Just go with the flow and try to minimize the errors as much as possible.

Logistics isn't the most exciting thing to think about when planning your trip of a lifetime, but it is a guarantee that if you do your homework, you will save time, money and, most of all, energy.

Those things along will make all the difference after you return.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Ireland: Six delightful and quirky B&Bs

Autumn comes to Roundwood House in Ireland

IRELAND — One of the joys of traveling to Ireland is the abundance of quaint, family operated B&B's the capture the allure of one of the greenest places on earth.

Ireland is a land of two lane country roads dotted with majestic castles and oftentimes more sheep than people. But it is also and island that beckons with quirky alluring places that become instant party ice-breakers when you return home.

The mysterious Cliffs of Moher are always dramatic
(Photo: Taylor)
Listed below are a half-dozen of those delightful discoveries. The list is by no means complete, but intended only to offer a sampling of the treasures the Irish have to offer.

Become a lighthouse on Clare Island (Courtesy:

Think of it this way, Clare Island is an island guarding a larger island off the western Atlantic coast of Ireland. Keeping watch at the entrance of Clew Bay, the Lighthouse has served as a nautical landmark for nearly two centuries.

Situated high atop craggy cliffs, Clare Island was once a safe haven for sailors protecting Achill, Wesport and points beyond. Today, the Clare Island Lighthouse is a different type of sanctuary, welcoming road weary visitors to enjoy one of the most unique and exclusive getaways in Ireland.

The ultimate room with a sea view is architecturally majestic, offering luxury, fully-catered B&B stays, complemented by the awe-inspiring, natural environment of the famous Wild Atlantic Way.

Sometimes it's rather nice to be a little "nautical."

Perched on a hill, deep in the forest, Helen's Tower is a true escape  (Courtesy:

Island Lighthouse, Helen's Tower perches high on a hill overlooking County Down. Nestled deep in the forest of Clandeboye Estate, on clear days, the three story stone tower, offers views of the coast of Scotland.

Immortalized in poems by Alfred Lord Tennyson and Robert Browning, the tower was constructed between 1848 and 1850 as a famine relief project to provide jobs for the unemployed.

The unique gothic retreat features modern amenities as well as a rooftop terrace linked by a narrow stone staircase.

Perhaps best of all, it is the ideal getaway with accommodations for just two people.

Dining at Barberstown Castle is an event, not just dinner

Comprised of four buildings from different periods of Irish history, Barberstown Castle has had a turbulent legacy.
Situated just 30-minutes from Dublin's city center, it has a sense of being thousands of miles away thanks to 20-acres of surrounding grounds.

Since 1288, Barberstown has had no less than 37 owners, including world famous guitarist Eric Clapton who held the deed between 1979 and 1987.

Eric Clapton once owned the
castle (Courtesy:
Barberstown opened its doors as a hotel in 1971.

Despite multiple owners, Barberstown's proprietors have respected its history over the eight centuries of its existence maintaining the elegance of the structure by carefully blending its Victorian and Elizabethan extensions with the original Castle Battlement of 1288.

Built as a fortress to protect the people of Barberstown from rebel attack trying to burn the village, the walls of the Castle Keep walls slope inwards so as to prevent an enemy from getting out of range by closing up to the building.

Ironically, the rooms on the upper floors of the Castle are larger than those on the ground level as their walls are somewhat thinner.

Today however, Barberstown is ideal for enjoying exceptional personal service, open log fires and great food and wine.

The Cliffs of Moher are even more stunning at sunset

Savor the ambience of a bygone era amid all the comforts of today in this unique four-story townhouse within walking distance of the famous Walls of Derry. Built in the Georgian style of nearly 150 years ago, the architectural features of the era survive largely intact. A distinctive, atmospheric base to explore the attractions and culture of Northern Ireland’s second city.

Ireland is peaceful and alluring  (Photo: Taylor)

Fearing invasion by Napoleon in 1804, Martello Towers in Ireland and England were built to provide "bombproof" defenses.

Ireland's circular stone tower was the first to be constructed and is referred to in historic chronicles as Tower No. 1.

The name is derived from a tower at Mortella Point in the Gulf of Fiorenzo. When the Royalist French Navy combined with the Royal Navy failed to seize the Napoleonic French tower at Mortella in 1794, that was all the inspiration the British needed to construct their defensive towers. The names are different as a result of a mix-up in communication which transposed the letters "a" and "o".

Today this self-catering property accommodates up to four guests, promising a combination of luxury, exclusivity and privacy. The kitchen diner offers breathtaking 360-degree panoramic views from roof level.

The living area and balcony overlook the coastline of Dublin Bay on the middle level, while two bedrooms and bathroom occupy the lower level.

The Long Barn at Roundwood House in County Laois

Spoil yourself in one of Ireland’s finest mid-size country houses of the Georgian period. The warm reception rooms filled with antique furniture, bedrooms lined with paintings and overflowing bookshelves, crackling fires, good food, lovely gardens and extensive outbuildings make this a magical place in which to journey back in time.

Family dog guards the "Doll's
Built by Anthony Sharp whose Quaker grandfather amassed a fortune in the late 17th century by running large flocks of sheep on his 2,000 acre holdings to supply his Dublin clothing business, Roundwood House has a "doll's house-like quality" according to one analyst.

This is no place to be "sheepish" today however, as the original furnishings make Roundwood House a delightful travel experience.