Thursday, October 27, 2016

If love is better the second time around, so is travel

Venice captures the imagination whenever you go  (Taylor)
 CHARLOTTE, NC  – The well known English herbalist and author, Juliette de Bairacli Levy, once wrote “Every land has its own special rhythm, and unless the traveler takes the time to learn the rhythm, he or she will remain an outsider there always.”

Shortly after World War II, when transatlantic jet service to Europe was making globe-hopping easier than ever before, Americans flocked to their travel agents to book “grand tours of Europe.” In those days tours were labeled, “If it’s Tuesday, it must be Belgium” packages where visitors tried to cram dozens of countries and thousands of years of history into a single eye-blurring itinerary.
Monet's Japanese Bridge

Now that travel has become relatively less expensive and access has become far greater to more people, the concept of seeing the entire world in one deluxe trip is no longer in vogue in the same ways it used to be.

Savvy travelers have become more discriminating, preferring to settle down in one hotel for several nights and doing day trips as opposed to having luggage outside the door at seven so they can get a 30-second photo-op at the Eiffel Tower by 8:30.
Waterfall on the Lake of Brienz in Switzerland  (Taylor)
In that sense, many tourists have developed a “been there, done that” philosophy which is almost as silly as those old grand tours we used to take.
Swan Hotel, Lavenham, England
Years ago, I was invited to go to London and East Anglia on the British Airways Concorde. In my inexperienced world of travel, East Anglia meant nothing to me, but London was certainly well known and to do it on the Concorde was a dream come true.

I went to my supervisor and explained that I would like to take the trip and do some stories about what it is like to fly on the Concorde. Nobody in my home town had ever done that story so it seemed like a natural.
The Victor Emmanuelle Monument rises above Rome  (Taylor)
The next day she came back to me and said, “We did a story about Harrod’s in London last year so we’ve done England.”

That’s when it hit me. One story about Harrod’s and the station philosophy was that we had done England!

When I finally ventured into the travel writing business on my own, I met a woman in her early ’70s who did not start writing until she was 60. Doris Whitehead always said, “I want to see every place once before I see any place twice.”
The Lion King  (John Lasater)

For a long time I believed in that concept, until I had a chance to return to a place I had been once before. Many people believe they must always go someplace new, forgetting about everything they may have missed during the first and only previous visit to a destination.

Travel is the most interactive experience you can have in life, except perhaps for making love. But no matter how often you visit a place, each time it will be different. The weather will be different. Chances are, your traveling partners will not be the same. The destination will likely have new things to see and do.
Travel is exotic and frequently colorful  (wikipedia)
All of which is a long way of saying that frequently the second or even third time you visit a place may be far more rewarding than the first.

Experts say that one reason professional golfers have such a difficult time their first year on the tour is because they not only have to play four great rounds of golf, but they have to learn how to get to the course, where the restaurants are, the check-in procedures and any number of other things that get in the way of just plain old playing golf.
Snow mountains in Antartica  (Martin Gunter)
Travel isn’t much different. Most people go to London and see the Tower, Westminster Abbey, a show and all the other traditional sights. Who goes to Paris the first time and doesn’t see the Eiffel Tower? If you don’t, people think you are nuts for not seeing one of the city’s major attractions.
Dubrovnik Harbor at dusk in Croatia  (
Ah, but the second time you can stop and rest at a quaint sidewalk cafĂ© and while away an hour or two just people watching. That’s as much a part of the experience as the major attractions… only the second time around you have indeed “been there, done that” so you can savor the joy of discovering something completely new.

Juliette Levy got it right. Learn the rhythm of a country and you will come to love it even more.
Balinesian dance  (Taylor)

Frank Sinatra once sang that “Love is lovelier, the second time around.” So, too, is travel. Be bold. Go back again, and again, and again. Travel will not disappoint and each new adventure will add to your wanderlust resume.
The Wilhelm Tham plies the Gota Canal in Sweden  (wikipedia)
Once you learn to find those marvelous little “in between places,” travel will reward you like never before.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Floral splendor at Bodnant Garden in Wales

The Labernum Arch at Bodnant Garden in Wales  (wikipedia)
 WALESIn Wales it is known as “Gardd Bodnant.” For those of us who find Welsh a difficult language, primarily due to the absence of vowels, it is simply called Bodnant Garden.”

No matter how you say it, in any language, Bodnant Garden in the Conwy Valley in Wales is nothing less than breathtaking.

Begun in 1875, the 80 acre garden surrounds Bodnant House, an estate which was first laid out by the successful industrial chemist Henry David Pochin. The house itself was built in 1792, but was later remodeled by Pochin in 1874. Upon his death in 1895, Pochin’s daughter inherited the property.
Blooms everywhere you look

In 1949, the gardens, but not the house or other parts of the estate, were presented, with an endowment, to the National Trust. Since 1911 when Pochin’s daughter became the first Baroness of Aberconway, four generations of the family have actively and lovingly participated in the management of the gardens.

As with any great garden, the varieties of flowers are seasonal, but travelers wishing to maximize their visit usually choose March or April as the prime viewing time. That said, no time is a bad time to take in the myriad of ornamental pools nestled beneath their lordly mansion that overlooks Rhododendrons and Azaleas as well as noted collections of Magnolia, Camellia, Clematis and Hydrangea.

Over its more than one hundred year history, Bodnant Garden has built a worldwide reputation for its breeding program.

Is it a garden or are they gardens? It’s difficult to decide.

The Bodnant Estate began in the 1790s  (wikipedia)

The property is divided into two sections: the upper level around the estate features massive Italianate terraces and formal lawns with paths descending to the lower level known at “The Dell”, a wooded valley, stream and garden complete with an Old Mill, Mill Pond and a spillway waterfall that babbles its waters into the River Hiraethlyn.

Much of the genius of Bodnant Garden is the manner in which the landscape architecture is laid out. Nothing is left to chance. From the moment visitors arrive, there is no doubt about which direction they will look to view the flowering masterpieces blooming before them. It’s all part of the design.

It all began rather innocently in the 1790s when tree planting was begun to enhance the surroundings. Nearly a century later, the Dell garden was created along with the world famous Laburnum Tunnel.

The Lily Pond is a favorite site at Bodnant Garden  (wikipedia)
It was the second Lord Aberconway who started the collection of Rhododendrons and Magnolias. His enthusiasm for growing the proper seeds was passed on to his son and the rest is history.

By 1938 a Pin Mill had been imported from the Cotswolds to serve as a garden pavilion on the Canal Terrace.

One note of caution, do not be fooled by information stating the “Length of Visit” should be 2 hours plus. De-emphasize the number “2” and plan on the “plus” because this is a venue that captivates the imagination and should not be rushed.

Bodnant is said to be “one of the finest gardens in the country.” That is pure understatement. Situated in an idyllic setting above the River Conwy with extensive views of the Snowdonia Mountain Range, it is impossible to imagine  another garden site that can outdo Bodnant.

From mid-May to mid-June is the best time to view the Laburnum Arch with its spectacular mass of yellow blooms.

At other times of the year you will be rewarded with carpets of golden Daffodils and flowering Cherry Trees residing in the formal garden, the Lily Pond, the Japanese Garden or the Dell with its array of forested mosses and ferns that reach upward from clear gurgling streams toward a charming wooden bridge.
The streamside azalea garden is a favorite  (wikipedia)
Of the numerous specimen trees in the woodlands of the Dell you will discover California Redwoods, an Oregon Douglas Fir and a Dawn Redwood, a species from China that was previously believed to be extinct.

Situated above the Dell is the family mausoleum known as “The Poem” from which emanates a network of shrubberies and the Rosemary Garden to the front lawn across to the Round Garden.

Bodnant Garden is a year-round attraction. In winter months the gardens are open from 10 am until 4 pm. Add an extra hour from March through October when closing is at 5 pm. The only days they are closed is December 24 – 26.

Prices can vary and sometimes do change so it is best to visit the website for ticketing and other information.
The Dell includes the family mausoleum  (wikipedia)
Bodnant Garden is one of those great “discoveries” that makes travel

an incurable condition. Here you almost expect to see a naked man 

and woman romping through the forest because Eden must have 

certainly paled by comparison.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The amazing open-air “CabriO” cable cars of Stans, Switzerland

Riding atop the CabriO cable car from Stans, Switzerland  (Taylor)
STANS, SWITZERLAND James Bond spent some time in Switzerland, but it was in Rio de Janeiro where he battled with a character named “Jaws” on top of a cable car. Thanks to modern technology and innovation, if you visit Stans, Switzerland, you, too, can ride into the clouds atop a cable car. Best of all you won’t even have to indulge in fisticuffs to do it.

Believe it or not, you probably know of the tiny village of Stans without even knowing you know it.

In fact, 007 and Stans have a lot more in common than you might think.
The funicular is one of
Switzerland's oldest  (Taylor)
Tucked away about 20 minutes by train from the popular resort village of Lucerne, Stans, with its population of just over 8,000, is the capital and largest town in the canton (state) of Nidwalden.

Locals have long made their way to nearby Stanserhorn mountain for hiking. Stanserhorn rises 1.2 miles above sea level as it peers down at the Lake of Lucerne.

Public transportation to the peak opened in 1893 when Franz Josef Bucher-Durrer and Josef Durrer-Gasser opened a three sectioned funicular railway. As such, the Stanserhorn Railway is one of the oldest mountain trains in Switzerland.
Pristine pastures and rural lifestyles near Stans  (Taylor)
For nearly eighty years the rack and pinion trains operated their 45-minute journeys from Stans to Kalti to Bluematt before reaching the summit station and its hotel. The third section also featured a 520 foot tunnel en route to the top.

Lightning struck the third section of the funicular cable in 1970 destroying the driving engine and burning the summit hotel to the ground. Within four years the second section ceased operations in 1974, leaving only the original wooden coaches running to an altitude of 2,343 feet in 9 minutes.
High above the Lake of
Lucerne (Taylor)

Within a year, a cable car was built to replace the upper funiculars while the first railway section underwent renovations to restore the wooden cars back to their classic
style. In typical Swiss fashion, visitors receive a thick cardboard ticket as a souvenir of the funicular’s historic past.
The observation tower offers stunning views  (Taylor)
By 2001, a revolving restaurant was added at the summit station, complete with a revolving restaurant that slowy completes one revolution  in 45-minutes, giving diners a 360-degree panoramic experience.

Two years later, a state-of-the-art contemporary observation deck opened to offer breathtaking views of the Alsace and Black Forest in Germany as well as ten lakes in the region.
Snow capped Alpine peaks beckon from the summit  (Taylor)
So how does this little known burg of Stans, Switzerland find its way into the annals of pop culture through the enduring brand of James Bond who has captivated movie-goers for more than a half-century?

In the third Bond film, “Goldfinger”, arguably the most popular title of the 007 saga, Bond tails his archenemy Auric Goldfinger into Switzerland in an effort to discover what the mega-villain is planning.
A bold experience on the CabriO  (Taylor)
In the process, Bond tracks Goldfinger to his headquarters where he is eventually captured by the master criminal. In reality, the plant where the British agent is taken prisoner is the home of Pilatus Aircraft which is located in, of all places, Stans, Switzerland.
The funicular features renovated original coaches (Taylor)
Established in 1939 to perform maintenance for the Swiss Air Force, it was decided that Pilatus Aircraft should be located far from the Swiss borders. Initial plans even went so far as to consider building it inside a mountain. Even in 1939, it is difficult to deny that that idea has a James Bond ring to it.

But there is more, and this is where the story gets fun.

In June, 2012, a new double deck open top cable car debuted with a stunning innovation that allows passengers to actually ride on top of the car, thereby providing magnificent scenic views of alpine pastures and mountain peaks during the six minute journey to the top.
A spiral staircase leads to the top of the CabriO  (Taylor)
The "CabriO" cablecar features a spiral staircase leading to the upper deck. Capacity is 60 passengers in the lower cabin with room for 30 more on top.

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.
The restaurant rotates for a 360-degree panorama  (Taylor)
Surprisingly, there is little sensation of height other than the breathtaking scenes that surround the passenger’s unimpeded views.

Though James Bond never fought on top of a Swiss cable car, he did meet up with a character named “Jaws” in Rio de Janeiro in “Moonraker.” Who knows, perhaps that was the inspiration for the “CabriO.”
As winter comes, the marmuts get ready to hibernate  (Taylor)
For the Swiss, the tiny village of Stans and its Stanserhorn Railway is one of the best kept secrets in the country. But they will happily share their treasure, as will the playful marmuts that entertain visitors with their daily performances up on the summit.

Stans is an easy and delightful outing for hikers and non-hikers alike. And one thing is certain, if you ride to the top on the “CabriO” your senses may be “stirred, but they won't be shaken.”

Friday, October 7, 2016

Switzerland’s annual procession of the cows

The procession of the cows in Charmey, Switzerland  (Taylor)

CHARMEY, SWITZERLAND The technical term for the annual ritual of moving animals from high ground to the valleys of mountainous regions of Europe is "Alpine transhumance." In Switzerland they simply call it the “procession of the cows.”

Though the seasonal migration has remained virtually unchanged since the Middle Ages in the Alpine regions of Europe, Alpine transhumance plays a significant role in the life and economy of rural mountain regions.
Sunday best  (Taylor)
The major difference today however, is that the Swiss, with their typical ingenuity, have turned it into a festival.

In the tiny village of Charmey (population approximately 8,000) in the Fribourg region of Switzerland, the party that began 37-years ago, has grown into a day long celebration of chocolate and cheese on the hoof.
Villagers arrive early in eager anticipation  (Taylor)
Village streets begin to fill with people about ten in the morning as onlookers eagerly await the first of a dozen families to parade their livestock through the main street of town.

Unlike their masters, Swiss cows do not maintain the same high level of punctuality, which therefore means a scheduled 10:30 arrival will likely take place sometime within the next half hour.
Alphorns are a big part of the tradition  (Taylor)
No matter. There are food stalls along side streets, markets and even a short parade consisting of traditional alphorns carried by local men garbed in traditional dress, followed by the Society of Bearded Gentlemen proudly displaying their most recent growth.
Society of bearded
gentlemen  (Taylor)

In another square there is yodeling and folk dancing to pass the time until far down the street behind a curve in the road, the first clanking of the cowbells can be heard, signaling that the main attraction is on its way.

Each cowbell has a different sound so that farmers can identify a particular animal even when he cannot see it.

After four decades of celebrating, the cows often wear their finest Sunday clothes as they parade through the streets just to put everyone in a good “mooed.” This is their day and they know it.
Each cowbell has its own sound  (Taylor)
Travelers wishing to experience the colorful pageant of the procession of the cows should make plans in advance due to the limited frequency of the festivals. Different villages decide upon different weeks for their descent from higher elevations, and there are also weeks when goats come down from the hills as well.
Picturesque hills of Fribourg  (Taylor)
That said, there are plenty of other things in Fribourg to keep a visitor occupied at any time of year. The town, which is bilingual with German and French being the two languages, nestles atop a small hill above the valley of the River Sarine. Protected on three sides by high cliffs, Fribourg features some majestic views that can be easily accessed by the local Petite Train which operates regularly from in front of the Tourist Office.
The Petite Train of Fribourg  (Taylor)
Fribourg’s name is derived from the German words frei (free) and burg (fort) dating to the year 1157 during a time when Switzerland was beginning to form into the cantons, or states, that exist today.

Charmey, which was a municipality in the Gruyeres district until 1914, was for many years the primary production center for Gruyere AOP cheese. At that time the cheese was produced largely in the mountains.

The quaint streets of Gruyeres  (Taylor)
One question often asked about Gruyeres is whether to spell it with or without the letter “S” at the end. The answer is simple; the town gets the “S” and the cheese doesn’t.

When the cows are not marching, the Gruyere baths in Charmey are a popular attraction for travelers wishing to “take the waters.” There are two large swimming pools, one indoors, the other outside, plus whirlpools, massage nozzles and Oriental steam baths.
The long road home for winter  (Taylor)

Keep in mind that a visit to Charmey for the procession of the cows may be far less daring than attempting to “run with the bulls” in Pamplona, Spain but it is just as colorful and a thousand times safer.

It’s a traditional ritual that makes for good dinner conversation when your journey to Switzerland has come to an end.

You see, one thing you quickly learn by attending the procession of cows in Charmey is that when it comes to festivals, the Swiss will party until “the cows come home.”