Friday, August 18, 2017

Creativity in its purest form at Art Brut in Lausanne

African painting by Henri Rousseau, one of the world's best known Naive artists  (

LAUSANNE, SWITZERLAND  There are several names for an artistic genre categorized at "Naive Art." Others call it "Outsider Art" or "Primitive Art." Whatever term you give it, as William Shakespeare wrote, "a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.," the world of "Naive Art" is creativity in its purest form.
Naive artists use materials that are readily available
In case you are not aware of this particular artistic genre, it is defined as "any form of visual art created by a person who lacks the formal education and training that a professional artist undergoes (in anatomy, art history, technique, ways of seeing)."
Perhaps the best known artist to most of us in this type of art is Grandma Moses, but there are others such as Henri Rousseau and Alfred Wallis who have had even greater impact on the genre. In fact, "Naive Art" is now a fully recognized artistic medium which is represented in art galleries throughout the world.
Exterior of Art Brut
One of the first to recognize the "purity" of Outsider Art was Jean Dubuffet who opened the Collection de l'Art Brut in Lausanne, Switzerland in 1976. While Outsider Art is today regarded as a legitimate art form, Art Brut remains one of the few museums in the world that is totally dedicated to the medium.
Some patrons might view the exhibitions as dark or moody because the works have been created by people who are "criminally insane, delusional or secluded and marginalized." This IS NOT the intent that Dubuffet had in mind when he opened his gallery however.
Seashell face at Art Brut  (
Rather his purpose was meant to endorse art collections by people who had otherwise been sheltered from outside influences allowing them the freedom to create from their purest instincts. Hence the name "Naive Art."
Visitors who make their way through the four-story Art Brut Collection comprised of both permanent and traveling exhibitions, get a far more greater understanding of the positive motivations of the artists if they enter with an open mind.
"Repast of the Lion" by
Henri Rousseau (
In some ways the art reminds us of the mathematical savant Raymond Babbit who was so masterfully portrayed by Dustin Hoffman in the film "Rainman." The only difference being that many of these "outside" artists use the creative segment of their brains rather than the portion used for calculations.
Typically the art is colorful and almost childlike in its quality but there is also something wholesome and unique that beckons viewers to draw closer, often  in ways that their more famous professional counterparts are not able to accomplish.
Art Brut is more intriguing the more you explore (wikipedia,org)
There is almost an elementary school perspective that is unique in its own way. Collections are eccentric and diverse incorporating objects that are frequently readily available in a particular artist's personal environment; crushed flowers, toothpaste or sea shells for example.
Everywhere you look at Art Brut, something catches your eye  (
In fact, there are some who would say the "untrained" artists are better at their craft than many of the highly-paid well-recognized painters and sculptors who frequently leave patrons befuddled at what they are attempting to achieve.
It is this aspect of Collection de l'Art Brut which makes it so special. It is art created purely from the primal need by the artist(s) to express themselves.
Wooden horse from Collection de l'Art Brut
The collections in Art Brut, which means literally translates to "Collection of Outsider Art," is arranged in groupings by each artist with a brief biography that unfolds their particular talents directly in front of the viewer.
If patrons are apprehensive at first, they usually are intrigued the further they delve into the variety and diversity of artistic skills that are displayed. This is a museum that builds upon itself and grows with the people who dare to explore the emotions of the creations.
"The Waterfall" has a feeling of serenity with its pastel colors (
As one critic put it, Art Brut is a place "where the art is almost screaming at you." It's an undeniable statement for sure, but one which, in the end, contains a powerful message that is both positive and emotional.
In its own way, Collection de l'Brut often touches us in a more personal way than traditional art is able to accomplish.
"Primitive Art", which also a better description of the genre than "naive art", is frequently applied to the medium by academia who distinguish these creations as being similar to "tribal" contributions such as wall paintings or primitive carvings.
Art Brut's version of a Trojan Horse  (wikipedia)
Most experts agree that naive art was more or less "discovered" around 1885 when artist Paul Signac noticed the prolific contributions of Henri Rousseau. Signac was intrigued enough to begin arranging exhibitions of Rousseau's work at several prestigious galleries.
But whether you call it "Naive" or "Primitive" or "Outsider" or just plain "Folk Art" this exciting genre of expression is something that each of us can relate to in our own individual way.
Collection de l'Art Brut is limited only by the ability of the imagination to create  (
The Collection de l'Art Brut in Lausanne, Switzerland is a good place to begin. In fact, it may even become an inspiration for your own "naivete."

Friday, August 11, 2017

Switzerland's mountain climbing funiculars

Switzerland probably has more funiculars than any country in the
world...Trains that climb up the side of a mountain (Taylor)
SWITZERLAND  What do you get when you combine the convenience of a train with the aerial prowess of a cable car to climb to seemingly inaccessible heights? The answer is a funicular which may just be the best kept transportation secret in the world.
There is a reason why they
are called "fun"-iculars

Not that funiculars are uncommon mind you. In fact they're everywhere. It's just that many people get a blank expression on their face when you mention this unique form of travel. In a sense, funiculars are like mountain climbing on tracks.

Historically, funiculars have been around since 1515 when Cardinal Mattaus Lang, the Archbishop of Salzburg, used the system to haul construction materials to access the Hohensalzburg Castle in Austria.
Arriving at Giessbach Falls on the Lake of Brienz (Taylor)
It wasn't until the 1860s that modern funiculars began operating commercially with the opening of the Funiculars of Lyon in 1862.

Obviously funiculars are most practical in mountainous destinations or places where the gradient for access is too steep for normal rail transportation. All of which makes Switzerland an ideal location for these odd looking machines to ascend and descend to new heights.

Funiculars are friendly (Taylor)
There is even a song dedicated to the opening of the first funicular on Mount Vesuvius in Naples, Italy. Though you may not recognize the tune by its name, "Funiculi, Funicula," it's practically guaranteed that once you hear the music and the words you will immediately recall the 1880 tune written by Luigi Denza.

The key to funiculars lies in the first three letters of its name; "fun." They come in all sizes and lengths and Switzerland has an abundance of these odd-shaped little vehicles to enjoy.
The original funicular to Mt Pilatus  (
For starters lets begin with the rollercoaster-esque Gelmarbahn in the canton (state) of Bern. the Gelmar funicular has the distinction of being the steepest funicular in Europe with a gradient of 106 percent. You read that right, 106 percent.

Constructed to carry heavy construction materials for the building of the Gelmar Dam, it seemed unwise to demolish the rail system upon completion of project. Not to be deterred, the clever Swiss opened the line to tourists, and the rest is history.
Funiculars have a "one track mind" except in the middle when
they pass each other,,,Call it a "Swiss track meet" (Taylor)
Be warned however, to reach the funicular, which runs for more than 3/5ths of a mile to a height of 6,102 feet above sea level, you must cross the Handeck suspension bridge which hangs some 230 feet above the Handeck Gorge.

In the case of the Gelmarbahn however, less adventurous travelers can reach the upper terminus at Handegg by car.
Over the hump on the Gelmerbahn funicular  (
The Ritom funicular in the Ticino region of Switzerland is slightly less imposing to travelers with a gradient of 87.8 percent. Best of all the ride takes visitors to the breathtaking Piora Valley, one of the most untouched destinations in the canton.

Ideal for hiking and biking excursions, the Piora Valley funicular also showcases lush vegetation including a large variety of alpine wildflowers nestled within vast meadows and grazing cows and horses.
A chalet by the tracks (Taylor)
Funiculars are not always located in rural regions. They do have practical applications in cities as well. Take the short funicular to the top of the Zurichberg Hill for example. Back in the day, it was difficult for students to reach the polytechnic school, especially laden with books and papers.
Lugano's funicular

The answer? A short funicular, of course, which was built in 1889 between the River Limmat and the school in Zurich. Today the funicular transports about 50 students every two minutes in both directions.

The city of Lausanne, which in itself is a rather vertical destination overlooking the Lake of Geneva, renovated their metro system to operate from the cathedral to the lake. Though technically not a true funicular, the system does scale the hillside in a way that allows travelers to avoid the serpentine routes to the top.

Funiculars pass in the middle to counterbalance the system
The smallest funicular in Switzerland may be reserved for the largest appetites. Traveling slightly less than 300 feet, the funicular runs from the promenade on the Lake of Lucerne to the 100-year old Hotel Montana and its excellent restaurant overlooking the lake.

In Lugano, the fastest most convenient method of getting to the city center is by riding the funicular that runs from the railway station to the heart of town in mere minutes.
Funiculars get to otherwise inaccessible places  (Taylor)
Just look around. If you spot a place that seems out of reach, chances are the Swiss have figured out a way to get you there efficiently and in comfort. Overcoming the initial apprehension is up to you, of course, but it only takes one funicular adventure to make you a veteran.

Funiculars are "mountains of fun"  (
All you really need is having the "inclination" to visit some of the most mesmerizing sites you can imagine.

In Switzerland that's known as "basic training."

Friday, August 4, 2017

In Salzburg, Austria the hills are always alive with the "sound of music"

Salzburg captures the imagination with its architecture and
musical heritage  (
SALZBURG, AUSTRIA  The old adage goes 'good things come in small packages." If that is true, then Salzburg, Austria may just be the origin the saying. Despite being the fourth largest city in the country, Salzburg's compact size combined with its multitude of things to see and do make it a traveler's gem.
Salzburg was the site of
"The Sound of Music"
Thanks to Julie Andrews and "The Sound of Music", most Americans probably know Salzburg better from the popular 1965 film than they do as the birthplace of Mozart, but no matter Salzburg, as with Vienna, always returns to its musical heritage.

There is no such thing in Salzburg as "too much Mozart."

Nestled along the banks of the Salzach River with the dominating Hohensalzburg Castle (Festung Hohensalzburg) overlooking the Old Town, it is easy to get the sensation that Salzburg is smaller than it really is.
Hohensalburg, one of the largest castles in Europe. overlooks
the Salzach River  (wikipedia)
Hohensalzburg, one of the largest castles in Europe, peers protectively from its perch at the northern boundary of the Alps where it was one of the key backdrops in "Sound of Music" and has long been a favorite destination for visitors.

Old Town has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1997 and it only takes a few minutes walk through the meandering narrow streets filled with a Gothic and Baroque architecture to see why. Salzburg is a city of churches and palaces that capture the imagination of travelers from every corner of the planet, especially Americans.
Mozart was born in Salzburg
The name Salzburg means "salt fortress" thanks to the abundance of salt mines in the region.
Germany sits on the opposite shore of the Salzach, making Salzburg an easy place to use as a base to visit much of Bavaria as well as Austria.

Salzburg is not a place to rushed. Rather it is a destination that should be absorbed through the pores for it is an ideal location to immerse yourself into all the reasons people say they want to travel.

Though Austrians find amusement in the hordes of Americans who sign up for one of the "Sound of Music" tours, there is no denying the revenues derived are no laughing matter for the city.
In Salzburg, Mozart has been proudly cherished for centuries
Several companies operate SOM trips which include visiting many sites in Salzburg proper where the film was shot, as well as an excursion into the countryside to visit the church where Maria and the Baron were married. Don't be surprised if the church looks smaller than it did in the film.
Hellbrunn Palace is one of Salzburg's most popular attractions
One of the best parts of the trip is the fascinating trivia  guides provide which some might say ruins the story, but which also puts the true history into more proper perspective.

For example, late in the movie when the von Trapps are escaping from Austria and heading to Switzerland, the guides point out that if the family actually went in the direction depicted in the film they would really be crossing back into Germany instead. But that's only a detail and all part of the fun.
Mirabell Palace is famous for its
gardens  (wikipedia)
Among the sites not to be missed are the previously mentioned Hohensalzburg Castle, the historic city center, Salzburg Cathedral, Mozart's birthplace as well as his residence, the Franciscan Church and Residenzgalerie, an art museum in the Salzburg Residenz.

If that isn't enough to occupy your time, explore Mirabell Palace with its fabulous display of gardens, flowers and fountains.

There is also SchlossLeopoldskreon, a rococo palace and national historic monument as well as Hellbrunn with its world famous "water games" designed Markus Sittikus, Do not go if you are afraid to get wet.
Ludwig II's Neuschwanstein is near Salzburg for a great day
trip  (wikipedia)
With its proximity to Germany, Salzburg is also a great base for day trips to Ludwig II's Neuschwanstein Castle, Oberammergau (home of the Passion Play), fun loving and festive Munich and Hitler's "Eagles Nest" (Berchtesgaden) sitting atop Germany's third highest mountain overlooking Salzburg about 20 miles away. 
Hitler's Eagle's Nest retreat is close to Salzburg in nearby
Berchtesgadan  (wikipedia)
Along the main street in Old Town is a tiny shop which is sometime difficult to find because they do not advertise or use the internet to promote. The shop is a treasure trove of painted eggs that make superb gifts for Easter and/or Christmas. Some are works of art in their own right, and therefore you will likely not get a bargain, but it's worth the effort to find it and, if nothing else, window shop its unique array of gifts.
Don't miss Hellbrunn Palace
with its trick fountains
One word of caution, unless you have reserved hotels well in advance, Salzburg is NOT the place to visit during a music festival, especially if it features Mozart. The throngs of visitors crammed into the narrow labyrinth of streets is not conducive to an enjoyable experience.
Otherwise, Salzburg is a gem of Tyrolian culture and justly calls itself the "stage of the world." It is certainly the place where as Julie Andrews sang "The hills  indeed) come alive with the sound of music."

Friday, July 28, 2017

Six really neat things to do in Santorini, Greece

The island of Santorini is one of the most popular destinations in Greece  (

Imerovigli, Santorini  Nearly every traveler who visits Santorini in the Greek Isles has an epiphany. It happens when the island's white snow-capped peaks lining the crest of the mountain morph into white, sugar-cubed dwellings.

Most people arrive at Santorini from the sea, sailing into a backwards "C" shaped volcanic caldera. The eruption, one of the largest volcanic events in recorded history, is dated to the middle of the second millennium BCE, created the largest and southernmost of the Cyclades Islands in the Aegean Sea.
Rooms with a view
Some believe it was this eruption that gave rise to many of the legends in Greek mythology, including the Lost City of Atlantis.

Today, a combination of breathtaking scenery and idyllic accommodations blend with world class shopping and historical exploration to make Santorini one of the most beguiling destinations in Greece. Santorini has, indeed,  become a "land for all seasons."

If you happen  to be among the thousands of visitors who discover the charms of Santorini either now or in the future, here are some suggestions that to enhance your adventure.
A quad ATV is one of the best ways to see the island
Rent a Quad Bike:    A quad bike is an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) with four wheels that operates on low pressure tires with a seat that is straddled by the driver. As the name implies, it is designed for a variety of surfaces which makes it ideal for sightseeing on Santorini's sloping geography.

The gas powered motor allows you to maneuver the steepest hill while the compact size provides access to places that otherwise could only be viewed on foot. Best of all, rates begin at about $35 per day which makes for plenty of independent exploration without breaking the bank.
Akitori is an active dig
Visit a Working 
Archaeological Dig:
Remember those old movies about archaeological digs in Egypt where a scientific team unearths some ancient relic that plays havoc with the contemporary world?

Perhaps it was the black and white format or the scratchy soundtrack that made those pictures come alive with  ominous sensations of ancient history that modern films, for all their technology, cannot duplicate.

Whatever it was, if you have ever been intrigued by the idea of watching or participating in a real archaeological dig, you can do it on Santorini at ancient Akritori. Here you can observe scientists unearthing shard by shard and cobblestone by cobblestone among the ruins of a city that existed in the 17th century -- BC that is.

Shhh. Mummy's the word.

Greek mythology abounds
on Santorini (wikipedia)
Marvel at Ancient Treasures: One of the difficult things to adjust to when visiting Greece is remembering that time marches backwards from BC to AD. Therefore 1500 BC is earlier than 1000 BC, which sometimes makes it difficult to adjust mentally to the chronology because we are so accustomed to thinking the other way.

The Museum of Prehistoric Thera (the more formal name for Santorini) goes back thousands of years in time with collections of golden statuettes, sculptures and archaic Roman inscriptions. Even museum haters love this venue.
Assyrtiko is the distinctive local wine ( 
Sip an Assyrtiko: There are wine tastings and then there are vino tastings and Santorini's distinctive Assyrtiko wine puts this adventure into the second category.

Guests can do a 4-hour vineyard tour complete with a sommelier (and driver) where you sample a glass or two of Santorini's unique native wine.

Or if you prefer, when you've competed a day at the dig or a morning at the museum or just want to take a break from your quad bike excursion you can do that as well at a local taverna.

Either way, be sure to savor the most popular wine on the island before you depart.
Famous Red Beach really is red (wikipedia)
Cool off on Red Beach:  Cancun has its powdery talcum powered white sand beaches. In Bermuda some beaches are pink. There are even black beaches in other parts of the world where volcanoes have erupted in the past. But Santorini has the distinction of having a red beach thanks to the metallic acidity from the eruption.

Red Beach on Santorini is among the most famous of its kind, but the reality is that it's probably a better location for laying out in the sun, a quiet picnic or just taking in the gorgeous scenery than it is for swimming.
Pass the time cruising on a catamaran in the caldera
Cruise the Caldera:  Sailing into Santorini's caldera is one thing, but to experience it aboard a 74-foot catamaran is a different experience entirely. If you take this adventure, play a little game with yourself and see if you can figure out when the white houses begin to look like snow.
Sunrise on Santorini as seen from Iconic Santorini
The concierges at Icnonic Santorini, an extraordinary 19-room boutique hotel that is literally carved into the island's white vaulted caves, can arrange for any or all of these marvelous adventures. And, as the description implies, Iconic Santorini adds yet another dimension to this unique travel experience all by itself.

Oh, and there is one other treasure not to be missed during your stay:

Pistachios: They're the best in the world. 'Nuff said.

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.