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.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Roman holiday in Switzerland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roman aquaduct (wikipedia)

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

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

Friday, July 7, 2017

Walking in Martin Luther's footsteps 500 years later

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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