Friday, April 20, 2018

La Dolce Vita (The Suite Life) at Rome's Hotel Mediteranneo

The Colosseum at dusk captures the imagination of Rome's
glorious past  (

ROME —As Eleanor Clark once observed, “Even a tourist can tell in a Roman street that he is in something and not outside of something as he would be in most cities.  In Rome to go out is to go home.”

For those who will be tying the knot in 2018 and planning a honeymoon to Italy, Hotel Mediterraneo has announced a newlywed package that is an ideal way to begin a couple's life together.
Breakfast buffet at the
Mediterraneo (Bettoja Hotels)

Imagine beginning life together sharing a glass of Prosecco (the Italian equivalent of champagne) as you peer out to the "Eternal City" from a spacious private balcony atop the tallest building on the highest hill in Rome.

The Mediterraneo was built when Mussolini was in power, so Roman building restrictions bore little significance for Il Duce. Consequently, the centrally located Mediterraneo, part the family operated Bettoja Hotel Group, benefits from top-floor suites plus the convenience of being two blocks from the main railway station in the heart of the historic city.
Rooftop view of Rome at the Mediterraneo  (Bettoja Hotels) 
The honeymoon package is based upon a two-night stay in a tenth floor suite in the Art Deco hotel property that offers strawberries and Prosecco upon arrival. For ambience take notice of the busted sculptures of Roman emperors in the lobby who appear to monitor your check-in process just to be certain everything is in order.
All the comforts (Bettoja Hotels)

Also included is a welcome gift, full daily breakfast, a candle-lit dinner on the Roof Garden restaurant with a view of Rome by night that includes the Victor Emmanuel Monument and St. Peter's Basilica in the distance, a full-day tour of the city and optional early check-in and late departure depending upon availability.

Each suite has been personally appointed and designed by a member of the Bettoja family. All bathrooms are luxurious complete with their own Jacuzzi.
Meditarraneo's lobby lounge is guarded by busts of Roman
emperors  (Bettoja Hotels)
Each suite has its own unique charm and character. One suite, for example, features a still-life painting hanging over a comfortable couch of deep green brocade in the living room. A charming alcove adjoins the bedroom, which opens out to a flower-lined terrace framing a view of the city.

With typical Italian flair all top-floor suites have terraces trellised with shrubs and flowers, not to mention incredible views, including one of St. Peter’s Basilica. They are known as some of the city’s most sought-after—yet still affordable—suites.
Italians call the Victor Emmanuelle Monument the "Wedding Cake"  (Taylor) 
If your budget is not presidential however, there are junior suites available which are equally spacious and offer the same amenities, minus the balcony.

When evening begins to shroud the city in its dusky light before yielding to the twinkling atmosphere of centuries past, the Roof Garden restaurant is an ideal spot for a pre-dinner cocktail followed by an elegant menu of Italian delicacies that will entice even the most discriminating palate.
Palatine Hill overlooks the Colosseum and the Circus
Maximus  (Taylor)
The retractable roof opens in the summer to allow a 360-degree panoramic view of Rome. Make your personal orientation of the city at dinner and later stroll to some of the best known landmarks in the world. The Colosseum, Opera House, Roman Forum, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps and the 5th century Church of St. Peter in Chains  (San Pietro in Vincoli) with its magnificent sculpture of Moses by Michelangelo are all within walking distance.   
Spanish Steps at twilight

Hotel Mediterraneo is also located at the junction of Rome's underground which can whisk you to any other site on your agenda.

With the proximity of the Stazioni Termini, the main railway station, traveler's wishing to visit Florence, Siena, Naples, Orvieto and beyond can easily do day trips by train without the inconvenience of checking in and out of different hotels in other locations.

For lovers of art, history, cuisine, culture, fashion and architecture, there truly is no place like Rome.
Michelangelo's sculpture of Moses  (
Many people view Rome as a bustling dirty metropolis that once stood in the limelight of the civilized world.

Others however, like American writer Alan Epstein who lived in the city and wrote about it in his book "As the Romans Do", took the time to experience Rome's rhythms and to absorb it through their pores.
Trevi Fountain (

 As Epstein reflects, "People are drawn to Rome because it is still the pagan Mecca, still the place that beckons those who want to gobble up all that has been done before and turn it into that which has never been seen, never been heard, never been imagined.

"Romans constantly lament the high taxes they incur to keep the city afloat, but deep down they know what it means to live in Rome, to know that the city is a gift they give to the rest of the world.”
Rome is filled with captivating palazzos and piazzas  (Taylor)
The Hotel Mediteranneo Honeymoon package  is €750 per person,  including VAT and service but excluding tourist tax, based on a two-night minimum stay.
The Pantheon remains one of the wonders of the ancient world
Travelers willing to take the time to wrap themselves in the city will not be disappointed for they will quickly discover that Rome is indeed "eternal."

Friday, April 13, 2018

Ravines, vistas, ancient architecture and culture in Martigny, Switzerland

The Trient Ravine has a sense of stepping back to the beginning
of time (Taylor)
MARTIGNY, SWITZERLAND — Sometimes the best surprises come in the smallest packages. Such if the case of Martigny,Switzerland which is a gem hidden among Switzerland's many jewels.

Martigny is best known by the Swiss for its numerous alpine ski slopes such as Verbier. Lesser appreciated however, is that it is also a marvelous region for summer activities.

France and Italy are near the border of Martigny (Taylor)

Sitting at a junction of roads connecting Italy, France and Switzerland, Martigny is the gateway to Aosta over the St. Bernard Pass into Italy and to Chamonix in France over the col de la Forclaz. Thus, Martigny is a perfect base for day trips throughout Switzerland and her two European neighbors.

Located just 21 miles southeast of Montreux on the shores of Lake Geneva, Martigny lies at the foot of the Swiss Alps on the eastern edge of the Rhone Valley. The Rhone River makes a ninety degree turn in Martigny to flow north toward the Lake of Geneva, while the Dranse River flows from the Valais Alps into the Rhone.
Boardwalk clings to the face of
the ravine (Taylor)

Therefore, at an elevation of just over 1,500-feet, water plays a major role in the life of the region as it does throughout the tiny landlocked nation of Switzerland.

The most notable attraction of Martigny is the Pierre Gianadda Foundation Museum which is actually five museums in one.

When the Romans departed the area they left many archaeological treasures in the city including the amphitheater which was restored in 1978.
The Gianadda Foundation is
the pride of Martigny (Taylor)

When Leonard Gianadda began clearing land for a rental property in 1976, he discovered the ruins of an ancient Gallo-Roman temple on the property.

When his brother Pierre  died unexpectedly soon after the Roman excavations, Leonard began developing what has become Martigny's most prized cultural attraction in honor of his sibling.
The outdoor sculpture park is filled with landscape architecture and contemporary artwork  (Taylor)
Outside, at the rear of the contemporary building, are the Sculpture Park, Chagall Court and the Szafran Pavillion all set among landscape architecture featuring fountains, hedges and works of art by 20th century artists.

Excavated Roman ruins
Rounding out the eclectic collection of exhibitions in the interior are the Greco-Roman Museum, a two-level expanse that incorporates the excavations that are the oldest of their kind in Switzerland, an Automobile Museum featuring over 50 classic cars dating between 1897 and 1939 and space for temporary traveling exhibitions created from various private collections.

The richness of the displays and importance of the Giannada Museum to Martigny justifiably lives up to the town nickname which is the "Art City."
Vintage cars are a favorite exhibit at Gianadda (Taylor)

Each year in October at the local festival known as the "Comptoir" the amphitheater plays host to non-lethal cow fights that pit animal against animal rather than animals against humans.

Just outside the city-proper, there are other compelling natural and manmade attractions for visitors to experience before heading off to nearby France and Italy.

The Trient Ravine is more than
650-feet deep (Taylor)

Among the natural wonders is the Trient Ravine with its impressive water landscape that was carved into the rock by a rushing mountain stream from the Mont Blanc massif.

The 655-foot ravine, a favorite spot for climbers, hikers and nature lovers, is like stepping into Jules Verne's "Journey to the Center of the Earth" with its eerie canyon walls and  wooden walkway that hugs the perimeter of the rock-face.
Pissevache Waterfall is part of the natural wonder (
Over 600-feet above the canyon floor, a bridge spans the chiseled gorge with its source from the glacier above the town of Trient, near the border of France. The ravine created by the River Trient is at its most narrow, deep and beautiful at Vernayaz, near Martigny.

It's an other worldly atmosphere with a primeval sense of being at the beginning of creation.
Cliff hugging trains will get
you to the summit (Taylor)

At the summit, the Mont Blanc Express train climbs steeply into the Trient Valley past the cascading waters of the 375-foot “Pissevache” waterfall before arriving at Chamonix in France. Even the great German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was impressed enough to write about it in 1779.
The Verticalp Funicular is one of the steepest in the world
Not far from the Trient Ravine is the three stage lift system known as the "Verticalp" experience that takes visitors to the Emosson Dam. The combination funicular/train journey incorporates a panoramic train with one of the steepest funicular rides in the world that features an 87-degree incline.
Wildflowers seem to reach up
to touch the sky (Taylor)

The most impressive portion of the journey is the bottom leg where a funicular climbs almost vertically up the mountain high above the village of Chatelard.

When the Chatelard Funicular reaches its terminus, a tiny narrow gauge open-air train snakes along the mountainside that is filled with majestic views of Mont Blanc.
A tiny red funicular completes the journey to the summit (Taylor)
The final phase of the journey is a short ride in a bright red funicular that stops at the Emosson Dam and Reservoir which captures water from three glaciers.

The Emosson Dam is the third largest in Switzerland  (Taylor)

Located on the left bank of the Rhone above Martigny and fed by water from the Mont Blanc massif, the Emosson Dam is the third highest in Switzerland.

Swiss version of a summit conference with Italy and France in
the background  (Taylor)

Breathtaking scenery, beguiling transportation, a cavernous gorge, eclectic art, historic ruins, classic automobiles and the close proximity to Italy and France make Martigny an ideal location for travelers to spend some time in the Swiss canton of Valais.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Taipei is rich in culture and history

Taipei 101 dominates the skyline as the world's second tallest
building  (

TAIPEI, TAWAN  — With tourist revenues of more than 11 billion dollars annually, Taipei ranks as the ninth highest economy in the world as well as the most of any Chinese-speaking city. It also welcomes more than 6 million overseas visitors each year making it the 15th most visited city on the planet.

Politically and geographically, the island nation of Taiwan, formerly known as Formosa, has a long and complex history.
Geopark outside New Taipei

Taipei is the capital of Taiwan Province, a part of the Republic of China (ROC) which designated six special municipalities in the island nation shortly after World War II.

Situated at the northern tip of Taiwan, Taipei also encompasses New Taipei City which is approximately 16 miles southwest of the port city of Keelung.

Thanks in large part to its geographic location combined with its economic, cultural, high tech and educational assets, Taipei is regarded as a major hub of Greater China. About one-third of all Taiwanese citizens reside in the metro district of Taipei.
Chiang Kai-shek Memorial

For clarification purposes, "Taipei" can be used interchangeably to mean the entire metropolitan area or simply the city itself, much like New York City in the U.S.

As with the island of Taiwan, Taipei is comprised of "pockets" of population containing four major ethnic groups: HoklosMainlandersHakkas, and aborigines. This diversity however, provides Taipei with much of its cultural character along with a variety of world-class architectural and cultural landmarks.
Daybreak with Taipei 101 in the background (

First on the list is notably Taipei 101, the dominating 101-floor skyscraper rising 1,670 feet to the top. When it opened in 2004, Taipei 101 grabbed the honor of being the world's tallest building, a claim it held for six years until the Burj Khalifa in Dubai surpassed it.

Despite that, Taipei 101 became the first building in history to measure over a half of a kilometer in height, and it still ranks as the world's tallest "green" building.

There are other more traditional cultural and natural landmarks dispersed throughout the city as well, making Taipei a rich and diverse place for travelers to explore.
The Chiang Kai-shek Memorial is a popular gathering spot
Among the other most visited sites, is the National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall honoring General Chiang Kai-shek the former President of the Republic of China.

The monument stands at the east end of another important Taiwanese landmark known as Liberty Square or Freedom Square. Liberty Square has been the most popular gathering spot in Taipei since its completion in the latter part of the 1970s.

Gateway to Liberty Square which honors Taiwanese democracy
The name refers to the historic role it played in Taiwan's transition to democracy in the 1990s.

Liberty Square also includes the National Concert Hall and National Theater with their adjacent parks making the entire complex an ideal way to visit much of Taipei's architectural and historic treasures in a single outing.

The Chiang Kai-shek Memorial is located in the Zhongzhen District of Taipei which is also in sight of Taiwan's Presidential Building.
Longshan Temple is the most famous temple in Taiwan
Constructed in 1738, the Longshan Temple of Manka, a religious temple in the Wanhua District of Taipei, has long served as a gathering site and place of worship for Chinese settlers. Though heavily damaged in World War II, it has since been rebuilt and is the best known temple in Taiwan.
Street food vendor at a night
market (

Among other attractions in Taipei is the multitude of night markets scattered throughout the city. The markets are as popular with locals as they are with visitors, thus giving travelers an opportunity to mingle with local culture on an up-close-and-personal basis.
Yehliu's eerie rock formations
are fascinating (

Arguably one of the most intriguing attractions in Taipei is the Yehliu Geopark along the coast about 15 miles from Keelung Port. The park is comprised of unusual rock formations created when geological forces erupted to push the Datun Mountains out of the sea. The rock formations stretch more than a mile into to ocean, but what is visible on land is intriguing, eerie and fascinating at the same time.

Many of the rock formations have been given names which make them easy to identify with monikers such as "Fairy Shoe", the "Beehive", the "Ginger Rocks", the "Sea Candles" and the best known formation which has become the image of Taiwan and the unofficial emblem of the town of Wanli, the "Queen's Head."
Taipei's presidential office building (
"Taipei 101" may be the name of the second tallest building in the world, but it's also a good title for a course on the history of Taiwan and this marvelous little known travel treasure.

Friday, March 30, 2018

European open air museums are fun and educational

Sweden's Skansen was Europe's first open-air museum with its historic buildings from all over the country  (

There are museums and there are museums. Traditional museum lovers swear by them. Others probably not so much. But in Europe, there are special outdoor museums scattered throughout the continent which have a little bit of something for everyone.

When most people think of museums they conjure corridors filled with paintings or sculptures from the past or galleries filled with artifacts from ancient civilizations. In the latter part of the 19th century in Scandinavia however, a new concept was created with arguably more appeal to the masses; the outdoor museum.
Ballenberg is Switzerland's only
outdoor museum
Today there are literally hundreds of open-air museums scattered throughout Europe. Frequently known as Folk Museums or Museums of Buildings, these collections exhibit buildings and artifacts, as the name implies, out-of-doors.

Many, if not most, living history museums feature costumed interpreters who characterize portrayals of life in another day and time. Not only do these "actors" converse with visitors about the lifestyles and historical events of the time they represent, they also perform household tasks and occupations of the era they represent.
A casual stroll through an open-air museum is part of the adventure  (
Don't try to trick them because, like the guards at Buckingham Palace who do not smile, the re-enactors will not break character.

The original concept was to bring typical historic farm houses and styles of architecture from various parts of a country to a single location so visitors could take stroll through collections of their native ancestry.

Outdoor museums are like
living history (
Since then the idea of "living history" parks has evolved to include animals, crops, native clothing and even folk music and dancing of a particular period.

The common denominator to all open-air museums, including the early 19th century versions, is to present the heritage of every day life by the people who lived and worked within a particular society. European outdoor museums are heavily interactive allowing patrons to participate in the experience in ways traditional exhibitions cannot match.
Much of the charm of open-air museums is the live animals on
the grounds (
The first proponent for an open-air museum was Charles de Bonstetten of Switzerland in the 1790s whose idea evolved after viewing an exhibition of peasant costumes at Frederikborg Castle in Denmark.

Though Bonstetten failed to garner much support for his concept, in 1867, a private citizen in Norway transferred some historic buildings to a site just outside of Oslo. Soon after, in a burst of inspiration, King Oscar II established his own collection nearby. Those buildings were later inherited by the Norwegian Folk Museum.
Horse-drawn carriages add to the ambiance (
By 1891 the first major open-air museum opened in Stockholm, Sweden and, today, Skansen remains one of the most popular outdoor parks in Europe. Skansen's success was the turning point for other open-air facilities throughout the continent.
Germany's Freilicht Museum
features half-timbered houses
As a result, contemporary Europe offers hundreds of similar attractions, though, oddly enough, the first historic building to be erected at Skansen came from Norway.

Travelers who wish to immerse themselves into a culture and absorb it through their pores should take an opportunity whenever possible to visit one or more open-air museums. Not only will the historic buildings, landscaping, animals, costumes and folklore capture your imagination, so, too, will the food that is available on the grounds.

Listed below are five of the best:
An old village at Skansen  (
Skansen (Stockholm, Sweden): As the original open-air museum, Skansen has its own history as well as that of the country. Skansen is a miniature historical rendition of the country represented in buildings ranging from farmsteads in Skåne in the south to the indigenous Sami (Lapps) of the north.
Venues range from the early 16th century to the first half of the 20th century and the park features domestic and wild animals, folk music, dancing and costumed performers who demonstrate the social conditions of each period.
The Dala Horse is a symbol of Sweden and a favorite with children (
Only three of the roughly 150 building are not original,  though they were painstakingly copied from examples that were found.

Perhaps most popular for children is the traditional bright red carved wooden statue of a horse from the province of Dalarna. Known as the Dala horse, it was originally a children's toy but today it has become a symbol of Sweden.

A fun way to reach Skansen is by the funicular that has been operating since 1897 on the northwest side of the property.
Seurasaari is a forested island park in the heart of Helsinki.
Seurasasri (Helsinki, Finland):  Seurasaari is an island in Helsinki consisting mainly of old wooden buildings from other parts of the country. What makes Seurasaari different is that it is situated in a heavily forested landscape inhabited by an abundance of wildlife.

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

A bride is chosen to be married at the park chapel. Following the service, she and her new husband are rowed in longboats to a small outcropping of rock where a bonfire of longboats standing on end concludes the festivities at 10 o'clock.
A lovely chalet-style farmhouse at Ballenberg in Brienz, Switzerland  (
Ballenberg (Brienz, Switzerland): Though a native of Switzerland conceived the original idea open-air museums, it took the Swiss longer than usual to open the only museum of its kind in the country.

Serious consideration for the project didn't occur until 1963, but it was 1978 before Ballenberg became a reality as one of the newest outdoor museums in Europe.

Ballenberg, near Interlaken, features over 100 rural houses and farm buildings from all over the country. Since the structures could not be maintained in their natural environment, each was carefully dismantled and then re-built on 165 acres of land.

Ballenberg is a living museum where master craftsmen work with traditional tools to create exhibits and provide insights into the early history of the country. In addition a few hundred domestic animals on the property give it an animated ambiance as life was hundreds of years ago.
Germany's open air museum not only has historic buildings but
plenty of role playing artisans as well  (wikipedia)

Black Forest Open Air Museum (Germany): In German the word for Open Air Museum is Freilichtmuseum or “Free Light Museum.” The Black Forest Open Air Museum focuses upon six fully furnished farmhouses with the centerpiece being the Vogtsbauerhof which was actually constructed on the site in 1612.

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

With more outdoor museums than any other European country, the Black Forest Museum is the most visited open-air museum in Germany welcoming over 13-million visitors since it opened in 1964.

The Old Town in Denmark offers insights into early urban life more than focusing on rural history  (
The Old Town (Aarhus, Denmark): When The Old Town opened in 1914, it was the first open-air museum to focus upon urban history rather than rural culture. Situated in the Aarhus Botanical Gardens, The Old Town remains one of only a few Danish museums outside of Copenhagen.

The property is organized into 5 exhibits with varied themes, including a small village mainly featuring half-timbered structures built between 1550 and the late 19th century in various parts of the country.
An early stable at Seurasaari in Helsinki, Finland  (
Europe is filled with open-air treasures that are frequently overlooked by American travelers. For something new and different, take time to savor the open-air of the Continent.