Friday, July 29, 2016

Italy’s High Speed Trains: Where tomorrow speed into the past

Trenitalia's high speed Frecciarossa set to depart  (wikipedia)
ROME Back in the day, when Rome ruled the world, the expression was that “All roads lead to Rome.” Fast forward to the 21st century and the expression still applies with a little alteration because “All railways lead to Rome as well.”

One of the greatest innovations the cruise industry has given to contemporary travel is the concept of using the ship as your hotel so guests have only to unpack and pack just once. Using that basic idea, savvy, independent travelers are discovering that basing themselves in one or two primary locations and doing day trips rather than opting for the old “if-it’s-Tuesday-it-must-be-Belgium” itineraries is a better way to explore Europe.

Modern high speed rail travel in many countries now allows the flexibility of using a rail pass to visit nearby destinations without the inconvenience of changing hotels every night.
Ferrari inspiration from Italo

Throughout Europe, high speed trains have changed the dynamics of travel unlike any other form of transportation in recent memory. On trips of approximately 3 ½ hours or less, it is faster to go by train than plane and with infinitely less hassle while usually departing and arriving in a city center.

Rome is a perfect example of how Trenitalia and Italo have incorporated high speed rail services into their rail networks that link many of Italy’s most popular destinations.
Sunset in Positano on the Amalfi Coast  (wikipedia)
Trenitalia calls its high speed service Alta Velocita, or AV, with three categories. Frecciarossa (“Red Arrow”), Frecciargente (“Silver Arrow”) and Freciabianco (“White Arrow”). Operating at speeds up to 190 mph, Frecciarossa trains offer Trenitalia’s fastest service.
By contrast, Italo’s high speed trains are slightly faster traveling up to 220 mph.

Regardless of the speed however, it is the time savings that count, with connections between Rome and Florence at approximately 1:15 to 1:25 and similar times between Rome and Naples.

Catch a morning train from Rome to Florence, spend a full day in the city of Michelangelo and return to the Eternal City by early evening for a restful night without changing hotels.

Equally accessible from Rome are Orvieto, the Cinque Terra, Pisa, Milan, Turin, Bologna, Padua and Venice.
Roman ruins at the Baths of Caracalla  (Taylor)
Despite the convenience of high speed trains in Italy and other countries in Europe, it does not mean that travelers should not take time to plan wisely when they are designing their itineraries.

Florence and Naples are equally accessible from Rome, but Florence provides considerably better logistical opportunities for sightseeing than using Naples as a gateway to the Amalfi Coast for example. With its serpentine coastline and the need for a rental car or, better yet, a driver, the Amalfi Coast might well be a better choice as a base than a day trip.
Time has a different schedule in the Amalfi Coast  (Taylor)
Rail Europe has several passes which can be incorporated to customize whatever your travel plans may be. The Eurail Italy Pass can be purchased to allow train travel for 3, 4, 5 or 8 days during a one month period depending upon your individual needs.

Italo interior  (wikipedia)

It is important to remember that there are also discounts for travelers under 26 and for small groups of 2 to 5 people if they are traveling together. Up to 2 children from the ages 4-11 can ride free with each adult traveler.

Perhaps the most overlooked aspect of using a rail pass however is the bonuses. Depending on the country, bonuses sometimes include free transportation on ships or ferries, discounts for other transportation services and, as in Switzerland with a Swiss Travel Pass, for example, free admission to nearly 500 museums throughout the country.

Rail passes and high speed trains allow greater independence for adventurous travelers. If it’s raining in Rome, that might be the day to head out to Florence or some other sunny location.
Orvieto's cathedral dominates the surroundings  (wikipedia)
Orvieto is one of the best kept secrets in Italy. Train services to the ancient hilltop city with its fortress-like domain situated atop a massive butte of volcanic rock is one of the most dramatic villages in Europe. Today, the former Etruscan city features quiet tree-lined streets, quaint shops, an impressive cathedral and medieval underground excavations.

The city became a major cultural center in the 13th century when Thomas Aquinas taught there before going to Rome in 1265 to serve as the papal theologian for Pope Clement IV.
Orvieto's streets  (Taylor)

Orvieto is just one example of the freedom and independence that regular and high speed rail services provide to save time, energy and money to turn an ordinary holiday into the memory of a lifetime.

Be it Italy’s Italos or Trenitalia’s trio, the famed French TGVs, Germany’s magnificent ICEs, the Channel Tunnel’s Eurostar, the Big Red Thalys or other fast trains in Sweden and Spain.

Italo departs Rome to new adventures  (wikipedia)
Japan invented “bullet trains” way back in the 1960s. Europe perfected them. Today traveling through Italy and her European sisters is better, and faster, than ever before. 

Friday, July 22, 2016

India’s treasured Taj Mahal is slowly eroding

The Taj Mahal is hidden by an arch that reveals the building as you enter  (Taylor)
AGRA INDIA London Bridge is falling down. Venice is sinking. The glaciers are receding. And the Taj Mahal is disappearing.

Listed as one of the seven wonders of the modern world, the Taj Mahal is also one of India’s most precious tourist attractions, if not THE most recognized site in the country. Sadly, the Taj, which was completed in 1643 as a tribute by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan as an eternal tribute of his undying love for his wife Mumtaz Mahal, is today fighting a losing battle against pollution.

Over the centuries the Taj Mahal has survived multiple threats including Mogul rule and British colonialism, but now environmentalists must find a way to halt the enslaught of contemporary pollution.

Pollution problems have plagued the ancient mausoleum for decades, but the efforts to resolve the situation have resulted in a Catch-22 that will require a new approach to save the giant marble monument before it disappears.
Erosion is beginning to take its toll  (wikipedia)

Situated on the south bank of the Yamuna River, the Taj has been battling deterioration problems resulting from nearby industries since the early days of the 20th century. Despite a 1983 law which banned industrial construction within a 50-square mile radius of the monument, more than 200 new factories have been built in recent years.

Sulphur dioxide emitted from factories near the Taj Mahal was the primary culprit at first, but with nearly 7-million visitors to the site each year, exhaust from trucks and buses has also contributed to the problem.

At first the solution was to wash the mausoleum on a daily basis in an effort to eliminate as much of the polluting agents as possible.

Over time however, the Yamuna River has also become a victim making it little more than a liquid garbage dump. In the process, the fish have long since disappeared, leaving swarms of insects to thrive and endanger the Taj even further.
The symmetry of the mausoleum is one of its appealing features  (wikipedia)
Today the soft marble structure is visibly eroding with yellow and brown spots that can be seen with the naked eye.

The daily chemical “baths” intended to clean the marble help alleviate the problem left by mosquitoes and other insects, but they can also seriously damage the marble and  precious mosaics over time.

Among the factors in attempting to solve the problem is a debate over the cause of the pollution itself. It is no secret that India is smothering under the weight of its humanity and many of the industries that are the worst offenders also provide employment for thousands of people. Thus locals are in a love/hate relationship that can be justified on both sides of the argument.

Taj Mahal's crypt  (wikipedia)

The love story surrounding Shah Jahan’s grief following the death of Mumtaz Mahal is the stuff of legends. The Persian princess died while giving birth to the couple’s 14th child.

Construction began in 1632 and was completed in 1643. The surrounding buildings and gardens were finished approximately five years later.

Shah Jahan was obsessed with the concept of symmetry which is one of the first things visitors notice when they tour the grounds.

The masterful architectural design was created in such a way that the Taj Mahal is not visible until visitors enter the grounds through an archway that reveals the majestic monument in all of its symmetrical glory.

Across the river, on the north bank, a large area that is now a garden offers a different view of the Taj than the more familiar scenes that are photographed. It is believed that Shah Jahan intended to build another black “palace” for himself that would face the gleaming white marble of the Taj Mahal.
Taj Mahal from across the river where it is believed ShaH Jahan would build a black mahal for himself (Taylor)
If that is true, the dream was never realized and Shah Jahan was buried in the mausoleum beside his beloved wife. Oddly enough, Shah Jahan’s tomb is slightly catty-cornered which makes it the only non-symmetrical item in the entire complex.

For now, the immediate problem is figuring a way to save the Taj Mahal from disappearing under the cloud of pollution that surrounds it.
Some of the outbuildings at the Taj Mahal complex   (Taylor)
One proposal has been to limit the number of visitors that are allowed to view the Taj Mahal on any given day.

Meanwhile, the Agra Development Authority is not helping the situation by submitting other proposals which include night illumination and possibly a cable-car system that will offer an aerial view of the structure.
Interior of the Taj Mahal  (wikipedia)

 Those who are fighting to preserve the integrity of Shah Jahal’s creation argue that the Taj Mahal has its own culture and beauty without outside enhancements that detract from the original concept.

For travelers who wish to view the Taj Mahal in all of its majestic glory, time may just be of the essence. You might want to plan to see the Taj Mahal before it “melts.” 

Friday, July 15, 2016

John Paul Getty’s beguiling villa in Italy: La Posta Vecchia

Twilight at La Posta Vecchia overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea  (

LADISPOLI, ITALY Most people have never heard of Ladispoli, Italy, but once you visit Hohn Paul Getty’s former retirement villa, you will never forget it. Situated on the Tyrrhenian Sea, LaPosta Vecchia is just 40 minutes outside of Rome and light years from its hustle and bustle.

It’s an ideal spot to end a visit to the “Eternal City” thanks to its close proximity to Fiumicino Airport That said, it is not inexpensive but if you can afford a deluxe five-star experience, then La Posta Vecchia is the place.
Perfect place to finish an Italian adventure  (

La Posta Vecchia translates to mean “the Old Postal House.” It is the perfect blend of the old and new filled with 17th century d├ęcor and the excavations of an ancient Roman villa. La Posta Vecchia was also the former retirement home of J. Paul Getty who bought the property in 1960 and restored it to its glorious past, including  preserving the archaeological ruins.

Today, La Posta Vecchia is a luxurious five-star hotel with 19 uniquely decorated rooms and spectacular panoramic views. Each room is spacious and appointed with Renaissance furnishings, paintings, tapestries and antiques,

Spectacularly immaculate grounds border the historic building on one side with the gentle caress of sea winds on the other.

Reclusive industrial mogul John Paul Getty, who had unparalleled wealth, was a Europhile looking for a place to retire in the 1960s when La Posta Vecchia beckoned and captured his imagination. The area, much like the Island of Capri three hours by car to the south off the coast of Naples, was beguiling to Roman emperors centuries ago.

During the time of Pompeius, Caesar and Marcus Aurelius, the area was known as Alsium. It was described as a “voluptuous seaside resort” of which little remains other than the serenity of the surroundings and Getty’s former retirement residence.
Industrialist J. Paul Getty  (wikipedia)

So captivated was Getty by the history of his luxurious new-found retirement villa, he excavated the ruins beneath the floor of the building and turned it into a living museum of ancient Roman life.

A wealthy Italian prince built La Posta Vecchia around 1640 to serve as a refuge for visitors to his nearby castle. For nearly three centuries it remained a grand escape for the rich until it was almost destroyed by fire in 1918.

For the next four decades the property deteriorated until Getty discovered the ruins beneath the main floor and began excavations which uncovered a huge Roman villa under the foundations that were decorated with intricate mosaics and African and Greek marble.

With loving care, Getty converted the “basement” of his retirement villa into a 1st century museum featuring pottery and other artifacts from the time as well as the ruins of the early villa.
Entrance to the excavation of ancient Rome beneath La Posta Vecchia  (
The kitchen at La Posta Vecchia is every bit as elegant as the hotel itself. The Cesar Restaurant serves up dishes prepared with fresh vegetables, fruits and herbs that are farmed at the hotel’s organic garden. If you like you can dine outdoors on the patio facing the Tyrrhenian Sea.

Getty lost interest in La Posta Vecchia in 1973 when he fled Italy to England following the kidnapping of his grandson. As a warning to the oil baron, the kidnappers sent Getty his grandson’s ear to let him know the consequences for failure to pay the ransom.

When Getty departed, he left his villa and grounds intact with its Flemish tapestries, antique furniture and artwork.
The interior pool is large and exquisite  (
In tribute to Getty, La Posta Vecchia has been left without renovations to create a front reception desk, bar or gym. Rather it retains its character as a private home that allows you to sense the presence of Getty himself while offering a welcoming atmosphere that you are his personal guests.

There is also a huge indoor swimming pool and a spa to massage away any tension that remains, although it hardly seems likely that La Posta Vecchia could rub you the wrong way.

Some of Getty’s personal staff remain on the property and can offer fascinating stories about its history.
La Posta Vecchia is where time stands still as it peers to the eternal rhythms of the sea  (

La Posta Vecchia is one of those places where everything old seems new again. From ancient ruins to 20th century entrepreneurship to the magic of Italy’s scenery and cuisine. La Posta Vecchia is an ideal place to say “Arrivederci Roma.”

Thursday, July 7, 2016

How to communicate in any language

Trying to learn a few words in an language can often make traveling much easier

CHARLOTTE, NC Travel is contagious. For some it takes longer than others to become afflicted, but once bitten by the parasite of wanderlust, the disease is often incurable.

One major barrier for many novice travelers is language. Many first-timers solve that problem by initially visiting places where English is more or less spoken as it is as home. True there can be bumps along the way such as “chips” for French fries, “crisps” for potato chips, a “lift” for an elevator or “shagging” which means making love rather than a popular dance in the southern region of the United States.

It’s all part of a traveler’s initiation into the world of global communication and understanding. For example, Sussex in England means “the place of the South Saxons.” Similarly Essex is “East Saxony” and Wessex is “West Saxony.”

Norfolk is the “place of the North Folk” while Suffolk is the same in the south.

 England's Norfolk region ...Blakeney  (wikipedia) 

Many visitors enjoy demonstrating new-found linguistic expertise after a trip to the U.K. by writing with historical flair. This can be accomplished by adding a few specific letters to certain words. Thus, when the letter “E” is added to the end of a word such as “olde” it becomes far more impressive than the version we use today. Add the word “ye” to front of it to create “ye olde” and now you have really traveled back in time.

The letter “U” or reversing the letters “ER” are also useful for writing about travel to Great Britain. The word “color” becomes British by turning it into “colour.” The same is true of “labour” and “favour.”
When going to the movies, make it seem more elegant by going to the “theatre” rather than the “theater.” This also works with “shopping centre” instead of “the mall.”
The Lion Court at the Alhambra in Granada, Spain  (wikipedia)
Once the primary fear of language is overcome, some Americans may be emboldened on their first trip to the continent. All those years of high school Spanish rapidly disappear when travelers realize they are fluent simply by putting the word “el” in front of a noun and adding “O” to the end. Consequently, a bank becomes “el banko” and food is now “el foodo.”

This also works for Italian by adding “I” or “A” combined with a variety of hand gestures. Note that the more movement one uses, the greater the fluency.
When traveling in Italy use a lot of  As and Is and add plenty of gestures  (wikipedia)
In Switzerland you can practice three languages at once; Greman, Italian and French. France, on the other hand, has no time for such nuances.

Advanced students soon realize that eliminating the articles “a”. “an” and “the” is also advantageous when trying to master bilingual skills by using broken English as a substitute for virtually any other language in the world. Never use past tense and somehow you are immediately understood. For example you could say “He jump in lake,” rather than the proper usage.
This is not Notre Dame but there are more than one Notre Dames in France  (Taylor)
Once indoctrinated into basic words and phrases, travelers often establish a bucket list of global attractions that have, until now, been little more than distant fantasies; Notre Dame, the Acropolis, the Kremlin et al. Unfortunately when globetrotters reach this stage of expertise, it may open the gate to one of travel’s great paradoxes as well as disappointments.

When most people speak of Notre Dame they think of the great cathedral in Paris made famous by Victor Hugo’s hunchback. The problem lies in the fact that “Notre Dame” in French means “Our Lady” and refers to the Virgin Mary. Therefore, there are hundreds of Notre Dames around the world, including a famous university in the United States.
If you really want to practice you can speak three languages in Switzerland and English too  (wikipedia)
Travelers who visit THE Acropolis are really only visiting AN acropolis because the word “acropolis” in Greek means “the highest spot in a city.” In other words, Greece has many “acropoli” not just the one where the Parthenon looks down upon Athens.

It’s no different with Kremlin. A “kremlin” in Russia is a “major fortification” so there are countless “kremlins” throughout the country.

“Alt Stadt” in German sounds exotic, but it simply means “Old Town.” In German, “ober” means “over” and “gau” means “region of.” Therefore the village of Oberammergau means nothing more than the “region over the River Ammer.”

The Bahnhofstrasse, one of the most exclusive shopping avenues of the world, runs directly from the railway station in Zurich, Switzerland to the lake. When translated, however, Bahnhofstrasse merely means “train station street.”
Germany is an easy place to pick up a language if you drink beer  (wikipedia)
Here’s a tip for inexperienced travelers, never return from Florence and say you saw the “Ponte Veccho Bridge.” “Ponte” is Italian for “bridge” so what you just said is “I saw the Old Bridge Bridge.”

Furthermore, when you realize that Ponte Vecchio only means “Old Bridge” it tends to lose a bit of its romance.
Adding to the confusion, terms sometimes seem to make no sense at all. The Pont Neuf, or “New Bridge”, in Paris is actually the oldest bridge still standing along the River Seine.

As your travels unfold, be brave and venture into the challenging world of language. The Germans would say “Gute Fahrt” or “Good Journey.”

Somehow you have to give the French credit, "Bon Voyage" does sound a lot better.