Thursday, January 26, 2017

Stockholm: Sweden's glorious archipelago capital

Stockholm is built on 14 islands that give it charm like not other place on earth  (
STOCKHOLM Stockholmers love to  describe their city as "the best of the old, and the best of the new." For travelers, that makes it the best of all worlds.

Built on 14 islands, Stockholm is a thriving Baltic archipelago situated at the mouth of the country's third largest lake, Lake Malaren, and the Baltic Sea.
Gota Canal between Stockholm
and Gothenburg  (wikipedia)
The Swedes have had plenty of time to "get it right" with settlements dating to the Stone Age in the 6th millennium BC. It was officially founded as a city in 1252 by Birger Jarl, a Swedish statesman who established the Old Town (Gamla Stan) on the central island.

Due to strong trade routes, the Vikings had already begun building Gamla Stan around 1000 CE. Two and half centuries later, Stockholm was a bustling community on the Baltic thanks to the Hanseatic League.
Nobel Prizes are awarded each December in Stockholm  (wikipedia)
Unless you enjoy cold and darkness, Stockholm is hardly a winter destination, though the annual Nobel Prize ceremonies are held at the Town Hall on the 10th of December each year.

Summer compensates however, and when the summer sun appears with its "long days journey into night," the Swedes become sun-worshipers of the first order. Heads pop out of woolen sweaters and the "turtle's" heads all point in unison to those glorious rays of warmth that produce nearly 20 hours of daylight.
Golden fields and traditional
red/white colors

Summers in Stockholm are where golfers can play 18 holes after dinner.

There was a time in the middle of the 20th century when Stockholm was embarrassing
for the Swedes. 

The waters surrounding the city were so polluted they had become an environmental disaster.

But no longer.

The industrious Swedes went about the task of cleaning out the slums, including many historical buildings, as well as undertaking an environmental crusade to return the natural purity of its water to the highest standards. So successful were they, that visitors who catch a fish today can take it to a restaurant and request the chef to prepare it for dinner. Oftentimes, the restaurant will do it as a source of pride.
Drottningholm Palace, the summer residence of the royal family  (wikimedia)
While the traditional "blue-eyed, blonde" image is largely a myth (there are plenty of brown-eyed brunettes to ogle as well), there is no mistaking the Scandinavian features that make Swedes among the most attractive people on the planet.

Scandinavian personalities are typically reserved particularly upon meeting someone for the first time. Once that shy veneer is removed however, you quickly discover people who are fiercely loyal in their friendships.
Midsummer's revelers

Unlike many places in Europe, Scandinavians are well aware that their languages are not readily spoken anywhere else. Therefore English is a primary second language and Swedes are usually happy to "practice" with visitors. Just remember, that their innate shyness may keep them from telling you they are fluent, and most Swedes will humbly admit to only speaking "a little bit" of English.

Gamla Stan is an ideal starting point for visitors to tour the city. Its ancient cobblestone streets and buildings are picturesque and, because Stockholm is a city of islands, the Old Town creates a world all its own with its sense of isolation.
Interior of Fem Sma Hus in Gamla Stan  (
For lunch or dinner, Fem Sma Hus sets the a perfect mood. The ancient brick arches of five small houses that have been tastefully blended into a delightful restaurant are filled with the ambiance of centuries past.

In the evening there are pubs and lively bars to suit any taste, including Dixieland jazz. The vibe is young and, in summer, the nights are long.

Stockholm is a traveler's gold mine thanks to its diverse attractions surrounded by its aquatic setting.
Historic Skansen is the world's oldest outdoor museum  (wikipedia)
Skansen is the oldest outdoor museum in Europe and the unification of Mother Nature, historic architecture, wildlife and traditional costumes make it ideal for a day long outing and/or a picnic.
Home sweet home

Drottningholm Palace,  is one of three UNESCO World Heritage sites in Stockholm. It is also the best preserved of the ten royal palaces around Lake Malaren as well as the permanent residence of the Swedish royal family.

Arguably the best way to get there is by boat which is a pleasant hour-long excursion. Boats depart regularly from Stadshusbron.
The amazing warship Wasa was almost intact when it was
raised  (
Scandinavia's most popular museum is the Wasa Museum which houses the 17th century Swedish warship that sank in the harbor on its maiden voyage in 1628.

When the Wasa was discovered and raised in the 1960s, it virtually intact because the cold water temperatures had preserved it from any parasitic marine life.
The UNESCO Woodland Cemetery known as Skogskyrkogården
Another UNESCO site is the Woodland Cemetery, or Skogskyrkogården. Designed by Gunnar Asplund and Sigurd Lewertz, Woodland Cemetery reflects the architectural evolution of Nordic Classicism to Functionalism.
The Lucia is a Swedish Christmas tradition  (wikipedia)
These are just a few starters, however. You can also visit the Town Hall where the Nobel Prizes are awarded each year. In fact, at the Town Hall restaurant you can even order the exact meal served at the Noble dinner for any year, right down to the wine. Advance notice is required, however.

As they say, Stockholm is simply the best of the old and the best of the new. Discover it for yourself and see just how "Swede" it is.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

England's northernmost city: Berwick Upon Tweed

Berwick Castle as seen from above conjures images of a historic
past  (wikipedia)

BERWICK-UPON-TWEED No destination in the world creates better more colorful names for its villages and towns  than the United Kingdom. It must be in their blood with fictional characters like Mr. Bumble, Sherlock Holmes, Oliver Twist or Henry Higgins to mention a few. As villages go, Berwick-upon-Tweed is a perfect example. Tucked into the northeast corner of England, roughly two and a half miles from the border of Scotland nestles the northernmost town in England.

Situated at the mouth of the River Tweed, hence the name, and approximately 55 miles east-south-east of Edinburgh, Berwick-upon-Tweed has had a yo-yo-like history between the two countries since the Middle Ages.

Berwick is not a spot for first-time visitors, but it is one of those marvelous little discoveries for travelers who enjoy taking off on back-country roads in search of hidden adventure.
Elizabethan fortifications

The village was founded as an Anglo-Saxon settlement in the Kingdom of Northumbria, which later became part of England, in the 10th century. For the next 400 years, thanks largely to its location, Berwick was an important crossroads between England and Scotland.

The name is derived from two Old English words: bere which means "barley" and wic which is "village." Thus the town's name simply means "barley village."

Anyone who remembers the popular film "Braveheart" starring Mel Gibson might be interested in the horrible details of the execution of William Wallace in 1305.
Berwick Bridge with its multiple arches spanning the River Tweed  (wikipedia)
Following his conviction, Wallace was dragged naked through the streets of London at the back of a horse to Smithfield where he was hanged but released while still alive.

Wallace was then eviscerated with his bowels burned as he watched. He was then beheaded and cut into four parts with his head dipped in tar and placed upon a spike on top of London Bridge. The remaining parts of Wallace's body were sent to four towns for display: Newcastle, Stirling, Perth and Berwick-upon-Tweed.
Berwick's ancient ramparts  (wikipedia)
Situated about 8 miles from Holy Island, which is a smaller but, in some ways, more dramatic version of Mont St Michel in France, the excursion from Berwick is well worth the effort. You can easily reach Holy Island, or Lindisfarne, by car or in a taxi from the railway station.
Lindisfarne Castle on Holy
Island  (wikipedia)

The Vikings landed on Lindisfarne in 793 A.D. and, in the process, changed the course of English history forever.

One other dramatic feature of Holy Island is that it is a tidal destination, which means it quite literally becomes an island twice a day. Visitors who do not heed the tidal warnings can find themselves stranded for about six hours until the water recedes.
Train crossing the Old Bridge of Berwick Upon Tweed  (wikipedia)
Given its location however, Berwick has several interesting medieval attractions of its own. In fact, in 1551 Queen Elizabeth I believed the village was important enough to fortify the city with the most expensive building project in the entire Elizabethan era. Some of the fortifications remain today, and some experts say they are "the only surviving walls of their kind."

The 13th century Berwick Castle fell into disrepair by the 17th century and much of it was demolished in the 19th century to allow construction of the railway. Travelers arriving along the east coast rail line up from London or down from Edinburgh get a strong sense of the role Berwick played in English/Scottish history just by using the train.
Road into Berwick across the Old Bridge  (wikipedia)
Also worth seeing is the Old Bridge, which is approximately 1,200 feet long and continues to carry road traffic, but only in one direction. The sandstone arch bridge was constructed between 1610 and 1624 as part of the primary link between London and Edinburgh.

Holy Trinity Parish Church was built during the  middle of the 17th century using much of the stone from the original castle. The pulpit was thought to have been built for John Knox when he stayed in Berwick during the Protestant Reformation.

The granary on Dewars Lane, which was built in 1769, is today a hotel and art gallery.
Union Bridge is another
landmark  (wikipedia)
For visitors seeking other accommodations, the Marshall Meadows Country House Hotel, which dates to  1780, is the northernmost hotel in England, resting just a few hundred yards from the Scottish border.

Take time also to visit Union Bridge just 5 miles from Berwick. Union Bridge, built in 1821, survives today as the world's oldest suspension bridge.
Interior of the Marshall Meadows Country House  (wikipedia)
Berwick-upon-Tweed may not be on the beaten path for many travelers, but it certainly satisfies that incurable disease known as wanderlust.

Seek and discover -- you will not be disappointed.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Seven great tours for 2017

Once known as Burma, Myanmar is fast becoming a popular travel destination  (Wikipedia)

CHARLOTTE, NC With the Christmas holidays behind us, January is a month where travelers who are interested in going abroad begin to consider their options. Charlotte's Magellan Travel Club is offering seven unique travel programs for 2017 among which are visits to some of the locations in Croatia where "Game of Thrones" is filmed and a celebration of the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther's influence on the Protestant Reformation in Germany.

Here's a list of the upcoming tours in chronological order.

British train speeds through the rustic UK countryside
The United Kingdom by Rail: Great Britain has a rich heritage of rail travel that once linked every nook and cranny of the island nation. 

Begin in Edinburgh, Scotland and travel south to London with a stop at York in between.
Tour the Royal Mile and explore the famed Edinburgh Castle in the city where Robert Louis Stevenson wrote "Treasure Island," "Kidnapped" and "The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde."
York Minster's stained glass windows are the size of a tennis court
York is a medieval walled city that traces its roots to the Vikings. It is home to the famed York Minster with its stained glass windows that are larger than a tennis court. It also boasts a superb transportation museum.

London, of course, is London and needs no introduction.

Dates for the tour are April 1 -- 10, 2017.
The Game of Thrones crew transforms Dubrovnik into King's Landing  ( 
Croatia and TheGame of Thrones: Croatia's tourism suffered in recent years, but today it is making a comeback and justly so. Medieval architecture, tranquil lakes and Croatian charm will delight you on this tour which features the walled city of Dubrovnik and the sites where King's Landing comes to life in the popular HBO series.
The harbor of Dubrovnik at twilight  (
The dates are May 14 through 21, 2017 in this "must see" region with it ancient cities, unique culture, rolling hills and, best of all, its stunning coastline.

By the way, this is a culinary tour, as well.

The Ring of Kerry is just one of many scenic wonders in Ireland
Shades of Ireland: From vibrant and history-filled Dublin, across rolling green hills to the dramatic coast and onward to Belfast, experience all of the charms of Ireland on this 13-day magical tour of the Emerald Isle. (September 26 --October 8, 2017) Live like royalty during an overnight stay on the grounds of a castle. Visit the new House of Waterford Crystal factory. Choose from a selection of Killarney’s & Derry’s best restaurants with our "Diner’s Choice" program.

See the Atlantic from the stunning 700-foot Cliffs of Moher. Tour the walled city of Derry. Stand on the awe-inspiring Giant’s Causeway. Experience the world-famous beauty of the Ring of Kerry.
Mysterious and intriguing
Cliffs of Moher (Taylor)

Have tea and scones with clotted cream at a working farm. Explore Dublin with a local guide, either by foot or on a panoramic city tour – it’s your choice! See beautiful Killarney from your seat on an Irish jaunting car. Journey to historic Blarney Castle, lean back and kiss its famous stone!

This tour includes Northern Ireland which is rapidly becoming a traveler's favorite and you will not want to miss the Titanic Museum.
The Mahamuni Pagoda captures the essence of Myanmar  (Wikipedia)

Myanmar: The Golden Land: Immerse yourself in the magic of Myanmar from September 28 until October 10. This fascinating country is home to endless natural beauty and impressive architecture. Its deep history is astounding, and its culture is captivating.
Kayan long-necked
woman (Wikipedia)

Discover the most revered Buddhist temple in Myanmar, the Shwedagon Pagoda. Take a private motorboat on the tranquil Inle Lake and be surrounded by one of Myanmar’s most spectacular panoramas. Observe leg-rowing fisherman and discover their floating gardens.
Life as it has been for centuries
on Inle Lake (Wikipedia)

Visit local markets, cottage industries and villages to come face to face with a more traditional way of life. Ascend to a height of over 3,000 feet above sea level to the visit charming Pyin Oo Lwin, a town that blends the East and West. Board a train for a scenic journey across the Gokteik Viaduct and travel over a nearly 100 feet deep gorge.

Discover Pindaya Cave, home to more than 8,000 Buddha statues.

In Bagan, pause to take in the unforgettable sunset over the plains from the upper terrace of one of the temples. Discover Mt. Popa, an imposing sight of sheer rock topped with golden stupas from the monastery that sits on its peak.

Berlin's Brandenburg Gate is a reminder of a once divided city
In the Footsteps of Martin Luther: From October 6 -- 13 we travel five centuries back in time to visit the sites where the Protestant Reformation began. Wittenberg is the town where Martin Luther posted the historic 95 Theses that changed the world forever.
Wittenberg is where Luther posted
the 95 Theses (Wikipedia)

Just last week, Rome released an announcement 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."

The itinerary also travels to Berlin and Dresden.
Christmas Markets appeal to children of all ages  (Taylor)
Christmas Cruise on theDanube: River cruising and the European Christmas Markets are two of the fastest growing things to do on a Traveler's Bucket List. From December 5 through 12 we sail the famed Blue Danube aboard the MS. Emerald Destiny.
Try a Viennese coffee house

We begin in Nuremberg where 

the World War II trials took 

place before making calls in 

Regensburg, Passau, Linz and 


Each market has a similar flavor 

yet somehow each captures its own personality.   This is the one trip 

you will ever take where bad weather adds to the fun.

Enjoy a cup of hot mulled wine and savor Christmas the way it used 

to be.

Manger scenes traditionally feature live animals for children to pet
Christmas Markets of Germany: If you can remember the joys of Christmas as a child then this tour is for you. From December 6th through 16th we will travel Germany's Fairy Tale Road where the Brothers Grimm wrote down the famous stories we have known and loved for generations.
Add caption
We then travel the Romantic

Road with its half-timbered

medieval villages and majestic

castles including Ludwig II's


This architectural masterpiece is the most visited castle in Germany 

and winter makes it all the more magical.

Along our route we will visit some of the best and most popular

Christmas markets in the world including Munich, Berlin, Hamburg 

and, best of all, Rothenburg.

If the true spirit of Christmas doesn't captivate you here, then you

need to join Ebenezer Scrooge in London.

That's the list. We welcome you to join us for travel the way it used to


Thursday, January 5, 2017

The poetry of Italy through the eyes and words of others

Venice and its canals are unique in all the world  (Taylor)
ITALY No country in the world has inspired more poets, writers, artists and visitors than Italy. But for all of its magic and charm, the incongruities that make Italy so appealing for travelers also make it maddening for getting things done. After all there is always domani (tomorrow).
The Cinque Terra is a favorite
destination (Wikipedia)
As one anonymous writer so profoundly realized, “Of all the countries in the world, Italy is the most adorned by the arts.  Of all the countries in the world, she has the least need of them.”

With these thoughts in mind, here is a tribute to one of the greatest gifts to the world of travel through the expressive words of writers who knew it intimately.
The Roman Colosseum captures the grandeur of a glorious age
In 1964, Italian journalist, writer and politician, Luigi Barzini, Jr. wrote a book titled “The Italians” which offers remarkable insights into Italian life, culture and its national character. “The Italians” reads in 2016 just as it did when it was first published.

In his book, Barzini wrote, “The pleasure of Italy comes from living in a world made by man, for man, on man’s measurements.”
Ancient street in Pompeii

Noted novelist and poet, Erica Jong, who wrote “Fear of Flying” in 1973, once asked and answered, “What do we find in Italy that can be found nowhere else?  I believe it is a certain permission to be human that other countries lost long ago.” 

Alice Leccese Powers, a prolific publisher and writer, created the literary anthologies known as the “In Mind” series. In “Italy in Mind” Powers noted that “Incongruity does not confound Italians.  They thrive on chaos.”
Ravello has a splendor all its own  (Taylor)
Well known author Gore Vidal lived in Ravello, Italy along the Amalfi Coast for many years. Vidal had similar observations as Powers, “Italians have an astonishing ability to cope with disaster, which is equaled only by their complete inability to deal with success.”

In 1989, Barbara Grizzuti Harrison chronicled her search for her Italian roots in “Italian Days.”
Sunrise, sunset or any other time of the day is magical in Positano  (Wikipedia)

Among the offerings in her book Harrison wrote, "No one has had

a new idea in Italy since the Renaissance (that being one of the

reasons to love it)." 

One of the best commentaries on Italian life came from actor Orson Welles as expressed by Luigi Barzini, “The Italians excessive facility to express emotions is, strangely enough, a drawback for actors.  Perhaps they are too richly endowed by Nature; they have more natural gifts and talent than necessary.  Their florid acting turns too readily into hamming when not under rigid control.  The best spend years to unlearn what many of their foreign colleagues have to learn.  Orson Welles once acutely observed that Italy is full of actors, fifty million of them, in fact, and they are almost all good; there are only a few bad ones, and they are on the stage and in the films.
St. Marks Square is one of the great drawing rooms of Europe (Wikipedia)
It would not be proper to list quotes about Italy without mentioning some of its most popular destinations. Barbara Grizzuti Harrison claims three of the best about Venice:

Venice is washed in golden, unambiguous light.”

“All of Venice is a painting – which is how it exists in memory.  In memory Venice is always magic.”

“Not going to St. Mark’s is like having a unicorn in your living room and ignoring it.”

Michelangelo's "David" was sculpted from a discarded piece of marble  (Wikipedia)


Mary McCarthy wrote a tribute to the city of Michelangelo in 1956 called “The Stones of Florence.” Among her observations she wrote, “The Florentines, in fact, invented the Renaissance, which is the sameas saying that they invented the modern world.”
The Duomo of Florence dominates the skyline  (Wikipedia)
French writer Anatole France once said of Florence,   “Nowhere is Nature so subtle, elegant and fine.  The God who made the hills of Florence was an artist.”

And, like Mozart and Strauss in Vienna, Barbara Grizzuti Harrison explains, “There is no such thing, for a Florentine, as too much Michelangelo.”

The famous baths of Caracalla in Rome (Taylor)
In Rome, Harrison captures the spirit of the national pastime of the city: “A neighborhood coffee bar is an anchor to life in Rome.  Where else can one read one’s paper and observe the passing scene, write one’s letters, assured of privacy, and yet be a part of the moving whole.”

Or, from another view, Harrison also says, “Rome seems perpetually perched on the very edge of ruin.”
Victor Emmanuel Monument
Writing about adjusting to living in Rome with his family, Alan Epstein wrote in “As the Romans Do” (2001), “Rome: There is no more mature place on earth, and that maturity has something to teach you.  Other cities may be older, but Rome still lives in its past.”

                                      AMALFI COAST

The same was true of Swiss artist Paul Klee who would have been remiss had he not observed the Amalfi Coast with his artistic eye: “It is the only place in the world conceived on a vertical rather than a horizontal axis.”
Italy and food are
synonymous (Taylor)


In conclusion, no study of Italy would be complete without mentioning food. As Barbara Grizzuti Harrison says, “One doesn’t take food home from Italian restaurants; there’s always a happy culinary tomorrow.”

Harrison also wrote that “It is no accident that al fresco, the term we use for eating and drinking outdoors, is taken from the Italian; Italian food is well suited for outdoor consumption, and the Italian temperament is uniquely qualified to enjoy the processional.”
Hotel San Pietro in Positano beckons (Wikipedia)
And, of course, there is the eternal debate between the French and Italians about food, but perhaps Alan Epstein sums it up best: “Mention French cuisine to a romana, and she will wave her hand and remind you that the French were still barbarians who ate with their fingers when Catherine de Medici arrived in 1535 to marry the king, introduce the Renaissance, and teach the francesi how to cook at the same time.”

You see, Italy is indeed “a state of mind.”