Friday, March 31, 2017

Spring is a great time for "Roman" Italy

Dusk at the Colosseum in Rome symbolizes the Eternal City  (wikipedia)
ROME  Thanks to the Italians the world was civilized not once but twice with a few Dark Ages mixed in between. The first time around it was the magnificent Roman Empire and even to this day spring is special in the "Eternal City."

In Rome in spring, the air is warm, the sun is bright, gardens blossom and one of the great walking cities in the world beckons to be explored. But that occurs every spring. This year something is different thanks to a great exchange rate and some hotel bargains that are tough to beat.
Victor Emmanuelle  Monument
The Bettoja Hotel group features three properties that are among the oldest family owned hotel groups in Italy. Nestled on top of the " Monti" on Esquilino Hill, the highest of Rome's seven hills (yes, there are seven), the Bettoja Hotels are just a block and a half from the main railway station and a brief walk to all the major sites of the ancient city.
Piazza della Republicca is always busy  (Wikipedia)
 Hotel Mediterraneo, Hotel Massimo D'Azeglio and Hotel Atlantico have grown through five generations of family ownership with some exciting renovations for 2017 that make family and group travel even more affordable.

Veteran travelers to Europe know all too well that room sizes are often designed for Lilliputians rather than  American visitors with their highly developed fast food personas. Consequently, Bettoja Hotels have adapted to a "large room" which will accommodate up to four people or up to six with a connecting configuration. With a 10% discount for any three night stay or up 25% for a non-refundable or early booking (30 days in advance), it is not difficult to see that a room for about $300 a night is a bargain when divided by several couples.
Baths of Caracalla were once
a gathering place (Taylor)

In addition, each Bettoja Hotel property is offering a free pass to guests to visit either the Scuderie del Quirinale or the Palazzo delle  Esposizioni.

The very term alfresco or "outdoor dining" was invented in Italy, and why not, for there is no better place in the world to sit at a cafe or restaurant on  the street and simply watch the pageant that passes by. It is a cyclorama of humanity and you can be part of it or be totally anonymous. It's your choice.
The world gathers at Piazza Navona  (Wikipedia)
As with most major European cities, Rome is for walking. The 
Colosseum, the Roman Forum, Piazza Venezia, Basilica of Santa 
Maria Maggiore and Piazza Della Repubblica are all with easy walking
distance of a Bettoja hotel.
Where gladiators once fought to the death inside the Colosseum  (Wikipedia)
The Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, Via Condotti and 
Piazza Navona are not much further for adventurous types, but taxis 
are readily available for less active visitors.

Shoppers are always beguiled by Via Condiotti which is the Rodeo
 Drive of Rome. Still there is plenty for shopaholics to purchase on 
Via dei Boschetto, Via dei Serpentini, Via Leonina and Vis Panisperna
 and their connecting side streets near the hotels.
Michelangelo's Pieta at St Peter's
The Monti District of Rome is 
the largest district in the city.
Romans living in the are are 
justifiably proud of their heritage
and often claim to be "more 
genuinely Roman" than the 
citizens of other areas of the 

Travelers wishing to get a stunning view, particularly at night, can 
have a drink or eat dinner on the rooftop patio atop Hotel 
Mediterraneo. Built by Mussolini, who ignored all the codes of 
construction, Mediterraneo is the tallest building on the highest hill in 
Rome, thus creating magnificent views of the Victor Emmanuelle 
Monument and the dome of St Peter's Basilica in Vatican City.

As natives of Rome, the Bettoja family created walking tours (Roma a 
Piedi) years ago in order to share their knowledge and love of the 
place they call home. Maps for the walking tours can be obtained at the front desk of each hotel and they will guide you through the Byzantine, Christian and Jewish sections of the city.
The Sistine Chapel is one of most awe inspiring attractions in
Rome  (Wikipedia)
Two tips: Be sure to go across the Tiber River to Trastevere to 
explore the quaint quiet streets of that part of Rome. It is an area that 
often goes unnoticed and unvisited by travelers.

The second is not to miss the museum at Villa Borghese. If you skip 
it, you will miss some of Bernini's finest work as a sculptor.
Massive St. Peter's Square looks toward Rome from above
Rome has been a work in progress for thousands of years and there is
 no better time to visit than spring. You see, as long as spring remains 
eternal, so, too, with the city of Rome

Friday, March 24, 2017

Thailand's ancient capital of Ayutthaya is a triple treat

Ancient Buddha surveys the ruins of Thailand's former capital (wikipedia)
AYUTTHAYA, THAILAND Ayutthaya may not be a household destination in most homes, but it was good enough to be the capital of Thailand on three occasions and that fact  alone gives it plenty of history. On the other hand, Burma, now known as Myanmar, is opening its doors to the world after years of isolation, and Ayutthaya was important enough to be the capital of the region on at least three occasions.
Nature finds a way
Once known as "the pearl of the east," Ayutthaya was the artistic, spiritual and military hub of Southeast Asia off and on from 1351 until 1767. In the 18th century the city was destroyed so completely by Burmese marauders that the king relocated his capital in Bangkok, 50 miles north on the Chao Phraya River rather than attempt to rebuild.
At its peak, in the 16th century, Ayutthaya was often described by foreign traders as one of the largest and wealthiest cities in the East thanks to an abundance of rice and teak.
Accounts of the 15th and 16th centuries called Ayutthaya "Siam" but other sources claim the people of the region referred to themselves as "Tai" and their kingdom was known as "Krung Tai" or "The Tai Country." Today we know it as "Thailand."
Wat Chaiwatthanaram is a must-see site in Ayutthaya, Thailand
Ayutthaya came to power by conquering northern kingdoms and city states in the region and along the river. Kamphaeng, Phet and Phitsanulok were among places that fell under Ayutthayan rule before the end of the 15th century.
Not long afterward, Ayutthaya attacked Angkor which was regarded as the central power in the region. When Angkor fell, Ayutthaya became the dominant power in the region controlling most of the territory along the shores of the Chao Phraya river plain.
Life along Bangkok's klongs

Even today, the best way to approach and visit Ayutthaya is along the river. Also known as the River of Kings, it meanders its way from the Northern Highlands of Thailand through the Gulf of Siam. Make no mistake, the Chao Phraya still serves today as Bangkok's lifeline.

No visit to Bangkok, or the Ayutthaya region, is complete without a cruise on the Chao Phraya aboard the Manohra Song, a lovingly restored 50-year old , 50-foot rice boat that cruises past exotic temples and the alluring klongs of the river.
Ayutthaya has been the capital three times in a thousand years
Comprised of teak and other rare woods, the Manohra Song features just four staterooms and provides outstanding culinary delights. Appointed with fabulous antiques, exquisite tapestries and weaving and stunning local crafts, the Manohra Song is considered the most luxurious craft operating on the river today.

Fortunately for the Thais, the rich food supply from the planting of rice was used to pay taxes and to support religious institutions for two hundred years between the 13th and 15th centuries.
Manohra Song is an elegant excursion on the Chao Phraya River
In northern Thailand, minimal rainfall had to be supplemented by an irrigation system that controlled water levels and flooded paddies where the rice crop was glutinous.

In the river basin region however, so-called "floating rice" had been introduced by Bengal and the thin, non-glutinous crop grew fast enough to maintain the pace of water levels in lowland fields.

Consequently, the new strain of rice produced a surplus that allowed Ayutthaya to prosper thanks to its location in the southern floodplain.

Geographically, the river delta, which was considered uninhabitable, was reclaimed for rice cultivation and the region thrived thanks to its newfound crop.
Thailand is country filled with wats, stupas and temples  (
Ayutthayan kings were monarchs with absolute as well as semi-religious status. In addition to their natural leadership they derived authority from Hinduism and Buddhism, which, under what was known as "The Cirlce of Power," or "mandala system" forced allegiance to the king even though Ayutthaya itself was not a unified state.
Ayutthaya is exotic, mysterious and alluring  (wikipedia)
While contemporary reconstruction continues to restore Ayutthaya to its once grand status, the ruins of the historic city and other associated historic towns are now listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
Ancient Ayutthaya is being
rediscovered (wikipedia)
The ancient city of Ayutthaya has been refound near the old city and is, today, the capital of Ayutthaya province.
Thailand is a destination that must be explored and absorbed through the pores. Its ancient cities, temples, traditions and religions speak of cultures we can only imagine in our minds, and perhaps that is where we can truly discover "the Thais that bind."

Friday, March 17, 2017

Jerash: Jordan's sprawling secret city

Modern day Jerash spreads across Northern Jordan filled with ancient history  (wikipedia)
JERASH, JORDAN  Mention travel to the Middle East these days and most people shrug their shoulders and change the subject. As such, it would be far from honest to promote a travel destination nestled squarely in the midst of that chaos.
Petra is Jordan's other major
site  (wikipedia)
On the other hand, the ruins of Jerash in Jordan serve as a powerful reminder that man's quest for civilization has been a long and arduous task dating back many centuries before Christ.
Among the truly sad aspects of global terrorism has been the substantial loss of architecture, antiquities and other cultural treasures that could have provided contemporary researchers with greater insights into mankind's legacy and his eternal search for greater understanding of the world in which we evolved.
Oval Forum at Jerash beckons further exploration  (wikipedia)
Jerash is, today, Jordan's second largest tourist attraction. This archaeological masterpiece has been hailed by some as the best preserved Roman provincial city in the Middle East. Jerash, or Gerasa as it was known in ancient days, is framed by the hill of Gilead approximately 30 miles north of Jordan's capital city, Amman.
The Great Temple at Jerash
It was discovered in the 4th century A.D. by soldiers of Alexander the Great, and thrived as a cosmopolitan city deriving revenue from agriculture, mining and the caravan trade. By the 2nd and 3rd centuries A.D., Jerash had reached the peak of its prosperity featuring an array of no less than 15 impressive churches.
Some analysts like to call Jerash "the Pompeii of the Middle East" but that is actually a misnomer since the city was never destroyed by some cataclysmic event. As a consequence, Jerash can justifiably lay claim to the title of being one of the best preserved and most important Roman Cities in the Near East.
Uneisha Tomb at Jerash is a source of intrigue and wonder  (wikipedia)
Since the 1920s, Jerash has been under near continuous excavation and restoration. As recently at August of 2015 two human skulls dating to the Neolithic period were discovered which provide strong evidence of the inhabitance of Jordan in that period. The significance of the find lies in the rarity of the skulls with archaeologists estimating only 12 sites throughout the world that could contain similar human remains.
As with Pompeii, Jerash covers a large expanse of land and, as such, the number of significant ruins and treasures that have been unearthed to date present a living museum of the region.
Remains in the Greco-Roman Jerash include:
·        Numerous Corinthian columns
·        Hadrian's Arch
·        The circus/hippodrome
·        The two large temples (dedicated to Zeus and Artemis)
·       The nearly unique oval Forum, which is surrounded by          a fine colonnade,
·        The long colonnaded street or cardo
·    Two theatres (the Large South Theatre and smaller North Theatre)
·         Two communal baths, and a scattering of small temples
·         A large Nymphaeum fed by an aqueduct
·         An almost complete circuit of city walls
·         A water powered saw mill for cutting stone
·         Two large bridges across the nearby river

Ancient facades and cave dwellings are part of the landscape
Over the past hundred years, Jerash has continued to grow with the 
western side of the city being constantly supervised and carefully 
preserved to avoid encroachment from the modern community 
which sprawls to the east of the river. In antiquity the river once 
divided the city.

Modern day Jerash, has annexed numerous other small communities 
as part of its expansion program, but private funding from donations 
by many of the city' wealthiest families has greatly aided and 
maintained the preservation process.
Many mosaics remain intact as a source of study for researchers
One synagogue with especially superb mosaics tells the story of 
Noah in vivid detail.

To witness the pure magic of Jerash, the best time to visit is in July or August when the city becomes a pageant of festivals, music, culture, drama and other outdoor performances.
A different view of the Oval Forum in the center of Jerash
True, it may be the Middle East, but the venue will stun you and encapsulate you into a time that once only belonged to the ages.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation

Wittenberg is the scene where Luther posted his "95 Theses"
CHARLOTTE, NC When Martin Luther knocked on your door in the 16th century, he had a lot to say. Now five hundred years later, we celebrate the efforts of a man who changed the course of history in what became known as the Protestant Reformation. This year marks the anniversary of five centuries since Luther is said to have posted his "95 Theses" on the doors of All Saints' Church and other churches in Wittenberg, Germany.
All Saints Church, Wittenberg

Luther's protest primarily centered around the sale of indulgences by the Catholic Church which could purchased for the forgiveness of sins by wealthy patrons or by anyone who could afford the tariffs.

Three years later, Luther refused Pope Leo X's request to renounce all of his writings. Thus, at the Diet of Worms in 1521 Luther was excommunicated by Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and condemned as an outlaw.

In celebration of this turning point in Western religion, Magellan Travel Club is offering an 8-day tour to Wittenburg, Berlin and Dresden beginning October 8, to walk in the footsteps of Martin Luther.
Portrait of Martin Luther

Luther was more than a reformer, however. When Johannes Gutenberg invented the first printing press with moveable type about 70 years before Luther made his protest in Wittenberg, the combination of the two events created a "perfect storm" for the Protestant Reformation to get enough traction to change the world forever.

Luther translated the Bible into the vernacular rather than Latin, making it more accessible to the common man. In a sense, illiteracy virtually vanished overnight and the impact on the people, the church and the culture of Germany, was phenomenal.
The palace and grounds of Sans Soucci in Potsdam  (wikipedia)
The urban legend surrounding Luther is that he nailed his protest on the door of All Saints Church, but several scholars dispute that story. Whether he did or whether he didn't, Luther's legacy has woven itself into the fabric of mainstream history. Take the tour and decide for yourself.

Not that Martin Luther was totally pure of mind. He did possess strong anti-Semitic ideas writing that Jewish homes and synagogues should be destroyed, their money confiscated and liberty curtailed.
Symbol of German freedom, Brandenburg Gate in Berlin
Within a matter of months, word of Luther's controversial writings had circulated across England, France and Italy. By early 1519, thousands of students were arriving in Wittenberg to hear Luther speak.

In an odd way, understanding the world of Martin Luther in the 16th century, also brings into focus a bit more  relevance of Christianity to Islam.
Gateway to Dresden
In the Footsteps of Martin Luther is an 8-day tour featuring 9-meals (6 breakfasts, 3 dinners). Included tours are walking tours of Berlin, Wittenberg, Dresden and Eisleben with a professional local guide. There is also a sightseeing cruise on the River Elbe, a visit to Sans Soucci Palace and Gardens in Pottsdam as well as a stop at the Luther House Museum and churches of his baptism and final sermons.

Price, including air from Charlotte, NC is $3,599 per person/double occupancy.  There is a single supplement of $349.
The Berlin Wall came down in 1989, but part remain as a
permanent reminder  (wikipedia)
In 1517, Martin Luther changed the world of Western religion forever. Now you can walk in his footsteps just as he did a half-millennium ago to witness historic landmarks and relive this important time in world history.