Friday, January 26, 2018

Danang, Vietnam 50 years after the war

Linh Ung Pagoda -- the 220-foot white statue of the Goddess of Mercy is the tallest deity sculpture in SE Asia  (Taylor)
DANANG, VIETNAM Most Baby Boomers don't remember the end of World War II but what they do recall was that following the war, anything labeled with a stamp that read "Made in Japan" meant cheap, tacky and poor quality.

Not any more.

Those same "boomers" later provided most of the military forces in Vietnam during the mid-1960s to early 1970s, but by then their focus was completely different.
Monkey Mountain is a favorite
spot for everyone (Taylor) 

What is amazing since those days during the 20th century is the resilience and economic durability of both Japan and Vietnam to rejoin the brotherhood of man.

Danang is the fourth largest city in Vietnam and the largest city in the central part of the country. As a major port and gateway to the South China Sea at the opening of the Han River, today Danang thrives that is destined to become a major tourist destination during the next decade.
My Khe Beach is better known as "China Beach" (
Already major hotel chains and casinos are adding properties in preparation for the influx of Vietnam vets and their families who will return to a far different environment than they knew a half century ago.

Easily accessible by land or sea, Danang is within 60 to 70 miles of several UNESCO World Heritage sites, making it an easy destination to use as a base for touring Vietnam.
Temple on Monkey Mountain

Danang is known by several names but the best known refers to the Han River estuary which is generally a Vietnamese adaptation meaning "opening of a large river."
Danang proudly boasts of six masterpiece bridges throughout the city, including the Rong (Dragon) Bridge, the Thuan Phuoc, the country's longest cable-stayed bridge and the Song Han (Han River) Bridge. The Song Han is Vietnam's first swing bridge which swivels 90-degrees each day between 1:30 and 4:00 am to allow ships to pass.
Dragon Bridge is one of six masterpiece bridges in Danang
With such architectural credentials, Danang is justifiably known as "the city of bridges."

Travelers and locals alike love to gather at the one-of-a-kind Dragon Bridge each Saturday and Sunday at 10 pm when it ejects fire and water from its mouth.
Lions and dragons are popular
subjects for statues  (Taylor)

Most of the bridges are relatively new, adding further emphasis to the budding economy and Danang's popularity as a travel destination.

Just across the road from beautiful My Khe Beach, better known to Americans as China Beach thanks to the popular television series, sits the mostly deserted Da Nang Air Force Base.
My Khe Beach at dusk is more tranquil than it was 50-years
ago  (
The onetime French facility was a major base for the United States during the war. Today, with large Quonset Huts remaining on the grounds, the facility still conjures images of the days of Robin Williams' portrayal of the war in "Good Morning Vietnam."
Danang Air Base still exists but soon it will home to luxury hotels
Visitors hoping to view that landmark need to hurry however, because it won't be long before it becomes the home for massive elegant beachfront hotels.
Reminders of the war
 (commons wikimedia)

In that sense, this is one aspect of Danang's history the Vietnamese will happily erase from their memories.

Not far from the city center, Non Nuoc Beach is historically famous because it was a popular R&R destination for American soldiers during the war. Both Non Nuoc and My Khe Beaches are today the sites of some of the most exclusive resorts in Vietnam.
Non Nuoc Beach is another popular spot to soak up the sun
Just south of Danang the rocky limestone outcroppings of the Marble Mountains offer hiking paths leading to forested cliffs with stunning views of Non Nuoc Beach and the South China Sea.
The Marble Mountains dominate
the landscape (wikipedia)

Even more dynamic are the cliff caves that were once occupied by Cham people and later, several interior pagodas that were build during the Nguyen Dynasty.

To avoid the heat of the city, another popular retreat for locals and visitors alike is Son Tra (Monkey) Mountain. Just 35-minutes by car, Monkey Mountain is an architectural and panoramic wonder rising about 2,300 feet above sea level. 
 The impressive Linh Ung Pagoda (Goddess of Mercy) (Taylor)
Hailed as the tallest statue of the deity in Southeast Asia, the main attraction is the Linh Ung Pagoda. The 220-foot white female sculpture of the Goddess of Mercy stands atop a lotus-shaped platform featuring 17 levels inside with 21 miniature Buddha statues.
Two dragon sculptures line the stairs at Monkey Mountain (Taylor)
Entrance is free, but plan ahead because it does become extremely crowded during special events.

The Lucky Temple is part of a cave system once inhabited by
the Champa Kingdom  (wikipedia)
Venturing approximately 40 miles west from Danang, My So'n is a thousand year old archaeological site situated in a remote forested area that once contained more than 70 temples and stupas.

The onetime capital of the Champa Kingdom was heavily damaged during the war, but still retains enough surviving structures to be a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Exotic temples are a hallmark
of Danang  (Taylor)

Time was, not so very long ago, that the mention of Vietnam often sent young American men to Canada to avoid participating in an unpopular politicized war.

Now, half a century later, Vietnam is making a comeback that will only see a major rise in tourism within the coming decade. For a central location as a base, Danang has much to offer.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Germany's Romantic Road to Bavaria begins in Wurzburg

Wurzburg's cathedral dominates the skyline  (wikipedia)

, GERMANY — The German town of Wurzburg, with its signature red-tiled rooftops, nestles along the shores of the Main River about halfway between Frankfurt and Nuremberg.

Many travelers call Wurzburg the "Gateway to the Romantic Road" in Germany with its serpentine path into Bavaria that leads to typical charming villages such as Rothenburg ob der Tauber and Dinkelsbuhl among others.

Rothenburg is a Romantic Road
favorite (wikipedia)
As a starting point for the Romantic Road, Wurzburg is ideal, with plenty of museums, interesting architecture and enough history to whet your appetite and stir your imagination.

For example, the Wurzburg witch trials, which lasted for five years between 1626 and 1631 were one of the largest peace-time trials in history. Under Bishop Philip Adolf, it is estimated that somewhere between 600 and 900 people were burned as witches until Swedish King Gustav Adolf captured the town and stormed the castle.

In the late 1930s leading up to the Nazi's rise to power, the Jewish community in Wurzburg was small, consisting of only about 2,000 people. However, Wurzburg was a rabbinic center and home to numerous communal organizations as well as the Jewish Teachers Seminary.

The Main River divides Wurzburg and its red tiled roofs

By 1941, the first Jews from Wurzburg were being shipped to concentration camps in Eastern Europe. Two years later the final transport departed in June.

As such, because it had been such an important hub for the Jewish transports, Wurzburg paid a heavy price in 1945 when 90% of the city was destroyed in less than 20 minutes as the result of a British air raid involving 225 Lancaster bombers.
Interior of the Hofkirche

The goal of the attack was to break the spirit of the German population in the city as every church, cathedral and monument was either destroyed or heavily damaged. The city center, which had thrived since the Middle Ages was also a victim, as were more than 5,000 people who died in the onslaught.

If there is one trait about Germans that everyone knows however, it is their resilience, and, over the next two decades the people, mostly women, of Wurzburg rolled up their sleeves and painstakingly rebuilt the primary buildings of historical significance.

Dresden, in the northern part of the country, was also leveled during the war, but most of the reconstruction there was done in contemporary styles of architecture. Wurzburg's damage was said to be even greater than that of Dresden.
The Old Main Bridge connects Marienburg Hill with the city
center  (wikipedia)
Standing on Marienberg Hill, overlooking the town of Wurzburg today, it is difficult to imagine the city being little more than a pile of rubble even as far back as the 1940s. The River Main flows gently beneath the landmark Alte Mainbrucke (de) (Old Main Bridge) past picturesque buildings with their myriad of traditional red roofs.

Built between 1473-1543 to replace the destroyed Romanesque bridge that dated from 1133, the main attraction of the bridge today is the sculptures of 12 saints and important historical figures. Each statue stands nearly 15-feet high. The project was completed in two phases beginning in 1730 and included Mary and Saint Joseph, Charlemagne and Pepin the Short.
With 12 huge statues, the Old Main Bridge is a landmark
The bridge was damaged by explosives at the end of World War II. In the process, American troops threw Pepin into the river to make way for an anti-aircraft gun.

Now fully restored, the Old Main Bridge is a popular crossing point from the city center to Festung Marienber, the massive fortress guarding Wurzburg from the west of town square.
The Residenz is a UNESCO
site (germany travel)

Also situated near the center of town is the Wurzburger Residenz, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that has been completely rebuilt since the severe bombings of 1945.

Originally built between 1720 and 1744, several architects supervised the construction, but the name most familiar is that of Balthasar Neumann who created the famous Baroque staircase.
Interior of the Gruenlack Zimmer  (
The compound is vast but it is also surrounded by serene landscaping which gives it a warmth that is difficult to convey in a building so large.

For food and drink Wurzburg is filled with typical German beer halls and pubs including the Wurzburger Stein, a vineyard on the outskirts of town which is one of Germany's oldest and largest.

Just for fun, Wurzburg is home to the oldest pizzeria in Germany, which, believe it or not, only dates to 1952. Though Bier und Speisewirtschaft serves pizza, which is not exactly  typical German cuisine, you will most assuredly enjoy your meal "for better or wurst."

Friday, January 12, 2018

The Schynige Platte chugs its way high into the Alps
BERNESE OBERLAND, SWITZERLANDSwitzerland's mountainous alpine region of the  Bernese Oberland is famous for its rail journeys to  the Jungfraujoch and the Schilthorn, which also includes transfers by cable car.

There is, however, another marvelous train that is  frequently overlooked by helter-skelter wanderers which has been known a local favorite for more than a century.
Over a century of rail travel

The Schynige Platte Railway opened in May 1893 using steam traction before being electrified in 1914. The rack railway with a gradient of 25% connects the village of Wilderswil, near Interlaken, with the stunning wildflower gardens of the Schynige Platte, a small mountain ridge featuring three major peaks: the Gumihorn (6,886 ft), the Tuba (6,811 ft) and the Geiss (6,781 ft) which is the closest to the viewpoint.

In addition, there are also impressive views of the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau as well as the town of Interlaken which derives its name because of its geographical setting between the lakes of Thun and Brienz.

The Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau are visible from Schynige Platte
When the original Alpenrose Hotel was no longer able to accommodate the influx of Swiss visitors, the Schynige Platte Mountain Hotel was built and opened in 1894. Just four years later, in the early morning hours of July 25, 1898, Hotel Schynige Platte was engulfed in flames and burned to the ground.

Mountain views at every turn
Shortly before the turn of the 20th century, in 1899, the new hotel, which remains active today, opened to offer guests breathtaking vistas of the Bernese Oberland's big three: the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau. Along with views of the Lutschen Valleys and Lake Thun as well as an imposing glacial panorama it's an alpine treasure that is difficult to match.

Today, the hotel features alpine antiques that include chests of drawers with marble tops, rustic beds and duvets, charming porcelain basins and water jugs complete with furnishings that create old-world ambiance amid mountainous splendor. By design, telephones and televisions are not part of the accommodation appointments thanks to management's belief that visitors should have the opportunity to savor the sensational mountain sunrises and sunsets without the temptation of modern distractions.
The mournful sounds of alphorns is a Swiss tradition  (Taylor) 
A visit to Schynige Platte is a summertime outing operating from the beginning of June to the middle of October. The reason is due to heavy snows and occasional avalanches which impose their seasonal disruption in the upper section of the rail route between Breitlauenen and the summit.

In fact, once the last train of the season has ceased its operation, the overhead catenary on the upper section of track is dismantled and reconstructed the following year prior to the first run of the new season. The construction takes a day to complete, using the lone remaining steam locomotive and six employees to  finish the job.

Making tracks to the summit of Schynige Platte  (wikipedia)
Four electric engines, as well as the one original steam locomotive, are used to push trains up the mountain or to lead it down. During the season trains operate every 40 minutes with a traveling time of 52 minutes. Upon arrival at the terminus of one of the highest mountain railways in Switzerland, visitors disembark near the summit of the Schynige Platte mountain.

The alpine garden is a
favorite  (Taylor)
The most popular attraction, other than the magnificent scenery, is the Schynige Platte Alpine Garden which specializes in researching the high altitude flora of Switzerland. With more than 600 species of plants native to the Swiss Alps, the garden has operated an alpine-botanical course conducted by the Institute of Plant Sciences at the University of Bern since 1932.

Established in 1928, an area of over 86,000 square feet was fenced off and opened to the public after centuries of use as alpine pasture.

Schynige Platte overlooks Interlaken's two lakes, Thun and Brienz
As might be expected, hiking, always a favorite pastime in Switzerland, is a popular activity with several short loop trails extending from the rail station to multiple viewing points that are all within a kilometer of each other.

Beginning at Wilderswil, the train ride itself passes through dense forests that includes a loop at Rotenegg. Once you "see the forest for its trees" the woodlands yield to rolling alpine pastures with views of the Bernese Oberland and Interlaken far below. Also visible are Lake Brienz and Lake Thun which frame Interlaken like a giant water-winged butterfly.
Breitlauenen is the only stop
en route  (Taylor)

 is the site of another passing loop as well as the rail line's only intermediate stop at an altitude of just over 5,000 ft.

Saving perhaps the best for last, the final ascent reveals the glistening snow-capped panoramas of the famed Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau Mountains.

The Schynige Platte is well-known to the Swiss, but  frequently overlooked by visitors to the country partly because of other better known destinations. If time permits, it's an outing that makes for a marvelous day trip filled with a variety of activities.
Every place in Switzerland is a photo op  (Taylor)
If time doesn't permit, it might be a good idea to re-do your itinerary or, at the very least, make plans to visit during your  next trip to  Switzerland. You won't be disappointed.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Frankenstein turns 200 this year in Ingolstadt, Germany

Cruising the Rhine where Mary Shelley developed the story of
Frankenstein  (wikipedia)
INGOLSTADTGERMANY — In 2018, Germany and Switzerland will celebrate the 200th birthday of one of the most famous characters in literature and film...Frankenstein.

The genesis of the gothic horror tale began in Europe in 1814 when a young woman named Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, who would later become the wife of  the English romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, stopped at the tiny village of Gernsheim, Germany along the river Rhine.
Frankenstein Castle is believed to be the inspiration for Mary
Shelley  (wikipedia)
Gernsheim is roughly ten miles from Frankenstein Castle, where, two centuries earlier, an alchemist was engaged in anatomical experiments.

Later during her travels, the young woman journeyed to the region of Geneva, Switzerland where the subject of galvanism became a popular topic of conversation among her friends one evening.
Mary Shelley wrote created
Frankenstein in her teens
Galvanism is a biological contraction of a muscle that is stimulated by an electric current created by two chemical reactions with differing properties. 

On an especially unseasonable weekend of cold, dreary weather, Mary, Percy, Lord Bryon and John Pollidori decided to have a competition to see who could write the best horror story as a means of passing the time.

After much thought, Mary dreamt of her experiences in Gernsheim along with the subject of galvanism. When she awoke the next morning, she formulated the idea behind a young scientist who created life from various body parts of fresh corpses.
Boris Karloff as the monster

Though the story was created in Geneva, where much of it takes place, another most prominent location is the  German village in Bavaria called Ingolstadt. Situated near Munich, the Frankenstein legend of Ingolstadt attracts thousands of visitors each year to experience the locations where the story took place.

With its legendary accounts from the earliest days of the study of modern medicine, the Old Town of Ingolstadt is one of those places that is an ideal setting for Mary Shelley's Gothic tale of horror.

The house on Lake Geneva where the story telling contest
established the Frankenstein legend  (wikipedia)
The "Hohe Schule" building was once used by the first Bavarian state university and the Anatomical Institute. Today, the Museum of Medical History, housed the first medical faculty north of the Alps. Wherever pioneers are at work, visions become a reality – but sinister creatures also began to take shape. At least, that was what many people of that period feared.
The main square in Ingolstadt, Germany where much of the
story takes place  (wikipedia)
Among the most popular ways to visit Ingolstadt is doing the Frankenstein tour that encompasses all the true sites that ares woven into the story. Be warned however, strong nerves are are suggested because there are some scary surprises along the way.
The Castle of Chillon in Switzerland was immortalized by Lord Byron   (wikipedia)
Anthologist and science fiction writer, Brian Aldiss, who died in August of this year, argued that "Frankenstein" should be regarded as the first true science fiction story because the central character,  scientist Victor Frankenstein, who audaciously crossed the boundaries between life and death, "makes a deliberate decision" and "turns to modern experiments in the laboratory" to achieve fantastic results. 

Consequently, the Frankenstein story has had significant and indisputable influence upon literature and popular culture since it first appeared two centuries ago.
Munich is not far from
Ingolstadt  (wikipedia)

The name "Frankenstein" comes from the combination of two words; "Franks" are a Germanic tribe and stein is the word for "stone" in German. Thus the meaning of Frankenstein is "Stone of the Franks."

Though approximately 300 miles from Ingolstadt, the actual Frankenstein Castle in Darmstadt is believed to be the inspiration for Mary Shelley's residence of Dr. Frankenstein.

Before 1250, Lord Conrad II Reiz of Breuberg built the castle and later changed his name to  von und zu Frankenstein. He was the founder of the free imperial Barony of Frankenstein, which was subject only to the jurisdiction of the emperor.
The Rhine is a source of many legends and myths in European
folklore  (wikipedia)
Adding the mystery surrounding the origins of the Frankenstein saga is Ingolstadt's connection with an Enlightenment-era secret society founded on May 1, 1776 known as the Illuminati.

The goals of the organization were to oppose superstition and religious influence over public life and abuses of state power. As with the Freemasons, and similar organizations, many influential intellectuals and politicians counted themselves among the membership of the Illuminati.

Neuschwanstein is another
popular site in Bavaria
The sinister aspect of such groups is that they were often alleged to conspire to control world affairs, by masterminding events and planting agents in government and corporations, in order to gain political power and influence and to establish a New World Order.

All of which fits neatly into the superstitions and atmosphere of the 18th century world from which Frankenstein emerged.

So as your 2018 vacation planning progresses, should your path lead you to Bavaria, you might want to explore the footsteps of one of the world's great villains in the town of Ingolstadt, Germany.

You're probably safe, however. After all, they say that lightning never strikes in the same place twice.