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.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Steaming into the Alps on the Brienzer Rothorn train

The Brienzer Rothorn train chugs high above the Lake of Thun
BERNESE OBERLAND, SWITZERLAND — There is nowhere on the planet with a better transportation network than  Switzerland, and the Swiss Travel System is the most efficient, easiest to use, best connected and most convenient railway system as well.

The Swiss Travel System is more than an interconnecting web of railways. Rather it is a concept that takes mobility to new heights, both figuratively and literally.
Around a bend

Not only do the Swiss Federal Railways (SBB, CFF or FFS depending upon whether you speak German, French or Italian) serve as the foundation that intertwines thousands of rail lines in a mesh of parallel steel tracks, the system also includes local buses, trams, private rail services, postal buses, ferries, lake steamers, cable cars and funiculars.

So, with a little planning and not much effort, it is possible to see much of the country from one form of transportation or more while setting your watch to the arrival and departure times.
Steaming into the Alps ( 
One railway in the Bernese Oberland, for example, is the Brienzer Rothorn Rack Railway which climbs from the woodcarver's village of Brienz on the shores of Lake Brienz nearly five miles to a summit at more than 7,300 feet above sea level.

Following two years of construction, the railway opened in June of 1892 using a newly developed technology designed by Roman Abt known as the Abt double lamella rack system.
The little engine that could

Today the Brienzer Rothorn Train is the fourth highest railway in Switzerland and can be accessed by car, rail or water. However, until 1916, the only way to get there was by boat service on the Lake of Brienz.

Soon after it opened, the line ran into financial difficulties due to low capacity. Designed to carry 25,000 passengers a year, it only managed to accommodate 5,000 in the first year. Later the problem was magnified with the opening of the nearby Schynige Platte Railway in 1895 and the Jungfraubahn in 1898.

The Jungfrau train remains the highest railway in Europe and second highest in the world today.
High above the clouds looking down on Lake Brienz
Thus, the Brienzer Rothorn ceased operating in 1914 due to World War I and did not re-open until June of 1931.

Thanks to superb maintenance, even during its 17-year hiatus in service, the railway was relatively easy to recondition. Unlike other Swiss mountain trains the BRB, as it is most frequently referred to by locals, was not electrified.

Scenic wonders near Interlaken
From 1953 until 1990 it was full steam ahead for the "little engine that could" as it pushed and shoved its way high into the Alps as the only line operating by steam only. Other lines now offer special "steam" trips and diesel locomotives along with electric trains, but the Brienzer still huffs and puffs its way to the top.
Boats are a great way to arrive at the Rothorn train
The line begins in Brienz just a few short steps from the main railway station on the Lake of Brienz or by steamer at the dock used by BLS AG Shipping. Boats take about an hour to cross from Interlaken to Brienz.

It is also easy to arrive  by car.

The amazing one hour train ride is a kaleidoscope of scenery passing through five tunnels that reveal lush green pastures, meadows, forests and sheer chiseled rock faces. Just when you think you have reached the top, the train bends around a corner and new worlds re-open above and below.
When push comes to shove (
Interlaken derives its name because it nestles between the lakes of Thun and Brienz and both unveil themselves beneath majestic alpine vistas as the steam engine pushes its way to the summit.
Panoramic car with the lake far below  ( 
The railway consists of a single track with three passing loops to allow for two-way traffic.

Geldreid is the first at slightly more than 3,300 feet.

Next comes Planalp Station, the halfway point in the journey. Here older steam locomotives take on water before continuing the climb.

Oberstafel is the third passing loop before arriving at the upper terminus at Rothorn Kulm station just below the summit of the mountain.

Leave it to the Swiss to recognize the need for visitor comfort. Regardless of which mountain train you take anywhere in the country, there are always restaurants and restrooms along the way and at the final stop.
Hiking is also popular

Once at the top, many people enjoy hiking along the trail connecting Brunig-Hasliberg station with the Rothorn.

The BRB frequently has specialty services throughout the year. Every Tuesday is Senior Citizens Day where female riders 64 and above and male passengers 65 and up receive a discount as well as an included lunch.
The Steam Sausage Cruiser operates each Wednesday during the
season  (brienzerrothorn,ch)
On Wednesdays beginning at 10 am, try the Dampfwürstlibummler, the Steam Sausage Cruiser, where you can sample delicious “Heizerwürstli” Steam Sausages along with rack rail bread and a drink.

On Sundays in July, August and September riders can depart at 7:30 in the morning to watch day break far below.
Daybreak on the Brienzer Rothorn route
Travelers who arise before dawn can even catch a 5:30 am train during four specified Saturdays twice in July and twice in August.

For those who prefer to sleep in, there are evening excursions as well which include a three-course dinner at the Rothorn Kulm Restaurant amid moon and starlit villages and lakes.
Breakfast run into the Alps  (
For true gourmands, the Salon Rouge special combines onboard cuisine aboard a stylish vintage train coach. Hot and cold selection range between one and 13 courses as you are pushed by a first-generation engine accompanied by a small cargo car.

Travelers using a Swiss Travel Pass receive a 50% discount on the Brienzer Rothorn train and the cable car from Sörenberg to the Brienzer Rothorn while the train to Brienz and the bus to Sörenberg are free.
Passing at one of the three loops where the track splits
 If this all sounds too good to be true, just remember, the Brienzer Rothorn is just one of hundreds of unique rail journeys in Switzerland.

But as we said, Switzerland just may be the best transportation network in the world.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Swedish emigration to the New World thrives in Vaxjo

Replica of the Kalmar Nyckel which transported thousands of
Swedish emigrants to North America (

VAXJO, SWEDEN — Travel trivia question: Which city had the largest Swedish population outside of Stockholm at the turn of the 20th century?

Immigration has been a much discussed global topic in recent years, but the Scandinavian country of Sweden has taken emigration to a new level.
House of the Emigrants in
Vaxjo  (

Under the leadership of Gunnar Helen, the newly elected governor of Kronoberg, the Swedish Emigrant Institute opened on, of all dates, September 11, 1965.

Thanks to Helen's vision and the enthusiastic support of Swedish author Vilhelm Moberg, who spent 12 years writing a trilogy about the great Swedish migration between 1843 and 1930, the Swedish Emigrant Institute is one of the finest genealogical research facilities in the world.

Author Vilhelm Moberg
Situated in the town of Vaxjo in the province of Smaland, the Institute features thousands upon thousands of materials about Swedish emigration and life abroad during the 150 year exodus from the country. Only Ireland and Norway had larger migratory populations than Sweden.

Today, people of Swedish descent from all over the world have perhaps the best genealogical resource on the planet for tracing their family heritage.
The migration began in Smaland in 1683  (wikipedia. com)
The seeds of the grand migration began in the Smaland region as early as 1638 when Swedish settlers boarded an armed Dutch-built merchant ship called the Kalmar Nyckel (Key of Kalmar) that became famous for carrying Swedes to North America. It was there that they established the colony of New Sweden.
Sailing to America with hope and promises of a new life
It would be more than 200 years later before one of the greatest transoceanic emigrations in European history brought over 1.2 million Swedes to North America. By 1900 one out of every six Swedish-born people lived in the United States.

Considering that only 40 Swedes lived in Chicago in 1848, the rapid growth in population is a dramatic example of the size of the migration that occurred before the turn of the century. Many of the earliest settlers followed what became known as "The Dream of America" to work on the Illinois & Michigan Canal.

By 1870 the Swedish settlement in Chicago had been divided into three distinct ethnic enclaves. The largest, situated north of the Chicago River, was known as Swede Town.

Pukeberg in Vaxjo is a popular tourist destination today

Today, the House of the Emigrants in Vaxjo is the best resource in Sweden to locate materials and information about the emigration and it history. It also provides superb records for anyone of Swedish heritage to track their roots.

As a museum, the Dream of America, the oldest permanent exhibition, is divided into five "themes." The theme called "The Background" looks at life in the country during a period of famine and industrialization during the late 19th and early 20th centuries
Vaxjo Cathedral (
Other themes are called "The Decision" focusing upon making the choice to leave, "The Voyage" which covers life aboard ship, "Dream & Reality" looks at life in North America and Minnesota and "The Cultural Frontier" which highlights Bishop Hill in northern Illinois, Swedish American church life and the fine arts.

A replica of Vilhelm Moberg's house and the "Writer's Studio" are also major parts of the exhibition experience. A cutaway view of Moberg's room features the desk at which he completed his 12-year journey into one Sweden's most remarkable historical chapters in July of 1959.
Artist's rendering of the Kalmar Nyckel sailing to the New World
Resting on the desk is Moberg's original manuscript.

Known as "The Footsteps of the Emigrants," one of the lesser known activities for visitor's is the ability to travel the backroads and countryside trails the emigrants followed en route to boarding the ship to their "brave new world."
Moberg addresses the nation

After 1880, the Swedish population exploded in Chicago with thousands of immigrants being attracted to the expanding economy as well as a climate with which they were already familiar at home.

Among the main collections in the Swedish Emigrant Institute, and certainly a primary factor in why it is such an invaluable resource for people of Swedish heritage, are: Swedish parish records; passport journals; summary census reports from various parish offices; Swedish passenger lists; Swedish American church archives; emigrant organizational archives such as the Swedish Ladies Society in New York, the Orders of Vikings, Svithiod, and Vasa which had lodges in most sizable Swedish settlements and mutual aid societies; America letters and diaries; and printed source materials dealing with emigration and Swedish pioneer settlers.

Molten glass transforms to crystal beauty in Smaland
In addition to the House of the Emigrants, Smaland is located in the heart of Sweden's glass district known as the "Kingdom of Crystal." So when family ties begin to overwhelm you, it is easy to take a break to visit Kosta Boda, Orrefors or any one of several other small family operated glass blowers.

As for the answer to the trivia question; if you answered Chicago you'd be right on the money. After all it took the Swedes less time to get to Chicago than it did for the Cubs to win the World Series

Friday, March 9, 2018

Merida, Mexico's all-inclusive private villa, Hacienda Petac

The complete getaway at Hacienda Petac in Merida

MERIDA, MEXICO Did you ever want to take over a private resort and have it all to yourself? Introducing the all-inclusive all-inclusive resort at Hacienda Petac in Merida, Mexico.

This beautifully restored colonial 17th estate sits on 250 private acres that offer the intimacy of a private villa combined with the services of a luxury hotel plus an added twist that makes it completely unique.
Dine al fresco by the pool, all meals are included
The new dimension is that the entire villa can be booked by a minimum of four guests up to a maximum of 14 for a four night stay where the entire villa becomes your own personal estate.

Accommodations are housed in four separate buildings featuring a total of seven spacious bedrooms, all with private baths and polished native stone showers.
A spa treatment is included

The property also includes a heated pool, spa, gym, game room, teaching kitchen and a media salon. There's even a chapel if you happen to fall in love and want to get married.

In short, Hacienda Petac is a blissful retreat at its finest.

Most activities center around the heart of the villa known as Casa Principal which features the dining room, bar, library and numerous shady terraces. The grounds are crisscrossed with walking trails that appeal to hikers and bird watchers while sun-worshippers can luxuriate at the heated pool in lounge chairs crafted from local stone or nap in hammocks with a nearby garden as a backdrop.
Enjoy a siesta in a hammock by the pool  ( 
Nestled in the center of some of the best Mayan ruins in Mexico, Hacienda Petac offers a choice of excursions as part of the package including a visit to the Mayan archeological site of Uxmal, the colonial city of Merida, the flamingo colony at a wetlands reserve or the Gulf Coast beaches.

The attentive Mayan staff treats each guest as a family member with friendly, efficient service that magically washes away the clutter of the outside world like an incoming tide sweeping across a beach.\
Comfort is part of the service at Hacienda Peta
Hacienda Petac's Friends' Getaway All-Inclusive Package includes four nights exclusive use of the accommodations, all meals and snacks, all non-alcoholic and alcoholic house brand beverages, a guided outing to Merida or the ancient Mayan city of Uxmal, one spa treatment per guest, optional cooking classes, Wi-Fi internet access and full-service on-site staff including a manager/concierge.

Also included is one round-trip transfer per group from Merida International Airport to Hacienda Petac. Merida is served by United Airlines, American, Aeromexico and Westjet from Canada with approximately 30 minutes driving time to the villa. Airport transfers can also be arranged from Cancun for an additional fee.
The suite life in Merida

Families traveling with children may substitute an activity for the youngsters instead of a spa treatment. Among the most popular children's programs are a Mayan treasure scavenger hunt, piñata making and cooking classes where kids roll out their own tortillas and mash up fruit to make smoothies.

The package price for the offer from April 15 through October 15, 2018 is $1,350 per person plus 16% tax.

Cooking classes are held in the hacienda's state-of-the-art teaching kitchen while the spa offers a Mayan-inspired hot stone massage or a warm honey and rose body wrap.
Pyramid of the Magician at Uxmal is part of an included tour
Afterwards, since the place is all your own, invite the gang to join you for some aromatherapy in the cavernous Jacuzzi.

In the evenings, there are cocktails on the terrace and dinner served by candlelight, often under the stars. Enjoy after dinner starlight conversation or head to the game room for some competitive fun. The media room has a great selection of movies to watch as you sip another round of margaritas.
Finish the day with a candlelight dinner  (haciendapetac;com)
Hacienda Petac is private hospitality at its finest with its bold, affordable and exclusive all-inclusive concept.

Proof positive of the old saying "Mi casa es su casa."

Friday, March 2, 2018

Beyond the Olympics in South Korea

Stone carvings of animals guard a temple in South Korea
BUSAN, SOUTH KOREA The 2018 Winter Olympics are now just a memory. The athletes have returned to their homes for another four years of training or to retire from their individual sports, but South Korea endures, and it has much to offer visitors.

Perhaps one of the most surprising things for inexperienced travelers to Asia is the contemporary 21st century atmosphere of the region.
Beomeosa Temple, Busan
No longer is this a land of Asian rice hats and human-powered rickshaws. Rather Asia is a region of modern skyscrapers surrounded by traditional historical temples that make it a cultural wonderland for visitors.

South Korea is a destination that beckons beyond ski slopes and ice rinks. The capital city of Seoul, for example, boasts a population of 25-million residents.

That is not to say, that South Korea has lost its cultural identity. Perhaps nowhere is that better defined than in calculating your Korean age. When you are born there are two age categories; birthday age and Korean age.
Jagaichi Fish Market

Because Confucianism is such a central part of Korean society, age is extremely important and often dictates the nature of a relationship between people. Unlike many cultures where it is impolite to ask someone their age, in Korea age is frequently the first question asked.

So important is age in Korean society that during an introduction people often refer to others by age related titles rather than by name.

To better understand Korean age, suffice it to say that for some people it is actually possible to be two years old in Korean years before you are actually one month old in real time.
Tradition Korean pancake called Dongnae pajeon
From the moment you are born in Korea, you are automatically one-year old. However, the other odd aspect of Korean age is that everyone celebrates their next birthday on January 1st. It's almost like a national birthday party.
Busan also has good beaches

So, if you are born on December 15th, for example, you will be two in Korean age before you are even a month old.
Strange as it may seem, it's one of those little cultural quirks that define a nation, giving it charm and keeping its traditions unique in a cookie-cutter world filled with McDonald's, television and the internet.
Haedong Yonggungsa Temple was originally built in 1376 as Bomun Temple  (
South Korea is a showcase of traditional cultural treasures filled with countless temples, some of which are UNESCO World Heritage sites, and diverse museums.

With more hot spring resorts and spas than any other metropolis in Korea, Busan, formerly known as Pusan, is the second largest city behind Seoul.
PNU Campus is a vast complex
in Busan
Despite being only one-sixth the size of Seoul, Busan is the economic, cultural and educational center of southeastern Korea thanks, in large part, to the country's most active port. The port of Busan is the 9th busiest in the world and is situated only 120 miles from the Japanese islands of Kyushu and Honshu.

The Nakdong River, Korea's longest, also flows through the city and Haeundae Beach is the largest and most popular in the country.
Beomeosa Temple is one of three major temples in southeast Korea
Not to be missed is Beomeosa Temple, which is considered one of the three major temples in southeast Korea along with Haeinsa Temple and Tongdosa Temple. Beomeosa is regarded as the "Great Headquarters Temple of Seon Buddhism."

Established in 678 on Mt. Geumjeongsan, legend says that a golden fish descended from heaven and swam in a well on the moutaintop, thereby providing its name which literally means "Golden Well Mountain." The Beomeosa Temple was built on the site, with Beomeosa translating to mean "Spiritual Fish Temple."
Downtown Busan at night
Speaking of fish, another must-see site is the Jagaichi Fish Market in the Nampo-dong neighborhood. The market, one of the most visited sites in Busan, derives its name from the gravel, jagal, because the marketplace is surrounded by  small stones.

Originally known as Bomun Temple when it was built in 1376 by a teacher known as Naong, the Haedong Yonggung Temple was renamed in 1974. It had been destroyed during the Japanese invasions at the close of the 16th century but was eventually rebuilt in the 1930s.

The most unique aspect of this vast Buddhist complex is that it is one of only a few temples set on the seaside. With its close proximity to Haeundae Beach, arguably the favorite beach area in South Korea, this temple is very popular with sightseers, especially during Buddha's birthday celebrations.
The Korea Maritime and Ocean University is world famous for
its research  (
Yeongdo-gu in Busan is the home of the Korea Maritime and Ocean University. Considered South Korea's most prestigious national university for maritime study, transportation science and engineering, it is a testament to the high standards of education throughout Asia.
Evening shrouds Busan, South Korea
Though you won't find any icebergs in South Korea, Busan is just the tip of a vast new world of things to see and do in Asia.

Long after the Olympics have gone and, there is something in South Korea for people of all ages, including those who are two years older in South Korean years.

Korea is proof positive that "age is only a number."