Friday, September 28, 2018

Switzerland is a place where you can ride up and down from heaven

The Matterhorn rises over the Swiss village of Zermatt

SWITZERLAND — In a country that is more vertical than horizontal, the Swiss have never let the magnitude of their alpine geography stand in the way of great transportation opportunity.

Ever since hoteliers and railway engineers pooled their talents to create the most efficient transportation network in the world, the Swiss have been creating wondrous new ways to see their country.
Stanserhorn observation tower
(Photo: Taylor)
Way back in 1893, for example, in the tiny village of Stans (about a 20-minute train ride from Lucerne), locals began using public transportation to make their way to nearby Stanserhorn Mountain for hiking.

Rising nearly 6,000 feet above sea level, the mountain is famous for its views of Lake Lucerne more than a mile below.

Fast forward to June, 2012 when the new double deck open top "CabriO" cable car was unveiled. The CabriO actually allows passengers to ride on top of the car, with room for 30 people on top and 60 more in the lower cabin.

Top o'the line on the roof of the CabriO  (Photo: Taylor)
Unlike earlier cable car incarnations, the "CabriO" is not suspended by a single cable from the top. Instead it glides along two cables at the side of the cabs making the ride considerably smoother and far less jarring when it crosses transfer points.

Surprisingly, there is little sensation of height other than the breathtaking scenes that surround the passenger’s magnificent unimpeded views of alpine pastures and mountain peaks during the six minute journey to the top.

Grinder used to excavate the
Gotthard Base Tunnel
(Photo: Taylor)
In December, 2016, the Swiss opened the most "boring" rail project in history with the inauguration of the 35.5 mile Gotthard Base Tunnel, the longest and deepest railway tunnel in the world.

In so-doing, the Swiss trimmed more than 30 minutes from the commute between northern Switzerland and southern Switzerland, making the accomplishment not only an engineering marvel, but adding even greater efficiency to an already superbly efficient transportation network.

Looking through the Gotthard Tunnel toward the 3-mile access
road  (Photo: Taylor)
For decades it has been possible to cross the massive St. Gotthard Pass by rail or car (weather permitting) but the new tunnel saves valuable time for businessmen who have little interest in sightseeing.

Among the more recent developments in Swiss transportation was unveiled between April 6-8 of 2018, with the introduction of the "Staubern", a cable car that transports passengers from the Rhine Valley to the top of Staubern Mountain in eastern Switzerland.

Now Switzerland has introduced the world's first solar powered
cable car  (Courtesy:
In a country that has more cable cars than Holland has tulips, why would the Staubern make news? The answer is simple: it's the world's first solar-powered cable car. Operating to the Staubern Restaurant and Guesthouse at an altitude of just under 6,000 feet, the Staubern brings new meaning to the term "cablevision."

Travelers should know that all Swiss cable cars, funiculars, rack railroads and other forms of mountaintop transportation, always have restaurant and restroom facilities at the summit.

Into the clouds  (Photo: Taylor)
Situated between the cantons of St. Gallen and Appenzell Inner Rhodes (a Swiss canton is similar to a state in the U.S.), the Staubern is on the cutting edge of cable car technology.

As this column is being written, the village or Zermatt is preparing to open the highest cable car in the region. Known as the "Matterhorn Glacier Ride" the high wire act will connect Trockener Steg with Klein Matterhorn (Little Matterhorn) at 12,740 feet, Europe's highest cableway station.

The Matterhorn Glacier ride is called the "Ferrari in the Air"
Nicknamed the "Ferrari in the air", the state-of-the-art lift has the capacity to transport 2000 people per hour to the Matterhorn glacier while reducing travel time to just 9 minutes.

The Matterhorn Glacier Ride is scheduled to open September 29th.

See the "Big" Matterhorn from
"Little" Matterhorn
Travelers wishing to experience all of the newest transportation services in Switzerland need only wait until March of 2019. That's when arguably the most famous Swiss train, the Glacier Express, will inaugurate Excellence Class service on the 7-hour journey between Zermatt and St. Moritz.

Every seat is by a window in Excellence Class panoramic cars
on the Glacier Express (Courtesy:
Excellence Class will feature high-quality full service and modern design as guests are treated to a truly exceptional journey across the Swiss Alps and their majestic  panoramas. Among the features, each traveler will enjoy a window seat.

When push comes to shove, Switzerland has the finest
transportation network in the world  (Photo: Taylor)
Excellence Class offers personal travel guidance, a trendy bar area, a premium multi-course lunch and many more amenities – all included. Capacity in the coach has space for 20 guests with a surcharge of CHF 420, regardless of the type of ticket a passenger is holding.

You see traveling in Switzerland is mountains of fun, where the Swiss never fail to rise to the occasion and where the sky is NEVER the limit.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Some common travel errors and how to solve them

Part of the "fun" of travel is the lessons that are learned along the
way  (Photo:  Public Domain)

CHARLOTTE, NCThe first half of a familiar adage goes "To err is human..." When it comes to travel, the second half makes little difference because "forgiveness" is usually overruled by a guy named Murphy.

All too often, travelers do not do their homework when they plan a trip, and that mistake comes back to haunt them with spinning wheels, less than adequate accommodations and, worst of all, wasted money on your once-in-lifetime adventure.

Here are some of the most common mistakes made by travelers and how to avoid them.

Unless rafting is what you set out to do, you could be "up the
creek" paddle and all (Photo: Taylor)
Overly ambitious planning: What sounds and looks good on paper frequently doesn't work in reality. Many people, especially first-timers, want to see everything in one fell swoop. It ain't gonna happen.

No matter how often you visit a place, things change and there is no way to see all a destination has to offer in a single visit or ten.

The best thing to do is to make a list of what are the most important sights you want to see before you go. When you arrive, take a three hour city tour (they are usually hop on/hop off style) and get yourself oriented. That way you have some idea of where things are so you (hopefully) don't keep going back and forth across the city.

If you are doing more than one city or country use the same plan and follow this simple rule; schedule some time to rest and relax, because you are NOT going to see everything. If you try, you won't remember half of what you did see.

Hotel brochures are not always accurate  (Photo: Taylor)

When European travel really kicked in following World War II, the idea was to do a single "Grand Tour" that became known as the "If it's Tuesday, it must be Belgium" tours. They still exist but they are less than satisfying. As a result are actually "cookie cutter" itineraries and they don't work very well regardless of whether you book a tour or travel independently.

Traveling on the "cheap" isn't always better: This one can be tricky. Certainly everyone wants to save money, but cutting costs so thin that you fail to see the entire destination is foolish. After all, you scrimped and saved to take the trip, and then if you deny yourself the best part of it by not spending a few extra dollars to see it, you have wasted the experience.

Guidebooks are great for suggestions on places to eat and sightseeing...up to a point. Sure you can find some neat little spots for dinner that have been recommended by someone else, but part of the fun of travel is to discover things on your own.
Be careful...local cuisine could give you a bad case of "turista"
(Photo: Taylor)
Most restaurants and cafes post menus outside so that you can get an idea of what they offer just by walking past. Some of the best places are those you just happen upon. If the atmosphere appeals to you and the menu looks good, just pop in and try it. Chances are, if there are lots of locals inside, then you've hit the jackpot.

Many restaurants also offer tourist menus. Eye those with caution to be sure you are getting exactly what you want. All too often they are "Americanized" to suit our tastes and do not at all reflect traditional local cuisine.

Yes, sometimes you can, and will, make a mistake, but when you do find that treasure, you'll forget all about the bad choice. Besides, that's half the fun of travel.

Why pay less for a hotel two miles outside of town if you have to take a taxi or some other form of transportation to go back and forth? The money you save by being within walking distance could more than make up for getting cheaper accommodations.

Always negotiate ground transportation services up front
(Photo: Taylor)
Youth hostels typically have cheap rates for the rooms, but if you have to pay for towels, soap, butter and other standard amenities, you might realize that it is less expensive to stay in a tourist style two-star hotel.

In other words, be frugal, but don't be afraid to splurge now and then to see something you really don't want to miss.

The best rule of thumb is to "pack half of what you need and twice as much money."

So you spend a couple hundred more dollars. After you get home, that extra money will be long forgotten if the trip is a success.

Don't be afraid of language barriers or mistakes: For many novice travelers the fear of non-English speaking locations is traumatic. One thing to do is to make your first international trip is to England, Scotland, Ireland or some other place where "English" is spoken.

Just remember, it won't be American English and, even though they say they are speaking our language, you may not understand accents, dialects and/or idioms. It may be an eye-opener but it will usually cure the language barrier disease immediately.

Hometown traffic rarely compares to what you find abroad
(Photo: Taylor)
In most large destinations throughout the world, keep in mind that English is the universal language, so you can always duck into a quality hotel and find someone with whom you can communicate.

A great tip is to learn how to say "Please", "Thank you", "Good morning" or "Good evening" in the native language. A DON'T forget to smile. Be patient. Most people are willing to help. If they are rude, just let it go.

Another suggestion is the main train station. In the U.S. we are so addicted to our cars, we forget, or don't realize, that most of the rest of the world travels by train.

Train stations can be a weary traveler's refuge (Photo: Taylor)
Railway stations are "Yellow Pages for the soul" because you can get everything there; English tourist information, food, change, sometimes hotel reservations, gifts, restrooms, lockers, ground transportation and newspapers and magazines. Best of all, they are usually centrally located which makes it difficult to get lost.

Plan well, do your homework and the need for prayer will be reduced  (Photo: Taylor)
As for mistakes, so what. That's part of the adventure. Remember travel is a learning experience. Nobody is going to do everything right the first time out. Just go with the flow and try to minimize the errors as much as possible.

Logistics isn't the most exciting thing to think about when planning your trip of a lifetime, but it is a guarantee that if you do your homework, you will save time, money and, most of all, energy.

Those things along will make all the difference after you return.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Ireland: Six delightful and quirky B&Bs

Autumn comes to Roundwood House in Ireland

IRELAND — One of the joys of traveling to Ireland is the abundance of quaint, family operated B&B's the capture the allure of one of the greenest places on earth.

Ireland is a land of two lane country roads dotted with majestic castles and oftentimes more sheep than people. But it is also and island that beckons with quirky alluring places that become instant party ice-breakers when you return home.

The mysterious Cliffs of Moher are always dramatic
(Photo: Taylor)
Listed below are a half-dozen of those delightful discoveries. The list is by no means complete, but intended only to offer a sampling of the treasures the Irish have to offer.

Become a lighthouse on Clare Island (Courtesy:

Think of it this way, Clare Island is an island guarding a larger island off the western Atlantic coast of Ireland. Keeping watch at the entrance of Clew Bay, the Lighthouse has served as a nautical landmark for nearly two centuries.

Situated high atop craggy cliffs, Clare Island was once a safe haven for sailors protecting Achill, Wesport and points beyond. Today, the Clare Island Lighthouse is a different type of sanctuary, welcoming road weary visitors to enjoy one of the most unique and exclusive getaways in Ireland.

The ultimate room with a sea view is architecturally majestic, offering luxury, fully-catered B&B stays, complemented by the awe-inspiring, natural environment of the famous Wild Atlantic Way.

Sometimes it's rather nice to be a little "nautical."

Perched on a hill, deep in the forest, Helen's Tower is a true escape  (Courtesy:

Island Lighthouse, Helen's Tower perches high on a hill overlooking County Down. Nestled deep in the forest of Clandeboye Estate, on clear days, the three story stone tower, offers views of the coast of Scotland.

Immortalized in poems by Alfred Lord Tennyson and Robert Browning, the tower was constructed between 1848 and 1850 as a famine relief project to provide jobs for the unemployed.

The unique gothic retreat features modern amenities as well as a rooftop terrace linked by a narrow stone staircase.

Perhaps best of all, it is the ideal getaway with accommodations for just two people.

Dining at Barberstown Castle is an event, not just dinner

Comprised of four buildings from different periods of Irish history, Barberstown Castle has had a turbulent legacy.
Situated just 30-minutes from Dublin's city center, it has a sense of being thousands of miles away thanks to 20-acres of surrounding grounds.

Since 1288, Barberstown has had no less than 37 owners, including world famous guitarist Eric Clapton who held the deed between 1979 and 1987.

Eric Clapton once owned the
castle (Courtesy:
Barberstown opened its doors as a hotel in 1971.

Despite multiple owners, Barberstown's proprietors have respected its history over the eight centuries of its existence maintaining the elegance of the structure by carefully blending its Victorian and Elizabethan extensions with the original Castle Battlement of 1288.

Built as a fortress to protect the people of Barberstown from rebel attack trying to burn the village, the walls of the Castle Keep walls slope inwards so as to prevent an enemy from getting out of range by closing up to the building.

Ironically, the rooms on the upper floors of the Castle are larger than those on the ground level as their walls are somewhat thinner.

Today however, Barberstown is ideal for enjoying exceptional personal service, open log fires and great food and wine.

The Cliffs of Moher are even more stunning at sunset

Savor the ambience of a bygone era amid all the comforts of today in this unique four-story townhouse within walking distance of the famous Walls of Derry. Built in the Georgian style of nearly 150 years ago, the architectural features of the era survive largely intact. A distinctive, atmospheric base to explore the attractions and culture of Northern Ireland’s second city.

Ireland is peaceful and alluring  (Photo: Taylor)

Fearing invasion by Napoleon in 1804, Martello Towers in Ireland and England were built to provide "bombproof" defenses.

Ireland's circular stone tower was the first to be constructed and is referred to in historic chronicles as Tower No. 1.

The name is derived from a tower at Mortella Point in the Gulf of Fiorenzo. When the Royalist French Navy combined with the Royal Navy failed to seize the Napoleonic French tower at Mortella in 1794, that was all the inspiration the British needed to construct their defensive towers. The names are different as a result of a mix-up in communication which transposed the letters "a" and "o".

Today this self-catering property accommodates up to four guests, promising a combination of luxury, exclusivity and privacy. The kitchen diner offers breathtaking 360-degree panoramic views from roof level.

The living area and balcony overlook the coastline of Dublin Bay on the middle level, while two bedrooms and bathroom occupy the lower level.

The Long Barn at Roundwood House in County Laois

Spoil yourself in one of Ireland’s finest mid-size country houses of the Georgian period. The warm reception rooms filled with antique furniture, bedrooms lined with paintings and overflowing bookshelves, crackling fires, good food, lovely gardens and extensive outbuildings make this a magical place in which to journey back in time.

Family dog guards the "Doll's
Built by Anthony Sharp whose Quaker grandfather amassed a fortune in the late 17th century by running large flocks of sheep on his 2,000 acre holdings to supply his Dublin clothing business, Roundwood House has a "doll's house-like quality" according to one analyst.

This is no place to be "sheepish" today however, as the original furnishings make Roundwood House a delightful travel experience.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Ravello, Italy: A destination with a view for every occasion

Villa Cimbrone was once Greta Garbo's secret hideaway
(Courtesy: Villa Cimbrone)
RAVELLO, ITALY Greta Garbo discovered it. So did Richard Wagner. Gore Vidal liked it so much he lived there. Others who fell under its spell include D.H. Lawrence, E.M. Forster, T.S. Eliot and Winston Churchill. The tiny commune of Ravello, which has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996, sits perched 1,000 feet above the coastal village of Amalfi, and it was the ideal place for Ms. Garbo "to be alone."

View from Ravello
(Photo: Taylor)
Actually Garbo was not always "alone" in the true sense of the word as she stayed at the Villa Cimbrone on several occasions in the late 1930s with her lover conductor Leopold Stokowski including one in 1938 that was memorable enough to be merited with a plaque.

Of all the stunning places along the Amalfi Coast, Ravello arguably claims the most and the best panoramic vistas. Despite that, the village is far less crowded and cramped than the island of Capri which is an hour and a half by boat from Amafi.

Not on the sea, but close enough
(Photo: Taylor)
The reasons are relatively simple. To begin with Ravello is not on the sea, an immediate drawback for sunworshippers. Next, though there are fabulous restaurants catering to every culinary desire in the world, other than dining, taking the sun by the pool, doing a bit of shopping or enjoying a massage, you have pretty much maxed out the activities available to guests.

Finally, towns like Amalfi, Positano, Maori, Minori, Atrani and Vietri all nestle along the coast with easy access to Capri or Ischia, not to mention Salerno and Sorrento.

Thus Ravello is pretty much a spot for day-trippers except certain times of the year when it plays host to a one of a kind classical music festival in honor of Richard Wagner.

At Villa Cimbrone, there's no need to ever leave the room
(Courtesy: Villa Cimbrone)
Since 1953 the venue for the festival has been a clifftop aerie jutting eastward from Villa Rufolo toward the Lattari Mountains that plunge into the sea with their ragged, yet majestic, coastline.

Founded in the 5th century as a shelter from invasions which ultimately ended the Western Roman Empire, Ravello began to flourish on its own about four centuries later as Amalfi became an increasingly important maritime center. Ravello thrived as a wool merchant's community that supplied the Mediterrean between 839 and 1200.

Photo ops are everywhere
(Photo: Taylor)
Best known for two landmarks, Villa Rufolo and Villa Cimbrone, many of the rich and famous guests came during a time when Ernest William Beckett was doing considerable alteration to Villa Cimbrone in the early part of the 20th century.

Villa Cimbrone was sold to the Vuilleumier family in 1960 when they initially used it as a home. Today it operates as a hotel with its gardens that must be experienced to be believed. Another must-see is the scenic belvedere known as the "Terrace of Infinity."

The Vuilleumiers meanwhile have moved in to the village where they operate another five-star family property called Hotel Palumbo. Palumbo is a hodge-podge of Moorish buildings that somehow blend into one of the most incredible mixture of nooks and crannies that lead to majestic views beyond imagination.

High view of a courtyard at Villa Cimbrone
(Courtesy: Villa Cimbrone)
D.H. Lawrence found great inspiration for "Lady Chatterly's Lover" during his time on the grounds and Gore Vidal once wrote "Twenty five years ago I was asked by an American magazine what was the most beautiful place that I had ever seen in all my travels and I said the view from the belvedere of the Villa Cimbrone on a bright winter's day when the sky and the sea were each so vividly blue that it was not possible to tell one from the other."

The setting for dining at Hotel Palumbo is hard to beat
(Courtesy: Hotel Palumbo)
Villa Rufolo, on the other hand, is more centrally located near the center of town. Enter the villa through an opening in the arched entrance tower and shortly thereafter you will come to a clearing dominated by the Torre Maggiore.

Ravello or bust
Enjoy the garden, cloister and small museum before checking out the setting in the garden of Klingsor which is commemorated in the second act of Richard Wagner's "Parsifal."

Ravello is a multi-visit trip. First take it in as a day trip. After that you will never want to leave.