Friday, February 22, 2019

Stein am Rhein: Switzerland's tiny storybook village

Stein am Rhein is famous for its bay windows and colorful facades  (Courtesy:
STEIN AM RHEIN, SWITZERLAND – “Hidden treasures” are the essence of travel and Stein am Rhein, Switzerland is one of those “treasures.”

All too often travelers become so wrapped up in checking cities, attractions and sights off their list they fail to achieve their primary reason for traveling…discovery. 

Great place for a stroll
Alfred North Whitehead reinforced that notion when he wrote “One main factor in the upward trend of animal life has been the power of wandering.”

If ever there was an ideal spot that captures the spirit of the season, the storybook village of Stein am Rhein has to be at the top of the list.

 In many countries Stein am Rhein might be considered remote.  Not in Switzerland.  While it may be off-the-beaten-path, the accessibility of the Swiss Travel System, combined with its proximity to Schaffhausen, Winterthur and other delightful spots along the River Rhine and Lake Constance, make Stein am Rhein a great place as a base for day trips.

With Old World charm and easy access, Stein am Rhein is a great base for day trips  (Courtesy:
The tiny municipality is a jewel in the canton of Schaffhausen.  Stein am Rhein, which translated means “stone on the Rhine”, lays claim to being the best preserved medieval town in the country, featuring some the finest half-timbered houses in Switzerland. 

If you take your time, you can walk leisurely through this outdoor museum and back in thirty minutes.  Frescoes adorn the facades of the buildings and oriels, or bay windows, overlook delightful cafes and picturesque streets.  In some places, the layers of time have elevated the streets in such a way as to force strollers to duck beneath those bay windows in order to walk under them.

Stein am Rhein is on the banks of
the Rhine River
(Courtesy: Switzerland Tourism)

Situated along the shores of the Rhine, just a short distance from the place where Lake Constance spills into the river on its way to the North Sea, Stein am Rhein became a strategic location during the 11th century.  It was then that Henry II, the fifth, and last, Ottonian emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, moved St. George’s Abbey from Hohentwiel in Singen to what was little more than a quaint fishing village. 

Over time, commerce grew along the river and Stein am Rhein flourished.  The monastery, which was abandoned during the Protestant Reformation, remains a highlight for visitors today. 

Interior of Palagnedra in St. Michael in Stein am Rhein

Located near the Town Hall Square, St. George’s Abbey Museum, as it is commonly referred to now, dedicates its exhibitions to local art and history.  Perhaps of more interest however, are the ceilings, paneling and murals of Thomas Schmid and Ambrosius Holbein.

Portrait of Bonifacius Amerbach by Hans Holbein
(Photo: Public Domain)
Abrosius, the son of Hans Holbein the Elder and the older brother of Hans Holbein the Younger, lived in Stein am Rhein in 1515 while assisting Schmid with the murals in the main hall of the abbey. 

With a population of just 3,000, Stein am Rhein is only twice the size it was during the 1800s.   

Hohenklingen Castle
Adventurous travelers can walk up to the Castle of Hohenklingen, a 13th century fortress overlooking the city where they can view the Lake of Constance and, when weather permits, the Alps.

For less ambitious visitors, there is still plenty to explore including the frescoed facades of the buildings which depict biblical and historical themes throughout town.

In addition, the oriels that elegantly perch above the streets, are symbols of the city’s former affluence, as are the paintings.

Frescoed buildings add to Stein am Rhein's charm as with the village's town hall  (Courtesy:
Even today, ownership of the frescoed buildings in Stein am Rhein comes with serious obligations to the history of the village.  As a condition of proprietorship, a titleholder must agree to maintain the paintings in the same condition as the originals without compensation for the investment.

With its Lilliputian size, Stein am Rhein is built on a human scale.  It is a charming place for walking and exploration.

It's especially lovely at Christmas
(Courtesy: Stein am Rhein
Most people begin their strolls at the 16th century Town Hall, pausing frequently to admire the frescoes and bay windows before stopping at a café along the way to savor the surroundings.

You can access Stein am Rhein by car, boat or rail.  The train station sits on a hill across the river
from the main village, but it is only a short walk over the bridge which spans the Rhine.  Bike rentals are available at a kiosk at the railway station.  There are several well-marked bicycle paths along both shores of the river. 

Schaffhausen is just 13-miles to the west or you can peddle eastward to Kreuzlingen which is 18-miles away.

There is also regular boat service between Kreuzlingen, which is easily accessible by rail or car, and Schaffhausen.  Cruises meander through a beautiful region that alternates between Switzerland and Germany. 

The Rhine Falls are the largest in Europe  (Photo: Taylor)
Among the special sights are the Rhine Falls, Europe’s largest waterfall, just outside Schaffhausen.  The cascading torrents of water can be likened to Niagara Falls in miniature.

The Oskar Reinhart Collection at Am Romerholtz is world famous
Another popular place for an outing is nearby Winterthur with its remarkable private art exhibition at Am Romerholtz.  The Oskar Reinhart Collection is known throughout the world as one of the finest of its kind.  Featuring the work of artists such as Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh, Miro and Klee to name a few, the Reinhart Collection is displayed in a private residence rather than a museum. 

Just 17-miles from Stein am Rhein, Winterthur is a convenient 40-minute train ride to the south with hourly service throughout the day.

Stein am Rhein is one of those places you never forget
For the traveler who seeks a quiet destination far from the madding crowd yet accessible to a rich diversity of scenery, history, quaint villages and world-class art, Stein am Rhein is a gem to consider.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Save a lot of travel hassles with a touch of tact and etiquerre

In some countries the "OK" sign has extremely vulgar significance  (Photo: Public Domain)

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA — Social media has, in many ways, made the world smaller but, in the case of travel, etiquette is one of the first things to suffer.

It's always a good idea to review proper protocols when visiting a new destination by immersing yourself into a different culture. Sometimes the most innocent mistakes can be seen as major insults. One reason we are often labeled "Ugly Americans" by foreign hosts is that we have a tendency to forget that we are guests in another country and fail to do due diligence regarding cultural differences.

One of the simplest ways to ingratiate ourselves to other nationalities is to learn a few basic phrases in their language. Please, thank you, good morning, good evening, pardon me, excuse me and the like are easy to learn and go a long way toward being accepted quickly. Common courtesy works and is greatly appreciated.

Afternoon tea is a British tradition but there is a proper way to do it  (Photo: Mary Cassett - Public Domain) 

Among the favorite destinations for first-time international travelers is the United Kingdom because there is supposedly a common language. Language barriers are often comfort zone killers for inexperienced vagabonds.

Even so, the UK does have some quirky hazards to avoid. Here are some suggestions as to how to be more comfortable in another country. The list is not definitive by any means, but it will give you an idea of things that can ease travel apprehensions.

Brits love their pubs  (Courtesy: Pixabay)


 In England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland avoid questions about one’s health.

When you meet someone new it is best to say, “How do you do?” "How are you?” is acceptable only if the person is already a close friend . 

Be careful about asking someone what they do for a living. It could lead to discussions about money and salaries which is a huge no-no.

Finally, when drinking tea, remember to add milk last.

In Switzerland, punctuality is essential  (Courtesy: Pixabay)


In a country known for its precision, it's not surprising that punctuality is a key trait of the Swiss. Don't be late.

While you're at it, it's always best to bring a small gift to your host, and to send a thank-you note afterwards.

When greeting someone offer a firm handshake and make eye-contact. That doesn't mean you have to squeeze like George Foreman, but it's better to be too strong than to offer a flounder-like grip.

Even fondue has rules (Photo: JHG -- Public Domain)
You can always pick out the tourists because they eat fondue in summer. Whenever you do it, try not to lose your bread in the liquid ocean of melted cheese. Innocent as it may be, it is not considered good form.

Another fondue faux pas is scraping your fork on the bottom of the pot. It just isn't done.

Join the fun when Germans drink beer  (Photo: Taylor)


Like the Swiss, tardiness is frowned upon in Germany. In fact, if you're late do not be surprised if your host openly reminds you that you were not on time.

Perhaps more difficult for Americans these days, is arriving in dress that is too casual. Sweats are improper in a country where people dress up for their guests.

As in Switzerland and Japan, you may also be requested to take off your shoes.

When eating, keep your hands on the table (just so they know you don't have any concealed weapons). The weaponry reference is a joke, of course, but it is not polite to put your hands in your lap or to keep them out of view.

Italians have a passion for eating, especially al fresco
(Courtesy: Italian Tourism) 


Politeness protocols and punctuality completely change in Italy. Time is merely a reference point. Being late is a national pastime. The only question is how long do you wait?

Do not expect undivided attention during meetings. Multitasking is the rule rather than the exception and is universally accepted.

In addition, if you are invited to dinner in Italy, forget the possibility of a quiet evening. There's a reason they called it the "family" in The Godfather and the idea of "two's company, three's a crowd" doesn't exist.

There's a reason why The Godfather and the family were so intertwined  (Photo: Taylor)

More than likely ten or 15 family members and/or friends could "drop in" at any time for dessert or after-dinner drinks.

Moving on to Asia and South America briefly, in Argentina being "fashionably late" is standard. Twenty minutes is typically the rule. Conversions usually disregard personal space and can be quite close compared to other countries. Dinners can be uncomfortably long by American and, even, European standards.

Brazil also honors the tradition of being late, including the idea that dinner will not begin at the appointed hour.

Perhaps most important however, is to never, ever make the "OK" sign in Brazil, it is tantamount to "shooting the bird" in the U.S. only ten times over.

In Japan, do not enter a house with holes in your socks because you will be asked to remove your shoes outside.

Always bring a gift for your host. Neatly wrapped colorful packages can literally be found anywhere in the county.

Bowing is a major aspect of Japanese culture but it can be tricky
  (Photo: Maya-Anaïs Yataghène  Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.) 
Bowing is tricky, but a general rule is the junior person bows first. The deeper the bow determines the level of respect.

Always accept business cards with both hands and be sure to look at them, even if you do not read it.

The Chinese usually do business at a restaurant with dishes typically chosen by the host, usually a regional delicacy. If the occasion is truly special a private dining room will be reserved.

As with Japan, the two-handed business card rule also applies.

These are just a few examples of proper travel etiquette. The main thing to understand is that knowing just a little about the cultural mores of a destination can make travel considerably more pleasant and hassle-free.

Do your homework.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Last Post: A poignant reminder of World War I

Buglers sound the opening for Last Post held each night in Ypres, Belgium  (Courtesy: Last Post Association)

YPRES, BELGIUM — Each night in the small Belgian town of Ypres, traffic on the east side of the city stops at 7:30 on the road through the Menin Gate Memorial. It is a traditional salute to the fallen World War I warriors that has been on-going since 1929

The ceremony is known as the Last Post, and it has become part of daily life in Iepre (Ypres) where the local people share in a simple poignant tribute to the courage and sacrifice of those who defended their city.

Menin Gate in Ypres
(Courtesy: Last Post Association)
The Menin Gate Memorial, which in some ways looks like a smaller version of the Arch de Triumph in Paris, opened in 1927 at the site of the original old city gate leading to the Ypres Salient battlegrounds and the Menin Road. It was here that many British and Commonwealth troops marched on their to the Allied front.

While most Americans will be sleeping on Sunday morning, the 100th anniversary of the armistice that ended fighting on land, sea and air in World War I will be officially observed at 11 a.m. Paris time.

Large crowds have gathered nightly for 100 years to honor the missing at Menin Gate  (Courtesy:
On "the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month" a century ago, the Allies marked their victory over Germany, though it was not a formal surrender.

Appropriately the Last Post at the Menin Gate Memorial has been observed every evening, regardless of weather, since November 11, 1929.

The only exception came between May 20, 1940 and September 6, 1944 when the Germans once again occupied Ypres during World War II. Even then the ritual continued in England at Brookwood Military Cemetery in Surrey.

Poppies are a symbol of WWI
(Photo: Taylor)
Interestingly enough, on the very day the Poles liberated Ypres during the Second World War, the Menin Gate ceremony resumed despite heavy fighting in other parts of town. If visitors look closely they can still see bullet marks from that period in history.

The Last Post is a serendipitous event where crowds are sometimes small, but usually quite large, especially in summer. Visitors wishing to watch the ritual should arrive early in order to get a good vantage point.

Disabled travelers can and should notify security forces in the area who will provide an unobstructed place to observe the sounding of the bugles at 8:00 p.m.

Ypres was completely destroyed during the war
(Courtesy: Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand)

Regardless of whether there is a massive crowd or not a single person in attendance, the busy through road is closed to traffic for one hour each evening. Today, however, it is rare for the memorial to be empty at any time of year.

At precisely 7:55 p.m.,  3 to 5 buglers from the local volunteer Fire Brigade arrive and stand ready at the eastern entrance of the memorial.

A hush falls over the crowd and stillness shrouds the surroundings.

The ceremony is always moving, reverent and respectful
(Courtesy: (Last Post Association)

Precisely at 8 o'clock four buglers march forward. Solemn. Dignified. Reverent. The moment for the Sounding of the Last Post has arrived.

·      The ceremony has two formats. When no participants or wreath layers are present the program follows this order:
·      Call to Attention by the buglers of the Last Post Association.
·      Sounding of the “Last Post” bugle call.
·      Minute of silence.
·      Sounding of the “Réveille” bugle call.
·      End of Ceremony

Usually the ceremony is extended to include anything ranging from music by a visiting band, choir, orchestra or a parade with standards and military personnel.

It is acceptable for anyone wishing to lay a wreath to participate. Last Post officials will inform individuals and groups who want to lay a wreath what to do and when to do it.

For planning purposes and further information, an app is available to explain all you need to know about taking part in a ceremony. You can go to the Last Post Association website to download a link for the app.

Each ceremony follows a specific pattern, yet somehow they all vary slightly  (Courtesy: Last Post Association)

The extended ceremony agenda is slightly different consisting of:

·      Call to Attention by the buglers of the Last Post Association
·      Sounding of the “Last Post” bugle call.
·      Exhortation
·      Minute of Silence
·      Lament (if a piper is present)
·      Wreath laying
·      Sounding of the “Réveille” bugle call.
·      End of Ceremony

The Exhortation may be the most powerful part of program, for it is at this time that a member or guest of the Last Post Association, a visiting dignitary or a visitor is invited to recite the fourth verse of Laurence Binyan's poem For the Fallen.

The region is dotted with graves
(Courtesy: Commonwealth War
Graves Commission)
Standing in the center of the road beneath the arch of the Hall of Memory, which is inscribed with the names of 54,395 Commonwealth soldiers who died in the Salient but whose bodies have never been identified or found, the reader recites the following haunting words:
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

Wreaths of various sizes can be ordered from the Royal British Legion at Aylesford in Kent. The Royal British Legion website has all the information about wreaths, chaplets, sprays and crosses that are available. There are also ribbons and regimental crosses.

Ypres was a strategic location during World War I because it stood in the path of Germany's intended sweep across the rest of Belgium.

(Courtesy: Last Post Association)
It was equally important for the Allies too, since Ypres eventually became the last major Belgian town that was not under German control.

Thus the site for the Menin Gate was chosen because it was the closest gate of the town to the fighting, and Allied soldiers marched past it on their way to fight.

And so, on "the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month" take time to remember the valiant warriors who made the ultimate sacrifice one hundred years ago, so that we may enjoy the liberties and freedoms we have today.

Ypres' Menin Gate is the ideal place to honor the heroes of
World War I  (Courtesy:
"The Last Post" lives forever in the minds and hearts of the families and friends whose loved ones endured the horrors of World War I's killing fields. We, too, salute them and should never forget their contributions.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Sample local flavor in six European cities with Eating Europe

To enjoy the true flavor of Europe travelers should taste local food and cuisine -- Eating Europe is a good start  (Photo: Taylor)

ROME No matter when you travel, or where, one of the favorite pastimes of any adventure is discovering local cuisine Whether you're a first-time traveler or a wanderlust veteran, how often have you asked someone if they know a really good place where locals go to eat in another city?
Eating Europe is an insider's
guide to great food
(Courtesy: Eating Europe)
It's an important part of a travel experience because when you return home, that knowledge becomes a personal status symbol. Recommending some undiscovered treasure to your friends makes you sound worldly and, at the same time, has the personal satisfaction of enjoying a discovery that becomes all your own.

Many people today prefer independent travel, while others seek the security of a complete tour that includes meals, sightseeing and, most importantly, an English speaking escort who will alleviate apprehensions of cultural differences in another country.
The selection of cheeses is amazing, and that's only the beginning
(Photo: Public Domain)

For those who opt for independence, here's a way to satisfy the curiosity of exploration without the hassles of spinning your wheels in search of local knowledge. It's called Eating Europe, and the relatively new travel concept is a fascinating way to sample delightful culinary adventures in six major cities on the continent.
Meeting locals, discovering traditional cuisine and savoring secret recipes is part of the fun  (Courtesy: Eating Europe)

Eating Europe is, in essence, a "living" guidebook where experts guides delve into the nooks and crannies of a city to meet locals, visit markets and share food related experiences that often happen only by chance.

Tours generally range between 3 and 4 hours, which means free-spirited travelers can enjoy delightful "insider's" exposure to a destination without committing all of their independence to the cookie-cutter world of a tour operator's itinerary.
Amsterdam and its canals are one of six cities to explore with Eating Europe  (Photo: Pixabay)
With tours in Rome, London, Florence, Prague, Amsterdam and, most recently, Paris, Eating Europe "shares the best local foods at favorite places and introduces them to all the wonderful people and fascinating stories that lie behind their iconic dishes."

The concept is that simple because Eating Europe's philosophy focuses on three uncomplicated straightforward principles; Customers, Merchants and Employees.
Clients are the first priority
(Photo: Taylor)

First and foremost, Eating Europe recognizes that every city in the world has its own individual character. Europe is a cornucopia of dining delights, and Eating Europe's clients  "experience a unique opportunity to have a taste of local life by connecting with the city’s personality, cuisine and culture in an unforgettable way."
Try Devonshire cream and scones
in London  (Photo: Taylor)
Next, think about a favorite place in your home town that you would recommend to visitors. Since you're a "regular", chances are you personally know the wait staff and management, which only serves to enhance the experience for your guests. That's magic of Eating Europe.
Third, Eating Europe's staff is comprised of locals who know their city and proudly share its unique culinary traditions. Guides share a passion for food and people who enjoy fine cuisine by acting as good-will ambassadors with a commitment to making each outing an experience rather than merely another tour.
Victor Emmanuelle Monument, Rome  (Photo: Taylor)

Founded in Rome by American Kenny Dunn in 2011, Eating Europe follows guidelines that allow visitors to immerse themselves into the fabric of a community by creating personal relationships with restaurateurs and business owners in real neighborhoods. 
Just as every city has a personality, so, too, do many of its districts. Chinatowns in New York, San Francisco or Vancouver have vibrant cultures that cannot be experienced in any other part of those cities.
Trastevere is popular in Rome
(Courtesy: Travel Journeys Italy)

Ask a Roman the best place to meet locals and enjoy great food, and you might be surprised that many will say "Trastevere."
Many visitors never see Trastervere because it's situated on the opposite side of the Tiber River away from most of the familiar sights people go to see. In fact, in English, trastevere literally means "beyond the Tiber."
With ivy-covered walls, cobblestone streets and the amber glow of romantic streetlights, Trastevere is clearly the spot where Romans choose to dine. Families gather on Sundays while young people make it a lively scene throughout the week.
Trastevere is a night spot
(Courtesy: Eating Europe)

Trastevere can be compared to New York's Greenwich Village or the Left Bank in Paris, and it is definitely a place best explored by night.
Eating Europe's 4-hour guided walking food tour explores the neighborhood while sampling a sumptuous blend of Italian classics like pizza and pasta, real Roman street food, lesser known meats and cheeses and amazing wine in a secret cellar that has a history that will blow you away.
Few activities in Rome deliver as many concentrated hidden surprises and enchanting moments as Eating Europe's tour of one of the city's best kept secrets.
Eating Europe added Paris to its list of tours last year
(Photo: Taylor)

In June of 2018, Eating Europe added Paris to its growing list of cuisines and cultures.
Paris has always been a vibrant culinary destination, but currently the food scene in the "City of Lights" is electric with influences from around the world making their impact on a daily basis.
Croque Monsieur is to the French like a hamburger is to Americans  (Photo: Michael Brewer -- licensed under the
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license) 

As Kenny Dunn, Managing Director of Eating Europe points out “We’ve had our hearts set on France for a long time and are thrilled to finally offer an immersive experience which helps our guests discover local life in this fascinating food capital.”
Prague is also on Eating Europe's
list  (Courtesy:
The early afternoon experience offers a mix of French staples like Croque Monsieur, rare cheeses and gorgeous pastries combined with local trends from neo-bistros to refined pastries. Guests also visit unique venues including a hidden Moroccan food stand and a 17th-century cellar for an immersive wine and cheese pairing session.

As modern travelers focus on being increasingly discerning,  Eating Europe provides a taste of Old World culinary charm that is difficult to duplicate on your own.
You can't visit London without trying traditional fish & chips
(Photo: Taylor)
One word of caution, do not expect to become an expert in any aspect of your travels in a four hour tour. It cannot be done.

Rather just follow the acronym (E)xperience, (A)dventure, (T)aste and (S)avor and you'll be thrilled at the outcome.