Friday, August 30, 2019

Six fantastic new bicycle tours for 2020 with VBT

And so the adventure begins, cycling through the Euopean countryside where new discoveries await  (
WILLISTON, VERMONT Whatever your individual lifestyle may be, there are dozens of ways to see the world and to immerse yourself into the fabric of a destination. There's a travel opportunity waiting just around that suits your personality.

Since 1971, adventurous travelers seeking something faster than walking and more in depth than motorcoach tours have been discovering VBT Bicycling Vacations.

VBT handles everything, all you
do is ride and enjoy
With more than 50 deluxe, small group bicycling, walking and waterways “bike & boat” vacations, each VBT trip includes all accommodations, most meals, two local bilingual Trip Leaders, unique facilitated cultural experiences and vehicle support. VBT also includes round-trip international airfare from over 30 U.S. cities and select Canadian cities for all international vacations.

Rated among the “World’s Best Tour Operators” by Travel & Leisure for eight years, VBT offers unique itineraries and experiences at unsurpassed value throughout the world.

Cathédrale Saint-André de
Bordeaux (
From bucket-list destinations to the world’s hidden gems, six new VBT itineraries explore the coastlines of British Columbia and France, the English countryside, the Baltics, and the scenic banks of the Rhine through the heart of Europe to the Italian Riviera.

Meet new people, make new friends while cycling with VBT 

British Columbia: Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands: Island-hop along Canada’s west coast by bicycle, ferry and sea kayak. Begin in Sidney, along the shores of the Salish Sea on the Saanich Peninsula, exploring art galleries, studios, public sculptures, local cheeses and ales in Salt Spring and Pender Islands. Keep a keen eye out for dolphins, sea lions, killer whales and seals.

Pedal the Galloping Goose Trail from the Swartz Bay Ferry Terminal to Victoria, through fields of golden corn, parks and forests and ride along the coast with stunning views of the Pacific Ocean and Olympic Mountains.

Butchart Gardens, Victoria, BC
(Courtesy: Public Domain
If Wild Pacific Salmon and Dungeness crab are to your liking, prepare for the feast of a life time.

Extend your stay in Victoria and be sure to visit the magnificent Butchart Gardens.

Departures: May through October; prices begin at $3,745 per person, double occupancy including roundtrip flights.

Do a personal Tour de France without the competition
France: Bordeaux to La RochelleDiscover France’s Atlantic coast while cycling through historical towns including one of the “Most Beautiful Villages in France,” Talmont-sur-Gironde. Explore troglodyte caves carved into the limestone cliffs at Meschers-sur-Gironde.

With VBT, the world is 
your oyster 

In the Marennes-Oleron region, cyclists learn firsthand why the oysters of the area  are considered some of the tastiest in the world.

The itinerary also includes a visit to the well-preserved, fortified town of Brouage, birthplace of Samuel de Champlain.

Savor the Belle Epoque villas of the seaside town Fouras-les-Bains and enjoy a walking tour of La Rochelle.

Departures: April through October; prices begin at $4,395 per person, double occupancy including roundtrip flights.

The Cotswolds are not only charming, they're ideal for cycling
England: Bath & the Cotswolds: From Bourton-on-Water to Chipping Campden, the road less traveled wends its way through hedge-lined country lanes into handsome sandstone villages celebrated for their timeless charm and thatched roof cottages.

Stroll the footpaths of Hidcote Gardens, one of England’s most influential Arts and Crafts gardens, and explore the medieval stone buildings of Burford.

Bath's Royal Crescent
(Courtesy: Pixabay)
Ride into 17th-century market towns and explore the architectural splendor of Bath's Royal Crescent where the concept for condominiums originated.

Not to miss are the Roman baths, Pulteney Bridge and the Doll Museum before pedaling on to Bleinham Palace to tour the birthplace of Winston Churchill.
Departures: May through October; prices begin at $5,495 per person, double occupancy including roundtrip flights

Cruising the Rhine past the Lorelei
(Photo: Taylor)
Rhine Bike & River Cruise: Basel to Amsterdam: Explore four countries – Switzerland, France, Germany and the Netherlands – on a single, all-inclusive European river cruise enhanced by scenic and easy cycling, guided tours and more.

Cruise through the heart of Europe, viewing terraced vineyards, quaint riverside towns and lofty castles before disembarking along the way to view them up close by bike.

Dusk in Heidelberg 
overlooking the Neckar River 
Alsace is a popular wine region in France’s famous Route des Vins. Travelers also experience the emotional legend of the Lorelei while cruising the majestic Rhine Gorge in Germany.

Cruise past medieval cities and trace the route of ancient Romans and knights. Explore the historic cities of Strasbourg, Heidelberg, Koblenz and Cologne before discovering the delightful canals of Amsterdam.

Departures: May through September; prices begin at $5,695 per person, double occupancy including roundtrip flights

A short break before "easing on down the road" 
Lithuania & Latvia: The Baltics: For experienced wanderlusters who have visited many of the more traditional places in Europe, Lithuania and Latvia provide centuries of history from pagan days to the post-Soviet era.

Enjoy a private cruise to the Curonian Spit, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and view some of the world’s largest pieces of amber on a guided tour of Lithuania’s Amber Museum.

Contemplating a dip before
moving on
Delve into Soviet history on a tour of the Cold War Museum, situated in a former underground missile site. Later, spin around Lake Plateliai in the Žemaitlia National Park, another UNESCO site.

VBT cyclists also sample local life with a visit to an organic herb farm and an authentic Lithuanian barbecue.

Departures: May through October; prices begin at $4,095 per person, double occupancy including roundtrip flights

La Morra Vineyards, Piedmont Italy are part of the package
Italy: Piedmont, Langhe & the Riviera: There's  no question that when it comes to good taste, Italians will find something that tastes good. This is a ride into Italy’s renowned culinary culture where cyclists traverse the sloping vineyards of Piedmont and the breathtaking coast of Liguria.

Cycling through Europe with
VBT is a bold new adventure

Sample Barolo, Arneis and Favorita wines and local cheese, learn to prepare authentic pesto from a culinary expert and go truffle hunting with a farmer and his trusty dog during a stay at an authentic agriturismo. Visit the internationally renowned University of Gastronomic Sciences and explore Taggia, one of the most beautiful villages of Liguria and its ancient Dominica convent.

Departures: May through October, prices begin at $4,045 per person, double occupancy including roundtrip flights

For more information about VBT Bicycling Vacations call 800-245-3868 

Why not let VBT take you for a ride? It's all just part of the "cycles" of life and great for the environment as well, because once you travel with VBT, the next thing you'll want to do is "recycle."

Friday, August 23, 2019

Five must-see European celebrations to see before you die

New Year's Eve in Salzburg is a pyrotechnic masterpiece with the castle as the final backdrop 
(Photo: Björn S. -- licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license)

EUROPE — Every country has its own unique traditional events that seemingly everybody honors with pride. In the United States, the Fourth of July is one such occasion, but Europe has its own set of festivals that everyone should experience at least once.

Here are five of the best:

Salzburg's Hohensalzburg Fortress peers from its lofty perch
high above the city (Courtesy: Pixabay)
New Year's Eve (Salzburg): Right off the bat you'll say, "What's so special about that? Doesn't everybody celebrate New Year's?"

Yes, and even more to the point, Salzburg isn't even the biggest nor does it have the best fireworks. So how does it make the list?

As the real estate broker likes to say, "It's location, location, location." Salzburg's setting is ideal, and best of all, though crowded, it isn't nearly as jam packed with humanity as some of its fellow European challengers.

Situated on the banks of the Salzach River at the northern edge of the Alps, the birthplace of composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and fourth largest city in Austria, is renowned for its Baroque architecture.

Salzburg is an ideal New Year's
setting (Courtesy: Pixabay)
A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996, the "Old Town" is dominated by baroque towers rising amid 27 churches that reach toward the massive Hohensalzburg Fortress which peers protectively down from its lofty perch high above the city.

For New Year's visitors, find a location on one the bridges spanning the river and marvel as the pyrotechnics edge their way along both sides of the Salzach before reaching the castle for the final display.

With the backdrop of the Alps to the south, Hohensalzburg in the foreground and a spectacular river of reflections bursting in air, this is a festival you will long remember.

Munich's Oktoberfest is the world's biggest and best beer festival

 Oktoberfest (Munich): Let's get this out of the way at the start. If the festival takes place in September, why is it called "Oktoberfest"? The answer is because it always ends on the first Sunday in October. 

Beginning in 1810, Oktoberfest has grown into the world's largest beer festival with roughly six million visitors each year. Nearly 75% of the participants come from Germany with the rest arriving from virtually every other country in the world.

Held in Munich, Germany each year at a permanent fairgrounds set up for the event, the festival varies in length from 14 days to 18 days. The ten largest breweries make their products available in some 14 different tents which average approximately 4,000 to 5,000 patrons each.

The largest tent, Winzerer Fandl, one of three that features Paulaner beer, accommodates 8.450 guzzlers inside and another 2,450 outside. Just walk in, find a spot and, even if you don't have a beer, sway to and fro and sing loudly and happily until one appears. You'll definitely know it when you see it.

Big mugs -- of beer that is
In case you are wondering, in 2013 some 1,700,000 imperial gallons of brew were consumed. If you like beer, huge crowds and waiting in line for a bathroom, Oktoberfest is for you.

One word of warning, do not get in the path of a fraulein who can tote a dozen glasses of beer at a time. She may be pretty but she can run you down faster than the offensive line for the New England Patriots.

Maypoles are an important tradition at Swedish Midsummer
festivities (Courtesy: Pixabay)
Midsummer (Scandinavia): Scandinavian Midsummer celebrations have been held since the Stone Age in honor of the summer solstice marking the longest day of the year.

Many countries celebrate the festival, so it's easy to participate virtually anywhere in Europe if you are traveling between June 19 and 25, depending upon the year, the culture and the tradition.

Painting by Carl Larsson,
Sweden's Norman Rockwell
(Photo: Public Domain)
In Sweden, Midsummer is typically a holiday where locals wear traditional clothing, do folk dancing, feasting and the raising of the Maypole.

Finland is also a day filled with parades and waving national colors. Finns being somewhat more somber than Swedes, or other Scandinavians for that matter, appear more mournful about the festivities, however.

Midsummer is also perfect for
beer (Courtesy: Pixabay)
In Helsinki, one young female is selected to be married at the small chapel on the open-air museum island of Seurasaari. Following the wedding, the bride and her new husband are rowed in a longboat to a tiny outcropping of rock where they light a bonfire built of numerous longboats standing on end.

 Midsummer, like July 4th in America, is great because you can enjoy it wherever you may be.

Edinburgh's Military Tattoo is truly one of a kind
(Photo: xlibber --
 licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 
2.0 Generic license)

Military Tattoo (Edinburgh): Theoretically the military has always been associated with "tattoos" but in the UK it has much more to do with ceremony than needles and ink.

The term "tattoo" derives from a 17th century signal to tavern owners to "turn off the tap" so that soldiers would stop drinking and hit the rack in order to be fresh the next morning. The Dutch phrase later evolved in the 18th century to describe the last duty call of the day, as well as a ceremonial form of evening entertainment performed by military musicians.

For pipes and drums,
Edinburgh is the place
(Photo: Caroline Maybach --
licensed under the Creative 
Commons Attribution 3.0 
Unported license)

Today, the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo is a series of performances conducted on the esplanade of Edinburgh Castle as part of the annual Edinburgh Festival held each August. Officially, the first military tattoo was held in 1950 and it has been a staple of the festival ever since with performances by the British Armed Forces as well as other international military bands and artistic groups.

For pure spectacle, the Edinburgh Military Tattoo is unrivaled, even for those who do not usually enjoy the sounds of bagpipes and traditional pomp and ceremony.
Siena's Palio is like the Kentucky Derby on steroids
(Photo: Roberto Vicario -- licensed under the Creative 
Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license) 
The Palio (Siena): While many festivals have evolved into commercial ventures over time, the Palio in Siena, Italy is the real deal. Actually there are two Palio horse races each year, one in July and the other in August.

The Palio is to horse racing what MMA is to boxing. Siena is comprised of 17 districts, known as contrade, but only ten are allowed to compete in each race. A drawing is held about a week before the event and the colors of each ward are hung from the windows of city hall as  selections are made.

The races are basically no-holds barred bareback competitions comprised of three laps around Piazza del Campo, the main square in the heart of Siena.

A Palio is ninety seconds of
frenzy on horseback
(Photo: Micro --
licensed under the Creative
Commons Attribution
2.0 Generic license)
Ninety seconds later, perhaps slightly more, the race is over, with the victorious horse frequently crossing the finish line without a rider.

For outsiders, though the pre-race competition appears friendly, where visitors are often invited to join in the celebrations leading up to the races, the internal local pride involved with winning is fierce for competitors.

For citizens of Siena, the Palio is all-out war, and feelings run deep between the challengers where grudges can be powerful and uncompromising.

As they say in Italian "That's Amore!"

Friday, August 16, 2019

Germany's most German town, Rothenburg ob WrTauber

Rothenburg's traditional iconic scene has become a symbol of the city   (Photo: Berthold Werner -- Licensed  under the Creative Commons 
Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license)
 ROTHENBURG OB DER TAUBER, GERMANY — On the first weekend in September each year, the medieval village of Rothenburg ob der Tauber celebrates the Imperial City Festival where groups from different epochs of the city's history come together.
Situated on a plateau overlooking the River Tauber, Rothenburg's well-preserved medieval architecture, considered by many as the best in Germany, makes it an idyllic setting for the festival.

As part of the famed Romantik Road, which begins in Wurzburg where it wends a serpentine path through many of Germany's most picturesque villages, Rothenburg o.d.t.
became a Free Imperial City in the late Middle Ages until 1803.

Rothenburg perches high above
the River Tauber
(Photo: Pixabay)
The name "Rothenburg ob der Tauber" is German for "Red fortress above the Tauber". The name "Rothenburg", itself, is believed to be derived from the German words rot (red) and burg (medieval fortified settlement), referring to the red color of the roofs of the houses overlooking the river.

Once you experience Rothenburg for yourself, there should be no doubt about the origin of its name.

Nowhere else will you find such a eclectic wealth of original buildings dating from the Middle Ages featuring the secluded squares and tucked-away corners of the old quarter. Here towers, taverns and town gates alternate with fountains, fortifications and former storehouses.

Rothenburg is an ancient medieval walled city
licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 
International license)
Add to the mix the colorful array of costumes and traditional pageantry during the Imperial City Festival and you have the ultimate blend of "travel for travel's sake" set amid natural surroundings. Who cares whether the individual eras of history intertwine? This is jubilee celebrating centuries of German culture.

According to legend, in 1631, during the Thirty Years' War, Rothenburg was captured by General Tilly of the Catholic militia. In desperation, local officials offered him a tankard that held more than three liters of wine, roughly three quarts as a peace offering.

Tilly, who intended to burn down the town, showed clemency and decreed that he would spare Rothenburg if anyone could empty the vessel in one steady gulp.

Medieval buildings
(Photo: Pixabay)
To everyone's surprise, a former mayor, Georg Nusch, came forward and met the challenge. Suitably impressed, Tilly kept his word and Rothenburg survived.  No one knows for ceratain whether the story is true but, no matter, it only adds to the romantic allure of Rothenburg's historical ambiance.

The victory was short-lived however. Following the winter, when the soldiers left, the town fell upon hard times due to an outbreak of bubonic plague in 1634. Many townspeople died, and without money or power, Rothenburg stopped growing.

Over time, the result became a blessing, because with no financial resources for growth, the 17th century architecture was preserved in the state of perpetual history from which it thrives today.

As such, Rothenburg evolved into a town that, for many Germans during the  mid-1930's, represented the epitome of the German "Home Town" and all that was quintessentially German. Rothenburg's reputation became that of being "the most German of German towns."

The familiar red-tiled roofs are an important feature of Rothenburg's identity 
(Photo: Pixabay)

With German soldiers defending Rothenburg in March 1945, 16 planes bombed the city, destroying more than 300 houses, six public buildings, nine watchtowers, over 2,000 feet of the city wall and killing 37 people.

When John J. McCloy, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of War who was aware of the historic importance and beauty of Rothenburg, heard the news, he ordered US Army General Jacob L. Devers not to use artillery in capturing the city.

Thus the "cat-like" lives of Rothenburg once again survived near ruin, and today it remains one of Germany's top travel attractions.

Among the favorite places to visit is the Rathaus (town hall). It's s a notable renaissance building, and its tower is one of the only accessible towers in the town of Rothenburg.

Town Hall is a popular landmark
(Photo: Pixabay)
As would be expected, many stores and hotels catering to tourists are clustered around Town Hall Square and along several major streets.

A favorite museum is the Criminal Museum, containing various punishment and torture devices used during the Middle Ages, including a dunking stool.

Walt Disney patterned Pinocchio's
village after Rothenburg
(Photo: Pixabay)
Culturally, Rothenburg was the inspiration for the village in the 1940 Walt Disney movie Pinocchio. It was also the location for the Vulgarian village scenes in the 1968 family movie, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.  More recently, filming was done in Rothenburg for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 (2010) and Part 2 (2011).

Foodwise, try the local pastry called Schneeball, deep-fried dough shaped like a snowball and covered in either confectioner's sugar or chocolate.

Schneeball, "snowballs", are Rothenburg's gift to the pastry world
(Photo: Pixabay)
It doesn't really matter where you go in Rothenburg because new and wonderful sights await at every turn. And whichever you choose to visit, there's always a cozy inn waiting afterwards in which you can satisfy your hunger and quench your thirst.

Rothenburg's stadtmauer, ancient city walls
(Photo: licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share
Alike 4.0 International license)
If you happen to be in Rothenburg for the Imperial City Festival so much the better. Best of all the celebration is free.

Keep in mind that one of the best things you can do in Rothenburg is to get lost. Don't worry, the village is small, you'll always find your way back. After all, it's a fairy tale village. Worst case scenario, just follow the bread crumbs.

Friday, August 9, 2019

UNESCO adds two World Heritage sites in Germany

Augsburg church Old Town architecture from above 
 (Courtesy: MaxPixel)

GERMANY — Two popular and historic tourism destinations have been honored in 2019 as UNESCO World Heritage sites in Germany; the  Ore Mountains and the historic city of Augsburg.

A World Heritage Site is a landmark or area selected by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as having cultural, historical, scientific or other form of significance, and is legally protected by international treaties. Sites are judged important to the collective interests of humanity. 

UNESCO cultural sites began
in 1972 (Courtesy:
Inaugurated in 1972 with its first list, UNESCO's ongoing mission has been to recruit the world community in identifying cultural and natural properties of "outstanding universal value."

With the pair of new additions to the list, Germany shares the third largest number of UNESCO sites with Spain at 48. Only Italy and China claim more with 55 each. 

Erzgebirge, literally "ore mountains" in German, have formed a natural border between Saxony and Bohemia for about 800 years, from the 12th to the 20th centuries. Today, the border between Germany and the Czech Republic runs just north of the main crest of the mountain range with the highest peaks being the Klinovec (4,081 ft) above sea level and the Fichtelberg (3,986 ft). 

The Ore Mountains are a year-round destination for hiking
and skiing  (Photo: Pixabay)

In the 19th century, when several Ore Mountain passes were upgraded into chaussees, and the Upper Ore Mountains were accessed by the railway, tourism began to develop.  

A chaussee is a historic term, no longer in use in Western Europe, which referred to rural highways constructed out of metal rather than using traditional, unpaved country roads 

One of the early pioneers of tourism in the Ore Mountains was Otto Delitsch whose vision established mountain inns  in many places and observation towers on the highest peaks. In those days skiing was extremely popular because of guaranteed snow along the ridges.

Steam powered narrow gauge trains add to the appeal of the 
Ore Mountains (Courtesy:
Today, steam-powered narrow gauge railways from that era, such as the Pressnitz Valley Railway, are popular tourist attractions.

In 1924 the Fichtelberg Cable Car became the first cable car in Germany, and it still takes visitors to the highest mountain in Saxony.

With a mining legacy of more than eight centuries in the Ore Mountains, the Schneckenstein Boulder is the only outcropping of topaz in Europe. In fact, the Schneckenstein is so valuable today that it is under 24/7 surveillance.

Augsburg is a city of churches
(Courtesy: Pixabay)
The second new UNESCO site in Germany is Augsburg. With ties to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Augsburg is one of the most historically significant cities in Germany, as well as one of the prettiest.  

Augsburg has long been a prominent financial centre, international trading hub and focal point for the fine arts, especially in the days when the Fugger banking empire was at its peak.

Thanks to its financial importance, Augsburg shaped the history of Germany and Europe over a long period, having always been a little richer, more glamorous and imposing than other cities.

The Fugger family had much to
do with Augsburg's prominence
(Courtesy: Pixabay)
Augsburg's superb fountains, grand old guild-houses, exquisite churches and Town Hall – perhaps one of the most important secular Renaissance buildings north of the Alps – combine to form a cityscape of rare intensity.  

Since the High Middle Ages visitors have  been awed by Augsburg's stately churches, including the cathedral with its stunning bronze portal (now nearly 1,000 years old) and the Basilica of St. Ulrich and St. Afra, named after two patron saints of the city.  

Another  Augsburg marvel was the wealth of the Fugger dynasty, a mercantile and banking empire that stretched from the Adriatic up to the North Sea and from the Atlantic Ocean across to eastern Europe. In fact, Anton Fugger would have been regarded as the Bill Gates of the mid-16th century since he was then considered the richest man in the  world.

Fearing Fugger's prominence would make the city vulnerable for attack, Augsburg surrounded itself with extensive fortifications and a continuous city wall, parts of which can still be seen today.

Another family with impressive links to the city's artistic heritage was the Mozarts. Leopold Mozart, father to Wolfgang Amadeus and an influential composer in his own right, was born there. In tribute the Augsburg Mozart Festival, is traditionally held each May.

Each year Augsburg holds festivals honoring Mozart and
native son, Berthold Brecht (Courtesy: Pixabay)
Thanks to his obstinate nature and moodiness, native son Berthold Brecht was not as revered by locals as Mozart was during his lifetime. Since his death in the middle of the 20th century however, the brilliant playwright and poet has been honored with an annual theater festival. The Brecht Festival serves to add yet another dimension to Augsburg's rich cultural legacy.

Throughout the centuries, numerous gold and silversmiths settled within the city walls establishing a reputation for quality and unparalleled excellence in their craftsmanship.

Their works are on display in various museums and exhibitions and are even sold in some of the many smaller stores still in existence today.             

Rounding out Augsburg's claims to fame is the fact that it is home to  the world's only state-approved public holiday to be celebrated in just one city; Augsburg's High Peace Festival.

Augsburg Town Hall
(Courtesy: Pixabay)
Celebrated on the 8th of August each year, the holiday commemorates the Protestants' loss of religious freedom in the city in 1629. It also celebrates the implementation of the Peace of Westphalia. This restored Protestants' religious freedom.         
As a traveler, any time you are in the vicinity of a UNESCO World Heritage site, take the opportunity to visit. You will not be disappointed.

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