Friday, October 25, 2019

Travel into the past on futuristic European trains

Eurostar train exits the Channel Tunnel connecting
 London to Paris in about three hours  
(Courtesy: Rail Europe)

EUROPE — As flying becomes an increasingly tedious means of travel and driving gets more and more expensive, savvy American travelers are rapidly waking up to the idea of using trains as their primary mode of transportation in Europe.

Rail Europe is easily the best one-stop shop for information about rail passes and just about anything else you will need to stay on track while traveling by rail on the continent.

Germany's sleek ICE
(Courtesy: Rail Europe)
So what are the big advantages of using trains over some of our more traditional American methods of movement?

·      Frequency of service
·      Comfort
·      Speed (most trips of 3 1/2 hours or less are faster by rail)
·      Arrivals and departures are usually city-center to city-center
·      Food services on board
·      Wi-Fi access

Most of Europe's larger countries continue to expand high speed rail services with trains that typically speed through the countryside at 186-miles per hour. France, Germany and Italy alone have a combined total of nearly 55,000 miles of track.

TGV in the French Riviera
(Courtesy: Rail Europe)
Some countries such as Italy, which could not justify the expense of building dedicated high speed rail lines, cleverly adapted many of their best trains to tilt, thus making them capable of utilizing existing tracks to accommodate higher speeds.

If there is a drawback for inexperienced travelers, it may be the seemingly overwhelming number of rail passchoices since each country has individual services which suit their specific needs. That can also translate to confusion about which rail pass is best for your purposes or if individual point-to-point tickets are a better option.

Trains operate throughout the day with plenty of service to 
every corner of Europe  
(Courtesy: Rail Europe)
Today the Eurail network encompasses 31 countries, which can be intimidating for someone to navigate through the myriad of passes to locate the proper ticket at the best price?

For starters, Rail Europe's prices run from calendar year to calendar year...the price of a pass on January 1 will be the  same until December  31.

Rail passes are user friendly
(Courtesy: Rail Europe)
Next, and this is the single most important thing to know about rail passes, there really are ONLY two main types of pass; Consecutive Days and Flexipasses.

A Consecutive Day Pass is good for travel every day during a specified time period. For example, an eight- day pass that is validated on the first day of a month will expire at the beginning of the ninth day. You are not required to use the pass each day but you do forfeit any days of rail time that are not used during the eight day time frame.

Panoramic train in Switzerland
(Courtesy: Rail Europe)
A Flexipass, on the other hand, allows riders to select when they want to travel during a given period of time. If you purchase three days of travel during a 15 day period, you can then choose which three days you will travel during the time period of two weeks plus one day.

That's it! EVERY rail pass is a combination of one of those types.

From that point on you can purchase single country passes, combination passes, multiple country passes and so on. Therefore, if you will only be traveling in Switzerland, why buy a pass that also includes France and Germany? It makes no sense.

Some trains, like the Cisalpino, tilt for extra speed
(Courtesy: Rail Europe)
Just keep in mind that, generally, the more countries you add and the more days you buy will determine the final price.

With that said many passes have some excellent discounts. Be sure to check for senior or children's discounts.

Saverpasses offer discounts for
2 to 5 people traveling together
(Courtesy: Rail Europe)
A Saverpass is another way to reduce the fare. Two to five people traveling together qualify as a group as long as they travel with each other.

Some people try to save money by going second class rather than first. Let's face it, if you're going to spend the money to go all the way to Europe, this is not the place to cut corners.

First Class interior of a Thalys, often called "Big Red"
(Courtesy: Rail Europe)
The main difference between first and second class is comfort. Seating configurations in first class means fewer seats and more space, and there are fewer people in the compartment so travel is quieter and less crowded.

Again, each country has its own way of doing things so services will vary. In fact, the time of day you travel can also determine which services are offered on similar types of trains within a single country.

Some trains offer meals served at your seat and complimentary drinks, adding to the advantages of first class, and even before departing some stations there’s priority check-in and access to lounges.

Train Bleu Restaurant in Gare du Nord in Paris hearkens to
 a Golden Age of travel  
(Courtesy: Rail Europe)
 Of course, it's always up to the individual traveler, but it is probably better to skimp o costs elsewhere. With the added benefits, it’s often advisable to choose first class to enjoy the perks.

It's important to note that some high speed trains like the French TGVs do require reservations which have an additional small fee. It is always best to check in advance.

Timetables are released six months in advance, and reservations can generally be made three to six months before the travel dates. Savings of up to 80 per cent are not unusual when booking early fares.

With a Swiss Travel Pass you can visit the Castle of Chillon 
for free  
One of the most overlooked aspects of traveling with a rail pass is the bonuses. Some passes can just about pay for themselves by taking advantage of free or reduced fares that come with pass. In Switzerland, for example, a Swiss Travel Pass offers free admission to over 500 museums throughout the country.

Atocha Railway Station in Madrid with its botanical garden in the center  
(Courtesy: Rail Europe)
 Riding the rails through Europe is travel as it should be...clean, comfortable and positive. Don't let the quantity of passes overwhelm you. You will be richly rewarded if you simply take the time to "train yourself."

Friday, October 18, 2019

The literary and musical legacy of Lew Trenchard Manor

Lew Trenchard Manor is the setting for "The Hound of the Baskervilles"  
(Photo: Fiona Avis -- licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license)

DEVON, ENGLAND — Travel in its purest form can be life altering when you discover some obscure vignette of history involving an encounter with a well-known individual of the period. 

Such stories are even better when they revolve around a tale that links a family's ancestry to days gone by in a way that somehow magically binds the past with the present.

The Lew Trenchard Manor gardens
(Photo: Forbis)
In 1929, Frigyes Karinthy popularized a theory known as  "Six Degrees of Separation" which formulates the concept that all people are six, or fewer, social connections away from each other.

With that idea as a basic foundation, history quite literally leaps off the pages of a manuscript or a website to become a true "close encounter of some kind."

Trenchard Manor Outbuilding
(Photo: Forbis)
Recently a high classmate told me of a place that he and his wife, Sheryl, had visited in England which details just such a story.

The site is near Dartmoor on the edge of the Great Foggy Forest, and it is known as Lew Trenchard Manor.

Captain Edward Marshall was the great-great-grandfather of my former high school mate, Dick Forbis. Marshall married Lavinia Maitland Snow who was considerably younger than he, and the couple had two toddlers before the captain died.

Soon after, Lavinia remarried to Edward Baring-Gould of Lew Trenchard. Baring-Gould, who owned the manor house along with 3,000 acres of land, was a widower with two mostly grown children.

Sabine Baring- Gould 
inherited the estate
(Photo: Public Domain)
That union produced two more children, but when Baring-Gould died, Lavinia and her two youngest children were forced to move out to a dower house, since Baring-Gould's first born son, Sabine, inherited everything.

Because the family had spent much of his childhood traveling round Europe, most of Sabine's education was primarily taught by private tutors.

At that time, the first born usually became an officer of the Navy or a barrister, but Sabine felt a calling to the priesthood. Over his father's objections, Sabine took on the parish of St. Peter on the hill just above the Manor House. Here he wrote  hymns for the children and youth of his church.

It is two of those hymns which elevate this story from obscurity to eye-brow raising reality. You see Sabine Baring-Gould was the author of Now the Day is Over and Onward Christian Soldiers.

St Peter's Parish Church sits on a hill above the manor(Photo: Derek Harper --  licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license)

Sabine was also a prolific author, which he had to be to cover the expenses of his multitude of 12 children. He authored several novels using the unorthodox writing style of standing at his desk to compose. In addition, he published nearly 200 short stories in assorted magazines and periodicals.

Also fascinated with architecture, Sabine began buying parts of houses in disrepair while he continued to add on to Lew Trenchard throughout the years.

Ornate plaster interiors
(Photo: Forbis)
 Each room's ceiling is plaster with a different design, and the windows are also different throughout the house.

Sabine also added on to the rectangular house, which had already undergone several renovations over the years. In the end it was finally shaped like a capital "E," for Elizabeth, a popular style of the era which honored the greatest queen England had known.

The property also includes a grand ballroom, a huge upstairs hall and luxuriously appointed bedrooms.

Conan Doyle was a guest
(Photo: Public Domain)
Because Sabine was an author, he knew other authors of the day, including Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes.

On one occasion, during a visit to Lew Trenchard with a friend, Doyle mentioned that he had a myth of a monster he was going to write about. When he saw the Moors at the property, Doyle changed the setting of his story, which became the Hound of the Baskervilles. The house depicted in Sherlock Holmes' arguably most famous adventure is that of Lew Trenchard.

One of Sabine's grandsons, William Stuart Baring-Gould was a noted Sherlock Holmes scholar who wrote a fictional biography of the great detective in which, to make up for the lack of information about Holmes's early life, he based his account on the childhood of Sabine Baring-Gould.

The Manor as it appeared to inspire Sherlock Holmes' creator
(Photo: Public Domain)
Sabine himself is also a major character in Laurie R. King's Sherlock Holmes novel The Moor, a Sherlockian pastiche. In this novel it is revealed that Sabine Baring-Gould is actually the godfather of Sherlock Holmes.

The hound of basketville
(Photo: Forbis)
Beyond Sherlock however, there is yet another story. Sabine met his future wife, Grace Taylor, the daughter of a mill hand, when she was 14. They were married in 1868 and remained together for 48 years until her death in 1916.  The couple had 15 children, of which 12 survived to adulthood.

Oscar Wilde used the early part of the love story between Sabine and Grace as the basis for Pygmalion, which in the musical version became My Fair Lady.

Dick and Sheryl Forbis celebrate their family's legacy
(Photo: Forbis)
For Dick and Sheryl Forbis a visit to Lew Trenchard is a journey into their ancestral legacy. For anyone else, Lew Trenchard is an undiscovered treasure where literature, music and architecture literally immerse you into a glorious long ago, but never to be forgotten era.

Travel is truly just "one degree of separation" because in the end, it's all about discovery.

"It's elementary, my dear Watson."

Friday, October 4, 2019

November is the 30th anniversary of German reunification

Aerial view of "Mad' Ludwig II's Neuschwanstein Castle
(Courtesy: GNTB)

GERMANY — Difficult as it may be to believe, this November will mark three decades since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

Since those turbulent days when Germans endured the transition of reunifying into a single nation once more, it has been a testament to German ingenuity and resolve that they have rebuilt their economy to become a major European leader while also playing a significant role in Western diplomacy in the global marketplace.

Rothenbug ob der Tauber is one of 46 UNESCO sites
(Photo:  Berthold Werner - licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share
Alike 4.0 International license)
With 46 UNESCO World Heritage sites, an extensive “Autobahn” (highway) and railway system, newly developed hotels and restaurants, countless attractions of historical and cultural importance, architectural attractions, numerous industrial heritage routes, 16 national parks and events such as the 100th anniversary of Bauhaus, the unity of the formerly divided nation is thriving with renewed vigor and energy.

Modern day Germany clearly has its eyes focused on the future.

The  Berlin Wall fell in 1989
(Courtesy: Pixabay)
Since the opening of the border between East and West Germany on 9 November 1989, millions of international travelers have rediscovered the natural beauty and cultural  heritage of the former GDR. During the thirty years since reunification, tourism has contributed more than $130 to the German economy  - about 4% of gross value added – including more than three million jobs.

Combined with investments by numerous entrepreneurs, many national and international hotel companies have helped in the development of hotel and restaurant infrastructure, so that the standard of service in the former East Germany is now indistinguishable from that in the old federal states. More than 300 Michelin-starred restaurants in all regions of the country attest to the excellence of Germany’s high-end cuisine.

When wurst comes wurst,
German pastries are great
(Courtesy: Pixabay)
Newly enlarged Destination Germany, the German National Tourist Board (GNTB), promotes unique attractions of historical and cultural importance that have been extensively restored since reunification including cultural hotspots such as the center of Dresden with its restored Church of Our Lady and palace containing the treasures from the ‘Green Vault’.

In Berlin, Museum Island radiates with new-found splendor while the renowned City Palace is currently also undergoing restoration.

Berlin's Museum Island has been renovated
(Courtesy: GNTB)

Leipzig, Halle, Schwerin, Magdeburg plus many other towns and cities have vibrant, multi-genre arts scenes such as the Elbe Philharmonic Hall in Hamburg that regularly attract culture lovers from all over the world.

Cultural highlights in the new federal states are not limited to the big cities, however. Marking the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation in Germany, there has been considerable investment in some of the places most closely associated with Martin Luther in Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia.

Bauhaus is celebrating 100 years of cultural influence
(Courtesy: GNTB)

In addition, modern exhibition facilities have been built in Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia in time for the “100 years of Bauhaus” celebrations.

Storytelling in Bremen
(Photo: GNTB)
Prior to 1989, Germany claimed just eight UNESCO world heritage sites, all of which were located in West Germany. Since the wall crumbled however, the country has added 38 new sites, 14 of which are located in the former East Germany.

International sporting events have also been a boon to Germany's economic resurgence and its global image since 1989. In 2006, the men's World Cup soccer championship came to Germany, and the women followed five years later in 2011. 

When they say"Take a hike" in Germany, they mean it
(Photo: Taylor)
German unification has had an impact for active travelers  as well with nearly 125,000 miles of well-signposted footpaths and another 45,000 miles of long-distance cycle routes, many of which pass through the unspoiled beauty of Germany’s low-lying mountain regions.

Martin Luther
(Photo: Public Domain)
For history enthusiasts, the German Unity cycle trail runs 685 miles through seven federal states – from the former West German capital of Bonn through North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate, Hessen, Lower Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Brandenburg to Berlin. Here visitors can experience first-hand the unique story of reunification at  approximately 100 historical sites along the route.

At Oktoberfest, a whistle means get out of the way

It's only been 30 years since the infamous Berlin Wall crashed to the ground, but Germany has thrived since it has become one nation again.

Simply put, modern-day Germany is WUNDERBAR for travelers!