March 14th, 2021
If you are looking for a place to visit which is at the intersection or art and history, Arles in the south of France, is ideal. With its location on the Rhone river (at one time on the Mediterranean itself before the harbor silted up) Arles was an important trading city for much of its life. The Romans made a lasting impression on the area, arriving in 123BC and proceeding to build many architectural wonders. The Roman amphitheater, which still hosts bull fights, dominates several city blocks, and the ruins of an ancient theatre remain as a testament to Roman culture. After the Roman Empire collapsed, Arles’ history became turbulent. By 855, the city was capital of the Kingdom of Arles – a kingdom which changed hands periodically through several centuries, to be slowly swallowed up by France, disappearing entirely in 1378. With its political power weakened, Arles continued to be a major trading hub until the mid-1800s, as goods began to be shipped by railroad rather than barge. While the economy as a whole faltered, the peace and quiet did attract a new kind of tourist: artists. Perhaps the most famous is Van Gogh, who arrived in Arles in 1888. Through his painting of the city streets and Provence landscape surrounding the city, he has become synonymous with Arles. Indeed, many of his major works of art – including Starry Night – were painted here, adding another stroke to the city of Arles’ already colorful history.
February 21st, 2021
Switzerland is a scenic country with its mountains, lakes and picturesque towns, and Lucerne (Luzern to German speakers) is one of the most notable. Located on the shores of Lake Lucerne, at the mouth of the Ruess River, the traditional frescoed buildings are dominated by snow-capped mountains in the distance. With origins date from the mid-1100s, Lucerne has managed to remain an important center in central Switzerland for much of its lifetime. The town has also seen its fair share of fighting through various religious wars and revolutions. Arguably the most famous remnant of strife in Lucerne commemorates an event which did not take place in Switzerland at all. The Lion Monument, carved out of a natural stone cliff face on the edge of town, was erected in remembrance of the Swiss Guard who lost their lives in the French Revolution. These guards were massacred in 1789, while protecting the French King in Tuilleries Palace, Paris. A surviving officer took up collections, and in 1821 the 20x30 ft (6x10m) sculpture was unveiled to capture the imagination of all who wander by – including Queen Victoria and Mark Twain, among others. With so much to recommend it, the spot became a notable tourist destination in the late 1800s, particularly for writers and composers. It definitely pays to follow their example, and make a visit to Lucerne!
February 1st, 2021
The Emerald Ile is often associated with fantastical legends, plenty of magic, and even a leprechaun or two. The landscape lends itself to tall tales, and the Giant’s Causeway is no exception. Located in Northern Ireland, the Causeway is a rocky cliff, with stones that step down gradually into the sea. However, it is the unusual shape of these stones that make the site unique. The basalt forms thousands of ordered columns, each composed of layered, generally hexagonal stones. The overall effect is more reminiscent of a man-made stack of garden pavers than something created by nature, and that simple fact has captured storytellers’ imaginations for centuries. The most popular legend says that the rocks are left over from a bridge built by giants to cross over into Scotland. A more mundane opinion is that the area was covered in thick lava many millennia ago, and as it cooled, it cracked at regular intervals. Regardless, the shoreline is unlike anything you are likely to see anywhere else, and it has been drawing tourists since the mid-1600s. In 1986, it was officially declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and remains a popular destination for travelers. It is certainly worth a bit of stair stepping to see it in its glory – just be careful not to get your feet wet!
January 18th, 2021
Just 12 miles (20 km) from Paris sits the Palace of Versailles – a relic of French royalty which captures the imagination even today. The opulent palace of the French kings had humble beginnings as a simple hunting lodge for Louis XIII in 1624. It wasn’t long before the simple structure was rebuilt, but it didn’t achieve prominence until Louis XIV decided to enlarge the palace starting in 1661. From then onwards, Louis XIV transformed Versailles into a showpiece, full of bright gilding, masterful paintings, and lavish chandeliers. Perhaps the most famous decoration are the mirrors – most notably covering the 230-foot Hall of Mirrors, giving it its name. The gardens weren’t neglected either, and were fashioned into one of the foremost examples in Europe complete with grottos and fountains. As Versailles grew, the king spent more and more time there, and in 1682 Louis XIV moved the entire royal court to the site, making it the seat of government. Versailles continued to be popular with French royalty, up until the French Revolution, and in 1789 the French government was moved away from Versailles permanently. Despite the palace’s strong link to royalty, it survived the Revolution and the attendant neglect of the Napoleonic era. When a new line of French royalty took power in the 1830s, it was again brought into public view, and its role has shifted with every regime change since. Despite not being a center of government for several centuries, Versailles has continued to play a role on the international stage, with the Hall of Mirrors serving as a location of treaties and declarations. Today, Versailles is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and continues to delight visitors, inside and out, as it has for centuries.
January 4th, 2021
The middle of Michigan’s lower peninsula, surrounded by the Great Lakes, may seem like an odd place to find traditional Bavarian culture, but the town of Frankenmuth prides itself on its unique identity. Settled by German immigrants in 1845, the early citizens were committed to preserving their roots and the city still carries the nickname of “Little Bavaria”. With its distinctive rustic alpine architecture along main street, bringing to mind quaint old-world villages, the city attracts many tourists – particularly for its popular festivals like the Bavarian festival and the SnowFest. Ever popular, the Frankenmuth Oktoberfest was the first in the world outside of Munich to be sanctioned by the Parliament and City of Munich! Aside from its German roots, Frankenmuth is synonymous with Christmas for many, as it is home to Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland. The massive store (spanning over 7.3 acres!) is devoted entirely to anything and everything connected to the holiday season. Since its beginnings in 1945, the massive displays and over 350 fully decorated Christmas trees have become a cherished part of many holiday traditions in and around the state of Michigan. In whatever way you celebrate and in whatever season, a trip to Frankenmuth is sure to be a colorful addition!
October 4th, 2020
Switzerland is a melting pot of cultures and languages, superimposed on a landscape of impressive mountains and lush valleys. Each corner has its own unique story and traditions. Not all of these local traditions are confined to Switzerland – case in point is Gruyere cheese, which is found in kitchens around the world. The cheese originates from a small town near Lake Geneva, on the border of France, with the same name as the cheese. As the area’s greatest tradition (outside of the renowned chocolate companies which call the region home), the making of this fine cheese is strictly controlled by law. While it is difficult to equate the name Gruyere with anything but a yellow comestible, it has a long history aside from its cheesy fame. The small medieval town which currently resides in the Fribourg foothills is as picturesque as anyone could wish, complete with a castle. Legend has it that the city was named after a crane (“grue” in French) which was captured by its founder. Whether true or false, the counts who resided here made the crane their symbol. By the late-1100s the town of Gruyere had a thriving market and walls. While it was subject to its fair share of strife and plague, and slowly sank into obscurity by the 20th century, the universal call for Gruyere cheese ensures that this out of the way Swiss town is not entirely forgotten – and you won’t find a more bucolic place to spend an afternoon.
September 15th, 2020
England boasts many miles of coastline punctuated by picturesque villages. Perched on the coast of the North Sea, Southwold is a good example, although its tranquil setting belies its tempestuous history. The town was already established when the Domesday book was written in 1086, with its inhabitants making their living from fishing. At one time, the city was also a trading port, as it sat on the River Blythe, but that ended when the river silted up. If a devastating fire in 1659 weren’t enough, in 1672 the first sea battle of the Third Anglo-Dutch War – otherwise known as the Battle of Solebay – took place off of Southwold’s coast. While most have forgotten the event, Southwold still commemorates the battle, having placed a cannon on top of Gun Hill overlooking the sea. The intervening centuries were relatively calm. For a short period, the town housed George Orwell and his writing talent, and in the early 1900s it gained a lighthouse and distinctive pier. Aside from that, it retains its rural character, and is still one of the larger fishing ports along that stretch of coast. Part of that charm revolves on the fact that marshes have restricted Southwold’s expansion over the centuries. Small though it may be, Southwold does house one business that makes it well known throughout England: Adnams brewery. Established in 1872, the brewery supplies not only beer but also operates a distillery, making it a perfect place to quench your thirst!
August 5th, 2020
A trip to the Baltic Sea wouldn’t be complete if you didn’t stop in Gdansk, which contains over a thousand years of history! First mention of the city was in 997 and even from the very beginning, its story has been connected to the sea and trade. By the 1300s, Gdansk was on its way to becoming an economic powerhouse as a member of the Hanseatic League, trading throughout Europe. Even today, it maintains its relation to the sea with its large shipyards. Despite its success, the city has also been the scene of some of the greatest power struggles played out on the world stage. Through the centuries, with its position between Germany and Poland, it changed hands from Poland to Prussia and was briefly a free city under the rule of Napoleon from 1807 – 1814, eventually reverting to Poland after WWI. In its darkest hour, Gdansk witnessed the attack that started WWII in Poland, but in contrast, its shipyards were also home to the Solidarity movement, which eventually led to a free Polish state, independent of communist Russia. Looking around the city today, with its carefully restored old town, is like stepping back in time. The iconic granary stands along the Motlawa river, and elaborate gates still flank the historic town. It is well worth the walk through the city center, where the houses are a reminder of Gdansk’s Hanseatic past. In the center of it all is Neptune’s Fountain, where the sea god has presided since the mid-1600s. Whether in early morning or dusk, the streets of Gdansk are sure to impress with their old-world charm!
July 3rd, 2020
The prettiest castle in the world is a very grand title to live up to. However, Leeds castle, in the south of England, has plenty of reasons to make the claim. Situated in the middle of a lake filled with its signature swans, the historic castle rises from the water like something out of a fairy tale. It is easy to imagine royalty living in the ancient building, because it was in fact a royal residence of the British monarchs! Leeds castle began as a utilitarian stronghold in 1119. In 1278 it was bought by Queen Eleanor of Castile, wife of King Edward I. While in their care, the castle was transformed into a showpiece and it remained in the family for several centuries. Its most prominent royal association is with the infamous Henry VIII, who renovated it in 1519 for his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. However, by 1552 it had passed out of the royal family. Despite several centuries of turbulent politics, including the English Civil War, Leeds castle weathered the storms well and remained a family home well into the 1900s. It was only in 1974, that Leeds castle became a charitable trust open to the public. Even then, it has remained in the spotlight by hosting political meetings including the Northern Ireland peace talks of 2004. Whether you enjoy watching swans, touring ancient monuments, or wandering through gardens a day at Leeds castle makes sense.
June 14th, 2020
If you find yourself spending time in the southeast of France, perhaps near Lyon, then a trip out into the countryside, to visit the medieval city of Perouges, is a must. Situated on a hill, overlooking the surrounding valleys, the site has been inhabited for centuries. In its early life, Perouges was an important local center, and it was involved in a fair amount of political strife. Surviving sieges and changes in allegiance throughout the 1200 – 1600s, it remained a rich city and a center of the textile industry. However, as railroads developed and rerouted traffic from the area, Perouges fell on hard times. Like many cities forgotten by the modern era, the authentic stone walls and houses remained standing, even as the population fell from over 1,500 to only a handful of families. At the beginning of the 1900s, the medieval charm of the city was rediscovered, and restoration began. These days, Perouges thrives as a destination for visitors to experience a true medieval city. While industry may have left, the city is now famous for is its classification as one of the most beautiful cities in France (Plus Beaux Villages de France), and for a unique type of sugary pizza sold in its bakeries. So if you want to lose track of time in medieval surroundings, Perouges is a good choice for admiring period architecture while soaking up sunshine in the main square!