December 17, 2017

Unnoticed Architectural Gems of Europe

While traveling I find myself amazed by all the gorgeous architecture. Whether we know it or not, I think most of us enjoy architecture while traveling.  We may not know it’s Gothic or Rococo or Baroque but we know we like it!

I think it’s also safe to say, we all can name some of the more famous architectural buildings in European cities. Notre Dame in Paris, Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany or the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain are a few examples of well known buildings.  But I love exploring those beauties that seem to be unnoticed.

Here are three lovely architectural specimens that may not make it on your
travel list but may be worth taking the time to see!

Majolica House, Vienna Austria

Majolica House Vienna Austria

Majolica Haus (1898-1899) by loungerie, on Flickr

Vienna is full of architectural gems including St. Stephens and Schönbrunn Palace but don’t miss out on the other architectural stars of the city.  Majolica House is one of those we may overlook.  The building was designed by Otto Wagner who was a prominent architect in Vienna and member of a group of artists that rebelled against the older traditional styles.  Built between 1898 and 1899, the façade of Majolica House is actually painted ceramic tiles made in a technique called Majolica.  I think Wagner’s use of modern materials, color and traditional decoration has created a very lovely Art Nouveau building.

Majolica House Vienna Austria

Otto Wagner - Majolica House by pioilo, on Flickr

30 St Mary Axe, London England

30 St Mary Axe London England

30 St Mary Axe by Kadellar

I think from its shape you can tell why this building has the nickname “the Gherkin”. Sitting 591 ft tall in the financial district is one of London’s newest and most controversial symbols.  The skyscraper at 30 St Mary Axe was completed in 2003 in a modern style of architecture.  The diamond shaped light and dark glass help make the building appear to be a spiral.  This new building is very modern looking but I’m not really sure how it fits in with London’s other architectural treasures like Big Ben or Buckingham Palace!

Wiblingen Abbey and Library, Ulm Germany

Rococo Wiblingen Library Ulm Germany

Wiblingen Library by Enslin

Between Munich and Stuttgart lies Ulm Germany. Besides being the birthplace of Albert Einstein, Ulm is also the home of Wiblingen Abbey and Library.  While the abbey was founded in 1093, the current buildings date back to 1714 and are examples of the late Baroque style of architecture.  Even though the abbey itself is very beautiful, it is the sunning library that must be seen! Finished in 1744, the frescoed ceilings, columns, statues and other ornamentation combine to make one of the finest examples of Rococo architecture.  Ulm itself is not on the normal tourist track but maybe it should be if only to see this lovely library!

 

What other unnoticed architectural gems should be added to the list?

Signs of Spring

I have a love-hate relationship with spring. My allergies hate it but in every other way I love spring. Spring is a rebirth. The sun comes out a bit more, snow starts melting, rivers fill up, trees come back to life and flowers start blooming. There are a lot of destinations where you can enjoy the signs of spring one of which is Europe.

Here are a few of my favorite European signs of spring!

Trees bloom and push green leaves,

Spring Trees in London England

Spring Trees by celesteh, on Flickr

Driving is a joy as the wild flowers crop up,

Wildflowers in Loire Valley France

Wildflowers in Loire Valley by celesteh, on Flickr

But its not just wild flowers. Spring brings color popping up everywhere!

Daffodils in Kensington Gardens England

Daffodils in Kensington Gardens... by Paul-in-London, on Flickr

Which brings me to one of my fondest spring memories. Back in April 1984 my husband and I were in London England wandering through Kensington Gardens and were awestruck by all the daffodils coming up, literally everywhere, all while it was ever so lightly snowing. If you’ve never been to London in spring, I highly recommend it!

Tulips in the Flevopolder Holland

Tulips in the Flevopolder by ingo.ronner, on Flickr

Tulips are definitely a sign of spring and there isn’t a better place to enjoy them than in Holland. In the small town of Lisse, just south of Amsterdam, is the biggest and best known Tulip festival. From mid-March to late May Holland celebrates everything about the tulip. The tulips stretch for miles and miles making such a beautiful sight!

Along with flowers comes better weather which pushes people outside. Whether its for the Paris marathon or a walk in the park, people just start moving more. This must be why it is also the start of festival season!

Both Munich and Stuttgart Germany have Spring Festivals that are similar to Oktoberfest but much smaller. Those Germans like to celebrate their beer at every season, don’t they?

Almond Blossoms near Neustadt Germany

Almond Blossoms near Neustadt Germany courtesy of Neustadt a.d. Weinstrasse, Tourist Kongress und Sallbau GmbH

But the Germans don’t just celebrate beer! The first wine festival of the year, the Almond Blossom Festival, is held in Gimmeldingen every March and April. During spring, the entire area is bathed in a beautiful pink hue from the blossoming Almond trees. Gimmeldingen is in the Rheinland-Pfalz region and is also known for its wine so don’t get so taken by the blossoms that you forget to have some of the local wine!

Trimming White Asparagus in Mannheim Germany

Trimming White Asparagus in Mannheim Germany by Andrew Cowin

One of my favorite times to visit Germany is during Spargelsaison (White Asparus Season). This spring event is brought on by the warming sun which brings White Asparugus to villages all over the country! Once only eaten by nobility, today the lovely asparagus is enjoyed by everyone. There is even a Baden Asparagus Route where you can enjoy a lovely drive through the countryside providing most of the asparagus plus encounter an Aspargus Festival or two! Maybe you’ll run into the Asparagus King or be the champion asparagus peeler!

These are a few of my favorite signs of spring,

What are yours??

 

 

This post is part of the spring-themed blog carnival hosted at Traveling with Sweeney.
Be sure to check out all the spring related posts!

Royal Crypts – The Burial Places of European Monarchs

One of the reasons I love visiting Europe is its vast history. I am always awed by the depth of European history. This history is definitely intertwined with the lives of European Kings and Queens and I not only learn by visiting the places they lived but by seeing where they rest today.

This is one of the reasons I enjoy visiting cemeteries and royal crypts.

If you’re like me and enjoy visiting royal crypts, here are 6 that you may find interesting.

Speyer Cathedral, Germany

What Clovis I began in 1030 is today a symbol of Imperial power. Between this date and 1308 the cathedral became the burial site of 8 Emperors, Kings and their wives. The UNESCO World Heritage site is known as one of the most important Romanesque sites in Germany and the crypt is actually the largest Hall Crypt in Europe.
Speyer Cathedral Hall Crypt Germany

Speyer Cathedral Hall Crypt by Mussklprozz at de.wikipedia

Church of Our Lady in Laeken Belgium

This neo-Gothic Catholic church contains the Royal crypt that is the final resting place of the Belgian Royal family including the first King and Queen of Belgium, Leopold I and Louise-Marie. In fact, it was King Leopold I that originally had the church built in memory of his wife, Queen Louise-Marie. Built during the 19th century, today the Royal crypt holds the remains of all Belgian Kings.

Imperial Crypt Austria

The Imperial Crypt in Vienna has been the main burial site for the members of the Hapsburg family since 1622. It was Anna of Tyrol who, in her will, gave the funding for the crypt. Today it is one of the most visited places in all of Vienna. As I mentioned in The Hapsburgs: Living Large in Life and Death, this is the final resting place of 12 Emperors and 18 Empresses. The sarcophagi range from rather plain to very ornate and the amount of decoration seems to correlate to the importance of the person.
Crypt Charles VI Holy Roman Emperor Vienna Austria

Crypt of Charles VI Holy Roman Emperor

Roskilde Cathedral Denmark

The Roskilde Cathedral was constructed during the 12th and 13th centuries and is located on the island of Zealand. Besides being the main burial site of Danish Royalty this is the first Gothic cathedral to be built of brick. There are many burial chapels within the cathedral containing the remains of Danish royalty.
Roskilde Cathedral Crypt Denmark

Roskilde Dom by Fingalo

Westminster Abbey England

The oldest part of Westminster Abbey dates from 1050 and until 1760, this mainly Gothic church in London, was the burial place for English and British monarchs. The monarchs are buried inside the chapels of the church while other significant persons are buried in the cloisters and other areas on the grounds. Queen Elizabeth I and Bloody Queen Mary are among the monarchs buried in the Abbey.
Tomb Effigies of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York Westminster Abbey London England

Tomb Effigies of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York by lisby1, on Flickr

St Denis Basilica France

Located near Paris, this medieval Abbey was a burial place of French Kings and their families from the 10th – 18th centuries. In fact, all but three Kings of France are buried here many in “cadaver tombs”. These double-decker tombs have the person’s effigy on top and a decomposing effigy underneath. Among those buried hear include Clovis I and what remains of King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.
St Denis Cathedral France

St Denis by Roi Boshi

Do you visit Royal Crypts?

Prehistoric Questions from England & France

As a child I was not interested in history at all.  What was once my least favorite class in school has now turned into a fascination.  History can answer many questions we have about our past but it also leaves many questions unanswered.

One of the periods that has many unanswered questions is the Neolithic or New Stone Age. There are many questions surrounding the Neolithic period but none as interesting as the questions about the Megalithic monuments in Europe such as the stone circles found in Stonehenge and Avebury England or the menhirs and dolmens found in Carnac and Locmariaquer on the Brittany coast of France.

Stonehenge at Sunset England

Stonehenge at Sunset England by Jeffrey Pfau wikimedia

England is home to many prehistoric monuments but two of the more famous are found at Stonehenge and Avebury.

Avebury Stone Circles England

Avebury Stone Circles by Rxfelix

Avebury, the largest stone circle in England, was built around 2600 BC and contains three stone circles.  While we are not sure what the original purpose of the structure was, archaeologists believe it was most likely used for some type of ceremony.  Over the years, many archaeologists have suggested the ceremonies took place to make the “gods” happy.  Today the site is sacred to Pagans and New Age religions who believe the stone circles offer some type of psychic power.

Stonehenge England

Stonehenge by garethwiscombe wikimedia

Also in the Wiltshire County, Stonehenge is probably the most famous prehistoric monument in the world. The standing stones of Stonehenge are arranged in circles with stones that weigh up to 400 tons.  Again we are really not sure what Stonehenge’s purpose was but it is widely believed it was a type of calendar keeping track of the movements of the sun, moon and stars.  As with Avebury, Stonehenge is popular with New Age religions.  In fact, one New Age belief is that the stones, which came from Wales, were levitated to reach today’s location.  Leave it to engineers to throw water on this belief by saying they were probably rafted on rivers and then rolled on logs.

Dolmen de Kercadoret à Locmariaquer France

Dolmen de Kercadoret à Locmariaquer byJean-Charles GUILLO

France is also home to its fair share of prehistoric monuments dating from the Neolithic period which includes the menhirs and dolmens located along the Brittany coast in Carnac and Locmariaquer.

Carnac - Ménec Allignements Brittany France

Carnac - Ménec Allignements under Dark Clouds by Drriss, on Flickr

Carnac is home to about 2700 menhirs, dolmens and stone rows that are among the oldest found in Europe. Unlike the circles at Stonehenge, the menhirs in Carnac stand upright in a row stretching over a mile in length.  Near Locmariaquer are three sites dating back 7000 years and include the Grand Menhir brise and the dolmen La Table des Marchand.  A dolmen is a tomb that is made of standing stones with a stone slab for a roof.  As with Stonehenge and Avebury, the purpose of these are not known but are thought to have been built for astronomic or religious purposes.

Table des Marchand Locmariaquer France

Table des Marchand Locmariaquer by Myrabella Wikimedia

While history can tell us these monuments all date back to the Neolithic age, it hasn’t told us why or even how they were built.  I don’t know if we will ever know the real answers, so for now we’ll be happy to see them and wonder about all the possible answers!


Why do you think these prehistoric structures were built?

Pictures From Above

When I fly I usually opt for an aisle seat but on my most recent trip to Germany I decided to give the window seat a try so I could attempt to capture some great photos out the window.

I’ve seen many photo’s people have taken from planes ( Keith from Velvet Escape to name one ) and thought it was time I gave it a try!

For Travel Photo Thursday I’m sharing a few pictures from above that were taken from my window seat.

When landing in Frankfurt, the weather was not cooperating so these pictures are not too good (at least that’s the excuse I’m sticking with 🙂 ).

Frankfurt Germany Landing

Getting ready to land in Frankfurt.

But, my trip from Frankfurt to San Francisco included a stop in London where the weather was just right for some great pictures!

High over London England

High over London England

London England From the Window Seat!

London England From the Window Seat!

Coming in over London England

Can you see the Thames River??

Even though it was fun taking pictures from the window seat, I may be going back to the aisle.  I really didn’t like the feeling of being locked in especially when my row mate slept the entire way ( I really hate people who can do this!).

Do you take pictures from the window seat??

 

These photo’s are part of Travel Photo Thursday.
For more great pictures, check out Budget Travelers Sandbox.

Maybe I’ll see you there!

London Bridge through the Ages

The London Bridge has been at the heart of the English capital for its entire history, playing a vital role in linking the north and south banks of the River Thames. There has not only been one London Bridge, however.  The name has referred to a number of very different structures over the ages.

Origins

London as a major metropolis came into being after the Roman invasion in AD 43. Although trade along the Thames was by then well established, it was the invaders who first bridged it, probably with a pontoon bridge of the sort used by troops. The first permanent, substantial London Bridge appeared a little over a decade later, but this wooden edifice was destroyed during the revolt led by Boudica in AD 60. Once the rebellion had been put down, the London Bridge was rebuilt.  This cross-river link helped to confirm London as the capital of the Roman province of Britannia.

Medieval times

When the Roman legions departed from Britain, around AD 410, the engineering skills required to maintain the London Bridge went with them and the bridge gradually decayed until late Saxon times. During this period and the first century of Norman rule, the London Bridge was rebuilt several times after destruction resulting both from military action and natural causes, such as the tornado of 1091. The final structure from this period, originally ordered by Henry II, was finished in 1209. This timber bridge survived for 600 years and, at its height during the Tudor period, boasted 200 shops along its 800-foot length.

London Bridge at night London England

London Bridge Illuminated by burge5000

The 19th century bridge

By the 19th century, it was clear that the ancient bridge was inadequate for the much larger London of the Industrial Revolution. In 1831, the new five-arched stone bridge was opened and the medieval bridge was then demolished. Although the new London Bridge had more capacity than the one it replaced, as the city continued to grow, it in turn became overcrowded. By the turn of the 20th century, the London Bridge was the single worst point of congestion in the entire capital.  In fact, the sheer weight of vehicles crossing it every day lead to the foundation beginning to sink.

London Bridge today

Despite its flaws, it took until the second half of the 20th century for this London Bridge to be replaced. Famously, it was purchased by an American businessman, who had it shipped in pieces to the US and reassembled in Arizona. The replacement bridge, the one that stands today, was opened by the Queen in 1973. This is a straightforward concrete box girder bridge, which does not have the elegance of some of its predecessors but is able to stand up to the high demands of 21st-century traffic.

The many visitors who stay in London Bridge hotels today may well pass over the bridge regularly without ever realizing the two millennia of history behind this Thames crossing!

 

Have you crossed the London Bridge without realizing its history?

 

This article was brought to you by Mercure hotels.

InterRail: A Book Review

As I said in Four Reasons to Use a European Rail Pass, I think we all want to travel around Europe by train.  In the book “InterRail” by Alessandro Gallenzi the main character, Francesco, lives all our dreams.

As a young adult, Francesco decides to leave his home in Italy to travel around Europe using an InterRail pass. During his rail trip he meets quite a few people, some even become lifelong friends, and has an adventure full of intrigue.

Munchen Skyline Bavaria Germany

Munchen by Andrew Bossi

His first stop is Munich, Germany where he meets an interesting con man named Pierre who is the catalyst for most of Francesco’s intrigue and adventures.  It was during a party hosted by Pierre that Francesco’s intrigue begins when he is asked to deliver a package to someone in Amsterdam by Pierre’s wife.  Even though he did not know what is in the package, he agrees.

Francesco visits cities that are on many of our own itineraries:  Berlin, Amsterdam, Paris, London and Rome. As he travels through Europe, the intrigue follows him and continues to build.  It heightens when an event in Amsterdam lands Francesco in the hospital and during a secret meeting with Pierre’s wife in the Père Lachaise Cemetery while winding his way back to Italy via London and Paris.

OudezijdsKolk Amsterdam Holland

OudezijdsKolk Amsterdam by Massimo Catarinells

While the intrigue of the book kept me reading, the parts that stood out for me was his ability to travel with only the clothes on his back, his trust of strangers, and the guts to show up at a station without a destination in mind taking the next departing train!

Now I don’t see myself traveling with only the clothes on my back and I don’t think I’d ever be quite as trusting of strangers as Francesco but I really like the idea of showing up at a train station without a plan and taking the next departing train.  In fact, that is on my personal bucket list.

Parliament at Sunset London England

Parliament at Sunset London England

“InterRail” is a work of fiction based on the InterRail trip taken by the author, Alessandro Gallenzi.  It’s a story about a young man who had enough courage to step out of his comfort zone to find himself and live the life he chose.  By stepping out of the safety of his home to travel he was able to gain the confidence and clarity he needed to make the choices that shaped his life.

How has travel helped shape your life?


Although I was given the book InterRail by Alma Books and asked to review it, all opinions are my own. Alma Books is also giving away a free InterRail pass to EU residents and there is still a couple days left to enter.  So mosey your way over to Alma Books to enter!

3 Little Gems of England

A few months ago we discovered two of Europe’s secret villages, Kuressaare in Estonia and Giethoorn in Holland.

Today we’re opening the door on a few more of these “secret” villages by traveling to cheery old England.

Castle Combe Tea Room Cotsowld England

Castle Combe Old rectory tea room by Saffron Blaze

England is littered with small beautiful villages sprinkled across the landscape. Some regions of England, like the Cotswold’s, are famous for their little gems. Even though the villages we’re discovering today are within easy reach from London, visiting these beauties will give you the feeling as if you’ve gone back in time!

 

Introducing 3 Little Gems of England!

 

Castle Combe river Cotswold England

Castle Combe river by Saffron Blaze

Castle Combe is located a mere 85 miles west of London in a lovely lush valley in the Cotswold’s. The castle of this beautiful and serene village no longer stands but you can still see a medieval church including one of the few medieval clocks in England that is still in use and a 14th century carved market cross marking the site of the town’s old wool market. Wandering this village, dubbed by some as “The Prettiest Village in England”, you will still notice the traditional Cotswold architecture of thick walls and roofs made of natural stone tiles. The village is so charming that it has been the filming site of many movies including last years Warhorse.

St Giles Church Chalfont St Giles England

St Giles Church by Skinnyde, on Flickr

Chalfont St Giles is the 3 time winner of the “Best Kept Village” competition and anyone walking the village will see why! At every corner the cozy town oozes old world charm. Chalfont St Giles is located in Buckinghamshire only 25 miles from London but seems a world away. The village green still hosts cricket matches and the river Misbourne has a Roman road crossing it. If you’re looking for traditional English pubs maybe one of the six located in the village will be to your liking! As London was being ravaged by the plague, it was here that Milton settled in 1665. In this 11th century village Milton’s cottage, where he finished Paradise Lost, still stands. Noel Gallagher of Oases used to call Chalfont St Giles home as did William Penn who is buried here – next to both his wives!

Chalfont St Giles by timo_w2s, on Flickr

Since 1944 Lacock has been almost entirely owned by the National Trust which helps ensure its charm stays intact. This well preserved village was once a medieval market town and its streets are lined with Tudor style houses. Besides the quaint houses of Lacock, visitors will want to see the parish church and the Lacock Abbey. The Abbey was founded in the 13th century by Lady Ela, who was Countess of Salisbury and whose husband was an illegitimate son of King Henry II. Lacock has also been seen in many TV shows on the BBC including Pride & Prejudice and the Abbey was seen in Harry Potter films as well as the Other Boleyn Girl.

Lacock Abbey Forecourt Cotswold England

Lacock Abbey Forecourt by Ian Petticrew

As you can see, all 3 of these villages can be descried using the same words – serene, beautiful, charming, medieval, unspoiled, prettiest, picturesque and traditional.

Ford in Lacock Cotswold England

Ford in Lacock by Immanuel Giel

Some may even call these “secret” villages but I think little gems fit better!


What do you think?

5 Guiding Lights of Europe!

For years Lighthouses have been protecting ships as they navigate our shorelines.  With lamps shining bright, they guide captains past treacherous rocks, reefs and coastlines offering safe passage or entry into port.

Let’s take a look at some of Europe’s many guiding lights!


Finisterre Lighthouse

This lighthouse is located on a rocky peninsula on the west coast of Spain.  The coast in this area is known as the “Death Coast” and has been the location of many shipwrecks making the lighthouse even more important!  The lighthouse was built in 1853 and sits 138 meters above sea level.  Finisterre is also a well known pilgrimage site.

Finisterre Lighthouse Spain

Finisterre Lighthouse by Yellow.Cat, on Flickr

Cordouan Lighthouse

This beautiful lighthouse located on the Atlantic coast of France, sits at the mouth of the Gironde River near the coast of Medoc. This still active lighthouse is the 10th tallest traditional lighthouse in the world and is located about 7 km from the coast.  Construction on the Cordouan Lighthouse began in 1584 and was completed in 1611.  The lighthouse can be seen for miles both day and night.  Next time you’re in the area, you might want to visit this amazing site!

Cordouan Lighthouse France

By Thibault Grouas

Lindau Lighthouse

Yes, even lakes need lighthouses!  This very photogenic lighthouse guards the entrance to Lindau Harbor on Lake Constance deep in Southern Germany.  Sitting on the border with Switzerland this magnificent lighthouse was built in 1853 where it still sits waiting for you to visit.

Lindau Lighthouse Lake Constance Germany

By Taxiarchos228

Dover Lighthouse

Nestled on the grounds of medieval Dover Castle in the English countryside is this beautiful Roman lighthouse.  The Romans actually built two lighthouses but this is the only one still standing and today it is the tallest Roman ruin in Britain.  In its heyday, there was an open flame on the top that guided ships into the harbor.

Dover Roman Lighthouse England

The Roman Lighthouse by Mark Abel, on Flickr

Rubjerg Knude Lighthouse

Located on the North Sea in northern Denmark, the Rubjerg Knude lighthouse started lighting the way in 1900. Even though the lighthouse sits 60 meters above sea level, the shifting seas and winds have blown sand up the cliff until the light couldn’t be seen from the sea.  It was at this point on August 1, 1968 that the lighthouse ceased operation.

Rubjerg Knude Lighthouse Denmark

© Tester12345 de.wikipedia.org

 

What European Lighthouses have you seen?

Domestic Security in Wales a la Edward I

Castles. What images come to your mind when reading this word?  If you’re like me, you may imagine a beautiful structure that feels romantic and rich.  A place where grand parties or celebrations occurred and sumptuous food was enjoyed along with the best wine.

Harlech Castle Wales by Jelle Drok, on Flickr

We travel miles and miles to see what we think of as romantic castles but did you know most castles were actually built as a method of domestic security?  No other place is this more true than in Wales and the castles of Edward I.

Caernarfon Castle Wales by Jelle Drok, on Flickr

For years the Welsh warlords wreaked havoc against the English kings.  So much so that in 1267 Henry III recognized Welsh independence.  But his son, Edward I, had other ideas and spent years fighting to bring the Welsh back under English rule.  After his successful bids, he spent time securing his lands by building a series of strongholds we now adore as castles!

Conwy Castle by Eifion, on Flickr

Conwy Castle by Eifion, on Flickr

It was during this medieval period that Edward commissioned great architects to build or upgrade a series of impenetrable fortresses that would help protect his lands.  This so called “Iron Ring” was a modern attempt to protect the villages of medieval Britain.  By strategically placing the castles near the sea, Edward’s navy was able to send provisions to the people during uprisings thus ensuring his military success.

Beaumaris Castle Wales by Jelle Drok, on Flickr

Beaumaris Castle Wales by Jelle Drok, on Flickr

After the first uprising in 1277, Edward built castles such as Flint, Rhuddlan and Aberystwyth as well as began upgrading other Welsh castles.

It was after the second revolt that Edward extended his fortifications by commissioning the work of a master architect, James of St. George whose work is now recognized by UNESCO.  It was during this time that the castles at Harlech, Caernarfon, Conwy and Beaumaris were built.

Conwy castle Wales Britain

Conwy Castle by Sarah Lionheart

The castles of Harlech, Caernarfon, Conwy and Beaumaris are known as the big Four Castles of Edward I.  They are also the ones that have survived the years mostly intact.

Caernarfon Castle Wales Britain

Caernarfon Castle interior by Petrusbarbygere

Whether you spend time exploring the ruins of these medieval masterpieces or wandering through one of the more intact castles, the Edwardian castles allow us to explore and touch history.

 

Do you tour castles?  What are your favorites?