Neuschwanstein Castle – Bavaria, Germany

Neuschwanstein Castle is a Romanesque Revival palace built in the late 1800’s by King Ludwing II of Bavaria. It sits high above the village of Hohenschwangau in southwest Bavaria, Germany. If the castle looks vaguely familiar, it is because Neuschwanstein castle was the inspiration behind Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle.

Professional photo taken from mountain across from Neuschwanstein Castle

King Ludwig II intended the palace to serve as a retreat from his palace in Munich and personally paid for its construction rather than using public funds. At least some of the inspiration for the castle’s design is attributed to Richard Wagner – a dear friend of King Ludwig’s. Richard Wagner was a composer and theorist whose operas and music greatly influenced the evolution of music in the western world.

When King Ludwig passed away in 1886, the castle was opened to the public and more than 61 million people have visited. A few of my favorite photos from Neuschwanstein Castle:

Scenic vistas walking up the steep road to Neuschwanstein Castle and the road going up beyond the castle:

Historical Context

The region known today as Bavaria was originally settled by Iron Age Celts. The Roman Empire took control of the region around 100 BC. As the Western Roman Empire collapsed, Bavaria become part of the Kingdom of Germany around 600 AD and later became a sovereign kingdom.

King Ludwig II ascended to the Bavarian throne at age 18 in 1864. Several years later, Bavaria joined the Prussian-led German Empire in the Franco-Prussian (French-German) War of 1870 and, became a German state.

Grand Canyon – West Rim

Grand Canyon West Rim is a 2.5 hour drive from Las Vegas. If you are in Las Vegas and have never been to the Grand Canyon, the West Rim is certainly worth the trip. You can also stop at Hoover Dam which you will pass traveling to and from Grand Canyon West. While Grand Canyon West is part of the Grand Canyon, it is not part of the Grand Canyon National Park system. Instead, it is located on the Hualapai Reservation and operated by the Hualapai Tribe. If you are planning a trip specifically to visit the Grand Canyon for several days, the South Rim is the place to go.

I headed out of Vegas around 7 am filled with anticipation and arrived at Grand Canyon West a couple hours later. After paying the park admission fee and taking a short shuttle bus ride, I finally laid eyes on the Grand Canyon.

I couldn’t really grasp what I was seeing…massive, sprawling, and absolutely breathtaking. It was hard to wrap my mind around a place so unlike anything I had ever seen before. The passing of millions upon millions of years was evident before me and etched into the canyon walls. I feel very fortunate to have seen some amazing sights in my life, but this was overwhelming – spiritual.

I was also surprised by the lack of safety features around the view points. There was nothing. My hands are sweating right now thinking about how I could walk right up the edge and one step further would be the end.

I do okay with heights but this danger certainly had my undivided attention.

Yikes!
Taking a photo of someone taking a photo of someone taking a photo.

I had an amazing afternoon at Grand Canyon West. Buying your admission ticket online will save time. There are many tour bus options out of Vegas but a rental car will allow you travel at your own pace. Traveling in a V-8 Dodge Challenger added to the day’s excitement for me.

The park uses shuttle buses to get you from point to point. There are three stops on the route with the second and third stops being Grand Canyon view points. The third stop was my favorite because it had more views and a small peak you could hike up and truly feel on top of the world. The much touted “Skywalk” is at stop #2. There is an additional fee for the Skywalk and you aren’t allowed to take photos. Instead, they have photographers that will take photos of you and sell them to you. Not a big fan of that setup and didn’t participate.

If you are in Las Vegas and want to get out of the city for a day, Grand Canyon West is a great excursion. You will drive right past the Hoover Dam so be sure to stop and check it out as well.

Amalfi Coast, Italy

The Amalfi Coast is a breathtaking stretch of rugged coastline and vibrant villages. Located between the larger towns of Sorrento and Salerno in the Campania region of Italy, the Amalfi Coast has been designated as an UNESCO World Heritage Site.

My family’s trek to the Amalfi Coast began with a train ride from Naples to Salerno. Once in Salerno (which is a charming town as well), we had the option of riding a bus through tight mountain roads to the smaller towns or taking a ferry. As you can see below, the ferry offers sweeping views of dramatic coastline, vibrant villas, terraced vineyards, and cliffside lemon groves.

Our time was somewhat limited so we were only able to spend time in the villages of Amalfi and Positano. Here are some of my favorites from Amalfi taken in the village and from the ferry.

From Amalfi, we hopped on another ferry and made our way to Positano. While already part of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, my daughter informed me it is also a premier spot for a coveted Instagram photo. Let me tell you, it isn’t an easy shot to get. As you are gaining access to the beach, I wouldn’t mention anything about taking a photo.

Our time was cut short in Positano by rain and rough seas. The last image is where the ferry docks to load passengers. Somehow, the captain managed to get us loaded for the last ferry out. If you are planing a similar trip the Amalfi Coast, there are ferry options out of Naples as well as Sorrento which, in hindsight, may have been the most scenic option. The only real downside for taking the ferry is weather. If the forecast is good, go for it.

Basel, Switzerland

The ancient history of Basel is beyond the scope of this photography-centered post. However, I personally enjoy having a little historical context around the places I am exploring. Briefly, Basel was touched by the Celts as early as 100 BC to 50 AD, followed by the Romans in the 1st and 2d century. After that, Basel came under the control of the Old-World kingdoms that have now evolved into France, Germany, and Hungary. In 1500, Basel joined the Swiss Confederation and is now one of the three largest cities in Switzerland.

Basel, like many cities, has an “Old Town”. Much of the old-town architecture of note seems to come from 1300 – 1700. Your approach into Old Town Basel will likely begin with a crossing of the Mittlere Bridge.

Mittlere Bridge
View from Mittlere Bridge
View from Mittlere Bridge

Mittlere Bridge crosses the Rhine at a point that is one of the oldest crossings on the Rhine. The bridge we see today was built in 1905 and replaced the original bridge built in 1226. A copy of the old bridge chapel – the Käppelijoch – was added to the new bridge. In the middle ages, criminals were sentenced to death at the Käppelijoch.

Käppelijoch

After crossing Mittlere, you have some great destinations to choose from. I began with Marktplatz which is the central square of Old Town. Dominating the view in this square is the vibrant red Basel Rathaus (old town hall). The center portion of the building was built in the early 1500’s with the tower and left wing (as you face it) added in the 1800’s. If you zoom in on the second image, the detailed art on the building is amazing. Marktplatz is filled with shops and places to eat…and I ate plenty.

Leaving Marketplatz, I next set my sights on the old city gate and the walk there was filled with vibrant colored homes.

Approaching Spalentor Gate

Spalentor (c. 1370) is a medieval city gate and all that remains of what was once the fortified city walls of old town Basel.

Located near Spalentor is Saint Peter’s Church built in the early 1300s.

After visiting Spalentor, I turned towards another key city square in Old Town. Munsterplatz is a square surrounding the historic Basler Munster (Basel Minster) church.

Munsterplatz

A Roman fort one stood on these grounds in the 2nd century. Most of the existing buildings today were built in the 1700s. Off to the right of picture below (not shown) is a nice park area with benches to relax and enjoy the scenery. The church is certainly a focal point in this square as it has been throughout the ages regardless of which city-state or nation controlled the area.

As you can see in the photos below, Basler Munster (Basel Minster) has tall spires and vibrant roof top tiles. The church was built and expanded between the 9th – 13th century. Partially destroyed by an earthquake in 1356, it was rebuilt in the Gothic style we see today.

Basler Munster sits upon the highest point in Basel. The Rhine river was of critical importance for trade and movement of supplies so the city and waterway needed to be defended. The elevation of this point optimized defensive positions. The presence of a fort and soldiers drove the need for a place of worship upon this plateau.

This is just a small sample of things to do and see in Basel, but they were points of interests that captured my imagination in the limited time I had available. Basel is on the border of France and Germany and within relatively short train rides to Zurich and Geneva so it is a central location for day trips to other areas as well.

Boston, Massachusetts – The Freedom Trail

The Freedom Trail is a 2.5 mile trail marked on sidewalks in Boston, Massachusetts that winds through the historic landmarks of America’s colonial and revolutionary past. Many of the buildings you will see are the actual buildings (not recreations) where significant events in early American history unfolded.

The trail begins at the Boston Common Visitor Information Center. Established in 1635, Boston Common is the oldest public in the United States.

Located at the northern edge of Boston Common is the Massachusetts State House. Completed in 1798, it was built on land once owned by John Hancock a signer of the Declaration of Independence, patriot, and wealthy merchant. He also served as the first-elected Governor of Massachusetts.

Massachusetts State House

The famous golden dome was originally made of wood. It was covered with copper by Paul Revere & Sons (yes, that Paul Revere) in 1802 to prevent water leakage. In 1874, it was gilded with gold leaf.

Around the corner from Boston Common is the Granary Burying Ground cemetery. This cemetery is final resting place of Paul Revere, Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Benjamin Franklin’s parents, Peter Faneuil, the five citizens killed in the Boston Massacre, and several Boston Governors.

The Old City Hall (below) was completed in 1865 and served as home to the city council until 1969. The history of this site runs deeper though as suggested by the presence of a Benjamin Franklin statue. This was once the site of the Boston Latin School which was the first public school in the United States. Boston Latin opened in 1635 and operated from 1704 to 1748 operated at this site with Benjamin Franklin as one notable student. The school has since changed locations but is still operating today.

Continuing along the Freedom Trail, we come to the Old South Meeting House.

This church was built in 1729 and is the second oldest church in Boston. This area was a popular point of gathering for protests as America inched closer and closer to the Revolutionary War. During the British military occupation of Boston in 1775-1776, British troops desecrated this church. It was used as a horse stable with it pews and library used for kindling and fires.

Next up on the Freedom Trail is the Old State House. Built in 1713, it the oldest surviving state building in Boston.

The Declaration of Independence was read from the east balcony in July 1776. This is also the approximate location of the Boston Massacre where five American colonist were killed by British troops.

Faneuil Hall (below) was a gift to the city of Boston from Peter Faneuil in 1742. Impassioned debates of revolution took place with these walls.

Faneuil Hall

The area outside this meeting hall served as a market in the pre-revolutionary period and still does to this day. The Quincey Market is a great place to take a break. There are many dining and shopping options.

Most of us who grew up in the United States remember learning about Paul Revere’s famous ride where he warned citizens, “The British are coming, the British are coming!” The lanterns that served as Paul Revere’s signal to warn Americans were hung in this actual steeple (below) of the Old North Church – the oldest church in Boston.

On June 17, 1775, early in the Revolutionary War, the British defeated the Americans at the Battle of Bunker Hill in Massachusetts. Despite the loss, the inexperienced colonial forces inflicted significant casualties on the British and demonstrated the American were very capable of mounting a defense. Although commonly referred to as the Battle of Bunker Hill, most of the fighting occurred on nearby Breed’s Hill which is where the actual monument is erected.

After a scenic and historical walk along the Freedom Trail, I returned to my downtown hotel along the Charles River and was able to capture some vibrant fall images. You can find that post here: Boston – The Charles River

Burano, Italy – Color & Texture

Burano is an island in the Venice lagoon (a 40-minute ferry from Venice) famous for its vibrant buildings and lacemaking. I don’t believe I have ever seen a place more densely packed with vibrant colors and textures in my life. I’ll let the photos tell the story.

Leaning Tower of…Burano (built in 1703)

On The Way to Burano

Located along the waterway between Venice and Murano, there is a small island called San Michele that contains the San Michele in Isola church. Completed in 1469 and dedicated to Saint Michael, the church once served as a monastery and is one of the first examples of Renaissance architecture in Venice. Today, the island is a large cemetery.

San Michele in Isola

Traveling to Burano, you’ll also pass the island of Murano which is worthy of a stop. Murano is world famous for glass making…a tradition stemming from the late Medieval and Renaissance periods.

Murano

For more on Italy:

Kyoto, Japan – Shirakawa Canal

Traveling to Kyoto Japan was one of my more challenging trips to plan. Through the help of numerous travel blogs, I ended up staying in the Higashisyama district. Looking back, it was a great location to experience Kyoto.

On my first morning in Kyoto, I went for a run with the intent of running along the Kamo river. Along the way, an inviting canal called for a closer look.

Deeper inside the canal area, I realized I had stumbled across a special location. The canal is lined with willow trees and classic Kyoto architecture.

Combined with the early morning light and empty streets, I was feeling quite immersed in a feeling I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Just one of those magical moments.

After my run, I did a little research and learned that I had been in the Shirakawa Canal area which is within walking distance of the popular Shijo Avenue and Gion District. In addition to the natural beauty of the area, I learned the structures I had seen were actually nice restaurants and ochayas (Geisha tea houses) that blended in quietly along the canal.

Strolling along the canal later in the day, I realized the area was quite popular. I don’t know if the presence of kimonos was a daily event here or if it was a period of Japanese national and/or religious significance. Regardless, there were many men and women along the canal posing for photos by family or professional photographers. The lady in the third image had an interesting mask in her hand but, again, not sure about the meaning.

All along the canal, there are many crossings and points of departure that will take you away from this oasis and back into busier areas of the city…if you have to go. However, the Shirakawa Canal makes a compelling visual case to stay and enjoy its tranquility and beauty.

Additional posts from Japan:

Siena, Italy

Located in the Tuscany region of Italy, Siena is arguably Italy’s most well-preserved medieval town. Siena’s historic city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The heartbeat of this area is Piazza del Campo which has long served as the social and political center of the town. It is a great place to stop when first entering Siena for a bite to eat or drink while taking a visual journey back in time.  A unique feature of the Campo is that it also serves as horse track for the famous race known as the Palio. You can get a sense of the track in the image below.

Piazza del Campo

There is a lot that could be written about the Palio but I’ll be brief. In short, the race is run twice a year with riders representing each of the town’s districts. The Sienese are extremely passionate about their own district. While winning certainly brings genuine joy and pride, the days of festivals leading up to race sound like a party of epic of proportions with everyone living their best life. Tickets and hotels for the Palio come at a premium and should be booked well in advance.

A key building in the Campo is the Palazzo Pubblico which serves as the city town hall with a museum inside.

Off to the left side of this building (as you are looking at it) is the Torre del Mangia (completed in 1348). It was built to be the same height as the Duomo (Church) of Sienna to show equality of church and state. 

Torre del Mangia

The tower’s bell was originally used to signal the end of the workday as well as the opening and closing of the city gates. It is one of the tallest medieval towers in Italy. The tower is open to climb…an opportunity I missed.  

All around the Campo, the aged palaces of a bygone era belie what lies beyond the walls – vast art collections from the 14th and 15th centuries. Many of these works are frescos. While tempting to visit, I tend to lean more towards architectural sights. And, given my limited time, I decide to hit the streets. 

Leaving the Campo, there are seemingly an unlimited number of streets to take with each offering such promise. It reminds me a lot of the Gothic Quarter (el Gotic) in Barcelona but much larger. I could have spent days just strolling through the tight walkways with medieval buildings lining each side. There is always another road to take and breathtaking sights to behold just around the next corner. 

Beyond the Campo, the next key building on my list was the Duomo of Siena, Completed in 1296, it is widely proclaimed as one of the most beautiful buildings in all of Italy and is a must see when visiting Siena. In fact, it will likely be impossible to miss because it dominates the skyline.

Duomo di Siena

After spending some time taking in the Duomo, I begin looking for high ground to get a skyline shot of Siena. This leads me to an old hilltop fortress – Fortezza Medicea – built in the mid 1500s.

The fort’s history is a sad one for Siena. Construction of a fort on this site first began in 1548 by Spain (supporting their Florence ally) after it defeated the Republic of Siena. The fortress was destroyed by the Sienese in an uprising a few years later but, after Florence regained control (assisted by Spain) they rebuilt it to prevent future uprisings by the Sienese. The fortress was eventually demilitarized in the late 1700s and, after restoration, today serves as a public park with events such as wine tastings and performances held inside. And, it offers a great view of Siena.

Basilica of San Domenico (left) and Duomo (distant right)

Sienna’s historic city center – as it looks now – took shape in the late 1200’s to mid 1300’s but Siena existed long before. Siena began as an Etruscan settlement in the period 900 – 400 BC. The Romans then colonized the area around 60 AD. Under Roman rule, Siena flourished as a banking and textile center and was a major city in Medieval Europe.

Siena’s status in the middle ages, as often the case, led to struggles for power and influence with other city states and from within. The war with Florence is one example with lasting implications. The victorious Florentines, directed all of the business once controlled by Siena into Florence. This left Siena isolated and, in a sense, almost frozen in time in its medieval splendor. 

Walking through Siena, I find a bit of pleasure in the irony of Siena’s history. Almost 500 years later after falling to Florence and enduring economic exile, Siena is now a prime travel destination. The impact of Florence’s conquest – Siena being locked in time – is now the very reason people come to Siena. Once again, the city is flourishing.

U.S. Virgin Islands

The U.S. Virgin Islands are an American territory in the Caribbean known for beautiful sandy beaches, coral reefs, and sparkling clear water. Some of the islands are mountainous due to their volcanic origins. Others are relatively flat and formed by exposed reefs as ocean levels lowered. The latter is how the Florida Keys were formed as well.

Note: The photos don’t really follow the narrative…just sprinkling them in.

Basking in a tropical climate, temperatures for the Virgin Islands average temperatures hang around 90 degrees all year long during the day and dip into the mid-70’s during the evening. The three main islands are Saint Croix, Saint John, and Saint Thomas. There are a number of smaller islands as well.

Archeologists believe the Virgin Islands were originally settled by Native Americans originating from South America around 1,000 BC. Europeans first discovered the islands in 1493 during Christopher Columbus’ second exploration of the New World. Over the next few centuries, Spain, Britain, France, and the Denmark would each stake claim to these islands.

Denmark established settlements on St. Thomas and St. John in the late 1600’s and purchased St. Croix from France in 1733. The islands officially became colonies of Denmark in 1754 with sugar plantations being the primary economic driver. Most of those plantations exist today only as ruins and are scattered about the islands.

The United States eventually purchased the Virgin Islands from Denmark in 1917 after 50 years of ongoing negotiations. Today, tourism is the primary economic driver of the Virgin Islands’ economy. Rum production is also notable (along with its consumption).

Sunset at the Marriott Resort on St. Thomas