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.

Porto, Portugal – Walk with Me (Part II)

My first post on Porto, Portugal took us through the vibrant and historic waterfront area of Ribiera. You can find it here: Porto Portugal – Walk with Me (Part I). In part II, we’ll begin our visual stroll north of Ribiera and take in a few sights as we work our way down to the riverfront.

Starting near the Campanha train station. The first landmark is a 19th century church, Igreja Santissima Trinidade.

A block south of the church is the breathtaking plaza called Avenida dos Aliados which is filled with architectural gems lining both sides. Statues, hotels, government building, cafes, retail stores, and restaurants make this a popular area in Porto.

Looking south down Avenida dos Aliados
Looking north at Porto City Hall

At the southern point of Avenida dos Aliados is a monument for King Pedro IV erected in 1866. His story is fascinating as he was in front and center during a period of significant upheaval in Portugal’s history. As the King of Portugal, he was forced to flee Portugal after the French (Napoleonic-era) invasion and conquest of Portugal in 1807. He took up residence in Brazil (Portugal’s wealthiest and most successful colony). He ruled over Brazil and eventually returned to Portugal with an army to regain control of Portugal in the early 1830’s. A lot happened in between his departure and return but that is a story for another day.

Next on my loosely penned itinerary is to locate the Clerigos Tower. Situated on the highest point of historic Porto. I know the view of the city will be one of the best available. I head east from the Avenida dos Aliados and up a steep street to arrive at the Clerigos church. Getting to the top will require a spiraling 250-step ascent but promises a fantastic 360-degree panoramic view of the city. Count me in!

Entering the church, I’m unexpectedly taken back by its splendor and pause for a few photos before getting to the tower.

As I begin my ascent into the tower, I notice the top of a building (image below) that is an actual park. So bizarre to see people laying in the grass surrounded by olive trees…on the roof of a building. This space is known as Jardim das Oliveiras.

Jardim das Oliveiras
Looking out from inside the tower.
Mission accomplished – view from top of the Clerigos Tower

Taking in the city view from the Clerigos tower is incredible. You are able to walk all the way around the top and get a 360 degree view. I was able to identify a few of the landmarks I wanted to see and get a general sense of the city’s layout. After leaving the tower, I know everything is downhill to the river. However, there is a famous bookstore (connected to Harry Potter) to visit first.

The Livaria Lello & Irmao is the bookstore where J.K. Rowling is said to have written parts of Harry Potter and inspired aspects of Harry Potter’s Hogwarts.

Around the corner from the Livaria Lello & Irmao bookstore is a plaza featuring the Fountain of the Lions and Igreja do Carmo. The church was built in the late 1700’s and features azulejos – ornate ceramic tiles – on the exterior. I haven’t mentioned this yet but azulejos are everywhere in Porto (and Portugal in general). Sometimes they are simple patterns covering the exterior of homes and at other times they form grand, detailed mosaics. Azulejo was introduced in the 13th century when the Moors (people from region today known as Morocco) controlled much of Iberian peninsula (what is now Portugal and Spain).

After this fun diversion, I set off down the narrow cobblestone streets of Porto towards the waterfront.

Porto is filled with steep streets. Wear comfortable shoes for walking.
Rio Douro ahead…I made it!

To see photos of Porto’s riverfront, please checkout Porto Portugal – Walk with Me (Part I).

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:

Porto, Portugal – Walk with Me (Part I)

Coming in at #5 on Travel & Leisure’s “Top Cities in Europe to Visit” readers’ survey for 2019, Porto is a travel destination on the rise. If you visit Porto, the Praca da Ribeira is the must-see location and this is where I’ll start my series of posts on Portugal.

Nestled in along the river front of the Rio Douro, Ribeira is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Porto’s historic city center. It is filled with vibrant architecture, winding cobblestone medieval streets, cafes, and restaurants.

As you can already see in the photos above, Porto is not built on flat terrain. And, if you enjoy exploring on foot, you’ll need to wear very comfortable shoes and be prepared for a leg workout. I began my journey north of Ribeira and take in a few other landmarks before walking down towards the Rio Douro.

The Rio Douro is getting closer.
Arriving at the bustling center of Ribeira along the Rio Douro.
A look back shows the slope of the streets and the vibrant buildings.
Facing the river and looking left, there are more riverfront cafes.

Once in Ribeira by the river, there are a few things that are going to command your attention. One is the massive steel bridge – the Ponte de D. Luis. This bridge was designed and constructed by a former student of Gustave Eiffel (designer of the Eiffel Tower). 

Ponte de D. Luis

I am drawn in for a closer look. The bridge has a pedestrian walkway on the lower level and this level is also used by cars. The top level is for a train but also has a pedestrian walkway. I cross on the bottom level with plans to return on the top level.

In the images below, I have crossed the river and we are now looking at Ribeira from the other side of the river.

My main reason for crossing the Douro river, in addition to wanting to experience the bridge up close, was to have a glass of port wine. Porto is where port wine originated and a large part of the riverfront across from Ribeira is lined with port cellars. The area (a separate city) is called Vila Nova de Gaia. You can arrange for tastings (on land or boat cruises) or sample the varieties in one of the many restaurants along the waterfront.

Port wine in the land it originated – Porto

Ribeira is breathtaking and every turn is filled with architectural eye candy. But, be sure to cross the Ponte de D Luis and look at Ribeira from across the river with a glass of port. It is a view you don’t want to miss.

I hope you enjoyed this visual stroll. In my next post, we’ll get a view from the top level of the Ponte de D. Luis and take in some of Porto’s other landmarks in Ribeira and beyond.

Porto, Portugal

Historic Ribeira highlighted

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: