My Absolute Favorite German Town-Gernsbach, Germany

Okay, I will admit that I am a little biased. I may even be more in love with this town than just about any I have ever been to but it has nothing to do with the fact that my 2nd great grandparents emigrated from here and that their parents and their parents parents lived here too. No, this town is a true historical gem and it deserves any accolades it receives. Each and every one of them.

The day we came we had visited a town 10 miles away that my SIL’s family had emigrated from. It was small, desolate and looked like much of it had been destroyed during WWII. New buildings stood on a main street lined with them. It was a real disappointment to her because there was no character in the town. None. Needless to say, I was afraid that I would be bitterly disappointed to have come all that way to see Gernsbach and have it just be a shell of a town. Thankfully it wasn’t.

Gernsbach is located 7 km from Baden-Baden in the Black Forest.  The town was established in the 12th century and paper is a huge part of its economy as it has been for centuries. My 2nd great grandfather worked as a Joiner while living here in the early 1800’s. His mother, Elizabeth Lippert, was born in this town in 1792.

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The first clue that this would be a grand place to explore was the huge stone bridge that stood as an entrance to the town and divides it in half. We made a quick right and began climbing up the hillside streets where we had views  that stretched for miles of the surrounding mountains. It was breathtaking. This has got to be one of the most romantic spots in all of Germany so take advantage of it.

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Another era of the past were the cobblestone streets filled the town square and stretched out beyond meandering throughout the city.  But the most impressive thing were the row upon row of beautiful timbered houses that have stood for hundreds of years.

One has been around since the 1600’s and tours are given of this outstanding building which is in the process of being restored. We climbed throughout the building venturing here and there and when we reached the top the views of the church on the hill were unmatched. I have to confess I ran my hands along the buildings outer and inner walls just sure that my 5th Great Grandmother had once done the same and that somehow we were touching each other’s hands.

Besides the numerous timbered houses there are also charming fountains that dot the city. Filled with baskets of flowers surrounding the water they are some of the most beautiful that I have ever seen.

There are also two churches, the protestant St.-Jakobskirche with its beautifully tended cemetery. It is an interesting thing that in Germany that you will rarely find old tombstones. This is because a family will lease the burial plot for a period of thirty years and if the family does not pay to have the plot renewed, everything is removed including the headstone. That said, this churchyard does have a few old stones that are worth looking at.

 

The other church is the Catholic church which was re-built in the 1800’s. The town walls surrounds it along with the early history of the place. We happened upon the church when the organist was practicing and the music was as enchanting as the building was beautiful. Hearing the organ explode throughout the church is something I will never forget.

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Part of me hates to write about Gernsbach. It is an undiscovered gem. I am afraid that the next time I go back it will be swarming with tourists because with all its history and  beauty this town is worthy of the biggest and  best bus tours. This place is an undiscovered treasure. Selfishly, I hope it remains one.

Altes Rathaus, or Old Town Hall, was once a palace built for a rich timber merchant in 1671-1618.

 

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Best Neolithic Site-County Meath, Ireland

Sitting high on a hill in the Boyne Valley sits Newgrange; one of the ancient wonders of the world. It is an amazing place that sets your imagination on fire as it takes you back to a place so old that most people have never seen anything remotely like it before. Built before both the Egyptian Pyramids and Stonehenge; this burial mound is over 5,000 years old, but like a shy maiden you would never guess her age, for she has aged well.

We drove to the site which overlooks this valley carved out of hills with running streams throughout. This place is truly out in the middle of nowhere. Traveling down a steep road we could get glimpses of the massive site through the trees as we neared the Bru na Boinne Visitor Center. Here we bought the tickets necessary to board the bus that takes you to Newgrange itself. But while waiting we viewed depicting life as it was lived so long ago by the Neolithic people. Most exhibits here focus on how the tombs were built, why they were built, and how they were used. The architecture here is superb with glass walls allowing visitors to take in the picture perfect views of the Valley. In addition, there is a small tea room to sit, take a snack, and just enjoy all that surrounds you.

After about 20 minutes of coffee sipping, we boarded the shuttle bus and were taken to Newgrange. I was amazed at the size of the mound which encompasses about an acre. Spying out of the bus windows you see enormous retaining wall that is surrounded by artfully carved kerbstones. There are many standing stones ringing the mound that add a sense of mystery to the place but it seems that they are a newer addition having been placed there sometime in the Bronze Age.

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From the bus we walked quite a way to the entrance where we were met by a guide who described all we could see and would be seeing inside the chamber, which incidentally, only takes up a small part of the over-all site. But by far the most interesting thing about Newgrange is the roof-box which sits directly over the entrance. The Neolithic people designed this narrow space to align with the sun so that on December 21st (Winter Solstice) the first of the sun’s rays pass through the box, extend down the passage and into the chamber. The chamber then lites up and glows for about 15 minutes before being consumed by the darkness once again.  Both burnt and unburnt bone have been discovered here leading researchers to believe that bodies some bodies had been cremated before being placed in the passage.

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This is a place where the spirit and the intensions of the ancient live on. It is a site where hilly ground keeps treasures and secrets buried but still “seen.” It is a place where those who enjoy the mysterious should venture. Newgrange…remember the name!

 

A Day Trip To The Mayan City Of Lamanai- Belize

One of my favorite day trips EVER was the time we joined a small tour headed for the ancient city of Lamanai in Belize.

The first part of the trip was by jeep which covered miles upon miles of rutted roads . This is where we really were able to see and experience life in the back country of Belize. The poverty was immense and all encompassing. Children dressed in rags ran out of their small houses to wave at the strangers passing by with smiles taking up the majority of their sweet small faces. They were delighted to have something to see and break up their day.

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It was also during this ride that I saw my first ever cashew tree. Colorful cashew apples dressed in yellow and red  hung from narrow branches and swayed in the breeze. A single prized cashew nut protruded from the bottom of this apple which would soon be collected and roasted. The oil from the shell is caustic and can burn the skin so handling the nut is not advised unless you know what you are doing.

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After a two hour ride we finally arrived at the New River where we took a small boat and headed for Lamanai. Along the way we saw crocodiles, jacanas, hawks and many different types of waterfowl. Little boys in dug out canoes were everywhere fishing and delighted to show off their catch from the safety of their boats. As the river meandered along we were surprised when we saw a family of Amish along the river. Seems that there is a colony of the sect living in the area. It was amazing to see people whom I had seen in Pennsylvania Dutch country all the way out in the wilds of Belize.

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Finally we arrived at Lamanai. Ancient Mayan temples surrounded us but it was the errie  never ceasing cries of the howler monkeys hidden in the trees that got our immediate attention. Never in my life had I heard such loud screams and haunting howls! We watched the monkeys scamper in the trees for a time before heading over to the High Temple.

The High Temple (N10-43) climbs 108 ft from the jungle floor allowing for never-ending views along the river. It was the highest building at Mesoamerica at that time it was completed. Construction began in 100BC and the temple was built over an existing neighborhood that dates back to 300 BC. But it is the opulent Central Stairway that is really the star of this show. It is a tough climb to the top when you are encased in the sticky humidity of the jungle.100_6147 2

The Jaguar Temple (N10-9) was given its name due to the two jaguar masks that lie at its base. It is one of the newer temples and was constructed during the 8th century. One interesting fact is that the niches in the jaguars eyes, ears, nose and cheeks were where the native peoples left offerings to the Jaguar God.

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In all the site contains 8 Ceremonial Plazas along with five Temples and an ancient harbor. Other original buildings include Stella-9 and The Mask Temple(9N-56). The site also offers a small museum in which pottery and other ancient artifacts from the area are displayed. Even more amazing is that only 5% of Lamanai has been excavated. Oh, the hidden treasures that are waiting to be found. Makes me want to go back to college and study archeology!

This is one trip that I will never forget. While I cannot remember the cost I can say that every penny was worth it!

 

Round Basket Boats-China Beach, Vietnam

I loved Vietnam. I loved everything about it including the people, the food and the scenery. But one of the things I loved the most was the round boats that sat on the sands of China Beach.

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I noticed my first one near sunset when we first stepped on onto the fine white sand. Something about the shape of it drew me in and I wanted to see more. So I walked over to a red one pulled up on the shore. It was full of fishing nets in the bottom with two simple oars resting on the top of the nets. A white plastic bucket fit in along the side of this beautiful red vessel that looked like something the Owl and the Pussycat surely would have sailed in.

These round boats are hardly unique in the world but they are abundant here. They are crafted of split bamboo which is dried in the sun, bent, woven into shape, and then tarred or varnished in order to waterproof the craft. They are excellent at repelling ocean creatures that bore into wood boats but leave these beautiful baskets alone. They are used because they are flexible, light weight, and are capable of carrying a heavy load. But one of their biggest assets is that they are able to pass through the rough surf that dots that Vietnamese coast allowing lone fishermen to get out to sea quickly and easily.

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I come from a long line of Nova Scotia and Massachusetts fisherman. My 2nd great grandfather, Angus McKay, was the captain of the Marsala, a John Pew and Son company boat. He accidentally stranded on a reef during a fierce snowstorm in 1889. Angus died from exposure and pneumonia leaving a young wife and family.  Mr. Pew hired my great -grandmother as his secretary and saved the family from ruin. Back then, fisher folk looked out for one another in that kind of way.

Fishing boats  and fishermen are in my blood. I see them both out in the waves working together to bring in the haul and I think there is nothing better than the sea and man working in tandem. And as I watched the slight old men pushing their round boats to the waters edge in Vietnam, I thought of the fishermen around the world that share a dream and a love of the ocean.

Undoubtedly,  Angus would have loved to have skippered one of these.

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Pikes Peak-Colorado

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Ever since Zebulon Pike failed to summit Pikes Peak in 1806, mountaineers have come to this grand spot in the Rocky Mountains to have their own go of it. At 14,110 ft this is one of 53 mountains that are greater than 14,000 feet in Colorado and a challenge to climb.

There are several ways to reach the summit of Pikes. The first is just plain old hoofing it up the mountain via Barr Trail which is considered a Class 1 trail. It is a 13 mile climb to the top with an 8,ooo ft elevation difference from start to finish.

Another way to reach the summit is The Manitou and Pikes Peak Railway which operates out of Manitou Springs weather permitting. It is a cog railway and is the highest railway in North America. This is an expensive way to summit at $38 per adult but the views are stunning and it is an unforgettable experience.

Since 2011 Pikes Peak Highway has been opened to the top. It is a 19 mile drive from Ute Pass and is maintained as a toll road so there is a fee to use it. At the top you will find a Visitors Center and gift shop but it is the things you will see along the way that you will long remember…the alpine woods, three magnificent lakes and the historic Glen Cove Inn. These are the things that come to mind when I think of Pikes Peak.

As always when you are at these altitudes be sure to bring along plenty of water so you keep hydrated. Altitude sickness with its attending headache is often experienced by visitors who do not take the time to acclimate. And remember it is COLD at the top so dress accordingly.  At Pikes the scenery is vast and the climb is one of those once-in-a- lifetime things you must do. So go and enjoy Pikes no matter how you get there!

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Dave climbing near Pikes Peak in Colorado

 

OH HECK YES! The New Pengiun Center-Detroit, MI

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Okay, I’m cheating. Big time. Why? Because I have never been to the Penguin Center at the Detroit Zoo although I have been to that particular zoo when I was a child. I remember watching the polar bears in awe and my fascination with the penguins when I was a kid; so I was stoked to read about this new edition to the struggling city of Detroit.

Yesterday, the Detroit Zoo opened it’s new state of the art penguin center which now holds the title of “Largest In The World.” Known as the Polk Penguin Conservation Center it features a multitude of penguins living as they would in the wild. These four species of birds are living the high life as they swim at breakneck speeds, nest, and rear their chicks in conditions that mimic the wild.

The Center is inspired by the Antarctic crossings of explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton. According to zoo officials visitors will experience 4-D effects while watching the adventurer’s exploits in a wrap around movie.

Visitors can see these aquatic wonders from all sorts of vantage points including an underwater walkway. Along the way icebergs and ice sculptures can be seen.

On the Detroit zoo’s website you can take a walk through the center. While I have not yet visited I plan to someday soon. Take a look here and you will see this amazing exhibit for yourself: http://detroitzoo.org/support/give/polk-penguin-conservation-center/

 

 

 

Free Entrance Days

Almost all National, State and local Parks have annual free or reduced price entrance days. Museums usually do to0. Here is a list of some of my favorite free admission places to visit this year.

 

Because it is the 100th birthday of  National Park Service there are several days this year where no admission is charged. These include:

  • April 16 through 24: National Park Day
  • August 25 through 28: National Park Service Birthday
  • September 24: National Public Lands Day
  • November 11: Veterans Day
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CHICAGO

Art Institute of Chicago: Free for all Illinois residents from 5-8 p.m. Thursdays. Kids 13 and under are always free.

Chicago Children’s Museum: Free 5-8 p.m. every Thursday and the first Sunday of every month for kids 15 and under. Always free to children under 1.

The Field Museum: Several days have already come and gone this year but June 21-23 remains

Museum of Science and Industry: The following days in 2016 remain

June: 1-3, 6-8; September: 6-9, 12-16, 19-23, 26-30; October: 4-6; November: 3,10 December: 1

Several other Chicago attractions also have free days.

NEW YORK CITY

New York Aquarium: Friday 3 pm-closing (pay what you wish)

Whitney Museum of American Art: Friday 7-9:30 pm

Bronx Zoo: Wednesday (pay what you wish)

Metropolitan Museum of Art (always free or pay what you wish)

There are plenty more attractions in and around NYC that offer these deals.

SAN FRANCISCO

Asian Art Museum: First Sunday of every month

de Young: First Tuesday of every month, first full weekend of every month for Bank of America Card Holders

San Francisco Railway Museum: Always free

Bat Area Discovery Museum: Great for kids. First Wednesday of every month.

BALTIMORE

The Walters Art Museum: General admission is free

National Aquarium: Dollar Days are December 3 and 4 this year. Admission is just $1. 1/2 Price Nights after 5 p.m. on Fridays. There is also a Pay What You Want Day every year.

DENVER

Denver Museum of Nature and Science: April 23, May 9, June 5, August 29, September 11, October 24, November 13, December 12

Denver Art Museum: May 7, June 4 and other days throughout the year

Children’s Museum of Denver:May 3 4-8 p.m., June 7 4-8 p.m.

SEATTLE

Seattle Symphony: Various dates. Check schedule.

Museum Of Flight: Free 5p.m.-9 p.m. the first Thursday of the month

Museum of History and Industry: First Thursdays are free and have extended hours (10 a.m. to 8 p.m.).

Washington State Parks: May 8: Sunday Spring Day, June 4: National Trails Day, June 11: National Get Outdoors Day, Aug. 25: National Park Service Birthday, Sept. 24: National Public Lands Day, Nov. 11: Veterans Day

ST. LOUIS

St. Louis Zoo: There is no entrance fee. It is FREE. There are some charges for special events like the sea lion show.

Contemporary Art Museum: is free for all visitors on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

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As you can see there are plenty of free things to do in and around where you live. Just google FREE DAYS in your area for a list of adventures.

*All information provided is subject to change. Verify details before going.

 

Montezuma Castle-Camp Verde, Arizona

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Let’s get one thing straight right from the get-go. Even though this is referred to as Montezuma Castle, the great Aztec chief himself never lived in this settlement nor contributed to its development; as this Pueblo was built over centuries and then abandoned at least 40 years prior to his birth.

It has been years since I have been to this sacred place that was once home to the Sinagua people but is now the home of  the National Monument that honors them. I still remember the raw feelings of the life force that still swirls throughout the canyon as well as a sense of awe that these native people, who lived so long ago, could design buildings and pottery that were so impressive and long lasting. Descendants of these ancient people live on in the Hopi and other native peoples of the Southwest.

The Castle sits about 90 ft up a sheer limestone cliff and was built over time and occupied from about 1100-1450 AD. though there is archaeological evidence that the Sinagua were in the area since 700 AD.  The main building contains about 20 rooms and is approximately five stories high. It was built within an alcove which allowed it to remain protected from the elements and was placed high enough to avoid the seasonal flooding that occurred on Beaver Creek which lay directly below this village. It is constructed from huge chunks of limestone and from clay obtained from the creek bed beneath the Pueblo. The ceilings were made of thatch that was procured from the Arizona sycamore.

One of the more interesting facts about Montezuma Castle was that it was abandoned for some time due to volcanic eruption of Sunset Crater but was later re-occupied and agricultural production was resumed after the effects of the eruption diminished.

The dwellings and the 860 acres that surround them were declared a United States National Monument in 1906 with the signing of the American Antiquities Act. Early visitors were allowed to climb ladders into the buildings but due to damage from these well meaning visitors the practiced was halted in 1951. Today you can only see Montezuma Castle from viewing platforms or along the 1/3 mile loop trail that winds below the pueblo. However,  it is easy to learn about Sinagua culture and see artifacts from the area at the Visitor Center.

This National Park is located near Camp Verde, Arizona off Interstate 17. It is open from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. everyday except Christmas.

There is a $10 fee to enter Montezuma Castle and the Tuzigoot National Monument which is valid for 7 days. Children under 15 are free.

HINT: Buy a National Park Pass ($80) which allows access to all National Parks and Federal Recreation Lands for a year for the pass holder + 2 adults. And if you are 62 years of age or older A Senior Pass can be purchased for $10 which allows you and three adults into all the National Parks without incurring additional entrance fees.

 

 

A Little Bit Of Asian Culture-Corpus Christi, TX

I love it when you stumble upon a place that is unexpected and it turns out to be a feast for the eyes. The Texas State Museum of Asian Cultures in Corpus Christi is just such a place. Located within walking distance of several of the city’s tourist gems, this hidden treasure celebrates the art and culture of such countries as Koran, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Laos.

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Founded in the 1960’s by local Mrs. Billie Trimble Chandler, the museum while small, houses collections of the ordinary as well as the extraordinary. While the museum has amassed a sizable collection of paintings, pottery, textiles and more, it also welcomes traveling exhibits from a variety of Asian countries. The museum also offers educational classes for both locals and tourists alike.

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When I was there I saw several intricately embroidered and colorful kimonos on display and the collection of jade from China was vast and diverse. Since I am a collector of Korean Celadon Pottery I appreciated the intricacies of the ones that were shown.  I was also amazed at the berth of the clay Hakata Dolls collection from Japan. How one woman could have collected all of these treasures during her 17 years spent teaching in Japan is beyond me!

 

 

One of the biggest assets this small museum has is it’s people. The staff is extremely knowledgable and will spend time pointing out particular pieces and answering any and all questions. Even the hard ones. In fact, I had a question that they staff was unable to answer but researched and emailed me the information that they discovered. Talk about service!

The Texas State Museum of Asian Cultures is located at 1809 N. Chaparral St, Corpus Christi, TX. It is open Tuesday-Saturday 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Entrance fee is $5 per adult and less for students and children. It is about a one hour stop.

Small museums like this are priceless and deserve our support. Stop by…you will be glad that you did!

 

 

Bloomingdale’s Medinah-Chicago, Illinois

One of my favorite places in Chicago to browse (notice I said browse not shop) is at Bloomingdales Medinah store on Wabash Avenue.

I remember the first time I saw it. I was so stunned that my jaw slacked and my mouth dropped open in surprise as I stared in awe this totally unique and fascinating piece of architecture. It’s not often you run across Moorish Revival Architecture  with onion domes and horseshoe-shaped arches in the middle of an American city but here stood this jewel and I was lucky enough to be able to go in and take a look.  Needless to say, I was intrigued front entrance  where I saw the words “The is no God but Allah” written in Arabic.

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According to information provided by the store the building was built in 1912 and its intended use was as an auditorium seating over 4,000 people on three levels as well as a meeting hall for the Shriners. The Shrine Circus took place here complete with elephants, tigers and clowns to thrill the crowd. Because the acoustics were so superb, the venue was used for recording by the Chicago Symphony. Concerts and plays were another favorite crowd pleaser.

Like most good things which must come to an end beginning in 2000 the building was gutted and turned into a home furnishing store by Bloomingdales.

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It is a real treat to “shop” here. Everywhere you look there is something interesting to see. From the domed ceiling to ornate stained glass there are clues to this wonderful buildings past that surround you. And ladies some of the best stained glass windows can be found in the restroom.

If you would like to view some historic photographs of the building visit:

http://westsuburbanshrineclub.org/History-Wabash.htm