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‘The London to Birmingham Stage Coach’, 1801

John Cordrey

Wikimedia Commons Copyright Expired

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Ottawa, Canada :This is the capital of a very modern country; despite its significance, it is  one of the most physically manageable cities I have ever visited.  I was last there about ten years ago, but I’m sure not that much has changed since then.  At the time, I was ill and felt pretty wretched most of the time.  And yet I remember Ottawa fondly.  It is a beautiful city.  The Rideau Canal runs through the heart of it.  Parliament Hill looks imposingly down upon the center of town.  There are restaurants and small shops. Museums.  This is a sophisticated city inhabited by a very civil people.  The people may have been the best part of my trip.

The Rideau Canal, on the Ottawa River
Photo Attribution: Bobak Ha’Eri on Wikimedia Commons

Red Rock Canyon , Las Vegas, Nevada
:Have to give this natural wonder five stars–because it’s there.  And whenever I’ve seen it, it’s been in contrast to that embodiment of manufactured culture, Las Vegas. Red Rock Canyon never fails to startle me as I follow Charleston Boulevard West,  through the heart of Vegas, and end up in this geological wonderland. You can drive through the Canyon–or if you are more adventurous you can hike and bike.

Grey Fox in Red Rock Canyon
Photo by James Marvin Phelps, Linnea on Wikimedia Commons

Ulm , Germany This is an ancient city, proud of its heritage.  History is evident in the residences and the cathedral.  Unfortunately, the people here were not so nice–at least not to me.  Although I learned a rough bit of German in school and this served me well in travel around the country, in Ulm I truly felt like a stranger in a strange land.   It is possible that Americans are not the most welcome tourists there.  One thing I was conscious of:  WWII is a distant memory in the U.S., but this is not true in every European community. Ulm was heavily bombed at the end of the War; according to one report, 81% of the city center was destroyed and some 25,000 people were left homeless.  The Rathaus, pictured below, was affected by fire, but some parts of the building–dating back to 1370–were left intact.

Ulm Rathaus, Photo attribution: Drumbalan on Wikimedia Commons

Old Westbury Gardens , Old Westbury, New York:Built for the Phipps family around the turn of the last century, this estate is a monument to the Gold Coast extravagance during the age of the Robber Barons. Parts of the estate have been used as the setting for movies, including Love Story and North by Northwest.

Whenever I visit I think of the amount of labor that went into maintaining this property.  I think of the innumerable servants and groundskeepers who fussed over cutting hedges and polishing furniture in order to please the few residents of the home.   I wonder about the wage these workers must have been paid so that  their services would be affordable in such large numbers.  

The Phipps family donated the mansion and gardens to the public and the estate was open for tour in 1959.  The property is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic places.

Old Westbury Gardens Mansion
Photo by Gryffinder on Wikimedia Commons Share-Alike License

Oxford , MississippiThese stars are not just for Oxford–they are for the very rich experience of driving from Tunica, Mississsippi to Oxford and back.  This is an area of the U.S. most people outside of the South don’t get to see, and yet it is an important part of U. S. culture.  Can’t think of Oxford without thinking of Faulkner.  Can’t think of Oxford without thinking of U. Miss and James Meredith.  Drive a little South from Tunica into Clarksdale and see the Crossroads, where according to legend Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil.  Ride around Mississippi and see a bit of history.  See some sad reminders and some  hard realities, but keep in mind that all of it is part of the history of the United States.  Knowing that history is helpful toward developing an understanding of the present.

Faulkner’s Home in Oxford
Wescbell on Wikimedia Commons

Lake Louise , Canada:Saw it in the summer, as a day trip from Calgary.  Was unprepared for the sheer beauty of this natural wonder.  Absolutely breathtaking.  Runoff from the glaciars  that rise up around the lake give this natural wonder its stunning emerald color. Lake Louis is part of Banff National Park, the oldest park in Canada. The park boasts ice fields, soaring mountains and dense forests.

Lake Louis in the Rain
Photo by Tony Hisgett, Birmingham, UK
Wikimedia Commons Share-Alike License

Colorado Springs  The history of this city was partly shaped by its geography and partly by the scourge of disease.  Mining for Gold and silver, in nearby communities such as Cripple Creek and Leadville, helped to fuel the growth of this city. So did the most deadly disease of the 19th and twentieth century, tuberculosis.  Colorado Springs became a magnet for the afflicted, who sought the dry mountain air for recuperation.  The luxuious Broodmoor Hotel became the destination for the well-heeled consumptive.  Sanatoria also existed on the current  sites of the University of Colorado at Colorado  and of Penrose Hospital.

Buckboard and coaches zigzagging down the
“W” Pike’s Peak carriage road, Colorado, 1911
U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

The adventurous can take day tours up to Leadville and Cripple Creek, though this may be done only in fair weather as the roads are not passable in the snowy season.  Prepare for “scenic” views on the way.  Whoever is driving should have a stout heart and not look down if they have any apprehension about heights.  I think I found the city so appealing because of my sense of history and because of the natural beauty surrounding it.

Museum of Natural History , NY, NYI think a visit to this museum is rewarding no matter how many times you go.  There are always new attractions and theme exhibits.  The Hayden Planetarium, which is associated with the museum, also offers a unique experience.  It’s the kind of experience that might impress a young mind for a lifetime.  Admission fees: if affordability is an issue you can legitimately pay less than the “suggested” price.

Mounted Dinosaur Skeletons at the Museum
Photo by Matt Martyniuk Dinoguy2 at en.wikipedia
From Wikimedia Commons Share and Share Alike License

O. Orkin Insect Zoo  at the National Museum of Natural History, Washington:I think this is a really unique exhibit. I remember especially the Madagascar cockroach.  It’s a little disconcerting that the zoo is named for an extermination company.

Seville , Spain  Beauty, history, art and culture characterize this city on the Guadalquivir River.  The capital of Andalusia, Seville is an exquisite blend of Moorish and Catholic traditions.  Then, of course, there are the Spanish people–in my book among the most gracious hosts on the planet.  Seville is considered a sub tropical city; summer temperatures are high, sometimes over a 100 Fahrenheit. I would bring a hat and sunscreen.

Spires of the Catedral in Seville, Spain
By Pepijntje

Public Domain on Wikimedia Commons

Chateau de Vincennes , Vincennes, France The Chateau might not make it onto everyone’s favorites list, but I found this fortress/castle delightful.  I wanted to see something with intrinsic significance but also didn’t want to be swallowed up in a crowd of tourists.  I recalled years before when I had taken a bus to Versailles and could not enjoy the experience because of the crush of people.  The Chateau at Vincennes offered a completely different experience.  While it may not have been Versailles, it had been the residence of many kings, including Louis XIV before he moved to Versailles. It had also been the site of royal deaths and royal births.

The Chateau is immense and is constantly undergoing refurbishment.  When I went there in 2000, an impressive multilingual guide shared many fascinating historical details.  I found my visit not only informative, but far more enjoyable than my excursion to Versailles had been.

Donjon (Tower) of the Chateau de Vincennes
Photo by Stephane Martin on Wikimedia Commons

Cadiz , Spain It’s been many years since I was in Cadiz, but the city has been around for a very long time–it was founded by Phoenicians–so I can’t imagine the place has changed much over the span of my brief lifetime.  I loved this city.  You may not.  I don’t enjoy tourist bustle, but am awed by living history and Cadiz has that.  Walk the streets.  Look out over the ocean.  Imagine the ancients dropping anchor and trading.

There’s also a beach and nearby tourist communities accessible by boat or rail.  But don’t shortchange Cadiz.  Take your time and get a sense of the place.  As was always the case when I was in Spain, the people  were congenial and this added greatly to my enjoyment of the city.

Road in the old section of Cadiz
Photo by Manfred Werner on Wikimedia Commons

Trier , Germany
Before I begin describing my experience in Trier, I should make a blanket statement about group guilt.  There are places in the world that may be indicted for having perpetrated wrongs against someone–or against many.  I personally don’t subscribe to collective guilt.  I am a United States citizen;  not every policy of my country is one with which I agree. Not every war waged by my country was one I supported.  But I can’t wear a sign stating this when I meet people from other parts of the world.  And I can’t explain my policy to everyone, either.  So I don’t carry a collective grudge toward others.  It so happens that Trier was a center of Nazi activity before WWII.  Anti semitism and persecution of Jews was rampant before and during that war.  But a war was fought.  The city was bombed.  People died.  I don’t know how many former Nazis or Nazi sympathizers are alive today, just as I don’t know who the people are in my own country who one time  wore hoods and hunted down Jews, blacks and Catholics.

Trier is a beautiful city with a long history.  Its past is tied up in the past of Europe.  This city sits at the crossroads of several countries.  It has been claimed over the centuries as part of one nation or another.  Its people have survived, as have many of its historic sites.  If you want to understand the history of Europe, then learn the history of Trier.  Go to the monuments and read about them.

Trier is a breathtakingly beautiful city–which I discovered as I made a journey from Frankfurt to Nancy, France.  In planning my trip I decided Trier was a convenient place to stop for a night’s rest.  This municipality on the banks of the Moselle River offered not only rest but memorable vistas.   I’m glad Trier was on my way to Nancy because my journey was much enriched by the few hours I spent in this historically significant community.

The Altstadt, Trier
Photo by Barbatus on Wikimedia Commons
Public domain

Calais to Dover Ferry 
It’s been a long time since I crossed the English Channel.  When I did so, there were two options: fly or take the ferry.  The Chunnel was still in concept stage.  Recently I checked several review sites to see how people today are experiencing this water crossing.  Reviews are mixed, but most of what they complain about would not have given me pause on my journey.

I was much younger and my travel companion was ill.  We were leaving Europe because of that illness.  We had booked a return to the U.S. on a flight that departed from London.  As ill as my companion was, she did not want to miss one moment of her European adventure.  So she endured with good cheer the long train ride from Vienna, through France and up to Calais.  It was night when the ferry left the Calais pier.  I don’t recall food options.  What I do remember was that we had to pay more to sit or lie down.  The cheapest tickets only allowed passengers to stand.  There were a lot of passengers and the sea was rough.  Sounds of wretching could be heard in the dark.  I felt queasy but managed to complete the journey without embarrassing myself. Meanwhile, my ailing companion smiled and was content to experience the drama of crossing the channel on rough seas.

I think my endorsement of the Calais to Dover ferry has as much to do with travel philosophy as it does with a specific mode of transportation.  I’m not a fly-over kind of traveler, and not particularly eager to get from one place to another. I’m content to experience wherever I happen to be.  So I’ll always take a train or drive, if I have choice, rather than fly.

The English Channel as seen from Dover Castle
Photo by Marco Sinibaldi on Wikimedia Commons
Public Domain

Reims Cathedral, France 
My visit to Reims was incidental to a road trip I was making from Paris to Saarbrucken. I had been in Nancy, France to attend a wedding and had planned a modest tour of the surrounding territory. The  Cathedral was too significant to pass by so I made a detour to at least get a look at it.

The grounds and building were swarming with tourists and that always interferes with my enjoyment. However, this cathedral is impressive, despite the crowds. Appreciation of the site is enhanced, I think, by an awareness of its significance in the history of France. I did not understand its importance at the time of my visit and I regret that.

The city of Reims has roots in the very founding of the French nation. From early settlements by the Remi in Roman times, to its present-day inhabitants, Reims has been a Gallic city. It became a city of Christian culture when Clovis, King of the Franks, was baptized there in AD 496. Subsequent coronations of French monarchs cemented the ceremonial significance of the city in the centuries that followed.

The original cathedral structure, built in 400, was damaged by fire in 1210 and then rebuilt over time. It became an even stronger symbol of French nationalism when German incursions were repulsed in WWI and WWII. On May 8, 1945, The German Instrument of Surrender was signed at Reims by Germany and Western Allies.

The Cathedral is a magnificent structure. About a million people visit every year, so you’re bound to see a few of them if you go. You don’t have to be a Francophile to appreciate the history of this place.  If you are fascinated by history, by the way people organize themselves territorially, and by the way they assume and adhere to national identities, then a visit to Reims might be a rewarding experience.

Baptism of  Clovis
Author: Anonymous
Uploaded from Wikimedia Commons

Innere Stadt, Vienna
I think I owe my lovely stay in Vienna’s Innere Stadt to a thoughtful person at the train station.  This was many years ago and I was taking my mother on a grand tour of Europe, budget style.  I was young and she was not.  We had left Venice hours before, had been enthralled by the breathtaking view of the Alps from our train window and had arrived in Vienna tired but filled with anticipation.  I was tired; my mother was exhausted.  We made our way through the bustling terminal to the information booth to try and find a place to stay. This may startle people who begin their journeys with ironclad agendas, but I was young and audacious, certain that doors would open and the reception would be warm as I traveled across Europe with a partner who was less than vigorous.

My confidence was rewarded at every stop on our journey. Perhaps the sight of my mother, wilting at my side, was the charm. Whatever the reason, in each city a benevolent information officer directed us to more than suitable accommodations.  Vienna was no exception. I checked online today to see what recent travelers to Vienna’s Innere Stadt have to say. I was astonished by the prices of hotels described.  My mother and I stayed at a modest pension that was within walking distance of the Opera House and the Riding Stables–walking distance in this case was close, because of my mother’s limited energy.
The pension was spic and span clean.  The beds were comfy. The continental breakfast generous and fresh.  At one point my mother was feeling ill and decided to stay in the room and rest for a day or two.  The proprietor of the pension was solicitous and brought refreshments to her.

With my mother sidelined by age and travel fatigue, I found myself exploring rather purposelessly the environs of the Innere Stadt.  It was Easter, and all the merchants on the main thoroughfare displayed confections artfully crafted
to express holiday sentiments.   This was an exciting, beautiful place to spend some quiet days.

I know people go to Vienna, and especially the Innere Stadt, to consume some of this city’s complex history.  My experience in Vienna was different.  For me, the street, the magnificent buildings, the people, were themselves a rich slice of culture and experiencing them as I did, casually–almost passively–made my visit to Vienna one of the most memorable journeys of my life.

A few words about the history of Vienna: This is a city that can trace its origins to Roman times, when it was established as a military camp. From this it grew to become a major trading hub.  In more modern times, both the Bandenburg and Hapsburg dynasties made Vienna their capital and the city became one of the most significant cultural centers in Europe.  In World War II Vienna was annexed by the Germans.  After the war the city was under Allied control for ten years and then, after gaining independence, declared itself a neutral nation.

Vienna Opera House
Photo Credit: Florian Prischl/Wikimedia Commons
Creative Commons Share-Alike License

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