The Best 4 Sites to See in Monaco

Of course, all avid travelers are interested in seeing the top tourist spots in each new city. But independent travelers prefer to stay away from the crowds whenever possible. And for savvy travelers looking to avoid crowds of tourists, I’d like to suggest the 4 best sites to visit in beautiful Monaco.

Port Fontvielle One of my favorite things to enjoy in Monaco is the half-mile walk along the port here on the opposite side of the “Rock” from the much larger and more commercial Port of Monaco. Here, you’ll get a close up look as some of the world’s most luxurious yachts, as well as a few of the working class outboard motor boats that share the pier. Just watching the mingling of the ships’ crews and passengers could fill an afternoon. But all along the stroll you’re treated to incredible views of the “Rock” and, especially from the very end of the pier, the Oceanographic Museum. There are also two excellent restaurants right on the pier, Michelangelo and La Saliere”, and at the beginning of the pier is the Fontvieille Shopping Centre – with reasonably priced shops and food spots as well as several interesting museums.

Princess Grace Rose Garden Covering over an acre of land in the captivating Fontvielle area, these gardens were established by Prince Rainier III in 1984 in memory of his wife. Rose aficionados will marvel at more than 300 different varieties represented in some 8,000 rose bushes here. But, located just a short stroll from Port Fontvielle, everyone will appreciate the charm of the gardens as well as the surrounding neighborhoods. And while admission to the garden is free, the peaceful and quiet atmosphere is priceless.

Jardin Exotique (Exotic Garden) If you’re looking for expansive views of Monaco, the “Rock” and the Mediterranean, there is no place in Monaco better than the Cliffside walk through the gardens here. Wide but often steep paths meander through all varieties of dry-climate plants from around the world, but most notably past virtually every type of cactus you could imagine. There’s also a cave, or grotto, as well as a small anthropological museum to enjoy. But don’t visit here unless you’re physically able to walk up and down step rocky paths and endure what, during summer months, can be a vey hot Mediterranean sun. And allow at least an hour or two in order to enjoy all of the sights.

Chapel of Saint Devote This small, out of the way chapel is beautiful to see. But while its beauty is reaJan 05 066son enough for a visit the site should really be appreciated more for its history. In the early 4th century a young girl named Devote was tortured to death because she refused to denounce her Christian faith. Legend says that a frail boat carrying her body was miraculously led to a nearby beach by a white dove. The chapel here was built on top of the girl’s tomb and January 27th is now celebrated as the feast day for Sainte Devote, the patron saint of Monaco. A torchlight procession through the town that day ends with a symbolic fisherman’s boat being set on fire and a white dove, the symbol of the patron saint, being released.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Beautiful Loggia in Florence

Loggia - AdjOne of my favorite spots along our Discovery Walk in Florence is the loggia of the Museo del Bigallo just across from the entrance to the renowned Duomo. This loggia, dating to the middle of the 14th century, formed the corner of a building then occupied by the charitable brotherhood known as the Misericordia, founded in 1244 and now one of the oldest charitable organizations in the world. Originally founded to aid and comfort the ill and to transport accident victims to the hospital, this volunteer group also removed corpses from the medieval streets. And it was here, in the shelter of the beautiful loggia, that the city’s lost, sick or abandoned children were cared for by the brotherhood and housed for three days. If not claimed by relatives they were then assumed to have been abandoned for good and placed in foster homes.

The Misericordia, taken from the Latin word for mercy, still operates in Florence and you will see their name on many of the ambulances used in the city. The history of this amazing group can now be seen exhibited in the newly renovated Museum of the Misericordia, located just across the street from the loggia. Having just re-opened on January 20, 2016 after three years of renovations, the museum displays art works, art objects and furniture owned and used by the brotherhood. But, to me, the most fascinating exhibits are the items used by the members during their everyday activities.

I’m sure you’ve seen images of the members in old paintings wearing their distinctive robes with pointed hoods. Originally the traditional robes were red but later were made in black with distinctive hoods that covered their faces completely with just two holes for the eyes. The robes weren’t hooded to create a solemn or dark image but rather to hide the true identity of the brotherhood members because, they believed, good deeds should not be performed not for personal glory or recognition and therefore should be performed anonymously.

Here you can also see how the brotherhood transported the bodies of sick or deceased individuals. Originally, a large hand carried basket was used. Later this developed into a litter-wagon pulled either by hand or by horse. There’s also a display of some of the somewhat primitive medical equipment used.

If you’re in Florence I know you will be near the Duomo at some point in time. If so, be sure to take note of the beauty of the historical loggia. There you’ll also find the entrance to the small Museo del Bigallo with an entry fee of around five euros. And across the street is the larger Museum of the Misericordia which is now open from 10:00am to noon and from 3:00pm to 5:00pm Monday through Friday. It’s also open from 10:00am to noon on Saturday but closed on Sunday. Recently, admission to this museum was free.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Springtime Eve in Stockholm

151123 Walpurgis Bonfire SkansenAlthough winter has not officially begun, it is never too soon to start planning for the beginning of spring. And throughout northern Europe, where winter is known for its short days, long nights and bitter cold weather, the start of springtime is a celebration for everyone. If you’re lucky enough to be in Stockholm around that time of year there is one day that is especially memorable.

An ancient pagan custom directed that Swedes should light bonfires on the last night of April in order to protect themselves against witches that might gather that night to worship the devil. That pagan festival also marked the start of the growing season and the bonfires were also intended o protect the new plantings from evil and to guarantee the health and fertility of the animal stock.

In the Middle Ages April 30th became the day that marked the official end of the year and a day of celebration and festivities that included dancing, singing and even trick or treating. Known as Valborg or Walpurgis Eve, the day was especially important among business owners of the villages because it was the day of the annual village meeting. Food and refreshments were served while the city chose its new alderman, or head of the city council. In many areas, children would go around to homes and sing May songs in exchange for gifts of food.

On the following day, the first of May, farm animals would be released into the spring fields to graze after the long winter months. Farmers knew there would be wild animals nearby that were hungry from the long winter and just looking for such an easy meal as farm animals. So, those farmers would build huge bonfires during Walpurgis Eve in hopes of scaring away those predators and any other evil spirits. Often the townsfolk made loud noises with gunfire, cow bells or simply loud yelling in order to frighten any potential predators or evil spirits that might be lurking in the darkness.

Commonly known as the night of the bonfires, Valborg celebrations in modern Stockholm often begin early in the day with picnics in the parks, good food and plentiful champagne or beer. But at sunset the celebrations expand with crowds gathering around bonfires to sing folk songs, dance and enjoy fireworks. This is viewed as the last day of winter and the Swedes are anxious to welcome the spring. Some of the bonfires can be huge, but don’t worry. There are always firemen waiting nearby to control the blaze. And once the fires die down, many revelers head straight to the pubs and continue the celebration into the early morning hours.

For the best traditional version of the Valborg celebration, head to nearby Skansen, Stockholm’s hugely popular open air museum. Another great spot for the celebration is at Evert Taubes Square on Riddarholmen in the heart of the city.
The following day, May 1st, has been celebrated in a variety of ways since the early 1800s. But in the late 19th century the day became an important rally day for industrial workers demonstrating against a variety of workplace grievances. And since 1939 it has been a national holiday in Sweden intended to celebrate the return of spring but also, perhaps, to allow the partiers from Walpurgis Eve an opportunity to get some badly needed sleep and relaxation.

If you don’t live in the extreme conditions of a harsh winter in northern countries, it’s impossible to imagine the hardships those residents must endure. But if you’re lucky enough to attend one of the Valborg bonfires celebrating the end of winter in Stockholm you’ll have an opportunity to experience the excitement and joy that the coming springtime weather means to everyone there.

Photo used with permission of Lurifax

Posted in Sweden | Leave a comment

The Rebirth of Rome’s Most Beautiful Fountain

"Trevi Fountain, Rome, Italy 2 - May 2007" by Diliff -

“Trevi Fountain, Rome, Italy 2 – May 2007” by Diliff –

Legend tells us that over two-thousand years ago a young virgin led a group of thirty Roman soldiers to a spring near the ancient roadway known as the Via Collatina. And in 19 BC, an aqueduct was built that would carry the precious water from that spring some 14 miles to the west and into ancient Rome itself. The aqueduct was built by Emperor Agrippa to supply water for the thermal baths located near the Pantheon. But it also supplied water for fountains in the city’s historic center that served the needs of its ordinary citizens. That aqueduct was named the Aqua Virgo in honor of the young virgin responsible for its discovery.

More than 2,000 years later, those same springs still provide water for many of the city’s fountains. Most of these fountains, and there are more than 2,500 in Rome today, are small, simple outlets where clean, fresh, drinkable water is constantly provided for locals and tourists alike. But many of these fountains are much more elaborate and beautifully decorated. And perhaps the most famous of all, one of the true artistic treasures, is Trevi Fountain which stands at the terminal point of the original aqueduct and still draws its clear water from the ancient Aqua Virgo.

By the 15th century, a small and very simple fountain was located here. But in 1732, Pope Clement XII commissioned work for a much larger and more elaborate fountain to be built. Finally, in 1762, the massive Trevi Fountain was completed and for more than 250 years it has been considered one of the most beautiful in the city. But after so many years the elaborate travertine stone statues, carvings and fountains became damaged and discolored. Everyone realized that a great deal of money would be required to restore the fountain to its original beauty, but like most governments n today’s world there was no money to spare.

Fortunately, the private sector stepped in to save not only Trevi Fountain but many other important monuments in the city. In the case of Trevi Fountain the financial resources were provided by one of the country’s premier fashion houses, Fendi.

Financed by the company’s contribution of some $2.2 million, repairs began 17 months ago when the fountain was drained and the elaborate decorations were mostly hidden behind scaffolding. Finally, on November 3, 2015, the scaffolding was removed and the fountain came to life once again with its emerald waters sparkling below the freshly cleaned statuary. No matter how many times you may have been to Trevi in the past, you must make sure to visit again during your next visit to the Eternal City of Rome. You will be amazed at the original beauty of the fountain that has not been seen in such marvelous condition for more than 200 years.

Posted in Italy, Rome | Leave a comment

Everlasting Love in Paris

2014-01-05 Paris Love Locks 2If, like thousands of others, you once proclaimed you undying love by placing a love lock on the Pont des Arts bridge in Paris, that symbol of your love is now gone – or at least moved.

A love lock, off course, is a padlocked attached to a bridge or other public place by two lovers who then throw the key to the lock into the river as a symbol of their indestructible love. Many cities around the world have certain spots that have become popular for these love locks, and in Paris one of the most popular is the Pont des Arts.

This bridge over the Seine was built in the early 1800s but completely renovated in the 1980s. Parisians and visitors alike have always enjoyed meeting in couple or small groups to sit on the bridge and enjoy a bottle of wine and a platter of cheese and crackers. And at certain times of the year the view of the late day sun as it seems to set into the river itself is astounding.

But over the last five years a huge number of locks have completely filled the fencing along the sides of the bridge and obliterating those views. But more important than the views is the fact that the combined weight of those locks, estimated to be some 45 tons, was placing stress of the old bridge and its supports.

This summer the city began removing all of the fence panels along the bridge. The plan is to replace them with Plexiglas panels to protect the bridge’s historic grillwork while once again providing the marvelous views from the bridge. The city is considering ways to recycle all of the locks, but they have no plans to recover the 700,000 keys that are estimated to have been tossed from the bridge and into the Seine.

Another one of my most favorite bridges in Paris is located just three-quarters of a mile southeast of the Pont des Arts. This plain masonry bridge is the Pont 2014-01-05 Paris Love Locksde l’Archeveche and it connects Paris’ Left Bank with the eastern tip of the Ile de la Cite. Take a hot café and a fresh croissant to the middle of this bridge early in the morning and you’ll have the most spectacular view of Notre Dame as the morning light paints the old stones of the cathedral.

The Pont de l’Archeveche was built in 1828 and now its old parapets are also in danger of crumbling under the wright of love locks. In fact, if you search for “love lock bridge” Google Earth will take you to two bridges – the Pont des Arts and the Pont de l’Archeveche. The city is taking steps to remove the love locks from this bridge as well.

Lovers, no doubt, will continue to place love locks on other bridges in Paris. But at least now the city realizes the dangers and will be taking steps to preserve its historic bridges and their views for posterity.

Posted in Paris, France | Leave a comment

Florence’s Church of Unrequited Love

You could spend weeks exploring the city of Florence and never see all of the sights. Crowds of tourists visit the most famous ones – from the statue of David to the Duomo, the Baptistery, Ponte Vecchio and countless others. But, as you probably know, my preference is to also find the most beautiful and interesting spots that are away from the mainstream and out of the crush of tour bus throngs.

That’s almost impossible to do in Florence, but one spot that comes close is a place that was near and dear to one of the city’s greatest poets, Dante Alighieri  -known simply as Dante. This wonderful spot is now known as Dante’s Church, but the church itself preceeded the great poet by many years. It is, in fact, one of the oldest churches in the city and is first mentioned in writing in the year 1032.

More importantly, this is where Dante came to worhip and where, in 1274, he first saw Beatrice Portinari, the woman that would become the love of his life. Dante was only nine years old at the time and Beatrice was eight.

They continued to see each other regularly at the church where they both came to worship. As was often the case at the time, Beatrice was married off at the young age of 17 to the son of a wealthy banker. And despite his outspoken love for Beatrice, Dante married another woman, possibly here in the same church. But the young Beatrice remained the subject of Dante’s early passion as the embodiment of perfection in many of his poems.

Dante often spoke and wrote about Beatrice as his divine inspiration. She was the heroine of his magnificent Divine Comedy in which Dante called her the ‘True glory of God.’ When you visit this small, dark church today (located at spot #148 of our Discovery Walk in Florence).you’ll find the burial spot of  Beatrice and her faithful nurse on the left side of the church. And often, next to the 14th century tomb slab, you’ll see flowers and hand written notes with messages for Beatrice written by lovers, who like Beatrice and Dante, are unable to live their lives together.

To download A Discovery Walk in Florence or any of our other 17 self-guided walks to your own iPod or other MP3 player go to www.discovery-walk.com.

Happy travels!

Posted in Italy | 2 Comments

The Overlooked Memorial in Ephesus

Most historians agree that Ephesus, Turkey is the best preserved ancient city of the Eastern Mediterranean and, along with the ruins of Pompeii, one of the best places in the world to experience the atmosphere of the ancient Roman civilization. Everyone that visits this fascinating site  has  the unforgettable experience of seeng the major wonders of the city, including the majestic beauty of the Celsus Library and the grandeur of the Great Theater.

So it’s perhaps not surprising that many are so awestruck by the sight of the Celsus Library that they pay little attention to one of the city’s many ancient memorials that they pass as  they approach the library. For on the left, in front of the Terrace Houses and close to the tall trees at the bottom of the hill, are the ruins of an important funeral monument (located at spot #228 of our Discovery Walk in Ephesus).

When discovered in the 1920s, the 8-sided burial chamber here, known as the Octagon,  held a marble sarcophagus with the skeletal remains of a woman estimated to have been around 16 to 18 years of age at her death. Inscriptions date the structure itself to the era of Emperor Augustus between the years 27 B.C. and 14 A.D.

Many historians believe that the girl buried here was Asinoe the 4th, the youngest sister of Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt. Cleopatra considered Asinoe a threat to her throne so it’s believed that with the assistance of either the Roman General Mark Antony or Cleopatra’s lover Julius Caesar, Asinoe was banished here to Ephesus in 46 B.C.

It’s thought that Asinoe was able to live safely here in the Temple of Artemis for several years because of the temple’s stature as a protected place of refuge. Wanting to eliminate her threat to the power of Cleopatra, however, some historians suggest that Mark Antony ordered the murder of Asinoe on the steps of the temple in 41 B.C.

And while historians have searched on a hill west of Alexandria, Egypt since 2005 for the burial chamber of Cleopatra and Mark Antony, many believe that the skeleton of Cleopatra’s relatively unknown sister Asinoe was found at the beginning of the 2oth century, entombed in Ephesus at a spot within sight of the famous Celsus Library.

To download A Discovery Walk in Ephesus or any of our other 17 self-guided walks to your own iPod or other MP3 player go to www.discovery-walk.com.

Happy travels!

Posted in Turkey | 1 Comment

Beautiful Walled Cities

 I thought I would pass along this list of 15 of the world’s most beautiful walled cities – http://www.bing.com/travel/content/search?q=Beautiful+Walled+Cities%3a+Naarden%2c+The+Netherlands&GT1=41000.

In addition to creating and writing the Discovery Walks programs in Dubrovnik, Croatia and Rhodes, Greece I’ve also been fortunate enough to visit three of the other cities on the list – Carcassonne, France; Bruges, Belgium and San Gimignano, Italy. I can tell you these are five of the most fascinating cities anywhere and I would encourage everyone to visit them if given the opportunity.

I’d like to hear details of these as well as the other cities from anyone that may have visited them.

To download A Discovery Walk in Dubrovnik or Rhodes or any of our other 17 self-guided walks to your own iPod or other MP3 player go to www.discovery-walk.com.

Happy travels!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Somber Solitude in Lisbon

First, let me admit that Lisbon is one of my favorite cities in all of Europe. From the grandeur of Commerce Square to the shopping along Rua Augusta, the nightlife and restaurants in Bairro Alto, the winding passageways of the Alfama and the incredible views from  the Castle of Saint George the entire city beckons me. And the relatively low cost of food and lodging just adds to the enjoyment.

Most cities in Europe offer at least one site that casts a spell of calm retrospect that is not soon forgotten. Such is the case in Lisbon with the magnificent ruins of the Carmo Church and Convent (located at spot #240 of our Discovery Walk in Lisbon).

In front of the church is a quiet tree-lined square known as the Largo do Carmo. The  fountain in the square is an 18th century creation with a domed roof resting on four columns and featuring four dolphins. Although its peaceful surrounding gives the square a tranquil feeling today, in the past this same square was the scene of one of the most important gatherings in the history of Portugal during the Carnation Revolution of 1974.  

But the church structure adjacent to the square is the main reason for being at this site. This imposing Gothic structure was originally built in 1389, sitting on a hill that is now in Lisbon’s Baixa district overlooking the lower section of the city and opposite the castle and the Se cathedral on the opposite side.

This was the largest and richest church in all of Lisbon,  and on All-Saints day in the year 1755 it was filled with worshippers. At 9:20 that morning, in the middle of services, a great earthquake changed the face of Lisbon forever. The fierce strength of the quake caused the roof of the church to collapse, dropping tons of masonry and killing most of the congregation that had gathered for the day’s worship.

Today, the soaring walls are left open to the sky above the roofless nave, a stunning reminder of the grandeur that was destroyed that day in 1755. The main altar area of the church as well as its chancel survived the earthquake intact and today that portion of the church complex houses the small and somwewhat disorganized Carmo Archaeological Museum.

But the real reason to visit the ruins of the church is not to see the historical artifacts in the museum but to feel first hand the beauty and grandeur that those citizens of Lisbon must have felt when they sat here in worship on that fateful morning.

To download A Discovery Walk in Lisbon or any of our other 17 self-guided walks to your own iPod or other MP3 player go to www.discovery-walk.com.

Happy travels!

Posted in Portugal | Leave a comment

The Sweet Smell of Capri

If you’ve been to Capri you know that it is a jubilation for all of the senses – the feel of the warm Mediterranean breeze as it brushes your skin, the sound of the turquoise water as it crashes onto the rocky shores, the magnificent sights that greet you around every turn, the taste of the bountiful foods available at the open-air cafes in the Piazetta and, of course, the smell of the rosemary plants, wild carnations and other native flowers that fill the meadows around the island.

While you can’t bring the island home with you, you can take the wonderful scents of Capri.  Not far from the Piazetta, on a path that leads along the coast to the unbelievable overlook at the Gardens of Augustus, you’ll find the factory store of the Perfumes of Carthusia (located at spot #224 of  our Discovery Walk in Capri).

According to legend, the wonderful perfume that is made here was created in 1380 when the Father Prior of the nearby Carthusian Monastery arranged a large bouquet of flowers to present to Queen Giovanna during one of her visits to the island. He gathered blossoms from all of the most beautiful flowers on the island and presented the bouquet in a vase to the Queen.

Apparently the water in the vase was not changed for three days and when the flowers were finally thrown out the water in the vase had acquired a scent that no one had ever known before. With the help of an alchemist the monastery’s Father was eventually able to identify the source of the aroma and the very first perfume of Capri had been created.

Today, the same methods developed by those Carthusian monks more than 600 years ago are still used to produce the Carthusia aromas right here, using the essence of the rosemary plants that grow wild on the island to produce the scents for men and the essence of the island’s wild carnations to produce the perfumes for women.

So if you’re looking for the perfect souvenir to bring back from the legendary island of Capri look no farther than the natural scents of the island that you’ll find produced right here (http://www.carthusia.it/CarthusiaWeb/showpage/2).

To download A Discovery Walk in Capri or any of our other 17 self-guided walks to your own iPod or other MP3 player go to www.discovery-walk.com.

Happy travels!

Posted in Italy | 1 Comment