Europe

Salisbury Cathedral in Southwestern England

Salisbury Cathedral in Southwestern England

We took some time off our busy tourist schedule to visit one of England’s foremost cathedrals, the Salisbury Cathedral in Salisbury.

This church was constructed in the 13th century, from 1220 through 1258 for the main part of the building; a period of only 38 years. It’s now part of the Church of England, but was part of the Roman Catholic Church when constructed.

In 1549, the church spire became the tallest in England when the spire at the Lincoln Cathedral crumbled. Since the Lincoln Cathedral Central Spire was never re-built, the Salisbury Cathedral remains the highest in England to this day. It stands 404 feet tall.

Take a look a the Salisbury Cathedral in Southwestern England. Photos, Videos, and editing by Don and Bonnie Fink.
Posted by Donald Fink and Bonnie Fink in blog, Cruising, Europe, Travel, Video, 0 comments
Cadiz: A Lazy Walk Through Town

Cadiz: A Lazy Walk Through Town

Not long ago we spent a morning walking through Cadiz, Spain. We were in port aboard the Royal Caribbean Freedom of the Seas; one of our favorite cruise lines, and certainly one of our favorite ships.

We’ve been to Cadiz before. It’s one of the more popular stops along the western Mediterranean cruise ship route, or at least it seems that way. What we found was a lazy little town full of shops, restaurants, bars, and coffee houses.

 It was definitely worth a bit of time to explore, and definitely worth coming back. So please, take a moment and have a look at the video we prepared showing Cadiz, Spain.

Cadiz, Spain was a peaceful and tranquil town. At least, that’s the way it looked to us. We spent just a brief amount of time here one morning, away from our cruise ship, the Royal Caribbean Freedom of the Seas.
Posted by Donald Fink and Bonnie Fink in blog, Cruising, Europe, 1 comment
Rothenburg ob der Tauber: A Second look

Rothenburg ob der Tauber: A Second look

We were fascinated a couple of years ago when we visited Rothenburg; so much so that we put it on our list of places to return to next time we were in Germany. This week, we did just that, and the weather was in full cooperation. Last visit, we had only one full day to discover the city and it was a near total wash-out. We left our Nikons in the room and braved the city streets with rain gear and phone cameras, but weren’t too happy about talking our phones out in the rain either.

This time the weather cooperated completely. We budgeted two full days to re-discover this town, and ended up walking as much of it as we could in that time.

13th Century Wall around Rothenburg

If you want to take a walk back in time, you can walk the wall built around Rothenburg in the 13th century. Photo by Donald Fink.

Rothenburg is generally regarded as one of Europe’s best preserved Medieval towns. There are a couple of reasons for this that date back to 1631 when it was occupied by an unfriendly Army, and again a couple of years later when it was ravaged by the Black Plague. There were some tense moments again in World War II, but again the city came out in better shape than many European towns at the time. We wrote about all this in an earlier story, and you can see our remarks in that first article, about Rothenburg. There are some images in that article that we managed to get in between rain that’s worth a look.

Rothenburg sits just southwest of Nuremberg, but it was an easy drive from Frankfurt too. You can click on “View Larger Map” above to see a full page map of the area.
 
Here’s a quick video showing our impression of the town of Rothenberg. Enjoy.
 

Posted by Donald Fink and Bonnie Fink in blog, Europe, Travel, 0 comments
Visiting Culzean Castle

Visiting Culzean Castle

During one of our last visits to Europe, we were fortunate enough to make a British Isles cruise. We were aboard the Caribbean Princess, a Princess Ship that we’ve sailed before, surprisingly, in the Caribbean. This time the ship was the same, but the setting was different.
 
One of our stops along this cruise was in Glasgow, where we jumped off the ship and boarded a bus for a day out in the Scottish countryside. We made a couple of quick stops along the way, but ended up at the Culzean Castle (pronounced Kul-LAYN) around noon.
 
This is one of those kinds of ship tours we like, where we get basic transportation to and from a place with some explanation along the way. Once we get there, we’re turned loose to find our own way, which is what we did here.

History

Cluzean Gardens

The gardens in front of Culzean Castle. Photo by Bonnie Fink.

Culzean Castle was built in the late 18th century, between 1777 and 1792, by the then 10th Earl of Cassillis. The Earl was the head of the Clan Kennedy, and the castle remained in the Kennedy family until 1945, when it was turned over to the National Trust for Scotland in order to avoid inheritance taxes. There was one stipulation when the property was turned over, and that was that the uppermost floor was to be held for the use of General Dwight D. Eisenhower for as long as he wanted to use it, in recognition of his contribution to the efforts of World War II. And indeed, General Eisenhower, and later President Eisenhower, visited the apartment four times, beginning in 1946.
 
Local folk lore says that there are at least seven ghosts present in the castle. One of which is a servant girl who has been seen on the grand staircase, and another is a piper, who has been heard playing his instrument in the caves along the cliff walls beneath the castle.

Hotel Eisenhower

Something we don’t get to enjoy from a ship’s tour are some of the more exclusive things that come with a place like Culzean Castle. There’s a hotel located on the top floor, which are the rooms of General Eisenhower’s apartment. After President Eisenhower’s death, the apartment was converted into the Hotel Eisenhower, a small hotel capable of accommodating up to 20 guests.
 
There is a restaurant that serves an upscale dinner on Friday and Saturday nights, and breakfast is served daily.
 
Prices to stay at the Hotel Eisenhower are surprisingly moderate, considering the exclusive and luxurious nature of the surrounding. Of course, the definition of our use of the term “moderate” may not be the same as another’s idea. For some it might be out of the question and for others, the price might be trivial. Only you can decide if it’s right for you. Reviews of the hotel seem to indicate that most folks regard it as a good value.

Deer Park

Llama

There’s a deer park on the Culzean Castle grounds. There are several deer and llamas as well as other animals. This is, of course, one of the Llamas on the castle grounds, and the annoying little insects flying around. Photo by Bonnie Fink.

Across the main parking lot from Culzean Castle there’s a large fenced area where you can view several different species of animals. There were various deer herds, llamas, a few goats, and so on. But one of the most interesting animals we found was the pheasant we found walking in the grass among all the ungulates. The bird was certainly a wild animal since he was clearly capable of flight, but probably learned to hang with the Deer Park animals, mainly for the food.
 
The purpose of the Deer Park at one time might have been to demonstrate some of the animals that might have been hunted on the property back in the last part of the 18th century, when the Castle was new. That is, of course, until the Llamas showed up. And there might actually be a purpose for the Llamas that we’re missing, so we can leave it at that.
 
The Deer Park wouldn’t be a reason to come to Culzean Castle in and of itself, but it was fun to watch the animals as they went about their business, mostly ignoring the tourists.

How to get there

Culzean Castle is on the coast of Scotland overlooking the Firth of Clyde, which is a body of water between Scotland and Northern Ireland. It’s about 50 miles southwest of Glasgow, and 430 miles north of London. The two ways that make sense to us for visiting is either from a British Isles Cruise like we did aboard the Caribbean Princess, or from a plain ol’ road trip. We flew into London and rented a car a couple of years ago and drove up into northern Scotland for a little over a week. We had a great time visiting the sights. Culzean Castle could have easily been on the list had we known about it at the time. Actually, we would have strongly considered spending the night, had we known about it at the time.
 
Another way to visit Culzean Castle is to consider a train to Glasgow, then use a tour company from town to get out into the countryside. We’ve found these advertised at modest prices. 

We’ll no doubt make another road trip into northern Scotland at some point in the future, and Culzean Castle will be on the list. We would like to spend more time there, perhaps staying the night and walking the beaches below the Castle along the cliffs. Who knows, we might find the ghost of the piper.

However you may prefer to travel, if you find yourself in Scotland, this is a place to see. In the meantime, here are a few of our images:

Posted by Donald Fink and Bonnie Fink in blog, Europe, Travel, 1 comment
Disneyland Paris

Disneyland Paris

There are plenty of ways to enjoy a Disney vacation if you live in the U.S. There’s the classic Disneyland Anaheim that many of us grew up with, the occasional trip to Walt Disney World that newer, younger folks on the east coast are used to, and there’s of course the large and growing group of people who simply migrate to Florida to enjoy Disney full time, like we have.

Not that we’re bored with Disney, but when something new comes along, you grab it. And that’s just what happened on a recent trip to Europe.

We were on an extended stay in Germany for the summer and wanted to visit Disneyland Paris, so we finally made it happen.

We leased a car in Frankfurt, Germany, for our stay in Germany, but we built in some extra time at the end,  so we could hop a train and head over to Paris. We were actually combining adventures. We’ve never taken advantage of Europe’s famous train transportation system, we’d never been to Belgium, and of course, there was the prize at the end of the train ride, Disneyland Paris.

ICE Train from Frankfurt to Brussels

This is the train that was blazing along at 185MPH between Frankfurt and Brussels. We’re in the train station beneath a terminal at the Frankfurt Airport. Photo by Bonnie Fink.

It was good to start a train ride from Germany. Since we had been in the country for a few weeks, we were getting used to hearing the language and reading the signs, so when the completely foreign concept of riding a train, negotiating the ticket buying process, finding the boarding platforms, and so on were at hand, we weren’t completely lost.

Our first train riding day was just a couple of hours over to Brussels, Belgium. We read that the trains that go long distances were reasonably fast, but we had no idea. The speed indicator in the cabin of the train showed that we were travelling at 300 Kph, which works out to slightly over 186 Mph. And sure enough, when we held our GPS equipped phone up to the window to receive a good signal, the driving app showed right around 185 mph. Didn’t take long at all to get from Frankfurt to Brussels.

As an American who’s ridden a train in the US (a long, long time ago), we thought the ride at that kind of speed would have been reasonably rough. In fact, we would worry that a train traveling at that speed on most US tracks would simply jump off the tracks. In fairness, the ride to Brussels was a bit too rough to use the computer to write, or the Kindle to read, and it was a bit of a challenge to move around the cabin, but considering the speed, it wasn’t bad. On the ride from Brussels to Paris, the track was considerably smoother.

We spent two nights in Brussels, which gave us a full day to explore the city.

Brussels

Brussels at the Grand Square

The Grand Place is the central Square in Brussels. Once the center of government in Belgium, the square was destroyed by the French in 1695. Surprisingly, it took only four years to re-build by the city’s guilds. Photo by Bonnie Fink.

Brussels is a city to come back to. We’ll put up a post about Brussels, with pictures, in short order. We spent two nights at the Hilton Brussels Grand Place which was located downtown in the City Center, near all the city’s tourist activities.

As you may know, Brussels is the capital of the European Union, and as such it’s a vibrant place. It also has extremely heavy security all around. In this case, it made us feel reasonably safe.

Being typical tourists, we concentrated our efforts in Brussels exploring the sights in the city, and of course, sampling the chocolate, and a Belgium waffle here and there. Believe it or not, the Belgium waffle was a bit different than what we’re used to in the US, and for the better. As for the chocolate? We run into some pretty good chocolate in our ramblings around Walt Disney World so it’s hard to compete with our reasonably picky chocolate pallets, but Brussels did a good job. Let’s put it this way: On our trip back through Brussels from Paris to Frankfurt, we had just enough time between connections in Brussels that we set out in the train station looking for more chocolate to take back to Frankfurt.

On to Disneyland Paris

The train station at Disneyland Paris is literally at Disneyland Paris. There’s a station that lets you off right at the entrance to the parks. It’s also the entrance to Disney Village, which is the Disneyland Paris version of Disney Springs, or Downtown Disney in Anaheim. A quick walk through Disney Village and we arrived at our hotel, which was Disney’s Newport Bay Club.

We arrived mid-day, and our room wasn’t ready, so we checked our bags and headed over to a park. An interesting side note about the room not being ready was that it seemed to us that the room wasn’t ready mostly because it wasn’t 3:00 pm. We didn’t notice any effort to determine if our room was available. It just wasn’t. Fortunately, the kind of reservations Bonnie had made included the room and the park tickets, and the tickets were good for the day of arrival and the day of departure. It was absolutely no big deal to simply drop off our bags and head over to Disneyland for an afternoon of fun while we waited for our room to be ready, or for 3:00 pm to come around, whatever the reason was.

We had heard stories that the French (or more accurately the Europeans) didn’t queue well in lines, particularly when getting on a ride, entering a bus, or seeing a character. We didn’t ride a bus during this visit, but we actually took time to see how folks were behaving here in Europe, and truthfully, we didn’t notice anything significantly different from anything we see on a regular basis at Walt Disney World in Florida.

The cast members were polite in a Disney kind of way, but the magic wasn’t quite there as it is in Florida. An example to illustrate what we mean is, have you ever watched the cast members in Florida when they’re setting up for a parade? They are usually interacting with the guests, dancing, and singing to the music in the background. It’s a delightful thing to watch, and you simply can’t make employees behave in this kind of over-the-top, friendly and enthusiastically way. At Walt Disney World, it’s obvious that the cast members are there because they want to be there. At Disneyland Paris, the cast members were polite and competent, but the magic wasn’t quite as evident. It was more of a job. Or so it seemed to us. We were watching a Main Street band (the equivalent of the Main Street Orchestra at the Magic Kingdom) play a few tunes, and many of the musicians were reading their music as they played. We’ve never seen the band play at Walt Disney World where they even had their music with them. Their parts had long been committed to memory. At Disneyland Paris, we saw a band playing tunes. At the Magic Kingdom in Florida, we typically see the Main Street Orchestra, but it’s not a band playing, it’s a performance.

Does this mean we won’t come back to Disneyland Paris? Of course not. If it wasn’t for the fact that we spend a tremendous amount of time in Walt Disney World in Florida, we probably wouldn’t have noticed the difference. We’re jaded in that way. And as it was, the experience at Disneyland Paris was absolutely a positive one. We just like “our Disney” better.

Walt Disney Studios

Entrance to Walt Disney Studios

The Earffel Tower is still present at Walt Disney Studios. Photo by Bonnie Fink.

We should talk about Walt Disney Studios first because it was our least favorite. That way we can end the article on a high note.

Walt Disney Studios is probably the equivalent to Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Florida. It houses the Tower of Terror Ride, a land called Toy Story and a few other twists not present in Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World Florida. Truthfully, it wasn’t a “full day” park in our opinions. The Toy Story Land was cool, but it’s designed for the very young people, and as such the rides were of the more subdued variety. With a heavy presence of Buddy and a slightly disturbing French speaking Buzz Lightyear from Toy Story, and various other characters, it’s certainly worth a stop if you have youngins with you.

If this is what Toy Story Land is going to look like at the Hollywood Studios in Florida, there will be some happy youngsters. It was fun place for them.

Disneyland

Disneyland Paris Cinderella's Castle

Disneyland Paris Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. Photo by Donald Fink.

Disneyland at Disneyland Paris is interesting. First, it’s a “full day” park as much as any other Disney park we’ve ever encountered. It’s well maintained, well groomed, and except for the absence of the “magic” from the cast members we mentioned before, it’s every bit as much of a Disneyland as any other Disneyland we’ve visited.

The colors are different. Take a look at the pictures to see what we mean. Rather than being a duplicate of Main Street USA in either Anaheim or Florida, for example, it’s as if it was a brand-new creation. The street is brick instead of pavement.

The buildings, while the same in terms of late 19th century or early 20th century architecture, are completely different in their colors from the other parks. There’s a square at the head of Main Street USA, but instead of a massive flag pole, there’s a gazebo like you would see in many typical small towns in the USA. Casey’s is on the corner where it belongs, but there was no piano player. The ice cream shop was across the street, and while looking similar, it was selling Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream. Ben and Jerry’s is an ice cream company headquartered in Vermont, but it seems to be really big here in Europe. Oh, and to underscore the fact that it was indeed Mainstreet U.S.A., many of the buildings did indeed have the Stars and Stripes flying overhead, even though the main flagpole was missing.

Phantom Manor, Disneyland Paris

Phantom Manor can be found in Frontierland at Disneyland Paris. Photo by Bonnie Fink.

Frontierland was huge; at least twice as big as it is in the Magic Kingdom in Florida. Or so it seemed. There was the Haunted Mansion—called Phantom Manor—that was nearly the same as The Haunted Mansion at Walt Disney World. The queue was a bit better designed here, and some of the features, while nearly the same, seemed a bit more up-to-date in terms of their technology. They were more believable. Even though the dialog was in French, it was still scary.

Of course, there was Big Thunder Mountain. We didn’t ride, but it appeared to be the same as Walt Disney World’s version. Of course, the setting was a bit different because there’s a “river” next to the ride, separating it from Phantom Manor, and providing a place for the riverboat.

What we did not see was the Country Bear Jamboree or Splash Mountain. We can see why Splash Mountain is left out. After all, it actually snows at Disneyland Paris, and since Splash Mountain is a wet ride, it wouldn’t be all that popular in the winter. No idea about Country Bear Jamboree. Maybe the French aren’t as fascinated with singing bears as we are.

Adventureland  has a ride called Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril, or Indiana Jones et le Temple du Péril. It’s a small roller coaster ride in a mine car through what looks like an archaeological dig. It’s the only ride we’re aware of in a Magic Kingdom Park that goes upside down. By upside down, we mean that it does a quick inside loop, but it happens so fast, and it’s so tight, that you have to pay attention to notice it. We were shooting with our GoPro when the loop occurred, and the extra G force caused Don’s hand to move down slightly and the upside down part was completely missed in the video.

For the “It’s a Small World” fans around, the ride seems to be brighter, happier (if that’s possible), and with better audio. The GoPro had no trouble capturing the whole thing, and it usually struggles with the ambient light in the ride at Walt Disney World.

Final Thoughts

When we were doing our research about Disneyland Paris, we read several stories about the place being run  down, rude cast members, out of control crowds, and so on. When got there, none of it was true. The parks were actually in good shape in terms of repair, paint, and so on. Disneyland itself was pristine. Walt Disney Studios seemed to lack a bit of focus for us, but maybe we were having an off day. It was very cold the day we were there. Maybe we were grumpy.

The hotel was odd in its layout, but otherwise a fine hotel that reminded us of The Yacht and Beach Club at Epcot. Its level of repair was not quite up to Disney standards in Florida, but remember the harsh weather in France. It might just be enough to make the difference. The hotel was great in all ways that matter.

PanoraMagique

Take a six minute ride in PanoraMagique. Photo by Donald Fink.

The one area that needs improvement in our view was Disney Village. From an appearance point of view, it seems a bit run down. Even accounting for the harsh weather, it needs work. On the plus side, there was a Starbucks, an Earl of Sandwich, a MacDonald’s, and a Five Guys Burger, as well as other great places to eat. Shopping seemed adequate too.

Safety should not be a problem at Disneyland Paris. Every entrance was covered with security, including all entrances to Disney Village. We make it our practice to not go into the specifics of exactly what the security was like, but security was there, and it seemed to be effective.

So, will we go back to Disneyland Paris? The answer to that is absolutely. Probably, the next time we come to Europe, we’ll figure a way to make our way to Paris and spend a few days at Disney. Actually, what we would like to do is stay at a Disney hotel, most likely the Disneyland Hotel at the very entrance to Disneyland, and visit the parks from there. We could build in a couple of extra days to the trip and use the train station to make our way into Paris City Center to visit Paris too.

Posted by Donald Fink in blog, Europe, Theme Parks, 0 comments
Schloss Lichtenstein

Schloss Lichtenstein

On our first trip to Germany, we paid a visit to Lichtenstein Castle in southern Germany. This privately held Schloss is perched high on a white rock cliff overlooking the Echaz River and the town of Honau in the German state of Baden-Württenberg. We were so impressed with this castle that we came back a second day to get a better look of the buildings with a better sky.

Early History

The site where Lichtenstein Castle now sits has a history that goes back as far as the 4th or 5th century, but the most notable period starts around AD 1100 when another castle was located on the site. It was occupied by a group of “Ministerials” of the counts of Achalm, and later the counts of Württemberg.

Ministerials was a term referring to, in this case, knights. They were an interesting class of people in that they were not free people, but were considered to be nobility of sorts. In this case, the knights lived in the castle and were charged with defending the interests of the counts.

Since the counts were not particularly friendly with the folks over in Reutlingen, they were under frequent attack. The castle was destroyed twice, once during the imperial civil war of 1311 and once again at some point between 1377 and 1381. These ruins most likely are still there since they were locate about 500 meters away from the current buildings.

In 1390 the castle was built again, but on the site of the present day castle. This time it was regarded as the best fortified castle of the Middle Ages, and was in use until around 1567 when the then owners abandoned it. In 1802, King Frederick I of Württemberg acquired the property and dismantled the castle to the foundation and built a hunting lodge.

The present day castle was constructed around 1840 by Duke Frederick of Wurttemburg, who was inspired by the book, Lichtenstein, written in 1826 by Wilhelm Hauff, a German Poet.

According to Wikipedia, Lichtenstein in German means “Shining Stone,” but a literal translation according to Google means, “thin stone.” Whatever its true meaning, we thought the castle was worth the time it took to visit.

Touring the Castle

On the first day we were here, no tours were offered in English, so we took the German language tour. It was of course accompanied with an English written guide, and it was fun to challenge our German skills.

No photography is allowed on the inside of the castle. In many cases,gallery here this is because the property is privately owned, but in this particular case, the most likely reason is because nearly all the walls are covered with original art. And it’s not art hanging on the walls, but the actual walls are painted with artful scenes. After a few million flashes, the paint would no doubt begin to fade prematurely. Whatever the reason, we weren’t able to capture images on our tour of the castle, but you can see their .

We came back a second day just to get some images of the outside grounds because the weather was more cooperative and we had some blue skies for our backdrop.

To Get There

We were staying in Baden-Baden when we visited Lichtenstein Castle. We mentioned Baden-Baden in an earlier post, along with some pictures here.The drive was about two hours to get from one place to another, but that was part of the reason we were in Germany, to see a bit of the country. Fortunately, there are two ways to get there, so we were able to make a trip there on one road and return on another, making a full day’s loop out of the trip.

One of the things we did before our trip was to go online to Google Maps and make note of all the latitude/longitude coordinates of all the castles and other important places we planned to visit. We’re not sure if the GPS receivers and maps are less reliable in Europe than they are in the states, or if we simply didn’t understand the addressing system. Whatever the reason, it has been handy a few times to have the coordinates along to tell the GPS where we’re trying to go. And of course, we do know how to read maps, but somehow reading a map in German wasn’t nearly as easy as simply punching in a couple of coordinates to the GPS.

We’re not planning to return to Lichtenstein Castle on our upcoming trip to Germany this summer, but it’s only because we plan to be in a different part of the country, and our traveling won’t necessarily take us that far south again in the near future. Still, if we were in the area, it would certainly be on our list of places to see once more.

Posted by Donald Fink and Bonnie Fink in blog, Europe, Travel, 0 comments
Walking the Derry Wall

Walking the Derry Wall

Not long ago, we had the pleasure of taking a British Isles cruise aboard Princess Cruise line’s Caribbean Princess. One of its many stops was the Northern Ireland city of Londonderry, or simply, “Derry,” as it’s called by many of the locals. The plan for our day’s adventure was a tour of the Walls of Derry.

The city as we see it today dates back to the early 1600s’, when the walls were constructed by a consortium of livery companies from London called The Honourable The Irish Society (nope, not a typo here. That’s what it’s called), or more simply, the Irish Society. The purpose of the walls was to protect Scottish and English settlers during what was a turbulent time for northern Ireland. Londonderry actually dates back much further than the construction of the walls, to the 6th century when a monastery was established by St. Columba. He is credited for spreading Christianity throughout much of Ireland and Scotland.

Today, you can walk the city’s wall and get a great overview on much of the rich history this town has to offer. Clearly, in a European city that has been continuously inhabited since the early 7th century, there’s a lot to see and do here.

Our ship docked in Belfast which is about an hour and twenty minutes by bus away from Derry.  It took much of the day to see this city because of the travel times, but we were treated with some great views of the countryside of Northern Ireland along the way. Since we had only a day, a walk along the wall and a knowledgeable tour guide was just what we needed.

Here are a few images of our day at the Derry Wall.

Posted by Donald Fink and Bonnie Fink in blog, Europe, Travel, 0 comments
Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Rothenburg over the Tauber is a medieval city in Germany, southeast of Frankfurt, and west of Nuremberg. At one time, it was the third largest city in Germany and the largest completely walled city. It dates back over 1,000  years and today is one of Germany’s treasures. The name Rothenburg ob der Tauber means “Red fortress over the Tauber”. Rot is the German word for red, referring to the red tiles on the roofs while burg refers to a fortification. Ob der means “over the”, and of course Tauber is the name of the river that runs by. Continue reading →

Posted by Donald Fink and Bonnie Fink in blog, Europe, Featured, Travel, 1 comment