True Resolution

As we all ponder our New Year’s resolutions, we thought we should update our visitors on a tale of true resolution. Some of you might remember our friend Becky, a modern-day adventuress who made a bet over drinks in Cairns, Australia that she could make her way from Cairns to Cairo completely over land and water without the use of any planes. Everyone said it was impossible, but after more than two years on the road, Becky has just proven them all wrong.

Experienced travelers will immediately recognize the challenges. Becky spent much of the first year just working her way by sailboat and ferry from Australia to mainland Southeast Asia. Along the circuitous route via Yap, Truk, Pulao, and the Philippines to Borneo, she spent two months stuck in a port in New Guinea and had to travel through the extremely dangerous Continue…

Merry Deutsches Christmas

Merry Christmas from Germany. I had a feeling last year that this year would look a little different. No palm trees or tropical beaches. Instead, hot glühwein, gingerbread, half-meter bratwursts, and Christmas markets galore. Hope everyone is having a happy holiday season.

Erfurt Christmas Market

We officially declare Erfurt’s Christmas market our favorite Christmas market in Germany – and we’ve seen a lot of them. With its twin cathedrals, well preserved half-timbered houses, and the amazing Krämerbrücke, a monumental market bridge which just might outshine Florence’s Ponte Vecchio, Erfurt qualifies as one of Germany’s most attractive cities.

Strangely, despite the fairy tale atmosphere and some of the friendliest people in Germany, the Erfurt Christmas experience remains untouristy and very good value. The market is an enormous event overflowing with all the traditional goodies. Keep your eyes peeled Continue…

Leipzig Christmas Market

Thomas and I, along with our friend Armin, decided to hop down to Leipzig to take in the city’s Christmas market, one of Germany’s up-and-coming alternatives to the manic super-markets in Dresden and Nuremburg.

Leipzig has made the VERY WISE choice to allow the market to sprawl throughout the entire old town rather than confining it to one location, which means that visitors can actually manage to move. Yay.

As you can see, there are treats galore: gingerbread, chocolate, Christstollen, candied fruits, glühwein, potato pancakes, eierpunch, fruit bread… and check out my half-meter bratwurst!!!! (No that’s not some kind of euphemism.)

Monteriggioni

Walls and churches, walls and churches – so sue me! Clearly, I’m not going to come all the way to Tuscany and skip Monteriggioni, an obvious destination for someone with a walled city fetish.

Because of bus connections, I arrived in the tiny town at 8:30 AM, hours before locals crawl out of bed. I literally had the entire place to myself – not a single human in sight – for at least an hour. Judging by the Continue…

The Sator Square

Move over Dan Brown, you’re not the only one with architectural mysteries to unravel. While I was exploring Siena’s stunning cathedral, I overheard a tour guide casually referencing the fact that somewhere on the cathedral’s exterior, there was a rare Sator Square. She explained that the Sator Square is an elaborate “word square,” an especially complex type of palindrome said to possess magical properties.

Like a basic palindrome, the Sator Square is the same when read forwards or backwards. But it goes a step further. When the five words are stacked, they can Continue…

Gothic Siena

Once upon a time, cities were built with a sense of fantasy. Crazy rulers would throw out an idea like, “Hey, I know, let’s build the city square in the shape of a giant clam shell. We’ll divide the shell into nine sections where the city’s rival clans can sit. Oh yeah, and we’ll construct a race track around it where horsemen representing those rival clans can compete.”

Siena is medieval madness at its very best. Not only did that clam-shell race track become a reality, the entire city is one huge example of Gothic magnificence. Even today, the city is still fully Continue…

Underground in Orvieto

Orvieto has its little secrets. In their mad dash across Europe, many visitors make the mistake of making a beeline from the funicular to the famous cathedral, snapping a few shots, and rushing back out again. Big mistake. This little tourist town offers a lot to those who take the time to go underground.

The baffling lead picture, which looks like a strange piece of abstract art, is actually a photograph from the Continue…

The Cathedral of Orvieto

As Thomas returns to Germany, I’ve diverted south into northern Umbria to take in the magnificent Duomo of Orvieto. If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m on a quest, an “architectural adventure,” to take in central Italy’s best Gothic cathedrals. (That should give architecture fans a clue as to where I’m headed next.)

The small town of Orvieto itself is a sight to behold. Situated on a volcanic plug, the entire town is a natural fortress. Curiously, the location bears an odd resemblance to the Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico, one of my favorite places in the U.S. Most visitors arriving by train travel up the steep walls of the table mountain by a classic three-rail funicular quite similar to Hong Kong’s Peak Tram. A short walk through the atmospheric town and you come face to face with Orvieto’s pride and joy.

The cathedral’s interior alone would be enough to attract visitors. Extreme Continue…