Heidelberg is one of my favorite cities in Germany. It's along the Castle Road and does indeed have the romantic ruins of a castle looking down upon the university town in the German state of Baden Wurttemberg. Conserve, not restore, has been the motto that kept the castle in its ruined state.
"the sandstone ruins at the foot of Königstuhl hill in Heidelberg still look as battered as they did when the French blew them up more than 300 years ago."
The French are to blame. The castle was a victim of the Nine Years' War in 1693.
How did they destroy the castle? Well, fire and mines. In fact, you can see castle reconstructed to be made into ruins in a quite faithful recreation.
"For an exhibition entitled "Die Wittelsbacher am Rhein" ("The Wittelsbachs on the Rhine") the Reiss Engelhorn Museum in Mannheim appointed its curator, historian Schubert, to virtually reconstruct Heidelberg Castle before and during the devastation wrought by the troops of the Sun King"
See the video and get the rest of the story: Virtual Destruction: Film Recreates Siege of Heidelberg Castle.
Guidebooks. Does anyone lug them around any more? Apparently the publishers think they do, as the presses crank them out year after year. The ones that cover European travel destinations are monsters, often nearly 1000 pages long, better for pre-vacation study than for taking on your trip on those stingy, pay for your luggage by the pound airlines. So, if you're looking to see what Europe has to offer the traveler, here are our updated picks for the best European Guidebooks.
Leiden is a University town with a traditionally high tolerance for immigrants. The city is, in fact, known as the City of Refugees. Immigrants grew the city from 20,000 to 70,000 in a short space of time in the 17th century, exploding the oft repeated lie that immigrants steal local jobs and contribute to the demise of a city. Leiden flourished in the 16th and 17th century, and is still a fine place to visit today.
The 17th century was the time the pilgrims came to Leiden to find religious freedom from England's state-authorized Anglican Church.
Robinson and his flock bought a piece of land near St. Peter's Church, called the Groene Poort (Green Alley). They built 21 little houses, so that people also called it the Engelse poort (English Alley). Later the houses were demolished and the Jean Pesijn almshouses were built in the same spot (1683). ~ (Pilgrim's) Stay in Leiden
What they found in Leiden was a bit too much freedom; their children were becoming increasingly enamored with the free ways of the local Dutch and the elders worried about their religious future. So the Pilgrims decided to throw caution to the wind and head for America, leaving from the Rotterdam port of Delfshaven, first on the ill-fated and not-quite seaworthy Speedwell, then later (and successfully) on the Mayflower.
The Pilgrim's lives in Leiden are captured in its excellent Pilgrim Museum. Reader Kathy Love reminds us that the museum is less about religious philosophy than it is about life at the time of the Pilgrim's migration--and it's perfect for children:
Rather unexpectedly, the museum can be fascinating for kids, because it is a very down-to-earth place. One of my sons asked why the bed was so small; the answer was, because people slept sitting up in those days. An instantly intriguing fact for a child. He was also absolutely thrilled to be allowed to hold real bullets, and learned how they were made by dropping molten lead through a colander. Suddenly it was very real. And this tactile availability is equally fascinating to adult: (curator) Jeremy asked me if I had ever sat in a chair from the thirteenth century, and when I said I definitely had not had that privilege, he invited me to sit down in one!
Leiden's influence upon the Pilgrims was profound, according to Robert Marquand
Those years of exile in Leiden, where the Pilgrims worked, worshipped, and debated - amid hefty clashes of civilizations and belief in Europe - profoundly influenced their sensibilities in ways that have not been widely recognized.
The Pilgrims - unlike British Puritans who wanted to turn Massachusetts into a theocracy - sharply advocated church-state separation. They heretically believed that women should be allowed to speak in church. They were far more tolerant of other faiths and open to the idea that their theology, like all human dogma, might contain errors.
Jeremy Bangs, currator of the museum and webmaster of the site The Pilgrims' Leiden has published a history of the Pilgrim's experience called "Strangers And Pilgrims, Travellers And Sojourners: Leiden And The Foundations Of Plymouth Plantation." It's a highly rated book that might interest the history buff interested in the migration of the Pilgrims, and would make a fine and very unusual Christmas present.
Jeremy's site offers a very nice overview of the Pilgrims in Leiden as well as a virtual tour of the Leiden the Pilgrims knew and worked in.
So, for those of you wanting a unique experience, planning a trip to Leiden might be a radical experience for the whole family. You might go at Christmas, which is celebrated a bit differently than it is in England or the US, according to theleidener:
In Leiden, things are far more civilised. There is a huge illuminated Christmas tree and all the trees along the canals are bedecked with little white lights. But what makes this especially lovely is the reflection of these lights in the canals. That is what makes Christmas magical here.
And that's not all, there's the gluewine, not to mention the ice rink outside the Einstein café and the price to glide upon it--"six euros including skates for an unlimited period of time!"
Ever imagine yourself as a swashbuckling archeologist? Well, get out your fedora, because the application process for 2014 summer excavations at Ostia Antica is now open through April.
The excavation is in an interesting spot, which we observed this summer. It's the suburbs of Ostia, outside the current excavations in the shadow of the Castle (shown above). It's never been excavated before, so who knows what's under all that dirt?
You can watch a video and see the area and hear from volunteers: 2014 AIRC Summer Archaeological Field School at Ostia Antica.
To find out more about visiting, see our Ostia Antica Guide.
Lots of things have changed over my 30 or so years of travel. As my backside widens, airplane seats have shrunk like a cheap sweater in a hot dryer. Vacation prices have skyrocketed as the middle class vaporizes and the landed gentry gamble with the earth's last resources.
And Airport food has actually gotten better. Imagine. You can now belly up to a bar and get some real good grub--especially in Copenhagen. You see, the Daily Meal has compiled a list of the world's best airport food stands, and Le Sommelier Bar & Bistro (Copenhagen Airport -- Copenhagen, Denmark) has emerged on top.
Now there is something to look forward to at the airport. Besides the strip-search I mean.
Walking tours tend to be expensive. Independent walking is always possible anywhere in Europe, of course, but if you want to go places rather than loop back to your hotel all the time, you have to think of that big bag you bring along with you on your European vacation.
Some hotel owners in northern Luxembourg have found a way to offer you a solution. They've banded together to offer a comprehensive plan to walkers--you plan the route and they'll ferry the luggage between participating hotels. They'll also pick you up at the train station and pack a lunch for you if you'd like.
If you haven't tried it, we recommend you start small on your first independent walking tour: walk little Luxembourg; the north is quite wild and verdant. Here's how: Trekking Luxembourg.
Just in time to make some holiday cheer, Rail Europe is offering some specials that could save you some decent money. For example, thinking of speeding in class between Paris and either Brussels or Amsterdam? If you book before December 5, 2013 you can get 20% off first class seats on the fast Thalys trains.
Want to cut a wide swath through Europe? There is also a sale on Eurail Select Pass and Eurail Global Pass that results in a 20% savings. You'll have to complete your travel Travel before March 31, 2014 to get these deals, so think spring.
In the old days, you might excavate a site, find it in such bad shape that nobody would be likely to figure out what was going on, and then take some concrete, paint, and a bunch of rocks and fill in the empty places with your own interpretation based about 10 per cent on your expertise and 90 on intuition, or, um, fantasy, mostly.
With today's technology you don't have to do that. You don't have to risk being criticized for ruining a good site. You can create a digital reality. You can change it when it's found to be wrong.
You start by creating a virtual world based on extensive research, and then do an "evidence based reconstruction" digitally. Thus the romantic ruins, plundered over the years by folks like Cardinal Ippolito II d'Este for his nearby Villa d'Este, can remain in place for romantic travelers to swoon over. The Digital Hadrian's Villa Project has not only created a virtual villa: scientists and students can grab an avatar and interact with the surroundings, thus testing some assumptions about how folks move around the space.
All of this and more is found in a fascinating 18 minute video: The Digital Hadrian's Villa Project.
You should really visit Tivoli and see Hadrian's Villa and the Villa d'Este. The Villa d'Este is adjacent to the town of Tivoli, and the easiest of the two to visit. See our Villa d'Este, Tivoli Guide for more. If you need a map of how these and other Tivoli sites are situated, see a Tivoli Map and Travel Guide.
France's sixth largest city is preparing for a couple of interesting events this month. The Festival of 3 Continents celebrates cinema from Africa, Latin America and Asia.
Another of Nantes top events is an exhibition of artifacts and documents from the two world wars, called Mostre en Guerres, 1914-1918 / 1939-1945, Nantes / Saint-Nazaire. The exhibition plays inside the fabulous Château des Ducs de Bretagne, shown above.
For more information on visiting Nantes, see our Nantes Travel Guide.
Avignon's Palace of the Popes is a fine centerpiece for the provincial town along the Rhône. If you're lucky enought to be visiting in late November, you're in for a special treat:
Here's a nice little early winter treat for visitors to Avignon this month: each night from 21 November to 1 December from 7.00-9.00pm, a free son et lumière show is being projected onto the façade of the Palais del Papes ~ The Palais des Papes.