Monthly Archives: December 2011

My 10 Most Memorable Hotels of 2011

Posted by on December 29, 2011

I stay in a lot of different hotels. A LOT of hotels. They range from 5-start luxury hotels to youth hostels. Some I pay for myself (aka the cheap ones) and others are provided by tourist boards (aka the nice ones).

The majority of the places I stay at all sort of blur into one another in my memory. There is nothing about them which makes them stick out and I often forget where I even stayed in a given city. However, there are a few places which I do remember.

I don’t do hotel reviews, so I’m not claiming that these properties are the “best” nor am I giving them any sort of rating. I’m also not saying that the hotels not on the list weren’t any good. These hotels just had something about them which made them stick out in my mind. Sometimes it was the view, sometimes it was the history of the building and other times it might have been the service.

You will notice that these properties are also all over the map. I’ve included 5-star resorts, youth hostels, business hotels and even a truck stop. The hotels are listed in chronologically, in the order in which I stayed in them in 2011.
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UNESCO World Heritage Site #171: Archaeological Ensemble of the Bend of the Boyn

Posted by on December 28, 2011

UNESCO World Heritage Site #171: Archaeological Ensemble of the Bend of the Boyn

UNESCO World Heritage Site #171: Archaeological Ensemble of the Bend of the Boyn

From the World Heritage inscription:

The monuments of the Bend of the Boyne display longevity of settlement whose origins are found in Neolithic settlements The various monuments, particularly the great passage tomb, represent important cultural, social, artistic and scientific developments over a considerable length of time. Nowhere else in the world is found the continuity of settlement and activity associated with a megalithic cemetery such as that which exists at Brugh na Bòinne. The passage tomb complex represents a spectacular survival of the embodiment of a set of ideas and beliefs of outstanding historical significance unequalled in its counterparts throughout the rest of Europe.

The World Heritage site of the Bend of the Boyne (Brugh na Boìnne in Irish) covers some 780 ha and takes its name from the fact that it is defined on the south, east and west sides by the River Boyne; part of the northern boundary is formed by the River Mattock. It is essentially a ridge running east-west with three low hills on it (Dowth, Knowth and Newgrange). These three great burial mounds dominate the whole area, and are surrounded by about 40 satellite passage-graves, to constitute a great prehistoric funerary landscape. Its intense ritual significance inevitably attracted later monuments, both in protohistory and in the Christian period. The importance of the site is enhanced by the fact that the River Boyne communicates both with the Celtic Sea and the heartland of Ireland, and so it has considerable economic and political significance.

The Bend of the Byone is a collection of ancient burial mounds that date back many thousands of years before the arrival of Christianity.

The most interesting thing about the burial chambers is that each one points in a different astronomical direction. The one I visited, Newgrange, is aligned with where the sun rises on the winter solstice. The alignment is such that it compensates for the hills in the region. Each year there is a lottery to allow people to enter the chamber for sunrise on the solstice. The chamber can only hold about a dozen people, but over 20,000 people enter the lottery each year. There is no guarantee that winning the lotter will let you see the sun ray which enters the mound as weather conditions could prevent it.

To visit the Bend of the Byone, take the train to Drogheda and from there take a taxi. Drivers should know where it is. If not tell them you are going to the Newgrange visitor center.

Near by is also the location of the Battle of the Byone, which was fought between Catholic King James and the Protestant King William in 1690.

This was the twelfth and final stop on my Eurail trip of UNESCO sites in Europe.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

December 2011 Question and Answers

Posted by on December 28, 2011

December 2011 Q&AI hope that everyone is enjoying their holidays. Since I’ve arrived back in Wisconsin I’ve been spending my time editing photos and trying to catch up on work which has piled up over the last few months. I had over 4,500 from the last 2 months and I’m now down to 2,000. You can see some of my results in my Galapagos Island photos. I’m also starting to get ready for my trip to Antarctica in January.

I thought I’d take a break from my photo editing to answer some reader questions. As always, you can submit questions via my Facebook page. (more…)

UNESCO World Heritage Site #170: Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd

Posted by on December 27, 2011

UNESCO World Heritage Site #170: Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd

UNESCO World Heritage Site #170: Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd

From the World Heritage inscription:

The four castles of Beaumaris, Conwy, Caernarfon, Harlech and the attendant fortified towns at Conwy and Caernarfon are the finest examples of late 13th century and early 14th century military architecture in Europe, as demonstrated through their completeness, pristine state, evidence for organized domestic space, and extraordinary repertory of their medieval architectural form.

The castles as a stylistically coherent groups are a supreme example of medieval military architecture designed and directed by James of St George, King Edward I of England’s chief architect, and the greatest military architect of the age.

The extensive and detailed contemporary technical, social, and economic documentation of the castles, and the survival of adjacent fortified towns at Caernarfon and Conwy, makes them one of the major references of medieval history.

The castles of Beaumaris and Harlech are unique artistic achievements for the way they combine characteristic 13th century double-wall structures with a central plan, and for the beauty of their proportions and masonry.

There are several significant things about the castles of Edward I in Wales:

1) The castle and walls of Conway might be the best preserved medieval city walls in Europe. The only other walls I’ve seen which were this quality were in Dubrovnik, Croatia. You can walk almost the entire

2) Caernarfon Castle is currently the location where the Prince of Wales is crowned. The round platform in the photo is the location of the crowning ceremony.

3) The entirety of the castles were part of the final conquest of Wales by the English. Having difficulty conquering the Welsh, Edward I created a ring of castles in the north of Wales to surround the mountains making it difficult for the Welsh to kick the English out.

I found the castles to be perhaps the most interesting attraction in Northern Wales.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage sites.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #169: Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and Canal

Posted by on December 26, 2011

UNESCO World Heritage Site #169: Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and Canal

UNESCO World Heritage Site #169: Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and Canal

From the World Heritage inscription:

The Pontcysyllte Canal is a remarkable example of the construction of a human-engineered waterway in a difficult geographical environment, at the end of the 18th century and the start of the 19th century. It required extensive and boldly conceived civil engineering works. The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct is a pioneering masterpiece of engineering and monumental architecture by the famous civil engineer Thomas Telford. It was constructed using metal arches supported by tall, slender masonry piers. The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and Canal are early and outstanding examples of the innovations brought about by the Industrial Revolution in Britain, where they made decisive development in transport capacities possible. They bear witness to very substantial international interchanges and influences in the fields of inland waterways, civil engineering, land-use planning, and the application of iron in structural design.

Of the many world heritage sites I’ve visited, I’ve had the biggest surprises visiting the industrial themed sites. They don’t get the same amount of attention as the ancient sites do, but they are just as important to the development of the modern world.

The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct doesn’t look like much at first, but at the time it was constructed in 1805, it was truly a wonder of the world. The aqueduct carries water traffic 126 ft (38.4m) above the valley which it crosses. It is considered perhaps the greatest engineering achievement of the great 19th Century engineer, Thomas Telford.

The aqueduct can be cross on foot or by canal barge. During the summer, there are many barges which carry passengers across the aqueduct.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #168: Liverpool – Maritime Mercantile City

Posted by on December 24, 2011

UNESCO World Heritage Site #168: Liverpool – Maritime Mercantile City

UNESCO World Heritage Site #168: Liverpool – Maritime Mercantile City

From the World Heritage inscription:

The city and port of Liverpool are exceptional testimony to the development of maritime mercantile culture in the 18th and 19th centuries, and played an important role in the growth of the British Empire. Liverpool is an outstanding example of a world mercantile port city, which represents the early development of global trading and cultural connections throughout the British Empire. The city was also a major centre generating innovative technologies and methods in dock construction and port management in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Six areas in the historic centre and docklands of Liverpool bear witness to the development of one of the world’s major trading centres in the 18th and 19th centuries, based on its harbour. The first ocean steamship left from Liverpool in 1840; from that date onwards the town became a fundamental link connecting Europe to America. It also became the major port for the mass movement of people: it was a centre for the slave trade until its abolition in 1807, and for emigration from northern Europe to America. Thousands of people from all over Europe gathered here to migrate to the New World.

The first thing most people think of when they hear Liverpool is the Beatles and maybe the Liverpool Football Club. The city however, has a richer history beyond rock and roll and soccer. The city was the port for the importation of cotton from the Americas.

The waterfront area harkens back to its Victorian, mercantile origins when it was one of the most important economic centers in Britain.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #167: Berlin Modernism Housing Estates

Posted by on December 23, 2011

UNESCO World Heritage Site #167: Berlin Modernism Housing Estates

UNESCO World Heritage Site #167: Berlin Modernism Housing Estates

From the World Heritage inscription:

The set of housing estates in the Berlin Modern Style provides outstanding testimony to the implementation of housing policies during the period 1910 – 1933 and especially during the Weimar Republic, when the city of Berlin was characterized by its political, social, cultural and technical progressiveness. The housing estates reflect, with the highest degree of quality, the combination of urbanism, architecture, garden design and aesthetic research typical of early 20th century modernism, as well as the application of new hygienic and social standards. Some of the most prominent leading architects of German modernism were involved in the design and construction of the properties; they developed innovative urban, building and flat typologies, technical solutions and aesthetic achievements.

As I’ve stated before, architectural world heritage sites are often the least interesting to the casual traveler. The buildings usually aren’t famous and often the architects aren’t famous either. To top it off, the buildings often aren’t open to the public because they are still in private hands.

In the case of the Berlin Modernism Housing Estates has all of the above problems. If you are a student of architecture or urban planning, the housing estates might be interesting, but I think most people would walk by without ever noticing they have world heritage stats on a par with the pyramids or the Taj Mahal.

There are six different collections of these estates surrounding Berlin. Many of them are not easy to get to and would require a long bus ride or taxi to get there. The one I visited was the Großsiedlung Siemensstadt which is very easy to get to. Just take the U7 subway line and get off at the Siemensdam station. The moment you walk out of the station you will see some of the buildings. Walk a few blocks into the neighborhood and you can see some historical signs talking about the housing estate.

This was the eleventh stop on my November 2011 Eurail trip to European UNESCO sites.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #166: Museumsinsel (Museum Island), Berlin

Posted by on December 22, 2011

UNESCO World Heritage Site #166: Museum Island, Berlin

UNESCO World Heritage Site #166: Museum Island, Berlin

From the World Heritage inscription:

The art museum is a social phenomenon that owes its origins to the Age of Enlightenment and its extension to all people to the French Revolution. The Museumsinsel is the most outstanding example of this concept given material form and a symbolic central urban setting, and one that illustrates the evolution of modern museum design over more than a century.

The present importance of the Museumsinsel began when the Altes Museum was built to the designs of Karl Friedrich Schinkel in 1824-28. A plan to develop the part of the island behind this museum was drawn up in 1841 by the court architect, Friedrich August Stüler, on the orders of Friedrich Wilhelm IV. The first element of this plan to be built was the Neues Museum (1843-47). The next step did not take place until 1866, when the Nationalgalerie, the work of Johann Heinrich Strack, was built. Another two decades passed before the Kaiser-Friedrich-Museum (now the Bodemuseum) was built in 1897-1904 to the designs of Ernst von Ihne, and Stüler’s plan was completed in 1909-30 with the construction of Alfred Messel’s Pergamonmuseum.

Museum Island is one of the cultural and tourist highlights of Berlin. The island is in the middle Spree river and is home to five significant museums: the Altes Museum, the Neues Museum, the Alte Nationalgalerie, the Bode Museum and the Pergamon Museum.

It is the only museum(s) that I know of that have UNESCO World Heritage status. The Louvre and other important museums in the world are have not been accorded special World Heritage status.

One unique thing about the museums, and unlike much of the rest of Germany, is that the damage caused during WWII has been kept. You can still see bullet holes on the facade of many of the buildings.

Getting to Museum Island is very easy if you are in Berlin. It is accessible by U-Bahn and bus.

This was the tenth stop on my Eurail trip of UNESCO sites in Europe.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #165: Palaces and Parks of Potsdam and Berlin

Posted by on December 21, 2011

UNESCO World Heritage Site #165: Palaces and Parks of Potsdam and Berlin

UNESCO World Heritage Site #165: Palaces and Parks of Potsdam and Berlin


From the World Heritage inscription:

The ensemble of the chateaux and parks of Potsdam is an exceptional artistic achievement whose eclectic and evolutionary features reinforce its uniqueness: from Knobelsdorff to Schinkel and from Eyserbeck to Lenné, a series of architectural and landscaping masterpieces were built within a single space, illustrating opposing and reputedly irreconcilable styles without detracting from the harmony of a general composition, designed progressively over time.

Potsdam, mentioned first in the 10th century, acquired some importance when the Great Elector of Brandenburg, Frederick William (1620-88) established his residence there. Potsdam housed a small garrison from 1640 onwards; the site’s military function was strengthened by the young Prussian monarchy.

Under Frederick II the Great (1712-86) Potsdam was radically changed. The new king wished to establish next to the garrison town and settlement colony of the ‘Sergeant King’ a ‘Prussian Versailles’, which was to be his main residence. In 1744 Frederick II ordered a vineyard to be planted on six terraces on the southern side of a hill, Bald Mountain. Sanssouci, a name which reflects the king’s desire for intimacy and simplicity, translates the theme of a rustic villa into the marble, mirrors and gold of a Rococo-style palace.

One of the things which surprised me about Berlin was the number and quality of the palaces in the area, especially in Potsdam. Many of the palaces in the area surrounding Berlin did not receive heavy damage during the war.

The highlight of the world heritage site, in my opinion, was Sanssouci, the palace of Frederick The Great. One of his final request was that he be laid to rest on the grounds of Sanssouci with his favorite greyhounds. In 1991, 205 years after his death and after the reunification of Germany, his request was finally granted.

Sanssouci is about a 15-20 minute walk from the Potsdam train station. I’d recommend visiting in the summer as in the winter, all of the statues in the garden were covered and the fountains were drained when I visited in the winter.

This was the tenth stop on my November 2011 Eurail trip to European UNESCO sites.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #164: Luther Memorials in Eisleben and Wittenberg

Posted by on December 20, 2011

UNESCO World Heritage Site #164: Luther Memorials in Eisleben and Wittenberg

UNESCO World Heritage Site #164: Luther Memorials in Eisleben and Wittenberg

From the World Heritage inscription:

These memorials are of outstanding universal value as bearing unique testimony to the Protestant Reformation, which was one of the most significant events in the religious and political history of the world, and as outstanding examples of 19th-century historicism. They are all associated with the lives of Martin Luther and his fellow-reformer Melanchthon.

In the 15th and 16th centuries Eisleben owed its great prosperity to copper and silver mining, Martin Luther was born there on 10 November 1483 at lodgings in a house in a street then known as Lange Gasse. The family moved in the following year to Mansfeld, some 10 km distant from Eisleben. After studying philosophy at Erfurt University, Martin Luther joined the Augustinian Order in 1505. He stayed there until 1510, when he transferred to the newly built Augustinian monastery at Wittenberg, where he also held the chair of Bible studies at the University. Two years later, on 31 October 1517, he launched the Reformation by nailing his 95 Propositions to the north door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg.

Wittenberg is a small community in Germany which was the starting point for one of the most significant changes in European in the last 1,000 years: the Protestant Reformation.

Given the size of Wittenberg, it is difficult to escape the presence of Martin Luther. You will see Martin Luther streets, statues, festivals and historical markers all over.

The most significant buildings in Wittenberg pertaining to Martin Luther are the Castle Church where he nailed the 95 Theses to the door, the town church where he preached and the Martin Luther house. You could easily explore the main Luther historic sites in half a day.

UNESCO locations in Wittenberg are a 10-15 minute walk from the Wittenberg train station. Wittenberg can be easily reached by train from Leipzig or Berlin and Wittenberg could be visited on a day trip from either city.

This was the ninth stop on my Eurail trip of UNESCO sites in Europe.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.