Archive for Undiscovered Places

Prague’s Secret Garden

Friday, October 18th, 2013

October 18

We made a new discovery today together with a visit to Prague’s wonderful Secret Garden, located below Prague Castle. It truly is a secret, only a small door leading off a busy street with no English signage. One has to be a bit adventurous to find it. We spent a happy hour wandering through the three terraces, enjoying the manicured plants and the fall colors and the views over Prague.

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The Roman Bridge and Old Town of Chaves, Portugal

Saturday, August 17th, 2013

August 17 – from a trip to this region in May

Signs of the extent of the Roman Empire are everywhere in Portugal. We took a daytrip from our country inn in the Douro River Valley to the pleasant little town of Chaves to find out more.

The Roman bridge dates back to the 3rd century. It still carries pedestrian traffic back and forth to both sides of the town.

The Roman bridge dates back to the 3rd century. It still carries pedestrian traffic back and forth to both sides of the town.

The town of Chaves has been inhabited since Paleolithic times. The region has seen persistent human settlement since Roman legions conquered and occupied the fertile valley of the Tâmega River, constructing a nascent outpost and taking over the existing castros in the area. The settlement was located at the convergence of three important Roman roads: the Bracara Augusta, Asturica, and Lamecum that crossed the Roman Province of Gallaecia, linking Rome to the region’s natural resources.  It was a military centre known for its baths, which lasted until the 16th century. This civilization constructed protective walls to protect the local population; spanned the river with the bridge; promoted the baths (with its warm medicinal waters); exploited local mines and alluvial deposits and other natural resources. Its importance led to the urban nucleus being elevated to the status ofmunicipality in 79 AD, during the reign of the first Flavian Caesar, Titus Flavius Caesar Vespasianus Augustus. Its benefactor consequently influenced its toponymy, becoming known as Aquae Flaviae. Artefacts from the area around the Matriz church indicate that Aquae Flaviae’s centre was located in this place, in addition to an ancient headstone showing gladiatorial combat.

The Roman era bridge, emblematic of the city of Chaves, was constructed during the reign of Emperor Trajan to span the Tâmega River, in order to connect the Roman provincial settlements of Astorga (in Spanish León) and Bracara Augusta (now Braga) in Gallaecia. The structure still has Roman inscriptions on the principal columns, that identify the bridge and its dedication to Emperor Caesar Vespasianus Augustus.


Narrow lane in the medieval town

Narrow lane in the medieval town










Column with Latin inscription noting that the bridge was built with money raised by the citizens of the Roman town

Column with Latin inscription noting that the bridge was built with money raised by the citizens of the Roman town

The Road from Stuttgart to Lisbon – Part 2

Friday, May 24th, 2013

(James and Jenean Derheim are scouting new locations for future tours in southern Spain, on their way to pick up returning clients in Lisbon on May 27)

May 24

Resting and recuperating with the sound of birds coming from the garden after a series of very long drives of 600, 700 and 850 kilometers on May 23, 22 and 19 we are now lodged in a gorgeous little B&B down below Ronda, Spain. The place is so peaceful that after checking in and before we even saw our room we immediately extended our stay by a night, gladly paying the penalty of a night’s stay at the place where we were originally scheduled to stay the following night near Cordoba. Our new van needs a rest. So do its drivers.

Watching the locals in Consuegra as dinnertime (8:30 is the earliest possible) approaches

Watching the locals in Consuegra as dinnertime (8:30 is the earliest possible) approaches

The past couple of days have been filled with incredible sights. Spain is truly “Big Sky Country.” I thought that was the motto of Montana, but I think they stole it from Spain. Huge vistas, limitless horizons, rolling plains, mountains and through it all, a  nearly empty highway that is empty either because of the crashed Spanish economy or perhaps it’s just luck. I think the former has much to do with it. We roll past blocks of highrises that are not finished. Empty storefronts in all of the small towns and villages. Quiet, so quiet. The exception was on May 23 when we attempted to get close to the Alhambra in Granada. Horrible place, Granada. Ruined by development, the Alhambra invisible behind all of the high rises. The hillsides below the soaring Sierra Nevada range are blanketed with awful condos, most of them shuttered and empty. We get near the Alhambra, through all of the tourist dreck and then just at the last minute I miss the poorly-marked turn for the Parador that we had intended to check out. Tourists, taxis, buses, cars, schlock everywhere. What has happened to the Alhambra that I remember so fondly from my journalism days in the early 1990s? It’s been covered up by crap. We vow to never return.

A shepherd high above Consuegra

A shepherd high above Consuegra


On down the road on this long day we remember where we started, in La Mancha, the small, lonely town of Consuegra. If Spain has an economic cold, then this little dusty town has the flu. A dozen white windmills and a huge 11th century castle dominate the town and yet the busloads of tourists who roll in from Toledo or Madrid or wherever don’t stop and spend anything in town, and it shows. Many, many empty shops and closed up businesses. There is one little bar in the town center and the owner and his two buddies are engrossed in a bullfight on the big linen screen while Jenean and I get a drink and a snack. Jenean averts her eyes. She can’t stand the bloodshed. I watch, fascinated by the pageantry. I’ve been to a few bullfights in the past and don’t care if I go again. I suppose most people are rooting for the bull. The matadors, all gussied up and pomped, strut around in their skin-tight purple knee-length pants, not knowing that leggings are out of style in America. That evening, after a delicious meal of tapas at a bar called Gaudi, we walk back through empty streets to our inn, a lovely little B&B we discovered. It seems that tonight we are the only ones who did discover it, and we have the place to ourselves. Above, the windmills are catching the last of the sunset. Invigorated by the sight, I dash up the hill and breathless from the altitude and the effort, take a series of shots that may or may not be in focus. The wind is blowing and even though the mills are tied down, I can imagine the creaking sound of their wooden sails turning in the wind, grinding grain high above this arid plain.

Three of the twelve windmills above Consuegra

Three of the twelve windmills above Consuegra



I cannot tell how many times in the past 23 years that I’ve driven past the exit for Aachen, Germany. This past October I finally took that exit and discovered along with my three guests from Manila one of the most charming of small German cities, and one which is packed with history and ancient architectural remains from the Holy Roman Empire of the German Reich. Charlemagne had his favorite palace here, and the octagonal 8th century church and remnants of that palace stand today to awe the visitor. We had the luck to arrive on a day when a large open-air market was taking place. There’s nothing like a European flea market to bring out the collector in you.

Copenhagen was another city which had somehow escaped our radar in the past. Too far north, or just deemed too expensive for many of our travelers, the city has delights that (yes, while expensive) are also well worth the trek north. Combined with the neaby Swedish city of Malmo, the pair make for a wonderful long weekend. A stay in a converted warehouse near the old harbor was a highlight and provided one of the most comfortable sleeping experiences of the year. I told the manager on checking out after three blissful nights that I wanted to take the mattress with me!

The Wachau Valley of Austria is the setting for picturesque villages and majestic abbeys. The river flows strong but peacefully here, through craggy gorges laid out with lush vineyards. A bike path follows the course of the Danube. It’s a dream of ours to take bikes along the entire course from Melk to Vienna. Maybe in 2013!

Building Future Adventures – Rovinj, Croatia

Thursday, July 21st, 2011

Peppers and garlic in the farmer's market

This is a treasure trove of photographic opportunities for any adventurer who loves to tote around a camera to record impressions. Whether from across the bay where one can capture a skyline which is reproduced on dozens of postcards, paintings and drawings sold around the town or from within the narrow confines of the medieval old town, it seems as if Rovinj was built with the artist in mind. And speaking of artists, there are no lack of them in Rovinj, selling their creations whether in mosaic tile, watercolors or oil, all with the aim of capturing the essence of Rovinj.

Keeping things tidy

As we tell our clients who visit Venice (and there are reminders everywhere that Venice was the Grandpappy of Rovinj. The Venetian lion is omnipresent) the best way to experience this town is to “get lost.” Forget about a map or trying to find something specific. Turn left, turn right, turn in a circle, and you will be surprised at every turn by another beautiful scene. We can’t wait to return when the heavy crowds have thinned out in the fall.

Getting lost reveals the quieter side of Rovinj

Fishing boats in the harbor

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Colorful tea shop in Uzes, Provence

Thursday, June 9th, 2011

The owner of this tea shop wins the prize for originality

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Glanum, memory of the past near St. Remy-de-Provence, France

Thursday, June 9th, 2011

Mausoleum and entrance gate at Glanum

We visited this monument the other day. It is an incredible experience that need at least two hours to enjoy fully.

Glanum was an oppidum, or fortified town, founded by a Celto-Ligurian people called the Salyens in the 6th century B.C.

View over the Glanum site, excavated starting in 1921

It was known for the healing power of its spring. It became a Roman city in Provence until its abandonment in 260 A.D.. It is located on the flanks of the Alpilles, a range of mountains in the Bouches-du-Rhône département, about 20 km (12 miles) south of the modern city of Avignon, and a kilometer south of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. It is particularly known for two well-preserved Roman monuments of the 1st century B.C., known as les Antiques, a mausoleum and a triumphal arch. the oldest one in France, located at the site.

Water to fill the baths once jetted from the mouth of this amazing face, perfectly preserved.

Jenean Derheim gazes in wonder at the old bath complex

Between the 4h and 2nd centuries B.C., the Salyens, the largest of the Celto-Ligurian tribes in Provence, built a rampart of stones on the peaks that surrounded the valley of Notre_Dame-de-Laval, and constructed an oppidum, or town, around the spring in the valley, which was known for it’s healing powers. A shrine was built at the spring to Glanis, a Celtic god. The town grew, and a second wall was built in the 2nd century.

The town had a strong Celtic identity, shown by the names of the residents (Vrittakos, Eporix, Litumaros) by the names of the local gods (Glanis and his companions, the Glanicae, (similar to the Roman Matres); and the goddesses Rosmerta and Epona); by the statues and pottery; by the customs, such as displaying the severed heads of enemies at the city gate; and by the cooking utensils found in the ruins, which showed that the people of Glanis boiled their food in pots, rather than frying it in pans like other Mediterranean tribes.

Memorials along the main street

The people of Glanum were in early contact with the Greek colony of Marseille, which had been founded in about 600 B.C. The contact influenced the architecture and art of Glanum- villas were built in the Hellenic style. But by the 2nd century there conflicts and wars between the Salyens and the Greeks of Marseille. The Greeks of Marseille, not having a powerful army, called upon the assistance of their Roman allies. In 125 B.C. the Salyens were defeated by the army of the Roman consul Marcus Fulvius Flaccus, and the following year decisively defeated by C. Sextus Calvinus. Many of the old monuments of Glanum were destroyed,

The Sacred Spriongs and neighboring temples as they appeared in Roman times

Despite the defeat, the town prospered again, thanks to the attraction of the healing spring. The city produced its own silver coins and built new monuments. The prosperity lasted until 90 B.C. when the Salyens again rebelled against Rome. The rebellion was crushed again, this time by the Consul Caecilius, and the public buildings of Glanum were again destroyed. dismantled, and replaced by more modest structures.

The ruins of the Sacred Springs

In 49 B.C. Julius Caesar captured Marseille, and after a period of destructive civil wars, the Romanization of Provence and Glanum began.
In 27 B.C. the Emperor Augustus created the Roman province of Gallia Narbonensis, and in this province Glanum was given the title of Oppidum Latinum, which gave residents the civil and political status of citizens of Rome. A triumphal arch was built outside the town between 10 and 25 B.C., near the end of the reign of Augustus, the first such arch to be built in Gaul, as well as an impressive mausoleum of the Julii family, both still standing.

In the 1st century B.C., under the Romans, the city built a new forum, temples, and a curved stone arch dam, Glanum Dam, the oldest known dam of its kind and an aqueduct, which supplied water for the fountains and Roman baths in the town.

Glanum was not as prosperous as the Roman colonies of Arles, Avignon and Cavaillon, nor was it fortunate enough to be on the major Roman road of the colony, the Via Domitian, but in the 2nd century A.D. it was wealthy enough to build impressive shrines to the Emperors, to enlarge the forum, and to have extensive baths and other public buildings clad in marble.

The Votive Altar was from the Greek period. The Goddesses ears are plainly seen on the pillar, letting the person know that their prayers were heard.

Glanum did not survive the collapse of the Roman Empire. The town was overrun and destroyed by the Alamanni in 260 A.D., and was subsequently abandoned, its inhabitants moving a short distance north into the plain to found a city that later was named Saint-Rémy-de-Provence.

After its abandonment Glanum became a source of stone and other building materials for Saint-Remy. Since the Roman system of drains and sewers was not maintained, the ruins were often flooded and covered with mud and sediment. The mausoleum and triumphal arch , together known as “Les Antiques,” were famous, and were visited by King Charles IX, who had the surroundings cleaned up and maintained. Some excavations were made around the monuments as early as the 16th and 17th centuries, finding sculptures and coins, and by the marquis de Lagoy in the Vallons-de-Notre-Dame in the 19th century.

The first systematic excavations began in 1921, directed by the architect of historic monuments, Jules Foremigé. From 1921 until 1941, the archeologist Pierre LeBrun worked on the site, discovering the baths, the basilica, and the residences of the northern town. From 1928 to 1933, Henri Roland (1887–1970) worked on the Iron Age sanctuary, to the south. From 1942 until 1969, Rolland took over the work and excavated the area from the forum to the sanctuary. The objects he discovered are on display today at the hotel de Sade in the Saint-Remy-de-Provence.

New excavation and exploration work began in 1982, devoted mainly to preservation of the site, and to exploring beneath sites already discovered for older works.

The amazing Mausoleum

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Carcassonne and the Kingdom of Aragon

Saturday, June 4th, 2011

Carcassonne, a medieval fortress town is one of the most popular stops in the former Kingdom of Aragon, which lasted from 1035 to 1707.

We’ve spent two nights in a lovely hotel just outside the gates of imposing Carcassonne. Saturday was forecast to rain all day. What to do on a rainy day? Rub shoulders (and umbrellas) with hoardes of tourists coming off the seemingly endless line of tour buses or escape into the countryside? We chose the latter, and as a result, were rewarded with beautiful views of the rolling countryside, many deep valleys, charming hamlets and colorful market towns and yes, quite a few raindrops. At least we were warm and dry inside our Volkswagen “bus.”

Art captures the view from a hilltop hamlet

Land worth fighting for

Foix and its Cathar Castle made a worthy lunch stop

Mirapoix has this and more

In the square of unique Mirapoix

Guiding tours in European for over 20 years