Castle Combe is England’s Frozen in Time Village

Monday, September 1st, 2014

Sept 1

A stop in Castle Combe is a must while visiting England’s Cotswolds district. The hamlet is nearly perfect. All that would be needed to make it 100% so would be if the locals all dressed in period costume, say around 1801, and if they got around on horseback instead of in cars. Even so, a stroll down the one street of Castle Combe truly does transport the visitor back in time. Cottages are lined up along the winding road from the tiny square with its magnificent market cross down about 150 yards to where a stone bridge passes over a gurgling brook where (of course) two swans act as town sentinels. A couple of quaint old hotels with pubs and one grand five-star hotel set in expansive gardens complete the picture of England’s most perfect village. And just in case more is needed, the village church features a knight who died in 1270 after being involved in two crusades. Step back in time by stepping through Castle Combe.

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Salisbury’s Magnificent Cathedral

Sunday, August 31st, 2014

August 30

Many of the great churches took centuries to build. A master mason or a glass maker might never live to see the church completed and the first mass held. This would hold true for that craftsman’s children, grandchildren and on and on
Salisbury’s cathedral was started in 1220 and finished in 1258. The spire, Britain’s tallest at 404 feet, was added 100 years later.

One of only four original copies of the Magna Carta is kept in the cathedral’s 14th century chapter house. The Magna Carta was an agreement between King John and the nobles on the rights of the common people. It forms the basis for the Declaration of Independence and several other documents. The Magna Carta was written with special ink which has not faded after 800 years.

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Where Do You Want to Be on September 15, 2015?

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

August 27

If you said ‘London,’ then you are in for the party of the century. That is, if Queen Elizabeth II lives that long. Because at midnight on that date, Elizabeth will surpass Queen Victoria as the longest-serving monarch in British history. I suppose there will be some party.

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Categories : Europe Tours

August 27

A brilliant installation containing 888,246 ceramic poppies surrounds the Tower of London through November 11, 1914 which is the 96th anniversary of the end of the ‘Great War,’ also the ‘War to End All Wars.’ Artist Paul Cummins did the work in remembrance of those soldiers listed officially as dead from the United Kingdom including its colonies and territories. The poppies surround the iconic London landmark. Those who are interested can purchase a poppy, and contribute to a good cause at the same time. Visit http://www.hrp.org.uk/TowerOfLondon/?gclid=CLis45Tgs8ACFWjItAodS04Auw

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Social Media the New Salem Witch Trials

Saturday, August 23rd, 2014

August 23

I think it is beyond time for someone to come up with a way that businesses can fight back and even recoup financial damages (and they would be huge when you consider the multiplier effect) caused by those who post idiotic and false statements on social media whether it be #trip #advisor, #yelp, #twitter or #facebook. Here is why: Close friends and owners of a small hotel and restaurant in Germany that we have used since 1998 with zero problems or complaints from our clients expressed their dismay and concern to me yesterday resulting from a post from an American guest who accused them on Trip Advisor of stealing her credit card information and running a charge (in Ireland no less) for more than $3500 on the same day that she checked out of their hotel. This baseless accusation is now ‘out there’ forever, and the owners can do absolutely nothing. Trip Advisor will not help. (How do you actually reach a real person at these sites anyway?) How frustrating for this family who work 14 hour days to please their guests! This insanity has to stop. Social Media has unfortunately become the new Witch Trials of the 21st century. You didn’t have to be an actual witch to be burned at the stake or driven out of your town three and four hundred years ago. All that was needed was someone to accuse you. That was your death sentence.

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Categories : Europe Tours

How Do You End the Trip of a Lifetime in Germany?

Saturday, August 23rd, 2014

August 23

Dolores Petit takes in the panorama of the Rhein River Valley from above Bacharach

Dolores Petit takes in the panorama of the Rhein River Valley from above Bacharach

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Dolores Petit always wanted to visit her ancestral country of Germany but her husband would not allow it. A member of the French Resistance as a young teen, he harbored hard feelings against not just some Germans but the entire country. When they traveled, they went to see his relatives in France.

So, when her husband John Petit died a year and a half ago, Dolores started planning a trip that she had been waiting basically her entire life to take. She was going to make it with her cousin, Bette. The highlight would be a visit to see cousins in northern Germany near Bremen.

Bette fell ill just a few days before departure and could not make the trip. Dolores came alone, and had the time of her life. How do you wrap up a wonderful week in a country where you love just everything? We thought an afternoon on the beautiful Rhein River between Mainz and Marksburg would be the perfect way to say ‘Auf Wiedersehen’ to Deutschland.

After having a freshly-made sandwich at a bakery near the departure point in Rüdesheim, Dolores boarded the ‘Vater Rhein’ for a two-hour cruise downstream to St. Goarshausen. She passed many castles, hamlets and miles of vineyards along the way. The weather cooperated and she was able to sit at the stern of the vessel, a perfect spot to catch the entire panorama unfolding before her. Her guide, James Derheim (the founder and owner of European Focus Private Tours) was waiting in St. Goarshausen when she arrived just before 4 p.m. We continued the tour along the road up to Marksburg, an impressive medieval castle which is one of only two fortresses on the Rhein to have never been captured, sacked or destroyed in more than 800 years. We turned around and backtracked, taking the ferry at Pfalzgrafenstein to the other side, and then a short drive to Bacharach for dinner. But wait, James had something else to show Dolores. To put a cherry on the top of the trip, he drove her up, up and up some more to a ‘secret’ overlook point higher than even Burg Stahleck, the medieval sentinel which has kept watch over Bacharach for seven centuries. The view is breathtaking and made the perfect ‘period’ at the end of what she said. ‘This was the trip of my life.’

The ship 'Vater Rhein' cruises past a 12th century castle near Assmannshausen

The ship ‘Vater Rhein’ cruises past a 12th century castle near Assmannshausen

Pfalzgrafenstein has stood since the 1300s. It was never sacked or destroyed.

Pfalzgrafenstein has stood since the 1300s. It was never sacked or destroyed.

Marksburg has never been destroyed or captured in its more than 800 year history. It stands near Braubach on the northern end of the drive Dolores enjoyed after her cruise.

Marksburg has never been destroyed or captured in its more than 800 year history. It stands near Braubach on the northern end of the drive Dolores enjoyed after her cruise.

A 1,000 year-old baptismal font in the ancestral church

Thursday, August 21st, 2014

August 21

There are baptismal fonts and then there is the font in the little church at Kirchtimke, near Steinfeld, Niedersachsen, Germany. While the church is older than most in America, having been built in 1739, the font is truly spectacular. It is Romanesque and dates back at least 1,000 years. That means it was there before even the predecessor to the current church was built in the 1300s. The font is large, standing about four feet tall and it is about three feet in diameter. It is hugely heavy, one cannot even begin to budge it. There are intricate carvings around the top of the octagon and at the bottom as well. Traces of color can be seen here and there. It must have been a very colorful piece when it was new.

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Heartfelt Thank You For Care Package 67 Years Later

Thursday, August 21st, 2014

August 21

Dolores Petit is on the Trip of a Lifetime back to her roots in northern Germany. On the second day of her visit with relatives in the hamlet of Steinfeld, she suddenly came face to face with a woman whom she has never met. However, she gave that woman something so special, so important and yet so vital more than 67 years ago. She gave her a used dress.

That dress was in a care package sent by Dolores’ grandparents to relatives in Steinfeld in the hard years after the end of World War II. The relatives had no young girls at the time, and so they gave the dress donated by a 9 year-old Dolores to their neighbor’s daughter. That little girl, now all grown up, came to thank Dolores in the home of Fritz and Ursela Schmätjen.

Gerlinda Schwelgin remembers clearly the impact that this dress had on her growing up years in a country that was short on everything. She wore it to school in the warmer months, and a second garment she called a ‘uniform,’ also from Dolores, to school and special events in the cooler months. Tears were shed at the happy reunion. Hands were clasped and they did not want to let each other go.

To insert the writer into this little story for a moment. I have witnessed countless family reunions over the past 25 years, but this was absolutely the most heartwarming meeting. There was not a dry eye in the house and the lump in my throat appears whenever I think of this exceptional meeting.

Dolores Petit, left, meets Gerlinda Schwelgin for the first time. A dress donated by Dolores' family in the hard years after World War II made a huge impact on Gerlinda and she came to thank Dolores.

Dolores Petit, left, meets Gerlinda Schwelgin for the first time. A dress donated by Dolores’ family in the hard years after World War II made a huge impact on Gerlinda and she came to thank Dolores.

The address labels from one of the care packages has been kept all of this time by the Schmältjen family.

The address labels from one of the care packages has been kept all of this time by the Schmältjen family.

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