Germany’s Romantic Road is ideal for slow travel

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Posted on Jan 9 2020 

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Germany’s Romantic Road is Ideal for Slow Travel

Words: Len Rutledge  Images: Phensri Rutledge

Magnificent medieval architecture, the dramatic Alps, pretty green rolling countryside, castles and some of the most picturesque villages in Europe combine to make Germany’s Romantic Road a very special drive. Driving in Europe can be a challenge but this road is perfect for those who wish to take their time and experience the German countryside and explore some delightful towns.

For this Germany’s Romantic Road, we began in Füssen in the south with its large former monastery and castle and finished in Würzburg 350 kilometres to the north. While this drive could have taken four hours, in fact we took three days and felt rushed in the process.

These were some of Germany’s Romantic Road highlights.

Schwangau

This small village is home to one of Germany’s most iconic sights, Schloss Neuschwanstein, the fairy tale castle that inspired Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle. Commissioned by King Ludwig II of Bavaria as a personal retreat, the castle has enough towers, turrets, balconies, pinnacles and sculptures to satisfy anyone.

You can visit the castle with a timed ticket but you will share the trip with hundreds of others during busy times. I suggest the best view is from Marienbrücke, the suspension bridge behind the castle where you can see the dreamy castle in all its glory.

Germanys Romantic Road is Ideal for Slow Travel
Schloss Neuschwanstein Castle

If you have the time, also tour the less-visited Hohenschwangau, the neighbouring castle where King Ludwig II grew up and dreamed about his magical castle.

Augsburg

The city was founded in 15 BC and was a free imperial city until the early 19th century. Due to a flourishing textile trade, luxurious palatial homes, civic buildings, baroque fountains and gothic churches were built. You can enjoy them all on a visit today.

Constructed in the early 1600s, the “Rathaus” still serves as the administrative centre of the city. Next to it you can climb an ancient Perlachturm tower, built over 1000 years ago to serve as a watchtower.

Harburg

Towering over the town, Harburg Castle exemplifies medieval architecture. It comes complete with sentry walk, prison tower, dungeon and ballroom. There is a small hotel inside if you wish to stay.

Nördlingen

This has beautifully preserved town walls and the Rieskrater Museum, where you’ll learn about the meteor that struck this area some 15 million years ago. In fact, the entire almost perfectly round walled old town is built inside a massive crater. Because it sees fewer tourists than Rothenburg or Dinkelsbühl, the other two walled towns, it can be enjoyed more quietly.

Dinkelsbühl

Dinkelsbühl was not bombed in the Second World War, so it stands as it was in the Middle Ages, when it was created. It is a gem.

St. George’s Minster, a late 15th–century Gothic masterpiece, dominates the town while magnificent gabled buildings, dating from around 1600, line the central Weinmarkt. Many are now restaurants and cafés. The square hosts many festivals and celebrations throughout the year.

Germanys Romantic Road is Ideal for Slow Travel

I strongly suggest a walk on the town walls with their 18 towers and four gates. The views are nice but the thought of walking where many armed defenders have been over hundreds of years makes it something special.

Rothenburg ob der Tauber

This is a very popular tourist destination overlooking the Tauber River, so it can get quite crowded. You have a real sense of stepping back into Renaissance era Germany and most visitors love it. The narrow cobblestone streets feel like they haven’t changed in hundreds of years.

Late afternoon is the best time after the tourist buses have left and the shops are closing, leaving only the restaurants open. It’s a calm atmosphere allowing you to really take in the town.

Rothenburg’s well-preserved town walls which completely encircle the old town are great for walking along. It is free and it was one of the highlights for us.

Parking is almost impossible inside the walls so we chose a hotel close by with its own car park and we left our car there the whole time.

Germanys Romantic Road is Ideal for Slow Travel
A classic Rothenburg view

Walking along cobbled streets, you’ll notice that each building here is special. There are various popular photo points but we equally enjoyed walking the back streets and making our own discoveries.

Bad Mergentheim

This is home to one of Southern Germany’s spa resorts. If you’re looking for a massage, an Ayurvedic treatment or some time in a sauna, this is the place for you. There is also a large castle and a wonderful Rococo church.

Würzburg

Built around the Main River and surrounded by rolling hills, the city of Würzburg has impressive architecture and a nice vibe.

In 686, three Irish missionaries made a vain attempt to convert the town ruler to Christianity. Later, Würzburg had a bishop appointed and became a duchy as well, and the ruling prince-bishops brought their wealth here causing the city to experience a period of growth and lavishness.

Germanys Romantic Road is Ideal for Slow Travel

You see this today in the Wurzburger Residenz a baroque palace now inscribed on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage list and once the seat of the reigning prince-bishop; the rococo-style church Käppele; and Festung Marienberg, a medieval fortress high above the city.

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Ketchikan has rain, totem poles and plenty of interest

An article publish in eglobaltravelmedia.com.au

Ketchikan has rain, totem poles and plenty of interest

January 2, 2020 Destination FeatureHeadline News  Email Email

 

 

Phensri and Len arrive in Ketchikan to be greeted with low cloud, rain and a bleak outlook. Although it was June, it looked more like February. But we should not have been surprised. The city has been nicknamed the “Rain Capital of Alaska” as it receives nearly four metres of rain each year over 230 wet days.

Ketchikan is the “first city,” along the popular Inside Passage and serves as the first port of call for many cruise ships visiting Alaska. It is on Revillagigedo Island at the southern tip of the tail that wags the rest of the giant state. You can only reach Ketchikan by air or sea.

Once known as the Salmon Capital of the world, then later as a major timber centre, Ketchikan is now a tourist town. With a population of around 13,000, at times during summer this doubles as up to six cruise boats arrive with thousands of passengers and crew.

The demise of the timber industry has led to a radical transformation of the town. Many people who used to earn their livelihoods through timber now have jobs in tourism. For many decades, the huge forests of spruce, hemlock and cedar trees were the source of timber for the logging industry. Logging camps dotted the islands of southeast Alaska, and pulp mills were robust economic drivers of the region.

Then one by one, those pulp mills shut down. Ketchikan’s was the last one still operating in Alaska when it shut down in 1997. Hundreds of good-paying jobs and the businesses that supported them went with it. The shoe shops, workwear stores, and Chevrolet and Ford dealerships went too.

In their place are many jewelry and watch stores, souvenir and gift shops, as well as local tour operations. The newer businesses provide seasonal retail work, but it’s nowhere near as well paid as the old year-round jobs: Now at the end of September, most of the businesses close and many people leave town.

During the five-month cruise season, this is not apparent to most visitors. When the gangplank is lowered and the tourists march ashore, they find a gaggle of tour operators waiting to entice them with local offerings: The world’s largest totem poles; an all-you-can-eat Dungeness crab feast; a chance to see killer whales and humpbacks; and the chance to enjoy a brothel tour.

The Ketchikan Visitors Bureau on the waterfront is where we found a map with a self-guided walking tour. Despite the rain, we set out to explore.

Downtown

Many streets in town are boardwalks or steep wooden staircases so walking is never boring. St John’s Episcopal Church built in 1902, Whale Park and two impressive replica totem poles are initial highlights. We then visit the Tongass Historical Museum to see artefacts from periods going back to a Native Fishing Camp.

Ketchikan Creek flows through the centre of town year-round, its cold water populated in summer by salmon who come up the creek to spawn. Numbers are multiplied by the Deer Mountain Tribal Hatchery which raises and releases 300,000 salmon, steelhead and rainbow trout each year.

Totem Heritage Centre

Ketchikan has the world’s largest collection of totem poles. Giant carved cedar poles stand in numbers in the Saxman Native Village and the Totem Bright State Historical Park but I recommend a visit to the Totem Heritage Centre which displays very old and rare poles from three Native Nations.

Many were carved 150–175 years ago and they tell the stories of families. When a totem pole was raised during a big celebration, everyone would be told why the pole was carved and what it meant.

Creek Street

Until 1953, this was lined with up to 30 bordellos. During the Prohibition era, some houses became speakeasies. Now shops, museums, galleries and a restaurant welcome visitors to the unique piled street which is now on the US National Register of Historic Places.

A highlight is Dolly’s House which belonged to Dolly Arthur, Ketchikan’s most famous madam. Her house, preserved much as she left it, has antiques, garish décor and an aura that many want to experience. Tours of the small building are offered.

Southeast Alaska Discovery Centre

Here you can explore the natural and cultural history of the Tongass National Forest, by far the largest national forest in the U.S. You can visit a re-created native fishing village and learn how the lush forest sustains southeast Alaska communities today.

For those wanting a walk through the forest, the four-kilometre Rainbow Trail only 15 minutes from town provides a wilderness experience while also having some nice views of Ketchikan

If you want a theatrical taste of the industry that used to fuel Ketchikan, you can go to the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show, where burly competitors in flannel shirts and braces chop stumps, saw logs, and heave axes at a bullseye. It’s great fun.

Getting there

Ketchikan is just 90 minutes by air from Seattle, with several daily flights in and out provided by Alaska Airlines. A scheduled daily jet service is also available to and from Anchorage and there are regular services to several other Alaskan towns. Ferries connect Ketchikan with the lower 48 states, and Canada. Many cruise lines operate Alaska cruises from Vancouver and Seattle to Ketchikan

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Words: Len Rutledge   Images: Phensri Rutledge

Yellowstone National Park, USA

Yellowstone Where the Concept of National Parks Started

Posted on Sep 26 2019 — 11:33pm by Len Rutledge
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With geysers, grizzlies, an impressive grand canyon, and great mud pools, Yellowstone National Park in America’s west is dramatic, imposing and at times overwhelming. The world’s first national park, established in 1872, is a wonderful blend of land, water, forest, grassland, wildlife and geothermal features. It challenges your senses and stirs your soul.

Yellowstone Where the Concept of National Parks Started

Old Faithful

The first expedition to reach here returned with accounts that were rebuffed by magazine editors and politicians who said their accounts were too far-fetched to be believed. Writers need to be careful even today. Fortunately, images and video readily available on our screens confirm today’s words.

Yellowstone is in Wyoming with small parts spilling over into Montana and Idaho. Heat and volcanic activity from the depths of Earth power this dramatic landscape which is visited by four million visitors each year. In 1978, Yellowstone was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

There are several different approaches that feed into the Grand Loop Road, a figure-eight highway in the middle of the park. Rather than a single focus, Yellowstone has several hubs so travelling around is essential. Most visitors do this by car but various tours are available which visit most areas. During my recent visit, I thought these were some of the park highlights.

Old Faithful Village

A highlight here is Old Faithful Inn, a masterpiece of national park rustic architecture, with the lobby containing a massive stone fireplace and soaring timber ceiling. Just outside, Old Faithfull Geyser erupts around 17 times per day to an average height of 40 metres. Wait on the wooden boardwalk built around the geyser and watch it erupt with your camera in hand. With its reliable eruption times it’s easy to plan a visit to witness a blowout.

Yellowstone Where the Concept of National Parks Started

Old Faithful Inn

Afterwards, the Old Faithful Visitor Education Centre explains the geology behind the world’s most famous geyser. Visitors can then easily hike the Upper Geyser Basin, home to around 60 percent of the world’s geysers.

Further north is the Norris Geyser Basin, where geological wonders like Artist Paint Pots, Roaring Mountain, and Steamboat Geyser are complemented by the indoor exhibits of two museums. Visitors can also explore the eerie Norris-Canyon Blowdown with its ghost trees, or fly fish for trout in the swift-flowing Gibson River.

Yellowstone Where the Concept of National Parks Started

Colourful hot spring

Grand Prismatic Spring

Yellowstone’s largest hot spring, is in the Midway Geyser Basin and is accessible by boardwalk. It is a large turquoise pool ringed with orange and yellow with steam coming off the surface. Temperatures around the pool are high, especially during the summer. The rainbow colours are best viewed from a height so take a slightly strenuous hike up the Midway Bluff trailfor the perfect vantage point.

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

This is an immense multicoloured trench that stretches 38 kilometres and rises as much as 360 metres above the Yellowstone River. Trails lead to outstanding viewpoints like Artist’s Point on the south rim and Lookout Point on the north rim, for great views of the 100-metre-high Lower Yellowstone Falls. The canyon is marked by steep white-and-yellow cliffs and its vents and spires reveal thermal activity that continues unabated underground.

Yellowstone Where the Concept of National Parks Started

Lower Yellowstone Falls

Yellowstone Lake

The largest high-altitude lake in North America offers the park’s best opportunities for boating, fishing, and waterfront camping but it is too cold for swimming. There are rental boats, guided fishing charters, and scenic lake cruises, as well as shuttle services to remote campsites along the 141-mile lake shore.

Lamar Valley

This is the best place in Yellowstone to get a glimpse of the wolves that have been reintroduced to the park. Bison and elk also frequent the valley with its lush grasslands.

Here and elsewhere there is abundant wildlife, including elk, bison, grizzlies, black bear, pronghorn antelope, moose, and bighorn sheep. March and April are the best months to view bear, while the winter months are best for wolves and bighorn sheep. Elk, moose, bison, and mountain goats can be spotted during the summer months.

You are guaranteed to see bison. The park’s herd dwindled to just 23 animals during the late 19th century, but the population later bounced back thanks to more effective protection and now totals roughly 5,500.

Surrounded by mountain towns immediately to the north, east, and west, and bordered by Grand Teton National Park to the south, there is plenty to do not only within, but also around the park.

Accommodation

These hotels provide accommodation in the park. Old Faithful Inn is the world’s largest log structure with restaurants, bars and shop. Lake Yellowstone Hotel with its Greek Revival facade is the park’s oldest hotel overlooking the lake. Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel is a classic motor lodge with motel-style rooms and cabins, restaurant, shop, and map room.

The park has 12 developed campgrounds, including Mammoth, Canyon, and Grant Village.

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Yellowstone Where the Concept of National Parks Started
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Len Rutledge

Len Rutledge has been travel writing for 40 years. During that time he has written thousands of newspaper articles, numerous magazine pieces, more than a thousand web reviews and around 50 travel guide books.He has worked with Pelican Publishing, Viking Penguin, Berlitz, the Rough Guide, and the Nile Guide amongst others.

Along the way, he has started a newspaper, a travel magazine, a Visitor and TV Guide, and completed a PhD in tourism. His travels have taken him to more than 100 countries and his writings have collected a PATA award, an ASEAN award, an IgoUgo Hall of Fame award, and other recognition.

He is the author of the Experience Guidebook series which currently includes Experience Thailand, Experience Norway, Experience Northern Italy, Experience Myanmar, Experience Istanbul, Experience Singapore, Experience Melbourne, and Experience Ireland. They are available as ebooks or paperbacks from amazon.com

Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany

Rothenburg ob der Tauber is a highlight on Germany’s Romantic Road

Even with crowds, overpriced souvenirs, and a rather ordinary, highly-promoted pastry specialty called Schneeball, Rothenburg is still an absolute treasure.

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In the Middle Ages, Rothenburg was Germany’s second-largest city, Today, it’s the country’s most exciting medieval town, enjoying tremendous popularity with tourists. There’s a thousand years of history packed within the walls that completely surround the Old Town. This is the area that you won’t want to leave.

The ancient town of turreted fortifications and winding cobblestone streets in some ways feels more like something out of a Disney film. It’s touristy, but if you want it to, it somehow manages to remain genuine.

A walking tour helps bring the Old Town alive. To learn something of Rothenburg’s history, I suggest you take the tour offered by the town’s tourist office in Market Square. Then for a thoroughly fun hour, take the Night Watchman’s Tour and follow his black cape and broad-brimmed hat as he points out places of interest and explains their place in Rothenburg’s history in a unique entertaining style.

 Specific attractions in Rothenburg

Images: Phensri Rutledge

Walking the streets of the town without a plan is my favourite thing to do here and I could spend hours just doing this but there are a few specific attractions to see. For views and a great medieval feeling, walk the top of the wall that surrounds the Old Town. This is at its most attractive before breakfast or at sunset when it is almost deserted. You can walk most of the 1.5 kilometres but this would have taken me days because I found every metre so fascinating.

 St. Jakob’s Church, with its twin towers rising above most of the town, contains a must-see art treasure: a glorious 500-year-old wooden altarpiece depicting the Biblical scenes of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, the Last Supper, and the Mount of Olives. Also here is the Twelve Apostles Altar, and some lovely stained-glass windows.

Rising above the market square and the town hall stands the bell tower, the tallest building in Rothenburg. It offers a panoramic view of the entire town and the surrounding Tauber Valley. We climbed countless steps and then found the area at the top to be very confined for the 20 or so people allowed up there at the one time.

The Puppen & Spielzeug Museum has the largest doll and toy collection in Germany, model trains, stuffed animals, and other toys from the past 200 years. The most popular museum is the Kriminalmuseum. Here we found 10,000 grisly devices include iron maidens, a spike-covered chair, and much more over three floors.

History is on display everywhere in the half-timbered gables and the grooves of centuries of horse carts in the old cobbled streets. This gradually seeps into your being as you enjoy the Old Town. It is difficult to describe but easily felt.

The classic image which appears in countless promotion items for Rothenburg, is of the distinctive yellow half-timbered house sitting between the Siebers Tower and the Kobolzeller Gate. With its shutters, colourful flower boxes, and a small fountain at the front, it is picture-perfect. My wife waited until the crowds had gone then snapped away until after the sun went down.

Käthe Wohlfahrt, the world-famous Christmas store, is the home of the German Christmas Museum. It houses a permanent collection of ornaments, decorations, toys and artefacts. We learned about German Christmas traditions and history, including the fact that Germany invented the Christmas tree, prior to making our way through several rooms of exhibits.

Just outside town is an historic medieval double road bridge that spans the Tauber Valley. the structure was blown up by German troops in World War II but it was rebuilt and reopened in 1956.

When to visit

Images: Phensri Rutledge

Rothenburg is great to visit anytime but there are a few special occasions. Every June at Pentecost, the city becomes a stage reflecting the events of the devastating 30 Years War (1618–1648) between Catholic and Reformation Protestant forces which ravaged central Europe. The 400-year anniversary of the outbreak of war was celebrated last year.

Then there is the Imperial City Festival in September, when historical groups perform music, there is a knights’ encampment in front of the town’s gates, and you will be able to see the royal court in their colourful attire. The impressive program also includes two evenings of fireworks and public theatrical productions on Market Square.

Rothenburg hosts one of the most popular Christmas markets in Germany from the end of November to Christmas. This is the busiest time of year for this little town.

Is Rothenburg real?

Images: Phensri Rutledge

I have no doubt that Rothenburg has gone to great lengths to maintain a certain vibe and match tourist expectations. It is certainly effective in attracting hordes of tourists. This could be off-putting if you are looking for a quaint village away from the crowds, but you should still go. Instead of visiting during the middle of the day when the crowds are heavy, go in the late afternoon and evening and stay for the night. By 7 p.m. the streets are virtually empty.

Even with crowds, overpriced souvenirs, and a rather ordinary, highly-promoted pastry specialty called Schneeball, Rothenburg is still an absolute treasure. This was my third visit but I will certainly go back again.

There are non-stop and one-stop flights to Frankfurt, Germany from Johannesburg and one-stop flights from Cape Town. There are trains from Frankfurt Airport which require one change and take about three hours.

South African passport holders require a short-term tourist visa (Schengen visa) to enter the country, but the visa application process is a relatively painless one! You will need to apply at one of the Intergate Visalink Visa Application Centres in South Africa.

Exploring Transylvania for signs of Dracula

Exploring Transylvania for signs of Dracula

Published by Pique News Magazine October 30 2019
Bran Castle in Brașov, Romania - SHUTTERSTOCK

  • Bran Castle in Brașov, Romania

WE ARE DRIVING along narrow, winding roads through dense, dark, ancient forests and over steep mountain passes through the Carpathian Mountains in Transylvania.

Tales of the supernatural have featured in Romanian folklore for centuries and the countryside seems so right for this that we now find it easy to be caught up in the Dracula story. Certainly, Transylvania evokes powerful images of vampires and Gothic castles.

We are here now because we want to visit some sites associated with Dracula and try to sort legend from truth. When Irish writer Bram Stoker wrote his famous novel, he started something outside the country which at first was shunned by the locals but is now accepted by many for what it is; a great tourist attraction.

Count Dracula, a fictional character in the Stoker novel, was inspired by one of the best-known figures of Romanian history, Vlad Dracula, nicknamed Vlad the Impaler, who was the ruler of the Romanian province of Walachia in the mid 1400s. As we travel around, we find some physical evidence and hear many stories about him, which have vague connections with the Count.

The city of Sighisoara is at the heart of the Count Dracula legends. This was founded in the 12th century by Transylvanian Saxons, but it’s Dracula that has put the town on the map with today’s visitors. Designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, the town is full of cobbled streets and ornate churches. We climb the 175-step wooden staircase leading up to the Church on the Hill, following the steps of Saxon churchgoers, students, and visitors since it was built in 1642.

Sighisoara is the birthplace of Vlad Dracula. You can visit his birth home which is now a restaurant and museum. As we climb the narrow stairs to the museum in almost complete darkness, something falls on my neck causing goose bumps all over my body. Emerging into a darkened room we come face to face with a vampire in a coffin. As we approach, his arm springs out causing muffled screams from several visitors. For one second I almost believe in vampires.

Not too many people can call vampire acting their full-time occupation!

The birthplace of Vlad the Impaler - PHOTO BY PHRENSI RUTLEDGE

  • PHOTO BY PHENSRI RUTLEDGE
  • The birthplace of Vlad the Impaler

Brașov is the largest city in this part of Romania. It is fringed by the Southern Carpathian Mountains and resplendent with glorious architecture and historical attractions. It was founded by Teutonic Knights in 1211 on an ancient site and was settled by the Saxons as one of their seven walled citadels.

We stroll around the old Town Hall Square where we admire colourfully painted and ornately trimmed baroque structures. We go inside the Black Church, the largest gothic church in Romania, named for damage caused by the Great Brașov Fire of 1689, when flames and smoke blackened its walls. The interior is impressive and it houses one of the largest pipe organs in Eastern Europe.

Part of the defensive wall, once 13-metres-high, two-metres-thick, and over three-kilometres-long, can still be seen today. So too can Rope Street, the narrowest street in Europe, at just 1.3-metres wide.

The relationship between Vlad Dracula and Brașov was problematic over a number of years. In 1460 he invaded southern Transylvania and destroyed the suburbs of Brașov, ordering the impalement of all men and women who had been captured. It is said that Brașov has the distinction of seeing more stakes bearing Dracula’s victims than any other place. Fortunately, there is no evidence of this today.

CLICK TO ENLARGEBrașov, Romania - PHOTO BY PHRENSI RUTLEDGE

  • PHOTO BY PHENSRI RUTLEDGE
  • Brașov, Romania

Sibiu is the other city in this region. The heart of the city is its medieval centre complete with open squares, stone wall defences, towers, and centuries-old buildings and churches. Staircases link the Lower Town with its small, colourful houses and the Upper Town, which was inside the main fortifications.

The Council Tower dates back to the late 1500s and sits in the passageway between the Big Square and Small Square. We climb the stairs for fantastic views overlooking the city. We notice the houses with eyes. They’re actually ventilation windows, however, throughout periods of political strife, locals believed they were being watched by the “eyes” to ensure they were not causing trouble.

Sibiu, Romania - PHOTO BY PHRENSI RUTLEDGE

  • PHOTO BY PHENSRI RUTLEDGE
  • Sibiu, Romania

From 1451 to 1456 Vlad Dracula lived in Sibiu yet just four years later he mercilessly raided this region and killed, impaled and tortured 10,000 of his former fellow citizens and neighbours. I wonder if Count Dracula would be impressed.

Perched on top of an 80-metre-high rock, Bran Castle owes its fame to its imposing towers and turrets as well as to being the castle Stoker used in his book.

Although Stoker never visited Transylvania, his book has encouraged persistent myths that this was once the home of Vlad Dracula. While the association with Dracula is dubious, the castle continues to hold a strong attraction for all fans of the Count, so naturally we have to visit.

Narrow winding stairways and torturous passages lead through some 60 timbered rooms. It’s easy to tour the castle on your own, but expect to spend several hours doing so and keep in mind there are always crowds. The castle is in private hands and the owners have, fortunately, resisted the temptation to add any Dracula features here.

While Bran Castle is the spooky place that inspired Stoker’s tale, it’s really Poenari Fortress about two hours west that is considered to be the real Dracula’s Castle. Poenari Castle was erected around the beginning of the 13th century then later was abandoned and left in ruins. In the 15th century, Vlad the Impaler repaired and consolidated the structure perched high on a steep precipice of rock, making it one of his main fortresses.

The ruins of Poenari Fortress are all that are left today. If you decide to climb the 1,462 stairs, you’ll be able to touch pieces of the walls and towers that are still standing.

Did we find Dracula?

We encountered a make believe vampire and learned much about Vlad Dracula and his exploits. While vampires may not be real, there is no doubt that Stoker’s Dracula has become a powerful reminder of the rich and authentic Romanian folklore, and a great tourist attraction and money-spinner for the country today.

IF YOU GO:

There are one-stop flights from Vancouver to Bucharest the capital of Romania. Transylvania is about 200 km north of Bucharest. You can reach there on package tours, by train or by rental car.

Sibiu, Romania - PHOTO BY PHRENSI RUTLEDGE

  • PHOTO BY PHENSRI RUTLEDGE
  • Sibiu, Romania

Zion National Park on i2Mag

The Wonder Of America’s Zion National Park

Posted on Jul 17 2019 

Spellbinding red-rock desert, dramatic canyons and high-altitude forests are just a few of the wonders to discover in Zion National Park in the state of Utah, USA. A visit last month showed me a red-rock wonderland created by wind, water, and snow that is almost too spectacular to believe.

Zion is the third most visited park in the USA for very good reason. It is large, accessible and downright dramatic. The few hours I spent in the park were clearly not enough. It deserves several days of your time.

Human use of the area dates back to at least 6,000 B.C. but it was not known outside the local area until Mormon pioneers arriving in the area in the 1860s. They were so overwhelmed by the natural beauty of Zion Canyon and its surroundings that they named it after the Old Testament name for the city of Jerusalem.

In 1863, Issac Behunin built the first log cabin in Zion Canyon, near the location of the present Zion Lodge. Soon the canyon was dotted with other homesteads but these struggled to survive and were eventually abandoned.

The park is centred on Zion Canyon—24 kilometres long and almost 1,000 metres deep in places. The old riverside town of Springdale is the park’s primary gateway. The main street is flanked by scores of hotels, restaurants, art galleries, and shops, as well as outfitters and tour operators that arrange adventure activities in and around the park.

Pedestrian and vehicle bridges connect Springdale with the park Visitor Centre on the other side of the Virgin River. In addition to exhibits and information, the visitor centre is the southern terminus of the Zion National Park Shuttle, which is the only way to reach the heart of the canyon during summer when visitation peaks.

The first stop on the shuttle route is the Zion Human History Museum, which details the heritage of Native Americans and Mormon pioneers in the region. Entering the canyon, the shuttle makes seven stops, including historic Zion Lodge, a classic national park lodging opened in 1927. The park’s most celebrated landmark—the Great White Throne, a 500-metre-high rock face—can be seen from numerous places along the canyon road.

The road and shuttle route ends inside the Temple of Sinawava, a colossal natural amphitheatre. A riverside path continues to the Narrows, where the three-hundred metres-high canyon walls are sometimes just 7 to 10 metres apart.

I found Zion Canyon epic, and it is full of off-the-beaten path adventures and hidden gems, perfect for seeking out during the crowded summer high season. There are also plenty of activities other than hiking. You can choose between rock climbing and rappelling, helicopter and 4×4 tours, guided hikes along the Narrows, and tubing on the Virgin River downstream from the park.

Zion, is not without its myths and legends. The major one is that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid built a cabin hide-out in Zion Canyon but there is no evidence of this. Though Cassidy grew up in nearby Circleville, Utah, virtually all of his train and bank robberies occurred out of state, where quick hide-outs were necessary.

The park’s ecosystems support about 800 native plant species, including more flowers than anywhere else in Utah. With an elevation change of about 1,500 metres, a myriad of habitats and species thrive here. Plants vary, as fir, ponderosa pine, and aspen prefer the snowy high-country winters, while other plants flourish in the desert heat. Likewise, animal life is diverse. Tiny pinon mice, golden eagles, California condors, Mexican spotted owls, deer, bighorn sheep and mountain lions are all found in the park but I saw only a few of these.

Accommodation and eating

Historic Zion Lodge is the only in-park lodging at Zion National Park and it fills up fast. Accommodation is in historic cabins with two double beds, full bath, gas log fireplace and private porch, and in hotel rooms. All rooms have air conditioning, phones, radio alarm clocks and hairdryers. There are also three campgrounds where reservations are recommended. There are dozens of hotels near Zion National Park, ranging from family-friendly hotels with pools to exquisite bed and breakfasts in Springdale.

Non-guests can eat at the year-round Red Rock Grill at Zion Lodge and enjoy spectacular views of the surroundings, while outdoor dining is available at the seasonal Castle Dome Cafe. Before or after touring the park, Springdale is the fuelling point for quick bites and leisurely meals.

Getting There

Zion National Park is located 75 kilometres northeast of St. George, 500 kilometres south of Salt Lake City and 250 kilometres northeast of Las Vegas, Nevada. Most visitors will arrive by car, either their own or a rental but there are bus tours available from Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

Images: Phensri Rutledge

About the Author
Len Rutledge

Len Rutledge is the author of the Experience Guide series to Thailand, Norway, Ireland,& Northern Italy, Myanmar, Singapore, India, Istanbul and Melbourne. Books are available as ebooks or paperbacks from https://amazon.com by typing in Len Rutledge in the search box & on that site.