As I said in PART ONE of this series, you have probably never heard of these far away places with strange sounding names that hover below the average traveler’s radar. However, trust me…once you have been there you will never forget them.
Once again, let’s have some fun and test your knowledge of geography. Before you read beyond the name of each place, see if you can name what country it is in. The country’s name is included somewhere in the text that follows each name!
SZENTENDRE: A cruise along the Danube Bend, the most scenic stretch of the Danube River takes you to the town of Szentendre, Hungary. Just north of Budapest, Szentendre is home to the fabulous Margit Kovács Ceramic Museum, It is also the best place to buy paprika and Helia-D, the magical face and eye creams in the little black glass jars…cheaper than in Budapest, and less than in the US.
|TOWN SQUARE IN SZENTENDRE|
In the port town of Visegrad, the 13th-century medieval citadel, originally built to protect the Danube valley, looms over the town. The Renaissance Restaurant is a fun place that takes tourists 500-years back in time and fills their hand-made crockery pots with down-home Hungarian food. This theme restaurant, furnished in medieval renaissance style, brings a new meaning to the phrase "guest is the king”.
|GUESTS ARE KINGS AT THE RENAISSANCE RESTAURANT|
TAORMINA: Taormina is a charming medieval town precariously perched atop cactus-clad cliffs on the isle of Sicily. With Mt. Etna, Europe’s largest active volcano, as a backdrop, 3rd-century B.C. Greeks built the still-standing Greek Theater (Teatro Greco). In the 2nd-century A.D. the Romans rebuilt this impressive theater, the second largest in Sicily.
|TEATRO GRECO IN TAORMINA|
The historic Belmond Grand Hotel Timeo is the premier hotel of Taormina. Adjacent to the Greek Theater, the hotel dates back to 1873. Lunch on the exquisite terrace, with the magical background of Mt. Etna, is a delightful treat.
|THE PLACE FOR A SICILIAN LUNCH WITH A VIEW|
FLAM: In Flam, a tranquil Norwegian village dwarfed by towering mountain peaks,I boarded the Flam Train to begin an overland adventure to the port of Gudvangen. One of the world’s most remarkably engineered railway lines, it zig-zags its way far above the sea.
Lunch in the tiny town of Voss was followed by a visit to the Folk Museum for a fascinating step back in time. Americans may be familiar with the Norwegian-based Voss bottled water. However, contrary to popular belief, the water is not bottled in the municipality of Voss, which is more than 250 miles from the actual bottling site. Continuing on past Tvinde Falls and Oppheim Lake we arrived at the Stalheim Hotel perched on a cliff face with thundering waterfalls cascading over 1500 feet to the valley floor below. Descending the Stalheims-kleivene, Norway’s steepest road, we arrived at Gudvangen where I embarked on Crystal Symphony, after she had cruised from Flam during our overland adventure. Flam, and the fjords, was a fabulous finale for Norway.
|SOD ROOF HOUSE IN VOSS|
FUNCHAL: The sub-tropical island of Madeira is part of the Portuguese archipelago that hugs the North Atlantic Ocean 400 miles west of North Africa. This flower-filled island of volcanic origin is a magical meld of Europe and the tropics. The beauty of nature is harmoniously contrasted with the cosmopolitan throb of Funchal, the capital of Madeira. No visit to Funchal would be complete without going up to Monte, to ride (or just watch) the famous wicker toboggans. The Monte toboggan is a wicker basket assembled on an iron frame with wooden runners. It carries two passengers and is controlled by ropes and manpower. Two men, traditionally decked out in white cotton clothes and Madeira-emblazoned straw hats, and using their rubber-soled boots as brakes, pull and push the toboggan down the winding, narrow streets at speeds of up to 30 miles per hour.
|THE MONTE TOBOGGAN|
Twenty-five miles north of Funchal is Santana, the village famous for its A-framed, thatched-roofed, cottges called palheiros. Parque Tematico da Madeira (Tematico Park), opened in October 2004, is called a Theme Park, but in no way does it resemble a Disney Park. With no amusement rides, this park depicts the history, culture, and traditions of the people of Madeira in pavilions and open-air spaces.
|TOBAGGON DRIVER’S HAT…A FUN SCULPTURE AT TEMATICO PARK|
WATERFORD: The city of Waterford is a bustling maritime city with an historic Viking Heart. Vikings, as well as other eager invaders who followed them, left their mark in the history and mystery of this Irish city. The city’s name comes from the Norse word ‘Vadrefjord’. Reginald’s Tower, dating from 1003, houses a city museum and the charter roll of Richard II.
|THATCHED ROOFED COTTAGE IN COUNTY WATERFORD|
What would a trip to Waterford (also known as Crystal City) be without paying a visit to the Waterford Crystal Factory? For two centuries, the city of Waterford has produced some of the world’s finest crystal. In 1783, George and William Penrose founded the Waterford Glass House, promising to make crystal in “as fine a quality as any in Europe.” A tour of the facility features the world’s largest display of Waterford crystal and gift items that range in price from two to six figures. You can purchase a crystal ring holder for approximately $25, a crystal grandfather clock for $75,000 or an 11-cluster crystal chandelier for $175,000. Of greatest interest is a scaled-down replica of the Millennium Ball produced for the 1999-2000 New Years Millennium Celebration on Times Square. It took forty craftsmen six months to produce the 2-ton, 504-panel Millennium Ball that was the largest project ever undertaken by Waterford.
|THE MAKING OF A WATERFORD MASTERPIECE|
MELK: Perched on a bluff over the Danube, Melk, Austria is most renowned for its ornate Benedictine Abbey. Said to be one of the most magnificent Baroque structures in Austria, the Abbey boast of an exquisite chapel, and an extensive Baroque library with 85,000 rare books.
|LIBRARY CONTAINING 85,000 RARE BOOKS|
The current Melk Abbey, designed by architect Jakob Prandtauer, was built between 1702 and 1736. It has 365 windows (one for each day of the year) and is still used by Benedictine monks
|THE PRELATE’S COURTYARD OF THE MELK ABBEY|
TEXT AND PHOTOS by JANET STEINBERG
STEINBERG is the winner of 43 national Travel Writer Awards. She is also a Travel Consultant with The Travel Authority in Cincinnati, Ohio.