Ettal Monastery: Stop to Stare and Stay to Shop

Ettal MonasteryI’d read about Ettal Monastery in a guidebook, but didn’t really put it on our itineary. However, as we were driving to the town of Oberammergau, we turned the bend, and there was the monastery in the middle of the road. We both looked at each other and said, “We have to see that!”.

 

Ettal Monastery was first constructed in 1331, by Ludwig the Bavarian, on his way back from his coronation as Holy Roman Emperor in Rome.   The newly crowned leader was bringing back a Madonna and child statue, Ettal Monasterywhen his horses supposedly stopped and genuflected on the monastery’s current site. The king took it as an omen and ordered the construction of a Benedictine abbey, where he installed the statue. In 1744, Ettal Monastery was destroyed in a fire, and a new Baroque abbey and minor basilica were built. Luckily, the statue survived, Ettal Monasteryand you can still see it in the church today. The basilica is absolutely breathtaking, and free to enter. The double-shelled dome is the work of Swiss architect Enrico Zuccalli, who was a student of Bernini, and the ornate decoration was completed by the stuccoist Josef Schmultzer and the sculptor Johan Baptist Straub. Ettal Monastery became the most important pilgrimage site in all of the Alps.

Today, the monks at Ettal Monastery carry out their religious duties as well as operating a brewery, distillery, dairy, publishing operation, and hotel.   They’re very Ettal Monasteryindustrious men! A visit to the gift shops (there are two across the street from each other) is an absolute must. There, you can purchase the fruits of the monks’ labors including their famous herbal liquor, beer, chocolate, tea, and fragrances. They also offer a wide variety of religious items and books. Any of these items would be incredibly thoughtful gifts or ways to remember your trip to Germany.

Don’t be like us; make Ettal Monastery a must on your itinerary. Ettal makes an easy stop on the way to Oberammergau, Mittenwald, Linderhof, or the Zugspitze. For more information on those locations, visit my guides:

 

 

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Oberammergau: A Fairy Tale of a Bavarian Town

OberammergauIn 1633, the residents of Oberammergau feared that their Alpine town would be destroyed by either the plague or the devastation of the Thirty Years War. Townspeople made a promise to their god that if he spared Oberammergau from destruction, they would put on and perform in a play about the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ every decade thereafter. Today, the residents of the town are still living up to their end of the bargain by staging an elaborate passion play every ten years. However, a visit to Oberammergau is an event in itself at any time of year.

 

Oberammergau

Pilatus House, named for painted scenes of Jesus and Pontius Pilate

The major attraction in Oberammergau is the dozens of painted houses. As a demonstration of their piety and affluence, wealthy residents had their homes painted, with scenes of religious imagery and fairy tale stories, in a fresco technique known as Luftlmalerei. While these picturesque abodes are located all throughout Oberammergau, the most amusing are the “Little Red Riding House” and the “Hansel and Gretel House”. They’re located on Ettaler Strausse, a short walk out of town, past the blinking traffic light.

 

Oberammergau

A visit to Oberammergau isn’t complete, with a stop in the famous Kathe Wohlfahrt Christmas stores! There are two right in the center of town.

As you make you way through the idyllic streets and local shops, you’ll find that Oberammergau is dominated by woodworkers. The region has no industry and little farming, but it does have an abundance of trees, making woodcarving a profitable handicraft. While you can purchase anything from nutcrackers, to gnomes, to salt and pepper shakers, carvings of a religious nature are most common. In the past, pilgrims, destined for nearby Ettal Monastery, were eager to purchase spiritual items, and the locals were happy to oblige. If you’d like to see woodcarvers at work, head over to Pilatus House, at Ludwig-Thoma-Starsse 10, where in addition to browsing through the shop, you can watch the artisans and painters demonstrating their craft.

 

If you’re not in Oberammergau at the time of the passion play, consider yourself lucky because you probably wouldn’t have been able to find a room or obtain tickets, since the former are scarce and extravagantly priced at that time and the latter sell out years in advance. However, you can still get a sense of the spectacle with a visit to the Oberammergau Musuem, which shows a ten minute film about the play, in addition to housing exhibits on regional woodworking and on local Roman history. Included in your Oberammergaucost of admission to the museum is a ticket to enter the actual Passion Play Theater (Festspielhaus), which features displays about the play and gives you am opportunity to see the combination indoor/outdoor auditorium with its dramatic alpine backdrop.

 

Oberammergau makes an ideal home base for exploring the Bavarian Alps. The dreamy village of Mittenwald, the Zugspitze, an Alpine coaster, Linderhof, and Ettal Monastery are all easy day trips from town. On the other hand, if you’re based in Fussen, Oberammergau is a worthwhile stop on a day trip to any of the previously mentioned destinations.

See my other guides to other nearby destinations:

 

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Mittenwald: Bavaria’s Prettiest Alpine Village

Mittenwald Germany

Many claim that Mittenwald is the prettiest village in Bavaria, and I’m not one to disagree! Mittenwald is a dreamy place of painted houses and chalets located in a jaw-dropping Alpine setting. In this town, no matter where you look, you’ll be oooing and ahhhing at the natural and manmade splendors.

 

The village of Mittenwald may be most known for its painted houses, many of which depict religious scenes and symbolism. These were the homes of affluent merchants who, by painting their houses, were showing off theMittenwald Germany wealth that they made by transporting goods along a transalpine trade route from Venice, through a pass in the Alps, up to Munich. Most of this trade was moved via rafts on canals, and you can see the reminders of these waterways throughout town. By the end of the 17th century, trade routes had shifted, and Mittenwald was left as a sleepy village, preserved for posterity. Today, many of these painted houses are inns, b&bs, and cafes, as Mittenwald is now dominated by the tourist trade.

 

Mittenwald GermanyMittenwald is also known as a center of the violin-making industry. With a tradition dating back to 1707, the village’s location made it the perfect place for the fabrication of these stringed instruments.   The high altitude of the mountains provided tone wood, and Mittenwald’s position along trade routes brought contact with the international world and the instrument-making experts of northern Italy. A violin-making school was established in town by the king of Bavaria, and visitors can still tour the violin museum and several violin shops scattered throughout the village.  If you stop into any of them, you’ll likely be able to see the owners creating their world-reknown instruments.

 

A visit to Mittenwald isn’t about seeing the sites but rather slowing down the pace of life to enjoy an ice cream in the Mittenwald Germanymain park, take in the omnipresent Alpine scenery, meander through the quaint shops, and enjoy the local Bavarian food in a canal-side cafe.  Everything about Mittenwald screams “relax”, but the only actual screaming done here is, perhaps, by the violins of  novice musicians.

 

Mittenwald makes an easy day trip from Fussen or from Oberammergau.  As you curve your way through the mountains and forests to Mittenwald, you can make an easy stop at the stunning Ettal Monastery, to visit the church and purchase some of the monk-made products in their extensive gift shop.

See my guides to other nearby destinations:

 

 

 

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Clue Live Boston! A Sleuth Murder Mystery Scavenger Hunt

On a Friday night, we’re racing through the streets of Boston trying to gather evidence and interrogate witnesses to find out who killed Mr. Body in what room and with that weapon. Sound familiar? If you love mysteries or the game and movie Clue, then you’ll love Clue Live Boston: the Sleuth Murder Mystery Scavenger Hunt!

 

My friends and I, who composed a team, had two hours to figure out clues to locations, around Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market in downtown Boston, where we could find and interrogate characters from the board game and movie Clue. By completing their challenges, they revealed critical information to help solve the whodunit. Working together was an absolute must and time was of the essence. After all, were competing against other teams to solve the mystery! We received bonus clues for taking pictures of legendary and lesser known landmarks, monuments, and statues. We were even can able to bribe Clue characters, to reveal additional information, and other teams, to see what they had learned!

 

Will it be Miss Scarlett in the kitchen with the wrench, or Professor Plumb in the conservatory with the revolver? Clue Live Boston is a fast-paced, family friendly, and utterly enjoyable evening in which you and your friends get to play detective and immerse yourself in the game and movie. Do you have what it takes to solve the mystery?

 

The Sleuth Murder Mystery Scavenger Hunt (Clue Live Boston) is a production of Head First Events. To find out more information and purchase tickets, visit their website by clicking here.

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Canterbury Shaker Village: Community, Spirituality, and Innovation in the New Hampshire Hills

Canterbury Shaker VillageStepping onto the grounds of Canterbury Shaker Village, I was immediately struck by the beauty of the area and the sense of peace and relaxation that the site exudes.   By the time that I left, several hours later, I was amazed by the generosity, ingenuity, and spirituality of the Shakers. A trip to Canterbury Shaker Village is, by far, one of the best things to do in the state of New Hampshire.

 

Canterbury was the largest community of Shakers in New Hampshire. There’s so much to see in the village that every member of your family will find something intriguing to explore. The Shakers embraced and invented new technologies, and in your visit, you’ll see their steam engine-powered washing machines, a generator that powered some of the first electric lights in New Hampshire, and state-of-the-art innovations, of the time, including early telephones, radios, and TVs. You’ll see modern artisans recreating Shaker crafts including the making of period clothing, furniture, oval boxes, and brooms. Children will love exploring the old schoolhouse, running through gardens, and interacting with the farm animals.

 

Canterbury Shaker VillageWhen visiting Canterbury Shaker Village, I recommend taking one of the guided tours to get an introduction to the Shakers and an overview of daily life in the community. On the tour, you’ll see several building which aren’t open to the public (including the laundry whose many technological inventions made it one of the most interesting places in the village), and you’ll learn about Shaker beliefs and practices such as gender and racial equality, suffrage for women, communal living, pacifism, and support for the poor, orphans, and victims of natural disasters. After the tour, you’re free to explore the buildings on your own.   Visit the Dwelling House to ring the Paul Revere bell, marvel over the Shaker’s built-in furniture and incredible organizational system, check out the kitchen and bedrooms, and learn about how the Shakers even put on concerts and plays for the community!  Here are some other sites not to miss:

 

  • the recreated syrup shop, where the Shakers made cooking and medicinal syrups, canned goods, and jams and jellies
  • the Sisters’ Shop, where you can see staff making Shaker clothing and textiles
  • the Brethrens’ Shop, in which artisans show how the Shakers created furniture and wooden boxes
  • the Carpenters’ Shop, featuring broom and printmaking demonstrationsCanterbury Shaker Village

 

Consider ending your day with a visit to museum store where you can purchase artisan-created Shaker arts and crafts as gifts for others or mementos of your visit. If you get hungry during your time in the village, food is available from the Shaker Box Lunch, which is run by the local food co-operative and features many ingredients grown on-site. The bookies and baked goods were especially tasty!

 

Canterbury Shaker Village

I’ve been to many historical and religious sites, but I was, frankly, blow away by what I learned and saw at Canterbury Shaker Village.  The staff is incredibly friendly and knowledgeable, and they show pure joy in sharing their enthusiasm for the Shaker way of life. Ask questions about what they’re doing and what you’re seeing so that you, too, will be amazed by all that the Shakers were able to achieve and create.  To make the most out of your visit, check out their website for information about daily tours and special seasonal events.  Canterbury Shaker Village is the best thing to do in Concord, New Hampshire, if not the entire state!

 

 

 

Location

Canterbury Shaker Village is located at 288 Shaker Rd. in Canterbury, NH.  Click the map below for directions

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How to Get to Chichen Itza: Renting a Car and Driving There on Your Own

Rent a Car: Don’t Take a Bus Tour

Want to know how to get to Chichen Itza?  You don’t need to go on a big bus tour or hire a personal guide to see the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza. You can be a (f)ree (i)ndepednent (t)raveler and do it all on your own.   I’ll show you how!

How to Get to Chichen Itza: The Best Car Rental Company

The easiest way to get to Chichen Itza is by car, and if you’re flying into Cancun airport, the best place to rent a car is from Easy Way Rent A Car.  Many companies will play games with their rates and be deceptive about insurance, but that’s how to get to Chichen Itzanot the case with Easy Way. They guarantee their quotes and don’t charge an airport rental fee. They’ll also honor your credit card’s collision damage waiver insurance. Finally, they’ll pick you up at Cancun airport and even bring you back to  the airport at the end of your trip!  My partner and I did the research, and we used Easy Way.

Yes, Easy Way will pick you up at Cancun Airport. The directions will be on your confirmation email. Follow the directions carefully, and you’ll find that a representative will be waiting for you and holding a sign with your last name on it. They’ll take you in an air-conditioned van to their rental car center. It looks a little strange because it’s behind a gas station, but the company and its employees are incredibly professional and helpful.  You’ll also return the car at this location, and they’ll take you back to the airport in their van.  So convenient!

Car Rental in Mexico

Despite what you read online, renting a car in Mexico is absolutely nothing to worry about.   Here are some things that you’ll need to know:

  • Before you leave, check with your credit company to make sure they cover Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) in Mexico. Most good credit companies do, so you shouldn’t have to pay for that.  Print out a copy of the policy, bring it with you, and leave it in the rental car. The credit card company can email it to you or explain to you where it’s located on their website.

 

  • Mexico requires you to buy liability insurance.  They do not accept liability insurance from credit card how to get to Chichen Itzacompanies.  You can purchase it online when you reserve a car.

 

  • In countries outside the U.S., most cars are standard, so be sure to rent an automatic if you don’t know how to drive standard. You’ll pay more but having the freedom to explore Chichen Itza on your own before the crowds get there is well worth it!

 

 

Driving to Chichen Itza

Getting to Chichen Itza by car is simple. If you’re leaving from Cancun or Playa del Carmen, you’ll take highway 180D.   Check out the map.  However, it’s not like any highway that I’ve seen. There are no exits and absolutely nothing on it. Be sure that you have a full tank of gas before you get on the highway. There’s no place to get gasoline until you get to Chichen Itza.   There’s only one rest stop with bathrooms but no gas. So fill up before you leave.  It’s also a toll road, so bring cash to pay the toll.  Click on the map for directions.

 

 

 

Driving in Mexico is Easy

No matter what you read online, driving in Mexico is almost exactly like driving in the U.S. or Europe.  Here are some things you should know:

  • Obey the speed limit.  You’ll see countless Mexican cars fly by you, but don’t be tempted to speed. If you do, you run the risk of getting pulled over.

 

  • If you do get pulled over, which is very unlikely, be polite and ask for the ticket.  Do not give any money to the police officer. Just ask for the ticket.how to get to Chichen Itza

 

  • You might read online that Mexican gas stations will try to scam you. That’s also extremely unlikely. All gas stations, called Pemex, are run by the national government, and they have cracked down on and monitor stations. Here are some common sense things to be mindful of:
    • Make sure the pump starts at zero.
    • Watch the attendant pump your gas. You may want to get out of the car and watch.  Confirm the cost.
    • Pay in cash because most gas stations won’t accept a credit card.
    • Be sure you receive the correct change.
    • Be polite.
    • Speaking of cash, when you’re in another country, always take money out of an ATM. Never use a cash exchange place because they’ll charge you a commission.   Take out enough money for two or three days because your bank will likely charge you an ATM fee each time that you withdraw money. Hint: some credit unions and small banks (like mine) don’t charge for international ATMs.  Ask your bank before you leave.

 

  • Mexican roads have speed bumps called topes. Signs will warn you that you’re approaching speed bumps. Just slow down and go over them like you would any speed bump.

 

  • If you’re entering or exiting a Mexican city or town, you’ll usually see a police checkpoint booth with officers inside. They’re just monitoring for safety.

 

 

How to Get to Chichen Itza: Directions

For detailed directions on how to get to Chichen Itza, how to see it, and what to do there, see my post on What to Do in Chichen Itza.

 

How to get to Chichen Itza   What to do in Chichen Itza

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Things to Do in Tampa: The Henry Plant Victorian Hotel Museum

Henry Plant Museum

Minaret of the Henry Plant Museum

If you’re visiting Tampa, Florida, then you’re probably enjoying a vacation of fun in the sun. Did you know that people have been visiting Tampa for its wonderful tropical weather since the late 1800’s? You can see how these rich “high rollers” of the past spent their vacation days at a former opulent Victorian hotel that’s now a museum. And it’s right in the heart of downtown Tampa!  Visit the Henry Plant Museum.

 

From 1891 to 1932, Henry B. Plant, a railroad and steamship millionaire, operated a grand hotel for the rich in the new, rustic resort known as Tampa. Today, the former hotel is the Henry Plant Museum, where you can explore what it was like to stay at this sumptuous, state-of-the-art resort.  Henry Plant spent $2.5 million dollars to build the hotel and then traveled through Europe to collect $500,000 worth of furniture, antiques, and collectables to decorate it.  His hotel was the lap of luxury and featured splendors that were almost unknown at the time, including electricity, telephones, and private bathrooms in each room!  Visit a recreated suite and learn how guests were pampered and waited on hand and foot.  Wander through room after room of fascinating artifacts and displays about how visitors were lavishly entertained (by celebrities!), wined, and dined.  If you love Downtown Abbey, you’ll be in heaven at this hotel museum!

 

Henry Plant MuseumWhen you’re finished exploring the Henry Plant Museum, you can wander through the remainder of the hotel, which is now used by the University of Tampa as an administration building.  Don’t forget to take pictures of the glistening, metallic minarets and sweeping, exquisitely carved verandas. Sit for a spell, close your eyes, and imagine yourself as a Victorian gentleman or lady enjoying your tropical vacation. Now that’s the life!

 

Getting hungry? How about some Cuban food?   La Bamba is a Cuban restaurant frequented and beloved by locals. The food is as good and plentiful as eating in your Henry Plant Museumabuela’s kitchen. Don’t be put off by the exterior, which makes the restaurant appear to be an office building.   Grab a tray, get in line at the cafeteria-style kitchen, and allow the staff to explain to you the variety of meals available that day. Your taste buds will be as happy as your wallet, because meals are only $7.00!  Just be aware that his hidden gem is only open for breakfast and lunch (closing at 3:00), so fit it into your plans accordingly. You won’t be disappointed!

 

If you’d like to make a day out of your time in Tampa, I suggest visiting the 56-acre Lowry Park Zoo. In 2009, it was voted as the #1 family zoo in America by the readers of USA Today!   The zoo is divided into “park areas” including, but not limited to, Wallaroo Station, Safari Africa, primate world, Asian gardens, and the Florida wildlife center. There are also rides for kids and animal shows. My favorite part is feeding the giraffes!

 

Locations

 

The Henry B. Plant Museum is located at 401 West Kennedy Boulevard in Tampa, Florida. It’s located on the grounds of the University of Tampa. Free parking is available in the adjacent admissions lot (ask for a parking pass inside the museum).  Click on the map for directions.

La Bamba Restaurant is located at 4815 West Laurel Street in Tampa.  Click on the map for directions.

The Lowry Park Zoo is located at 1101 West Sligh Avenue in Tampa.  Click on the map for directions.

 

What to do in Tampa Florida

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