© 2013 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.
In Part 1, we covered Ancient Civilizations and Old Sites and Religious Places and Artifacts.
Let's begin with England. Yes, it has Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, and many other fine royal residences, but, for my money, the place to spend your time is Hampton Court Palace. [In the summer season, ride at least one way on the Thames River.] Famous residents included Henry VIII and William and Mary. Don't miss the astronomical clock. I also highly recommend a visit to Dover Castle. Some 20 years ago, lots of more modern history has become public with the declassification of former secrets. [Think evacuation of Dunkirk in WWII.] Of course, the Tower of London is worth a stop as well. Scotland has its Holyrood Palace and Edinburgh Castle.
In Denmark, it was my great pleasure, several times, to tour Frederiksborg Castle, in Hillerød. Built on a small island in a lake, it gave me some great ideas for my next country home. In recent years, extensive restoration of gardens nearby was carried out. Hamlet's Castle in Helsingør is also worth a look.
In the Netherlands, I spent a great half-day at the palace of Het Loo. What really impressed me there were the gardens and extensive fountain and irrigation system.
On various trips to Asia, I spent time in a variety of royal places in Japan (Tokyo, Nara, and Kyoto, especially) and China (Beijing, the Imperial City). The long-reigning royal family of Thailand is very popular; every cab and every shop had a picture of the King and Queen.
Supposedly, when Walt Disney toured Bavaria, Germany, the sight of Neuschwanstein gave him the idea for Cinderella's Castle at Disneyland. If you read up a bit on the man who had this castle built, King Ludwig II, you'll find him rather interesting, not to mention eccentric! Another stunning residence of his is Linderhof. In the old Prussian Capital, Potsdam, the summer palace of Frederick II (The Great), Sanssoucci—without care—is definitely worth of a visit. The first time I visited the castle in Heidelberg I couldn't help but think how it has been crumbling longer than the Europeans had been in North America. (The length of history is relative, I guess.) This baroque town is well known as the setting for the operetta, The Student Prince. In 2000, when one of Europe's Culture Capitals was Weimar, I had the pleasure of visiting the palace of Duchess Anna Amalia. She introduced the guitar to Germany, and, as a result, her palace is now an internationally acclaimed guitar school, complete with concerts. The old library in town, named for her, is world famous. The palace of her son, Duke Carl August, is right in town.
If you are in the Czech Republic, do visit Prague Castle and also take the 30-minute train ride out to see Karlštejn Castle; however, don't go on the one day each week that it's closed (he says from experience).
In France, I stayed in Caen, Normandy, where William the Conqueror was based (and is buried). He built some fine churches there. [I must say that when I saw his tombstone, I was quite surprised to see that his name really wasn't William at all, but, Guillaume. In fact, I've seen it stated that the English name William didn't even exist back then. Anyway, while I stood by his graveside, I filled him in on how things had gone downhill in England since 1066. "Bill, you just wouldn't recognize the place!"] Although I've walked around the Palace of Versailles and toured the extensive gardens, I've yet to go inside.
During a 2-week stay in St. Petersburg, Russia, I dropped by the Winter Palace, to see how the Tsar used to live before his unfortunate "accident". (You might know his humble abode as The Hermitage Museum.)
The Hungarian capital, Budapest, really is a combination of the two cities, Buda and Pest, one each side of the River Danube (called Duna in Hungarian). Pretty tricky, hey! The impressive Buda Castle complex was home to the Hungarian kings.
Vienna, Austria, has too many beautiful royal buildings to name. I looked around a number of them as well as visiting the Lipizzaner Stallions' home, the Spanish Riding School, at Hofburg Palace.
The royal highlight along Croatia's Dalmatian Coast is the retirement palace complex of Roman Emperor Diocletian in Split.
Military-Related Places and Things
The fall of Singapore to the Japanese in World War II is depicted on Sentosa Island, the site of a British fortress, reachable from the mainland by cable car. [While the harbor was well defended, the Japanese had the audacity to attack overland!]
My first military museum was in Geneva, Switzerland, and had an impressive collection of crossbows, pikes, and such.
When I visited England's Windsor Castle with my 4-year-old son, he was stunned to not only find the moat without water, but it had a garden growing in it! As a result, he felt compelled to inform one of the uniformed attendants of the dangers of this oversight. The gentleman thanked him, but said that he was fairly sure an invasion was not imminent. In a basement of Edinburgh Castle stands the formidable cannon, Mons Meg. And outside, there is a guard-dog cemetery. If you have a half day to kill in London, drop by the Cabinet War Rooms to see where Churchill managed his end of WWII and where he sometimes slept.
I was visiting Brussels, Belgium, for the first time when I discovered that the famous battlefield, Waterloo, was just outside the city, so I went to have a look and climbed the Lion's Mound.
On a trip through England's County Kent, I decided to visit the location of the Battle of Hastings, where William the Conqueror hopped on over from Normandy in 1066 with a few of his close friends for some fun and games. I discovered that the battle did not actually take place in Hastings (which is on the coast), but some distance inland near the present-day town of Battle (hence Battle Abbey). The battlefield has remained undeveloped since 1066, and I toured it while listening to an audio guide, which reported on the battle from the perspectives of three different people: a Saxon soldier, a Norman Knight, and King Harold's wife who was supporting the medical people of her husband's army. On a separate trip, to Normandy, I saw the Bayonne Tapestry, which depicts the events leading up to the battle.
The Canadian War Museum in that country's capital, Ottawa, is rather new, tastefully done, and very informative.
On a motorhome trip around South Dakota, I dropped in at Ellsworth Air Force Base. At the time, it was an active Strategic Air Command (SAC) base for B52s and B1Bs. On a separate trip, to Arizona, I toured a (deactivated) Titan II missile silo near Tucson. Once the operators fired their missile, they had food, water, and air for 30 days in the underground bunker. While in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, I toured a naval ship next to one of Claire Chennault's Flying Tiger fighter planes. A tour of Honolulu, Hawaii's Pearl Harbor is sobering especially when one looks down at the USS Arizona from which oil is still bubbling up some 70 years after the attack. Aircraft carrier floating museums are berthed in San Diego and New York City, a US submarine is at Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco, and a German U-Boat is in the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. Fredericksburg, Texas, was the home of Fleet Admiral Chester William Nimitz, and it houses an extensive collection of WWII Pacific War museums. Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, is the location of the infamous American Civil War battle by the same name. Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, was the staging ground for John Brown's failed raid. And finally, the Little Big Horn battlefield was where the Native Americans gave General Custer and his troops a lesson.
One of the most moving experiences I've ever had was a visit to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park where the first atomic bomb was detonated several hundred feet off the ground, for maximum effect. The blast occurred directly above Hiroshima Peace Memorial (commonly called the A-Bomb Dome). The ironic thing is that not only was this dome one of only a few buildings in the area that was not completely destroyed, much money and effort has been spent since trying to keep it in its "half-destroyed" state for the tourists to look at. At the main museum ticket booth, as well as giving discounts to children, students, and pensioners, survivors of the blast were admitted free! Some compensation, huh?
My first visit to Berlin, Germany, was in 1999, and ever since then I have found it impossible to imagine what the city was like when it was divided. I've seen pieces of the Berlin Wall and walked or driven around stretches of where the wall ran. Checkpoint Charlie especially lacks the "real feel" as it's just a tourist attraction now. A few years ago, I toured a series of underground bunkers used by locals during WWII.
After WWI, the French decided to build a barrier to stop the Germans from invading in the future. The result was the very impressive, not to mention too expensive, Maginot Line, which, unfortunately, was never completed. In any event, The Germans made an end-run around it during WWII. C'est la vie! I stopped by to look at one of the tunnel sections on my way from Alsace to Mainz.
The harbor of Helsinki, Finland, is an impressive area. Until the Russian Revolution took place in 1917, Finland did not exist as a country. Prior to that, control of it alternated between Sweden and Russia. The islands just offshore were the home of a large, former military complex, Suomenlinna, complete with dry dock. A small military museum covers, among other things, the little-known Winter War with the Soviet Union in 1939–1940. A German submarine (part of German aid to Finland at that time) is open for tours.
Speak of naval disasters and you can probably think of any number of sea battles. The one to which I refer here is the (peacetime) sinking of the Vasa. According to Wikipedia, this exotic "Swedish warship [was] built 1626–1628. The ship foundered and sank after sailing less than a nautical mile into its maiden voyage on 10 August 1628." It has since been recovered and is preserved in its own museum in Stockholm. To be sure, it's an impressive ship. Too bad it had major design flaws.
While visiting a friend in northeast Germany, she took me on a daytrip to Usedom, the Baltic Sea island shared with Poland. This is the site of Peenemünde, where in WWII the V-2 rocket was developed and tested. The factory was mothballed by the Soviets when they invaded, so when it was opened as a museum many years later, it was pretty much as it had existed when it was active.
Drive around various parts of Western Europe and, eventually, you'll come across an American tank parked in a town square or roundabout, as a memorial to the Allied invasion of WWII. Two such places come to mind: Wiltz, Luxembourg, from the Battle of the Bulge, and Avranches, France, where Gen. George S. Patton rolled through.
Last, and certainly not least, are some war cemeteries. I've made frequent visits to Arlington National Cemetery here in Washington DC. It started as a place to bury Union soldiers during the Civil War, on land confiscated from Gen. Robert E. Lee, who just happened to be commander of the Southern Armies. Two Presidents are buried there, John F. Kennedy (along with his wife, Jacquie, and two infant children, and his brothers, Bobby and Teddy) and William Howard Taft, as is one of America's most decorated war heroes, Audie Murphy. The American Battle Monuments Commission is responsible for operating and maintaining permanent American military burial grounds in foreign countries. The first of these I visited was Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial where Gen. George S. Patton is buried. The second was the Netherlands American Cemetery, east of Maastricht. My third was Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, which overlooks Omaha Beach, site of one of the American landing beaches in the D-Day invasion of WWII.