When friends and family come from afar to visit New York, I always make sure that I take them – as my guests – to see “Hamilton on Broadway. “ And I don’t spend a fortune – nor do I need to plan in advance. We usually just walk right in -- and no one is the wiser.
What do these great sites have in common: The Taj Mahal, the Pyramids and Castle St. Angelo? Great architecture all associated with the departed - departed on a one-way journey: Mumtaz Mahal, the Pharaohs and Roman Emperor Hadrian. They all reside in buildings you’re dying to see - all especially built to house and glorify the dead. While it’s difficult to visit living celebrities (unless you’re one yourself) - it’s much easier to visit dead ones. Let’s first take a look at the loners - one mausoleum per person.
(Photo: Royal Effigies (with original clothing) in Westminster Abbey's newly opened 'Queen's Jubilee Galleries, courtesy Visit Britain)
Over the years we’ve visited hundreds of museums, palaces, and churches - which is like looking at engagement rings’ gems without noticing their settings. The three most important things in real estate are “location, location, location.” In architecture – like jewelry – it’s “setting, setting, setting.” In fact, frequently the setting becomes the bigger attraction than the building it envelops – especially when the setting is a garden.
Getting out of line in Europe is visiting sites that don’t have lines in the first place. I was recently in Rome taping for my “Been There, HAVEN’T Done That” franchise - which started with this JAX FAX column nine years ago - spinning off to becoming “Been There, HAVEN’T Done That” - the radio show and TV Podcast. That broadcast media is now further spinning off becoming “Been There, HAVEN’T Done That” Tours - personally taking tourists to places we’ve visited in JAX FAX, as well as other great unknown sites in some of the 117 other countries I’ve visited.
My last travel column was “Dream Castles” - three castles that claim to be the inspiration for Disney’s Sleeping’s Beauty Castle - the place where the heroine slept for 100 years, awakening not looking a day older. (And she was awakened by her prince - not her plastic surgeon.) Let’s journey from “Dream Castles” to “Dream Towns” - from Princesses - who have awakened intact after sleeping for 100 years - to towns that are intact after sleeping for hundreds of years and even millennia. These towns frozen in time are not fairytales - but exist all over the world.
Visiting Disney amusement parks came late in my life, visiting Europe came much earlier. Like many children I pestered my parents to take me to Walt Disney World during Christmas break. Surprising me they said, “We’re finally taking you to see Sleeping Beauty’s castle.” And they did - the castle in France’s Loire Valley, which inspired Charles Perrault to write “The Sleeping Beauty” fairytale, which in the 20th century became full-length musical Disney animation movies - and 21st century movies. (My parents even saved money traveling to Europe off-season instead of more expensive Walt Disney World, high season.)
If you’ve been to London, Paris, Rome, Lisbon, St. Petersburg, Berlin, New Delhi, Kyoto, Shanghai, Philadelphia, Washington, DC - and even smaller cities such as Edinburgh, Bath, Versailles, Williamsburg, VA, Savannah, you’ve probably already vacationed in a planned city (or a re-planned city) without even realizing it. In addition, there are many fantastic, totally planned cities (from the ground up) sadly unknown even to the most sophisticated travelers, such as Karlsruhe (Germany), Zamosc (Poland), Richelieu (France).
The 18th century should be known as the “Century of the European Palace Opera House.” Since many operas were commissioned by royalty, it’s only logical that they’d be performed in their backyard - or in their backyard theaters - royal palace opera houses. Many tourists spend an entire day in palace towns such as Versailles or Potsdam (near Berlin). Why not spend the evening, too, visiting the palace’s opera house for an evening performance?
Let’s take a quick culinary trip around the world to see the most popular national restaurant on all six continents - and there’s no better month for this tour than March. (Keep reading and you’ll see why.)
In 2001, I created a TV travel series, Location Vacation - filming where movies were filmed around the world. While it’s not yet coming to TV, it’s coming as a segment of my weekly “Been There, HAVEN’T Done That” radio show on the Salem Radio Network. (Yes, it’s based on this eponymous JAX FAX travel column, since 2010.)