Europe For The Senses

Author/Photographer Vicki Liston blogs on her book and some interesting places she's traveled. "Europe for the Senses - A Photographic Journal" was published under the name 'Vicki Landes'.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Monrepos Castle: Ludwigsburg’s Silent Charmer

The exquisite baroque Residence Castle steals the thunder in the town of Ludwigsburg, Germany. Its proud and stately demeanor vies any other historical building in the area. However, the quiet little Schloss Monrepos sits on the outskirts of town – and proves to be just as charming.

Monrepos is a ‘newer’ castle, dating back to the 18th century. The delicate rococo facade cheerfully greets the visitor as they enter the grounds and the grand double staircase is an elegant focal point. In fact, many brides can be seen using this spot for their wedding photographs. The appeal of the castle is actually in back, where the stairs descend and dip their cold toes into the quiet lake. Swans and ducks keep the stone statues company as they guard this rear access to the palace.

The castle itself is actually privately owned and closed to the public but that doesn’t diminish the allure. Instead of touring the inside, visitors can stroll the expansive grounds or sit and enjoy the scenery. Want to get the best view? Rent a paddleboat and set out to explore the dream-like lake. Little islands anchor trees that hang over the water creating enchanting tunnels of foliage – perfect for escaping the hot sun or a misting rain. The lake has a calming sense about it, leaving the boater with only the splashing sounds of paddling as they watch the ripples lap at the castle steps. Worked up an appetite yet? Visit the kiosk near the entrance to the grounds for authentic German snacks and enjoy them on a blanket underneath the verdant trees.

Monrepos Castle begs to be seen as it competes with the regal Residence Castle nearby but its undisturbed character gives it its charm. Whether looking for a fresh, lesser-known place to photograph or simply needing a quiet spot to reflect and chat with the ducks, this modest palace will captivate and satisfy.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Release of third book trailer!

The EFTS summer book trailer has been released! See it on You Tube at:

Pompeii: A City of Death Lives On

Amid the hardened ash and pumice of a two-thousand year old disaster lies a city so perfectly preserved, it sparks the imagination of even the most indifferent visitor. Pompeii has become more of a living museum than an excavation site since its discovery in the 1700s. Millions flock to the ancient Italian city to explore this pristine time capsule that has taken over 250 years to be slowly and delicately uncovered.

It takes at least one full day to be able to truly take in all of Pompeii’s many intricate discoveries. Walk the stone streets where only the wind and birds now reside, wondering how much more of the town’s secrets await resurrection. Take in the magnificent beauty of elaborate mosaics and colorful frescoes that have weathered such utter circumstances. Marvel at the citizens’ names that will live on forever in the clinging paint on their homes. Imagine the marble splendor of the mighty Temple of Apollo and the other religious icons of the day. Ponder what it would have been like to live in this flourishing city that was at its zenith when Vesuvius began to grumble its ominous warning.

The excavation of Pompeii has been nothing short of astonishing. Such care has been taken since the beginning of its unearthing that we are able to see a clear snapshot of the city on its last fateful day in AD 79. Simple terra cotta containers for oil and wine, giant millstones, iron farm tools, and decorative columns have been protected for 2,000 years in a heavy blanket of ash and serve as witnesses to everyday life. The most shocking is the presence of Vesuvius’ victims. As the digging began, empty cavities were found among the layers of volcanic debris. Archeologists soon realized that each void was actually where a body had long since decomposed. Plaster was poured into the empty spaces to create molds of the bodies, which are chillingly detailed – their writhing agony during a suffocating death, the terror on their faces, even the way their hair was styled that day are frozen forever in the casts. Some were found fleeing for their lives while others were found curled up on floors and beds with their hands covering their faces. One cast depicts a thief with his hand in the purse of a wealthy man who is seemingly unaware of the looting while trying to escape the catastrophe. Another cast portrays a frightened dog fruitlessly fighting against the chain that held him captive. Each plaster mold projects such an intense emotion that visitors are sometimes moved to tears at the profound loss of life that Pompeii exhibits.

Despite its constant reminder of death and destruction, Pompeii proves that life continues to overcome obstacles as the vines and blossoms thrive among the silent ruins. A sleeping Vesuvius remains as a visual remembrance that life is precious and the unexpected could happen at any moment.

Traveling with a Child’s Perspective

Within a few short months of giving birth to our first child, my husband got word that the Army, in all of its wisdom, decided that moving us to the other side of the world was a good idea. This meant leaving behind everything familiar – family, friends, schools, church, our favorite Kansas City barbeque restaurant – and adapting to a new country, a new culture, and a new language.

My husband was thrilled as he’d always wanted to visit to Germany. Me? The word ‘livid’ comes to mind. I’d never traveled much, didn’t have much of an interest to leave my perfectly good home and strand myself somewhere new, but at this point I didn’t have a choice. We packed up every single worldly possession we owned, said our goodbyes to family and friends, and had our last sweet taste of that barbeque before heading out – my husband, me, and our then 9-month-old son. What I didn’t know at the time was that this would be the first of many trips we’d be taking.

It took a little while to adjust to our new life but Europe offered too many fascinating sites for my reluctant demeanor to resist. We traveled mostly on the weekends to sites in the area due to my husband’s work schedule but every now and then, my husband was able to take leave and off we’d go to someplace new. I had transformed from unwilling traveler to globetrotter and I wanted to ensure that our son really appreciated our various overseas trips, something his peers back in the states would probably never have the opportunity to experience.

We ended up staying in Germany for a total of seven years – four years more than originally planned – and I’ve come to realize that my son came away from those family trips with a much different takeaway than I did. Granted, that was to be expected during the first years. We visited the Louve in Paris when he was two-and-a-half and while I was commenting on the talent it took to carve the marble warrior figures depicting a gruesome battle scene, my son was overly concerned with their ‘ow-ies’. As he grew older, though, his appreciation for these priceless sites continued to be on a level very different from my own. One unseasonably warm February morning, we found ourselves standing in front of Michelangelo’s David in Florence. For me, David was absolutely profound. The brilliant Italian sculptor missed no detail as he carved this larger-than-life man - the bones in the hands, the contours of each muscle, the eyes with their thoughtful gaze - even the cold marble itself looks like soft, white skin. I stood in front of him deep in thought, feeling small and humbled in his towering presence. My curious son, unable to contain his question any longer, loudly whispered, “Mommy, why is David naked?” Knowing my son’s own fondness for that natural look, I simply replied, “do you know how you don’t like getting dressed? Well, David’s just having a ‘naked day’.” He took a couple seconds to process this reason, which seemed perfectly normal to him, and answered with an ‘oh, ok’ then looked back up at David with a new-found sense of understanding and commonality. As we walked around to view him from the back, I pointed out various intricacies to my son. I wanted him to see what I saw in this statue – perfection. My son responded as honestly as he could, loudly whispering in such a way that although he was talking to me, everyone around us could hear him, “mama, that’s a big booty.” What’s a mother to do? I’m trying to add a bit of culture into my preschooler’s life and his takeaways from David are that he’s having a ‘naked day’ and he’s got a big booty! Even years later at his current age of seven, I know he remembers going to these famous sites. When I asked him about the Tower of Pisa recently, he said, “yes! That’s where you bought me the Hulk candy and they had all those stands of junky toys!”

We’ve since moved back to the states and I enjoy reflecting on those precious seven years worth of travels that the Army blessed us with – 45 countries worth of trips, 364 weekends worth of family fun, and countless unique commentaries of the sites from my son. As I recall the places I’ve seen – breathtaking world heritage sites, museums full of priceless works of art, ancient castles that still stand strong, soaring cathedrals that take your breath away, or ruined cities that echo with its lost souls - it’s not my mature, educated appreciation that comes to mind. It’s the purity of my child’s perspective – his angelic view that breathes a fresh look into even the oldest of travel destinations. I will always appreciate the artistic technique of Michelangelo’s David, but I love him for being able to relate to my son’s aversion to clothing…and for having a big booty.