Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Dresden - A City of Art, Music and Baroque Architecture

Dresden is located halfway between Berlin and Prague, and until recently, it was rarely visited by western tourists.  This city of art, music, and baroque architecture is often referred to as the Venice of Germany and remained an undiscovered gem during the forty year lifespan of Communist East Germany. 

Today, Dresden is looking more and more like it did in its pre- World War II days because major architectural treasures such as the Zwinger Palace, the Frauenkirche, and the Semperoper that were nearly destroyed by Allied bombing raids have been painstakingly restored.  The first glimpse of this city from the Elbe River is magical with its filigree of church spires and domes topped with gilded statues, a beautiful elevated riverside promenade, the striking panorama of Baroque buildings, and castles that dot the shoreline.  There are several must-see attractions in the city that should not be missed.

Encountering the Past 

If you look hard enough you will still see scars of the destruction of this city that took place in February of 1945 when the historic Old City of Dresden was completely destroyed by Allied bombers.  The reconstruction of some of Dresden's architectural treasures, however, is as amazing as it is inspiring.

Reconstruction of Frauenkirche

The beauty of the Frauenkirche, the Luthern Church of Our Lady, is one of the most notable reconstructed buildings in the center of the Old City. At the end of World War II, all that was left of this church, considered to be one of Dresden's most beautiful baroque buildings was a heap of rubble.  The history of this church goes back 1,000 years and people from all over the world donated money to help to rebuild it. The church was opened in 2005 after an eleven-year rebuilding project. 

Look for the darker colored stones, all 8,000 of them were gathered from the rubble and used to rebuild the church.  There are seven entrances to this church, each has a letter of the alphabet.   Access to the nave is gained via Entrance D.  Don't miss the exhibition on the reconstruction process that is located at the basement level via door F from inside the church.

The Fortress

One of the oldest Renaissance structures in the Old City lies underneath Bruhl's Terrace which has been open to the public since 1814.  Here you will find the 400-year old Brick Gate, Dresden's only surviving original city gate complete with guard rooms and the relics of medieval defense systems including the old town bridge. Don't miss the mysterious vaults that show how Dresden once protected itself and where Johann Friedrich Böttger succeeded in producing the first European hard-paste porcelain in 1708.

Balcony of Europe

For a birds-eye view of the city and river  head to the Brühschule Terrasse that stretches high above the Elbe River and has been nicknamed the “Balcony of Europe."   It is located just north of the recently rebuilt Neumarkt Square that has been reconstructed to look like it did pre-1945.  It is said that when Vladimir Putin was a KGB agent stationed in Dresden he savored this view.  The view is spectacular, in front of you is the Elbe River with tour and pleasure vessels, across the river is the "New City," and behind you is the awe-inspiring complex of the Old City.

The Opera House Semperoper

Dresden is a city of music.  It is where Carl Maria von Weber and Richard Wagner conducted and where operas by Richard Strauss and many others premiered.  The Semperoper, one of Europe’s great opera houses dominates the Theatrerplatz on the Elbe and is often considered the centerpiece of the Old City.  The original building burned to the ground in 1869 and was rebuilt in 1878. In 1945 during the final months of the war, it was razed to the ground. Once again, this building was reconstructed and reopened in 1985.  

The interiors are dazzling and were painstakingly reconstructed by local craftspeople and artists according to original plans. Not only is this one of the most beautiful opera houses in the world, it is renowned for brilliant performances by the Saxon State Opera and other international guest artists. To attend a performance here is an unforgettable experience that harkens back to days gone by.

Follow the Procession of Princes - Furstenzug

If you love porcelain and art, you are in for a treat because Dresden has the world's largest porcelain mural called the Procession of Princes that is located on Augustusstrasse.  It is an amazing experience to walk the length of this 330-foot long mural that is composed of  25,000 porcelain tiles made by the famous porcelain manufacturer, Meissen.  
This mural was created between 1870 and 1876 by artist Wilhelm Walther to celebrate the 800-year anniversary of the Wettin Dynasty and consists of 93 people including 35 noblemen, princes, dukes, margraves and kings that are shown on horseback. The mural covers the exterior of the Royal Mews in Auguststrasse. 

Baroque Beauty

The Zwinger Palace is one of the best examples of late Baroque architecture in Germany. It was built in 1709 during the reign of Augustus the Strong and was used for tournaments and other courtly activities. Strolling amid the galleries, pavilions and past the ornate sandstone palace built between 1710 and 1719, it is easy to imagine the pageantry of the Baroque period.

The Crown Gate is the most photographed part of this complex.  It is decorated with gods from Greek mythology.  Don't miss a photo by the Nymphaeum, next to the Rampart Pavilion that is one of the finest baroque fountains in all of Germany.

Save time to explore the various museums inside the Zwinger Palace. The Dresden porcelain collection is one of the largest collections of its kind in the world. The Armoury displays an exquisite collection of weapons, suits of armor and ceremonial clothing.  The Semper Gallery contains the world's most important collection of Baroque to Renaissance period paintings including the famous Sistine Madonna by Raphael. 

Elaborate Artwork & Gems Galore

Here all that glitters is gold and so much more. The opulence of the Grünes Gewölbe (Historic Green Vault) on the ground floor of the Residenzschloss (Royal Palace) immerses visitors in one of the oldest and best-preserved treasuries in all of Europe.  On display are objects, art pieces and jewelry made of gold, silver, amber, rock crystal, and diamonds.  Keep your eyes peeled for the largest green diamond in the world. August the Strong founded this lavish treasury in the 18th century.  

The Neue Grüne Gewölbe (New Green Vault) consists of more than 1,000 masterpieces of art, jewels, unique cabinet pieces and Royal Household items of the Grand Mogul as well as a gold coffee service to name a few. 

The Golden Horseman

This monument depicting Augustus the Strong dressed in ancient garb is Dresden's most famous statue that was built from 1732-1734.  The Golden Horseman was hammered out in copper and fire-gilded. It was recently restored in 2003 with 500 grams of gold leaf.  The statue is located at the foot of the Augustusbrücke Bridge and points the way into the inner Neustadt.

Neumarkt Square

This is downtown Dresden's most famous Square well known for its opulent Baroque architecture.  The Square dates back to 1548 and was rebuilt in 1726-1743 in a simpler late Baroque style. The dedication of the Frauenkirche in 2005 breathed new life into Neumarkt Square where stately houses provide a historic backdrop to shops and restaurants.

Cruising the Elbe with Tours of Distinction

This tour includes roundtrip international air, airport transfers in the USA and Europe, pier transfers in Prague and Berlin, welcome cocktail and gala evening, all meals on board the Elbe Princesse II, open bar (except champagne and premium alcohol), all port taxes and service charges, gratuities for tour director, drivers and ship crew and the services of a professional Tours of Distinction escort.  This trip does not include optional shore excursions that can be booked when reserving this package.  The tour departs from Boston.  Book by November 30, 2018, and save $200 per person.  For complete details click here

About the Elbe Princess II
This paddlewheel styled vessel debuted in 2018 and is an 80-passenger boat that has 40 cabins.  All cabins have a bathroom with shower, air conditioning, hairdryer, safe, dressing table/desk, mini bar, flat screen satellite TV, and cabin to cabin phone and radio.  There are 24 cabins on the upper deck and the remainder on the lower deck.  Upper deck cabins have a balcony with sliding glass doors.  The Main deck cabins have large windows.

On board, amenities include a lounge/bar with a large window and a dance floor, an outdoor patio area on the upper deck, and a restaurant on the main deck that serves all passengers at one seating.  The food is inspired by France's culinary traditions.  There is also a sun deck and a small gift shop.

Travel Tip Tuesday - On "Safari" @ the Bronx Zoo

The Bronx Zoo makes a perfect outing almost anytime of year and Tours of Distinction is offering two-day trips to this world-famous attraction on September 23 and October 21.  To make the most of your day, keep the following travel tips in mind!  To book this "safari" visit https://www.toursofdistinction.net/tours/day-trips/bronx-zoo

  • The zoo is big. It covers 265 acres and houses more than 7,000 animals. If you plan on seeing all of them, wear very comfortable shoes.
  • To save money and time from waiting in food lines, bring your own food from home. There are plenty of picnic tables where you can enjoy your lunch or a snack.
  • Bring bottled water and look for water fountains, located throughout the park, to refill your bottle.
  • Plan ahead.  Figure out what exhibits you want to see. It is not easy to navigate the entire zoo in just one day
  • Check the website to see what times special events, lectures or tours are taking place on the day you are visiting.
  • Must see exhibits include: the Wild Asia Monorail and Jungleworld for a birds-eye view of the Zoo, Tiger Mountain, the Butterfly Garden, and the Congo Gorilla Forest.
  • Check out our blog on the Bronx Zoo for additional info.   https://toursofdistinctionworldwide.blogspot.com/2018/08/gone-wild-day-away-bronx-zoo.html

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Travel Tip Tuesday - Five More Cruise Tips

Cruising is one of the top ways people travel that have just retired. It is a good way to explore a group of islands and a variety of sights in the comfort of a vessel, large or small that takes care of your every whim and desire!   The cruise industry aims to please, and so do our exclusive cruise offerings with customized cruise excursions led by a professional Tours of Distinction Travel Manager. We decided to add an additional Five Cruise Tips to complete last weeks blog.  One of the most important tips is to always consult a Tours of Distinction Travel Professional to make sure that the cruise you choose is the right cruise for you and meets all your expectations. 

Pack Ziplock Bags

If you want to keep things dry after bathing or while at the pool or on the beach, ziplock bags come in handy.  Maybe there is a group of earrings you want to keep together or maybe you want to snag a snack at the buffet for a midnight snack, put them all in a ziplock.

Bring Your Own Power Adaptors 

Bringing your own power adapter will give you more outlets.  Some cruise ships have limited power outlets so if you bring your own you won't have to worry about plugging in your phones, ipads, laptops, curling irons, and cameras.  The three outlet grounded swivel adapter can come in handy.

Leave Your Hairdryer Home

On most ships, hairdryers are standard equipment so there is no need to pack one from home.

Pack a Night Light

If you are staying in an interior room, once you shut the door and turn out the light your cabin will be pitch black.  To avoid this bring a small night light to provide some light to the room so you won't stumble around in the dark in an unfamiliar place.  We like this portable nightlight that includes a travel LED nightlight along with a USB wall charger and is available from Amazon.

Turn off Data Roaming on your phone
When boarding a ship, to avoid data and download charges and to avoid huge bills for international roaming either turn your phone off, in your WIFI options turn off data roaming while abroad or turn it on airplane mode to where it doesn't use data up or connect to a wireless service.  This will leave you free to connect to public and private WIFI options.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Gone Wild - A Day Away @ Bronx Zoo

If you are an animal lover that has a far-flung African destination on your bucket list to learn about animals and their habitats take a day trip with Tours of Distinction to the Bronx Zoo as a quick fix!  Here, you will find a wide variety of animals from the exotic and endangered to the lovable and endearing.  

Add exclusive animal themed exhibits, planned feeding times, up-close animal encounters, special events, and lectures to the mix and this excursion will have you walking on the "wild" side of conservation and, yes, we think conservation is a very good thing.

About the Bronx Zoo

The Bronx Zoo, one of the most famous in the world,  is the largest Metropolitan Zoo in the United States and one of five institutions operated by the Wildlife Conservation Society since 1899.  In 1898, the City of New York allotted 250 acres of Bronx Park to the New York Zoological Society to build a park that would preserve native animals and promote zoology.  The Zoo opened with 22 exhibits and 843 animals.  Today, the Bronx Zoo, one of the largest wildlife conservation parks in the world, houses more than 4,000 animals that represent more than 650 species.

Rainey Gate entrance 

The Bronx Zoo is meticulously laid out with shaded paths punctuated by flowers and gardens that are interspersed with benches for visitors to sit down on and take it all in.  There are also several notable architectural features to keep an eye out for, they make great photo opportunities.  The stately Rainey Gate entrance on Fordham Road, Astor Court, and the Rockefeller Fountain built by Italian sculptor Biagio Catella in 1872 are just a few architectural marvels to enjoy.  Don't miss the Rocking Stone, a souvenir from the Ice Age that overlooks Buffalo Range.  The stone, which is seven feet high and weighs about thirty tons is a rough cube of pinkish granite that rests on a granite slab base, and is so perfectly balanced that it can't be moved!

Feature Exhibitions

The Bronx Zoo is a trailblazer in pulling animals out of cages and creating environments for them to enjoy. They started this back in 1940 with their groundbreaking African Plains habitat when Lion Island debuted.  Today, this trend has continued unabated and there are many must-see feature exhibitions that immerse the visitor bringing them face to face with an endangered animal such as a mountain gorilla or a Siberian tiger. The experience is unforgettable.

The Congo Gorilla Forest

Entering the Congo Gorilla Forest visitors walk through a tunnel into an authentically created African Rainforest -minus the rain!  To get in the mood, imagine using just your five senses to detect animals as if you are in the heart of the Congo.  It is sensory overload and an amazingly satisfying experience. The tunnel offers views of animals from several different climates and is spectacular.  

The highlight of this exhibit is the chance to get up close to western lowland gorilla's, mandrills and okapi.  It is a heartwarming experience to watch young gorilla's romp and play, eat and nest, and, watch the way the silverback watches over his troop.  Western lowland gorillas are endangered and live in Cameroon, Central African Republic, Congo, Gabon. Angola and Equatorial Guinea.

Butterfly Garden

If you are a butterfly enthusiast, don't miss this garden.  There are more than 1,000 North American Butterflies with iridescent wings that flutter within.  The garden is planted with the health and well being of butterflies in mind and provides them with all the necessities of life. Butterflies play an important role in pollinating flowers and are often an indication that an ecosystem is thriving because they are both predators and prey.  Forget butterflies under glass, this garden lets you walk around these amazingly beautiful animals.

 Tiger Mountain and African Plain

Have you ever wanted to come face to face with a rare tiger... well, now you can! The tiger exhibits are designed to mimic natural habitats and the Tigers are encouraged to maintain their natural tendencies, making for a very realistic glimpse into the life of these majestic creatures. The only separation between the tigers and YOU is a glass partition, which allows visitors to see tigers up close. You may be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of one of the Malayan tiger cubs . Tigers make noises called "chuffles, although on occasion they can wow with a growl!

You don't have to be a cat person to love "big cats" and the African Plains exhibit doesn't disappoint. Here visitors will see majestic lions, African wild dogs and zebras. If you time your visit just right-mornings and late afternoon are best-you may see them play, drink water or nap in the shade. 

Wild Asia Monorail and Jungleworld

For a bird's eye view don't miss a ride on the monorail that takes you into the heart of Asia.  It is relaxing to sit in the shade of the monorail and look at the animals as you pass them. Tour guides point out all the animals that you will see during this twenty-minute journey. Of special interest are red pandas, elephants, and rhinos.  

Jungleworld is a magical Asian jungle where you can observe animals almost like they would live in the wild. It is fun to watch these animals groom each other in such a natural setting. Featured animals in this exhibit include white-cheeked gibbons, ebony langurs, Malayan tapirs, and Indian gharials.

Feeding & Sea Lion and Penguin Pools

Sea Lions were one of the first exhibits opened at the Bronx Zoo back in 1899, let's say, they have history!  Sea Lions are precocious and curious and have big dark eyes, maybe these are some of the reasons why we love them. If you can make it at either 11 a.m. or 3 p.m., don't miss the antics that go on when zookeepers feed these fun-loving mammals.

Another aquatic attraction is the Magellanic and Little Penguins,  the smallest penguin species in the world at just 13-inches tall and about three pounds as adults. Feeding time at Penguin Pool when the Magellanic Penguins come out and bob for fish is at 3:30 p.m. While in this area, don't miss the nearby Sea Bird Aviary that houses colorful flamingos, puffins, and Inca terns.

Tours of Distinction - The Bronx Zoo

Our one  Day Exclusive Trip not to be missed is being offered on Sept. 23 AND October 21. At $86 per person (much less than gas and parking would cost) this is a great Tours of Distinction Special Deal. Included: Roundtrip motorcoach,  Bronx Zoo Total Experience Pass, Tours of Distinction Tour Director, And,  all gratuities for our Tour of Distinction Special Tour Director and Driver are included.  This tour is hard to resist so click here.