While I usually recommend unknown buildings around the world; unknown museums, unknown palaces, unknown churches, even historic restaurants and hotels, now it's my turn to recommend the architectural feature that links them that's there for everyone to see. Unlike other frequently bypassed sites, you don't walk past them everyday, you walk on them, Great Sidewalks.
When sightseeing, there’s an important architectural feature very few people ever notice - the FLOOR. When earthquakes struck ancient Greece and Rome, walls and roofs crumbled, but the one thing that survived from Delos to Herculaneum to Pompeii were the mosaic floors. Many mosaics have such fine workmanship that you’d think they’re paintings.
There are many great palaces near Paris, just a day-trip away. However, if you want to see a completely furnished French palace, you must visit the Palace of Compiegne. Compiegne is so “undiscovered” that the official website is in French. Compiegne’s history ties in to Versailles and even Vienna’s elegant Schoenbrunn Palace. It was the meeting place of Europe’s royalty.
The great town of Potsdam (near Berlin) has numerous palaces built over many centuries. The most famous Potsdam Palace is Sanssouci, Frederick the Great’s 18th-century Rococo “Pleasure Palace.” The translation of “Sanssouci” does homage to its purpose, “Without a care.” It rises on terraced vines which from a distance look more like a cascading fountained-formal garden. While it’s delicately magnificent, it’s only a delightful appetizer to much grander, more historic and more substantial palaces scattered throughout massive Potsdam Park, worthy of a entire day’s exploration.
In Rome’s Borghese Gallery (paraphrasing T.S. Elliott) men and women come and go seeking out Michelangelo and other great masters of painting and sculpture. Visitors enter and exit through the front, without even bothering to walk around the entire building, and miss three unique formal gardens. That’s a shame. Visitors miss an aviary on one side. But above all they miss a magnificent rear-formal garden with fountain and statues (as seen in Three Coins in the Fountain), which is a great place to rest.
Having visited hundreds of cities on six continents, I have my favorite hotels in each city. Sure, I’d like to keep staying at my favorite hotel whenever I return to that city. However, I’m a creature of discovery over a creature of comfort. Instead, I make it my business to stay at a hotel that’s new to me, in an entirely different neighborhood of the revisited city. By choosing a different hotel in a different neighborhood, you’ll get to explore sites you might otherwise have missed. Here are a few examples:
In Florida, eschew the Magic Kingdom for a city whose history is part of two real kingdoms, Spain and Great Britain. St. Augustine showcases America’s Spanish and British Colonial Pasts - and even the past of Imperial France. Napoleon Bonaparte’s nephew, Prince Charles Louis Napoleon Achille Murat, lived in St. Augustine’s “Murat House.”
My favorite castle in the Czech Republic is Konopiste, a few miles outside Prague. Too many guidebooks warn visitors if they support animal rights to avoid Konopiste. Agreed that its thousands of displayed antlers and taxidermied animals are repulsive, but homes of many great hunters (such as Teddy Roosevelt’s Sagamore Hill) also reflect their owners’ greatness.
Budapest has long been a magnet for Jewish Tours. American-Jewish tourists staying at Budapest’s Four Seasons Hotel or the renowned landmark Gellert Hotel & Spa make a beeline to see Europe’s largest synagogue, the majestic Dohany Synagogue. Here’s the irony. The Dohany Synagogue wasn’t even built by a Jew - but those two world-class hotels were!
I recently took an organized commercial day trip with Gray Line Tours (www.grayline.com) to two great Czech spa towns, Karlovy Vary (Karlsbad) and Marianske Lazne (Marienbad). And I’m glad I did it on a tour rather than by myself via public transportation because there is a lack of convenient connections between those two great towns.