Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel

Walking through the vineyard of Ludwig Bindernagel in Poligny, France

The Franche-Comté region of France may be most famous for the Comté cheese produced there, but it is also home to specialty vintners who produce distinctive wines. One of these is Ludwig Bindernagel and his wife Nathalie, who welcomed me into their home to sample some of the best of Poligny wines. The Bindernagels, who originally hail from Munich, relocated to this mountainous region of eastern France in the early 2000’s. They bought a small plot of rolling land (about 6 acres) in Poligny and planted vines. Two years later, Ludwig bottled his first vintage, a wine that he dubbed BB1 (for “baby one”). Read More

Located in the Jura department in eastern France, Baume-les-Messieurs enjoys the status of "Plus Beau Village de France" (most beautiful villages in France)

Even a grey, overcast day can’t hide the stunning beauty of Baume-les-Messieurs, France. Located in the Jura mountains of eastern France, it enjoys the status of one of the “Plus Beau Village de France” (most beautiful villages in France). I was in the area to learn about my favorite cheese in the world, Comté, which is only made in the Franche Comté region in eastern France. To my delight my hosts, the Comté Cheese Association, not only arranged for us to visit the farms, dairies, and aging cellars where Comté is produced, they also took us to some of the more spectacular destinations in the region. While learning about Comté was the highlight of the trip, I must admit that my jaw dropped when we rounded a curve at the top of the Jura escarpment and began our descent into Baume-les-Messieurs. Read More

Geneva held no fascination for me. It was just another Swiss city with a pretty lake and exorbitant prices. But it offered one thing that other destinations in Switzerland could not: tours of CERN, the European Council for Nuclear Research, where scientists and physicists are studying the basic constituents of matter. For more than 50 years, they have been seeking answers to the questions, “What is the universe made of?” and “How did it start?”

Globe of Science and Innovation houses the permanent Universe of Particles exhibit, for those who are unable to book tours of CERN

Globe of Science and Innovation houses the permanent Universe of Particles exhibit, for those who are unable to book tours of CERN

I readily admit to being a science geek. I was only two years old when CERN was founded in 1954 and during my elementary school years, science textbooks spoke only of molecules, atoms, electrons, protons, and neutrons. But I’d followed developments in physics and read extensively about the subject over the years, so I knew significant advancements had been made in the field. Now I was beside myself with excitement at the prospect of touring the world’s most prestigious particle physics facility. Read More

View over Sint Veerleplein Square in Ghent, Belgium, taken from the ramparts of Gravensteen Castle

Most visitors to Ghent, Belgium, will at some point wander through Sint Veerleplein Square, if only to walk through it on the way to Gravensteen Castle. My advice is to spend a little time in this square. Not only is it one of the oldest in Ghent, it is one of the most fascinating. Ghent is known for its many pubs and clubs, and some of the most authentic are found in Sint Veerleplein Square. The Old Fish Market opened its doors here in 1689, and the massive grey archway leading to the market is topped with imposing statue of Neptune. Read More

Historic buildings on the Graslei and Korenlei in Ghent, Belgium

The view along the Graslei and Korenlei in Ghent, Belgium, is largely regarded to be the prettiest spot in the city. Ghent may be tiny in size, but it packs a tourism wallop. In 2008, National Geographic Traveler Magazine rated it the third most authentic destination in the world. That may, in part, be due to the independent nature of Gentenaars, as the city’s residents are called. But it can also be attributed to the fact that the city suffered very little bomb damage during either World War. Read More

Brussels: Famous for Beer, Chocolate, and Piss. Yes, Piss.

As a little girl, I sat on my grandmother’s lap, fascinated by the tales she spun. I readily believed most of her stories, but the one about a famous statue in a city named Brussels, which featured a little boy taking a piss, seemed highly suspect. I dismissed it as fantasy. More than fifty years later, I rounded a corner in Brussels and came face to face with a statue of a little boy…taking a piss. I hadn’t thought about my grandmother’s yarn for decades, but when confronted with the real thing, memories came flooding back.

Manneken Pis, dressed in honor of the 119th anniversary of the independence of the Philippines

Manneken Pis, dressed in honor of the 119th anniversary of the independence of the Philippines

In her version, a king’s son had run away and become hopelessly lost in the city. The king offered a reward to whomever found the boy. He also vowed to erect a statue of whatever the boy was doing when he was found. Grandma was almost correct. It was a nobleman rather than a king, but the part about taking a piss was true. The nobleman kept his word. In the mid-15th century, he placed a statue of the boy relieving himself in a prominent square in the center of the Belgian capital. Today it is known as Manneken Pis.

Fascinated, I planted myself in a corner and watched tourists come and go, each attempting to take the most unique photo. One man positioned himself at the foot of the fountain, tilted his head back, and opened his mouth. Steps away, his wife framed the shot so it appeared the boy was peeing into her husband’s mouth. Disgusted by the moronic behavior of the tourists, I turned my attention to the sculpture. Based on grandma’s story, I had expected an enormous fountain, but Manneken Pis is less than two feet tall. Even stranger, it was dressed in loose white pants and shirt. My grandmother had insisted the sculpture was of a naked boy. Read More