Monday, July 23, 2018

Celebrate Silent Night This Christmas

To mark the 200th anniversary of the first performance of “Silent Night” on December 24, 1818, Salzburg and its neighboring Austrian communities are celebrating the song heard round the world. It’s true; “Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht” has been translated into 300 languages and dialects and still resonates with music lovers of all faiths.
The City of Salzburg, festive year round, gears up for the winter holidays.

How do you celebrate a song?

 Austria will celebrate Silent Night 200 between September 29, 2018 and February 3, 2019 so there’s plenty of time to appreciate the poetry, music and a silent night. In the city of Salzburg, already making noise at the holiday season for its ornate and festive Christmas markets, the Salzburg Museum will feature “Silent Night 200” all about the song’s myth, history and message of peace.

The city’s Felsenreitschule will present a musical version of the song’s creation story that begins its run November 24. With any luck, it could do for Salzburgland what “Sound of Music” – the blockbuster film made from a Broadway musical – did for Salzburg more than 50 years ago.

Salzburgland towns associate with the song’s composer and lyricist are celebrating the anniversary with special events and Advent Festivals. You can also catch a historical re-enactment of the Silent Night story to be done on the stage of Hochberg’s parish church.

Two towns are already set for the influx of Silent Night 200 tourists because of their long history: Oberndorf, the hometown of the priest who wrote the lyrics; and Arnsdorf, home of the musical composer.

The Creation Story of “Silent Night”

Silent Night Square with the Chapel in the background, Oberndorf

Researchers today think that the song’s message of hope had such immediate impact because in the 1700s, political and economic hard times had befallen Salzburg, then a prince-bishopric in the Holy Roman Empire.

At that time, Josef Mohr was the unconventional priest assigned to the Church of St. Nicholas in Oberndorf. Whatever the inspiration, he decided that an old poem of his about the night of Jesus’ birth might cheer his congregation. He asked Franz Xaver Gruber of nearby Arnsdorf, the church organist, to set it to music so it could be performed Christmas Eve. The church organ was not working, so Mohr performed his song on guitar -- with Gruber singing along and the church’s chorus behind them.

Historians say this musical act was so radical for Catholic clergy during that era that many believe it could only have been performed outside the church’s walls, perhaps for local farmers. Thus, a legend began…

Oberndorf, Silent Night Museum and the Chapel

 A small chapel commemorating the two was built between 1924-1937 in Oberndorf, on the ruins of St. Nicholas Church.

Today, this picturesque Austrian village boasts a sophisticated little museum at Silente Nacht Platz that will be open daily during the 200th anniversary celebrations.

The museum building is thought to have housed clergy during the early 19th century. Inside, families can learn about mining salt and transporting it by barge on the rough Salzach River. Multimedia displays illustrate how the bend in the river that today separates Salzburgland from Bavaria, Germany, was challenging to navigate in Mohr’s era.

Visitors can put on headsets to hear the song in dozens of languages but must head upstairs to sing along! On the small second level, there’s a film re-enactment of how this song inspired brotherhood among soldiers on both sides during the siege of Stalingrad.

Another room illustrates the story of two singing families from the Tyrol region who took the still anonymous “Silent Night” on the road with them, including a performance at New York’s Trinity Church by the then-famous Rainer Family Singers in 1838.

From there, the song’s universal message of hope went viral and its fame grew so in Europe that in 1854, research done by the Cathedral at St. Peter’s in Salzburg revealed the identities of its creators, and the stories of Mohr and Gruber were shared with the world.

And yes, the museum’s last room has a karaoke booth where guests can select to voice renditions by everyone from Elvis to Bing Crosby, and the audio file will be emailed to you.
Options to try out "Silent Night" Karaoke at the museum in Oberndorf

Arnsdorf and the School

 Tiny Arnsdorf has a different appeal because its two-level schoolhouse (two grades at a time still share a classroom) was where composer Gruber himself was teacher.

Upstairs, thought to be where the poor musician lived with his wife and family, is a small museum of artifacts, including the original Circulare or lesson plan used to guide his instructional program. Other artifacts and some furnishings belong to his grandson, also a musician, who legitimized their claim to the song. Children will enjoy seeing the way a classroom of that era was set up.

Next door, the Maria im Mosel Church is more than 500 years old and under restoration. Inquire about hours the school is open to the public.

What’s Special at the Christmas Holidays

 The holiday season in Salzburgland is extra special, especially this year when thousands are expected to make the traditional 1.2-mile walk between the villages. The procession begins after the Christmas Eve mass at Maria im Mosel church in Arnsdorf. Visitors are invited to the simultaneous outdoor mass and, while carrying candles, can join the walk to the plaza in Oberndorf to sing the song outside the chapel.

The local Christmas Markets, open annually the fourth Sunday prior to Christmas Eve, have charming small-town versions throughout Salzburgland. Oberndorf’s Christkindlesmarkt features about 20 vendors selling crafts and lebkuchen, a traditional cinnamon biscuit. The local Tannenbaum evergreens are decorated with small lights and ornaments made of hay, lighting the festivities until silence descends.

Salzburg and its Christmas Market

The Dom St. Peter's, the Salzburg Cathedral, is the centerpiece of the winter Christmas Market.

Most families will base themselves in beautiful Salzburg, about a half-hour away by taxi, so don’t miss the famous Christkindlesmarkt. This ornately decorated and festive, outdoors market has taken place below the towering Hohensalzburg Fortress in the Old Town since the 15th century.

Salzburg’s market is unusual because many more typical handcrafts and artisan works are sold than food, though gluhwein, bratwurst and strudel are bestsellers that bring in the locals after a day’s work.

Visiting Salzburgland

 At other times of year, the best reason to visit Salzburg’s neighboring villages is to enjoy their authentic farm style, regional cuisine and alpine architecture.

The bicycle path that runs from Salzburg along the Salzach River (ask at your hotel about renting bikes) is flat, car-free and very scenic. In just 90 minutes, a fit bicyclist can be in Oberndorf to see the “Silent Night” museum and chapel. 

The Christmas Market in Salzburg's Old Town Square; Photo c. Visit Salzburg

Or, slow down and spend a quiet night at the closest gasthof, Hotel alt Oberndorf Bauern Brau, around the corner from the museum. They have 24 simple rooms (one to three beds in each) and a terrific homey restaurant that provide a serenity break from the holiday hustle-bustle of Salzburg.

Here is a roundup of more ideas of where to hear music and enjoy Salzburg with kids; for a holiday events calendar, please visit Salzburg Tourism.

This post and images contributed by Ron Bozman.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Road Trip Spin: Head across Sweden and Denmark

We love to share good deals, so this one – a free, five-day car rental for Americans traveling to Scandinavia -- caught our eye.  From now through March 15, 2018, any party of two can book flights and add on a rental car, at no extra charge, for any trips taken from May 18 to August 16, 2018.

Egeskov Castle seen from the local park, , photo courtesy Visit Denmark

The Scandinavian Airlines Fly & Drive promotion is designed to encourage travelers to see as much as possible during the long summer days by exploring the region’s cities, coastal towns (these countries have extensive archipelagos and hundreds of islands), and pristine national parks.

Here are two favorite itineraries suggested for outdoor adventures and family fun – divide your time between the stops that sound most interesting, and limit the driving to an hour or two each day, for a great vacation.

Stockholm to Skåne in Sweden

Begin in the capital city and make your way toward Söderåsens National Park in Skåne and hike toward Kopparhatten, often referred to as “Skånes Grand Canyon.” Stops along the way include Dalsland for moose sightings, and Koster Island – Sweden’s first national marine park.

Next, head to Grebbestad and join an oyster safari or lobster catching trip (their suggestions, not mine, but fun!) before driving to Tjörn for some kayaking. Then, it’s a tour of Pilane – one of Europe’s most popular sculpture parks. Less than an hour away, you’ll arrive in Gothenburg, Sweden’s second city, before arriving in Skåne.

Cathedral in Odense, photo courtesy Visit Denmark

Copenhagen to Fyn in Denmark

Start in beautiful Copenhagen and head to Denmark’s Fairytale island, where there are driving routes already charted to take into account your interests in beer, chocolate, horseback riding or castles.

The main city of Odense, Denmark's third-largest, is the birthplace of Hans Christian Andersen, one of Denmark’s most beloved authors (two hours from Copenhagen.) Here’s a Family Travel Forum report on a weekend in Odense with kids.

The charming village of Odense is fun to explore on foot. Photo courtesy Visit Denmark.

Just 30 minutes south of Odense, drivers will find Egeskov Castle, a 460-year-old castle, with extraordinary gardens, a Classics Museum, and tons of family-friendly activities. Svendborg, a short 20-minute drive from Egeskov, is an idyllic harbor town. From here, there are hourly ferries to Ærø—a favorite vacation spot amongst the Danes. Here visitors will find brightly colored harbor houses, cobblestone streets, and charming cafes. A 45-minute drive southeast of Odense lies Falsled Kro, the only Relais & Chateaux hotel in Denmark, perfect for an overnight splurge. 

Intrigued by a Scandinavian road trip?  To recap the details: When a roundtrip flight via Scandinavian Airlines is booked for two from the US to Oslo, Stockholm or Copenhagen, Scandinavian Airlines is offering a free, five-day Avis rental carto experience the destination. The Scandinavian Airlines Fly & Drive promotion must be booked by March 15, 2018 and used for travel this summer, between May 18 and August 16, 2018.

Let us know which itinerary appeals, or if you decide to head off in another direction.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Orange is the New Cool - New York’s OC

Orange has become the new cool, as Orange County announces the 2020 opening of a LEGOLAND New York themepark.

Rendering of LEGOLAND New York, with announced opening of 2020.

The 170-acre LEGOLAND New York resort is expected to attract approximately two million visitors annually to Goshen, a small town in the foothills of the Catskills – a region that has undergone a lot of development in recent years.

According to Empire State Development President, CEO, and Commissioner Howard Zemsky, “LEGOLAND New York’s commitment to community partnership – including donating a portion of its revenue to the community, strong educational opportunities… and workforce training – make this project a win-win for Orange County.”

LEGOLAND New York, which will receive approximately $25 million in support from the Regional Economic Development Council, the Upstate Revitalization Initiative and New York State for projects such as off-site road infrastructure improvements and traffic mitigation measures on already busy Route 17, is forecast to create 800 construction jobs and 1,300 full-time, part-time, and seasonal jobs during its anticipated April 1 to November 1 season.

Merlin Entertainments plc, owner of the LEGOLAND franchise, now operates more than 100 attractions – including LEGOLAND themeparks in California, Florida, United Kingdom, Germany, Malaysia, Denmark, Dubai and Japan – and 15 hotels and six holiday villages in 24 countries. At the October 25, 2017 announcement ceremony Merlin CEO Nick Varney said, “We have spent a lot of time building relationships in the community, listening and responding to concerns, and we are looking forward to building a themepark that will enhance the community and be a tremendous neighbor…I can pledge to you that LEGOLAND New York will be a trusted and valued member of this community.”
As part of the development deal, every year, LEGOLAND New York will host two “Community Days” and donate 50% of the park’s ticket sale revenue to the Town of Goshen. All Goshen residents will be offered a 50% discount on standard one-day themepark tickets as well.

According to Merlin Entertainments, the Goshen themepark anticipates generating $283 million in sales tax and hotel occupancy tax for Orange County over the period of 30 years. Additionally, they estimate that the Town of Goshen would receive about $71 million in revenue from the host community fee, plus its share of PILOT payments and tax payments.

The park’s management will also provide educational program for ages 2-12, including year-round programs focused on Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math (STEAM) education. They plan to partner with local schools and colleges to train and employ students interested in careers in hospitality, business, and mechanical engineering and offer special programs and discounted tickets to area schools, including all school districts within Orange County.

Until LEGOLAND opens, The OC can claim that Orange is the New Black in Halloween events.

The Corn Estate in Orange County, New York is open this Halloween.

The county’s many scare parks and haunted farms are said to make this part of the Hudson Valley home to some of the most terrifying Halloween attractions in the country, attracting thousands of people each year from Philadelphia to Boston – perhaps, all future LEGOLAND customers.

So, grab your grown ones and check out the outdoor and indoor frights of Terror Dome in Newburgh; or catch the live performers and special effects wizardry at the Forest of Fear in Sterling Forest, 600 Route 17A in Tuxedo.

There’s more: the Pure Terror Scream Park in Monroe holds the Guinness World Record for the longest haunted attraction in the world. Fright Nights at Pierson’s Farm has both big boy and little kid thrills, with a non-haunted petting zoo and baby corn maze as well as a haunted graveyard.

And the Corn Estate Haunted House really puts on a family show the last weekend of October and Halloween night, in Cornwall on Hudson.  Check attraction websites for annual schedules and special pricing and have yourself a scare!

For more information on now and upcoming Orange County attractions, lodging, and events, visit and

Monday, October 16, 2017

Pluto Ushers in Dog Friendly Era at Disney World Hotels

In big news from the happiest place on earth, Walt Disney World started welcoming pets to four of its on-site hotels on Sunday, October 15, 217.

In time for Halloween, you say? Well, perhaps that's because it is mascot Pluto's favorite holiday.

According to our source, the designated pet-friendly hotels are:

Photo courtesy Walt Disney World Media Relations

The new service permits up to two dogs per guest room. Each resort also offers easy access to outdoor pet exercise areas and green spaces with pet relief areas.

At check-in, guests with four-legged guests will receive "Pluto’s Welcome Kit" -- an amenity kit for owners that includes a mat, bowls, a pet ID tag, courtesy plastic disposable bags, puppy pads and dog walking maps. Your dog will love the Pluto “Do Not Disturb” door hanger indicating to hotel staff that a pet is in the room.

Day care and other pet services, for a fee, are offered nearby at Best Friends, an on-property full-service pet care facility. And it would not be Disney without an announcement that pet merchandise will be coming soon. According to our source, dogs staying in a Disney resort guest room "must be well behaved, leashed in resort public areas and properly vaccinated." Keep in mind that pets are not welcome in the theme parks. You may have to hide your slippers, because Pluto will have your guestroom to himself for several hours.

The resorts’ per night/per room pet-cleaning rates are $50 per night in addition to room rates at each of the hotels, with the exception of Disney’s more posh Yacht Club Resort, which charges $75 each night.

For more information about this  dog-friendly trial program, including other restrictions and policies, contact 407 W-DISNEY or visit DVC Members should contact Disney Vacation Club Member Services at 800/800-9800.

Let us know how you it goes!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Eclipse Watching Tips from the Experts

Getting ready for the total solar eclipse coming to the United States on Monday, August 21st?

We are! We're super excited about what families will be able to see of this natural phenomenon, whether it's a partial solar eclipse or the Full Monty: a Total Solar Eclipse. The difference for viewers in the United States is that the sun will be partially or fully obscured from view by the moon crossing in front of it, with differing levels of drama.
Tyson, Faherty and Rao discuss Total Solar Eclipse at AMNH Press Conference, Aug 14, 2017

At yesterday's press conference at the American Museum of Natural History, a panel comprised of three scientists: Neil deGrasse Tyson, Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium; Jackie Faherty, senior scientist and senior education manager, Department of Astrophysics; and Joe Rao, Hayden Planetarium associate and guest lecturer, meteorologist for Verizon FIOS1 News; shared their enthusiasm for the total solar eclipse experience.

As they put it, "On August 21st, we are hosting the shadow of the Moon across the United States."

Each of the three experts recounted their own eclipse viewing experiences, and advised everyone to put a Total Solar Eclipse on their travel bucket list. The goal is to be in the viewing region known as "The Path of Totality" which will be a 70-mile wide band across the United States. Even though the Moon is 400 times closer to the Earth than the sun, and will be moving across the Sun at 1,000 mph, people who can see the Moon pass between the Earth and the Sun when they are exactly aligned will see "Totality," when the Moon fully "blocks" the sun.

If you've already been studying up on your astronomy at the country's many special observatories and planetariums, it should all make sense. This event happens approximately every 18 months, and only lasts a few minutes, but it has not occured within view of the United States since1932.

Computer animation of view from Earth as Moon crosses in front of the Sun. c. AMNH

Eclipse watchers, wherever they are, can use the NASA site to find out what time their viewing spot will be in the shadow of the moon. "It may only last a few.minutes ..." said Jackie, "However, being in such close contact with the Moon (through its shadow), because it's an object we see every day, is awesome."

The museum's panel also reassured New Yorkers -- and others who would not be in the Path of Totality -- that a partial eclipse would be a very special experience, too. Likening it to the passing of the Death Star, Jackie noted that it felt very unnatural to watch something blocking the sun from view. Both scary and thrilling. Each noted that spectators might hear birds chattering and see animals turning to their evening behavior, as if the sun had set earlier than usual.

"Put down your iPhone," said Tyson. "Experience it emotionally, physchologically and physically," he added.

If you aren't going to be in the zone predicted by, here are some fun ways to get out and see it, and what you can expect.

Of course, if you are in New York City, you can check out the many programs the American Museum of Natural History has planned for that day, including a live stream of the event explained by scientists located within the Path of Totality.

Here's a quick video of Joe Rao offering suggestions on how to best view a total or partial eclipse.

Tyson, celebrated host of the PBS show, "Cosmos," had tips for viewing as well. He suggested those without quality eye protection should head outside with a spaghetti colander. If held up to the sun, the drain holes one the colander can serve as pinhole cameras, and project myriad views of the eclipse on the ground, or better yet, a white sheet below you.

Enjoy and let us know what you saw!

Photos & video: courtesy Ron Bozman.