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An Antique Planetarium

By Linda Tancs

Nowadays it’s not unusual to find a model solar system hanging from the walls of a classroom. But it certainly would’ve been a spectacle in the 1700s to build an accurate model right in one’s living room. That’s what amateur astronomer Eise Eisinga did in the northern Netherlands. Built between 1774 and 1781 in a Franeker canal house, the working model represents the oldest operating planetarium in the world. His home, now known as the Eise Eisinga Planetarium, also offers a beautiful collection of astronomical instruments and a contemporary exhibition about our solar system and the universe.

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Czech Functionalism

By Linda Tancs

In the functionalism tradition of Frank Lloyd Wright stands Villa Tugendhat in Brno, the Czech Republic’s second-largest city. It’s the only UNESCO-designated example of modern architecture in the country, designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and completed in 1930 for Greta and Fritz Tugendhat. Due to heavy interest in tours, you’d best book several months in advance. Brno is a two-hour, high-speed train ride from Prague.

The James Bond Experience

By Linda Tancs

The latest James Bond Museum is evocative of an action scene from the film franchise, considering that it’s carved into a snowy mountain summit in Austria and reachable only by gondola from Sölden. The locale is a fitting tribute to Ian Fleming, the spy novelist who inspired the film series. He moved from England to Austria to study languages, a move that inspired his literary career. The museum site also played host to the 2015 film Spectre, starring Daniel Craig as Bond. In addition to a screening room, the facility has nine themed galleries featuring aspects of filmmaking, such as title sequences, music, special effects, stunts, spy gadgets and cars.

France’s Fire Art Capital

By Linda Tancs

The international reputation of Limoges as a porcelain capital dates to 1768, when kaolin (a clay mineral) was discovered near this French city. Since then, the city has thrived as the top producer of excellent hard-paste porcelain (china) in France. You can learn more about the evolution of the city’s porcelain empire by visiting the Casseaux Museum, home to the Casseaux porcelain kiln built in 1904. You might also like the Adrien Dubouché National Museum, located in the heart of the city, where the history of art and civilization is examined through the prism of porcelain.

The Dark Sky Island

By Linda Tancs

Less than an hour by sea from Jersey or Guernsey, Sark is the smallest of the four main Channel Islands. But what it lacks in size it makes up for in benefits. For instance, it’s Europe’s first International Dark Sky Community (a moniker bestowed by the International Dark-Sky Association), which means you can gaze at countless stars and admire the Milky Way, particularly when the sun sets early like this time of year. It also evokes a step back in time, being devoid of street lighting and cars (excepts tractors for farming). That means you get to take a charming horse-drawn carriage ride around the island or enjoy a five-mile scenic trek from the visitor center to the village. Garden lovers will adore La Seigneurie Gardens, one of the most enchanting gardens in the islands. Overall, its history and culture (like the old windmill, silver mines and Stonehenge-like Sark Henge) attract some 40,000 visitors each year.

The World’s Smallest Park

By Linda Tancs

You’ll often hear people say “sneeze and you’ll miss it” if a destination is a bit off the beaten track. Well, you could literally sneeze and miss Mill Ends Park in Portland, Oregon. Dubbed “the world’s smallest park,” this particular stretch of the city’s greenway is about two feet in diameter, a circular plot located on a median in the middle of busy Naito Parkway. And yes, it really is an official municipal park (since 1976), one of about 200 in the city, originally an empty hole where a light pole was supposed to be installed. Inspired by the neglected hole, an Irish journalist in the 1940s wrote of it as the fantastical locale for a colony of leprechauns. Not surprisingly, it continues to be the site of St. Patrick’s Day festivities.

The Yellowstone of Russia

By Linda Tancs

Second to Yellowstone, Russia’s Valley of the Geysers is one of the largest geyser fields in the world. Located in the Kamchatka Peninsula, it’s the only geyser field in Eurasia. Carved by the Geyser River, the canyon is five miles long, over two miles wide in places and up to 1,300 feet deep, packed with over 40 geysers as well as boiling springs, hot lakes, mud volcanoes and caldrons, thermal platforms and steam jets. Still appealing to tourists since the landslide in 2007, this steaming, bubbling and boiling force of nature is accessible via helicopter tours.

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