Virtual Travel Video: The Major of Saint-Lô

Today, our Virtual Travel video focuses on the story of Major Thomas Dry Howie - the Major of Saint-Lô. This native South Carolinian stormed the beaches of Normandy, and continued to inspire his men, and the world, after his death. 

Thomas Howie was born in Abbeville, SC in 1908, descended from the French Huguenot community who established themselves in South Carolina before the Revolution. They named the town Abbeville, in honor of their French town they left behind. 

Over 150 years later, one of their descendants would return to Normandy to liberate France in World War II, and is buried on French soil in the Normandy American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer. Thomas Howie is one of South Carolina's heroes - and today, we wanted to share his story. We'll also show you the moving memorial in his honor that is located in Abbeville.  

Click below to join Khal, and let's explore . . . 


Here is a link to the famous photograph of Major Howie's flag-draped body in Saint-Lo, published with the following caption:

"25 Jul 1944, St. Lo, France --- Under Old Glory, the body of a U.S. major identified only as "Major Aowie" rests atop the ruins of St. Croix Church in St. Lo, France. The major was killed leading an assault on the town... His last wish being his desire to lead his men into the German stronghold. His troops, fulfilling his wish placed his body among the ruins as they fought to drive the enemy from the area."


For those of you who are fascinated by the poignant history and sacred spaces of this beautiful part of France . . .

We invite you to take a look at our 2021 small group adventure: Normandy + Brittany: France's West Country.

Posted on November 1st in Virtual Travel Series

Virtual Travel Video: The Linville Gorge

It's a wilderness adventure into the "Grand Canyon of the East" - North Carolina's Linville Gorge!

Enjoy a preview of Khal's backpacking adventure into this historic wilderness area below - and become a Corps of Discovery member to view the entire video! 


Posted on September 4th in Virtual Travel Series

Virtual Travel Video: Cape Fear Water Taxi

Welcome to this week's Virtual Travel experience!

In today's video, Chumley visits one of only three inland river ferries that still function in the state of North Carolina. He's not exactly up the creek without a paddle, but he is at the river without a ferry. Click below to hear our on-location story of the week, featuring the historic Elwell Ferry in Bladen County, NC.


Posted on July 31st in Virtual Travel Series

Virtual Travel Video: Mount Mitchell

Welcome to this week's Virtual Travel experience!

In July of 1857, Professor Elisha Mitchell of the University of North Carolina fell to his death, on the northwestern slope of what was then commonly known as "Black Mountain."  He was miles from the highest peak on the long ridge, that boasted multiple peaks over 6500 feet, including the highest point east of west Texas and west South Dakota.  Mitchell died while walking to meet a guide whom he hoped could verify that he had identified the highest peak in the range some 22 years earlier.

Join Chumley on location . . . and take the eye test yourself:  Can you identify the highest point on "Black Mountain" that is now known as Mount Mitchell?

Posted on July 24th in Virtual Travel Series

Virtual Travel Video: Front Porch Exploration

We invite you to enjoy today's virtual travel experience!

Join Chumley exploring on his front porch. Cicadas provide the perfect background harmony.

Posted on July 17th in Virtual Travel Series

Virtual Travel Video: Junaluska

Welcome to this week's Virtual Travel experience!

Join Chumley on location in Robbinsville, North Carolina, where he uncovers an under-the-radar memorial to Junaluska -- a Cherokee leader who named himself, after going through a great struggle.

Posted on July 10th in Virtual Travel Series

Virtual Travel Video: Tapoco Lodge

Welcome to this week's Virtual Travel experience!

Join EUC founder Chumley Cope in the newest chapter of our Friday Video Series. Chumley is still "on location" near Cheoah Dam in North Carolina's Graham County . . . to tell you more of the local story. This week, we feature a video and photos of the beautifully-situated Tapoco Lodge.

Posted on July 3rd in Virtual Travel Series

Virtual Travel Video: Cheoah Dam

Welcome to this week's Virtual Travel experience!

This week, EUC founder Chumley Cope has ventured into the Great Smoky Mountains of western North Carolina. The Little Tennessee River flows north and west from its sources into Tennessee, framing the southern boundary of the Great Smoky Mountains en route. The river's swiftness made it a prize for electricity developers, beginning early in the 20th century. Join Chumley on location beneath the Cheoah Dam -- where a famous movie star went missing in 1993.


Posted on June 26th in Virtual Travel Series

Virtual Travel Video: Sunburst, NC

We invite you to enjoy today's virtual travel experience!

For today's Virtual Travel experience, we're exploring some of western North Carolina's lumber heritage. Join us as we visit the historic Sunburst community -- a model lumber mill town not far from Waynesville, NC. Join Explore Up Close founder Chumley Cope on location to learn more!

Today's video witnesses Chumley traveling beyond the border of South Carolina for the first time in the new Explore Up Close virtual travel series. His trek north of the border takes him to the lovely Bethel Valley, just south of Waynesville, NC. Tune in, as Chumley recounts the story of Sunburst -- one of North Carolina's prettiest place names, and today just a "ghost community" where a lumber mill town once thrived.


Posted on June 19th in Virtual Travel Series

Virtual Travel Video: Mary H. Wright School, Spartanburg, SC

We invite you to enjoy today's virtual travel experience!

For today's Virtual Travel experience, we're exploring some of South Carolina's mid-century Civil Rights history! Join us as we visit the Mary H. Wright School, in Spartanburg, South Carolina -- one of the state's best examples of an Equalization School. What's an Equalization School, you may ask? Join Explore Up Close founder Chumley Cope on location to find out!

These were South Carolina's last-ditch efforts to stave off integration in the public schools, by funding state-of-the-art schools for African-American children. It was an attempt to prolong the entrenched concept of "separate but equal" public facilities -- including schools -- established by the Supreme Court in 1896. But by 1950, a bundle of court cases (including Briggs v. Elliott, from Clarendon County, SC) was making its way to the land's highest court, challenging the idea that "separate" was indeed "equal." Our latest video includes photos of education pioneer, Mary Wright, and a circa 1925 school for African-American school children in the rural Carolina Piedmont.

Posted on June 12th in Virtual Travel Series

Virtual Travel Video: Limestone Springs, South Carolina

Our latest Virtual Travel video focuses on the story of Limestone Springs in Cherokee County, South Carolina

Limestone Springs was located in the Piedmont region, in what's now the town of Gaffney, SC. Throughout the 19th century, it attracted many people from the Lowcountry and Midlands due to its medicinal springs and mild climate. The area was also home to a limestone quarry, which would eventually play a role in building one of our nation's most distinctive monuments.

In 1849, a request was sent throughout the United States asking for rock to aid in the construction of the Washington Monument. In South Carolina, this request was answered by Thomas Curtis, the president of Limestone College (located, of course, in Limestone Springs). Founded in 1845, the college was the first institution of higher education for women in the state. Curtis owned the nearby limestone quarry, from which a large slab of limestone rock selected. This stone was engraved with the state seal, and sent on to Washington. If you visit the Washington Monument today, some of these stones with commemorative seals can be seen from inside the elevator shaft! 

Click to join Chumley, and let's explore . . . 


Posted on June 5th in Virtual Travel Series

Virtual Travel Video: Northern Ireland's Presbyterian Heritage in SC


Our latest Virtual Travel video focuses on the story of a community of early Scots-Irish Presbyterians in Chester County, South Carolina

William Martin was a Presbyterian minister who fled religious persecution in Northern Ireland in the 1770s, and brought his congregation of around 500 families to live in what's now Chester County, South Carolina. Martin and many of his parishioners worshiped at the Catholic Presbyterian Church - an intriguing name, which we'll explain!

During the American Revolution, Reverend Martin became what the frustrated British called a "sedition preacher" - a man who effectively stirred Patriot support in his community from his pulpit. Since churches served as key gathering spots for rural colonial communities, local preachers were often effective recruiters for the cause. Men from William Martin's congregation would ultimately form two entire Patriot regiments! 

Click below to join Explore Up Close founder, Chumley Cope, and let's explore . . . 



Interested in more Scots-Irish history? Browse our upcoming trips!


Posted on May 29th in Virtual Travel Series

Exploring South Carolina's Rosenwald and Equalization Schools

Have you ever come across one of South Carolina's "Rosenwald Schools" or "Equalization Schools?" 

Rosenwald Schools were a progressive educational program born of a partnership between Booker T. Washington, founder of the Tuskegee Institute, and Julius Rosenwald, philanthropist and president of the Sears Roebuck Company. These early 20th century schools played a critical role in educating young African-American students in rural communities, and around 5,000 schools were built between 1917 and 1932. 

Equalization Schools were created by the state government during the 1950s, in an attempt to prove the success of "separate but equal" schools . . . and to circumvent desegregation. Funding for these modern schools was produced through the first SC sales tax (3%), which funded new schools for white and black students - albeit still segregated. For a map of these schools - and further reading - check out:

We took a look at two examples of these historic schools on location. Join Explore Up Close, Chumley Cope, and let's go . . . 

The Hope Rosenwald School in Newberry County, South Carolina (built 1926)


Mary H. Wright - A South Carolina Upstate Equalization School (built 1951) 


Posted on May 18th in History and Culture

Virtual Travel Video: Due West + Erskine College

Our latest Virtual Travel video takes you to the picturesque campus of Erskine College, a private liberal arts school of about 800 students. 

Here, we'll uncover the origin of the little town of Due West, formed at the crossroads of the European and Cherokee trade in colonial South Carolina. Later, this crossroads became the beginning of a new life for Scots-Irish Presbyterians, fleeing religious and political persecution. 

Click below to join Caroline on location, and let's explore . . . 


Posted on May 15th in Virtual Travel Series

Virtual Travel Video: Historic Glenn Springs, SC

Our latest Virtual Travel video explores the historic resort community of Glenn Springs, SC. Though it all but disappeared during the Great Depression, this was once a popular resort for wealthy 19th century visitors, who traveled from far away to "take the waters." Thanks to local preservation efforts, several historic buildings still stand proudly - and are even being freshly renovated for the community to enjoy.

Join Explore Up Close founder Chumley Cope, and let's go! 

Posted on May 8th in Virtual Travel Series

Virtual Travel Video: Porto and the Douro Valley

Join Caroline on a virtual voyage in Northern Portugal, as we discover the city of Porto, and the storied Douro River Valley. 

Click below to watch the video, and let's explore . . . 

Posted on May 1st in Virtual Travel Series

Virtual Travel Video: Rosemont Plantation & Ann Pamela Cunningham

Join Explore Up Close in Laurens County, South Carolina, as we delve into a fascinating tale of early historical preservation in the United States - the story of how George Washington's Mount Vernon was saved by a South Carolina lady. 

A Laurens County native, Ann Pamela Cunningham established one of the country's first preservation organizations, when she formed the Mount Vernon Ladies Association in 1853 and spearheaded efforts to preserve Mount Vernon for future generations. 

Her letters wryly describe her negotiations with George Washington's great grand-nephew, John Augustine Washington: 

"I shook hands with Mr. Washington; told him it was leap-year, women were bound to have their way. He might resist with all his might, but I knew I was to be victor, and must counsel him to follow the example of his illustrious ancestor, who never acted on a grave affair without having slept on it." 

Join us in Laurens County on the site of her family's ancestral home, Rosemont Plantation. The house burned in 1930, but the fascinating story of Ann Pamela Cunningham and her Mount Vernon Ladies Association remains. 

Click below to watch the video, and let's explore . . . 


For further reading:

Posted on April 24th in Virtual Travel Series

Virtual Travel Video: Conestee Mill + McBee Chapel

Join Chumley and Caroline with Explore Up Close, as we explore two historic sites in Greenville County, South Carolina: Conestee Mill, once known as McBee Manufacturing, and an intriguing chapel built for its workers, both established by one of Greenville's most influential early figures, Vardry McBee.  

Click below to watch the video, and let's explore . . . 

Exploring Conestee Mill + McBee Chapel from Explore Up Close on Vimeo.


Posted on April 17th in Virtual Travel Series

Virtual Travel Video: Cokesbury College

It's Friday, and we're back with another Virtual Travel video!  So far, we've been featuring snippets of "hidden" history that surrounds us, and today is no exception.

Join Explore Up Close founder, Chumley Cope, as he shows you one of his favorite buildings in the South Carolina Upstate: a beautiful 19th century women's academy, known as Cokesbury College, in Greenwood County. 



Posted on April 10th in Virtual Travel Series

Virtual Travel Video: Exploring Oconee Station

This week, we are featuring some of South Carolina's early frontier history in Oconee County.  Join our founder, Chumley Cope, and let's explore . . . 


Posted on April 3rd in Virtual Travel Series

Virtual Travel: Two of our favorite Presidential homes

Mystery Photo Reveal: April 1, 2020

This week, we featured two lovely Presidential homes in Virginia. Eight former Presidents have hailed from this powerful state, including four out of our first five Presidents. In fact, by the year 1850, if you weren't born in Virginia; or within a stone's throw of Charlotte, NC; or into the famous Adams family of Massachusetts . . . you wouldn't have been President! 
( . . . unless you were Martin Van Buren of Kinderhook, New York).

For the first photo - many of you correctly identified Thomas Jefferson as the builder of Monticello ("Little Mountain" in Italian), more or less overlooking Jefferson's proudest architectural project -- the University of Virginia.

On his headstone, Jefferson wanted to be remembered for three achievements: as the author of the Declaration of Independence, author of the Virginia Statute for Religious Liberty (which influenced the Constitution's Bill of Rights), and builder of the University of Virginia.

The second photo does not capture the true length of this house, which is over 300 feet long, including a 68-foot long ballroom . . . perfect for dancing the popular Virginia Reel. It remains the longest wooden frame house in America, and is still occupied by our 10th President's grandson. Now, you're intrigued, right?!

This house, a plantation on the James River, was purchased by President John Tyler in 1842. When he retired from the presidency in early 1845, he renamed the home "Sherwood Forest," as a playful retort to his political opponent (and leader of the Whig party), Henry Clay. Clay believed that President Tyler had betrayed Whig ideals, and considered him an "outlaw" in his own party.

John Tyler was the first Vice President to succeed a President who died in office (as such, he was derisively called "Your Accidency" by his opponents). His predecessor was William Henry Harrison, another native Virginian, who campaigned under the slogan "Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too."

Thanks for following along, and stay tuned for Friday - we'll be sharing our second Virtual Travel video!

Posted on April 1st in History and Culture

Virtual Travel Video: Spartanburg's Daniel Morgan Monument

Announcing - militia drumroll, please - our very first Virtual Travel Video! 

This week, we wanted to share a snippet of local history with you, about a monument that some of you may have strolled by in downtown Spartanburg's Morgan Square. 

This 1881 sculpted monument depicts Revolutionary War hero Brigadier General Daniel Morgan, known for leading the Patriots to victory in the Battle of Cowpens. This was a decisive turning point in the American Revolution, hastening the events that led to the British surrender at Yorktown. 

Today, we're sharing the surprising story behind the monument itself, which was put up post-Reconstruction. Join our founder, Chumley Cope, and let's explore . . . 

Virtual Travel with Explore Up Close: Video 1 from Explore Up Close on Vimeo.


Posted on March 27th in Virtual Travel Series

Virtual Travel: The TVA and the Clinch River

Mystery Photo Reveal: March 23, 2020

As many of you correctly guessed, this photo was taken in the Volunteer State -- Tennessee. The railroad bridge spans the Clinch River, which was the site of the TVA's first impoundment: Norris Lake and Dam, named for Nebraska Senator George Norris (pictured). 

Norris (a Republican, perhaps in name only) was a great ally of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal legislation. Described by FDR as a "knight of American progressive ideals," Norris introduced the Senate version of the TVA Act, which became law in May 1933. (Monday's email incorrectly linked Norris to the Ways and Means Committee -- untrue; that committee only exists in the House of Representatives. That's our corrected testimony!)

The Norris Dam would ultimately power the "Secret City" of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, which played a key role in the Manhattan Project.

The Manhattan Project was the secret work of the United States government during World War II to create an atomic reaction, and, ultimately, weapon. State-of-the-art laboratories, along with accommodations for 30,000 employees and their families (though the population was over twice that by 1945), were tucked away in the sparsely populated, mist-shrouded hills of Tennessee. (The other secret cities established were Hanford, Washington, and Los Alamos, New Mexico).

Finally, an interesting connection to our region . . .

The TVA constructed an entire town to build and administer Norris Dam and Lake; this new town was called Norris. A TVA staff "landscape engineer" named Earle Sumner Draper drew up the design for the town, which featured curvy, winding streets, and large wooded lots. Draper's earlier landscape design work can be seen today in some of our region's most famous (and charming) residential neighborhoods: Druid Hills (Hendersonville), Myers Park (Charlotte), Hayes Barton (Raleigh), Sequoyah Hills (Knoxville) - and the layout of the hotel and "resort" complex at Lake Lure, NC.

Posted on March 25th in Virtual Travel Series

Announcing . . . Virtual Travel with Explore Up Close!

Greetings Explore Up Close friends, 

We're happy to announce a fun and intriguing "virtual travel" series that we'll send to you by email every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. We're excited to continue to bring our exploration to you, in the comfort of your home! It's our hope that this will keep our minds and hearts traveling, even while we stay in place right now.

Here's what to look forward to in your inbox each week . . .

Each Monday, we'll share a mystery photo from our travels - and it's up to you to guess where it is! Stay tuned for our first photo, coming later today . . .

On Wednesdays, we'll reveal the location of our mystery photo, along with snippets of stories related to this place. We'll also engage with questions that we receive via email, so if there is something that you've been wondering - from our favorite places, to travel logistics, we encourage you to ask away!

Each Friday, we'll spice things up with a fun travel video from our team. Now . . . where did I put my movie director's beret?!

If you aren't currently on our mailing list, but would like to receive our Virtual Travel series, simply click here to join our mailing list. 

We could all use a bit of an escape right now, so we warmly invite you to join in the fun, and share this series with your friends. Here's to past and future adventures!


Chumley Cope
Explore Up Close Founder

Posted on March 23rd in Virtual Travel Series

A Encouraging Note from Explore Up Close

Hello friends,

[Above the din and smoke enveloping the plains of Waterloo, rose the steady clear lilt of a solitary bag-piper, dressed in his Gordon Highlanders tartan . . . and the melody of "Johnnie Cope, Are Ye Wakin'?" flooded into the valley and into the hearts of the troops.]

This is Chumley, founder of Explore Up Close, writing with some words of encouragement. (As for the above passage . . . sometimes, only the music of the Scottish Highlands can capture a particular feeling.)

We're obviously experiencing a lock-down on all travel and routine activities, which will stretch on for several weeks. There will be updates from officials and experts about the specifics of the lock-down, and the duration -- so we, like you, will monitor and reassess our world of travel possibilities as those updates roll through.

Here are a few notes that I hope are comforting to us all.

First of all, on the personal side: If any of you who live in our immediate area (i.e. the Greenville / Spartanburg areas) need anything -- a grocery store run, help getting to an appointment, toilet paper from my wife's stash -- please contact us. Call me, leave a message, and I'll respond.

Related to our scheduled travel during the next month or so: 
We are taking the approach of wanting to reschedule trips that fall between mid-March and mid-April. As I said above, we'll keep monitoring developments about the virus and safety restrictions, and make smart decisions about later trips -- and whether we can take them as scheduled or need to reschedule. So, if you're signed up for a spring trip, we'll be in touch with details about our plans.

We will also take this unexpected free time to share some wonderful travel photos, and snippets of great stories from our archives, which we hope will help lift your spirits and normalize your lives.

Among the true joys that we've found during our years of Exploring Up Close are the friendships we've experienced along the way with our fellow travelers. So, in our present dislocation, we'll continue to keep in touch . . . and we'll look forward to some great backroads exploration in our future!


Chumley Cope
Explore Up Close Founder


Posted on March 16th in Small Group Travel

Exploring South Carolina's Pee Dee

We're exploring South Carolina's Blackwater Rivers, in the fascinating (and less-visited) Pee Dee region!  Here are just a few of the rich South Carolina stories we're uncovering:

  • The survival of the Gullah culture and language, daring Revolutionary War exploits, beautifully preserved churches and small towns, and one of South Carolina's most interesting 19th century families
  • Pristine natural beauty, for photographers and nature lovers:
  • Majestic cypress trees, draped with Spanish moss; a wide diversity of birds and wildlife; the waterways of the Great and Little Pee Dee, Waccamaw, Santee, Black, and Samipit Rivers; early spring flowers in bloom

Here's what Explore Up Close founder, Chumley Cope, has to say: 

Posted on February 17th in History and Culture

Passports 101: A Guide for Applying and Renewing Your Passport in 2020

Applying for a passport - or renewing an expired passport - may seem daunting, but we're here to walk you through it. The good news: it's easier than ever today, so don't let passport woes stop you from traveling outside of the United States! Timing is everything, so it's best to apply for a passport (even if you are just renewing it) several months in advance to ensure that you receive it in time for your trip. Here is the Explore Up Close guide to applying for a passport - happy globetrotting!


If you are applying for a first-time passport, you can apply in person at many post offices. Post office locations can be found here. While the closest location may be the most convenient, sometimes wait times are much less in post offices just outside of the city. For example, I live in Spartanburg and there is a post office not far from my house, but I went to the post office in Moore to renew my passport and was served almost immediately after walking in the door. Whatever post office you choose, it is best to make an appointment. Before your appointment, you will need to fill out the DS-11 form, which can be found online here. Proof of citizenship and identification will be required at the appointment, as well as a photocopy of each. Your evidence of citizenship must be an original or certified copy. In addition, you will need to bring one 2" by 2" color photo.


If you need to renew an expiring/expired passport, you can do this easily by mail. You will need to fill out the DS-82 form, which can be found online here. Then you will mail in the form as well as your most recent U.S. passport, one 2" by 2" color photo, necessary fees, and any other required documents. If you have urgent international travel within 14 days, you can make an appointment at a post office, or other passport center, and pay an additional $60 expedite fee.


Photo Tips. You can take your own photo, but it is best to get photos made at places like CVS, Walgreens, or FedEx stores. If you have a Costco membership, this will be the cheapest place to get a photo made. Photo requirements can be found here.


For more complicated situations, or additional information, take a look at the State Department’s website, found here.

Posted on February 11th in International Travel

Hello, 2020! A decade of Explore Up Close, in review

As this year comes to a close, we're reflecting on our favorite memories from 2019 . . . and from the past decade.  It's been a big year for our small family company, and we couldn't be more excited as we look ahead to 2020!

Here's 2019, by the numbers . . .

10 countries visited:
Austria, Canada, Chile, Denmark, France, Ireland, New Zealand, Portugal, Scotland, Spain
11 states explored:
Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Maine, Montana, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia
25 small group trips
183 curious travelers 

Over the past decade . . .

In 2009, Explore Up Close was celebrating 5 years in business. Our small team was even smaller - founder Chumley Cope ran every aspect of the company - and led each and every trip - by himself!  Over the past 10 years, we are proud to have grown to a team of three full-time employees. And, we've been very fortunate to work with a host of incredible guides and great minds along the way.
We've also widened our travel repertoire since 2009.  Today, in addition to our small group tours, we proudly organize and guide trips for family and friend groups, churches, special interest groups, and more. For the friends who dream of hiking through the Scottish Borders, for a family's summer adventure to the Pacific Northwest, or for a church choir group discovering the Reformation and music history in Germany . . . organizing custom group travel has become one of our favorite ventures yet.
Most of all, we're grateful to have the opportunity to do what we love! To each person who has opened our emails, shared our name with a friend, or joined us for a small group adventure over these past 10 years: thank you for sharing this journey with us. Here's to the special places and stories waiting in 2020!

Posted on December 31st in Small Group Travel

The Small Joys of Travel: Bielefeld, Germany

Finding home in Germany, through the sharp eyes of Explore Up Close intern, Olivia Reichwald!

Bielefeld, Germany is a second home for me; I have spent entire summers there with my family and have watched little things in the city change over the years - things that only a local would notice. Bielefeld is one of the largest cities in Germany, despite its relative anonymity, but seems small due to its lack of skyscrapers. In fact, there is even a conspiracy theory that Bielefeld does not exist, once alluded to by the German Chancellor Angela Merkel! 

One of the fun things about returning to the same home-away-from-home so frequently is that I am able to revisit to my favorite spots while also discovering new hidden gems. Every time I visit, I make sure to go to the nearby Tierpark (zoo) and spend a few hours meandering through the wooded landscape watching bears, reindeer, and an enormous collection of birds. All of the animals are meant to represent local species, and visitors can interact with the habitats: you can hand-feed deer, walk on a bridge over the wolves, and even enter into the goats’ enclosure (my personal favorite). Memories of playing with the goats are some of the best memories I have of going to Germany as a young child, and the goats are always a source of comfort for me: I know that they will always be there when I return. 


Not far from the Tierpark is the Sparrenburg—an old castle-turned-fortress, dating back to the medieval period. As a child, I visited this site for a Renaissance festival, during which the locals celebrated the history of their town and its origins. Over the years, I’ve seen several new excavations expand the site and enhance its history. I learn more about the fortress each time, while enjoying panoramic views of Bielefeld just below.  


Even seemingly mundane places take on a new shine when they are so deeply rooted in memories. For example, visiting the grocery store is another must-do when I visit Bielefeld. The chocolate aisle - or should I say aisles - has some of the best chocolate (if you believe that Germany chocolate is the best, like I do) for much cheaper prices than in any other country. Consequently, we stock up for the next year. The meat and cheese sections are also beyond ordinary. Germans eat Abendbrot most days, which translates to “evening bread.” They eat their warm, heavy meal at midday and have a light meal in the evening - Abendbrot. Typically, there will be assortments of breads, meats, cheeses, and vegetables for people to create their own open-faced sandwiches. Therefore, Germans care deeply about good quality cheeses and meats…and also bread. Some of my favorite memories in Germany are at the dinner table enjoying Abendbrot together with my German family. 

Downtown Bielefeld is the backdrop to many of my childhood afternoons in Germany. It’s just a short walk away from where my family stays, and I can begin to smell the sweet scents of breads and pastry (mixed with a hint of cigarette smoke) as soon as I enter onto the cobblestone streets. The downtown is divided into two sections: the newer section which contains popular clothing stores, department stores, and other major brand-name shops; and the “Altstadt” (old city) which houses boutiques, the best gelaterias, and old buildings that have been standing for generations. After a day of visiting our favorite stores, my sister and I always find our way to one particular gelateria and walk back with a fresh cone of gelato in our hands. If there’s anything that I’ve learned from traveling, it’s that the small joys are always the most memorable.    




Text and photos by Olivia Reichwald


Posted on August 1st in International Travel

Summer Adventure in the Bavarian Alps

A glimpse into summer in the Bavarian Alps, through the sharp eyes of Explore Up Close intern, Olivia Reichwald!


The Alps host some of the most scenic views in all of Europe and are known for their towering snow-covered peaks. Although the Alps are most commonly accessed through Switzerland or Austria, I had the pleasure of enjoying the Alps from a quaint town in Bavaria, the southernmost region of Germany. The town of Jachenau is a prime tourist destination during ski season due to its proximity to the Alps, but it offers a unique look into the day-to-day German lifestyle during the summer months.



Upon arriving in Jachenau, I was immediately captivated by the rolling hills of green pastures and farms, and the crisp air was certainly a nice break from the humidity of South Carolina. The house where we stayed was situated in a small neighborhood backed by sheep pastures, in which we were able to watch farmers herd the sheep every morning and evening. The town itself has only one grocery store and one restaurant, allowing us to truly immerse ourselves in Bavarian village culture.


On our first full day in Jachenau, we went on an eight-mile hike up one of the nearby mountains. Although the locals rated the hike as “super easy,” it proved to be quite strenuous as we hiked continuously uphill until we reached the peak. However, the challenge was worth the view. As we began to near the top, we turned around and saw an incredible panoramic scene of crystal clear lakes nestled between majestic alpine hills. From the top, the Alps would have been visible had it not been a foggy day, but the view of the surrounding lakes was absolutely breathtaking. The Walchensee, the alpine lake situated next to Jachenau, has a turquoise hue that rivals the waters of the Caribbean and is surrounded by snowy hills and forests. AHgFSRPYaD0eVrZyvELBTd9G2calUwJzDjuCHj5O


My father, who was on the trip with us and was born and raised in northern Germany, reminisced on his boyhood years of camping with his family by the Walchensee; these anecdotes made the experience especially meaningful for us. The view, however, was only one of the most rewarding parts of the hike. Just below the peak of the mountain sat a small restaurant frequented only by hikers or nearby loggers. The restaurant seemed to be the dining room of a woman’s house as it only held two large tables and lots of outdoor seating. The limited menu held only variations of meat and cheese boards and soup, but it was warm and homemade, which is exactly what we needed after the steep climb.





After a couple days of exploring Jachenau, we spent a day in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, a popular destination for skiers from around the world. At the edge of town sits the Zugspitze, the tallest alpine mountain in Germany. It can be hiked up, or viewed by ascending in a cable car. Still sore from the hike the day before, we opted for the cable car. Once we boarded the suspended metal lift, we launched toward the mountain in our ascent. During the five-minute trip, the landscape around us quickly transformed from lush forest into beautiful contrasts of alpine rock and glistening snow. We could see the Austrian Alps in the distance, and the Zugspitze was magnificently situated in the forefront. 



The next day, we drove north through Germany to visit family in Bielefeld, near Hamburg, and I was amazed by the variety of scenery that we saw, as we left behind the quiet alpine landscapes for the lush rolling hills of central Germany.


Text and photos by Olivia Reichwald


Posted on July 23rd in International Travel