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Unusual and worthwhile sights in your own European backyard

The obelisk in the center of the San Domenico Maggiore square in Naples is one of three so-called plague columns in the city.

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By KAREN BRADBURY | Stars and Stripes | Published: January 22, 2021

With lockdown likely to continue for weeks if not months, trips of any distance or entailing overnight stays remain on the back burner. While travel provides us with our favored means to experience beauty, nature, history and architecture, that longed-for escape into undiscovered realms can also be had while exploring one’s own backyard. And U.S. military members stationed in Europe have some pretty amazing backyards in which to roam. When local conditions and regulations permit, here are some things to do and see:

Riding the rails in Stuttgart

Stuttgart has long been a forerunner in the area of public transportation — it was Germany’s first city to introduce a network of streetcars, drawn by horses, in 1868. Two of the trains that make up part of the Stuttgarter Straßenbahnen AG (SSB) city transportation network are notable in their uniqueness.  The Standseilbahn Stuttgart is a funicular railway linking the Südheimer Platz station below with the Degerloch Waldfriedhof above. The line opened in 1929 to take passengers to a cemetery in the forest in a section of town known as Heslach. The cable-hauled funicular rises 285 ft. at a maximum gradient of 28.3% and operates as Line 20. The pretty teak wagons run up and down every 20 minutes, and the ride itself takes just under four minutes.
The second public transportation attraction of note is the Zahnradbahn Stuttgart, affectionately known as the Zacke, or prong, by locals. One of only four cog railways in all Germany and the only one located in an urban environment connects Marienplatz in Stuttgart South with the Albplatz in Degerloch.  The track built in 1884 covers a 1.4 mile distance and rises 673 ft. at a maximum grade of 17.8%. It operates as Line 10, and has a feature appreciated by cyclists: trailers at the front and back for the transportation of bicycles. 
A single-day ticket valid within city limits allow a rider to experience both trains, and a short walk through the cemetery allows one to ride both on the same outing. When museum visits are a go again, drop by the Straßenbahnmuseum Stuttgart. The Tram World Museum showcases the development of public transportation in the city with some 60 old trams and other vehicles. ssb-ag.de/erleben/stuttgarts-besondere-bahnen

Grave-hunting in Wiesbaden

While the name Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen might not mean a lot, his nickname is likely to ring a few bells: The Red Baron.  Baron von Richthofen, a fighter pilot with the German Air Force, is credited with 80 air combat victories during the World War I years 1916-1918. He died at the age of 25, killed by a bullet while engaged in air combat near Amiens, France on April 21, 1918.  A full military funeral was given him by the No. 3 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps, the Allied air unit to have assumed responsibility for his remains, and his body was buried in a cemetery in the village of Bertangles, near Amiens, the following day. Sometime in the early 1920s, his body was transferred to the Fricourt Military Cemetery, also in France. In 1925, his remains were transferred to the Invalidenfriedhof Cemetery in Berlin. In 1975, his body was moved to the Richthofen family grave plot at the Südfriedhof Cemetery in Wiesbaden. The location of the grave is Westhain, Number 77 and the cemetery itself is well within city limits. https://tinyurl.com/y4xoujg7
Admiring architecture in Vicenza: The term Palladianism refers to a style of architecture based on the aesthetic of the classical temples of the Ancient Greeks and Romans. It takes its name from Renaissance Italian architect Andrea Palladio, whose works have exerted exceptional influence on architectural and urban design not only in Europe but throughout the world. While he designed churches, theaters and palaces, he was best known for his villas and country houses. The designs of 23 buildings within Vicenza are credited to him, and these gracious properties, along with 24 others found across the Veneto, are inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. 
While guided walking city tours are off for now, a self-guided tour through the historical center of “La Città del Palladio” could take you past several of his constructions, to include the Teatro Olimpico, Palazzo Chiericati and Palazzo Thiene. A fitting end would be the Basilica Palladiana, from which a marble statue of Palladio himself overlooks the Piazza dei Signori.

Secrets of churches in Naples

While museums remain closed, churches can stand in as their glorious substitutes. Naples’ nickname “The City of 500 Cupolas” refers to the impressive number of churches gracing Italy’s third-largest city. The Church Of Gesù Nuovo, a Jesuit church consecrated in 1601, is a magnificent example of Neapolitan Baroque. On its exterior, stones carved into the shape of diamonds bear unusual signs. It was only in 2010 that the engravings were identified as Aramaic charcters and the notes to a musical score, a concerto for stringed instruments. Inside, at the end of the left hand aisle, the relics of 70 early Christian martyrs are held in two large wooden containers lined with rows of busts. 
No less worthy of exploration is the San Domenico Maggiore Church. In 1272, the philosopher and theologian St. Thomas Aquinas began teaching theology at a university located by the spot now occupied by the church. A reliquary holds a bone from the saint’s left arm, while in the vestry, coffins contain some royal remains, including those of King Alfonso I and King Ferdinand I of Aragon. Upon exiting the church into the square of the same name, take note of the obelisk in the center of the square. It’s one of the city’s three so-called “plague columns,” erected as votive offerings after the plague of 1656.