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Tue
4
Dec '12

New Year’s Eve Around the World

New Year’s Eve is a truly worldwide event, and a great holiday to experience away from home. One of the world’s most iconic celebrations is in Sydney, Australia, which puts on a spectacular fireworks display in Sydney Harbor. Actually, there are two displays: a 9 p.m. show to accommodate families with young (or not-so-young) members who will fall asleep before midnight; and a show that starts at the stroke of 12 a.m. There’s a lot to see in the harbor before and between the fireworks, too, including demonstrations of aerial acrobatics and a parade of vessels illuminated by miles and miles of rope lights.

 

For a more exotic far eastern celebration, consider Tokyo, Japan. New Year is an important holiday here, a time to let go of old sorrows and welcome new hopes of good fortune. There are “Countdown Parities” all over the city, and when the clock strikes midnight, you can join the crowds who head to the city’s shrines and temples for the first visit of the New Year. The atmosphere at most shrines is festive, with food and lucky charms for sale.

 

To be in the center of the celebration in Paris, France, head to the Champs-Elysees. There are lots of cafes and clubs along the famous street where you can dine and dance while waiting for midnight. At midnight, the Eiffel Tower will light up as fireworks illuminate the sky. To celebrate with a smaller crowd, head to the plaza in front of Sacré-Coeur Basilica in Montmartre, the city’s highest point. You’ll have a view of the fireworks, and there are plenty of clubs and bars in the surrounding streets.

 

In Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, New Year’s Eve – commonly referred to as Réveillon – is second only to Carnival for glamorous fun. You can attend an elegant Réveillon party at one of the city’s hotels or museums. Or, head to the beach at Copacabana to enjoy live music from multiple stages and see a massive fireworks display. Note that it’s traditional to wear white to this party, which attracts as many as two million people to the 2.5 miles of beachfront.

 

As always, all eyes will be on New York City as the famous New Year’s Eve Ball descends in Times Square just before midnight. While the live music and blizzard of confetti in Times Square are fantastic, there are celebrations and special performance across the city, from the New York Philharmonic at Lincoln Center to the Concert for Peace at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.

 

To make your arrangements for a global New Year’s Eve celebration, talk with your travel professional.

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Tue
27
Nov '12

Incredible Istanbul

The unique skyline and exotic vibe of Istanbul, Turkey, are making it a favorite of cinematographers and filmmakers: you can see Istanbul in the recent movies Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Taken 2, The International and the new James Bond adventure, Skyfall. And, if you admire the city when you see it on a movie screen, imagine how much more wonderful it is in person.

 

Founded around 660 BC and once known as Constantinople, Istanbul is in the unusual position of being located on two continents. The city is dissected by the Bosphorus, a strait that links the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara and forms part of the boundary between Europe and Asia. With its strategic location, Istanbul has been the capital of no less than four empires: Roman, Byzantium, Latin and Ottoman. Today, it’s the economic and cultural powerhouse of Turkey. Istanbul also served as a European Capital of Culture in 2010.

 

Tourists come to Istanbul for many reasons: certainly, one of them is to see the incredible collection of historic buildings. For example, the Hagia Sophia is one of the finest examples of Byzantine architecture. It’s been a cathedral and a mosque, and is now a museum.

 

The Sultan Ahmet Mosque – or Blue Mosque – is flanked by six stunning minarets, and is classic Ottoman style architecturally. Its nickname comes from the beautiful blue tiles that adorn the interior.

Topkapi Palace overlooks the city’s harbor, the Golden Horn, and was the main residence of the ruling Ottoman sultans for about 400 years. Among the treasures in the Topkapi Palace Museum are important Muslim relics, including a cloak and sword that belonged to Muhammad.

 

Buildings in Istanbul’s fashionable Beyoglu district reflect the European influence on the city. Nestled among there are the studios and galleries of working artists.

 

Sightseeing will make you hungry, and Istanbul is a great place to eat. There are kebabs of grilled lamb, veal, beef or chicken on skewers, delicious stews and casseroles, and lots of seafood.

 

Istanbul also offers memorable shopping. There are plenty of modern boutiques and shopping centers, but don’t miss the Grand Bazaar, a covered market that’s been operating since 1461. You’re sure to find a wonderful keepsake among the 4,000 stalls full of jewelry, leather, pottery, spices, carpets and more.

To discover all that Istanbul has to offer and make your plans to visit, talk with your travel professional.

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Mon
5
Nov '12

Holiday Travel: What to Do Before You Leave for the Airport

Spending time with family and friends during the winter holidays is wonderful, but the travel required to be with the ones you love can often be challenging. From Thanksgiving through­­­­­ New Year’s Day, the holidays are one of the year’s busiest times for travel. You can’t control the crowds, but you can take steps that will help you move as smoothly as possible through the airport. And, preparation begins at home.

 

A week or two before you leave, think about the routine around your home and make arrangements accordingly. For example, do you need to stop mail delivery, or can a trusted neighbor collect it for you? Think about plants that may need water, snow that may need shoveling, and putting a light or two on a timer switch so that your home looks occupied.

 

Inspect your luggage and make sure it’s in good condition for travel. Any seams should be fully closed, latches and buckles should work properly, and zippers and wheels should move smoothly. If not, repair or replace it.

 

Pack as lightly as possible. Leave some room in your luggage for things you may pick up during your travels. Don’t wrap gifts that you’re bringing with you, as security personnel may open the packages. You may even consider shipping those gifts ahead of time so your bags remain as light as possible.

Follow the Transportation Security Administration’s guidance on liquids, gels and powders: most are OK in checked baggage, but if they are in your carry-on bag they cannot be more than three ounces each and must all fit in a quart-size, transparent plastic bag.

 

Check in online within 24 hours of your departure and print your boarding pass at home. This will re-confirm your seat (remember that many planes are overbooked during the holidays). Some airlines have mobile applications that will let you store your boarding pass on your mobile phone.

 

On the day you leave, dress simply – you don’t want to deal with layers of sweaters and jackets, lots of jewelry or complicated shoes at the airport security checkpoint.

 

Just before you leave home, check your flight’s status to confirm that it’s on time.

 

Finally, if you’re taking your own car to the airport, investigate parking options. Consider using an offsite lot where you can make a reservation so you won’t have to waste time looking for an open parking space.

 

Knowing that you’ve prepared well, get excited about your trip!

For more pre-flight travel tips, talk with your travel professional.

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Tue
25
Sep '12

Celebrate Halloween Where it all Began: Ireland

If you are past the appropriate age for trick-or-treat, consider giving yourself a treat this Halloween by traveling to the place where Halloween began: the Emerald Isle of Ireland.

Beginning in the fifth or sixth century, the Celtic harvest festival of Samhain marked the end of summer and the beginning of winter in what is now Ireland. As the seasons changed, the Celts believed that the dead were able to briefly return to the mortal world. They lit bonfires to ward off the cold and the darkness of the long nights, as well as the ghosts.

 

In the eighth century, Christians declared All Saints’ Day/All Hallows’ Day to be November 1 and the Celts began to celebrate Samhain each October 31. The festival became known as All Hallows’ Eve, a name that evolved to Halloween.

 

As in the U.S., modern Halloween in Ireland is celebrated with costumes, decorations, parties and trick-or-treating. Some parties are city-wide events: the Northern Ireland city of Derry is noted for its Banks of the Foyle Halloween Carnival. As many as 30,000 people congregate inside the historic district’s medieval walls for a grand carnival with live music and fireworks.

Dublin hosts a huge Halloween parade along O’Connell Street. After the parade, travel a few miles north of the city to tour Malahide Castle. The castle was recently refurbished, but according to legend, it is still “home” to five ghosts said to have haunted the historic structure for centuries.

 

In Dublin or the city of Belfast, you can take a Halloween Ghost Bus Tour, a very comfortable yet awesomely scary ride. You’ll hear gruesomely fascinating tales of jilted brides, prisoners, executioners, plague victims and other unsettled spirits believed to occupy haunted places in the city.

 

If you’re offered a slice of Bambrack Cake, look at it carefully before you take a bite. According to custom, there is a piece of rag, a coin and a ring in each of these traditional fruitcakes. If your piece has the rag, you might worry a little bit about your financial future. The coin is a sign of a prosperous year to come, and the ring signals a new romance, or continued happiness in your current romance.

 

Many other cities and towns throughout Ireland hold special Halloween events. To find out more about how you can be part of the fun, talk with your travel professional.

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Wed
22
Aug '12

Discovering Creative Scotland

This summer, all eyes have been on London for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, followed by the thrilling Summer Olympic Games. However, plenty has been going on in the rest of Britain, including the Year of Creative Scotland. This year-long program of festivals, performances and other events, ranging from writers’ workshops to major multimedia exhibitions, showcases the nation’s rich cultural and artistic heritage.

 

Year of Creative Scotland events are taking place all over the country, including the major cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow. While you’re there to discover Scotland’s creative side, be sure to enjoy some of the historic sights, too.

 

Edinburgh offers a fantastic collection of historic buildings, including the must-see Edinburgh Castle. Constructed and altered over several centuries, the castle includes the 12th-century St. Margaret’s Chapel; the Royal Palace where Mary, Queen of Scots, held court; and the National War Museum of Scotland.  In contrast, Craigmillar Castle, just south of the city, is essentially a shell – there are no preserved structures or furnishings inside these castle walls, but the atmosphere and views are wonderful.

 

To see the possible location of Camelot, climb the extinct volcano called Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh’s Holyrood Park. While you’re unlikely to come across Arthur’s sword, Excalibur, it’s worth the climb to see the panoramic views of Edinburgh.

 

About 50 miles west of Edinburgh lies Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city. Spend some time browsing through “The Barras” – a nickname for the expansive Glasgow Barrowland Market. There are stalls full of everything from fruits and vegetables to kilts and hiking boots. Stay until evening, and you can dance at the Barrowland Ballroom.

 

Glasgow Green is the city’s oldest park, with beautiful landmarks like the McLennan Arch at the northwest entrance, and the People’s Palace museum, which has the Doulton Fountain in front and an elegant conservatory at the back. The Riverside Museum displays Scotland’s history of transport: the masts of an 18th-century ship near the sculpted metal waves over the museum’s entrance are a good indication of its blend of old and new. Also, don’t miss the famed architecture that can be found by Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

 

For more ideas about things to see and do throughout Scotland, talk with your travel professional.

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Mon
23
Jul '12

Destination Weddings: Wedding and Honeymoon in One

            If you haven’t attended a destination wedding yet, you probably know someone who has. What’s the attraction of being married far from home?

            Well, there are a few attributes that make a destination wedding an excellent choice for a growing number of couples. Not least among these is the feeling that you’re stealing away from your daily life for a romantic ceremony in an exotic location – something that only celebrities used to do.

            The practical advantages of a destination wedding include the fact that it can actually cost less than a traditional wedding. And, you can give your guests a fun opportunity for a brief or extended vacation, while you and your beloved get right to the honeymoon.

            When planning a destination wedding, it’s important to work with a travel professional, who can negotiate the best prices for you and your guests, coordinate everyone’s flight schedules, and help you decide where exactly to tie the knot, whether it’s on a beach, at the top of a ski slope, or in a Medieval garden. Your travel professional can also help you arrange for a qualified officiant and check on any residency or license requirements at your destination.

            With a destination wedding, your most difficult task may be deciding where to go. Depending on your budget, you might consider the jaw-dropping beauty of Tahiti, a true South Pacific paradise; Italy’s scenic Amalfi Coast; or one of the quiet outer islands of the Bahamas.

            One of the most popular wedding destinations for U.S. couples is Mexico, where either the Gulf or Pacific Coast is perfect for a lovely ceremony followed by a beach honeymoon. Jamaica’s white-sand beaches and reggae beats make it another very popular choice.

            If you want or need to stay a bit closer to home but still desire an exciting destination wedding, look no further than Orlando’s Disney World, which offers a variety of wedding packages; the Grand Canyon, where spectacular Shoshone Point or Grandeur Point can be reserved for weddings; or the ice field of a glacier in Juneau, Alaska (the bride may wish to wear something other than white so as not to blend in).

            Starting your destination wedding planning is easy – just call your travel professional.

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Thu
5
Jul '12

Today’s Hong Kong

July 1 marked the 15th anniversary of the transfer of Hong Kong from Britain to China, making Hong Kong one of two Special Administrative Regions of the People’s Republic of China (the other is Macau, located across the Pearl River delta from Hong Kong). The city is celebrating the anniversary with events ranging from concerts to dragon-dance parades, all adding to the energy of this fascinating city.

Since the transfer, Hong Kong’s unique blend of Eastern and Western cultures (it was part of the British Empire for most of the time from 1842 until 1997) has been maintained through the practice of “one country, two systems.” Hong Kong has its own political system and judiciary, and a high degree of autonomy in most areas of governance and operations.  It remains a global financial center, a retail wonderland, and a place where you can enjoy dim sum and English high tea in the same afternoon.

Hong Kong, while densely (and vertically) populated, is also a place of extreme natural beauty. Take the tram to the top of Victoria Mountain for a breathtaking view of the city and harbor below. Hong Kong’s harbor is busy and interesting during the day, with all sorts of traditional and modern watercraft at work. But, the best time to cruise the harbor is at night, when the impressive skyscrapers are lit up by a fabulous light show.

If you’re traveling to Hong Kong soon, note that some 15th anniversary events will continue into fall. For example, the Museum of Art’s special exhibit on Emperor Qianlong will run through October 14. The display includes treasures from Beijing’s Forbidden City, most of them collected by the Emperor himself.

Hong Kong’s luxury hotels are a treat to visit at any time of year. The elegant Peninsula Hotel is known for its Rolls Royce limousines, white-gloved bellboys and high tea, complete with cucumber sandwiches and other English delicacies.

The luxurious new Ritz-Carlton Hotel has the distinction of being the world’s highest: it occupies floors 102 to 118 of the International Commerce Center. The hotel’s height gives it unmatched views of the city, the harbor and beyond. While each guest room has a spectacular view, you can also check out the panorama from the Club Lounge or one of the six restaurants.

To make your Hong Kong travel arrangements, talk with your travel professional.

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Fri
22
Jun '12

Discover the Cultural Mix of Sao Luis

To promote the diverse cultures of the Americas, the American Capital of Culture Organization annually selects a city to serve as the American Capital of Culture.  For 2012, the organization chose to celebrate Sao Luis, a city on the Atlantic coast in northeastern Brazil. Built on Sao Luis Island in Sao Marcos Bay, the city was first inhabited by the indigenous Tupi people, then colonized by the French and Portuguese, invaded by the Dutch, and influenced by the traditions of slaves from Africa. All of this contributed to the city’s rich cultural mix.

 Throughout the year, Sao Luis will celebrate its historic center, which is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. The historic center is considered to be Brazil’s best-preserved example of a Portuguese colonial town. Many of the colonial buildings are covered with tiles, possibly intended to reflect the heat of the day and keep the buildings cool. In addition to serving as an attraction for visitors, the tiles give Sao Luis the nickname of “The Tiles City.”

 If you visit during June, you can catch a performance of bumba meu boi, a festive musical pantomime with a theme of forgiveness and social harmony. Public practices begin soon after the Easter holiday and culminate in June, when hundreds of groups perform nightly.  The crowd usually sings and dances along with the characters, which may include colonial settlers, Indians and spirits.

It’s also fascinating to watch a demonstration of capoeira, a Brazilian martial art that uses quick, choreographed movements. Music and rhythm set the tempo and style of a capoeira match, and the musicians also sing traditional songs.

 From the 16th to 18th Centuries, the Portuguese imported over three million slaves to Brazil, with some coming directly from Africa, while others came from the islands of the Caribbean. This link to the Caribbean has made Sao Luis the “Reggae Capital” of Brazil. Visitors can watch or join in dancing to the reggae music from sound towers set up inside and outside the city’s reggae clubs, next to numerous beverage stands on the streets and even on the beach.

 To discover more of the unique cultural mix of Sao Luis during its year as the American Capital of Culture, talk with your travel professional about the best air travel routes to the city’s Marechal Cunha International Airport.

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Fri
8
Jun '12

Visiting London for the Summer Olympic Games

This summer, the city of London, England, will host the Summer Olympic Games for the third time in history. In 1908, the games were moved to London from the original host city, Rome, due to the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. In 1948, London hosted the first Olympic Games to be broadcast to home televisions. The third London games, July 27 – August 12, 2012, promise to make history as well. Events will be held in a combination of already-famous venues, such as Wimbledon (tennis) and Wembley Stadium (soccer), as well as in new, purpose-built venues. Enhancements to London’s facilities and transit systems will serve visitors well not only during the Games, but for years to come.

 

If you haven’t booked your flight to the Olympics, it’s important to do so as soon as possible. Of course, the same is true for accommodations. London’s excellent collection of hotels and bed-and-breakfast inns will be bustling before, during and after the Olympic Games. Additional options include hostels and private home rentals. You can also rent a room or a campsite away from the city and hop on the train to London each day.

 

While the initial distribution process for event tickets is complete, tickets will soon be available through an official ticket resale program. Some tickets are also available through tour operators. And, some events don’t require tickets: anyone can watch road cycling, the triathlon, race walking and the Olympic marathon. In addition, some events will be shown on giant screens in Hyde Park and Victoria Park.

Once in London, you can make good use of the excellent public transit system. Nearly all venues can be reached by the London Underground (the Tube) or bus. The DLR light railway links Olympic Park with Greenwich Park and the Royal Artillery Barracks; venues along the River Thames, including Greenwich Park, can be reached by boat. Shuttle services and taxis will also help keep the crowds moving.

 

Along with a ticket to any Olympic event or ceremony, you’ll receive a card that entitles you to free travel on the Tube, the DRL light railway, buses, trams and most National Rail services on the day of the event. You can also purchase a Visitor Oyster card, a smart card you can pre-load with payment for any of those forms of transit. Visitor Oyster cards can be purchased in the U.S. before you leave.

 

For more ideas and tips about your Olympic travel experience, talk with your travel professional as soon as possible, and get ready to enjoy the thrill of competition!

 

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Thu
31
May '12

Tasting the World’s Best

Should you find Copenhagen, Denmark, in your travel plans, one must-see sight is Tivoli Gardens, the world’s most popular seasonal amusement park. The park has rides, cultural performances, concerts and Evening Illuminations, a light show on Tivoli Lake. There’s also an incredible variety of food in the park: everything from traditional open-faced Danish sandwiches to sushi, burgers and freshly picked and brewed tea.

 

However, you may want to save your appetite for the exceptional cuisine at the best restaurant in Copenhagen and, in fact, the world: Restaurant Noma. For the third year in a row, Noma was named the world’s top restaurant in an annual survey sponsored by San Pellegrino and published by Restaurant magazine. At Noma, each day’s menu includes Nordic tastes such as Limfjords oysters with air onion; roasted turbot with bitter greens; or rhubarb with milk curd.

 

If your travels take you to Spain, you could visit two of the top three restaurants in the world. After admiring the Sagrada Familia and other architectural treasures of Barcelona, take a ride about 65 miles northeast to the city of Girona. This city has its own architectural wonders and the restaurant rated second best in the world: El Celler de Can Roca, where three brothers produce playful dishes like pigeon with strawberries and roses. If you’re in the north of Spain to visit a beach resort on the Bay of Biscay, make a reservation at the world’s third-best restaurant: Mugaritz in San Sebastian. The dishes here are designed to evoke emotional responses in patrons, with a focus on fresh fish and other regional specialties.

 

If you visit the sprawling city of Sao Paulo, Brazil, to enjoy the carnival season, the annual International Film Festival or the Festival of Electronic Art, you’ll also want to experience D.O.M. Moving up from seventh to fourth on the Best Restaurant list this year, D.O.M. celebrates produce from Brazil – particularly the Amazonian region – incorporating elements such as palm hearts, manioc root and tucupi juice into its dishes.

 

The ancient city of Modena, Italy, is a center for the Italian auto industry, and visitors are attracted to the antiquities and the sleek, modern Maseratis and Lamborghinis manufactured there. There’s also Osteria Francescana, fifth on the best restaurant list, where chefs deconstruct regional dishes and experiment with ingredients like pork sausage, balsamic vinegar, beans and pasta.

To visit these or other “world’s best” epicurean delights during your travels, talk with your travel professional.

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