Monday, November 12, 2018

Ten Inspiring Interiors



If you only see one building in Barcelona, see Antoni Gaudí’s magnificent Sagrada Família Cathedral. None of the surfaces are flat. Abstract shapes combine smooth curves and jagged points. The stone staircases are extraordinary, as is the nave which towers into the heavens, its pillars branching out like a forest of trees. The exterior is equally inspiring. When Gaudí was asked why he paid so much attention to the tops of the spires when no would see them, he answered, “The angels will see them.”



Discover the world-famous Colón Theater, Buenos Aires’s main opera house and one of the most iconic venues in the world. Known for its outstanding acoustics and architectural splendor, the theater originally opened in 1857 and was most recently refurbished in 2010. Admire the rich red and gold décor and glittering chandelier of this auditorium that has hosted opera legends such as Plácido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti, ballet dancers Vaslav Nijinsky and Mikhail Baryshnikov and conductors Arturo Toscanini and Herbert von Karajan.



With so many incredible buildings in Scandinavia and the Baltic, how do you choose just one? We narrowed the choice to the one place that quite literally leaves you speechless—the Church of Our Saviour on Spilled Blood in St. Petersburg. It is completely spellbinding. Every square inch of space is decorated with the most extraordinary art and mosaics of gold leaf and semiprecious stones. The effect is one of shimmering beauty. See it and be awed.



We could have chosen the remarkably preserved Roman city of Herculaneum. Or, we could have chosen the opulent rooms of Venice’s Doge’s Palace. Instead, we chose the 14th-century trulli houses in the village of Alberobello. Beautifully simple and simply beautiful, trulli are tiny, beehive-shaped dwellings with white-tipped conical roofs. Step inside the thick stone walls and you will find it pleasantly cool, with its rustic simplicity cozy and welcoming.



In the historic heart of the Dominican Republic’s oldest city sits the 16th-century Alcázar de Colón. Originally the home of Diego Columbus, the governor of the colony and Christopher Columbus’s son, the palace is an exceptional example of Spanish colonial architecture. Now a museum, its many rooms and open air loggias are decorated with paintings, tapestries and antique furnishings. Imagine which courtiers would have once entertained distinguished Spanish explorers such as Hernán Cortés and Vasco Núñez de Balboa.



Few buildings are more instantly recognizable than the Sydney Opera House. And there is no more spectacular way to approach it than through the Sydney Harbor. The gleaming white sails of Jørn Utzon’s design are different from every angle, and during different times of the day. The iconic structure is home to seven performance venues, each one an inspiring place to watch and listen to live music and theater.



On Gharapuri (renamed Elephanta Island by the Portuguese) near Mumbai is a labyrinth of cave temples. Hewed from solid rock, the UNESCO-listed complex was created between 450 and 750 AD. It consists of a network of chambers, halls, pillars, courtyards and shrines, and is described as a “masterpiece of Gupta-Chalukyan art.” The most important sculpture in the caves is the Trimurti, a 20-foot-high image depicting a three-faced Shiva, as the destroyer, creator and preserver of the universe.



One of Bangkok’s lesser-known treasures and a UNESCO World Heritage Site is the ancient capital of Ayutthaya. King Ramathibodi I founded the city in 1350 AD and it served as the kingdom’s capital for 417 years, until it was conquered and destroyed by the Burmese in 1767 AD. Admire its stunning temples, statues and gardens. Be sure to see the Bang Pa-in Summer Palace, a captivating collection of pavilions in a variety of architectural styles set amid a beautiful garden.



You will not want to miss the magnificent 17th-century St. Stephen’s Cathedral when you visit charming Passau. This baroque wonder houses Europe’s largest pipe organ, with more than 17,000 pipes, and inspired composer Franz Liszt to write his Hungarian Coronation Mass. Admire the cathedral’s elegant white interior, its elaborate stucco painted by Italian artist Giovanni Battista Carlone and the intricate frescos created by painter Carpoforo Tencalla.



This sacred and powerful memorial honoring the lives of those we lost is sobering yet inspiring. The underground museum space was built within the remnants of the original World Trade Center. Outside, two enormous waterfalls flow into two pools, around which are carved the names of those
who perished. Equally extraordinary is the Oculus at the World Trade Center Transportation Hub, a mind-boggling glass-and-steel structure designed to look like a dove in flight. The vast, pure white interior of the main hall is like a modern-day cathedral, with light pouring through the ribbed ceiling. And, just like in a cathedral, the effect is incredibly moving.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Scenic Day Trips By Train

Alaska Railroad’s Coastal Classic

While the Alaska Railroad has multiple week-long train adventures, the railway also offers several scenic day trips. One popular option is the Coastal Classic route, which covers 114 miles from Anchorage to Seward, snaking through the Chugach Mountains, along Turnagain Arm and into the rugged backcountry of the Kenai Peninsula. A seven-hour stopover near Kenai Fjords National Park enables travelers to explore at their leisure, even take a park ranger narrated cruise and dine on a delicious prime rib buffet, before settling in for an evening return to Anchorage.

Inca Rail’s 360° Machu Picchu Train

The crown jewel of train travel in Latin America may be Inca Rail’s luxurious 360 degrees Machu Picchu Train. Boasting six railcars, an outdoor viewing platform and panoramic floor-to-ceiling windows across the train, Inca Rail gives travelers the opportunity to more fully experience the Andean landscape, including winding rivers and snow-capped mountains. A GPS-activated audio guide narrates the journey from Poroy Station in Cusco to Machu Picchu, giving passengers insights into their surroundings and the ancient Inca civilization.

Glacier Express

Sit back and enjoy the leisurely pace of this seven-hour train ride from Zermatt to St. Moritz as you absorb the delightful alpine views from your seat on board the Glacier Express in Switzerland. Book a day trip or include the Glacier Express as part of any multi-day adventure.  Vacation package that takes travelers across snowy mountains and green pastures of Lucerne, Montreux, Zermatt, Andermatt and Zurich.

Grand Canyon Railway

Skip the lines at the entrance gate to the Grand Canyon’s South Rim. Instead, get your tickets punched for the Grand Canyon Railway in Williams, Arizona and board a restored streamliner-era train bound for Grand Canyon Village. The journey takes just over two hours one-way and the train disembarks in front of the historic El Tovar Hotel. On the return, plan on cowboys, shoot-outs, sing-alongs and, of course, all the majestic scenery, from wide-open prairies to ponderosa pine forests, you care to take in.

New Zealand’s TranzAlpine

Experience the striking New Zealand landscape on a rail journey between Christchurch and Greymouth, which takes just under five hours one-way to travel nearly 140 miles aboard the TranzAlpine. Ready your camera for picturesque views of Mount Binser before the train crosses the Waimakariri River to reach Arthur’s Pass National Park. Keep your eyes open for the majestic Lake Brunner, one of the largest lakes in New Zealand’s South Island, as it’s tucked away in the Southern Alps.

Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

This eight-hour train trip on India’s Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, also known as the "Toy Train," takes travelers across lush valleys and tea plantations, through dense jungle and into fragrant forests on board a narrow-gauge steam train. The route runs 50 miles through the Himalayan foothills from New Jalpaiguri to Darjeeling, making scenic stops along the way, including the famous Batasia Loop. Today, the railway is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Even more exciting, the train has a brand-new air-conditioned compartment, a first in its 137-year history.

Norway's Flam Railway

The Flam Railway has been called the most beautiful train journey in the world, and it’s easy to see why. Across 12 miles of Western Norway, expect to see cascading waterfalls, snow-capped peaks, hilltop farms, and magnificent fjords. It’s also one of the steepest train rides, taking guests nearly 3,000 feet above sea level in just one hour.

Jacobite Steam Train

Harry Potter fans make note, book a ticket on board the Jacobite Steam Train with West Coast Railways. This 84-mile round-trip rail journey takes travelers from Fort William, the largest town in the Scottish Highlands, which sits at the base of Britain’s tallest mountain, Ben Nevis, to Mallaig, a bustling fishing village. As you cross the famed Glenfinnan Viaduct, the train will pause for photos of the tremendously scenic views. Once you arrive in Mallaig, you’ll have 90 minutes to explore and do lunch before chugging back to Fort William.

Monday, September 3, 2018

10 Ways You Are Ruining Your Vacation

You Didn’t Pack Smart

There’s nothing worse than hurling yourself atop a bulging suitcase, then huffing and puffing as you struggle to wrench the zipper shut. Avoid this highly undignified scene by packing your clothes compactly—roll, don’t fold—and resist the urge to chuck in the contents of your entire closet.

Ask yourself: Are you actually going to wear that sequined cocktail dress, or is it just going to take up precious space in your carry-on? With a smartly packed suitcase, unpacking and repacking won’t become an existential dilemma that makes you wonder why the heck you travel in the first place.

You Didn’t Choose the Right Vacation Buddy

Some people like to sightsee until their feet are blistered, other people like to laze on a beach until their skin turns copper. Both are perfectly acceptable travel choices. But if you belong in one camp, chances are you have zero patience for someone in the other. If you’re going on a vacation with a friend, make sure you’re on the same page travel-wise before you buy a plane ticket. Otherwise, you're on track for a major vacation blowup.

You Didn’t Do Enough Research

A city like London is super easy to experience on the fly. If you’re an American, lucky you, you already speak the language, and because it’s such a vibrant and bustling city, there’s nearly always something interesting around the corner.

But if you’re going to a more remote destination—like, say, rural China—things won’t be so easy. Don’t wait until you land to do your research.

That means figuring out the transportation deets (will you take a train to get around? A bus?), telecommunication info (is there cell service? Will you need a mobile Wi-Fi device?), and so on well ahead of time. The more you plan ahead, the less likely you'll be to find yourself lost on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere.

You Did Too Much Research

There’s something to be said about just letting yourself wander. If you overdo it on the research, there’ll be no stumbling across beautiful old houses, no chance discoveries of quaint, under-the-radar cafes, no friendships forged over lazy pints at the local pub. The best trips are the ones that unfold organically and include experiences you’d never have expected when you first arrived. Finding a happy medium between overpreparation and no planning at all is crucial.

You Didn’t Consider Your Budget

Pro tip: Don’t head to a luxury mecca like Monaco or Macau if you’re on a super tight budget. Some destinations are easy to do on the cheap without sacrificing fun, others not so much. It’s smart to be realistic about what you’re willing to spend, otherwise you’ll wind up feeling like you’ve missed out.

You Didn’t Meet the Locals

There’s no better way to get to know a place than through the eyes of its residents. Sure, you’ll want to hit up the big museums and major monuments on your trip, but don’t forget to strike up a conversation with your bar-mate or meet up with friends of friends. From them, you’ll get an entirely different perspective on a place than what the guidebooks tell you.

You Didn’t Consider Technology

If you’re the type of person who’s attached to their phone (no judgment) then you’d best figure out the cell service situation at your chosen destination before you leave home. In some countries, an international phone plan purchased through your regular provider might be the right move. Other places, you might want to nab a SIM card when you touch down, or even rent a mobile Wi-Fi device.

You Didn’t Choose the Right Vacation Speed

If you’re drowning in stress at work, an action-packed tour of Paris planned down to the half hour may not be right for you. On the flip side, if your day-to-day life is stuck in a boring rut, a secluded cabin-in-the-woods situation may not give you the excitement you desire. Don’t plan a vacation based on what the travel magazines say are fun—choose one that fits your needs at the moment.

You Planned a Trip Around Instagram Moments

Remember when your friend posted an Instagram photo of herself posing serenely on a gorgeous Bali beach at sunset?

Well, you traveled all the way to Bali to see it for yourself, only to find dirty sand strewn with trash. It’s easy to fall prey to images that make a destination seem glamorous, but sunsets can be manipulated with filters and less savory scenery cropped out.

Don’t plan a trip around Instagram. Instead, do your homework, learn about a place from experts who aren’t bending over backwards for likes, and most importantly, seek out travel moments that are genuine and meaningful to you personally.

You Chose the Wrong Transportation

It’s important to think about how you plan to get around your destination of choice. If you’re in a major metropolitan city like Tokyo or London, taking cabs everywhere could cost you a fortune.

Consider the local public transportation as a cost-saving alternative. In more out-of-the-way places—like small towns in northern Japan or southern Taiwan—renting a car is the right move, because public transportation only takes you so far.

(Some countries, including Japan, require foreigners to hold an international driver’s license, so check before you rent!) Choosing the wrong transportation might mean missing out on some major gems.