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Tips to Shake Up March Break Family Travel

It isn't too late to book a March break.  Travel brings families together and the change of pace and location lets everyone do a mid-winter re-set. There are amazing family vacations to take together in March, and you don't have to do the same-old, same-old trip.  Here are some ideas for March Break 2.0.

Beach

We all love great all-inclusive beach vacations for simplicity and value.  Shake it up this year and get off the much-beaten path.  You can take baby steps. If you usually travel to one of the big three: the Dominican Republic, Mexico or Cuba, try one of the others.  Each country has a rich and distinctive culture and lifestyle you'll want to make sure you enjoy outside of your resort.

Or you could take a bigger step and avoid the massive influx to the most popular destinations. Instead, opt for destinations you can reach by a regularly scheduled flight that gives you greater flexibility of scheduling than a once-a-week charter.  Smaller islands or Central American destinations like Costa Rica or Panama (Photo credit, top) have terrific resorts and all-inclusives, including some of your favorite brands. Plus you'll have a completely different and memorable beach vacation experience.

The aqua park on the MSC Seaside

Cruise

What's better than unpacking once and getting to enjoy a taste of different Caribbean destinations? Family-focused cruise ships have something for everyone, with fantastic water parks, adventure activities, multiple pools and hot tubs, spas, name-brand entertainment nightly and culinary partnerships that bring the flavors of celebrity chefs to your plate daily.  Plus designated programs to keep babies to teens loving life at sea, safely freeing up parents (and extended family members like grandparents and aunts and uncles) to relax and enjoy their holiday and grown up company when they wish.  

If you live in the East or North-East, don't overlook the cruises departing from eastern ports like New York that sail south to warmer waters.  You may be able to drive to the port, using your savings for a stateroom upgrade, or on-board or shore excursion treats.

Urban

Who says March break has to be by the pool? Or even in the sun? This is one of the best value times of the year to take the family to Europe.  Not to mention missing line ups at famous museums and attractions.  Closer to the Mediterranean, you'll still be able to enjoy a climate that is much more pleasant than a Northern American winter, along with the fantastic cuisine and culture of the continent.

Bilbao, Spain's Guggenheim Museum. Photo Credit

Packages to North American cities are great options, too. Sports or culture in the North East, or the warmth of some West Coast or Southern sun.

Mountain

Or celebrate winter.  If your family loves the snow and winter activities, treat them to a new mountain destination.  Packages that include accommodations and passes, even equipment rentals so you can leave the gear at home and take that flight to a new destination where the hills present new challenges and après ski activities, make it easy and bring your family closer together.

This might be the ultimate family ski vacation. The Sound of Music's Von Trapp family ended up in Stowe, Vermont, where you can stay at their lodge.  Photo Credit

Exotic

Is your family the adventurous type, or have you been waiting to give them that once-in-a-lifetime travel experience?  You don't need to wait. Tours to the Galapagos, Easter Island, the fjords of South America, India's Golden Triangle, an African safari or the Outback…you can see all these places in March. The world is your oyster and you'd be amazed at what you can see and experience in the time allotted by March break.

Elephants near Mt. Kilimanjaro, Kenya.  Photo Credit

The best part is – you don't have to figure it all out yourself. Travel advisors have inside tracks to tours and packages and insights that ensure your vacation is everything you want it to be… as well as a break for you.

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France's largest port town, on the magical Mediterranean, has been transformed in recent years. 

You'll still find the charms of its Old Port, the oldest neighborhood in France, the maritime culture... but there's been a wave of revitalization and stunning builds that make this seaside city spectacular. 

On our latest visit, we fell in love with Marseille, and here are at least 3 reasons we think you'll love it too.

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Local markets are one of the greatest delights of trips to the South of France.  The glorious town of Avignon (perhaps best known for the song about its famous bridge) also has a renowned market.  In addition to exquisite regional foods and food products, the charming locals are out in full force.  Particularly the character behind the chicken counter, who's known for breaking out into the French national anthem while plucking a chicken! 

Whether you visit Avignon by land or by river cruise, don't miss the market.  And when you go, say 'bonjour' to the poultry vendor like BestTripTV did on our trip to Avignon... and see if he'll sing you the Marseillaise too!

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Sink Your Teeth Into This UNESCO Cultural Experience

When is a pizza not just a pizza?  When you're dining on a piece of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Possibly the world's most beloved comfort food, game-day dinner, kids' birthday party treat and party go-to take-out, the humble yet versatile pizza has been given UNESCO Cultural Heritage status.

But not just any pizza.  'Pizzaiuolo' is the art of traditional, Neopolitan pizza-making.  Think of it as the 'way of the pizza'. The original, home-grown-in-Naples technique was given the designation in November 2017. It is meant to safeguard and raise awareness about different forms of cultural heritage and ensure the methods and origins are preserved and passed to future generations.

Naples in Southern Italy's Campania region is the historic and spiritual home of the original pizza, where the word 'pizza' has been traced back to the 10th century. 'Modern' pizza arrived on Naples' local culinary scene about 250 years ago.  If you've been to Naples (which is itself a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the largest and most historic cities on the Mediterranean) you've certainly dined upon and heard about the importance of pizza here.  (If you haven't been to Naples and eaten the pizza there, well, add both to your travel list right now.)

Neapolitan pizza already has 'Traditional Specialty Guaranteed' status in Europe, with its own local Association (The Genuine Neapolitan Pizza Association) issuing and enforcing rules for its creation and labeling. 

Mount Vesuvius, Naples and the Mediterranean Sea. (Photo Credit)

A true Neapolitan pizza must be made with San Marzano tomatoes (that only grow on the volcanic plains of nearby Mount Vesuvius) and Mozzarella di Bufala Campana, itself a protected designation of origin cheese from semi-wild water buffalo in the region.  There are additional rules about how the dough must be made, from what flour, and include requirements that the dough be formed by hand to a thickness of no more than 3 mm (.12 inches).  After toppings are added, the pizza must be baked for less than 2 minutes in a stone oven heated by an oak-wood fire.

Pizzeria in Naples, Italy.  (Photo Credit)

The result?  A Neapolitan pizza is soft, elastic, tender and fragrant.  The Association recognizes only two authentic pies: the simple Pizza Margherita (top photo credit) that follows the traditional rules for ingredients with the addition of basil and extra virgin olive oil, and Marinara Pizza with tomato, extra virgin olive oil, garlic and oregano.   Don't even think the words 'Hawaiian' or 'Meat Lovers'.

Pizza Neapolitan joins traditional horse games of Kyrgyzstan, wind mill operations in the Netherlands,  women divers of Korea and dozens of other unique expressions of local culture registered and safeguarded by UNESCO's Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity program.   In other words, another reason #WhyWeTravel.

Buon Appetito!

 

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3 Greek Islands You Must Visit Before You Die

Greece is famous as the cradle of Western civilization. It's the birthplace of democracy, Western philosophy, literature and drama, marathons, the Olympics, plus some of your favorite math principles.

Modern Greece consists of a mountainous mainland and hundreds of islands surrounded by the Aegean, Ionian, Cretan and Mediterranean Seas.  Over two hundred of the islands are inhabited, many of them rich in history and mythology, as well as the Mediterranean culture, cuisine, maritime and beach lifestyle that makes Greece one of the top bucket list travel destinations.

Some travelers in the know take holidays to Greece year after year, and Greek islands are a highlight of Eastern Mediterranean cruises.  If you've never visited Greece, here are the islands you just can't miss.

Photo (Credit)

Santorini

Santorini inspired the title of this article.  It's continuously named the 'best island in the world' and the 'Greek Island you must visit before you die'. (But we think all the islands in this list merit the title). (Top Photo Credit)

When you hear 'Greek island', chances are that the sight that pops into your head is one of the iconic pictures of Santorini. The island's sky blue domed church roofs, white washed buildings on the edges of cliffs, and steep, narrow cobbled streets overlooking brilliant blue seas stand in to represent the iconic Greek island vista of everyone's travel dreams. 

Santorini is what remains of an island after the eruption of an ancient volcano. Now, a giant lagoon is encircled by the 300 m (980 ft) high cliffs of a crescent shaped island and a much smaller island opposite where the remaining volcano rim is still above the sea. Visiting ships, yachts and local fishing boats approaching the shelter of the curve are afloat in the crater of the volcano.  Inside the caldera, the water is so deep - over 400m - that only the largest ships can anchor.    Santorini's capital, Fira (Thira) clings to the top of the cliff over the lagoon.

Photo (Credit)

Don't Miss:  volcanic-sand beaches in unique black or red sands, brilliant sunsets, a traditional and a growing modern food culture.  Santorini's micro-climate nurtures tomatoes and capers of famously exquisite flavor, and an indigenous grape varietal that local vintners turn into celebrated crisp, dry white and amber-toned wines.

 

Photo (Credit)

Mykonos

Mykonos is the Greek island where Ibiza party and French Riviera beach lifestyles meet.  Cosmopolitan and glamorous, Mykonos may be Greece's most fashionable holiday destination.  Luxury hotels, stylish bars, clubs and parties where beautiful people come to see and be seen until dawn, then sleep it off on magnificent beaches or private yachts… if that is your style of travel, Mykonos is for you.  It's also known for being an LGBT-friendly destination and party central.

(Photo Credit)

Mykonos is both the island and its main town, which is also called Chora (meaning 'town', in the Greek style of towns with the same name as their islands).  Picturesque local architecture, sunsets, people watching and shopping appeal to visitors of all ages.

(Photo Credit) 

The island's nickname is 'the Island of Winds'. Windmills are one of the defining and unique features of the Mykonos landscape, built by Venetians in the 16th century to grind flour and used until electricity took over only a few decades ago.

(Photo Credit)

Don't Miss:  Romantic, artistic Little Venice, where rows of 18th century colorful fishing houses with overhanging balconies line the seaside, many of them shops, cafes, and galleries.  And Petros the Pelican, the mascot of Chora's waterfront.    

(Photo Credit)

Rhodes

Rhodes' nickname is The Island of the Knights.  Its Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of the best-preserved medieval towns in the world.  Walking its Street of Knights, you feel transported back to the Middle Ages, when conquering Crusaders built fortifications, the Palace of the Grand Masters, towers, inns and rest of the medieval city and streets that remain today.

(Photo Credit)

But Rhodes' history pre-dates mediaeval knights by thousands of years, when the island's strategic position made it central to ancient history.  One of Rhodes' lasting claims to fame is a landmark that no longer exists.

(Photo Credit)

  (Photo Credit)

The Colossus of Rhodes was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Erected in 280 B.C. at the Mandraki harbor to mark a battle victory, the Colossus was a bronze statue of extraordinary size - about the same as the Statue of Liberty!  Rhodes' Colossus stood for less than a century before an earthquake toppled it. Even then, for another 800 years, its remains lying on the ground drew travelers to Rhodes to marvel at and write about its size. Today the statues of deer on pillars at the entrance to the harbor mark where the Colossus' feet were said to stand and allow ships to pass beneath this feat of design and engineering.

  (Photo Credit)

Don't Miss: The beaches.  Don't be so distracted by the history you miss its stunning beaches. The wine. Rhodes is said to have been the first island in the Aegean to cultivate vineyards for wine; that tradition continues today.  The lush, green interior and emerald fresh waters inland from the beaches.

When to go

In most of the Greek islands, the sun shines 300 magical days a year.  Summers are high season for travelers arriving by air and cruise ship, but April- June and September- October are blessed with lovely weather.  Looking for mild weather, quiet exploration – and a bargain?  More and more people are discovering Greece in early and late winter months too.

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A night time market in the grounds of a castle.  Fires and torches and twinkling lights, the smell of evergreen boughs, the best German Christmas culinary treats and artisans selling authentic German arts and crafts, Christmas decorations and cozy winter woolens. 

Whether you're the person who always knows exactly how many days it is until Christmas, or the 'Bah, Humbug' type...  Even a die-hard Scrooge gets into the spirit of Christmas at a traditional Christmas market in Germany.  And Regensburg's Romantic Christmas market might be the most magical of them all. 

You can explore a number of Germany's best Christmas markets on itineraries of seasonal river cruises as BestTrip.TV did.  Escorted tours also offer special Christmas market itineraries.  We know families who have made a trip to a famous Christmas market a family gift.  All members of a family, from grandparents, parents, single aunts and uncles and every kid ever!  find joyful memories together at a European Christmas market. We love the idea of celebrating the season with travel, and Regensburg's Romantic Christmas Market will warm anyone's heart.

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Discover Your Inner Highlander At These 3 Scottish Castles

A lot of people's favorite TV viewing these days involves tartans and time travel against a backdrop of essential Scottish scenery: misty lochs, craggy mountains, and castles that are among the most iconic and recognized in the world.

Fiction meets historic fact at Scotland's castles. An estimated 3000 castles were once part of the landscape of Scotland. That's nearly one castle every 100 square miles.

Many ancient castles still remain to remind us of Scotland's turbulent history of powerful men in kilts wielding broadswords, and women who were just as tough. You can tap into your own inner highlander at these must-see Scottish castles.

Edinburgh Castle

Imposing and massive, Edinburgh Castle looms from its perch on an outcropping of volcanic rock 260 feet (80 m) above the Scottish capital. Scotland's most urban castle dominates the city skyline spectacularly. As the Eiffel Tower is the symbol of Paris, Edinburgh Castle is the symbol of the Scottish capital. It's the most-visited attraction in Scotland.

(Photo credit)

Castle Rock, with such obvious defensive advantages of the sheer cliffs on three sides, has been occupied since the Iron Age. A royal castle has stood there since the 1100's. Edinburgh castle is magnificent, seeming to grow out of the volcanic rock. But it's no fairy tale. Researchers have identified 26 attacks on the fortress in its history, making it one of the most besieged places in the world.

(Photo Credit)

Edinburgh Castle retains its military and regal connections, housing the Scottish National War Memorial and National War Museum, as well as the Scottish regalia, known as the Honours of Scotland: royal crown, sword and scepter.

The only approach to Edinburgh Castle is from the sloping side. It's a scenic walk up the Royal Mile through Edinburgh's Old Town to the castle. Don't miss the daily (except Sunday) firing of the 'One O'Clock Gun'.

Three special times of the year to visit Edinburgh Castle include: The Edinburgh Military Tattoo in August, a spell-binding and evocative series of performances of fife and drum and Scottish regiments in traditional regalia; and the fireworks marking the end of the summer Edinburgh Festival as well as Hogmanay, the Scottish New Year.

Eilean Donan Castle

This is one of the most photographed and filmed castles in the world. (And one of the most popular backdrops to wedding photos in the U.K.)

Where Edinburgh Castle's defenses came from the cliffs surrounding it, Eilean Donan's protection was water. Eilean Donan means 'the island of Donnán'. (Top Photo Credit). It's a small tidal island at the point where three great sea lochs meet in the western Highlands of Scotland.

(Photo Credit)

And while romantic-looking now, there's evidence the island was fortified from the Iron Age. The current castle was restored from ruins in the early 1900's, when a footbridge connected the island to the mainland. Until then, it was only water accessible, and a clan stronghold that was repeatedly attacked.

(Photo Credit)

Don't miss among the rare artifacts on display a sword said to have been wielded at the fateful battle of Culloden.

A Gaelic inscription above the door reads: "As long as there is a MacRae inside, there will never be a Fraser outside", referring to a bond of kinship between the two clans, similar to one which adorned the Fraser clan's Beaufort Castle. The MacRae clan are still Constables of Eilean Donan Castle today.

Eilean Donan Castle is even more spectacular in real life than in the many photos and films that feature it, where the magnificent Highland landscape almost dwarfs the castle. When you are there in person, it is much larger and imposing than it seems in pictures. Standing on the footbridge with winds from the lochs swirling around you, is the moment you'll say to yourself, 'I've arrived in the Highlands'.

Dunnottar Castle

Even more wild and dramatic is Dunnottar Castle on top of an immense rocky cliff over the north east coast of Scotland. The ruins of the castle are surrounded by steep cliffs that drop 160 feet (50m) into the North Sea below. Only a narrow strip of land with a steep path joins the headland to the mainland.

(Photo Credit)

Given the castle's strategic location and impregnable position, it's no wonder the site has been fortified for over 2000 years. 'Dun' is the word for 'fort' in the early Pict's language. This haunting location was the home of the Keiths and Earls Marischal, once one of the most powerful families in Scotland. When Oliver Cromwell's army invaded Scotland in the 1600's, the Earl Marischal, as Marischal of Scotland, was responsible for the Honours of Scotland (the Crown Jewels), and had them hidden from Cromwell at Dunnottar Castle. (Brought there by a woman named Katherine Drummond hidden in bags of wool.)

Less than a century later, another Earl lost his titles participating in the Jacobite rebellion, and the castle declined until its restoration 300 years later.

Romantic, dramatic, and evocative, Scotland's castles aren't just instagrammers' dreams. A visit to a Scottish castle is your own version of time travel and a way to connect to the essence of this fabled culture.

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Is Oktoberfest in your future? In Munich or a festival closer to home, you won't be fully into the spirit of the annual harvest celebration of Gemutlichkeit (fellowship), beer, pretzels and Wurst unless you also deck yourself in traditional Bavarian costume.

The good news is: these days it's easy to rock a dirndl for women, or lederhosen for men... or nowadays, women too!

We get the goods on the traditional and the latest trends in bust-enhancing, leg-revealing wardrobes for everyone.

Watch this video to learn how to 'Get your Tracht on!' as they say, and celebrate Oktoberfest in style.

Prost!

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Crystal Strikes a Chord with a New Rhine Class of River Cruise Ships

Instead of river cruises, they're calling them river yachts. Crystal has translated its uber-luxury sea experience to the rivers of Europe with a new, 'Rhine' class of river yachts, evoking the great music icons of the region.

Four Crystal Rhine Class river yachts launch in 2017-2018. In creating a new, signature Crystal experience on the waterways of Europe, the company was inspired by some of the classical music heavy-hitters who made some of the most popular cities in its itineraries long-lasting cultural centers of Europe. The Crystal Bach has made her debut, and the Crystal Mahler, Crystal Debussy, and Crystal Ravel follow.

But if the classical music associations make you concerned the experience is too formal for your tastes, think again. The Crystal river yachting experience, night and day, is about comfort and style ('Crystal Casual'), and immersion into the best of the destination.

Here's what excites us about Crystal's Rhine Class ships and European river itineraries:

Ships:

  • Only 110 guests, making the ships feel expansive as well as intimate.
  • The only all-suite, all panoramic French balcony river cruise ships - with king-sized beds and Crystal's renowned personal butler service.

  • Walk-in closets and dual-vanities in bathrooms that defy the feeling of limited space on river cruise ships.
  • Crystal's farm-to-table, Michelin-inspired cuisine in more dining venues than you thought could exist on a river cruise, and open-seating so your day can flow at your own pace.

  • Hydraulic Sun-Deck Bar as well as panoramic interior lounges for enjoying the scenery indoors or out.

  • In-suite USB ports, and customized interactive digital bedside iPad tablet and directory.
  • The luxury is all in, so you don't have to fuss with tips and checks: Unlimited fine wines, spirits and non-alcoholic beverages, 24-hour room service including a restaurant menu, transfers and gratuities for ship and shore.

Shore

  • At least 2 'Crystal Adventures' in every port: included cultural, active or overland excursions, and others for purchase.
  • E-bike excursions to allow nearly everyone to be a little bit active enjoying vineyards and scenic villages on shore.
  • A 'Crystal Signature Event' every itinerary, like a private concert in a palace.
  • Plenty of overnights in port, so you can enjoy the full destination experience including evenings on the town.
  • Even Michelin restaurant dining experiences in ports of call you can book ahead as shore excursions.

If you're already a Crystal cruise lover, expanding your horizons to the Crystal experience on the rivers of Europe is just what you've been waiting for. And the Rhine Class ships and Crystal experience are a marvelous way for new cruisers to discover Crystal on an intimate river itinerary in the heart of Europe.

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If you're looking for a room with a view in Marseille... this is it.

The Hotel Dieu might be the the best piece of real estate in Marseille. Part way up the hill next to the historic harbor, occupying the best vantage point overlooking the iconic view of the old port and the church on the opposite hill, Marseille's Hopital Dieu dates back to the 1700's.

As a hospital, it served the oldest neighborhood in all of France, where sailors, immigrants from around the Mediterranean, nuns and beggars, artists and artisans thronged. The care center of the community finally closed its doors, and the building sat empty for years...

Until a city-wide renaissance of style, design and culture included the transformation of the hospital building into a luxury, design hotel where the historic architecture meets stunning contemporary design, and a view without rival in France's largest port city.

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5 Adventures in Antwerp

Belgium’s unique character and two-language culture makes it a must-see destination in Northern Europe.

But go beyond Brussels. One of Europe's hidden gems is Belgium's second city.

Just up the estuary from the North Sea, Antwerp's historic port became its claim to fame and source of wealth as a trading capital 500 years ago. The port is still the second largest in Europe. The wealth of this great trading city financed great art and artists, the world's oldest stock exchange, and an historic core of richly elaborate Flemish buildings.

Photo Credit

BestTrip.TV's producer/host Lynn Elmhirst shares her favorite things about Antwerp.

History with a Quirk

Distinctive historic Flemish architecture reflects Antwerp's power in its heyday, including the magnificent Town Hall, guild halls, and Notre Dame Cathedral. Check out the altarpieces by iconic local artist Rubens here, and the 400-foot spire that makes the cathedral still the tallest building in town.

Photo Credit

Walking through Antwerp's historic streets, you'll start to notice apparent evidence of exceptional devotion to the Virgin Mary. In addition to Notre Dame cathedral, a surprising number of very ornate Madonna statues stare from the corners of buildings onto the street below.

We were told a number of stories about why street-corner Virgin Mary's abound, and oddly, none were about religious fervor. One person told us of reduced taxation on 'religious' buildings, another that the city provided free street lighting for religious buildings – and in either of those scenarios, a Virgin Mary statue on the building made it qualify.

Photo Credit

Virgin Mary building statues are one of the most characteristic – and quirky – symbols of Antwerp's historic streetscape. Very instagrammable. #MadonnasofAntwerp.

Thrillingly Modern

Time has not stood still in Antwerp. Nowadays, it has the reputation of one of the most interesting, modernist cities in Europe.

Only a five-minute walk from the Cathedral, for example, is the city’s neo-classical festival hall from 1905. Period restoration on the outside, but inside, jaw-dropping luxury 50-store mall where the neo-classical glass dome, gold leaf, mosaics and oak floors are juxtaposed by sexy ultra-modern design. I fell in love with the space age champagne bar at the top of a stemmed glass installation (pictured top. Photo: BestTrip.TV). Like stylish Jetsons.

And if the Jetsons ever had to go to court, the Antwerp Law Courts would be the place. The building's spectacular roofline mimics a series of sails in full wind. Today's nod to Antwerp's shipping and maritime heritage.

Serious Fashion:

Hipness is in very 'fabric' of Antwerp, which has cult status in global fashion. Antwerp is home to one of the most important fashion academies in the world. The city also produced the famous ‘Antwerp Six’ designers who cut a radical new pattern for European design that still thrives in Antwerp today. Fashion is thick on the ground in Antwerp, with distinctive styles that are cool and chic all at the same time. Do any shopping here, and both men and women will have envious friends at home asking, 'Where did you get that?'

And Diamonds:

Antwerp has long been the 'Diamond Capital of the World'. It has a whole district devoted to the precious gems, where even today, up to 80% of the world's diamonds are still polished and processed. Diamond houses line the (very secure) streets. Some are open to visitors, where you can learn about the world's hardest stone and watch the most expert diamond cutters in the world polish raw diamonds into sparkling symbols of love and luxury.

The perfect destination for a one-of-a-kind engagement or romantic getaway with a dazzling souvenir.

And Really Good Taste:

Some people rave about Belgian waffles, but for me, it's Belgian Frites. There are stories of peasants frying potatoes here in the 1600’s and Belgium lays claim to inventing this world-wide fast-food phenomenon – even though they became known as 'French fries'.

Photo Credit

Connoisseurs distinguish between Belgian fries (or frites) and any other ‘fry’: true Belgian frites are thick, irregularly shaped, and DOUBLE fried. And local tradition doubles down on the artery-clogging snack by dipping them in mayonnaise.

Frites are a must-try treat in Antwerp. Indulge in a paper cone while wandering the streets, or find a restaurant serving ‘moules et frites’, that is, steamed mussels and fries – the Belgian version of ‘fish and chips’. No fry at home will ever compare.

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Visit This: Underwater Winery in Croatia

Drinking and diving don't mix, but we've found one exception. At the Edivo Vina winery about an hour north of the Croatian seaside town of Dubrovnik, you need to slip into a wet suit for a cellar tour.

That's because this winery stores and ages their – aptly named – 'Navis Mysterium' or 'Sea Mystery' wine – 20 meters (66 feet) under water.

Sea Mystery wine begins life above ground as other wines do. The regional grapes are harvested, pressed and bottled, then aged for three months on land.

Then it gets interesting. Cork and two layers of rubber seal the bottles which are then enclosed in amphorae – locally made clay vessels like the ones used in ancient Greece with a narrow neck and double handles. To make them water-proof, they are lined with a thin layer of resin, just like the ancient Greeks did. Then the amphorae are submerged underwater in steel cages for two more years of aging. Divers visit the 'cellar' to check on them regularly to ensure they remain sea-proof.

When they emerge from the 'cellar', the amphorae are covered in sea life: shells, barnacles, coral and seaweed. Just like a storybook treasure you might discover on a sunken ship. And not one is exactly like any other.

But the sunken treasure look wasn't the winemakers' motivation for this unique cellar location. They believe the depths of the Adriatic Sea provide ideal cool and consistent temperatures as well as silence that improve the wine's quality.

You don't have to take their word for it, though. If you have diving credentials, you can go on a supervised dive to one of their underwater wine cellars in a sunken boat. On dry land, you – and any non-diving visitor – can enjoy a ceremonial opening of an amphorae-enclosed bottle and this one-of-a-kind wine in a spectacular seaside setting. You can even order them in pine gift boxes.

It took the vintners 3 years to perfect the process and to source entirely local materials. The grapes, clay, wrought iron, pine, glass and cork used in the making of 'Sea Mystery' wine are all products of Croatia – a true taste of the ancient Adriatic.

With a price tag in the hundreds of dollars, a bottle of 'Sea Mystery' wine won't be the least expensive bottle of wine you acquire on a trip to Croatia, but it will definitely give you the best story to tell while you're drinking it with your friends at home.

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App-Happy Kids at Heathrow with New Travel-Themed Mr. Men Characters

Remember the delightful Mr. Men and Little Miss book series for kids? They have two new friends: Little Miss Explorer and Mr. Adventure. And they live in the digital world of Augmented Reality at London's Heathrow Airport Terminal 2 ready to be discovered on your mobile device.

The beloved, essential British children's book series has 90+ characters, a TV show, and a book sold every couple of seconds worldwide. For some reason, I was given the Little Miss Naughty book as a child (I can't imagine why!). More recently, a friend who's also in media gave me a 'Little Miss-Communication' - pun intended - T-shirt. Now I'm eager to discover my inner Little Miss Explorer.

More than 45 years after their creation, the Mr. Men and Little Miss characters have vaulted into the digital age, teaming up with Heathrow airport's 'experience' department to bring smiles and fun times waiting for flights to kids and kids at heart.

Mr. Adventure and Little Miss Explorer are the heroes of a new AR app called Around the World with Mr. Adventure that you can use on any iOS or Android device with a camera. As you (erm.. your kids) explore the airport, you discover hidden digital badges, then the app plays a 3D animated video. You (again, uh, your kids) can take a pic with the digital Mr. Adventure or Little Miss Explorer character or another character from the series.

When you find all 5 digital badges hidden around the terminal, you can trade them in for the real thing; iron-on fabric badges are available from information desks. Wouldn't that be just the best souvenir from the airport for any kid?

Through early September, 2017, costumed Little Miss Explorer and Mr. Adventure will also be roaming the airport, meeting and helping the kids (most likely helping the grown-ups. The kids have got this). The airport also has kids’ activities and workshops planned for the busy summer travel season, along with continuing to offer perks like free play areas and Kids Eat Free menus.

The Around the World With Mr. Adventure app is available as a free download on the App Store and Google Play.

Not traveling through Heathrow this summer? Don't worry, you (again, I really mean: your kids!) can still join in. Print out your own interactive bookmark at home and scan it using the app to see Mr. Adventure in 3D. For more information and to get ready to discover the Around the World with Mr. Adventure app, visit Heathrow.com/aroundtheworld

You can also buy an IRL (that's 'In Real Life' as the kids would say) Mr. Men book: Mr. Adventure to add to your kids' library and travel pack.

A delightful app to enjoy sharing the world of discovery with a new generation of travelers. Also have some nostalgic fun yourself. This beats a lot of other ways to kill time at an airport.

By Lynn Elmhirst, Producer/ Host, BestTrip.TV

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London's New Landmarks

Move over Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey. Unlike other major world cities that push new buildings and modern architecture to the outskirts of town, London isn't afraid to raise eye-catching new developments in the heart of its most iconic neighbourhoods.

Lynn Elmhirst, producer/host of BestTrip.TV, shares the best places to experience where old meets new in London.

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Old London: The Tower of London

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Dating back to the Norman Conquest in 1066, the Tower of London, officially Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress of the Tower of London, is a storied castle on the River Thames in central London. It is stereotypically mediaeval-looking, with imposing stone walls and a moat and a history as a jail of famous, even royal prisoners, many of whom literally lost their heads in the Tower yard.

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The Tower has been one of the most popular tourist attractions in London since the 1600's; especially since the monarch's Crown Jewels, guarded by Yeomen, have been on public display since 1669. You can still see them (both the Crown Jewels and the Yeomen) today on a visit to the Tower, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site visited by nearly 3 million people every year. Don't miss the Tower ravens; at least six live there at all times to ward off an ancient superstition that if they are absent, the kingdom will fall. Very Game of Thrones.

New London: The Shard

The name of London's newest landmark tower alludes to a shard of glass it resembles. The glass-clad pyramid-shaped tower is the tallest building in the UK, a 95-storey skyscraper 310 metres (over 1000 feet) tall. Its architect was inspired by the church spires of London in 18th century art and the masts of sailing ships on the Thames, envisioning the Shard as a spire-like sculpture. 11,000 panes of angled glass used as cladding reflect sunlight and the sky above, changing with weather and seasons.

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The Shard opened in 2012 with a viewing gallery and open-air observation deck on the 72nd floor (245 metres/ 800 feet high); 'The Sky Boutique,' on Level 68, with limited edition souvenirs, is the highest shop in London. In 2014, the building was awarded first place in a contest of the world's new skyscrapers. Judges call it 'London's new emblem'.

Old London: Big Ben

Big Ben is actually a nickname for the enormous clock and clock tower at the north end of the Palace of Westminster (Britain's Parliament building). It's a British cultural icon; think of how many times you've seen it as the establishing shot of a film scene to announce: 'here we are in London'. (Top photo Credit)

When it opened over 150 years ago, it was proclaimed the biggest, most accurate timepiece in the world. The clock dials are set in an iron frame 23 feet (7.0 m) in diameter. The hour hand is 9 feet (2.7 m) long and the minute hand is 14 feet (4.3 m) long.

A 2008 survey found Big Ben was the most popular landmark in the UK, and it's one of the world's most famous tourist attractions. But unless you are a UK citizen whose Member of Parliament can arrange it, you can't tour inside the clock tower, even if you're prepared to climb all 344 stairs to the top.

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New London: The London Eye

Instead, take a ride on the nearby London Eye, an even more immense 'face' of the London landscape. Amazingly, this giant, modern Ferris wheel graces the South Bank of the river Thames opposite the Houses of Parliament like it's always been there, even though it opened just before the dawn of the new millennium.

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The wheel is 443 feet (135 m) tall with a diameter of 394 feet (120 m), a circle 20 times bigger than Big Ben's clock face. Unlike the 4-faced clock, the London Eye does not have a tower to support it, only an A-frame on one side, making it 'the world's tallest cantilevered observation wheel'. It's also the second highest public viewing point in London after the Shard.

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32 oval, glass-enclosed capsules carry up to 25 passengers each for a half-hour rotation that offers a magnificent view over London, including Big Ben across the river. The London Eye is officially the most popular paid attraction in the UK; nearly 4 million people ride the gigantic Ferris wheel every year.

Old London: Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge is often confused with the 'London Bridge' that is falling down, falling down, falling down in the children's nursery rhyme. Tower Bridge crosses the river Thames close to the Tower of London, and although it was added to the London landscape relatively recently - in the 19th century - it has become another iconic symbol of historic London. (London Bridge is half a mile upstream, and not nearly as picturesque.)

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Tower Bridge actually has not one, but two, 65 metre (213 foot) towers that are connected near the top by walkways, and two, 1000 ton arms between the towers that lift in a mere 5 minutes to an angle of 86 degrees to allow river traffic to pass. The arms are raised a thousand times a year. Two lanes of vehicle traffic and two pedestrian walkways cross Tower Bridge, but river traffic takes precedence over the crossing road traffic. The bridge arms are raised only just high enough to allow boats to pass unless the Queen is on board, when they must be raised fully in salute to the monarch.

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New London: The Millennial Bridge

The Millennial Bridge is for pedestrians only, engineered to support up to 5000 at a time. It's a steel suspension bridge also across the river Thames that opened in 2000, with the Globe Theatre and the Tate Modern near the southern end, and St. Paul's Cathedral above the other, northern, side.

It was brilliantly designed to align with a clear view (a 'terminating vista') of St. Paul's across the river, framed by the bridge supports. (Photo credit). It is, after all, the Age of Instagram.

The traditional London city skyline and streetscape, with its majestic symbolism and double-decker buses, has been transformed in recent years. New and daring developments now rival centuries-old landmarks, and if you're like me, you'll agree that modern and ancient architecture side by side makes both even more awe-inspiring and dramatic.

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What European River Cruise is the Most Romantic?

It's the time of year when we celebrate love - and love of travel. We've hand-picked our favorite travel experiences for treats, pampering, romance, the good life, and celebrating traveling with everyone in our lives we love.

Beginning with... the most Romantic river cruise in Europe: Castles and wine and lovers' legends, oh my!

Lynn Elmhirst, producer/ host and cruise expert of BestTrip.TV, explains how 'The Romantic Rhine' weaves a perfect romance of Northern European culture for river cruise travelers to watch, listen, and taste.

Castles to Watch

Image: BestTrip.TV

40 castles in 40 miles. There's a castle or fortress, those ultimate symbols of the Middle Ages celebrated in fantasy literature, nearly every mile. That stretch of river known as the Middle Rhine has a higher density of castles than any other river valley in the world. Since the 19th century, it's been known as 'The Romantic Rhine' and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. For two millennia, the Rhine was one of the most important routes connecting Southern with Northern Europe. Castles for security and to control the river commerce were built on hilltops facing the river, and now, a river cruise is really the best and most authentic way to immerse yourself in the Romance of some of the best historic scenery in Europe.

Image: BestTrip.TV

Travel Tip: during the ship's passage along this stretch, make sure you find yourself a central position so you don't miss the castles on both sides of the banks.

Wine to Taste

Then you add wine. The gorges rising on either side of the Middle Rhine are lined by some of the steepest vineyards in the world. Over a thousand acres of vineyards thrive in a microclimate shaped by the river's topography (in fact, most of the wine regions of Europe line its rivers). In other wine regions and wineries, hand-picking grapes is preserved for only elite wines. On the nose-bleed-steep banks of the Middle Rhine, handpicking is the usual – and only practical - practice. And yet the famous white wines – predominantly Rieslings, both dry and sweeter versions - of the Middle Rhine are still very affordable. Tastings are one of the best activities in the picturesque towns that line the narrow river banks.

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Travel Tip: buy your favorite to take back to your river cruise ship to fully immerse yourself in the joys of the Rhine as you sip on the top deck as you sail past the scenery.

A 'Murmuring Rock' to Listen to


A 433-foot, steep slate rock formation on the very edge of the river bank of the Rhine Gorge has been the source of legend for centuries. The Lorelai's name is ancient, coming from the old German word 'lureln' for 'murmuring', and the Celtic word 'ley' meaning 'rock. The combination of heavy currents swirling round the bend, a small waterfall (up until the early 19th century) and an echo effect of the rock itself amplifying those sounds made Lorelai an actual auditory experience (til development nearby in modern times drowned it out.) No wonder the myths began: dwarfs living inside the rock, a murmuring siren luring sailors onto rocks… But the story that stuck came from a poem telling the tragic lover's tale of the beautiful Lorelai being taken away to a nunnery, and, thinking she sees her lover in the Rhine below, throws herself into river to her death, where to this day, the looming rock murmurs an echo of her calls.

Travel Tip: pay homage to the Rhine's 'murmuring rock' by downloading the compositions by Schumann, Mendelssohn or Strauss that immortalize Lorelai in music to listen to on your magnificent Romantic Rhine river cruise.

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Did you know there are more bicycles than people in Amsterdam? 

It's one of the original and influential cycling cultures that helped set the trend towards urban cycling and our love for touring new destinations by bike.

The Dutch bicycle - the original workhorse urban bike for entire families - sets the bar in style, function and cool factor.  BestTrip.TV discovers cycling culture in legendary Amsterdam, and meets the maker of custom Dutch bikes.

If there's anything better than cycling through the streets of one of the world's favorite cities, it's a souvenir custom bike that will be the envy of all your cycling friends at home.

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Eataly's $106 Million Italian Culinary Destination in Bologna

They don't want you to call it a 'theme park'. But if you're one of the foodies around the world who love the wildly popular, celebrity-chef Mario Batali-backed Eataly, the field-to-fork destination that opens this fall in Italy is the culinary 'theme park' of your dreams.

Batali has described the Eataly phenomenon as a premium Italian grocery store 'with tasting rooms'. You shop, you eat, you love; authentic, from-the-source Italian food and food products.  When it launched in New York City, there were lineups around the block, and it's still packed.  There are dozens of other Eataly outlets worldwide, including a dining venue on the MSC Divina at sea.

FICO Eataly World outside Italy's culinary capital of Bologna will be a whole new level of interactive culinary experience. FICO stands for Fabbrica Italiana Contadina - Italian Farming Factory. It's the culmination of Eataly's food 2.0 vision; a game changer for Eataly and global food culture. 

The 20-acre complex is a hub connecting an expected six million annual visitors to Italian agriculture and gastronomy: food production, education, dining, tastings, and retail, all in one eco-responsible space powered by 44,000 solar panels, said to be the largest solar property in Europe.

The numbers show the awesome scale and scope of  FICO Eataly World:

EARTH AND FARMS

  • 2.5 acres of fields, stables, pastures, gardens and farms, where all of Italy’s best-known crops will be cultivated and prime livestock breeds raised.

PRODUCERS

  • 40 areas of fresh production with raw ingredients managed by the best Italian companies
  • 2000 Italian companies will participate in the project, sharing their crafts, innovations and passion for the food they produce.

MARKET:

  • 97,000 square feet of retail marketplace selling iconic 'Made in Italy' seasonal food products

RESTAURANTS: a paradise for gourmands looking discover the best of Italian gastronomic biodiversity.

  • 25 restaurants, including themed restaurants and street food stalls including:
    • Meat
    • Cured meat and cheese restaurant
    • Pasta
    • Vegetable restaurant
    • Winery
    • Fish
    • Regional restaurant
    • Piadina bistro
    • Smoothie street food stall
    • Potato street food stall
    • Prosciutteria
    • Pastries
    • And more…

EDUCATION

  • 1,000 courses for adults per year
  • 40 workshops, where visitors can learn Italian culinary skills like pasta and cheese production first-hand.
  • 5,000 educational activities for schools
  • 500 internships per year for aspiring young people and adults who wish to master food production, learning from on site experts

EVENTS

  • 500 cultural events per year related to food, wine, and agriculture

FICO Eataly World is an extraordinary destination we can't wait to open in October.  A vision come to life of a hands-on, for-the-people celebration Italy's rich culinary heritage and groundwork for its future, educating the next generation of food producers, diners and home cooks, and engaging in environmental best practices. 

Definitely one of the most exciting culinary experiences for anyone planning to visit Italy.

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Celebrate Music and Modern Architecture in Hamburg

The landmark, modernist Elbphilharmonie, designed by 'starchitects' Herzog & deMeuron, has opened its doors at last this month. The complex adds three world-class concert halls, a hotel, and a public area with a panoramic view to the city famously associated with the music of Mahler, Brahms and the Beatles.

Hamburg is Europe's second largest port.  It handles large, ocean-going ships, so it's considered a seaport, even though it's nearly 70 miles (110 km) inland from the North Sea on the Elbe River at its confluence with 2 other rivers.

The Elbphilharmonie is in a unique location in Hamburg’s historic port.  It's part of Europe’s largest inner-city urban revitalization project, in direct proximity to the Speicherstadt warehouse district UNESCO World Heritage site. 

In location, in design, and in function, the Elbphilharmonie serves as a symbol of the city’s past, present and its future.

Spectacular Architecture

The renowned Swiss architecture firm Herzog & deMeuron designed the exciting structure to perch on top of a brick warehouse that used to store tea, tobacco and cocoa arriving from abroad. 1700 reinforced concrete piles support the modernist, glass structure, whose wave-like roofline rises above the water of the port that surrounds it on three sides.

The Plaza is the area that links the warehouse and the new structure, and it's the central meeting place in the Elbphilharmonie. There's a viewing platform here that's open to the public. Even getting to it is an experience: an 82-metre-long (over 250 foot-long) curved escalator transports visitors through the building. Once you get there, you have a stunning panoramic view over the city and port of Hamburg.


The heart of the Elbphilharmonie is the spectacular, Grand Concert Hall. 2,100 seats are arranged around a centrally located stage, designed to remind you of visits to terraced vineyards. Amazingly, no member of the audience is seated more than 30 metres (about a hundred feet) from the conductor. Being so unusually close to the action turns this new acoustic space into a place of unforgettable musical encounters.

In order to achieve optimum acoustics, the architects developed a special wall and roof structure together with internationally renowned acoustician Yasuhisa Toyota. 10,000 individually shaped fibre panels cut with millimetre precision ensure targeted sound distribution that reaches you in every corner. For the Grand Hall, the German organ builder Klais developed an extraordinary concert hall organ with 4,765 pipes that are located in, next to and even behind the audience stands.

A Boundless Music Experience

In addition to the one-of-a-kind Grand Hall, the complex includes the acoustically outstanding, wood paneled Recital Hall and The 'Kaistudios', the Elbphilharmonie’s interactive music education area for people of all ages. The 'Kaistudios' are also home to the new 'Elbphilharmonie World of Instruments': diverse workshops in which children and adults can try out instruments from all over the world.

Are you thinking this all sounds fantastic, but you really aren't a fan of classical music? Don't fear: there's a line up of concerts and performances that not only include orchestral and operatic performances with the best orchestras in the world; piano, string quartet and German 'lieder'; but also world music, popular, and even electronic music.   Music for every fan, and a reflection of a city that not only supported famous composers, but also has had a world-celebrated club scene since the earliest days of the Fab Four.

They call it 'a perfect symbiosis of architecture and music'.  We agree.  The new Elbphilharmonie highlights Hamburg on the map of must-see global destinations for lovers of music and celebrated modern design.

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Snuggle in an Igloo in the Alps in Switzerland

Igloos aren't a central feature of Switzerland's picturesquely traditional alpine culture. Scenic, snow-capped mountains, check.  Sophisticated ski chalets, check. Meadows with dairy cattle, check.  The famous cheeses and milk chocolate they produce, check and check.

But a mountain in central Switzerland also has the unique atmosphere of high-design 'igloos' as part of its winter experience.

Stockhorn mountain towers seven thousand feet high, with a restaurant near the peak reached by cablecar, hiking trails, and views of the surrounding Alps and lakes below. On the shores of one of the lakes, an 'igloo village' springs up, just for the winter months: December through March.

Three thousand working hours of muscle power, snow plowing, balloons and enthusiasm go into the ice hotel/ 'iglus' as they call them.  Igloos are interconnected and themed, with elaborate, fantastical ice/snow carvings by international artists, and warmly rustic chic décor.

Up to 14 people can stay at the hotel – imagine booking the whole place for a group of friends or even a company retreat!

Nothing says 'team building'  or 'family fun' like an igloo building workshop. 

 But there's also the family igloo and even the romantic igloo.  Snuggling under the covers is bound to cement feelings of warmth.

Yes, that's a wedding proposal made out of ice. How romantic is that?

Cocktails at the bar, fondu dinners, mulled wine, mini film festivals, they'll all keep you warm indoors.

Outdoors, around Lake Hinterstocken, you can fill your days ice fishing, snow tubing, winter hiking and snowshoeing, playing hockey… or even relaxing and soaking up the winter sun in a lounge chair.

Stockhorn has half a dozen sister 'igloo-villages' throughout the country, so as long as the weather cooperates, you can add a night in an igloo to your winter trip to the Swiss Alps.

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Opening Weekend for Germany's Christmas Markets

So many of our modern Christmas traditions hail from Germany (via England, thanks to Queen Victoria's German husband, Prince Albert); for a real injection of the spirit of Christmas, no better place to go than the source. Plus, Germans are nothing if not sticklers for authenticity – no plastic or made in China items. Only genuine evergreen branches, music, food, drink and shopping traditions allowed!

Lynn Elmhirst, BestTrip.TV's producer and host, shares her tips for visiting Germany's Christmas markets.

When to go:

Markets are traditionally open during Advent, the last four weeks before Christmas, ending Christmas Eve, the day most Germans celebrate. This year, Advent begins Sunday, November 27th; many opening ceremonies are the Friday before the first Sunday. One more tip about when to go: for an extra special experience, visit in the evening – when twinkling lights, bonfires and torches kindle the magic and spirit of the season and transport you back to the ancient origins of this winter festival.

What to eat and drink:

The fir branch-draped, traditional wood stalls include the best German standards: hot sausages, pretzels, and beer, plus the seasonal delights: hot, mulled 'gluhwein'; stollen, a particularly addictive fruit bread; gingerbread or lebkuchen.

And marzipan, oh, the glorious marzipan. Forget the icky, stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth goo slathered on top of cheap fruitcakes here at home. Once you taste the real thing, you just can't get enough. Marzipan in Germany isn't just for cake topping. It comes formed in all shapes. Look for the quirky Christmas traditional 'marzipan kartoffeln' – marzipan 'potatoes', little marzipan balls dusted with coco to look like… miniature potatoes. Other shapes are delightful, hand painted confections – a favorite in southern Germany is little pigs, a symbol of good luck. Take some home for gifts! I would love forever anyone who put marzipan kartoffeln in my stocking!

What to buy:

Markets are laden with high quality, and often, artisan-crafted German Christmas traditional items like nutcrackers, ornaments, religious items and toys, toys, toys.

You are going to want to buy the unparalleled handmade glass ornaments and you are going to spend a lot of time trying to figure out how and if you can get them home safely. Sheepskin slippers and mittens, and lots of boiled wool. I admit to an obsession with boiled wool, a northern European tradition I can indulge easily at Germany's Christmas markets, buying myself and loved ones hats, mittens, vests, jackets and more with a European design flair you don't find at home. Every market also has local specialties like the iconic blue and white china in Dresden, in everyday and Christmas designs.

How to get there:

Any trip to Germany during Advent and up to Christmas Eve gives you the opportunity to visit the local Christmas market. Land tour companies and river cruise companies offer Christmas market specialty tours this time of year that take you to multiple Christmas markets so you can compare the atmosphere, food and shopping. A Christmas market cruise on the Danube, for example, could include flying into Frankfurt and visiting its market before your cruise, and sailing to both Nuremburg's (possibly the most famous) town square market and Regensburg, in the castle grounds.

Even 'grinches' discover genuine Christmas good cheer in the historic, traditional atmosphere of Germany's Christmas markets. And lovers of the season add to cherished memories of Christmas celebrations.

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Our 'Plan a Cruise Month' Smorgasbord of Offers

Mark it on your calendar. October is 'Plan a Cruise Month'. 

This is the time of year when the world's top cruise lines introduce some of their best offers of the year.

And with the nights getting chillier, thoughts of getting away this winter to the Caribbean's turquoise waters, exotic Polynesia, or fun loving Australia leap to mind.  Or an expedition of a lifetime to South America or Galapagos. And there's always Europe and the elegant Mediterranean in the spring.

There's a smorgasbord of cruise offers available right now, so if you were thinking of a romantic escape, a family or multi-generation holiday, an expedition cruise of a lifetime, even an employee incentive trip or a group getaway with your club, here's our round up of some of the best offers available.

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Why We Love River Cruising in Europe

We love river cruising. Like all cruise travel, it's a hassle-free way to navigate to multiple destinations and get an overview of a region. You unpack once, really settling in to your ship environment like a home away from home.

River cruise ships are small – almost by definition. They're restricted to the size of a ship that can navigate the rivers and canals and locks of Europe. Depending on the itinerary and the water levels, you may even see the wheelhouse on the top deck of the ship ingeniously lowered to make it under bridges!

Photo courtesy: BestTrip.TV

So, while modern river cruise ships feel surprisingly spacious, much like boutique hotels, you won't find extravagances like climbing walls or Broadway shows. There's usually one main restaurant, and sometimes, a much smaller alternative dining room in an aft area normally devoted to a lounge, or near the main dining room, or on the top deck for alfresco dining. Sommeliers offer wine tastings and sometimes even tasting dinners with local wines.

In direct support of local culture and economies, local performers and even artisans are scheduled to share their talents during sailing time. They literally bring their culture on board the ship in an intimate setting that fosters interaction between guests and the talented locals.

But for us, the true enchantment of river cruising is that rivers are at the heart of Europe, weaving through not just the major cities, but also the scenic rural areas and picturesque small towns between them. Historically, rivers were the best – sometimes only! – way to travel between communities. Most European cities started and were built from the river.

Photo courtesy: BestTrip.TV

In many ways, river cruising is the way Europe was meant to be seen; one of the most authentic ways to experience its diverse regions.

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Swiss Summer Sips

In the heat of the summer, even cooler regions of Europe look for ways to beat the heat.

Switzerland may be famous for chocolate and cheese, green meadows and snowy alps... but even they have some secrets to quench your thirst in the summer:

Mountain Fountain Water.

You might not want to try this anywhere else in the world, but in Switzerland you can drink the water flowing from fountains – in the mountains AND in cities. Bern has over 100 fountains, Zurich boasts 1,200. Unless there’s a sign that says not for drinking, the water is safe to drink. Not just safe, but delicious!  Its source is usually the Swiss Alps – the source of much of the expensive bottled water around the world – or some other pristine body of water, which Switzerland has plenty of. And the best thing: It's free. You just need an empty bottle.

Apple Juice from Thurgau.

The apple is the most popular fruit in Switzerland. The Swiss harvest 140'000 tons of apples each year – most of it in the cantons Vaud, Valais and Thurgau. Due to the apple growing and its shape the latter is known as "Mostindien" (Cider India). On the Mostindien tour you can discover apple adventures and delicacies – like the apple juice spritzer "Shorley", produced by "Möhl", a typical cider and juice mill.

Gazosa from Ticino.

This traditional drink evokes the feeling vacationing in the South.  Gazosa Ticinese is a traditional beverage with modern style. Bottled in a small town near Bellinzona since 1921, Gazosa has never lost its charm, and in fact, is enjoying a revival, with it becoming increasingly popular north of the Alps.  In any stylish bar or restaurant, you will find a line-up of these charming glass bottles with metal lids and retro/ hipster styling. Flavors include anything from lemon to raspberry. But for the original taste, order "La Fiorenzana" with bitter orange flavor.

None of these delicious summer sips is exported outside of Switzerland, so you'll have to book a trip there to enjoy.

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5 farmers markets you need to check out in Amsterdam  If you are in the city, you have already realized how expensive it is to eat out. If you are yet to travel, then today is your lucky day. You will learn how to save on your food budget. Listed below are the top farmers markets in Amsterdam. read more