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3 Things You Didn't Know About The 3 Gorges Dam

It's China's 'Great Wall' for the 21st century.  The 3 Gorges Dam spans the legendary Yangtze River for 2.3 km (1.4 miles) and is 185 m (over 600 feet) high.  That makes it 5 times bigger than the Hoover Dam.  Construction set a world record, using 16 million cubic m (21 million cubic yards) of concrete.

You may know about some of the controversies surrounding the dam.  It flooded a 600 km (400 mile) reservoir to 175 feet above sea level.  As a result, a million people were displaced, and architectural, cultural, and archeological sites (including 4000 year old cliff side burials of early Ba peoples) as well as farms and forests have disappeared under water.  The dam has also had an impact on the river ecology upstream and downstream from the dam. It is blamed for damaging fish populations and the functional extinction of the Chinese river dolphin.

But, like the Hoover Dam in the U.S., Egypt's Aswan Dam, the Panama Canal or other extraordinary feats of human engineering of the planet, the 3 Gorges dam in China's Hubei province is an unforgettable travel experience. Controversies aside, it is awe-inspiring to take in the sheer scale and scope of human endeavor.  Yangtze river cruises and most land tours in the region take you to one or more viewing points of the vast dam site.  

So here are three things you might not know about this unparalleled structure:

It Protects the Region from Disastrous Flooding

One of the main reasons to build the 3 Gorges dam was to control flooding.  The Yangtze river has endured catastrophic flooding events over the centuries.  An estimated 300,000 people died in the 20th century alone in floods.  Building the dam was designed to control the flow and protect 15 million Chinese and 1.5 million acres of farmland along the Yangtze from deadly river flooding.

It Generates Power

The Three Gorges Dam is the world's largest electric power generating station by installed capacity: 22, 500 MW. More than 2 dozen water-powered turbines produce 20 times the power of the Hoover Dam.  Unbelievably, this massive dam produces less than 5% of the total energy needs of this country with 1.4 billion people. (Nearly 5 times the U.S. population and 50 times the population of Canada.)

The electricity produced by the Three Gorges Dam reduces China's use of coal for power generation by an estimated 31 million tonnes each year, preventing 100 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions from coal.

It Improves the Environment

The dam's regulation of water levels, and its 'shipping elevator' that increases transit time compared to step locks over river elevations, have facilitated more reliable shipping along the Yangtze.   Inland shipping has increased over 5 times since pre-dam days.  Barges are replacing trucks, thereby reducing road congestion and carbon dioxide emissions annually by millions of tonnes… directly improving China's (previously famously unimpressive) air quality.

Since the dam opened in 2012, it has blocked more than 10 million tonnes of waste matter including plastic bags, bottles and other garbage that would have otherwise flowed out to sea (but chemical water pollution is unaffected).  It even has a garbage-ingesting 'tongue' above the dam, a rolling track on top of a garbage barge that pulls in garbage from the water, preventing it from entering the dam and damaging power generators… as well as flowing downstream to Shanghai and the ocean.

So Should you Travel There?

China's 3 Gorges Dam is a story with many shades of gray.  The goals and results of the dam will continue to divide opinion.  But it is now an irreversible part of the landscape of China's fabled jade-green Yangtze river, and a destination every visitor to China should see to contemplate the astonishing things humans can achieve… and at what cost.

(Photo: BestTrip.TV)

 

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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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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.

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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'.

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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.

Start your Trip!

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The Ship that's Changing River Cruising

How do you revolutionize river cruise ships? River cruise ships are limited in length by the navigational requirements of rivers... like the sizes of locks. The design for the AmaMagna, launching in 2019, is game changing. It's twice the width of traditional European river cruise ships.

What makes the double-width river cruise ship a game changer?

The concept has been 'floating' around for a while (pun intended), but AmaWaterways is the first cruise line to pull the trigger on building a double-width river cruise ship.

That opens the doors wide to re-interpret the guests' experience on a river cruise ship. So with the debut of the concept of a double-width ship, AmaWaterways design team has aimed high at maximizing the two times more space available than on a single ship.

The AmaMagna will include:

  • River cruising's first open-water sports platform, complete with zodiac boats, canoes and recreational equipment.
  • Only 194 guests in 97 large staterooms - that's only 30 guests more than single-width ships.
  • Expansive public spaces, including:
  • Dedicated multiple dining spaces including an al fresco, glass-enclosed restaurant.
  • A large heated sundeck swimming pool with whirlpool and sky bar.
  • Expanded spa and fitness area and wellness offerings that will complement AmaWaterways' popular biking and hiking programs.
  • And they're even able to double the ship's width while doubling down on eco-friendly innovation with a more fuel-efficient engine that's also quieter.

Sound familiar? What we're seeing is the best of small-ship/ yacht, luxury ocean cruising... brought to rivers.

Construction on the AmaMagna began in early 2017 and the ship launches in 2019 on Danube itineraries.

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It may not be the most joyful travel experience you have in Northern France, but for families of veterans, and any grateful citizen, a visit to the World War 2 Landing Beaches in Normandy creates a lifetime of memories.

BestTrip.TV journeyed to the shores on a stormy English Channel to see the remnants of battlefield sites, moving war monuments and memorials to the brave souls from the UK, the US, and Canada who stormed those beaches in a last-ditch effort to free Europe and end the war. 

 

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There's a magical stretch of the Danube river that's known as the 'Tuscany of Austria'.

Hills rise in the mist above the Wachau valley, and between fairy tale towns of ornate, pastel colored historic buildings, wineries line the river banks and hillsides.

It's a region best visited by river cruise. Our AMAWaterways Danube river cruise on the AMACerto brought us right to the doorstep of this legendary destination: the picturesque village of Krems.

BestTrip.TV disembarks our ship to visit the Winzer Krems vineyard, where the vintner's tour reveals the winery's history, delicious and famous white wines, as well as an exciting new taste for interactive, modern art in an historic setting.

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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.

Image credit

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.

Start your Trip!

 

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New Cruise Ships in 2017

It will be a full year of breaking champagne bottles against sparkling new ship hulls. Every new cruise ship gives cruise lines the chance to spread their wings and launch design, culinary and entertainment innovations. This year, there are even new-in-class ships never seen before.

Here's what's new at sea in 2017.

Seabourn Encore:


 

First out of the gate, luxury small ship cruise line Seabourn's Encore was christened in Singapore the first week of January and is sailing in Asia, heading to Australia, New Zealand, then back to Dubai and the Mediterranean.

What we love: Curving lines, feel of a sensuous, luxury yacht styled by celebrity hospitality designer Adam Thihany.  All suites, 300 of them, with marble baths, all veranda. The culinary styling’s of 3-Michelin-starred chef Thomas Keller in the Grill. An aft water sports marina that opens when the ship anchors, so guests can kayak, windsurf and paddle about in the sea.  The draped Retreat on the top deck, with private cabanas, a spa cabana, bar and the sea breeze.  Seabourn's partnership with UNESCO promoting sustainable tourism at World Heritage sites.

Silver Muse

April brings us the ninth and largest ship for luxury, small ship line Silversea Cruises. The Muse will be the flagship and the largest in the fleet.

What we love: Silversea is calling it a leap forward to 'ultra-luxury ocean cruising'.  600 guests will enjoy 7 levels of suites.  An incredible eight restaurants, three of them outdoors, including the line's signature pool deck Hot Rocks al fresco, table-top meat and seafood grill. Only one involves a fee, La Dame, the Relais & Chateaux French restaurant with local ingredients. A sophisticated indoor/outdoor cigar and whisky bar.

Viking Sky and Viking Sun

Twin sister ships to Viking Star and Viking Sea, Viking's two new ships launch early spring and late fall this year.  Also like their sister ships, Viking Sky and Viking Sun will host 930 guests on cruises that include long calls in port and plenty of overnight calls so guests can immerse themselves in the destination experience.

What we love: Viking's signature 'Nordic' lifestyle: Scandinavian design, a Nordic spa, Finnish sauna, even a 'snow room', plus a cozy and sociable fire pit.  The indoor/outdoor Aquavit Terrace dining rooms, 'magrodome' pool with glass roof that opens in fair weather, and a main restaurant also transforms from cozy 'hygge' atmosphere to a breezy, open air venue.

MSC Meraviglia

Slated as the biggest ship at sea by passenger capacity when it launches this spring, the MSC Meraviglia means 'wonder', with 3 more ships in its class due by the end of the decade.  MSC Meraviglia will homeport in Europe.

What we love: The two-deck indoor amusement park, three large pools, and massive aqua park. The Mediterranean-style indoor promenade featuring a 262-foot-long LED "sky" that transforms through the day. MSC's wristband technology, for making payments and bookings and keeping track of family members.  And who wouldn't be excited about Cirque du Soleil's first at-sea partnership? Plus the eco-friendly technology to neutralize carbon dioxide emissions and equipment to be water-emission free.

MSC Seaside

Launching at the end of the year, the MSC Seaside launches a new class of ships, just for MSC in North America. It will homeport in Miami and sail year-round in the Caribbean.

What we love: An unimaginable nearly half million square feet of public space. See-through glass walkways (top picture) that hang over the ocean and open-air spa. An outdoor promenade that wraps around the whole ship where you can enjoy shops, bars and alfresco dining. Terraced balcony cabins, with both sea views and a view over the promenade below. Five water slides in a huge aqua park, a ropes course, and a zipline. An expanded MSC Yacht Club – the line’s ship-within-a-ship concept so family fun and butler-catered refined luxury are all on the same ship.

National Geographic Quest

When Lindblad Expeditions launches the National Geographic Quest in the summer for sailings in Alaska, the Pacific Northwest and Central America, it will be the largest ship in the fleet.  Not your traditional expedition ship.  Half of the 50 cabins will have balconies.  Family-friendly connecting rooms. Even the rarest of expedition cruise ship amenities: a spa!

What we love: The spirit of exploration. Technology that connects you to nature, like remotely operated vehicles (ROV), a hydrophone and bow-cam to hear humpback whales and film dolphins. Being able to get close to Nature with on-board sea kayaks, paddleboards, expedition landing craft, warm and cold water diving gear, and underwater cameras.

American Constellation

This summer, American Cruise Lines launches its first new ship in several years. The American Constellation will be the cruise line's largest ship; a 163-guest coastal cruise ship built to sail itineraries on the US Eastern coastline and inland waterways including Chesapeake Bay, New England, Hudson River, Mid-Atlantic Inland Passage, and the Southern U.S.

What we love: Most staterooms have private balconies and there's even a selection of single rooms for solo travelers. Menus with regional cuisine, sourcing local ingredients at ports.

Flying Clipper

Star Clipper celebrates its silver anniversary not just with a new addition to its fleet of masted sailing ships, but a near-replica of the largest ship of its kind ever built. The 300-passenger, 5-masted Flying Clipper will be powered by 32 sails constituting nearly 40,000 square feet of sail (with backup fuel-efficient engines). 

What we love: Wind-through-your-hair sailing adventure.  Get harnessed into the rigging and climb to the crow's nest for the best views at sea; learn knot-tying, celestial navigation, and sailing techniques. Two nets strung on either side of the bowsprit rock you gently in the sun. Three pools, including one that arcs sunlight through the ship's atrium into the dining room, a dive-training pool descending 18 feet through 2 decks with glass sides so passengers can watch at the Dive Bar, a water sports platform with snorkeling, kayaks, water skiing.

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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.

Start your Trip!

 

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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.

Start your Trip!

 

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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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Copyright BestTrip.TV/Influence Entertainment Group Inc or Rights Holder. All rights reserved. You are welcome to share this material from this page, but it may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.