Robert Q Travel Byron's Blog

Why Is It Called Easter Island?

That's actually a trick question.  This tiny dot in the eastern South Pacific ocean, but technically territory of Chile, is actually Rapa Nui.

The world over, Easter Island is synonymous with exotic mysteries of an impossibly distant, long-lost civilization and mind-boggling human endeavor.

It may be the most remote inhabited island on the planet.  Only a few thousand people live on this remnant of oceanic volcanoes sticking out of the sea, and that's the first miracle itself.  The closest inhabited island is 1300 miles away (Pitcairn Island with only 50 people) and the nearest continental point is Chile – over 2000 miles away.  Local tales say a 2-canoe Polynesian expedition around AD 700 was the start of Rapa Nui's extraordinary story. 

(Photo Credit)

Today, Easter Island is on the map of global travelers who want to come face to face with the island's nearly 1000 moai at its UNESCO World Heritage Site. (Top photo credit)

These stately, solemn statues were carved during a 500-year period in the island's history, beginning a thousand years ago.  The moai share artistic characteristics with Polynesian carvings, confirming the origin tale of the Rapa Nui people.  Chiseled with only stone tools out of volcanic rock in the 'quarry' of an extinct volcano, each statue took a team of half a dozen artisans about a year to complete.  The largest is over 30 feet long and weighs 90 tons.  They were an incredible feat of creativity and production and organized society.

You probably think of them as 'Easter Island heads'. But the moai actually have torsos and some even have complete lower bodies; just buried up to their necks over the centuries by shifting sands.

(Photo Credit)

These monumental statues represented deceased ancestry. And only about a quarter were originally installed, others left in the quarry or rest en route to their intended locations.  All but 7 faced inland, the spirits of the deceased 'watching over' the living and their lands.  The 7 facing the sea were stood as wayfinders for travelers.  

Many moai toppled after the mysterious collapse of the Rapa Nui society in the 19th century. In recent decades, local and international efforts have restored and re-mounted a number of moai.  This dot on a map in Chilean Polynesia still seems as awe-inspiring with hidden secrets as when explorers first arrived.

Which brings us to: Why is it called Easter Island?  The Dutch explorer who was the island's first-recorded European visitor arrived on Easter Sunday in 1722 – he came upon it while searching for another island. (He must have been pretty lost!) So 'Easter Island' it was dubbed and its current official Spanish name in Chile is still Isla de Pascua, while its Polynesian name is Rapa Nui, in local language: the 'naval of the world'.

(Photo Credit)

There's more to Rapa Nui than the silent witness of the moai to the island's past.  Visitors experience the local version of Polynesian culture, explore pink-sand beaches, caverns, and dive sites, cycle, hike or ride horses across prairies and volcanic hillsides, and even surf on those waves so distant from other shores.

How to get there? You can fly from both Chile and Tahiti, participate in tour packages offered by expedition and exotic travel experts, arrive by small or expedition cruise ship, or by private yacht. 

There may be no where else in the world where a traveler can feel the greatness of human achievement and small in the face of a culture so far across the waves. 

Start your Trip!

 

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Now There's Another Louvre Museum

It's the best-known and most-visited museum in the world (and if you've ever spent valuable hours of your trip to Paris waiting to get in, you know just how popular it is).  But now, there's another Louvre.

The Louvre Abu Dhabi opened at the end of 2017 as an outpost of the fabled French museum. It's part of a multi-billion dollar, 30-year cultural agreement between the Emirate and France that includes Louvre art loans, special exhibitions and collaboration on museum management.

Art + Architecture

It's not just an adventure in art. The Louvre Abu Dhabi has a breathtaking home. Its web-patterned dome seems to float over tidal pools within galleries at the edge of the sea.  

(Louvre Abu Dhabi - Photography Roland Halbe)

A layered, engineered aluminum web allows sunlight to filter in a 'rain' of abstract shapes of light onto the plaza below.  The effect is a high-tech, artistic motif of a natural scene in the United Arab Emirates: 'rays of sunlight passing through palms in an oasis'.

Inside, not a duplication of the European landmark museum. Instead, Abu Dhabi's visionaries are dedicated to bringing together the artistic excellence of the West as well as Arabic and global creators.

(Louvre Abu Dhabi - Photography Marc Domage)

Loans:

The museum showcases works on loan from the original Louvre as well as a dozen other French musuems including the Musee d'Orsay.  They include artists like Matisse, Van Gogh, Monet and other art world heavy weights. (Not the Louvre's centerpiece the Mona Lisa.  She stays in Paris.)

Acquisitions:

Since the Louvre Abu Dhabi was announced a decade ago, it's been on an artistic shopping spree stocking up. 

That meant the museum launched with a world-class permanent collection. It includes a sculpture of a Bactrian princess from Central Asia, a 9th century Quran, a 'Madonnna and Child' by Bellini, an Ottoman pavement, a 1922 Mondrian, a work by Paul Gauguin, a never-been-displayed work by Picasso, and Salvator Mundi by Leonardo Da Vinci.  With the staggering price tag of $450 million, it was the most expensive painting ever sold at the time the museum acquired it in 2017. 

(Photo Credit)

New Commissions

Although the Louvre Abu Dhabi focuses on historic art and objets, it has also commissioned works from living artists, including Italian sculptor Giuseppe Penone's "Leaves of Light".  The evocative bronze cast of a wild cherry tree interacts with the museum's canopy and is fitted with mirrors in its entwining branches to capture and reflect the light filtering through.

(Photo:  Louvre Abu Dhabi - Photography Roland Halbe)

And A Dedicated Children's Museum

Even a museum with a pedigree like the Louvre Abu Dhabi can be fun for kids.  Exhibits specifically aimed at young visitors aged 6 and older explore shapes and colors through fifteen hundred year old Turkish ceramics, 18th century French vases, and more modern works by the Swiss artist Klee. Plus interactive displays kids can actually touch!

(Photo Above and Top: © Louvre Abu Dhabi, Photography: Mohamed Somji) 

The Louvre Abu Dhabi is the largest art museum in the Arabian peninsula. But soon it will have company. It's part of a bigger plan to develop the world's largest single cluster of world-class cultural institutions in a new neighborhood of reclaimed land in the sea.  Coming soon next door: the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, a performing arts center by 'star'chitect Zaha Hadid, a maritime museum, and other arts pavilions.

 

Start your Trip!

 

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Tips for Biking Bermuda's Railway Trail National Park

t may be one of the best ways to see the beauty of Bermuda.

The train system in Bermuda was short-lived, but its legacy is a National Park trail that is a gift to islanders – and visitors to the island – for generations.

In the '30's and '40's, the train, fondly known as 'Old Rattle and Shake', spanned the island 22 miles across, from east to west. It ceased operations shortly after WW2. But then something quite wonderful happened. With the rails removed, the right of way began to be used as a trail for hikers and cyclists, and the trail became formalized and maintained as a National Park of Bermuda for all.

Now, 18 of the original 22 miles of the railway take you through and past some of the island's most memorable landscapes. Breathtaking remote beaches and quiet woodlands. Challenging slopes and tranquil stretches. Lush foliage and city streets. Panoramic ocean views, and many photo-calls along the way at beaches, caves and even a lighthouse.

If you're in Bermuda for a one-day port of call on your cruise, or staying in one of Bermuda's famously hospitable hotels, cycling this trail is one of the best ways to get off the beaten track and see the non-tourist side of Bermuda.

Here are some tips to see the best of Bermuda by bicycle:

Access:

You can enter and leave the trail at either end or at multiple other points along the way as it crosses through the parishes of Bermuda. The trail is made up of sections as short as only a mile, and as long as nearly 4 miles. So you don't have to commit to the entire 18 miles – or at least, not all in one day!

The trail is not continuous. Like the original railway, it traverses busy roadways, communities, bridges and other places you may need to dismount and cross by foot.

There's a free Railway Trail Guide, and you can pick one up from a Visitor Information Centre: at Bermuda's Royal Naval Dockyard, in Hamilton, or St. George's.

Bicycles:

Words matter, and in British-influenced Bermuda, a 'bike' is motorized. What you want is called a 'pedal bike' or a bicycle. (No motorized vehicles are allowed on the Trail).

There are several places to rent bicycles across the island, and rentals are quite affordable, in the $30- 35 range per day. Some are near major hotels and hotel concierges can point you to the closest. You can even make a reservation for bicycles, have them delivered to your hotel and picked up when you've returned.

Or take a guided bike tour for groups, so you join like-minded active travelers and have a guide point out some of the highlights of the trail.

Bermuda's Railway National Park is one of the hidden gems of the island; and cycling is one of the best ways to get off the beach and the beaten track, enjoy an active day on vacation, and experience some of the most beautiful scenery and serenity on the island.

Start your Trip!

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Buenos Aires ranks high on travel bucket lists: an exciting, European-influenced city in a remote country, renowned for a passionate history and punching above its weight in contributions to global culture.

Argentina has given the world the breathtaking music and dance of tango, the legendary Eva Peron (immortalized in the timeless musical Evita!), some of the New World's best wines from its vineyards, finest beef from its ranches, not to mention its famed polo players, soccer stars, and rabid soccer fans.

With a European familiarity, but its own uniquely Argentine and Latin sensibility, Buenos Aires is a world capital where you want to make sure you don't miss a beat. So my colleagues and I decided to try Monograms.

It's a hybrid way to travel that cherry picks the best parts of doing it on your own, and combines them with the benefits of groups. Monograms promised all the pleasures of Buenos Aires, with someone else doing the hard work – and a Local Host to provide tips and insights and recommendations. Sounds like the dream way to travel, doesn't it?

Here are 6 Reasons to Take a Monograms Tour of Buenos Aires:

The Local Host

The Local Host is the hero of any Monograms story. Our guide Analia is a local who loves her city and is passionate about sharing it with guests. Even when she wasn't with us, she was available by phone. It's like visiting a friend in another city: they take you to and from the airport, help you with logistics, provide you with essential insider tips like the coolest restaurants and local tipping practices, take you to some places and recommend other places for you to explore on your own in your free time.


The Airport:

Independent travelers are used to that moment in Arrivals. You're tired after that long flight, you haul your bags off the belt, go through Immigration… then you're in Arrivals and you have to rally again to figure out the lay of the land as you longingly file past the signs being held up to greet other new arrivals that promise a warm welcome and assistance.

That VIP treatment is yours on a Monograms tour. Our guide Analia was waiting for us, her Monograms sign a welcome beacon in a busy airport. It's not like a large group tour either. No waiting for 30 other people to join us; our group of 3 was whisked off to a waiting mini van.

Luggage and Tipping:

Lugging luggage is the least fun part of any trip. Our bags were taken from us, loaded into the van, and at our hotel, unloaded, and handed to bellmen to take care of from there. A seamless hand-off with no fuss for us. We breezed into our hotel, all without lifting a finger. Or opening a wallet and fumbling with local currency. Tipping had already been taken care of.

Hotel:

Monograms tours include hotels, but you still get to customize your Buenos Aires experience. You can choose among different hotels at different price points and different neighborhoods to suit your own budget and interests in the city. Breakfast is included, so you can start your day off right and without having to figure that out.

In Buenos Aires, the breakfast buffet was so much more than a generic, 'international' meal. It was hard to resist delicious local dulce de leche (how do you make fresh pastries even better? Adding the local caramel sauce) and some of Argentina's famous meat in the form of thinly sliced cold cuts and sausages.

Our guide Analia escorted us in; the hotel staff knew her, and while our bags were being taken from the van to the lobby to our rooms, she smoothly arranged a late check out for us to accommodate our travel schedule. Our hotel was in a busy neighborhood, steps from local shops and cafes and on our first evening, we found the best restaurant around the corner, full of locals and only local dishes and wines – fantastic!

The Private Tour

What a wonderful way to get the lay of the land. And a private tour of the city with your guide is part of every Monograms tour.

Essential Buenos Aires includes the world's widest avenue (which Analia explained to us as we drove in from the airport), the famously and fabulously European architecture, the colorful and eccentric La Boca neighborhood, and even the cemetery in the Recoleta neighborhood, where Eva Peron's final resting place still draws fans and floral tributes. When we were chatting with Analia and she learned of my foodie side, she offered to change the private tour to include the wonderful local market. Although there are 'must see's' in every new city, we were so thrilled our Local Host and the tour was responsive and customizable to our own interests.

The Customization

Some of the customization, like changing up the private city tour to swing by the market, is spontaneous, but other ways to make the Monograms tour your own are baked in so you can put your own mark on your holiday.

Your choice of a selection of vetted hotels, your choice of additional, curated experiences that range from a hands-on culinary experience where you learn to make the famous beef empanadas, a tango show, or even exploring outside the city – a cruise on the Tigre river, or a visit to a real Argentine ranch where you can see 'gauchos' in action.

Plus, of course, plenty of non-programmed free time so we could do exactly what we wanted. I'd heard about the woman who makes the world's most famous tango shoes, so one free afternoon, we went on our own to the atelier of Comme il Faut for an extravaganza of extravagant, limited edition tango/party shoes. Wow!


Our Verdict:

Even in our short stay, we discovered the best of Buenos aires with Monograms. We loved having a 'back up team' even while we did our own thing, taking the inconveniences of travel off our hands, and providing us the that local contact during our tour and transfers in person, but available by phone throughout our stay who gave us that private, insiders' experience of the 'Paris of Latin America'.

By Lynn Elmhirst, Producer/ Host, BestTrip.TV

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Film Set Fantasy: Go On Location in Ireland

The Emerald Isle is Hollywood gold! Lovers of green beer and big parties may dream of visiting Ireland for St. Patrick's Day festivities. But if cinematic drama is more your style, Ireland is where your fantasy of standing in the spectacular natural setting of some your favorite movies can come true.

Ireland's dramatic scenery has been the backdrop of some of the world's biggest film and video sensations. (All images courtesy Ireland.com). It’s where Game of Thrones, Harry Potter and Star Wars fantastical settings were brought to film life, where Braveheart and the Vikings battled for glory in places that appear to have changed little from the ancient times they depict, and where many other iconic movies and TV series played out in the perfect backdrop.

It's amazingly easy to get behind the scenes at Ireland’s top film locations. You can take guided tours or travel on your own to places you'll experience some movie déjà vu.

Ireland's island of Skellig Michael off the coast of County Kerry is much closer than a galaxy far, far away. Its ancient monastery, as well as and Malin Head in the rugged north-west, are locations where Star Wars fans can feel the Force.

Film locations are just one reason to visit the spectacular Wild Atlantic Way. Harry Potter’s horcrux cave is at the foot of the famous Cliffs of Moher. Or remember The Quiet Man? See his home the pretty village of Cong.

In Ireland’s Ancient East, set-jetters can stroll along the golden expanse of Curracloe Beach in County Wexford, which featured in both Brooklyn and Saving Private Ryan. Plus more scenery for Vikings fans, who can follow in their heroes' footsteps through the beautiful Wicklow Mountains.


Wicklow is also home to the magnificent Powerscourt Estate. It was the elegant setting for Ella Enchanted and The Tudors.

And fans of epic Braveheart will recognize Trim Castle in County Meath, which looks much more peaceful when you visit than it did in the movie.

In Dublin, bustling Grafton St provided the urban setting for Once and historic Kilmainham Gaol put stars behind bars in Michael Collins and The Italian Job.

To see the location for Educating Rita, movie buffs can visit Trinity College, famous for the Book of Kells. Are you a Bollywood buff? It's also the location of the Indian blockbuster, Ek The Tiger.

Northern Ireland stars brightly on screen too. TV shows like The Fall and Line of Duty and big-screen blockbusters like Dracula Untold were shot there.

But these days, it's most known worldwide as the ‘Home of Thrones’.

A number of tours visit beautiful Game of Thrones shoot locations, including Castle Ward (Winterfell) in County Down, the Dark Hedges (Kingsroad) and Ballintoy (Pyke Harbour) in County Antrim, and Downhill Strand (Dragonstone) in County Londonderry.

There's more to do than take a selfie (no judgment if you pack a costume to get into the moment). Fans can enjoy a taste of Westeros at a medieval banquet, meet the direwolves, and shoot arrows on the set where Robb Stark taught Bran archery.

Ireland's dramatic scenery isn't the only way to immerse yourself in the island's movie magic. Time your location tour to coincide with one of Ireland's film festivals. Among the choices are the six-day Galway Film Fleadh (July) and the Oscar-affiliated Foyle Film Festival (November) in Derry~Londonderry.

If you're a 'die hard' fan of film, making Ireland your go-to movie location destination puts you in good company with many of the world's most famous movie-makers.

Start your Trip!

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Great memories and stories are wonderful mementos of your Caribbean vacation, even photos to share with your friends. Even better if you can share those memories at home along with some flavor of the islands.  Here are some tips to help you shop.

Rum

Where to buy: Barbados, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Cayman Islands and more

If the taste of the tropics for you is a rum cocktail, you won't want to miss a tasting in the islands, and the opportunity to bring home a bottle you might not be able to find at home. 

Many, many islands grow their own sugar cane and produce their own brands of rum, each claiming subtle variations in flavor, color and strength as a result of local growing conditions, production, and ageing techniques.   Tradition holds that the first rum in the islands was produced in Barbados, so if you're a purist planning a rum odyssey, put a rum tour of Barbados on your bucket list.

Another rum experience not to be missed is the tasting tour of the world's largest, family-owned producer of spirits, Bacardi, in Puerto Rico.   Watch our BestTrip.TV video, above, where we meet the head of the Bacardi family today, and learn how to make a classic rum cocktail.

Or put on your scuba gear to discover the one place in the world it might be ok to 'drink and dive' (not really).  Seven Fathoms Rum, a distiller in the Cayman Islands ages its rum in casks in a secret location underwater off the coast – at exactly seven fathoms deep - where they say there are perfect, consistent ageing temperatures for out of this world rum.  But you'll have to taste it to decide.

Coffee

Where to buy: Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Haiti.

If the best part of your day is your first cup of coffee, you won't want to miss the local coffee on some of your favorite Caribbean islands.

Jamaica's Blue Mountain coffee is the best known Caribbean coffee, with a history dating back hundreds of years, and an ideal climate on the steep, shaded slopes of the country's Blue Mountains at elevations between 1500 and 5000 feet.  Slow-ripening in the shade, picked by hand on the steep, treed slopes, Blue Mountain coffee isn't cheap.  But it's considered one of the world's most premium coffee varieties, its name protected by government regulation like wine regions are protected elsewhere. Many plantations keep their operations private, but a few offer tours and tastings.  Plus you'll enjoy the cool air high in the mountains, in contrast to the heat on the beaches.

Extend your Blue Mountain coffee drinking well into the evening with a sip of Tia Maria liqueur, made from Blue Mountain coffee.  

Coffee Plantation in Puerto Rico. Photo Credit

There are other coffee producing islands, too. Puerto Rico is a leading world producer of coffee, especially in the South-Western mountains. And both countries on the island of Hispaniola: the Dominican Republic and Haiti, also produce their own uniquely-flavored coffees.  In the Dominican Republic, most coffee growing takes place in the mountainous region above Jarabacoa.  While Haiti is a less-developed tourist destination, visitors to Royal Caribbean's port of call at its Labadee resort can support local co-op coffee growers by purchasing local coffee on your cruise.

Cigars

Where to buy: Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Barbados

There's no better way to make a relaxing vacation linger than a souvenir box of cigars.  It's been said the real luxury of cigars is not so much the cost of even the priciest cohiba.  It's the time it takes to properly, leisurely smoke a lengthy cigar.  In a world where time is increasingly money, investing the time to smoke a cigar may be the ultimate luxury.

The image of sultry young women rolling cigars on their thighs in days of yore in Cuba is still a part of the mystique of cigar culture.  When Cuba became cut off from the rest of the world, other Caribbean producers had their chance to shine. 

Cigar tobacco field in Cuba. Photo Credit

Aficionados consider cigars to be like fine wine: each tobacco region has its own 'terroir'.  In cigar 'tasting's, you are introduced to the subtleties contributed by the unique soil, minerals, light and variety to the unique flavor of cigars from different Caribbean islands.

You can tour tobacco plantations and cigar factories (where, advance warning, attractive young women do NOT roll cigars on their thighs) in rural areas of the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Barbados and yes, still Cuba.

Start your Trip!

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Love Your Wine? You'll Love This Airline Perk

Alaska Airlines is giving wine the VIP treatment.  If you're a Mileage Plan member departing from West Coast wine destinations including airports in California, Oregon, Idaho and Washington states, you can – get this – check an entire case, yes a case of up to 12 bottles, of wine for free.

Wine Flies Free from 29 West Coast cities on Alaska Airlines. The program debuted in 2007 to enable passengers to transport wine from Sonoma/Santa Rosa, and Alaska Airlines has now nearly doubled participating departure airports.

Participating Wine Flies Free Cities:

California

Idaho

Oregon

Washington

Burbank*

Boise

Eugene

Bellingham*

Fresno*

Lewiston

Medford

Pullman*

Los Angeles*

 

Portland

Seattle*

Monterey*

 

Redmond

Spokane*

Oakland*

 

 

Wenatchee*

Ontario*

 

 

Pasco

Orange County*

 

 

Walla Walla

Palm Springs*

 

 

Yakima

Sacramento*

 

 

 

San Diego*

 

 

 

San Francisco*

 

 

 

San Jose*

 

 

 

San Luis Obispo

 

 

 

Santa Barbara*

 

 

 

Santa Rosa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Indicates new cities being added to the program.

And it's spreading the word with local wineries and regional winemaker associations as well as wine country destinations. So you can indulge yourself in the rich wine and culinary experiences all along the West Coast, and take home a whole case of terrific memories. Without having to figure out costly shipping.

Instead, your wine flies with you.  There's no charge to become a member of Alaska Airlines' Mileage Plan, and anyone who's signed up can take advantage of the Wine Flies Free program.  Wine bottles have to be sealed and packed properly in a protective shipping container.  But customer service agents help make sure your wine is ready for take off.

How far can your wine fly?  Don't let the name Alaska Airlines deceive you. Together with Virgin America and its regional partners, Alaska Airlines flies to more than 115 destinations across the United States and to Mexico, Canada and Costa Rica.

So you and your new favorite West Coast wine can go far together.

Start your Trip!

 

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Rio's annual pre-Lent extravaganza, Carnaval is the highlight of Rio's – and the party world's – calendar. It runs every year in the 5 days leading up to Ash Wednesday, culminating on Mardi Gras.  But not everyone can make it to the throbbing excitement of Carnaval in that short window.  

If you missed what many consider the sexiest party on the planet, not to worry.

BestTrip.TV can give you an insider's view of Carnaval.  Join us for a rare, behind-the-scenes experience with our fellow guests on this Silversea Grand Voyage exclusive shore excursion to one of Rio's top Samba Schools.

For Silversea's Grand Voyage guests, a one-of-a-kind Carnaval experience immerses us in all the elements of Rio's renowned celebrations:

Floats are the centerpieces of Carnaval.  Samba Schools build their floats in total secrecy – even from other members of their own Samba School. That makes the access we and our fellow guests have to the float-in-the-making extraordinary. The competition between Rio's Samba Schools is so extreme, not a whisper of each Samba School's new theme can leak out.  Each year, the Samba School parade entry tells a different story, and the installations, mechanisms and very glittery art  - provide the framework for the story. The countless sequins, glitter, feathers and sparkly paint make the floats surreal.

Costumes outshine even the floats, if that's possible.  Parade floats are escorted through Rio's Sambadrome by hundreds and even thousands of costumed dancers, musicians and other performers. Perhaps it's the extraordinary contradiction of so much glitter and shine… and so much skin at the same time. Rio's Carnaval costumes differ from other Mardi Gras celebrations around the world (like Venice or New Orleans) in one key way: they are notoriously sexy. This is the birthplace of the thong and dental floss bikini after all.  Not every costume is skimpy on fabric – they are wondrous, hand-made creations, and we and our fellow guests get to play dress up with genuine Carnaval costumes.

Cocktails make everything more fun, and the Carnaval experience is no exception. Cachaca (pronounced ka-CHA-sa) is Brazil's local sugarcane spirit, this country's answer to rum. Caipirinhas are the mojito of Brazil and help make this experience into a party.

Samba may be the most uniquely Brazilian aspect of Rio's Carnaval. The local music and dance, with roots in the country's African slaves, shaped by poor urban neighborhoods of more recent years, is a great symbol of the diversity, unity and democracy of the country today. Not to mention being one of the most throbbing, sensual, irresistible rhythms in the world. To the beat of the drums, cowbells, and whistles of musicians, we get into the spirit of Samba.  Spoiler alert: you may need to be born dancing samba to do the incredible music justice.

Parade time is the culmination of a year of Carnaval preparations. Rio has even built its incredible Sambadrome parade ground, lined by stands and VIP booths.  They don't prevent anyone from dancing along with the Samba School entries though.  And naturally, our own Silversea Carnaval experience culminates in a 'mock' Carnaval parade.

It's an overnight in Rio we'll never forget.

Plus, the Carnaval Experience supports the Youth Samba School that educates thousands of kids in the community.   Join us in celebrating Brazil's famous five-day party!

 

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Seoul'd: There's More to Korea than the Winter Olympics

The 2018 Winter Olympics remind us how exciting a travel destination Korea is.

South Korea has an enviable range of high octane urban, spectacular mountain, beach and countryside destinations, a rich history, culture and cuisine as well as a world-renowned pop culture that rank South Korea among the most unique places in Asia. Visit by land or by cruise ship; the Korean peninsula has several major ports and a long-established maritime lifestyle.

Here's a list of places you'll want to include on a trip to South Korea.

Pyeongchang

You may never have heard of Pyeongchang until it was designated host of the 2018 Winter games, but this winter resort area is a natural Winter Olympic host. Its catchy slogan is 'Happy 700 Pyeongchang', referring to the city's 700 meter (2300 foot) elevation in the Taeback mountain region east of the South Korean capital of Seoul.

Photo Credit

As you'd expect, Pyeongchang sees seasonal snow and low enough temperatures to sustain outdoor winter sports. Two resorts in the region attract skiers, boarders as well as off-season mountain hiking. They're the core of the winter games sites, which have also resulted in additional hotel and sports facilities.

Photo Credit

The Olympics brought other advances, too. A new high-speed (250 km/h or 155 mph) train now brings visitors from Seoul in less than an hour and a half. Don't spend all your time on the slopes in Pyeongchang. Take a break for your spiritual wellness at one of the area's notable and historic Buddhist temples.

Seoul

Seoul is the 4th most economically powerful city in the world, the hub of its global technology, electronics, and auto industry wealth. Like other large, wealthy Asian cities with extraordinary modernism, high-tech, high-rise Seoul can feel surreal to visitors. The center of K-pop (Korean pop music), entertainment and media, this is a city that never sleeps. (Top Photo Credit)

Photo Credit

Seoul is land-locked and surrounded by mountains. The city was established on the Han river 2000 years ago, and has been Korea's capital for over six centuries. Korea's west-coast port of Incheon is right next door; if your Asia cruise has a call there, you'll be well-positioned to do some 'Seoul searching'.

Photo Credit

Seoul's neighborhoods are landmark destinations in a whirlwind city. Among the skyscrapers, neon, miles of packed arcades and landmark hotels, you'll be immersed in the lifestyle of one of the largest urban centers in the world, Korean style: chic drinks and dinners as well as upscale shopping for local and international brands.

But don't miss the historic and authentic side of Korea in Seoul. Artisan and local craft markets, the Joseon Dynasty palace complexes of traditional architecture, local festivals and religious ceremonies with celebrants in traditional dress are distinctly Korean experiences. The area is home to 5 UNESCO World Heritage sites as well its international design award-winning modern architecture.

Jeju Island

Formed by volcanic eruptions over 2 million years ago, Jeju island is the largest island off the Korean peninsula, 85 km (50 miles) south of the peninsula in the waters between Korea and Japan. Jeju's lava base limited early agriculture and resulted in a unique and pristine ecology that set Jeju apart from anywhere else on earth.

Photo Credit

It also created breathtaking lava formations including one of the biggest lava tubes in the world, nearly 9 km (over 5 miles) long and close to a hundred feet high and wide. Visitors are in awe of the full range of cave architecture like columns, benches, bridges and more. The 7.6 meter (25 foot) column of lava inside is the largest known in the world. The caves are home to exceptional wildlife, including a 30,000 strong colony of bats.

Photo Credit

Jeju is an increasingly popular resort island, with a sub-tropical, humid climate warmer than the rest of Korea and some stunning beaches. The island, historically isolated from the mainland, also has its own cultural, clothing, architectural and language traditions.

Busan

South Korea’s second biggest city, on the south-east coast of the peninsula, is also the country's largest port. Many Asian cruises call at Busan. Like Seoul, it's a fascinating combination of history and tradition on the one hand, and eye-popping ultra-modern urban lifestyle on the other. Shop til you drop at the world's largest department store, and take a wellness break at one of the city's dozens of traditional spas using natural-sourced spring water.

Photo Credit

Compared to Seoul, Busan is blessed with a warmer climate, beaches, and a maritime lifestyle including a renowned fish market, and signature seafood cuisine. Surrounding mountains provide cool air and magnificent vistas over the sea. Many Korean temples are at the tops of mountain hikes, so don't miss one spectacular exception, the Haedong Yonggung Temple on Busan's coast overlooking the Sea of Japan.

Photo Credit

The Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)

The DMZ is a 4 km (2 ½ mile) wide no man's land between the two Koreas that spans the entire peninsula 250 km (150 miles) from sea to sea. The DMZ is a very real reminder of the conflict between the two Koreas that remains unresolved today.

Photo Credit

Don't let the name mislead you. It's called 'demilitarized', but Korea's DMZ is actually one of the most heavily armed, land-mined, barricaded and patrolled regions of the world. Tours into the DMZ bring the history of the Cold War conflict that split this country into high relief. It also soberly memorializes the lives lost and families separated as a result of the division of the country. Absent human activity in the area, several formerly endangered species have re-established footholds in the DMZ. So there's that small consolation. As an experience of military tourism and reminder of the repercussions of the Cold War that still exist today, Korea's DMZ is unlike anywhere else on the planet.

Photo Credit

The Olympic flame only burns in Korea during the games, but we hope the 2018 Winter Olympics shine a permanent spotlight on South Korea as one of Asia's most unique – and unmissable – travel destinations.

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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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5 Things You Must Do At Mardi Gras

New Orleans is home to one of the world's greatest parties. 

Like other Carnival celebrations, Mardi Gras grew from the Christian practice of feasting and celebrating on 'Mardi Gras' – which means 'Fat' Tuesday - on Shrove Tuesday, just before the solemn fasting of the 40-day pre-Easter season of Lent. 

The actual dates differ every year.  Shrove Tuesday can happen during February or early March, and Carnival season begins immediately after the 12th day of Christmas, continuing up to the Eve of Ash Wednesday, when Lent begins. 

Other places in the world celebrate pre-Lent, too; you've probably heard of famous Carnivals in Venice, the Caribbean, in Rio and elsewhere.  But New Orleans' Mardi Gras has its own unique character.  The city's French-Creole heritage and culture and cuisine, steamy Southern climate - and oh, that famous local jazz!  - make Mardi Gras one-of-a-kind.

Thousands of people from North America and around the world flock to Mardi Gras. Here's how to celebrate in true N'awlins style:

Feast on Fat Tuesday Food

Fat Tuesday is the one day of the year when eating fried foods is a virtue. No dieting on Mardi Gras! Sink your teeth into some of the best Creole dishes New Orleans offers. To get that local flavor, order anything on the menu with crawfish – a classic crawfish boil, crawfish bisque, or the iconic crawfish etouffee, which means 'smothered', with the local crustacean coated in a rich creamy Louisiana-seasoned sauce served over rice.   

Iconic Creole stews gumbo or jumbalaya are a must while you are in Louisiana.  For feasting on the run, a local muffuletta sandwich is the best best on the menu: where the special ingredient, olive salad, binds cured meats and cheeses in sesame dinner rolls.

Indulge your sweet tooth with the local version of beignet – or as you might call it: a traditional-recipe donut.

A Mardi Gras special sweet treat is King Cakes, often a brioche/raisin bread type ring topped in official Mardi Gras colors of green, gold and purple, and with a hidden bean or even baby Jesus statue inside. Whoever gets the bean, becomes the next Mardi Gras 'king', or party host.

Have a Ball

Krewes are social clubs of New Orleans' residents that date back to the 19th century, established to organize the famous Carnival parades and masked balls. Most major krewes follow the same parades schedule and route annually.  These days parades are too oversized to take place inside the famous French Quarter.  But they still rouse up enthusiastic spectators and toss trinkets into the crowds, including 'doubloons' – replica coins often stamped with a krewe logo – and of course beads, the symbol of New Orleans Mardi Gras decadence.

Play Dress Up

There is no Mardi Gras without the costumes. This is not a time for subtlety.  Sparkles and matching headgear and masks are the order of the day, especially in Mardi Gras' traditional colors of purple, gold and green. New Orleans Mardi Gras may lack the baroque elegance of Venice or the throbbing sensuality of bikinis and samba in Rio, but dress up you must. Mardi Gras costumes span everything from black tie at private balls, to mutant octopus costumes and Elvis impersonators, jokers and mythological figures in a surreal whirlwind of excitement.

And Dress Down

It's easy to blame the current younger generation and TV shows featuring bad behavior for the decadence of topless party-goers at Mardi Gras. But semi-nudity and even cross-dressing have a long history with the Carnival in New Orleans, at least back to the 19th century.  Women flashing from balconies in the French Quarter have long been documented crowd stoppers. The beads-for-baring-them motif is all part of the unrestrained party ambiance of Mardi Gras.

Feel the Music

Any time of the year, New Orleans is one of the greatest music capitals of the world, the birthplace and home of jazz.  Mardi Gras takes music to another level in the city, and even more than usual to the streets, where jazz music and brass instruments are joined by the latest beats and rhythms.  You won't be able to resist dancing in the streets, at parties, in hotel lobbies, at of course at any ball you are lucky enough to be invited to attend.

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Juno Beach: The Ultimate Canadian Pilgrimage

The past and next few years mark a number of World War 1 and World War 2 anniversaries. Commemorations take place here at home, and we hope everyone takes a moment to pause and reflect or attend a memorial service. Our thoughts also turn to the lands fought for and freed by Canadians, and how families, school and other groups, and independent travelers can make trips to the actual sites where our ancestors fought so bravely.

Jenna Zuschlag Misener is a past Executive Director of the non-governmental, non-profit Juno Beach Centre Association in Normandy, France, the Canadian WW2 Landing Beach.   We invited her to share her thoughts about what she calls 'The Ultimate Canadian Pilgrimage'.

In 2019, Canada commemorates the 75th anniversary of D-Day and the Normandy Landings. As the number of living veterans diminishes, it is more and more important for travelers to take up pilgrimage trips to France to experience the Canadian sector firsthand, walk in the footsteps of history, and keep memories alive.

The Juno Beach Centre is Canada’s Second World War museum and cultural centre located in Normandy, France. Opened in 2003 by veterans and volunteers with a vision to create a permanent memorial to all Canadians who served during the Second World War, the Centre’s mandate is to preserve this legacy for future generations through education and remembrance. The Centre pays homage to the 45,000 Canadians who lost their lives during the War.  5,500 were killed during the Battle of Normandy and 359 on D-Day.

The Centre stands on the very beach of the Canadian landing, surrounded by abandoned wartime weapons and defenses, and for many visitors, a trip to the Juno Beach Centre brings home the reality of textbook tales of the war.

We hope Canadians will be inspired to include remembrance in their travels to France. Whether you have a week or just a day, there are many ways to explore the Canadian sector of Juno Beach, either on a self-guided tour or as a short trip from Paris, London, or beyond.

Planning your Pilgrimage

The Centre is located in the coastal town of Courseulles-sur-Mer, a short drive from the city of Caen or Bayeux and just two hours by train from Paris.

There are a number of high-quality tour companies that also offer day trips to the Canadian sector, including stops at the Juno Beach Centre and other important sites around the region. Some companies offer tours from Paris, or they can pick you up once you have arrived in the region. In many cases, these tours can be customized based on your time frame and even your own family history.

You can also book an excursion from a Seine river cruise. More and more cruise companies stop in port cities like Cherbourg and Le Havre and offer excursions to the sector and the Juno Beach Centre for their Canadian passengers. No mention of the Canadian sector in your Landing Beach shore excursion itinerary? Ask your travel advisor and the cruise line in advance to make sure the Canadian landing beach is included in your journey.

Normandy is a very bicycle-friendly region. The Centre has published the 'Maple Leaf Route Cycling Tour' that allows you to follow in the footsteps of Canadians from Juno Beach all the way to the Canadian WW1 Memorial at Vimy Ridge.

We've also published a new brochure with information about visiting Juno Beach and the Canadian sector in 2017 if you are planning on traveling to France during the Centennial of Vimy Ridge.

(The Canadian WW1 Memorial at Vimy Ridge; Juno Beach Centre)

We hope this information is helpful to you! We're always thrilled to welcome Canadians to the Juno Beach Centre, and the Centre staff in Canada and France is pleased to help travelers make the most of their time in Normandy and take advantage of the historical and cultural richness offered in this region of France.

The Juno Beach Centre web site has helpful travel tips and contact information.

We look forward to hearing from anyone interested in the Juno Beach Centre, and to welcoming Canadians to the Centre in the near future.  As we like to say, 'See you on the beach!'

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Some of the best food travel experiences don't involve white linen or Michelin stars.  A crab feast in Alaska that starts with a boat ride to collect crab pots is one of the most fresh, pure-tasting... and fun dining experiences you'll have anywhwere in the world.

Prepare to get dripping in butter and crab juice in this fun BestTrip.TV video!

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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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Maybe it's your first sight of a palm tree in the sea breeze. Or the feel of sand between your toes. Even your first tropical cocktail in the warmth of the sun. But for some people, it's the taste of any of these iconic flavors that makes you feel like you're finally on vacation in the Caribbean. read more

Do you ever see social media posts of magnificent wildlife photos from someone's trip to Alaska and think: This just can't be real?

But it is.  BestTrip.TV cruised from Vancouver to Seward (near Anchorage) on the Regent Seven Seas Mariner, hoping Nature would be kind and we'd encounter at least a couple of the animals and birds Alaska is famous for:

  • Whales
  • Salmon
  • Crab
  • Bald eagles
  • Puffins
  • Brown (grizzly) bears
  • Sitka deer
  • Sea otters
  • Sea lions

Like you, we were skeptical of shore excursion guides who jokingly promised guests 3 out of 5 of a list of iconic Alaska wildlife 'or your money back'.  For Regent guests, this is truly a joke, because Regent has included shore excursions, so you can take wildlife tours in every port of call without going over your vacation budget.  If you don't see the animal your heart is set on, another day, another port, another excursion just might bring you luck.

The truth is, our shore excursion guides and boat captains really know their corners of an enormous state; where whales feed or sea lions congregate.  Plus we got lucky with weather and time of day...

In the end, over the course of a week-long cruise, we ended up seeing all of these creatures and others we didn't expect, and capturing them on video to share with you.

We think this video is the next best thing to actually being there watching whales come up for air or puffins fly past or a bald eagle swoop down into the water to capture a fish to feed her young in the nest. 

But don't take our word for it.  Add an Alaska cruise to your travel bucket list.

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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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Top Souvenirs from Alaska

Alaska's breathtaking scenery and wildlife encounters will be memories that stay with you a lifetime. But there are one-of-a-kind tangible memories you can take home as well as your photos and close-encounter stories.

Lynn Elmhirst, Producer/ Host of BestTrip.TV, shares her favorite Alaskan souvenirs from her ports of call in Sitka, Skagway, Ketchikan, and Juneau on a recent Regent Seven Seas cruise to Alaska.

Alaskan Kelp Pickles

Food is such a fun souvenir when it's made from one-of-a-kind local ingredients. I found many flavors of Alaska to take home to treat family and friends.

One of my favorites I just had to share was the Alaska kelp pickles we discovered in Sitka. Picturesquely-named Bullwhip kelp is an edible seaweed member of the brown algae family that can grow up to 100 feet long.

Alaskans harvest the kelp at low tide through the summer. The long hollow stems cut in rings are around the size of the rings of a small cucumber… in other words, perfect for home made pickles.

One of the largest seaweeds, bullwhip kelp is a healthy sea vegetable with potassium, iodine, bromine, and even iron.

But the nutrients of kelp will be the last thing on your mind when you taste old fashioned 'bread and butter pickles' made from Alaskan bullwhip kelp. Sweet and sour, with mustard and celery seeds, you'll feel transported back to Granny's garden kitchen – with a refreshing, truly Alaskan maritime twist.

Shopping Tip: Also check out the spruce tip jelly (more floral than you think!) and the other grown-in-Alaska preserves, jellies and pickles.

Serving Tip: Take them home to entertain your friends, alongside your favorite aged hard cheese (like old cheddar or gouda) and French bread.

Make it a cocktail party! Pair them with…

Vodka or Gin made from Alaskan Glacier Water

When it comes to food, wine, and spirits, the best ingredients produce the finest results. The base of any spirit is the water used to make it. And nothing can beat the purity of water sourced from Alaska's glaciers.

So imagine how thrilled we were to discover Skagway Spirits. And it happened in the best way of great discoveries when you travel.

The shore excursions expert on the Regent Seven Seas Mariner told us we just couldn't miss the (formerly infamous) Red Onion Saloon in the historic, Klondike-era downtown of Skagway. Naturally, a visit turned into a drink at the bar. I always look for a local flavor on the menu, and there it was: A spruce-tip cocktail made with local Skagway Spirits gin. The perfect toast to local flavor; we needed to find the source! The bar chef drew us a map on the back of a napkin, and off we went on an adventure.

The map led us to an old hangar at Skagway's local airport, where Skagway Spirits has its small-batch distillery and charming tasting room.

This is a do-not-miss experience, meeting the members of this family owned- and operated distillery. Their passion and love for what they do is apparent with every fantastic sip of their vodka and gin.

They even make home-made local juices from berries and blooms. Their Fireweed Cosmopolitan or Rhubarb Collins will change your life. Ryan doesn't even like rhubarb and he was sidling up to the bar for another!

Shopping and Travel Tip: Skagway Spirits is used to packing up spirits for cruise guests' safe return home. Some cruise lines will have your purchase of wine or spirits stored until you leave the ship at the end of your cruise.

Alaska Jade

Alaska's state gem… isn't technically 'jade'. But don't let that stop you from bringing home a gleaming piece of Alaska's most famous stone.

To the naked eye, the green gemstone you see in shops throughout Alaska looks a lot like the Chinese semiprecious gem. They are actually different stones. Chinese jade is a lighter green and much harder than the softer, usually rich green Alaskan gem, which isn't technically the same 'jade'.

But polished into luminescent jewelry, figurines, knives and art objects that evoke the vivid greens of Alaska's unforgettable forests, Alaskan jade is a glowing and cherished emblem of the state's history, natural resources and craftsmanship of its indigenous people. The earliest Alaskans used pieces of Alaskan jade they found in rivers to make tools, jewelry and even weapons.

Large deposits still exist in Alaska – in fact, there's an entire mountain of jade in Alaska - British Columbia, and even parts of California. In addition to the identifying dark green, it's sometimes found in lighter yellower shades, red, black, white and even very rare and valuable lavender.

Shopping Tip: Unlike some other gems, Alaskan jade seems to appeal equally to men and women. Look for jewelry made in a wide variety of rustic/ native Alaskan styles and symbols, to nature and decorative themes. It's the kind of souvenir you'll wear forever, reminding you of your journey to Alaska.

Ulu

From as early as 2500 BCE, Ulu were an essential part of indigenous households throughout the Arctic, from Greenland to Canada to Alaska. Ulu means 'women's knife', and was an all-purpose tool for skinning animals, slicing animal skins, carving blocks of snow and ice for shelter, cutting food and even hair. It was a cherished tool passed down through generations with care.

Ulu are composed of a curved blade with a bone, antler or wood handle. Its unique shape centers force over the middle of the blade more than a knife shape we are used to, making it easier to cut bone, or use rocking motions that pin down food to cut easily one-handed.

Don't let your Ulu sit on a mantle as a conversation piece. Women and men will find infinite uses for an Ulu. I was given an Ulu by a friend who's a fellow travel journalist, and it's already indispensable. I don't cut my own hair with it, but it's great to have in the kitchen, where rocking motions on a cutting board make short work of mincing herbs, or in the garden, slicing the tops off root vegetables.

Travel Tip: check airline regulations to travel with blades; a souvenir Ulu most certainly needs to be safely stowed in your checked, not carry on luggage.

Shopping Tip: avoid cheap factory made Ulu and instead, look for crafted Ulu to support indigenous and individual artisans keeping Northern heritage alive.

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It's only 20 miles from Skagway, Alaska's deepwater port on the coast, to the border of Canada's Yukon. But what a 20 miles they are!

The White Pass & Yukon Route railway ride is one of the most dramatic scenic experiences in the Alaska Panhandle. No wonder it's an all-time favorite experience for cruise travelers arriving in the preserved, Wild (North)West town of Skagway. The tracks go right onto the dock, so we stepped off the Regent Seven Seas Mariner right onto the train. And from there, on an incredible climb to the Continental Divide and the border with Canada.

It's an epic journey of breathtaking scenery and Klondike Goldrush tales - in vintage train cars that take you back to the days of prospectors and adventurers.

Meet the train conductor and hear his stories of this fabled train - one of the world's most scenic and historic rail journeys.

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What you Need to Know About: Skagway, Alaska

You're probably thinking somewhere in the Wild West. Good for you if you guessed the Wild North-West.

We walked off our Regent Seven Seas cruise to Alaska and felt like we were walking back in time. Specifically, to 1896 when gold was found in the Klondike in Canada's Yukon.

There are a hundred preserved Gold Rush era buildings in downtown Skagway, Alaska, complete with wooden boardwalks and costumed 'Good Time Girls' in the formerly infamous Red Onion saloon.

Skagway, in the Alaska Panhandle on the Pacific coast, provided the most direct route for the masses of aspiring gold miners to reach the Klondike. With its deepwater port, large ships from the West Coast of the US or Canada could dock in Skagway to disgorge their loads of miners, pack animals and supplies. From there, it got harder: a grueling, 500-mile trek to the gold fields in Canada.

Overnight, the city swelled with prospectors and shops and services for prospectors, styled after other towns in the North American West with false-front buildings opening onto wooden boardwalks lining a grid of broad streets. The population ballooned, with 8000 people in town and 30,000 souls in the greater Skagway area.

It was the largest city in Alaska, where only the strong and the lucky survived. And it seemed every swindler, con artist and criminal in the land converged on Skagway. For the next two years, Skagway was lawless, and Canada's North West Mounted Police called it 'little better than a hell on earth'.

Like every boom, the bust must come. The dreams of striking it rich had started to fade just a year later and by 1900 – just when a railway to the Canadian border had been completed – it was all over. (That top image is the train station that's still used today.) The same year, Skagway was incorporated as the first city in Alaska.

Skagway might have been destined to become a ghost town, reincorporated by Nature like other stops along the way to the gold fields that have now disappeared into the forests that have grown back where towns once stood. But it survived – with its well-preserved and colorful historic downtown and just 1000 citizens, only a fraction of its Gold Rush heyday. Survived in both legend and reality.

Skagway has been immortalized in literature like Jack London's 'The Call of the Wild' and even as the set of the John Wayne film 'North to Alaska'.

And, as one of the few Alaskan panhandle towns connected to the road system East into the Yukon and South into British Columbia and the Lower 48, it's a vital stop on Alaska's ferry system: the Alaska Marine Highway.

The deepwater port that unloaded hapless prospectors now accommodates cruise ships that bring about a million cruise passengers every year to this town that now homes just 1000 citizens.

There's no gold left in those distant Yukon hills, but a walk back in time to the Wild North-West in Skagway is a pretty rich cruise experience.

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There's a New Tallest Building West of the Mississippi

With a hotel. And the highest open-air bar in the Western Hemisphere.

The Wilshire Grand Center on famous Wilshire Boulevard towers 73 stories over downtown Los Angeles' historic, entertainment, financial, arts, and sports districts and added new texture to the city skyline.

The tower is spectacular. A glass-clad skyscraper topped with a spire that makes it 1099 feet (335 meters) tall, more than 80 feet higher than the US Bank Tower it has overtaken for top spot in the West. (But nowhere near the height of America's tallest building, One World Trade Center in New York, that's a U.S. record-breaking, symbolic 1776 feet (541 meters) tall).

In a nod to its status as a landmark of America's West, the skyscraper's silhouette is inspired by Yosemite’s Half Dome, with an iconic sail for the West's pre-eminent oceanfront city. (Top Photo Credit). Programmable LED lighting illuminates the peak and down the spine of the building for a riveting and changeable evening cityscape.

Inside, take a high-speed, double-decker elevator for a 50-second ride, and you're transported into the breathtaking setting of the InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown's Sky Lobby on the 70th floor.

Magnificent panoramic views and L.A. –inspired design in the Sky Lobby set the scene for your visit to the 900-room hotel, restaurants, bars, open-air observation deck and rooftop pool where global travelers and locals can mingle amongst some of the city’s new and most coveted venues – with the best view in town.

Each hotel room has floor-to-ceiling windows for panoramas of the West Coast sunsets and the City of Angels.

Restaurants make the most of the one-of-a-kind scenics, with VIP booths, floor-to-ceiling privacy screens and private views of the L.A. skyline – as well as foodie features like a cheese atelier, a charcuterie cave and a 1200-label curated wine list.

And at the very top of the tower, imagined as a 'city in the sky', the highest outdoor perch in the country and even the hemisphere. On top of the 73rd floor is Spire 73 – the tallest open-air bar in the Western Hemisphere. This rooftop lounge offers surreal views of the entire city, chic fire pits, signature cocktails and a wide selection of whiskey, and culinary experiences to rival the view.

Plus, in eco-friendly California, sustainability take center-stage, and the building is LEED Gold certified. It was constructed using recycled, locally sourced materials, hotel guest room pods were fabricated off site to reduce waste materials, and on an ongoing basis, building orientation, lighting and thermal energy storage reduce energy use, water-efficient landscaping and storm water collection used for cooling ensure the smallest environmental footprint for the tallest building in the West.

Ideally located in the heart of a revitalized, dynamic downtown, the Wilshire Grand Center and InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown have added a new and spectacular way to experience the United States' second-largest city.

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Do You Know Your ABCs? Islands, that is.

They're as far south as you can go in the Caribbean Sea. A stone's throw north of Venezuela, the 'ABC' Islands are blessed with a location outside the Caribbean's hurricane zone… and on the radar of travelers in the know.

Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao were part of what was formerly known as the Netherlands Antilles, and they are still part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Colorful Dutch colonial and West Indies heritage, unique climates, landscapes and ecosystems much different from the rest of the Caribbean, and that slightly more remote location, make the ABC Islands a haven for travelers looking for a new kind of island experience.

ARUBA

The closest of the ABC islands to Venezuela, only 15 miles off its coast, Aruba is still only a 2½ hour flight from Miami, and has the most standard 'Caribbean' tourist development.

But instead of the tropical humidity and frequent rain you associate with the Caribbean, Aruba's climate is a dessert-like dream: dry, sunny, and breezy with constant trade winds crossing the flat surface of the island.

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The western and southern coasts are known for their white, sandy beaches, ideal locations for the majority of the island's hotels and resorts. Palm Beach, Eagle Beach, and nearby capital of Oranjestad are home to the island's international restaurants, shopping, casinos, golf and other international travel amenities.

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But make sure to get off Aruba's beaten track. The famous trade winds shape one of the most famous symbols of Aruba: the divi divi tree, bent into fantastical, bonsai shapes.

The arid landscape is also dotted with cactus and aloe vera plants; a tour in Arikok National Park, which covers nearly 1/5th of the island, is a great way to see this unusual Caribbean landscape, as well as caves and archeological remains of original inhabitants, and the dramatic rocky eastern coast of the island.

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Don't miss San/Sint Nicolaas, and up-and-coming 'second city' for all that is young, hip and artistic in Aruba. Public murals painted by artists from around the world, an early fall art festival, and trendy hipster bar and restaurant scene make it worth your while to explore farther afield from the capital.

BONAIRE

The smallest of the ABC Islands, Bonaire is essentially a coral reef pushed out of the sea and surrounded by one of the world's most celebrated coral reef systems. The reefs start from the very shoreline and have made Bonaire a bucket list destination for divers who considered it one of, if not the very best shore diving destinations in the world.

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Bonaire has led the Caribbean in nature conservation and eco-tourism. The entire coastline, from the high-water mark on land to a depth of 200 feet offshore, was designated a marine sanctuary in 1979. It protects the 350 species of fish, 60 species of coral and 4 species of sea turtle in its reefs.

Bonaire's shoreline is dotted with lagoons and inlets that are home to marine birds including one of only four nesting grounds of Caribbean flamingos. Outside of that highly protected area, mangrove forests are popular kayaking and snorkeling destinations for hotel guests and passengers in port from cruise ships.

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Nearby Lac Bay on the windward side of the island is on the map of the world's top wind surfers. With reef protecting the entrance to the bay and consistent trade winds, it's one of the stops of the PWA Windsurfing Freestyle World Cup. In fact, the island's most famous export might be its windsurfers; half of the world's highest-ranked freestyle windsurfers are from Bonaire. So if you have been meaning to take up the sport, this is the place to find both ideal conditions and expert instruction.

In the southern part of the island, Bonaire's unique topography has salt water flowing over low lands, enabling the island to commercially produce salt by evaporating seawater. One of the more unique – and delicious - souvenirs you can find in the Caribbean.

CURACAO

Larger than Aruba or Bonaire, Curacao is also a more commercial center with financial and oil-refining business. It's a popular cruise port and has direct flights from cities on the Eastern seaboard as well as Miami and the Netherlands.

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The capital Willemstad dates from the first half of the 1600's. Its collection of well-preserved Dutch colonial architecture, cotton-candy and lacy versions of design typical of Netherlands in the 17th century, is the best example of the style in the Dutch Caribbean and has earned UNESCO World Heritage status.

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In addition to the marvelous pastel-perfect streetscape, the Dutch built forts in the 1600's to protect themselves in the age of piracy and European marine warfare. Six can still be seen today; preserved historic sites, or transformed into hotels, casinos, and even plazas.

The island also has a thrilling geological feature for avid scuba divers: the 'Blue Edge', where the sea shelf drops sharply off only 200 feet from shore.

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Also famously blue, and possibly more famous than the island itself, is its world-famous namesake liqueur. Curacao is the famously peacock blue liqueur that's also a top souvenir of any trip to the island. It's distilled from the island's Laraha fruit, a bitter orange that is the failed result of very early Spanish settlers' attempts to raise Valencia oranges in the dry, poor soil. Although its fruit is almost inedible, the peel is powerfully aromatic. And that trademark blue? It's always just been added color.

With their extraordinary terrain, climate, heritage and lifestyle, the ABC Islands should be on any traveler's list of top Caribbean destinations.

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You Can Do This At the Edge of the World's Largest Falls

This photo isn't playing tricks on your eye. People really do take a dip in the natural pool at the top of this world-famous, record-breaking falls.

It's the largest falls in the world 1708 meters (5604 feet) across and 108 meters (354 feet) high. It's not the highest or the widest falls, but that combination results in a sheet of falling water unmatched in size by any other falls. It's still double the height of Niagara Falls.

Victoria Falls on the Zambezi River on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has been called one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. Named Victoria Falls for the Queen by Scottish explorer David Livingstone when he first came across it in 1855, it's called Mosi-oa-Tunya – The Smoke that Thunders – in local Tonga dialect.

The First Gorge, Zambian Side. Photo Credit

Upstream from the falls, the Zambezi River flows across a wide, flat plateau with no hills or mountains to channel the flow of water. So the entire 5600-foot width of the river drops over the edge of a fracture in the landscape, falling into the gorge below, and flowing through the chasm in a zig-zag series of gorges that form the border between the two countries in southern Africa.

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Both issue visas to allow tourists to cross back and forth across the border to see the falls from both vantage points. A million international and local visitors a year come to see the falls and there are concerns about development and environmental management endangering the site.

The Second Gorge (with bridge) and Third Gorge. Photo Credit

And as for the top picture? Victoria Falls has a famous natural feature on the Zambian side, an 'armchair' called the 'Devil's Pool' near the edge. When the water is at a certain level, a rock barrier reduces the current in that spot to relative calm. Daredevil adventure-seekers risk death to swim only a few feet away from that 350-foot drop.

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Italy's iconic scooter is the very symbol of stylish, romantic getaways in Europe.

Vespas originated in Tuscany, and on a trip to the Tuscan seaside city of Livorno, BestTrip.TV discovered a local who collects, restores, and displays a collection of colorful vintage Vespas. You can't miss this tour of his showroom and workshop!