BOB'S cruises & tours's Blog

The White House Milestone Travelers and History-Lovers Are Celebrating
Amid political drama, it’s easy to forget that 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC isn’t only the address of one of America’s branches of government - or a family home, America’s original work-from-home venue before WFH became a ‘thing’.

The White House is also a global symbol of the historic roots of democracy. And it’s one of the pre-eminent museums of the history of the United States.

It wasn’t always that way. This year, the White House Historical Association celebrates its 60th anniversary.

Six decades doesn’t seem very long, considering the history of the site. While the Republic began in the 18th century and the current White House dates back to the early 19th century, prior to 1961, the White House was no museum. It was treated as a rather ordinary executive mansion – one that changed occupants every four years, without any permanent caretaker of its legacy.

When the Kennedy administration moved into the White House, famously elegant and history-minded First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy discovered a hodge-podge of furnishings and design. One observer even noted much of the White House at the time contained non-descript ‘department store furniture’!

She immediately made it her mission to transform the White House into a museum of the history that had taken place within its walls, and a repository of the legacy of the ‘People’s House’ that would tell future generations the story of the building of a nation through the art, artefacts and furnishings that touched and reflected the lives of the nation-builders and two centuries of presidents and their families.

To assist her in her mission, she established the White House Historical Association. Entirely with donated funds, they scoured America and the world, tracking, recovering, acquiring and restoring, or re-creating art, furnishings and décor items that reflected the history of the White House.

Just a year later, on Valentine’s Day in 1962, the First Lady gave a televised tour of the White House Restoration that had record-breaking viewership and won the notoriously shy First Lady an Emmy award for her on-camera appearance.  You can watch a clip of the tour here.

Her own legacy, the White House Historical Association, provides continuity throughout successive administrations, continuing to preserve and share the history and legacy of this living museum, even acquiring new pieces to reflect that history continues to be made even today. Since its founding, the Association has invested over a hundred million dollars – still entirely donated - to maintain and expand the White House as a museum.
 
You couldn’t call the White House ‘shabby’ now. Vivid colors in rooms with names like Blue Room, Green Room, Red Room, the sheen of gilded vases and clocks and frames that date to the earliest days of the Republic, sparkling chandeliers, a piano given by Theodore Steinway to FDR carved from mahogany with American eagle legs, iconic portraits of Presidents and First Ladies all the way back to George Washington, the State Dining Room that’s the country’s most exclusive dinner invitation, and a whole room dedicated to crystal, flatware, and china, used by nearly every President, as well as state china designed for different administrations provide something to inspire every visitor to the White House.
 
The White House today sees a million visitors each year in addition to the dignitaries, heads of state and culture and business who are welcomed through its doors. 
 
The 60th anniversary of the White House Historical Association coincides with a year of disrupted travel, but thanks to Google Arts & Culture, you can still take a virtual tour of the White House, indoors and outdoors. Don’t miss the Vermeil Room, where portraits of First Ladies, including White House Historical Association founder Jacqueline Kennedy, hang in honor.


To celebrate its anniversary, the White House Historical Association has issued a new logo with the image of the White House South Façade in 1961; a signature book ‘Designing Camelot: The Kennedy White House Restoration’; a special tribute to Mrs. Kennedy in addition to the annual luncheon to mark her July 28th birthday; and new episodes of the Association’s ‘The 1600 Sessions’ podcasts that bring experts and luminaries into discussions about the defining times and people who made history the White House.

#DreamNowTravelSoon


Image: National Parks Service

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The Best Place In Britain to get Your 'Bridgerton' Fix
The steamy, historic-fantasy Netflix series ‘Bridgerton’ couldn’t come at a better time to brighten our stay-at-home winter blahs. We aren't surprised it's shattered Netflix viewership records.

Bridgerton is an early-19th century, light-hearted romp of an historic romance on steroids. Bridgerton follows the intrigues of the young Bridgerton family and their high society friends, enemies and potential mates, their scheming mamas, and the revelations of Lady Whistledown's scandal sheets.

It's fantasy and eye candy of the highest order, with impossibly beautiful and sexy and famously diverse cast members, all outfitted in lovelier-than-life, Empire costumes that wouldn't look out of place on a runway, set against the sumptuous backdrop of British Regency-era elegant, lofty neoclassical architecture and sets with sweeping staircases, rooms where pastel silk walls match light-as-air upholstered furnishings and decadent carpets, all under glittering chandeliers.

(Above and top; courtesy Netflix)

Some of the most spectacular Bridgerton interiors (like the Bridgerton and Featherington homes) were purpose-designed and built sets.

But much of the series was filmed in the very real English city of Bath, where you can still capture the spirit of Bridgerton on your travels. Its natural, therapeutic springs were discovered by the Romans and became a feature of high society English life during the Regency era (immortalized in the works of Jane Austen). That sparked a building boom that transformed Bath, which retains an abundance of graceful period architecture and connection to Regency England today. 

(Courtesy Bath and North East Somerset Council)

Our friends at Visit Bath have revealed a list of Bridgerton filming locations you’ll want to explore on your next trip to Britain.
 

Royal Crescent

One of Bath’s – and England’s - most iconic landmarks, Bath’s Royal Crescent is a breathtaking backdrop for filming. The Crescent – built between 1767 and 1775 – is arranged around a perfect lawn overlooking Royal Victoria Park and forms a sweeping curve of 30 protected, historic terraced houses.
 
You won’t miss it in Bridgerton or want to miss it in your own social media posts.

(Visit Britain/ Joanna Henderson)

No.1 Royal Crescent

The exterior of No.1 Royal Crescent is used as the home of the Featherington family, where Lady Featherington schemes to find husbands for her three daughters in competition with the beautiful Bridgertons. In real life, No.1 Royal Crescent is a museum which has been decorated and furnished just as it might have been during the period. The rooms feature historic furniture and objects that reveal what life was like for Bath’s fashionable residents, both upstairs and downstairs.
 

Bath Street

Bath Street, with its cobblestones and colonnades lining both sides of the street, appears in the first trailer for the show and is used for several street scenes. At the end of Bath Street is the Cross Bath and Thermae Bath Spa. That’s why this area is known as the Spa Quarter, where the region's natural, underground springs bubble to the surface at a temperature of 46 degrees F.
 
Unadorned by shop signs and capturing eighteenth-century Bath perfectly, the street easily slips back into a vision of its historic past.
 

Abbey Green

Tucked away behind the Roman Baths, you’ll find The Abbey Deli (previously called Pickled Greens), on Abbey Green. You’ll quickly recognize its typically-Georgian/Regency bay windows. In Bridgerton, the café stands in for the Modiste – a dress shop where much intrigue unfolds.
 

Beauford Square

Beauford Square, used for more street filming, is a square of two-storey cottages built in 1730. The south side is formed by the original frontage to Theatre Royal Bath, and in the center is now a small rectangular lawn, enclosed with wrought iron railings.
 

The Assembly Rooms

Bridgerton’s fictional high-society events and lavish balls, where the characters dance and socialize, share and create gossip, require equally grand and elegant sets. 
 
Bath’s real-life Tea Room and Ball Room of the Assembly Rooms make perfect, grand backdrops for the sumptuous ball scenes full of glamorous and vivacious costumes and hairstyles. In a sense, they return to their own roots, when the venues were the social epicenter of Georgian Bath. When they are not in use as meeting and event spaces today, you can visit them and imagine yourself twirling and romancing the evening away.
 
Bath’s Assembly Rooms are home to spectacular, original Whitefriars crystal chandeliers and the largest eighteenth-century room in the city.
 

The Guildhall

The Banqueting Room at the Guildhall was also used for ball scenes in the series. The elegant Georgian venue, with grand staircases and elegant plasterwork, ornate gilding, historic paintings and soaring ceilings.

(The Holburne Museum, courtesy Visit Bath)
 

The Holburne Museum

The exterior of the Holburne Museum stood in for Lady Danbury's grand home in Bridgerton. On the impressive approach to the building, its elegant façade and gardens hint at its real-life grandeur and history as an elegant hotel.
 
Wander around Bath, you feel transported back to the Regency era of England and to the fictional lives and lifestyle of the Bridgertons. You can almost imagine someone passing you one of Lady Whistledown’s society-shaking gossip pamphlets!

(Courtesy Visit Britain/ Simon Winnall)

#DreamNowTravelSoon


Image copyrights as noted above

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One’s in Austria, and the other in America. But they are bound together in the pop culture celebrations of the season.
Have you figured it out yet? The hint is in film and music.
 
Both Salzburg and Stowe are destinations tied to the Trapp Family legend. You likely know it as: The Sound of Music, a movie that’s become essential holiday family viewing – and singing - for every generation since the early 60’s.

The film is the – very fictionalized – story of Maria von Trapp, who, while deciding whether to become a nun, became governess to the unruly children of Austrian nobleman and naval officer Captain von Trapp. As Nazi Germany threatens expansion into Austria and demands the services of the unwilling Captain von Trapp, Maria bonds with the children, teaches them to sing, and falls in love with their father.

WATCH THE VIDEO ABOVE: CNNTRAVEL'S INTERVIEW WITH THE CURRENT GENERATION OF THE TRAPP FAMILY

Dirndls and warm welcomes in Salzburg today
© Austrian National Tourist Office / SalzburgerLand Tourismus / Andreas Hechenberger

A Story Beginning in Salzburg…


Against the backdrop of the Alps, the cobblestoned, historic city of Salzburg, home to the birthplace of Mozart and a famous music festival, and the family’s stately home in the countryside, the Trapp family sings their way to family harmony, wedded bliss between the Captain and Maria, and ultimately, a dramatic escape from the Nazis.

The movie, and its music by legendary duo Rodgers and Hammerstein, swept the Oscars won 5 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and cemented the image in 20th century popular culture of Julie Andrews singing the title song while frolicking in the Alpine meadows with the children. You can probably sing along to any of the movie’s songs that have become standards in addition to the title song. Admit it: right now, you’re humming the tune of Edelweiss, Do-Re-Mi, or My Favorite Things.

…and Continuing in Stowe


In real life, the Trapp family’s departure from Salzburg was not so dramatic – or hand-in-hand, singing while hiking over the mountains. It made for a great movie ending, but in fact, ‘over the mountains’ from Austria was Germany! So the family headed by train to Italy, and ultimately, the States.

The singing part was true, though. In the early 40’s, the Trapp Family Singers toured the US performing. Ultimately, the family settled in Stowe, Vermont, “on an enchanted farm with sweeping mountain vistas reminiscent of their beloved Austria.”

Soon, the family was welcoming guests at a 27-room family home/ lodge, which has evolved into today’s Alpine-inspired Trapp Family Lodge. 

Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, courtesy Vermont Tourism


While the town of Stowe has only a few thousand citizens, it’s a destination powerhouse, known as the ‘Ski Capital of the East’ due to the 117-ski run Stowe Mountain Resort, and there’s even the Vermont Ski and Snowboard Museum nearby.

Situated on 2500 acres of mostly wooded, hilly Vermont that changes with the seasons between Winter wonderland, verdant springs and summers, and stunning New England fall colors, the Trapp Family Lodge offers country resort living along with cross-country skiing and mountain biking trails, as well as the best of rural Vermont with wagon and sleigh rides, a working farm that also produces the state’s famous maple syrup as well as its in-house, German and Austrian-style beers.

A beer hall, servers in dirndls, an ongoing commitment to live music, and tours by current family members and memorabilia help to keep the Trapp Family Singers’ story – and connection to the family’s origins in Salzburg – alive.

But Why Christmas?


At no point in the film is Christmas mentioned or represented. The scenes all take place in the summer, on green meadows or on sunny streets of Salzburg and gardens of the family villa. But to this day, The Sound of Music is tied to the holidays.

Soon after its release, TV broadcasters capitalized on families together indoors in the holidays by airing beloved, family-themed films, and the award-winning, sing-along The Sound of Music became a feature of the holiday season.

The movie even got a resounding endorsement of a new generation in 2013 when it was rebooted as a live, holiday TV musical starring Carrie Underwood.

And the wish-list song “My Favorite Things” early on became a Christmas standard you’ll hear repeatedly on Christmas music stations. 

It regularly also gets repurposed and re-worded in other productions and even commercials. Again this year, you’ll find millennial Anna Kendrick singing about her favorite things for a Frito Lay commercial.

Proving that not only is The Sound of Music timely for the holidays… it also seems to retain perennial appeal.

And that planning a trip to either Salzburg, Austria… or Stowe, Vermont, is the perfect pilgrimage for lovers of any age or generation of The Sound of Music.


#SingNowTravelSoon




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2 Travel-Inspired Beverages to get you in the Holiday Spirit
You may not be celebrating the holidays as usual this year, but that doesn’t mean you can’t create some new holiday entertaining traditions.

While we wait to travel and celebrate again, here are two recipes for ‘spirited’ holiday drinks from favorite destinations to warm your heart and remind you of better times ahead.

Perfect for a virtual holiday cocktail party, long winter evenings binge-watching holiday movies, or trimming your tree, these recipes can be made for one or more to share.
 

Gluhwein

Warm wine makes winter better. All the iconic Christmas tastes, sights and sounds of Germany’s Christmas markets, from the fir trees and handmade toys, fires roasted nuts and sausages, are enhanced by its warm and aromatic signature drink. Warm, often spiced, wine, can be found throughout Europe, like mulled wine in England, or vin chaud in France.

Gluhwein is Germany’s version. While the combination of citrus, fruit juices, spices – and even color of wine! – varies, one thing stays the same. Gluhwein translates roughly to ‘glowing wine’, referring to the red hot irons from the fires that were originally stuck into the wine to heat it up. That should give you a sense of the long history of Gluhwein. There’s a gold-plated Gluhwein tankard dating from the early 1400’s that’s attributed to the German aristocrat who was the first grower of Riesling grapes.

Cologne Christmas Market, Germany © GNTB/Wojciech Grabowski

Although most gluhweins you’ll see at Christmas markets in Germany involve red wine, this recipe, from AmaWaterways, uses regional white wines you’ll get to try on one of the river cruise line’s Danube or Rhine cruises during the summer or during a magical Christmas market cruise.

Ingredients
  • 3 cups of white wine (Silvaner or Müller-Thurgau)
  • 1 cup apple juice
  • 1/4 cup Franconian plum brandy (optional but recommended, as a little of the alcohol cooks out of the wine)
  • 4 slices of orange
  • 2 slices of lemon
  • 1 stick of cinnamon
  • 1 star anise
  • 5 allspice seeds
  • 3 whole cloves
  • 1 pinch of aniseed
  • 1 tsp. honey (if you prefer it sweeter, add a bit more)
  • Extra slices of fruit for garnish, if desired
Preparation
  1. In a medium-sized stock pot with a tight-fitting lid, combine all of the ingredients, except for the honey. Stir to combine.
  2. Cover and bring the mixture to a boil, then simmer, keeping the lid on, for 10 minutes. Be careful not to let it come to a boil again; if it boils too long all of the alcohol will be cooked out.
  3. After 10 minutes, immediately remove from the heat. Strain the mixture with a fine mesh sieve; discard the aromatics. Return the mixture to the pot and taste-test. Stir in honey, tasting as you go until you reach your desired sweetness.
  4. Ladle into desired serving glasses. Garnish with sliced fruit, cinnamon sticks, cloves, or star anise pods, if desired. Serve immediately.
 
Pair your Gluhwein with authentic German standards like hot sausages and pretzels, or seasonal festive sweets like stollen, fruit bread; gingerbread or lebkuchen; and glorious marzipan. 
 

Rompope

The clue to this festive Costa Rican drink is also in its name. But it’s not like a rum punch found in the Caribbean. Rompope is Costa Rica’s answer to British egg nog or Dutch advocaat, composed of egg yolk, milk, sugar, cinammon and rum. Unlike egg nog, it’s cooked like a hot, boozy custard. Variations made with coconut milk, coffee, almonds or other nuts are popular in other parts of Latin America.

Rompope’s roots are believed to be Spanish colonial, with stories told of Spanish nuns making the New World’s first batches. Today, families often make two bottles ahead of celebrations, a grown-up version with the rum, and a non-alcoholic version for the younger members of the family. The kids’ version is also used for making cookies, cakes, ice cream and jellies. And the adult rompope can be strong; the rum is added at the end so the alcohol doesn’t cook off.

Courtesy Visit Costa Rica

It’s the sweet and strong traditional beverage of Christmas gatherings. And Visit Costa Rica has sent this rompope recipe for us to share in its celebration of the joys of the season.

Ingredients (4 servings)
•           4 cups milk
•           1 cups sugar
•           2 cinnamon sticks
•           6 egg yolks
•           1 Tbsp. cornstarch
•           Rum to taste
•           Nutmeg to taste

Preparation
Place 3 cups of milk, the sugar and cinnamon in a pot. Heat. Apart, dissolve the cornstarch and the egg yolks in the rest of the milk and add to the pot. Cook over low heat for several minutes. Cool and add rum to taste. Sprinkle with nutmeg and cinnamon before serving.
 

#HolidayCheers


#SipNowTravelSoon


Top Image: Nuremberg Christmas Market; copyright German National Tourism Board/ Jens Wegener
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Celebrating the Holiday Spirit of Travel... at Home
Here we are at the holidays at last. It’s been a year of challenges and disappointments, with canceled or postponed trips that normally give us the relaxation, escape from the everyday… and something to look forward to.
 
But the holiday spirit of travel is still out there to lift our spirits this season and give us inspiration for travels to come.

We’ve assembled some of the best seasonal experiences you can enjoy at home this year, and even share virtually with friends and loved ones.
 

The Nutcracker


Long before Toy Story, the ballet with Tchaikovsky’s memorable score and a magical story line in the Land of the Sweets that has toys and treats and mice coming to life in exquisite choreography was entrenched as a global holiday phenomenon. Even people who aren’t interested in ballet make it a must-do holiday event. It’s most children’s first – and only – exposure to classical dance, and has inspired many a budding ballerina.

Screen capture from clip of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker - New York City Ballet. WATCH IT HERE.

With cultural institutions struggling even before COVID, The Nutcracker has become essential to the survival of local ballet companies. For some, holiday performances of The Nutcracker represent as much as 75% of their annual revenues!

This year, almost all productions have been cancelled due to COVID. But the show must go on. Across the country and around the world, ballet companies are offering streaming versions of their performances to replace live stage productions. Some even include additional, virtual experiences.

Ideal to curl up and watch – together or virtually – with the young ones in your life, here’s a list of US-based ballet companies you can support by buying tickets to their streamed performances.

Canada’s National Ballet has partnered with Cineplex to present an acclaimed version filmed in 2008 featuring principal dancers Sonia Rodriguez and Piotr Stanczyk as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Peter/the Nutcracker, along with 233 performers including 50 dancers, 98 children from Canada’s National Ballet School and high schools from across Toronto, 65 musicians and 20 singers from the VIVA! Youth Singers of Toronto.

The production will be screened at more than 50 theatres across Canada where theaters are still open, or you can stream it online through the Cineplex Store until Jan. 2.
 
Too hip for ballet?
Don’t miss The Hip Hop Nutcracker – a holiday mash up for cool kids of any age. Set to Tchaikovsky’s classic score, it’s a spellbinding contemporary dance spectacle with a cast of a dozen all-star dancers, a DJ, a violinist, and MC Kurtis Blow, one of hip hopʼs founding fathers, re-telling the lessons of love and the holiday season against a modern, urban backdrop. 

KICK IT WITH THE ROCKETTES

 
Another staple of holiday season trips to New York, The Rockettes’ Radio City Christmas Spectacular has also been canceled.

(Screen capture from Promo for 2019’s Christmas Spectacular Starring The Radio City Rockettes; WATCH IT HERE.)

Well, you can’t keep The Rockettes down. They’ve decided to offer free, virtual dance classes to keep spirits up, share some of the secrets of their famous, leggy moves and dance numbers like the 'Parade of the Wooden Soldiers'… and even help you work off some of those COVID/ Christmas extra pounds.

The 50-60-minute classes are on The Rockettes’ Instagram Live weekly through to December 23rd, but will also be posted on their Instagram and Facebook pages if you miss the live class.
 
 

ANDREA BOCELLI 'S CHRISTMAS CONCERT


Andrea Bocelli’s Easter concert “Music for Hope” performance from Milan’s Duomo drew nearly 3 million simultaneous viewers, setting a record for classical performance on YouTube. Made available afterwards, it has now been viewed over 40 million times.

The world’s beloved Italian tenor is hoping to lift up the world’s spirits again at Christmas. “Believe in Christmas” will be live streamed from Parma’s stunning opera house Teatro Regio di Parma, modeled after La Scala, on December 12th.

The performance will include full-orchestra accompaniment to Christmas favorites and songs from the tenor’s latest album, 'Believe'. Surprise guest performances have also been teased.

Screen capture from Andrea Bocelli – Believe – Official Album Trailer. WATCH IT HERE.

Unlike his free Easter performance, Bocelli’s “Believe in Christmas” is only available on a single day, with tickets available at Ticketmaster.
 
 

SANTA TRACKER


Santa may be the ultimate Christmas traveler these days, logging more miles than anyone - and we know even COVID won’t slow Santa down! 

As it has for over 60 years, the joint Canada/US North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and its US predecessor, have tracked Santa’s ‘flight’. It has become the ‘official’ source of Santa’s current position around the world.

Screen Capture from https://www.noradsanta.org/

It all began with a mistake: a local Colorado store ad misprinting the phone number for children to call Santa. It was actually the number of the Commander-in-Chief of NORAD’s predecessor’s hotline. In full Christmas spirit, Colonel Harry Shoup ran with it, having his staff ‘check the radar’ for Santa’s current position, and relaying the information to children who called.

The tradition continues today, with NORAD staff, family and friends volunteering to reply to calls and emails from children around the world.

Perfect for a shared screen video call with the special children in your life, you can go to NORAD’s online Santa tracker and follow his magical Christmas Eve journey together.
 

Wishing you the very best of the holiday season, and a joyful, better year to come, when we can all travel again.


 

#CelebrateNowTravelSoon

 
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30 Years Later: Celebrating One of the Great Monuments to Democracy
This fall, Germany celebrates the 30th anniversary of its reunification. 

It’s hard to believe it was three decades ago that the Cold War came to an end. That from the end of WW2 until 1990, Germany was a divided country, with families and fellow citizens split between democracy in the West and the Soviet Eastern bloc. 

In the heart of Soviet-controlled East Germany, the city of Berlin itself was divided too. The outpost of Western democracy was surrounded on all sides by the East’s barbed wire and armed guards who shot suspected spies or escapees, with the ruthlessly effective – and symbolic - Berlin Wall separating the two sides of the city.

(Top: Historic image from July 1980: A look from West Berlin over the Berlin wall to Brandenburg Gate and East Berlin. Sign with 'Caution: You are leaving West Berlin' in the foreground.)

The Berlin Wall’s photogenic focal point in front of the Brandenburg Gate was where President Reagan gave his historic ‘Tear down this wall’ speech that helped speed the Cold War to an end.

The fall of the Berlin Wall, on November 9, 1989, with unforgettable images and footage of peaceful demonstrations and joyful crowds demolishing the wall by hand, followed by ecstatic reunions across the artificial border ensured the Berlin Wall’s place in legend.

The Brandenburg Gate today. (VisitBerlin/ Dagmar Schwelle)

Within a year – in the fall of 1990 – East and West Germany had disappeared, and one Germany re-united. 
In the 30 years since, historic cities and regions in the formerly cut-off Eastern German states have regained lost ground as tourist attractions – and Berlin has boomed.

Berlin Today


Restored as the capital of a unified Germany, Berlin retains visible memories of its recent and more distant past.
Those interested in WW2 and Cold War history will find a strip of markers in cobblestone that trace the path of the Wall, with one piece remaining at East Side Gallery to remind residents and visitors of its iconic presence. Other chilling history from these world-changing years is preserved in Book Burning Square, the Soviet Memorial, Stasi Museum and Holocaust Memorial (below).

(GNTB /Francesco Carovillano)
3 of Germany’s 41 UNESCO World Heritage Sites are in Berlin, and reflect the layers of Berlin’s many personalities over the centuries:

·      As the name suggests, Museum Island (below) is home to a phenomenal concentration of world-class museums rubbing elbows on an island in the middle of the city. In total, Berlin has 180 museums and more than its share of historic and modern masterpieces.

(GNTB/ Francesco Carovillano)

·      Prussian royalty established their summer palace in Potsdam, where Schloss Sanssouci’s architecture and gardens are awe-inspiring in their elegance, in sharp contrast to downtown Berlin’s urban modernism.

·      Modernist Housing from the 1920’s illustrate Berlin’s role as a leader in global architecture, design, politics and social trends.

Berlin’s tragedies, history of leading new trends, and joyous transition to peaceful reunification in 1990 have all shaped the city you’ll find today.

 (GNTB/Francesco Carovillano)

It has another UNESCO accolade: ‘City of Design’, recognized for creative and tech industries, and its exciting startup culture.
 
Berlin’s celebrated as one of the top cities in the world for innovative electronic music, a wild party and club scene, extravagant street art and pop up installations and sometimes gritty willingness to embrace creativity, innovation and self-expression in virtually any form. 
 
There’s a profound sense of freedom to express and explore new directions in Berlin. The city that completely reinvented itself just 30 years ago continues to invite visitors to discover new facets of themselves.
 

#DreamNowTravelSoon

 

 Top image: Getty

All other images courtesy https://www.germany.travel/en/home.html

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Santa's Not Just Making Toys in His Village Above the Arctic Circle in Lapland
It’s exactly 3 months until Christmas, and we know Santa and his elves are working full throttle. But not just putting in overtime in the workshop and training the team for their big flight Christmas Eve. Santa's got a new summer gig.
Finnish Lapland, with its Arctic landscapes, Northern Lights, ancient winter customs and herds of wild reindeer, is a natural bucket-list destination for Christmas lovers.
Santa Claus Village in Finnish Lapland keeps the spirit of the original, Northern European Christmas alive year round. Visitors to Santa Claus Village at the town of Rovaniemi find the essential Yuletide traditions: Santa Claus and his elves in early, Scandinavian garb, a Post Office that receives and answers children’s letters, Mrs. Claus’ house, cold-weather husky puppies, and naturally, Santa’s reindeer.  
(Visit Rovaniemi/ Visit Finland)
The Arctic Circle is painted across the village square and even at night, a light beam tracks through buildings as it passes through the Village (see image below), and you can even get a certificate that attests you’ve crossed into the land of the midnight sun.
(Visit Rovaniemi/ Visit Finland)
The environment in Finland’s far North that nurtures snow-covered terrain and herds of wild reindeer is now also on the list Santa Claus is checking twice.

Santa’s Forest

80 miles/ 130 km north of the Arctic Circle in Finnish Lapland, a new Arctic nature park is taking shape.
Santa Claus Village answered a call for responsible tourism projects with a plan to make the tourist destination carbon neutral over the next five years - while at the same time offering others a way to offset their own carbon footprint. 
The ‘White Beard’, as the Finns call Santa, is spearheading a drive to plant a million trees, beginning in the first, 40-acre park, and ultimately in Santa’s Forests all over the Lapland region of Finland. Visitors to Santa Claus Village and supporters of preserving and restoring Northern eco-systems can sponsor trees and sections of forest.
(Visit Finland)
Summers are busy now for Santa Claus, as trees are planted while the land is free of ice and snow. In addition to creating a permanent carbon sink in Santa Claus country, the project also creates entirely new private nature reserves and support for the regional economy by hiring local young people. 
Santa’s Forests are a new and precious gift from Santa Claus Village to help ensure the world will be able to experience White Christmas for generations to come.

#3MonthsTilXmas

#DreamNowTravelSoon



Top Image: Juho Kuva/Visit Finland

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Top 3 Travel Destinations to Commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the End of WW2 in the Pacific
2020 has been an eventful year, with many firsts for the history books.
But 2020 also marks some big anniversaries. Earlier this year, the Allies of World War 2 commemorated the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe, the end of the war against the Nazis.
And now, short months later, V-J Day. Another epic moment in the history of the world: the 75th anniversary of the end of the War in the Pacific. Unlike V-E Day, V-J Day, Victory in the Pacific Day or V-P Day is marked on different dates in different affected nations. 
For the Commonwealth countries of the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, as well as the Netherlands, North and South Korea, the date is August 15th. That’s the day Japan announced its surrender. 
The United States considers September 2nd the official end of the war. On that date, formal surrender documents were signed in a ceremony on board the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay.
Other Asian countries, including China, Hong Kong and Macau, the Philippines and Taiwan, mark the following day, September 3rd.
This year’s 75-year commemorations are likely the final milestone anniversaries with veterans and people with living memories of the war years.
That leaves families of veterans, people with an interest in history or reverence of the sacrifices of the Greatest Generation to honor them.
Here are 3 top places to travel to commemorate and better understand the War in the Pacific. 

Pearl Harbor National Memorial

Hawaii, USA

The surprise bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941 by over 350 Imperial Japanese aircraft killed more than 2400 Americans and injured nearly 1200 others. The shocking attack - war had not been declared between the two countries and the US was not yet at war - stunned the world. It also planted the seed of Japanese ‘kamikazi’ or suicide air bomber culture. Intended as a pre-emptive strike to wipe out American naval power in the Pacific before it could be turned on the Japanese, the attack on Pearl Harbor actually led to American military participation in World War 2. 
The Pearl Harbor National Memorial is a National Park comprised of multiple sites that commemorate and educate visitors about the attack that was such a pivotal moment in US history.
The Memorial’s most unmistakable feature is the USS Arizona Memorial (pictured top). Among the 21 American ships damaged or sunk during the attack, the Japanese torpedoed the battleship Arizona. While most ships damaged or sunk during the attack at Pearl Harbor returned to service, the Arizona was left on the harbor floor as the final resting place of over a thousand sailors and Marines. In the 60's the USS Arizona Memorial - a standout example of distinctive mid-century design - was erected over the sunken ship. It straddles, but does not touch it on the ocean floor. 
A visitor’s center on shore provides multi-media historical context and accounts and artifacts of the day of the attack. Visitors can take shuttle boats to and from the ship memorial. Other ships, memorials, statues and preserved structures help complete the commemoration of the event that changed the course of American history.

Bridge Over the River Kwai

Kanchanaburi, Thailand

The bombing of Pearl Harbor was part of a larger Japanese strategy to defeat US, British, Dutch and local powers in the Pacific that included an invasion of South-East Asia, sweeping all the way to overcome supposedly impregnable British forces and fortifications in Singapore. Their unexpected success left the Japanese stretched for supply lines and with thousands of prisoners of war. 
The Japanese solution to both problems was to force Allied POW’s and captured local citizens to work as slave labor to build a 250-mile Thailand-Burma aka ‘Death Railway’. It was an impossible construction project through impenetrable South-East Asian jungle and wilderness, a concept conceived and abandoned by the British as guaranteed to kill too many workers.
The story of Japanese occupation of Asia and the Japanese Imperial Army’s torture and mistreatment of POW’s and local citizens is one of the most horrifying chapters of WW2. About 100,000 conscripted Asians and 16,000 Allied POW’s died in forced marches and inhumane conditions building the railway.
Following the war, the story of the Death Railway and the horrors faced by POW’s were immortalized in a work of fiction that got even more attention as a Hollywood movie, The Bridge Over The River Kwai. The railway bridge in this Thai city has become the spiritual center of commemoration of the Japanese POW’s and occupation.
Today, visitors to Kanchanaburi are eager to see the bridge, and experience the nearby memorial and war cemetaries. The Thailand-Burma Railway Centre hosts a museum dedicated to the history of the railway. There’s an annual pyrotechnic recreation of the Allied bombing of the bridge which is the climax of the movie. You can even ride the Burma-Thai Railway, given over to Thailand after the war. The journey is evocative, over the River Kwai Bridge, through farmland, and along steep mountains alongside the river.
And outside the city, the ‘Hellfire Pass’ (pictured below) Interpretive Centre and Memorial Walking Trail preserves one of the most famously lethal sections of the railway through a rock cutting and along a section of original rail track bed (no longer in use) carved out by hand by POW’s, whose recorded memories are part of an audio tour.

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park

Hiroshima, Japan

In August, 1945, Japan became the first – and only – country to be targeted by a nuclear attack.  Two new, atomic bombs were dropped on cities in Japan, one on Hiroshima, and the other on Nagasaki. The Japanese surrendered soon after seeing the unimaginable power of this new weapon.
Even for a horrifying war, the results of atomic warfare haunted observers and became the stuff of nightmares of people around the world during the Cold War that followed. Humans and buildings at the epicenters of the explosions vaporized. People leaving behind only their shadows. Hideously wounded survivors poisoned by fallout. Hundreds of thousands of city residents dead in the explosions, from burn injuries and ultimately radiation sickness.
After the war, the riverside area around the epicenter of the Hiroshima atomic bomb was rededicated as the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, complete with cenotaph, and moving exhibits of the aftermath of the bombing, including multiple clocks and watches frozen at 8:15 am by the blast. The site is symbolized by the skeletal Hiroshima Dome, the remains of the only identifiable building remaining after the atomic bomb exploded.
A visit to Hiroshima today is a powerful warning for humanity to never again unleash nuclear weapons.

All three of these Pacific War sites highlight the horrors of a terrible war from a different point of view, and all are emotional to visit, but no traveler will regret adding these memorial locations to a bucket list of trips to take soon. 

As we pass the 75th anniversary of the ending of the war, commemorative travel becomes even more important to preserve the memories and lessons of war.


#DreamNowTravelSoon


Images: Getty
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4 Places to Commemorate the 75th Anniversary of VE Day

2020 likely marks the last major milestone anniversaries for the Second World War with living members of the Greatest Generation.

May 8th is the 75th anniversary of VE Day, or Victory in Europe Day.

The day was marked at the time by a spontaneous eruption of joy throughout the streets of London after years of losses under siege and aerial bombardment by the Nazis. Images sent around the world of partying crowds, Churchill and the Royal Family waving from the balcony of Buckingham Palace remain among the most iconic images of 20th century history. (VJ Day in the Pacific theatre, came a few months later).
Plans for dramatic and ceremonial remembrances of VE Day’s 75th anniversary have been stymied by the COVID pandemic. Instead the Queen, who as a very young woman during the War served in uniform as a mechanic, is issuing a rare televised address with her personal memories. In a very moving tribute, a national singalong is also planned with people standing in their yards and doorways and balconies joining to sing the unofficial anthem of British pluck during WW2, Vera Lynn’s ‘We’ll Meet Again’ with Dame Vera Lynn herself leading from a window at her home.
North American history buffs or remembering family and community members who contributed to the defeat of the Nazis have had their travel plans to VE Day commemorations cancelled.
But you can plan now a pilgrimage for a personal commemoration of a turning point in the history of the world.

Here are 4 top destinations to commemorate critical pillars of the Victory in Europe:



The Soldiers:

D-Day Landing Beaches, Normandy, France
Before there was VE Day, 11 months earlier, there was D-Day: June 6, 1944.
A fabled event in military history, D-Day was the largest seaborne invasion in history. Operation Overlord achieved the extraordinary feat of landing 24,000 Allied soldiers to re-take the Nazi-fortified beaches of France. It was the beginning of the liberation of Europe that ended on VE Day.
Canada's Juno Beach, Britain's Sword and Gold Beaches, and America's Omaha and Utah Beaches remain an essential travel destination to honor, first-hand, the monumental task and tremendous sacrifices of D-Day, and walk in the very footsteps of the soldiers who landed there. The isolated D-Day Landing Beaches (above and top) with cliffs, restored battlefield sites, museums and oh, so many cemetaries are essential travel destinations.
 


The Leaders: 

Churchill War Rooms, London
Of all the political and military leaders who strove together towards victory, Sir Winston Churchill remains legendary. The British Prime Minister was one of the earliest leaders to resolve to defeat Nazism, and his eloquent speeches (still often quoted today) and steadfast refusal to give up hope famously rallied the British and Allies to victory.
Nazi planes flew nightly over the English Channel to bomb the capital, and Londoners blacked out the city and retreated underground. Thousands spent nights in London’s ‘tube’ stations. The government went underground, too, into a complex underneath the Treasury building in Whitehall. Knowing what was coming, construction on the War Rooms began in 1938. Operations there began just a week before the war began, and the lights weren’t turned off for the next six years until the war was over.
Today’s fascinating and evocative Churchill War Rooms museum includes restored government wartime command center and a museum devoted to Churchill’s life. 

 

The Victims: 

Anne Frank House, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Of the millions of military casualties and civilian victims, the diary of Anne Frank remains the most famous personal story, and the young girl herself remains the symbol of the over one million Jewish Europeans exterminated by the Nazis.
Anne Frank House preserves the tiny suite of rooms in central Amsterdam where Anne, her parents and sister and four other people hid behind a bookshelf for over two years in fear of capture by Nazi occupiers.
Not long before the liberation of the Netherlands, the group was discovered and Anne was sent to a concentration camp where she died. Her diary of her life in hiding was saved and published, and ensured her voice and story and the lessons of the Holocaust continue through the ages. 
The gripping and emotional museum features the life and times of Anne Frank and the dangers of persecution and intolerance.

The Home Front:

Your Own Neighborhood
Communities large and small across North America have cenotaphs listing the names of fallen local residents who went off to war.
Veterans’ homes, the Legion… places for current generations to serve veterans exist close to home.
And many local museums show the heroic efforts of the wives, mothers, girlfriends, workers in industry and farming who made the achievements on the front lines possible.
Until we can travel again, once it’s safe to move around in your community, find a way to acknowledge in your hometown the service of the veterans who won Victory in Europe in 1945.
 

#PlanNowTravelLater


 
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You know the rum, but do you know the story? Bacardi is the world’s most famous rum, but it’s also the largest private, family-owned spirits company in the world.

When the first Bacardi traveled from Spain to Cuba in the early 1800’s, he tasted a raw local spirit made from sugar cane. Recognizing the potential, the wine merchant worked to refine rum. Bacardi eventually identified a proprietary strain of yeast that brought out rum’s best flavors, began filtering rum through charcoal, and ageing it in white oak barrels that mellowed and enriched the final result.  It was the first ‘white’ (clear) rum in the world.

The rest, as they say, is history. The origins of the instantly-recognizable logo inspired by the ‘lucky’ colony of bats in the building where the Bacardi family began commercial production in Cuba, making rum cocktails like Cuba Libres, Mojitos and Daiquiris part of the early 20th century cocktail party craze, relocating Bacardi production to Puerto Rico following the Cuban revolution in 1960…

The story of Bacardi is legendary. And visitors to the House of Bacardi in Puerto Rico (called ‘The Cathedral of Rum’), with its mid-century, stylized ‘bat wing’ pavilion is so much more than a distillery visit.

You’ll be greeted with a cocktail before taking an historical tour, rum-tasting tour, or a mixology class. 

BestTrip TV got an extra treat: a chance to meet the head of the Bacardi family business who shared the personal passions behind this global brand. 

It’s one of our all-time favorite BestTrip TV videos we wanted to share with you again while we’re staying safe at home – along with a lesson BestTrip's Lynn Elmhirst and TV interior designer Karen Sealy got in how to make Bacardi’s original, simple, balanced and classic daiquiri (with only three ingredients you might even have at home right now.)
 

Bacardi’s Original Recipe: A Hand-shaken Daiquiri


Rum, lime and sugar are timeless ingredients in the Caribbean. The origins of this classic cocktail go back to an engineer in Cuba who developed its refreshing taste, and the Bacardi family's epic parties made it famous stateside, then around the world.

Bacardi's classic Daiquiri is a perfect blend of BACARDÍ Carta Blanca rum, the crispness of fruit and the sweetness of sugar. Serve ice cold for a refreshing drink on a hot day in the islands... or for cocktail hour at home dreaming of your next trip to the Caribbean.
 
THE INGREDIENTS
  • 2 ounces BACARDÍ Carta Blanca Rum
  • 1 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 2 tsp Sugar
 
THE METHOD
  1. Place sugar and freshly pressed lime juice into a cocktail shaker and stir until the sugar has dissolved.
  2. Then pour in the BACARDÍ Carta Blanca rum and fill the shaker with half-cubed ice, followed by some half-crushed ice.
  3. Place the lid on the shaker and shake vigorously until thoroughly chilled.
  4. Finally, strain through a fine tea strainer into a chilled coupette.
 
 
 
 

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It’s been going on for 400 years. Every year ending in 0: 1990, 2000, 2010… and this German cultural tradition was supposed to happen again in 2020. read more
Everyone experiences travel differently, and this may be most true of historic sites. Standing on the spot where history was made is a profound experience that transcends any amount of studying, reading, watching documentaries or films. When you are actually there, the sights, sounds, perspective and your historic imagination all combine for a more meaningful understanding of moments that changed our world.

The Juno Beach Centre provides visitors today with the opportunity to visualize first-hand the WW2 DDay Landings in June, 1944, from a Canadian point of view. No matter what you thought you knew or understood coming to the Juno Beach Centre, its interactive displays, stories, interpretive tours of the restored bunkers and beaches themselves speak to each visitor differently.

It's a pilgrimage all Canadians should undertake.

BestTrip asked staff and visitors which aspect of visiting the Juno Beach Centre impacts them the most. You'll have your own favorite experience after you visit Juno Beach, too.

Start your Trip!




It was a week at the end of May 1969 that became an iconic, unforgettable moment of 60's counter-culture and protests against the Vietnam War.
 
2019 marks the anniversary of the legendary time when music uber-star and peace activist John Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono booked themselves into Montreal's Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth hotel, and held their 'Bed-in for Peace'. 

The event resonated around the world, drawing global media who broadcast images of the couple in their pajamas in bed and their messages of peace. While in bed, they composed and recorded the anthem 'Give Peace a Chance' that resonates even today. It was Lennon's first solo single and marked the beginning of the end of the Beatles as well as marking the history of the peace movement. Music history and activist history made on the grand stage of a bed in a suite in the hotel.

The suite in the hotel has been a beacon, drawing pilgrims and fans to take photos in front of the room's door. And now, as part of a $100 million-plus renovation of Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth, the four rooms Lennon originally booked have been joined together in a single suite, renamed in honor of the couple and designed with all the comforts of a modern luxury hotel, but also in homage to the 60's era, the Bed-in for Peace, and the urgent, memorable song 'Give Peace a Chance' with interactive, multi-media immersions that bring to life the media frenzy and impact of this once-in-a-generation event.

The John Lennon and Yoko Ono suite at Montreal's Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth is not normally open to the public, but BestTrip got access to experience the suite today, re-live that week in 1969 and its message of 'Peace and Love', and share it with you.
 

Start your Trip!


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Veterans, their families, anyone interested in history, or the sacrifices of ordinary young men on an extraordinary moment for the world, all Canadians as well as citizens of all the nations who fought or were affected by these momentous times... all should make a pilgrimage to the Juno Beach Centre and the other DDay sites along the Normandy coast.
Many things have changed since that fateful day. Here's what you can expect on a visit to the Juno Beach Centre today.

Start your Trip!


Grain Silo Transformed into Breathtaking Museum and Hotel
Within a year of its breathtaking reincarnation, Cape Town's historic Grain Silo has already been named one of the world's top 100 places. 

When it was originally constructed in the 1920's, the Grain Silo on the city's waterfront was the tallest building in Sub-Saharan Africa, and a symbol of connection to the rest of the world.

A century later, after the Grain Silo was decommissioned, rejuvenation efforts could easily have seen it imploded to make way for bland new builds. Instead, the visionary conversion of the Grain Silo into a breathtaking museum, with a locally-owned and operated luxury hotel above, has resulted in a win for the waterfront district, for African culture, for the local history and people, and for travelers to South Africa. 

Zeitz MOCAA


The Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art is the largest in the world. Architects magically transformed the Grain Silo's 42, densely-aligned concrete silo cylinders by carving the concrete inside to create the BMW atrium (photos by museum sponsor BMW) and multiple galleries.


The carved cylinders lend their form to the museum's spectacular design. In places, cylinder tops were capped with pillowed glass windows, each with 56 panels of glass, allowing natural light to filter in.

The result is a complex of over a hundred thousand square feet with nine floors of exhibit space, education areas, a sculpture garden on part of the roof, as well as a restaurant and shop.


It's an architectural and design masterpiece – even before you consider the art. 

German businessman and former Puma CEO Jochen Zeitz, considered one of the world's leading collectors of contemporary art from Africa and African artists abroad, loaned his extraordinary collection to the museum. 

It provides the founding collection of art from eminent African artists as the museum continues to grow and actively collect and share to locals and visitors art from the vast range of African artists near and far, provide many levels of art education, give back to Africa, and become a leading voice for Africa in the international art world.
 

The Silo Hotel


Above the museum, the former Grain Silo rises to new heights with a six-floor addition housing the extraordinary, 5-star Silo Hotel.
 
Like the museum below, the hotel retains and reflects ties to the local community; the Silo Hotel is the 5th property of the local Biden family hospitality company The Royal Portfolio, with a selection of exclusive boutique hotels in southern Africa.  


And like other hotels in the Royal Portfolio, the Silo Hotel has quickly become a beacon for luxury hospitality in Cape Town.

Multi-paned spectacular pillowed windows overlook the best scenery in Cape Town in every direction, including Table Mountain and the harbor into the Atlantic Ocean. The hotel celebrates its unique architecture with the Royal Portfolio's signature approach to art, style and design. 


Co-founder and family matriarch Liz Biden designed the hotel's public spaces and 28 one-of-a-kind rooms with hand-selected art acquired throughout her travels, a combination of modern and colorfully re-upholstered antique furniture, and unique pieces that make each guest feel at home in this deluxe atmosphere.


The catch-your-breath, stylish bar on the 6th floor provides bubbles, fine international wines and bespoke cocktails along with awe-inspiring views through the pillowed glass windows, and the Granary Café maintains elegant traditions like Royal Tea and Sunday Roast.


Perched at the top of the tallest building on the waterfront, the Silo Rooftop pool, dining, and lounging are the premiere al fresco experience in Cape Town.

 
The visionary transformation of Cape Town's Grain Silo offers a master class for any global city's transition of its waterfront from industrial to cultural and public. The Zeitz MOCAA and Silo Hotel are magnets for international visitors and still retain and reflect deeply local heritage and values, and make a lengthy stay in Cape Town essential before or after your cruise, wine tour or safari.


Start your Trip!


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It's a global buzzword and cultural phenomenon. And today, more and more of us are in need of Denmark's signature recipe for happiness: 'hygge'.


Danish 'hygge' (pronounced 'HOOG-uh') is sweeping the world – everyone wants in on Denmark's famously convivial way of life. The Danish are the happiest people on the planet – even during the long, dark days of winter - and it's all about hygge.

So much so, hygge has actually been nominated for UNESCO World Heritage status. It might be the world's first UNESCO World Heritage… feeling.

But translating hygge – and living it - aren't so simple. A hug? Mindfulness? Cozy?

Hygge is often referred to in design, with tips for creating rooms with 'hygge'. It's been said the Danish buy more candles per capita than anyone else on the planet. Add snuggly wool throws. Nature-inspired materials. A crackling fire. Comfort foods. And the simple pleasures of good company and togetherness.

All things that mean more to us than ever.

BestTrip was in Copenhagen at the height of a hot summer on a pre-cruise weekend before boarding our Seabourn cruise… and with Copenhagen Urban Adventures, we discovered 'hygge' isn't just something you find indoors in winter. It happens year round, indoors and outdoors, with people, spaces and activities you love.

Hygge has caught on as a catchphrase with its appeal as an antidote to the ails of the modern world. Travel to Denmark, and you'll discover not only the scenics that stand out in Scandinavian style. Danish food and drink, obsession with cycling and life balance… a concept that's been around for a couple of hundred years has new and more powerful relevance in a busy, connected-yet-impersonal, disengaged and over-programmed world.

Hygge might be the very best souvenir from Denmark of all: once you learn how to capture hygge like we did from Mie at Copenhagen Urban Adventures, you'll be able to recreate that feeling home with you and implement its practice into your and your family's life.

Start your Trip!


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5 Fun Facts Plus 1 Travel-Inspired Tequila Recipe
Tequila has grown up. No longer a frat house or a blurry vacation cliché, Mexico's national spirit has returned in recent years to its roots, with new premium brands sprouting up that are perfect for sipping and stylish cocktails at home or on holiday.
 
Here are 5 things you might not have known about Tequila – and a great recipe from our friends at Altos Tequila to get you in the 'spirit' for your next trip to Mexico.

Mezcal or Tequila?

It all starts with the agave plant. Contrary to myth, agave is not a cactus! It's a desert succulent actually more closely related to lilies. The core is cooked, and the juice distilled into mezcal.

Tequila is a specific type of mezcal, with two distinctions: it must be made from the blue agave plant, and in a designated area around the city of Tequila northwest of Guadalajara, and in the highlands (Los Altos) of central Mexico. Tequila is sold around the world as a designation of origin product. Like true 'champagne' is only from Champagne, genuine Tequila must come from its namesake region too.

Recognized by UNESCO

The region responsible for producing the world's Tequila is also one of Mexico's UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The Agave Landscape and Ancient Industrial Facilities of Tequila site is vast – close to 100,000 acres. The area was home nearly 2000 years ago to the Teuchitlan civilization famous for its ball courts, as well as agriculture that led to the cultivation of agave for cloth and the early fermented spirit pulque that set the stage for the distillation of tequila beginning in the 1500's.

It's worth a trip to Mexico's highlands and agave farming areas – before or after your beach vacation, or even as a dedicated journey of its own. The village of Tequila was founded in 1530 and has been designated a 'Pueblo Magico' by the Mexican government. Stroll through the village square, and pay a visit to Tequila's 18th century church between distillery tours and tastings.

Tequila By the Numbers

  • 6-12 years: the time it takes blue agave plants to mature to harvest.
  • 1 life: Agave plants are cut down to harvest the core, so must be replanted for future harvests.
  • 1 Agave core (pina) can weigh a hundred – even hundreds! of pounds when it's harvested. 
  • More than 100 distilleries produce more than 600 brands of Tequila, totaling around 60 million gallons (250 million L) every year.
  • 0 worms. The worm-in-the-tequila-bottle myth may have come from a larva that dines on agave plants and ended up in bottles of mescal – but should never be in distilled Tequila. 

Tequila Variations

We said Tequila could only be made with blue agave, right? That's true, but it only has to be 51% of a bottle of Tequila. If Tequila is labeled 'Mixtos', it may be up to 49% other types of sugars than blue agave. Tequila purists say only 100% blue agave will do; you be the judge.

Once Tequila is distilled, it becomes one of these 4 variations:
  • Blanco (white) or Plata (silver) Tequila is clear and un-aged.
  • Reposado Tequila is aged a minimum of 2 months in oak barrels. Reposado means 'rested', and this process mellows and smooths the Tequila.
  • Añejo (aged) Tequila is yet more refined, spending 1-3 years in small oak barrels.
  • Extra Añejo Tequila is a premium spirit that has aged over three years, with corresponding increases in price. 

Sipping and Celebrating

If you actually need an excuse to celebrate Mexico's national spirit, put these two dates on your calendar. July 24th is National Tequila Day, and February 22nd is National Margarita Day. Would you have guessed the margarita is the world's most famous cocktail? An unbelievable 25% of cocktails sold around the world are margaritas, and Americans are said to drink 4.5 million margaritas every day! 

But in Mexico itself, 40% of tequila is mixed into Palomas. Mexico's most popular tequila cocktail has two versions, and our friends at Altos Tequila have shared their recipes for the Paloma and the Sparkling Paloma.

Altos Sparkling Paloma (pictured above)
  • 2 oz Altos Plata Tequila
  • ½ oz Agave syrup or honey
  • ½ oz Lemon or lime juice
  • Pink Grapefruit Soda
  • A pinch of salt
Pour tequila, syrup and lemon juice in a highball glass. Mix to dissolve the agave syrup. Add ice, top with soda. Garnish with a lime wedge.
Altos Paloma (pictured above)
  • 2 oz Altos Plata
  • 2 oz fresh pink grapefruit juice
  • 1 oz lemon juice
  • ½ oz part agave syrup
  • A pinch of salt
Pour all the ingredients, except the juice, into a glass. Mix to dissolve the agave syrup. Fill the glass with ice and finish with the pink grapefruit juice. Garnish with a half slice of pink grapefruit, and rim glass with salt and smashed pink peppercorns for those without nut allergies.

So if you want to drink Tequila like the locals do, mix up one of these cocktails or order one on your next trip to Mexico.
 

Start your Trip!

 
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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. 

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.

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.

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'.

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.

 

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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.

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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.

PyeongchangYou 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.

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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.

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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.

SeoulSeoul 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)

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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'.

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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 IslandFormed 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.

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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.

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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.

BusanSouth 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. Start your Trip! 

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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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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 PilgrimageThe 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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Remai Modern: A New Player on North America's Modern Art Scene

October 2017 saw the birth of a new destination for modern art lovers.  The nearly $100 million Remai Modern art museum at River Landing in Saskatoon is an ambitious project that puts this Saskatchewan city on the map for culture fans.

And maybe it's OK to be ambitious when your collection includes 8000 works of  'the art of our time', including the world's largest collection of Picasso linocuts, and 23 of that iconic and most recognizable modern artist's ceramic works.

Saskatoon entrepreneur and philanthropist Ellen Remai, for whom the museum is named, donated her collection of 400 Picasso linocuts – valued at $20 million – as well as $16 million towards construction. She was joined by another Saskatchewan-born philanthropist and collector Frederick Mulder, who donated the Picasso ceramics.  Most of the rest of the collection was entrusted to the new museum by the city's former Mendel Art Gallery.

Remai and the Frank and Ellen Remai Foundation made additional donations, now totaling over a hundred million dollars, one of the largest donations to the arts in Canadian history.  The donations will ensure 30 years of funding for international exhibitions, plus a million dollars annually for a quarter of a century towards acquisitions, as well as dedicated funds to match other donations up to another million dollars annually.

(Photos by Adrien Williams)

There's no doubt the Remai Modern reshapes this Canadian Prairie city.  The striking building cantilevered at the river side likely gives you a sense of déjà vu.  That might be because it pays homage to the 20th century's most iconic modern North American architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, and his masterpiece Fallingwater.

Its 130,000 square feet on four levels is a treasure worthy of the art and the community, with a balcony overlooking the river, a show-stopping interior staircase, magnificent galleries, terraces and a seasonal roof top.  The space is designed for community and public events as much as to showcase the art inside.  The region's First Nations art is also home in the museum, which includes inscriptions in six indigenous and Metis languages.

Finding new ways to redefine how museums engage the community in the 21st century has also lead to ground-breaking programs at Remai Modern.

Intergenerational artmaking programs happen every Sunday; a Modern Art Caravan brings art supplies and the opportunity to create to community festivals and events; programs facilitate art in schools and life-long learning, creative communities in First Nations, support young and emerging artists, and ensure the museum's collections are accessible with admission-free days throughout the year.

The Remai Modern is a direction-setting art museum – for Saskatoon as a destination, for the arts community in North America, and all of us who should put the Remai Modern on our travel bucket lists.

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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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