Travel Expressions Ltd.'s Blog

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

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

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

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

Prost!

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Crystal Strikes a Chord with a New Rhine Class of River Cruise Ships Instead of river cruises, they're calling them river yachts. Crystal has translated its uber-luxury sea experience to the rivers of Europe with a new, 'Rhine' class of river yachts, evoking the great music icons of the region. read more

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

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

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

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

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

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

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5 Adventures in Antwerp

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

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

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

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

History with a Quirk

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

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

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

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

Thrillingly Modern

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

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

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

Serious Fashion:

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

And Diamonds:

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

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

And Really Good Taste:

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

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

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

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Visit This: Underwater Winery in Croatia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Lynn Elmhirst, Producer/ Host, BestTrip.TV

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London's New Landmarks

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

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

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Old London: The Tower of London

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

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

New London: The Shard

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

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

Old London: Big Ben

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

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

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

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New London: The London Eye

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

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

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

Old London: Tower Bridge

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

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

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New London: The Millennial Bridge

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

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

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

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Paris Landmark Hotel Re-Opens after $200-million Renovation

When you renovate a palatial, historic landmark on one of the most famously elegant squares in one of the most fabled travel destinations in the world, there's a lot at stake.

The Hotel de Crillon has dominated Paris' storied Place de la Concorde since the 1700's. Originally the Parisian home of the illustrious Count de Crillon, the palace has been the site of world-changing events, where Marie Antoinette had music lessons, international treaties were signed (including French recognition of the American Declaration of Independence), and a hotel since 1909 where celebrities, aristocracy, royalty, politicians and artists continued to make history. Now after its 4-year renovation, its latest re-invention has been revealed.

We aren't disappointed. With incredible vision and work by world-renowned architects, designers, artists and artisans - even an artistic director – the Hotel de Crillon is back, a palace reinterpreted for the modern day luxury traveller. Imagine the challenge: to strike a balance between conservation and transformation. But the hotel has emerged as an elegant expression of the spirit of Paris and a celebration of French art de vivre.

The opulence remains. It is awe-inspiring, bridging the 18th and 21st centuries – and still oh so very Parisian: exquisite, elegant and a bit irreverent.

The exquisite Neoclassical façade and grand reception rooms on the second floor are classified heritage landmarks, so designers were working with a heritage building. But everywhere you can discover a fresh and modern twist, even as beloved and unique objects, that are symbols of the hotel’s history, can still be found throughout the property, from the amethyst chandeliers to gold and crystal Baccarat decanters.

Today's Hotel de Crillon features:

124 Guestrooms: 78 Rooms, 36 suites, and 10 signature suites elegantly decorated with bespoke furnishings, beautiful antiques and carefully chosen objets d’art.

  • The hotel’s 10 signature suites are the crown jewels of Hôtel de Crillon, and considered among the very finest in Paris. The Louis XV boasts a stunning private terrace with picture-perfect views of the Eiffel Tower, while the Marie-Antoinette suite reflects a regal, feminine spirit with pearl-gray décor and touches of rosy pink.

  • Karl Lagerfeld, renowned designer of the house of Chanel and a great 18th century admirer, decorated the two exceptional suites on Place de la Concorde which embody his personal vision of French chic and modernity.

3 heritage landmark salons for meetings and functions:

  • The salons are listed heritage landmarks, with soaring six meter ceilings dating from 1775-1776; French interior palace design of adjoining rooms allows them to be opened and joined for larger events.

5 distinct dining and drinking venues including:

  • Gastronomic restaurant L’Ecrin, where you can savour bold, unexpected, creative dishes of the young and Michelin-starred chef in the intimate 18th century décor of the Salon des Citronniers;

  • La Cave's intimate wine room;
  • Brasserie d’Aumont with an eclectic, quintessentially Parisian atmosphere complemented by revisited brasserie classics;
  • Jardin d’Hiver, casual garden-style gathering place, one of the hotel's most historic spaces, where you can relax at teatime, sip post-shopping champagne, or indulge in exquisite sweets;

  • Les Ambassadeurs, the chic 60-seat bar that is the new place to see and be seen in Paris. A festive vibe animates the heritage setting (the ceiling is a registered landmark) thanks to live music nightly, meticulously crafted cocktails, and an exclusive carte of prestigious champagnes.

Whimsical courtyards by a renowned French landscape architect.

A newly created swimming pool graced by a mural by a noted ceramic artist, fitness studio, and full-service Sense, A Rosewood Spa for wellness-conscious and stylish guests.

Sophisticated style and grooming venues for men and women, including Hair Salon by David Lucas, Barber by La Barbière de Paris, and Shoecare by Devoirdecourt.

Hôtel de Crillon has long since secured its iconic status as a one-of-a-kind hotel destination, a living testament to the very best way of life France has to offer. Its rebirth radiates timeless, chic contemporary French lifestyle in an undeniably luxuriant historic setting.

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The Ship that's Changing River Cruising

How do you revolutionize river cruise ships?


River cruise ships are limited in length by the navigational requirements of rivers... like the sizes of locks. While ships bear their company livery colors and a few unique design features, many river cruise ships appear much the same - at least on the outside.

The design for the AmaMagna, launching in 2019, is game changing. It maintains navigational/ length limitations - but it's twice the width of traditional European river cruise ships.

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

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

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

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

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

The AmaMagna launches in 2019 on Danube itineraries. AmaWaterways is also offering Concierge Cruise + Golf packages for AmaMagna guests to enjoy along the Danube route, as well as wedding/vow renewal packages.

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It may not be the most joyful travel experience you have in Northern France, but for families of veterans, and any grateful citizen, a visit to the World War 2 Landing Beaches in Normandy creates a lifetime of memories.
BestTrip.TV journeyed to the shores on a stormy English Channel to remember the brave souls from the UK, the US, and Canada who stormed those beaches in a last-ditch effort to free Europe and end the war. Along the Normandy coast, remnants of battlefield sites, moving war monuments and memorials and Canada's Juno Beach Centre are essential visits for families of veterans and soldiers who gave their lives, students and history buffs and anyone who understands the importance of keeping humankind's tragic lessons alive.
 
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What European River Cruise is the Most Romantic?

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

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

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

Castles to Watch

Image: BestTrip.TV

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

Image: BestTrip.TV

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

Wine to Taste

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

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

A 'Murmuring Rock' to Listen to


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

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

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

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

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

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

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Eataly's $106 Million Italian Culinary Destination in Bologna

They don't want you to call it a 'theme park'. But if you're one of the foodies around the world who love the wildly popular, Eataly franchises, the field-to-fork destination that has opened near Bologna, Italy is the culinary 'theme park' of your dreams.

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

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

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

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

EARTH AND FARMS

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

PRODUCERS

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

MARKET:

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

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

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

EDUCATION

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

EVENTS

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

FICO Eataly World is an extraordinary culinary destination. A vision come to life of a hands-on, for-the-people celebration Italy's rich culinary heritage and groundwork for its future, educating the next generation of food producers, diners and home cooks, and engaging in environmental best practices.

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


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Celebrate Music and Modern Architecture in Hamburg

The landmark, modernist Elbphilharmonie, designed by 'starchitects' Herzog & deMeuron, has opened its doors at last this month. The complex adds three world-class concert halls, a hotel, and a public area with a panoramic view to the city famously associated with the music of Mahler, Brahms and the Beatles.Hamburg is Europe's second largest port. It handles large, ocean-going ships, so it's considered a seaport, even though it's nearly 70 miles (110 km) inland from the North Sea on the Elbe River at its confluence with 2 other rivers.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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Opening Weekend for Germany's Christmas Markets

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

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

When to go:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Our 'Plan a Cruise Month' Smorgasbord of Offers

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

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

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

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

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Why We Love River Cruising in Europe

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

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

Photo courtesy: BestTrip.TV

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

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

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

Photo courtesy: BestTrip.TV

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

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Swiss Summer Sips

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

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

Mountain Fountain Water.

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

Apple Juice from Thurgau.

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

Gazosa from Ticino.

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

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

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(Photos Courtesy Switzerland Tourism)

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

We've already posted one beautiful video of Lithuania - full of long, aerial shots of the countryside. I wanted to share this video as well for another look at the cityscape. 

Created by Valdas Kotovas of his visit there last June. It's a mixture of different sites and images, a busy metropolitan and gorgeous landscape. 

Get inspired and start your next trip today with Travel Expressions! 

Travel Tip: Modern Museum of Budapest

Budapest is the kind of European city with both a rich cultural history and a thriving modern art scene. Considered one of the most beautiful cities in the entire region, its extensive World Heritage Site includes the banks of the Danube, the Buda Castle Quarter, the Andrássy Avenue, Heroes' Square and the Millennium Underground Railway, the second oldest in the world. That's not mentioning the more than 80 geothermal springs and the #1 bar scene in Europe. 

One place we want to recommend is the Mucsarnok and its institutions. Here's the museum's history from their website:

The Műcsarnok (“art hall”) was founded in 1877 on the initiative of the Hungarian National Fine Arts Association. The original building was situated at 69–71 Andrássy Street, now home to the University of Fine Arts. The exhibition hall on Heroes’ Square was erected in 1896 for the millennium celebrations, and was designed by Albert Schikedanz. Today the hall operates on the pattern of the German Kunsthalle: it is an institution run by artists that does not maintain its own collection. The three-bayed, semi-circular apse houses a roofed exhibition hall that allows in light through the roof. Since the building was renovated in 1995 the Műcsarnok has welcomed visitors and leading Hungarian and international contemporary artists alike, mediating and representing modern artistic tendencies whilst not maintaining its own permanent collection. 

To plan this trip (and any others!) contact us at Travel Expressions! 

Valmiera is the largest town of the historical Vidzeme region of northern Latvia, and while certainly off the beaten tourist track, the city's many outdoor activities and cultural attractions, particularly the Valmiera Theatre, make this economically developing city a unique center for culture.

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The Valmiera Theatre - Valmieras teātris - was built in 1885 as an active amateur theatre by the Valmiera Association of Latvians, and by 1919 became a professional, traveling theatre with regular shows and a steady audience. Today the theatre is among Latvia’s finest, a regular prize-winner at the annual Latvian theatre contest, and globally the theatre has been increasingly recognized as a center for the performing arts.

Seating inside is intimate. The building also houses a small café, and there is access for disabled people.

The Theatre offers behind-the-scenes tours, meetings with popular actors, shopping at the theatre boutique and an opportunity to enjoy coffee in the pleasant café atmosphere.

Tickets are available at the theatre box-office or here.

Here is some more information about the theatre by the Official Latvia Tourism Portal.

In addition, in the city you can ice-fish at the Gauja River, visit the Valmiera history museum, or check out the Olympic centre where athletes train for a variety of different sports, including basketball, football, running and ice-hockey. Pending the weather (winter is extremely cold) there are a variety of sightseeing and outdoor activities.

Here is the website for the Valmiera Tourism Information Centre, where English is spoken and maps, guides, souvenirs, books and free internet access are available.

If this sounds like a trip you'd like to take, let us help plan and book your accomodations. Our Consultants have a unique expertise in travel to Eastern Europe and we can make this your best trip yet. 

Bonjour!

Europe isn't as well-known for it's street eats as some other regions, but there is a ton of variety of traditional anf fusion flavors that you just have to try. 

Here are the street cart smarts you need to navigate through the mixed and marvelous world of European street cuisine. 

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Picnic 
One of the most fun parts about Europe is the many squares, plazas, fountains, parks and other public spaces available that are perfect for setting up a picnic.

Oftentimes there are street vendors stationed nearby; especially in more urbanized areas street vendors continue to be a popular local snack or meal that you can find almost anywhere.

Set up with some chow to people-watch and chat with friends, or add a cheap bottle of wine and you have budget-friendly romantic date.

Farmers’ Markets 
This is one of the best places to find fresh produce, baked goods, drinks and snacks. European produce is high in quality, and since many people do their shopping out of Farmers’ Markets, you’ll have a large selection to choose from.

Throughout Europe you can find Farmers’ Markets that sell pre-maid snacks and meals for discount prices. Ask around locally where you can find them.

Turkish Influences 
Particularly in Germany, the Netherlands, and France, a wave of immigration from Turkey and other countries in the Middle East has brought about an influx of delicious, rich flavors, now a staple in the street cart world.

In Berlin especially, Turks make up the majority of the immigrant population, meaning a plethora of fresh Turkish cuisine to enjoy.

Try the infamous döner, which is kebab meat with yoghurt sauce and fresh greens served in a flatbread like a sandwich. According to local legend it was invented in the 1970s by a business-minded Turkish immigrant at Kottbusser Tor.

Falafel is another popular import. In Amsterdam if you’re looking for a cheap, fresh snack, head over to the Amsterdam Central Station for the little falafel cart outside. For more about falafel in Amsterdam, check out this article.

Drink 
In Italy you can easily find a street-side café or Espresso bar for a quick, pick-me-up espresso.

For places like Prague and Berlin, lift your spirits with some wonderful mulled wine. In Berlin, you can find Glühwein, a hot spiced red wine, usually prepared with cinnamon sticks, vanilla pods, cloves, orange peel and sugar. Sometimes fruit wines, like blueberry and cherry wine, are used instead of grape wine. For an extra kick order it mit rum(with a shot of rum). Glühwein is über popular in Berlin, especially during Christmastime.

In Prague, between the art and craft stands at the Christmas Market in Old Town serves up the most warm and wonderful mulled wine. It’s strong and sweet and unlike anything you’ve ever tried.

Sweets 
Ich bin ein Berliner! Seriously though, if you’re in Berlin, don’t miss out on thepfannkichen, a type of doughnut filled with jam.

In Italy, it’s a gelato dream. In major cities you can find small, bodega-like establishments on pretty much every block. For a few Euros you can cool off with a few scoops of gelato. Stick to places that sell only gelato though. One good rule of thumb for food carts is the fewer the options the better the quality.

If you’re traveling to Belgium, you have to try the waffles. Squeezed between the incredible art and architecture in Brussels are dozens of small stands serving up fresh waffles, covered in fruit, chocolate and whipped cream.

In Paris and other areas of France, crepes are where it’s at. For dessert have one spread with confiture de ait or with salted butter and honey. Or if you’re me, lots and lots of nutella. Crêperies are available on almost every street corner and in addition to dessert-style, you can find Arab versions with feta cheese, spinach, olives and sausage or with grated gruyère cheese, and a softly-fried egg.

Here’s Where to Get the Best Crepes in Paris.

Fried Cheese 
Just stop and think about how good that sounds. One of the most popular and traditional of Czech street foods is syr smazeny, which is breaded and fried cheese, usually of the Edam, Gouda or Swiss variety. It typically comes with tatarska omacka (tartar sauce), along with fried potatoes, and salad or bread.

You can find this treat in Bulgaria too, except it’s made with kashkaval cheese.

Top Picks 
Europe is tricky because it’s a region that encompasses 50 different countries. There are a few top hits though, so we’ll try to point them out (let us know what we missed!)

England is famous for fish n’ chips, seasoned with vinegar and salt served on a paper plate piled high with chips (“french fries”).

Across the Balkans you’ll find the most delicious, hand-formed sausages also known ascevapi or cevaps, served on lepinje, a type of flat bread. On the Dalmatian coast in Croatia, it’s fried seafood and seafood salads, such as lignje na salatu (squid salad).

In Athens, it’s the gyros; Germany has sausage with bread, wurst, kartoffein, and struedel; Bury Market in England serves up the best blackpudding; and Stockholm has cheap knäckis, a sandwich of fried herring, topped with cucumbers and red onions, and served on hard bread.

Speaking of herring, don’t go to Amsterdam without trying the “nieuwe” herring, salted and served on a paper plate with onions and gherkin (pickles). Eat with a toothpick and enjoy the surprisingly mild, savory taste.

More Resources 
Here’s a good, more specialized guide to Eastern European Street Food

Huffpost Travel: The 8 Tastiest Street Foods in Europe