Travel Expressions Ltd.'s Blog

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.

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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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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.

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You may never have heard of the small Bavarian village of Oberammergau. But every year ending in 0: 2010, 2020, 2030 and so on... Oberammergau becomes synonymous with the Passion Play – the biblical story of Easter – it performs nearly daily for months from Spring to Fall. 

For those with a Christian faith tradition, attending a play that's been performed for hundreds of years in celebration of the most significant Biblical story is a once – maybe twice? – in a lifetime opportunity.

But it's not just Christians who are drawn to Oberammergau. The rarity of the play, its cultural and historic traditions in this little pocket of southern Germany, make it a bucket list, must-see spectacle of community that is updated every cycle to speak to changing times and theatrical styles.  

There are many ways to reach Oberammergau in 2020 or even 2030. Land tour operators have worked a day or two in Oberammergau into tours of Germany, Italy, Switzerland, and also included Oberammergau into faith-based tours of Europe. Oberammergau is even included as a shore excursion from Danube and Rhine river cruises.

It's an experience that groups of friends, extended families and singletons on a mission not to miss this extraordinary event cruise, coach, drive, and fly to experience.

Ask your travel advisor the best way to travel to and enjoy this incredible play - and learn more about the story of the play - in this village nestled at the base of a dramatic mountain landscape that falls off the world's travel consciousness for years – until another Passion Play year is on the horizon.
 
 

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If you're like me, Spring can never come too soon. And nothing says Spring like new flower blossoms.

This year, treat yourself to an abundance of Spring in one of these famous floral travel destinations.


By: Lynn Elmhirst, Host/Producer, BestTrip TV
 

Tulips in the Netherlands

Where: Keukenhof Gardens and surrounding tulip fields
When: April

It's the world's largest spring flower garden. The Keukenhof Gardens are a showcase for the Netherlands' biggest agricultural export: flowers and bulbs. The tulip is the ultimate symbol of a Dutch spring, and there are an astounding 7 million bulbs – tulips and other spring flowers - bursting into bloom on the 80 acres of castle grounds at Keukenhof. Open just a few weeks every spring, Keukenhof is a gardener's dream: themed garden plots and pavilions, an windmill you can climb for a viewpoint over acres of surrounding tulip fields in bloom, boat rides in canals lined with never-ending blossoms.

You can also order bulbs of the blooms you can see at Keukenhof; they'll be shipped to you ready for planting in the fall.

WATCH VIDEO, TOP: THE WORLD'S LARGEST SPRING FLOWER GARDEN ON AN AVALON RIVER CRUISE
 
Also Find Tulips at:

The Ottawa Tulip Festival, Canada


There's a Dutch connection to this flower festival in Canada's National Capital. During the Second World War, the Dutch Royal Family took refuge in Canada's capital, and a royal baby was even born on Canadian soil, as overseas, Canadian soldiers led the liberation of the Netherlands. In thanks, after the war, the Dutch sent tulips. 100,000 tulips, and tens of thousands more each year since. The mid-May Ottawa Tulip Festival is not only a symbol of Spring, it's a symbol of peace and cooperation between nations.
 

Chelsea Flower Show

Where: London, England
When: 5 Days Late May

(getty/ BethAmber)

This might be the most famous flower and landscaped garden show in the world. Members of the British Royal Family join garden lovers from around the world at the 11-acre site of the Royal Horticultural Society's annual love-in of traditional, trend-setting and even avante-garde flowers and gardening. You'll see glorious displays of beautiful and also rare spring flowers, floral exhibits and cutting edge design as well as traditional English gardening that is loved and imitated the world over. 

The Chelsea Flower Show is the perfect place to buy English gardening tools and gifts for yourself or your friends at home.
 

Japanese Cherry Blossoms

Where: Japan
When: Peak season on Japan's main island is early-mid April

(Getty/ Torsakarin)

The Japanese don't just have a word for cherry blossoms: 'sakura'. The also have a word 'hanami' that means to view the cherry blossoms. It's a tradition that dates back a thousand years or more, originating with the Imperial Family and continuing today for all Japanese. It's one of the most festive times of the year, when Japanese gather with friends, family and colleagues under cherry blossom trees filling parks, surrounding historic castles, temples and shrines, and lining riverbanks, drinking sake and picnicking under the trees long into the twinkling evening hours.

It's not just the stunning beauty of clouds of white and pale pink blossoms hovering overhead; the Japanese also view short-lived cherry blossoms as a poetic symbol of the fleeting nature of life itself.

Also Find Cherry Blossoms in:

Vancouver, British Columbia
An estimated 50,000 blossoming cherry trees line streets and grace parks from February all the way through April, including the city's famous urban Stanley Park.  The Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival is held every year for most of the month of April.

Washington DC

(Getty/ zrfphoto)

America's capital has a glorious annual reminder of the thousands of cherry blossom trees given by Japan to the US in the early 1900's as a sign of friendship. Famously lining the shore of the Tidal Basin, DC's cherry blossoms are celebrated annually during the National Cherry Blossom Festival from mid-March to mid-April. 
 

Texas Bluebonnets

Where: Throughout the state, especially the City of Ennis and its 'Texas Bluebonnet Trail'
When: April

(Getty / leekris)

This wildflower is the state flower of Texas and believed to be named from its resemblance to a pioneer sunbonnet. Bluebonnets are actually several varieties of lupins. They thrive in lesser soil and so line roadways as well as fill public lands and pastures. 

The city of Ennis, south-east of Dallas-Fort Worth, is the official home of the bluebonnet, with over 40 miles of flower-bedecked roadsides, as well as an annual Festival. The Texas highway department not only delays roadside trimming so people can enjoy the spring bloom, its early officials were instrumental in encouraging these wildflowers to thrive. Today, they still plant about 30,000 pounds of wildflower seed each year, contributing to the preservation of Texas' native vegetation.
 
Also Find Lupins:

In Canada's maritime provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.

 (Getty / bilbowden)

The lupins you'll find growing wild in Canada's eastern provinces are a larger variety than Texas bluebonnets, and although they're more purple-y blue as well as pink and white, they're an equally cheerful sign of spring. Well, actually early summer. The cooler climate means peak lupin season here is late June – early July.
 
 

Azaleas in America's South-East

Where: Gardens throughout the region and especially: Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, South Carolina
When: Throughout April

(Getty/MargaretW)
 
Azalea shrubs originated in Asia and were successfully taken to many places in the world. But in America's south-east, they've gained a special place as an iconic garden favorite and symbol of gracious Southern living. Unlike other spring blooms, they're quite long lasting, spreading joy for weeks of the season.

Many public and private gardens have a spectacular spring showing of azaleas, but special mention goes to Charleston's Magnolia Plantation and Gardens. The former rice plantation dates from the 1600's, and is the oldest public gardens in the U.S, opening its doors in 1870 to visitors who wanted to enjoy its thousands of cultivated flowers and plants. The less-formal, 'Romantic' style garden is not only on the list of one of 'America's Most Beautiful Gardens'. Magnolia was also the first garden in the country to plant azaleas outdoors, in the 1840's.
 
Today, hundreds of thousands of azaleas bloom in flame pinks, oranges and reds, lining paths and lakes in a breathtaking spring bloom.

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What happens when you put three non-painters in a painting workshop? Can you really learn to paint like Van Gogh in an afternoon?  Those were the questions on all our minds as we walked to an art atelier near where our river cruise ship, the Avalon Vista, was docked in the heart of Amsterdam.


I'm creative but I have zero artistic skill. Even my handwriting is famously illegible.  My friends, travel expert Ryan McElroy and travel and gardening journalist Tara Nolan, were no more confident in their own artistic talent.
But we were all game to try to channel our inner Van Gogh.

The afternoon Van Gogh painting workshop is one of Avalon Waterway's "Discovery" shore excursions, included experiences available at different destinations on all Avalon European river cruises. The Van Gogh painting workshop shore excursion is inspired by the Dutch artist and the city that's home to the museum of his works, and it's available to Avalon guests on cruises in port in Amsterdam.

Discovery shore excursions are designed to dig deeper than a Classic tour of sightseeing highlights. Discovery shore excursions allow you to immerse yourself in a particular aspect of local culture and lifestyle.
 
Even if you've never picked up a paintbrush. 

You'll have to decide for yourself if we acquired any painting skill during the workshop. As our artist-teacher, Paul, recommended, we kept open minds and didn't take it too seriously as we went through the process of sketching with pencil and charcoal on paper, then transitioning to canvas and paint for the finale: a still life of sunflowers and iris inspired by Van Gogh's style and two of his most famous paintings.

They won't be hanging in any galleries anytime soon. But it was a lighthearted and illuminating afternoon discussing how art is made, Dutch painters, art in Amsterdam and local life. And we each walked away with the fruits of our efforts: a painting that we all packed in our luggage to take home as a unique memento of our Avalon river cruise.

So that's what happens when you put three non-painters in a painting workshop on an Avalon Discovery shore excursion in Amsterdam!

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Everyone wants to try 'real' local food when they travel. But we don't always have a real local to point us in the right direction.
 
That's why we loved our Avalon Waterways' culinary tour of the Jordaan, a walking-sipping-snacking tour of the revitalized neighborhood in Amsterdam. It gets you out of the tourist core and into the heart of the Dutch lifestyle the way the locals in the Netherlands really live. 
 
Want to taste the local beer? And the snack the locals order at the bar? You've heard of pickled/ raw herring but never had the nerve to try on your own? Do you want to sample a Dutch cheese you'd never find in a market at home? Or discover the best Dutch chocolate shop to buy souvenirs for family and friends?

We did it all on our culinary discovery tour of Amsterdam with Martine, our Amsterdam guide who knew every shop keeper and even better: the best tips to get that herring down the hatch – and love it!
 
BestTrip's culinary tour of the Jordaan in Amsterdam is just one of Avalon Waterways' collection of included shore excursions that let you get hands-on in a destination and experience the local lifestyle the way you enjoy.
 
How do you like to explore? With 3 types of included excursions and onboard activities on Avalon Europe cruises you can create your own personalized trip.
 
CLASSIC
A local expert is ready to guide you through the history and heritage of local destinations and the “must see” sites.
 
DISCOVERY
Inspiring and interactive hands-on activities designed to speak to your interests - you spend your day immersing yourself in the destination’s unique culture, from cuisine, to art, to wine and more.
 
ACTIVE
Embark on energetic excursions keeping you in motion and on the go — from a guided jogging tour, to biking, paddling, and hiking your way through scenic locales.
 
Every European river cruise destination has its own special character, and Active, Discovery, and Classic styles of exploration mean that from the Seine to the Danube, the Rhine to the Rhone, you'll be traveling the way you want on your Avalon Waterways River Cruise, and gathering the travel stories that put a smile on your face for years to come. 
 

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6 Things You Need to Know About Travel to India's Golden Triangle

It's the 7th largest country by size, with dozens of geographically diverse states, fascinating cities, and over a billion people. India's extraordinarily rich historic and pop culture, landscapes, cuisine and influence have spread from South Asia around the world. India is on many people's travel bucket lists, and if you're reading this, maybe yours too. With so much to see, do and experience, for many travelers, India seems overwhelming.

The answer? A Golden Triangle tour. Even seasoned independent travelers benefit from experienced local guides to help them navigate the vast bustle and ins and outs of first-time travel in India.  

Here are 6 things you need to know about the 'starter' circuit most first-time visitors to India take to introduce them to this colorful nation.

1. Where is the Golden Triangle? It's not an official place on a map. The Golden Triangle refers to the route between 3 landmark destinations in northern India: the Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur. It's about a half a day's journey by road between each point, making the route achievable in a week- 10 day- trip. It delivers some of India's 'greatest hits' as well as terrific shopping and markets, culinary and cultural experiences, from ancient artistic techniques to modern-day Bollywood performances.

2. Highlights of Delhi India's modern national capital is the 3rd largest city in the world. And it was also the capital for half a dozen earlier civilizations over 2500 years, each leaving its own historic and cultural mark. You'll visit monuments to the Hindu, Sikh and Muslim (Mughal) communities, including 3 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Must-see places include the Jama Masjid, which can accommodate 25,000 worshippers, Humayun's Tomb, a 16th century Mughal garden tomb that was a model for the Taj Mahal, the Red Fort (pictured above; photo credit), and Raj Ghat, the memorial to Gandhi.

Don't Miss: the breathtaking, contemporary Ba'hai 'Lotus Temple' made up of 27 marble petals (below; photo credit)

3. Highlights of AgraAgra's claim to fame is the Taj Mahal (pictured top; photo credit). The white marble structure with 28 types of inlaid precious and semi-precious stones was voted #1 of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Its very name evokes the pinnacle of architectural achievement and royal excess. Showcased by landscaped vistas, the Taj Mahal is breathtaking, and many tours plan an arrival so you can experience the royal mausoleum in the mystical atmosphere of sunrise. Some say you haven't visited India if you haven't seen the Taj Mahal, and for many, it is the moment of a Golden Triangle tour they were waiting for.

Don't Miss: The benefits of an experienced local guide. So popular is it that officials have announced some new visiting restrictions to preserve the site. An official local guide is in the best position to help you make the most of your time at the site.

4. Highlights of JaipurIndia's 'Pink City' is the ultra-modern capital of Rajasthan. Its nickname originated in the 19th century, but its history dates back more than a century earlier; a planned city of wide boulevards and dedicated artistic community.

Jaipur is home to 2 UNESCO World Heritage Sites including the Jantar Mantar. Other must-see historic monuments in India are religious, royal or military. The Jantar Mantar (pictured below; photo credit) is uniquely scientific: the largest stone sundial in the world, telling time accurate to a couple of seconds.

Don't miss: The arts and crafts scene. From museums to galleries to shops with among the widest and eye-popping selection of local arts and crafts.

5. When is the best time to go? Most tours run October to March, with most visits in the cooler months of October, November, February and March. 

Don't Miss: The opportunity to view the Taj Mahal at sunrise; from December to mid-January, fog from air pollution can reduce visibility, reducing vistas and even blocking the sunrise view of the Taj Mahal.

6. How you can Visit India's Golden Triangle?Many reputable land tour operators, from luxury and small-group or private, to more economical or independent, offer Golden Triangle tours of India that will allow you to get a sense of one of the world's most fascinating and complex travel desinations.

Don't Miss:  The river cruise option. A Ganges river cruise tour often includes the three magnificent cities of the Golden Triangle by land along with a river cruise that gives you insights into the very different, traditional lifestyle of rural India along the banks of its holy waterway. The best highlights of both sides of India today.

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They call it 'The Garden of Europe', and it's open for only 8 short weeks every spring. The spectacular Keukenhof garden in the Netherlands is said to be the largest spring flower garden in the world – and it's the highlight of our Avalon Tulip Time river cruise.

BestTrip.TV filmed this once-a-year explosion of color of blooming tulips, surrounded by some of the famous Dutch tulip fields.  We were there and even we thought it was too incredible to be real!

Garden Travel expert Tara Nolan of SavvyGardening.com shares her insights into what makes the Keukenhof a can't-miss celebration of spring, best experienced from our Avalon Tulip Time river cruise.

And if you think the Keukenhof garden experience on a Tulip-Time cruise is just for girlfriend getaways, think again.  The gardens are a living, technicolor business card for the Netherlands' floriculture industry - the biggest in the world.  So think of it instead as one of the most stunning 'factory tours' you could ever hope to take. And bring along the guys, not just the girls.  They will be just as awed as we were!

Thinking of taking a Tulip Time cruise? Here are 8 amazing facts about flowers in Holland, home of the world's largest floriculture industry:

  • Nearly half of the world's floriculture products come from the Netherlands.
  • 77% of all flower bulbs exported around the world are Dutch, and the majority are tulips.
  • Tulips are the national flower of the Netherlands, but they originally came from Turkey; then were bred and cultivated by the Dutch into the spectacular showy flower we know today.
  • The appealing stripes on some of the most sought-after varieties of tulips are the result of a virus!
  • The total land used for the production of flower bulbs in the Netherlands is over 2.5 million acres!  The Bollenstreek (Bulb Region) is more or less between Amsterdam and Rotterdam.  The Keukenhof garden is in this area, surrounded by tulip and other flower fields.
  • You can rent a bicycle during your visit to Keukenhof to explore the fields surrounding it, and if you have time, you can even follow all or part of the 37 km-long, sign-posted 'Leidse Bollenroute'. (You'll love cycling in Holland; all the land is flat!)
  • Holland also exports fresh-cut plants and flowers: 2/3 of the world's total.
  • Amsterdam is home to the world's only floating flower market; over a dozen shops operate year-round from one of the city's famous canals.
Like we did, you can experience the Keukenhoff garden, take in some of the surrounding flower fields, and visit Amsterdam's Floating Flower Market all during an Avalon Tulip Time River cruise that delivers you to the front of the line at the Keukenhof, and overnights in Amsterdam so you can go to the flower market.
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Local markets are one of the greatest delights of trips to the South of France.  The glorious town of Avignon (perhaps best known for the song about its famous bridge) also has a renowned market.  In addition to exquisite regional foods and food products, the charming locals are out in full force.  Particularly the character behind the chicken counter, who's known for breaking out into the French national anthem while plucking a chicken! 

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

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A night time market in the grounds of a castle. Fires and torches and twinkling lights, the smell of evergreen boughs, the best German Christmas culinary treats and artisans selling authentic German arts and crafts, Christmas decorations and cozy winter woolens. Whether you're the person who always knows exactly how many days it is until Christmas, or the 'Bah, Humbug' type... Even a die-hard Scrooge gets into the spirit of Christmas at a traditional Christmas market in Germany. And Regensburg's Romantic Christmas market might be the most magical of them all.

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

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