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Monday, August 22, 2011

7 global cities where the US dollar goes far

7 global cities where the U.S. dollar goes far

There are affordable destinations that offer a rich feast for the senses


Many Americans are working long hours to offset smaller work forces, stagnant incomes and other such trials and tribulations of our economic malaise. Needless to say, we could all use a vacation. But the same weak economy that has worked us to exhaustion has also decreased the value of the American dollar so much so that a getaway seems virtually unfeasible. Though the U.S. dollar has seen a slight recovery of late from previous all-time lows, it's still losing to many other major currencies, including the Canadian dollar, the Australian dollar, the Chinese yuan, the Mexican peso, the British pound and the euro. Hard-earned and hard-to-come by American dollars would be squandered on sky-high exchange rates in many desirable destinations.
So what's an R&R-deprived American to do? Help is here, in the form of seven unique and exciting destinations where the U.S. dollar travels as far as you do.
Hanoi, Vietnam
Previously known as the backdrop to many a war film, Vietnam is becoming more popular with vacationers in recent years. French colonial charm blends with Eastern influences from centuries of Chinese hegemony in Hanoi, Vietnam's capital and second-largest city. The local currency is the dong (VND), and $1 is worth approximately 20,595 of them. Though you'll have plenty of money to haggle with vendors at the Night Market in the lively Old Quarter, sample eccentric local delicacies from dog meat to cobra, or maybe even take a Vietnamese cooking class, Hanoi offers a handful of free activities as well. Visit various outdoor wartime sites, watch locals practice tai chi by the peaceful Hoan Kiem Lake, or join one of the free student-run tours around the city. To save even more, find a bed and breakfast in town for as little as $15, sample various rice dishes from street vendors for $1, and wash it down with a fresh, light and cheap Bia Hoi, a Vietnamese beer ubiquitous on the streets of the Old Quarter.
Cuzco, Peru
Until the dollar rebounds, trade the Eiffel Tower for an equally beautiful cultural landmark: Machu Picchu, Peru, where the U.S. dollar gets you 2.75 Peruvian nuevo soles (PEN). Cuzco, the capital of the Incan Empire, is one of Peru's largest and liveliest cities, located just 75 miles from Machu Picchu. The journey will take a little effort, including a taxi and a train, and some money (the trip costs just over $50 each way), but the favorable exchange rate guarantees a once-in-a-lifetime experience for a relative steal. Cuzco's myriad accommodation options begin at less than $10 a night in a hostel. In addition to walking, taxis are a common and inexpensive way to get around the city, with short rides costing only 2 to 4 soles. Local buses and vans are even cheaper. For bargain meals, shy away from fancy restaurants serving foreign food and stick with the smaller joints offering local fare such as chifa, a fried rice dish brought over to Peru by Chinese immigrants, or cuy, a regional specialty of roasted guinea pig. Since Cuzco is known for its indigenous population, you can find unique local products at a great price, but watch out for tourist traps. Both food and goods cost less the farther you get from the bustling main square.
Sibiu, Romania
While Bucharest remains Romania's capital and largest city, Sibiu, in southern Transylvania, was coined the European Capital of Culture in 2007 thanks to its old Germanic charm, colorful squares, stunning medieval architecture and plentiful culture and music festivals. Despite rising economic development and Romania's recent admission to the European Union, Sibiu offers plenty of bang for the America buck. The national currency is the leu, of which one U.S. dollar buys almost three. Dinner for two with multiple courses and drinks at a good restaurant in the popular Small Square will only cost about $35 — an affordable opportunity to sample regional specialties such as a clear sour soup called ciorba and tuica, a local plum brandy. Guesthouses in the main square start around $31 a night while hostels start at just $14. Regional products such as wools, leathers, fur, wine and artisan food products are great buys for American visitors. Visit Sibiu's unique museums, hike the nearby Fagaras or Cindrel Mountains, or simply stroll the old medieval town, which is the main attraction in and of itself.
Chennai, India
Though it may cost a few American dollars to get to India, you'll save once you're there, considering that one U.S. dollar is worth nearly 45 rupees. Chennai, the capital of the southern state of Tamil Nadu, is India's fourth-largest city, with direct flights from North America. Formerly known as Madras, Chennai was one of the first outposts of the East India Company, and its foothold, Fort St. George, was built in 1640 and still stands today. There is much to do in Chennai, from visiting India's first zoo to viewing Mughal-era paintings at the National Art Gallery and bargaining for bangles at the Pondy Bazaar. Chennai is also known for its beautiful beaches (but don't count on taking a dip — strong currents mean swimming is prohibited). Restaurants range from budget, many of which are strictly vegetarian, to upscale. Try one of the many South Indian fast food stands where masala, pongal and dosa cost only a couple of dollars. (Spend the money you save on bottled water, as tap water can be risky.)
San Marcos La Laguna, Guatemala
Find inner peace and topographical splendor in the spiritual oasis of San Marcos La Laguna, a quiet town on Lake Atitlan in the Western Highlands of Guatemala. One U.S. dollar gets you more than 7.5 quetzal, Guatemala's local currency. The beautiful volcanic Lake Atitlan is one of the busiest tourist destinations in the country, and San Marcos is a quiet — and cheap — way to experience it. Still present in San Marcos is a rich Mayan culture, evident from the brightly colored clothing to the local cuisine. Drive or take a bus for less than $5 from Guatemala City to the quaint town where you'll find more footpaths than roads. Once you're there,travel the lake in lanchas, small boats, for about $1 to $4 a ride to the various surrounding towns. Climb the dormant volcanoes for stunning views of the country, or relax with reiki, massage or yoga. Vegetarian cuisine is dominant in San Marcos and you can purchase inexpensive fresh produce at open-air markets. Hostels can be found for as little as $7 a night per person while resorts and eco-lodges, where meals are sometimes included, can range anywhere from $40 to $140 a night.
Fez, Morocco
For an unforgettable getawaythat will overwhelm your senses but not your wallet, head to Fez, Morocco, home to the best-preserved old city in the Arab world. The original walled city, or medina, comprises thousands of sinuous streets and alleys filled with historical buildings, old Arab architecture, vibrant street life and endless souqs, or markets, selling everything from slippers to spices, and ceramics to cell phones. Since $1 gets you about 7.8 Moroccan dirhams, local goods are great buys — if you know how to bargain. Other major sights in the medina include the colorful and pungent tannery, where leather-making and dying techniques remain unchanged since the Middle Ages, and the centuries-old University of Al-Karaouine. Though the university is part of a mosque, which non-Muslims are not permitted to enter in Fez, the courtyard and library are worth the visit. Street food in Fez is often just as good as in restaurants and half the price, offering delicious regional specialties such as couscous, meat kebabs or harira (soup with meat, chickpeas or lentils) for just a few bucks. Traditional guesthouses called riads start at around $65 a night, while hostels start at $25 and can even include breakfast, all-day tea and Wi-Fi.
Vientiane, Laos
Formally referred to as Lao People's Democratic Republic, or Lao PDR, it is known to many visitors, drawn to its relaxed lifestyle, as "Lao -- Please Don't Rush." Though the capital city is becoming more popular, Vientiane retains a small-town feel and is perfect for those looking to relax. Popular activities include watching the sunset on the city's stunning Mekong River while drinking Beerlao, the national beer of Laos, indulging in a Lao massage (which will only cost you about $3 to $6), and chatting with local monks at Sangha College. The local currency is the kip, and one dollar gets you 8,000 of them. Vientiane has no shortage of restaurants ranging in fare from regional specialties to Tex-Mex. For those on a tight budget, noodle shops offer $1 meals. Even the most upscale of restaurants in the capital top off at $20 per person or less. Laos is known for its silk, which you can buy for a fraction of the price as in the U.S. (but beware of synthetic imposters).

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Discover Dubai's beauty, mystique

Discover Dubai's beauty, mystique

CNN's Destination Adventure series takes a look at travel locations for the explorer at heart. This week, we're taking a look at Dubai, United Arab Emirates. We'll feature favorite regional foods, secrets from the locals and the best photos and stories from readers. Have you been to Dubai? Share your story with CNN iReport.

I have been in Dubai for almost 10 years, and every time I receive a friend who is visiting for a day or two, I discover new and unique adventures.

As one of the seven small emirates in the United Arab Emirates, it has managed to put itself on the international map relatively quickly.

In the last two decades, Dubai became very popular and attractive to a lot of globetrotters, business people and media for many different reasons.

If you're thinking about visiting, here are some tips to help you escape into the mystical world of the fabled "A Thousand and One Nights" and discover the culture, history and captivating beauty of Dubai.

Start with the 'real' part of Dubai

Dubai is often promoted as a modern architectural wonder and luxury shopping, dining and lodging destination, but first-time visitors should not miss starting their adventure with a visit to the "real part of Dubai" which is Souq Nayef (souq in Arabic means market) which is in Deira, a suburb of Dubai.

Although the government has recently demolished the old souq and rebuilt it again, you can still find the most delicious and cheapest bread, maybe in the whole UAE.

In one of the small streets, between small shops that are selling the oldest mobiles ever, you definitely smell the bread, and you will be surprised to find that it is coming from a small shop not larger than 1.5 meter by one meter. Inside it, you look up and you will find the baker, who is Afghani, asking you in mixed Arabic and Afghani words: "How many loafs do you want? (Be advised that the size of the bread is pretty big.) In few seconds you will find the hot bread is sliding down to the small window where you are standing. Take it, don't be surprised when you know that it is less than two cents and enjoy it.

Visiting 'souqs' as a real experience
For a true Dubai experience, proceed to its three popular souqs, but keep in mind that they are all tourist traps. However, they are worth visiting.

Start with the Gold Souq, where you will feel as if you are entering an Indian neighborhood, for it is run by three generations who came before the independence of the UAE in 1971, and the products are mainly Indian yellow gold. Dubai is also known as the City of Gold and for relatively cheap gold, but you will have to haggle for it.

While walking towards a creek, a Gulf inlet, you can clearly smell spices, originating from the next souq, in which you will be introduced by the smiley Iranian merchants to an array of spices, such as cloves, cardamom, cinnamon and, of course, Iranian saffron.

Here you are only a few steps away from an abra station. The abra is a small crossing boat. Hop onto one of them, ignore the smell of the diesel and head to the other side of the creek, disembarking at the textile and curio-filled covered souq in Bur Dubai.

If you explore the streets further back, into the heart of the dizzyingly-colorful Textile Souq, you will find a real community feel. Here you will also see tailors working on old-fashioned sewing machines.

Definitely, it is time for you to eat, but no need yet to go to the fancy hotel. Choose any of the small restaurants and grab a radiantly Turkish meal, but done in Indian style: a chicken Shawerma sandwich with potato and lots of pickles, together with fresh juice.

It is highly recommended, however, to avoid the weekend crowds in these places if you can.

A unique shopping experience comes next, not in the regular big shopping malls that are known in Dubai, but rather in Karama, one of the liveliest areas in this glitzy emirate.

The Karama souq is mostly known for its "copy" items -- knockoffs of everything from souvenirs to watches, such as Rolex or Omega, and of course the latest women's handbags, like Louis Vuitton.

Remember again that once you see something that catches your attention, make sure you bargain because the price they offer you is a lot more than you should actually pay.

Desert dunes, Burj Khalifa are must to visit
It is time now to enjoy the desert, so a three-hour safari trip in the middle of the dunes is a must.

If you are into heights, you may like trying the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, in the newly-built "Old Town" area. The tower's observation deck at the top offers unforgettable views.

While there, enjoy the Dancing Fountain on a lake outside the Burj (Burj means tower in Arabic) and choreographed water shows, which are put on multiple times each evening.

Traditional seafood meals worth trying
Seeing the multinational cuisines in Old Town and experiencing the other adventures will make you feel hungry, so go for it.

Food is really an enjoyable experience in Dubai, as you will find almost all cuisines available in the small cosmopolitan city.

So, if you like seafood, then a must-try is a fish cooked the traditional way, which is either salt cured (called Maleh), sun-dried (Al kaseef) or ground-dried fish (Sahnah).

Before midnight go to one of the local souvenir shops and get a small gift, like the seven colors sand bottle that represents the seven emirates in the UAE.

Time to live the luxury life

Now, if you are into opulence, try one of the palaces, such as Burj al Arab, the One & Only Royal Mirage, the Atlantis or the newly opened Jumeirah Zabeel Saray Hotel and Resort, and enjoy the luxury like a sheikh or a sheikha.

There is a lot to see and experience but this is only a teaser, leaving you with one question: Do you think the "A Thousand and One Nights" came alive in Dubai?

If you've ever visited Dubai, share your photos, videos and travel tips with CNN iReport.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Hiking Yosemite's North Rim

Hiking Yosemite's North Rim
By Adeline Chen

I'm somewhere between a car camper and an outdoor enthusiast. It did take me over 10 months of owning hiking boots to actually start breaking them in, but I know how to build a campfire and I'm not afraid of a few days without a shower.

When my boyfriend, Matt, an REI credit card-carrying outdoor adventurer, mentioned he wanted to do the four-day, 31-mile North Rim hike in Yosemite in June, I was excited for the chance to prove that I was more of a backpacker than he thought. I expected to be challenged mentally and physically, and as time would tell, it was for good reason.

We encountered almost every type of backcountry terrain -- me with a 30-pound pack on my back and Matt carrying a 50-pound pack. An hour into our hike, we met Mike and Rick, two men who coincidentally planned the same trek. Their companionship was a godsend to both groups.

When I was safely out of the woods (literally), I talked to Les Stroud, the Discovery Channel's "Survivorman," about our experience to see what we did right and what we could have done better.

The rockslides

We began on a trail where rockslides had overtaken multiple parts of the route, littering our path with large boulders. It would have been easier on a day hike with smaller packs, but we had to stay conscious of our body weight with the added weight of our gear on the unstable terrain.

We reached a point where we had to head vertically from our location. It turns out when blazing the trail, crews began at separate ends and never met. We had missed the first marker telling us to head up the hill but now caught the second marker. Going up looked easier than it was -- recent rain had left the hill muddy and covered with loose rocks that were easily dislodged.

For fear of us both walking into a dangerous situation, Matt decided to get both packs up to the trail before coming back to find a safer route for me. Luckily, Rick and Mike had hit the first marker and waited for Matt at the top of the hill. Without their help, it would have been a challenge to get both packs up to the trail.

Survivorman says: "When climbing over difficult terrain, look at what's beneath your feet. Step back and look at what's before you. You get a better picture when you step backwards and get a look at everything. It's also important in these situations that it's not about speed. Speed will kill you in a survival situation. If you're walking into trouble, walking faster means you walk into it faster."

A wrong turn and snow

With the rockslides behind us, the four of us hiked and made camp while it was still light out. I'll admit, I thought about calling the trip off that night. But the next day, we decided we could still accomplish part of the hike. The group agreed to cut the trip a day shorter and hike out a different trail.

That morning was a steady climb through the forest and then up a granite slope. From the very beginning, we consulted a GPS, two topography maps and a compass. When we hit the granite slope, the GPS showed that we were a bit off, but still heading in the right direction to meet back up with the trail. With views of sharp cliffs striped with waterfalls and rows of steep mountains covered in trees, I joked that we had stumbled upon the scenic route.

Even with the view, the granite seemed like it would never end. When it did, a huge expanse of snow stretched out in front of us. The rangers had mentioned it was abnormal to have snow in June but said we would hit it at El Capitan; this snow was much sooner. Our rented snowshoes combined with Mike and Rick's walking sticks helped immensely. With the snowdrifts more than 6 feet deep at points, Matt and Mike took the snowshoes to punch out a more solid path for Rick and me.

As the afternoon progressed, we realized that we weren't seeing trail markers on the trees -- only two after four hours of solid hiking. The GPS and maps were also giving slightly varied directions, so we stopped every few minutes to orient ourselves.

Survivorman says: "If you know you're going off course, mark your trail. Blaze your own trail. Make deep snowshoes in a snowbank. Turn over or stack rocks. As you're going forward, stop, and look backwards because the trail does not look the same going back. If you end up doubling back and you don't do that, you don't have the perspective of what it's like going back. There's no harm in going back to where the blaze or trail was and really scan, like a camera in pan mode, to see the natural path of least resistance. That's probably the path the people before you took."

Making the call

With our early start, we should have had plenty of time to cover the six miles to El Cap. After hiking a good four miles, it was still nowhere in sight. With snow on the ground and quick-moving storms possible at our altitude, we hit a turning point around 3 p.m.

We could hear a creek but couldn't figure out if it was the creek labeled on the map. We continued to head east in hopes of finding the right creek, but the clouds were changing quickly and each moment we spent venturing meant a longer haul to a safe camping spot.

From the very first hour, our group's motto was "don't do anything stupid."

After weighing the options, I felt it would be a risk to keep plowing into uncertainty. Our group talked about the variables and opted to be safe rather than sorry.

We made quick time back to a campsite we had seen earlier, an ideal, snow-free area with trees on three sides for cover from the elements. We set up camp and spent the night regrouping, changing our plans yet again. We would wake up early and double back to our old campsite, then take an alternate route, with creek crossings rather than rockslides, out of the forest.

Survivorman says: "Once you get into panic mode, one of the things you need is knowledge. You assess. What do I have on me? Am I injured? How much food do I have? You keep assessing outward. Internal, external, big external. Now you have knowledge and you can make a decision. Remember that survival is active, not a passive pursuit. You have to actively choose."

Creek crossings

We woke up at sunrise and set out following our tracks from the day before. With a clear trail of footsteps to follow, we covered ground at twice the speed. We hit our original campsite earlier than expected and soon were on the trail that led to the creek crossings.

Fellow hikers along the trail told us we'd need to take our socks and boots off to cross the two creeks. Both had rushing water and rocky, often slick, beds. The first creek came up to our knees. The second was about 3 feet deep and 20 feet wide. When we hit the second one, we all gave each other looks that said, "Really? Are we crazy?"

We had to cross sooner or later, so we decided on the safest route, and I took my boots off and hung them around my neck. Using walking sticks, I went in, testing out each step before I took it. The three men followed, and all of us emerged drenched from the waist down but with all our gear intact.

Survivorman says: "Keep your gear. Try to never abandon your gear."

We were ecstatic. We had conquered the last big challenge we'd face on the trail. You never know what you're capable of until you have no other choice; as a newbie to backpacking, that was probably the most gratifying thought I walked away with from my trip to Yosemite. Though we never completed our original route, the journey was worth it.

With civilization less than three miles away, the sun shining and a hot shower and a cold beer waiting, it seemed like everything from that point on was a walk in the park.

Friday, August 5, 2011

48 hours in New York on a shoestring

48 hours in New York on a shoestring

It's known for its Broadway shows, designer shops and exclusive restaurants but there are plenty of things to enjoy in the Big Apple without burning a hole in your pocket.
Reuters correspondents with local knowledge show that bargains can still be found in the city.
6 p.m. - Soak in the bright lights at Times Square, where it always seems like mid-day under the mega-watt billboards. You'll get the rush of gawking tourists and perhaps see the barely clothed busker, "The Naked Cowboy." You can buy discounted Broadway tickets for same-day performances at the TKTS booth on Duffy Square.
7 p.m. - Grab dinner from a street vendor and sit at one of the seats in the "pedestrian plazas" in the middle of Times Square. Take in a sweeping Times Square view from the top of the red glass steps adjoining the ticket booth, or eat at one of the many restaurants in the theater district, or low-priced regional eateries along Ninth Avenue.
8:30 p.m. - If you skip the theater, or later if you do catch a show, have a drink at the revolving bar at the New York Marriott Marquis in Times Square.
10 p.m. - Enjoy panoramic city views from the "Top of the Rock" Observation Deck at Rockefeller Center.
9 a.m. - Grab a bagel and coffee from a street vendor and head to midtown for a Gray Line or CitySights NY Hop-On, Hop-Off double-decker bus. Buy a 48-hour All Loops Tour and start with a downtown loop that takes in Greenwich Village and Union Square, SoHo, Chinatown, the Lower East Side and Empire State Building. You can get off at all stops and explore on your own. Also check out "NYSee Tours" for guided "Get Acquainted" city adventures.
The Gary Line and CitySights NY also offer Brooklyn tours that run every half hour until 3:30 p.m. The tour includes the Botanical Garden, antique furniture district and Brooklyn Museum of Art stops.
Or, because no trip to New York is complete without seeing the Statue of Liberty, jump on the free Staten Island Ferry for a view of this enigmatic lady, Ellis Island and lower Manhattan.
10 a.m. - Pick up hand-crafted cheese, organic produce and freshly baked goods at the Union Square farmers' market.
11 a.m. - Wander through Greenwich Village's meandering streets, historic townhouses, unique shops and many restaurants.
Noon - Movie and TV fans can take an "On Location Tour" of the city ( The company specializes in TV and movie location trips and also offers a "Sex and the City Hotspots" and "Gossip Girl" site tours.
4 p.m. - Enjoy panoramic views of Manhattan and the East River by walking across the Brooklyn Bridge.
5 p.m. - Spend some quiet time remembering the victims of the September 11 attacks at Ground Zero. The best viewing points are from the adjacent World Financial Center.
7 p.m. - Explore Chinatown's exotic food markets and gift shops, and pick a spot for dinner. Have a cappuccino and cannoli in neighboring Little Italy.
10 p.m. - Head to Arthur's Tavern in Greenwich Village at 57 Grove Street to end the night with intimate jazz and blues.
8 a.m. - After breakfast of fruits and breads bought at the markets on Saturday, head to Central Park, the oasis in the middle of the urban jungle. Popular destinations include Strawberry Fields, a memorial to Beatle John Lennon, and Bethesda Fountain, a fixture in movies set in Manhattan.
10.30 a.m. - Visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Fifth Avenue. From an extensive Egyptian collection to countless European paintings and sculptures, there is something for everyone with approximately 3 million works on display.
1 p.m. - The Cloisters, a Metropolitan Museum of Art branch at Fort Tryon Park overlooking the Hudson River in northern Manhattan, offers free garden tours and medieval European art. Have a light lunch here at the cafe.
4 p.m. - Bike or walk over the George Washington Bridge, which connects the Washington Heights neighborhood of upper Manhattan to Fort Lee, New Jersey. If you've had enough of nature, head back to Madame Tussauds wax museum in midtown, where soon you're not sure whether the person sitting next to you is real or not.
6:30 p.m. - Window shop along famed Fifth Avenue. Have dinner in Virgil's Real Barbeque on 44th Street, or at Osteria Al Doge on the same block.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Carnival to serve popular ThirstyFrog Red beer on more ships

Carnival to serve popular ThirstyFrog Red beer on more ships
This item was written by Johanna Jainchill, who covers the travel industry for Travel Weekly. Jainchill is serving as Guest Editor of The Cruise Log while USA TODAY Cruise Editor Gene Sloan is away.
The private-label draught beer that debuted on the the 3,690-passenger Carnival Magic in May is being rolled out to the rest of the Carnival Cruise Lines fleet.
The cruise line said that ThirstyFrog Red has been such a hit on the Magic, that it has already been delivered to 15 other Carnival ships, with three more receiving kegs of the brew over the next few weeks.
Carnival debuted the $5.50-a-glass beer in the Magic's Caribbean-themed RedFrog Pub, the first pub ever on a Carnival ship.
During the Magic's inaugural sailing in May, the beer was so popular, it ran dry during the sailing, and more kegs had to be sent to the ship.
The popularity of ThirstyFrog Red, which Carnival describes as a "tasty amber-colored" beer, also speaks to the popularity of the RedFrog Pub, and Carnival has said that the pub itself might also be retrofitted onto more Carnival ships.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Iceland Heating Up As Summer Travel Destination

Iceland Heating Up As Summer Travel Destination

Iceland, once a destination for only the most intrepid travelers, has quickly become one of the world's best tourism values.

Americans are discovering that Iceland's natural beauty and teeming wildlife (not to mention its pulsating nightlife) are practically on our doorstep, with direct flights from a number of major U.S. cities.

It's not too late to escape the triple-digit heat waves blasting your town this summer. Package deals to Iceland are plentiful and have never been more affordable.

Accordingly, Iceland has been named one of Travelzoo's "Wow Deal Destinations" for 2011. As usual, the folks at Travelzoo are right on the money-- new service on Icelandair, Iceland Express and Delta often costs less than a cross-country U.S. flight.

Iceland is less than four hours away from New York and Boston, ideal for even a quick three- or four-day getaway.

It's worth the trip just to admire the glaciers, mountains and rumbling volcanoes, or to soak in the famous Blue Lagoon. But visitors to Iceland can also enjoy a wide array of activities, made to seem otherworldly by the summer's midnight sun.

Menningarnótt, Iceland's yearly Culture Night, is held every August in the nation's capital Reykjavík. A world-class marathon is followed by artistic events which are held in the streets and at cafés throughout the day.Also this month, Reykjavik Jazz Festival strives to present the best in local and international jazz, as well as other musical genres.

Iceland is known for its outsized contributions to the world music scene, with performers like Bjork and Sigur Ros deftly blending improvisational elements with fascinating compositions and musicianship.

If you must wait, Reykjavik rocks a little louder in October as the hottest bands from Iceland, Europe and the Americas play the Iceland Airways Festival. Bjork makes a special appearance this year.

Icelandair has a package combining air, hotel, and admission into the annual Iceland Airwaves music festival starting at $625 per person from New York or Boston.

When you are done dancing to the beat of the Reykjavík's famed nightlife, consider that Iceland is a paradise for the outdoorsman.

The country is famous for its salmon and trout fishing, and one of the best salmon rivers in the world runs right through Reykjavík. Hunting is also allowed for overseas visitors.

Iceland is also among the best places in the world for whale watching. Successrates of seeing the world's largest mammals in their natural habitat are greater than 95 percent, according to the Iceland Tourist Board.

Golfing in Iceland under the midnight sun is magical. Rental equipment is available at the Akureyri Golf Club, the most northerly 18-hole golf course in the world, beneath snow-capped mountains in the far north of Iceland.

There is a wide selection of international flights to Iceland, both from Europe and the USA. Free stopovers in Iceland are available for those using Icelandair to fly from the U.S. to any of the airline's European destinations.

What's stopping you? The sleek and sophisticated Radisson Blu Saga Hotel in Reykjavik has rates from $145 per night this summer.

by Vincent O'Hara

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Top 10 museum destinations

Top 10 museum destinations

NEW YORK: If you’re heading to Paris, you’ll stop in at the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa, in Washington the Smithsonian is a must-see, and the Vatican in Rome should be on every museum-lover’s bucket list.

Online travel adviser Cheapflights ( offers its top 10 museum destinations:1. Washington, D.C., United StatesIf you’re interested in history, architecture, art, religion, aerospace, or even wax, Washington D.C. has a museum that will pique your interest. The 19 Smithsonian museums, including the National Museum of Natural History, the National Museum of American History and the National Air and Space Museum, may appear to eclipse other institutions in the city, but other niche museums do just fine holding their own. Spend a day at Ford’s Theatre – where Lincoln was shot – before strolling the National Mall and the spectacular National Arboretum.

2. Cairo, Egypt

It goes without saying that if you’re heading to museums in Cairo, you’re into history. And you’ll get plenty of it at the renowned Egyptian Antiquities Museum, which properly holds the world’s largest collection of Egyptian antiquities. The most popular exhibit is the Tutankhamen collection, but be sure to make time for the Mummy Room. Other museums are lesser known, but stand out nonetheless. The Egyptian Ethnological Museum beautifully details daily Cairo life through the city’s long history.

3. Barcelona, Spain
It’s almost unfair how much amazing art is housed in Barcelona’s museums – the works of Picasso and Miro, not to mention the largest collection of Catalan art in Spain. Any trip to Barcelona requires paying homage to the strange architectural genius of Antoni Gaudi. Start with La Pedrera. One part apartment building, one part Gaudi museum, La Pedrera is a good primer on the naturalistic forms he preferred. Finish with La Sagrada Familia. The unfinished masterpiece church, under construction since 1882, resembles a drizzled sand castle and embodies the brilliant eye of the great Gaudi.

4. New York, United States

Along Fifth Avenue and Central Park’s east side, ten museums are densely packed into 22 city blocks, creating the infamous Museum Mile, home to powerhouses like the Frick, the Guggenheim, and grandfather to them all, the Met. The Metropolitan Museum of Art contains more than 2 million works of art, from ancient sculptures to 19th century portraits like Washington Crossing the Delaware.

5. Vatican City, Italy

Italy’s holiest of cities houses wonderfully extensive collections of the Catholic Church in some of the greatest museums in the world – the Vatican Museums. The museums feature works by prolific Italian artists like Raphael, Botticelli, Caravaggio and Michelangelo. Spend time admiring papal thrones, sculptures, and paintings as well as the grandeur of the Sistine Chapel.

6. Paris, France

The Musée du Louvre is the world’s most visited art museum. Visitors to Paris’s paragon, which houses nearly 35,000 works of art, including Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, can spend hours, days – even weeks – exploring the beloved trove. After the Louvre, cross the Seine to the Musée d’Orsay, which boasts 19th and 20th century art by impressionist masters like Monet, Van Gogh and Cezanne.

7. Toronto, Canada

Begin a weekend in Toronto by finding half-priced inspiration at the Royal Ontario Museum, a fabulous hodgepodge of thousands of artifacts featured in more than 20 exhibits. Friday nights are half off, and the museum welcomes visitors, from students to seniors, to admire its dinosaur, Indian and textile exhibits – and, of course, the magnificent Michael Lee-Chin Crystal, designed by architect Daniel Libeskind, a spectacular entrance constructed of glass and aluminum to resemble an intricate crystal.

8. Berlin, Germany
Berlin’s dynamic history and the preserved monuments to wars and political strife leads visitors to sometimes feel like they’re walking through a museum just by strolling the capital’s streets. Twenty-seven museums have opened in the past decade, helping to establish the city’s Museum Island as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and pave the way for international artistic respect. The Anti-Kriegs-Museum is the world’s first anti-war museum and re-opened proudly in 1982.

9. London, England

Start with the Museum of London and learn about the city itself from prehistoric times through Roman conquests, medieval London and present day. Or, if you want another type of look at the city’s evolution, head over to the London Transport Museum where you’ll find vehicles and artwork representative of 200 years’ worth of London commuting – including the world’s first underground steam-powered train. But if it’s the cutting edge of modernity that you want, look no further than the Design Museum. Located on the River Thames, the world-class exhibits here illustrate the bravura of 20th and 21st century designers of all mediums.

10. Vienna, Austria

The Habsburgs single-handedly positioned Vienna as an art mecca for eternity after ruling over Austria – and its art production for more than 600 years. Visit Wien’s Museum of Fine Arts and admire the vast majority of the ruling family’s collections. For a more contemporary vibe, pay admission to the Kunsthalle Wien, which features contemporary international art and works by both Klee and Picasso.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Adventure your way across Alaska

Adventure your way across Alaska
By Ashley Strickland

Alaska's vast expanse of wilderness and natural beauty is captivating to its residents and visitors alike. Whether you're new to this fascinating state or a native Alaskan, it takes time to explore all the Land of the Midnight Sun has to offer.

"I feel even if we do a lot of homework online, it won't be enough to have a good vacation in Alaska," iReporter Uday Ellala said.

Don't let this wide-open landscape intimidate you. Traveling to Alaska is well worth the planning.

"Alaska is an amazing, enchanted place," iReporter Joan Splinter said. "The scenery is unbelievably beautiful, and the people are warm and welcoming."

iReporters, both tourists and locals, shared their favorite experiences and tips for navigating your way across the state.


Don't feel overwhelmed by Alaska's sheer size -- or treat this like it's your only opportunity. First-timers in Alaska should try to immerse themselves, iReporter Laura Grabhorn said.

"Instead of going for the whirlwind, pick a couple of destinations and spend a few days there. From Seattle, you can get to Sitka in less than two hours. Rent a car and enjoy the place!" she said.

Go with a plan for what you want to see and experience for your "immersion." Also, don't forget to keep the season in mind when making your plans.

"If your first visit to Alaska is in the summer, your next trip must be in the winter," Splinter said. "Winters are magical: peaceful, amazing sunrises and auroras. It is easily my favorite season there of all!"

iReporter Adyson Ellis has a few tips of her own for the summer. "Make sure you have hotel reservations, as rooms can get booked a year in advance. Be prepared for high gas and food prices, and in the smaller communities, there are limited places to eat, so plan accordingly."

Because hot weather is rare in Alaska, don't forget to bring layers of clothing, especially if you go out on the water.

"First-timers should see glaciers, attempt to go fishing on a stream or the ocean and, of course, consume much fresh seafood," iReporter Russ Dale suggested.

Cruising through

Photographer and iReporter L. Craig Smith knows the importance of making the most of your trip.

His recommendation? "A cruise through the Inside Passage of Alaska to explore and experience the small and beautiful mining and logging towns, as well as witnessing up close the beautiful glaciers."

To take a gander at the wild side of Alaska, get your adventure on in the Kenai Peninsula, Smith suggests.

iReporter Dino Robert U. Eleazar recommends taking a cruise to maximize your time in Alaska -- and visiting multiple cities.

"I've been to Juneau, Ketchikan, Skagway, Sitka and Icy Straight Point, amazing places. At least you can visit not just one place in Alaska, but the cruising experience is really the best," he said.

Road trippin'
For those with the opportunity to see Alaska by car, iReporter Joan Splinter advises to venture along the road rarely taken.

"There is nothing like seeing Alaska by land. Homer -- a haven for artists and sportsmen alike -- is the crown jewel of the peninsula. The four-hour drive from Anchorage to Homer can easily take you six hours or more if you stop to photograph the amazing scenery along the way," she said.

You can also adventure through Alaska with horseback riding, kayaking, float planes and water taxi tours, Splinter said.

Where to eat and stay

In Juneau, Laura Grabhorn recommends several places to grab a bite. "My absolute favorite is Hangar on the Wharf: awesome food in a friendly and low-key spot. It used to be the Juneau airport, and now you can eat and see float planes taking off and landing and enjoy the mist and clouds as they tumble down the mountains."

She also suggests the Twisted Fish Company in Juneau and theLarkspur Café in Sitka.

Joan Splinter loves visiting Homer, and when she does, she stops byFat Olives or Cosmic Kitchen. "For fine dining, Cafe Cups cannot be beat by any restaurant in Alaska or the lower 48." She usually stays at the Timber Bay Bed & Breakfast or the Ocean House Inn.

When Grabhorn is in Juneau, she stays at the Alaska Beach Cabinon Indian Cover with a waterfront view. In Sitka, she suggests staying at the Shee Atika Totem Square Inn. "Lovely people, and they'll help you find your way around town and give you water for your stroll."

Feasting in Alaska: Dried moose, whale blubber and spit-roasted yak

Favorite spots

As iReporter Paul Tamsai said, "I would recommend the Denali area, but there is no place that I would not recommend."

While Juneau, the state capital, is a favorite with its museums, art galleries and live shows, iReporters ventured all across the state.

"I love Seldovia!" said Alicia McDonald, a former Anchorage resident. "The town is in such a beautiful setting, the people are great, the sunsets are gorgeous, the views are humbling ,and there is such a peacefulness to the area."

iReporter Russ Dale felt similarly about Ellamar. "There is no way to describe the breathtaking sights I saw, no way to describe the glee and transformation of a free soul on the edge of the untamed wild."