Thursday, January 24, 2013

Reader Photos: Why We Travel

Coyote Buttes, Ariz. | May 6, 2012

My daughter carried this gold dress in her backpack during an eight-mile hike under the sweltering sun to the Wave, a sandstone rock formation along the Arizona and Utah border. To preserve the area, the Bureau of Land Management limits hiking permits to just 20 per day, drawn by lottery. After entering several times, we finally won and flew there for the weekend. I had done the hike once before, but this was my daughter’s first time, so we wanted to make the picture special. The few hikers in the area, including our guide, were a little confused when she did a quick change from her hiker gear to a party dress, so I could snap the photo, but it was worth it.
— BARRY COHEN, New York 
Zion National Park, Utah | July 17, 2012

This summer my husband and I spent two months traveling to Bryce Canyon, Zion and Redwood National Parks. One was more magnificent than the next. Mixed in with the amazing natural beauty were some very interesting sights that I’d call “Western kitsch.” I found this “shoe tree” completely captivating. Who started it? Why? What possesses people to leave their shoes behind? Why in a place of such iconic beauty as Zion National Park? It simply made me laugh, and I had to stop to document it for others with equally bizarre senses of humor! My thanks to those of us who retain their appreciation of the absurd and find ways to make us all smile, if only for a moment in time.
— TINA SCHELL, Kiawah Island, S.C.
Lagoa Comprida, Portugal | April 4, 2012

My girlfriend and I had been living in Argentina before we moved to Lisbon last year so she could finish her master’s degree. She is Argentine-French and I’m Portuguese, so I thought that while we were living here, it was a good opportunity to visit places from my childhood. While touring the region of Serra da Estrela, we stayed for a night in the village where my father was born, Loriga. The next morning, we woke up to a very thick fog but, undeterred, we drove up the mountains to see the Torre, or Tower, the highest point in mainland Portugal. On our way back down to the city of Seia, we stopped at Lagoa Comprida, where I snapped this shot of my girlfriend admiring the lake’s marvelous landscape.
— JOÃO PINA, Lisbon
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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Hitting the Beach in Texas

Texas is known for a lot of things. However, many people overlooked the excellent beaches that are located along the Texas coast. With over 600 miles of shoreline, there is no shortage of sand for beachgoers. Here is a list of some of the top spots to spend day at the beach in Texas.
Corpus Christi/Padre Island National Seashore – The mainland portion of Corpus Christi is metropolitan. However, cross the causeway to Padre Island and the urban feel begins to fade. As you head south on Park Road 22 down Padre Island National Seashore, the modern world disappears.
Galveston Island – Galveston Island offers many beach-going options. Inside the city of Galveston, the seawall and adjacent sand strip is popular among visitors, as are Stewart Beach and East Beach. Further down the island, Galveston State Park and West Beach are favorite sandy hangouts. After a day of surf, sand and sun, head to the Strand to shop or visit one of Galveston’s many excellent eateries.
Mustang Island/Port Aransas – This quaint, central coast beach is located at the northern-most end of Padre Island. The ferry ride across to Port Aransas is a great way to leave the “real world” behind and begin your vacation. Things only get better as you visit Port A’s many shops and restaurants or stake out a secluded stretch of sand on Mustang Island.
Sea Rim State Park – A mix of marsh and beach,Sea Rim State Park isn’t a typical beach destination. However, this state park, which is located just south of Beaumont/Port Arthur is a nature-lover’s delight. Bird-watchers and beach-goers often co-exist on this stretch of sand, which is the northern-most beach in Texas.
South Padre Island – The most pristine beach in Texas is also the most difficult to get to. Located scant miles above the Mexican border, the South Padre surf is often a Caribbean-like clear/green as it laps against the grainy white sand. Across the Brazos Santiago Pass is isolated Boca Chica Beach. During your off-beach hours, try SPI’s sizzling nightlife, excellent restaurants and variety of curio shops. Other options include heading across the bridge to historic Port Isabel or across the border to Matamoros, Mexico.
Keep in mind, these are but a few of the beaches available in Texas. They are listed above in alphabetical order, not by any sort of rating, since they each have such diverse characteristics. But rest assured, whatever type of beach you have in mind can be found in Texas.

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Visiting Texas' Top Cities

Texas is a vast state, full of small towns, historic landmarks, state parks and other attractions that draw visitors year after year. However, believe it or not, the majority of first-time visitors coming to Texas head to the major cities. Whether for business or pleasure, Texas’ top six cities offer visitors plenty of option.
Visiting Texas' Top Cities
1. Austin – Located in Central Texas, Austin is the state capital and boasts of population of just over 650,000. Austin is home to the University of Texas, the Texas State Capitol, Governor’s Mansion, Senate, and House of Representatives, all of which attract a variety of visitors. The UT football, baseball, basketball and volleyball teams draw spectators to home games. Nearby Lake Travis, as well as Town Lake and Lake Austin are popular destinations for fishermen, water skiers, swimmers and water sport enthusiasts. But, more than anything, Austin is famous for its music. Regardless of what time of year you visit, there will be plenty of entertainment, lodging and dining options available for you in Austin.
2. Corpus Christi – The gem of the Coastal Bend, Corpus is home to 280,000 people. Recent years have seen Corpus take huge leaps in building attractions. The Texas State Aquarium and USS Lexington are among the top visitor destinations in the state. Of course, being a “beach town,” Corpus also boasts an impressive stretch of shore. The Padre Island National Seashore stretches from Corpus south 75 miles to the Port Mansfield Cut. This isolated stretch of beach has gained recognition as a sea turtle nesting ground, as well as being a favorite spot for fishermen, sun seekers and beachgoers. Corpus also features an impressive number of quality hotels, restaurants and museums.
3. Dallas – The metropolitan hub of Northeast Texas’ Prairies and Lakes region, Dallas draws thousands of business and pleasure visitors annually. With 1.2 million people calling it home, Dallas is truly a major city and has the amenities one would expect from a city of that size. Of course, most people relate Dallas to the Cowboys. But, while there are plenty of tourists who head to Texas Stadium to watch the ‘Boys each year, Dallas has much more to offer visitors. Dallas boasts world-class shopping, theatre, and accommodations. While your in town, don’t miss seeing the horses at Lone Star Park.
4. El Paso – An enduring symbol of the Old Southwest, El Paso is a unique destination located at the far corner of Big Bend country in West Texas and is home to just over a half-million people. In addition to top quality hotels, restaurants and attractions, El Paso is a great jumping off point for a “two-nation vacation,” with many tourists heading across the border to shop in Mexico. Like other western destinations, El Paso is also famous for its year around golf weather.
5. San Antonio – Probably the most recognized “tourist town” in Texas, San Antonio is a true metropolis, with over 1 million individuals residing there. San Antonio is a unique blend of historic landmarks such as the Alamo, world-class dining and hotels along the Riverwalk, and modern attractions such as Fiesta Texas and SeaWorld Texas. With plenty to do and see, San Antonio is a favorite with visitors 12 months a year.
6. Houston – The largest city in Texas, with nearly 2 million in the city and 4 million in the metro area, Houston offers visitors a wide range of amenities. Houston’s new Downtown Aquarium is among the long list of attractions, which includes Johnson Space Center, and the annual Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. And, of course, there are a variety of top-flight restaurants, hotels and events available in Houston all year long.
So, while there are a number of “out-of-the-way” towns and attractions to visit in Texas, if you are looking for a sure thing, you can’t go wrong with one of Texas’ top cities.
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Sunday, January 13, 2013

Best Winter Trips 2013

Harbin Ice Festival, China

Photograph by Andy Wong, AP
Hibernating is not an option in the frosted reaches of northeast China, where brisk Siberian winds keep the average winter temperatures in Harbin barely above zero degrees Fahrenheit. Hardy local artisans in the Russian-influenced "Ice City" celebrate the season by sculpting ice blocks chopped from the Songhua River into colossal crystalline pyramids and palaces, whimsical dragons and fairies, and frozen slides worthy of a water park. The monthlongHarbin Ice and Snow Festival (beginning January 5), showcases the frosty craftsmanship of local carvers and international teams and includes a Snow Sculpture Expo at Sun Island recreational area and the Ice Lantern Garden Party at Zhaolin Park. Daylight activities include figure skating, ice boxing competitions, and, for the daring, a polar plunge into an ice-free section of the frigid Songhua. After dark, bundle up to see the festival’s illuminated ice displays dazzle neon bright against the night sky. Harbin is accessible via train or plane from Beijing or Shanghai.
Picture of a woman at the Harbin International Ice and Snow festival, China

Mesoamerican Reef, Belize

Photograph by Bobby Haas, National Geographic
Central America’s Mesoamerican Reef system stretches more than 600 miles along the coasts of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras. It’s half the size of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef yet easier to access, with some sections of the underwater reef platform beginning within a few hundred yards of shore. Belize’s three coral atolls—Glover's Reef (36 miles from the mainland), Lighthouse Reef (home to the rare red-footed booby), and Turneffe Islands (the largest and closest at only 25 miles off the coast)—offer exceptional beginner-to-expert sea kayaking and snorkeling along shallow reefs, plus secluded white-sand beaches and unspoiled nature reserves. Belize: Reefs, Rain Forests, and Ruins, a National Geographic Adventures small-group expedition, includes safari-style beach camping on Lighthouse Reef atoll and snorkeling along the perimeter of the Great Blue Hole, the nearly thousand-foot-wide sinkhole first explored by Jacques Cousteau in the 1970s. Or book a private villa at all-inclusive and off-the-grid Turneffe Island Resort, a private island located at the southern tip of Turneffe Atoll.
Picture of the Blue Hole Natural Monument in Lighthouse Reef, Belize

Western Taiwan by Train

Photograph by Nicky Loh, Reuters
Hop a high-speed (186 miles an hour) bullet train in Taipei to zip across western Taiwan’s valleys, plains, and Central Mountain Range foothills. TheTaiwan High Speed Rail western route winds through 48 tunnels and over 152 miles of elevated rail from Taipei south to Kaohsiung. The southernmost rail stop serves as the gateway to tropical Dapeng Bay National Scenic Area,Kenting National Park, and Maolin National Scenic Area, home to four indigenous groups—the Rukai, Paiwan, Bunun, and Tsou. A roundtrip western bullet train loop from Taipei and back is an easy day trip, getting travelers back in time to sample crispy salt and pepper chicken or mini soup dumplings at the city’s famous night markets. For a longer train tour, stay overnight at urban station stops like Banciao, Taoyuan, Hsinchu, Taichung, Chiayi, and Tainan. From February 23 to March 10, the neighborhood surrounding the Hsinchu High Speed Rail Station hosts the 2013 Taiwan Lantern Festival, pictured here. During each night of the festival, thousands of soaring and animated lanterns illuminate the night skies of northern Taiwan’s oldest city.
Picture of the Chinese Lantern Festival in Shifen, Taipei, Taiwan

Ruaha National Park, Tanzania

Photograph by Pavan Aldo, SIME
Located southwest of Tanzania’s most famous safari destinations—the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater—7,809-square-mile Ruaha National Park is off the beaten adventure tour track, offering a quieter, wilder environment for exceptional game viewing and birding. The Great Rift Valley crosses the park, and the Great Ruaha River, a year-round lifeline for the park’s large mammals, forms the eastern border. In addition to having a high concentration of elephants (thought to be the largest of any East Africa park), as well as resident hippos and buffalo, Ruaha is also known as a birder’s paradise. January to April (the hot, short rainfall season) is considered the best time to view the park’s more than 570 species, including the Ruaha red-billed hornbill. Book one of the eight luxurious tents at secluded Jongomero safari camp to embark on ranger-guided game drives in open four-wheel-drive vehicles and small-group walking safaris and birding tours. The camp is just ten minutes from the nearest airstrip, facilitating a quicker civilization-to-safari transition from Dar es Salaam or Arusha.
Picture of a car parked near a huge tree in Ruaha National Park, Tanzania

Cayman Islands

Photograph by Peter Allinson, My Shot
Only an 80-minute direct flight from Miami, the Cayman Islands are close enough to the mainland U.S. for a winter weekend sand-and-snorkel escape. The self-governing British Overseas Territory encompasses three islands in the western Caribbean: 76-square-mile Grand Cayman (the largest and most commercialized), the Brac (12-mile-long Cayman Brac), and unspoiled Little Cayman, home to the must-dive Bloody Bay Wall—a dramatic drop-off plunging more than 5,000 feet. Arrange Bloody Bay Marine Park snorkeling or diving itineraries to match your skill level through Conch Club Divers at Paradise Villas. On Grand Cayman, stroll along coral-sand Seven Mile Beach and swim with yearling green sea turtles in the 1.3-million-gallon saltwater snorkel lagoon atCayman Turtle Farm. Sign on with a local, licensed dive operator to view the aquatic life flourishing among the decks of the U.S.S. Kittiwake, a former submarine rescue vessel towed offshore and sunken in 2011 to create an artificial reef. For an all-in-one Cayman getaway, make family-owned Brac Reef Beach Resort home base for beachfront lodging, diving, snorkeling, kayaking, and birding.
Picture of snorkelers and a turtle near Little Cayman, Cayman Islands

Salvador, Bahia, Brazil

Photograph by David Turnley, Getty Images
Carnival in Brazil’s first capital (and former Portuguese colonial capital) is a cruising Afro-Brazilian dance party stretching mile after mile along center city and coastal circuits. Convoys of trio elétricos (souped-up semitrailer trucks carrying live bands and DJs) snake past the costumed crowds, pumping up the volume on homegrown Bahia samba-reggae and axé (ahh-shay) music, increasing the frenetic energy with each passing block. Salvador’s local blocos afros (community bands/social groups celebrating African heritage and dress) create this Carnival’s distinctive timbal (high-pitched hand drum) sound. Official Carnival runs from February 7 to February 13, but in Salvador, the partying continues through the morning of Ash Wednesday, when percussion-led processions pulsate along Avenida Oceanica toward Ondina Beach. Founded on Brazil’s northeast coast in 1549 as a strategic seaport and, soon after, a New World slave market capital, urban Salvador remains an amalgam of European, African, and American Indian culture. Walk past multicolored colonial mansions in the World Heritage site old city to tour MAFRO (Museu Afro-Brasileiro), the nation’s preeminent Afro-Brazilian cultural museum.
Picture of a dancer during Carnival in Salvador, Brazil

Chena River State Recreation Area, Alaska

Photograph courtesy James McClean, Chena Hot Springs Resort
The packed winter trails crisscrossing Chena State Recreation Area’s 397 square miles of forests and alpine tundra are open for snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, snowmachining, and winter mountain biking (try the Colorado Creek Trail for a three- to four-hour ride). Located only 26 miles east of Fairbanks, Chena River puts Alaskan adventure within easy reach via scenic (and plowed) Chena Hot Springs Road. On February 16 the final leg of the thousand-mile Yukon Quest international sled dog race runs through the recreation area along portions of the old Chena Hot Springs Winter Trail. Cheer on the mushers and teams, then stay at nearby Chena Hot Springs Resort to soak in the Hot Springs Rock Lake (adults 18-plus only) and view the northern lights via the 13-passenger Snow Coach tour. There’s also a special aurora wake-up call service for instant alerts when the celestial light show is clearly visible, as well as a heated Aurorium log cabin (open 24/7 to guests) where you can hunker down with a mug of hot cocoa to watch the night sky through expansive, northeast-facing windows.
Picture of snow trucks at Chena River State Recreation Area, Alaska

Salzburg, Austria

Photograph by Johannes Simon, Getty Images
With the city’s historic Christmas markets in full swing, church bells chiming in the crisp Bavarian Alpine air, and snow frosting baroque palace rooftops, Advent in Salzburg delivers a multisensory infusion of gingerbread-warm holiday spirit. Festivities begin in early December with informal and organized Krampusläufeor Krampus processions. According to legend, the shaggy, horned demon Krampus frightens naughty children, while his benevolent counterpart St. Nicholas rewards the nice ones. The Salzburg region (and the town of Grödig in particular) is known for its costumed Krampus parades, as well as for romantic holiday markets on Cathedral, Residence, and Mirabell Squares; at Hellbrunn Palace; and in the Sterngarten. Sip mulled wine, ice skate on the Mozartplatz, and ride Austria’s oldest funicular railway, Festungsbahn, to view the surrounding snow-dusted panorama from imposing Hohensalzburg Fortress. Beyond Christmas, the city’s celebratory energies focus on the International Mozarteum Foundation Mozart Week classical music festival (January 24 to February 3). Events include opera productions and chamber music, soloists, and orchestral concerts.
Picture of a masked reveler during Krampus, Salzburg, Austria

Yellowstone National Park, Montana

Photograph by Jehnichen, laif/Redux
Mid-December to early March, Yellowstone is a winter wonderland best explored on foot, cross-country skis, or snowshoes. The park stays open year-round, but in winter most roads are closed to wheeled vehicles. "Lodging and Learning" packages offered by Yellowstone National Park Lodges and the Yellowstone Association Institute make it easy to stay and play in the park. Enter through the North Entrance in Gardiner, Montana (closest airport is 85 miles away in Bozeman), and travel by snow coach to either the Old Faithful Snow Lodge orMammoth Hot Springs Hotel. Naturalist-guided winter programs offer wildlife expeditions (view bison, elk, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, coyotes, and wolves), cross-country-ski day treks to Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon, and Winter Wolf Discovery, a firsthand look at the reintroduction of wolves to the park. Packages include lodging, in-park transportation, some meals, and unlimited ice skating. Stay safe (and warm) by wearing insulated boots and layered winter gear. Winter temperatures can range from 20 to 30 degrees below zero F to the balmy 30s, with heavy snows possible daily.
Picture of a snow-covered tree in Yellowstone National Park

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Thursday, January 10, 2013

Cold, terrifying and incredible: Europe's highest suspension bridge opens

Check the weather for visibility before you go.
Europe’s highest suspension bridge has opened to the public at Engelberg, Switzerland’s popular ski destination.
The frighteningly high, 100-meter-long Titlis Cliff Walk, built along a section of Mount Titlis, was built in honor of the 100th anniversary of the Engelberg-Gerschnialp cableway, which began operating in 1913.
Hanging approximately 3,000 meters above sea level, the bridge offers views that extend as far as 500 meters down "into the abyss of the south wall" on days with good visibility.
“It is 100 percent safe and impossible to fall from the bridge,” Peter Reinle, the media representative for the Titlis Engelberg resort told CNN.
The Cliff Walk has usurped Salbit Bridge, also located in Switzerland, as Europe’s highest suspension bridge.
The route to the new bridge is a superlative journey in itself, passing through a 140-meter underground tunnel. Construction took four months and cost 1.5 million Swiss francs (US$1.6 million).
The Cliff Walk is the latest addition to the attractions at Engelberg, which include spectacular ski and snowboard runs, a glacier cave, a glacier park and the first revolving cable car in the world.
Reinle said that approximately 500 people had crossed the bridge since it opened to visitors on Friday, and that “most of the visitors had been impressed.” 
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What are the world's best metro systems?

From the single, circular line of Glasgow to the cobweb-like network that is London, underground train systems have been a cheap, reliable and convenient mode of transport for decades.
The London Underground, also known as "The Tube," celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2013. Having stood the test of time it ranks as one of the greatest metro systems in the world. 
But what about the others?
Copenhagen Metro has a driver-less rail system that runs 24 hours a day.
São Paulo Metro has a comparatively small 74 kilometers of track, yet carries 3.3 million passengers each day.
Montreal has one of the lowest carbon footprints for metro networks in the world.
Many CNN readers nominated Moscow in the comments section below.
But what other systems would they rank among "the best?"
We've taken onboard readers' comments and suggestions to update this article.
Here are a few underground rail systems we think deserve credit -- let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

Hong Kong

hong kong mtrWi-Fi hotspots and phone signal boosters mean this network is more connected than most.Praise for Hong Kong’s MTR gushes from every traveler who’s ever set a toe inside the immaculately clean, well-signposted, cheap, regular, convenient system that connects most corners of the city, from the crowded bowels of Wan Chai to the rural(ish) villages of Tai Po.
“…one of the most efficient people carriers in the world,” says reviewer swissfondue onVirtualTourist.
There’s free Wi-Fi in 42 stations, facilities such as tactile flooring and Braille plates for travelers with disabilities and public washrooms, shops, banks and takeaway food outlets inside many stations or close to their exits.
There's no timetable for commuters -- trains just turn up every few minutes, sooner during peak periods -- and it's dead simple for visitors to buy a ticket via the automated machines.
It has possibly the world’s most convenient Airport Express service, with departures every 10 minutes or so.
And then there's the Octopus card -- possibly the world's greatest transport payment system, which can also be used in convenience stores, restaurants and other places. Cities like Melbourne should scream with jealousy.
The website offers handy one-day itineraries for Hong Kong tourists keen to shop, eat or discover the local culture
Occasionally the walk from one concourse to the next can be lengthy and some stations get ridiculously crowded during peak hours (looking at you TST, Causeway Bay).
But that just gives more time to watch and wonder as this 211-kilometer, 150-station system copes easily with its 3.4 million passengers every day.


The world's first virtual mart for smartphone users opened at Seollung Station in Seoul in 2011.Operated by three different companies (two of them state-funded), the Seoul metro system carries almost 7 million passengers per day on nine lines.
In addition to being one of the only metro systems in the world with cell phone service and Wi-Fi, many of the Seoul subway trains are outfitted with TVs and are climate controlled. We love the toasty, heated seats in the winter.
"Many subway planners come to Korea and are really blown away by the technology that we have in place," says Jung-whan Kim from Seoul Metro's media team. "It's a big showpiece for Korea's emphasis on IT."
The only downside is the early closing time -- around midnight on weekdays, a little earlier on weekends -- considering how obsessed the city is with nightlife.


8.SMRT_SingaporeMost Improved Odor. Now that's a prize that should be on every award list.SMRT swept “the MetroRail Awards” in 2010, taking home prizes for Most Energy Efficient, Most Technologically Innovative, Best Metro in Asia-Pacific and Most Improved Odor.
After an amalgamation of several transit-service-providers in 2000, SMRT has grown to 600 million passengers per year.
Some use it to seek refuge from the heat outside, lapping up the air-conditioned comfort.
The system gets demerits for lack of EZ-Link ticket card machines at some stations, meaning frequent lengthy lines for travelers needing to top up or buy a ticket.


7.London Tube- Busking with mayorLondon mayor Boris Johnson about to prove why some music is best kept underground.The London Tube was the world's first underground metro, opening in 1863 … and they've not done terribly much since. Only in the current, two-decade-long upgrade plan have air-conditioned carriages been introduced.
But for history, for great underground busking and for something relatively cheap in an expensive city, it's hard to beat. 
Despite all the grumbling, the Underground ferries more than 1 billion journeys per year. Not bad for something that old.


5.Paris MetroWhen the only complaint is "the doors are manual," you're probably doing a lot right.The City of Light's metro is unusually dense, with 245 stations on 14 lines, in just 87 square kilometers of the city. Parisians, apparently, don't like to walk. 
With more than 1.5 billion passengers a year, Paris Metrois in the top-five for busiest city-rail services in the world.
The Paris Metro does lose some points for not having automatically opening doors. This hints at the average age of the carriages and suggests a need to spend a little on upgrades.


3.Madrid MetroStations big enough for museums.At 294 kilometers, Madrid has the sixth-longest metro system in the world. But on top of that is another 386 kilometers of suburban rail services.
All up, Madrid's railway serves 1.5 billion passengers each year with 21 lines and 396 stations. Impressive, particularly given that Madrid's population is only 6.5 million.
The underground stations are so huge that they can hold public events, such as the three-day fitness festival in May 2011, which attracted 2,600 visitors. One station contains a 200-square-meter archaeological museum.
Madrid Metro has 1,656 escalators, the most of any system in the world.

New York City

2.NY subway- Subway Gaga workshop by BarneysThe subway system that's about more than commuting.It would be grossly unjust to leave out the city whose subway system, at least, never sleeps.
New York City's MTA subway lines are doubled up so all local and express trains can run simultaneously along the same routes, 24 hours a day.
And even when carrying out major work on a line, only a single track is decommissioned, leaving a reduced but still-open service. That's planning.
Hurricane Sandy hit the network hard in 2012, though it was quick to rebound with only a few areas yet to return to 100 percent.
Extra points must go to New York City for the MTA's Music Under New York program, supporting local musicians.
Speaking of musicians, a trip on the MTA isn't complete without encountering a busker (or beggar) doing the rounds of carriages.


10.Tokyo Subway introduces new number systemOften crowded yet always super-efficient.Tokyo's rail system is legendary. Super-fast, super-punctual, super-everything.
Some 102 train lines, an estimated 14 billion passengers per year. By most measures, Tokyo should take first place on anyone's list of best metros.
Successfully navigating Tokyo by train (and working out which station exit to use) is a proud moment for any traveler.
For some a positive, others a negative, you risk social-pariah status if you ever talk on your phone while moving. That's consideration for others at its best. Or worst.

Guangzhou, China

1.Guangzhou-MetroFrom zero to 1.2 billion passenger in 20 years.After failing five times in 30 years to create a metro system,Guangzhou's first metro line was finally opened in 1997 and a second line was opened in 2002.
Infrastructure investment exploded in 2004 when the city was awarded the 2010 Asian Games. In the ensuing six years, the council spent RMB 70 billion (US$11 billion) on the metro system.
For going from absolute zero in 1992 to eight lines, 144 stations, 236 kilometers of track and 1.2 billion passengers in 2008, and for the upcoming 48-minute express-trip to Hong Kong (opening in 2015), Guangzhou must get a mention.
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Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Buenos Aires Travel Tips

Buenos Aires
Skirting the border of Argentina and Uruguay, Buenos Aires lures visitors with its blend of European charm and South American flair. Comprised of wide boulevards, neoclassical architecture, and a cache of avant-garde museums, this sophisticated city has earned its title as "the Paris of South America." But don't think of its resemblance as anything other than a marker of its ancestry. Fashionable and friendly residents—known as porteños—have customized the city, from their colorful art-laden barrios (districts) to their world-class soccer (fútbol) stadium to their street-side tango sessions.
But you can do more than just join artists, dancers, and enthused soccer fans in this cosmopolitan capital. Shop San Telmo's boutiques, explore the National Museum of Fine Arts, meander through the ornate Recoleta Cemetery, or catch a horse race at the Palermo Hippodrome. Just save time to enjoy the simple pleasure of sipping acafecito (espresso) and snacking on churros (fried dough strips) at a cozy café, taking a romantic stroll along Palermo Woods' Rose Garden Walk (Paseo del Rosedal), and staying up late to revel in the sultry tango sessions that give the city its evening zest.

Read more about Buenos Aires

Monday, January 7, 2013

Living “well” in Vegas: MGM Grand wants to keep you healthy in Sin City

Having a truly restful and rejuvenating vacation — particularly in Las Vegas — can be a challenge. That's why the MGM Grand is hoping visitors will be willing to cough up an extra $30 per night for specially designed wellness rooms. These rooms, say MGM and Delos, the wellness real-estate firm that designed them, will help cure jet lag, balance your body's hormonal levels, and reduce your life stress.
That's a big promise.

A vitamin C-infused shower

The 42 StayWell rooms, which opened in October, have lighting designed to regulate melatonin levels, bursts of blue light said to reverse the effects of jet lag, dawn simulator alarm clocks, an advanced air purification system to reduce toxins and pollutants, filtered water coming out of the taps, photo-catalytic coating on heavily used surfaces to break down bacteria, built-in protection from the electromagnetic fields emitted from electric devices, extra sound-proofing, special mini-bar food, and even Vitamin C-infused showers. Guests also have access to apps from the Cleveland Clinic to manage stress and help with sleep and nutrition programs.
"The health and wellness amenities in the new StayWell rooms are designed not only to help guests lead a healthier life while traveling, but also to extend the healthy impact beyond the hotel room," said Morad Fareed, co-founder of Delos, in a press release announcing the venture.
Delos is not new to the idea of selling wellness. The company, which both Dr. Deepak Chopra and former House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt sit on the board of, previously focused on the launch of high-end wellness condos in Greenwich Village. The condo development will open later this fall and will be built from top-to-bottom with the aim of promoting its residents' wellness.
Showers will be infused not just with Vitamin C, but also with aloe. Floors are built with materials to keep you standing straighter and sync with your temperature. The lighting will encourage circadian rhythms, and a wellness concierge will manage all your yoga, Pilates, reflexology and acupuncture. You can also opt for the personalized aromatherapy pumped in through the purified air vents or spend some time in the safety of the electromagnetic-free zone.
Of course, while a stay in an MGM StayWell room will run you an extra $30, the wellness penthouse condo will cost a bit more.
It will go on sale for $40 million.
The question for that much money is: Does it work?
Yes, say the board of high-profile people that run Delos. They spent the last four years working with the Cleveland Clinic and the Columbia Medical School to come up with a set of building standards that promote health and wellness.
Those standards, called WELL standards, will be rolled out to hotel rooms, residences, and offices this year and next. The plan was announced in conjunction with the Clinton Global Initiative in September. And, the hope is that this becomes a new kind of sustainability standard for us to worry about.
"Just as LEED set the standard for environmental building, WELL addresses an equally critical input, which is enhanced human health and well-being," said Fareed.
Fortunately, you can start enhancing your well-being easily — on your next trip to Vegas.
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Five Miles Up with ... Danica Patrick

Traveling at high speeds. This has been the theme for Danica Patrick’s life, starting with go-kart racing at the tender age of 10. Since then, she’s graduated to Formula Ford and Indy car racing, including being the first woman to lead in the Indianapolis 500. Now in the NASCAR world, Patrick continues to follow a creed: Drive like you have something to prove every time. So how does the race-car driver/model/TV host/actress vacation? On safari, of course. What she brings back as a souvenir, though, might raise a few eyebrows on the racetrack.

What’s something you never fail to pack in your suitcase?  
My toiletries. There’s something about having your comforts of home with you on the road.

Carry-on or check-in?  
I try to always carry-on. I hate having to wait for my luggage at baggage claim.

Window or aisle?  

What’s your idea of the perfect vacation?  
Going somewhere new and different. I love experiencing new cultures and food.

Tell us about a vacation you’ve taken that’s come close thus far.  
I went to South Africa last winter and loved it. It was probably one of the most memorable vacations I've been on in a long time. The safari was one of the highlights of the whole trip. Then there was the beautiful water in Cape Town, and I met some wonderful people that I’ve stayed in touch with. 

Favorite hotel you've ever stayed in? 
Singita Lebombo Lodge is the amazing hotel in Kruger National Park where I stayed while on safari.

What's the most unusual souvenir you ever came back with? 
I bought napkin holders when I was at Singita Lebombo Lodge. Each Singita Resort has a different color scheme that’s incorporated throughout the grounds. The napkins rings I purchased have light blues and are beaded. They’re really unique and different.

What’s the worst vacation you’ve ever been on?  
Anywhere you can't afford to be visiting is going to end up being a less than memorable vacation. 

Where’s your favorite place to race?  
Indianapolis.  The Indianapolis Motor Speedway feels like home to me.

Ever try a food that you wished you hadn't?  
No, I'm adventurous when it comes to trying different foods, but I’ve tried many drinks I wish I hadn't.  

Biggest regret you've ever had while on vacation?
Not taking enough pictures.

What's the one thing you're willing to splurge on above all else?  
Hotel rooms. It's not worth skimping on a hotel room while on vacation just to save a few dollars.

Three artists on your travel playlist?  
Miranda Lambert, Alanis Morissette and Ingrid Michaelson.

Where would you take someone visiting your hometown for the first time? 
Bicycling on a local bike path in Roscoe, Ill., that I used to ride on when I was growing up.

You only get one more trip in your lifetime. Where will it be?  
Oh, so many choices, so little vacation time, but at this point in my life I would love to visit Italy

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