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Italy Names Its First 'City of Wine'
Wine lovers have one more reason to get traveling again next year. In celebration of one of its oldest and most beloved products, Italy has declared its first-ever ‘City of Wine’.

The Italian association of communities that collaborate to protect and promote their regional wine designations held a competition for the new honor. 

Barolo - the town with the famous red wine of the same name – was crowned ‘City of Wine’ for the award’s inaugural year in 2021.

Nestled between Genoa on Italy’s north-western coast, and the Alps to the north, the picturesque Langhe hills surrounding Barolo in Piedmont are nearly entirely covered by vineyards and have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The nebbiolo grape grown there is made into Barolo wine – so highly esteemed, it’s been dubbed the ‘King of Wines’.
Barolo wine is considered the most famous regional designation in all of wine-rich Italy. Not only does the wine have to originate only in the Barolo zone – that’s only 5 miles across at its widest point – wine must also go through a particular process. That includes a minimum of 3 years of ageing – half of that in wooden casks. Barolo is famously a wine high in tannin and much better aged, with some connoisseurs waiting more than 10 years for Barolo wines to develop the best flavor.

That’s put some modernizers – who favor a fruitier, quicker, less fermented version that appeals to modern and international tastes – at odds with die hard traditionalists.

You can decide for yourself at the abundance of wineries and wine shops that form the core of any visit to Barolo, and pair the wine with some of the region’s famous dishes at local restaurants. (Don't miss braised beef Barolo - in Barolo red wine sauce, with carrots, an iconic example of Piedmontese cuisine.)

To beat out half a dozen other competitors for the new title ‘City of Wine’, Barolo proposed an entire 2021 calendar of events, exhibitions, seminars, tastings and installations. They’ll celebrate the wine traditions, history of Barolo wine, and the natural cycle of the seasons.

City of Wine celebrations only enhance Barolo’s permanent features: the Langhe hills, Barolo vineyards, wineries, and wine shops. Add Barolo castle and its wine museum, the nearby, quirky Corkscrew Museum, and Barolo chapel standing in the middle of vineyards with its historic sanctuary for vineyard workers-meets-modern art installation to your essential 2021 pilgrimage to Italy’s first designated City of Wine.

 

#DreamNowTravelSoon


Images: Getty
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3 Hallowe'en Traditions With Roots in Ancient Celtic Ireland
Frightful Hallowe’en is many people’s top holiday of the year – but did you know that we can thank ancient Ireland for our favorite Hallowe’en traditions? 

Travel to Ireland these days, and you’ll still be able to connect with the origins of Celtic culture that still swirl in the mists of time in Ireland’s Ancient East.

Today’s Hallowe’en is the descendent of the Celtic festival of Samhain (Sow-ann). The celebrations included feasting on the harvest and lighting fires to mark the end of the season of light, and welcome the days of darkness.
 
The Irish practice of lighting bonfires began on hilltops in Ireland 3000 years ago, with clans and communities gathering to light huge ceremonial Samhain fires.
One of the biggest Celtic festivals of fire was on a hilltop called Hill of Ward in today’s County Meath. Recent archaeological excavations suggest the hill was used for feasting and celebration over 2,000 years ago. What’s more, it was the grandmother of all fires; old manuscripts reveal that the Celts lit a fire here from which all the fires in Ireland were rekindled.
To this day the area around the Hill of Ward, and the nearby Hill of Tara (pictured above) where the High Kings of Ireland ruled, remains one of the centers of Irish Halloween traditions. Every year, a 21st century celebration of Samhain, called the Púca Festival, is held in the region.

Celebrating Ireland as the birthplace of Halloween, Púca events normally include an impressive re-enactment of the symbolic lighting of the Samhain fire, live music and performance, amazing light installations and more. (This year the celebrations will be virtual, with a broadcast of the lighting of the Samhain fires due to take place on 31 October.)
 

Dress Up

That period of seasonal metamorphosis involved more than changing hours of light and darkness and lighting of fires for the ancient Celts. They believed that the moment of transition allowed the worlds of the living and the dead to interact – and that shape-shifting spirits could move between worlds. Starting to sound familiar?

To avoid being pulled into the netherworld in an untimely way, Celts disguised themselves in costumes. That would create confusion and even scare off any ghosts, fairies, goblins or demons roaming this world.
Hallowe’en dress up today may involve superheroes and video game characters – but its origins lay in deceptive and even frightening disguises.
 

Jack-o-Lanterns

Whatever face you choose to carve into your Hallowe’en pumpkin, you’re following an Irish tradition with New World materials. Before pumpkins existed in Europe, turnips and even large potatoes were hollowed out and carved to serve as lanterns.

Even the name Jack-o-lantern has its origins in and Irish folktale. As the story goes, a man named Stingy Jack played a trick on the Devil, who punished Jack, cursing him to wander all of Eternity with only a burning ember from the everlasting fires of Hell inside a turnip to light his way.

When Irish immigrants brought Hallowe’en traditions, including the jack-o-lantern, with them to North America, they discovered much larger and already-hollowed-out pumpkins and other winter squashes here that made bigger, better and much easier lanterns than turnips! 


Trick or Treat

In old Ireland, it was called ‘souling’. Children and the poor went from door to door, offering songs or prayers for the dead in exchange for money, kindling for fires, or food. The common food treat was a ‘soul cake’: a flatbread that contained fruit.

Today, the Irish celebrate Hallowe’en much like we do, with costumes and visits to neighborhood homes for small gifts of candy, fruit and money.

But as we enjoy activities we see as fun diversions and cute child’s play, we can also remember their mystical origins in ancient Celtic Ireland.
 

#DreamNowTravelSoon


Images courtesy Ireland.com

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How the Postponed Tokyo Olympic Games Will Feature Japan's National Sport

We should be watching the opening ceremony of the XXXIII Olympiad right now. 

But COVID has changed the history of the Olympics along with so many other features of our lives. Tokyo 2020 retains the name, but the dates have changed.

Originally scheduled to take place from July 24th through the second week of August this year, Tokyo 2020 now opens on July 23rd 2021. They are the first Summer Games to be postponed instead of cancelled due to an international crisis.

You can still make plans to be in the stands for Tokyo 2020 in 2021 and part of the excitement in Japan’s capital. The date changes will mean a magnified Olympic energy, pent up for an extra year. Always an international, feel-good rally, the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo in 2021 promise to be even more symbolically charged in the year following the COVID crisis.
So next year more than many other Olympics, all eyes will be on Tokyo. In addition to all our favorite Summer Olympic sports, new competitions at Tokyo 2020 will include freestyle BMX and 3x3 basketball, as well as the debut of surfing, skateboarding and karate, sports proposed by the host country.
But Japan’s national sport will not be played at the Tokyo 2020 Games.
Sumo is only practiced at the highest levels inside Japan. There is no competition between nations like Olympic Games for sumo.
Instead, between the closing of the Olympic Games and the opening of the Paralympic Games, the Japan Sumo Association has planned to stage a special, two-day sumo exhibition tournament.
It gives attendees at the Olympic Games the opportunity to be a part of one of the world’s most rare, ritualized, ancient sports still part of a country’s modern culture.
Sumo is often caricaturized in Western culture. You may have even been to parties where brave or joker guests don inflatable ‘sumo’ costumes, throw themselves at each other and roll around on the floor, laughing.
But a bit of knowledge about Japan’s version of wrestling gives viewers new appreciation for this unique sport and martial art.
  • Sumo was first mentioned in writing in the 700’s, but pre-historic wall paintings show sumo’s roots in ritual dances for good harvests;
  • Matches are held in a 15-foot wide clay ring;
  • Far from colliding and rolling around on the floor like the Western party game, sumo wrestlers try to force their opponents outside of the ring in full-contact, ritualized movements that are considered a martial art;
  • Sumo wrestlers are required to wear their hair long in a waxed topknot, in an historically Samurai warrior style;
  • In the ring, they wear 30-foot long belts (not diapers!), tied in the back, that the other wrestler can latch onto to throw his opponent out of the ring;
  • Matches begin with a powerful crouch and charge that use the wrestlers’ great size to full effect;
  • There are no weight classes in sumo, so the bigger wrestlers can get, the better! Sumo wrestlers consume specific, traditional foods – up to 20,000 calories every day, or 10 times what an average person needs! – to gain and maintain weights in excess of 300 pounds. In modern sumo history, 3 famous sumo wrestlers have even weighed in at over 600 pounds!;
  • Even today, other customs and traditions of sumo are very linked to Japan’s ancient Shinto religion, including the throwing salt to purify the ring.
If you are not in Japan for the special tournament following the Tokyo Games, six sumo tournaments are held for two weeks each every year throughout Japan. Tokyo’s tournaments are in January, May and September, and other major cities have one each, including Osaka in March, Nagoya in July, and Fukuoka in November.
It may never be an Olympic sport, but sumo is one of the best-preserved ancient sports anywhere in the world, and an experience not to miss if you ever have a chance to travel to Japan.
 

#DreamNowTravelSoon


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Summer Solstice at Stonehenge Goes Virtual: How You Can Attend this Mystical, Ancient Celebration This Year

Mark dawn in England on June 21st on your calendar. It will be worth or staying up late at night in North America to experience the online broadcast of one of the world’s most famous celebrations of pre-historic spirituality.

Summer Solstice is the astrological event that marks the longest day (the most sun) - and the shortest night (the least moon) of the year. Usually on June 21st, it’s the beginning of the Summer season in the northern hemisphere.

A Wonder of the Ancient World - and Accurate Solar Calendar

From ancient times, humans have marvelled at and closely observed the predictable movements of the sun, moon, stars and the earth. They connected them to celestial gods, earthly survival through good harvests blessed with enough sunshine to grow, and the insignificance of humanity amongst the heavens.
Ancient sites around the world are believed to have measured, marked, or honored celestial events like rare eclipses or the annual Summer Solstice (and its counterpart, Winter Solstice 6 months later on December 21st marking the shortest day and the longest night of the year).
Perhaps the most famous of these is England’s Stonehenge, or ‘hanging stones’. Stonehenge triggers an onslaught of fantasy and imagination in everyone who sees or experiences it. A circle of gigantic standing stones, some as high as 30 feet, and weighing in at 45 tons, even topped with other monster-sized stones fitted perfectly on top, they were arranged in a ring pattern that exactly lines up with the sun’s Summer and Winter Solstices even thousands of years later.
Like the pyramids of ancient Egypt, this 5000 year-old site has remained a wonder of the ancient world for the generations that followed, rediscovering and attempting to unlock its mysteries. It was even connected to Britain’s fabled King Arthur, so it could not be more ripe with legend and mystique.

Summer Solstice at Stonehenge

At this unparalleled Stone Age site 90 miles west of London, ten thousand or more people every year gather to watch dawn of the Summer Solstice. As the sun rises behind the site’s massive stones this one day of the year, its rays are framed to penetrate into the center of the prehistoric circle with astonishing precision. Members of today’s druid, pagan, and mystical communities who hold Stonehenge to be their temple believe it is a spiritual moment.
Whether or not you believe Stonehenge is an astrological ‘map’ or solar calendar or celestial place of worship by pre-historic Celtic priests, the celebration of the Summer Solstice at this astonishing site remains a moving and unforgettable experience for modern people. 

Summer Solstice Goes Virtual

So when the global pandemic made the gathering of crowds at Stonehenge this year unsafe, English Heritage, the organization that manages Stonehenge and many of the country’s historic sites, announced it would offer a livestream of sunrise on the site’s most celebrated and significant day of the year.
Summer Solstice at Stonehenge goes virtual this year on English Heritage’s social media accounts live on Sunday morning, June 21st at sunrise local time (4:43 am London time which is 11:43 pm Saturday night in North America’s Eastern Time zone.) Bear in mind, that’s the actual moment dawn breaks, so you’ll want to tune in earlier to get the full effect over the course of sunrise.
You can join the English Heritage event on facebook – click here.
Or watch a video of last year’s Summer Solstice at Stonehenge on English Heritage’s youtube channel (click here) while you wait for this year’s livestream to launch. 

So even on the other side of the Earth during the middle of a global travel shutdown, we can participate in the spiritual experience of this vital moment on the solar calendar. And take a moment to ponder that we still share the same rhythms of sun and seasons with people who built a monument to its everlasting truths thousands of years before our time.


#DreamNowTravelLater



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 The COVID-19 pandemic is cancelling Easter celebrations large and small around the world. Thousand-year-old cathedrals will make history as they remain empty and silent.

Enter Andrea Angel Bocelli.

Celine Dion has said that, 'if God has a singing voice, he must sound a lot like Andrea Bocelli.'

The Italian tenor who made pop music audiences fall in love with classical opera, who has received cultural honors in his home country and also has Grammy awards and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame… is taking this unprecedented opportunity to fill Milan’s empty cathedral with music on Easter Sunday 2020. 

Milan’s Duomo dates back to the 1300’s. It is the largest church in Italy (St. Peter’s Basilica is larger, but it’s in the independent state of Vatican City). That makes it the 2nd largest in all of Europe. Milan’s Duomo is famous not just for the size of the building, but also for the 225-rank pipe organ which is the biggest in Italy, and for the gold Madonna gazing out onto the city from a perch nearly 360 feet at the top of one of the church’s many spires.

(Getty)

It’s also in the heart of the region of Italy hardest-hit by COVID-19.

Bocelli is making sure everyone’s Easter is filled with uplifting music, singing a solo concert Andrea Bocelli: Music for Hope in the Milan Duomo.
 
The 61-year old tenor and cathedral organist Emanuele Vianelli will perform soaring hymns like “Ave Maria” and “Sancta Maria” in the dramatic surroundings of the Duomo. 
 
And while the pews in Milan and around the world will be empty, the point of the Music for Hope concert is to “send a message of love, healing and hope to Italy and the world.”
 
So the Music for Hope will be livestreamed globally HERE on Bocelli’s YouTube channel beginning at 1 pm Eastern Time on Easter Sunday in a gesture the beloved tenor hopes will unite everyone facing the pandemic.

'I believe in the strength of praying together; I believe in the Christian Easter, a universal symbol of rebirth that everyone - whether they are believers or not - truly needs right now,” Bocelli said, “Thanks to music, streamed live, bringing together millions of clasped hands everywhere in the world, we will hug this wounded Earth's pulsing heart.”
 
He also hopes the concert symbolizes renewal of the society so disrupted by the pandemic. “It will be a joy to witness it, in the Duomo, during the Easter celebration which evokes the mystery of birth and rebirth.”
 
The Music for Hope concert isn’t the only way Bocelli is contributing. In addition to Sunday’s concert, the Andrea Bocelli Foundation is part of a campaign to purchase more medical equipment needed to treat COVID-19 patients. And the acclaimed tenor also performs on April 18th’s virtual concert One World: Together at Home, raising money for charities providing food, shelter and healthcare to those in need as a result of the continuing crisis.
 
But it’s the Music for Hope concert in the hauntingly empty venue of Milan’s Duomo that will uplift the world on Easter Sunday.

And inspire us to think of happy days when we can once again travel to experience the gifts of Italian culture in person.

(via Andrea Bocelli /YouTube)




The Chinese New Year Dish You Need To Try This Year
Kung Hey Fat Choi! Chinese New Year celebrations brighten up the winter months throughout Asia and Asian communities around the world. It's the most important date on the Lunar calendar and includes weeks of festivities with family and friends from late January through March. Many activities give everyone a chance to get into the spirit of a fresh, healthy, happy and prosperous upcoming year.

Among the many outstanding traditions like lion dances, flower markets, decorations of lanterns, red and gold banners, and orange trees, wearing of red, temple visits, parades, fireworks, family gatherings and gift giving, are, of course, special Chinese New Year feasts.

If it isn't already, put Chinese New Year travel on your bucket list. Every major Asian community in Asia as well as the Americas and Europe holds memorable CNY festivities. Here are a couple of our favorites:

Hong Kong

It's considered one of the world's best festivals, with Victoria Harbour's neon spectacle as a backdrop to 6000 tonnes of fireworks, parades, flower market, temple celebrations and lucky New Year's horse races.

Philippines

Manila's Binondo district is the oldest Chinatown in the world, and appropriately, host of the Guinness world record Chinese New Year's celebrations. Its standout moment is a laser show and a one-of-a-kind LED Lion Dance.

Singapore

Chinese New Year involves weeks of festivities including an International Lion Dance Competition, a riverside carnival, and over 10,000 performers in the continent's largest street procession.
 

San Francisco

This West Coast city's Chinatown is famous, so naturally, it's 2-week CNY celebrations are, too. Flower festivals, a breathtaking, 200-foot dragon finale to the largest CNY parade outside of Asia.

Food is central to the celebrations, and almost every dish carries symbolic meaning or color, or a name that sounds like the Chinese characters for Chinese New Year wishes like longevity or wealth.

Our friends at Hong Kong Tourism have shared with us their recipe for Lion's Head Meatballs – also called Four Joys Meatballs. It's a pork recipe - which seems especially suitable for Year of the Pig – but is equally tasty and relevant no matter which creature's year of the Chinese zodiac it is. The round shape of meatballs symbolizes 'togetherness', and the Lion's Head evokes Chinese New Year Lion dances.
 

It's easy enough to make at home for your own Chinese New Year celebration or any time you crave it.

Braised Chinese Lion’s Head Pork Meat Balls Recipe 

 
Ingredients
 
Meatballs
1 lb Ground Pork
4 large Dried Shiitaki mushroom (soak in warm water until softened, then minced)
½ cup Water Chestnuts, minced
1 Egg
1 teaspoon Minced Ginger
2 Scallions/ Green Onions, minced
½ cup Panko Bread Crumbs
1 teaspoon Minced Garlic
½ teaspoon White Pepper
2 tablespoons Light Soya Sauce
1 tablespoon Dark Soya Sauce
1 tablespoon Cornstarch
2 tablespoons Shaoxing or Rice Wine
1 tablespoon Sesame Oil
1 teaspoon Salt
+
1 cup Vegetable Oil for frying
 
Vegetables in Broth
10 leaves Napa Cabbage
2 pieces Sliced Ginger, bruised
1 cup Chicken Broth

Method

Put ground pork into a large bowl. Add Shaoxing wine, light soy sauce, dark soy sauce, sesame oil, salt, sugar, grated ginger, cornstarch and scallion. Add chestnuts, mushroom and eggs. Add panko. Mix all ingredients til sticky and moist. Divide into 6-8 parts. Roll each part into a large ball.
 
Heat vegetable oil in a non-stick skillet over medium high heat til warm. Fry meatballs til all sides browned. Take out and place on paper towels to absorb oil.
 
Place bruised ginger slices in bottom of a clay pot or any round pot. Fill with chicken broth or water. Put in cabbage leaves. Arrange browned meatballs on top. Cover and heat in medium high temperature til boiled, lower heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add salt or soya sauce to taste. Garnish with chopped scallion or parsley (optional).
 
Ready to serve over steamed rice. You can make and cook the meatballs in advance and do the final heating in broth when you want to serve the meatballs.

Kung Hey Fat Choi!


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Discover Dazzling Winter Evenings at Hong Kong's New Light Festival

For a city whose nighttime skyline overlooking Victoria Harbour is already a global icon of urban lighting and signage, a light festival might seem like overkill. 


But the new Hong Kong Pulse Light Festival expands the effects of Hong Kong's famous neon signs and lit-up skyscapers to a street-level playground of luminous artworks during the darkest months of the year.

Debuting in 2018, the Pulse Light Festival runs from the last week of November through late February. Not only does the artistic light festival brighten the longest nights of the year, it also overlaps Chinese New Year festivities, a high point on Hong Kong's calendar of celebrations for an amplified celebratory atmosphere. 

Artists from around the world contribute to the Pulse Light Festival to bring Hong Kong to even greater heights of brilliance in the winter.  Here are some highlights visitors shouldn't miss:

'A Symphony of Lights'

It's one of the world's most spectacular light and multi-media shows, and now, Hong Kong's 'A Symphony of Lights' festival gets a winter edition. Every night, Victoria Harbour will get more dazzling, with more participating skyscrapers, more color, more pyrotechics from rooftops, and more lighting effects, all put to music that inspires. Check the calendar for special shows on red-letter dates like Christmas, New Year, and other holidays.


'A Tale of Two Trees'

The holidays are the inspiration behind 2 very different tree installations in Hong Kong. A glorious, traditional, lit-and-decorated Christmas tree lights up Hong Kong's Statue Square with the magic and wonder of the season.

Next to Hong Kong's brilliantly-lit Observation Wheel, a completely different kind of 'tree' installation reinterprets the traditional motif. The 'XTree' is a 25-metre, cubist, 'tree' made from metal scaffolds that evoke tree branches. Its strategically-placed lighting 'dances' to a soundtrack, making the 'XTree' come 'alive'. More than a visual treat, the installation is intended to inspire discussion and debate about environmentally friendlier ways to maintain and translate holiday traditions for the future.

'International Light Art Display'

The 'XTree' is one installation of a much larger display, the incandescent 'International Light Art Display'. Over a dozen, curated light art pieces by global artists from Europe, the US, India, Israel, and elsewhere in Asia, as well as several symbolic works by local Hong Kong artists, line Hong Kon's iconic Victoria Harbour for the festival.


Many installations are interactive and change color or appearance over time and in contact with visitors: revealing your inner beauty with 'Angels of Freedom' (pictured above), witnessing the dialogue of 'Talking Heads', walking through arches of 'Bat and Coin'. The light installations turn stunning Victoria Harbour from a breathtaking view to be seen from a distance, into a destination to explore and experience up close and in a festive evening atmosphere.

The Pulse Light Festival creates an unforgettable visual journey through Hong Kong, and joins other magical winter and holiday festive events, activities and celebrations that light up the night and warm hearts through the entire season.

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America's Tallest Monument Park Transformed in Time for One of Nation's Biggest 4th July Parties

The view 630 feet above St. Louis from the top of its defining monument has changed after an immense, multi-year, $380-million renovation to the city's Gateway Arch National Park .

The 1965 Gateway Arch became a global architectural icon and helped cement Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen's position as one of the masters of American mid-century design. The striking, modernist monument to the westward expansion of the United States is the world's tallest stainless steel arch, the tallest man-made monument in the United States, and even the Western Hemisphere. 

The arch itself is unchanged. Its boldly simple, award-winning design, 630 feet high and 630 feet wide remains 'a symbolic bridge between (America's) East and West, past and future, engineering and art'.

Its legs are still firmly planted on the western bank of the Mississippi on the site where the city of St. Louis was founded in the 1700's. But the experience of visiting this emblematic transition to America's West has been transformed.

The re-imagined surrounding urban National Park reconnects the riverfront and Gateway Arch to St. Louis, and visitors to the momentous events the arch symbolizes. 

Busy Highway I-44 used to separate the arch and the mighty Mississippi from the city (left, below). Parkland now bridges over the highway, leading visitors uninterrupted from downtown, to St. Louis' Old Courthouse and the new Arch visitor center and museum, and the arch on the river, all the way to the riverfront (right, below).

Don't Miss:

The Old Courthouse was the site of the infamous trials where slave Dred Scott and his wife unsuccessfully sued for their freedom. The ruling against them declared they were not citizens with the right to sue and contributed to the tensions leading up to the American Civil War.

The New Museum at the Gateway Arch completely replaces the original museum from the 1970's.  

Six new themed galleries features interactive and engaging exhibits including Colonial St. Louis prior to the Louisiana Purchase when it transferred to the United States, St. Louis' position as busy Mississippi river trade port, President Thomas Jefferson's vision of westward expansion, Lewis and Clark's renowned expedition, how Manifest Destiny affected native people, Mexicans and pioneers, and how the astonishing Gateway Arch monument to westward expansion was designed and built.

The View from the Top. The pair of trams in each leg of the Gateway Arch still takes visitors to a sloped observation deck at the top of the arch. From it, you can gaze over the river towards the East and Illinois, or West, over the park, the Old Courthouse, and the city of St. Louis.  If you don't take the tram ride, the new Keystone Exhibit allows visitors to experience the view via live webcam feeds from the observation deck.

The revitalized, over-the-highway park extends to the riverfront, with a plaza, miles of bike and walking paths and space for community events.

The re-opening of the park after years of closure for the renovations coincides with the return of one of America's biggest Fourth of July celebrations. Fair Saint Louis returns to the waterfront and Gateway Arch urban National Park with a series of events that celebrate America's birthday and the new experiences at this breathtaking national monument.


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Rio's annual pre-Lent extravaganza, Carnaval is the highlight of Rio's – and the party world's – calendar. It runs every year in the 5 days leading up to Ash Wednesday, culminating on Mardi Gras.  But not everyone can make it to the throbbing excitement of Carnaval in that short window.  

If you missed what many consider the sexiest party on the planet, not to worry.

BestTrip.TV can give you an insider's view of Carnaval.  Join us for a rare, behind-the-scenes experience with our fellow guests on this Silversea Grand Voyage exclusive shore excursion to one of Rio's top Samba Schools.

For Silversea's Grand Voyage guests, a one-of-a-kind Carnaval experience immerses us in all the elements of Rio's renowned celebrations:

Floats are the centerpieces of Carnaval.  Samba Schools build their floats in total secrecy – even from other members of their own Samba School. That makes the access we and our fellow guests have to the float-in-the-making extraordinary. The competition between Rio's Samba Schools is so extreme, not a whisper of each Samba School's new theme can leak out.  Each year, the Samba School parade entry tells a different story, and the installations, mechanisms and very glittery art  - provide the framework for the story. The countless sequins, glitter, feathers and sparkly paint make the floats surreal.

Costumes outshine even the floats, if that's possible.  Parade floats are escorted through Rio's Sambadrome by hundreds and even thousands of costumed dancers, musicians and other performers. Perhaps it's the extraordinary contradiction of so much glitter and shine… and so much skin at the same time. Rio's Carnaval costumes differ from other Mardi Gras celebrations around the world (like Venice or New Orleans) in one key way: they are notoriously sexy. This is the birthplace of the thong and dental floss bikini after all.  Not every costume is skimpy on fabric – they are wondrous, hand-made creations, and we and our fellow guests get to play dress up with genuine Carnaval costumes.

Cocktails make everything more fun, and the Carnaval experience is no exception. Cachaca (pronounced ka-CHA-sa) is Brazil's local sugarcane spirit, this country's answer to rum. Caipirinhas are the mojito of Brazil and help make this experience into a party.

Samba may be the most uniquely Brazilian aspect of Rio's Carnaval. The local music and dance, with roots in the country's African slaves, shaped by poor urban neighborhoods of more recent years, is a great symbol of the diversity, unity and democracy of the country today. Not to mention being one of the most throbbing, sensual, irresistible rhythms in the world. To the beat of the drums, cowbells, and whistles of musicians, we get into the spirit of Samba.  Spoiler alert: you may need to be born dancing samba to do the incredible music justice.

Parade time is the culmination of a year of Carnaval preparations. Rio has even built its incredible Sambadrome parade ground, lined by stands and VIP booths.  They don't prevent anyone from dancing along with the Samba School entries though.  And naturally, our own Silversea Carnaval experience culminates in a 'mock' Carnaval parade.

It's an overnight in Rio we'll never forget.

Plus, the Carnaval Experience supports the Youth Samba School that educates thousands of kids in the community.   Join us in celebrating Brazil's famous five-day party!

 

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Kung Hei Fat Choy! 

The Lunar New Year celebrations may be the largest global festival. A billion Chinese, plus people of Chinese descent as well as other Asian countries and communities around the world follow age-old practices to ensure another year of good fortune and prosperity. Lunar calendars have the New Year falling on different dates in February or March and celebrations take over small communities and Asia's largest urban centers.

BestTrip.TV was lucky enough to be filming in Hong Kong during Chinese New Year.  Here's how we  - and you – can get into the spirit of the Lunar New Year.

By Lynn Elmhirst, Producer/ Host, BestTrip.TV

Seeing Red

Colors have strong associations in Chinese lore, and red is one of the best. Red is the color of good fortune.  The more of this hue in your life as you welcome another year, the luckier you'll be – or so they say. That's why you see so much red associated with Chinese culture, and especially at Chinese New Year.  Seasonal markets are laden with items in red and other auspicious colors and significance.

Photo Credit

Do as we did: pack your red dress, or tie or pocket square (we even heard there's special red CNY lingerie) to wear to celebrations to draw that good fortune towards you for the coming year.

Gold/yellow is associated with royalty and status, so it's no surprise it's often paired with red as the most auspicious color combination.  Don't hold back on gold jewelry!

Deck the Halls

I admire the practical aspect of conscientious housekeeping in one CNY tradition: sweeping away bad spirits and luring good spirits into your home with a good scrubbing. Then double down on your good fortune in the coming year by decorating.  You'll see endless red banners and lanterns of course, bouquets of red flowers.  But keep your eyes open for one other charming practice: bringing orange, tangerine, or their miniature version, kumquat trees into the home. 

Photo Credit

This tradition is said to have evolved from a play on the words for orange and tangerine sounding like the words for luck/prosperity.  Exactly what you're looking for on CNY.  In addition, their yellow/orange color also resembles gold.  In compact homes and apartments, a potted, table-top kumquat fits the bill.  In larger public spaces, restaurants and grand hotels, pairs of elegantly potted, sculpted orange or tangerine trees flank entryways during Chinese New Year.

Give and Receive

Sometimes, you'll see red envelopes with gold letters and trim tied to the branches of those orange trees.  Enclosing gift money in red paper is intended to bestow extra wishes for good fortune on the recipient, so the cultural significance of the red envelopes is the red paper, which amplifies the value and blessings of any money inside. 

Photo Credit

For that reason, if you are fortunate enough to receive a red envelope, you accept it ceremoniously with both hands and do not open until later.  Red envelopes are exchanged among family members, but employers often use the last day before CNY holidays as an occasion to thank and share best wishes with employees. 

When we were lucky enough to be visiting Hong Kong during Chinese New Year, and our hosts kindly offered us lai see, we felt very touched to be included almost like family.

Set off Fireworks

While many Lunar New Year practices attract good spirits, it's equally important to keep the evil ones away.  According to folklore, loud noises are ideal to scare away evil spirits.  That's become a tradition of setting off fireworks.  People go to markets and buy vast quantities of individual fireworks, and CNY community fireworks extravaganzas have become legendary. 

Hong Kong's CNY fireworks take place over Victoria Harbour with its spectacular skyline backdrop.  Take a look at the video at the top, you'll be breathless too!

Take in a Lion Dance

Any day is a good day when you get to experience a playful, whimsical lion dance.  They wink and flirt shamelessly with the crowd… and naturally bring good luck and fortune at Chinese New Years.  The lion's movements are performed by a two person team head and tail and have their roots in martial arts. Some include a sequence to 'pluck the greens': performing amazing feats of performance and athleticism to reach an auspicious bunch of lettuce tied with a red envelope that's dangled in front of the lion like a lure.

Photo Credit

These were our experiences in Hong Kong, and there are many other Lunar New Year celebrations to explore in China, other South-East Asian countries, and their communities around the world. 

Make sure you have good fortune in the coming year by joining in!

 

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5 Things You Must Do At Mardi Gras

New Orleans is home to one of the world's greatest parties. 

Like other Carnival celebrations, Mardi Gras grew from the Christian practice of feasting and celebrating on 'Mardi Gras' – which means 'Fat' Tuesday - on Shrove Tuesday, just before the solemn fasting of the 40-day pre-Easter season of Lent. 

The actual dates differ every year.  Shrove Tuesday can happen during February or early March, and Carnival season begins immediately after the 12th day of Christmas, continuing up to the Eve of Ash Wednesday, when Lent begins. 

Other places in the world celebrate pre-Lent, too; you've probably heard of famous Carnivals in Venice, the Caribbean, in Rio and elsewhere.  But New Orleans' Mardi Gras has its own unique character.  The city's French-Creole heritage and culture and cuisine, steamy Southern climate - and oh, that famous local jazz!  - make Mardi Gras one-of-a-kind.

Thousands of people from North America and around the world flock to Mardi Gras. Here's how to celebrate in true N'awlins style:

Feast on Fat Tuesday Food

Fat Tuesday is the one day of the year when eating fried foods is a virtue. No dieting on Mardi Gras! Sink your teeth into some of the best Creole dishes New Orleans offers. To get that local flavor, order anything on the menu with crawfish – a classic crawfish boil, crawfish bisque, or the iconic crawfish etouffee, which means 'smothered', with the local crustacean coated in a rich creamy Louisiana-seasoned sauce served over rice.   

Iconic Creole stews gumbo or jumbalaya are a must while you are in Louisiana.  For feasting on the run, a local muffuletta sandwich is the best best on the menu: where the special ingredient, olive salad, binds cured meats and cheeses in sesame dinner rolls.

Indulge your sweet tooth with the local version of beignet – or as you might call it: a traditional-recipe donut.

A Mardi Gras special sweet treat is King Cakes, often a brioche/raisin bread type ring topped in official Mardi Gras colors of green, gold and purple, and with a hidden bean or even baby Jesus statue inside. Whoever gets the bean, becomes the next Mardi Gras 'king', or party host.

Have a Ball

Krewes are social clubs of New Orleans' residents that date back to the 19th century, established to organize the famous Carnival parades and masked balls. Most major krewes follow the same parades schedule and route annually.  These days parades are too oversized to take place inside the famous French Quarter.  But they still rouse up enthusiastic spectators and toss trinkets into the crowds, including 'doubloons' – replica coins often stamped with a krewe logo – and of course beads, the symbol of New Orleans Mardi Gras decadence.

Play Dress Up

There is no Mardi Gras without the costumes. This is not a time for subtlety.  Sparkles and matching headgear and masks are the order of the day, especially in Mardi Gras' traditional colors of purple, gold and green. New Orleans Mardi Gras may lack the baroque elegance of Venice or the throbbing sensuality of bikinis and samba in Rio, but dress up you must. Mardi Gras costumes span everything from black tie at private balls, to mutant octopus costumes and Elvis impersonators, jokers and mythological figures in a surreal whirlwind of excitement.

And Dress Down

It's easy to blame the current younger generation and TV shows featuring bad behavior for the decadence of topless party-goers at Mardi Gras. But semi-nudity and even cross-dressing have a long history with the Carnival in New Orleans, at least back to the 19th century.  Women flashing from balconies in the French Quarter have long been documented crowd stoppers. The beads-for-baring-them motif is all part of the unrestrained party ambiance of Mardi Gras.

Feel the Music

Any time of the year, New Orleans is one of the greatest music capitals of the world, the birthplace and home of jazz.  Mardi Gras takes music to another level in the city, and even more than usual to the streets, where jazz music and brass instruments are joined by the latest beats and rhythms.  You won't be able to resist dancing in the streets, at parties, in hotel lobbies, at of course at any ball you are lucky enough to be invited to attend.

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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.

Not to mention the delightful Christmas markets in other countries along the Danube like Austria, as well as France, Italy, Spain and the UK.

So it's not just river cruises; escorted tours also offer special Christmas market itineraries. You can get your fill and fill your bags with iconic local Christmas tastes and treats, as well as other local all-season gems. A child will never forget the handmade wooden toy you picked up in Germany. Or the signature Christmas chocolates from the Netherlands. Grown-up loved ones will cherish the hand-made 'santon' ceramic figurines of everyday life in traditional Provence that the French use in their nativity scenes. Or the ever-popular local wine from, well, anywhere in Europe.

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 - or any European Christmas market visit will warm anyone's heart.

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Munich's annual extravaganza of beer halls, buxom girls in dirndls, pretzels and the best of the 'wurst' (pun intended!) is already underway in September.

If you're missing Bavaria's biggest party, you're not out of luck yet: the world's SECOND largest Oktoberfest might be closer than you imagine.

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Why scramble around outdoors in spring rain or snow for a chocolate bunny or some foil-wrapped chocolate eggs... when you could be in France, watching (and smelling!) chocolate fashion parading down the catwalk? 

That's just one of the delicious experiences BestTrip.TV had when we visited the elegantly-named Salon du Chocolat, an annual event in Paris celebrating all things chocolate. 

The chocolate costumes are not for eating, but most everything else is. You'll find tastings, edible art, and an incredible display of things you never imagined could be done with the world's most popular confection (jewelry! sculpture!). 

Treat your inner chocoholic to the best event ever, in one of the most celebrated culinary and fashion destinations in the world.  And please stop eating your kids' chocolate bunnies. 

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How the Whole Family can Savor a Disney Vacation: At its Food & Wine Fest

Sometimes grownups need to trade spinning teacups for grownup culinary experiences. How do celebrity chefs, winemaker dinners, beer tasting seminars and irresistible cuisine sound?

All photos: Disney California Adventure

If you think you might want to balance kids' Goofy with your inner foodie, one of the best times of year to visit Disney might be during its Food & Wine Festival, when you can enjoy the park and culinary experiences for kids and adults alike.

The Disney California Adventure Food & Wine Festival jump-starts spring with hundreds of gastronomic adventures and delicious flavors from across the Golden State. It runs this year from March 10th til April 16th (the Florida park has a similar festival later in the year.)

Highlights for the whole, multi-generational family trip include more than a dozen marketplaces open every day, an entire menu of daily culinary demonstrations and tastings, plus beer, wine and spirits seminars, music everywhere, delicious food, and fun crafts created especially for younger guests.

Celebrity chefs scheduled to appear during the Festival include Guy Fieri, Robert Irvine, Cat Cora, Duff Goldman, Emily Ellyn and Keegan Gerhard.

Children ages 3 to 11 may join in the fun with the popular complimentary Junior Chef experience (led by Chef Goofy, and available on a first-come, first-seated basis), and the Jammin’ Chefs, who serve up tasty rhythms with pots and pans that really get cooking with the help of sous chefs Chip ‘n Dale.

Many of the Festival events are included with admission to Disney California Adventure. Guests who want to add the Signature Events may purchase separate tickets at an additional fee for:

  • “In the Kitchen with …” on Saturdays from 6-7 pm: Each Celebrity Chef will lead a 60-minute culinary demonstration and Q&A followed by an autograph session. The experience includes a tasting of some of the prepared dishes.
  • Sweet Sundays on select Sundays from 10:30- noon: A 90-minute culinary demonstration focuses on the sweet side of the culinary arts. Following a light breakfast and a sparkling toast, the Guest Chef for that day will demonstrate up to three recipes. Guests will enjoy samples from the chefs.
  • Winemaker Dinners and Brewmaster Dinners on Thursdays from 6:30 to 9 pm: A four-course dinner features wines and winemakers or beers and brewmasters. Wine or beer selections will be paired with courses created by the Disney Executive Chef Team and each winemaker or brewmaster will speak on the libation and the pairing.

Additional ticketed programs include:

  • Culinary Demonstrations (presented daily throughout the Festival) – Guests will enjoy 30-minute culinary demonstrations presented by local, visiting and Disney chefs. Each demo will focus on a single recipe, ingredient or cooking style. Guests will receive a tasting sample of the dish prepared.
  • Wine, Beer or Spirits Education and Tasting Seminars (presented daily throughout the Festival) – Beverage seminars presented by industry experts will enlighten guests who want to learn more about their favorite spirits. Each 30- to 45-minute seminar will focus on a specific beverage type, region or label, and guests will enjoy tasting samples of some of the beverages discussed.

We think the food festival might be the best way to create delectable memories for the whole family on a Disney vacation.

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Hanami Tips: View Cherry Blossoms Like the Japanese

Springtime cherry blossom viewing has become one of the best-known Japanese festivals around the world.

BestTrip.TV's Producer and Host Lynn Elmhirst shares her experience of 'Hanami', and some tips if you are lucky enough to travel to Japan during those magical few weeks every spring.

I'm a tree hugger. I love nature, woods walks, gardens and flower shows, making fresh bouquets for my home… I've even studied Japanese flower arranging (ikebana). So imagine how excited I was to be in Japan during the season when their famous cherry blossoms are in bloom. And to be invited to join a 'Hanami' party. (Top image credit).

'Hana' means flower in Japanese, and in this context, means almost exclusively cherry blossoms (sakura), although it can also mean other flowering fruit trees, especially plum (ume). 'Mi' is from the verb to see or view.

So Hanami is just a simple Japanese word 'Flower blossom viewing', but it has become one of the most revered Japanese traditions.

Hanami as a custom is believed to go back over a thousand years, even as far back as the 700's, during a time of tremendous cultural growth in Japan.

At that time, the practice was more closely related to agricultural and divining purposes, to announce the rice-planting season and predict the harvest. Naturally, offerings were made to the spirits in the fruit trees. This eventually evolved into including sake drinking in the offering.

Well you know where it went from there. Parties.

Image Credit

Once an Emperor in the Heian period started holding flower-viewing parties with sake and feasting beneath the blossoming trees, he set the scene for centuries to come. Poetry was written about the lacy, delicate flowers, seen as a symbol of the short-lived beauty of life itself. Masses of plantings in full bloom appear from a distance like fluffy pale pink clouds, inspiring generations of artists. Paintings, wood block prints, and tapestries celebrated the barely-pink blossoms and their increasing meaning to Japanese society. Where royalty and artists set a trend, the rest of society follows. Soon, even common people were planting cherry trees and taking picnic meals and drinking sake under the boughs of blossoming cherry trees.

Fast-forward to today, and that custom remains. I had some vague notion in my head that we'd stroll in awe under bowers of blossoms in the castle grounds, perhaps ending the uplifting Nature experience with some tea.

Instead, one member of our group went out at 6 am that morning with plastic picnic sheeting to lay out and stake a claim to a prime picnic spot under a particularly beautiful tree with a broader view over the park. By the time we joined him late afternoon, other parties had clearly been going on for hours. And the sake, beer, and shochu (sometimes called 'Japanese vodka') had been flowing. 

The blossoms were breathtaking, but they didn't seem to be the star of the show. Cherry blossoms were just the set. It was all about the party. Barbecues, drinks, portable karaoke machines created a raucous scene – in an admittedly pretty magical atmosphere. In many places, hanami viewing starts after work – is even a work /colleague event – and continues late into the night. Some parks hang paper lanterns to light the trees. 

Night Hanami. Image credit

The contrast between the charm of the blossoms and trees and twinkling lights and the noisy parties below is shocking to a first timer like me.  I found myself trying to block out the noise to find a sense of the wonder and spirituality of the earliest Hanami participants.

And for all the seeming irreverence, the Japanese take viewing very seriously. People past the age of enjoying raucous parties still do hanami, often more in temples, where they follow prayer rituals. TV news and papers forecast the 'cherry blossom front', following the season from the warmer south to the cooler north, only a couple of weeks in each place, and only a few days of truly prime viewing.  In the big cities of Osaka and Tokyo and the ancient capital Kyoto, cherry blossom season normally takes place at the end of March and early April.

A blossom forecast with the predicted dates of blossoms. The numbers are for dates (3.22 is March 22). Note the "cherry blossom front" moves from South to North. Image credit.

If you are traveling to Japan on pleasure or business any time near cherry blossom season, find a way to participate in a party. If you do 'hanami', there are some etiquette rules to follow:

  • Tips for Hanami in Japan:Be respectful of the mass of blossom admirers and the cherry trees themselves; don't shake branches, step on roots, or pick blossoms.
  • Many blossom parties and venues can be rowdy, but not always. If most admirers are in prayer or quiet contemplation, a loud foreigner can wreck that experience for them AND the reputation of foreigners in Japan. Don't be that guy.
  • Although parties with sake, beer, shochu (sometimes called 'Japanese vodka') are part of the modern ritual, be warned that not all parks permit alcohol; hopefully, you're going with Japanese friends, a guide, or colleagues, and they'll know if you can toast the blossoms with spirits.
  • Similarly, not all parks permit barbecues, so your packed Hanami picnic may have to be cold and pre-prepared.
  • Some parks don't have garbage collection capacity for the huge flow of Hanami traffic; be prepared to dispose of your garbage in your own bags.

The Japanese National Tourism Organization publishes a list of the best places to view cherry blossoms. You can find it here: http://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/location/interests/cherry.html

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Montreal Celebrates 375th Anniversary with a Year of Music

5 Can't Miss Music Events in Montreal in 2017 from Leonard Cohen to Pink Floyd Opera to an Electronic Music Parade.

On May 17, 1642, a small colony called Ville-Marie was founded by a small group of 50 explorers from France. The little colony would soon be known as Montreal and 375 years later, a city of 1.7 million is celebrating a milestone.

Montreal's 375th anniversary conveniently falls alongside Canada's 150th, and makes Montreal one of the top Canadian destinations to visit in 2017 thanks to an exciting line-up of festivals and events throughout the year. Montreal has always fostered and celebrated its musical scene, and in its 375th anniversary year, music reigns.

Here are five musical experiences you can't miss in Montreal this year.

World Premiere of: Another Brick in the Wall: The Opera

When: Select dates between March 11th and 24th

Another Brick in the Wall: The Opera is based on Pink Floyd's 1979 album The Wall and is a collaboration between Opera de Montreal and Pink Floyd's former bassist and chief songwriter, Roger Waters.

Starting out as a concept album (1979) and then a film (1982), The Wall is a psychological drama inspired by Waters' life. Waters got the idea for The Wall after a concert at Montreal's Olympic Stadium in 1977, so the iconic composition is in a sense, coming home with the premiere of its operatic interpretation on the Montreal stage during the city's 375th celebrations.

Waters will also be a librettist in the production.

Free Montréal Symphonique Concert at Foot of Mount Royal

When: August 19th

Montreal's inner-city mountain has been central to the city since the start, and nowadays, it's a green urban retreat for locals and visitors. Mount Royal takes center stage of 2017 birthday celebrations during a free performance at its base. The concert brings together major artists and Montréal's three great orchestras: the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal, the Orchestre Métropolitain as well as the McGill Symphony Orchestra for the first time, under the direction of Simon Leclerc.

This extravagant, far-reaching concert will feature over 300 musicians, pop artists and choral singers. The theme of the concert is: seasons, and a series of tableaux will evoke the city, its inhabitants, its history, its landmarks and its vibrant personality.

Electro Parade Around Montreal

When: September 2nd

The first Electro Parade in North America will feature local and international DJs on parade floats equipped with state-of-the-art sound systems and wandering through the streets of Montréal - turning city streets into dance floors.

This global trend has already become popular in Paris and Zurich, where similar events have taken place.

Full programming, names of guest DJs, and the parade route will be announced soon.

Leonard Cohen Exhibit at MAC Museum

When: November 9th 2017 to April 1st, 2018

Well before he passed away last year, the Musée d'Art Contemporain de Montréal (MAC) was preparing a retrospective on this famous Montrealer's life.

Leonard Cohen: A Crack in Everything will be one of the last major Montreal 375th events in 2017. The exhibition will pay homage to this global star and feature a collection of new works created by artists who were inspired by Cohen's works and include visual art, performance art, music, written word and film.

One More Thing:

Cité Mémoire Brings History to Life

When: Every night throughout 2017 and beyond - except April 10th to May 10th

Cité Mémoire (pictured, top) invites visitors to experience Montreal's history through a series of multimedia projections around Old Montreal - on buildings, cobblestone streets and even on trees.

For the full experience complete with music and narration, visitors can download the "Montreal en Histoires - Cite Memoire" app before your trip and take along your headphones. The free app is available in four languages and has a map of Old Montreal that shows each projection location and lists the best times for viewing each piece.

This is a self-guided walking tour that visitors can do every evening at your own pace, but there are also Cite Memoire staff along the route to help with interpretation and questions.

Favorite installations include "Suzanne", a love story projection on the Clock Tower Quay set to the iconic song by Leonard Cohen, and "The Face of Montreal", projections of various Montreal faces on trees along Jacques-Cartier Quay.

For a complete line-up of Montreal's 375th anniversary celebrations, visit: www.375mtl.com/en.

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Kung Hei Fat Choy! 

BestTrip.TV discovers the traditions, the spectacle and the little known facts behind one of Hong Kong's biggest festivals.

Chinese New Year - or Lunar New Year - is celebrated not only in mainland China, plus Hong Kong and Macau, but also in Chinese communities around the world, as well as throughout South-East Asia: Singapore, Viet Nam, Thailand, Taiwan, the Philippines and others.

Chinese New Year falls on different dates every year in January or February, with each year dedicated to a different creature of the Chinese zodiac. Celebrations last days in Hong Kong, and include adorable lion dances, temple activities, special foods, flowers, and plants, wearing red, exchanging gifts and other traditions for good fortune, a magnificent parade in downtown Hong Kong... and fireworks!

We visited Hong Kong on Chinese New Year, and we think it's one of the most exciting times to visit one of the world's most exciting cities.

It's hard to imagine the awe-inspiring Hong Kong harbor front skyline become even more spectacular... but this Chinese New Year fireworks show takes it to a whole new level.

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Celebrate the Holidays French Style Around the World

You say: Christmas, the French say: Noel. Paris is always a top holiday escape destination, but the City of Light is not the only place to have a 'Joyeux Noel'.


Here are my other favorite places in the world to celebrate the season with French 'joie de vivre'.By: Lynn Elmhirst, Producer and Host, BestTrip.TV


Provence, France:

In the wondrous South of France, Provence isn't just for summer tans. Winter in Provence is one of the most magical times to visit. There's still sun and fresh air and charming, uniquely Provencal seasonal traditions.

There's the 'Big Supper' on Christmas Eve, culminating in a ritual of 'The Thirteen Desserts', said to represent Jesus and the 12 apostles. Local and family traditions vary, but the desserts often include almonds, figs, dates, and other local fruits and flavors.

My favorite Provencal Christmas tradition is one that visitors can enjoy year round… and even take home as a souvenir or a gift. Santons are small, hand-painted clay figurines (the word is derived from Provencal dialect for 'little saint'). Santons make up table-top nativity scenes, but in a traditional Provencal nativity scene, it wasn't just the Holy Family, three wise men, angels, a shepherd and some farm animals. Traditionally, there were 55 figures that included characters from everyday Provencal life, like a fishwife and a vegetable seller.

Santon-making is a family craft that is still passed down through generations today, and you can buy santons from workshops through the year. Marseille holds a December Santon fair, and there are also children's holiday santon painting workshops.

New Orleans, Louisiana:

Wherever the royal French motif, the fleur de lys, pops up around the world, it's a clue to that area's historic French ties. In New Orleans, the fleur de lys city symbol joins Creole and Cajun dialect, culinary and other traditions in an enduring, beloved, and unique culture. Two of its holiday traditions were originally observed only on Christmas Eve, but these days, visitors can celebrate the season with locals through the month of December.

Photo by Rebecca Ratliff/NewOrleansOnline

Bonfires on the Levee date back to the earliest Cajun settlers. They were set along the banks of the Mississippi originally to light people's way home for the holiday, or to Midnight Mass, or it's said most recently, to light the way for 'Papa Noel' – Cajun Santa Claus. They have become extravagant in size and design, some accompanied by fireworks and concerts, drawing crowds that feast on bowls of hot gumbo and community good cheer. A hundred or more may be lit every year in neighboring parishes, and visitors can take guided scenic tours of the experience.

Reveillon Dinners were also once exclusively on Christmas Eve, following Midnight Mass. Now, instead of dinners starting at 2 am at home, Reveillon ('awakening') dinners are usually family and friends gathered at conventional dinner hours in a restaurant. Dozens of top city restaurants offer Reveillon menus through the month of December, not just on Christmas Eve, so it's easy for visitors to the city to participate in the tradition.

James Beard Award-winning chef Frank Brigtsen of Brigsten's Restaurant is at the forefront of a new generation of New Orleans chefs who are revitalizing Creole/Acadian cooking, creating modern dishes that pay tribute to Louisiana's culinary traditions. He shared his Reveillon Dinner menu recipe for Oysters Bienville, named after Jean Baptiste le Moyne, the Sieur (Lord) de Bienville, the founder of New Orleans.


Brigsten's Oysters Bienville - Makes around 3 dozen oysters

2 Tablespoons unsalted butter

1 cup diced ham (1/4-inch pieces)

4 cups finely diced yellow onion

3 cups finely diced celery

1 bay leaf

1 tablespoon + ½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon ground white pepper

¼ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

½ teaspoon dried whole-leaf thyme

½ teaspoon dried whole-leaf oregano

2 teaspoons minced fresh garlic

2 cups sliced scallions, white part only

½ cup diced shrimp

2 Tablespoons brandy

1 cup oyster liquor

1 cup milk

2 cups cream

1 cup unsalted butter

1 ½ cups all-purpose white flour

36 oysters on the half-shell

1. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a pot over high heat. Add the ham and cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally.

2. Add the onions, celery, and bay leaf. Cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, until the onions become soft and clear.

3. Reduce heat to low. Add the salt, white pepper, cayenne, thyme, oregano, and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 1 minute.

4. Add the sliced scallions (white part only). Cook, stirring occasionally, until the scallions become soft, 2-3 minutes.

5. Add the shrimp and cook, stirring occasionally, until the shrimp turn pink, 1-2 minutes. Add the brandy and cook for 1 minute.

6. Add the oyster liquor and cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring and scraping the bottom and sides of the pot.

7. Add the milk and cream and bring the mixture to a boil. Simmer for 3-4 minutes. Remove the bay leaf. Transfer the mixture to a tall container and purée until very smooth. Transfer the puréed sauce back into the pot.

8. Make a blond roux: Melt the butter in a skillet over medium-low heat. Gradually whisk in the flour and cook for 1 minute, whisking constantly. Bring the Bienville sauce to a boil and gradually add the roux, whisking constantly. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat. Refrigerate until fully chilled.

9. To serve, preheat oven to 500 degrees. Using a pastry bag, top each oyster on the half-shell with about 3 tablespoons of the Bienville Sauce. Bake at 500 degrees for 15 minutes. Serve immediately.

Bon Appetit!

Martinique, the French Antilles:

It's a little piece of France in the Caribbean. Over the years, residents of the island of Martinique have combined the best of both worlds in their unique local Christmas traditions.

One of the most charming must be the 'Fleurit Noel': the 'Christmas Flower'. This delicate white flowering shrub made its way into local Christmas traditions due to a blooming season that runs December to March. It certainly makes me think of an angel's cloud! It's also thought to cure colds and flu.

Photo: Tourism Martinique

If you travel to Martinique during the holiday season, experience Christmas caroling like you've never experienced it anywhere else in the world. Chante Nwel are get togethers with traditional Martinican holiday cuisine - much of it pork based from a history of households keeping a pig in the backyard and making it the focal point of holiday meals - and singing accompanied by the goatskin tambour bele drum, and call-and-response.

Photo: Tourism Martinique

The carols are collected in a booklet of local versions in Antillean Creole, and you'll never forget the first time you sing - to the tune of 'Jingle Bells' - joyful song lyrics “Gut the Pig”, or other unique local twists on traditional carols.

Quebec, Canada:

Quebec City, the cradle of French civilization in North America, is unforgettable. Built over 400 years ago, it is the only walled city north of Mexico, a UNESCO World Heritage site of stone buildings and steep rooftops true to the French architectural style of the day.

Photo: Quebec City

Wandering the streets of historic Quebec City feels like a taste of Europe at any time of year, but during the snowy Christmas season it's truly magical – the city has been voted one of the top 10 places in the world to celebrate the holidays.

The province's biggest French city, Montreal, is Quebec City's slightly younger sibling, celebrating its 375th birthday this year with the tallest Christmas tree in Canada. Quebec is world famous for its music scene; make sure to attend caroling and concerts in both cities during the Christmas season, and do not miss the opportunity to go to Christmas Eve midnight Mass in one of the historic cathedrals.

Photos: Tourisme Montréal. Giant Christmas Tree: Eva Blue. Place St. Jacques: Matthieu Dupuis.

My mother's side of the family is French Canadian, and we follow the tradition of midnight Mass and a traditional 'Reveillon' meal, including tourtiere, Quebec's traditional meat pie, served with pea soup.

Here's my family recipe for you to enjoy during the holidays or any time of the year.

Photo: BestTrip.TV

Lynn's Family Tourtiere Recipe (Quebec Christmas Meat Pies)

Makes 2 pies or 24-30 tarts

3 lbs ground meat (We use 2 lbs beef and 1 lb pork. Some use all pork, or game, or even duck)

2 large onions, grated or finely minced

2 cloves garlic

2 teaspoons salt

1 t thyme

½ t sage

½ t pepper

¼ t ground cloves

½ t allspice

Brown meat with onions and spices til onions and meat are cooked and still moist. Add

1/3 c red wine

2 large potatoes, peeled, boiled, mashed

Mix thoroughly and cook 5 min. Let cool to room temperature.

Mix in 1 egg

Pack into pie or tart shells, top with a pastry cover, cut slits for vents, and

Wash tops with 1 egg beaten with 1 t water.

Cook in pre-heated 410 degree oven til pastry deep golden. Serve hot.

Bon appétit and Joyeux Noel!

Start your Trip!


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Enjoy nine days of family partying at the Three Rivers Festival, Fort Wayne, Indiana

Planning to enjoy a fun-filled festival in summer? Bring the entire family to the Three Rivers Festival where everyone can have a blast for nine days!

One of the biggest events in Fort Wayne, Indiana, the Three Rivers Festival was established in 1969 as a local event that would help revitalize the downtown area of the city, provide families enjoyment without putting a strain in their pockets, and promote local businesses.  The first festival featured a grand parade and 60 events which attracted a hundred thousand people. Today the festival attracts more than 500,000 people from all over the country who are lured by its activities and events that spells a lot of fun for the entire family. Fort Wayne where the festival is held can be reached by car, bus or train from various points of the country, or you can fly into Fort Wayne International Airport which is serviced by American Airlines, Delta, and United.

The Three Rivers Festival is held annually starting on the first Friday after Independence Day. It begins with a traditional kick-off 2-hour grand parade which showcases marching bands, parade units, and more than 100 colorful entries representing various organizations.  It features  Art in the Park, Bike Night, Bed Race, Children’s Fest, Bed Race, Downtown Midway, Crafter’s Market, Brew Review,  Luscious Legs, International Village, Raft Race, River Excursions, Market Place, Young at Heart Senior Fest, Waiter-Waitress Contest, Food Alley, Live Entertainment, and a Family Fun Day where families participate in games, contests, and races. The festival ends with a Fireworks Finale, one of Northeast Indiana’s largest fireworks displays.

Have fun for nine days at the Three Rivers Festival! Consult your travel agent and book a trip as early as possible. By the way, except for service animals, pets are not allowed in the festival grounds. 

Have a Cheesy Time at the Cheesemakers Festival in Shelburne, Vermont

Love cheese and traveling? The Cheesemakers Festival in Shelburne, Vermont is where you must heading. It is one of the most anticipated events in Vermont.

Vermont is known as a cheese state with more than 40 world-class cheesemakers in the state. A town in southwestern Chittenden County, Shelburne is where the annual Cheesemakers Festival is held in July. Shelburne might be a small town but is has numerous attractions you can visit before or after the Cheesemakers Festival. Its attractions include the Shelburne Orchards, Shelburne Vineyard, Bread And Butter Farm, Furchgott Sourdiffe Gallery, Shelburne Farmer's Market, Vermont Teddy Bear Company, Shelburne Farms, and Shelburne Museum. The town of more than 7,000 inhabitants is 7 miles from Burlington, the largest city in Vermont.

The annual one-day Cheesemakers Festival  was established seven years ago, and has since drawn in thousands of cheese lovers from all over the country. The event features 40 cheesemakers, more than 60 food makers, and 22 breweries, distilleries and vineyards. You can participate in the festival’s workshops which include Honey on the Cheese Plate, Blue Note and Cheese Chicks. If you want to learn more about cheesemaking, you can walk to Shelburne Farms where you can observe cheesemakers crafting handmade cheddar, and visit the animals in the Children’s Farmyard. If you want to learn how to cook with cheese as one of your main ingredients, watch the cooking demos which include the Cabot Creamery Cookbook, Yankee Magazine Cooks with Cheese, and Cooking with New England Farm Girl.  At the end of the day, don’t forget to buy all the cheese you can carry!

The annual Cheemakers Festival tickets get sold out quickly, so you must consult your travel agent and buy your tickets as soon as possible. See you there!

Watch the Monkeys Eat at the Monkey Buffet Festival in Lopburi, Thailand

One of the most unusual festivals in Thailand, the Monkey Buffet Festival is highly entertaining and fun to watch, just be forewarned that these monkeys love to grab bags, wallets and gadgets!

The annual Monkey Buffet Festival is held in the city of Lopburi, one of the oldest cities of Thailand. The city was established during Dvaravati period from the 6th to the 10th centuries, and played a significant role during the Aruthaya period which was from 1350 and 1767. The city is right on the banks of the Lopburi River and enjoys a tropical savanna climate. The city is located about 180 kilometers from Bangkok the capital of Thailand. From Bangkok, you can take the train, bus or car.

Perfect for a quick getaway from Bangkok, Lopburi has numerous attractions including Lopburi Palace, Sub Lek Reservoir, Prang Khaek, Lopburi Zoo, and a number of temples. The city is now known for the hundreds of crab-eating macaques, a certain breed of monkeys that live in the city. They thrive in the old town of Lopburi particularly around the areas of Phra Prang Sam Yot and Phra Kaan Shrine. Because of these monkeys, thousands of foreign tourists travel to the city to enjoy the sights of hundreds of monkeys roaming freely. They might be cute but can also be annoying especially if they want to grab your personal belongings. To celebrate their existence, the Monkey Buffet Festival was established in 1989 which has become bigger and better as the years go by. It is held every November at the Khmer temple of Pra Prang Sam Yot where most of the monkeys live. Over 4,000 kilograms worth of food is served which includes vegetarian dishes prepared by top chefs, fruit salads, sticky rice, Thai desserts and all kinds of fruits, laid on long tables. Do be  not to try and get their food or else they might get something back from you!

Watching the monkeys eat their heart out while taking pictures of them during the Monkey Buffet Festival is one unforgettable experience you must be able to enjoy! Book a trip to Thailand in November and have fun at the Monkey Buffet Festival. 

Have a “Lemontastic” time in Menton, France

Blessed with a sunny climate, Menton is where you can have your fill of lemons! Dubbed as the "the pearl of France," the resort town of Menton is often passed off for the more popular resort towns located on the French Riviera. It might be a sleepy town but it has a two-Michelin-starred restaurant, attractions not found anywhere else, and one of the most popular festivals in France, the Lemon Festival.

Located in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region, Menton is inhabited by about 30,000 people. It is situated on the French Riviera, and is the last town in southeastern France before crossing to Italy. Also known as the “sunniest place on the Cote d'Azur”, the towns draw in thousands of visitors annually especially during the Lemon Festival. The town is accessible by land travel but the quickest way is to fly into Aéroport Nice Côte d'Azur which is about 40 kilometers away.

The best time to visit Menton is during the Lemon Festival held in the month of February since 1929. The Biovès Gardens exhibits huge temporary sculptures made of lemons. A procession along its streets showcases giant citrus-themed floats, dancers and live entertainment. About 145 tons of lemon and orange fruits are used with more than 300 professional working on the fruits to create spectacular displays of lemons. This two week event also features nightly entertainment, and lots of food and drinks made out of lemons! Aside from enjoying the Lemon festival, do not forget to savor the gastronomical delightful  dishes of Mirazur, one of the world’s  best restaurants.

Bring the entire family to Menton, France and have a “lemontastic” time!  Consult your travel agent for more details.

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