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Friday, April 27, 2012

In Love in India!

Catch a little taste of unexpected romance in India. James Ruggia covers the country's vast array of experiences that are sure to ignite the senses and spirits of couples seeking culture, history and a little bit of scintillating love.

So far, international travelers have only scratched India’s surface, but that will be changing over the next decade as business travelers perform their traditional role of pioneering new areas for exploration by leisure travelers. Already many destinations unknown to many have improved their infrastructure, including Uttaranchal, Himachal, Tamil Nadu, Sikkim and the exotic “Seven Sister” states of northeast India.

Culture
As we all know, India is renowned for its ancient culture. The extent of cultural achievements is astounding – just consider the length of its list of World Heritage Sites: the Taj Mahal, Fatehpur Sikri, Humayun’s Tomb, Agra Fort, Red Fort, Qutub Minar, Sanchi’s Buddhist Monuments, the Khajuraho Temples, the Sun Temple at Konarak, Ajanta Caves, Ellora Caves, Elephanta Caves, the Temples of Pattadakal, Hampi’s monument complex and the monuments of Mamallapuram.

The Natural Side
Nature-loving couples will relish India’s rich abundance of some 59 national parks, 372 sanctuaries and a multitude of wildlife species including 1,200 types of birds and 350 mammals as well as the iconic tiger. Remember the “Jungle Book?” You get the picture. There are 11 official tiger preserves in India and a growing number of luxury safari lodges…Be sure to include this unique experience into your India journey: Luxury hospitality in your own private cottage surrounded by hundreds acres of private jungle wilderness, yet with easy access to UNESCO World Heritage Sites and 1,000-year-old temples.

Exploring the Villages
The heart and soul of India is in its villages. Sprouted throughout the country, here is where you’ll find traditional rural life. Seeking an immersive experience to get the authentic feel? Look no further. These villages allow one to discover the real culture, history and cuisine of India.

How to truly discover the authentic India?
Train travel is known to overcome many obstacles for that certain traveler who may be fearful of being overwhelmed by India. Several of India’s luxury leisure trains explore individual regions, and the Maharaja Express wanders the entire country.

Anyone who has travelled by train or plane through India, or who has been driven on Indian roads, will be amazed to learn that there is actually a way to travel through the country in total serenity and comfort. Yet it is in fact possible to cruise for some 1750 miles on the rivers and inland waterways of India, passing through great cities, alongside wildlife sanctuaries and historical monuments and into the heart of rural India.

Assam Bengal Navigation are pioneers in this exploration by offering unique luxury expedition cruises onboard two 24-passenger luxury riverboats proposing 2 distinct cruise experiences:

ASSAM CRUISES: Wildlife and wilderness are the main features of a cruise in Assam on the vast Brahmaputra river – the river bed is often 20 or 30 km across, an empty world of sand spits and water with marvellous bird life and the occasional Gangetic Dolphin. The cruises here also give access to a number of India’s National Parks, including Kaziranga, perhaps the finest of all, and Manas, a Project Tiger reserve on the Bhutan border.

Brahmaputra cruises feature visits and attractions such as wildlife viewing (both by jeep and on elephant back), village walks, visits to tea gardens, exploring country towns in cycle rickshaws, barbecues on deserted river islands, dance performances, and visits to craft workshops.

BENGAL CRUISES: The waterways of the old Bengal Presidency now lie in the Indian states of Bihar and West Bengal, and in independent Bangladesh. Here in the north of the region the rivers Ganges and Brahmaputra meet head to head and then flow out to the sea through the world’s largest delta. Inland, however, on the rich agricultural land lie prosperous towns and villages, rich in history and culture. This is village India at its best, completely unknown to tourists. Cruises go north from Calcutta on the intimate River Hugli, and can be linked with our cruises on the Ganges proper from the Bangladesh border up to the historic city of Patna.

Ganges and Hugli cruises can be taken separately or together to offer a choice of durations from 4 to 15 nights. Ganges and Hugli cruises upstream from Kolkata are all about visits to villages, towns, temples and monuments in a little-known but fascinating and culturally rich part of India, on foot, by cycle rickshaw or minibus. The Sonepur Cattle Fair, on the banks of the Ganges in rural Bihar, is one of India’s great undiscovered spectacles, and we are able to anchor offshore to visit it in comfort. More

Catch more information on Assam Bengal Cruises here!
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Friday, April 13, 2012

Belgium’s River Towns: Undiscovered Gems

Namur
The river towns in Belgium don’t receive the credit they merit. At least that’s what Pierre-Yves Dalem, president of GET to Belgium thinks. And I couldn’t agree more. Not only are they attractive destinations, but they depict ingenuity at its finest. Maria Lisella, contributor to Jax Fax Magazine, uncovers these hidden gems like they deserve.

Namur and Dinant
Namur and Dinant are located on the banks of the Meuse and the Ourthe Rivers in the Wallonia region. The French-speaking “Walloon,” as it is sometimes called, takes about 55% of the territory of Belgium. Namur hosts a magnificent Citadel and is renowned for shopping and boat cruising along the river. Alternatively, Dinant also has its own fortified Citadel. Plus, the city was home to Adolphe Sax, the inventor of the saxophone.

Liège
Located 20 miles from Holland is the cultural city of Liège. Although the town initially began as a working-class mining place, it now has seven beautiful hills to keep it looking pastoral even in the face of its past. The city is home to the glorious The Curtius Palace, built for 17th century Liège gentleman Jean de Corte. The Grand Curtius museum holds extraordinary artifacts from prehistoric, Roman and Frankish medieval periods - coins, furniture, decorative art, glass and famous weaponry- the latter which made Curtius wealthy selling gunpowder to Spain. The city’s cathedral, St Paul's Collegiate Church, founded in the 10th century, features some of the most the most beautiful Gothic cloisters in Belgium. Discover its 16th-century and contemporary stained-glass windows, a baroque Christ in white marble, and brilliant 19th-century furniture.

The Sunday market in the town recruits hundreds of vendors, buyers and visitors who can’t get enough of the gigantic pans and old-fashioned kitchen appliances from the 50s. Walk to Le Bistrot d’en Face to savor the legendary Liège meatballs. Looking for fine gourmet? Take a visit to L’Epicerie, serving Italian and French cuisine.

Durbuy
A visit to Wallonia wouldn’t be the same without taking a leisure excursion to Durbuy. Back in the day, this tiny town was known for its thriving agriculture, but now a view around calls to mind a flourishing valley of resorts. However, once you take a good look behind the resorts – literally – you’ll discover charming, narrow streets with small, shops, restaurants and boutique hotels. Among the popular places to stay is Jean de Bohême, known for its exceptional staff service and out-of-this-world cuisine at its “Boheme” restaurant, and Le Sanglier des Ardennes.

Take a seat and soak up Belgium's river towns on a river cruise!
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Monday, April 2, 2012

Budapest: A destination of its own

If you think you’ve seen it all, think again. Budapest is dotted with interesting and unique attractions and activities that will keep the whole family longing for more. And that’s perfectly okay, since Budapest has so much to offer it will probably take someone weeks to cover half of it. Additionally, food enthusiasts will rejoice with city’s abundant restaurants and markets carrying traditional and modernly inventive Hungarian cuisine. Claudette Covey covers Hungary from top to bottom.

Buda…
Interestingly so, the Danube River divides the city into “Buda” and “Pest.” On the west side lays Buda, the more residential side, filled with baroque, turn-of-the-century stately homes and buildings. This side also hosts the city’s Old Town with its Buda Castle District and its castle, a World Heritage Site, housing the Ludwig Museum, Hungarian National Gallery and the Budapest History Museum. Other highlights include St. Matthias Church, once the coronation site of Hungarian kings, and the Gellert Hill and the Citadel, a military fortress perched atop the city.

…Pest
Alternatively, Pest is considered the more commercial side, yet still brings the good charm like its counterpart. You’ll find world-class hotels, restaurants and vibrant nightspots. While visiting “Pest,” one must visit the majestic Parliament, a Budapest landmark, the renowned State Opera House, St. Stephen’s Basilica, the largest church in the city, and Heroes Square, one of the largest squares, which pays tribute to Budapest’s legendary heroes. For those who enjoy live shows, the Danube Palace Hotel hosts the Rajko Ensemble folkloric show, filled with lively dancing and music.

Restaurants
Dining is an experience of its own in Budapest. From trendy restaurants to colorful markets, one will find bountiful culinary options unique for the whole family to enjoy.
Restaurant 2 - Dishes at this establishment put a modern twist on traditional Hungarian cuisine. Here you will only find Hungarian wines, featuring some vintages that would be difficult to find elsewhere.
The Citadella Lounge - Outdoor area affording sweeping views of Pest. Everything from Hungarian sampler plates to traditional foods like pizzas.
Central Market Hall - the city’s largest indoor market, which is housed in a building more than 100 years old. Find Hungarian goose liver, paprika, Unicum (a bitter Hungarian spirit) and much, much more. Care to learn how to cook Hungarian cuisine? Visit Fakanal at the market, where participants will learn how to make traditional Hungarian goulash and pancakes under the supervision of a master chef.
New York Café - Travelers should come for the dessert and coffee located inside the opulent New York Palace Hotel.
Gundel – a legend in Budapest, serving up Hungarian eats for more than 100 years. Savor goose liver dishes and crème of pumpkin soup.
Peppers! - An eclectic menu featuring duck and meat specialties, seafood and pastas.

After dinner, one should take a visit to “ruin pubs,” which are found in abandoned buildings in the city’s Jewish quarter. You’ll encounter hipsters, artists, musicians and tourists. A must-see is the Szimpla kert, the city’s first ruin pub. Or if bar hopping isn’t your thing, try a riverboat cruise to experience Budapest at its finest. Acclaimed for its skyline, the city is a mesmeric vision at night. Witness the beautiful monuments of the city set to golden hews.

Experience Hungary's premier destination with a river cruise!
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Monday, March 19, 2012

Top ‘o the mornin’ to ya! Shannon Princess Introduces New Artisan Program in Ireland

It’s March – and that means spring is around the corner!

During this month, the buzz is all about the good ‘ol St. Paddy. Needless to say, the place to visit during this time is the Irish country itself – Ireland!

Hotel river barge Shannon Princess, which cruises in Ireland, recently revealed a new itinerary that focuses on artisan experiences along the River Shannon.

The 10-passenger ship will journey through prehistoric villages, storybook castles, and spectacular green landscapes. Ashore, guests will be able to see how local cheese makers produce their dairy products, visit farmers markets and even sample seductive chocolate at a family-run artisan shop, among other exciting highlights.

Additionally, passengers will be treated to a unique taste of Ireland with Master Chef Olivia’s signature meals. All carefully-crafted meals are prepared with natural ingredients chosen from local producers and country markets along the Shannon. They even have the chance to concoct the dishes themselves by participating in the chef’s private seasonal foraging and cooking lessons.

While I thoroughly enjoy the debauchery that comes with celebrating the Patron’s day here in America, I can only imagine how much better it is on the other side of the fence! It may be too late this year to venture to the land of the Irish…But for now, I’ll just revel in the luck 'o the Irish spirit here, donned in shamrocks and tossed-out beads!
  
Got the Green Fever? Plan your Irish escape with Shannon Princess.
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Monday, March 5, 2012

Discovery On the Danube: Traveling along the Danube Gorge in Bavaria

Weltenburg Abbey, Danube Gorge
One can catch countless glimpses of stunning scenery along the Danube River. However, Janeen Christoff, special contributor to Travel Age West, recommends visitors craving the crème de la crème of natural wonders should take a ferryboat through the magnificent Danube Gorge. The gorge, aka the “Pass of Weltenburg,” in Bavaria offers some of the river’s most fascinating sites.

The gorge was astonishingly created when the river shifted and its waters, consequently, carved a passage, apart from the Danube. Interestingly so, some of the cliffs have been given nicknames over the years based on their unique formations, such as “Stone Virgin,” “Lizard Rock,” and “Beehive,” the latter bestowed for its countless honeycombed-shaped holes.

As mentioned before, the gorge offers an array of intriguing sites that can’t be missed in Bavaria.

  • Liberation Hall – Situated high on Michelsberg Hill, the 148-ft tall hall was established by King Ludwig I in commemoration of the Wars of Liberation in the fight against Napoleon. Since 18 nations in Germany participated in the war, 18 statues stand on 18 sides, each containing a tablet with a name of a German nation. The hall symbolizes the nation’s pride, and aimed to remind the people that “unity would guarantee freedom.”

  • Klosterl hermitage – Commissioned in 1450, its chapel - magnificently perched on the side of the cliff – most certainly constitutes a visit.

  • Weltenburg Abbey & Weltenburg Klosterbrauerei – Founded in the 7th century, the Abbey is home to one of the oldest breweries in the world. Renowned for its dark ale, the beer was awarded the World Cup of Beer in 2004. Moreover, the monastery is home to a magnificent church of baroque architecture. Built in 1716, the church features a splendid entrance hall which symbolizes the Four Last Things (death, judgment, heaven and hell) and the four seasons, which embodies the passing of earthly things.

Extraordinary baroque architecture, stunning scenery and world-famous beer make Bavaria along the Danube Gorge a definite must-see.

A visit to this breathtaking area along the mighty Danube River is only a cruise away!
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Friday, February 17, 2012

Hawaii's Outer Shores by Tom Koppel



Tom Koppel - author, journalist and travel writer for over 25 years -and his wife Annie set out to the magnificent coast of Maui and immersed themselves into an oasis of tranquility, pleasure and undying relaxation.

 The island, filled with rich history and invigorating splendor, was explored top to bottom for 8 days and 7 nights by the deluxe, 30-passenger Safari Explorer.

In addition to receiving a stunning hula troupe by male dancers while drinking awa (a ceremonial potion) and trekking through an exotic forest, they saw Hawaii for what it is: pure, untouched beauty.

Read his extraordinary account here….


Discover the tantalizing Big Island yourself on our Safari Explorer cruise....
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Friday, February 3, 2012

Discovering Thailand: Exotic and Very (Very) Welcoming

It goes without saying that Thailand is synonymous with culture, food and adventure. As one of Asia’s most popular tourist destinations, the beautiful country possesses a rich history, wonderfully friendly faces, and some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. James Ruggia, Contributor to Vacation Agent Magazine, talked about why taking a trip to the other side of the world is entirely worth every penny.

Bangkok, Thailand
Those who have visited the country can tell you it’s nothing like life in the states. But different in a good way. The Thai people are known to be friendly, delightfully hospitable and service-oriented. In fact, many point to their character for the great service that is offered in the country.

Moreover, aside from in-depth sightseeing, the article mentions travelers looking to immerse themselves in the Thai culture should look into taking a cooking class. An activity like this is fantastic way to capture the heart and soul of its inhabitants. Enriching oneself by eating some delicious Thai food in a fabulous city like, say, Bangkok? Count me in.

Thailand is also becoming very popular with honeymoons. Rather than visiting standard ol places like Hawaii, a vacation in Thailand offers something more exotic; something out of the ordinary. Another contributing factor is Thailand’s leading role as a as a spa and wellness destination. Not only is the quality top notch, but the affordable price doesn’t hurt. Speaking of which, Thailand is very budget-friendly. What can be better than that?

Phi Phi Islands, Thailand
Of course, when speaking of Thailand, one cannot forget to mention the country’s main attraction: the world-famous beach resorts. If you’re longing for some sun and sun in paradise, it is recommended to visit these tropical islands after exploring the country.

Needless to say, vacationers looking for a gratifying and well-rounded vacation can look no further than Thailand.

Ready to explore this Asia yourself? See the best on one of our River Cruises!
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Friday, January 20, 2012

The Rhine's Hidden Gems: Dusseldorf, Bonn & Cologne


When we picture the Rhine, we see for castles and vine-covered hills. However, the river is more than that; it’s an “urban lifeline” passing through the high-quality-of-life state of North Rhine-Westphalia, and connecting the towns of Bonn, Cologne and Düsseldorf. Impressively, Dusseldorf ranked No. 6 on a list of high-quality places to live. See what these these hidden gems have to offer.

Dusseldorf

Düsseldorf
Founded where the languid waters of the River Dussel collide with the Rhine, this city lies away on either side of the Dussel. Dusseldorf is home to Europe’s largest Japan Town and fashion fair. If you visit the town, it is imperative to try its signature Altbier (Old Beer), which is poured through the spigots of 250 different inns, restaurants and bars. For great grub, head on over to Brauerie Zum Schiffchen, a restaurant where Napoleon and his staff celebrated their victory over the Rhineland.

Moreover, alluring shopping can be found at Königsallee, the trendy boulevard featuring exclusive, swanky stores like Gucci and Louis Vuitton. Museums there are abundant, but the one to see is the two-in-one K20K21, boasting 21st century works in K21 and 20th century works by Picasso, Klee & Mondrian in K20; and the Kunst im Tunnel, presenting contemporary art in a former DPW tunnel. Finally, Düsseldorf’s MediaHarbor contains contemporary works of German and international architects, while attracting visitors to its landmark, Gehry’s Leaning Towers.


Bonn
Once the nation’s capital and Beethoven’s hometown, Bonn still breathes historic political life. The Deutsche Welle at one time housed the German Parliament, while the Villa Hammerschmidt was home to the president of West Germany. Today, the Hofgarten Park hosts university folk instead of youth protests. Furthermore, museums run rampant in the city. You can see a wide collection of Beethoven’s portraits, instruments and more at his museum, the Beethoven-Haus, and the House of August Macke, a painter who created more than 400 German Expressionist masterpieces. Or to learn more about the aforementioned historic changes, you can visit the Haus der Geschichte.

Cologne
Cologne
First things first: the Gothic Cathedral. The city’s primary attraction is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that dates back to the Roman occupation. Inside, you’ll find the Shrine of the Three Magi and other historical treasures from 1,100 years ago. Don’t miss its most noteworthy exhibits: St. Peter’s staff and chains. Across this monumental work of genius, you’ll see the Romano-Germanic Museum, where you’ll discover the life of Dionysus on a Mosaic floor, and the world’s largest collection of Roman glassware among other riches. Lastly, the Fragrance Museum is the oldest perfume factory in the world boasting Eau de Cologne, the world’s oldest perfume brand. Other top museums include the Chocolate Museum, the Museum of Applied Art, and the Sport and Olympics Museum.

Delve into any of these top River Towns on one of our River Cruises!
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Friday, January 6, 2012

Barcelona Shines


Barcelona is more than just a side excursion.
The vibrant capital of Catalonia offers more than sandy beaches and delightful Mediterranean sun.
It’s a fusion of history meets modern world. The beauty of this city is that there’s always something new to see. Even when you think you’ve seen it all, you‘ll stumble upon an entirely new place.
And 2012 is going to be her year.
“Barcelona is a constantly evolving city,”said Neomie Menahem, director of Escapade Vacations. “With each visit one will find something new to discover, whether it be in the arts, the architecture, the gastronomy or the nightlife. Barcelona strives to offer something for everyone—it has an edge few cities can replicate.”
Below is a glimpse of what this vivacious destination has to offer.

See
Gothic Quarter – Get lost in the maze of narrow streets at medieval Gothic Quarter. Located at the heart of the city, this square features funky shops, lively café’s, and splendid old buildings lining the streets, including the stunning Cathedral, built during the 13th to the 15th centuries and resulting in a magnificent feat of gothic architecture. After taking in some spectacular sights, be sure to pop into any of the surrounding tapas bars. One to check out is Origins, a family-owned cafe serving up some awesome portions of botanas.

La Sagrada Familia
The Palau – The famed concert hall delivers some of the city’s most popular musical entertainment and a monument that epitomizes the modernism of Catalan.

Parc Guell and La Sagrada Familia – Arguably the icons of the city, these two landmarks most definitely deserve a comprehensive visit. Although La Sagrada has yet to completed, tourists from the around the world flock to admire Gaudi’s magnificent masterpieces. But make sure to get there early; lines typically go around the block.

La Pedrera - Another one of Gaudi’s exceptional creations is the stunning, stone-like building of La Pedrera. You’ll fall in love with the ocean wave curves and the pale stone color.

Museu Picasso – Located in the Gothic Quarter, this museum houses a massive collection of Pablo Picasso’s greatest artworks. Inside, drop by the room that showcases his rendition of Velázquez’s Las Meninas.


If art and music call your name, check out Miro foundation with its contemporary art; the Barbier-Mueller Museum of Pre-Columbian Art, Europe’s only Pre-Columbian Art museum; and the Palau de la Musica Catalana which features all things music, and allows visitors to tour the hall given no concerts are in session.

Shop
Passeig de Gracia – Shopping is what the ritzy avenue of Passeig de Gracia is all about. Barcelona’s famed boulevard showcases big names like Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent, and impressive modernist architecture.

Las Ramblas – Bustling Las Ramblas also satisfies the appetite for enjoyable shopping. Known as Barca’s most famous street, it offers a special flair of kiosks, caricaturists, colorful markets and more. Come at night when the place is brimming with even more energy. While you’re there, pay a quick visit to The Gran Teatre de Liceu, the city’s historic opera house.

Sleep
Hotel Claris – Take a walk through history at this 19th century palace located near the Passeig de Gracia. This eclectic property stands out from the rest with its exotic trove of century-old archaeological and antique pieces. The interior is dotted with Egyptian carvings, Roman sculptures, Turkish kilims and etchings from Napoleon himself. Inside each room, you’ll actually find an original piece of Roman, Egyptian or Hindu art. Not to be outdone is the rooftop terrace with its smart East 47 Tapas Bar and breathtaking vistas of the city.

ME Barcelona Hotel – “Everything is possible” at the uber-chic ME Barcelona Hotel in the 22@district. At this seductively glamorous hotspot, guests can discover contemporary furnishings, panoramic city or ocean views, and extraordinary amenities such as 32” flat screens and remote-controlled dark-out curtains. The hotel also hosts equally-stylish restaurants, like DOS, offering exquisite Mediterranean cuisine such as decadent lamb shank and foie gras. Enjoy a glass of Spanish red with bread bathed in olive oil, and follow this by a stop to the adjacent bar to enjoy some electrifying DJ music.

See this magnificent city on a River Cruise!
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