Wednesday, July 13, 2011


There is only one word which really captures the essence of Montreal: multifaceted.
This city represents the melding of the Old and New Worlds, with 18th-century structures blending into a 21st-century skyline. Old-fashioned houses are now home to funky fusion restaurants, and the familiar sound of English is juxtaposed against the rolled "r"s of French. Rainbow flags fly alongside cloth emblems from India, Portugal and France, and traditional French pastries are sold alongside the distinctly sweet sesame seed, Montreal-style bagel. Just when you thought you'd seen it all, a short elevator ride exposes you to another city located several stories below ground level.
This versatile city's top attractions include world-class museums and bustling marketplaces. Start your tour along the ancient cobblestone streets of Vieux-Montréal. Here, you can explore historic cathedrals or grab a cappuccino at one of the traditional French cafés along boulevard Saint-Laurent. If history doesn't excite you, head to the bustling downtown area for an afternoon of shopping or to Parc du Mont-Royal for a hike. Just make sure to save some energy for when the sun sets; Montreal -- especially rue St-Denis -- is known for a nightlife scene that continues until the small hours of the morning.


Maui is an attraction-filled destination that seems like a compilation of Hawaii's best qualities. Surfing beaches?
Volcanoes? Several. Family-friendly? Definitely. Nightlife? Perhaps the best in Hawaii. The legions of vacationers that come back home teary-eyed and hypnotized can't be wrong -- this is where you learn Hawaii is more than a series of islands, it's also a spiritual experience. Step off the plane, take one whiff of the plumeria blooms and you'll be hooked.
But don't just take our word for it. Maui is quite the muse for travel writers. From its "jungly" and "moonlike" landscape (Lonely Planet) to its "heart-pounding" and "bewildering" outdoor attractions (Frommer's) to its "funky" small villages (Fodor's), there's something on this island to inspire just about everyone.



Even by North American standards, Vancouver is a young city. But what it lacks in history it compensates for in scenery. 
Surrounded by mountains and beaches, Vancouver is both an urban and a natural playground: Its chic atmosphere, high-fashion boutiques and fondness for health-conscious eating have earned it the nickname "North Hollywood." Sitting about 1,300 miles north of its nickname namesake, Vancouver's breathtaking backdrop has been the setting for several popular television shows and major motion pictures, such as Battlestar Galactica and The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, so don't be surprised if recognize landmarks from your favorite scenes.
But this mitten-shaped city on Canada's western edge draws in more than pop culture junkies. Hiking, mountain biking, kayaking, white-water rafting and skiing will beckon to your adventurous side. Looking for a little R&R? Then try lounging along the 11 miles of beaches or in one of the numerous parks. During the cold weather, you can duck inside one of top-notch museums, or swing your young kids by one of the family-friendly attractions. When you add excellent shopping, dining and nightlife scenes to the mix, you see why many praise Vancouver as a go-to getaway for the multi-faceted traveler.

San Francisco

Ever since the Gold Rush, hill-sloped and breezy San Francisco has attracted those free-spirited types who have an eye for edgy art, a taste for imaginative cuisine and a zeal for adventure.
This northern California city is often described as Los Angeles' more refined cousin. Cool and compact, San Francisco combines the big-city buzz exuded by its southern counterpart and melds it with a sense of small-town charm. Here, you'll discover a mish-mash of culture -- from Hispanic to LGBT -- flourishing throughout San Francisco's many colorful quarters. Yes, follow the crowds to the touristy Fisherman's Wharf area (which offers spectacular views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz), but don't forget to save time for districts like Mission and The Castro, where much of the city's history and culture can be explored.
It's really not surprising that songwriter Tony Bennett left his heart here: The city is home to jaw-dropping sights, world-class cuisine, cozy cafés and plenty of booming nightlife venues -- there are no shortage of ways to stay busy here. Spend an hour or two sunning yourself alongside sea lions on the bay or engaging in conversation with one of the many art aficionados who call the Golden Gate City home. For an authentic tour, enjoy a ride on a cable car.

Los Angeles

Los Angeles both confirms and dismantles all of its stereotypes.
Yes, it's a sprawling metropolis with eternally congested freeways. But it also contains some of the most ethnically rich and personalized neighborhoods in the United States. It might be filled to the brim with glamour and Hollywood chic, yet it's also home to renowned art galleries and architectural masterpieces. The world's visual entertainment empire, L.A. offers tourists unforgettable glimpses into the world of filmmaking and television broadcasting. The City of Angels also features some of the most eclectic cuisine, its renovated downtown is fast becoming a must-visit, and its beaches provide sun, sand and -- especially in Venice Beach -- a close-up glimpse of the area's most unique residents.
Los Angeles is expansive, and touring it can be exhausting. But that doesn't deter visitors. The area is one of the most tourist-ed in the country, especially between June and October. Travelers join residents on the already jammed freeways, attempting to get to as many of the spread-out attractions in the time they've allotted. The key to a successful L.A. vacation is simple: Plan extensively before you leave. Pick an area or location that suits your interests and needs the best. And then? Explore, explore, explore.

Monday, July 4, 2011

New York City

The buzzing Big Apple allures people today just as it always has. See, not only is NYC the most populous city in the U.S.
filled with everyone from bohemian artists to investment bankers -- it's also at the forefront of food, fashion, the arts and nightlife (it is, after all, the city that never sleeps). But perhaps you're turned off by images of clogged streets and cacophonous cabs, the chaotic (at best) Times Square and the claustrophobic feeling of walking amongst soaring skyscrapers. You might also object to the many "must-see" attractions -- the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, the Brooklyn Bridge and more.
Never fear: New York is also a city of charmingly mellow neighborhoods and boroughs -- Greenwich Village and Brooklyn, for instance -- with indie boutiques, iconic bakeries, coffee shops and restaurants galore. You might also head to Chinatown for an explosion of Chinese restaurants, the refined Upper West Side for a performance at Lincoln Center, and TriBeCa or Chelsea for impromptu tours of numerous art galleries. If you're weary of huge crowds, avoid Midtown's Times Square and Rockefeller Center at all costs.
here's also the option of focusing your trip by theme: For shopping, you'll find sleek storefronts along Fifth Avenue (Madison Ave., too) and über-trendy boutiques in SoHo and East Village. If it's museums you want, the Met, the MoMA, the Guggenheim and more are at your service. And if you need a breath of fresh air, grab a bagel and a New York Times and head to lush Central Park for some lounge time. At nighttime, the opportunities for entertainment are virtually endless -- a long leisurely dinner at an "it" restaurant (there are lots of "its" in New York), rooftop drinks at a meatpacking district club, a Broadway show along Times Square. One of the New York's myriad of nicknames is "The City." Maybe that says it all.



In London, life is invigorating. That's why people visit and then come back time and time again
The English writer Samuel Johnson famously said: "You find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford." More than two centuries have passed since Johnson's era, but even today reviewers agree that this two-millennia-old city remains one of the most exhilarating places on earth.
Here, what's antiquated -- the Tower of London, built in 1078 -- clasps hands with the contemporary -- the Millennium Bridge, finished in 2000. The gray foggy climate settles in a city that still performs Shakespeare but with actors who don modern garb. Londoners most certainly still awe at Prince William and his new fiancée, Kate, but they also rock out to Coldplay and Lily Allen. And while they still sip tea, they now drink Starbucks, too. A current-day leader in everything from politics and banking to fashion and music, London also keeps its history alive, and interested guests can still trace Jack the Ripper's steps on an evening tour, or watch the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace.



As soon as you step into the thermal baths in Budapest, you'll realize that your trip across the Atlantic was already well worth it
Some Hungarians around you are aware that you're a visitor, but they pay you no mind, leaving you to soak and unwind however you please. You see an elderly man playing chess with a teenager a few feet away, and you realize that the baths are all about community and inclusivity, everyone sharing the common objective of relaxation. And for today, you are part of it -- but make sure to rest up; if you're planning on participating in Budapest's nightlife scene, you're sure to be in for a very long evening. So long, in fact, that you may be due for another dip into the baths the very next day…
Welcome to Budapest. To put it simply, if you haven't been here, it's time you make plans to do so. This city appeals to many; those who aren't feeling thermal baths and nightclubs will enjoy the culture, history and natural beauty. It's more than just the political capital of Hungary -- it's also the commercial and cultural nexus. Split by the Danube River and comprised of three main regions (Pest, Buda and Óbuda), Budapest is meshed together with old architecture and grassy parks. Don't fret about limited dining options: Almost every cuisine imaginable is here and the prices are fair enough that you can sample most of them. Every variation of shopping awaits you, and the museums will enliven your afternoons if you give them some of your time. In fact, you will find that time is precisely the main issue, as there's never enough of it to enjoy all the sights. And it's oh so easy to spend an entire afternoon at the baths or inside a cozy coffeehouse.


A prosperous and bustling city, Prague now attracts more tourists than ever
But its picturesque downtown veils both a dark legacy and a resilient past; in its 1,100 years, Prague has withstood numerous overthrows, invasions, fires and floods. It's this reputation for survival and perseverance that has made the Czech capital so fascinating. Today, its storied churches, narrow streets, daunting hilltop castle and statue-lined bridges create the scene of an urban fairy tale. Even the most jaded traveler would have trouble resisting this city's charms.
Prague was once a hidden gem, overshadowed by its flashier neighbors to the west. But the city couldn't keep its marvels a secret for too long -- now, it's a haven for travelers wanting for an awe-inspiring experience at an affordable price. You can still find all of that today, with many top attractions -- including the famous Charles Bridge and the historic Prague Castle -- offering entry free of charge and many hotels offering rooms at a fraction of the cost of other major European cities.  But this bargain-hunting legacy has a ticking clock on it -- recently prices have been on the rise. If you're hoping to find a fire-sale price, now's the time to do so.


If there was one word to describe the Greek island of Crete
it would be "diverse." Sandy beaches hide amongst soaring mountains, palm-tree forests grow in the middle of sprawling plains, bustling modern cities share coastline with ancient ruins. And speaking of cities -- in Crete they reflect the people that came before; the streets are lined with architecture mirroring the styles of the Minoans, the Venetians, the Ottomans as well as contemporary Greeks. Despite the visible contrasts, this island maintains a sense of unity felt whenever you step onto the street, dine at a local taverna or enjoy a glass of raki at a sidewalk café.
Crete's experiences are as assorted as its history, so take some time to decide what type of vacation you're looking to have before you set anything in stone. For a more urban setting and a variety of restaurants, bars and nightclubs, consider staying along the northern coast in Chania or Heraklion. Those who prefer the great outdoors should head to the southern areas of Chania and Rethymnon for the hiking opportunities and many beautiful beaches.

Puerto Vallarta

This is more than just a coastal resort getaway
Somehow Puerto Vallarta -- also known as "Vallarta" or just "PV" -- maintains a small-town ambience, while still boasting one of the most unique and sophisticated oceanfronts in Mexico. The dining options and the hotel choices reflect more of the same -- you'll find both elegance and efficiency mingled together within the hotel and restaurant areas.
Most people associate this west-coast town with its boundaries -- the Banderas Bay that snakes along the coast, or the palm-tree tinted Sierra Madre Mountains that stand tall in the east -- but Puerto Vallarta is more than its scenery. Take some time to discover its other perks for yourself -- through sampling the delicious food, discovering a hidden boutique in the Zona Romantica, sipping a signature cocktail at a bar along the Malecón, or jiving to a salsa beat in a Havana-style nightclub.


Known as the "Live Music Capital of the World"
Austin boasts more live music venues per capita than anywhere else in the nation. It has witnessed the early careers of several famous musicians, including Stevie Ray Vaughan, Janis Joplin and the Dixie Chicks. Despite significant growth in recent years, Austin maintains a quirky, laid-back atmosphere that you won't find in other Texas cities. Outsiders tend to see the city as a home base for wacky characters, but Austinites revel in their eccentricity and proudly flaunt the city's motto, "Keep Austin Weird."
Aside from its buzzing live-music and nightlife scenes, the main reason to visit is to enjoy the outdoors. With an average of 300 sunny days per year and large swaths of green space like Zilker Park, many experts consider Austin "the most livable city" in America. It's probably because there's something here for everybody: Whether you're a museum buff (Blanton Museum of Art) a bargain-hunter (Renaissance Market), a sports fan (University of Texas-Austin football) or a budding musician (6th Street). After your visit, you might be asking: Why don't I live here?


A fairytale city
Zürich is set on the banks of both a river and a lake, with the snow-topped Swiss Alps rising in the background. Clean cobblestone streets hug a hilly terrain and medieval church spires reach heavenward. Despite its reputation for being the center of old-school international banking and a capital for frou frou chocolate confections, Zürich is also a very modern city that chooses to meander coolly through life at an unhurried pace. Travelers desiring an authentic experience should strive to do the same.
Ulrich Zwingli came to proselytize. James Joyce came to write Ulysses. Bankers came to make money. Dadaists met at Zürich's Cabaret Voltaire to change/ruin art, depending on your position. But you should come for the chocolate, grilled sausages, locally grown wines, amazing museums, medieval architecture, extravagant shopping, breathtaking vistas and the clean, clear water of Lake Zürich. You can spend anywhere from one to three days in Zürich before hitting the surrounding ski slopes or traveling on to Geneva.



Believe it or not, the Spanish colonists who settled in Aruba
and her sister islands of Bonaire and Curaçao in 1513 nicknamed them the "Islas Inútiles," or Useless Islands. They couldn’t have been further from the truth. Centuries later, this southern Caribbean cluster is using an arid climate and minimal rainfall in their favor; Aruba in particular lures tourists with its blindingly white beaches and craggy limestone landscape. And with its extensive underwater visibility, this island is a preferred getaway for divers looking to explore buried shipwrecks or to study some magnificent coral reefs up close.
 Inflated room rates and airfares (some of the most expensive in all of the Caribbean) have nurtured Aruba's reputation for exclusivity, but just take one look around Palm Beach and you'll see that's not the case.  College kids, honeymooners, young families and baby boomers are all jockeying for their own piece of shade under the nearest divi-divi tree. Those colonists be damned: Aruba is indeed being put to good use.


The city of lights x the city of love
Gay Paree is also a city of fashion, five-star dining and exquisite collections of art. But ambience is perhaps its main draw. The gentle River Seine rambles through the city, flanked by stately museums, centuries-old churches, and blocks of Rococo- and Neo-classic-design architecture, further enhanced by charming trees and glowing streetlamps. Peppering the Seine's cobbled walks and graceful bridges are impossibly chic Parisians, probably on their way to the market, café or cinema.
Containing world-class museums, fashion, cuisine and an atmosphere all its own, Paris is also a city of "many splendors," as Ernest Hemingway recalled in his memoirs, A Moveable Feast. Visit the Centre Pompidou, enjoy gourmet pastries, shop couture on the Champs Élysées or boutiques in Les Halles, take in the view atop the Eiffel Tower, or even daytrip to Versailles Palace. But don't miss out on the simple pleasure of meandering the marvelous arrondissements (districts).