March 2013 Travel Column

Visiting Rome

Rome – often referred to as the Eternal City – has long ranked as one of the world’s most iconic and enduring tourist destinations. No wonder it’s fourth on the list of top international destinations being booked for American travelers, according to the latest Travel Trends survey from Travel Leaders. The destination takes on a new prominence in March as a papal conclave elects a new Pope.


Since Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation on February 11, preparations have been underway for the papal enclave in Vatican City, a walled enclave within but separate from the city of Rome; in fact, at just 0.2 square miles, Vatican City is recognized as the world’s smallest country. Despite its population of under 800, tens of thousands of people are expected to gather and wait to see puffs of white smoke emerge from the Vatican’s chimneys: the signal that a new pope has been elected.


If you plan to visit Rome during March, be aware that the papal conclave traditionally takes place in the Sistine Chapel, where the ceiling frescos were painted by Michelangelo in the early 16th century.


Usually, tourists flock to the chapel, which is inside the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace, but during the papal conclave it will likely be closed to visitors.


Papal conclaves usually take several days, but can be unpredictable: the longest, which began in 1268, took nearly three years (a situation not likely to be repeated). During the conclave, access to other parts of the Vatican may also be restricted. However, major attractions, such as Saint Peter’s Basilica and the massive Vatican Museum complex, should be open to visitors.


The city of Rome itself will be ready, as always, to welcome visitors who want to experience la dolce vita (the sweet life). Must-see sights include the Colosseum, the huge amphitheater where up to 55,000 Romans gathered to watch gladiator contests, dramatic plays based on Roman mythology, and mock sea battles.


The Pantheon, originally a temple dedicated to the Gods and now a Catholic church, dates from 118 AD and is the best-preserved surviving structure from ancient Rome. Behind the impressive Corinthian columns of the portico is a coffered concrete dome with a central oculus open to the sky. To experience more archaeological history, stroll or bike along the Appian Way, an archaeological park lined with the ruins of catacombs and monuments.


For more information about visiting Rome this spring, talk with your travel professional.


Amsterdam Offers Celebrations Fit for a King

Amsterdam is proud of its famous canals – in 2010, they were added to the UNESCO World Heritage List, recognizing their irreplaceable historic value. The city will celebrate the canals’ 400th anniversary throughout 2013, along with other cultural and historical milestones. Plus in April, an important change is coming to the Kingdom of the Netherlands.


Originally built to manage water flow and enable Amsterdam to expand, the canals were also used for defense and transport. Today, a boat tour is the quintessential way to see Amsterdam and its lovely buildings that line the canals. If you visit in winter, you may even be able to skate along the canals, which is a rare pleasure – last winter, the canals froze completely for the first time in about 15 years.

2013 is also the 125th anniversary of Amsterdam’s Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, which will present a Jubilee Series of 12 concerts during the year. Music will also be featured during the annual Canal Festival, August 16-25; and during October’s Amsterdam Dance Event, which showcases electronic and other club music.


The Rijksmuseum, the national museum of the Netherlands, has been through nearly a decade of renovation and refurbishment. On April 14, the museum will reveal the renovated spaces, including a brand-new pavilion for Asian art. The museum’s impressive collection dates includes iconic works such as Vermeer’s “The Milkmaid” and Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch.”


This summer, the Van Gogh Museum will reopen after an internal renovation. An interactive exhibition titled “Van Gogh at Work” will mark the 160th anniversary of Vincent Van Gogh’s birth.


Amsterdam’s celebration year offers even more for art lovers: some residents of the city’s historic canal-side homes will host special installations by international artists, which will be open to the public.


Additional events include a series of Open Heritage Weekends, one each month from May through October. On these weekends, historic buildings that are not normally open to the public will provide tours, revealing remarkable interiors, gardens, and the stories of those who have been lucky enough to live or work there.


The Amsterdam Panoramas project will present three multimedia outdoor panoramas that will highlight the past, present and future of the city. Some of the city’s taller structures will offer viewing opportunities from their roof terraces.


Perhaps the most exciting of all events taking place this year comes on April 30, traditionally known as Queen’s Day. Except this year, it will become known once again as King’s Day as Willem-Alexander succeeds Queen Beatrix as the King of the Netherlands. Willem-Alexander will take the throne as the first Dutch King since 1890.  Through a ceremony called an “investiture” (as opposed to a coronation), the new monarch will accept the crown and scepter. As with the tradition of the investiture, the crown and scepter are placed on a credenza alongside a copy of the Netherlands’ constitution.


To plan your trip to Amsterdam to enjoy any of the festivities, talk with your travel professional.


Luxury Travel is on the Rise

Travel Leaders’ comprehensive survey of Travel Trends for 2013 took a look at trends in luxury travel, which is on the rise. More than 86% of the travel professionals polled said their luxury travel bookings are equal to or higher than their luxury travel bookings at the same time a year ago.


“Luxury and experiential travel are definitely strong segments for the industry right now. While you can find numerous articles touting far-flung destinations as top spots for high-end travel, those lists appear to be aspirational rather than based in the reality of actual bookings,” stated Travel Leaders Group CEO Barry Liben.


Based on bookings, the Travel Leaders survey identified the top international destinations for luxury travel in 2013 as:


·         European river cruises

·         Mediterranean cruises

·         Italy

·         Australia

·         France


But, if money were no object, luxury travelers would change the order of some of their favorites and add a few more:


·         Australia: When money is no object, it’s possible to see Australia in all of its variety. You could explore the colorful underwater world of the Great Barrier Reef off the northeast coast, tour the vibrant cities like Sydney, Melbourne and Perth, discover vineyards that wine enthusiasts toast, and experience the immense “Red Center” while gain insight into the countries’ indigenous population.

·         Bora Bora: One of the Society Islands of French Polynesia, Bora Bora is known for its extreme beauty – and for luxurious resorts, including some that offer romantic bungalows propped up just above the water.

·         World cruise: World cruises are just that – grand voyages of 80 nights or more that take in amazing variety of ports on several continents. Many world cruises include overnight stays in ports such as Rio de Janeiro, Sydney, Hong Kong and Beijing, giving passengers more opportunity to experience local sights and culture.

·         Tahiti: Not far from Bora Bora lies Tahiti, the largest island in French Polynesia; and, like Bora Bora, it has volcanic heights that slope down to sandy beaches and turquoise water.

·         Italy: Rome is the “Eternal City” and a paradise of art, antiquities, architecture and great food. But, there’s much more to Italy, including the Renaissance capital of Florence, the watery romance of Venice, the fashion capital in Milan and the glamour of the Amalfi Coast.


To find out more about how you can travel to these destinations, talk with your travel professional.


Asia’s Emerging Destinations

As part of its latest Travel Trends Survey, Travel Leaders recently asked its travel experts which are the up-and-coming destinations in different regions of the world. Based on actual travel bookings, the survey identified the top emerging destinations of Asia and Southeast Asia as Vietnam, Indonesia, Myanmar, Cambodia and Malaysia.


While scars from the Vietnam War are still present, Vietnam has developed a reputation as a fascinating destination. There are areas of spectacular beauty, including unusual limestone islands in Halong Bay, majestic inland mountains, and sandy coves along the coast. The cities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) offer museums, theater, and distinctive Vietnamese cuisine. There are remnants of French colonial influence, too, such as the delicious coffee and baguettes you can buy on many street corners.


Indonesia is made up of more than 17,000 islands scattered along the equator to the north of Australia. Java, Sumatra and Borneo are among the largest of the 6,000 populated islands, which have a total population of 240 million people and hundreds of different ethnic groups. Where you go depends on what you want to do: there are beaches, national parks, historic temples, diving, surfing, and nature tours that can get to you closer to an incredible variety of wildlife. One of the most popular destinations within Indonesia is the lush island of Bali.


With the easing of U.S. sanctions against Burma (Myanmar), the interest in visiting this long politically isolated nation are blossoming. While its tourism infrastructure lags much of the rest of Southeast Asia, the sights that are ready to welcome visitors are wonderful. Yangon (Rangoon), the capital, offers the gilded Shwedagon Pagoda, shops full of handmade crafts, and a Chinatown neighborhood with delicious street food.  Mandalay is the former royal capital, filled with cultural attractions. There are opportunities for ecotourism, too, including trips down the Ayeyaraddy River.  


Cambodia is another country that is gradually opening to tourism. Many visitors come to see the Angkor Wat, the largest Hindu temple complex in the world, near Siem Reap, which has scores of beautiful resort properties that are remarkably inexpensive. If you enjoy exploring urban centers, Phnom Penh is a bustling city where you can tour the national museum and the royal palace. For relaxation, head to the beaches of Sihanoukville.


With white sand beaches on the coast and tea plantations in the highlands, Malaysia has beautiful and diverse landscapes. The city of Kuala Lumpur is a dazzling mix of skyscrapers – including the famed Petronas Towers – and colonial architecture, along with a lively café scene. You can encounter rare and unusual creatures of the along the trails of Taman Negara park, which has an ancient rainforest.

To explore the emerging destinations of Asia and Southeast Asia for yourself, talk with your travel professional.


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