Friday, November 9, 2018

Reflections of World War I at the In Flanders Field Museum

Devastation of Flanders during World War I
(Courtesy: Imperial War Museum)


YPRES, BELGIUM -- For the Baby Boom generation and younger, the First World War is, in many ways, a ghost of the past because World War II dominates with reflections of parents and grandparents who fought so valiantly to preserve our liberty and freedom in the 1940's.

All the more reason the In Flanders Fields Museum in Belgium is a permanent reminder that we should never forget the tragedy of "The Great War."

Cloth Hall as it looks today
Located in the renovated historic Cloth Hall of Ypres (pronounced "ee-per"), the In Flanders Fields Museum tells the dramatic, heartbreaking story of World War I in the West Flanders region of the country.

In Flanders Fields Museum is a reverent place. Like similar sites such as the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, it is a place of solitude, a place of peace, a place of quiet, a place where visitors pause to solemnly consider the echoes of conflict a century ago.

Cloth Hall during WWI
(Courtesy: In Flanders Fields
Museum)

The death and destruction of the "Great War" still linger 100 years later. Here more than 600,000 fell. Here more than 425,000 graves and names etched on memorials that dot the landscape trace the horrors and devastation of human insanity.

Each museum visitor receives a "Poppy Bracelet" as they enter. Poppies are the symbol of the WWI conflict in Flanders, northwest France and Gallipoli where constant bombardment disturbed the soil and brought the seeds to the surface.

Fertilized by the nitrogen in the explosives and the lime from the rubble of destroyed buildings, combined with the blood and bones of millions of men, horses, donkeys, dogs and other animals, the soil where they died became a place where poppies thrived.


Exterior of the In Flanders Fields Museum  (Photo: Taylor)

The bracelets activate a chip which selects the appropriate language for each visitor, relating the personal stories of four individuals who dramatically tell their tales in vivid video detail. It is perhaps the simplicity of their narratives that is so mesmerizing.

Each narrator stands alone with a neutral background as they describe the personal intimate details of their experiences. There is no music. No fast editing. No computer gimmicks. Only the solemn remembrances of four people who enter the frame, then softly, almost painfully, relate their accounts before disappearing silently into the darkness.


Artillery shells and other weapons are on display
(Courtesy: In Flanders Fields Museum)
The exhibition focuses upon the invasion of Belgium, the first weeks of mobilization, the four horrifying years of trench warfare, the end of the war and the permanent remembrances since.


Trecnhes at Hill 62
(Photo: Taylor)
It is the intent of the In Flanders Fields Museum to encourage visitors to view the actual sites themselves. Places like Sanctuary Wood Museum Hill 62 where guests can walk through trenches that remain in the Belgian countryside. Places like Essex Farm and Canadian Hill 62 Memorial where a sculpture of a brooding soldier looks down upon landscape architecture designed to recreate the first use of gas warfare in combat.

The city of Ypres, officially known as "Ieper" in Flemish, was completely leveled during the war and then rebuilt stone by stone afterwards. Thus no building in the city today is more than 90 years old, though they have been lovingly restored to their original appearance.


Visitors are always reverent, silent and in awe of the displays
(Courtesy: In Flanders Fields Museum)
One of the more dramatic displays in the In Flanders Fields Museum is a diorama that incorporates moving colored lights to highlight troop movements and battles in the region.

Appearing as amoeba-like blobs of light shaded to represent the combatants and their movements, the lights glide across the 3-dimensional exhibit, combining into larger bubbles of light or dividing into smaller ones.


Mounds of mud were home
(Courtesy: In Flanders Fields
Museum)
In the end, the most telling aspect of the exhibition is the futility of the conflict where one side pushes while the other retreats and vice-versa in a perpetual tug-o-war of death.

The In Flanders Fields Museum is much more than a reflection upon the past, however. It is designed as a personal cultural and artistic representation that conveys a  universal contemporary message of peace.

Ypres, in fact, is known as the "City of Peace" for obvious reasons. As the museum reminds us, the "nature of war does not change in time."


The Bell Tower is now open
(Courtesy: In Flanders Fields
Museum)
Until recently the Cloth Hall Bell Tower had been closed to visitors, but has now been re-opened as part of the tour of the refurbished museum. Be warned, there is no elevator, so guests must climb 231 steps to reach the top.

If successful however, they are rewarded with       a high-angle view of the many of the Ypres Salient battlefields that dot the landscape.

In military terms, a "salient" is a battlefield feature that projects into an opponent's territory.


Cutaway 3-dimensional model of battlefields and bunkers
(Courtesy: In Flanders Fields Museum)
The Ypres Salient was formed by British, French, Canadian and Belgian troops in a defensive effort to halt the German incursion in 1914. Surrounded on three sides by German soldiers, the allied troops occupying the salient were vulnerable to attack.

Museum hours vary according to season. Winter hours from mid-November through the end of March and Sundays are from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Between April 1 and November 15 closing time is an hour later at 6 p.m. There are also holidays when the museum is closed; December 24-25, December 31-January 1 and January 7-21, 2019.

Admission for adults is 9 Euros, visitors 18 to 25 pay 5 Euros, ages 7 to 18 are admitted 4 Euros and under 7 get in free. There are also group rates for a minimum of 15 guests but they must be booked in advance.


Washing up in a trench was part of the daily routine
(Courtesy: Saskatchewan Military Museum)
In Flanders Fields Museum is a great place to begin an understanding of the Baby Boomers "forgotten war." Once there it will be forgotten no longer, for it is a visit that will be forever etched in your memory.

Friday, November 2, 2018

On the high seas to every continent with Silversea Cruises in 2020



See the world as never before with Silversea's "Legends of Cruising" in 2020  (Courtesy: Silversea Cruises)

CHARLOTTE, NC Silversea Cruises will embark on one of the most ambitious world cruises in history at the beginning of 2020 when it will become the first passenger shipping line to visit all seven continents.
Silversea Whisper will be refurbished and ready to sail the world
(Coourtesy: Silversea Cruises)
Along the way, Silversea Whisper, which will undergo major renovations for the journey, will dock in 62 ports in 32 countries in 140 days. With the starting fare at $62,000 and rising to a quarter of a million dollars for the best rooms on the ship, the "Legends of Cruising" itinerary will be among the most luxurious adventures of its kind.

Last week we reviewed the first four segments of the cruise (segments are not as yet being sold, leaving five legs to highlight for modern-day Magellans seeking to circumnavigate the planet.
Sydney Opera House
(Courtesy: icsydney.com.au)
We begin with Stage Five in Sydney, Australia bound for Singapore. Sydney Harbor with its world famous white shelled Opera House is always abuzz with activity where thousands of yachts glide silently over deep blue waters. Blessed with dazzling beaches, a sunny climate and friendly people, Sydney is a great place to embark on a sea-going adventure.


Balinese dancer
(Photo: Taylor)
Bali, the only non-Muslim island in Indonesia, is a great place to "eat, pray and love" amid a myriad of pristine beaches, terraced rice fields and gorgeous dive sites. There are seemingly more temples than people filled with traditional dancing, rituals and local crafts. It's more than enough to give you a "Bali High."

Not far away is Java and the ancient city of Semarang, one of Indonesia's oldest towns. In 1677, it became the headquarters and the seat of the Dutch governor of the northeast provinces. Semarang's usefulness as a port waned due to the gradual silting up of the harbor and, by the 19th century, Surabaya had eclipsed Semarang as Java's premier port.


The harbor in Singapore is alive with color and activity
(Courtesy: Silversea Cruises)
Shaped like a flattened diamond, Singapore is just 26 miles east to west and 14 miles from north to south. Near the northern peak is the causeway leading to West Malaysia—Kuala Lumpur is less than four hours away by car. At the southern foot of Singapore is where you'll find most of the city-state’s action with its futuristic solar-powered "supertrees," that serve as vertical gardens.

Segment Six of this deluxe sailing travels from Singapore to Mumbai, India with visits to Thailand, Sri Lanka and Cochin, India among other ports of call.


Phuket is a favorite destination for visitors to Thailand
(Courtesy: Silversea Cruises)
Phuket is one of the region's economic powerhouse with more than 6 million annual visitors. If you've never been to Phuket, you will likely love it, however returning visitors are discovering a new island that eagerly greets the next wave of tourism. Koh Phuket is linked to the mainland by a causeway, and the rest of the world by an international airport.

Sri Lanka's capital and largest city, Colombo is a microcosm of the island nation with fine restaurants, lively nightlife, good museums and beautiful Buddhist temples. The beach resort of Mt. Lavinia is only a short taxi ride from  downtown and offers a golden, sandy beach with breathtaking sunsets. By the way, there's no need to  look for a little detective with a slovenly raincoat, this Colombo has an identity all its own.


Typical daily street scene in India (Photo: Taylor)
If you're a "people person" India is the place for you. Once known as Bombay until 1995, Mumbai  encapsulates the dynamic, chaotic parts that make up modern India.

Here you'll find everything from succulent street food to haute cuisine, bargain-basement bazaars to the finest haute couture, humbling poverty to staggering wealth, sacred temples to hedonist nightclubs and, of course, people, people and more people.
Roadside barber shop in India
(Photo: Taylor)
Mumbai is India—vibrant, hectic, frustrating, enervating, and exhilarating. It is a city of extremes, described perfectly by the title of the popular film Slumdog Millionaire.  

Segment Seven of Silversea Whisper's elegant world cruise is transitional as the ship begins to sail into more familiar destinations en route to the Civitavecchia, better known to most of us as Rome.

On the way, the lush landscape around Salalah is the intriguing result of a quirk of nature that is uniquely situated in the path of the Khareef or South Western Monsoon. Covered in fine mist this portion of the Dhofar Coast receives frequent rain from mid-June through mid-September. When the monsoons cease, the entire coastline is a verdant stretch of waterfalls, rolling grasslands, and thickly wooded wadis (riverbeds) thriving beside rapid mountain streams.
Oval Forum in Jerash, Jordan
Courtssy: traveljordan.com)

Today, Aqaba is a resort town on the Red Sea, but in the movie Lawrence of Arabia it was a strategic military location in Jordan. Over time it has built a reputation for being one of the best sites for snorkeling in the world.

Travelers doing the entire cruise will also transit the Suez Canal as well as the Panama Canal.

The Suez Canal opened under French Control on 17 November 1869, establishing a gateway from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea that enhanced the colonization of Africa for the next 50 years as well as facilitating World Commerce.
Taormina's ancient Greek theater is still active today
(Photo: Taylor)
The medieval cliff-hanging town of Taormina in Sicily has natural beauty that is difficult to dispute. The views of the sea and nearby active volcano, Mt. Etna, are panoramic  perfection. Writers including Goethe and D.H. Lawrence have extolled Taormina's beauty almost since it was founded by the Greeks in the 6th century BC.
Kissing the Blarney Stone
(Photo: Taylor)
This leg ends in Rome before embarking on Segment Eight on the way to Dublin, Ireland.


One way or another Barcelona's infinite variety of street life with its nooks and crannies of the medieval Barri Gòtic, the ceramic tile and stained glass of Art Nouveau facades, its music and food will find a way to grab your  attention. The capital of Catalonia is a banquet for the senses, with a beguiling mix of ancient and modern architecture, tempting cafés and markets and sun-drenched Mediterranean beaches.


Travel like the locals on the little yellow trams in Lisbon
(Photo: Taylor)
Rome isn't the only European city with seven hills, Lisbon, Portugal lays claim to the same number. In the oldest neighborhoods, stepped alleys whose street pattern dates to Moorish times are lined with pastel-colored houses decked with laundry. Here and there, miradouros (vantage points) afford spectacular river or city views while grand 18th-century black-and-white mosaic cobblestone sidewalks border wide boulevards.
Gorgeous Irish wilderness
(Courtesy: Silversea Cruises)
The grand seven continent adventure concludes by sailing from Dublin to Amsterdam with a visit to Belfast, Northern Ireland. Since hostilities have ceased in the north, this part of the island has witnessed rapid popularity for tourists. With the Titanic Museum, Giant's Causeway and world renowned linens, Belfast has become a major player on the world stage of wanderlust.


With its quaint pastel wood houses, historic wharf, winding cobblestone streets and Hanseatic relics, many visitors fall in love with Bergen, Norway's second-largest city. It doesn't  hurt that Bergen is the gateway to Norway's majestic fjords either.


Norway's Flam Railway is a
must-do excursion
(Courtesy: Silversea Cruises)
In addition, one of the most scenic train routes in Europe, the Flåm Railway, chugs high into the mountains in this region between the towns of Myrdal and Flåm.

Yet another seven hill city is Edinburgh, Scotland for which Charlotte Bronte once wrote, "Edinburgh is to London as poetry is to prose." Edinburgh is one of the world's stateliest cities and proudest capitals, making it a striking backdrop for the ancient pageant of history which exists in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle as it peers down upon Prince's Street and the famed Royal Mile.


Edinburgh's castle dominates the city  (Courtesy: Silversea Cruises)
The final port of call is Amsterdam with its 17th-century Golden Age city center and remarkably laid-back atmosphere. Built on a latticework of concentric canals like an aquatic rainbow, Amsterdam, like Venice, is also known as the City of Canal. Amsterdam however, is content to live within its own moonlight serenades and its former glory.


Amsterdam is a great place to finish the round the world cruise
(Courtesy: Silversea Cruises)
There you have it, 140 days to every continent on the globe.
Time to start saving your money. There's still more than a year before you sail and Bon Voyage!


Friday, October 26, 2018

Siversea Whisper prepares to cruise to all 7 continents in 2020

Moai Isla de Pascua  (Moais Sculptures on Easter Island)
(Horacio Fernandez -- www.panoramio.com/photo 107053120
Creative Commons 3.0)
CHARLOTTE, NC -- Phileas Phogg managed to circumnavigate the globe in 80 days, but it was nowhere near as luxurious as the Silversea Round the World, 7 Continent cruise in 2020. Passengers on the Silversea Cruise Line will accomplish the task in 140 days, almost twice as long as it took old Phileas, but they will also visit 62 ports in 32 countries.

Silversea Whisper will be refurbished for its deluxe 2020 global advemture (Courtesy: Silversea Cruises)

With a capacity of only 382 people, Silver Whisper has no intentions of challenging Mr. Phogg, at least for time. Rather luxury is the order of the day, making the most unique aspect of this cruise the first to call at every continent on the planet.

Setting sail from Ft. Lauderdale on January 5, 2020, Silversea says it will be the first ever cruise to visit the seven continents in a single itinerary. Of course the price tag won't be inexpensive coming in at $62,000 per person on the newly refurbished ship. Then again, there's an entire year to save your shekels before embarking on the deluxe adventure.

Of course, it you really want to splurge, you can go top of the line for a mere $250,000.
Greek theater, Taormina, Sicily
(Photo: Taylor)
As of now, Silversea is not selling segments of the cruise. That will come later when the entire itinerary will be broken into 9 separate itineraries. Ports of call will include many traditional destinations combined with some more exotic lesser traveled sites in the world.

Among the highlights will be a stop at Pitcairn Island, the remote setting for Mutiny on the Bounty, Vanuatu in the South Pacific featuring a water dance festival on Champagne Beach and three days in Antarctica with glacial expeditions conducted by nine specialists. Zodiac tours will speed passengers along to the stunning frozen beauty of the world's final frontier.

A leopard seal relaxes on an iceberg in Antarctica
(Courtesy: Silversea Cruises)
Zodiacs are small inflatable raft-like boats that are ideally suited for navigating the icy waters of Antarctica.

The "Legends of Cruising" extravaganza concludes in Edinburgh with a farewell dinner at Mansfield Traquair, the Scottish version of the Sistine Chapel.

The first segment of the cruise travels from Ft. Lauderdale to Buenos Aires with stops in Puerto Rico, Barbados, Brazil and Uruguay before disembarking in Argentina.

Abandoned Dreyfus Hut
Pitcairn Island
(Photo: Philipp Weigel)
Among the highlights is a call at the discarded key-shaped island off the coast of French Guiana known as Devil's Island, site of one of history's most infamous and feared prisons.

The prison now lies dormant after being closed in 1953 it now exists as an isolated foreboding purgatory.

The second leg of the cruise sails from Buenos Aires to Valparaiso, Chile including the ports of call in Antarctica.

The Falkland Islands are also part of the itinerary which sails around the southern tip of South America.

Stunning beauty of Antarctica (Courtesy: Antartica Epeditions)

Antarctica
's breathtaking iceberg sculptures are captivating and spectacular. Add in up-close-and-personal encounters with a variety of marine mammals and colonies of penguins and you have sense of time travel nearly two centuries into the past when the only visitors were explorers, whalers, sealers and scientists.
Chilean fjords and glaciers
(Courtesy: Silversea  Cruises)
Next come the winding expanses of the Chilean Fjords filled with seals, dolphins, waterfalls and plant-life that clings to the barren rocks. Here small fishing boats from Punta Arenas ply the waters in search of king crab and other fish.

Though Leg #3 only docks at five ports, it may comprise the most exotic collection of sites on the cruise.

Even the name Robinson Crusoe Island conjures romantic images, if for no other reason than the recollections of Daniel Defoe's classic 1719 novel, Robinson Crusoe. Many readers believe the tales are so realistic that Crusoe was a real person and his travelogue accounts are true.
Exotic wildlife of Robinson
Crusoe Island
(Courtesy: Silversea Cruises)

Nestled roughly 400 miles off the coast of Chile, the rugged island of volcanic origin is a UNESCO site and the largest of a tiny archipelago known as the Juan Fernandez Islands.

Ever wonder how Easter Island got its name? The answer is simple really, it was discovered on Easter Sunday, 1722. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is among the most remote places on Earth situated approximately 1,700 miles off the coast of Chile.

Famous for its eerie Moai stone statues, archaeologists continue attempts to unlock the mysteries of the ancient Rapa Nui language which was written on what are called "rongo rongo tablets."

Easter Island is also famous for its beaches 
(Courtesy: Silversea Cruises)
More Polynesian than South American in character, Easter Island also features stunningly beautiful beaches, coral reefs and crystal clear waters.

Embarking from Papeete, Tahiti to Sydney, Australia with ports of call in Bora Bora, Tonga, the Cook Islands and Vanuatu among others, this segment is among the most active legs of the cruise.

For most of us, Papeete and Fiji, another port of call on this leg, would be off-the-beaten path enough, but not on this Silversea itinerary where Bora Bora and Tonga are added.

Bora Bora is stunning from every angle
(Courtesy: Silversea Cruises)
Just the double name Bora Bora captures the imagination and it lives up to expectations with thatched wooden huts standing out over shallow seas and vivid schools of fish swimming just beneath the surface.

Elsewhere, Tonga is an archipelago consisting of 169 islands of which only 36 are inhabited. Uoleva Island is one of the most beautiful anchorages in Tonga, and except for three small resorts, it is largely uninhabited. Talk about getting away from it all.

Uoleva Island is a great place
for whale watching
(Courtesy: Silversea Cruises)
Uoleva is one of the best places in the world for sighting humpback whales while snorkelers thrive in the clear blue waters and colorful marine life.

Now that we are half way around the world, doing Jules Verne and Phileas Phogg proud, we'll take a break from our sea going adventure and return next week with the final five segments of Silversea's unique "Legends of Cruising" world cruise in 2020.


Friday, October 5, 2018

Conde Nast's 20 best travel destinations -- or are they?

Pena Palace in Sintra, Portugal...Sintra did not make the list
(Courtesy: Estoril Tourism)

CHARLOTTE, NC — One guaranteed way to start a conversation, and oftentimes some controversy, is to publish a list of "The Best or Worst of Anything."

Ask what were the ten best teams in the history of the NFL and it will begin a debate. Or try to rate the top heavyweight boxing champions to start a discussion. Who are the best rivalries in sports or what were the best westerns in the history of the movies? Most of the time it is fun, but it can also lead to some heated arguments. 

Dubrovnik, Croatia at dusk
Another non-vote getter
(Photo: Taylor)
Recently Conde Nast Traveler published a list of the 20 places everyone should visit before they die. Obviously that was a red flag for any red blooded travel veteran; first to see how many someone has personally been to and second a challenge to commence discussion and debate.

Listed below is the Conde Nast group, followed by a few options that were neglected but could or should have easily been included. It's all subjective, of course, but it's fun to consider.

Sensoji Temple Asakusa in Tokyo (Photo: Public Domain)

Tokyo, Japan: One of the interesting things about Tokyo, which is the capital of Japan today, is that Kyoto, the former capital is actually nothing more "To" and "Kyo" in reverse.

With 35 million people, Tokyo is the largest metropolitan city in the world which, by itself, is incentive enough to visit. If you need more enticement however, Conde Nast says Tokyo has more Michelin-starred restaurants than any city in the world.


Lucerne is definitely a favorite for Americans  (Photo: Taylor)
Lucerne, Switzerland: Lucerne is especially appealing to first-time visitors, but it's also a place that beckons travelers regardless of how often they have been there. Nestled in a bowl surrounded by the Alps, the Lake of Lucerne flows into the River Reuss beneath the ancient wooden Chapel Bridge. Lucerne, with its historic legends about the unification of the confederation is also popular with the Swiss themselves.


Budapest is known for its bridges across the Danube
(Courtesy: Budapest.com)
Budapest, Hungary: Revered by many as one of the most beautiful cities in the world, Budapest has more than 100 thermal springs which make taking a bath there one of the great travel pleasures in the world.

Divided by the Danube with Buda on one side and Pest on the other, it is connected by several bridges, of which the Chain Bridge is the first, most famous and most beautiful. By the way, Budapest celebrated its 1,000th anniversary in 1896.


San Francisco's Trolleys are world famous 
(Courtesy: BayCityGuide.com)
San Francisco: Arguably one of the top three most naturally beautiful cities in the world, the Golden Gate, Fisherman's Wharf, Lombard Street, Chinatown, Alcatraz and the famous trolleys are ample ammunition for any city to attract visitors.


Ornate columns inside Hagia Sophia in Instanbul
(Courtesy: HagiaSophiaTurkey.com)

Istanbul, Turkey: Another divided city, and the only one that sits on two continents, Europe and Asia, Istanbul is one of the most intriguing destinations in the world. Don't miss the covered bazaar, the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace or the Pera Palace Hotel where Agatha Christie wrote much of Murder on the Orient Express.


Front view of the Imperial Palace in Kyoto, Japan
(Courtesy: travel.sygic.com)

Kyoto, Japan: For over 1,000 years Kyoto was the Imperial capital of Japan. Today, it is one of the most beautiful cities in the country thanks to the preservation of many shrines, temples and historic buildings. If you want to see Japan as it used to be, Kyoto is the place.


The Wailing Wall is a gathering place for prayer in Old Jerusalem
(Photo: Taylor)
Jerusalem, Israel: The name alone captures the imagination. As a pilgrimage site for Christians, Jews and Muslims, the layered religious history that lies beneath its streets and around every corner make the Old City of Jerusalem a must-see destination. Even the streets and markets, though different today than they once were, still resemble the ancient iconic images of the past.


Dublin at sunset is peaceful and serene (Courtesy: Dublin.com)

Dublin, Ireland: Dublin's Trinity College with its Book of Kells is one of the first places on a traveler's agenda. Following that, no trip is complete without sampling a drink at the Jameson Distillery or Guinness Storehouse. Among Dublin's most endearing qualities is the friendliness of the people which almost certainly guarantees a good time.


Vancouver, BC has a fabulous Chinatown
(Courtesy: vancouvertourism.com)
Vancouver, Canada: Vancouver is another of the three most naturally beautiful cities in the world. The coastal seaport city with its aquarium, Chinatown, Stanley Park, the historic steam clock and hundreds of miles of seaside and forested trails make Vancouver one the best ports in the world for cruising or to start or end a vacation.

There are also stunning rail journeys to Whistler and through the Canadian Rockies.


San Miguel de Allende, Mexico is famous for its art and architecture (Courtesy: visitmexico.com)
San Miguel de Allende, Mexico: Though not one of the better known destinations on the Conde Nast list, San Miguel de Allende is noted for it vibrant colors and picturesque cobblestone streets. La Gruta Hot Springs make Mexico's "Disneyland" a great place to savor a therapeutic bath inside a cave.


The famed Sydney Opera House as seen from the Royal Botanical
Gardens  (Courtesy: visitsydney.com)

Sydney, Australia: Nearly everyone recognizes the famed Sydney Opera House overlooking Darling Harbor. As with the Irish, Australians are full of life and friendly welcoming charm that add to any travel experience. A helicopter ride over the harbor and city is a must, along with a visit to the "Rocks" to hang out with locals. Be sure to do a walking  trip across Harbor Bridge.

Outside the city, a day trip to the Blue Mountains is a popular excursion.


Cable car climbs to Table Rock in  Cape Town  (Photo: Taylor)
Cape Town, South Africa: For years South African tourism suffered because of its racial policies, but today, it is making a comeback. Cape Town has much to offer both inside and outside the city. The cable car to Table Mountain is a good place to start while a ride along the coast is also a must. You will surprisingly discover penguins along the way plus lots of other unexpected delights.

Best of all, Cape Town is near South Africa's wine country and it is also a gateway to Kruger National Park. Do not miss the thrill of spotting the Big Five in the wild (lions, elephants, leopards, rhinos and cape buffalo) on a safari.


The fame Arc de Triomphe on the Champs-Elysees in Paris
(Photo: Taylor)

Paris, France: 'Nuff said. Paris speaks for itself. Known as the "City of Lights", the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Arc de Triomphe, Notre-Dame, Champs-Elysées, the Opera House and Montmarte are just the beginning to whet your traveling appetite.


The Merlion in Singapore is one of its most popular attractions
(Photo: Erwin Soo -- Wikipedia.org)
Singapore: Singapore is almost always a surprise because it is so clean compared to most large cities in the world. Singapore is the world's only island city-state which automatically makes it unique. Among the most popular attractions is the Supertrees which are solar powered mechanical trees reaching as high as 160 feet and built to mimic the ecological functions of actual trees.

The Gardens by the Bay should also be on your agenda.

Venice, Italy: Conde Nast rates Venice among its top 20 cities in large part because of its uniqueness, history and art. Venice often gets mixed reviews from travelers however, who either love it or hate it with very little in between.

The canals, of course, give Venice its character along with St. Marks Square, Saint Mark's Basilica and the famed Rialto Bridge. Many visitors also enjoy the delicate intricacies of hand blown Venetian glass and bringing home a souvenir mask that can be purchased nearly everywhere.

Hong Kong Harbor never sleeps (Photo: Taylor)
Hong Kong: Hong Kong is almost the New York of Asia. The harbor is one of the primary gathering spots, but it, too, is also a "city that never sleeps."

Be sure to ride the world's longest escalator, if for no other reason than to say that you did it. You can also dine at the world's cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant, Tim Ho Wan where you can savor their legendary Dim Sum for slightly more than $6.


Night falls on Prague, a favorite destination for Americans
(Courtesy: czechtourism.com)
Prague, Czech Republic: Frequently referred to as the most beautiful city in the world, Prague is typically on everyone's list of favorites. Historic Charles Bridge, Prague Castle, Old Town Square and it astronomical clock are among the treasures to behold.

Known as the "City of a Hundred Spires", Prague is a place that "in-spires" as well. Don't forget to bring home at least one piece of Herend Bone China.


Many people mistake Tower Bridge for London Bridge in
England's capital  (Photo: Taylor)

London, England: So much of British history and literature is tied to the United States it is impossible not to include London. Linked by a common language (for the most part), London and the U.K. are often appealing to first-timers wanting to overcome the fear of language barriers and other perceived travel barriers.

Theater, museums, art and shared history are among the appeals that make London a favorite choice regardless of how many times you have been there before.


Sometimes called the "Venice of the North" Bruges is famous for its canals  (Courtesy: visitbruges.be)
Bruges, Belgium: Bruges is a favorite due to its medieval charm and storybook ambiance. Conde Nast says it is sometimes referred to as the "Venice of the North" but then so is Stockholm, Amsterdam and St. Petersburg.

Much of the appeal of Bruges is that it was largely built between the 12th and 15th centuries and today remains much as it did hundreds of years ago. Make sure you bring home some lace.
New York's famous Rockefeller Plaza is always busy
(Courtesy: nycgo.com)

New York: While some would argue whether New York should top the list, there are many more who believe it to be the absolute best city in the world. The restaurants are incredible and nightlife scene that is incomparable.

Though New York is certainly not the true "America", the "Big Apple" has something for everyone including an energy that cannot be found anywhere else on the planet.

Now comes the time for debate and challenge. Large cities and small that are on the cusp of making the list could easily replace some of Conde Nast's choices.

In the larger city category there are Stockholm, Rome, Rio, Vienna and Dubrovnik.


The Victor Emmanuelle Monument in Rome is often called "The Wedding Cake" by locals  (Photo: Taylor)

Stockholm is a beautiful city built on 14 islands. While Rome can be congested and dirty, it does have a bit of everything including art, museums, history, religion and cuisine. Rio de Janeiro suffers from bad publicity due to high crime rates but it is also among the three most naturally beautiful cities in the world with magnificent beaches which are frequented by the best looking women in the world.

Vienna is a city where the music never stops and the walled Croatian city of Dubrovnik is difficult to beat. And what about Berlin?

For medium and small towns, some that were overlooked are Sintra in Portugal, Italy's Florence, Ravello and Orvieto or, perhaps, Rothenburg in Germany. The arcaded streets of Switzerland's capital city of Bern is another great choice.

These are but a few alternatives to the Conde Nast list. It's wonderful game to play and a great way to ice breaker for  your next party with guests who love to travel.