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Archive for February, 2013

The Gem of Downton

By Linda Tancs

Downton Abbey is a massively addictive British period drama television series.  This post-Edwardian chronicle follows the life of the aristocratic Crawley family in the fictional Yorkshire enclave known as Downton Abbey.  As any fan knows, Highclere Castle is used for exterior and interior filming.  Located to the west of London, the castle is not in Yorkshire but rather in Berkshire and is home to the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon.  Not surprisingly, the castle has become a hot commodity, but it’s only open to tourists for 70 or so days a year–during Easter, May bank holidays and in summer.  Ticket sales are fast and furious.  Summer 2013 is on sale now.  Better hurry.

Home Furnishings Capital of the World

By Linda Tancs

Furniture shoppers are well aware of High Point, North Carolina.  The nation’s largest furniture store is there, along with 50 discounters.  Not surprisingly, that’s where you’ll also find the World’s Largest Chest of Drawers, a roadside attraction.  What you might not know is that you can explore High Point’s furniture heritage even further at the High Point Museum.  The exhibit includes interactive elements, video, photographs, memorabilia, machinery and, of course, furniture.

100 Years Grand

By Linda Tancs

Arguably the nation’s most famous terminal, New York City’s Grand Central Station turns 100 this year.  Completed in 1913, the Beaux-Arts landmark is one of the most shutterbug friendly sites in the city.  You can celebrate the grand dame’s heyday with a model train exhibit at the New York Transit Museum Gallery Annex at Grand Central.  Better hurry, though, the exhibit ends on 10 February.  Did you know that Grand Central boasts 68 shops and 35 dining options?  See all the nooks and crannies with an audio tour, available at “GCT Tour” windows on the Main Concourse.  You’ll learn little known secrets and discover a few hidden gems like The Campbell Apartment, an upscale cocktail lounge.  Formerly the private office and salon of 1920’s tycoon John W. Campbell, the comfy enclave’s “drinks from another era” feature concoctions with names like Prohibition Punch, Flapper’s Delight and Robber Baron.

A Norse Afternoon of Fun

By Linda Tancs

Wisconsin winters are pretty harsh.  Just days ago a winter storm covered much of the state and wreaked havoc on schools and transportation.  That’s enough to give anyone the winter blahs.  In Stoughton, they have a cure for the cold weather blues.  Put on your dancing shoes!  This Sunday marks the annual Norse Afternoon of Fun with the Stoughton Norwegian Dancers, now in their 60th year.  Just 25 miles south of Madison, the Stoughton festival celebrates the best of Norwegian culture with colorful Norwegian costumes, folk dancing, and food.  Norwegian immigrants settled in Wisconsin and surrounding areas in large numbers, attracted by the prospect of land ownership and farming opportunities.  The City of Stoughton is known for its Syttende Mai (May 17) celebration of Norway’s independence.  It’s also known as something a bit quirkier: the birthplace of the coffee break.  Who knew?

Penn’s Woods

By Linda Tancs

The name of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is derived from “sylvania” (Latin for “woods”) and Penn–as in William Penn, who in 1680 requested lands from England’s King Charles II to establish a Quaker colony.   Pennsylvania’s founding father loved the wholesomeness of country life and enjoyed an estate along the Delaware River known as Pennsbury Manor.  By the early 1800s, the house was in disrepair and ultimately torn down by its owners.  On the grounds today is a reproduction of that country estate, a living museum and testament to the Colonial Revival movement.  Some artifacts remain from the excavation of the site begun in the 1930s, such as the fireplace tiles, a pewter serving platter, a walnut-caned day bed and a wig and dressing table suite.  Guided tours are available Tuesday through Saturday.

A Journey Through the Underground Railroad

By Linda Tancs

The Underground Railroad was a series of secret stations that enslaved Africans used to escape to the North and to Canada during the mid-1800s.  One of those stations was located at the Bethel A.M.E. Church in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  At that site they provide reenactments of the journey, a spiritual and creative endeavor called “Living the Experience.”  The event runs on select Saturdays from February through December at noon and includes a Southern-style buffet lunch thereafter.

River Cruising Offers a Singular Experience

By Linda Tancs

Excluding river cruisers and expedition ships, there are over 40 cruise ships sailing the high seas, yet river cruising is growing at a rate three to four times faster than ocean cruising.  There’s good reason for that.  After all, only on the river can you get up close and personal with the world’s great cities like Paris, Vienna, Budapest and St. Petersburg and their accompanying panoramic views, fairy tale palaces and cobblestoned streets.  River cruising provides you with direct and immediate access to the heart of every destination on the itinerary without excessive waiting time due to the smaller number of passengers on board.  And with approval ratings at or above 95 percent, you may rest assured that your river cruising experience will meet or exceed your expectations.  Let’s explore the highlights of some leading river cruise companies.

Viking River Cruises is known for their Longships, ushering in a new era in river cruising, featuring an open-air lounge at the bow and energy-efficient hybrid engines.  All shore excursions are included.  Join the guided walks and in-depth excursions planned for you at each destination, or set out on your own path.  Your journeys include the tulips and windmills of Amsterdam, a grand tour from Amsterdam to Budapest, the jewels of China and the waterways of the czars.

Movie nights are a big draw on Avalon Waterways, offering popular films themed to each destination.  Boasting the youngest fleet in river cruising, innovation is nothing new to Avalon, a division of the highly reputed Globus family of brands.  Along with three new suite ships in Europe, Avalon offers unforgettable journeys down the Mekong River through Vietnam and Cambodia as well as Egypt’s Nile and Lake Nasser.  Their limited-edition theme cruises offer a unique opportunity to experience a destination from perspectives such as art, music, culinary pursuits and Jewish heritage.  Top selling cruises include the Rhine, Paris and the beaches of Normandy, and the Danube.

Family-owned AMA Waterways promises a premium experience with state-of-the-art ships, luxurious staterooms, gourmet meals and enriching tours.  AMACerto, their largest and most imaginative ship, was inspired by classic luxury yachts and sports a swim-up bar, a glass elevator, and multiple indoor and outdoor dining options.  Their excursions feature a “late risers” option for those who prefer to get a slower start on the day and a “gentle walker” program for those requiring a more leisurely pace.  Some exciting new developments include “Culinary Delights—Bites and Sights,” a guided walking tour addressing Europe from a culinary perspective and the addition of an African safari/cruise combination aboard the Zambezi Queen.

The longest operating river cruise company is Uniworld, the only river cruise line recognized by Zagat for “Top Cabins.”  The exceptional cuisine is also Zagat rated.  A particularly attractive innovation is the addition of multigenerational cruises to Burgundy and Provence as well as Paris and Normandy, with family-friendly dates and pricing.  Uniworld is owned by Travel Corporation (which owns other brands as well like Trafalgar, Brendan, Red Carnation and Insight) and is the only American Express Platinum Preferred river cruise operator.  Be prepared for pampering on this boutique line.

The abundance of international river cruising packages sometimes obscures the fact that the mighty rivers of the United States offer equally compelling tourism opportunities!  For instance, American Cruise Lines specializes in a unique style of small ship cruising along the inland waterways and rivers of the United States.  Fascinating itineraries include the Pacific Northwest, Maine, New England’s islands, the Hudson River, Chesapeake Bay, the historic South, Alaska and the Mississippi.  Similarly, American Queen Steamboat Co. (formerly known as the Great American Steamboat Company) offers cruises along the Upper- and Lower Mississippi as well as the Ohio and Tennessee rivers.  You can also choose from a wealth of themed-cruises, including southern culture, Elvis, and a good old-fashioned hootenanny!

What better way to explore national and international culture than with a casual, relaxed and intimate river cruise!

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