Mixing an abundance of cultural treasures and national pride, France is spiffing up its sights and museums from the Rhine to the Pyrenees. Of course, the biggest news is in Paris, where 2010 brings important changes that smart travelers will want to know about.
The City of Light shines year-round, but Paris has a special appeal in winter. Sure, the weather can be cold and rainy (the average high in January is 43 degrees), but if you dress in layers, you'll keep warm and easily deal with temperature changes as you go from cold streets to heated museums and cafes.
Wearing a green T-shirt under a blue work shirt, I'm about to depart for Europe. At my farewell breakfast -- one last eggs-any-style -- my stylish, college-aged daughter says to me, "You look like a scrub. OK if you're painting a house."
On my last trip to Europe, I didn't bring my usual $200 cash reserve. With just a few bucks in my wallet, I landed in Madrid, relying entirely on two ATM cards and no cash safety net. It turned out OK.
Gelato in hand, you're strolling down a street in Italy, when suddenly, an attractive woman starts arguing with a street vendor. A crowd gathers as he accuses her of shoplifting. To prove her innocence, she starts to strip.
With my mantra being "pack light," I used to be against packing electronics of any kind. But now, I bring my laptop, iPod, digital camera and mobile phone to Europe. With hotels retiring their fax machines in favor of email, mobile phones getting cheaper and easier to buy, and Wi-Fi hotspots popping up everywhere, it's never been simpler to get connected.
You'll never meet a traveler who, after five trips, brags, "Every year I pack heavier." The measure of a good traveler is how light he or she travels. You can't travel heavy, happy and cheap. Pick two.
If Mount Rainier were in Austria instead of Washington State, I likely would have explored it long ago. All my life, I've watched it shimmering Fuji-like on Seattle's horizon, and have never driven the hour off the interstate to actually take a hike there.
Wearing a red robe and a warm smile, Eddie works as a verger at London's Westminster Abbey. As a church official, he keeps order in this sacred space. Today his responsibility is to sort out believers (who get in free to pray), tourists (who pay the $25 entrance fee), and those who fold their hands and reverently say, "I'd like a few moments with the Unknown Soldier, please," in order to avoid paying $25.
The ancient Persian capital of Persepolis, in a vast and arid plain 40 miles from Shiraz in southern Iran, is the greatest ancient site between the Holy Land and India. This is a rare place that actually exceeded my high expectations.
Like a German child's fantasy, Nurnberg's fairy-godmother-like teenage angel stretched out her arms and said, "If you're very, very gentle, you can touch my wings." I stayed seated while little Bavarian preschoolers mobbed the stage to touch their Christkind.