The Most Picture-Perfect Hotel Pools in California

Splish splash! Who doesn’t love fabulous hotel pools? No wonder many travelers consider the swimming situation before booking a stay. If you fall into that category, you’re in luck. We’ve rounded up the most gorgeous spots to take a dip in the Golden State. Refreshing waters, sweeping views, attentive service, loads of amenities—these hotel pools aim to please.

The Resort at Pelican Hill

The Resort at Pelican Hill

Inspired by the iconic Roman landmark, the circular Coliseum Pool measures 136 feet in diameter and holds 380,000 gallons of chemical-free saltwater, heated to a temperature of 82 degrees. More than a million hand-cut iridescent glass mosaic tiles decorate the bottom. Classic architectural elements—including corniced columns and an amphitheater-style deck—are complemented by eye-popping panoramas.

Auberge Du Soleil

Auberge Du Soleil

Nestled in the heart of Napa Valley, Auberge Du Soleil is the epitome of a romantic wine country retreat—and its picturesque piscine is certainly no exception. Set on a sun-splashed terrace, the pool is surrounded by gauze-draped lounges and envy-inducing vineyard vistas. Local vino, farm-to-table fare, and five-star service enhance the exceptional experience.

Calistoga Motor Lodge and Spa

Calistoga Motor Lodge and Spa

Equal parts playful and pampering, this revamped 1940s roadside motel brings an unbuttoned sensibility to Calistoga. The spa takes cues from an old-school bathhouse with three outdoor pools, fed by geothermal hot springs from deep below the earth. As you float in the mineral-rich waters and stare out at the Mayacamas mountains, your stresses melt away.

Monarch Beach Resort

Monarch Beach Resort

Situated on a golden hill, overlooking the sand and surf, the expansive main pool at Monarch Beach Resort is the perfect place to catch some rays or go for a refreshing swim. The expanded patio displays 150 chaise chairs plus perk-packed cabanas. Think: dedicated hosts, cold towels, comfy couches, and fruit platters.

Four Seasons Resort the Biltmore Santa Barbara

Four Seasons Resort the Biltmore Santa Barbara

Ever dreamed of doing the front crawl where Esther Williams once swam? The Four Seasons Resort the Biltmore Santa Barbara is steeped in history. Perhaps its most fabled feature is the larger-than-Olympic-size Coral Casino Beach and Cabana Club Pool, with its 160-foot length, separate area for laps, diving board, and stunning oceanfront setting.

Post Ranch Inn

Favored by celebs and couples seeking a serene escape, this adults-only property is perched atop the dramatic cliffs of Big Sur (between San Luis Obispo and Monterey). The infinity-edge Meditation Pool is a slice of peaceful paradise. Relax in the warm 104-degree waters alongside your sweetie and soak in the spell-binding views.

By Lindsay Cohn om www.brides.com

Danai Beach Resort Halkidiki

Danai Beach Resort Halkidiki

Why visit?

We visited this most elegant of luxury hotels – favoured by film stars and dotcom millionaires – to sample some new additions to an already-exquisite offering. These included a beautiful renovated spa area and a new range of spa and dogcare services. The most intriguing of these has to be the pooch day trips, where your canine pride and joy can sail in a catamaran sipping pure spring water from a crystal bowl.

Location: (see on the map >>>)

Situated on the second finger of the three-pronged Halkidiki peninsula in Southern Greece, overlooking the Aegian sea, everything seems well with the world. Even in the Autumn the sky is pure and dazzling blue, the turquoise water is 26C and the bone-dry air temperature in the early 30s. It’s said that film stars hire this place out for weddings and you can well believe it.

Ambience:

It’s truly idyllic. When you first arrive, it’s slightly disconcerting because the front gate is guarded. But you forget that immediately, as you pass through a spectacular complex of beautifully-kept lawns and an array of classic Greek villas, to wooden steps that lead down to a private white-sand beach and white tents.

Accomodation:

The 40,000 square metres of garden contains a sprawling ‘hotel’ made up of 64 suites and villas that have been gradually designed and put together by the Greek architect mother of current owner Kimon Riefenstahl, over the past four decades. No two are the same – and yet they have clearly been put together by the same person, painstakingly building them item of furniture by item of picture, bed, sofa and carpet. If that wasn’t enough, each has its own pool.

Food and Drink:

The hotel has a headline grabbing food and drink offering – from boosting the largest, multi-award winning, wine cellar (1,700 different types, the most of expensive costing 40,000 euros a bottle) in Greece to having the country’s top restaurant. Known as the Squirrel, this offers dishes such as glazed seabass with pear jus, parsley root cream and kalamansi, roasted foie gras with chicken gravy, white mushrooms and lemon fluid gel and dry milk foam infused with star anise, liquid honey and chamomile. Another restaurant, The Andromeda, offers a wide-ranging Mediterranean menu in the evening and a great breakfast in the morning, including an exquisite lobster omlette with an extraordinary velvety texture. Meanwhile, the Seahorse Grill, overlooking the beach, has an amazing array of grilled fish and steaks. With tables and chairs dotted around the grass overlooking the sea and traditional Greek music and dancing, the scene felt a bit like being on a film set.

What to do:

There isn’t a huge amount to do nearby but it is a lovely place to potter – or better, drive – around. The area has a pine-forest beauty, secluded harbours and lazy beachs. And with traditional villages – including the nearby village of Agios Nikolaos where a square encircled by various cafes and outside chairs hosts frequent concerts. The nearby sea-side village of Nikiti is also a lovely place to sunbathe or enjoy long meals stretching into the afternoon or evening. Meanwhile, nearby Mount Athos, a fellow finger on the peninsula, is famous perhaps for the wrong reasons. Home to 20 monasteries, the 130 square mile peninsula is thought to be the largest area in the world from which women – and even female animals – are banned.

Worth writing home about:

The service was incredibly friendly and attentive which, combined with the extraordinary setting, food and drink, made the hotel a lovely place to hang out – as long as you have plenty of money.

11 of Croatia’s best beaches

When the summer wind comes blowing in the Dalmatian Coast, the beaches of Croatia polish their pebbles and fluff their plumage for the peak season from July through to August.
The secret of Croatia’s stunning Adriatic Coast and its award-winning beach destinations is well and truly out, thanks in part to the popularity of shows such as “Game of Thrones,” which used the Eastern European country as a backdrop.

More than 100 Croatian beaches have earned blue flag status for their remarkable purity on land and in the sea.

Much of this is thanks to the white pebbles that cover most beaches in the country, keeping the water a clear, jewelry-grade tone of turquoise.
Inside nearly every curve of the Croatia’s coastline, from Istria in the north to Dubrovnik in the south, lies a fabulous Adriatic beach where you can play. Here are 11 of the best when you travel here:

Stiniva Beach, Vis

Stiniva Beach, Vis

Stiniva beach is based on the island of Vis, which is in southern Croatia.

Now one of the country’s hottest beaches, Stiniva lies on the south side of Vis, an island laden with legend as the staging area and hideout for Tito’s partisans and British commandos fighting Nazi invaders in World War II.

Situated a two hour and 30 minute ferry ride from Split, it was named the best beach in Europe by European Best Destinations, a Brussels-based organization that promotes culture and tourism, in 2016, and looks every bit the part.

Set in a natural limestone arena, sheer tufted walls of rock all but encircle the smooth, sunken, white pebble floor, with the only break at the 16-foot wide “cliff gate,” which opens the beach to the sea.
The unusual formation, thought to be the result of the collapse of an ancient cave, could easily serve as a heavenly Hollywood vision, or at least a refuge for the Mother of Dragons from “Game of Thrones.”
Stinivia has grown in popularity over the years, and the beach is usually filled with swimmers, sun bathers, and snorkelers by late morning, many of them ferried in by a small fleet of taxi boats.
Others arrive via the somewhat treacherous land route down the steep south slope — which is definitely not for the young, the clumsy or the sandaled.

Thankfully the challenge of reaching Stinivia is still strong enough to protect it from the worst cases of crowding, making a coveted spot on the beach feel very well earned.

Bršeč Beach, Bršeč

Bršeč Beach, Bršeč

Bršeč Beach offers views across the Kvarner Gulf to Cres Island.

Beneath the clifftop medieval village of Bršeč sits one Istrian beach that escapes the attention of many tourists (as the locals prefer).

Seemingly scraped out of solid rock by a giant paw, Bršeč Beach is small in comparison to most Croatian beaches but comes with all the spectacle of the best, including views across the Kvarner Gulf to Cres Island.

Like Stiniva, the challenge of getting here, along a wild and windy half-mile trek, keeps away the busiest crowds.

Be sure to bring all your own amenities as there are no facilities on or near the beach.
The sheer limestone cliffs below Bršeč are a favorite with experienced climbers as well as abseilers and definitely worth a visit.

Kamenjak National Park, Premantura, Istria

Kamenjak National Park, Premantura, Istria

Kamenjak National Park — a stunning nature reserve.

Croatia’s most exciting beach can be found at the southernmost tip of Istria, on the Kamenjak Peninsula, a national park, which dribbles into the sea for nearly four miles before ending in 70-foot high cliffs.

From here, daredevils leap into the sea.

Its protected status keeps both land and water pristine for the passing dolphins and Mediterranean monk seals that frequent.

Dinosaurs also loved this area, leaving fossils and footprints in the limestone, some of which can be seen on “The Dinosaur Path” near Penižule beach. More recently, humans have added the kitsch, with life-sized dinosaur models.

Oprna Beach, Krk

Oprna Beach, Krk

Oprna Beach can be reached via a narrow path down a slope.

With more blue flag beaches than any other island in Croatia, Krk offers spectacular swimming and sunbathing around almost every bend of its shoreline.

But Oprna Beach is undoubtedly one of its stand outs, as well as one of the hardest to get to.

The calm, clear waters and long shallow shoreline here make it a favorite for snorkelers and divers.

Plus, its remote location means the beach remains quiet and relaxing throughout the summer.

As with many wild beaches Croatia, reaching it requires navigating a narrow path down a slope.

While you’re there, you can also take a boat out to 16th century Franciscan monastery on Košljun, a tiny island within the island of Krk.

Beach Mali Bok, Cres

Beach Mali Bok, Cres

Mali Bok is home to the endangered Griffon vulture.

Squeezed between Istria and Dalmatia in the Kvarner Gulf, Cres island drips north to south like a Rorschach test inkblot.

Outside the village of Orlec, long walls of barren jagged limestone act as the bookend for a dramatic channel that funnels to a small pebble beach.

There’s no shade here, so it’s best to bring an umbrella if you don’t want to burn to a crisp under the sun, which fades quickly in the afternoon once it passes behind the rock.

Keep an eye skyward for the endangered Griffon vulture, which nests in the rocks above

The island is also known for its fabulous conditions and there are many scuba diving centers in the area.

Zlatni Rat, Bol

Zlatni Rat, Bol

Zlatni Rat’s name translates to “golden horn.”

Croatia’s most photographed beach extends like a “golden horn,” as its name translates, south from the island of Brač.

A Mediterranean pine grove fills in the bell side, but the mouthpiece is naked beach, with golden pebbles so fine, they actually feel like sand.

Owing to the shifts in wind, one side usually takes the brunt (attracting surfers), while the other remains calm, and therefore more carpeted with towels, tents, and tourists.

Another highlight is the curly sea snail shell, dubbed “lucky stone” by locals, which is located among the pebbles on the beach.

Punta Rata, Brela

Punta Rata, Brela

Punta Rata is popular with families.

Along the Makarska Riviera, stretching south along the rocky coast from Split, some of Croatia’s most famous beaches spread out against the backdrop of the Biokovo mountain range.

The arrow-shaped Punta Rata beach flashes more bling than most and is often rated among the best beaches in the country, if not the world.

Its crown jewel is the “Brela Stone,” a giant boulder just off shore miraculously sprouting pine trees.
The beach also comes with a complete range of facilities such as sun beds and showers and is hugely popular with families.

Visitors can also opt to rent a bicycle and explore paved and unpaved trails running along the coast from Brela and into the hinterland.

Nugal Beach, Makarska

Nugal Beach, Makarska

Nugal Beach is a favorite with nudists.

Makarska’s most cinematic beach comes complete with its own 30-foot waterfall, fed by a stream coming down from Mount Biokovo and cascading down the rock face into the sea.

Perhaps unfortunately, it’s most impressive in winter, when swimming is not possible.

The actual beach area open to the sun is relatively small, but the surrounding pine forest surrounding offers plenty of shade and privacy, which is much appreciated by the many nudists who gather here.

It’s also worth budgeting some time for a hike in the seaside Forest Park Osejava, which extends for almost two miles from the beach.

Sunj Beach, Lopud

Sunj Beach, Lopud

Sunj Beach features 800 meters of sand.

A rare example of a sandy beach in Croatia, Sunj rolls out half a mile along the bay of the same name at the south end of Lopud, west of Dubrovnik.

This is matched perpendicularly by long, gently sloping green hills extending far out into the sea on both sides.

The island is car free, so accessibility relies on golf carts running to and from the main town.
Going by foot or bike is possible, but the slopes may challenge those without modest fitness, particularly under the sun.

The area is also home to various ruined monasteries, palaces, villas, and forts that speak of the island’s medieval heyday before decimated by earthquake and repeated occupation and are definitely worth exploring.

Sveti Jakov Beach, Dubrovnik

Sveti Jakov Beach, Dubrovnik

Sveti Jakov Beach overlooks Croatia’s Lokrum island.

What’s could be more cinematic than swimming under the walls of King’s Landing in “Game of Thrones?”
As every fan knows, Dubrovnik loaned its inimitable visage to the series, and remains every bit as impressive in person as it is on screen.

The city’s main beach, Banje, rolls out an attractive enough pebble carpet.

But the wilder Sveti Jakov, a 20 minute trek away, keeps the Dubrovnik backdrop while adding quiet, privacy, shade, snorkeling, and excellent sunsets.

Largely overlooked by tourists, it can be reached by the no.5 bus from the Old Town of Dubrovnik, or on foot

Betina Cave, Dubrovnik

Betina Cave, Dubrovnik

Sixteenth century scientist Marin Getaldić performed experiments in optics at this cave beach.

Visitors are almost always guaranteed shade (bar a few hours in the late morning when the sun hangs opposite) at this cave beach, situated about a mile south of Dubrovnik.

A small strip of pebbles jutting out front offer the only direct exposure to sunlight, which suited 16th century scientist Marin Getaldić, who conducted experiments in optics here, including creating the first parabolic mirror.

The only way to reach the hollowed out cliff is by taxi boat or kayak, which keeps large crowds away.
Be sure to catch the sunset (and a cocktail) from Bar Giardino, on the back terrace of the nearby five-star Villa Dubrovnik.

Originally published on CNN Travel

In Milpa Alta people still speak Aztec

Milpa Alta – which maintains traditions from its pre-Columbian past – feels like a tiny mountain village, making it hard to believe that it’s part of Mexico City.

In the 1970s, before workers laid the asphalt that became a two-lane highway connecting Mexico City with Milpa Alta, the southernmost of the city’s 16 delegations, Javier Galicia-Silva’s grandmother would hike down the hills to Xochimilco each day at 04:00. From here she would take a chalupa (a large water taxi) along the ancient canals that lead towards downtown, where she’d spend the day selling fresh produce in the La Merced district near the grand Zócalo (historic centre). With a bit of money and some supplies loaded on her back, she’d return to the village around 16:00 in time to sleep and do the six-hour round trip all over again the next day.

Although farmers from Milpa Alta now make the trip by road, bringing nopal (an edible cactus), mole (a traditional Mexican sauce), honey and tortillas fresh from their homes and gardens to sell in markets and on street corners across the city, not much else has changed.

By Megan Frye on http://www.bbc.com/

Top 5 Slow Luxury Travel Hotspots

From Montego Bay Jamaica – to serene Riad in Morocco – this is the pick of eco conscious, considered luxury, where you will come away feeling you have truly lived and dined like a native on the very best local, artisan and kitchen garden organic produce.

Sit back and let us transport you on a far flung gourmet trail, with irresistible stories of local, food, chef alchemists and warm-hearted local people who can’t wait to share their culture, food, nature and wildlife and a better way to holiday in style and protect endangered species, bio diversity and the environment.

How would you like to feast on the freshest organic vegetables, herbs and sustainable, local seafood from the hotel kitchen garden and local fisherman? Or learn to cook exquisite, authentic, regional cuisine, whilst admiring the wildlife on a pristine, verdant biosphere in Myanmar? Come with us, and we will show you how with my top five eco conscious, sustainable luxury resorts to visit soon.

Costa Rica – Casa Corcovado Jungle Lodge

Stay at the heart of a sequestered private nature reserve founded thirty-five years ago by an American naturalist, at the Casa Corcovado Jungle Lodge and you can look forward to an eco wildlife adventure that is like falling down the rabbit hole in Alice Through the Looking Glass.

If you are drawn by a sense of adventure, and love the idea of responsible tourism, truly off the beaten track, then this is your ideal sustainable, wildlife holiday adventure. The only access to the lodge is by boat. Your holiday adventure begins the moment you dock at the Hacienda, in the sleepy town of Sierpe. From there, it’s a 90 -minute boat ride gliding through the mangrove wetlands of Central America’s Pacific Coast. Along the way, you can expect to see monkeys, crocodile; a plethora of birds and there’s a very good chance of spotting dolphins and whales too.

Situated on the edge of the Corcovado National Park, the jewel in the crown of Costa Rica’s celebrated national park system, the Casa Corcovado is set on a commanding hilltop, and offers the ideal marriage of organic local design and all the authentic creature comforts you could wish for including four poster beds, hammocks and mosaics made my local craftsmen. Even better you can watch the monkeys play from your stylish, open air shower, and it will only take you a minute to walk to the perfect, palm-fringed beach, barefoot, of course.

Food is an haute cuisine tropical feast at the lodge, and the chef makes full use of sun, sea and forest for the freshest ingredients. Dine in the elegant Los Vitales restaurant on traditional Cost Rican dishes, prepared with local plantain, squashes, hearts of palm and giant local mangoes. Don’t forget to sample the local rum and Tico cheese, made on the slopes of the local volcano.

Casa Corcovado is about getting away from it all with a spirit of eco adventure. Activities revolve around the rainforest and ocean, and include: hiking tours, night safaris, scuba diving, and bird watching and kayaking. The hotel is noted for its use of solar and hydroelectric power. Recycling has been in place since the nineties, and the hotel funded a waste recycling centre, which benefits a local school in Sierpe.

Miramar – Villa Inle

Villa Inle, Miramar, is situated on the eastern shore of Lake Inle, in a Unesco biosphere nature reserve, in the land that time forgot – a place of floating villages, ancient monasteries and fishermen gliding serenely across Burma’s second largest freshwater lake.

Villa Inle is a boutique hotel that sets the benchmark for eco conscious luxury by truly embracing the idea of localism – from employing more local people to celebrating the heritage and customs of a remarkable water-bound eco system.

The hotel consists of 27, handcrafted lakeside wooden villas inspired by the architecture of a local monastery and traditional local houses. Expansive picture windows afford endless vistas of flocks of migratory birds and the water buffalo cooling off in the shallows. Local craft skills have been thoughtfully applied to the exquisite interior décor and the serene interiors are furnished with handcrafted furniture made by local carpenters, artisans and sculptors. There are day beds dreamily positioned to capture all the activity on the lake, covered in local kapok cloth and beautiful lamps are fashioned from bamboo and the famous local Shan paper, which is embedded with local flowers.

Want to escape the madding crowd and live like a local? Then come to Villa Inle and you can look forward to intimate farmhouse kitchen suppers, trips to see the famous hanging tomato gardens by local boat, and the highlight? The not to be missed opportunity to participate in mindful, healthy, Burmese cookery classes with the chef, using produce from the hotel’s botanic and organic kitchen garden, while you sip a glass of local wine and admire the dreamy view. You can also discover the thriving artisan craft culture, with visits to see local handicrafts, including silk and lotus weaving and cheroot making. At the end of fascinating, carefree day, you can relax with cocktails at sunset and dream about your return visit.

Jamaica – Secrets Wild Orchid and St James’s Bay

Set on its own secluded peninsula, stretching like a garland out into the celebrated ‘Mobay’ in the Caribbean, this super chic, adults only, holiday pleasure dome, offers every comfort, luxury and opportunity for relaxation and rejuvenation, whilst treading lightly on the local environment.

There are eight restaurants, cafes and bars to feast in, serving local produce and foodie delights, including the jerk chicken cart and famous local Jamaican patties; all making use of jewel green, aromatic herbs from the resort’s kitchen garden.

There is a weekly, craft market, featuring the work of the local artists, or you could take a Jamaican cookery class or get up close with nature on a guided walk or bicycle ride. The resort employs 98% of its staff from the local community; runs beach clean ups, donates to local hospitals and schools and composts its waste.

Morocco – Riad Al Massarah

You only have to read the reviews for the Riad Al Massarah, to see that Michel and Michael, the attentive, French-British owners have created a refined oasis of sustainable luxury and calm, that utterly exceeds visitors expectations. Local food is a highlight at the Riad, which is furnished with exquisite taste and flair with handmade pieces by local artisans and treasures from Europe.

Food ingredients are purchased daily from the local market and transformed into a colourful, scented and vibrant fusion of European and Moroccan cuisines with flair and imagination. Feast on authentic tagine and when you are tired of this rich, filling stew, your hosts will be delighted to prepare a dish which is light, healthy and delicious.

Madeira – Galo Resorts, Hotel Alpino

Do you crave complete rest and mind and body rejuvenation? Then the Galo Atlantico Ayurvedic Resort is the place to kickstart your detox and healthy reboot. Ayurveda is the ancient medicine system of India, focused on the art of living wisely and in harmony with all living things. During your stay, you will have a consultation with the in-house Ayurvedic chef, and discover your constitutional type – pitta, vatta or kapha. Then you will graze on delicious, gourmet vegetarian and vegan food prepared according to your type and designed to promote optimum health and wellbeing. Sip organic tea made from herbs grown in the organic garden and eat vibrant, light, healthful local organic produce based on – herbs, shoots, roots, fruits, seeds and spices that follow the seasons and are designed to energise, strengthen and renew.

By Alison Jane Reid on http://ethical-hedonist.com

Strasbourg: The bicultural crossroads of Europe

Strasbourg: The bicultural crossroads of Europe

Nestled on the Rhine across the border from Germany, Strasbourg offers your best chance to experience the urban side of France’s Alsace region. Each time I walk its people-friendly streets, I’m struck by how forward-thinking and inviting the city feels, with generous space devoted to pedestrians and bikes, sleek trams and meandering waterways. With delightful big-city energy and a name that means the “city of streets,” Strasbourg is the ultimate crossroads.

While the city dodged serious damage in both world wars, Strasbourg has a dizzying history. It was hit hard during the Franco-Prussian War, becoming part of Germany in 1870. After that, there was a period of harsh Germanization, followed by extreme Frenchification after World War I, a brutal period under Nazi rule during World War II, and then the strong need to purge all that was German after 1945. Now, while probably more definitively French than it’s ever been, the city exudes a bicultural gentleness in its architecture and all-around ambience. Street signs are commonly bilingual, with both French and the Germanic Alsatian dialect.

After World War II, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill called for a union of European nations, with the goal of winning an enduring peace by weaving the economies of France and Germany together. Given that Strasbourg had changed hands between Germany and France so many times, it seemed logical that it be a capital (along with Brussels) of what would eventually become the European Union. And today, Strasbourg shares the administrative responsibilities of the European Parliament with Brussels and Luxembourg.

Most visitors come to Strasbourg to see its massive Notre-Dame Cathedral — and for good reason. On my last visit, I stood in front and craned my neck way back … and I still couldn’t fit the facade into my camera’s viewfinder. I tried to imagine the impact this unforgettable edifice would have had on medieval pilgrims. The delicate Gothic style of the cathedral (begun in 1176, not finished until 1439) is the work of a succession of about 50 master builders. The cathedral somehow survived the French Revolution, the Franco-Prussian War, World War I and World War II.

An earlier church burned down in the 12th century, and Strasbourg was so wealthy that it rebuilt très fancy — with a lacy, innovative design — and tall (at 466 feet, its spire was the world’s tallest until the mid-1800s). A matching second tower was planned but was never built, out of fear that it would place too much stress on the foundations. You’ll see the famous spire from all over town.

Inside, enjoy the cathedral’s marvelous stained glass — 80 percent is original, surviving from the 12th to 15th centuries. The cathedral’s windows traveled a lot during World War II: hidden by the French in southwestern France first; then carted to northern Germany by the Nazis; and finally saved and returned by the Monuments Men (British and American troops dedicated to returning art to its rightful place after 1945). Travelers should note that the cathedral closes daily between 11:15 a.m. and 2 p.m.

Nearby is the wonderful Strasbourg Historical Museum, which sweeps through the city’s complex and compelling history. You’ll learn how Strasbourg was once fortified with concentric walls and 80 towers, which were then destroyed by French King Louis XIV in the 1680s. The museum also has an exhibit about Johannes Gutenberg, who worked here from 1434 to 1444, a section about the French Revolution and a description of how the Prussians rebuilt the city after destroying parts of it in 1870, ushering in its glory days (1880–1914). The saddest section details life here in the Nazi years, and the happy finale explains Strasbourg’s leadership role in the EU.

For a different slice of history, visit the Alsatian Museum, located in one of Strasbourg’s oldest houses. Thanks to its many artifacts and printed English explanations, you’ll learn much about Alsatian life and traditions from birth to death. Rooms you’d find in traditional homes are beautifully re-created here (wrapped around a fine old courtyard), and models explain the ins and outs of half-timbered construction.

End your day in Strasbourg’s popular Petite France quarter. It’s here where the river splits into several canals with weirs, a lock and a swing bridge — all reminders of a time when trade came by river and watermills powered local industry. The district was slated for redevelopment but was saved by a progressive French minister of culture in the 1970s. Today, these fine buildings are protected and give us a sense of this pre-electricity world.

The history of Strasbourg — the capital city of the political pawn zone between France and Germany — is fascinating to contemplate. With its high-powered and trendy bustle and hybrid culture, it’s one of France’s most intriguing cities.

By Rick Steves on https://www.mystatesman.com/

Munich Named The Most Livable City In The World

Monocle, the urbane lifestyle magazine founded in 2007, has named Munich, Germany the most livable city in the world in 2018. In this twelfth edition of its Quality of Life Survey, Monocle scoured the globe for cities, big and small, that combine healthy work-life balances with happy residents and effective public services. Munich jumps up from third place in 2017, replacing Tokyo in the top spot in this year’s survey.

Munich strikes a strong balance between a city that’s fun to live in yet runs like a well-oiled machine. The city’s public transportation is comfortable and clean, the streets are safe and well-maintained, and its airport, which offers connections to over two hundred international destinations, was recently ranked number six in the world. As a result, Munich is highly international; with eighteen universities attracting international students and a higher percentage of foreign residents than Berlin, Munich has preserved its rich Bavarian roots while enabling other cultures to thrive, too. As Monocle’s Robert Bound explains, “Beer gardens remain the classic summer hangout. The city’s proximity to the Alps, as well as lakes and rivers, means that hiking, skiing, cycling and sailing have been favored pastimes for over a century. Plenty of public space means that everybody gets to enjoy their city.”

Economically, Munich shines just as strongly. The city’s unemployment rate is an enviable four percent, and even lower among youth. It plays home to an assortment of global titans in the automotive, biotech and engineering industries, balancing that scientific prowess with world-class museums and an easygoing demeanor. Of course, all of these benefits don’t come without a price. Munich’s property prices are the highest in Germany, though when you compare them to places like Hong Kong or New York, they’re still quite affordable.

Beyond Munich, the rest of Germany and Northern Europe as a whole are the real winners in this year’s Quality of Life Survey. With four German cities making the top twenty-five, including three in the top eight positions, there’s no doubting the efficacy of Germany’s carefully progressive urban policies and measured approach to building sustainably comfortable cities. With capitals Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Oslo, Helsinki and Stockholm also on the list, Northern Europe is clearly on the right track. Japan and Australia claim three spots apiece in the top twenty-five as well, leaving just ten positions for the rest of the world to divvy up.

North America, on the other hand, did not pull its weight. Vancouver was the only Western hemisphere city to make the cut, and while Monocle praised it for having “better access to nature than any other city,” its exorbitant housing prices continue to mount pressure on local residents. Tokyo, which received the top honor each of the past three years, dropped below Munich to number two this year, with Monocle noting, “As ever more tourists prepare to visit for the 2020 Olympic Games, Tokyo’s community spirit and civility should be safeguarded.” Cities, just like corporations, are ever-changing entities.

Here are the top twenty-five cities from Monocle’s Quality of Life Survey 2018.

Munich, Germany
Tokyo, Japan
Vienna, Austria
Zurich, Switzerland
Copenhagen, Denmark
Berlin, Germany
Madrid, Spain
Hamburg, Germany
Melbourne, Australia
Helsinki, Finland
Stockholm, Sweden
Lisbon, Portugal
Sydney, Australia
Hong Kong
Vancouver, Canada
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Kyoto, Japan
Dusseldorf, Germany
Barcelona, Spain
Paris, France
Singapore
Fukuoka, Japan
Auckland, New Zealand
Brisbane, Australia
Oslo, Norway

By Jordan Bishop on https://www.forbes.com/

Rotterdam: Europe’s showcase of bold modernity

Rotterdam: Europe’s showcase of bold modernity

The famously cute and sweet side of the Netherlands — with its canals, windmills and tulip fields — is indeed a delight to experience. But to see how big-city modern Dutch life is lived, visit the no-nonsense “second city” of Rotterdam.
Mighty Rotterdam has a gleaming skyline and Europe’s largest port. Locals say that while the money is spent in Amsterdam, it’s made in Rotterdam. They boast that shirts in Rotterdam are sold with the sleeves already rolled up.

Once it was quaint and cozy like Amsterdam, but Rotterdam was leveled by the Nazis in World War II. Hitler ordered a systematic bombing of the city, and its center was, quite literally, flattened. Following the bombing, a fire raged for three days, consuming what was left. When Hitler threatened to do the same thing to Utrecht, the Dutch government surrendered immediately.

Photos of WWII Rotterdam are startling: A scant few historic buildings are still standing — barely — and the outlines of the streets around them are barely visible. But after the war, rather than rebuild quaint (as most Dutch towns did), Rotterdammers embraced the chance to go in another direction: boldly modern. Ever since, the city has been a stimulating urban showcase of architectural experimentation, with buildings big and small designed by a Who’s Who of contemporary architects. You’ll see wildly creative and futuristic train stations, libraries, market halls, office towers, bridges, subway stations and apartment complexes that push the envelope toward science fiction.

In the late 1970s, architect Piet Blom turned urban housing on its ear with a striking design: 39 identical yellow cubes, all tilted up on their corners, each meant to house a single family. Taken together, the Cube Houses look like dozens of dice in mid-toss. If Rotterdam has a single icon representing its bold approach to postwar architecture, this is it. To get a look inside one of the cubes, visit the Kijk-Kubus Museum House.

More arresting architecture is south of the city center, near the Erasmus Bridge, which was built about 20 years ago to link the north and south banks of the Maas River. The southern bank, then underdeveloped, exploded into a new “downtown” zone of commerce. At the far end stands a lineup of creations — nicknamed “Manhattan on the Maas” — by some of the world’s top architects, including Renzo Piano, Rem Koolhaas and Norman Foster.

Their works tower over Rotterdam’s harbor, the ninth largest in the world. The port handles about 30,000 ocean-going vessels each year — that’s about 80 ships a day, hauling a total of 420 million tons of cargo. You can appreciate the immensity of it all with a harbor tour. You’ll see the sprawling Staatspark (marked by the Euromast tower); several innovative waterfront housing blocks; and one small section of the bustling port, with stacks upon stacks of containers and a forest of busy cranes.

But not everything in Rotterdam is postwar mod. One of the few well-preserved bits wasn’t even originally part of Rotterdam — it was the port for Delft. Historic Delfshaven is just a short subway ride away from Rotterdam’s city center, but it’s a world away from the 21st century. There’s an idyllic canal pulled straight out of a Vermeer painting, with old boats, a cantilevered drawbridge and even a windmill still churning away in the distance.

In the heart of the city is Rotterdam’s oldest structure, St. Lawrence Church — completed in 1525 and a rare survivor of the 1940 Nazi bombing campaign. The church’s nondescript exterior belies its vast, pristine interior, which sports a huge organ. If you enter, be sure to look up to appreciate its roof, one that was clearly made by a city of shipbuilders — it feels like you’re huddled beneath an overturned boat.

Grotekerkplein, the “Great Church Square” in front of St. Lawrence Church, honors Rotterdam native Desiderius Erasmus (1466–1536) with a 17th-century statue, which also miraculously survived the bombing. A great humanist, Erasmus forged the notion of identifying as European — seeing oneself as a citizen of the world and not tied to a single nationality. In many ways he’s the intellectual forebear of the European Union. On the pedestal, in Dutch, is an excerpt from one of his most famous remarks: “The entire world is your fatherland.”

Some dismiss modern Europe and its attempts at political union as a failure. I’m not blind to the fact that Europe has its flaws and is grappling — not always very well — with some serious challenges of its own. But I love the Europe of today — the one Erasmus foresaw — and a visit to his hometown of Rotterdam, rising out of the ashes of war, is a chance to witness its stunning success.

By Rick Steves on https://www.mystatesman.com

This Whale Tail Took Grand Prize in the Photo Contest

By Sarah Polger on
https://www.nationalgeographic.com

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A young humpback whale swims near Kumejima Island, Japan.

Until last year, photographer Reiko Takahashi was working as a semiconductor engineer, escaping the office a few times a year to pursue her longtime passion for marine life, diving, and underwater photography. Then, in early 2018, a last minute trip to snorkel off the coast of Kumejima Island near Okinawa, Japan, brought the photographer face-to-face with humpback whales for the first time, where she unwittingly captured the image that won grand prize in the 2018 National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year contest.

“I was really longing to see the bond between a humpback whale and her calf,” Takahashi recalls. Fascinated by the close relationship between whales and their young—and the time they spend together at the beginning of life—Takahaski committed herself to researching the animals. Though she photographed many types of marine life—sharks, manta rays, jackfish, and more—she had yet to swim with humpback whales, a species she longed to see in person. “I became crazy about whales,” she admits.

Takahashi planned a brief, two-day snorkeling trip to the waters near Kumejima Island, a birthing grounds for humpbacks. Temperate weather brought fair swimming conditions as she joined a small group of snorkelers at sea. An expert guide carefully instructed them on best practices to ensure the safety of both the whales and swimmers, including tips for entering the water as quietly as possible, keeping movement to a minimum, and staying a safe distance from the animals.

Though Kumejima Island visitors often set out with high hopes to catch a glimpse of a humpbacks and their young, the lucky sighting isn’t guaranteed. The morning Takahashi swam through the warm seawater, a female humpback and her calf came into sight and she lovingly photographed the pair. The playful calf swam towards the snorkelers, tapping its tail and fins, as Takahashi began to imagine the picture she hoped to create of this special moment.

“I was swimming behind the calf. I imagined the back of the calf with a calm water surface above,” she says. “I completely fell in love with the calf and it’s very energetic, large, and beautiful tail.” The image she envisioned fell into place. “On that day, I felt a deep love between the mother and child. The calf was truly curious and pure, while it’s mother watched with care. It was a special scene for me, to be able to take a photo of the calf, completely relaxed in gentle waters.”

These moments are what draws Takahashi to underwater photography. “We live on the land, but the view underwater is different—living organisms, plants, minerals—are all slightly different,” she says. “I think being underwater is similar to climbing Everest—it is not a place where we can easily go. For me, it is a special and sacred place. The sea accounts for so much of Earth and is a place of adventure, where we can experience Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”

Her advice for aspiring underwater photographers: Deeply research the animals you wish to photograph before you go into the field—understand their behavior and nuisances. When the time comes to photograph, wait and observe the animals before you begin photographing. “Draw the photo’s composition in your heart—then shoot.”

Takahashi now travels the globe, visiting new locations monthly—including Thailand, the Galápagos, Mexico, Palau, Tahiti, and more—to continue growing her underwater photography. Japanese winter months bring the opportunity to see whales, but she has other plans. “I cannot not wait that long, so I decided to go to Tonga.” This October she’ll head to the South Pacific with her camera and attempt to again see pairs of humpback mothers and calves.

When Takahashi reflects on her decision to quit her day job and pursue her passion, she remembers two influential events—the loss of a close friend and Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford University commencement speech. Jobs said that he asked himself the following question, “‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”

Takahashi found clarity during these powerful moments, and eventually drove her decision to photograph full-time. “I felt that life was finite and I wanted to use time for what I really love.”

Travel Booking Giant Expedia Has Quietly Removed Bitcoin Payment Option

By Helen Partz on
https://cointelegraph.com/

Major travel booking website Expedia.com recently stopped accepting Bitcoin (BTC) as a payment method for hotels or flights, Expedia told Cointelegraph June 27.

An Expedia spokesperson confirmed that the service “no longer accepts digital currency Bitcoin,” starting from June 10, 2018, apologizing for “any inconvenience this may cause.” The service did not comment on the cancellation either on social media or on its website.

Community members took to Reddit to express their contempt of the recent news, subsequently suggesting a number of alternatives to Expedia, such as CheapAir travel service, which started accepting Bitcoin for flights and hotel bookings in 2013.

Reddit user bowiestar noted that the majority of employees in the IT industry tend to get their salaries partly in crypto, implying that the service would eventually lose a part of its customers.

“Expedia.com, one of the largest sites to book flights/hotels on used to take Bitcoin for years… I went on there to look at flights and noticed they no longer accept it. Customer support said they stopped accepting it June 10… A lot of us in the tech industry get a portion of our salary in Bitcoin and it was really good to use Expedia for flights. I won’t be using them anymore!”

As Cointelegraph reported earlier this year, the extreme volatility of the crypto markets apparently does not scare industry insiders from taking part of their pay in crypto, with some even preferring to get their salaries entirely in Bitcoin.

Expedia first announced it would accept Bitcoin as a form of payment in June, 2014, when it teamed up with leading crypto exchange Coinbase. Some community members suggested that they cancelled accepting Bitcoin due to Coinbase’s decision to suspend custodial solutions for merchants, which ostensibly would lead to making Bitcoin payments more difficult. Expedia’s aforementioned competitor CheapAir switched to BitPay from Coinbase for this very reason.

In an open letter to customers seeking input on potential merchant solutions, CheapAir CEO Jeff Klee wrote that the company needed a “reliable processing partner” in order to accept payments in Bitcoin Cash (BCH), Dash, and Litecoin (LTC), in addition to Bitcoin.