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A Fashion Photog Goes Rogue in London

201104-b-fashion-1jpgI am backstage at the Michael Van Der Ham fashion show in London, in an ancient-looking building on the Thames. In the midst of the crush of models, dressers, other photographers and frantic hair and makeup teams, I am trying to get a great "beauty" photo for my client, a top fashion magazine. A makeup artist I know from New York, hands buried in a hunk of hair extensions, asks, "Are you going to Milan, too? Where are you staying?" So I tell her the truth—in an apartment with a Milanese couple.

"Oh, how do you know them?"

I don't. I found them on the Internet.

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Reinventing the Taj Brand

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Raymond Bickson, chief executive and managing director of the luxury chain Taj Hotels, Resorts, and Palaces, gave a master class in hotel branding to a select group of CEOs yesterday. It's a story that few have heard: how that company regrouped, rebounded, and reinvented itself in the wake of the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack that killed scores of people and nearly destroyed the iconic Taj Mahal Palace Hotel (above).

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Vacationist Hotel Deals: Escape to Italy

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At T+L we’re always dreaming about our next Italian getaway (check out April Europe issue!), and now you can plan your trip for less thanks to Vacationist. Choose between a beachfront villa in Sicily; a terraced retreat along the Amalfi Coast; a grande dame in Capri; and a chic boutique hotel on a side street in Milan. Hotel deals are up 70% off, so start planning now.

Still not a member? Click here to join.

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Save Money with Your Dog on the Road

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As much as I love a seven-star oceanfront suite in Bali or a perfect boutique hotel with 10,000-count sheets, I also have a fondness for the classic American motel thanks to a childhood road trip to Disneyland. The problem is, many of the motels that sit along America's highways look like they haven’t been updated since my family made that long drive from New Jersey to Florida in the '70s.

For several weeks, my wife and I have been driving cross-country with our dog. While we've been fortunate to find small owner-operated inns and B&Bs that accept our mutt, sometimes it's impossible to avoid the chain hotels. (By the way, they don't call themselves "motels" anymore. The hotel and lodging industry officially abandoned the portmanteau of "motoring" and "hotel" in 2000.) The results have been mixed. At a certain dog-friendly national chain in Beaumont, TX, we were greeted by an incompetent and rude front-desk worker. At a different chain hotel in Charleston, WV, our room was way too shabby for the $99 per night price tag.

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Taste the Whisky on Your Tonga


The latest Canadian Club "Hide A Case" competition is now underway—without me. As you might remember from an item posted here last year, the company has hidden dozens of cases of Canadian Club in exotic locales around the world since 1967; most of them were discovered by adventurers thanks to the distillery's clues printed in magazine advertisements. Now four Americans and four Canadians have solved the latest series of clues and are headed for the island-nation of Tonga, where one of the few remaining hidden cases of C.C. whisky—and a check for $100,000—awaits the person who discovers the exact location.

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All About Apples at Pomze, Paris

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When I think of French food, images of smooth foie gras, flavorful duck confit, sumptuous cheeses and fluffy cream puffs instantly come to mind. But apples? A more unexpected association. Convinced of the limitless culinary uses of the forbidden fruit, brothers Daniel and Emmanuel Dayan opened Pomze in Paris in November, 2006 in a converted Haussmanian apartment in the 8th arrondissement, where more than 120 apple varieties are worked into their seasonally updated offering. Approximately 600kg of apples are delivered each week to satisfy client demand, proof that the fruit-focused hotspot has garnered a loyal following.

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Travel for a Cause: Packages that Give Back

As if you needed another reason to travel, we've found packages that are helping communities worldwide.

Hard Rock Hotels, including T+L favorites in Las Vegas and Orlando, is partnering with Facebook Places to raise money for WhyHunger, a non-profit organization that is a leader in the movement to end hunger and poverty. From now through December 31st, each time fans use Facebook Places to check into any Hard Rock Cafe location throughout the U.S., Hard Rock will donate $1 to benefit WhyHunger. For more information, and for a list of participating Hard Rock Cafe locations, visit www.hardrock.com or www.facebook.com/hardrock.

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Guess Where? Clock

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Can you guess where this fiery stained glass clock is? This one might be hard to guess, as I shot it on a behind-the-scenes tour of this New York City locale from a point of view few are familiar with. Where do you think this is?

Log in and leave your guesses below and be sure to check back on Monday for the correct answer.

UPDATE 4/11/11: T+L community member AdamDionne guessed right! This is the clock on Grand Central Terminal's 42nd Street facade, viewed from behind. It is the largest example of Tiffany glass in the world.

Lyndsey Matthews is an online editorial assistant at Travel + Leisure.

Photo courtesy of Lyndsey Matthews

How to Take a Luxury Cruise For Less

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Crystal Cruises, the #1 large-ship cruise line in our annual World’s Best Awards since 1996, is re-introducing the idea of stand-by travel on five of their sailings in May and June. The potential savings from the brochure price are a mind-boggling 70%, bringing the cost of a 12-day cruise to $2,995, or $250 a day.

The itineraries available for standby are pretty exciting: three 12-day Alaska cruise out of San Francisco, an 11-day Scandinavia and Russia trip  (Hamburg to Stockholm); and a 14-day North Cape/Arctic Circle cruise (Copenhagen to Stockholm).

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Will the French Veil Ban Hurt Tourism?

BBC News - Passport Blog |   Starting 11 April, it will be illegal in France for any woman, citizen or tourist, to wear a full-faced veil.

That means no niqab in the Louvre, no niqab while shopping in the Marais, no niqab while walking the Champs-Élysées. Although the French law has gotten the most notice, Belgium was actually the first country to enact a ban last April. There are rumbles of similar laws in Italy, but other European countries have largely shot down similar attempts.

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Barcelona’s New Tapas Restaurant

Barcelona tapas

Food adventurers lamenting that they’ll never see the inside of El Bulli, now that the temple of experimental cuisine on the Costa Brava is being transformed into a cooking foundation, have reason to celebrate. Mad-scientist brothers Ferran and Albert Adrià have another trick up their sleeves. The just-opened Tickets, in Barcelona’s former cabaret district, aims to reinvigorate that Catalan staple, the tapa—with an Adrià twist, of course. “We want to offer a new approach to a traditional cuisine,” says Albert, whose nearby, more classic tapas bar, Lolita (formerly called Inopia), still draws lines around the block, even after five years. At Tickets, guests can grab a seat at one of six themed bars, including a parrilla grill station and another devoted to Mediterranean ingredients. On the menu: inflatos (fried, aromatized cereals) and artichokes with smoked Idiazábal cheese serum. For the concoctions that made El Bulli famous—sliced Parmesan ice cream, spherified “olives”—choose something off the menu at the cocktail bar, 41. As its name might suggest, Tickets is dining as entertainment, a concept driven home at the Technicolor dessert area, set beneath a big-top tent, where staff theatrically greet guests with flattering comments. “Only if they deserve it,” Albert says. 164 Avda. del Paral-lel; 34/93-423-2448; dinner for two $90.

Photo by Javier Salas

Vacationist Hotel Deals: Mexico, Thailand + Italy

201104-v-matildajpgNow that it’s shoulder season, we’re dreaming about far-flung getaways—places where we can leave the crowds behind. So whether you’re looking to stroll the cobblestone streets in San Miguel de Allende, lay by the sparkling Andaman Sea in Phuket, or dine on Sicilian pastas in Taormina, you’ll find it this week on Vacationist.

Still not a member? Click here to join.

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TODAY Show: Secret Island Escapes

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

T+L Features Director Nilou Motamed shares her pick of the best island escapes, including Southport Island, Maine, and Caye Caulker, Belize.

Can’t Book at Room at the Uffizi? Stay at the St. Regis Florence

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Florence’s stately Grand Hotel closed for renovations last September and is slated to reopen quietly on May 1 as the St. Regis Florence. The already 5-star hotel’s re-branding from Luxury Collection to St. Regis signals the arrival of butler service, fewer but larger guest rooms, 19 luxury suites, a spa (individual spa suites are the thing here; no more stripping down in a locker room before your massage), and all sorts of sterling silver bells and whistles.

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Nextpedition: Surprise Vacation Planning

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I've never made a travel itinerary for any trip I’ve taken. Why not? Partly because when I’m on vacation, I like to go with the flow. But it’s also because I don’t really like to spend a ton of time researching. Let’s not forget that half the fun in traveling to a new destination is the excitement that comes from the unexpected.

Knowing there are quite a few folks out there who think similarly, American Express, T+L’s parent company, developed a new booking service it's calling Nextpedition (tomorrow is its grand debut). Primarily targeting twentysomethings, Nextpedition creates trips based on your travel profile. But here’s the catch: you won’t know where you’re going or what you’re doing until the last minute.

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Walking Virginia's Widening Wine Trail

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As any University of Virginia grad will breathlessly assert, Charlottesville, VA is America's greatest college town. Perhaps even the world's. (Oxford? Bah!) Even this state-school graduate must admit there's a case to be made. C'ville, as it's known, is a lovely and vibrant little town rich with history, thanks in no small part to UVA's spacious, rolling grounds that have been painstakingly preserved since the university's founding in 1819. But there's more to Charlottesville than just UVA (and its famous Corner, a stretch of shops and eateries where students gather to slop down cheap, serviceable sustenance).

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Europe's Newest River Cruise + Scandinavia Sails

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This spring there are plenty of new ways to sail the Continent’s waters. Launching its maiden voyage on the Danube River, the Viking Prestige (vikingrivercruises.com; trips from $1,556 per person, double) has whisper-quiet electric engines and French balconies along the top two decks.

On Crystal Cruises Serenity (crystalcruises.com; $118 per person for four-hour tour), the Stieg Larsson’s Stockholm tour sends guests traipsing through Södermalm Island, where the author’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo spent many evenings.

In Finland’s bucolic Åland Islands, Seabourn Pride (seabourn.com; trips from $5,249 per person, double) now calls at Mariehamn, as famous for its cobblestoned streets as it is for the saunas dotting its shores.

Photo courtesy of Viking River Cruises

US and Other Countries Easing Japan Travel Restrictions

BBC.com News |  While the situation in northern Japan is still facing numerous challenges, life in the rest of Japan is returning to normal faster than most would have expected.

As a result, the US State Department and other countries' foreign offices are adjusting previous advice to defer all trips to Japan.

For example, as of this morning, the US State Department advises citizens to defer non-essential trips to Tokyo and defer all travel to the evacuation zone around Fukushima. But it's given the green light to travel elsewhere in Japan.

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Final Four Deals at Four Seasons Hotel Houston

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My experience in the world of sports piqued when I joined my local tee ball league; I spent my time in left field picking flowers and after hitting the ball, I may or may not have run to third base first. Needless to say, I don’t know a thing about sports.

That being said, I’m told that the NCAA Final Four (that’s basketball, folks) is upon us, and to celebrate, since the games are being played in Houston, Four Seasons Hotel Houston is offering some pretty cool specials. If you're a local and weren't able to score tickets (or just happen to be breezing through town), and want to enjoy the games in style, hit up the Lobby Lounge for salmon sashimi cleverly shaped like basketballs. (Just try to tell me those aren’t awesomely adorable.) For $16, you’ll score four.

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Guess Where? Mystery Building

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Wandering around Europe a few years ago, I happened upon this turquoise building with what may be the world's most imaginative gutter system. Can you guess where this whimsical apartment building is?

Log in and leave your guesses below and be sure to check back on Monday for the correct answer.

UPDATE 4/04/11: T+L community member chrisgrabar guessed right! This building is in Dresden's Neustadt district, in the Kunsthof-Passage. If you find yourself in this German city, spend an afternoon admiring the artistic buildings while sipping on a coffee in this peaceful courtyard complex. Click through to find more images here.

Lyndsey Matthews is an online editorial assistant at Travel + Leisure.

Photo courtesy of Lyndsey Matthews

Biltmore Estate’s Festival of Flowers

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Ring in spring at the historic 1885 Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. From April 2 through May 26, the property will host its 26th Annual Festival of Flowers. Come tiptoe through over 100,000 tulips planted across 8,000 acres of the Olmstead-designed land.

Events throughout the six-week celebration include live music, gardening Q+A sessions, flower-arranging and cooking demos, and a grape stomp at the on-site winery. Families are invited to join Peter Rabbit, children’s musicians, and face-painters for an Easter Egg hunt on April 24th.

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LAST CHANCE: Enter to win a $10,000 Dream Trip!

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Today is the last day to vote in Travel + Leisure’s World's Best Awards 2011 Survey! All respondents will be entered to win a $10,000 dream trip, among other prizes. Please take a few minutes to tell us your favorite hotels, resorts, spas, cruise lines, airlines, travel companies, and the destinations you love most. The results will appear in the August 2011 issue of Travel + Leisure.

Vote now!

Stockholm’s Artsy Birkastan Neighborhood

Stockholm

On the outskirts of Sweden’s capital, the neighborhood of Birkastan has become a center for the city’s new creative class. Here are our favorite insider spots:

Ulrika Sandström Studio: Feminine frills and romantic ruffles get a dose of rock-and-roll in the homegrown designer’s latest collection, but don’t miss her line of neutral shifts at the pocket-size shop. 36 Norrbackagatan; 46-8/5456-4410; ulrikasandstrom.se.

Carin Wester: The current darling of the Stockholm fashion scene, Wester stands out with sharp silhouettes and playful prints for men and women, all on display in her white-walled boutique. 24 Rörstrandsgatan; 46-8/305-415; carinwester.com.

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Vacationist Hotel Deals: World’s Best Values Week

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What sets Vacationist apart from other flash-sale sites? Deals at T+L’s favorite hotels, as well as access to some of our brand’s best (and most exclusive) events. And this week, we've outdone ourselves. To start, you'll find up to 50% off at five hotels T+L readers selected as the top hotels for value, as determined in our World’s Best Awards Survey [only one more day to vote!]. Add in up to 24% off at Loews Atlanta, the sponsoring hotel for T+L’s upcoming Atlanta Food & Wine Festival (May 19-22), and you have a bevy of sales too good to pass up.

Still not a member? Click here to join.

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TODAY Show: Shoulder Season Deals

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

From mid-April to mid-June, you can score some great deals at popular destinations that are just shy of their busy (and pricier) travel seasons. The weather is nice, rates are lower, and crowds are fewer! Now is a great time to book and go!

First "Hotel Restaurant Week" Kicks Off

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Restaurant weeks are ubiquitous across the country, each one giving diners access to affordable, gourmet meals at the nation’s top eateries. This year, for the first time anywhere, Atlanta is home to a new event to highlight hotel restaurants. From April 2 through April 9, you can enjoy a $25 (not including tax and tip) three-course dinner at a multitude of the ATL’s hotspots.

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Doing the Safety Dance with Richard Simmons on Air NZ

We don't know if this new in-flight safety video from Air New Zealand featuring eccentric  weightloss personality Richard Simmons is brilliant. Or brilliantly bad. But it is entertaining.

Follow the high-kicking spandex-clad crew as they do The Pony and The Duck while stowing carry-ons and reaching for oxygen masks. It's not quite Sweatin' to the Oldies, but it does earn beaucoup points on our '80s kitsch-o-meter.

Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong Opens as World’s Highest Hotel

There are views, and then there are v-i-e-w-s. Starting tomorrow, any guest checking into the brand new Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong will get an eyeful of the latter—birds-eye panoramas of Victoria Harbour and the shiny HK skyline. As the world’s “highest” hotel, the record-breaking property now occupies floors 102 to 118 of the well-located International Commerce Center, with 312 rooms in all.

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Grab Your Delta Boarding Pass...on Facebook!

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Last year Delta introduced the option for folks to purchase tickets through an app built into their Facebook page. This year, it's taking it a step further, and letting users access its boarding passes without ever leaving Facebook. (The same 24 hours pre-flight time limit that's used on the official Delta site still applies.)

What else can you do?

- Check flight status.
- View trip details.
- View what in-flight amenities will be available for your specific flight.
- Share your flight information with your Facebook contacts.

Pretty cool stuff. (And further proof that Facebook is soon destined to be your one stop spot for, well, everything.)

2010-hs-josh-pramisjpgJoshua Pramis is an online associate editor and resident tech guru at Travel + Leisure. Follow him on Twitter: @joshuapramis

Photo courtesy of Lyndsey Matthews.

Royal Wedding Hotel Packages in London and U.S.

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While big, lavish nuptials hold limited charm for me (I eloped, and recommend it for its romance and intimacy), plenty of people are mad for all things wedding, and especially all things William and Kate. Even Dunkin Donuts, friend of the common man, is offering a heart-shaped tribute to the royal couple.

If you’re looking to celebrate the Royal Wedding with something more decadent than a doughnut, we’ve gathered some hotel package options.

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