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Chernobyl Opens to Tourists

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Was your New Year's resolution to live more dangerously? Book a flight to the Ukraine. Nearly 25 years after Chernobyl's Reactor No. 4 exploded, wreaking nuclear devastation upon the surrounding area, the Ukrainian government is allowing tourists to enter the exclusion zone set up after the accident on official tours starting this year.

Though it was previously possible to tour the disaster zone through private tour companies, 2011 brings the first official and legal tours authorized by the Ukrainian government.

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Royal Treatment: Versailles to Be Luxury Hotel

201101-b-versailles-2jpgNPR |  If you've ever dreamed of spending the night at the Palace of Versailles, you might get your chance. A building at France's cherished cultural landmark will soon be turned into a luxury hotel.

Hundreds of shivering tourists line up across an immense cobbled courtyard to visit Versailles.

Home to the French monarchy since Louis XIV, Versailles is a monument to royal grandeur. Soon, the palace may also become known for its five-star hotel. (Photo by Lyndsey Matthews)

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Mt. Everest the Next Gay Marriage Hot Spot?

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Could Mount Everest be the next gay marriage hot spot? According to an intriguing report by Aaron Hicklin in the new issue of Out Traveler, Nepalese member of parliament Sunil Pant is commited to making gay travelers—and wedding parties—feel welcome in his country, telling Hicklin:

“If you want to do it in the Buddhist tradition, we can supply a lama to bless you, or there are shamans who can bless you in a very tantric way. Or you have a Hindu priest or even a Christian padre." He pauses. "Or you can do it in a conservation park with an elephant safari."

Luke Barr is the news director at Travel + Leisure.

Photo by iStock

Lonely Planet Consoles Stranded Travelers with Free Apps

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No matter how miserable your shoveling chores were this morning, I bet you wouldn't trade places with a stranded traveler in a snowstorm. Flight delays typically mean another day or five stuck in a strange city without an itinerary.

—That is, unless John Boris can help it.

Over the past year, when severe weather or natural disaster has trapped tourists at the airports, Lonely Planet Americas’s executive vice president and managing director has been making his popular city-guide apps (iPhone, iPod; iPad) completely FREE for download at iTunes for 72 hours. (Normally, they sell for as much as $5.99!)

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World's First Ski In-Ski Out Distillery

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The sun crouches behind the snow-capped peaks as I prop my snowboard against a wall and step into the world’s only ski-in/ski-out gastro distillery. After an epic powder day, a bevy of snow shredders trickle in for après ski cocktails in what has to be the most unlikely destination for a whiskey brew shop on earth. Utah. Despite it’s rigid alcohol laws, bartenders were muddling mint leaves for mojitos laced with a Utah-distilled, award-winning whiskey. As Julian Rubinstein notes in Travel + Leisure’s January issue, Park City is a town in transition.

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Cool and Clever: Virgin Mobile's MiFi 2200

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I'm skeptical of mobile internet gadgets that promise anything more than a snail's-pace speed. But Virgin Mobile's MiFi 2200 Mobile Hotspot surprised me. In random places around New York City (er, that is, random bars in Brooklyn), the slim, tiny device kept me connected via its zippy 3G network.

It nearly made me regret buying the more expensive 3G-enabled iPad for my wife for Christmas. There's a compelling argument for buying the cheaper iPad and pairing it with a mobile WiFi hotspot (several are on the market). With Virgin's MiFi, up to five devices can connect to the same local WiFi network. Of course, that means five devices then compete for the already-modest signal.

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Delta, American Airlines Pull Fares Off Some Travel Sites

USA Today |  Travelers wanting to book a flight online will find fewer options now that two of the nation's biggest airlines have stripped their fares from some travel sites.

Those looking to fly on American can no longer book trips on Orbitz as of Dec. 21, while Delta stopped allowing three websites — CheapOAir.com, OneTravel.com, and BookIt.com — to list its flights after Dec. 17.

It's a move that more airlines may follow in an effort to cut costs, promote their brand and increase their ability to sell aspects of the travel experience that bolster the bottom line, some travel experts say. But some industry observers worry that the winnowing of booking outlets could ultimately make it harder for consumers to find the best deal.

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The Train in Spain: Brand New Service Zips from Madrid to Valencia in Just 95 Minutes

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In a city like Madrid, where the passion for food and drink is met by a vast number of bars and restaurants that serve any regional specialty you care to sink your teeth into, it may seem slightly odd to say that the best place to go for a truly genuine paella Valenciana could be...the train station?

And yet, the brand new high-speed train link between Madrid and Valencia might just make this statement true. Inaugurated on December 18, it's the latest addition to the AVE network, which radiates from the capital to key destinations on the peninsula such as Barcelona (3 hours) and Seville (2.5 hours). Now, with 16 daily departures travelling at speeds in excess of 200mph, this smooth ride can get you to the Mediterranean coast in little more than one and a half hours.

That's probably less time than you will spend at the table. And since Valencia—already known for excellent produce, fresh fish and world-famous rice—just chalked up its thirteenth Michelin-starred restaurant, the table is without a doubt a good place to be.

Tomas Martin is a research assistant at Travel + Leisure.

Photo by Renfe-Operadora.

Are Red Sea Shark Attacks on the Rise?

Mentioning Jaws is de rigueur whenever a shark attack draws headlines. For this weekend's fatal incident in Egypt, however, the reference actually makes sense. Having already caught two sharks in the area of earlier (non-fatal) attacks, authorities assumed the coast was clear. Now they're worried that more attacks are in their future. AOL Travel explains:

Authorities in Egypt gave the all clear, thinking they had caught the killer shark that had severely injured four tourists in a Red Sea resort area. They were wrong. And now an elderly German woman is dead from a shark attack.
The most recent attack occurred just a day after beaches were reopened in Sharm el-Sheikh, a resort town on the Sinai Peninsula, popular with divers and snorkelers.
The incident is drawing comparison to the storyline of the movie "Jaws," in which the mayor makes the wrong decision in the wake of a shark attack.
The woman was swimming off Sharm el-Sheikh when the shark tore off her arm, according to Egyptian officials. Witnesses reported hearing the victim screaming. She was killed almost immediately.
"It was definitely a shark attack," says Hesham Gabar, the head of Egypt's Chamber of Diving and Water Sports.
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Amtrak says, Guns Allowed on Board

Thanks to efforts by gun advocacy organizations, Amtrak passengers will now be allowed to bring their firearms on board. There are some restrictions. AOL Travel explains:

Congress ordered the reversal of a gun ban that had been in place on the government-owned railroad for nearly a decade, reports the Sacramento Bee. The policy change takes effect Dec. 15.

The new rail policy is in line with air travel rules that allow unloaded guns to be stored in locked baggage holds.

Gun owners will need to let Amtrak know 24 hours in advance of their intention to bring firearms onboard and the unloaded guns will need to be packed in hard-sided containers. These will be placed in special storage lockers - guns will not be allowed on trains that don't have checked baggage service.

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