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Beijing to Shanghai Bullet Train

By Conde Nast Traveler Tuesday, May 31 01:55 PM

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What's that, China? Is that gloating we detect? Okay, fine, we'll give you this one. While we could barely brush the sand off our shoes and get back to work today, the roaring tiger has gone and built itself a $34-billion Beijing to Shanghai high-speed rail link, opening this June--almost a year ahead of schedule.

Granted, there have been a few modifications of the original plan: A proposed lie-flat premium class has been canned and speeds curtailed for safety. Once intended to best the world record set by France's TGV (357.2 miles per hour, mon Dieu!), China's train has registered a top test speed of 302 mph, with actual operating caps at about 185 mph (to be sure, that's still very fast). What does this mean for travelers between the two megacities? An 818-mile journey will clock in at an easy, breezy five hours instead of ten. Meow, Amtrak, meow.

Bullet train tickets from $80 to $165

Photo: Courtesy of Qilai Shen / Bloomberg / Getty Images

Discovery Adventures, Galapagos Island Cruises

By Conde Nast Traveler Saturday, May 28 07:00 AM

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With the Discovery Channel's annual Shark Week set to make its usual splash starting July 31 (this time with SNL's Andy Samberg as Chief Shark Officer), here's an idea: How about taking the plunge yourself on a shark cruise?

This is your chance to get off the sofa and into flippers and a wet suit to meat--sorry, meet--the toothy predators on their own surf. On Discovery Adventures' Galápagos cruises, you'll see scalloped hammerheads, Galápagos, reef, white-tipped, and whale sharks. Itineraries include snorkeling trips to Española Island (to swim with reef sharks) and to Black Turtle Cove, where the Galápagos Islands' white-tipped sharks hang. Who knows, once you get a taste for shark diving, you might get hooked.

Machu Picchu & Galápagos Islands Trip (14 days), from $4,499, 2011 departures: June 10, July 8, August 12, September 9
Galápagos Islands Cruise (10 days), from $4,199, 2011 departures: June 18, July 16, August 20, September 17
Galápagos Islands Cruise (7 days), from $3,099, 2011 departures: June 21, July 19, August 23, September 20
Galápagos Islands Cruise (6 days), from $2,699, 2011 departures: June 18, July 16, August 20, September 17

Photo: Courtesy of Bill Curtsinger / National Geographic / Getty Images

Sagamore Hotel CEO Package, Miami Beach

By Conde Nast Traveler Friday, May 27 07:00 AM

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From interactive wine lists to loaners in the lobby lounge, iPads are becoming de rigueur in top hotels. Only problem is, those shiny toys aren't yours to keep. Not so at the Sagamore in Miami Beach. Through September 30, the hotel's Chief Entertainment Officer package rewards penthouse stays with more than marble floors, sweeping ocean views, and bragging rights. South Beach CEOs also score a free iPad2 on checkout.

In the stylish suite, accessible by private elevator, crisp white-on-white decor is offset by framed curiosities from the hotel's lauded Cricket Taplin Collection of contemporary art. Three bedrooms and two baths offer enough space for you and five friends, while the whirlpool tub, 42-inch plasma TV, gaming systems, and fully stocked kitchen bar invite partying like it's your job. Being top brass comes with other perks, too: There's executive dining on an 1,800-square-foot terrace, corporate limo (complimentary from the airport), and an expense account (bottle of Moët on arrival, free breakfast buffet, daily beach chairs). Leggy interns? That's on you.

Sagamore CEO package starts at $1,300, two-night minimum. Book via e-mail or phone by May 31.

Photo: Courtesy of Sagamore, The Art Hotel

New York Rooftop Gardens, teNeues

By Conde Nast Traveler Thursday, May 26 07:00 AM

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New York is one of those cities where, even if you're having the time of your life, you can't help but wonder if you're missing out on something even more fabulous (you probably are). But here's one way to see something that visitors hardly ever get to access: NYC's rooftop gardens.

New York Rooftop Gardens, a coffee-table book with 200 stunning color photographs by Charles de Vaivre gives you an eyeful of the oases nestled high above the concrete jungle. While most of these leafy, lofty spots are reserved for Manhattan's lucky few, don't despair--there's always the egalitarian elevated gardens of New York's High Line to stroll along (Section 2, from West 20th to West 30th Street, opens in June).

New York Rooftop Gardens, teNeues, available early summer. Click here to preorder.

Photo: © 2011 Charles de Vaivre. All rights reserved. www.charlesdevaivre.com

The Viddy

By Conde Nast Traveler Wednesday, May 25 12:04 PM

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If a picture is worth a thousand words, how many tweets can you get for video footage? Viddy, a new, free app for your iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad allows you to shoot, stylize, and share your vacation videos with friends and followers. You know, just in case they're not envious enough that you're off traveling, this little gizmo can really rub their noses in it...real time.

Viddy makes it easy to share your travel experiences on Twitter, Facebook, and your Viddy profile (see footage of England's Stonehenge and San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge courtesy of two budding Viddyographers). And if it gives you the filmmaking bug, you can add visual effects and a soundtrack to your mini masterpiece, too. Phone, camera, action!

Download the Viddy app for iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad (Android app coming soon)

Photo: Courtesy of Viddy

Smorgasburg, Brooklyn

By Conde Nast Traveler Tuesday, May 24 07:00 AM

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We have good news and bad news. Capitalizing on their runaway success with indie design and secondhand serendipity, the masterminds of the Brooklyn Flea have just unleashed Smorgasburg, a high-end foodie bazaar on the banks of the East River in Brooklyn. The bad? Your summer body doesn't stand a chance.

Part packaged-food and baked-goods stands, part cooked-to-order purveyors, and part greenmarket and kitchen store, this hundred-booth behemoth aims to incubate unknown artisans and top chefs' passion projects alike. Our faves include the gazpacho with crab meat dished up by Alexandra Raij of El Quinto Pino and chicken 'n' biscuits from a Momofuku Noodle Bar cook and a Prime Meats bartender. Get your kombucha tea by the growler, your fruit pies on a stick, and your oysters shucked fresh. But eat your fill: Like an organic blueberry-jasmine ice pop left in the sun (yes, they have those, too), Smorgasburg is a fleeting summertime treat. (Open Saturdays 9 am to 5 pm.)

Photo: Kate Glicksberg/Brooklyn Flea

The Tides Beach Club, Kennebunkport, Maine

By Conde Nast Traveler Monday, May 23 10:39 AM

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The tides they are a-changing in Kennebunkport this summer. No longer must you pop your collar at some stuffy seaside manse decorated with doilies and dinghies. Instead, bed down in boutique style at the newly reopened Tides Beach Club.

This century-old grande dame went under the knife and came out looking svelte and tchotchke-free. Muted tones give the 21 rooms a contemporary, coastal cool look; the folks at Jonathan Adler stepped in to add a touch of whimsy to the suites, with Peruvian textiles, turquoise accents, and zebra rugs.

The Tides is also loosening up the social scene with artisanal New England beers on the veranda and locavore fare in the restaurant. And if you're in need of a makeover yourself, you'll be transported to sister property Hidden Pond for spa treatments in its luxe tree house. Finally, a hotel that's putting the "new" back into New England.

Photo: Courtesy of The Tides Beach Club

't Zilte Restaurant, Antwerp, Belgium

By Conde Nast Traveler Friday, May 20 07:00 AM

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Back when the world was flat, the spice trade was the peak of culinary adventure. So it seems fitting that Belgium's Michelin-starred powerhouse 't Zilte restaurant--where classic cuisine is given a modern twist--has made a new maritime, ethnographic, and folklore institution, Antwerp's Museum Aan de Stroom, its second home.

Occupying the entire ninth floor of the hulking rust-colored stone-and-glass sentinel, the restaurant overlooks the city and river Schelde through floor-to-ceiling windows. 't Zilte may be sitting on top of some noteworthy exhibitions, but we're guessing chef Viki Geunes' creations, including five inventive variations on foie gras, are likely to be the most enticing of all.

Photo: Courtesy of 't Zilte

ArtPad SF, San Francisco

By Conde Nast Traveler Thursday, May 19 07:00 AM

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When you go on vacation to relax, running around a city trying to catch all the latest art exhibitions can be counterproductive. But what if all those events were brought to your hotel? Well, lazy traveler, you're in luck. Starting tomorrow, the new ArtPad SF art festival is checking in to San Francisco's Phoenix Hotel until May 22.

You can watch performance pieces as you sit by the pool, and see the work of emerging and established artists from some of the Bay Area's top galleries, including the White Walls Gallery, which is showing Shepard Fairey's work. And those suckers who decided to pursue a culture fix all over town will end up at your hotel for video art screenings, live bands, and DJs. 'Cause after the art party, there's the after-party.

Photo: Clockwise from left, Alexis Laurent, Les Chardons, Courtesy of LTMH Gallery; Aaron Parazette, Color Key 16, Courtesy of Gregory Lind Gallery; Shepard Fairey, Rise Above Fist, Courtesy of White Walls Gallery; EINE, The Bigger, Brighter, Louder, Faster, Courtesy of White Walls Gallery.

Union Sushi and Barbeque Bar, Chicago

By Conde Nast Traveler Wednesday, May 18 07:00 AM

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You've had South Carolina barbecue, Texas barbecue, even Korean-style. But just when you thought the BBQ trend was growing cold, Chicago's new Union Sushi and Barbeque Bar throws some coals on the fire.

The River North restaurant is set to get Americans all hot and bothered about Japanese-style BBQ. Chefs maintain their kushiyaki robata grill at a blistering 600°F to sear chicken thighs with Japanese curry, prosciutto-wrapped scallops with wasabi-avocado puree and sweet plum sauce, and fish cakes with Wisconsin pepper jack and togarashi.

For those who prefer to keep it cool, there's an assortment of inventive sushi rolls (spicy tuna, seared salmon, and ponzu with cilantro and okra, wrapped in collard greens). And the dining room's spray-painted murals evoke 1980s street art and anime flicks, making it the kind of space that invites you to kick back a few cold ones and eat your fill. Go ahead--with everything priced under $20, you won't get burned.

Photo: Courtesy of Union Sushi and Barbeque Bar

Vanmoof No. 5 Bicycle

By Conde Nast Traveler Tuesday, May 17 07:00 AM

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Packing can be a drag. Packing for what's supposed to be a leisurely bike ride can be an even bigger one. A helmet you can cope with, but then there's the heavy bike lock and all the bells and whistles to strap on, too.

Thankfully, Dutch manufacturer Vanmoof has streamlined the process of taking a spin. Its new No. 5 bike (about $790) integrates a cylinder chain lock and solar-powered LED lighting system--similar to those used on airport runways--into the aluminum frame. But what if you store your wheels in the shade or live in Seattle? You needn't rely on solar power--just use your phone to charge the bike lights via a built-in micro-USB cable. Now if only it could teach you how to pop a wheelie.

Photo: Courtesy of Vanmoof

De L'Europe Hotel, Amsterdam

By Conde Nast Traveler Monday, May 16 07:00 AM

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Amsterdam has always been an ideal destination for immersing yourself in art. Case in point, the $87-million gut-to-garret renovation of the 19th-century De L'Europe hotel. The grande dame reopens on June 1 with furnishings that juxtapose Art Deco chic with Renaissance frills, by modern master Cees Dam.

Bold colors (blues, greens, golds) lead the musty-to-modern charge across 88 expanded rooms and 23 loftlike suites. But the coup de grâce? Artwork--six-by-nine-foot detail shots of Rijksmuseum masterpieces, to be exact. And while some may call sleeping under the massive, steady gaze of Jan Cornelisz Verspronck's Girl in Blue creepy, you can paint us impressed.

Photo: Courtesy of De L'Europe 

The Most Puzzling Hotel in Greece

By Conde Nast Traveler Friday, May 13 07:00 AM

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Transforming a 53-year-old into a hip young thing isn't the easiest of projects. But art collector Dakis Joannou has proved it can be done: He took Athens's aging Olympic Palace hotel apart, reassembled it piece by piece without discarding anything, then cheekily dubbed his chic salvage project the New Hotel.

The property's edgy aesthetic is the handiwork of Brazilian interior-design legends Humberto and Fernando Campana, who have created glass room dividers and mirrors that appear fractured, and wooden furniture that looks like it's been carved out of rock. Chairs and doors salvaged from the original hotel have been repurposed as art installations. Seems there's no better place than Athens to celebrate life in ruins.

Photo: Courtesy of Design Hotels

L.A. Delivers Mail-Order Munchies

By Conde Nast Traveler Thursday, May 12 07:00 AM

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Your next meal in L.A.? Signed, sealed, and delivered at Manhattan Beach Post, a new restaurant located in a former post office in a boho beachy community of southwest L.A.

From the open kitchen, chef and co-owner David LeFevre, formerly of the shmancy Water Grill, sends out hearty shared plates to the funky vintage-style dining room, with walls of mismatched reclaimed wood, lab stools, and old industrial lights. Fleur de sel soft pretzels come with house-made mustards. Bacon cheddar biscuits are slathered in Vermont maple butter. Then there are the seafood dishes LeFevre is known for, such as green curry mussels with Vietnamese sausage and sticky rice. Wash it all down with the only-in-L.A. take on a Manhattan: whiskey, vermouth, and sea salt-caramel bitters in a glass rimmed in bacon dust--strong enough to make you go postal.

Photo: Courtesy of Manhattan Beach Post

Get Two Trips for the Price of One

By Conde Nast Traveler Wednesday, May 11 11:00 AM

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Train journey, or cruise? Canadian Rockies, or Alaska's Glacier Bay? If you're finding it tricky to decide on your next vacation, cruise company Holland America and Canada's luxe private train operator Rocky Mountaineer are offering 12 innovative Rail & Cruise packages that will appeal to the indecisive traveler.

All packages include seven days cruising along the west coast of Canada into Glacier Bay, Alaska, passing porpoises and whales on the way to hardscrabble frontier fishing villages like Sitka and Ketchikan. While rail options chug past rocky peaks and trees as far as the eye can see--which is pretty far, thanks to the panoramic glass-domed viewing carriages.

Train stops can include top Canadian Rockies highlights (Jasper, Yoho, and Banff) and overnights at posh hotels such as the Fairmont Banff Springs, depending on class of service. Keep an eye out for the Silverleaf option, a new mid-range level debuting on select routes. Think of it as the ultimate ode to enjoying the journey.

Rocky Mountaineer Rail & Cruise Packages, departures from Seattle or Vancouver May 8 through September 11, 2011, starting at $2,755

Photo: Courtesy of Rocky Mountaineer

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Prices and other information were accurate at press time, but are subject to change. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.

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