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Harpa, Reykjavík, Iceland

By Conde Nast Traveler Thursday, August 11 07:00 AM

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Would you expect that--from a country that produced Bjork, still believes in elves, and noshes on putrefied shark--the newest cultural endeavor would be a restrained affair? Iceland's World Architecture Community Award-winning Harpa concert hall in Reykjavik has a shimmering glass facade by Olafur Eliasson that refracts and reflects ever-changing light and weather conditions. Inside, the main hall is a 1,800-seat womb of rich scarlet and finely tuned acoustics.

At night, LEDs embedded in the building's crystalline skin give off a multicolored glow. A structural riff on the northern lights, it's an atonal visual symphony of form and function.

Photo: Courtesy of Bára Kristinsdóttir

Kikkerland's Music Branch Headphone Splitter

By Conde Nast Traveler Tuesday, July 12 07:00 AM

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Tunes and travel go together like O'Hare and lost luggage. But hiding under your headphones keeps you from interacting with other people. Until now. May we introduce you to the new Kikkerland Music Branch Headphone Splitter ($10)?

The mod, woodsy key chain plugs into your iPod and three sets of headphones. So your travel companion and your new best friend from the airport bar can join you in rocking out to your playlist...or run away in horror at your musical taste. (How did Justin Bieber get on here?) But, hey, all that matters is that you extended a musical olive branch.

Photo: Courtesy of Kikkerland

25hours Hotel HafenCity, Hamburg, Germany

By Conde Nast Traveler Monday, July 11 01:06 PM

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The Beatles were always ahead of the curve. But they were way ahead when they sailed for Hamburg. Half a century later, this once seedy city has morphed into a hip destination. And its latest opening, the 170-room 25hours Hotel (special opening rate from $140 per night through mid-August), is worthy of that reputation.

Located within HafenCity, the biggest urban renewal project in Europe, the arty hotel draws inspiration from the nearby docks. The check-in desk resembles wooden shipping crates. A tattoolike heart and anchor are etched into the glass showers. Plus, the walls are inked with graphic seafaring illustrations.

A vinyl lounge with an extensive collection of albums, including those of a certain floppy-haired foursome, anchors the hotel to Hamburg's musical past. Mop-tops and mariners may make for a motley crew, but we say ships ahoy.

Photo: Courtesy of 25hours Hotel

L'Opéra Restaurant, Paris

By Conde Nast Traveler Thursday, July 07 11:32 AM

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After 136 years on the drawing board and three near launches, L'Opéra Restaurant at Paris' legendary Palais Garnier finally opened to the public on Monday. And it's every bit as theatrical as you'd expect.

Starchitect Odile Decq's huge white-plaster shapes curve organically around the restaurant's columns, and deep ruby chairs and carpets add Puccini-esque drama. The food from chef Christophe Aribert of Grenoble's two-Michelin-starred Les Terrasses is equally showstopping. Star dishes include roasted guinea fowl, creamed artichoke and foie gras soup, and two versions of house-smoked salmon (classic, with blini and caviar, and contemporary, with brioche and a horseradish and mustard sorbet).

Our inner fat lady ain't singing here. She's eating.

Photo: Courtesy of L'Opéra Restaurant

Discovery Adventures' Classic Japan Tour

By Conde Nast Traveler Monday, November 08 04:41 PM

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Yes, Japan has the high-tech, neon-lit spectacle that is Tokyo, but seriously, people, don't you spend enough time in the fast lane? Why not slow down a little, have a cup of tea, and contemplate the wonders of classic Japan instead?

On Discovery Adventures' new nine-day tour, you can bathe in a hot spring at the foot of Mount Fuji, stroll around Kyoto's geisha districts, and get private access to a former teahouse to see traditional music and dance performances. A few days of this, and you might even switch off your cell.

And for adrenaline junkies who can't switch off, it's also possible to slot in some high-octane Tokyo time, too.

Classic Japan Tour starts March 26, 2011, from $4,399

Photo: Discovery Adventures

Mercedes-Benz Arena, Shanghai

By Conde Nast Traveler Wednesday, November 03 03:15 PM

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No, Mercedes-Benz hasn't started making spaceships (although that would be a blessing at rush hour). This chrome "craft" in the Pudong district of Shanghai is actually an arena, which opened earlier this week.

Originally created for the city's World Expo, the oyster-shell-shaped structure has morphed from that event's cultural center into the country's first venue to offer naming rights--China's answer to L.A.'s Staples Center.

There's a lot going on inside to interest both locals and visitors, including an 18,000-seat stadium, a cineplex, an ice rink, a music club, and a mall. And in case you're still feeling skittish about aliens, rest assured the only conquering forces flying in will be the NBA basketball teams slated to play there soon.

Photo: AEG-OPG Culture and Sports (Shanghai) Co., Ltd.

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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