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Two years ago, on Marathon Monday, I was sitting on the sun-drenched front steps of a house party in Boston’s Kenmore neighborhood, when someone stole my boyfriend’s brand-new Canon camera right from under my nose. At the time, we were particularly horrified that someone would have the audacity to do something so mean and so brazen on Marathon Monday! Call me naive, but we thought that was just about the worst thing that someone could ever do on such a celebratory day.

Boy, were we wrong. On Monday at 2:50 p.m., 2 bombs exploded within seconds of each other as runners made their way across the finish line. That act of violence claimed 3 lives, injured dozens more and forever changed how the world viewed my hometown’s very best holiday. For the first time in the race’s 117-year history, Bostonians have to adjust to hearing words like “explosion,” “bombing” and “tragedy” uttered alongside “Boston Marathon.”

It’s just not how Marathon Monday was supposed to be.

What many out-of-towners may not realize is that the Boston Marathon is not just a race, it’s so much more. It’s a day of city pride, a day typically filled with stories of love and support and incredible accomplishment, all celebrated against a backdrop of Patriots’ Day, a state holiday commemorating the opening battles of the American Revolutionary War. School kids and government workers enjoy the day off, Sox fans flock to Fenway Park to see our team host the only morning game on the entire Major League Baseball schedule, and more than 20,000 people from dozens of countries come to compete in the marathon.

It’s a day that runners work toward for months, even years, forgoing hungover brunches with friends to spend their Sunday mornings on 14-mile runs, dreaming of making it over Heartbreak Hill.

On what seems to always be the first sunny, spring day in the city, thousands of spectators head out for the event. Moms and dads pack picnics, grandpas plop down in foldy chairs, and the city’s droves of college kids embark on a marathon of their own — typically, a day-long booze-filled party, all in good fun. Thousands line the 26.2-mile route, at times 10 to 15 people deep, and spend hours rooting and cheering on friends, family and total strangers. Among them this year was 8-year-old Martin Richard, watching from the sidelines in Copley Square as runners made their final strides across the finish line. By Martin’s side were his parents, his 11-year-old brother and 5-year-old sister.

While a few run to compete, many more Boston marathoners run to raise money for charity. Some even run for those who no longer can. The runners write their names on their T-shirts, arms and legs, ensuring 26.2 miles of feeling like a rockstar as adoring Bostonians shout out personalized words of encouragement.

That’s how it’s supposed to be.

This time was different. This time, the spectators weren’t cheering words of encouragement, they were yelling at the runners. They were telling them to stop, to turn around, to run away from the finish line that they’d spent months training to run toward.

This time, Bostonians at marathon-watch parties shied away from their balconies overlooking Beacon Street and instead sat silently around TVs, watching in shock as Copley Square erupted in smoke and horrified screams.

And now we have learned the cost in lives. On Monday, we lost 3 of our own: Martin Richard, the 8-year-old Dorchester boy; Krystle Campbell, a 29-year-old woman from Arlington, MA, who had been waiting on Boylston Street for a friend to cross the finish line; and a Boston University graduate student from China, watching the race with 2 friends.

Now comes the investigation and the questions of who and why? But here’s the hardest question of all: Will Marathon Monday ever be our very best day again? Anyone who knows Boston knows the answer. The city of Boston is a city of fighters, from its earliest patriots up until today. Next year, make it a point to experience the Boston Marathon the way that it was supposed to be celebrated this year, the way that it’s been celebrated all of my life — as a joyous, loving and supportive celebration of incredible strength, determination and will.

To help those most affected by Monday’s bombings, please visit The One Fund Boston.

Tonight, on an all-new episode of Toy Hunter, Jordan visits the Windy City to hunt for toys with a diverse group of collectors. Where did Jordan come across this eclectic mix of people? Chicago’s one and only “nerd-seum,” of course.

But before making his trip to the “nerd-seum,” Jordan and his buddy Mark head over to ex-football player Rick’s house to see what kind of Batman memorabilia they can dig up. As it turns out, some of Rick’s collection was found to be impostors, but Jordan did find one thing that tickled his toy fancy — a $450 Batman Space Probe that has never been opened.

Will Jordan be able to pry the Batman probe from Rick’s tough, football-trained hands? What toy gold will Jordan come across at the “nerd-seum”? Find out on an all-new episode, tonight @ 9|8c.

Plus, check out Jordan’s thoughts on our behind-the-scenes photos from tonight’s episode.

Calling all toy fans — Jordan Hembrough is back with an all-new season of Toy Hunter. Tonight starting at 9|8c, catch 2 brand-new back-to-back episodes as Jordan continues to travel America buying and selling iconic toys.

In the first episode, Jordan is approached by his biggest client to date: Gene Simmons, the bass player from the legendary rock band, KISS. After taking a tour of Gene’s Los Angeles home, Jordan is tasked with going on the road to find the rocker the rarest KISS collectibles around.

Next, Jordan and his sidekick, Steve, head to Virginia in search of some expensive toys to add to their inventory. Things heat up when Jordan and Steve decide to make the trip into a contest to see who can find the most expensive toy in the state.

Will Jordan be able to make Gene Simmons proud and present him with a collectible he doesn’t already own? Who will be crowned King of Toy Collectibles —  Jordan or Steve? Find out during all-new episodes tonight at 9|8c and again at 9:30|8:30c.

Also, when you tune in for tonight’s premiere, make sure to follow @TravelChannel on Twitter! At the end of each episode, we’ll post a question about the show from the @TravelChannel handle. Tweet us your answer with hashtag #THsweeps to enter to win a Toy Hunter prize pack from Jordan Hembrough! Official Rules

Beyond the storied cities of Northern Italy, such as Venice, Florence or Milan, lie intriguing novelettes of Italy’s culture. These hidden gems bring a nuanced feeling of richness and culture that are emblematic of living life as an Italian. Travelers who are fortunate enough to venture into these smaller Northern Italian towns will be pleasantly rewarded with beautiful scenes and activities that enhance Northern Italy’s pastoral pleasures

Belluno
Cinema Tradizionale

Belluno is a small town in the Veneto region. It sits near the Eastern Dolomite region that includes part of theSouthern Alps, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In this regionally influential town is a tradition that spans 4 generations. Just a few feet away from Belluno’s center you can witness the way that films have been shown there since World War II at Cinema Italiano. The cinema’s manager, Manuele Sangalli, learned the art of being a projectionist through a tradition passed down from his great-great grandfather. He’ll take you behind the scenesand show you the fascinating process of how giant spools of celluloid film are transformed to make on-screenmovie magic!

Cortina
A Mountain of Fun

If you’re already in Belluno, why not head 45 minutes north to Cortina for some fun on the slopes? That doesn’t necessarily mean skiing. Cortina d’Ampezzo is one of Italy’s premier ski areas also in the Dolomites (There’s acommon comparison between Colorado’s Aspen). There are numerous shops, restaurants and art galleries where local proprietors will chat about politics and — of course — Italy’s wonderful cuisine. Throughout the year you can attend numerous events including an “Evening Under the Stars” where you can visit the planetarium and enjoy a celestial dinner!

Longare
Triumph and Disaster

The Longare flooding disaster marks a moment in Italy’s history when the community’s successes put it at the top of the world in civil engineering. But a freak natural accident changed the town and the surrounding region forever. In the early 60s, Vajont, Italy’s dam, channeled water away from neighboring small towns but it wasn’t large enough to save thousands from a major flood when a mountaintop crumbled into a nearby reservoir. About 2,500 people in Longare lost their lives. 2013 marks the tragedy’s 50th anniversary and Italy’s government is investing more than a million dollars to commemorate the anniversary.

Conegliano
Sip and Skate

In Conegliano, you can lighten the mood a little with a perfect mix of family and fun. This town is known for its prosecco and a castle formerly inhabited by the Bishop of Vittorio Veneto. But during the colder months, Conegliano becomes a winter wonderland. The charming mixture of lighting and scenescapes at one of Conegliano’s public areas gives the effect of being in a mini Christmas festival. In one of the most exciting seasonal transformations in the community, a mini-carnival is accompanied by a family-fun ice skating rink. Anyone daring enough to step onto the ice can rent skates for about $10.

- Colin Campbell

Colin Campbell is a multimedia journalist and a graduate of Columbia University. He currently works as a DC-based correspondent for international networks reporting on US public and foreign policy matters. When he’s away from Washington he loves traveling and learning about different cultures to make the world seem a little smaller.

With all eyes focused on Vatican City (and a certain seagull) for most of the day, it’s hard not to be a little curious about the world’s smallest independent state, tucked inside the cultural hub of Rome and packed with history and intrigue.

Today’s election of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires as Pope Francis I ushers in not only a new era in the Catholic Church but also renewed interest in travel to the always-intriguing Vatican City. This walled enclave — its own sovereign city-state since 1929 — is home to some of the world’s most famous artwork, from the Sistine Chapel to Michelangelo’s Pieta. You don’t have to be Catholic to appreciate the sheer splendor of Vatican City, but with so much history to take in, where can travelers begin a sightseeing journey?

Skip the lines, and check out these agencies that partner with the Vatican Museum to offer numerous tours.

Presto Tours: Vatican Tours
Another officially recognized partner of the Vatican Museums, this tour company will lead you on a journey through Vatican City. The best part? The sightseeing group is small — 16 guests or fewer are allowed on a tour.

Italy With Us
Daily tours, offered in English, begin at 8 a.m. Each tour covers the Vatican museums, the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica and, when possible, Nicholas V chapel. Bring a friend or significant other — you’ll need a minimum of 2 people to book a tour.

Vatican Museums: Guided Tours
Take a 2-hour guided tour of the Vatican museums and Sistine Chapel — but keep in mind the dress code: No sleeveless blouses, no miniskirts, no shorts and no hats allowed.

Vatican Guided Tour
Among the intriguing tours offered by this company is a journey through the Vatican’s catacombs. Also tour the Vatican Grottoes below the floor of St. Peter’s Basilica where many popes were laid to rest.

Fun fact: Vatican City is 1 of 3 independent city-states in the world — the other 2 are Monaco and Singapore.

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By Lisa Singh and Amanda DiGiondomenico

With St. Patrick’s Day falling over a weekend this year, parades, festivals and celebrations are planned across the US. Here are 5 cities with uniquely Irish-themed soirees in the works.

Boston

If pretty much everyone you walk by is wearing a scally cap or a Dropkick Murphys shirt, then you must be in Boston. More than 600,000 people line the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade route as it winds through South Boston – (but call it Southie if you want to sound like a local). Plus, scores of the political and politically-connected will gather for the infamous St. Patrick’s Day Breakfast at the Boston Convention Center (a chance to roast one another in the spirit of the day).

Best Craic: The World Championships of Irish Dancing at the Hynes Convention Center, March 23-31.

Chicago

Each year, 40 pounds of green dye are added to the Chicago River, turning it a bright emerald green – head to the east side of the Michigan Avenue bridge for the best viewing. Hundreds of thousands of people also show up at the parades that wind through Chicago’s streets, including the Southside Irish St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Sunday, March 10, and the St. Patrick’s Day Parade on March 16. This year, city leaders are working to have the Windy City named as the US headquarters of St. Patrick’s Day as part of its ShamROCK Chicago campaign.

Best Craic: Celtic punk by the Tossers at Metro, Saturday, March 16.

New York City

Plenty of cities claim to have the best, but there’s no question as to whose parade is the largest. New York City’s annual procession up Fifth Avenue, started in 1762 by Irish soldiers in the British army, will draw nearly 2 million spectators. Step inside Molly’s Shebeen (287 Third Ave) after for some renowned lamb stew or shepherd’s pie. A white stucco exterior topped with shingles, sawdust floors and a warm fireplace make this watering hole one of New York’s most authentic.

Best Craic: McSorley’s Old Ale House at the 8 a.m. opening – everyone is still sober, friendly and excited about the day at this point.

Washington, DC

The Shamrock Festival is a massive celebration of all things Irish. On Saturday, March 16, visitors will jam the RFK Stadium Festival Grounds in Washington, DC, to experience more than 40 bands across 9 stages, beer trucks spanning the length of 2 football fields, a pub row and strolling entertainers. The Irish Village will provide step dancers, pipers and games. The city’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade steps off the next day and will make its way up Constitution Avenue at noon.

Best Craic: Legendary traditional Irish group The Chieftains at the Kennedy Center, March 14-16.

San Diego

Swarms of revelers are expected to squeeze into San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter on St. Patrick’s Day to celebrate the 18th annual shamROCK. Live Irish bands will perform on the main stage – including this year’s headliners the Young Dubliners – and a 150-foot Irish pub will be accessible streetside on F Street between 5th  and 7th avenues. Plus, there’ll be 80,000 square feet of green turf covering the streets of San Diego.

Best Craic: The Smiling Irishman contest at the St. Patrick’s Day Festival in Balboa Park on Saturday, March 16. The winner takes home a special hat and a Blackthorn walking stick.

- Bill Burke 

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Edge of Arkansas

Watch Geoff visit the Edge of Arkansas on Sat, Feb. 16 @ 2|1c.

Is there a state with as bad a rap as Arkansas? Childhood obesity. Poverty. Gennifer Flowers.  A cultural backwater like no other, right?

This is why Arkansas is such a perfect place to prove one of Edge of America’s central points. That instead of judging the Earth from the snooty, big city, New York/Chicago/Los Angeles perspective, we should approach every state, every small town, every hamlet with an open mind and an open heart. You never know what you’ll find.

In Arkansas, I found one of the most beautiful states in the country, a place with mountain vistas, rolling meadows, ice cream shops, ranches and old time musicians gathering to play outside, for free.

If salaries are lower than they are in Boston, so is the cost of living. At one point, we drove by a charming country house — all wood, big windows, wrap-around front porch — with a for sale sign outside. I looked it up. $89,500. Now I get it. The reality is that you are not going to see ‘Melo jaw with KG at the Garden, and Bruno Mars ain’t coming to town. But you’re also not going to throw down $650,000 for a 2-room walkup in Chelsea with a brick wall outside your bedroom window and a cranky woman living below you who can’t stand the fact that you have a friend with a baby staying over and “Damn, does the kid have to walk across the floor at 7:30 in the morning?”

Fact is, these Arkansans might have things figured out better than we. They’ve got beautiful homes, family and friends all around, and instead of generic entertainment, they know how to make their own fun.

Tommy Rand taught me to tackle a cow. I have a hunch I’ll never use that skill again. But you get to see it in our episode. A pair of local Arkansans gave me the honor of pushing their outhouse. Don’t ask. You’ll just have to see it. And I found myself in the woods with a kinder, gentler version of Roger Clemens, who let me get behind the wheel of his jeep to rock crawl, which is basically climbing up the side of a mountain in a monster truck. Blue sky. Clean air. Smiles all around.

Out there, in my rock crawler, the last thing I was thinking of was crowding into an arena to catch Neil Young for the umpteenth time.

- Geoff Edgers

Reuters

Chinese New Year falls on Sunday, Feb. 10, but you don’t need to cross the ocean for the party. The most widely celebrated Chinese festival is a time to welcome longevity, wealth and prosperity into your life. Spot a dragon, the bearer of good luck, or set off some firecrackers to chase off evil spirits in one of these cities – our picks for the best cities to ring in the year of the snake! READ MORE

Tonight at 11|10c, watch as Geoff Edgers visits The Edge of Maine, where he races lobster boats, tests his lumberjack skills, and sword fights with a pirate.

Edge of Maine

I thought I knew Maine. Roadside lobster shacks. Yuppies in Kennebunk. Brew pubs in Portland. Then I found myself in Eastport. It’s a gritty town around 6 hours up the coast from Boston. It’s actually the easternmost city in the United States, a fact that’s both trumpeted regularly and less interesting to me than the actual feel of the place. There was a time when Eastport was thriving, driven by the sardine factories. That time is gone.

So what do you do when your industry leaves, there’s no major league sports teams to pump in revenue and the closest you’ll get to a big concert is a pair of singer-songwriters wheeling their amplifiers into a coffee house? You make your own fun. And that’s what I loved about Eastport. It’s a town that’s redefining itself by restoring its downtown and creating offbeat events to attract buzz.

The Pirate Festival is a perfect definition of what I strive for in Edge of America. Thousands of people stream into an underappreciated place to celebrate and participate in an event that simply couldn’t take place anywhere else. You can see pirate bed races, during which the streets are lined with spectators cheering on the participants. You can catch the lobster boat races, in which these creaky boats are outfitted with engines straight out of the Munsters and souped-up to go as fast as 70 miles an hour. You’ll find almost everybody decked out in patches and peg legs and other pirate accessories.

Eastport, for me, was a discovery, with a wonderful waterfront, reasonable restaurants — nothing 5-star, but plenty of New England-styled seafood — and shops and art galleries. It is also a super-quick shot to Canada if you want to ramble more.

Eastport wasn’t my only discovery in our Maine episode. We also filmed in Greenville on Moosehead Lake, hours away and on the Northern border. Moosehead is beautiful. I had my eggs at Auntie M’s, scoured the shelves at the Moosehead Lake Indian Store and took a lengthy morning run through the town. We stumbled upon a fantastic crepe truck run by the daughter of a French immigrant. (Try the lobster, in particular.) And as part of our episode, I got a chance to see Greenville from another angle. I flew with Roger Currier, a veteran seaplane pilot.

Sometimes, when I’m rambling through, I’ll get a sense that the locals wonder if we’re being sincere or whether we’re there to make fun of them. So many TV shows mock people in small towns or in places outside the big city nexus. Not I. The proof, I hope, is in my summer vacation plans.

When it came to finding a place to stay for a couple weeks, I decided to avoid the cliché. We’ve rented a place for 2 weeks this summer in Eastport. I know the kids will get to collect shells and rocks along the shoreline. My wife and I can try to discover great art by artists who haven’t been discovered. And when we’re not doing anything, we’ll just get to sit on our porch, breathe in the salty air, and take pride in our latest discovery.

- Geoff Edgers

Photography by Katie Hards

Today marks the 100 year anniversary of an iconic New York City landmark — Grand Central Terminal. For the past century, it has served as a major hub of transportation for daily commuters coming or going to and from NYC. It also serves as a major tourist destination and is one of the top 10 most visited destinations in the world, according to Daniel Brucker, Manager of GCT Tours. Today, on its official birthday, the Guinness Book of World Records will bestow the building as “The Largest Station by Number of Platforms.” So, besides that, what’s so special about this train terminal?

The building is steeped in the history marked by its technological advancements in transportation, ingenuity in design and architecture and urban development that shaped NYC to be the metropolis we know today. Just think about the stories of the billions of commuters and travelers who have come and gone through the building over the years. Who knows how many hello and goodbye kisses and hugs have taken place within the confines of the building. And we’re sure that even the items in the station’s expansive lost and found room come with their own unsolved mysterious stories, including an urn of ashes or a basset hound that have both, somehow, been left behind. With nearly 700,000 people served daily, Grand Central also boasts an on-time performance of 98%, ensuring everyone arrives safely and promptly at their destinations.

Photography by Katie Hards

Before their centennial celebration, I was able to partake in a very special behind-the-scenes tour to understand what makes this building and its services so unique. From the lowest depths of the building — which is the deepest basement in all over New York City — I, along with other special guests, got a glimpse into the enormous electrical infrastructure, both that power the station.

Prior to 1913, the trains coming to and from Grand Central were powered by coal, making any property along the open air tracks dirty and undesirable. With the introduction of electrically powered trains, the tracks could be enclosed underground, and the land above it (Park Avenue) became ripe for development. This area became, and still is, some of the city’s most lucrative and expensive properties.

Photography by Katie Hards

Photography by Katie Hards

In the upper reaches of the building, we sidled past busy men and women sitting in the Metro North control room. They were guiding train traffic in and out of the station by overseeing blinking lights and numbers on two enormous screens — leaving me cross eyed from its complexity. Luckily, we ducked into a door behind them to scale a couple of rickety ladders that led us to a small room. We found ourselves faced with the most beautiful Tiffany glass clock, which is visible along 42nd street. The “6” on the clock opens up to reveal the street below and Park Avenue leading up to the station. It’s a great view from a unique vantage point. We got another great view from the upper glass catwalks. This perspective allowed us to see the wonderful beaux-arts features of the building and to gaze closely at the ornate constellations painted on the ceiling. Peering down, we gained a birds-eye view of the expansive main concourse to watch the commuters, travelers and visitors from above.

Photography by Katie Hards

Photography by Katie Hards

If you’re planning a trip to the Big Apple before March 15, put Grand Central Terminal on your must-see list. MTA Metro-North Railroad — which operates the Terminal — is celebrating the centennial with an informative exhibit highlighting the history of the building through photographs, architectural drawings and interactive exhibits. You can even download a special app that will guide you through the unique elements of this centenarian landmark. Though you won’t be scaling any ladders or peering down from the catwalks, you’ll gain historical insight and visit some of the other unique features of the building.

Photography by Katie Hards

See what other landmarks, events and cities are celebrating big birthdays this year in our Travel Anniversaries of 2013 slideshow.

- By Katie Hards

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