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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

It’s easy to just think of President’s Day as a day off, but this year, why not skip shopping at those blowout sales and take a step back in time? Instead, explore the homes and learn about the lives of America’s former presidents. Whether you’re a history buff or just want to pay tribute to America’s famous leaders, these National Park Service sites are a great way to discover more about our nation’s history. READ MORE

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

Photography by Jamie Gallant and Vern Cummins

Head south! Well, 51° south to be precise, to visit the Falklands Islands! In the 6-part documentary web series 51° South, 2 young filmmakers — 33-year-old Vern Cummins from Dartford, Kent, UK, and 23-year-old Jamie Gallant from Cape Cod, MA — showcase the life on these remote Islands, located east of the southernmost tip of Argentina.

Using the beautiful landscape and wildlife as their backdrop, Vern and Jamie offer us a glimpse of life on the Islands by featuring a variety of residents, including Steve, a taxidermist; Samantha, a private in the Falkland Islands Defense Force; and Charlie, the keeper at the Cape Pembroke Lighthouse.

Some history buffs may recall that the Islands are well-known as the location for the 2-month Falklands War in 1982, but Vern and Jamie’s mission is to show the rich, low-key culture that exists today — and why the Falklands should be added to their list of must-see destinations.

We decided to talk to the off-the-beaten-track filmmakers about their docu-series, the Falkland Islands and their love of travel.

Travel Channel: Of all the locations in the world, why did you decide to do a documentary about the Falkland Islands?

Jamie Gallant: “Well, I first had the opportunity to visit the Falkland Islands in early winter of 2011, it was a dream come true for me. The 2-week scheduled journey around the Islands turned into 3 when a gale stranded me for a handful of days on Saunders Island, in the northwest portion of the archipelago. I missed the 1 flight that left the islands that week; so I did what anyone else in my position would do — I went to the pub. The friendly clinks of glasses quickly cemented my love for this extraordinary country and its people. Once back in my adopted city of Chicago, I immediately got together with Vern, who felt it would simply be a disservice not to investigate further, and 51° South was born.”


Travel Channel:
Did you know each other before filming 51° South? How did you meet?

Vern Cummins: “Yes. Jamie and I met while studying at university in Chicago. We graduated with a concentration in documentary together, one of the smallest departments at one of the largest film schools in the United States. Jamie and I have always shared a common aesthetic and approach to storytelling and this has resulted in many collaborations between us over the years.”


Travel Channel:
How would you describe the culture on the Islands?

Jamie: “I’ve never traveled some place where being an American was such an exciting novelty! That was quite something. The problem with the Falklands from our perspective was that the arguments always seemed to go over the heads of the people who actually called the Islands home. I think that is an underlying frustration with them. So, I remember being amazed by just how open and willing the people were to share their stories and experiences with Vern and me as complete strangers. As documentary filmmakers and photographers, it was such a gem of an experience. We take a lot of pride in the trust they’ve bestowed on us. What we uncovered and hopefully what people take away from watching 51° South is that the culture of the Falklands is not some simple, rough, bitter existence, but rather a truly remarkable, independent and beautifully diverse people.”


Travel Channel:
What are some must-see sights or places a tourist should explore when visiting the Falkland Islands?

Vern: “The Falklands consist of East and West Falkland, as well as hundreds of smaller surrounding islands. The capital, Port Stanley, sits on the east island and is the usual jumping off point for most tourists. The wonderful thing about Stanley is you can pretty much navigate it on foot in a day. The iconic whalebone arch adjacent to Christ Church Cathedral makes for a great photo opportunity. I also recommend stopping in for a pint at the Victory Pub.

“The locals are incredibly friendly, and as is the case with small communities, extremely knowledgeable on those off-the-beaten-path hotspots. One such hidden gem is a short drive up to Moody Brook that provides a wonderful view of Stanley Harbor. The Islands are of course known for their abundance of wildlife, Gypsy Cove is a day trip outside Stanley and great place to see Magellanic penguins strolling along the shore.

“If you have more time I strongly suggest heading over to the West Island. Jamie and I spent a breathtaking day filming amongst rockhopper penguins, turkey vultures and sea lions at White Rock, Port Howard. The best way to reach the West Island is to take an 8-seater Falkland Islands Government Air Service (FIGAS) flight. The view at 800 feet crossing the Falkland Sound is worth the trip alone. If you don’t believe us then watch our episode on FIGAS pilot Troyd Bowles!”

Travel Channel: What were some things you learned about the Islands that most people probably don’t know?

Vern:“The wildlife and landscape is much lauded, and rightly so, but it is also a stargazer’s paradise. Because of minimal light pollution the sky literally lights up at night and is a great place to view the Southern Cross. If you plan on taking a smartphone or tablet I strongly recommended loading a star-spotting app to help you pick out the lesser-known constellations.”

Jamie: “I’d have to say the differences between “lamb,” “mutton” and the elusive “hogget.”


Travel Channel:
Your documentary showcases several residents who live on the Islands. Who do you think was the most colorful or memorable person you met and why?

Vern: “That’s a difficult one because each character has their own uniqueness and quality about them. Charlie Mackenzie, the lighthouse keeper of Cape Pembroke certainly stands out as a wonderfully endearing man who still holds a passion for the lighthouse 30 years on. He is the quintessential salty dog of the ocean.”

Jamie: “One thing we have found is that in the Falklands, everyone seems to have a story worth telling, and sometimes the quirkiest or the most incredible ones come from those you least expect.”


Travel Channel:
Because the Falkland Islands are somewhat off the beaten path, how do you get to and from the Islands?

Jamie: “From the US, it’s usually around a 48-hour journey — including the layovers, by air. Pick your departure city and fly to Santiago, Chile. (You’ll usually have a connection in between.) We recommend spending a day or a few in Santiago: It’s beautiful, safe and full of fresh, colorful fruits and vegetables. From Santiago you then fly down to Patagonia’s Punta Arenas, before catching your final connection to RAF Mount Pleasant. This is the only commercial flight for the entire week servicing the Islands, so plan accordingly! Finally, it’s a 45-minute or so drive along a winding dirt road through dramatic landscapes into Port Stanley.”


Travel Channel:
What is the most important message or point you think people should get after watching 51° South? Why should people care?

Vern: “The islanders live in a very remote part of the world against the backdrop of much political rhetoric over sovereignty (between Great Britain and Argentina). Inevitably when this happens, the first voice to be lost is of those who inhabit the land. Our series was a way of giving back to the community a voice that is seldom heard on a global stage.”

Jamie: “We live in a world that is essentially growing smaller every day. The Falklands in fact may have the largest number of Facebook users per capita of any country in the world. But the fact that places exist in this world that are still difficult to get to, have minimal roads and where children fly in to the annual May Ball via bush plane is a truly beautiful thing worth preserving!”


Travel Channel:
Do you have plans to return to the Falkland Islands?

Vern: “Yes, very much so. 51° South was always planned as an ongoing series and we hope to be back in March to film another set of portraits for series 2. There were so many interesting islanders and their stories to tell that our first series is just the tip of the iceberg. The response from our global viewers has been phenomenal! Jamie and I have always said if people want to see more then we will do more.”


Travel Channel:
Do you have plans to visit other off-the-beaten-path destinations? If so, where and why?

Jamie: “Since my childhood I’ve been fond of maps, and while sprawled out over them, I was always most curious about the places charted along its fringes. As long as hic sunt dracones exist we’ll be determined to seek them out and document them. Plus, we hear Svalbard is lovely in July.”


Travel Channel:
Other than the Falkland Islands, what are your favorite vacation destinations? Why?

Vern: “I’m not really a sit-by-the-pool type of person, I need to get out there and explore, whether it is in a remote destination or bustling city. Climbing Mount Emei in China lives long in the memory for its stunning views across the Sichuan region. I recently got back from Bruges, a beautifully preserved city, and those Belgians certainly know how to brew a beer.”

Jamie: “I’ve been very fortunate to be able to travel all over the world for both work and play, but I don’t think anything compares to the pleasure I get from driving across the US from east to west with my father. We’ve done these long, often haphazard adventures since I was 12, and there is something truly special about taking your time and seeing the country the old-fashioned way. I also get a certain kick out of stopping in rural towns or places where people then ask later, “Why the hell did you go there?” The Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota, comes to mind.”


Travel Channel:
What are some must-have items that tourists should pack before heading to the Islands?

Vern: “A raincoat, a good pair of walking shoes and sunscreen. The “4 seasons in 1 day” term definitely applies to the Falklands, sometimes even in an hour! Aside from the occasional shower, a good raincoat will help shield you from the buffering winds. The Falklands aren’t a relax-and-take-a-good-book destination, you have to get out there and live it, and that can mean plenty of walking — and at times over less than easy terrain. Your feet will thank you for a good pair of shoes or boots. Also remember to take a little sunscreen, it seems contrary to ground conditions but it can be deceptive due to the thin ozone layer down there. Jamie and I would get rather rosy in the cheeks after a long day’s shoot.”


Travel Channel:
Complete this sentence: “I travel to …”

Vern: “I travel to inspire myself to go further, but also make me appreciate where I came from.”

Jamie: “I travel to interact, enjoy, learn and educate.”


Visit the
51° South website for more information about the documentary series, Vern Cummins and Jamie Gallant.

By Matthew Karsten

Batisse the Royal Goat

The men of the Canadian Royal 22nd Regiment who guard Quebec City’s Citadelle have a secret weapon. It’s about 3 feet tall, covered in fur and armed with golden horns. Able to subdue even the hardest of men, women, and children with its charms, this unique creature protects the fortress from foreign invaders. Meet Batisse the Royal Goat. READ MORE

City vs. City

As the 2 candidates gear up for their first debate tonight in Denver and Americans weigh President Obama and Former Gov. Mitt Romney’s stances on the issues, here at Travel Channel, we decided to assess the 2012 presidential candidates in a totally different way. We’ve been busy gathering info for our Obama vs. Romney City vs. City showdown, where we’ll help YOU answer the question: which candidate can lay claim to the better travel destinations? READ MORE

Photography by Lisa Singh

They fought back.

Visitors to the Flight 93 National Memorial may not know exactly what happened in this stretch of rural Pennsylvania on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, but they know this much: The passengers and crew of United 93 fought back that day.

That single act, marked with violent clarity by an impact crater left in the crash’s wake, has drawn 350,000 visitors to the memorial site near Shanksville, PA, over the past year alone — a total of 1.8 million visitors since September 2001.

Visitors from all walks of life come here: leather-clad bikers, Amish from the surrounding countryside, retirees from the Midwest, families with small children. Once a year, a woman from Japan visits to remember her 20-year-old son Toshiya Kuge — one of 40 individuals who perished onboard United 93 that morning at 10:03 a.m., when the Boeing 757 careened from the sky and came crashing to the earth, having flipped on its belly, at 563 miles per hour. READ MORE

MLB Trip Flip at Yankee Stadium

Ever wanted to tour one of the most historic ballparks in all of baseball? Tonight at 9|8c, watch as Trip Flip’s Bert Kreischer gives 2 vacationers the opportunity of a lifetime as he takes them on an all-expenses-paid trip to New York City – including a tour of Yankee Stadium led by former Major League Baseball star Harold Reynolds. READ MORE

Tonight, all eyes are on London as the opening ceremonies kick-off the Olympics. But how will it compare to the opening ceremonies of past Olympics? Travel Channel takes a look at the last summer Olympic opening ceremonies from1976 to today.

Looking for even more Olympic history? Check out our Olympics trivia quiz and our photo gallery that takes a look back at the Olympics through the years. To feed your London fix, take a look at where our Travel Channel hosts have gone in the city. Don’t forget, Will and Kate will be there, too.

Montreal 1976: The Games were opened by Elizabeth II, as head of state of Canada, and several members of the Royal Family attended the opening ceremonies.

READ MORE

Space is one of those destinations that will always fascinate, regardless of whether we’ll ever be able to go or not. (If you happen to have $200K lying around, then start planning your trip now!) But you can explore the history of space travel here on earth. The display of NASA’s space shuttle Enterprise opened last week at Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York City.

In the Intrepid Museum’s Space Shuttle Pavilion, Enterprise — NASA’s very first space shuttle — is elevated 10 feet off the ground, so you can walk directly underneath it. An elevated viewing platform also allows you to get a better look. Intrepid Museum is one of the few places in the world to offer an up-close view of a space shuttle. READ MORE

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