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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

Love is in the air as February approaches, and what could be more romantic than a trip to paradise? Travel + Leisure has just released a list of the world’s most romantic islands — here are some of our favorites, and a few we think they missed.

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VisitScotland

How do you get a pony in a sweater? CNN asks this question we’re all thinking after Scotland’s “ponies in sweaters” marketing campaign hit the web last week.

The owner of these pony sensations, Joe Tonkinson, explained to CNN, “It was just a case of putting one foot in, put the other foot in … and button it up.” Who would have thought it was that simple? Tonkinson went to say that the ponies were extremely calm during the sweater outfitting.  Apparently, these ponies don’t mind the model life.

In this brilliant marketing move, Visit Scotland combined 2 of its biggest exports – Shetland wool sweaters and Shetland ponies — to promote its Year of Natural Scotland.

And, these pony ambassadors, Fivla and Vitamin, certainly have brought new interest to Scotland. Who could resist short-legged shaggy ponies in winter woolies?

With its castles, countryside, haunted places, the whisky trail and now, shaggy Shetlands in sweaters, Scotland is piquing our interest.

What about you – any plans to see Scotland this year?

 

Sentosa is the Orlando of Singapore — an island comprised of a Universal Studios theme park, and as many spas, casinos and beaches as you could ever desire. Last month, the tourist-friendly island opened its newest addition: the world’s largest oceanarium.

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Photography by Getty Images

Can you imagine anything worse: You’re in the middle of a crowd of people lined up along Pennsylvania Avenue — eager to see President Obama walk a portion of the inaugural route — when, all of a sudden, Little Johnny starts tugging at your sleeve, because … he’s REALLY GOTTA GO! Sure, every president since Thomas Jefferson has walked a portion of this inaugural route, but right now you’ve got something more important to think about – the nearest port-a-potty.

First, relax — we at the Travel Channel have got you covered. While Monday’s Inauguration isn’t expected to reel in the nearly 2 million people who descended on the nation’s capital 4 years ago, it will still be pretty darn packed. Streets will be closed off. Metros are running at special hours. And, well, when nature calls, the nearest museum or store may not be open. Here’s the lowdown on what you need to know.

Know Before You Go

First thing’s first – bathrooms. Yes, several media outlets have reported a shortage of port-a-potties about town for Monday’s inauguration. None other than Charmin is encouraging attendees to download the SitOrSquat app to find clean public restrooms.

But phones die, and apps can still be unreliable. So it never hurts to mentally catalogue places you know will be open. Many of the Smithsonian museums on the National Mall will open early come Monday, Jan. 21 – specifically, the Freer and Sackler galleries, and African Art and Hirshhorn museums will all open at 8 a.m. and stay open until 5:30 p.m. The Smithsonian Castle will be open from 7:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. However, all of these museums, as well as the Air and Space Museum, will close all Mall-side entrances – the only way to access them will be via Independence Avenue. Plan accordingly.

Not all museums will be open, however. These include the American Indian Museum, which will be closed all day (due to its proximity to the swearing-in ceremony on the Capitol steps). The National Gallery of Art will close its East Building Monday but keep its West Building open – this means there will be no handicapped entrance. The Renwick Gallery will be closed all day Monday.

Looking for Food?

All the political festivities got you hungry? If you’re looking for something quick – plus a chance to warm up – these museum concessions will be open: Air and Space (McDonald’s McCafe, Boston Market, Donato’s Pizza); Natural History (Atrium Café, Café Natural, Fossil Café); American History (Stars and Stripes Café, Constitution Cafe); Smithsonian Castle (Cafe and Coffee Bar).

Getting Around Town

If, for some odd reason, you’ve decided to drive into town — keep in mind areas with vehicle restrictions. Check out this full map of vehicle restrictions, courtesy of the US Secret Service. And if you plan on hoofing it on foot, print out this map of pedestrian walking routes.

For a full look at public transportation options over Inauguration Weekend, check out our Escape DC’s Inauguration Crowds — scroll to the bottom, where you’ll find everything you need to know!

Things to See

So you couldn’t land a front-row seat to the swearing-in ceremony — big deal! You’ve still got plenty of options. Swing by the American History Museum at 11:30 a.m. Monday – they’ll broadcast the ceremony in the Flag Hall. (However, if you were lucky enough to score tickets – be sure to check out the official Inaugural app that will guide ticket-holders to their seats.) Afterward, be sure to check out the ever-popular “First Ladies” exhibition on the museum’s third floor – you’ll see 2 dozen gowns worn by First Ladies of eras past, including Jackie Kennedy and Laura Bush.

Be sure to check out the National Portrait Gallery’s new display – a collaged portrait of President Obama by American contemporary graphic designer and illustrator Shepard Fairey, as well as Chuck Close’s sprawling 2012 tapestries of the president’s likeness. And don’t miss these presidential hangouts in DC.

Additional Inauguration Resources:

http://www.wtop.com/1220/3184000/WTOPs-Inauguration-Day-survival-guide
http://inauguration.dc.gov/
http://godcgo.com/inauguration-2013.aspx
http://washington.org/topics/inauguration
http://www.secretservice.gov/presidential_inaugural.shtml

Samantha Brown had her twins! She announced on Facebook, “The babies are here! Please welcome Ellis James, 6 lb. 10 oz. and Elizabeth Mae, 5 lb. 12 oz. Everyone is healthy and doing great! Pics soon!”

Our girl-meets-world sweetheart, Samantha Brown has been hosting shows on Travel Channel for the last 13 years. And now she’s embarking on her biggest adventure yet – motherhood!

When she first announced her pregnancy, we asked our globe-trotting gal — who’s traveled to dozens of countries, hundreds of cities and countless hotels around the world — how life on the road will change with the new additions.

“One thing’s for sure, these 2 will be the most well-traveled babies. We already have on schedule in May a 9-day trip planned through Germany. So one of the first things on our to-do list after they are born is to get baby passports,” says Samantha.

While we know motherhood is going to change Sam’s life, we’re sure she’ll be taking fans along for the ride.  Stay tuned for more from Sam (and babies!)…

And be sure to catch Sam when she hosts Travel Channel’s first-ever “Trip of a Lifetime” special premiering on Sunday, Jan. 27 at 8|7c. 

It’s a huge weekend in DC, with over 100 different events happening throughout the city and the Metro system preparing for the over 800,000 people estimated to visit. If you’re one of the brave ones visiting DC this weekend – or any other weekend, for that matter — then let us help you get to know the nation’s capital, chockfull of sights, history and amazing food!

1. While you’re touring DC, solve a mystery at The International Spy Museum, which has the largest collection of international spy-related artifacts and immersive activities to enthrall children, as well as adults.

2. Why not stay in style while visiting the city of our country’s power players? Check out our picks for luxury accommodations.

3. Explore the beautifully historic neighborhood of Georgetown, and tour the favorite hangouts of former presidents — such as Bill Clinton, who graduated from Georgetown University in 1968.

4. Go sightseeing at one of the many monuments. Trust us, there are plenty of them – and they’re free!

5. Sip a coffee at Busboys and Poets, near the famous U Street, named for poet Langston Hughes, who worked as a busboy at the nearby Wardman Park Hotel.

6. Since you’ve traveled to DC to support the president, find out a little more about how the president, himself, travels.

7. Of course you need to eat! Find out what makes DC a great town for foodies with these top restaurants.

Reuters

The Federal Aviation Administration has ordered all U.S. Dreamliners to cease flying until the battery fire risk is investigated.

Following a nightmarish few weeks for the long-awaited Boeing 787 Dreamliner, the FAA has ordered that all 787 fleets be grounded as a precaution after an emergency landing in Japan. And that was after a series of other incidents, including a battery fire aboard an empty Dreamliner in Boston last week.

Japan, India and Ethiopian airlines have grounded their Dreamliners, and other nations where 787s were in service have followed suit.

Boeing President Jim McNerney issued a statement that the company is working around the clock with customers, regulators and investigators to solve the problems.

“Boeing deeply regrets the impact that recent events have had on the operating schedules of our customers and the inconvenience to them and their passengers,” McNerney says. “We are confident the 787 is safe, and we stand behind its overall integrity.”

But what about the fliers? Will they lose faith in the Dreamliner, even if the safety issues and bugs are resolved? Will the dreamy ‘mood lighting’ and larger windows ever override the trepidation of setting foot on a Dreamliner again?

Will you fly on a Dreamliner once the issues are resolved? Tell us in the comments.

Photo Courtesy of The Ritz-Carlton Lodge

Like it or not, V-Day is right around the corner (just a month away, to be exact). So, if you really want to impress your sweetie, it would be a good idea to start planning now.  But if you’re still in the dark about what to get that special someone, there’s a good chance they only want to spend some quality time with you.

Sex and the City Zoo 4: Sexy Beast
Say what? Stay with us for a second. The Los Angeles Zoo is holding an “adults-only affair” on Feb. 9  with an enlightening talk by actress and interpretive naturalist of zoology Joleen Lutz. a reception featuring desserts and wines, “animal walk-abouts,” (including chats with keepers and the chance to observe small animals up close) and an optional 4-course dinner at Reggie’s Bistro inside the Zoo.

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ThinkStock

With the Oscar nominations announced this week and the Golden Globes airing on Sunday, we’ve chosen our own awards … for the most travel-inspiring films of the year.

And just in time. Set-jetting, the global phenomenon of film (and TV) fans flocking to movie locations around the globe, is one of forecasted travel trends for 2013. Travelers are now, more than ever, reliving their favorite films all over the world.

Here are some of our favorite wanderlust-stirring flicks from 2012:

Anna Karenina

While this film version shows very little of Russia or its famous landmarks (much of the action takes place on a theatre stage), it still inspires opulent travel of the old world sort. The scenes of Anna Karenina traveling in a lavish train car through the snow-covered open landscapes of Russia leave us dreaming of a similar trip: a luxury train ride on the Trans-Siberian Railroad, touring historic St. Petersburg and dynamic Moscow.

The Hobbit

This latest installment of filmmaker Peter Jackson’s epic fantasy created a huge surge of tourism in New Zealand, where bout 150 locations were used for Lord of the Rings’ scenes. The mecca of all Hobbit tourism is Hobbiton, private-farmland-turned-movie-set. You can tour the 44 hobbit holes set in the picturesque rolling hills of Matamata’s countryside to see how the furry-footed creatures live.

Lincoln

History buffs and the Academy Awards alike can’t get enough of this film about our 16th president. Capturing the renewed interest in Lincoln destinations, this year tours are popping up in key cities such as Washington, DC, and Richmond, VA, retracing Lincoln’s steps and revealing history-rich locations.

Life of Pi

Praised as the next Avatar due its stunning cinematography and special effects, this film adaptation of Yann Martel’s fantasy-adventure novel has sparked renewed interest in Taiwan. With mesmerizing scenes filmed at Kenting White Banyan Garden, Kenting National Park and Taipei Zoo, Taiwan is likely to be on many lists for top destinations in 2013.

For more travel-inspiring films, check out our full list of movies that moved us in 2012.

And take a look back at what films made us want to pack our packs in 2011.

 

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