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Cuiaba (Photo Courtesy of Embratur)

Cuiabá is a host city not to be overlooked by visitors when traveling to Brazil for the World Cup. In the 20th century, this gold-mining city drastically grew from 57,000 to 544,737 residents in 30 years. Today, the city’s 3 ecosystems (the wetlands of the Pantanal; the savannas of the Cerrado; and the Amazon), are treasured by locals and tourists. The city offers visitors magnificent opportunities to immerse themselves in nature, whether it be waterfalls, rivers, plateaus, or miles and miles of beautiful green landscape.

Cuiabá, The City of Picturesque Countryside
One of the many spots to hike and explore in Cuiabá is the Chapada dos Guimarães National Park (Parque Nacional Chapada dos Guimarães), a UNESCO World Heritage site located a few miles outside of the city. This enormous natural park gives people a place to go and explore the large orange and red-rock formations via guided hikes with varying levels of difficulty. Along the hike, visitors to the park see caves, canyons and beautiful outlooks.
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Photo Courtesy of Lewis Johnson

“For the 8th time in my career, I’ve witnessed the power of the Olympic spirit, not just on the field, but in the ability to unite people from across the globe. We come together, work together and find our common ground as humans, despite our language, culture, religion, etc. The fear, concern and safety of visiting Russia was replaced over the past couple weeks with smiles from thousands of volunteers, including one man I met when I first arrived, who said to me in broken English, “This is the new Russia and I hope you enjoy your visit. We are open to the world and we welcome you.” I felt that and I will be back to Russia.  You should come see for yourself.

Cosmopolitan is a word that fits what I experienced here in the mountains above Sochi, Russia. I stayed in Krasnaya Polanya and it’s only a 5-minute walk away from Gorky Gorod Mall with more than 10 restaurants and bars. The mall is not only home to several brand name stores, but there is also an indoor beach on top floor with sands imported all the way from Dubai! You have to see the wave pool, water park and volleyball courts. It’s simply amazing!
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(Photo Courtesy of Embratur)

Recife will set the scene for the much-anticipated USA vs. Germany World Cup game, scheduled for June 26. In addition to being an entertaining host for the big game, Recife is also an ideal destination for a relaxing vacation full of adventure, culture and beaches just waiting to be explored. Recife is a popular city that is no stranger to grand celebrations and festivals. In the upcoming months, travelers can experience various events with the locals.

Recife, the City of Many Bridges
Recife is referred to as the “Brazilian Venice” because of its 50 bridges, which cross over various waterways and rivers similar to the ones in Venice, Italy. These bridges serve the purpose of connecting the city’s smaller surrounding islands like Santo Antonio, Sao Jose and Bairro do Recife. Nestled in Recife’s modern metropolitan style, the city also has an “Old Recife,” known as Recife Antigo, which is the oldest, most traditional district in the state of Pernambuco. Visitors can appreciate the city’s cultural and historical landmarks, all while enjoying its modern attractions, like the dozens of restaurants and craft fairs that are attended by locals and visitors alike.

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The Washington Post / Getty Images

For more than a century, baseball spring training was strictly a professional endeavor — a time for athletes to shake the cobwebs of winter and prepare for the 6-month season that starts every April.

But that was before towns and teams discovered they could add to their coffers by persuading snow-weary fans to buy tickets, food, souvenirs in intimate ballparks where autographs are as common as hot dogs.

The 30 big-league teams, evenly divided between Florida and Arizona, spend March playing meaningless exhibition games that count only in the minds of managers who need to reduce rosters to 25 players by Opening Day. Newspapers print won-lost records and “standings” from the Grapefruit League and Cactus League, respectively, but few fans notice.

They’re more concerned with the play of red-hot rookies or rehabbing veterans whose spring performances can influence the pending pennant races.

Spring training is simply a baseball hors d’oeuvre. Established players rarely play more than a few innings and often skip road games; virtually all games are played on natural grass in daylight; and schedules are determined by geographic proximity rather than league rivalry.

If history serves as an accurate barometer, spring training was a cool topic even before it became a hot travel destination. Here are a few of the reasons: READ MORE

Photography by Andre Maceira – Photo Courtesy of Embratur

Of all the 12 cities hosting the 2014 World Cup, Porto Alegre is the southernmost city in Brazil. Travelers heading down to the state of Rio Grande do Sul are recommended to pack warm coats and extra layers because unlike northern Brazil, the winter weather in Porto Alegre is usually  between 44° and 55°F. Undoubtedly, the weather will not take away from the countless activities Porto Alegre has to offer both soccer fans and world travelers alike. Visitors should know that the citys offers  great urban parks, wine tasting tours, cultural centers, delicious food and exhibits that feature some of the most important pieces of art in Brazil.

Porto Alegre, The City with Multiculturalism.
In the 19th century, Porto Alegre had a large influx of immigrants; the majority of which came from Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain, Africa and Lebanon. The immigrants that settled helped the city flourish as a melting pot of cultures. As a result, Porto Alegre has grown to become a diverse cosmopolitan city with over 1.5 million inhabitants known as Porto-Alegrenses. The city’s gastronomy and architecture is a mixture of Brazilian traditions infused with influences from different countries.
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Red Fox Restaurant (Photo Courtesy of Lewis Johnson)

If someone dropped you off in the village of Rosa Khutor — in the Mountain Cluster of the Sochi Olympics — you get the feeling like you’re in western Europe. Everything is brand new. All of the village’s hotels, restaurants and nightlife were created for the 2014 Winter Olympics. The charm of this luxurious mountain ski village is amazing especially the panoramic views from a ski lift. You’ll love it!

So far, here are my 3 favorite spots to have a meal and a beverage, and chill with a nice mix of locals and fans of the Olympics.
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Lewis Johnson with the US Women’s Bobsled Team: (l-r) Elana Meyers, Lauryn Williams, Aja Evans, Jazmine Fenlator and Lolo Jones (center). (Photo Courtesy of Lewis Johnson)

Traveling must be in your blood to cover the Olympics. Since I was a kid growing up in Austin, TX, I remember seeing the koala — which is not a bear — on the Qantas Airlines commercials on TV. I would think, “I wanna go there one day!” Well, after the disappointment of not making an Olympic team as an 800-meter runner, my Olympic dream did come true in 2000 as an NBC broadcaster. My childhood dream became a reality when I made that trek around the world to Sydney as a Track & Field Analyst for the network’s coverage of the Games down under. Fast forward to 2014, and I’ve just arrived in Sochi, Russia, for my 8th Olympic assignment as the bobsled, luge and skeleton reporter.

You can feel the tension with the increase of security as these Sochi Games begin. Most of us veteran broadcasters and globe trotters will stay alert, but carry on as usual to experience another memorable  Winter Olympics, which will be more than covering our events and going to the hotel. I’m going to hang out with people who want  to embrace Sochi’s culture, including the food, wine and nightlife. It will be my way of exploring the host city and Russia. That’s what I’ll  be writing about for the next few weeks.
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Sochi Olympics 2014

Getty Images

The Seattle Seahawks, Punxsutawney Phil and more came out to play in this week in photos. While the Seahawks dominated the big game, all eyes are on the Olympic Games thanks to some bad press. Let’s hope things look up for Sochi after today’s opening ceremony.

Journalists were the first to arrive — and describe some hilarious and gross hotel experiences. WashPost rounded up their tweets, our personal favorite being from @StaceyStClair about the shoddy plumbing, “Also on the bright side: I just washed my face with Evian, like I’m a Kardashian or something.”

Possibly the most documented of all the @SochiProblems has been it’s interesting bathrooms, which are both lacking privacy and displaying confusing rules. Does that sign say don’t go fishing in the toilet? Your guess is as good as ours, Buzzfeed.

More alarming, Dateline reports that Sochi visitors face an internet minefield, often being hacked within minutes. Furthermore, the US State Department has told Americans coming to Sochi that they should have no expectation of privacy, even in their hotel rooms.

On a lighter note, CNN has 9 ways Sochi Surprises — including dacha, chacha and a gay bar. While you’re at it, check out our list of Sochi’s surprising sights.

Last but not least, today’s Google Doodle is garnering attention for its support of LGBT olympians, pointing to a section of the Olympic Charter that defends all athletes. The CSMonitor has more.

More Olympics Coverage:

Sochi 2014 Trip Planner
Where to Stay in Sochi
The Olympics: A Look Ahead

The Amazon (Photo Courtesy of Embratur)

If there is something that should be well-known about Brazil, it is that ecotourism is taken just as seriously as soccer. Just ask Fuleco, the 2014 FIFA World Cup mascot whose name originates from “ful” for futbol and “eco” for ecology. This personable armadillo is native to Brazil, and symbolizes the importance of preserving the ecosystem, as well as a passion for soccer that is present in Brazil. The city of Manaus is a perfect marriage of the 2: the practice of street soccer and efforts to preserve the Amazon rainforest.

Manaus, the City of the Amazonas
In the 19th century, Manaus was known as the “Heart of the Amazon and City of the Forest,”  when the natural resources of the Amazon rainforest were used in creating rubber as an international export. The city instantly began to flourish, and with wealth exponentially growing, extravagant buildings were being constructed like the Amazon Theater (Teatro Amazonas). For a while, there was a strong European presence in the tropics, but the city’s economic success suffered when the Asian market discovered a way to create artificial rubber. Since then, Manaus has made a comeback.  Locals have continued to work hard to offer excellent tourism services and educational programs  to travelers interested in exploring the Amazon rainforest.
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Katz's Delicatessen

Photography By Fernando Mafra, Flickr

This weekend, MetLife Stadium, located a short distance from New York City, will host the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos in one of the largest sporting events of the year – Super Bowl XLVIII.

Football fanatics and tourists alike will flock to NYC, and even if you’re not one of the lucky fans going to the game, the city is a great place to get your fix of tailgating food favorites – from hot dogs and burgers to pizza and sandwiches, NYC is chock-full of places to eat the day of the big game. To help you choose, we’ve picked out a few of NYC’s best eateries, all of which will be featured in our Food Paradise episodes scheduled to air on Sunday: READ MORE

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