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Taking the Santa Claus Express to the Arctic Circle

Want to see the Northern Lights and Santa Claus in one trip? Then head to Finland with your Eurail pass and grab the Santa Claus Express.
Mysterious, ethereal, and famously remote: Does the aurora borealis, or Northern Lights, hover near the top of your travel bucket list? If it does, maybe it’s time to cross it off: this is predicted to be a perfect winter for sighting the magical solar winds named after Aurora, the Roman goddess of dawn. While you can glimpse them from many places on earth – including Canada, the northern U.S., and Scotland – Scandinavia remains practically synonymous with the phenomenon.
While the Northern Lights frequently appear in Iceland, Norway and Sweden, it’s only in Finland where they occupy the same landscape as Santa Claus’ “official office” on the Arctic Circle. (Finns call him Joulupukki, but you’ll still recognize the iconic Father Christmas figure with the white beard and long red hat.) If you’ve always dreamed seeing the Northern Lights from a reindeer safari before bunking down in a thermal igloo, Lapland is your place.
Part of the mystique lies not simply in the otherworldly nature of the lights themselves – swirling green streaks that glow against the dark arctic sky – but in, well, the challenge of getting to Lapland. With sleeper trains running north from Finland’s capital city, that challenge is solved. Yet the overnight journey, with the tracks plunging into the snowy darkness of the Arctic Circle, remains an utterly mysterious one.

The incredible Northern Lights

When to Go?
The autumn and spring aequinoxes – September 21 and March 21 – frame the time window for aurora borealis. While it’s mostly you’ll spot the Northern Lights from late fall through very early spring, there’s no guarantee that they’ll appear on any given day. Plan on spending several days in the Arctic Circle to maximize your chances. The lucky – and the patient – are sometimes rewarded with nights in which the spectacle appears and reappears several times, returning to the starry stage for multiple encores.
The Santa Claus Express Train
Operated by Finnish Railways, the Santa Clus Express is not a cozy sleigh drawn by reindeer. But it’s the next best thing: a comfortably appointed double-decker train that delivers you to one of the most remote corners of Europe while you sleep. In the morning, sip coffee and check your wifi in the bistro car as the snow covered landscape rolls past. Sleeping compartment prices are surprisingly economical. Double sleepers range from 31 to 43 Euros per person, with the more expensive compartments outfitted with private bathrooms.

Inside the Santa Claus Express

The Santa Claus Express Train Route
While both follow essentially the same routes, the Santa Claus Express trains feature two options. The Pikajuna 265, which departs Helsinki Central Station in the early evening, stops in Rovaniemi the next morning before making its final stop in Kemijärvi just over an hour later, at 9 a.m. The Pikajuna 273 departs a bit later, leaving Helsinki just before 10 p.m. and arriving at Rovaniemi at 10:40 a.m.
After the night train departs Helsinki Central, it heads north towards Tampere, passing through many small towns that appear only as collections of glimmering lights. On the Pikajuna 273, you’ll arrive at Oulu around breakfast time — just before 8 a.m. If you can delay the anticipation of the Arctic Circle for another day, it’s worth stopping to check out.

Helsinki, Finland

Stopover in Oulu
Oulu’s most idiosyncratic claim to fame might be that it’s home to the Air Guitar World Championships. But this university and tech town of around 200,000 is probably better known for being one of the northernmost cities in the world. In summer, its pleasures are obvious. Explore the islands that make up the city on the impressive bike paths, then head to a café in Kappatori, the buzzing market square along the waterfront, to bask in the all-night sun.
In winter, Oulu is perhaps even more unique. By day, play in the snow or go sledding at Nallikari Winter Village. Those adventurous and undaunted by Arctic temperatures can take a snowshoe safari or a stroll on the frozen Gulf of Bothnia.
Arriving in the Arctic Circle
The first thing you’ll hear when you arrive in Rovaniemi, the unofficial capital of Lapland, is that it’s the hometown of Santa Claus, who “resides” at Santa Village. If you’re traveling with children, or want to impress you’re friends back home with a letter sent from Santa’s official post office, consider a visit.

Santa Village, Rovaniemi

Regardless of your ideological stance towards Santa, don’t miss an excursion to a reindeer farm or the Rauna Zoo, which showcases Arctic fauna such as polar bears. At least one day per year, the sun never rises over Rovaniemi. In addition to spotting the Northern Lights, it’s also a perfect place to see kaamos, the deep blue light on the snow that’s reflected from the winter sky.
The Rovaniemi rail station is within walking distance from the town center, where most lodging is located.
If a fetching mountain town with a decidedly retro vibe is more your speed – or you simply want to brag that you’ve hit the northernmost town in Finland – take the train about an hour past Rovaniemi to Kemijärvi. Here, the snowy peaks of this dramatic landscape are called fells, an Old Norse word for mountain. At Pyhä Fell skiers will find downhill skiing with nine chairlifts across 14 slopes. In addition to downhill skiing, Suomu Fell features over 70 km of cross country ski trails, some of which are lit for night skiing.
Read more about this night train and visit the Arctic Circle with a Eurail pass.

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Source: Eurail

Best of 2015: Our most breathtaking travel photos

2016 has just started, but it doesn’t mean we can’t find inspiration from last year’s adventures. Thousands of people took to the rails last year and saw the best of Europe. We’re excited to present our pick of 14 breathtaking travel photos from 2015, based on our most popular Instagram posts.
Where will you go this year?
Our top 14 breathtaking travel photos
14. Venice, Italy

Venice railway station Santa Lucia is located on the edge of Venice’s center. In less than one minute you can reach the Grand Canal and its boat taxis.

13. Dolomites, Italy

Take the regional train to Trento, approximately one hour from Verona (Verona Porta Nuova station). Travel there from Bolzano in 47 minutes.

12. Barcelona, Spain

The Funicular railway takes you to the top of the Tibidabo in Barcelona.

11. Heidelberg, Germany

Heidelberg is perfectly integrated within the German train network. Nearby cities such as Stuttgart, Frankfurt, and Mannheim can be reached within a few hours.

10. Paris, France

Take the Cité (metro 4) or RER B or C to Saint Michel-Notre Dame. Taking a boat trip is also recommended for the best views!

9. Salzburg, Austria

Hohensalzburg Castle can be reached with a 20-minute walk from Salzburg’s main train station.

8. Prague, Czech Republic

From Praha Masarykovo nádraží station you can easily get to the outer edge of Prague’s historic old town by walking.

7. Burano (Venice), Italy

The number 12 vaporetto (water bus) line runs from Venice to Burano.

6. Cobh, Ireland

The centre of Cork is a 15-minute walk from the main train station. Explore Cork by joining The Titanic Trail or a ride by the Cobh Road Train.

5. Amsterdam, the Netherlands

A few steps outside Amsterdam Central Station on the city side will bring you close to the heart of Amsterdam’s city center with its canals.

4. Bergen, Norway

From Bergen station (Bergen Stasjon), the lower station of the Funicular Cable Car is a 10-minute walk.

3. Luxembourg

The Grund area is a 15-minute walk from Luxembourg’s main train station.

2. Krakow, Poland

There are daily direct trains to and from Berlin, Bratislava, Budapest, Prague, and Vienna.

1. Neuschwanstein (Füssen), Germany
Our most popular Instagram photo of 2015 was this fairytale view of Neuschwanstein, Germany.  Read our article about how to visit the castle that inspired Walt Disney.

Take the train from München Hauptbahnhof to Füssen. Buses can carry you from Füssen station towards the castle.

Head over to our Instagram page and follow us for regular travel inspiration!

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Source: Eurail

8 Secrets To Better Smartphone Photos On Your Travels

Wondering how to document your big adventure abroad? The best camera the average traveler can take with them is already in their pocket. Smartphone cameras have improved drastically over the past decade. They’re the perfect solution if you just want some solid shots to share with loved ones back home, without worrying about extra weight to carry.
Here are eight secrets for taking better smartphone photos while traveling.
1. Add shortcuts within thumb’s reach
Whether it’s in your pocket, purse, or backpack – make sure your phone is ready to grab in a second. Great smartphone photos are often all about timing. On an iPhone, you can easily find the camera shortcut in the lower-right corner of the lock screen. On most Androids you can add a camera shortcut on the lock screen. With newer Samsungs, just double-tap the home button.

Thankfully my phone was in hand for this sneak attack of rowdy goats passing by while laying on a beach in Europe.

2. Apply the basic rules of photography
Use the rule of thirds: mentally divide your image into a grid of nine equal parts and position the most important parts of the scene along the imaginary lines. You can add these grid lines in the camera settings of most smartphones. Framing considers the empty space in your scene. Leading lines can guide the way people’s eyes move around a photo. There are plenty of free resources on the Web to introduce you to these concepts, so use them.

Sunset and shadows at Belém Tower in Lisbon, Portugal.

3. Up the “wow” factor with photo editing apps
Select a few and become a master at using them. Some of the better ones can set you back a couple of dollars, but the extra shooting and editing capabilities are more than worth it. Snapseed, ProCamera, Camera+, and Adobe Photoshop Express are some of the most commonly used apps among mobile photographer pros.

This standard bridge shot of Stari Most in Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina was brought to life by adding drama and saturation in the Snapseed app.

4. Use accessories to get smartphone photos from a different angle
Smartphones now have their own set of accessories and tools. Use a lens attachment for different effects. Fisheye creates a circular image with linear distortion, macro is for magnified subjects, and wide-angle allows for more scenery in the frame. You can also shoot in or underwater with a waterproof case, or from up above using a selfie stick as an extension of your arm.

Capturing the crystal clear water was made possible with the protection of a waterproof iPhone case.

5. Adjust modes and settings for motion shots
Get familiar with different settings if you or your subject are in motion. It can be the awe-inspiring landscapes that you pass through on a high-speed train, capturing a busy street scene, or simply trying to get a perfect jump shot of your travel companion. Many smartphone cameras offer a burst mode as a native feature. By simply tapping and holding the shutter button down, it will continuously capture 10 photos per second. Another way is to increase the ISO and adjust the shutter speed on your photo editing apps.

A bus whizzes by in the city. For nighttime street shots, use an app where you can lower the ISO and shutter speed to catch those fun light trails.

6. Use natural light when taking food photos
Food is no doubt going to be an important part of your travels. It’s also an aspect of a country’s culture that is fun to capture in smartphone photos. On your restaurant table or in a local food market, the best food photos often focus solely on the food, have the background blurred out, and are taken with natural lighting. To do this, tap your phone screen to focus on the subject.

A picture-perfect Parisian snack, focusing on the dish and taken in natural lighting.

7. Include details in the foreground
It’s easy to look at the big picture of all the new landscapes and cityscapes you’ll be visiting, but don’t forget the details in the foreground. Capturing the little things that are often overlooked can often make more of an impact in a photo, and tell an even greater story about the scene you are shooting.

Taking a closer look at the gorgeous countryside in Eastern Europe.

8. Take moments, not photos
Above all else, the best travel photographs are not just snapshots of people, places or things – they are snapshots of moments in time. Put some thought into what you are actually shooting so you can be taken back to that exact moment again and again. This is the single best souvenir you can ever bring home from an epic trip abroad.

Capturing the sights, sounds, and experience of Seville, Spain.

Do you have any more tips for taking smartphone photos while traveling? Let us know in the comments below.

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Source: Eurail

HOTEL INDIGO® OPENS IN HISTORIC CITY OF YORK

20 July, 2015
HOTEL INDIGO® OPENS IN HISTORIC CITY OF YORK
InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), one of the world’s leading hotel companies, today brings its boutique, Hotel Indigo®, to the historic city of York. Operating under a franchise agreement with Sojourn Hotels, Hotel Indigo® York opens its doors on Walmgate, a thriving foodie destination and the birthplace of York’s chocolate making empire.
The intimate 101 room hotel is perfectly situated within prime reach of some of the city’s most outstanding restaurants and bars, boutiques, artisan shops, famous tea-rooms, museums and galleries. From the building design to the hotel’s artwork and locally-inspired menus, every Hotel Indigo property is unique and takes influences from its surrounding neighbourhood. Celebrating the true flavours and locality of Yorkshire, Hotel Indigo York has partnered with the award winning Yorkshire Meatball Co. — one of the UK’s only speciality meatball restaurants, offering guests delicious and unique dishes using the tastiest local produce. The restaurant serves meat, fish, vegetarian and sweet balls all hand-rolled in-house as well as a wide selection of Yorkshire craft beers.
Tom Rowntree, IHG’s Vice President for Hotel Indigo, Europe said: “We’re enormously proud to be opening our first Hotel Indigo property in York. Hotel Indigo provides a refreshingly local experience for guests through stylish design, locations in unique and culturally-rich neighbourhoods, topped off with intimate, personalised service. We’re the place to discover something new and feel inspired whether you’re a local, or a visitor travelling for business or leisure.”
Shiraz Boghani, Chairman of Splendid Hospitality Group said: “We are delighted to be opening our third hotel in York.  There are over 30 visitor attractions in York and it is a testament to how hard York works as a City that there is something to appeal to everybody who visits.“
At Hotel Indigo York, design nuances echo the neighbourhood’s cultural charm and have been woven throughout the hotel to create eye-catching décor. Interiors hint at Walmgate’s chocolate heritage, including Rowntrees (the famous English confectioner started life in this neighbourhood in 1725). 
Centre stage on the ground floor is a red brick feature wall, influenced by the architecture of Walmgate which has been admired over the centuries by visitors to York.
Mike Sweeting, Hotel Manager, Hotel Indigo York commented: “The neighbourhood of Walmgate provides the perfect base for exploring York’s rich cultural heritage. With our chocolate inspired décor and emphasis on real local flavours we are ready to give guests an authentic Yorkshire welcome.”
Just as no two neighbourhoods are alike, no two Hotel Indigo properties are alike. Each is designed to uniquely reflect the local culture, character and history of the surrounding area. Hotel Indigo York creates a truly memorable experience by artfully combining the modern design and intimate service associated with a boutique hotel with the conveniences and consistencies you can expect from staying at one of the world’s largest hotel groups. There are currently 18 Hotel Indigo properties in Europe (which makes Hotel Indigo York the 19th) and 11 in the pipeline. Hotel Indigo York joins 9 IHG hotels in Yorkshire.

For further information or bookings, please visit Hotel Indigo York.
* Figures as of 31st March 2015
 
ENDS

For further information about this release please contact:
Lucy Scaramanga on lucy.scaramanga@ihg.com or on 01895 512 932

Notes to Editors: IHG (InterContinental Hotels Group) [LON:IHG, NYSE:IHG (ADRs)] is a global organisation with a broad portfolio of hotel brands, including InterContinental® Hotels & Resorts, Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, HUALUXE® Hotels and Resorts, Crowne Plaza® Hotels & Resorts, Hotel Indigo®, EVEN™ Hotels, Holiday Inn® Hotels & Resorts, Holiday Inn Express®, Staybridge Suites® and Candlewood Suites®.IHG manages IHG® Rewards Club, the world’s first and largest hotel loyalty programme with nearly 86 million members worldwide. The programme was relaunched in July 2013, offering enhanced benefits for members including free internet across all hotels, globally.IHG franchises, leases, manages or owns more than 4,900 hotels and 720,000 guest rooms in nearly 100 countries, with more than 1,200 hotels in its development pipeline. Over 350,000 people work across IHG’s hotels and corporate offices worldwide.InterContinental Hotels Group PLC is the Group’s holding company and is incorporated in Great Britain and registered in England and Wales.
Visit www.ihg.com for hotel information and reservations and www.ihgrewardsclub.com for more on IHG Rewards Club. For our latest news, visit: www.ihg.com/media, www.twitter.com/ihg, www.facebook.com/ihg or www.youtube.com/ihgplc.
 
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Source: IHG

The Best Scenic Routes in Southeast Europe

Best Scenic Routes in Southeast EuropeBest Scenic Routes in Southeast Europe

February 13, 2015

by Larissa Olenicoff in Train routes

Southeast Europe might not be the first place that comes to mind if you’re searching for the best train routes in Europe, but the region’s scenic journeys might just surprise you. From the Carpathians and the Balkan Mountains to the Dinaric Alps; the geography in this part of the world may not boast the same altitudes as those in the west, but most of it remains far less-traveled and is yours to discover.

Whether you enjoy exploring the great outdoors or getting urban, Southeast Europe offers something for everyone and at a fraction of the cost of Western Europe. In this part of the world, travel tends to take a little longer and the trains are a little older, but it’s exactly these things that make it such a unique experience – a more adventurous one – not to mention a breeze with a Eurail Select Pass, Eurail Global Pass, or some regional passes.

Bran Castle, Romania

Bucharest to Brasov or Sibiu, Romania
A train ride to Transylvania, or “the land beyond the forest”, from Bucharest (Bucuresti) is a nice change of pace and scenery from Romania’s predominantly concrete capital. While winding your way through the Southern Carpathian mountains,  a stop-off in Sinaia to see the magnificent Neo-Renaissance masterpiece, Peles Casle, is highly recommended, and during summer, ride its cable car to the top for some spectacular mountain views. The entire journey, from Bucharest to Brasov or Sibiu, which is especially scenic between Ploiesti and Brasov, takes between three to seven hours, respectively, depending on your departure time. Reservations are required and covered by the Hungary-Romania Regional Pass, Select Pass, or the Eurail Global Pass. A train ride to Transylvania, or “the land beyond the forest”, from Bucharest (Bucuresti) is a nice change of pace and scenery from Romania’s predominantly concrete capital. Brasov and Sibiu both make great bases for exploring this mythical and incredibly colorful region of Dracula fame, though make no mistake, this region offers so much more than just kitsch and folklore. Medieval towns, castles and fortresses, fortified churches, mountain resorts, underground glaciers, and one of the last true wilderness areas of Europe – Romania’s most prosperous region certainly has it all.

Bar, Montenegro to Belgrade, Serbia
Perhaps the most beautiful train route east of Switzerland is the one that runs between Belgrade (Beograd) and Bar. While Serbia’s magnetic capital might be the easiest place to catch the train and head south, you will get far more out of the journey if you do the trip from south to north instead and during the months when the sun doesn’t set much earlier than 8pm. Almost immediately you will be gripped by lovely views as you leave the Adriatic Coast and make your way towards the Montenegrin Mountains. From Podgorica onwards, prepare to have your mind blown until the Serbian border as you pass through mountain after mountain and by views of some of the most beautiful countryside in the Balkans. One of the highest aqueducts in the world, Mala Rijeka, is about 20km north of Podgorica and only makes an appearance when traveling towards Serbia. For those who enjoy adding new countries to their list, you should also know the train briefly skirts through Bosnia & Herzegovina in the wee hours, though no border checks are involved.

For the time being, there is only one train a day that leaves from Bar at 5pm and arrives in Belgrade the next morning at 9:40am. The entire journey is covered with either a Eurail Global Pass or Select Pass and reservations are optional (though recommended during peak season).

St Alexander Cathedral in Sofia, Bulgaria

Sofia to Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria
While rolling into Sofia’s main train station may be a frightening experience for some (think slightly spruced up Soviet bunker with a McDonald’s and a ton of construction), rolling out of it and towards Veliko Tarnovo, one of Bulgaria’s most delightful towns, will be a travel memory not soon forgotten. The journey which is covered by either a Eurail Select Pass or Eurail Global Pass takes approximately 4 1/2 hours and reservations are optional. It doesn’t take long, about 40 kilometers, until you reach the resort town of Svoge and the fantastic voyage truly begins – or where you may want to hop off to spend a couple of hours taking in the beautiful natural surroundings of the Iskar Gorge. From Svoge, the railway line casually hugs the Iskar River, a tributary of the Danube, with the Balkan Mountains in all its rocky glory set as one incredibly unique backdrop so have your cameras at the ready.

Source: Eurail

Princess Cruises Unveils New 2016 Europe Cruise Offerings

Princess is temporarily unavailable.

We apologize for the inconvenience.

If you need immediate assistance or would like to book a cruise, please contact us using one of the following numbers:

  • North America: 1-800-774-6237
  • United Kingdom: 0845 075 0031
  • Australia: 1300 551 853
  • New Zealand: 0800 780 717

Source: Princess Cruise Lines