Dream Destinations Around the World
The smartest ways to see seven wonders of the modern world.
You made it The most popular and well-rounded cruise itineraries take in the eastern and southern islands, with chances to spot blue-footed boobies and red-throated frigate birds on North Seymour, as well as the waved albatross--which has an eight-foot wingspan--on Española. To ensure that your guide speaks English, check that he or she is registered as a "naturalist II" or higher. Bring your own mask, snorkel, and wet suit, too--the islands' animal show extends below the waterline, and most boats' loaner sets are in ragged shape. Sea lions are everywhere, and they love it when people swim in the surf with them. Don't forget to bring some extra cash ($50 or so) to tip your crew and guide at the end of the journey.
Who knew? "The young tortoises make excellent soup," Darwin wrote. Nowadays, dining on the locals is frowned upon--as is even touching them. Many of the animals will let you get within arm's length, but don't make contact. Guides have the power to throw you off the islands.
Tour de France
Cheered on by crazed fans, rail-thin gladiators race for 2,000 miles up steep mountain roads and through pristine countrysides.
It's France's favorite summer pastime: a three-week trek that snakes through the heart of the country every July. While six-time Tour champion Lance Armstrong has yet to decide whether he'll chase another victory this year, his much-heralded success has turned Americans on to the spectacle that has riveted Europeans for decades.
Getting there Scores of bike-touring companies sell ride-and-watch packages, most quite expensive--a seven-day trip from VéloSport Vacations costs $4,395 (800/988-9833, velovacations.com). With prices like that, many spectators prefer to go the independent route. After all, the Tour de France is free. There are no tickets, no stadiums, no grandstands. The best way to follow the Tour's hopscotch route is by car. Try Auto Europe (autoeurope.com) or Kemwel (kemwel.com), which does short-term leases that can be cheaper than renting--a brand-new Peugeot with insurance starts at $740 for 17 days.
You made it The Tour changes course each year, so check the route (letour.fr) and plot a plan of attack. It's too exhausting to try to watch all 21 stages. Instead, pick a few key spots and soak up the atmosphere of the race. During one of the longer, flat stages that dominate the first week of the 2005 Tour, follow the locals to any number of roadside cafés and sip a chilled Côtes du Rhône while you wait for the racers to roar past. There are seven mountain stages this year; summit finishes at Courchevel on July 12 and at Saint-Lary Soulan on July 17 will best capture the Tour's passion. Arrive early and stake out a spot on a twisting switchback or a hilltop with sweeping views of the road. Or cycle the race route yourself; you're allowed to ride on the road up to 90 minutes before the pros arrive. There's no charge on international flights for toting a bike, though it'll count as a checked bag. Or rent a bike locally for around $30 a day. With the Tour entourage topping 4,000 racers, journalists, and officials, hotels fill up early. Check the two- and three-star family-run hotels in the Logis de France network for doubles starting at $65 (logis-de-france.fr/uk). One hotel we can specifically recommend: Le Coin Fleuri, which is near stage 12 at Digne-les-Bains and has a large garden that's perfect for a relaxing déjeuner (011-33/492-310-451, from $52).
Who Knew? Held since 1903, the race is now the world's largest annual sporting event. Last year's was watched--in person--by 15 million spectators.
Sydney Opera House
What is now an enduring symbol of the Harbour City was inspired by both Mayan temples and the tiled mosques of Iran.
But the Sydney Opera House is not simply a whimsical palace to be admired from afar--there are endless ways to experience the beauty of Danish architect Jørn Utzon's 1973 creation.
Getting there Flights to Sydney start at $1,000 from L.A., $1,300 from New York. Package deals are often the better value--from $1,399 including air from L.A. and eight nights' hotel split between Sydney and Melbourne (Qantas Airways, 888/505-6252, qantasusa.com). The Opera House sits on Bennelong Point in Sydney Harbour and is impossible to miss.
You made it To have a look from every angle, board a ferry at Circular Quay's Wharf 4 (dial 131-500 in Sydney, sydneyferries.info, from $14), or walk over to the nearby Royal Botanic Gardens (rbgsyd.gov.au, free). To actually get inside the Opera House, pay $17.50 for the standard tour (9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, except Christmas Day and Good Friday). A two-hour backstage tour takes you to usually off-limits areas like the orchestra pit, dressing rooms, and the stage, and includes breakfast (daily at 7 a.m., $107). There are performance packages available that combine a tour with dinner and a show in one of the opera house's five theaters (from $130). For details, call 011-61/2-9250-7250 or log on to sydneyoperahouse.com. Tickets to performances are rarely discounted (from $38). If you're desperate to see a sold-out show, hang around the box office that night and pester the attendants for any returned tickets. Inside the southern shell you'll find Guillaume at Bennelong, a superb restaurant where chef Guillaume Brahimi--trained in Paris by the famed Michelin chef Joel Robuchon--creates food worthy of the setting. Expect to pay about $70 each for a three-course meal, not including drinks, or $50 for a three-course pretheater prix fixe (011-61/2-9241-1999, guillaumeatbennelong.com.au). For something more casual, head downstairs to the lower concourse and try the popular indoor/outdoor Opera Bar (011-61/2-9247-1666, operabar.com.au, entrées from $13). Or have a cocktail at the Park Hyatt's Harbour Bar, overlooking the water on the opposite side of Circular Quay (7 Hickson Rd., 011-61/2-9256-1500, sydney.park.hyatt.com, drinks from $12).