Joke: New helmets for London's Royal Guard
The most memorable skyscraper to be recently added to the London skyline is the Gherkin, the pickle-shaped headquarters of insurance giant Swiss Re. The blog Londonist got curious about what it might be like if mini-Gherkins replaced bearskin helmets on the heads of the Royal Guard. So they did it themselves. It's Photoshop phun!
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This Weekend: The world's longest pedestrian bridge opens in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.
If you thought New York City's High Line was an impressive reinvention of a former elevated rail line as a public strolling ground, wait until you see the Walkway Over the Hudson, opening Saturday. The 120-year-old Poughkeepsie-Highland Railroad Bridge has been transformed into a 1.25-mile-long pedestrian park—the world's longest bridge of its kind—linking the city of Poughkeepsie and the town of Lloyd in New York. Whereas the High Line offers respite a leisurely 30 feet from the ground, the Walkway Over the Hudson looms 212 feet above the water, offering stunning views of the Hudson River valley to walkers, runners, and bicyclists alike. Officially a state historic park, the walkway has also been named a National Recreation Trail and will eventually connect to 27 miles of rail trails and riverfront parks, much of which will be completed next year. Opening weekend events begin with Friday night's Grand Illumination, in which 1,000 volunteers will carry paper sky lanterns in a promenade across the bridge, illuminating it for the first time, and then release the self-extinguishing lights into the sky, followed by a fireworks display. The walkway will not yet be open to the public, but anyone can view the illumination from Waryas Park in Poughkeepsie and across the river at Oakes Road in Highland (a hamlet in Lloyd). (Check out the events Webpage.) Saturday starts with a re-creation on the river of the famed Poughkeepsie Regatta, hosted by nearby Marist College's crew team. Other activities include music and folk art festivals and river cruises in Waryas Park and the Highland HudsonFest. Also in Waryas Park and in Highland, large screens will broadcast the day's early events from the walkway—including official grand opening ceremony remarks by New York Gov. David Paterson, a parade across the bridge of puppets signifying the flora and fauna and history and culture of the Hudson Valley, and an Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome biplane flyover—until 3 p.m. when the bridge officially opens to the public. That evening, visitors to the bridge are encouraged to don glow-in-the-dark clothing and accessories (break out the glow sticks!) as part of a night circus and light show. The events spill over into Sunday, when the walkway will be open 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. The bridge is within walking distance of Poughkeepsie's train station, accessible from NYC and from any city with an Amtrak connection. For this weekend's events, check walkway.org for parking and shuttle bus information. The opening is part of New York's Hudson-Fulton-Champlain Quadricentennial celebration commemorating the 400th anniversaries of the voyages of Henry Hudson and Samuel de Champlain, and the 200th anniversary of Robert Fulton's spearheading the first long-distance steamboat trip, which traveled up the Hudson River. The bridge was the longest in the world when it opened, and at one point 3,500 train cars crossed it daily, but a 1974 fire shut the tracks down for good. Repurposing the bridge for public use has been a project 17 years in the making.
Elderhostel changes its name to appeal to the under-50 crowd
What's in a name? Well, a lot, especially if you're Elderhostel. The popular Boston-based tour company just changed its name to Exploritas, in the hopes of attracting more travelers. The company will continue to sell nearly 8,000 tours in 50 states and 90 countries, all with an educational bent. The new moniker (pronounced ek splÔR i tahs) comes with a few other improvements, including more domestic itineraries in 2010 and a social networking tool on the company website. But the biggest difference is a drop in the age requirement, from 55 to 21. The goal is to attract more people in their 40s and 50s. Chief executive James Moses admits that Exploritas isn't likely to win over many twentysomethings. Elderhostel had 155,000 travelers sign up last year, a drop of 40 percent from a decade ago, reports the Wall Street Journal. So the time is ripe for change. The tour concept got its start in 1975, expanding steadily over time. The budget minded may balk at some of the Exploritas tours. A case in point is Patagonia: Hiking at the End of the Earth, where the picture shown in this blog post was taken. This two-week tour starts at a whopping $5,190 per person and includes accommodations, most meals, and guided hiking trips with local experts. Looking for something closer to home? This 10-night itinerary in Utah starts at $1,528 and includes visits to Zion, Bryce, and Arches national parks and Lake Powell, all with a focus on geology. (Based on double occupancy.) MORE The Real Deals: Great vacation packages hand-picked by Budget Travel's editors
Florence's main piazza bans traffic
Good news! Mayor Matteo Renzi has claimed Florence's crowded central piazza—home to the Duomo and the Baptistry—for pedestrians. Cars, buses, and horse-drawn carriages are officially unwelcome as of October 25, when the city will celebrate with an open-air concert. Traffic previously skirted along the side of the iconic Duomo, coating its marble in a visible layer of grime. Initial response to the unexpected announcement has been enthusiastic, as reported in the English-language paper The Florentine. The only gripes cited are from taxi drivers, as taxi stands in the piazza will have to be transplanted. Renzi is quoted as explaining that the new pedestrian-only zone is "the first step to re-launching one of the world's most well-known cities and improving citizens' quality of life by applying the Greek concept of agora." IT'S A TREND We recently gave the City of New York an Extra Mile Award for converting five blocks in Times Square into a car-free area complete with benches and café tables—as inspired by Copenhagen's Strøget zone. RELATED Ask a Guidebook Writer: What's Better Than Florence's Duomo?
The Rockefeller Center Tree Arrived Today!
Budget Travel was on the scene as this year's Rockefeller Center holiday tree made an impressive arrival in NYC this morning! Actually, I happened to be at 30 Rock for Budget Travel's AMHQ segment, "Take Control of Weather-Related Travel Delays." But as a native New Yorker who grew up visiting Rockefeller Center as a little boy (my dad worked for NBC TV), it was a thrill to see the freshly cut behemoth up close like this. Turns out the tree and I had both commuted from the Hudson Valley this morning: The 10-ton, 78-foot Norway Spruce journeyed 80 miles in a flatbed truck from the Gardiner, NY, home of Albert Asendorf and Nancy Puchalski. Rockefeller Center has celebrated the holiday season every year since 1931 with a massive tree. The elaborate process of safely positioning and decorating the tree will culminate in a festive December 2 lighting ceremony. Check back with Budget Travel's This Just In blog throughout the holiday season for tips and updates about visiting NYC and other holiday hotspots!