Heathrow is Now the Most Family Friendly European Airport . . . After Being the Least

srv007, Flickr

Rethink your travel plans families: if you’re adventuring with children, the best airport you can travel to, from and through in Europe is London Heathrow.

That’s a big deal if you consider the fact that only last year it was ranked as the worst.

The rankings come via Skyscanner, which did a study focusing on families with children under 4 years old and looked at travel from June to September 2013.Thirty five European family travel experts and travel bloggers judged 20 different airports based upon their baby-changing facilities, security levels and food options, as well as the general check-in process. We all know how a long line can affect a tired child.

According to Skift, here are the top 10 family-friendly airports across Europe:

1. London Heathrow
2. Zurich and Vienna
3. Dusseldorf
4. Madrid-Barajas
5. Munich and Frankfurt
6. London Gatwick
7. Moscow Sheremetyevo
8. Paris Charles de Gaulle
9. Oslo
10. Copenhagen

But not everyone loves a child-friendly space. Some airlines are even offering kid-free zones on-board for those trying to avoid the younger crowd. Ultimately, it all goes to show that traveling with children is becoming more and more the norm, whether you like it or not.

Would You Play A Game Of ‘Departure Roulette’?

Diane Bondareff/Invision for Heineken

After arriving at the airport, would you be willing to drop your travel plans to head somewhere else? Heineken is daring travelers at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York to do just that.

At the push of a button, travelers could be whisked away to Bali instead of Branson. Sure, it’s just an advertising ploy to promote Heineken Dropped, a YouTube series that has the beer company sending travelers to random destinations, but it got us thinking about the pros and cons of spontaneous travel. It’d be fun to discover somewhere unexpected — like the man above, who is being sent to the island of Cyprus instead of going on a six-week vacation with his grandparents to Vienna, Austria — but what if you packed completely wrong for the trip?

If you want to read more stories about spontaneous travel, AFAR magazine’s Spin the Globe feature sends writers to randomly chosen destinations. Here’s some recent features from Gadling contributors Don George and David Farley.

[via Adweek.com]

Vienna, Paris And Now Greece: Why Travelers Will Relate To ‘Before Midnight’

before midnight premier julie delpy and ethan hawkeIf you’ve ever approached a good-looking stranger on a train, or kicked yourself for not doing so, you probably love Richard Linklater’s trilogy of films – “Before Sunrise,” “Before Sunset” and “Before Midnight” – about a pair of travelers who met on a train bound for Vienna in 1995, rekindled their romance in Paris in 2004, and then re-emerge as lovers on holiday in Greece in 2013. I saw “Before Midnight” on Friday, and while I didn’t enjoy it as much as the first two films, I still believe that anyone who is passionate about travel has to see these films.

In the first film, Jesse, a jilted young American backpacker played by Ethan Hawke, convinces Celine, a Frenchwoman who is on her way back to Paris, played by Julie Delpy, to get off the train with him in Vienna. The pair fall in love while walking the streets of Vienna, but rather than exchange contact information when they part, they resolve to meet again in six months. (We learn in the next film that that meeting never happened.)

According to Slate, and a host of other publications, Linklater’s inspiration for “Before Sunrise” came from a stay-up-all-night evening he spent with a young woman he met in Philaelphia, who later died in a motorcycle accident after they lost touch. I saw “Before Sunrise” on the day it came out in 1995 and was deeply affected by the film.

I was 22, a couple years younger than Jesse and Celine, and had just graduated from college. I had no car at the time, and to save on bus fare, I took an hour-long walk from my decrepit $275 per month studio on Walnut Street to the cinema, down on Philadelphia’s waterfront. Jobless and with no plan for what to do with my life, I resolved on the long walk home to scrape together enough money to travel by train across Europe, where I imagined there were plenty of Celines waiting to meet me. It took me two years, but I did just that in 1997.

On that trip, I met a girl from Finland on a train bound for Prague, and we shared a few memorable days together before it was time for me to return to another dingy apartment – this one a $550-a-month, cockroach infested studio in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. Unlike Jesse and Celine, I never saw the lass from Finland again, though I did get an amusing, somewhat incoherent letter from her a year later, clearly written in a state of inebriation.

Just weeks after returning from that trip, I decided to move to Chicago, where I met my future wife on my very first day in town. Leaving New York turned out to be the best decision I ever made. Our relationship has been a lot smoother than Jesse and Celine’s, but we still loved “Before Sunset” when we saw it in 2004. Jesse was stuck in an unhappy marriage and was trying to decide if he should stay with Celine in Paris; I was a diplomat who was depressed about the prospect of spending the next two years in Port of Spain, Trinidad.

I’ve been looking forward to seeing “Before Midnight” for at least a year. It feels a little like catching up with old friends you haven’t seen in nine years each time these films come out, and I was particularly excited by the fact that this film was shot in Greece, a country that I love. Linklater’s trilogy is about the big decisions we face in life and how we make them. Jesse always seem to face these crossroads while on trips – first in Vienna, then in Paris and most recently in Greece, where he tries to convince Celine to move to Chicago to be closer to his son.

The fact that the couple faces these major life decisions while on the road rings very true for me. When you’re far from home and removed from your daily routine, you can’t help but examine your life and ponder the big picture questions.

“Before Midnight” has received rave reviews but I wasn’t in love with this film. It had its moments and if you’ve seen the first two, you will want to see it, but I found listening to Celine’s litany of complaints, which are littered throughout the film, exhausting and stressful.

Despite that, I still enjoyed having the opportunity to think back to where I was in 1995 and 2004, and how I’ve changed since I saw the two previous films. Hawke and Delpy are still attractive but seeing how they’ve aged on the big screen is also a reminder of how quickly time flies by. To me, the last 18 years since I saw the first film have gone by in a blur, and the notion that the next 18 will go by just as fast is a little scary, but it’s also a great reminder that life is short, so you’ve got to seize the day.

The other redeeming quality of the new film, for me, is the cinematography. It’s a lush, almost sensual portrait of Greece at its very best – the crumbling ruins, the seaside tavernas and the heartbreaking vistas of the Aegean are all there. According to The Greek Star, the film was shot in the southwest Peloponnese, specifically at the Kalamta airport, and in the villages of Pylos, Koroni and Kardamili in the Messinia region. According to About.com, one of the scenes was shot in the former home of the legendary writer and traveler Patrick Leigh Fermor in Kardamili. The film is a great advertisement for Greek tourism, and since I’ve never been to this part of Greece, Jesse and Celine have once again given me another great reason to hit the road.

A Tiny Cruise Line With A Big Impact

cruise lineLike them or hate them, travelers have heard of cruise lines that travel around the world on city-like ships, ply the rivers of Europe or sail from convenient home ports around North America. Some have ships designed to be destinations in and of themselves, while others have purpose-built vessels with a shore-side focus, stopping at world class destinations. Between the brands of Royal Caribbean International and Carnival Corporation alone, millions of travelers take to the sea each year. A comparative handful of cruise travelers choose small, boutique lines that sail just a few ships to many of the same places with their own signature travel experience.

Lüftner Cruises, a family-owned Austrian company, is one of those tiny cruise lines. Lüftner operates Amadeus Cruises, a luxury river cruise line with just six ships that sail along Europe’s Rhine, Main and Danube Rivers in opulent luxury on voyages lasting four to 15 days.

Just launched, 443-foot Amadeus Silver is their largest and most luxurious river ship ever. The 90-cabin vessel is adorned in first-class interior furnishings, luxurious accommodations, authentic Austrian programming and an environmentally-friendly design.

Featured on the Amadeus Silver is Café Vienna, a traditional Austrian coffee shop serving Sachertorte specialties. An open-air lounge named the River Terrace is located in the ship’s bow and has special glazed windows to protect passengers from a windy or rainy day. The ship also has a two-story fitness studio, two restaurants and a sundeck with a golf putting green.

Passenger cabins are a roomy 172 square feet and have innovative French balconies with drop-down windows affording panoramic views. Spacious suites are 258 square feet and have walk-out exterior balconies with seating areas.

On the ship, activities include folklore shows, lectures on the history of the Rhine-Main-Danube canal and Bavarian evenings with live music. Off the ship, city excursions showcase the region’s rich cultural diversity and feature concerts in Vienna, wine tastings in Wuerzburg and castle tours.

Lüftner Cruises also has an uber focus on the environment, earning certification by Green Globe, the global travel and tourism industries’ certification program for sustainable tourism as well as Atmosfair, a climate protection organization with a focus on travel.

“We are well aware that tourism always impacts on the environment despite increasing efforts to offer environmentally-friendly travel arrangements,” said Dr. Wolfgang Lueftner, Founder and Owner of Lueftner Cruises in an Eturbonews report.

On board Lueftner ships, cruise travelers have the opportunity to positively impact the environment. Passengers can, and do, choose to offset their own CO2 consumption with a donation and are given the option to pay a suggested climate protection levy of €2 per day per cabin.

[Photo Credit – Amadeus Cruises]

5 Destinations For Excellent Coffee Culture

Cafes are often a travelers hub, not just because you can kill your jetlag with a cup of espresso, but because they are inevitably the place where you go to sit and do some people watching and, while you’re at it, take a moment to get immersed in the local coffee culture.

If you’re a coffee drinker, finding the best cup in town is often an adventure in and of itself, sometimes leading to a city’s most off-the-beaten-path destinations. Remember: they may speak English, and you know what that grande latte is going to taste like, but it’s not at Starbucks that you’ll find your bliss.

Love coffee enough to travel for it? Put these 5 cities on your list of next destinations.

Hanoi, Vietnam

Strong Vietnamese coffee is made with a filter that sits atop your cup. It’s most often served with sweetened condensed milk. In Hanoi, you’ll find a variety of coffee shops, from the back alleyway hole-in-the-walls, to the more luxurious places where you can sit all day and use the Wi-Fi. Check out Hang Hanh (Coffee Street) in the Old Quarter, which is home to many cafes. And while you’re at it, get an iced coffee at least once (cà phê sữa đá if you’re working on your Vietnamese). You’ll need it in the Vietnamese heat.

Portland, Oregon

Every Portlander has their local craft roast of choice, and you’ll quickly learn that although Stumptown is good, it’s not the only excellent coffee in town. If you like your coffee made with care – and we’re talking about both the beans and the end drink – break out of the box and check out places like Coava, Water Avenue, Ristretto and Heart. Just don’t order anything ridiculous like a double skim vanilla latte or you’ll be shamed out of the coffee shop quicker than you can say Portlandia.

Vienna, Austria

While many cities may claim that they love coffee, only Vienna has a UNESCO status going for it. Going back to the 17th century, Viennese kaffehauskultur – coffee house culture – has the ultimate in recognition as part of Austria’s Intangible Cultural Heritage, honoring the city’s distinct atmosphere that can be found in its many coffee hubs.

Istanbul, Turkey

As the Turkish proverb goes, coffee should be “as black as hell, as strong as death and as sweet as love.” Türk Kahvesi, or Turkish coffee, is certainly known as being such, and you’ll find it served in the numerous coffee shops around Istanbul. This kind of coffee is made by boiling finely ground coffee beans in a pot, and then serving the coffee in a cup where the grounds are given time to settle. If you like your coffee strong, this is the way to do it.

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

In the top ten of coffee exporting countries, Ethiopia has a coffee culture that goes all the way back to the 10th century. In the home, coffee ceremonies are a common thing and can often be quite elaborate. In Addis Ababa you will find a burgeoning cafe culture that offers both opportunities for more Italian-like drinks as well as true Ethiopian style.

[Photo Credits: osamukaneko, toehk, OKVidyo, dorena-wm, John Picken, myeralan]