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Rick Steves Galeries Lafayette - The spectacular stained-glass dome at the Galeries Lafayette department store is particularly festive during the holiday season. (Photo: Rick Steves)

The City of Light shines year-round, but Paris has a special appeal in winter. Sure, the weather can be cold and rainy (the average high in January is 43 degrees F), but if you dress in layers, you'll keep warm and easily deal with temperature changes as you go from cold streets to heated museums and cafes.

Slow down and savor your favorite museums and monuments—spending one-on-one time with Mona and Venus is worth the extra clothes you had to pack. Attend a cooking demonstration, take a short course in art or architecture, or dabble in a wine-tasting class. Duck into cafes to warm up and enjoy a break from sightseeing or shopping. Get on a first-name basis with the waiter at your corner cafe—just because now you can. ...read more»

Credit Card: Man Holding a Range of Cards (Photo: iStockphoto/Andresr)

Finally—a U.S. bank will start issuing chip-and-pin credit cards that earn airline miles! The bank is Chase and the card is British Airways Visa. The new cards will be dual purpose, with both a magnetic stripe, for use in the U.S., and a chip for use in most other places. The press release didn’t say when Chase will start issuing the cards or how existing cardholders can apply for a replacement; we’ll update this report as soon as Chase replies to our questions.

We’ve reported extensively on the blank wall many U.S. travelers have hit when trying to use their U.S. cards in Europe—especially in unattended situations where an automated credit-card purchase is the only way to buy a rail or metro ticket, pay a highway toll, or get gasoline from an after-hours automated pump. Most of Europe and much of the rest of the developed world has already switched verification systems from the magnetic stripe, where the merchant swipes the card through a reader and you sign a receipt, to the chip system, where the merchant’s terminal reads a signal from the chip in the card and you enter a confirming PIN. As long as you’re dealing with an actual person, you can still use a stripe card—maybe after a bit of an argument—but you can’t argue with a machine that just displays the message "card declined."

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Christmas: Man Shopping Online Santa Hat (Photo: Thinkstock/Comstock)

Now this is the kind of holiday shopping we like—no lines, no crowds, just a simple click of the mouse to get you sweet savings. With hotel rates this low, why not add a vacation or two for yourself to your virtual shopping cart? We promise not to tell Santa...

Be sure to book by the end of day on November 28, but you can travel well into 2012 for most of these deals. See something you like? Click on the headline to see full details about the deal, including travel dates.

50 Percent Off Boston's Charles Hotel

Better bookmark this website if you want to snag a room at Boston's luxury Charles Hotel in Harvard Square for 50 percent off. Not only will you get a room for half price, but the Charles will also throw in a $50 gift card to its new on-site spa and salon. You'll need to de-stress at the spa after the pressure of booking this deal—it's only available for one hour, between 11:28am and 12:28pm EST.

Two Free Nights at Aruba Resort

Sometimes "buy one, get one free" deals can entice you in to buying more of something you don't really need, just to get the discount. Not so with this deal—who doesn't want two free nights in Aruba? Stay for four nights at the Marriott Aruba Resort and you'll only pay for two nights, a savings of over $700!...read more»

Indonesia: Kelimutu (Photo: flickr/NeilsPhotography)

Explore a different side of Asia with an expedition to the Kelimutu Volcano and lakes in Indonesia. Nicknamed "the colored lakes," these volcanic bodies of water appear to change their hues periodically due to dissolving minerals in the water.

Unlike most lakes, these aren't at the base of the volcano, either—they're actually craters located near the summit—so you're going to have to do some climbing to get there. The view of all three lakes from the top, with their distinct colors, will be worth it, though....read more»

Seatbelt Buckle - Fastening (Photo: iStockphoto/Dmitriy Shironosov)

Remember when RyanAir wanted to introduce standing seats on its flights to save money? Well, one US Airways passenger, Arthur Berkowitz, got an advance-preview of what that might be like when he had to stand for a seven-hour flight. But it definitely wasn't to save money: He paid $800 for his ticket. It was because the 400-pound passenger sitting next to him took up two seats, including the one Berkowitz had paid for, leaving him with no room to sit.

The Daily Mail reported that passenger Arthur Berkowitz boarded a US Airways flight from Alaska to Philadelphia only to find that he could not get past the "morbidly obese" man in the seat next to his. Berkowitz's seat was reportedly also being used by the obese passenger, who could not fit in his own seat between the armrests (he had to leave them raised) and was spilling over into the next seat.

Berkowitz claimed that flight attendants told him that he would have to stand, as the flight was full, and that despite being unable to use a seat-belt for take off and landing (a clear violation of safety regulations), he was denied his request to use a flight attendant jump seat.

The kicker? After taking Berkowitz's $800, and letting him stand for seven hours, US Airways only offered him a $200 voucher.

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Couple on the ski slopes (Photo: PhotoDisc)

Not to be left out of the holiday hype, Liftopia, the big online lift ticket and ski rental discounter, is running some specials through Monday.

The promotion includes more than 150 resorts in North America, including most of the big ski centers in the U.S. and Canada. Discounts vary widely among individual ski centers, ranging from an almost-trivial 10 percent to a substantial 79 percent....read more»

Turkey: Cappadocia, Goreme National Park - Two

Goreme National Park features one of the most unique landscapes in the world. Comprised of spire and cone-shaped formations, the area was shaped by volcanic eruptions millions of years ago. The ash solidified in to a soft rock-like material, which was easily manipulated by both nature and early settlers.

Come visit and check out the moon-like landscape, and the numerous churches, elaborate houses, and humble dwellings carved into the rock. Don't miss the Open-Air Museum, featuring incredibly intricate monasteries....read more»

Train: Man working on laptop (Photo: iStockphoto/Tomas Bercic)

Two big high-speed rail projects have fallen victim to the lousy state of the world economy. The latest U.S. budget removes funding for high-speed rail projects, most notably the nation's largest in California, and the Portuguese government just announced it was canceling work on its portion of the cross-border Lisbon–Madrid link. Political maneuvering may well restore at least some of this funding, but the outlook isn't good. Proponents hope that the halt is temporary; opponents hope that the projects die forever. Whatever the politics, don't start standing in line for a ticket just yet....read more»

Airport Kiosk (Photo: Thinkstock/Jupiterimages)

Another week, another headline about Spirit upping its fees. The South Florida-based airline just snuck into its lengthy list of optional fees yet another charge: Come June 30, it'll cost $2 to print boarding passes at Spirit airport kiosks.

Look up “optional” in the dictionary and you get “having a choice; noncompulsory.” Sure the fee is voluntary since you have the option to print the boarding pass prior to arriving at the airport. But is it customer-friendly? No. Then again, no one’s ever accused Spirit of being so.

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France: Couple At Eiffel Tower (Photo: Thinkstock/Digital Vision)

Sure, travelers experienced plenty they'd rather put on the "thankfully forgotten" list in 2011. Nevertheless, I'd like to offer up a few thoughts in the spirit of Thanksgiving for travelers this year.

Safety

Let's start with something everyone can agree is a good thing: Safety. Just as there were no fatal accidents on domestic, commercial flights in 2010, the same is holding true for 2011. Yes, I'm glad I wasn't on that Southwest 737 that made an emergency landing with a hole in its fuselage back in April. But had I been aboard, I know I'd give thanks for the skill and professionalism of that flight crew....read more»

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