Austria, Vienna - Photo of night scene on square with caption: On a summer evening in Vienna, people drink, munch, and mingle before the outdoor opera begins.  (Photo: Brooke Burdick)

Music lovers find special delights in Austria. In Salzburg, at my favorite hotel, I lay in bed a hundred meters from Mozart's Dad. He's just outside my window in the graveyard of the St. Sebastian church. When in town, I like sleeping within easy earshot of its bells. The bells of Salzburg ring with a joyful exuberance. They wouldn't if its citizens didn't like it that way.

And by scheduling a Sunday in Salzburg, I enjoy a music-filled Mass in the first great Baroque church north of the Alps. And this is not just any church music. The 10:00 Mass often comes with both a choir and an orchestra. They pack the loft turning the church's back wall into a wall of sound. On my last visit I snared a dizzying perch high on the side, to enjoy a bird's-eye view of the musical action. Far below me a thousand people faced the altar. I faced the loft where, for two years of Sundays, Mozart served as organist. I imagined Mozart on that keyboard surrounded by the same Baroque scrolls, Italianesque frescoes, and dancing cupids. The conductor's furious baton churning out today's Mass completed the image.

As I walked home afterwards, a woman biked by me, artfully towing a tiny wagon under the spires. On it was a tall triangular black leather case. I said, "Wow, only in Salzburg … a bike towing a harp." She looked at me and said, "A Celtic harp." At the ATM a few minutes later, I met a woman from a Sweet Adelaide choir. She said, "We traveled all the way from Virginia to sing here in Salzburg … the people love us here." more»

Christmas: Santa Checking Naughty Nice List (Photo: Thinkstock/Comstock Images)

Yes, Ryanair, there is a Santa Claus—and you definitely made his naughty list this year. You, too, TSA. And let's not forget you, Spirit Airlines. You were very bad as well. Of course, not all travel providers, websites, and apps were naughty in 2011. Some were actually very good. This year, we at SmarterTravel made a list and checked it twice in order to tell you which travel companies we think we were most naughty or nice.


It wasn't enough that Ryanair put forth the idea of removing all but one bathroom from each of its planes as a way to add more seats. Or that a Spanish judge voided the airline's pay-to-board fees and called them "abusive." Oh, no. The Ireland-based carrier had to take it to a whole new level by suggesting it would allow in-air pornography on its flights—for a fee, of course. Now that's naughty.

Spirit wasn't much better this year. Just in the past few months, North America's master of nickel-and-diming unveiled its own abusive boarding-pass fee and nearly doubled its compulsory "passenger usage fee," effective next more»

Globe Passport Plane Ticket (Photo: Thinkstock/iStockphoto)

If it was a good deal (or a notably bad one) from an airline, hotel, or car rental loyalty program, you can read all about it here, and plan your travel more»

Amtrak train, Colorado (Photo: PhotoDisc)

Amtrak's current list of special promotions is the longest it's been in a while, and you have more than the usual time to take advantage of them.

The deals include:

  • $10 one-way fares between Boston and Portland, including intermediate cities, on daily Downeaster trains. Buy by January 28 for travel from January 1 through January 31.

  • 20 percent discount on tickets to Whitefish, Montana, from most main cities on the Empire Builder route between Chicago and Seattle/Portland. Buy by February 13 for travel through March 31.

  • 20 percent discounts on tickets between Kansas City and St. Louis, including intermediate cities, on the Missouri River Runner. Buy by April 28 for travel from January 3 through April 30.
  • more»

People in Bourbon Street at Night (Photo: Thinkstock/iStockphoto)

Southern charm, lax liquor laws, and a city that knows how to have fun—it all combines to make Bourbon Street one of the most entertaining stretches of sidewalk in the world. Bourbon Street is steeped in history, too (not just booze), and "Rue Bourbon" showcases the heritage of the French Quarter.

Dine at restaurants located in buildings that date back to the 1700s, or settle in at one of the street's numerous bars for the more modern concoctions of Hurricanes and Hand Grenades (signature drinks of the city). For a vacation to truly remember (or forget), come during Mardi Gras, when parties rage in the street 24 hours a day (some bars in New Orleans never close, and open container laws contribute to the party) more»

United Arab Emirates: Dubai World's Tallest Building (Photo: Thinkstock/iStockphoto)

Climbing Kilimanjaro not in your future? Head to the top of the man-made world instead! Rising more than 2,700 feet above Dubai, the Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the world. It's also the world's tallest free-standing structure, the building with the most number of stories, has the highest occupied floor, highest outdoor observation deck, the tallest service elevator, and longest elevator travel distance.

The skyscraper opened in 2010 and cost around $1.5 billion to build. Take the high-speed elevator up to the observation deck where you can check out the view from special telescopes that let you see real-time views as well as pictures of the same view at different times of the day. Venture out on to the open-air part of the deck for an even more thrilling more»

Caribbean: School of Fish (Photo: Thinkstock/Hemera)

Pack a snorkel, swimsuit, and sunscreen for a trip to see the Buck Island Reef. One of the only marine areas in the National Park System, Buck Island attracts snorkelers and divers to its reef and crystal clear waters. No need for scuba certification here—one of the main draws is the park's underwater trail, where you can take a guided snorkel tour through the reef to see coral and colorful sea life.

On land, you'll discover that the island may be uninhabited by people, but it's teeming with animal life, including sea turtles and pelicans.

Where is it? The island lies 1.5 miles off St. Croix, in the U.S. Virgin more»

Laptop keyboard (Photo: Index Open)

Sure, there's plenty to dread about Christmas travel—the long lines and longer delays, packed departure lounges, and cranky airline employees. But, for the last few years, there's been an upside, too, a trend of some-company-or-other sponsoring free Wi-Fi, either in airports or on flights.

This year, it's Skype offering travelers an hour of free Wi-Fi at more than 50 airports in the U.S. between December 21 and 27. To take advantage of the free connection, you'll need to download the latest version of Skype. Also remember that many airports (and if you're lucky enough to have access to them, many airline club lounges) offer free Wi-Fi as more»

Man pushing luggage towards security (Photo: Index Open)

Apple Vacations, one of the country's largest tour operators, has decided to shut down its airline subsidiary, USA3000, early in January. Although neither the airline's nor Apple's website has anything to say about a shutdown, the airline does not accept reservations after January 6.

Compared with some airline shutdowns, this one will have minimal impact:

France: Paris, Sightseeing Senior Couple (Photo: Thinkstock)

Today's media are full of reports on the "crisis" in the euro currency. The euro, as most of you know, is the common currency among 17 separate European countries, including all the big ones other than the UK, and what happens to it influences almost all U.S. and Canadian visitors to any of those countries.

The upside for visitors is that European travel costs for U.S. and Canadian visitors are somewhat less than in recent months. Current exchange rates are around $1.30 USD and $1.35 CAD per euro; the U.S. dollar rate is down from an all-time high, around $1.60 in the summer of 2008, and down about 10 percent from $1.45 last summer. If I could predict future currency values accurately, I would have long since retired as a billionaire trader, but futures traders expect the rates to remain about flat through 2012.

Certainly, in the short term, your dollars will go further than the past summer, but don't get carried away celebrating. You're most likely to notice the change in hotel and restaurant prices and the costs of local transportation, although even there, price hikes may well erase at least some of the modest advantage.

Shopping? Don't expect to find Europe a shoppers' paradise in 2012. Other than some handicrafts and special sales items, European retail prices tend to be higher than those in the U.S. for identical merchandise. That's because most European countries slap a value-added tax (VAT) on most purchases that the U.S. does not—a tax that's much higher than typical U.S. or Canadian taxes. Secondly, the U.S. retail system generally adds less markup over factory costs than the somewhat less efficient European systems. Overall, I haven't been big on European shopping for several decades, and I'm not changing because the euro has dropped a bit. more»