Trains get a mighty close-up in Smithsonian Channel show

Trains, like The Canadian, are making a statement in the Smithsonian Channel's second season of "Mighty Trains."

The Smithsonian Channel is out to prove that luxury travel can come by sea – and land – with their Mighty show line including “Mighty Cruise Ships” and “Mighty Trains.”

ELITE CRUISE SHIP SPENDS $10K ON CAVIAR FOR ONE NIGHT

In an earlier report with “Mighty Cruise Ships” executive producer, Karen McCairley, we learned about the details surrounding what makes each cruise ship so mighty. Now we took time to speak with Teddy Wilson, host and narrator of the “Mighty Trains” segments.

As can be expected, these trains have some stunning landscapes they zoom through that match the incredible feats of technology many of these locomotives boast.

“Japan Rail has devised an ingenious system of sensors and centralized operations – a system so successful that during the devastating earthquake in 2011 every bullet train in the Shinkansen system was stopped in its tracks before the earthquake struck, keeping passengers on the bullet trains safe,” Wilson said.

Earthquakes weren’t the only obstacle that Wilson says they faced while filming.

“In Switzerland the iconic Glacier Express must content with steep ascents and descents through the Swiss Alps,” Wilson said. “The 12 percent grades on this train’s route would be completely impossible for a regular train to manage, so the Glacier Express employs a rack and pinion (or ‘cog-wheel’) system of engineering ingenuity to tackle the treacherous climbs.”

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The unforgiving terrain didn’t stop Wilson from gushing about the capabilities and beauty of each train that he experienced. One he highlighted in particular was Australia’s The Ghan, which at nearly a kilometer in length is “the longest regularly running passenger train in the world,” he said.

The “world’s greatest railway journey” and other far-reaching train rides chug along starting September 3rd on Smithsonian Channel.

Lonely Planet’s Trips app is Instagram for travel junkies

If you’ve ever planned a vacation abroad, you’ve probably spent some time with Lonely Planet. The company is the largest travel book publisher in the world and offers plenty of free resources on its website and in the Lonely Planet Guides app. The latter provided the inspiration for the latest Lonely Planet project, a new iPhone app called Trips (also coming to Android this fall). At its core, it’s a crowdsourced version of the Guides app. But instead of featuring contributions from Lonely Planet experts and contributors, it’s all about what regular users have to say and the sights they see on their vacations.

Trips walks users through building their own travel guide by combining photos with text and maps in a simple but flexible format. When you open the app, there’s a big plus button at the bottom that starts the creation process. From there, you can select photos to add to the guide. The app uses geolocation tags to automatically group the pictures by location. The software also puts them in chronological order, though you can always rearrange them yourself.

While you could just hit publish and blast those photos out into the world, Lonely Planet included extensive options for adding captions, headers and text to your creation. It’s all extremely intuitive, and there are only a few ways to customize the layout (tapping a photo to show it full bleed versus with a border around it, for example). After picking some photos, I had a quick journal built from my trip to Seattle and Vancouver earlier this month. Sure, the text wasn’t terribly engrossing, but if I spent a little extra time on it I could have polished it into something pretty nice — and a lot more in-depth than the average Instagram vacation photos.

With Trips’ focus on photo sharing, it’s easy to compare the app with Instagram and wonder how Lonely Planet will get people to use it. “We don’t expect people to abandon other photo-sharing apps,” CEO Daniel Houghton told Engadget. “We even built functionality in Trips so you can link back to your Instagram and show those photos. But this is a more in-depth product from a travel point of view.” He’s hoping that users put effort into the text, not just their photos. “Instead of posting one photo or blowing up your Instagram feed with 10 in a row you can do a gallery or write your own magazine-style travel story,” Houghton said.

Of course, there are plenty of apps and services (Medium, Google Photos, VSCO’s Journal) that let you build similar projects, but those don’t have the specific travel focus of Lonely Planet. That focus on community is how Houghton sees Trips standing out. “If you do share your creations publicly, it all gets exposed to the rest of the community and hopefully encourages you to share more,” Houghton said. “There’s a lot to be said for being in a community of people specific to travel.”

For starters, Trips lets users browse nine different categories for story submissions (road trips, adventure, cities, hiking and so on), though Houghton said that Lonely Planet will add more over time. When you pick a particular trip to view, you can save it to your favorites or follow the author. Eventually, once you follow enough people, your feed will start filling up with trips to explore. But it almost certainly won’t ever be like Instagram, where users post multiple times per day. However, if you find the right set of travel junkies to follow, you could get a pretty active feed — it just depends on whether or not Lonely Planet can attract people to its platform.

As one of Lonely Planet’s first forays into user-generated content, Houghton is expecting the company’s community to make the app a success. “We’ve never really had anything like this before, short of Thorn Tree, which has been around for 21 years,” Houghton said, referring to Lonely Planet’s long-established travel discussion board. “It’s just a forum, but it’s a successful one.”

Getting those active users over to Trips might take some work, but Lonely Planet made it easy to jump into the app and start publishing. The company didn’t put in unnecessary features, which makes the creation process quick. You can’t do any photo editing in the app, for example: “Photo editors exist, people all have their favorites, and they integrate with Trip,” Houghton said. “We didn’t want to distract people from their process.” And from a design standpoint, Trips looks nearly identical to the content found in Guides as well as what’s on Lonely Planet’s homepage; there’s a simple consistency that makes the new app feel familiar.

Of course, things aren’t perfect at launch. When adding photos to a story, it shows the most recent at the top. That’s logical if you’re in the middle of or just wrapping up a vacation that you want to post about. But for me, I had to do a lot of scrolling to get to some pictures worth sharing. If you have images that are months or years old, they won’t be easy to find. Lonely Planet should definitely look into supporting the album structure in the iOS Photos app so images are easier to find. The test version of Trips that I tried also lacked a search feature; I’ve asked Lonely Planet when that’ll be added but haven’t heard back.

Ultimately, Trips is a well-designed app that can show off photos well, but that doesn’t make it unique. What will make it stand out is if travelers start using it to show off their adventures in different ways than many already do on Instagram. But Lonely Planet is in the comfortable position of not needing this app to be a hit to survive. Even if it just ends up being an app used by frequent travelers who love to shoot on their phones, those users should have a good experience with it.

3 Reasons We’re Falling For Oahu This Autumn

Honolulu traffic is as bad as you’ve heard. But rather than scream at the brake-riding sedan in front of you, do what locals on the island of Oahu do in stressful situations — crank up the Jack Johnson tunes.

While most any song from the North Shore native will work for the occasion, we’d first suggest “Never Fade” off his 2013 album, From Here to Now to You. “I Got You” gets more streams on Spotify, but “Never Fade” is the project’s moment of Zen. With minimalistic percussions and Johnson’s signature easygoing vocals, the song’s missing but one thing — a hammock.

Actually, we can’t say with certainty that the track will offer the same calm to your nerves as it does ours; laid-back strings may not be for everyone. What we do know for sure is that, for the next few months, the timing couldn’t be better for a Hawaii vacation. Late September/early October is one of the slowest times on the islands. Most kiddos are back in school. Many parents are focused on football.

But while the tourist numbers might be slightly down during this shoulder season, energy around the island is still quite high. And with elegant hotels, new restaurants and numerous outdoor adventures on offer, you’d be wise to pack your bags for the Pacific as soon as possible. Just be sure to have a few Johnson songs loaded onto your phone in case an afternoon traffic jam pops up.

Four Seasons Hotels Limited

Four Seasons Resort Oahu at Ko Olina

The gorgeous hotels

The ride to Four Seasons Resort Oahu at Ko Olina from Honolulu International Airport isn’t terribly long, maybe 30 to 40 minutes, depending on if other cars are cooperating. But no matter the obstacles, we assure you that the ride will be worth it. A picture-perfect playground in Kapolei (a budding area on the island’s less-cluttered west side), this 2016-opened property feels like a breeze and looks like a beauty.

Employing the kama’aina style of openness and natural light, the ground floor is essentially one free-flowing space with enticement from all directions — reception desks, elaborate floral displays, a coffee shop, seating areas. But there are few walls. The energy (and gentle winds off the Leeward Coast) is meant to travel without restriction.

Walls can be found in the 371 guest rooms and suites, though, but they’ll all be covered in earth tones, flat-screen TVs and banana-leaf headboards, so you won’t mind them much. Bathrooms are awash in marble and have glass-enclosed showers. Balconies deliver grab-your-camera views that peer over the Waianae Range or the stunning Ko Olina Lagoons.

As you’d expect from a Four Seasons property in paradise — the brand has four other locations in Hawaii: Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Hualalai, Five-Star Maui at Wailea, Lana’i and The Lodge at Koele, also on Lana’i — there are a host of onsite amenities: tremendous dining options (more on those in a bit), on-shore distractions (Lokahi Orian’s jewelry-making sessions are a great lesson in local history and artistry) and fun water pursuits in the lagoon.

The Laylow

The Laylow Guest Room

But Kapolei doesn’t have a monopoly on fine new accommodations. In downtown Honolulu, the all-new Laylow, Autograph Collection may be limited with ocean activities but everything else gets high marks. If you can imagine a W Hotel having a chilled-out surfing cousin, you’d have a solid visual for this Waikiki winner — colorful wallpaper, wicker chairs and an unapologetically midcentury vibe passing through the hallway to the Hideout restaurant and bar.

In general, you’ll love the youthful energy, the mature approach to service and its proximity to hot spots around town.

The Street Culinary Market

The Ramen Bar

The great food

There’s a part in “Never Fade” when Johnson croons, “When I first saw you come across the room/And then you saw me, then I knew what to do/I tried to play it cool and attached no strings/But by the end of the day, I needed the whole thing.”

Those words originally may have been meant for a sweetheart, but they’ve never been more fitting than when a server at Maui Onion Burger hands you a Maui-onion- and American-cheese-topped hamburger. It’s love at first bite.

This whole romantic dance takes place at The Street, A Michael Mina Social House, a newly opened food emporium that is a mere five-minute walk from The Laylow. As the name suggests, chef Mina is behind the project, which explains why other big shots in cuisine — Ayesha Curry (International Smoke), Ken Tominaga (The Ramen Bar), Gerald Chin (Kai Poke) — set up kitchens here, too.

Beth Druce

Mahina & Sun’s

Mahina & Sun’s could have easily fit into The Street’s chilled-out aesthetic, but instead, chef Ed Kenney’s fourth restaurant found a home at the new Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club. Already Instagram-famous for its hip pool scene, the property is now creeping into travelers’ timelines for its funky décor and food.

The kitchen whips out a safely sourced grilled he’e (octopus) and watercress salad, fresh avocado tacos and pan-roasted chicken — all served to the beat of attentive servers and live music every night of the week.

We’re not blazing any new culinary trails by suggesting Honolulu’s Duke’s Waikiki or Leonard’s Bakery for a nibble, but both oldies-but-goodies are still so good that they’ll never get old. The former is a local all-day-dining staple that opened back in 1993. The latter keeps a line to the parking lot by frying the finest malasadas (hole-less Portuguese doughnuts) this side of Lisbon.

DeMarco Williams

Koko Head Café’s Cornflake-Crusted French Toast

Chef Lee Anne Wong’s Koko Head Café has been in Kaimuki since 2014. The 30-minute wait lets you know that word of the establishment’s fantastic all-day brunch has gotten around. But no matter what you’ve heard about the dishes, nothing can prepare you for what arrives at your table. The absolutely stuffed volcano eggs skillet can feed a University of Hawaii offensive lineman while the cornflake-crusted French toast topped with sugared bacon is the decadent breakfast concoction you didn’t know you were missing in your life.

And to think: all of this noshing is happening before you even consider Four Seasons Resort Oahu at Ko Olina’s smorgasbord of options. No matter the time of day — be it an early lunch at Fish House, a late-afternoon snack at Waterman Bar & Grill or dinner at Noe, chef Ryo Takatsuka’s Amalfi-meets-aloha menu of pastas and proteins — there is something to sate you.

DeMarco Williams

Fish House’s Shrimp

And honestly, we don’t know if we’ve had a better dining experience on the island than the one at the well-rounded La Hiki Kitchen. In these tropical environs, you would expect the spicy, flavorful shrimp stir fry, but we promise that it serves one of the best Oreo milkshakes you’ve ever had.

The great outdoors

Johnson’s new album, All the Light Above It Too, releases on September 8. The first single off of it is “My Mind Is For Sale,” a thought-provoking groove that touches on Washington, D.C., issues without straying too far from Waikiki with the instrumentation. It’s the perfect song to play as you’re making your hike along Ka’ena Point, a breathtaking stretch of rock and waves on the westernmost tip of Oahu that’s just a short drive from the Four Seasons.

Locals suggest allotting yourself one to three hours for the trek. But because fall temperatures are still pleasantly in the low 80s, and because you’ll be stopping so often for pictures along the craggy coast, we’d lean toward the latter.

Another tip: when you get to the end of journey at Ka’ena Point Natural Area Reserve, don’t hurry back. Grab a seat in the sand. Cut the music off. Listen to the crashing waves. Admire the soaring seabirds. Just be for a while.

DeMarco Williams

Coral Crater Adventure Park

But as you know from all the surfing imagery etched in your mind, Oahu has its adventurous side, too. If you need to get your juices flowing a bit, there are two spots not to miss: Climbworks Keana Farms, a three-hour tour with eight dual zip lines, three sky bridges and two rappels; and Coral Crater Adventure Park, a thrilling new attraction with an American Ninja Warrior-like aerial course, zip-lining and an ATV track packed with hairpin turns and the occasional wild pig sighting.

Of course, if you want a bit more awe with your adrenaline rush, try horseback riding through Kualoa. The gorgeous, 4,000-acre private nature reserve is where a number of blockbuster movies, such as Jurassic World and Kong: Skull Island, were shot. (We’re pretty sure we spied film crews prepping for the Jurassic World sequel during our recent visit.)

DeMarco Williams

Kualoa

When you hop on the filly for your own memorable scene, you’ll pass massive stretches of green and gallop between streams. There’s one section where you reach a slight incline with a few curves in it. The procession of horses might bunch up a little here. It won’t quite feel like a traffic jam but it’ll be close. But “Never Fade” will be cruising through your head, relaxing your nerves in the process. The stalling of stallions won’t bother you a bit.

LA’s popular Angels Flight about to reach for heavens again

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Angels Flight, Los Angeles’ beloved little railroad, is about to start reaching for the heavens again. The funky little funicular that carried Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling to the top of downtown LA. in the movie La La Land is scheduled to reopen to the general public Thursday morning.

After a ceremonial first ride by the mayor, the transit system the city proudly calls the world’s shortest public railroad will resume doing what it first did on New Year’s Eve 1901, ferrying riders up and down the city’s stunningly steep Bunker Hill. A funicular, it operates by using the counterbalancing weights of its cars to pull one up while the other descends.

It was closed four years ago after a derailment left a handful of passengers perched precariously above a downtown street for hours. No one was hurt, but a subsequent investigation revealed numerous safety flaws and the state Public Utilities Commission shut the railway down. To the surprise of the public and the commission, which didn’t know the funicular would be used in La La Land, Stone and Gosling climbed aboard for a scene that depicted a romantic nighttime ride.

By the time the Oscar-nominated film was released last year, officials were considering plans to reopen Angels Flight. But the movie seemed to give them added incentive. While it was closed, the public had to use an adjacent steep, smelly, trash-strewn stairway. “La La Land was the last straw,” laughed local historian and preservation activist Richard Schave, “It was like, OK, we have to get a yes on this now.”

Schave and his wife, Kim Cooper, had launched a popular petition drive to reopen the railway after an ugly graffiti attack damaged its two antique rail cars in 2015. “I’m thrilled to see it back again,” said 71-year-old Los Angeles periodontist Gordon Pattison, who like countless other Los Angeles natives has countless childhood memories of taking a scenic ride along the 298-foot railway’s narrow-gauge track. “I think the first time I rode it was in my mother’s arms. In 1946,” said Pattison, who plans to ride it again on Thursday.

Round trips cost a penny when Angels Flight opened in 1901. For the next 68 years, it carried tens of millions of people from Bunker Hill’s stately Victorian mansions to popular downtown shopping areas. Round trip rides will cost $1 when service resumes, and those who use transit cards will pay just 50 cents.  The little railway was still a must-take ride for tourists and locals alike when it closed in 1969 for a decades-long redevelopment project that saw Bunker Hill’s mansions replaced by high-rise office buildings, hotels, luxury apartments and museums.

Four years after it reopened in 1996 it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. It was closed again in 2001, however, after a failure of the counterbalancing system caused a crash that killed one rider and injured several others.  The railway finally reopened in 2010, only to be closed three years later after riders had to be rescued by firefighters.

Paris asks Americans to help donate to Notre Dame Cathedral repairs

France is looking for help from Americans to ensure the world-famous cathedral Notre Dame lasts well into the future.

The Archbishop of Paris launched a fund-raising push — Friends of Notre-Dame de Paris — last year, but now it’s specifically targeting American donors, according to the French version of The Local.

The foundation received charity status in May from U.S. tax authorities, which will allow Notre Dame to receive untaxed donations.

Notre Dame broke ground in 1163 and was completed in 1345. Now, the cathedral is looking for a total of more than $175 million for repairs.

“It was put it to us that Notre-Dame is a world monument and we could look to raise money for its repair from outside of France,” Michel Picaud, fundraising senior advisor for Friends of Notre-Dame, said.

“We receive many requests from Americans wanting to know if there is a channel they can use to donate,” he told The Local. “The cathedral is a big part of Paris’ history but also a big part of American history in the city.”

Friends of Notre-Dame reportedly will hold events in Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. next spring to raise funds for repairs.