Europe's new roller coaster kings

It’s been a good year for roller coaster fans in Europe.

Hands-in-the-air thrill seekers saw their options rise in 2016, according to the European Coaster Kings website.

Walibi Holland is the home of Lost Gravity, a coaster that promises intense corners, maximum air time and two inversions. The website’s reviewers praised the ride for its standstill, accordion-like effect at the end, as well as creative post-apocalyptic scenery where you queue for your turn. Walibi Holland is in Biddinghuizen, about an hour’s drive east of Amsterdam.

Walibi Belgium boasts of being home to Pulsar, a backward-and-forward-riding coaster that offers the sensations of gliding, flying and a free fall before delivering massive splashes into a water-filled basin. Reviewers liked the turning disc that points the boatlike carriage toward its trajectory and the considerable air time against the lap bar. Walibi Belgium is in Wavre, an hour’s drive southeast of Brussels.

Phantasialand’s most recent coaster is Taron. The park’s website proclaims it’s the world’s fastest and longest multilaunch coaster, with the fastest catapult drive and the greatest number of points at which the tracks crisscross (58). Reviewers gave high marks to the ride’s first curve, the initial downward plunge, and the twist at the end. They also praised the medieval village setting. Phantasialand is in Bruehl, Germany, about a half-hour south of Cologne.

Visit www.europeancoasterkings.com for more reviews and information about coasters and theme parks.

Lille's Braderie market canceled

If you plan to attend France’s mega flea market and street party known as the Braderie, think again. The city of Lille’s annual market, always set for the first weekend in September, has fallen victim to increased security concerns in the wake of recent terrorist attacks. With millions of attendees expected, authorities feared the event couldn’t be adequately protected.

In the present climate throughout much of Western Europe, it’s important to confirm the status of any large-scale event set for a venue in which crowd flows are hard to monitor or control. Be sure to check the website of the event organizer itself, as tourist bureaus or other sources may be unaware of changes.

Ukulele Hooley near Dublin

The humble ukulele’s popularity has waxed and waned through the decades. The four-string instrument is currently on a high, and many festivals have sprung up to bring together fans and new converts. Seaside festivals are fitting nods to the ukulele’s Hawaiian roots.

One such event is held in Dun Laoghaire, a picturesque harbor town surrounded by rolling hills a hop-skip away from Dublin. On Aug. 20 and 21, its Ukulele Hooley by the Sea offers hours of listening and playing pleasure. On Saturday there are several workshops geared to all playing abilities (from 11 a.m.; 15 euros per session, or about $13), followed by an Open Mic Night at which solo artists and groups can perform in front of what organizers assure will be a supportive audience (from 7:30 p.m.; 10 euros).

Festivals in Edinburgh

The Edinburgh International Festival is the premiere summer happening of Scotland’s capital city and enjoys worldwide fame. Another event with a similar name is the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. How do they differ?

While the Edinburgh International Festival promotes mainly opera, music, dance and theater, the Festival Fringe allows artists to present a much greater range of performances. Participation in the former is by invitation only; the Fringe in contrast includes anyone with a show to present and a venue willing to host them and for a small fee. Both events open on Aug. 5 and run through Aug. 29.

Le Tour’s flashy finish

The 21st and final stage of the Tour de France begins early morning on Sunday, July 24, in the city of Chantilly, forever associated with the tasty dessert known as Chantilly cream; 70 miles later, the competitors in the world’s most famous cycling race will pedal south toward Paris and through its western suburbs en route to the finish line. The course varies from year to year, but the finish has been the same since 1975: Paris’ Champs-Élysées.

The tour’s spectacular end is preceded by eight laps around a circuit between les Tuileries and the Louvre. From this vantage point, you might not manage to skip over to the finish line in time, but you could always dash into a café to watch the action live on TV. The riders will reach their final destination against the backdrop of the Arc de Triomphe, shortly after 7 p.m. Even when the crowds are thick, you can still watch the action broadcast over a giant screen. The awards ceremony generally starts about half an hour following the race’s conclusion. The event’s official website is at www.letour.com/le-tour/2016/us.

The many Venices of Europe

An article appearing in the travel section of Stars and Stripes referred to Dresden as "Florence on the Elbe." I've been mentally collecting references of this type for some time now, so I was pleased to have another one to add to my list.

You may have noticed that nicknames linking one European city to a more famous cousin abound. They range from the obvious -- anyplace that ties itself to Venice probably boasts of a canal or two- to the far-fetched. I thought it could be an interesting exercise to see what labels are applied to places we know and love and those we've never heard of. 
Venice -- many cities or neighborhoods within them bear nicknames suggesting similarities to Italy's watery gem. St. Petersburg, Russia, was coined "Venice of the North" by Goethe. But it's not the only one on the block. The title can also refer to HamburgStralsund or Friedrichstadt in Germany; Stockholm, or Brugge, Belgium.    "Klein Venedig" is an old fisherman's settlement along the Regnitz river in Bamberg, Germany, while "Venice of Brandenburg" refers to waterways found in the Spree Forest, some 60 miles southeast of Berlin. If you're looking for the Bavarian Venice, that would be Passau. Wroclaw is sometimes billed as "The Venice of Poland." A section of Colmar, France is known as "La Petite Venise."

Try some open-air opera this summer