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February 09, 2012

Taiwan Lantern Festival Celebrates the Year of the Dragon

(Pieter van Noordennen)

The crowd of 200,000 people explodes as the 30-foot-tall dragon bursts to life. We’re gathered in the Lukang Sports Park in a small port town in central Taiwan for the Grand Opening ceremony of the Taiwan Lantern Festival, a tradition that dates back hundreds of years but that has gotten increasingly more popular with tourists since its reinvigoration over the past decade. Many Westerners have seen photos of the Sky Lantern Festival—which takes place on the same day as the opening in the rural village of Shifen outside of Taipei—where event organizers release some 2,000 traditional lanterns into the night sky. But that’s just one event of the entire Lantern Festival, which runs from February 6 through February 19 this year. There’s also the Beehive Rocket Festival in southern Taiwan, where participants shoot rockets loaded with firecrackers into the air to scare off evil spirits, and, my favorite, the Bombing of Master Han Dan, where young men show off their bravery by being carried around in a sedan chair while people in the crowd hurl lit strands of firecrackers at them. (It’s unclear if anyone gets hurt in this process.)'s Taipei Travel Guide

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Related Topics: Asia Travel · Holidays, Events, & Festivals

December 22, 2011

Three of the Best Anti-New Year's Destinations

By Lacy Morris

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Amsterdam in the Netherlands covered with snow(iStockphoto,Thinkstock)
A wintery night in the Netherlands, Amsterdam (iStockphoto/Thinkstock)

New Year's has become a holiday juggernaut of sorts. Thousands pile into Times Square to watch the ball drop each year, and the abstract cha-ching of money being made rings for weeks before the big day. But if you're any sort of skeptic about the grandeur of this resolution-esque holiday, we give to you our anti-New Year's destinations where you'll never have to pick confetti from your hair. Here are our top three New Year's anomalies.

Death Valley National Park
Peak visitation in Death Valley is right around the holidays; and let us assure you, you will not see any fireworks, you will not have to throw elbows to get through the entrance doors, and the only counting you'll do is narrowing down the three million acres that are at your disposal. As opposed to the scorching summer months when the environment is quite inhospitable and certain sections are closed off to the public, the entire park's acreage is open for winter access. The days are pleasant, the nights can be a bit chilly, and there are rarely rainstorms. One of the most desolate places in the world is the key to a bother-free New Year.'s Death Valley National Park Travel Guide

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Related Topics: Holidays, Events, & Festivals · Trip Ideas

December 20, 2011

Fun Festival: Night of the Radishes

By Lacy Morris

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Radish Carvings at Noche de Rábanos, Radish Night (Stephanie Schneiderman, Tia Stephanie Tours)

In Oaxaca, Mexico, a mass harvest of radishes is underway in preparation for Noche de Rábanos, Radish Night, one of Mexico's many unique and colorful festivals. And like most other festivals of its kind, Radish Night is full of entertaining history and odd appeal.'s Oaxaca Travel Guide

Legend has it that two Spanish monks assisted the local people to grow produce in the land that was naturally irrigated by the Atoyac River. Once cultivated, the monks encouraged the farmers to carve intricate figures into the radishes as a way to allure people to purchase the produce at the market. The odd entrepreneurship stuck and became a staple of the area's culture, over the years developing into the festival it is today.

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Related Topics: Holidays, Events, & Festivals · Mexico Travel

December 16, 2011

Apocalypse 2012? Not According to Copan.

A carving at Copan Ruinas, Honduras (Nathan Borchelt)

Our guide is explaining that we have nothing to worry about in 2012. If the Mayans were still here in Copan, Honduras, even they would just be playing a game that involved kicking a large ball among two stone rises, honoring the winning team by way of human sacrifice. Nothing to worry to about.

There’s a lot of debate over what December 21, 2012—the end of the 5,126-year “Long Calendar” according to some—will bring. Some say nothing more than Y2K-esque anti-climax; others say the end of the world. Here in Copan, an archeological site on the border of Honduras and Guatemala that lay largely ignored until the early 1900s, they take the middle road. Our guide says that 2012 marks the end of a 58-year cycle in which thousands would come to what is now known as Copan Ruinas. But the end of the world? They don’t think so. Whatever the case, tourists intrigued by South and Central American history will surely be more interested in Copan and other Mayan sites as that (questionably) epic date approaches.

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Related Topics: Holidays, Events, & Festivals · Trip Ideas

December 12, 2011

New Orleans is Home to Football this Winter

By Kate Chandler

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New Orleans,Superdome(David Reber's Hammer Photography,Flickr)
New Orleans Superdome (David Reber's Hammer Photography/Flickr)

Over the years, has named New Orleans as a top destination for bachelor parties, Christmas vacations, Memorial Day weekends, and July 4th fireworks. This winter, we'll add to that list: It's the place for football.'s New Orleans Travel Guide

New Orleans is home to the 2012 BCS National Championship (that's for college football, for those of you who don't follow gridiron events). And despite the usual turmoil over BCS rankings of the country's best teams, it's hard to deny that the National Championship is cause for celebration.

On January 9, 2012, the Louisiana State Tigers will take on the Alabama Crimson Tide in the Superdome, one of the country's largest indoor football stadiums. Because NOLA is close for fans of both teams, tickets and hotel rooms are going like wildfire. Want to go? Tickets are selling for a mere $1,300 (per ticket, and in the nosebleed section at that) on StubHub. Or you can scour the web for contests giving away tickets. We found one from the tourism board of Visit South Walton, where all you have to do is enter on its Facebook page in the "Giveaways" section. Yes, South Walton is in Florida, but, hey, they are legit and have free tickets!      

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December 06, 2011

Top Ten Christmas Markets Around the World

By BootsnAll

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Christmas market,Prague(Hemera,Thinkstock)
Prague's Christmas Market (Thinkstock)

The tradition of the Christmas market, or Christkindlmarkt, began in Germany, Austria, and Alsace. Over time the idea spread, and though you'll still need to book a flight to Europe to visit the best ones, you can experience the festivity of a cozy Christmas market here in the United States as well.

From the original (and some might say best) Christmas markets in Germany to the latest incarnations, Christmas markets keep people coming out in the cold to celebrate the season. The smell of cinnamon and freshly baked sweets fills the air, lights sparkle on the trees and in shop windows, and visitors stay warm sipping hot mulled wine, called gluhwein. Get into the holiday spirit at one of these great Christmas markets around the world.

Chicago, Illinois
Chicago's Chriskindlmarket is the largest traditional German market outside of Germany, a must-do to kick off Christmas season in Chicago. On November 26, it sprang to life in the Loop's Daly Plaza with the annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony. Nosh on Bavarian pretzels and grilled bratwurst, or pick up some hot wine in a souvenir cup, and browse the small village of shops beneath the lights of city skyscrapers.

Munich, Germany
Like many large cities in Germany, Munich offers several Christmas markets, but the largest and oldest is in Marienplatz, in the old center. More than 140 stalls in the shadow of a giant Christmas tree sell decorations, art, jewelry, and traditional German fare. The market opens on the first Friday in December, and every evening at 5:30 Alpine choirs perform in the Town Hall's balcony.

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November 28, 2011

I Heart NYC: A Big Apple Holiday for Every Kind of Traveler

Rockefeller Center of Christmas,NY(Top Photo Group,Thinkstock)
Rockefeller Center during Christmas, New York City (Top Photo Group/Thinkstock)

If one city in the continental U.S. represents everything the holidays stand for, New York City is that place. It has vibrant colors, soft white blankets of snow, beautifully decorated trees, ice skating rinks, and store window treatments that come straight from all of our childhood dreams. In our opinion, NYC is iconic and whimsical during the holidays, a place where even the most Grinchiest can find some sort of joy.

For The Dancer
Radio City Christmas Spectacular
Say the word Rockettes and you automatically think of high kicks, glitz, and glam, which is why Radio City's Christmas Spectacular is a must-see over the holidays. The Rockettes dance and dazzle their way through The Twelve Days of Christmas Carol, the Parade of the Wooden Soldiers, the Living Nativity, and more. Each 90-minute performance showcases 36 Rockettes (who are all between 5'6" and 5'10.5") and 1,300 costumes. Live animals such as donkeys, camels, and sheep are a part of the cast as well. Get your jazz hands ready!

For The Shopper
Holiday Window Displays
Many high-end stores on Fifth Avenue, such as Sak's, Lord & Taylor, Bergdorf Goodman, and others off 5th Ave, such as Barneys, Bloomingdale's, and Macy's have display designers working for months on the creations that they place in their store windows.  Long ago, Macy's started this tradition of creating magical tales of the holidays in their windows and the other stores have since followed. Children will be in awe of the displays and adults will appreciate the show of artist ability as well. Best of all, window shopping is free!

For The Arborist
Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree
A world-wide symbol of the season, the Rockefeller Christmas tree has been a tradition for over 75 years. This year it stands tall, bright, and beautiful; lit by 30,000 LED lights on five miles of wire and topped with a Swarovski crystal star. If trees are your thing, also hop around the city and check out the trees at Madison Square Park, Wall Street, South Street Seaport, Botanical Gardens, and a few of the museums like the MET.

Continue reading "I Heart NYC: A Big Apple Holiday for Every Kind of Traveler" »

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Related Topics: Budget Travel · Christmas Vacation · Family Vacation · Holidays, Events, & Festivals · US Travel

October 13, 2011

Six College Football Tailgates Worth a Trip

The aftermath (Flickr)

Thankfully football has become more than just a game. There's the mascot, the choosing of the gameday outfit, and most importantly the tailgate...the all day (sometimes days) celebration of 22 men in tight pants chasing the ole pigskin. If you like football, drinking, and food, pack up the cooler and put the rubber to the road, all you need is a pack of brats and a truck load of optimism. Of course, everyone does it a little different, and everyone thinks their way is the best, just ask any diehard wearing full body paint perched on the back of an F150. Here are our six college football tailgates worth traveling for.

University of Mississippi (Ole Miss)
Oxford, Mississippi
There is no doubt that these Rebels know how to tailgate; their unofficial motto is, "We may not win the game, but we never lose the party!" Named "The Holy Grail of Tailgating Sites" by Sporting News and featured by the New York Times, Boston Globe, and ESPN, the ten-acre plot called "The Grove" is a sea of red, white, and blue on game day.  Under the tents (that have sometimes been set-up as early as 2 p.m. the day before) a visitor will find all things southern: fried chicken, mashed potatoes, fine china, chandeliers, and football fans in their Sunday (err, Saturday) best.  But before you visit, make sure to learn the Hotty Toddy cheer, so when someone yells "are you ready?" you know the appropriate way to answer.

Louisiana State University (LSU)
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Tiger Stadium, aka "Death Valley," is legendary for the crowd noise created by the fans (the rumble is said to register on a seismograph), but do not think this electrifying experience only exists within the 92,500-seat stadium. Eighty miles northwest of New Orleans, these fans know how to party and, of course, eat. But it's not about the hotdogs and hamburgers here. Drop by on a Saturday morning and you'll follow your nose to gumbo, crawfish, spicy alligator, Cajun sausages, grilled duck, po'boys, and a beignet (deep-fried dough with some sort of sweet topping) for dessert.  Did we mention LSU usually has night games? So you have all day long to indulge; and all night long to forget.

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Related Topics: Holidays, Events, & Festivals · Trip Ideas · US Travel

September 19, 2011

Some of the Best Oktoberfest Festivals Outside of Munich

By Kate Chandler

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Celebrating Oktoberfest in Cincinnati, Ohio (courtesy, Cincinnati Chamber)

Munich is the official home of Oktoberfest, a 17-day beer-drinking celebration of Bavarian culture that starts on September 17 this year. But of course something this fun can't be contained to one city, state, or country. And thus Oktoberfest parties have sprung up all over the world. If you can't make it to Munich for the original, try one of these other favorites. 

Blumenau, Brazil
Coming in as a top contender for the "largest Oktoberfest outside of Germany" prize is Blumenau in southern Brazil. Nearly one million tourists flock to this German immigrant-founded city each year for parades, bands, traditional German food, and, no surprise, beer. Visit the Eisenbahn microbrewery to sip Dunkel or Kolsch that abides by the Reinheitsgebot, an old German law on craft beer standards that has since been repealed but is still highly respected.'s Brazil Travel Guide

Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario, Canada
Also nearing the one million-visitor mark is Oktoberfest in the twin Canadian cities of Kitchener and Waterloo. This area has deep German roots; many people here speak German, and Kitchener was even once named Berlin until World War I prompted a name change in 1916. Besides lots of beer guzzling, this year's festival includes a Miss Oktoberfest pageant, the Oktoberfest Idol contest (like American Idol crunched into two hours), and lots of family-friendly events.'s Ontario Travel Guide

Cincinnati, Ohio
Closer to home (for most of you reading this), Oktoberfest Zinzinnati, September 17 and 18 this year, claims to be the biggest Oktoberfest in America, drawing more than 500,000 annually. In addition to copious beer consumption, festival-goers take in some 80,000 brats, 24,000 potato pancakes, and 3,600 pounds of sauerkraut as they witness the Running of the Wieners, the world's largest Chicken Dance, and the Beer Barrel Roll.'s Cincinnati Travel Guide

Other Oktoberfest festivals worth traveling to:
Samuel Adams OctoberFest in Boston, Massachusetts (September 9-10)
Oktoberfest in Denver, Colorado (September 16-18, 23-25)
Oktoberfest by the Bay in San Francisco, California (September 30-October 2)
Soulard Oktoberfest in St. Louis, Missouri (October 7-9)

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September 12, 2011

Five of the Best Towns to Celebrate Halloween

Toast to Life,Flickr
Halloween Key West-Style (Toast to Life/Flickr)

For kids, Halloween is infamous for costumes and trick-or-treating; for teens, horror flicks and potentially a day off school; for college students, lingerie and beer; for parents, watching their children do all of the formerly mentioned (lingerie and beer aside). If you love everything about Halloween, then put on your disguise and head to one of these cities that knows how to party, whether it’s rated PG or R.

Party-Hardy: New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans and its above-ground gravesites can be creepy even when it’s not Halloween, but The Big Easy sure knows how to celebrate. Second in size only to Mardi Gras, All Hallows’ Eve is celebrated with elaborate costumes, drinking, dancing, and parades. Even the zoo gets in on the action with “Boo at the Zoo.” And while you're there, chow down on what New Orleans is most known for, its tasty local cuisine—try a po’boy and some beignets to replenish your appetite during all your wickedly awesome fun.'s New Orleans Travel Guide

Sexiest: Key West, Florida
The annual Key West Fantasy Fest is one word: risqué. During the week-and-a-half before Halloween, clothing is sparse, lingerie is welcomed in public, and Captain Morgan is about as frequent as water. The Pretenders in Paradise event has up to a $10,000 cash prize costume contest; the Duval Street’s mile-long street fair promises lively libations and costumed frivolity; and Captain Morgan’s famous parade, with 70,000 frolicking partygoers, finishes out the celebrations on Saturday night.'s Key West Travel Guide

College Town: Ohio University, Athens, Ohio
Reigning supreme as one of the nation’s top party schools by the Princeton Review (and numerous other sites), Ohio University’s insane Halloween parties date back to the 70s, when the indiscretions of the college culture were a bit more hush-hush. The Annual Athens Halloween Street Party is considered to be one of the largest block parties in the nation, typically attracting more than 20,000 people to the streets of downtown Athens. If you’re going, be smart and call a taxi. Each year a few dozen people take the festivities too far and end up in the back of a cop car.'s Ohio Travel Guide

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