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Yearly Archives: 2011

Smartphones and tablets have changed the world, and that includes the travel industry. Now, we can navigate, find restaurants, taxis, bathrooms – you name it – using an app. Just about any amenity can be searched for from the palm of your hand, and getting to know a destination has also become easier than ever.

Here are 10 travel apps that will really help you learn more details about the places you find go and the people you see:

1. World Customs and Cultures

This app provides customs, cultural information and facts on over 165 different countries. For example, did you know that Bulgarians shake their heads from side to side for “yes,” and up and down for “no”? Orthat pointing with your index finger in China isn’t usually done? Instead, make sure to use your whole hand, the app will teach you.

Price: Free.

2. TRVL

Available on iTunes, TRVL is a free travel magazine. It is also the first magazine that was made available for iPad only. You can download free issues that show you the lifestyle and customs of anywhere from Buenos Aires to Athens. Great photography is always there to accompany the text.

Price: Free.

3. Concierge Insider Guides

With this app, you can tap into the collective knowledge and experiences of the Hotel InterContinental Concierges. For any of the cities that has an InterContinental Hotel, the Concierge will give you his insider tips regarding restaurants, shopping, and more.

Price: Free.

4. Urbanspoon

Shake your iPhone and the Urbanspoon slot machine will pick a good restaurant for you to try. You will surely not go hungry abroad.

Price: Free.

5. Sushipedia

Have you ever found yourself in a Japanese restaurant and then received something that you didn’t think you ordered? Don’t let it happen again! This app provides an encyclopedia for all kinds of Sushi, useful for Japan and beyond.

Price: Free.

I first visited Arenzano, a small town just outside of Genoa, as one stop of many as I traipsed around Western Europe with two girlfriends, freshly out of high school. Whereas we had elected the backpacking-and-sleeping-in-hostels route, one of my other good friends and two of his buddies had decided to do nearly the same trip, with a higher parental monetary participation allowing for them to stay in hotels and eat in restaurants.

While we loved our version of the trip, we were more than happy to spend a couple of nights in the middle of our five week adventure camping out on their floor in their hotel in Arenzano, cleaner than many hostel beds. After a train-train-bus-bus sort of scenario, we finally arrived in the beautiful seaside town, and we spent the next few days getting to know my friend’s group of Italian amici that he had made during a study abroad stint several years before. One of the first things we did when we met the group of them, all dressed to the nines, with gelled hair and ironic glasses several years before they were cool, was find a place to eat.

As soon as I opened the menu, I was told, via a series of hand gestures and Italian words that sounded like babbling to my ears, to try the trofie with pesto. I’m a fan of local specialties and an even bigger fan of pesto, so I did as I was told. The trofie reminded me of spatzle, a German pasta that my mother used to serve with green beans and pesto when I was growing up. But while the pasta, technically new to me, seemed familiar, the pesto was a horse of a different color: the flavors were brighter than anything I had ever tasted before, and I don’t know if it was the combination of the view on the water and the circle of friends — some of whom I barely knew, or whether the pesto really was that good, but ever since, I’ve been making my own whenever I have the chance.

A true Ligurian would jump down my throat for changing the traditional recipe at all, but I’ve found my own ways of doing things, namely adding bitter carrot greens to the traditional basil, and subbing pine nuts, which are expensive and go bad quickly, for pistachios. You, however, can make the recipe either way: it will be delicious and fresh no matter what you do.

Planning a vacation in the Big Apple, you already know all the tourist spots: Times Square, the Statue of Liberty, shopping on 5th Avenue. And these are worth seeing, once or twice. But if you’ve already done all that, or just aren’t interested because you know there are so many other things to do—and other neighborhoods beyond midtown and downtown Manhattan—let these atypical guide books lead the way.

Not For Tourists Guide to New York City: Even though it’s smaller and has a stylish black cover, you might still get pegged as a tourist if you walk around with your nose in this guide book. However, this little black book is more about living in NYC than it is about being a tourist. It covers 35 neighborhoods in detail, with maps and lists of local businesses: coffee shops, movie theaters, grocery stores, farmers markets, bike shops, drug stores. This way, you can get a feel for a variety of neighborhoods where New Yorkers go about their daily lives; plus, you can find out where to buy food to cook and get a bottle of wine to drink at “home,” and generally settle into your rental apartment. If you’re not staying in Manhattan, note that there are Brooklyn and Queens guides too. Beyond that, though, Not For Tourists can’t help you.

Clean Plates: When you want to eat out and avoid the tourist traps or mediocre spots, you’ll need some kind of guide. There are just too many restaurants in the city to know where to start. For those of you who are interested in healthy, local, organic, and simply high-quality food, this book will tell you where to go. The Clean Plates food critics and nutritionist have filtered through the massive restaurant scene to bring you options to meet your dietary restrictions (gluten free, vegetarian), health concerns (avoiding artificial sweeteners), and sustainable lifestyle. Suggested eateries range from fast food to fine dining, and you can choose between the Manhattan and Brooklyn guides (or try to work your way through both).

Forgotten New York: This book by Kevin Walsh is a celebration of the obscure, historical, and way-off-the-beaten-path spots of NYC. The fact that the first section of the book is about the Bronx tells you that it’s not for typical tourists. It’s for savvy, adventurous, curious folks who are intrigued by details that others don’t usually even notice, and who are willing to walk down alleyways and far away from subway stops to learn more about New York’s quirky history. Using this guide book, you can track down colonial cemeteries, bizarre sculptures, rusting ruins, and practically unheard-of museums in all five boroughs.

Zinester’s Guide to NYC: You don’t have to know what a “zine” is to make use of this book by Ayun Halliday and her zine-making friends. You just have to be open to activities that are quirky, DIY, budget, participatory, irreverent, and non-touristy. The most lighthearted of all these alternative guide books, the Zinester’s Guide suggests attending events with names like Nerd Nite, the No Pants Subway Ride, and Elephant Walk; and visiting unusual spots including a troll museum, a ship graveyard, and a room full of soil. It’s also the only guide book that can tell you things like where to spot rats on the subway tracks, where to find black-and-white photo booths, and where to see the best bathroom graffiti. And at the bottom of the pages, you’ll enjoy the handwritten list of books, movies, and songs about NYC, as well a silly Q&A and a scavenger hunt of sorts.

Joanna Eng is a New York-based writer and editor who covers travel, green living, food, careers, entrepreneurship, and more. Her travel experiences have ranged from hostel hopping in Mexico to staying with distant relatives in China to renting a beach apartment in New Jersey.


In the Western world, the 31st of December marks one of the biggest celebrations of the year. Many people travel far and wide to attend festivities, often partying until the sun comes up on January 1st. We all know about the expensive clubs in New York and the beach parties in Miami. But what happens in other parts of the world? Here’s how some other countries celebrate the arrival of the New Year.

CAMBODIA

The inhabitants of Cambodia rely on the Indian calendar to calculate when the New Year’s festival should start. According to the Gregorian calendar, this falls anywhere from the 12, 13 or 14 April, depending on the year. It last for three days, and the Cambodian New Year’s Eve is the day before the festival starts. In the local lingo, it’s called “Chaul Chnamn Thmey,” meaning “entering the New Year.”

HUNGARY

Hungary runs on the Western calendar, and thus New Year’s Eve falls, like in the other countries, on December 31st. However, even though it runs on the rest of the world’s calendar, there are still Hungarian traditions that remain. That is, even though opening a bottle of champagne has become part of a modern Hungarian New Year’s Eve (as has counting down to midnight), some Hungarians still retain the customs of their ancestors. For example, they burn effigies or a scapegoat that embodies the evils and misfortunes of the past year. This scapegoat is also known as “Jack Straw” and is carried throughout the villages prior to being set on fire.

SOUTH AFRICA

In South Africa, things could get a little loud on New Year’s Eve. The inhabitants have a tradition of ringing in the New Year with church bells and gunshots firing. Those who visit the Cape Province New Year’s Day and Second New Year’s Day will see a carnival with people dressed in colorful costumes. If you are in town, throw on a colorful outfit yourself and dance in the street to the sound of drums with the locals.

WALES

Tradition in Wales has it that the village boys would go from house to house at around 3 or 4 a.m. with an evergreen twig. They would sprinkle the latter over the people and then on each room of their house. Sprinkling the evergreen twig was said to bring good luck in the New Year. On New Year’s Day, the children moreover get up early to sing songs for their neighbors. In return, they are given sweets, apples, mince pies and sometimes even coins. But you have to get up early – after noon, the singers will be called fools.

Happy New Year!

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year…” Almost all of us have heard this Christmas song before. Written by Edward Pola and George Wyle back in 1963, the song represents Christmas traditions in the United States. We are all familiar with American Christmas carols, and most of us will know when the tree lighting ceremonies are scheduled in our home towns. However, with Christmas being the most wonderful time of the year, what is going on at this time in other parts of the world? How is this very special day celebrated in other countries? Here are a few traditions you might not have heard about. Keep them in mind for the next time you travel – you could even experience some of these very special customs first-hand!

RUSSIA

In Russia, Christmas is primarily a religious holiday. Like in other Eastern Orthodox countries, it is celebrated on January 7th. On Christmas Eve, meaning January 6th, inhabitants attend several long services, including the Royal Hours and Vespers combined with the Divine Liturgy.

After that, families come together in their homes for a traditional Christmas Dinner (the Holy Supper). This consists of a total of twelve dishes, one in honor of each of the Twelve Apostles. Particularly religious families go back to church for the All Night Vigil.

On Christmas morning, the Divine Liturgy of the Nativity is celebrated. Christmas Day is also when the presents are given to the children by Babushka, a traditional Russian Christmas figure. Interesting fact: the word ”Babushka” is translated to English as a grand-mother.

VENEZUELA 

Christmas is also celebrated as a religious event in Venezuela. Unofficially, the festivities start after the “Feria de la Chinita” during the second half of November. This festival dates back to the cult of the Virgin Mary of Chiquinquirá, when various religious activities, processions, and music in the typical “Gaita style” to honor “”LaChinita” the nickname of this version.

The custom attend one of nine carol services is observed by most Venezuelans. During these “patinatas” or night festivals, firecrackers explode and bells ring to call worshippers from bed in the predawn hours.

Instead of “Papá Noél” (Santa Claus), presents are brought by “El Niño Jesus” (Baby Jesus). Children are educated to write request letters to Baby Jesus.

by Barrie Cleveland
California Winery Advisor

So, you’re on holiday in the wine country and you want to host a wine tasting at your vacation home. There are many possibilities for a successful and fun event from the formal sit-down, no talking, wine evaluation tasting to the more casual “brown paper bag nights”. Anyway you choose it’s a good way to enjoy and learn about wines, make friends and develop your own wine tasting palate.

The Atmosphere

Decide how seriousness you want the tasting to be. Will guests simply taste and discuss the wine, will they be encouraged to take notes, guess each type of wine in a “blind” tasting or will there be formal votes and discussion of each wine and its component colors, aromas and aftertaste?

If you and your friends are serious about wine, including elements of a more formal tasting is a good choice. If your guests are mostly wine novices, keep things light and focus more on learning the different flavor components of the wine. Do you taste and smell the melon flavors, the tobacco, orange peel or oak?

For serious oenophiles, offer tasting sheets with scoring options and taste each flight of wines without discussion. Then rank them and compare notes. When tasting “blind” distribute the list of wines being tasted after first tasting them, but before they are unveiled. See who can correctly identify the wines.

Wine Themes

If most guests are not too familiar with wine, a basic theme for the event is a good idea. Good themes include tasting one kind of wine from a particular region, or the same grape variety from different regions. Compare and discuss the wines, vote for your favorite, rank them in order and crown the favorite with suitable fanfare. Remember glassware can be an issue if you are tasting a number of wines at the same time. (Don’t be afraid to ask guests to bring their own glasses if you don’t have enough.)

Other themes can include tasting wines from one vintage year from various regions, or taste a flight of wines from the same producer but different vintages. These “vertical” tastings will show the differences between older and younger wines from the same vineyard made by the same winemaker. Another popular tasting, is limiting wines under (or over) a certain price point.

Choosing the Wine and Sharing the Expense

You can host the event yourself, choosing and paying for all the wines, or ask guests to bring a particular wine type. Most regular wine groups split the responsibilities by either rotating the hosting duties or understanding that all those present will share in the cost of the wine. (Be sure to have this clearly understood ahead of time with late cancellations still on the hook for their portion.)

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by Anne Kemp

This is the time of year when travelers begin annual treks over the river and through the woods, bustling toward the next family gathering or holiday party, or jetting off to visit loved ones in far away locales. Amateur bakers dust off their rolling pins during the month of December and holiday fetes are planned for out-of-town guests. Yes, it is that time of year, Virginia. The time of year when most revelers gain weight.

Tis the season for huge portions served everywhere you go, in homes and restaurants alike. Calendars are packed with more parties to fit in than time allotted for exercise. It’s no wonder that even the healthiest of folks have been reported to gain anywhere from one to eight pounds over the holiday season.

How do we stop this trend? It’s really simple and can be done by thinking ahead. At this time of year, you just need to use the Three P’s!

Planning, Prevention and Preparation.

Step One – Planning

Whether traveling across the country to visit family or driving to the other side of town to attend a holiday party, call ahead and ask the hostess if you can help by bringing a dish. A seven layer dip, which is normally filled with processed guacamole and full-fat sour cream and cheese, can be made into a lighter version by using fat-free sour cream, making fresh homemade guacamole, and topping with a low-fat cheese. Grab a bag of baked tortilla chips with little to no salt and you’re set. If you’re out-of-town and on a special diet, such as gluten free, stop by the local grocery stores to see what’s stocked or research the products they carry online before your arrival. Most grocery stores offer Betty Crocker’s Gluten Free Cakes and Cookies or Bob’s Red Mill Flour for baking. Offer to make cakes or breads from your “own” recipe, surprising your hosts with the amazing taste of these desserts.

Step Two – Prevention

Traveling through airports or venturing out on road trips is especially tough when watching your waistline. Take time to pack snack items, such as travel packets of almond or peanut butter with gluten free or low-fat crackers, raw almonds or dried fruit. Instead of splurging on a pastry when waiting at the terminal, choose an apple or banana, and always carry a bottle of water with you for the plane. Then planning for a road trip, make room in your car for a stocked cooler with healthy snacks for everyone, such as carrots and hummus dip or pre-rolled turkey and lettuce snacks (for the gluten free or low-carb dieter) or fresh fruits and yogurts. Add extra ice at each rest stop. An ounce of prevention is truly worth its weight…in gold or otherwise.

Step Three – Preparation

Scan the holiday calendar; keeping an eye out for parties or travel scenarios that may need some “pre-attendance adjustment.” There may be a gathering where you can eat a healthier meal, such as a hearty salad or quick veggie stir-fry, before you go, thus warding off the temptation of passed hors d’oeuvres or a buffet. Find time before a big dinner to fit in a workout, like sit-ups and a quick run. When packing for your holiday trip, make sure to take your sneakers and encourage others in your family to go out for a quick walk with you to work off your holiday meals. Find a local park or map out a trail through the neighborhood. Staying in tight quarters? Take a few minutes to do some push-ups or stretching.

The secret is all in using moderation and taking baby steps. By taking preventative measures each day during this holiday season, you will insure that you’ll be feeling your fittest, finest and fiercest of them all!

Anne Kemp is a columnist and blogger for the Frederick News-Post, a newspaper in the Washington D.C Metro area. Kemp writes about dating and relationships, travel, product reviews and living a gluten-free lifestyle. As an author, her first book, Rum Punch Regrets, will be released May of 2012.

by Claudia Pesce

If you’re in the northern hemisphere, the weather has probably gotten noticeably colder by now. Maybe you’ve already gotten some snow. Snowbirds may already be planning their trips south, heck, anyone could feel tempted to fly south this winter… but what if you were to fly a lot further south… like the southern end of South America?

Have you forgotten folks, that it’s springtime in the southern hemisphere? And places like Buenos Aires, Argentina hold such wonders, so many things to see and do. In case you’re not convinced yet (after all, it is a pretty long fight) here are the top things to see and do in the city that is also known as “the South American Paris”:

1. Partake of some of the world’s most delicious beef and wine

Argentina’s grass-fed cattle is practically unrivaled anywhere in the world. The country has consistently produced superior, prime beef for centuries. If you want to sink your teeth into some beef that slices like butter try the bife de lomo (beef tenderloin). Some of the best places to enjoy it are the upscale Cabaña Las Lilas in Puerto Madero, La Cabrera in Palermo or Kansas in Las Cañitas, a steakhouse that is reminiscent of American grills, but serves only superb Argentine meat. The best way to pair any of the choicest cuts is with a bottle of Malbec, the most popular red wine in Argentina, produced in the province of Mendoza.

2. Get swept away by some 2×4

Am I suggesting you go out and buy some Argentine lumber? Not quite. Tango is also known as the “2×4” (dos por cuatro), given that the tango rhythm is based on two strong beats on four. One of the best places to catch an enthralling tango show is Café Tortoni on the historic Avenida de Mayo. In San Telmo, you’ll find lots of milongas, a dance party where people gather to tango. They are mesmerizing to watch, but beware…you might be tempted to get up and be swept into the riveting dance.

3. Cheer with the crowd

In Argentina, soccer is not a sport. It’s a religion where fans worship gods like Diego Maradona (there’s a Maradonian church, believe it or not) and the most recent soccer sensation Lionel Messi. No trip to Buenos Aires is complete without a visit to either of the high temples of soccer: Boca Juniors stadium (also known as La Bombonera) or River Plate stadium.

by Alice Kemp

The Great Smoky Mountains. Just the name conjures up images of magnificent mountain peaks with “smokes” rising from their flanks. It’s easy to see why this is the most-visited national park in the United States with all that it has to offer, from activities that appeal to the outdoorsy, adventurous types to those looking for world-class shopping to the younger set wanting to fill their days with theme parks, game rooms and water parks.

Gatlinburg, Tennessee, makes an ideal base camp for partaking of all those activities with the literally thousands of hotel/motel rooms, overnight rentals and campgrounds available. The location, near the middle of the northern boundary of the national park, provides access to anything you would want to do while in the Smokies. Just 27 miles west of Gatlinburg along the Little River Road (allow a good hour to drive this extremely scenic but slow road) lies the 6800-acre Cades Cove. Settlers came into this beautiful valley in the 1800’s; the National Park Service has restored some of the original buildings to give visitors an idea of what life was like back then. Seven cabins have been restored along with three churches and the Cable Mill area which contains a number of buildings as well as an operational grist mill and a visitors’ center.

Near the beginning of the 11-mile loop road and accessed by a short, well-maintained and traveled trail sits the John Oliver cabin, the first to be built in the valley.

I had an astounding bit of luck one day when I chaperoned a small group of mentally challenged adults around Cades Cove on their annual vacation. We walked the trail to the cabin when, lo and behold, a juvenile black bear crossed the trail just a few feet in front of us! As a matter of fact, another small group of tourists were just a little further ahead, and the bear actually passed between our groups, not paying the slightest attention to us.

by Rachel Hammel

Holidays aren’t the same without tradition. I learned this several years ago as an undergraduate student, when I had been studying for a semester in Paris and living with a host family. Thanksgiving had been amusing at best: my roommate and I prepared a lavish dinner combining her family’s dishes and mine, leaving our humble hosts thankful but visibly perplexed at the idea of piling everything on the plate at once. Christmas was now quickly approaching and I had been away from my family in California for four months. The days were getting darker and colder, school was winding down and France seemed to be losing its hold on me.

My friend offered that we take a trip for the holiday and explore an area outside of Paris. She suggested Strasbourg, a city I had heard faintly of but knew nothing about, other than it is one of the headquarters of the European Union. But, as I would discover, it is much more than that.

We arrived by train and made our way to the apartment where we’d be staying as “couch surfers.” It was a charming 1-bedroom flat owned by Véronique, a sweet French woman who spent her weekend eagerly explaining the wonders of her city, touring us around and generously preparing our meals at no cost to us.

As we learned, this quaint town in France’s Alsace region, bordering Germany, is coined the “Capital of Christmas.” Home to the original Marché de Noël, or Christkindelmärik in their dialect, Strasbourg attracts thousands of visitors every year for their elaborate Christmas celebrations. Dating back to 1570, this traditional festival—the oldest in France—brings a huge series of artisanal markets throughout the streets of the city. For several weeks leading up to the holiday, talented craftsmen showcase their goods, bakers and restaurant owners deliver their culinary delights, and various activities, exhibitions and concerts draw families from around the world.

The festival has an interesting history. In fact, some theories point to Alsace as the root of the Christmas tree tradition: throughout the Middle Ages on Christmas Eve, townspeople would depict stories of the history of creation in front of churches. During these “Games of Paradise,” they used fir trees decorated with apples to represent the tree of paradise. When apples became scarce in the region in 1850 due to drought, glassworkers created apples out of blown glass, giving rise to what we know today as glass Christmas ornaments.

During our stay in Strasbourg, there was never a dull moment: we admired the lights and decorations, bought hand-made ornaments and decorations, ice skated, made arts and crafts, mingled with locals and indulged in the area’s seasonal cuisine. Ah, I thought often to myself, tradition!

Speaking of cuisine, highlights of my travels are always marked by food. The Alsatian fare was pretty phenomenal—not the delicate, minimalistic plates you’d imagine when you think of Paris. It was warm, hearty, filling and yet so simple, like all French food: technically and aesthetically impeccable and yet so straightforward. Among my favorites were Baeckeoffe, or “Baker’s Oven”: a hearty winter pot roast of layered meat, potatoes and vegetables, and La Bûche de Noël: a super rich log-shaped sponge cake. But nothing came close to their famous Christmas mulled wine. This piping hot, aromatic concoction warms the body and soul like nothing else. My friend and I drank it everywhere because, aside from the fact that it’s delicious, it kept our hands warm and helped round out that holiday feeling. Oh, and the aftereffect was nice too.

Back in California during the Christmas season, there’s nothing better than wrapping up in a blanket near the fire with a cup of this stuff. Although no matter how hard I try to recreate the experience, it’s never as good as it was while meandering the narrow streets of that romantic Alsatian town where France reclaimed its hold on me.