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With Thanksgiving turkey as the gateway drug to Christmastime, settle into your relatives’ couch post-meal and delight in this vignette of a Christmas market in Berlin, complete with winter amusement park; it’s a perfect primer for what makes this time of year such an all-sensory experience.

Somewhere between stuffing and pie, we hope you can fit in a few daydreams about Germany’s uber-charming Christmas markets, and the magic of the season that extends worldwide.


Christmas Markets: Europe and Beyond

– written by Brittany Chrusciel

Each month, we’ll highlight one new trip review submitted by an IndependentTraveler.com reader. If your review is featured, you’ll win an IndependentTraveler.com logo item!

faneuil hall bostonIn this month’s featured review, reader Paul G Price recaps a recent cruise to Canada and New England. His favorite stop? Boston: “We like the Hop-On, Hop-Off trolley that we scheduled thru Viator,” writes Paul. “We began our walk of the Freedom Trail outside of Quincy Market. This market was a great place to see every type of food offered and more. Next we finished the block by stopping in Faneuil Hall and followed the brick in the sidewalk, representing the Freedom Trail to the Old State House. … The complete circuit of the HOHO bus took us to places like Bunker Hill, the ship Constitution and beautiful old Fenway Park.”

Read the rest of Paul’s review here: Canada and New Englnad. Paul has won an IndependentTraveler.com duffel bag!

Feeling inspired? Write your own trip review by 11:59 p.m. ET on November 25, 2014, and you could win a $200 eBags gift card!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

Today’s post is part of a weekly series called “Travel Toss-Up,” in which we ask you to take your pick between two amazing travel experiences.

This week’s toss-up offers a choice of two destinations with a pink theme.

Would you rather…

… check out the pastel-colored architecture in sunny Oranjestad, Aruba

aruba pink architecture



… see thousands of flamingos in Lake Nakuru, Kenya?

flamingos lake nakuru kenya


Aruba’s cheery capital city, Oranjestad, is known for its pastel-colored Dutch architecture. Kenya’s Lake Nakuru National Park is home to some 450 bird species, including the greater and lesser flamingo.

Planning an African Safari

Vote for your preference in the comments below!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

Today’s post is part of a weekly series called “Travel Toss-Up,” in which we ask you to take your pick between two amazing travel experiences.

This week’s toss-up offers a choice of two religious buildings in incredible locations.

When traveling, would you rather…

… explore a floating mosque in Malaysia, or …

kota kinabalu floating mosque malaysia



… visit a clifftop monastery in Greece?

monastery of the holy trinity meteora greece


Malaysia is home to several mosques built over the water to give them the appearance of floating. The one above is in Kota Kinabalu. In Meteora, Greece, visitors can check out a half-dozen spectacular monasteries built atop massive rocks. Shown here is the Holy Trinity Monastery, which can be reached via a steep uphill hike. (If you’re not up to the physical challenge, visit the more accessible St. Stephen’s Monastery instead.)

9 Places You Haven’t Visited — But Should

Vote for your preference in the comments below!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

This Friday’s challenge is a photo of an unidentified place somewhere in the world. Can you tell us where the photo was taken? Leave your guess in the comments below — and check back on Tuesday to see if you were right!

world destination


Hint: There’s a lot to be thankful for at this tiny, historic settlement.

Enter your guess in the comments below. You have until Monday, November 10, at 11:59 p.m. ET to post your response. We’ll keep all comments private until then. On Tuesday morning we’ll choose one winner at random to receive an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. Note: Although all are welcome to play, we can only ship prizes to the Continental U.S.

Editor’s Note: This contest has ended. The winner is Michelle T, who correctly guessed that this week’s mystery location was Plimouth Plantation in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Michelle has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. Congratulations! Stay tuned for more chances to win.

See All “Where in the World?” Challenges

– written by Brittany Chrusciel

mexico day of the deadIt’s that time of year again: Halloween! If you’re like most people in the U.S., you’ve carved jack-o’-lanterns, hung cornstalks and purchased candy in preparation for the adorable costume-clad beggars who will likely be knocking on your door dressed as witches and skeletons and ghosts. That’s the ideal scenario, but you might instead find yourself dealing with scantily clad teenagers who demand goodies and then egg your home when they’re turned away.

If you’re hoping to get out of Dodge for this potentially horrifying holiday, take a peek at how four other countries handle Halloween.

Ireland
Ireland is considered the birthplace of Halloween, which is based on Samhain, the annual Celtic festival that acknowledged dead walking among the living and marked the end of harvest season. Although Halloween in Ireland is now celebrated in much the same way as it is in the U.S., activities like bonfires and parties are generally front and center, especially for children, who can win small prizes like candy and coins by playing themed games.

Mexico
In Mexico, locals celebrate Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) over a two-day period that begins on November 1. Festivals, parties, food and themed activities mark the occasion, which coincides with the Catholic religion’s All Saints Day and All Souls Day. Skeletons have become synonymous with the holiday, which celebrates the lives of the departed rather than mourning their deaths.

Learn More About the Day of the Dead

China
Teng Chieh, China‘s version of Halloween, finds participants lighting lanterns to help guide the spirits of dead relatives, for whom they also leave refreshments. Some locals also choose to make paper boats, which are then burned to release the souls of those who have died but haven’t received proper burial.

France
If what you actually want to do is escape Halloween altogether, plan a trip to France. Although it becomes more well known there every year, thanks to North American influences, the holiday is still generally obscure and not widely celebrated.

Trick or Travel: The World’s Most Haunted Destinations

– written by Ashley Kosciolek

I admit I have a spooky streak: It’s more curious than morbid, but I find myself touring cemeteries (for the history! And architecture!) and waiting for the day when I can finally pay a visit to the Overlook Hotel — inspiration for “The Shining” (I’m a big Kubrick fan). If this sounds like your idea of fun too, and you are looking to plan your next vacation with an excursion into the paranormal (or an actual stay on location), you may want to investigate the following supposedly haunted sites. All locations were found on a list of the most haunted places in the world, from a U.K. website called Haunted Rooms.

haunted ancient ram inn gloucestershire englandAncient Ram Inn, Gloucestershire, England
The British Isles have their share of folklore, but the story of this ancient inn is no fairy tale. Built in the 12th century, this building is said to occupy a former pagan burial ground and has been the site of child sacrifices and devil worship. Currently serving as a bed and breakfast, guests report being touched and pulled, hearing voices and feeling an evil presence. Its location at the intersection of two ley lines is said to be a conduit for spiritual activity.

13 Best England Experiences


haunted castle of good hope in cape town south africaCastle of Good Hope, Cape Town, South Africa
Supernatural sightings at this 17th-century castle built by the Dutch East India Company include a man repeatedly jumping off a castle wall, and an apparition known as the Lady in Grey who stalked the castle halls crying hysterically. Since a woman’s body was unearthed during a recent excavation, sightings of the Lady have vanished, but ringing bells and the ghost of a black dog are among the curiosities still experienced here.

haunted banff springs hotel in alberta canadaBanff Springs Hotel, Alberta, Canada
Frighteningly similar to the eerie aura of “The Shining,” this hotel set in the Canadian countryside was built more than 125 years ago and has been the stage for several strange encounters. As in the cult classic film, a family was murdered in one of its rooms, which has been bricked up ever since (but they can still be seen in the hallway). A bride is reported to have fallen down the stairs and broken her neck after her dress caught fire, but a friendlier ghost — a popular bellman from the 60s and 70s — also resides here and still tries to help guests to their rooms, turning on lights and opening doors.

11 Offbeat Things to Do in Canada


haunted brissac castle in maine-et-loire franceChateau de Brissac, Maine-et-Loire, France
The tallest castle in France is picturesque for sure, but has a dark past. A 15th-century double murder left the home with a specter known as the Green Lady. Story has it that if she looks at you, there are holes where her eyes and nose would be. The current Duke of Brissac and his family reside in the castle to this day and seem unaffected, but guests have reported early-morning moans and sightings of the green ghoul.

A Dozen Things You’ll Find in France


haunted island of the dolls in xochimilco mexicoIsland of the Dolls, Xochimilco, Mexico
Perhaps the creepiest of all, this lakeside town near Mexico City is not only home to a small and terrifying population of mutilated dolls, but the story behind them is truly chilling. In the 1920s, an accident left a girl drowned. In the 1950s, a recluse named Julian began communicating with the spirit of the young girl and leaving dolls for her on the island. After many years, Julian felt like he could no longer appease her and confessed to his nephew that he felt she would harm him. Later that day he was found face down in the exact location where the girl reportedly drowned. To this day, residents report whisperings from the dolls and wandering eyes.

haunted lawang sewu building in semarang indonesia Lawang Sewu, Semarang, Indonesia
If the name (translation: “thousand doors”) isn’t a bit mysterious as it is, the building was occupied by Japanese forces during WWII and used as a prison, where many were tortured or executed. Believed to be one of the most haunted places in Indonesia, this building (also built by the Dutch East India Company) is said to host multiple ghosts, including a Dutch woman who committed suicide there, headless spirits and a vampiric ghost, or kuntilanak, as it’s known in the region’s folklore.

– written by Brittany Chrusciel

Photo of Ancient Ram Inn used and shared under the following license: Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0. Original photo copyright Flickr user Synwell.

Photo of Island of the Dolls used and shared under the following license: Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0. Original photo copyright Flickr user Esparta Palma.

Each month, we’ll highlight one new trip review submitted by an IndependentTraveler.com reader. If your review is featured, you’ll win an IndependentTraveler.com logo item!

budapest great market hall nagyvasarcsarnokIn this month’s featured review, reader David Guarino recaps a recent European trip in which Budapest was the highlight: “The next day (own our own time), we headed off to the Great Market Hall (Nagyvasarcsarnok) via a trolley — easy to board and disembark,” writes David. “The market was exceptional, with lots of places to buy gifts, paprika and food. We had a typical Hungarian lunch at a food stand in the market — nice time.”

Read the rest of David’s review here: Prague, Vienna and Budapest. David has won an IndependentTraveler.com duffel bag!

Feeling inspired? Write your own trip review by November 25, 2014, and you could win a $200 eBags gift card!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

After recently spending a week at the home of a family friend in Grenada, I was a bit surprised to find that I had taken a vacation in the Caribbean and come back with not only a wicked tan, but also an education. An island in the West Indies, Grenada is a bit of a palimpsest, with traces of British and French roots visible in rusted fleur-de-lis fencing and cannons from another era. Although every country (no matter how small) can claim its own culture, Grenada stood apart with such a distinct identity that I’ll never make the mistake of confusing it for “just another island in the Caribbean” again. Here are five reasons the Spice Island left such an impression.

First-Place Flora
bird of paradise flower in Grenada

Grenada has won the prestigious Chelsea Flower Show 10 times, and when you step foot on the island you’ll immediately see why. Look left, look right, and spot countless species of blooms and trees crowding the landscape. Nature trails run in conjunction with numerous waterfalls, providing harmony among the elements and also convenient flower-gazing under a single entrance fee. Particularly pretty is Annandale Falls, where this photo was taken. Seven Sisters Falls, one of the top-ranked attractions in Grenada, is located within Grand Etang National Park, a rain forest preserve located high up in the island’s interior.


Organic Exports
fruit and vegetable stand in Grenada

A nickname like the Spice Isle comes with a reputation, and it holds up. Enjoy the flavors of Grenada’s famous nutmeg, cocoa and cinnamon in dishes prepared across the island (or sprinkled in rum punch). Take advantage of the variety of fresh fruit — and juice — while you are there (packing mangoes wrapped in your dirty laundry is frowned upon by the TSA) and experiment with your tastebuds by trying flavors like golden apple, tamarind, soursop and even sea moss. Spice up your knowledge by talking to vendors about which products — jams, jellies, syrups and powder — come from which part of the nutmeg (yes, there are multiple parts!). Look also for popular treats like chocolate tea and homemade ice cream.


Surprising History
a view from inside Fort George in Grenada

Learn the real story behind the American invasion of Grenada, see the ruins of gorgeous cathedrals still devastated by Hurricane Ivan, snorkel for underwater statues inspired by Grenada’s slave trade and learn the story behind the tragic Leaper’s Hill (which includes the final resting place of the first known patient of sickle cell anemia). The assassination of Prime Minister Maurice Bishop (whose name was given to the international airport) took place in recent history — 31 years ago this past Sunday (October 19) and the bullet holes can still be seen in the deteriorating Fort George. The island’s history is rich, and it’s worth taking a moment to understand the pivotal events that have shaped it.


Take a Dip
female swimmer exiting water on Paradise Beach in Carriacou near Grenada

Grand Anse may be the island’s best-known stretch of sand, but anywhere that seems safe for a swim is fair game in Grenada. From local favorite Bathway Beach, which has views resembling a Caribbean-style Cliffs of Moher, to the hideaway of Petit Anse, just behind a hotel’s bar and restaurant, it’s not difficult to find your own secret beach (and the water is typically warm and ripe for swimming). Particularly picturesque is Carriacou, a neighboring island just a ferry ride away. Aptly named, Paradise Beach is a bumpy taxi ride down back roads, but offers almost total seclusion and a view that makes it difficult to catch the 3:30 ferry back to Grenada.


The People
man playing guitar at annandale waterfall in grenada

A place can be the most scenic, culturally significant, accommodating destination with haute cuisine and diversions for every day of the week, but for me, it always comes down to the people. In Grenada they were friendly, welcoming and eager to show us their island (or to sing us a tune). I had the great opportunity to live locally and to stay with a family, but ventured out on my own using local buses and a little direction. It’s always slightly unsettling exploring somewhere new for the first time and learning your boundaries, but by the fish fry in Gouyave on our last night, when we ran into practically everyone we met on the entire trip there, the sense of pride and community wasn’t just obvious — it was infectious.

Six Quick Tips for Planning a Last-Minute Vacation
Which Caribbean Island Is Right for You?

– written by Brittany Chrusciel

Today’s post is part of a weekly series called “Travel Toss-Up,” in which we ask you to take your pick between two amazing travel experiences.

This week’s toss-up offers a choice of two tourist sites associated with classic novels.

Would you rather…

… tour the Hobbiton village in New Zealand (based on Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” series), or …

hobbiton matamata new zealand lord of the rings



… visit Green Gables, the Prince Edward Island farm that inspired the “Anne of Green Gables” books?

green gables prince edward island


Hobbiton is located near Matamata on the North Island of New Zealand. The village, used as a set for Peter Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” movie trilogies, is now open for tours. “Anne of Green Gables” fans will recognize the Green Gables home in Cavendish, Prince Edward Island. L.M. Montgomery, the author of the famous book series, visited the farm often when she was growing up (it belonged to her grandfather’s cousins), and used it as inspiration for the home of her lovable red-headed orphan.

9 Great Authors and the Places That Shaped Them

Vote for your preference in the comments below!

– written by Sarah Schlichter