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!
Hint: This abbey is considered one of the best locations to view the lavender fields where?
Enter your guess in the comments below. You have until Monday, March 23, 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 prize. 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 Cindy McCabe, who correctly guessed that this week’s mystery location was the Senanque Abbey in Gordes, France. Cindy has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations! Stay tuned for more chances to win.
Sitting at my desk in New Jersey with the temperature hovering just below the freezing point, it’s hard to believe that spring has arrived. But spring it is, and people around the world will soon be celebrating the season of renewal.
Spring is a perfect time to travel in many destinations. Not only will you find smaller crowds and possibly even pay less (since high tourist season in many places doesn’t start until summer), but you may also stumble upon unique cultural celebrations such as the ones below.
Here are a few spring festivals from around the world to watch out for if you’re ever in the neighborhood around the time of the spring equinox.
Las Fallas Festival: Valencia, Spain
A spring festival celebrating St. Joseph’s Day (March 19), the origins of Las Fallas go back in time to the days when wooden lamps, called parots, were needed to light carpenters’ workshops during the winter. As spring — and St. Joseph’s Day (the patron saint of carpenters) — neared, workers ceremoniously burned the parots, which were no longer needed for light. Over the centuries, the ceremony evolved into a five-day celebration involving the creation and eventual burning of ninots: huge, colorful cardboard, wood, papier-mache and plaster statues. The ninots remain on display for five days until March 19, when at midnight they are all set aflame, except for one chosen by popular vote and then exhibited at a local museum with others from years past.
Whuppity Scoorie: Lanark, Scotland
The arrival of spring is celebrating in the small town of Lanark, Scotland, on March 1 with the delightfully named Whuppity Scoorie. During this celebration, local children gather at sunrise and run around the local church three times, making noise and swirling paper balls on strings around their heads. After the third lap, the kids race to gather up coins thrown by local assemblymen. No one is quite sure how the ritual began; the first written descriptions date back to the late 19th century.
Junii Brasovului: Brasov, Romania
The “Youth of Brasov” festival is held on the Sunday after Eastern Orthodox Easter every year and involves seven groups of young men bedecked in Romanian folk costumes and uniforms riding colorfully decorated horses through the streets of the city. The parade also features traditional Romanian songs and dances, and culminates in each of the men throwing a scepter into the air to see who can hurl it the highest. The parade finally works its way up to a mountain field above the city where a community barbecue is held. The earliest written records of the ritual parade date back to 1728.
Nowruz is celebrated on the first day of spring, which is also considered the beginning of the new year in the Persian calendar. It is a secular holiday of hope and rebirth, though its origins trace back to Zoroastrianism, which was the predominant religion of ancient Persia. It is celebrated in Iran, as well as Azerbaijan and most of the “stans” (Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan). Rituals typically involve building bonfires to jump over them.
Also known as the festival of colors, Holi is an ancient Hindu festival celebrated annually as the spring equinox approaches. The ceremony represents the arrival of spring, the end of winter and the victory of good over evil. It is a happy occasion marked by singing, dancing and a free-for-all of color, where participants do their best to paint others with dry colored powders and colored water. Holi dates back as far as the fourth century, though it may in fact be older.
What spring celebrations do you know of around the world?
It seems that every industry these days, including travel, is scrambling to target Generation Y: the 20- and 30-somethings also referred to as millennials. Travel-booking giant Expedia is taking its own approach by appealing to curious, young would-be bookers with a new series of online-only videos featuring Jay (a nerdy character Elijah Wood might play but with a much more nasal voice who serves as the question moderator) and Stuart (color commentary provided by a Seth Rogen look-alike).
As a real-life millennial, I was forwarded the verge-of-trying-too-hard campaign (found in an article by GeekWire) by a coworker who was pretty sure my delicate millennial sensibilities would be offended by the heavy-handed duo with their own hashtag — #ExpediaInterns. In actuality, I thought it was smart — employ two slightly off-base stereotypes to elicit travel questions and concerns from a target demographic. Things like: “When is the best time to book a flight?” are answered in a live-to-serve way by intern Jay, while Stuart interrupts with nonsensical babble to lighten the matter-of-fact tone.
What my Gen X colleague found condescending, I found convenient — just tweet any queries to #ExpediaInterns and the carefully selected marketing team behind Jay and Stuart promise an answer and maybe even a video highlighting your inquisitive tweet. While she found that the tone suggested our questions weren’t being taken seriously, I felt the shtick was perfectly acceptable as long as the answers were accurate.
Perhaps I have been desensitized to Internet buffoonery through constant exposure day in and day out, but if I had the choice of a tutorial explaining algebra with a voiceover or a tutorial with a cat in a robe explaining algebra — well, you do the math. Regardless of whether your gimmick gets me to click, if you’re delivering quality advice and information, I’m all for the frivolous format.
Jay and Stuart are five videos strong so far, discussing topics like the best time to book, international travel, mixing and matching airlines and choosing a smaller airport (topics are air travel-heavy at the moment). To follow along, use #ExpediaInterns on Twitter or visit their website.
Amid all the shamrocks, soda bread and green beer, it takes a lot to cut through the St. Patrick’s Day clutter — but Liam Neeson has done it with a warmhearted video recently released by Tourism Ireland. Combining a beautifully delivered voiceover with footage of rolling green hills, crumbling cathedral ruins and smiling locals, Neeson helps us understand Ireland’s enduring appeal. Check out the video below:
I don’t have a drop of Irish blood in me, but after viewing that video, I’m ready to drop everything and plan a trip. What about you?
Every week in our “Spotlight on …” feature, we’ll highlight a different country around the world.
Population: 4.75 million
Currency: Costa Rican colon
Phrase to Know: Me llamo ____. (My name is ____.)
Fun Fact: More than 25 percent of Costa Rica’s total landmass is preserved in national parks and other protected areas — making this one of the world’s best places to explore the rain forest and scan for wildlife.
This week’s travel puzzle is part of our ongoing Flag Friday series of challenges. Can you identify which nation the following flag belongs to?
Enter your guess in the comments below. You have until Monday, March 16, 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 logo item. 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 David Portyrata, who correctly guessed that this week’s flag was from Macedonia. David has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations!
Some people consider their desire to travel as an undeniable need. Despite the fanciful title of “wanderlust” that most people give it, this passion for constantly exploring new places could be deeper than a preference; it could be in your blood.
According to an article in Elite Daily, researchers believe they have isolated a gene in human DNA that predisposes some to that get-up-and-go urge. Called DRD4-7R (7r denotes the mutated form of the gene), the “wanderlust gene” is relatively rare — found in only 20 percent of the population — but explains increased levels of curiosity and restlessness, according to one study.
Another study by David Dobbs of National Geographic explored this research further, concluding that the 7r mutation of DRD4 results in people who are “more likely to take risks; explore new places, ideas, foods, relationships, drugs, or sexual opportunities,” and “generally embrace movement, change, and adventure.” These traits are linked to human migration patterns. Dobb found that when compared with populations who have mostly stayed in the same region, those with a history of relocation are more likely to carry the 7r gene.
Other scientists doubt that something as complex as human travel can be whittled down to a single gene mutation, but — for better or worse — a number of “exploratory character traits” have been found in association with 7r.
If you occasionally like to see a new place, take a yearly vacation and have a general interest in travel, you’re probably a completely normal person. But if you have an unquenchable, insatiable necessity for traveling, and often do so without a set plan, then you might just be the product of millions of years of human development. Are you a 7r carrier?
On a trip to Belize a few years back, one of the best souvenirs I brought home was a CD featuring music from the local Garifuna people. Just as I often try to recreate a few recipes from my travels in my own kitchen between trips, I also enjoy sampling the music of the world as a way to evoke the places I’ve been — or those I hope to visit. Below are a few videos to get you started on a musical journey of your own.
This piece is from the Iranian-American group Niyaz, with lyrics based on the work of the 11th-century Persian poet Baba Taher.
Next up is a performance at Carnegie Hall of perhaps the most famous Cuban song of all, “Chan Chan” by the Buena Vista Social Club.
When the much-anticipated Apple Watch debuts next month, the accompanying Apple Watch store will introduce numerous nifty features for travelers as well. Skift lists six different travel apps you’ll want to watch out for (no pun intended).
We think the coolest one is the SPG app, which will allow travelers to use their watches to open their Starwood hotel room door — without having to fiddle with a room key. You can also use this app to check in or get directions to the hotel.
American Airlines’ app will send you notifications of gate changes and baggage claim information, while Expedia will give you details on hotel check-in/check-out times, flight seat assignments and more. Other travel apps that will be available on the new watch include OpenTable (restaurant reservations), TripAdvisor (hotel/restaurant/attraction reviews) and Citymapper (public transit information). Numerous others are sure to follow.
The Apple Watch debuts on April 24, with prices ranging from $349 (for the most basic sports model) up to $10,000 for a luxury version. Note that the watch does not work as a standalone product; according to Apple’s website, it requires an iPhone 5 or later.
Will you buy an Apple Watch?
– written by Sarah Schlichter
Editor’s Note: IndependentTraveler.com is published by The Independent Traveler, Inc., a subsidiary of TripAdvisor, Inc.
Every week in our “Spotlight on …” feature, we’ll highlight a different country around the world.
Population: 8 million
Currency: Swiss franc
Phrase to Know: Was kostet das? (What does this cost?)
Fun Fact: The average Swiss citizen eats nearly 20 pounds of chocolate a year — more than any other country. They have plenty to choose from; Switzerland is home to such famous brands as Nestle, Cailler, Lindt, Toblerone and more.
We Recommend: Head deep into the Alps for the chance to walk a St. Bernard. This locally bred dog is famous for helping travelers stranded in the snowy mountains.