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!
In this month’s featured review, reader Kirsten Bukager travels to southern France to see what it’s really like to live and work at a winery. “I taste grapes, while [the owner] watches me intently and asks if I can taste the difference. She teaches me how to use my tastebuds, which are clearly untrained compared to hers. I taste and taste until I feel light-headed. It is embarrassing to admit when I can’t taste the differences, but at the same time it is fascinating to hear Lèia talk, and I am pleased to see her passion.”
Historically, few women fought in wars, owned significant portions of land, made laws or were recognized for their achievements “back in the day” — and none to date has been U.S. president. Traveling through historic sites you might see a sign or plaque that explains the importance of the location, its former occupants or the battle that was fought there. But have you ever come across a roadside attraction or a plaque highlighting the specific accomplishments of a woman? Less likely.
The SPARK (Sexualization Protest: Action, Resistance, Knowledge) Movement feels that this is a glaring omission, and has teamed with Google to create a smartphone app to put “Women on the Map.” In an article in the Huffington Post, SPARK urged the partnership after noticing that Google Doodles skewed heavily male (and white) in their selection of highlighted figures — only 17 percent were women between 2010 and 2013.
The Women on the Map app alerts users to places nearby where women made history, aggregated by teams at Google and SPARK. The app currently highlights 119 women from 28 countries, more than 60 percent of which are women of color.
“Al-Kahina (or sometimes called Queen Dihya) was an African Jewish soothsayer military warrior who led an army in North Africa in the 7th century. She fought off the Arab Muslim invaders and was considered the most powerful monarch in North Africa as you will see from the glorious statue of her in Algeria where her story is ‘mapped,'” reads an example of a notable woman included on the app from the SPARK website.
If you need an excuse to get out and recognize some female accomplishments, March is Women’s History Month.
To use the app, iPhone users need to download the Field Trip app; you’ll find the Spark: Women on the Map installment in the “Historic Places & Events” tab.
After a week in Florida for a travel conference, my return flight to the Northeast was pushed back by 24 hours due to a snowstorm. Spending an extra day in the sunny weather certainly wasn’t cause for complaint, so I embraced the delay by visiting family and making my way to Universal Studios. But somewhere in between was the stuff of nightmares.
The logistics of finding a same-day hotel are irritating enough, but trying to do it in a busy resort town like Orlando — during spring break, when everyone else has made arrangements months in advance — is even worse. The result? The top five hotels near Universal were all full when I called. Then I tried the HotelTonight app but was disappointed by what appeared to be unreasonably high prices and limited availability, so I figured I’d try the next town over. Tired, grumpy and hoping to offset the hundreds of dollars I’d spend the following day to drink butterbeer in the presence of other Harry Potter-obsessed Muggles, I Googled “cheap hotels near Altamonte Springs.” Big mistake.
I was surprised to find a line of cars waiting at the front entrance to the Days Inn when I arrived. Confused, I parked and grabbed my suitcase, figuring I’d head to the lobby to check in. What greeted me were two locked doors, a sign that read “Lobby doors locked after 9 p.m. Use intercom” and a line of annoyed people standing in front of what looked like a window from which you’d order ice cream after a round of mini-golf. It took nearly 40 minutes to check in and finally get my key.
Once in the room, my first order of business was to use the facilities. Or at least that was my intention until I turned on the light and sent a couple of roaches frantically scurrying away. I screamed, jumped three feet in the air and then made quick work of them with the sole of my shoe and some tissues. When my pulse returned to normal, I scoured the bathroom for any remaining stragglers and sat down to use the toilet — which I quickly discovered wasn’t attached to the floor. (In all fairness, someone had tried to fix it several times, as was evident from about two inches of caulking surrounding its base.)
The one mercy was that I didn’t spot any bed bugs — but mildew, more roaches, dirty sheets (which were inside-out and adorned with someone else’s hair), a slashed mattress and stained, threadbare towels had me on the phone for an hour, calling nine different area hotels with the hope of getting the heck out of there. No luck. Everything was full, and sweating to death in the car overnight wasn’t an option.
Ultimately, I left every single light on to scare off the roaches and dozed for a few minutes here and there, but it was the single worst night of sleep I’ve had in a long time. Possibly ever. As a frequent traveler, I’ve stayed in many hotels — everything from one-star to five-star — and I’ve never encountered a room so filthy. However, I have nobody to blame but myself … and perhaps the roaches that took up residence in the space I paid for.
At the time, I was proud of scoring a room for $120. Right now, what I’m not so proud of was my failure to consider anything but price. In fact, as someone who’s worked for a TripAdvisor company for quite some time, I’m downright ashamed.
Moral of the story: Always, always, always research. See what others have to say. If the price is abnormally low, there’s probably a reason. If a hotel has availability in a town where accommodations are otherwise booked solid, turn around and sprint in the other direction, no matter how desperate you are. It’s cliche, but you get what you pay for; don’t let an extra hundred dollars make the difference between loving and hating your vacation.
Every week in our “Spotlight on …” feature, we’ll highlight a different country around the world.
Population: 34.8 million
Currency: Canadian dollar
Phrase to Know: Double-double (a coffee with two creams and two sugars, a term popularized by the Tim Hortons coffee chain)
Fun Fact: In a roundabout way, Winnie-the-Pooh got his name from the Canadian city of Winnipeg. A.A. Milne, the English author of the famous children’s books, named his character after his son’s toy bear — who was named after Winnie, a black bear the boy had seen at the London Zoo. The bear was brought to England by a soldier who bought her as a cub in Canada and named her after his adopted home town of Winnipeg.
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!