Check out the week’s most interesting stories from around the travel world.
“Nightmarish School-Dinner Fare”: Airline Food Taste Test
The Guardian puts airline food to the test with deliciously scathing results. Of one EasyJet sandwich, the author writes, “It is a bready Alcatraz incarcerating one slim slice of cheddar that has briefly been dabbed with ‘seasoned mayo’ (presumably seasoned with air, for all the flavour it adds) and a ‘mixed-leaf salad’ whose sparse scattering of shrivelled leaves looks more like some foliage has blown in through the window during prep than a deliberate garnish.”
Is This the Future of Hands-Free Luggage?
CNN profiles a bizarre new travel accessory: My Hitch, a gadget that allows you to hook your suitcase to your waistband so it will follow you wherever you go. Because every traveler needs a luggage tail!
Travel 3,000 Miles Through China’s Wondrous Wild West
A National Geographic photographer describes the experience of riding a train for 52 hours across China with his family. (Don’t forget to click through the gallery at the top of the story to see his powerful images.)
The Entire Continent of Australia Has Moved Five Feet in 22 Years
Thanks to its position atop an active tectonic plate, Australia has moved about five feet to the north over the last couple of decades. Though that may not sound like much, Conde Nast Traveler notes that such shifts can have a meaningful effect on devices that use GPS technology.
A Cheese Made from … Donkey Milk?
A BBC reporter journeys to Serbia to taste the world’s most expensive cheese, made from the milk of local donkeys. It’s said to slow the aging process and boost immunity and virility.
This week’s video is a tearjerker, featuring an Iowa choir singing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” on a plane in honor of a WWII soldier, whose remains were being escorted on the flight from Germany to Atlanta.
Things You Should Never Order from Room Service
Do you know why you should order a room service steak a little rarer than you normally would, or why you should probably just pass on a shrimp cocktail? Conde Nast Traveler offers some fun facts about how room service works and which menu items aren’t a good bet.
Airlines to Introduce an ‘Economy Minus’ Class
Flying coach is already bad enough — but Fortune reports that a new, even worse class of service is trending across the airline industry. “Basic economy” (also known by some as “economy minus”) will cut even more amenities in order to offer bare-bones low fares. Book one of these tickets, and you can say goodbye to a free carry-on bag and advance seat assignments, among other things.
The Challenge of Taming Air Turbulence
The New York Times explores how airlines try to prepare for unexpected bumps in the air, and even questions whether warmer weather due to El Nino could cause turbulence to become more common. (The answer: no one quite knows.)
The Political Push to Destroy Hidden Hotel Fees Has Begun
We all hate showing up to a hotel and having unexpected costs such as resort fees and other surcharges tacked onto our bill. (See Hidden Hotel Fees for some examples.) Skift reports that U.S. Senator Claire McCaskell has introduced a bill that would require hotels and travel sites to reveal such fees at the time of booking. Sounds reasonable to us — we’ll see if Congress agrees.
Why You Can’t Trust GPS in China
Travel + Leisure takes a fascinating look at how digital maps — such as those on your smartphone or GPS device — are slightly inaccurate in China due to the country’s security regulations. For example, a building in Beijing that you’re standing right next to could appear to be a few hundred yards away on your phone.
This week’s featured video features timelapse footage of Vienna, whooshing the viewer from theaters and monuments to parks and quiet streets.
It’s that time of the week! Catch up on all the great travel stories you may have missed over the past seven days.
Walking the Great Wall’s Wild Side
This engaging story from the Alaska Airlines blog details a hiking adventure along an unrestored section of the Great Wall of China. Along the way the writer befriends three local women and tests his own bravery in the face of narrow paths and precipitous ledges.
Air Emergencies: Are Airlines Telling You What You Need to Know?
Canada’s CBC News reports that many airline safety briefings leave out a key bit of information that could save your life in a crash. A safety researcher quoted in the article says that using the brace position (in which you stabilize your body by bending over with your head against the seat in front of you) can “reduce severity of injuries” and “reduce deaths.” The position is illustrated on the safety card in your seatback pocket but often not mentioned in safety videos or live demonstrations by flight attendants.
How Scientists Are ‘Hacking’ the Body to Override Jet Lag
Could flashing lights help cure jet lag? That’s the latest from Conde Nast Traveler, which reports on a new study that tested short flashes of light administered 10 seconds apart while study participants were sleeping. This treatment is believed to help the brain acclimate more quickly to time changes.
A Robot Butler Is Replacing Humans in Some California Hotels
The next time you ring the front desk staff to ask if they have a spare toothbrush, you might find the real-life equivalent of R2-D2 bringing it to your door. Business Insider reports on a growing trend of robots in hotels, with about a dozen properties now employing them in California.
This week’s video features droolworthy footage from the Norwegian fjords, where a dedicated young guitarist hauled his instrument up to a few of the region’s most spectacular overlooks.
Heights: You either love them or wither at the thought of them. If you fall into the phobic category like I do, you’re probably not apt ever to ride a glass-bottomed hot air balloon or swim in the glass-bottomed swimming pool that a British developer recently announced that he’ll construct 10 stories up, spanning two London apartment buildings.
I don’t see those activities in my future. But maybe one day I could stroll across a high-in the-sky glass skywalk. Here are six skywalks I’d like to cross, in order from highest to lowest, if I ever find the nerve:
Tianmen Skywalk, China
Before you jaunt across the glass-bottomed walkway hugging the cliffs of Tianmen (“Heavenly Gate”) Mountain in the Hunan Province of China, you must wrap your shoes in protective booties. This ensures the glass stays clean, so that you can clearly see all 4,700 feet down. (But is it slippery?)
Grand Canyon Skywalk, U.S.A.
Run by the Hualapai Nation on the western side of the Grand Canyon, the Skywalk is a horseshoe-shaped glass walkway that juts 70 feet from the edge of the canyon and 4,000 feet above the riverbed below.
Shanghai World Financial Center Observatory, China
The observation deck of this skyscraper contains a 180-foot-long glass-bottomed walkway that soars more than 1,400 feet in the air.
Glacier Skywalk, Canada
In a horseshoe shape like the Grand Canyon skywalk, this walkway overlooks the Columbia Icefield in the Canadian Rockies. It’s only 918 feet to the valley below. Only.
Dachstein Glacier Skywalk, Austria
This alpine walkway sits aside a glacier 820 feet up the side of a sheer rock-walked mountain. You have to take a steep gondola ride to get there, and there’s a gut-churning suspension bridge too.
Tower Bridge Glass Floor, England
It sits a mere 138 feet above the River Thames in London, but looking down on the zooming-by bridge traffic below you will make you feel dizzy. One of the coolest times to be there is during a bridge lift.
If a glass walkway is too much for you, maybe you could instead handle a peek through a glass floor at the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Skytree in Tokyo or CN Tower in Toronto.
Or, if you’re extra bold, try the glass-enclosed boxes that jut out from a ledge at the Willis Tower in Chicago or the side of Chamonix Peak in France. I know I won’t be.
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!
This month’s winning review involves a trip to China: “Walking along the streets of Shanghai is an entertaining journey with exotic sights, alluring smells and the constant sound of beeping bicycles, scooters, cars and vans,” writes Jill Weinlein. “The purpose of my family’s trip was to visit our daughter studying in Donghua University in the center of the city. For five months, my daughter practiced speaking Mandarin and learned about Chinese economics. While in China, she teased me with her postings of photos on her Tumblr – Adventure Thyme blog and WeChat. After class and during weekends and holidays, Elizabeth roamed the streets looking for the best soup dumplings, exotic street food, prettiest parks and historical sights.”
Yesterday was International Kissing Day, which got us thinking about some of the world’s most romantic and pucker-producing places. Check out the list of our top picks below — and let us know your additions in the comments!
Paris, France: This one’s a given. Whether you’re strolling hand-in-hand down the Champs Elysees, cuddling up at night to watch the Eiffel Tower’s twinkling lights or staring into each other’s eyes over lunch and macarons at a hole-in-the-wall cafe, Paris practically screams smoochworthiness.
Samana, Dominican Republic: An off-season trip to a resort in this cheerful town in the DR can be a great experience, particularly because the crowds are thinner (or, in some places, virtually nonexistent). That means you’ll be able to snag more alone time with the one who matters most. Sleep in, find a secluded beach or watch whales breach from your private balcony — which, by the way, is a great place to pucker up.
New York, New York: Ironically, there’s nothing quite like the hustle and bustle of the city that never sleeps to make you and your significant other feel like you’re the only two people in the universe. Jog through Manhattan’s Central Park, experience the craft beer scene in Brooklyn or meander down lesser-known side streets to find a divey pizza joint you can call your own.
Bora Bora, French Polynesia: Imagine waking up next to your sweetie in your very own hut in the middle of crystal-clear turquoise waters. Even if thatched roofs, colorful fish and open-air sleeping arrangements aren’t your thing, we’re sure the relative seclusion won’t hurt your chances of snagging a peck … or 50.
Venice, Italy: How can you resist a kiss in a city full of historical palaces, playful Carnevale masks and romantic gondola rides along peaceful, winding canals? Have dinner canal-side, and just try to stave off the feeling of la dolce vita that’s sure to follow.
Savannah, Georgia: As if unique shops, restaurants full of atmosphere and stunning architecture aren’t enough, Savannah has a colorful history that includes plenty of rumored ghosts and spirits. Sign up for a nighttime ghost walk, which will force you to keep your loved one close. Then prepare to plant one on him (or her) — or have one planted on you.
Cologne, Germany: We dare you to find a holiday (Valentine’s Day excluded) that sparks more warm, fuzzy feelings than Christmas. The perfect way to spend some holiday time with your snookums is at one of Germany’s many Christmas markets — and Cologne’s is one of the biggest and best. When you’re done snogging between sips of gluhwein and bites of gingerbread, you can venture to the city’s well-known love lock bridge to further profess your feelings.
Datong, China: Supported by stilts on the side of a mountain, the Hengshan Hanging Temple appears to be “hanging” — hence its name. Explore the roughly 40 rooms that make up this impressive monastery, which dates back more than 1,400 years. The remarkable warren of passageways is great to experience with your partner, especially so you have someone’s hand to hold if you’re afraid of heights! (Note: Out of respect you may want to hold off on locking lips until you’ve left the monastery.)
Every week in our “Spotlight on …” feature, we’ll highlight a different country around the world.
Population: 1.4 billion
Currency: Yuan renminbi
Phrase to Know: Xie xie (thank you — pronounced “shi-eh shi-eh”)
Fun Fact: The fortune cookie was not actually invented in China; it’s believed to have been created in the early 20th century in California. In fact, Wonton Food attempted to establish a fortune cookie factory in China in the 1990s, but had to close it because the cookies were considered too American.
We Recommend:Cuddle a panda at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. There’s an extra fee and you’ll have to make reservations in advance, but the experience is one-of-a-kind.
Although the date isn’t known for certain, the celebration known as Hana Matsuri, or Buddha’s birthday, is widely celebrated on April 8 by Buddhists observing the Gregorian calendar. Much like cathedrals are a major attraction across Europe — regardless of your religion — statues of Buddha are typically a must-see; they can be staggering in size, ornately embellished and set amongst expansive yet peaceful gardens, valleys and monasteries.
These five Buddhas will transport you through Asia to our own backyard, and will amaze you with their stature and history.
Leshan Grand Buddha: Sichuan Leshan, China
The tallest stone Buddha in the world, the 233-foot-tall Leshan Grand (or Giant) Buddha in Sichuan, China, was carved out of a cliff face during the Tang Dynasty between the years 713 and 803. Sources say the idea came from a Chinese monk named Haitong who hoped that the Buddha would calm the rough waters that plagued the shipping vessels traveling the Minjiang, Dadu and Qingyi rivers.
Great Buddha of Thailand: Ang Thong, Thailand
If you’re looking for Buddhas, you will find many of them in Thailand. One you just can’t miss also happens to be the tallest statue in the country, and shimmers with gold paint. Located in the Wat Muang temple in Ang Thong province, the Great Buddha took 18 years to build — from 1990 to 2008 — and sits 300 feet tall. (Beware of nearby “Hell Park,” depicting what happens to sinners in, well, you know.)
Chauk Htat Gyi Pagoda Reclining Buddha: Yangon, Myanmar
Several hundred monks study near the pagoda that houses this reclining-style Buddha in Yangon. The statue, built in 1966 to replace the damaged original from 1907, is framed by an iron structure to protect it. Feeling cosmic? Fortune tellers and palm readers are usually available on site to tell you about your future.
Buddha Park: Vientiane, Laos
Buddha Park, also known as Xieng Khuan, is a sculpture park on the Mekong River in Ventiane. Rather than one large Buddha, the park contains more than 200 statues of Hindu and Buddhist figures. The darkened skulls and worn sculptures look ancient, but were built in 1958 by Bunleua Sulilat, a spiritual leader who emigrated from Thailand during the communist occupation.
Chuang Yen Monastery Buddha: Carmel, New York
If you’re looking for a Buddha in the Western Hemisphere, the largest one (indoors) resides at a monastery in Carmel, New York. At 37 feet tall, the Buddha rests on a symbolic lotus, which then sits on an eight-foot platform. The platform is intricately decorated and colorful, unlike the white statue. The highlight? It’s surrounded by 10,000 skillfully carved smaller Buddhas.
In light of all the precipitation flurrying around in our forecasts and our backyards, we figured why sully winter’s reputation with complaints about shoveling and commuting? Winter can be a downright beautiful season, and it’s so much prettier when you can look and don’t have to touch. We bring you five frozen snowscapes from across the globe to remind you that winter’s wrath can be worth a serious marvel (right after you’re done digging yourself out of it).
Triglav National Park in the Julian Alps of Slovenia
The only national park in scenic Slovenia, Triglav gains its name from the country’s highest mountain. Its first recorded ascent was in 1778.
Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, Yunnan Province, in Southwestern China
Jade Dragon Snow Mountain is a mountain massif, or small mountain range in southwest China. Its highest peak, Shanzidou, has only been climbed once — by an American expedition team in 1987.
Once a capital of Siberia, the town of Tobolsk is located at the confluence of the Tobol and Irtysh rivers. Once a strong center of Russian colonization, the region declined when it was bypassed by the Trans-Siberian Railroad. It is now one of Russia’s largest petrochemical complexes.
A Vast Glacier in Patagonia
Shared by Argentina and Chile, Patagonia is a dense region of natural wonders, including this stretch of glacier that goes for miles. The Perito Moreno glacier is one of the region’s top tourist attractions.
The Town of Tasiilq in East Greenland
With about 2,000 inhabitants, Tasiilaq is the most populous community on the remote eastern coast of Greenland. This tundra region occasionally experiences piteraqs, or cold and damaging winds. Piteraq means “that which attacks you” in the local language.
It’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.
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.
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.
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.