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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

Every so often, when I’m stuck at home between trips and need a little jolt of wanderlust, I wander over to Vimeo.com and go hunting for travel videos. If I can’t be exploring a new place right now, at least I can spend a few minutes living vicariously through someone else’s footage. And there’s no better inspiration for future trips!

For example, check out this dreamy time-lapse video of the midnight sun in Iceland — I guarantee you’ll want to go.



Also shot in Europe but with an entirely different mood and focus is “Barcelona GO!”, which takes viewers on a frenetic trip around this colorful Spanish city, from narrow medieval lanes to grand cathedrals and concert halls:



This video set in India is so vivid I can practically taste the curry:



I’m ending with my favorite — a gorgeous, contemplative look at Japan in wintertime. Keep an eye out for the Jigokudani snow monkeys.



3 Time-Lapse Videos to Get You in the Mood for Traveling

– 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

two guy fawkes masksJust three months after the September 11 terrorist attacks, an Englishman named Richard Reid boarded an American Airlines flight from Paris to Miami with a bomb in his shoe. Luckily, Reid was subdued by fellow passengers before he could detonate the bomb; the plane landed safely and Reid was brought to justice. So why don’t we celebrate December 22, 2001 as a national holiday? If you’re wondering why a thwarted act of terrorism would warrant its own holiday, look no further than Guy Fawkes Day, recognized on November 5 with bonfires, fireworks and burning effigies across the United Kingdom.

While a dozen other Catholic dissidents were equally involved in the “gunpowder plot” to blow up the Houses of Parliament, with the goal of killing King James I, only one man — Guy Fawkes — was caught in the cellar with 36 barrels of gunpowder on the morning of November 5, 1605. In honor of avoiding such an elaborate assassination attempt, Parliament later declared the day to be one of national thanksgiving and to this day, more than four centuries later, citizens are still celebrating Bonfire Night — festivities that originally carried an anti-Catholic sentiment.

These days the holiday has lost most of its initial intentions and is used as more of an excuse to set off fireworks, burn effigies of your least favorite politician or celebrity, and drink mulled wine than it is to give thanks that lives were saved hundreds of years ago (albeit lives of men who supported religious intolerance). I can only imagine that kids in the 21st century, dazzled by fireworks displays and amusement park rides, spare little thought for the original reasons behind the revelry.

State of Independence: Traveling During Local Holidays

For many around the world, Guy Fawkes is actually celebrated as a heroic figure whose visage is worn as a mask at global anti-government rallies including Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street. In recent years, an online activist movement called Anonymous has taken to the streets on Guy Fawkes Day with a Million Mask March to protest against current government. This year, the movement has planned 463 rallies worldwide. And of course Hollywood can never resist adding to the historical confusion, and did exactly that when they painted Guy Fawkes as a mysterious protagonist against a dystopian regime in the 2005 film “V for Vendetta” (based on the graphic novels from the 1980s).

Guy Fawkes Day isn’t the first holiday whose genesis is so buried in tradition that its meaning has largely been lost on recent generations. Memorial Day wasn’t created for barbecues, and Presidents Day isn’t just for sales — everyone needs an excuse to blow off some steam, but at what expense? So why should we “remember, remember, the fifth of November”? I think if we could rebrand the day to reflect a special effort between government and the people to bring important issues to the table, then there would be a continued reason to celebrate.

– 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

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 stunning lakes.

Would you rather…

… visit Lake Bled, a glacier lake in Slovenia, or …

lake bled slovenia



… check out Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, fringed with volcanoes?

lake atitlan guatemala


Slovenia’s Lake Bled is located in the Julian Alps. Aside from its natural beauty, the lake’s biggest draw is medieval Bled Castle, which dates back to the 11th century. Lake Atitlan is said to be the deepest in Central America and is surrounded by volcanoes and Mayan villages.

Photos: The World’s Coolest Lakes

Vote for your preference in the comments below!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

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!

pasta sicily italyIn this month’s featured review, reader Carolyn Boyle gives an independent traveler’s perspective on a group tour of Sicily: “The welcome dinner was held not far from the hotel at Trattoria del Buongustaio,” writes Carolyn. “Our group was seated at small tables and shared traditional Sicilian appetizers: bruschetta, arancini (fried rice balls), crocche (fried mashed potato balls), fried cheese. We had a pasta course, a meat course of veal with artichokes, dessert and plenty of wine. The food was pretty good but it is always hard to accommodate a large group in a small restaurant.”

Read the rest of Carolyn’s review here: Sicily/Tuscany Part 1: “Crossroads of Sicily” Package Tour. Carolyn has won an IndependentTraveler.com duffel bag!

Feeling inspired? Write your own trip review!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

Next Tuesday marks the first official day of fall. As we mentally prepare for the autumnal equinox and the many glorious accouterments that come along with it — pumpkin spice everything — we’re bringing you our suggestions for some of the best places to enjoy the brilliant colors abroad. Read on for our picks.

Tuscany, Italy: Tuscany is romantic enough on its own, but when you throw in jaw-dropping colors (mid-September and October) and the crisp chill of fall, it’s a great place for anyone hoping to relax — particularly with a nice glass of wine.

a wine glass and grapes on a stone wall set against fall colors



11 Best Italy Experiences

Honshu, Japan: During November and December, this island bursts with fall colors, particularly in Kyoto, where fiery leaf hues surround local temples and koyo celebrations abound.

Buddhist Temple near Kyoto with fall colors all around



12 Best Japan Experiences

Nova Scotia, Canada: September and October are key months for this leaf-peeping destination. Set against picturesque lakes, the leaves there offer a worthwhile experience for travelers seeking an autumn respite closer to home.

fall colors



11 Best Canada Experiences

Bavaria, Germany: Couple bright, leafy landscapes with grand castles and mountain backdrops, and you’ve got a recipe for stunning autumn views. The best time to catch them is in October.

Bavarian castle with field and forest



12 Best Germany Experiences

– written by Ashley Kosciolek