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.”
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?
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: 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.
This is the first post in our new Living Like a Local series, in which we interview expats about their experiences living abroad in destinations around the world.
Ben Lyons is a licensed Captain who has served throughout the world on the bridge of cruise ships and expedition vessels. He is currently CEO of EYOS Expeditions, which arranges luxury expeditions to remote and wild regions on superyachts. He is living in Istanbul for 18 months while his wife fulfills an overseas rotation for her job.
Q: What’s one thing most tourists don’t know about where you live? A: How diverse Turkey can be. It is a mix of cultures, ethnicities and religions. There are deeply conservative and religious neighborhoods, and yet only a few miles away you’ll encounter a scene as Western as any street in New York. Yet despite their varying backgrounds, they are all fiercely proud to be Turkish.
Every week in our “Spotlight on …” feature, we’ll highlight a different country around the world.
Population: 62 million
Phrase to Know: A presto (see you soon)
Fun Fact: What do thermometers, espresso machines and dentures have in common? They’re all believed to have been invented in Italy. One thing probably not invented in Italy: pizza — though the Italians have certainly perfected it. (Flatbread dishes have long been popular in Greece and parts of the Middle East.)
We Recommend: Why take the same old Venetian gondola ride every other tourist takes when you could learn to pole a gondola instead? Row Venice will teach you this traditional skill on your next visit to La Serenissima.
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.
As if we ever really need a reason to travel to Europe, the year 2015 nevertheless gives us several good excuses to shell out the money for a plane ticket across the pond.
The most important one is the dramatically improving exchange rate. The euro recently hit a 12-year low against the U.S. dollar, and could soon be worth less than the greenback. In addition, England, Lithuania, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany are among the countries that offer particular justifications for a European sojourn, from celebrating important moments in history to commemorating a significant contributor to modern culture.
Here’s why you should consider visiting Europe this year.
England Celebrates the Creation of the Magna Carta
The document known as the Magna Carta, first written in 1215, was one of the first attempts to limit the power of a ruling entity and provide some level of freedom to “the people.” Over the years, the Magna Carta has inspired subsequent efforts, including the Constitution of the United States.
Six two- to four-day tourist itineraries have been created as part of the 800th anniversary celebration. Each “trail” covers a different aspect of the history of the Magna Carta and takes visitors to cities including London, Salisbury, Kent and others. Additionally, London’s Temple Church will be offering free London walking tours from June 1 to September 20. And for those who want to see copies of the original Magna Carta, there are four which will be displayed in various exhibits throughout the year.
200 Years Ago at Waterloo Napoleon Did Surrender
History and war buffs take note, one of the world’s largest battle reenactments will take place over two days this June in commemoration of the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo. The battle saw the end of Napoleon’s reign and brought peace, at least for a little while, to much of Europe. More than 5,000 people, 300 horses and 100 cannons will be used in the reenactment, and all are welcome to come participate or simply watch. Can’t make it to the battlefield on the exact days? Onsite guides offer a several tours (including those designed for slow walkers) of the battlefield seven days a week. Several museums are also available including the visitor center on the battlefield site, the Wellington Museum in Waterloo and Napoleon’s headquarters on the main road nearby.
In Memoriam, 125 Years: Vincent Van Gogh
July 29, 2015, will mark 125 years since Vincent Van Gogh died. Exhibits celebrating his life and body of work will be offered to the public in cultural institutions and art museums all over the world. Some of the most impressive exhibits will be in the Netherlands, Van Gogh’s birthplace. At the Kroller-Muller Museum, located in the Hoge Veluwe National Park, you’ll find the Van Gogh & Co exhibit between April 25 and September 27. The exhibit will concentrate on art styles popular at the end of the 19th century — still lifes, vistas, cityscapes and portraits — and will include more than 50 works by Van Gogh, as well as several pieces from his contemporaries. From September 25 to the middle of January 2016, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam will feature Munch: Van Gogh, which compares and contrasts the works of Van Gogh and Edvard Munch through the use of their paintings and drawings. One beautiful attraction to check out will be the Keukenhof Gardens, which in 2015 will have a theme of “Van Gogh, 125 Years of Inspiration.”
Germany Celebrates 25 Years of Unity
Last year Germany threw a party to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. This year, the country honors the 25th anniversary of the legal reunification of the country. The largest celebrations will take place on the Day of German Unity (October 3), but you can be sure the country will be raising a beer stein throughout the year.
Lithuania Makes History, Joins the Eurozone
Lithuania will become slightly less off-the-beaten-track in 2015 when the country becomes the 19th nation to join the Eurozone and adopt the euro as its national currency. The country’s entry into the Eurozone means that exchanging money will become simpler and credit card use will become more widespread, both of which make visiting the country easier.