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The IndependentTraveler.com Blog

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!

portugalIn this month’s featured review, reader Maria Marrocchino writes about a biking adventure in Portugal. On her third day, her journey took her to the Conquest of Valongo Castle: “When we finally arrive at the castle, we park our bikes and walk up. The 11th-century surreal castle is built in the middle of nowhere which of course makes it all the more majestic. We sit and eat our lunch over the spectacular view of the countryside.”

Read the rest of Maria’s review here: Biking in Portugal – Evora. Maria has won an IndependentTraveler.com duffel bag!

Feeling inspired? Write your own trip review!

– 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 appealing holiday travel options.

Would you rather …

… stroll through a snowy Christmas market in Europe

stockholm christmas market snowy holiday sweden



… build “snowmen” on the beach in the Caribbean?

beach snowmen sand caribbean


Europe is home to numerous traditional Christmas markets that run throughout the festive season. (Don’t miss this video of Berlin’s market.) But while these markets have charm to spare, they also typically feature gray skies and wintry weather — which means you might be happier having your holidays on the beach instead.

Which Caribbean Island Is Right for You?

Vote for your preference in the comments below!

– 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 breathtaking bays.

Would you rather …

… sail through the Bay of Kotor in Montenegro, or …

kotor bay montenegro



… relax at Bacuit Bay in El Nido, on Palawan Island in the Philippines?

bacuit bay el nido palawan island philippines


Montenegro’s Bay of Kotor is particularly beautiful when approached by boat; you can also drive along it on a day trip from Dubrovnik, Croatia. Take time to explore the charming medieval town of Kotor. Bacuit Bay is speckled with limestone islands where travelers can hike or snorkel. You can also take a scenic boat ride out into the bay.

10 Ways to Survive a Long-Haul Flight

Vote for your preference in the comments below!

– 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 mouth-watering seasonal beverages.

Would you rather …

… guzzle gluhwein at a Christmas market in Germany, or …

gluhwein mulled wine christmas



… sip warm salep in Turkey?

salep sahlep sahlab turkey


Gluhwein, that delicious mulled wine popular at Christmas markets in German-speaking countries, is spiced with cinnamon, cloves and citrus fruit. Salep (also spelled “sahlep” or “sahlab,” depending on where you’re drinking it) is a popular drink served during the colder months in Turkey, Egypt, Greece and other parts of the former Ottoman Empire. In Turkey the drink is thickened with flour made from the tubers of wild orchids and mixed with warm milk, cinnamon, ginger and/or nutmeg.

12 International Foods to Try Before You Die

Vote for your preference in the comments below!

– 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 destinations at the extreme ends of the earth.

Would you rather …

… visit Longyearbyen, Norway, in the remote Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, or …

longyearbyen svalbard norway



… travel to Ushuaia, the southernmost city in Argentina?

ushuaia argentina


Longyearbyen, with a population of just 2,000, is located on the island of Spitsbergen, the largest island in the Svalbard chain. This part of the Arctic region is most popular with travelers looking to view polar bears in their natural habitat. At the other extreme is Ushuaia, near the very southern tip of South America — a common jumping-off point for cruises to Antarctica.

Photos: 9 Best Destinations to See from the Water

Vote for your preference in the comments below!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

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