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Local’s Guide To Wild, Wonderful West Virginia

West Virginia Whitewater Rafting Trips

Mountain peaks rise in the distance, silhouetted against a painted sunrise. The wilderness is broken up only by the highway you travel and an occasional cabin or store. No hustle and bustle. No overcrowded cityscape. No smog. Just a natural peace that reigns supreme over the land in front of you.
No, this isn’t some long-forgotten paradise in a country far, far away. It’s right here in the United States, closer than you think. If this sounds like the perfect start to your vacation, then you’ll feel right at home in wild, wonderful West Virginia.

Friendly Locals & A Vast Wilderness

The license plates in West Virginia read “wild, wonderful,” and it’s such an accurate description of the majority of the state. Yes, there are some larger towns (like Charleston), but most of the state is full of barely-inhabited mountains.
The locals are incredibly friendly and eager to chat. Expect to spend half an hour speaking with the owners at every cute store you stop at—and there are plenty of those. West Virginians are incredibly proud of their state, and it is one place where tiny local shops thrive – they frequent these to support their neighbors.
There is a surprising amount of things to do and see for a state mostly overgrown with natural flora and fauna. Among these are thrill-seeking adventures, unique historic sites, a budding art district, and an array of unclassifiable adventures.
If you find yourself in West Virginia, make sure you see or do as many of the following as possible. But also remember to take time to relax! This state is perfect for relaxing, offering a picturesque idea of “the way things used to be.”

New River Gorge Bridge

One of the most photographed places in the entire state, the New River Gorge Bridge holds two distinct titles. It is the longest steel span bridge in the western hemisphere and the third highest bridge in the United States.
The bridge was a project undertaken to help make the trek across the New River easier on commuters and travelers alike. It successfully transformed a 40-minute drive down steep mountain roads into a quick, 30-second drive across a beautiful steel bridge.

Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum

This lunatic asylum was constructed during the late 1800s to house 250 people. During the 1950s, however, nearly two-and-a-half thousand people were being kept here. Conditions were unlivable. Tales of abuse, murder, and much more abounded before it closed in 1994.
Locals say the asylum is haunted and it has even been the subject of several ghost hunting television shows. If you want to test the rumors out for yourself, you can schedule a guided ghost tour through the asylum’s website.

Waterfalls

Since the state is mountainous, with little flat land to speak of, it naturally boasts a significant number of breathtaking waterfalls. To experience the naturalistic beauty of West Virginia for yourself, hike out into the wilderness a bit and view some of the 200+ falls.
A few of the most popular waterfalls in the state include:
Blackwater Falls – located near Davis, WV in Blackwater Falls State Park
Lower Hill Creek Falls – located near Marlinton in Richwood County
Cathedral Falls – just a mile north of the Gauley Bridge
Sandstone Falls – located on the infamous New River

Covered Bridges

West Virginia is home to an incredible 17 quaint, historic covered bridges. Some of them—like the Philippi Covered Bridge in Barbour County—are important Civil war sites. That one is the site of the first land battle which ever took place during the Civil War. The same person who built that bridge in 1852 also built the Barrackville Covered Bridge in Marion County.
Another one of note is the Indian Creek Covered Bridge. It was built in 1904 by “master masons” who ranged from only 16 to 18 years old!

White Water Rafting on the New River

Seeking some adventure and thrills during your trip? Then you need to go white water rafting on the New River. It spans around 360 miles, with some areas gushing quickly and others meandering slowly. The adventure is also a fairly affordable one, with half-day trips starting at around $70 – lunch included!
Fun fact: The “New” River is actually one of the oldest rivers in America. It is also one of the most-frequented travel destinations in West Virginia.

The Tamarack

This unique destination is an art lover’s paradise. A sprawling building with a distinctly peaked red roof, The Tamarack is an exhibition of the finest pieces West Virginian artists have to offer. Every item available for purchase, food ready to eat, and shop owner are born-and-bred West Virginian.
The grounds themselves are a work of art, featuring sculptures and a meticulously designed landscape. The atmosphere is both inviting and awe-inspiring. You can find homemade wood carvings, soaps, candles, paintings, and anything else you could imagine.

Exhibition Coal Mine

West Virginia notable for its coal mining history, so a trip to the state would not be complete without a visit to the Exhibition Coal Mine in Beckley. Which also hosts an amazing dirt racing track if you want to spend the day in the town.
For a small fee of $22 ($12.50 for children), visitors can travel to the old underground coal mining tunnels with a former miner who shares what life was really like when working them. There is a museum, gift shop, and coal mining camp. For safety reasons, it only runs during the warmer months for the general public.
Your trip to wild, wonderful West Virginia just wouldn’t be complete without these amazing destinations—each as unique as the state itself. Whether it’s adventure, relaxation, or history that you’re looking for, the state has something to offer everyone. It is no wonder why West Virginians are so proud of their homeland.

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Asheville, North Carolina Travel Guide

Imagine waking up in a cabin to views of hazy blue mountains stretching before you. Cup of coffee or tea in hand, you stroll out to the porch and settle lazily into one of the rocking chairs and soak in the views. A gentle breeze wafts the scent of freshly-made biscuits towards you, which makes you wonder: Do we have any more of the blueberry preserves that we bought at the Mast General Store? Your day in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains stretches before you filled with potential. Perhaps you’ll hike to see a waterfall–you are, after all, in the Land of Waterfalls. Or maybe your day will include a more rigorous adventure to see Shining Rock or take your turn down Sliding Rock. Whatever you choose, you know you’ll enjoy more farm-to-table Southern food than you thought possible. You sigh contentedly and sip your coffee, knowing that the day’s adventures can wait five more minutes.asheville-mountains-man-dog-worldvia
Welcome to the North Carolina mountains, where settling into vacation mode is easy to do. From high-end shopping and arts in town to outdoorsy day-trips in Pisgah National Forest, a trip to the Asheville and the neighboring Blue Ridge Mountains holds promise for all types of travelers. Read on for our beginner’s guide to Asheville and the surrounding area.

Asheville

Located two hours from Charlotte, nestled next to the Blue Ridge Parkway, Asheville is a beloved haven for foodies and artists alike. The downtown features public art at nearly every turn of the steep and twisty streets. Stroll the self-guided, 1.7 mile Asheville Urban Trail to find the Flat Iron Statue, Cat Walk, and other architectural wonders and sculptures. This map takes you through some of downtown’s best stores, including Malaprops Bookstore and Cafe, an independent bookstore that invites readers to go on a “blind date” with a book. The knowledgeable staff take their favorite latest reads, wrap the cover in brown paper, and provide keywords to help you choose.
Be sure to stop by the Mast General Store to find a locally-made souvenir and ply your pockets with old-timey candy from yesteryear before continuing on the walking tour. If you’re starting to get hungry, no worries: Asheville is home to dozens of award-winning restaurants, including Chai Pani, led by James Beard nominated chef Meherwan Irani. Try the okra fries for a Southern and Indian fusion take on French fries; the masala chaat is another crowd-pleasing appetizer. Don’t miss out on the chai–it’s perfectly sweetened and creamy–but grab it to go because there is still so much to do!
The tour continues to meander through town–and through Asheville’s history. Established in the late 1700’s, the town eventually became known as a vacation destination, in no small part due to the Biltmore Estate. The French Broad River flows near town, attracting outdoorsmen to fish its waters and swim the currents; the fresh mountain air was sought as a remedy for those suffering from long illnesses, bringing the wealthy who needed to convalesce to the area. The various stages of Asheville’s development can be seen in the architecture found around town, with Art Deco buildings neighboring soaring Neoclassical designs.

“America’s Castle”: The Biltmore Estate

Those who want to see history come to life will enjoy visiting “America’s Castle,” the Biltmore Estate. George Vanderbilt built the estate as a getaway retreat, and he opened it to friends and family in 1895. The ornately-decorated castle includes a library with 10,000 books, a 70-foot-tall ceilinged banquet hall, and original art by Renoir and Sargent. Winter visitors will want to see the property decorated for the holidays; the Biltmore staff stay true to the era’s styles, ushering you into Christmas holidays of years gone by. The grounds and winery are in stunning full-bloom starting in the spring and through the summer. Autumn’s burst of fall colors are stunning. The gardens, designed by the same landscape architect as New York’s Central Park Frederick Law Olmstead, are a delight for gardeners and photographers alike. Lastly, wine lovers will want to visit the winery for a complimentary tasting and enjoyable afternoon at the outdoor wine bar.

Hike in Pisgah National Forest

After town strolls and Biltmore tours, the outdoors beckons. Asheville is a quick drive to Pisgah National Forest, which covers 500,000 acres of land in Western North Carolina. While there are many options for how to spend a day in Pisgah, a perennial favorite is hiking Shining Rock. This ten-mile hike takes travelers along the Art Loeb trail towards a beacon of bright light: Shining Rock. The quartz-encrusted summit stands out amongst the lush green mountains surrounding it. Be sure to bring layers and be prepared to turn back in case of afternoon thunderstorms.

Brevard: The Land of Waterfallsasheville-waterfall-girl-worldvia

Nearby Brevard is an excellent hub for a day trip spent chasing waterfalls. Looking Glass Falls is a perennial favorite due to the many viewing areas and easy access to the base of the falls. Bring a picnic and enjoy the sound of the gushing water and views of the verdant landscapes. To escape the summer heat, consider a fun ride down the natural slip and slide: Sliding Rock. The waterfall cascades 50-60 degree water down a sloping boulder and into a natural pool.

Asheville’s Food Scene

After all the touring, hiking, and waterfall searching, it is time to dive into Asheville’s food scene. If you’re looking for Southern cuisine, try Tupelo Honey Cafe, Early Girl Eatery, or Biscuit Head. Breweries abound, with Highland Mountain Brewing, Wicked Weed, Green Man Brewing, and New Belgium Brewing just a few of the ones in town. Those looking for high-end restaurants might enjoy Curate, a tapas restaurant, or The Admiral for “eclectic, American fare.” Asheville is known for being vegetarian-friendly, and Rosetta’s Kitchen, Laughing Seed Cafe, and Plant prove the reputation true. Wherever you decide to dine, be sure to stop by French Broad Chocolate Lounge afterward for their award-winning truffles and chocolates.
Asheville is a year-round destination, with stunning spring blooms, long summer days, popping autumn colors, and cozy winter nights. Stay downtown at the Grove Park Inn for a classy stay, or consider renting a cabin in nearby Pisgah National Forest. Once you visit, you’ll want to return again and again.

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Traveler’s Guide to Mexico’s Top Festivals

Mexico’s lively festival calendar offers something for everyone. From celebrating the solstice, the dearly departed, donkeys, saints, and radishes. The festival season is perfect for those who seek to explore the culture behind Mexico’s stunning beaches, mysterious ruins, and enchanting forests. Here are a few can’t miss festivals in Mexico.

Day of the Dead, Mexico City 

Taking place from October 31st to November 2nd, this 4,000 year-old-tradition unfolds over three days in an explosion of color and noise. The theme is death, but the deceased are joyfully remembered in colorful parties and parades. Families build altars in homes and cemeteries that they cover with candles and gifts to welcome spirits back to the realm of the living. This Mexican festival spills into streets and public squares at all hours. Skeleton costumes are part of the fun. Revelers wear shells and noisemakers to rouse the dead and keep them involved in the party.
Mexico City’s Day of the Dead Parade includes 700 costumed performers who parade through the city on floats featuring giant skulls and elaborately decorated altars. Many onlookers wear macabre costumes. Cemeteries are “party central” with lots of food, music, and informal celebrations. The states of Michoacan, Chiapas, and Oaxaca are known to have the most elaborate displays and celebrations, but for the best parade, head to Mexico City.

Night of the Radishes, Oaxaca

This Mexican festival goes back more than 100 years and was inspired by radishes carved by food vendors to attract customers at the Christmas market. Today, the radishes are grown in a special field and fertilized to an inedible degree, so they grow large enough for creative carvings. Some are two feet long. Carvings range from Egyptian gods and scenes of daily life in Oaxaca to wildlife, architectural, and religious themes. The art lasts for just a few hours as radishes wilt. Artisans and amateurs compete for the cash prize and visitors enjoy fireworks, parades, and craft booths. During the festival, carts sell buñuelos (fried pastries coated with syrup) and esquites (grilled Mexican street corn mixed with a spicy mixture.

Fiesta de Santa Cecilia, Mexico City

St. Cecilia, the patron saint of music, is celebrated in Mexico City’s famed mariachi square each year. Mariachis and regional musicians gather in Plaza Garibaldi for a tribute concert. Dressed in the traditional black and white clothing and huge sombreros, the mariachi play violins, guitars, and trumpets. Many statues of the saint are on parade. An open-air party with enthusiastic dancing, drinking, and singing is part of the fun. Street vendors line the streets selling religious items, artisanal bread, desserts, and snacks. Organizers offer game opportunities to festival goers. While St. Cecilia is celebrated all over Mexico, the event in Mexico City is said to be the largest, loudest, and most colorful.

La Morisma, Zacatecas

In the colonial section of town, 2,000 participants re-enact battles between the Christians and the Moors in old Spain in 1571 while roving bands of musicians spur them on. In late august, people dress in brightly colored uniforms with swords and scimitars. Warriors from the pages of European history clog the streets to battle to a Christian victory. The climactic moment is the execution of the Moorish king. The Moors never win. The battle is preceded by a colorful, boisterous parade of about 10,000 residents of the barrio of Bracho.
The festival includes religious processions, secular parades, fireworks, and living history tableaux that help to tell the story. The roots of the festival are in medieval Spain, and the celebration originated in Zacatecas, Mexico, in the early 17th Century.
Zacatecas is a UNESCO world heritage site with vibrant street life and music year-round, world-class museums, and historic churches. A cable car swings up a cliff for stunning, unobstructed views of the city and its surroundings. Some people come for the view and stay for the festival. It is an hour from Mexico City by plane.

Donkey Festival, Otumba

Where else but in Otumba, a major center for the donkey trade during Spanish Colonial times. Once a small, local celebration, it now attracts more than 40,000 visitors on May 1st eager to see donkey races, donkey dancing, the Donkey Queen, and donkey shaped hot air balloons. Games of polo are played on donkeys. The costume festival is one of the most anticipated events, and townsfolk dress up their donkeys for prizes. A recent winner dressed up as Donald Trump. There are fireworks displays and burrito booths, a craft fair and contest, folk dancing, and playful socializing. Pulque, an agave-based drink, is consumed in large quantities making even the most humble citizen a vocal proponent of the virtues of this humble beast of burden.

Solstice and Equinox Celebrations, Chichen Itza

The Mayan marked the longest and shortest days of the year plus the spring and autumn equinoxes in the well preserved Chichen Itza complex. During the solstices, two sides of the Temple of Kukulcan are illuminated and two sides are fully shaded. From the sky, the temple pyramid appears to split in two
On the spring and fall equinoxes, the sun shines on the western side of the El Castillo pyramid’s stairway forming seven triangles that create a 120-foot long snake-like shadow. It creeps downwards until it joins the huge rattlesnake head at the bottom of the stairway. Thousands of spectators from around the world, both religious and pagan, gather to witness these ethereal spectacles, the most popular being the spring equinox.

Judas Burning, Holy Saturday, Mexico City

On Holy Saturday, people Burn effigies of Judas, the man who betrayed Christ. This festival originated in Spain, but soon became popular in Mexico. The effigies grew larger, then they were stuffed with firecrackers, and soon the burnings became too dangerous. Laws were passed to limit the demonstrations to safer dimensions. Effigies of Judas became effigies of unpopular politicians and government officials. Today, most of the burnings are sponsored by artisans and local governments who do not want the tradition to be legislated away. The Santa Rosa Xochiac section of Mexico City is the best place to witness exploding Judases, both historical and contemporary, in a party-like atmosphere where adults cheer and children scamper after body parts. The entire community participates in crafting the giant figures.
No matter which Mexican festivals you choose, you will gain insight into another culture as well as having fun and participating in an awesome experience. Food is usually an integral part of the festival. For as you will often hear in Mexico: Barriga llena, corazón contento, meaning,  full belly, happy heart.
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Everything You Need To Know Before Visiting Bulgaria

Bulgaria is a tourist destination known for its “melting pot” of influences from Greece, the Ottoman Empire, and Persia to name a few. The country sits along the Black Sea which has become a vital land passage between Europe and Asia.
Bulgaria is home to several UNESCO World Heritage Sites and destinations on the Intangible Cultural Heritage List including:

  • Rila Monastery
  • Thracian Tomb of Kazanlak
  • Boyana Church
  • Madara Rider
  • Srebarna Nature Reserve
  • Martenitsa

Bulgaria is also home to many historical sites where visitors can learn about Bulgaria’s past such as:

  • Alexander Nevsky’s Cathedral
  • Shipka Memorial
  • Perperikon
  • Baba Vida
  • Balchik Palace
  • Belogradchik Fortress
  • Cherven Fortress
  • Vrana Palace

Bulgaria is also full of naturally beautiful landscapes that draw many tourists to the country. It is a destination home to beautiful national parks such as Central Balkan National Park and Rila National Park. Bulgaria is also home to many ancient monasteries such as the Rila Monastery, The Troya Monastery, the Dryanovo Monastery, and the Zemen Monastery to name a few. Moreover, there are also beautiful art galleries and history museums that span from the ancient days through modern-day Bulgarian history.
All of these attractions make Bulgaria a great place to tour, visit, and learn more about European history as well as the history of the Bulgarian people. Tourists can also enjoy many beautiful landmarks and national parks along with wildlife and nature.

Geography

Bulgaria has varied geographic landscapes and that includes lowlands, plains, hills, mountains, valleys, and deep gorges. Most of the country is divided into four different sections including high and low plains and these sections are divided into what are called geomorphological regions that are called: Danubian Plain, the Balkan Mountains, the Transitional regions, and the Rilo-Rhodope areas.
About two-thirds of the land are rolling plains, small hills, and plateaus. All of this land sits under the 600-meter mark.

Climate

Bulgaria’s climate is quite complex for the size of the country. Bulgaria’s southernmost region is part of the continental climate zone and there are small areas that also fall into the Mediterranean climate zone as well. The continental influences are the strongest in the winter producing and the Mediterranean influences on the weather are stronger in the spring and summer seasons. Bulgaria also has a few alpine zones which are in the mountains and are over 1,000 meters in elevation.
The mountains and valleys of Bulgaria break up any massive temperature swaths that would otherwise settle over the land. This makes the temperature and climate varied throughout the entire country, even though it is contained in a relatively small area of space.

Best Time To Visit

Between the summer and winter seasons are the best times to visit Bulgaria. This means that many tourists visit the area during the other times of the year and the “quietest” times to go are between April and May and again in September and October. These are usually great months to visit Bulgaria, even if a lot of people do not do go during this time. Consider that the weather is the most pleasant during these months far as temperature goes and this is when the prices will be lower.

What To Know Before Visiting

Bulgaria is More Than Its Coast

Bulgaria is more than just the coastline. Sadly, many tourists do not get past the coastlines and the beach resorts near the Black Sea to fully experience all Bulgaria has to offer. There are many more remarkable resorts inland that you can enjoy if you get there to see them.

Getting Around Is Not Very Easy

Bulgaria’s train network is not exactly “a well-oiled machine” so to speak. This means that tourists should expect significant delays when they are trying to use public transportation systems throughout Bulgaria. Leave plenty of extra time to get where you are going in case delays to occur. Same goes with the extensive bus network.

When You Want To Say No, You Nod

That sounds weird, but it’s true. In Bulgaria, when you want to say “no,” nodding is the way to go, which is the opposite gesture used in the U.S. In Bulgaria, body language speaks extensively, so be sure to mean “no” but nod as in “yes.” Confusing, but necessary to communicate with the natives.

Enjoy Delectable Cuisines While Enjoying Nature

Bulgaria is the ideal destination because it allows you to enjoy beautiful views while you dine on a variety of native cuisines. Native dishes include fiery flavors of the Balkan spirit coupled with more mild fragrances of the Mediterranean which sprinkled with a variety of flavors from the Middle East. While you are there, be sure to check out some of Bulgaria’s signature dishes such as their meshana skara (mixed grill) which is made of grilled meats on a skewer and consists of both steak and pork. This is a dish traditionally served with french fries and topped with chopped onions and lyutenitsa usually washed down with several beers before being finished off with rakia. Another dish to try is kebapche which is a meatball made out of minced meat and spices and is shaped like a sausage. It is traditionally grilled and served with shopska salad and french fries all topped with Bulgarian cheeses. These unique dishes make dining in style while enjoying the scenery in Bulgaria a pleasure.

Bulgaria’s Mountains are Not to be Missed

The mountains in Bulgaria are a great destination to visit during your trip. They are a sight to behold and offer some of the best tourist attractions in the country. Tourists can enjoy the fantastic folklore of Bansko, the traditional tasty foods that are around Kardjali, and the beautiful views looking down over the Bulgarian cities.

Taste Great Bulgarian Wine

Bulgaria is a famous destination for its incredible selections of wines, both traditional and modern. Some of their best wines include Merlot, Pinot Noir, and Syrah. There are also more local types of wines including muscat ottonel, red misket, pamid, cabernet sauvignon, and merlot to name a few that people from outside of Bulgaria may not have heard of or tried very often. Give them all a try, you may find something new you enjoy. Go on a wine tour to taste wines straight from Bulgarian wineries.

Handmade Crafts Are Common in Bulgaria

Leave extra room in your suitcase to take home some handmade goodies. Many locals make and sell handmade goods in the local markets for a living. Some of these handmade goods include handmade pottery, woodcarvings, jewelry, leather items, or even certain oil-based cosmetics. There are even amazing paintings and other creations to bid on if that strikes your interest.

Weather In Bulgaria

Temperatures in Bulgaria generally range from 36 to 78 degrees, which represents a fairly mild, moderate climate. Bulgaria gets most of its precipitation between May and August. Bulgaria is not a high-precipitation area as it only averages about 2 – 3 inches of rainfall per month.

Languages

The main language in Bulgaria is Bulgarian which is related to the Western group of languages including Czech and Slovak. Moreover, Bulgaria is a destination where English is spoken in most of the tourist towns and cities as well.  So getting around far as communication is concerned, should not be too much of a challenge.

Electricity

Tourists planning to charge their electronic devices should bring appropriate adapters that work with the 230 V electricity in Bulgaria.

Currency

Unlike many countries in continental Europe, Bulgaria does not use the Euro. Bulgaria still uses their own currency called the Bulgarian lev, which means you will need to exchange some money to use in Bulgaria during your trip.
When you are visiting Bulgaria, be sure to try some of their delicious, signature dishes and couple it with some of their decadent (mostly red) wines for a dining experience you will not soon forget. After a great meal, take a sightseeing trip to visit any of the UNESCO sites that are historic landmarks throughout the country. Also, visit the local shops to find unique, handmade crafts that you will not be able to find anywhere else.
So, come over to Bulgaria and enjoy learning the history behind the historical sites throughout the country and enjoy some great cuisine mixed with some delectable wines on your next trip abroad.

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6 Spectacular American Cities to Spend the Holidays

The enchanting sights, sounds, and aromatic smells of the holiday season come alive at these six cities across the United States that provide you with a fun and fabulous wintertime adventure that you’re sure to remember for a lifetime. Take a look at the breathtaking displays, spectacular shopping, and unique cultural events that make these locations a mecca for those who love to experience the season’s best celebrations.

‘Christmas town USA’: Best City for Holiday Lights

McAdenville, North Carolina epitomizes the giving spirit of the holidays with its spectacular month-long holiday lights display that showcases 160 festive homes, a fabulous downtown commons display, 265 evergreens featuring 500,000 lights, and spectacular lakeside scenery surrounded by beautifully-brightened spruce trees. The entire month-long extravaganza is free to the public, and the official lighting ceremony takes place on November 30th. The town is lit up every Monday through Friday from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. and weekends from 5:30 to 11:00 p.m. through December 26th.
This small village just outside of Charlotte doesn’t stop there. Townsfolk also gifts the first 1,000 visitors to the Annual Christmas Town Festival with free cider and kettle corn to help usher in some holiday cheer. This fun family event takes place on December 13th and features a charming holiday parade, a stopover by Santa, a traditional yule log ceremony, and musical entertainment that captures the magic of the season.

New York City, New York: Best Center for Magical Ice Skating

New York’s Rockefeller Square is a cultural icon that stays true to its reputation for excellence with a whole host of holiday activities for yuletide-lovers who are both young and young-at-heart. The lighting of the iconic 75-foot tree takes place on the evening of November 28th and brightens the square every evening through January 7th with its 30,000 lights and Swarovski crystal star. The gigantic live spruce overlooks an intimate ice rink that gives skaters the impression of sliding through a mythical urban landscape dotted with giant forests, celebrated artwork, and twinkling lights. Visitors can also enjoy magical horse and buggy rides that take you on a tour of the area’s most famous attractions, such as Radio City Music Hall. Here you can enjoy all the pomp and spectacle of the Radio City Rockette’s Christmas Spectacular. 

Branson, Missouri: Best Place to Catch the Polar Express Train

Best known as the Live Music Capital of the World, this quaint mountain town of about 10,000 people sits against the spectacular backdrop of the pine-covered Ozark Mountains. Every holiday season it lights up the region with a wide array of events that have collectively come to be known as the Ozark Mountain Christmas Festival. By far the unique and eagerly anticipated of these experiences is the Branson Scenic Railway’s Polar Express Ride that showcases the natural wonders along the area’s snow-capped peaks. Just outside the train’s windows visitors can witness amazing scenes recreated from the enchanting film ‘The Polar Express.’
For more great seasonal entertainment, check out the city’s world-renowned live holiday shows featuring many talented musical legends. You can also enjoy some antique and holiday gift shopping in the historic downtown district, or take a driving tour of the holiday lights at the Promised Land Zoo and Gift of Lights Trail. The fun-filled Silver Dollar City Amusement Park’s Old Time Christmas festival runs from November 3rd through December 30th. It has an astounding 6.5 million sparkling lights–and some of the season’s best children’s plays and sing-a-longs.

Frankenmuth, Michigan: Best Town for an Authentic European Christkindlmarkt

Popularly known as “Little Bavaria” because of its historic German heritage, this town of 5,000 residents in central Michigan boasts 2 million annual visitors, a breathtaking Christmas Lane filled with 100,000 lights, and the quaint Old Christmas Station Restaurant that sits on sight of a former 1920’s train station. Perhaps its most beloved tradition is the European-style ‘Christkindlmarkt‘ featuring mouthwatering delights such as their fresh, locally sourced apple cider, open-fire roasted chestnuts, and delectable holiday pastries.
This enticing European-style market isn’t the only big draw for holiday lovers. Frankenmuth holds bragging rights to the world’s largest store dedicated exclusively to all things Christmas. The family owned and operated Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland was opened in 1945 and features 100,000 twinkling lights, 2.2 acres of indoor displays, 27 acres of outdoor landscapes, and 50,000 unique gifts and trims. It even has a replica of Salzburg, Austria’s Silent Night Memorial Chapel complete with a breathtaking walking path and quaint educational signposts. For dedicated Christmas fans who like to start the season early and extend the holiday spirit into the warmer months, you’re in luck. The store is open 365 days a year!

Taos, New Mexico: Best Locale to Experience Cultural Unity

This vibrant desert city offers a unique holiday experience that blends different cultural practices to showcase a beautiful pageantry of unity. On Christmas Eve, the Christian and Native American communities come together at the 1,000-year-old Taos Pueblos adobe settlement for the Procession of the Virgin. This unique event is open to the public and includes the lighting of ‘farolitos’ or paper lanterns, massive bonfires that are part of a blended Catholic and Native ceremony, and celebratory gunfire salutes along the parade route at this UNESCO World Heritage site.
Within the architecturally unique city limits, you’ll find a vibrant artistic community that plays host to the annual Yuletide Arts and Crafts Fair from November 23rd through the 25th. There is also a one-of-a-kind ‘pop-up, pop-down’ Taos Folk Store which appears at the Stables Gallery every November 25th through December 24th, and includes an incredible array of locally crafted items, from jewelry and journals to tea sets and totem poles. Here you’ll find unforgettable gifts for even the most discerning people on your holiday list, and beautiful items for yourself as well!

Lihue, Kauai, Hawaii: Best City for an Eco-Holiday in Paradise

The small island hamlet of Lihue hosts an awe-inspiring December-long Festival of Lights that takes place at the Historic 1913 County Building located on Hawaii’s ‘Garden Isle.’ Its grand scope belies its humble beginnings as a recycling project by a local artist who decided to turn other people’s trash into gifted treasures at her home, which came to be known as ‘The Christmas House.’
In 1997 her treasured creations came into the hands of her niece, also an artist, who chose to donate them to the county. The mayor asked her to create a fun-filled holiday display from them that has since transformed into a colorful celebration which draws international visitors and community members alike. Here you’ll find magical indoor and outdoor light displays, interactive installations featuring out-of-this-world artist-designed recyclables, and fun photos with Santa set against a panorama of eco-inspired design.
If you’re ready to raise a glass of cheer to a new adventure filled with time-honored traditions, head on out to one of these lively yuletide destinations this holiday season!
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Germany Destination Guide—Tips and Highlights

With medieval castles, baroque churches, and picturesque villages, Germany boasts a vibrant historical legacy. Germany exemplifies natural beauty, culture, history and art. Here’s a destination guide for your trip to Germany.

Top Highlights of Germany

With over 2 millennia of history, Germany is one of the world’s most dominant economic powers, whose cultural influence has shaped the European landscape. One of the top attractions of Germany is the Bavarian countryside, home to the 19th-century fairytale Neuschwanstein Castle. The Bavarian region also houses Germany’s most popular auto touring route, the Romantic Road, weaving through spa towns like Baden-Baden, and well-preserved medieval towns like Rothenburg ob der Tauber.
Two of Germany’s most outstanding cathedrals are located roughly an hour away from each other. One of Europe’s largest cathedrals, the Cologne Cathedral is a stunning example of High Gothic architecture. It is also Germany’s most visited landmark. Built by Emperor Charlemagne, the Aachen cathedral served as the seat of coronation for 31 German kings and 12 queens. It is known for its exquisite mosaics decorated with gold leaf and precious stones.
Museumsinsel (Museum Island) is easily one of Germany’s top destinations. Located in Berlin, it is home to some of Germany’s oldest museums such as the Pergamon and the Neues Museum. Visitors can admire unique treasures including the bust of Queen Nefertiti, the Ishtar Gate of Babylon, as well as the world’s largest collection of Etruscan art.

Geographical Landscape

Being Europe’s seventh largest country, Germany’s geography is extremely variegated and diverse. Towards the north lies the North European Plain, characterized by flat, low lying areas filled with bogs, rivers and streams. It is now used predominantly for agriculture.
The coastline along the North Sea is full of marshes, wetlands, mudflats and islands. But Germany’s largest island Rugen is found off the Baltic Sea coastline. The area is a lot hillier than the North Sea coastline and has many steep and jagged cliffs.
During the last Ice Age, the glaciers retreated extensively, leaving behind dry and sandy terrain and a great number of small lakes. Lying south of Berlin, this topography rises to form giant landforms such as the volcanic Harz Mountains, the forested Rothaargebirge Mountains, and the Rhine River Valley.
The Rhine River is Germany’s longest river. At the southwestern border of the Rhine River with France lies the Black Forest. The river Danube rises in the Black Forest, travels across central Europe, and ends in the Black Sea.
Along the southern border with Austria, the highest mountains of Germany are found, the Bavarian Alps. Germany’s highest point, Zugspitze, is also found here.

Things To Know Before Visiting Germany

Best Time to Visit

While May through September is peak tourist season, the best time to visit Germany for those seeking the outdoors and less crowds is April and October. Winter is also popular for its beautiful Christmas markets and alpine skiing adventures.

Weather

Germany has a temperate seasonal climate characterized by warm summers and mild winters. Rainfall occurs throughout the year, more prominently in the summers.

Languages Spoken

The official language of Germany is German, but most locals study English as their foreign language of choice. French is also a common second foreign language.

Currency

Germany’s official currency is the euro. Germany is one of the most cash-intensive countries in the world. From parking and gas stations to museums and restaurants, cash is the preferred and sometimes the only mode of payment.

Electricity

The electrical sockets in Germany are of type F. The standard voltage is 230 V, while the standard frequency is 50 Hz. If traveling from the US, visitors will need a combined power plug adapter and a voltage converter.

Traveling around

Germany is known for its extensive and efficient public transportation. The high-speed trains can cost a bit, and it is recommended to book in advance or opt for the slower, intercity trains. Visitors have to both pay and validate their tickets. There is €60 fine for not doing so. Note that while there is no security personnel or gate at train station entrances, there are ticket checkers in plain clothes.
The widespread train network means that visitors can explore the other wonders of Germany. While big cities like Berlin and Munich attract the most crowds, Germany is a country of many treasures. With a valid EU driver’s license or International Driving License, visitors can also choose to rent a car and hit the beautiful countryside and historic towns.

Visitor Facilities

Like many countries in Europe, toilets in Germany are pay-to-use. Pay toilets average around 0.50 to 1 euros. It is also not uncommon to find attendants of the opposite gender in the toilets.

Opening Hours

Germany has some of the strictest laws in Europe regarding opening hours. While eateries like cafes and restaurants are open throughout the week, other places like stores, supermarkets and pharmacies are closed on Sunday. This concept of making ‘taking a day off’ a legal requirement is dear to the Germans, who call it ‘Ruhetag’ (resting day).

Respect the Rules

Germans are known for following the rules. Behavior which is common in other countries (example: jaywalking, cutting in line, arriving late, etc.) will earn tourists disapproving looks and nods.

Food

Germany is the ideal destination to try unique cuisines. German dishes are traditionally heavy in meats, sugar and breads. Local favorites include schnitzel (breaded and fried veal), weisswurst (white sausage), apfelstrudel (apple strudel), currywurst (grilled sausage), spargel (white asparagus), and Schwarzwälder kirschtorte (Black Forest cake).

Oktoberfest

Held every year in Munich, Oktoberfest is the world’s most popular beer festival. The huge beer halls, most famous of which is the Hofbräuhaus, attract tourists from all over the world. Men and women are dressed in Bavarian Lederhosen and Dirndl, and there is live music, parades, and traditional German cuisine.

Christmas Markets

Dating back to the Late Middle Ages, Christmas markets radiate the festive spirit of the holiday season. The beautifully decorated stalls are lined with local handicrafts and woodwork such as the famous nutcracker. Visitors can also savor German beer, as well as the delicious aromas of baked goods like stollen (fruit bread) and lebkuchen (gingerbread). There are more than 150 markets in Germany alone, but the Christkindlesmarkt of Nuremberg and the Striezelmarkt in Dresden are the most popular.
Germany is a country whose roots travel far beyond the Middle Ages. The landscape is steeped in history, as reflected in its many museums, monuments, and squares. It is also a country of natural beauty as can be witnessed in the green valleys of the Rhine River and the majestic snowy caps of the Alps. It is also a country of wonderful cultural traditions, as can be savored in locally brewed beer, delicious cuisine, and handcrafted woodwork, textiles, and pottery. All of this together makes Germany one of the top destinations in the world.

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5 Historic Homes of Famous American Authors

Visiting the homes and places where America’s literary luminaries lived and worked can give new insight into a favorite author’s work –or just deepen your understanding of another culture and another time. Here are several places that honor U.S. authors’ literary heritage.

Emily Dickinson Museum–Amherst, Massachusetts

280 Main Street

The museum includes two historic homes and gardens where this reclusive poet spent most of her days: the Homestead where she was born and lived most of her life and the neighboring Evergreens, home to her brother and his family.
The Homestead, probably the first brick house in Amherst, remained in the family until 1916. While many of the poet’s belongings and family furnishings are lost, the museum has faithfully recreated rooms so visitors can sense the environment in which the poet found her voice. The Evergreens is one of the earliest and best-preserved examples of Italianate domestic architecture in Amherst. The house is complete with Dickinson family furniture, household items, and decor selected and displayed by the family during the 19th Century.
A path described by Emily as “just wide enough for two who love” links the two houses. The landscaped grounds give further insight into this poet who assured us “Success is counted sweetest by those who n’er succeed.”

Robert Frost Stone House Museum–Shaftsbury, Vermont

121 Historic Route 7A

Open on Wednesday through Sunday in June through October from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Robert Frost’s 1769 Stone House Museum was his home for nine years during which he wrote his first Pulitzer Prize-winning collection of poetry. He composed “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” at the dining room table on a hot, summer day. Situated on seven acres, visitors can see diverging paths and yellow woods that inspired him. Rugged, stone fences are still standing. But which neighbor inspired the line “Good fences make good neighbors?”
Walking trails around the property spark the imaginations of would-be poets. For those looking for a healthy snack, Frost’s apple trees still yield fruit. There are apple trees throughout the property as frost planned to be an apple farmer, not a poet.
The museum expects to have poetry readings at the house and bluegrass concerts on the grounds, so check before you go if you would like your visit to be enhanced by a performance.

The Steinbeck House–Salinas, California

132 Central Avenue

The birthplace and boyhood home of John Steinbeck is a Queen Anne style Victorian house built in 1897 and occupied by the Steinbeck family in 1900. It opened to the public as a restaurant in 1974 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The menu makes a few nods to Steinbeck’s novels such as East of Eden pasta, and Steinbeck photos and memorabilia cover the walls. It is open for lunch Tuesday through Saturday.
The National Steinbeck Center is just a two-block walk from the home and houses the largest archive of the writer’s work. The museum, divided into sections, tells the story and the history of his most famous novels. The visuals help visitors picture key fictional scenes and historical eras in the author’s life. Using his words as the narrative, the exhibit navigates guests through theatrical sets and displays so they can step into Cannery Row, the Depression, the Dust Bowl, and more.

Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum–Key West, Florida,

907 Whitehead Street

Open every day including holidays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Hemingway called Key West the “San Tropez of the Poor,” and lived for ten years in the heart of the city’s old town. His French Colonial house, built in 1851, has many of Hemingway’s furnishings and artworks. Visitors can see where he wrote To Have and Have Not, The Green Hills of Africa, and other important works. The lush grounds are home to more than 40 cats, some descendants of the six-toed cats the novelist nurtured. A urinal Hemingway yanked from Sloppy Joes, a favorite bar, still waters the cats.
Sloppy Joes is the bar made famous by the hard-working, hard-drinking writer. There is a long curving bar inside with scars from generations of visitors and Hemingway fans. Open 365 days a year, Sloppy Joe’s offers food, drinks, live music and dancing, all with that offbeat, Key West ambiance. Each summer, the bar hosts a Hemingway look-alike contest where more than 100 men grow beards and do their best to dress like the Nobel winning author.
Key West’s Hemingway Days Festival coincide with his birthday in July and is a moveable feast of hard-driving activities including a mock bullfight. Sloppy Joes is the epicenter of the festival.

Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home & Museum–Mansfield, Missouri

Rocky Ridge Farm, 3060 Highway A

Open March 1 to November 15: Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The author of the beloved “Little House” books did most of her writing as an adult reflecting on her childhood in a pioneering family. She and her husband Almanzo lived in a one-room cabin on the 200-acre Rocky Ridge Farm until the completion of their farmhouse in 1913. Today the farmhouse is a museum and visitors can tour her home, see her study and writing desk, and view many of Laura’s treasures that remain exactly how she left them.
The museum contains the most comprehensive Ingalls and Wilder family collections in the world. It includes Pa’s fiddle that accompanied the Ingalls family on their homesteading adventures and set Laura off on her married life with the song “These Happy Golden Years.”
Christmas at Laura’s is a favorite tradition. The house is festive with vintage decorations and Kids can have their photos taken with Santa by Laura’s fireplace. Guests can taste a sample of Laura’s recipes and take a copy of the recipe home. The bookstore in the house museum is a good place to find a quaint, unusual holiday gift. This is the only time the museum is open in winter.
It is wise to check the website of these literary homes before you make plans. Most are ran by small groups of volunteers, so times can change.

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Traveler’s Guide to the Best Southern Festivals in America

Seafood boils, barbecue, jazz and blues, gumbo cook-offs and hillbilly hoopla thrill ears and tickle taste buds in America’s southern states. Here are a few Southern festivals to experience with the whole family.

Mardi Gras

Lake Charles, Lousiana

Everyone has heard of the traditional southern festival Mardi Gras in New Orleans. However, it has a reputation for being too crowded, crazy, and not always kid-friendly. For an alternative, drive over the Calcasieu River High Bridge to Lake Charles to take in the Mardi Gras parades and pageantry that look like they were transported from New Orleans to a more family-friendly location.
With more than 50 krewes, Lake Charles is second in the state for parade size. It has a rich tradition of krewes outdoing each other with royal courts, costumes, and floats. On Saturday, the Gumbo Cook-off showcases each krewe’s cherished gumbo recipe. This is followed by the Royal Krewe of Barkus parade with a hundred pups and dogs, some in carts, decorated and costumed, and competing for the Top Dog prize.
On Sunday, the Blue Dog Cafe serves up a brunch feast with live jazz. The Children’s Parade then begins at 3 p.m. with more than 50 floats, some elaborately decorated, others spruced up trucking rigs, showering children of all ages with coins, beads, stuffed animals, and other toys.
Monday’s Royal Gala is the only public access Mardi Gras gala in the U.S. For a five-dollar ticket anyone can see the spectacle of each krewe’s elaborately costumed royal court before they go on parade the next day. More families than dedicated party drinkers line the streets for the magnificent Mardi Gras parade.

Memphis in May International Festival

Memphis, Tennessee 

Memphis in May is a southern festival you cannot miss. Memphis, known as Home of the Blues and the Birthplace of Rock ‘n Roll, celebrates music and food all month long. The major events include the following:

  • The Beal Street Music Festival is a rain or shine, four-stage event featuring more than 60 top musical acts. With music booming on-stage, beating in bars, and the sweet sounds of sax on street corners, it is a total immersion experience into American music. In homage to the city’s Blues heritage, the festival has a two-thousand seat blues tent for touring and emerging artists and an outdoor performance area that presents the sounds of today’s Delta.
  • The World Champion Barbecue Cooking Contest brings 230 pitmasters and their teams from more than 25 states and several foreign countries to smoke the town and tantalize taste buds from a park that runs along the Mississippi River.
  • The Great America River Run includes a half marathon and a 5K. The half marathon races, walks, jogs, and sprints along the river while 5K runners dash through the city. A massive post-race party includes food, drinks, and Memphis’ legendary music and barbecue.

National Shrimp Festival

Gulf Shores, Alabama

More than 250,000 seafood lovers converge on this gulf-side town in mid-October to sample shrimp and other seafood cooked every which way and served by restaurants and vendors on the Food Board Walk. At this southern festival you can see and sample the wares of 300 exhibitors offering everything from edibles to arts and crafts. Continuous music features major national recording acts as well as all the local favorites. The Children’s Activity Village lets kids turn their creative talents loose, and a sand castle competition is enjoyed by everyone on the beach. The event includes a 10K run/walk and a golf tournament.

Hillbilly Days

Pikeville, Kentucky

Highlighting Appalachian culture and all things hillbilly, this unique southern festival in mid-April includes hillbilly music, local food, a cornhole tournament, quilt show, and shenanigans. Parade jalopies and trucks look like they drove out of the Dust Bowl or a movie set for the Grapes of Wrath. Beauty queen contestants vie for the most tattered overalls and bushiest mustaches. Missing teeth get extra points.
More than 300 vendors man booths throughout the city showcasing their products and homemade items. This is your chance to sink your teeth into a deep-fried Twinkie and place your bet on an authentic pig drop. Carnival rides, games, and dancing to live music performed on three stages add to the energetic vibe of this celebration of an iconic American culture. Be sure to dress down– way down. Find your hillbilly name here. The funds raised support Shriners Children’s Hospital.

Lowcountry Oyster Festival

Charleston, South Carolina

Shuck ’em and suck ’em in January at the world’s largest oyster festival for your personal pleasure or in competition to see who can shuck and eat the most oysters. The event is held at the Boone Plantation, just outside of Charleston and presented by the Charleston Restaurant Association. It attracts thousands of visitors from all over the world who consume 80,000 pounds of oysters. The event includes live music, a food court showcasing local favorites, as well as a children’s area.
The plantation dates back to 1743, and the massive live oaks dripping with moss were planted about that time. The estate is one of America’s oldest working farms. Visit the plantation mansion and walk through the nine original slave cabins for new insights into Black history.

Atlanta Dogwood Festival

Atlanta, Georgia

In April, celebrate spring in Piedmont Park while the trees are in bloom and stirring their sweetness in the air. Enjoy art and craft exhibits, carnival rides, and plenty of food vendors serving tastes of the South. Local chefs offer samples and breweries offer sips and swigs so people can vote for their favorites. The International Stage hosts 300 amateur and professional performers. They will demonstrate music, martial arts, drumming and more from 20 countries and cultures, including Arabian and Far Eastern. Booths provide additional information about the various countries and some hands-on opportunities.
Each region of the U.S. has a distinct flavor to it, and so do their festivals. In the South, tea is sweet, seafood is prized, gumbo recipes are family treasures, and barbecue is a major food group. Southern hospitality is known worldwide, so expected to be greeted enthusiastically when you visit for a southern festival.
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6 Local Dishes Around the World That Are Worth the Trip

Local Dishes Around the World!

An Italian dinner of pasta, tomato ragu, bread, and olive oil, speaks not only of the recipes passed on through generations but of the fertile lands that bore the olives in the country. In Japan, sushi is representative of the vast resources the country inherits from the sea. A meal in a new country is a way to experience and enjoy the tastes and traditions of the place you are visiting.
With food, you will almost always find the best dishes by going straight to the source. With decades, or even centuries experience cooking the same dishes, the locals have learned the insider secrets to perfect their cuisine. There are so many regional cuisines that are praised throughout the world, that traveling just to taste the foods of the world can be a worthwhile adventure. But with so many options and a wide range of flavors, where do you begin? Here’s a list of the best local dishes around the world.

Ceviche in Peru

You may have heard of ceviche before. To put it simply, ceviche

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Ceviche

is chopped raw fish that has been marinated in citrus and peppers. The fish “cooks” in the acidity of the citrus. The fish and citrus vary, but the flavor profile is the same — fresh, clean fish, the tangy acidity of lime or lemon, and subtle heat. Located off the Pacific Ocean, Peru has an abundant supply of fresh seafood. Popular options include sea bass, halibut, and tilapia. But as chefs continue to experiment, other varieties including marlin and shark are becoming popular as well. Lima is known to be the culinary hotspot of Peru, but there are great ceviche options throughout the country. Chez Wong is a must if you are in Lima. Also check out Jasusi in Máncora.

Chili Crab in Singapore

Be prepared to get your hands dirty when you dig into Singapore’s signature dish. You’re sure to find yourself licking your fingers as you try to savor every morsel of sauce. Chili crab is the perfect combination of sweet and spicy, providing an experience your taste buds won’t soon forget. The sweet and tender mud crab is smothered in a sauce composed of tomatoes, garlic, and spices. The degree of spice will vary from place to place, but it is generally believed, the spicier, the better. For authentic chili crab, a visit to Roland’s is a must, as they claim to be the place where the chili crab began. Few have been entrusted with the family recipe that makes this dish so special. Another favorite among locals is Jumbo Seafood, winner of numerous culinary awards and winner for best chili crab in 2006.

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Poutine

Poutine in Montreal

If you are looking for a comfort food that will stick to your guts, look no further than poutine. This local dish is comprised of crispy french fries topped with squeaky (as poutine connoisseurs like to call it) cheese curds and smothered in a rich brown gravy. This comfort food found its beginnings in Montreal, but can be found throughout most of Canada. Although the traditional variety is a favorite among locals, chefs throughout the country have found a variety of ways to spice it up. Be sure to visit La Banquise and try one of their 30 varieties including The Scooby, topped with steak, fried pickles, onions, bacon, and garlic sauce, or The Rachel, a vegetarian option topped with peppers, mushrooms and onions. Try Au Pied de Cochon, for a rich egg and cream infused gravy with a generous serving of foie gras on top.

Goulash in Hungary

You may remember goulash from childhood — ground beef, tomato sauce, noodles, a classic weeknight dinner. But that’s not the goulash we are talking about. Traditional Hungarian goulash (gulyás) is a local dish in Hungary containing a rich meat and potato stew. Though often made with large chunks of beef, it is not uncommon for veal or pork to be used as well. The meat is slowly simmered in a deep tomato broth, infused with smoky, Hungarian paprika. Potatoes and vegetables are added to create a warm, hearty dish that can be found on almost every menu in Hungary. If you are looking for an authentic experience, head to Budapest Bisztró.

Som Tam in Thailand

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Som Tam

Thailand is known for its soups and noodles. And rightfully so. Thailand is home to Pad Thai, Tom Yum Goong (Spicy Shrimp Soup), and Pad Kee Mao (also known as drunken noodles). And while everyone loves a spicy noodle dish, there is another dish that travelers and locals keep coming back to. Som Tam is a green papaya salad. It can be found in street markets and in restaurants. Chilies, garlic, dried shrimp, fish sauce, and palm sugar are mixed together with a mortar and pestle. The resulting sauce is then combined with crisp, sour papaya. The sweetness of the sugar balances out the tart flavors and the chilies provide a nice heat. But be forewarned, the heat level will vary and some salads will provide quite a kick.

Pizza in Italy

When it comes to food, there are so many options to choose from in Italy. Italy is world renowned for its pasta, polenta, olive oil, wine — pretty much food in general. It’s hard to go wrong when choosing what to eat while in Italy. But perhaps the most iconic and arguably most delicious local dish to eat in Italy is pizza.
Pizza has been around for centuries, in multiple forms, flavors, and varieties. In Italy, pizza is at its best when it is kept simple. The best pizza is a showcase of its ingredients. Pizza Margherita is a classic. Crisp dough, a simple sauce, basil, and cheese are all that’s needed for the perfect slice. For a no-fuss traditional pizzeria, stop by L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele in Naples. In Rome, try La Gatta Mangiona and taste one of their seasonal favorites.

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4 of The Most Scenic Adventures in Maine

Acadia National Park trip in Maine

From (nearly) impossible mountain hikes and a carousel of great camping sites to famous canoe trails snaking through hundreds of miles of pristine wilderness, Maine is home to a series of unforgettable destinations ideally suited for the adventurous soul. With so many options, however, consider a few of these can’t-miss possibilities to get you started on an inspiring trek to the Pine Tree State. Here are a few of the most scenic adventures in Maine.

Biking Adventures in Maine from Bar Harbor to Acadia National Park and beyond

If you’re looking to have a biking adventure in Maine, look no further than Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park. It’s nothing but you, the road, and a stunning combination of coastal and forest views after you hop on a bike in Bar Harbor and head out to see the sights. A cozy, 5,000-person town on Mount Desert Island, Bar Harbor has long been a summer getaway and it has turned into a biker’s paradise thanks to the incredible list of bike-able destinations nearby, most notably Acadia National Park. There is no wrong way to do Acadia, yet some of the visitors having the most fun are always the ones on two wheels zipping through the park’s many miles of tall forests, old stone bridges, and majestic ponds and lakes.
On the Carriage Roads course, bikers have up to 57 miles of car-free biking paths to cruise through, 45 of which are a part of Acadia. Designed and financed by John D. Rockefeller between 1913 and 1940, Carriage Roads is now a timeless classic of Mount Desert Island and a draw for both experienced bikers and more casual sightseers.
While you can certainly spend an entire vacation just biking Mount Desert Island, another excellent way to go is to cross the bridge to the mainland and continue through a series of quaint towns that highlight some of the best of Maine living. A popular route is biking from to inn to inn from Bar Harbor all the way to Boothbay Harbor, a 118-mile jaunt filled with terrific sights and cozy accommodations. Even if you’re not up for the entire journey, there are plenty of worthwhile stopping points on the way, where you can pick up a car rental and complete the trip to Boothbay. However you choose to do it, the central coastal region of Maine has some of the very best biking you’ll find anywhere in New England, or the United States at large.

Go camping and stargazing nearly off the map at Cutler Coast

The adventures you can experience in Acadia National Park are so vast that many unfamiliar to Maine don’t realize how many other good camping sites there are throughout the state. A place that holds its own with anything you’ll find in Acadia is the Cutler Coast, a spec of immaculate land nearly all the way to the eastern tip of Maine. The Cutler Coast Public Reserved Land is ideal for truly getting away from everyday life and experiencing the world of Maine at its purest, and you won’t even miss that you don’t have much (or any) cell service while you’re gallivanting around the gorgeous terrain surrounding your campsite.
Take your friends to have a stargazing adventure in Maine. Cutler is also a wonderland thanks to its distance from any light pollution. Take your friends to have a stargazing adventure in Maine. Although campsites all over Cutler offer outstanding glimpses of the night sky, dog-friendly Cobscook Bay State Park is only a short drive away and is another renowned spot that brings out both locals and visitors with their telescopes. Tent sites at both places are very reasonable and can be booked far in advance online.
In addition to being a true getaway in every sense of the word, the Cutler area also has no shortage of great hikes and outstanding scenery thanks to a rugged coastline of vertiginous rocks and beautiful sea inlets, which has helped it earn comparisons to some of the most famous scenery in Ireland. For nature lovers, the opportunities for animal encounters are plentiful, especially for bird watchers who might love to catch the sight of a bald eagle soaring overhead.

Canoe the mesmerizing Northern Forest Canoe Trail

If you ever wanted to travel up to 740 miles by canoe (374 miles within Maine), the Northern Forest Canoe Trail is one of the best ways in the world to do exactly that. Opened in 2006, the trail starts all the way near the Maine-New Brunswick border at Fort Kent and doesn’t end until it hits the Adirondack Mountains in New York, taking canoers through dozens of rivers, lakes, and streams alongside many of Maine’s most beautiful natural features. Although the trail is gorgeous any time of the year, it’s nothing short of stunning in the early portions of fall with the classic Maine foliage hovering over the waterways.
Doing the entire trail isn’t practical unless you’re an extreme canoer. If you’re looking for a more tame canoeing adventure in Maine, there are plenty of worthwhile shorter trips that will give you a taste of what the trail has to offer. Section eight of the trail picks up at the New Hampshire-Maine border and pushes east from Umbagog Lake to Rangeley Lake, taking travelers through a wildlife refuge that is famous for its terrific birdwatching and overall sightseeing. Sections 10 and 11 – in central Maine – are also both on the shorter side while more adventurous types might head to the remote north country to tackle section 13 from Umsaskis Lake to St. John River.
If the Northern Forest Canoe Trail sounds a little too intimidating, there are other great areas perfect for relaxing on the water. Just east of Portland, Casco Bay, Cape Small, and Cape Elizabeth all have outstanding kayaking and boating options, as does Highland Lake, which is less than a half-hour from downtown Portland and is a popular spot for the locals in the summer.

Scale to the summit of Baxter Peak of Mount Katahdin

There are plenty of low-key adventures in Maine worth taking embarking on during a trip to Maine. Hiking to the top of Baxter Peak on Mount Katahdin isn’t necessarily one of them, especially if you plan to cross the terrifying Knife Edge for a once-in-a-lifetime thrill. The tallest point in Maine and the northern end of the famous Appalachian Trail, Mount Katahdin is about a mile above sea level and is an awe-inspiring bastion of granite jutting into the sky, complete with a variety of different hikes that tailor to all different hiking abilities.
While the Saddle Trail (near campsite Chimney Pond) is on the light and easy side for hikers headed to Baxter Peak, other hikes like the Cathedral Ridge Route and the Dudley Trail are not typically a good idea for inexperienced hikers. For the truly brave, the Knife Edge is an adrenaline-pumping pathway that takes hikers from Pamola Peak to Baxter Peak, offering dramatic mountain views throughout the most treacherous paths that most will traverse in a lifetime. Only a few feet wide at its most harrowing points, Knife Edge is for experienced hikers with good balance (and confidence), and it’s famous for yielding some of the most breathtaking views of Baxter Peak that you’ll find.
No matter which trail of you choose, you are sure to have an adventure. However, Mount Katahdin – like Maine as a whole – is well worth the hype for anyone who can’t get enough of the outdoors. If you’re looking for beautiful scenery, great hikes and plenty of biking paths, Maine might be the place for you to have your next adventure.
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