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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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