Medellin. The City of Eternal Spring. This business city turned tourist hub may never be able to shake away the memories of Pablo Escobar and the Medellin cartel, but that's okay. History builds character and the modern Medellin has become one of the safest (and most fun) cities in the world. Plus there are many more memorable things to see, do, eat and enjoy around the city nowadays -- like experiencing a colorful Christmas in Medellin.
Imagine wandering around a city illuminated by over 30 million Christmas lights, including over 800 kilometres of rope lights and tens of thousands of glowing figures and displays. Known as El Alumbrado ("the lighting") this unique tradition is truly one for the bucket list.
Although public lights displays in the city during the holiday season date back to the 1850's, it's really only been during the last 50 years that the modern light show has evolved. Beginning the first week of December and lasting until mid-January, the Christmas lights of Medellin have become such a big event that in recent years more than four million people from around the world come to Medellin to experience El Alumbrado. Nowadays there is a different theme every year -- and gets a little bit more grandiose every year. Past themes include "Colombia is Light" "Our Chistmas" and "Values Illuminate Christmas".
The entire event is focused around the lights over and along the Medellin River, which cuts right through the center of town. Colorful lights flow across the water and illuminate its surface. It truly is a magical sight to behold.
According to numbers on last year's El Alumbrado, the Christmas lights are estimated to use 0.8 gigawatt-hours of total electric power over 45 days, which is equivalent to about 50 minutes of total power consumption in city of Medellín over the entire year. The entire event has been coordinated by the Empresas Públicas de Medellín (EPM) since 1967, so we can expect even more extravagent lightings as they approach the 50th anniversary.
While the lights of Medellin may be the main highlight of the Christmas season, the food comes in a close second. Here are some of my favorite Colombian consumables that every visitor needs to try:
Buñuelos - Fried cheese balls. Unconvinced by that description, need I say more? These juicy treats are so delicious that you can find them year-round in many parts of Colombia. However they are much more common (and addictive) during the Christmas season.
Hojuelas - Because frying makes everything better, hojuelas are also a popular winter pastry. They come in many different forms, from elongated fried crisps to triangluar shapes that resemble samosas and even more elegant designs, such as flowers.
Natilla - This custard pudding comes in a seemingly never-ending variety of shapes, colors and varieties depending upon where you try it. Served cold it may look unappealing at first try it but trust me -- nothing with this much sugar in it can be bad.
This post was brought to you by the fine folks at Medellin Travel @medellin_travel
Reno's big sister Las Vegas may get all the attention, however that doesn't mean visitors to Nevada should skip Reno. The city and surrounding area has plenty to offer -- besides just gambling -- without the overwhelming crowds of Vegas. Consider these offbeat sights and activities when planning your Reno vacation:
This 78-lane bowling megaplex is a testament to how much the citizens of Reno love the sport. The National Bowling Stadium is the largest bowling alley in the world and as such plays host to all the big bowling tournaments. It was also used in the filming of the bowling comedy classic Kingpin. Go on by and test your skills at the "Taj Mahal of Tenpins."
Go karts, mini golf and the Ultimate Rush, oh my! Grand Adventure Land is a miniature amusement park located at the Grand Sierra Resort but open to the public, not just guests of the resort. The highlight of the park is a ride called the Ultimate Rush, a crazy combination of hang-gliding and sky-diving that is sure to get your adrenaline pumping!
Read More Reno Has More to Offer Than Just Casinos
Levi's denim jeans are an American icon known around the world and they got their start in Reno, Nevada. First designed by Jacob Davis using Levi's denim, the two patented the idea in 1871 and the rest is history. Although Davis' original factory no longer exists, a plaque commemorating this historic event can be found at 233 N Virginia Street.
I bet you didn't even know this one existed, eh? Neither did I before passing through Reno on a road trip with my off-road addict of a best friend. Turns out the Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Fame is located downtown inside of the National Automobile Museum, making it a great destination for all sorts of motor enthusiasts. The amount of stuff inside will amaze you! Definitely a must visit and a great way to pass an hour or two.
2015 marks the first year of the Reno Offbeat Arts & Music Festival. This four-day festival is designed to highlight the burgeoning offbeat art, music and food not just in Reno, but found throughout all of Nevada. It will take place November 5th - 8th, 2015 throughout downtown Reno. Details and full lineup have yet to be announced, however you can find out more on the Reno Offbeat Festival web site.
This infamous brothel gained nationwide attention after the HBO behind-the-scenes special about brothel life, Cathouse. Needless to say this is not a family outing, but for all you solo travelers out there eager for a unique experience, this is for you. Expect the night to cost you a couple hundred dollars, however it is possible to spend several thousand here, if budget is of no concern.See More Offbeat Travel Guides United States Travel Ideas
Many of the major cities across the United States play host to annual gay pride events, often a parade that encourages solidarity, fun, and comradery. Members of the LGBT community may travel far and wide to attend these events, so they want to make sure they will have the experience they are seeking when they go. Here are some of the top gay prides that are known for their memorability.
There are dozens of gay pride festivals and parades that happen in New York during the summer months, so visitors really have their pick of which to attend. Of course, there is one in Manhattan that’s pegged to the Stonewall Riots in Greenwich Village in 1969. It’s really the event that started it all. However, there also are celebrations in each of the other boroughs of New York, as well as smaller events in several city parks. Just check a list of events here to get a feel for all the options in New York.
Of course, the LGBT community is huge in this iconic city, so it stands to reason that it would boast the largest gay pride gathering in country. Starting where pioneer Harvey Milk addressed the crowd in the early 1970s, the parade routinely draws more than a million marchers. There really is a whole month of tangential events, and visitors can be part of one or many of them. Find out more about what makes the event so popular by clicking here.
This city really goes all out for the members of the LGBT community and includes not only a Gay Pride march attended primarily by men, but also an event for lesbian marchers and one for the trans community. Many of the city’s business owners show their support of the marchers with sponsorships, partnerships, and special events during the annual Gay Pride Festival. Plus, the Atlanta event has the bonus of being held at the end of summer instead of at the beginning as a lot of other cities do. This means the heat is more tolerable and visitors don’t have to miss another great city’s event in order to attend.
There are hundreds of gay pride events held throughout the country every year, even in cities one might not think would be a likely place to host a festival. For people who want to attend an event as part of their travel plans this summer, all that’s required is a perusal of this master list in order to find the right fit for them.
I flew halfway around the world and was greeted by this...
Right now the 3-day celebration that is the pinnacle of the Mongolian tourist season is in full swing. It is a festival of merriment and machismo. A celebration of what it means to be a man. Athleticism and physical prowess is revered. And men get hot and sweaty. Dressed in naught but tiny vests and woollen underwear. Pink woollen underwear (usually).
It can only be the spectacle that is Naadam (in Ulaanbaatar it is celebrated 11-13 of August every year). Inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity of UNESCO in 2010, Naadam is an old Mongolian tradition that has seen revival along with the rise of Mongolian nationalism, at the start of the last century, and now celebrates Mongolian independence in 1921. Naadam is the festival of the "three manly sports" – archery, (long distance) horse riding and of course Mongolian wrestling.
Chinggis Khaan (Ghengis Khan) -
There are differences to each of the sports to what you would be familiar with. Archery is not aiming at a bull’s-eye, but shooting an arrow in a parabolic path into what is essentially a tiny cylindrical target on the ground (similar in size to a hole on a golf course). Men and women compete separately, at difference target distances. While the competitor's task seems impossible to me, they have been using a bow from a very early age. The bow are incredibly strong – speaking to a Swiss-Armenian archer on the flight out, he was saying his young son's bow from Mongolia is equivalent to the strength of an adult’s Olympic bow, and so has to buy archery equipment on his trips to Mongolia. It's a serious sport – so serious that even the president and prime minister compete (it's true – I was literally spitting distance away from them at the time!).
Horse riding is not like what you would see at Ascot or the other races of that sort. It is like the marathon of horse races; long distance, somewhere on the outskirts of the city. The riders are children (again, a skill that many Mongolians learn from an early age – as young as two years old!), as the aim of the race is to test the skill of the horse, not the rider. After the races (there are races for different ages of horse) the winners are celebrated by a song declaring their equine brilliance. And the loser in the youngest age group is honoured with what I guess is the the Mongolian equivalent of a limerick.
Finally, there is the wrestling. 3 days of wrestling. It's a hard sport to break into – the previous year's champion chooses his opponent (usually the weediest boy there), followed by the second winner etc. It results in an initial stage of David & Goliath bouts running simultaneously before the opponents become more evenly matched. This makes it very difficult to break into the sport of Mongolian wrestling. After each individual fight the winner does the traditional victory eagle dance – a somehow graceful movement after the tussling a few moments before. The winners are also awarded rank titles according to what stage of the competition they get to – there is a whole lot of tradition and ceremony attached to the whole event.
Sadly I never saw the action up close...
I experienced Naadam in Ulaanbaatar at the National Sports Stadium (smaller Naadam celebrations can be seen outside UB a few days before). Like with the Olympics, the opening ceremony is actually the bit most people watch – a huge, choreographed re-enactment of a traditional story, along with a parade featuring Mongolia's musical all stars (one of whom was on my return flight – no idea what his name is though!) as well as various members of the armed forces. Finally there is the singing of the national anthem – musically pretty good, not too pedestrian at all, melodious, lyrically inspirational (and with hints of propaganda in the style of the Communist era). Conveniently song sheets were distributed – all in the Cyrillic alphabet (which I fortunately knew after a failed attempt to teach myself Russian) – and I think I gave it a fair bash at singing along.
Aside from the opening ceremony, seeing a few rounds of wrestling, wandering over to the archery range, wandering around the festival grounds (mobbed by Americans touroids decked out in traditional Mongolian clothing they must have been shafted paying for), trying some khuushuur (greasy, fried mutton dumplings – perfect festival food), perhaps taking a taxi out to the horse race and then coming back for "Ode to a Horse", there isn't really all that much else to do, aside from watching endless rounds of wrestling at a distance (if you want to see it up close, maybe go to one of the wrestling rings that can be found in most big towns, or start an ad-hoc game after a few vodkas). There's a lot of sitting around between brief moments of excitement (like many major sporting event such as the Olympics or big motor races). There are also fireworks in Suukhbataar square – the first night of Ulaanbaatar's celebrations if I remember correctly.
Aspiring (and failing) to be a
proud Mongolian horseman
Naadam is an interesting introduction to Mongolian culture, although it will be hard to gain a good understanding without a Mongolian to explain it to you – it certainly won't feel as authentic. Aside from Naadam itself, UB is pretty cosmopolitan. There are a few interesting museums (like the Natural History Museum which has some really interesting dinosaur fossils, and also the National Museum of Mongolian history for further introduction to Mongolian culture), but once you've seen them, UB has nothing more to offer than international bars and an equally international crowd of people (even more so since Mongolia's recent mining boom).
The sun-blessed Portuguese island of Madeira lies approximately 400km north of Tenerife, smack in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. With year round warm weather, an incredibly scenic coastline and a wealth of cultural festivals you might be tempted to extend your stay on this island a little longer.
A trip to Madeira will bring some unforgettable holiday experiences and allows you to explore the nearby golden island of Porto Santo. Saga Travel organise getaways to these two islands and are ready when you are, so let's take a look at what you can expect upon arrival.
Yes, Madeira may only be 800 square kilometres but it packs an incredible amount of sightseeing options into this relatively small space. The island's coastline is dotted with fishing villages, sandy beaches and scenic little bays where you can relax in the sun no matter which season you choose to visit in. The coast is also the place to take relaxing boat trips, enjoy some wreck and reef diving or simply take in those spectacular sunsets. Madeira isn't just famous for its fortified wine -- the island is awash with so many exotic and colourful flowers that it has rightfully earned the nickname "The Floating Garden".
If there's one thing that Madeira loves it's a good festival and visitors have plenty to choose from throughout the year. The island is home to at least 45 annual festivals including the famous Madeira Wine Festival in the capital city of Funchal and the 48 hour Dancing Folklore Festival in the town of Santana.
If you're visiting during July then don't miss the three day Jazz extravaganza in Santa Catarina Park where you can enjoy the music while taking in the mountain backdrop and Funchal Bay views. The Atlantic Festival music and fireworks contest, which takes place every Saturday throughout June, is also well worth visiting the island for.
You might not want to tear yourself away from the beach but making the effort will allow you to get more out of your visit. Slip on those sturdy walking shoes and head out into the interior mountain and lake areas to view dazzling rivers, waterfalls and rocks pools. A cable car ride from Santana to Rocha do Navio will provide you with some spectacular views before you reach a charming rocky beach. The amazing rock formations around the east of the island can be viewed from the deck of a yacht or head north and take a guided tour around the famous Sao Vicente Caves.
Approximately 15 minutes by plane or two hours by ferry from Madeira lies Porto Santo, named the "Golden Island" due to the nine kilometres of soft golden sand in the south. This is a beautiful Portuguese island that stretches for only 42 square kilometres and exudes a tranquil atmosphere making it a highly desirable destination. If you're a golf lover then the recently added Porto Santo golf course that stretches across the island and offers magnificent scenery is worth the trip alone.
This is an island that will provide a feast for the senses and could easily become your favourite island getaway.
Houston, Texas, is a humongous city that often overwhelms visitors and leaves them uncertain where to go, what to eat and what to see. Luckily, as a native Texan, I've spent a great deal of time exploring the city and finding some of the most unique, hidden, offbeat and off the beaten path destinations — some of which not even local residents know about.
Museums related to our own mortality are always intriguing, despite sometimes being a bit macabre. All that aside, this is one of the most captivating and engrossing museums I have ever visited. From the history of embalming to an entire collection of hearses to a coffin built for three, you really never know what to expect around the next corner.
The late John Milkovisch was confronted with a conundrum. His house needed to be painted, but he didn't want to do it. His solution? Cover the entire thing with over 50,000 beer cans. He started in 1968 and didn't finish until 15 years later. While the place is definitely quirky and a must-visit for any beer enthusiast, one can only assume that Mr. Milkovisch must have passed away from cirrhosis of the liver.
Located just outside of Houston in Sugar Land, this magnificent Hindu temple seems out of place, as if it has been transplanted here from somewhere in India or Southeast Asia. In fact, it is the first traditional Hindu temple in the United States. Be sure to come hungry as the food here is the best and most authentic Indian food in all of Houston. For visitors unfamiliar with visiting religious sites such as this, please do not forget to take off your shoes before entering.
If you are a fan of Thai food then this little restaurant should not be missed. It is a favorite of local Houstonians who all know their favorite dishes by the letter and number combination, such as H5 or S11. The original owner of this restaurant is lovingly referred to as the Thai Soup Nazi (a reference to the Seinfeld episode about the Soup Nazi); however, he passed away in 2010. Luckily, the restaurant remains relatively unchanged and the food is still as delicious as ever. Plus, it is BYOB so how can you go wrong.
From the mid-1950s until his death in 1980, local Houston postal worker Jeff McKissack created this impressive monument to honor his favorite fruit, the orange. It covers an impressive 3,000 square feet and will suck you in from the moment you begin walking along the maze of pathways. Nowadays, it has become a folk art favorite not just of local Houston residents but art lovers across the entire USA.
This is but a fraction of all the offbeat things to do in Houston. However, no matter what you decide to do or see while visiting Space City, save some money by finding a cheap hotel in Houston via Hipmunk.
October is a grand time for the Negrenses and a fabulous time for tourists to visit this charming province and be captivated by their warm smiles and delicious treats. As I join Bacolod City in their celebration of the famous Masskara Festival, allow me to share with you some of Bacolod’s well-loved sweet treats and Negrense delicacies.
With the annual festival called Masskara, tourists - international and locals alike flock to the party streets of Bacolod City to witness the captivating smiles of the Negrenses. Iconic masks in a variety of colorful designs can be found all-over with numerous Masskara-making contests being held in major establishments while the plaza is transformed to a party street all-day and all-night long.
For the sweet tooth, Bacolod City is a haven. Bask in the country's sugarbowl and satiate yourself with a melange of nothing but sweet endings. One sweet Bacolod delicacy that has become one of my favorites is Piaya. This traditional Negros delicacy is a flat dough that has been rolled resembling a round small plate (we call platito) and filled with muscovado sugar. Through the years, varieties of fillings were born and flavors such as Pandan, Mango and Ube were used as sweet fillings. Packs of five and ten pieces are usually available to suit every budget. The small containers sell at Php20 to Php30 while the bigger ones are about than Php50.
Merci Pasalubong is a personal favorite when in comes to Piaya. I particularly adore their Brown Sugar Piaya (Brown Sugar Pie) which is sweetened by - you guessed it, brown sugar and infused with honey. The filling has just about the right sweetness without the umay (satiating) factor in every bite. The sesame seeds sprinkled on top of the flat bread adds a bit of nutty flavor to this local delicacy.
One of Bacolod City’s precious dining landmarks and pasalubong (take home treats) hub is Pendy’s. A family-oriented business established in 1973 in the old streets of Iloilo then later migrated to Bacolod City, Pendy's has become a landmark in this Negros capital. Generations passed and the younger broods are now handling Pendy's, even their daughter-in-law was tagged as the contact person when I asked one of the staff during my visit.
Pendy's is known for their Napoleones and Half-Moon Cake. The latter is made of egg yolk, butter and sugar which is sold at Php40 a piece. This yellow-colored delicacy resembles more of the sun with its hue but the shape is emulating the half moon. Napoleones on the other hand is definitely one of my favorites. This puff pastry is cut into square singles. Each Napoleones (Php14/pc and Php140 for a pack of 10, P210 for a pack of 15) is lined with a custard cream filling and topped with a thin spread of sugar frosting that has settled on top of this thin filo pastry. This is the Philippine version of a French pastry known as Napoleon or Mille-Feuille but the latter is made with whipped cream and jam as filling and chocolate frosting or fondant icing as topping.
So if you’re heading to Bacolod City for this year’s Masskara Festival or anytime of the year, make sure you taste some of these delicious Negrense delicacies and sweet treats. After all, Negros province is the Sugarbowl Capital of the Philippines.
For more deliriously delicious dining discoveries, check out Eat To Your Heart’s Content
Lacson Street; Araneta Street; Lopez Jaena
25 Lacson Street
Slowly it’s getting winter over here but the sun is shining every day. In Holland, I heard it should be around 30 degrees but despite that I am enjoying everyday here in New Zealand. Enjoying the kiwi culture and the country that has his own will and some very special things:
Only in New Zealand there’s beer ice cream. Yeah, for real! When I first arrived in New Zealand I saw a big poster of the Icebar company. I thought they were joking. Icecream with alcohol? Icecream is for kids, right? Not in New Zealand apparently. After a few weeks I finally tried it and it was delicious. You should try it!
Only in New Zealand we have rain, sunshine, rain, sunshine, rain, sunshine. That’s pretty much the weather for one day in New Zealand. In New Zealand you can have literally four seasons in one day but don’t be sad because most of the times the sun wins. Give it up for the sun!
Only in New Zealand there’s a sheep festival. Who comes up with these things? With so many sheeps (for every kiwi there are nine sheeps available) there’s no way denying, right? And it’s a once in a lifetime experience. (Find out for yourself on my blog about the sheep festival.)
Only in New Zealand hitchhiking is as normal as anything. It doesn’t matter if you’re old, young, black, white, man or woman. Kiwi’s are the most friendliest people and if they can help someone, they always will. So if you’re not in a hurry, hitchhiking is the best way. It’s even possible in Auckland, when you meet the right people...like, Brent. It was friday afternoon and I went to La Zeppa (a local pub) with my manager, Brent. On our way back, when we walked to Brent’s car, we bumped into 3 german girls. They where looking for Ponsonby Road. “Yeah, that’s at least an half hour walk up the hill” I told them, but Brent had another solution. Why not drop them off. Yeah, why not? First the german girls weren’t so sure but after I told them I was Dutch they didn’t have much doubt. So off we went!
Only in New Zealand do they have longest name for a place and shit that name is loooonnnngggg. Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupo-kaiwhenuakitanatahu. Yeah, try to pronounce that. I dare you!
Visiting Bangkok at any time of year is a great choice. Visitors from around the world will enjoy the fascinating culture, incredible attractions and friendly residents regardless. However, planning a trip to Bangkok during the annual Songkran Festival is one of the best possible decisions you could make. Songkran Festival is the traditional New Year celebration in Thailand, and being in Bangkok during this time is a way to get an inside look at the incredible culture and traditions in this country. Whether you are interested in the spiritual and religious aspects of the holiday or you just can't wait for the exciting nightlife that accompanies the festival, you won't be disappointed.
Songkran Festival is an annual celebration that takes place during the beginning of April. It signifies the beginning of the Thai New Year, and it is usually at the hottest time of year. Since the festival is during the dry season and warm weather is typical, water is used as a way to cool off. For this reason, Songkran Festival is often called the festival of water. Water is traditionally blessed by being poured over statues of Buddha, and then the blessed water is used to pay respect to older family members. Songkran Festival is usually only officially a two or three day event, but locals typically have the entire week off from work and school. It has transformed in recent years into a time of celebration, family gatherings and fun.
If you are most interested in the spiritual and historical roots of this incredible festival, be sure to visit Sanam Luang. This large field is located just next to the Grand Palace, and it serves as a gathering place during the day for locals who want to celebrate the festival in a traditional way. It is here that the impressive Phra Phuttha Sihing image is put on display, and there are long lines for people to bathe the image in water and then collect the now holy water for themselves. Many of the temples in Bangkok, such as Wat Arun and Wat Pho, are also busy during the Songkran Festival.
Along with the more spiritual sides of the Songkran Festival are plenty of fun ways to celebrate this exciting time. Saranrom Park is typically busy with revelers of all ages, but don't expect to stay dry. Locals delight in getting tourists wet, and they carry around water balloons, buckets of fragrant water and even water pistols to shock friends and strangers alike. In Wisut Kasat, there is a big pageant each year in order to pick the woman who will be Miss Songkran for the year. Travelers and expatriates are often found along Khao San Road, where plenty of alcohol and a fun atmosphere leads to water fights right in the middle of the street.
Songkran Festival can be an exciting time in Bangkok, but there are a few things you should be aware of. Remember that for many people, this is a religious event. Enjoy the fun, but keep in mind that not all residents will appreciate being blasted by a hose. Of course, prepare to get wet yourself. Store your money or important items in a plastic zippered bag to stay dry. Don't take a taxi during this festival, as traffic will be terrible and rates are often much higher than normal.