I've spent the better part of the last seven years exploring Asia and this corner of the world is nothing short of amazing. Spectacular sights, delicious foods, incredibly diverse cultures and such a rich history....Asia has it all!

However Asia can also be overwhelming to first-timers. Where do I go and what do I do? Here are five awesome overlooked places to get your planning started!

Osaka, Japan

Japan is the best country in the world for people-watching -- if you know where to look, that is. Much like the stylish yet offbeat Harajuku district in Tokyo, Osaka also as a youth Mecca that should be on the "to-do" list of every traveler to Japan. It is called Amerika-Mura and there is no more hip in town to be. The area is on the cutting edge of fashion and youth culture, and is packed full of restaurants and shops selling everything from clothing to music to random novelty items.

Kyoto, Japan

Kyoto is full of temples but one stands apart from the rest: Otagi Nenbutsu-ji, which dates back to the eighth century. The temple grounds are adorned with over 1,000 small Buddha statues, each with a different expression. Back in 2008 when I lived in Japan, this place was really off the beaten path. Nowadays however thanks to sites like TripAdvisor, it is slowly starting to get more attention -- but still thankfully remains a quiet, overlooked destination.

Ko Samui, Thailand

One of the best things to do on the island of Ko Samui, Thailand is to rent a scooter and get away from the crowds. Go explore the island, find a quiet beach and take time to unwind. Or check out the numerous markets and eat your way through as many of the small food spots scattered across the island as possible. The island is yours!

Seminyak, Indonesia

Bali is known for great resorts but the ones of Seminyak, Indonesia stand out in particular. Immaculate beaches. Delicious food. Luxurious resorts. Seminyak has it all but with less crowds that Kuta or Sanur. Soak up the sun on Seminyak Beach, go surfing or even indulge in a game of beach volleyball. The area is also a foodie's paradise, so make sure to come hungry. Start at Jalan Laksamana (also known as Eat Street) but make sure to expand beyond -- there are tons of unique, amazing restaurants serving some of the best food on the island.

Tsuen Wan, Hong Kong

Located at the end of the MTR line, Tsuen Wan, Hong Kong is a quiet suburb that is far removed from the normal tourist trail. It is also the home of Discovery Park, a combination shopping mall and park that has been around for nearly two decades. The tropical rain forest-themed shopping center spans over 600,000 square feet and even includes an artificial waterfall and stained glass ceiling over the main lobby. Once you are done shopping, do not forget to explore the neighborhood and get a glimpse of local Hong Kong life.

Chicago may be synonymous with “deep dish,” but there’s more to this city than thick crusts and mounds of cheese. In addition to striking architecture and gorgeous sunsets, the Windy City boasts a smorgasbord of good eats.

Chicago-style hot dog foodporn

1. Chicago-style Hot Dog

What cheesesteaks are to Philly, the Chicago-style hot dog is to the Windy City. The best versions start with a Vienna Beef Natural Casing dog, lay it down in a steamed poppy-seed bun, and top it with yellow mustard, diced white onion, relish, thin tomato wedges, a layer of crunchy dill pickles, and a couple of sport peppers. You’ll be able to find them all over the city, but if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the choices, head to Jimmy’s Red Hots near Humboldt Park. Or go to Allium (located in Chicago’s Four Seasons Hotel) for an upscale take on the classic dog.

2. Vegetarian Diner Food

The Chicago Diner has earned a national reputation for its classic diner fare with a twist: All of the dishes are vegan or vegetarian. Even the most dedicated carnivores will find something to like here, where the menu sports a Radical Reuben (in which seitan replaces corned beef), vegan milkshakes, and truffle mushroom lentil loaf. The restaurant offers locations in both Halstead and Logan Square.

Paczkis, one of the best foods in C hicago

3. Paczkis

Chicagoans line up for hours on Paczki Day each year, when dozens of vendors around the city sell the hole-less Polish donuts to signal the arrival of Lent. Order them filled with jams, creams, or chocolate, or keep it simple and stick with an iced or powdered sugar variety. Consult this map to find where to score yours.

4. The Jibarito

Reportedly invented in Chicago, this Puerto Rican dish consists of a sandwich made with fried green plantains instead of bread. The plantains cradle meat, cheese, lettuce, tomato, and a garlic-flavored mayonnaise. Enjoy one at Borinquen in Humboldt Park—the home of the original jibarito.

Saganaki, one of the best foods in Chicago

5. Saganaki

Another dish that has its origin story in Chicago, saganaki consists of breaded or floured cheese that’s fried and served piping hot. Find it all over GreekTown.

6. Charcuterie

Chicago is well known for its butcher shops and high-quality meat (Perhaps that’s why the Italian beef sandwich is another Chicagoan favorite). Carl Sandburg even declared Chicago the “hog butcher for the world” in a poem about the city. Whether you’re looking for fresh-cut ribs, cured sausages, or heritage breeds, Chicago’s butchers have you covered. Popular shops include The Butcher and Larder (in West Town), Publican Quality Meats (in West Loop), and Paulina Meat Market (in Lakeview).

From carnivorous meals to fried cheese, donuts, and vegan fare, don’t miss a delicious bite on your next trip to Chicago. If by some unlikely chance you’re not satisfied, you can always order a pizza upon arriving back home.

See More!   Chicago Style: A First-Timer's Food Guide

  This article was posted on Hipmunk's Tailwind blog by The Hipmunk on November 9th.

Canada is an amazing winter destination due to its pristine beauty and wealth of outdoor winter activities. There is something for everyone here! Of course buying all your gear or forgotten items while on winter vacation is considerably more expensive than bringing them from home. So, if you are heading to Canada this winter, here is what you need for some of the most popular activities:

Elk Viewing

Getting to see winter animals in their native environment is a humbling, peaceful activity -- and a great opportunity for photographers. Edmonton, Alberta is home of the Elk Island National Park and offers some of the best winter Elk viewing in all of Canada. Don't forget:

  • Binoculars
  • Photography gear

Dogsledding

Banff, Alberta is home to the Banff National Park and an amazing destination for adventurous winter activities such as dogsledding. To avoid expensive gear rental fees, be sure to bring:

  • Fleece or down jacket with a wind/water proof shell
  • Supportive insulated winter boots (or water-resistant hiking boots) above the ankle
  • Goggles or sunglasses
  • Lip balm to protect against the cold, dry winter winds

Skiing is one of the best winter activities in Canada

Skiing

Canada has no shortage of skiing destinations for people of all skill levels, however Whistler, British Columbia is consistently ranked as (one of) the top ski destination in Canada. It not only is fun for kids and adults, but also has plenty of non-skiing activities as well, including snow tubing and snowcat tours. For those who plan to go skiing, do not forgot to bring:

  • Thick, waterproof parka with a hoodie
  • Supportive insulated winter boots (or water-resistant hiking boots) above the ankle
  • Any ski gear you own that is not too cumbersome to bring (to avoid high rental fees)

Winter Festivals & Events

For seasonal festivals, shows and events, there is nowhere better to be than Quebec. Food festivals. Holiday shows. Performances and events a plenty. There is something new to do every day here during winter. However the pinnacle of all Canada's winter festivals is the Quebec winter carnival, Le Carnaval de Québec. It is one of the world's largest winter festivals and includes parades, parties, ice sculptures, sleigh races, shows, amusement rides and more.

What to bring to Le Carnaval de Québec?

  • Your appetite -- there are plenty of wonder winter foods and delicious dishes available
  • A swimsuit!

Why your appetite? The carnival also includes the "Bain de Neige" or snow bath. The unique challenge is something unique that you won't soon forget!

Everything Else

When it comes to general outdoor activities and family fun, Mississauga, Ontario is a great choice. There is plenty of great ways to pass the days outside. Some of their most popular activities include tobogganing, snow-shoeing, cross-country skiing, and ice skating. Of course there are also lots of great festivals, events and even indoor activities as well. Just don't forget:

  • To bring a great attitude and be ready for a fun winter vacation!

  One final note: do not bring any cotton clothing. Cotton (including blue jeans) absorbs moisture and when combined with the cold, snowy Canadian winter, can easily cause hypothermia.

Colors are changing and the temperature is dropping, which means it's time for a quick trip before the winter comes and the holiday season begins.

Best Western Plus Robert Treat Hotel

Want to visit New York City but not sure you want to be in the heart of the chaos? Then the Best Western Plus Robert Treat Hotel in Newark, just a few miles from NYC, is the place for you. This location is especially convenient for road-trippers and people with an RV, as they offer free on-site parking, and there is plenty of public transportation nearby to get you anywhere you want to go. The hotel also boasts the Zagat rated, AAA Three Diamond fine dining restaurant, Maize, as well as plenty of amenities like a fitness center, free Wi-Fi, and free breakfast.

Soho Grand Hotel

The whiskey bar at the Soho Grand Hotel in NYC
The whiskey bar at the Soho Grand Hotel -- image via mmmeeks

Hotels in NYC don't get much more stylish than the Soho Grand Hotel on West Broadway, where hip and luxury merge in an exquisite example of what a hotel should be. Everything about this hotel from the art to the architecture has been custom designed to perfectly reflect Soho, one of NYC's most iconic neighborhoods. Rooms feature custom furniture and high-end appliances, including an iPad and iPod, both custom loaded with everything you need to make the most of your time in Soho. The hardest part about staying here is leaving the hotel.

The Marcel at Gramercy

Tucked away on the east side of Manhattan in the quiet residential neighborhood of Kips Bay, The Marcel At Gramercy is a quiet, luxurious retreat from the fast pace of life in New York City. Their 136 spacious rooms all come with the finest appliances, linens, and toiletries, and they include a refrigerator, safe, and iHOME docking station. The Marcel also features a delicious restaurant and expansive business center with high-speed Internet that allows you to maximize your time in the city.

The Library Hotel

The Library Hotel in NYC
A tribute to the Dewey decimal system at the Library Hotel -- image via catherinecronin

Given the name of this boutique hotel, it should be no surprise that The Library Hotel on Madison Avenue features a literary theme. The ten guest floors each represent one of the ten categories of the Dewey decimal system, and the 60 rooms within are each custom furnished with books and artwork representing a particular topic within this category. And, yes, it is even possible to request a theme when making a reservation. One of the hotel's key features is the second floor Reading Room. Open 24 hours a day and offering complimentary snacks, this is a great place to relax with a good book, away from the hustle and bustle of NYC.

Manhattan NYC - An Affinia Hotel

When the phrase "modern Manhattan" comes to mind, look no further than Manhattan NYC - An Affinia Hotel, a perfect place to stay for those who want to be at the center of New York's greatest borough. Rooms here are sleek and stylish, each designed by the Rockwell Group, and come in a variety of sizes -- including terrace suites with unparalleled Manhattan skyline views that are perfect for hosting a small gathering.

Ever a city of cultural convergence and commerce, modern Istanbul’s 11 to 12 million annual international visitors can find themselves beckoned into shops and restaurants in their native tongues. There are a great many things to see in Turkey, but for the traveler looking for a truly unique experience, the Grand Bazaar is a feast for the senses. Constructed in the 1450s following the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople, the Grand Bazaar is alive with color, smells, and sounds. With over 5000 shops, the market is open from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., Monday through Saturday, with closures on Sundays and bank holidays. Here are some tips having an optimal shopping experience in the Grand Bazaar, so grab some Turkish Lira (currently 0.36 to the US dollar) and hit the market where the wandering visitor can find everything from fortune telling rabbits, to vibrant textiles, rich spices, and much more.

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Where to Stay

If you’re looking for a place to stay in the middle of it all, at Niles Hotel Istanbul – Special Class, the rooms have Ottoman style décor, and air conditioning or the DoubleTree by Hilton Istanbul Old Town for modern chic with affordable prices.

Hitting the Grand Bazaar

Upon first entering the Grand Bazaar, expect to immediately see a dozen things you want to buy. It is a rookie mistake to commit to the first eye catching object, so try to refrain from buying the first thing you see. Instead, spend some time walking around and observing many shops (with a smartphone, it’s easy to pin the location to return later) to get an idea of price range and item selection. With some 5,000 shops stretching 60 streets, there is a lot to see. The high domed Cevâhir Bedesten at the market’s center was originally constructed by Sultan Mehmet II as a dedicated area for the trade of textiles. The building still stands, and continues to house some of the market’s most precious objects and antiques. There’s much to see, so consider staying at the Barcelo Saray Hotel for easy return trips.

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Local Hospitality

Many shopkeepers will offer çay, or tea, to browsing patrons. To refuse is rude, though acceptance at some 16 shops might very well be a bit much. To avoid coming out of an afternoon feeling like a water balloon, politely accept and sip, accepting does not commit the shopper to making a purchase.

Haggling like a Pro

Many Americans are inexperienced with haggling or bargaining, but it is typical in a great many countries around the world. It is common to feel uncomfortable or embarrassed when starting out, but trust us, it can be quite fun and exhilarating once you’ve had some practice and walk out of a transaction with a great price! Vendors will often intentionally inflate prices because they 1) expect patrons to bargain, and 2) generally charge more to tourists. To get a feel for fair prices and how to bargain, it can help to try to inconspicuously observe locals haggling. If the price is wrong, one might try thanking the vendor and moving to leave the shop, at which point, the vendor may counter by asking what price you want. Alternatively, the vendor may walk away, but if you refuse to cave, and the last price was not too far off from reasonable, they may return to resume haggling. It can also be helpful to find two vendors with the same item and play them off one another. While you should be confident and firm while bargaining, keep your tone light and friendly. The business owners often have families to support, so don’t be rude.

When a particular item catches your eye, avoid showing too much interest or enthusiasm, especially if that item is rare as the shop owner will know they have the upper hand as they know you cannot find another vendor with a potentially better price and will stay firm.

If haggling still feels uncomfortable, there will be shops with fixed sticker prices, but expect to pay much more at such establishments.

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Carpets

No trip to the Grand Bazaar would be complete without shopping for a Turkish carpet. However, this can be quite an expensive process, and it is very difficult to know the value of the prospects. If you want to be safe, try a trusted shop, as many carpets are now manufactured in China and it can be difficult to tell—there is a list of trusted shops here (though it is certainly worth while to visit small shops in the Bazaar). There is a range of materials, like silk or wool; designs, which are specific to the different cultures who hand-make the rugs (the more intricate the pattern, the more expensive); dyes, natural and chemical (natural dyes are less subject to fading, and do so more gracefully than chemical dyes); number of knots per square meter (the more knots, the better made, the more expensive); sizes (prayer rug sized to large).

Visit several carpet shops, where the vendors will treat you to a show of their wares (this can take hours). Do not buy on the first day, but rather, return to your favorite shop after having visited several, getting a sense for colors, patterns, and prices. Always buy handmade rugs. Again, definitely haggle for the price, but do so respectfully and with some humor.

Consider how to get a purchase home—a canvas duffel bag lined with plastic can help protect the textiles, though some shops offer shipping services.

Screen Shot 2015-11-01 at 12.53.40 PM

Dressing to Local Customs

While foreign visitors are not expected to dress according to local customs, when visiting any of the mosques, one must dress appropriately for admittance.

At the Aya Sofya or Blue Mosque, which are very close to the Grand Bazaar, men must wear long pants, and women must wear cover to mid shins. Women must also don a wrap or pashmina covering their heads. Wraps are supplied at the entrance of the Blue Mosque, free of charge or more stylish choices can be purchased easily in the Grand Bazaar.

Screen Shot 2015-11-01 at 12.53.27 PM

Dining

A day of haggling can work up an appetite. There are incredible options available to the traveler, but we recommend heading over to the Galata Bridge for an Istanbul fish sandwich. Fishermen catch, grill, and serve their catches fresh on their boats so you can enjoy a delicious, fresh dinner while watching the sunset over the Golden Horn!

  This article was posted on Hipmunk's Tailwind blog by The Hipmunk on November 1st.

Life is stressful. It shouldn't be, but it is. Work, money, relationships, family responsibilities...all can be daily sources of stress in our lives. Over time, this stress can build to unbearable levels and cause serious health issues. But there is a cure -- one that is easier than you might think, and does not require a doctor's visit.

Take a vacation!

More and more studies are showing that vacations actually improve health by reducing stress. A change from the normal routine combined with a new, relaxing location, can do wonders to improve your health and lowering your risk of heart disease.

Wyndham Coffs Harbour Terraces Resort pool in Australia
The rooftop pool of the Wyndham Hotel in Melbourne, Australia

I thought vacations are stressful?

If a vacation is stressful, that means you are not doing it right. A proper vacation should require minimal planning and be more of a joy to plan that a burden.

That's where Wyndham vacation Resorts Asia Pacific comes in handy. They remove the stress from vacation planning by having everything already covered. Become a member of The WorldMark South Pacific Club by Wyndham and their resorts are your resorts, available whenever you need them.

I don't have time for a vacation.

That is where you are wrong. A vacation doesn't have to be a grandiose two week round-the-world trip. It can be as simple as a weekend away from home. Even a brief change of scenery can do wonders to impart new vigor and re-energize yourself.

The average Australian household takes 3.3 vacations a year, but households with The WorldMark South Pacific Club take 5.2 annual vacations -- more than a 50% increase. They have made vacations a regular part of their stress-reducing routine and you should too.

The rooftop pool of the Wyndham Hotel in Melbourne, Australia
The rooftop pool of the Wyndham Hotel in Melbourne, Australia

But where do I go?

With 26 properties scattered across Australia, New Zealand and Fiji, there are plenty of picture-perfect destinations that await. You don't even have to escape the city to find relief. The WorldMark South Pacific Club by Wyndham also has resorts in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane -- as well as everywhere in between. These are perfect for short weekend getaways that will leave you feeling refreshed and rejuvenated at work on Monday morning.

What are these resorts like?

In a single word: heaven. First class amenities. Top-notch locations. Breathtaking views and exquisite facilities to make you feel right at home. Wyndham's resorts are furnished with gyms, pools, spas and saunas, meaning that just because you are on vacation, you don't have to disrupt your traditional exercise routine. Just imagine how much better it will feel hitting the gym or going for a steam or taking a morning run at Seven Mile Beach, Hobart's only beach resort. Or on Denarau Island in Fiji. This could be your reality.

Gym at the Ramada Resort on Phillip Island, Australia
Gym at the Ramada Resort on Phillip Island, Australia

Dazzle your senses and improve your health.

The word medicine makes people think of bitter pills or uncomfortable procedures, but going a regular vacation is the best medicine you will ever take. It will improve your health, lower your stress, increase your happiness and give you an overall rejuvenation like no other.

No matter is holding you back from your vacation The WorldMark South Pacific Club by Wyndham has the answers.

  This post was brought to you by Wyndham Vacation Resorts Asia Pacific

India has always offered a wealth of treasures to its visitors. The stunning Mughal architecture, incomparable natural beauty, and exceptional food have drawn travelers for centuries. India’s recent emergence as a technological and economic world power provides new and compelling reasons for travel as well. Keep reading to find out why India is the hottest destination in the world.

Technological Boom

The Indian technology and services industry is on track reach $225 billion in revenue by 2020, and it will change the economic face of the country. India has quickly emerged as the second largest mobile phone market in the world, and there’s still plenty of room for growth: Almost 20% of the population (800 million people) still lack internet access.

India technological boom

Facebook’s Internet.org recently started offering free mobile internet service to many in India who would not otherwise be able to afford it. Both startups and tech giants are increasingly interested in India as a new market base, and many are using it as a testing ground for new software and features.

Mark Zuckerberg himself is also invested in India’s technological growth and deepening the connection between India and Silicon Valley. When Facebook was floundering in its early stages, Zuckerberg took the advice of his mentor Steve Jobs and visited a temple in India. The trip inspired him to double down in his efforts, much as Jobs’ seven month Indian excursion inspired him to launch Apple in 1976.

Would-be tech entrepreneurs looking to recreate the success of Facebook and Apple will be drawn to India, and it’s never been easier for them to make the trip. India’s strong and lasting connection with Silicon Valley will be cemented with a recently announced direct flight from San Francisco to New Delhi. Operated by Cathay Pacific, the flight will run three times a week, and in the words of San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, it will unite “two great cultural and economic centers of the world.”

Travel Boom

The new flight is part of a general increase in Indian travel: India welcomed 7.68 million visitors in 2014 and expects more this year. Indians themselves are also traveling more frequently. In 2014, 9.6 million Indians traveled internationally, up from 3.5 million only a decade ago. Part of the growth is due to the rise of travel agencies designed exclusively for women. Groups like Women on Wanderlust organize women-only groups that travel within India and internationally, providing a safe and supportive community of female travelers.

Women dressed in traditional Indian clothing

India is also experiencing a huge expansion in air travel that will making getting around the country vastly easier for both residents and visitors. Over 20 airlines are currently operating in India, six of which have started flying in the last year alone. The proliferation of options has led to lower fares, making it very cost-effective to travel around India by plane. Domestic air travel is up 19% from last year, giving India has the highest growth in domestic air travel in the world.

It’s also easier to get a visa to India as of this August. Over 100 new countries, including the United States, are now eligible for e-Visas to enter India. Rather than waiting in long lines to apply in person, visas are now accessible online. Processing time has been reduced from two weeks to four days, and the fee has been reduced to $60. The new visa system is part of an initiative by Prime Minister Narenda Modi to incorporate more technology into government and education.

Wellness Boom

In 1968, The Beatles made a pilgrimage to an ashram in Rishikesh to study Transcendental Meditation. Their trip helped to introduce Eastern spirituality to the West and opened up the idea of India as a destination for enlightenment and spirituality. Since then, travelers seeking a holistic mind/body experience have come to India to practice yoga, pray at temples, and embrace meditation and mindfulness.

Yoga at the temples of Rishikesh, India

The explosion of yoga’s popularity has also helped to fuel travel in recent years. Yoga originated over 5,000 years ago as an eight-fold path to spiritual enlightenment, and asana, the series of postures that make up its physical branch, is now a $27 billion industry in the United States with more than 20 million practitioners.

To capitalize on the demand, many ashrams are offering packages for yogis to experience their discipline in its homeland. Sivananda Yoga Vedanta, for example, has put together a Yoga Vacation that involves two weeks of silent meditation, lectures, and yoga classes with vegetarian meals provided.

Now there’s no excuse not to book a trip to India. Flights are cheap, visas are easy, and there’s never been more to see and do in this fantastically beautiful country. Get a visa, book a flight, and prepare to experience travel nirvana.

  This article was posted on Hipmunk's Tailwind blog by The Hipmunk on October 16th.

Iceland is a country like no other. Rich history. Intriguing culture. And just far enough removed from its neighbors to make others curious about this island nation.

Regular readers of The HoliDaze already know that taking a road trip around Iceland is high up on my travel bucket list. And while I still haven't had the time to do that yet, I have already been researching where to visit. Plus since this site focuses heavily on offbeat and quirky things to do around the world, it seems like a fitting time to share with you all the off the beaten path sights and activities I've found in Iceland.

Attend The Icelandic Elf School

  Reykjavik
It's no secret that many Icelanders believe in elves and hidden people -- people who look just like us but are invisible to most "normal" people. In fact stories abound about elf "consultants" being hired for construction projects or to help with the planning of bridges and highways. And while the numbers vary depending upon which survey you trust, it's safe to say that between 1/4 and 1/2 of the population believe in these fascinating creatures.

Watch out for in Iceland -- and learn all about them at the Icelandic Elf School in Reykjavik

Since opening in 1991, the Icelandic Elf School has been the go-to source for all things historic and educational about elves (apparently there are 13 different types), as well as hidden people. Their weekly classes are held every Friday and are attended by both locals and foreigners alike -- although the founder, Magnús Skarphéðinsson, admits that the majority of his students over the last two and a half decades have been foreigners interested in learning more about Iceland's culture.

Scuba Dive In The Arctic Circle

  Þingvellir National Park
When people think of Iceland, their pristine glaciers and legendary hot springs are what always come to mind first. But have you ever thought about scuba diving in the Arctic Circle? Diving here is like nowhere else on earth! Why? Because of the Silfra Rift!

A rift is where two or more tectonic plates meet. Most often this occur underwater and a few are located on land, however the Silfra Rift is the only rift in the world located inside of a lake -- the Þingvallavatn Lake.

The Silfra Rift in Þingvellir Lake, part of the Þingvellir National Park in Iceland

Each year these plates drift another two centimeters apart, which results in an earthquake roughly once a decade. However scuba diving in Þingvellir Lake to witness the geologic beauty of planet Earth is safe and a once-in-a-lifetime experience unlike any other. Oh and did I mention that the glacier water here is so clear that underwater visibility is some of the best in the world -- often 250 feet or more!

Get Your Museum On

  Scattered around the country
I've long been a fan of strange, quirky and unique museums around the world and Iceland is home to several of these. Of course all their museums dedicated to sorcery, sea monsters, fish and water seem perfectly normal when compared to the Icelandic Phallological Museum -- otherwise known as the penis museum, for those of you who have forgotten the medical term for the male reproductive organ.

The Icelandic Phallological Museum contains a pant-swelling collection of nearly 300 mammal penises and penile parts from around 100 different species. In addition to the (educationally) stimulating exhibits, the museum also strives to shine a light on how this particular organ has influenced the history of human art and literature. Oh...and there may or may not be a couple examples of the Homo Sapien penis on display -- but you'll just have to visit for yourself to find out.

Skrímslasetrið, otherwise known as the Icelandic Sea Monster Museum in Iceland

Don't tire yourself out too much at the Phallological Museum, though. Skrímslasetrið, otherwise known as the Icelandic Sea Monster Museum, covers the entire history of Arctic sea monsters and sightings. They have even begun to classify these monsters as one of four basic types based on their characteristics. For all the curious souls out there, they are: "the fjörulalli (Shore Laddie), the hafmaður (Sea Man), the skeljaskrímsli (Shell Monster) and the faxaskrímsli (Combined Monster/Sea Horse).

Other notable museums include Randulf's Sea House in Eskifjorður (dedicated to fishing and fisherman, this museum is also part time capsule and part restaurant), Vatnasafn (the Museum of Water) and of course the Museum of Icelandic Sorcery & Witchcraft, which should be fairly self-explanitory.

This is far from all the offbeat, obscure, strange and unique things to do in Iceland. Want more? Check out all the Unique Types of Alcohol Only Found In Iceland. And remember to keep traveling off the beaten path!

  Which of these crazy sites do you most want to visit?

  flickr   //   mellydoll   diego_delso   backwards_dog

No matter where you live, the version of a city seen from a tour bus bears little resemblance to the experience of actually living there. Nowhere is that more true than history-rich Europe.

You might see everything in London (The Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, The Globe, and The Sherlock Holmes Museum) without getting a true sense of what it’s like to live there. By the same token, a born Londoner will get coffee at their favorite cart (adjacent to Westminster Abbey) without giving the monument a second glance. A Berlin itinerary that includes the Reichstag building and the Berlin Cathedral but skips the Club Der Visionaere would be a waste of time to any music-loving Berliner.

Since we’re always looking for ways to have our cake and eat it, too, we picked the brains of a few well-informed European locals to bring you the very best hidden gems in some the world’s most fascinating cities. Consider it a local’s guide to off-the-grid musts. (Fair warning: some are naughtier than others.) With this expertly-curated list, you can explore Europe’s best underground offerings and still have time to hit the Eiffel Tower.

Atonal Festival in Berlin, Germany

  Local Guide: Dan
  City: Berlin, Germany
  Hangout: Atonal Festival

This sound and light festival happens once a year. Set in a converted abandoned power plant in central Berlin, the space is entirely cement, with 300-400 foot ceilings, multiple floors, and totally awe-inspiring. As you explore the space, you realize it’s a labyrinth. You’ll find more and more hidden rooms. It’s impossible to explore them all.

Upon arrival at this year’s festival, everyone went to the second floor, where it was pitch black and silent. (Picture that crazy party scene in The Matrix: It’s just like that.) Eventually, a man rose on a podium, raised his hands, and lights shone beneath him. Surrounding him, a choir began to sing.

Later explorations of the space exposed more bars within bars, rooms within rooms turned into art exhibits. At midnight, the place turned into a discotheque. Consider this a much more interesting alternative to the Berghain.

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  Local Guide: Peter
  City: Berlin, Germany
  Hangout: SpreePark

SpreePark is a true local secret. The story goes that a decade or two ago, the owner got into some trouble and had to close this amusement park. Now, it’s like a cross between Little Shop Of Horrors, The Boxcar Children, and Harry Potter. It’s enclosed by a gate which in-the-know ruffians jump over to sneak around and explore.

The place looks frozen in time — railways, an enormous Ferris wheel, cobweb-covered space cars, a merry-go-round. Circus tents and swamps that once were gorgeous ponds — it's a deserted wonderland.

You'll definitely see rebellious kids walking around, but everyone’s on tiptoe. Guards patrol the area to keep people out, though it’s an open secret that people do. From what I understand, the worst thing that happens is they write down your name and ask you to leave. Hiding in the bushes, sneaking around and exploring, it feels a bit like Mission Impossible. It’s magical, and a must-do for more adventurous visitors.

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  Local Guide: Jean
  City: Paris, France
  Hangout: Agua

Agua is a multistory dance boat that’s permanently docked on the Seine. The entrance is definitely not asking for attention — you have to go down a winding staircase to get there. But if you like salsa, the dancing is unbelievable, and salsa on the Seine is an attraction in itself. One floor is devoted to salsa, one to Kizomba and Semba. The event happens every Tuesday, 8 p.m. to 2 a.m.

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  Local Guide: Angelique
  City: Paris, France
  Hangout: Sacré-Coeur Basilica, Montmartre

At the top of Montmartre, this stunning work of architecture is worth a trip on its own merit. But if you put aside the religious and historical significance of the building, the basilica remains a slice of Paris that shouldn’t be passed over. Montmartre is a large hill in Paris’s 18th arrondissement that overlooks the city.

It’s the best place to watch the many fireworks shows that happen throughout the year, in celebration of things like Bastille Day. I suggest grabbing a blanket, getting coffee at the Café de 2 Moulins (Audrey Tatou’s workplace as the titular character in Amélie), and watching the sun set over the city. Fireworks or none, it’s an idyllic, romantic way to spend an evening.

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  Local Guide: Jenny
  City: Gosport, England
  Hangout: Hill Head

There’s not much to do in Gosport, so adventurous types often take the ferry to Portsmouth (only partly because there might be a shop or two there that doesn’t card, but you didn’t hear it from me). Then, you fill a duffle bag with booze, and ferry to Hill Head.

You have to walk past a couple of police stations to get there, which adds to the manufactured sense of thrill. You know you’ve made it when you reach a rocky outcropping on the far side of some boulders. It overlooks The Isle of Wight, across the Solent, and has a beautiful view of Portsmouth, beyond the bay.

The liquor isn’t a requirement to enjoy the quiet and the view. You might see one or two fellow adventurers, but they’ll be enjoying their own private musings. If you’re visiting England, finding picturesque places to reflect, away from the noise and bustle of the city, is a lovely and necessary respite.

  This article was posted on Hipmunk's Tailwind blog by The Hipmunk on October 22nd

Just last week we filled you in on the best up-and-coming wine destinations in the U.S. and abroad. This week, we’ve added a few of our favorite well known wine destinations to the mix, so you can decide which destinations fit your budget and travel style.

 

Wine Destinations by Cost of Weekend Trip for Two
City/Region Avg Nightly Hotel Price Avg Flight Price from Top 30 US Airports Total for 2-Night Stay for 2 People
Columbia Valley, WA/OR $82 $338 $840
Long Island, NY $91 $361 $904
Monticello, VA $160 $354 $1,028
Sonoita, AZ $144 $433 $1,154
Sonoma, CA $297 $345 $1,284
Napa, CA $375 $345 $1,440
Ontario, Canada $205 $551 $1,512
Paso Robles, CA $214 $609 $1,646
Malibu, CA $496 $349 $1,690
Loire Valley, France $118 $1,195 $2,626
Primorska, Slovenia $155 $1,210 $2,730
Catalonia, Spain $178 $1,208 $2,772
Mendoza, Argentina $99 $1,312 $2,822
Mosel Valley, Germany $128 $1,555 $3,366
Tuscany, Italy $169 $1,548 $3,434
Barossa Valley, Australia $170 $1,744 $3,828
Marlborough, New Zealand $151 $2,012 $4,326

 

Deal Destinations:

If you guessed that domestic destinations would be the best deal, you’re correct. If traveling from within the U.S. to Columbia Valley or Long Island’s wine country, you can enjoy a weekend getaway for two for less that $1,000 (excluding food and wine of course).

Splurge Destination:

American fans of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc might be disappointed: New Zealand’s Marlborough region is the most expensive to travel to from the States. A weekend wine tasting adventure for two costs more than $4,000. Those who stay in the U.S. during crush season will notice that flights to Malibu, Sonoma, and Napa are reasonable, but the hotel prices are much more expensive than other domestic wine destinations.

International Wine Lovers:

Got your heart set on a wine-infused rendezvous complete with exotic accents and cuisine? Then your best bet is to give Loire Valley, France, a try. The total price tag comes in at about $2,500. Alternatively, you could save by visiting Ontario, Canada, instead for about $1,500, but something tells us that our neighbor to the north isn’t going to give you the international experience you’re hoping for.

Got a favorite wine destination you want us to price out for you? Leave us a note in the comments section and we’ll look into it.

  The article was posted on Hipmunk's Tailwind blog by The Hipmunk on September 29th.

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