Category Archives: Travel

6 Unusual New Year’s Eve Traditions Around the World

New Year's Eve TraditionsNew Year’s eve traditions come in many flavors.  You may ring in the New Year by watching the ball drop on TV, toasting a glass of champagne, or sharing a kiss with your loved one. But what about New Year’s eve traditions such as devouring a dozen grapes at the stroke of midnight, running through your town with an empty suitcase, or hurling plates at your friends’ doors? Read on to discover how people around the world will usher in 2016, from Madrid to Moscow.

New Year’s eve traditions around the globe

las doce uvas de la suerteSpain has a New Year’s Eve tradition similar to the Times Square ball drop in New York City, but with an edible twist. The main national TV channel broadcasts from the clock tower of the 18th-century Real Casa de Correos in Madrid, while viewers at home have a dozen grapes at the ready. At midnight, Spaniards eat the grapes one by one, in time with the twelve chimes. If you manage to chew and swallow las doce uvas de la suerte, you’ll enjoy a year of prosperity.

Suitcase-250x250Do you have an insatiable itch to travel or test out your language skills with native speakers? At midnight on December 31st in Colombia, those suffering from wanderlust take a lap around their block carrying an empty suitcase. Some race with their friends and family, hoping that the victor will be rewarded with opportunities to pack their bags and travel in the new year.

Danish New Year’s Eve TraditionMany New Year’s Eve traditions require a little cleanup the next day, but Denmark has one unusual custom that deliberately creates a mess. Danes will hold onto unwanted glassware and chipped dishes all year, so that on New Year’s Eve they can smash them against the front doors of their closest friends and family. A doorstep covered in shards of glass and shattered plates is a testament to one’s popularity—a cheerful reminder for when it’s time to sweep up the debris.

Pesos-250x250Many look to the new year as a fresh start for their finances.  If you’re greeting el año nuevo in Chile, you might slip a luca (a $1000 peso note) into your shoe before the clock strikes twelve. This optimistic tradition is said to multiply your fortune in the months to come.

Estonia New Year's Eve TraditionIn Estonia, people strive to eat a lucky number of meals on New Year’s Eve. Numbers 7, 9, and 12 are considered the most auspicious—eating seven times will yield the strength of seven men the following year. Popular dishes include sauerkraut and marzipan for dessert. However, these meals should not be completely finished; a portion should be left out for ancestors’ spirits who may be visiting on New Year’s Eve.

Russian New Year's Eve TraditionNew Year’s Eve is considered the most important holiday of the year in Russia, even more significant than one’s own birthday. Of the many Russian New Year’s Eve traditions, one unique custom is to write a wish for the coming year on a scrap of paper, burn it, and then mix its ashes into a glass of champagne. Russians toast and drink the concoction at midnight as the Kremlin chimes so that their wishes may come true in the new year.

What other unusual New Year’s eve traditions have you heard about?

Top 10 Unusual Sites to Visit when you Travel to Italy (Part 2)

In choosing my Top 10 places to see on your travel to Italy I purposely avoided Rome, Florence, and Venice, the cities most visited by tourists on their first travel to Italy.  If you’ve missed Part 1 of my Top 10 places to visit when you travel to Italy, you can check it out here.  Otherwise, let’s continue with the 5 remaining off the beaten path destinations in Italy.

Beyond the Gondolas and the Colosseum: Top 10 Offbeat Sites to See When you Travel to Italy

5. Ravenna and Its Early Christian Monuments
Just a bit further south of Bologna is Ravenna, the old capital of the Byzantine Empire in the west. The Nobel poet Eugenio Montale described Ravenna, saying,
                     And here where ancient life
                     is marked by the sweet
                     anxiety of the Levant.

Ravenna Travel to ItalyRavenna was first the capital of the Western Roman Empire, then the seat of the Kingdom of the Ostrogoths, and finally the capital of the Byzantine empire in the west. Eventually it became part of the Papal States. In Roman times it had its own port but now it’s a cruise port and the city center is located eight miles from the Adriatic coast.

Ravenna is famous for its early Christian monuments that go back 1500 years. The mausoleum to Empress Galla Placida was built in 426 CE and the Baptistery is from 430 CE. The Basilica of the New Saint Apollinare, Saint Apolinnare in Classe, and Saint Vitale are all from the sixth century CE. All have magnificent preserved mosaics. The basilica of San Vitale probably has the best known. If you ever looked at any college history text, you will have seen a picture of the mosaic from San Vitale depicting the Emperor Justinian and his court and another of the Empress Theodora and her ladies in waiting.

If you thought Dante Alighieri’s tomb was in Florence, you have been misled by the “cenotaph” in the Santa Croce church there. The poet of the Divine Comedy is buried here in Ravenna, as he had been exiled and could not return to Florence under penalty of death.

4. The Valley of the Temples in the Area of Agrigento and Pirandello too
Valley of the Temples Travel to Italy
About Sicily Goethe said: To have seen Italy without having seen Sicily is not to have seen Italy at all, for Sicily is the clue to everything. On your travel to Sicily I particularly recommend the temples.

The sixth century BCE Greek Doric Temples are not in a valley, but are lined up on a ridge that climbs to a summit dominated by the Temple of Juno. At the lower end is the Temple of Jupiter and Hercules. (Juno seems to have had more power.) In the middle is the Temple of Concordia, the best-preserved Greek temple. These temples and other archeological remains are in the largest archeological site anywhere in the world. Agrigento’s panorama is visible from the temples. On the way you can stop to visit the house of Luigi Pirandello (1867-1936), Nobel for Literature and of Six Characters in Search of an Author fame. Nearby His ashes were laid to rest by his favorite pine tree.

3. Palermo and Monreale
The Cathedral of Palermo encompasses the various influences of the various conquerors and periods: Byzantine, Arab, Norman, Romanesque, Renaissance, and Baroque. As with most churches, it is an eclectic museum. Kings were crowned here and here are the tombs of the Holy Roman Emperors Henry IV of Hohenstaufen and his son Fredrick II, who is credited with creating the first literary language of Italy at his court.Palermo Travel to Italy
The Palatine Chapel is a wonder of different mosaics , both Byzantine and Arab. It was as well the chapel of the Norman Kings.

Monreale – The Monreale Cathedral is on a hill outside Palermo, overlooking the Valley known as the “Conca D’Oro.” It is the church with the most extensive mosaics after the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul and they are wonderfully preserved. The adjoining Romanesque cloister is also a major attraction.

2. Vicenza and Andrea Palladio (1508-1580)
The city of Vicenza is not even on most tourists’ radar when they travel to Italy. Travelers to Italy will go to Venice of course and will stop at Verona, but in between often simply overlook this wonderful city built along the lines of what a humanist thought a city should be. Its chief architect, Andrea Palladio, gave it its distinctive classical look. Vincenza travel to Italy Palladio rediscovered the classical style of the Romans and developed it into a style called Palladian ever since. It spread all over Europe and North America. When you see a neo-classical building, think of Palladio. You cannot turn into a corner in Vicenza and not see another wonder of a building, a villa or palazzo built by Palladio. In all there are over twenty Palladian structures, including The Palazzo Thiene, the Palazzo Barbaran, la Rotonda, and the Teatro Olimpico, and the Villa Malmarana.
This does not mean that Vicenza has nothing to see outside of Palladio. There is an early Christian basilica of Saints Felice and Fortunato which dates back to the 4th century. Although previously destroyed it was rebuilt in the tenth century. Some the earlier structure and artifacts have been preserved.

1. Cinque Terre (Five Lands)
If in your travel to Italy you want to see nature in addition to great structures and monuments, then the Cinque Terre is the place to visit. However it is not just wild nature: in Italy nature is adapted to man by man. Cinque Terre Travel to ItalyThe name Cinque Terre (Five Lands) is from the five small villages on the eastern coast of the region of Liguria that borders with Tuscany. The villages are Corniglia, Manarola, Monterosso al Mare, Riomaggiore, and Vernazza. They are all built on the rugged coastline without disturbing the natural contours that nature has created. They are all very colorful and take you back to another time since they do not allow cars in the towns. You can park outside two of the villages and take a shuttle. Going by train is recommended. There are many paths and hiking trails that you can go on for long walks–the views are well worth it. Two of the famous paths are La Via dell’Amore (the Road of Love) that goes from Riomaggiore to Manarola, and the Sentiero Azzurro (The Blue Path) that goes from Riomaggiore to Monterosso. Don’t forget to try the local sweet white wine called Sciacchetrà [shaketrA] with your dessert or cheese.

Mexican tradition ¡FELIZ DIA DE LOS MUERTOS!

The release this fall, just before Halloween, of Guillermo del Toro’s new animated film THE BOOK OF LIFE, based on the Mexican tradition of Día de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is yet another sign of the ever-increasing cultural cross-fertilization between Mexico and the United States.

Mexican Tradition – Día de Los Muertos

Mexican Tradition - Ofrenda Dia De Muertos

Mexican Tradition – Ofrenda Dia De Muertos

Indeed, Día de Los Muertos and Halloween have quite a bit in common, but there are important differences as well. Halloween, as practiced today in the U.S., is mostly about dressing in costume and collecting enormous quantities of candy. Symbols of death and otherworldly images are used as decorations, but mainly in a sanitized, non-threatening way. In contrast, Day of the Dead, a holiday that spans two days in Mexico, is a time for families to remember departed loved ones, and to feel their presence in the lives of the living. In the United States, we tend to regard death as something final, foreign, something to be feared. In the Mexican tradition, Día de Los Muertos festivities reflect a recognition and acceptance of death as an integral part of the human experience, and a belief that dying does not remove a person from family and community. Death is still scary, but it’s confronted with humor, irony, and a touch of fatalism.

In preparation for Día de Los Muertos, much time and care is devoted to cleaning and decorating graves. Elaborate altars, called ofrendas (“offerings”), are constructed in honor of dead loved ones, both in homes and in cemeteries; photographs of the departed are surrounded by candles, Mexican marigolds (cempasúchil), sugar skulls (calaveritas), written messages, religious items, and food, drink, or belongings that were dear to the departed in life. All of this effort is to invite the souls of the departed to come back for a visit, to know that they are still a part of the lives of those who love them. There is sadness, of course, but there’s also celebration, with eating, drinking, music and laughter as people share humorous stories of the departed. Like a New Orleans funeral, it’s as much about celebrating life as it is about mourning.

History of Día de Los Muertos

Like many religious traditions in Latin America, Day of the Dead is a mixture of ancient native practices and Catholic beliefs. The Aztec festival commemorating the dead occupied a full month in the 16-month calendar. It was presided over by the goddess Mictecacíhuatl, the “lady of death,” wife of Mictlantecuhtli, lord of the Land of the Dead. The figure of the goddess of death has come to be associated with La Catrina, a character created by the artist José Guadalupe Posada, a very elegant skeleton dressed in the European style of an upper-class 19th-century Mexican woman.

Mexican Tradition - Dia De Los Muertos

Mexican Tradition – Dia De Los Muertos

In the modern Mexican tradition, Día de Muertos festivities coincide with the Catholic holy days of All Saints’ Day, November 1, and All Souls’ Day, November 2. The 1st of November is Día de los Inocentes (Day of the Innocents) or Día de los Angelitos (Day of the Little Angels), dedicated to the memory of children who have died, while the 2nd of Nov. is Día de Los Muertos, when departed adults are honored. It is believed that the souls of the departed come back to visit loved ones on their respective days.

It’s no wonder that Día de Los Muertos is being celebrated in a growing number of U.S. cities and towns. Brought here by immigrants, the color, beauty, and spiritual depth of this Mexican tradition is resonating with more and more Americans.  Along with the ofrendas, festivities, and pan de muerto (a Mexican sweet bread baked specially for the occasion), Dia de Los Muertos offers a chance to celebrate the lives of those who are no longer with us.