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Christmases Past’s Ghost

 A quintessential Christmas with Krampus in Austria

I traveled to Vienna and Salzburg right before Christmas in 2010 and it was the most magical Christmas experience of my life. It had snowed heavily right before our plane landed, so the whole country was covered in a soft blanket of white – a perfect backdrop for its numerous bustling Christmas markets, where we drank a fair amount of gluhwein and ate too many holiday sweets. This American also had her very first run-in with the European-style St Nicholas and his more threatening counterpart Krampus; both happened to be walking down the streets of Salzburg like old chums, and I had to consult a local pretzel maker to figure out who Santa’s terrifying monster pal was.

Strange stocking fillers and a Christmas safari in Malawi

My mum’s cousin lived and worked in Malawi and in 1996 my parents decided to spend Christmas with them. It was both the best and strangest Christmas ever. We couldn’t bring many presents with us, so I remember

A Seasonal Alternative Ways to Spend The Festive Period

 Surfing in Hawaii

Hitting the waves rather than huddling around the hearth is the order of the day in Hawaii over Christmas. This US state’s surf is spectacular all year round, but takes on legendary status in December on Oahu’s North Shore. Pros and world-class board fanatics head here for swells of more than 30 feet. If that seems a tad too intense, why not join the New Year festivities and feast on whole roasted pig, a tradition which dates back to the native Hawaiians’ end-of-year Makahiki Festival, when locals took a whole four months out to party. Whether you opt for surfing or stuffing that tummy (or both), we’re sure you can squeeze in a few hours of post-Christmas dinner sunbathing.

An Antarctic cruise for Christmas and New Year

A cold Christmas doesn’t have to mean hunkering down when the sun sets at 3pm. Antarctica’s brief summer coincides with the festive period, making it the perfect time to hop on a boat and cruise along the icy continent’s peninsula and the

Canada’s Yukon After the Gold Rush

 Despite a century’s worth of miners striking it lucky, there is still enough gold in these hills to have made Tony a rich man. His straggly hair and beard may disguise it but his net worth is estimated at over $5 million. ‘We strictly came here for the money,’ he says. ‘Let’s say that worked. We’re a little spoiled now, but like I always say…’ He holds up those dusty articulated fists. ‘It was earned.’

Tony mines near the Klondike River, where gold was first discovered on Rabbit Creek by Skookum Jim, George Carmack and Tagish Charlie in August 1896. The area proved so rich that when the prospectors arrived back in San Francisco in July 1897 their ship’s cargo was worth over a million dollars. The news sparked a Gold Rush that led 100,000 people to attempt the long, punishing journey to the Klondike.

Realising that these stampeders would be even easier to mine than the hills, a barkeeper named Joseph Ladue built a sawmill and staked out a townsite on the mud flats at

The best European city

1. Reykjavík, Iceland

Reykjavík is the ultimate city-and-nature destination. This diminutive capital brims with Nordic-chic boutiques and cool hotels, yet lies just a few hours’ drive from the country’s most earth-shatteringly gorgeous landscapes.

Catch a ferry out to the islands of Viðey, Lundey or Akurey to see thousands of breeding puffins; hike up the “city mountain” Mount Esja; and explore still-active Eyjafjallajökull volcano, just 90 minutes outside of town.

You can also use Reykjavík as your base before embarking on the famous “Golden Circle“. This route encompasses the geysers at Geysir and roaring waterfalls at Gullfoss, with bathing opportunities in thermal pools such as Fluðir or Laugarvatn along the way.

2. Munich, Germany

You’ll find some of Germany’s most beautiful architecture in Munich, Bavaria’s historic capital. Start by exploring the fifteenth-century Gothic Frauenkirche, or climb the tower of St Peterskirche, the oldest church in the city, for unparalleled views over the rooftops.

Other worthwhile sights include the Pinakothek trio, three galleries each dedicated to a different era of art, the futuristic BMW museum and Schloss Nymphenburg on the outskirts of the city.

Munich’s green heart is the Englischer Garten, one of Europe’s largest urban parks, designed by Sir Benjamin Thompson in

7 Most Beautiful Places in Alaska

1. Denali National Park and Preserve

Encompassing six million acres of pure Alaskan interior wilderness topped by North America’s highest peak (Denali, 6910m), this national park is Alaska’s ultimate showstopper. Bisected by one solitary ribbon of road, this pristine ecosystem plays home to a menagerie of wildlife – from wolves to bears, caribou to Dall sheep – which is often easily spotted on a bus ride through the park, or on a ranger-led programme.

2. Glacier Bay National Park

Alaska is famed for its Inside Passage cruises, and for many visitors passing through this UNESCO-listed national park en route is the highlight of their trip. Here, you can watch in awe from a boat (or kayak) as the majestic Margerie Glacier calves hundred-tonne icebergs into the tidewater while orcas, sea lions, seals and other marine animals frolic in the crystal clear waters surrounding it. Bring your binoculars to spot bears on the shore, and mountain goats on the cliffs above.

3. The Alaska Highway

Stretching 1387 miles from Delta Junction, southeast of Fairbanks, all the way to Dawson Creek in British Colombia, Canada, the Alaska Highway (also known as the ALCAN) is considered one

5 of The World’s Weirdest Christmas Traditions

1. The Swedes burn a giant goat

Every year on the first Sunday of advent, the good people of Gävle, Sweden erect a huge straw goat on the town’s main square. It stands there proudly for a while, bringing a bit of cheer to the chilly winter days. And then, more often than not, arsonists burn it to the ground.

Julbocken (the Christmas goat) has gone up in flames almost every year since 1966, when it was first installed, and is now famous right across the country, with Swedes following the news closely to see if it can make it through Christmas in one piece.

The authorities have tried all sorts of tricks to deter people from burning the goat, from installing CCTV cameras to impregnating the straw with a fire retardant material. They had a brief taste of success in 2015, when the goat survived right up until Christmas Eve – only to be burnt down two days later.

2. The Japanese eat KFC

Like it or not, marketing campaigns have shaped the way we celebrate Christmas. The classic image of Santa Claus as a plump old man, for example, is at least partly

The Truth About Elephant Tourism in Asia

The crushing truth

We love elephants, perhaps because they’re a lot like us – intelligent, sociable and emotional, as anyone who has read about the way that herds protect their young and mourn their dead will recognize.

Paradoxically, it’s the reverence and affection travellers feel for these majestic animals that leads to the enduring success of many elephant attractions, and the abuses they perpetuate.

The idea of “domesticated” elephants working in harmony with their human handlers (mahouts) may sound idyllic, but the reality is anything but. Young elephants, whether born wild or in captivity, have to be made fit for human use through a process sometimes describes as “elephant crushing”, involving the systematic breaking of the elephant’s mind, body and spirit.

Babies are taken from their mothers (traumatic enough in itself for both child and parent), after which their “training” may include being confined in tiny pens, systematically beaten with bullhooks or nail-studded sticks, starved, deprived of sleep. Once these hugely powerful animals have been terrified into doing their owner’s bidding, they are considered safe to interact with tourists.

Taking them for a ride

The only way to travel on the back

7 Tips For Tackling Your First Bike Tour

Save the date and start planning

Deciding to go really is the hardest part. Setting the date (and having a rough idea of duration) helps concrete your trip, giving you a deadline to work towards. First-timers should head off during the warmer months and – unless you’re keen to channel Sir Ranulph Fiennes – pick an easy route for the first week or two. Training before your tour helps, but it’s not imperative – you’ll get fit on the road.

Buy the right kit

Invest in the essentials: a good free-standing tent, a decent touring bike, waterproof panniers (bike bags) and a cooking stove. Opt for a sturdy, steel-framed touring bike with steel front and rear racks to hold your panniers. Your bags should be hard-wearing as they’ll carry everything you need such as the tent, stove, sleeping bag and mat, electronics and clothing.

Every gram and inch counts. Opt for lightweight gear and use dry bags to compress your clothes. Resist the urge to overdo it and blow your budget on gear that might not last; real kit gems such as baby wipes, mosquito spray and chlorine tablets often cost virtually

Explore Alexandria’s Civil War history

Indeed, this fascinating period in Alexandria’s history has been captured by the PBS drama Mercy Street (pbs.org/mercy-street), now in its second season (it airs at 8pm on Sunday nights). The story centers on two volunteer nurses – one a staunch Northern abolitionist, the other an entitled Southern belle – who duke out their philosophical beliefs. Making it even more poignant, the series is based on real-life events inspired by diaries, journals and letters of Alexandrians who experienced four years of war firsthand.

Today, many of the historical places featured in the series are open to visitors to Alexandria, with Mercy Street -related special events and exhibits mounted through the year as well as walking tours organized by Visit Alexandria. In the meantime, read on for our list of seven sites featured in this drama that TV and history buffs alike shouldn’t miss.

Carlyle House

Probably most famous for Major-General Edward Braddock’s 1755 visit during the French and Indian War, Carlyle House is an elegant colonial manse. The wealthy Green family, portrayed on Mercy Street, lived there in the mid-1800s and opened a luxury hotel on the property in 1848. When Union troops seized the hotel complex, they turned it

Can’t-Miss Sights During SXSW

In spite of the changes, the festival remains firmly at the center ofAustin’s best characteristics: a hub of creativity and art, a strong entrepreneurial spirit and that ongoing title of ‘Live Music Capital of the World.’ Of course, it’s no secret that the festival has moved firmly into the mainstream. McDonald’s and Bud are current sponsors and former US president Barack Obama spoke at the opening keynote in 2016.

Like it or loathe it, the massive craziness that descends upon Austin for 10 days during March has all the makings of an unforgettable time. However, whether you’re there for SXSW or not, there’s plenty to see, do and eat within walking distance of Downtown Austin.

Don’t escape Austin during SXSW. Dive headlong into the frantic, fun shenanigans and embrace the good, the bad and the weird.

What to see and do

Beat the hangover with an invigorating run around the Lady Bird Lake, just south of the Austin Convention Center. If people watching is an added incentive, we’ve heard Matthew McConaughey and cycling hero-turned-persona non grata Lance Armstrong also come by for their workouts.

Another unique Austin sight is the swarm of

A Local’s Guide to Dublin’s Biggest Festival

The parade

The St Patrick’s Festival Parade on Friday is the main event for many. Starting at noon in Parnell Sq, it heads through O’Connell St and Dame St, ending at St Patrick’s Cathedral. Half-a-million people are expected, so aim to be there for 10am if you want a place at the front. If you arrive later, head towards the end of the parade route for a better chance of a prime viewing spot.

The parade lasts two hours from start to finish, but if you stay in the one spot you’ll see it all in about 45 minutes. As well as music and marching bands from all over the world, there’ll be plenty of colourful floats, dancers and costumes.

The floats aren’t always as classically Irish as many visitors expect; instead they’re colourful, carnival-style creations designed by groups from all over the country. You’ll get plenty of time to take it all in as the parade stops at various points for the marchers to show off their beats and tail feathers. When the last float finally waves goodbye, the crowd melts away, with many heading for the nearest pub.

On Sunday, there’s

Moscow’s Park Life Guide

Gorky Park

Moscow’s park revolution started with the famous Gorky Park. It was the first of the city parks to receive private investment, turning it into the number-one weekend spot for thousands of Muscovites. Full of lush green, artsy flowerbeds and thought-provoking sculptures, it was also the first to feature drinking fountains, never before seen in the city.

There are very few things you can’t do in Gorky Park. Rollerblading, skateboarding and cycling, beach volleyball, yoga and fitness classes, electric cars and boat rentals, parkour – you name it. All summer long, dancing sessions are held in the evenings on the specially equipped embankment. There’s an open-air movie theatre called Pioner, pop-up screens for special events, music festivals and futuristic playgrounds. The cutting-edge Garage Museum of Contemporary Art hosts temporary exhibitions.

Food for every taste is offered in cafes and restaurants throughout the park, while carts sell Soviet-style ice cream, hot corn and cotton candy. An observatory allows the visitors to take their date to explore the night sky, a small artificial beach welcomes sunbathers in the warm months, while during winter half of the park turns into an open-air skating rink. But the best time for visiting is from late spring to early

Where to go for Relaxtion in March

Enjoy a spring coastal break in San Diego, USA

‘America’s Finest City’ – or so the local claim boasts – is deceptively laid-back despite its size. And though summer is hotter and drier, March is still plenty warm, and also offers better value and shorter queues at its big attractions, of which there are many.

There are the beaches, of course: Mission has its wooden roller coaster, surfers head to Pacific Beach; Moonlight’s a family favourite; La Jolla’s the place for kayaking and snorkelling; hit Del Mar for peace and sweeping ocean views; and Coronado… well, it’s just beautiful. Balboa Park, with its museums and zoo, is uncrowded in March, while the bars and restaurants of the Gaslamp Quarter are as lively as ever. Go north towards Carlsbad to be dazzled by the ranunculus flowers at the Flower Fields, or to Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve to hike clifftop trails – watch for dolphins and migrating grey whales between December and March.

  • Trip plan: San Diego’s airport is absurdly (but conveniently) close to downtown – just a couple of miles from the Gaslamp Quarter, as the crow flies.
  • Need to know: Check dates

Best Coastal Hikes in Sicily

Stromboli, Aeolian Islands

Start/End: Stromboli town | Length: 8km | Duration: five to six hours | Difficulty: moderate-demanding

For sheer excitement, nothing compares to Stromboli. Sicily’s showiest volcanic island has been lighting up the Mediterranean for millennia, spewing out showers of red-hot rock with remarkable regularity since the age of Odysseus.

Set off a couple of hours before sunset for the spectacularly scenic trek (guide required) to Stromboli’s 924m summit. Climbing through a landscape of yellow broom and wild capers, the trail eventually opens onto bare slopes of black volcanic rock, revealing fabulous vistas of Stromboli town, the sparkling sea and the volcanic islet of Strombolicchio below, and a zigzag line of fellow hikers slogging steadily towards the summit above.

Round the last bend and emerge into a surreal panorama of smouldering craters framed by the setting sun. For the next hour you’re treated to full-on views of Stromboli’s pyrotechnics from a perfect vantage point above the craters. The periodic eruptions grow ever brighter against the darkening sky, changing with the waning light from awe-inspiring puffs of grey smoke to fountains of brilliant orange-red, evoking oohs and aahs that mix

7 of Reykjavík’s Best Bars

Order unpronounceable ales at Skúli

Snorri, Úlfur, Garún, Þorlákur: the strong Icelandic names and high alcohol content of the draft beers at Skúli are guaranteed to get your tongue rolling. This is one of Reykjavík’s finest craft bars, and the selection includes over 100 quality brews from around the globe, including some non-alcoholic craft beers. A flight sample from the award-winning Borg brewery is a great way to enjoy Skúli, particularly with commentary from the owner and bartender Stefán.

It’s a far cry from the days before prohibition, when bjórlíki was the only ‘beer’ on offer in Iceland. It contained non-alcoholic pilsner mixed with aquavit – in a very variable ratio. Because, for reasons that may be hard to grasp today, liquor was completely legal while beer wasn’t.

Party with the in-crowd at Kex

This lively spot inside the popular Kex Hostel attracts locals and tourists in equal numbers. Offically known as Sæmundur Gastro Pub,Kex is a former biscuit factory renovated into an interior design gem, mixing mid-century furniture with modern elements. The best seats are by the large windows, with a view of Mount Esja across the Faxi Bay. Live performances feature a great sample of Reykjavík’s indie

Where To See Polar Bears in The Wild

Listed as a vulnerable species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), polar bears face an uncertain future. But there is hope. In September 2015, the five states whose territories cover this spectacular animal’s range – Canada, Kingdom of Denmark (Greenland), Norway, Russia and the US – signed the Circumpolar Action Plan, a 10-year global conservation strategy to secure the long-term survival of polar bears, which number between 22,000 and 31,000 in the wild according to the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF). While it’s too soon to measure its success, this joint commitment nonetheless offers some reassurance that these nations are dedicated to the species’ preservation.

Most people who have been lucky enough to eyeball a wild polar bear would agree it’s one of the most thrilling wildlife-viewing experiences on Earth. Still a relatively young industry, polar bear tourism is not without its challenges. An increase in human-polar bear contact in Norway, for example, has resulted in more bears being shot.

It can also be argued that the carbon emissions generated by tourists travelling to the Arctic to spot bears is counterproductive to the marine mammals’ survival. On the other hand, well-managed polar

Where Our Globetrotters Want To Go Next

Fin McCarthy – Global News Editor

Wants to visit: Musées Yves Saint Laurent Paris and Marrakesh, France and Morocco

Two museums dedicated to the iconic French designer are opening in Paris and Marrakesh.

When a trip involves Marrakesh or Paris, two of my favourite cities, I’m always excited. But add Yves St Laurent to the mix – the man who introduced ‘le tuxedo’ for women and whose influence on the catwalk today is still undeniable – and I’m storming the departure gates. This year two new museums are opening, celebrating the designer’s incredible legacy. His former Paris atelier, which is being refurbished to its former glory, allows visitors the opportunity to get a sense of his work process, while also immersing themselves in the city of haute couture. Or take a trip to Morocco to drink in the electric blue of the designer’s Jardin Majorelle, which he bequeathed to Marrakesh, and where the new museum will display his work. But why not make both pilgrimages? I know I will.

Alex Butler – Global News Reporter

Wants to visit: New Holland Island, St Petersburg

The historic island has been

7 Travel Resolutions and How to Keep Them

Pack lighter

Next time you’re stuffing a pair of impractical shoes and a bumper-size shampoo into your bag, stop to consider the feelings of future you: the one sporting a sweaty back patch and a face riddled with regret. The ‘I’ll manage’ attitude dissipates in a flurry of expletives as you drag your luggage up a broken escalator, straining your bicep and stubbing a toe in the process. Worth it? Not so much.

Stick to it: Downsize: restricting suitcase volume soon hinders overpackers. Prioritise: it’s OK to take three paperbacks if you’re willing to forgo the laptop. Enlist a ruthless packing buddy who won’t give in to the words ‘but I neeeeeed it!’.

Take better pictures

Sick of returning home from a trip with thousands of hastily snapped images that you’ll never have the time to sift through and edit, let alone share? Whether you’re shooting for social media, an online portfolio or the family album, investing a little time and effort can take your creations from amateur to incredible.

Stick to it: Read up on how to take a decent smartphone snap; enrol on a photography course; join

How to get to Middle-earth

The Hobbiton set is the country’s best-known attraction today with close to half a million visitors a year, but there is of course a wealth of film locations far beyond ‘the Shire’. You can always discover New Zealand’s dramatic film locations (over 150 were used during filming) for yourself, starting with this handy guide, or you can head to this remote country on a tour.

We’ve rounded up a few of the many operators running Tolkien tours of New Zealand in 2017, each for a different type of travellers. One thing they all seem to have in common is the desire to meld real life with fantasy worlds while exploring one of the world’s most beautiful countries.

Be a Middle-earth explorer

You can follow in the footsteps of Frodo and Bilbo with Round the World Experts (roundtheworldexperts.co.uk) on a 17-day tour of all things Lord of the Rings. As well as the obligatory visit to Hobbiton, the tour takes you to Wellington to go behind the scenes at the interactive Weta Cave workshops, learning how Lord of the Rings was brought to life with props, costumes, models and special effects. Next it’s on to

Off The Eaten Track in San Juan

Puerto Rican food is a varied mix thanks to its multicultural past. Influences from the peaceful hunter-gatherer Taínos manifest in the uses of cassava, ñame, yuca and other root vegetables, as well as the tradition of mashing corn, spices, medicinal herbs and other assorted ingredients with a maceta y pilón (mortar and pestle). West African culture also played a key role in shaping the island’s foodscape by introducing frying as a cooking method. Spaniards brought livestock and a couple of other items you might not expect mango and plantain. These fruits weren’t indigenous to the island, but are now an iconic part of it.

Señor Paleta

Tucked away in the southern section of Old San Juan, this tiny mom-and-pop shop would be easy to miss if it weren’t for the line of eager folks snaking around the block, happily waiting their turn to indulge in some of the tastiest and coldest treats this little islet has to offer: handcrafted paletas (www.facebook.com/srpaletaoldsanjuan).

Paleterias, or ice-pop stands, are a growing culinary trend across the US and in several parts of Latin America. Shop owners Ramon and Jennifer craft refreshing natural popsicles in a variety of both milk and fruit-based flavors. Nutella?