Tag Archives: Italy

Infographic: Getting to Know Vatican City and the Pope

6 Apr

Did you know that Vatican City is about the size of a golf course? Or that Pope Francis is the first pope from South America?

Here’s your infographic introduction to Vatican City and its new pope.


Infographic: Getting to Know Vatican City and the Pope Italy , rome , Vatican City

The Radar: Travel Lately

28 Mar

Sensō-ji is the oldest Buddhist temple in Tokyo. (Photograph by Aapo Haapanen, Flickr)

The Radar – the best of the travel blogosphere – is a regular feature on Intelligent Travel every Wednesday.

Here’s this week’s:

  • Easter Island may be hard to access (after all, it’s the most remote inhabited island in the world). It can also be expensive. But budget options abound for those that seek them in this tiny Chilean outpost. @budgettravelsac
  • Cannes, St. Tropez, and Nice are, well, nice, but you don’t have to keep to the French side of the Riviera while you’re on holiday. Trade your bonjour for buongiorno across the border in San Remo. @easyhiker101
  • Despite making headlines recently as a hotbed of instability, Beirut possesses a charm worthy of praise. And in the Lebanese city’s low-key Mar Mikhael district, old and new converge in the most surprising ways. @Gadling 
  • A bus designed to look like a panda bear whisks visitors around a city, free of charge. As kitschy as it may sound, this “only in Japan” phenomenon proves to be a terrific way to get to know Tokyo. @HuffPostTravel
  • Just 90 miles away from U.S. shores, Cuba exudes the aura of a bygone era. For those bogged down by the grind of modernity, consider this unique Caribbean island your great escape.  @NevEndingVoyage

The Radar: Travel Lately Beirut , budget travel adventures , Cuba , Easter Island , Easy Hiker 101 , gadling , Havana , Huffington Post Travel , Italy , japan , Lebanon , Never Ending Voyage , ngtradar , San Remo , The Radar , tokyo

The Dorsoduro District of Venice

22 Mar

Dorsoduro. Photo courtesy of Ramón Cutanda via Flickr.

Dorsoduro. Photo courtesy of Ramón Cutanda via Flickr.

In the high season, Venice’s population doubles and the log jam on the main thoroughfares becomes almost unbearable, as thousands of tourists clog the alleyways between the Rialto Bridge and Piazza San Marco. A short walk over the Ponte dell’Accademia crossing the Grand Canal, however, provides an escape route into one of the most enduring and increasingly fashionable districts of La Serenissima, Dorsoduro. Somewhat euphemistically translated as ‘high ridge’, it juts out from San Polo and lies to the South of San Marco with its tip almost opposite the Doge’s Palace.  It also embraces two islands across the canal to the south, Giudecca and the less fashionable, Sacca Fisola.

Cantine del Vino gia Schiavi. Photo courtesy of timsackton via Flickr.

Cantine del Vino gia Schiavi. Photo courtesy of timsackton via Flickr.


What I adore about this district is its bohemian atmosphere, its relative tranquillity and its mix of students congregating around the campos near the University at Ca’ Foscari and locals relaxing outside the osterias and wine bars in the early evenings. Restaurant prices are much lower than those across the Grand Canal, service is much more cordial and the ambiance is friendly and unassuming. Stroll along the Fondamenta Nani next to the Rio di San Trovaso in the early evening and you will find locals and tourists congregating around the Cantina del Vino gia Schiavi and the smaller Al Squero sipping prosecco or spritz and sampling the crostinis, cichettis, rosettas and paninis. Nearby the Gelateria Lo Squero serves up its speciality pistachio gelato; recently Angelina Jolie herself was seen sampling the local ices there.

Near Santa Maria della Salute. Photo courtesy of Old Fogey 1942 via Flickr.

Near Santa Maria della Salute. Photo courtesy of Old Fogey 1942 via Flickr.

The Waterfront

A short walk away is the waterfront, Fondamente Zattere stretching all the way from the Maritime port to the church of Santa Maria della Salute (La Salute) at the tip of Dorsoduro guarding the entrance to the Grand Canal. Fish restaurants, bars and cafes look out over the Canal de Giudecca and the luxury hotels, home to the rich and famous on the island opposite during the Venice Film Festival. Vaporetti crisscross the canal and occasionally huge cruise ships ply their way slowly towards the lagoon towed somewhat precariously by fleets of tugboats. If you are in need of refreshment, sample the gianduiotto ice cream with its lashings of chocolate and cream in one of Venice’s oldest and most famous gelateria, Nico’s near the Ponte Lungo.

Nearby, at Santa Maria della Visitazione, look out for the lion’s head, bocca di leone, embedded in the church’s wall. The Doges wanted to encourage Venetians to denounce people who had committed crimes without fear of retribution and letters were signed in front of a witness then placed in the lion’s mouth surreptiously. If the crimes were deemed serious enough, the accused was arrested and tried. More often than not, however, it led to wrongful imprisonment and endemic paranoia and suspicion especially at times of plague.

San Travaso. Photo courtesy of dalbera via Flickr.

San Travaso. Photo courtesy of dalbera via Flickr.


Dorsoduro is also the home to last remaining boatyard for gondolas in Venice and you can watch the squeraroli plying their centuries-old trade next to the San Trovaso church in Lo Squero. Gone are the days when some 10,000 gondolas monopolised transportation in Venice and today only 425 licences are issued for the whole network, with many handed down from father to son and new recruits having to pass an extremely arduous exam. The gondolas are built to precise specifications, painted the regulation black and made from 280 pieces of eight different types of wood. At the prow is an iron stabiliser, made of six metal combs (pettini) that represent the six sestieres, or neighbourhoods, that comprise Venice. The posterior pettini represents the island of Guidecca.

Until recently, the gondoliers were all male but in 2010 a mother of two, Giorgia Boscolo, became the first female to take up this trade. If you fancy a gondola ride, however, beware since they do not come cheap and cost €80 for 40 minutes (€110 after 19.00) and €40 to €50 for every twenty minutes after that. It pays, therefore, to go in a group.

Campo San Barnaba. Photo courtesy of Nick Bramhall via Flickr.

Campo San Barnaba. Photo courtesy of Nick Bramhall via Flickr.


Dorsoduro also has some of the most beautiful but less frequented churches in Venice, which allows you to enjoy their solitude and charm far away from the crowds that swamp the churches around San Marco. In San Sebastiano, Veronese spent 10 years of his life painting almost every wall, the ceiling and even the organ and was eventually buried there. It is worth the visit just to see the wonderful sacristy and the magnificent paintings around the altar. You can also watch the painters meticulously and delicately retouch the wall paintings as part of the restoration programme funded by the New York-based Save Venice Inc.

Nearby, Chiesa dell’Angelo Raffaele, was immortalised by the British novelist, Sally Vicker in Miss Garnet’s Angel; and San Nicolo dei Mendicoli was used as the setting for Nick Roeg’s 1973 thriller, Don’t Look Now, starring Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie. San Barnaba was used as the exterior of the library in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade;  and in the 1955 film, Summertime, starring Katherine Hepburn who insisted on falling into the canal herself rather than use an understudy. Unfortunately, she contracted an eye disease as a result, which affected her for the rest of her life.

 Ponte di Pugni

In contrast to the solitude and reverence of the churches, however, the Ponte di Pugni stretching over the Rio de San Barnaba, has a much more infamous past and was the site of the War of the Fists that took place between rival gangs in the 17th and 18th centuries. These were huge fist fights numbering hundreds of fighters that were watched by thousands of spectators and supported financially by the nobility and church. They were principally between the Castellani who were shipbuilders from the Arsenale close to San Pietro di Castello and the Nicolotti, who were fisherman from the Western end of Dorsoduro near San Nicolo dei Medicoli. Although they started out with referees and some semblance of order, they soon disintegrated into all out battles where people were crushed to death or drowned in the canals. They were subsequently banned in 1705 when contestants and indeed spectators joined in with all manner of weaponry.

Entrance to the Peggy Guggenheim Museum. Photo courtesy of TracyElaine via Flickr.

Entrance to the Peggy Guggenheim Museum. Photo courtesy of TracyElaine via Flickr.

Peggy Guggenheim Museum

The Peggy Guggenheim Museum sitting by the banks of the Grand Canal, however, blends beautifully into its surroundings and provides an oasis of calm serenity that belies the wonders of its art collection. The gardens of the single storeyed Palazzo Venier dei Leoni are filled with sculptures yet nevertheless remain unassuming and a place to relax or even write a message to a loved one and post it on a tree donated by Yoko Ono. Inside, you can wander around galleries filled with priceless collections of cubist, surrealist and abstract art including works by Picasso, Salvador Dali, Jackson Pollock, Francis Bacon, Jean Metzinger and Hans Arp; or eat in the wonderful cafeteria overlooking the gardens.

Galleria dell'Accademia. Photo courtesy of Empoor via Flickr.

Galleria dell’Accademia. Photo courtesy of Empoor via Flickr.

Galleria dell’ Accademia

Whilst Dorsoduro’s attraction is its ambiance, it nevertheless does possess some very important tourist attractions. The Galleria dell’ Accademia, just over the bridge across the Grand Canal, is one of the principal art galleries in Venice and in Italy. Despite its somewhat unglamorous appearance, it hosts major works by Bellini, Tintoretto, Veronese, Titian, Carpaccio and has Giorgione’s priceless Tempesta. Only 180 visitors are allowed at one time, so either go early or be prepared for very long queues. Further north is Ca’ Rezzonico, built in 1648, where Robert Browning spent his last days until his death in 1889 and was also rented by Cole Porter. This is a very grandiose Baroque Palazzo housing the museum of 18th– century Venice and worth the entrance fee just to view the lavishness of the interior.

 ‘La Salute’

‘La Salute’, itself is also well worth a visit. Built to commemorate the plague that swept through Venice in 1630 and took 80,000 lives, it was designed by Baldassare Longhena when he was only 26, and took 50 years to complete and required some 100,000 pinewood logs to be driven vertically into the ground to support it. Quite apart from its immense structure its interior hosts two magnificent pieces of artwork, Tintoretto’s Wedding at Cana and Titian’s St Mark Enthroned with Saints Cosmos, Damian, Roch and Sebastian.

La Salute via Wikimedia Commons

La Salute via Wikimedia Commons


If you happen to be there on November 21st, prepare yourself for the Festa dell Madonna della Salute when a bridge is constructed from San Marco to La Salute and the whole city turns out to celebrate the end of the plague and the survival of La Serenissima.  In the third week of July, a similar festival takes place when a bridge is constructed from Zattere to La Redentore on the island of Guidecca to celebrate the end of the plague in 1576 and culminates in a huge firework display that illuminates the whole city.

Dorsoduro. Photo courtesy of Toni Rodrigo via Flickr.

Dorsoduro. Photo courtesy of Toni Rodrigo via Flickr.

Dorsoduro is one of my favourite districts in Venice and one that I love to explore. Its magic is its variety, its vitality and its mixture of young and old, pensioners and students, locals and tourists, workers and art aficionados. We should also not forget, however, that it also plays host to a major prison, and the inmates’ voices can be heard resonating around the alleyways near the Venice University of Architecture faculty not far from the waterfront.

The Dorsoduro District of Venice Dorsoduro , Italy , venice

Ides of March & Rome Travel

20 Mar

There are a lot of good reasons why Rome is one of the most visited cities in the world. Not only is it home to the Coliseum, the Pantheon, and Vatican City, but it’s also offers some of the world’s most celebrated works of art. The Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica and countless museums showcase paintings and sculptures by history’s most famous creative figures such as Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci.


Vacationing and touring in Rome is an unforgettable experience for any age. We try to suggest a few “off the beaten path” attractions for every city, but Rome is so full of historic landmarks, that it’s hard to find anything that doesn’t attract a worldwide audience. However, if you hope to escape the crowds, don’t forget that Italy also boasts countless beautiful Mediterranean beaches.

After a long day walking Rome’s ancient, cobbled streets you can take comfort in the fact that a Best Western Hotel is never far away. Unsurprisingly, BEST WESTERN PREMIER accommodations are available in the city historically known for its luxury and opulence. A trip to this monumental city is sure to become one of the best vacations you and your family has ever taken.

Ides of March & Rome Travel Italy , rome best western

World’s Most Beautiful Waterfalls

20 Mar

For those who love experiencing beautiful landscapes, visiting waterfalls is one of the best ways to add some extra beauty to a day in the outdoors. Not all falls are created equal, however. If you want to view some of the world’s best cascades, here are our suggestions.

Niagara Falls, USA/Canada

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls

Located in both Ontario and New York, Niagara Falls is made up of three waterfalls — Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side and the American Falls and the Bridal Veil Falls on the U.S. side — that form the southern end of the Niagara Gorge. Although the height of Niagara Falls varies due to seasonal flow, American Falls can get up to 194 feet during peak season June through August. While not the highest waterfall in the world, it certainly is the most powerful, and it’s sheer overall size is enough to draw over 10 million visitors each year.

For the best views, opt to do either the Journey Behind the Falls or the Maid of the Mist. Journey Behind the Falls is an unguided excursion that takes you below and behind the falls as it travels up to 40 miles per second before crashing into the basin below. On the other hand, the Maid of the Mist is a guided boat tour that takes riders past the American and Bridal Veil Falls right into the curve of Horseshoe Falls and into the mist. It’s also worth visiting the attraction at night, as the cascades are lit up in an array of colors.

Sutherland Falls, New Zealand

Located near the scenic ford of Milford Sound, Sutherland Falls in New Zealand is one of the tallest water falls in the world. It features three drops at heights of 751 feet, 815 feet and 1902 feet, thundering down dramatically into an enormous pool at the bottom. It’s beautiful to look up and see the water pouring from the glacial reservoir of Lake Quill over the edges of the mountaintops. To get to the falls, you’ll need to hike a section of the Milford Track from the Quintin Public Shelter.

Dettifoss, Iceland


Dettifoss. Photo credit: csproete via Flickr.

Located in Vatnajökull National Park in Northeast Iceland, Dettifoss is touted as the most powerful waterfall in Europe, flowing at about 17,657 cubic feet per second. The falls are about 145 feet tall and 328 feet wide, and takes on a milky color from the sediment-rich meltwaters of the Vatnajökull glacier, from which the falls is fed its water. To access Dettifoss, it is a 30 minute hike from the parking lot. The best views of the falls are had from the top of the falls, watching it from above as it drops off. Just don’t get too close to the edge as the risk of erosion is quite high. If you’re still in the mood to see more waterfalls afterward, distant views of Selfoss can be has just a short hike upstream.

Pailon del Diablo, Ecuador 

For those staying in the adventurous city of Banos, one popular excursion is to bike the “Waterfalls Route,” which includes Agoyan, Manto de la Novia, Machay and the most impressive of all, Pailon del Diablo, Ecuador’s second biggest waterfall. You’ll go about 11 miles, taking in lush jungle, roaring rivers and beautiful mountains until you reach the parking lots for Pailon del Diablo. Here you’ll park your bike before hiking about 15 minutes to the approximately 100-feet-high falls.

To get the best view, you’ll need to shimmy through a narrow cave and climb some stairs that will take you about midway to the top. Make sure to bring a raincoat, as the powerful falls ensure you will get a little wet. If you don’t want to bike, you can also take the bus from Banos to Puyo and stop off at the falls, or take tour of the area’s waterfalls on a colorful “chiva” trolley.

Iguaza Falls, Brazil/Argentina

Iguazu Falls

Iguazu Falls

Iguaza Falls features an edge that is 1.7 miles long, with about 275 individual waterfalls and cascades that range from 197 to 269 feet in height. Because of its immense size, visitors should allot at least one full day, preferably two, to explore the entire attraction, which is littered with catwalks and lookout platforms for closeup views. Additionally, visitors can take a boat tour to go under some of the falls.

Usually, visitors will spend one day exploring the Brazilian side and the other traversing the Argentinian side, as both offer completely different views. The most impressive section of the falls is undoubtedly the Devil’s Throat, which is best seen from the Brazilian side. Here you’ll witness 14 falls plunge 350 feet and spraying mist 100-feet into the air. It’s a beautiful sight, especially since you’re almost guaranteed to see a rainbow.

Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls. Photo credit: i_pinz via Flickr.

Located across Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park in Zambia and Victoria Falls National Park in Zimbabwe, Victoria Falls is one of the world’s most impressive waterfalls, boasting the largest curtain of water formed on the planet. In terms of size, Victoria Falls are 355 feet high, 5,577 feet wide and with over 500 million liter plunging over the edge into the Zambezi River. Because of the water flow’s intensity, a spray is shot 1,000 feet into the air that can be seen from 30 miles away. Not surprisingly, there are almost always rainbows.

In terms of viewing, the best time to go is June through August when they are between medium and high water. Additionally, the Zimbabwe side offers the best rim-level views, while the Zambia side allows visitors the best base-level view via the rainforest footpath. If you have the time, it’s worthwhile to explore both sides as each has completely different perspectives. Additionally, you can see the falls in a more adventurous way by white water rafting on the river below the falls, bungee jumping off the Victoria Falls bridge, taking a microlite flight over the forge from the Zambia side or canoeing on the river above the falls where you can also view wildlife.

Na-ra Falls, Iriomote Island, Okinawa, Japan

Located on the lush rainforest island of Iriomote in Okinawa, Japan, is the lesser-known Na-ra Falls. While not the largest falls in the world, it is a truly beautiful and natural site and the journey adds an element of adventure. At Nirakanai Iriomotejima lodge you can hire a guide to take you to the falls, which requires a boat ride down the mangrove and Adan fruit tree-littered Nakama River, before de-boarding for a hike through the jungle. The trek can be difficult at times as you make your way over narrow hilltop trails, shimmy over boulders and wade through knee-deep water to reach your destination.

After about an hour, you will be rewarded for your efforts with the Na-ra Falls, a multitiered waterfall creating a calm swimming pool at the base. You can wade at the base on rocks to view the falls from the base or continue your trek to the top for the best views. What really makes this waterfall so worthwhile to visit is the fact nobody really knows about, leaving it wild and untouched by tourism.

Erawan Falls, Thailand

Erawan Falls

Erawan Falls. Photo credit: Todd Huffman via Flickr.

Thailand is home to some of the world’s most beautiful waterfalls, the most magnificent being the 4,921-foot Erawan Falls. Located in Erawan National Park in the Kanchanaburi Province, the seven-tiered Erawan Falls are thought to resemble a three-headed white elephant from Hindu mythology called the erawan. As the water spills over limestone cliffs it plunges down into cool blue pools. Visitors can do jungle hikes around the falls or swim in its pools. For the best views, trek to the top of the falls, which takes about three hours round-trip. Along the way, you’ll have many opportunities to cool down in the fall’s many levels.

Ban Gioc-Detian Falls, China/Vietnam

Ban Gioc-Detian Falls

Ban Gioc-Detian Falls. Photo credit: Denise Chan via Flickr.

Composed of two waterfalls straddling the Guichun River and the China-Vietnam border, Ban Gioc-Detian Falls is so powerful it sounds like thunder when it hits the basin, especially during wet season. With multiple tiers, crystal waters and surrounding karst peaks, it is a moving setting to be in. While Ban Gioc is considered the largest waterfall in Vietnam, Detian Falls is thought to be one of China’s most spectacular natural sites.

As a whole, the waterfall drops 98 feet and is 656 feet wide, making it the 4th-largest waterfall along a national border. For the best views, visit during June and July when river flow speeds up. Additionally, the Chinese side offers a scenic rainforest walking alongside the falls to the top, while the Vietnamese side allows you to swim in a refreshing natural pool. To get a closer look at the falls, there are locals nearby offering bamboo rafting tours.

MacKenzie Falls, Australia

MacKenzie Falls

MacKenzie Falls. Photo credit: Alpha via Flickr.

Located in one of Australia’s most scenic but lesser-traversed parks, you’ll find MacKenzie Falls in the Grampians National Park. You’ll have to hike down a well-marked steep set of stairs — and then back up again — to reach the waterfall; however, you’re hard work will be rewarded by a frontal view of gushing torrents of water from Lake Wartook cascading over a cliff edge. Viewing the waterfall from the stairs as you come down is also a worthwhile photo opportunity, as it is easier to make out the tiers of the falls. While the

The view that awaits you at the end of this steep trail is spectacular. Enormous torrents of water cascade over huge cliffs into a deep pool, sending fine sprays of rainbow mist high into the air above a stunning gorge. While MacKenzie Falls flows all year, it is must stronger in June through September when it rains more frequently. And if you’re hot after your hike, feel free to take a dip in the fall’s refreshing waters.

Marmore’s Falls, Italy

A beautiful as well as historical attraction, Marmore’s Falls (Cascate delle Marmore) in Italy is a man-made falls built by the ancient Romans. Located in Umbria, the falls are the highest man-made waterfall in the world and one of the highest in Europe at 541 feet. The area itself is very relaxing, with hiking trails and an expansive park. Although fed by the Velino River, the falls are sometimes deviated to feed the hydroelectric power plants system, so double check their website’s timetable before visiting. Generally, they’re open longer in the summer and less in the winter.

For the best views of Cascate delle Marmore, you can either go to the Lower Outlook for an entire view of the falls and panoramic of the first drop. The Upper Lookout offers views from the top as well as the chance to see La Specola, a 1781 arcaded loggia built by Pope Pius VI.  The Upper Outlook is also known for its wonderful rainbow views.

Burney Falls, California

Burney Falls

Burney Falls. Photo credit: Amit Patel via Flickr.

Not as well-known as some of the United States’ other waterfalls, Burney Falls is located in McArthur Burney Falls Memorial State Park in Shasta County, California. The falls have a height of 129 feet and strong flow year-round of over 100 million gallons of water per day, which appears to burst from the middle of the cliff face. This is because the source of the falls is from underground springs. While you’ll be able to drive to the lookout point to see the falls, the best views are had after a 2.4 mile loop hike to the base.

World’s Most Beautiful Waterfalls Argentina , Australia , brazil , California , China , Ecuador , Iceland , Italy , japan , Niagara Falls , South Africa , thailand , Vietnam

Rome’s Hottest ‘Hood (Hint: It’s Not Vatican City)

14 Mar

The Piazza della Madonna dei Monti. (Photograph by Sergio Lora, Flickr)

Two millennia ago, gladiators, prostitutes, and politicians—Julius Caesar, for one—rubbed shoulders in Monti, Rome, a red-light district adjacent to the Forum and Colosseum.

Today Monti is again red hot. In this zone where something new is always opening, Italians gather for animated conversations outside overflowing wine bars, and young women in stilettos pick their way through cobblestoned streets.

Even so, white-haired nonnas still shop for brutti ma buoni cookies at the local bakeries, passersby still greet one another by name, and only one big-name American retailer has sneaked in. “Monti has changed into a VIP zone,” says Giovanna Dughera, owner of a Monti art boutique. “But it still has a spirit of past times.”

Here are a few highlights:

Santa Maria Maggiore is sometimes referred to as

Santa Maria Maggiore is sometimes referred to as “Our Lady of Snows.” (Photograph by Fidel Ramos, Flickr)

Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore
Sparkling from its gold-coffered ceiling to its fifth-century mosaics, this lavish papal church claims the world’s oldest crèche, sculpted by Arnolfo di Cambio in the 1200s to display wood slabs said to be from Christ’s crib.

Studio Silice
Young glassmaker Anna Preziosi’s play with texture and color makes for a style as eye-catching as it is contemporary—platters overlaid with rose-gold petals, bowls piled with gold-leafed glass straws à la an opulent bird’s nest.

Gelateria Fatamorgana
This newcomer to Monti scoops all-natural gelato in a small white-walled storefront with the ascetic look of a lab. Sample creative combinations (pear with Gorgonzola, black rice with rosebuds) at the counter, then take your treat to the piazza just outside.

Le Talpe
Adding pizzazz to Monti’s blossoming boutique scene, owner Giovanna Dughera excels in chic eclecticism, proving medical tubing can make surprisingly elegant necklaces and a fuzzy faux ermine can be worn as a stole.

Piazza della Madonna dei Monti
All kinds squeeze onto the 16th-century fountain steps of this “piazzetta” (as residents endearingly call it). For a more comfortable seat, grab an alfresco table at the bustling La Bottega del Caffè.

San Pietro in Vincoli
This fifth-century church houses the tomb Michelangelo designed for Pope Julius II as well as his famed Moses statue. Michelangelo designed the beard-twirling icon to be one of more than 40 towering statues, but money woes and a change of pope forced him to scrap his plans. The abandonment always haunted him.

Trajan’s Markets
Scholars say this soaring complex dates to the second century and once held ancient offices. Today it contains the Museum of the Imperial Forums, which lays out how this space built up by Rome’s power players looked in its heyday.

Enoteca Provincia Romana
This wine bar serves only local food and drink, including top-notch vino (try the crisp, golden Frascati), artisanal beer, and updated classics such as spaghetti carbonara topped with bright zucchini flowers.

Rome’s Hottest ‘Hood (Hint: It’s Not Vatican City) Amanda Ruggeri , Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore , Enoteca Provincia Romana , Frascati , Gelateria Fatamorgana , Italy , La Bottega del Caffe , Le Talpe , Monti , National Geographic Traveler , Piazza della Madonna dei Monti , rome , San Pietro in Vincoli , Studio Silice , Trajan’s Markets , Vatican City

Carnival Celebrations Around the World

12 Feb

Most of us are familiar with some of the most famous Carnival celebrations in the world – Rio, Venice, and New Orleans among them. But Carnival is celebrated all over the world in nearly any place that has a strong Catholic background, so there are plenty of places where you can enjoy Carnival festivities even if you’re not in Brazil or Louisiana this year.

Here are the countries with some of the more interesting Carnival celebrations around the world.

Salvador, Brazil

Brazil Carnival

Carnival in Brazil

Sure, we’ve all heard about Carnival in Rio, but there are celebrations in other parts of Brazil, too. One of the other cities that does Carnival in a big way is Salvador, where the traditional Brazilian dancing is accompanied by live Bahia music performed by bands carried on the back of big trucks through the city center. Virtually anywhere you go in Brazil during Carnival, however, you’ll find some kind of party.

Ivrea, Italy

Ivrea Carnevale

Post-orange fight in Ivrea. Photo credit: Sebastiano Rossi via Flickr.

Venice’s Carnival masks and ornate costumes are legendary, but for something even more strange in Italy you’ll need to visit the town of Ivrea during Carnival. Ivrea’s Battle of the Oranges pits orange-throwing teams against one another. It’s a food fight of epic proportions. The town of Viareggio takes a more stately approach toward Carnival, with its parades of caricatures of famous people.

Binche, Belgium

Binche Carnival

Carnival masks in Binche, Belgium. Photo credit: Véronique Mergaux via Flickr.

You’d be forgiven for thinking, “Carnival? In Belgium?” But the Carnival in Binche, Belgium dates back several centuries and is now on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List. Binche celebrates with three days of parades, during one of which men known as Gilles, dressed in colorful costumes and clogs, throw blood oranges into the crowds.

Oruro, Bolivia

Oruro Carnival

Carnival in Oruro, Bolivia. Photo credit: bjaglin via Flickr.

Another Carnival celebration that makes UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List is La Diablada Carnival in Oruro, Bolivia. The Diablada is a particular dance that features prominently in Oruro’s Carnival parades, when nearly 50 different groups of dancers form a procession each Saturday during Carnival. The religious roots of Oruro’s celebrations date back to pre-colonial times, when the indigenous people would make offerings to Mother Earth and a God of the Mountains.

Moscow, Russia

Caviar blini

Caviar blini. Photo credit: Bolshakov via Flickr.

Cold places aren’t ideally suited to scantily clad parade dancers, but the weather lends yet another reason for a celebration that’ll warm the spirit. So in Moscow, the week before Lent is marked by locals stuffing themselves silly on the thin pancakes known as blini. Moscow’s Carnival-esque week is called Mslenitsa, translated as either “Pancake Week” or the even more fattening “Butter Week,” and celebrations also include masquerade balls and outdoor winter sports.

Mazatlán, Mexico

Mazatlan Carnival

Carnival celebrations in Mazatlán. Photo credit: Frank Kovalchek via Flickr.

Mexico celebrates Carnival in cities throughout the country, but the biggest Carnival celebration happens in the seaside city of Mazatlán. Some smaller towns incorporate the indigenous traditions of those towns, but in Mazatlán the Carnival celebrations are similar to the ones you’ll see in other parts of the world, with costumes, parades, and live music. The popular local blend of Mexican and polka music, called Banda, is what you’ll hear most often during Carnival in Mazatlán.

Goa, India

The Indian state of Goa is well-known for its festive atmosphere, so it shouldn’t be surprising to learn that Goa is home to India’s biggest Carnival celebration, too. This is partly thanks to the influence left from Portugal’s centuries of rule over Goa, and partly thanks to Goa’s modern residents who have incorporated their own Hindu elements into Carnival. Carnival in Goa lasts for three days, during which you’ll see fireworks and parades of costumed characters, as well as revelers dumping buckets of colored water on spectators.

Nice, France

Carnival in Nice

Carnival parade in Nice. Photo credit: Deb Collins via Flickr.

Residents of Nice will tell you theirs is the oldest Carnival celebration in the world, dating back to 1294. Whatever the truth of that statement is, Carnival in modern Nice is a great spectacle with parades of huge floats over multiple days during the festival, which lasts more than two weeks. Nice’s party may not be as famous worldwide as that of New Orleans or Rio, but it’s well-known enough to attract more than one million revelers each year.

Trinidad and Tobago

Trinidad and Tobago Carnival

Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago. Photo credit: Jean-Marc via Wikimedia Commons.

The capital of Trinidad and Tobago claims to have the biggest Carnival celebration in the Caribbean, and although some of the elements are familiar – outlandish costumes and big parade floats – some are unique combinations of Catholic and local features. Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago lasts for months, with a Carnival Steel Pan competition happening before Carnival, so to really get the full flavor of the festival you might want to plan to stay awhile.

Quebec City, Canada

Quebec Carnival

Snow sculptures in Quebec. Photo credit: meddygarnet via Flickr.

Carnival is a moving target, the dates changing each year with the Catholic calendar, but in Quebec City they’ve removed the date-related confusion. Quebec’s Winter Carnival is held in late January/early February each year, and highlights include ice and snow sculptures as well as a variety of outdoor winter sports. You won’t see the skimpy Rio-style attire in Quebec, but you can attend a masquerade ball (indoors!) and stay warm with Caribou, a heated drink made of wine, whiskey, and maple syrup.


Portugal Carnival

Carnival costumes in Portugal. Photo credit: Rosino via Flickr.

Portugal might have exported its Catholicism to places like Brazil, thereby influencing the original Carnival celebrations there, but these days Portugal has imported Brazilian-style Carnival traditions back across the pond. Carnival celebrations differ across the country, but most Portuguese regions incorporate things like elaborate costumes and samba parades. In some regions, large masks or figures are made and then burned in big bonfires.

Carnival Celebrations Around the World belgium , Bolivia , brazil , carnival , featured , France , Goa , Italy , mardi gras , Mexico , Moscow , Nice , Portugal , quebec city , Salvador da Bahia , Trinidad and Tobago

10 Valentine’s Day Traditions Around the World

6 Feb

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, stores are flooded with candy hearts, chocolates and stuffed animals. In the US, shelves brimming with teddy bears and boxes of chocolate are typical Valentine’s Day fare, but not every country turns to greeting cards and heart-shaped candies to declare love. Some exchange wooden spoons and pressed flowers, while others hold a special holiday for the loveless to mourn their single lives over black noodles. Here is a look at how 10 countries celebrate Valentine’s Day around the world.

1. Denmark

Although Valentine’s Day is a relatively new holiday in Denmark (celebrated since the early 1990s according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark), the country has embraced February 14th with a Danish twist. Rather than roses, friends and sweethearts exchange pressed white flowers called snowdrops.

Another popular Danish Valentine’s Day tradition is the exchange of “lover’s cards.” While lover’s cards were originally transparent cards which showed a picture of the card giver presenting a gift to his sweetheart, the term is now synonymous with any card exchanged on Valentine’s Day.

On February 14th, men also give women gaekkebrev, a “joking letter” consisting of a funny poem or rhyme written on intricately cut paper and signed only with anonymous dots. If woman who receives the gaekkebrev can correctly guess the sender, she earns herself an Easter egg later that year.

2. France

Paris romantic

Paris is considered one of the most romantic cities in the world

With a reputation as one of the most romantic destinations in the world, it’s little wonder France has long celebrated Valentine’s Day as a day for lovers.

It’s been said that the first Valentine’s Day card originated in France when Charles, Duke of Orleans, sent love letters to his life while imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1415. Today, Valentine’s Day cards remain a popular tradition in France and around the world.

Another traditional Valentine’s Day event in France was called loterie d’amour, or “drawing for love.” Men and women would fill houses that faced one another, and then take turns calling out to one another and pairing off. Men who weren’t satisfied with their match could simply leave a woman for another, and the women left unmatched gathered afterward for a bonfire.

During the bonfire, women burned pictures of the men who wronged them and hurled swears and insults at the opposite sex. The event became so uncontrollable that the French government eventually banned the tradition all together.

3. South Korea

South Korea Valentine's Day

Heart-shaped oranges in South Korea. Photo credit: James Creegan via Flickr.

Valentine’s Day is a popular holiday for young couples in South Korea and variations of the holiday are celebrated monthly from February through April. The gift-giving starts on February 14th, when it’s up to women to woo their men with chocolates, candies and flowers. The tables turn on March 14th, a holiday known as White Day, when men not only shower their sweethearts with chocolates and flowers, but up the ante with a gift, too.

And for those who didn’t have much to celebrate on either Valentine’s Day or White Day, there is a third holiday: Black Day. On April 14th, it’s customary for singles to mourn their solitary status by eating dark bowls of jajangmyeon, or black bean paste noodles.

4. Wales

Welsh love spoon

Welsh love spoons. Photo credit: Paulo Ordoveza via Flickr.

You won’t find the Welsh celebrating Saint Valentine—instead, people in Wales celebrate Saint Dwynwen, the Welsh patron saint of lovers, on January 25th.

One traditional romantic Welsh gift is a love spoon. As early as the 17thcentury, Welsh men carved intricate wooden spoons as a token of affection for the women they loved. Patterns and symbols were carved into these love spoons, each signifying a different meaning. A few examples include horseshoes, which stand for good luck, wheels, which symbolize support, and keys, which symbolize the keys to a man’s heart.

Today, love spoons are also exchanged for celebrations such as weddings, anniversaries and births.

5. China

The equivalent to Valentine’s Day in China is Qixi, or the Seventh Night Festival, which falls on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month each year. According to Chinese lore, Zhinu, a heavenly king’s daughter, and Niulang, a poor cowherd, fell in love, married and had twins. When Zhinu’s father learned of their marriage, he sent his queen to bring Zhinu back to the stars. Upon hearing the cries of Niulang and their children, the king allowed Zhinu and Niulang to meet once a year on Qixi.

During Qixi, young women prepare offerings of melon and other fruits to Zhinu in hopes of finding a good husband. Couples also head to temples to pray for happiness and prosperity. At night, people look to the heavens to watch as stars Vega and Altair (Zhinu and Niulang, respectively) come close during the star-crossed pair’s annual reunion.

6. England

England Valentine's Day

Valentine’s Day gifts in England. Bob Hall via Flickr.

On the eve on Valentine’s Day, women in England used to place five bay leaves on their pillows—one at each corner and one in the center—to bring dreams of their future husbands. Alternatively, women wet bay leaves with rose water and placed them across their pillows.

In Norfolk, Jack Valentine acts as a Santa of sorts for Valentine’s Day. Children anxiously wait to hear Jack Valentine knock at their doors, and although they don’t catch a glimpse of Old Father Valentine, children enjoy the candies and small gifts left on their porches.

7. Philippines

While Valentine’s Day celebrations in the Philippines are similar to celebrations in Western countries, one tradition has swept the country and led to thousands of couples sharing a wedding day on February 14th.

Mass wedding ceremonies have gained popularity in the Philippines in recent years, leading hundreds of couples to gather at malls or other public areas around the country to get married or renew their vows en masse. In 2012, more than 2,000 Filipino couples were married or renewed their vows in mass wedding ceremonies throughout the country.

8. Italy

Baci perugina

Baci Perugina. Photo credit: Paola Sucato via Flickr.

Originally, Italians celebrated Valentine’s Day as the Spring Festival. The young and amorous gathered outside in gardens and tree arbors to enjoy poetry readings and music before taking a stroll with their beloved.

Another Italian Valentine’s Day tradition was for young, unmarried girls to wake up before dawn to spot their future husbands. The belief was that the first man a woman saw on Valentine’s Day was the man she would marry within a year. Or, he’d at least strongly resemble the man she would marry.

Today, Italians celebrate Valentine’s Day with gift exchanges between lovers and romantic dinners. One of the most popular Valentine’s Day gifts in Italy are baci perugina, which are small, chocolate-covered hazelnuts wrapped with a romantic quote printed in four languages.

9. Brazil

With Carnival held sometime in February or March each year, Brazilians skip the February 14thcelebration and instead celebrate Dia dos Namorados, or “Lovers’ Day,” on June 12th. In addition to exchanges of chocolates, flowers and cards, music festivals and performances are held throughout the country. Gift giving isn’t limited to couples, either. In Brazil, they celebrate this day of love by exchanging gifts and sharing dinner with friends and relatives, too.

The following day is Saint Anthony’s Day, which honors the patron saint of marriage. On this day, single women perform rituals called simpatias in hopes that St. Anthony will bring them a husband.

10. South Africa

Like many parts of the world, South Africa celebrates Valentine’s Day with festivals, flowers and other tokens of love. It’s also customary for women in South Africa to wear their hearts on their sleeves on February 14th. Women pin the names of their love interest on their shirtsleeves, an ancient Roman tradition known as Lupercalia. In some cases, this is how South African men learn of their secret admirers.

10 Valentine’s Day Traditions Around the World brazil , China , Denmark , England , France , Holidays , Italy , philippines , romantic travel , South Africa , South Korea , valentines day

Food Fridays: Bike Tours for Foodies

21 Jan

Two women picking red peppers for spice powders near Jodhpur. (Photograph by Shivji Joshi, My Shot)

What better way to sample the culinary delights of a region than by peddling along its backroads, enjoying the scenery and working up an appetite for the next meal?

Here are ten great itineraries for all you food- and wine-loving cyclists out there:

1. Blue Ridge, Virginia

Tucked away in Virginia’s vineyard-dotted farmland awaits a land of gastronomic pleasure. After a gourmet breakfast, head out to the region’s wineries, and return to a sumptuous dinner in the evening. Some tours include an evening at The Inn at Little Washington, which invented such signature dishes as veal Shenandoah and timbale of Maryland crabmeat.

Napa Valley from above. (Photograph by Marek Hosek, My Shot)

Planning: Base yourself at the Foster Harris House bed and breakfast.

2. Sonoma and Napa Valleys, California

Vine-covered hills, redwood groves, and sprawling farmlands provide perfect cycling country. Follow Sonoma’s backroads in the Dry Creek, Alexander, and Knights Valleys, stopping to taste the wines and the best of California’s farm-t0-table cuisine. Then move on to Napa Valley’s winery-lined Silverado Trail and stay in St. Helena, sampling locally raised lamb, cheeses, and seafood.

Planning: Some tours start from San Francisco; or stay in the area and book tours by the day.

3. Salta Province, Argentina

Beginning in colonial Salta, visit ancient Cachi, remote Estancia Colome — featuring a private tasting of its high-altitude wines — and picturesque Cafayate, the hub of Salta’s wine-making business. Gaucho barbecues and a regional cuisine of corn-based Locro stew, tamales, and lots of desserts, are complemented by the Malbecs and Torrontes of the province’s vineyards.

Planning:The route involves some hard cycling at high altitudes.

4. The Golden Triangle, Thailand

Sample the cuisine of northern Thailand, with its liberal use of spices, curries, and noodles prepared with fresh local ingredients, on a tour that starts in Chiang Mai and visits hill-tribe communities en route to the ancient Burmese kingdom of Chiang Saen. Peddle past jungle valleys and boat-dotted rivers, eating in local restaurants, and taking in markets and an optional cooking class.

Soak in the local street food culture in Chiang Mai. (Photograph by Christian Schmidt, My Shot)

Planning: The route goes along rural roads with some climbing.

5. Rajasthan, India

Rajasthan‘s royal kitchens turned the preparation of food into an art form, cooking scarce meats with elaborate curries, dried fruits, and yogurt. Sleep in palaces and feast on some of India’s finest cuisine in towns such as Umaid Bhawan, Jodhpur, and Udaipur, sharing lonely roads with camel trains and shepherds en route.

Planning: This is an easy route. Bikes can be rented in most towns if you want to devise your own tour.

6. Mediterranean Turkey

For centuries Ottoman chefs crafted dishes for sultans, creating a rich culinary tradition in the process. On this tour of epicurean discovery, you will cycle through the citrus-perfumed countryside and along the Mediterranean coast, exploring the seaside towns of Bodrum and Datca, and ending with a three-day cruise on some of the world’s most dazzling blue waters.

Planning: A challenging route for intermediate and advanced cyclists.

7. Piedmont, Italy

With robust wines (Barolo, Barbaresco) and singular gastronomy, Piedmont is a gourmet’s paradise — a typical meal consists of at least six courses, accented with some of the world’s finest truffles. Peddle along quiet but hilly country roads, visiting red-roofed villages, such as Alba, and the five towns of Barolo.

Planning: Moderately difficult.

8. Burgundy, France

With lazy lanes, picturesque canals, farmland, and vineyards galore, Burgundy is a biker’s delight. Discover the abbeys at Cluny and Vezelay and the historic cities of Dijon, Macon, Tournus, and Beaune, with architecture funded by wealthy wine merchants. Taste the likes of Vosne-Romanee, Gevrey-Chambertin, and Puligny-Montrachet along the way.

Sample salame in Piedmont, Italy. (Photograph by Rachel Black, Flickr)

Planning: A network of linked cycle routes covers the region, providing services and facilities for cyclists.

9. Basque Country, Spain

The region’s cornucopia of ingredients combine to create some of the best cuisine in Spain: including aged beef grilled over hot coals, and bacalao (salted cod) — washed down with Basque cider or Rioja wine. Cycling tours take in fishing villages along the area’s rugged coast, the cultural delights of Bilbao, and Haro and the Spanish plateau, where Rioja wines are produced in all their glory.

Planning: Tours are available tailored to your interests and fitness level.

10. The Cape & Winelands, South Africa

Beginning in Cape Town, explore the Cape Peninsula coast before heading inland to the Franschhoek Valley, with its French roots and magnificent vineyards, and the Shamwari Game Reserve. On the way, taste a medley of Cape Malay, Indian, Afrikaner, and European culinary delights, such as springbok loin in balsamic broth.

Planning: Spring and fall are the best times.

This list originally appeared in National Geographic’s Food Journeys of a Lifetime: 500 Extraordinary Places to Eat Around the Globe.

Food Fridays: Bike Tours for Foodies