Great Getaways: Savannah
If you're looking for a fun, affordable southern getaway, visit Savannah, where you'll find the perfect mix of southern hospitality, nightlife, and enough action to satisfy every food lover and history buff.
Savor the tastes of Savannah
Although things may have gotten a little controversial recently, Paula Deen's restaurant, The Lady & Sons, is still one of Savannah's major attractions for foodies and fans alike—folks have been known to make reservations online up to a year in advance or else risk waiting in a line that wraps around its home at 102 West Congress Street. For a more traditional southern dining experience, try Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room at 107 West Jones Street, where you'll share a giant table and make new friends as you chow down on fried chicken and cornbread dressing, sweet potato soufflé, okra gumbo, corn muffins, and black-eyed peas. If you're still not full after all that, head to Leopold's Ice Cream, a Savannah legend that's been serving the sweet treat since 1919 (212 E. Broughton St).
Check out the old forts
Make history interesting for your family by showing them around the places where it all happened. Fort Pulaski National Monument, located about 20 minutes from downtown Savannah, was pummeled by cannon fire during the Civil War and once served as a Union prison—spend some time exploring the tiny tunnels built into the hillside that let you pop up at different vantage points around the fort. Just 10 minutes from downtown Savannah, Old Fort Jackson sits along the Savannah River and is one of oldest standing brick structures on the east coast. If you have time to take a drive, Fort McAllister Historic Park is home to 4.3 miles of hiking and biking trails, Fort tours, and historical Civil War demonstrations 45-minutes south of Savannah on the shores of the Ogeechee River.
Stroll around Savannah's great outdoors
Savannah is a great city to take a walk—you'll be met with scenic squares and picturesque scenery at almost every turn, so don't forget your camera! Movie buffs will want to visit Chippewa Square, where Forrest Gump told the story of his fascinating life while waiting for the bus. If you're a Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil fan, make a pilgrimage out to historic Bonaventure Cemetery 15 minutes from Savannah's downtown and pay a visit to poet Conrad Aiken, singer-songwriter Johnny Mercer, and several of Savannah's most famous residents. You can also visit the grave of Danny Lewis Hansford, whose death was popularized by the book, next door in Greenwich Cemetery—his gravestone is often covered in roses, cigarettes, cigars, coins, and sealed bottles of bourbon. Back in town, take a stroll or have a picnic in beautiful Forsyth Park, a gorgeous green space within the Historic District and easily accessible by Savannah's free DOT Express Shuttle. If you've brought your precious pup with you to Savannah, check out Oliver Bentleys Historic Dog Walk Tour, a tour led by the popular dog product company's mascot, Ollie B (and owner of course), that lets you and your furry friend "sniff out Savannah" and explore another, four-legged, side of the city ($20 for adults, $10 for children ages 9-17, children under 8 are free, limited to two leashed dogs per human).
Take a ghost tour—if you're brave enough!
Pick a ghost tour, any ghost tour. Savannah is rumored to be the most haunted city in the U.S. so naturally, there are plenty of options to go with—choose from the trolley-tour fun of Ghosts & Gravestones, gain some liquid courage during the Ghost City Pub Crawl by Ghost City Tours, or brave the streets at night while being led around town by your guide with Cobblestone Tours. Either way, you'll learn about the city's hauntings, tragic tales of unfortunate circumstances, and maybe even see a ghost or two. Anything can happen—you'd be surprised how much of the city was actually built on the remains of its former residents!
Spend a day at the beach in Tybee Island
Craving some sun and sand? Tybee Island is only about a 20-minute drive from Savannah and is home to the Tybee Island Light Station and Museum, a 270-year-old site where you can visit historic buildings and see what it was really like to live on the property in 1732. The view from the top* is worth the $9 entrance price ($7 for children ages 6-17, seniors, and military members—free for Coast Guard members with a valid ID). If all else fails, find your perfect spot of sand and spend a day in the warm waves of Tybee Island Beach. Mark your calendars—Tybee Island Restaurant Week is happening Jan. 17-26, 2014, so don't miss this opportunity to sample some great seafood—The Crab Shack is offering great prix fixe options from $25.
Stay in the heart of the city for less
Book your stay at the Best Western PLUS Savannah Historic District, located right along River Street, a five-minute walk from some of the city's best nightlife along the Riverfront, and across the street from Savannah Smiles Dueling Pianos, a legend of the Savannah late-night entertainment scene. Rooms are priced from $79 and include complimentary continental breakfast. Park your car at the hotel for $12 and take advantage of the city's vibrant nightlife options—you can even get around for free via the DOT Express Shuttle, River Street Streetcar, or hop a free ride on the Savannah Belles Ferry to access the Riverfront area.
*Please note the Tybee Island Lighthouse will be closed for painting thru Jan. 31, 2014, but the rest of the museum site is still open to the public at a discounted entry price.
Have a Hoot at Edinburgh's Hogmanay Celebrations
Sophie Gackowski writes for HomeAway UK New Year's Eve in Edinburgh: there's nothing else quite like it. From the infamous Street Party to the 'Loony Dook' on New Year's Day (and trust me—it's pretty loony…), it's not just one evening that Hogmanay heralds; it's three fun-filled days and nights of celebration, Scottish-style. And so, the countdown begins... This year is Edinburgh's 21st annual Hogmanay festival, and as such, there's a lot to take in. On the 30 December, some 35,000 people will attend the Torchlight Procession, which sees thousands illuminate the city with fire. Led by Shetland's 'Up Hella A' Vikings, it's free to attend; you only need to purchase a torch, the profits of which go to local charities. Finishing in an equally dramatic manner, the procession marches from George IV Bridge to a spectacular sound, light and fireworks show on Calton Hill. On the big night itself, 31 December, over 80,000 will head to the world-famous Street Party; but before that, there's plenty to choose from. Many head to the Candlelit Concert at St Giles Cathedral (sadly sold out for this year), where the music of Haydn and Bach, alongside more Baroque classics, is made all the more beautiful by the candles and incense. For some, however, Hogmanay has to be about Scottish music; and for those eager to dance a 'Gay Gordon', there's nowhere better than the Keilidh. Unfortunately, tickets have also sold out for this event: if you were lucky enough to bag tickets for these incredible nights, well done! If not, never fear: there's so much more to see and do in the Scottish capital. This year, there will be 12 giant screens to watch all the live music on, and fireworks displays at 9 pm, 10 pm, 11 pm and midnight. At Waverley Bridge you could catch bands like Django Django, or at Frederick Street, listen to the sounds of Treacherous Orchestra on the Scottish Stage. Finally, at the Mound, the Rewinder DJ set will be sounding out beats from back in the day until 1 am. If you'd rather the Concert in the Gardens, even the Pet Shop Boys will be playing! But wherever you are at the stroke of midnight, you'll want to join hands with friends and strangers alike. When the last bell is struck and fireworks flurry, the world's biggest rendition of 'Auld Land Syne' takes place: For auld lang syne, my dear / For auld lang syne / We'll tak a cup o kindness yet / For auld lang syne! Once you've shaken hands with innumerable strangers, free bus transport will take all revellers home. But it doesn't end there: it's the1st of January, after all! Thumping head? Feeling rough? The 'Loony Dook' is sure to sort you out. Clear your mind the morning after with a dip in the River Forth at South Queensferry. On New Year's Day, thousands take to the Dookers Parade through the High Street (many in fancy dress), all before plunging into the freezing waters of the Forth, with the beautiful bridges as their backdrop. Having raised thousands for charities over the past 25 years, things can only get better for the loons in 2014! Of course, if that's all a bit much, head off with SCOT:LANDS on a New Year's tour of Edinburgh's Old Town. Starting at the National Museum of Scotland, you'll be given a postcard with instructions, before travelling to nine different venues throughout the city's old centre. Entirely free to attend, dance performances and folk music, storytelling and art exhibitions will take over the city. Set to be one of the capital's most impressive cultural itineraries ever, it's one that aims to showcase everything Scotland stands for. And if that doesn't do the trick, you could always nurse a bottle of Irn-Bru instead. Happy New Year! Follow Sophie Gackowski on Google+
Montevideo: The World's Most Amazing Carnival
This article was written by Lisa Marie Mercer on behalf of Tucan Travel, providers of tours to Uruguay, South America, and beyond. In 2011, after exploring most parts of the globe, she and her husband wandered off to Uruguay, and decided to give it a new name: home. Rivaled only by its momentous soccer games, the Montevideo Carnival is the second largest event in Uruguay. Lasting six weeks, it's also the longest carnival in the world. Although it bears some similarity to the Carnival celebrations in other corners of the globe, the Montevideo Carnival differs dramatically in its origins and raison d'etre. The Story Behind CarnivalCarnival—also called Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday—dates back to pagan fertility festivals, including the rambunctious Roman festival of Saturnalia, before the arrival of Christianity brought religion to Rome. Although the priests did not condone any type of hedonistic celebration, they realized the futility of any attempt to abolish the festivities. Instead, the priests figured "if you can't beat them, join them," and incorporated the events into their religious rituals. It so came to pass that Mardi Gras took place on Tuesday on the day before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of lent. It represented a last chance for binging and merrymaking before the forthcoming period of austerity and sacrifice. That's not how Carnival evolved in Uruguay. As a country that places high value on the separation between church and state, Uruguay refers to Christmas morning as Family Day, and Holy Week as Tourism Week. Yet, having endured many years under a fascist dictatorship, Uruguayans understand the value of freedom of the human spirit, which the Carnival celebration embraces with open arms. Despite Uruguay's South American location, about 93 percent of its citizens claim European descent. In 1750, the monied European families residing in Montevideo decided to import slaves from Eastern, Equatorial and Western African countries. The slaves, stripped of their culture and ethnicity, would often gather to practice candombe, a drum-based dance and music form, indigenous to the various African cultures. Its lyrics conveyed nostalgia for the homeland, and the despair at being forced into slavery. Uruguay eventually abolished slavery, but candombe prevailed as an art form. During the 20th century, the ethnic music and dance form evolved into Carnival, and became a municipally sanctioned annual event. PreparationsAlthough Carnival usually takes place in February or March, preparations for it begin in December. Groups of men, and sometimes a few women, parade through Montevideo's Barrio Sur, their handcrafted wooden drums slung across their chests. These comparsas, as they are called, are rehearsing for the Llamadas, the event that signals the start of Carnival. In 2005, the first group of female candombe drummers entered the Carnival scene. A total of 78 women now form La Melaza, and all-female candombe group. In the past, dressing in scantily-clad outfits and performing seductive rhythmic dances was the role of the female Carnival performer; now they play the big drums and help make the music. Meanwhile, the election of the zonal carnival queens usually takes place in December, and the Carnival of Promises, a children's parade, happens in January. A Time Of CelebrationOn the first night of Carnival, thousands of drummers, dancers, and flag wavers march through the streets of Montevideo. This is not just a parade. The different comparsas compete for the best dancers, costumes, and strongest drum beats. Later on, in addition to the music and dancing, the Murgas, a type of street performer, entertain visitors with their satirical comedy acts, which are often of a political nature. The Lubolos are white men who paint their faces black, and perform the songs of the former African slaves. Although this might evoke images of the racist minstrel shows of yesteryear, its intent is quite different. The minstrel show expressed mockery. In contrast, the Lubolo performance is a form of empathy, and perhaps, a belated, albeit awkward apology. One final tip: Hotels book up early during Carnival season. If you plan to go, make your reservations as early as possible.
Holiday Travel Tips From Samantha Brown
Traveling with little ones this holiday season? Check out these great holiday travel tips from Travel Channel host and new mom, Samantha Brown. Be prepared. Pack your own childproofing items—like outlet covers, foam corners, a sliding door lock, and a cord wind-up—and plan to protect your kiddies from any potential dangers whether you're going to Grandma's or staying in an unfamilar hotel room. Samantha recommends crouching down on the floor as soon as you get there to get a better idea of what's interesting and within reach at your child's eye level. Bring the holidays with you. Going to be away from home during the holidays? Pack or pick up some festive goodies like mistletoe, tinsel, garland, or other meaningful keepsakes and decorate your hotel room! It'll help keep everyone in the holiday spirit and let the kids feel more at home in a new place. Samantha says to be careful and not bring any cherished, irreplaceable items in case they break or get lost during your travels, but to still let each family member bring something special along. TSA cares. Last year, the TSA made travel easier for families by allowing children ages 12 and under to walk through airport security while keeping their shoes and light jackets on. Always check TSA.gov before you go, but this latest development will help make the process a little easier for those traveling with youngsters this holiday season. The TSA also released this fun animated video to help kids prepare for their security line experience. Always pack extra food. Samantha recommends packing enough snacks for you and the kids so everyone stays in good spirits and no one—especially parents—arrives cranky with a tummy ache. Don't forget your camera! Bring your camera or camera-phone along for the ride and have everyone in the family get in on the act. Encourage teens and tweens to help capture the memories, laughs, and special moments on their cameras and smartphones, then, Samantha says, use everyone's photos to create an album as a thank you to your holiday host or as a way to commemmorate your family's trip away from home. Always be a good house guest. If you're visiting family for the holidays, keep in mind that your host has gone through a lot of planning and preparing to make sure you have a wonderful visit. Encourage the whole family to be on their best behavior, bring your host a gift to say thanks, always compliment the food, and help to clean up once you're done feasting. Samantha says it's the little things that count. Do your homework before you go. If you're visiting a new city during the holidays, do some research to see where you can find beautiful Christmas lights displays, local attractions, and fun, family-friendly treats like festive markets and affordable ice skating rinks, before you get there. Samantha recommends a family trip to New York City's Central Park Zoo to watch the monkeys "undecorate" a small tree covered with treats, and visiting the "Christmas Around the World" event at Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry to learn about how different cultures celebrate the season. Keep your sanity. A recent study by Embassy Suites Hotels shows that 70 percent of Americans admit they'd rather stay in a hotel than with their family members—if they knew it wouldn't upset them. Samantha says it's not meant to offend your relatives, but rather to make sure everybody gets along and has enough space; in other words, a sanity-saving measure. Samantha recommends Embassy Suites, an affordable hotel brand that is dedicated to making vacations easier and and more fun for families. Start the day off right with a full (and free) made-to-order breakfast, and enjoy free snacks and drinks at the hotel's complimentary evening reception at night. The best part: every room at an Embassy Suites property is a two-room suite, giving your family a chance to spread out with two separate sleeping areas and a large table for the kids to use when they want to draw and color.
Visiting Myanmar's Golden Shwedagon Pagoda
No trip to Myanmar is complete without a visit to the legendary golden Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon. The huge 110-meter tall gilded pagoda, which lies to the west of the Kandagyi Lake on Singuttara Hill, dominates the city skyline. Its warm, golden glow and its intricately encrusted dome and stupa will leave you absolutely gobsmacked. According to legend, the Shwedagon Pagoda is over 2,600 years old, making it the oldest historical pagoda in the world, and is Myanmar's most sacred Buddhist Pagoda. It is covered with gold plates, making it a spectacular sight when it catches the sun, and the top of the stupa is encrusted with 4531 diamonds—there's even a 72-carat diamond up there! The magnificent Pagoda contains relics from the past four Buddhas: the staff of Kakusanha, the water filter of Konagamma, a piece of Kassapa's robe, and eight strands of Guatama's hair. It started out at only 8.2 meters high, but now is a golden giant that will leave you standing there, mouth open, and eyes wide in wonder. The Pagoda was originally created to house the eight hairs of Prince Siddartha who had just attained Buddhahood. Two merchant brothers, Tapussa and Bhalhika from Asitanjana came across the new Buddha who sat under a tree revelling in his newfound emancipation. They gave him honey cakes and asked for a gift in return. The Buddha took eight hairs from his head and gave them to the brothers, who gave half of the sacred hairs away to two kings they met on their way home. They then put the hairs on a pile of pearls shaped like a Pagoda and King Ukkalapa came to see them, vowing to return the hairs to their original eight. They took the hairs back to Asitanjana to add to the other relics they had, and built the Pagoda on Singuttara Hill, where it stands today. As well as a place of worship and a focal part of the city's skyline, the Swedagon Pagoda is a place to keep and display art, history, and architecture. You can find out more in the Shwedagon Pagoda exhibit, a photo exhibit showing the history and symbolism of the Pagoda. The Shwedagon Pagoda plays hosts to religious festivals almost every month, during which time it is full of people from dawn until midnight. Some of these festivals are celebrated all over the country and all the pagodas are busy, but some are specific to the Shwedgon Pagoda. The Tabaung festival is especially important, as it commemorates the Full Moon Day of Tabaung that King Ukkalapa and the two brothers enshrined the sacred hairs. Opening timesThe Pagoda is open 4 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, except for the important religious festivals of Waxing Day of Tabaung (around March) and Waxing Day of Wakhuang (around June), when it is open 24 hours. Dress codeYou'll need to dress modestly. This means, trousers or at least a knee-length skirt or shorts, and enter barefoot. This article was written by Hannah Vickers, who has lived in Lima, Peru, for a year and a half and is the editor of Peru this Week. You can read more of her work on her blog.