Have a Hoot at Edinburgh's Hogmanay Celebrations

By HomeAway UK
December 27, 2013
Courtesy Edinburgh's Winter Festivals

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!

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Charleston: A Walking—and Eating!—Tour

Come hungry. Charleston, S.C., is a town that likes to eat well. The downtown has a variety of options—Mexican, sushi, Korean, Mediterranean, Thai, Italian, delis, burgers—and range from pizza joints catering to the student crowd to fine dining. But when I'm in Charleston, I like to explore local twists on standards of South Carolina Low Country cuisine. Like fried green tomatoes. At Jestine's Kitchen, a casual eatery reproducing the recipes of Jestine Matthews, who lived to 112 and worked for 70 years with the restaurant owner's family, the lightly battered fried-green tomatoes ($5.25) are served piping hot and have a lemony flavor. Don't leave Jestine's without trying the melts-in-your-mouth, sticky sweet Coca Cola Cake, $5.95 (251 Meeting Street, no website, no reservations). Nick's Barbecue—along with huge portions of good pulled pork, brisket, and chicken, topped either with a vinegary barbecue sauce or a smoky hot habanera sauce—serves fried green tomatoes with a thick cornmeal crust heavily seasoned with salt and pepper. Delicious. My husband's favorite, though, was Nick's sweet potato pecan pudding, a side dish that could easily be dessert (, lunch for two about $25). Shrimp grits are another staple of Low Country cuisine and are perfectly seasoned at Anson, an upscale splurge. Prepared with shrimp stock, tidbits of bacon and bacon drippings, sprinkled with scallions and roasted tomato, every bite was heavenly. A diner at the next table so enjoyed tasting her daughter's shrimp grits, she persuaded her daughter to swap entrees (, dinner for two, with wine & dessert, about $120). No surprise that grits are widely available, and even at a no-nonsense diner like Sweetwater Café, the cheesy grits are a bowlful of comfort food at $5.99 (but skip Sweetwater's biscuits, which seemed straight from a supermarket). Great fresh seafood is a Charleston tradition. The culinary emphasis of Fish is no secret. While it offers a variety of French/Asian fusion, a popular dish is the Naked Fish, the catch-of-the-day prepared simply with olive oil, salt, and pepper, to showcase its freshness ( Or go early for the Fish happy hour specials, beginning at 4:30 pm. Fortunately for those of us who love to burn calories almost as much as we love to eat, Charleston is also a walking city. On three visits, I've never rented a car, since the airport is an easy taxi ride ($14 to share a van, about $38 for a taxi) and downtown Charleston is pedestrian-friendly. Pack comfortable walking shoes to fully appreciate the architectural splendor of the area South of Broad Street. It is a neighborhood of 18th- and 19th-century mansions located close to one another, close to the waterfront, and within walking distance of the downtown shopping and dining area. Many houses have two story open-air porches, called "piazzas," situated to capture the prevailing breezes. Many houses have carefully cultivated gardens that can be glimpsed behind elaborate wrought iron gates. A handful, such as the Edmondston-Alston House (, are open for tours by local docents, who can tell you about the family, the furnishings, and the architecture. Downtown Charleston is also home to the lovely historic campus of the College of Charleston, where you can stroll the brick walkways and admire the architecture and trees draped in Spanish moss. The campus welcomes visitors and offers student-guided tours, a map for a self-guided tour, and even a downloadable app for a self-guided tour ( The Charleston City Market is four blocks of covered, open-air buildings, where local artisans sell pottery, wood carvings, soaps, wearable art, and other crafts. At the Market or on the sidewalk in front of the federal courthouse, you might see weavers turning sweet grass into baskets, and selling them on the spot. You can window shop at the many art galleries, upscale retailers like Jill St. John, or mid-price chains such as Urban Outfitters, or visit Butterfly (, a consignment shop filled with deals on fashion-forward women's clothing. For a free rest stop for tired feet, try people-watching from a plush chair in the lobby of the Embassy Suites hotel, the pink fortress-like structure that formerly housed the Citadel Military College and where some guest rooms feature gun ports ( Or cross Marion Square, a welcoming public park that hosts a farmers market on Saturday mornings, and find a comfy chair in the grand lobby of the Francis Marion hotel, built in 1924 and extensively renovated in 1996. If you stay at the Francis Marion, a weekend getaway package offered until December 2014 includes $50 per night of certificates for the hotel restaurant, The Swamp Fox, or for any participating restaurant on Upper King Street, most located within easy walking distance of the hotel ( Nightlife on upper King Street has picked up in recent years, and now features lively upscale lounges with dress codes and lines that spill out onto the sidewalk. The bars' success has caused some tension with their neighbors over limited parking and the noise of patrons leaving at the 2 a.m. closing time. On every visit to Charleston, I am again struck by the friendly service. And that unpretentious hospitality is another draw for a lovely walkable city with great food. Sarah Ricks is a Clinical Professor at Rutgers Law School—Camden and a lifelong travel junkie.


Historic Houses of Quito, Ecuador

This article was written by Mike Gasparovic, a freelance writer, editor, and translator. He devotes his free time to studying the history, art, and literature of the Spanish-speaking world and learning about its people. He currently lives in Lima, and wrote this article for South American Vacations, providers of tours to Ecuador and South America. Quito today has a reputation for being one of the most orderly and peaceful of South American capitals, but it hasn't always been so. In the early 1800s, the city was a hotbed of revolutionary activity, a flash point whose intellectual and political crosscurrents eventually gave rise to one of the first violent insurrections against Spanish colonial rule. Today it's still possible to visit the houses in Quito's Old Town, most of which date from the 18th century. Stepping inside their whitewashed adobe walls, travelers are able to turn back the clock to the formative years of Latin America, when the nations we know today were born. Here are two historical houses you should visit next time you're in Quito. Casa Mariscal SucreCalle Venezuela 593, Centro Histórico Antonio José de Sucre was the trusted commandant of the revolutionary leader Simón Bolívar. His name is blazoned on seemingly every street corner in Quito, principally for his role in the battle of Pichincha, which took place in 1822 on the slopes of the volcano that overlooks the city, and which effectively brought about the liberation of what would later become Ecuador. Sucre would go on to achieve an even greater victory in the battle of Ayacucho in Peru, which brought to a close the wars of independence in Latin America, before being assassinated on a dark mountain deep in the forests of Colombia. Sucre's life wasn't all heroics. In 1828, longing for peace after so many years of fighting, he married Mariana Carcelen, Marquise of Solander, and moved into this house in downtown Quito, which she had inherited from her family. The couple enjoyed a brief interval of domestic bliss, 15 short months, long enough for Mariana to give birth to a daughter. Then Sucre was called away to quell a series of political troubles in Bogotá. He never returned. Today, visitors to this lovely museum can see the living quarters, kitchen, stables, and salons where the Marshal of Ayacucho made his home. Tours are available in both English and Spanish, after which you are left free to wander. The effect is both monumental and strangely intimate: full-size mounted portraits grace the gallery upstairs, while the Mariscal's guitar still hangs on the bedroom wall. Museo Manuela SáenzCalle Junín Oe-113, Centro Histórico Manuela Sáenz, Simón Bolívar's mistress, never lived in this 18th-century house in Quito's San Marcos neighborhood. She in all likelihood never even entered it (though evidence indicates that as a child, she did board at the Santa Catalina Convent across the street). Yet this fascinating museum is a must-see, for it's here that Sáenz has found her champion, a scholar whose passion and spirit rival her own. That scholar is Ana María Álvarez, and she has dedicated herself not only to her investigations of Sáenz's life, but also to educating the public about history's most famous Quiteña. After her father, Carlos Álvarez Sáa, an industrialist and amateur historian, acquired and refurbished this house in the 1980s, Álvarez inherited from him his love for "La Libertadora del Libertador" (so-called for reportedly saving Bolívar's life during three separate assassination attempts). She thus elected to spend her days clearing away the myths surrounding her subject and claiming for Sáenz her rightful place in Latin American history. The figure that emerges, during the hour-long tour of the museum, is that of a complex, driven woman, a revolutionary conspirator, spy, and proto-feminist who loved independence as fiercely as she did the man who fought to realize it in South America. The museum houses numerous objects that once belonged to Sáenz and Bolívar: letters, portraits, furniture, firearms. Through them, we're able to follow the trajectory of La Caballeresa del Sol (Dame of the Sun), from her seduction at age 17 by a Spanish army officer, to her participation in the conspiracy against the Peruvian viceroy in 1820, to her first meeting with Bolívar in Quito, where she wove a crown of flowers for the revolutionary hero and threw it from a balcony as his cortege passed below. The tour also features a biographical video that recounts Saenz's final days, first as an exile in Jamaica and later as a destitute widow in the coastal town of Paita, Peru, where she died of diphtheria and was buried in a mass grave. What makes all of this come alive, however, is Álvarez's great gifts as a storyteller. Visiting the house, we feel that it really is hers, Manuela's—that after so many journeys, her spirit has at last found its proper home.


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 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.