Readers' Photos: A slide show of our fave shots
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This weekend: Puerto Rico's annual holiday mask festival
Our online trip coaches always have inside information and tips for us. Stephen Keeling, author of the first-edition "Rough Guide to Puerto Rico," recently told us about a nifty festival happening this weekend on the island. Here it is, in his words: The Hatillo mask festival (Festival de las Máscaras) is one of Puerto Rico's most exuberant celebrations, so you are in for a real treat! Held on December 28, the festival actually commemorates King Herod's attempt to kill baby Jesus by ordering the murder of all first born sons. These days it's a big party; the men of the town wear florid masks and costumes to collect money for local churches or charities (with as many pranks as possible), there's a big parade with floats, lots of mouth-watering food and plenty of music and dancing. Given the thousands that turn up to celebrate, visiting the festival can be tricky! The best way would be stay near the town: the Parador El Buen Café is a decent three-star hotel on the main highway just outside Hatillo. Once there, the hotel should be able to help with local taxis. Failing that, you can drive to Hatillo from San Juan in around one hour, but I'd leave really early! PREVIOUSLY In time for the holidays, "Scared of Santa" photos Exclusive: New York's holiday windows as festive as ever
Dreaming of Tuscany
It's always right around this time of year when I start longing for a vacation. True, most of us are just back from at least a few days off for Christmas and New Year's, but vacations are kind of like movie popcorn to me: a taste only makes me hungry for more. So I was the perfect audience for the info I got today from a new program called Tuscany: A Journey for the Senses. I'm not crazy about the name (you can't get much more New Age-y than "journey" and "senses," and New Age-y I am not), but I love the concept: a week in Tuscany studying art, architecture, or cooking. There are four programs in all, and they last anywhere from seven to 10 days. The best part? You stay at Fatttoria La Palazzina, a villa in the Val d'Orcia region. To be honest, I don't care if my pastel paintings turn out like my nephew's kindergarten art—if I get to bask by that pool and stare out at the rolling hills every day, I'll be happy. The programs start at about $2,200 for a week, which sounds steep until you consider that it covers your room, classes, local transportation, admission to museums, and meals cooked by the villa's resident chef, Eliana Pasquini. I'm guessing she doesn't serve movie popcorn, but I'm sure I'll find something to tempt me.
NYC: Classical music for less
Perhaps feeling the recessionary pull, the New Yorker's music critic writes this week about the affordable art of concertgoing. For many of the options that Alex Ross attended, it's all in the timing. You can hear the New York Philharmonic for just $16 if you're willing to attend one of their open rehearsals—held in the morning. And Juilliard students have a running gig for Tuesdays around lunchtime at 180 Maiden Lane, an office tower near South Street Seaport. Other times it's a tradeoff in location that gives you the edge. As Alex points out, the "cheapest seats at the Metropolitan Opera are fifteen dollars, slightly more than the bleachers at Yankee Stadium." They also happen to be so nosebleedy that you can't see the stage. But if the music's the thing for you, these "family circle" seats may actually work to your advantage: up there, Ross says, "the sound has excellent balance and presence: the voices float straight up, bounce off the ceiling, and mingle cleanly with the orchestra." (Another Met Opera option are the $25 tickets set aside each week. Given out by lottery, these special deals are all for primo orchestra or grand tier seats. And if you're more interested in smaller, independent opera companies, New York has a rundown.) If you're headed to New York soon and want to catch a classical-music concert, where can you easily find out what's on? The New Yorker, New York magazine, and Time Out all have good listings, but the most thorough I've seen is the concert board kept up by the classical music station WQXR.
How much is an airplane bathroom worth to you?
We've all become more or less resigned to paying airlines for services that until recently were free. Coughing up $15 or so to check a bag—any bag? Fine. Paying for in-flight food or a mighty power-nap sack? Fine again, maybe. But what about having to pay to use the bathroom? Everyone's favorite publicity-mad cheapskate carrier, Ryanair, has managed to do what it does best: Get people riled up. This time it's a proposal to start charging people £1 to get into the airplane bathroom—the plan would be to put coin slots on the doors. The chief executive, Michael O'Leary, billed this idea as a net gain for the world, saying that Ryanair's always looking for ways to "lower the cost of air travel to make it affordable and easier for all passengers to fly with us." Ryanair's marketing team did make the necessary backtrack, admitting that "Michael makes a lot of this stuff up as he goes along." Another employee, however, also made it clear that there's "no legal requirement for an aircraft to have a toilet on board." In other words, Ryanair could start charging for potty access if they really wanted to. And so that got us thinking. If airlines did start charging for bathroom access, what do you think a reasonable fee would be?