Traveling to Washington, D.C., for the Presidential Inauguration?
Washington, D.C., won't see the 1.8 million visitors it drew for Barack Obama's 2009 presidential inauguration—that was, after all, a once-in-a-lifetime historical event—but the Associated Press reports that the nation's capital is bracing for between 600,000 to 800,000 arrivals for the president's second inauguration, on January 21, and that hotels are filling up.
If you've only watched presidential inaugurations on television, there's really nothing like being there on the mall as the president takes the oath of office, delivers the inaugural address, then parades down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House. Regardless of weather, the air crackles with excitement and aspects of the day can provide significant signals about leadership style: After delivering his inaugural address in January 1977, Jimmy Carter, a former peanut farmer from Georgia and the first president elected after the Watergate scandal, skipped a ride in a fancy limo to become the first president to walk to the White House in an inaugural parade.
While many of Washington's big downtown hotels will be offering pricey packages for the inauguration weekend—and a lot of the city's budget hotels are already sold out—you can typically find doubles for under $200 by booking major chain hotels such as Comfort Inn, Red Roof, and Quality Inn in communities adjoining D.C. in Maryland and Virginia. If you check now, you might even land a short-term vacation rental on sites like AirBnB.com.
If you're headed to D.C. for the festivities, here are some inauguration-focused must-sees:
U.S. Capitol. The ceremonial swearing-in will take place at the Capitol on Monday, January 21 (also Martin Luther King Day, a federal holiday, so the building will be closed to visitors that day. But hour-long tours are offered Monday through Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m, and it's best to reserve a spot on one of these popular tours in advance (visitor center entrance at First Street and East Capitol Street, N.W., visitthecapitol.gov, admission free).
National Museum of American History. Here, you'll find countless artifacts from the nation's history, including the especially appropriate exhibits "The American Presidency: A Glorious Burden" and "Changing America: The Emancipation Proclamation, 1863, and the March on Washington, 1963" (1400 Constitution Ave., N.W., americanhistory.si.edu, admission free).
The National Archives. Sure, the name may sound ho-hum, but you may have heard of some of the manuscripts on display in the rotunda of the National Archives: The U.S. Constitution, Bill of Rights, and Declaration of Independence (700 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W., archives.gov/nae, admission free).
Top Stories of 2012
It was an eventful year in the world of travel, and here are the five stories that had us talking. Fees, fees, and more feesAs of January 2012, it was required for all taxes and fees to be included in published airfares, making it easier to see just how much a flight was going to cost. But that rule doesn't include ancillary fees for things like checked bags and more leg room. And those fees add up. U.S. airlines charged more than $815 million for just baggage fees in the first quarter of 2012 alone. Lots of new fees were introduced: Spirit Airlines made good on their threat to charge $100 for carry-on bags, while Southwest started charging travelers who didn't show up for their flight. Airlines weren't the only ones making money off extra fees. Hotels are set to bring in $1.95 billion from fees and surcharges in 2012, up $100 million over 2011. Costa Concordia sinks off the coast of Italy2012 marked the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, but it was another doomed ship that garnered even more headlines this year. In January, the Costa Concordia struck a rock and sank off the coast of Italy. It reportedly took more than six hours for the ship to be evacuated, and 32 people were killed in the incident. In the aftermath, officials at multiple cruise lines began to rethink their safety procedures. London OlympicsThis year's summer Olympics didn't do as much for the city's tourism as officials hoped—at least in the short-term. According to an article in the Telegraph, some of the city's attractions saw 60 percent fewer visitors during the games compared to last year (an unusually rainy summer didn't help matters). The hope is that the excitement will inspire travelers to book trips in 2013 and beyond. And there is no reason not to. Even if you've been to London before, there's always something new to see. Besides the Olympic venues, check out these new attractions introduced this year. Super stormsWinter Storm Euclid wreaked havoc on post-holiday travel plans, but that was nothing compared to the disruptions caused by Hurricane Sandy. Almost 19 percent of flights were cancelled because of that storm, ranking it number two on the list of the most disruptive natural events for airlines (number one was the Eyjafjallajökull Volcano eruption and ash cloud back in 2010). End of the world in MexicoMexico's tourism board took the buzz around the ending of the Mayan calendar on December 21, 2012, and turned it into a promotional opportunity, setting up a website and opening a new museum of Mayan history. Though the date passed without incident, an estimated 50 million travelers explored southeast Mexico in 2012. What were your top travel stories of the year? Tell us below!
10 Things You Never Knew About the North Pole
There's more to the North Pole than just snow and Santa. Ever since it was discovered by Robert E. Peary, Matthew Henson, and four Eskimo companions back in 1909, the North Pole has been a place of international intrigue—did you know several countries are now fighting over vast underground oil reserves in the Arctic Circle? You can go see for yourself with expedition voyages or even spend the night in a hotel made entirely of ice—try the IceHotel in Jukkasjärvi, Sweden, or stay overnight at the Aurora Ice Museum in Fairbanks, AK, for a unique twist on the average igloo. Here, 10 more facts about the North Pole that may surprise you. There are two North Poles Unlike the South Pole, which lies over the continent of Antarctica, there is no land beneath the North Pole but more of a floating Arctic ice sheet that expands during colder months and shrinks to half its size in the summer. To complicate things even more, there are two different definitions of the North Pole. The first is the north magnetic pole, which is, quite literally, a magnetic phenomenon which changes daily depending on changes under the Earth's crust. Additionally, there is a north terrestrial pole, which is the fixed point that references the top of the Earth. Regardless of how you define the North Pole, global warming continues to be a problem here—as the polar ice caps melt, the sea levels rise, eliminating the land that polar bears and other wildlife depend on for survival. It's at the center of an international controversy right now Did you know 30 percent of the world's untapped oil reserves are located in the Arctic Circle? The U.S. Geological Survey says that amount could actually be higher, since so much of the region has yet to be explored. Complicating matters is the fact that multiple countries lay claim to the Arctic Circle—Russia, Canada, Norway, Denmark (via Greenland), and the United States (via Alaska). Each country is allowed to explore potential oil reserves within 200 miles of their coastlines, but in 2007, Russia used a mini-submarine to plant the country's flag on the floor of the Arctic Ocean in an attempt to claim the region and its natural resources, a move that was rejected by the U.N. as the countries continue to work toward a solution. The North Pole has seasons Just like everywhere else on Earth, the temperature varies here depending on the time of year. The North Pole is warmest in July, if by warm you mean it's actually freezing—32 degrees. If that gives you the shivers, brace yourself. Temperatures in February drop to a bone-chilling 31 degrees below zero. The amount of light each day depends on the time of year, too. Alaska as well as Norway and the other Arctic Circle countries each face six months of broad daylight and six months of almost total darkness because of the angle at which this top portion of the Earth receives sunlight. Yet, it is not the coldest place in the world It might come as a shock, but even with temperatures with a high of just 32 degrees, the North Pole is not the coldest place on Earth. The South Pole is (in winter temperatures average -76 degrees F). Unlike the North Pole, the South Pole sits on top of a thick sheet of ice, which in turn sits on top of a piece of land—Antarctica. At more than 9,000 feet above sea level, Antarctica is also the world's tallest continent. The North Pole, on the other hand, is made up of a thin Arctic ice sheet that sits barely a foot above sea level—a fact that allows the landscape to absorb heat from the surrounding Arctic Ocean. There is life up there While the conditions may be considered too tough for most humans, there are native Inuit tribes living in northern Canada and Alaska. The outer reaches of the Arctic Circle are a great place to see polar bears in the wild. Keep an eye out for other Arctic dwellers like Orca, Humpback, and Beluga whales, the arctic fox, and Svalbard reindeer. This isn't the only place to see reindeer in the world; a reindeer herd in the U.K. inhabits the Cairngorm Mountains of northern Scotland. One animal you won't see in the North Pole is the penguin. They live in the South Pole. Several species of flying penguin-like birds called auks, guillemots, and puffins can be seen in the Arctic Circle, though. Santa Claus is not the only legendary character in the North Pole Did you know that the creature that inspired myths about unicorns comes from the North Pole? The narwhal, a small whale that lives in the chilly waters of the Arctic Circle, has a six-to-10-foot long tusk, a trait that earned it the nickname "unicorn of the sea." Back in the 16th century, they were often believed to possess magical powers that could be used to cure diseases. Demand was high, and legend has it that Queen Elizabeth I shelled out 10,000 pounds to get her hands on her very own narwhal tusk. Nowadays, narwhal populations are on the decline, due to hunting (Inuit peoples use the meat, tusks, and vitamin-C-rich skin in their everyday lives), climate change, and fishing for halibut, their main source of food. Santa's magical workshop isn't in the North Pole proper—but it is nearby Shh! Don't tell the kids, but Santa's Workshop isn't really in the North Pole—it's in Finnish Lapland. You can visit Santa Claus Village in the Finnish town of Rovaniemi year round, send letters to and from his post office (they'll bear the official postmark of the Arctic Circle), and spend time exploring Santa Park, a series of Christmas-themed caves where you can meet jolly old St. Nick and his elves. You can even visit Santa's reindeer at the onsite Sirmakko Reindeer Family Farm. If Finnish Lapland seems a little out of reach, Santa also has a satellite workshop in the holiday-themed town of North Pole, Alaska where the streets have names like Kris Kringle, Mistletoe, Donner, and Blitzen. If you would rather write to Santa than visit his workshops, the U.S. Postal Service will postmark letters from Santa Claus as long as they are received by December 10th each year. Simply mail your letters to North Pole Postmark Postmaster, 41-41 Postmark Drive, Anchorage, Alaska 99530 with "Santa, North Pole" marked as the return address. If time is of the essence, you can always email Santa—he'll answer it right away. On Christmas Eve, use the Santa Tracker North Pole Command Center app ($1.99) to keep an eye on Santa's progress. You can vacation there While not exactly a budget destination, you can embark on your own Arctic adventure. Quark Expeditions offers a wide variety of cruising expeditions ranging from the Spitsbergen Explorer, an 11-day cruise around the Norwegian island (from $4,995 per person) to The Ultimate Arctic Adventure, which sails from Russia to the 90-degree north spot that represents the North Pole, visits Franz Josef Land, and tours the Arctic Ocean (from $23,995 per person). Go from June to mid-July to see the polar bears and walrus hunting in their own natural habitat, from mid-July to mid-August to see flowers and other arctic flora in bloom, or from mid-August to September as birds begin to migrate south. There are hot springs up there If you are in the frigid Arctic Circle, you'll need to find a way to warm up. Chena Hot Springs, located about an hour outside Fairbanks, AK, has a natural geothermal hot spring in a rock lake surrounded by nature. The hot springs are open from 7 a.m. to midnight, giving you plenty of time to soak and get a front row seat for the Aurora Borealis (best viewed between August and May). You can also stay at the Chena Hot Springs Resort ($65 a night to room in a Mongolia-style yurt, or stay in a room at the resort for from $189 a night). A number of hot springs can also be found in Norway's Svalbard Islands, in Iceland (the Landmannalaugar Hot Springs is well-known), and in Russia—Scientific American profiled the hot springs in Oymyakon, Siberia, the coldest town on Earth. There is a North Pole marathon every year The North Pole Marathon bills itself as the World's Coolest Marathon, and with an average wind chill temperature of 22 degrees below zero, they'd be right. It's happened every year since 2002—in 2011 255 people from 38 nations around the world braved the conditions to compete in the 26.2-mile marathon race on top of a floating Arctic ice shelf. Competitors are transported to an international North Pole Camp on the polar ice shelf to start the race. And they layer up-thermal layers, windproof pants, gloves, two pairs of socks, and even goggles are necessary. The next North Pole Marathon takes place on April 9, 2013, and costs a pretty penny—about $15,561 for the entry fee that includes accommodations in Spitsbergen, Greenland, before and after the race, flights to and from the North Pole Camp, helicopter flights within the polar region, medals, and a commemorative DVD of the race. But the bragging rights are priceless.
Europe's Up-and-Coming Destinations
You've checked Paris, London, and Rome off the list. So what should be your next European vacation destination? According to a survey of more than 1,000 American travel agents conducted by Travel Leaders Group (and based on actual trips already booked), perennial faves like London, Rome, and Mediterranean cruises are going to continue being top spots in 2013. But there were European countries that saw surprising gains in popularity. So you better book now. Here are the top three: SEE THE DESTINATIONS! Croatia. Surprisingly Italian in flavor, including a Roman emperor's palace and a gladiator coliseum, Croatia offers beaches on the Adriatic and and welcoming locals, inspiring a 34.9 percent increase in bookings over last year, according to the Travel Leaders Group survey. Turkey. East meets West, literally and figuratively, in Turkey's varied landscape. The opportunity to visit landmark mosques, Orthodox churches and Roman ruins, while enjoying chic boutique hotels and some of the region's tastiest cuisine has given Turkey a 12.9 percent bump in bookings for 2013. Czech Republic. Whether you're a casual backpacker or seeking luxe for less, this country, which celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2013, is known for its contemporary art and food scene as well as its old-world castles and iconic Charles Bridge. Now's a good time to see it, since booking for 2013 are up 12.2 percent. Talk to us! Are you planning a trip to Europe in 2013? If so, are you going with the tried-and-true, or venturing into one of these up-and-coming destinations?
The 12 Days of Aspen
Powderhounds take to Aspen like candy canes to a Christmas stocking, and nothing says "spend your holiday on the slopes" quite like the 12 Days of Aspen. From December 20 through New Year's Eve, the Colorado city welcomes visitors to its three snow-peaked mountains and four ski resorts with a full calendar of concerts, ice-skating, restaurant deals, and splurge-y shopping. If you're up for a last-minute indulgence, or just want to do a little vicarious window-shopping, here are some highlights: Free Ice Skating from 2 pm to 4 pm at the Silver Circle Ice Rink on the 12 Days of Aspen opening day, December 20 (Silver Circle Ice Rink, 433 E. Durant Ave., Aspen, 970/925-1710, free on opening day, other $7 for adults, $3 skate rental). The Spirit of Aspen Spectacular is a new musical presented evenings at the Wheeler Opera House, featuring Aspen locations and actors playing local legends such as the late pop singer John Denver. "The story is about what makes Aspen so special for the holidays," author Jayne Gottlieb told the Aspen Times. "It speaks to the magic of our town." (320 E. Hyman Ave, Aspen, wheeler operahouse.com, tickets $25 for adults, $20 for children 12 and under). Yoga for Skiers isn't just a relaxing and invigorating way to start the day. Poses such as Chair Pose and Spine Twist help prepare the body's muscles for the twists and turns of downhill skiing and snowboarding. Sessions are free with a lift ticket at Aspen Mountain, The Sundeck, Mondays, Wednesday, Fridays, and Saturdays at 9:30 (Aspen Mountain, The Sundeck, 970/429-6974, free with lift ticket). Winter Explorers Class gives the little ones an educational, outdoors alternative to holiday favorites like cocoa with Santa and teddy bear story hour. The Aspen Center for Environmental Studies offers kids ages 6 to 10 a chanced to explore the Lake Hallam nature preserve, including examining animal tracks, building a snow cave, and much more (100 Puppy Smith St., Aspen, aspennature.org, from $50). Free Hot-Air Balloon Rides will be offered in Wagner Park, presented by the Above It All Balloon Co. and The Westin Snowmass Resort, on December 30 from 1:30 to 3:30 (300 S. Monarch, Aspen, 970/925-1940, free).