The strangest Christmas events around the world

Tree + Tower (wide)

photo: Eric Kilby

Christmas is nearly upon us again. Father Christmas, sleigh bells and Christmas carols have always been a part of our Christmas celebrations. However, in some far corners of the globe Christmas is celebrated differently:

Italy

Due to the Vatican being uncomfortable with the existence of Father Christmas, parents tell children that an elderly, friendly witch (La Befana) brings presents to them. No waiting for Santa to arrive, it’s the witch who brings Christmas gifts.

Ukraine

In the Ukraine spider’s webs are included on Christmas trees. The web is supposed to bring good luck on Christmas morning. There’s a Ukrainian folk tale in which a very poor women, who couldn’t afford decorations on her Christmas tree, woke on Christmas day to find that spiders had adorned her Christmas tree with webs. In the morning sunlight the webs turned to silver and gold.

Japan

In Japan, Christmas cards are usually white to represent snow. It isn’t customary in Japan to send red Christmas cards because funeral notices are usually printed in red.

Venezuela (Caracas)

Venezuela’s capital Caracas is closed to traffic every Christmas Eve to allow roller skating churchgoers to pass through the city to church for Christmas mass on time.

Spain (Catalonia)

A part of the nativity scene is to put up a ‘belan’ depicting the day when baby Jesus was born and the three wise men came to Bethlehem.

There are also Christmas characters called ‘El Caganer’ (the great defecator) and ‘Caga Tio’. The latter is a poo log, who poos out presents on Christmas day. The log is covered in a blanket and beaten with a stick by the children every day in the run up to Christmas, until it drops presents from its rear end. Of course, really the children reach into the blanket and take their presents in turn.

Portugal (the Algarve)

Every year there is a ‘Christmas Grand Prix’ in Albufeira, in the Algarve region of Portugal. Rather than involving racing, this is a foot race where entrants have a choice between a 9km run or a 3km ‘Father Christmas walk’, which is a firm family favourite in the area.

Norway

All the brooms in the home are hidden away on Christmas Eve in the old belief that spirits and witches come out after dark and would take their brooms to ride up into the skies.

Latvia

One of the better known Latvian Christmas traditions is called ‘mumming’. Mummers dress in assorted masks and roam the streets on Christmas Eve. Some masks are of gypsies, bears, goats and horses.

Jim Stanton has travelled across Europe and the world, including several lengthy stints living in Asia and South America, but has found himself drawn time and time again to Portugal, becoming an expert on the culture and history of the country, especially the Algarve region. He now splits his time between the UK and Portugal. You can find him on Google+. Jim Stanton

How To Save Money Traveling

suitcase.

photo: H o l l y.

The banking crisis led to a global slowdown in travel. Many of us started traveling less, preferring to pay down our debt or perhaps build up our savings instead. Many industries were affected by the slowdown, including the airline and hotel industries. In fact, the only people who weren’t affected were the frugal travelers who knew how to travel on a budget. By spending wisely, they were able to pay down their debts and still find a little room to get away.

If you are still going to your local travel agent you are probably spending way over the odds. If you only ever buy tickets from one airline, you are likely paying too much as well. The Internet has led to a highly competitive landscape where prices fluctuate rapidly as demand rises and falls. Go away from your laptop, return 30 minutes later, and you’ll notice the same vacation is $200 more expensive than before. In some ways, buying a vacation is a lot more like buying shares, with prices adjusting themselves on a seemingly never-ending basis. To save money, you have to be prepared to hold off until the price is right.

Many people believe that the best way to save money on flights is to book early. This is a reasonable assumption to make, and it’s sometimes true, but not always. In fact, you can typically find the cheapest flights around six weeks before the flight departs. It’s also always a good idea to check several dates in close proximity to the date you would like to travel. Often the same flight, one day later, can be a few hundred dollars cheaper or more expensive. A great place visit for a cheap holiday is Tenerife, you can get some great hotels in Tenerife for a very low cost.

You might sometimes be tempted to choose a much longer flight in order to save money. For example, you might save $150 by choosing a flight that takes an extra ten hours to arrive, with a stopover in another city along the way. It’s worthwhile asking if this is really worth it. You will save $150, but at the cost of 10 hours of your time. You might also find that you take much longer to recover from your flight, which will eat into the time you have left to enjoy your vacation. Your time is precious, especially during your trip, so it’s worth considering how much your time is worth. Maybe it’s better to spend a little more and free up some time for you to enjoy yourself.

Don’t make the mistake of failing to look for rental car deals before you start your trip. This can be a costly mistake. The best deals can be found at home, over the Internet, and not at your final destination. You are also far more likely to get the car that you want. Another mistake is failing to consider the fuel efficiency of the car you choose to hire. You’ll likely be traveling a lot, so this could really affect the total cost of your vacation.

 

hotels in Tenerife

3 Things That You Simply Must Do In Paris

If you’ve been seriously considering getting away on a well deserved holiday over the coming months, then might we suggest a change from the typical beach holiday that many people seem to automatically book as their go-to response to a holiday. If you think that red hot sunshine, sunburn, and drink holiday makers are overrated, and would like to get a little more culture and romance into your lives, then there’s really only one city on earth that you should be visiting. That city is of course, the capital of France, Paris. There is almost literally something for everybody in this cultured, hustling and bustling city, and once you’ve visited it, you’ll be sure to come back again and again. There are many amazing places to stay in Paris so why not take a look and see for yourself? If Paris sounds like the destination for you, then here are just three things that you simply must do, when you visit this gorgeous and majestic city.

Visit the Arc de Triomphe

The Arc de Triomphe is just one of Paris’ many different signature landmarks and tourist hot spots. This huge and extremely impressive looking monument was built to honour the brave soldiers who fought and died for their county, in the Napoleonic war and the French revolutionary war. It is also within sight of the Eiffel tower, so you can marvel in two beauties at once. The Arc de Triomphe is a sight of natural beauty and is the ultimate shrine to the country’s fallen comrades in arms.

Eat in the stunning Le Fumoir

What makes this stunning restaurant especially appealing to holiday makers, is the fact that despite being located within walking distance of the world famous Louvre Museum, the restaurant isn’t too fancy, it isn’t too over crowded, and perhaps most importantly of all, it isn’t over priced. It’s safe to say that the French know a thing or two about world class cuisine, and the food here is just that. The decor inside is tasteful and warming, the food here is simply stunning, and they even have free WIFI, so you can plan your entire trip from the comfort of your own table. Le Fumoir is a stunning restaurant and is certainly well worth a visit.

Take a trip up the Eiffel tower

What do you think of when you think of Paris? Why the Eiffel Towerof course. No trip to Paris would be complete without a trip up this world famous landmark. As you reach the summit of this amazing piece of architecture, you’ll be rewarded with one of the most impressive panoramic views of the city that you could ever hope for. Make sure to have your cameras at the ready once you reach the summit.

Three Of The Most Unique And Enjoyable Holiday Destinations In The Entire World


We all know how important and enjoyable a well earned holiday can be. We work hard all year round, and we deserve a little time to relax, recharge and unwind. When people think of holidays, they automatically think of sunshine, sandy beaches, the sea, cocktails, and lots of food. The simple fact of the matter is that not everybody is interested in that kind of holiday. Some people don’t particularly like too much sunshine, some people find beaches boring, and some people would rather spend their holiday in a snowy wonderland instead. The point we’re trying to make, is that everybody is unique, and some people would rather spend their holiday somewhere unique and unusual, rather than the typical; Spain, Greece, Turkey etc. If unique is your cup of tea, then this article is for you, as we’ll be looking at three of the most unique and enjoyable holiday destinations on the entire planet.

Romania

If you’re none too fussed about sunshine and beaches, and want to go somewhere a little more intellectually challenging with a little more culture, then Romania could be perfect for you. Transylvania in particular, welcomes thousands of holiday makers every single year, many with a keen interest in the fictional Vampire character Count Dracula. Vampire fiction is growing increasingly popular, making Transylvania one of the most visited locations in all of Romania. If you’re a keen vampire fan, then, Dracula’s tomb and Bran Castle are well worth a visit. Even if you’re not too keen on Vampires, Romania is a country steeped in natural history and culture, with some of the most popular art galleries and museums in the entire world.

Lapland

Looking for a winter break just before Christmas time, then how about Lapland? It is the pinnacle in Christmas holiday destinations, and if you’re particularly fond of the cold white stuff that is snow, then you’ll love it here, as will the kids. If you’re not sure what to do, then there’s the usual winter pastimes including skiing and snowboarding, but there’s also much more too. How about a husky ride through the magical winter wonderland, or witnessing one of the most breathtakingly beautiful natural wonders of the world, that is the Northern lights.

Australia

From the extreme cold of Lapland, to one of the warmest places on earth, that is Australia.  Australia is one of the most visited countries in the entire world, with some of the most friendly and welcoming locals you’ll ever meet. The temperature is typically very warm, there are an abundance of beaches if that’s what you seek, and the indigenous wildlife and wilderness will keep you entertained for hours upon hours, and provide you with opportunities to snap some of the best photos you could ever wish for. If you’ve been looking at holidays to Australia then stop looking, book your stay today, and enjoy one of the most unique and enjoyable experiences of your entire life.

 

A Guide To Adventure Sports In Wollongong

Australia Day Fun

photo: andy_tyler

Wollongong offers the best of entertainment, culture and art, it’s true. But what some may not realize is that Wollongong is also a top destination for adventure sports seekers! If you’re looking for a quick adventure sports destination close to Sydney CBD, Wollongong is your best bet.

Skydiving On The Beach

Skydiving from 14000 feet and landing on a pristine white beach laced with white frothy waves is quite an experience. Wollongong’s many beaches are the bluest you’ve ever known. You start with an amazing scenic plane ride, and then experience the stomach-clenching adrenalin rush of free-fall at 220 kms per hour for a minute. After that you’ll soarlike a bird for 5 full minutes. Wollongong is the only place in Australia where you can skydive during the night and land on a beautifully lit beach.

Horse-riding

At the Darkes Forest Riding Ranch, you can have your fill of some energetic horse riding across challenging native bushland. You can even learn to ride horses here. Horse riding is a fabulous way to explore Wollongong’s hinterland, with its rugged paths, forested areas and rocky hills.

Rock Climbing And Abseiling

Wollongong has its share of climb-worthy rocks and many cliffs that will delight the climber in you. For starters, try some rock climbing at Hangdog Gym, which has more than 100 different rope climbs. You can learn how to climb here, how to belay, let lose, how to secure yourself and much more. Hangdog Gym organizes regular climbing and group abseiling off Mount Keira and Nowra.

Go Karting

Enjoy a few hours of adrenalin-inducing go-karting at the Wollongong City Raceway. If you’re into motor sport driving, this clubhouse has many completion-standard, 400cc, 13 horsepower endurance karts for you. So strap yourself into one and speed around at 100 kilometers per hour around hairpin curves, bends and twisting tunnels.

Surfing

Wollongong’s beautiful beaches with their perfect breaks are ideal for surfing. You can sign up for a surfing course here at one of the many accredited surf schools. Be sure to take your board to the Thommos break at Coledale, Scarborough Beach and Sandon Point.

Paragliding

Paragliding is an exciting adventure that you can enjoy alone or with a partner. Try tandem paragliding first, with a guide. The beautiful south coast scenery will beckon you as you fly over the forests, sea cliffs and white beaches.

Cycling

Wollongong has an excellent and extensive network of coastal bike tracks that beg to be explored. Rent a bike and challenge yourself to tackle the turning paths and tough inland terrains. If you’re up to it, you can ride all the way from Wollongong to Kiama along the coast – it’ll take you a couple of days!

Hang-gliding

If you’re not used to hang-gliding on your own, you can try your hand at tandem hang gliding first. Your guide will take care of the navigation while you are free to enjoy the views! Hang gliding offers a great adrenaline rush and Wollongong’s Sea Cliff Bridge is the perfect place for it. This cliff is a scenic highlight; its sharp rises and the strong air currents have made it the ideal place for hang-gliding.