Winter Festivals Around the World: Europe

The second installment of our Winter Festivals Around the World blog posts!

Click here to check out Asia.

Fete des Lumieres

December 7th to 10th

While Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Jesus, Fete des Lumieres or The Festival of festival-1696329_1280Lights in Lyon, France is a celebration of the Virgin Mary, Jesus’ mother.The festival originated in the 1600s, when the black plague swept over the town. The citizens promised to honor the Virgin Mary if she spared them and on December 8th, 1643 they lit candles and made offerings in her name. Although this is how the holiday started, it wouldn’t become the Festival of Lights until some time later, in 1852 when the city had a statue of the Virgin Mary erected next to the Basilica. The statue’s inauguration was planned to take place during Fete des Lumieres and a large celebration was planned around it. Sadly, due to an unprecedented storm the festivities had to be canceled last minute. This didn’t stop the revelers and after the rain subsided, the citizens lit candles in their windows and gathered around the new statue illuminating it with flares and singing songs. Today, lit candles in stained glass containers illuminate windows all over Lyon and the festival has expanded into a three day event that features amazing light shows that draw in revelers from all over the world!

Hogmanay

December 30th to January 1st

Hogmanay is the traditional Scottish New Year’s celebration.Customs vary throughout Scotland, although they usually include gift-giving and visiting the homes of friends and neighbors. The first guest, or “first-foot” of the New Year is particularly important. After midnight, the first guest to cross a friend or neighbor’s threshold with a symbolic gift such as fruitcake or whiskey is supposed to set the luck for the homeowner for the new year. Tall, dark men are traditionally the preferred “first foot”. Different regions of 767px-EdinburghNYEScotland also have their own local traditions. In Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire, for example, swinging fireballs made of chicken wire and flammable material down the main street is a Hogmanay tradition. In St. Andrews, Hogmanay is also known as “Cake Day” and bakers prepare special cakes for the local children. Large cities hold all-night celebrations and Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebration is one of the largest. In 1996/1997, it was actually documented by the Guinness Book of World Records as being the largest New Year’s celebration in the world! It is still a popular venue for locals and tourists alike and now consists of a three day long celebration full of fireworks, concerts, a parade, and a street party.

Winter Solstice at Stonehenge

Winter Solstice (between December 21st to 23rd)

Stonehenge is a prehistoric landmark in England that has long been a source of wonder and awe. It is still up for debate how it was built and for what purpose, as it was built by a peoples that kept no written records. During the winter solstice people flock to the site, which is temporarily open to the public, to see the stones up close and celebrate the 800px-Summer_Solstice_Sunrise_over_Stonehenge_2005beginning of the shortest day of the year. Neo-pagans and curious tourists alike wait to watch the sun rise above the ancient stones, cheering and singing. The revelers will be free to celebrate on site, playing music, dancing, and even kissing and hugging the monument, until about 10 a.m., after which the site is cleared out. The reason Stonehenge is such a popular site for this celebration actually comes at the end of the day, however, when the sun casts a line of sunlight that will align the ancient stones. This phenomenon only happens during the winter and summer solstice and, although you may watch this from a distance, the English Historical Society has deemed it unsafe for crowds to be amongst the stones while it is so dark.

Carnival

4th Saturday of January to Ash Wednesday (February)

Carnival is an annual festival celebrated just before the catholic holiday Lent. Lent is a solemn event lasting until Easter Sunday meant to be for prayer and personal reflection. Parties are off-limits, and traditionally so is fat, sugar, and meat. Therefore, Carnival is veniceessentially a large party full of these things just before the party-goers have to give them all up. It is one of the largest celebrations in Italy, starting on January 27th and lasting until Fat Tuesday in February (followed by Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent). Italy’s Carnival is known for its intricate Venetian masks, traditionally worn by performance artists or people trying to hide their identities (like those that were playing pranks or being particularly rowdy during the festivities). Today, masks are still worn by many revelers for fun as they take to the streets in the large celebration to watch parades, live music, and partake in some of the many parties and events around the country.

If visiting any of these festivals are of interest, contact us ! We’d love to help you find your destination.

Image Sources

Summer Solstice Sunrise over Stonehenge 2005.jpg : https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Summer_Solstice_Sunrise_over_Stonehenge_2005.jpg

EdinburghNYE.jpg: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:EdinburghNYE.jpg

Venice.jpg- https://pxhere.com/en/photo/1363301

Fete del lumineres.jpg- htrtps://pixabay.com/en/festival-fun-fair-lights-fun-joy-1696329/

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Winter Festivals Around the World: Asia

Depending on where you reside, you’ve probably noticed a pleasant crispness in the air, a new presence looming and constantly nipping at your nose whenever you step outside. Leaves may be falling off trees, you find yourself pulling out the thicker coats and sweaters you haven’t worn in months, and everything in the store is switching from pumpkin spice to peppermint. Winter is here.

Whether or not you particularly enjoy winter, it is hard not to call it the “holiday season”. Thanksgiving and Christmas are almost upon us and although Christmas can be seen as one of the more popular winter holidays, countries all over the world have their own winter celebrations. Over the next few weeks we’ll be highlighting some of these interesting holidays around the world.

Diwali

15th day of Kartik on the Hindu lunar calendar

Diwali, the festival of lights in India, is celebrated over the course of five days. It has Diwali_Festivalmany different connotations; it celebrates the autumn harvest and the blessings various gods and goddesses, who bring and help us to maintain both physical and spiritual wealth. It also coincides with the last day of Lord Rama’s 14 year exile from his home in the North Indian kingdom Avadha. Its citizens, who had long awaited their prince’s arrival, lit thousands of lamps to help guide him back to his ancestral home. The main rituals of the festival include lighting oil lamps and candles around one’s home, worshiping Lord Ganesha and the goddess Laxmi to summon health and wealth, and lighting firecrackers. However, exchanging gifts with loved ones and having large feasts are also becoming customary.

Dongzhi Festival

Winter Solstice (between December 21st to 23rd)

The Dongzhi Festival, or Winter Solstice Festival, in China literally translates to “the extreme of winter” and is a celebration of the return of longer days and a consequential 23788459972_69da8b00e3_oincrease of positive energy. Based on the philosophy of Yin and Yang, the day of the Dongzhi Festival is when Yin (negative energy) has hit its peak and will slowly decrease while Yang (positive energy) will now begin to increase. Families traditionally get together for a large meal where dumplings or tangyuan (rice balls with different fillings) are served. Dumplings are supposed to drive away frostbite while the tangyuan drive away ghosts and evil spirits!

New Year (in Japan)

January 1st

New Year is the most important holiday in Japan. As well as being a time to relax and 3657210894_c755cfc578_ospend time with family, each year is seen as being completely separate from each other, providing a fresh start. This also means that tasks meant to be completed by the end of the year shouldn’t be extended into the next and people even throw bonenkai parties (“year forgetting parties”) to leave the worries and troubles of last year in the past where they belong. Houses are cleaned, businesses shut down, and families get together to celebrate. Traditionally, front entrances are decorated with pine and bamboo and on New Year’s Eve toshikoshi soba (buckwheat noodles), symbolizing longevity, are served. January 1st is said to set the mood for the rest of the year, so people typically relax and have a cheerful day devoid of anger and stress (hence the cleaning beforehand). It is also traditional to visit a temple within the first few days of the new year, where bells are being rung until midnight.

Loi Krathong

Held on the full moon of the 12fth lunar month (Varying Dates in November)

Loi Krathong is a festival in Thailand that is held on the full moon of a year’s twelfth lunar month. The main tradition of the festival can be found in its name, literally translated as “to float a basket” or “to float a krathong”. Traditional Krathong are made from slices of banana tree trunk and decorated with banana leaves, incense, and a 7455424224_d0094ccd29_kcandle, although bread and styrofoam are also becoming popular options. The small vessel is meant to carry your bad luck into the distance and ensure a better start to the new year. If you want to really ensure your good luck, you can put something personal on the krathong, like a few strands of hair. Loi Krathong has become so popular, businesses create large elaborate krathongs and the festival features krathong-making contests, a beauty pageant, local games, and performances. The city Chiang Mai is a popular place to celebrate Loi Krathong, as it mixed with/preceded by the city’s own festival of Yi Peng, where people launch lanterns into the sky to let go of their bad luck and make wishes (though they will only come true if you do good deeds in the following year).

If visiting any of these festivals are of interest, contact us ! We’d love to help you find your destination.

Image Sources

Diwali Festival by  Khokarahman

Dōngzhì Festival Image by Reedz Malik

Kimono by themonnie

Thai Lanterns by Mark Fischer

 

 

Travel Experiences Part 2

This blog post will actually be consisting of two separate posts; Part 1 being about my first travel experience and Part 2 being about my younger brother Kanoa’s.
James and I

Part 1 available here.

I believe many people wish to travel, to see the world, and experience new things. After all, its why we’re in business. However, not all travelers are looking for the same type of experience. My brother, Kanoa, and I are a very good example of this. Our “future travel plans” were a popular childhood discussion and it was never a question of if we would travel it was simply a matter of where and when. What we dreamed of as kids was very very different. Kanoa wanted to go to Asia to see the mountains, the forests, the foods, different cultures, and explore out of the way places that couldn’t be found anywhere else. I wanted to go to Europe to see the museums, architecture, and more established cities. Each time the subject came up, we would each question each other’s line of reasoning. To him, I could google pictures and save the airfare and to me he could do the same and be safer.
20171022_211300835Our thoughts on travel haven’t really seemed to change much over the years, although we both quickly realized when we were older that our dreams had been bigger then our wallets. Although both of us still have a checklist of more exotic (and expensive) places we wish to travel, our first adventures have remained a bit tamer and closer to home. My brother went on a group tour of South America when he was 18 with G Adventures (formerly Gap). It was a real walking in the jungle and jumping off of cliffs into hot springs kind of deal and he loved it! He didn’t know anyone and had never been to any of the countries he visited. I didn’t try vacationing without my family until I was 21. I went on a cruise with my boyfriend, James, that traveled to Mexico and Central America. Very different, albeit pleasant, experiences overall.

Travel with Kanoa

When asked about booking and planning a trip, Kanoa assured me that it was a Kanoafairly quick process as it wasn’t exactly rocket science to find a tour company online. From there it was a matter of packing and booking flights. He wasn’t worried about what might go wrong and “didn’t care” that he wouldn’t know anyone he was traveling with. If he didn’t hit it off with anyone, he was fine doing things by himself. For Kanoa, this trip was about the adventure.

Land Tours: Adventure Awaits You!

20171022_211332891Kanoa was able to work with our agency and find a company that sold group tours online and selected one within his budget that was leaving in a few weeks. He assured me that he wasn’t nervous leading up to the trip, though he did get a bit concerned after his flight was delayed and he arrived a full day later than everyone else. He wasn’t sure how to find his group or even his ride from the airport would be there. Luckily, his ride was there and knew where to take him.
Kanoa, as it turned out, wasn’t the only one traveling alone and everyone in his tour group was really sociable. He ended up meeting people from all over the world as some in the group were from New Zealand, Australia, Norway, tube (2)Canada, and the UK. The younger people in particular hit it off. Throughout their tour of South America, the group went on a fair amount of interesting outings. They visited a town named Panajachel which Kanoa described as having a real “hippie” vibe. It had a tunnel covered in artwork that lead to a meditation garden! They went hiking through a jungle,temple tubing through a cave system in Guatemala (where each person was treated to their own personal swarm of mosquitoes apparently), and relaxed in a swimming hole with a hot water fall. A local boy offered to show them where the waterfall starts and led them to a pool of water forming from a hole in the mountain. At the base of the pool was mud that the boy explained was very mineral rich and used to make expensive mud masks. He said they could try and put some on their faces if they’d like, and Kanoa did, though he still has the sneaking suspicion that the boy was playing a prank on them. The tour also took them through a few Mayan sites, which were “beautiful”. Kanoa particularly enjoyed the ones they temple2could scale and walk through themselves. However, his favorite part of the trip (and the one that inspired the tattoo he got when he came home) was the group’s day at Caye Caulker; a small island off the coast of Belize. He explained that what made the experience so pleasant was the fact that they got to spend an entire day on a boat. They ate, sailed, and swam with manta rays and “nice” sharks.20171022_211333486
When asked about his experience as a whole, Kanoa said that it was a good trip that he thoroughly enjoyed. He has done a few other trips since then with family and friends but plans to go on another solo adventure when he saves up the money. Asia is next on his list; particularly Cambodia or Thailand. If this describes you then maybe land tours or a group trip may be the ideal for you. It is interesting, active, and adventurous! Life is an adventure. Let us help you find yours! http://www.mydestinationclub.com/

Travel Experiences Part 1

The new website is up and running and we’re back!

This blog post will actually be consisting of two separate posts; Part 1 being about my first travel experience and Part 2 being about my younger brother Kanoa’s.
I believe many people wish to travel, to see the world, and experience new things. After all, its why we’re in business. However, not all travelers are looking for the same type of experience. My brother, Kanoa, and I are a very good example of this. Our “future travel plans” was a popular childhood discussion and it was never a question of if we would travel it was simply a matter of where and when. What we dreamed of as kids was very very different. Kanoa wanted to go to Asia to see the mountains, the forests, the foods, different cultures, and explore out of the way places that couldn’t be found anywhere else. I wanted to go to Europe to see the museums, architecture, and more established cities. Each time the subject came up, we would each question each other’s line of reasoning. To him, I could google pictures and save the airfare and to me he could do the same and be safer.IMG_1409
Our thoughts on travel haven’t really seemed to change much over the years, although we both quickly realized when we were older that our dreams had been bigger then our wallets. Although both of us still have a checklist of more exotic (and expensive) places we wish to travel, our first adventures have remained a bit tamer and closer to home. My brother went on a group tour of South America when he was 18 with G Adventures (formerly Gap). It was a real walking in the jungle and jumping off of cliffs into hot springs kind of deal and he loved it! He didn’t know anyone and had never been to any of the countries he visited. I didn’t try vacationing without my family until I was 21. I went on a cruise with my boyfriend, James, that traveled to Mexico and Central America. Very different, albeit pleasant, experiences overall.

Travel to Me

IMAG0017I’ve always liked the idea of visiting different places and exploring the world. The idea. When I actually start to think about cost, packing, airline travel, and being alone in a strange country trying to find my way to places I’ve never been I become rather anxious. This didn’t stop me from wanting to see the world by any means, but was I ever going to hop on a plane and go backpack around Europe? Certainly not. I eventually decided that in order for me to travel I would have to:

 

  • bring a friend
  • ease myself into it
  • go to safer destinations
  • LARGE group with amenities

Cruising: Eat, Drink, Be Merry

In my opinion, cruising is a great way to ease yourself into travel. You don’t have to budget much for food or hotels, the ship has shops in case you forget something small like aspirin or a bathing suit, and physical activity is extremely optional. You get on the boat, get off the boat at each stop, and when its time to leave you just have to make sure you’re on the boat again. Even group tours are reassuring if it is something booked with the cruise company, as the boat will not leave without them. For a nervous first time traveler this was perfect.IMG_1508
Caribbean and Mexico cruises leave from a port near our city so it was only a drive away. We were both fairly nervous. I may never have traveled without my family but James had never even left his home state during a time he could remember! He was mostly worried about seasickness. While we stood in an insanely long line to board the ship (though for the record it was the fastest moving line I had ever been in with security at the end), James and I chatted while I constantly checked my backpack. My passport was inside and I felt as though I had to continually keep an eye on it so that it didn’t somehow magically disappear and reappear back on my desk at home. Our tickets, too, were a source of worry for me and I must have asked James at least twice if he still had them. (I don’t trust any important documentation not to disappear when I need it.) I wouldn’t be at ease until we had checked in properly and were officially on the boat.IMAG0021
Once on board, we quickly found cruising to be a relaxing experience for the both of us. The staff was kind and there were massive arrays of free food open almost all the time, a large pool, workout area, stage shows, and comfy living quarters. You could have honestly just stayed on the boat and enjoy the amenities and fresh open air. However, we had come to explore. The ports were packed with shops and restaurants in what you may describe as a “typical tourist destination”. IMG_1450Many of the shop keepers spoke English and most of the shops sold mementos for those visiting the country. There was even a demonstration of Danza de los Voladores, a ceremony were a group of men swing by their feet on top of a very high pole, being performed. We were always provided with a map of everything in the area before we stepped off the boat so I didn’t have to worry as much about getting lost or missing anything I may want to see. We stuck to the ports for the most part, which still made for a long and interesting day.
We did book one tour of Mayan ruins in Belize. We actually got to walk through the site while the tour guide explained what each building was likely for and what sort of ceremonies took place. Although it was a great experience, I don’t think we would have gone if we had known about the 6 hour bus trip back and forth. Word to the wise; Mayan ruins tours in Belize almost always mean a lengthy bus ride since the ports are located so far away from the actual ruins.
James and IThis was, all in all, a great experience. My anxieties about traveling were lessened and I got to spend a week relaxing and seeing new places.  I am a pretty structured person and I like to know what is coming. Few surprises. If this describes you then maybe cruising or a resort destination may be the ideal for you. It is safe, inclusive, mostly structured and relaxing! Maybe we will do 2 weeks next time!!
Keep an eye out for the details on my Brother’s adventures down in the jungles!
Part 2: Kanoa

Happy October: Sorry for the long absence

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Once again, school has gotten the best of me and this blog has sadly been neglected. I will return November with a new Adventure and Travel Tip. In the meantime, I have prepared a list of spooky travel destinations to tickle your fancy.

  1. Chapel of Bones: Evora, Portugal
    • A 16th century chapel decorated with human bones. At the time, 43 cemeteries were taking up valuable land. Wanting the land but not wanting to condemn the dead, the Catholic church decided to build a chapel to house the bodies. The monks, who were concerned by society’s values at the time, saw the bones as an opportunity to remind everyone that death (and final judgement) comes to us all. Therefore, instead of putting the bodies in closed caskets they decorated the chapel with them as a message. This is further amplified by the message engraved on teh chapel door: “Nós ossos que aqui estamos, pelos vossos esperamos,” or “We bones, are here, waiting for yours.”
  2. Beechworth Asylum: Victoria, Australia
    • Lunatic Asylums from the 1800s tend to give off a sinister tone when you know their shared history. Ghosts of patients, nurses, and children have been sighted here and, although some had met grisly ends, do not seem to be violent towards visitors.
  3. The Poison Garden: Alnwick, Northumberland, England
    • A subsection of the famous Alnwick Garden added in 2005. It contains many different species of poisonous plants as well as a few intoxicants such as cannabis and opium poppies as part of a drug education mission.
  4. Salem, Massachusetts
    • Known for the Salem Witch Trials in the 1600s, the city has very much embraced its image, with tourism as a large source of the city’s income. Gallow’s Hill , the hill where many accused of witchcraft were said to be hanged, is a popular tourist attraction.
  5. Snagov Monastery: Bucharest, Romania
    1. This monastery is said to hold the secretly buried remains of Vlad the Impaler, though the legend has not been substantiated. A mixture of horse and human bones were found buried upon excavation, but the identity of the person has yet to be confirmed.

See you in November and Happy Hauntings!

Adventure of the Month: China

We’re back! Happy September everyone and sorry for being gone for the past few weeks,the start of school has thrown this blogger through a bit of a loop but I hope that I will now be able to post regularly once again. Since it is September and therefore one of the best times to visit this country, our Adventure of the Month is China.

Literally translating to “Middle Kingdom”, China is one of the four ancient civilizations, along with Egypt, Greece, and Mesopotamia. Today people still travel to China to get a glimpse of some of this country’s great historical feats and enigmatic ancient culture such as the Great Wall, Terracotta Army, and the Forbidden City of Beijing.

We atOnsite Travel recommend visiting this country through a river cruise down the Yangzi:a 4-7 night cruise often coupled with flights and hotel stays to differenttourism sites farther away from the river. These vacation packages usuallyinclude visits to Beijing (where the Great Wall of China resides), Shanghai,and the Terracotta Warriors. We at Onsite Travel also recommend extensions toHong Kong and the Himalayas in Tibet if you wish to prolong your stay.

Tips for Chinese River Cruises

Viking tends to offer these cruises at the best price and often includes airfare in the vacation package, which can help save money as flights to China are expensive.
Along with being expensive, flights to China often to be very long and exhausting, so our travel agents strongly suggest booking your flights a few days earlier and staying overnight in a hotel to recuperate.
When flying from one site to another, the intertour flights in between the different locations tend to have strict policies against heavy baggage. Be sure to check on these restrictions and pack accordingly.
Remember you will need a Visa to travel to China, be sure to talk to your travel counselor and secure one before it is too late to cancel the cruise.
Throughout September we will be posting small “blurbs” on twitter (@onsite_travel)and at the bottom of our posts on travel tips with more facts about China and sites worth seeing.

Want to know more about booking a trip to China? Contact one of our travel agents! Or go on our travel site under “Cruises” to search for more Chinese vacations yourself.

Picture by Mikelmania

https://pixabay.com/p-746374/?no_redirect

Adventure of the Month: Hawaiian Islands

Happy August! As this is the first post of the month we will be taking the time to promote a special country or place to help our readers learn more about the world waiting to be explored. This month we are promoting the Hawaiian Islands. Once a country of it’s own, Hawaii is now the U.S.A’s 50th state with tourism being its main industry.

Growing up in Oahu, I can say from first hand experience that it is a wonderful place with beautiful scenery, rich history, and a laid back local culture. It is a place that I miss dearly and one that I would definitely recommend experiencing firsthand.

Hawaii consists of an archipelago with 8 “main” islands which all have their own special characteristics and culture that make it unique:

  • Hawaii – “The Big Island”
  • Maui – “The Valley Isle”
  • Lanai – “The Pineapple Isle”
  • Molokai – “The Friendly Isle”
  • Oahu – “The Gathering Place”
  • Kauai – “The Garden Isle”
  • Niihau – “The Forbidden Isle”
  • Kahoolawe – “The Target Isle”

Some have a certain island that they particularly enjoy but for those that have never visited the islands themselves we at Onsite Travel suggest visiting all of them on a cruise in order to get a “flavor” of each.  This way if you fall in love with one you can always come back!

There are two main ways of cruising the Hawaiian Islands available:

  • Pride of America with Norwegian Cruise Lines : a U.S. based ship that starts and ends in Honolulu and cruises the Hawaiian islands for 7 nights/8 days
    • The Pride of America is a mid-sized ship that can hold about 2500 passengers at a time. It’s rooms are smaller than the later option but it cruises all year round and offers discounts to military and local residents of both California and Hawaii. With this option, our travel agents suggest booking your flights a few days earlier and/ or a few days after the cruise ends and staying overnight in a hotel to spend a few days at the state capital. The Hilton Hawaiian Village or the Ilikai hotels are located between the pier and Waikiki.  This will allow you to see North Shore, Pearl Harbour, and Waikiki.  Something to keep in mind with the NCL Pride of America, the service on this cruise is about 1 star lower then you may be used to.
  • A secondary option is with Princess or Holland America Cruise: two cruise companies who do cruises of the islands that start and end in the West Coast (California).  Still 7 nights in the islands with with 4-5 days at sea on either side of the islands.
    • Although this cruise is longer, it is around the same price as the Pride of America cruise with great service and technically the better “bang for your buck” if you have the vacation time. Because of the longer time period, these cruises have some days at sea to relax and sometimes overnight stays at the islands so you have more time to explore. However, they also only run for three months: September, October, and November. This is perfect for those that want to stay away from busy summers in Hawaii, which is when the islands are flocked by tourists.

Throughout August we will be posting small “blurbs” on twitter (@onsite_travel) and at the bottom of our posts on travel tips with more facts about Hawaii and sites worth seeing.

Want to know more about booking a trip to Hawaii? Contact one of our travel agents! Or go on our travel site under “Cruises” to search for more Hawaiian vacations yourself.

Aloha and A Hui Hou!

image (coast of Kauai) by Paul Bica: https://www.flickr.com/photos/dexxus/5621252335/