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Canada Travel news and opinion

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    Like many other central European cities, Budapest sees dozens of Christmas markets spring up during the holiday season. Now, more than ever, you'll find many of them supporting local designers and craftspeople, thanks to the city's blossoming creative industry. These are our favorite markets and fairs for finding locally-made arts, crafts, and contemporary design items.

    By Natalie Holmes, Condé Nast Traveler



    More from Condé Nast Traveler:

  • The Must-Have Gadgets for Every Traveler

  • The Friendliest and Unfriendliest Cities in the World

  • 12 Travel Mistakes You're Definitely Making

  • How to Fit Everything Into One Carry-On Bag


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  • 12/04/13--14:37: Greece's Comeback Year
  • While headlines from Greece tend to focus on economic and political uncertainty, a positive trend has been largely overlooked: tourism in the Hellenic Republic is booming. According to Greek Minister of Tourism Olga Kefalogianni, 2013 has proven to be a "comeback year" for Greece. "We've been welcoming millions of people to our country," she says; tourism amounts to "almost 18 percent of Greece's GDP... So you can really understand that in times of economic crisis, both the income from tourism but also the job creation from tourism is really helping the economy."





    Affordable summer prices have attracted global tourists as well as A-list celebrities such as Madonna, Tom Hanks and Sarah Jessica Parker.  Remember when Newt Gingrich accompanied his wife on a cruise of the Greek isles during the 2012 election season?  He came back tanned, rested, and ready to stun the political world by winning the South Carolina primary. 

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    From the rich cultural heritage of Athens to the beaches of Santorini to the nightlife of Mikonos, it seems there is plenty for everyone to experience in Greece. 

    So, what are you waiting for?  

    ---
    Interview conducted by DC-based video journalist Monica Gray. Interview was originally published by the Diplomatic Courier magazine and has been republished with permission. Copyright 2006-2013 The Diplomatic Courier. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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    Monuments and landmarks take a lot of hard work to complete. And unfortunately sometimes there's just not enough money or manpower to finish the project.

    But that doesn't mean that an unfinished monument can't be beautiful. These seven landmarks around the world are incomplete and totally awesome. They're all worth a visit!

    1) Hassan Tower, Morocco
    hassan tower
    The minaret of an uncompleted mosque in Rabat, Morocco, the Hassan Tower was intended to be the largest minaret in the world when construction began in 1195. The tower site was granted UNESCO World Heritage Status in 2012.

    2) Unfinished Church, Bermuda
    bermuda unfinished church
    The Unfinished Church in St. George, Bermuda, was built in 1874 but never was completed due to funding issues.

    3) Cathedral of St. John the Divine, New York City
    cathedral of st john the devine
    The Cathedral of St. John the Divine is considered an unfinished masterpiece. Construction began in 1892 and the church has faced conflicting design opinions and stalls in building. Construction and restoration continue to be ongoing.

    4) National Monument, Scotland
    national monument scotland
    Scotland's National Monument is a memorial to Scottish sailors and soldiers who died during the Napoleonic Wars. Construction began on the monument in 1826 and due to lack of funding was never completed. The original plan modeled it after the Parthenon in Athens.

    5) La Sagrada Familia, Spain
    la sagrada familia
    Gaudi's famous Barcelona church has been under construction for more than a century. Eight of the basilica's 18 towers were completed in 2011. The completion date is always being pushed farther into the future, but currently it's approximated to be sometime in 2026 or 2028.

    6) Crazy Horse Memorial, South Dakota
    crazy horse monument
    The giant Crazy Horse Memorial has been in the works since the 1940s. Carved into a mountain in the Black Hills, the monument was created in response to Mt. Rushmore, just southwest of where Crazy Horse stands. Crazy Horse was a Native American leader of the Oglala Lakota. He fought against the United States government's encroachment on his tribe's territories and lead a war party to victory at the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876. The original sculptor died in 1982, so the finish date on the monument is unknown.

    7) Ryugyong Hotel, North Korea
    ryugyong hotel
    Pyongyang's pyramid-shaped skyscraper has been under construction since 1987. In 1992, construction stopped due to economic crisis after the fall of the Soviet Union and then resumed in 1998. The exterior was said to be complete in 2012 but the hotel itself has never opened.

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    This is Rovaniemi. It's the capital of Lapland, the northernmost province of Finland. It was practically destroyed by the Nazi army in 1944, and so was essentially rebuilt by famed Finnish architect Alvar Aalto.

    Oh, and did we mention, that it happens to be Santa Claus' official earthly residence?

    The town has not only Santa's office (where he opens mail, obviously) but also a Santa Park, which is open November 23 through January 11 and official post office.

    Need a holiday spirit (albeit a bit early)? Join us for a little Santa fun time.

    rovaniemi

    There are reindeer galore!
    rovaniemi

    There's an actual Santa who reads letters from all the girls and boys at a desk.
    rovaniemi

    There's a Santa Park with an underground tunnel because YES.
    rovaniemi

    It's magical.
    rovaniemi

    This.
    rovaniemi

    Santa Claus' post office, where some 700,000 pieces of mail arrive each year for Father Christmas.
    rovaniemi

    There are even elves to help sort the mail.
    rovaniemi

    Totally normal.
    rovaniemi

    See you soon, Santa!

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    Rather than doing what everybody else seems to do on their summer holidays, and going somewhere like Spain or Greece, and spending most of your holiday, hung over, sun burnt, and tired, how about this year, you try somewhere different? There's more to a holiday than just alcohol and hot sandy beaches. In fact, in many cases, these places end up being far too hot to be comfortable anyways. Whether you're a fan of sunshine and beaches or not, how about just for one year, you try something new? If we've peaked your interest, then the historical, culturally rich, and beautiful country of Vietnam, could be exactly what you're looking for. If you do decide to visit Vietnam, then here are some things to help make your trip most memorable, and one that you'll remember for the rest of your life. To find out more about this amazing country, or to book your stay today, check out TravelBag who should be able to provide you with all of the information about this part of the world, that you could ever wish for.

    Take cruise down the Mekong River

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    Photo Credit: Pondspider

    The Mekong River stretches throughout southern Vietnam, before making its way out to sea. A cruise down the Mekong River is ideal for those amongst you who happen to enjoy taking in natural beauty spots, and let's face it, on holiday we all do. You'll make your way gently down the river, and will be able to take in natural beauty spots such as ancient villages, rice fields, thick lush jungle, and various animals and wildlife scattered throughout the area.

    Snap some great pictures for your portfolio

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    Photo Credit: marfis75

    Vietnam has been described as a photographer's dream location when it comes to snapping photographs and pictures of natural beauty. Many people keen on photography, either amateur or professional, look for locations that push the boundaries of realism that express things perfectly without even stating a word. Vietnam is ideal for keen photographers who may be looking to find that one picture that truly captures the essence of life itself. It's a war torn country with rich traditions and cultural values, and in a world growing increasingly independent on computers and technology, many of the locations prove that everyday life is still very much possible without trivial devices such as computers.

    Visit the city of Hoi An

    2013-12-05-hoian.jpg
    Photo Credit: Dave_B_

    Hoi An is an ancient trading city that is littered with stunning looking beaches and unique cafes and restaurants. It is an ideal location for those of you who happen to wish to get a better understanding of Vietnam's rich culture and history. It actually translates into English as "peaceful meeting place" so that alone should give you an idea of how tranquil and beautiful this location actually is. There are just over 120,000 people currently residing in the city and it is a UNESCO world heritage site. Many of the buildings and architecture in the area reflect beautifully, the hardships and difficulties that the region has had to endure over the years, yet it is majestic, tranquil, and beautiful all at the same time.

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    Unless you're willing to hand over your own hard-earned airline miles, diehard travelers can be impossible to shop for: If things are going well, they won't be home enough to enjoy that fancy new juicer. These are our picks for presents to make their travel days a little more luxurious--or to give them plenty of inspiration when they're between trips.

    This is the carry-on you want on your arm when you're hoping to score that upgrade to business class. Clare Vivier Overnighter, $446

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    So they'll always know which way is up--or least north--even after the iPhone's dead. Wood compass, $24

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    Speaking of, this paperback-sized gizmo can charge four phones or two tablets simultaneously--forever changing long-haul flights for the better. EasyAcc power bank, $38.99

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    The most successful way to avoid a tangle of USB and other cables at the bottom of your luggage. Grid-It! organizer, $19.95

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    For a literary take on travel, this Berlin-based magazine skips the beach hotel round-ups in favor of tales from the road from the likes of David Lynch, Juergen Teller, and Matthew Barney. The Travel Almanac subscription, about $34 for one year

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    Douglas Adams had it right all along: "A towel is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have." Equally true even if you're just throwing this peshtemal in the trunk in case of a spontaneous trip to a lake. Turkish beach towel, $22

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    Throw one of these in their luggage and they'll be rewarded with the smell of roses--rather than that I'll-do-laundry-when-I-get-home scent. Diptyque Roses scented oval, $45

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    For the outdoorsman in all of us: easy-to-light birch trimmings that can kick off a fire in style. Birch Bark tinder, $20

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    A little bit of easy-to-spot luxury dresses up even the most standard of black bags. Smythson luggage tag, about $90

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    The famed French macaron-maker debuts shipping to U.S. addresses this week--for a tasty bit of Paris in a very fancy box. Ladurée macarons, price TBD


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    The maker of this candle says the fragrance of "damp wood, incense, and freshly laundered linen" is reminiscent of "an old, wooden Japanese house from the [Tokyo] neighbourhood of Aoyama." Aoyama candle, $83

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    The magical powers of a scarf on an overnight flight cannot be overstated. Bonus: the geometric design was inspired by "the night skies at Taliesan West." (Which, for the record, is a Frank Lloyd Wright residence in Arizona.) Dealtry Vela scarf, $220

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    Travelers can always use an extra place to take notes--like this hand-stamped camping journal. Mountain Range Moleskine notebook, $9

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    Get inspired to head to the airport in something other than Lululemons and a sweatshirt with this photographic tribute to "airline style." Airline: Style At 30,000 Feet, $14.95

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    It's not the most expensive present here, but it might offer the most: a one-year pass to the nation's national parks and other federally managed recreation areas. Note: Military families qualify for free, so if your loved one meets the requirements, perhaps your gift could be handling the paperwork. Everybody wins! Annual pass, $80

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    Susan Sontag spoke the truth--remember her quote with this hand-cut paper-cut design. Susan Sontag paper cut, $32

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    Bring a little pizazz to an early-morning immigration line with this monogrammed passport holder. Passport holder, $15.75

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    A clever take on the ubiquitous retro travel poster, for "Game of Thrones" fans dreaming of Qarth and Winterfell. Game of Thrones posters, $33.61

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    Give the gift of indecision: With a five-day France rail pass, your beloved will have the chance to wander from boulangerie to boulangerie from nord to sud and all points in between. France railpass, $316

    Catnips for kids and National Park addicts alike: Collect hundreds of unique cancellation stamps from National Park Service sites here. Passport to Your National Parks, $8.95

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    It's what every traveler wants most: proof that love on the road can last. Before Midnight DVD, $25.53

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    If your favorite traveler is dreaming big, here's their new map. Letterpress solar system map, $23

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    SUVA, Fiji (AP) — With its white sand beaches, tropical climate and relaxed pace, Fiji has rightfully earned a reputation as a South Pacific paradise. But it's the friendliness of the people that makes traveling in these islands a real delight. You'll quickly learn the ubiquitous word "bula" (pronounced boolah) which means hello and is usually accompanied with a broad smile.

    Not everything in paradise is perfect, however. There's been a succession of military coups in Fiji, and the political restiveness stands in contrast to the easygoing nature of the people. And once you travel beyond the idyllic tourist resorts you'll see that most people live in very basic conditions. That said, Fiji remains a fascinating destination. While most tourist activities come with a price tag, there are plenty of things for adventurous travelers to do and see for free. NADI MUNICIPAL MARKET

    Most travelers arrive via the international airport at Nadi. In downtown Nadi, a bustling market offers tables laden with ginger, coconuts, mangoes and jackfruit. There are also lots of stands selling kava, a plant from the pepper family which is native to the Pacific. Fijians use kava powder to make an intoxicating beverage which is drunk in ceremonies throughout the islands and even by a few people in this market. If you do decide to try it, drink it in moderation. Be warned that kava supplements have been banned from several countries due to health concerns. Fiji's capital city Suva has a similar municipal market that also sells fruit, vegetables and fish.

    VISEISEI VILLAGE

    This village near Lautoka is one of the country's oldest, believed to have been founded by some of the first settlers to arrive in Fiji by canoe more than two millennia ago. It's also where some of Fiji's leaders have lived and it has hosted dignitaries including Prince Charles. You'll get a sense of village life and see things like a traditional chief's hut and ceremonial drums. In the center of the village is a Methodist church, an important institution to many in Fiji.

    There's also a monument that includes both a weapon and a cross. The weapon, a neck-breaker's club, was used in past times by Fijian cannibals. The club is lying down with the cross on top, signifying an end to that way of life.

    You can walk into the village at the north end for free or pay 5 Fijian dollars ($3) at the south end and have someone show you around, which is well worth it. Avoid wearing bikinis or other skimpy clothes, which are considered disrespectful in this setting.

    PACIFIC HARBOUR BEACH

    A fringe of coconut trees gives way to a gorgeous, pristine beach with a gentle arc. It's the perfect place for a swim in placid waters that are as warm as a bath. Only some parts of the beach are publicly accessible, and so keep an eye open for signs or ask locals. We found access just west of the Uprising Beach Resort. The beaches in this area are less crowded than those closer to the Nadi airport.

    NATADOLA BEACH

    Another beach, but hey, this is Fiji! And Natadola is stunning in different ways to Pacific Harbour. The drive there takes you through lush, verdant bush. This beach often generates powerful waves which are good for body surfing, although it pays to be wary of the undertow. At other times you can take your mask and snorkel and explore. For a few dollars, locals offer horseback rides along the beach.

    SUVA WATERFRONT

    Like most urban areas in Fiji, Suva, the capital, has a dilapidated feel and doesn't immediately seem inviting. But the country's leaders have made a point in recent months of trying to improve the waterfront promenade, an effort that's showing positive results. The horseshoe-shaped walk extends from the city to the national stadium and has become a popular place to jog and stroll. There's a new picnic area and sometimes you'll see pickup games of rugby, Fiji's national sport.

    Along the waterfront, take a look at the botanic gardens and the Presidential Palace, where guards stand to attention wearing sandals and traditional white sulus, similar to a kilt or skirt. You can watch the guards change over every two hours. Visit the waterfront at sunset or early in the morning, when the weather is cooler, the fishermen are out, and the light plays on the water.

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    The beloved second installment of the Hunger Games trilogy, Catching Fire, was partially filmed on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. For the arena scenes of the Quarter Quell, the film crew took advantage of the jungle habitat and ethereal coast of the North Shore.

    For the occasion, hotel search trivago has compiled a list of ten of the top luxury dwellings in the Hawaiian islands. You're likely to ogle over them, with or without Jennifer Lawrence.


    Turtle Bay Resort, Oahu


    2013-12-02-1_turtle_bay_aerial.jpg
    Photo Source: Turtle Bay Resort

    Located on the North Shore of Hawaii's third largest island, Oahu, Turtle Bay Resort was the chosen hotel for cast members while filming Catching Fire, during which Katniss, Peeta, and the others battle in the ocean just feet from the resort. The cast and crew were under a tight filming schedule, but hopefully took advantage of the lushly landscaped pool areas, championship golf course, outstanding dining options, and serene wellness spa--or the surfing, paddle boarding, kayaking, and kite boarding offered onsite.



    The Fairmount Kea Lani, Maui


    2013-12-02-10_fairmount.jpg
    Photo Source: The Fairmount Kea Lani

    The Fairmount Kea Lani of Wailea is Hawaii's only all-suite and private villa resort, situated on an impressive 22 acres of tropical Hawaiian landscape. Guests can choose between four restaurants--from a gourmet bakery to the award-winning Ko restaurant, inspired by Hawaii's sugarcane plantation era. The new Willow Stream Spa (opening mid-December) offers ingredients unique to Maui and serene outdoor cabanas..



    Four Seasons Resort Hualalai, Kona, Hawaii


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    Photo Source: Four Seasons Resort Hualalai

    The Four Seasons Resort Hulalai celebrates Hawaii's Golden Age. Each of the 243 two-story bungalows features native Hawaiian artwork and are nestled in a dramatic landscape of white sand beaches and volcanic black lava. Nearby attractions include the 422-foot Akaka waterfall, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, and the southernmost point of the U.S.. Guests should not miss the alfresco dining and signature cocktails offered by the three restaurants and two ocean-side lounges.



    JW Marriott Ihilani Resort & Spa, Kapolei, Oahu


    2013-12-02-3_jw_marriot.jpg
    Photo Source:JW Marriott Ihilani Resort & Spa

    Nestled in Oahu's picturesque west shore, the JW Marriott Ihilani prides itself in its secluded location and Hawaiian elegance. The resort is connected to four beach coves and white sand lagoons, two pools, a marina, championship golf course and tennis courts with ocean views, and an award-winning spa. All rooms are equipped with 42-inch flat screen LCD televisions and marble bathrooms. A variety of activities are available, including water sports, scuba excursions, dolphin watching, sailing, and fishing.



    Koa Kea Hotel & Resort, Koloa, Kauai


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    Photo Source: Koa Kea Hotel & Resort

    Kauai is geologically the oldest of the main Hawaiian Islands and is known as the "island of discovery" due to the striking cliffs of the Napali Coast and the vast Waimea Canyon. The Koa Kea is situated on the south shore's world famous Poipu Beach, with breathtaking sunsets, exotic sea life, and colorful native flowers. Spend the day hiking, mountain biking, zip-lining or taking a helicopter tour over the crater of Mount Waialeale.



    Hilton Waikoloa Village, Waikoloa, Hawaii


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    Photo Source: Hilton Waikoloa Village

    The Hilton Waikoloa rocks a prime choice on the popular Kohala Coast. Take a dip in one of its three swimming pools or four-acre saltwater lagoon or take part in its "dolphin quest" program, the only interactive dolphin program on the island that allows guests to touch, feed, and swim with these impressive creatures. The Hilton Waikoloa also hosts an unmissable Luau.



    Travaasa Hana, Hana, Maui


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    Photo Source: Travaasa Hana

    Over on the eastern shore of Maui, the isolated town of Hana is the first to greet the rising sun in the morning. Travaasa Hana promises to immerse guests in the real Hawaii, surrounded by grass fields and palm trees above Kaihalulu Bay, renowned for its natural beauty and red sand beach. This unique resort specializes in authentic Hawaiian experiences, from lei making to coconut husking, hula dancing, and throw net fishing. Guests are also encouraged to participate in a 'digital detox' when they arrive.



    St. Regis Princeville Resort, Princeville, Kauai


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    Photo Source: St. Regis Princeville Resort

    The St. Regis Princeville is located within a 9,000-acre resort community in Kauai. The focal point of the property is the 5,000-square-foot swimming pool decorated with glass tiles and surrounded by tropical gardens overlooking the ocean. The Anini reef protects the waters of Hanalei Bay, allowing guests to swim, snorkel, and scuba dive. It is also possible to ride horses through the majestic Na Molohama mountain range or kayak the Hanalei River.



    Honua Kai Resort & Spa, Lahaina, Maui


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    Photo Source: Honua Kai Resort & Spa

    Maui is Hawaii's second largest island, famed for its winter migration of humpback whales, Haleakala National Park, and the scenic Hana coastal drive. Travelers can explore ranches, vineyards, and Makawao, the home of the Hawaiian cowboy. Honua Kai Resort & Spa is situated on the famous Kaanapali North Beach, with championship golf courses and world-class shopping just minutes away. Guests can expect stone entryways, fully-equipped gourmet kitchens, granite countertops, and private balconies with ocean views.



    The Kahala Hotel & Resort, Honolulu, Oahu


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    Photo Source: The Kahala Hotel & Resort

    Located on the southeast coast of Oahu in the exclusive Kahala district of state capital, Honolulu, The Kalaha is one of Hawaii's most beloved hotels, welcoming presidents, royalty, and celebrities since 1964. It features a private lagoon with resident dolphins, five world-class restaurants, and deep soak bath tubs in all the rooms. The hotel is a short distance from the picturesque Manoa Valley, a rumored filming location for Catching Fire and the set of many scenes in the popular television program, Lost.

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    The holiday season is just around the corner, and the promise of fresh snow is in the air. While some prefer to get a head start on holiday shopping or escape to sunnier lands, others are unanimous in their priority this season: racking up the runs. They'll be in good company -- many large resorts welcome millions of visitors each year. That's a lot of skiing.

    If you're looking to hit the slopes without taking a hit on your wallet, here are Cheapflights.com's seven ways to stretch your skiing dollar.


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    Photo Courtesy of Dreamstime. Article by Kaeli Conforti of Budget Travel.

    Sometimes a one-week vacation just isn't enough, especially when you wake up the last morning of your trip and don't want to leave yet -- it's too soon, and you've just begun to discover what makes your destination so special. Luckily, there are longer grand tours that provide you with enough time to fully explore a new place, whether it's a month-long journey through Southeast Asia or an in-depth two-week Peruvian adventure. We've scoured the world of extended travel deals for packages that give you the most bang for your buck, listed here in order from the least amount of money you'll spend per day to most. At first it might seem like you are spending a little more than usual on some of these trips, but the perks included -- meals, intra-country transportation, airport transfers, professionally guided small-group tours with a personal touch -- and the unique travel experiences you'll get more than make up for any initial sticker-shock.

    Click here for photos of where you'll go with these affordable grand tours!

    India: basics on a budget
    Highlights:
    Visit ancient forts and colorful modern cities throughout Northern India.

    Looking to do some traveling abroad while on a budget? This three-week tour of Northern India and Rajasthan is full of unique experiences -- an overnight camel safari in the desert, anyone? -- and gives you just enough free time to explore the cities on your own. You'll also get guided tours of New Delhi, Bikaner, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Pushkar, Udaipur, and Jaipur, plus the chance to experience sunrise at the Savitri temple in Pushkar and wrap things up with a scenic boat trip down the River Ganges during a candle flower ceremony.

    The breakdown: This three-week tour of Northern India and Rajasthan will cost you about $67 per day including 19 nights' accommodations, all ground transportation within the country, and several guided tours. G Adventures, from $1,349 per person for a 20-day trip. Average group size: 10-16 people.

    Central America for the trail-blazing history buff
    Highlights:
    Tour ancient ruins and jungles in Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica.

    Dreaming of visiting the ancient Mayan ruins of Tulum, Palenque, Chichén Itzá, Tikal, and Copán? This extensive small-group tour starts in Mexico City with a vast cultural tour of Mexico -- explore the colonial buildings of Puebla, Oaxaca, and San Cristobal de las Casas before heading north to the Yucatán cities of Palenque, Mérida, and Playa del Carmen. Next, you'll cross the border to Belize and soak up the Central American sun in Caye Caulker, before heading south to Flores, Guatemala -- shop for the perfect souvenir at the local markets of Chichicastenango and take time to roam the colorful city of Antigua. Ponder the past at the Mayan ruins in Copán and relax on the beaches of Roatán Island during your time in Honduras. From here, the tour heads south through Granada and Ometepe Island in Nicaragua before finishing up with trips to Costa Rica's tropical cloud forests, Arenal Volcano National Park, and San José, the country's capitol city.

    The breakdown: You'll end up spending $69 per day including all ground transportation, guided tours, and 45 nights' accommodations in hotels, one night in a local homestay, and one night on an overnight bus. Intrepid Travel's Central America Explorer, from $3,195 for a 46-day trip. Average group size: 16 people.

    The ultimate tour of Southeast Asia
    Highlights:
    Visit temples, beaches, and historical spots throughout Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam.

    On this 29-day Southeast Asia adventure, you'll get to visit ancient temples like Chiang Mai, Wat Po, and Wat Rong Khun, sail down the Mekong River, spend the night at a homestay in a local Laotian village, and watch a traditional Vietnamese water puppets show. And that's just the first half of your trip -- the rest has you cruising around Halong Bay, visiting the Royal Tombs in Hue, exploring historic Hoi An, touring the Cu Chi tunnels near Ho Chi Minh City, and cruising the Mekong Delta before you head into Cambodia for a sobering historical tour of the Killing Fields and guided tours of Angkor Wat's spectacular temple complex.

    The breakdown: You'll spend $121 a day including all guided tours, entrance fees, ground transportation, regional flights and boat rides between countries, accommodations, and most meals. G Adventures, from $3,499 per person for a 29-day trip. Average group size: 10-15 people.

    Best of the U.S.
    Highlights:
    An epic cross-country adventure from San Francisco to New York City and back, stopping at national parks and big cities around the country.

    Starting and ending in San Francisco, this 32-city tour of the United States' best attractions includes visits to Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, Carlsbad Caverns, Niagara Falls, Badlands National Park, Devil's Tower, Yellowstone, and Grand Teton National Park. The first half of the tour takes you through the heartland -- gamble in Las Vegas, experience southwest culture in Santa Fe, and visit Elvis at Graceland -- while the rest of it works through the big cities of the Northeast before sending you back through the northern states -- ride to the top of the Sears Tower in Chicago, experience the Wild Wild West in South Dakota, and pay a visit to Old Faithful on your way back to the Golden State.

    The breakdown: This 44-day trip breaks down to $120 per day including all of your ground transportation in an air-conditioned van, 43 nights' accommodations, and guided city tours of San Francisco, Las Vegas, New Orleans, Washington D.C., and New York City. This package also covers most meals as well as entrance fees to all included National Parks, the Maid of the Mist boat tour in Niagara Falls, a trip to Arlington National Cemetery, and a beer tasting in Milwaukee. G Adventures, from $5,299 per person for a 44-day trip. Average tour size: 10-13 people.

    An African safari adventure from Kenya to Cape Town
    Highlights:
    Meet the locals and spot the Big Five in Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa.

    If you're an adventurous animal lover with a month and a half to spare, this tour is right up your alley. Keep your eyes out for the Big Five as you zig-zag your way through eight African countries and stop to see the animals they're known for on a number of game drives and walks through the African bush. You'll also get to visit spice plantations in Zanzibar, feel the spray of Victoria Falls, and relax on the beaches of Lake Malawi. Get to know the locals by staying in several African villages along the way, giving you the chance to see what everyday life is like in the jungles and deserts of this intriguing continent.

    The breakdown: You'll end up spending $115 per day for this 45-day African adventure including 44 nights' accommodations, all ground transportation, guided tours, and most meals. Intrepid Travel, from $5,170 per person for a 45-day trip. Average tour size: 22 people.

    Click here for three more affordable grand tours of New Zealand, Peru, and Ireland!

    More From Budget Travel:

    40 More Passport Stamps Worth Bragging About
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    With the holiday season under way and Christmas and the New Year just around the corner, December is the perfect time to dust off your passport and celebrate in style. Whether you'd like to be sipping mulled wine at Europe's legendary Christmas markets, seeing in the New Year on the beaches of Rio or escaping the snow in the tropics, here are some ideas for where to go in December.

    1. Israel


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    Opt to spend the holiday season in the Holy Land and reconnect with the spirit of Christmas minus consumerism, visiting revered sights like the UNESCO-listed Church of the Nativity and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. December in Israel kicks off with Hanukkah, which this year runs from November 27th - December 5th, but if you're in the country on Christmas Eve, don't miss the carol singing and public broadcast of Midnight Mass in Bethlehem's Manger's Square and the Christmas Parade and market in Nazareth.

    2. Kerala, India


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    Swap frosty mornings for an Indian summer in Kerala, where locals will be enjoying the end of monsoon season by hitting the beaches in droves. The real highlight of Kerala is the chance to get away from it all so take a boat cruise around Kochi harbor, explore the Kerala backwaters on a traditional houseboat or watch the sunset over the idyllic Kovalam beach. The region's large Christian population means you won't have to miss out on Christmas celebrations either.

    3. Chile's Atacama Desert


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    If you're looking for a unique destination to spend the holiday season, you can't get more different than Chile's Atacama desert, the driest place on Earth. Settle into a cozy guesthouse in the atmospheric desert village of San Pedro de Atacama, then head into the Los Flamencos National Reserve to explore some of the world's most dramatically varied scenery. Whether hiking, cycling or horseback riding through volcanic fields, marveling at the Salar de Atacama, Chile's largest salt flat, or star-gazing from the sand dunes, overlooking the eerily beautiful Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley), the fantastical landscapes provide an unforgettable backdrop.

    4. Belize


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    With hurricane season over, now is a good time to dodge the January crowds and make the most of sun-soaked Belize. While you'll likely have to pay high season prices traveling this month, it's the perfect weather for taking in the country's varied sights, from delving into Mayan history on a tour of ancient Xunantunich and the vast Caracol archaeological site, to lounging on a beach along the Caribbean coast. Belize is also renowned for its adventure activities, so head to the island of Ambergris Caye where you can enjoy snorkeling, zip lining and tubing, or go scuba diving at the incredible Great Blue Hole.

    5. Guatemala


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    Nearby Guatemala is also heading into peak tourist season, so hop over the border and discover sights like the grand Mayan city of Tikal, cruise along the Rio Dulce or scale the peak of an active volcano. December also brings a number of celebrations in the run-up to Christmas day, including the Burning of the Devil on December 7th, when Guatemalans burn waste paper and unneeded household items en masse, in preparation for the holy weeks ahead, and the unique St Thomas' Day festival held in the highland city of Chichicastenango on the 21st.

    6. Rio de Janeiro


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    Photo credit: Leandro Neumann Ciuffo via Flickr.

    Rio's biggest parties kick off in February when the dazzling Carnival crowds take over the city, but another atmospheric time of year to visit is over the Christmas holidays. Of course, nowhere knows how to celebrate like Rio and the festive season means palm trees glittering with fairy lights, surfers riding the waves in Santa suits and the world's largest floating Christmas tree lighting up the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon. Stick around for December 31st when Copacabana beach hosts an epic New Year's party, bringing over 2 million revelers to the white sands for a night of live music, street food and fireworks, accompanied by plenty of champagne.

    Read more about Christmas in Rio

    7. Paris


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    With the Eiffel Tower flanked by Christmas trees and the elegant Champs-Elysées shopping street dancing with over 150,000 twinkling lights, few European cities are as magical as Paris at Christmastime. Discover the spectacular illuminations of the City of Lights with a Christmas lights tour around Paris, stock up on unique souvenirs at one of the many Christmas markets, or learn to cook festive delicacies like pumpkin soup and Bûche de Noël cake with a Christmas cooking class in Paris.

    8. Fiji


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    With fewer crowds and cheaper prices, December can be a good month to travel to Fiji and with more than 330 tropical islands to choose from, you're unlikely to get bored. Between island-hopping cruises, scuba diving and Christmas picnics on the beach, there's plenty to do, and if you stick around for December 31st, you could be among the first people in the world to welcome in the New Year.

    9. Malaysia


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    December is the start of peak season in Malaysia, so make the most of the idyllic weather by wildlife spotting in the Taman Negara rainforest, hiking among tea plantations in the Cameron Highlands or climbing to the summit of the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Mt Kinabalu. Be sure to pay a visit to Kuala Lumpur too, where the famous Petronas twin towers provide a dramatic backdrop to the NYE fireworks.

    10. Macau


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    Renowned as the 'Vegas of the East', Macau is as famous for its casinos as it is for its sandy beaches and UNESCO-listed landmarks, but the best reason for visiting Macau this month is to celebration the New Year. The city's 33 casinos will be throwing glitzy bashes to mark the countdown to 2014, but the main attraction will be the dazzling fireworks display over Nam Van Lake.

    11. Bahamas


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    Photo credit: Jon Worth via Flickr.

    Hurricane season is over so you can once again enjoy the Bahamas without scrutinizing the daily weather forecast, and what better time to discover the party capital of the Caribbean than the holiday season? Held on Boxing Day and New Year's day, the Junkanoo Festival is one of the biggest events of the year, with riotous street parties and colorful carnival-esque parades held all over the county. The largest and most vibrant parade is held in Nassau, replete with gyrating dancers, sequin-encrusted costumes and booming drums, but Grand Bahama, Abaco and Exuma host similarly flamboyant events.

    Read more about Christmas events in the Bahamas

    12. Kangaroo Island and Adelaide


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    Pass up on the holiday crowds of Sydney and Melbourne in favor of laid-back Adelaide, where there's still plenty of fun to be had. Christmas markets, carol concerts and magnificent light displays should get you in the festive mood, but with the sun shining, you might feel more like a wine tasting tour in the Barossa Valley, a dolphin-watching cruise or a trip to nearby Kangaroo Island, where you'll get to cuddle up to koalas and, of course, kangaroos.

    13. Antarctica


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    There's no winter wonderland as breathtaking as Antarctica, so why not make this the year to check an Antarctic cruise off your bucket list? Set out from Ushuaia or Punta Arenas in Patagonia for the journey of a lifetime and spend the holiday season exploring the frozen continent. Whether you opt for the ultimate 20-day cruise or a 1-week taster, you'll be treated to an endless panorama of towering icebergs, vast penguin colonies and icy waters teeming with whales and elephant seals. Just make sure you pack some thermals!

    14. Lake Tahoe, California


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    You're guaranteed a white Christmas at Lake Tahoe and with the lakeside lined with snow-dusted pine trees, glittering light displays and atmospheric Santa's grottoes, there's plenty of festive cheer to go around. Get in the mood with a horse-drawn sleigh ride around Lake Tahoe, then make the most of the snow with a snow mobiling, sledding or ice skating trip. Of course, wintertime is also ski season and ski and snowboard enthusiasts will be spoiled for choice at the many mountain resorts surrounding Tahoe.

    Browse wintertime activities in Lake Tahoe

    15. Los Cabos


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    Los Cabos will be in a celebratory mood over the holiday season, but with whale watching, scuba diving and zip lining on the itinerary, it's safe to say this won't be a traditional Christmas. As well as some of the country's best New Year's Eve parties, this month also sees the Sabor a Cabo culinary festival descend on the city, so it's the perfect excuse to over-indulge in seasonal specialties. Don't worry - you can burn off the extra calories horse riding on the beach, mountain biking in the desert or kayaking around the bay.

    16. Tasmania


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    Escape mainland Australia for a sun-soaked break on the shores of 'Tassie', where you can take a scenic drive around the Bay of Fires, hike through the Huon Valley and come face to face with Tasmanian devils. Even if you don't fancy exploring the Tasmanian wilderness, there are plenty of fun ways to celebrate the festive season in Hobart, with key events including the hugely popular Taste of Tasmania Festival, which fills the waterfront with gastronomic goodies, local wines and entertainment over the New Year, and the legendary Sydney to Hobart yacht race on Boxing Day, one of Australia's greatest sporting events, culminating in the Hobart prize giving ceremony.

    17. Singapore


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    With the mercury pushing 90°F it can be hard to get in the holiday mood, but Singapore's extravagant Christmas light displays and NYE fireworks over Marina Bay show that the Lion City has embraced the festive season with gusto. Even if you're not there for the main celebrations, December is an ideal time for sightseeing, so take in the views from the Singapore Flyer, tuck into street food in Chinatown, splash out on a cocktail at the lavish Raffles hotel, or get your pulse racing at Universal Studios Singapore.

    18. Sydney


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    It's summertime in Australia's largest city but that doesn't stop Sydney-siders from getting in the Christmas spirit. From enormous inflatable Santas bobbing in Darling Harbour and a spectacular lightshow brightening up Sydney Town Hall, to nightly carol concerts and festive turkey BBQs on the beach, there's no more atmospheric time to be in the city. Save some energy for the after Christmas too - the famous Sydney to Hobart yacht race departs from Aussie shores to huge crowds on Boxing Day and the mammoth New Year celebrations in Sydney Harbour feature a breathtaking fireworks display, boat procession and street party.

    Read more about Sydney at Christmas

    19. Queenstown, New Zealand


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    New Zealand's adventure sport capital is a fun place to be at any time of the year but now is the perfect time for whitewater rafting down the Shotover River, braving the country's highest bungee jump or taking in the views from the Skyline Gondola. Stick around for New Year's Eve when a dramatic firework show kicks off the biggest event of the summer - the month-long Summerdaze Festival.

    20. London


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    With thousands of Christmas lights brightening up Oxford Street, a gigantic Winter Wonderland taking over Hyde Park, a reindeer petting zoo in Covent Garden and a giant open-air ice rink beneath the Tower of London, London pulls out all the stops for the Christmas season. Once you've stocked up on gifts at the city's many Christmas markets, spent Christmas with Harry Potter at the Warner Bros Studio and visited Harrods' spectacular Santa's grotto, save some energy for the legendary January sales (which, conversely, kick off on Boxing Day) and the world renowned NYE fireworks display, held against a backdrop of the London Eye and Big Ben.

    - Zoë Smith for Viator


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    2013 is quickly coming to an end.

    With a gift list to check off, holiday meals to plan, and New Year’s resolutions to make (plus some giving back in between), there isn't much time left to research next year's travel plans.

    So leave it to StumbleUpon users to help narrow down the options. Whether your travel resolution is to explore something new or rediscover a big city, consider these 10 most desired city escapes to help get the idea juices flowing.


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    With several hundred years of cruel death on its soil, stepping foot on Poveglia Island is a sure way to scare yourself stupid.

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    Photo by: Chris 73

    Get ready to piss your pants and scream like a little girl that's discovered a spider colony in her closet. Poveglia Island is a secluded little piece of land that even the macho-iest of Italians stay the fuck away from. The final restless place of thousands of diseased, murderous and insane people, Poveglia is the convergence of everything we know about evil. So what's the deal with this island of spooky terror?


    Twisted History
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    Photo by: Byran White

    Back when the bubonic plague ate up most of the world's population, the Romans had a clever idea to keep the healthies separated from the sickos. The plagued people were shipped off to Poveglia Island, a small, secluded land mass that floats between Venice and Lido. There, people lived out the last of their wretched lives together until they croaked. Since the island already wreaked of death, the next time an epidemic came along, barely alive bodies were dumped there and burned in mass graves. In the 20s, a mental hospital was built to welcome the island's newest "guests," or anybody that showed symptoms of any sort of sickness, physical or mental. Basically, if you had an itch, away you went to Poveglia where you'd sink your feet into the soil (half dirt, half human ash) and be in the company of over 100K diseased ghosts. What's more is that these plagued ghosts aren't your loveable Patrick Swayze types. No, these ghosts are pissed. You see, a dickhead doctor ran the mental hospital and, since mental health was pretty wishy-washy back then, conducted all kinds of brutal experiments on residents of the island (like shoving chisels into their brains to see what moved.) The doc eventually tumbled off the bell tower, either by his own doing or with a little shove from a few tortured souls. He survived the fall but rumor has it that some sort of mist swallowed him upon landing, effectively finishing the job. Suffice it to say that if you're looking for a place to piss your pants in horror, Poveglia's got the ghoulish goods.

    Petrifying Press
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    Photo By: Destination-venice.net

    The dudes from Ghost Adventures got all kinds of spooked on the island. Their episode on Poveglia, where the crew stranded themselves there for 24 hours, is full of perceived curses, apparitions, creepy music, weird energy, inexplicable equipment malfunctions, and off-the-charts ghost monitors. These dudes used their best Italian to ask the ghosts pertinent questions like "are you a murderer?" and seemed to get responses from the dark abyss. Mysterious bangs, audible footsteps, disembodied voices and strange orbs are all captured on video and audio. As with most episodes of Ghost Adventures, people bashed the validity of their haunted claims. We'll admit this shit looks scary but most things illuminated only by the green of a night-vision camera usually are (best example: Paris Hilton giving a BJ.)


    Getting There
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    Photo by: Maurizio Mollicone

    No one cares if you want to give yourself the willies; there are no boats that make regular stops at the island. The Italian tourism board prohibits visiting the island (on paper) and requires a lengthy application process, where you must obtain approval, before you can step your trembling foot onto the human ash-covered land. But as with most things, for the right price (about 200 euros), you can hire a dude to float you over there, no approval necessary.

    OTP Tip: Step lightly. The whole place is falling apart in chunks (which may explain some of those mysterious bangs.)


    Italians like to keep Poveglia at the bottom of their list of tourist attractions. But nosey scare-seekers have found their way onto its forbidden shores with mixed results about their encounters with the undead. When it comes to ghosts, it seems that people always find exactly what they're looking for. In the end, it's hard to say if this island is actually haunted but we can tell you that it's 100 percent better to be scared in Italy than it is stuffing your face with candy corn on your couch this Halloween.

    Written By: Anna Starostinetskaya

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    When you know absolutely nothing about a country before you arrive, you're in for all sorts of surprises -- those you may expect and those you had no idea existed. When you're heading to Iceland, you obviously expect to find ice even though I wasn't sure that would be the case during summer. Without time to research what I wanted to do or see, I ended up relying on locals through Skype, Twitter and after I arrived, in person over coffee or introductions on the ground.

    After about a month, I had taken in pretty much everything the country had to offer, from volcanoes, snowmobiling and lava to landscape hikes and thermal waters, yet I hadn't yet seen or felt the "ice" of Iceland.



    Less than a week before I was due to depart, I saw photos of a magical and breathtaking ice lagoon known as the Glacier Lagoon in the far east of the country and knew immediately I had to make it there before boarding a plane back to the states. It was a visceral feeling of sorts that is hard to describe, but the photos were so beautiful I found myself dreaming about "ice" for several nights before I headed southeast with guide.

    Just before you reach the lagoon, you'll pass Iceland's biggest volcano, Oraefajokull glacier, which also has the highest peak of the island, Hvannadalshnjukur, at 6,950 feet (2119 meters).

    The Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon is one of the most amazing natural wonders of Iceland and one of the most popular attractions for travelers to visit. The lagoon started to form in 1934 when the glacier started to retreat in the area. In 1956 the size of the lagoon was 4,5 square kilometers and in 1975 the lagoon had reached the size of 8 square kilometers. Today, the size of the lagoon is estimated to be around 25 square kilometers and it's constantly getting larger as approximately 500 square meters of ice break off the glacier every year. Jokulsarlon is the deepest lake in Iceland with maximum depth of 260 meters in front of the glacier edge.



    Jokulsarlon is located in the southeast part of Iceland, in the realm of Vatnajokull, roughly 379 kilometers east of Reykjavik and 78 kilometers west of the village Hofn. The lagoon lies along the major ring road so it's easily accessible if you're driving.

    As soon as you arrive, you're hit with unspoiled nature where huge icebergs calve off Vatnajokull, the largest glacier in Europe. Suddenly, you're not hit with ice in all shapes and colors and they change as the sun changes or as clouds move in at a particular angle. It's nothing short of magestic, surreal and overwhelmingly beautiful.





    You can opt for larger boats or choose the more personalized Zodiac boats (my recommendation -- it's so worth it) since you'll get closer to the ice and have a more personalized experience of the lagoon.



    They'll suit you up. I have requested purple suits for women but for now, you'll go out with six to eight people and be all dressed in red.





    It is a small team effort and the Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon's owner Inqvar Geirsson is originally from the area, which means he has firsthand knowledge of not just the lagoon but stories which give you a deeper understanding of the region overall.





















    For more on Iceland, check out Iceland section / Travel to Iceland / Traveling to Iceland. All photos Renee Blodgett.

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    En route to the breathtaking Jokulsarlon Glacial Lagoon in East Iceland, I took a several hour picturesque drive along the country's southern coast.

    On the way, you pass a number of stunning ocean views and valleys, including the charming village of Vik, which touts spectacular scenery, lava fields and a black sandy desert along the way. Below are the five pillars of Vik, which whether you take them late afternoon or at three in the morning, they will impress.









    Along that road, I'd also recommend stopping at the village of Kirkjubæjarklaustur to see the beautiful waterfalls and the Skaftafell National Park to take in the Svartifoss waterfall cascading down stacks of basalt columns. On your way back to Reykjavik, you should also see the 100 meter deep Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon and Kirkjugolf.

    Below, the Church Floor at Kirkjugolf...





    Sheep at Kirkjugolf



    Fjadrarglufur Canyon



    Hof which means Temple







    Near Skaftafell Park 



    Sheep near Hnappavellir farm and surrounding area



    For more on Iceland, check out Iceland section / Travel to Iceland / Traveling to Iceland. All photos by Renee Blodgett.


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    Photographing wildlife in Africa is a unique experience, but what I discovered about photography when I shot with professional wildlife photographer Gerry van der Walt, director of Wild Eye, and his team in Kenya this past September was surprisingly universal. Whether in the bush or in your own backyard, you can use these six tips anywhere, anytime.

    1. Ask yourself: What's the story I want to tell?
    One day on safari I asked Gerry the best way to shoot a scene, and he replied, "Why are you picking up your camera?" At first the question stumped me. Wasn't it obvious? There was a huge leopard in front of the jeep. Gerry smiled and said, "If you think about the actual reason, the story you want to tell, you will be in a much better position to convey this to the people looking at your images."

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    (I chose to show this leopard with his kill in the tree to underscore him as a predator)



    Aha! I thought about that for a moment and realized that typically I didn't have a story in mind when I took a picture. From that point on I did my best to slow down and ask myself what I wanted the images to communicate. Using the leopard as an example, did I want to focus on the beauty of the animal or its fierceness as a predator? Did I want an intimate portrait or to juxtapose him with his environment? Once I started thinking about the story I hoped each photo to tell, it informed how I should take the shot, and I immediately saw an improvement in my images.

    2. Remember to turn around
    In Africa, the sunsets are so captivating that it's easy to get caught up shooting every second of the sun's descent. But whether you're in Boston or Botswana, if you do, you're capturing only half of the possibilities. Turn around; look at what that fantastic golden light does to the world behind you -- there may be a gem of an image waiting to be captured. This is true for any situation: Don't miss a great shot because you're focused only on what's in front of you.

    3. When shooting action, keep the frame wide
    This is something I constantly have to remind myself. I love the look of a fabulous close-up, but unless you make the frame wide enough for an active subject, you're likely to chop off something important and ruin the shot. I learned this lesson the hard way watching an adorable cub and its mother interact one morning. I zoomed in too close and got this...

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    (Momma with her head chopped off)



    whereas Gerry, who practices this tip, got this...

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    (Momma and cub sitting pretty)


    4. Switch up your orientation
    People tend to gravitate toward a particular orientation when they shoot. I lean toward the horizontal, or landscape. Unless something is blatantly up and down, such as the Washington Monument, I still have to remind myself to shoot a scene vertically. A photo can take on a whole new expression when you change orientation, and it's well worth the effort to see which way works best for the story you wish to tell.

    5. Have patience
    At the beginning of my trip, I was so afraid to miss something that I took a lot of so-so pictures just because an exotic animal was in the frame. But the truth is, whether your subject is a majestic elephant or an adorable pug, awful angles, ugly environments, bad lighting and unwanted obstacles spell trouble. I learned that sometimes it's better to simply put down the camera and enjoy the moment. Many times the scene will change and the opportunity for a good photo will present itself; if not, move on. No point in shooting something you'll end up deleting anyway.

    6. Number your memory cards

    Photographing a cheetah on the run or an active two-year-old child can burn through a ton of memory cards, and keeping them organized can be a job unto itself. Gerry taught me this little trick on while we were setting up our gear: Number your cards, and use them in chronological order. This brilliant frustration-saver enables you to see in a flash which cards are full and those that are empty -- avoiding accidental reformatting or dreaded image deletions.

    To see more photos and stories from my adventures, please join me on Facebook.

    Do you know some great photography tips? Please share in the comments below.

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    Naively, I arrived in South Africa three years ago thinking it would be difficult to find anyone in the nation who didn't love Nelson Mandela. The first person who I interviewed taught me a lesson. "I didn't like Mandela much," said the man, a former diplomat who asked not to be identified when he spoke about his political career. He was present with Mandela at numerous high-level meetings in the 1990s, during the leader's presidency. "Behind closed doors, he had little tolerance for dissent or opposing views. But I do respect him, tremendously. How could anyone not?"

    So, I was asking the wrong question. For all the idolatry around him, Mandela was human and susceptible to the range of emotions as everyone else. Rather than inquiring about the ubiquitous of adoration for him, I should have sought a person in the nation who didn't appreciate what he did for South Africans of all ethnicities. Such a person I didn't find; however, somewhere there must exist a dissenter, a boorish individual opposed to the ideas of anti-apartheid and the Rainbow Nation. Largely, though, South Africa is a nation of Mandela acolytes, white, brown, and black.

    "It's like meeting an angel," Sebastien Qweshe, a driver at the posh Michelangelo Hotel in Johannesburg told me about his encounter with the Nobel laureate.

    Maria Sekwane, a member of the African National Congress, remembered February 11, 1990, when Mandela was released after 27 years in prison, as a night of unmatched celebration. "We sang and we danced, but we were also expecting that we would soon have to fight," she recalled. "For days we were collecting money to buy guns and then Mandela said each and every gun must go into the sea. We couldn't believe it. But he insisted that had to be the way. That we could not look backward and that had to happen for the country to go forward."

    Her friend Gloria Pikitsha, who was raised during the worst of the Soweto riots in the 1970s and '80s, called Mandela "a gift from God."

    "He was blessed with a great mind, wisdom and humility," she said. "Who on earth would sacrifice that much for his country?"

    For some, his passing on Thursday is horribly painful because they consider him divine. For others, a today without Mandela is a much less dignified and gracious day than yesterday. The legacy he leaves, though, is one so deep, rich, and interesting that South Africa will continue to benefit from his remarkable achievements for decades ahead. A Mandela tourism industry, a phenomenon that was only budding three years ago during the World Cup, seems poised to flourish.

    On Vacay.ca, a list has been published of the five Nelson Mandela attractions visitors to South Africa will have to make a point of seeing.

    The list includes Robben Island. This 12-square-kilometre dot of sand and limestone is where Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years of incarceration.

    The island is three kilometres off the coast of Cape Town and for many years was miles from humanity. It became known as Mandela University, because the lawyer would educate both inmates and prison guards. Tours that include a round-trip ferry ride and a discussion by a former prisoner cost 400 rand (about $43). From those ex-inmates, you learn about the degradation of apartheid that occurred inside the prison, where the subordination of black political prisoners was constantly reinforced. Prisoners who were Indian or mixed race, for example, would be given six ounces of meat with their dinner, the blacks five.

    Mandela's prison cell attracts a crowd, making it the only lock-up in the world people are eager to get into. They can't. Its bars remain shut but visitors can step into a similarly cramped pen a few cells down the tight hallway that fills with echoes. Just about everyone who walks in spreads their arms to get a sense of the space. You've been in walk-in closets that are larger.

    "I could walk the length of my cell in three paces," Mandela wrote in his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom. "When I lay down, I could feel the wall with my feet and my head grazed the concrete at the other side."

    When you leave Robben Island, you can stop at the gift shop to purchase Mandela merchandise, including a "presidential collection" line of shirts similar to those he wore during his presidency. Another set of fashion blares "466/64", his prison number. It indicates he was the 466th prisoner to arrive on Robben Island in 1964.

    Read the rest of the Top 5 Nelson Mandela Attractions on Vacay.ca.




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    Just forget about every other castle ever, because these ice castles make everything else pale in comparison.

    Where did these stunning ice sculptures that would make even Superman rethink the design of his Fortress of Solitude come from? From the beautiful mind and hands of artist Brent Christiansen.

    Christensen's inspiration for building these majestic ice structures that rely on the cold, a lot of water, a little lighting and, miraculously, no substructures is described on the Ice Castles blog:

    In order to understand the ice castle, there are a couple things you need to know about Brent, the creator of the Ice Castle. You need to know that Brent is an artistic genius and an amazing, dedicated dad. The combination of these delightful traits mixed with moving his family from California to Utah combined with a dash of stir-crazy cabin fever were the ingredients that made up the the beginnings of the ice castles.

    Although the first ice castle was a winter hit –- it was springtime disaster waiting to happen. You see, Brent built the frame of the slide, tower and cave out of wood and made the ice by sprinkling the wood scaffolding with water. After cleaning up the splintered remains of that first winter, he spent the summer thinking that there had to be a way to create Ice Castles by just using ice. By the time cooler temperatures again arrived he was outside working through a method, that he later patented, to create ice towers, tunnels, and archways by using icicles as the base scaffolding on which to spray water. ”Ice just works a lot better,” he is fond of saying.


    Sculpted carefully by hand, each ice castle is an original work of art that evolves throughout the winter as ice sculptors develop each structure for weeks.

    Christensen or a member of his crew begins the process by creating and placing thousands of icicles daily. The Summit Daily reported that at 2012's event in Colorado, Christiensen used 3 million gallons of water to construct 10-foot walls with 40-foot towers. Embedded inside the walls of the ice castle were 200 compact fluorescent bulbs, capable of producing more than 350,000 lumens of light and at night the ice walls glow with ethereal hues of green and blue.

    See them for yourself if you're fortunate enough to live in Colorado, New Hampshire or Utah (opening dates vary for each location), or check out some of the cold masterpieces below:


    All photos courtesy of Ice Castles/Ryan Davis.

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    The holiday travel season can be hectic, stressful and devoid of cheer. Wintry weather can ruin plans, massive crowds can cause claustrophobia and an overabundance of family time can induce some headaches.

    • Thou shalt check thy flight status regularly and monitor weather before arriving at the airport.


    • Thou shalt not be verbally or physically abusive to TSA agents.


    • Thou shalt leave home early, arrive at the airport early and allot ample time for security and pre-flight snack-buying.


    • Thou shalt pack wisely -- no overweight luggage, no liquids in carry-ons, etc.


    • Thou shalt make a budget for thy holiday adventure.


    • Thou shalt not gripe excessively about lines, crowds and delays (everyone is in the same boat).


    • Thou shalt pack earplugs to tune out crying children and those that did not get the "no griping" memo.


    • Thou shalt be kind to fellow travelers and airport/airline employees.


    • Thou shalt eat wisely -- in and out of the airport.


    • Thou shalt have a backup travel plan.


    • Thou shalt stay calm in the face of cancelled flights, gridlock traffic and all other circumstances outside thy control.


    • Thou shalt have a drink to calm thy nerves -- but thou shalt not overdo it.


    • Thou shalt grin and bear it during conversations with nosy family members and airplane seatmates.


    • Thou shalt take deep breaths.


    • Thou shalt remember the holiday season will be over soon. Thankfully it occurs just once a year.






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    We love Australia, and not just because it can be incredibly cheap to visit.

    The Land Down Under is richer in flora, fauna, and attractive Oscar-nominated males. But those are just a few of the many reasons why, as far as we're concerned, the Aussies have it better.

    1. In Australia, it's incredibly normal to take a gap year.
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    2. Australians have swimming pools in their oceans.
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    3. People in Australia really know coffee. Starbucks tried to invade the scene a few years ago, but Aussies didn’t break from their mom-and-pop roasteries. Starbucks was forced to close 61 of its 87 Australian stores.
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    4. Two words: Gold. Coast.
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    5. Precious, just-born, infant turtles crawl into the Australian sea from January until March. And there are turtle guides who will help you find and say hi to them.
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    6. Everybody in Australia can swim very fast.
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    7. The minimum wage in Australia is $16.88. SIXTEEN DOLLARS AND EIGHTY-EIGHT CENTS! In America, minimum wage ranges by state from $5.15 (Georgia) to $9.19 (Washington).
    australia cashier

    8. Australia's capital city threw itself a birthday party. And gave everybody the day off work. And put on free concerts. And set up the world’s longest champagne bar with hundreds of bottles of champagne. WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE?!
    australia cashier

    9. A bunch of lakes in Australia are pink, thanks to algae and prawns.
    TIL there is a pink lake in Australia

    10. Handheld meat pies are, like, Australians' national dish. They eat them while watching football that has its own special Australian rules, such as "you may tackle people without any helmets on."
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    11. You can apply for a travel visa to Australia online. No consulates, no lines, no heartache.
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    12. Australians don't sacrifice sustainability for tourism. Lord Howe Island, the most beautiful island of coral reefs, is only allowed to host 400 tourists at any given time, no matter how many want to come.


    13. Caramel slice is in Australia.
    lord howe island

    14. There are more kangaroos than humans in Australia, which makes life more adorable. To deal with all those marsupials, experts have concocted kangaroo birth control and a national Kangaroo Management Plan. Another population control -- sniffle, tear, sniffle -- is the kangaroo burger.
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    15. Australians dominate the world at rugby, a sport whose American players are comprised of mostly grunting fraternity brothers.
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    16. Australians make a vacation out of helping the planet-- on a conservation holiday, you can measure plants in the rainforest or monitor owl species at the base of the Australian Alps.
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    17. Everybody in Australia has accents.


    18. When life gets rough (from eating too much Vegemite or winning too much rugby), Australians can always escape to the perfect blue heaven known as Lake McKenzie.
    lake mckenzie

    19. In Australia, there are creatures called fairy penguins. After they get home from long days at sea, you can visit their colonies by night.
    penguin island australia

    20. The Great Ocean Road, the Aussies' seaside version of Route 66, takes you past some pretty stellar rock formations.
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    21. Australians have the widest steel arch bridge in the world. You may have heard of it.
    sydney harbor bridge

    22. Liam Hemsworth was born in Australia.
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    23. Chris Hemsworth was born in Australia.
    chris hemsworth

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