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Christmas

On a recent trip to Spain, I was in awe of the displays of Christmas lights in cities big and small. From bulbous blue lights hanging over the winding streets of Barcelona’s Barri Gotic, to gigantic neon-green Christmas trees in Madrid, to a seemingly endless draping of bells and garland-shaped light strings in Seville, there was no shortage of fluorescent holiday expressions. Our Christmas lights here in the U.S. are dim in comparison.

Many of these bright lights lit the way to charming Christmas markets found along pedestrian streets and major urban squares across the country. Spanish Christmas carols were heard from a chocolate vendor in Seville. Fresh pine wreaths adorned outdoor booths in the nation’s capital. Vendors in Barcelona sold logs with faces and hundreds of defecating figurines. Wait, what was that?!

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I wanted to hate this one. I mean, it’s not all that different than the ol’ SkyMall Tuesday favorite, Carlashes. I never should have doubted SkyMall, though. I’ve been hard on them lately. My expectations are high. But how can I hate a product that helps us get more “smiles per hour”? That’s genius.

The holidays, of course, are all about smiles. So, look, if you want to decorate your car to look like a reindeer, go for it. Who am I to tell you otherwise? Just don’t hang any mistletoe in the backseat. That’s just creepy.

Check out more SkyMall Tuesday posts.

Christmas Village in PhiladelphiaFor more than 700 years, Christmas markets have been an annual event in German city squares. The tradition started with 15th-century farmers selling goods in the weeks leading up to December 25. More vendors joined as the markets gained popularity, and now a typical German Christmas market also includes booths selling traditional European food and drink and a variety of ornaments, crafts, and toys. Markets have become an annual event in German cities both big and small, and larger cities like Berlin, Hamburg, and Cologne even have several markets each. Christkindlemarkets across Germany welcome millions of visitors each year, and many of those visitors come from neighboring areas and countries. For example, only about 50 percent of the visitors to the Munich Christkindlemarket actually live in Munich.

The popularity of these markets has expanded to other countries. Several British cities host German markets, and there are even markets in Osaka and Sapporo, Japan. The markets in North America offer different varieties of traditional European food and gifts. But no matter what market you visit, expect to see plenty of steaming mugs of glühwein (mulled spiced wine).

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Aria at Fairmont Chicago, Millenium ParkFeeling a bit “bah humbug” about this Christmas, or not one who celebrates the holiday? Head over to the Fairmont Chicago, Millennium Park for a Chinese food and movie combo. Start your December 25 with a special prix-fixe menu at aria, with dishes like crispy lobster mango rolls and fiery short rib beef, and then catch the film of your choice at a nearby AMC theater. Although the hotel doesn’t expressly bill it as such, any good Jew (like yours truly) knows that this is modeled after what the children of Israel traditionally do on Christmas. (Obviously, people of all creeds are welcome to enjoy the fine dining and festivities!) Pricing for dinner and a movie is $55 per person; to make a reservation call 312-444-9494. You don’t have to spend the night, but if you’d rather bed down at the Fairmont before or after you chow down on chow mein, rates start at $169/night on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

For general trip-planning information, see our Chicago Travel Guide.

Sandestin Golf and Beach ResortForget snail mail: Santa and his helpers are tech-savvy now. At the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort in Destin, Florida, children can Skype with Old Saint Nick prior to their stay at the resort. A reservation at the resort is not required to Skype with Santa; it is open to everyone. Santa has already talked to kids in Africa, Sweden, and Canada!

Santa is available to Skype between 4 and 5pm central time on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays in November, as well as December 7. It is free to participate; families only need a Skype account in order to book a time with Santa and discuss their Christmas lists.

Sandestin also offers a Santa Tuck-In, where Santa comes knocking at the door, offers each child a personalized gift and reads them a Christmas story. These visits will be available Fridays and Saturdays from November 25 through December 16. It costs $65 a child (and $15 per additional child). A portion of the proceeds will benefit Toys for Tots.

Use our Travel Search price comparison tool to find the lowest rates on flights, hotels, cruises, and more travel deals.

Holiday FlightsThe holidays are just around the corner, and if you’re anything like us, you’re probably hoping you won’t have to pay an arm and a turkey leg to get home to celebrate. Though most airline industry experts’ analysis is pointing to holiday fares that average about 6 to 10 percent more this year than last, there are still plentiful ways to snag a reasonable rate – just check out these 10 tips for booking holiday flights.

So why the “bah humbug” uptick in costs? With oil prices on the rise, airlines are consolidating flights, cutting unprofitable routes, and using smaller planes, but there still remains a discernible surge in flyer demand. Once-reluctant travelers who may have skipped out on flights home for the holidays in years past just aren’t willing to hold off on Aunt Edna’s homemade pumpkin pie another year. And though travelers have proven eager to get back in the air, the copious number of routes that have been grounded over the last couple of years (as much as 15 percent of capacity has been cut since 2008, in response to the economic crisis) translates to fewer seats for sale – and less desperation on behalf of the airlines to fill them.

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Fly non-stop to Istanbul October through March and save hundreds with this round-trip air deal starting at just $505, including tax. Spend Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year’s in Turkey, for an unforgettable Eastern vacation. Warm up with Turkish coffee while completing your holiday shopping in bazaars, relax in the famous Turkish baths, or soak in thousands of years of history in museums and mosques.

THE VALUE: Non-stop flights from Chicago to Istanbul typically cost over $1,000, so this deal saves over $500 on normal non-stop fares.

THE CATCH: These flights will get snapped up fast, so book now for the widest selection of dates. Lowest prices were found for weekday travel.

THE DETAILS: Click here to book your flight online with our Travel Search price comparison tool.

WE’VE GOT MORE: Find the best place to stay in Istanbul with our hotel reviews page, or check out what to do when you get there with our Turkey travel guide.

In a program called Holiday Photos on the Fly, Southwest Airlines and Microsoft are bringing a little extra holiday cheer to your busy travel schedule: Santa Claus will be set up at 26 U.S. airports to pose for free holiday photos with passengers, young and old. Santa’s helpers from Microsoft will not only provide travelers with a free photo print, but also show customers how to edit and share their pictures. The program will run for the three weekends preceding Christmas in December (Dec. 2-5, Dec. 9-12, and Dec. 17-20) from 8am to 7:30pm. You can seek out Santa at the following Southwest airports: Albuquerque, Austin, Baltimore/Washington, Boston Logan, Chicago Midway, Dallas Love Field, Denver, El Paso, Fort Lauderdale, Houston Hobby, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Nashville, New Orleans, Oakland, Ontario, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Portland, Sacramento, San Diego, San Jose, San Antonio, St. Louis, Seattle Tacoma, and Tampa Bay.

Use our Travel Search price comparison tool to find the lowest rates on hotels, airfare, packages, and more.

Europe’s Pink Christmas

November 26th, 2010 by

Amsterdam Pink ChristmasOne holiday down… a season to go! And if there’s one thing we made sure to give thanks for at our table yesterday, it’s the bevy of queer cheer Europe provides this time of year – two Pink Christmas festivals alone.

Kicking off December 1 with a World AIDS Day gala (TicNet.se), Stockholm brings the festive flavor all month long with parties, shows, and seductive Santas. Highlights include a mondo lesbian party December 11 at Södermalm clubs Momma and Roxy and an all-night affair celebrating Saint Lucia, the queen of light, on December 12. If last year’s festivities are any indication, different bars will take a non-traditional slant on the theme before Lucia “herself” drags it up, dressed in white with a crown of candles before dawn on the 13th. For more info on Pink Christmas and the whole Pink December festival, check out QX magazine (QX.se/gaymap) or Stockholm’s LGBT blog (StockholmTown.com/gay-lesbian), which will have all up-to-date info as it’s released.

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Christmas may seem a long way off, but the holiday season will be here before you know it and now is the time to make any essential winter reservations. Those few weeks in December are notoriously the most expensive time to travel, but with these London holiday deals you may consider splurging for a Christmas across the pond. Maybourne Hotel Group is offering Christmas packages (December 24-26) at all three of its prize 5-star hotels in London: Claridge’s, The Connaught, and The Berkeley. The festive offers include luxe accommodations for two nights, delectable meals at the hotels’ famed restaurants, magical horse-drawn carriage rides, and more. The hotel packages are similarly elegant, but each has its own distinct personality, décor, and holiday experiences to treasure.
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photo-1.jpgAfter a night stranded in Vienna airport due to the winter storm in Washington, D.C., I’ve made it back safe and sound from my Viking Christmas Market cruise along the Danube. Although it was bitter cold throughout my trip, there was a gentle snow fall in every port that made this unique voyage a bit magical. I had traveled from one snow-globe city to another, stopping for a mug of rich hot chocolate or mulled wine in each bustling marketplace while the season’s spices lingered in air.

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castle-on-river-cruise.jpgWhen I left sunny Fort Lauderdale in the middle of December for a week long vacation on the frigid Danube River I began to question my sanity. Further doubts arose after the all-stars at United botched the connecting flight and lost our luggage which contained my winter wardrobe. Our Christmas market cruise was off to a rough start before we even boarded the ship.

trans.gifAll that changed when my friend Morgan and I arrived at the port in Passau, Germany, where the crew of the Viking Europe was waiting to welcome us aboard and take what little carry-on luggage we had to our cabin. There were no security checkpoints – we simply stepped onto gangway and made our way to the registration desk. After explaining our lost luggage situation, the Viking crew assured us that they would take care of the problem – and they did. We had our bags before setting sail for the first port of call: Linz, Austria.

The cozy interior of the Viking Europe was adorned in cheerful Christmas decorations that instantly made the ship feel like home. While waiting for our rooms to be prepared (we had arrived an hour early), we had a light lunch in the Viking Lounge – one of two public areas on the ship (the small library being the second).

gingerbread-house.jpgThis was my first river cruise, and I was pleasantly surprised with my cabin – which was larger than expected – and boasted an enormous vanity and plenty of drawer space. Instead of a tiny porthole, our room had a panoramic window so we wouldn’t miss a moment of the scenery along the Danube. After settling in, an announcement was made that dinner was being served in the dining room. For each meal, passengers can choose where they’d like to sit, which turned out to be an excellent way to get to know the other guests onboard.

With the exception of a few night owls reading, playing cards, and drinking tea, the entire ship retired early to rest up for our first all-day excursion. I stayed awake and watched the snow fall outside the window as the icy river slipped by, illuminated by the warm glow of the houses along the riverbank. I realized that for once, instead of trying to cram as much as possible into seven days, I may get to experience a vacation that provides a little time to sit back and take it all in.

Check back throughout the week to learn more about my Christmas market cruise from Passau to Vienna.

 

 

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