15 palace hotels that will make you feel like royalty

crown Have you ever wondered what it’s like to live like a king or queen? While you may not have been born into royalty, you can still live lavishly, if only for a weekend.

While five-star hotels can offer plush bedding, spacious penthouse suites, and high-class amenities, it’s nothing compared to the luxurious living offered at these palace properties. Genuine artifacts from centuries ago adorn the halls, acres of lush gardens, furniture made of gold – no expense is spared at a palace hotel. Not only that, but you’ll be sleeping in the same space as kings, queens, and society’s most elite members once did, long ago.

Sound like fun? Before you start planning your next royal getaway, check out the gallery below.

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10 places to celebrate Chinese New Year

Chinese New YearChinese New Year occurs in the early months of our calendar year, typically January or February and this year falls on January 23rd. This is the first of 15 days of celebration and the start of the Year of the Dragon.

Chinese New Year (also called the Lunar New Year) is the longest and most important festivity in the Chinese calendar and a time to welcome longevity, wealth and prosperity and to eliminate any negative chi from the past.

The origin of Chinese New Year taps several myths and traditions and is officially celebrated in countries and territories such as Mainland China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Macau, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, and also in Chinatowns elsewhere. Chinese New Year is considered a major holiday for the Chinese and has had influence on the lunar new year celebrations of its geographic neighbors.

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Chinese New Year is also celebrated just about anywhere there are significant Chinese populations too.

In the UK, many shops, bars and restaurants in London will be participating in the celebrations, with big events held in Leicester Square, Trafalgar Square and most importantly, Chinatown.

In the United States, the San Francisco Chinese New Year celebration is now the largest Asian event in North America as well as the largest general market event in Northern California. The celebration includes two major fairs, the Chinese New Year Flower Fair and Chinatown Community Street Fair. All the festivities culminate with Chinese New Year Parade.

Flickr photo by xiquinhosilva



Chinese New Year in Bangkok

New Seven Wonders of Natural World revealed amidst controversy

The Amazon is one of the new seven wonders of the natural worldAfter four years of hype and fanfare, the new seven wonders of the natural world were unveiled last Friday, honoring some of the most amazing landscapes on the planet. But as the competition drew to a close, dark clouds of controversy formed, casting a shadow over the entire affair.

The selection process for the new seven wonders began back in 2007, when 440 natural wonders, from 220 countries, were first submitted for consideration. Over the course of several rounds of voting and judging, that number was eventually reduced to 28 finalist. The seven winners were selected from that list following months of online voting.

According to the preliminary results, the new seven wonders include the following: the Amazon Rainforest (South America); Halong Bay (Vietnam); Iguazu Falls (Argentina/Brazil), Jeju Island (South Korea); Komodo National Park (Indonesia); Puerto Princesa Subterranean River (Philippines) and Table Mountain (South Africa).

The organizers behind the new seven wonders are quick to note that this list is for the provisional winners, as they are currently conducting a recount of the votes to ensure that the correct wonders have been named. The results are now being independently verified and they expect to confirm the winners in early 2012.

On the eve of the announcement of those winners, disturbing stories began to emerge about how organizers were attempting to collect millions of dollars from the nations that were home to the finalists. When the search for the new wonders first began more than four years ago, countries were required to pay a $199 entry fee, but as the selection process narrowed the candidates, some countries were asked to pay large sums of cash to aid in a world-wide marketing campaign. The Indonesian government claimed, for example, that the organizers wanted $10 million to cover licensing fees and an additional $47 million to host the official closing ceremony. Earlier, the Maldives withdrew from the competition altogether when costs to participate spiraled upwards towards $500,000.For their part, organizers of the new seven wonders competition say that their branding efforts were optional, and that allegations of charging exorbitant prices are completely “baseless.” They also refused to discuss exactly how much individual countries were charged for taking part in the branding campaign, but did acknowledge that the fees varied by nation.

Considering that the entire “new seven” idea was the brainchild of an international marketing firm, it should come as no surprise that it was seen as a way to make some money. Critics have pointed out however, that the firm should have secured financial backing prior to announcing the campaign four years ago, thus avoiding any attempts to seek funds from the countries involved.

Which brings up another issue with the whole competition. Since the organizers also don’t disclose voting numbers, we have to take it on faith that they are reporting the correct winners. After all, it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility that a country that paid the large fees would receive some kind of preferential treatment over those that bulked at them. I suppose the independent verification system is suppose to keep everything on the up-and-up, but there is no denying that there were some strange decisions made along the way.

Those issues aside, what are your feeling on the list of the new seven wonders of the natural world? Did we end up with some good selections or are there others sites that were more worth of inclusion

10 best eco-friendly hostels in the world

portland hawthorne hoste websiteWhile you can usually expect an inexpensive stay at a hostel, not all of these accommodations are alike when it comes to being sustainable and green. For your next trip, why not stay somewhere that will not only give you a social experience on a budget, but will also be good for the planet? Check out this list of the 10 best eco-friendly hostels around the world.

Portland Hawthorne Hostel
Portland, Oregon

The Portland Hawthorne Hostel offers a clean, safe accommodation in the Hawthorne District of Portland, Oregon. The hostel has free breakfast, cheap bike rentals, and is a short walk from Mount Tabor and Luarelhurst parks. Not only that, but this hostel does its part in being eco-friendly. One of their biggest draws is their ecoroof, a “green living roof of vegetation and soil”. The project is low-maintenance and self-sustaining and is being encouraged by the city due to its ability to soak up stormwater and return it to a natural water cycle (water that is not soaked up usually becomes full of sewage and dirt and negatively affects aquatic habitats). Along with the ecoroof, the hostel makes use of green cleaning products, recycling and composting, and gives guests arriving by bicycle a discount of $5 per night.auberge alternative eco-friendly hostel Auberge Alternative du Vieux-Montréal
Montreal, Canada

The Auberge Alternative is a boutique hostel for budget travelers. Old-warm charm resides here as the accommodation is actually an 1875 warehouse that was restored and enhanced. Art-lovers will also enjoy it here, as there is a gallery and studio that hosts artists from all over the world. Mix Auberge Alternative’s flair for art and design with their passion for green living, and you have one amazing accommodation. The hostel boasts free fair-trade coffees and teas, an organic and sustainable breakfast buffet, and usage of products made by small, locally run businesses. Moreover, you will not find a single vending machine, soda machine, or TV.

Mellow Eco Hostel Barcelona
Barcelona, Spain

Located in the traditional Horta District, this hostel is surrounded by greenery and away from the pollution and crowds of the city (but, still only fifteen minutes away by metro). There are many amenities and services included in your stay, including free Wi-Fi, free lockers, free linens, and free luggage storage. It is also one of the more social hostels with a shared kitchen and events, such as BBQ’s and dinners, on the terrace. What’s really great about Mellow Eco Hostel Barcelona, however, is its approach to a reduced environmental impact. They use renewable energy, with shower water being heated by solar panels on the roof. Moreover, they make use of recycling facilities, draught tap water, soap dispensers, biodegradable cleaning products, low consumption light bulbs, and only having air-conditioning in the common areas (don’t worry, the rooms were built to be well ventilated).

The Grampians YHA Eco-Hostel
Grampians, Australia

Located in the heart of the Grampians National Park, the Grampians YHA Eco-Hostel provides adventure activities such as rock climbing, hiking, and abseling, as well as the chance to experience the beauty of nature. The hostel also aims to be as green as possible and succeeds in many ways. Not only is the accommodation powered by solar electricity, it also does its part by using solar hot water, recycling, and collecting rainwater to reduce water consumption. Free-range eggs and organically grown fruits, vegetables, and herbs are also offered to guests.

Reykjavík City Hostel
Reykjavík, Iceland

Not only is Reykjavík City Hostel eco-friendly itself, it is also located next to a big geothermal swimming pool, beautiful waterfalls, explosive geysers, and other natural wonders for an even greener experience. Moreover, the hostel practices extensive recycling services, energy monitoring, and erosion control, offers a breakfast of local and organic fare, and sells fair-trade beverages at their cafe. While enjoying free Wi-Fi, a BBQ terrace, lounges, game rooms, and comfortable beds, guests can also take part in educational programs that will offer knowledge on sustainability and green living.

Eco Hostel Palermo
Buenos Aires, Argentina

This green hostel is situated in the trendy Palermo Soho of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Along with free linens, Wi-Fi in every room, a fully equipped kitchen, and 24-hour reception, guests can expect a stay that is friendly to the planet. The Eco Hostel Palermo makes use of solar powered panels, solar collectors, an organic garden, low enery light bulbs, insulated windows, cross-ventilation chambers, and eco-friendly computers with less plastic and low carbon emition. Moreover, almost all of the decoration and furnishing of the hostel is made with recycled and reused materials.

Strawberry Fields Eco-Lodge
Konso, Ethiopia

Staying at the Strawberry Fields Eco-Lodge, guests will get a feel for the simple life (the accommodation is also a farm) while being surrounded by dusty hills and lush greenery. It is a great budget accommodation if you’re looking to have a culturally-immersed experience as you will be staying in wooden thatched huts with authentic decor and eating locally prepared foods. Not only that, but your stay here will make you feel good about the environment, as it is run on solar power including solar showers and composting toilets.

The Green Hostel
Montevideo, Uruguay

This eco-friendly hostel has a lot to offer in terms of both amenities and sustainability. The Green Hostel features tours, bike rentals, 24-hour reception, a kitchen, a bar, internet, free breakfast and linens, lockers, luggage storage, and laundry services. Not only that, but they clearly have a committment to the environment, with furniture made of reused materials, hot water generated by solar panels, energy efficient light bulbs, a recycling program, and promotion of using bicycles as a way to explore the city.

ecolodges and hostels Gyreum Ecolodge
Sligo, Ireland

Located in the North-West of Ireland, the name Gyreum literally means “round building” in Latin. You will understand why once you see the temple-like roof of the seemingly invisible Gyreum Ecolodge poking from the Earth. The hostel is an Installation Incubator, a place where people can come together to “incubate” new ideas. It is also an ecolodge, using a wind turbine to power geothermal heating, solar panels to heat water, and a traditional toilet that is connected to outside compost. Moreover, rainwater is collected and used for showers and toilets and an organic vegetable garden can be enjoyed by guests.

Enigmata Treehouse Ecolodge
Camiguin Island, Philippines

The Enigmata Treehouse Ecolodge is more than just a hostel, it is a place for travelers, artists, and environmentalists to come together to create positive change. With options of home-stays and dorms, there is also an art gallery on site (the accommodation is run by local artists), as well as a sculpture garden, library cafe, theater, and an open classroom. Along with trying to educate about ecology through art by, for example, decorating with pieces made of recycled products, guests are also invited to attend conservation and biodiversity workshops and seminars. Surrounded by farms and trees, the accommodation is located far away from highways and pollution. An array of ecotours are offered, as well as recycling and energy saving programs.

Man sets out on 5,000 mile hike throughout Asia to raise money for charity

man walks 5,000 miles across asia to help children Winston Fiore, a 26 year old Marine from Bloomington, Indiana, has set out on a 5,000 mile journey, by foot, throughout Southeast Asia and China. Fiore arrived in Southeast Asia on September 25, 2011, for what is called “Smile Trek”, and is projecting it will take him a year to walk the entire route, which begins and ends in Singapore.

The goal of the journey is to raise $50,000 or more for the International Children’s Surgery Foundation, a not-for-profit that provides children in developing countries with free corrective surgery. Through fundraising efforts, such as giving presentations at rotary clubs across the United States as well as having help from the CouchSurfing community who have helped organize benefit dinners, charity walks, and media interviews, Fiore has been able to raise over $28,000 for the cause.

Fiore’s inspiration for Smile Trek stems from an experience he had when training for the Marines in a very poor region of Lingure, Senegal. When he returned home, he read a newspaper article about a successful plastic surgeon in the United States who gave up his career to perform free surgeries in developing nations for children with cleft palates and lips. From there, the idea began to grow.

To follow Fiore’s Smile Trek or donate to his cause, visit his blog here.