It’s still Christmas in Spain!

Spain, spain, roscon, Christmas, christmasWell, Epiphany actually, but in Spain this is when we give presents. Christmas in Spain is a time for big meals and family fun, as well as church services for those who are so inclined. Santa passes Spain by to deal with the Anglo and Germanic countries, and Japan from what I hear. Spanish children wait for Los Reyes, the Three Kings, who come on their camels bearing gifts for good little boys and girls just like they did with Jesus all those years back.

The night before, it’s traditional to eat roscón de Reyes, the tasty donut-like creation seen here. This year my wife Almudena took some time off from astronomy to bake her very first roscón. It came out great. As usual, we ate it over at my 99 year-old neighbor’s place, and my wife’s roscón was better than the store-bought one she provided. Roscón is typically eaten with chocolate, hot chocolate. Now this isn’t your wimpy American cocoa; it’s a big chocolate bar melted down and served in tea cups! Perfect for dipping your roscón into.

Every roscón comes with a secret toy surprise baked somewhere inside. If you get it in your slice you have good luck for the rest of the year. I got the toy from the store-bought one, and my son Julián got the one from my wife’s roscón. Some mothers mark the spot where the toy is and make sure their kid gets that piece. I can neither confirm nor deny that Almudena did that.

Another tradition on January 5 is the Cabalgata de Reyes, a big parade where the Three Kings pass through town accompanied by their friends. Check out the video below to see this year’s parade in Madrid. After the parade the kids go to sleep, setting a shoe out for the Kings to leave the gifts next to. They also leave supplies for the hungry Kings and their camels. Julián left out peanuts for the camels and Baileys for the Kings. Remarkably, it was all gone the next morning! I thought of making a trail of peanut shells leading from Julián’s bed to his presents, but decided that would be a bit creepy.

The morning of January 6 is just like Christmas morning in other countries. The kids are up and out of bed early to see what those magical home invaders have brought. Since Julián was a good boy he got everything he asked for in his letter to the Kings. This was easy because he only requested four things. Ah, the advantages of not having a television! In fact, he got more than he asked for.

Now we’re off to my mother-in-law’s house because the Kings stopped there too. I have a shoe sitting in her living room and I’m dying to know what’s next to it. Although we did our shopping last minute (some traditions are universal), we made sure every shoe was well stocked. A few years back we got our elderly neighbor a Furby, which she still has and loves. Yeah, we all made fun of those things when they came out, but imagine how amazing a Furby is to someone born in 1911.

¡¡¡Felices Reyes!!!

At Fells Point, Maryland ghosts reside year-round

Even though it’s almost Christmas, and Halloween is long gone, it’s not the end of haunted travel. Fells Point, Maryland is one of those towns where ghosts and their stories don’t go on vacation until the next season of fright delight. In Fells Point, the ghosts are woven into the town’s lore all year long.

Located on the waterfront as a section of Baltimore, Fells Point, founded in 1763, is one of those U.S. locations that has gradually woven its historic lore into modern amenities.

The result is cobblestone streets edged with an eclectic mix of buildings that range from the pubs, to independently owned shops and eateries to museums that touch on area history.

Amid it all, ghosts wander. At the Admiral Fell Inn ghosts are embraced as an important feature.

Ranked in 2007 as the “Best Place to Stay in Baltimore” by Philadelphia Style Magazine this hotel offers ghost tours every Friday and Saturday evening. The tours are family-friendly and a chance to hear about Fells Point’s unique history. Some say that Edgar Allen Poe’s ghost is one of the area’s visitors. Fells Point is the last place he was seen alive.

The hotel which consists of seven different buildings has had many purposes over the years. Starting in 1770, it has been a ship chandlery, a guest house for sailors and a theater among other things.

There are other haunted places in Fells Point. For a guided ghost walk tour you’ll have to wait until March when the season starts. Tickets are on sale for 2010 at Baltimore Ghost Tours. The company also has ghostwalk tours of Mt. Vernon.

Here’s a preview of the ghosts at Admiral Fells Inn. If you go, ask about the ghost tour package at the hotel.

Gadling gift guide – family travel and kid friendly products

Long gone are the days when a kid could be kept entertained with a coloring book and 2 crayons. Of course, part of the higher demands from kids has something to do with the gadgets we adults surround ourselves with.

In this Gadling gift guide, you’ll find some of the best travel friendly gadgets out there. Some will keep kids safe, some will entertain them, and some will help capture those fun memories.

Clek oobr Car seat

Not every trip with the kid(s) will be by air – in fact, 2008 and 2009 have been real “road trip” years, mainly to blame on the crappy economy. If you are going to be going all Clark Griswald on your family, then it pays to be sure your kids are sitting in the best and safest seat available. The Clek oobr is made by car component manufacturer Magna. In fact, the technology behind the oobr seat comes directly from actual car seats – the kind you and I sit on. The seat is built around an all metal frame, and incorporate several innovatives safety measures.

The oobr is designed for children 3 and up (depending on height/weight) and can convert from a regular seat into a backless booster. Unlike most booster seats, the oobr attaches to the LATCH restraints in your car, which puts and end to loose seats. Oobr is available in six colors, including a really neat looking Paul Frank design.

Price: $274.99
Product page: Magna Clek

Loud Enough Earphones

Pretty colors? Check. Volume limiting circuit? Check. Sized for small ears? Check. The Ultimate Ears “Loud Enough” headphones combine the high quality audio experience from Ultimate Ears, with a design young kids will love. The headphones feature integrated noise reduction to prevent hearing damage.

They come in a pretty carrying case, are available in three bright colors, and include a set of different earpieces.

Price: $39.99
Product page: Ultimate Ears Loud Enough


Leapfrog Leapster 2

Not all kids are at the age where they want to be shooting zombies or trying to run over people in their race car. For those kids (four and up), there is the LeapFrog Leapster 2 gaming console. The Leapster 2 is a bright and rugged console with a huge assortment of educational games.

LeapFrog offers some great game titles, and always keeps up with the latest trends. At the moment, the new Disney movie “The Princess and the Frog” is already available as a Leapster game. Kids get a good balance of fun and learning, and parents can hook the unit up to their PC to track progress. Best of all, several kids can share a unit and set up their own account.

Price: $49.99 + games
Product page: LeapFrog Leapster 2

Tag pen

Another great product from LeapFrog helps teach kids how to read, while making the experience more fun. The LeapFrog Tag pen uses optical recognition technology from Anoto (the same system used in the Livescribe pen). Special books combined with software loaded on the Tag pen helps narrate parts of the book, and adds a lot of fun, as well as various hidden bonus portions. Best of all, the Tag pen has a headphone jack, making it perfect for using with the Ultimate Ears Loud Enough headphones mentioned earlier.

Price: $39.99
Product page: LeapFrog Tag

Violight

At home you try and keep germs to a minimum – so why not use gadgets to do the same on the road. Violight produces a big lineup of toothbrush sanitizers that use UV light to reduce germs. These work great at home, but are equally effective on the road. Especially in a poorly cleaned hotel room, a (kids) toothbrush can pick up a load of germs, and unless you fully dry it, it will only get even filthier when packed away for the ride home.

Violight even developed an assortment of UV sanitizers just for kids.

Price: from $19.95
Product page: Violight UV sanitizers

Flip pocket HD camera

Handing your high-tech gadgets to a child does not have to be a gamble. Flip HD cameras are built to be sturdy, and easy to use. Starting at just under $150, you can get yourself an HD camera that is great for filming your kids, and great for letting your kids film the kind of stuff they enjoy looking at (usually closeups of their nose).

Once you get home, you simply plug the camera into your TV or PC, and the whole family can enjoy two hours of nose closeups.

Price: From $149.99
Product page: Flip digital video cameras

Heys xcase Mini with light-up wheels

Once your kids reach the age where they can pull their own luggage, you can let them experience how much fun it is to drag a bag full of stuff through the airport.

The Heys xcase Mini is a smaller version of the popular Heys ultra-lightweight rolling luggage. It is available in 7 bright colors, and comes with light-up LED wheels. Its retracting single-handle makes it easy to pull along.

Price: $69.97
Product page: Heys XCase mini

Lug NAPSAC and SNUZSAC

This product took one of the spots in top 10 travel products of 2009 here on Gadling. The Lug NAPSAC and SNUZSAC are perfect for those flights where the airline “enhanced” its services by removing pillows and blankets. The concept behind both pillows is brilliant – you unzip it, remove the super cozy blanket, then inflate the pillow. It comes as a regular pillow and a neck pillow.

Price: $28 (NAPSAC) $30 (SNUZSAC)
Product page: www.lugtravel.com

Samsung DualView camera

Making photos of young kids is a hassle. It is nearly impossible to get infants to do anything on command. This is where the Samsung TL220 and TL225 DualView cameras can help. The DualView is the first camera with dual screens. On the back (for mommy and daddy) is a large touchscreen, and on the front is a smaller display that shows what you are shooting, or (and this one is great for infants), a smiley face. If a smiley face doesn’t do it for your kid, Samsung offers 20 additional animations, and there is bound to be one that will get their attention.

No infant can resist looking at a smiley face or jumping bunny – so your chance at getting the photo you want is greatly increased. The TL225 shoots in 12 megapixels and can do HD video, plus it features an HDMI output for viewing content on your HD TV.

Price: $299.99 (TL220) and $349.99 (TL225)
Product page: Samsung DualView

First snow: Eight winter activities for budget friendly fun

With the first snow comes thoughts of winter’s smorgasbord of budget friendly travel options. Fall festivals and foliage tours are long gone. What was missed has been moved to next year’s got to go agenda.

The first snow is a reminder that winter, like other seasons, has a timetable that waits for no one. To make the most of winter, create a checklist of what you’d like to do. Plan for those winter outings before it’s too late. Don’t be left behind wondering where the winter went.

Here are 8 winter activities to put on your list of things to do before the spring thaw comes and crocus appear.

1. Go tubing: For anyone who wants the thrill of speeding down a snow packed hill, but is not fond of the idea of falling (count me in on this one) tubing is an excellent option. If you have the physical skills to sit on the ground and get back up again with or without help, you can tube. The beauty of tubing is that people of various athletic abilities and ages can enjoy the same experience at the same time.

Many ski resorts have added tubing hills to their repertoire. From the Poconos in Pennsylvania to Copper Mountain Ski Resort in Colorado, the cost for tubing is quite a bit less than the cost of a ski lift pass. Plus, there’s no equipment to rent and you can enjoy the warmth of the ski resort’s lodge like any skier who forked out more money than you did.

2. Take a winter hike: Although hiking might seem more suited for warmer weather, winter hiking offers another look at outdoor beauty. Plus, there’s a level of solitude for reflection, part of what winter months invite. Sections of the Appalachian Trail are one possibility. For options that offer the opportunity to find out more about nature and natural history of an area, check your state’s park system. Many have an organized winter hike like Hocking Hills State Park in Ohio does. This park’s winter hike is January 16.

3. Go cross-country skiing or snow shoeing: Where there is snow, you can cross-country ski or snowshoe. City and town parks, logging roads or trails that have been specifically for either sport are waiting for you. The Enchanted Forest in northern New Mexico is one such place. To see if either sport is a good fit, head to a trail on Winter Trails Day. This winter, January 9th is the day to bundle up and strap on skis or snowshoes. Rentals are available.

4. Build a snowman in an unusual place: Where there’s snow perfect for packing, you can build a snowman. By building a snowman in a place that’s more public than your yard, you add to other people’s winter fun. A favorite memory of mine is watching people build a snowman on the Great Wall of China.

For people who live where it never snows, don’t pass up a chance to indulge in a snippet of childhood if you happen to have traveled to a place where it does–London, England, for example.

5. Sip hot chocolate, mulled wine or another hot beverage made extra warm by alcohol by a fire crackling in a stone fireplace. This is where you enjoy a winter wonderland by looking out a window. Where does one find such an experience? Ski lodges and hotel lounges and lobbies are perfect places for indulging in an afternoon or evening of relaxation in a comfy chair. Going solo? Bring a book. You don’t have to be an overnight guest to enjoy such pleasure.

6. Visit an historic village to learn about winter life in the olden days. At an historic village, costumed interpreters demonstrate how life was lived in yesteryear. Old Sturbridge Village in Sturbridge, Massachusetts is one of the more extensive historic villages. The sticker price is not exactly budget friendly. For the cheapest option, head to the Slate Run Living Historical Farm in Ohio. It’s free. I repeat. Free.

7. Bird watch at a local park, a nature center, a refuge or another area known for bird watching. Check out Critter Watch, for best winter birding spots in Colorado. In Ohio, the newest bird watching place is the Grange Insurance Audubon Center, one mile from the heart of downtown Columbus. It’s located on an important migration stop next to the Scioto River.

8. Ice-skate at a city’s outdoor rink or a frozen pond. Many cities open skating rinks in their downtown’s to attract people. One of the most famous is the skating rink at Rockefeller Center. There are other less touristy skating options in New York City, however.

If you’re planning to head to any other city, see if there is an outdoor skating rink there. Skating on a city’s downtown rink is an active way to enjoy the city’s architecture while becoming part of the city’s scene. Skate rentals are available.

Some city parks and zoos like Buhr Park in Ann Arbor, Michigan and the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Columbus Ohio, also offer ice-skating with skate rentals available.

Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade balloons: Where to see them inflate and balloon history facts

Starting this afternoon and on into tonight the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade character balloons will be inflated at Central Park West and Columbus Avenue on 77th and 81st Streets. The public is able to watch the process between 3:00 and 10:00 p.m. From what I’ve read, arrive closer to the end to get the balloons’ full effects.

The balloons, that take trained volunteers to safely maneuver them along the parade route without injuring parade goers or damaging buildings, have been a Thanksgiving Day Parade tradition since 1927. Here are 10 balloon history facts from the parade history page of the Macy’s website and at the website of The Band of Blue.

Also, I found a detailed video of the balloons being inflated. The video gives a clear idea about just how big these balloons are and the hubbub that is involved in the process of making them parade worthy. My favorite spot is of the police officer getting another officer to take her picture in front of one of them.

  1. After the first parade in 1927, the balloons were released.
  2. When the balloons reached the skyline they burst with a bang.
  3. In 1928, the balloons were redesigned to last for several days. They also had labels on them so people who found them could return them for a reward.
  4. Mickey Mouse first appeared in the parade in 1934 and was the parade’s first joint effort with Walt Disney Productions.
  5. Between 1942 and 1944, balloons were deflated and given to the war effort. Their rubber was needed.
  6. In 1957, it rained so much that Popeye’s hat filled with water and kept dumping water on parade-goers.
  7. In 1958, due to a helium shortage, balloons were inflated with air and hung from cranes and pulled.
  8. In 2005, the M &Ms balloon crashed into a light post during the parade. The falling debris injured two sisters.
  9. Spider man is 78 feet long making this balloon the longest of them.
  10. Snoopy is the character who has appeared in various forms the most–six in all.