Events Worth Planning A Trip Around In 2013

Have you ever landed in a place to find out you arrived just after the town’s can’t-miss event of the year? Well, hopefully that won’t happen again this year. Gadling bloggers racked their brains to make sure our readers don’t overlook the best parties to be had throughout the world in 2013. Below are more than 60 music festivals, cultural events, pilgrimages and celebrations you should consider adding to your travel calendar this year – trust us, we’ve been there.

Above image: Throughout Asia, Lunar New Year is celebrated with lantern festivals, the most spectacular of which is possibly Pingxi. [Photo credit: Creative Commons]

Kumbh Mela, a 55-day festival in India, is expected to draw more than 100 million people in 2013. [Photo credit: Creative Commons]

January
January 7–27: Sundance Film Festival (Park City, Utah)
January 10–February 26: Kumbh Mela (Allahabad, India)
January 21: Presidential Inauguration (Washington, DC)
January 26–February 12: Carnival of Venice (Venice, Italy)
January 26–February 13: Battle of the Oranges (Ivrea, Italy)
During Busójárás in Hungary, visitors can expect folk music, masquerading, parades and dancing. [Photo credit: Creative Commons]
February
February 3: Super Bowl XLVII (New Orleans, Louisiana)
February 5–11: Sapporo Snow Festival (Sapporo, Japan)
February 7–12: Busójárás (Mohács, Hungary)
February 10: Chinese New Year/Tet (Worldwide)
February 9–12: Rio Carnival (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)
February 12: Mardi Gras (Worldwide)
February 14: Pingxi Lantern Festival (Taipei, Taiwan)
February 24: Lunar New Year (Worldwide)


Several cities in India and Nepal increase tourist volume during Holi, when people enjoy spring’s vibrant colors. [Photo credit: Creative Commons]
March
March 1-14: Omizutori (Nara, Japan)
March 8–17: South by Southwest (Austin, Texas)
March 20–April 14: Cherry Blossom Festival (Washington, DC)
March 27: Holi (Worldwide, especially India & Nepal)


Many Dutch people wear orange – the national color – and sell their secondhand items in a “free market” during Koninginnendag, a national holiday in the Netherlands. [Photo credit: Creative Commons]
April
April 12–14 & April 19–21: Coachella (Indio, California)
April 11-14: Masters Golf Tournament (Augusta, Georgia)
April 13–15: Songkran Water Festival (Thailand)
April 17–28: TriBeCa Film Festival (New York, New York)
April 25–28: 5Point Film Festival (Carbondale, Colorado)
April 30: Koninginnendag or Queen’s Day (Netherlands)


Up to 50 men work together to carry their church’s patron saint around the main square in Cusco, Peru during Corpus Christi. [Photo credit: Blogger Libby Zay]
May
May 4: Kentucky Derby (Louisville, Kentucky)
May 15–16: Festival de Cannes (Cannes, France)
May 20: Corpus Christi (Worldwide)
May 23–26: Art Basel (Hong Kong)
May 24–27: Mountainfilm Film Festival (Telluride, Colorado)
May 25-28: Sasquatch Festival (Quincy, Washington)
May 26: Indianapolis 500 (Speedway, Indiana)

2013 marks the 100th anniversary for the Tour de France. [Photo credit: Creative Commons]

June
June 13–16: Bonnaroo (Manchester, Tennessee)
June 13–16: Art Basel (Basel, Switzerland)
June 14–16: Food & Wine Classic (Aspen, Colorado)
June 21: St. John’s Night (Poznan, Poland)
June 24: Inti Raymi (Cusco, Peru)
June 28–30: Comfest (Columbus, Ohio)
June 29–July 21: Tour de France (France)

The annual observance of Ramadan is regarded as one of the Five Pillars of Islam. Visit Istanbul, Turkey, at this time and see a festival-like atmosphere when pious Muslims break their fasts with lively iftar feasts at night. [Photo credit: Creative Commons]
July
July 6–14: San Fermin Festival (Pamplona, Spain)
July 9–August 2: Ramadan (Worldwide)
July 12–14: Pitchfork (Chicago, Illinois)
July 17: Gion Festival Parade (Kyoto, Japan)
July 18–21: International Comic Con (San Diego, California)
July 19–22: Artscape (Baltimore, Maryland)
July 24–28: Fete de Bayonne (Bayonne, France)

Festival-goers get their picture taken at a photo booth during Foo Fest, an arts and culture festival held annually in Providence, Rhode Island. [Photo credit: Flickr user AS220]
August
August 2–4: Lollapalooza (Chicago, Illinois)
August 10: Foo Fest (Providence, Rhode Island)
August 26–September 2: Burning Man (Black Rock Desert, Nevada)
August 31–September 2: Bumbershoot (Seattle, Washington)


More than six million people head to Munich, Germany, for beer-related festivities during the 16-day Oktoberfest. [Photo credit: Creative Commons]
September
September 5–15: Toronto International Film Festival (Toronto, Canada)
September 13–15: Telluride Blues & Brews Festival (Telluride, Colorado)
September 21–October 6: Oktoberfest (Munich, Germany)

Around 750 hot air balloons are launched during the nine-day Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. [Photo credit: Flickr user Randy Pertiet]

October
October 4–6 & 11–13: Austin City Limits (Austin, Texas)
October 5–13: Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta (Albuquerque, New Mexico)
October 10–14: United States Sailboat Show (Annapolis, Maryland)


During Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), family and friends get together to remember loved ones they have lost. Although practiced throughout Mexico, many festivals take place in the United States, such as this festival at La Villita in San Antonio, Texas. [Photo credit: Blogger Libby Zay]
November
November 1–2: Dia de los Muertos (Worldwide, especially Mexico)
November 3: Diwali (Worldwide)
November 8–10: Fun Fun Fun Fest (Austin, Texas)
November 11: Cologne Carnival (Cologne, Germany)
November 28: Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (New York, New York)
TBA: Punkin Chunkin (Long Neck, Delaware)

The colorful holiday of Junkanoo is the most elaborate festivals of the Bahamian islands. [Photo credit: Flickr user MissChatter]
December
December 2–3: Chichibu Yomatsuri (Chichibu City, Japan)
December 5–8: Art Basel (Miami, Florida)
December 26–January 1: Junkanoo (Bahamas)

So, what did we miss? Let us know what travel-worthy events you’re thinking about journeying to in the coming year in the comments below.

A Video Tour Of Chicago’s Christkindl Market And CTA’s Holiday Train

christkindlmarket chicagoThere is nothing quite like the smell of a Christmas market. Step anywhere near Chicago’s Christkindlmarket and you’ll pick up the intoxicating scents of grilled meats, roasting nuts, glühwein, sizzling potato pancakes and incense. It’s enough to get even the biggest Scrooge into the holiday spirit.

Chicago’s Christkindlmarket is a mini version of the Nuremberg Christkindlmarket in Germany that is widely recognized as the biggest and best Christmas market in the world. Nuremberg’s Christmas market dates to at least 1628, or about 40 years before Potawatomi guides first took the French trader Nicolas Perrot to the site of present-day Chicago.

I’ve been going to Chicago’s Christkindlmarket since the year after it started in 1996 during my on and off stints living in the city and the place never fails to get me into the Christmas spirit. Santa is available for visits (on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Christmas Eve day), there are dozens of stalls selling everything from Christmas ornaments to cuckoo clocks, and there’s an indoor/outdoor beer garden where you can indulge in hot chocolate, glühwein served in a souvenir boot, or some Spaten lager or doppelbock.


christkindlmarket in chicagoThe core of the market is filled with German shops and German treats: pretzels, bratwurst, potato pancakes, strudel and the like, but in the periphery of the market, it’s anything goes. This year I noticed booths selling trinkets from all over the world: Sweden, Ireland, Poland, Mexico, Ukraine, Ecuador, Peru and more. There was even a stand selling “Sherpa jackets” from Nepal.

But it is still essentially a German market and most of the major sponsors are German companies. I met Nicole Lorenz, a German woman who runs the Bavarian Workshop stand and also hires local people to help run some of the German stalls in the market. She told me that most of the German vendors come from Saxony, in eastern Germany.

The market is open until Christmas Eve but it takes the vendors a couple days to take down their operations, so they all spend Christmas away from their loved ones. Lorenz rents an apartment in Chicago each year for the five weeks the market is open and hasn’t been able to spend Christmas at home in the 11 years she’s worked at the Christkindlmarket. But she wasn’t complaining – she likes the market and it’s usually well worth the effort and disruption to her life in Germany.

cta holiday train christmas train in chicagoWe timed our visit to the market this year so we could take the Chicago Transit Authority’s (CTA) holiday train back to our home in Evanston. For the last 15 years, CTA has been running the holiday train on a rotating schedule across all the different lines in the month prior to Christmas day. (See the schedule here.) The train exterior is decorated with multicolored lights and there’s a ginormous Santa Claus in a flatbed sleigh filled with presents right in the middle part of the train.

We stepped into the car and were greeted by CTA elves offering candy canes and Christmas music. The car interiors are filled with Christmas decorations and even the seats themselves are upholstered with images of Santa lugging presents and other holiday scenes. In typical CTA fashion, our train arrived late and within a few stops was jam-packed, as it always is near the five o’clock bewitching hour. But the festive vibe kept all the commuters in relatively good spirits, even if many of them barely averted their eyes from their phones and other mobile devices.


cta chicago holiday trainThings got a little hairy though when we got off at the Howard stop. The platform is quite narrow right by where Santa’s sleigh was parked and hordes of us were all trying to snap his photo before the train pulled away. As people jockeyed for space, I decided that being tossed onto the platform wouldn’t be the most festive way to end an otherwise great day so I backed off.

The holiday trains generally run from 1-8 on weekends and 3-7 weeknights. I highly recommend you avoid rush hour, because it’s easier to stay in the holiday spirit when you have some breathing room.

[Photo and video credits: Dave Seminara, Christkindlmarket]

Eating Out In Chicago For $3.49

annapurna indian food in chicagoIs it possible to get lunch in Chicago for $3.49? That was the question I sought to answer on Friday at Annapurna, an Indian vegetarian restaurant on Devon Avenue, in the heart of Chicago’s largest South Asian neighborhood. Whenever I need a quick trip to a foreign country but can’t make it to O’Hare, I gravitate to one of my two favorite ethnic enclaves in Chicago: the Arab corridor of Albany Park, on Kedzie Avenue between Wilson and Lawrence, or the South Asian section of West Rogers Park, on Devon Avenue near Western.

Devon Avenue is filled with exotic delights: women wearing the niqab, men in the traditional shalwar kameez, sari shops, Hajj travel agencies, and endearingly bizarre little shops like the House of 220 Volt Appliances, which sells ridiculously large suitcases, tiny little microwaves and everything in between. On one side of the street, a storefront advertises Islamic mortgages right across the street from Gandhi Electronics. On the subcontinent, India and Pakistan are geopolitical adversaries, but on Devon Avenue, Indian and Pakistani immigrants coexist peacefully, even if in parallel universes.

I’ve been eating at the Indian and Pakistani restaurants on Devon Avenue for years but, as a devoted carnivore who is addicted to dishes like Butter Chicken, Vindaloo and Korma, I’ve never been tempted to try any of the street’s vegetarian restaurants until I saw a sign outside Annapurna advertising a $3.49 lunch special. I’m a bargain hunter – in Virginia, I used to patronize a Korean beauty school for $5 haircuts, and I’m not put off by a language barrier.

But I have an above average appetite, so I was skeptical that a three-dollar meal at a vegetarian restaurant would leave me feeling satisfied. Nonetheless, the price was irresistible, so my wife and I tried the place for lunch on Friday.
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Annapurna’s décor is surprisingly smart for a place whose menu is filled with items that cost less than four bucks. But it is indeed like going out to eat in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language and have no idea what to order. There are no descriptions of any of the items on the menu and we were the only gringo diners on a day when the place was packed with Indian regulars who knew the menu well and didn’t need to ask questions.

I knew I was going to try the dirt-cheap lunch special, but wanted to ask some questions about what we were ordering and some of the other menu items, but the stern-faced, attractive woman working the counter seemed less than eager to talk to us about the menu.

The lunch special changes each day. The Friday special is masala rice and curry soup, and it comes with a glass of buttermilk, chilies, and a small tomato, onion and cilantro salad in a plastic container. The rice dish was nicely spiced and came with potatoes and onions mixed in it. The soup was very sweet and tasted a bit like coconut to me, though the woman at the counter said it was made with yogurt. Either way, I thought that both dishes were delicious, though my wife thought the soup was “peculiar.”

But we both agreed that the buttermilk, on the other hand, was revolting (see video). It was lukewarm, salty and intensely sour. The look on my face when I took a gulp of the stuff would have made for an entertaining passport photo. Still, I felt satisfied – not stuffed, but content – and we had spent a total of $7.66 for two meals, including tax. You can’t get one meal at Panera for that price, let alone two.

I’d had enough to eat, but in the spirit of adventure and gluttony, we decided to split one more dish, a chickpea-based dish called chole bhature, which came recommended by a group sitting near us. At $3.99, it was a nice little splurge and came with two pieces of what tasted very much like the kind of fried dough you’d find at a state fair. It was greasier than Paulie D’s hair, but it tasted damn good.

annapurna chicago specialsWhen the line evaporated and the place started to thin out, I asked the woman at the counter to write down what the special is on each day of the week (they are closed Tuesdays). None of what she wrote means a thing to me, but I’ve included a photo of what she wrote here in case you’d like to try to decode it. I’ve also included the restaurant’s menu, which isn’t available online, in case you’d like to Google these menu items before trying the place.

All in all, it was a tasty and economical outing. We learned that you could indeed eat out in Chicago for $3.49 at 2608 W. Devon Avenue. If you want a tasty, dirt-cheap lunch that comes with that pleasantly helpless feeling you get when out of the country, try it yourself.

[Photo credits: Dave Seminara]

10 Chicago Suburbs That Don’t Suck

bahai temple wilmetteTravel writers don’t spend much time waxing poetic on the joys of American suburbia – and for good reason. Spending time in the suburbs of most American cities is about as exciting as listening to a filibuster attempt on C-Span. Unless you enjoy the numbing sensation that comes from driving past row upon row of characterless houses, strip malls as far as the eye can see and the identical array of chain stores and restaurants one sees all over American suburbia these days.

But Chicago is different. There are plenty of soulless bedroom communities and quite possibly the lamest historic district in the country, but there are also a number of places that are brimming with character and things to do. Most visitors to Chicago never set foot outside the city center and that’s a shame.

If you stay in the city, you’ll miss out on some of Frank Lloyd Wright’s most impressive creations, one of the country’s best independent bookstores, the Bahai Temple, some beautiful beaches and a host of shopping, dining and cultural attractions in very manageable, walkable towns that are accessible via Metra and/or CTA. (But if you prefer a scenic drive, take Sheridan Road up to Chicagoland’s North Shore.)I’ve lived in Evanston and River Forest, so this is a subjective list based upon my experience in the north and west suburban communities that I’ve had an opportunity to explore during my seven years living in the region.

Evanston

evanston illinois lake michiganThis big, diverse community directly north of the city along Lake Michigan belongs on the itinerary of every visitor to Chicago. It’s home to Northwestern University, some 61 structures listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and six sandy beaches. The pedestrian friendly downtown is filled with nice bookstores, cafés, shopping and restaurants and there are beautiful homes scattered among several historic districts within the town. Evanston also has an amazing library, which allows patrons to take out up to 75 books a time (seriously).

Wilmette

Wilmette is another great lakeside community with a terrific old school cinema, and an endearing little downtown that has a Mayberry-esque charm. Business Week rated Wilmette as one of the top ten places to raise a family in the country and it’s also a great place for visitors to take a long walk or bike ride. Don’t leave town without checking out the stunning Bahai Temple on Linden Avenue.

Winnetka

If you drive through Winnetka with a clunky old car, you might get a few funny looks, as this is one of the poshest communities in the Midwest. Right now, there is a 27,000 square foot home on sale for a cool $27 million in town, and there’s also a modest little, 7 bedroom, 11 bath, 15,000 square foot fixer upper at 319 Sheridan Road that comes in at a just under $16 million.

But it’s still worth a visit despite the pretension. Every town should be fortunate enough to have a great little downtown like this one. It’s filled with interesting, independent shops and restaurants. The town also has three nice beaches and its flagship bookstore, the Book Stall, was voted the best independent bookshop in the country by Publisher’s Weekly this year.

Highland Park

This is another exclusive North Shore community that’s worth a visit thanks to its nice downtown and jaw dropping mansions. Michael Jordan and Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins own homes here and Corgan recently opened up a tea shop in town as well.

Highland Park may have the most expensive home in the region for sale at 2700 Point Lane. In case you’re in the market, it’s a 9 bedroom, 19 bathroom- yes 19 bathrooms, just in case you have a hockey team over and they all have to go at once-32,683 square foot monster priced at $29 million. Oh, and there’s a 15 car garage to boot.

Lake Forest/ Lake Bluff

Lake Forest is another elegant lakefront community oozing with wealth and charm on the North Shore about 30 miles north of Chicago. The downtown has a European flair and boasts some nice restaurants and distinctive retail. Take a drive or a bike ride around the residential neighborhoods surrounding the downtown and you’ll feel like you’re lost in the pages of “The Great Gatsby.” Lake Bluff has a nice beach, a public green and an old time corner store.

In Lake Forest, check out the mansions on North Mayflower Road. At the moment, there’s a 10 bedroom, 16 bath 24,000 square foot home priced to move at $12 million at #405 and a cute little 7 bedroom, 9 bath number at #255 that’s a steal at just under $8 million.

Oak Park & River Forest

river forest homeOak Park is a unique, left leaning community due west of the city, accessible via CTA’s green line or Metra, that prizes its diversity and its Frank Lloyd Wright connection. Wright started his career in Oak Park and you can visit his studio and check out a host of homes he built in the area. Oak Park has the largest concentration of FLW homes in the world.

Oak Park is also the birthplace of Ernest Hemingway, and the Hemingway museum , located right around the corner from the Frank Lloyd Wright Studio. Oak Park also has three distinctive retail districts, but the real attractions here are on the side streets, where you’ll find an array of beautiful homes, many in the Prairie or Victorian style.

Due west of Oak Park, River Forest is another distinguished suburb with more Frank Lloyd Wright houses and dozens of other stately homes on huge lots along wide, tree lined streets that are nothing like most planned community suburbs built today. The residential area between Lake and Augusta and Thatcher to Lathrop is filled with classy, unique homes.

Riverside

Riverside is a splendid little community, just south of Oak Park, with a lost in time downtown, an eye-catching water tower, and some noteworthy architecture. The town itself is a National Historic Landmark that was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted as one of the region’s first planned communities.

Elmhurst

This appealing little community in Chicago’s western suburbs is noteworthy for its appealing, pedestrian friendly downtown that has a cool, 1950s feel to it.

La Grange

La Grange is another western suburb with a terrific, old school downtown and some nice old Victorian homes. Less pretentious than nearby Hinsdale, it boasts an awesome BBQ joint and a classic old cinema. La Grange used to have what was quite possibly the country’s most ludicrous marketing campaign. A few years ago, someone had the bright idea to put up banners all over the town with the words, “Ah, La Grange!” One can only hope they didn’t pay an ad agency too much to come up with that clunker.

Naperville

OK, so Naperville has a lot of sprawl, but it’s also got a killer downtown, with a great riverside bike path and a beautiful, huge man-made beach and pool. The area around North Central College is perfect for a nice stroll.

Other Chicago suburbs that are worth a visit: Forest Park (home to loads of bars and a great St. Patrick’s Day celebration), Glen Ellyn, Glencoe, Woodstock, Hinsdale, Wheaton, St. Charles, Geneva, Frankfort, Western Springs, Highwood and Tinley Park.

[Photo credit: Flickr users Sandeep, rseidel3 and Chicago Geek.]

Chicago Day Trip: Pig Racing, Groundhogs And A Few Hippies In Woodstock, IL

woodstock illinoisThere is nothing like a really good pig race on a glorious autumn afternoon in the Midwest. I have to admit, I had never really associated pigs with speed until I happened upon my first ever pig race while on a family outing at the All Seasons Apple Orchard and Pumpkin Patch in Woodstock, a graceful small town built around a picturesque square about an hour northwest of Chicago. But those pigs could really fly (as the video below proves).

Last weekend, my wife and I took our two little boys, ages 3 and 5, to All Seasons and several other stops on Woodstock’s annual Autumn Drive. We didn’t make it to all 14 stops because my children had to be dragged, practically kicking and screaming from All Seasons, which, aside from the pumpkin patch and apple picking, also has slides, a petting zoo, go karts, swings, pig races, jumpy houses, hay rides, a corn maze and a host of other kid friendly activities. For $10 (children 2 and under are free and it’s $7 on weekdays), your kids get to run wild for as long as they like and three heats of pigs race four times a day.

all seasons farm woodstock illinoisThe place is open daily through Halloween and serves pretty good pulled pork sandwiches, corn on the cob and apple cider donuts. But if you head out to the farm, make some time to explore the town of Woodstock, where the movie “Groundhog Day” was filmed. (Each year, the town hosts a commemorative event called Groundhog Days in honor of this connection.)

The town center features a great green space that features two gazebos, trees that right now have gorgeous red and orange leaves and a plaque dedicated to Gobbler’s Knob, the place where the groundhog from the film lived (see video below).

Woodstock is so nicely preserved that five years ago, the town was named one of a dozen “distinctive destinations” by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. And a number of notable figures have lived in the town. Orson Welles, who turned down a scholarship offer at Harvard because he wanted to travel, was educated at a now defunct boys school in the town and returned to the town on several occasions to direct theatrical performances at his alma mater.

The real show stopper in Woodstock is the stunning Victorian style opera house, which was built in 1889 at a cost of just $25,000. These days, the venue is mostly used for live theater, but they occasionally put on an opera as well. Paul Newman cut his teeth doing live theater here in 1947. And if you’re looking for a seasonal offering, they’re hosting a one-woman performance of Dracula on Sunday October 28 at 2 p.m.

You might imagine that a town called Woodstock would be filled with hippies. On this score, Woodstock is a mild disappointment, but there are some signs of crunchiness if you look hard enough. I saw two guys with ponytails in the square and there’s a vegetarian restaurant, a gluten free grocery and a shop that has some tie-dye T-shirts. And many of the downtown shops close early, even on Saturday afternoons, so the hippie work ethic is apparently alive and well.

If you don’t have wheels, you can get to Woodstock via Metra’s Union Pacific line. One stop down the line in Crystal Lake, you’ll find Taqueria Las Cumbres, as authentic a hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant as you’ll find anywhere in the Midwest. Go with the al-pastor tacos if you’re having a pig themed outing; otherwise, don’t miss the chicken and shrimp fajita dish.

[Photo and video credit: Dave Seminara]