Great Comeback Cities For Travel

comeback cities - Detroit love
Flickr, Michigan Municipal League

Recently, the former automotive boomtown of Detroit made history by filing for bankruptcy, making it an easy butt of jokes on Twitter and in the news. However, Motown has also been making strides to become America’s great comeback city, with artists and entrepreneurs lured by cheap rents, and innovative projects happening all over town (disclosure: I’m a big fan of the city, and so is the New York TimesFrank Bruni). Detroit has more than a few great things going for it, including architecture, museums and sports, and tourist dollars could go a long way in helping the city recover. Can it become a tourist destination again?

Some of the top tourist destinations in the world were once no-go zones for travelers, suffering from financial crises, war, natural disasters and rampant crime. Here are a few of our favorite comeback cities:Berlin: One of the world’s most resilient cities, Berlin has been through war, occupation and one gigantic divide, and come back to thrive. In the decades following the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany, East Berlin in particular has become a hipster mecca, due to some of the lowest prices in western Europe for nightlife and a vibrant art and design scene. While not everyone welcomes the gentrification, the German capital is continuing to gain millions of foreign tourists each year.

Buenos Aires: A mix of hyperinflation, government corruption and mounting debt led to riots and an economic crisis in Argentina in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The country has stabilized and the peso value has risen, but it’s affordability has made it increasingly attractive to travelers in the last ten years, making it the No. 1 tourism destination in South America. Buenos Aires is opening more boutique hotels each year, ensuring a place every year on lists such as Conde Nast Traveler’s Hot List of new hotels.

New Orleans: A longtime favorite for the French Quarter and Bourbon Street, along with events like Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest, New Orleans was profoundly affected by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Tourism is the biggest source of employment in the city and a major factor to its economy, and the disaster made visitor numbers plummet. Louisiana’s recovery has been slow but steady, and major infrastructure improvements brought on by this year’s “Super Gras” have helped the Big Easy come back.

New York City: Visitors to the Big Apple have topped 50 million, spending billions of dollars in the city annually. While New York has never suffered from lack of tourists, the 1980s crack epidemic and surge in crime gave it an image of being a violent, dirty and dangerous city and visitor numbers dipped. Like Detroit, it also faced possible bankruptcy in 1975 and President Ford was infamously (mis)quoted to tell NYC to “drop dead.” The terrorist attacks in 2001 caused another slowdown in visitors, but it’s now one of the safest, most visited cities in the world.

Tokyo: While Tokyo was not as devastated by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami as other parts of Japan, it definitely felt the hurt with a sharp decline in tourism, major damage to national infrastructure, and radiation concerns. Foreign visitors are now exceeding the pre-disaster levels, though seismologists worry that an even bigger earthquake is due to hit Tokyo.

An honorable mention must go to the countries in the former Yugoslavia, especially Croatia and the cities of Belgrade and Sarajevo. Twenty years ago, who could have predicted the popularity of the Dalmatian coast as a beach destination, or the battle-scarred Serbian capital as a nightlife hotspot? They aren’t quite seeing the same tourism numbers as the destinations above, but they should be on your travel radar. Istanbul and Beirut are also favorites for their many comebacks and reinventions, though the effects from current events are already being seen in the local tourism industries.

What are your favorite “comeback cities”?

Classic Scandinavia: Celebrate Fat Tuesday With Swedish Semlor


For coffee lovers, Scandinavia is a bit of a mecca. In the heart of winter, there’s nothing better than stepping into a warm cafe, brimming with people and their stacks of winter layers next to them, the windows steaming up as friends meet over coffee. In fact, in Sweden, coffee is such an important part of local culture, that there’s even a specific word for coffee break: fika. A verb and a noun, it indicates that time of day that you take a break from everything else to enjoy a strong cup of coffee accompanied by a delicious baked good. If there ever was a reason to travel to Sweden, this is it.

If there’s one thing that distinguishes fika in Sweden in the first months of the year it’s semlor. Cafes and bakeries are filled with the classic baked good, a flour bun filled with almond paste and topped with whipped cream and powdered sugar.

Historically, the fettisbulle, or semla, was made for fettisdagen, Fat Tuesday, a rich treat before taking on the fasting that comes with Lent. In the modern day world, however, it’s perfectly acceptable to eat a semla anytime between the New Year and Easter.

Want to know where the best places in Sweden are to score a semla? Start by consulting semlamannen, a food blogger who eats one semla a day between the first of the year and Fat Tuesday. For those with a Stockholm visit in the near future, score one of the classic pastries at Vetekatten.

If you are up for it, you can also make your own. Here’s my personal recipe, adapted from an old Swedish classic.

Classic Swedish Semlor
Ingredients

  • 100 grams butter (7 tablespoons)
  • 1 1/4 cups milk
  • 2 tablespoons active dry yeast
  • 4 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 3 teaspoons powdered cardamom (the best is to get whole cardamom and grind it – that way you have small cardamom chunks)

Filling

  • 2 cups blanched almonds + ¼ cup sugar blended in food processor
  • Inside of buns
  • ½ – 1 cup milk

Topping

  • Whipped cream
  • Powdered sugar

Directions

1. Melt butter in a saucepan and add the milk. Heat until the liquid is warm to the touch.

2. In a bowl beat the egg and add in yeast, salt, sugar and milk mixture. Mix until yeast is well dissolved. Combine baking powder, cardamom and flour and mix thoroughly. Cover the bowl and let rise for 30 minutes.

3. Place dough on lightly floured surface and knead until smooth. Form into round balls and place on greased pan. Cover with tea towel and let rise until double the size.

4. Brush the balls with a beaten egg. Bake for 8-10 minutes at 450F. Let the buns cool.

5. Cut off a circular “lid” off of each bun and set aside. Scoop out inside of bun with a spoon or fork. Mix in a bowl with almond paste and add enough milk to make a smooth mixture. Fill buns with mixture and top with whipping cream. Place lid on top of whipping cream and garnish with powdered sugar.

[Photo Credit: Anna Brones]

New Orleans Prepares For ‘Super Gras’ 2013

girl preparing for mardi gras in new orleans 2013Visiting New Orleans during Mardi Gras has never been for the faint of heart. But with the city set to host the Super Bowl just nine days before Fat Tuesday, locals believe that this year’s “Super Gras” celebration might be the city’s biggest party ever. New Orleans has spent $1.3 billion on infrastructure improvements in the run up to the Super Bowl according to CNN, and USA Today estimates that the city will see a $1 billion spike in economic activity as a result of the Super Bowl and Mardi Gras.
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The pre-Lent partying culminates on Fat Tuesday, which falls on February 12 this year, but there are dozens of parades, organized by carnival krewes, balls and parties in the weeks leading up to Ash Wednesday. We spoke to Laura Martone, a New Orleans native and author of the recently released “Moon Handbook to New Orleans,” to get a flavor of what New Orleans is like during Mardi Gras.


Laura MartoneFor some, Mardi Gras is synonymous with debauchery – beads, flashing and binge drinking, among other things. Has all of that been going on for decades?

I’m 36 and all of that has been happening since I was a little kid. My mom tells me that it used to be more family friendly. People throw beads down to women and men who are flashing. I have never done that. My dignity is worth more than some plastic beads. But a lot of the parades are more family friendly and you don’t see much flashing at those events.

I assume 99% of the women who are flashing are tourists?

Probably. The thing that used to fascinate me as a kid was seeing the cops taking pictures of the women flashing. No one was getting ticketed for indecent exposure because the cops were too busy taking pictures.

woman flashing her breasts at mardi gras new orleansThe cops don’t still take photos of women flashing, do they?

I don’t know. I wouldn’t put it past them.

You live in the French Quarter. Do New Orleans natives dread Mardi Gras because the city is invaded by tourists?

A lot of my friends are leaving town, and when I was growing up, my mom would take me to some of the parades but even she didn’t love it. As an adult, you kind of dread the mayhem. You get so many drunken crowds; people are here to party more than for the culture. This year is the perfect storm because we have the Super Bowl and Mardi Gras at the same time. It’s total mayhem.

But, while I know plenty of people that flee the city during one of the busiest times of the year, there are many, many more that embrace the occasion. People host Mardi Gras parties, flock to as many parades as possible, and, sometimes even spring for tickets to one of the big balls. Most New Orleanians don’t need a reason to let the good times roll.

What’s it like to live in the French Quarter during Mardi Gras? Are people vomiting and peeing in the streets?

Oh yeah, but sadly you see that here throughout the year. It’s just a bit more during Mardi Gras. Sometimes I just do not want to be on Bourbon Street. I’d rather walk on Royal Street, where you can still get the French Quarter atmosphere without being inundated by hawkers and drunks. But sometimes it is fun to walk down Bourbon Street and just feel the energy. Most people are having a really good time.

Do most of the tourists just turn up around Fat Tuesday or well before then?

The big crowds come for the last weekend because that’s when all the major super krewes run. Endymion is on Saturday night and Bacchus is Sunday night, and Monday is Orpheus. Orpheus is the one started by Harry Connick, Jr. and it has a music theme. And then on Mardi Gras Day, you have a ton of parades. The major ones are Rex, which is the king of Mardi Gras, and Zulu, that’s the African-American one that’s been around since the early 1900s. They pass out coconuts and it’s a little crazy.


When does the Mardi Gras season start?

Technically, it starts on January 6, Epiphany. But the parade season is usually the two weeks before Mardi Gras Day. The dates change every year, depending on when Easter is. Usually right after Christmas, we take down our Christmas decorations and put up our Mardi Gras decorations.

What advice do you have for first-time Mardi Gras visitors?

If they’ve never been before, coming on Mardi Gras weekend is a big deal because that’s when the super krewes roll. You get the celebrity grand marshals and the big floats and endless marching bands and that kind of stuff. But for people who just want to get a taste of the season, there are parades going on all the time. On Sunday, for example, there’s the Krewe of Barkus – it’s the dog parade and it’s really crazy.

It’s tough to get a room in the French Quarter for Mardi Gras. What other neighborhoods should people look into?

I don’t always encourage people to stay in the French Quarter. The French Quarter hotels tend to be a lot pricier and it’s harder to get rooms. The two neighborhoods on either side of the French Quarter – the Central Business District (CBD) and the Faubourg Marigny – are really good. CBD has a lot of chains so those places will be more reasonably priced. Faubourg Marigny has more intimate bed-and-breakfasts and it’s a little funkier, so it’s kind of a good New Orleans experience. It’s cheaper than the French Quarter but it’s still within walking distance.


And the Garden District?

That’s another good choice and it’s accessible via the St. Charles streetcar but because of the Super Bowl, everything is in disarray because they were repairing that line. But it’s still pretty easy to get from the Garden District to the heart of the city. Uptown is also a good choice. It has a combination of chain hotels and bed-and-breakfasts.

mardi gras beads new orleansWhat other tips do you have for first-time visitors?

New Orleans isn’t dangerous in the same way Rio is. But still, with the crowds and alcohol, you want to be careful. Travel in pairs. Watch out for pickpockets. People worry about the crime situation in New Orleans but just be careful where you go. The Quarter itself is relatively safe because there’s a big police presence. But right across Rampart Street, which borders one side of the quarter, you’re in Tremé, which is not very safe. Tourists wander off the beaten path when they’re drunk and that’s when they get mugged. Try to stay in places where you see plenty of people, and when in doubt about an area, just ask someone. Natives are very friendly here.

Tourists come here and they leave their inhibitions behind. People think that anything that happens here, stays here but it can be safe if you have your wits about you.

For those who want to experience Mardi Gras but are a little intimidated by the crowds and craziness in New Orleans, are there alternatives nearby?

There are parades in Metairie, which is a suburb of New Orleans, Slidell, which is another suburb that is much more family friendly. And beyond here, Lafayette has a big Mardi Gras celebration of its own. It’s about 2-1/2 to 3 hours away and it has a more Cajun vibe. And outside Louisiana, Mobile has a great Mardi Gras and it’s also pretty family friendly.

People do crazy things to get beads at Mardi Gras but these things are made in China. Why not just buy them?

Right, you can buy them wholesale. They are dirt-cheap, so it doesn’t make that much sense to me to expose myself to get them.

[Photo credits: Laura Martone, Infrogmation, Toast to Life, Mark Gstohl, Derek Bridges, and Tulane Public Relations on Flickr]

Bizarre Carnival Celebrations You Haven’t Heard Of

It’s that time of year again, when thousands of dancers prepare to don feathers, beads, and sequins and parade down the streets to mark Carnival. And while big Carnival (or Mardi Gras, as it’s also known) celebrations such as the one in Rio de Janiero get plenty of press, there are lots of other festivals that are just as colorful and creative … and perhaps a little weird.

Wanna see men dressed up as frightening goats, watch devils prance through the streets, or have hundreds of mysteriously masked men throw fruit at you? Read on to learn about some of the world’s most interesting and bizarre Carnival celebrations – where you won’t find a sequined bikini to speak of.

The Carnival of Binche, Belgium

The Carnival of Binche, which takes place in a small town in Belgium, dates back to the 14th century. The festival is one of the oldest street carnivals in Europe and has been recognized by UNESCO for its cultural significance.

The main figures in Binche’s Carnival are known the Gilles (see photo above). These are a group of up to 1000 men who wear costumes featuring the colors of the Belgium flag, which are covered in mysterious crests, bells and tassels. The outfits are also stuffed with straw giving the men a linebacker-esque appearance. On their feet, the Gilles wear clunky wooden clogs, and on their faces, they sport peculiar wax masks, which boast curled moustaches and bulging green glasses. These masks get switched out later in the day for giant feathery hats made up of more than 350 ostrich feathers.

If you plan to be in the audience for the Carnival of Binche, watch out, because the Gilles carry baskets full of blood oranges that they throw at onlookers as they dance down the streets.

No one is entirely sure about the origins of the Gilles, but it’s believed the concept dates back to pagan times, when the Gilles would dance and stomp their wooden shoes to chase away winter. The masks are supposed to represent the equality of all people … but there’s no word on what’s behind the orange throwing!

Busójárás, Hungary

Busójárás is a Carnival celebration held in Mohacs, Hungary, 124 miles south of the country’s capital. Like most Carnivals, this six-day festival features parades and dancing, but unlike its counterparts, the Busójárás includes folk music and men dressed as shaggy, horned animals. Known as Busos, the mask-and-fur costumes resemble large, devilish goats – locals wear them as they carry a coffin through the streets.

The origins behind the masked revelry is mixed – some say the Busos are scaring away winter (hence the coffin), but others claim they were intended to frighten away the Turks, who occupied Hungary during the 16th century.

Carnival of Oruro, Bolivia

This 2000-year-old festival takes place in a Bolivian mining town and has also been recognized by UNESCO. The festival is a mix of indigenous and Catholic rituals that include pilgrimages, dances and story telling.

Since Oruro was once an important mining town, locals made sure to honor the Virgin of the Mineshaft in their Carnival celebrations, kicking off the festivities with a religious ceremony.

The other main element of this Carnival is the Diablada – or dance of the devils – where hundreds of locals dress as demons and prance in the streets. Together with some costumed angels, they tell the story of good conquering evil, as well as the seven deadly sins.

Other characters you’ll see in this Carnival are dancers dressed as Incas, and performers representing the black slaves who were forced to work in the silver mines by Spanish conquerors.

[Photo Credits: Flickr users PIXELPLUS Photography, olaszmelo, and CassandraW1]

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.