12 Offbeat Travel Ideas For 2013

valetta maltaMy annual New Year’s Eve tradition is to reflect on all the places I visited during the year and plot out where I want to go in the New Year. 2012 was a banner travel year for my family because we put all of our things in storage for five months and traveled extensively in Europe and North America. We gorged ourselves on donuts and thought we got scammed in Western New York’s Amish Country, learned how to flatfoot on Virginia’s Crooked Road, were heckled and intimidated at a soccer game in Italy, and drank homemade wine with the only two residents of the village of San Michalis, on the Greek island of Syros.

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For those of you who have made resolutions to hit the road in 2013, here are 12 travel experiences and destinations, most of them a little or very offbeat, that I highly recommend.


amish donuts12. Donut Crawl in Western New York’s Amish Country

Unlike Lancaster County and other more well known Amish areas around the country, Cattaraugus County’s Amish Trail is a place where you can experience Amish culture, and let’s be honest here – candy and donuts – without all the tourists and kitsch. I love the Amish donuts so much that I went in January and again in July. Because there aren’t many tourists in this region, you’ll find that many of the Amish who live here are just as curious about you as you are about them.

11. Soak Up Colonial Era History in Marblehead, Massachusetts

I’ve been visiting family members in Marblehead for nearly 20 years and I never get tired of this beautifully preserved, quintessential New England town. Marblehead gets a steady trickle of day-trippers from Boston – but don’t make that mistake – book a B & B in this town and dive into one of America’s most historic towns for a full weekend.

10. Save The Turtles, Eat the Fish Tacos and Ride The Waves in Safe, Scenic San Pancho, Mexico

If you want a low-key beach vacation in Mexico but aren’t into big resorts or large cities, look no further than San Pancho, which is only an hour from the Puerto Vallarta airport. It’s about as safe as Mayberry, and you can volunteer to help preserve marine turtles, eat the best fish tacos you’ve ever had and surf and frolic on a huge, spectacular beach.



sicilian man in gangi nicola seminara9. Visit Gangi, Italy’s Most Charming Hill Town You’ve Never Heard Of

Italy is filled with enchanting hill towns, but many of them are besieged with tourists. If you want to check out a lovely hill town in Sicily’s interior that hasn’t changed much in centuries, check out Gangi, where you’ll find everything you could want in an Italian hill town: a perfect central piazza, a medieval street plan you will get lost in, and perhaps the world’s best gelato at the Seminara Bar (no relation to me).

freiburg germany8. Eat the Real Black Forest Ham in Historic Freiburg, Germany

Freiburg is a gorgeous, highly underrated city in Germany’s Black Forest region that is a pedestrian and gourmand dream. Here in the U.S., companies can get away with calling any old ham “Black Forest ham” but in Freiburg, you can sample the real deal and you will taste the difference.




7. Discover Old Time Music on Virginia’s Crooked Road

Southwest Virginia has a 253-mile music heritage trail that’s a glorious little slice of Americana where you’ll find terrific homespun music played by passionate locals who have Old Time Music in their blood. Don’t miss venues like the Fries Theater and the Floyd Country Store and bring your dancing shoes.




enzo ferrari museum modena italy6. Check Out Evita Peron’s Ride at Italy’s New Ferrari Museum

I’m not even a car buff, but I loved visiting the new Enzo Ferrari Museum in Modena, a picture-postcard small city in Emilia-Romagna, near Parma, that doesn’t get nearly as many tourists as it deserves. The museum pays tribute to the founder of Ferrari, who was born in the house next to the museum, and the automotive heritage of the Motor Valley, home to Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini, Ducati and other companies that make vehicles suitable for rap stars, professional athletes and others who like to be noticed.




5. Eat at the World’s Best Greek Restaurant in San Michalis, Syros, Population:2

Syros is just a short ferry ride away from Mykonos but it gets only a tiny fraction of the tourists and I’m not sure why. It’s a gorgeous little island, with a thriving port, great beaches and To Plakostroto the best Greek restaurant I’ve ever been to, located in a striking, end-of-the-world village where you can see six neighboring islands.




4. Experience Bluegrass Nirvana at the Rosine Barn Jamboree in Kentucky

Every Friday night from March through early December, local musicians gather to jam at an old barn and general store in Rosine, Kentucky, the tiny little town where Bill Monroe, the father of bluegrass music was born. This might be the best free music jam in the whole country and best of all, the regulars are the sweetest people you will ever meet.




samos3. Patmos & Samos Not Santorini and Mykonos

I’m obsessed with the Greek Isles. If I could spend my holidays in just one place anywhere in the world, it might be here. But I get a little frustrated by the fact that most Americans visit only Santorini & Mykonos. Both places are undeniably beautiful, but there are dozens of less expensive, less crowded islands that are just as nice. Patmos and Samos, in the eastern Aegean, are absolutely gorgeous and aren’t as crowded or expensive. Samos is known for its wine & honey, while Patmos is home to one of the most interesting monasteries in Greece.




obama pasticciotto2. Eat an Obama Pasticciotto in Italy’s Heel

The fact that Salento, a peninsula in Italy’s heel, has a chocolaty, gooey desert named after President Obama is just one reason to visit this very special but relatively off-the-radar part of Italy. Lecce is a baroque dream, a lively place with a great passegiata, unforgettable food and wine, very friendly people and fine beaches in the vicinity.




1. Make Friends in Valletta, Malta

I had but one day in Valletta and I spent a big chunk of it trying to track down a retired Maltese civil servant who chided me for misrepresenting the country at a school model U.N. in 1986, but I saw enough of this city to want more. Valletta is a heartbreakingly picturesque port, with gently decaying sandstone buildings, warm people, dramatic Mediterranean vistas and artery-clogging pastizzis, which were my favorite treat of 2012.

Think Globally, Eat Locally At Culinary Backstreets

culinary backstreets - Istanbul fish restaurantBudget-savvy and food-loving visitors to Istanbul have found an excellent resource in Istanbul Eats for several years, and now can find more authentic and off-the-beaten-path tips in Athens, Barcelona, and Shanghai, with Mexico City on the way. Culinary Backstreets was launched this week as an extension of IstanbulEats.com, a blog reviewing Turkey’s best street food, hole-in-the-wall restaurants and unique dishes. Founded in 2009 by two American expats, Istanbul Eats launched a book in 2010 (now in its third edition, and available at nearly every bookshop in Istanbul and online, in English, Turkish, Greek, and even Korean!) as well as culinary tours through the Old City, Beyoglu, and even cross-continent. Istanbul Eats has garnished a devoted fan base who’ve been wishing for “an Istanbul Eats-like guide to restaurants in every city,” hence the creation of Culinary Backstreets.

Culinary Backstreets is a site for travelers who eschew tourist menus, ask cab drivers where to dine, and frequently find themselves the only foreigner in a cafe. Each city will be covered by local food writers who regularly comb the streets in search of the tastiest tidbits. So far, each city has posted a “State of the Stomach” guide, outlining the current food scene, the eats locals line up for, and practical tips for following your stomach to the traditional and the trendy restaurants. Culinary walks are currently being offered in Istanbul and Shanghai, with more cities coming soon.

Get hungry at CulinaryBackstreets.com.

[Photo courtesy of Yigal Schleifer]

Off-The-Beaten-Path Latvia Nominated The Most Beautiful Country In The World

waterfall When many people are asked what they think the most beautiful country in the world is, they respond with popular favorites like Greece, New Zealand or Brazil. While these countries appear to be among the top in the world, a contest sponsored by First Choice is showing there are also some off-the-beaten-path destinations that many people find aesthetically pleasing.

The contest, called “Conflict of Pinterest,” asked Twitter and Pinterest users to put in their two cents on the topic. While Twitter users voted by submitting a tweet, Pinterest users created eye-catching boards for their country of choice.

So far, the top 10 countries in order are:

1) Latvia
2) Mexico
3) Turkey
4) Indonesia
5) United Kingdom
6) Italy
7) New Zealand
8) Brazil
9) India
10) Canada

To explore the votes more closely via an interactive map and cast your vote, click here.

[photo via Algirdas]

Meet the artists of Kanazawa, Japan

artKanazawa is an often overlooked destination in Japan, as travelers often assume the city has little to offer. In reality, the area has a breathtaking landscape, rich culture and a plentiful arts scene that has been around for generations.

Kanazawa’s thriving arts community dates back to the sixteenth century, when the powerful samurai family the Maeda clan brought hundreds of artisans from around Japan to the area. Over the following 500 years, the arts flourished — most notably in mediums of lacquer, gold leaf, ceramics, glass, silk and metalwork.

Today, Kanazawa’s artists and artisans still practice these traditional crafts. Furthermore, the city supports an active geisha culture, Noh theatre, an energetic poetry community, and a rapidly expanding network of contemporary artists. For tourists, this means the opportunity to visit working studios, meet the artists, understand the process, and in some cases, try a workshop for themselves. Kanazawa’s artists are proud of their community and feel the city’s small size encourages a strong support system that is hard to find in larger cities.

To learn more about art in Kanazawa and to meet some of the local artists, check out the gallery below.

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10 sexy sites from around the world

sex Forget castles, churches, fine art galleries, and history museums; the sites on this list celebrate the thing almost everyone has in common, sex. From penis parks to fertility shrines to bondage demonstrations, these sexy sites from around the world will make your trip a bit quirkier and your mind a bit filthier.

Haesindang Park
Samcheok, South Korea

Also known as Penis Park, Haesindang Park is full of totem-pole like penis carvings, which make for interesting hiking scenery, to say the least. The story behind the park is that there was once a virginal young woman who was engaged to be married. One day, she had her fiancée drop her off on Aebawi Rock in the sea to harvest seaweed while he did work on the beach. Sadly, a change in weather brought the woman to an untimely, tragic, and penis-less death. For years following the incident, the villagers were unable to catch fish and, thinking it was because of the dead woman, created a park in her honor where they created these carvings and held religious ceremonies. While many tourists may find this site quirky, it truly is a celebration of sex and penis worship.Love Land
Jeju, South Korea

There is nothing subtle about Love Land, as the statues and public art found at this park ooze eroticism. Visitors can stroll through 140 sculptures poised in sexual positions, as well as enjoy rotating exhibitions and educational films. Interactive exhibits will get your mind racing with naughty thoughts.

sexMolokai Phallic Rock
Molokai,Hawaii

This 6-foot stone penis replica sits at the base of Nananhoa Hill in Palaau State Park. According to the legend attached to the site, Nanahoa the male fertility god, lived nearby with his wife. One day, the wife caught her husband checking out a young girl and, outraged, yanked her hair. Nananhoa retaliated, attacking his wife who then rolled down the hill and turned into stone. Moments later, he also turned into stone, except in the form of a penis. To this day, the site is still a sacred place of sex and fertility where women come to pray and make offerings, as can be seen by the surrounding coins, flowers, and shells.

Body Politics
Canberra, Australia

Body Politics is Australia’s first National Museum of Erotica and contains a collection of erotic art, sexual artifacts, and pornographic materials. What’s great about this museum is it blends sexual celebration with education as visitors can learn about things like how porn has changed through the decades, and how ideas on sexuality have evolved. One particularly interesting exhibit is the vibrator collection, which features the first commercial vibrator in Australia made out of a plastic flashlight, slot car motor, and a rubber prosthetic penis molding.

penisLingam Fertility Shrine
Bangkok, Thailand

While it’s not unusual to find a garden full of flowers, how about a garden full of penises? The Lingam Fertility Shrine, located behind the Nai Lert Park Hotel, was created to worship the female deity who is thought to reside on the property, Chao Mae Tuptim. Around the shrine is a garden containing crops of wooden and stone penises beautifully wrapped in ribbon and adorned with flowers. While the experience may feel like some kind of erotic surrealism, the legend behind the site is that women who wanted to bare children would bring offerings of flowers and incense. That is, until one woman became pregnant after leaving a more phallic offering. From one look at the park, you can see that the trend caught on.

Beate Uhse Erotic Musuem
Berlin,Germany

The Beate Uhse Erotic Museum is the biggest erotic museum in the world. Moreover, Beate Uhse, the woman whom the venue is named after, opened the first sex shop (“marital hygiene” shop) in 1962. What makes this erotic museum particularly unique is that it doesn’t just emphasize pornography, but sexuality, history, and love as well. Travelers will also love that the artifacts, dolls, masks, and art are from all over the world, from 18th Century silk paintings from China to Balinese penis carvings.

sex machines museum Sex Machines Museum
Prague, Czech Republic

While there are various museums around the world dedicated to eroticism through photography, art, and film, the Sex Machines Museum gives the idea a twist by focusing on sexual devices and pleasurable appliances. In fact, according to the museum website, it is the world’s only sex museum dedicated solely to sex machines. The museum encompasses three floors and 200 gadgets from the 16th century to present times, with life-like dolls demonstrating how to use the machines properly in times of passion (and times of abstinence if you’re looking at the scarily sharp chastity belts and electroshock penis rings meant to keep boys from masturbating).

Phallic Rock
Kharkhorin, Mongolia

Located near Erdene Zuu Monastary, the head of the phallic rock ironically points toward a vaginal-looking hill. It is said that the 2-ft long penis-shaped boulder was put there to stop horny monks who were turned on by the feminine hill from hooking up with young girls.

amsterdam The City of Amsterdam
Amsterdam, Netherlands

It’s hard to choose just one sexy site in Amsterdam, as the city seems to ooze eroticism. First there is the famous Red Light District, where beautiful and scantily clad women beckon passersby in for some fun. Visitors can even take a guided tour of the area from a former prostitute through the Prostitution Information Centre (PIC). There are also myriad sex toy shops throughout the city selling every gadget, gizmo, costume, and cream you could want. Moreover, visitors have the choice to visit either the Sex Museum (shown right) or the Erotic Museum, which are both full of hardcore exhibits, pornographic photos, and crazy sex contraptions.

Erotic heritage museum Las Vegas
Las Vegas, Nevada

I think the best part about the Erotic Heritage Museum Las Vegas is that it was created by a partnership between a pornographer and a preacher. The permanent and revolving exhibits focus on eroticism, sex, love and the belief that “sexual pleasure and fun are natural aspects of the human experience, that such pleasure must be made available to all, and that our individual sexuality belongs to each of us.” Sounds like fun!