World’s Largest Floating Christmas Tree: No wimpy Charlie Brown tree for Brazil

The question is: who puts the star at the top?

It’s an head-scratching combination. Sure, if you have the mountains that Rio de Janeiro has, placing a Christ the Redeemer statue on top is only natural. But placing a huge Christmas tree on the water?

The Guinness Book of Records officially proclaims the tree of lights that floats in Rio’s Rodrigo de Freitas lagoon as the “Largest Floating Christmas Tree in the World.”

It’s as tall as a 28-story building (85 meters high). If you’re imagining your tree at home (with maybe a string out lights out), you’d best add a few million more lights to your imagination. This tree uses 2.9 million miniature bulbs spread over 52 kilometers of strands to produce its colorful twinkles, available in 11 sequential patterns. And what’s Christmas without Christmas music? Yes, it does have a sound system that plays carols that were recorded in Italy.

Designed by Brazilian artist Abel Gomes, the tree and its lighting have been a tradition since 1996. It’s no small event either — the Christmas tree lighting is actually the third biggest event in Rio after the Carnival and New Year’s Eve.

And before you get turned off by the thought of all of the energy expended, consider that the lights are powered by biodiesel generators. Plus, we’re told that any carbon dioxide emissions produced by the set-up, display, and tear-down of the tree will be offset by the planting of trees.

You still have time to see the lights, before they go out on January 6, 2010.


Seniors to lose camping discounts with US Forest Service proposal

Wasn’t this supposed to be one of life’s fair trades? After you spend decades working hard, the US government treats you to a senior’s half-off discount at US Forest Service parks during your retirement.

Well, now the Forest Service is rethinking that.

Last week, it proposed cutting back the discounts for Senior, Access (permanent disability), Golden Age, and Golden Access to 10%, instead of the current 50% — a discount that has been in place since the mid-60s.

These changes would go into effect at the campgrounds operated by private concessioners, which make up 50% of National Forest camping capacity and 82% of reservable campsites.

Among the reasons for the change are (to quote the Forest Service) “application of the 50 percent discount to holders of Senior and Access Passes is unreasonable in view of the growing number of senior citizens in the United States.” Also, “the 50 percent discount requires concessioners to raise camping fees to compensate for the loss in revenue, thus increasing prices for non-seniors and discouraging a future generation of campers.”

Thankfully, the new policy is not set in stone quite yet. The public has until February 1, 2010 to dispute the proposal.

Those who wish to can submit comments via the website, or via mail to U.S. Forest Service, Attn: Carolyn Holbrook, Recreation and Heritage Resources Staff, 1400 Independence Avenue, SW., Stop 1125, Washington, DC 20250–1125.

Sale on German train tickets starts Dec. 7

Starting on Monday, December 7, German Railway train tickets will go on sale — and it’s quite the guter Kauf (bargain). They’re only 66 Euros for two one-way tickets, on local or regional trains anywhere in Germany and Austria.

The tickets will be sold at the German discount supermarket Lidl. The tickets must be for travel on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday, between January 4 and March 31, 2010. Children under 14 years-old can travel free.

A standard one-way train from Berlin to Munich costs 113 Euros, and Cologne to Vienna is 146 Euros, so this is a sale with big savings.


Stevie Wonder named UN Messenger of Peace

Stevie Wonder is singing a new tune. Okay, not literally, but he has just taken on a new role: UN Messenger of Peace.

Blind since birth, Wonder will support the United Nations’ work, specifically to advocate for people with disabilities, through planned public appearances, interaction with international media, and humanitarian work.

The winner of 25 Grammy awards, Wonder may be best known for his singer-songwriter career. But he has long been an activist — spearheading the campaign to make Martin Luther King Jr. Day a holiday in the U.S., advocating for ending apartheid in South Africa, as well as writing and performing songs to benefit humanitarian issues.

Wonder is the latest of the celebrity UN Messengers of Peace — there are 11 in total — including George Clooney (peacekeeping), Michael Douglas (disarmament), and Charlize Theron (ending violence against women).

“I recognize that he has consistently used his voice and special relationship with the public to create a better and more inclusive world, to defend civil and human rights and to improve the lives of those less fortunate,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement.

Louvre, Versailles, Mont Saint-Michel on strike alert tomorrow

Workers at Paris’ modern art center Pompidou are already on strike over planned job cuts, but those at other French museums and landmarks could join in their fight tomorrow.

Seven unions are threatening to walk off the job on December 2nd if their demands aren’t met by the MInistry of Culture. They’re boycotting the government’s plan to cut cultural positions, which would replace only one out of every two civil servants who retire.

The Pompidou Center is Paris’ second most popular museum. If the cuts move forward, 400 of the museum’s 1,100 jobs could be cut over the next 10 years. More than 40 percent of workers there are 50 years or older.

Other tourist sites potentially shutting down during the strike are Notre Dame, the Musée d’Orsay, and the Pantheon. However, the Eiffel Tower would not be affected.