Bumping Into Queen Elizabeth II In Oxford

It’s not every day that you bump into Queen Elizabeth II on your way to work.

Walking from my house to the Bodleian Library in Oxford to research my next book, I noticed a large crowd and dozens of cops outside Christ Church College. It turned out the Queen was coming to take part in an old English tradition – giving away Maundy Money.

Today is Maundy Thursday, the day before Good Friday, and since the Middle Ages, English monarchs have been giving away money on this day. Since the 17th century this has taken the form of a special issue of coins and the tradition developed to give them to old people who have shown good service to the Church and community. The monarchs used to wash people’s feet too, but that ended with James II.

I joined the crowd lining the street and waited for the Queen and Royal Consort, Prince Philip. I hadn’t seen them since taking part in the Field of Remembrance ceremony at Westminster back in 2000 and so I was looking forward to seeing them again. We really haven’t been keeping in touch as much as we should. Perhaps I should friend them on Facebook.

The crowd was a mixture of tourists and locals, some waving flags sold by an old man who hurried from one side of the street to the other, completely ignoring the cops who were trying to clear the way.

The royal motorcade soon appeared with her and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, in the back of a beautiful old Rolls Royce. A great cheer rose up from the crowd and everyone waved. The Queen looked her usual regal and relaxed self and gave her trademark wrist-only wave. She didn’t look a day older than when I last saw her. Prince Philip gave a more enthusiastic wave but I couldn’t help noticing he was beginning to show the burden of his 91 years.

The Belfast Telegraph reports that this is the first time in almost 400 years that the ceremony has taken place in Oxford, so I was incredibly lucky to stumble on it. It’s one of those coincidences that always make up the highlights of any trip.

Tradition holds that the monarch rewards a number of people equal to her age, and so the Queen gave coins to 87 worthy people at Christ Church Cathedral in the college. Soon after the ceremony she headed out of town. Sadly, she didn’t have time to stop for a pint with me. Maybe next time. Long Live The Queen!

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons. It was one of those “I really should have brought my camera” days]

Should Easter Be A Long Weekend In The US?

At the stroke of midnight, fireworks lit up the night sky on the Greek island of Naxos. In a square outside a centuries old church, at least half the island’s population gathered to celebrate the occasion. Children ran around and threw firecrackers, senior citizens occupied all the choice benches and everyone was dressed to the nines and holding lit candles. An hour or so after midnight, everyone filed out of the square and retreated to their homes for a huge feast that breaks the Lenten fast. This is how Orthodox Easter is celebrated in towns and villages all over Greece.

If you’ve never spent Easter Sunday in a predominantly Christian country like Greece, Italy or many others in Europe and Latin America where it’s the biggest holiday of the year, you’re missing out on the travel experience of a lifetime. Here in the U.S., Easter isn’t even a public holiday worthy of a long weekend. In many parts of the country, you can drive around and shop and not even realize that it’s an important Christian holiday that celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

I’ve spent Easter in a variety of countries where everything completely shuts down for a few days. As a traveler, that can be disruptive and annoying. But I will never forget how joyous an occasion Easter was in Naxos. Nor will I forget an Easter Sunday I spent in Modica, in southeastern Sicily several years ago (see top photo). The entire town turns out onto the streets, dressed to kill, for a colorful procession with marching bands and then after Mass, everyone repairs to a house or restaurant for a meal fit for a king. Everyone you meet wishes you a buona Pasqua and the good vibes are contagious, even if you aren’t religious.

According to the most recent census data, about 76 percent of adults in the U.S. self identify as Christians (3.8 percent practice other religions, 15 percent don’t practice any religion, and 5 percent refused to answer the question). The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees the separation of church and state yet Christmas is a government holiday while Easter is not. Peter Steinfels, writing in The New York Times in 1998 wrote that America was “too religious and too Christian to ignore Easter, but also too pluralist and too secular to absorb it comfortably as a national holiday.”

We are indeed a diverse country, which presents interesting opportunities for visitors to our shores, but it’s also very special to visit a largely homogenous country during a major holiday because it’s fascinating to see an entire place come to a standstill as a community celebrates out on the streets together.

Easter is a religious holiday and we’re a largely secular country, so there are good reasons why it isn’t a public holiday. But I think making Easter a long weekend would be good for the travel industry and good for the country. We take an average of 13 days off per year, compared to 38 in France, 34 in Brazil, 32 in Sweden, 27 in Germany and 19 in Australia, for example.

Surely even those who don’t celebrate Easter wouldn’t mind a long weekend, would they? Or would the declaration of Easter as a national holiday be offensive to non-Christians who are already uncomfortable with Christmas being a public holiday? Let us know how you feel about this in the comments and in the poll.


[Photo credits: Dave Seminara, Klearchos Kapoutsis and jpereira_net on Flickr]

Colorado Ski Resorts Offer Spring Break Deals, Special Events, Statewide

Still mulling over where to spend spring break, be it solo, or with friends or family? Colorado Ski Country USA resorts make it easy, with a handy online guide promoting special deals and events statewide throughout March and part of April.

In addition to loads of concerts and fun and endurance ski races at most resorts, there’s also the famed Elk Mountain Grand Traverse backcountry race from Aspen to Crested Butte, and Battle in the Bowls in Aspen Highlands. Crested Butte is also celebrating Colorado Passholder Appreciation Month through March 6; anyone holding a season pass, regardless of resort, can ski CB for $59.

Copper Mountain hosts the Copper Uncorked “working man’s wine festival” on March 10; think affordable vintages, and nontraditional pairings a la pizza, wings, and breakfast burritos. Aspen and Telluride are offering variations on “kids ski and stay free” programs, and Wolf Creek has Local Appreciation Days March 6 and 13, and April 3 and 7. Lift tickets are just $35/adult or student, $29/child/seniors. Get those plane tickets booked now!

[Photo credit: Flickr user Ben Moscona l Photography]

Photo Of The Day: Copan Carpet In Honduras

This Sunday marks the Easter Holiday in much of the world, and worshippers everywhere are marking the day with uniquely local traditions. As evidence check out this photo taken by Flickr user Aldaberto.H.Vega in Honduras. As part of Semana Santa locals lay out brilliant “carpets” on the streets composed of colorful sawdust and flowers documenting the Stations of the Cross. The Gadling team liked the eye-catching visuals of the scene so much that fellow blogger Meg Nesterov used almost exactly the same image in a photo during Easter 2011. Seems like quite a sight to see, whether you’re a practicing Christian or simply curious about the world.

Have any great photos to share from your own travels? Why not upload them to our Gadling group on Flickr? We might just pick one of yours as our Photo of the Day.

Want to get away for Easter weekend? These U.S. hotels are offering holiday specials

Are you sick of doing the same thing every year for Easter? Why not make this holiday special and do a bit of traveling? These hotels are offering packages, parties, spa discounts, egg hunts, bountiful brunches, the chance to meet the Easter Bunny and more.

Sandestin Beach Hilton
Destin, Florida

The Sandestin Beach Hilton is a family friendly resort with an array of activities, like indulging in spa treatments, swimming, shopping, fishing, scuba diving and snorkeling. From April 6-8, the property will be celebrating Easter by hosting a huge “Eggstravaganza.” Easter basket deliveries from the Easter Bunny, a coloring contest, an egg hunt and Sunday brunch will all be part of the festivities. For the adults, the Serenity by the Sea Spa is selling Easter spa baskets for mom. If you purchase a gift certificate, you’ll also be able to choose a golden egg with a prize or discount inside.

Rates vary depending on when you book. Click here for more information or call 800-559-1805. Omni Bedford Springs Resort
Bedford, Pennsylvania

Located in the Allegheny Mountain region of Pennsylvania, the Omni Bedford Springs Resort is 216-room property immersed in nature. Eight natural hot springs, hiking and biking trails, fly fishing and outdoor sports are easily accessible. This Easter, the resort is offering an “Easter Adventures in the Alleghenies” package, which includes accommodations, a chocolate bunny, an Easter egg coloring class, live entertainment, an outdoor egg hunt, crafts, a visit by the Easter Bunny, and a massive brunch held in the immaculate Colonnade Ballroom.

Package rates start at $183.50 per night based on double occupancy. Click here to book.

Mirror Lake Inn Resort & Spa
Lake Placid, New York

Located in the center of the Adirondacks, Mirror Lake Inn Resort & Spa will place you in a mixture of beautiful, mountainous surroundings and luxurious indoor experiences. Guests can enjoy a picturesque nature hike before relaxing in the heated indoor pool or indulging in a spa treatment. The resort becomes even more alluring this Easter as it is featuring an “Easter at the Inn” deal. Not only do kids stay and eat free from April 6-8, but also there will be egg coloring, an Easter egg hunt, an Easter basket scavenger hunt, and a delicious, daily breakfast.

Package rate is $315 per night for a family of up to four people. Call 518-523-2544 or click here to book.

Abbey Resort
Fontana, Wisconsin

The Abbey Resort sits on the shores of Lake Geneva and features colorful gardens and well-manicured lawns. For the upcoming holiday, they will be hosting their annual Easter weekend celebration, complete with an Easter egg hunt, holiday contests, face painting, a petting zoo, balloon animals, a visit from the Easter Bunny, and a delicious brunch and children’s buffet with complimentary mimosas for the adults.

Room rates during Easter weekend start at $139 on Friday night and $149 on Saturday night, plus tax and resort fee per night. You can also stay the entire weekend for the BOGO rate of $139 on Friday and $69.50 on Saturday. Reservations for Easter brunch required. Please call 800-709-1323 or click here to book.

The Greenbrier
White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia

A national historic landmark, The Greenbrier has been hosting guests since 1778. With this much experience in hospitality, it’s no wonder the property is throwing such a detailed Easter celebration, which they’re calling “the Greenbrier’s Holiday Hare.” Throughout the weekend, there will be a range of activities and events for people of all ages. Adults can enjoy art exhibits, wine tastings and seminars, and an adult egg hunt and roll. For the children, there is a kids’ fashion show, Easter egg hunt, dance party and an Easter puppet show. Likewise, fun for the whole family includes live music, family Jeopardy and an expansive buffet brunch. As an added bonus, the hotel is offering a $100 Resort Credit per room, per stay, and a 10% discount on select activities, tours, and classes.

Room rates during the weekend start at $430 per night based on double occupancy. Additionally, it is $20 per child sharing the room and $50 per additional adult. Call 866-976-3625 and mention promo code “EASTER” or click here.

The Langham, Boston
Boston, Massachusetts

For those who love luxurious weekends, The Langham, Boston features Italian marble bathrooms, plush bedding, an indoor heated swimming pool and the award-winning Chuan Body + Soul spa. This Easter, the hotel is making upscale travel more affordable by discounting rooms to $209 per night and offering complimentary access to Chuan Body + Soul to use the indoor pool, fitness center, sauna and whirlpool. Additionally, Café Fleuri will be hosting a special Easter Sunday brunch with a seafood station, carving and culinary station, omelets made-to-order, a kid’s selection, and more. Dine on house smoked maple cured salmon, cheese blintzes powdered with sugar, and apricot-glazed Easter ham while listening to live jazz. For the kids, face painting, caricature sketches and other Easter activities will be offered.

Brunch is $88 per adult, and $45 per child. For reservations, call 617-451-1900 extension 7125, or visit www.opentable.com. Click here to book a room.

The Mission Inn Hotel & Spa
Riverside, California

The Mission Inn Hotel & Spa is a 238-room hotel that occupies an entire city block and has been hosting celebrities, dignitaries, and luxury travelers since 1876. While many hotels feature kid-friendly programming for Easter, this property caters to adults with their “April Celebration” package from April 6-9. On Easter Sunday, Mission Inn will host a delicious brunch, with the Easter Bunny as a special guest. The package itself includes deluxe accommodations, Champagne, an Easter-inspired cupcake for two from Casey’s Cupcakes, $125 credit to spend on either Easter brunch or spa treatments and complimentary valet parking.

Packages are $419 all inclusive. Call 951-784-0300 or click here to book.

Meadowmere Resort
Ogunquit, Maine

Located on Maine’s southern coast, Meadowmere Resort is a family-run inn and a Certified Maine Environmental Leader Hotel. Along with enjoying the Freeport Outlets, Ogunquit Beach, Perkins Cove and Marginal Way, guests of the hotel can celebrate Easter weekend to the fullest with the property’s “Easter Egg-scapes.” The getaway includes Friday and Saturday night accommodations, a wine welcome for the adults, Easter crafts for the kids, a three-course dinner, live music on Saturday night, an Easter Sunday brunch and a late checkout of 1:00 pm. There will also be an egghunt on Sunday held at the nearby Wildlife Preservation Clay Hill Farm.

Packages start at $169 per person based on double occupancy. Call 800-633-8718 or click here to book.