Should Easter Be A Long Weekend In The US?

easter sunday in modica sicilyAt 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.
easter in greece
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 procession in spain

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.

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

10 reasons to travel to Ljubljana

Ljubljana travel
When I found cheap airfare from Istanbul to Ljubljana, I didn’t find many other travelers who’d been there or even say for sure which country it’s in. The tiny of country of Slovenia is slightly smaller than New Jersey and its capital city isn’t known for much other than being difficult to spell and pronounce (say “lyoob-lyAH-nah”). After spending a few days there last month, I quickly fell madly in love with the city, and recommend to everyone to add to their travel list.

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Here are some reasons to love Ljubljana:

1. It’s Prague without the tourists – Ljubljana has been called the next Prague for at least the last 10 years, but the comparison is still apt. Architect Jože Plečnik is known for his work at Prague Castle, but he was born in Ljubljana and is responsible for much of the architecture in the old downtown and the Triple Bridge that practically defines the city. While Prague is a lovely place to visit, it’s overrun in summer with backpackers and tourists. In Ljubljana, the only English I heard was spoken with a Slovenian accent, and there were no lines at any of the city’s attractions.

2. Affordable Europe – While not as cheap as say, Bulgaria, Ljubljana is a lot easier on the wallet than other European capital cities and cheaper than most of its neighbors. I stayed in a perfect room above the cafe Macek in an ideal location for 65 euro a night. A huge three-course dinner for one with drinks at Lunch cafe was 20 euro, and a liter of local wine in the supermarket is around 3-4 euro. I paid 6 euro for entrance into 4 art museums for the Biennial, and the same for all of the castle, including the excellent Slovene history museum, and the funicular ride there and back.3. Everyone speaks English – Sharing borders with Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia, Slovenia is multi-cultural and multi-lingual. Everyone I met in Ljubljana spoke at least a few foreign languages including English; one supermarket cashier I met spoke six languages! While a language barrier shouldn’t prevent you from enjoying a foreign country, it’s great when communication is seamless and you can get recommendations from nearly every local you meet.

4. A delicious melting pot – Slovenia’s location also means a tasty diversity of food; think Italian pastas and pizzas, Austrian meats, and Croatian fish. One waiter I spoke to bemoaned the fact that he could never get a decent meal in ITALY like he can in Slovenia. While I’d never doubt the wonders of Italian food, I did have several meals in Ljubljana so good I wanted to eat them all over again as soon as I finished. Standout spots include Lunch Cafe (aka Marley & Me) and it’s next-door neighbor Julija.

5. Great wine – Slovenia has a thriving wine culture, but most of their best stuff stays in the country. A glass of house wine at most cafes is sure to be tasty, and cost only a euro or two. Ljubljana has many wine bars and tasting rooms that are approachable, affordable, and unpretentious. Dvorni Wine Bar has an extensive list, and on a Tuesday afternoon, there were several other mothers with babies, businesspeople, and tourists having lunch. I’m already scheming when to book a stay in a vineyard cottage, with local wine on tap.

6. Al-fresco isn’t just for summer – During my visit in early November, temperatures were in the 50s but outdoor cafes along the river were still lined with people. Like here in Istanbul, most cafes put out heating lamps and blankets to keep diners warm, and like the Turks, Slovenians also enjoy their smoking, which may account for the increase in outdoor seating (smoking was banned indoors a few years ago). The city’s large and leafy Tivoli Park is beautiful year-round, with several good museums to duck into if you need refuge from the elements.

7. Boutique shopping – The biggest surprise of Ljubljana for me was how many lovely shops I found. From international chains like Mandarina Duck (fabulous luggage) and Camper (Spanish hipster shoes) to local boutiques like La Chocolate for, uh, chocolate and charming design shop Sisi, there was hardly a single shop I didn’t want to go into, and that was just around the Stari Trg, more shops are to be found around the river and out of the city center.

8. Easy airport – This may not be first on your list when choosing a destination, but it makes travel a lot easier. Arriving at Ljubljana’s airport, you’ll find little more than a snack bar and an ATM outside, but it’s simple to grab a local bus into town or a shared shuttle for a few euro more. Departing from Slovenia, security took only a few minutes to get through, wi-fi is free, and there’s a good selection of local goodies at Duty Free if you forgot to buy gifts. LJU has flights from much of western Europe, including EasyJet from Paris and London.

9. Access to other parts of country – While Ljubljana has plenty to do for a few days, the country is compact enough to make a change of scenery easy and fast. Skiers can hop a bus from the airport to Kranj in the Slovenian Alps, and postcard-pretty Lake Bled is under 2 hours from the capital. In the summer, it’s possible to avoid traffic going to the seaside and take a train to a spa resort or beach. There are also frequent international connections; there are 7 trains a day to Croatia’s capital Zagreb, and Venice is just over 3 hours by bus.

10. Help planning your visit – When I first began planning my trip, I sent a message to the Ljubljana tourism board, and got a quick response with a list of family-friendly hotels and apartments. Next I downloaded the always-excellent In Your Pocket guide, which not only has a free guide and app, it also has a very active Facebook community with up-to-the-minute event info, restaurant recommendations, deals, and more. On Twitter, you can get many questions answered by TakeMe2Slovenia and VisitLjubljana.

Where are all the travel guide apps for Android?

travel guide apps for AndroidNearly two years ago, I bought my first smartphone: the T-Mobile Android MyTouch*. I’m only occasionally jealous of my iPhone-carrying friends, as I find few travel guide apps for Android. Even after a move to Istanbul, I still use and rely upon it daily; Android‘s interface is fast and easy-to-use, and seamless use of Google applications like Gmail and Google Maps is part of the reason I bought it in the first place. Living in a foreign country means English-language books and magazines are expensive and hard-to-find, and like many travelers, I don’t want to carry bulky books around when I’m on the road. This leaves a perfect opportunity for mobile developers to provide real travel guide content and not just travel-booking apps, especially apps produced by reliable media sources with professional editorial. These days, every guidebook and travel magazine publisher is coming out with apps for the iPhone and now iPad, supplying users with content and directions on the go, but there are hardly any for Android.

So what’s available for mobile travelers from the top travel book and print sources? Better hope you’re running Apple OS…Guidebooks:

  • Fodor’s: Happy 75th Birthday Mr. Fodor, but we wish you had more than just five city guides for purchase (in London, New York, Paris, Rome, and San Francisco) and only for Apple.
  • Frommer’s: iPhone guides are available for ten major cities in the US, Europe and Asia, but nada for Android.
  • Lonely Planet: iPhone users are spoiled for choice: dozens of city guides, language phrasebooks, audio walking tours, and eBooks optimized for the iPad. Android users in 32 countries including the US are in luck: there’s a free Trippy app to organize itinerary items, as well as 25 “augmented reality” Compass city guides and 14 phrasebooks. NOTE: This article originally mentioned that the Compass guides were unavailable in the Android Market store, but they should work for most US users. I happen to be in a country where paid apps are not available and not shown in the Market.
  • LUXE City Guides: 20 cheeky city guides work for a variety of mobile phones, including iPhone and Blackberry, but none are compatible with my Android. Bonus: the apps come with free regular updates and maps that the paper guides don’t have.
  • Rick Steves: If you are headed to Europe, you can get audio guides for many big attractions and historic walks for iPhone, plus maps for the iPad. You can also download the audio files free for your computer, and props to Rick for mentioning that Android apps are at least in development.
  • Rough Guides: Here’s a new one: the Rough Guides app works for many phones but NOT the iPhone OR Android! It’s not as slick as some of the other guides (it’s a Java app) and you will use data to use it on the road, but it provides lots of info for many cities in Europe. You can also find a Rough Guides photo app on iTunes to view pictures from around the world with Google Maps and captions from Rough Guides.
  • Time Out: City travelers and residents might want to look at the apps from Time Out for 5 European cities and Buenos Aires, with Manchester and New York on the way. More cities are available for free on iTunes, search for Time Out on iTunes to see what’s available. iPhone only.
  • Wallpaper* City Guides: 10 of the design mag’s 80 city guides are for sale for iPhone for Europe, Tokyo, New York and Los Angeles.

Print media:

  • Conde Nast Traveler: It makes sense for magazines to embrace the iPad, and CNT has free Apple apps specifically for Italy, cruises, and their annual Gold List of hotels and resorts. Blackberry users can download an etiquette guide, but Android users are snubbed.
  • National Geographic: As befitting any explorer, Nat Geo has a world atlas, national parks maps, and games featuring their amazing photography, all for iPhone. A special interactive edition of National Geographic Traveler is for sale on the iPad; you can also read it on your computer. Androids can download a quiz game and various wallpapers; and all mobile users can access a mobile-friendly version of their website at natgeomobile.com.
  • Outside: Adventure travelers can purchase and read full issues on the iPad, but no subscription option yet.
  • Travel + Leisure: The other big travel glossy also has an iPad app for special issues. Four issues have been released so far with one available now on iTunes (romantic getaways) but future editions will follow to be read on the app. Just in time for spring break and summer, they’ve also released a Travel + Leisure Family app with advice and articles specifically geared towards travel and families. The apps are both free but you’ll need an iPad – these are designed for tablets, not phones. You can also read full issues of T+L and their foodie cousin Food & Wine on Barnes & Noble’s NOOK Color ereader; you can save per issue if you subscribe to the e-reader version.
  • USA Today Travel: Most major newspapers have mobile readers for all types of phones, but USA Today is the only one with their own travel-specific app. AutoPilot combines an array of cool travel booking capabilities and information with articles and blog post from the newspaper. Only iPhone users can enjoy free.

Two of our favorite magazines, Budget Travel and Afar, have no mobile apps yet but great online communities to tap into their extensive knowledge.

All in all, other than Lonely Planet’s Compass guides, a pretty weak showing for Android travelers. While iPhone has been around longer as a mobile platform that Android, they’ve lost the market share of users to the little green robot. As Android is available on a variety of phone manufacturers and providers, expect that number to continue to grow, along with the variety and depth of content for mobile and tablet users. Will the developers ever catch up or will travelers have to choose?

*Android has not endorsed this or paid me anything to write about them. But to show I’m not biased – Apple, feel free to send me a sample phone and I’ll test out the apps!

Photo courtesy Flickr user closari. Special thanks to Sean O’Neill, who blogs on Budget Travel and the new BBC Travel blog.

Warsaw, Poland: an up-and-coming European museum destination

European museum destination
As an EU member with a good exchange rate and low prices, Poland is becoming a popular tourist destination in Eastern Europe. Most of the love goes to Krakow, with its original architecture and “new Prague” charm, but capital city Warsaw has plenty to offer as a European museum destination. While much of the old town was leveled in World War II, the restorations have been painstakingly done and the tumultuous history makes for a great basis for museum exhibitions.

Like Berlin, Warsaw has embraced its past and given the visitor plenty to learn from and new investments mean state-of-the-art attractions and exhibitions.

Given all of the places to see, Warsaw could easily fill a week (or two) on a Europe trip. Here’s a look at some of Warsaw’s best museums.
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Warsaw (Up)Rising Museum – Warsaw’s proudest museum is a hi-tech interactive experience detailing the events of the two-month rebellion of the Polish people against the German forces as well as what preceded and followed. It borders on being overly comprehensive, the hundreds of artifacts can overwhelm, as can the crowds who line up daily. Be sure to follow museum signs as you walk through, as the chronological exhibit doesn’t necessarily follow the logical path.

Gestapo Headquarters and Pawiak Prison – Two of the city’s most unassuming buildings were once the most feared. Not as flashy as the Rising Museum but equally effective, the former Gestapo HQ contains a few stark cells that once held prisoners to be interrogated and often tortured before being taken to the prison, along with very professionally-done interactive displays telling the experiences of the poor souls held there. Most of the prison in the former Jewish ghetto has been destroyed, but dozens of artifacts and exhibits explain the prisoners’ conditions and attempt to describe the horrors that happened there.


Fryderyk Chopin Museum – Another hi-tech, multimedia extravaganza, this brand new space dedicated to Poland’s most famous composer goes beyond the usual exhibition with a fully customizable experience. Sample sounds from a rare score, read letters to the important women in Chopin’s life, and see a recreation of his Paris drawing room.

Palace of Culture and Science – Not so much a museum as a gift Warsaw can’t hide away, the tallest building in Poland was a gift from Joseph Stalin and it’s hard to go anywhere in the city without seeing the Soviet beast. Though the building is enormous, not much of it is open to the public. It’s worth a trip to the terrace for panoramic city views (see above photo) or spend an afternoon making sense of the bizarrely curated Museum of Technology.

Want more history? There are also museums dedicated to the Polish People’s Movement and Polish Independence, plus the many churches and monuments of the restored Old City and Krakowskie Przedmiescie street. Warsaw’s Jewish culture is also well-documented at the new Jewish Museum and Wola district historical museum.

Well-done in Warsaw


Center for Contemporary Art at Ujazdowski Castle – A few blocks away from the Gestapo Headquarters, the building has a history as a royal residence, medical hospital, and now modern art museum. Some of the most innovative artists in Poland and Europe are showcased here: November saw a show focused on Internet-shaped culture such as a scrolling display of Twitter results for the phrase “Best day ever.”


Warsaw Zoo – In addition to being a nicely-maintained habitat for animals, this zoo has a fascinating and heroic past. Diane Ackerman’s book The Zookeeper’s Wife tells the story of the zoo director who aided in war efforts and saved many Jewish Poles from the Nazis by hiding them in the animal cages.


Royal Castle and Wilanow Palace – Just outside the Old City, the Royal Castle was also rebuilt from scratch and houses a slew of antiques and artwork, as well as excellent temporary exhibitions such as Leonardo da Vinci’s “Lady with an Ermine” and other treasures from other museums. If you visit in good weather, it’s worth a day out of town to visit the grand Wilanow Palace and gardens, the Polish Versailles.

Not exhausted yet? Small museums also specialize in collections of cars, trains, military weaponry, horse-riding, caricatures, and Polish physicist Marie Curie. See the In Your Pocket Warsaw guide for more info.


5 European adventure destinations

5 great European adventure destinationsWith its old world styling and modern luxuries, Europe isn’t typically the first place that comes to mind when adventure travelers are searching for their next destination. But there are plenty of adventures to be had on the European continent as well, and here are five fantastic places to do just that.

Chamonix, France
One of the top mountain destinations not only in Europe, but the entire world, is Chamonix. Located in eastern France, the town sits at the base of Mount Blanc, the tallest peak in Western Europe, and is a mecca for skiers and snowboarders in the winter. Chamonix is also a popular spot for climbers year round as well, and there are numerous rock and ice climbing routes throughout the area. Alpine mountaineers are drawn to the region thanks to the many snow capped peaks to conquer and with hundreds of miles of single track in the area, mountain bikers have found plenty to enjoy as well. Chamonix is also one of the starting points for the famous Haute Route, a 110-mile long trek through the Alps that is amongst the most spectacular hiking routes in the entire world.

Zermatt, Switzerland
The mountain village on the other end of the Haute Route is Zermatt, Switzerland, another destination that is popular with the skiing and mountaineering crowd. Zermatt sits in the shadow of one of Europe’s most well known peaks, the Matterhorn, which cuts a distinctive profile in the skies overhead. Climbers come to challenge that peak as well, but less adventurous visitors can take a train to the summit to experience the breathtaking views too. There are miles of hiking trails throughout the region as well, and thanks to the high altitude (Zermatt sits at 5315 feet above sea level) skiing is an option year round.

5 great European adventure destinationsSpitsbergen, Norway
Located at the extreme northern end of the Svalbard Archipelago in Norway, Spitsbergen is an island paradise for the adventure traveler looking for some arctic fun. The region is a popular destination for cross country skiing, snowshoeing, and dog sledding, all of which are options for most of the year. Surrounded by the Arctic Ocean, as well as the Greenland and Norwegian Seas, Spitsbergen is also a great place for sea kayaking, although hiking through glacier caverns may be the most unique reason to visit. The island is a popular stop-over for cruise ships and it is often used as a launching point for expeditions headed into the Arctic as well.

Karlovac, Croatia
Located in central Croatia, Karlovac has the unique distinction of sitting near the confluence of four rivers. That makes it a fantastic, if lesser known, destination for paddlers looking for a variety of challenges. The Dobra River, for instance, offers an amazing canyon to run, with challenging whitewater in the spring and early summer months. The Mreznica, on the other hand, features a series of interconnected lakes with a number of waterfalls to either portage or drop, depending on your skill level. The city also offers unique glimpses into Croatian history and culture, and its location allows for day trips to great hiking trails or sea kayaking spots along the coast as well.

Urtijëi, Italy
Located in the Italian Dolomites, an offshoot of the Alps, Urtijëi is yet another mountain village that is long on charm and even longer on adventure. The town serves as a perfect base camp for rock climbers, base jumpers, and backpackers looking to explore the picturesque Dolomites which extend throughout the northeastern part of Italy. The region’s via ferrata trekking routes range from easy to frightening depending on the path you take, and in the winter months the mountains offer a less crowded alternative to other European ski resorts.

There you have it! Five great European destinations to help you get your adventure travel fix. Anyone of those places will provide plenty to see and do, and each is a beautiful outdoor playground just waiting to be explored.

[Photo credits: Zermatt Photos, Moroder via WikiMedia Commons]