Ring in the year of the rabbit

year of the rabbitIt has the makings of any good party… dancing dragons, popping firecrackers and mouth-watering food, all mixed together with a hearty splash of tradition.

February 3rd marks the start of 2011’s Chinese Lunar New Year. If you can’t swing the trip to Hong Kong to live it up with the locals, fear not! Here are just a few of the cities a bit closer to home where you can join in on the festivities.

SAN FRANCISCO

San Francisco is home to the largest Chinese New Year celebration in North America with a multitude of events like a flower fair, a multi-day street festival and even a Miss Chinatown USA pageant. The party culminates with one of the “Top 10 Parades in the World” boasting a 250-foot-long ‘Gum Lung’ Golden Dragon –manned by 100 men and women– followed by a grand finale of over 600,000 firecrackers.

(Parade: February 19th, 5:15 – 8 pm, begins at the corner of Second and Market Streets)

VANCOUVER

Escape the parade crowds and learn the tradition behind the festivities at the Vancouver Chinese Garden with Dr. Sun Yat Sen. Try your hand at calligraphy, check out a paper flower demonstration and keep an eye out for red envelope hand-outs to bring you luck for the coming year.

(Garden Festival: February 6th, 10 am – 4 pm, 578 Carrall Street)

WASHINGTON, DC

DC’s Chinatown may only be only a few blocks long, but it stands out due to the recently refurbished Friendship Arch. Here you’ll find the staples of any respectable New Year’s procession, but the real draw to this event is the giant 5 story high firecracker that’s set off at 3:45 pm to drive off evil spirits.

(Parade: February 6th, 2 – 5 pm, H Street, NW, between 6th and 8th Streets)

NEW YORK CITY

The highlight of the Big Apple’s celebration is the 12th annual parade winding through the many streets of Chinatown. Over 5,000 participants are expected to join in the parade with lion and dragon dancers, musicians, magicians and acrobats.

(Parade: February 6th, 11:30 am – 4 pm, begins at Mott Street in Little Italy)

Whether you are a true descendant of the dragon, or just someone looking to experience a little bit of Chinese culture…”Kung Hei Fat Choy” or “May you be prosperous in the New Year.”

For other city celebrations, see your local Chinatown events calendar.

Top 5 Alternatives to the Dirtiest Hotel in America

When TripAdvisor recently announced Pigeon Forge, Tennessee’s Grand Hotel and Convention Center as “the dirtiest hotel in America,” the biggest surprise may not have been the reviewers’ reports of “makeup on the pillowcases,” “dogs urinating in the stairwells,” or “food underneath the bed.”

No, the biggest shocker to those familiar with the area in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains was that so many people opted to stay in an Orwellian concrete-facade building in the middle of a congested city strip while so close to one of the country’s loveliest national parks.

If you’re traveling in the Appalachians and plan to stay in or near Pigeon Forge, flee the fleas and choose one of these options instead:

Tent Camping

Pigeon Forge doesn’t really have anything to do with pigeons, but it does have a fair share of the Tennessee Valley’s nature and wildlife once you get away from the neon mini-golf and moccasin stand areas. Pitch your own tent at one of several parks, such as Twin Mountain, which charges a fee of about $25 for renting a pastoral spot by the river.

Cabin Rentals

Pigeon Forge‘s cabin rentals put you right on the mountaintop. Expect a drive up a steep incline past roads with names like “Boogertown,” then stay in roomy, pine cottages that rival Twin Peaks’ fictitious Great Northern Hotel for rustic appeal.

Bed and Breakfasts

Tennessee is in the heart of the Bible Belt, so a B&B isn’t the best option if blasting grindcore music helps you drop off to sleep, but for those who want to stay in small, quaint historic houses run by friendly country folk with Southern accents, Pigeon Forge has –to use the local venacular– a mess of ’em.

Themed Hotels

If you’re one of the thousands drawn to Pigeon Forge by Dollywood, Archie Campbell’s Hee-Haw Village and the Elvis Museum, you might as well make it a full-on kitschy tourist adventure. Take the fam to the Inn at Christmas Place , where ’tis the season, even in the blazing summer.

Out-of-Bounds

Do you really need to stay in Pigeon Forge? With the actual mountains a mere six miles away, spend the day if you must, then keep driving. It gets prettier.

5 German drinking destinations other than Oktoberfest

german drinking destinations oktoberfestAs the towering, stumbling behemoth of German drinking destinations, Oktoberfest overshadows the many rich traditions of beverage consumption throughout the rest of the country.

While Oktoberfest resembles an overpriced frat party to my discerning eyes, these destinations promise beautiful settings, affordable prices and plenty of friendly locals ready to raise a glass and say Prost!

1. Palatinate Wine Festivals

While Germany’s premier wine region is best known for its world-class white wines, it’s quantity over quality at the region’s many wine festivals, and that’s no negative. Germans pack the streets in rural wine country to gulp down Weinschorle, a mixture of wine and sparkling water served in .5L glasses. Live music and lots of pretzels complete the scene.

2. Bamberg Rauchbier

Bamberg is one of Germany’s best-preserved medieval cities, and home to the highest density of breweries in the world. Their most famous brew is Rauchbier; a smoked beer that tastes like delicious beer bacon. Add that to the bizarrely low prices for everything in this bustling university town and you’ve got a winner.

3. Hessen Apfelwein

Hessen, a central state that includes Frankfurt is well known to Germans for its Apfelwein (apple wine). Similar to the American or British hard ciders you may be used to, Apfelwein is typically more tart and sour. It’s best experienced in Hessen Apfelwein taverns where they usually pair this wine with a massive plate of meat.

4. Stuttgarter Wasen

Cannstatter Wasen, also known as the Cannstatter Volksfest, takes place in Stuttgart at the end of September or beginning of October. It’s not that different from Munich’s Oktoberfest –you’ll find tents filled with top-notch German beer, loud drunk people and all the grilled bratwurst you could ever desire. But you can throw back that Ma� (liter glass) of Hefeweizen without the feeling that you’re in a tourist trap.

5. Oberkirch Schnapps

Oberkirch, a small town perched on the outskirts of the Black Forest, boasts 891 schnapps distilleries in the nearby vicinity. Try some pear schnapps, blackberry, raspberry, apple … the list goes on. Bonus: the entirety of the Black Forest is stunningly gorgeous with lots of outdoor activities.

Portland, Oregon: myth or reality?

portland oregonJust saying the name Portland, Oregon, brings all sorts of images to mind. Bicycling vegans. Farmer’s markets. Good beer. Hipsters with ironic mustaches (him), oversized glasses (her), and skinny jeans (everyone!). A national media darling for some time, the city and its inhabitants are now being perfectly skewered in the IFC series Portlandia. The story of Portland is being told as a wonderland where people sit around and drink coffee, discussing their latest art projects and the most responsible way to legalize marijuana.

Does this mythic Portland really exist?

In a word, yes; however, there is the seedy underbelly of high unemployment, homelessness, and other unglamorous real-life problems. But for travelers, it can be a bit of a hipster paradise – ignore those pesky issues and immerse yourself in the local culture, in all its left-leaning, locavoracious glory.

For instance: yes, the locavore myth is true – people in Portland care about their food, where it comes from, and tend to seek out the highest quality ingredients. This has led to an abundance of dining options, most serving up excellent meals with less attitude and a smaller price tag than neighboring Seattle or San Francisco. Local favorites include downtown’s hip Clyde Common and North Portland’s Tasty n Sons. If you’d prefer your lunch cost $5 and comes in in a compostable take-out box, just walk a few blocks in any direction to stumble upon one of the city’s 600+ food carts. Choices include tacos, waffles, burgers, noodles, or a snitzelwich, but I’d just follow the traveling Koi Fusion on Twitter to hunt down a Korean-style quesadilla – make sure to ask for kimchi.
Portland and brewing go hand in hand, whether you’re talking beer or coffee. Breweries are plentiful in Portland, and whether you seek out a big shiny brewpub like Deschutes, or just wander into any neighborhood bar, you’ll find a selection of local brews – from hoppy IPA’s to smooth, dark porters.

Good coffee is nearly as prevalent as good beer, but seek out the ubiquitous Stumptown – the king of independent roasters in Portland, with their most accessible location in the Ace Hotel downtown. Order a latte from the tattooed, possibly surly barista behind the counter. Admire the art they made in your foam. And be happy you don’t have to help them rewrite their resume for the eighth time this year.

San Telmo Sundays: The beat of the Buenos Aires street scene

san telmo buenos aires“For six days of the week, the historic San Telmo neighborhood is just another pocket of gridlined streets that make up the bustling Argentinean capital of Buenos Aires.

Trendy women’s apparel sits overstretched in the windows of modern storefronts, and the cobbled streets of Calle Defensa serve as a bumpy conduit for cars that seem to have someplace to go. The neighborhood’s quaint parks and squares are closer to empty than full, and the late afternoon tango shows are more charming than they are lively. For six days of the week, the neighborhood of San Telmo is just another neighborhood.

All of that changes, however, when the wee hours of Sunday morning–which by Argentinean standards is still considered Saturday night–slowly drift into those of afternoon, and the dormant neighborhood of San Telmo finally comes alive. Refreshingly bohemian, artsy, and historic in nature, the San Telmo Sunday market features scores of local merchants and cheeky street performers that range from mimes to magicians to full fledged 6 piece jazz bands. Anyone in need of a new mate cup, some handmade glass earrings, or any sort of leather good imaginable can find it on the pedestrian thoroughfare that snakes down the now energetic Calle Defensa.

If all of the shopping has suddenly gotten your stomach grumbling, a wide array of restaurants and outdoor cafes sling gastronomic delicacies that range from a simple empanada and cafe con leche to thin crust pizzas and heaping plates of Argentinean asado. The perfect perch for people watching, you can enjoy your meal while simultaneously taking in the market’s spontaneity, such as an elderly grandmother who originally came in search of an old tango album but has suddenly lost herself in the beat of an impromptu street band.

As the afternoon slowly wears on towards night, the alleyways that surround San Telmo’s Plaza Dorrego become a hotbed of activity with visitors and locals alike gearing up for the outdoor tango milonga. A place where the general public can showcase their tango prowess, it is only fitting seeing as the sultry dance is rumored to have been born in this very neighborhood. With music crackling from the speakers and the sun setting low in the sky, the market reaches a cultural crescendo as the people of San Telmo literally take to the streets and dance.”