Destination of the Week: Kyoto, Japan!

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One of Kyoto poet Buson’s most famous haikus reads: “On the one-ton temple bell a moon-moth, folded into sleep, sits still.” If Japan is the temple bell, Kyoto is the moth—tranquil, delicate, intricate, and wildly mysterious, centuries after the first outsider was drawn to its woodsy hilltop Shinto shrines and rarefied Buddhist temples. The city is about to get an influx of luxury hotels, making room for more tourists, but for now a walk along the Kamo riverbank still reveals the gentleness and gracefulness of Japan’s ancient capital. The Shigemori Residence features a dynamic Zen garden designed by mid-20th-century landscape architect Mirei Shigemori.

When to Go: Hanami (cherry blossom viewing) season typically is late March through mid-April. Fall foliage peaks in November!

Holland in Springtime?

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If you are thinking of taking a little trip during spring, you should really think about visiting Holland! I have only been in the summer, but I can imagine how beautiful it must be in the spring time! Take to the waterways of the Netherlands aboard the newly renovated canal barge the M.S. Magnifique, and discover medieval towns and landscapes with spring’s bright blossoms. Stroll through a patchwork of flowers at the Keukenhof gardens, or ride a bike past the windmills of Kinderdijk. Explore The Hague, Haarlem, and the picturesque canals and markets of Amsterdam. Trace the footsteps of Anne Frank and view the artworks of the Dutch masters, from Rembrandt and Vermeer to Vincent van Gogh! Spend the morning amid a riot of colors and fragrances at the breathtaking Keukenhof gardens, where more than seven million vibrant tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, and other flowers display their bright hues. Stroll acre after acre of the world’s largest flower garden, taking in a beauty that lasts just a short time each spring. If you love flowers then you should go see the the world’s largest flower auction in Aalsmeer, where more than five billion flowers are sold every year! Witness the haggling and deal-making among flower vendors, and get a taste of life behind the scenes of the tulip trade.

Some great things you can do there are:

  • Bike through the green heart” of the Netherlands and discover the verdant countryside
  • Immerse yourself in the excitement of the world’s largest flower auction in Aalsmeer
  • Visit the cheese weighing house in Gouda and a working porcelain factory in Delft

A truly beautiful place to visit one day if you have the chance 🙂

Destination Of The Week: Colmar, France

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Described as “one of the most attractive towns in Alsace,” Colmar is situated in east-central France, in a border region that was once disputed between France and Germany. It serves as something of a gateway for those seeking to travel overland from France to the Rhine Valley. Colmar is 273 miles from Paris and 73 miles from Strasbourg, France. Colmar’s main draw is its well-preserved and colorful old town. This district is a good reminder of Colmar’s place in a border region, as its half-timbered architecture is noticeably more German than French. Two highlights of a walking tour of the old part of Colmar are the Maison des Tetes (“House of Heads”), so-named because it is decorated with faces; the ancient wooden Pfister House; and the pink St. Martin Church. The Unterlinden Museum is home to a fine collection of old armor, furniture and other items, but its main point of interest is the Isenheim Altarpiece, with its striking paintings of scenes such as the Crucifixion and the temptation of St. Antony. According to Fodor’s, the low rainfall and distinct seasons of Alsace make pretty much anytime a good time to go to Colmar. The city enjoys a snowy, Christmas-postcard atmosphere in winter and golden colors in autumn. The summers are warm and mild, and in spring the vineyards of the surrounding countryside come alive with grape blossoms.

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Best Places to See Holiday Lights

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Vienna, Austria: Advent brings out Vienna’s romantic side: Garlands of bulbs glisten over thoroughfares and shops are decorated with pine branches and silk ribbons (November 26-December 31). Giant chandeliers lead to St. Stephen’s Cathedral, and daily Advent concerts take place at Schönbrunn Palace.

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Winter Morning, Yosemite National Park: All that is required to surprise and delight is to go out early on a winter morning in Yosemite and keep your eyes open wide.

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Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen: The Japanese Pagoda, a popular restaurant on Tivoli Lake, is among the  many structures dressed up with holiday lights at Denmark’s 1843  amusement park and  “pleasure garden,” the dreamy vision of a Tiffany design director. In  addition to touring the Asian area, located near the concert hall,  visitors can zoom through the sparkling skies on the 1914 roller  coaster, and warm up with glogg (mulled wine) and apple dumplings. November 11-December 30.

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Hallstatt, Austria: When the dark falls and tourists rest, the town of Hallstatt comes back to peacefulness. As fog winds around the spire of the famous Parish Church, and the blue tint of the rainy night is decorated by warm light, the town really looks like a fairyland.

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Gothenburg, Sweden: The aroma of toasted almonds and glogg heralds the arrival of Saint Lucia to this charming river town illuminated all season long. Five million lights glitter on the buildings and on the 700 Christmas trees at Liseberg Amusement Park’s Christmas Market (Scandinavia’s largest, open November 18).

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Kobe, Japan: Following the Kobe earthquake of 1995, Italy loaned thousands of hand-painted bulbs to be built into intricate luminarie light-strung, Gothic-style structures. The tradition continues: Four million revelers celebrate Japan’s enduring resilience near Higashi-Yuenchi Park. December 1-12.

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Brussels, Belgium: During Plaisirs d’Hiver, dramatically lit buildings and music lift spirits in the historic Grand Place. At the Christmas market, 240 chalets serve Belgian waffles and conical cuberdon candies. November 25-January 11

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Hong Kong, China: It’s an over-the-top Christmas in Hong Kong, where lights twinkle along Main Street in Disneyland, the city’s malls try to outdo each other in awesomeness (Roppongi Hills Galleria created a ground-level Milky Way galaxy of lights one year), and the downtown skyline dances with colorful lights and music. The city center, crowned by a giant Swarovski crystal tree,  and Victoria Harbour is fantastically illuminated. Stick around for Chinese New Year festivities for more fireworks and action. November 25–January 1.

Monterey, California

Here are a few pictures that I took while visiting Monterey, California. The City of Monterey is located on the southern edge of Monterey Bay, on Central California’s Pacific coast. There are so many unique attractions in Monterey that it can be hard to pick just one. There is the Monterey Bay Aquarium, 17-Mile Drive which is widely recognized as one of the most scenic drives in the world, this famous coastal landmark runs from Pacific Grove to Pebble Beach, featuring awe-beautiful sites perfect for a day of exploration. Marvel at some of nature’s treasures including The Lone Cypress, Spanish Bay and Stillwater Cove, as well as the world-renowned Pebble Beach Golf Links.

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Miami!

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Miami was beyond incredible! Being there for a week made it harder to leave! Now I know why the city is so popular~ the people, the food, the environment, it is a party every day. The Atlantic Ocean was beautiful as always with its rich blue water. Ever since my trip to the Bahamas four years ago, I have never felt so in love with the ocean. I guess you could say I felt like a mermaid. I took so many pictures, but these were some of my favorite ones, I will post some more later on. So I decided that I would like to try to take a trip every year to visit the Caribbean Islands 🙂 The Virgin Islands is my next tropical destination!! What was great about this trip is that we were there the same time the Power Ball Jackpot was playing. I bought myself a ticket 😉

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November 14!

Tomorrow’s my birthday (and my twin sisters too ;)! Twenty four wonderful magical enchanting and  unforgettable years living in this beautiful planet! I’ve always wanted to go to Miami and I am so happy that my dream is finally coming true!! I am taking my family to Miami Beach for a few days of awesome fun and holiday under the sun! I also feel so proud of myself because this is the first trip that I paid on my own to take my family on a vacation 😀 Keep a look out for my pictures! I also want to wish all of the November babies a very happy birthday!!!

Destination Of The Week: Harbin Ice Festival, China

The annual Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival has been held since 1963. Harbin is located in Northeast China under the direct influence of the cold winter wind from Siberia. Officially, the festival starts January 5th and lasts one month. However the exhibits often open earlier and stay longer, weather permitting. Ice sculpture decoration technology ranges from the modern (using lasers) to traditional (with ice lanterns). While there are ice sculptures throughout the city, there are two main exhibition areas: Enormous snow sculptures at Sun Island (a recreational area on the opposite side of the Songhua River from the city) and the separate “Ice and Snow World” that operates each night. Ice and Snow World features illuminated full size buildings made from blocks of 2–3 feet thick crystal clear ice directly taken from the Songhua River. There are ice lantern park touring activities held in many parks in the city. Winter activities in the festival include Yabuli alpine skiing, winter-swimming in the Songhua River, and the ice-lantern exhibition in Zhaolin Garden. The Harbin festival is one of the world’s four largest ice and snow festivals, along with Japan’s Sapporo Snow Festival, Canada’s Quebec City Winter Carnival, and Norway’s Ski Festival. It was also a Guinness Record of the largest snow sculpture: 250 metres long, 28 feet (8.5 m) high, using over 13,000 cubic metres of snow.

What’s Fall Without Visiting The Fall Foliage Viewing and The Great Allegheny Passage

Hokkaido, Japan

Japan’s northernmost and second largest island has a rugged frontier spirit and landscape. Beyond the boundaries of its capital city, Sapporo, Hokkaido is largely an unspoiled natural paradise home to abundant wildlife (including sika deer and Hokkaido brown bears), towering mountain ranges, remote virgin forests, and volcanic caldera lakes.

Peak koyo (fall foliage) season begins in Daisetsuzan National Park (Japan’s largest) in mid-September, rolling south in stages across the island. Natural factors dictate the exact koyo calendar, but the golden, orange, and crimson display typically blazes brightest in isolated eastern Shiretoko National Park and World Natural Heritage Site in late September; in Sapporo in early October; and at the southern tip of the island in Onuma Koen and Hakodate by mid-October.

Denver based Samurai Tours arranges self-guided koyo itineraries for solo travelers who want to explore Hokkaido at their own pace. Packages typically include transportation, airport transfers, and nightly lodging in traditional ryokans (Japanese-style inns) or onsen (hot springs) resorts, as well as the support services of a local English-speaking staff.

Cumberland, Maryland, to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

The 141-mile Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) rail-trail winds over the rivers and through the woods of western  Maryland and southwestern Pennsylvania. Built mainly on abandoned rail  beds, the packed, crushed limestone route is free of motorized vehicles.  A 15-mile-an-hour speed limit ensures a leisurely pace for cycling,  hiking, and strolling. Spend a weekend, or a full week,  exploring part of the route and the historic trail towns along the way.

Frostburg, Maryland (mile 15), hosts the Appalachian Festival,  September 14-15, on the Frostburg State University campus. Free events  include regional music and dance, goat milking and beekeeping, and  traditional arts and crafts. October 5-7 is PumpkinFest in Confluence, Pennsylvania (mile 60), and the West Newton,  Pennsylvania (mile 114), Miracle on Main Street Parade and Light Up  Night is November 24.

Extend your ride all the way to Washington, D.C. (about 334 miles total) via the historic Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Towpath.  Mountainside Bike Tours specializes in custom Washington-to-Pittsburgh  itineraries. Options include lodging, gourmet meals, luggage transport,  and side trips to Antietam National Battlefield and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater.