Sunday, December 29, 2013

Spend New Year's Abroad in Budapest!

I know this one may sound a little nuts, but I've been and it's a great way to spend your New Year's Eve and New Year's Day.  There's something magical about the enthusiasm that the Hungarians have for New Year's.  It could be that they're still thoroughly enjoying the fact that they are no longer Soviet bound.  It could be that they've always been big on looking to the future.  It could be that it's just a great excuse to go out and party.  I don't know what it is, but Hungary is a great place to celebrate New Year's and Budapest is the zenith of it all.

In Hungary it's called Szilveszteri or Silvester's Name Day.  The city of Budapest closes most of it's doors for the day at noon.  There are cruises on the river, parties all around town, and fireworks at midnight.  There are streets full of people.  You can't find a more festive place.

Hungarians look to the future.  In the older times, they used to burn a straw character to leave the old year behind them.  They go and have their futures told.  They eat pork for luck.  I once went to a party where they came around just after midnight and had us pull a piggy's tale and make a wish for the new year.  They have many traditions and many superstitions, and I loved learning them all.  It's one of the best cultural experiences I ever had.


The Chamber Concert at the Danube Palace is probably the most traditional way to spend the evening in Budapest.  It's the one thing that the whole city knows about and everyone goes to sometime.  However, if you want to go to a party, visit any hotel, any club, half the parks, and the Fisherman's Bastion area of Castle Hill.  There are parties all over the place.  Just make sure you're in sight of the river skies at midnight to enjoy all the fireworks.  They are spectacular.

The Hungarians celebrate Szilveszteri everywhere.  They even have a bash at the Szechenyi Baths.  There's pretty much no place that you can go that is not celebrating this magical night.

The great thing about Budapest is that it is a great place to visit on a regular day.  Castle Hill alone is worth the trip.  Cruising along the Danube is one of the greatest experiences you'll have in a city in your life.  Budapest is a wonderful amazing place full of secret caves from WWII, gypsy fortune tellers, and amazing architecture and beautiful views in general.  The Hungarian people are friendly and love to meet new people.  And if you've never had a traditional Hungarian Goulash, you need to make a stop in this city.

I'll take more time to talk about Budapest in the future, but I didn't want to miss out on making a great New Year's recommendation.  Been there, done that.  Trust me, it's a great time that you'll never forget.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Pink Pig?

Here's one that I love for a last comment on Christmas for my season.  The Pink Pig is a beloved tradition in Atlanta.  In the parking lot at Lenox Square Mall is the Pink Pig that zooms around in a tent for all the kids to enjoy.

The Pink Pig Monorail was the first creation.  It was created in 1953 and was the ride of choice for a long time.  The monorail has now been retired, but it will never be forgotten.  It's cars are inside the tent for everyone to remember times of old by.

Now, why on Earth would anyone come up with a pink pig monorail for Christmas?  Who did this and why?  Well, the Pink Pig is the brainchild of Macy's, and they've been a proud sponsor of the Pink Pig since it's inception.

The Pink Pig has become one of the most popular holiday activities in Atlanta.  It runs from Thanksgiving to just after New Year's.  The best part is that a part of the proceeds are donated to Children'd Healthcare of Atlanta.  The proceeds have always been donated to the area's children's hospital and other pediatric facilities.  That's right folks, it's all for the kids.

Most traditions for Christmas have to do with Santa, elves, or religious events.  This is something truly original, and something that anyone would love.  It's for a great cause.  Kids are always worthy of our generosity.  Christmas is a time of giving, and this is a great way to give and give back.

I work for Walmart, and we donate money to the Children's Miracle Network, which supports Children's hospitals all over the country.  No matter what anyone has ever said about Walmart, they support the kids, and that's a great thing.  It's that time of year when we are bombarded with charities, as is mentioned in the hilarious song, "The Twelve Pains of Christmas."  So, after you've encountered the Salvation Army bell ringing people, the Toys for Tots people, the local police toy drive, the food drives at all the grocery stores, and everyone else that is asking for money this season; think it over.  Take your kids out for a really good time and also support a wonderful cause.


As usual, there are trinkets that you can buy to remember your visit.  There are buttons and all kinds of stuff that say "I rode the Pink Pig."  It is a full blown tourist like attraction.  Just remember, it's all about the kids and it's all about Christmas.  It's a unique tradition that has a history of doing a world of good for children.

We all end up at the mall during the Christmas rush.  There's no avoiding it, no matter how hard we try.  Why not come on down to Lenox Square, start a family tradition, and have a little fun while you muddle through the Christmas Shopping.

Merry Christmas!  Enjoy!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Just in Case You Want to Get Away For Christmas

If you've ever wanted to get away for Christmas instead of hanging out with boring old family, then I have a spot for you.  It's not cold, and it's not snowy.  You won't see any evergreen trees.  You also may not have a clue where Santa is coming from.

Melbourne, Australia is home to some of the most festive Christmas celebrations around the globe.  Sure, Santa may be surfing instead of flying a sleigh with reindeer, but it's the amazing Christmas Festival that makes it great.  There are amazing light displays all over town, and you can get a map so you can find them all.  That's a convenience that I'm not used to.  We normally have to drive around the get lucky to see the really good ones.

The big difference between Christmas here in the states and Christmas in Australia is the fact that winter is summer down under.  The kids are on their school break like our kids are in the summer time.  It's really hot there and people are spending their time at the beach and having barbecues.  As a matter of fact, there is a new and different character symbolizing Christmas that is kind of catching on.  They call him Swag Man.  Now, my understanding of Swag Man is that he dresses for summer, drives a 4 wheel drive truck with his dingoes so that he can get around the outback.  I don't know if it will catch on or take over.  I think Santa is still safe.

It is somewhat custom to gather at the beach and have a seafood barbecue for Christmas.  It's hot that time of year in Australia, and it's a great way to gather family, friends and whatever for the holiday.  Imagine swimming and surfing for Christmas?  Don't forget to bring a tree, but it probably won't be real, because it's just not customary.  There also probably aren't a lot of evergreen trees in most parts of the country.

Now, let's revisit the lights.  Melbourne has a light display custom designed to show on their town hall.  It's a changing projection that is fascinating to watch.  It's the coolest light display I've ever seen.  The Fremont Street Experience in Las Vegas pales in comparison to this one.  It's all Christmas, with animals, and animation.  It's a real treat.

The City Square is transformed into Christmas Square.  It's guarded by nutcracker soldiers, has a maze in it, and you can visit Santa in this neighborhood as well.  You may get a chance to see a Christmas Bush, Australia's second cousin to the Holly Bush.  There are so many festive things to see and do in the city at Christmas time.  It's not all about the shopping.

So, the lights are great.  Santa comes on a surfboard.  Many people celebrate with an outdoor barbecue of seafood.  There's tons of shopping and Christmas trees.  People take their kids to see Santa.  There are parades to welcome in the holiday.  There are many similarities, but there are many differences.  I mean Swag Man is a little different, but definitely Aussie.

Here's one.  It's called the Mistletoe Bridge.  It's also called the Kissing Bridge.  It's only called that at Christmas, but it's a very romantic place to give your sweetie a kiss.  Kissing under the mistletoe is a romantic tradition around the world.  In Melbourne, they've found the perfect site to put it in.

Here's the adventure for you.  It's called Carols by Candlelight, and it takes place yearly at the Sydney  Myer Music Bowl.  Thousands of people come to this event to sing Christmas Carols and enjoy the holiday.  It's a huge event every year.  People come from all over the country and all over the world to see and participate in this fabulous show.  Some of Australia's most noted singers perform on stage.

So, if you've had enough of ice and snow for Christmas and want to do something different without losing the holiday altogether, Melbourne is something really different, yet traditional.  You can pick up all your relatives like in Home Alone, or you can run like the wind to get away from them.  If you want something really different for your holiday, and you've had enough of your own family tradition, make a new one in Melbourne, Australia.  It's an experience you'll never forget.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Thank You, Nelson Mandela, You Will Not Be Forgotten But Revered For All Time

It's not often that real news touches me in a way that makes me write about it in this blog.  This blog is about travel, and Lord knows that Nelson Mandela stands for way more than that.  It's just that the conversion of South Africa from Apartheid to a far more free country happened within my lifetime, with the culmination of events happening at the dawn of the years when I was really paying attention.  My life has been touched by music and television as anyone of my generation.  We saw the birth of cable TV and MTV.  We were the generation that began watching CNN so we were able to see the Berlin Wall come down.  We were the generation that watched the Artists United Against Apartheid on MTV performing the song "Sun City."

I remember seeing Nelson Mandela make his first public appearance after his release from Robben Island Prison.  I remember watching clips of his meetings with President F. W. DeKlerk.  I remember watching him become the President of South Africa.  Those are some amazing memories that you don't get to have many times in one lifetime.

Younger generations are growing up with the view of South Africa of a beautiful place with exotic wild animals that you can see on safari, gorgeous coastlines, towering mountains, Tabletop Mountain, Johannesburg, and so many other attractions.  That's the way it should be.  I'm glad that South Africa has left behind it's violent and racist past to become a premier destination for the exotic traveler.  Sometimes I'm very glad to see the world change.

There are so many things to see in South Africa.  The idea that the place was tainted with the legalized racism that was Apartheid seems all but nonsense in this day and age.  With the passing of Nelson Mandela, I hope that there will be enough talk about all of the pain, suffering and sacrifice that made the place what it is today.

I will take some time now, and use this blog for what it was designed, and talk about some things that you should see if you go to South Africa.  The first place that comes to mind is Robben Island.  This island that lies with a view of Tabletop Mountain right off the coast has been many things over the years.  It's been a hospital for people suffering from things that the masses didn't want to spread.  It was used as a training defense station in World War II.  Once the National Party created Apartheid, which legalized what was already going on in the country, it became a prison, and several oppositionists were housed there for a very long time.  We all know that Nelson Mandela was housed there for 27 years.

Today Robben Island is open to the public.  Never forget.  That's the motto of this place, and well it should be.  Nelson Mandela changed the world by staying there.  He won.  His protests worked.  How many single men can we remember who changed the world without violence?  I think we can all count that number on one hand.  There are many things to see at Robben Island, and you will have the chance to talk to former inmates about their time in the prison, because they are the tour guides.  It's a unique experience where you really learn something.

Robben Island is a half hour ferry ride from the cape.  That gives it an Alcatraz effect.  You can sit in the cell  that Nelson Mandela lived in.  You can feel the history of a divided nation coursing through your soul.  I believe that we should all try and understand someone so dedicated.  The resolve of Nelson Mandela is something that I can't fathom.


The Apartheid system was regarded as  hostile and unjust by everyone the world over.  I remember watching "The American President"  with Michael Douglas as the President.  I remember a line that he said in this post Apartheid movie.  He said, "A system of government that so many people were against that it doesn't exist anymore."  It said it all.  "Sun City" was the song that brought the true sense of the conflict to the young people in America.  It made many kids check into the whole thing and find out what was really going on.  I didn't fully understand the scope of Apartheid until I read "Kaffir Boy", by Mark Mathabane.

Sun City was created as a luxury resort where white South Africans and others could go and bask in their own glory.  There was gambling and strip clubs which were illegal in the rest of the country.  The South Africans called the area Boputhuswana.  It was cited by others around the world as a place where the South Africans could practice illegal activities without penalty.  It was the Las Vegas of South Africa.  Today the stigma has lifted and Sun City is one of the premier resorts for people from all over the world.  It has massive hotels, great golf courses, Vegas style casinos, and of course the Sun City Superbowl which has headline entertainment.


The world has changed and South Africa has changed immensely.  I did want to mention these two spots for your travel bucket list, because they were so tied to the fight that the world had with the white South Africans and Apartheid.  With the victory of Nelson Mandela came a whole new country.  In one lifetime, most of us don't get to see something like that happen.  Thank you Nelson Mandela for making the amazingly beautiful country of South Africa more beautiful and far more accessible.  Thank you for making us all believe that change is possible.  Thank you for never giving up on your dream.

Come to Sun City, Robben Island, and the rest of this amazing country from Johannesburg, to the Drakensburg Mountains, to Tabletop Mountain, to Kruger National Park, to the Cape of Good Hope itself and see what makes this country worth fighting against the machine to protect.