Tag Archives: travel

The Rise Of Nude Beaches: Uncovering A Colorful Past

Nude beaches have become a fixture across Europe and the Americas in the past century, as travelers seek out spots where they can enjoy nature and the water clothes-free. For supporters, the beaches are safe and supportive places to feel closer to nature and a part of community. For visitors, they offer an experience that encourages participants to feel comfortable with their bodies and unbound by material culture. But how did nude beaches get popular in the first place? And where are the best to go?

An Olympic Past

While approved nude beaches are a relatively new development since Victorian Era mores, fans trace similar comfort with the naked body and clothes-free activities back to ancient times. Greek athletes at the earliest Olympics famously competed nude to honor Zeus and show off their honed bodies, sometimes even using olive oil to accentuate the look. Nude beach goers have swapped in sunscreen for oil, but the mentality of being comfortable with one’s body in public lives on.

That comfort for nudity among athletes has seen a revival in recent years, from the “Nude Olympics” held at Baker Beach outside San Francisco to ESPN’s recent Body Issue in which top athletes bared all. At the turn of the 20th century, however, it was a pair of German writers, Richard Ungewitter and Heinrich Pudor, who helped popularize nudism for the average person in the early 19th century.

A Healthy Alternative

Advocates of naturism, a lifestyle centered around nudity, point to the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century as an unhealthy influence—both bodily and spiritually—against which people were eager to find some relief. They looked to a renewed emphasis on the outdoors as a solution, from more time outdoors to swimming and spending time in more sunlight. It was a natural extension of that philosophy to see even more benefit doing so without more fabricated clothes.

In France and Germany at the turn of the century and then in America starting in the Roaring Twenties, nudists worked to make people feel comfortable with their naked bodies and what they believed was a healthier lifestyle. Kurt Barthel helped organize what would become the first nudist club in America, the Sky Farm community in New York City and then New Jersey, in 1929. Like Ungewitter, Barthel and his allies advocated fresh-air bathing as a key activity.

Hitting the Beaches

France led the way on establishing official nude beaches across its shores in the 1950s, leading to famous beaches like those at CHM Montalivet outside Bordeaux. Popular with tourists from Germany and worldwide, the complex houses about 1,000 bungalows and has campgrounds for hundreds more. Guests of nearby hotels like the Hotel Les Vieux Acacias can enjoy sports like tennis and archery and walk a 2 mile white sand beach. Camp d’Agde, down the coast from Montpellier on the Mediterranean, is another popular destination.

Scandinavia embraced nude beaches early on as well, and now nearly 20 clothes-optional beaches stretch across Norway and almost 70 across the more populous Sweden. Nudity in Finland is also widely accepted, from saunas to steam baths and beaches.

It took a while for nude beaches to take off in the United States, where religious and societal pressures were tougher to overcome. Truro in Cape Cod, Massachusetts became a flashpoint in 1974 as the town looked to rein in what had become a large nudist population at the beach. While attending the beach nude gained in popularity, The Cape Cod National Seashore created regulations to ban the activity, helping to prompt the “Free the Beaches” movement in 1976 that helped unit nude beach goers across the United States and bring national attention to their cause.

A National Nude Weekend would launch that year, and several publications for nude beach-goers and supporters emerged. Today, the American Association for Nude Recreation charters well more than of 200 resorts and campgrounds across the U.S.

Also more recently, England has added to its list of official nude beaches in the past several decades, while Poland’s Chalupy beach become famous in part due to a 1985 hit song, “Chalupy – welcome to,” which immortalized the clothes-optional beach on the Baltic Sea.

Famous Nude Hotspots

Hundreds of nude beaches are available today, but several have stood out over the years as some of the most accessible, beautiful, and sunny.

Little Beach, Maui, Hawaii

Little Beach on the Hawaiian island of Maui isn’t an official nude beach but is famous as such, separate from Big Beach’s north end by a cliff. On Sundays, the crowd forms a drum circle for a fire dance.

Where to stay: The Lumeria Maui has beautiful park grounds a short drive away.

Red Beach, Crete, Greece

Named after its volcanic sand, Red Beach is beloved for being less crowded than other nearby beaches given its remote location on the southern shores of the island of Crete. Most visit by boat or long hike, but once at the clothes-optional location, visitors can enjoy pristine beach and caves under the cliffs.

Where to stay: Sleep in 5-star luxury at the Vergis Epavlis in nearby Heraklion.

Samurai Beach, Port Stephens, Australia

Like others on the list, Samurai Beach is a bit remote to get to, outside Port Stephens north of Sydney. Bare bones when it comes to facilities, footwear is a must to cross the dunes to the beach, where periodic nude carnivals and other activities make the spot a mecca once travelers get there.

Where to stayAnchorage Port Stephens for its gorgeous private balconies.

Wreck Beach, Vancouver, British Columbia

Canada’s first clothing-optional beach is massive, spanning 5 miles of coastline just 15 minutes’ drive from Vancouver. Monthly live music events and beach volleyball keep visitors busy, while others get even more comfortable with their bodies through massages and body painting.

Where to stay: The Four Seasons Hotel Vancouver is famous for its sleek and modern style.

Herring Cove Beach, Provincetown, Massachusetts

While nudity is technically banned across Cape Cod and the LGBQT hotspot of Provincetown, visitors to Herring Cove know that what was the state’s only active nude beach still functions as such, unofficially, on the left side of the beach. Herring Cove isn’t just beautiful; it’s an ideal place for an open mind.

Where to stayCarpe Diem Guesthouse for its clothing-optional spa.

Black’s Beach, San Diego, California

Perhaps Southern California’s most famous clothing optional beach, Black’s is a two-mile strip popular with surfers and nudists alike. An easy drive from downtown San Diego just north of La Jolla Shores, Black’s rests at the base of 300-foot cliffs that offer some quiet from gawking eyes as nude volleyball players show off their moves. Black’s doesn’t have any frills or shops, but makes up for it with its crowd.

Where to stayEmpress Hotel of La Jolla, just five blocks from La Jolla Cove.

 

Mongolian Wrestling: From Genghis Khan to Modern Day Mongolia

Seated on a grassy field in the afternoon light, a panel of serious looking judges survey the competitors before them. Half a dozen bare chested men, feet planted squarely on the ground, stretch their muscles and roll their shoulders, some, adjusting their outfits.

And how striking they are! Pink cropped jackets are fastened loosely with string over the men’s stomachs, and below, cling snug blue briefs. Calf-high leather boots and a four sided pointed hat completes the ensemble. To an outsider, it seems oddly incongruous to the men’s broad shouldered and fighter honed bodies. For these are Mongolian wrestlers: practitioners of a set of techniques, thousands of years old known as Bökh, or ‘durability’.

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Nicknamed one of Mongolia’s “three manly sports” (the others being archery and horse racing, san saddle, which girls and women now participate in), wrestling is to Mongolians what soccer is to Brazilians. So much more than just athleticism, wrestling here, embodies the traditions of Mongolian culture as far back as Genghis Khan. The ruthlessly successful 13th century conqueror encouraged his men to stay battle ready through training in what was then, a military sport. Even further back, cave paintings have been discovered in the Bayankhongor region of Southern Mongolia dating from 7000 BC, which depict men grappling in front of crowds.

And while the country is changing at an increasing rate, wrought by a mining boom attracting big international investment, little has changed within Mongolia’s wrestling heritage.

This month, it’s Naadam (‘game’ in English), Mongolia’s annual sporting festival, which celebrates all three traditional endeavours. But it’s wrestling in particular that draws the crowds.

“Wrestlers are the ideal Mongolian men, given our history of being warriors,” explains Lkhagva Erdene, the Executive Producer of Mongol TV, which covers the games every year.

And it takes a lot of work to live up to the expectations of a nation.

“Most wrestlers are in their training camps now. They are forbidden from talking to family or friends during the intense weeks before Naadam, and they will not talk to strangers; it’s bad luck for them.”

The hunt for Mongolia’s top wrestler begins on July 11th, the start of Naadam and Mongolia’s Independence Day. It will be decided over three days.

Preliminary rounds are held on a smaller scale in the countryside, in a provincial stadium or even an open field. The finals are held in the National Sports Stadium of Ulaanbaatar, the capital city.

The countdown has already begun.

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Batbileg Munkhtur trains with national wrestlers from all over the country.

“What’s unique about Mongolian wrestling for me is there are no weight categories and almost unlimited time for the competition.”

Whether skinny, fat, short, tall, young or old, fighters can be paired with each other. Each round is a knockout, with the winner moving forward and the loser being eliminated from the competition.

The rules themselves are very simple: the first man whose back, bum or knee touches the ground, loses. Hitting your opponent, gouging or strangling him is forbidden. Naturally.

“Techniques wise, they can be as sophisticated and elegant as judo.” enthuses Munkhtur.

Grappling holds, leg sweeps, throws and counters can see a man weighing more than 350 lbs lifted cleanly through the air, spiralling over an opponent’s shoulder before being slammed onto the ground.
However, the ceremony begins with a little more grace.

Each wrestler performs a short eagle dance (“devekh”) around the flag of Mongolia, followed by a few slaps on the thighs. Imitating an eagle has it’s origins in shamanism, a form of spirituality still alive in Mongolia despite the spread of Tibetan Buddhism in the 16th century. The symbolism of the fighter’s dance represents power and elegance. The thigh slaps indicate the wrestler is ready.

Then, with hands gripped tightly onto each others arms, the fight begins.

Renown wrestlers, and those who advance to the higher rounds, also have a zasuul, or “fixer”, who acts both as a motivator, and the fighter’s hat holder during his rounds. Whilst there is technically no time limit, one of the zasuul’s roles is to slap the buttocks of his fighter, if he is deemed to be taking too long. Sometimes eliciting a friendly laugh from the crowd, it seems to do the trick.

As the games progress, wrestlers will begin to accumulate titles. The lowest rank awarded is ‘the Falcon of Sum’, and the highest is ‘Giant’. They get longer as fighters win more victories, with additional reverence being added. For example, a ‘Titan’ can become an ‘Invincible Titan’ and even an ‘Invincible Titan to be remembered by all’.

Munkhtur also stresses the importance of tradition.
“Mongolian wrestling is embedded with a lot of cultural aspects.”

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Indeed, the hard and fast of training in the physical techniques of grappling is still coupled with the old legends. Even the wrestling uniform is explained through folklore. The story goes that the reason for the frontless jackets is that there was once a skilled champion who remained unbeatable in many regions. Eventually, the other fighters discovered that their opponent was in fact a woman! Ever since, wrestlers have had to compete bare-chested, to avoid such duplicity occurring again.

Genghis Khan is even said to have had political rivals killed off in bouts.

It seems unthinkable that this remembrance of Mongolia’s past, both real and imagined, will ever change. Yet the balance of ancient and modern in Mongolia is clearly starting to shift. More than a decade-long mineral boom has introduced a taste for Western pleasures to one of the most sparsely populated countries on Earth. Shiny Louis Vuitton and Chanel stores glint invitingly in Ulaanbaatar. Many tour companies now give quotes for their travel packages in $US rather than Mongolian Tugriks. And even for wrestlers, there’s the chance to get a slice of the burgeoning wealth within their country. Becoming a champion can be a gateway into politics aor a lucrative business.
All this goes on every year, largely overlooked by the Western world. Indeed, Americans seem to have largely forgotten the immense Asian nation, nestled between Russia and China. (At 1.6 million km², Mongolia is nearly as large as Alaska). Apart from a brief spike of interest in the 1920’s, when American Paleontologist Roy Chapman Andrews, said to be the real life inspiration for Indiana Jones (fewer hearts being ripped out and more dangerous encounters with bandits and wild beasts) discovered the first dinosaur eggs buried in the Flaming Cliffs of the Gobi Desert. Across America, a dinosaur craze ensued, and Mongolia was put on the map. Briefly.

It’s time to take notice again.

Open to the Western world since 1990, the “Land of Blue Sky” is one of the few places on earth where travellers can still glimpse the lives of true nomadic peoples. It’s so called because there are said to be about 250 sunny days throughout each year.

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Make the most of the clear weather and head out of Ulaanbaatar. US passport holders don’t have to pay for a 90 day tourist visa, which is more than enough time to explore the far corners of the countryside of Mongolia, where the diversity can be extreme. More than just rolling grassy steppes, there are the sand dunes of the Gobi Desert, the permafrost ice valley in Yolyn Am and the thick forests and lakes of Khövsgöl, the “Switzerland of Mongolia.”

Despite all the talk these days of the world getting smaller, that sense does not exist in Mongolia. In a country so large with only 2.8 million inhabitants, you could drive for the better part of a day without seeing a single other soul. With such little light pollution, and hardly any evidence of human construction marring the horizon, the sky became truly vast.

By day, you’ll never have seen a sky stretching out so far. At night, the stars blaze undimmed by any obfuscation.

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For those of you who fancy your chances, the countryside is also the place to try your hand at Mongolian wrestling. Just remember to tell any tour companies back in Ulaanbaatar that you’re interested, whilst asking for package quotes. All participants must be registered in advance.

Yes, sure, there is a lot that’s unique about Mongolia. Throat singing, staying in yurts (called gers) with nomads and shamanism are all big tourist draws. But, unlike those more exotic pursuits, there’s something about close contact competitive fighting that is so much more elemental. Just look at the huge interest in the West in MMA and boxing matches. Somehow, that makes wrestling more relatable.
So what does Munkhtur think will be occupying the thoughts of every Mongolian wrestler right now?
“Rank. Rank is in their minds.”

He explains that a wrestler’s title can only be decided by the hotly contested bouts of Naadam, and not in any other competition. Once earned, they last for life.

And when this year’s games are over, thousands of wrestler’s hopes will spark again. Maybe next year will be theirs.

Maybe next year will connect them to nine thousand years of history, as they simultaneously become a new face of modern Mongolia.

When staying in New England, most hotels are a short walking distance from this yummy New England classic.

4 Great Lobster Rolls in New England

Ask four people where to find the best lobster roll in New England and you’ll probably get four different answers. Seems simple enough: lobster meat in a hot dog bun. True lobster lovers know it’s not that easy. Here are four suggestions to get your lobster mojo going.

Brown’s Lobster Pound

Perched over a marsh at the southern-most point of New Hampshire’s 13 miles of Atlantic coastline is Brown’s Lobster Pound. This family-owned restaurant on Highway 286 has been around for 65 years, and it doesn’t disappoint.

The lobster is fresh out the tank that you see when you place your order (cash only, by the way). You can sit inside at one of the big picnic tables in the cavernous, no-frills space or head outside to the deck. Spoiler alert: Brown’s has a great view of the Seabrook nuclear power plant across the aptly-named Blackwater River tidal basin, but that hasn’t slowed down Brown’s business one bit.

Scarborough Lobster

Further north along Route One, you’ll find Scarborough Lobster. This is the real deal, and if you’re lucky, you might just wander in at the same time one of the local fishermen is hauling in a load of live lobster. Look for the sign beckoning you to “try our famous lobsta rolls.”

At $9.97 for a quarter pounder, this may be one of the best lobster roll bargains in New England. BTW, this place is just a few minutes from Interstate 95.

Red’s Eats

Even further north past Portland, Maine, you’ll find Red’s Eats on Route One in Wiscasset. It’s hard to miss this tiny place because there’s usually a long line of people waiting to order one of the most impressive lobster rolls you’ll ever see. We’re talking meat from a one-pound lobster that is heaped to overflowing on a tasty, buttery roll.

You may have to wait … and wait … and wait to order. If you’re patient, though, the reward will be one of the best lobster rolls you’ll ever eat!

Sprague’s Lobster

If you don’t have the patience to wait in line at Red’s, there is another good choice across the street. There’s no doubt that Sprague’s Lobster benefits from the long lines at Red’s, but it has a following of ardent fans who say Sprague’s is just as good.

Plus, you are much more likely to get instant gratification at Sprague’s. They may not pile the roll as high, but you’ll get lobster that’s just as fresh and delicious.

Follow this link for some hotel options so you’ll have a place to rest after your eating tour of the New England coastline.

Stay beachside in a comfortable Orlando hotel.

7 Geeky Places to Visit in Orlando, FL

If “Orlando vacation” makes you think of tacky souvenirs and mouse ears, think again. The City Beautiful is turning into The City Cthulhu-ful as Orlando becomes a destination for gamers, comic-book nerds and pop-culture enthusiasts. Add these places to your vacation itinerary and get your geek on.

1. Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Muggles can finally experience the magic in this recreation of Harry Potter’s universe. At Platform 9 3/4, climb aboard the Hogwarts Express to travel between Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. Browse the enchanted shops, choose a wand at Ollivanders — or let the wand choose you — and have some butterbeer while checking the latest Quidditch scores.

2. BART

BART, located in downtown Orlando, intersects the Venn diagram of passion for craft beers and old-school arcade games from the 1970s-1990s. Sip on an OBP Toasted Coconut Porter while getting it on like Donkey Kong. Don’t worry if you’re a beer novice – the BARTenders will help you choose your brew.

3. The Geek Easy

Tucked away inside A Comic Shop, in a strip mall in Winter Park, the Geek Easy is a popular venue for geek-culture music acts, with live performances by local favorites. Regular events include Geeky Trivia and Nerdy Karaoke nights, open mics and campy movie screenings. Come for the Super Mario Bros-inspired decor, stay for the Tetris-shaped tater tots.

4. Gods & Monsters

Located in Artegon Marketplace on International Drive, Orlando’s largest comic store offers a wide variety of pop culture memorabilia, high-end comic-related toys and original art. Gods & Monsters also features ample seating areas for tabletop gamers and free-to-play games for visitors.

5. Orlando Science Center

If you’re more into Neil deGrasse Tyson than Neil Gaiman, take a trek to the Orlando Science Center for some real science fun. The OSC features nature exhibits, a planetarium and observatory, and seasonal laser light shows for anyone craving a little Laser Zeppelin.

6. Epcot

No geeky getaway is complete without a visit to Walt Disney World’s home for technological innovation. From Mission: Space to World Showcase, this never-ending world’s fair is a mecca for nerds of all kinds. Epcot’s epic IllumiNations light show, featuring fireworks, lasers and LED screens, will spoil you for all other firework shows.

7. Escape Rooms

The escape-room boom has arrived, with numerous locations popping up around International Drive, home of the largest selection of hotels in Orlando. Escape the Florida heat while immersed in a live-action locked-room game at Escapology or It’s a Trap. Work with teammates to solve clues and challenges in hour-long story-driven scenarios.

So let your geek flag fly, and consider planning a geeky getaway this summer.

For easy streaming, use Chromecast when staying at your next hotel.

Hotel Entertainment Thanks to Google

One of the hidden costs of travel is getting charged for watching on-demand movies in your hotel room. Now, thanks to Google’s Chromecast dongle, you can stream your own entertainment to your hotel television.

What is Chromecast?

Chromecast is a thumb-drive sized device that plugs into the HDMI port on your television. You can use the device with Android and Apple mobile devices, and with Mac and Windows laptops. It allows for wireless streaming of whatever is on your device to a bigger TV screen.

Even when you aren’t watching your favorite movie, you can use Chromecast to display artwork or personal photos on your TV screen, transforming it from a big empty space into a fluid, morphing canvas.

Get a Portable Router

Before you spend money on a Chromecast, remember that there is one caveat: Chromecast requires Wi-Fi access for set up and use. It will only work on networks that allow device-to-device communication. Some hotel networks may prevent you from setting up your Chromecast device properly. The solution is a portable router that you can use in hotels from New York to London.

A great post on howtogeek.com explains how you can connect your Chromecast using a travel router that you plug into one of the hotel’s Ethernet jacks. In practical terms, this means you’ll need more than just a device that fits in your pocket. You’ll also need an Ethernet cable and a travel router.

Choose Your Own Entertainment

When Chromecast was first released in 2013, there were only a few apps available. Today, there are dozens of apps to facilitate streaming movies, television shows and music from the small screen to the big screen. From Netflix and HBO to ESPN and Pandora, you can program your own entertainment.

One nifty feature for Android phone users is the ability to share Chromecast using “guest mode.” With guest mode, you can let your friend cast from their Android device via your Chromecast – without having to connect to your Wi-Fi network.

Similar devices have been released in recent years, including Roku’s Streaming Stick, Amazon’s Fire TV Stick and the Vudu Spark. However, Chromecast remains the smallest and most versatile device for streaming whatever you want from your small screen to the hotel’s big screen.

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The 7 Best Road Trips For Last Minute Getaways

Pack a backpack and grab your friends, a cooler, and the car keys — it’s time for a road trip. Not all adventures need months of planning, and there are amazing destinations closer than you might think. We put together some of our favorite trips for a spur of the moment getaway you won’t regret.

  1.    Cooperstown, New York

Sports lovers flock to Cooperstown, home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. After spending time immersed in baseball history, take in a game at Doubleday Field or visit the Heroes of Baseball Wax Museum. The village has plenty of other attractions, including Brewery Ommegang,  Cooperstown Distillery, and the Fenimore Art Museum. Stay at the Landmark Inn Hotel, located in the heart of Cooperstown’s historical district and minutes away from Doubleday Field.

  1.    Palm Springs, California

Less than a two-hour drive from Los Angeles, Palm Springs is a road trip straight into a desert oasis. The town has been dubbed “Hollywood’s Playground” as it attracts celebrities looking for an escape and a relaxing break of their own. Breathtaking views can be found on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway or via hot air balloon. If staying closer to the ground is more your thing, stay at Raintree’s Cimarron Golf Resort or lounge poolside at the luxurious Riviera Palm Springs. Dine at the iconic Purple Room Restaurant and Stage for dinner and a show, or go for drinks and entertainment at Rocks Lounge, located in the stunning Renaissance Palm Springs Hotel.

  1.    Indiana Dunes State Park – Chesterton, Indiana

This gorgeous three-mile stretch of beach along Lake Michigan’s shoreline is just an hour outside Chicago and two and a half hours from Indianapolis, making it the perfect Midwest summer road trip. Explore the historic sand dunes and hiking trails, or relax on the beach and soak up some summer color. There are plenty of affordable hotels nearby, like the Hilton Garden Inn Chesterton and Best Western Plus Portage Hotel & Suites. Try your luck at the slots by capping off your weekend at the Blue Chip Casino Hotel and Spa in nearby Michigan City

  1.    Bainbridge Island, Washington

The natural beauty of this island is worth the hour-long drive from Seattle (or three-hour drive from Portland). Take in majestic scenes from the Cascade Mountain Range and the Puget Sound while you visit wineries and farmers markets, then learn more about this charming island at the Bainbridge Island Historical Museum. Book a last minute room at the Best Western Plus Bainbridge Island Suites or bring the pup and check in to the pet-friendly Island Country Inn, complete with pool and complimentary breakfast.

  1.    Beaufort, South Carolina

History buffs will love making the trip to Beaufort with its collection of Civil War-era homes. Take a walking tour of Old Beaufort, hit the links at the Sanctuary Golf Club, or even go dolphin watching. Make the most of the weekend by staying in one of Beaufort’s cozy hotels, like the Rhett House Inn, which can be found minutes from the Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park. Don’t forget Beaufort is known for its Lowcountry cuisine, so stop by Saltus River Grill or get your fill of southern fare at Breakwaters Restaurant and Bar.

  1.    Fredericksburg, Texas

Fredericksburg is a quick two-hour drive from Austin and known for its friendly small-town atmosphere. With a strong German heritage, there is no shortage of bratwurst and beer in local restaurants. In Fredericksburg, it’s easy to find a charming and affordable place to stay for the weekend, like the Fredericksburg Inn and Suites or the Peach Tree Inn and Suites. Downtown Fredericksburg is lined with adorable antique shops and friendly bars with live music streaming from open windows. If that’s not enough, the surrounding hillside is dotted with wineries and breweries available for tours and tastings.

  1.    Boulder, Colorado

Get your cameras ready, because a trip to Boulder is sure to provide stunning mountainous views. Less than an hour from Denver, and two hours from Colorado Springs, Boulder is a great for an outdoor weekend. Visitors can stroll along the storefronts with locals at the historic Pearl Street Mall or go big and take a 1,300-foot climb over the city to Flagstaff Mountain. Stay at the St. Julien Hotel and Spa just off Pearl Street and book a post-hike treatment at their full-service health spa. The Courtyard by Marriott Boulder offers daily cooked-to-order breakfast for free so you can start your day out right before taking in the city.

 

8 Hotels That Are Excellent for Last Minute Booking

Sometimes, it’s not the early bird that catches the worm–it’s the late one! The days of super advanced booking are over, which is great for travelers who prefer spontaneity over early planning. Many hotels offer generous deals for day before or same day reservations; check out our list below to see some of the great hotels that are excellent for last minute booking!

1. Hotel Nikko  — San Francisco, CA

Just steps from Union Square in San Francisco sits Hotel Nikko, a sleek and cutting-edge hotel that offers 532 spacious rooms, a 10,000 square foot health club, and a top-tier nightclub theater, Feinstein’s at the Nikko. Though a night at the Hotel Nikko is certainly not cheap, they’ve got great last minute deals where upwards of $100 can be slashed from the normal price.

2. Aloft — Brooklyn, NY

Located in the heart of downtown Brooklyn, Aloft Hotel is a cool spot for vacationers looking for a twist on the typical New York holiday. Offering premium loft spaces, an amazing rooftop bar, and easy access to the best offerings in Brooklyn, the Aloft is also great for last minute booking because of it’s removed location from the over-packed touristy areas of Manhattan.

3. Casulo Hotel — Austin, TX

Known for its effortless blend of urban chic and zen simplicity, the Casulo Hotel is a popular spot for Austin-bound vacationers. Situated between downtown and the Austin airport, the Casulo is not only hip and trendy, but also conveniently-located. Plus, last minute bookings here are easy to finagle and can often be cheaper than an advanced booking.

4. Hotel Lincoln — Chicago, IL

Set on a gorgeous tree-lined street near Lake Michigan, the Hotel Lincoln offers its patrons a hotel that is in parts hip, trendy, vintage and wholly Chicagoan. With great amenities and a large rooftop bar with a view of the leafy Lincoln Park, it’s no wonder this hotel is a dream for tourists, whether booking in advance or snagging a last minute deal the day before.

5. Motif Seattle — Seattle, WA

Located just minutes away from some of Seattle’s best tourist sites, the Motif Hotel embodies the spirit of the Emerald City. Offering a plethora of packages to its guests, such as a Romantic Getaway Package and a Style Package, the Motif is also great at offering last minute deals for travelers who can sometimes save up to $75 on day-before bookings.

6. Portofino Hotel & Marina — Los Angeles, CA

With a laid back SoCal vibe and a nautical aesthetic sure to please sea-lovers as well as land-lovers, the Portofino Hotel & Marina in Los Angeles is the perfect spot for a relaxing beach vacation. Known for its breathtaking sunset views over the sea and the dolphins that dip in and out of the marina, the Portofino is also known to leave rooms vacant for same-day booking.

7. Hudson Hotel — New York, NY

Energetic, dynamic, and unconventional are a few words vacationers use to describe the Hudson Hotel, a new hotel that has sprung up near Central Park in New York City. Complete with a lounge, rooftop garden, and some seriously spacious rooms, the Hudson is a great place to stay while taking a bite out of the Big Apple. It’s also great with last minute deals, where quick travelers can save up to $50 on same day booking.

8. Le Pavillon Hotel — New Orleans, LA

Sitting adjacent to the French Quarter in the heart of New Orleans, Le Pavillon Hotel is a classy, historic landmark in the city. Grand in scale and refreshingly un-modern, the Pavillon provides its guests with a traditional stay with all the trappings of an old world Parisian hotel. Plus, they accept last minute booking and even sometimes offer reduced prices on their otherwise expensive rooms.

4 Best Cities in the Us For Your Next Golf Vacation

Whether you are looking to enjoy the ocean air at a links style golf course, or to accept the challenge of one of America’s toughest courses, the US has plenty of incredible options for a golf vacation. In fact, of the 34,000 golf courses worldwide, over 15,000 are in the US. Here are five of the best golf cities in the US.

1. Colorado Springs, CO

Along with dozens of public and private courses, Colorado Springs promises three-hundred plus days of sunshine per year, making it an inviting destination for golfers. While the peak golf season is from April to October, Colorado Springs’ location at the base of the Rockies keeps it shielded from most of the extreme weather affecting the rest of the state. The Broadmoor Resort plays host to the US Women’s Open and boasts three courses, luxury accommodations, and three swimming pools. If you prefer something quainter, the Cheyenne Canon Inn is a Bed and Breakfast less than a mile away from the Broadmoor Golf Club.

2. Kohler, WI

Kohler is home home to five of the midwest’s best golf courses, all within 20 miles from each other. The Whistling Straits, a walking-only, links-style course will host the 2015 PGA Championship and the 2020 Ryder Cup. The American Club, a five-diamond hotel located in between Blackwolf Run and Whistling Straits, is a great option for those looking to hit both courses. A half-mile north, is the Inn on Woodlake, a small boutique hotel on the shore of Wood Lake.

3. Kiawah Island, SC

In a 2014 poll, Kiawah Island was voted No. 1 island in the US and No. 2 island in the world by Conde Nast Traveler Readers, and the Kiawah Island Golf Resort had a lot to do with it. With 90 holes, and five championship courses designed by the likes of Klaus, Johnston, Fazio and Player, many will choose the torture of playing what is widely considered the toughest course in the US, The Ocean Course. Designed by Peter Dye, the course has superslick greens, massive sand dunes, and trying pot bunkers.

4. Pebble Beach, CA

Pebble Beach Golf Links was once again voted America’s Number 1 Public Golf Course by Golf Digest. Providing sweeping vistas along the coastline, this course has undoubtedly made it into many a golfer’s must-play list. The Lodge at Pebble Beach encompasses the 18th hole of Pebble Beach Golf Links, and it’s only five minutes from Spyglass Hill Golf Course. The Inn at Spanish Bay overlooks The Links at Spanish Bay — a true links course, rooted in Scottish tradition — as well as the Del Monte and Peter Hay Golf Courses.

 

7 Things To Know Before Traveling to Cuba

While adventurous travelers are urged to visit  Cuba before authenticity goes the way of a Starbucks on every corner, travelers should take a little extra time preparing, as heading to the island still isn’t that easy.  Whether planning to spend time relaxing on sandy beaches or exploring on a bike, the all-inclusive resorts of Varadero  are a great options for those just seeking some R&R.  Just note the following before booking your trip:

  1. Prep for the Sky

Direct flights from the US are still scarce and expensive, but that’s bound to change. Make sure to purchase traveler’s insurance when purchasing tickets — it is required to enter Cuba, and customs will likely do an insurance inspection upon arrival in Havana. Regardless of the route take to get there, get to the airport at least three hours before departure time, as check-in procedures are bound to take longer than usual.

  1. Go off the grid

Most hotels will have Internet cards for sale, and Wi-Fi in their lobbies, but with no real infrastructure, access is always spotty. To avoid frustrations, book any tours or activities, before arrival. Download local maps or purchase paper ones, and print out all travel documents that may be needed while abroad.

  1. Get around

Vintage cars converted into taxis are everywhere in Havana, and as glamorous as that may seem, it is important to note that they are not retrofitted. Beware that most cars, both government and privately owned, will have no seat belts, no air-conditioning, and no meters, even though they are supposedly mandatory.

  1. Get rid of the Benjamins

Cuba has two currencies, the CUC (Cuban Dollar) and the CUP (Cuban National Peso.) Tourists should exchange their cash into CUCs, as non-Cubans are not supposed to be in possession of CUPs.

There are very few ATMs around, but if if withdrawing cash is a must, the best bet is to do so at the Havana airport upon arrival.

Exchange rates are horrible for American dollars, and much better for Euros and Pounds—consider exchanging dollars into Euros before heading to Havana, and then exchange them into CUCs once in Cuba.

This may change in the near future, but as of now, it is nearly impossible to use credit cards to pay for anything in Cuba. In any case, make sure to inform the bank and credit card companies about any travel.

  1. Try the Cubano

There is still a heavy embargo on food, so meals may not be as spectacular as expected.  As a rule, “paladares” or privately owned restaurants will always be much better than government-run eateries. When in doubt, stick with local fruit, coffee with milk or “cafe con leche” and a Cubano sandwich, known in Cuba as a “jamon con queso.”

  1. Pack it light

Small doorways and cobblestone streets are not conducive to carrying a lot of luggage. With 24.1 billion bags being mishandled by airlines each year,  there is an advantage to packing all the essentials in a carry-on. Even bare necessities can be hard to track down in Havana,  so try to anticipate any needs.  Forgetting a toothbrush, means it may be days before finding one for purchase.

  1. Learn a lesson

A Spanish phrase here and there will go a long way with the locals. Most people will want to chat but very little english is spoken outside of the resorts. Any effort to speak the language will tend to be appreciated. For those looking to enjoy some salsa dancing, take a couple classes before embarking on the trip. Lessons will only better the odds for joining in on the fun on the dance floor!

My Life-Changing Trip to Kazantip

party_at_nightWhen I told my friends in Ukraine that I wanted to come see them next summer, they suggested going to Kazantip along with them. That wasn’t the first time when I heard about this strange festival, the so-called “Republic of Kazantip”. Since I’m a big fan of techno music and love pretty girls in bikinis, I agreed without hesitation. I arrived in Ukraine at the beginning of August and soon my friends and I headed to Popovka, a sleepy resort town on the Black Sea coast where Kazantip is held. Once arrived, we first got settled in a small hostel, bought our tickets for the festival that are called “viZas” and went to look around the town. Although I came there for the first time, my Ukrainian friends had showered me with stories about wild parties on the beach, non-stop music played by the world’s best DJs and of course hundreds of beautiful girls in bikinis (and without).

on_the_beachThe next day, when we were hanging out on the Kazantip beach lined with dozens of bars and dance floors, I noticed that some girls had their viZas of different colors. Unlike most visitors like me who had the red cards, there were girls with green and white passes. My friends told me that the green viZas are given to the girls who are specially hired to promote various parties and events during the festival. It’s no problem if you approach, talk and drink with them. However I was warned to stay away from the girls with white passes, not even try talking to them. Those were the most beautiful girls, true super models. They came along with VIP guests, the richest Russian oligarchs, who have their own private, strictly guarded areas at Kazantip with own bars, swimming pools and other facilities. In short, if I dared to bother one of those goddesses, I could have been immediately kicked out of the festival.

Kazantip really turned out to be a paradise for open minded people like me. I enjoyed in full all the opportunities the festival had to offer: amazing music, swimming, dancing and sun bathing on the beach, drinking beer and Russian vodka with my friends and, of course, lovely evenings spent in the company of cute girls. That was the time to relax and not think, even for a second, about work and problems left at home. Just like for most other people at Kazantip, our day began late in the afternoon. Then we went to the beach and stayed there till sunset. And as the time got closer to midnight, the most interesting part began. There were different parties every night. We wandered from bar to bar, and from one dance floor to another one. When we felt totally exhausted, we just sat down on the sand and looked up at the night sky lit up with eye-popping fireworks, lasers and searchlights. Regardless of how tired you are, you never feel bored at Kazantip!

I’ve been to many festivals, but I have never experienced anything similar to Kazantip. I never thought I would see so many naked bodies, alcohol, wealth, sociability, neon, thunderous sounds of music and happy faces all at one place. While at Kazantip I totally forgot about the normal life. This is one of the main reasons why you will want to return here again and again after having visited it once. To tell the truth, it is much different from a typical festival and it is not for everybody. The Republic of Kazantip “gives shelter” only to the most open minded people without any complexes and taboo. I am proud to say I am one of those freaks!

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Anthony

Anthony Freeman is a travel enthusiast who loves to explore new places and always looks forward to his next adventure.

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