Before I visited, I considered Jerusalem only as a city for revelling at the abundance of religious sites. The reality, however, is vastly different Continue reading
New York is a city that knows how to embrace the holidays. In numerous films — despite its usual reputation as a concrete jungle — New York City is depicted during holidays and festivals as a warm and welcoming city with an almost communal feel: families skating together on the ice rink at the Rockefeller Centre, pumpkins neatly carved outside front doors, and crowds gathering to watch the Independence Day fireworks. November is the perfect time to experience such festivities in New York City; the crunch of fallen autumn leaves underfoot, the approaching of Christmas glimmering throughout the city and, of course, Thanksgiving and the famous Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
As with any holiday, the run-up to the day itself is equally as important to get oneself in the mood, and New York has this covered. A skate at the city’s annual Rockefeller Centre Ice Rink (above) can surely only fail to get the hardiest of Scrooges in the festive spirit; that, or — like me — being an utter Bambi on ice may also take away its appeal! If this is the case, Manhattan’s seasonal markets may prove to be a more enticing option. Often inconspicuously nestled amongst the skyscrapers, the sounds and smells often attract one’s attention before the markets themselves come into view. One that is decidedly in view, however, is the Union Square Holiday Market. With its range of Thanksgiving-inspired goodies, it is the perfect place to purchase local crafts and to sample some warming, home-made cuisine. However, if you’re visiting on a drizzly day, going to an open air market to eat what will become a soggy turkey and stuffing sandwich, and a slice of pumpkin pie complete with rain instead of cream, might not be the best option.
In this case, watching one of New York City’s many Broadway shows — in place of the traditional English pantomime — is the perfect destination for a wet afternoon’s entertainment. This may seem an expensive way to keep dry, but obtaining tickets for such shows can come at a surprisingly reasonable price, with the website broadwaybox.com being an excellent place to obtain a deal a few weeks prior to visiting Manhattan.
If in want of an event with a decidedly Thanksgiving theme, it is possible to watch the inflation of the giant themed balloons the day before the legendary Macy’s Day Parade. There is something slightly surreal at seeing a giant Papa Smurf and Spongebob Squarepants the size of a single-storey bus, being inflated next to Central Park. This is also perhaps a better option for those who are unwilling to stray away from the warmth of their duvet at 6am to grab that key spot and stand in the street for five hours. That being said, witnessing the Macy’s Day Parade is really the quintessential aspect of a New York Thanksgiving and surely a morning of sleep can be spared.
The parade is an endless panoply of entertainments; from marching bands, to dancers; from a humungous Snoopy, to the whole crew of Sesame Street. Yes, you may spend five hours wondering whether you will ever regain feeling in your toes, clinging to every inch of warmth from your half-empty coffee cup, yet you know you have to withstand it, just to see Santa’s appearance at the end. Taking note of every café nearby is a must — that warm drink at the end will be needed!
It is immediately noticeable when arriving in San Antonio that this city is the perfect manifestation of the word ‘fusion’. The city’s sites highlight anything and everything, from history to modernity and from the American to the Hispanic. Despite being the seventh most populous city in the United States of America and the second most populous city in the state of Texas, San Antonio is approachable and walkable and it is entirely achievable within a day trip to encompass a great deal of what San Antonio has to offer.
A good place to enhance one’s understanding of San Antonio’s background is the Alamo. The Alamo was originally established in the eighteenth century as a mission church to educate Native Americans in both religion and industry, but the building’s purpose has changed a number of times.
From a self-supporting parish church to San Antonio’s first hospital, it is clear that this building has consistently played a pivotal role in the community, but what really strengthened its position as an important historical building was its role in the fight for Texan independence. During a thirteen-day siege and battle in 1836, the leader of the Mexican army, General Antonio López de Santa Anna, targeted the Alamo, brutally murdering all those in the Texan army who were defending the building. This act influenced a significant number of people to either join or defect to the Texan army, in opposition to the Mexican General’s actions. Many believe that it was this event that secured Texas’ independence.
The newly strengthened Texan army went on to triumphantly defeat the Mexican army a month later in the Battle of San Jacinto; a battle that lasted a mere eighteen minutes. This had dire consequences for the Mexican army, many of whom were either killed or became prisoners of war. The Alamo succeeds in enlightening visitors as to its importance for both San Antonio and Texas, as well as providing a more general insight into Mexico and America’s temperamental history. If the Alamo fails to provide enough of a history fix, the Briscoe Western Art Museum can provide an overview of life in the American West. The museum’s leather stairs lead visitors to a range of both temporary and permanent exhibitions, which not only focus on the iconic Texan cowboys, but also recognises the Spanish, American Indian and Mexican contributions to the region.
Mexican influences are ever-present throughout San Antonio, from its Tex-Mex fare to its local festivals. El Mercado, the largest Mexican market in the United States, really demonstrates this, with its range of independent vendors selling arts, crafts and some pretty tasty food; almost all of which have a decidedly Mexican slant. Mi Tierra café and bakery is a local eatery that began as a family-run three table café in 1941 and is now a local institution that is able to seat over five hundred. The Mexican tastes of fresh chicken enchiladas and pumpkin empanadas are combined with the sounds of Mexico, with Mariachi singers and dancers strolling between the filled tables. The market is just one place in San Antonio that highlights how blurred the line between Mexico and America used to be. It is clear that the founding and development of an American San Antonio was very much influenced by the local traditions and customs of its Hispanic neighbour.
If you’re anything like me, the name Timor Leste is one that draws a blank. For this exact reason this fascinating sliver of land is a worthy stop on any backpacking tour of Asia. Only an independent country as of 20th May 2002, alongside being Asia’s newest country it also falls amongst its youngest with more than 60% of the population under 18.
Previously colonised by both Portugal and occupied by Indonesia, the country embodies an enticing mixture of customs, languages, and cuisines — all of which can be experienced by the traveller intrepid enough to make the journey to this untapped destination.