Global Warming was the topic in Copenhagen last week, but in Sweden, the buzz is all about construction of the 20th annual ice hotel. The little Lapland village of Jukkasjärvi, 200 km north of the Arctic Circle, is the site of this ephemeral art project and ultimate boutique hotel experience. You can let out your inner Santa as you sleep and dine on ice in this annual giant igloo extravaganza.

The building process spans November and December. Artists from all over the world come to help build the frozen palace, and each week a new “wing” of the hotel is open to guests.  This year, headline artists came from Chile, Bulgaria and Japan. The 2009/2010 Ice Hotel will have 62 rooms. A live webcam lets you keep up with this extreme architectural endeavor.

This year’s creation features an Absolut Vodka ice bar, an ice cinema, an ice chapel, ice family rooms and ice suites. Four thousand tons of ice is used each year. Room rates start at about $300. Guests sleep on reindeer skins and the accommodations are surprisingly cozy, according to a colleague who made the trip a few years ago.

It is of course the darkest time of the year, but if you visit this part of Sweden now you may get a chance to see the famed Northern Lights or maybe the occasional flying reindeer. You can check out our Triporati Sweden Ice Hotel video and see for yourself…this is certainly the ultimate place to chill.

Leave a Comment | Filed Under Cross Country Skiing, Feature, Winter Fun

Every year around this time we hear railing against the commercialization of Christmas, and the exhortations to shop and buy and give do get tiring, but they’re nothing new. In fact, they’ve been around a long time, since the Middle Ages, as the many Christmas markets across Europe attest.

The oldest, in the French city of Strasbourg in Alsace on the German border, has been active since 1570. Georgia Hesse, in the San Francisco Chronicle, ably describes the appeal of such markets and the particular draw of Strasbourg, where visitors stroll the lanes where Goethe, Gutenberg, and Albert Schweitzer once wandered.

Many markets last through New Year’s Day and some even run through the Epiphany on January 6, but others close up shop on Christmas Eve, so hurry, time’s running out.

Leave a Comment | Filed Under Europe, Feature, Festivals, France, Germany, Markets, Strasbourg, Travel, shopping

“What’s up dude iguana,” my two-year-old cheekily said to one of the many iguanas roaming the ancient Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza on a visit to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula a few years ago. The archaeological site is one of the new Seven Wonders of the World and a UNESCO World Heritage site. We were shocked at how few restrictions there were at the time, and I cringed when my toddler climbed all over the ancient structures.  We welcomed the freedom, and yet it was disturbing to witness visitors literally loving the site to death.

Climbing to the top of the central pyramid with our son in a backpack was one of those peak travel moments, part Rocky, part Raiders of the Lost Ark. Negotiating the narrow steps, worn from centuries of foot traffic, exacerbated my festering fear of heights. Continue reading »

Leave a Comment | Filed Under Archaeology, Culture, Family Travel, Feature, wildlife

Can you imagine having the Grand Canyon to yourself? No traffic to the South Rim, no hordes at the visitor center? Henry Shukman in The New York Times takes us on a long hike below the rim during the best time of year for exploration: now.

Why now? Because nobody’s there in winter, and because the sun is your friend, not your foe, when the temperatures drop.

But no matter the season, a hike to the bottom of the canyon is a challenge even for fit hikers. The relentless downhill (a full mile in elevation) takes its toll on the knees, only to force you to turn around and climb back up a mile to get out. But it’s the best way to appreciate the stunning landscape, with layers of rock chronicling the earth’s development, the oldest being almost two billion years old. And challenging as it may be, even an eight-year-old can do it, as Henry’s traveling companion, his son Saul, proves.

Leave a Comment | Filed Under Adventure Travel, Arizona, Desert Travel, Family Travel, Feature, Grand Canyon, Hike/Backpack, North America, Travel, United States