That Australia Feeling

Discover what makes this huge country with its unique flair so special – just as the Australians do.

NOSTALGIC RIVER TRIP

In South Australia where the Murray River flows sluggishly into the Indian Ocean, a replica of a historical paddle steamer is an irresistible invitation to take a relaxing river cruise. The PS Murray Princess has lots of space on board, cabins with every conceivable comfort and is not going anywhere in a hurry – the perfect place to chill out under the southern sun (3–7 nights, departing from Mannum, Captain Cook Cruises, tel: (02) 9206 1100, www.captain cook.com.au).

COFFEE CULTURE

Thanks to the many Italian immigrants, Melbourne has turned into the Australian coffee culture hotspot. Skilled baristas conjure up wonderfully creamy latte, fluffy- topped cappuccinos and aromatic espressos in many different cafés in the city. The Melbournians generally find time for a coffee break – and when that’s not possible there is always the practical coffee-to-go.

FUN ON THE BEACH

True to the motto ‘life’s a beach’, a day with sea and sand is among the Australians’ favourite pastimes. The top address where tradition, style and a high fun factor can be found is Sydney’s fine sandy Bondi Beach, where the Bondi Surf Bathers’ Life Saving Club was founded in 1907. The voluntary lifeguards in their famous red and yellow swimsuits are liked by all, and the Club regularly keeps beach-goers on the move with watersport competitions.

CROSSING THE CONTINENT BY RAIL

The long-distance train ‘The Ghan’ operates between Adelaide in South Australia and Darwin in the far north. This legendary rail connection crosses 22 degrees of latitude and passes through four climate zones on its journey of almost 3,000km (1,850mi). This trip of a very special kind takes about 50 hours – and a meditative mind – as the stunning Outback scenery sails past the panorama windows. (Great Southern Railways, www.gsr.com.au).

STARS UNDER THE STARS

Darwin holds evening cinema screenings under the starry tropical sky. Choose your lounger, order a cool drink and enjoy the magic of old and new films on the huge outdoor screen at the Deckchair Cinema. An open-air cinema also exists in the middle of Melbourne from December until March, the Rooftop Cinema at the top of Curtain House (252 Swanston St., www.rooftopcinema.com.au).

ROADHOUSE TRUCK-STOPS

Legendary Aussie roadhouses can be found at regular intervals on the endlessly long highways. The petrol stations are often attached to rustic eateries and motels which serve coffee, chilled beer and enormous portions of plain, simple food. One popular stop for truckers, who drive roadtrains across the Outback that can be up to 50m (165ft) long, is Blue Heeler Hotel (tel: (07) 4746 8650) on Landsborough Highway near Kynuna in Queensland.

KOALAS, KANGAROOS & CO.

Getting a close-up view of the continent’s unique wildlife is something typically Australian – such as taking a Jumping Crocodile Cruise, for example, (tel: (08) 8988 8144, www.jumpingcrocodilecruises.com.au) on the Adelaide River, 64km (40mi) southeast of Darwin, where saltwater crocodiles – which grow up to 6m (20ft) long – leap out of the water at bait. And anyone who doesn’t manage to see enough animals in the wild can visit one of the many small animal reserves where it is worth timing your trip to coincide with feeding times.

HEAD FOR THE MOUNTAINS

Anyone wanting to explore Down Under up high should head for the Snowy Mountains in the south-east of New South Wales, where Mt Kosciuszko, at 2,228m (7,310ft), rises far above the rest of the continent. In winter, the slopes are at the mercy of skiers and snowboard fans; the rest of the time, especially during the spring when everything is in bloom, the rugged mountains make the hearts of hikers, climbers and other nature-lovers beat faster. The centrally located starting-point for year-round activities is the welcoming mountain resort of Thredbo which offers a range of places to stay and eat (www.thredbo.com.au).

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Marco Polo Australia Spiral Guide

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10 reasons to go back to Vancouver & the Canadian Rockies

The changing seasons, the stark contrast between the city and the wilderness – Vancouver and the Canadian Rockies are definitely worth a visit… and once you’ve been there, you will only want to return! These are Marco Polo’s 10 reasons to go back to Vancouver & the Canadian Rockies:

1.  Whales, bears, mountains, prairies, cities… it is not possible to experience it all in one visit.

2. The Canadians are so kind and helpful that you will soon find that you sorely miss them.

3. The beauty of the night sky will make you want to see the Milky Way more than once.

4. Where else can you be the only person for hundreds of miles?

5. Locals believe that Vancouver is the pearl of the Pacific, and the world’s most beautiful city.

6. No Sunday drivers and no tailgaters: Canada’s roads are a driver’s dream.

7. No matter whether you are in a city or in the middle of nowhere: the infrastructure is excellent.

8. Canada changes with the seasons and each season is different.

9. You can never tire of the vast, seemingly endless, rippling grasslands of prairie.

10. Mother Nature is the greatest show on Earth – Canada’s scenery is too beautiful not to be experienced a second time.

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That New England Feeling

The Atlantic Ocean, lobsters, beautiful nature and plenty of history and culture, New England and Boston have it all!  Experience the region’s unique air and find out what makes it tick – just like the locals themselves.

FEELING BOSTON

Families on picnics, students out for a stroll, tourists photographing the swans, ducks, and monuments: the Boston Common is many things to many people. Above all, it is a wonderful place to daydream. Sit down on one of the benches and ponder over everything that started here in Boston. Many of the movements that later changed the way America thinks had their roots in this city – puritanism, abolition, feminism and same-sex marriage are just a few.

BEACON HILL

Boston is Beacon Hill and, when you leave Boston Common and immerse yourself in this posh residential district, you will feel like you are right back in days gone by, in the America of old. In the days of horse-drawn carriages, the city’s most influential people resided in these red-brick town houses. Especially interesting are the cobblestoned streets like Acorn Street, with its tenement buildings where the domestic staff were kept out of sight.

SO GREEN

Take a lawn with a monument in the center, add a neat church and scatter a few colonial-styled public buildings around it and you have the classic New England idyll. The following rule of thumb will help you in your search for the most beautiful village greens: those in Connecticut are large, there are a great number of them in Massachusetts and New Hampshire’s are small and inviting. Some of the most picturesque greens are in the following towns: Warren, Rindge, Lebanon, and Fitzwilliam (all in New Hampshire).

ART AS YOU GO

Artists are good for tourism and in summer many communities organise regular art walks. The galleries move their exhibits outside onto the pavement and invite passers-by to stop and chat with the artists. You will fund excellent art walks in Brattleboro, VT (www. gallerywalk.org), Portland, ME (www.liveworkportland.org/arts/ walk) and Boston (www.beaconhillartwalk.org/).

LOBSTER GALORE IN MAINE

Steaming pots, melted butter, and long lines – the lobster shacks in Maine are at their busiest in summer. There are several dozen of these simple lobster eateries between Kittery and Bar Harbor. Especially good: Five Islands Lobster Co. in Georgetown (www.fiveislandslobster.com) and The Clam Shack in Kennebunkport (www.theclamshack.net).

FOREST OF FLAMING COLOUR

New England in autumn comes alive with natural displays of colour when forests of birch trees, beech, and hickory all explode in vibrant tones. This spectacle of nature begins at the end of September and the foliage is most beautiful in the Berkshires, the Green Mountains, and the White Mountains.

KISS ME ON THE BRIDGE

Ever since Meryl Streep risked more than a quick glimpse at Clint Eastwood from one, covered bridges have become synonymous with romance. There are still many constructions of this type in New England; the roofs protect the wood from decay and their shady interiors make them ideal for a romantic rendezvous. That is why they are also known as kissing bridges. Vermont has the most, 106 in all, and also has the only museum devoted to this subject: the Vermont Covered Bridge Museum (44 Gypsy Lane, Bennington; Fri–Sun 10am– 5pm).

A NEW ENGLAND HIKE

After so much culture you need a touch of the wilderness. The White Mountains are the best hiking area in the northeast and the Appalachian Trail, America’s most famous long-distance hike, runs through the most spectacular sections. And, if you feel like going on a multi-day hike but don’t want to pitch a tent, you can take advantage of the hut system operated by the Appalachian Mountain Club (5 Joy Street, Boston, 617 5 23 06 36, www. outdoors.org).

 

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10 reasons to go back to Prague

Prague is one of Europe’s most popular travel destinations and those who have been there know why! Here is Marco Polo’s list of 10 reasons to go back to the Czech capital.

Never been to Prague? You really should! You can check out our other Prague tips here.

Prague Marco Polo Guide

Photo Credit: Tim Kelly

 

1. In comparison with other leading cities, Prague is still very good value for money.

2. The architecture of the town is spectacular and is definitely worth a second visit.

3. The beer is far too good for one trip to be sufficient to give it the attention it deserves.

4. The coffee house scene is so dynamic that there is always something new happening.

5. Last time, there probably wasn’t time to enjoy at length the sun on the Vltava Embankment.

6. Next summer it would also be fun to rent a paddle boat on the Vltava.

7. You need to follow the Kafka Museum with the Kafka Tour.

8. David Cerny’s tongue-in-cheek works alone take up one whole day…

9. Taking a taxi is so inexpensive that you can leave your car at home next time.

10. In winter, the Christmas markets in Prague are also well worth a visit.

 

Buy the Prague Marco Polo Spiral Guide.

Prague Marco Polo Guide

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Where to go in 2018? – Marco Polo Staff Picks

Choosing your travel destination can be difficult, as there is the whole wide world to choose from. Many of us are planning our 2018 travels at the moment, so we thought we would ask around our office for some ideas, and some Insider Tips. Here are Marco Polo’s Staff Picks for your 2018 travels:

Lake Garda Marco Polo Guide

Photo credit: Ian MacDonald

LAKE GARDA

“Lake Garda is my favourite holiday destination, it has everything – the weather, the views,
the food, the wine… did I mention the food and wine?

My tip for Lake Garda: Have your first espresso immediately after getting off the autostrada
(motorway). Stop at the car park after the first hairpin bend coming from Nago heading for
Torbole and enjoy your first cup of coffee, your first aperol or your first ice cream (at the bar
on the other side of the road). The view to the south is breath-taking.”

– Ian MacDonald, Managing Director

Dresden Marco Polo Guide

DRESDEN

“Dresden city exudes a magical aura. When the morning sun glistens on the Elbe River and
highlights the silhouette of the Altstadt, even the residents of Dresden catch their breath.

As one of the most popular travel destinations in Germany (the city welcomes around
ten million visitors every year, and this figure is on the rise) it impresses its visitors
with monuments, art and culture. Yet, it is the Elbe River that defines the city’s
mood. It winds its way through the town in broad curves, passing vineyards, stately
castles and homely beer gardens, and lined by the broad Elbwiesen meadows, which
are unlike anything to be found in other large European towns these days. People meet
here to sit around camp fires, eat picnics, go for a walk, ride their bikes
or relax in the sand and watch the clouds go by… why not join them?”

– Andrew, Sales Representative for London and the South Coast

SIEM REAP, CAMBODIA

“This is hardly a hidden gem, but after travelling around Asia for two and a half months,
this place is the one I still dream of. Angkor Wat is simply the most stunning thing I have
ever witnessed in my life. It’s no exaggeration to say it took my breath away. Make sure
you allow plenty of time to explore the temples. The best way is by tuk-tuk; hire a driver
for the day. Or if you’ve brave enough you can rent a moped or bike – but prepare to sweat!!

Whilst in Siem Reap be sure to check out Pub Street and the Night Market. Restaurant wise
– I’d recommend New Leaf Eatery and Genevieve’s, both of which are non-profit organisations,
so you can enjoy your meal knowing you’re supporting a great cause!”

– Hayley, Digital Marketing Manager

Photo credit: Alison Floutier

CALIFORNIA ROAD TRIP & SAN DIEGO

“If you’re on Highway 5 heading south from LA to San Diego, add an extra hour to your journey time to allow a stop in San Clemente. It describes itself as the ‘Spanish Village by the Sea’ and would be so easy to dismiss in your charge south to the San Diego. But an hour here, taking in the ocean views and gorgeous Spanish architecture is well worth your time. Insider Tip – you’ll see the big Starbucks sign from the 5. Use this for navigation but stop at the Zebra House Coffee Shop. The best coffee you’ll experience in California and if you strike lucky, the walls can be laden with beautiful artwork from local artists.

Coronado, the spit of land that juts out from San Diego, is Paradise with a capital P. Everyone knows it for ‘The Del’, the grand Victorian Hotel Del Coronado graced by US Presidents and Marco Polo staff alike! It’s a beautiful beach to while away a few hours and then take your sandy-self to the Babcock and Story bar on the ocean front to sip a perfectly ice cold beer and imagine Marilyn Monroe filming Some Like it Hot on the beach just in front. If you can tear yourself away, a drive round to Point Loma is well worth the view looking back across the Navy base, the principal home port of the US Pacific Fleet, and see the hotel and the whole of this gorgeous peninsula.

Insider Tip – the finest Mexican food and eye-wateringly wonderful margaritas can be found just across the road and a world away from the tourist hub of The Del. Hidden behind a row of shops, is the fantastic Miguel’s Cucina. You need to find time to linger here.”

– Diane, Sales & Marketing Coordinator

Marco Polo Guides Lisbon Largo Trindade Coelho

Photo credit: Tim Kelly

LISBON

“Ah, where do you start with Lisbon? I think I’ll have to start with food – freshly caught seafood including prawns the size of your fist and Bacalhau, a local speciality! You can’t leave without trying a Pastel de nata – a Portuguese egg tart. The most popular place to try them is Pasteis de Belem, but they’re sold all over the city. Not forgetting the wine – Portugal produces some excellent wines! Including the famous Port and Madeira, of course… but they’re found all over the country. In Lisbon, the local delicacy is a sickly sweet but surprisingly delicious liqueur called Ginjinha. It’s made from cherries and if you’re lucky, you’ll get a whole cherry in the bottom of your cup! The best places to try it are A Ginjinha near the famous Rossio Square or Ginjinha Sem Rival.

Alfama is my favourite area in Lisbon, I could wander around there for hours. And you must visit Castelo de São Jorge, Rossio Square and the beautiful Cathedral: Se! My other tip is Belem… which is a little out of the city, but worth a visit… and if you have time, take an excursion to Sintra. You won’t regret it!”

– Petra, Sales & Marketing Manager

BOSTON

Boston is ideal as a stand alone city break or as a good starting point for trips further afield in the New England area. Hotels can be ridiculously expensive so we tend to go for the better priced boutique B&Bs. Seafood is plentiful and just about everywhere from cafes, pubs to restaurants offer lobster and their famous Clam Chowder on their menus and at such good value.

For sports fans you have everything covered, The Boston Red Sox Baseball stadium where you can take a guided tour, the TD Gardens for Ice Hockey and Baseball and Patriots Place for the current Superbowl Champions, the New England Patriots for American Football and The New England Revolutions for Soccer. This is further afield and requires a train journey but great to get to see small town America as you travel by.

Boston and the New England coastline is brilliant for spotting whales and from the harbour you can easily book day trips on the many tours they offer. Duck Tours are great to get your bearings and get the low-down on the city from a local driver and they all end up on the river which is one of the best places to view Boston. Their Aquarium is right on the harbour front and worth a visit.”

– Julie, Office Manager

UTRECHT, THE NETHERLANDS

“Amsterdam is one of those destinations that everyone has to see at least once in their life, but my tip for anyone visiting Amsterdam for more than a day or two is to leave the city. It may seem counter-intuitive, but there is a lot more to see in the Netherlands than just Amsterdam. One such place is Utrecht, one of the oldest cities in the country. It’s only 20 minutes away by train, but Utrecht is still a bit of a hidden gem for most tourists.

There are canals, just like in Amsterdam and many other Dutch cities, but the canals in Utrecht have a unique feature: the canal side docks. Once used for loading trade goods, today there are countless restaurants that host their terraces on the docks.

The Dom tower is the main landmark of the city, an old church tower from the 15th century, which you will be able to see in the horizon almost everywhere in the city. The cathedral is also worth a visit, as is the old courtyard with its flowers and a maze. Entrance is free, though a small donation at the door is always appreciated.

If you are hungry or thirsty, there is plenty that Utrecht can offer. My personal favourite for a quick, inexpensive snack is the Vietnamese streetfood restaurant Kimmade, on Mariastraat. It’s a tiny little place, with seats for around 10 people, but the food is excellent. For drinks Neude is the place to be, especially if it is sunny. The square will be packed with tables and chairs and this is where the locals will be. Order a beer and a portion of fries – or bitterballen if you are really feeling the local vibe, and enjoy.”

– Senja, Social Media Assistant

What is your pick for 2018?

Something to say? Leave a comment below, tweet us @MarcoPoloGuides or tell us on Facebook.

Marco Polo Pocket Guide relaunch

Calling all trailblazers! Marco Polo has never been one to follow the crowd: since we burst onto the scene in 2012 and turned the travel publishing world upside-down, we have been pursuing a quest to create the best travel guide possible ever since! And now we are launching 30 ground-breaking new look pocket guides for 2018!

DISCOVERY TOURS

Along with all the regular content updates you’d expect from a relaunch – the guides also contain a new Discovery Tours chapter:

• Each book has 4 to 5 exciting, specially tailored tours helping readers get behind the scenes and head off the beaten track.
• The perfect planning tool – each tour has an overview box detailing the start and end points, distance, plus timing and costs involved – all the information an explorer needs at a glance!
• Each tour is plotted on an overview map highlighting the start point and final destination for easy orientation.
• A detailed flow chart with pictograms clearly shows the way – including distance indicators, sights to explore, views to enjoy en route and plenty of Insider Tips for
relaxing stops along the way.

FREE TOURING APP

Free touring app! The Discovery Tours are also available as an app – simply download any of the tours from the web link / QR code featured in each guide. The ultimate navigational tool to enjoy stress-free sightseeing.

NEW LOOK COVERS

Ground-breaking new look covers bring the guides bang up-to-date, so you won’t need to be shy about looking like a tourist! Fresh, simple, cool – the split line typography is designed to make you look twice and the bright colours will get you in the holiday mood!

INSIDER TIPS

The guides with Insider Tips! Showing the main sights in detail simply isn’t enough for modern-day travellers. Marco Polo specialises in getting you off the beaten track! Why follow the crowd when you can make your own path?

NEW TITLES

Relaunch titles available Jan 2018: Amsterdam, Bali, Barcelona, Cambodia, Cape Verde, Corfu, Costa Brava, French Riviera, Hong Kong, India South, Italy, Lake Garda, Mallorca, Malta & Gozo, Mauritius, Montenegro, Munich, New York, New Zealand, Rome, Sardinia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tenerife, Venice, Vienna.

Plus 4 brand new titles: Japan, Peru & Bolivia, Salzburg & Surroundings, Santorini.
All priced at £7.99.

ORDER YOUR MARCO POLO POCKET GUIDES NOW.

Let Marco Polo show you hidden gems, lesser-known locations and stunning viewpoints where you can make memories to last a lifetime. Brush shoulders with the locals, eat the food that Grandma makes and seek out unique experiences at every turn.

Be a traveller, not just a tourist!

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Marco Polo’s Holiday Giveaway

Happy Holidays all! To celebrate the season of giving, we are hosting a giveaway here at Marco Polo. All through December we have been posting a daily Holiday tradition from one of the Marco Polo destinations. Now let’s see what you remember about the 24 traditions we shared. We are going to ask you five questions and you can submit your answers below in the comments. One lucky commenter is going to receive five copies of our Marco Polo Spiral Guides of their choice and a Fujifilm Instax Mini 9 camera. 

THE HOLIDAY QUIZ

  1. The Finnish word for Father Christmas is Joulupukki, but what does it mean?
    A: Father Christmas
    B: Christmas Man
    C: Christmas Goat
    D: Spirit of Christmas
  2. The traditional Japanese Christmas dinner is…
    A: Turkey
    B: Sushi
    C: KFC
    D: Noodle soup
  3. How many kangaroos does Father Christmas have, according to the Australians?
    A: 12
    B: 5
    C: 20
    D: 6
  4. The Swedish lussekatt is a…
    A: Hat
    B: Cocktail
    C: Sweet bun made with saffron and cardamom
    D: Holiday in Sweden
  5. One of the world’s largest and well-known Santa Claus parades is held annually in…
    A: New York
    B: Seattle
    C: Toronto
    D: Vancouver

Not sure about your answers? You can find all the answers in our Advent Calendar posts!

GIVEAWAY

To celebrate the season of giving, Marco Polo is organising a giveaway! We are giving away a set of 5 Marco Polo Spiral Guides and a Fujifilm Instax Mini 9 camera to one lucky winner, chosen at random.

How to enter?

Simply answer the five questions from this post in the comments below. You can earn more win-chances by liking our Facebook page and by following our Twitter and Instagram and by letting us know in your comment that you have done so.

The competition is open from Monday 25 December 2017 until Sunday 31 December 2017 at 12.00 GMT. We will contact the winner personally via email using the email address used to leave the comment so make sure to check that it is spelled correctly!

Good luck! 

Terms and Conditions:

  1. The promotion is open to UK and EU residents aged 18 or over, excluding employees and their immediate families of Marco Polo, its agents or anyone professionally connected with the promotion.
  2. To enter, simply comment on the blog post. Additional win-chances may be acquired by liking the Marco Polo Facebook page and by following the Marco Polo Twitter and Instagram accounts. If the entrant has done any of the mentioned actions, it should be stated in the comment.
  3. This competition will commence on 25 December 2017 and all entries must be received by 12.00 GMT on 31 December 2017. The Promoter accepts no responsibility for any entries that are incomplete, posted late, misdirected, and incorrect, garbled or fail to reach the Promoter by the closing date for any reason. Entries via agents or third parties are invalid.
  4. No purchase necessary, however internet access is required.
  5. The Prizes: 1 x prize winner will receive 5 x Marco Polo Spiral Guides: (£9.99 each) and a Fujifilm Instax Mini 9 camera.
  6. The prize must be taken as stated and no compensation will be payable if a winner is unable to use the prize as stated. The winner will be liable for all costs and expenses not stated relating to claiming or partaking of the prize.
  7. The promoter may substitute the prize for a prize of an equal or greater value if, for any reason the original item is unavailable.
  8. By entering, winners agree that if they win they will participate in any reasonable publicity arranged by The Promoter or its agencies.
  9. By entering the promotion entrants confirm that they have read and agree to be bound by these terms & conditions and by the decisions of the Promoter, which are final in all matters relating to the promotion. Failure to do so will result in the forfeiture of the prize. No correspondence will be entered into.
  10. The Promoter or its agencies accept no responsibility for any loss or damage suffered through acceptance of the prize.
  11. The Promoter or its agencies will not be responsible for the non-inclusion of entries as a result of technical failures or otherwise, including any such failure which is within the control of The Promoter or its agencies. Proof of submission of entry is not proof of receipt of entry.
  12. The Promoter reserves the right at its sole discretion to disqualify any person it finds to be tampering or to have tampered with the operation of the promotion or the Marco Polo website, or to be acting in violation of these terms and conditions.
  13. To the full extent permitted by law the Promoter will not accept liability for any loss, damage, injury or death arising from this promotion beyond its reasonable control.

The Promoter is Marco Polo Travel Publishing, Pinewood, Chineham Business Park, Crockford Lane, Chineham, Basingstoke, RG24 8AL

Marco Polo’s 24 Holiday traditions from around the world – Day 24: London Christmas crackers

Happy Christmas Eve to all! It’s Day 24 of our Advent Calendar which means that it is time for the final Holiday tradition. For this one we don’t have to travel far, as we are taking a look at the good old Christmas crackers. Did you miss yesterday’s post? Check it out here!

Photo credit: Saz B on Unsplash

LONDON CHRISTMAS CRACKERS

What is Christmas without Christmas crackers with the paper crowns, riddles and silly jokes? But, did you know that Christmas crackers have only been around for less than 200 years? In 1847, a Londoner, Tom Smith, was trying to figure out a way to promote the sales of his bonbons. He first experimented with the adding of messages into the wrappers, small “love messages.” According to a tale, still trying to improve his sales numbers, Mr Smith was lighting a fire and when he heard the logs crackle, he found the inspiration to create a bonbon that would crack when pulled open. Mr Smith called his new cracking bonbon “the Cosaque” but – to Mr Smith’s dismay – the term “cracker,” invented by his competitors, was the one that stuck. The explosive popularity of the crackers was a bit of a double-edged sword for Mr Smith, and for his son, Walter Smith. Eventually competition was popping up everywhere and Mr Smith the younger had to find a way to distinguish their crackers from those sold by everyone else. This is when he decided to abandon the sweets entirely and the crackers we know today were truly born, with the paper crown, the riddle and the trinket.

Will you be pulling crackers this Christmas?

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Marco Polo’s 24 Holiday traditions from around the world – Day 23: Sicily Christmas bonfires

It’s Day 23 of our Advent Calendar and Christmas is almost here! Today we are headed to Sicily, to discover how Sicilians – and other parts of Italy – keep warm on Christmas Eve. Did you miss yesterday’s post? Check it out here!

 

SICILY CHRISTMAS BONFIRES

We have already featured one Italian Christmas tradition, but there are so many lovely traditions that we could do a whole Advent Calendar of Italian traditions alone. However, we will do just one more: the Christmas bonfires in Sicily, and other parts of Italy. For Italians Christmas is still very much a religious celebration, and the Christmas bonfires have a religious background as well. Traditionally, the bonfires would be a part of large Nativity plays, meant to keep everyone – and most importantly the baby Jesus – warm. Nowadays most villages, towns and cities have a large bonfire on the main square on the evening of Christmas Eve, kicking off the festive period.

And really, is there anything nicer than a roaring bonfire in the darkest and coldest period of the year?

CHECK OUT THE GIVEAWAY

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Marco Polo’s 24 Holiday traditions from around the world – Day 22: Krakow Szopka cribs

Happy Friday! It’s Day 22 of our Advent Calendar which means that Christmas is less than two days away. Today we are headed to Krakow, Poland to check out another lovely local Holiday tradition. Did you miss yesterday’s post? Check it out here!

 

 

KRAKOW SZOPKA CRIBS

Cribs, crèches, nativity scenes – whatever you want to call them – are a common sight around Christmas time in Christian homes, but in Krakow, the tradition has a unique local variation. In Poland it has been a long standing tradition for local woodworkers to create elaborate scenes as sets for the nativity plays, Jaselka in Polish. The plays would be acted out with puppets on the streets, sometimes involving legendary figures from Polish folklore, though straying too far away from the source material was strongly opposed by the Catholic church. The tradition goes back all the way to the Middle Ages. During the 19th century woodworkers started creating slightly smaller versions of their elaborate cribs, szopka, as seasonal decorations to be sold to the wealthy. In 1918 when Poland gained its independence, miniature szopkas were sold as souvenirs in Krakow. It is unclear when the tradition of setting the nativity scene in famous Krakow landmarks started, but the most popular source of inspiration is the St. Mary’s Basilica, though the Sukiennice trade hall and the Wavel castle are also often depicted in the szopkas.

Every year on the first Thursday of December a competition is held to find the most beautiful szopkas from different categories. The best works are displayed in the Historical Museum of Krakow or sold. The first time the competition was held was in 1937 and it has been held every year since, with the exception of the war years.

In which landmark would you place the Nativity scene?

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