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Shopping in Sarasota
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Shopping While On Vacation: A Great Way to Preserve the Memories

This is a guest post from one of our very close family friends who came to visit us in Sarasota! We are so happy she wrote this post for us and we hope you enjoy! 

Shopping While on Vacation – A Great Way to Preserve the Memories

As a first-time visitor to Sarasota, I was expecting beautiful white sand beaches, warm temperatures and lots of sunshine. Even the quality of restaurants didn’t surprise me that much, but I have to say that I was amazed and pleased with the wonderful shopping experience the Sarasota area had to offer. After all, I am from Chicago! I had no problem finding souvenirs, and to my surprise, I was able to complete much of my Christmas shopping while sightseeing in Sarasota and the surrounding islands.

Shopping in Sarasota

Downtown Sarasota

While in the downtown area, I wandered into a charming shop on 1st Street called Envie where I found unique gifts that my artist sister could appreciate including a gorgeous dragonfly ornament and a decorative bejeweled box. Down the same street, I discovered I Tesori where I purchased a shiny keychain wallet for my niece. This shop also had an impressive collection of Murano glass beads, designer jewelry and clothing. It seemed that everywhere I turned there were interesting shops, boutiques and galleries.

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Georgian House Edinburgh
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Edinburgh – Athens of the North

Edinburgh – Athens of the North

Edinburgh (pronounced ed-n-buh-ruh) is the capital city of Scotland.  Scotland has been part of the United Kingdom for over 300 years and recently voted to continue their union with England, Wales and North Ireland.  In the 19th century Edinburgh was called “the Athens of the North” due to its Greek revival buildings such as the Surgeon’s Hall museum.

Edinburgh, Scotland

Edinburgh is a hilly city with a marine climate that has moderate temperatures with no dry season and typical mist and drizzle.  This creates a very lush and green landscape.  This is creates a great terrain for golf.  This is fitting as Scotland is widely accepted as the birthplace of golf.  Edinburgh has many top golf courses and is only an hour from the fabled links of St. Andrews.

The medieval Old Town section of Edinburgh along with the 18th century New Town is a protected UNESCO Heritage Site.  The Royal Mile is the main road running through Old Town from Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Palace.  Holyrood is the official royal residence in Scotland and Edinburgh Castle is home to the legendary Military Tattoo.  The Military Tattoo is a musical performance of music by armed forces and is Edinburgh’s is an international favorite for its renowned pomp and ceremony.  Edinburgh Castle is also home to Scotland’s crown jewels and the Stone of Destiny, traditionally used in the coronation of Scottish rulers.  The Old Town is also includes Arthur’s Seat which is an extinct volcano in Holyrood Park with some of the best views from its peak.    In contrast, Edinburgh’s vaults are a subterranean world of underground chambers that housed the extremely poor in Old Town.

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Christmas in Norway - The Traveling Gals
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Holidays Around the World: Norway

Holiday Traditions around the World: Christmas in Norway

Land of the Midnight Sun is the perfect backdrop for the Christmas season!  Luciadagen or St. Lucia Day starts the Christmas season in Norway on December 13th.  Sicilian martyred Saint Lucia was visited by an angel and vowed to devote her life to Christianity.  Lucia is honored as a day of light at the darkest time of the year.  Children form a procession dressed in white with a crown of lighted evergreens on their heads while singing the traditional St. Lucia song.  Lussekatter are the traditional St. Lucia Day treats handed out during the processional.  Lussekatter is translated to “Lucia cats” and they are sweet buns decorated with raisins baked into a winding tail design.

Christmas in Norway - The Traveling Gals

Bergen

Christmas trees play a big part in the Norwegian holiday season.  Spruce or pine trees are sparsely decorated to showcase their natural beauty.  Clear white lights have replaced candles and the ornaments are Julekurver which are small paper baskets in the shape of a heart.   The most famous custom is the traditional Norwegian Christmas tree that Norway gifts to the United Kingdom each year as a thank you for the help during World War II.  The tree is proudly displayed in Trafalgar Square in the heart of London.

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The Traveling Gals Gift Guide
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The Traveling Gals Gift Guide

Making a List and Checking it Twice!

It is that time of year again!  Gift giving can be a challenge, and sometimes we end up giving gifts that are, well, kind of stupid .  The Traveling Gals are excited to share some of our suggestions for the special people in your lives with our gift guide!

The Traveling Gals Gift Guide

Carol

Kary

Ashley

Traveling Gals Tip:  The key to a good gift is giving something useful! 

What is on your wish list this holiday season? Let us know in the comments!

The Traveling Gals

 

 

The Nutcracker Ballet - The Traveling Gals
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The Nutcracker Ballet

The Nutcracker

Nothing says Christmas like a performance of The Nutcracker ballet!  The Nutcracker ballet is adapted from The Nutcracker and The Queen of Mice by ETA Hoffman.  The basic story is of a young German girl who dreams of a Nutcracker Prince and a fierce battle of against a Mouse King.  The first ballet was commissioned in 1891 by the Moscow Imperial Theater.   The music is by Tchaikovsky and it was originally choreographed by Marius Petipa.  The composer selections known at the Nutcracker Suite Op 71a became instantly popular, but the ballet did not achieve its great prominence as a Christmas event until much later when it was performed out of Russia in Europe and the United States.

The Nutcracker Ballet - The Traveling Gals

The first performance outside Russia was in England in 1934 and annual performances still take place by the English National Ballet.  The first US adaptation was in 1944 performed by the San Francisco Ballet.  It was not until 10 years later in 1954 that widespread popularity was reached with George Balanchine’s Nutcracker in New York City.  George Balanchine is a renowned choreographer whose version utilizes more children and since Clara and the Nutcracker Prince are children there is no romance aspect.  This and other versions across the world are an essential part of the Christmas season for many families.

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Holidays Around the World: Japan - The Traveling Gals
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Holidays Around the World: Japan

Holiday Traditions around the World: Christmas in JAPAN

Japan is predominately Shinto.   Shinto is an ethnic religion based in ritual practices to connect modern Japan with its ancient past.  It is said to have started in the sixth century, but there is no known scripture or founder so Christmas does not play much of a part in Japan.  The small amount of Christians in Japan celebrate Christmas with an ethnic twist.  For example, the nativity participants are dressed in traditional Japanese costume.  The Christmas tree is decorated with origami ornaments.  The Santa figure is an old man, Hoteiosho who carries a pack and is said to have eyes in the back of his head prompting the children to behave at all times!  Hoteiosho is considered a god or priest in Japanese culture.

Holidays Around the World: Japan - The Traveling Gals

Kyoto

The traditional New Year celebration of O-Shogatsu is the most important Japanese holiday of the year.  It is celebrated from January 1st – January 3rd.  Years are viewed completely separately so worries must be left behind in an old year and the new year must start fresh.  Homes are cleaned on New Year’s Eve to make way for a renewed start on January 1st.  Bonenkai parties (forget the year gatherings) are thrown throughout the country for offices, friends and families to leave their troubles behind and conclude any unfinished business.  Tokishoshi soba is known as the year crossing noodle and is served on New Year’s Eve to promote longevity. Read more

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WEEKEND GETAWAY: Universal Studios Orlando

Weekend Getaway: Universal Studios Orlando [UPDATED FOR 2017!]

Of course we are unashamed big fans of Disney World. It is our favorite place to go, and we just love love love it. There is another theme park in Orlando that we also love, and that is Universal Studios. On some websites we have found that many Disney fans hate Universal and think Disney is far superior. While we think Disney exceeds Universal in certain aspects, we think it is a little ridiculous to say one is better than the other. They are different and we absolutely think you should spend a few days at Universal when you are in Orlando. Especially with all the exciting new things happening there!

Halloween Horror Nights 2016

First things first, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter absolutely exceeded any expectations we had. We thought Hogsmeade was amazing, and then were actually blown away by Diagon Alley and the Hogwarts Express. You feel like you have just walked into the movie. There are massive rumors swirling that Universal will be announcing a third Harry Potter section this summer. (Our vote is for The Ministry of Magic!) If you don’t really care about seeing Universal, we still think visiting the Harry Potter areas is worth it.

TIP: If you want to ride the Hogwarts Express, you have to buy a park-to-park pass.

Hogsmeade is obviously home to Hogwarts and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. This is one of the most unique rides we have ever been on. If you get even slightly motion sick though, you may want to skip this one. You should still go through the queue thought because you never know what magical surprises you might find.

Hogwarts Castle - Universal Studios Islands of Adventure

So you can either start at Islands of Adventures or Universal Studios. Islands of Adventure usually closes earlier, so we suggest starting there. First you will go through the Port of Entry. While most people run right by this, there are actually a lot of neat details in this area. IOA is basically a big circle, so you can choose to go either right or left. If you go to the right you will hit Suess Landing, The Lost Continent, Hogsmeade, Jurassic Park, Skull Island, Toon Lagoon, and Marvel Super Hero Island. Each of these “islands” are a lot of fun to walk around. If you are here around the holiday season, Suess Landing celebrates “Grinchmas” with great decorations and special events.

TIP: Mythos is consistently voted one of the best theme park restaurants in the world. Even if you don’t want to have a sit down meal, peek your head inside to see the impressive theming. If you are looking for healthier fare, this is the place to be.

Weekend Getaway: Universal Orlando Islands of Adventure

Our favorites: Spider Man, Jurassic Park River Adventure, Harry Potter & the Forbidden Journey.

Things to Skip: Reign of Kong Skull Island was disappointing. The building and the queue were the best part of the ride. It was way too short and utilized the same screen and simulator technology as many of the other rides. If there’s no line, check it out but we wouldn’t wait in line for this one. Dudley Do Right’s Ripsaw Falls is fun, but you will literally be soaked head to toe no matter where you sit.

You can then either walk over to Universal Studios Florida or take the Hogwarts Express.

TIP: Take the Hogwarts Express in both directions. Just do it.

Weekend Getaway: Universal Studios Florida - Diagon Alley

Universal Studios Florida seeks to put you in the middle of all the moviemaking magic. While we think it misses the mark a little as far as theming goes, it still has lots of neat details to see and fun rides and shows. This is also where there are special events throughout the year, like Mardi Gras and Halloween Horror Nights.

Our favorites: Revenge of The Mummy, Harry Potter and the Escape From Gringotts, Despicable Me, Transformers The Ride, Horror Make-Up Show.

Things to Skip: Hollywood Rip Ride Rock-it was so shaky and choppy. It was the opposite of a smooth ride, and while it is fun to choose your own music, it was not worth the headache. Also, while Springfield is super cute and fun to walk around, The Simpson’s Ride is also very shaky and uncomfortable. It probably needs a technology update. We do suggest grabbing a drink at Moe’s!

If you still have some energy left, City Walk is quite fun to walk around, shop, eat, and drink. Our favorite is the dueling pianos bar, Pat O’Brien’s!

Universal Orlando City Walk

There are five on-site hotels at a variety of price points. The hotels all offer either bus or water taxi service to the parks. When you stay on-site you get early access to the parks as well, which is a nice perk.

NEW: Volcano Bay, the “water theme park” opens May 25th. Race Through New York With Jimmy Fallon is now open. The Fast & The Furious Ride is set to open in 2018.

So now we want to hear what you think of Universal! What are your favorite things to do and things to skip? Have you eaten at any of the restaurants at Universal or stayed at any of the hotels? What did you think? Let us know here or on Facebook.

The Traveling Gals

 

 

 

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Holidays Around the World: France

Holiday Traditions Around the World: Christmas in France

Christmas in France is both a religious and secular holiday as it is in most modern countries.  In French, Christmas = Noël and is a reference to the Gospel.  It comes from the French phrase “les bonnes nouvelles” which means “the good news”.  L’Avent en France (Advent) commences the fourth Sunday before Christmas.    Although the Christmas tree is not so popular, homes all throughout France display the Nativity scene “la crèche”.  The creche is often coupled with figures called little saints or “santons” which represent the Holy Family, shepherds, Magi as well as local dignitaries and people in the community.   The craftsmanship and molds utilized to create the santons have been passed down from generation to generation since the seventeenth century.   Puppet shows leading up to Christmas are well attended particularly in Paris and Lyon.  One of the most famous Christmas puppet plays is Bethlemen 1933 and is considered a masterpiece.

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First Thanksgiving – Plymouth Rock or St. Augustine, Florida?

First Thanksgiving – Plymouth Rock or St. Augustine, Florida?

Conventional belief is that the first Thanksgiving was held at Plymouth Rock in 1621.  Over 50 years earlier in 1565, the Spaniards settled in St. Augustine, Florida and celebrated the “First Thanksgiving” with the local Native Americans.  St. Augustine has the distinction of being Our Nation’s Oldest City.  Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon discovered Florida in 1513 and claimed it for the Spanish.  He named it Florida after the Easter season known in Spanish as Pascua Florida.  In 1564 French Huguenots were able to establish a fort in Jacksonville.  King Philip II of Spain commanded Admiral Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles to conduct a fact finding mission in Florida and discovered the French intrusion and instructed him to remove them.  On September 8, 1565, Menendez and his fleet landed on the feast day of St. Augustine and named the land after the saint.  He removed the French and asserted Spain’s authority in Florida.  St. Augustine served as both a military outpost and a base for Catholic missionary settlements.

Thanksgiving

On September 8, 1565, they held a religious service as gratitude for the safe landing of the Spanish fleet.  After the mass, the Chaplin of the Spanish fleet invited the natives from the Timucua tribe to eat with the settlers.  If defined as giving thanks and express your gratitude by sharing a meal with native inhabitants, then this is the very first Thanksgiving meal in the United States.   However, as opposed to the turkey dinner we have come to know, the Thanksgiving meal in St. Augustine was comprised of Spanish food.   If tradition had been observed differently, Thanksgiving would have been a meal of salted port, garbanzo beans, bread and wine!

You can read more about the first Thanksgiving here: http://www.history.com/news/did-florida-host-the-first-thanksgiving

Regardless of the origin you choose to observe, be sure to remember the true meaning of Thanksgiving is to give Thanks.   We are most thankful for our wonderful family and continued good health and happiness!

Happy Thanksgiving from our family to yours!

The Traveling Gals

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Be Prepared with Healthy Snacks While Traveling

Be Prepared with Healthy Snacks while Traveling - The Traveling Gals

How Do You Snack Healthy While Traveling?

BY BEING PREPARED!

The easiest way to make bad nutritional decisions while on the road is by not being prepared and giving into temptation by the airport or gas station snack options.  This applies to a day trip or a month long journey.  Vacation is a good time to splurge, but only in moderation and only when it is really worth it.

Traveling Gals Tip:  Prepare snacks in advance of any trip.  It may take extra time beforehand, but is well worth the effort!

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