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Destination Washington DC

Unique US Festival Showcases Wonders of Chinese Culture

July 18th 2014

Smithsonian Folklife Festival

A curious child waddles up to the man holding a brightly colored kite. She asks him a question but he can only sheepishly smile to show that he does not understand her language. She nonetheless smiles back broadly as he lets her hold the paper kite. Though they cannot speak with each other, they’ve just experienced what the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C., is all about: cultural exchange.

Between the classic American landmarks, the Capitol building and the Washington Monument lay China and Kenya -- or, rather, a small taste of the culture and traditions that these countries have to offer. They're this year's featured countries for the annual festival, which opened last weekend on the National Mall and resumes July 2-6. The festival attracts almost one million visitors each year, who come to see an array of performers and artisans.

"We're bringing about 120 people from China - musicians, dancers, calligraphers, kite makers, embroiderers, batik dyers - to demonstrate and to share their traditions with our public," said Jim Deutsch, the Smithsonian's program curator. Together, they provide a diverse picture of China's landscape. Read more ..

Destination NYC

From Vast to Nano, at NYC Museum

July 17th 2014


Inside the Queens Museum in New York, there's another New York City, in miniature: a 50-year-old diorama of the city, built as an exhibit for the New York World's Fair in 1964.

At nearly 870 square meters, the Panorama of the City of New York is the world's largest scale-model of an urban environment. Every New York street, building, and landmark erected before 1992 is represented, from the Chrysler Building to Central Park, and all 100 or so bridges.

Visitors gawk from the surrounding ramps and balconies as day turns to night every 20 minutes, and tiny lights twinkle on - until dawn breaks again. But the museum's central and permanent attraction also presents an unusual problem for exhibitions director and curator Hitomi Iwasaki. "No matter what fantastic exhibition you think you put outside, everybody goes back to the Panorama and goes 'wow!'" she said.  Read more ..

Inside Washington

The Mysterious CIA Museum

July 12th 2014

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Five years ago, traveling on the Capital Limited overnight to Chicago, I chanced into a conversation that was remarkable even by Amtrak's usual high standards. After leaving DC at 4:05PM, we journeyed along the Potomac to Harpers Ferry. That part of the ride is so scenic that I always savor it with a craft beer in the "Viewliner Lounge," which boasts an all-glass upper level. At 6PM I walked to the diner (not the cafe car, no, a real dining car with selections like steak, fish, pasta, etc.). As usual, Amtrak seated me with other passengers.

First to sit opposite me was a man who introduced himself as Bert Sacks, the founder of IraqiKids.org, an organization devoted to making Americans aware of the plight of the children of Iraq before and during our second War on Iraq. He was going back home to Seattle (a three-day trip!) and inquired where I was going. I told him to a speaking engagement in Milwaukee, and he asked what about. I told him about my bestseller, Lies My Teacher Told Me, and he replied, "No kidding? You wrote that book? I love that book." Read more ..

The Way We Are

TSA Looks for Terrorist Threat in Cellphones

July 7th 2014

The Transportation Security Administration is now asking some travelers on direct flights to the United States to turn on their cellphones to make sure they power up.

“This is not something to overreact to or overspeculate about, but it's something we felt was necessary,” said Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson on Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “In this instance we felt that it was important to crank it up some at the last point of departure airports and we'll continually evaluate the situation,” he said.

The screening includes all electronic devices.

“Powerless devices will not be permitted onboard the aircraft,” TSA said in a statement. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

US Increases Foreign Airport Security -- Cellphones and other Electronic Devices

July 6th 2014

United Airlines jet liner

Passengers taking international flights into the United States now must have their cell phones and other electronic devices pass additional inspection before boarding planes, as part of the Transportation Security Administration’s most recent strategy to protect against the threat of a new type of terror attack.

The TSA said Sunday it is requiring only some overseas airports to conduct the additional inspections. The agency also said devices that fail to power up won't be allowed on planes and that their owners might have to undergo extra screening before boarding. “As the traveling public knows, all electronic devices are (already) screened by security officers,” the agency said in a release.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson on Wednesday ordered the TSA to put extra security measures in place at some international airports with direct flights to the U.S., based on intelligence that suggests new Al Qaeda efforts to produce a bomb that would go undetected through airport security. Some experts have suggested such a device would be planted in a laptop or other such electronic devices. Read more ..

Crimea on Edge

Tourist Season A Washout In Annexed Crimea

July 5th 2014

Dead Sea Resort

If some Crimeans are still enthusiastic about their region's annexation by Russia, tourism workers are not among them.

With Crimea now under Russian control, Ukrainians, who traditionally account for two-thirds of tourists to the region, are snubbing it in favor of other destinations.

European vacationers, deterred by Russia's controversial takeover and the current bloodshed between government forces and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, are also steering away from Crimean shores.

Moscow has pulled out all the stops in an effort to boost the number of Russians spending their summer break on the peninsula. But as the promised stream of Russian visitors fails to materialize, the many Crimeans relying on tourism for their livelihoods are reporting catastrophic losses. Read more ..

Destination Spain

Despite Economic Woes, Spain Registers Peak Year for Tourism

July 4th 2014

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According to figures published by Spain's national tourism agency, the Iberian country showed record breaking tourist figures during the month of May. For May, the number of tourists ran to a whopping 21.4 million foreign tourists who visited during the months of January to May 2014. This shows an increase of 8.2% year-on-year.

During the month of May alone, 6.1 million holidaymakers visited the Spanish mainland and islands, a 5.7% year on year increase and a record in the history of Spanish tourism.

British and French visitors were especially well represented. With over 300,000 more British tourists visiting Spain this year compared with 2013, they accounted for 22% of all tourists during the period. Over 340,000 more French were registered for the same period. German tourists accounted for 16.6% of all incoming foreign visitors, an 8.1% year-on-year increase. Read more ..

Edgy Travel

Kazakhstan Has a Long Way to Go as a Tourist Destination

July 3rd 2014

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Borat generated a lot of laughs at Kazakhs' expense, but he also helped put their country on the map for international travelers. The fictional Kazakh character, who starred in the 2006 film Borat: Cultural Learnings of America Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, was once credited with attracting tourists to the Central Asian country. Now the country is trying to reach the next level and become a top destination for domestic and foreign holidaymakers. Astana intends to invest some $10 billion -- including up to $6 billion from private investors -- to develop its tourism sector by 2020. The country boasts a wealth of attractions -- including picturesque lakes and mountains, hot-mineral springs, and archeological wonders. Read more ..

Destination Israel

Healing Powers of the Dead Sea

June 30th 2014

Dead Sea Resort

People seeking relief from chronic skin, respiratory and joint conditions benefit from the unique solar and mineral properties found only at the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea has become a popular destination for medical tourism.

Cleopatra knew about the healing properties at the Dead Sea thousands of years ago. Today, the same one-of-a-kind results are still sought by people seeking long-lasting relief from incurable chronic conditions such as psoriasis, asthma and arthritis. A stay of 14 to 28 days allows the sun and minerals at this lowest spot on Earth to work their magic.

“It’s very effective and 100 percent natural, plus it’s relaxing because you are at a beach resort,” says Pini Shani, head of marketing at the Tourism Ministry’s international department. “Many of those who come have tried other things that didn’t work. A few thousand people return year after year.” Read more ..

Travel Security

The Threat of Chikungunya Disease Spreads Worldwide

June 19th 2014

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A Kenyan mosquito scout at work

It’s not an illness you hear much about, but it can make a person feel miserable for years. And it’s sometimes fatal. It’s spreading and scientists describe the mosquito-borne disease as a major public health threat around the world. It’s called Chikungunya. The World Health Organization says the name comes from the Kimakonde language spoken along the Mozambique-Tanzania border. It means “to become contorted.” The name describes those suffering from the disease because they are often stooped over.

Dr. Scott Weaver, director of the Institute for Human Infections and Immunity at the University of Texas, said, “It’s a mosquito-borne virus. It originated in Africa and still circulates there now. Its original transmission cycle involves mosquitos in forest habitats and non-human primates. That’s the main vertebrae hosts. But periodically it emerges from that cycle into an urban cycle involving people and different kinds of mosquitos.” Read more ..

Brazilian Idylls

World Cup Preparations Bring Unrest to Festive Brazil

June 12th 2014

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World Cup 2014 is set to kick off in Brazil, launching a month of action that will see teams representing 32 nations do battle in hopes of being crowned champion of the world's top team sporting event.

In the opening match in Sao Paolo, host Brazil meets Croatia.

According to bookmakers, Brazil is favored to win. Brazil has already won a record five titles.

Defending champion Spain is bidding to make history by becoming the first side from Europe to win a World Cup in South America.

Only eight nations have won the World Cup, all from Europe and South America.

Bosnia will be playing in its very first World Cup this year. Read more ..

The Way We Were

French Contributions to Early American Cuisine

June 10th 2014

A geologist studied fossils to confirm that stones used in 19th century Ohio grain mills originated from France. Fossils embedded in these millstones were analyzed to determine that stones known as French buhr were imported from regions near Paris, France, to Ohio in the United States. Dr. Joseph Hannibal, curator of invertebrate paleontology at The Cleveland Museum of Natural History, was lead author on research published in the Society for Sedimentary Geology journal PALAIOS.

The study documents a technique that uses fossils to definitively distinguish French buhr from similar-looking Ohio chert (also known as flint). The most revealing fossil is a one-millimeter wide reproductive structure of a charophyte (a type of algae also known as a stonewort) that occurs in the rocks of the Paris Basin, a geological province centered around Paris, France. Read more ..

Haiti on Edge

Chikungunya Fever Virus Strikes Devastated Haiti

May 31st 2014

Already struck hard by a cholera epidemic that started in 2010, the island nation of Haiti now faces a new threat in the expanding chikungunya virus, authorities said on May 28. “We have had 8,201 deaths from cholera since its reappearance in Haiti in 2010, while 830,601 cases have been confirmed,” Health Minister Florence Duperval said on May 29.

A second deadly disease, that had already been spreading among the Caribbean islands, Asia, Africa, Europe and Australia, has emerged as a second health crisis in Haiti. Transmitted by mosquitoes, the virus causes high fever and severe joint pain, disproportionately striking poorer neighborhoods where homes often have no windows or screens. “We are putting in place steps to fight the chikungunya outbreak which is being felt almost nationwide,” Duperval added. The measures include fumigation and medications, she said. Read more ..

The World Cup

World Cup Soccer Hosts See Big Attendance Increases

May 30th 2014

Big soccer clubs in nations that host the World Cup enjoy significant bumps in attendance after the event, which provides at least a small ray of sunshine amid the howls of protest from Brazilians over the extravagant hosting costs.

Economists have shown that the cost of hosting big sporting events like the World Cup dwarf any perceived economic benefits for the host.

However, the 15-to-20 percent attendance boost Brazil will enjoy after the World Cup offers a bit of a consolation, says University of Michigan sports economist Stefan Szymanski—though it still won't offset the price to host the event. Read more ..

The Edge of Air Travel

K9 Flight School Trains Dogs for Air Travel

May 20th 2014


Traveling by air can be very stressful - the crowds, the noise, the sometimes intrusive security procedures, the airplanes’ closed environment.  People can take a course to get over their fear of flying.  Service dogs can too.

Service dogs almost never leave their owners, even on public transportation, including airplanes.  But a busy airport environment can be disorienting and distressing for dogs, even well-trained ones.

People with disabilities, who rely on their dogs, want to make sure their companions will be able to safely lead them through security checkpoints and stay calm even during occasional turbulence in flight.

They can turn to the Air Hollywood K9 Flight School, where owners and their dogs go through the entire procedure including spending time in a flight simulator, built for filming movie flight scenes.

Dogs experience all the sights, sounds and vibrations of a real flight.

Sandy Alexander, from Newport Beach, California, has a disability that requires his two-year-old Labrador, Doc, to be by his side at all times. Alexander says Doc didn’t like the turbulence.

“When that started he was pretty agitated and looked up at me and wasn't sure what was going on and I think we are going to be prepared the next time it happens,” he said. Successful training is based on a simple rule: repetition, says trainer Mary Segall, with Canine Companions for Independence, which provides dogs for people with disabilities. Read more ..

The Violent Roads of Mexico

A Mother's Quest for Justice Sheds Light on Mexico's Violence Against Women

May 14th 2014

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In September 1998, the van Nierop family of Holland was enjoying a family vacation in the mountains of northern Mexico. Oldest daughter Hester had just graduated with a degree in architecture and was on her way to the United States to seek employment or an internship.

Studying a map, the family determined that the easiest way to cross the border from their vantage point in Chihuahua state’s Sierra Tarahumara would be a “little” place named Ciudad Juarez. Bidding good bye to Hester, parents Arsene and Roeland van Nierop then headed to Mexico City for the flight back to the Netherlands. But Hester never made it to the United States or fulfilled her dream of becoming a professional architect. Read more ..

Poland on Edge

Poles Seek to Revive the Vanished Jewish Culture

May 10th 2014

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About an hour’s drive from the heart of darkness that was the Auschwitz death camp, there is a bright sunlit room in Krakow full of young Poles learning Hebrew.

“Metzuyan!” (Excellent!) the teacher exclaims in Hebrew, encouraging her students, who like her, are not Jewish. Together they negotiate the foreign tongue with zest, and give it a Polish twist.

“Teachers love to drink vodka with lemon,” they say in Hebrew in unison, repeating after the teacher.

More than three million Jews lived in Poland before World War II. Now, they number in the thousands. Fairly or not, Poland is often accused of having played a role in the Holocaust; but, non-Jewish Poles are working to bring Judaism back to Krakow, hoping to chip away at the perception of their country as a bulwark of anti-Semitism. And the Jewish community is beginning to thrive. Read more ..

Destination America

Hollywood-related Exhibits Give Museums a Boost

May 6th 2014

Wizard of Oz

For years, audiences have flocked to museums to see exhibits of film props and iconic pop culture artifacts.

For example, Dorothy’s ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz are a major draw at the Smithsonian's Museum of American History. Some museums are going a step further, capitalizing on audience interest by creating exhibits around new movie releases to tell real-life stories. 

That's the case with the 2012 political thriller Argo, which won four Oscar awards last year.  The film tells the story of a covert operation led by CIA agent Tony Mendez, who created a phony Canadian film crew in a scheme to rescue six U.S. diplomats who were in hiding at the Canadian Embassy in Tehran after the Iranian revolution. Argo is the subject of a recent exhibit at the International Spy Museum, where visitors can see authentic photos and documents about the operation. Read more ..

Destination Jerusalem

Iconic Jerusalem Hotel Transformed into Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem

April 10th 2014

Waldorf Jerusalem.jpg

After seven years of construction and an investment of $150 million, the only internationally branded luxury hotel in Jerusalem, Waldorf Astoria, has officially opened for business right before the Passover holiday. Welcoming its first international guests who reserved rooms for the April opening on Thursday, the Waldorf Astoria in Jerusalem has once again returned to its historical role of serving as a landmark destination for tourists.

Formerly known as the Palace Hotel which originally opened in 1929, the current 'grand luxury' hotel has sparkling crystal chandeliers that cost over $2 million, Italian-made furniture and rugs, and hundreds of glass mezuzahs made in the Czech Republic. 

"This is Israel's biggest and longest restoration project in Israel," said Guy Klaiman, the General Manager of the Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem who has had 25 years of working in the Hilton enterprise abroad. Read more ..

Destination Crimea

Can Crimea Reclaim Its Role As Russia's Beach Getaway Of Choice?

April 3rd 2014


In 1782, as Catherine the Great was pondering whether to annex Crimea, her lover and military adviser Grigory Potemkin urged her on, arguing: "Russia needs its paradise."

More than two centuries later, Russia has once again reclaimed its "paradise" with the forced annexation of the Black Sea peninsula. But it remains to be seen whether Crimea, in turn, can reclaim its past reputation as a bustling tourist draw and beachfront to the elite.

Writers Alexander Pushkin, Anton Chekhov, and Lev Tolstoi all sought out Crimea's exotic climate, extolling its virtues in their work. In the Soviet era, the peninsula was the preferred playground of the Communist elite and cadres of favored bureaucrats and students.

Crimea's luster, and infrastructure, has crumbled in the post-Soviet years. Many Russians are now accustomed to traveling abroad, flooding the beaches of Turkey, Spain, and the French Riviera. Those who still choose Crimea are drawn more by cheap prices and summer rave parties than by past notions of luxury. Read more ..

Malaysia on Edge

China Examines Satellite Images of Possible Malaysia Airlines Jet Debris

March 22nd 2014

Malaysia's defense minister says a Chinese satellite has spotted a large object floating in the Indian Ocean southwest of Australia where officials hope to find a Malaysia Airlines plane that has been missing for more than two weeks.

"Chinese ships have been dispatched to the area. Beijing is expected to make an announcement in a few hours,'' Malaysian Defence Minister and acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told reporters.

He said on March 22 that he had been informed that a Chinese satellite had spotted an object 22 meters (72 feet) by 30 meters (100 feet).

However, he said there was still no confirmation that debris detected by a satellite in the Indian Ocean several days ago was from a missing Malaysia Airlines plane. Read more ..

South of the Border

The Soul and Sounds of Acapulco

March 16th 2014

As dusk stirs, Acapulco’s Zocalo, or town square, becomes a cacophony of sounds. On a given day, visitors might hear a woman street musician playing a violin, the municipal orchestra soothing a mainly older audience, a poet reading revolutionary verse, or a clown tickling the old funny bones.

On one side of the old plaza, the pirate CD vendor cranks up a sample of popular banda music, while cavernous-like murmurs drift out from the Cathedral with its Virgin of Soledad, the protector of Acapulco. And like clockwork, noisy grackle birds lay down the back track in a tree-stand chorus.

Despite their historic importance, Acapulco’s Zocalo and adjacent barrios witnessed hard times in recent years. As crime and violence intensified and tourism plunged, businesses shut down or downsized. Read more ..

Aviation Edge

Malaysia Airline Flight Disappearance was 'Deliberate Action'

March 15th 2014

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Malaysian, American and other authorities investigating what happened to a missing jetliner en route to China one week ago are concluding that its disappearance was a deliberate action.

Malaysia's prime minister confirms that whatever took Flight 370 off course was not an accident.

Najib Razak told reporters Saturday the transponder of Flight 370 appears to have been deliberately switched off before the airliner turned back, flew west over peninsula Malaysia and then shifted to a northwest heading.

Najib said, "Up until the point at which it left military primary radar coverage these movements are consistent with deliberate action by someone on the plane."

But the prime minister emphasized that hijacking is not the only possibility authorities are considering for the suspicious actions.

The Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 with 239 people on board was en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur. Read more ..

Destinaion Israel

Voluntouring in Israel

February 17th 2014


Voluntourists to Israel are sure to return home with a better experience of how to share responsibility to heal, repair and transform the world. Going on holiday can mean relaxing or sightseeing, tasting new foods or learning firsthand about new cultures. A growing segment of vacationers, however, goes abroad to work for free.

Voluntourism – volunteering and tourism — has been cited as one of the fastest-growing sectors of worldwide tourism. Israel, a top destination for a myriad of reasons from historical to cultural, biblical to religious, is proving to be a leading location for voluntourists as well.

People of just about any age can farm, perform dentistry, respond to emergency calls, serve in the army, work in animal or environmental conservation, pick fruit on a kibbutz or make a person in need smile.

“Volunteers can make a difference even if they come for an hour,” says Deena Fiedler, spokeswoman for the national food bank Leket Israel. “They’re in our fields or in our packing warehouse; they’re preparing sandwiches, rescuing surplus food. They’re making a difference. We couldn’t do what we do without the volunteers.” Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Vice President Biden's LaGuardia Gaffe Provokes NYC Mayor De Blasio

February 8th 2014

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) defended LaGuardia Airport on Friday after a high-profile swipe from Vice President Biden.

Biden this week compared LaGuardia Airport to a “third-world” facility while he was speaking at event touting Amtrak service in the Northeast.

De Blasio said Biden was wrong about his city’s oldest airport.

“I respect the vice president, but I think his comments were inappropriate,” the mayor said during a press conference.

“As a proud New Yorker, I didn’t like that comment, and I think it was not the right way to talk about it,” de Blasio continued.

Biden made the remark in a speech on Thursday in which he warned the U.S. is falling behind other countries in airport and other infrastructure developments. Read more ..

Destination California

Whale Sightings Break Record in Southern California

January 21st 2014

Blue whale

Tourists are flocking to the southern California coast for whale-watching tours.  In the last month, a record number of the huge marine mammals have been seen off the coast of Long Beach, just south of Los Angeles.  Marine biologists are trying to figure out why.

Near two of the busiest ports in the United States, ships are not the only giants moving through the ocean.  Captain Dan Salas of Harbor Breeze Cruises has been seeing sprays of water coming out of the ocean, followed by splashes from giant tails.

“In the last month or so we have seen so many whales that it’s been just absolutely incredible,” he said. Salas runs whale watching cruises off the coast of Long Beach seven days a week throughout the year.  He said typically visitors had a 75 to 80 percent chance of seeing a whale. Read more ..

Destination Mars

Ten Years of Roving Around Mars

January 8th 2014

Mars rover family portrait

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is celebrating the 10th anniversary of its Mars Exploration Rover Mission (MER), which began with the arrival of its robotic vehicles Spirit and Opportunity on the red planet in 2004. The anniversary event, held at the National Air and Space Museum, in Washington, featured a panel of NASA scientists discussing the achievements of the vehicles that have landed on Mars so far, and the future plans for exploring the planet.

A golf-cart sized vehicle named Spirit landed on Mars on January 4, 2004, while its twin, Opportunity, touched down three weeks later on the opposite side of the planet.

Although designed to operate for only 90 Martian days (Martian days are about 40 minutes longer than days on Earth), both rovers functioned much longer, and provided mission scientists huge amounts of information about Mars. Geologist John Grant, who was involved with the mission, said the rovers greatly enhanced scientists’ understanding of the planet’s geologic history. Read more ..

Brazil on Edge

Brazil Beefs Up Security in Advance of Soccer's World Cup Tournament

January 7th 2014

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The Brazilian government has established a special unit to complement police to subdue demonstrations that are expected to be held during the World Cup, which begins in June. Ten thousand members will be selected from state police forces nationwide and stationed in the dozen cities that will host World Cup games, Col. Alexandre Augusto Aragon, who heads the elite National Security Force, told reporters. “We have been concerned with this [security during the World Cup] since before the protests that took place last year, because we don’t wait around for things to happen,” he told the website G1. “The violence of recent protests is what scared us.”

The Brazilian government is taking steps to preclude any incidents should protests occur during the World Cup. During last year’s Confederations Cup, more than a million people demonstrated on the streets nationwide in a single day. The demonstrators were protesting the billions that have been spent on the World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, which will be held in Rio de Janeiro, at a time when funding for social services is lacking. Read more ..

Destination Israel

Christian Tourists Welcomed to Holy Land

December 28th 2013

Jerusalem snow

This Christmas season, two new sites — devoted to the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene – are ready for visitors. Sound and light show at the Mary of Nazareth International Center.

Did you know that the majority of tourists to the Jewish state are not Jewish but Christian? In 2012, nearly 60 percent of the 2.88 million visitors to Israel were Christians, and about a third of those were pilgrims come to visit holy sites.

This Christmas season, two major, privately funded innovations are being promoted by the Israeli Tourism Ministry, which is putting increasing resources into existing and new Christian tourist sites.

The International Center Mary of Nazareth, located next to the Roman Catholic Basilica of the Annunciation, is run by an ecumenical French Catholic community with the aim of creating unity among Christians of different denominations and with other religions through the example of the Virgin Mary. Read more ..

Destination Israel

Dan Hotels Israel Wins First Place in Market Test Survey

December 24th 2013

King David Hotel

The Management of the Dan Hotels takes great pride in announcing that once again it is the Dan chain that has come top of the guest list!

All the large hotel chains in Israel participated in this survey which took place during September and October 2013 in accordance and cooperation with "ACSI" (American Customer Satisfaction Index). It involved 612 guests who stayed in hotels in Israel during the previous 12 months and the results clearly show how the Dan Hotels comes top in nine of the thirteen categories analyzed, with the main ones being, customer satisfaction; willingness to recommend; and willingness to return.

"This is a great achievement and we all very proud of the results" commented Rafi Baeri, Vice President Marketing and Sales. "It is always a challenge to ensure customer satisfaction for the long- term but achieving first place for eight years in a row (since 2005, when the survey began) is very gratifying and ensures customer loyalty for the future. It is even more of a triumph this year as we have also managed to improve on Dan's perception by our customers as compared to previous years." Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Better User Interface Design Could Mitigate “Automation Addiction” and Other Flying Errors

December 16th 2013

USAir ditch in Hudson

Amid news reports on the National Transportation Safety Board hearings regarding possible causes of the Asiana plane crash at San Francisco International Airport in July, questions have been raised about pilots’ overreliance on or failure to understand cockpit automation and even whether pilots are sufficiently trained to fly without it. Eric Geiselman and colleagues propose that user interfaces that take advantage of avionics’ underlying data and logic could enable pilots to better cope with extraordinary circumstances like the unavailability of an instrument landing system, as was the case in San Francisco.

In Geiselman et al.’s October Ergonomics in Design article, “Flight Deck Automation: A Call for Context-Aware Logic to Improve Safety,” the authors describe prototype designs that could mitigate errors leading to accidents and incidences such as the A330 Air France Flight 447 crash in 2009 and the airport overfly of Northwest 188 that same year. Read more ..

Destination Washington DC

US Botanic Garden Wows Holiday Visitors

December 11th 2013

Oklahoma City Botanical Gardens

It’s winter in Washington and its cold outside. But inside the U.S. Botanic Garden, in the heart of the nation’s capital, the temperature’s warm and the holiday spirit is high.

Each year, the huge greenhouse is decorated with seasonal displays that have charmed visitors for almost a decade.

Executive director Holly Shimizu said the winter exhibit, “Seasons Greenings,” is one of the garden's most popular attractions “because it helps get people in the holiday spirit.”

Natural wonders
Highlights of the exhibit include artistic representations of landmark monuments and buildings in Washington that look like replicas of the real thing.

Nestled among colorful Poinsettias and other seasonal greenery, there are model-like structures such as the White House; Washington Monument, complete with blinking red lights; Lincoln Memorial with a miniature President Lincoln inside; and an interpretation of the U.S. Capitol, which is just a few steps away from the gardens. Read more ..

The Holiday Edge

Chinese Sculptors Bring Their Talent to US Holiday Ice Show

December 10th 2013


No matter what the thermometer shows about the weather in your neighborhood - this next story will keep you cool.  For the Christmas holiday, a huge attraction at the Marriott Gaylord National hotel near Washington, DC is made entirely of ice.  Actually, more than 900,000 kilograms of ice! 

Walk inside a massive white tent and the noise hits you first, followed by the brisk air. You're hearing the sounds of forklifts and chainsaws, slicing through ice. 

The temperature is minus 12 degrees Celsius....the air turns a smoky color when someone exhales. But it must be this cold to preserve the 6,000 massive blocks of ice. Carvers are chipping the blocks into life-sized characters from a children's Christmas storybook. The carvers only speak Mandarin, like Xu Rui who is the art director of the exhibit. “We learn it since we were really young," said Xu Rui. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

Congressional Democrat Voices Concern over U.S. Parts for Iran's Jets

December 10th 2013

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A senior Democrat is lashing out at a provision of the nuclear deal with Iran that could make it easier for the country to repair its aging fleet of civilian aircraft.

A little-noticed provision of the deal paves the way for U.S. companies such as Boeing and General Electric to inspect and repair Iran's American-made planes inside Iran. But Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs panel and a hawk on Iran, says the planes could be used to promote terrorism and support Syria's Bashar Assad.

“America should exploit some of the vagaries in the agreement’s language and prevent Boeing from repairing Iranian aircraft until we have a final deal,” Sherman said in a statement Tuesday. “Otherwise we will have made a permanent irreversible concession in a 'temporary' agreement.” He said he opposes “licensing parts and services needed to repair Iran's American-made planes because they have been used to support some of Iran's worst activities.” Read more ..

Destination South Sudan

South Sudan, World's Newest Honeymoon Destination

December 8th 2013

Christian church closeup

When newlyweds fly off on their honeymoon, they head for the sandy beaches of the Cayman Islands, Tahiti, the Maldives and -- landlocked South Sudan?

That's where Australian couple Matthew and Emily Albert headed on their honeymoon, and they came away with enduring memories and some words of advice for the authorities in the world's newest nation: ease up on visa requirements and improve transportation, and South Sudan could become a hot tourist destination.

"We were made to feel very welcome from the outset and got to see a country that is pristine in so many ways -- pristine in terms of not being overly done for tourists but also in terms of the environment and magnificent scenery," Matthew Albert told South Sudan in Focus. But just as the couple is likely to face a few bumps and challenges along the (hopefully) long road of marriage, they ran into a few in South Sudan. "The biggest challenge was transport, just getting from one place to another," Albert said. Read more ..

Destination Zion

We're Marching to Zion

December 6th 2013

Amish buggy

Amish, Mennonite and Hutterite pilgrims meet with Israeli Chief Rabbi on a tour meant to build a relationship of blessing between Anabaptists and Jews.

When Israeli Chief Rabbi David Lau entered the conference room at the Chief Rabbinate in Jerusalem with Parliamentarian Aliza Lavie, a group of 31 Anabaptist Christians was in the midst of singing a medley of hymns, harmonizing so beautifully that staffers had been standing in the halls to listen. No one seemed fazed that the hymns were not Jewish, least of all Lau.

“I ask you to continue your singing, because we heard it together [as we approached the room] and it was amazing,” the revered rabbi told the awestruck pilgrims. “Sing something about Jerusalem.” And so they found their voices again: “We’re marching to Zion, beautiful, beautiful Zion; we’re marching upward to Zion, the beautiful city of God.” This extraordinary scene was, for many of the visitors, the apex of the third Anabaptist mission to Israel. It spanned November 24 to December 1, 2013, including most of the Hanukkah holiday. Read more ..

Destination Israel

The Top Eight Things to do in Israel on the Eight Days of Hanukkah

December 1st 2013


Torch Relay
The annual Hanukkah Torch Relay marks the beginning of the holiday in Israel. People line the road from the city of Modi’in to the Western Wall (Kotel) in Jerusalem’s Old City, passing a burning torch from hand to hand. The torch then lights the giant hanukkiyah (menorah) at the Western Wall.

Modi’in, located between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, is believed to have been the home of Hanukkah’s heroes, the Maccabees, and the place where the Maccabean revolt began.

Sufganiyot (doughnuts) are by far the most popular Hanukkah food in Israel. Every year, Israelis eat a whopping 24 million of these calorie-heavy-sugar-covered-fried treats made especially for the holiday.

Strawberry-jelly-filled ones are the most ubiquitous, but don’t miss out on the other fillings: halva, dulce de leche, chocolate, pistachio cream and more.

Diets aside, Hanukkah foods are usually fried in oil to remember the Maccabees’ victory over their oppressors and that one flask of oil miraculously burned for eight days in the rededicated Temple in Jerusalem.

Many dishes also contain cheese to celebrate Judith’s victory over the powerful Assyrian army (she gave Holofernes, an invading general of Nebuchadnezzar, salty cheese to make him thirsty, wine to make him drunk, and then beheaded him).

The traditional holiday menu also includes latkes (potato or cheese pancakes fried in oil), svinge (traditional Moroccan Jewish fried fritter), loukoumades or bimuelos (fried honey puffs) and chocolate coins. Read more ..

Destination Virginia

Claude Moore Colonial Farm Steps Back in Time

November 28th 2013

Small Farm

On the outskirts of Washington, there's a place where it seems time has stopped.  Claude Moore Colonial Farm is a U.S. national park in McLean, Virginia, which recreates and reenacts life on a tenant farm around the year 1771.  The vast majority of Virginians at that time were tenant farmers, who grew tobacco to pay their rent and buy food. 

When you visit the Claude Moore Colonial Farm, you step back almost two and a half centuries, to a time when this part of America was under British Rule.

Life was governed by the rhythms of agriculture. People worked from dusk to dawn - and in the colony of Virginia, spent much of their time growing tobacco. The U.S. Park Service created the farm just before the 1976 U.S. Bicentennial celebration.  But facilities manager Jon David Engle says it’s now privately operated - unlike any other national park in the country. Read more ..

The Friendly Skys on Edge

Deadly Russian Plane Crash Shines Spotlight On Regional Carriers

November 18th 2013

USAir ditch in Hudson

As Tatarstan residents mourn the 50 victims of a plane crash in the republic's capital, Kazan, the disaster has cast a harsh spotlight on the safety of Russian regional carriers.

The Boeing 737 operated by Tatarstan Airlines crashed on November 17 while trying to land in Kazan, killing everyone on board.

Investigators say the plane, which was flying from Moscow, slammed into the ground while making a second attempt at landing before bursting into flames. They are looking into pilot error and technical problems, including equipment failure.

Among the mourners laying flowers at the airport on November 18, many had angry words for Tatarstan Airlines and Russian aviation authorities. One mourner, named Dmitry, called the tragedy "unimaginable -- it's awful, just awful." Read more ..

Destination Galilee

Celebrating The Olive In The Galilee

November 5th 2013


Artisinal olive oil. It has an attractive ring, but think what “artisinal” means. You associate it with ancient traditions that living people continue to maintain – with the material products of those traditions.

But when you pick up a bottle of olive oil, you’re probably thinking of salad, not imagining the physical labor involved in making it. I learned about Israel’s olive crops and the mix of ancient and modern methods of producing olive oil, on a tour of the Galilee olive festival this week. Laurie Balbo reported on the olive tree’s historical origins in this fascinating post.

Every October and November, the the Ministry for the Development of the Negev and the Galilee,  the Galilee Development Authority and the Olive Council sponsor the Olive Branch Festival celebrating the olive harvest. Enjoying the cool fall weather, visitors tour villages throughout the Galilee, the Golan and the valleys where olives and their oil are a culture unto themselves. In the north of the country, it’s an opportunity to meet Druze villagers whose livelihood depends largely on olive oil production. We’ve reported on our Druze culinary experience in this post. And if you like olive oil, you can take advantage of the chance to buy it fresh – almost right off the tree. Read more ..

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