ALL POSTS IN [Festivals and Celebrations]

Mardi Gras in New Orleans

Each February, the City of Saints is decked out in green, purple and yellow, wild parades roll through town, and countless strands of colorful beads dangle from trees, power lines, balconies … and attractive women. If you’re lucky enough to be in New Orleans during Mardi Gras, Travel Channel’s got you covered.

Mardi Gras

The Big Easy is one big party during Mardi Gras. Check out photos from past celebrations, and get tips from locals on how to navigate the boisterous crowds.

The French Quarter

Work your way down NOLA’s infamous Bourbon Street and admire the flashing neon signs urging you to slurp down a daiquiri, a “grenade,” or a “huge-ass beer” – all served in to-go cups, of course. The Quarter is Mardi Gras mecca, but if you can’t make it there for the year’s most debaucherous day, visit in spirit with a (virtual) stroll through the city.

The Music Scene

Sure, Bourbon Street is a must-visit. But there is much more to the Crescent City than the cluster of bachelor-party-filled bars that line the city’s most lively (and touristy) street. Locals flock to nearby Frenchmen Street, where you can take your pick from a number of great live music clubs. For more, check out our article on New Orleans’ Coolest Live Music Venues, and be sure to check out who’s playing at Tipitinas and the Maple Leaf during your visit.

NOLA Food

Sip chicory coffee and give in to your craving for those world-famous beignets doused in powdered sugar … but certainly don’t stop there! You’d be remiss if you didn’t have at least one awesome po’ boy, a cup of gumbo, a plate of Willie Mae’s fried chicken and a bite of King Cake! To stir up your appetite, get a Taste of New Orleans and or browse restaurant suggestions from our editors in our New Orleans Travel Guide.

Voodoo Magic

What’s New Orleans without a little dose of Voodoo? On your Weekend Trip to New Orleans, take a Cemetery Voodoo Tour through St. Louis Cemetery Number 1 and leave an offering at the grave of Marie Laveau – NOLA’s “Voodoo Queen.” She’s rumored to have powers even in death, so you’d better not get on her bad side.

The Garden District

Get a glimpse of some of the best-preserved Southern mansions in the US as you explore the Garden District. You may even recognize some residents – Sandra Bullock, Peyton Manning and Nicolas Cage all have homes here. Plus, keep an eye out for the house where The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was filmed. For more suggestions for things to do, be sure to check out our New Orleans Travel Guide.

Layover App

Reuters

Chinese New Year falls on Sunday, Feb. 10, but you don’t need to cross the ocean for the party. The most widely celebrated Chinese festival is a time to welcome longevity, wealth and prosperity into your life. Spot a dragon, the bearer of good luck, or set off some firecrackers to chase off evil spirits in one of these cities – our picks for the best cities to ring in the year of the snake! READ MORE

Tonight at 11|10c, watch as Geoff Edgers visits The Edge of Maine, where he races lobster boats, tests his lumberjack skills, and sword fights with a pirate.

Edge of Maine

I thought I knew Maine. Roadside lobster shacks. Yuppies in Kennebunk. Brew pubs in Portland. Then I found myself in Eastport. It’s a gritty town around 6 hours up the coast from Boston. It’s actually the easternmost city in the United States, a fact that’s both trumpeted regularly and less interesting to me than the actual feel of the place. There was a time when Eastport was thriving, driven by the sardine factories. That time is gone.

So what do you do when your industry leaves, there’s no major league sports teams to pump in revenue and the closest you’ll get to a big concert is a pair of singer-songwriters wheeling their amplifiers into a coffee house? You make your own fun. And that’s what I loved about Eastport. It’s a town that’s redefining itself by restoring its downtown and creating offbeat events to attract buzz.

The Pirate Festival is a perfect definition of what I strive for in Edge of America. Thousands of people stream into an underappreciated place to celebrate and participate in an event that simply couldn’t take place anywhere else. You can see pirate bed races, during which the streets are lined with spectators cheering on the participants. You can catch the lobster boat races, in which these creaky boats are outfitted with engines straight out of the Munsters and souped-up to go as fast as 70 miles an hour. You’ll find almost everybody decked out in patches and peg legs and other pirate accessories.

Eastport, for me, was a discovery, with a wonderful waterfront, reasonable restaurants — nothing 5-star, but plenty of New England-styled seafood — and shops and art galleries. It is also a super-quick shot to Canada if you want to ramble more.

Eastport wasn’t my only discovery in our Maine episode. We also filmed in Greenville on Moosehead Lake, hours away and on the Northern border. Moosehead is beautiful. I had my eggs at Auntie M’s, scoured the shelves at the Moosehead Lake Indian Store and took a lengthy morning run through the town. We stumbled upon a fantastic crepe truck run by the daughter of a French immigrant. (Try the lobster, in particular.) And as part of our episode, I got a chance to see Greenville from another angle. I flew with Roger Currier, a veteran seaplane pilot.

Sometimes, when I’m rambling through, I’ll get a sense that the locals wonder if we’re being sincere or whether we’re there to make fun of them. So many TV shows mock people in small towns or in places outside the big city nexus. Not I. The proof, I hope, is in my summer vacation plans.

When it came to finding a place to stay for a couple weeks, I decided to avoid the cliché. We’ve rented a place for 2 weeks this summer in Eastport. I know the kids will get to collect shells and rocks along the shoreline. My wife and I can try to discover great art by artists who haven’t been discovered. And when we’re not doing anything, we’ll just get to sit on our porch, breathe in the salty air, and take pride in our latest discovery.

- Geoff Edgers

Tonight at 9|8c watch as Geoff Edgers gets “zombified,” does some damage at a demolition derby and competes in a haggis-eating contest while visiting Pennsylvania. Check out behind-the-scenes photos and get Geoff’s playlist from the shoot.

Demolition Derby

My fixation with demolition derbies began in 1976. That’s when Happy Days ran its “Pinky Loves Fonzie” multi-part storyline. Talk about cliffhangers. We got everything in those 3 episodes: romance, danger, redemption.

As the story goes … The Millachi brothers sabotage Pinky Tuscadero’s car. During the demolition derby, she’s stalled and decides to get out of her car. That’s when the villains strike. They deliver their infamous “Millachi Crunch” and poor Pinky gets knocked unconscious and rushed to the hospital. Cue the “to be continued.” Fonzie, Richie, Potsie, Ralph, Mr. and Mrs. C all rush to her side. Will Pinky live? Will she perish? Does Fonzie ever plan on washing his t-shirt? I was hooked. What 6-year-old wouldn’t be choking on his grilled cheese?

As a kid, the “Pinky Loves Fonzie” story inspired one of my frequent, grammar school daydream fantasies … badly hurt, I’d be in my own hospital bed and, while in that damaged state, concerned classmates would stream in to visit. It doesn’t take Sigmund Einstein to figure out the psychology behind this. In real life, I was getting teased for my bowl cut, the gap between my front teeth and the fact I wore my jeans twice in one week. In my daydream universe, a cast and an IV could serve as my bro and babe magnet.

Fact is, I got over Cami Cavadi et al by the 9th grade, but I never lost my desire to jump into a car, turn the key and smash into others for sport. That’s why when Edge of America launched, I found myself endlessly pitching demo derbies to the show’s producers. They pushed me off a few times until we found the right spot, what was pegged as the world’s biggest derby in Bloomsburg, PA.

When I showed up for the main event, I found the lot full of smash-up veterans, including fathers and sons, gear-heads who had been fine tuning their cars for months, and, naturally, a few dudes who talked like they’d gotten a couple too many whiffs off their spray paint cans.

The derby manager paired me with Dave. He had a sweet car, an ’88 Oldsmobile station wagon painted blue and labeled 007. Inside, I could quickly see how these wheels were special. Steel reinforcement bars keep the metal from crushing you after a hit. Beer kegs serve as gas tanks, ratcheted down where a back seat would normally be. No windshield, no lights, no radio.

I admit at first I was a little bummed about Dave. I wanted my partner to exhibit all of the worst qualities of Hulk Hogan, Bill Romanowski and Ozzy Osbourne. Dave spoke like a Tibetan monk. I could barely hear him at times. Then the gun sounded.

You’ll have to watch to see what happened next. Trust me. Dave and the ’88 don’t disappoint. It’s why the Pennsylvania “Edge” is one of my favorites. It’s also why if I ever drive in a derby again, I’ll remember it’s not about who yells the loudest, it’s about the driver willing with the courage to lean on the gas, even when you’re under fire.

- Geoff Edgers

Edge of America premieres tonight, Jan. 22 at 9|8c, followed by another all-new episode at 9:30|8:30c. Watch as Geoff rounds up rattlesnakes and gets his first taste of calf fries in Oklahoma, and tries his hand at tall bike jousting in Oregon

Meet Geoff Edgers

In this first blog entry, let me introduce myself. I’m a writer who usually reports on other people. I’ve written for magazines, I’ve written children’s books and, for the last 11 years, I’ve been an arts and entertainment reporter on the staff of the Boston Globe newspaper.

I confess, the concept for Edge of America emerged out of my midlife crisis. It wasn’t the kind of crisis that makes some men buy red Mustangs or proclaim their loyalty to Maker’s Mark. I had a creative crisis. How do I truly embrace the sense of adventure that I’d been so focused on when I was getting out of college so many years ago? How do I square my desire to be a family man, to mow the lawn and sit by the fire, with my need to do the unexpected? That crisis led me to make my first foray onto the screen, the 2010 documentary, Do It Again, about my irrational attempt to reunite the ‘60s rock band, the Kinks. The film led to Edge of America.

So what are the rules on this show? I must do what I report on. And I must share that experience with you, my viewing friend, as it happens. Do I always want to do what I’m doing? Intellectually, yes. But when you’re standing in a steamy room with a decapitated snake and its bloody, still-beating heart sits on the table in front of you, it’s easy to forget the mission. Would it be easier to sit at my desk and file my story? Sure. But trust me. You wouldn’t want to watch. 


The Edge of Oklahoma

Here’s an idea for the first day you’ve ever hosted a TV show: Do something uncomfortable. I’m not talking Jackass uncomfortable. I mean, to those guys, letting an alligator snap at the family jewels is as big whoop as my daughter asking for another American Girl doll. I’m talking something so outside your realm of behavior that the act is impossible to explain to anyone who actually knows you. They just have to see it.

That’s how I ended up in a field in Oklahoma holding a bloody clamp over a bull. I came to Stillwater to chow down on some calf fries at a wildly popular festival. Sounds innocent enough, until, that is, you realize what calf fries are: sliced bull testicles that have been battered and cooked in oil. And then you consider an important element of Edge of America: the doing. This show doesn’t just find the unexpected things people do for fun. It requires me to dig into the scene more deeply.

Some TV shows might mention calf fries and cut to the host grimacing and reluctantly taking a chew. Edge of America is about taking that great leap into the unknown. That’s why I spent the day 1 of my TV career performing a castration and entering a calf fry contest. Will you cringe? Perhaps. Cover your eyes? Probably. But I have a feeling you’ll be back.

The Edge of Oregon

I know somebody, somewhere is faking it on TV. But don’t tell that to my right shoulder. Because it’s been wrecked for months, ever since I decided to partake in a bike toss in Portland. That’s right. You take a bike and try to throw it as far as it’ll go. I went into the competition like I do every contest: to win. You’ll have to watch our Oregon episode to know how I did. But as Frank, my physical therapist at Massachusetts General Hospital can attest, the toss didn’t do wonders for my right shoulder. I’ve been trying to rehabilitate it ever since.

What can you say about Oregon? It’s the perfect state for Edge of America. Portland, the most famous city, has all those food trucks, micro-breweries and bicycles. But it’s also got a will to be weird.

As my friend Peter, a longtime Oregonian, wrote when I told him I was coming to town: “When you find yourself driving down the street behind a guy on a triple-high unicycle who rides while juggling — during a morning commute on a rainy spring morning, no parades/circuses/events/anything out of the ordinary in sight … and you’re not even surprised, then you’ve really arrived.”

Finding bike jousters took a little hustle, but I’d seen clips of these guys on YouTube and had to experience it first hand. You couldn’t cast a scene better. This was no Hollywood set. The street had been shut down for punk rock bands. A group of homeless people — a few with that meth-head quality — were lying around on mattresses. Brian, my guide, gave me his bike to ride. It wasn’t until I was up and holding the heavy pipe joust under my right arm that I realized that the left brake was busted.

My mentor on this escapade? Reverend Phil. He kept telling me to search out his work in the world of bike porn. I did. I regret it every day.

The beauty is that was just one side of Oregon. As if one some rambling, surrealist, adventure orchestrated by Fellini and Joyce Kilmer’s love child, I also found myself at a tree climbing competition, in an artist’s shop holding a chainsaw and at a track in Tillamook County. In the latter, I held a squealing pig under my arm as I tried to crank to life a Model T. Need to understand why people tell me I’ve got the best job in the world? Just watch this segment.

- Geoff Edgers

Photography by Golden Owl, flickr

Happy 500th birthday, Florida!

In 2013, it will be half a millennium since Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon landed on the shores of Florida, essentially becoming America’s very first tourist. To commemorate the 500th anniversary and honor Ponce de Leon for inspiring the European colonists to settle here, the Sunshine State is having a big year with festivals, events and celebrations.

2013 is chockfull of lively gatherings, and we listed a variety of our favorites throughout the year. Mark your calendar for some truly exciting adventures that wait in Florida!

Jan. 5: First Christmas in Florida
Mission San Luis, Tallahassee

Witness a reenactment of explorer Hernando de Soto’s 1539-1540 encampment in Tallahassee, with costumed interpreters, re-enactors, music and theatrical performances at Florida’s only recreated Spanish mission.

Feb. 2013: Grand Opening of Colonial Quarter
St. Augustine

Commemorating the discovery of La Florida by Juan Ponce de Leon 500 years ago, St. Augustine has added a legacy addition to its visitor experience: A living-history museum with exhibits, shows, taverns, restaurants and more to immerse visitors into Florida’s Spanish colonial experience.

Feb. 1-May 11: Picasso Exhibition
St. Augustine’s Visitor Information Center

Exhibition of graphic work and ceramics by Pablo Picasso, featuring pieces from the Fundacion Picasso in Spain that have never been displayed in the United States.

Feb. 7-18: Florida State Fair
Florida State Fairgrounds, Tampa

In 2013, this annual festival will highlight how historic European influences affect Florida’s lifestyles today, especially in food and agriculture.

April 2-5: Commemorating Ponce de Leon
Melbourne Beach

Costumed interpreters will land a replica ship to commemorate Ponce de Leon’s landing on Florida’s northeast coast. Events include an Air Force flyover, 21-gun salute, parade and erection of a statue of the Spanish explorer.

April 29-May 6: Broward Navy Days
Port Everglades, Fort Lauderdale

This annual event focuses on Florida’s rich maritime history, with tall ships to salute Viva Florida 500.

May 24-27: Florida Folk Festival
Stephen Foster State Park, Hamilton County

Singer-songwriters, folk musicians, storytellers, craftsmen, Native Americans, Florida cowboys and historical re-enactors bring Florida history to life.

June TBA: Spanish National Soccer
Miami Dolphins Stadium

Spain’s National Football Federation presents an exhibition soccer game and a chance to meet players, thanks to Espana-Florida Foundation, Fast Track Agency, the Miami Dolphins and Sun Life Stadium.

Oct. 3-5: International Spanish Food and Wine Festival
Throughout St. Augustine

Spanish culture will abound as Spanish wine distributors, along with local and regional restaurants, take over the Visit Information Center and Promenade for a festival celebrating Spain’s food, wine and dance. Hosted with the U.S.-Spain Chamber of Commerce.

October TBA: Festival Calle Orange
Orlando

One of Florida’s most internationally famous cities celebrates the state’s Hispanic roots with a street festival, food and cultural activities spread over 10 city blocks.

Nov. 30-Dec. 8: Maritime Heritage Festival
St. Augustine Municipal Marina & Promenade

Boats of all kinds — from tall ships to fishing skiffs — will celebrate maritime heritage at America’s oldest port, starting with the launch of a high-tech sailing voyage around the world in hopes of breaking a record.

- Jimmy Im

Jimmy Im is NYC-based travel writer, TV host and instructor, as well as the cofounder of OutEscapes.com

New Year's Day Plunge

Photography by Todd Bush Photography

Sometimes you need to make a statement — big and bold — in order to start the New Year off with a fresh, clean slate. And what better way to begin a new chapter than with a dip into a body of water — icy cold, at that!

I can personally vouch for it: Taking the plunge on New Year’s Day is something you won’t soon forget. Last New Year’s, on the heels of recovering from a lower back injury, I was feeling a little listless, like something had to change. Then one day, an ad popped up on my Facebook page — something about a Coney Island Polar Bear Club Plunge on New Year’s. Intrigued, I clicked on the ad.

Turns out, the Coney Island Polar Bear Club is the oldest swimming club of its kind in the United States, and every year since the early 1900s, this hardy group of men and women, now numbering in the hundreds, has taken a dip in the Atlantic Ocean off Coney Island on New Year’s Day. (They also take regular dips every Sunday from November through April, in case you can’t get enough.)

Hypothermia? Nah!

OK, OK, you’re probably thinking — I don’t know — “hypothermia” right about now. But as I found out last New Year’s, as I gathered with more than a thousand eager New Year’s plungers off the boardwalk at Coney Island’s Stillwell Avenue, you don’t have to be in super-primo-uno shape to take the plunge.

In fact, looking around at the sea of humanity ready to celebrate that New Year’s Day, I wasn’t exactly looking at a bunch of bodybuilders — and that’s putting it mildly. (As Bon Jovi music blasted from nearby speakers, yes, I did actually see grown men in every kind of sportive garb – including, you know, speedos and diapers — but hey, who am I to judge?)

Then came the moment …

At 1 p.m. sharp! –– a sea of people — my fellow brothers and sisters! — rushed toward the water, many yelping in what sounded like a primal seal sound: ah-oooh, ah-oooh

Feeling the growing excitement, I raced toward the water with them, and then it hit me, “Wow! This water is cold!” But then, what the heck, this was it, the moment — the New Year! — and soon, I dunked my whole body underwater, then rushed back toward the shore, feeling an exhilaration and joy I wouldn’t soon forget. I’m still talking about it a year later! (And a word to the ladies: A New Year’s plunge is a great date option — you’ll see how tough your fella really is!)

Eager to take the plunge yourself? Check out these New Year’s plunge options around the world! We’ve even included some warmer options, in case, you know, you don’t want to freeze to death. Go figure.

By Katie Hards

George Motz at the New York Food Film Festival

Photo by Katie Hards

What happens when you combine food- and film-hungry New Yorkers, 20,000 South Carolina oysters, live music, and the Brooklyn Fire Department? You get the closing night party for the New York City Food Film Festival. READ MORE

The off-season is the perfect time to visit the island of Nantucket, off the coast of Cape Cod in Massachusetts – a real-life “Pleasantville,” complete with cobblestone streets, grey-shingled houses and miles of picturesque beaches and conservation land. The island is especially inviting in October, when the water’s still warm, many restaurants are still open, the sea air is crisp and the streets aren’t lined with tourists toting a year’s worth of Nantucket reds home from Murray’s Toggery Shop. Do you need any more reasons to board the ferry?

Make the 30-mile passage out to sea for chef Michael LaScola (of Nantucket’s American Seasons) and chef Matt Jennings’ (of Providence’s Farmstead) Hogtoberfest, a 2-day celebration of all things pig, cooking and beer. The annual event – now in its 4th year – takes place on October 13 and 14. READ MORE

This Saturday, outdoor lovers have a chance to give back to some of the United States’ treasured nature reserves for National Public Lands Day. It’s the largest single-day volunteer effort in the country, and over 170,000 volunteers are expected to help plant trees, remove trash, restore habitats and beautify their public gardens, beaches and parks. This day is set aside annually to promote the importance of protecting our environment and conserving nature.  If you love hands-on activities and don’t mind getting a little messy, this is a great way to connect with nature and help our environment.

And to celebrate, the National Park Service is waiving the entry fees to all national parks, so If you don’t plan on volunteering this weekend, be sure to get outdoors and take advantage of this great opportunity to explore some of America’s treasures.

READ MORE

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