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Oaxaca City

3 Best Neighborhoods to Stay In Oaxaca City, Mexico

In recent years, Oaxaca (pronounced waa-haw-ka), a city that shares its name with the state in Mexico, has topped many best-of travel lists—and for good reason! This beautiful and charming city in the foothills of the Sierra Madre Mountain range has so much to offer both short and long term visitors. Oaxaca City, Mexico is famous for its culinary scene, boasting seven (official) types of moles—the most famous ones made of more than 30 ingredients, including tantalizing combinations of chocolate, onions, various dried peppers, and garlic, smothering chicken, beef, or vegetables and served with fresh maiz tortillas.

Oaxaca is also perfectly positioned with a number of intriguing pueblas and attractions within two hours of the city. Perhaps the most popular destinations, Hierve el Agua, which includes mineral pools and a petrified waterfall, is just 1.5 hours from the center. You can reach San Bartolo Coyotepec, where they make beautiful black pottery, and the Sunday Market of Tlacolula, known for its barbacoa and live animals, in under an hour. And the incredible pre-Columbian archaeological site of Monte Alban is a short, 20-minute ride. The expansive, well-preserved ruins are said to be the first urban development in North America!

Even the barrios within the city limits offer so much to explore.

Here are the 3 best neighborhoods to stay in Oaxaca City, Mexico:

Zocalo

For visitors who want to be close to the action, the heartbeat of the city pulses strongest in the area known as the Zocalo, a bustling square bordered by the government palace and a jewel of a church. The 18th-century cathedral is flanked by a beautiful plaza lined with restaurants, mariachi bands, and vendors selling everything from mangos cut to look like flowers to beautiful clothing and textiles the area is famous for. Staying in one of the lovely hotels in the Zocalo puts you a short walk from both the must-see Benito Juarez market and the architecturally stunning Santo Domingo Church. Just beware, on weekends the fiestas, parades they call calendas, can go well into the night!

Colonia Reforma

Travelers looking for a chic, less-touristy-but-still-lively experience will be called north of the historical center to the middle-class neighborhood known as the Reforma. The unassuming Reforma has a unique restaurant or cafe around every corner, where visitors have ample opportunity to sample mezcals from the region. A quieter, more residential neighborhood, the Reforma is only a 25-minute walk or 50-peso taxi ride from the city center. This neighborhood puts visitors in a great spot to sample what the city has to offer from a more relaxed atmosphere.

Barrio de Jalatlaco

To the east of Oaxaca City’s historical center, the Jalatlaco neighborhood offers idyllic cobblestone streets lined with colonial buildings painted in vibrant blues, pinks, and yellows. A quick, 10-minute walk from the historic center, this neighborhood is close to El Llano Park, where you can see local life evolve depending on the time of day. In the mornings, the park will have vendors shining shoes as Oaxacans go for their morning jogs. And as day turns to night, food vendors open up offering gringas–two flour tortillas stuffed with Oaxacan string cheese and al pastor–to the intoxicated passer-bys. The Jalatlaco is the perfect option for those looking for a quaint neighborhood where they can still want to be close to the action.

No matter which neighborhood you choose, Oaxaca City, Mexico offers so much that it’s hard to leave without feeling a deep admiration for the friendly people and the beautiful culture that thrive here in southern Mexico.

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Image of Hebrew letting on a wall

3 Easy Ways to Learn a Language Before Your Next Trip

Traveling is supposed to be fun and relaxing. But it can be stressful if you don’t speak the same language. Whether you dedicate your vacation to resting or exploring new places, it can be super helpful to learn a language (even just a few words!) before you go.

In some cases, like with Americans who head to Cancún for spring break, travelers might not have issues communicating with the locals. After all, it’s a city known for receiving tourists from all over the world, especially from English-speaking countries. So ordering food at a restaurant or asking for directions won’t often be a problem.

Person holding a Fluent City Spanish hand book in front of a cactus

But that might not be the case for other, less touristy, places. What if you want to visit a charming little island off the coast of Mexico, where they are less accustomed to hordes of visitors. People in places like these are less likely to understand a language different from their own. And frankly, these are often the hidden gems of travel; the destination where you get a genuine feel for life in a foreign place.

That’s why, even if you just learn the basics, it can be a life-changing experience to learn a language other than your native tongue. Spanish, in this case, can be more than a cool addition to your résumé or a secret talent to impress your friends with. When you travel to places off the beaten path, it becomes a necessity.

Of course there are several easy ways to learn a language. And, if you have the time before your trip, we’d suggest you try a couple of them. Different formats can help with different aspects of the learning process. However, traveling is about immersing yourself in a new place, a new culture and, yes, a new language. Usually the best option for that is a service that will prepare you for the type of situation you’ll encounter in real life, like asking a stranger for recommendations, ordering a cab, or making small talk with a local.

Travel accessories including a Tuttle Pocket Japanese Dictionary

Here are 3 easy ways to learn a language before your next trip:

1. Get the Duolingo app

This popular app uses games for a fun way to learn a language. It’s the perfect choice for those with a bit of a competitive streak. Beat the clock, collect points, and work your way up those levels! You’ll also have the chance to review what you’ve learned and what your weaknesses are so you can work on them. Duolingo is available for every major operating system and it can help you learn Spanish, French, German, Italian and 11 other languages! Plus you can connect with friends to challenge each other!

2. Buy Rosetta Stone software

Another option to learn a language, including Spanish, French, Italian and German, is a classic: Rosetta Stone. This software, which can be tailored to meet the needs of individuals, educators and businesses, has been helping people learn new ways of expression for 25 years. Needless to say, they must be doing something right! In addition to rave reviews, its TruAccent speech recognition technology sets Rosetta Stone apart from other similar services.

3. Skype with a Tutor

Thanks to the internet, there are now services that can connect you with a real tutor via Skype. Spanish55, for example, hooks you up with a certified Spanish tutor who, after an initial consultation, will work one-on-one with you via Skype so you can achieve your goals. And there are also sites like italki that offer other languages. So you’ll be able to learn a language at a fraction of the cost, in a fresh, dynamic way and, most important, from the comfort of your own home and at your own pace! Flexible, relaxed and rooted in reliable technology, services like Spanish55 can help you achieve fluency faster.

Have you used another method to learn a language before traveling? Tell us more about your favorite tools in the comments!


About the Author:  Fernando Quintero is a writer and editor for Spanish55. A former movie blogger, he now works as a digital reporter for an international news platform.

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Yoga on the beach

The Best Yoga Accessories for a Better Practice

Leggings and a yoga mat: That’s all you need to do yoga, right? While that technically isn’t wrong, it’s not totally right either. You can definitely get your yoga on with some stretchy/comfy pants and a mat, but if you really want to commit to and grow your practice, there are a few additional yoga accessories you should consider adding to your toolkit.

The 4 Best Yoga Accessories for Improving Your Practice:

Yoga Mat

1. Find the best yoga mat for you
Let’s start with the obvious: your yoga mat. You can find a mat for all types of practices on any budget. There are mats specifically for hot yoga, mats for taller people, and mats with a little or a lot of cushion.

I have personally tried several different brands and the best yoga mat I have found is my Yoga Design Lab yoga mat! It’s beautiful, vibrant, and makes me happy when I roll it out. It’s also great for hot classes and preventing slipping in general. (Side note: if you like hot classes, you may want to consider getting a towel to spare your mat some sweat!) But for me this one has great grip and just the right amount of cushion.

I have the studio version and I find it to be a great weight to throw over my shoulder (it helps if you have a strap for this) when I head out to class while still being supportive and soft under my body. If you want a smaller, even lighter option, you could try the commuter version! This is easily one of the best yoga accessories to invest in!

2. Get good yoga blocks for support
After you lock down a mat you love, you can move onto (in my opinion) the next most important yoga accessories to support your physical practice: yoga blocks and a strap. These props are key to a solid, aligned, and safe yoga practice. In my classes I notice a lot of people resist using props because they think it makes them look like a beginner.

I promise, it doesn’t. I have been practicing yoga for more than 10 years and I still use blocks and a strap every time I step on my mat. Rounding your back because the ground is too far away, or straining your shoulders because you cannot properly bind your hands behind your back isn’t only not cool, it’s not good for your alignment. Think of these props as your friends and know that by using them you’re doing your body and your practice a favor.

No need to go crazy and spend tons of money on these puppies, though. This combo package from Gaiam has both yoga blocks and a strap at a reasonable price. Or, if you’re looking for something a little more advanced, consider getting a yoga wheel.

books on yoga

3. Deepen your practice with books on yoga
Remember that yoga isn’t just a physical practice! If you’re interested in yoga beyond asana (postures) and want to explore the philosophy behind it, I encourage you to read. Read lots of books about yoga asana, meditation, spirituality, and anything else that interests you about the world of yoga.

One of the first books I read about yoga and the yoga lifestyle was “Happy Yoga” by Steve Ross. I love this book because it breaks things down in a simple way. It taught me how to take my practice off my mat and into my life. Ross makes it entertaining and fun by keeping things pretty light and sometimes silly, but also weaving in yogic stories and philosophies. There are also postures at the end of each chapter to help incorporate what you have read into your physical practice. This book also helped me make the decision to become a vegetarian, so be warned and encouraged!

Another great yoga book is B. K. S. Iyengar’s “Light on Yoga”. This one is a little heavier and has more in-depth explanations on yoga philosophy. It’s a great resource if you’re ready to deepen your understanding of yoga, yoga asana, and pranayama (breath). Fair warning with this book: Iyengar can do insane things with his body. It’s important to remember that he practiced his whole life and can only achieve these expressions of the postures because of time and practice.

For more personal, spiritual aspirations, I’d also recommend “Adventures for Your Soul” by Shannon Kaiser. This book helped me through a time of transition and connected me more deeply to my soul and my purpose in life. You can easily pick it up, read a chapter, do the work associated with that chapter, and then set it down for another time. Get yourself a journal dedicated to this book as you will need to do some writing and brainstorming throughout. Kaiser’s writing is entertaining and her story is easy to connect with. There are so many awesome self-help style books out there, and this one is definitely worth adding to your collection.

Yoga Meditation

4. Raise your vibration with a meditation cushion
Lastly, if you are looking to venture into the land of meditation, a good meditation cushion is a great thing to add to your arsenal of yoga accessories. One option is to get a bolster, which you can use for your physical practice, too. But I find that having a dedicated prop used only for meditation helps me actually meditate because it feels special and sacred.

My personal favorite is this meditation cushion by Peace Yoga. You can adjust the cushioning by changing up the amount of buckwheat inside. It also helps to make yourself a little space, even a corner of your bedroom or living room, where your meditation cushion lives. Let that be the space you can come back to each day, to be quiet and still, and tune into yourself.

Wherever you are in your practice, these are all great yoga accessories to develop a solid, educated, aligned, and connected practice. Call it the basic starter kit, if you will, but it’s great for advanced yogis too! Enjoy your new props, books, and anything else you decide to add– and congrats on starting or deepening your practice!

 


 

About the Author: Tacy Nielson is a Yoga Instructor and Reiki healer who is passionate about holistic healing, traveling and living life to the fullest. She was born and raised in Minnesota and is now enjoying life in Minneapolis after studying massage therapy in San Diego. Read more from Tacy here.

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yamdrok-lake-in-winter

The 4 Best Reasons to Tour Tibet in Winter

Perched high on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, Tibet boasts awe-inspiring Himalayan mountain vistas, mysterious Tibetan Buddhist culture, and captivating local customs. With blinding sunlight and clear, deep blue skies, all visitors need to go through the phase of acclimatization to the high altitude on the plateau as they tour Tibet.

With its incredible alpine scenery and inhospitable natural environment, Tibet has many natural features worth seeing during a Tibet tour. But first, we want to clear up some misconceptions about Tibet travel, particularly about visiting Tibet in the winter.

Insider Tip: Tibet has an average altitude of more than 4000m (13000 feet), and the oxygen content in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, is one third less than that of Beijing. Tibet tourism reaches its high season from early April to Oct. From mid-Oct. to early Feb the next year, it’s the off season. During mid-Feb and March, Tibet has a recess and is completely unavailable to visit by international tourists.

Here are the 4 Biggest Misconceptions about touring Tibet in winter:

 1. The winter weather in Tibet is unbearable.

Undoubtedly, this is one of the biggest misunderstandings of Tibet. True, the weather on the lofty plateaus does get bitter cold. In reality, the weather is quite temperate from season to season and Tibetan winters are not as cold as one expects.

Take Lhasa (3658m), the capital of Tibet for example, the average annual temperatures are: Spring ( -2℃ to 12℃); Summer (9℃ to 22℃); Autumn (7℃ to 19℃) and Winter (-7℃ to 9℃).  There is not a huge difference between winter and the other three seasons. There is a proverb in some places that one can experience four seasons in just one day. In Tibet, it can be hard to tell the difference of the four seasons in a single year. The unique climate of Tibet is largely due to the ample sunlight and strong solar radiation. As long as there is sunlight, you won’t feel cold at all. Besides, heavy snow normally occurs in mountains areas, while the Lhasa valley is spared most of the time.

Insider Tip: Whenever you come to Tibet you will experience the dramatic temperature change between day and night. Be prepared for the chilly winds on the plateau and use a sunhat, sun glasses, and sun screen to protect you from strong UV light. Don’t forget to drink lots of water as the mountain air is very dry.

2. The Oxygen Content Is Extremely Low in Winter

Many people assume that the heavy snow and lack of vegetation in winter would further intensify the low oxygen content. In fact, according to the statistics from the China meteorological bureau, the oxygen content of Lhasa in summer is around 66% of that of the plain regions, while in winter the figure falls only 3 points to 63%. The subtle difference feels negligible to the body.

All people travelling to Tibet will have some mild altitude sickness symptoms in one way or another. It’s highly advisable to stay in Lhasa for a couple of days for acclimatization purposes.

Insider Tip: After your arrival in Lhasa, never hurry to tour attractions inside Lhasa or other areas. Instead, you’d be better served to have a sleep at your hotel. If you have shortness of breath, try to avoid smoking, drinking too much alcohol, or eating too much food because they will only exacerbate the situation. Also, try not to overexert yourself, otherwise you might suffer acute altitude sickness.

3.  Most of the Attractions Can’t Be Seen in Winter

Another common misnomer about touring Tibet in winter is the belief that many attractions and shops will be closed due to the heavy snow and subsequent fewer numbers of tourists. In fact, the attractions in Lhasa and surrounding areas are readily available for tourists year round (except from mid-Feb to March). The temperature does get cold in mountains areas. However, as long as the road is not completely blocked by a blizzard, all attractions still remain available.

namtso-lake

The frozen Namtso Lake(4718m) will take your breath away instantly, with its surface exquisitely embedded into the lofty Nyenchen Tanglha Mountains. October is also one of the best seasons to visit Mt. Everest (8844.43m) at EBC in Tringri, Tibet.

Instead of closing souvenir shops, most of the businessmen inside Lhasa offer more products that cater to local Tibetans. In winter, Tibetan farmers and nomads have more time to go on a pilgrimage in this holy city. The few tourists and more Tibetan pilgrims allow you to enjoy the most intense religious atmosphere in Lhasa. You can explore more local customs than in high seasons of tourism.

Insider Tip: In addition to being less crowded, it takes less time for you to get your Tibet Permit in winter. You can enjoy more tourism promotion events in Lhasa and Shigatse, and the cost for hotels, transportation, and attraction tickets can also be much cheaper. In addition, the grandest celebration, Losar (Tibetan New Year), is also celebrated in winter. The various performances and distinct local dishes can only be seen and tasted during this particular time.

4.  All You Can See Is the Lifeless Mountain Scenery

Many falsely believe that the scenery in winter of Tibet is little more than monotonous, cragged mountains and valleys. But in fact, even in winter, Tibet is full of surprises. In Nyingchi (3100m), in eastern Tibet, the evergreen pristine forest and enchanting landscape will awe your senses.

Tour Tibet

Due to the influence of the warm air currents in Yarlung Tsangpo River, the typical “Swiss-Alps” scenery in Nyingchi remains unchanged. Why not enjoy the ride either on the tour bus or bicycle along the charming Nyang River, or explore in the renowned Lulang Forest? Nyingchi is the only place with dense forest coverage and lower altitude, so there is no need to worry about altitude sickness there.

Insider Tip: In winter, a large number of migratory birds will fly all the way from other provinces to spend the winter in Tibet. Never miss the rare chance to see a large number of black-necked cranes in the suburbs of Lhasa.

Best Travel Routes for Winter Tibet Tour

tibet-tour

Different regions of Tibet

Lhasa—Gyantse—Shigatse—EBC
Lhasa— Namtso (Nagqu)
Lhasa—Nyingchi

Overall, for international tourists, the excitement of a Tibet tour in winter definitely surpasses all expectations.

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roadtripont2

Toronto To Montreal: JustFly’s Guide To Canada’s Most Popular Road Trip

If you ask anyone to name Canadian cities, you are likely to get two places more often than any other. Toronto, Ontario and Montreal, Quebec, for example, are two world-famous cities for various reasons. With just five hours of country highway lying between these two urban spots, it’s become very popular to make the journey between these two distinctly Canadian cities. While one might think there isn’t much to see in the wilderness between these two spots, there are actually a number of unique stops one can make over the course of this trip. To find out what you could be missing, we asked JustFly, an online travel agency, what exactly you should do between point A and point B.

First Stop: The Big Apple

No, not that Big Apple. Just East of Toronto you come across the small town of Colborne, Ontario. While this tiny town seems like just a small dot on the map, it is also home to The Big Apple pie shop. You can try as hard as you want, but you can’t miss the giant apple on the side of the road.

roadtripont1

Complete with a sign that claims more than 5,000,000 pies sold, this shop has a reputation for having great pies and other neat souvenirs. You can’t miss it, nor should you, and it’s a great first stop if you happened to hit traffic on the way out of the Greater Toronto Area. Don’t take our word for it, though. Check out JustFly’s review for more details.

Second Stop: Sandbanks Provincial Park

You like sand? You like fresh water? What about massive sand bars and dunes while sitting in fresh water? Then Sandbanks Provincial Park is a must-visit. Featuring the world’s largest fresh water sand bar and dune system, Sandbanks is one of the best beaches to sit and just relax. It’s true that its Northern location can make the water a little brisk if you aren’t there during warmer weather, but if you’re lucky enough to catch a day with warm water, there may not be a better beach in all of Canada. Keep in mind that the sand at this park is very active, making it necessary at times to relocate the roads keep them accessible to the public.

Third Stop: Thousand Islands

The name itself can be deceiving, as there are actually 1,864 islands in the region, according to JustFly.  Nevertheless, the Thousand Islands area will certainly provide a relaxing experience. Whether you just want to ride the Thousand Islands Parkway to get a break from the relentless 401 highway, or you are looking for some great sightseeing hikes and boat trips, this region has something for everyone. Nestled between Ontario and Northern New York State, the islands are held to high standards. In fact, a land mass is required to protrude from the water year-round, occupy at least one square foot, and support at least two living trees to be counted as one of the nearly 2,000 islands.

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