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by David Zuchowski

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  • Firm up your 2009 travel plans
    Two recently released Lonely Planet books may inspire your travels this year.
    By Dave Zuchowski

    If your list of New Year's resolutions include a determination to take a more adventurous or sophisticated slant to 2009's travel plans, two recently released books by Lonely Planet can help get a bead on where you might decide to go.

    A Year of Festivals: A Guide to Having the Time of Your Life is a compilation of 192 celebrations and other meaningful get-togethers across the globe. Arranged chronologically by week and month, the pickings include world-renowned annual events like Mexico's Day of the Dead, Spain's Running of the Bulls in Pamplona during the Fiesta de San Fermin, the Cannes Film Festival and Bavaria's Oktoberfest.

    If esoteric, quirky, even bizarre spectacles turn you on, the book also describes in some detail exotics like Turkey's Camel Wrestling Festival, held in the breeding season when the male camels are aggressively trying to beat out their rivals for copulation rights, and the Philippines' Crucifixion Re-Enactment, where up to 20 people drag wooden crosses through the streets, then have slender stainless-steel spikes hammered through their hands and feet and hang for up to 10 minutes as a test of their faith on Good Friday.

    The list starts with Junkanoo, held in Nassau, Bahamas on January 1, when upwards of 50,000 people line the streets to watch a parade of floats, costumes and noise making that begins at 2am and goes on until about eight in the morning. In between is a lot of partying and letting go of inhibitions.

    The book continues on for almost 200 pages until it closes with the Festival of the Sahara during the last week of December, when up to 50,000 visitors from all over North Africa converge on Douz, Tunisia's door to one of the world's largest deserts. The five-day gathering includes camel races, hunting rabbits with greyhound-like Saluki dogs, military displays on horseback and, oddly enough, poetry readings, in a celebration of Berber life.

    To further spike your wanderlust, the book is full of intriguing, often exotic, always splendid, colorful photographs like the crowd of Sikhs standing before the luminescent Golden Temple in Punjab, India, to celebrate the birthday of an important guru and the glowing town square in nighttime Nuremberg, Bavaria, during Chriskindlesmarkt, when around 2 million people are drawn to the nearly month-long Christmas market of stalls, sights and sounds of merriment.

    Each of the festival write-ups provides information on the origin of the festival, practical information such as what to bring, expected weather conditions and alternate local attractions. They also include ratings of how much involvement you can expect on a scale of one to five; one being a mere spectator (like at the Whirling Dervish Festival in Konya, Turkey) and five being a total participant (as at the Tomato Throwing Festival in Bunol, Spain).

    Even if you don't make even one of the listed happenings this year, the book offers stimulating insight as to how varied and diverse the world's menu of celebrations really are. The tome ends with special sections devoted to Carnival and Mardi Gras, religious festivals, food festivals, a top 10 list of festivals and festival photos taken by travelers.

    Whether it's the arcane or the sublime you're looking for, A Year of Festivals: A Guide to Having the Time of Your Life can help you get started.
    Available: online at
    Price: $17.49

    Even more robust travel advice comes from Lonely Planet's Best in Travel 2009, 850 Trends, Destinations, Journeys & Experiences for the Year Ahead, a 240-page guide that draws on the knowledge, experience and insights of Lonely Planet's staff and authors.

    The chapter titles alone are a mind-boggling hodgepodge of novelty running the gamut from "Flashiest Lighthouses" (10 are listed), "The Saltiest Sites of the World" (Salt Plains of Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia tops the list), and "Happiest Places" (Try Bhutan, The Himalayas) to "Best Places to Throw Yourself Off" (Paragliding Sedona Red Rocks, Arizona) and "Best Places for Deep Thinking" (Beijing, China - Mao Zedong gets top billing).

    Capitalizing on the public's penchant for top 10 anything, Lonely Planet's editors include sections on its picks for the best countries, regions and cities to visit in 2009. The choices are global in scope and cover almost every continent. (The top 10 cities, for instance, include Antwerp, Beirut, Chicago, Glasgow, Lisbon, Mexico City, Sao Paulo, Shanghai, Warsaw and Zurich). Some of the inclusions, like the recently war-torn country of Georgia and the forbidding iciness of Greenland, are somewhat surprising.

    Each travel star 2009 comes with terse, pithy narratives that underscore its important features and are broken down into sections like recent fads (Sierra Leone is finally getting electricity), defining experiences (trekking through Parc National des Volcans in Rwanda looking for the endangered mountain gorilla) and random facts (almost 20% of Warsaw's population is less than 17 years old).

    Because water makes up a large proportion of the surface of the earth, the book includes an entire section devoted to things aqueous beginning with three great ocean journeys (the Northwest Passage, the Galapagos Islands, and Around the World, perhaps on board a freighter).

    The segment also discusses a total of 75 ideas for water-related travel like taking a husky ride on the Finnmark Plateau of Norway or exploring the cenotes (circular sink-holes of Mexico) and includes a feature on the effects of climate change on water, how this affects the world and how travelers can contribute positively to the phenomenon.

    In addition to 165 color photographs and a chapter describing Lonely Planet co-founder, Tony Wheeler's 2008 travel experiences and suggestions for 2009, the book ends with world profiles of every country on the globe, arranged in alphabetical order and outlining key events and trends to watch out for this year.

    Available: online at
    Price: $15.63

    Dave Zuchowski has been writing about travel for twenty years and his articles have made the pages of many newspapers and magazines across the country, including AAA, Pathfinders, West Virginia Magazine, Southsider, and Westsylvania. Currently, he is the travel correspondent for the New Castle News, a daily in the Pittsburgh area. In his spare time, he also puts his horticultural interests to good use on his 15-acre farm located near Centerville, Pa.

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