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Explore Chicago’s Ethnic Neighborhoods

From Greektown to Chinatown, from the Polish Triangle to Pakistani restaurants on Devon Avenue, Chicago has a wealth of diverse ethnic neighborhoods to explore.

Chicago is known as a city of neighborhoods and Patricia Sullivan, manager of the city’s Chicago Neighborhood Tours program, said visitors need to leave the tourist-heavy Loop and Michigan Avenue areas to really see the different ethnic and cultural corners of the city. According to Sullivan:

“They’re distinct and they’re beautiful. The architecture is different, as are the restaurants and the stores. It’s really a melting pot.”

Here are the ethnic neighborhoods in Chitown worth the time and effort:

CHINATOWN: Visitors to this neighborhood on Chicago’s near South Side will be greeted by the large red and green Chinatown Gate on Wentworth Avenue and Cermak Road. Here are blocks of stores to explore that sell Chinese slippers and robes, trinkets and bamboo plants alongside Chinese tea shops and herbalists. Restaurants range from nicer sit-down eateries to small take-out establishments. The neighborhood is home to the annual Chinese Lunar New Year parade with marching bands and floats. The community also hosts a summer concert series that includes traditional Chinese music in Chinatown Square along with a Chinatown summer fair each July. The Chinese-American Museum of Chicago (238 W. 23rd St.) has been closed since a fire in September 2008. For more information: http://www.chicagochinatown.org.

GREEKTOWN: It’s clear you’ve reached Greektown when you read the signage on the local Walgreens drugstore — it’s written in Greek. Greektown stretches along Halsted Street from Van Buren Street north to Washington Street in the city’s West Loop neighborhood. Fancier restaurants with names like Pegasus, Parthenon and Santorini serve saganaki (fried cheese) and spanakopita (spinach pie). They set alongside bakeries, candle shops and corner fast food eateries where you can order take-out gyros. The cultural center focuses around the National Hellenic Museum (801 W. Adams St.), where museum officials say visitors can see folk art and textile exhibits. The museum also boasts an oral history center that lets listeners wear headsets to hear Greek immigrants tell their stories. Each August the neighborhood hosts a Taste of Greece festival. The Greek Independence Day Parade is in the spring. For more information: http://www.greektownchicago.org/ and http://www.nationalhellenicmuseum.org/.

LITTLE ITALY: Chicago’s Italian community is centered along Taylor Street on the city’s near West Side bordered by the University of Illinois-Chicago campus. Dennis O’Neill, director of the neighborhood’s University Village Association, says visitors who walk west on Taylor Street from Halsted Street to Ashland Avenue will discover the area’s rich dining history. The street is lined with fancy Italian restaurants that serve pasta and steaks as well as take-out pizza and sandwich eateries. Among them are the red awnings of Al’s Italian Beef (1079 W. Taylor St.) where you can get 8-inch-long beef sandwiches with peppers and cheese. In the summer, lines form outside Mario’s Italian Lemonade (1068 W Taylor St.) for frosty to-go Italian ices. The neighborhood also is home to the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame (1431 W. Taylor St.), http://www.niashf.org/, where you can see boxer Rocky Marciano’s 1952 championship belt and Mario Andretti’s race car. Across the street, O’Neill says visitors shouldn’t miss Joe DiMaggio Plaza’s fountain and statue of the baseball great.

MEXICAN: Those looking to capture Mexican culture can tour both the Pilsen and Little Village neighborhoods on Chicago’s near south and west sides. In Pilsen, start on Halsted and 18th streets and walk west to Ashland Avenue. Carlos Tortolero, president and founder of the neighborhood’s National Museum of Mexican Art (1852 W. 19th St.), says visitors will find affordable taquerias, art galleries, churches and shops selling religious goods. For restaurants, try La Cebollita (1807 S. Ashland Ave.) for sopes (dough patties with various toppings) or Taqueria El Milagro (1923 S. Blue Island Ave.). In Little Village, an arch welcomes visitors with the words “Bienvenidos a La Villita” at 26th Street and Albany Avenue. Walk west along 26th Street and the area stretches for more than a mile. Luis Alva, director of the Little Village Chamber of Commerce, says the neighborhood has more than 70 Mexican restaurants along with candy stores, bakeries and shops selling Mexican-style dresses, boots, hats and belts. The neighborhood hosts an annual Mexican Independence Day festival and parade. For more information: http://www.lavillitachamber.org/ and http://www.nationalmuseumofmexicanart.org/.

POLISH: There are several Polish areas in Chicago and the suburbs, but the main neighborhoods are along Milwaukee Avenue. Start at the historic Polish Triangle — the intersection of Milwaukee Avenue, Division Street and Damen Avenue. At the beginning of the last century, this neighborhood was crowded with Polish immigrants and businesses, says Jan Lorys, director of the Polish Museum of America. The museum (984 N. Milwaukee Ave.) is a few blocks southeast on Milwaukee Avenue, where visitors can see Polish folk costumes and crafts among other exhibits. A good place to get a meal nearby? Podhalanka (1549 W Division St.) is a small kitchen serving homestyle Polish food. Then travel northwest on Milwaukee Avenue to Belmont Avenue. Here, Lorys says, you’ll find a neighborhood lined with Polish groceries, bakeries, bookstores and shops. A popular restaurant in this area is the Red Apple Buffet (3121 N. Milwaukee Ave.) where you can eat a Polish dinner for $10-$11. For more information: http://www.polishmuseumofamerica.org/.

SOUTH ASIAN: Immigrants started opening businesses along Devon Avenue on Chicago’s North Side in the early 1970s and the area now is a bustling district, says Lakshmi Menon of the Indo-American Heritage Museum (6328 N. California Ave.). Start at California Avenue and walk east along Devon Avenue and the neighborhood stretches for more than 10 city blocks. Menon suggests a good first stop would be at a grocery where ethnic foods and special cooking utensils line the shelves. Popular grocery stores include Patel Brothers (2610 W. Devon Ave.) or Kamdar Plaza (2646 W. Devon Ave.). Sit-down, buffet and take-out restaurants serve tandoori dishes and naan breads while sweet shops have ethnic desserts. Try Hema’s Kitchen (2439 W. Devon Ave.) or the vegetarian Udupi Palace (2543 W. Devon Ave.), and for Pakistani cuisine, try Sabri Nehari, (2502 W. Devon Ave.), which is known, and named, for a stringy meat delicacy. Merchants along the street stock colorful sari dresses, embroidered outfits and an array of jewelry. The Indo-American museum offers guided tours by appointment at http://www.iahmuseum.org/.

CHICAGO NEIGHBORHOOD TOURS: If you’d rather have a guided tour, Chicago Neighborhood Tours offers bus rides between 3 and 4 1/2 hours long. Tours go through Chinatown, Greektown, Little Italy, Pilsen and Little Village. They also offer special interest tours, including Greek Chicago, Polish Chicago and Irish Chicago. Neighborhood tours are $25 for seniors and $30 for adults. Special interest tours include lunch and are $50 for adults and $45 for seniors. See http://www.chicagoneighborhoodtours.com for more information.

Getting the urge to experience Chicago from an ethnic point of view? There are plenty of travel deals to Chicago right now, so what are you waiting for?

Looking To Unwind In Luxury Or Drink Up In The Sun?

Looking to tread terrain still untouched by foreign stag expeditions? Want to unwind in luxury or drink up the sun? Here’s a few international hotspots that should help you become a “party animal”:

BELGRADE, SERBIA

The long years of bad press that kept Serbia off the map have now passed, and foreigners are now realizing what locals always knew – that Belgrade really rocks. With an exuberant population and its legacy as an intellectual hangout, Belgrade offers varied nightlife, ranging from eclectic watering holes for those in the know, to the busy restaurants and bars of the Skadarlija district and the summer clubs in barges on the Sava and Danube Rivers.

MONTREAL, CANADA

Easygoing Montreal is increasingly popular with foreign travelers, who enjoy the joie de vivre of a place with bilingual ambience, good local beer and even skiing at nearby Mt Royal. Montreal’s irrepressible student population and atmospheric old quarter give the city a light-hearted, Bohemian air. There are Old World cafes, cool jazz clubs, packed discos and late bars to choose from, plus a popular comedy festival each July.

BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA

With its unique mix of European and South American cultures, and a native passion for dance, the Argentine capital provides fertile ground for lively nightlife. There’s an emphasis on fashion and a diverse range of entertainment offerings in Buenos Aires’ barrios. Relax at a swinging jazz club or dance all night by the waterfront; some clubs and cultural centres offer classes so you can learn to tango or salsa like a local. There’s everything from Irish pubs and local folk to house parties.

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES

For those who can afford it, the world capital of conspicuous consumption is unbeatable. Dubai’s extravagance is way over the top, with ultra luxury hotels on artificial islands, slick modern malls and tonnes of precious metals glittering in shops. Yet Dubai is also a cosmopolitan place, so if you’re not invited to party on board the private yacht of a celebrity, you can always mingle with people from around the world in the swank bars and clubs of the Middle East’s most decadent desert getaway.

CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA

With the 2010 World Cup bringing a global audience to South Africa, the partying will only get harder as travelers converge on a city already well known for nightlife. Luxuriate on some of the world’s best beaches by day and kick back under the moonlight at suave cocktail bars by night. Two hours east, in the Indian Ocean, lies the elegant beach village of Mossel Bay, with more great beaches and chic flair. Visitors must try some of the wines crafted by South Africa’s world-renowned vintners, either at a Cape Town bar or at one of several wineries nearby.

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND

Myriad cafes, bars and dinner clubs cater to a hip young clientele. Try the glittering waterfront for smart bars, and hit the happening clubs (some stay open 24 hours). There are plenty of live shows on offer too, from folk in Devonport to louder sounds at Mt Eden. And you can always walk off the Sky Tower – the southern hemisphere’s tallest structure – a 328m cable-controlled drop in which jumpers reach a speed of 85 kph.

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL

Like elsewhere in the Mediterranean, Israel’s capital gets going late. The endless bars, pubs and cocktail venues start to fill up by midnight, from which point the nightclubs get revved up with dancing till dawn. Nowadays an international crowd joins Israelis for a mixed bag of funk, pop, house and techno at the city’s dozens of entertainment hotspots. Tel Aviv has a relaxed air, and prides itself on being gay-friendly and outgoing.

For more information on these destinations, travel deals or to book your next vacation, please click here.

The Alternative To Austrailia

While it is true that Australia is and always will be a popular travel destination, there is a little known destination that deserves some consideration that offers diverse, interesting and just as importantly, economical options. And what is this destination, you’re asking? It is a place not far from Australia: New Zealand. And they have a city that can be considered a well-kept secret: Auckland.

With a population of about 1.3 million people, twin-harbored Auckland is New Zealand’s largest city and is known as the City of Sails. The city hosted the Rugby World Cup in 2011 -– one of the world’s largest sporting events -– but there are plenty of cheap and offbeat reasons to get to know it now.

Sky Tower

Part of the Auckland’s downtown SKYCITY entertainment complex (which includes a casino, two hotels, restaurants and a theater), the 1,076-foot-hight Sky Tower is taller than the Eiffel Tower and is New Zealand’s tallest building.

Glass-fronted elevators (one with a glass floor) carry visitors to indoor observation areas offering 360-degree views of the city, its landmarks and the surrounding countryside, but thrill-seekers can opt to take a tethered outdoor stroll around an upper-level deck or get hooked up to a cable for a 14-second Sky Jump off the side.

Tip: Admission to the main Sky Tower observation deck is included in the Auckland Multipass, which offers discounts to four attractions. And while the Sky Walk and the Sky Jump are offbeat, they’re not cheap, so look for two-for-one coupons online and in tourist brochures.

New Zealand National Maritime Museum

New Zealand’s rich maritime history, from Polynesian migration and visits by Captain James Cook to modern day campaigns to capture the America’s Cup is explored at the New Zealand Maritime Museum (starting November 2nd, it’s the Voyager New Zealand Maritime Museum).

In addition to temporary exhibitions, there are permanent indoor galleries filled with genuine and replica vessels used for trade and transport and an all-too-real reproduction of a steerage cabin from the 1840s that rocks (and rolls) to simulate a sea voyage. (Beware if you’re prone to seasickness.)

In December the museum will open a giant new wing dedicated to the late New Zealand hero, environmentalist and yachtsman, Sir Peter Blake. In addition to housing the 1995 America’s Cup-winning boat (NZL32-Black Magic), memorabilia from Blake’s life and career will be displayed, including his good luck charm: red socks.

Tip: Time it right and your admission to the Voyager New Zealand Maritime Museum will include a ride on one of the museum’s vessels. Although it’s not actually pronounced the way it reads, kids will enjoy being able to tell friends about their trip on the museum’s historic steam launch, the SS Puke.

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Top Caribbean Getaways

This winter, your favorite Caribbean destinations will be showing off a bevy of new and improved hotels, spas and restaurants. Here’s what you need to know to plan your next great getaway. Also, make sure that you set your home security systems to “away” to ensure a stress-free vacation.

Grand Velas, Mexico

Grand Velas All Suites & Spa Resort is the newest arrival on Mexico’s 81-mile Riviera Maya. All 491 rooms feature sleek, modern furniture, and 89 are reserved for adults only, with private plunge pools, massage tables and two whirlpool tubs.

Viceroy Anguilla

Viceroy Anguilla Resort – The luxe but low-key CuisinArt Resort & Spa recently added a trio of three-bedroom beachfront villas, each featuring a courtyard, patio and pool. Set to open this month are three five-bedroom garden-view villas, which can be booked in a variety of configurations to suit the size of your group.

Jumby Bay, Antigua

Jumby Bay, Antigua – Just in time for high season, the Inn at English Harbour puts the finishing touches on a $1.5 million renovation. Each of the colonial-style inn’s 28 rooms now features modern touches such as flat-screen TVs, iPod docking stations and Wi-Fi access; the beachfront bistro has been remodeled and expanded; and there’s also a new spa.

Crane Resort, Barbados

Crane Resort, Barbados – The venerable Crane Resort & Residences has been around since 1887, but the hotel isn’t resting on its laurels. This year it unveiled the new Crane Village inspired by 18th-century Bajan architecture. There’s a reception and lounge area, plus a gym, conference facility, private theater, and a variety of shops, restaurants and bars.

St. George’s Caye Resort, Belize

St. Georges Caye Resort, Belize – Set on a 320-acre spit of private sand just off the barrier reef and 20 minutes by boat from Belize City, diving- and fishing-friendly St. George’s Caye Resort recently added six bungalows — four oceanfront and two garden-view — along with a new swimming pool. The $2 million renovation has doubled the number of accommodations, and each thatch-roof bungalow features a private veranda and a fully stocked minibar.

Cotton Tree, Cayman Islands

Cotton Tree, Cayman Islands – Charming West Bay boutique resort Cotton Tree opened last March on the shores of Grand Cayman’s quiet Barker’s Beach. Each of its four two-bedroom cottages features a contemporary interior, kitchen, patio, spa bathroom and local art. There’s also a gym, pool and private spa pavilion, where guests can take yoga classes.

Golden Bear Lodge and Spa, Dominican Republic

Golden Bear Lodge and Spa, Dominican Republic – Golfers will love Zoetry’s brand-new Golden Bear Lodge and Spa, which opens this month in Cap Cana and boasts two Jack Nicklaus-designed golf courses. Golden Bear’s 126 suites feature marble bathrooms with whirlpools for two, plus terraces or patios — some with private plunge pools. If golf isn’t your thing, there’s also an infinity pool, four tennis courts and a fitness center.

Couples Tower Isle, Jamaica

Couples Tower Isle, Jamaica – Couples Tower Isle, formerly Couples Ocho Rios, reopened in April after a yearlong, $30 million renovation. The island’s original all-inclusive resort now feels brand-new with a revamped, retro-modern lobby and a terrace, game room, spa, 8 Rivers restaurant and piano bar. All rooms have been renovated, and 16 ocean-view suites feature patios with plunge pools. New additions include a wedding gazebo, oceanfront veggie and juice bar, a pool grill and a dive pool.

Privilege Aluxes, Mexico

Privilege Aluxes, Cancun, Mexico – Eight miles off the Cancun coast, sleepy little Isla Mujeres is now home to Privilege Aluxes, a 124-room boutique that woos foodies with three upscale restaurants that tempt the taste buds with inventive cuisine. Most rooms offer private balconies with soaking tubs, and Presidential suites feature terraces with ocean views and private pools. The resort, which sits on a quiet stretch of Playa Norte, also has a spa.

Radisson St. Martin Resort

Radisson St. Martin Resort, St. Martin – Last July, the year-old Radisson St. Martin Resort, Marina & Spa opened le Spa, a full-service sanctuary and fitness center that features a menu of body and facial services, as well as a poolside treatment cabana.

Gansevoort Turks and Caicos

Gansevoort Turks and Caicos – South Beach style meets Grace Bay sands on Providenciales, where the Gansevoort Turks and Caicos opened last March. The stylish resort has 91 rooms (including 32 suites and four penthouses) featuring dark wood, platform beds, and bathrooms with rain showers and spa tubs. Chill out in the 7,000-square-foot infinity pool or at the Exhale Spa.

Besides the above resorts, there are countless other possibilities – both in Mexico and the Caribbean – at very reasonable prices!

Like To Celebrity Watch?

Salma Hayek

With over-the-top resorts, year-round sunshine, killer shopping, picturesque beaches, and the world’s tallest building, Dubai quickly became the celebrity destination of choice.

Not only were the Beckhams and Jolie-Pitts falling all over themselves to jet-set to the Persian Gulf, many were even investing in real estate there.

Well, that was until the government went public with their $80 million worth of financial woes.

Now that Dubai is done, where will the celebrities go to hide away from the masses?

Morocco: Recently, a bunch of A-listers jetted to Marrakesh to celebrate the opening of a Chopard boutique at the La Mamounia Hotel. Jennifer Aniston, Gwyneth Paltrow, Orlando Bloom, Salma Hayek, Miranda Kerr and Juliette Binoche were just a few of the guests in attendance. Could this signify a renaissance of the ’60s bohemian hot spot?

There’s lots of other hotspots not named Dubai that are out there. And you may be surprised where they are. These locales will have the rich and famous wandering around:

Croatia: The civil war is long over and celebs are rediscovering what tourists knew in the 1980s. Croatia — on the Adriatic arm of the Mediterranean — rivals other European seaside areas with beaches, sailing, and superb cuisine that’s attracted superstars like Steven Spielberg, Andre Agassi, Gwyneth Paltrow, Robert De Niro, Clint Eastwood, and Sharon Stone.

Turks and Caicos: Funny name, amazing islands. Since the opening of a handful of luxury resorts in the ’90s, this British West Indies 40-island archipelago has been working hard to make tourists forget about its shady past as a drug-smuggling hotbed. The exquisite beaches have called out to Donna Karan, Barbra Streisand and Britney Spears.

South Africa: With the World Cup in Cape Town right around the corner, tourists are running to score a vacation here. Just ask Oprah, Beyonce, and Kim Kardashian.

Bora Bora: One of the 118 islands that make up French Polynesia, Bora Bora is making celebs skip Tahiti because of its coral gardens and lavish spas. “Couples Retreat” was filmed there if you need a visual. Janet Jackson, Pierce Brosnan, Drew Barrymore and Cameron Diaz can’t all be wrong, right?

Kenya: Perfect weather, top-of-the-line accommodations, and scarcity of local media make this African country the perfect place to hide out. Bill Gates, Naomi Campbell, Serena and Venus Williams, and Oprah have all slipped under the radar here.

Whistler, British Columbia: Sure, we know celebs are “oot and aboot” every winter in Aspen, but this year folks like Sandra Bullock and Harrison Ford may be taking their expensive skis and snowboards to Whistler, BC.

LA Style On The Cheap

Hotel Erwin overlooks the hopping Venice Beach boardwalk.

Looking for accomodations in the Los Angeles area?  Want to do the “Hollywood” thing?  Celebrity-watching do it for you?  Well it can be done – and at a reasonable price.  Below are some examples of new hotels worth a visit:

VENICE BEACH

Hotel Erwin

Surf and skate culture inspired the decor in the hotel’s 81 rooms and 38 suites. Graffiti-style art covers the doors, and safety-yellow metal partitions in the rooms display sunglasses for sale. Private balconies overlook the hopping Venice boardwalk. We especially love the pillow menu and the open-air rooftop lounge, which has views of the Pacific Ocean, 250 feet away. But what’s with the fireplaces in the suites? In Venice, no less!!

LAX AIRPORT

Custom Hotel

Working hard to prove that airport hotels needn’t be dull, the Custom employs a private shuttle that takes guests to and from LAX while playing techno music over silent Greta Garbo movies. Clearly, this place is a playground for grown-ups. DJs spin Afro-Cuban tunes at Hopscotch, the pool bar and grill with a fire pit, four cabanas and vintage video games. Artistically inclined guests can borrow art supplies from the 12th-floor studio, Scribble.

DOWNTOWN

O Hotel

This 68-room hotel sits in the heart of newly hot downtown L.A. Built in the 1920s, the steel-and-glass structure was recently renovated and now has a modern feel (think mood lighting that shines from under the beds and ergonomic desk chairs). The minimalist motif is mostly nice, except when it comes to things like cramped shower stalls. The on-site O Bar & Kitchen serves tapas and martinis until 11 p.m. — till 2 a.m. on weekends; a 7,000-square-foot underground lounge opens next spring.

HOLLYWOOD

Hollywood Heights Hotel

In prime Hollywood, this hotel is within three blocks of the Walk of Fame, Madame Tussauds (opening August 1), and Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. The lobby mixes the contemporary — white metal-frame sofas and graphic-print rugs — with black-and-white photos of film stars like Audrey Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart. Low-key restaurant and bar Hideout serves pot pies, short ribs and mac and cheese.

LOS FELIZ

Los Feliz Lodge

This group of 13 casitas was built in the 1920s as an enclave for the Paramount silent-film elite. The bungalows and villas — some of which still belong to full-time private residents — have amenities like stocked kitchens, washers, dryers and French doors that lead to a communal patio. Los Feliz is a rare walkable neighborhood, and the Metro is only a five-minute stroll away.