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This week: California


Snowshoe Thompson Left Some Big Skis to Fill
BY MITCHELL SMYTH Meridian Writers’ GroupPLACERVILLE, California—On a wall in a museum here in the cradle of California’s Gold Rush country hangs a pair of homemade skis. Nearby, there’s a picture of a stern-looking bearded on...


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Tips from the latest guidebooks



Moon Handbooks El Salvador, 1st edition





EL SALVADOR has a bad rep, admits the first edition of Moon Handbooks El Salvador, mainly because of the gangs. But, “the truth is,” says the guidebook, “that the terrifying media image of the gangs in El Salvador and the reality on the ground are strangely incongruous. If you do come across members of the mara, as they are called on Salvadorean slang, you are much more likely to find yourself engaged in a friendly conversation rather than a victim of violence.”

The guidebook does agree that, “The homicide rate in El Salvador is among the highest in the world, averaging around 10 murders per day,” however these, argues the guidebook, take place far from where most tourists venture.

If you’re good with that, the guidebook has a festival to recommend: Las Bolas de Fuego (Balls of Fire). It’s held each 31 August in Nejapa, a small town just north of the capital, San Salvador.

“Considered one of the best and craziest festivals in the country,” says the guidebook, it consists of people commemorating an eruption of the volcano El Playón in 1658 by hurling “flaming kerosene-soaked rag balls at each other for a couple of hours.” “Yes,” adds the guidebook, “this really happens.”

“Paramedics and police are on-site in case of injuries and fires, and after the show, a raging party ensues.” So nothing at all to worry about.



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When Christmas Comes to Germany...


THE BLACK FOREST town of Gengenbach turns its Rathaus into the world’s largest Advent calendar each December. Daily at 6 p.m., another of the 24 windows is opened. The tableaux revealed are sometimes painted by well-known artists—among them, Marc Chagall—and children’s book illustrators.

One of Gengenbach’s many half-timbered houses was used by Tim Burton in his 2005 film, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It was the home of Augustus Gloop.

Germany is known for its Christmas markets. The largest and oldest (400 years) is in Nürnberg. Nearly as big and almost as old is the one in Stuttgart.

The perhaps-too-beautifully-preserved medieval town of Rothenberg ob der Tauber, in Bavaria, has a Christmas market that is, not surprisingly, one of the most romantic in Germany. It also has the original year-round Christmas Store (Weihnachtsdorf), which sells skillfully handcrafted items (not cheap) and has a Christmas Museum that tells how Yuletide customs came to be.


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