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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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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.
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.
139 shows worth travelling to
including this one in London
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