This classic Thanksgiving side came from Julia Child. We don’t see many creamed vegetables any more, except maybe creamed corn or spinach, so this might be a bit of a novelty. And it’s delicious. If people complain about the richness, just remind them that Thanksgiving dinner is supposed to be a feast, right? (And you can get by with an awful lot be invoking the name Julia Child).
Hotel prices definitely go up in around Christmas so it's best to come early in the month if that's possible, but it's still a pretty good bargain even during the peak weeks. Book early if you can because the better and cheaper hotels will fill up first, of course. Also consider a side trip to the Mendoza wine region, Patagonia, or the amazing water falls of Iguazu.
As chilly temperatures arrive in the northern hemisphere, it’s spring in Buenos Aires, an ideal time to visit. The city’s jacaranda trees are decorating the streets in purple petals, hotel prices are attractive, and the weather is comfortable and dry. A cruise along the Rio de la Plata would be a good place to start, for a relaxing overview of neighborhoods, homes, markets, and the waterfront. On Sundays, get some authentic local flavor at Feria De Mataderos, about an hour from downtown, with gauchos on horses, craft vendors, musicians, tango dancers, and regional foods.
In South America, and you start getting into some longer flights here, the best and safest places are Argentina, Peru, and Chile. I’m not sure if this helps you much, but at least it should let you know that you were thinking along the right lines already, and there are no obvious places that you’d overlooked. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger
The only other suggestion I have, which gets almost no rain in November, is Goa, India. There are about 20 different beach areas in Goa, and some of them (Anjuna and Vagator) are famous as party beaches, while many others are more mellow and family oriented. It’s also very cheap and beach massages and that sort of thing are excellent value. Let me know if you have more questions about that. I hope one of these things works out for you. -Roger
The biggest single highlight in the region is the Angkor Wat temples near Siem Reap in Cambodia. It’s one of the most impressive tourist sights in the entire world, and Siem Reap is a fun and mellow town that you can linger in for a while. Vietnam is really lovely and cheap as well. The food there is excellent, as it’s a fusion of French and traditional Asian. You can go from Ho Chi Minh City in the south on the train to Hoi An near Da Nang, and then up to Hanoi to see Halong Bay. I wouldn’t start in Vietnam because it can be a bit trickier than the others. In the rest of the region it’s easy to book tours and buses and such, but in Vietnam the travel agencies are a bit harder to trust, so you have to be more careful. Things there are very cheap though, so even if you pay more for a reputable agency, it’ll still be cheap.
If your real goal is to sit on a European beach and not freeze or be alone in December, your only real choice is the Canary Islands. Tenerife is the largest of them, and the best one for English speakers. The average high in December there is 22C with 16C as a low, and in December it’s packed with Swedes and Brits and Germans who actually do sit on the beach or around pools, even though it’s a bit cool for most of us. It’s important to note though that the Canary Islands are technically part of Europe because they are a territory of Spain, but only the largest cities on each island are “European” at all. The beach resort areas are quite generic, and not very special aside from the pleasant weather and modest prices.
But again, Vietnam can be a bit complicated for first-timers. Specifically, you need to book trains and tours through travel agencies, and Vietnam’s many travel agencies have a worldwide reputation for being hard to trust. They are all great salespeople but the product they deliver isn’t always what you expected. I spent 4 months in Vietnam and loved most of it, though I think it was much easier as a solo traveler who didn’t have a set schedule.
A charming, historic city to visit any time of year, Edinburgh is especially festive during December. Walking through its cobblestone streets takes you back to medieval days when sheep, cattle, and grain were sold in what is now the center of the city. Today, the Royal Mile includes shops, cafes, and museums. Edinburgh Castle, a must for first-time visitors, dates to the 12th century, with its dramatic silhouette overlooking the city. For those seeking holiday celebrations, the Royal Botanic Garden is decorated with lights, music, and illuminated trees. European-style Christmas markets pop up at Princes Street Gardens and George Street, offering traditional crafts, gifts, food, and warming drinks, most welcome during chilly December. The annual Hogmanay celebration welcomes the New Year with fireworks, food, and festivities. Don’t miss the delicious and ubiquitous fish chowder called “Cullen skink,” and be sure to try haggis, served with “neeps and tatties” — mashed turnips and potatoes. Buttery shortbread and whisky from the country’s more than 100 distilleries are also Scottish specialties. A stay at the elegant and historic Balmoral Hotel will enhance any visit to Edinburgh, and while you’re there, you’ll notice that Scottish actor Sean Connery was a guest, as was J. K. Rowling who finished the last Harry Potter book in one of its suites.
When it comes to flights over the Christmas holidays, you should book as early as possible. The airlines know they can fill every seat at a high price so they don’t have an incentive to lower fares like they do for flights in January or February. Air Asia now flies from the US to Asia and at good fares. Aside from them it’s just the major airlines as well as some Chinese airlines that do those routes.
Increasingly popular, Lisbon is quite warm in summer, but November’s cooler temperatures and fewer crowds make it a pleasant time to visit. A city of hills and spectacular views, many terraces (miradouros) offer vistas for those who climb (or take a taxi) to the top. Alfama is the city’s historic district, defined by hilly, narrow cobblestone streets. The Fado Museum, in Alfama, honors Portugal’s soulful folk music and provides some background on the sounds heard nightly in the city’s fado houses and bars. Seafood is plentiful in Lisbon, and the traditional Portuguese dried salted cod (bacalhau) is on most menus along with octopus, shrimp, sardines, clams, and tuna.
Traveling during the last ten days of December means crowds and exorbitant prices throughout much of the world, but the first two-thirds of the month—before holiday airfares and hotel rates go into effect—can be a serene, value-laden, and just plain lovely time to vacation. Europe is all decked out for the holidays—with locals generally friendly and in high spirits; in the Southern Hemisphere, spring is in bloom; and in the Caribbean, Hawaii, and Mexico, hurricane season is over, the weather is gorgeous, and there are free upgrades galore.