Dodging the winter draft abroad

Going against everything you stand for, you pop your collar and hang your head – partly out of shame – before biting back at the brrrrr-isk wind.

These are not the good vibrations the Beach Boys spoke of.

Moments later your brittle lips begin to tremble with a fearful realization – a pair of hands are in your jacket.

Keep your cool, you say, as you start to breathe frost through your chattering teeth. The unmoving things hang low, nestling themselves deep within your pockets. You look down to another horrifying realization – the hands are connected to your arms!

But these can’t be your hands, you say, remembering once being able to move yours. No, these are Old Man Winter’s hands, ravaging and ravishing and are, more than anything, just bitter cold.

Rather than migrating with the birds, Charlie Seitz, a travel agent at STA Travel, located in the Student Center, said the only destination students plan on visiting this winter break is home.

“When students graduate they might travel abroad, but right now most are going home to their families for Christmas,” he said.

Although flights to Asia, Africa and Australia are expensive, Howard Shapiro, the travel editor for “The Philadelphia Inquirer,” said traveling to Europe is not just a bargain during the winter, but a delight as well.

“I’m a big fan of being in Europe during winter,” he said. “The airline is cheaper, the hotels are a lot cheaper, there’s fewer people around and you can actually see a few things. What’s the difference if you’re wearing a coat?”

In his award-winning 2005 feature “Europe in winter,” Shapiro muses about his solitary travels to Prague, Barcelona, Lisbon and Venice, all of which host hotels and hostels that fetch for less than the equivalent of $25 a night.

While Prague, the scenic capital of Czech Republic, may feel like Philadelphia in the winter, Shapiro said Lisbon is a nice retreat from frostbite.

“Lisbon, Portugal is going to be downright spring-like [this winter],” said Shapiro, who also is a Temple adjunct journalism professor.

Winter wanderlust has yet to grip pre-med freshman Maria Jinselli, whose common Christmas plans are already wrapped up.

“I’m going to go spend it with family,” said Jinselli, who hopes to visit Amsterdam someday.

Traveling in the winter is a secret Shapiro had capitalized on. Flocks of would-be tourists have clipped their wings during the season, allowing Shapiro to walk empty streets and visit line-less attractions at his leisure.

At the risk of diluting Europe’s culture with tourists, Shapiro urges others to join him abroad.

“The sooner you start traveling, the sooner you are comfortable in the world,” he said. “There is no learning experience like being by yourself or with friends somewhere in the world where you can turn a corner and have no idea of what’s going to go be there.”

Some countries’ main attractions expire – or melt – after the winter.

More than 20,000 tons of ice and snow go into the creation of Sweden’s Ice Hotel, an 80-room structure that is almost entirely – from the beds to the bars to the cups – carved out of ice. Quebec is host to the only other ice hotel, a newer and lesser version of Sweden’s.

Even though not starting until March 3, Spring Break reservations have consumed the lion’s share of business for the last two months, leaving only a few seats headed to Europe, Seitz said. He said even less popular destinations like Mexico and the Caribbean will be booked within a month’s time.

Unless you have nine reindeer, it’s best to leave now. To the dismay of Temple’s abroad students, bargain flights take off before their departure date of Jan. 3

“It won’t be good to go after New Years because prices will go up dramatically,” Seitz said.

And at the current exchange rate, Americans should look to save anyway possible. The dollar is currently worth not even a peso more than 75 cents in Europe, meaning expenses will cost Americans about 33 percent more than that of which their accustomed to.

This, of course, means nothing if you don’t have a passport.

Although one may like to put a passport ($97) on Santa Claus’ tab, Shapiro said not even the jolly guy could deliver it before the standard processing time of two to eight weeks.

“You won’t get one before Christmas break [if] you apply,” he said. “If you’re going to stay in the country go to New York; go to Boston; go and explore a city you never thought about.”

Shapiro said students can buy a one-way ticket to New York City for as little as $10 using the Chinatown bus services. Besides offering cheap Broadway shows and roundtrip bus fares, the city, Shapiro said, glistens in the winter, noting Greenwich Village and Lower East Side, Manhattan as some of his favorite spots to meander.

In the face of falling gas prices – from $3.16 a gallon in July to $2.32 today -, Seitz said airline prices remain constant. He recommends hitting the road instead.

“I would stay domestic. Stay in the country,” said Seitz, who once toured the country as the bassist for the defunct band, the Vixing. “Go southwest; maybe sightsee through Grand Canyon and Sante Fe.”

Steve Wood can be reached at jacksonb@temple.edu.

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