The Best Places to Travel This Spring
Today's equinox (hey, happy first day of spring!) is celebrated across the globe—from Japan, where many take the day to visit ancestral burial sites, to the Bosnian city of Zenica, where things get a bit wilder: Čimburijada, or the Festival of the Scrambled Eggs, sees kiddie-swimming-pool-size pans full of eggs take over a famous field. (The celebrations also involve marching bands and alcohol, the latter of which may or may not eventually lead to the first dip of the season in the adjacent icy river.) For six other spots getting their spring on in noteworthy ways, scroll down.
Pagans and druids have been gathering to celebrate the equinox at Stonehenge—the Neolithic stone circle built in three phases between 3,000 BC and 1600 BC—for centuries. In 1977, the stones were roped off to visitors, who've since had to keep to the perimeter. But recently, English Heritage began allowing special access inside the circle four times a year: the winter and summer solstice, and the fall and spring equinox. (For help with logistics, try Stonehenge Tours or Solstice Events.) Music, dancing and drumming begin at dawn's first light. And though the ancient drink of choice for the occasion—dandelion and burdock mead—isn't available commercially, you can get the flavor with a nonalcoholic dandelion and burdock soda (try either Fentimans or Ben Shaws) at most UK markets.
Given the crowds that flock to Teotihuacan, you may have a hard time picturing the site as a long abandoned city—precisely what it was before the Aztecs arrived around 3300 years ago and named it the Place Where Men Become Gods. As for whether today's festivities will render you a deity, we can't say, but they'll definitely send you skyward: Visitors, usually dressed in white with red scarves (both colors believed to help absorb the good energy that peaks during the equinox) will dance, recite prayers, and climb the 238 steps to the top of the nearly 2000-year-old Pyramid of the Sun.
Meanwhile, the country's Yucatan peninsula is the scene of an entirely different equinox phenomenon: At the Maya site of Chichén Itza, built about 1500 years ago, a shadowy visitor emerges from the 79-foot Pyramid of Kulkulkan (or Quetzalcoatl), also known as el Castillo. For about an hour beginning at 4 pm, the way the sunlight hits the northwest corner of the pyramid and casts shadows along a balustrade makes a feathered snake appear to slither down the staircase from the heavens to join the stone serpent head at the base. Thousands of people, many dressed in white to rid themselves of bad vibes and attract positive energy from the sun, make the pilgrimage to see the spectacle.
Angkor Wat, the massive Cambodian temple complex built by the Khmer King Suryavarman II about 900 years ago, stages its own light show today: On the morning of the spring equinox, the sun rises up the side of the main temple's central tower and seems to crown the peak—a shot people have been trying to get since the site was first photographed in the 19th century. Today, Angkor Photography Tours can help.
A thousand years before the ancient Egyptians built the Great Pyramid at Giza, Malta's inhabitants built the megalithic limestone Mnajdra Prehistoric Temples—arguably the earliest free-standing structures that still exist. There are three temple complexes, each arranged in figure 8s. The complex that faces east was likely a solar observatory, and with its spiral carvings and dotted patterns, it’s always atmospheric. But at dawn on the equinox, a ray of sun illuminates the altar, giving the place a hushed, holy feeling.
After Uzbekistan declared its independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991, a revival of ancient traditions began—one favorite being Navruz (also the Persian New Year, celebrated around central and western Asia). The traditional meal is sumalyak, a sprouted grain dish of sprouted grains (a symbol of life, abundance and health) that women cook all night, singing while they stir. (FYI: Sumalyak tastes like molasses-flavored cream of wheat, and with the first bite, you should make a wish.) Take a Navruz Tour to check out the day's street fairs, music and dancing, plus sporting competitions.