1. Out with the old and in with the new…

    As quite a few astute trazzlers have pointed out, we’re running woefully behind on sending out our mid-January newsletter, which means we haven’t been able to announce the winners of our December contest. Our excuse: we’ve been working furiously to launch some big improvements to the site. (You can try them now by going to Trazzler.com and clicking the “facebook connect” button. If you have an existing trazzler.com account, be sure to sync it. Let us know what you think.)

    So, to keep the contest wheels in motion, we’ll announce last month’s winners and next month’s contest here on the blog. We’d like to make this a monthly blog post, so we get a chance to talk more in depth about our favorites—you can also check in any time @trazzler on Twitter).

    New January/February Contest—On the Beaten Path
    End date: February 25, 12pm EST; 5pm GMT
    Prize: a $250 contract to write 10 trips

    This month, we’re offering the challenge of writing about places that are in the middle of the proverbial “beaten path.” Those attractions or places of touristic pilgrimage that may often be overrun with out-of-towners, but are still entirely worth the visit. We have a hunch that trazzlers will have a smart take on how best to experience these temples of tourism. Whether that means zooming in on a very specific aspect of the place, writing from a purely subjective slant, giving up local secrets, appealing to a particular audience’s interests, or delving deeper into the reason(s) why the place draws us to it like moths to the flame.

    With just a bit of context and focus (be it historical, cultural, aesthetic, etc.), the meaning of these places can surge to the forefront, while the throngs retreat into the background. I’ll be writing about some of my favorite on-the-beaten-path (and quite misunderstood) attractions in Madrid—the Guernica painting by Picasso, the Retiro park, Goya’s Black Paintings at the Prado, the Palacio Real, Botín Restaurant, the Cava Baja tapas street, Plaza de Santa Ana, etc.).

    Just put the tag “on the beaten path” in your trips and they will show up here:

    December Contest—Cold Recap
    So how do trazzlers cope with the cold? Steamy baths, hot springs, warm beverages, hard alcohol, plenty of pints, semi-illicit drugs, woolly blankets, winter sports, long walks, copious body heat, physical exertion, migration, hibernation… we are happy to report that there wasn’t a snuggie in the bunch. (Viewed from across the Atlantic, I have to say that this slanket/snuggie thing is pretty incomprehensible…)

    This month’s submissions ranged from laugh-out-loud funny to poetic to tragic (many cold places are melting away before our very eyes). Across the board, the quality of the writing was exceptional, which made choosing a winner quite difficult… So we ended up with four winners. Each of these writers gave us shivers in the physical and literary sense (and two strangely managed to do so on the Equator—no mean feat). The fact that all four happen to be in far-flung places is a coincidence… We love local trips just as much as exotic ones. We just felt that these particular trips best plotted a sensory map of exactly what it feels like to be in these cold, cold places (and still made us want to go).

    December’s Winners:

    Greg Thomas
    #3864 Bellyflopping Into the Icy Songhua River in Harbin, China
    #14441 Freezing Your Butt Off for Fun in Harbin, China
    Sideshows are a tough genre, but Greg did a stellar job of sketching out the humor, humanity, and absurdity of this ice-diving extravaganza. Harbin looks like quite a nexus of interesting cultural phenomena.

    Paul Koning
    #10255 Bundling Up on the Equator in Kenya
    This trip took us to a cold, tropical place in the hours just before sunrise. Paul lived in Kenya and has written a series of excellent trips about the natural and cultural beauty of this country.

    Tai Kuncio
    #8658 Scaling to the Highest Point From the Center of the Earth in Ecuador
    We loved learning about this place, which is not only freezing cold and far above the clouds, but also the farthest point from the center of the earth.

    Jeff Jenkins
    #8274 Wooling Away Cold, Willing Down Tea in Laguna Colorada, Bolivia
    We don’t often publish trips written in the first person, but this one transported us straight to that barren landscape with its thin air, palette of reds, coca leaves, stinky wool blankets, and stark concrete-block walls.

    Here are some of our other favorites:

    #6072 Swimming in a Caldera in Deception Bay, Antarctica
    #6474 Falling Downhill at Winter Park Ski Resort in Colorado
    #10975 Flight-Seeing Around the Alaska Range in Talkeetna, Alaska
    #11883 Sipping Hot Chocolate at Perito Moreno in El Calafate, Argentina
    #3359 Plucking Cold, Flowing Noodles from a Bamboo Trough in Fukui, Japan
    #13778 Shivering at a Magnificent Snow Festival in Hokkaido, Japan
    #13675 Exploring Dizzying Heights From a Bird’s Eye View in New Zealand
    #12200 Eskimo-Kissing at the Coolest Bar Around in Rome, Italy

    And have a look at the trips that we commissioned from our previous contest winners:

    Gareth Thornton (Urban Enigma Contest Winner)
    Dublin, Ireland

    Amanda Scotese (Urban Enigma Contest Winner)
    Chicago, Illinois, USA

    Tina Jett (Mom and Pop Contest Winner)
    Raleigh, North Carolina, USA

    That’s it for now. Look for an announcement very soon on the new features that are launching on the site. In the meantime, you can take a sneak peek and let us know what you think on twitter (@trazzler) or Get Satisfaction.