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Travel: Old-Fashioned Awe and Reverence

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Longing for a bit of old-fashioned awe and reverence this holiday season? Trade the city lights this holiday season for a spot with an unobstructed view of the whole sky. For reasons that surpass our understanding, three spectacular, travel-worthy astronomical events coincide this month: the Geminids meteor shower, aurora borealis, and comet ISON. A celestial trifecta. We introduce some excellent venues for stargazing:

Northern Lights in Iceland

At every moment, our spinning sun flings charged particles our way. If it’s the right time of year (winter, when nights are long and dark), and you are in the right place (away from bright cities and near a magnetic pole, where electrons and protons can sneak into our atmosphere), you may see the ghostly, glowing arcs and streamers of Aurora Borealis. This year marks the peak of the 11-year solar cycle, so this is the time to go! Iceland’s award-winning, four-star Hotel Ranga LINK TO HOTELRANGA.COM is perfectly situated for the display, and offers a four-night stay beginning at €704 (based on double occupancy; $953 at current exchange rates). Observe the aurora from one of several geothermal hot tubs, or simply fall asleep in your comfy bed and let the hotel’s wake-up service alerted when the first streaks of color appear.

Hot Tub Stargazing

While the Geminids will bring scores of meteors hourly between Dec. 7 and 17, the “sungrazer” Comet ISON makes its first—and perhaps last—trip through our solar system. If it doesn’t brightly break into pieces passing the sun, look for its long, glowing tail. Clearly a bit of amateur astronomy is in order, but if you might as well soak as you stargaze on a winter’s night. We recommend Wilbur Hot Springs, located in a 1,800-acre nature preserve a two-hour drive north of San Francisco. Rustic and decidedly funky (guests have use of a communal kitchen, the bath areas are clothing-optional, and the website has a page of “healing stories”), the steaming waters and Japanese-meets-Craftsman architecture will lull you into a perfect state for contemplating the heavens. There are suites, hostel-like rooms with bunk beds, and campsites—or book a private room for $210 a night, double occupancy. wilburhotsprings.com or 530-473-2306

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