Still planning your vacation for 2019? Borrow some ideas from CNN Travel editors, who run down their best trips of 2018. Here's what else you need to know to Get Up to Speed and Out the Door. (You can also get "5 Things You Need to Know Today" delivered to your inbox daily. Sign up here.)
1. President Trump
When the President's Twitter feed fell silent Wednesday, he wasn't taking a sudden social media sabbatical -- he was on his way to Iraq. The commander in chief, along with the first lady, surprised US troops with a holiday visit, his first to a war zone. After making the secret overnight flight from Washington and touching down onto a pitch-black airstrip (because of security concerns), Trump stayed on the ground for three hours. He took endless selfies with enthusiastic servicemen and women in a dining hall. Later, during a speech at an air base near Baghdad, he reinforced his skeptical view of wading into foreign conflicts and defended his decision to pull troops out of Syria and Afghanistan. The Trumps landed back in Washington early this morning.
2. Financial markets
Consider it a post-Christmas miracle. After suffering its worst Christmas Eve session ever, the Dow roared back Wednesday with its biggest daily point gain in history. The Dow rose 1,086 points -- a 5% gain. The S&P 500 and Nasdaq were up big, too. It was the biggest percentage gain for all three indices in almost a decade. Keep in mind though, thin trading and a lack of big news often send stocks higher in the last week of the year. Will this miraculous rally keep going today? That's anybody's guess in this current environment. But Asian stocks are up this morning, so there's that.
A nuclear missile that's impossible to stop? Russian President Vladimir Putin claims his country has just that. Putin says Russia's new hypersonic missile system is "invulnerable" to US defenses and will be put into service next year. The missile system underwent a test Wednesday at an air base in southwest Russia. The missile, called the Avangard, has intercontinental range and can reportedly fly as fast as 15,000 mph. The Russians also claim it can adjust both altitude and direction and fly low enough to avoid most missile defense systems. A US official told CNN earlier this year that the weapons system is not close to being operational, and analysts caution that Russian boasts of new military capabilities are often overblown.
The alert level for the volcano that triggered last weekend's deadly tsunami in Indonesia has been raised. That's prompted the evacuation of thousands of people and caused flights to be rerouted. Indonesian officials raised the warning for the Anak Krakatau volcano to 3, which is the second-highest level. Activity and eruptions continue at the volcano, which had seemed to be calming down following Saturday's eruption, which caused the wave that swept through parts of the country, killing more than 430 people.
5. Australia heatwave
It's been a hot time Down Under this week. A brutal heat wave is punishing parts of Australia, with the states of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia all hitting above 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius) for four days in a row. Temperatures are averaging about 24 degrees F higher than average for this time of year. Now extreme and severe fire warnings are being issued. CNN meteorologist Brandon Miller says part of the problem is that El Niño conditions appear to be forming over the Pacific Ocean and affecting the country's weather. January is typically the hottest month of Australia's summer, and many fear the early heatwave may be the prelude to even more extreme weather in early 2019.
"Whatever it takes. I mean, we're gonna have a wall."
President Donald Trump, reiterating that the partial government shutdown shouldn't end until he gets funding for a wall on the border with Mexico. Lawmakers are back in Washington today, but talks to end the shutdown are at a standstill.
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Dreams do come true
What happened when an 8-year-old girl attached her Christmas wish list to a balloon and released it? A Christmas miracle, that's what.
Miley Cyrus and Liam Hemsworth are more than just a couple. The singer and the actor are now husband and wife after tying the knot over the weekend.
Christmas might be over, but somebody in Georgia still has the spirit. An anonymous donor is providing free lunches to kids during the holiday break.
Just let it go
Raise your hand if 2018 stressed you out. It's OK. Now is the perfect time to plan trips to visit 16 of the world's most relaxing places.
AND FINALLY ...
Somebody threw a cat pillow on the couch, and the dogs are not having it. (Click to view.)
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