Flee to the Keys and Hawks Cay Resort

March 9, 2016 11:55 am
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Photo courtesy of Hawks Cay Resort, by Jason Stemple.

March Break is one week away and if you are looking for a last-minute destination, escape to the place that inspired Ernest Hemingway’s classic novels, that has the best ceviche and key lime pie you may ever taste and has breathtaking beauty. With a chill, Caribbean-esque attitude and island time, the Florida Keys will give you that perfect feeling of getting away from it all.

The Keys are a combination of some 1,700 islands that start where the Florida Turnpike intersects with Highway 1.  You will find the locals refer to locations based on mile markers on the one highway/road in and out of the Keys. The Keys start at Mile 120 and run south to Mile 0 in Key West.

As you drive down Highway 1, you may notice it looks like a protected area.  That’s because it is. The Everglades National Park, protecting more than 1.5 million acres, is the 3rd largest national park in the lower 48 states, behind Yellowstone National Park (2nd) and Death Valley National Park (1st). It provides habitat for numerous rare and endangered species like the manatee, American crocodile and the Florida panther. It is a World Heritage Site, and even just driving by en route south provides incredible scenery.  If you do want to stop and check it out, it is open for visits and has programming and trails.

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Photo courtesy of Hawks Cay Resort, by Jason Stemple.

Continue driving and you will hit Key Largo (miles 108-90).  Be sure to stop at mile 102.4 at The Fish House restaurant. The décor is completely kitsch, but don’t let that scare you off. The fresh fish dishes are spectacular. It would be a lost opportunity not to stop. Locals rave about it for good reason. The Matecumbe dish (fresh fish done light with tomatoes, shallots, basil, capers, olive oil) has been featured on the Food Network and is an unparalleled fish experience.  The ceviche is incredible as well. The yellowtail snapper, mahi-mahi, grouper, Florida lobster and stone crab (it is in season until May) are impeccably prepared in a variety of ways to please every palate. Their key lime pie is the perfect way to top off the meal.

Not that you will be spending too much time indoors, but you do need somewhere to grab some sleep. There are countless motels, trailer parks, small inns, motels with calming-sounding names and big chain hotels along the 120 miles. However, the best place by far from which to explore the Keys is from a home base at the Hawks Cay Resort. This paradise, large resort is located right in the middle of Mile 61 in Duck Key. It is the perfect oasis. Not only is it the ideal place to stay, it is a destination unto itself.  It has everything you want or need with helpful staff to make sure you get it. The luxurious, spacious rooms and cozy beds will keep you rested and have you feeling like Sleeping Beauty. There are various accommodation options (villas, suites, rooms that open up onto the 21-over pool area) that are there to make you feel as relaxed and comfortable as possible with spacious areas and cozy beds, leaving you fresh and ready to take on the adventures of the day.

As a resort, it has an enormous list of outdoor activities.  A Smart Board in the lobby lists the daily events. For starters, you can book an offshore or backcountry fishing charter leaving from the Hawks Cay Marina, paddle your way around the island on a stand-up paddleboard (lessons and rentals are available) or swim with dolphins. Dolphin Connection, onsite at the hotel will delight kids of all ages (big ones included).

Children can attend Camp Hawk Environmental Education Academy while you relax by the pool, by the salt-water lagoon, get a massage at the spa or just wander and stroll around the enormous property. If walking is not part of the plan, there is a trolley to take you around the site.

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Photo courtesy of Hawks Cay Resort, by Jason Stemple.

There are six phenomenal and massive pools, and if you are so inclined, each is perfect for swimming or for exercise. Of course you could also just hang out in the hot tub with a drink of the day (which you can sample for free early in the day by the 21-over pool.).

There are tennis courts, a fully-equipped gym and in the waters of the Keys, there are more than 1,200 colourful creatures waiting to be discovered during a dive. The Florida Keys are home to the only living coral reef system in the continental United States.

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Photo by Jennifer Hartley.

The lush surroundings and the beautiful vantage point to watch sunsets on one side (and sunrises on the other) are another bonus of the Hawks Cay. Take a sunset boat cruise (it is short, only 1.5 hours tops) and sip wine, beer and bubbly as you watch the sun set in the beautiful blue sky.  There is a party atmosphere on the boat so enjoy it.  You are strongly encouraged to enjoy the beverages in the quantity of your choice.

There are superb restaurants on site, Alma has fine dining, then there’s Ocean (comfort food), Beach Grill (fantastic ceviche, calamari and burgers), to name just a few and the Tiki poolside bar offers up incredible mojitos, margaritas and local beers to quench your thirst.

If you decide to venture away from Hawks Cay, Key West is 60 miles away. Visit the Hemingway House to see where Ernest Hemingway lived and soak up his creativity in his writing studio. Hit Sloppy Joe’s Bar and Captain Tony’s Saloon to see where else he got his inspiration. Both sites were Hemingway haunts. Captain Tony’s was the original site of Sloppy Joe’s until the bar owner (a friend of Hemingway’s) got into a fight with the landlord and moved to its current location. Both are worthy of a pint.

But you won’t want to stay away from Hawks Cay long, because there is so much to do and experience there.  Most of all, it is the perfect place to relax and unwind.

Get Your Travel Tips from the Best

February 18, 2016 10:16 am
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We all know the hassle of planning a trip from scratch. You start out hoping to save some money, and by the end of it, all you have to show for it is wasted time and accumulated stress. As more and more people run into this problem, travel companies are coming back in a big way.

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Gregory Luciani, president and CEO of TravelOnly.

One company that never went away is TravelOnly. Led by Gregory Luciani, this family business has been operating for more than 40 years. Although TravelOnly keeps their main office in Brantford, Ontario, their locations stretch from coast to coast and they employ more than 625 professional travel agents across Canada.

Their secret? TravelOnly combines excellent customer service with cutting-edge software to find the right vacation for clients and get them an unreal deal. Luciani always has an eye out for upcoming trends and the next top-destination. While TravelOnly has a great selection of relaxing cruises, they also offer more pulse-pounding adventure tours and eco-travelling for the younger generation.

There’s a huge diversity of programs. People can sign up for destination weddings, golf and ski vacations, honeymoons, corporate meetings and ship charters.

All these years of great service haven’t gone unnoticed. Most recently, the company was awarded the Top Canadian Travel Agency award by Ensemble Travel Group, and Sandals Resorts has named them Top Destination Weddings Agency for Canada and Canada’s Best of the Best Agency.

So when you start hitting the planning stage for the vacation you’ve been dreaming about, looking into TravelOnly will be definitely worth your time. You can find out more about them and their vacation packages at TravelOnly.com/en.

A US Waiver: A Canadian’s Ticket to the Land of the Free

February 17, 2016 9:50 am
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Having a criminal record in Canada can be a serious roadblock in many areas of life, especially when it comes to travelling to the United States. If you have a criminal record in Canada, you will be denied entry into the United States.  Even if you are only stopping on the way elsewhere, a criminal record will put a damper on your travel plans. A US waiver application is the only solution.

glasses-983947_640The United States authorities will know that you have a criminal record as soon as they run your passport through their system. They have access to the Canadian database that chronicles all criminal activity in the country. All they have to do is type your name into their computer and your record will appear. Not only will you be denied entry, you could face possible serious consequences for trying to enter the United States illegally.  That could result in your vehicle being seized and you could potentially be imprisoned as well. The border guard has discretion in this regard.

In the years following the 9/11 attacks, the rules regarding entry to the United States got much stricter for those with a criminal record in Canada. It’s not enough to have a pardon. In order to travel to the United States in this case, you will need what is referred to as a US travel waiver.

A US waiver is a document designed to allow those with a criminal record in Canada to still travel to the United States. The document is issued by the United States Immigration Office, not the Canadian government. Whether you will be granted a waiver depends upon several different factors, including:

The level of potential risk you pose to security.

The nature and severity of your offense.

Your age at the time the charges were laid.

Your reasons for wanting to visit the United States.

Acquiring a waiver to enter the United States is time consuming.  It can take several months to even prepare the request for the waiver, and several more to await the verdict. For those reasons, it’s best to submit a waiver application as much in advance of your desired travel date as possible. For best results, it’s best to work with an agency who specializes in helping clients prepare waiver applications.

Once you receive your US waiver, you will be allowed to travel to the United States for a specified period of time without fear of being deported, arrested or otherwise impeded because of your criminal record. It’s never advised that you attempt to circumvent this rule and enter the United States undetected. Remember: It’s not enough to claim that you did not know you had to have a waiver. It is your responsibility to know what travel documents you need.

Vivian R. Smith.

Stand out in the Acadian Peninsula

February 12, 2016 3:32 pm
Lobster experience

The sea and the sights in the Acadian Peninsula await you.

The Acadian Peninsula is surrounded by stunning views of the water, with the Chaleur Bay (known as one of the most beautiful bays in the world) on one side, and the Gulf of Saint Lawrence on the other. You are Village Historique Acadienbound to enjoy fresh seafood and beautiful scenery year-round, and the cities of Tracadie-Sheila, Caraquet, Shippagan and Lameque are always offering hospitality and things to do during your stay.

Wintertime adventurers can enjoy cross-country skiing, snowmobiling trails, snowshoeing trails and tobogganing. You can also catch the thrills and chills of Tracadie-Sheila’s Polar Bear swim, along with Tracadie-Shield’s other frosty events such as a pond hockey tournament and a fantastical ice carnival.

During the warm months, The Acadian Peninsula does not disappoint. Make sure to visit the Acadian Costal Drive, known for its warm beaches and rock-strewn coast. You might just catch a glimpse of the sea star, a creature that serves as a symbol of Acadian culture.

Aquarium-Pic-SalonVisit the Village Historique Acadien to learn more about Acadian history from 1770-1949. Watch as the past is brought to life through historic buildings, captivating storytellers and a bustling Village. Swing by the Miscou Lighthouse, which has been described as one of the most beautiful places on earth by the American Travel Writers association. The lighthouse is the only National historical site in the Acadian Peninsula, and standing in the area you can enjoy a beautiful view of Chaleur Bay. Explore Miscou Island and enjoy a walk on one of the many surrounding boardwalks, or bask in the warmth of its beautiful sandy beaches.

Beaches are plentiful in the Acadian Peninsula, along with bike trails, museums, delicious restaurants, watersports and art galleries. There is just so much to see and do, you are bound to find something that will please every member of your family.

To plan your visit to the Acadian Peninsula, visit peninsuleacadienne.ca.

The Outdoors Really Are Great in Miramichi

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Beaubears Island (Miramichi)

Settled against New Brunswick’s East Coast, Miramichi is a place where the air is fresher and the trails seem to go on forever. If you feel like you can count the number of adventures you’ve had so far this year on one hand, this is a town you have to visit.

Miramichi winters are fantastic, and there’s no better place to go if you’ve been feeling like Ottawa’s snowfall FolkFestival_0194has been a bit lackluster this year. Well, in the ‘snowbelt,’ they average just under 300 centimetres of snowfall every year, and this opens up a huge network of snowmobile trails. The area has plenty of places you can find snowmobile parts, great accommodations and most importantly, access to over 600 kilometers of groomed trails.

When the snow melts, the hills open up for mountain bikers. At French Fort Cove Nature Park they have fast and winding trails. If you’re extra brave, you can visit three nights a week to hear the story of the Headless Nun.

Out on the water they have boat tours with costumed guides and world-class fly fishing. If you want to take your fishing to the next level, Miramichi has a ‘catch and release’ striped bass fishing tournament that brought in more than 1,000 anglers last year. The team that catches the four heaviest fish wins a top prize of $5,000, and there’s also a prize for the longest catch.Miramichi (Tubbing)

When Pete Bowman from the show Fish’n Canada visited the tournament for filming last May, he said “we have never experienced anything like this in our lives,” and there’s a solid chance that after you’ve spent a few days in Miramichi, you’re going to be saying the same thing.

You can find out more about Miramichi’s history, culture and all the things you can do there at Miramichi.org.

Find Natural Beauty in Bathurst

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The city of Bathurst, NB is celebrating its 50th anniversary, making 2016 a landmark year for the bustling town. You can find Bathurst in the northern part of New Brunswick, sitting on the shore of the Chaleur Bay.

Bathurst is a place for adventure, so why not plan a trip to Atlas Park, open year-round, and located just 20 minutes from town? During the winter months, Atlas Park offers under-ice scuba diving, scenic cross-country ski and snowmobile trails and an ice skating rink. Atlas Park also offers an exciting selection of summertime activities, including scuba diving, fishing, paddle boat tours, walking paths, barbecues, picnic Daily Point Nature Reserve 2 (Bathurst)grounds, and even an amusement park for children young and old to enjoy.

Bathurst is a great summer travel destination, particularly if you are a lover of the great outdoors. Enjoy a walk on The Daly Point Reserve, found just northeast of Bathurst harbor. The reserve boasts 100 acres of immaculate salt marsh, wooded plots and gorgeous wildlife trails. Bring your binoculars for bird watching, and a lunch basket for your picnic.

Speaking of lunch, it’s a little known secret that the Nepisiguit River is one of the best salmon fishing spots in all of the Atlantic. Cast a line along the shores of the river, or enjoy a relaxing canoe ride and bask in the beauty of Nepisiguit’s striking tree-lined shores.Waterfront (Bathurst)

End your day with a visit to La Promenade Waterfront. Positioned on the Acadian Coastal Drive, the waterfront development hosts an assortment of charming shops, art, boutiques, restaurants, and an outdoor pavilion that hosts a variety of year-round activities. Take a stroll down the boardwalk, and don’t forget to take photos!

Spectacular views can be seen of one of the most stunning bays in the world: the Chaleur Bay.

To plan your trip to Bathurst, visit Bathurst.ca.

Sno-Fest and Salmon Suppers in Campbellton

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The historical Campbellton, NB, is situated on the picturesque Restigouche River, just opposite of Point-a-la-Croix, Quebec. Established in 1889, there is just so much to see and do in Campbellton!

The Campbellton waterfront boasts many year-round attractions. During your stay, visit Salmon Plaza and enjoy lunch in one of the Plaza’s many cafes and eateries. Don’t forget to take your photo with local-legend Restigouche Sam, a stunning 8.5 meter-tall stainless steel salmon!

RiverainCampbellton Sno-Fest is the region’s weekend winter celebration, offering up an abundance of snow sculptures by local artists, as well as sleigh rides, dogsled rides, tube sliding, ice-skating, family activities, fireworks, snowman building and so much more! Dance the night away with Sno-Fest Night Life while enjoying the hospitality of local venues and musical talent.

As warmer weather prevails, you do not want to miss the weeklong Campbellton Salmon Festival. The Festival is an annual celebration of the world-famous Restigouche salmon, and it is one of New Brunswick’s longest running community festivals. Bask in the Festival’s Canada Day celebration with a giant fireworks display, witness an action-packed road race and enjoy the entertainment of live bands and a carnival. Make sure to take advantage of the Festival’s salmon suppers, too.Sugarloaf Bike Park - Online 1

If you love music, The Campbellton Bluegrass Festival is the place to be. A summer weekend full of incredible Bluegrass music, you can expect to enjoy the sounds of local talent, as well as some top-notch visiting bands. Set up camp along the shores of the Restigouche River and take a hike on the stunning Appalachian Mountain Range.

To plan your visit to Campbellton, visit Campbellton.org.

Unforgettable Edmundston

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Mountain bike in Edmundston

If you’re planning a Maritime adventure, historic Edmundston is the perfect place to start. Settled right between Quebec and Maine on New Brunswick’s left side, Edmundston is exactly the sort of greeting you want to find when entering a new province.

Edmundston has far too much great history for a city of only 16,000 people. Museums across the county explain both the history of the Acadians and pioneers. If you dig deep enough, you’ll find the story of how one exasperated settler declared the area an independent republic, and for decades the “Republic of Madawaska” name stuck. For a short time, they even had a flag and their own order of knights.

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The city has more art galleries than you can count on one hand and some great public art as well. Explorers, or those who sign up for a guided tour of the city, can find great statues, topiary art and some elaborately painted benches. If you’re looking for something a little more elaborate, you can catch shows in English or French at the Edmundston Arts Centre.

If you’re more into natural art, Edmundston is home to the New Brunswick Botanical Garden, home to calm pools and plants from all over the world. You will have to wait a little while for this one though, as the garden is only open from mid-May to October.

Now if memory-making is your goal, you should know that Edmundston is nestled in a valley with great bike trails, waterfalls and three covered bridges, which we all know make the absolute best photo backgrounds. 2016 may be the perfect time to make Edmundston’s rich heritage and nature part of your own personal history.

You can find out more at tourismedmundston.com.

New Multilingual Infoline Available to Tourists in India

February 11, 2016 2:45 pm
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As promised, the Indian Government has taken steps to improve the safety and security of local and foreign tourists by creating a “24/7 Toll-Free Tourist Infoline,” available in 12 international languages – English, Hindi, Arabic, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish. Launched this week by Dr. Mahesh Sharma, Minister of State (IC) for Tourism & Culture and Minister of State for Civil Aviation collaborating with Tata Business Support Services, the Infoline is designed for travelers with minimal knowledge of India. By calling 1800111363 or texting 1362, tourists will be connected with information about travel, tourism and what to do in an emergency – all in their respective language.

The 24/7 Infoline will soon be followed by the launch of the “Incredible India Mobile App,” to further meet the needs of tourists, along with a refreshed Incredible India website. These new resources will provide India’s travelers with tips, tricks, and security on their next trip to India – whether they’re doing yoga in the Himalayas or on safari with tigers, information and help is only a phone call or text away.

Bring on Barbados

December 24, 2015 10:40 am
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Are you going to need some time to unwind after that Christmas shopping panic? Go big and book a trip to the birthplace of rum and home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world: Barbados. The year 2016 marks Barbados’ 50th anniversary of independence from Britain, so while any time is a good time to go, 2016 will be a stellar year to experience all the island has to offer, which is a lot. There is always something going on here culturally, and since it is not a large island (it runs about 35 km in length and about 22 km in width), you are always just a drive away from being part of the fun.

IMG_20151120_172301_editHistory and Geography

Barbados has the third oldest Parliament in the world, boasting uninterrupted parliamentary governance since 1639. So it’s a stable country, both politically and economically speaking. In fact, it has one of the highest per capita incomes in the Caribbean (in large part thanks to tourism and offshore banking). There are roughly 2.5 million people who live here, and the country has a literacy rate of almost 99 per cent, which is one of the highest rates in the world. There is a fantastic hospitable feel to the place that comes with all that stability. There are different vibes to the island’s various corners.   The country is divided into 11 areas known as parishes.

The West Coast of Barbados is known as the money side of the island. Expensive resorts are everywhere with a designer shop complex (Lime Grove). The area is known as the Platinum Coast not just because of its incredible beaches and crystal clear water, but because of the wealth. Pop star Rihanna (who hails from Barbados) owns a home there, Tiger Woods was married nearby.

Holetown, located in Saint James Parish West Coast, was the first settlement in Barbados. If you are there in mid-February, check out the Holetown Festival where you can sample local foods and experience a Gospel Explosion. Given Barbados is a fairly religious country (there are over 100 religious groups operating in Barbados), this will no doubt be an incredible experience.

There are many other great festivals throughout the year. The Barbados Wine, Food and Rum Festival is a growing and fairly new yearly event. It takes place in November every year and attracts top chefs to events held in various locations across the island. This year celebrity chefs Craig Harding of Toronto and the U.S.’s Chris Cosentino are making an appearance. The 2016 event precedes the actual 50th independace-anniversary date of November 30, so November is another great time to visit Barbados. Actually, any time is a good time.

IMG_20151119_100738Try and fit in a ride on one of the yellow buses. With reggae music blaring in the bus, it is truly an unparalleled public transportation experience.

No trip to Barbados is complete without a visit to the Mount Gay rum distillery located in Saint Michael Parish. Not only does it give you a history of rum making, you get a hit of history at the same time. The various samplings will make a rum lover out of anyone.

Bridgetown (also in Saint Michael Parish) is the country capital and is on the southwest part of the island. Parliament is there, of course, but the Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison is a UNESCO World Heritage site and worthy of a visit. Described by UNESCO:

“It is an example of British colonial architecture consisting of a well-preserved old town built in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, which testifies to the spread of Great Britain’s Atlantic colonial empire. The property also includes a nearby military garrison which consists of numerous historic buildings. With its serpentine urban lay-out the property testifies to a different approach to colonial town-planning compared to the Spanish and Dutch colonial cities of the region which were built along a grid plan.”

Interestingly, it is also the one place US revolutionary George Washington ever visited outside of the United States.

The East Coast and South Coast of the Island have a completely different feel to them. The East is more rugged, with stunning cliffs but not much prime swimming area (in fact stay out of the water here because of dangerous rip tides). The water views are breathtaking though, and the power of the water crashing against the shore is awe-inspiring. There is a growing surfer culture in the area, given that one of the best-kept secret locations for surfing is there: Soup Bowl, by the town of Bathsheba (Saint Joseph Parish). It is becoming legendary for its waves that rival ones you’ll find even in Hawaii.

The South of the Island has a more lively feel than the West Coast in terms of beach culture and night life. There are fantastic water sports, including diving, boating and swimming.

While it may be a total touristy thing to do, if you’ve got time, visit Harrison’s Cave, a crystallized limestone cavern. While not a particularly cheap excursion, it’s pretty amazing and worth the trip. It is located inland in Saint Thomas Parish so you get to see a different part of the island, which is a bonus.

IMG_20151119_100009Fuel Up

Barbados has incredible cuisine. Gourmet restaurants have been popping up around the island, marrying various cuisines with local twists. If you are craving a Beckta-type meal, there is no shortage of restaurant options. The West Coast, as you might imagine, caters to that palate. Try Champers, and The Cliff or Cin Cin for upper-end eating. All three are phenomenal restaurants. Cin Cin has the most incredible surfside tables to boot.

While fine dining is definitely in order, some of the hits for absolutely incredible food are in rum shops. They are local small restaurants that offer fresh fish, lamb, chicken, rice and bean dishes, and fried plantain that is nothing short of divine. You can wash it all down with Banks beer (or homemade rum punch).

Make sure you hit Oistins in the South (Christ Church) on a Friday Night for its Fish Fry. It is an open-air fish barbeque that will redefine any preconceived notions of fish. This is an absolute must. Sure there are lots of tourists lurking about, but ignore that fact and enjoy the incredible, most delectable fish you may ever have.

Do not leave Barbados without visiting Cuz’s Fish Shack right by Carlisle Bay (by the Hilton Barbados Resort) in Bridgetown.

On the East Coast, hit Atlantis Restaurant (Saint Joseph Parish). The view and food are incredible.

Sleep

Barbados has everything from high-end experiences (Saint Peter’s Bay and Port Ferdinand are condo-type accommodations that are perfect for sharing with others). Port Ferdinand is high-end luxury (royalty stays there). Still, when shared with others, it is more affordable and the luxury will make you feel like royalty, with personalized service. There are of course all the major chains as well, the Hilton has an incredible beach, as does the Fairmont. They are all there.

On the East Coast, Atlantis is more of an intimate location with spectacular views, but bear in mind you can’t swim in the ocean there.

Barbados is brimming with opportunities for everyone to have a good time. Bajans know how to have fun and you should join in. With perfect weather, perfect sunsets, sunrises, impeccable beaches, cuisine for every palate and lots of culture and history to feed the mind as well, you can’t go wrong in Barbados.

Explore Lake Placid, a Winter Wonderland!

December 16, 2015 1:23 pm
Olympic Park

Photos Courtesy of Golden Arrow Resort.

Written by: Alessandra Gerebizza & Mike McEwan.

Long before hosting its first winter Olympics in 1932, Lake Placid had developed a reputation as a winter destination for the active outdoor enthusiast, a character that still remains to this day. Melvil Dewey, inventor of the Dewey decimal system, first laid these roots with the creation of the Placid Park Club in 1895, “a place where educators might find health, strength and inspiration at modest cost.” The club quickly gained national recognition for its commitment to winter sports excellence and the property grew to encompass 9,600 acres by 1923.  Nearly 100 years later, Lake Placid has hosted two winter Olympics (1932 and 1980). Not bad for a quiet upstate New York town with a population of less than 3000.

Dogsled rides for the familyTurning onto Lake Placid Main Street on a mild, late-winter evening you can’t help but feel the excitement and energy that once filled this small town centred around two lakes in the shadows of the Adirondack Mountains. The streets are no longer filled with aspiring athletes, but the energy remains as young families, outdoor enthusiasts and curious tourists dot the colorful shops and restaurants that light up the streetscape. Hotels, motels and bed and breakfasts to suit your every need are dotted among the other local shops.

Amidst the myriad of accommodation options is the Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort. The Holderieds family, originally from Germany, bought the Golden Arrow in 1974 and continue to own and operate the hotel with serious attention to sustainability and environmental stewardship in all areas of operation.  The first and only hotel in the United States to receive a Platinum rating from the prestigious Audobon International Organization for their green lodging program, Golden Arrows’ many rooms come with large soaker tubs, fireplaces and dramatic views of Mirror Lake with the Adirondack peaks in the background. The rooms maintain their focus on environmental sustainability through initiatives like recycled decor, building innovation and an extensive recycling program.

The hotel offers a variety of family friendly activities you can access from the grand lobby, which opens onto Mirror Lake’s centre. Cross country skiers can enjoy ski in/ski out lodging from anywhere on the first floor. A really fun experience on the lake is the ever-popular dog sled rides, a big hit with both children and adults.

Once settled in, definitely purchase an Olympic Passport for $35 USD that provides entry to many former and current Olympic training facilities. With your Olympic Passport, you can begin your visit with a trip to the Lake Placid Olympic Museum, or as it was known, the Field House, just a short walk from the Golden Arrow and site of the famous “Miracle on Ice” where the US Men’s Hockey Team managed the unlikely defeat of the U.S.S.R. in 1980. Here you can learn the Olympic history that helped shape Lake Placid and its surrounding communities. If you prefer to see the sites where some of these great athletes competed firsthand, you can take the short drive to the Olympic Sports Complex and, if you are fortunate, witness future Olympians in training at the bobsled/luge track.  If you aren’t afraid of heights you can visit the Skydeck at the Olympic Jumping Complex and marvel at the view from the 120 metre ski jump.

Not far from the Olympic Complexes is Whiteface Mountain, a former winter getaway for President John F. Kennedy and his family.  Included with your Olympic passport is a gondola ride to the top of Littleface Mountain. This is a must do for anyone who wants to get some great panoramic pictures of the mountains on a clear day.  If you are going to be at Whiteface Mountain you may as well take advantage of the highest vertical elevation (1045m) in eastern North America and hit the slopes. Whiteface Mountain has trails to suit every level of skier or snowboarder and offers plenty of rentals and lessons. When it’s time for a rest, grab a table or a cozy Adirondack chair on the large outdoor patio at the base of the mountain or stay later and catch a live act inside the bar. If downhill sports aren’t for you, Whiteface Mountain and the surrounding national parks provide untold kilometres of hiking and cross country skiing trails to explore in every season.

Whiteface Mountain powder

After a busy day of outdoor adventure, Lake Placid has plenty of places to eat on Main Street, within walking distance of Golden Arrow. During the day, Big Mountain Deli and Creperie is a popular spot for locals and tourists alike, offering 46 different sandwiches, each named after the 46 peaks once thought to be within the Adirondack Mountain range.  At night, Smoke Signals and the Great Adirondack Steak and Seafood offer savory and unique local dishes that are sure to nourish and satisfy even the most famished returning adventurer. Generations at The Golden Arrow has the best selection of Burgers in town. Whatever it is you’re after, you can find it on the lovely Main Street.

After riding down Whiteface, visiting the Olympic sites, sledding around Mirror Lake and feeding your inner foodie on Main Street, be sure to visit The Whiteface Lodge spa and treat yourself to any one of the restorative winter facials. The Vitamin C Wrinkle Repair and Brightening Repair Facial is most popular in the winter, and it’s especially refreshing after you’ve been out on the slopes all day!

Whether you’re looking for a family getaway, a romantic couple’s escape or a great place to shred some powder, Lake Placid will deliver on all fronts. Pack up the car and get ready to enjoy this winter playground!

For more information on Golden Arrow visit golden-arrow.com.

Sweet Slumber at the Auberge Saint-Antoine

December 15, 2015 3:17 pm
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All photos courtesy of Auberge Saint-Antoine.

There is something particularly magical about visiting Quebec City during the winter.  The city has a certain coziness, with the smell of wood-burning fireplaces filling the air, trees and shops everywhere adorned and lit up.  There’s also a romantic connection with the past that is so cogent in a 400-year-old city. Yet, paradoxically, there is a modern sophistication to Quebec that ensures all the luxuries you expect. You can’t help but eat well, drink well, and in the case of the Auberge Saint-Antoine, sleep well too.

While Quebec City offers everything from big hotel chains to small B&Bs (and, of course the Chateau Frontenac, one of the most photographed hotels in the world), you should spoil yourself with a stay at the Auberge Saint-Antoine. It has been ranked amongst the world’s top hotels many times and there is something very special and memorable about staying in a hotel that has been part of the city’s fabric for almost 330 years. Built on one of the city’s richest archeological sites, there are 3 buildings from the 18th and 19th centuries as well as portions of another structure that date back to the end of the 17th century. 40.Chambre-Room  

Well over 5000 objects were found on the hotel site during archeological digs that shed light on the occupation of the harbour, the military and every aspect of life in Quebec over the centuries.  Seven hundred of the objects are on display throughout the hotel which itself, in many ways, is a museum.  Each room has a piece embedded in glass, with an explanation of its meaning. As the hotel grew over the years, so did the archeological discoveries. In response, the Auberge Saint-Antoine worked with the Quebec Ministry of Culture, the federal government and the City of Quebec to ensure the heritage was respected, studied, explored and celebrated. In fact, between 1987 and 2002, 14 archeological explorations, in conjunction with Laval University, took place around the site. For good reason, the hotel has won awards for its contribution to archeological and historical knowledge of the city and for its marriage of architecture and archeology.

As for the hotel, there is an extremely intimate feel to it. There are 84 rooms and 11 suites with every luxury you could want.  The linens, the goose-down duvets, the bed and drapes that are so thick they block out light entirely – all ensure a night sleep worthy of royalty.artefacts at the hotel

Many of the rooms have a terrace and/or gas fireplace, heated bathroom floors and a bathtub that perfectly fits two people.  The Nespresso machine is a nice touch and the attention to detail is remarkable, right down to a container of dental floss attached to the wall. There is of course free Wi-Fi, in case you really can’t pull away from life (but you should).

There is a fully-equipped gym and spa, as you might expect at a hotel of this calibre.

The hotel bar, the Café-Bar Artefact, has jazz and tapas every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night and the hotel hosts a “fashion tea” on various Saturdays throughout the year. The next one is Saturday, January 17th and features Longchamps bags, MYEL and Inukt.

30.Déjeuner-BreakfastThe Panache restaurant has a fantastic reputation and offers a modern take on traditional Quebec cuisine. The breakfast is divine so don’t skip it.

Everything about the Auberge Saint-Antoine is luxurious, sophisticated and yet respectful of its rich past. If you do manage to tear yourself away from the hotel and venture outside, explore the Old City. It is festive and magical, especially this time of year. Just try not getting into the holiday spirit. Make sure you wear comfortable shoes or boots, the area is very hilly with lots of stairs. Be sure to wander up to the Plains of Abraham. The view of the mighty Saint Lawrence is beautiful as is the view of the city.

When you get peckish, there is no shortage of fantastic restaurants. However, as is the case with most super-luxury hotels, the concierge has the inside scoop, and so taking the advice of the Auberge’s incredible concierge, Charles, was a very good decision. Patente et Machin, a hip but laid-back, very unpretentious resto with exceptional, gourmet food was worth the cab ride. The owners own another top-notch restaurant, L’Affaire est Ketchup, but it is hard to get a reservation at the last minute. That said, Patente et Machin will not disappoint.

Or just stay in, order room service and enjoy your gas fireplace.  Auberge Saint-Antoine is the perfect place to refill your tank, pamper yourself and relax, whether you head there now or after the holidays to recuperate.

To find out more or start planning the perfect holiday getaway, visit http://www.saint-antoine.com/.

San Diego Baby

December 11, 2015 11:48 am
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For this year’s winter escape, get a hit of culture, history and, of course, warmth, by heading to the birthplace of California: San Diego. Despite the fact that it has roughly 3.2 million people milling about, the city has a chill pace to it. San Diego is both relaxed and relaxing.

I traveled with my 10-year-old daughter and we scored the perfect balance of activities for her and me. Here are a few ideas to get you started on exploring San Diego.

Check out the Hip ‘Hoods

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Photo courtesy of San Diego Tourism Authority

San Diego has some funky neighbourhoods. North Park (craft beer fans will love this area), South Park (eclectic and hip) and Hillcrest (LGBT neighbourhood) all have fantastic vibes, coffee houses, bars and unique shops. They are very SoCal. Visit some of them if you want to soak up the hipness. Nearby Shelter Island has a boating community feel with a marina and shops. It’s a great place to walk around and soak up the sun.

Downtown, there is the Embarcadero, the area along the waterfront that’s been rejuvenated and provides a great running area, cycling space and fantastic walking path.

The Old Town has historical value and La Jolla, a suburb of the city, has stunning views of the ocean. The fact is, San Diego has a lot of amazing neighbourhoods, each will its own unique character.

Cultural Mecca

100-year-old Balboa Park is America’s largest urban cultural park, with fifteen museums within the beautiful area. There are art galleries (San Diego Museum of Art, Museum of Photographic Arts), a Natural History Museum, an Air and Space Museum and even a Science Center. If you go before January, be sure to visit the exhibit on Dr. Seuss in the San Diego History Center. He hung his hat in La Jolla.

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Photo courtesy of San Diego Tourism Authority

Take Me to the Zoo

The San Diego Zoo, adjacent to Balboa Park, is world renowned for very good reason. The 100-acre space is a not-for-profit conservation organization. The Zoo has lush, naturalistic habitats and unique animal encounters. It is home to more than 3,700 rare and endangered animals representing approximately 660 species and subspecies and a prominent botanical collection with more than 700,000 plants. The year 2016 marks its 100th birthday and plans are underway for some spectacular celebrations.

History and Beauty

A visit to Cabrillo National Monument and National Park is a must. Give yourself at least three hours to do it justice. The drive up to Cabrillo is moving as you pass by military cemeteries that overlook the ocean. At the top, there is a monument dedicated to Juan Cabrillo, the first European to set foot on the U.S. West Coast (in 1542) and from there you get a beautiful, panoramic view of the city.

However, it is the intertidal ecosystem that really blew us away. Cabrillo is one of the area’s best protected systems and it is breathtaking. You can hike along a path or go right down to the tide pools and see them up close.

Salute to the Marines

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Photo courtesy of San Diego Tourism Authority

Navy buffs will love San Diego. It is a key homeport for the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet and is home to over fifty ships. Hornblower Cruises offers a great excursion to see the military port with its massive, docked ships.

Be sure to visit the aircraft carrier museum USS Midway. Literally a floating city, Midway was in service from 1945 until 1992. The flight deck alone holds at least a dozen aircraft, not to mention the ones below. It is an impressive monstrosity that will blow you away.

For a step back in ship history, visit the Maritime Museum of San Diego down the road from the Midway. It has historic sea vessels, including the Star of India, the world’s oldest active sailing ship and a Russian B-39 Submarine.

Whale Watching

Dec2015_San Diego_skyline-Photo credit Bob Grieser

Photo courtesy of San Diego Tourism Authority

San Diego is also a prime destination for whale watching from December until April. Grey whale, dolphin and sea lion sightings are common. If you are lucky, you may spot a blue whale, earth’s largest animal, but usually blue whales are around in the summer. Flagship Cruises offers a fantastic trip to check out the harbour, it’s worth the trip even if you don’t see any whales.

If an evening dinner cruise interests you, Hornblower Cruises also offers options.

Saving Sea Mammals

Instead of watching whales and dolphins do tricks, the main Sea World attraction should be the fact that it serves as a rescue for over 750 sea creatures per year. You can take a behind-the-scenes tour of the rescue area and see the incredible work Sea World does. That is worth every second and is the real educational value of the place.

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Being so close to Mexico, it’s no surprise that San Diego has authentic Mexican food. If you are into tequila, hit Cafe Coyote y Cantina in Old Town. It is one of two certified “tequila houses” in the States (by the respected Mexican Academia del tequila) and has 100 types of tequila.

For a taste of modern American cuisine, head to the Kona Kai Resort (on Shelter Island). The Vessel Restaurant has a relaxed ambience in a chic environment with exceptional food. Be sure to indulge in the truffle fries. The seafood, as you would expect, is also top notch. As you munch down, make sure not to miss the mesmerizing art installation on the wall.

Puesto Restaurant, located in the Headquarters complex, close to downtown, is the spot for tacos and ceviche and its guacamole is equally fabulous. Have a sweet tooth? After traipsing around San Diego with my daughter on the hunt for the best cupcake, a kid activity that satisfied both of us, Cute Cakes came out on top (located in the Gas Lamp District).

Sleep…Ay perchance to Dream

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Photo courtesy of San Diego Tourism Authority

Speaking of kids, if you are travelling with little ones, all you need is a comfortable bed, clean hotel with amenities and an incredible view and balcony on the waterfront.  You get all of that with a stay at the Wyndham San Diego Bayside. It is perfectly located and close to everywhere you want to go.

San Diego has endless opportunities for fun and this is even before you factor in surfing, beach visits or world-class golf (Torrey Pines in La Jolla). Be sure to rent a car though, as you’ll need it to explore. Carpe Momentum in San Diego.

Cobble Beach: Georgian Bay’s Extraordinary Waterfront Golf Resort Community

November 23, 2015 2:51 pm
9th hole clubhouse view

Written by: Alessandra Gerebizza & Mike McEwan.

Upon turning onto Cobble Beach Drive you will get your first glimpse of the hidden gem that will keep you talking and coming back for years to come. From that first turn, a sense of relaxation and purpose should begin to enter your body as you are greeted to magnificent ponds on either side of the road and the blue glow of Georgian Bay in the distance.

The drive down the windy but spacious road towards the inn and clubhouse gives further indication that you are in for a treat as the championship course begins to peak its head out from between the unique and colorful custom and model homes that dot across the breath taking 574 acre property purchased in 1998 by Willis Mcleese. Your final turn towards the inn gives you a closer look at the Nantucket style lighthouse that sits next to the dock, built for residents and visitors complete with ever inviting Adirondack chairs, and if it is a sunny day, a view of the many shades of blues and greens Georgian Bay has to offer.

At the inn you will be greeted by knowledgeable staff, which is more like warm extended family than resort employees. The rooms are both luxurious and practical with every amenity of home available making it very difficult to ever imagine leaving.

Once you have settled in, a tour of the inn should begin on the first floor where you will find the Sweetwater Restaurant & Bar.

From the restaurant your view of both the course, with its St Andrew’s inspired finishing bridge, and of the Georgian Bay is matched only by the creations of the executive chef and his team. Offering unique and delicious meals, and focusing on locally grown produce and fish, each visit is truly an occasion to be remembered for its culinary excellence. You can’t go wrong with the beef tenderloin or the chef’s special. If you have a sweet tooth, the apple crumble tart is a must. So decadent and moist, it’s sure to please! For special events or larger groups there is the Bridgewater Four Seasons Room and Dunvegan room which are connected to the restaurant and offer intimate and private alternatives to the dining room area.

On the north side of the inn you will find the pool and spa. If you’re a spaaficionado, this is the place for you. Facials, massage, body treatments, and even gentlemen services are all available. However, the standout service is the Mango Enzyme Firming Wrap. The treatment begins with a full body exfoliating scrub followed by a moisturizing body wrap while you’re receiving a scalp, neck, foot and shoulder massage at the same time. The treatment concludes with a rain shower and coconut lotion application. You will leave feeling refreshed and ready for a round of golf.

The 18 hole championship course was completed and opened for play on May 18, 2007 by course designer Doug Carrick (Eagle’s Nest & Muskoka Bay among other courses) and is truly exceptional. Admiral Owen’s House marks halfway point between the 2 nine holes and beside it there is a fully operational driving range and outdoor practice facility. Electric GPS carts are available for rent and are recommended as you will notice there are considerable elevation changes on the aptly named holes ( from the inviting short par 3 8th hole Sanctuary, to the snowman inducing par 4 13th, Rob’s Gulch).

Picturesque views can be found on every hole and a variety of tee boxes for every skill level are offered. The course is immaculately maintained by meticulous and friendly staff that work hard to provide lush fairways, and a manageable rough paired with lightning fast but true greens and a generous helping of hazards.

For the non golfer there is still much to do beyond the links. Cobble beach has an extensive list of activities available to guests and residents including tennis courts, a large docking area for guests and residents arriving by water, a beach club with a variety of light watercrafts available for use, a fire pit, and a children’s playground. In addition to these activities there are kilometres of trails to be explored including an enchanted forest with wood carvings commissioned from a local artist to be admired and amazed at. Nearby, you can visit and explore Fossil Glen a unique and challenging hiking trail with a variety of millennium old fossil deposits to be discovered. If you don’t have time to explore or need to stay intouch with the office, Cobble Beach has fibre optic cable and natural gas services available to all residents allowing for all the modern conveniences of a large city.

Less than 15 minutes away is the quaint town of Owen Sound offering shopping and the Tom Thomson gallery. Cobble Beach truly is a place to be a discovered either as a vacation destination or as a permanent residence offering a master planned community suited for people with the desire to embrace life and all it has to offer. The passion for excellence that the McLeese family has is evident throughout the property and is sure to leave all guests with fond memories and the desire to return again and again.

To find out more about the Cobble Beach resort, check out their website cobblebeach.com or call them at  888.278.8112.

Great Britain and Ireland – A Contiki Adventure Part 2

November 6, 2015 1:01 pm
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Above: The Cliffs of Moher, County Clare, Ireland

The final part of our three week Contiki adventure was Ireland, where the Craig is Mighty! And where you will find a pub on literally every street corner.

We arrived in Dublin, jittery and excited after a three hour ferry ride across the Irish Sea. At our hotel we met 20 newcomers to our tour. By this time, Chris and I had become friends with large group of Canadians and Australians and we were still excited to meet new people. We went on a short walking tour of Dublin but unfortunately One Direction was in town and the streets were filled with swarms of girls wearing Harry Styles t-shirts.

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Londonderry, Northern Ireland

We traveled across Ireland counter-clockwise, starting with Northern Ireland. Although geographically part of the Republic of Ireland, it has been a part of Great Britain since 1921, therefore is governed by the Queen and uses pounds instead of euros. We visited Belfast, where the Titanic was built from 1909 to 1911. We then arrived in Londonderry (or simply known as Derry). We were given the best tour Chris and I have ever been on, by an Irish Buddhist who captivated 50 Guinness-drunk tourists and talked candidly about Bloody Sunday, the IRA and Derry being under siege.

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Alissa on a cliff, Giants Causeway

By far the best part of Northern Ireland was Giant’s Causeway, a World Heritage Site that is the geographical landscape of a volcanic eruption dating back 50 to 60 million years. The fast cooling lava created pillar-like columns of rock protruding from the cliffs. The name Giant’s Causeway comes from the Irish legend that a giant built the rock columns, thus giving it its name. It was a ME time optional excursion but everyone on the trip attended, climbing up the steep cliffs and rock pillars, trying to get the perfect views of the coast. The giftshop also had a large selection of authentic Irish souvenirs and we stocked up on gifts for family and friends.

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Rock Pillars on the North Ireland coast that make up Giants Causeway

We traveled to Galway, on the western coast of Ireland. Here we got to visit the Aran Islands, where the air is fresh and the residents still believe in leprechauns. Chris and I rented bikes and we explored the island called Inishmaan, watching sea lions from the spectacular cliffs and feeding the many horses on the island. The residents of the islands live in quaint, small homes, with cows in their yard and breathtaking views of the North Atlantic.

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Beach on the island of Inishmaan, Aran Islands

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Chris posing for a picture infront of Blarney Castle

On one of the last days of the trip we visited Blarney Castle, built in 1446 by MacCarthy of Muskerry  and the Kings of Desmond. The massive building is famous for the Blarney Stone. Kissing the stone is said to endow the kisser with “the gift of the gab” or great eloquence or skill at flattery. So of course, Chris and I kissed it. The stone is located at the top of the castle and we had to climb to the top, crawl under the stone, while suspended over the side of the castles wall and kiss the bottom of the stone.

The second event was a visit to the Cliffs of Moher, in the region of County Clare. They rise 120 metres above the Atlantic Ocean at Hag’s Head, and reach 214 metres just north of O’Brien’s Tower. Any nature photographer’s dream, no words can describe the cliffs’ size, geographical beauty and Irish grandeur.

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Cliffs Of Moher. O’Brien’s Tower can be seen in the background.

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Kytelers Inn

Another notable place we visited in Ireland was Cork, a small town in the south famous for being the Titanic’s last port of call in 1912 and the place where, if you are of Irish decent (like myself), your ancestors most likely boarded a boat to North America. We stayed in Kilkenny  at the Kilford Arms Hotel and took a guided tour to visit Kytelers Inn, a witch’s house built in the 1324 and St. Canice’s Cathedral. We also stayed in Killarney where we dressed in as much green as we could and ate a fantastic Irish dinner.

We arrived back in Dublin for our last day. Our Contiki group explored the Guinness Brewery, which was very interesting even if you hate beer as much as I do. We visited the famous Irish pub The Temple Bar and Trinity College and to celebrate a fantastic trip, we went to an Irish dinner at the The Merry Ploughboy Pub, which had Irish dancers and traditional Celtic music. It was a night to remember.

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Old street in County Kerry

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Shop in Llanfairpwllgwyngyll

The trip was officially over the next morning and we drove 12 hours back to London. We passed through Wales, a country on the United Kingdom’s western shore, and visited the entirely real town of Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch or Llanfairpwllgwyngyll for short. It is Welsh for ‘St Mary’s Church in the Hollow of the White Hazel Near to the Fierce Whirlpool and the Church of St Tysilio of the Red Cave’. Try putting that into a GPS!

Arrived back in London and unwillingly said goodbye to all our new friends and thanked our tour manager and driver. Even though I was more tired than I’ve ever felt in my life, I was so sad it was over. Chris and I spent our last night in the UK emptying our suitcases and repacking them 10 times to fit all our souvenirs. We chatted about Contiki, going over our favourite moments and of course, planning our next trip.

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The Great Britain and Ireland Contiki Group outside of the Guinness Storehouse, Dublin.

Great Britain and Ireland, A Contiki Adventure – Part 1

November 4, 2015 1:58 pm
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Above: Ruins of Hadrians Wall, England

Great Britain and Ireland are popular destinations for travelers from all around the world. These two European islands, settled in the North Atlantic Ocean, have so much to offer both for tourists seeking out popular destinations and off-the-beaten-track travelers.

Great Britain is made up of four countries; England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It is a land known for its rich and turbulent history, green rolling hills dotted with sheep and ancient monarchy. Ireland has its own Celtic legends and magnificent geographical beauty. Not to mention Guinness.

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Map of the Trip (some details have changed)

I traveled to Great Britain and Ireland with my boyfriend Chris in May 2014. We booked the trip with the Australian tour company Contiki. They host trips for anyone 18 to 35 years old and have over 100 trips to Europe, North America, Latin America, Asia, Australia and New Zealand. Contiki is the perfect touring company if you are looking to travel but don’t want to travel alone. It’s ideal for first time travelers as well, because they take the planning out of travel for you while giving you a trip as structured or easy-going as you want. Depending on your tour, you may also have free days, where you can explore as far and wide as you wish.

The people on these tours are looking for a good time, but they aren’t looking for a booze-filled time. Generally, on each tour (in this case, a European Tour) there was a huge mix of nationalities. We had people in our group who were Australian, Brazilian, American, New Zealander, Malaysian and, of course, Canadian. I now have friends from all over the world because of this trip and the friendships you form are the highlight of the time you spend overseas. There was an issue with getting enough sleep and spending (almost) every night in a different hotel, but the pros definitely out weighed the cons.

Chris and I, being novice travelers, wanted the type of trip Contiki offered. So, after much planning, we decided to do the Great Britain and Ireland tour for 17 days. This tour was made up of 4 separate tours: The England and Scotland tour, a specific Scotland tour, Scotland and Ireland and an Ireland tour. It offered almost every destination that was on our list to see in these countries, not to mention loads of ME time optionals.

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St Pauls Cathedral, London. Place of the marriage of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer

 LONDON – Home of the Queen

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Queen Victoria Monument infront of Buckingham Palace in London

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Alissa beside a British telephone Booth in London, England

We packed out bags and flew to London, England where our 21 days of travel began. We arrived jetlagged but extremely excited and took the Tube to our hotel. Chris and I stayed in the heart of London for 3 nights at the Imperial Hotel across from Russell Square, so we could explore the city for ourselves since we knew our group only did a driving tour of London. We visited Buckingham Palace, the Buildings of Parliament, Hyde Park, Kensington Palace, The Princess Diana Memorial, St Paul’s Cathedral and Kings Cross Station. We did also see Westminster Abbey, London Bridge and the Tower of London on our Contiki driving tour. We shopped the high street, going into shops on Oxford Street and tasting the local food in quaint English bakeries. The night before our tour started, we met in the Contiki Basement at the Royal National Hotel, meeting our Tour Manager and a large amount of the people we would be traveling with. Right after, in pure British style, we joined a group of New Zealanders at a local pub for a drink to talk about our upcoming trip.


ENGLAND – The Land of Sheep

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Old Midieval street in York, England.

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Liverpool Harbor, England

At 6am we left London and headed towards our first destination. After passing field upon field filled with sheep, we arrived in Liverpool, home of The Beatles! We went to the Cavern Pub where the Beatles played their first gig in the early 1960’s and went on the Magical Mystery Tour of Liverpool where we saw John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s childhood homes, the real Strawberry Fields and Penny Lane.

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York Cathedral

Our second destination was York. A walled medieval city built in 71 AD, York was perfect for anyone looking for some English/European charm. The York Cathedral, which is bigger than Notre Dame in France, magnificently towers over the city with its beautiful architecture and stunning interior gothic design. We had an optional Ghost Walk, which was very spooky, as the city was a place that hosted cruel medieval practices.

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Chris after ziplining

During the last days in England we drove to the Lake District of England, passing more white dotted fields, where Chris and I did some zip lining, surrounded by the most beautiful English scenery. The next town we stopped in was Bowness on Windermere, where we took a boat tour. Our last night in England was spent in the town of Carlisle. We also visited Hadrian’s Wall, built by the Romans in 122 AD to divide England and Scotland. Our last stop was Gretna Green, a place famous for runaway weddings. So as a group, we reenacted a traditional Gretna wedding ceremony and guess who caught the bouquet? I did!

We crossed the border into Scotland Braveheart style. Our Tour Manager painted his face blue and white and we ran across the border after he yelled out William Wallace’s Monologue from the movie. #noregrets

Cliffords Tower, England

Cliffords Tower, York, England

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The many, many sheep that dot the country side


 

SCOTLAND – Whiskey in the Jar

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Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh Scotland

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Alissa and Chris at Edinburgh Castle

Our first stop was the Scottish city of Edinburgh. Made up of medieval streets, Whiskey shops, thick accents and men in kilts, Edinburgh is a complete Scottish city. Part of our trip was a Scottish dinner, where we bravely tried haggis (pudding containing sheep’s heart, liver and lungs) and listened to a bag piper play and make dirty jokes. This is where we met new travelers joining us for Scotland and Ireland.

The next day (a free day) Chris and I toured the famous Grey Friars Cemetery, noted to be the most haunted place in the world, touristy sites including the Elephant Castle, where JK Rowling wrote Harry Potter, historial buildings and of course, Edinburgh Castle. Home of the Ancient Scottish Royal Family, Edinburgh Castle stands at the end of the Royal Mile, perched on top of an extinct volcano named Castle Rock, looking over into New Edinburgh. Made up of 18 different buildings (built over a period of 1100 years), the castle is the fortress of Scotland and remains one the most attacked strongholds in the world. 

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Ruins of St Andrews Cathedral

We made our way to St Andrews; a small town nestled along the Eastern coast of Scotland. It is the home of golf and where Prince William famously met his wife Kate Middleton. We toured the ruins of the ancient abbey built in 1158 and was the largest abbey built in Scotland. We walked along the beautiful beaches, toured the campus of St Andrew’s University (the third oldest English speaking University in the world), smelling the sweet salty air and watching the golfers prepare for a day on the green. Later that day, after driving through the East Highlands, we arrived in Drumnadrochit, Iverness, world famous for the Loch Ness Monster. Although we never saw Nessy on our boat cruise, Chris took a quick dip into the freezing waters of Loch Ness, one swim he’ll never forget. We spent the night in the quaint Loch Ness Lodge Hotel built in the 1740’s, with tartan carpets and a large Whiskey bar surrounded by the most comfortable leather sofas in Britain.

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Lochness Lodge Hotel, Scotland

We drove though the Scottish Highlands over the next couple of days, which were so captivatingly stunning, with their snowy peaks (one Australian said it was his first time ever seeing snow), breathtaking waterfalls and those furry highland cows.  The views were out of a movie, but unlike the Canadian Rockies, the ruins of castles and old settlements were waiting around every turn. We stopped to see the highest mountain in Great Britain, Ben Nevis at 1,344 metres but unfortunately it was too cloudy to see its peak. We arrived in Portree, on the Isle of Skye, a picturesque town in the heart of the Highlands, where we had a delicious meal and took pictures of the stunning harbor. We made small stops to visit Hamish, the oldest Highland Cow and the William Wallace Monument. We spent an interesting night in Oban, a small harbor town, where the breakfast menu featured blood pudding and haggis. Yum. But there was also Scottish dancing in town, where we learnt how to dance like traditional Scottish dancers.

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Scottish Highlands

Scotland ended with Glasgow, as we had to say good-bye to some of our fellow travelers who were only part of the England and Scotland tour. Glasgow is the biggest city in Scotland, and had more of a modern-city feel than Edinburgh did, but still featured the historic roots that Scotland is known for. To read more about Glasgow, read our OLM article here.

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Eilean Donan Castle, Scotland

You can read Part 2 ‘Ireland Adventures’ Here.

All photographs by Alissa Dicaire.

Adventure, Canadian Style Part Two

November 2, 2015 2:32 pm
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All photos courtesy of Don MacLean.

The Heart of Wild Labrador

Once in his life a man ought to concentrate his mind upon the remembered earth. He ought to give himself up to a particular landscape in his experience; to look at it from as many angles as he can , to wonder upon it, to dwell upon it. —Scott Momaday

Cruising north on the Labrador Sea marked a turning point in our adventure.  After days of mostly sun and warmth, the first day on the Labrador Sea was unrelentingly grey, wet and cold. A dense fog only lifted late in the afternoon. The sea’s complexion was also different. Like the sky, it was grey and ominous; swells were at their most extreme. We swayed constantly as the Ocean Endeavour at once powered through and rode the waves. Through the grey and the wetness we would pass the occasional glacier, alone and starkly beautiful. The sense was palpable that we were heading towards more remote and more forbidding territory.

The day felt different for another reason as well. Adults sometimes like to lament how dependent children and teenagers have become on technology. A day spent without their tablet or smartphone can seem like an eternity and a real hardship. But the dependence extends to adults as well. As wonderful as the first week had been, I found it reassuring to be able to contact home at the end of each day. I had come to depend on the videos  my spouse sent to me everyday of our four month old baby smiling and babbling. They provided a few moments of joy and acted like an anchor to home even as I was hundreds of miles away at sea. Truth be told, they also did much to assuage a lingering guilt I was experiencing over being away from our baby girl for so long. I was talking with my spouse on this grey and wet afternoon when the internet and phone connection was unexpectedly and irretrievably lost. Contact would not be renewed until the end of our trip. I would adjust, of course, but not before experiencing a peculiar sense of absence.  

Nain and Kangiqsualujjuaq

The sun and the calmer weather had returned by the next day, when we arrived by Zodiac in Nain, a small Inuit community located north on Labrador’s east coast and the home of Jason Edmunds, one of our expedition leaders and a great singer and guitar player to boot. (On a cruise rich with wonderful musical performances, I think Jason’s performance the night before our arrival in Nain was the only one to garner a standing ovation.) There was a gathering of the community and the ship’s crew and passengers in the local Moravian church. A choir sang songs and we were welcomed – again in a spirit of warmth, generosity and celebration. This was followed by a walk through the community, a tour of the local school and a lesson. In an actual classroom a teacher taught us to pronounce a few letters and words in their native tongue.unnamed (2)  

Our time in Nain reflected a subtle but important change in emphasis. The places we were about to visit that were so remote to most of the ship’s passengers were home to Inuit communities. Our days would still consist of hikes and long walks in the heart of beautiful landscapes, but other days would be remembered most for the joyous spirit with which we were welcomed. Just as was true in Nain, it seemed as though the entire community was waiting at the shore to greet us when days later we arrived in Kangiqsualujjuaq. We thoroughly enjoyed samples of their cuisine – a delicious sea food chowder comes to mind – and the opportunity to simply talk. At the end of the day the community hosted a wonderful show of music and dancing. Two young women sang a throat song and a much larger group performed a series of dances. The atmosphere was festive. The community’s aim was to show us a grand time. They succeeded brilliantly.

Derek and Maria

Our immersion in Inuit culture and experience would go deeper. There were also opportunities to learn about their remarkable knowledge of the land and how recent history has shaped their ability to live their traditional way of life.  Among the more conventional opportunities were good old fashioned talks given by different Adventure Canada staff members. Two Inuit staff gave separate talks, each reflecting different and challenging dimensions of life in Canada.

One only has to look at Derek to sense he possesses a combination of toughness and resourcefulness. He also embraces his culture. “The Inuit were born to live on the land,” he remarked early in his presentation. Hunting, he went on to say, is fundamental to the Inuit. Derek’s presentation included many images of him next to animals he had hunted and killed. Polar bears, seals, arctic hare, wolves, Canada Geese: he hunts them all. The hunt is motivated by the twin imperatives of need and respect. “You have to use what’s around you to survive,” he said at one point. But when hunting an animal you always kill it in a way “that it doesn’t suffer.” When using a rifle, he will kill the animal with a single shot aimed at the lungs or heart.

The thought occurred to me many time since stepping on the Ocean Endeavour that Adventure Canada’s idea is for passengers to engage with issues related to the land and its history. At no point was that idea more forcefully confirmed than when Maria – another staff person – spoke about her life as an Inuit woman. Maria is painfully shy and her life has been characterized by deep wounds and their consequent scars. She stepped in front of everyone, said how difficult talking was for her and, moments later, stepped off the stage. Maria wasn’t ready. Moments later she stepped back on and began to cry. The effect of the tears was to strengthen her resolve. What followed was more like a stream of consciousness than a carefully structured talk. That stream at many moments crystallized into a heartfelt and painful lament for a way of life that was stolen, if not ultimately lost. I say stolen because Maria’s family was among the community who were forcibly relocated from Hebron in 1959. In keeping with the strange but prevailing orthodoxy of the time, there was no consultation with the community whose lives were about to be turned upside down. Not only was there little consultation, there was very little actual communication between the government of the day and leaders of the community. Leaders of Hebron heard about the impending relocation as a rumour. When the rumour was verified, the community was promised the upheaval in their lives would be minimal. Promises of housing, jobs and the freedom to resume their traditional way of life were made, only to go unfulfilled. The combination of the relocation and the broken promises were enough to send her father into a tailspin from which he did not recover and which echoed down through his family. Maria suffered gravely from a litany of problems, all of which she traces back to the family’s relocation from Hebron. Sexual abuse, drug and alcohol abuse, alienation and despair. Only recently has she emerged from this long tunnel of darkness. The healing process has been long and painful and is not yet complete. But, as Maria made clear, she is in a much better place now.

The spirit in which they engage with Inuit communities is one of Adventure Canada’s many strengths.

Hebron  

As Maria’s personal story highlighted, among the many challenging chapters in the history of Newfoundland and Labrador is the gradual or sudden demise of once thriving coastal communities. Hebron was founded as a Moravian missionary community some time around 1861.  It is now deserted.

After a morning spent learning about Hebron’s brief history as a Moravian missionary community, passengers embarked on another thrilling afternoon of adventure. To the zodiacs we went. Upon arrival we walked among the beautiful but haunting relics of its past as a coastal community. There isn’t much that remains – a church as well as a few other dilapidated structures – but the effect is still to draw you back to a time when communities resided here. Later in the afternoon we embarked on a challenging but exhilarating hike. Under a blue sky, we trekked up mountains. We would reach a plateau only to look to see there was another hill to climb. At last we reached the final summit. Not for the first time on this adventure, I felt as though we were on top of the world.

At dinner that night it felt inevitable that Hebron would be a subject of discussion. The day, after all,  was as much about relishing the extraordinary beauty of the place as thinking about it’s recent tragic past. I was enjoying the company of Billy, a sketch artist, and Rob and Robin, two videographers documenting various parts of the trip.  How would the resettlement of the entire community be regarded, I asked, if the government had fulfilled its promises of housing and a resumption of the Inuit’s traditional way of life? Bill alluded to the practical challenges for any government of meeting a population’s education and medical needs. It was Robin’s remark, however, that has stayed with me most. In a way that we perhaps cannot understand, he suggested, the Inuit are truly of the land on which they live. To uproot them, especially in the undemocratic and disrespectful spirit in which it was done, was bound to produce the problems it did. Alienation, isolation, substance abuse.

Ramah Bay  

The sky was overcast when we arrived at Ramah Bay. Heavy clouds lay low, shrouding the tops of the Torngat Mountains. Some people were expressing a wish for clearer skies, if not sunshine. I preferred the grey clouds. We disembarked early this morning, not long after breakfast. The place was another former Moravian mission post, established in the hope of securing the conversion of Inuit living North of their more southerly posts. The whole Moravian quest to convert Inuit to Christianity raises interesting questions for me. I wonder why the project of converting Inuit to Christianity was successful to the apparent extent it was. The Inuit’s own spirituality, after all, was as central to their world view and way of life as Christianity was to the Moravians. While standing in the remnant’s of the abandoned mission’s graveyard, I asked Tom Gordon this very question. Tom is a music historian and can be counted as one of the many friendly and knowledgeable Adventure Canada staff members. He remarked that the Inuit were – and remain – a highly pragmatic people. Incorporating elements of Christianity into their spiritual practises did not mean they abandoned their own. Nor did they give up their traditional ways of living. The Inuit would have resided at Ramah Bay for only a few months of the year. Otherwise they were elsewhere, hunting and sustaining themselves. The Moravians also constituted an important source of goods. Tom’s answer was a thoughtful one.

In his book Arctic Dreams, Barry Lopez offers a brilliant meditation on the Arctic’s endless dimensions. (The book was a serendipitous discovery in the Ocean Endeavour’s wonderfully stocked library.) Although we were not in the Arctic, so many of his insights seem applicable to the remote landscapes we visited, but one less so than all the others.

“In the face of a rational, scientific approach to the land, which is more widely sanctioned, esoteric insights and speculations are frequently overshadowed, and what is lost is profound.”

There has indeed been tensions between the strictly scientific and the more spiritual, holistic and esoteric approaches taken to understanding such beautiful but challenging landscapes. Although those tensions have hardly been resolved, on this trip these competing approaches seem less mutually exclusive and more mutually reinforcing. They compliment each other. Those at Adventure Canada understand that to only engage in the science would be to miss out on the experience of being moved and indeed altered by such majestic landscapes. But to simply gaze at a mountain or the Bay in which it sits, without the context that good science provides, is also to risk missing something. It’s as though the more one learns how ancient mountains formed the deeper the spiritual experience of looking at them up close becomes.  A geologist will tell how the age of rocks are measured and how mountains we’re walking among formed billion of years ago. Similarly, the science of archeology facilitates a deeper understanding and respect for ancient communities and cultures. As I was repeatedly discovering, it can become the springboard for thoughtful questions and discussions. The discovery of a sod house or an aboriginal tool allows the sensitive observer to imaginatively travel back in time. An ornithologist will help you identify what bird you see or hear soaring above the sea. A naturalist will explain the many different species of whales that inhabit the seas upon which we were sailing. With such an array of expertise, it’s hard to imagine that at least some of what one learns on an Adventure Canada cruise will not inspire or fascinate.

Eclipse Bay, Eclipse River and the Torngat Mountains  

No one knew what to expect to find at Eclipse Bay, located on the northern tip of Labrador. It was the first visit for everyone on board, including Adventure Canada staff. The morning we arrived was just as we’d come to expect: the air was cool when we set foot in the Zodiac and the sky was overcast, but showing no threat of rain. Ideal conditions, in other words. We set off, walking on undulating mossy and rocky ground. The further we trekked the more it seemed as though we were all sharing in a beautiful discovery. We came upon a stream of rushing water, flowing away from a black mountain range wrapped in a low lying ribbon of cloud. Gradually the heavy clouds overhead dispersed, making way for a burst of sun and colour. The effect was to heighten the beauty of the rest of the landscape. The sun’s presence had the added effect of lifting everyone’s mood just that little bit more. There was a shared sense of how special and privileged an experience this was. Everyone, I thought, seemed suddenly closer. Any awkwardness in talking to people you didn’t know dissolved with the morning mist. The closeness will recede, of course, but the memory of the experience will not.

That shared exhilaration and closeness was also a function, no doubt, of time’s passing. The adventure was nearing its end. Following Eclipse Bay there was only one more full day at sea. The day after everyone would go their separate ways. Back to Winnipeg, Germany, New Zealand, Seattle, St. Johns, Colorado, Toronto, Ottawa – and all the other far flung places from whence people had come to make this journey. For this reason perhaps there was little rush to return to the ship. Yes there were strict timelines to follow, but the initial walk took less time than expected. There was still time to linger, to  explore more of this majestic place. Most of us opted to hike the mountain immediately in front of us. We walked up the slope, laughing and chatting and stopping every few minutes to look and behold. Someone looked off in the distance and thought he saw a bear scaling a hillside. Even looking through binoculars, however, proved inconclusive. It hardly mattered. The higher we climbed the more breathtaking the vista. Upon reaching the summit the view was different depending on what direction one looked. In one direction was the ship, now looking like a miniature of itself as it rested in the calm waters of the bay.  In another, was the black mountain and the low lying ribbon of cloud.

We returned to the shore with time still to spare. Zodiacs were waiting to take us to Eclipse Bay’s hidden gem – a waterfall at the end of an inlet that flows between towering cliffs comprised of ancient rock. When we arrived and saw the water rushing down it renewed our shared sense of discovery.

unnamed (1)Walking on Eclipse Bay’s mossy and rocky ground, trekking up a mountain as the sun burst through the clouds and then riding on a Zodiac to the Falls: the day had already brimmed over with discovery and adventure. No one would have protested if the rest of the afternoon and evening were clear of activities. But, this being Adventure Canada, there were talks to attend if one so wished in the afternoon. As though to prove they think of everything, Adventure Canada also had what was cleverly referred to as the “Floating Book Club,” led by three esteemed Canadian authors, Terry Fallis,  Doug Gibson and Kathleen Winter. Terry Fallis was humorous and often insightful about the state of Canadian politics when, earlier in the cruise, he discussed his breakout novel The Best Laid Plans. In addition to being an author, Doug Gibson is the great Canadian editor and publisher, storyteller and, it must be said, a real gentleman.  His thoroughly entertaining talk on his relationship with a long line of Great Canadian authors – Alistair McLeod, Hugh MacLennan, Robertson Davies, Mavis Gallant, Alice Munro, among many others – was still to come. But it was Kathleen Winter’s talk and novel Annabel that most directly spoke to the experience of visiting Labrador especially. Annabel is about a child born with features of both genders, but it is as much about Labrador itself. The land’s rugged beauty and peculiar energy and its power to shape the lives of those who live there. She was giving her second talk this afternoon.

After being introduced by Doug Gibson, Kathleen gently bounded to the stage with her guitar in hand. In a voice initially tentative that then rose to fill the room, she started with a song, Harry Martin’s “A Place Called Labrador.” This beautiful rendition sung by an award winning author called to mind another, easily overlooked aspect of an Adventure Canada cruise – the multi-talented people they draw. Otherwise so much of what Kathleen said echoed my own experience and sentiments the adventure inspired. Energy, reverence, connectedness: the landscapes and people we are so privileged to visit give rise to these sorts of deeper impressions. The opening passages of Annabel describe Labrador as a place that speaks to those whose hearts and minds are open enough to hear. That idea, I slowly discovered, had taken root inside me. That’s when it struck me: these past few glorious weeks the land had been talking and I, at long last, was learning to listen.

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