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Canada Travel news and opinion

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    One does not normally think of ancient Hawaii when thinking about the early societies of Egypt and China, Mesopotamia and Mesoamerica, the Indus Valley and the Incas.

    But a new scholarly work argues that pre-contact Hawaii — in particular, the society that developed in the 17th and 18th centuries on the Big Island — should join the recognized list of "cradles of civilization," primary states from which "all modern nation states ultimately derive."

    That's the thesis of The Ancient Hawaiian State: Origins of a Political Society, published this year by Oxford University Press.

    At minimum, the book gives reasons for Hawaii, and perhaps Hawaiians, to be viewed in a new and dramatic light.

    "What I am talking about here is a major revolution in human history," the book's author, Robert J. Hommon, tells me. "Once primary states developed, then the organization is already in place. It's basically the same as what we live under today, except that we live in much larger societies. And this was a Native Hawaiian accomplishment."

    I interviewed Hommon when he was in Honolulu in October, to promote and lecture about The Ancient Hawaiian State.
    Hommon's work is not a holiday stocking-stuffer, easy reading for the general audience. He is a retired archaeologist and senior cultural resource scientist for the Pacific Islands Office of the National Park Service.

    But The Ancient Hawaiian State makes a strong case for reconsidering how pre-1778 Hawaii should be understood. Same goes for another Polynesian society that developed in Tonga.

    "The point I am making is that this was an organizational revolution," he said. "Once you have this system, which consists of a leader and a bureaucracy, and the bureaucracy is a human social network ... with individuals interacting with each other, its orders coming down from several layers, and results going up — this is the basis of modern nation states, and corporations and large armies and any large organization."

    How did Hawaii, prior to Captain James Cook's arrival, come to develop a sophisticated system of governance, given that the other six cradles were on continents?

    Hommon has a hypothesis, one that he admits is controversial. He reasons that something similar to what happened on a southwestern Pacific island called Tikopia resulted in "an escalated coercive development" that contributed to the emergence of the Hawaii Island state during 1680-1790.

    Tikopia, located in the Solomon Islands, is just 2 square miles in size. Anthropologists in the 20th century determined that a hurricane devastated the benevolent society that lived there, one run by a chief system based on kinship.

    Hommon said that the resulting emergency situation forced the people of Tikopia to "harden significantly" in order to survive. Under stress, the leaders became much more "power oriented," changing the society's structure.

    Something similar, Hommon reasons, happened in Hawaii.

    'One Bad Year'

    Hommon relies on the direct archeological record of agricultural development of the Leeward Kohala field system, which helped the Big Island to support a population numbering in the tens of thousands. It's estimated that as many as 250,000 people lived in Hawaii Island prior to Cook's arrival, almost twice the present-day population.

    Hawaii's transformation is also documented in oral traditions preserved in a literature that came post contact.

    What happened in Hawaii is akin to what happened with ancient Athens and Rome "and to the U.S. after 9/11 attacks," he writes in his book's conclusion. "The hard time hypothesis proposes that a leader of an autonomous group tends to respond to a perceived threat to the group with extraordinary action that can transgress sociopolitical norms."

    As he explained, "One bad year could have set it off so that high chiefs needed to accumulate more power, including with taxes — that was key too. The chief was now a king. It's not usually called taxes, it's called tribute or gifts, but in essence it was taxation. The king needed leaders, bureaucrats and taxation and other ways to exercise control. And they are only controlling certain things; it's not an all-encompassing system. The common people went along as usual after this organizational revolution."

    Hommon's ties to Hawaii are deep. He served for 10 years as president of the Society for Hawaiian Archaeology and eight years as a member of the Hawaii State Historic Sites Review Board. His work includes preparing the overview report for listing of Kahoolawe in the National Register of Historic Places.

    Hawaiian Pride

    James M. Bayman, an anthropology professor at he University of Hawaii at Manoa who is thanked by Hommon in his preface, provides a glowing book jacket blurb:

    Hommon's masterful integration of archaeological and documentary records demands attention from scholars beyond Oceania who must interpret the world's early states without eyewitness accounts. Hawaii offers a perspective that is rarely accessible to archeologists who study complex societies solely through material records.

    Hommon's book does not much consider the implications of nation-state stature for post-contact Hawaii, other than placing it in historical context. But he said the governance structure continues into the present day.

    How might Native Hawaiians, then, react to his theories? With pride, he suggests.

    "The Hawaiians did something that as far as we know happened only in six other places ever in all of history," he said. "And the reasons that it is not obvious to historians that it happened here too is that those other places are on continents, so all sorts of trade and carne monuments and so forth (existed)."

    He continued: "But what counts is that they came up with a new way of organizing large numbers of people. If I were a Native Hawaiian, I would really feel proud that something so unique happened here. Of course, there are good things and bad things about states. But the world we live in today is (made up of) states, not tribes."

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    In-flight Wi-Fi could finally come to Canada next year.

    In an interview with the Calgary Herald, WestJet's CEO Gregg Saretsky told the paper the airline is poised to become Canada's first to offer the service within the country.

    We haven’t signed a contract yet, but we’re getting very close to the short strokes on that,” Saretsky told the paper. “If we can get the last of the contract terms resolved quickly, it might be announced before Christmas. Otherwise, it will be early in the year.”

    Air Canada currently offers in-flight Internet access but only in U.S. airspace on flights departing from Toronto and Montreal to Los Angeles, according to the Airline Passenger Experience Association.

    In-flight Wi-Fi has become popular with travellers flying from the States thanks to carriers such as Delta, JetBlue or United Airlines. South of the border, airlines provide in-flight Internet access via satellite and ground-to-air signal technologies that currently don't exist in Canada.

    WestJet has yet to announce how they'll provide the service and remains mum on who their wireless provider will be.

    The airline said it had its eye on Gogo, one of the frontrunners in the ground-to-air sector within the in-flight Internet industry, with great interest back in September, reports.

    The timing seems right as the U.S. lawmakers recently ruled it safe to use personal electronics during the entire flight.

    According to the Globe and Mail, Transport Canada has been mulling a possible change to in-flight electronics use ban since June. Saretsky predicts Transport Canada will eventually make the change, much like the U.S.

    “We’ve been working hard with them on this, because obviously if we get to a place where we have connectivity, we want people to be able to use their devices,” Saretsky said.

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    Travel and healthy eating can be a tricky combination to pull off but if you want to avoid packing on extra baggage -- the kind that doesn't fit in a suitcase -- start with ditching certain airline foods.

    That's the notion from Charles Platkin, a personal trainer and author better known as the Diet Detective. In an online survey, Platkin ranks the health offerings of 12 major airlines by analyzing their choices of snacks and in-flight meals.

    Platkin grades airlines according to their score in eight categories: health of meals and snack boxes, health of individual snacks, healthy offerings, the caloric value for snacks, meals, snack boxes, menu innovation, cooperation in disclosing nutritional information and their improvement from 2012's ranking. Those numbers then translate to a ranking out of five.

    Leading the pack for 2013 are Virgin America and Air Canada in a tie, each with four-and-a-half stars.

    Air Canada earns praises for their snack options, like celery and carrots, and an average of 296.90 calorie count for their meals and snack boxes. Calorie counts for individual snacks average at 365 and the airline's overall calorie count for meals and snacks comes to 330.95

    Virgin America's overall meal calorie count clocks in way over Air Canada's with an average of 458.6 calories but the U.S. airline still wins points for their healthier individual snack calories (270.63), their "Travel Light" menu and the "Flight Bites" program which features salads and a dessert.

    On the other end of the nutritional scale is Allegiant Air, a U.S. budget carrier with one-and-a-half stars.

    Allegiant's low ranking shouldn't come as a surprise as it didn't even bother to provide any of the nutritional info of their meals and snacks, according to Platkin.

    Allegiant says they've tried to offer healthier options for its passengers but it ultimately sticks with what's popular.

    "Our onboard food offerings are simply a reflection of passenger demand. In the past, we have experimented with healthier options, such as hummus and granola bars. Those items most frequently purchased by our passengers have remained on our menu, while less popular options were dropped,'' Allegiant spokesman Justin Ralenkotter said in an interview with USA Today.

    But it's not all bad news for hungry travellers. Overall, airlines managed to reduce the number of calories per food items from 388 in 2012 to 360. Readers curious about how individual meal items rank can take a look at the slideshow below or see the survey in full detail here.

    Like this article? Follow us on Twitter

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    Let's be honest. The holiday season means two things to most people: vacation and boozing.

    Winter get-aways, fireside nightcaps, holiday parties and, of course, New Year's Eve, all make for a rather drunken end to December, which is why we decided to let spirits guide our travels this holiday season.

    Below, 7 places where the bottom of your glass is a destination in and of itself.

    1. Mai Tais at The Royal Hawaiian, Honolulu, HI

    Sit alongside the famous Waikiki beach on a quiet December evening and treat yourself to three different, exceptionally crafted mai tais (one is even "ginger-essenced"). Wear your best linen suit and you'll be channeling Don Draper in no time.
    mai tai

    2. Wine at The Farmhouse in the Sonoma County, California

    There are plenty of places in the world for wine, but no place as specifically devoted to its enjoyment than Napa Vally and Sonoma County in northern California. Situated in the Russian River Valley, which is known for its chardonnays and pinot noirs, the Farmhouse is entirely devoted to the sensory pleasures of oenophiles: gorgeous, secluded accommodations, friendly, easy wine tours and tastings, and relaxing and luxurious spa treatments.

    3. Whiskey -- any way you like it -- at The Cliff House in Ardmore, Ireland

    Ireland is more about experiencing a mood than any particular tourist sites, and that mood is best encapsulated by dramatic cliffs, rolling fog over green hills and whiskey -- lots and lots of whiskey. Indulge yourself at The Cliff House hotel in the quaint, quiet and quintessentially Irish town of Ardmore. Its bar is so cozy and its whiskey list so long, we're sure you'll spot a leprechaun or two before you leave.
    cliff house ireland

    4. Mojitos at La Bodeguita in Havana, Cuba

    This bar has a piece of butcher paper framed on the wall. It reads: “My mojito in La Bodeguita. My daiquiri in El Floridita” and is signed by Ernest Hemingway. (El Floridita is another bar in town.) If that's not reason enough to lose an afternoon or two there, we don't know what is.
    la bodeguita del medio

    5. Sidecars at Harry's Bar in Paris, France

    Want to feel like Owen Wilson in Midnight in Paris? Harry's should be your first stop. With its historic "lost generation" charm and its carefully curated cocktail menu (it invented both the Sidecar and the Bloody Mary), it's easy to imagine yourself among the bar's celebrity enthusiasts: George Gershwin, Coco Chanel, Humphrey Bogart, and -- believe it or not -- James Bond.
    sidecar cocktail

    6. Pina Coladas at The Caribe Hilton Hotel, San Juan, Puerto Rico

    You haven't had a true Pina Colada unless you had it in Puerto Rico, where the drink was invented, and it included cream of coconut, which (we're told) is not to be confused or substituted with coconut cream.
    pina colada

    7. A French 75 at The French 75 Bar in New Orleans, LA

    While the Hurricane from Pat O'Brien's might be the cliche New Orleans drink, the human body can only stomach so many of those. To appreciate the French Quarter beyond the Mardi Gras mayhem, duck into The French 75 for respite. Between the soft lighting, gentlemanly southern accents and perfectly mixed cocktails, you'll be thoroughly charmed.
    french 75 new orleans

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    A unique bistro in Edmonton is taking the joy of the winter to a whole new level.

    Visitors to Café Bicyclette can get warm and cozy with wool blankets, heated seats and a wood-burning fireplace as they enjoy a cup of hot chocolate.

    "We can't hide inside forever," says Daniel Cournoyer, executive director of La Cité Francophone, the organization that runs the cafe.

    Part of the City of Edmonton's initiative to make the region a "world-leading winter-city," the newly opened patio is even looking into adding ski trails in the area.

    Story continues after slideshow

    "I think its about time that we start moving back outdoors [during] this major season of our year," said Cournoyer to The Huffington Post Alberta.

    The patio is a work in progress as the cafe researches the concept of a winter patio and may transform it in the coming months. It might even become an igloo, Cournoyer added.

    The patio will be open until temperatures drops to around -10 C, and if customers want to stay out in colder temperatures, they will be served.

    "On that winter day when the sky is blue... if you're having a nice croissant and hot chocolate, you're just capturing the best of everything in that given moment," said Cournoyer.

    Café Bicyclette will have an official opening on Dec. 31.

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    As you pass your hotel maid in the corridor you may wonder if she or he is secretly whooping it up while you're out, eating bon bons and trying on your clothes.

    The likelihood, reveals a hotel maid, is that they are working very hard, but aren't averse to taking the occasional nap or using your bathroom towel to wipe the floor if you happen to be exceptionally rude.

    Hotel bookings site published the interview with the maid, who wanted to remain anonymous, and who works at a five-star hotel in Florida.


    The UK's Happiest City?

    Which British City Has The Dirtiest Hotels?

    Here's what really goes on:

    How many rooms in total do you clean in a day?

    It can range between 10-15 checked-out rooms and about another 10 basic cleans when a guest is still staying in the room. For a room where a guest has checked out it usually takes 45 minutes for a standard room, a suite or VIP room always takes longer. For guests that are still staying in the room, it takes about 10-15 minutes.

    Is there anything that you don't clean in the rooms?

    When I have time I will clean everything, but sometimes it's so busy and management still expects everything to be cleaned just as fast as a day that isn't as busy. If this is the case I usually won't vacuum and will just do a fast clean, like rinse the bath instead of scrubbing or dusting over surfaces quickly. The remote control is something I would say doesn't get a proper clean; I just go over it with the same cloth I use for the bedside table.

    How often are pillows replaced? What about the bedding?

    Where I work now, pillows and bedding are replaced at every check-out. However before when I used to work at a budget hotel we rarely changed them, even when there were sweat stains or marks on the pillow we would just cover it with a new case - some differences between staying in a budget hotel to a luxury hotel.

    Are the glasses, cups and cutlery always cleaned after every guest?

    Upon check-out, all glasses, cups and cutlery are cleaned and replaced for new ones. I wouldn't say they are cleaned well though; they are put through a big industrial dishwasher that sometimes doesn't do a great job. During a guests stay we will only change the glasses if they request it.

    What do you really think about how guests behave?

    There are a huge variety of guests, from those who are extremely clean and make you question whether the room is actually being used, to others, where you don't even feel comfortable going in the room because it's just such a mess. There are some that leave pizza boxes and garbage around, and underwear on the floor, making it impossible to clean the room. Some guests really expect you to clean up after them like you are their mother.

    Do you find guests to be annoying at all?

    I find it annoying when a guest has made too much mess to fix in the given time. To be honest though, management is more annoying. Sometimes they have high expectations but they don't give you enough time. Some of management can also be demeaning; once a manager ripped apart all of the beds I had made that morning and told me to redo them all because they weren't made to their standards.

    If someone's rude to you do you seek revenge and how?

    I personally have never done anything but a colleague was so angry about a rude comment made to them that they cleaned the bathroom floor with a towel and left it on the rack for the guest to use.

    Do you ever get annoyed if guests don't answer the door quickly/at all?

    I do get annoyed when it happens but I can never show it, because if guests complain about it you could lose your VIP roster or even some working hours. Besides, the nicer you are despite how annoying the guests are, the higher the chance of receiving a tip, especially if they are in the room and they get the chance to meet you.

    Do you ever have a nap in one of the rooms?

    Yes we do actually. If we are really tired and have the time, for example if we are doing a large suite and are given longer to clean it, we will have a nap in the beds. Something else we do sometimes is that we use the toilets in the guest's bathroom, but only if we are super-busy and don't have enough time to go to the staff toilets. It is something we are not supposed to do but many do it anyway.

    Do you ever touch a guest's belongings?

    We are told that we are not allowed to touch anything that belongs to a guest, but we are also told that we must make the bed and change the towels. So if a guest has belongings on the bed or on top of the dirty towels, sometimes you have to move them.

    What is the strangest thing you ever found in a hotel room?

    Once I found T-bone steaks left in the fridge that I took home for dinner, but the strangest thing I found was what I first thought was an abandoned baby lying on the bed. I took it to management and it turned out to be a robot or fake baby that made noises just like a real one. It was left from guests attending a medical or science convention or something. It scared me so much though because it seemed so real.

    What are your colleagues like?

    The more senior staff can sometimes make it stressful, they fight for the more expensive rooms or suites because better items are left behind for the taking if nobody claims them. They also fight to take the better trolleys, leaving myself and others with old ones that don't have the right products or supplies, meaning a lot more running around.

    What is the pay like? Do you struggle to get by on your income?

    Especially in the US it is a huge struggle and more so if you have a family. It is almost impossible - similar to what you would earn at a fast-food restaurant - that's why tipping is important for us.


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    The year's almost at and end and that means there are plenty of bucket lists floating around, featuring interesting places like castles and theme parks.

    Well, here's one more list to add to your collection. It too, features castles and theme parks but also promises next to no line-ups or crowds to get in. That's partially because most of these abandoned destinations haven't seen a single living soul in ages.

    Some, like this abandoned nursing school in Ronse, Belgium, once responsible for holding kids, now holds a treasure trove of Batman-inspired graffiti, just waiting to be explored by curious Redditors.

    batman graffiti

    Other destinations have long outlived their purpose and now sit forgotten, like the Mirny diamond mine in Siberia. Then there are others, like North Korea's "Hotel of Doom", which has yet to open, despite decades of delays and construction.

    The origin stories behind these abandoned destinations vary place to place, but they all share the same fascinating eerie beauty unique only to a place forgotten by time. So, if you're looking to start your new year with a trip somewhere odd and special, perhaps one of the 12 abandoned destinations belongs on your bucket list.

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    J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth has captured imaginations for decades. And since his films came to life on the big screen, Middle Earth has become associated with New Zealand -- the filming location for both the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit series.

    Sets from the films have, of course, been opened to the public for "Hobbiton Tours". Check out photos below via the Instagram blog.

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    If you think about it, truly everyone in the universe should be into cats: They sit in boxes. And get sassy with dogs. And put their wittle fwuffy paws on your face. Nevertheless, some people show inappropriate hostility toward cat lovers.

    Good news, feline-frenzied friends! There are places to which you can flee! If you reeeally love cats, then these places will certainly love you back.

    1. Rome's ruinous cat play pen
    Largo di Torre Argentina is a historically important town square in which four stately Roman temples once stood. Julius Caesar was killed here. Mussolini commissioned excavations here. Now it's just full of frickin' cats. Two hundred and fifty of the critters roam around in sunken ruins behind some gates-- it's that effect where you look at the broken pillars and porches and don't think you see any cats, but then you notice one. Then another. Then another. Until OMG THIS PLACE IS LITERALLY FULL OF CATS! The gattare, or cat ladies, feed and care for them.

    2. A skateboarding cat show in Moscow
    The Moscow Cats Theatre consists of one old Russian gentleman and his 120 cats, who travel the world in a series of stage performances. While their friends are out touring the planet, cats at the original Cats Theatre show in Moscow perform regular routines of sliding around on skateboards and popping out of boxes. A famous act called "The Cat in the Pot" involved a cat -- you guessed it -- jumping in and out of a pot. Pay extra attention to cats named The Navel and Sausage.

    3. The Cat Cabinet in Amsterdam
    De KattenKabinet -- literally translated "Cat Cabinet" -- is a museum dedicated to all things feline, and to the curator's cat named Tom. In this converted canal house, you'll visit rooms and rooms of cat-related lore, from Picasso paintings to abstract wooden sculptures. A brood of real-live cats also resides in the mansion, imbuing it with that distinct, cat-y scent we all know and love. As a tourism website explains,

    "Five exquisite cats live at the museum premises. You will feel their fragrant presence since you enter the building."


    4. Japan's by-the-hour cat rentals
    How has this not happened in America yet? All over Japan and Korea, you can walk into a "cafe" full of cats and pay to snuggle one by the hour-- typically for about $8. The cafes do sell drinks, but people come for the kitties, who are strewn gleefully about on the floor just waiting for a cuddle or a flutter of the mouse toy. In an effort to be creative, some places throw "fat golden retrievers" or goats into the mix.

    5. Ernest Hemingway's mansion for six-toed cats
    In Ernest Hemingway's old house on Key West, you can see his chandelier collection, some Broadway prop furniture, and a 17th-century Spanish wood chest. But who cares when there are forty to fifty SIX-TOED CATS running around?! Apparently, some ship captain gave Hemingway a six-toed cat named Snowball at one point. Then one thing led to another, and now Hemingway's house is overrun with mutant kittens. It's weird, it's wonderful, and all of them are named after famous people.

    6. Belgium's cat-throwing festival
    Back in the day in the town of Ypres, Belgium, cats were brought into the Cloth Hall tower to keep mice away from precious wools stored there. In springtime, when the wools were sold and the cats were no longer needed, people threw them out the windows of the tower. What a tradition for the modern citizens of Ypres to commemorate! Join them in their creepy ode to the cat throwing during the Festival of the Cats, held every May. Locals dress up like cats, mice and witches before chucking stuffed (thank goodness!) kittens out of the very same tower.

    7. Cat Heaven Island in Japan
    Nope, your wildest dreams are not just dreams. There is an island full of cats on this planet, and it's off the coast of Japan. On Tashirojima -- better known as Cat Heaven Island -- there are about 100 humans... but they are a population minority in the face of hundreds and hundreds of wild cats. Fishermen think the cats' behavior might give clues to weather and fishing patterns, so they just keep on feeding them.

    8. The Cat Museum in Malaysia
    Leave the real world and walk through a giant cat mouth into this Malaysian smorgasbord of all things cat. At the Kuching Cat Museum, you'll find a hodgepodge of pictures, sculptures and taxidermy that document the 5,000 year existence of the feline race. There are weird cat headstones, cases of cat carvings, and one of those giant photo-taking stations where you can stick your head through a hole to become -- duhh -- a cat.

    9. A boat full of cats in Amsterdam
    De Poezenboot is a bunch of rescued cats on a boat, and they're up for adoption. Need we say more?

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    Yesterday, Twentieth Century Fox unveiled the much-anticipated name of its future theme park in Malaysia.

    The title is... drumroll... TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX WORLD!!! So original. So exciting. So (dare we do the movie pun?) animated.

    While the name isn't overwhelmingly imaginative, the park seems like it will be. When Twentieth Century Fox World opens in 2016, it will boast over 25 rides and attractions from Fox movies like "Ice Age," "Rio," "Night at the Museum," and "Alien vs. Predator."

    fox park

    Fox also released photos of the park's logo and a sketch of a potential "Ice Age" ride.

    fox park

    fox park

    Malaysia has experienced a theme park boom lately, so it makes sense that Fox would choose the country as a location for its first big park.

    The park will be built on the property of Resorts World Genting, an "integrated holiday" destination that already has hotels, movie theaters and a casino clumped together on one big vacation destination compound.

    Attendees at Tuesday's groundbreaking ceremony watched the Prime Minister of Malaysia stick a giant acorn into a faux glacier (à la the squirrel in "Ice Age") to symbolize the start of construction.

    A sloth, birds, and leaf-wielding insects also danced around the stage, celebrating the impending arrival of Twentieth Century Fox World. What a day!



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    MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Delta Air Lines says it won't allow passengers to make voice calls from its planes.

    CEO Richard Anderson says the airline's frequent fliers believe that voice calls in the cabin would disrupt the travel experience. Delta says a majority of customers in a survey last year said the ability to make voice calls would make their experience worse, not better.

    Anderson also says Delta employees, particularly in-flight crews, are against allowing calls during flights.

    The Federal Communications Commission is thinking about lifting its ban on voice calls on planes. However, the Transportation Department is thinking about instituting a ban of its own.

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    I almost cancelled my trip to New Zealand.

    Knowing almost nothing about the country and being a bit stressed for cash, I felt there was no need to cross the Tasman Sea from Melbourne into another foreign land. I have been giving thanks and praise to whatever force made me reconsider that idiotic decision. My eight days in New Zealand were some of the best of my life.

    I headed to the South Island -- known for its mountains, snow, and glaciers -- having no idea what to expect. I just hoped I wouldn't have to dress nicely or wear makeup. I was right. I spent the half the trip in Queenstown, the adventure capital of the world, and the other half on beautiful Lake Wanaka. The two are about and hour drive apart, but completely different vibes.

    Don't make the mistake I almost made, and start saving immediately! If you love nature, wonderfully friendly people, breathtaking views, glacier-clear water, and a lot of fun on the side... New Zealand was made for you. Here's my top reasons why I insist you go.

    1. It's damn beautiful. The lakes and rivers are the color of the Caribbean, and they're surrounded by snow-capped mountains. It was the most beautiful contrast I've ever seen!

    2. Don't bother dressing up. I wore my running shoes 95 percent of the time and Birkenstocks when I was feeling fancy. My face got a vacation from makeup, and all was well.

    3. The people. Whether I was hiking up a hill or buying a banana, I was constantly engaged in meaningful conversation with strangers. After a couple days I was waving to my local pals, and feeling like one myself.

    4. Encouragement to get outside. One local told me he loves living in Wanaka because he is constantly inspired by the sporty atmosphere to get outside and be fit. Everyone else is running, biking, and on a casual eight-hour you will be too!

    5. It's chill. You'll be exercising without even realizing it, so the rest of the time you can just relax. There's not much to worry about, other than what hike to take the next day. Or what Monteith's brew to try.

    6. There's thrill. You can paraglide, bungee jump, sky dive...or whatever cool, adventure-seeking people do. This isn't really my jam, but it is a pull for many people to go to the south island. If there was one place on earth I'd jump out of a plane (ha!) it would be here, for the view.

    7.Wicked climate. I went in December (spring) and the weather was amazing. It was warm and sunny during the day, and breezy at night; perfect for sleeping. The winters aren't horrible either, at just below freezing, and snowy. *Canadian subjective view of "horrible."

    8. NO SNAKES! This one takes the cake for me. I've been anxious in the wilderness my whole life because of the possibility of seeing a snake. In Australia, I basically can't leave the city because I'm so scared of getting killed. In NZ, there are only sea snakes (at some times of the year) but inland/lakes are snake-free paradises!

    I can't speak about the North Island, but I will definitely be back to see the entire country (and tell you why you need to see it, too.)

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    The rice is laid out on the road to dry in the sun. The grains crunch as the tyres speed over them. Harvest is in full swing, but it is monsoon season and when the sun shines, everyone gets busy.

    Qui, my driver, looks about 15 or 16. But I have to trust him. Motorbikes are the most popular form of transport in Vietnam. There are 37 million of them here, and only 2 million cars.

    Our journey begins on a hilltop, overlooking the Perfume River near the city of Hue. We are close to the Ho Chi Minh trail. There is still an American bunker here, pockmarked with bullet holes. From the top, there are panoramic views of the hillside and the magnificent river wending through the jungle below. It is from here that our convoy of motorbikes takes off to explore the villages on the outskirts of the city.

    The rural landscape seems tranquil and harmonious. Ripe durian fruit hang from the trees surrounding the paths and buffalo graze by the roadside. The smell of incense drifts out of nearby temples. Most of the villagers work on the land - harvesting rice in the paddies and picking fruit. Each village has its own patch, farmed co-operatively by the community.

    We stop at a monastery where monks serve us sticky rice, sweet tofu curry and fried spring rolls. We rest after a heavy lunch. I hear the monks chanting mantras in some distant part of the building. It's hypnotic and I'm almost asleep on the cool tiled floor.

    It isn't long until we are back on the bikes again, on our way to Hue. The pace changes as we reach the city. Driving on busier roads means it easy to get lost in the whirlwind of rickshaws and motorcyclists. It is exhilarating but a little frightening.

    There are no traffic rules. Our ride includes a slalom the wrong way down a busy dual carriageway. Motorbikes seat entire families on them. Often you see a couple on a scooter with a baby or a toddler wedged comfortably in between them. The children seem fine with it, there is no fear.

    Qui steers carefully through the back alleys of Hue, dodging young children, adults and stray animals on the way. The streets and the pavements are a riot of stalls selling everything from colourful fabrics to caged birds. Stray dogs wander along the roads and a man whizzes by with a live pig tied to his handlebars. We pass the backs of the houses, catching fleeting glimpses of domestic life that you never see when travelling on the main roads.

    The motorcycle is an emblem of modern Vietnam. Half a day riding pillion is a great way to see the country and its people at close range.

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    AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — If you are keen on getting your Middle Eastern fix of ancient sites, sun, mint tea, and falafel, the Arab Spring may have challenged your travel plans. Although tourists have stayed largely safe in the Arab world in the past several years, the turmoil in Egypt, war in Syria and spill-over in Lebanon have kept some visitors away.

    But fear not. Jordan is a world removed from the instability that has engulfed the region and Jordanians warmly welcome tourists year-round. On a recent visit, my first to Jordan, I found myself falling in love with its tranquility and hospitality.

    Jordan's sites are spread out, but there's a good road and transportation system, and not an overwhelming number of things to see. It's easy to meet and talk with locals, many of whom speak English.

    The serene capital, Amman, was originally built on seven hills on the ruins of ancient Philadelphia. The modern-day city has developed over a hundred years into a hip town full of young people and a regional hub for tech start-ups.

    The capital's most prominent sight is a Roman amphitheater that's right in the middle of Amman. On the grounds of the amphitheater, do not miss the Folklore and Popular Traditions Museum where you can see displays of traditional dress from Jordan and Palestine and learn more about the cuisine and ways of life of the nomadic Bedouins.

    The Citadel on Amman's highest hill is impressive, home to a Roman temple, Islamic palace, cistern and Byzantine church. From its vista you can get a full appreciation of the massive 2,000-year-old amphitheater a stone's throw away.

    What the capital lacks in ancient sights, it makes up for in food. In a short span of several days, and accompanied by local friends, I was able to feast on the country's famed kebabs and mezze — small dishes — and even had pretty good sushi. Whatever you do, do not miss a late-night meat fix from Reem on the 2nd Circle (roundabouts in old Amman are numbered). Find the line of hungry Jordanians waiting outside this takeout shack for sandwiches ($1), and you're in good hands. The meat is marinated, grilled and topped with onions, tahini, tomatoes and salad for an unforgettable pita sandwich. The wait is long but worth it.

    Jafra, also in the old city, combines a radical intellectual ambiance with a robust menu of traditional favorites. Photos of pro-Palestinian activist Edward Said, Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwich and Western left-wing celebrities adorn the walls, but the crowd is split between decidedly hip young Ammanis and middle-class families. Sit on the terrace to soak up the street atmosphere below you.

    Outside Amman your travels could take you to ancient castles and Christian and Judaic sites or to wild natural reserves. But all paths will lead to Petra, an ancient city built in rose-red rock that remained largely undiscovered till the 19th century.

    Petra was built by the Nabataeans, Arabs who controlled the region's trade routes over 2,000 years ago. The structures they left behind are so fascinating they were voted as one of the new Seven Wonders of the World in a global poll six years ago. This led to more visitors, so early morning is the best time to beat the crowds. To get to Petra, you can take a JATT bus from Amman (three hours) or hire a car and a driver for about $120 a day.

    Entering from the official gate, you pass through a tourist market in a street that descends into a wide valley where Petra's architectural gems begin. Walking through the winding Siq, a gorge formed when land movement split the massive rock mass, you come to appreciate the site's enormity. You may even gasp out loud when you first glimpse the majestic "Treasury" building through the narrow gorge. The Treasury is actually a burial building and not, as myth had it, a place where treasures were hidden. The intricate facade of the building is Petra's most famous image, made even more famous by appearing in "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade."

    Continue along a wide and sunny route past the Theatre, High Place of Sacrifice, Royal Tombs and other structures. The site's undiscovered gem, at its highest point, is the Monastery, a first century B.C. building. There's good reason few people make it there: It's at the end of a 45-minute climb of 800 rocky steps. But it's worth it. Beyond the Monastery at that elevation is a spectacular view of the entire city of Petra and the colorful valley, Wadi Araba.

    I ventured also to Jordan's well-preserved Judeo-Christian sites, including Mount Nebo, where Moses saw the promised land. A map there shows the distance to towns in Israel and the Palestinian Territories; Jerusalem is less than 30 miles (48 kilometers) away.

    Close to Mount Nebo is the historically Christian town of Madaba, whose St. George's Church houses an unusual floor map of the Middle East, done in colorful mosaics almost 1,500 years ago. Another unique mosaic is the large and almost-intact floor piece at the Church of Saint Lot and Saint Procopius in the nearby town of Khirbet al-Mukhayyat. These mosaics were discovered in a family's house when a cooking fire ruined the plaster hiding the original floor. The keeper of the church and son of that family holds the keys. He'll let you in and proudly explain that the house belonged to his Muslim family before they donated it to the government, which in turn made it into a church. He earns very little as the guardian of the site, according to my guide, and appreciates a tip of a dinar.

    Beyond all this, there's the Dead Sea, along with more ancient Roman sites, Islamic castles and natural wonders — all beautiful and worth visiting. But if you are tempted to simply lounge about with a glass of Jordanian shiraz and a water pipes, staring at the stars in Amman's clear skies, go ahead. Enjoy it.


    If You Go...


    CURRENCY: You'll need local currency — Jordanian dinars (1 JOD is about US $1.70). ATMs are common. At tourist sites, there are two prices: a high one for foreigners and a lower one for Jordanians and Arab nationals.

    WEATHER: Between November and April, temperatures are cool. Amman even gets cold in winter. Summer days can hit 100 Fahrenheit (38 Celsius), but you can stay comfortable by wearing loose cotton clothing and a hat, and by drinking lots of water. On spring and summer evenings in Amman, breezes cool the city's many open-air lounges and cafes.

    GETTING AROUND: It's too hilly to easily walk between neighborhoods in Amman, but cabs are cheap. Even a long taxi ride across town is only about 5 dinars (US $7). Just make sure the cabbie turns on the meter.

    PETRA: Petra is a whole city, not a temple or two, and visitors are typically told that it's too big to see in one day. But it can be done. Arrive early in the morning for eight or nine hours of exploring, which allows you to see most everything. The terrain is not particularly difficult with good shoes and lots of water. Resist offers to go by horse-drawn carts unless you can't walk 45 minutes at a time, and gently refuse offers to show you where "Indiana Jones" was filmed — you can't miss the Treasury building. No need to bring food — there are two good restaurants onsite.

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    A tourist who accidentally walked off a pier because she was too busy checking Facebook may have taken social media addiction to brand new depths.

    Victoria Police were called to St Kilda pier in Melbourne, Australia, after a nearby witness watched the tourist take the plunge at 11:30 p.m. Monday night. The tourist from Taiwan was apparently in the area to see nearby penguins, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reports.

    Instead, she got a face-full off icy cold water and was later rescued by a speedboat after police found her floating in the water, about 20 meters from the pier, according to the BBC.

    Police believe the woman did not know how to swim. Still, that didn't stop the tourist from holding onto her phone.

    "She had a mobile phone in one of her hands and when we brought her on board one of the first things she did was apologize and say sorry," Senior Constable Kelly, an officer with the Victoria Police Department, said in an interview with the Age.

    The woman was eventually taken to a hospital for observation. Both she and her phone are expected to be okay.

    Like this article? Follow us on Twitter

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    PARIS (AP) — This one's not for people with a fear of heights: A French tourism company has suspended a glass cube with a see-through bottom from a peak in the Alps, offering a breathtaking view a kilometer down.

    Billed as the tallest attraction in Europe, the structure was three years in the making. It includes five transparent sides made of three layers of tempered glass fixed with metal to a big support structure.

    Tourists will get a stunning view from the Aiguille du Midi mountain of the landscape, including Mont Blanc, Europe's highest mountain. "Step into the Void," opens to the public Saturday.

    The cube is sponsored by Compagnie du Mont Blanc, which manages transportation in the mountains.

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    Movie studio Twentieth Century Fox has broken ground and released preview images of its first theme park in Malaysia, which will feature kid-friendly attractions and thrill rides themed after some of the brand's blockbuster titles like “Ice Age” and “Night at the Museum.”

    When the Twentieth Century Fox World park opens in 2016, it will span 25 acres and include 25 rides and attractions based on films like “Rio,” “Alien vs. Predator” and “Planet of the Apes.”

    It’s a strategic move for the studio to open their first theme park in Malaysia, one that aims to attract visitors from China and Southeast Asia, and establish a growing presence in the region.

    twentieth century fox world
    An artist's rendering of Twentieth Century Fox World Park attraction based off of the "Ice Age" franchise.

    “The creation of a world-class entertainment destination in a vital market like Asia is a landmark step in FOX’s global theme park strategy, extending our brand and engaging audiences in new and exciting ways,” said spokesman Greg Lombardo in a statement.

    The $300 million park, first announced this summer, will be developed by Genting Malaysia, which owns and operates casinos and resorts around the world.

    Meanwhile, some of the studio's biggest blockbuster films like “X-Men” and “Avatar” will be noticeably absent, given that these are licensed to other parks, points out Variety magazine.

    The highly anticipated Avatar-themed attraction, for instance, is currently being built at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida and will open in 2017.

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    You've worked hard all year. So has your spouse. Your children say they've studied hard -- and you're a good parent so you believe them, particularly because their grades are good.

    Now, it's time to relax, time to take your first vacation of the year as the holiday season begins and the year comes to close. This upcoming vacation is also your first-ever trip abroad with your children. Your family just can't wait to get away from work and school.

    Relaxing completely, though, before you begin your trip is a mistake, because perfectly healthy Americans are susceptible to getting sick when they travel abroad, according to The New York Times' Travel Abroad In-Depth Report.

    According to the report:

    An estimated 15 to 45 percent of short-term travelers experience a health problem associated with their trip ... This percentage is higher in travelers to developing countries. A traveler can reach virtually any place in the world within 36 hours, which is less than the incubation period for most infectious diseases ... Respiratory infections, such as influenza and colds, develop in 10 to 25 percent of travelers. Women traveling to the tropics are at high risk for urinary tract infections.

    The risk of getting sick while traveling abroad is so high that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the United States government's public health institute, urges Americans to talk to their doctor before they travel. The CDC also urges all travelers to make sure that their "routine" vaccinations are still effective before they travel. It lists five routine vaccines -- chickenpox, diptheria-tetanus-pertussis, measles-mumps-rubella, polio, and the annual flu shot.

    Travelers should also get other vaccinations depending on which nation they're going to. Generally, people traveling to economically-advanced nations need fewer vaccinations than people traveling to developing nations. Some travelers to Canada and England, for example, should get the hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and rabies vaccines, while most travelers to The Bahamas should get the hepatitis A and typhoid vaccines and some travelers should get the hepatitis B, rabies, and yellow fever vaccines.

    The CDC recommends that you get the necessary vaccines four to six weeks before you travel abroad, but some travel clinics are very accommodating to everyone who hasn't departed yet regardless of whether they made last-minute travel plans, were too busy to consult a doctor, or just weren't aware of the importance of vaccines.

    "We always prefer that travelers plan for these trips well in advance, but setting appointments is easy and last-minute appointments are possible," said Dr. Marina Gafanovich about the New York clinic where she works.

    Gafanovich added that she and her colleagues also conduct physicals on the same day as the vaccinations, advise travelers with serious health issues such as heart disease and hypertension on the precautions they should take before and during traveling, and investigate each traveler's destination so they can provide more vaccinations and medicine if they're needed.

    Investigating the public health situation of each destination is crucial because it's constantly changing.

    "Doctors in Western countries are now seeing infectious diseases never before encountered in their regions," according to The New York Times Travel Abroad-In-Depth Report.

    While many people are traveling abroad for sheer pleasure during the holiday season, some people are traveling for religious reasons. Some travelers to Vatican City might need to get the hepatitis A, hepatitis B and rabies vaccines, while most travelers to Israel should get the hepatitis A and polio vaccines, and some travelers to Israel should get the hepatitis B, rabies, and typhoid vaccines, according to the CDC.

    If you're traveling abroad in December, you might need to act quickly to arrange your vaccinations, but now is the perfect time to plan your vaccinations if you are going to Sochi, Russia, for the Feb. 7-Feb. 23, 2014 Winter Olympics. Most travelers to Russia should get the hepatitis A vaccine, while some should get the hepatitis B, Japanese encephalitis, and rabies vaccines, according to the CDC, which also offers extensive advice to people going to the Winter Olympics.

    If you're going to attend the June 12-July 13, 2014 World Cup soccer tournament, you have plenty of time to plan your vaccinations and other medical exams. The CDC recommends that most travelers to Brazil get vaccinated for hepatitis A and typhoid, while some travelers should get vaccinated for hepatitis B, malaria, rabies, and yellow fever.

    Interestingly, people who are traveling abroad to visit friends or relatives might need more vaccinations than other travelers, according to the CDC report "Visiting Friends or Relatives Overseas." The report says that what it calls VFR travelers are more susceptible to some diseases because they eat local food in friends and relatives' homes and are in a foreign nation for more days than regular tourists.

    "VFR travelers are eight to 10 times as likely to be infected with malaria as tourists, and in recent years, several VFR travelers have died of malaria after they returned to the United States," according to the report, which added that American relatives are susceptible to getting sick via contaminated food.

    Anyone who wants more information on vaccinations should contact the CDC website -- -- or phone the CDC at 800-CDC-INFO (800-232-4636).

    The CDC also has websites specifically for people seeking information about travel notices ( and people who want help finding a clinic that will consider vaccinating them (

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    (Relaxnews) - It’s called the Jewel Suite for good reason. Pony up the $25,000 a night to stay at this luxury apartment in New York City, and the hotel will throw a diamond ring in the deal.

    That’s right. In lieu of the complimentary free bottle of bubbly, fruit basket or box of chocolate bonbons, The New York Palace has upped the ante by offering a diamond ring valued at $2,500 designed by jeweller to the stars Martin Katz.

    At 5,000-square feet (465 square meters), the Jewel Suite spans three levels across the hotel’s Tower apartments atop the building's 53rd floor.

    Designed by Katz, who has blinged out stars like Sandra Bullock, Angelina Jolie and Nicole Kidman, the suite is decorated in jewel tones, Port Laurent stone floors, a grand piano, and the pièce de résistance centrepiece: a 20-foot (6 meter) ‘diamond waterfall’ chandelier.

    If that’s not enough to remind guests of the theme of the suite, jewellery boxes suspended from the ceiling showcase Katz-designed gems around the apartment, indulging every girl’s fantasy.

    On the second floor, the master bedroom is decorated with Art Deco-inspired chairs upholstered in silver and pearl velvet, while the third floor features a wood-burning fireplace and a private outdoor terrace and spa.

    Looking for a place to pop the question and have $50,000 to spare? The hotel also offers the “Ultimate Proposal Package” that includes a private consultation with Katz for a custom-designed ring and a private dinner on the rooftop terrace.

    Oenophiles, meanwhile, haven’t been forgotten, as the hotel also offers a champagne-themed suite that includes a wine cave and a dining room that can seat 10 guests.

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    Whether you're still looking for the perfect holiday gift or just rewarding yourself for surviving the season, you'll find inspiration with these 10 travel products that were rated the highest by our reviewers in 2013.

    Scrubba Wash Bag

    Hand wash your clothes in three minutes or less with the Scrubba Wash Bag, perfect for doing laundry on the road. This portable wash bag contains a flexible built-in washboard to get your clothes as clean as they would be if you used a machine.

    Lulu Organics Hair Powder

    A dry shampoo, Lulu Organics Hair Powder circumvents the TSA's stingy 3-1-1 rule for liquids, extends your hairstyle for another day, and comes in a travel-friendly 1 oz. size. Plus, it smells great and makes your hair look good. Toss this in your bag for those trips on which you can't wash your hair every day—it's perfect for camping.

    Antler Liquis Carry-On

    One of our favorite pieces of carry-on luggage (ever), the Antler Liquis weighs in at just 4.4 lb. This hard-sided lightweight bag offers heavy protection, though: It's made from a tough polycarbonate. The Liquis' patented four-wheel design makes this suitcase a breeze to roll through the airport or down a bumpy sidewalk.

    RHA Noise-Isolating Headphones

    These RHA earphones combine the comfort and easy portability of earbuds with the noise-isolating benefits of over-the-ear headphones. They're a must-have for surviving a crowded plane or train trip.

    IT Luggage World's Lightest Carry-On

    This suitcase lives up to its name—the World's Lightest collection carry-on weighs just 3.44 lb. Plus, it's got more structural integrity than a light duffel bag with wheels.

    Sprigs Multi-Mitts

    This mitten/glove combo will keep your hands warm and end the modern-day struggle of trying to use a touchscreen without freezing your hands off. Sprigs Multi-Mitts are mittens with tops that fold back to let the wearer use them as fingerless gloves.

    New Trent iCarrier

    Never run out of power on the road again! The New Trent iCarrier rechargeable external battery is a small (around 2 lb.) power pack guaranteed to give your smartphone, tablet, or digital camera at least 500 charges.

    Lojel Wave

    The Lojel Wave line of hard-sided suitcases stood up to the hardest manhandling our reviewer (and some toddlers) could give. Read about it here.

    La Fresh Travel Lite Wipes

    Adhering to the TSA's 3-1-1 rule for liquids is one of the hardest parts of traveling with just a carry-on, but La Fresh's Travel Lite Wipes offer a solution. Makeup remover, antibacterial gel, antiperspirant, bug spray, and face wash (among other must-have toiletries) are condensed into wipe form. And they're spill-proof and easy to pack!

    High Sierra Deluxe Trapezoid Boot Bag

    Skiers and snowboarders: This is the only bag you'll need for hauling your gear to and from the mountain this winter. The High Sierra Deluxe Trapezoid Boot Bag has separate compartments to hold everything from your boots to your helmet.

    --By Caroline Morse

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    Read the original story: 10 Best Travel Products of 2013 by Caroline Morse, who is a regular contributor to SmarterTravel.

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