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Canada Travel news and opinion

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    The last time I donned a pair of skis, I was 15 -- and it wasn't even while cascading down a snow-white mountain. It was gliding down a modest hill in Oshawa, Ontario, Canada I'd travel to on the weekends with my cousins. From that experience, fast-forward a decade, and I go from my comfortable 246 ft. above sea-level climate in Toronto to a jaw-dropping elevation of 8000+ ft. in Colorado.

    Despite the mild head-rush... I figure this is as good a time as any to regain my ski-legs -- "go big or go home" as the adage goes. But, if you're like me and in dire need of a confidence booster, Vail and Breckenridge have it in spades. After all, one does not simply conquer 5,200 acres of skiable terrain, seven miles worth of Back Bowls in Vail as well as five peaks, nearly 3,000 acres of skiable terrain, a 22ft SuperPipe, 11 bowls, and the highest chairlift in North America in Breckenridge on her own!


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    One thing I do advise is to keep the following handy survival tips in mind. They will help you navigate and tackle impending challenges while on the mountain slopes. Breckenridge and Vail are a dynamic duo of winter wonderlands that have ample amounts of activities and excitement for novices and seasoned ski veterans alike.

    If you're unfamiliar with Vail Resorts, here's a primer:

    They offer nine mountain resorts and three urban ski areas; those of which include Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone in Colorado; Park City in Utah; Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood in the Lake Tahoe area of California and Nevada; Perisher, Australia; Afton Alps in Minnesota and Mt. Brighton in Michigan. And the newest family member from the Midwest is Wilmot Mountain in Wisconsin near the Illinois state line. Needless to say, it is a large, extended family. But it works in your favour; in fact, they offer a variety of passes for frequent users or newbies to the ski scene which give you access to all the resorts.

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    Gear

    If you're new or just getting reintroduced to skiing, Vail and Breckenridge both offer rentals for your boots, skis, poles, and helmet. With no shortage of experts on site, you'll worry-free and secure in your gear; the staff are not only friendly and helpful, but they ensure you an accurate and proper fit.

    The second thing you'll want to take advantage of is their Ski Valet and storage services. We were lucky to have accommodations at The Lodge at Vail, which was mere steps away from the mountains. But even in such close proximity, it was no easy feat to walk over to the base in ski boots. It is advisable to use valet and storage services; you'll definitely appreciate it when equipment is at your ready disposal. Instead of forgetting something back in your hotel room and needing to trudge back there and retrieve it, store goggles, helmets, gloves, and small accessories in hampers that are located within the rental facilities. Certainly, these may seem like minor details, but taking care of them makes your trip enjoyable and saves you time for more ski fun.

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    *Or get your pet lobsters to carry your gear for you :P*


    Women's Ultimate 4

    This program at Vail and Breckenridge offers an intimate learning environment for women. A female instructor focuses on leading four ladies and teaches them foundational skills or advanced techniques. In particular, for those who have children, lessons are offered in-between times the tiny tots are in ski school. With convenient lesson times offered, comfort found in learning from a female coach, and more individualized attention for each person due to small group numbers, the program has been well-received and many ladies are rediscovering their passion for the sport -- including myself. And as a welcome bonus, they've expanded the program on Fridays with an event called Women & Wine. Lessons are shortened and after a few ski runs, it is followed by some relaxed lodge-lounging, socializing, and a glass of red or white. I think we can all agree that the best remedy for ski-soreness is a glass (or two) wine.

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    Rest and Recovery

    You will undoubtedly use muscles you didn't know existed before when you're on the slopes. I can't count the number of times my feet and ankles suddenly decided to cramp up on me. Fortunately, there's refuge found at RockResorts Spa, located inside The Lodge at Vail. In particular, you'll want to opt for the Après-Sport Therapeutic Massage. Admittedly, it was slightly torturous at first-- but in a beneficial way. Using an essential oil blend of your choice, therapists use targeted compressions, stretching techniques and pressure-point massage that will make you feel like pulled taffy after. As a result, the treatment revitalizes overworked and tired muscles; and best of all, it will hasten your recuperation time so you won't feel sore the following morning.

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    There's an App for that...

    And it is called Epic Mix. Admittedly, the name confused me at first -- I thought it was referring to music or something dance-related -- but it is actually in reference to the diversity of slopes and challenges the Vail Resorts family offers.

    When you purchase any Epic Pass, it automatically begins logging all your ski activity. You simply download the free app and access information via your pass card number. You can pull up a lot of useful content including hill difficulty levels, trails, and building custom itineraries. It even has fun features built-in to test you (e.g. Epic Mix Racing allows you to challenge yourself against the race time of Olympian Lindsey Vonn). For me, it was really gratifying to see how much I had accomplished on a particular ski day. And if you happen to forget your phone or camera and want a photo of yourself on the slopes, there are plenty of staff located in and around the resort that can snap one for you. When you login to the app, all the free images are there for you as a great memory keepsake. I particularly like that the instructors can add their skill ratings of you, note your progress and improvements.

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    As with any sport you're unfamiliar with, it requires persistence and patience to first get your bearings correct, find comfort in it, and then cultivate enjoyment from it. Despite my initial frustrations, by the end of the second day -- you literally couldn't tear me away from the slopes. At one point, the scenery was so enchanting that it felt surreal, as if I was in an alternate reality -- cutting through the mountainside like a speed demon. This trip wouldn't have been as amazing without the support of the following superstar individuals: Abby Hein, Brooke Sorensen and Jason Seiber.

    Here's to winter wonderland vacations and conquering majestic ski mountains.

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    EDMONTON — The game will be afoot for mystery buffs and literature lovers when a world-class exhibition on the fictional super sleuth Sherlock Holmes arrives in the Alberta capital.

    The International Exhibition of Sherlock Holmes makes its only stop in Canada next month at the Telus World of Science.

    The highlight, says Mike Steger of the science facility, is a meticulous re-creation of the sitting room in 221B Baker Street, where Holmes and his partner Dr. Watson would be called to action to use science and deductive reasoning to thwart crime and skullduggery.

    "If you're a big fan of the books, this room is going to blow you away,'' says Steger.

    "This (room) is exactly as written and described in the books.''

    221b baker street

    In total, visitors walk through five exhibit areas and into the world of Victorian-era London to learn about Holmes, his creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and the science of forensic crime detection.

    "It feels like you're walking into 19th century London,'' says Steger. "It has a very strong sense of place.''

    There is also a mystery to solve.

    Visitors receive notebooks and collect clues to help Holmes solve what can be a real brain buster.


    "It feels like you're walking into 19th century London."


    Steger says people will be challenged to rewire their brains and look at the mundane in new ways to fit theories to facts — and not facts to theories.

    "What most people do when they go after this mystery (is) they make some very basic assumptions, which are incorrect because they are not looking at the evidence,'' says Steger.

    Along the way, visitors learn about modern day crime-detecting techniques and the early state of forensics when Doyle penned his famous stories starting with "A Study in Scarlet'' in 1887.

    sherlock holmes exhibit


    Young and old will explore interactive exhibits to understand bullet trajectories, blood splatter patterns, and trace evidence of footprints. There are other hands-on displays to learn about how botany, chemistry, toxicology, anatomy and geology play a role in crime detection.

    Doyle's main muse was surgeon Joseph Bell and it was from Bell he learned how science can solve crime, a discipline he then transferred to the world of Holmes.

    For more than a century, the man in the deerstalker hat has come to epitomize the romance, danger and brain-teasing challenge of detective work, spawning movies, TV shows, comics and stories that live on today.

    The final exhibit celebrates all things Sherlockian, with props, costumes and other items from the BBC "Sherlock'' TV series, the CBS show "Elementary,'' and the recent big-screen adventures starring Robert Downey Jr.

    The exhibit also displays artifacts borrowed from the Doyle estate and the Museum of London.

    It takes about 45 to 90 minutes to take it all in, and there will be guides in costume to help out with queries and give explanations.

    As for the mystery, Steger refuses to break under rigorous interrogation.

    "There's blood,'' he would only say.

    "Something bad has happened, but you don't know what.''

    The exhibit runs from March 25 to Sept. 5.

    ___

    If you go:

    http://www.sherlockholmesexhibition.com

    http://www.telusworldofscienceedmonton.ca

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    2016-02-02-1454429967-5551483-13947981973_382620da0e_z.jpg
    Photo credit: halbag

    America's most popular vacation destinations can be overwhelming during the spring break season. Disney World's lines grow unbearably long, Miami's beaches are slammed with party-goers and many of Colorado's ski resorts become overcrowded with families seeking one final ski vacation of the season.

    You can avoid all of the hassles of the most popular spring break destinations by planning your upcoming escape to one of these more off-the-beaten-path, but just as enticing, American spring break spots.

    1. Vermilion Cliffs, Arizona and Utah
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    Photo credit: John Fowler

    The Vermillion Cliffs, lining southern Utah and northern Arizona, will shock you with sights so mesmerizing you'll forget about palm trees and tropical drinks entirely. These reddish-orange cliffs and canyons are made of desert dunes and silt that have been cemented together and colored with iron, manganese and other minerals. They're known as the second step of the five-step Grand Staircase on the Colorado Plateau.

    Vermilion Cliffs National Monument is where you'll spend much of your time. Look closely for the signposts marking the monument, and you'll find yourself in an outdoor playground of rock formations. Guided hiking, scenic driving and photo taking are popular activities at Vermilion Cliffs, but visitors are also within reach of Grand Canyon rafting adventures, the Paria River Canyon, the Historic Navajo Bridge and other must-visit sites.


    2. Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin

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    Photo credit: cursedthing

    You don't have to travel to a warm-weather destination to spend spring break in your bathing suit. Wisconsin Dells, in southern Wisconsin, is known as the Waterpark Capital of the World, and it's a city that offers more than enough fun for the entire family. This much less crowded and more affordable alternative to Disney World is home to the Kalahari Indoor Theme Park, the Chula Vista Resort Waterparks, the Kalahari Resort Waterparks, the Knuckleheads Trampoline Park, the Mt. Olympus Water and Theme Park and countless other attractions that remain open year-round.

    3. Coronado, California
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    Photo credit: SD Dirk

    Looking for a luxurious spring break getaway without long flights and hoards of partying spring breakers? Cruise to Coronado, Calif., where you'll find a unique resort city on a peninsula off the coast of San Diego. Coronado, also known as the Crown City, offers Victorian-era architecture, an unbeatable Mediterranean climate, charming cafes, stunning beaches, the happening Orange Avenue strand and the coastal atmosphere you're seeking on spring break. Opt for a seaside vacation rental or splurge on a stay at the famous Hotel del Coronado.

    4. Jekyll Island, Georgia

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    Photo credit: Bert Cash

    Jekyll Island is Georgia's favorite family beach destination, and the crowds tend to be thin before the busy summer months. Travelers enjoy an ideal mixture of untouched natural settings and a small town atmosphere that provides plenty of coastal merchants, seafood restaurants and a few places to wet your whistle. However, you'll find it difficult to leave the often untouched sands lining Jekyll Island's piece of Atlantic coastline. Jekyll Island does offer a Westin Hotel along the Beach Village strand, but the serenity of the island will probably lead you toward an oceanfront vacation rental that you can call your own.

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    As vacations outside the country become more and more expensive, travelling locally is this year's best travel resolution for Canadians.

    To help plan a dream Canadian vacation, trivago.ca revealed Canada's 10 best-rated hotels, the winners of their inaugural Top Hotel Awards! Looking only at online hotel ratings, this list reveals travellers' favourite hotels in the country.

    Read on to discover what special touches these 10 magnificent hotels offer -- and why travellers are recommending them for your stay.



    10. Abigail's Hotel, Victoria

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    Romantic, Elegant & Comfortable

    "Abigail's Hotel is a unique accommodation experience that blurs the lines between a small luxury hotel and a heritage bed-and-breakfast Inn. Abigail's is known internationally for its cozy ambiance, dynamic three-course breakfasts and personalized, professional and courteous service, interwoven with elegantly appointed guest rooms." - Allison Fairhurst, General Manager


    9. Davy House, Niagara-on-the-Lake

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    Cozy, Intimate & Full of Character

    "Quite simply, there is nothing we'd rather be doing than sharing our special, historic home with guests who appreciate its ideal location, rustic charm and casual comfort...that genuine love of what we do is sensed by our guests from the moment they arrive. Although we are right around the corner from everything the Town has to offer, it is always peaceful in our meticulously maintained backyard oasis." - Jeff Jacques & Florence Vint, Owners


    8. Trump International Hotel & Tower Toronto, Toronto

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    Luxurious, Authentic & Unparallelled

    "Trump Toronto is the new face of luxury, thanks to the energetic and genuine service of our team. They care about each and every guest, whether it be their first visit of fiftieth. They are truly the foundation of our success. Our Trump Attache team deliver personalized attention without intrusion, offering a comprehensive brand of VIP treatment to each and every guest upon request. Nothing is off limits." - Jeanne Marie Castor, Marketing Coordinator


    7. Loden, Vancouver

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    Central, Quiet & Beautiful

    "Our loyal guests comment time and again that they love our uniquely quiet location within the city, our level of service and care, and the comfort they feel in their 'home away from home.' We pride ourselves in the personalized touches we offer our guests, and when combined with our warm, welcoming staff, we feel the Loden brings something unique to Vancouver." - Wesley Joe, General Manager


    6. BranCliff Inn 1859, Niagara-on-the-Lake

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    Cozy, Intimate & Full of Character

    "Historical Significance, Perfect Location, Luxurious Accommodations and a Bountiful Buffet Breakfast are some of the reasons so many have chosen BranCliff Inn c.1859 as their Niagara-on-the-Lake address." - Mark Tataryn, General Manager


    5. L'Hermitage, Vancouver

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    Modern, Central & Luxurious

    "L'Hermitage Hotel is a luxury property that graced the Vancouver hotel scene in June 2008, located in the very heart of Vancouver's shopping and entertainment district and only blocks from its financial centre. Artfully designed with a modern, contemporary flare, each of L'Hermitage's 60 rooms and suites have been carefully thought out to capture the essence of comfort and luxury." - L'Hermitage Hotel


    4. Le Germain Québec, Québec City

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    Authentic & Chic

    "At Le Germain Hôtel Québec, you'll stay in a century-old building in Québec City's Old Port. We have preserved the original woodwork and stone to create a mix of classic and contemporary architecture. You'll be both impressed and seduced by the warm, luxurious and welcoming atmosphere as well as the unparalleled service of our dedicated staff." - Le Germain Québec


    3. Harbour House, Niagara-on-the-Lake

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    Charming, Luxurious & Comfortable

    "Our guests repeatedly say that the Harbour House is like their "home away from home" from the time you enter the cozy Lobby with its fireplace and comfortable couches to our nightly welcome reception which includes a homemade Cheese Spread made famous by our Kitchen Manager - Jaime Corbett. On your next visit you can even ask her for the recipe"- Fernando Morales, Hotel Manager


    2. Rosewood Hotel Georgia, Vancouver

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    Elegant, Luxurious & Historic

    "Rosewood Hotel Georgia is a historical landmark that seamlessly unites the rich history and grandeur of the Roaring Twenties with contemporary design and modern amenities. The legendary property's convenient location in the heart of the city, combined with the hotel's multitude of dining and entertainment offerings makes Rosewood Hotel Georgia a truly unparalleled destination" - Rosewood Hotel Georgia


    1. Auberge Saint-Antoine, Québec City

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    Luxurious, Historic & Convivial

    "At Auberge Saint-Antoine, we are dedicated to offering our guests an unrivalled experience by providing a personalized, friendly service in the ultimate rustic-luxe setting. Our hotel is built upon a significant archaeological site in Québec City's Old Port, and we proudly display hundreds of artifacts throughout the hotel, which incorporates a truly unique historical element into each guest's stay." - Jean-Louis Souman, General Manager

    Click here to see all the winners of trivago's Inaugural Top Hotel Awards in Canada.

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    Your family's spring break getaway doesn't have to break the bank. In fact, citizens of the U.S. and Canada are fortunate to be within such a short distance of some of the world's most enticing spring break spots. From the turquoise waters of the Caribbean to the mountains of North Carolina and one of Canada's favourite cities, these five affordable spring break destinations will prove that this year's spring vacation doesn't have to put you in debt.

    Puerto Rico

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    Photo Credit: Trish Hartmann


    When you're seeking that faraway feeling without the faraway cost, Puerto Rico provides it all. This small piece of paradise in the Caribbean is known for its postcard-worthy beaches, hip Old San Juan city scene, secluded islands, bioluminescent bays, ideal surfing waves and a long list of other attractions that will pack your spring break days with adventure. Even better, Puerto Rico uses the U.S. dollar and is remarkably close to the U.S., so you won't waste precious vacation days in transit.

    Montreal
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    Photo credit: Artur Staszewski


    You don't have to leave Canada to enjoy a family-friendly spring break you'll never forget. Montreal offers an old world feel that transports visitors to Europe without them ever having to board a plane. French-speaking citizens, quaint cafes, historic landmarks, spring festivals, theatre and some of the top restaurants in all of Canada are just a few of the many pieces of Montreal's personality that will lure you in for a memorable spring break experience.


    The Montreal Biodome
    is an ideal stop for families, with four ecosystems that include more than 200 animals. Spring is considered the shoulder season in Montreal, so travellers enjoy big discounts on accommodations, tours and other tourist activities.

    South Padre Island
    Most travellers have never considered south Texas as a spring break destination, but there's a reason more than 1 million people visit the coastal community every year. South Padre Island is often regarded as one of the world's most beautiful barrier islands for its turquoise Gulf of Mexico waters, golden sand beaches and gentle swimming waves.

    A long list of family-friendly attractions, locally-owned shops and restaurants selling seafood fresh out of the sea will make you wonder why you've never considered Texas as a spring break destination. South Padre Island is known for its affordable accommodation options, especially in the spring months before the summer rush arrives.

    Las Vegas
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    Photo credit: Daniel Zimmermann


    Las Vegas isn't often regarded as a family-friendly destination, but travellers with little ones are always wowed by the number of shows and attractions geared toward kids. Las Vegas truly comes alive in the summer months, but you'll enjoy discounted hotel rates and loads of other specials for visiting in the cooler months of spring. Travellers can take advantage of staying in massive resorts with multiple pools for prices that feel like an absolute steal.

    Great Smoky Mountains National Park
    Nobody ever said you had to go to the beach for spring break. In fact, a trip to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina, offers that heaping dose of the outdoors you need to relax. Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a playground for outdoors enthusiasts with countless nature trails, scenic drives, fishing spots and more.

    The park is also located just 20 minutes from Dollywood, a 150-acre theme park known for its thrilling rides, music and delicious eats. You can explore the national park and theme park in spring for a fraction of the price (and with a fraction of the crowds) you'll find in summer.

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    Those iconic Newfoundland and Labrador ads certainly do a great job of showing off the province’s beauty. And while there are plenty of reasons to visit Canada’s youngest province during the warmer months of the year, this doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty to do during the winter.

    Living in the capital St. John’s — with the loads of snow the city gets— can make it an exciting place to be at this time of year. While visiting, you can enjoy all the benefits of being in a major city, including great restaurants and nightlife, while also hiking, skiing, skating, and snowshoeing just minutes from downtown. Travel a bit further afield and you’ll find a beautiful coastlines, a national park, and a downhill ski resort.

    Here are 15 things you can do in and near St. John’s during the coldest, snowiest months of the year. There’s plenty here to keep you occupied, indoors and out. Did we miss a spot? Let us know in the comments below.

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    Best Dim Sum, All You Can Eat, Take Out & Late Night Food in YYC Chinatown!2016-02-03-1454473447-2729868-calgaryismstamp150x150.jpg

    Calgary's Chinatown is an exciting place to go and try new cuisines, and for those who are already familiar with some of its top-notch restaurants, to come back and delight in some old favourite dishes at any time.

    Here are Calgaryism's top restaurants you have got to try the next time you're in Calgary's Chinatown. Leave us a comment below and let us know what your favourite is -- we will add it to our best in YYC lists.

    SILVER DRAGON (breakfast / brunch)

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    • Address - 106 3rd Avenue SE

    • Phone Number - 403-264-5326



    Silver Dragon is my first choice for Chinese breakfast on the weekend because of its appetizing trays and relatively fast turnover rate for tables.

    Of all the dim sum restaurants I've been to in Calgary, I find that its food is also of the highest quality. I've never had an issue here but always have left a happy customer and wanting to come back when the next time dim sum sounds about right. See our Top 10 Dim Sum in Calgary today.

    I recommend trying har gow (shrimp dumplings), shaomai (steamed pork, prawn or veggie dumplings) and char siu baau (bun with pork filling). Don't forget to grab a few of Silver Dragon's always fresh and moist sticky rice leafs to accompany your dim sum selections.


    GOLDEN INN (late night)
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    • Address - 107 2nd Avenue SE

    • Phone Number - 403-269-2211



    When it comes to eating good Chinese food late at night, no one does it better than Golden Inn. This smaller but quality Chinatown restaurant will be packed after the clubs close at 2:00am, so be prepared to wait if you're heading there at this time.

    Some of my favourite dishes include hot & sour soup, dao miu (snow pea sprouts), stir-fried veggies w/ black bean sauce and a dish invented right here in Calgary -- ginger beef!

    Then and again, we all aren't always up this late at night are we? If you're an early sleeper like I am, I'd also recommend checking this place out during the day for just as good of food and dining experience.


    1 POT (all-you-can-eat)
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    • Address - 123 3rd Avenue SE

    • Phone Number - 403-708-8088



    Just like Silver Dragon, I'd say that 1 Pot in Chinatown is one of the best in Calgary at what it does. This hot pot restaurant offers an all-you-can-eat customizable dining experience with good quality food for only $26.95 per person -- what's not to like about that?

    I highly recommend trying one or all of the following: beef & lamb slices, shrimp dumplings & wontons, tofu, zucchini, mushrooms and vermicelli noodles. Also make sure you glance over the various soups available as some are free but the good ones are an extra three bucks. I chose the tonkotsu while my company chose the sate.

    Don't forget to make a few special concoctions of dips for your hot pot items at the dip station. I personally made one hot (chili thai, jalapenos, hoison), one mild (sesame, sesame oil, teriyaki, ginger) and one that just had a bit of everything. It's a lot of fun!

    THI THI VIETNAMESE SUBMARINE (take out)
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    • Address - 209 1st Street SE

    • Phone Number - 403-265-5452



    When it comes to grabbing something quick to go, there are few places in Chinatown, let alone the entire city, that will deliver such a filling, affordable and tasty meal like Thi Thi will.

    Found off the beaten Chinatown streets just north of 3rd Avenue and 1st Street SE, don't let Thi Thi Vietnamese Submarine's small location fool you by any means. I recommend getting any sub that you think will do the trick because I've tried every single kind they have and have enjoyed every one just as much as the last.

    Oh, and if you are planning on going during the lunch rush, expect to wait a little while for your chicken lemongrass or spicy beef submarine, a wait that will be well worth it!

    (SIDE NOTE: A Thi Thi submarine is a great way to enjoy the scenery along RiverWalk while chowing down during the spring and summer).


    We hope you enjoy dining at these awesome Chinatown restaurants! We would love to hear what you thought about your latest visit below!


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    Looking for more of the best local activities, events, restaurants and everything else to do with YYC? If so, we invite you to join us at Calgaryism on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook today - just give us a like and you'll stay updated via your live social media feed. We hope to see you there!



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    Some travellers are trading in Caribbean and Latin American vacations for ski trips and Hawaii as they rethink destination weddings, babymoons and other getaways in light of the Zika virus.

    The mosquito-borne virus can cause mild illness, but some travellers are worried about a possible link between the virus and babies born with smaller-than-normal heads, mostly in Brazil.

    Dr. Brian Levine, a New York City fertility doctor, "spent the majority of the last week counselling patients about (the) Zika virus. I've had to have discussions about cancelling babymoons, cancelling trips before starting in vitro fertilization and even having husbands provide a frozen semen sample because they plan on travelling to a Zika-affected region for work.''

    New Yorker Mark LoCastro and his pregnant wife cancelled a babymoon -- the term for a couple's getaway before a baby is born -- to St. Lucia. "We instead travelled to Charleston, South Carolina,'' he said. He's seen friends who are rescheduling trips post new destinations on social media with the hashtag #zikafreezone.

    Laura E. Lynn, who is five months pregnant, cancelled a vacation to Playa del Carmen, Mexico, her parents had planned with Lynn, her sister and their husbands. "I couldn't imagine being stuck inside in long sleeves, paranoid about being bitten and unable to relax,'' she said.

    Travel agency owner Sandy Anderson helped a couple plan a Hawaii getaway rather than the Caribbean because they were "uncomfortable'' with the risks posed by Zika.

    "We also have a destination wedding going out in about two weeks to Mexico, and two couples cancelled because both of the women are expecting babies,'' said Anderson, owner of Travel Leaders Riverdale in Coon Rapids, Minnesota. Her agency's website now includes a link to the Centers for Disease Control advisory on Zika, and she's making sure that clients understand the value of "cancel for any reason'' travel insurance.

    Hung Thai, an engineer who lives in the Seattle area, is maintaining plans for a December wedding in Mexico's Riviera Maya. "The biggest point we'll be making to our guests is to buy travel insurance,'' he said. He and his fiancee, Lina Jiang, are telling friends who are starting families that "we're absolutely OK if they cancel. We would not want them to travel to our wedding if they get pregnant.'' On the other hand, for most travellers, the risks appear to be limited, "so there's no need to push the panic button.''

    Thai's wedding planner, Carla Schipper, who works at Unique Romance Travel & Destination Weddings, said she's telling clients if they're expecting or trying to get pregnant, "travel should be to the Hawaiian islands, South Pacific and Europe.''

    Kenneth Robison was able to get a refund from Spirit Airlines after cancelling a trip to Nicaragua. He and his wife had arranged for his mother to watch their toddler for a week in March so they could get away, but they cancelled because they hope to have a second child at some point, and "thatched bungalows on the beach of a rainforest island without air conditioning or even closed windows would put us at extra risk of mosquitoes.''

    "We are looking at going skiing in Canada instead,'' he said.

    Major U.S. airlines said they would let pregnant women, and in some cases their travelling companions, rebook trips without penalty or get refunds for flights to areas covered by the CDC travel advisory. Many cruise lines, tour operators and other travel providers are also providing credits for future trips or alternate itineraries for pregnant travellers.

    Travel Insured International saw a 30 per cent increase in the purchase of "cancel for any reason'' travel insurance policies during January compared with January 2015, "which we are attributing to the Zika virus,'' said spokesman Isaac Cymrot. Julie Loffredi, editor at InsureMyTrip.com, also reports a "spike in interest in cancel-for-any-reason coverage,'' and a 20 per cent increase in calls from concerned travellers, "many of whom are pregnant.''

    Some travellers are undeterred. Christy Nielson, who lives in Dallas, just arrived in Mexico with a group of friends. ``We talked about Zika, but decided we'd just pack a lot of bug spray and long sleeves rather than cancel. Luckily, none of the women are pregnant or are trying to get pregnant, so the risk seems manageable,'' she said.

    Tara Cannon, a Vancouver, Canada, mother of two who blogs at PintSizePilot.com, is also planning a Mexico trip. She's gone with her family to other locales where mosquito-borne illnesses like dengue and chikungunya are endemic. They use repellent and for sleeping, mosquito nets. "We are fully used to being vigilant when it comes to mosquitoes and try our hardest to avoid getting bitten,'' she said.

    Marissa Siebel-Siero's sister is going ahead with a wedding in St. John in the Caribbean even though "multiple wedding guests have cancelled due to being pregnant.''

    The bride-to-be is putting it all in perspective: "She is supplying bug spray in all of the welcome baskets.''

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  • 02/05/16--14:00: The True Taste Of Truffles
  • My search for authentic truffle recipes, not found on the Internet nor in cookbooks, brings me to some inspiring places. Here, in the heartland of truffle culture, in the Central Apennines, I knew I would find something special because this is the only place where truffles can be eaten fresh all year round. There are nine types of truffles indigenous to this mountain area and they are harvested at different times of the year.

    I ventured to Ascoli, to meet a chef of a restaurant, known for its use of fresh wild truffles.

    Famed as the most beautiful Renaissance city after Florence, it comes as no surprise that Ascoli abounds with stunning architecture. Ascoli's timelessness is heightened by the central area being traffic free, with no traces of tourism and sometimes with hardly any commerciality. When we passed along a street with the oldest shops - the bottega - nothing had changed outwardly except more contemporary signage.

    'Everyone stops to take photos here,' one of my Ascolani hosts commented.

    We were descending the hill on Via Pretoriana and the palaces on either side of the cobblestone walkway frame a view of mountains rising up from the river, encrusted in vines and olives with green-grey leaves on this Febuary day. The pedestrians were dressed in Brueghel type browns, black or grey creating timeless silhouettes, as though we were walking through a living museum. Ascoli has a particularly ancient lineage. While Tuscany was under Etruscan influence, Ascoli was inhabited by Greeks from the area of Crete, although the city existed long before their arrival. At this time the city was called Askilaioi, and the Ascolani today are their descendants, who later formed the Piceni tribe.

    The chef was surprisingly young. It is perhaps fitting that Riccardo lives in the mountains where truffles are particularly prevalent. Like many people here, he and his father have a truffle plantation. While he doesn't hunt truffles in the wild, many of his friends do and he's grown up in this truffle culture.

    'To be honest,' Riccardo said, 'I wasn't amazing at school. But I'm good with my hands. When I first started working in a kitchen, I knew nothing. But I learned fast... In the beginning I wanted to be a cook so I could travel. I wanted to work and live in different places. That hasn't happened,' he laughs. 'It doesn't matter now. I'm happy here. About truffles, what do you know? Tell me everything you want to know.'

    One reason why few cooks in Ascoli use fresh truffles is because up-market restaurants like 'Desco' where Riccardo works only have a few covers at lunch and a modest number of clients in the evening. Partly this is a result of a small population, lack of tourism and a recession. Since fresh truffles should not be kept for much more than a week this presents difficulties.

    'Not everyone wants to eat truffles all the time,' the restaurant owner Nives relates. 'After we have spent over 100 Euro on a truffle, we often end up eating it ourselves. That's fine now and then, but it adds up. I can't keep them under oil because when a customer orders fresh truffles they want them fresh. Fresh! I've found storing them in a sealed, glass jar filled under uncooked rice works best.'

    This ingenious idea solves the problem of having to daily change the tissue or the napkin, which is always put in the sealed jar with the truffle to absorb moisture. The rice absorbs the moisture, covers the truffle, helping it retain its perfume. It may be kept for two weeks depending on how fresh the truffle is.

    Thereafter you cook your truffle-flavoured rice.

    Most restaurants, even in this area so famous for truffles, use truffle oil or truffle sauce made of chemicals designed to replicate the smell and taste of truffles. While these products dominate the Anglo-Saxon market because they are affordable and Anglo-Saxons are known to like a strong truffle sensation - it seems that now many Italians are becoming the same.

    Riccardo explained that since these sauces are everywhere people become accustomed to the artificially created taste. Real, fresh truffles are more delicate. People are sometimes disappointed.

    Riccardo has found a healthy solution. By combining indigenous truffles with indigenous porcini mushrooms, growing in the same mountain location, Riccardo creates a more pronounced sensation of truffle. It seems the porcini flavour makes a sonorous backdrop accentuating the taste of the truffle; usually the Black truffle (Tuber melanosporum). It makes it resonate in the mouth.

    In this way they are able to use around 3gm of fresh truffle per serving and create a stronger truffle taste than if it were served in abundance without the porcini. Riccardo gives Canadians the recipe he invented (See below).

    Nives, the owner of Desco, believes wild truffles are the best. She considers them more pure and she wants mountain products. She explained they source all their vegetables from the mountains because of the pure quality of mountain water. She claims the quality of the water creates better tasting vegetables. When she eats a tomato she can taste if it is grown in the lowlands or the mountains.

    What about wines to accompany truffles?

    From the mountains and local, comes their reply.

    Riccardo is particularly keen on the Pecorino, an autochthonous wine from the Sibillini Mountains. This interesting and now prized white wine was saved from extinction allegedly due to the effort of one wine grower. In fact the last few surviving vines, used to create a new plantation, were found in a mountain village at the southern edge of the Monti Sibillini National Park.

    The only truffle Riccardo doesn't use is the Tuber aestivum var. uncinatum Chatin. It is not farmed in this part of Italy and the wild product can vary too much depending on what host tree it is found on, the type of earth, etc. Too often it may not be worth eating. It is fascinating to think this same truffle, the Tuber aestivum var. uncinatum Chatin, is considered highly desirable in France, where it is called the Burgundy truffle and cultivated in abundance. This is further evidence of how the taste of truffles is determined by the natural environment, more than other food products.

    Here's Riccardo's recipe for Tagliatelle Funghi e Tartufo, with my comments and adaptions in italics. He hopes you will love it. Buon appetito Canada!

    PER 4 PERSONE

    - 400 g tagliatelle (home made) - or store bought
    - 100 g funghi porcini fresh - you may need to use dried porcini
    - 200 g fondo bruno - this is meat stock you will make for which you need 100g of meat, a carrot, celery and onion
    - 50 g parsley
    - 6 g tartufo nero pregiato (Tuber melanosporum)
    - 20 g butter
    PER LA CREMA DI CASTAGNE
    - 200 g chestnuts
    - 500 g milk

    METHOD
    Cut the mushrooms into small pieces and prepare as instructed if not fresh porcini. Make a meat stock (fry a piece of meat with celery, carrot and onion, then add the water (220g) and simmer for 2/3 hours). Prepare the chestnut cream by boiling the chestnuts in milk. After cooking the chestnuts till they are soft, blend the mixture with an electric mixer making it as smooth as possible, like a puree.
    Now lightly cook the mushrooms in a frying pay with some butter. Boil water in a pot and toss in the pasta. After two minutes remove the tagliatelle from water and put it into the pan with the cooked mushrooms. Now add your meat stock and the rest of the butter.
    In a separate pan heat the cream of chestnuts. Chop your parsley quickly.
    Serve on the plate, creating a bed with the chestnut cream and above it the pasta with the sautéed mushrooms. Finish with the black truffle shavings and a sprinkling of parsley.

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    At the tail end of an Alberta winter as it rolls over into spring, the sun comes out, the sky turns blue and the birds start singing while snow still clings to the ground. In fact, you could even ski in the morning, golf or mountain bike in the afternoon and go horseback riding in the evening. Or the reverse if the resort has night skiing.

    So shed a layer and check out these great ideas for great ways to enjoy the finer aspects of the "warm" part of winter.

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    "One sip of this will bathe the drooping spirits in delight, beyond the bliss of dreams." ― John Milton, Comus


    Craft cocktails are all the rage and mixology is alive and well throughout the country. Whether you prefer a simple cocktail (the type your parents might have enjoyed, like a gimlet) or something a bit hipper (from prohibition-styled cocktails to exotic mixes), Pittsburgh has it all.

    Here are few places may want to put on your list:

    Butterjoint

    If you're looking for stellar craft drinks (beer and cocktails) this is a good place to start. They regularly offer locally produced spirits and beers, including Wigle Whiskey, Boyd & Blair Vodka, Arsenal Cider House and beers by Troegs and Victory. You'll find excellent burgers and perogies to accompany your libations -- all served by a great staff. A word to the wise, it can get pretty crowded during peak hours. 214 Craig Street (adjoining Legume).

    2016-02-07-1454816445-1149198-Butterjointcocktails.jpg

    Acacia


    It seems Acacia is a well-kept South Side secret. The former home of prohibition-styled bar, Embury. Folks are drawn to the door of an unassuming boarded-up storefront by great music. Inside is a slice of heaven, particularly for serious bourbon fans. A small cocktail lounge elegantly furnished with copper table tops and exposed brick walls. Knowledgeable staff and an overwhelming drink menu offer delicious inventive cocktails and custom made to order as well as an incredible selection of bourbons. Acacia doesn't serve food, but it's the perfect romantic spot for an after-dinner cocktail, with retro music and low lighting. 2108 E Carson Street.

    2016-02-07-1454816827-7932879-JustBeetItAcaciaFacebook.jpg
    credit: Acacia Facebook


    Tender Bar and Kitchen


    This is a classic American cocktail bar -- in a repurposed bank. The 14-foot ceilings, old bank vaults and marble wainscoting add to the elegance and historic charm of this bar. The bartenders are passionate about their craft and offer an extensive list of cocktails 51 in all, as well as 16 wines, 100 whiskeys and over 70 other libations including brandies and cordials, three beers on tap, plus a cider. All in all, it's a good spot but can get crowded. 4300 Butler St. in Lawrenceville.

    Butcher and the Rye

    Richard DeSantz is the owner chef of this spot, in the Cultural District. It's a two-story restaurant known for its extensive whiskey selection. They have a towering wall of whiskeys, requiring a tall ladder to access the higher bottles. In all, they boast 600 varieties of whiskey including 350+ bourbons. There's also a long draft list and an extensive 38-cocktail menu; they serve their Moscow Mules appropriately, in a copper mug. The oil lanterns on some tables instead of candles create an atmosphere of rustic elegance. 212 6th St, Pittsburgh.

    2016-02-07-1454872282-3648835-ButcherRye.png credit: Butcher and Rye Facebook (Alyssa Florentine)

    Industry Public House

    This gastro pub is a wide-open space with a very large bar in the middle, a prohibition-era style of architecture, industrial décor and exposed brick, yet still manages to be cozy. They have high and low tables and semi-communal bench seating. They specialize in craft beers and artisanal cocktails having 40 beers on tap, nearly 100 whiskeys and more than a dozen craft cocktails. The Smokestack is one of the most popular draws. It has a whiskey base (pick your favourite) and the "smoke" comes from infusing the whiskey with fresh smoke from wood chips (again, pick your favourite woody fragrance). 4305 Butler St., Lawrenceville.

    2016-02-07-1454871357-8287884-IndustryPublicHousePeachtreetFacebook.jpg
    credit: Industry Public House Facebook.

    Maggie's Farm Rum

    This multiple award-winning distillery is a hidden treasure located in the Strip District. It's an independent distillery and the first to produce commercially available craft rum in Pennsylvania. Maggie's use copper stills, imported from Spain, to make their rums and all products are distilled from scratch, right behind the cocktail bar. Yep -- they've built a little bar right into their distillery and it's open to the public Fridays and Saturdays. Their creative bartenders have an ever-changing cocktail menu -- not to be missed is their incredibly flavorful Spiced Rum. 3212 Smallman, cocktail hour (Friday and Saturday only).

    2016-02-07-1454871432-3168719-MaggiesFarmRumFacebook.jpg credit Maggie's Farm Rum Facebook

    Andys Wine Bar

    Andys (as in two individuals named Andy) is located in the Fairmont Hotel lobby, is named after the two famous Pittsburgh Andys: Warhol and Carnegie. It's a casual yet sophisticated bar with modern interior, comfortable chairs and sofas, serving classic and craft cocktails, 11 in all, as well as some unique wines. There are nine reds, eight whites and three sparkling wines, 27 beers (five on tap) and a good selection of liquors. From Wednesday to Saturday, you'll find local musicians serving up JAZZ, best of all there is no cover charge. Fairmont Hotel, 510 Market Street.

    2016-02-07-1454871495-6115961-GinRosemaryCocktail.jpg

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    As the value of the Canadian dollar continues to drop, you may feel tempted to put your travelling plans on hold — especially anywhere in the United States. But if the announcement last week of Myrtle Beach offering discounts to Canadians proved anything, it's that our dollar may still be worth the trip after all.

    "Canadians shouldn’t feel discouraged and feel the need to put their vacation plans on hold or cancel them," says Rishi Modi of travel deal site Next Departure, based in Toronto. "Instead, take this opportunity to explore budget friendly destinations where our dollar is strong without breaking the bank."


    "Take advantage of airlines that offer free stopovers like Reykjavik with Icelandair, Paris with Air France, Beijing with Air China or Dubai with Emirates." —Rishi Modi, Next Departure


    Modi says the best time for Canadians to travel in general is between September to early December and January to May. "Avoid overcrowded tourist attractions, extreme hot weather, overpriced airfare and accommodations by travelling during off-peak season," he says.

    And with his expertise on finding a good deal without working for an airline or as a travel agent — Modi has caught flights to Spain for $375 and Paris for $250 — he has somehow mastered the technique.

    From what he will share with us, he says the best way to save money when you travel is to use multiple search engines like Google Flights or Kayak to compare deals, put up with multiple stopovers and find airlines with "free" stopovers.

    "Get the most out of your airfare dollar by visiting two countries for the price of one. Take advantage of airlines that offer free stopovers like Reykjavik with Icelandair, Paris with Air France, Beijing with Air China or Dubai with Emirates."

    Below, Modi pinpoints 10 vacation spots still worth our dollar. From Asian beaches to historic European cities to even some U.S. destinations, here are the best places to go in 2016.

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    2016-02-07-1454872399-2197343-MineQuest.jpg

    This week some of the best cave divers on the planet will mount an expedition to penetrate into a subterranean world that's remained hidden for more than 50 years. Along with a crack scientific and support team, Jill Heinerth, Phil Short, Sabine Kerkau and Steve Lewis will travel to Bell Island, Newfoundland in Canada and attempt to explore the old iron ore mine that runs under the island and adjacent bay.

    2016-02-07-1454871965-4780771-12043066_10206648465582678_7295064719480029767_n.jpg

    The mine's tunnels stretch for hundreds of kilometres under the island and adjacent bay. The last miner walked out in the mid 1960s leaving most of their equipment and tools behind. When the mine was shut down, the pumps were turned off and it flooded. Eventually the water levels rose, covering more than a hundred years of mining history.

    2016-02-07-1454872086-8725962-DrillerHerbReid1956ADHS0001001f.jpg

    So why is this team mounting this expedition, disturbing this long dormant underwater archive? Partly for the pure spirit of adventure.

    The divers want to go where no person has walked for nearly half a century and explore what amounts to a perfectly preserved underwater mining museum. When the cold water rose it preserved a perfect working iron ore mine.

    The divers are looking to see what historical artifacts remain that should be preserved and catalogued in the local mining museum. For 100 years men lived and died in this mine. They recorded their triumphs and tragedies in these dark tunnels. Local historians think their lives should be honoured and preserved, and these divers are taking the first step to do that.

    Others agree. The expedition has caught the attention of the prestigious Explorers Club. Impressed with the potential for original exploration, they've granted Mine Quest the honor of carrying one of their flags. These flags have flown at both polar poles and on top of the highest mountains in the world. Thor Heyerdahl carried one on the Kon Tiki expedition, as did the astronauts on Apollo 11.

    2016-02-07-1454877932-3620595-explorersclubflaglogo300x200.gif

    Mine Quest has also been noticed by the Royal Canadian Geographic Society. They've accorded the expedition the title of "Expedition of the Year."

    But exploration isn't the only driving force behind the expedition. It also has a heavy scientific bent. Diver Alert Network researcher Neal Pollock will use the opportunity to monitor the divers for bubbles in their hearts by taking ultrasound readings post-dive. He'll also be taking blood samples to look for blood markers indicating decompression stress. The overall goal of the study is to look at the effects of multi-day diving on people in high-stress environments.

    Scientist Dawn Kernagis will also be doing some ground breaking research into how stress can virtually reprogram your body at a genetic level. It's called epigenetic modification and if the right triggers are initiated these changes cannot only affect you, but be passed on to your children. She's currently doing similar research for the U.S. military.

    And the final reason for the expedition -- trying to see whether the mine can be made into a safe place as a diving adventure destination.

    Rick Stanley, one of the primary organizers of the expedition hopes that if this can be accomplished then there will be some economic spin offs to the local community -- hard hit since the mine closed. "If we raise the profile of the mine, then more people will visit to dive and to take the mine tour," said Stanley. He hopes that will give Bell Island a little economic boost.

    A group of local volunteers have been doing back-breaking labour in the old mine to clean up the debris in the tunnels that lead up to the water's edge -- getting the site ready for the divers. Mark and Marcia McGowan, John Olivero, Nick Dawe, Kyle Morgan, Teddy McCarthy, Des McCarthy, Ron Reid, and Bonnie and Tom Spracklin had to make sure a proper lighting system was installed, and built a staging area for the divers to work from -- a floating dock and tables. After two weeks of work, everything is ready to go.

    2016-02-07-1454873222-4196709-CleaningUptheMine1.jpg

    Once the expedition begins, the divers will face a somewhat daunting set of challenges. The layout of the mine is a veritable labyrinth; old equipment presents a series of jagged obstacles ready to trap unwary divers; fine sediment that can shut down all visibility just waits to be stirred up. The tunnels run deep and, of course, they're pitch black.

    An attempt made in 2007 to penetrate the mines ended in the death of one diver. There's no doubt the expedition is a risky venture.

    But at the end of the week-long expedition, with a little luck, the team will have re-discovered a slice of history, they'll have made some scientific discoveries and they may open up a whole new opportunity for properly trained divers worldwide -- a chance for dive experience extraordinaire.

    I'll be diving the mines (after the pros have laid in safety lines, of course) and filing daily reports from the Mine Quest expedition. It kicks off on February 15.

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    The NBA All-Star game, taking place in Toronto's Air Canada Centre on February 14, may be all about bringing together the best basketball players in the world, but make no mistake about it, there's more to the All-Star weekend than the big game.





    Players and celebrities will be flocking to the city to take part in festivities and hang out in the swankiest of restaurants. While we can't guarantee where you'll get the best sightings, these are some of the local restaurants that are known hang outs. And if you don't see a celeb, you'll at least know you're eating at one of Toronto's best.

    Sotto Sotto, 120 Avenue Rd.







    This Yorkville Italian eatery is a mecca for visiting celebrities and athletes. They flock for the great food, including the famous antipasti. Everything is made with the freshest ingredients so, if you like Italian, you need to stop by.
    Star / Baller sightings: Blake Griffin, The Weeknd, Drake, DeMar DeRozan, Jennifer Aniston, Blake Lively, Ben Affleck


    Dbar at the Four Seasons Hotel, 60 Yorkville Ave.








    The Four Seasons is a regular hotel for visiting celebs and athletic teams so chances are they'll be at least a few athletes staying here. Wouldn't it be convenient for them to drop by the in-house lounge, that also happens to be helmed by renowned chef Daniel Boulud?
    Star / Baller sightings: Alex Rodriguez, Lady Gaga, Woody Harrelson, Bruce Springsteen


    Fring's, 455 King St. West




    A photo posted by Aubs & Robs (@aubsandrobs) on





    Celeb restaurants aren't always known for the best food but when Drake decided to open a restaurant, he turned to one of Canada's most famous chefs, Susur Lee. A great menu with Drake at the helm almost guarantees that you'll see a player or two during your dinner.
    Star / Baller sightings: Drake, Serena Williams, Jada Pinkett Smith, Jaden Smith


    Montecito, 299 Adelaide St. W.







    This restaurant is co-owned by director Ivan Reitman (Ghostbusters, Stripes, etc.) so it's no wonder it gets a fair share of celebs. The California-inspired menu features locally sourced ingredients.
    Star / Baller sightings: George Clooney, Sandra Bullock, Jake Gyllenhaal, Wayne Gretzky, Sidney Crosby, Denzel Washington


    Joso's, 202 Davenport Rd.







    Joso's is famous for fresh seafood, but it's also quite famous for its obsession with breasts. We're not kidding you. The décor features statues, paintings and photos that pay homage to the female form. Don't let the theme deter you though -- it certainly hasn't deterred the scores of celebs that have come through the door.


    Star / Baller sightings: Stephen Curry, Drake, Mick Jagger, Mo Peterson


    Brassaii, 461 King St. W.








    This famous Toronto mainstay, in the heart of King West village, is a favourite of locals and celebs alike. It has great food and is open concept so is great to "see and be seen." If you get a chance to return in better weather, the cobbled-stone patio offers a rustic oasis in this busy part of the city.
    Star / Baller sightings: Steve Nash, Robert Downey Jr., Vanessa Hudgens


    Real Sports Bar and Grill, 15 York Street







    Don't expect a lot of ambiance here: the RSBG is a crowded, open-concept restaurant serving elevated pub grub. But since it's located steps from the ACC, where festivities will be taking place, chances are you're going to get a few athletes stopping by.
    Star / Baller sightings: Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, regular Raptors sightings


    E11ven, 15 York Street







    Next door to RSBG is e11even. Both places are owned by MLSE (owners of the Raptors) but this restaurant is more upscale than its neighbour. The venue has an impressive 3,200-bottle wine list and a sophisticated vibe, so if the crowds are too much to bear next door, head to e11even for some quiet and a nice glass of vino.
    Star / Baller sightings: Kyle Lowrie, Drake, Amir Johnson, regular Raptors sightings


    Jacob's & Co Steakhouse, 12 Brant St.








    This is one of the best steakhouses in the city, featuring steaks aged in-house. Don't feel like a full meal? There's also a pleasant piano bar where you can sit and have a drink or two.
    Star / Baller sightings: Kyle Lowry, Amir Johnson, Dwight Howard, Jameer Nelson


    For more to see and do during NBA All-Star Weekend, visit www.travelzoo.ca.

    Andrea Chrysanthou is the editor of the Travelzoo Canada blog and is based in Toronto, Ontario. Travelzoo has 250 deal experts around the world who rigorously research, evaluate and test thousands of deals to find those with true value.


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    2016-02-09-1454978305-6860104-Aerialshot.jpg

    After a two-hour flight from Toronto and I find myself on the islands of South-West Florida. Known as Captiva, Sanibel, and Cabbage Key, these islands encircle central Fort Myers where long white sandy beaches await laid-back, sun-seekers like me. Rich with natural beauty and legendary tales of pirates, poets, and naturists, I set out to explore the region's best in island hoping adventures.

    Cruising with Dolphins
    For this trip I had one mission: to see a wild, live dolphin swimming in the ocean. And a tour with Captiva Cruises en route to the tiny island of Cabbage Key was my chance to do it. I board the Lady Chadwick and immediately begin pressing the guide for dolphin details. "They aren't scared of boats at all," he tells me. "They're really social animals. In fact, if you holler and cheer for 'em, they'll put on a little show". Moments later he announces that a group of dolphins are racing towards the boat's port side sending me a runnin' and a hollerin' to meet them.

    2016-02-09-1454979162-5078569-IMG_7254.jpg

    Now alongside the boat, the pod obliges us in their game of jumping and diving with incredible speed as passengers cheer them on. Mission accomplished.

    A $70,000 Meal
    I'm still reeling from my dolphin encounter when we dock on the island of Cabbage Key. Once a private island it is now home to the Cabbage Key Island Restaurant and Bar.

    2016-02-09-1454979481-6831364-IMG_7442.JPG

    Here the ceilings and walls are dripping with one-dollar bills affixed by patrons keeping up a local tradition. As the legend goes, fisherman would a sign and stick a bill to the wall before setting sail as pre-payment for a drink on their return. These days the walls are lined with some $70,000 dollars in singles signed and scribbled on by guests like Jimmy Buffett and now, me. I order a grouper fish burger, a slice of their frozen key lime pie, and set about defacing Washington's face with a black sharpie. You can find it behind the bar.

    2016-02-09-1454979534-2108636-20151019_100659.jpg
    (Photo Courtesy of Debra Smith)

    Shelling Out
    A short drive from, Fort Myers over the arching causeway and I've got my toes in the sand on Sanibel Island. Home of the highly photographed Sanibel Lighthouse, this is where I will try my hand at shelling.

    2016-02-09-1454979627-861994-IMG_7600.JPG

    A popular activity among locals and tourist, shellers come here to comb the sand of Bowman's beach in search of exotic seashells. Like you, I was sure that shelling would be a bore. It wasn't. Sea breeze, warm sun, and soft sand went perfectly with this utterly calming activity. I walked with my feet in the ocean scanning the beach distracted only by massive pelicans flying mere inches above the water. And while I didn't find a Triton's Trumpet or Lion's Paw, I did line my pockets with a few Lightening Whelks.

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    The Wild Life
    I cross Sanibel Island heading for interior side where a visit to the Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge reminds me what really love about South-West Florida: the nature. Camera in hand I take a seat at the rear of an open-air tour bus manned by our biologist guide. As the trip sets off, birders and nature enthusiasts around me gasp in delight, scrambling to photograph the hunting Osprey and soaring Great Blue Herons above. Entirely wild and eco-life focused, Ding Darling preserves and protects some 240 species of birds, 30 species of mammals, and 50 types of reptiles and amphibians. Along the way we see fish jumping from the estuary, dozens of tiny crabs scattering about mangrove trees, and countless exotic birds strutting the grounds.

    When the bus slows alongside an enormous alligator lying motionless in the sun, my tour mates and I are delighted and terrified. An equally excited woman steps from the car ahead and poses 20 feet from the gator for an ill-conceived selfie. Her stupidity is rewarded for he was full.

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    A little further down the 4-mile tour loop, we see a group of large tropical birds nibbling at bugs on the shoreline--a rare treat, I'm told. Our guide's excitement reaches its crescendo as a candyfloss coloured Roseate Spoonbill takes to the air in a flurry of vibrant pink feathers.

    Fun House Feast
    Ready to eat and unwind I head off of Sanibel to Captiva Island for the last stop on my island hopping tour: the mind-bending Bubble Room.

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    Here the 1930s kitsch and Hollywood memorabilia is outdone only by the portion sizes. Massive fruity cocktails and platter-sized dishes are served-up by enthusiastic staff whirling under colourful bubbling holiday lights. A toy train runs through the labyrinth of pink dining rooms and bars each decked out with toys, posters, and antiques. My fast talking waiter lights fiery flambés and dishes out massive entrees like the 9oz Charlie Chaplin Pork Chops and the 16oz Dem Bones T-Bone steak.

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    Despite its trippy décor and funhouse atmosphere, the Bubble Room is best know for their super-sized pieces of delicious cake and key lime pie. Stuffed to epic proportions, the waiter temps me with a tray of incredible multi-layer cakes. He smiles patiently knowing no one can resist a Red Velvet giant.

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    2016-02-09-1455033448-5255031-22043951124_1becb03c49_z.jpg
    Photo credit: SCILLA KIM

    Kathmandu, Nepal's City of Temples, is unlike any other city in the world. It's crowded, it's noisy, it's sacred, it's overwhelming, and it's a place that every traveler should visit. From the world-famous Swayambhunath Temple to Durbar Square and extravagant nights out in the Thamel tourist district, the following are five places every first-time visitor to Kathmandu should see.

    Durbar Square
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    Photo credit: Jerome Bon

    Durbar Square, where the Nepali royals once lived centuries ago, is considered one of Kathmandu's main tourist attractions. The entrance fee for foreigners increased from roughly $2 to $7 for foreigners, but it's a small price to pay to admire so many temples in one small space. Take in the sacred feeling of the complex of royal palaces, Hanuman Dhoka and temples that date back to the 1500s.

    Unfortunately, many of Durbar Square's famed temples crumbled in the April, 2015, earthquake, but visitors can still experience the majesty of the square, its temples and the unique shopping area just outside.

    Swayambhunath Temple
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    Photo credit: Jorge Lascar

    Also known as the "Monkey Temple," the Swayambhunath World Heritage Site is a place that every tourist in Kathmandu should see. Follow the steep stone stairway up 365 steps, beyond mild-mannered monkeys and handicraft vendors, to the temple's platform, where you'll find the towering stupa, thousands of prayer flags, and picturesque views of Kathmandu from above.

    A Night in Thamel
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    Photo credit: Cheryl Marland

    Thamel is Kathmandu's bustling tourist center, and you don't have to enjoy wild nights out to take in the best that it has to offer. Accommodations range from backpacker-friendly to five-star, and the Nepalese restaurants are some of the best in the country. Fill up on momos (Nepalese dumplings) and shop for knock-off mountaineering gear, yak wool hats, ponchos, Nepalese handicrafts and more.

    Those who do enjoy a night on the town will find plenty of places to indulge in a flavorful hookah, sip an Everest beer, and catch local live music. Purple Haze offers live rock music on a raised stage nearly every night of the week, and a more cozy, low-key night time atmosphere can always be found at the Buddha Bar, where you'll find the locals enjoying themselves too.

    Boudhanath Stupa
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    Photo credit: Jean-Marie Hullot

    It's easy to get caught up in wandering the winding, tourist-friendly streets of Thamel, but it's Kathmandu's temples that have earned it its nickname (City of Temples) and have made it one of the world's most bucket list worthy destinations. The Boudhanath stupa, named as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979, is one of those must-visit places.

    The massive stupa, located on the northeastern side of the city, was also damaged by the 2015 earthquake. You'll be a little disappointed that the iconic point of the stupa was destroyed, but the crowds of worshippers circling the stupa and the unique souvenir and antique shops surrounding it make every visit a spiritual and enjoyable experience.

    A Day in Patan
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    Photo credit: Iryna Kuchma

    Cross the brownish Bagmati River to reach the Kathmandu suburb of Patan, where you'll find another stunning Durbar square, courtyards, fair-trade shops and local handicraft makers. Escape the crowds of Thamel and the Kathmandu center and enjoy a night or two exploring Patan's Golden Temple (a must-see Buddhist monastery), the Mul Chowk square and its temples, the Patan Museum, and the countless other draws of the town once known as Lalitpur, or the "City of Beauty."

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    Photo credit: Tristan Todd

    Vancouver is always a city that encourages its residents and visitors to get outside and explore. However, the city truly comes alive in spring. As flowers bloom and temperatures rise, Vancouver flourishes with outdoor activities, spring events and wildlife that wakes from a long winter's sleep.

    These eight reasons to visit Vancouver will make you ditch your tropical spring break destination and enjoy the beauty of Canada in spring close to home.

    1. It's the Start of Whale-Watching Season

    Vancouver's whale-watching season stretches from April to October, and the spring shoulder season is one of the best times to enjoy a budget-friendly excursion. Even more, the spotted grey whales are commonly present in April and May, which means you'll enjoy sightings that are some of the best of the year. Keep your eyes peeled for orcas and a slew of other sea mammals too.

    2. Kayak Rentals are Back in Full Swing
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    Photo credit: Ruth Hartnup

    You're welcome to kayak downtown Vancouver's False Creek in any time of year, but there's no doubt it's more enjoyable when the temperatures are warm and the city is in bloom. Rent your kayak at Granville Island and take to the waterways before the busy summer crowds arrive.

    Ocean kayaking tends to be more seasonal, and Jericho Beach's kayak rentals become available again in April. It's easy to spend day after day of a spring vacation in a kayak on Vancouver's waters.

    3. It's the Best Place to Be for St. Patrick's Day

    March is considered one of the top months to visit Vancouver, and that's partially because your visit may intertwine with Vancouver's elaborate St. Patrick's Day celebrations. Visitors can attend the Vancouver St. Patrick's Day parade, which attracts roughly 300,000 people annually, then hop from one of the city's countless Irish pubs to another, where live music and food are typically on offer.

    Visit Vancouver ahead of St. Patrick's Day to take part in CelticFest Vancouver, Western Canada's largest celebration of everything Celtic.

    4. The Cherry Blossoms are Blooming
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    Photo credit: Kenny Louie

    March and April are the heart of cherry blossom season in Vancouver. As the winter's rainy season fades away, 40,000 cherry trees come to life with vibrant white and pink blooms. Some of the city's most famous parks are the best places to take in the sights and snap photos of the trees that Vancouver residents hold so dear.

    Queen Elizabeth Park, Stanley Park, the UBC Nitobe Memorial Garden and VanDusen Botanical Garden are places to enjoy the colors that make Vancouver in spring so special. The Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival also takes place in April, with family-friendly events and activities happening across the city.

    5. Outdoor Patios Come Back to Life

    It's hard to stop eating when you visit Vancouver. The city is loaded with restaurants ranging from local hole-in-the-wall hotspots to food trucks and five-star eateries. You can enjoy nearly all of your Vancouver meals without having to step foot inside a restaurant, because so many of them offer seasonal outdoor seating that comes to life in spring. Head over to Granville Island to enjoy the warmth of spring at Bridges Restaurant or choose from one of many downtown patios that provide some of the city's best people-watching.

    6. It's the Perfect Time to Swing Some Clubs
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    Photo credit: Bill Wilson

    Vancouver is famous for its multitude of public courses that provide breathtaking views of towering mountains and the city's countless waterways. These inexpensive yet world-class golf courses, including the famed Fraserview Golf Course and historic University Golf Club, encourage you to get outside and play a few rounds before the summer crowds arrive.

    7. It's the Best Time to Visit
    According to U.S. News, the best times to visit Vancouver are in the shoulder seasons, from March to May and September to November. March, April and May offer welcoming weather and even more welcoming accommodation prices. It's a time when you can still find off-season deals on everything from tours and rentals to specials in restaurants and bars. Visiting in the shoulder season also means you'll enjoy Vancouver's favorite sites without running into crowds of tourists.

    What are you waiting for? Start planning your spring vacation to Vancouver today.

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    There are few things more Canadian than making the best of terrible weather and capping it off with a trip to Tim Hortons.

    A snowstorm walloped the Maritimes on Friday, but it didn't stop New Brunswick dog trainer Allyson Mitton and her pooches from getting their Timmies fix.

    Mitton, who lives just outside of Sussex, hooked up a sled to her two border collies, Shift and Braya, and off they went into town.




    "It was just a slick sidewalk and stormy day, [there] was hardly any traffic, there was nobody walking, so that was our opportunity," Mitton told The Huffington Post Canada in an interview.

    She pointed out she's usually quite selective of where she takes the dogs, since they're not very big.

    "We run trails that are slick and fast and not deep snow, which means the trail that we did the other day ... was so nice."

    allyson mittonAllyson Mitton says smaller breeds like border collies can also be trained to mush. (Photo: Facebook)

    Mitton said people generally think only large breeds like huskies can pull a dogsled, but smaller breeds like collies — which weigh between 12 and 20 kilos — can be taught to mush as well.

    Working with smaller dogs, she said she just has to do some of the work herself.

    "I run a kicksleigh, and it's a really light, light sled, so I kick to help them, so if the going's tough or if we're uphill, I'm kicking or running."

    Mitton said there are actually half a dozen other owners in the area that go out on weekends to run sled trails with their dogs.

    An 'amazing sport'

    She called mushing an "amazing sport" for the level of trust it builds between dogs and their owners.

    "My life is in their hands, so it's an amazing sport for that," she said. "They trust me to tell them where to go, and I trust them to take me there."

    And the dogs' reward for the trip to Timmies? Some Timbits, of course.

    Watch the full video above.

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    Anyone who has been on a cruise, or dreamt of one, knows it is a unique experience. Cruises entice passengers with an amazing array of amenities -- from pools to shops -- and on-board programs that entertain young and old alike. This is all in addition to the ports of call along the way which provide opportunities for snapshot visits through specialized tours.

    If you've had cruising on your mind, now is the time to act. It's Wave Season -- a three-month period when cruise companies put out their best deals and offers to entice travellers. You can grab some amazing deals on cruises to the Mediterranean, Caribbean, Alaska and more. But choosing which cruise and destination are right for you can be a challenge. With so many different offerings, it can be tricky. Here are a few tips for choosing the right cruise for you.

    Make sure your destination fits with when you want to go
    If vacation only comes at a certain time of year, be sure to look for cruise destinations that are best suited to that season. If you are dying to go to a specific destination, book your cruise for when you can experience the best that country has to offer. June to August is the warmest time to travel to Alaska. And if you want to avoid the rainy season, a cruise to the Caribbean is best between December and April.

    Be honest and thorough when accounting for the needs of you and your travel companions
    Different cruises are suited to different types of travellers. If you are traveling with young kids, be sure to look for a cruise line that offers activities and amenities for youngsters. While a Disney cruise might well-suit a family of kids 10 and under, a retired couple may not find the quiet relaxation they are after -- a Mediterranean cruise with Holland America might suit those looking for adult-oriented activities.

    If you are a multi-generation travel bunch, look for a cruise that offers adult and kid-oriented activities. Royal Caribbean has a lot to offer.

    Set a budget and find the best offering at your price point
    Because amenities can range so greatly, pricing on cruises -- from luxury to standard -- can vary as well. By all means, research what the cruise of your dreams might cost, but sticking to your budget will give you the satisfaction of not breaking the bank. Cruise prices vary depending on how long the cruise is, the cruise line, the cruise ship, where your room is, what type of room you choose and when you travel. Tully Luxury Travel reminds us to check out what is included in the price you pay. For example, is it all-inclusive or will you also need to pay for meals? Which meals are included?

    Take a look at the itinerary ahead of time to be sure it is right for you
    What stops will you be making along the way? What tours are available to you on-land? Tully Luxury Travel reminds us to consider -- are these ports of call you want to explore?

    If you aren't sure which cruise is right for you, work with a travel agent.
    Choose someone who has experience on cruise ships and booking this type of travel. They will have a wealth of information that can help guide your decision. Happy sailing!

    Heather Greenwood Davis is the founder of Globetrotting Mama and a freelance writer for publications that include the Toronto Star and National Geographic Traveler.

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    A retired couple was enjoying a pleasant day on the beach in northern France when a scary situation befell them.

    Video captured on Feb. 8 shows the elderly couple and another man standing between some rocks on Porsguen beach in Portsall, watching the waves roll in.

    Everything was going fine until a large wave came crashing in, leaving the couple in knee-high water.

    portsall

    The husband appeared to trip and fall in the water, ending up on his back as the wave carried him out to sea.

    His wife gave chase, only to be swept up herself as the third man followed.

    The couple was later rescued by a passerby and taken to La Cavale Blanche hospital, Ouest-France reported.

    The wife had swallowed some water and sand, but neither was seriously injured.

    In wake of the incident, one water safety expert said it's not a good idea to follow a person into the sea after a strong wave hits.

    "Do not go into the water after them — if you do there's a good chance you'll be swept out yourself," Keith Colwell, incident reduction manager with the U.K.'s Royal National Lifeboat Institution, told The Telegraph.

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