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Canada Travel news and opinion

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    The much-anticipated sixth season of the Emmy-award-winning HBO show Game of Thrones premieres on Sunday. While most people will be on the edge of their seats wondering what really happened to Jon Snow, we find ourselves watching and wondering how to visit the fantastical, real-life filming locations that serve as part of the Seven Kingdoms. Here are 17 of our favourites.

    Northern Ireland

    1. Dark Hedges (Road from King's Landing)

    Flickr photo by Valerie Hinojosa

    Copyright HBO

    The Dark Hedges are probably one of the most recognized Game of Thrones locations in Ireland and one of the most beautiful beech-covered roads in the world. They were featured predominantly in the first two seasons as the Kingsroad, north of King's Landing, and are located along Bregagh Road, near the village of Armoy.

    2. Castle Warn, County Down (Winterfell)

    Flickr photo by Amanda Slater

    Copyright HBO

    Castle Ward, featuring Gothic and Classical architecture, exotic sunken gardens, paths and woodlands represents Winterfell, the home House Stark. Overlooking Strangford Lough, near the village of Strangford, the castle has been the home of the Ward family since the 1570s, and it was at this courtyard that the Starks welcomed King Robert Baratheon when he arrived in Winterfell.

    3. Magheramorne Quarry, County Antrim, (Castle Black/The Wall/Hardhome)

    Flickr photo by Brendan Rankin

    2016-04-21-1461246514-8730236-MagheramorneQuarry.jpg Copyright HBO

    The abandoned Maghearamorne Quarry doubles as several show locations. It stands in for both Castle Black and Hardhome, a Free Folk fishing village. Jon Snow and Tormund visit the village in season five to convince the Free Folk to come to Castle Black with them. The village is later invaded and destroyed by the White Walkers and wights.

    See Travelzoo's Northern Ireland travel deals here.


    4. Dubrovnik (King's Landing)

    Flickr photo by MAnderson

    Copyright HBO

    Dubrovnik, Croatia's most southern city, is the setting for King's Landing, the capital of the Seven Kingdoms. The "Old City," enclosed in medieval walls, is a UNESCO World Heritage site and has been a staple on the show since season two. Fort Lovrijenac (Fort of St. Lawrence) is where King Joffrey held his name day tournament and Gradac park is the setting of his untimely death at the Purple Wedding.

    5. Trsteno Arboretum (King's Landing Gardens)
    Flickr photo by Jackie MacPherson

    Copyright HBO

    The Arboretum is just outside of Dubrovnik and represents the gardens of Red Keep, the home of the Andals and the First Men (House Baratheon) in King's Landing. The lush gardens, which span over 70 acres, are worth seeing for the beautiful collection of exotic plants and trees (there is said to be over 450 species of plant life here) but GoT buffs will also recognize the garden as the backdrop for many strolls by the likes of Margaery, Olenna and Loras Tyrell, Sansa, Tyrion and others.

    6. Sibenik (Braavos)
    Flickr photo by Hervé

    Copyright HBO

    Sibenik is known as the King's City and is surrounded by four fortresses and Renaissance and Gothic architecture from the 15th century. The Cathedral of St. James doubles as the House of Black and White or the temple of the God of Many Faces, Arya Stark's new home.

    See Travelzoo's Croatia travel deals here.


    7. Vatnajokull (North of the Wall)

    Flickr photo by Costeggiando il Vatnajokull

    Copyright HBO

    Vatnajokull, in southeast Iceland, is Europe's largest glacier with seemingly endless ice planes, snowy mountain peaks and glacial lagoons, the ideal backdrop for what lies Beyond the Wall.

    8. Lake Myvatn (North of the Wall)

    Flickr photo by Åsa Berndtsson

    Copyright HBO

    Lake Myvatn, in northeast Iceland, was created by a large basaltic lava eruption more than 2300 years ago. It is famous for the spectacular Godafoss waterfall, also known as the Waterfall of the Gods. It's here that the Night's Watch men are attacked by the White Walkers in season two. Jon Snow and Ygrette also walk along the lake's shore to the nearby Grjótagjá lava cave, where Jon Snow breaks his Night's Watch vows.

    See Travelzoo's Iceland travel deals here.


    9. Alcazar de Sevilla, Seville (Royal Palace of Dorne)

    Flickr photo by Tilo 2006

    Copyright HBO

    In season five, the Alcazar de Sevilla in Seville represented the Royal Palace of Dorne or private residences of House Martell. Scenes for season six were also shot in the elaborate gardens of this UNESCO World Heritage site. It is here that Ellaria Sand tries to convince Prince Martell to take revenge of the Lannisters and where Jaime tries to rescue Myrcella from an attack by the Sand Snakes.

    10. Peniscola, Valencia (Dorne or Meereen)

    Flickr photo by Mia & Steve Mestdagh

    Peniscola is a new location that will be introduced in season six, though the show writers have yet to confirm its Game of Thrones locale. Sources suggest it will likely represent the Daenery's slave city of Meereen, which was formerly recreated in locations across Croatia.

    11. Plaza de toros de Osuna, Seville (Meereen Arena/Daznak's Pit)

    Flickr photo by Graeme Churchard

    2016-04-21-1461247952-4466935-Osuna.jpgCopyright HBO

    The Plaza de toros de Osuna, a bullring built in 1904, represents the preeminent fighting Pit in Meereen where Daenery's marriage to Hizdahr zo Loraq is interrupted by the attack of the Sons of the Harpy. Over 500 of the town's residents were used as extras for what is said to be one of the most expensive television scenes ever.

    12. Girona, Catalonia (Oldtown, Braavos)

    2016-04-21-1461248035-5422833-13992354105_abf06656df_z.jpgFlickr photo by Jorge Franganillo

    Girona, an hour north of Barcelona, is set to play a main role as the Oldtown of Braavos in season six. Look for shots of the Girona Cathedral, the old Jewish Quarter and the Arab Baths. The 16th-century citadel will also feature a site where the maesters of the Seven Kingdoms receive their training.

    See Travelzoo's Spain travel deals here.


    13. San Anton Palace (The Red Keep)

    Flickr photo by Deborah Desmond-Hurst

    2016-04-21-1461248114-4090320-SanAnton.jpgCopyright HBO

    San Anton Palace in Attard is the official residence of the President of Malta. The palace and its lush private and public gardens stand in for the Red Keep in the Game of Thrones, the home of the Iron Throne and the Lord of the Seven Kingdoms.

    14. Mdina (King's Landing Gate)

    Flickr photo by John Haslam

    Copyright HBO

    The walled city of Mdina is one of Malta's top tourist destinations. It was the country's first capital city, although settlements here date back to before 4000 B.C. The narrow limestone streets and squares are featured prominently in season one as the King's Landing Gate and Littlefinger's House of Pleasure.

    15. Fort Manoel (Great Sept of Baelor)

    Flickr photo by PaulSHird

    Copyright HBO

    Fort Manoel, a star-shaped fortification on Manoel Island, was built in 1726. It's said to be haunted by the Black Knight of the Order of St. John. It's also the backdrop for the Great Sept of Baelor -- and Ned Stark's execution.


    16. Ait-Ben-Haddou (Yunkai and Pentos)

    Flickr photo by Dan Lundberg

    Copyright HBO

    Yunkai, the Yellow City, lies on the eastern coast of Slaver's Bay, or in Ait-Ben-Haddoum, Morocco. Daenerys arrives here in the third season with the army of Unsullied and overthrows the rulers, called the Wise Masters, to abolish slavery in the city.

    17. Essaouira Morocco (Astapor)

    Flickr photo by Patrick Nouhailler

    Copyright HBO

    Astapor, the infamous Red City of Slaver's Bay, is real-life Essaouira, two hours west of Marrakesh, on Morocco's Atlantic coast. In season three, Daenerys visits the well-known slave-trading post, buys her army of "Unsullied" warriors and sacks the city, killing the slave masters in the process.

    See Travelzoo's Morocco travel deals here.

    If you're one of the few who hasn't seen Game of Thrones, or are behind a few seasons, you can definitely get caught up quickly -- if you're up for a few solid binge sessions!

    Andrea Chrysanthou is an 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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    Talk about timing.

    Niagara Falls turned purple on the same day that legendary musician Prince died at the age of 57.

    Problem was, the purple tribute was not actually for music royalty.

    The agency that manages Niagara Falls had previously announced that the famous attraction would be illuminated purple in honour of Queen Elizabeth II's 90th birthday on Thursday.

    But with Prince's passing that morning, people assumed the purple Niagara Falls was an ode to his hit song "Purple Rain."

    Toronto's CN Tower also went purple, and people were confused with that, too:

    It was also for the Queen:

    It was a royal coincidence in the end.

    Or was it?

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    The sacrifice and challenges of being a working mom for Jessica Coakley Martinez went right into the trash when Heathrow Airport security forced her to dump nearly 15 litres of breast milk, she says.

    Coakley Martinez, a mother of two from California, had been on a 15-day business trip, but was determined to continue producing breast milk for her eight-month-old son at home.

    "You made me dump out nearly two weeks worth of food for my son."

    While working in eight different cities, the mom would duck into closets and bathrooms to pump between meetings and presentations and then convince hotels to let her store her giant insulated bags of milk in their restaurant freezers.

    By the time she was leaving Heathrow, she had nine litres of frozen breast milk and the rest was fresh in her carry-on.

    But security officials there refused to let her through with the breast milk, pointing to strict regulations.


    In the U.K., only 100 millietres of liquid in a transparent container is permitted in carry-on baggage, according to the Department of Transport.

    Although the airport allows mothers to bring "a reasonable amount of liquid" food for a baby "for the journey," Heathrow states on its website that this only applies if the mother is travelling with her child, which Coakley Martinez was not.

    These regulations are set by the Department of Transport, and it is the airport's job to enforce them, according to Heathrow airport.

    "U.K. aviation security regulations are in place to protect the travelling public and are applicable to all airports in the U.K."

    Open letter to airport

    While Coakley Martinez admits that she should have checked the U.K.'s civil aviation rules in advance, she claims that she had no problems bringing her stored breast milk through every other airport in four countries that she had passed through on the trip.

    "You made me dump out nearly two weeks worth of food for my son," she wrote in an open letter to Heathrow Airport that she posted on Facebook.

    "This wasn’t some rare bottle of wine or luxury perfume I was trying to negotiate as a carry on. This was deeply personal. This was my son’s health and nourishment."

    "Being a working mother and ensuring both my job and my child get exactly what they need is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but you managed to make it nearly impossible in a single afternoon," she wrote.

    Coakley Martinez said she was willing to part with the fresh breast milk, but get back into the security line to check the frozen amount — but officials still said they had to confiscate the milk because it was now a "non-compliant item."

    "It was as if you were almost proud to deny me at every possible point of compromise," she wrote.

    "I hope the next time you encounter another mom just trying to make it work and looking for a little help along the way, you consult your conscience ... and reconsider your options."

    airport security

    A similar incident occurred last year between a working mother and Delta Air Lines.

    Vanessa Kasten Urango froze her breast milk and kept it cool with dry ice to bring home after an 18-day business trip.

    She claimed in a Facebook post that Delta employees were uncertain how to deal with her cooler of breast milk. They ultimately allowed her to bring the milk, but not the ice.

    Delta later reached out to Urango to make amends and resolve the issue after the encounter.

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    Beyoncé didn't point any direct fingers in "Lemonade," her visual and musical opus on black womanhood and betrayal released Saturday night. But American fashion designer Rachel Roy found herself the target of a very angry Beyhive this weekend.

    Beyoncé dropped a cryptic line in the 'Apathy' portion of her HBO special for the song 'Sorry,' stating, “He better call Becky with the good hair.” Fans quickly assumed that the singer was making reference to an affair between husband Jay-Z and another woman.

    A few hours later, Roy posted a photo on Instagram, with the caption, "Good hair don't care, but we will take good lighting, for selfies, or self truths, always. live in the light."

    rachel roy

    Now, whether or not the designer's post was in reference to Bey's statement, it drew a heavy amount of backlash, and quickly. So much so that the Beyhive mistakenly accused celebrity chef Rachel Ray of having an affair, but soon after directed their comments to Roy.

    Roy later deleted the post.

    So who is Rachel Roy, and how is she connected to Jay-Z?

    Roy is a 42-year-old Indo-American, born in California and based in New York. Hollywood Life reports that the now famous New York-based designer started off as an intern for Rocawear, a clothing retailer created in 1999 by then friends Jay-Z and music producer Damon Dash. Roy quickly rose within the company, later becoming creative director of the women's and children's departments.

    In 2004, Roy had created her own fashion line and married Damon Dash. While her professional career took off, her marriage to Dash did not. Their union ended in divorce and a three-year restraining order. In 2009, the designer released her more affordable clothing line: RACHEL by Rachel Roy, which is available in Canada at Hudson's Bay.

    Professionally, it appears Roy is laying low post-lemonade. BuzzFeed reported Monday morning that the designer had canceled a public appearance in New York City for a "personal emergency."

    Roy tweeted on Sunday that she "respects love, marriage and families," however the statement wasn't taken well by Beyoncé fans.

    When Beyoncé gives you lemons ...

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    Photo credit: Nick Kenrick (Flickr)

    It may seem counterproductive to visit the Caribbean when your hometown is finally warm and sunny, but there's no better time of year to visit the region often regarded as "paradise." When the demand for Caribbean escapes falls, you can enjoy some major perks, including lower accommodation prices, smaller tourist crowds, and insane deals on everything from souvenirs to tours and beachside beers.

    These four reasons why you should visit the Caribbean this summer will make you rethink your annual trip to the lake or Six Flags.

    The Temperatures Couldn't Be Better

    Photo credit: Nick Kenrick (Flickr)

    The Caribbean's location close to the equator makes many travelers assume it's way too hot to visit in the summer months. However, the temperatures on the islands seldomly sit more than a few degrees higher than they do in the busy January through March tourist season. In fact, you may be surprised that those humid, 90- to 100-degree days you experience at home are actually several degrees cooler and complemented by island breezes in the Caribbean.

    Luxury Is Cheaper

    You probably won't find yourself lounging under a palapa on a white sand beach with bathtub-warm turquoise waters lapping at your feet in your hometown this July. Resorts and hotels in the Caribbean are known to cut their prices by up to 60-percent in the summer months. The lack of demand at luxurious escapes that cost hundreds of dollars per night in the winter months mean you can enjoy picture-perfect pools, pristine beaches and a multitude of luxuries for a fraction of the price.

    You'll Enjoy Fewer Crowds

    Photo credit: Alan Sunners (Flickr)

    It's not just the accommodations that are cheaper. Tour prices are slashed, whole islands offer promotions, free festivals are hosted and happy hours are plentiful. Budget-minded travelers can enjoy the luxury vacation they've been seeking without the four-star prices.

    If you don't like floating around a pool packed with sunburned tourists or simply prefer experiencing your destinations like the locals do, summer is the time to visit the Caribbean. The busy tourist crowds diminish, and you enjoy closer relationships with hotel staff, tour guides and others who actually reside in the place you're visiting. Even more, your hotel, restaurants and tours will be less crowded by tourists, so you enjoy a more peaceful, personal Caribbean getaway.

    It's More Affordable to Get There

    Discounted hotel rates, tours, meals and activities are no big deal if you can't get to the islands for an affordable price. Fortunately, the looming "hurricane season," which rarely affects a number of areas in the Caribbean, reduces the demand for flights and drastically lowers the prices of airfare.

    According to, the prices of Caribbean packages, which include airplane tickets, are 16-percent cheaper than in the busy peak travel season. Many Caribbean vacation packages offered in the summer months even include airfare, making it possible for you to enjoy a truly all-inclusive vacation.

    If it's a relaxing, affordable summer vacation (that will blow your usual summer plans out of the water) you're seeking, the islands of the Caribbean welcome travelers to enjoy the year-round paradise setting that most don't even know about.

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    It's Earth Day weekend and I'd been planning to write a column on a feel-good topic, say the runaway success of solar power or the 130 world leaders gathered at the UN to sign the landmark Paris Declaration; the promise instead of the peril.

    But my sunny outlook faded to black when I heard the highly alarming news that a massive cruise ship called the Crystal Serenity was preparing to transit the Northwest Passage on August 16. I have so far resisted the impulse to lead with a paragraph summ'at like this:

    The ground above Sir John Franklin's grave must be vibrating as the great Arctic explorer spins violently in his grave with the imminent departure of the cruise ship Crystal Serenity to transit the Northwest Passage. The ship will carry 1,000 passengers and 600 crew through the icy waterway where in 1845 he and his doomed crew of 129 mariners suffered an agonizing death and probably resorted to cannibalism.

    For 300 years, the Northwest Passage was a holy grail for explorers until 1906 when Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen sailed the route in three years. Passengers on the Crystal Serenity will fork out from $30,000 to $156,000 dollars to sail from Anchorage, Alaska, through the Northwest Passage, then down to New York City. The month-long cruise is already sold out. And the greatest tribulation they can expect is possibly running out of the good Scotch.

    But I refuse to lead, as practically every other journalist has, by comparing the cruel fate of Franklin and his men to the hedonistic, pampered experience-to-be of the Serenity's passengers. Rather, I choose to lead with the opinions of two concerned Arctic-lovers I know personally, both experts on our melting, endangered northern reaches.

    Dr. Michael Byers and his wife, Catharine, kindly hosted my wife, Debbie, and I in 2014 when I gave a talk on Saltspring Island, where they live. Michael holds the Canada research chair in global politics and international law at the University of British Columbia. He is the author of International Law and the Arctic and cares deeply about the Arctic. He recently wrote about the impending cruise/invasion in the Globe and Mail.

    "Arctic cruises are the latest thing in high-end tourism. Icebergs, polar bears, beluga whales, awe-inspiring vistas and isolated Inuit communities -- what's not to like for the jaded traveller? But here's the thing: Arctic cruises involve greater hazards and environmental impact than just about any other kind of tourism," he writes.

    Michael touched on the climate change "feedback loop" of Arctic cruises, which produce carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to even more melting in years to come. "Consider the emissions associated with the Crystal Serenity: Passengers will fly from their homes to Anchorage, and return at journey's end from New York. On board the ship, they will enjoy food products that have also travelled great distances. They will be cared for by 655 crew members, each with their own smaller but still significant climate footprint. All the while, the ship will be burning fuel oil for propulsion, heat and electricity," he writes.

    He touches on the many hazards involved in transiting the Northwest Passage, such as running aground in the poorly charted waters; exceptionally hard and deadly mini-icebergs called growlers that float low in the water and are difficult to spot; and oil spills, which would be practically impossible to clean up and would stain the pristine frigid Arctic waters for many generations to come.

    But I think the Crystal Serenity will leave a legacy far more toxic and destructive in her wake than an oil spill. She will open up the north for other, less sophisticated cruise lines. I think it highly unlikely that Carnival cruise lines will have two helicopters and its own ice-strengthened escort vessel at its disposal.

    My second Arctic expert is a dear friend. CW Nicol made his first expedition to the Arctic from his native Wales in 1958 when he was 17. He forged his stepfather's signature, told his mother he was going camping and researched eider ducks for six months on Baffin Island. By 1965 Nic was spending seven months a year in the north as a marine mammal technician for the Arctic Biological Station.

    He wound up a citizen in Japan with a black belt in karate and over 100 books, including a bestseller on the Arctic called The Raven's Tale, a luminous story of surviving an Arctic winter told by the creatures who live there led by an old raven called Gon.

    Nic sails the Northwest Passage regularly on the Ocean Endeavour, a small cruise ship that carries about 200 passengers and leaves little trace of its passing. Nic says they get some of the top Arctic experts in the world as guides and interpreters, hire Inuit as guides, teachers and artists, and contribute a lot of money and support to all the small coastal communities they visit.

    Nic says the captain of the ship is very experienced in icy waters and will take no risks. Novelist Margaret Atwood has sailed on the Endeavour several times, as has painter Robert Bateman. Nic feels that the more we can take sincere, concerned people into the Canadian arctic, the better it will be for global understanding.

    Michael says Arctic cruises are a form of "extinction tourism," in which people travel to see a species or culture while they still can. The Crystal Serenity is preparing to ply the same waters as the good ship Ocean Endeavour, but won't carry any sincere, concerned Arctic lovers. I fear the star-crossed Serenity will carry the first extinction tourists into the Northwest Passage and begin the end of our endangered, fragile north.

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    lthough it's already a popular destination in Asia, Thailand looks set to gain even more visitors in the coming years. By 2020, numbers could rise to 47.5 million, compared with 29.9 million in 2015. Here's a look at some of the best ways to experience the country and its culture before mass tourism takes hold.

    Get up close to elephants in the Chiang Mai jungle
    There are plenty of better ways to get up close to elephants than the typically touristy elephant rides, which don't offer much in the way of authentic experience and can raise animal welfare issues. While some travelers opt for elephant retreats at the sanctuary in Kanchanaburi, northern Thailand is also a choice destination for elephant experiences, with the Chiang Mai jungle leading the way. Here, many former mahouts have become guides for tourists looking to spend time with elephants in ways that respect the animals' well-being. Visitors can learn how to mount and ride elephants like the former mahouts (bareback) and go trekking in the jungle. They can even give the animals a bath and feed them bananas. Chiang Mai city makes an ideal base for a day in the nearby jungle.

    Make friends with the monkeys of Lopburi
    A few hours' drive to the north of Bangkok, Lopburi is home to hundreds of monkeys. While taking in the Khmer temples, visitors can experience the antics of the many monkeys that inhabit this so-called Monkey City. Visitors are advised to take care with food and keep anything edible shut away in a bag (or arrange to eat later in the day) to avoid becoming a target for the cheeky simians. In any case, meeting the monkeys is sure to be memorable, with hilarious holiday snaps guaranteed.

    Step back in time in Sukhothai, then hop on a bike
    Sukhothai was the capital of the first kingdom of Siam, which went on to become Thailand. Located 4.5 hours' drive from Chiang Mai, the town is home to the remains of 21 temples and their surrounding fortifications. These historical relics are an impressive sight, setting the scene for some spectacular photos starring an impressive lineup of Buddha statues. As well as its historical sights, the Sukhothai Historical Park is an especially nice place to visit on two wheels. Bikes can be hired for a few bahts (1 THB = approx. 0.03 USD) and visitors are free to come, go and explore as they please.

    Relive history on the bridge on the River Kwai, Kanchanaburi
    Situated 130km (81 miles) to the west of Bangkok, Kanchanaburi is a must for anyone with an interest in history. Visitors flock to the area to snap a picture of the bridge over the river Kwai, which saw several thousand workers killed during its construction. In the Second World War, the Japanese, who occupied the region, decided to build a railway line linking Kanchanaburi to Burma, a route stretching 410km (255 miles). Work on the line, soon nicknamed the "Death Railway," was scheduled to take five years, but was completed in just 18 months after the occupying Japanese put to work many of their Australian, Dutch and British prisoners of war alongside Asian laborers. The story was immortalized in the Pierre Boulle novel and its famous movie adaptation "The Bridge on the River Kwai."

    Experience Loy Krathong, the festival of lanterns
    Like a moment suspended in time, Loy Krathong sees Thailand celebrate the end of the rainy season and pay respect to the goddess of water. It's held each year on the eve of the full moon in the 12th month of the Thai lunar calendar. People traditionally make little boats from banana leaves which float out onto the water holding candles. Lanterns are also released into the sky. This is a popular, family-focused event where visitors can join in with the rituals and festivities without raising eyebrows among local Thai people. Loy Krathong is celebrated across Thailand, with traditional events often accompanied by shows, festivities and meals. Sukhothai is a particularly popular destination for the festival, with a light and sound show organized in the Historical Park.

    Kick back and relax on Koh Tao

    No trip to Thailand would be complete without visiting one of its paradise islands. And there are islands to suit all kinds of visitors with very different interests. But, if there's only time to fit in one, then Koh Tao could be just the ticket. Situated in the Gulf of Thailand, this "Turtle Island" is a true haven of calm and relaxation, far from the crowds of tourists heading to the likes of Koh Phi Phi and Koh Pha Ngan for Full Moon Parties. Koh Tao is a paradise for divers and snorkelers.

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    This is going to be the future. For a few years, rumblings of Google Cardboard have become increasingly louder to the point that the New York Times recently gave it away free in a Sunday edition. A blue-chip newspaper is casting a huge bet in predicting the next big trend and they're looking not to today but banking on the future in two, five, 10 years down the road, paved by a hopefully younger reader.

    Those younger eyes will the engage across generations with legacy readers and stay within the Times family across a diverse array of platforms -- it provides fantastic content too.

    There are few barriers to the technology, anyone that can download an app and put on a headset can take advantage of the simple instructions. When I gave it a run the first time around I was laughing out loud over how simple it is to visit Italy and walk through famous historic sites while traipsing around your house in boxers and sipping wine.

    Tech-heads are leading the way with this technology and making increasingly accessible and interesting apps but they're not the only ones.

    After a good five hours I handed it over to a woman in her 50s, who has been around the world in the fashion industry. Watching her smile light up within 10 seconds of seeing a street she had last walked down 30 years was one of the most powerful experiences I've had in the last five years.

    Virtual reality has been around for decades in various iterations but this is the first time it feels real enough to make a grown woman grimace with a memory long lost but alive again. Cardboard is so easy to figure out that its uses extend far past the daily pastiche of just hopping to Ecuador for an afternoon or cruising down to Bonnaroo in a convertible. The connection it makes to someone in her 50s is the fascination a five-year-old feels every day. This is possible now, just imagine what it will be like with smell replicators and neuroprosthetics in five -- 10 years.

    Tech-heads are leading the way with this technology and making increasingly accessible and interesting apps but they're not the only ones. Dynamic rap group Run The Jewels recently launched their new music video Crown, if you can call it that in the traditional sense, on the New York Times VR App. Ten dollars spent on a cardboard headset and pairing it with your headphones is a truly immersive experience. Aside from Android, Facebook is slowly rolling out in-browser 360 videos and photos -- Jerry Seinfeld riding around in a car was a recent hit and fantastic showing of how easy it is to adopt the technology.

    There have been a few truly disruptive social changes in the last number of years -- Instagram and Facebook are two monoliths that have changed the way people communicate online while Uber and Tesla aim to rip the last 100 years of North American cultural fabric in half within a decade. Cardboard and its brethren, Oculus and Vive, are at the forefront of humanity's next great disruptive change as 360 begins to extensively modify how we communicate with media and each other.

    This is the virtual reality we've all longed for since Tron in the 80s. The fanfare hasn't been huge yet but the application of immersive virtual, live and augmented realities will usher in the next human cultural shift and it will happen faster than expected -- this is here now.

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    Photo credit: Marissa Strniste (Flickr)

    When you're searching for a Caribbean vacation destination that's loaded with character, picturesque scenery, and laid-back beach vibes, there's no better place to look than Panama. The Central American country's Caribbean coast receives less praise than its canal, ultra modern capital city and Pacific beaches, but has just as much to offer.

    This guide to Panama's Bocas del Toro, affectionately known as Bocas town, will probably make you start researching plane tickets.

    What Is Bocas del Toro?
    Photo credit: Roman Königshofer (Flickr)

    You may have heard someone mention Bocas del Toro but didn't truly understand where they had been. That's because the Bocas del Toro Archipelago lies in the Bocas del Toro Province and is home to a town named Bocas del Toro.

    The Bocas del Toro Archipelago is home to six major islands, 200 islets and 52 cays. The mixture of Afro-Caribbean, Panamanian and indigenous Ngobe tradition give the entire archipelago a unique flavor that can't be found anywhere else in Central America or the Caribbean.

    Bocas del Toro, or Bocas town, was developed in the early 1900s, and it has since become a must-visit homebase for adventures across the beautiful Bocas del Toro archipelago. The colorful Caribbean houses, laid-back beach vibes, towering palm trees, happening bars and low-key restaurants have made this a hotspot for tourists and one where many have decided to stay.

    What Can I Do There?

    The opportunities for beachy outdoor adventures are endless in this palm-tree studded archipelago. Water taxis, or taxis marinos, will take you away from the bustling town to secluded beaches and shallow, crystal-clear waters that are known for providing some of the world's best snorkeling experiences. Birdwatching, surfing, sailing, forest trekking, diving Neptune's Gardens and exploring indigenous Ngobe villages are just a few of the many activities that visitors enjoy every day.

    Although, you may find it difficult to leave the funky Bocas town with its bright colors, historic architecture, friendly locals, delicious eats and famous nightlife. It's difficult not to let loose when you're surrounded by the laid-back vibes and natural beauty of Panama's Caribbean coast.

    Where Should I Stay?
    Photo credit: Martin Garrido (Flickr)

    Bocas del Toro offers accommodation options for everyone from backpackers to travelers seeking a high-end, resort-style getaway. Visitors can rent Caribbean style bungalows perched above the turquoise water at Azul Paradise Hotel, enjoy all-inclusive luxury at the Hotel Popa Paradise Beach Resort or rest affordably at the Selina Bocas del Toro hostel-style accommodations.

    Know Before You Go

    Panama is one of the easiest Central American countries to visit. The official language of Panama is Spanish, but English is widely spoken in Bocas del Toro and many commonly visited areas of the country. Panama's legal currency is the Balboa, which is equivalent to the U.S. dollar. This crossover of currency makes it easy for Americans to know the cost of souvenirs, food and accommodations without having to use a calculator. The Banco Nacional de Panama is always a safe and convenient place to use the ATM or exchange traveler's checks.

    If you're looking for an affordable place to escape, soak in the Caribbean vibes and enjoy tropical island scenery (above and below water), it's time to think outside the more commonly visited Caribbean islands to the picture-perfect beaches of Bocas town.

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    More and more, Canadians are choosing to stay close to home for their vacations. In fact, Statistics Canada recently revealed that Canadian travel to the U.S. was down 4.1 per cent in February, compared to January. Overseas travel also decreased by 1.4 per cent.

    While world events may have factored into Canadian's decisions to stay local, I'd like to think it had more to do with the fact that more of us are choosing to discover just how amazing this country really is.

    There are so many things to do in Canada and while you may think you've heard of them all, here are some that don't get the attention they deserve.

    British Columbia

    Skookumchuck Narrows

    Skookumchuck Narrows. Flickr photo by Maurice King

    See whirlpools and whitecaps in the rapids at Skookumchuck Narrows. The narrows are located at the entrance of the Sechelt Inlet on B.C.'s Sunshine Coast, where the direction of the rapids changes twice a day, forming standing waves and some of the highest river tides in the world. The trek to the narrows is as beautiful as the destination. You'll have to take a 10-km hike (return) through the province's coastal rainforest where you'll see 1,000-year-old western red cedar and Sitka spruce trees as high as 300 feet.


    Waterton Lakes National Park

    Waterton Lakes from Bear's Hump. Flickr photo by Jeremy Bradford

    While Banff National Park may get most of the glory in Alberta, the lesser-known Waterton Lakes National Park is equally breathtaking. Here, in the southwest corner of Alberta, the Prairies meet the Rocky Mountains. It has been designated a Biosphere Reserve by the UN and an International Peace Park because it shares an unguarded boarder with Glacier National Park in Montana. Climb to Bear's Hump to get a panoramic view, and head to Cameron Falls to see rapids cascading over 1.5-billion-year-old Cambrian rocks. You can also head to Cameron Lake and rent a paddleboat and paddle right over to the U.S.


    The Big Muddy Valley

    Big Muddy Badlands. Photo by Douglas E. Walker, courtesy of

    The Badlands are known as the land of dinosaurs -- a place they called home 70 million years ago. But beyond dinosaurs, the terrain is truly unique. The Big Muddy Valley is one of the most scenic areas, featuring canyons, buttes (tall, isolated hills) and steep cliffs. You'll feel like you've stepped back to prehistoric times as you gaze on Castle Butte, a 230-ft. sandstone marvel that overshadows the surrounding flat lands. An interesting tidbit: the Big Muddy was also the northern end of the "Outlaw Trail," used by American outlaws, including the Sundance Kid, to escape to Canada.


    Churchill: Beluga Watching

    Belugas in the Bay. Photo by Mike Macri, courtesy of

    There's more to see than polar bears in Churchill, Manitoba. While the city is world-famous for polar bear-spotting, it's also a mecca for beluga whale-watching. The nearby waters of the Hudson Bay are home to 60,000 beluga whales every summer -- the highest concentration in the world. Take a boat tour of the area and listen to their conversations using hydrophones or, if you're brave, choose to go kayaking or even snorkelling along the gentle giants. Talk about a bucket list adventure.


    Georgian Bay Grotto

    Inside the cave at the Georgian Bay Grotto. Flickr photo by Alex Indigo

    You'll be forgiven if you come across the Georgian Bay Grotto and think you've found paradise. This natural sea cave, on the shores of the Bruce Peninsula National Park, was carved out by waves hitting the shore for over thousands of years. The hike to the Grotto takes about a half hour and includes walking on rugged limestone and climbing down a 40-ft. cliff, but if you're adventurous enough to do it, you'll see one of Canada's most beautiful, hidden natural wonders.


    Mingan Archipelago Park

    Monoliths at Mingan Archipelago National Park. Flickr photo by Guillaume Cattlaux

    Mingan Archipelago National Park, on the remote north shore of the Saint Lawrence River, boasts about 40 limestone islands and more than 2,000 granite islets, not to mention some of the oldest fossilized coral reefs in the world. But there's more to see here than stunning monumental monoliths. The waters are home to colonies of seals, dolphins and whales, while the shoreline is scattered with Atlantic puffin and other sea birds, making it worth the 10-hour drive from Quebec City. Stay at a nearby hotel, or bring your tent and settle in on an island of your choice.

    Newfoundland and Labrador

    Torngat Mountain Base Camp

    Torngat Mountains. Flickr photo by DJANDYC.COM

    When you go to Labrador, make time to see the Northern Lights. Why have you never heard that before? About 200 kilometres north of Labrador's most northerly community of Nain, you'll find the Torngat Mountains, a majestic range that is the highest in mainland Canada, east of the Rockies. The Base Camp and Research Station comes alive in the summer with international researchers, as well as travellers who want a unique Canadian vacation. Here, you can experience Inuit life, rugged Canadian landscapes and breathtaking views of the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis.

    New Brunswick

    Laverty Falls, Fundy Park

    Laverty Falls. Flickr photo by Emmanuel Milou

    Most Canadians have seen photos of the Hopewell Rocks at the Bay of Fundy in Fundy National Park, but fewer have seen the nearby Laverty Falls. To see them for yourself, you have to take a 2.5-km hike on the Laverty Falls. The path is carved through the mixed forest, dotted with summer flowers and bubbling streams. Stop for a picnic before continuing your hike. Just one kilometre beyond Laverty Falls, you'll find the even more remote Third Vault Falls.

    Nova Scotia

    The Annapolis Valley Wineries

    For a flavourful glass of wine, head to wine country in Nova Scotia. The Annapolis Valley is one of the first areas to cultivate grapes in North America, with a history of growing grape vines dating back to the 1600s. In the past 25 years, it has solidified itself as a centre for Canadian wine production, with local vineyards producing everything from sparkling wine to numerous white and red varieties and even ice wine. Drive along the meandering country lanes to visit one of the 11 local wineries. Pair your vintage with local goat cheese or the province's famous smoked salmon.

    Luckett Vineyards. Flickr photo by Gavin Langille

    Prince Edward Island

    East Point Lighthouse

    East Point Lighthouse. Photo by John Sylvester courtesy of

    Prince Edward Island is the land of lighthouses, with almost thirty structures scattered around the island. While the most famous may be the West Point Lighthouse, it's worth heading east, to the eastern tip of the island, to see the East Point Lighthouse. The 64-ft. tower was erected in 1866, at the point where the Saint Lawrence meets the Northumberland Strait. Amongst the churning tides, you can see black-backed whales, seals and various sea birds.


    Kathleen Lake, Kluane National Park

    Kathleen Lake. Flickr photo by Gerode_

    Canada has countless lakes but Lake Kathleen, in the Yukon's Kluane National Park and Reserve is a must-see. The lake's turquoise-green, crystal clear water contrasts against the majestic Kluane mountain range, with its snow-capped peaks. You can kayak, canoe or even swim in the water or take a hike along the two back-country trails. For those who want to stay a while, the Lake also has a public campground.

    Northwest Territories

    Nihanni Natioal Park and Reserve: Virginia Falls

    Mason's Rock at Virginia Falls. Flickr photo by Mike Beauregard

    Virginia Falls in Nahanni National Park and Reserve is more than twice the height of the more famous Niagara Falls. This stunning waterfall has been carved through the limestone rocks over several centuries. In the middle of cascading water is a resilient mass of rock named Mason's Rock, after Bill Mason, a famous Canadian canoeist, filmmaker and author. Plant lovers will also find several rare orchid species that thrive thanks to the constant mist from the falls. The Nahanni National Park and Reserve is among the world's first four natural heritage locations chosen as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.


    Mount Thor

    Mount Thor through the clouds. Flickr photo by Mike Beauregard

    Baffin Island's towering Mount Thor, in Auyuittuq National Park, is one of Canada's true natural wonders. At almost 5,500 feet tall, it also has the world's greatest vertical drop (4,101 feet -- the height of two CN Towers). Also known as Thor Peak, the mountain attracts adventurers from around the world who seek to reach its imposing peaks. If you're not bold enough to take on Thor, choose one of the park's hiking trails and pay homage to the granite giant from a vantage point that's a little closer to sea level.

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    Photo credit: Ingrid Taylar (Flickr)

    Canadians are no strangers to adventure. Whether it's backpacking in some of the world's most photogenic national parks, surfing double overhead waves in Tofino or ziplining through the rainforest, there's no doubt that Canadians know how to have a good time (and get the adrenaline pumping). The following are just a few of the many action-packed adventures you can enjoy in the Great White North this summer.

    Learn to Surf in Tofino

    Tofino has become a surf destination for travelers from around the globe. However, you don't have to be an expert to have fun in the waves off the coast of British Columbia. The Pacific Surf School was voted the No. 1 surf school in Tofino, and the instructors make learning easier and more fun than ever with family lessons, private lessons and group lessons available. Experienced surfers can also take part in more advanced lessons to help them hone their skills on all types of waves. It's time to learn what the "feeling the glide" is all about.

    Fly Through the Trees in Whistler

    Photo credit: Mark Lehmkuhler (Flickr)

    Ever wanted to experience the sensation of flying? Superfly Ziplines in Whistler makes it possible. Soar through mountain valleys and Whistler's lush rainforest canopy, admiring mountain views and enjoying the exhilarating feeling of weightlessness the entire time. Superfly also offers a treetop ropes course, featuring Tarzan swings and suspended bridges, for those who want even more fun above ground and among Whistler's most captivating scenery.

    Explore the Rockies on Foot

    You don't have to have a complete adrenaline junkie mentality to enjoy Canada's adventurous side. The Canadian Rockies are home to more hiking and biking trails than anyone can cram into a single visit, but the team at Canadian Rockies Hiking will help you make the most of any stay. Whether you're into mountaineering and climbing, backcountry excursions or more mellow walks among some of Canada's most picturesque natural scenery, Canadian Rockies Hiking will help you get out and explore at your own pace.

    Try Whistler's Most Extreme Activity

    Photo credit: Groupon (Flickr)

    If you're seeking a summer adventure even more intense than ziplining and surfing, you can find it back in Whistler. The Whistler Bungee lets thrill seekers jump 50 meters from a platform above Cheakamus River for a rush that can't be compared to any other. Whistler Bungee has a 100 per cent safe jumping record, and the operators have been in the industry for more than 20 years, so you know you're getting a hefty dose of safety with your adrenaline-filled experience. In addition to a serious adrenaline rush, you'll enjoy the unbelievable views of the peak of Black Tusk, the Cheakamus River, basalt column cliffs and a lush old-growth forest.

    Go Iceberg Hunting in St. John's

    Seeing Icebergs float off the coast of Newfoundland is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Hop aboard the award-winning Iceberg Quest tour boat to depart from St. John's into the deep blue waters of the Atlantic to see the more than 10,000-year-old ice formations up close and personally. Icebergs range from roughly a massive 200 feet in size to just 15 feet, each one is majestic in its own way. Aboard the Iceberg Quest boat, you'll also want to keep your eyes peeled for humpback whales, the Atlantic puffin and so much more.

    Seeking even more adventure this summer? Check out The Ultimate Summer Guide to Canadian Adventures on Flight Network's famed travel blog, "Let's Roll," to plan your thrilling adventures for the coming months.

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    When Cory Johnn isn't off on an adventure around the province, he's home in Edmonton shooting stunning portraits of local business-owners and makers.

    The Alberta photographer's "The Original Self" series is a fascinating glimpse into the lives of some of the most captivating young Edmontonians — capturing designers, bartenders, writers, and artists in their homes or workspaces.

    Johnn spoke to The Huffington Post Alberta about his work, and shared some of his incredible photos.

    Q: Where did you grow up and where do you currently live?

    A: I had the privilege to grow up in the amazing city of Edmonton, with no intentions to move, but rather grow with the city.

    Being surrounded by such a diverse backdrop offering prairies and mountains-capes within a few hours in each direction. It's the perfect province to live in and offers so much to do.

    A photo posted by coryjohnn (@coryjohnn) on

    Q: How long have you been shooting photos?

    A: I have been shooting photos for close to ten years now, having purchased my first DSLR camera back in 2007 and only starting to take it seriously since around 2010. I also have a background in professional video production for the past five years — these two avenues go very well hand in hand.

    A photo posted by coryjohnn (@coryjohnn) on

    Q: What are your favourite locations to shoot?

    A: Some of my favorite locations to shoot are in and around the town of Jasper, Alta.

    I feel that Jasper National Park offers the best mountain range, paired with the most locations and lakes to easily access compared to other national parks.

    Edmonton is also a natural pick for me, as I love to show off the city in a new light that others may have not envisioned.

    I really love applying my different and gritty style to the most cliche locations to give them a fresh breath of air. That being said, I love to challenge myself with familiar locations.

    Take a look at some of Cory's photos. Article continues below.

    Q: What are some challenges of shooting adventure photography?

    A: The biggest challenge of adventure photography is standing out from the pack. There seems to be so many trends these days with famous photo locations and once a few big Instagrammers highlight a specific spot, it seems that everyone flocks to capture the same sort of image.

    This is where my last answer comes into play, and luckily having so many famous photo locations right in my backyard. I love to challenge myself with these famous spots, and try to show them off in a very different light. That being said, I try not to follow any trends, but stay true to my style and keep photography fun.

    A photo posted by coryjohnn (@coryjohnn) on

    Q: Can you tell me a bit about your "The Original Self" project?

    A: The Original Self started off as a personal project to build my portraiture, lighting and directing experience, not really knowing the direction I wanted to take it in. It was more of a learning experience starting off.

    I had initially asked some close friends to participate in this project, so I could build my portfolio of portraiture work. I quickly found my love of photographing people in their unique spaces, working with what they called home or where they spent their nine to five.

    kyle closen
    Kyle Closen of Clo's Custom Leather Goods poses for a portrait. (Photo: Cory Johnn Photography)

    This project really lets me express my cinematic and gritty style that I have developed with shooting so many of these unique people in their spaces. My main goal with this project is to keep it local to Edmonton, as I love this city and want to show what all these great people are doing to make a change.

    Q: Your portraits capture something special about your subjects. What's your advice to people who want to learn how to take great portraits?

    A: My biggest advice for a new photographer wanting to pursue portraiture work is to really try and connect with their subject on a personal level. One thing I always do before starting a shoot with my subject is to sit down and strike up a simple conversation, asking some very generalized questions to figure out what they are all about.

    The camera is a very intimidating thing and acts as a barrier as well as a safety net that a lot of new photographers do not realize.

    Be personable, make jokes, ask questions and show them what you've shot!

    martine partridge
    Paleo blogger Martine Partridge poses for a photo with her dog. (Photo: Cory Johnn Photography)

    Q: What do you like to do when you're not taking photos?

    A: When I am not out and about taking photos, I am a big fan of finding new places to eat or enjoy a coffee and people watch.

    I also love to learn, I have such an interest in how things are created, be it movies and how they are shot, tech and how it works seamlessly with people, or even just how a photograph is made. One thing that I have been into since my early teens, and still am to this day is computer games. This is something that I will always find time to do and keep as one of my day-off activities. Other things would include camping, hiking, canoeing and anything outdoors.

    A photo posted by coryjohnn (@coryjohnn) on

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    Oh, Canada: the land of ice and snow, where hockey players are the top national export, the people really are as nice as they say, and you'll find some of the most incredible landscapes in the entire world. From East Coast to West Coast, these awe-inspiring places will leave you with some truly Canadian wanderlust and you'll need to add them to your bucket list. Seriously, add them!

    Fogo Island, Newfoundland & Labrador

    *Photo by Timothy Neesam

    Right at the edge of the North Atlantic in Iceberg Alley, you'll find Fogo Island, the largest island off of Newfoundland & Labrador. It's a place that experiences seven seasons and has a population of just 2,600 friendly people. It's located halfway between the equator and the North Pole, and with its temperate climate, the island's boreal forest is home to caribou, beavers, foxes, and various varieties of flora and fauna. In the spring you'll be able to watch migrating whales surface as icebergs float by, and by the fall the entire island will be covered in edible berries. The flat Earth Society considers Fogo Island to be one of the four corners of the earth. You'll notice humble homes dotted across the 11 communities that live on the island.

    Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland & Labrador


    *Photo by Visit Gros Morne

    No, it's not Iceland, Ireland or New Zealand. It's Canada, and necessary for any wanderluster to put on their bucket list. Designated an UNESCO World Heritage Site, Gros Morne is an area where the earth's mantle is exposed. It's encircled by tiny seaside communities and is full of forests, freshwater fjords, bogs, barren lowlands, cliffs and shorelines.

    Take a boat tour through Western Brook Pond, which will sail through a fjord and get you close enough to feel the spray from some of the east coast's highest waterfalls. Stay overnight by camping in the park or visit one of the seaside villages for some fresh and delicious seafood.

    Churchill, Manitoba

    *Photo by Merit Motion Pictures

    Known as the Polar Bear capital of the world, Churchill is a remote Canadian location in northern Manitoba accessible only by plane or train. In the fall and winter months, visitors from around the world flock to Churchill to check out the Polar Bear population, the incredible Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) and take in the wintery Canadian climate that can drop to -35 degrees Celsius without wind chill (sometimes colder than the surface of Mars). There are plenty of tour companies that can take you to the tundra where you'll get up close and personal with real polar bears.

    In the spring and summer months you'll be amazed by the belugas that play in the waters of Hudson's Bay. You can rent canoes and kayaks and splash around in the chilly waters, and watch some amazing sunsets over the water at dusk.

    Tofino, British Columbia

    *Photo by Bert Kaufman

    Known as the jewel of Canada's west coast, Tofino is a stunningly beautiful area on Vancouver Island in the Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Tofino is known for its fishing, hiking, whale watching, wildlife, camping, and of course, surfing. It's been named as one of the best surf towns in North America countless times -- and yet it still remains rustic, natural and unpretentious. The community boasts a long history -- the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nation have been fishing for salmon, cod and halibut in the waters for over 10,000 years. And while this pacific west coast community is known for its idyllic beauty and laid back vibe, it has an incredible foodie scene that's sure to please any traveler.

    So head west, rent a surfboard, ride the waves, enjoy the gentle calm of the ocean waves as the sky turns a golden yellow and the sun sets.

    Mount Thor, Baffin Island, Nunavut

    *Photo by Artur Stanisz

    Have you ever been interested in seeing the earth's largest vertical drop? You'll find it in Auyuittuq National Park on Baffin Island in Nunavut. Named after the Norse God Thor (Re: not Chris Hemsworth), Mount Thor has a vertical drop of 1,250 metres. Mount Thor and Mount Asgard (a Norse realm for Gods) protect the Owl River Valley and the Penny Ice Cap, and are guarded by beautiful fjords at each end. Visitors of the National Park will discover a landscape that is covered in 85 per cent rock and ice, full of mountain ranges, glaciers and rivers. The area is also rich with Inuit history, and it's definitely worth a stop at Pangnirtung and Qikiqtarjuaq communities, outside of the Park.

    Nahanni National Park Reserve, Northwest Territories

    *Photo by Fort Simpson Chamber of Commerce

    What looks like it could be a setting from The Lord of the Rings, Nahanni National Park is nestled in Canada's Northwest Territories and is actually about the size of Switzerland. If you follow Nahanni River as it ebbs and flows through the park it'll lead you to Victoria Falls, which is roughly two times the size of Niagara Falls, and is a stunning display of water gushing over the earth's edge. Along the way you'll encounter sulphur hot springs, alpine tundra and incredible mountain ranges, and you'll meet some of the local wildlife that inhabits the park.

    The four canyons and multiple rivers on South Nahanni river offer world class whitewater rafting opportunities and there are several rafting companies that offer guided tours. Nahanni's stunning scenery will leave you awestruck as you paddle along its untamed waters, or hike one of its many trails, and enjoy its stunning topography, geology, waterfalls and canyons.

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    Going back to Cali means sun, surf and sand, and you'll get all that and then some (such as great food, fun shops, and yes, cute surfers), in the city where surfing originated in 'Merica. Just an hour drive from Los Angeles, it's perfect for a side trip or a week-long surf getaway.


    stay: The vibrant, cheerful colour scheme of the boutique hotel Kimpton Shorebreak is perfectly matched with amiable staff. Wine hour daily at 5 p.m. adds to the happy vibe, although we were already all smiles after a day of chilling out on the sun-drenched beach. (Be sure to grab chairs and towels at the front desk before hopping across the street to nab your spot on the sand.) Kimpton Hotels + Restaurants, 222 Kearny St, Ste 200, San Francisco, 1-800-KIMPTON (546-7866)


    sport: Squeeze into a wetsuit and take a lesson in this legendary spot where surfing was born in the U.S.A. Knowledgeable instructors from Toes on the Nose will teach you how to carry your board, spot a good wave, time jumping up onto the board and wipe out safely. For a more calm watersport, try a standup paddle boarding lesson with Rocky McKinnon, a local pro surfer and boarder. McKinnon doesn't just hand you a SUP, make sure you can stand on the board and send you away from shore; he'll help you perfect your turns and stroke so you'll leave a more confident paddler. But water babes don't get all the fun in SoCal. Land lovers should borrow the complimentary beach cruisers from the Shorebreak Hotel for a carefree bike along the beach. Shorebreak Hotel, 500 Pacific Coast Highway, Huntington Beach, CA, 714-816-4470


    savour: Refuel post-surfing right in the Shorebreak at Zimzala (think Hawaiian ahi poke and Moroccan chicken with golden couscous). For a fantastic view of the beach, grab lunch one day on the modern garden-chic patio of BLK Earth Sea Spirits for one of their affordable specials (the ahi salad is fresh and satisfying). And get your so very SoCal breakfast -- a smoothie bowl -- at Banzai Bowls just a five-minute walk from the hotel. Their substantial (read enormous) açai or pitaya bowls are loaded heavily with fruit and granola, so you may want to share one. The Original Banzai Bowls, 222 5th St, Huntington Beach, CA, (714) 594-3220,


    spa: Surfing and SUP may leave your muscles a bit sore, so make sure to book a massage at Pacific Waters Spa. This spa in the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach occupies 20,000 square feet of space dedicated to pampering. Make sure to budget plenty of time after your treatment to kick back in this space that'll make you feel as though you've escaped to the Spanish countryside, that is, a countryside decked out with luxurious steam room, sauna and waterfall showers. Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort and Spa, 21500 Pacific Coast Hwy, Huntington Beach, CA, 714-845-4772,


    stargaze: Book a nighttime beach bonfire on the beach through Waterfront Adventures for a s'mores night out (they build the fire and stock you with the requisite marshmallows, chocolate and graham crackers, along with chairs and blankets). As you eat your sweet and gooey dessert, sit back beneath the twinkling sky and take in the soothing sound of the waves lapping at the shore in the dark of the night. California dreaming? Nope, just everyday life in this surf town. And we'll take it. Waterfront Adventures. 21100 Pacific Coast Hwy., Huntington Beach, CA, 714-845-8000. -- Karen Kwan


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    Photo credit: holl7510

    Summer vacations are meant for family fun in the sun, and amusement parks offer some of the most thrilling fun around. Whether you're interested in adrenaline-pumping roller coasters, lazy rivers or a little bit of each, these five theme parks are the best across the U.S. and Canada for guaranteed family fun this summer.

    1. Busch Gardens -- Williamsburg, Virginia

    Virginia Beach may be on your summer travel radar, but historic Williamsburg probably isn't. Instead of sinking your toes into the sand of Virginia's overly-crowded coastal city, enjoy some of America's best thrills at this must-visit Busch Gardens location. The park offers everything from the terrifying Alpengeist roller coaster to toddler-friendly rides and the refreshing Water Country USA waterpark. Plenty of shade, affordable passes and package deals including hotels and park tickets make this a more comfortable and budget-friendly escape for parents too.

    2. Canada's Wonderland -- Vaughan, Ontario

    Photo credit: Roller Coaster Philosophy

    Just a 30-minute drive north of Toronto is Canada's largest and most thrilling theme park. Canada's Wonderland is home to more than 200 attractions, including some of the country's most daring coasters, like the Behemoth, state-of-the-art Backlot Stunt Coaster, the Leviathan and more. However, Canada's Wonderland is equally as appealing to little ones as it is adventurous older kids and adults. The theme park offers an abundance of family rides, kid-friendly attractions, and the Splash Works waterpark for those seeking more low-key thrills.

    3. LEGOLAND -- Carlsbad, California

    LEGOLAND California is just as exciting for adults as it is for their LEGO-loving kids. The park features everything from lifelike LEGO displays to roller coasters made from the famous childhood building blocks. The LEGOLAND Water Park is an ideal place to cool down on hot summer days in California, and the captivating Sea Life Aquarium also offers an escape from the heat. Additionally, the park offers a number of dining, entertainment and nearby resort options, so you can make an entire vacation of your visit to this favorite California attraction.

    4. Playland Vancouver -- Vancouver, British Columbia

    Photo credit: Caelie_Frampton

    Playland Vancouver is the oldest amusement park in Canada, but that doesn't mean the rides are outdated. Located at the Pacific National Exhibition in Vancouver, this British Columbia summer favorite features everything from games and monster truck shows to Canada's most extreme pendulum ride "The Beast," the "Corkscrew" roller coaster and the Wooden Roller Coaster, originally built in 1958. High-velocity thrill rides, entertaining shows, concerts, delicious food and tons of kid-friendly attractions, make Playland Vancouver one of the best places for summer family fun in the country.

    5. Cedar Point -- Sandusky, Ohio

    Cedar Point is the ultimate summer destination for thrill-seeking families. This Ohio theme park consistently reigns as one of the craziest in the country with nearly 20 coasters that carry riders through corkscrews, twists and loops at hair-raising speeds. Known as the "Roller Coaster Capital of the World," the park rolls out new thrill rides every year. However, you don't have to be a hardcore roller coaster enthusiast to have fun at Cedar Point. The park also features water rides, family rides, kids' rides, summer entertainment and so much more. If you're looking to fill one of those many long summer weekends with action, Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio, is the place to be.

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  • 05/03/16--12:23: Playtime In Paradise
  • Not almost in paradise, but actually Paradise: Paradise Island in the Bahamas is conveniently off the shores of Nassau so you can catch one of the daily flights into that city's international airport and before you know it be stepping onto the sunshine-drenched sands in Paradise. Formerly known as Hog Island, its current moniker is much more befitting (although you will certainly feel like you're living high off the hog here).


    stay: Budget-minded beach-loving families can score a relatively affordable vacay stay in the Bahamas at the Riu Paradise Island, where there are plenty of loungers on the powdery beach, 24-7 room service and, of course, all-you-can-eat and-drink (the bar in each suite at Riu properties can't help but make us want to party like it's 1999). 6307 Casino Drive, Paradise Island, Bahamas, +1 (242)-363-3500,


    savour: Its name gives us a giggle (the terms originates from the French word for stern of a boat, in case you were wondering), but laughs aside, the longstanding Poop Deck in Nassau is where you can get all delicious manner of conch (salad, cracked and fritters), and the catch of the day prepared as you wish. Visit the location on East Bay for a marina view and beach vibe or the Sandyport one for a more traditional ambiance. As for solid Italian fare, you can't beat Luciano's of Chicago for its decent wine list, grilled calamari, and linguini alla Luciano that is loaded with Bahamian lobster and shrimp. East Bay Street Nassau, Bahamas, +1 (242) 393-8175, and East Bay Street, P.O. Box N 4942, Nassau, Bahamas, +1 (242) 323-7770,


    shop: The vendors can be aggressive but if you have the will to poke around, weed through the cheap touristy trinkets at the Nassau Straw Market and you can make some good finds of handwoven bags and hats and crafts. Bring your best bargaining game and you'll score some sweet souvenirs for yourself and your loved ones. W Bay St, Nassau, Bahamas, +1 (242)-363-2000,


    sweat: Scuba-diving sisters, dive deep and check out the beautiful colourful walls of coral and sponges that make up a magical, otherworldly surface, as schools of fish swim by you. Prefer to work out on land? Each January, a couple of dozen countries are repped in the Marathon Bahamas (there's a 5k, half and a relay if you're not up for the 42.2k distance). The race kicks off at 6 a.m. so you can avoid the day's most intense heat, and you'll hear the race's signature marathon-themed reggae song along the route to help motivate you as you pound the pavement. and


    socialize: Immersing ourselves into the local culture is our preferred M.O. when we travel, and staying at an all-inclusive can make that difficult. But a People-to-People experience here had us dining in the home of one charming couple and a slew of their closest friends, where we got in on all of the gossip, news and chatter as though we were a native Bahamian (not to mention an authentic homemade meal of mac and cheese, roasted chicken, snapper and rice and peas). Prefer to explore the island's history or artistic side? This complimentary program will find the ambassador with the insider 411.


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    What's better than knocking one destination off of your travel bucket list? Getting to cross off two -- without having to book a second trip, of course. Two-for-one trips offer a way to stretch your travel dollar and can be a great option for saving money since you won't need to plan a second vacation. If that sounds like a good option for you, has handpicked six two-for-one trip ideas to consider for your next vacation. All prices listed are in Canadian dollars unless otherwise stated.

    Toronto, Ontario + Niagara Falls, Ontario
    Image: Paul Bica, toronto via Flickr CC BY 2.0

    Image: BodyaliveNJ, Niagara Falls, Canada via Flickr CC BY 2.0

    Toronto and Niagara Falls make for a fun, multifaceted vacation and you can easily get from one to the other by renting a car or taking the train. Toronto recently landed at number seven on the New York Times list of 52 places to visit in 2016, and the multicultural Canadian city has a lot to offer in the way of food, arts and culture, shopping and sightseeing. Niagara Falls is less than a two-hour drive from Toronto or, if you time it right, a $40 round-trip train ride.

    Fly into either Pearson International or the smaller but closer to downtown Billy Bishop airport, spend a few days discovering what Toronto has to offer and then make your way to the Falls for an awe-inspiring rush of nature (and some ice wine, a Niagara specialty).

    Montreal, Quebec + Ottawa, Ontario
    Image: Blok 70, Facades: Montreal via Flickr CC BY 2.0

    Image: Michel Rathwell, Ottawa Parliament Buildings via Flickr CC BY 2.0

    It's easy to combine Montreal and Ottawa into a two-for-one vacation that allows you to experience a little slice of Europe right in Canada along with a couple of days in the nation's capital. Fly to one and then drive or take the train or bus to the other. Round-trip train fares between the two cities on VIA Rail can be found for under $80 and the two-hour ride is a scenic one. Taking the bus is even more pocket-friendly and you can use Busbud to search for the cheapest fares.

    With the highest number of restaurants per capita in Canada and some of the best restaurants in the country, Montreal is a city made for foodies. Art, shopping, live music, stellar nightlife and the aforementioned European vibe are also all big draws. In Ottawa, the Rideau Canal, Ontario's only UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a must. In addition, there are the Parliament buildings to see, ByWard Market to explore and many art galleries to visit.

    Las Vegas, Nevada, United States + the Grand Canyon, United States
    Image: Maverick Helicopters

    2016-04-28-1461863100-1838653-5854379112_5156578643_o.jpg Image: Moyan Brenn, Grand Canyon via Flickr CC BY 2.0

    Known for spectacular shows, glittering lights and casinos, Las Vegas is a 24/7 playground in the desert. It's increasingly a family-friendly destination, too with impressive pools, family entertainment and attractions like gondola rides at The Venetian Las Vegas, Caesars' High Roller, the world's largest observation wheel, and Circus Circus' Adventuredome, a climate-controlled amusement park offering 25 rides and attractions.

    When you've had your fill of Sin City, go explore the Grand Canyon. Travellers can drive the four hours it takes to get to the natural wonder or opt for a helicopter ride via Maverick Helicopters, which offers nearly a dozen helicopter excursions including its popular four-and-a-half hour Dream Catcher Sunset tour. Departing from Las Vegas, the afternoon trip flies over Nevada's pristine desert landscape, red sandstone formations and, finally, the Grand Canyon where the helicopter lands 1,066 metres below the West Rim on Hualapai Indian territory.

    After a brief photo op perched 91 metres above the Colorado River, visitors partake in a champagne toast and light snack before the return flight over Lake Mead, Fortification Hill and the Hoover Dam. Perfectly timed, the ride ends with a sunset flyover of downtown Las Vegas and the Las Vegas Strip.

    Vancouver, British Columbia + Kelowna, British Columbia
    Image: Maya-Anaïs Yataghène, Vancouver, BC via Flickr CC BY 2.0

    Image: Stuart Madden, Kelowna Vineyards via Flickr CC BY 2.0

    Crossing these West Coast cities off of your list in one trip is entirely doable and well worth considering for a spring or summer vacation. In Vancouver, you've got your mix of eclectic neighbourhoods to explore, a laid-back vibe and the chance to experience mountains and the ocean. And don't forget to leave time for attractions like Stanley Park, Granville Island and the Capilano Suspension Bridge.

    Afterwards, head 389 kilometres to Kelowna, located in the Okanagan Valley, and put a wine-focused twist on your trip. The Kelowna area is home to 30 wineries, all located within a short distance of one another. And wine isn't all that's harvested here. The area is also home to many farms and orchards so there are opportunities to take farm-to-table food tours.

    Halifax, Nova Scotia + Prince Edward Island
    Image: Benson Kua, Sunset at Halifax Harbour via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

    Image: Andrea Schaffer, Covehead lighthouse via Flickr CC BY 2.0

    Thinking of visiting Canada's East Coast? You can combine a couple of destinations into one trip to stretch your vacation dollar by visiting Halifax, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. Following a few days in Halifax, you can drive on to PEI via the Confederation Bridge, which should take just over three hours. Halifax boasts many public gardens, ultra-fresh seafood, many art galleries, museums and historical sites and some unique brewery tours to take like the Alexander Keith's Nova Scotia Brewery tour.

    Over on PEI, you'll also be treated to delicious seafood, as well as beautiful beaches like the white stretches of sand in PEI National Park. The island is also one of the premiere golf destinations in Canada and offers much in the way of cycling and hiking opportunities along the 435-kilometre Confederation Trail.

    Charleston, South Carolina, United States + Hilton Head, South Carolina, United States
    Image: Explore Charleston

    2016-04-28-1461863902-6113898-16552886811_9ac05bd6a1_o.jpg Image: Ethan McCandless, Hilton Head via Flickr CC BY 2.0

    Combine a small city trip with a beach-y island vacation in South Carolina. Head to charming Charleston for a dose of Southern hospitality and fantastic food. The destination frequently tops the James Beard Foundation Awards with its long legacy as home to top chefs like chef Jason Stanhope of FIG Restaurant, Chef Robert Stehling of Hominy Grill and Chef Sean Brock of McCrady's.

    Continue your culinary journey 153 kilometres south on Hilton Head Island, which boasts 250 restaurants. The tiny island boasts 20 kilometres of beautiful beaches, 24 golf courses and 350 tennis courses -- all providing days of fun in the sun.

    Get more ideas for two-for-one vacation destinations here.

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    Have you ever lived somewhere long enough to feel like you know every inch of every street in your surroundings and know them well enough to run a tourist information booth from your living room?

    I have always been a bit of a runner when it came down to settling down in one area. Having moved around with my family as a child I got very used to treating the cities I resided in much like one treats an in-between boyfriend; the one you'll tell people you're dating for "right now" and while you try to "find yourself".

    I have dated more cities than I can count on both hands. Having stayed in Toronto for well over a decade could only mean one thing: I have finally married one.

    There is a lot of thought that goes into marrying a city. I mean, do you get along? Do you have the same taste in art and music? But most importantly, will you still excite each other day in and day out for as long as you both shall live?

    The answers to these questions can take a lifetime to figure out but luckily for me, my city partner has undergone and continues to undergo some major changes. Neighbourhoods are actively evolving into better versions of themselves and with every revived area sprout new restaurants, and shops, and local hangouts. Fill a street with enough exciting destinations and it is no longer just a place to visit, it now becomes a place one wants to live.

    A blooming addition to our fine tow is the upper beaches area, or as the locals refer to it: Kingston Village. Housing small art galleries, local shops and boutiques, and more restaurants and cafes than one can imagine, this growing neighbourhood is quickly capturing the hearts of Torontonians in all age groups.

    My personal favourite is the Glen Stewart ravine; this 11-hectare wonder was definitely an immense surprise. I would never expect something that feels more like a rain forest to be smack dab in the centre of the city. Surrounded by stairs and bridges and greens upon greens I actually forget that I am in Toronto, an hour spent there too long and it's best to start sending post cards home.

    Life is never anything but surprising in this city I have wed. When thinking that this neighbourhood is just one part of it it's easy to see why I would choose it for a life partner. It's odd but when I was younger I thought that choosing something for the rest of your life meant finding a person to spend of your life with. Now I know it's finding a place to spend the rest of your life in and then finding someone else in that place that loves it as much as you. Say your "I do's" for your city first, the rest will surely follow.








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    Canadians love Florida. Particularly those of us on the Eastern side of the country, where we can fly to sunny skies and gorgeous beaches in less than three hours. But the low loonie has seen a dip in the number of visitors from Canada to this southern state, with estimates that visitors are down at least 8 per cent. This translates to lost spending of about $1 billion dollars. With almost 4 million visitors a year to Florida, from Canada, the state is working hard to make sure we keep going.

    The great thing about Florida is that each city has its own unique personality and appeal. Here's a breakdown of what you can expect at some of the most frequently visited cities, by Canadians.

    Palm Beach: With only a population of 9,000, Palm Beach is America's richest zip code. For a terrific overview of the island and its inhabitants, take the Island Living Tour; either by car, bike or your own two feet. Polo is one of the season's central social activities, at the International Polo Club. Prices vary; it is possible to take in a match for as little as $40. Delray Beach has great restaurants, and a unique Japanese museum and historic and soothing gardens at the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens, a centre for Japanese art and culture. Check out and check into a boutique hotel like the beachside Kimpton-owned Tideline Resort & Spa.

    West Palm Beach: West Palm Beach runs a Green Market on Saturdays (between October and May), with over 80 local food, drink and craft vendors. The West Palm Beach Food Tour is a great way to sample the huge variety of cuisine available, while enjoying the many murals painted on local buildings. Nightlife is easy to find at City Place, next door to the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, where the Miami City Ballet's fanciful interpretation of A Midsummer's Night Dream is currently playing. Their exciting 2016-2017 season can be found here. The two month old Hilton West Palm Beach is across the street, and the Manor Restaurant has an extensive fresh menu, with the choice of a patio setting by the pool, or the funky inside seating.

    Orlando: Well known for its amusement parks (Walt Disney World, Universal Studios featuring Harry Potter), Orlando is a great place for families to visit. And with the recent opening of the Delta Orlando Lake Buena Vista, their first resort in the United States since being acquired by Marriott International, Canadians will love a familiar name. This technologically advanced resort is the closest non-Disney hotel to Disney World and includes a Pirate Ship water playground for the kids, and a fully equipped fitness centre for the adults.

    Miami: The nightlife is both famous and infamous in this hip, happening city, but it's also known for its green parks, open spaces, and commitment to the environment. The Port of Miami welcomes a huge amount of cruise ships year round, making Miami the perfect spot to visit before or after a tropical cruise

    Fort Lauderdale: Located 23 miles north of Miami, Fort Lauderdale has long been known as Party Central for the US Spring Break scene. That's still true today, so check your calendar to avoid the Spring Break week if you don't fit the demographic, or you're looking for a quieter vacation spot. It is known for its reasonable rates and its glorious sun filled days.

    Visit for some great deals on Florida, including West Palm Beach, Orlando, Boca Raton, Fort Lauderdale, Kissimmee, Hollywood (FL), Naples, St Petersburg, Tampa, and Miami.

    This post was originally run on Tune in to hear Kathy's "How She Travels" feature every second Friday on SiriusXM, Canada Talks, Channel 167.

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    Canadians catch a hard time for their funny accents, overly-polite demeanors, and of course, Justin Bieber, but those who are in the know do not tease them about their food. Canadians enjoy an abundance of dishes that many of their neighbours south of the border never get to taste -- and they're missing out.

    The following are 10 unmistakably Canadian dishes that must be tasted on any visit to the Great White North.

    1. Peameal Bacon

    Photo credit: snowpea&bokchoi

    Peameal bacon is one of the few traditional Canadian foods that others around the world have tasted; however, it's never prepared quite the same as it is in Canada. Peameal bacon, or Canadian bacon as it's known in the United States, is brined pork loin rolled in cornmeal. Once pan-fried or grilled, peameal bacon is crispy on the edges and twice as delicious as any "Canadian bacon" you'll find at the supermarket south of the border.

    2. Poutine

    Photo credit: Yuri Long

    Poutine is arguably Canada's most famous dish. You can even find it at Wendy's restaurants across the Great White North. However, it's suggested that you forego the Wendy's variety and taste poutine at a Canadian diner or one of many annual poutine festivals. The dish, composed of french fries topped with squeaky cheese curds and a savory meat-based gravy, is an easy-to-love twist on fries and ketchup.

    3. BeaverTails

    Photo credit: fw42

    BeaverTails is a Canadian-based sweet treat chain that serves stretched, fried dough pastries resembling the shape of a beaver's tail. BeaverTails can be topped with anything from carmel to oreos, sugar, and a variety of other candies and sweet options. The BeaverTails chain was founded in 1978 in Killaloe, Ontario, but the stores or "cabins" can now be found across the country.

    4. Montreal Smoked Meat

    Photo credit: Calgary Reviews

    No trip to Canada is complete without tasting Montreal smoked meat. The meat's closest comparable cousin is pastrami, but you'll find that it's even more flavorful than the New York favorite. The meat is all brisket that is marinated, spiced, and smoked perfectly to create a stringy, soft, and less-fatty texture than the American kind. It's best to taste this smoky, flavorful meat at one of Montreal's famous delis, like Schwartz's or Reuben's, but you'll find it in other parts of the country as well.

    5. Nanaimo Bars

    Photo credit: crd!

    Every meal should finish with dessert, and that's when it's time to choose a Nanaimo bar. This common Canadian dessert features layers of crushed cookies, vanilla custard, and melted chocolate cut into decadent squares. The recipe is said to date back to 1952, but you'll notice that many restaurants apply their own flair to the traditional favorite.

    6. Montreal-Style Bagels

    Photo credit: Heidi De Vries

    If you're traveling with New Yorkers, Montreal-style bagels may be a difficult sell. However, few who taste these sweeter, denser, and slightly smaller rounds argue that they're not delicious. Montreal-style bagels are carefully hand-prepared, poached, and cooked in wood-burning ovens. The recipe is coveted and the standards are strict, so you know you're getting a top-quality breakfast (or anytime) treat every time.

    7. Bannocks

    Photo credit: Karen Neoh

    A bannock is a variety of round, flat, griddled bread that takes on countless forms. It can be sprinkled with sugar and sweet treats similar to a BeaverTail, sliced and used as sandwich bread, or tossed in a basket and served alongside extravagant entrees. Traditionally, bannock is an extremely simple bread consisting of flour, water, sugar, salt, and baking powder, but be prepared to try it in its many new, more innovative forms.

    8. Tourtière
    Photo credit: crd!

    The French Canadian dish tourtière is said to date as far back as the 1600s. The traditional holiday meat pie flavored with onion, herbs, and spices is most commonly enjoyed on Christmas and other major holidays, but it's not difficult to find at Quebecois supermarkets year-round. Newer takes on the ancient dish include fish or veal (instead of pork) as well as a variety of vegetable fillings.

    9. The Bloody Caesar

    Photo credit: elsie_hui

    You can't eat all of these hearty Canadian treats without a refreshing cocktail on the side. Canada is the home of the Bloody Caesar, or simply Caesar, Clamato-based cocktail. It tastes similar to a Bloody Mary, but Mott's Clamato juice is used in place of the European version's tomato juice. Vodka, Worcestershire sauce, and a salted rim are the other key ingredients. The cocktail has been a Canadian brunch necessity since it was created by the Calgary Inn's Walter Chell in 1969.

    10. Butter Tarts

    Photo credit: Nick Harris1

    The name alone will make your mouth water. Butter tarts are rich, sugary treats that are flaky on the outside and oozing buttery sweetness on the inside. Raisins or nuts are also often added to the recipe, and numerous restaurants and bakeries have created their own twists on the traditional butter, sugar, and egg filling. Try them at just about any bakery in the country or venture to Kenilworth, Ontario, to stop by the Butter Tart Trail's 18 bakeries that specialize in the sweet treat.

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