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Canada Travel news and opinion

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    If you fancy yourself an anglophile, daydream about aristocracy or have patiently awaited the return of "Downton Abbey," then a visit to Highclere Castle should be in your future.

    Home to the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon, the castle was constructed in the mid-1800s by Sir Charles Barry. It stands 70 miles east of London on the foundation of a medieval castle. The castle is surrounded by the 1,000 acre Highclere Park.

    More recently, the castle served as the inspiration for the hit television show and welcomes fans to tour its hallowed halls. Proceeds from tour tickets go to restoring the castle's rooms and grounds.

    Check out photos of Highclere Castle via the Instagram blog!

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    It's likely that temperatures will plummet to -20 degrees Fahrenheit during China's Harbin International Ice & Snow Festival this month.

    But that won't stop thousands of tourists from showing up to see some towering, glimmering, stunning sculptures lit with lasers in the middle of a frigid tundra. This festival is a tradition, and they're committed to it whatever the weather... which we can't say would ever happen in America.






    The Festival, now in its 30th installment, is one of the biggest "ice and snow festivals" in the world. It takes 15,000 workers to construct the frozen playground, which opened on January 5 and will stick around until whenever things get melty, usually around mid-February.

    This year, the theme for the Festival is “Global Ice and Snow Dream, World Cartoon Tour." This may explain why the walkable wonderland is home to re-constructions of the Colosseum, Mickey Mouse, and... rubber duckies?!





    The Festival is no random expression of ice art-- it's a reference back to the days of yore, when fishermen on the Songhua River used lamps carved from ice to light their work at night.

    During the Festival, you too can show reverence for their ancient practice when you visit the special "Ice Lantern Garden Party," where activities include "sitting on the ice sailing boat, hitting the ice monkeys, seeing the wedding on the ice." Oh, what fun!




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    From the moment we got off the train in Helsinki it was dark. Dark and cold. But this Scandinavian country once ruled by the Swedes and the Russians has very little to do with either. At least, as far as I can tell. Russia seems to be as massive and old as India, and as diverse as well. And all my knowledge of Sweden derives from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which features the culinary stylings of boxed pizzas, sandwiches, and coffee... so there's that.

    Having established myself as a cultural specialist, allow me to explain what Finland seems to be to me. In one word: design. Think ice, sleek and shiny like steel. Snowflakes, each one perfectly unique in its crystalline lattice. And darkness, the absorption of all light and the undying fashion statement of "artists" around the globe.

    To examine the design habitat, let us venture into the holiday market ecosystem, a series of adorable wooden stands strung with simple white lights and peddling weather-appropriate wares to all passersby. Notice the symmetry, the precision of placement. Notice the colors, the contrasts and complements. But mostly, and most of all: notice the food.

    Large, thick tranches of salmon are nailed to fragrant wood planks (usually alder, juniper, or apple wood) and set around a blazing fire until they transform from rose to amber to burnt orange, flecked with black.

    Other fish-- zander, whitefish, Baltic herring-- are steamed, barbequed and pickled and piled up in great big slippery heaps, dipped in sour cream or smothered in dill and lemon and onions and served on slices of dark bread. Have you ever held in your hands a piece of hearty Finnish bread, smeared with sauce and layered delicately with briny morsels of herring? You would remember if you did, because it is a work of art.

    Then there are the sausages, smoked until charred and placed upon a bed of cabbage swimming happily in whole grains of mustard and the ubiquitous mayonnaise. You'll be reminded of Berlin, which has developed its own reputation for design as well.

    Next we have sweets, candies of all sorts. Simple exteriors hide surprising interiors with the Finnish snowballs, sugar balls filled with a tart cranberry jam. Gingerbread, perfectly spiced, is shaped into trees and people and sleds, wrapped in clear plastic and done up in ribbons. Squares of fudge are stacked like Lego blocks, inviting sweet tooths everywhere to sink in with one luxurious bite.

    A harmony prevails, as one stop at a fish stand leads seamlessly to another for mulled wine, ending finally with spiced bread and candy canes (and honeycakes and plum jam and liquorice and more Finnish snowballs...).

    And so we exit our holiday market ecosystem, this habitat for design, and continue on our way in Finland, stomachs as satiated as our eyes and uplifted, for a moment, by the festivity of Finnish design.

    All photos for this post provided by design aficionado Mickey Du. For more of Mickey's work, follow him on Facebook or LinkedIn.

    For more of Sarah's writing, visit her website.

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    JetBlue announced on Monday that they would halt operations at New York's JFK, LGA and Newark airports as well as Boston Logan for 17 hours of rest for "equipment and crewmembers."

    In a statement to The Huffington Post, the airline said:

    Beginning at 1 p.m. ET today, we’ll reduce operations at JFK, LGA, EWR, and BOS. This is to ensure recovery of our operations as efficiently as possible and to be fully operable by tomorrow. This reduction will last through 10 a.m. ET Tuesday. At that time, we’ll gradually ramp up again – we intend to be 100% operational by 3 p.m. ET. This plan allows for 17 hours of rest for our equipment and crewmembers and time to service aircraft.

    As one of the largest carriers in the Northeast, weather in this area impacts our entire route network and operations. This plan aligns with the current weather forecast: rain/light fog at JFK this morning. After 3 p.m. ET today, flash freezing is anticipated with potential record low temperatures in the New York area down to 0 degrees F in some cases by the end of the night.

    We ask that customers ensure their contact information is in their record so we can send updated flight information. If you booked directly with JetBlue, we more than likely have your information. If you didn’t book with JetBlue, we may not have your information, so we ask that you check the status of your flight online. The call center is experiencing very heavy call volume, resulting in long wait times to speak to an agent.

    JetBlue is committed to operating safely. We regret the impact to our customers.

    They later Tweeted:

    JetBlue's decision comes at a critical time for fliers returning from vacations, not to mention those already dealing with the thousands of flights that were canceled late last week thanks to Winter Storm Hercules.

    Similarly, United Airlines Tweeted that they would reduce the schedule at O'Hare on Monday.

    As of 1pm Monday, there were 3,770 flights canceled across the country (coupled with some 9,258 delays), according to Flight Aware. According to the Associated Press, there are roughly 1,600 flights canceled at Chicago O'Hare on Monday alone.

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    NEW YORK, N.Y. - A wave of snowstorms and bitter cold temperatures has caused headaches for hundreds of thousands of fliers whose flights have been cancelled. In the past three days, more than 8,000 flights in the United States have been cancelled, according to flight tracking site On Monday alone, 1 out of every 10 domestic flights never took off.

    In recent years, airlines have cut the number of flights to ensure that most of their planes depart full. That's been great for their bottom line but leaves very few empty seats to rebook stranded travellers. Passengers are pretty much at the mercy of the airlines. But there are a few things you can do to improve their odds of getting home quickly:

    — If you miss your connection, the airlines will automatically rebook you on the next available flight. However, with flights at near capacity, the next open seat could be several days away.

    — If you're unhappy with your rebooked flight, get in line to speak to a customer service representative. But also, pick up the phone and call the airline directly, go onto the airline's website and even consider sending a Tweet. If the phone lines are jammed, try the airline's overseas numbers. You'll pay long-distance rates, but might not have to wait.

    — Consider buying a one-day pass to the airline lounge. It's a nice place to relax away from the crowd and there are usually free drinks and light snacks. But the real secret to the lounges is that the airline staffs them with some of its best — and friendliest — ticket agents. The lines inside will be much shorter and these agents are magically able to find empty seats where nobody else can. One-day passes typically cost $50.

    — Use apps like HotelTonight and Priceline to find last-minute hotel discounts for that night. Warning: Many of the rooms are non-refundable when booked.


    Scott Mayerowitz can be reached at

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    NEW YORK (AP) — A wave of snowstorms and bitter cold temperatures has caused headaches for hundreds of thousands of fliers whose flights have been canceled. In the past three days, more than 8,000 flights in the United States have been canceled, according to flight tracking site On Monday alone, 1 out of every 10 domestic flights never took off.

    In recent years, airlines have cut the number of flights to ensure that most of their planes depart full. That's been great for their bottom line but leaves very few empty seats to rebook stranded travelers. Passengers are pretty much at the mercy of the airlines. But there are a few things you can do to improve their odds of getting home quickly: — If you miss your connection, the airlines will automatically rebook you on the next available flight. However, with flights at near capacity, the next open seat could be several days away.

    — If you're unhappy with your rebooked flight, get in line to speak to a customer service representative. But also, pick up the phone and call the airline directly, go onto the airline's website and even consider sending a Tweet. If the phone lines are jammed, try the airline's overseas numbers. You'll pay long-distance rates, but might not have to wait.

    — Consider buying a one-day pass to the airline lounge. It's a nice place to relax away from the crowd and there are usually free drinks and light snacks. But the real secret to the lounges is that the airline staffs them with some of its best — and friendliest — ticket agents. The lines inside will be much shorter and these agents are magically able to find empty seats where nobody else can. One-day passes typically cost $50.

    — Use apps like HotelTonight and Priceline to find last-minute hotel discounts for that night. Warning: Many of the rooms are non-refundable when booked.


    Scott Mayerowitz can be reached at

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    CanJet Airlines is facing criticism after about 400 passengers were left stranded on a runway in Fredericton for about six hours today when two planes travelling from Cuba to Montreal were diverted due to the weather.

    A freezing-rain storm shut down Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport, so the planes landed at Fredericton International Airport instead at about 3 a.m. AT, passenger Anne Tetreault tells CBC News.

    "I understand that it's winter, this happens," said Tetreault.

    But she is upset about the lack of communication from CanJet, she said.

    "Now that we're in this crisis, how well is the management dealing with all these people? They have obligations, they have small kids. We need to be informed. I think the key to this crisis is tell us."

    Tetreault says the passengers were forced to remain on the planes because there were no customs agents available to admit them into Canada.

    "There was no way they could get us out of the plane into the airport because we needed to go through customs. And they needed to find enough customs agents to process all of us," she said.

    Three customs agents arrived at about 9 a.m. and the passengers were finally allowed into the Fredericton airport, which Tetreault contends does not have the space to comfortably accommodate two planeloads of people.

    An airport official says most of the stranded passengers have since been taken to a local hotel.

    CanJet flight crews from Halifax aren't expected to arrive until 10 p.m., the spokesperson said.

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    If you want powdery sands, soul-warming sun, and crystal clear waters, the Caribbean provides thousands of beaches to choose between. Whether you want secluded mountain-coddled coves and peaceful palm-lined stretches of sand or idyllic resort-fronted stretches and lively people-watching expanses, you'll find an abundance of the most spectacular beaches in the world. Choosing from which beach to enjoy the surf and sun is a tough task, so we have put together an Insider's Guide to the Best Beaches in the Caribbean.
    10. Half Moon Bay, Antigua
    Photo credit: Michelle Owner of the Squishy via Flickr

    At a resplendent 1 mile (1.5km), Half Moon Bay is possibly Antigua's most gorgeous stretch of sand. The beach is a haven for windsurfers and boarders, who head out beyond the reef to ride the Atlantic's occasional wild surf. On the beach side, the reef provides a calm shelter of warm, clear waters, drawing snorkelers and swimmers. A short drive from English Harbour, Half Moon Bay has restrooms and beach chairs, and makes for a perfect family outing.
    9. Sandy Lane Beach, Barbados

    A favorite for beach-loving families, Sandy Lane Beach sits quietly on Barbados' west coast. Soft, white sands front calm, shallow waters and a picturesque tropical lagoon, perfect for swimming and splashing. You can rent beach chairs, umbrellas, and even spot a few celebrities who come to stay at the luxury Sandy Lane Resort. Plenty of water activities abound, as well, from waterskiing to deep-sea fishing, all of which can be arranged at the resort's Beach Club.
    8. Cane Garden Bay, Tortola, British Virgin Islands

    Fine white sands sheltered by swaying palm trees front this peaceful bay in Tortola, British Virgin Islands, and is a favorite of the yachting set and watersports enthusiasts. Surfers, swimmers, boaters, and jet skiers come together along this stunning stretch, just a stone's throw from Road Town. Even though the vibe here is pretty laid back, Cane Garden Bay is a lively spot, with plenty of restaurants, pubs, clubs, and music.
    7. Seven Mile Beach, Grand Cayman

    The crown jewel of the Cayman Islands, Seven Mile Beach lives up to its reputation as one of the most outstanding beaches in the Caribbean. The sugar-white sandy expanse stretches for more than 6 miles (10km), and is lined with Australian pines and palm trees as well as luxury resorts and condominiums, all fronting gin-clear, placid waters--perfect for snorkelers and swimmers. All sorts of watersports concessions are available, as well, from parasailing and windsurfing to boats and aqua trikes.
    6. Turtle Beach, St Kitts

    Don't let its size fool you. Though small, Turtle Beach is one of the most popular spots on St Kitts. For the most part it's pretty undeveloped -- a sandy beach fronting warm shallow waters in secluded cove with a view of Nevis -- but those seeking out some sun, surf, and local culture will find much to enjoy. Monkeys, sea turtles, and goats wander near the shore, while the open-air bars serve up margaritas, buckets of chilled Carib beer, and local seafood. On Sunday afternoons you can hear a feast of local live music.
    5. Bavaro Beach, Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

    The gentle surf of Bavaro Beach invites swimmers and sunbathers to indulge in miles of golden sand and warm Caribbean waters shaded by swaying palm trees. Offshore coral reefs invite snorkelers to commune with an array of tropical fish, while windsurfers and kayakers cruise through the calm waters. Most of Punta Cana's resorts are clustered here, as well as other tourist attractions including water parks and golf courses.
    4. Palm Beach, Aruba

    Whether you want to sun, sail, fish, snorkel, or just people-watch at one of the open-air bars, Palm Beach in Aruba is often lauded as one of the best--and liveliest--beaches in the world. Activities abound, and the social traveler will find much to do along its 2 miles (3.2km) of idyllic, powdery white sands. High rise resorts line the beach, but are set back by flowering gardens, and attract colorful bird life. There are also two piers packed with restaurants and shops.
    3. Anse Chastanet, St Lucia
    Photo credit: Richard Esguerra via Flickr.

    Ensconced in a sheltered cove north of Soufrière, Anse Chastanet in St Lucia exudes exotic tropical beauty. The hidden dark sand beach, surrounded by jungle-clad mountains, fronts some of the clearest waters in the Caribbean. Snorkelers and divers come from the far corners of the world to explore the offshore reef with its bountiful colorful coral and sea creatures. On the beach, you can sip a fruity drink from the beach bar and soak up the sun; towering palm trees provide a shady respite.
    2. Luquillo Beach, Puerto Rico

    Located on the northeastern coast of Puerto Rico, Luquillo Beach draws sunbathers and watersports enthusiasts to its sweep of white-sand beach, which opens onto a crescent-shaped lagoon. Coral reefs protect the beach from the turbulent Atlantic, creating a tranquil paradise for families who come to enjoy the calm, translucent waters. The beach is well equipped with picnic areas, snack bars, restrooms, beach chairs, and umbrellas.

    1. Magens Bay, St Thomas

    Sparkling turquoise waters, calm waves for swimming and snorkeling, soft white-sand beaches, and a beautiful palm tree setting between two mountains make Magens Bay in St Thomas a popular beach destination in the Caribbean. The heart-shaped stretch has great facilities, too, from snack bars and restrooms to boutiques and watersport kiosks. A nature trail from Magens Bay Road takes you down to the beach along a boardwalk that weaves through a tropical forest and mangroves.

    - William Travis for Viator

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    There is an undeniable excitement in the air when the airplane meal service begins. What will this glorified TV dinner bring? Will I get a white bun or whole wheat? Call it boredom, call it what you will, but the blissful moment when the oversized trolley parks in front of you is a sacred one.

    Airplane food is one of life's most unexplained phenomena. Where does it come from? Where do leftovers go to die? Will it really constipate me? Why am I still plotting how to get a second subpar entrée?

    I think it's time we dive into the world of pre-cooked meats and celebrity chefs to uncover some of the myths and facts about what's being dished at 35,000 feet.

    Why is Airplane Food so "Meh"

    Well, as easy as it would be to blame the airlines for their mediocre spaghetti bolognese, the truth is it's actually your fault...kind of.

    When travelling high in the sky, the cabin humidity drops by approximately 15 percent. With less humidity in your throat, the transport of smell and taste to the brain slows. It has been estimated that your sense of smell and taste decrease between 20-50 percent; the equivalent of having a bad cold.

    As suggested in a 2010 study by Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics (paid for by Lufthansa), the average passenger's perception of saltiness decreases between 20 and 30 percent, while sweetness decreases between 15 to 20 percent.

    Fact: With this study, Lufthansa hoped to uncover why they were selling 1.7 million litres of tomato juice annually -- groundbreaking research.

    This means that the perfect chicken parmesan will not only taste completely different up in the air, but could require 30 percent more salt in order to taste equally seasoned.

    Fact: British Airways and Twinings Tea have designed the perfect 'high' tea. They have created a blend that tastes just right served at high altitude, even when boiled at a lower airplane-friendly 89ºC.

    The quest to create airplane food that rivals ground-level fare has been an ongoing battle. Once an airline's top chef perfects a dish, the new creation has to hit the skies in order to be properly taste-tested. Who knew?

    Fact: In order to shortcut menu development and taste-testing, Singapore Airlines even built a kitchen that simulates the low-pressure environment found at cruising altitude.

    Who's Cooking the Food?

    LSG Sky Chefs is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Lufthansa and is the largest airline catering company in the world; producing 1 million meals daily. LSG partners with more than 300 airlines across the globe and serves in 191 airports.

    Other major airline caterers include: Gate Gourmet which is the world's largest independent airline caterer; Chelsea Food Services which is a subsidiary of United Airlines; Servair which is a subsidiary of Air France; and Emirates Flight Catering which (you guessed it) is owned and operated by Emirates and serves up 192 tons of beef annually.

    As the pattern dictates, the largest producers of airplane meals are owned by the airlines; the major exception is Gate Gourmet who was associated with Swissair until its 2002 bankruptcy. These catering facilities are often located inside or nearby the airport to make for easy storage and distribution.

    Interestingly, since these airline catering companies cannot be in every airport city, a lot of competitors are forced to buddy-up. For instance, Chelsea Food Services (United Airlines) currently holds contracts with Gate Gourmet and LSG Sky Chefs (Lufthansa).

    This means that depending on your departure city you could be flying with Emirates and be eating United's grub, or be on a United flight and get served Lufthansa's latest creation.

    Where Do Leftovers Go to Die?

    In North America, Australia, and Europe most airlines enforce strict rules about leftover airplane food. Some airlines go so far as to fire any employee who is caught taking food off of the plane. Even more extreme, ground-workers caught with leftover alcohol or cigarettes can be charged with smuggling.

    Fact: Some regional and national policies require leftover food to be incinerated upon disembarkation -- burn those mushy carrots!

    These rules are especially enforced on international flights in order to comply with a given country's agricultural and border laws. For instance, in America the FDA and USDA are responsible for enforcing these rules.

    Under more lenient policies, leftovers can be shared amongst airline employees such as mechanics or maintenance personnel, so long as the food never leaves the airport. Generally, leftover airplane food is only allowed to leave an airport when arrangements are in place for it to be donated locally.

    Like any great contraband, airplane leftovers are turning up illegally. Throughout India, smuggled airplane food and other items are appearing at local markets. These items range from sealed 1-litre bottles of Tropicana to miniature alcohol bottles, all selling for a fraction of market value. These items are reportedly being stolen by employees or taken from airport dumpsters.

    Fact: At the Indian "Airplane Food" Black Market, 1 litre of Tropicana sells for 32¢ USD (Rs 20).

    Food for Thought

    Myth: After some careful research, I found nothing to suggest that airplane food is stuffed with stuff to stuff you up. Moving on.

    Although airlines such as Etihad and Turkish have introduced "Flying Chef" services on long-haul flights, these services are generally reserved for premium class flyers. These in-air chefs are able to personally tailor dishes, but are limited by the small galley kitchens, lack of stove tops, and the inability to use standard cooking items like knives or frying pans.

    In other words, even with a chef onboard, foods must still be prepared on the ground and cooked in the same steam pressure oven as everything else -- 5 Star Mushy Carrot?

    Haven't our diminished senses been trying to tell the airlines something? Perhaps like oil and vinegar, airplanes and 5-star cuisine just don't mix. Is being served "meh" really so bad? I for one enjoy the mediocracy of plain ol' plane food.

    *This article was originally published on, a human-powered travel platform.

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    SOCHI, Russia (AP) — For visitors to the Winter Olympics, Sochi may feel like a landscape from a dream — familiar and strange at once. Palm trees evoke a tropical seaside resort, but the Black Sea itself is seriously cold; turn away from the palms and the jagged, snow-covered peaks of the Caucasus Mountains rise nearby. Lively and garish modern buildings mix with Stalin Gothic piles, like trophy wives on the arms of elderly men. Billboards are written in an alphabet where some letters sound exactly like you think they do, others mean something else and the rest are flat-out alien.

    What may seem oddest of all is the city's cheerful and relaxed aura in a country stereotyped as dour. Even a local statue of Vladimir Lenin catches the casual vibe. He's not haranguing the masses, just standing under some trees with one hand in his pocket as if he's killing time waiting for a date. Some questions and answers about the resort city often called the Russian Riviera:


    Rather like New York City, Sochi is a sprawling municipality, incorporating four boroughs. Confusingly, one of the four is called Sochi. So it's possible to both be in Sochi and say "I'm going to Sochi."

    All the Olympic events take place in the Adler borough, though the snow sports venues are often referred to as being in specific settlements such as Krasnaya Polyana and Esto-Sadok.

    Sochi borough is more or less the Manhattan of the city, home to the best restaurants, coolest clubs and the main cultural institutions. The urban part of Adler also has attractive restaurants.

    But while its attractions are relatively cosmopolitan, and its coastline is 90 miles long (145 kilometers), Sochi is not a big city population-wise, with only about 350,000 inhabitants.


    Volunteer staff at Olympics test events spoke excellent English and sometimes struck up conversations just to improve their skills (or show off). But outside the Olympic venues and large hotels, communication in languages other than Russian is likely to be difficult. The Games' organizing committee recommends that mobile device users download a translation app.

    The Cyrillic alphabet isn't as hard as it may look, and spending a couple of hours to master it brings sizeable rewards. Russian has many loanwords from English, French and German, so being able to sound out words can make the place pop into better focus. For example, knowing that "teatp" is pronounced "teater," it's a reasonable and correct guess that it means "theater." Note that bars advertising "xayc" are offering "house" music and not a homey atmosphere.


    Rain, snow, sun, fog, warmish, cold — a few days at the Olympics likely will include them all. On the coast, where the ice sports and opening and closing ceremonies take place, daytime temperatures should be around 50 F (10 C) and freezing is unlikely. In the mountains, temperatures generally don't get severely cold; at the lower elevations, where ski-jumping and sliding sports take place, the prospect of rain and above-freezing temperatures is a concern.


    Russian cooking can be hard on the waistline but good for the taste buds. Even nominally low-calorie soups such as the beet-based borscht boost their count when a typical large dollop of sour cream is added. Pelmeni, dumplings filled with minced meat or vegetables, meet almost everyone's taste. Entrees often come without additional items, so potatoes and other vegetables must be ordered separately. Russia has a wine industry of sorts, but refined palates may find it disappointing. Vodka, seen as both Russia's treasure and its curse, is often ordered by the gram, with 100 grams (3.5 ounces) the standard to get the night started.

    Sochi also a good place to sample the food of nearby Georgia, including the renowned cheese-filled hot bread called khachapuri and tsatsivi, chicken in walnut sauce, and the plum-based soup kharcho.


    Downtown Sochi and Adler both have long and appealing seaside promenades, complete with tacky souvenir stands, lively bars and restaurants. Sochi also has an attractive passenger harbor, whose spired terminal is one of the city's standout buildings, and an art museum.

    The most idiosyncratic attraction may be Sochi's extensive mountainside botanical garden, the Dendrarium, with an unusual array of plants showing the variable climate.

    Sochi has long been a choice destination for Russia's political elite. Joseph Stalin's summer residence in Zeleni Mys even features a wax mannequin of the dictator at his desk.

    A swim in the Black Sea may make an unusual Winter Olympics memory. The beaches are stony and the water temperature will be around 50 F (10 C); concerns have been raised about pollution in the sea around Dagomys, north of downtown Sochi. Although most of Sochi's sports facilities will be devoted to the games, the Gornaya Karusel ski area expects to have some slopes open to the public, organizers say.

    A classic Russian way to while away an afternoon is a trip to the banya, like a sauna but somewhat steamier. If your hotel doesn't have one, it can likely recommend a good one nearby. A proper trip to the banya involves several hours of repeatedly heating up and cooling down, along with snacking and having a few drinks.

    Local tourist agencies offer other excursions. These include day trips to the separatist Georgian region of Abkhazia, but visitors will need a double-entry Russian visa to get back into Sochi, and travel to the rest of Georgia is forbidden to those who come to Abkhazia from the Russian side.


    A trip to Sochi can be a jumping-off point for exploring other parts of Russia, notably Moscow and St. Petersburg. Unless there's time to spare or the spirit of adventure overtakes you, the train isn't a good option. The fastest train from Sochi to Moscow takes a full 24 hours; St. Petersburg is another half-day beyond.

    February is the most severe of the winter months in both Moscow and St. Petersburg and visitors to these cities should be prepared for temperatures colder than anything they're likely to experience even in the mountains of Sochi.

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    A new year is upon us, and you know what that means -- time to plan your 2014 vacation, of course! And you, being the trendsetter that you are, are planning to go to somewhere on the cutting edge. Well, we're here to help. This year is an especially good time to visit these five destinations, which have new growth, new tourism offerings, or special events happening only in 2014. Check 'em out!

    - Kelsey Blodget,

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    By Billie Cohen,


    Boston's Logan Airport, shown here during a 2010 snowstorm
    (Photo: Boston Globe via Getty).

    Everyone is freaking out about the northeast's supposed snowpocalypse. And whether the accumulation is more or less than predicted, flights are likely to be affected. We interviewed Brett Snyder (Condé Nast Traveler's top travel specialist for emergency airline assistance, and a contributor to the Daily Traveler blog) to nail down what you need to know -- not only for this storm -- but when dealing with possible flight changes for any storm.

    If you have flexibility with your trip, don't wait to make the change.

    If you're flexible with your dates and your trip, make the change early. "If you wait, you're going to run out of good, timely options," Snyder cautions. So as soon as an airline's weather waiver policy is announced (and they do a lot to get the word out early, via their own websites and general press releases to news outlets), jump into action to make a flight change. "If you can," says Snyder, "try to get out before the storm. When it's weather you have advance warning; the waiver is going to come out a few days before the storm hits."

    If you have no flexibility -- don't act at all.

    "If you have no flexibility with your trip, then you might as well ride it out and see what happens," Snyder says. And his point is a good one: If the flight is cancelled, you'll have to scrap your trip anyway, but at least you have a refund.

    See Also: Stop Visiting These Places! You're Ruining Them!

    Don't switch to regional flights.

    When cancellations loom, airlines are more likely to cancel regional flights -- while bigger flights and hub-to-hub flights will get priority. "So you kind of want to follow the 'bigger the plane, the better' plan," Snyder says. "There's going to be a reduction in airport capacity, so the airlines are going to have to make cancellations. And in order to impact the fewest people, airlines will more often than not opt to cancel the flights with 50 people on them rather than 150."

    Don't believe the airline's initial predictions.

    Snyder's advice: Assume the worst. "Don't assume that the airline is going to be able to restart operations exactly as they planned," Snyder says. "The earliest time they start off with is a guess." Just look at the discrepancies we're already seeing: American has cancelled flights at LaGuardia through noon tomorrow; but JetBlue has chosen to cancel through 3 p.m. The airlines aren't able to tell the future; they might have a sense of when the snow will stop, but they don't necessarily know things like how long it will take to remove snow from the tarmac or exactly when their reinstated flights will be able to take off. So if you're changing your flight, put as much padding between the storm and your departure as you can.

    More from Condé Nast Traveler:

  • Must-Have Gadgets for Every Traveler

  • Incredible Treehouse Hotels

  • The Friendliest and Unfriendliest Cities in the World

  • 12 Travel Mistakes You're Definitely Making

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    Canadian brother and sister Philip and Jayne Davidson are traveling on motorcycles from the Arctic Circle to Patagonia. This is the latest entry in their travel blog. Read their adventure so far, and see where they are right now, here.

    There was much debate about which way to go leaving the Amazon. Completing the loop and returning to Quito via some hot springs was the initial plan. However, we´re riding with a bit of a schedule as Kelly would really like to make it to Macchu Picchu before she has to fly home, and would like to get some beach time in before she returns to the grey skies of a Vancouver winter. Eventually we decided to gain ourselves a couple days, skip the return to Quito and head up. Waaaay up. From 400 metres in the Amazon to almost 4,000 metres at Quilotoa lake, an old, cold volcano crater. But first we had to stop for a late lunch.

    Discussion again within our helmet intercoms about where to eat, with a request to go back into Baños for something "nice." Time was a concern with our late start, so highway shack it was. Tom, without an intercom, has little say. Mwhahaha.

    And WHAT a highway shack! Deep fried in animal fat: The BEST plantains I´ve eaten this trip. And I´ve eaten a lot of Plantains. (skip the soup though)

    Full of energy post lunch, we were really moving along the great road out of Baños. At one point Jayne said I should "slow down a bit" as I was getting away from them. So I did slow down... when the nice officers asked me to. The speed limit was 60km/h, absurdly too low as it seems to be throughout latin America. After the police waved me in, I heard our descriptions coming in over the radio from the man with the radar gun back up the road. Yep. That´s us! We had all been well over the limit, but got let off without a ticket "because we are tourists". Didn´t have the girls try to flirt, no bribe, no discussion even, the Police just said please slow down a little. Like an echo of Jayne moments earlier translated into Spanish. I would hear about that for awhile too.

    More bikers! At the turn-off for Quilotoa, we met these kind folks on their Suzuki. Had a quick chat, got a heads up on the cold that awaited us, then rode onwards. They were excited by our trip and exchanged numbers. They might call us to come join in the ride for a ways south...

    ...we are still waiting by the phone every night.

    Up and up and up we go!

    Fantastic roads curve higher and higher. The views were so stunning I only mildly noticed the dropping power.

    Tom up high


    Llama´s on high


    Highlands taxi. Still lots of room if you need a ride.

    On arrival we split up and each scoped out a hostel, then came back to report our findings. They were all the same price, not unexpected. For 12.50$ they included dinner AND breakfast though. More importantly, both meals were satisfactory in size and quality.

    Parking for the kids.

    Three thousand nine hundred meters doesn´t contain a lot of oxygen, especially for those coming straight up from the lowlands. For the first time this trip I was feeling the effects of oxygen deprivation. Tom and I bought some TERRIBLE agua ardiente moonshine, but drank it anyways while we all went exploring. One discovered benefit of low oxygen: everything is more funny!

    Turns out there was a big bull fight and fiesta this weekend, so it was a good call to ride straight here.

    The band playing through the bull fighting "ring" the night before.


    Dancing is the only way to stay warm. Dancing uses oxygen. There isn´t any oxygen. Dilema. Hee Hee.


    Kids don´t need oxygen, apparently. These kids danced all night long!

    Twas a great fiesta, with a huge band playing, cheap beer, terrible moonshine, dancing and six year olds fighting for five rounds.

    Wait, what?

    It started with some gentle goading from the older kids, pushing them together and telling them how much stronger they were than that other jerk. Next thing you know the kids were flying at each other, a big flurry of dust, then get pulled apart and taken to their "corner". then it got hilarious. Kids were giving them water, which they spat out, others were fanning them or massaging their shoulders. Time up, the 6-year-olds would littlerally roll up their sleeves, one even did a bull hoof-the-dirt bluff charge. I couldn´t look away. None of the 40 people watching could. And since neither of the kids were really throwing damaging blows, everybody wins right?

    I know, I´m a terrible person.


    The next, morning Kelly and I got up early and went for a walk around the lake.

    Morning Lake

    Morning Lake is breezy.


    Around the WHOLE lake?

    I was so quickly out of breath, a 1 km out-and-back became the much preferred hiking route. Certainly not in the shape I once was.


    In case of emergency, collapse on bench.

    None of us really had much interest in the bullfights, especially after the children entertainment the night previous. So we decided to head off. The lake was quite incredible. The ride to and from equally so.


    More moto amigos everywhere we go! Quick chat before we ride off.


    To get from above to below the clouds,


    You must go through.

    The cloud was quite thick at times, and with a general latin dislike for the use of headlights, some surprises along the way.


    Pause to let everyone catch up and catch their breath.

    There´s a moment, when you drop so much altitude in one day (in this case four kilometers!), that you suddenly realize you once again have power! It is a great moment.

    My favorite road type: The tree tunnel.

    "How long to ride the road from Quilotoa to the coast?" we had asked our hostel lady. "1-3 hours", she replied.

    Try 7 or 8. The last hour was getting dim and we were battling the worst kind of rain: light mist. You just cant keep your visor clear!

    We battled through slowly and found a hotel in Peurto Cayo.

    ] Beds and a roof? deal.


    Motorcycle Minute:

    Once again the bolts holding down my rear rack had sheared. Speed bumps, combined with having Kelly's bag strapped on top of my top box, eventually proved too much for the undersized bolts. This had happened before in Costa Rica, announcing itself with the telltale clunk and smack in Kelly's back.

    Once more, sheared bolts no longer holding down my rear rack.


    Ecuadorian easy-out. Worked better than any easy-out I've ever tried.


    Much obliged for the help, Luis!


    Backrest sacrifice.

    To lessen the stress on the poor little bolts, I removed the "happy-trails" extension plate and moved the top box forward 3 inches. 3 inches is quite a lot it turns out, and made things quite cozy. May have to re-evaluate this plan again later. But for now, we´re on the coast!


    One last look at the view.


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    It may be chilly outside, but these videos are warming our hearts with a most welcome dose of provincial pride.

    We can't wait for spring so that we can get out there and explore!

    Whether you're daydreaming beneath the clouds..

    Clouds over North Shore Mountains from Alan Zhao on Vimeo.

    ..Cooing over baby bears..

    Random on the Road: Bears from Crossing Moose on Vimeo.

    ..Or finding peace in silence and stillness..

    Signs of Solstice from Michael Mills on Vimeo.

    ..These recent videos will have you patting yourself on the back for choosing to live in this great province.

    Which part of B.C. are you dying to check out most?

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    Or follow us on Twitter

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    Continued extreme winter weather is continuing to wreak havoc in Central Canada, as Toronto's Pearson International Airport has halted all flight landings before 9 a.m. ET Tuesday morning.

    Hundreds of would-be passengers queued inside Toronto's main air travel hub, awaiting word of their flight status or simply to retrieve their luggage. Along with ground flights not being permitted to land, a backlog of planes lined the tarmac, waiting for a gate to become available to offload passengers.

    Police have moved extra officers into the arrivals and departures areas for crowd control, the CBC's Tony Smyth reported.

    Overnight, the City of Toronto experienced frigid temperatures feeling as cold as  –35 C to –40 C with wind chill. Environment Canada warned residents heading outside that exposed skin can freeze in less than five minutes in such conditions.

    The extreme weather caused a backlog at the city's international airport Tuesday morning.

    "As of now there is a ground stop in effect for Toronto arrivals until 9 a.m. ET, meaning that flights are not permitted to land, as well as a backlog of aircraft on the ground at the airport waiting for a gate to become available to offload guests," WestJet said in a written statement.

    "We have been advised that in order to efficiently process incoming aircraft, guests will be offloaded as soon as gates become available but baggage will have to remain on board some flights until sometime Tuesday."

    Airlines are urging passengers to check their flight status before heading to the airport because of cancellations or delays.

    Similar problems occurred at Pearson on Monday, when dozens of passengers were stranded on the tarmac for hours due to a backlog of planes waiting for a gate.

    Relentless winter weather is causing misery across much of Canada, with all of southern Ontario and most of the north
    facing dangerous wind chills ranging from –30 C to –45 C. Some areas of the south also face blizzard and snow squall

    In Quebec, wind, rain and blizzard warnings are in effect for most of the province. Just under 1,000 Hydro Quebec customers remain without power, down from a high of 30,000 on Monday afternoon.

    And about 1,000 customers in Newfoundland are still in the dark after a mass power outage over the weekend.

    Officials in Newfoundland say rotating outages could return during peak demand periods. At the peak of the outages Saturday morning, about 190,000 customers were without power.

    Much of the province remains under wind, rainfall, freezing rain and winter storm warnings. An additional five to 10 centimetres of snow is expected to fall in some areas, while others are warned to expect as much as 35 millimetres of rain and winds of up to 100 kilometres an hour.

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    TORONTO - Extreme cold in the Toronto area, where temperatures plunged to about -40 C overnight with the wind chill, caused a rash of delays and flight cancellations Tuesday at Pearson International Airport.

    The airport put a so-called ground freeze on all North American arrivals through the morning, but it was lifted at 10 a.m. More than 600 flights were cancelled throughout the day and many more were delayed.

    The freeze was put in place because of the extreme cold's impact on equipment and efforts to minimize time outdoors for employees, said Greater Toronto Airports Authority spokeswoman Shereen Daghstani.

    "It was the extreme weather conditions that impacted safe operations and employee safety," she said. "When it comes to refuelling or removing the bags, those need to be done by employees."

    The problems were reportedly compounded by a backlog of planes waiting for gates to open to offload passengers, travellers waiting hours to collect their luggage and long lineups snaking through the Pearson terminals.

    Robert Palmer, spokesman for WestJet, said the company's planes couldn't take off Monday night, creating a bottleneck at the gates.

    "As soon as a gate became available, we would push a plane to that gate, we would let the people off. We did not take their baggage off because that would've taken extra time and meanwhile there was a lineup of people in planes waiting to get off the plane," he said.

    Palmer said he suspects many other airlines faced the same hurdles and handled them the same way.

    Jeff Cooper faced multiple rounds of delays getting home from Barbados. He spent hours waiting for his delayed flight to take off from Miami, Fla., where he was on a layover, then faced even worse delays once his flight got to Pearson.

    Cooper landed at about 11 p.m. Monday and his plane had to wait on the tarmac for about four hours. He finally disembarked around 3 a.m., but didn't get his luggage until more than seven hours after that.

    Though clearly due to an "act of God," the experience was "frustrating for everyone," said Cooper, who often travels for work.

    "Canadians are pretty cool about everything and they're very patient," he said. "It was more just frustration."

    But not everyone took the delays in stride.

    Peel regional police said five extra officers were called to the airport around 5:25 a.m. to deal with a group of about 300 people at a luggage carousel in Terminal 3.

    "(They) were getting very frustrated and irate, because there was a ground freeze and they weren't getting their baggage," said Const. Lilly Fitzpatrick.

    Police "helped calm people down, they answered questions, they tried to get the information that the people needed as to when they were going to be getting their baggage," Fitzpatrick said.

    Airlines were urging passengers to check their flight status before heading to the airport because of the many cancellations and delays.

    Some would-be travellers at the WestJet service counters reported waiting for assistance for more than two hours, and many were calling customer service on their cellphones as they stood in line.

    Others slumped in corners, trying to pass the time on their laptops and phones, while young children slept in their parents' laps.

    Daniel Puhl, 21, was scheduled to fly back to Fort McMurray, Alta., late Monday night, but his flight was delayed and eventually cancelled due to the weather.

    He managed to book a new flight for 11:15 a.m. Tuesday, but sitting quietly on the airport floor hours before his planned departure, he said he wasn't too hopeful about his chances of taking off on time.

    "I try to keep calm, I know it's nothing I can control and nothing they can control themselves, but you don't get paid for a day of (missed) work," he said.

    Puhl, who travels between Alberta and his hometown of Fort Erie, Ont., every few weeks, said this is the worst delay he's faced.

    "I've never had this happen to me before, ever, and I hope this will be one of the last times," he said.

    Connie Smith said she'd dealt with several weather-related delays and missed connections on her journey from Edmonton back to her home in Newfoundland.

    She and her husband were stranded overnight in Toronto after their connecting flight was cancelled. Since then, she said, it's been one lengthy lineup after another.

    "This is horrible, just the waiting and the lineups. It should be more organized," she said as her husband stood in line at a service counter.

    "A lot of people are saying they'll never fly WestJet again," she added.

    The weather also wreaked havoc on the roads, with Ontario police shutting down some 200 kilometres of Highway 400 between the province's cottage country and Sudbury due to icy whiteouts and treacherous conditions Tuesday afternoon.

    Ferry service between Toronto Island and the city's mainland was also halted, though it wasn't immediately clear if the cold was to blame.

    South of the border, the big chill that started in the Midwest over the weekend had covered about half of the country by Tuesday. Forecasters said the Midwest and the East were colder than much of Antarctica.

    _ With files from Allison Jones.

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    Canadians pride ourselves on our calm, cool and collected manner in handling the winter weather. A little snow (usually) doesn’t shut down our cities; we go about our daily lives, business as usual.

    We expect the snow and equip ourselves with the right warm gear, winter tires, and snow blowers to ensure everyone and their neighbour live to see the next round of the Stanley Cup finals.

    But, sometimes we get caught off guard.

    There was that one time Toronto called in the army to help dig the city out of a snowstorm. Years later, Quebec, the Maritimes and Ontario -- particularly the Greater Toronto Area -- saw an ice storm unlike anything it's endured before.

    Winnipeg even recorded temperatures so cold this winter, scientists deemed it colder than that of Mars.

    However, this isn’t nearly as bad as it gets. There are places, not only in Canada but, around the world where it gets colder. These are places where the temperature dips so low that frost bite occurs in less than ten minutes if you’re outdoors -- and that's not even factoring in the wind chill.

    So to help us feel better about how many layers we put on to make it across a parking lot to our car without turning to ice, here's a roundup of the world’s ten lowest recorded temperatures in history.

    And yes -- there’s more than one in Canada, of course!

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    Oh, how we love retrospectives. This little gem of a set comes courtesy of Getty Images, which took a look back at tourism over the past century or so.

    Herewith, some of our favorite tourist snap shots (not including our always favorite tourist fails).

    Egypt, 1900

    Isle of Man, 1939

    Yellowstone, 1946

    Brazil, 1955

    Portugal, 1959

    Rome, 1962

    Thailand, 1963

    Alaska, 1969

    Iceland, 1972

    China, 1978

    Thailand, 1999

    Paris, 2005

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    Ahh, a beach day: The warm sun on your bare legs. The cool saltwater on your bare arms. Ever wondered how it would feel on… other bare parts of your body?

    The only thing more exhilarating than a nude beach is a hidden nude beach that nobody else knows about. We can’t conclude for sure that these are America's most secret, but they're pretty darn far off the beaten path.

    Secret Cove in Incline Village, Nevada
    Getting here is a doozy-- you'll either have to park at another beach nearly a mile away or waaay down the highway next to a "No Parking" sign, and either option includes a treacherous downhill trek to the cove. All will be worth it, however, when you laze among the white rocks, pine trees, and Caribbean-blue water of Lake Tahoe in what looks like a totally untouched forest escape. Dennis, the beach's unofficial "mayor," might even stop by with some potluck snacks.

    Kauapea Beach in Kilauea, Kauai
    When else are you going to swim naked in a lava pool? "Secret Beach," as the locals call it, is a long, golden strip of sand with views of both Kilauea Lighthouse and many a nude Hawaiian. There's even a waterfall near the end if you're feeling especially unclothed and adventurous. To get to the beach, you'll take an unmarked road near the local highway and traipse down a footpath toward crowd-free bliss.

    Denny-Blaine Park in Seattle, Washington
    This little beach off the edge of a park is reportedly only about 80 feet wide... which means you're definitely going to run into your fellow nudies while reveling in the warm waters of Lake Washington. Expect to see grannies doing bouy swims, a few kids, and maybe even a tribe of bodypainters.
    denny blaine park

    Playalinda Beach in Titusville, Florida
    Drive waaay down this beach, aaall the way past parking lots 1-12, and you'll find lucky beach number 13, also known as Playalinda's unofficial nudist section. Don't worry... your bare bod will be hidden by the shoreline's giant sand dunes.

    Black's Beach in San Diego, California
    "There are no easy ways to Black's," say regulars of this always-warm spot at the base of some craggy cliffs. You can choose to enter via a pair of long hikes, but some report that it's difficult to hike back out if the tide rises too high while you're on the beach. If you're savvy and wear sturdy shoes, however, you'll be pleasantly rewarded by free Sunday barbecues and nude frisbee games galore with loads of "older gents who flaunt their birthday suits."
    denny blaine park

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    CHICAGO (AP) — Most of the 500 Amtrak passengers who spent the night onboard three trains stranded in snow in northern Illinois are finally heading to Chicago, rail line officials said Tuesday morning.

    About 300 passengers on two trains that were stuck near Mendota, about 80 miles from Chicago, boarded buses in Princeton for the final leg of their trip, said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari. They were expected to arrive midmorning. A third train loaded with 217 people spent the night at a BNSF rail yard in Galesburg; they were expected to take buses or another form of transport for the final 150 miles to Chicago.

    The trains — The Southwest Chief from Los Angeles, the Illinois Zephyr from Quincy and the California Zephyr from the San Francisco Bay area — got stuck after 3 p.m. Monday in blowing, drifting snow and ice that Magliari said made the tracks impassable.

    Passengers spent the night sleeping and eating while emergency workers were on standby. Train crews handed out food and prepared for any medical issues, but authorities said there were none.

    "There was no good reason to take people out of warm trains ... into the cold," he said. "We sheltered them in place."

    Amtrak canceled nearly two dozen trains in Illinois on Tuesday because of the cold and lingering snow from a weekend storm that dumped more than a foot of snow in some areas of Illinois.

    Magliari said crews were clearing tracks and hoped to resume operations Wednesday.

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