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Canada Travel news and opinion

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    Being a tourist in a city during a time of unrest can be a scary thing. Luckily, travelers in Bangkok can now steer clear of protest areas thanks to a map published by the Tourism Authority of Thailand, the Telegraph reports.

    The map, pictured below, pinpoints where the anti-government "shutdown" protests will occur. While the protests have been peaceful, tourists have been advised to pay close attention to the situation and avoid rally sites.


    Travel blogger and Bangkok resident Richard Barrow created the map and has been a source of updates and information regarding the Bangkok protests.

    According to CNN, the protests, which could continue for as long as a month, affect popular tourist areas such as "Silom, Asok and the Ratchprasong intersection -- the latter a popular shopping area near major hotels such as the Four Seasons Bangkok, Grand Hyatt Erawan and InterContinental Bangkok."

    For more information on tourist assistance in Bangkok check out CNN's handy guide.

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    (Relaxnews) - Air New Zealand has been named the top airline of 2014 by a safety and ratings review website which heaped unrestrained praise on the carrier for its in-flight services and safety performance.

    Named the Airline of the Year for 2014, editors of described the Kiwi carrier as an industry trendsetter, notably for programs like Skycouch which can transform three economy seats into a couch, ideal for couples or families with a young child.

    Their specially designed Spaceseats, available in premium economy, also allow passengers travelling together to swivel their chairs and share a meal facing one another.

    The design likewise prevents passengers from reclining their seats into the space of fellow travellers. Instead, the chairs slide forward like a reclining lounge chair.

    In the online world, the carrier has endeared itself to digital consumers for its cheeky and entertaining in-flight safety videos.

    Last year, their Hobbit-inspired video “An Unexpected Briefing” featured orcs, hobbits, elves and dwarves and became an instant viral video hit.

    The airline was then able to up the ante by recruiting the world’s favourite nonagenarian Betty White to star in a new video set in a retirement home, which was released this year.

    2014 Airline Excellence Awards Winners. Story continues after the gallery.

    Air New Zealand also nabbed the award for Best Premium Economy Class. Last week, named Qantas the world's safest airline.

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    For a month every year, I find myself at my in-laws' apartment in the mega city of Bombay. My "home practice" space here is the 33rd floor of a massive apartment complex consisting of five towers, each one a forty-seven floor giant. It's an open refuge floor to be used in case of emergencies but even though it is unused and empty, it is far from serene.

    Bombay is on a peninsula so from this height it should be easy to see both coastlines but the incessant smog makes them a faint blur. Skyscrapers stretch north and south as far as the eye can see. I often thought to myself, "no wonder monsters in those sci-fi movies would want to knock these buildings down." This is just so opposite to my cherished greenery of B.C. that I am used to which is where I draw my spiritual sustenance from.

    In my yoga classes one of my main messages I teach people is how to use the breath and nervous system to control our reactions to things in yoga class. "Don't Dwell, Just Gel," is the mantra we use to be less reactive and more fluid with life's unpleasantness. When we are deep in a yoga stretch, we can breath through discomfort and this skill can be applied to almost any situation in life.

    However, every other year practicing here I have been an utter failure in this "not-dwelling" department. Even more than the choking smog, I could never take that damned honking. If you have never experienced the honking of Bombay, imagine how much people honk in a wedding procession but instead of 20-30 cars there are tens of thousands in a city where two-thirds of the population of Canada live.

    My father-in-law remembers a green and clean Bombay from his youth but now it has less greenery than any city on earth. Gandhi may be India's hero and on the back of every bill but Bombay in many ways is the opposite of Ghandi's vision. He envisioned an India with strong village culture and local economies but millions are pouring into Bombay streets and slums from the villages every year in hopes of a small piece of a city that provides 9 per cent of India's GDP.

    My whole being met the incessant honking on the streets of Bombay with resistance. All of these cars and taxis honk at each other continuously. It's like you drive by brail here. The honking is to let other drivers know that you are less than an a few inches from their car as they weave continuously in and out of inconceivably congested traffic. There is no end to the competition for space here.

    In years past, I couldn't help but dwell on my circumstances. I was in this city for love of my wife and her family and not by choice. When you marry someone from a certain place, you marry that place also. I've married Bombay and sometimes that finality like a relationship that has gone sour can make you feel trapped.

    But this trip something miraculous happened. I journeyed to the 33rd floor to practice yoga on my first night back in Bombay and laid my mat down. I looked out at the smoggy coastline, at the endless procession of skyscrapers and listened to what was once the grating discordance of millions of madly honking drivers. I found myself actually smiling and saying, "ahh... Back in your arms now, Bombay!" talking to the city like two friends who hadn't seen each other in a long time.

    It was amazing. I didn't even have to repeat my mantra, "don't dwell, just gel" to help me breathe through it, but I actually found it enjoyable. There was a distance to it like when someone did something to drive you crazy your whole life and after they die you end up lovingly talking about that trait in their Eulogy.

    The honking actually relaxed me. I felt like this was just so part of Bombay and I could feel the city's pulse as an insider and wasn't from the outside looking in. When I stood on my yoga mat high above the city, warm smoggy breeze in my hair, I felt as at peace with the honking as I would practicing yoga to the sound of crickets in a field.

    I was shocked but it was true. What switched? How did I go from victim to participant? From dwelling to gelling?

    There was no "me vs. them." The questions in my head were simply not there like "How can these people live like this?" "Why do they have to keep honking?" or "How can they have temples everywhere and their gods painted on every taxi and truck but no quiet green space with clean air?" My first trip to India I commented that the most sacred thing I saw was a small sign on the entrance to my in-laws' parking garage that said "No Honking"

    I understood Bombay somehow. In that act of understanding all resistance was taken away. Understanding, it was clear to me, means to "stand under" not standing rigidly over people imposing my ideals.

    On every Indian Transport Truck besides all the gods painted on it there is a sign written. This too now seems sacred to me. It simply says: "Horn Ok, Please. "


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    cougars bc

    One of the three cougars spotted in rare photos from B.C.'s Sunshine Coast earlier this month has been destroyed by a conservation officer because the animal strayed too close to an elementary school.

    The cougar was spotted walking past a house in Roberts Creek on Monday afternoon. Conservation officer Dean Miller tracked the 60-pound animal and found it just a block away from the Sun Haven Waldorf School, he told The Huffington Post B.C. Tuesday.

    "I don't take wildlife destruction lightly. However, we have to weigh the potential risk to public safety and balance that out with conservation initiatives," said Miller, who is based in Sechelt.

    "We get lots of people reporting cougar sightings and typically it's just a cougar passing by a trail or crossing a road quickly — it's a very solitary and shy animal. We won't respond in that when it's conducting a very natural life process. But in this case, the behaviour put up some flags, and the proximity to the school and it being in a fairly urban area — we just couldn't bear that risk anymore."

    On Jan. 2, three cougars were photographed by Roberts Creek resident Greg Carter. It's very rare for cougars to be spotted in the wild travelling together and the photos quickly went viral.

    The female cougar shot on Monday was "not quite an adult but pretty close," said Miller. He believes the other two animals were the cougar's mother and a sibling.

    Ian Hunt, whose daughter goes to Sun Haven, said for the past two weeks, students have not been able to go about their regular school activities, like walking on the beach, because of cougar warnings.

    "I have mixed feelings. It makes me quite sad, as they are beautiful and elusive creatures," Hunt told HuffPost B.C. in an email.

    According to Miller, the fact that the cats appeared skinny in the photos is normal: "Most predatory animals don't eat as often as we think. I think there are low periods of consumption during the year and this is probably one of them."

    "The tragedy is that this is their habitat as well, and humans are increasingly encroaching on it," wrote Hunt, who owns the Roberts Creek Health Food Store. "That being said, the Sunshine Coast has a vast amount of wilderness, and the narrow but densely populated strip of coast is really a fraction of the available territory. I find it odd that these cougars felt comfortable to spend so much time in relatively close proximity to humans."

    Miller pointed out it's almost impossible to relocate cougars, who can travel up to 40 kilometres in one day.

    "Again, it comes to public safety. Where do you relocate them to? B.C. is more populated than people think," he said. "There's been so much change, development of our natural resources, camps all around, ecotourism areas."

    Younger animals, including bears or cougars, could be preyed on by other animals if they're relocated to an unfamiliar area, Miller pointed out. "It could be a death sentence," Miller said.


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    Continuous innovation has fueled the rapid growth of online travel information and commerce. Even now--after the market has achieved a measure of maturity--would-be Internet millionaires keep searching for The Next Big Thing. Peer-to-peer interactions? Searches tailored to individual interests? Search engines with value-added information? All of the above, and even more, are at play. Here are 10 new websites that stand out for their originality and that ordinary travelers might actually want to use.

    TheSuitest: Finally, Accurate Hotel Price Searches

    TheSuitest is the first and—as far as we know—only hotel search engine that allows users to compare hotel rates side by side on an all-up basis, including mandatory fees and taxes. Many hotels routinely carve out a portion of their true prices (think additional "resort fees") and provide online travel agencies (OTAs) with the falsely lowered rates. TheSuitest gives you the option of filtering price displays by posting all-up prices that include whichever combination of taxes and surcharges, resort fees, Wi-Fi charges, and parking fees you select. It includes several other useful filters, as well.

    TheSuitest is currently in beta stage, with limited listings focused on suites and upscale properties. But it finds some good deals in that market, and, more importantly, it shows that an OTA is perfectly capable of displaying and comparing honest hotel prices. Bravo, TheSuitest. Way to go!

    Roomer: Refunding the Nonrefundable

    If you get a sweet-but-nonrefundable deal on a hotel room through Priceline but suddenly have to cancel your trip, you lose your entire payment, right? Not necessarily: You can post the unusable-for-you reservation on Roomer, where some other traveler might buy it (with Roomer making sure the hotel accepts the transfer). Obviously, you have to sell at a discounted price, which you set, and Roomer doesn't guarantee that somebody will buy your listing. But a chance for even a partial recovery is better than losing the whole prepayment. Roomer says it arranges for hotels to accept a name change on a prepaid room and that many hotels are happy to agree. Presumably, a few aren't, in which case, Roomer won't sell the room.

    Yes, you can also protect a nonrefundable room by buying travel insurance. But typical insurance refunds your prepayment for only limited "covered reasons." Roomer doesn't care at all why you cancel.

    GetGoing: 'Opaque' Destination, Anyone?

    When you buy an air ticket through an "opaque" agency such as Priceline or Hotwire, you don't know the name of the airline until after you make a nonrefundable payment—but you at least know where you're going. With GetGoing's "Pick Two, Get One" option, users don't even know where they'll end up. The gimmick is that you enter your originating airport (from a list of about 60 major airports), your travel dates, and your choice among seven world regions you want to visit, and then the website returns air trips and prices to a handful of cities within the region you've selected. You then pick any two of those destinations and buy your ticket, and GetGoing notifies you of which one is actually available.

    The idea is certainly original. The basis, says GetGoing, is that airlines are willing to give price breaks to travelers willing to be flexible. GetGoing claims that Pick Two, Get One can save you as much as 40 percent on your trip, but my quick test showed much smaller claimed reductions from published fares. In fact, on trips costing up to $1,600, most reductions posted were less than $40 per trip and only a few were as high as $100.

    Would you take pot luck on a destination in order to get a small cut in your airfare? Take a look at GetGoing if you're intrigued.

    Tingo: Get Money Back When Your Hotel's Price Drops

    It's hard not to feel cheated when you make a hotel reservation at what looks like a decent rate, only to find that the hotel has subsequently cut its prices. If you want to make sure that you always get the lowest rate, you can book through our sister site Tingo. Tingo guarantees that you get the best rate when you initially book and prepay, and if the hotel subsequently drops its rate, Tingo refunds the difference to your credit card. The upshot: You can book in advance without worrying about overpaying.

    The money-back arrangement only applies to rooms in the Tingo price-drop system. But the combination of the ability to lock in a reservation early and the protection against a subsequent price drop can be very comforting—and can eliminate an annoying risk.

    Vayable: Let Local Insiders Guide You

    Vayable matches visitors with local "insiders" who can provide targeted one-on-one guidance about their home cities and their special interests. Destination insiders list special local knowledge and skills, design specific tours, and set prices for services. As a visitor, you search for tours and guides that particularly pique your interests. For example, tours listed for Portland, Oregon, range from "Food Carts" to "Keep Portland Weird."

    Easynest: Double Up, Pay Half

    For years, cruise agencies, package-tour operators, and third-party match sites have arranged shares for single travelers so they can avoid the single-supplement gouge and enjoy industry standard "per person, double occupancy" prices. "Why not do that for hotels, too?" asked the founders of Easynest. Whether you prefer to be a guest or a host, you enroll on Facebook and create a profile.

    As a host, enter your hotel and trip details, review responses from potential guests, and accept any one you like. As a guest, locate accommodations you like, contact the host, agree on a price, and pay when you arrive.

    The financial advantage is obvious: Most hotels these days charge the same for double and single occupancy, so sharing cuts costs by 50 percent for both host and guest. The downside is that you get a roommate. You decide.

    FlatClub: Couch Surfing with Connections

    FlatClub melds the successful Airbnb principle with social networking. Rather than renting a room or house/apartment/cottage to complete strangers, you rent to other members of "clubs" you've joined based on mutual interests and trust. According to FlatClub, the site hosts more than 400 clubs, or "private, trusted communities linked to leading universities and companies." FlatClub claims that members who go through a verification process enjoy "special" prices and "exclusive" accommodations offers.

    As with Airbnb, the FlatClub concept spans the range of privately owned accommodations, from basic couch surfing and single rooms with shared bathrooms to conventional vacation rentals of entire houses and apartments. The difference here is the club element, which FlatClub claims provides an extra measure of security and confidence.

    FlightCar: Drive Another Traveler's Car

    Often, when you go on a trip, you stash your car in an airport parking lot, and when you return, you pay $10 to $20 a day to ransom the vehicle. At the same time, someone is probably visiting your home city and paying $40 to $50 a day to rent a car. But it doesn't have to be this way: FlightCar members skip the parking fees by letting visitors drive their cars, and, as renters, they pay less than standard rental-company rates.

    To park, first register your car (with details) on FlightCar. At the airport, you park for free, whether or not your car is rented. And if it is, FlightCar pays you $10 to $20 a day.

    Renters select the specific cars they want from a list of available vehicles, pay less than commercial rates, and avoid some extra fees as well.

    Tripshare: Invite Travel Kibitzers

    Looking for more suggestions about where to travel and what to do when you get there? Using Tripshare, draft an itinerary, maybe with a few options, then share it with others and receive feedback. You can do this before making final arrangements, and then tweak your itinerary in light of the responses to your first ideas.

    Routehappy: Fly Happy

    Along with fares and schedules, Routehappy displays a "happiness" score for each flight, derived from "a myriad of Happiness Factors that matter to flyers, including 25 seat types, 20 entertainment options, 55 seat configurations, Wi-Fi, and more." It seems to work reasonably well: On a test search for a flight from New York to San Francisco, the site gave the highest ratings, 8.8 and 8.7, respectively to Virgin America and JetBlue (I would have reversed those) and the lowest ratings, 7.2 and 3.9, respectively to United for a nonstop and Spirit for a connecting marathon. It allows searches for coach, premium economy, business, and first class. Routehappy doesn't get you any unique deals, but it can at least steer you to an airline and flight you might prefer.

    --By Ed Perkins

    You Might Also Like:

    Read the original story: 10 Innovative Websites That Will Change the Way You Travel by Ed Perkins, who is a regular contributor to SmarterTravel.

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    komagata maru peeing

    Vancouver police will not press any charges against a man who was photographed apparently peeing on the Komagata Maru memorial in early December.

    The decision disappointed Pargan Mattu, who took the photos and shared them with media.

    "I'm not really happy with that," he told The Huffington Post B.C. on Tuesday. "If anybody pisses in a public place, they get a ticket or they get arrested, so they're supposed to do this. I don't know why the police are not charging him."

    Mattu and a friend were visiting the monument, which commemorates the 1914 event when 376 migrants from India were denied entry to Canada based on their race, and forced to remain on a boat in Burrard Inlet for months.

    Mattu and his friend had been standing at the memorial for about 10 minutes when a man approached them and threw a soccer ball at the monument, said Mattu.

    "(He) started screaming and said, 'What are you guys trying to prove,'" Mattu said. "I said, 'What are you trying to prove,' and he said, 'I can prove anything.'"

    Mattu said the man, who did not appear to be drunk at the time, started peeing on the memorial. Mattu took photos and promised that he would call the police.

    Charges will not be laid because the incident did not meet all the necessary criteria, Vancouver police Sgt. Randy Fincham said in an e-mail.

    "In laying a charge, investigators would need to establish that a criminal offence took place, laying a charge was in the public interest and that there was a substantial likelihood of a conviction," he wrote. "In this case, it was determined that all three criteria had not been established."

    Fincham added, however, that police have spoken with the man believed to be involved in the incident. "The man has been made aware of the cultural significance of the memorial and that his alleged activity in and around the memorial was inappropriate and insensitive to the South Asian community," Fincham wrote.

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    You may not be able to actually travel through time, but this video will get you pretty close.

    86 years ago, filmmaker Claude-Friese Greene released "The Open Road," a famous collection of films he took on an early color film camera.

    Then, at the beginning of last year, London-based director Simon Smith followed Greene's route through London on his way to making his own version of "The Open Road." After collecting a series of shots from the same places Greene did, Smith laid the two films side-by-side for an incredible look at two far apart generations.

    While the people of London and the vehicles they drive look quite different, the video also sheds light on some continuity in the city.

    Many shots, aside from the quality of film or the placement of a stoplight, look eerily similar.

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    Eastern Canada's 2013 ice storm may have been destructive, but one photographer has taken an artistic look at what the sub-zero weather left in its wake.

    Gavin Heffernan was visiting his Toronto home during the holiday season storm, and decided to document the damage with a time-lapse. Heffernan is no stranger to time-lapses, according to his website, typically documenting star trails. But what he saw over the Christmas break was unparalleled.

    "I managed to bundle up and face the insanely cold temperatures to get some time lapses and document the damage—including a massive tree that crashed through the fence in our own yard and a huge array of destruction unlike anything I've ever witnessed," Heffernan wrote in the video's description.

    While the images of frozen trees set across blue hues are pretty, the ice storm's aftermath is also costing Toronto a pretty penny.

    On Monday, Toronto City Council voted unanimously to declare Toronto a "disaster area" following the damage caused by the ice storm as well as a summer 2013 flood. It also asked the provincial and federal governments to split the $170 million three ways.

    So come to Toronto, a city known for its colourful mayor and the CN Tower, but stay for the beautiful icicles (because the storm probably grounded your flight).

    Mobile readers can watch the video here.

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    An incident at Edmonton International Airport has highlighted the limited powers of airport security officers after a traveller was caught with a suspected explosive device yet was still allowed to fly.

    It all dates back to when RCMP arrested Skylar Vincent Murphy in Canada after he returned from his trip on Sep. 27, 2013. Police charged the 18-year-old resident of Spruce Grove, Alta. with possession of an explosive substance after an item resembling a pipe bomb was discovered in his carry-on luggage, according to an Alberta police report.

    But officers with Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) made the discovery before Murphy even boarded his flight on Sep. 20, 2013. CATSA said they confiscated the suspected explosive but it wasn't until three days later the RCMP were notified about the incident, Global News reports.

    Like the TSA in the United States, CATSA officers can't arrest or hold passengers if something illegal is found, only call the police because they are not technically law enforcement officials. CATSA says there are rules in place for when such events happen, but wouldn't go into any more details.

    “Our job is to screen passengers and their belongings, and make sure that threats or potential threats…don’t make their way to the aircraft…and that’s what happened on that day,” Mathieu Larocque, a spokesperson for CATSA told Global.

    Murphy pleaded guilty on Dec. 5 to possession of an explosive substance. He was sentenced to a year of probation and fined $100. Murphy will be prohibited from possessing explosives, firearms or ammunition for a year and will have to donate $500 for the University of Alberta burn unit, according to the CBC.

    The RCMP stress the event was an isolated incident and Murphy acted alone.

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    Forget the first baby born in 2014, Hawaii is all abuzz about the first monk seal pup born in the new year.

    The Hawaiian monk seal is the second-most endangered marine mammal in the United States -- their population is currently hovering around 1,100 -- so when a new one is born, it's as celebrated as a royal birth.

    The mother of 2014's newest pup is known as "Honey Girl." She frequently hangs out on Oahu's North Shore and lucky onlookers were able to witness her giving birth near Turtle Bay last week.

    Sadly, newborn monk seals only have a 20% chance of survival. Their mothers stay on the beach with them for about six weeks to nurse, but then leave them to fend for themselves. When the pups' mothers leave, they crave affection, turning to sea turtles, branches, and even humans for hugs. Roughly 200 monk seals live around the inhabited Hawaiian islands, and humans tend to be their biggest threat.

    "Honey Girl" knows this threat all too well. In 2012, she was found near death with a fish hook in her cheek and a badly infected tongue.

    "When we got out to see her, she was in terrible shape, was severely emaciated," Rachel Sprague, Assistant Hawaiian Monk Seal Recovery Coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told Hawaii News Now. "There was a reasonable expectation that she was not going to make it."

    "Honey Girl was nursed back to health, however, and proved to be very resilient.

    "For her to go from the condition she was in to now being a mom again and contributing to her species recovery is very exciting," Sprague said.

    We hope "Honey Girl" can pass on some of that resiliency and strength to her newborn.



    come on

    stay away

    Conservation efforts for Hawaiian monk seals continue through NOAA, the California-based Marine Mammal Center, and the Hawaii-based Monk Seal Foundation.

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    Your honeymoon is sure to be one of the most memorable vacations of your life, but after orchestrating an entire wedding, trying to choose the perfect honeymoon destination can seem daunting. Don't dismay--we've narrowed down our top five honeymoon recommendations for winter that will provide the perfect setting for you to kick off your life together--in style. Bon voyage!--Katie Goldstein

    1. St. Kitts and Nevis
    These tiny Eastern Caribbean islands may not be on everyone's radar--but that's a huge part of their appeal. Lauded as two of the world's most romantic retreats, Nevis and St. Kitts are the perfect destinations for couples looking for solitude and spectacular natural beauty. These mountainous islands are covered in lush rain forests and miles of golden beaches, with plenty of opportunities for exploration that go beyond sunbathing and water sports. History buffs can visit the UNESCO world heritage site of Brimstone Hill Fortress on St. Kitts, and outdoor adventurers can hike to the majestic peak of Nevis's volcano.

    Where to Stay: Just steps away from Nevis shores, amongst lush gardens and swaying palm trees, the five-star Four Seasons Nevis features three infinity-edge pools, a world-class spa, a scenic golf course, and sweeping views of the island's solitary volcano. Take a complimentary tour each afternoon to check out the island's playful vervet monkeys, or participate in the hotel's "Dive and Dine" program where you'll dive with a local expert and catch your own lobster to be prepared later at a beach barbecue.

    2. Thailand

    Thailand proposes one of the most seductive vacation spots in the world and makes a superb honeymoon choice. While the country's intoxicating natural beauty may draw you here, it's the Thai people's graciousness and warmth that will make you want to stay. Whether you're looking to unwind on Thailand's southern beaches, enjoy awe-inspiring cultural pursuits in the northern regions, or explore the grand metropolis of Bangkok, everyone will find something to enjoy. Added bonus: Thailand offers a great value for American visitors, to boot.

    Where to Stay: Tucked into the province of Chiang Mai, the magical resort of Mandarin Oriental Dhara Devi makes guests feel like royalty from the moment they arrive. The regal resort is comprised of several palace-like structures inspired by the former Lanna Kingdom. Friendly staffers, famous for spoiling guests, ensure that you'll never want to leave--and with an enormous spa, eight restaurants, fitness center, temple house, shopping village, arts and crafts center, cooking school, and library, why would you ever need to?

    3. Turks and Caicos
    For a true luxury destination in the Caribbean, Turks and Caicos is an excellent choice. Providenciales (or, Provo), is perhaps its most sophisticated island destination, offering some of the best beaches in the world and every modern convenience that honeymooners may desire. In Grace Bay, visitors can explore coral reefs, rich sea life, and crystalline waters for legendary diving, snorkeling, and water sports. Or, in Chalk Sound National Park, couples can enjoy seclusion coupled with beaches touting the clearest water on the island.

    Where to Stay: Head to the north shore of Provo to Grace Bay Club, a Mediterranean-style resort situated on prime beachfront property. Guests will enjoy uncrowded beaches and attentive service throughout their stay. Relish the peacefulness of the island at the adults-only pool or 5,000-square-foot fitness center and spa.

    4. Australia
    In Australia, honeymooners have an astounding selection of things to do, as well as thousands of miles of coastline to discover. If you're making the trip all the way "Down Under," don't miss Aussie-style romance in the vibrant city of Sydney, where you can take a surf lesson on Bondi Beach or experience world-class entertainment at Sydney's famous Opera House. Head next to Cairns to snorkel and scuba dive in the Great Barrier Reef, for some the best underwater sightseeing in the world. Finally, hit up Uluru (known as Ayers Rock) to take in the visually stunning beauty of the Outback.

    Where to Stay: The Park Hyatt, Sydney couples contemporary luxury with an intimate residential feel. Boasting a a central location and striking views of Sydney's Harbour Bridge and Opera House, guests can appreciate the hotel's prime waterfront locale with private balconies.

    5. Iceland
    The picture-perfect natural beauty of Iceland is a sight to behold. As a honeymoon destination, Reykjavik is the perfect home base to explore more of the country like the Blue Lagoon, a geothermal spa, and Þingvellir National Park, a UNESCO Heritage Site where you can see the phenomenal Northern Lights.

    Where to Stay: Bunk down at the Hótel Borg, combining Art Deco design with contemporary style right in the center of Reykjavik. All 56 modern rooms feature bathrooms equipped with Philippe Starck-designed furnishings and heated marble floors. Since it's your honeymoon, upgrade to a suite on the top floor where you'll enjoy enhanced amenities like a Bang & Olufsen flat-screen TV and a high-quality Hastens beds.

    Katie Goldstein is a freelance travel journalist based in New York City. In addition to Fodor's, her writing and photographs have appeared on Forbes and Keep up with Katie's adventures on her travel blog, Travelingpanties, Twitter, and Instagram.

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    1.) The Mediterranean coast is paradise


    Spain's long, sandy Atlantic beaches and cozy Mediterranean coves are rightly famous throughout Europe. That most get over 300 days of sun a year doesn't hurt either. (Photo by Naxos).

    See more photos of beaches in Spain

    2.) ...and the mountains are just around the corner.


    Trivia: Spain is Europe's second most mountainous country, after Switzerland. In Switzerland, though, you can't have a cocktail by the sea an hour away from the slopes. (Photo by Adria V. Fernandez)

    See more photos of natural parks in Spain

    3.) It has the best restaurant in the world


    Ferran Adria's legendary elBulli was number one in its day, and now another Catalan eatery, El Celler de Can Roca, has taken the reigns as 2013's best restaurant in the world. (Photo by guiarepsol)

    See more photos of restaurants in Spain

    4.) ...and the oldest restaurant in the world


    Casa Botín is the world's oldest continuously-running restaurant (since 1725) and the painter Goya even worked there as a waiter. Plus, it serves a pretty mean roast pig. (Photo by Madrid Ciudad)

    See more photos of Casa Botin

    5.) There are Egyptian temples


    Yup, there's actually an Egyptian temple smack in the center of Madrid. The Egyptians, of course, didn't live in Spain; the Temple of Debod was actually a gift from Egypt in 1968. (Photo by Pilar A. Bartolome)

    See more photos of historical monuments in Spain

    6.) ...lots of Roman ruins...


    Italy takes the cake on this one, but ancient Hispania has some fine Roman ruins of its own. Plus some, like the Roman theatre in Mérida, are still often used for performances. (Photo by Rodrigo Nieto)

    See more Roman ruins in Spain

    7.)...and Moorish palaces.


    The Moors ruled Al-Andalus for nearly 800 years and their influence is seen on everything from the language to some of Spain's most famous sights, like the Alhambra in Granada. (Photo by Eva PM)

    See more photos of the Alhambra

    8.) The parties are legendary


    Few local parties make international news, but few places throw a party like Spain. The Tomatina is an annual fave and Pamplona's Running of the Bulls drew nearly 100,000 people in 2013. (Photo by Albergue Tourism Rural)

    Check out more photos of Pamplona

    9.) ...and there are dozens you still haven't discovered.


    Most Spanish villages have their own summer fiestas, ranging from folk dances to 5-story human statues, flaming effigies, and battles involving paint, meringue, grapes, or oranges. (Photo by Viveydeja)

    See more photos of festivals in Spain

    10.) There are amazing cathedrals...


    Spain has cathedrals of every stripe, from Gaudi's modern masterpiece, La Sagrada Familia, to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, a place of international pilgrimage. (Photo by Santcer)

    See more photos of cathedrals in Spain

    11.)...1,000-year-old mosques...


    Sure, Europe is full of cathedrals, but how about 1000-year-old mosques? The Mezquita in Cordoba is unique in Europe and has been a World Heritage Site since 1984. (Photo by Romaine Labadie)

    See more photos of the Mosque of Cordoba

    12.) ...and mind-blowing water parks!


    Lago Martianez, an oasis of sea water, palms, and volcanic rock in Tenerife, brings waterparks to the level of art. Plus, you can spend all day there for less than the price of your sunscreen. (Photo by Ireth)

    See more photos of Lago Martianez

    13.) The whole place is riddled with hidden beaches


    Calas (coves) are a Spanish classic. Skip the city beaches and head for the Balearic Islands and find endless gems hidden between pine forests and crystal-blue water. (Photo by Menorca en Barco)

    See more photos of coves in Spain

    14.) It produces the best wine in the world...


    The La Rioja region makes some of the world's best vino, including Wine Spectator's Best Wine of 2013. Since most of it is consumed internally, it's still deliciously affordable. (Photo by Alava Incoming)

    See more photos of wineries in Spain

    15.) ...and you get free food when you order a drink.


    Serving something tasty with your drink is a time-honored Spanish tradition. In some cities, especially smaller ones, it's entirely possible to have a full dinner just by ordering drinks. (Photo by Analia Plaza)

    See more photos of tapas in Spain

    16.) You can visit Salvador Dalí's house...


    Come for the priceless works of art, stay for the Cadillac in the patio and giant eggs on the roof. (Photo by May Lopez)

    See more photos of the Salvador Dalí House-Museum

    17.) ...and eat chicken grilled on an active volcano.


    You read that right. On the volcanic island of Lanzarote, you can spend the morning hiking the volcano at Timanfaya National Park then enjoy a lunch cooked over an open volcanic vent. (Photo by Naxos)

    See more photos of Lanzarote

    18.) People decorate their houses like this


    Andalucía is full of sunny bougainvillea-draped villages, and Cordoba even holds an annual competition for the most flowery courtyards which draws thousands of visitors. (Photo by Zu Sanchez)

    See more photos of Cordoba

    19.) There are countless varieties of paella


    From rabbit and snails to mussels and prawns, paella comes in dozens of local varieties which are a matter of regional pride in many provinces. Lucky for us, they're all mouth-watering. (Photo by Anadel)

    See more photos of Valencia

    20.) Mediterranean lifestyle, anyone?


    While many stereotypes (daily siestas, achem) are more myth than fact, the culture of long family meals, Sunday snoozes, and summers on the coast certainly has its appeal. (Photo Fito R. Serrano)

    See more photos of Spain

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    What’s the happiest city in Canada? Jetpac City Guides might have an answer.

    The app, which analyzes Instagram photos to produce city guides, processed over 100 million public pictures to count and measure smiles in Canadian cities. It rated smiles in geo-tagged photos on a scale of 0-100, giving higher scores to bigger smiles and lower scores to smaller grins, and produced a list of the top 25 happiest cities in Canada.

    The results? Saskatchewan cities Regina and Saskatoon both made the top five, as did Quebec’s Gatineau and Quebec City, while big cities Toronto and Vancouver ranked lower on the list.

    Check out Canada's happiest cities. Story continues below slideshow

    While scoring smiles is a creative way to judge happiness, previous reports have used a number of different factors.

    Canada already had a good ranking for joyfulness, with the World Happiness Report listing the country as the sixth happiest in the world, thanks to qualities like high average income, long life expectancy and strong social ties, according to CBC.

    The report also said a number of other variables largely explain differences in happiness levels, including freedom to make life choices, corruption and generosity.

    ‘Happy City’ author Charles Montgomery has also found that “the key ingredient to happy cities is positive social relationships, so the happy city is a social city.”

    “People who live in towers report trusting their neighbours less,” he explained to Metro News in November, and he noted sprawl leads to longer commutes that can leave less time for social interaction.

    And back in 2010, Lonely Planet named Montreal one of the world’s happiest places, praising the “clean, welcoming and refreshingly multicultural” city and its Just For Laughs comedy festival.

    Which places on the list have you visited? What qualities did they have that made you happy? Tell us in the comments.

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    Living in the Arctic is an experience few of us will ever have. Luckily, technology connects us to those who get to experience life in super cool places, and allows us to see the world through their eyes.

    Instagram user Stanche Sweatman (@swdavest) gives us a peek into her arctic Alaskan life by sharing photos and videos. Sweatman said photographing and sharing her days in Alaska helps pass the time, especially during the cold, dark winter.

    “Instagram is my motivation to brave the weather and get out regardless of the temperature or conditions and take pictures,” Stanche told Instagram. “I think the extreme cold somehow comes through in my pictures.”

    Check out a few of Sweatman's gorgeous photos below!

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  • 01/15/14--09:36: Carnival Time in Rio
  • Cidade Maravilhosa -- Wonderful City. This is the name the Cariocas (residents of Rio) fondly call their town -- and with good reason. A city of six million inhabitants, Rio de Janeiro has a special vibe all its own -- a Samba vibe, to be sure, and it all begins when we deplane at Tom Jobim, an airport like no other. Warm smiles greet us, music pulses from all corners of the building, and men and women sway to the beat of Samba. The city is gearing up for its most famous event -- Carnival -- and so am I!

    First reached in January, 1501 by Portuguese explorers in an expedition led by Amerigo Vespucci, the Europeans thought at first the Bay of Guaranbara was the mouth of a river, which they then named "Rio de Janeiro," river of January.

    My ride from the airport to Copacabana Beach seemed to take just about as long as it probably took those explorers to discover Rio. Traffic here is appalling and driving even a very short distance takes hours. Finally ensconced in my hotel room, I checked out the scene from my window. Below all was bustling and vibrant. I smiled as I glimpsed the familiar sight I'd long associated with Rio, the wave-patterned sidewalks and Copacabana Beach. Gentle waves washed the shore and the ocean curved off into the distant, odd-shaped mountains beyond.


    Brief Is Best:

    To call Rio informal is an understatement. The sidewalks teemed with people in various stages of undress -- short shorts, minis and teeny, tiny string bikinis that adorned bronzed, beautiful bodies. This is not a place for the shy, the retiring, or for my boring, one-piece black bathing suit. In fact, I'm sure the color black must be banned in Brazil. Instead, a kaleidoscope of riotous color reigns. Later, peering from my window at 3 a.m., I was surprised to see the beach still alive with countless strollers, water gently lapping at their ankles. I'm told that Rio's citizens routinely hit the beach on their lunch hour, as well. For them, the beach is an integral, necessary part of life. Quite simply, here life is a beach. I planned on getting in some beach time myself, but the main reason I'm here is for Carnival, so let the cutir (fun) begin!

    The first records of this festival date back to 1723, when immigrants from the Portuguese islands introduced it to Rio and, by 1855, Carnival acquired unique elements derived from the African culture -- organized parades, luxurious costumes, music, masks and flowers. Fast forward to the 21st century with the event drawing 500,000 foreign visitors, and tens of thousands participating in spectacular parades with fantasy floats and dancing 'til dawn at the Sambodrome -- an event that everyone must experience at least once in life. During these four days, offices, banks and shops close. Everything stops and the insanity begins.

    A Truly Heavenly View:

    Gearing up for my first night of Carnival, I spent an inordinate amount of time that morning choosing my dress for the famed Copacabana Palace Ball. Satisfied that I had a killer outfit for the night, I was ready for some serious Rio sightseeing. And what should be my first sight? Just the largest art deco statue in the world, Cristo Redentor, Christ the Redeemer, the beloved symbol that looms over the city, and is considered its protector.


    It is 73 years old, 98 feet high and rests atop Corcovado Mountain. My reward for climbing the 220 steps to the top (there's an elevator if you don't fancy the climb) is a euphoric feeling of standing on top of the world with a panoramic view of sea, sky, mountains and the beaches of Lagoa, Ipanema and Leblon.

    I Could Have Danced All Night

    That evening, I had the special privilege of attending the prestigious Carnival Ball held at the Copacabana Palace Hotel -- an event I like to refer to as my very own 15 Minutes. Why? Because to enter the hotel, I walked a Red Carpet while hundreds pressed up against a fence which separated the invited from -- well, from those who were not. Flashbulbs popped as I entered the hotel, and once inside, pure fantasy. This event offered the chance to mingle with the glitterati, international VIPs, starlets and models, the works. The theme of the ball was Opera Magic, and as I wove my way through the costumed Carmens, Aidas, Rameses and Rudolfos, I had to pinch myself to believe I was really there. Like most other Carnival events, this ball lasted until dawn, and I was grateful that next day's sightseeing was put off till very late morning.

    Onward and Upward

    Because of its height and its unmistakable outline, Sugar Loaf is one of Rio's main attractions. On a cable car that has been in operation since 1912, the first leg of my ascent took me to a height of 720 feet above sea level, and stopped at the Morro da Urca plateau. There, our car was boarded by a group of boisterous musicians who gaily played and sang us to the summit. Sugar Loaf is a green, unearthly peak that rises over the city and affords a bird's eye view from Copacabana Beach to the Corcovado Mountain. Feeling adventurous? You can take a helicopter ride that leaves from the first plateau. Really adventurous, or slightly mad? Try climbing up this mountain. I peered down over the sheer vertical side of Sugar Loaf to see tiny, ant-like figures attempting to make their way to the top. They, more than those who rode a cable car, would have the stunning views.

    This Girl in Ipanema

    Throughout the four days of Carnival, there are Bandas (street parades) that take place in the many Rio neighborhoods. Each Banda consists of an orchestra playing well-known music that everybody sings along with. I marched along with the Ipanema Banda irreverently titled Que Merda E Essa? (No translation needed). The streets were filled with hordes of enthusiastic people dancing the samba in costumes, bathing suits, special T-shirts and even in drag. The crowds were so thick, I was literally carried along, at times wondering if I'd ever see my safe, relatively quiet hotel again. Happily, I hung in there and made it!

    All Night Long

    The highlight of Carnival is the Samba Parade, which is held at the Sambodrome (this year on March 2 and 3). The parade features six Samba Schools, each group with as many as 10,000 revelers (you read it right) marching down the Passarela do Samba, the runway. The event ends at dawn the next morning. The phrase Samba School is actually somewhat of a misnomer. It is not a teaching institution; you cannot go there to learn to Samba (a dance unique to Brazil and invented by poor Afro-Brazilians). Instead, the 70 Samba Schools in Rio represent eight neighborhoods that work all year to build the floats, make the costumes and choreograph the dances they will perform in the parade.

    All night, I sat mesmerized, viewing the parade in this amphitheater, which was designed by the renowned Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer. Back in the mid-eighties, the Samba Parades had become too big for improvisation in the streets, and needed a professional site to perform in. When commissioned to build the Sambodrome, which was to be completed in 110 days, Niemeyer said: "We built the capital Brasilia in four years. We certainly can build the Sambodrome in four months." And he did.

    About the Samba Parade, may I just say that it is an utterly unbelievable spectacle in color, grandeur and splendor, something you've gotta see to believe.

    Too soon, Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday arrived. Carnival in Rio is a unique experience. Discard inhibitions, wear a wild costume, just let go and have a blast. In short, it's a moment you will never, ever forget. And, however cheesy Carnival may be, Rio de Janeiro -- mad, magical and mysterious -- allows you to live out, if only for a brief moment, your most far-flung fantasies and dreams.

    Cutir -- Party on!

    Carnival 2014: February 28 through March 4

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    For all the guidebooks and videos out there, the best way to learn about a new place is to travel through it.

    After all, how else would you know the difference between a pisco sour and its regional differences or how to use the "beer index" while abroad? There's no substitute for experience and it's often what separates the veteran globe-trotter from the first-time tourist.

    Still not convinced? Then check out Travel Bag's infographic on 50 things a traveller should know and see how well you fare. While it's arguable as to whether U.K. vacation booking site's choices are mandatory, knowing to check FourSquare about free Wi-Fi and how rolling your clothes can save space are both handy tips.

    How well did you do? Let us know in the comment section or via Twitter @HPCaTravel

    50 Things A Traveller Should Know
    Explore more infographics like this one on the web's largest information design community - Visually.

    Like this article? Follow us on Twitter

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    (Relaxnews) - With its unique mix of climates, botanical gardens and moderate winter temperatures, the city of Sochi is often referred to as the Russian Riviera. As the resort town on the edge of the Black Sea prepares to welcome the world next month, here’s a closer look at the host of the 22nd Winter Olympic Games.

    It’s a bit of a contradiction for Sochi to be chosen to be host of the winter games. Spread out among the foothills of the Caucasus along the Black Sea, subtropical Sochi actually lies on the same latitude as Nice and Toronto, and is one of the warmest cities in Russia.

    Average temperatures hover between 8 to 10 degrees Celsius in winter along the coast, while dipping to sub-zero temperatures in the mountains, creating ideal skiing conditions. In summer, temperatures can spike as high as 38 to 40 degrees.

    Known as the summer capital of Russia, the resort town welcomes flocks of Russians looking to recharge at the beach, one of their many wellness spas, and botanical gardens.

    Adventure seekers also descend on the area for the breadth of outdoor activities available like river rafting, cave exploration, waterfall excursions, horseback riding and mountain trekking.

    Here’s a list of tourist attractions and things to do suggested by the Sochi Olympics:

    The Arboretum
    Located in the heart of the city, the park is home to Russia’s biggest collection of oak trees, as well as palm, cypress and other subtropical species. Visitors can also head to the aquarium which recreates the marine life of the Black sea.

    Trinity Georgian Convent
    It’s said that those who undertake the pilgrimage to the cathedral, hidden deep in the Caucasus mountains, and pray before the Vladimir Mother of God, find healing, hope, faith and love.

    Achishkho Ridge
    With sweeping views of the Caucasus Mountains and home to subalpine meadows, adult-sized flowers and cascading waterfalls measuring up to 30 meters tall (98 feet), the Achishkho Ridge is described as a gem of a destination.

    Tea time
    Between visits to health resorts, spas and mountain treks, be sure to squeeze in a visit to a traditional tea house. Wash down sweet cakes and jams with smoking samovars filled with strong, rich Russian tea -- one of the most popular beverages among Russians.

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    We don't know about you, but we love getting free stuff -- especially on vacation. Most of us don't spend our hard-earned money on a trip lightly, and there's nothing worse than showing up at your carefully chosen resort only to get nickel-and-dimed. That's why when a resort does the opposite, and hands out freebies for things you wouldn't expect, it isn't just refreshing -- it can be what elevates your vacation from just okay to out of this world. Here are five freebies that will take your winter vacation to the next level.

    - Kelsey Blodget,

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    The Sistine Chapel ceiling might be a Michelangelo masterpiece, but it's not the only incredible ceiling in Rome. Many people don't know that Rome is replete with equally stunning ceiling art painted during the apex of the Baroque period -- and that are much less crowded than the Sistine Chapel. These are the ones worth the crick in your neck.

    By Jessica Stewart, Context Travel
    Originally on

    More from Condé Nast Traveler:

  • Stop Visiting These Places! You're Ruining Them!

  • This Massive Lake Disappears Overnight Several Times a Year

  • The Friendliest and Unfriendliest Cities in the World

  • 12 Travel Mistakes You're Definitely Making

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    It took wildlife photographer Will Burrard-Lucas a full five months to build and learn to fly his incredible "BeetleCopter," but the work was well worth it.

    As evidenced by the fate of his previous creation, the ground-based "BeetleCam" that was dissected by a curious pride of lions, wildlife photography is not without risks. So Burrard-Lucas designed the remote-controlled "Beetles" to carry professional-grade cameras into hard-to-reach or dangerous-to-navigate locations.

    Better the emergency be mechanical than medical.

    "These things are much smaller and quieter than a full-blown helicopter so you can get really close to the wildlife without spooking them ... I have really only scratched the surface," Burrard-Lucas told The Telegraph.

    Thanks to the "BeetleCopter," we now have new, stunning views of the Serengeti, an incredible ecosystem of "endless plains" shared between Tanzania and Kenya.

    The video's subjects change from shot to shot -- in one, a hyena determinedly drags a carcass through the grass, and in another, wildebeests kick up dust in their run away from the setting sun. All serve as a testament to the natural beauty of the Serengeti.

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