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Canada Travel news and opinion

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    There's a cathedral sitting in the middle of South America's second most major lake, but it's unlike any cathedral you've ever seen.

    general carrera lake

    What it lacks in wooden doors, pews or sermons, it makes up with an abundance of marble. There are no steps to get to the Marble Cathedral in Chile's General Carrera Lake. Travellers hoping to take in the cave's beauty can only do so by boat.

    general carrera lake

    But before you hop on a boat, you'll need to drive four or five hours south of Coyhaique, the city closest to the lake in Chile. The area's popular with tourists visiting Patagonia, the southern region of South America made up of Chile and Argentina, (the locals in Argentina prefer to call the body of water Lake Buenos Aires) who come for fishing, hiking, or horseback riding, among other activities.

    general carrera lake

    If you're a travel photographer, you'll want to make sure you carve out some time to see the Catedral de Mármol, better known as the Marble Cathedral. The network of tunnels, caverns and columns was created by 6,200 years of lakes waves weathering down the single block of marble. Today, boat tours regularly take visitors to the area, as well as the Capilla de Mármol (the Marble Chapell), a smaller island carved out of, well, marble.

    general carrera lake

    general carrera lake

    Part of the cathedral's beauty is thanks to General Carrera Lake. Several rivers from the nearby Andes mountains supply the body with glacial water. As the glaciers melt, small particles are released and refract the blue part of sunlight, giving the lake its stunning turquoise tinge.

    general carrera lake

    But don't take our word for it, take a look for yourself.

    general carrera lake

    Like this article? Follow us on Twitter

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    Just when we thought we'd seen it all from China...

    ...oh, who are we kidding. We'll never see it all from China.

    The toilet waterfall is an art installation in Shiwan Park, in the Foshan province near China's southern coast. A few years ago, artist Shu Yong mounted thousands of toilets, urinals and sinks on a wall to "relax visitors" at the Foshan Pottery and Porcelain Festival.


    Most bowls were donated from factories to create the 300-foot-long mural of sorts, all of whose toilets are connected so they respond to a single flush.

    When the water flows, this wall of porcelain becomes one giant, musical, outdoor Chinese restroom. Watch it go!

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    Paul Zizka got the idea for his epic photo series from early-morning mountaineering trips he took as a kid.

    "I was amazed by the quiet and beauty of a night spent high in the mountains," he told the Daily Mail. "Eventually, I ended up shooting more at night than during the day."

    The photographer's latest was shot at night around the Canadian Rockies (sites include Banff, Yoho and Kootenay National Parks). Zizka took his photos at long exposure for sweeping views of the ice and stars, and he plants himself in each frame so viewers can more easily imagine their own selves perched alone on a quiet mountain in a place they've never been.

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    For those returning home after the holidays, here's a question you might have pondered: Why does it cost so much to travel? Answer: government policy.

    Consider two examples, starting first with taxi fares. Across Canada, cities limit the number of taxi licences available. This, we are told, allows drivers to make a decent living and consumers to know the cabs they step into are safe.

    Nonsense. An open market in taxicabs, where anyone or any company who wants a licence can get one (subject to reasonable safety requirements of course), would not only reduce fares, but wouldn't automatically mean drivers make less. Those who choose to drive solo, or formed co-ops, or started a smaller cab company, might well make more money even while passenger fares were reduced.

    This in fact was the model in existence a few years back when I was in Washington, D.C. One driver who picked me up owned his own cab. He did not work for a taxi company nor did he take dispatch calls; he made his living solely from picking passengers up off the street. He preferred this to working for some company because his income was greater and he could also set his own hours.

    When cities limit the number of taxi licences, the price of such licences increases to levels that only a select few can afford. In turn, a high price for a taxi licence means drivers are forced to pay substantial rents to the licence owners.

    The last time I talked to a cab driver about his costs, drivers paid several hundred dollars per week (one fellow paid close to $400 weekly) to the cab company, plus fuel, for the privilege of driving a taxi. In other words, cut out the middlemen and drivers could make more even as fares are reduced for the public.

    As for quality and safety, a competitive taxicab market need not sacrifice security. Drivers and their vehicles could still be licenced and regulated by cities with requirements that address the driver's character (i.e., no criminal record), safety of the vehicle and so on.

    Reform would be useful. On taxis, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) surveyed 17 countries back in 2007. It found that those who had "removed or loosened supply restrictions on taxis" ended up with strongly positive results: "Reduced waiting times, increased consumer satisfaction and, in many cases, falling prices being observed."

    That's one example of how governments artificially inflate travel costs. Here's another: airline fares.

    Back in 2012, I compared European countries, Canada and the United States on kilometre-for-kilometre flights costs. I compared five return domestic flights of roughly similar kilometres with a total of 5,400 kilometres flown (and within the same jurisdiction, i.e., just in Canada, or in the United States, or in a select European country).

    The five European tickets cost just $689.68 with taxes and fees at 36 per cent of the total fare price; the U.S. total was $841.10 with taxes and fees at 16 per cent; the Canadian five fares cost $1,815.14, including taxes and fees at 28 per cent.

    When I performed the same calculations on cross-border return flights of similar individual distances (Canada-U.S. flights versus cross-border flights in the European Union), the five-fare bill for the 10,000 total kilometres flown was $1,277.94 in Europe. That included 43 per cent in taxes and fees. In North America, the five return fares with 9,660 kilometres flown would set back a passenger $2,266.13 with taxes/fees at 22 per cent of the total.

    Given that taxes and fees are higher in Europe, that means another factor helps explain the lower European fares: competition.

    Europe's pro-consumer ticket prices exist because European airlines and even airports have fiercely competed for passengers ever since the European Union air travel market was opened up to full competition in 1997. Any carrier from any member country can pick up and drop off passengers anywhere, regardless of the airline's home country.

    That's a policy known as "cabotage." But Europe's open skies are in distinct contrast to North America. Here, both U.S. and Canadian governments still prohibit "foreign-owned" airlines from offering wholly domestic flights in our markets. Because neither the United States nor Canada allows "foreign" carriers to pick up and drop off customers in their respective countries (they can do only one or the other), competition is less than it would be if the European approach was in play. That results in higher airline fares.

    With apologies to Karl Marx, if governments embraced competition more robustly, consumers would have nothing to lose but their overpriced taxi fares and high-priced airline tickets.

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    Dubai may have that huge aquarium, and San Diego may have its famous zoo. But nothing beats seeing an animal face-to-face in the wild. Time to get up close and personal with nature's finest.

    By Alexandra Esposito, Condé Nast Traveler

    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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    "I am probably the only restaurateur in the entire world who is unapologetically telling you that my food is bad for you, and that you should stay away from it," Heart Attack Grill's Jon Basso recently said after one of his regulars suffered (you guessed it) a massive heart attack on his post-meal bus ride home.

    With waitresses dressed as sexy nurses and a Guinness World Record for "Most Calorific Burger," this Las Vegas attraction is surely an only-in-America experience. But in a country that birthed the bloomin' onion, it's not the only weird eatery America has to offer. Strange restaurants abound from coast to coast, from a toilet-themed café in the suburbs of Los Angeles to ninja villages in New York City and an actual cave in the Midwest.

    On your next trip, eat at these strange restaurants and let your foodie freak flag fly.

    --David Farley

    More from
    Travel + Leisure:
    America's Strangest Museums
    World's Strangest National Dishes
    How to Pack a Suitcase
    T+L Cruise Finder
    Best Places to Travel in 2014

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    This question originally appeared on Quora.

    Answer by Thomas Snerdley,

    Here is 44 years of travel advice from a military brat and a military veteran who's been around the world a time or three.

    The Two Bag System. Every pro traveler I've ever met travels light using some variation of this system.

         Travel bag [1]: High quality 25 to 40 liter travel pack with (preferably fold-away) hip belt. Clothes, electronics, toiletries, gifts. Liquids/gels in a quart Ziploc by itself for easy inspection removal. My clothes are rolled up into an Eagle Creek 2-sided travel cube [1a] with a plastic divider in the middle to separate the clean from the unwashed (isolating the smell away from the clean clothes and the rest of the bag) without having to pack two separate clothes bags ... genius! Always leave the travel bag at least 1/3 empty for souvenirs, and to leave room to carry:

         Purse/man-bag or hiking waist-pack [2]. Everything you will need to survive up to 18 hours in your airplane, train, boat, bus or tuktuk seat (e.g., iPad, smartphone, snacks, eyeshade, earplugs, wet wipes, water bottle, etc). You never have to touch your main travel bag after putting it in the overhead bin.

    Going through Security: Put the small bag inside the big bag. Put everything except your picture ID and boarding pass into one of the big bag's zippered pockets and secure it with a heavy duty twist-tie (I use Nite Ize gear ties [3]). Since your Ziploc bag with liquids/gels is in its own pocket (right?), you won't accidentally lose anything taking it out for inspection. After clearing security, it'll take 30 seconds to put the Ziploc bag back in, your shoes back on, and be on your way. Walk until you find a nice quiet area of the airport away from potential pickpockets to put everything back in your pants pockets. Walk by the folks paying $4.50 for a small bottle of water and, without being smug, fill your empty water bottle from a drinking fountain. (Not sure if the water in that country is safe to drink?  Just check

    How do I know what to bring? As you pack your bags, make a text list on your smartphone of everything you pack. On your trip, once in a while when you're bored waiting for a bus or plane go through the list and put a + next to everything you actually used. Next time you travel, don't pack anything without a + next to it. Even after all these years, my travel pack gets a little lighter every time I travel. That's important, because if it's too early to check in to a hotel, I can actually walk around town all day with my light pack (with at least 75% of the weight resting on the hip belt, not the shoulder straps!) unlike "overpackers." [4]

    How do I wash my clothes, for free? In the shower with hotel soap and/or shampoo, while you're still wearing them. That's why world travelers swear by quick-dry Marmot, Icebreaker, and Ex-Officio clothing. Start with t-shirt, socks, shorts, undies, then yourself. After your shower, first wring them out as dry as you can without overly stressing the fabric. Then, lay a hotel towel out on the bed, put one article of clothing on it at a time, roll it up as tightly as possible, then sit on it for a few seconds. [5] This gets them much drier than hand-wringing alone. Your clothes will now easily air dry overnight draped over the furniture even if there's no fan or A/C.

    How do I figure out where to stay and what to do, for free? Before you travel: WIKITRAVEL or Quora. After you travel: ask people. My personal system is to upload Wikitravel pages to my Evernote account, which I have set to automatically download to my iPhone so I can use them even with no Internet connection. No muss, no fuss ...

    How do I make friends in a strange city or country if I don't know anyone and I'm an introvert (that's me!)? Sign up for a several-hour activity of some kind through your hotel, hostel, or whoever's offering one. Elephant riding, bamboo raft ride, parasailing, ziplining, hot springs soak, cooking class ... doesn't matter, whatever floats your boat. You'll inevitably meet people with whom you have something in common, strike up a conversation, and gather serious intel on this location (since they've probably been there a day or two) and lots of other places they just visited that they can't wait to tell you about and show you pictures of themselves standing in front of.

    Always remember, the only hard part about travel is buying that first airplane ticket! Everything after that is easy.

    My current travel setup:

    [1]  Boreas Bolinas 30 liter waterproof travel bag.

    [1a]  Eagle Creek 2-sided cube.

    [2]  Chrome Industries Sling.

    [3]  Nite Ize gear ties

    [4]  This is how not to implement a two bag system.

    [5]  Rolling clothes in a hotel bath towel

    (Photo Credit:

    More questions on Travel Hacks:

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    The two of us have always loved to travel and we were determined that bringing kids into our life will not change that. But it did. I was so scared when having to decide where we should go, with our then eight-month-old daughter. How can I pack the entire nursery and take it along, and where's the nearest pediatrician? -- and a thousand other problems. But after our first trip and a dozen or more things I didn't need, I've slowly learned that travel with kids can be done. So, don't give up and give it a try.

    As fun as the traveling part is, deciding where you want to go can be both frustrating and enjoyable. So, how do you choose? The world is a huge place with beautiful places around every corner. It is unhelpful that most of us have both limited time and resources. Otherwise, we probably wouldn't even have a problem choosing. Also if I was traveling alone, these two should be the only points of reference for my upcoming trip. But going away with the kids no matter how adventurous I am feeling still manages to add about a trillion of things into consideration, such as duration of the trip, safety of the country, medical facilities, health risks, type of accommodation etc. These things didn't even cross my mind when I was backpacking my way through and they do sound very boring. But I've discovered that attention to details before ensures a smooth sailing while on the trip.

    Truthfully, reading this won't really make the decisions for you, but I do hope a few of the hints will make it easier:

    • First of all, money does make the world go round and the amount you have at your disposal will help set the boundaries, but beware -- you will definitely exceed them. Really, you will.
    • Set the date once you've negotiated it with your colleagues at work, boss and worked it around school holidays.
    • Decide what your family wants to do. Set the theme of the holiday: sunbathing, laying around, sightseeing, adventure seeking, adrenalin pumping...? If you know that, you are already half way there.
    Now surf the net, check the offers, see if anything appeals. Ask yourself stuff like: are you really prepared to be traveling for 16 hours? Do you want to get tetanus shots? How much medical insurance is enough to get you covered? Will you manage the heat/cold etc? How about the kids? All answered? And your budget will cover it? All in agreement?
    • Get out the credit card and book, book, book. From then on, it's just counting down to the date, packing and off you go. Have fun!

    But if that doesn't yield results or if you find it too conventional, here are ten options you can try:

    •Let the kids decide. -- They know what they want, so spare them the numbers or dates or anything. Just let them pick and you are already at the credit card step.
    •Spin the globe with your eyes shut. No peeking. Point the finger and where it lands is your destination. All you have to do is make the reservations and go.
    Check out where the great festivals are and go. This is actually good; we might try that as well some day.
    •Drive to the airport and board the first cheapest flight. Hm, a bit of an adventure on top of two/three/four small kids? But, hey whatever gets your blood pumping.
    •Browse through the last minute deals and pick one. Not a bad choice, if you don't have anything in particular in mind. Just the budget.
    •Visit your family and friends abroad, if they will have you. Do check beforehand.
    •Disneyland, Disney World, Six Flags or any other theme park -- you can't go wrong.
    •Bora Bora or Cook's Islands or Fiji if you can afford it.
    •Greenland or Alaska or North Pole if you want to be cool.
    •Get in the car and drive (to anywhere you want to go) -- it's called a road-trip and your kids should definitely be familiar with it before they get their own driving license.

    Please let me know if you decide to try out one of these ten super deciding tools and if they work. Have fun wherever you are going.

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    All Nippon Airways is apologizing for a 'racist' television ad after drawing backlash for its depiction of Westerners.

    Japan's largest airline has since pulled the ad off the air, adding that it will modify the spot and insists the ad's intent wasn't to offend anyone, according to the Associated Press.

    The ad debuted on Saturday in light of the airline's revamped flight schedule at Tokyo's Haneda airport. It features two ANA pilots talking about new destinations and changing the image of Japanese people in English.

    "Haneda has more international flight nowadays," says the first pilot to the other. "Exciting isn't it?"

    "You want a hug?" asks the second. The first pilot seems taken aback by the question, prompting the second to say, "such a Japanese reaction."

    "Because I am Japanese," replies the first pilot.

    "I see", says the second pilot. "Let's change the image of Japanese people."

    The camera cuts back to the first pilot now adorned with a blonde wig and a oversized pointy nose, a stereotypical image of Westerners in Japan.

    "Our intention was to show Japanese becoming more active and essential in the world," an ANA spokeswoman told Sky News, adding the airline had received complaints that it was in fact discriminatory.

    Reaction to the airline's ad were mixed on social media, with some customers denouncing the ad, while others saying it was harmless.

    "As a White American I can say that I did not find the ad offensive, just a cute joke. All the hubbub is from a few individuals who would scream racism at anything," wrote one user by the name of Lisa McKay on ANA's Facebook page.

    What do you think about the ad? Did ANA go too far or was it a message lost in translation? Let us know in the comment section below or on Twitter @HPCaTravel.

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    Buckle up for a tour of highways with hairpin turns, steep cliffs, narrow lanes, extreme weather, and dizzying heights.

    By Marisa Lascala, Condé Nast Traveler

    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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    (Relaxnews) - Italy has emerged as the world leader when it comes to offering top hotels and accommodations in a 2014 TripAdvisor survey, followed by the UK, the US and France.

    In the site's latest Travelers’ Choice Awards, Italy boasted the most unique hotel winners with 152 properties given top marks by TripAdvisor travellers.

    The UK followed close behind with 145 accommodations listed, while the US and France tied with 144 award-winners.

    More than 7,120 properties were given honours across seven categories spanning top hotels, bargain hotels, bed and breakfasts, family, luxury, romantic and small hotels.

    Taking the top honor, meanwhile, is The Grand Hotel Kronenhof, a five-star, ultra-luxurious property located 1,800 meters above sea level near the famously glitzy resort town of St. Moritz in Switzerland, which received a 97 percent approval rating among guests.

    “Few grand hotels seamlessly blend old-world charm and modern conveniences as well as the Kronenhof. The property is as impressive as the surrounding mountains,” wrote one enamoured guest.

    Registered as an historic landmark, the Kronenhof dates back to 1848 and rises spectacularly from within a forest of pine and larch trees.

    In lavish, neo-baroque style, gold-gilded rooms at the palatial property offer panoramic views of the surrounding mountains as well as the Bernina and Roseg glaciers.

    Here are the top 10 hotels of 2014, as rated by TripAdvisor users:

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    A "giant northwest swell" has brought 40'-50' waves to the Hawaiian islands -- the biggest waves in a decades, according to meteorologists.

    A large storm with hurricane-force winds is moving north of the islands, causing the massive waves, which are expected to last through Friday morning.

    Big wave surfers were hoping the swell would merit the prestigious Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau surf competition, but event organizers decided that while the waves are big enough (the contest is only called if waves reach 20'), the winds were adverse. (Situations for "the Eddie" must be perfect; the competition has only happened 8 times in 28 years, most recently in 2009.)

    While the waves are an exciting spectacle for most, they can be dangerous and threatening to shoreline property owners. Neighborhoods on Oahu's North Shore have experienced unprecedented erosion this winter season, with whole backyards, decks, and even swimming pools getting pulled into the ocean. Homeowners have prepped for today's swell with sandbags and reinforcements, and the Red Cross has volunteers and supplies on standby for those in need.

    Beaches have been closed and lifeguards are on duty to keep observers away from the unpredictable waves. "The waves are big, powerful and most positively deadly," warned Mike Cantin of the National Weather Service. "The weight behind these waves can easily break bones and kill you and drown you ... You may be on rocks and think you are safe and that bigger wave set knocks you off and you're gone."

    Below, some early photos of the epic swell and live video from Oahu's North Shore:

    Watch the conditions live at Pipeline:

    Live streaming video by Ustream

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    Deadvlei is like a graveyard for trees, and for a place devoid of life, it's quite beautiful.

    Located inside the Namib-Naukluft Park in Namibia, Deadvlei is surrounded by some of the highest sand dunes in the world, some of which, according to Atlas Obscura, tower at 1,312 feet high.

    A river once brought water to Deadvlei, but when the climate changed the river dried up and Deadvlei has been an arid, lifeless place ever since. Tree skeletons scorched by the sun stand among desiccated land. Some species of plants still do grow -- such as Salsola shrubs and Nara melon, but for the most part Deadvlei is an eerily beautiful and deserted place you have to see to believe.

    Check out photos of Deadvlei below.








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    As humans, we built a Great Wall. We built some pyramids. We also built a lighthouse and a temple and some hanging gardens.

    ...but we can't just build an underwater river. It's time to make way for Mother Nature's craftsmanship on your list of must-see world wonders.

    1. Pink lakes
    A breed of tiny algae called Dunaliella salina is usually to blame for turning various lakes around the world into milky, Pepto Bismol-y shades of rose. You can boat, swim, and splash in pink lakes from Australia to Africa.
    TIL there is a pink lake in Australia

    2. UFO clouds
    They're actually called lenticular clouds, and they often form around mountains when warm, wet air meets non-turbulent winds. Catch them around Mt. Rainier in Washington or Mt. Hood in Oregon.

    3. Mud volcanoes
    They'll never grow to the size of regular volcanos, but they've been held responsible for deaths just the same. Mud volcanos erupt when "pockets of underground gas force their way to the surface." Most of them are in Azerbaijan.

    4. Blue lava
    When pure sulfur burns at night, it glows neon blue. See for yourself -- but don't get too close! -- at Kawah Ijen Volcano in Indonesia.
    blue lava

    5. Moonbows
    They're like rainbows, only they happen when moonlight passes through a thin spray of water. Look for them near waterfalls or in Hawaiian lava fields.

    6. Salt flats
    If lake or pond water evaporates instead of seeping into the ground, it'll leave mineral compounds behind on the surface. Such is the case at Bolivia's Salar de Uyuni salt flat and the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah.

    7. An underwater river
    Something about hydrogen sulfate makes this stream of saltwater heavier than the water around it, so it flows just like an above-ground river. Scuba divers love to explore this wonder near the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico.
    underwater river

    8. Bioluminescent blooms
    When groups of light-producing plankton drift to shore on the same tide, their enzymes make it look like an underwater black light party. You'll find them in the Maldives, among other places.

    9. The Northern Lights
    Earth's famous light show occurs when particles from our atmosphere collide with particles from the Sun's. You'll see them best near the North Pole in countries like Canada, Greenland, Iceland and Norway, but they're also visible from some U.S. states like Michigan.

    10. Brinicles
    When really salty water leaks out of sea ice (because sea ice is apparently a thing), it gathers into what looks like an underwater icicle. Brinicles are common in the ocean near Antarctica-- and people go there to swim with them.

    11. A multi-spouted geyser
    In the 60s, well drilling caused minerals to break out of the ground and pile up in the deserts of Nevada. The glob-like result, known as Fly Geyser, is coated in colorful thermophilic algae. You can peek at it, but stay behind the fence-- this ranch is private property. Its owners, however, might agree to give you a seasonal tour.

    12. The Grand Prismatic Spring
    There are other hot springs in the world, but none as technicolored as this one in Yellowstone National Park. The rainbow tone comes from bacteria that live on the edge of the spring.

    13. Penitentes
    These blades of snow and ice can grow to 16 feet high. We think they might be on Jupiter's moon, but you can also see them on Earth, in a special region of the Andes Mountains.

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    Good ole TripAdvisor, always saving the us the time and energy when looking for a spot to stay in around this globe of ours.

    The company once again culled through a boatload of hotels (7,123 to be exact) to determine the best hotels around the world. Some you might not have heard of, others are perennial favorites, all are ones that are on a bucket list or two for 2014 travels.

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    Instead of another cookie-cutter hotel room, why not stay in a bubble in a French forest, or ride an elephant onto your private island in Sri Lanka? A stay at one of's Top 10 Extreme Hotels Worldwide is a guarantee of a one-of-a-kind vacation unlike any other.

    Le Grotte Della Civita

    This enclave of cave buildings is not what most travelers envision for accommodation when planning their Italian hill town escape. But although the architecture may bring to mind Fred Flintstone, the décor is all about rustically sophisticated charm. The eighteen guest rooms are spread throughout a complex of ancient cave dwellings in Matera, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that has been inhabited since the Bronze Age. Each features simple furnishings influenced by traditional designs (a local museum was consulted during the reclamation process) and made by area craftspeople. The caves have been modernized for comfort (running water, electricity, etc.), but the focus is on conservation and historical integrity, ensuring a memorably authentic experience.

    Traveling to Italy?

    Attrap' Rêves Allauch

    Sure, not everyone dreams of starring in their own space odyssey, but for those who do, this family-owned enterprise provides an apt setting. Campy meets camping in six bubble accommodations with themes ranging from 1001 Nights to Zen. But these bubbles offer more than just a unique experience. Made from recycled materials, they are eco-friendly, and they are deflated at the end of the season, ensuring minimal impact on the surrounding pine forest. Although the bubbles are sheer, privacy is ensured, from individual bathrooms to secluded locales within the property. Packages heighten the experience, with extras such as Champagne, gourmet dinner, massages and a telescope and star chart for the ultimate in bedtime star-gazing. Though this Provençal property feels isolated, you can easily visit the pottery makers of Aubagne or the nearby town of Allauch overlooking Marseilles. Better yet, if you enjoy this experience, you can check out Attrap' Rêves' other bubble destinations throughout France.

    Top 10 Hotels in France

    Weligama Bay
    Taprobane Island

    Built in the 1920s by a self-appointed count and later owned by the expatriate writer Paul Bowles (who penned Spider House here), this two-and-a-half-acre private island boasts just one sumptuous, five-bedroom villa. Although guests can wade to their exclusive hideaway from the shores of Sri Lanka, it's more fun to ride in on an elephant. The concept behind the villa's design was to avoid closed spaces, which means that there are views of the sea from almost every point in the house, including the stunning infinity pool and the individual terraces attached to the four double bedrooms. Adding to the sense of luxury is the island's attentive staff, which includes security guards and a dedicated chef whose many specialties include Sri Lankan curries.

    Sri Lanka Travel Guide

    Les Cerniers

    Accessible by shuttle, snow bike and ski lift -- depending on the season -- the camp at Whitepod delivers an exclusive Swiss Alps experience. Situated at 1,400 meters, it consists of just fifteen pods designed to resemble igloos. These pods are in fact dome-shaped tents, pitched on raised wooden platforms surrounding a refurbished alpine chalet. Each well-insulated lodging is heated by a wood-burning stove and has its own private front terrace with beautiful views of the valley, and the chalet features a communal area, where guests gather for breakfast and evening drinks around the fireplace. Along with majestic views of the snow-covered mountains, the camp offers ski lessons, guided snowshoe tours, cross-country skiing, dog sledding and massages at Chalet Les Cerniers, the camp's starting point (a fifteen-minute walk from the pods), which also features a full restaurant.

    Switzerland Travel Guide

    Cortes de la Frontera
    The Hoopoe Yurt Hotel

    Usually, yurts are associated with the outer reaches of Mongolia, but Hoopoe has made these traditional tent-like accommodations an accessible "glamping" experience by setting up six in the rugged Andalusian landscape of southern Spain. Situated within three hectares of olive groves and cork oak forest, each yurt at this fully solar-powered retreat has its own private bathroom and is decorated with antique furniture and textiles from a variety of different countries. Breakfast is included in the rates, and three-course dinners begin with tapas in the Herb Garden Bar. Although drifting in a hammock is a tempting way to spend your entire holiday, the surrounding attractions are well worth a day trip, including ancient cave paintings, the Moorish town of Ronda and the sherry bodegas of Jerez.

    Top 10 Romantic Hotels in Spain


    The Rest of the Top 10 Extreme Hotels Worldwide with Photos

    More Top Extreme Hotels Worldwide

    Top 10 Remote Hotels Worldwide

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    After tasting coffees (at the source) in over two dozen nations around the world, I think I've finally discovered the secret to growing "The World's Best Coffee."

    It's not that I'm obsessed with coffee -- I'm obsessed with experiences! Each time I've traveled through a coffee exporting country (there are 51 of them at my last count), I've made it a point to experience the coffee grown there. I've been drinking the world's most popular beverage direct from the source.

    Upon completion of my Mt. Kilimanjaro climb in 2008, we celebrated our safe descent (which is in many ways is more painful than the ascent), with a cup of fresh Kilimanjaro coffee, grown and brewed on the slopes of Africa's tallest dormant volcanic cones.

    It was the most incredibly smooth cup of black coffee I'd ever drank in my life from a styrofoam cup. I had to have more!

    After being whisked off to the Kilimanjaro Airport my only hope of exporting some of this incredible coffee to my home in New York was to scour the shelves at JRO's tiny duty-free corner. The only selection not appearing as if it were packaged in a dissolvable bag was a short tin can of "TanCafe," Pure Coffee from Tanzania: The Land of Kilimanjaro (the faded side photos of an arrogant giraffe and a bemused leopard didn't instill confidence in the tin's contents).

    Don't judge a tin of coffee by its poorly photographed wildlife! That tin contained the most amazing coffee of my life.

    I began to hoard the contents, doling them out on a case-by-case basis, terrified of reaching the bottom of the tin. Who knew when I'd return to the Kilimanjaro Airport? In the meantime, I re-doubled my efforts to taste every nation's coffee at each opportunity.

    1. Panama

    Strong, intense, raw -- loved it's intensity, but missed sublime notes.

    2. Venezuela

    Pale, lacked body, but I appreciated that it was unobtrusive.

    3. El Salvador

    A seriously great coffee, grown on the sides of active volcanoes and seemed to extract their power.

    4. Zambia

    High doses of caffeine -- stayed awake all day.

    5. Indonesia

    You know that coffee you've heard about that is made from beans collected out of cat droppings (Kopi Luawak)... It's actually the droppings of an Asian palm civet (a tiny omnivorous adorable animal), which eat only the ripest of cherries and partially digest the outer coating of the bean. It's the world's most expensive coffee and it's worth every rupiah (when you acquire it from the source -- import taxes are a bitch). But I still missed my "TanCafe."

    I returned to East Africa a few months ago...

    As soon as I made my way back to Tanzania, I rushed to the Arusha Coffee Lodge. The following day on a tour of the Burka Estate, in the shadow of Mt. Meru (Tanzania's tallest active volcano) it came to me: It's the Volcano!

    As my work progressed through East Africa, I felt as though I continued to make startling coffee discoveries: Organic home-grown coffees from the foot of Mt. Elgon in Uganda, coffees growing within sight of the Virunga volcanoes in Rwanda, and more deliciously smooth delights from duty-free at the Dar es Salaam Airport in Tanzania (move over "TanCafe," this wasn't just about Kilimanjaro anymore).

    I felt like Angela Lansbury solving the 100th murder in Cabot Cove, putting all my bits of information together to discover the common denominator behind growing all my favorite coffees: Volcanoes and the Equator.

    It wasn't just the volcanoes (they are a dime a dozen in the coffee producing world). Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Indonesia, Southern Colombia -- they're all within spitting distance of the Equator and contain volcanic cones.

    But why?

    The volcanic soil makes perfect sense: Just as in the growing of wine grapes, the soil nurturing the coffee shrubs has great influence over the final product. The Equator feels less intuitive, but still makes some sense. The Equator is the only place on Earth that receives exactly the same amount of daylight, each and every day of the year. It's also meteorologically unique in that annual rainfall is very high and temperatures hardly vary.

    So that's it, my coffee quest had answers, and dozens of delicious brews to enjoy (with more to discover).

    If you love coffee, world travel is an exceptional way to explore that passion. Get out there and go on your own coffee quest!

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    My assignments involve a great deal of travel -- usually every few weeks, often international. Several years into an increasingly busy travel and lifestyles writing career, I've managed to still avoid getting an international plan on my phone or paying roaming charges. I've survived with copious amounts of research and some pretty awesome apps. As many of you are looking outside your snow-glazed windows and planning your 2014 escapes, I figured it was high time I shared a bit about what I knew.

    Whether you are traveling solo or with friends, a frequent miles-collector or a novice, it's always great to have gadget and app companions. Here are some of my favorites!

    1. Viber

    The situation for me is a pretty complicated one. I may be traveling to some pretty spectacular locations, but it's almost always work-related. Also, no matter what I am doing or where I am, I probably am juggling a few deadlines at home. I use Viber to make calls for free, text and even share fun food porn shots no matter where in the world I am. Find Wi-Fi to make it work, anywhere and everywhere. (There's also Viber for desktop!)

    2. Skype

    We all have known about Skype for years, but it remains a great standby. I had a last-minute issue that came up with a story that I was writing while traveling to Brazil last year. Because of Skype, I was able to deal with it while huddled in the cafe of a convention center. Use Skype, also via Wi-Fi, to make video calls, voice calls or IM your friends you miss back home.

    3. ATM Hunter

    A few months ago, I was in Montreal and my flight home was cancelled. I wasn't able to get on another flight until the next morning, and found myself all alone in an airport late at night. I had to find a cab back to the hotel I had been staying at, but the cab driver couldn't accept my credit card because his reader only can accept those cards with micro chips, a technology American-created cards still don't facilitate.

    As I had thought I was leaving the country, I had only U.S. dollars on me at that point. It was quite the challenge! Avoid my life stress with my new discovery, the free ATM Hunter app. You can use it to find ATMs worldwide.

    4. Word Lens

    It doesn't matter what country you are in, every so often you'll find yourself in a café or restaurant and not be able to read the menu. Chances are that same restaurant will have a waiter who won't be able to help you decipher, either. Word Lens lets you snap a picture of the menu and the app will give you a translation, you don't even need to have Wi-Fi.

    5. Taxi Magic

    Because no matter where you are, at some point you will need a ride. This is a real-time mobile taxi app, available in 60 U.S. cities and offers immediate pickups, including fare estimates or reservations for later rides. What I like is that it lets you track your taxi. Who wants to stand outside on a dark, deserted street? You store and pay via credit card, so this a great opportunity if you happen not to have any cash with you.

    6. AroundMe

    Things come up on the road, and it's often when you have no idea where you are, or what's around you. Whether you are in desperate need of a bathroom, gas for your car, coffee or even a hospital, the free AroundMe app has helped me countless times. It's available in English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Japanese and Chinese.

    7. MyCityWay

    On a similar note, MyCityWay is an impressive collection of city guides and maps that include categories like dining, public transit, pharmacies, weather and local news.

    8. Google Translate

    This is an obvious one, but if you are traveling in unknown territories, you just may not know the language. If you can't speak to people, you can't tell them what you need -- and you can't understand their response, either. Google Translate can help by translating text between more than 70 languages. You can directly translate speech and handwriting. The free app is available in the iTunes store and for Android devices.

    9. XE Currency

    It's bad enough to not have the right currency, it's another problem altogether to not know what the currency you do have is worth. How on earth are you supposed to buy anything? Access exchange rates for every world currency and even precious metals through the free XE Currency app. Rates are refreshed every minute and you can quickly calculate prices with the currency converter. It's even useful offline by storing the last updated rates and converting prices when there's no Wi-Fi.

    10. Hotel Tonight

    If you are on a road trip, you may get caught in bad weather and have to stop somewhere unplanned. You may have an unscheduled trip and have to find a hotel the same night -- and you don't want to be price gauged. Add in foreign travel and you just may spend too much on a hotel you didn't even plan to be at. The free Hotel Tonight app gives you quick access to last-minute hotel deals.

    11. Hipmunk

    Along the same lines, Hipmunk is another flight and hotel aggregation search app, but also lets you keep your options open by including non-traditional lodging, such as listings from Airbnb and HomeAway.

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    The new Harry Potter area opening at Universal Orlando Resort this summer, called Diagon Alley, will offer fans a new thrill ride themed on Gringotts bank from the Harry Potter book series, along with more than a half-dozen eateries and shops selling souvenirs like wands.

    But the location of Diagon Alley will also require tickets for both of Universal Orlando's theme parks if guests want to see both the new and original Harry Potter attractions.

    Diagon Alley will open at the Universal Studios park. The original Wizarding World of Harry Potter area, which opened in 2010, is located at Universal's Islands of Adventure park.

    The two areas will be connected by a train called Hogwarts Express, but if fans want to see both, a two-park ticket will be required. Currently, single-day admission for both parks is $136.32, including tax, for anyone ages 10 and older.

    "It's a one-of-a-kind two-park experience that will completely immerse you in the story," said Mark Woodbury, president of Universal Creative.

    Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure are both part of the Universal Orlando Resort theme park, but guests can choose to buy tickets for one without the other if they don't want to visit both.

    Woodbury unveiled the new details of Diagon Alley in a media webcast Thursday.

    The new ride, Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, described as Diagon Alley's "marquee" attraction, will be an indoor ride through Gringotts bank vaults. A park spokesman said other kinds of experiences to be offered in Diagon Alley will be announced at a later date.

    Universal executives described the rich level of detail at Diagon Alley as "theatrical reality," with shops selling souvenirs drawn from the Harry Potter books such as supplies for Quidditch, a game played on broomsticks.

    Woodbury said that one of his favorite shops is called Ollivanders: Makers of Fine Wands since 382 BC, where visitors can watch a wand choosing a wizard — then the visitor can buy the wand.

    "The attention to detail and authenticity was really important to the Harry Potter fans but also a marvel to the novice fan," said Woodbury. "They both really are captivated by the level of immersions and storytelling."

    In addition to a previously announced eatery called the Leaky Cauldron, Diagon Alley will include Florean Fortescue's Ice-Cream Parlour, where fans can nosh on Harry Potter's favorite ice cream.

    Among other new shops in Diagon Alley:

    —Borgin and Burke's, a shop devoted to "Dark Arts" that sells masks, skulls and other "sinister items."

    —Madam Malkin's Robes for All Occasions, where park visitors can buy Hogwarts school uniform ties, scarves and jumpers, to authentic wizard's robes and character costumes.

    —Wiseacre's Wizarding Equipment, where folks can buy telescopes, binoculars, armillary spheres, compasses, magnifying glasses and hourglasses.

    —Quality Quidditch Supplies, for Quidditch sweaters, brooms, Golden Snitches, Bludgers, Bludger bats and Quaffles — all items used to play the game featured in the book and movie.

    —Scribbulus, which will sell feather quills, ink and inkwells, bookmarks, journals, parchment paper, seals, stationery sets and postcards.

    Diagon Alley will double the size of park space at Universal Orlando devoted to Harry Potter.

    Universal has announced many changes to the Orlando parks in recent months, including an 1,800-room hotel called the Cabana Bay Beach Resort, which is based on a 1950s theme, and eight new restaurants in the CityWalk dining and entertainment area. In June 2013, the company also opened a 3-D thrill ride at Universal Studios based on the Transformers film and cartoon franchise.


    Follow Tamara Lush on Twitter at

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    Canadians' notions of travels may involve smooth sailing across a gentle blue sea, but the reality is something closer to a rocky road made of highs and lows according to an online survey.

    According to Cheapflight's Canadian Travel Pulse, travel highs — those moments of excitement and happiness — start once Canadians arrive at their destination, and spike back up when they visit the main attraction of their trip, change venues, wake up the first morning or take the sip of their first drink while abroad.

    Now, relaxing on a white sandy beach with a pina colada in hand would make just about anybody happy so what about those low moments? Those apparently come long before and after the arrival.

    According to the study, airports stress Canadians out. Whether it's driving to the airport to catch your flight, navigating the airport to get back home, or clearing security, there's something about airports that get Canadians all worked up.

    "Getting through airports and particularly security did stand out as low points, especially when paired with the question 'who stresses you out the most?' where the top answers were customs/immigration and security personnel," said Melisse Hinkle, editor at Cheapflights.

    Of the 1026 respondents, nearly half (49 per cent) selected clearing airport security as their most stressful part of their trip. Getting through the airport back home and arriving at the airport were also aggravating, with 48 per cent and 45 per cent identifying them as sources of travel stress according to the blue line in the graph below.

    travel stress

    That shouldn't come as a surprise to many given the slew of travel horror stories over the winter holidays with tales of flight delays, cancellations and lost luggage galore. And when it wasn't the airport stressing travellers out, questions like "we paid how much?" and "did you remember the passports or tickets?" also caused Canadians' blood pressure to rise according to the survey.

    So what's a stressed out traveller to do? Well, something as easy as adding 30 minutes to your travel time can help, according to Forbes. The bumper time at the airport may not be needed but it'll give you some breathing room if your plans get derailed.

    As for forgetting your passport, there's not much Canadians can do if your passport's at home while you're en route to the airport. Instead, focus on breathing, smiling or accepting it's okay to get angry in order to cope with the stress says Catherine Kerr, director of translational neuroscience for Brown University's Contemplative Studies Initiative.

    "One thing that happens when you get hyperfocused on a difficult situation is that you start to lose the big picture," said Kerr in an interview with the New York Daily News. "At a certain point, that becomes counterproductive. You want to notice that, and when you do, that's mindfulness."

    What do you find the most stressful part of a vacation? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter @HPCaTravel

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