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Canada Travel news and opinion

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    The new icon of the recently rebranded Prince Edward Island Brewing Company is a top hat. It's drawn a touch off-kilter and with a silhouette of a beer bottle above its brim. Students of Canadian politics will instantly connect the image to the father of the nation, who could look dapper or dishevelled, depending on his level of sobriety. In 2014, Canadian political history will be unmistakeable to all PEI visitors -- even if they're simply pulling up to a bar for a cold brew.

    While Sir John A. Macdonald's legacy stretches across the country, it could be argued that what he accomplished in Charlottetown in 1864 stands right behind the formation of a national railway as the greatest achievement of his career. In a nine-day period in late summer, Macdonald and a coterie of 22 other politicians -- who at one point all posed in top hats for a photograph -- gathered in Prince Edward Island to forge the terms for a union of colonies that would create an independent Canada. They debated "unreservedly," as Macdonald put it, and came to an agreement on how to proceed. It was an achievement unthinkable today, when politics plods and rancour reigns.

    What occurred in Charlottetown 150 years ago can't be understated -- and in 2014 it won't be. The sesquicentennial of the Charlottetown Conference, the pivotal event that led to the 1867 constitution, will include a year-long celebration that revs up on Canada Day and continues through September 6, the height of Founders' Week when the likes of Macdonald, George Brown and George-Étienne Cartier gathered in Province House to muscle out a deal.

    "We will have a Celebration Zone that includes free family activities, concerts, cooking demonstrations. The island's chefs will be involved. There will be interactive entertainment. It's going to be one giant party," says Patti Devine, director of communications for PEI 2014, the organization that has invested $1.4 million into planning the festivities in Charlottetown's pretty downtown core.

    History will be a significant part of the celebrations -- right down to the festive atmosphere itself. Turns out there was a circus in town during the 1864 conference and Macdonald and other delegates had to stay onboard a ship because the hotel rooms were all booked out.


    A similar level of enthusiasm for visiting Charlottetown is expected this summer. PEI, which hosts more than 1 million travellers annually, is poised to set a record for tourism activity in 2014. It will be the most festive spot in the country -- and one of the most festive in North America -- and for that reason Charlottetown has topped the list of the 20 Best Places to Travel in Canada in 2014.

    In its third year, the list has emerged as a great forecaster and influencer of Canadian travel. For 2013, Fortress Louisbourg in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia was the No. 1 destination and it saw a 37 per cent increase in visitation from its 2012 levels. In 2012, Calgary topped the list and witnessed record numbers of travellers, many of whom arrived for the 100th Calgary Stampede.

    Voters, including myself, named destinations for their significance in 2014, including notable anniversaries, events and festivals. Some entries were also recognized for their unheralded or emerging tourism infrastructure, and their uniqueness as a travel offering.

    Charlottetown and its surrounding area best matches the criteria. Businesses and residents are gearing up for a show that isn't going to be repeated on this island. The PEI Brewing Company -- formerly Gahan Brewery -- is opening a massive entertainment space on its premises that will fit 700 people. Local celebrities, including chef Michael Smith, are ready to jump into the festival. A $24.3-million convention centre opened this summer and hosts a New Year's Eve extravaganza to kick-off the 150th celebrations. And the communities are set to show that PEI has more than Anne of Green Gables and outstanding shellfish to offer tourists.

    I've visited PEI in each of the past two years and discovered splendid red-sand shores, bucolic scenery and challenging golf courses, as well as some attractions you wouldn't expect to find. Basin Head Provincial Park is home to Canada's No. 1 beach, which includes a pier that kids and adults revel in leaping from. Restaurants such as Lot 30, Inn at Bay Fortune, Terre Rouge Bistro Marche and the Pearl Cafe serve cuisine that will make you crave a return visit. Meanwhile, Annie's Table presents a unique culinary experience where you can cook up dishes using local ingredients while under the tutorship of chef Norm Zeledon. You can take Tranquility Cove Adventure's fascinating and fun clam-digging tour that includes a clam bake on the shore of mostly deserted Boughton Island.

    In 2014, people will come for the sesquicentenary parties, but it's more likely they will depart having discovered the authentic and captivating experiences of Canada's smallest province, a little place where something mighty big was born 150 years ago.

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    Now here's a party that'll get you fired up.

    up helly aa

    What you're looking at is "Up Helly Aa", the largest fire festival in all of Europe. Year after year, hundreds of locals and visitors gather in the village of Lerwick, located in the Shetland Islands of Scotland, to mark the Yule season with parades and plenty of fire.

    up helly aa

    up helly aa

    It's kind of like Burning Man, minus the drugs and hippies. But what it lacks in '70s influences, it makes up with Vikings.

    up helly aa

    up helly aa

    Yup. Vikings. Or at least volunteers who like to dress up like Vikings for a day.

    up helly aa

    up helly aa

    See, "Up Helly Aa" also pays tribute to the influences early Viking explorers left on Shetland. This is where the volunteers come into play: men armour up and form a group of latter-day Vikings, known as the "Jarl Squad". They're then led by the "Guizer Jarl", the head Viking, who marches everyone towards a giant wooden Viking longboat. Once their journey is complete, "guizer" toss their lit torches to burn down the boat.

    up helly aa

    up helly aa

    Everything then wraps up with 11 hours of visiting guest halls. Halls are open to welcome "guizers" as guests where they perform a special act. Afterwards, "guziers" pair up with the ladies in the hall for a brief dance before saying goodbye and repeating the process at the next hall.

    up helly aa

    Now, this year's festivities may be over but there's always 2015 to take in the fiery sights and if that's too far away, take a look at what you missed on Tuesday in the gallery below.

    Like this article? Follow us on Twitter

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    Ah, Valentine's Day.

    Newly in love? Good for you! You feel as though you're running through a wildflower-carpeted meadow holding hands and laughing. You don't need any advice for Valentine's Day travel. You could celebrate by sharing a Muscle Milk and a pack of Juicy Fruit at the local strip mall and it would still be the best day of your life.

    Temporarily in between major, life-affirming love affairs? We've been there -- and there's lots to recommend it. Like many, many fewer text messages disrupting your workday. But while in this peaceful, happy state, V-Day, like D-Day, can take some careful preparation. A trip out of town with friends can remind you what really matters in life.

    Married 20 years and want some time away from the Work-Kids-More-Work routine? It's a great life, but maybe not always that, quel est le mot A change of wallpaper is essential. Get on the road!

    No matter where you are on the roller coaster of romance, these six tips will help make the holiday memorable and fun.

    1. Plan an activity. If you fall into the newly in love category, ignore this tip -- your activity is "being in love." The rest of you: Doing something active and new with your longtime love, or with your friends, stimulates the growth of new neural pathways and brings new energy to any relationship. Skiing, watercolor class, yoga, exhaustive research into local microbreweries...choose a destination that offers something you've always wanted to try and you'll feel more alive and engaged in life.

    2. Rose petals in the bathtub are not too obvious. Nor is a bottle of (good) champagne, or chocolate-dipped strawberries. It's awesome to present your love with something unique to them -- like new spelunking equipment -- but traditional signifiers of romance carry a certain dark power: chocolate, warm water, essence of roses and alcohol are an age old formula for a reason. Call ahead and see if your hotel has a V-Day special offering any or all of them. If not, most hotels will be happy to arrange champagne and flowers. Traveling with friends? Skip this step and go directly to the spa or mountain bike trails.

    3. Choose a hotel that suits your romantic state. You don't want to be disrupting all the newly-in-loves around you in a genteel, Southern, eight room inn by swapping stories about last night's riotous activities with your besties over breakfast scones and jam. Leave the intimate parlors to lovers and choose a big city hotel, a ski resort or a Palm Springs pool party with bikini-clad waitresses.

    4. Enjoy where you are. Valentine's Day can be a red velvet-covered minefield of high expectations. If you catch yourself staring at your beloved about half way through a 17-dish tasting menu (or it could be three-quarters of the way through, you lost track somewhere between the quail's egg topped with foam and the sous-vide pork belly) thinking: "Really? This is it? This guy?" -- relax. Valentine's Day is just a day. Appreciate the room, the food, the wonderful, perfectly-imperfect person across from you, and yourself.

    5. Turn off your cell phone -- for the whole trip. If you're traveling with friends, you'll enjoy each other more. If you're with a date, us. Nothing says, "I'm just not that into you," more effectively than spending your date clicking away on your phone. Your boss, your mom and your single friends who are having that girls' weekend at the spa can wait.

    6. Stay independent. No, you don't have to turn down a marriage proposal. But do consider an independent hotel. Why? Independent hoteliers love their hotels, and because they aren't under chain management they can show it in exciting, individual ways: They hang prints from the Condé Nast fashion archives in the lobby. They fill the lounge with Wizard Of Oz-like trees with articulated steel limbs. They decorate a guest room to look like the inside of Buffalo Bill's teepee. It's enough to make you swoon.

    Whether you are wooing, being wooed, or whooping it up this year, we wish you a Happy Valentine's Day, full of love.

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  • 01/29/14--10:52: How to Ski Breckenridge
  • 2014-01-29-upthemountainmain.jpg

    Up the mountain. All photos by Juliana Jaoudi.

    By Juliana Jaoudi for Fathom | A lifelong California ski loyalist was seduced by Colorado's consistently powdery December snow and ski-in/ski-out resorts. Juliana cheats on Lake Tahoe with Breckenridge and spills the juicy details.

    BRECKENRIDGE, Colorado – I'm a recovering California skier. I was raised skiing the Sierra Nevada mountain range at Mammoth and Tahoe. Since Mammoth offers a huge mountain and a low-key SoCal vibe and Tahoe delivers gorgeous lake views and a slightly more chic and fun après-ski scene, I never bothered exploring other ski resorts until I got older and smarter.

    With time and education comes curiosity. I made it to Utah in college when my childhood best friend attending Brigham Young University insisted I join her and the non-drinking crowd (a welcome respite from flowing undergrad kegs everywhere else) to ski Alta, Park City, and Sundance. Hello, powder! Hello, aspen trees! Hello, so different and so fun! I stuck with the Mammoth-Tahoe-Park City circuit until December 2013.


    A glorious morning on the slopes.


    My ski-nertia was real: It took me Utah plus two decades to get to Colorado. I skied Breckenridge and Vail for the first time a few weeks ago. While loyalty is generally a good thing, I've clearly been missing out. But let me explain (defend myself). I've avoided Colorado for one simple reason: It's colder on the mountain. Colorado's elevation means loads of snow (good) but it also means colder temperatures (brrr, bad). Let's compare: Breckenridge at its peak reaches 13,000 feet above sea level. Mammoth peaks at 11,000, and Park City a mere 10,000. Those 3,000 extra feet may mean more cold, but they also mean more SNOW.

    I chose Colorado because I wanted good snow in December, and there aren't that many places you can be sure to get it. In California, December snow is inconsistent: In 2012, the Sierra Nevadas had more snow than any other mountain range in the world. In 2013: nada. It was all man-made. Over New Year's week in Colorado, we got 30+ inches — on top of a huge base. (That base means the season lasts longer, well into the spring.)

    You get the point: Colorado is built for skiing. Its many mountain towns are easily accessible in less than two hours by car or on connecting flights from Denver International Airport, a huge, convenient hub with direct flights throughout the United States. Vail, Keystone, Copper Mountain, Aspen/SnowMass, Breckenridge are the big resorts. When you're planning a trip only a month ahead, the options narrow. Aspen and Vail are not only exorbitantly expensive; they're also booked way in advance.


    Even Starbucks is cute on Main Street.

    Breckenridge it was then, for lots of good reasons. It's an easy 90-minute drive from Denver. The mountain is big and varied, and skiing in and out is a given because of the many resorts and condos that are adjacent to the slopes. (Many more than I've seen at other resorts.) The vibe is laid back, but you'll find all the conveniences and amenities you want in a ski town. Breckenridge is an authentic and not overdone mining town with excellent restaurants and a proper Main Street with loads of cute local shops. (We watched business grow exponentially overnight at the Cannibis outlet when the new smoke-as-you-please law was enacted on January 1, 2014.)


    The mountain is really fun, great for snowboarders and skiers alike. The bases are called Peaks 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10. There are numerous trails on each peak, for a total of 187. Peak 7, Peak 8, and Peak 9 are the most popular; Peak 6 is the newest. 34 lifts get skiers up the mountains efficiently. (Here's a map.) Generally speaking, Breckenridge is not as steep as Vail, but there's great black diamond action at the top of the mountain and on peaks 6, 8, and 9. I will say this about Colorado: The runs are l-o-n-g. The longest trail, Four O'Clock, is 3.5 miles. If you're a type-A skier who likes to tally your runs, then one Breckenridge run equals at least two and sometimes three Squaw Valley-Tahoe runs.


    The view from the condo.


    I prefer a condo or a house on ski trips so we can cook, play games in front of the fireplace, and watch movies in a comfy living room. They're also usually cheaper than the hotels and lodges. Breckenridge has loads of ski-in/ski-out condo developments and resorts across the base of the mountain. Most mountains have a main lodge at the base and services mid-mountain (cafés, restrooms, and ski apparel shops).

    We stayed at the Tyra II condos along 4 O'Clock Run. It was really lovely, private and removed from the hustle of the peaks. Many condos and houses are privately owned, and villa rental sites like VRBO are the best way to find them.


    We had a delicious New Year's Eve four-course prix-fixe dinner at the Blue River Bistro on Main Street. Another night, we dined at SouthRidge Seafood Grill. The vibe and décor are underwhelming, but don't be fooled: The food is out of this world. Between mussels in Thai coconut broth and swordfish with clams in a garlic-cilantro broth, I'm sold on seafood in Colorado.

    When we ate at home, we stocked up at City Market, a nice grocery store with a good cheese selection and roast organic chicken, and at Amazing Grace, a terrific natural foods store.

    Among the loads of après-ski options, we liked Breckenridge Brewery, a microbrew sports bar. Though, really, we prioritized hot tub time over après-ski since our condo was so cozy and, well, we were sore (read: felt old).


    Rent your skis in Frisco or Silverthorne on your way to Breckenridge or Vail. Both are right off the 1-70 West, the highway from Denver Airport. You'll get better equipment and a better deal. We rented from Virgin Island Ski Rentals; they were cheery, helpful, and are open early and late for pick-up and drop-off.

    Don't skimp on cold-weather gear: Bring extra layers of Hot Chillys thermals, neck warmers, helmet liners, and really good goggles. A 20-degree day can feel like 5 degrees with the wind chill.


    Buy lift tickets online ahead of time. Vail Resorts owns Breckenridge and Vail, so a multi-day pass gets you access to both, as well as Beaver Creek, Keystone, and Arapahoe Basin. In good weather, it takes 45 minutes between Breck and Vail. Vail is incredibly fun to ski, and the village can't be beat. Dine at Sweet Basil and have the lobster. But book ahead: You're not alone here.


    The view from I-70 between Breckenridge and Vail.


    Free shuttles run frequently to and from town and the mountain. Most lodging is within a 15-minute walking distance to town.

    If you rent a car in Denver, get an all-wheel drive or a front-wheel drive. You don't need an SUV and you definitely don't want rear-wheel drive in the snow. Colorado invests in snow plows, so you don't have to use chains or spend too much on the four-wheel drive option.

    If it's snowing, budget two to three times the time you think you'll need to get to the airport. I-70 is the only road, and it really backs up on a snowy day.


    Practice your Spanish. Loads of Argentinians descend on Colorado during their summer break.

    Read more on Fathom: Skiing Vail, Skiing Park City, A Love Story, Fathom's Aspen Guide

    Fathom reinvents the travel website by mixing inspiring stories and practical destination guides with the best travel resources and products. Follow Fathom on Twitter, tell us about your travels on Facebook, and sign up for our weekly wanderlusty newsletter.

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    A year's worth of airline food might sound more like a burden than a treat unless it's a year's worth of high-end dinning and drinks on an airline's dime.

    That's the idea one savvy China Eastern Airlines used to net nearly a year's worth of free meals at the airline's VIP lounge, according to Kwong Wah Yit Poh, a Malaysian Chinese daily newspaper.

    The passenger purchased a first-class ticket with the Chinese carrier and was scheduled to fly out of Xi'an Airport in Shaanxi, China. But before he boarded his flight, the peckish passenger stopped by the airline's V.I.P. lounge where he treated himself to a buffet meal, one of his ticket's perks.

    And rather than dining and dashing for his flight, the man returned the next day. And the day after. And continued to do so another 297 times, by rescheduling his departure time and turning back before the gate according to Australia's

    After the eating more than his fair share of free meals, China Eastern Airlines staff finally caught on but by then it was too late. By the time the carrier reached out to him, the man had cancelled his ticket for a full refund. The airline, for its part, told Fox News that there was little they could do to stop the passenger since it was such a "rare act."

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    Hong Kong's skyline

    Hong Kong is the world's most vertical city, with two hundred and ninety-three buildings higher than five hundred feet -- sixty more than second-place New York City. Here are our tips on getting the most out of this remarkable destination.

    Bask in A Symphony of Lights

    A traditional Chinese junk sets sail in Victoria Harbor amid Hong Kong's modern skyscrapers

    A traditional Chinese junk sets sail amid Hong Kong's modern skyscrapers during A Symphony of Lights.

    Every night Hong Kong's skyline, on both sides of Victoria Harbor, comes alive in a spectacular musical laser light show that the Guinness Book of World Records has proclaimed the world's largest permanent light and sound show.

    WATCH:The skyline comes to life!

    Jumbo + Floating + Hong Kong = GypsyNester Heaven!

    Pulling up to the Jumbo Kingdom Restaurant in Hong Kong

    Since 1976 one of Hong Kong's top attractions has been Jumbo Kingdom, a floating restaurant. Wait, floating? Yes floating, as in a boat moored in the middle of Aberdeen Harbor. It's so impressive that a Queen (as in Elizabeth II), a Duke (as in John Wayne), a Maverick (as in Tom Cruise) and over thirty million other people have all felt the need to see it.

    Get Spiritual with a REALLY Big Buddha

    The Big Buddha of Hong Kong, China

    We could certainly see why he is commonly called Big Buddha. He is really, really big, but since Buddhas come sitting, standing or reclining, it is difficult to judge just which one is the largest, still The Tian Tan Buddha is one of the biggest in the world. He stands, oops, sits, one hundred and twelve feet high, and weighs in at a slender 280 tons of bronze.

    Catch a Ding Ding

    Street scene from a ding ding in Hong Kong

    Best seat in the house: We always tried to snag the upper deck front window!

    The trolleys of Hong Kong Island are affectionately known as "ding dings" for the bells they seem to be constantly ringing. A whole fleet of double decker street cars rolls endlessly back and forth along the north shore, which is the most bustling part of the city. Because the fare for these wonderful old trolleys is but a mere pittance, we jumped on and off several times, whenever something caught our eye.

    Climb to the Top of Victoria Peak

    The view of Hong Kong from Victoria Peak

    By all accounts, the best place to gaze upon all the skyscrapers is from the top of Victoria Peak. At the top we briefly checked out the Peak Tower and Peak Galleria, before taking a little stroll along the Peak Circle Walk. We think that this trail offered the best views of the incredible cityscape below.

    Ride the Star Ferry

    The Star Ferry in Victoria Harbor, Hong Kong, China

    For a just over two Hong Kong dollars -- that's pocket change, about thirty cents U.S. -- we climbed aboard the vintage 1965 Silver Star and enjoyed one of the most spectacular urban views on the planet. No wonder the line's dozen classic old boats carry up to twenty-six million passengers each year.

    View the Wares of Tonic Food and Dried Seafood Streets

    Offerings on Dried Seafood Street in Hong Kong, China

    Des Voeux Road is known as Dried Seafood Street. We were amazed by the offerings, truly works of art, every one. Nearby Tonic Food Street is famous for ancient Chinese medicines, traditional herbal remedies, and tonic foods such as ginseng, deer fetus and bird's nest. With life expectancies in Hong Kong among the highest in the world, who are we to argue?

    David and Veronica,

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    A long time Fort McMurray resident who claims Air Canada has repeatedly stopped him from boarding flights because of a security error, is taking the airline to court.

    Mohamad Abou Shhadi has filed a human rights complaint against Air Canada after being refused permission to board a flight from Vancouver to Fort McMurray. He claims he has also been denied boarding on Air Canada flights from Toronto to Cairo and on a recent flight from Calgary to Las Vegas.

    Abou Shhadi was told he's on a U.S. no-fly list. He contacted U.S. Homeland Security, who told him it was an error, and provided documentation he could use to avoid further trouble. While he's always been able to board WestJet flights, Air Canada reportedly continues to deny access.

    The Canadian citizen who was born in Lebanon, told CBC News he feels "belittled."

    He's lived in Fort McMurray for almost two decades and is involved in the jewelry business, which requires constant travel to trade shows.

    His lawyer Khalid Elgazzar says the U.S. no-fly list doesn't even apply to domestic Canadian flights, and says Air Canada is being discriminatory.

    "They're affecting the mobility of Canadian citizens within Canada, on the basis of a foreign list," Elgazzar told The Huffington Post Alberta.

    Anecdotal evidence suggests Muslims and Arabs are over-represented, on the list, says Elgazzar, who calls it a discriminatory tool.

    "Air Canada is perpetuating discrimination," he says.

    Elgazzar also criticizes the no-fly list, saying it "turns the presumption of innocence on its head."

    Abou Shhadi isn't the only Canadian upset with Air Canada.

    Elgazzar says he represents multiple Canadian clients who are Muslim, who have had trouble boarding Air Canada flights. He says no one is notified if they are on the list and don't find out until they are at the airport.

    "Essentially you wake up one morning and your name's on the list, you aren't given warning.

    "You get entangled into this web and it's extremely hard to get out."

    Air Canada said in an email that it is not able to comment on individual customer matters pertaining to U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Secure Flight Program.

    The airline settled with Shahid Mahmood at a Canadian Human Rights Commission in 2010, after the Toronto editorial cartoonist was not allowed to board a flight from Vancouver to Victoria in 2004.

    Ten years later, Mahmood wrote in a Toronto Star opinion column published on Saturday, that he's still having trouble getting off the no- fly list in Canada.

    Shahid Mahmood, who is a HuffPost blogger, wrote about his ordeal here.

    CORRECTION: A previous version of this story stated incorrectly that Abou Shhadi was not allowed to board a flight from Vancouver to Edmonton. The flight was from Vancouver to Fort McMurray.

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    It’s not often the internet goes crazy for an entire country but Norway seems to be the exception. By now you've probably heard Norway is not only one of the most beautiful countries in the world, but it also has some of the happiest people in the world.

    But those facts aren't too surprising for Norwegians thanks for their high-quality of life and laid-back approach to, well, everything.

    Canadians aren't far behind when it comes to our standards of living and our happiness rating, but certain areas, particularly the larger cities, still have a “money makes the world go round” attitude that keeps some Canadians constantly on the go.

    It's not like Canada needs to reinvent the wheel, it's more like it could stand to benefit from a few pointers from the best — the best being Norway. Let's start off with these seven ideas:

    Like this article? Follow us on Twitter

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    (Relaxnews) - From London to Dubai, the world is poised to throw the second big new year party of the year, with the Chinese lunar festival set to kick off this week.

    Festivities are being planned the world over to help ring in the lunar new year, celebrated not only by the Chinese but also by Korean, Japanese and Vietnamese cultures.

    And while no doubt the revelry is to help Asians fete their biggest holiday of the calendar year, it’s also worth noting that some of the biggest parties planned outside China are within cities that are actively wooing Chinese business and visitors an affluent and mobile market.

    In 2012, Chinese travellers spent $102 billion overseas, making them the world's biggest spenders ahead of Germans and US tourists.
    Last year, it's estimated that around 97 million Chinese tourists visited foreign destinations.

    In response, London's tourism office created a Chinese-language website last year to promote their city among the Chinese.

    And to help them feel at home, the entire city will erupt in a revelry starting with the London Eye, which will be lit in red and gold to mark the occasion on January 30. Major landmarks and meeting places like Trafalgar Square, and Leicester Square will likewise host colourful shows and stalls, while the highly anticipated Chinese parade will wind along Charing Cross Road and Shaftesbury Avenue on Sunday, February 2.

    Madame Tussauds will also present a special collection of Chinese celebrities while the British Film Institute will pay homage by playing Chinese films.

    Here’s how the lunar new year will be celebrated around the world:

    Hong Kong
    hong kong chinese new year
    If you’re lucky enough to be in Hong Kong over the new year, be sure to secure a spot on either side of the Victoria Harbour between Central and Tsim Sha Tsui February 1, when the skies light up in a spectacular fireworks display. The show begins at 8 pm.
    On January 31, the Cathay Pacific International Chinese New Year Night Parade lights up the streets, bringing a carnival atmosphere to Hong Kong with illuminated floats and flashy costumes. Though stand seats are sold out, spectators can still watch along the parade route which starts at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre Piazza in Tsim Sha Tsui and ends at the Sheraton Hong Kong Hotel and Towers.

    paris chinese new year
    Like London, the City of Light is also in hot pursuit of affluent and mobile Chinese visitors, and will be putting on not one, not two, but three different parades across the city over the next two weeks. The biggest parade, meanwhile, is scheduled for Sunday, February 9 in the city’s biggest Chinatown, the 13th arrondissement, where a spectacle of happy, prancing dragons attracts nearly 200,000 spectators.
    For a more sophisticated and quieter evening, meanwhile, consider a gourmet dim sum meal at the Michelin-starred Chinese restaurant Shang Palace at the Shangri-La hotel, which will be hosting its own party.

    In addition to a private lion dance, the restaurant will be hosting a €128 ($195) or €188 (286) menu that includes dishes of good fortune and luck like chicken and cabbage dumplings (meant to symbolize wealth) and sweet and sour sea bass (which also represents abundance).

    dubai chinese new year
    Until February 1, the luxury resort Madinat Jumeirah fetes the lunar new year with everything from a troupe of Chinese circus performers to a recreation of Chinese street food stalls, and a gourmet Chinese meal at the hotel’s luxury Zheng He’s restaurant. Dinner is 388 AED ($118) or 488 AED ($148) per person.

    Las Vegas
    las vegas chinese new year
    In true Vegas style, the Wynn hotel has pulled out all the stops this year, putting three 800-pound golden Tang Dynasty horse sculptures on display to commemorate the year of the horse. In addition to a parade that will wind through the hotel casino, complete with a 90-foot dragon, eight lions and firecrackers, the resort’s gourmet Chinese restaurant Wing Lei hosts a special dim sum lunch buffet from Jan. 30 to Feb. 9.

    The lunar new year starts January 31 and ends February 14.

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    When it comes to eating, everyone's got their own style -- Americans generally put things on sticks and deep-fry them, while other cultures use forks and knives. But when it comes to manners, what passes for polite in Poland might be taboo in Djibouti. Here's a list of some of the weirdest food-related customs and etiquette from around this crazy world, just in case you want to avoid dirty looks for refusing to pass gas in Canada.


    CREDIT: Flickr/dion gillard

    In Thailand, it's considered crude to put food in your mouth using a fork. Instead, the fork is used to push food onto the spoon, which is then put into your mouth. King Chulalongkorn introduced the utensils to Thailand after his visit to Europe in 1897, but apparently hadn't stayed long enough for the fork demo.

    CREDIT: Wikipedia

    Loudly slurping noodles and soup is acceptable in Japan, and is thought to both improve the flavor of the dish and allow the eater to enjoy hotter foods more quickly. Basically, in Japan, your cousin Jeff would be considered the politest person ever.

    CREDIT: Wikipedia/Zlerman

    It's taboo to eat with your left hand in parts of the Middle East and India, due to the division of labor between hands -- the right hand is reserved for picking up food and other awesome, noble pursuits. The left is reserved for cleaning... uh... yourself. Southpaw just got a whole new meaning.

    CREDIT: Flickr/Alberto Varela

    In South Korea, nobody at the table eats until the oldest or most senior person takes a bite. If there are twins at the table who were born mere minutes apart, the older one sets the pace. My older twin brother Ross would love to live in South Korea, because he also loves Psy.

    There's even more faux pas involving cheese in Italy, chopsticks in China, and how cleaning your plate might be rude, and they're all in the full story on!

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    Nope, it's not the Eiffel Tower. No, not the London Eye. Not even Big Ben... well, you probably knew it wasn't Big Ben.

    Europe's tallest freestanding structure is actually Ostankino Tower in Moscow, Russia. You've never heard of it, but tourists have been making the dizzying 1,772-foot ascent to the tower's observation deck for over 30 years.

    Best feetsies

    The tour of Ostankino costs about $25, takes one hour, and lets you linger atop the giant TV tower that broadcasts to dozens of TV and radio stations in Russia.

    In summer, an open observation deck lets you breathe the sweet Moscow air as you teeter higher above the city than you will above any other city in Europe. Oof!

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  • 01/30/14--09:27: Eating in Venice
  • 'Venice', the Belgian points out with aphoristic pleasure 'was built in defiance'. He's right, of course. This extraordinary, floating miracle surfaced from the ingenuity and expediency of a people who refused to serve masters other than their own. Hence the imaginative and successful fiscal and political systems which have not only lasted, but travelled; after all, the Venetians invented income tax. Most brilliant really, a city state, with every function of its success built on wooden foundations, now petrified, slumped in the mud. And above those salty piles, grandiose and exuberant palaces, capacious basilicas, sturdy factories, homes, hotels float on the lagoon.

    I find it hard to put my finger on the city or its people. Not quite Italian or Slavic, there is rude mixture of genetic throwback which makes the Venetians fiery and hot-blooded and saturnine and big faced. These resourceful, mercantile amphibians rule their intriguing and mysterious city with contempt and indifference to outsiders.

    We arrived to acqua alta, when the water rises, bubbling up through slots in the paving stones, the result of unusually high tides. Wooden walkways are erected along which one can traverse the main routes around the city. But no sooner swamped, than the water has subsided and once again you can disappear in the labyrinth of streets and passages.

    Which is how you find anything here - get lost. Directions from the street are mostly unhelpful - 'diretti' (straight on) being the most common. Which is effectively impossible. So to find anything to eat, you need a guide. A local. I telephoned ahead and carefully noted down a set of obscure and imaginative directions.

    Added to this, I had been warned that if we wanted to eat well, we'd have to pay for it. And it's true that despite my laughable 'look' at the menus of the Danieli and the Cipriani, the city's most famous hotels, they far exceeded even my levels of extravagance. Much to the Belgian's relief. But equally I was determined to avoid the withering looks and contempt of waiters serving menus turisticos and wanted something the locals would eat. The insider knowledge.

    'Head into Campo del Ghetto Nuovo and turn left over a little bridge, walking up the fondamente until you see a wooden cross. Opposite is a place with a green blind and curtain in the window. It's popular with the workers. Go after one, when it is quiet'. We did and it was. We simply asked for the menu of the day and were served, zuppa di faglioli e pasta, frittata with sausage, and spezzatino di manzo, a beef stew with potatoes. Accompanied by the local Merlot and rounded off with lumps of parmesan.

    From the Rialto market fat aubergines loll among the cavolo nero, and unashamedly naked fennel bulbs moon at me as we pass by on the vaporetto. The stalls are awash in crustaceans and seafood, so fishy tastes are ubiquitous across the city. Though not always in obvious ways. They salt sardines here, not unlike anchovies. After an ogle through the Accademia where the great masters nod nobly from the walls, you can find lunch at the Taverna San Trovaso. Here bigoli co le sardele salae is an unappealingly grey dish of pasta with salted sardines and onions. But it has all the translucent intensity of the lagoon and is a mainstay. Risotto or spaghetti cooked in squid ink is another. The Belgian licked every last morsel from his langoustine linguine and I polished off melanzane al funghetto, and lobster with tarragon sauce. We were happy.

    My feeling is that in Venice you need to seek out dishes, rather than places. From the window at Tre Spiedi (come out of Campo Apostoli towards Rialto, turn left through little square, left again), I spotted a zucchini con scampi with sage and we sated on local Cabernet Franc. A wine which is normally the small third of Bordeaux but has butch enough rosy tannins on its own. My guide also recommends Da Bepi near the Giorgioni cinema and for the explorer, a restaurant on the island of Tortello. Go find. And let me know.

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  • 01/30/14--10:07: Restaurants for Vegans
  • Opening a vegan restaurant is for chefs who either have a conscience or like a challenge -- often both. Cooking without meat, dairy or other animal products (even honey, in some cases) requires an entirely new kind of culinary creativity, which has brought a new breed of fearless yet elegant meatless eateries to the fore.

    Whether you're a longtime vegan or just experimenting, here are 10 restaurants, from New York to Chicago to Los Angeles, to try.

    --Nell McShane Wulfhart

    More from Departures:

    Where the Chefs Love to Eat
    Collecting Vintage Champagne
    Stellar Hotel Wine Programs
    12 Glamorous Cocktail Bars

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    ST. LOUIS (AP) — St. Louis is turning 250 this year, and visitors who want to join in the celebration can find plenty to do without spending a dime.

    The Gateway City was founded by Pierre Laclede and Auguste Chouteau on Feb. 15, 1764. A series of anniversary events are planned throughout the year. Some are serious, including a reenactment of the founding on Feb. 15 at the Laclede's Landing area on the Mississippi Riverfront downtown. Others are more whimsical, like a "Burnin' Love" festival in which 250 couples are expected to become engaged on Valentine's Day.

    Amid the hoopla, there's plenty to do for free, including visits to one of the world's biggest breweries, two popular animal attractions, a science center and a towering monument that has come to define St. Louis.


    The iconic Arch, built as a monument to westward expansion, stands 630 feet tall (192 meters) along the banks of the Mississippi River. For a fee, visitors can ride a tram to the top of the Arch and gaze over downtown St. Louis to the west or the cornfields of Illinois to the east.

    But many attractions at and around the Arch are free. That includes the Museum of Westward Expansion in the basement of the Arch, focusing on life in the West in the 1800s. Visitors can also wander the expansive Arch grounds, where a multi-million dollar upgrade project is under way and expected to be completed by 2016.

    Also free are visits to the Old Courthouse in downtown St. Louis, also operated by the National Park Service. The courthouse was the site of the famous Dred Scott case that played a role in eventually freeing the slaves.

    Construction of the Arch, designed Eero Saarinen, began in 1963. The final piece connecting the two legs was installed in 1965, and the Arch opened to visitors on May 25, 1968.


    The Busch family sold Anheuser-Busch to the Belgian brewer InBev in 2008, but the massive brewery remains an integral part of St. Louis, making some of the nation's best-selling brews, including Budweiser and Bud Light.

    The complimentary tours are open to visitors of all ages — but only those 21 and older can taste the finished product after the tour. Younger visitors get soft drinks.

    Visitors not only get a glimpse of how the beer is made but see the Budweiser Clydesdales, kept at stables on the brewery site.

    Reservations are required. Anheuser-Busch also offers a more comprehensive "Beermaster Tour" and "Beer School," though neither is free.

    The brewery itself is in the eclectic Soulard area near downtown. Soulard Market nearby offers a variety of fresh produce, meats and other goods.


    The 281-acre (114 hectares) Grant's Farm is owned by the Busch family. It got its name because the property was founded as a farm by Ulysses S. Grant, the Civil War general who later became the nation's 18th president.

    The farm, in St. Louis County just south of the city, is home to more than 900 animals. Among them: Another group of Budweiser Clydesdales.

    More than 24 million people have visited Grant's Farm since it opened in 1954. Reservations are required.


    The St. Louis Zoo in sprawling Forest Park is considered one of the best in the nation, and one of the few that with no admission fee. Funding comes from a cultural tax district, the Metropolitan Zoological Park and Museum District, though fees are charged for some special attractions.

    The zoo is home to more than 18,000 animals, including some rare and endangered species. A "Zooline Railroad" takes visitors to various locations and is popular, especially among children.

    The zoo's origins date to the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair, when the city purchased the Flight Cage from the Smithsonian Institution. Over the years, new exhibits and animals were added.

    The zoo is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. most days; 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve; and closed on Christmas and New Year's Day.


    The Science Center, also part of Forest Park and funded through the same cultural subsidy as the zoo, is among the few free science centers in the U.S. It was founded as a planetarium in 1963. Today, the center includes more than 750 exhibits in 300,000-plus square feet (28,000 square meters) of space, making it one of the nation's largest science centers. About 1.2 million people visit it each year.

    The center itself is free, but fees are charged for admission to some special exhibits and planetarium shows. An Omnimax Theater also charges for admission.

    The center features an enclosed walkway over Interstate 64 in which visitors can monitor the speeds of cars traveling below.

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    It's a little early in the year to declare the cutest tour guides of 2014, but we're willing to place our bets on this duo.

    Meet Nyalan and Deshi, two mascots who've turned into pseudo-tour guides for Jalan, a Japanese travel site.

    Aside from being insanely adorable, these two are tasked with showcasing and attracting visitors to the Land of the Rising Sun throughout the year. The idea, according to Design Taxi, is to show off what locals do during each season, only instead of people, the agency uses cats.

    Adorned with matching suitcase collars, photographers have captured the pair flying kites (well, as best as someone with paws can fly a kite), relaxing before crawling into an onsen, a Japanese hot spring, or grabbing a bite to eat at Yakiniku (Japanese BBQ).

    The duo have been in TV commercials for years now, but it's Nyalan (which is Japanese for "meow" according to Kotaku) and his Twitter account that's put the two in the spotlight once again. You can follow more of their travels here.

    It's may seem like an unorthodox approach to promoting tourism, but given Japan's feline fixation involving cat cafes and an island nicknamed Cat Heaven Island for its population that outnumbers human inhabitants, maybe it's just a matter of time before the rest of the world catches on.

    Like this article? Follow us on Twitter

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    Valentine's Day isn't going anywhere, so we singletons (and it's complicated-tons) might as well go somewhere. During the flurry of February 14th is an ideal time to skip town and indulge in some unadulterated fun sans romantic pressure. There's five for guys and five for gals, but everybody's free to buck gender stereotypes and take their bros on a shopping and cocktail-spree or their bettys on a big wave surfing adventure. Wrangle your pals and pick a place -- Aspen, Big Sur, Cabo or someplace else?

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    Admitingly, I am a lucky guy; I get paid to travel the world. As an author, (I am always researching!) but more so as the Event Director for the around the world travel adventure The Global Scavenger Hunt. I am seemingly always on the move, and I notice things.

    One awful trend I have watched evolve is the rise of a virtual wall of technology. And the unintended consequences of this techno barrier separates not only travelers from each other, but travelers from the main reasons why we travel in the first place -- to immerse ourselves in other cultures and to trust strangers in strange lands.

    Let me explain further.

    What I have witnessed, be it at hostels, rustic eco-lodges, resorts, chic boutique or upscale five-star hotels alike, is travelers not so much traveling, but alone immersing themselves in a self-imposed social media e-bubble. Call it the Wi-Fi Lobby.

    Decades ago, the grand lobbies of the world's glamorous hotels were wild scenes -- some would say romantic -- where fellow travelers from around the world coming and going mingled together. Everyone talked to each other and exchanged ideas, suggestions and winks. You made fast friends and met future mates and otherwise.

    Nowadays, travelers are still hanging in lobbies in far flung destinations, but instead of mingling, they cocoon themselves off: Instagraming and Tweeting followers, Skyping or FaceTiming their friends and updating Facebook. In effect, they are maintaining existing cyber space relationships at the expense of kindling real-life new ones. We have traded face-to-face social interaction with remote social networks. The magic of travel dissipates.

    Sadly, this e-bubble doesn't just occur in the lobbies of hotels and hostels around the world. It occurs more frequently now during our travel and explore times too. With Smartphone's in hand and earbuds firmly inserted, travelers today are living in a post-tourist world where they are only physically there and decidedly not mingling or immersing themselves (asking directions, learning about the destination, listening to indigenous sounds, talking with locals). The immediacy of technology is affecting the travel experience.

    Make no mistake, I am no Luddite. The communication and technological advances of the last decade have been nothing short of marvelous and revelatory. Yet, when that technology builds walls between people, instead of breaking them down, it becomes an issue.

    We have become dependent on travel apps to tell us what to see and do, where to stay and what to eat and how to get there -- rather than actually exploring and discovering those things on our own. There is noticeably less personal interaction. There is a TMI overload (over 17,000 plus travel apps...and growing) that leads to an overwhelming type of traveler paralysis. Oddly, the same group that eschews guidebook orthodoxy doesn't have a problem crowdsourcing information.

    It seems that information comfort (or at least the perception of knowing something) has replaced good old fashion DIY independent traveling. Yet real discovery occurs only when you venture outside your comfort zones -- exploring terra incognito.

    It is hard to get lost when your Smartphone's GPS won't let you. It is hard to allow absence make the heart grow fonder when you are connected 24/7. Can't read the menu? There's an app for that. Why leave home if you are not going to open yourself up to new tastes, new ideas and new people?

    Indeed, the certainty travel apps and our personal electronic devices offer us has replaced sweet serendipity. The essence of traveling.

    From where I sit today (in a cafe in Laos) it looks like it will only get worse; with GPS tracking algorithm-based systems like Google Glass and so-called augmented reality (AR) travel apps coming on line offering travelers omnipresent connectivity -- a never-ending stream of "vital" information answering your every travel-related question. Indeed they will anticipate your needs. Is remote control tourist next?

    So, what to do?

    A growing backlash is brewing (a.k.a. off the grid vacationing), like the Slow Food movement of the 80s backlash against fast foods. It will address the paradox of our era: The more we are connected 24/7, the more we desperately want to unplug. Indeed, we do need to unplug (or at least shut the damn things off for a while and stow them) when traveling, to enjoy the moment and the serendipity of travel.

    We will see. What say you?

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    Almost a hundred years ago, two clever little wallabies escaped their fate in a private Hawaii zoo and ran off together into the Kalihi Valley on Oahu. Like many couples on their Hawaiian honeymoon, nature took its course and now the valley is said to be home to a small, but uniquely established colony of the mini-marsupials.

    Wallabies are native to Australia so the elusive family of brush-tailed rock wallabies on Oahu is regarded as both a special and very rare treat. There have only been a handful of sightings in the past hundred years, but one vigilant Hawaii man recently spotted a casual wallaby perched on a fallen tree branch, proving that the clan is still going strong up in the dense vegetation.

    The creatures are like pint-sized kangaroos: standing about knee-high and looking totally adorable. Curious visitors are asked not to go looking for the wallabies (the land they frequently inhabit is on private property) or to disturb them since they are such a small and delicate population.

    rock wallaby(A Hawaiian wallaby spotted in 2013.)

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    Most people fantasize about throwing caution to the wind, dropping whatever they're doing, and exploring a foreign land — if only it were that easy.

    The more likely reality is that venturing off to a country you've never visited before is a little scary. You can cover the cost of flights and hostels provided you have enough cash, but what do you do when you're hit with the inevitable culture shock? You could venture on ahead and make mistakes along the way, or you could do a little homework first and save yourself the embarrassment altogether.

    This isn't a call to read the latest Encyclopedia Britannica (though it wouldn't hurt), but instead to familiarize yourself with certain customs and traditions before you hop on that flight. If so, take a gander at this infographic, courtesy of Love Home Swap, to brush up on certain faux-pas involving food, tipping, and body language, among other things.

    You can thank them later.

    42 Biggest Travel Don’ts Around The World

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    The Jaws surf break off the north shore of Maui got its nickname for being as unpredictable as a shark attack.

    In the most dramatic surf video we've ever seen, Eric Sterman shows us what it feels like to chase, ride and wipe out on Jaws giants. Several veteran big wave surfers ventured into the rough waters during a recent, massive swell like soldiers walking into battle, and, luckily for us, Sterman was there to capture all their glory.

    Jaws Winter 2014 from Eric Sterman on Vimeo.

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