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Canada Travel news and opinion

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    As the world retreats from American-hosted providers in a post-Snowden whisleblown world, I got an email from one of my favourite U.S. services, AirBnB. If you're not familiar, AirBnB allows you to rent out an extra room in your home, or your entire place, for one night or as long as you'd like.

    I read about it a few years ago, when an enterprising young woman in San Francisco claimed to make the equivalent of a salary from renting out her extra room.

    As I travel a lot, I realized this would be a great way to offset my mortgage costs, so I put it up right away. It took some time to realize what an appropriate price was in my area, and I discovered I get about $30/night less during the week than on weekends.

    This is generally a better alternative to Craigslist in my experience for several reasons: you can choose as long as you want at any given location, you can clearly define a unique policy, and you get amazing insurance coverage you couldn't get elsewhere.

    It wasn't until travelling with a partner a few years ago that I really started to use it to stay at the locations of other hosts. We got keys to our own furnished place in Manhattan for $80/night, when hotels are usually +$300/night in the area. This offering is so disruptive to businesses, New York City has since banned residential short-term stays that are less than 30 days.

    Years later, I'm writing this from a place I found on AirBnB, and my condo is rented out to an AirBnB guest. I've been perhaps AirBnB's greatest Canadian advocate, at least until now.

    I went to renew my stay at this cute little condo when I was told that AirBnB has partnered with some other American company, Jumio, and now required a copy of my government-issued identification.


    It's worth noting perhaps that my career has been around privacy and security, and so this really flustered me. After years of loyal service, when I've already provided AirBnB with access to my home address, phone number, and social media accounts, they've taken it a step further and decided that wasn't enough.

    The biggest challenge is, once my government ID touches U.S. soil, it is bound by the U.S. Patriot Act, and many U.S. government agencies can have access to it. It's also an unacceptable risk to allow Jumio or any American third party provider, to hold my personal information, when they will likely be hacked.

    I contacted AirBnB and asked them to reconsider. They insisted that the transfer of one's government-issued ID to their new American partner was secure; and I responded that I didn't ask about that. I have no doubt the transfer of the information is relatively secure, that's exponentially easier than guaranteeing me that no American government agency will get access to my information on Jumio servers, or even that Jumio complies with Canadian privacy legislation.

    They responded again telling me that the transfer of the data is secure, and that if I had further questions I needed to contact Jumio. Why would I contact Jumio, an organization I have no business relationship with?

    Well, tonight I decided I would take a look at Jumio's privacy policy, and see what I would be signing up for if I chose to move forward with AirBnB:

    Jumio may use the Personally-Identifying Information a user submits for any purposes related to Jumio's business, including, but not limited to providing you with Jumio's services and personalizing and improving those services for you.

    What? If selling my passport photo and information generates revenue for Jumio, that is an acceptable usage for them? There are several other obvious concerns. Basically, if Jumio feels like it, they can provide your information anyone they consider a partner or contractor.

    Best practice in Canadian privacy for businesses is not to request any more information than is required to complete the business transaction. Best practice for any non-American is to avoid sending personal information unencrypted over the Internet or to anywhere on American soil.

    Best practice for privacy protecting users is to wait until AirBnB resolves this issue before submitting your government-issued ID.

    As for me? I worked out a deal with my AirBnB host as they respect my concerns, and I'm now staying here with a private, non-AirBnB contract. I wonder if a privacy respecting alternative will appear before AirBnB resolves this issue.

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    (Relaxnews) - A hostel in Cape Town that offers hotel-quality rooms and amenities in a collection of centuries-old Victorian houses has been named Lonely Planet’s best value hotel in the world.

    In spite of its name, The Backpack is less like a hostel and more like a friendly, ‘hip vibrant’ guesthouse with accommodations that range from luxury king en suites to safari tents, girls-only dorms and a separate city studio apartment a few blocks away, all dressed in Afro-funk decor.

    Amenities include a fully equipped self-catering kitchen, pool table, free unlimited Wi-Fi, an outdoor pool set against the backdrop of Table Mountain and a travel centre where guests can book safari trips and rent a car.

    Starting rates range from 220 ZAR ($22 CDN) a night for a stay in the eight-bed dorm, 700 ZAR ($72 CDN) for a single private en suite to 1000 ZAR ($102 CSN) a night in the Loft Studio.

    Many of the hostels, hotels and guesthouses which make up the top 10 list offer accommodations for under $100 USD a night.

    The list was curated by Lonely Planet editors and the entries are defined as comfortable, charming lodgings in “superlative settings” for budget-conscious travellers.

    South Africa and Brazil boast two addresses each on the list.

    Here are the top 10 value hotels for 2014:

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    WASHINGTON - Spring is in sight, but winter still has an icy grip on the eastern United States, with heavy snow and plummeting temperatures causing flight delays and cancellations at major airports on Monday.

    Nearly 3,000 flights in the United States were cancelled early Monday, according to flight tracking site — about one-tenth of the 30,000 flights usually scheduled in the U.S. on a typical day.

    Air Canada (TSX:AC.A) was among the airlines warning customers to expect weather disruptions for service to Washington, D.C., as well as Baltimore, Raleigh, S.C., Nashville, Tenn., and major cities in the U.S. Northeast: Baltimore, Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

    The latest frigid blow of the harsh winter threatened as much as 10 inches of snow (25 centimetres) by the end of the day in Washington, Baltimore and elsewhere in the Mid-Atlantic region.

    Up to six inches (15 centimetres) of snow was predicted to the north in Philadelphia, while nearly a foot of snow was expected in parts of New Jersey.

    Snow began falling in the nation's capital in Washington, D.C., early Monday, and officials warned people to stay off treacherous, icy roads — shut much of the city down.

    The federal government closed its Washington-area offices Monday, with non-emergency personnel granted excused absences for the day.

    Schools were cancelled, bus service was halted in places and federal government workers in the DC area were told to stay home Monday.

    "We're tired of it. We're sick of it," said Martin Peace, a web developer from the Washington suburb of Arlington, Va.

    He and his wife were walking on the National Mall with their young daughter Sunday before the frigid weather blew in. Both bemoaned the number of snowy days this year.

    "It's been hard with a baby being stuck in the house," said Nicole Peace, who works in human resources. "We don't really get the day off, but then we have to work from home with the baby, which is hard."

    School systems in Baltimore, Washington and many suburban areas were closed, as were all Smithsonian museums except for the National Air and Space Museum. However, the U.S. Supreme Court was expected to be open and had arguments scheduled for Monday.

    On Sunday, a mix of freezing rain and heavy snow hit central and eastern states. Authorities warned of possible power outages and flight disruptions from weather that could affect millions.


    Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Steve McMillan in Richmond, Va.; Bree Fowler in New York; Joe Mandak in Pittsburgh; Dan Sewell in West Chester, Ohio; Bruce Shipkowski in Trenton, N.J.; and Adrian Sainz in Memphis, Tenn., and The Canadian Press in Toronto.

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    More than 40 per cent of Canadians say they are less likely to travel this spring thanks to the falling loonie, a new study from BMO Insurance says.

    British Columbians were the most likely to say they are reconsidering taking a vacation abroad this spring, with 49 per cent of respondents saying they are taking a second look at their plans.

    Quebecers were the least likely to change their plans, the study found, with only 35 per cent saying they were reconsidering plans. Overall, 42 per cent of respondents said they are less likely to travel this spring.

    Nearly two-thirds -- 61 per cent -- said they plan to travel inside Canada.

    The loonie has fallen some 10 per cent against the U.S. dollar over the past year, with about half that slump taking place since the start of the year. But the Canadian dollar has stabilized in the past few weeks. It was trading at 90.13 cents U.S. Monday morning.

    Nonetheless, analysts around the world expect the currency to fall further, with Goldman Sachs predicting an 88-cent loonie this year, while some analysts expect it to fall even farther than that.

    Canadians can expect to see consumer prices rise as a result of the lower loonie, as importers face higher prices for goods made abroad. That may actually be music to the ears of the Bank of Canada, which has been worrying about disinflation in Canada’s economy. The latest inflation report shows price rises moving back towards the range targeted by the Bank.

    The loonie’s slide will likely translate into good news for companies’ bottom lines, especially those who export (because the prices they charge will be lower on the global market), and those, like the big banks, who have foreign operations. Their foreign earnings will translate into bigger money when counted in Canadian dollars.

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    Tennessee may have Jack Daniels aficionados and country music fans visiting on a regular basis, but if you'd rather leave the booze and guitars at home, there may be another worthwhile reason to travel to the Volunteer State.

    Ruby Falls might be one of the coolest waterfalls you'll ever see. It is America's largest and deepest public waterfall, standing at 44 metres tall and located 341 meters beneath Lookout Mountain near Chattanooga, TN.

    Here's what it usually looks like:

    ruby falls tennessee

    Pretty impressive but not exactly mind-blowing. Let's see what happens when you add some coloured lights. Bam:

    ruby falls tennessee

    If blue's not really your colour, Ruby Falls looks cool in purple, too.

    ruby falls tennessee

    It also does warm hues in a spectacular fashion. Bam:

    ruby falls tennessee

    While the waterfall is one of the area's main attractions, the series of stalactites and stalagmites from hundreds of years of water carrying limestone sediments is also a visual treat, particularly when lit up.

    ruby falls tennessee

    ruby falls tennessee

    Before the falls became one of Tennessee's more popular family tourist attractions, Ruby Falls was just a massive pile of limestone rock. Back in 1905, Lookout Mountain shut down to the public due to railway construction. Twenty-three years later, an inquisitive cave enthusiast by the name of Leo Lambert started excavating the area and eventually discovered the waterfall.

    ruby falls tennessee
    Today, the addition of electric lights allows the cave and waterfall to shine in all shades of colours, including ruby red. But that's not where the cave gets its name.

    ruby falls tennessee

    Lambert reportedly took several people, including his wife Ruby, to show off the cave after he discovered it. While looking at the waterfall, Lambert said he would name it after her.

    ruby falls tennessee

    ruby falls tennessee

    What colours would you like to see at Ruby Falls? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter @HPCaTravel

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    (KATHMANDU-AFP) - Climbers scaling Mount Everest will have to bring back eight kilograms (17.6 pounds) of garbage under new rules designed to clean up the world's highest peak, a Nepalese official said Monday.

    The rule, one of several new measures for mountaineering in the Himalayan nation, will apply to climbers ascending beyond Everest's base camp from April onwards, said tourism ministry official Madhusudan Burlakoti.

    "The government has decided in order to clean up Mount Everest, each member of an expedition must bring back at least eight kilos of garbage, apart from their own trash," he said.

    Burlakoti said authorities would take legal action against climbers who failed to comply with the new rule, although it was unclear whether this would involve a fine or other penalty.

    Decades of mountaineering have taken a toll on the peak, which is strewn with rubbish from past expeditions, including oxygen cylinders, human waste and even climbers' bodies, which do not decompose in the extreme cold.

    Expeditions will have to submit their trash to an office to be set up next month at base camp. It will also offer medical aid and resolve conflicts, after a brawl between European climbers and local guides last year.

    Although expeditions currently have to fork out a $4,000 deposit, refunded once they show they have brought back everything they took to the mountain, enforcement has been a problem.

    "Our earlier efforts have not been very effective. This time, if climbers don't bring back garbage, we will take legal action and penalise them," Burlakoti said.

    Last month Nepal slashed fees for individual climbers to Everest and other Himalayan peaks to attract more mountaineers, sparking concerns of increased traffic and more trash on the mountains.

    In an overhaul of security on the mountain, the new office at base camp will station soldiers and police so climbers can approach officers with any problems, officials said last month.

    Environmental and climbing groups have long sought to focus attention on the waste problem while clean-up projects have also been organised.

    Discarded oxygen and cooking gas cylinders, ropes, tents, glasses, beer cans, plastic and even the remains of a helicopter made up 75 artworks commissioned for a Kathmandu exhibition in 2012, highlighting the environmental impact of alpine tourism.

    Everest is a key revenue-earner for the impoverished country, with hundreds scaling the mountain every year during the peak climbing season in April and May.

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    An Okanagan ski resort has been shut down after a chairlift broke and sent four people to hospital.

    Three chairs plunged six metres to the ground on Saturday at Crystal Mountain Resort, outside Kelowna, B.C. The B.C. Safety Authority has suspended its licence pending an investigation, reported The Vancouver Sun.

    Crystal Mountain was the only resort in B.C. that was fined last year for unsafe lifts, said the Sun.

    Paul Gervais was riding on the chairlift with his son, Dakota, when he said the seat "exploded."

    "There wasn't a vibration, there wasn't a speed-up, there wasn't a slowdown. It was just BANG, and that chair just shot up straight up in the air," Gervais told CTV News.

    He grabbed his son's hand and screamed, "Don't start the lift!"

    "I was just really freaked out that my dad's hand was going to slip out and I was going to fall to the ground but luckily he didn't [let go]," said Dakota.

    The ski lift, which has been in operation since 1967, is "very well maintained," Mike Morin, general manager of Crystal Mountain, told Castanet.

    "I've been here for 20 years and we've never had anything even come close to this on the lift.... We have very stringent codes that we have to follow. So I'm anxious as everybody else to find out what the root cause is."

    Witness Lee Kiester told Castanet that he saw a man from a fallen chair in a lot of pain, while another woman had rib and arm injuries.

    Of the four injured people, one remains in critical condition, safety authority spokesman Quinn Newcomb told the Sun. Three patients worked at the ski resort while the fourth was a guest, according to CBC News.

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    A drowning victim found lifeless on the ocean floor in the Cayman Islands on Sunday has been identified as a Toronto-area man.

    According to the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service, 46-year-old Timothy Denver Mullin of Etobicoke went snorkelling alone off the shore of Eden Rock at about 4:00 p.m. while his mother waited on the beach. The two were on vacation.

    “At about 5:30 p.m., two divers were returning to shore when they discovered the deceased’s body in about 20 feet of water motionless,” read a police statement on Monday.

    Divers pulled Mullin out of the water and he was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead.

    While an investigation is ongoing, police say there is no reason to suspect suspicious activity in Mullin’s death.

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    A passenger's sexist remarks towards a WestJet pilot have sparked online outrage after photos of the vitriolic comments scrawled on a napkin were posted online.

    Carey Smith Steacy, a pilot with the Calgary-based carrier, had completed her flight from Calgary to Victoria on Sunday only to find this note from a passenger, identified only as "David" from seat 12E, apparently outraged that his pilot was a woman.

    The message also references Chapter 31 from the Book of Proverbs, which is most commonly identified as listing the attributes of an ideal woman.

    The cockpit of airliner is no place for a woman. A woman being a mother is the most honor [sic], not as "captain." We're short mothers, not pilots WestJet.

    Proverbs 31

    (Sorry, not PC)

    P.S.: I wish WestJet could tell me a fair lady is at the helm so I can book another flight!

    Steacy, who lives in Surrey, B.C., first posted the photos on her Facebook page, along with her response. Both made their way to various chat forums and Reddit.

    “To @David in 12E on my flight #463 from Calgary to Victoria today. It was my pleasure flying you safely to your destination. Thank you for the note you discreetly left me on your seat. You made sure to ask the flight attendants before we left if I had enough hours to be the Captain so safety is important to you, too. I have heard many comments from people throughout my 17 year career as a pilot. Most of them positive. Your note is, without a doubt, the funniest. It was a joke, right? RIGHT?? I thought, not. You were more than welcome to deplane when you heard I was a “fair lady.” You have that right. Funny, we all, us humans, have the same rights in this great free country of ours. Now, back to my most important role, being a mother.”

    Still, Steacy says she was a little shocked after receiving the message.

    "I just couldn’t believe there are still people in this country that think like that," she told Metro News.

    WestJet, for its part, was quick to denounce the note, saying it's proud of all their pilots.

    "We have female captains and female first officers flying on all WestJet aircraft to all WestJet destinations. We're enormously proud of the professionalism, skill, experience and expertise of our pilots and we were very disappointed to find this note," Robert Palmer, a spokesman with the airline, wrote to the The Huffington Post Canada in an email.

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    Since the release of Arcade Fire's 2004 debut album "Funeral," which prominently featured the song "Haiti," it became evident that the Canadian band had influences from the Caribbean nation running through their veins, literally in the case of co-bandleader Regine Chassange, whose family had long ago fled the Jean-Claude Duvalier regime for the safety of Montreal.

    But it wasn't until the new record "Reflektor" that their inspiration and passion for this country flourished from the artwork to the videos to the music itself.

    When the band announced their participation in Jacmel's 2014 Carnival in late February -- known locally as Kanaval and one of the region's largest Mardis Gras celebrations -- I knew it was going to be a unique experience and the perfect place to watch them perform this new material. It reminded me of when Paul Simon's "Graceland" came out, that despite all the cultural appropriation controversy it generated, the music's geography was key to its transcendence as an art piece. Furthermore, it established an important cultural bridge that would later leave an open field for new artistic proposals.

    A similar pattern took place when the contagious and powerful rara street music that exists in the air of Haiti drove Arcade Fire to step away from their "Suburbs" surroundings. The desire for this change became evident when they opened for Haitian favorites RAM back in 2012 at a Partners For Health benefit concert. The experience of playing their rock-oriented songs to this audience unfamiliar with the genre led them to create a record that they could play in Haiti and make the crowd dance.

    Story continues after slideshow

    The results of this challenge came clear as the carnival audience at Place Toussaint Louverture was caught off guard when the rara-inspired intro to "Here Comes The Night Time" came in blasting at the end of the show. This was the very instant when everything fell into place. Not only did Arcade Fire achieve their ultimate goal to make Haitians dance to their songs, but this also became a milestone in their career as they pushed boundaries and evolved as creative artists.

    Without a doubt, this band has helped spread the rich culture and identity of Haiti throughout the world. They've achieved this not only through their music and interviews and donating money from their tours, but also launching the charitable organization Kanpe and getting involved with the Cine Institute students (who produced their unique "Just a Reflektor" music video).

    When we first spotted the "Reflektor" graffiti on the streets back in September of 2013, it created enough expectations for us to be on the look out for any updates regarding the album campaign. This included the awesome/chaotic SNL Special, their custom made Haitian Kanaval masks, and ultimately, their brilliant double album.

    All of this motivated three twentysomethings to embark on a new adventure and travel to their neighbor country.

    I picked up the phone and called my best friend, Hilda Pellerano, who for five straight years has photographed and documented a wide range of artists, both in the Dominican Republic and New York City. Right away I explained to her why AF's history and passion for the country would make this one of the most memorable shows both the band and we would ever experience. The trip sounded much like a fun adventure but it wasn't easy to arrange.

    In the Dominican Republic, we were brought up in an environment of uncertainty, conflict, and rejection towards the nation of Haiti. News usually revolved around the political and economic tension between the two countries. History books and charity work gave us the illusion of having all the knowledge we needed and wanted. Therefore, there was nothing to spark any new kind of interest.

    It took a Canadian band to burst the bubble of ignorance we had been living in.

    Despite all the evident struggles and poverty in Haiti, there is a beauty in the landscape that demands great attention. As we made it to Port-au-Prince, we were immediately drawn to the people running in the middle of the streets, the amazing illustrations on public cars, and the strong presence of music in their daily lives. The amount of adrenaline in this place was just enough to worry you and excite you at the same time.

    After two hours, we arrived to Jacmel. The scenery was breathtaking; we couldn't help feel in awe of all the gorgeous, huge peaks that were hard to ignore. Also, the weather at this point was cooler than ever, creating a serene feeling as it finally kicked in that we were actually going to experience Arcade Fire in this remarkable land.

    (Chassagne herself had only visited Jacmel's Kanaval for the first time last year, as she told the Montreal Gazette. "It was literally one of the most beautiful experiences I had ever witnessed. I had been to Haiti many times to check out the work Kanpe was doing, but I'd never been just to go there and get into the spirit.")

    We make it to Place Toussaint Louverture around 9PM, still in time to enjoy the complete, Win Butler-curated lineup (Kreyolla, RAM, BélO, DJ Tony Mix, Hotmen Rap, Lakou Mizik, 45 Soldiers, DJ Gardy, J-Perry, Rara Fanm). It was interesting to see Butler and his band mates standing sidestage and admiring the unique sets by the other artists. One of these musicians included BélO, a jaw-dropping singer-songwriter, whom I discovered through Arcade Fire. Coming across BélO’s music, as well as all these new artists we were exposed to was another great perk we received from this trip.

    Arcade Fire was involved in production and working hard to ensure everything would run smoothly. Backstage, the overall feel was a very humble one. There were no egos, no pretentiousness, no bad tempers, and everyone was treated equally -- in fact, Arcade Fire wasn't even headlining. All this humility came through when their instruments were delayed by immigration until about an hour prior to the performance. Still, they were as calm as can be, even when forced to do sound check right in front of the audience.

    The masterful way they handled themselves and the love of their craft instantly transmitted to the crowd and made them react to this new music they were listening to. To us, the experience was a once-in-a-lifetime eye opening to both great music and the wonders of a striking, beautiful country.

    It was evidently a moving moment for the band, as well. "I see my mother everywhere," Chassagne told a reporter from the Guardian. "I just feel normal -- more normal -- here. I feel like it makes sense of me."

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    (Relaxnews) - Trends like gluten-free foods, Greek yogurt and artisan ice cream flavours are taking off in-flight.

    In its new menu shake-up, United Airlines has become the latest mainstream carrier to add gluten-free alternatives that will extend to salad dressings, soup, fruit and nut bars.

    The options will be available for premium-cabin customers on domestic flights, routes to Central America and long-haul international flights departing the US. Gluten-free snack boxes will be available for purchase in economy-class cabins.

    United joins other carriers like American Airlines, Air Canada, Delta and Singapore Airlines to offer meals that are wheat, rye, barley and oat-free.

    Premium-cabin passengers flying United will also be upgraded from regular yogurt to Greek yogurt in response to the wild popularity of the thicker, denser yogurt. Chobani Flip Greek yogurt will be added as a breakfast option on flights within North America and to Central America.

    Meanwhile, Virgin America also released a new in-flight menu this month, inviting passengers to vote for the artisan ice cream flavour they’d like to see served on board.

    In collaboration with gourmet ice cream maker Humphry Slocombe, a popular San Francisco ice cream parlour in the airline’s home base, Virgin America invited flyers to tweet their choice among three flavours: Butter by Moodlight made with brown butter and blueberry glaze; Red Hot Banana, made with banana cream, sweet cinnamon spice and mashed Red Hot candies; and Coconut Blond Ambition, an homage to founder Sir Richard Branson with vanilla marshmallow fluff mingled with lemon citrus sorbet and a coconut finish.

    The winning flavour will be served to passengers flying in the First Class cabin starting March 4.

    In a sign that the low-carb diet continues to see demand, the carrier has also introduced protein-packed plates like yogurt, fruit and gluten-free granola, and farro pudding with edamame hummus, boiled egg, grapes, radishes, mini pitas, and camembert cheese.

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    This is Ivrea, Italy, a small town of 25,000 in the country's north. And every year, for a few days, it's home to roughly 500,000 kilograms of fresh oranges.

    battle of the oranges

    But these oranges aren't for eating or juicing. They're for fighting.

    This is Carnevale Di Ivrea, better known as the Battle of the Oranges, and it is Italy's largest food fight.

    battle of the oranges

    The streets of Ivrea may run orange with pulp from March 2 to 4, but the festival actually hearkens back to a time when those same streets could have run red with blood.

    battle of the oranges

    You see, Carnevale Di Ivrea pays homage to an ancient uprising between the town's villagers and its tyrant leader and his guards. The story goes something like this: Back in the 1800s, a civil war broke out between the townsfolk of Ivera and the Royal Napoleonic Troops, led by the hated tyrant Raineri di Biandrate.

    battle of the oranges

    battle of the oranges

    It's said that di Biandrate tried to rape the daughter of a local miller on the eve of her wedding. Things got ugly and the daughter ended up decapitating the tyrant. His troops then tried to take the town by force as an act of retaliation, and the people revolted using stones and other crude weapons and eventually drove the soldiers out.

    battle of the oranges

    Today, participants trade slings and arrows for oranges. And while things may look like chaos, there's actually a fair amount of planning involved. There are typically nine teams, one group who dresses up in armour to represent the old guards, and even a young woman selected to represent the Mugnaia (the miller's daughter who sparked the whole revolution).

    battle of the oranges

    Everything wraps up with a grim funeral procession to "mourn" those lost in battle, and, well, a lot of orange-sized bruises. There's also an option for people to watch from the sidelines, but they not allowed to throw any oranges during the fight.

    battle of the oranges

    Yup. We'll definitely stick to watching.

    battle of the oranges

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    Just as winter rolls into its third month and students have had their fill of homework and study hall, March arrives. It's a fun travel month as Canadians start the early search for spring, sunshine and a splash of something different. So, at, we asked our data team to see which travel destinations jumped in popularity for aspiring March travellers. Below are the five spots that saw the biggest jump in their rankings in terms of travel searches for March as compared to the rest of the year, as well as our thoughts on why these spots are so hot right now.

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    What do protected parklands and conservation areas mean to Canadian tourism? Everything!

    Tourism in Canada is highly dependent on our parks and conservation areas. We would even go as far to say that our protected parks and conservation areas in Canada are the foundation of a successful future in tourism for Canada.

    According to a 2011 Canada Tourism Commission Report there were 15.6-million international overnight trips in Canada. Of those international travelers 7.64 million travelled to Canada for pleasure, holidays and/or recreation. Many of them are what we in the industry like to call Soft Outdoor Adventure Enthusiasts.

    According to Statistics Canada there were over 3.2-million trips by Canadians within Canada. This is not taking into consideration multiple visits during the year. And...get this...23 per cent of all Canadians indicate they too are Soft Outdoor Adventure Enthusiasts.

    A recent Travel Activities and Motivation Survey indicated that the Soft Outdoor Adventure Enthusiasts enjoy activities like:

    • hiking/backpacking in wilderness settings (58 per cent);

    • wildlife viewing (47 per cent);

    • fishing (46 per cent);

    • cycling (38 per cent);

    • kayaking or canoeing (37 per cent);

    • motor boating (37 per cent); and

    • wildflower viewing (32 per cent).

    Where do people go to enjoy these types of activities in Canada? The only place they can go, in most cases, is to our protected parks and conservation areas. So take away our parks and conservation areas and what are we left with? Bottom line...we would be left with no outdoor tourism industry to speak of and we would have a totally different Canadian tourism brand.

    As indicated in the Travel Activities and Motivational Survey: "Not only do these tourists rate Canada very highly as a place with beautiful scenery (9.1 on a 10-point scale) but they also have a penchant for activities that would allow them to experience this scenery first hand: viewing wildlife and flora as they hike through wilderness settings or kayak and canoe on lakes and waterways."

    According to Parks Canada, our Canadian National Parks, Reserves, Historic Sites and Conservation Areas entertained over 20.6-million visitors in 2011-2012! That is not including the protected lands managed by Canadian non-profit organizations like Ducks Unlimited and the Nature Conservancy of Canada...nor does it include our provincial, municipal, regional and community parks. Now if we factor in the multiple visits and return trips made to our Canadian parks and conservation areas the numbers are even more staggering.

    Imagine what life would be like in Canada if there were no protected mountains, grasslands, historic sites, lakes, rivers, wetlands, bogs, wildlife and other natural areas. Imagine if there were no protected parks how many towns and villages would be non existent, as many communities in Canada depend on natural areas for economic survival.

    So next time you explore a park or conservation area let us be reminded that yes, their main objective is to protect and conserve...but they are also employers and educators of many travelers, as well as economic drivers for many Canadian communities generating millions of dollars for our national economy.

    Written by Greg Girard, co-founder of the travel planning website eh Canada Travel & Adventure. This blog originally appeared on Land Lines, the blog of the Nature Conservancy of Canada.


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    March Break isn’t just for kids anymore. After all, sun-starved, over-worked adults need to get away, too, and there needn’t be children or students in the picture to make it happen.

    A 2013 CIBC poll showed that about 12 per cent of Canadians plan on taking a vacation in March. The other 88 percent are likely thinking and dreaming about it. And really, after one of the toughest winters on record, don’t you deserve a break? Think of it as a sixth-inning stretch that will keep you sane until spring decides to actually make an appearance.

    Sun vacations are the top choice among would-be holidaymakers, but a fun-filled staycation or a weekend spent at a destination not too, too far away does wonders for the body and soul. Research backs this up: The health and wellness benefits post-vacation are profound with lower blood pressure, better quality of sleep and decreased levels of cortisol, a hormone connected to stress.

    And if you need more ammunition to get your employer to sign off on some vacation time, parade the fact that staffers fresh from a vacay show higher levels of productivity. It’s worth a shot, right? If not, keep in mind that 29 per cent of Canadians have called in “sick” with the vacation “flu” at some point in time.

    So, for all would-be holidayers, here are a few suggestions on where you should spend your precious time over March break:

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    VICTORIA - For the second time in as many months, thieves have stolen a totem pole from a property north of Victoria.

    RCMP in Shawnigan Lake say a totem pole was taken from the Malahat Mountain Inn last weekend and an attempt may have been made to steal a third pole.

    It was found at the bottom of an embankment near the inn, which was purchased recently after a year in foreclosure.

    Mounties believe the first pole vanished sometime in late January and the new owner of the property, Lori Strandlund, hopes both are returned.

    She describes them as priceless pieces of the region's history.

    Each of the 2.5-metre-tall poles weighs about 140 kilograms and Strandlund says they have been at the location for about 70 years. (CFAX)

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    (Relaxnews) - News that Universal Studios may be bringing their Hollywood-based theme park to Beijing firms up predictions that Asia is poised to become the theme park capital of the world.

    According to a report by The Hollywood Reporter, the Asian outpost of the Universal Studios franchise will be a $2 billion USD project that will transform 51 acres of land in a suburb of Beijing.

    The theme park is estimated to open in 2018.

    While Universal Studios has yet to respond to the rumours, the Hollywood Reporter points out that municipal plans call for a monorail to be built in Beijing and for its terminus to end at the site of the purported Universal Studios, in the suburb of Tongzhou.

    Universal Parks and Resorts is also advertising for Mandarin Chinese-speaking staff, while demolition of the area is ongoing.
    The Beijing location would mark the third Asian location of Universal Studios, after Singapore and Osaka.

    The development of massive theme parks has been fast and furious in Asia over the last few years.

    Some of the more highly anticipated openings include the Shanghai Disney Resort -- set to become the largest theme park development in China when it opens in 2015 -- and a Twentieth Century Fox Theme Park near the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur in 2016.

    Developers in South Korea also announced plans to open a robot theme park in two years.

    A report published last year predicted that theme park attendance in Asia is poised to overtake North American attendance, thanks to integrated resorts that mix casinos, retail and cultural facilities in a single space.

    According to the 2012 Theme Index, attendance at the top 20 Asian theme parks increased by nearly 6 percent in 2012 over 2011 to receive a record 108.7 million visits.

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    Is Bane lurking in Montreal's sewers?

    Maybe not, but the city's underground infrastructure looks like a perfect place for the Batman villain, or even the Ninja Turtles to hide.

    Photographer Andrew Emond began posting images of the city's sewers on his website Under Montreal in 2009 as a way of documenting its changing underground spaces.

    He revamped the website with a new design and a map of Montreal's approximately 5,000-kilometre sewer system in late February. Now you can go on his site, click on photos and map precisely where he took them.

    The photos are stunning, if a little creepy.

    Check out Andrew Emond's "Under Montreal":

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    With several exhibits and IMAX films playing all year long, for anyone who hasn't visited Ontario's Science Centre in the past 20 years, let us reassure you going as an adult is just as fun.

    This month, the centre launches their new exhibition hall featuring The AstraZeneca Human Edge exhibit, a series of obstacles that test the human body's limits (and your ability to dance or climb a wall), and new public planetariums that will make you feel like a kid at camp.

    And with March Break just around the corner, you may be looking for more educational ways to keep your kids happy rather than letting them watch hours of cartoons. If the idea of making the hairs on your head stand up during an electricity demo or building paper airplanes and having a race against strangers (and kids) sounds ideal, check out some of the things you can do at the Science Centre in March.

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    A Vancouver-based street artist whose work is similar to the iconic Banksy has received a boost of support from the mystery man himself.

    IHeart — who also chooses to keep his identity a secret — is "just a boy with ideas, opinions and a whole lot of aerosol," according to his website.

    IHeart's work, depicting a child who is crying because no one likes his Instagram post, was thrust into the spotlight when it was shared by Banksy on Wednesday.


    Posted to the British artist's Facebook page, the artwork has over 10,000 shares and 91,000 likes (ironic, considering it's a commentary on how we need social media for personal gratification).

    The original artwork appears in Stanley Park, reports The Province. IHeart is selling 11 by 17 inch prints of it for $30.

    "Vancouverites are obsessed with social media," he wrote on his website on Jan. 19. "Every platform is flooded with selfies and every ‘like’, new follower or comment serves to validate an existence."

    See more of IHeart's work:

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