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Canada Travel news and opinion

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    (HONG KONG-AFP) - Dangling his feet off the edge of a skyscraper more than fifty storeys above the streets of Hong Kong, Jonathan Tsang looks as relaxed as if he was kicking back in his own living room.

    For most people the view below would be a dizzying, terrifying spectacle. But for 25-year-old Tsang, it brings a sense of calm.

    "The population is really dense and sometimes it's just kind of suffocating to the point where you need some time to yourself," he said. "That's mostly why I come up here."

    Tsang, who asked AFP to use a pseudonym, is one of a growing number of so-called "urban explorers", a subculture of adrenaline junkies, photographers and history enthusiasts who treat the world's forgotten -- and often forbidden -- places as their own personal playgrounds.

    The pursuit has long been popular in North America and Europe, and now Asia is becoming an increasingly sought after destination for an intrepid new generation of "urbexer".

    In February two Russian daredevils scaled China's tallest building with their bare hands. Vadim Makhorov and Vitaliy Raskalov took advantage of lax security over the Chinese New Year holiday to sneak into the under-construction Shanghai Tower, releasing a hair-raising video of their stunt that went viral.

    Hong Kong, a city with more skyscrapers than anywhere else in the world, is a particularly attractive destination for both local and international "rooftoppers", a daring subset of adventurers with a head for heights willing to risk arrest, injury and even death as they scale some of the world's tallest buildings.

    - 'Wait for the right time' -

    Getting to the top of many Hong Kong residential buildings, said Tsang, is often as easy as bluffing your way past the concierge and taking a lift to the top floor. But some of the tallest luxury complexes, hotels and office towers present a much greater challenge.

    "You try and do as much research as you can. If other explorers have been there then you can get advice about how to get in -- like whether there is a hole in a fence somewhere," he said.

    "Usually there are security guards but you just have to be patient. You can't just barge into a place and walk up to the roof. You have to wait for the right time."

    Story Continues After The Gallery

    Many attempts end in failure.

    "The success rate on rooftops is probably 20-30 percent," he said. "And at times it can be discouraging. You might walk up 30-40 stories and then you discover you can't get past the final door. But when you do finally get to the top, wow, it's hard to describe. It's just beautiful."

    Accessing the roof of the skyscraper - a luxury hotel in the city's bustling Kowloon district -- was alarmingly easy.

    Tsang and an urbexing friend who uses her exploring name "Airin T" simply walked through a mall, into the hotel and took an elevator most of the way up. To avoid any guards or staff near the more exclusive penthouse suites, the last few storeys were made on foot via a staircase and through an unlocked door that led to the roof.

    But any misconception that rooftopping is a safe hobby was soon dispelled as Tsang and his friend climbed a large illuminated dome at the top of the building. The ladder up to the dome hung over the edge of the skyscraper whilst the pathway at the top was little more than a foot wide. A slip on either would mean certain death.

    "I do have a fear of heights," said Tsang, visibly elated from his climb. "It sounds kind of cliched but it's about facing your fears. And it really does help."

    Hong Kong's police declined an interview request by AFP but warned that practitioners could face criminal damage and burglary charges in the event of any destruction of property. No explorers have been prosecuted to date.

    - Windows into the past -

    Yet not all forms of urban exploration are about seeking the adrenaline rush that comes from soaring above the crowds on towering rooftops.

    Airin, a 25-year-old office worker by day, is a keen rooftopper. But she also spends much of her time exploring Hong Kong's myriad of abandonments, from shuttered mental asylums to discarded factories and crumbling apartment blocks.

    Sporting bright blue hair, suspenders and a leather skirt, she looks like a character from a Manga comic as she strolls along the decaying paths around an abandoned village in Hong Kong's rural Sai Kung district.

    In one house, she cuts past a traditional table still displaying ancestor offerings, up a rotten wooden staircase to a bedroom littered with broken pieces of furniture.

    For Airin, who has gone urbexing as far afield as Russia, South Korea and Japan, abandonments offer a hidden window into the past.
    "You can feel that time stops here and that's what attracts me," she says.

    Wong Chuk Yeung is one of around 100 traditional villages in Hong Kong which lie shuttered.

    "The young people move out and they have their families in the city. The old people stay and (eventually) die so it becomes abandoned," Airin said of the village.

    Tsang believes urbexers are too often portrayed as adrenaline junkies and that their respect for leaving places untouched is ignored.

    "There's a lot of people putting labels on us. Calling us thrill seekers, daredevils. That's true, there are some people like that but it doesn't fully represent this subculture," he says.

    Meanwhile Airin believes more and more people across Asia will inevitably be drawn to explore the forbidden as the subculture grows.

    "Everyone is actually born an explorer," she concludes. "But they just don't realise it."

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    KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia - The search for the missing Malaysian jet pushed deep into the northern and southern hemispheres Monday as Australia scoured the southern Indian Ocean and China offered 21 satellites to respond to Malaysia's call for help in the unprecedented hunt.

    French investigators arriving in Kuala Lumpur to lend expertise from the two-year search for an Air France jet that crashed into the Atlantic Ocean in 2009 said they were able to rely on distress signals. But that vital tool is missing in the Malaysia Airlines mystery because Flight 370's communications were deliberately severed ahead of its disappearance more than a week ago, investigators say.

    "It's very different from the Air France case. The Malaysian situation is much more difficult,'' said Jean Paul Troadec, a special adviser to France's aviation accident investigation bureau.

    Malaysian authorities say the jet carrying 239 people was intentionally diverted from its flight path during an overnight flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8 and flew off-course for several hours. Suspicion has fallen on the pilots, although Malaysian officials have said they are looking into everyone aboard the flight.

    Malaysian police confiscated a flight simulator from the pilot's home on Saturday and also visited the home of the co-pilot in what Malaysian police chief Khalid Abu Bakar initially said was the first police visits to those homes. But the government - which has come under criticism abroad for missteps and foot-dragging in their release of information - issued a statement Monday contradicting that account by saying police first visited the pilots' homes as early as March 9, the day after the flight.

    Investigators haven't ruled out hijacking, sabotage, pilot suicide or mass murder, and they are checking the backgrounds of all 227 passengers and 12 crew members, as well as the ground crew, to see if links to terrorists, personal problems or psychological issues could be factors.

    For now, though, Malaysian Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said finding the plane was still the main focus, and he did not rule out finding it intact.

    "The fact that there was no distress signal, no ransom notes, no parties claiming responsibility, there is always hope,'' Hishammuddin said at a news conference.

    Malaysian Airlines CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said an initial investigation indicated that the co-pilot, Fariq Abdul Hamid, spoke the fight's last words - "All right, good night'' - to ground controllers. Had it been a voice other than that of Fariq or the pilot, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, it would have clearest indication yet of something amiss in the cockpit before the flight went off-course.

    Malaysian officials earlier said those words came after one of the jetliner's data communications systems - the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System - had been switched off, sharpening suspicion that one or both of the pilots may have been involved in the plane's disappearance.

    However, Ahmad said Monday that while the last data transmission from ACARS - which gives plane performance and maintenance information _ came before that, it was still unclear at what point the system was switched off. That opened the possibility that both ACARS and the plane's transponders - which make the plane visible to civilian air traffic controllers - were severed later and at about the same time. It also suggests that the all-clear message delivered from the cockpit could have preceded any of the severed communications.

    Although Malaysian authorities requested that all nations with citizens aboard the flight conduct background checks on them, it wasn't clear how thoroughly they were conducting such checks at home. The father of a Malaysian aviation engineer aboard the plane, Mohamad Khairul Amri Selamat, 29, said police had not approached anyone in the family about his son, though he added that there was no reason to suspect him.

    "It is impossible for him to be involved in something like this,'' said the father, Selamat Omar, 60. "He is a good boy ... We are keeping our hopes high. I am praying hard that the plane didn't crash and that he will be back soon.''

    Malaysia's government in the meantime sent out diplomatic cables to all countries in the search area, seeking more planes and ships for the search, as well as to ask for any radar data that might help narrow the task.

    Some 26 countries are involved in the search, which initially focused on seas on either side of peninsular Malaysia, in the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca.

    Over the weekend, however, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak announced that investigators determined that a satellite picked up a faint signal from the aircraft about 7 1/2 hours after takeoff. The signal indicated the plane would have been somewhere on a vast arc stretching from Kazakhstan down to the southern reaches of the Indian Ocean.

    Hishammuddin said Monday that searches in both the northern and southern stretches of the arc had begun, and that countries from Australia up north to China and west to Kazakhstan had joined the hunt.

    Had the plane gone northwest to Central Asia, it would have crossed over countries with busy airspace, and some experts believe it more likely would have gone south, although Malaysian authorities are not ruling out the northern corridor and are eager for radar data that might confirm or rule out that path.

    The northern corridor crosses through countries including China, India and Pakistan - all of which have said they have seen no sign of the plane. China, where two thirds of the passengers were from, is providing several planes and 21 satellites for the search, Premier Li Keqiang said in a statement.

    "Factors involved in the incident continue to multiply, the area of search and rescue continues to broaden, and the level of difficulty increases, but as long as there is one thread of hope, we will continue an all-out effort,'' Li said.

    To the south, Indonesia focused on Indian Ocean waters west of Sumatra, air force spokesman Rear Marshall Hadi Tjahjanto said.

    Australia agreed to Malaysia's request to take the lead in scouring the southern Indian Ocean with four Orion maritime planes that also would be joined by New Zealand and U.S. planes, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said.

    "Australia will do its duty in this matter,'' Abbott told Parliament in Australia. "We will do our duty to the families of the 239 people on that aircraft who are still absolutely devastated by their absence, and who are still profoundly, profoundly saddened by this as yet unfathomed mystery.''

    The southern Indian Ocean is the world's third-deepest and one of the most remote stretches of water in the world, with little radar coverage.

    Planes will be searching for any signs of the kind of debris that might float to the surface in a crash. Ahmad, the Malaysia Airlines CEO, said the plane had no unusual cargo, though he said it was carrying several tons of mangosteens, a purple tropical fruit.


    Associated Press writers Chris Brummitt, Jim Gomez and Eileen Ng in Kuala Lumpur, Kirsten Gelineau in Sydney, Australia, Christopher Bodeen in Beijing and Niniek Karmini in Jakarta, Indonesia, contributed to this report.

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    If you're finding it unbearable to last between now and the official start of spring (March 20), we'd like to suggest taking a trip to India, because there certainly aren't any winter blues there.

    That's partially because Hindus in the country are currently celebrating Holi, sometimes known as the Festival of Light, as a way to mark the start of spring, according to their lunar calendar.

    Things typically kick off the night before with bonfires to symbolize how good triumphed over evil, but the main event follows the day after. That's when locals and visitors take to the streets, tossing and pitching each other with coloured powder called "gulal," as well as water.

    The festival is particularly friendly to tourists, as most social norms seem to disappear with the clouds of colour. The country's typical caste structure breaks down for the day to let people — regardless of stature, job or wealth — to mingle, mix and have fun. There's even a special drink made from fermented cannabis prepared for Holi called "bhang lassi" that may just put your friend's batch of "special brownies" to shame.

    Can't make it to India? Well, the festival's popularity has spread over the years to nearby countries like Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal for more people to enjoy.

    Have a photo from this year's Holi celebration? Share it with us on Twitter at @HPCaTravel.

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    Variations on an ancient indigenous practice are going viral in the social media. Called -- and you've probably heard of it already-- "Winter Challenge 2014," participants are asked to either fully immerse themselves in a body of water or, where there's snow, make snow angels while wearing swim attire or, lastly, where either of these aren't possible, getting drenched with a pail of water will do.

    Regardless of the method, the main idea is to get off the couch, out of the house and acquaint yourself with the winter cold.

    The idea originated with Kura Jack, 19, of Chemanius. After a recent dump of snow, she grew concerned that few of her friends and relatives were outside, enjoying the winter weather. Instead, they seemed more interested in staying inside, watching TV or playing video games.

    Wanting to set an example, she grabbed her video camera, donned cut-offs and top and did snow angels in the freshly fallen snow. She then nominated others to do the challenge.

    And that's how it spread; the Challenger challenging others. This includes young and old -- toddlers and elders alike -- from such locales as Southern California to Alaska; though predominately in Canada, and in particular in B.C., and predominately, though not exclusively, native.

    Public figures who took the challenge include AFN National Chief Shawn Atleo, who nominated actor Adam Beach, who took a light hearted approach from poolside in sunny LA.

    Fellow actor Evan Adams took up the challenge in Hawaii, though he described it as "unseasonably cold."

    The mayor of Vancouver, Gregor Robertson, waded into the waters of English Bay; the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs vice-president Bob Chamberlin dived into the icy reservoir of Collier Dam.

    The Wilderness Committee's national campaign director Joe Foy splashed into Clayoquot Sound. Prime Minister Stephen Harper and B.C. Premier Christy Clark have been nominated, but no word on whether they'll be doing the Winter Challenge.

    The challenge has had special resonance in native communities. Not surprising, considering that it connects to ancient traditions of many First Nations.

    Evan Adams described it as "reawakening the indigenous spirit." Because it involves water, the challenge is especially powerful. From the indigenous perspective, water is sacred, the giver and sustainer of all life, while also symbolizing both death and rebirth; flood and baptism.

    Underlying the whole phenomena is the somber truth that there are real, immediate threats to this most precious resource; and there are some who are saying the challenge must be followed through by remaining vigilant to the threats not only to water, but to other indigenous rights and freedoms.

    Fittingly, too, Canada Water Week is upon us, bridging winter to spring and giving us occasion to celebrate and give thought to the importance of fresh water.

    But in watching the videos of those taking up the challenge, the approach is neither ponderous nor particularly reverential; but, nonetheless, positive. Usually you hear shrieks at the immersion in cold water and, then, laughter all the way around. Good fun being had by all.

    There are also health benefits. One physical fitness expert, who also took the challenge, says that a regimen of cold water immersion "boosts the immune system... and will improve your sex life."

    What's next? With the weather warming and a new season coming, there is some talk of a "Spring Challenge." One suggestion, from Carrielynn Victor of the Sto:lo Nation, is to "plant a tree."

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    Like much of the world, alt-rocker Courtney Love wants to know where Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 has disappeared to.

    And like many others, she's gone to, a site where people are asked to tag possible clues such as wreckage, oil slicks and life rafts in satellite images to help find the plane.

    Officials have not been able to find the Boeing 777-200 carrying 239 passengers (including two Canadians) since losing contact with it on March 8.

    Though she clarifies that she's no expert, Love posted a slide from the site on her Facebook page early Monday in which she points to oil slicks and what she thinks looks like a plane.


    We're sure that Courtney's heart is in the right place, but we think that identifying the plane is best left to investigators.

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    CARACAS, Venezuela - Air Canada decided to suspend its flights to and from Venezuela on Monday as anti-government protests continue to rattle the South American country.

    "Due to on-going civil unrest in Venezuela, Air Canada can no longer ensure the safety of its operation and has suspended flights to Caracas until further notice," the airline said in a statement posted on its website.

    "Air Canada will continue to monitor the situation and will evaluate the re-introduction of flights with the objective of resuming operations on the route once Air Canada is satisfied that the situation in Venezuela has stabilized."

    The first flights affected by the move are a scheduled departure from Toronto to Caracas on Tuesday evening and a flight from Caracas to Toronto on Wednesday morning.

    The airline and travel agents have started notifying affected customers. Air Canada's reservations and ticketing office in Caracas remains open.

    The airline said affected ticket-holders can obtain refunds while those who are mid-travel also have the option to be rebooked on other airlines at no additional charge.

    Air Canada's suspension came just a few days after Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said any airline that reduced or suspended flights in and out of Venezuela would face severe measures.

    Maduro said any airline that leaves won't be allowed back while he is in power.

    Demonstrations have erupted in numerous parts of Venezuela during the past month over crime and a deteriorating economy.

    Protesters have been voicing their dissatisfaction with inflation that hit 56 per cent last year, soaring violent crime and shortages of basic necessities such as corn flour and cooking oil.

    In a part of the capital, peaceful daily protests have devolved each afternoon into violent clashes with tear gas, rubber bullets, water cannon and Molotov cocktails.

    Only a small segment of the demonstrators stick around for the skirmishes, but the damage wreaked by an even smaller subgroup has been highly publicized on state television.

    — with files from the Associated Press

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    You prepared for chilly airplanes, heat waves and temperamental volcanoes, but did you anticipate getting scammed into paying a 500 Euro bar tab? Probably not. Few of us expect to get conned abroad – you're too busy having fun to be suspicious of anything more serious than a weak Guinness – but, unfortunately, that’s when vacations can go south, along with your bank account.

    Parts of Europe are notorious for scammers, and most finger-wagging relatives will take it upon themselves to ensure you watch that wallet in the Paris Metro or hold tight to your purse on Barcelona’s La Rambla. But don’t think keeping a sweaty travel wallet strapped to your thigh will prevent scammers from taking advantage. Europe’s small-time crooks are crafty and seasoned from swindling unsuspecting tourists, and you may not realize you’ve been conned until you’ve willingly handed over money and walked away.

    Tom Summerfield, co-founder of The Active Backpacker blog with his partner Trudy, quit a bank job in Australia to live in Europe and travel the world. He’s only been fooled once, but he’s been exposed to the gamut of European cons. While falling for a small-scale scam can be a bittersweet educational experience, the blogger advises for crimes such as getting robbed or losing personal belongings, travellers should always get a police report in order to claim travel insurance and corroborate unauthorized transactions on credit cards.

    The truth is that scamming isn’t as frequent as we think, and a little common sense goes a long way. But if you do find yourself in a shady situation, many of the tricks out there are variations of the same tried-and-true ploys: if you have these in mind and look out for more than the closest bar, there’s no reason to spoil your holiday with needless paranoia.

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    A recent review has found ideas on happiness vary greatly according to culture.

    Mohsen Joshanloo and Dan Weijers of the Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand say that while happiness is the ultimate goal in some cultures, others believe it attracts negative consequences. Claimed to be the first study to look at the concept of happiness "aversion" and why some cultures react so differently to feelings of satisfaction and well-being, findings
    were published in Springer's Journal of Happiness Studies.

    "One of these cultural phenomena is that, for some individuals, happiness is not a supreme value," explain Joshanloo and Weijers in their review. They note that while happiness is often valued in Western cultures, such aversion does exist in the

    Western world, as well as in non-western cultures. Being raised in a culture that does not regard happiness as important could encourage people to avoid it.

    In Western cultures, happiness is an essential goal of people's lives, and appearing unhappy is often cause for great concern.

    Yet in certain non-western cultures, happiness is not considered an important emotion. Ideas of harmony and conformity often clash with the "pursuit" of happiness and personal goals. Studies have found East Asians are more likely than Westerners to view public expressions of happiness as "inappropriate." The Japanese, for example, are less likely to "savour" positive emotions than Americans.

    This research points out that many cultures eschew happiness, believing it might result in extreme unhappiness and other negative consequences. Some in both Western and non-western cultures believe happiness makes a person boring, selfish or shallow. Inhabitants of Iran and surrounding countries are often concerned their peers, the "evil eye" or other supernatural entities will become jealous of their happiness and "severe consequences" might result.

    "Many individuals and cultures do tend to be averse to some forms of happiness, especially when taken to the extreme, for many different reasons," the researchers conclude. "Some of the beliefs about the negative consequences of happiness seem to be exaggerations, often spurred by superstition or timeless advice on how to enjoy a pleasant or prosperous life. However, considering the inevitable individual differences in regards to even dominant cultural trends, no culture can be expected to unanimously hold any of these beliefs."

    Definitions of happiness can change as we age, however. A February 2014 study found what makes us happy changes as we get older, with older people finding happiness in even the most ordinary of experiences. Younger people, in comparison, tend to base happiness on extraordinary experiences, such as those related to travel or marriage.

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    A Toronto group is floating an idea for a $60-million indoor water park for the city in a slick new online video, but offer few other details about its location, funding or construction. 

    The idea has nonetheless raised eyebrows as Toronto still ponders what to do with its recently defunct waterfront park Ontario Place.

    The group's press release says the park would operate year-round — thanks to a retractable roof — and provide a 100,000 square-foot indoor water play area featuring "sandy beaches, wave pools, cabanas, restaurants, lazy rivers, vendors and live entertainment."

    Posted on the website is a video featuring computer-generated graphics of a large water park with a retractable roof in a lakeside location that resembles Ontario Place. Owned by the provincial government, Ontario Place was closed in February 2012 due to falling attendance.

    A panel headed by John Tory, now a mayoral candidate, looked into options for Ontario Place and issued a list of recommendations calling on the majority of the site to be set aside for public use, with limited private-sector development. The report also ruled out a casino for the site and pointed out that Ontario Place is poorly served by transit. Most of the funding for any redevelopment would likely have to come from the private sector, the report said.

    The water park project does not appear to be backed by any specific developer but is partnered with marblemedia, a content and branding company committed to "telling great original stories in new and exciting ways."

    The release says the company is looking at three locations, but does not name them. The release also says the company is in talks with "officials in Mississauga and Toronto."

    The release says backers of the project are "looking for a location that offers the easiest access for tourists as well as finding an ideal site for local residents."

    “People in the GTA are hungry for new entertainment experiences,” said John Barrack, listed as a MarbleLive partner in a quote published on the website. “We’re going to give them a dynamic year-round attraction that’s part-water-park, part-theme-park and all fun, all the time.”

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    Whether you're a long-time local or a fresh-off-the-plane tourist, chances are you've hailed a cab at least once in your life.

    If you've done your fair share of taxing, you know that much like the drivers inside of the vehicles, no two rides are ever the same. But how do cabs differ from metropolis to metropolis?

    The following infographic, compiled by Cheapflights, compares average cab fares in dollars per kilometre across 27 cities, along with the average ride time from the nearest international airport to an area popular with tourists.

    You might consider taking the bus in Berlin if you're tight on cash, since it has the highest cost with an average of $3.50 per kilometre (though to be fare, taxis in Berlin do have a record as some of Europe's quickest cabs). On the other end of the scale, fares in Buenos Aires clock in at 30 cents per kilometre.

    To see how the rest of the globe compares, check out the infographic below.

    From The Airport To The City: Taxi Fares Around The World

    From The Airport To The City: Taxi Fares Around The World [Infographic] by the team at Cheapflights Media (USA) Inc

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    An avid collector and art lover has donated a treasure trove of historical photos that chronicle life in the province to the University of British Columbia.

    Uno Langmann, 78, amassed more than 18,000 rare and unique photos taken from the 1850s to the 1970s. The images will be preserved, digitized, and made public thanks to a $1.2 million donation from Langmann, UBC said on Tuesday.

    "I don’t think we worship the past enough," Langmann said in a news release, explaining that he wanted his collection to remain in B.C. "There’s enough in this collection for a thousand students to dig into. I want them to learn where B.C. comes from, and where they come from."

    Originally from Denmark, Langmann opened his gallery, Uno Langmann Limited Fine Art, on Granville Street in Vancouver in 1977.

    The photos in his collection include "Hurdy gurdy girls" outside a Barkerville saloon, a Fraser River steamboat bringing supplies to gold prospectors in 1867, and a couple skating on Trout Lake in 1900.

    The images provide an illustrated history of life in the province back then.

    And so, we present to you "7 Signs You Grew Up In B.C. In The 1800s":

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    GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK, Ariz. — Authorities say a man has died after falling about 350 feet (100 metres) off the South Rim at Grand Canyon National Park.

    Park officials say 53-year-old John N. Anderson, of Grapevine, was visiting the park with his family.

    The Grand Canyon Regional Communications Center received a report of a man falling off the rim near El Tovar Lodge about 8 a.m. Saturday.

    Rangers were able to locate the man and began CPR, but they say efforts to resuscitate him were unsuccessful.

    An investigation into the incident is being conducted by the National Park Service and the Coconino County Medical Examiner.

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    There's just something about Canada that's drawing Brits to our borders these days.

    Last week we told you about hilarious London-based journalist James O'Malley, who spent three weeks in Ontario and mashed his whole trip into a three-minute video showing all things Canadian.

    This week, we're introducing you to Ben Chambers, a man from Leeds who moved to Canada with girlfriend Lydia Cummings on Aug. 30 as she studies chemical engineering at the University of Ottawa.

    Chambers made a four-and-a-half minute YouTube video to celebrate receiving a four-month extension on his visa. The video shows him discovering plenty of landmarks in his six months in Canada, such as Parliament, the Rideau Canal, Niagara Falls, Mt. Tremblant and Whistler.

    We can only hope to see this much of our own country in six months, let alone a lifetime!

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    (Relaxnews) - With its turquoise waters and lush green cliffs, the Fernando de Noronha archipelago, off the Brazilian coast, is home to the world's top beach according to TripAdvisor user reviews.

    One of the many selling points of the Baia do Sancho is its crystal clear water, which allows snorkelers to observe exotic fish and even sea turtles. But it's not easy getting to this paradise on earth: visitors must descend a tall, steep staircase that could spook anyone with a fear of heights.

    Grace Bay in the Turks and Caicos Islands and Flamenco Beach in Puerto Rico complete the trio of the top beaches on the planet according to the travel website. The US made an appearance in the top 10 thanks to Hawaii's Lanikai Beach, which came in at number eight.

    Alongside its worldwide ranking, TripAdvisor compiled lists of the best beaches in the US, the UK and Europe. Unsurprisingly, Hawaii dominates the ranking for the US, accounting for seven of the country's top 10 beaches. Behind the first and second place winners, Hawaii's Lanikai Beach and Ka'anapali Beach, Florida made it into third place with Siesta Key Public Beach.

    Top 10 beaches worldwide:

    To view the Top 10 beaches in the US and other Traveler's Choice Beach rankings:

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    NAPANEE, Ont. - Via Rail service on the busy Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal line is to resume Thursday after a First Nations blockade forced Via to bus passengers between Toronto and Ottawa on Wednesday.

    Jacques Gagnon, a spokesman for Montreal-based Via Rail, said 26 trains were cancelled on Wednesday, affecting an estimated 5,000 passengers.

    Via had to charter about 100 buses to move passengers between Toronto and Ottawa due to the blockade near Napanee in eastern Ontario.

    "Due to heavy congestion, affected trains will continue to be replaced by bus service with a return to normal service expected for tomorrow," Via said Wednesday in a release.

    Ontario Provincial Police said the blockade began around 9:30 p.m. Tuesday and ended peacefully late Wednesday afternoon.

    CN police issued a stop order for all trains going through the area near Kingston, forcing Via Rail to cancel its rail service and bring in buses to get passengers around the blockade.

    The blockade was part of recent protests in the Belleville area by a First Nations group calling for a federal inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women.

    Chief R. Donald Maracle said in a statement Wednesday afternoon that the Tyendinaga Mohawk Council were not involved in the blockade.

    "We support the need for a commission of inquiry into this issue but we do not support the blockade," Maracle said.

    "It is unfortunate that people feel forced to implement direct action in an effort to draw attention to the issue," he said.

    Public Security and Safety Minister Madeleine Meilleur had said it would be up to provincial police to decide if and when to move in to break up the blockade.

    Police said they were using a "measured approach that respects everyone's right to peaceful, lawful protest."

    The blockade affected Via's Toronto-to-Montreal and Toronto-to-Ottawa service in both directions. Trains between Ottawa and Montreal operated according to the regular schedule.

    Gagnon said the blockade situation was expected to cause "substantial expenses," adding that customers with reservations who chose not to travel could receive a full refund.

    Demonstrators also temporarily stopped rail traffic in the area earlier this month, leading CN to issue a stop order and Via Rail to cancel trips in the busy Toronto-to-Ottawa corridor.

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    Norooz, or Nowruz, the Persian New Year, happens this week.

    Coinciding with the Spring Equinox, its name combines two Persian words: "now," which means new, and "ruz," which means day. It's a time of year in which followers celebrate the coming of spring and the renewal of nature, according to

    The official date and time for the new year is March 20 at 8:27 p.m. local time in Tehran, according to Farsinet.

    Though secular, Norooz has roots in Zoroastrianism, a religion that focuses on the corresponding work of good and evil in the world and humans' connection to nature, notes Harvard University.

    Chahar Shanbe Suri, a fire-jumping tradition that is celebrated on the eve of the last Wednesday of the year, precedes the new year itself.

    Traditionally, people gather around small bonfires in the street and leap over them shouting, "Zardie man az to, sorkhie to az man," a Persian phrase that means, "May my sickly pallor be yours and your red glow be mine." The ritual is meant to wash away all the terrible events of the past year.

    In recent years, with an eye to safety, some people just light a fire and shout the phrase without coming too close to the flames.

    When Norooz arrives, families gather together and say, "Sal-e no mobarak," or "Happy new year!" The oldest member of the family then gives treats and candy to everyone and young children receive coins as presents. Families and neighbours also visit and exchange gifts with each other.

    One of the most important Norooz traditions is the "Sofreh-e Haft Seen," a ceremonial table where all dishes begin with the Persian letter "Seen," explains Farsinet.

    Dishes include "sabzeh" or sprouts, which represent rebirth; "seeb" or apples, which signify rebirth and beauty; and "serkeh" or vinegar, which stands in for age and patience.

    The Associated Press caught some spectacular photos of Chahar Shanbe Suri being celebrated ahead of Norooz at Pardisan Park in Tehran, Iran on Tuesday.

    nowruz 2014

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    Love winter? Does the sight of a crocus poking out of the snow fill you with dread? Is there a tear welling up in the corner of your eye each year as you pack away your ski parka, Sorrel boots and long-johns?

    In short, do you view summer as a sweaty, boring waiting room on the long road to the next snowfall?

    Fear not.

    While you can do nothing to stop the sun and warmer weather from eventually coming to the northern hemisphere this spring, there is a perfect solution for those seeking extended winters. This fall head south -- way, way south!

    If you want to get an early start on winter, adding a month to your favorite season, head to Antarctica.

    Which is exactly what my wife and I did this past November. It was our 25th wedding anniversary. What better way to spend it than bundled up head to toe?

    Flying high over the heads of those wimps who make for Florida, the Caribbean or Cartagena at the sight of the first frost, we landed in Ushuaia, Argentina, on the southern tip of South America. Despite the fact that it was late spring in the southern hemisphere, it was snowing and cold on our arrival.

    In other words, perfect!

    That afternoon we boarded our ship, the "Academik Loffe," and headed out the Beagle Channel towards the dreaded Drake Passage, where we would steam due South towards the Antarctic Peninsula for 12 nights and 13 days of polar bliss.

    The "Loffe," by the way, is not to be confused with the "Academik Shokalskiy," which famously became stuck in the ice around Christmas. While both are Soviet-era "research vessels," the Shokalskiy is only 71 metres long, is operated by an Australian travel firm and carries 54 passengers. The Loffe, built in 1989, is 117 metres long, accommodates 96 passengers, and is operated by OneOcean Travel out of British Columbia.

    The ship's interior had been refitted to OneOcean's specifications, which is to say that all vestiges of its Soviet past had been erased, save for the high-gain antenna presumably once used to locate U.S. submarines ("research" was a euphemism for spying back in the 1980s). Our cabin was clean and well-appointed, the meals were first-rate, and there were frequent presentations from on-board experts on everything from ornithology to ice. Plus there were screening of films, including, yes, Happy Feet -- all to distract you from the reality that you were crossing one of the most treacherous stretches of water on the planet.

    Our tour was dubbed "Off the Beaten Track" and included a kayaking and camping option. As this sounded like the coldest possible activity available, we of course selected it. Other offered pastimes included snowshoeing, hiking, photography, downhill skiing (preceded by uphill trekking) and Zodiac cruising.

    Our first landfall was the South Shetland Islands. It was also our first time out on the water in kayaks. Nothing concentrates the mind quite like kayaking in 0-degree (32 F) water amid ice floes -- especially when your guide promptly falls out of her kayak and into the drink.

    Fortunately, that was the one and only unscheduled dip.

    Each day we would lower the kayaks and head out to explore -- in places like Neko Harbour, Andvord Bay, Port Lockroy, Wiholmina Bay and Paradise Bay. Along the way was an abundance of wildlife, from Gentoo, Adelie and Chinstrap penguins in rookeries, to airborne Skuas and Albatross, to Humpback and Minke whales, to Crabeater and Leopard seals.

    But the real star of the show was the ice. Antarctic ice comes in a variety of forms, from slow-moving glaciers to towering icebergs. The latter can come in a variety of colours, from blue-green, to yellow, to black. You will never look at an ice cube the same again.

    And we did camp. Six of us (plus two guides) left the relative comfort of the ship for three days and two nights, sleeping in two-person tents out on the ice. The weather was beautiful -- hovering around zero C during the sunny days and dropping to about -12 C (+10 F) at night. What made this portion of the trip truly special was the solitude -- being so isolated in the most isolated place on earth. Each of us at one point or another took a solitary stroll away from the encampment to just take in the singular experience.

    Expedition Leader, Aaron Lawton, had told us at an early briefing that Antarctica would change us, if we just took a deep breath and let the place wash over us. He was right.

    Approximately 38,000 people visited Antarctica during the November to March season (the numbers had fallen to just over 16,000 at the depth of the Great Recession, but have rebounded back to pre-2008 levels.) The continent is highly regulated -- no more than 100 people per day are allowed ashore at any one landing site and nothing can be left behind -- human waste included -- even at camp sites.

    It is the last great pristine place, with air so pure that you realise what your lungs have been missing.

    For us, it was the perfect 25th anniversary trip. Even if we didn't already like winter.

    The author received no consideration from the tour operator and did not reveal he would be writing about the trip. Shipboard accommodation begins at $7,095 per person for a shared triple and rises to $12,995 for a suite. Airfare not included. More information can be found here.


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    Wyoming's Jackson Hole Resort has enjoyed a long-standing reputation with powder-loving skiers and riders, but as soon as Ski Magazine deemed it #1 Resort in North America, editor Christine Laroche bumped it to the top of her bucket list.

    Fireside resortstay

    Casual, quaint and cozy: Jackson's Alpine House (from $145) epitomizes the charming nature of Wyoming. And for extra inspiration, the owners, a husband-and-wife team, are both Olympians. For something closer to the ski resort, Fireside Resort (pictured, from $289), where guests stay in one of 20 gorgeously crafted cabins by WheelHaus, is the best example of rustic-chic we've ever seen.

    Wyoming skiski

    With amazing snow and sweeping views, it's easy to see why this mountain takes top honours. And while Jackson Hole Resort's reputation is for extreme terrain and amazing backcountry, there is a learning area and a wealth of gorgeous blue cruisers.

    Wyoming moosesee

    Animal lovers will be well served in Jackson: Not only are deer and moose common sightings but the town is home to the National Elk Refuge. The best way to see them - and there are thousands! - is to book a 1-hour sleigh ride ($19).

    Wyoming apresaprès

    Frickles and a locally brewed Snake River Pale Ale, anyone? Head to The Handle Bar, located at the base of the lifts in the Four Seasons Hotel, for delicious après snacks and libations.


    When your muscles start to painfully protest - and trust us, they will! - enlist the pros at Chill at Teton Village's Hotel Terra. The spa's signature treatment is an Herbal Poultice Massage ($199 for 80 minutes) that uses a combination of classic massage techniques and the anti-inflammatory properties of herbs (turmeric, lemongrass, ginger) to work wonders on aching muscles.


    From a drool-worthy burger to melt-in-your-mouth tataki, we instantly fell for The Kitchen's simple, well-executed menu (with natural and locally sourced ingredients, of course) and cozy ambiance. For a bite at the foot of the ski hill, dine like a local at Teton Thai. What the family-owned restaurant lacks in size it makes up for in big, bold flavor we couldn't get enough of.

    --Christine Laroche


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    Jonathan Gushue could have opted for another fine-dining restaurant. He could have teamed with a pricey, established place in a big city and quickly turned it into a go-to spot for foodies to discover. He could have set up shop in a country environment and cooked similar meals in a similar setting to what he'd been doing since 2005. He could have opened a food truck, or a tapas joint with a Spanish name, or a tiny bistro with $100-plus tasting menus.

    But Gushue chose something radically different and it's a departure that could seriously shake up the Toronto dining scene. Here's why.

    Gushue, one of Canada's most exceptional chefs, has joined forces with the owners of Queen Margherita Pizza and in so doing he is democratizing fine dining, bringing the brilliant fare he so often perfected at Langdon Hall to tables where meals are half the price.

    Chefs in Canada have done leaner versions of their cuisine. Vij's in Vancouver has Rangoli beside it. Joe Beef has both Liverpool House and Le Vin Papillon. Quebec City's Panache has Panache Mobile near a vineyard on Île d'Orléans. Martin Picard has spun off his Au Pied de Cochon in Montreal with great success at his Cabane a Sucre in the Laurentian hills. But what Gushue is attempting is a massive offering of extraordinary food at lower-than-expected prices. "By the end of 2014 we should have six restaurants," says Gushue. Four of them will be QMP locations, a fifth will be a burger shack opening on Queen Street West within weeks, and the sixth is the only fine-dining option in the bunch: Gushue's own restaurant at 111 Richmond Street that is scheduled to open next door to the Google offices in the fall.

    It is a corporate undertaking, but one with a clear culinary conscience and that is why it is different than what other elite chefs have attempted when partnering with larger businesses. Even Rob Feenie's rapidly expanding Cactus Club kitchens aren't as rigorous in their commitment to organic food as Gushue's QMP endeavour.

    "We are creating ethical food. Not just quality food or local food, but ethically produced food, because that means something," says Gushue, who appeared invigorated by the challenge of his newest project. At Langdon Hall, there was pressure to stand alongside the best restaurants in the world. With Queen Margherita Pizza, there is the task of teaching both the diners and the staff about this kind of cuisine.

    "What Jonathan is doing is educating people," says Queen Margherita Pizza owner John Chetti. "The level of training the staff has been able to receive in the past five or six months has been incredible for them. You see how enthused they are to learn these techniques."

    The friendly server who attended to my table concurred, saying that the learning curve since Gushue took over late in 2013 has been incredibly steep. He had never heard of Langdon Hall ("I'm a student, I wouldn't have any reason to," he joked), but was suddenly serving patrons who were coming to QMP because of their affinity for Gushue's food.

    From a Top 50 Restaurant to a Pizza Parlour

    Gushue, though, is a perfectionist and admits the enterprise isn't yet where he wants it. He is recruiting his former kitchen colleagues at Langdon Hall to help him staff the QMP locations and he's working on improving the product he serves. "We're still spending time milling the flour to make sure it's right," he says.

    I had the fortune of dining at Langdon Hall a few times in recent years and to witness Gushue's commitment to detail and passion for sourcing the right ingredients for each dish. His achievements won him accolades and devotees. In September, Gushue announced his departure from the No. 2-ranked restaurant in the country, according to the Top 50 Restaurants in Canada Guide. Nine months earlier, Gushue made national news when he disappeared for days, leaving his family and employer in a lurch. After that situation, the end of his time at Langdon Hall wasn't a surprise. His shift to casual food is.

    Chetti was one of Gushue's fans and approached him about joining QMP. Gushue is serving leek ash on his pizzas, spiking his dishes with ingredients sourced from the same suppliers he used at Langdon Hall, introducing charcuterie and pickling to a pizza parlour, albeit a lovely one. Gushue says he will feature grass-fed beef burgers at one of his new restaurants this year.

    "We're going to serve 100 per-cent grass-fed beef burgers and the truth is some places say they're doing that, but they're not, not 100 per cent. So if we have to go to Nebraska and maybe even New Zealand to get that quality, we will. People may not want to hear that," he says, referring to the local-food movement that has dominated North American menus in the past decade.

    I knew what I would have at QMP would be excellent, I didn't expect to find dishes that were so similar to what I had enjoyed at Langdon Hall during Gushue's tenure as executive chef. A radish and fig dish, paired with ricotta cheese, was sublime. A palate-cleansing apple ganache came with three types of Ontario apples. Salt cod, from Gushue's native Newfoundland, was buried like treasure below circles of golden yellow potatoes, aged a year.

    There isn't a pizza joint in North America that serves this kind of cuisine. In fact, the pizzas aren't the highlight. The pies are very good, but I've had better (including at Nicli Antica Pizzeria in Vancouver, still my choice for the best in the country). It's the other inventions -- the salads, small plates, desserts and breads prepared by Sarah Villamere, who worked with Gushue at Langdon Hall -- that stand out.

    "He has upped the level of our cuisine," says Chetti, who now has a clear line of demarcation for his business; life "before and after Jonathan." "Introducing this food at a lower price point means it's more accessible for much more people and I think that's a very good thing."


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    A Canadian pilot's "startlingly simple theory" for why Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 disappeared is being debunked after going viral.

    Last week, McGill-educated pilot Chris Goodfellow posted a lengthy theory on Google Plus that purportedly explained what happened to the Boeing 777 that vanished without a trace on March 8.

    He said the Malaysian military tracked the plane making a left turn toward the Malay peninsula into the straits of Malacca, which suggested to him that it was heading for an airport on the island of Pulau Langkawi.

    In Goodfellow's own words:

    "We old pilots were always drilled to always know the closest airport of safe harbour while in cruise. Airports behind us, airports abeam us and airports ahead of us. Always in our head. Always. Because if something happens you don't want to be thinking what are you going to do — you already know what you are going to do."

    He wrote that the pilot was a "hero" who was likely responding to a fire on the plane, which would have led crew members to pull all the circuits and breakers until they found the faulty one.

    This, he wrote, would explain the loss of transponders and communications.

    The Toronto Star reported Goodfellow saying that a fire could have started due to improperly stored lithium ion batteries or poorly inflated tires, but the former theory does not appear in his blog post.

    He shot down reports of a hijacking because, he said, the plane would not have made a left turn towards Langkawi.

    Goodfellow added that the plane likely crashed en route to the airport, and that looking for it elsewhere is pointless.

    His theory went viral with 2,060 shares on Google Plus. Wired re-published it Tuesday with the headline, "A Startlingly Simple Theory About the Missing Malaysia Airlines Jet" and The Atlantic on Monday said the explanation "makes sense."

    But it's also being pilloried by at least one outlet that claims Goodfellow didn't take all the facts into account.

    Slate's Jeff Wise wrote that while the plane turned towards Langkawi, it also later turned right and headed for a waypoint known as "Vampi," northeast of Indonesia's Aceh province.

    It also set a course for a waypoint called "Gival," south of Phuket, Thailand, and was later tracked on a route going over the Andaman Islands, Reuters reported.

    "Such vigorous navigating would have been impossible for unconscious men," Wise wrote.

    He also pointed out that an electronic ping detected by the Inmarsat Satellite at 8:11 a.m. on March 8 narrowed the plane's location to one of two arcs, one in central Asia, the other in the Indian Ocean.

    "As MH370 flew from its original course toward Langkawi, it was headed toward neither. Without human intervention — which would go against Goodfellow’s theory — it simply could not have reached the position we know it attained at 8:11 a.m.," Wise wrote.

    Ironically, Wise's own analysis of Goodfellow's theory has gained a life of its own online.

    It was shared more than 8,000 times on Facebook and has been re-published by the National Post.

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