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Canada Travel news and opinion

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    News of the RCMP's plans to pitch a tent at a Vancouver nude beach has angered beach bums — and bare bums.

    The UBC RCMP plans to set up a collapsible tent on Wreck Beach every afternoon from the May long weekend until Labour Day, reports The Province. But Sgt. Drew Grainger insists this will protect the public, and is not designed to take down those who are abiding by the rules.

    “We know drugs and alcohol will be sold on the beach no matter how heavy-handed we are,” Grainger told the newspaper. “The idea is to proactively enhance our presence on the beach ... If it gets to the point where you’re risking yourself or putting others at risk, we will move in.”

    But the Wreck Beach Preservation Society's Judy Williams said the tight-knit community has been self-policing for years, and she's worried an increased police presence will give off the impression that the beach is unsafe, reports Metro. Williams told the newspaper she thinks the tent is being erected because of the boozy "freezie" incident.

    Earlier this year, Vancouver's Alana Thomson was charged with selling frozen alcoholic treats at the clothing-optional beach. The 31-year-old faced charges including possession of drugs for the purposes of trafficking, and manufacturing and selling the treats without a licence. She was fined $10,000 after pleading guilty in provincial court, The Province reports.

    But Thomson aside, people seem positive that the people at Wreck can take care of themselves.

    "I think Wreck is good at maintaining its own etiquette there, and I think that’s why it stays safe," Natasha Wahid, an avid visitor of the beach, told Vice Magazine in February (shortly after Thomson was charged).

    "Actually, I've seen beachgoers get way more out of hand at Jericho Beach in [Kitsilano] ... There’s not the same kind of respectful etiquette. I, personally, haven’t ever noticed a ton of cops, but I’ll be looking out for them [this summer]."

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    (LONDON-AFP) - An overly-handsome waiter, a snoring girlfriend and the sea being too blue are among some of the bizarre complaints made to hotel staff, according to a survey published Monday.

    Travel search engine Skyscanner quizzed 400 international hotel workers to draw up a list of the top ten unusual grumbles and diva-like demands.

    Other complaints included sheets being too white, ice cream being too cold, the bath being too big and no steak on a vegetarian menu.

    One customer asked for a discount after his sleep was disturbed by his snoring girlfriend, while another asked for a refund as his dog had had an unhappy stay.

    Staff in a hotel in London's Mayfair were taken aback when a client bemoaned the lack of an ocean view.

    Equally eyebrow raising are some of the requests, including one for a dead mouse.

    One guest asked for a bowl of crocodile soup, another for a bath of honey while one hungry punter demanded 15 cucumbers a day.

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    For most North Americans, thinking about a trip to New Zealand might be the mental equivalent of envisioning yourself on the moon. First, depending on the departure hub, there's 20-odd hours of flying to endure. And when the cost of getting there amounts to what one might spend for an entire week (maybe two) in Mexico, well...

    This is not to dissuade you dear reader, but rather open up your mind to what New Zealand can offer on the ground. Where else can you get up close to a Hobbit hole (we'll go there in Part 3), after all?

    Here are my highlights that should help balance the budget, while allowing intrepid travelers to splurge here and there.

    We were lucky to stay with my parents while visiting the city, but I hear The George is not too shabby.

    Christchurch is so different from my last visit before the 2010/11 earthquakes. I recall a vibrant downtown with pretty cafes and lots of green space - thankfully the botanic gardens are still intact. Things are tragically different now, but it's inspiring to see the locals doing a great job of regenerating the main shopping area via the Re:START Project. The district must be one of the coolest solutions to reviving a city devastated by disaster. Steel shipping containers have been painted up and kitted out with shops and cafes. We had yummy brunch/lunch at Hummingbird Coffee.

    In the evening, dinner at Ace Wasabi was lovely (order the delicious Blue Ocean special from the teppanyaki menu; includes prawns, King salmon and scallops). Because the downtown is still devastated, restaurants in Merivale and other neighbourhoods are jammed. Making reservations very necessary.

    Also, an honourable mention goes to Little India in Merivale. Our roadtrip from Queenstown had us rolling in later that anticipated. Luckily this restaurant was open and it was a tasty reward after seven hours of driving. Highly recommend the Tandoori Prawns.

    Continued after slideshow...

    It was a rainy welcome upon arriving in the capital city, but any damp disappointment was shoved under the bed at Museum Art Hotel. Our super chic room was kitted out with amenities (hello, Nespresso coffee machine) and an unobstructed harbour view. Thankfully the next two days were sunny and warm.
    Our location made for an easy walk to the waterfront restaurants and notable points of interest like Waka House - a beautiful exhibit of traditional Maori canoes. I recommend picking up a scoop of lime/cucumber sorbet at Gelissimo before spending a couple of hours wandering through the exhibits at Te Papa - New Zealand's national museum and art gallery.

    NZ's capital city takes its food seriously. Here are my highlights...
    Tommy Millions - Drop in for gluten-free brownies and soy cappuccinos. This fueled one Friday morning perfectly.
    Crab Shack - My guy loved the crab fettuccini, and we both enjoyed the crab and prawn cakes...just don't order the calamari salad.
    The Laundry - Describes itself as "a pop up, ramshackle, newfangled juke joint" and serves up burgers mostly in the super casual music café.
    Commonsense Organics - Behind our hotel we found the perfect roadtrip supply shop.
    Pandoro - Decent coffee chain and lunchy kind of place, directly behind Museum Hotel.
    Picnic Café - for a four-star lunch overlooking the rose garden at Wellington's Botanic Gardens. If it's a sunny day, I don't believe you could do better.

    Continued after slideshow...

    Scopa & Duke Carvell's Emporium - These two places, along with Tommy Millions, are part of the Bresolin brothers food empire. The former is cute with decent pizza, while Carvell's dishes out a fine brunch in a quirky cozy scene.

    Monsoon Poon - A tasty mix of South East Asian fare served in a lively atmosphere.

    Sunday Food Markets - Every Sunday, two markets set up shop on the waterfront, mere steps away from each other. Harbourside Market (outdoor) concentrates on fresh produce and artisanal foodstuffs, while City Market (inside the Chaffers Building) offers a "star-studded line-up" of local food and beverage producers together. The Market Kitchen is constantly rotating the best local chefs. There are also wine and craft beer tastings, book signings and cooking classes. Not to be missed!

    Hippopotamus - the luxurious bar, conveniently located in our hotel, was a great way to start and end the evenings.

    To roll like a royal in Queenstown, check out part one of this series.

    Up next ... Matamata and Auckland.

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    With summer right around the corner, we are all looking to put our winter clothes away and pack up for an unforgettable out of town adventure. While some travellers have already booked their getaway(s), others are still on the hunt for a destination or two that offer extraordinary experiences at affordable prices. That's why I sifted through some Hotwire data to pinpoint a few great cities that are offering deals to please any traveler in the next coming months. So, let's all place the cold winter behind us and look forward to a fantastic summer!

    Here is a list of my top picks for family, solo or group travels this summer.

    New York City, New York

    It might be surprising to see The Big Apple pop up as a deal destination, since it's a must-visit city for many Canadians (especially over major holidays), but a few big hotel openings in the area means there will be a ton of rooms to fill. As a result, this world-famous urban jungle is expected to have sizzling hotel deals this summer. Visitors can stroll around town to popular sites like Times Square, Central Park and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

    Los Angeles, California

    Want to catch some rays and live the life of a celebrity? From the beaches of Malibu to the hills of Hollywood, summer in Los Angeles lives up to the hype. Those planning to travel to LA this summer can enjoy the warm weather while checking out the city's diverse culinary offerings, must-visit nightlife hot spots and world-renowned hotels. While coastal LA-area spots like Santa Monica will have heavy visitor traffic, hotels in the downtown, West Hollywood and Beverly Hills areas will be offering great deals during the summer months.

    Chicago, Illinois

    Summer is the perfect time of year to take the famous Chicago architecture boat tour, catch a Major League Baseball game or lounge in the sun on one of the city's popular beaches. Chicago's hotel prices and airfare are incredibly affordable during the summer months, so travellers hoping for a Midwest getaway are in luck. Furthermore, Chicago's airports are central hubs for several airlines, so you have easy access to the city no matter where you're coming from in Canada.

    Quebec City, Quebec

    Travelling to Quebec City can feel like a European escape, with its centuries-old French architecture. Summer in Quebec City is filled with lush greenery and lends itself to warmer weather. Almost as important as the ambiance is its budget-friendly hotel prices which are currently down for the summer season. Visit Montmorency Falls Park, which has falls 30 meters higher than Niagara Falls, or take a horse-drawn carriage ride through Place-Royale.

    Cancun, Mexico

    If you want to spend your summer vacation beachside with a significant other, Cancun has great deals on 5-star, all-inclusive hotels this summer. Most of Cancun's visitors come in the winter and spring, so the summer is not only a more affordable time to visit, but the resorts will also be less crowded and serene. So, travellers can get royal treatment for a fraction of the price of what it was during the winter months.

    Last Words of Advice

    As always, holidays are busy times, so book extra early if you want to go away for Canada Day. And consider a mid- to late-summer vacation -- many are heading out during the early summer months, so travelling later in the season can result in stellar savings. Whether you're flying or driving, relax, and have a great summer!


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    A B.C. restaurant may become the first in Canada to ban tipping, which the owner calls a "broken system."

    David Jones plans to pay his staff at Smoke and Water a living wage instead of depending on tips, reported The Times Colonist. The restaurant is slated to open in June at the Pacific Shores Resort & Spa in Parksville, on the east coast of Vancouver Island.

    Instead of customers calculating a percentage of their bill for a gratuity, menu prices have been increased by about 18 per cent to compensate the 48 staff members, said the newspaper. That comes out to $20 to $24 per hour for servers and $16 to $18 per hour for kitchen workers.

    Jones also plans to set aside a percentage of earnings for medical and dental coverage, said Global News.

    "I couldn't believe no one else in Canada is doing this,” Jones told The Globe and Mail. “What we have right now is a broken system."

    If customers do leave tips at the barbecue and pizza restaurant, they will be given back. If that's not possible, the money will be donated to charity, according to Global.

    Tipping is mainly a North American system, where servers often earn below minimum wage because they earn extra in gratuities. Restaurants in New York and California are beginning to forgo tips and charging customers more for menu items in order to pay staff higher wages.

    "I think we will see this gaining traction," Michael von Massow, an assistant professor of hospitality, food, and tourism management at the University of Guelph, told CBC News.

    He pointed out that removing tipping may make for a more enjoyable meal: "I think a restaurant that doesn't require me to do that will be a more comfortable experience for me."

    Von Massow also says the "no tipping" model can also bridge the gap between kitchen workers, who make three times less than wait staff.

    A survey earlier this year found that the best tippers in Canada are in Ottawa, where they tip 76.7 per cent of the time and leave an average of 15.6 per cent.

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    Air Canada Rouge has had its share of ups and downs, but on Sunday the Canadian airline was taken to a new low, courtesy of actor Rob Lowe.

    The former "West Wing" star was flying aboard Air Canada's "low-cost" carrier when he took issue with the airline's legroom and the cabin crew's uniform, reports. But rather than share his thoughts with customer service, Lowe voiced his opinions on Twitter:

    On Tuesday, Lowe tweeted some more about Rouge, clarifying his gripe was with the airline's seating and less so about the "hats"

    While Lowe's Twitter rant was seemingly spurn out of boredom — at least according to Japlopnik — other passengers have voiced their disdain in a less comedic tone.

    Feedback for the Canadian carrier has been less than stellar on social media. Reaction has included complaints about cramped leg room, uncomfortable seats and poor ventilation, according to reviews on Skytrax.

    Customers have even coined the act of getting bumped from an Air Canada flight to Rouge into a verb phrase — "getting Rouged." Some passengers have even sworn off the airline.

    "I'm a tall guy. My No. 1 concern is that I can fit into that seat for three hours — or eight hours — and not have to crawl off the plane afterwards," Jim Noon, a former Air Canada Rouge passenger, told CBC.

    "I used to be a loyal Air Canada traveller, and now I am certainly going to look elsewhere."

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    Whistler, B.C. is a popular resort with celebrities and the wealthy, so it may be surprising to find out that homeless people struggle to find shelter there.

    By one homeless man's estimate, around 200 people have no homes. Many live in their cars or surf from couch to couch.

    It contrasts with the picture of the tony resort that tourists are used to, and the attractive seasonal work that brings people from other parts of Canada and the world.

    Whistler filmmaker Chris Dickinson said he thinks this perception is exactly what has led to a gap in housing services.

    "The reality is that not only is this place a resort, it’s a town. Our population is beginning to urbanize and people here are facing struggles and challenges and we need to acknowledge that," he told the Whistler Question.

    He's hoping to raise awareness with a new film, "Homeless in Whistler." The documentary follows several people in tenuous housing situations, including Sylvain Travers, who was living in his camper until it was impounded for being illegally parked in a lot.

    Dickinson has launched an Indiegogo campaign to help Travers get his camper back.

    "The frustration does not lie with the towing company who impounded the vehicle (and have agreed to reduce the impound fees by 70% to see that Sylvain gets his home back), but rather the municipality and province who refuse to acknowledge that there is a homeless population in Whistler and that they should be adequately supported," he said in his campaign pitch.

    Whistler has no homeless shelter. But Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden told the Question she thinks that agencies like Whistler Community Services Society, which runs an interim housing program, as well as emergency services, do a good enough job of helping homeless residents.

    Homeless people were moved out of Whistler during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics to a temporary emergency shelter in Squamish, according to CBC News.

    A 2010 project called "Home For The Games" matched Whistler homeowners with Olympic visitors looking for a place to rent, but while 50 per cent of the rental fees were directed to charity, all the money went to affordable housing organizations in Metro Vancouver.

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    The world's oldest-known orca came home to B.C. for a visit, thrilling whale watchers and conservationists alike.

    J2, better known as Granny, was spotted on Friday in the southern Strait of Georgia by Ocean EcoVentures' Simon Pidcock, according to the company's Facebook page.

    She was spotted along with the rest of her family, known as J-Pod, and is estimated to be up to 103 years old, CBC News reports.

    Pidcock was able to recognize Granny because of a white patch that each whale has on its dorsal fin, as well as a distinctive half-moon-shaped notch on her dorsal fin, he told The Province.

    “It’s great news she’s back, another year older, and thriving,” Michael Harris, executive director of the Pacific Whale Watch Association, told Times Colonist.

    But animal advocacy site The Dodo's Jenny Kutner said Granny's sighting means bad news for SeaWorld, explaining why in a blog post:

    Granny doesn’t simply represent an impressive feat of nature; she embodies what’s wrong with SeaWorld by being a living example of what’s right in the wild. While it’s true that most wild orcas don’t live as long as Granny has, their lifespans are still dramatically longer than those of SeaWorld’s whales (the NOAA estimates that wild female orcas, like Granny, live an average of 50 to 60 years). Their lives are also filled with much more swimming, exploration, variety and bonding with family — in other words, their lives are likely filled with much more joy.

    And Granny sure has lived a long and exciting life. Pidcock points out that, amazingly, Granny was alive before the Titanic sank.

    "She’s lived through fishing changes and live captures of whales," he wrote. "I would love to know what she thinks."

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    TORONTO - It may have been tugging at your attention, popping up in newspaper articles or online news reports you've seen out of the corner of your eye. But with so much other news to pay attention to, you may not have turned your focus to a little bug called MERS.

    If so, you're not alone. The virus's recent North American debut — in two sick travellers who have arrived in the United States over the past couple of weeks — seems to have turned up the heat under a long simmering story that has garnered modest attention until now.

    So if you are catching up on this MERS situation, here are some things you ought to know:

    MERS is shorthand for Middle East respiratory syndrome, the disease caused by the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus, or MERS-CoV. If you think the term coronavirus sounds familiar, you're right. The virus that caused the 2003 SARS outbreak was also a coronavirus.

    So far 18 countries have reported cases, though the vast majority of infections have occurred in Saudi Arabia. Several neighbouring countries have also had locally acquired cases: Qatar, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman, Yemen and Lebanon (confirmation from the World Health Organization is pending).

    Cases have also been detected in 10 other countries in the form of infected travellers: Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Greece, Tunisia, Egypt, the Philippines, Malaysia and the United States. In a few cases, the person who imported the disease spread it to one or two others locally, but to date no country outside the Middle East has experienced an ongoing outbreak.

    Close to 600 cases have been reported by national governments and roughly 175 of those infections have been fatal. The WHO's official count — which always lags behind the countries's reports — is 536 cases and 145 deaths.

    The virus also infects camels — specifically the one-humped dromedaries — which are believed to be the source of the human infections. But how people are contracting a camel virus remains unclear, especially as a number of cases report no contact with the beasts.

    Recently the WHO and Saudi authorities urged people to avoid unpasteurized camel milk and cheeses made from it, and to only eat well-cooked camel meat. The WHO also advised people who are likely to become severely ill if they contract MERS — people with diabetes and other chronic diseases — not to drink camel urine. Some in the Middle East believe camel urine has medicinal qualities.

    Public health experts and scientists who specialize in infectious diseases have been watching this situation closely since September 2012, when the world first learned of the existence of the new virus. They do that whenever an animal virus starts infecting people, but the fact that this one is from the same family as the SARS virus definitely increased the concern.

    Until recently, however, the outbreak was both slow moving and far away. Cases initially were infrequent, sometimes with months between findings. So perhaps not a high priority in Canada.

    And MERS may never be for people living in Glace Bay, N.S. or Kelowna, B.C. or Saskatoon. Scientists can (and some do) offer opinions — "It's about to take off!" "It's never going to take off!" — but the reality is, those are hunches. Science currently cannot determine what this virus or any new virus will do.

    "The truth is that none of us are arrogant enough to presume we can predict the future on emerging infections," explains Dr. Martin Cetron, director of the division of global migration and quarantine at the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

    "We need to maintain a healthy degree of humility and respect for the evolution and evolutionary potential of viruses and pathogens."

    There's a mantra in public health: Hope for the best and prepare for the worst. And that's exactly what organizations like the Public Health Agency of Canada, the CDC and the WHO have been doing when it comes to MERS.

    The Public Health Agency, which was established in response to the SARS crisis, has been helping the provinces and territories prepare for and stay alert to the possible arrival in Canada of people infected with bird flu, MERS, even Ebola. That work paid off in January, when Alberta detected an H5N1 bird flu infection in a woman from Red Deer who had recently returned from several weeks in China.

    That case confirmed another public health maxim: "Infectious diseases know no borders." People travel, and germs hitch rides with them. So in the interconnected modern world, no one has the luxury of saying of something like MERS: "That's their problem."

    Cetron says his team at CDC has plotted out the full spectrum of possibilities regarding what this virus might do.

    As they see it, the MERS virus could remain largely a virus that jumps occasionally from animals to people. Or it could become more SARS-like, spreading more efficiently from person to person and triggering outbreaks in hospitals and in household settings. Or it could adapt more fully to people and acquire the ability to spread as easily among us as something like flu.

    "And from our perspective, we will try to plan and prepare for all of those scenarios."

    If the reaction to what still seems to be small numbers of cases appears overblown, keep this in mind: MERS doesn't need to get to the worst point on Cetron's spectrum to cause a whole lot of trouble.

    Consider SARS. It wasn't clear in the frantic early days of the outbreak, but SARS virus wasn't highly contagious. It spread mostly among people who were in close proximity to one another. Once public health officials figured out how it was spreading they were able to fairly quickly snuff out transmission by isolating sick people, quarantining their contacts and ensuring hospital workers were protected against infection.

    At the end of the outbreak, SARS infected about 8,500 people, killing about 916 of them. Compared to the annual toll of malaria or tuberculosis, those numbers are small potatoes.

    But the SARS outbreak was an enormously disruptive event globally. It is estimated to have cost billions of dollars. Tourism dried up in affected locations. Toronto, the site of Canada's outbreak, watched international conferences cancel, hotels empty and film crews decamp for other cities.

    But that was only part of the cost of SARS. The measures needed to stop its spread in hospitals were draconian. Non-urgent surgeries were postponed, meaning people waiting for hip replacements and the like had even longer waits. Hospitals were closed to visitors, which meant gravely ill and dying patients were left without the comforting presence of loved ones.

    The economic, social and psychological toll of SARS far exceeded the measly case counts. That is a major lesson from SARS.

    "It doesn't have to be ... the doomsday scenario before there's significant impact," Cetron says.

    "And with a disease like MERS or SARS where there's not direct treatment and not a vaccine for prevention, the entire public health effort is all about containment."

    An outbreak doesn't even have to be as big as SARS to make major trouble and cost serious money. The first MERS case discovered in the United States — in Indiana — illustrates that well. Public health staff had to trace the man's movements and get in touch with people who had been in contact with him — passengers on two international flights and on a bus from Chicago to Indiana.

    "We're talking about hundreds of person hours. Maybe actually thousands of person hours. And that's only one small piece" of the response, Cetron says. "So yes, it's a big deal."

    "Even when you don't have second generation or third generation cases, you have a huge public health effort and response in terms of people and time and resources and equipment and impact on worker deferral from hospitals and workplaces."

    "It cascades in a big way."

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    TORONTO - With rapidly climbing patient numbers and cases popping up in the U.S. and elsewhere, the MERS virus is getting a lot of attention lately. If you're trying to catch up to this relatively new disease threat, you probably have some questions.

    Here are some answers:

    Q: What is MERS?

    A: MERS is the short name for Middle East respiratory syndrome. The disease is caused by the MERS coronavirus — MERS-CoV — a relatively newly recognized animal virus that has been sporadically infecting people in several countries in the Middle East.


    Q: I have heard it described as a cousin of SARS. What does that mean?

    A: The viruses responsible for both SARS and MERS are coronaviruses. The family gets its name from the crown-like spikes on their surfaces. There are lots of coronaviruses; different ones infect different animal species. But before MERS CoV was discovered only five were known to infect people. Some cause common colds while MERS and SARS cause severe disease in some of the people who contract them.


    Q: How long has the virus been around and where does it come from?

    A: The first known MERS infections occurred in April 2012 in Jordan, but there could have been earlier cases that were missed. The Jordan cases were diagnosed after the fact; the first time scientists spotted the infection in real time was when a man from Saudi Arabia got sick and died in a Jidda hospital in June 2012.

    The virus may have originated in Egyptian tomb bats, but it definitely infects camels, which seem to be a source of human infections. The virus isn't new in camels; there is evidence camels in Saudi Arabia were infected as far back as 1992.


    Q: How are people contracting a camel virus?

    A: That's not currently known. Camels play an integral role in Middle Eastern life. They are ridden, used as beasts of burden, raced, kept as pets, slaughtered as religious sacrifices or for meat, and milked. Unpasteurized camel milk and cheeses made from it are popular, and some people drink camel urine because it is believed to have medicinal qualities. The Saudi government recently urged people not to drink unpasteurized camel milk and the World Health Organization urged people with health conditions like diabetes not to eat raw camel meat or drink camel urine or unpasteurized camel milk. But it isn't yet clear if those products are triggering infections.


    Q: Is MERS spreading from person to person?

    A: The virus is transmitting person to person, but in a limited way. Secondary cases are sometimes seen in households — one person gets sick and infects one or two more. But with few exceptions, those second generation cases don't seem to transmit to a third generation.

    There is, however, quite a bit of spread within hospital settings. Most of the spike in cases this spring is due to hospital outbreaks in the U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia. Hospitals are a great place for viruses to spread; they are crowded with people in poor health who are more vulnerable to picking up an infection. And procedures like inserting a tube down the throat of a MERS case so that the person can be put on a breathing machine can lead to infection of the health-care personnel if the staff isn't properly protected.


    Q: It's been found in places other than the Middle East, hasn't it?

    A: At this point all known cases trace back to the Middle East, to Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E., Qatar, Jordan, Oman, Kuwait, Yemen and Lebanon. But a few sick individuals from some of the affected countries have gone to Western Europe for care. And some travellers and religious pilgrims have taken the disease to other parts of the globe.

    Countries that have had imported cases are: Britain, Germany, France, Germany, France, Italy, Greece, Tunisia, Egypt, Malaysia, the Philippines and the United States. In France and Tunisia, the imported case infected one or two people locally. In Britain, it's thought there were three generations of spread before transmission stopped. Jordan has had both imported and locally acquired cases.


    Q: Will it come to Canada? Will it cause a pandemic?

    A: Finding sporadic cases in travellers in Canada would not be unexpected, given the patterns of international travel. The United States has already had two imported MERS cases. Canadian health officials have been on the lookout for MERS infection in returning residents and incoming travellers since MERS was first identified. The goal is to find cases quickly and isolate them to shut down the possibility of local spread.

    It is impossible to say at this point what the future holds for the MERS virus. Science cannot currently predict if the virus will adapt to spread more easily among people.


    Q: How do doctors treat MERS patients? Are there drugs or a preventative vaccine?

    A: There are no drugs to specifically treat MERS. Patients are given what's called supportive care, things like additional oxygen and antibiotics if they develop a secondary bacterial infection. If their condition becomes severe, patients are put on ventilators, machines which breathe for them.

    There is no vaccine for MERS. Several biotech companies are working on candidate vaccines and have issued hopeful press releases about their progress. But a candidate vaccine is only a prototype. It would require extensive safety and efficacy testing which would take years and cost hundreds of millions of dollars. A camel vaccine may be easier to bring to market, if one can be made.

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    (Relaxnews) - Geneva, Switzerland has emerged as the most expensive city in the world according to a club sandwich index created to serve as a barometer of the most affordable cities.

    After looking at the average price of club sandwiches on hotel menus in major cities around the world, a survey by found that visitors to Geneva are most likely to pony up an average of $32.60 USD for the classic hotel staple.

    The results of the 2014 survey have changed little from last year, with Geneva retaining the top spot followed by Paris, where visitors can expect to shell out an average of $29.36 for a double-decker sandwich.

    According to the index, at the other end of the spectrum the most affordable destination is New Delhi, where the average hotel club sandwich rings in at a modest $8.78.

    Another notable finding in the report: Prices in Sydney experienced the biggest drop over last year, falling from $20.53 in 2013 to $16.93 this year.

    To compile the ranking, researchers calculated the average price of a club sandwich in 30 hotels located in each destination. In total, 840 hotels ranging from three to five-star categories were canvassed.

    Here’s how the cities stacked up (prices in US dollars):

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    (Relaxnews) - The luxury Burj Al Arab hotel in Dubai, instantly recognizable for its sail-like silhouette, has launched new services that will spoil your kids rotten with a personal butler who will deliver candies and bonbons from a Sweet Train on command, and gold-plated iPads for silver-spoon kids.

    The new features go beyond the standard children’s menus and are meant to keep kids -- and parents -- happy.

    Other services include bespoke beds, matching parent-child robes and slippers, in-suite PlayStations and 24-carat iPads.

    Child-friendly excursions are likewise available with itineraries that include visits to the Jumeirah Group's Dubai Turtle Rehabilitation Project and the Wild Wadi Waterpark.

    The hotel will also supply parents with amenities like air sterilizers, baby monitors and a toy library.

    The Burj Al Arab is the latest luxury hotel to take into account the needs of its smallest guests -- likely because a happy child translates into a happy parent.

    The Plaza Hotel in New York, for instance, hosts elegant tea parties, pyjama and birthday parties for young guests in a bubble gum-pink room themed after the children’s book character Eloise.

    The Ritz-Carlton Chicago invites kids into the hotel kitchens every afternoon where they can bake sugar cookies with the chef, while a Candy Man rolls past hotel rooms every day with a travel cart stocked with sweets and candies.

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    (Relaxnews) - Guests of a luxury hotel in Marrakech have helped it win the title of the world’s top hotel for service after posting gushing reviews and giving it top marks for staff that go above and beyond the call of duty.

    At the Riad Kheirredine in Morocco, it’s not uncommon for hotel staff to insist on escorting their guests into town so they don’t get lost. Should they lose their way or need any kind of assistance, guests are also armed with mobile phones and invited to call the hotel day or night.

    Every time you leave the premises, you’ll be handed a bottle of water to keep hydrated and be greeted with mint tea and pastries upon your return.

    It’s the sum of these little details that put the hotel at the front of the pack in TripAdvisor’s travelers’ choice awards for Hotels with Exceptional Service.

    With a 99 percent approval rate from its 792 reviews, the Riad Kheirredine has been given five stars for service by guests.

    “Nothing is too much trouble for the staff and everything is done efficiently and with care for their guests,” writes one guest from the UK.

    “On our first day my partner needed a dentist. Not only did they arrange an appointment but the lovely Elena (who we can't praise enough) accompanied her to and from her appointment. We were given bottles of cold water to take out every day, were greeted with mint tea and pastries every time we came home and provided with good and helpful advice on what we wanted to do while in Marrakech.”

    According to the ranking, Moroccan hospitality is among the world’s best, as three of the top 10 hotels hail from Marrakech.
    The top hotels were selected from a shortlist of 1,762 properties in 98 regions.

    Individual lists are also available for Africa, Asia, Australia, Canada, the Caribbean, China, Europe, Japan, Mexico, the Middle East, South America, South Pacific, the UK and the US.

    Here are the top 10 hotels for exceptional service around the world:

    For the full list visit

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    (Relaxnews) - Wannabe movie-stars can indulge their Hollywood fantasies in a Cannes-inspired travel package that includes a personal jeweler who will adorn clients with ropes of diamonds, rings and tiaras worth $1.67 million USD.

    Created by the same travel outfit that launched an underwater submarine love hotel earlier this year, the over-the-top “Celebrity in a Cannes” package aims to treat guests like A-list stars.

    That means being offered an eight-person entourage including personal assistants, stylist, hairdresser, bodyguard, and a personal jeweler who will advise guests on the right jewelry for their designer outfits.

    A range of modern and antique pieces worth $1.67 million will also be available for loan, some of which has also graced the necks and ear lobes of celebrities like Lily Allen and Kelly Brook.

    When it comes to choosing the perfect outfit for nightly after-parties, a team of stylists will be on call 24 hours a day and offer a selection of iconic red carpet-inspired looks such as Liz Hurley’s safety-pin dress, and Angelina Jolie’s leg-bomber gown, both designed by Versace.

    Guests will stay at The White House, a six-bedroom villa on the French Riviera and be shuttled to and from the airport in their choice of luxury wheels -- the selection ranges from Bugatti Veyrons to Ferraris and vintage Aston Martins.

    The four-day package also comes with an hour-long helicopter ride over the bay, and costs £275,000 ($461,492 USD) for four people.

    For more info, visit

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    (Relaxnews) - New details have emerged on the latest Harry Potter attraction in Florida designed to recreate one of the most action-packed scenes of the movie series: a dramatic escape from the vaults of the Gringotts Wizarding Banks.

    Described as a multi-dimensional, multi-sensory thrill ride, Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts is the latest addition to Universal Orlando Resort’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley theme park.

    The attraction puts riders in the footsteps and free falls of Harry, Ron and Hermione as they break into one of the most guarded places in the wizarding world, The Gringotts banks, as the heroes try to retrieve a magical object to defeat Lord Voldemort.

    Designed in collaboration with the production team of the film franchise, the ride recreates scenes from the silver screen in meticulous detail, from the marble hall where the goblins crunch their numbers and the labyrinth of subterranean vaults.

    Riders will also relive dramatic moments of the film as they encounter Death Eater Bellatrix Lestrange, a 60-foot, fire-breathing Ukrainian Ironbelly dragon, and come face to face with the ultimate villain himself, Lord Voldemort.

    The attraction uses next-generation technology including 360-themed sets and some of the most advanced versions of high-definition animation and projection systems.

    Details on the opening date have yet to be released.

    Watch the ride in action at

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    When you're a Canadian icon, there's only one way to celebrate your 50th birthday — by transforming a giant landmark into the past.

    As part of their 50th birthday celebrations, Tim Hortons has turned Toronto's Yonge-Dundas Square into 1964, complete with vintage signage, old-school cups and actors dressed up in fabulous early 1960s styles to complete the picture. Oh, and they're also handing out free coffee and doughnuts, which is just a tad above their 1964 price tag of 10 cents each.

    The time warp is just one of the parties going on nationwide this week, which include free birthday cake doughnuts being handed out on Saturday, as well as a contest to bring back one of the favourite menu items from the past.

    Check out these awesome images of how Tim Hortons recreated the 1960s in the middle of Toronto (and cleverly threw their hats into the #ThrowbackThursday game):

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    When you walk down Vancouver's bustling Granville Street at night, you are met with an array of lively neon signs. But that's nothing compared to the neon back in the day.

    Vancouver Neon, a Flickr album of historical photos from the Vancouver Public Library, gives us a glimpse into what the nighttime cityscape circa the 1950s.

    In 1953, an estimated 19,000 neon signs lit up Vancouver. That's one sign for every 18 residents, according to the library's description. In fact, 1950s Vancouver was believed to have the highest number of neon signs per capita, second only to Shanghai.

    See the magic for yourself:

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    Whether you call it cottage or cabin country, it’s where many Canadians are heading this Victoria Day long weekend to finally take advantage of the warmer weather.

    While getting away for the weekend provides a great (and much-needed) escape from suburbia or city life, planning and packing for the vacation can be a lengthy process. The lists of endless things to pack – from kitchen supplies to first aid items – can take days to put together and there’s usually still a few forgotten items.

    What you'll bring for the weekend can vary depending on whether you own a cottage, are renting or are visiting as a guest.

    Packing is a lot simpler when you own the cottage, because you know what to expect, and likely have basic supplies on hand, such as bed sheets. Renting can be little more difficult, because it’s hard to know what the cabin will already have stocked (though owners should provide a list). In this case, it’s better to pack for any number of possibilites.

    Visiting as a guest at someone else’s cottage can be a great way to spend quality time with loved ones, and it also takes the load off packing. However, it’s important to ask your host if they need any assistance, or if you can take care of some of the packing – like bringing extra food or small things like board games.

    Your packing list will vary based on the activities you have planned and the length of the trip, but here are a few essentials you won’t want to miss!

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    (Relaxnews) - In Cannes each May, celebrities and other well-heeled clients descend on the six five-star hotels located along the famous Promenade de la Croisette. Here is an overview of what each of these properties has to offer, particularly during the Cannes Film Festival.

    InterContinental Carlton Cannes
    intercontinental carlton cannes
    Celebrities who have stayed here: Quentin Tarantino, Uma Thurman, Guillaume Canet, Sylvester Stallone, Brigitte Bardot, Sharon Stone, Bruce Willis and Clint Eastwood are regular guests.

    What makes it unique: The prestigious suites on the seventh floor are named for some of the hotel's most famous celebrity guests: Grace Kelly, Sean Connery, Sophia Loren, Cary Grant... There are nine of these ultra-luxurious suites, the largest of which is 380 square meters.

    What's new during the festival: Nikki Beach, an exclusive pop-up restaurant and nightclub, will open its doors within the Carlton from May 14 to 25. Accessible only to VIP guests, the venue is bound to be abuzz with stars. Brunch, lunch and dinner will be served in the restaurant La Plage, which will host a variety of special events throughout the festival.

    Majestic Barrière Cannes
    majestic barrière cannes
    Celebrities who have stayed here: Sylvester Stallone, Sharon Stone and Gérard Dépardieu are just a few of the countless movie stars who have frequented the Majestic through the years.

    What makes it unique: The hotel is home to a Christian Dior suite, designed in partnership with the famous haute couture house. Spanning across 450 square meters in the hotel's west wing, the suite offers a panoramic view over the Mediterranean.

    The luxurious apartment is decorated in the style of 30 Avenue Montaigne, the address of the Parisian couturier's original store. Prices start at €15,000 ($22,355) per night.

    What's new during the festival: The Majestic Barrière's private beach, which has always been popular among the stars, has undergone a renovation carried out by Jean-Philippe Nuel. The architect, who has designed the interiors of several luxury hotels and cruise ships, designed an eco-friendly and entirely removable deck, which can accommodate 100 guests for lunch and dinner or up to 200 guests for cocktails. There is also a VIP area where clients can reserve day beds, and there is room for up to 400 mattresses on the sand.

    Grand Hyatt Cannes Hôtel Martinez
    majestic barrière cannes
    Celebrities who have stayed here: Scarlett Johansson, Robert De Niro and Diane Kruger are among those who have enjoyed the services of this Cannes institution. In addition, the hotel's private beach provides the set for a popular French evening news show during the festival (Le Grand Journal on Canal+), so several celebrities regularly stop by for interviews during the event.

    What makes it unique: La Palme d'Or, located within the hotel, is the only restaurant in Cannes with two Michelin stars and is often frequented by celebrities during the festival.

    What's new during the festival: This year, the luxurious establishment is celebrating the 10th anniversary of its private beach and restaurant, the Zplage. Guests will find a new menu highlighting some of the ingredients that have left their mark on the past decade, each of which is offered in three different culinary creations.

    JW Marriott Cannes
    jw marriott
    Celebrities who have stayed here: A number of international stars have stayed here during the festival and the rest of the year, but the hotel has opted not to reveal the list of names.

    What makes it unique: This is the only hotel in Cannes with a rooftop deck and pool, where guests can enjoy an unparalleled view over the city and the sea.

    What's new during the festival: Brooklyn-based rapper Theophilus London chose this hotel as the venue for a unique pop-up venue opening from May 15 to 23. La Chambre Noire ("the darkroom" in French) will include a photo studio, exhibit space and a lounge. On the terrace, guests will enjoy concerts by London and a selection of other acts.

    Le Grand Hôtel Cannes
    le grand hôtel cannes
    Celebrities who have stayed here: The list of stars who have stayed here is confidential, but the location is bound to be teeming with celebs during the festival.

    What makes it unique: This privately owned hotel bears the distinction of being the first five-star hotel in Cannes. The Jacqueline suite, located on the 9th and top floor, has a living room overlooking the hills behind the city and a room with a balcony overlooking the sea.

    What's new during the festival: In a setting with an unusual choice of decor (half bakery, half lounge), French vodka brand Grey Goose will open a surprising and atypical bar. Guests at the Boulangerie Bleue will enjoy unique cocktails as well as artisanal breads created by French master baker Gontran Cherrier. Slated to open May 15-23 within the gardens of Cannes' Grand Hôtel, the space will feature DJ sets from the French collective Le Tournedisque.

    Five Seas Hotel
    five seas hotel
    Celebrities who have stayed here: Just down the road from the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès, this luxury boutique hotel has recently become a haven for the stars. Known for its discretion, the hotel refuses to reveal the names of those who have stayed here.

    What makes it unique: This is the most intimate five-star hotel in Cannes, with its 45 rooms, half of which are suites. Guests head to the rooftop terrace to dine at the gourmet restaurant, the Sea Sens, which recently earned its first Michelin star.
    What's new during the festival: The Five Seas offers a unique service to wealthy clients, who can rent a luxury yacht in order to host private parties on the sea.

    What's new during the festival: The Five Seas offers a unique service to wealthy clients, who can rent a luxury yacht in order to host private parties on the sea.

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    Airports and healthy food are not usually something you find together. Dietitian disclosure: despite my mom bringing us up to always shove a sandwich and some fruit into our carry-on bags (and my knowing that it's the best option), I always hate lugging stuff from home, and this leaves me to fend for myself once I get to the terminal.

    Today on my way to San Francisco, I decided to really scope out the options and bring you my picks for healthiest foods you can get at the airport.

    1. Cibo:
    Already in many major U.S. airports, we finally got a Cibo in Toronto, and it is the best option hands down for food on the run. Lentil and quinoa salads, vegetable salads with sliced real chicken breast, whole fresh fruit, Clif Bars and other nutrition bars, and hummus/cracker combo packs. You'll pay $12 for the privilege of buying hummus with a few crackers, a banana, and a Clif Bar, but that's the cost of not bringing stuff from home.

    2. Starbucks: Pass over the fatty pastries and head for the cash registers, where you'll find reasonably sized (read: not 800 calories) packs of nuts and dried fruits, and whole fresh fruit. Sandwiches aren't your 'Starbucks' branded ones you usually find at outside Starbucks outlets, but in a pinch, choose a lean meat one and drink lots of water to counteract the salt -- which will blow you up like a balloon once you get to 35,000 feet.

    3. Convenience outlets (such as Relay): There is a lot of junk (and pharmaceuticals -- condoms, anyone?) at these ubiquitous convenience stores, but you can still find nutrition bars (some are better than chocolate bars, some aren't -- read the label), and nuts, usually in huge packs (remember a serving is only ¼ cup).

    4. To-Go Restaurants: Most airports have random coffee shop-type places that sell sandwiches and bagels. Skip the massive doughy breakfast bagels and the footlong meat subs (yikes, garlic and salt in the air is not a great idea. Think about the poor person sitting next to you while you have all the gas from that sub) and go for simple toast with cheese, cereal with milk, or yogurt and fruit.

    If you don't have any of the above outlets in your airport, here are a few things to remember:

    • Stay away from salty foods such as fast food, beef jerky, processed breakfast sandwiches, and chips -- unless you love having swollen feet and hands when you fly. Sodium intake, pressure, and dehydration from flying, as well as inactivity, are the culprits that cause all that swelling.

    • Always go for the whole foods that are minimally processed -- plain nuts, whole fruits, salads, and vegetable platters -- and keep hydrated. Take a tour around wherever you are to see the options before going for the first thing you see (unless you're about to miss your plane, then all bets are off).

    • Just because you're travelling doesn't mean your nutrition needs to take a vacation. And maybe you want to bring something from home?

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