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Canada Travel news and opinion

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    Last year I shared a post of some of the crazy questions I fielded from tourists while working one summer in Lake Louise.

    Questions like: "When do you drain the lake and paint the bottom?" and, "At what elevation does and elk become a moose?"

    Questions that take a moment to recover from. You think to yourself, "Where are these people getting their information, and who would lead them astray like this?"

    I wanted to see if HuffPost Alberta readers had experienced similar questions, so I posed the question on our Facebook page, and, boy, did they share some doozies.

    Like I said in my last post, I'm not one to judge. I'm sure I've asked some pretty silly questions in my travels to foreign countries. Locals have probably answered politely but had a good chuckle behind my back.

    These gave me a good laugh and I hope you get a kick out of them, too.

    Check out some of the funniest questions posed to HuffPost Alberta readers in the slideshow below.

    Have you heard any crazy questions from tourists? Share them with me in the comments.

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    Vancouver can't seem to bring home a Stanley Cup, but when it comes to the brutal sport of shin-kicking, the West Coast tops them all.

    Resident Ross Langill, 24, was crowned world champion of the sport at the Cotswold Olimpicks in Chipping Camden, England on Friday, after outlasting two-time winner Zac Warren.

    Langill, who wore a Henrik Sedin jersey for the bout, stuffed his pants with hay for padding but still had a tough time in the competition, Ukraine News One reported.

    "The hay really protects the shins, but it's really the feet that takes all the brunt," he told the outlet.

    The sport, which dates back 400 years, literally involves participants kicking each other's shins as they try to throw opponents to the ground.

    It used to be even more brutal. In the 1800s, competitors capped their boots capped with metal, though the practice has since been banned, said the Cotswold Olimpicks website.

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    Geez. Hope that sunbather packed an extra pair of swim trunks.

    Footage obtained by tabloid Bild TV shows a Piper PA-28-181 Archer II aircraft grazing a tourists’ back as he lay on a sandy beach soaking up rays – right by the Heligoland airport in northern Germany.

    It appears the sunbather noticed the approaching plane and tucked his head into the sand at the very last second, narrowly missing getting knocked by its wheels. The video was shot by beachgoer Rainer Schmidt, reports The Telegraph.

    The pilot, identified as 52-year-old Juergen Drucker, apologized for the close call and told the Daily Mail he's embarrassed over his landing error.

    “I have to say, as the pictures show, that it wasn’t one of my greatest achievements in the cockpit,” he said.

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    June 15 is fast approaching and the age-old question has once again returned: What to get dear old dad to honour him on Father’s Day?

    Well, a 2013 survey found 13 per cent of dads wanted gift cards and eight per cent coveted the latest electronic gadgets. Overwhelmingly, the study revealed what pops – 40 per cent of them at least – really, really want is time with you and the family. See, he really is a softie and not just the guy who hogs the remote and mows the lawn.

    You could do the same old thing – go for dinner, grill some steaks on the BBQ, and watch dad open up a wrapped box with a new tie. Instead, mix it up a bit and give him a travel experience he won’t forget. And unlike last-year's tie, these excursions come in all sizes – small, medium and large.

    What’s he packing when he travels? Rod and reel? Flip flops and sunscreen? Compass and Coleman stove? Oakley sunglasses and Ocean Pacific board shorts? Small details like those will tell you plenty about the kind of traveller he is and will guide you toward a perfect getaway.

    If you're still stuck, here are a few adventures to consider:

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    Canadian brother and sister Philip and Jayne Davidson are traveling on motorcycles from the Arctic Circle to Patagonia. This is the latest entry in their travel blog. Read their adventure so far, and see where they are right now, here.

    Death road: To ride down, or to ride up? That is the question.

    Not to ride at all, is out of the question entirely. Not to ride at all, is out of the question entirely.


    Riding down Bolivia's famed "Ruta de la Muerta " aka the "Death road" has a tick box beside it on most lists of those visiting Bolivia. So much so that well over a hundred of tourist rides down the road on mountain bikes on the daily. The occasional motto and one or two trucks also make the trek. There is a much newer and safer paved road that has been built now, leaving the "Death road" as mainly a tourist attraction. The sharp drops and narrow road don't take much imagination as to how the road got its name.

    The road rules are reversed here, riding down death road leaves you riding on the left in any passing situations, pushing you right to the edge. Riding up the road gives you right-of-way, including the advantage of pulling to the relatively safer "wall side" of the road while passing. Which way to go has been the subject of debate with several motorbikers I've met along the way.

    Here's the thing: I liked the ride down a lot. In fact I liked the ride down so much that I rode back up. Down was better.


    After arriving to La Paz, I decided the first clear morning I would get up early and head for Death road. There had been weeks of rain, and I didn't want to ride in the wet. Less is more for my still weak left shoulder.

    Getting to the road wasn't without challenges, I still hadn't been able to buy gas, and then there was the standard road hazards.


    Not at all a surprising sight. Not at all a surprising sight.


    Purchasing gas was was still a chore. I finally got lucky on my second try of the morning for 6 BOB/L (about $0.90). More than the 3.74 local rate, but much less than the 10 Boliviano/L official tourist rate.


    On the road out of town, this station will be on your left, and sold me gas. On the Yungas road out of La Paz, this station will be on your left, and sold me gas with no problems.


    The road to the "death road" alone is worth the ride. The highway to the "death road" alone is worth the ride.


    The scenery heartily reminded me of the Rockies in Canada... The scenery heartily reminded me of the Rockies in Canada...


    ...but with far more Llamas and Alpacas ...but with far more Llamas and Alpacas


    The "death road" isn't the only road in these parts worthy of exploring. The "death road" isn't the only road in these parts worthy of exploring.


    Scores of tourists on downhill mountain bikes try out their borrowed wheels before beginning their decent, much of which is actually on beautifully paved highway. Scores of excited tourists on downhill mountain bikes try out their borrowed wheels before beginning their decent, much of which is actually on beautifully paved highway. One of the guides kindly provided me a map.

    I needed that map. I still kept thinking I had missed the turn, really though you can't miss it.

    There's a pretty noticeable giant yellow sign. There's a pretty noticeable giant yellow sign with the word "Death" on it.


    The weather was a bit foggy to start, but not raining as it reportedly had been for days, so I decided it best to take advantage of the weather break and ride down before the clouds changed their minds.


    Known by all, observed by some. Known by all, observed by some.

    I had the whole road to myself. The fears of having to "keep left" on the cliff edge while passing were moot. I passed only two pickup trucks and a couple mottos the whole way down.


    Though I can see how being forced to ride right at the edge could feel ominous. Though I can see how being forced to ride right at the edge might feel ominous.


    Not too far into the ride, the clouds started to lift Not too far into the ride, the clouds started to lift. Perhaps I just was starting to ride beneath them.


    Many corners have guard rails. Not this one. However the road at that point is so wide that you would never need to ride out near the edge anyways. Many corners have guard rails. Not this one. However the road at that specific spot is so wide that you would never need to ride out near the edge anyways. Great for photos.


    A long walk back to take that photo too.


    Not as long of walk as this one... Not as long of walk as this one...


    ...or this one. ...or this one.


    Stunning waterfall collection. Stunning waterfall collection.


    Met Chris, from Germany, riding up on his Yamaha 150. Met Chris, from Germany, riding up on his Honda 150.


    A truly beautiful ride, even more so when the sun comes out. A truly beautiful ride, even more so when the sun comes out.


    you must pay 25 Bolivianos to pass this road. You must pay 25 Bolivianos to pass this road.


    First sticker on window! Super sized little girl smile for the win! First sticker on window! Super-sized little-girl smile for the win!


    A couple streams to cross for good measure A couple streams to cross for good measure.


    Trinket booths and restaurants await all the cyclists at the bottom. Trinket booths and restaurants await all the cyclists at the bottom. Vacant for now, but not for long.


    The change in climate was dramatic. From riding at the snow line near freezing through the pass out of La Paz, to 25 Celcius heat at the bottom of Death road in the jungle. I enjoyed the riding so much I pulled a u-turn and started my way back up!


    The first of many cyclists I would encounter on the ride up. The first of many cyclists I would encounter on the ride up.


    It was on the ride up when I finally encountered the true danger on Bolivia's "Death Road": The cyclists.

    Take a couple hundred tourists who may or may not have ridden a bike recently, put them on vastly varied quality of used downhill mountain bikes, and hurtle them down a rocky gravel road with at-best 2 foot high safety barriers. Repeat daily.

    The fastest cyclists I encountered were the safest, I felt. Perhaps because they might have had more riding experience, perhaps they just learned quickly but regardless they reacted quickly, and appropriately, when we crossed paths.

    The more nervous riders, notably female this day, were not as quick, or appropriate in their reactions. I met two different girls in almost identical situations. I would come out of a corner, honking my horn the whole way through, and on exiting the corner encounter a girl 20 meters away with two hands full of brakes. Skidding all over the place, panicked faces, they would swerve and slide to their right, one of them riding right into the cliff wall beside them for a final stop. Both looked distraught as I passed. They weren't having fun.

    I think these are the tourists who add to the death tally, the ones who maybe didn't want to ride the road in the first place.

    Riding up the death road meant dealing with the hoards of these cyclists riding down, and their respective support vans. True, I had right of way and could take the "safer" left side of the road, but the potential interactions with cyclists around every corner kept me on edge. Most bikers would stay left, some would swerve right. Some would simply stop right in the middle of the road. I was likely the first other vehicle they had seen the whole ride, so I'm sure they were more focused on picking their line than anything else. I certainly was when I rode down. At least the support vans were all predictable.


    Cyclists in the mist Cyclists and their support van in the mist.


    Water break Break from dodging cyclists.

    Cyclists or not: I still enjoyed the ride up. The views are fantastic in each direction and it's simply a fun road to ride on. In the end the weather was constant all day so either way would have been fine. If you're debating which way to ride and have to chose one way only: Ride down. With cyclists coming around any given blind corner on the way up, I found the ride down more relaxing. Either way you ride, it's an experience not to be missed.


    Hooray for survival! Hooray for survival!



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    CALGARY - Canadian actor William Shatner will beam into Alberta next month to lead the 2014 Calgary Stampede Parade.

    Shatner, best known for his role as Captain Kirk in Star Trek, is to serve as Grand Marshall.

    It is not clear if Shatner, who is an experienced horseman, will lead the parade on horseback or ride in a wagon or antique car.

    Shatner, who is 83, says he has been to Calgary before, but never to the Calgary Stampede.

    The Calgary Stampede runs from July 4 to 13.

    The parade gets underway at 9:00 a.m. on July 4.

    "Leading the parade will be quite a way to experience my first time,” Shatner said in a release Tuesday.

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    Miley Cyrus took her Instagram followers sky high when she uploaded videos of herself partying on an airplane two days ago.

    The pop star posted five videos that showed her dancing wildly and rapping on topics such as vodka and DJs.

    One of the videos showed her smoking what looked like a cigarette. But we can't be sure.

    Perhaps the FAA would like to know.

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    A WestJet flight from Calgary was hit by lightning as it approached the Kelowna airport on Tuesday night.

    A fierce spring storm brought heavy rain, hail, and lightning to the Okanagan. Downtown Vernon was flooded, reported

    The plane landed safely and was inspected, an airport spokeswoman told the media outlet. No one on board was injured, she added.

    Check out for more photos of the storm.

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    Temple and festival elephants were drowning in a sea of sadness as the masses gathered in the thousands to celebrate the annual Trissur Pooram in Kerala, India -- the largest congregation of male elephants in the world. More than 90 elephants took turns during a 36-hour festival to entertain the insane crowd, mostly drunk and occasionally drenched by sudden downpours.

    These elephants were transported from temples across Kerala in trucks through bumpy rugged roads from as far as Trivandrum, more than 300 kilometers from Trissur, over an eight-hour journey in the kind of odd weather that the southern state experienced during this year's festivals. No food, no water, no sleep for these poor souls during the journey, although they tend to graze between 16-18 hours everyday.

    Heavens opened up just 48 hours before the main festival, as though the elephant God, Lord Ganesh was weeping over the torture of his species. Fortunately the grey monstrous clouds hovering over the processions provided the much needed shade for the gentle giants. It was hot, hazy and humid with temperatures hovering between 40 and 45 degrees Celsius, and the deafening sounds of the music and fireworks were agonizing.

    It's been almost a week since my return from Kerala where we were filming my documentary For the Love of Elephants, to expose the abhorrent torture behind the glitz and glamour of Trissur Pooram. And although I have recovered from the jetlag, I'm having a hard time disembarking from the emotional roller coaster ride.


    I'm haunted by the images of one particular elephant whose rear limbs were so badly injured that he was limping along the procession. It seemed that the raw wounds were intentionally inflicted, as the two handlers and the owner desperately tried to cover the injuries and block our camera several times (although they were unsuccessful).

    To be sure, government veterinarians conducted a routine health-check on participating elephants prior to the commencement of the festival. But when I asked about the injured elephant, the chief vet said, the wounds weren't serious enough to disqualify him from the festival, adding that their primary focus was to detect musth. This is an annual cycle that causes an increase in testosterone and energy levels, which the elephants typically exhaust in the wild by wandering, fighting off bulls and mating. However, in captivity they are unable to burn off all those energy reserves, and so they become aggressive and dominant, most times resulting in stampedes, human deaths and elephant torture.

    Clearly the vets can't allow this to happen as too much money is at stake for the owners, the mahouts, the brokers and of course the hoteliers, as tourism was booming with some mediocre hotels charging as high as $500 per night. These business men know all too well that the elephants are the main attraction, but what they don't seem to realize is, without giving proper care and attention to the cash cow, it could collapse, bringing down with it their business also.

    And here's the perfect recipe for such a calamity. It's a scene that replays in my mind, a rude awakening I had at 3:00 a.m. on May 9. The deafening sounds of the earth-shattering high decibel fireworks that shattered my hotel's bathroom windows that also exploded the festival temples' roof tiles, damaging a prominent 200-year-old archaeological structure.

    Research shows that such powerful explosions are sure to spook the elephants, as their feet, ears and legs are super sensitive to vibrations. According to this video, elephants can detect slightest ground vibrations caused by other animals using the soles of their feet.

    "Elephants can hear low frequency sounds indistinguishable to humans. According to one theory they can detect lightning that strikes five kilometers away. It was reported that elephants quickly escaped to high ground after the Sumatra earthquake as they knew tsunami was coming."
    Studies conducted by UCLA's Peter Narin suggest, "pressure-sensitive nerve endings in the elephants' feet and trunks are other pathways for detecting the vibrations"

    But unfortunately no escape for the two blind elephants that were tethered beneath a shed, just 400 metres from the fireworks display, all four legs shackled, making it impossible for the poor animals to even shift their bodies by the startling sounds of the fireworks.


    Now, using blind elephants in festivals is nothing new in Kerala. We were informed by an undercover researcher that the majority of the elephants in that state are blind, but when I asked the government veterinarian, his response was, "only 10 percent of them are blind." Even if it's just 10 percent, isn't it unconscionable and unpardonable to exploit these vulnerable animals? In my view, this is one of the worst kind of atrocities against such an intelligent animal. How sad!!

    There's lots to be said about the extent of cruelty that elephants are having to endure year after year during Trissur Pooram festival. In the coming days I will share my observations and documentation of the most basic humane and welfare guidelines that are being ignored in the name of culture and religion, as well as offer alternatives as suggested by world renowned elephant experts.

    I will be also unpacking my soulful journey to India, featuring some of our key supporters who wholeheartedly and unconditionally dedicated their time, and energy in helping us achieve our funding goal and raise just over $40,000. We were able to travel to India and gather close to 100 hours of footage because of their generosity. The real work has just begun!

    Meantime, there's a groundswell of hope for temple elephants, as more and more people are waking up to the atrocities, and raising their voices -- collective voices that are becoming hard to ignore. The fact that people from all walks of life -- strangers, artists, elephant and animal lovers from around the world came together in solidarity in the making of the film For the Love of Elephants is proof that people are standing up for these magnificent animals. I'm hopeful that the release of our film will produce positive results for all stakeholders, mainly for India's Heritage Animal.

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    Meet Biddy, the too-cute-for-words little hedgehog that has more Instagram followers (394,500 to be exact) than the average human.

    Although he's been around since 2013 (his account has, anyway), the adorable three-year-old has become the latest sensation for all things travel. From the streets of Portland to road trips, he's reviewing some of the best places to visit in the U.S. for his growing audience.

    Owners Toni DeWeese and Tom Unterseher from Oregon have taken Biddy everywhere from doughnut shops on Father's Day to a Cinco de Mayo festival, according to the Daily Mail.

    While we're not exactly sure how hard (or easy) it is to travel with such a critter, breeders claim more people are keeping hedgehogs like Biddy as pets. While six U.S. states and the nation's capital have banned them, they are legal here in Canada (you can find a list of breeders here).

    Hedgehogs are covered in 6,000 quills that are shorter, harder and sharper than those of a porcupine. An adult African pygmy hedgehog can grow to anywhere from six to 11 inches long.

    But back to Biddy. Here are some of our favourite pictures of this travel maven on the go:

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    A woman from Surrey, B.C. is blaming Air Canada for losing a Blue Scottish Fold cat she bought for $1,200.

    Amanda Stewart expected to receive Chester on May 21 after the cat's breeder dropped him off in a cargo cage at Montreal-Pierre Elliot Trudeau International Airport for transportation to Vancouver, CBC News reported.

    "The cage was secured by the breeder as well as Air Canada employees. They checked the cages over," Stewart told CBC's Daybreak.

    But she received a phone call telling her not go to the airport because the cat was gone. The door to Chester's cage somehow came loose and allowed him to escape, she was told.

    Both Stewart and the breeder believe the cage was either dropped, or opened so that someone could steal the cat, Montreal's CJAD 800 reported.

    Whatever happened, Stewart wishes Air Canada had taken more action to stop Chester from taking off.

    "We wish Air Canada would have put a little bit more effort into finding the cat, and been more up to talking to us more and letting us know exactly what they were doing," she told the radio station.

    For its part, the airline says it is working hard to find Chester. It has laid out traps with sardines, circulated pictures of the feline to staff, and alerted other airports, said CBC.

    It also sent employees to check backyards near the Montreal airport and even dispatched a falcon unit to look for him.

    Stewart has wanted a Blue Scottish Fold since she was young and spent about two months trying to obtain Chester after her own cat died last year, CP24 reported.

    Chester's breeder refunded her the $1,200 and said she could just send the money back if the cat is found.

    Air Canada claims that it's rare for an animal to escape during transit, but this isn't the first time.

    An Italian greyhound named Larry went missing last year as it was being transported from Sacramento, Calif. to Campbell River, B.C. The dog ran away from the airline's employees at San Francisco International Airport.

    Larry later died after he was reportedly hit by a car.

    Check out photos of Chester, the Scottish fold cat:

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    When you are in the wealth-creation phase of life, discipline is critical. You may secretly lust after an F-Type Jaguar, but prudence prevails and you select a Ford Fusion or Toyota Camry, knowing that the 70 grand or so you are saving can instead be plowed into an investment that might actually appreciate.

    The same goes with dream vacations. Sure, you'd like to go on safari in Africa or ride with the gauchos on the Pampas of Argentina while you're still young enough to actually enjoy it, but you fear the sticker price of the trip will delay your retirement date by a decade.

    I am here to say it doesn't have to -- if you play your cards right. You can check off at least some of these bucket-list destinations well before you actually kick the bucket.

    My wife and I enjoy travel, including trips to far-flung, exotic locations, from Bhutan and Easter Island, to Iceland and India. Over the years we have developed some strategies that have made these trips affordable, even as we were saving for our children's university fees and our own retirement.

    Our first suggestion -- and we know this won't be for everyone -- is to make camping part of your trip. We have camped in places as diverse as France, Spain, Japan, New Zealand and Costa Rica. Our normal pattern is a week or ten days of camping, followed by a day or two at a Four Seasons, Fairmont, or Ritz Carlton. The former gets you close to flora and fauna, the locals and often spectacular scenery (for a few dollars a night); the latter gets you pampering (and a hot shower). We followed this pattern religiously when vacationing in Hawaii over the years and it worked well

    But OK, let's say that camping is not your thing.

    Our second suggestion is Silent Auctions.

    That's right, Silent Auctions, where you go to a charity dinner or event and bid on various items offered up by sponsors, friends and event patrons.

    Often among the items up for bid are trips and vacations, everything from ski holidays to the exclusive use of a private island in the Caribbean.

    Our own favorite hunting ground is the Royal Canadian Geographical Society Annual Dinner. We have snagged a couple of trips at this event, most recently a 12-day expedition to Antarctica with OneOcean Expeditions, a BC-based Canadian company specializing in Arctic and Antarctic tours.

    This is a trip we wanted to do while we still had a reasonable amount of physical capability, but also stay within a relatively reasonable budget (any way you cut it, Antarctica is expensive).

    So how good a deal can you get using this strategy? The trip that we wanted was put up for bid with a suggested retail price for two of $19,700. When the bidding music stopped we got it for $9,300. (The $19,700 price quoted was accurate, not inflated -- we had checked it previously on the web site.)

    Now of course there is a cost in attending the dinner itself -- in this case, $200 per person. Part of that you get back in the form of a tax receipt. And part of it in the form of a pretty good meal. Plus you are helping a worthy cause. But what you are really doing is buying a seat at the bidding table.

    The Royal Canadian Geographical Society Annual Dinner is typically held in Ottawa, which might be somewhat inconvenient if you live in New York, Washington, D.C. or Vancouver . But fear not -- there are literally dozens of these events happening across North America, if you know where to look.

    Some of the best are held to raise money on behalf of universities or private secondary schools. And, no, you don't have to have gone to the school, have children there or know the school song or colors to attend. It is a fundraiser -- the operative colour is green.

    We attended several of these events on a regular basis in Toronto. The beauty here is that school parents and alumni often offer up private ski chalets or Barbados cottages to those wishing to bid -- opportunities that would otherwise be unavailable to we mere mortals.

    A variety of other organizations, from hospitals to museums, hold similar events.

    The trick, of course, is to not get carried away -- as they say, know your limit and play within it. Be willing to let someone else "win" the item if the price gets out of your range.

    But our experience is that we have been able to get some pretty great trips for half price or less. And we've been able to go to places we've always dreamed about while still young enough to enjoy it.

    (Robert Waite is Managing Partner of Waite + Co. and a frequent writer on travel topics.)


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    There’s a reason why millions of tourists come to Canada every year in the summer.

    The country with the longest coastline in the world has a variety of breathtaking landscapes full of adventures waiting to happen. From the lush green rainforests, turquoise glacial lakes and snowy mountain peaks to the golden prairies, vibrant valleys and remote beaches, Canada provides endless travel itineraries.

    Acting like a tourist in your own country is a great way to appreciate the scenic spots that surround you. Pick up a Canadian guidebook and prepare to be surprised at the number of natural gems you've yet to see or hear of. From the Pacific Ocean in the west to the Atlantic Ocean in the east up to the Arctic Ocean in the north, there is something for everyone to see and do.

    You don’t need to spend thousands of dollars or take months off work to travel in Canada. Just jump in your car for the day or buy a train ticket for the week and unleash your inner explorer. Summer is the prime time to experience all that this beautiful country has to offer, so what are you waiting for?

    Here is a Canadian summer bucket list to get your adventures started:

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    Sotheby's International Realty wants to help its Calgary clients fly high, and in style.

    The luxury real estate firm has announced it will offer private jet and helicopter services to certain clientele as it expands its presence in Cowtown, said a Tuesday news release.

    Jets operating through Albatross Aircraft Corporation and Million Air will fly clients into Calgary from almost anywhere in the world and the helicopters will take them to see ritzy properties while they're in the city, Postmedia News reported.

    "When you’re dealing with a lot of these entrepreneurs and business people, executives, time is money to them," Mark Evernden, Sotheby's senior vice-president of sales, told the news service.

    "Just to give you an example, I have a $10-million property and a $38-million property out in the Priddis area. We’re four and a half minutes from tarmac to property. That’s how fast we can get them to a property."

    The expansion comes as sales continue to grow in Calgary's housing market, according to the real estate board. Statistics released Monday showed the "highest May activity on record," with a 16 per cent increase over last year.

    There were 94 homes that sold for more than $1 million last month, up from 83 in the previous year, while 359 sold in that price range in the first five months of 2014, compared to 318 in 2013, The Globe and Mail reported.

    Sotheby's president and CEO Ross McCredie told the newspaper that many American and European buyers are looking into property in Calgary, while Chinese buyers are eyeing high-end condos as investments.

    "Calgary’s just been awesome for us," he said.

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    As a writer I am always looking for a deal. Sorry to disappoint, but my life is not all free and easy flying around the world on press tours. For me, those kinds of trips are few and far between. While I am definitely not complaining, I do prefer to make the destination plans myself to avoid the beaten path... and the rushing around to cover off everything on the loaded agenda of a media tour.


    So I am just like you, dear reader. I value traveling often, but don't have the bank account to simply book the first flight I Google.

    And so I search.

    Kayak, Expedia, Airbnb, Wotif and the like. I am also a Jetsetter member and landed a pretty good deal on a chic San Francisco hotel when that platform launched in 2009. I've not had the occasion to use the service since, but the deals and flash sales (I see via their newsletters) are tempting.

    There are sites like Tripology that will match you with "up to 3 travel specialists," who compete to find your best deal. There are also the "Golden Rules" -- 25 travel tips drawn up by Wendy Perrin in 2011. Before she left Conde Nast earlier this year, she repeatedly repurposed the tips from this list so it's worth putting them in your back pocket.

    Now call me old fashioned, but sometimes I do like to use a travel agent as they do have access to better deals in a time crunch. Summer is here, and it will be the holidays before we know it!

    In a recent scramble, I stumbled upon Endless Access -- a very new platform that gives members greater savings (time and money included) on the usual suspects -- flights, hotels, car rentals, cruises -- than what one would find on public sites. Better than my old reliable Kayak? "In some instances, yes," says EA's CEO Scott Boykin. "The savings you receive as a member are upwards of 60 percent greater than the price published on Travelocity and similar sites."

    They also have a concierge program that services members who are having trouble booking a trip, and need to speak with a live person to sort things out. A rare advantage these days it seems.

    So what's the catch?
    There is an annual fee, of course. Which the company will not disclose, of course.
    But consider this...

    "Our platform provides a wide verity of access to everything from nightly stays at a mom and pop B&B to worldwide cruises and everything in-between. We can also accommodate more elaborate customized vacation requests should that better fit our client's needs," explains Boykin.

    One of the trips available via Endless Access is a December break spent at a swish hotel on the lower east side of Manhattan. Dates: 12/21 - 12/28. Includes a room of two, car rental, tickets for Chicago on Broadway, and a luxurious yacht cruise on the Hudson River with dinner and an open bar. All in it's USD$2,227.82. When compared to Expedia, the identical reservation totals USD$7,842.22.

    So where will you find your next time-saving travel deal? I'd love to know in the comments!

    Image courtesy of


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    Our province's capital is brimming with delicious restaurants and cafes. But which are the real standouts?

    To find out, we asked local food blogger Jen Reiher of The Victorian Food Blog. We also got top picks from CBC Radio columnist and "Food Artisans of Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands" author Don Genova. From seafood to dessert, these two have it covered.

    Check out their top picks:

    Did we miss any of your favourites?

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    Cosmopolitan hubs offer big city bustle, entertainment options out the wazoo, miles of tony museum space and scores of cooed-over restaurants. But sometimes you don’t need the whole enchilada. If a small bite out of the big Apple is all you crave you don’t even have to go to NYC — consider a trip to “The Little Apple” instead.

    Stray from the travelling swarm during your next vacay and consider the delights only offered up by a select tribe of tertiary towns offering similar attractions minus the tornadoes of tourists, hefty bar tabs and excruciatingly busy airports. Each of these micropolises offer the chance to discover fresh perspective on the path less tread.

    Bucharest, Romania: Little Paris

    bucharest athenaeum

    The charm and elegance of Parisian rues can be found in Bucharest’s buildings and boulevards. During La Belle Époque, Bucharesters certainly took architectural cues from the French. The domed Romanian Athenaeum, a concert hall in the centre of the city where today you catch the philharmonic, sprung up in the 1880s and has become a national symbol of culture. It is in the style of the renowned Palais Garnier built at the request of Napoleon III a couple decades prior.

    While characterless communist high-rises built during Nicolae Ceaușescu’s regime still blight the skyline, vibes of Paris still looms architecturally large in the city from the Arcul de Triumf, Bucharest’s granite version of the landmark that honours veterans of WWI to Calea Victoriei, Bucharest’s charming equivalent of the Champs-Élysées.

    Kitchener, Ontario: Little Berlin

    kitchener ontario

    Situated roughly one hundred kilometres west of Toronto, a quarter of Kitchener Ontario’s population has Germanic roots. Before being renamed in 1916, the area even shared the namesake of Deutschland’s capital for over fifty years. WWI enmity led to the new name but the language was still widely spoken in the streets through the '60s.

    While the lederhosen generation’s influence has been waning for some time, the town along with its twin city of Waterloo, holds one what’s billed as the largest Oktoberfest in the world outside of Germany, regularly attracting upwards of 750,000 revellers to their annual nine-day Bavarian bash. If you’re in the area be sure to try some wiener schnitzel or pig tails at the Olde Heidelberg Restaurant Tavern in Heidelberg, Ont.

    Mobile, Alabama: The Little Easy

    mobile alabama

    While N’awlins gets all the fanfare, the Sweet Home state’s port city has celebrated Fat Tuesday for even longer. Mobile’s been getting down with Mardi Gras since 1703, and for a revelry history experience like none other there’s the Carnival Museum. Traipse through this Government Street mansion while scoping out the colourful paraphernalia and sumptuous gowns and coronation robes.

    Be sure to climb atop a parade float and hurl a moon pie, a Mobile tradition. Laissez les bon temps roulez! The chocolate covered marshmallow treat also factors into Mobile’s NYE celebration which is capped by the dropping of a 12-foot Moonpie.

    Manhattan, Kansas: The Little Apple

    manhattan kansas

    Manhattan, Kansas is a college town in the Flint Hills region of the Sunflower state with a strong cultural core. While KSU’s roost lacks a Greenwich Village, they do have Aggieville, a six-square block entertainment district swimming in college bars and eateries. While NYC is stuffed with classic pizzerias, Aggiesville contains a hefty slice of fast food history.

    The Aggieville’s Pizza Hut is the red-roofed chain’s longest running location, a Moro mainstay for over fifty years. Like its big northeastern brother, it’s also been crooned about in a hit song. Country music hall of famer Glenn Campbell’s “Manhattan Kansas,” centers around a woman with a hard-luck story and reached #6 on Billboard's Hot Country Singles chart in 1972.

    Sioux City, Iowa: Little Chicago

    sioux city

    Sioux City, Iowa earned the “Little Chicago” tag for being wet when the rest of the state was dry with gambling and other dens of iniquity, making it a smaller doppleganger of the mid-west’s biggest city. These days, Siouxland’s Chi-town cred extends to deep-dish pies, Warrior’s Sports Bar and Grill on 701 1st Street serves up some of the best deep stuff for dine-in customers only but you still may want to call ahead. Even the menu warns of a 45 minute wait.

    Winnipeg, Manitoba: Little Kiev

    winnipeg summer

    Winnipeg has a large Ukrainian population with over 110,000 denizens of the Peg hailing from the country. Along with multiple months with average temperatures dipping below freezing and an appreciation for cold pursuits like hockey to consuming copious amounts of chilled beverages — Winnipeg is the Slurpee capital of the world after all — the tie that binds is a penchant for pierogies.

    Devotees of the dumplings don’t have to jet to Eastern Europe to get an authentic taste. Winnipeg is crawling with pierogie joints and for pillowy moons handmade by babas. The Ukrainian Orthodox churches often take orders for fundraising efforts.

    Halifax, Nova Scotia: Little Glasgow

    halifax nova scotia

    You don’t have to cross the pond for a full-on Celtic culture immersion. Nerarly 30 per cent of Haligonians are of Scottish heritage lending a Celtic flavour to the maritime city. “The Great Scots”, touted as Canada’s answer to The Beatles were hatched in Halifax.

    The Highland Games are massive in these parts and no one will bat an eye at a man wearing a tartan kilt. If there was a game show category where contestants had to guess whether bands were from Nova Scotia or Scotland there’d certainly be a ton of mistakes made on artists like the Barra Macneils, Natalie MacMaster and Ashley Macisaac.

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    Alberta's Rocky Mountains are certainly a timeless beauty, but there's something to be said for the days when they weren't so accessible to tourists.

    Nowadays, thousands of people pack the shores of Waterton Lake, Moraine Lake and Lake Louise each summer day to take in the towering mountains and dip their toes in the aqua-blue water.

    But there was a time, not long ago, when the mountains weren't so easy to get to. Long train rides or car trips were required to access the Banff Springs hotel or Chateau Lake Louise. People generally travelled less, and their stays were longer, giving time for leisurely cocktails and long dinners.

    These retro-inspired posters harken back to simpler days, when tourists visited Alberta for a taste of unparalleled luxury.

    It was a time of stylish attire, tasteful entertainment, and refined relations — a time where you could, perhaps, wander a lake shore with a martini in hand and not be afraid to spill your cocktail in the throng of tourists.

    We can't help but feel inspired by the aesthetics of these vintage ads. Click through the gallery to check them all out.

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    I learned about the Saigon Flea Market when searching #saigon to find places to wander. The photos of vintage jewelry and print-screened bags revealed similarities with Toronto's Junction Flea or New York City's Brooklyn Flea, both outside markets that attract trendsetters on the hunt for special vintage clothing, jewelry and antiques.

    I was instantly intrigued. I've always loved shopping in markets and buying jewelry from vendors when I travel. I want unique pieces that no one else will have. I look for quality items without paying an inflated price often available from mass retailers.

    That's why I love what Founder Moon Doan is doing in Saigon -- she's creating a new fashion experience. Doan is a young, ambitious designer working to bring her growing love of fashion and individuality to other young locals and provide a unique shopping experience for foreigners.


    Moon Doan, founder of Saigon Flea Market, became fond of flea markets at a young age when her mother would take her to the Northern Vietnam countryside to buy handmade goods from farmers. Photo credit: Kristen Marano

    Once a month on a Sunday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., 30 vendors put their handmade designs on display from antiques and art to vintage clothing and home ware for more than 1,000 visitors to browse and buy. The vendors make up talented artists in fashion including stylists, journalists, magazine editors and fashion bloggers.

    A rack of colourful, patterned vintage button-up shirts on display at the Saigon Flea Market. Photo credit: Kristen Marano

    The market is located in district seven, where many locals and neighbourhoods reside. A taxi ride away from the centre, the location brings travelers away from the hustle and bustle of district one to see how the locals and expatriates are living for an authentic and less touristy experience.

    When I ask Doan over email why the market is important for the community she says,
    "...there are a lot of shoppers who are already bored with malls and boutiques in the centre...the Saigon Flea Market is a new place in town to find unique items."

    There are few experiences like the Saigon Flea Market for young Saigonese, who according to Index Mundi, makeup the median age of the country at 28 years old. The closest concept is L'Usine, a French-inspired café and retail space in the centre. It's like Lileo in Toronto's Distillery District; a hip and modern gallery, emporium and clothing store in one space.

    A vendor features handmade leather bracelets and wallets in a variety of styles. Photo credit: Kristen Marano

    When visiting Sydney's Paddington Market, a community destination to buy Australian-made goods, Doan, 27, was inspired to bring a modern flea market to Saigon. But, her love of fashion started from an early age. Since she was six-years-old she learned to sew and often begged for scraps from the local tailor to design clothes for her Barbie.

    Doan wanted her market to bring together young local and foreign designers to buy one-of-a-kind items and create a cool commonplace to collaborate and connect. She also wanted to cater to both local and foreign shoppers. It's a refreshing rarity in a city where travelers have to get uncomfortable if they want authentic travel moments from dining with locals to riding on the back of a motorbike.

    Despite her market experiences from an early age - Doan visited markets as a child in the Northern Vietnam countryside with her mother - introducing a flea market in Saigon wasn't an easy feat. Young people didn't understand the concept in a city with an ingrained history of overflowing fast fashion. In fact, Vietnam's clothing and apparel industry is slated to still be the country's largest export by 2030 according to HSBC Global Connections.

    Doan's first attempt failed. The Vietnamese didn't understand such a modern concept. Doan then met a young British woman, who owns a shop downtown and they partnered In 2011, the market started and its been successful since.

    "I want to have a cool space where young people can sell their designs and find other great things from vendors," said Doan. "Or, also to chill and network with other people in town who love fashion and art."

    While bargaining at popular markets in Saigon's centre can be tiring as locals try to make the most profit from cheap materials, a market like Saigon Flea presents quality and authentic products. Its foundation is built on one thing: trust.

    As Doan recalls when she visited the markets as a child,
    " look at the face of the farmer, which you can trust for the quality of the eggs and by oranges that you know the seller picked up in the morning."

    It's the same at Doan's market -- you will meet the designer, learn about the product and leave with an appreciation for its craftsmanship.

    For more information visit The Saigon Flea Market runs once a month at Boomarang Bistro Saigon (107 Ton Dat Tien, Phu My Hung, District 7). Check the website for specific dates.

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    Canada Day is just around the corner, meaning it's almost time to don your best red and white clothing and hit the streets to celebrate our great nation.

    Not sure where to go or what to do? We've got you covered.


    Burrard Inlet, Vancouver: At 10:30 p.m., the harbour will light up with fireworks from two barges: one near Canada Place in downtown Vancouver, and the other near Dundarave in West Vancouver. Spectators can also listen to a live simulcast by Shore 104.3 FM.

    The best viewing areas are from Harbour Green Park, Stanley Park, West Vancouver, and North Vancouver.

    Surrey: There will also be a fireworks show in Surrey, with recommended viewing on the field of the Cloverdale Millennium Amphitheater, looking above the Chevron Mainstage.

    Abbotsford: Cozy up at Abbotsford Exhibition Park at 10 p.m. for the fireworks show. Note: MacLure Road between Tretheway Street and Gladwin Road will be closed from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m.

    Langley: Organizers say this year's show above Willoughby Community Park will be bigger and better than ever!

    Whistler: Everyone's favourite resort town will boast a light show in Skier's Plaza at 10:15 p.m. Fireworks and mountains — what more do you need?

    Daytime activities

    Canada Day at Canada Place, Vancouver: There really is something for everyone at this downtown location, including live music from Said The Whale, a lumberjack show, a sports zone, and an artisan market.

    Steveston Salmon Festival in Richmond: A great excuse to visit the historic Steveston Village, the Salmon Festival boasts a parade, live entertainment, crafts and games, and, of course, the famous BBQ salmon.

    Surrey Canada Day: A fun-filled day of live music, including Matthew Good and a Heart tribute band.

    Dominion Day Celebrations, Barkerville: It's activities galore at this event, with a funny face contest, children's races, a greasy pole climb, and a tug-of-war. Plus entertainment, refreshments, and dancing all evening at the local House Hotel Coffee Saloon.

    Burnaby Village Museum: Celebrate Canada Day like it's 1920! There will be heritage games, a carousel, children's entertainers, a parade, cake, and photo stops, plus the usual interesting museum displays and exhibits.

    Beach Party, Abbotsford: Did someone say, "Beach party?" Enough said. Oh, and there will be a parade!

    Langley: There will be mini golf. We repeat: mini golf. Also don't miss the Dogwood Pacesetters Canine Sports Club and the Circus Lab.

    North Vancouver: Head to Waterfront Park for an afternoon of local entertainment, hosted by the Lions Gate Rotary Club.

    Whistler: Whistler has Canada Day events starting on June 28, but the real party takes place on July 1 with a parade, pancake breakfast, art walk, and a performance by the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.

    Victoria: Celebrate the Great White North in our province's capital with tons of family-friendly programming and multicultural performances.

    Happy Canada Day, everyone!

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