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Canada Travel news and opinion

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    Like many of us, Rihanna soaked up some of the last rays of summer before Labour Day last week.

    Unlike many of us, she did it aboard a yacht in Italy, according to TMZ.

    The songstress posed for a series of photos that showed her with a glass between her legs and another in which she looks through a pair of giant binoculars. Both were posted to her Twitter account.

    Ah, summer, we miss thee already.

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    WARNING: Spoiler Alert! Do not read on unless you've seen "Amazing Race Canada" Season 2, Episode 9. Unless you like spoilers, then go right ahead!

    Have you bought your tickets to "The Amazing Race Canada: Montreal Drift"? If so, don't forget to attend in the buff, and to BYOC (Bring Your Own Cheese).

    In travelling from France to the capital of New France, the best, and most ruthless, competitive episode of the season was completely undercut by its status as a non-elimination leg.

    Rivalries! Car chases! Nudity! Never-ending taste tests! But, did any of it matter?

    For the second time in three episodes, west coast bartenders Ryan and Rob were spared from elimination at the mat. Struggling through this entire segment of the race, the bros were clearly out of their depth with these challenges. They failed at the Fast Forward (after electing to take it while knowingly behind the others, despite the fact the advantage is only available for one team), took 32 tries to finish the grilled cheese Detour before switching to the other task, and obviously landed at the mat way later than the other teams. They showed, in another instance, that they could not perform up to par in a partly French-speaking region. Did they deserve to be saved? Are they the most compelling or likeable characters on the show? The answer is likely no to both, and yet it still happened.

    Even though the sophomore season features two more episodes and two more teams than its breakout debut last summer, it features the same amount of second-chance legs. Still, it doesn't make it any more appetizing to process. (Remember when non-elimination legs were few and far between? Longing for those days.)

    But, with the final three in sight, the audience has a clear grasp on the following: nobody can stand pesky siblings Sukhi and Jinder (especially Ryan and Rob), beloved Olympians Natalie and Meaghan are at war with their own egos, and Alain is a boastful stuntman-by-trade who can neither stick fight or speed race. Oh, and Mickey and Pete share an assortment of unusual skills, like the former's grandma driving.

    The episode started with all of the teams bunched together at Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport, despite the five-hour lead held by Natalie and Meaghan. Almost instantly, Sukhi starts taunting Ryan and Rob about last week's U-Turn, which Ryan dubs "salt in the wound." Amidst the tension between the pairs, Audrey takes some time to show off her sparkly new engagement ring to Meaghan, then promptly, albeit seemingly half-heartedly, invited each remaining twosome to her and Alain's nuptials.

    The racers touched down in Montreal together, then headed to the Circuit Icar driving centre for a "bad ass" Roadblock. Celebrating his birthday, the always-showboating Jinder described the two-pronged, one-partner task by saying, "this car is so fast, and I'm like, vroom, ooh yeah baby!" Naturally. In spite of Alain's performance difficulties that brought his team from first to fourth, each partner passed the test with some difficulty.

    "That was actually so fun," said Mickey. "I was giggling the whole time!"

    Then, it was off to Atwater Market, where the duos were tasked with choosing the Fast Forward (surprise nude modelling), or the Detour of Flamed (creating glass beads, which required patience and co-ordination), or Grilled (sample 10 different grilled cheeses at the "Le Cheese" food stand, and then run 50 metres to identify the unmarked sandwiches).

    The squawking siblings chose to pursue the Fast Forward, and slowly undressed in front of each other to model in their birthday suits. Of course, they weren't looking.

    "I don't know how we're going to explain this to Mom and Dad!" said Jinder, in a quote that became the episode title.

    "Let's pretend it never happened."

    Back at Le Cheese stand, Natalie and Meaghan nearly imploded when they couldn't taste the difference between each grilled cheese sandwich. Kvetching up a storm, the two only were able to succeed when they stopped belittling each other and ate other samples beyond their self-appointed fromages.

    The Muskoka, ON free spirits seized this opportunity to celebrate their completion of the Detour, and taunt their opponents.

    "If eating grilled cheese was an Olympic sport," said Mickey, "We'd be Olympians!" said Pete. Meanwhile, Alain and Audrey also ran into difficulty on their home turf, finishing in fourth.

    Can the show rebound from this buckling? Not only are Sukhi and Jinder gaining momentum, but Mickey, Pete and the hockey players are cementing their status on the Race's podium. It remains to be seen if any of the rankings will change next week, when the teams head to Charlottetown.

    Episode 8 Recap
    Episode 7 Recap
    Episode 6 Recap
    Episode 5 Recap
    Episode 4 Recap
    Episode 3 Recap
    Episode 2 Recap
    Episode 1 Recap
    Episode 1 Review

    "Amazing Race Canada" Season 2 airs on Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on CTV.

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    Just as you'd expect Paris is a beautiful place where the wine is cheap and the men are suave, but there is much more to this city than the Mona Lisa and picnics on the left bank. There is Montmartre: a magical neighborhood tucked away in the city's 18th arrondissement that makes you feel as if you're walking to the sounds of Charles Aznavour's La Bohème each time you make eyes with a bohemian bourgeois.

    1. Moulin Rouge
    If you've heard of Montmartre before, it's probably because it is home to the Moulin Rouge. This is where brothels began popping up in the late 1880s and is arguably Europe's very first red light district. Today, attending the world-famous cabaret show will cost you about $170 depending on the day and where you book. If you can't justify dishing out the cash to watch long-legged French women do the Can-Can, you should still visit the square to catch a glimpse of the iconic red windmill atop the building.

    2. Van Gogh's Apartment
    A number of love-scorned artists have at one point called Montmartre home, including one of the most famous painters in the world. Vincent Van Gogh spent his time in the city living on the third floor 54 Rue Lepic. It is at this apartment that the artist is said to have written a letter to the French prostitute he was in love with. The only problem was, to his surprise, she was seeing other men. When Van Gogh caught wind of this, he decided to cut off a piece of his ear and attach it to the letter, which he delivered in person.
    I don't need to tell you that it didn't end well -- you can just imagine that poor woman's horror upon his arrival. There is no doubt though that she, among other aspects of Paris, was inspiration behind the more than 200 works that Van Gogh produced in the two years he spent in the city. Today, you will find a small sunflower placed outside the window of that Rue Lepic apartment.

    3. Au Lapin Agile
    We also know that Pablo Picasso spent much of his time in the art capital of Europe, using his charm to get out of paying his dinner bills at cabarets like Au Lapin, where he would famously make a quick sketch of the waitress, hoping they would accept it instead of money. Picasso later ended up striking a deal with the owner of Au Lapin where he crafted a painting in exchange for a few free meals. Au Lapin Agile is now a café and that Picasso painting still hangs on its walls.

    4. Le Clos Montmartre
    Across from Au Lapin, you will find Paris' only surviving vineyard. It produces about 1,500 bottles of wine each year. While many locals say it's overpriced and poor in taste, the vineyard does prove that it's possible to create Parisian wine in a polluted urban centre. The best time to plan a visit is the second weekend of October when Le Clos hosts its annual Wine Harvest Festival on the streets of Montmartre.

    5. Graffiti by Miss.Tic:
    You may never have heard of an artist by the name of Miss.Tic, but if you walk the cobblestone paths of Montmartre there is no doubt you will see some of her work. Miss.Tic's claim to fame is her quirky street art that was inspired by an ex-boyfriend who once said to her "I never want to see you again." She took revenge by plastering her face just about everywhere he'd come across it by way of graffiti. Before long, many began to take notice of her work (including her old boyfriend, who later left the city after being tormented by her images). Miss.Tic is now very well known in France and has her work featured in a number of local galleries like Galarie W Landau.

    6. Sacré Coeur
    This enormous and glowing cathedral is a Parisian landmark that takes you to the highest point in the city. In my opinion it's worth the climb up, but you can also take a tram. Pictures aren't allowed inside the nearly 140-year-old structure, but you'll be so enamored by the vast beauty in its interior that you'll forget all about that.
    This church is aesthetically quite unique since it was built using a stone that releases calcite when it's hit by water, so the exterior remains white no matter the weather. You will, however, want to whip out the camera for when you get to the very top -- there's a breathtaking view of the city's skyline from there.

    7. Café des 2 Moulins
    Before Jean-Pierre Jeunet was the Jean-Pierre Jeunet behind Amélie, Café des 2 Moulins was not more than a local hotspot. Now you will find movie buffs and travellers alike, snapping photos outside this famed restaurant. As it turns out, Jeunet pleaded with the owner numerous times before getting the OK to shoot there. Amélie ended up being one of the highest grossing French flicks every made, so I suppose it was worth his while.

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    Ryan Spong brought Tacofino to Vancouver because "it's so good, I wanted to be able to eat that food here." Spong was working on a construction project in Tofino when he came to know and love the popular food truck that is revered for its Baja-style fish tacos. He teamed with his childhood buddy Matt MacIsaac, a hedge-fund manager who had partnered with original owners Kaeli Robinsong and Jason Sussman, and expanded Tacofino's presence in British Columbia. The food truck debuted in Vancouver in 2010 and a restaurant, Commissary, followed in 2012. There are also trucks in Victoria and Kelowna.

    Now, Spong and MacIsaac are planning to bring the Tacofino brand beyond British Columbia. They've hired Gino di Domenico, a talented industry veteran with experience in Montreal and Vancouver (he helped launch the outstanding Nicli Antica Pizzeria), to be the operations manager and are pondering options for trucks and restaurants in Calgary and Montreal.

    "Some of it just happened by accident," Spong says. "We had no idea it would be this popular but we look at it now and clearly Tacofino is a brand and people really love that brand."

    The next big project, though, will be close to home. And this one will be the most dramatic Tacofino enterprise yet. The owners have purchased a 3,000-square-foot property in Gastown and are anticipating the opening of a second restaurant by year's end. Most intriguingly, they are aiming for a large rooftop patio. There are very few rooftop patio restaurants in Vancouver and none in Gastown. It's a feature that is lacking in a city where you would think there would be plenty of elevated dining areas offering vistas of the mountains and ocean.

    "In Toronto, there are rooftop patios all over, but we don't have anything like that here," says MacIsaac, who was among the judges for the 2014 Top 50 Restaurants in Canada Guide. Whether those rooftop plans are developed will be largely dependent on City Hall officials. What is known is the new restaurant will have an entrance off of Cordova Street as well as a door facing Blood Alley, which could be home to a Tacofino taco stand.

    It would be the latest food business to set up shop in the laneway that was once so seedy you were certain to see drug users injecting themselves with a needle or walking around in the daze of hallucination. Restaurateur Sean Heather opened Salt Tasting Room in 2006 and other gentrification efforts have slowly turned Blood Alley into a less tortured place. Gringo, another restaurant with a Mexican twist, opened there last year in a 391-square-foot space. L'Abattoir is planning a project in the alley also.

    The concept for the new Tacofino place has yet to be defined but MacIsaac was hoping the restaurant would be similar to Big Star, the large, bustling Chicago establishment with southwest flavours that dubs itself "a whiskey, tequila, cocktail, and beer-focused venue."

    Whatever the owners decide, it is certain to be a hit with visitors and residents -- just like everything else Tacofino. The food trucks each do thousands of dollars of business each day during the summer. At Commissary, it's not unusual to wait 30 minutes or more for a table. Keep in mind this restaurant is far from the busy neighbourhoods of Gastown, Yaletown, Mount Pleasant and Kitsilano. It's seven blocks east of Commercial Drive, the main thoroughfare in East Vancouver, and wouldn't be considered part of that trendy street's activity either. Once you visit Commissary, you'll know why it's absolutely worth the trek and the wait.

    The room itself is beautiful. Vancouver architect/designer Omer Arbel, a friend of the owners, created the space, adorning it with hand-blown glass lights that are attached by copper wires and strung like ornate patio lanterns across the ceiling. The design is so unique and inventive that Commissary was the only restaurant in Canada nominated in 2013 for best restaurant interior design at the INSIDE Awards at the World Architecture Festival.

    The space is inviting, with long communal tables and a bar stocked with top-notch spirits and brews from the Tofino Brewing Co.

    Then there's the food.

    Visit now to read about it and how much a bargain it is and to see photos of Commissary.

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    A passenger on WestJet’s Calgary to Windsor, Ont. flight was met with police upon touchdown after he refused flight crew's repeated requests to stop swearing.

    Director of operations at Windsor Airport Phil Roberts said the man, whose name police did not release, made passengers and crew uncomfortable, according CTV news.

    CBC News reports that the incident was relatively short-lived and that the safety of the flight was not at risk.

    "This was very much a precautionary thing," said Roberts.

    While the man has been released without charges, Roberts told The Windsor Star that the message from this incident is clear – any threats to public safety will be taken seriously.

    “Should anyone compromise the safety of a flight, then you can be prosecuted,” said Roberts.

    The newspaper also reported the man once again became “belligerent” when approached by reporters outside the airport.

    This incident comes just days after a Sunwing flight was forced to turn back to Toronto after two women allegedly drank alcohol and smoked in the plane’s washroom, causing a major disturbance.


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    It's September, Vancouver. We fought it as hard as we could, but it's here.

    To give you the perfect summer farewell — featuring the Celebration of Light fireworks and snapshots of all the best spots in the city — watch this Vancouver City Lights timelapse video by local videographer Daniel Chen (above).


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    Well, everybody has a dream.

    Being covered in soft, fluffy bunnies just might be a lifelong for fantasy for this visitor to Japan's famed Rabbit Island.

    In any case, as this video -- which has racked up nearly 300,000 views since being posted on YouTube earlier this year -- suggests, there's a certain comfort in the rabbit mob.

    Our happy tourist appears to feed the little furballs strategically until he's covered head to toe in them.

    And where can like-minded enthusiasts find the fabled 'Rabbit Island'? While Rabbit Island (Usaga Jima) is this pearls moniker -- thanks to the hundreds of wild beasts that call it home -- the place is officially called Okunoshima.

    And it never started off so sweet and cuddly.

    Indeed, Okunoshima was once home to a secret military facility that churned out toxic chemicals like mustard gas for World War II.

    The ancestors of these creatures may have served as lab animals, the targets of unspeakable testing, Amusing Planet writes.

    Story Continues After Slideshow

    Their liberation from the Imperial Japanese Army, apparently spelled freedom. And free love.

    The rabbits have reportedly overrun the island. They're known to swarm visitors with love -- or a keen desire to eat whatever tourists are lobbing at them -- holding no grudges for ancestral wrongs whatsoever.

    Here's another example of their enthusiasm from earlier this year:

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    On Ontario's West Coast, the southeastern shore of Lake Huron that's directly across from2014-09-04-opener.jpg Michigan, summery weather can hold out well into September -- and the water is the warmest it's been all year.

    Beach culture hangs on for weeks after Labour Day on the Huron County shoreline that stretches from Grand Bend up to Goderich. This is big water.

    Grand Bend is a generic beach town. Goderich is small town Canadiana with a salt mine, a beach and a boardwalk. Right in the middle there's Bayfield, an historic gem of a village with a charmingly restored Main Street, a marina that's a sailing mecca, and three beautiful beaches. It's under three hours from Toronto or Detroit and an hour or so from London or Stratford.

    Here's a quick guide to help you get on the beach this month in Bayfield:

    When to go

    Where to stay
    Perhaps the ultimate Ontario beach escape, Brentwood on the Beach is as close as it gets to a Caribbean beach experience in Canada, and it's only 15 minutes south of Bayfield. This ranch style bed-and-breakfast sits above a sandy beach tricked out with grownup toys: hammocks, a double bed on a swinging platform, a table for twelve, a fire pit, etc.


    Best of all, there's shade (a real bonus on a west-facing beach) underneath a couple of outsized palapas, nicely weathered in a kind of north-woods-meets-the-islands style. Easy to feel like you're the only people there, more or less.

    Hosts Joan and Peter Karstens have created their own Shangri-La in Brentwood's back yard, with lush greenery, a waterfall, an outdoor kitchen, a hand-forged pergola by local 2014-09-04-Sunset.jpgblacksmith James Wallace, and seating and lounging spots placed for peak enjoyment of the famous Lake Huron sunsets.

    Inside, they've thought of pretty well everything too: a screened-in porch, indoor saltwater pool and sauna, three living rooms, a meeting room, guest kitchen and a breakfast room with a view.

    Breakfasts are like a convivial house party, where the Karstens chat amiably over dishes like eggs Benny, fresh fruit and baked-right-there breads and muffins.If there's anything you'd like to know, ask Joan. She knows and loves Huron County and is a great source of local facts and lore.

    What else to do
    Explore Bayfield on foot or by bike. Do a heritage walking tour on your own or call (519) 440-6206 a few days in advance for a guided tour with Ralph Laviolette, Bayfield Historical Society archivist and board member. Drop into Outside Projects to rent a bike from owner and mayoral candidate Tyler Hessler.

    Shop the many clothing and jewellery boutiques, gift shops, galleries and good bookstore lined up and down Main Street. You won't get lost.

    Browse the incredible collection of old motors, crockery, marine and architectural salvage compiled as a life's work by Phil Gemeinhardt at North Bayfield Antiques and Collectibles. Just north of town on Highway 21, this trove is housed in a group of cottages that Phil has collected and trucked to the site. He and his wife also produce maple syrup from their own bush. This is full awesomeness if you're a country antiques buff, a fan of the Canadian or American Pickers TV series, or just plain curious.

    You can catch some original Canadian theatre at the Blyth Festival if you go early enough in September; if not, put it on your calendar for next year, because it's a total wow. (Who knew?) While you're there, have a pre-theatre dinner at owner/chef Peter Gusso's Part II Bistro across the street.

    Eating and drinking

    2014-09-04-BlackDogCharcuterie.jpgHoused in Bayfield's first commercial building, a former general store from the 1850s, the Black Dog Pub & Bistro is "all about true taste and big flavour." They forgot to mention fun.

    Seasonal dishes with local ingredients, an award-winning wine list, an impressive selection of single-malt and Irish whiskies, and beer galore -- 20 different kinds of draught on tap plus the bottled stuff -- no surprise that it's the most popular spot in town.

    Owned by Peter and chef Kathleen MacIntosh, a former Toronto food editor and cookbook author, the Black Dog is a lively gastropub and a great choice for lunch, dinner or specialty groceries and baked goods at the Pantry next door.


    Bayfield has a good choice of restaurants, including The Little Inn of Bayfield, a heritage stagecoach stop from the 1830s and the longest-running inn in Ontario. The Little Inn features a somewhat more sedate culinary experience, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner in a quiet atmosphere redolent of the past.

    More info

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    I just got back from going off the grid. No, I'm not a black ops agent like Jason Bourne, nor am I fulfilling a Matrix-inspired fantasy. I'm not trying to evade the NSA either. I actually was recently on holiday, like most of you. But these days, my vacations are increasingly about completely disconnecting. I need a break from the constant grind of an always-buzzing smart phone, an endless email inbox and a fragmented attention span.

    Sound familiar? That's because I just described the daily reality for a lot of knowledge workers -- as well as almost everyone living in the Internet age. We live in a swirl of limitless distraction, but that is not a new story. The real insight I got from my holiday from hyperlinks is two-fold: that we need digital down time more than ever, and that reaching that nirvana state takes skill, practice and planning. Simply put, we should force ourselves to disconnect regularly, but realize that it takes time to get good at it.

    For 10 glorious days, I decamped to a cottage and left behind TV, text messages and Twitter. I swapped car horns and cable news for loons and lakes. It was peaceful and incredibly pleasant ... but not right away. It was hard to take it easy. I struggled to turn off the digital drug dealer that is my iPhone (and keep it off). I had to consciously slow my heartbeat to synchronize with my simpler surroundings. It took almost a week for me to stop looking for WiFi in the woods, and what I learned is that having a restorative holiday requires both art and science. Actually, you might even consider it a skill.

    What do you need to do? It involves three phases as I see it.

    First, you have to recover. I dialed down my media intake gradually, first limiting and then swapping out activities like web and channel surfing for longer-form reading (ideally, print magazines and books, sans hyperlinks!) and even writing. Just as the body needs a cool down after a vigorous workout, your mind has to power down as well.

    Next is the reset phase. My sense is that people want a Pattern Interrupt when they go on vacation; the whole point is to break away from the day to day. So since my life and work involves a lot of emailing (a recent study estimates that the average knowledge worker spends 28 per cent of their work week on email alone), screen time and juggling other distractions, I tried to break that habit (if even for "just" the holiday).

    Finally, use this newfound focus and discretionary time to reflect. Why is it that most people don't get serious work done at "work", and have to leave the office to do that kind of intellectual heavy lifting? Our lives have too many interruptions. We can't attend to "the important but not urgent" when "the urgent but not necessarily important" is always appearing in the form of a new email, txt message or tweet. I used this opportunity to think BIG PICTURE. You might ask yourself the tough questions -- the ones that you've been meaning too but haven't yet. You know which ones I'm talking about.

    I believe the future of leisure -- if not luxury -- is escape from ubiquitous connectivity. People are going to pay big money to get out of mobile phone range in the near future. I predict that "no signal" will be as common a sign of our generation's holidays as "no vacancy" was to our parents' vacations.

    Canadian author Michael Harris' new book, The End of Absence: Reclaiming What We've Lost in a World of Constant Connection, makes an eloquent plea for people to take "Analog Augusts". He argues that doing so will "break the spell" the web has on us. I couldn't agree more.

    So as the summer comes to an end and you contemplate future holidays, consider going off the grid next time. I guarantee that if you do, the break will be both restorative and, in the long run, more productive.


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    Your travel goal while in Rio de Janeiro: to see as much of your destination that you can, since you likely won’t be in Rio again. So you’re looking for an itinerary that includes the top tourist attractions and a few smaller sights to get a true local feel. Here, your essential seven stops in Rio de Janeiro.

    Cristo Redentor is perhaps the most iconic of Rio de Janeiro’s landmarks, and while it looks impressive in photos, in real life, you will likely be more taken with the views from the peak of Corcovado Mountain. The looming statue has been here since 1931 and is considered the world’s oldest art-deco statue. The simplest way to get to Christ the Redeemer is via cog train.

    Although there are tours that can take you hiking up Pão de Açùcar (aka Sugarloaf Mountain), you’ll need to save your energy for your jam-packed travel itinerary, so take the cable car to the top, which happens in two stages. At the summit, which is 395 metres above Rio, you’ll have views of Cristo Redector, Corcovado Mountain and Cococabana Beach (Psst, there’s a café at the peak where you can enjoy a cold beverage as you take in the sights).

    Plan for at least one night out dancing in Lapa. Even if you don’t feel up to samba yourself, just grab a beer or caipirinha from one of the street vendors and wander through the hustle and bustle of this neighbourhood where the people and music spill out into the streets at night.

    When you need some greenery instead of sand, make that day’s a trip to Jardim Botânico where you can see enormous Vitoria Regia lilies, royal palms that are more than 150 years old, along with some 8,000 plant species and 5,500 trees. Keep your eyes peeled for monkeys and birds such as toucans, who call the park home.

    Even if you’re not inclined to go to a football game at Maracanã, a visit to this stadium, the largest in the world, is a Rio de Janeiro travel must to take in its enormity. Built in 1950, it has a capacity of 96,000 and a tour will take you into the change rooms, plus there a football museum and shop where you can buy soccer jerseys for your grandkids.

    Grab your sunscreen and swimsuit and hit Ipanema Beach, where you can rent a chair for the day and enjoy some excellent people watching (you’ll encounter Rio’s pretty young things here, along with surfers, volleyball players and Brazilian hippies). Come sunset, find a spot on the east end of the beach for the best views. There’s no need to pack a lunch; there are plenty of vendors on the beach selling everything from coconut water to açai.

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    Music fans all over the world know Drake as the hitmaker behind tracks such as "Hold On We're Going Home," and as the man that Nicki Minaj tempted with a lap dance in her "Anaconda" video.

    But many Canadians also remember him as James "Jimmy" Brooks, a basketball star who is confined to a wheelchair after being shot on "Degrassi: The Next Generation."

    And that's precisely how the artist is remembered in Toronto, where Drake's face has been posted on a series of wheelchair signs around the city. Pictures of the signs were uploaded to Imgur last week.

    After coming up with a good luck charm for the Raptors and trying to rebrand the city as "The 6," this is just one more way that Drake is making his mark on Toronto.

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    From Florence to Elba Island, here are some new favourites discovered on my most recent trip to Tuscany.


    Amble. The day starts here. A real hidden gem serving fresh juices, paninis and pastries -- makes it a perfect spot to caffeinate and get caught up (thanks to Younity)!

    Il Bovaro. Pretend you have popped back to the 13th century at this artiginal brewery just outside the Porta S.Frediano gates.

    Carraia Gelato. We went to this place three times within 24 hours. One scoop each of the chocolatte fondante and mousse ciocolatte (pictured above)... A dairy-free delight!

    Trattoria al Trebbio (Via delle Belle Donne, 47). Almost went for the tuna and white bean salad, but Spacatelli con Pesto was calling my name (this is the only kind of Italian I really understand at the moment). He went for Gnocchi al Pomodoro. Hopefully you will get lucky and Julia will serve you at this joint that is conveniently located near Santa Maria Novella Station.

    Shake Café (Via Degli Avelli 2/R Via Degli Avelli 2/R). Just a few steps away from al Trebbio, vegans and veggies will love Shake. Post-pranzo, I sipped on a cleansing blend of cucumber, grapefruit and mint. They have super healthy salads and wraps to-go as well.

    Four Seasons Firenze. The largest private garden in the city surrounds the buildings and the most opulent rooms I've ever seen. Like, Marie-Antoinette-was-here glamorous. Even if you can't throw down the currency to stay at the luxury hotel, dinner or lunch at Al Fresco is a must. Pizza for the kids, expertly grilled sea bass for two for you. Worth every euro. Trust.

    Unless you are parking it at a resort, the only way to see this island is to rent a car or Vespa.

    Elba di Gusto at Marciana Marittima. Literally a hole-in-the-wall of a shop that offers exquisitely prepared fresh food to-go.

    Calata Mazzini 15 in Portoferraio has a wonderful selection of vintages from all over Italy. We loved an organic Sicilian red from Occhipinti.

    Ristorante e Giardino Botanico in Capo Sant' Andrea. Sit inside or out and enjoy the garden atmosphere.

    Le Sirene on Le Ghiaie Beach. White pebbles cover this spectacular spiagga that is a stone's throw away from Portoferraio. If you are feeling peckish after that 15-minute walk, they serve the perfect flatbread pizza.

    Hotel Ilio. Set in the heart of Capo Sant' Andrea, Hotel Ilio has a stylish and laid-back scene that immediately set our clocks to island time. There is one seaside suite on offer (book it!), which allows easy access for morning hikes along a path cut into the cliffs. Otherwise a lovely room overlooking the zen garden is on offer. Either way, the gorgeous little beach is mere minutes away.

    One thing I noticed on the island is a keen attention to the environment, and this hotel's green philosophy is obvious from check-in to check-out. Maurizio Testa is always adding little touches (bespoke beer and wine), and he continually upgrades the rooms and amenities to maintain HI's position as the best in boutique.

    Hotel Hermitage. For those that love a resort, look no further than the grand jewel of Biodola Bay (pictured at top). With five restaurants, three bars, and no end of activities, Hotel Hermitage is one stop to nirvana. The spa offers everything one would expect of a four-star property, as well as exclusive body rituals and Dynamic Wave -- a non-invasive process that combats cellulite. Whether a treatment is booked or not, your bathroom is stocked with Acqua dell'Elba products so you can luxuriate on your own time. Otherwise, park yourself on the spotless beach, while the kids party at the Mini Club (complimentary for four - 12 year olds).

    Getting There. Use the Moby web site to figure out departure times, but buy your tickets at the terminal. You will save a few euro that you can put towards your Vespa loan from Tuscany Scooter Rental.

    That's it for this trip! Don't miss stopping in Piombino (at least for a gelato at Ice Palace) on your way to Elba. If you want more Italian inspiration, check out Sicilia, Milano and more in Firenze here.

    Vespa image courtesy of Carlo Alberto Photo via
    All other photos taken by the author.


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    Scene from the movie The Da Vinci Code (2006), directed by Ron Howard and based on Dan Brown's book. Some scenes were shot in the Louvre Museum, in Paris.

    In his book, "Why Read The Classics?", Italian writer Italo Calvino argues that, in a world increasingly full of stimuli and noises, sometimes it's necessary to close the windows of our house (i.e. our body and mind) and read a literary classic. And remember – he wrote this in 1991!

    A visit to a museum can also be an antidote to the information overload and noise of the 21st century. Spending two or three hours quietly observing paintings, sculptures and photographs in a welcoming environment has an amazing power to make us forget the busyness and the problems of everyday life. And it also helps us reconnect with our deepest feelings and emotions.

    However, you can't approach a visit to a museum as if you're going to the mall. Nor should it be a symbol of social or cultural status. It’s an investment in ourselves, and the more conscious, aware and sensitive we are, the more we'll enjoy it. Check our 22 tips to make the most of your next visit to a museum.

    Avoid Lines And Closed Signs
    With the globalization of tourism, the major museums of the world are increasingly crowded. Good exhibitions also attract large audiences around the world. To avoid massive queues or the disappointment of not being able to get in, buy tickets in advance online. It's also often possible to make an appointment, but don't be late.

    Topkapi (1962) is about the attempted theft of the Ottoman sultans’ jewels, displayed at Topkapi Palace, one of the most popular museums of Istanbul.

    Try Less Crowded Days And Times
    It's not always possible, but in order to avoid the rush in front of the works, try to go during the week and at less crowded times (i.e. not holidays).

    Do Some Research Before You Go
    Getting to know a bit about the museum and the collection beforehand helps you to decide what to focus on during the visit. It is also interesting to search for information about the artists in the exhibition, their ideas, where and when they lived, and which movement they belonged to. MOMA’s website, for example, has an educational section with lots of tips on how to best take advantage of the incredible collection of modern and contemporary art in this great New York museum. When you are finally in front of the works, you will enjoy them much more.

    Choose Smaller, Less Crowded Museums
    Choosing less obvious museums (see the gallery below with suggestions in several countries at the end of this post) is a great way to escape the stress of crowded and noisy rooms. In addition, they usually have collections with specific topics or cultures or specific eras, helping with the audience’s understanding. Finally, it is possible to visit them with no stress.

    Visit The Homes Of Artists And Collectors
    Visiting former homes turned into museums reveals the artists' and their families’ tastes and habits, as well as their working processes. It is also worth visiting great collectors’ houses to understand their views and choices.

    Spend Only Part Of Your Day There
    Less is more. You can spend whole days in large museums such as the Met (New York), the Louvre (Paris) or the British Museum (London). But appreciating works of art demands concentration and, after three hours, the mind and the body shut down. Choose a time of the day to visit a museum: morning or afternoon. For the rest of the day, do something totally different, preferably outdoors.

    I Prefer Mornings
    If I can, I prefer to wake up, have a good breakfast and get to the museum around 9 a.m. with a clear mind and a well-rested body. By noon, mission accomplished. It's time for lunch, and if you're on vacation, make a toast to the art you've seen with some good wine.

    In A Night at the Museum (2006), a divorced father, to impress his son, starts working as a night watchman at a museum. It is easy to imagine what happens when the lights go out...

    At Night, Everything Changes
    Some museums open at night once a week or per month. They can actually get quite crowded, but the crowd is different, with people who work business hours in attendance, and sometimes there’s a certain party atmosphere. You can even find yourself flirting – why not?

    Comfort Comes First
    If the plan is to go to a museum, wear comfortable shoes and clothes. Leave heavier bags and coats in a locker and go hands-free.

    Keep Your Phone Off — And No Pictures!
    Avoid interference from stimuli that have nothing to do with the unique experience of visiting a museum. Respect your own time and the people around you. And why take pictures of professional paintings and sculptures? If you want a souvenir, go to the museum shop.

    Scene of Moonraker (1979), in which a fight inside a museum has tragic consequences.

    Meditating In The Museum
    Running, speaking loudly, discussing and touching the works are not appropriate. If it’s crowded, don’t get nervous or try to fight for space with other people. Try to relax your body and mind, as in meditation. Walk slowly, with your feet flat on the floor, breathe consciously, relax your arms and shoulders, unlock your jaw. Focus on the present moment. Exercise patience and kindness.

    Open Yourself Up To Thoughts And Emotions
    The more calm and relaxed you are, the more open you will be to appreciating the aesthetic experience of the works and understand the thoughts and emotions that arise. If a picture conveys a sense of peace or pleasure, smile. If it moves you, why not let the tears come? I cried a lot when I discovered the dramatic paintings of Cy Twombly, the particular universe of Louise Bourgeois and the strength of Rodin's sculptures.

    Opening scene of The Stendhal Syndrome (1996), by Dario Argento, in which the character feels vertigo when she sees works of art of great beauty.

    A Work Of Art Is An Enigma
    Many people visit museums mechanically. But art has the power to stimulate a whole new line of questions. What is the author trying to say with that piece? What emotions does this work provoke? What does it make me feel? When a work grabs your attention, dedicate more time to it. Try to decipher it.

    To Read Or Not To Read The Supporting Materials?
    This really depends on the visitor’s personality. There are people who like to know everything about the artists and the works they are viewing, which of course takes time. Others prefer to focus on the works, without much concern for extra information. Let your eyes guide you and let yourself be swept up by the works randomly. Don’t feel obliged to follow any set plan.

    Should You Take The Audio Tour?
    These types of tours give a lot of relevant information, in an enjoyable and stimulating way. But they also demand the visitor’s time. The worst thing is to be torn between listening and not listening, or trying to fast-forward the program to save time. If you choose to follow the program, go with it to the end. Otherwise, don’t get the audio tour.

    Permanent Collections Or Temporary Exhibitions?
    Large museums often have areas dedicated to the permanent collections and other areas to temporary exhibitions. Both things are worth your time, but to make the most of your visit, focus on what’s more interesting for you at the moment. Even with the permanent collection, you need to make choices. Choose one or two sections and immerse yourself in them.

    Why Are Temporary Exhibitions Worthwhile?
    I loved an exhibition I saw at the Museum L'Orangerie (Paris), with paintings great artists made with their children as models. Besides the works, there were video testimonials of the heirs. Many hated to pose as models. Exhibitions like this are a must-see, because they have defined themes and bring together artists who converse with one another. They show works from several museums around the world, which hardly will be seen together again. Make sure to check the labels to know where each work is.

    Guided Tours And Educational Programs
    Visiting a museum with a guide can be a very enriching experience. It is also worth checking out the educational or cultural programs available, and if you have time, choose one of them.

    A scene from Vertigo (1958), by Hitchcock, in which Kim Novak spends hours sitting in front of the portrait of a dead woman who’s presumably possessing her.

    The Advantage Of Going Alone
    Being alone helps you to focus on the sensations and emotions that arise during the visit. You can do everything at your own pace, go back and forth in a zigzag, stop for a while or even sit in silence in front of a stunning work. Try it!

    But Having Company Can Be Great Too
    A museum can also be a great place to deepen friendships, reinforce bonds or even have a date. The best thing is to go with someone you get along with really well and share interests with, or someone who really understands art. It is a great opportunity to exchange views on the work, calling each other’s attention to a detail that may have gone unnoticed. Just don’t rush your partner or wait for them at the door looking bored.

    In Play it Again, Sam (1972), Woody Allen and Diane Keaton have a 'date' in a museum.

    Is A Museum A Place For Children?
    It can be, but don't make it an obligation — they have to see it as something fun. The sooner a child starts going to museums and exhibitions, the more they will develop an artistic outlook. A good idea is to give a child a book of artwork beforehand, and then take them to see the original work. Another suggestion is to choose a theme for your child to observe in the works during a visit, e.g. paintings with hats.

    Last And Best Tip: 'Take A Painting Home'
    I’ve already said it: there's nothing tackier than taking photos in museums. But I have a personal mania. In each room, I choose the picture or sculpture that has moved me the most, go back to it and make a mental picture of it. At the end of the visit, I pick the champion "to take home" in my memory.

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    It was George vs. the Volcano for a Toronto resident who descended into an active crater in Vanuatu. And his extreme hike has gone viral after he uploaded a video of it to YouTube last month.

    George Kourounis, a stormchaser who hosts adventure travel show "Angry Planet," claimed that he "knock[ed] on hell's door" when he descended into the Marum crater and stood on the edge of a lava lake on Ambrym Island in the South Pacific Ocean.

    Kourounis made the trip after adventurer Geoff Mackley, who had previously travelled inside the crater, asked if he'd be willing to visit the fiery pit, Global News reported.

    They travelled to the volcano alongside producer Sam Cossman and adventure filmmakers Brad Ambrose and Gareth Hawken. Kourounis put on a heat suit and stepped to the edge of a lava lake, capturing the whole journey on video.

    It was so hot inside the volcano that his camera melted.

    But the heat didn't stop him from taking an extreme selfie.

    Here are some photos that Kourounis tweeted from his expedition.

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    WARNING: Spoiler Alert! Do not read on unless you've seen "Amazing Race Canada" Season 2, Episode 10. Unless you like spoilers, then go right ahead!

    Leave it to Ryan and Rob to ask the question everybody's thinking: "How hard can it be to find three lost bottles in a pile of crap?"

    OK, so they were talking about their steaming Speed Bump, except their query can also be used as a twisted analogy to figure out which team will make it to the "Amazing Race Canada" finals in its sophomore slump season. With all of the jockeying for first, which pair will come out on top?

    Last year, the "Ul-tim-ate" father-son team of Tim Sr. and Tim Jr. won "Amazing Race Canada," despite two last-place berths in non-elimination legs. Ryan and Rob have the same record so far. Now, the bartenders have shown the ferocity and determination needed to win with their laser-focus, and they could sneak their way into the final three. Plus, as Ryan himself said: "Surviving cancer has told me I can get through anything."

    The teams flew to Charlottetown for a spin in P.E.I., starting with some harness racing. Each duo assumed the roles of driver and horse at the Red Shores Racetrack, and were tasked with running two laps around the circuit, complete with a veteran play-by-play announcer. Without him, or the help of the "Amazing Race Canada" "Currently in..." place identifiers, how else would we know that Ryan and Rob could outrun the other teams? Listening in, Pete informs us Mickey has yet another obscure skill -- he was a track star in high school, and is a "beautiful blonde stallion."

    Then it was off to Province House, where a Roadblock celebrated the sesquicentennial (150 years) anniversary of the 1864 Charlottetown Conference and the founding fathers involved in the birthplace of Confederation. Cleverly asking, "Who's your daddy?" one teammate was instructed to identify the VIPs who attended the event after asking "local patrons" for information. Gotta love actors in historical garb; a gig like this is Christmas morning for them. Unlike other Roadblocks, which required up to 22 km of mountain biking, this one moved rather swiftly, and racers were rewarded with a clue from Sir John A. MacDonald himself (or an actor who remotely looked like the former PM).

    It was here where Alain and Audrey started to slow down. Bickering in French, Audrey expressed her annoyance about her unsolicited performance critiques to her newly-minted fiancé, saying "Whenever I make a mistake, you get super mad." But as the teams moved on to the Detour, their squabbling continued. Forced to choose between "Mass" (estimating how many pounds of potatoes are in a warehouse), or "Mussels" (stripping 1,800 pounds of mussels from socks), they aimed to pull a mussel. Meanwhile, Ryan and Rob quickly completed their "number two" moonshine and manure Speed Bump, and were hot on their tails. As the freshly-engaged couple spent more time fighting than concentrating, the Vancouver bros seized the opportunity to jump ahead, and make their way to the mat, forcing Alain and Audrey's elimination.

    But the battle for first and second place was just as cutthroat. Sukhi and Jinder, the "Amazing Race Canada" Season 2 mosquitoes, have spent the entire race asking for help. In Macau, they begged. Yet, when Natalie and Meaghan asked for some simple help with directions, they pointed them in the opposite path. Soon after, the Olympians realized their error, and finished in second place. Annoyed, the pair blamed their finish on the reviled siblings.

    "They tried to point us in the wrong direction on the road and I just think that there’s a right way to win and a wrong way to win,” said Meaghan.

    “You’re just mad because you’re in second,” replied Jinder, with a laugh.

    “We’re not mad because we’re in second,” answered Meaghan. “If you guys want to play the game that way, that’s totally fine.”

    Totally fine, sure, but it's messing with their motivation and composure. If Natalie and Meaghan are losing sight of the finish line, and Sukhi and Jinder find their comeuppance, it could leave an opening for either Ryan and Rob or Mickey and Pete to race straight into first place.

    Next up — more Maritime madness, as the teams trek to New Brunswick!

    Episode 9 Recap
    Episode 8 Recap
    Episode 7 Recap
    Episode 6 Recap
    Episode 5 Recap
    Episode 4 Recap
    Episode 3 Recap
    Episode 2 Recap
    Episode 1 Recap
    Episode 1 Review

    "Amazing Race Canada" Season 2 airs on Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on CTV.

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    It's a hole-in-one for an adorable baby bear who was caught on video playing with the flag pole at a B.C. golf course.

    The little creature's hilarious act was captured at the Mountainside Golf Course at the Fairmont Hot Springs Resort in B.C.'s Rocky Mountains.

    We can't help but notice that Putter (that's what we've named him) took a golf ball and started to play with it. Is that a one-stroke penalty?

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    Summer is drawing to a close, as Alberta is all too aware, but that's actually great news for people who love gorgeous views. And who doesn't love a gorgeous view?

    Fall, which starts on at 10:30 p.m. on September 22, 2014, according to the Old Farmer's Almanac, is the time of year when Canada is at its most brilliant, with trees showing off their colours like peacocks before settling into winter.

    The stunning vistas across the country make for particularly incredible backdrops for the reds, oranges and yellows of the season, whether they're set against mountains, rivers or simply wooded trails.

    Take a look at these incredible shots of Canada in the fall — and if you have one of your own to add, email us at

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    Zilla van den Born packed her bags for Southeast Asia, said goodbye to her family and friends and spent the next five weeks posting pictures of herself in going to temples, snorkeling and eating fantastic food. What she didn't do, however, was leave home.

    The Amsterdam-based student, 25, told everyone she knew (except her boyfriend) that she'd be travelling for 42 days, but instead of getting on a plane, she turned her life into an experiment of how easy it is to fool others with our Facebook appearances.

    Zilla, who is a graphic designer and video artist, detailed the experiment on her site. The explanation for it (translated from Dutch) reads:

    "We live in a visual culture in which media and reality are intertwined, and it is difficult to distinguish between reality and representation. Everyday we see a stream of images, which makes it possible to see the rest of the world from our living rooms.

    As part of my graduation I went to Southeast Asia. At least, that 's what my classmates, friends, family and even my parents believed. In reality, I stayed home and I discovered Thailand, Cambodia and Laos from my desk."

    zilla meal
    Zilla's delicious Thai restaurant meal, prepared in her apartment with food she bought at an Amsterdam grocery store.

    zilla temple
    Zilla's visit to a Buddhist temple ... in Amsterdam.

    zilla photoshop
    A look at how Zilla Photoshopped herself into the waters of Thailand.

    Zilla even faked Skype conversations with people "back home," setting up a portion of her apartment with a Southeast Asian-style backdrop.

    As reported by, Zilla told media in the Netherlands, “My goal was to prove how common and easy it is to distort reality. Everybody knows that pictures of models are manipulated. But we often overlook the fact that we manipulate reality also in our own lives.”

    Not a bad lesson to take home, really.


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    GOLDEN, BRITISH COLUMBIA -- To truly appreciate the unique geography of a place it helps to view it from a fresh perspective. Take Golden, for example. This dramatic setting of this historic Canadian Rockies town takes on even more impressive proportions while freefalling from 10,000 feet high above it.

    After rolling out of the Cessna, my Extreme Yeti tandem skydiving instructor and I execute several mid-air somersaults and cartwheels. Then we level off into a graceful swan dive, arms outstretched, plummeting toward earth at a decidedly breezy 120 mph. Rushing up to greet us is a welcoming town of 4,000 at the confluence of two iconic British Columbia rivers, three mighty mountain ranges and five national parks. Then pop goes the parachute and we're floating gently toward solid ground. A bald eagle soars past, riding the thermals in the direction of nearby Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, where I've got a date the next morning with a bear named Boo.

    Could this be the ultimate Rocky Mountain High?

    It was certainly the culmination of a tremendously fascinating journey to this part of Canada's westernmost province. To get here I've flown to Calgary and driven three hours west along the Trans-Canada Highway to see firsthand where our nation's collective urge to risk life and limb in the pursuit of adrenaline rushes purportedly began. In the late 19th century the Canadian Pacific Railway brought Swiss mountain guides to the small railway town of Golden, at the time a base camp for railway surveyors searching for a route through the Selkirk Mountains in eastern BC. They were employed to escort the first international visitors staying at CPR hotels like the Mount Stephen House in nearby Field and Alberta's Chateau Lake Louise on recreational climbs, hikes and daring forays into the wilderness. Thus was born adventure tourism in Western Canada.

    Today, descendants of those pioneering Swiss guides continue to help make this otherwise sleepy industrial town a magnet for spirited wilderness lovers. Partly driven by the surge in popularity of the neighbouring four-season Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, Golden is attracting a new generation of thrill-seekers from around the world. They come for the hiking, rafting, paddling, climbing and mountain biking in summer, and to ski and snowboard the legendary champagne powder amid challenging resort and backcountry terrain in winter.

    Reaching the World's Greatest Fossil Field

    Trekking eight hours up a steep mountain trail to reach a famous field of "stone bugs." Not your average hike. But nor is the destination. Containing arguably the most important fossils ever discovered, the Burgess Shale field, located near the top of Mount Stephen in Yoho National Park, was awarded UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 1981. Scattered across it are the remarkably well-preserved, half billion-year-old remains of thousands of soft-bodied sea creatures called trilobites (meaning "three lobes") that once flourished here in what was then a vast warm ocean. The intricate outlines of their dead bodies were forever etched into solid chunks of shale.

    First discovered by railway workers in the 1880s, who reported finding "stone bugs" near their trails, these entombed marine arthropods form one of the earliest known groups of multi-celled life forms. Charles Walcott, an American scientist, paleontologist and secretary to the Smithsonian Institution, first extensively studied them here in 1909. Today, their incredible detail, age and diversity continue to provide scientists with invaluable insights into early life on earth, and even into the very nature of evolution itself.

    To see these world famous relics I drive 60 kilometres (37 miles) from Golden to Yoho early one morning to join a Parks Canada interpretive tour lead by veteran guide Kristi Beetch, who shares her wealth of knowledge as she fields questions about geology and the local flora and fauna. The hike -- a challenging 8-kilometre (5-mile) round-trip with an elevation gain of nearly 800 metres (2,625 feet) -- leads us high above the tree line to an electronically monitored restricted zone only accessible to groups on official guided tours.

    Upon reaching the fossil field, located on a precarious shale ledge with a panoramic view of the Kicking Horse Valley, Beetch hands out magnifying glasses and a dog-eared copy of the Burgess Shale Family Album, which features modern relatives of this product of the so-called Cambrian Explosion, an evolutionary "Big Bang" over 500 million years ago, when the diversification of the Earth's organisms rapidly accelerated. According to the album, almost every modern animal -- from tree frogs and giraffes to white sharks and tarantulas -- can link its origins back to trilobites. And believe it or not, so can we.

    "Ninety-five per cent of the animals on the planet today trace their genetic ancestry back to Burgess Shale trilobites," Beetch explains to her astonished listeners. "That includes human beings," she adds, amused by our incredulous responses.

    Perched on this evolutionary graveyard amid the towering peaks of the majestic Purcell and Selkirk Mountains, we get to play amateur geologist for the next hour, examining the indelible imprints of our earliest ancestors. From this day forward, I silently vow, I will never take a brother bug for granted again.

    Story by Mark Sissons, Writer. To read the rest of the story on, click here.


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    If you're out and about in Metro Vancouver this weekend, you might want to look up.

    The northern lights will be in high activity on Friday night, according to the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. That means you may catch a glimpse of the stunning phenomenon.

    northern lights map

    The best way to see the aurora borealis is to "get out of Vancouver," UBC Professor of Astrophysics Jaymie Matthews told CKNW. "It helps to have a clear northern horizon, you know unobstructed by buildings or trees or mountains.”

    The lights have previously been spotted around Vancouver and Burnaby as well as Pitt Meadows.

    If you catch some aurora pics, share them with us!

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