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Canada Travel news and opinion

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    Simple steps to protect your stuff

    Ever lost your luggage? You know that sinking feeling when the last bag rolls around the carousel -- it's equivalent to coming down with traveller's diarrhea. You know your trip is about to get ugly...

    2014-11-06-checkedluggage.jpg



    While lost and damaged luggage is an unfortunate travel reality, it's getting easier to track down an errant bag half a world away and get it back to you -- relatively quickly. And if you've identified your bag well and have an inventory of the contents, luck may be in your favour.

    Use these tips to help ensure that even if your bags don't arrive with you, you'll be protected.

    Before you leave home: what goes inside

    • Lay out valuable items and snap a picture of them with your smartphone. Keep a list of those items in your carry-on (and a copy at home if you're really worried). If you can include approximate replacement value of the items, even better.


    • If an item's irreplaceable, leave it at home. Laptops, electronics, medication, jewelry and important documents belong in your carry-on luggage only. If you're asked to gate-check a bag you planned to carry on, remove those valuables and carry them on in your arms.


    • Print a copy of your itinerary that includes your email and/or phone number and leave it face up in your bag. If the tags are removed from your bag while in transit, this sheet of paper might be the only way your luggage finds its way back to you.


    • Put the address of your destination on the outside of your luggage -- not your home address (which announces an empty house ripe for pillaging).


    Before you leave home: the outside of your luggage

    • Remove tags from previous trips, especially those tiny white stickers airlines stick to the sides. And avoid travel stickers and decals. They make your bag identifiable on the luggage carousel but can be misread by a scanner.


    • Remove any straps or locks that get stuck on a conveyer belt.


    • Forget the Louis Vuitton luggage and opt for the value-priced set instead. Expensive looking luggage is an "open for business" sign to a thief.


    • Choose a nylon bag instead of a hard shell, which cracks easily and is rendered useless immediately after a mishap.


    • Consider a TSA-approved lock but remember it's approved because it's easily removed.


    When you retrieve your bag from carousel, inspect it as soon as possible to ensure everything's accounted for. If something's missing call the airline immediately and submit a claim. The sooner you begin the process, the sooner resolution will come (hopefully).

    Got any suitcase security tips to share? Follow me on Twitter or like us on Facebook and let's start talking!

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    Residents of Toronto and Vancouver ought to ask themselves why they're still living in those cities, when they could buy prime Roman real estate for cheaper.

    A map released by commercial real estate company CBRE to The Huffington Post Canada on Thursday showed that prime residential prices per square foot in Vancouver ($1,368) and Toronto ($1,225) exceed prices in both Rome ($1,073) and Milan ($1,073).

    They're also not too far off more expensive cities such as Tokyo ($1,482), Singapore ($1,727) and Paris ($2,000).

    The reason, said Vancouver-based director of research Ross Moore, is that markets in some cities (particularly Vancouver) are now being driven by international factors such as foreign investment.

    "We have a handful of cities around the world whose markets are increasingly being driven by global trends and factors, as opposed to local factors," he said.

    The statistics come out of a map that appeared in a recent CBRE report out of the U.K. titled "Global Living: London in an International Context."

    The report has a section on overseas investors, in which it names Vancouver among cities that are favoured by Chinese buyers, citing factors such as "well known universities, a strong economic backdrop and world-class lifestyle."

    It also says that luxury condos in both Toronto and Vancouver have become increasingly popular with retirees looking to make a "lifestyle shift, without necessarily making a huge sacrifice on the size of the property."

    Foreign investment is a particularly touchy subject in Canada, where it's been blamed for an uptick in housing prices that have made home ownership unaffordable for many residents.

    How much it's a factor in housing prices remains open to question. Canada does not keep statistics on foreign ownership the way that countries such as the U.S. and Australia do.

    Whatever the cause of rising real estate prices, Moore said that both Toronto and Vancouver ought to become used to being globally-competitive cities.

    "I don't think it's a trend that's going to peter out," he said. "Once you're on that global stage, you tend to stay."

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    Too many times people return from vacation having had a great time, but also being down on themselves due to letting unhealthy habits dominate. People tend to overeat, drink more, and skip their work outs.

    It sucks to get away only to return feeling worse physically and emotionally then when you left!

    My friend Em and I are living proof that you can go on a vacation that is both healthy AND fun!

    We have been vacationing together since high school. We just got back from a particularly memorable trip to Jake's Resort in Treasure Beach, Jamaica. This was the view of Jake's we had while sitting at lunch on our first day.

    2014-11-07-Jakes1.jpg



    The below photo is of us at the Pelican Bar near Jake's. Your eyes are not playing tricks on you, it is a bar in the middle of the ocean! Amazing.

    2014-11-07-jakesbar.jpg

    Over our (gulp) 12 years of travelling together we have figured out how to go on vacations that leave us feeling energized and revitalized, not gross and discouraged!

    K and Em's six tried and true tips for a healthy and fun vacation:

    1. Be prepared.

    Both Em and I are known for making less than stellar choices when we are hungry. We always carry nuts and other healthy snacks so we don't grab the closest chocolate bar.

    I also always pack a travel blender and protein powder. Since most hotels have ice, and bananas are usually accessible in tropical locales, I can always make a protein shake if needed.

    Em and I also go grocery shopping as soon as we arrive to buy healthy snacks for our hotel room. I also like to take leftovers back to the hotel room so I can eat them the next day as snacks. This saves me from wanting something unhealthy from the vending machine or pool side bar.

    Lastly, whenever possible I look at menus and decide what healthy option I will have before I go to the restaurant. If I let myself chose at the restaurant I will too often make the "hungry" choice, not the healthy one. When I arrive I don't even have to open the menu, I just order whatever I have already decided on.

    2. Ask for what you want!

    Don't be shy, ask for modifications. The worst thing the restaurant can say is "no." Little alterations such as asking for dressing on the side or substituting vegetables for french fries can make a big difference.

    Jake's was amazing at accommodating our constant requests. For example, Em likes chips and salsa. She ordered nachos for her mid-day snack, but asked for no cheese or sour cream. I love vegetable stir-frys. So I would ask the restaurant to add a protein to the vegetable stir-fry that was already on the menu.

    You never know what is possible unless you ask.

    3. Indulge, but do it mindfully!

    Go ahead, treat yourself, but don't just grab anything. Wait and savour something you love. I love chocolate ice cream, so that is what I indulge in. Em loves passion fruit sorbet. On the night Jake's served that, she indulged. When they had other flavours, she passed.

    4. Stop eating when you are full!

    Enjoy your favourite foods, but have one portion not three, and always stop when you are full. This is something Em is really great at. She is able to order french fries then only eat a few. I am not as good at moderation. I tend to just not order bad food. Aim to emulate her, not me. I am currently trying to learn to be more like her. Enjoy life, but do it mindfully.

    5. Stay Active!

    At Jake's I went for daily runs to watch the sunrise and did yoga on a beautiful terrace overlooking the sea. This is a photo from one of my runs. Perfection!

    2014-11-07-jamrun.jpg



    I love structure, but don't have to do structured workouts on vacation. Just try to move daily. Go for walks on the beach, play volleyball, sightsee on a bike, or emulate Emily and play water sports. Do something you enjoy!

    6. Stay hydrated!

    Drink water regularly throughout the day. It is easy to mistake thirst for hunger, especially in hot climates.

    The main take-away is that like most things in life, discovering how to have a balanced, healthy and fun vacation is a process. When you come back from a vacation feeling frustrated, instead of allowing yourself to feel "down," analyze where you went wrong and then consider how you can make better choices next time!

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    Owning a private island seems to belong in the realm of the extremely wealthy — or does it?

    We were surprised to find that many islands for sale in B.C. are selling for under $1 million. No, you can't even get most Vancouver teardowns for that price range.

    There's Johnson Island, 20 acres of privacy about 48 kilometres from Fort. St. James. For $335,000, it comes with a rustic log cabin.

    Who needs a fancy mansion when you have a front-row seat to astonishing sunsets and the northern lights?

    johnson island bc

    johnson island bc

    Or for a tad more, you could have snapped up Bee Island in Cowichan Lake. A gorgeous 2,343 sq.-ft. home built in 2007 came with the property, which recently sold for $895,000.

    bees island

    bees island bc

    Chris Krolow, who runs Private Islands Magazine and Private Islands Online, says islands in lakes are significantly less expensive then ones situated in the ocean.

    Most of his clients are looking for a second or vacation home, and interest has increased over the last five years, he told The Huffington Post B.C. in an email.

    If you're in the market for an island, buyers should consider water depth, elevation, distance from the mainland, and a safe harbour, advises Krolow.

    Also, consider how awesome it would be.

    Check out some B.C. islands for sale:



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    Uber has upped the ante in the fight to bring its ride-share app to Vancouver, launching an online petition in the hopes to gain support among locals.

    The petition was launched on the Uber website Thursday, according to CTV News, and already collected over 10,600 signatures early Friday evening.

    Uber argues in the petition "the Province of British Columbia, at the behest of the taxi industry, isn’t putting consumers first or thinking about how new innovations can create better transit solutions for all." The company encourages locals to "stand up for choice in Vancouver and sign the petition — because a bold and innovative city like Vancouver deserves bold and innovative solutions like Uber."

    Though already popular around the world, Uber has had a tumultuous relationship with Vancouver and the province.

    The company operated in Vancouver for about six months in 2012, but shut down when B.C.'s Passenger Transportation Board imposed a minimum fare of $75 per trip.

    But rumours started flying last month that the company might make a return to Vancouver, to which city council responded with a vote that placed a six-month moratorium on new licences.

    B.C.'s transportation minister announced on Monday the province would stage undercover stings targeting Uber vehicles, promising hefty fines and legal action if drivers are caught without proper licences.

    Then on Tuesday, Vancouver's four taxi companies filed a lawsuit against Uber in a pre-emptive strike, alleging the company is preparing to launch with unlicensed drivers in an attempt to illegally undercut traditional cabs.

    Uber issued a statement Tuesday that stressed it does not currently operate in Vancouver and suggested the lawsuit is more than an attempt by the taxi industry to protect its profits.

    The company has not confirmed whether it plans to launch in Vancouver or whether it intends to comply with taxi regulations if it does.

    With files from The Canadian Press

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    There are cemeteries, burial plots, museums, and memorials all over the world that honour our Canadian Forces. If you're travelling overseas, here are a few international sites where you can pay your respects on November 11 or any day of the year:

    Vimy Ridge (France)
    In the early hours of Easter Monday in 1917, approximately 15,000 Canadian soldiers rose from the trenches and advanced towards Vimy Ridge. After four bloody days, the Canadians captured most of the ridge on April 12, 1917. Some consider this to be a defining moment in Canadian history.

    In July 1936, the Vimy Memorial was unveiled in France, and is Canada's largest overseas national memorial. Towering over the scene of the battle, the Vimy Memorial is inscribed with the names of 11,285 Canadians who were killed on French soil and have no known graves. When visiting the memorial, take at least half a day to see the entire site.

    El Alamein Memorial (Egypt)
    Roughly 100 kilometres west of Alexandria, you can pay respects to the 213 Canadian airmen who served across the Middle East during World War II. It's located in the desert, but beds of roses bloom at the monument, fed by reservoirs.

    Canadian Korean War Memorial Garden (Republic of Korea)
    Just below the hills defended by Canadian Forces in the 1951 Battle of Kapyong, a garden memorial honours 26,000 Canadians who served during the Korean War. Of these, 516 died and 1,255 were wounded.

    Mr. Chi Kap Chong, a retired Korean journalist and former member of the Korean National Assembly, selected the site and raised funds to purchase the land for the memorial. A stone tablet with three panels in Korean, English and French lists the units of the Canadian Forces that participated in the Korea War. As a living memorial, Canadian organizations award annual scholarships to Korean students of the Kapyong Buk Middle School, who act as caretakers for the memorial park.

    The Man with Two Hats (The Netherlands)
    In the City of Apeldoorn, there's a bronze statue of a man with outstretched arms, grasping two matching hats. This monument is a gift from the Netherlands and pays tribute to Canada's role in the liberating Holland during World War II. An identical statue resides in Ottawa and the hats symbolize solidarity between the two countries.

    Kanchanaburi War Cemetery (Thailand)
    While occupying Thailand during World War II, the Japanese forced 100,000 prisoners of war and Asian labourers to build the Thailand-Burma railway. They endured brutal conditions and more than half died of starvation, exhaustion, disease and cruelty.

    There are 6,982 former POWs buried in Kanchanaburi War Memorial Cemetery, mostly Australian, British and Dutch. But if you look carefully, there are a handful of Canadian graves among the thousands.

    Juno Beach Centre (France)
    Partly a museum dedicated to the landings on D-Day, the Juno Beach Centre on the Normandy Coast is a place of memory to honour Canada's participation in World War II and the liberation of Western Europe. More than one million Canadians were mobilized during the war. The Centre was constructed by the Juno Beach Centre Association, a group of World War II veterans who participated in the D-Day landings and the subsequent battles in Normandy and Western Europe.

    Sai Wan Memorial (Hong Kong)
    Less than eight hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese forces invaded the former British colony of Hong Kong. Commonwealth forces -- mainly British and Canadian -- defended the territory, until the British surrendered Hong Kong on Christmas Day, 1941.

    The Sai Wan Memorial honours the Allied soldiers who defended Hong Kong, and overlooks the military cemetery where the majority of the fallen are now interred. Of the 2,071 names, 228 are Canadian.

    This is an abbreviated version of the original article, which appears in Eat Drink Travel Magazine. For the full article with photographs, click here.


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    "I was six months old when I started to travel and I haven't stopped since," Lisa Ray tells me over a conversation at Sula, a Vancouver restaurant on the east side of the city. It's the end of summer and the model and actor has come to town with the intention of enticing British Columbians to voyage in her footsteps to her adopted country and one with a far warmer climate, India.

    Ray has managed to turn her passion for travel into a pretty cool gig -- she's the global brand ambassador for Insight Vacations, which has numerous high-end properties in India and elsewhere -- and that's not by accident. Born and raised in Toronto, she has wanted to explore the world for as long as she can remember. With a Polish mother and Indian father, she has plenty of.

    "My primary objective right from the time I was a child was to travel, or to collect travel experiences," Ray says. She has accomplished just that, with sojourns and lengthy stays around the world. Her background and interest in India's culture drew her to that country more than two decades ago. Not only did India prove to be a catalyst for her career, it also captured her heart.

    "It is a magical place. The people, the food, the culture, and it is such a diverse place. I don't think a lot of people realize how different it is from north to south, east to west," she points out.



    At the turn of the century, the Times of India named Ray one of the "10 Most Beautiful Women in the World." She started as a model and transitioned into acting. Her role in "Water," a film by Canadian Deepa Mehta, is a highlight of her achievements on screen. These days, Canadians know her best as the co-host of "Top Chef Canada," a show that ran from 2011-14 and showcased a marvellous array of young culinary talent. Ray co-hosted Seasons 2 and 3 with celebrity chef Mark McEwan, and got acquainted with many of the nation's finer restaurants.

    "What's fantastic is the re-emergence of Canadian pride. We're taking pride in our ingredients and our bounty," says Ray, who names Vancouver's Fable -- created by Trevor Bird, a runner-up during Season 2 of Top Chef Canada -- and Vij's among her recommended spots.

    Visit Vacay.ca for More Celebrity Travel Videos

    While it's India that holds much of her interest, Ray has been able to see much of her homeland, thanks to "Top Chef Canada," and relishes many of the nation's attractions. Her favourite place is the Kootenays in eastern British Columbia. The region includes spectacular Rocky Mountain scenery and an arts scene that is considered one of the most eclectic in Canada. Each summer, it also hosts Shambhala, an electronic dance music festival that attracts thousands of revellers from around the world. The Kootenays' most notable city is Nelson, where Ray has a home. She describes it "as a bit artsy and kooky."

    When she's not in India, it's a place she revels in inhabiting. Perhaps that's not a surprise, given that Nelson, like many parts of India, can feel isolated and serene. As Ray notes, "You've got all of these creative souls gathering in this beautiful scenic town, which is so pure."

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    Who says your kids’ sports-tournament weekends have to be all about them? You deserve a little quality time to yourself when you’re out of town taking them to games. All it takes is a little planning in advance to make this sports trip into more of a vacation, rather than solely about getting your little athlete to their game.



    Get pampered at a spa appointment
    Before you even leave your home to head to the tournament, visit the hotel’s website to see if there’s a spa. It’s best if you can book your appointment ahead of time rather than walking in — this way you can be sure of getting the treatment you want during the window of time you’re available. If there’s no spa at the hotel, search online for a spa nearby — the pampering along with the peace and quiet will you feel like a new person — and ready for those rambunctious kids you’re chauffeuring to games.

    Swim in the hotel pool
    Your swimsuit should always be in your luggage when you travel — that way, you’re always prepared for a dip in the hotel’s great pool or hot tub (it’s also handy to have if you’re going to the spa and prefer not to go in the buff for the sauna or whirlpool bath). Swim a few laps or simply lounge poolside with a cocktail and it’s easy to forget you’re just at a tournament and not on a sunny getaway.

    Shop at the outlet mall
    Score great deals for yourself and the family at the nearby outlet mall. Hitting the outlet mall is best if you have at least three hours to peruse — it can take time to scour the racks to find the best deals and to make sure you make it to all of the stores on your wish list. Help make your shopping excursion more efficient by wearing shoes that are easy to get on and off and an outfit you can easily try things on over top of.

    Work up a sweat in the gym
    When you’re at home, life can have a way of making your days too busy to fit in exercise. So why not when at your kid’s tournament, rather than just wait for their practice to finish, sneak in a workout at your hotel’s gym. Before your trip, prepare a playlist of music that’ll get you going, and if you need some tips and instruction, download a fitness app that provides you with a workout.

    Discover local foodie hotspots
    Yes, there are always the fast food and casual family-style restaurants in every city, but why settle for the usual? Get onto Yelp and Urbanspoon and hunt for the best food in the area and indulge your foodie side with some favourite dishes the area is known for. From local food trucks to those little holes in the wall that serve up to die for dishes, there is probably a ton of great eats to be had no matter where you are.

    Get out into nature
    When you need a breather away from the hockey arena where your kids playing, get outside to the nearest botanical garden or if you have more time, head to a park for a hike. Taking a walk outside and being in all of that greenery has been found to improve mental, social and physical health. Better yet, make this part of your regular routine and your mental health will benefit for years, according to research from the University of Exeter.

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    TORONTO - People coming to Canada from Ebola-affected countries — including returning health-care workers — will need to undergo a more formal 21-day monitoring period, the federal government announced Monday. And some will be told to stay at home for the duration of that time.

    Some public health officials and aid groups that had been anticipating the release of a new federal policy expressed relief at what they saw, saying earlier iterations had been more restrictive. The fear has been the government might adopt a policy that made health-care workers returning from Ebola missions feel like pariahs, which could discourage others from volunteering to join the battle.

    "We were concerned the Quarantine Act would be used to impose things that we did not feel are reasonable. And I think we can work with what they've got now," said Dr. Bonnie Henry, British Columbia's deputy provincial health officer.

    "They do give some leeway for a case-by-case basis for local public health to really work with the people who are returning and make sure that we have the right measures in place, both to support them but also to protect the public."

    Up until now people coming into Canada from Ebola-affected countries have been asked to identify themselves to quarantine officers at their point of entry. There they went through an interview and may have had their temperatures taken.

    If they were not showing symptoms of illness, they were asked to monitor their health for 21 days — the disease's incubation period — and take their temperature daily. If they developed symptoms consistent with Ebola, they were told to report to public health.

    The new policy, which went into effect Monday, makes the self-monitoring requirements more formal.

    The policy statement, pushed out after the end of the working day, raises a number of questions. But a request for an interview with Dr. Gregory Taylor, Canada's chief public health officer, was not granted Monday evening.

    The policy covers people who are not sick and are coming into Canada from Ebola-affected countries. Anyone who is sick would be immediately isolated and held until testing reveals whether he or she has Ebola.

    At this stage, the policy will mainly apply to returning health-care workers and people who work for humanitarian aid groups in the Ebola-affected countries. That's because Canada has stopped issuing visas to travellers from countries with widespread Ebola transmission.

    Even before it took that action, few people from those countries came to Canada. Statistics Canada data shows only 956 people from the three countries — Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone —travelled to Canada in 2013. And in the first eight months of this year, only 737 travellers from those countries came to Canada.

    Under the new policy, incoming travellers are classified as either high risk or low risk. High-risk travellers would have had contact with a known Ebola case; low-risk travellers are people who have been in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone but who have no known exposure to Ebola cases.

    High-risk travellers will be ordered to report immediately to a local public health authority and isolate themselves at home or at a facility for 21 days. They will be monitored daily for symptoms, including fever and are urged to stay in proximity to one of their province's designated treatment centres.

    Low-risk travellers will be ordered to report to a public health authority within 24 hours and to monitor their health daily for 21 days, including taking their temperature twice a day. They must report immediately if they develop any Ebola-like symptoms and must tell public health if they plan to travel. They do not have to stay in their homes.

    Returning health-care workers are not automatically slotted into the high-risk category. Instead, the guidelines say local public health authorities can decide on a case-by-case basis whether to require a returning medical worker to isolate themselves in their home or be kept in a facility for 21 days.

    Stephen Cornish, executive director of Medecins Sans Frontieres Canada, said the organization believes health-care workers will be treated as low-risk travellers.

    "We have been on record from the beginning defending the fact that those who do not show symptoms should not be treated as if they are (sick)," he said. "We're hoping and understanding that the way they refer to humanitarian workers puts them in the low risk (category)."

    Cornish said MSF had been concerned Canada might follow some other countries that have put some more restrictive policies in place for returning health-care workers, policies that are not warranted based on what is known about when Ebola patients are contagious. It is believed people with Ebola are not infectious until they have symptoms.

    Adopting policies based on fear, not science, is unfair to returning health-care workers and could discourage others from going to help in the containment effort, he suggested.

    "It adds to people's fears and creates great concern and difficulties for aid workers, who we really need to be celebrating and sending to West Africa, not ostracizing them when they return."

    Henry, who has herself worked on an Ebola outbreak response in the past (not the current epidemic) said she feels the new policy is fairly balanced.

    She noted that the recent case of Dr. Craig Spencer, an MSF doctor who developed Ebola after returning to New York City from an Ebola mission in Guinea, highlighted that the risk from returning health-care workers is not zero.

    "I think that really made people — people in my position, anyway — go 'Hmm — we need to have a balancing here,'" Henry said.

    "We've had half a dozen health-care workers who have worked either with Red Cross or WHO or MSF who've come back — and we have one who's still in his incubation period. And we've managed them in a rational, I think, and caring way."

    Henry said many health sector employers are asking returning health-care workers to refrain from patient care during the 21-day incubation period, though they are allowing them to do other work. For instance, two physicians who returned from Ebola missions sat on the province's Ebola planning task force, she said.

    Follow @HelenBranswell on Twitter.


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    "You are the first person I know who is traveling to Azerbaijan!," exclaimed my travel agent enthusiastically. For the tourism professional, the city of Baku is certainly a more original destination than, say, Cuba. That being said, if you choose to visit this country of 9.5 million people, your friends and relatives may be confused: "Azer... what?"

    Therefore, it may be useful to make a few comparisons to better place this poorly-known country.

    Little Turkey: Located on the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan is a country that is 95% Muslim but resolutely secular, where people speak both Russian and Azerbaijani (sometimes called Azeri Turkish). Like Istanbul, Baku can say it belongs just as much to Europe as to Asia.

    The other side of the Caucasus: The country of Azerbaijan is remarkably diverse both in terms of culture and geography. The 2014 Winter Olympics brought attention to the Western side of this mountainous region, but make no mistake about it, Baku is determined to outrank Sochi in terms of sports facilities and business tourism.

    The first country of black gold: Exploited commercially in the Caspian Sea for the past century and a half, oil made Azerbaijan very wealthy, and then led to it being placed under Soviet rule beginning in 1920. Independent since 1991, the "Land of Fire" can again enjoy the profits from its oil windfall and pay for shiny skyscrapers. Important note: all that glitters is not Dubai, and Baku has much more to offer in terms of culture.

    Exceptional Architecture
    Azerbaijan's renewed prosperity has led to the establishment of high-tech museums. A visit to the country would logically begin in Baku, more precisely at the Heydar Aliyev Center, a spectacular building designed by "starchitect" Zaha Hadid. This institution offers an important window into the national culture and is also a space for temporary exhibitions, as well as a tribute to the president-founder of the country, whose cult of personality is still very much alive.

    The Azerbaijan Carpet Museum is another cultural and architectural capital not to be missed. Located in the seaside park on the coast of the Caspian Sea, this ultramodern building literally unfurls underfoot when you take a cable car from the heights of Dağüstü Park (which is in many ways similar to Montjuïc in Barcelona). Occupying three luxurious floors, the Azerbaijan Carpet Museum condenses centuries of local handicraft. Iran is only 320 km from Baku, so the types of rugs you can admire in the museum are mostly Persian. Baku is also home to several other more classic museums.

    In terms of modern architecture, we can't forget the Flame Towers, a set of three skyscrapers made to resemble the city coat of arms. At night, the Flame Towers may be lit in the colors of the flag, or to look like moving flames. But in fact it's the whole city of Baku that becomes a kind of spectacle of lights: the luxurious buildings on Neftchiler Avenue, constructed during the first oil boom (1885-1920), are bathed in white light that shows off their architectural detail, while more modern towers stand out with more elaborate colorful projections.

    Story Continues After The Gallery


    World Heritage City
    Baku is a city of contrasts. There is nothing modern about a stroll through the old town to admire the Maiden Tower, its caravanserais, its fortifications and its alleyways from the medieval period. Listed as one of UNESCO's World Heritage Sites and in the process of being completely restored, the Walled City of Baku contains numerous B&Bs, boutique hotels and restaurants. It's an ideal place to drink tea and smoke hookah, and take a break away from all the chaotic car traffic. That said, you could cap off a stroll through the old town with en exploration of Nizami Park and the pedestrian streets in the downtown area, accessible as soon as you cross the fortifications on the north side.

    To learn more about the complex history of the Caucasus, there's nothing like a pedestrian guided tour of Old Baku, a visit which will inevitably end at its highest point, that is, the Palace of the Shirvanshahs, beautifully restored and outfitted with ambitious multimedia installations.

    And to go back in time, it is also possible to make an outing 65 kilometers south of Baku, to a national park which is also on the list of World Heritage Sites. Overlooking the Caspian Sea, Gobustan (the "sea of rocks") is famous for its mud volcanoes and its thousands of breathtaking cave engravings dating back between 5,000 and 40,000 years.

    Sports And Entertainment
    The Azerbaijani government spares no expense when it comes to promoting the country. Baku has therefore hosted the Eurovision contest in 2012, in the retro-futurist Crystal Hall, inaugurated that same year. The city is now preparing to welcome the first European Games, which will take place in 2015 in an Olympic-sized stadium.

    Car racing is another way of attracting crowds, and the visit of 40 or so international journalists was organized to coincide with the Baku World Challenge (Blancpain Sprint Series). Formula 1 will also make an appearance in 2016 during the European Grand Prix, on an urban circuit which easily bears comparison with the track at Monaco.

    The climate in Baku is similar to that of Sochi. Our trip in the month of November was certainly during the off-season, but a walk along the seaside park gave us a great view of fall foliage, which provided a nice contrast to the palm and olive trees lining the downtown streets. While Baku receives the occasional snowfall in winter, the mountains in the back country have an abundance of snow. According to the Ministry of Tourism, the two winter ski centers will be able to accommodate 10,000 skiers per day, from December to March.

    Cuisine
    The main language spoken in Azerbaijan resembles Turkish and in a similar way, the country's cuisine is influenced by its Mediterranean neighbor. Dolmas (vine leaves) are an appetizer, and qutab (crepes stuffed with lamb or spinach) are served alongside yogurt, flatbread, crudités and white cheeses like feta.

    Main courses often consist of kebabs and other grilled meats, served with perfumed rice cooked to perfection and so light it could be called airy. These plov (pilaf) immediately bring Iran to mind. In fact, Azerbaijan shares with this country a flavorful cuisine, consisting largely of nuts, fresh herbs and fresh or dried fruits.

    During our stay, our meals were usually served with local red wines, whose quality ranged from acceptable to surprising. (Yes, you read that right: Azerbaijan is a Muslim country with a long wine-growing tradition.)

    As a dessert or snack, baklavas without puff pastry are served with Turkish coffee, tea or its world-famous espresso. In short, Azerbaijani cuisine is a unique fusion of Mediterranean and Central Asian traditions.

    How to Get There?
    Baku is easy to get to from most large European airline hubs, including Paris (Air France), Frankfurt, (Luftansa), London (British Airways), Vienna (Austrian Airlines) and Istanbul (Turkish Airlines.

    If traveling from North America, you may choose to make a stopover in one or other of these cities, but Azerbaijan Airlines does offer direct flights from New York.

    To enter Azerbaijan, it is necessary to obtain an electronic visa before arriving through one of the 50 or so accredited travel companies listed on the website azerbaijan.travel. Once printed, this visa must accompany your passport without being attached to it directly. (This is not a requirement for travelers from Turkey or the CIS.) Interesting fact: passengers taking a direct flight from New York to Baku will receive a 30-day visa upon their arrival at the Heydar Aliyev International Airport.

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    Well, here's something going on.

    The cast of television's "Corner Gas" will make various appearances around Toronto this weekend to promote the upcoming release of the film adaptation, which is set to hit theatres from Dec. 3 to 7, said a news release.

    Brent Butt and some fellow cast members will start up "Corner Gas Weekend in Toronto" on Saturday with "The Saskie Showcase," an industry party at the Drake Hotel Underground, which will feature Saskatchewan bands Slow Down Molasses, The Dead South, Close Talker and Young Benjamins.

    The following day will see Butt and castmates Nancy Robertson, Gabrielle Miller, Lorne Cardinal and Fred Ewanuick appear on a show-themed float at the Santa Claus Parade. The float will have a "Corner Gas" pump and a duplicate of Dog River's grain elevator.

    Later that day, cast members will be on hand for the 2nd Annual Canadian International Television Festival at TIFF Bell Lightbox, where they'll celebrate the 10th anniversary of the show's premiere with an exclusive look at the movie and a Q&A session with some of its actors.

    As for the movie, it will have a rather unconventional release. After playing in theatres for five days next month, it will then debut on CTV, CTV GO, The Movie Network, TMN GO and The Comedy Network. Fans will also be able to buy a collector's edition DVD in time for the holidays.

    This isn't the first time that "Corner Gas" has taken to the streets of Toronto to promote the film. In September, during the Toronto International Film Festival, marketers set up a Sing-A-Long Booth at Queen and John Streets outside CTV headquarters.

    Fans were invited to sing the show's theme, "Not a Lot Goin' On," for a chance to appear in the film's ending credits.

    The latest promotional efforts come after a fire destroyed a building that stood in for the show's "Foo Mart" in Rouleau, Sask. in September.

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    Canada’s natural beauty is pristine; we all know that. It’s a kind of pastoral lushness that draws visitors from across the country and around the world to look upon it all in awe.

    But Canada’s natural loveliness isn’t simply outdoors. Our history is literally rooted in the trees and rock formations and caves nature has carved for us but it’s also in the foundations, walls, and textures of certain landmarks across the country. They punctuate cities, rural settings, and northwestern bits of land and leave an impression on us. They are just as much of a draw, an eye-catching thing, largely in part because they remain a time capsule to a specific point in history that contrasting that against modern architectural marvels and what Canada’s future may hold.

    Here are eight landmark marvels across the country that pop out and demand you give them, and their history, some attention:



    1. Casa Loma
    It’s hard to miss the giant castle in downtown Toronto but, if you’re not looking, you just might. In 1911 owner Sir Henry Pellatt commissioned the house, which would take three years and $3.5-million to complete. The turn of the century structure reminds visitors and locals of a time when Toronto was truly grandiose.

    2. Joseph Schneider House
    Downtown Kitchener is home to an eclectic array of quiet architectural wonders, with turn of the century factories interspersed with the new housing developments. It is home though, to the Joseph Schneider House, which is the area’s oldest known homestead. It serves as a symbol of an old way of life, of its Germanic and Mennonite heritage, and how far the new tech hub city has come.

    3. Craigdarroch Castle
    Overlooking Victoria, B.C., this majestic structure is sure to be attention grabbing. Craigdarroch Castle stands as a reminder of a “bonanza castle”, a point in history when rich industrialists built massive homes during the pinnacle of their wealthy time. Built in 1887 but not completed until 1890, this castle still stands as a reminder of that time.

    4. Castle Kilbride
    Castle Kilbride is a stunning landmark in Southwestern Ontario. Named after industrialist’s James Livingston’s birthplace in Scotland, the home stands as a token of heritage and tradition in a rural community. Built in 1877 in Baden, the ornate interior design is just as striking as the towering structure itself.

    5. Sun Life building
    The Sun Life of Canada Assurance building (as it and the company were called in 1914) was the pinnacle of downtown Montreal, but caused a stir when the grand building shifted locations from its traditional financial district location to its current Dorchester Square. It was the largest building of its era in the British Empire at the time and was completed in 1933. It stands as a symbol for Canada’s financial growth.

    6. Cape Spear Lighthouse
    Newfoundland’s legacy can be captured in the Cape Spear Lighthouse in Blackhead. It points east toward the vast ocean and Ireland and west back toward the whole of Canada –if you believe in folk tales like that. The oldest existing lighthouse in the province (constructed in 1836) was and still is to the vital mariner community.

    7. Alberta’s Government House
    Alberta’s Government House in Edmonton, opened in 1913, holds a history of politics within its walls and is an important, distinct building in the community. The grand building was initially a residence for Alberta’s Lieutenant Governor Generals and has then evolved several times over into a cultural and government office.

    8. Church of Our Lady of Good Hope
    This exquisite and impressive church in the Northwest Territories is sure to catch any visitor’s eye. The Gothic Revival Style church was first built in 1865 but not completed until 1885 and remains one of the oldest surviving building styles of its kind.

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    Alberta: Mountains. Streams. Bears. Ski jump.

    The province sure looks beautiful when you capture it at the right moments.

    And that's what drone video and photography company Blackbird Aerials did with its latest demo reel, which shows Alberta from above in all its rugged, natural glory.

    The reel, which is credited to videographer Richard Gottardo, was filmed using a DJI s800 EVO hexacopter and a Sony NEX 5n camera. It captured stunning images of vast landscapes and the sun setting over Calgary's WinSport Canada Olympic Park.

    A video like this allows Alberta to challenge B.C. for its "Super, Natural" title.

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    The exploration of Chicago requires a good pair of shoes and a good few days a couple of times a year, ideally. On the weekend that I visited, I had every experience from watching Nick Walenda brave the high wire in high winds with a blindfold to deep dish pizza that gave my mouth such pleasure and my guts such strife. Toronto Island to Midway and on the Orange line train to the downtown LOOP took less than $300 and 3 hours. Here are the highlights:

    Stay choices:

    Top Notch

    Fairmont Gold club

    $435+ per night. Includes a spacious room and access to the club lounge with excellent breakfast, cocktail hour appetizers and concierge business services. No need was left un-noticed nor unattended.

    Best view

    Swiss Hotel
    $263+ per night

    This triangular, Harry Weese architectural building maximizes the property shape while providing stunning views of the lake, Navy Pier and the Chicago River. Some corner rooms provide all three.

    Magnificent Mile with rooftop hot spot

    Urban and New

    Mile North

    $275+ per night is a relative newcomer to the scene. It is an urban, hip place with a nifty rooftop bar providing views southward along the lighted path.

    Play Choices:

    House of Blues: Gospel Brunch


    Who wants to go to church on Sunday when you can eat chicken and waffles while waving your arms in the air with a "hallelujah!" on your lips and a full on gospel choir? In this iconic, gorgeous theatre hosts gospel concerts with a whopping buffet on the side.

    Buddy Guy's Legends

    Legendary Chicago Blues man has a hot spot in the Loop in downtown Chi-town that just must not be missed. Practically any time of the day you can find some version of blues. On the night I went, an acoustic duo crooned, a bluesy rock band ripped and a funky rhythm band with horns got me up on my feet. The cover charge of $20 kicked in a 9 pm but the sitting at a table, chatting with locals, drinking Buddy's brew lasted for 6 hours.

    Field Museum

    Classic history and architecture, the Field's museum sits at the bottom end of Millenium Park. The special shows include a Haitian Voudou exhibit that was authentic and moving. Plan to spend at least half a day here exploring everything from dinosaurs to mummies

    Architectural Boat Tour

    Chicago is a river town so it must be explored from the water. There are a few "architectural" boat tours but only one is run by the actual Architectural Foundation with docents providing history and context. The kiosk is at the foot of Wacker and Michigan Ave. Well worth the $40.

    Nordstrum's Rack/Macys

    Ask any woman. There is nothing like a clearance rack at either one of these places. It is hit or miss and you have to love the thrill of the hunt but it is well worth the investment of a couple of hours. Let's just say "5 pairs of top quality shoes for $200" and call it our little secret.

    Weigh choices:

    Ok, it isn't all about healthy food on vacation. It is kind of about exploring what that region has to offer and then walking it off so it doesn't weigh you down.

    Aria: Superior Sushi

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    Housed inside the Fairmont Hotel just steps from Millenium Park is a superior sushi spot. Lucky for us, it is eclectic enough to convince raw fish hating foodie friends (oxymoron? Maybe) to join. The naan bread is crisp, chewy and filling when it comes with a series of housemade dips from mango chutney to spinach puree.

    Lou Malnatis
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    Chicago-ites don't really eat deep dish pizza but when they do...it is here. You probably only need 2 mouthfuls of the classic to feel full but be prepared to eat celery the rest of the day(or week) because you won't be able to stop. Interestingly, there is a tab on the website for nutrition info but it is not operational.


    Shaw's Crab House

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    The find! A tweep suggested this spot while I was and all recommendations from social spheres must be followed up. What a gem! The decor of this sprawling 1920's is broken into cozy rooms. One with an open kitchen and soda bar that is as cozy as it is splashy. Fresh and excellent seafood is the highlight here. Come hungry.

    If you haven't been to Chicago, you really must, it is a baby New York with efficiency, community and space. The food is cheaper but better quality and the heartbeat is a blues rhythm rather than a frenetic hum.

    Note: some experiences were hosted, others paid for out of pocket but never fear, my opinion isn't for purchase, I only share what I love.

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    It began with a trip of a lifetime.

    Toronto man Jordan Axani and his girlfriend Elizabeth Gallagher had planned an extensive world tour that would take them to countries including Italy, France, Thailand and India.

    But the relationship ended, and 28-year-old Axani put out an online call to any Canadian who shared his ex-girlfriend's name to take the extra ticket for free. His only ask was that the taker pay it forward somehow.

    Axani's call resulted in a flood of attention. So now he's launched "A Ticket Home," a charity that helps people travel when they can't afford it themselves.

    "We want to create a nation of people who are interested in giving and paying it forward and help people experience the beauty of travel. Or even help by giving someone a ticket home for the holidays," the initiative's website reads.

    The charity is in its infancy — Axani is looking for partners — but it has some "interested parties" and the Toronto man is now hoping to hear from people in the tourism and travel industries. They are also looking for volunteers.

    Canadians are known for their love of travel (or at least, their love of showing off their national flag on luggage), and the potential benefits that have been found from exploring the world are myriad.

    Travel can result in anything from alleviating depression to creating new friendships, and perhaps most importantly, gratitude for all we have.

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    If you're looking for a fun and affordable vacation it's time to travel domestically and explore one of hotel comparison trivago.ca's 15 Best Value Canadian Cities for 2015. Based on the yearly average price of a standard double room and the destinations' overall hotel reputation on over 200 booking sites, trivago has revealed the home turf cities that are both budget friendly and worth a visit in 2015!

    1. Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON
    2014-11-13-notl_clocktower.jpg
    Source: Tourism Niagara-on-the-Lake

    Average accommodation price per night: $203
    City's average hotel rating: 88.45/100


    2. Kamloops, BC
    2014-11-13-KamloopsEastbound.jpg
    © Kelly Funk, Tourism Kamloops

    Average accommodation price per night: $119
    City's average hotel rating: 76.46/100


    3. Mont-Tremblant, QC
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    © Association villégiature Tremblant

    Average accommodation price per night: $189
    City's average hotel rating: 84.69/100


    4. Winnipeg, MB
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    © Zyron Paul Felix

    Average accommodation price per night: $141
    City's average hotel rating: 79.28/100


    5. Kelowna, BC
    2014-11-13-kelowna_one.jpg
    © Shawn Talbot, courtesy of Tourism Kelowna

    Average accommodation price per night: $140
    City's average hotel rating: 79.12/100


    6. Mississauga, ON
    2014-11-13-10660998544_ebbd4f9ff3_o.jpg
    © Scott Johnston, Flickr.com

    Average accommodation price per night : $123
    City's average hotel rating: 78.48/100


    7. Victoria, BC
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    © JF Bergeron, Destination BC

    Average accommodation price per night: $143
    City's average hotel rating: 82.09/100


    8. Québec-City, QC
    2014-11-13-quebec_one.jpg
    © Jean-François Bergeron, Office du Tourisme de Québec

    Average accommodation price per night: $161
    City's average hotel rating: 82.09/100


    9. Edmonton, AB
    2014-11-13-edmon_two.jpg
    © Montkbc, Flickr.com

    Average accommodation price per night: $151
    City's average hotel rating: 77.1/100


    10. Montréal, QC
    2014-11-13-mtl_two_ok.jpg
    © Camron B, Flickr.com

    Average accommodation price per night: $172
    City's average hotel rating: 79.54/100


    11. Niagara Falls, ON
    2014-11-13-niafalls.jpg
    © Jack Arnouts, Flickr.com

    Average accommodation price per night: $112
    City's average hotel rating: 74.18/100


    12. Calgary, AB
    2014-11-13-dave_walker_cal.jpg
    © Dave Walker, Flickr.com

    Average accommodation price per night: $172
    City's average hotel rating: 78.25/100


    13. Ottawa, ON
    2014-11-13-ottawa_one.jpg
    © Ottawa Tourism

    Average accommodation price per night: $155
    City's average hotel rating: 78.57/100


    14. Vancouver, BC
    2014-11-13-vancouver_ok.jpg
    © Albert Normandin, Destination BC

    Average accommodation price per night: $179
    City's average hotel rating: 80.44/100


    15. Toronto, ON
    2014-11-13-toronto.jpg
    © M Jolivet, flickr.com

    Average accommodation price per night: $179
    City's average hotel rating: 77.78/100

    Inspired to visit these bargain hotspots and need a place to stay?
    Find your ideal hotel at the best price by comparing hotel rates on over 200 websites here!

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    A B.C. man's Facebook rant about BC Ferries has caught the attention of the company and sparked discussion surrounding its costs and customer service.

    Sean Smith posted an open letter to BC Ferries on Monday, outlining his ideas for how the company could save money. Commuters were upset last week with the news that BC Ferries may axe its Horseshoe Bay-Nanaimo route, diverting passenger to Tsawassen.

    B.C.'s transportation minister has since backtracked on the idea, but BC Ferries CEO Mike Corrigan said keeping the route may mean fare hikes. So Smith decided to detail other money-saving suggestions.

    "You are not a cruise ship line. You are a bus," Smith, from Campbell River, writes in his post. "You need a news stand, not a gift shop. You need a cafeteria, not a restaurant. You don't need slot machines, you need good WiFi and some big screen TV's [sic]."

    He reminds the company that they don't need to spend so much on advertising because "people really are smart enough to figure out that if there isn't a bridge or a tunnel to the Islands, then they will have to take a ferry or a plane."

    Smith's status has since been shared over 7,000 times and 10,000 likes. The large social response prompted BC Ferries to issue a response to Sean on its own Facebook page.

    "We understand that fare affordability is a big concern for our customers and always look for ways to keep costs down. Some would like us to provide a 'bare bones' operation, while others appreciate the comforts available," says the status, posted to Facebook.

    "Reality is... the income generated through our gift shops, food outlets, vacation packages and commercial services work to release the upward pressure on future fare increases and align with our effort to keep travel on BC Ferries affordable."

    Do you agree with Smith? Let us know in the comments below.

    Read Smith's full post:

    Dear BC Ferries.

    I know that you are having a hard time trying to figure out ways to save money. Please, let me help you.

    1. You are not a cruise ship line. You are a bus.

    2. You are not a travel agency. You are the travel method.

    3. You do not need to advertise. You are the ONLY alternative.

    So, with these three things in mind, please consider the following. You need a news stand, not a gift shop. You need a cafeteria, not a restaurant. You don't need slot machines, you need good WiFi and some big screen TV's. You don't need a "marketing department", you need a full on Social Media and Customers Service department. You don't need a fancy travel office or vacation planning department, you need plan to keep the actual travel agents informed of what is happening with your ferry service.

    I shouldn't see the BC Ferries logo on the boards at Rogers Arena during a Canucks game, or on a TV commercial. Believe it or not, people really are smart enough to figure out that if there isn't a bridge or a tunnel to the Islands, then they will have to take a ferry or a plane.....and you can't get your car into your carry on luggage.

    See. I just saved you millions upon millions of dollars.

    You're welcome.


    Read BC Ferries' full response:

    Sean, your 3 suggestions are definitely good conversation starters. However, as you know from our personal conversation a few years ago, perception of BC Ferries is not always a reality.

    We understand that fare affordability is a big concern for our customers and always look for ways to keep costs down. Some would like us to provide a 'bare bones' operation, while others appreciate the comforts available. Some are upset that we offer Wi-Fi at all (complimentary service available at Swartz Bay, Tsawwassen, Horseshoe Bay, Departure Bay, Duke Point and Langdale terminals as well as onboard select vessels operating these routes), others would like us to expand this service. Reality is... the income generated through our gift shops, food outlets, vacation packages and commercial services work to release the upward pressure on future fare increases and align with our effort to keep travel on BC Ferries affordable. Transport Canada dictates the required number of onboard crew. They are highly trained to operate the vessel in a safe manner and to evacuate the vessel in the unlikely event of an emergency. While safety is the number one priority of our onboard crew, some of them also work in the gift shops and food outlets.

    A large portion of our operating expenses stems from having to fuel our fleet of 35 vessels. With over 500 sailings a day, we continuously look for ways to reduce our fuel consumption and to operate our vessels as efficiently as possible... again, with fare affordability in mind. Along those lines, we have studied the feasibility of using liquefied natural gas (LNG) and believe that a move to this fuel source would reduce costs and emissions. Our new intermediate vessels are being built with dual fuel capability and we are also analyzing LNG as an option for existing vessels undergoing major retrofits. The cable ferry project is another example of us looking for innovative ways to operate as efficiently as possible.

    Our partnership with the Canucks was discontinued in 2011, however, it is important to note that advertising our vacation packages does help to attract customers who have discretion with their travel choices. These packages promote the many incredible destinations and attractions British Columbia has to offer, with BC Ferries providing the link here on the west coast.

    Second to Safety, we strive to provide exceptional customer service. Information on current conditions including traffic at the terminals, parking, webcams, vessel tracking, service notices, etc. is available on our website at http://www.bcferries.com/current_conditions/ and alternately, customers are welcome to call our customer service centre via 1-888-223-3779, 7am – 8pm Monday to Friday and 8am – 6pm on weekends, or reach out through our Social Media channels during the same hours.

    You can find additional facts and financials to support that mentioned in our Annual Reports or please feel free to call me directly.

    Many feel they have all the answers. Not to discredit Sean's 'rant', but he has not said anything that has not been said before. Know that we listen and value customer feedback, but BC Ferries is a complicated business. There are many misconceptions out there and we will continue to work to educate the public on the realities of our business.


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    "You no smuggle!" said the customs agent.

    It was nine-year-old Bev Miller's first trip to continental Europe. Bev landed at the Hook of Holland with her mother, Gladys, who had borrowed against the family's insurance to finance the trip. The customs agent waved them through.

    The pair landed on the Dutch coast after visiting family in England. An uncle living near Stratford-Upon-Avon had proudly showed the young girl his melon-shaped barrage balloons, long steel cables dangling from their undersides. "If the Germans send their planes over those balloons will clip their wings off," he boasted.

    The day Bev and Gladys set foot on Dutch soil was June 18, 1939.

    Bev is my aunt by marriage and she is kindness incarnated, she still bakes birthday cakes from scratch for her children, even though they're well into their 40s. But don't pigeonhole her as a sweet old lady. Let me tell you, she's a tough nut, she's beaten cancer -- twice -- and at nine years old could tell the difference between a painting by Hals and one by Reubens (can you?) Seventy-five years after her mother took her on a tour of Europe, mere months before the invasion of Poland by the German army, we sat down in her Bedford Park home and she told me all about it.

    It was an organized tour, there were around 18 of them in all, led by their stalwart Swiss guide Mr. Stahl. They wound their way through the Netherlands and Belgium, marvelling at the masterpieces of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and "Belgium had the best meals," recalls Bev.

    2014-11-15-_MG_8312.jpg


    Then it was time to turn east, into Germany.

    The tour group traveled by train, arriving at Germany's north eastern border near Cologne. Once across, they pulled in at the first station. A legion of German soldiers swarmed the train and 'escorted' everyone off. The soldiers, armed with rifles, flanked the tourists on either side and marched them, single file, down the platform.

    "Oh, I wasn't scared," asserts Bev, but that was the moment she realized the rumours and reports about the militarization of Germany were true. "In Canada I remember thinking 'oh this Hitler is just joking around -- Heil Hitler! -- it's just joking around.' But it wasn't."

    The soldiers forced the tour group into an office where the money they were carrying was counted, then the soldiers marched them back to the train and the tour was on its way.

    The swastika on its scarlet field was everywhere, blood-red bunting seemed to hang from every building and pictures of the Führer were prominently displayed. Before the tour entered Germany the guide, Mr. Stahl, had given them all a stern lecture, "do not wonder if your (hotel) room is wired, because it is. Even in your bedroom or your bathroom know that everything you say can be heard."

    Memories from childhood are coloured by what was important to us when we were little. Bev particularly remembers that in Germany she heard no singing, anywhere. "You didn't show that kind of levity on the streets. Even as a kid it felt as if you were subdued and restrained," she says.

    Mr. Stahl also told the group that if they publicly criticized the Third Reich they'd be removed from the group and taken away.

    "Taken away where?" I ask Bev, alarmed.

    "Lord only knows."

    The tour passed through Cologne with its magnificent cathedral, then wound south through Heidelberg where Bev remembers visiting the famous university, established in the 14th century.

    After leaving Heidelberg came the day that left the deepest impression on young Bev.

    It was afternoon and the group was taking a bus to a local tourist centre. That day the heavens opened and the rain poured down in sheets. Water covered the windows of the bus so completely that the world outside seemed out-of-focus. When the bus arrived at their destination everyone ran inside and out of the weather. The centre had a large courtyard where a local contingent of the Hitler Youth had been having a program that day. Hundreds of children ranging in age from nine to 15 stood at attention in neat rows. They wore khaki uniforms, swastika-emblazoned arm bands over their left biceps. The rain streamed down their faces and soaked their clothes, but still their leaders would not let them seek shelter.

    "And to me, that was silly," says Bev.

    Earlier in the trip, back in England, Bev had played with some local boys so rambunctiously that she'd fallen into a ditch (which doubled as a sewer). In the Dutch town of Volendam Bev scared her mother half to death by running off to play dolls with some kids from the town. They didn't speak any English, but they had a pretty swank doll carriage and that was enough of a bond for Bev and the Dutch children.

    In Germany there was no playing.

    here followed a languorous boat trip down the Rhine, past ancient castles falling slowly into ruin, past a troop train packed with German soldiers headed...somewhere. Then, at last, Bev and Gladys and the tour crossed the border into Switzerland.

    In a stroke of synchronicity the tour arrived in Geneva on William Tell Day. The whole country was out in the streets, many had come down from the cantons wearing elaborate costumes, parading through the city in celebration. Bev remembers passing by a beer garden in the basement of a hotel, the sound of merry Swiss singing 'Roll out the Barrel' in English reached her ears, a drunken sing-along never sounded so sweet.

    2014-11-15-_MG_8310.JPG


    Unfortunately, this is where Bev's tour lost their trusted guide Mr. Stahl and he was replaced by the odious Madame d'Orsay, who would oversee the French leg of the trip. Madame d'Orsay's admiration for the Führer knew no bounds, at every opportunity she would praise the Third Reich and describe the ways Herr Hitler was going to "reform the way people lived in Europe."

    D'Orsay proved to be more than an irritating conversationalist once the tour reached Paris. One night Gladys decided to visit some of Paris' famous nightclubs. Madame d'Orsay had generously volunteered to keep an eye on Bev. That night, with Gladys out of the way, Madame d'Orsay visited their room, ostensibly, to look in on the little girl. In the morning Gladys discovered that all their souvenirs from Germany, several maps, photos and a lighter for Bev's father back in Canada, had been stolen. It could only have been Madame d'Orsay.

    They were trinkets, trivial things, of no importance to the massive war machine of the Third Reich. But Madame d'Orsay, who Bev believes was a German agent, didn't care, she stole them anyway.

    Bev and Gladys returned to Canada via Montreal, landing on July 16th, seven weeks later World War II began.

    Before they left Canada for Europe Gladys had told Bev; "We have to go now because I have a feeling that if we don't you'll never see Europe the way I knew it."

    How right she was.

    A lifetime has passed since that trip; 53 years of marriage, a nursing career, two children and two grand-children. But, 75 years later, Bev is ever grateful that she saw the 'old world' before the horror of war changed everything, forever.

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    At times, Italy can seem like a boot-shaped cliché: people gesticulating madly, yelling in what seems like a rage when in fact they are discussing last night's delicious lasagna; tiny pink towns on hilltops; toddlers who already know how to tie a natty scarf. And people talking (and talking and talking and talking).

    But there are things that might surprise you here. My top six:

    Making things complicated.
    If there is a simple way to do something, Italians will find a way to make it complicated. If you can take care of something by filling out one form and going to one wicket, Italians will make sure you have to fill out at least three forms and go to at least three wickets (after taking a number). You may also have to go to a bank to pay for whatever service you are seeking or to a tabaccheria to purchase an official stamp. Italians love ceremony and tolerate layers of bureaucracy to beggar the imagination. I suspect some of this also has to do with creativity and love of detail. The culture that gave the world the Sistine ceiling cannot fathom that making things easy or simple could ever be a good thing. None of this, of course, makes Italians any better at standing in line.

    Men crying. A lot.
    Cliché number one about Italians is that they display their emotions and this is true. Still, given the macho posturing and sexism of Italian men it is odd to see them cry publically, openly. I don't mean just about huge tragedies. I mean that in public Italian men cry about soccer matches and politics and the mere sight of their children or the sound of a song. One Italian man I know cried when I told him I was in a committed relationship and therefore could not date him. We had only known each other a few days, yet he stood there and cried. Awkward. But then, men here have a huge comfort level with much that one might consider feminine: they kiss each other, use more hair and beauty products than I do, know the names of fashion designers and aren't embarrassed about any of it. The crying seems a natural extension. (Plus, they've all been spoiled by their mothers.)

    Lack of political correctness. I mean, really.
    To some degree, this is an Old World phenomenon, and those of us from New World countries tend to be very sensitive to it. Still, it takes some getting used to, to hear university professors say to a classroom of international students, "All people from [fill in the country/religion] are [fill in the adjective]"; or to hear them make statements about "gli Orientali", Asians, to a classroom which includes Koreans, Japanese, Chinese and Vietnamese students, none of whom view themselves as part of a monolith. I've seen Italian TV personalities do impressions of Asians that include doing "slanty-eyes", among other things. While Italy is becoming more of a multi-racial/cultural society, it will likely take two or more generations of immigration to make it truly so. This is much of what lies behind the comfort levels Italians have with stereotypes. When you live in a homogeneous or mono-cultural society, you are surrounded by the like-minded, making it less probable that your comments or behaviour will be challenged.

    Historical shamelessness.
    Likely correlated to the above, but worse, finding Fascist paraphernalia in Italy is disturbingly easy. It is far from unusual to see -- at covered and outdoor markets -- someone selling busts of Mussolini or decorative plates with his image. We are not talking about scholars of history paying high prices for authentic items that have a connection to the 20th-century's darkest hours. We are talking about recently made items and make no mistake: I've talked to a number of people who both sell and buy these things and they aren't doing so to be camp. Recently, I walked past a table that offered a 2015 Mussolini memorial calendar (what kitchen would be complete without one?) as well as lighters decorated with the swastika. The bleeping swastika. I asked the man who was selling them if people actually bought such things. "Yes," he snapped, asserting -- when he saw me grimace -- that the purchasers were bravissimi, very good people.
    Whatever you say, fella.

    Terrible customer service.
    So much so that Italian customer service deserves its own column, but suffice to say that as with Italian television, we are talking about an "all or nothing" situation. Italian television, I always say, represents "the sacred and the profane." You will either see half-naked women shaking their breasts or you will see a serious discussion, often featuring a nun or a priest. (Or soccer.) Italian customer service is similar. Either salespeople act like they wish you weren't there or they are in your face to the point that you wish they would go back to glaring at you with hatred in their eyes.

    Staring. A lot.
    And not just because you are foreign or female or blonde and tall. I am all of those things and yes, I may get more stares because of them, but Italians themselves make jokes about how much they stare. They stare at each other, they lean out their windows and stand in their doorways and stare, they stare at your accessories or a book you're reading. Groups of men stand outside the scommesse, betting shops, and stare at everyone (not just women) walking by. It is disconcerting, especially to those of us from the Anglosphere, where staring as rude is drilled into us from birth. But the upside of the staring is that it has made Italians used to looking people in the eyes when speaking to them, and I like that.
    In fact, it is one of the many reasons I keep coming back to Italy, complications regardless. The other reasons? That would take another column, though I suspect there wouldn't be room in a mere 1000 words.

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    Night sky photographer Alan Dyer recorded this timelapse montage at the Banff, Jasper and Waterton Lakes National Parks in the Canadian Rocky Mountains over the summer of 2014.

    All we can say is "Wow!"

    At night, he said, these sites are “quiet and deserted, unlike by day when often hundreds of people throng these viewpoints."

    The experience of recording at night with just his DSLR camera in tow was, he described, “a magical, if at times eerie experience."

    We applaud your beautiful skills with a camera, Mr. Dyer, as well as your bravery for staying out in the woods all night long!

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