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Canada Travel news and opinion

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    BANGKOK - It's been a bad year for tourism in Thailand, and at first glance it looked like a new YouTube video was adding to the misery.

    The video called "I Hate Thailand" drew more than 1 million views within days of being posted last week.

    But it turned out the clip was produced by Thailand's tourism authority, using a strategy of reverse psychology to attract tourists after the country's image was battered by a military coup in May and the brutal murders of two British tourists on an idyllic beach in September.

    The 5-minute video shows an angry British tourist on a beach. He introduces himself as James and says his bag was stolen: "I hate this place. I hate Thailand," he tells a handheld camera. After mouthing off to a policeman, he meets an attractive Thai woman and finds reasons to like Thailand. In the end, the unshaven, bare-chested foreigner cleans up, puts on clothes, befriends the locals and gets his bag back — wallet, passport and all.

    Several Thai newspapers reported the video as a real news item last week, prompting the Tourism Authority of Thailand to issue a press release Monday saying it was behind what it called the "romantic-comedy short film."

    "There's been much hype and speculation following the release of the I Hate Thailand video," TAT Governor Thawatchai Arunyik is quoted as saying. "The intention of this video is solely to depict the renowned Thai hospitality."

    The tourism authority said it was inspired by research showing that "unbranded" advertisements tend to receive more interest than conventional commercials.

    The video, which bears no indication of being funded by the Thai government, was posted on a YouTube account that also gave no clue of ties to officialdom.

    The strategy is part of a massive campaign to restore Thailand's battered image overseas and revive tourism, which accounts for about 7 per cent of the economy.

    The tourism authority has forecast that tourist arrivals for 2014 will drop for the first time in years, after a record year in 2013 when 26.7 million visitors came to Thailand.

    ___

    Online: Tourism Authority of Thailand's 'I Hate Thailand' video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=54uzEouACYs


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    Just in time for ski season kicking off across Canada comes "How To Be A Skier" and proof it's OK to blame everything on snowboarders.

    The video comes from IFHT (I F*cking Hate That), the same B.C.-based team behind "How To Be A Vancouverite" and "Shit Canadians Say, Eh?"

    From beginners to the slickest ski veterans, you'll benefit from tips like:

    • Brag about how many days you have on your season's pass.


    • The intensity of your goggle tan is in direct correlation to how cool you are.


    • Always complain about the conditions.


    • Know the difference between pow, dump, and dank.


    • Make a video filmed entirely on a GoPro strapped to a ski pole, then use the most played out electronic music you can find


    This latest video — sponsored by outdoor gear company MEC — is a bit of a breakthrough for IFHT creators, Matt Dennison and Jason Lucas, because it's their first major corporate partnership.

    MEC provided all the wardrobe and gear in the video, and gave the IFHT team full creative control, Dennison told The Huffington Post B.C. in an interview.

    "They’ve never done any advertising like this before. You've never seen a comedy video with MEC on it, so it’s pretty exciting for us to be a part of this, their first kind of viral marketing campaign," he said.

    The friends, both 22, began sharing funny videos with friends on Facebook, and have since turned their passion into a growing YouTube channel with more than 164,000 subscribers.

    Check out Matt and Jason's Best of B.C. picks.

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    Do you like YouTube videos that make you laugh? Then you've likely seen the work of Matt Dennison and Jason Lucas, who hail from Richmond, B.C.

    Better known as IFHT (an acronym for "I F*cking Hate That"), the team released their newest comedy video this week called "How To Be A Skier," sponsored by outdoor gear retailer MEC. It's their first big corporate deal after crowd-pleasers including "If Diablo 3 Were A Girl" and "How To Be A Vancouverite."

    The duo has created almost 100 parody and comedy videos — and attracted more than 32 million views to their YouTube channel since 2009.

    Dennison, a full-time videographer, and Lucas, a sales rep, love mountain biking and are proud B.C. boys. We asked them to take our "My B.C." questionnaire, and here's what they had to say:

    What’s your B.C. spirit animal?


    Jason: This may sound slightly American but I have to go with the eagle. Watching an eagle snatch a salmon out of a river in slow motion is one of the most majestic things I have ever seen. Plus, no one messes with an eagle.

    Matt: My spirit animal is the bear. I’ve seen many bears while up at Whistler and there is something powerful about watching a mother bear viciously chase you down because you were trying to take pictures of her cubs.

    Favourite restaurant in B.C.

    Jason: This is such a loaded question! It’s hard to just pick one place. I have a seriously dangerous addiction to Greek cuisine and Cosmos down in White Rock Beach satisfies that addiction like no other.

    Matt: I’m a sushi fiend. I’m also a sauce boss. I love condiments just as much as I love actual food. Keeping those important traits in mind, I must suggest a brand new sushi spot in Richmond called Gami Sushi. It’s the new default place to eat amongst my friends now that I’ve got them all hooked. Try the Popcorn Attack Roll and the Oh Gami Roll. Keep it saucy, people.

    Favourite independent business in B.C.

    bridge brewing

    Jason: Once again, very hard to choose just one! I would have to say the closest local craft brewery to where I work, Bridge Brewing Co. There is nothing better on a Friday evening than filling up a growler of something delicious. Yes, I realize this makes me sound incredibly hipster.

    Matt: North Shore Mountain Biking is an online mountain bike magazine that I’ve worked for as a videographer since 2011. Having been given such an amazing opportunity to produce videos full time right out of school is something I’m greatly appreciative of.

    Favourite outdoor activity in B.C. and where?

    Jason: If you are an IFHT fan then you will easily know the answer to this one. Back when I was 12 I received my first real mountain bike and haven’t stopped riding since. B.C. is a mecca in the mountain bike world with people crossing oceans to come sample the goods. Luckily for us locals it is a short trip in any direction to the nearest trail.

    Matt: We’re so spoiled here in B.C. with a virtually endless selection of mountain bike trails and bike parks across the province. Any serious mountain biker around the world has the Whistler Bike Park on their bucket list. Being only a couple hours away is a true blessing!



    Favourite B.C. band

    Jason: B.C. seems to breed some pretty awesome bands and musicians, must be the water… or the beer. My music tastes cover a very wide range of genres. Currently into The Zolas, Mother Mother, and Said The Whale. I also still enjoy the classics from Swollen Members, Sweatshop Union and of course, Loverboy.

    Matt: My favorite B.C. band would be Vancouver locals and hip-hop duo Gentleman’s Vibe. Not only are we close friends; we have collaborated on many projects in the past. We’ve produced songs together, created music videos, even collaborated on our first viral video in 2011 – All About the LGs. We just wrapped last week on a music video for their single off their new album "Baeside."

    gentlemens vibe
    Gentlemen's Vibe

    Favourite B.C. public figure

    Jason: When I was a wee lad my school went out on a fishing field trip. During this field trip Rick Hansen showed up with fishing rods for everyone and taught us how to fish properly. At the time getting a free fishing rod and lessons was a pretty big deal to me (actually this would still be a big deal to me) and I always thought it was pretty awesome of Mr. Hansen to take a whole day to teach some kids how to fish.

    Where do you take people from out of town?

    Jason: Usually the people that visit are mountain bikers so I would take them to our local mountains and show them what we have to offer as far as bike trails. Later that night it usually turns into a tour of Granville Street.

    Matt: Those in and out of town should check out the Sea to Sky Gondola. There is an amazing system of trails being built up there right now. Not to mention, the views are incredible — better than the Chief in my opinion!

    sea to sky gondola
    The Sea to Sky gondola

    How would you describe B.C. to an alien?

    Jason: It is a place where you are not limited by your environment. You want to go skiing (can aliens ski?)? We got that. You want to surf? We got that too. You want to drink 100 different kinds of beer in the same restaurant all on tap? Go for it.

    Matt: "It is the best damn place on earth. It’s a place where people of the world come to visit and many end up moving to. Between our beautiful mountains, the Pacific Ocean, the mild weather, and our friendly people, B.C. has something to offer everyone." I’d tell them that in a combination of bleeps and bloops and then I’d ask to see their spaceship.

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    VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA -- Even though the absence of the home team in the 102nd Grey Cup may disappoint fans in Vancouver, the city's mayor is still upbeat about the CFL championship game that takes place this weekend. It's an event that will entertain residents and visitors alike, mayor Gregor Robertson promised during a press conference on Wednesday.

    Robertson underscored the appeal of the tangential events that take place off the gridiron and have nothing to do with who's actually playing on Sunday.

    "It's become a lot more than just a football game. The Grey Cup is part of Canadian culture and it's exciting to be involved with that," said the recently re-elected Robertson. "There's a lot of arts and culture to enjoy. There are great bands to entertain us in the days leading up to the game."

    Grey Cup Festival Takes Over Vancouver Streets

    Those bands include 54-40 and Hey Ocean!, who will be among the 10 acts that comprise the Red Truck Tailgate Concert Series that will keep fans grooving at the Vancouver Convention Centre from Thursday to Saturday.

    On Grey Cup Sunday, the Hamilton Tiger-cats take on the Calgary Stampeders for the CFL title. Imagine Dragons will be the halftime entertainers inside BC Place. More than 50,000 fans are expected to attend and Robertson said the event will deliver "tens of millions of dollars" in economic impact for the host city. Roughly 4,000 tickets remain unsold with four days to go until kickoff.

    The Grey Cup was last contested in Vancouver in 2011, when the hometown B.C. Lions defeated the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in front of 54,313 fans. The city was in a celebratory mood all week leading up to that game. This time, it will likely be up to the visitors to the west coast to liven up the atmosphere. Fans of the Stampeders and Ti-cats are expected to descend on British Columbia's largest city to cheer on their teams -- and enjoy the annual Grey Cup Festival, which, as Robertson mentioned, has turned the game into a days-long party.

    Vancouver will mark the occasion with orange, changing the lights on prominent buildings to the colour that matches the Lions, the host franchise. The festival will include daily pancake breakfasts, the CFL Awards on Thursday, the Hall of Fame Party on Friday night and the annual Grey Cup Parade on Saturday. Free activities abound on Robson Street and at Canada Place as football takes over the city for the weekend.

    Story by Adrian Brijbassi, Vacay.ca Writer. To read the rest of the story on Vacay.ca, click here.

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    OTTAWA, ONTARIO -- Think Ottawa is a sleepy government town with little to offer other than politicians? Think again. Three friends and I embarked on a weekend road trip to take in the food, entertainment and history that the city and outlying area have to offer. Ottawa did not disappoint.

    Live Music in Downtown Ottawa

    Our first stop on Friday night was D'Arcy McGee's Irish Pub (44 Sparks Street, 1-613-230-4433) for some live music. The pub is located on the corner of Elgin and Sparks Street, across from the National War Memorial. We got up close and personal with The Mahones, an Irish punk band on a world tour. The pub is housed in a beautiful, historic building and is named after one of the Father's of Confederation who was the victim of Canada's first political assassination. We enjoyed dinner, drinks (I recommend the raspberry blood orange cosmopolitan, $8), the music and the friendly atmosphere.

    The Carleton County Gaol

    On Saturday morning, it seemed only fitting to visit the former gaol where James Patrick Whelan was tried and hung for the assassination of Thomas D'Arcy McGee. The jail was built in 1862 and closed in 1972 because of inhumane living conditions and a series of suspicious inmate deaths. The building was considered for demolition but its historical significance was recognized and was instead converted into the HI-Ottawa Youth Hostel (75-77 Nicholas Street, 1-613-235-2595 / 1-866-299-1478). The original Carleton County Courthouse is located next door and has been converted into an art space called The Arts Court. If you are not inclined to spend an evening in the slammer, you may tour the goal with Haunted Walks Inc., Ottawa's Walking Tour Company and there's a pub on the lower level called Mugshots that is open to the public.

    The Diefenbunker Museum in Carp, Ontario

    It just so happened that, on the weekend of our visit to Ottawa, Haunted Walks was also offering a special zombie-themed tour of the Diefenbunker Museum in Carp, a suburb about 35 minutes by car from downtown Ottawa. You may recall that the Diefenbunker was featured this past year on The Amazing Race Canada.

    Discover the Diefenbunker's exhibit on "The Spy Who Loved Canada"
    We joined our tour group and headed down into the secure bunker that Prime Minister John Diefenbaker commissioned in 1959 at the height of the Cold War. The intention of the bunker was to house key members of the government and military in the event of a nuclear attack on Canada.

    Before leaving Carp, we stopped at Alice's Village Café for hot refreshments to warm us up. We also shopped next door at The Hive In Carp, a stunning home that is the former Anglican Church Rectory. It has been converted into a multi-service commercial hub that includes a home décor and gift shop, a florist, a consignment-clothing store, a wellness centre and much more.

    Where to Dine in Ottawa

    Saturday evening we were in the mood for something a bit more modern and upscale from the prison, the bunker and zombies so we made our way to The Albion Rooms (33 Nicholas Street, 1-613-760-4771), a rustic contemporary lounge, charcuterie and restaurant located in the Novotel Ottawa Hotel (33 Nicholas Street, 1-613-230-3033 / 1-855-677-3033). For those of you who travel with furry friends, the hotel welcomes pets as guests.

    The Albion Rooms' personable general manager, Stefan Wener, was pleased to share the stories that inspired each of the craft cocktails on the menu. For example, Sen's Eleven ($14), a blend of small batch Canadian Club, in-house spiced maple syrup, Waupoos cider berry shrub and cranberry juice, pays tribute to the original Ottawa Senators hockey team, which won 11 Stanley Cup titles from 1903 to 1927. The entire menu pulls inspiration directly from history while the quality and variety of menu items is excellent. Chef Stephen La Salle lives by a "farm to table" philosophy, sourcing only local ingredients.

    Story by Lisa Gervais, Vacay.ca Writer. To read the rest of the story on Vacay.ca, click here.

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    As the holiday season is upon us, many Canadians are starting the countdown to the Christmas and New Year's breaks. The team of experts at Cheapflights.ca were curious to find out where Canadians are heading this year. Are Canadians using this year's extra long break for family or fun?

    To get their answers, the team took a look at the Cheapflights.ca site's travel data to find out which destinations spiked in popularity from searches over the two-week Christmas break. The top destinations reveal a split agenda between escaping to sun and fun versus staying closer to home and family.

    Here are the top 10 cities where Canadians plan to spend their holidays, based on total travel searches for flights between December 18 and January 4:

    1. Toronto, Ontario

    2. Orlando, Florida

    3. Fort Lauderdale, Florida

    4. Vancouver, B.C.

    5. Las Vegas, Nevada

    6. Miami, Florida

    7. Calgary, Alberta

    8. Cancun, Mexico

    9. Varadero, Cuba

    10. Halifax, Nova Scotia


    Looking more closely, however, the team unearthed an interesting trend. Travel leading into Christmas has a decidedly more domestic feel, with Toronto still atop the list and Vancouver, Halifax, Calgary and Ottawa all in the top 10.

    Here are the top 10 destinations where Canadians searched for flights departing on December 20:

    1. Toronto, Ontario

    2. Fort Lauderdale, Florida

    3. Orlando, Florida

    4. Miami, Florida

    5. Vancouver, B.C.

    6. Halifax, Nova Scotia

    7. Las Vegas, Nevada

    8. Varadero, Cuba

    9. Calgary, Alberta

    10. Ottawa, Ontario


    Fast forward to December 27, though, and the only Canadian spots still on the list are Toronto (now in the bottom five) and ski haven Calgary. Clearly the travel goal has quickly shifted to winter escapes.

    Here are the top 10 cities where Canadians searched for flights departing on December 27:

    1. Fort Lauderdale, Florida

    2. Orlando, Florida

    3. Las Vegas, Nevada

    4. Miami, Florida

    5. Cancun, Mexico

    6. Toronto, Ontario

    7. Varadero, Cuba

    8. Tampa, Florida

    9. Calgary, Alberta

    10. Los Angeles, California


    A few days later, New Year's celebrations top the list, as do slightly closer destinations, whether for sun or city fun.

    Here are the top 10 cities where Canadians searched for flights departing on December 30:

    1. Las Vegas, Nevada

    2. New York, New York

    3. Fort Lauderdale, Florida

    4. Toronto, Ontario

    5. Vancouver, B.C.

    6. Orlando, Florida

    7. Calgary, Alberta

    8. Miami, Florida

    9. Cancun, Mexico

    10. Phoenix, Arizona


    Clearly there are a lot of travel agendas for this year's holiday break. So, whether you are travelling across the country to Toronto or Halifax to spend the holidays with family and friends, escaping the cold in Cuba, or fitting it all in with multiple trips, don't leave home without first reading Cheapflights.ca's 2014 holiday season travel survival guide featuring:



    This is the most popular, and for many, stressful time of the year for travel. With crowds, weather, extra baggage and many inexperienced or overwhelmed flyers, mayhem can reign supreme. Get ahead with our tips and advice on how to cope with the uncertainty and chaos of holiday travel - this toolkit will help you keep calm and travel on this travel season.

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    Even though the absence of the home team in the 102nd Grey Cup may disappoint fans in Vancouver, the city's mayor is still upbeat about the CFL championship game that takes place this weekend. It's an event that will entertain residents and visitors alike, mayor Gregor Robertson promised during a press conference on Wednesday.

    Robertson underscored the appeal of the tangential events that take place off the gridiron and have nothing to do with who's actually playing on Sunday.

    "It's become a lot more than just a football game. The Grey Cup is part of Canadian culture and it's exciting to be involved with that," said the recently re-elected Robertson. "There's a lot of arts and culture to enjoy. There are great bands to entertain us in the days leading up to the game."

    Grey Cup Festival Takes Over Vancouver Streets

    Those bands include 54-40 and Hey Ocean!, who will be among the 10 acts that comprise the Red Truck Tailgate Concert Series that will keep fans grooving at the Vancouver Convention Centre from Thursday to Saturday.

    On Grey Cup Sunday, the Hamilton Tiger-cats take on the Calgary Stampeders for the CFL title. Imagine Dragons will be the halftime entertainers inside BC Place. More than 50,000 fans are expected to attend and Robertson said the event will deliver "tens of millions of dollars" in economic impact for the host city. Roughly 4,000 tickets remain unsold with four days to go until kickoff.

    The Grey Cup was last contested in Vancouver in 2011, when the hometown BC Lions defeated the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in front of 54,313 fans. The city was in a celebratory mood all week leading up to that game. This time, it will likely be up to the visitors to the west coast to liven up the atmosphere. Fans of the Stampeders and Ti-cats are expected to descend on British Columbia's largest city to cheer on their teams -- and enjoy the annual Grey Cup Fesitval, which, as Robertson mentioned, has turned the game into a days-long party.

    Vancouver will mark the occasion with orange, changing the lights on prominent buildings to the colour that matches the Lions, the host franchise. The festival will include daily pancake breakfasts, the CFL Awards on Thursday, the Hall of Fame Party on Friday night and the annual Grey Cup Parade on Saturday. Free activities abound on Robson Street and at Canada Place as football takes over the city for the weekend.

    As for the game itself, Calgary is favoured, but the upstart Ti-cats have shown plenty of ability in their surprising run to the Eastern Conference championship. CFL commissioner Mark Cohon said he expects the talent of the game's leading offensive players -- including quarterbacks Bo Levi Mitchell of Calgary and Zach Collaros of Hamilton -- to keep fans riveted to the action once the game begins.

    "You have two young quarterbacks who are already stars in the game and you have players in Jon Cornish and Brandon Banks who are among the most exciting to watch in the sport," Cohon said.

    Banks is Hamilton's dynamic kick returner and wide receiver while Cornish is the three-time CFL rushing leader. Their performances on Sunday will likely determine the outcome of the game. By the time the final score is recorded, however, Vancouver is quite likely to be revelling in a week of fun thanks to the big game.

    Read more details about the Grey Cup at Vacay.ca

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    An Air Canada passenger on a flight from Penticton to Vancouver got more than a scenic view when he watched a bolt break off the plane and embed itself in the outer window.

    Matt Langlois posted photos to Reddit with the title: "So about halfway through my flight I heard a loud POP, looked out my window at a bolt that flew off the prop and broke through the outer pane."

    Langlois, who lives in Penticton and does survey work in the Fort McMurray oil sands, was originally spooked when the incident happened.

    "When I heard the noise, my stomach jumped up into my throat," he told The Huffington Post B.C. in an email.

    "A million things ran through my head at once: (Is the plane going to de-pressurize? What part of the wing did it come from? Is the wing breaking apart? How strong is the second pane of glass? How do I put on a mask if it drops down?) But ... I got up quietly told the flight attendant what had happened."

    The flight attendant came over and then called the pilot, who said it would be fine until landing because the cabin was pressurized, Langlois explained in his Reddit post. The pilot added that he had never seen such a thing happen in more than 25 years of flying.

    "Air Canada, the pilots, and the crew all handled it professionally and were very reassuring," he told HuffPost B.C.

    Air Canada confirmed to The Daily Mail that a one-inch bolt on the Dash 8 plane came loose and struck the outer acrylic window pane, causing a small hole. However, the interior pane was not affected.

    A spokesperson wrote:

    ''There was no emergency declared and the aircraft landed safely and without incident. This is a highly unusual incident and our maintenance personnel in Vancouver have inspected the aircraft and are making the necessary repairs. We do apologize to our passengers for any concern that this incident may have caused."


    Earlier this month, a propeller from an Air Canada Jazz flight reportedly snapped off and smashed through the cabin wall, missing an Alberta woman's face by inches.

    The plane, headed from Calgary to Grande Prairie, made an emergency landing in Edmonton.

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    TORONTO - Canada's busiest airport has adopted an "enhanced" winter operations plan to better meet the needs of its passengers.

    The new plan for Toronto's Pearson International Airport comes after a deep freeze in January triggered a partial shutdown that slowed travel for days.

    The Greater Toronto Airports Authority says the airport has new snow removal equipment and "warming stations" for outdoor employees.

    Improvements have also been made to aircraft traffic management programs to allow for a better balance between airport capacity and demand during adverse weather.

    The airport is also focusing on improving communications with passengers through updates via terminal screens and its website, as well as a new mobile app.

    The airport will ensure passengers who face extended delays during severe winter weather will have access to "essential items" like water or diapers.

    Pearson declared a so-called "ground stop'' on Jan. 7 this year after wind chill readings hovered around the -40 C mark, causing hundreds of flights to be cancelled.

    Thousands of passengers slept at the airport and there were mountains of luggage waiting for pick-up.

    The GTAA said at the time that the decision was made because of how the cold was affecting equipment and to minimize time outdoors for employees.

    It later apologized for the delays.



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    Sorry, Toronto, you no longer rank with the best.

    That's the message from new rankings by the New York-based Reputation Institute, which placed Toronto second among the world's most reputable cities last year, only to drop it out of the top 10 this year.

    Vancouver, however, clambered its way back into the top 10 after falling out completely in 2013, while Montreal was new to the elite class of global cities.

    reputable cities

    The institute devises its rankings by looking at factors such as "advanced economy, appealing environment and effective government," according to its 2014 report.

    When evaluating an "advanced economy," it considers performance indicators such as whether the economy is "technically advanced," is primed for future growth and "offers a favourable environment for doing business."

    An "appealing environment" is decided by looking at whether the city is physically beautiful, whether it has great options for dining, sports and entertainment, and whether well-known "artists, scientists, inventors, writers, athletes and politicians" make their home there.

    Finally, an "effective government" must be run by "well-respected leaders," it must oversee "adequate infrastructure" such as transportation and public services, and it has to administer a "safe environment for visitors and residents."

    The institute came up with its data by interviewing over 19,000 people in G8 countries, in cities that had large populations, strong gross domestic product and heavy tourism.

    Reputations were scored out of 100. Vancouver, the seventh-ranked city on the list, had a score of 74.8 points, while Montreal, 10th on the list, had 73.1 points.

    Toronto declined by 8.6 points from last year's survey, leaving it with 70.9 points but still ranking it among "Cities with a Strong Reputation" (between 70 and 80 points).

    Check out the world's 25 most reputable cities:




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    vancouver snow

    Metro Vancouver and B.C.'s South Coast woke up to snow in the ground for the first time this season.

    About two to five centimetres of the white stuff fell in the Vancouver area.

    A multi-vehicle crash closed the eastbound lanes on the Trans-Canada Highway near Gaglardi Way in Burnaby on Saturday morning, backing up traffic.

    burnaby crash

    Snow and ice are also being blamed for several crashes including Highway 99 at Highway 91 in Delta which was shut down for a few hours, reported CBC News.

    ​Arctic outflow warnings — when wind chill values of up to -20 degrees Celsius are possible — are in effect for the Eastern Fraser Valley and Whistler.

    On Friday, Vancouver's Seawall was closed between English Bay and Lumberman's Arch after high winds sent waves and logs onto the walkway. Crews repaired some damage to the pathway and reopened it on Saturday.




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    When you think of cities, you probably picture tall buildings, neatly curated parks, and wide congested streets. You don’t really think of labyrinths and underground paths. Yet Canadian cities contain many of these hidden treasures, just waiting to be explored.

    From Buddhist temples in the greater Toronto area, to secret labyrinths in Vancouver, we list some of the best experiences hiding in plain sight in your city.



    The Toronto Public Labyrinth, Toronto, Ontario

    There is a labyrinth right next to the Eaton Centre in downtown Toronto. It’s located in Trinity Square Park and was created by the Labyrinth Community Network. Walking in and out of the labyrinth will take you about 20 minutes, and in the tradition of labyrinths (unlike mazes, labyrinths have no dead ends), the journey down a single twisted path is supposed to lead you towards an answer you’ve been searching for. The Labyrinth Community Network sponsors four free walks with live music per year.

    Fo Guang Shan Temple of Toronto Buddist Temple, Mississauga, Ontario

    This Buddhist temple is a fantastically-constructed slice of Asia that has become part of the Mississauga landscape. It offers marriage and funeral ceremonies, tours and Dharma services. Anyone who is interested in learning and celebrating the Buddhist religion are welcomed to attend the services. The tea shop (with all proceeds going to the temple’s upkeep) comes highly recommended!

    Vancouver Island Labyrinths, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

    If you’re in the mood for meditation and mindfulness, there are more than 50 labyrinths on Vancouver Island. You can go on a self-directed tour or on a guided group tour. The labyrinths are made of grasses, trees, and even flowers! They all work together to promote a mindset of peace and patience.

    Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, Vancouver, British Columbia

    This garden is right in the heart of Vancouver, and it serves as a pleasant surprise when you leave the busy roads and end up in this colourful and peaceful space. The garden’s stated mission is “to maintain and enhance the bridge of understanding between the Chinese and Western cultures, to promote Chines culture generally, and to be an integral part of the local community.”

    The garden was built in 1985, using the principles and techniques of a Ming dynasty garden. Canadian and Chinese craftsmen worked together to create this garden. If you visit, be sure to walk the halls — they were built without the use of nails, screws or glue.

    Fortifications of Quebec, Quebec City

    The walls surrounding Old Quebec City make this city the only fortified city in North America. The walls are made of grey brick and they hold cannons, loopholes, a star-shaped citadel and an artillery park.

    Inside the walls is Old Quebec City, a place of restaurants, shops, bed and breakfast inns and a lot of history.

    The Centre Island Maze/William Meany Maze, Toronto Islands, Toronto, Ontario

    The Toronto Island/William Meany Maze was a tradition but neglect led to the uprooting of the trees in 2011. A recent donation from businessman William Meany means that the maze will soon be reopened for business. The original maze was mapped out by landscape designer Peter Vanderwerf.

    Volunteers replanted 1,200 black cedars from a local nursery this year and fenced them off so that the trees can grow, creating the actual “walls” of the maze. That means the maze will be open in 2015 for anyone interested in getting seriously lost.

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    Every now and again a parent needs a time out. What I would give some days to have someone tell me to go sit in a quiet corner and think, quietly, to myself. Puh-lease!! And some days I want to hop on a plane, husband in tow, and just get away from the hectic demands of modern family and work life and just sit on a beach, basking in the sun and remembering for a moment what it's like to be an adult, among adults, footloose and fancy-free without the constant demands of parenting. And then I'm jolted awake by the shriek of children in armed battle over the last chocolate chip muffin.

    Through the years my quick fix has been to plan, pack and play. My "thing" (my blogs and articles known affectionately as WEplusTHREE...or more) has been focused on finding and planning fun family getaways with extended family and friends to see, explore, experience, bond....and somehow, relax. Now there's a concept. But the time had come for the WE in our equations to take some time away from the THREE, a TIME OUT if you will, and plan for a couples getaway. What we lovingly dubbed our We MINUS Three Getaway.

    Don't get me wrong, when the kids were younger the idea of a couples getaway was not only unconscionable to me but unrealistic -- three kids is a lot to coordinate, or expect anyone to handle. Now that the kids are a bit older (tweens and a near-teen) we decided the timing was right for us to take some time to reconnect -- we needed it and they needed it. NOT that we don't love or want to be around our kids but adults need the chance to be adults and get to experience and enjoy a getaway without scheduling kids activities, prioritizing nap time, limiting sun time, life jackets, kids clubs, early dinners...and the list goes on.

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    Taking a TIME OUT

    I'll be honest, we left to a chorus of "that's not fair' and "but what will you do without us??" Ummmm, let me see.... a lot! Once we decided we were going to do this, we knew we wanted to do it right. After some research and much recommendation we decided on Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island in the Bahamas at The Cove. The Cove is an adult only resort catering to couples and singles who want to vacation in class. Their private beach club CAIN boasts infinity pools with lounging beds, private two-room cabanas offering separate showers and butler services and do you hear that.....No? Peaceful, kid-free relaxation.

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    Now, with all the resorts out there, why did we choose Atlantis?

    The Cove is a 600-room private adults-only resort located within Atlantis, Paradise Island. Overlooking a peninsula with views of spectacular beaches, it is open and airy, a mix of fine wood, slate and stone nestled into the natural brocade of its subtropical environment. Rivulets flowed along and through the walkways, filled with aquatic life. If you meditate, this would be a dream location for you, there is a peaceful niche to sit and reflect at every turn.

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    The open walk-ways are situated in such a way that warm breezes guide you through the lush tropical waterscapes that line your path to and from the main resort. On our short walk up to reception that first day, our bodies relaxed and our breathing slowed, subconsciously responding to the calm serenity that this resort's architects designed it to infuse. Even during the stormy weather on our second day, we were sheltered from the rain but felt the warm moist air breezing by. As a Canadian I loved how the warm moist air felt on our arms and face, a pleasant reprieve from the cold, especially with our oft-covered arms and shoulders. The entire look and feel was sophisticated spa, not exactly the type of place we'd head with the kids, but perfect for setting the scene for a relaxing and restorative weekend away.

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    We settled into our over-sized guest room with an ensuite to rival any other (and about as big as my master bedroom at home). The room was airy, and remarkably fresh for a tropical island. There was no hint of must or mildew, which was quite noticeable when you stepped foot into the airport. The decor is elegant Caribbean and very welcoming. We didn't feel out of place or too posh. With balconies on all sides of the hotel offering majestic views of the ocean, coffee on the balcony first thing in the morning in our plush robes became a must do. Ok, maybe we were a little posh. But nothing beats a fresh island breeze with limitless views and time on our side.

    How did we make it work?

    1. Location, Location, Location. Paradise Island is within a three-hour flight from our home in Toronto -- not too far and easily a direct flight with no layovers, and lots of flight options.

    2. Destination. Bahamas is as safe and secure as home with no food or sanitary concerns. You can drink the water from the taps and have full access to American/Canadian grade medical assistance.

    3. Short Getaway. Atlantis is famous for their two or three night vacations which make a getaway manageable for you, your kids and their (saintly) caregivers.

    4. Caregivers. Great family and friends offered to take the kids as a single unit which made it easier for us to consider this rendevous knowing they were all together. Taking on three kids for a week is an imposition for anyone, but 72 hours just seems doable....so the saints tell me.

    5. Timing. Sometimes planning is everything. We went over a long weekend, leaving Friday and returning on a holiday Monday. We left after the kids were at school so our friends only had the kids after school and never had to worry about drop-offs, lunches, activities, etc.

    6. Cost. Here is where we paid for peace of mind, convenience and luxury. Atlantis is not an inexpensive vacation but there are lots of promotions and deals out there. Once you experience the luxurious amenities and life experiences you quickly realize the value.

    7. Tips and Tricks. We planned our meals -- sort of. Not wanting to stress over the cost of meals, our first two breakfasts in our room -- oatmeal in a cup with some added nuts and dried fruits. Our last morning we indulged in the buffet breakfast at Mosaic Restaurant located in the lobby of The Cove. Lunches were out at the pool side restaurants which were reasonable for a resort and came with American-sized portions. We brought granola bars, fruit, cookies and pretzels for snacks and carried water bottles which helped save on costs and hangovers. We splurged on our dinners, dining at world-class restaurants like Nobu and Mesa Grill.

    Atlantis is a remarkable resort. Part 5 star beach-front resort, part water park (Aquaventure is the largest and most amazing water park in the Caribbean much less anywhere), part casino, part aquarium, part conservation grounds and all tropic playground. Our three-night four-day stay was not going to allow us to do everything, but it was going to give us a taste for the endless possibilities. The most important thing we were able to do was take time to play, freely, to date, freely, and to be, freely. But more on our adventures in Part 2: Scheduling a Play Date in Paradise.

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    In Part 2 we'll share our amazing adventures and a bucket-list worthy plunge that will go down for the ages. You can check out Atlantis's getaway deals and promotions at: www.atlantisbahamas.com

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    I'm a bit taken aback when the "queen of the check list" confesses her dislike for travel bucket lists.

    "There are people who collect passport stamps," says Patricia Schultz, author of the best-selling 1000 Places to See Before You Die. "Can you really say you 'saw' a whole country during a 12 hour layover?"

    It took eight years for Schultz to pen the ultimate travel bucket list, 1000 Places. Before it hit the stands in 2003, no one thought that this book would go on to sell three million copies and make the #1 New York Times bestseller. Now, there's even a TV show based on the book, airing on the Travel Channel.

    So what gives? Are bucket lists just a load of bullshit?

    Not exactly. Instead, Schultz recommends making travel plans that correspond with fulfilling a lifelong dream or exploring countries meaningfully.

    "It's worth going back to countries and finding what thrills you," she says. "Or to finally visit something you've longed to see since you were nine years old."

    Wise words to at least consider, especially since Forbes named Schultz one of the most influential women in travel. Now, Schultz is on a four-city Canadian tour to talk about her love of travel and share her favourite European places to visit. The series is in partnership with Trafalgar, a popular tour operator that's unveiling its Europe & Britain program for 2015.

    From the Toronto event, here's what Patricia Schultz had to share about her 25 year career as a travel writer, and her advice about bucket lists, tourist traps, and travelling solo:

    How did you get the idea for the book?

    I've been writing travel guides since 1985. Somewhere along the way, I got the idea for 1000 Places. In 1995, I met with a publisher, Workman, who loved my idea of compiling things to see around the world. He gave me the carte blanche to go ahead.

    It took eight years to finish the book, with the first two just being research. Of course, "the best of" -- restaurants, South America, and so forth -- had been written before. But no one had done anything so global, about wonders of the world. I tried to wrap my head around it. After talking with my publisher, my first thought was: what have I just agreed to? It was such a daunting task.

    How did you choose what to include as "must see" places?

    I went with my gut for a lot of it. Are these the only 1000 places to see in the world? Absolutely not. These are 1000 favourite places, but it may not strike a chord with everyone. You may not agree, but you can at least appreciate why it caught my fancy.

    What's the reaction to the book been like?

    The reaction has stunned us. Over 4 million copies sold and 24 language translations. But what's really surprising? It's eleven years later and the book is still being printed.

    With global warming and climate change, are there any places that people should see right now before they disappear?

    The whole concept of this book is around the fragility of our lives. But there are no guarantees that any of these places will survive. And it's not just global warming. I was in Syria years ago; and now it's being destroyed by the war. There are sites that people will never get to see in that country.

    It just takes one military coup d'état or an earthquake, and it's all over.

    Travel isn't a material object that is tangible, that you can hold in your hands. How do you respond to those who say travel is a waste? Should people make travel a priority and what's the value?

    Travel is the only thing you can buy that makes you richer. It's educational -- it's the people you meet, not just the sites visited. I understand now that my college education was just the foundation for learning.

    Mark Twain is quoted as saying, "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness." You are not the same person when you return from travelling. Even if a trip didn't go as planned or you had a negative experience -- there's still something of importance to take away.

    Some people are saving up to travel much later in life; others are diving in right now, forgoing office jobs and opting for gap years abroad. Any advice for travellers fall somewhere in between and aren't sure what to do?

    We live on a bet that we'll have time and health down the road to pursue travel. But what guarantees that? You don't need to look far to be reminded that life is precious. You may only save a few dollars at a time, but it's something towards seeing Norway's fjords. Just make it happen, and start travelling sooner rather than later.

    Any tips for spotting a tourist trap?

    Should we avoid them? I say no. I actually get off on the excitement of people around me. Instead, try to look beyond the crowds, and find your own way to see a tourist attraction. Navigate when to see something like the Taj Mahal - such as going on a full moon.

    Any tips for women contemplating solo travel?
    I've travelled solo before. I had to go it alone while writing travel guides and 1000 Places. I felt really lucky -- it was very special and empowering. I relied on the kindness of strangers, and I was never disappointed.

    But I also recognize that some destinations aren't as safe for solo travel, especially for women. For that, there are many tour companies that offer group trips designed for the independent traveller. It's far easier and more manageable to travel to certain locations this way.

    Just know yourself, and recognize what you need before you leave on a trip.

    For more travel ideas and advice, mosey on over to Eat Drink Travel Magazine.

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    For the second consecutive year, a ski chalet in Revelstoke, B.C. has been named the best in the world.

    Bighorn lodge won the title of "World's Best Ski Chalet" from the 2014 World Ski Awards, which started last year.

    Gorgeous and cozy, Bighorn boasts an outdoor hot tub, a cinema, and a spa. Revelstoke, located in B.C.'s Kootenays, is known for its heli-skiing (where a helicopter takes you to unparalleled and hard-to-access ski terrain).

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    Ski industry professionals (tour operators, agents, senior executives, travel buyers, and media) as well as the public vote on the awards.

    Other notable winners include France's Val Thorens for best ski resort, Utah's Stein Eriksen Lodge for best ski hotel, and Japan's The Vale Niseko for best ski boutique hotel.

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    Out with the old and in with the new — at least for a while, anyway.

    Nearly two months after Gastown's famous steam clock was removed for repairs, the corner of Water and Cambie streets in Vancouver is complete once again, revitalized with a 27-foot tall piece of public art.

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    The “Make it Rain” tower, designed by local architects Jennifer Newsom Carruthers and Tom Carruthers, is a snazzy addition to the Gastown aesthetic. The creation is covered entirely in a mirror-like material that reflects cars whizzing by on one side and the flurry of pedestrians on the other.

    It also makes good use of the original base, spitting out steam periodically just as the clock did.

    The massive tower was designed to fill the void left by the clock until its return — but the couple needed a little financial boost to bring the project to life.

    They started a Kickstarter campaign in November, reaching their $19,530 goal in just eight days. The couple was able to move forward quickly, and the tower was up within the next 10 days.

    It’s the second time this year that Vancouver’s public art scene has benefitted from crowdfunding. Over the summer the Vancouver Biennale used an Indiegogo campaign to help fund a huge painted mural on Granville Island by Brazilian duo OSGEMEOS.

    The Gastown steam clock is expected to return by mid-January. When that happens, the couple would like to re-locate the tower to another part of the neighbourhood.

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    Oh, hello, there! Need something to fantasize about on this fine day? Let us direct your attention to this Whistler estate home for sale.

    On the market for $2.9 million, this 4,100 sq.-ft. property is located on a large, quiet bluff in Jordans Landing and boasts amazing views of Nita Lake, according to realtor Maggi Thornhill.

    The home's rich wood surfaces, high ceilings, and large windows give it a warm and open atmosphere. The dining room seats 14 (start planning that housewarming!) and features an 18-foot concrete and wood fireplace. There's a pool room with wet bar, five bedrooms, a gourmet kitchen, and ample patio space complete with hot tub and masonry fireplace.

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    Owners will also have access to a bridge that takes them from the neighbourhood right into the Whistler Creekside Village. Located seven kilometres from the main Village, Creekside was the original base of Whistler Mountain and home to the first gondola.

    How's that for convenience?

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    (H/T Luxury BC)

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    You shall not pass!

    Unless you’re North Vancouver student Bianca Poroliseanu, then you can come to Middle Earth, watch the uncut version of the newest “Hobbit” movie, and meet director Sir Peter Jackson.

    Poroliseanu, 20, won the opportunity of a lifetime through a contest held by Warner Brothers to promote “The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies,” set to be released in Canada on Dec. 17.

    But one does not simply walk into such a prize. The Capilano University student had to create a video, among other tasks, to demonstrate how she was one of the biggest “Hobbit” fans in the world and to set her apart from 140,000 international entries.



    Poroliseanu, who is known in her motion arts picture program as “the 'Lord Of The Rings' girl,” had her work cut out for her. She saw the first LOTR movie when she was eight years old (and re-enacted it in her backyard with her cousin), leading to a lifelong love of the characters and storylines created by author J.R.R. Tolkien in his fantasy books.

    “I've loved it and just the world of filmmaking has been a huge passion for me since then," she told The Huffington Post B.C. over the phone.

    "And I was really intrigued watching all of the behind-the-scenes of the 'Lord Of The Rings' and that’s what pretty much sparked by desire in becoming a filmmaker."

    Poroliseanu’s passion and fan knowledge obviously got through to a judging panel; she was the only Canadian fan chosen to fly to New Zealand, along with 74 other winners from around the world. The dream prize trip, which included visiting places where the “LOTR” and “Hobbit” films were shot, was valued at more than US$15,000.

    For a week in November, Poroliseanu embarked on an experience any LOTR fan would kill for.

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    The winners were greeted with a traditional Maori welcome upon arrival at Rotorua, but the trip didn't hit Poroliseanu until the group visited Hobbiton, the home of the Hobbits in the Jackson-directed movies.

    “I got really emotional as well everyone else that was there too. We were all crying,” said Poroliseanu. “It was the first moment that it really hit us. We’re on this amazing trip that nobody else is ever going to be able to do. It was truly a privilege.”

    But the tears didn't end there.

    The fans made their way to the Green Dragon Inn, frequently visited by the characters in the movies. Poroliseanu got the chance to open up the curtains to reveal the rest of the pub, and as she did, the fans were surprised to see four of the actors that played dwarves in the series.

    “My brain exploded and I didn't know how to react so I just started crying.”

    Poroliseanu had to hang on to those tissues, because the fans then watched the uncut version of “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” — with director Peter Jackson.

    “As soon as he walked in the room everybody stood up and I just started crying again,” Poroliseanu said. “To see him in real life — it was a privilege. It’s not an experience I’ll ever take for granted.”

    Jackson stuck around after the screening for a Q&A and to sign autographs, something Poroliseanu said was the highlight of the trip. (She's actually heading back to New Zealand in February to continue her studies as part of Capilano University’s study abroad program.)

    So how was the highly anticipated movie?

    Poroliseanu said it was fairly true to the book and is a great way to conclude the series. But she didn't reveal any spoilers.

    “I can tell you that there are some really awesome dwarves, and some elves, and a battle. There’s maybe a battle,” Poroliseanu told HuffPost B.C. “It’s an emotional rollercoaster.”

    However, she said she noticed one continuity error that she hopes the editing team will fix. She is a future filmmaker, after all.

    CORRECTION: A previous version of this story stated that the trip was valued at US$75,000. In fact, it is valued at roughly $15,000.

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    VICTORIA - BC Ferries says its customers should be able to reserve trips like they would book airline tickets and hotel rooms and receive discounted fares online at off-peak travel times.

    Company president Mike Corrigan said Wednesday that the service has submitted a plan to BC Ferry Commissioner Gord Macatee as part of a cost-cutting operation to reduce the pressure on potential fare increases.

    He said the Fare Flexibility and Digital Experience Initiative will modernize how BC Ferries sets prices, markets travel, manages loads and discounts fares at off-peak travel times through e-commerce and information-and-technology upgrades.

    Corrigan said fare discounts haven't been determined, but the current reservation-fee system will be dropped for customers who book online, while travellers who arrive at the ferry terminal without booking will pay more.

    "When people book, the beauty will be they have certainty of travel," Corrigan said. "They will go online, they will plan, book and pay online and when they show up at the ferry terminal it will just be confirmation that they've done so and they will travel aboard the ferry."

    Currently, ferry customers arrive at terminals and wait in line to pay with cash or credit cards. Customers who purchase a reservation prior to arrival are placed in a separate line where they are guaranteed a spot on a specific ferry sailing.

    "We actually want to reverse that model and do what other companies are doing and basically have everybody pre-pay," said Corrigan.

    "Some airlines and other companies have 95 per cent to 98 per cent of their transactions paid for before their customers even show up. That's where we want to get to."

    He said the plan, which won't be ready until 2017, will cost up to $15 million to implement but could be paid off within three years because traffic is expected to increase by up to five per cent.

    Macatee must approve the plan.

    BC Ferries is currently undergoing an efficiency plan to cut $54 million in costs in an effort to keep fare increases in check.


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    On a recent trip to Ottawa, I fashioned a dining options hypothesis. It came the night of, let's call it, Theresa-locks and the three restaurants...

    There is a sliding scale on a continuum that begins with great food and conducive ambiance on one end and crap you can't or shouldn't put up with on the other. The hypothesis can probably be applied to any service purchase but it is particularly critical when you are entrusting your housing, time, entertainment and nourishment to others.

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    Stay

    Preferred housing in Ottawa sits on the hill. Fairmont Chateau Laurier runs deep with history and long on stunning views of the Parliament Buildings that are not only the centre of this city but also the core of Canada. For about $400 per night you can walk the hallowed halls of history where scoundrels, prime ministers and the famous have played and made change. Every exquisite detail from the wrought iron in stairwells to the exact and prompt timing of your eggs Benedict is carefully crafted. Buildings just aren't made like this anymore as each sightline sparkles with the ornate and makes for sumptuous comfort.

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    Dinner was a titch trickier. I had multiple recommendations for a bistro called Town where the food was told to be special. It may indeed be but I didn't get that far. I found the room so cramped and seating in a centre bench between two tables that were close enough to share a bread basket (and impossible not to overhear every word of conversation ). This, for me, was not the way to spend a Saturday night.

    Next was an impressive house of a resto called Beckta on Elgin. The atmosphere was special occasion dim and muted but so was the welcome. Without a reservation on a Saturday night we were told no go but we could have a seat at the bar. That seemed suitable enough while we took the time to look at the menu. Ooops! We were told, within the two minutes it took to discuss, our seats at the bar were pulled out from under us. The eve ended up with the bailout default that most people slide toward to avoid this kind of hunt, we settle for the mediocre but ok somewhere in the middle. A popular crowded chain restaurant crammed us in and overwhelmed us with just enough beer and half decent eats to make the disappointment go away but it did not float my gustatory nor ambient boat.

    Perfection vs convenience loses over hunger every time. That's my hypothesis. So for a better outcome, plan ahead, do some research, trust your inspired friends more than online reviews and make a reservation. But don't feel you have to see it through if it isn't quite right! That's the lesson. When followed my own advice, I landed at Union Local 613 on Somerset and it sparkled at the just right end of the spectrum. Ambiance, food, lighting, sound, seating and price all rolled into an ideal eve.

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    The usual things to do in Ottawa include the National Art Gallery and a tour of those hallowed parliament buildings but for an unexpected sidestep try this: Astrolab Gallery on Sparks Street and the Agriculture Museum

    Astrolab is and antique art and map shop neatly tucked away, owned and operated by a man named John for the last 45 years. A conversation with this gentleman is worth hours spent with a docent at any museum or gallery. He is informed and creative and can help you find the most unique artifact of our fair country.

    The Agriculture museum houses many buildings not the least of which is filled with tame goats.(I have a thing for goats that can't be explained in normal language.) Then there is a learning centre, experimental gardens and stroll horse and cattle barns, an energy park and lots of outdoor space in honour of that which sustains us personally and ecomonically: Food, Shelter and Information.

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