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Canada Travel news and opinion

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    It's hard to believe that less than 40 years ago Cancun was but jungle and deserted beaches. This resort town quite literally rose from the sand thanks to the enterprising Mexican government.

    By the late 1970s, the promise of tourism had attracted the prospectors, developers, hotel chains and restauranteurs who all waged a war against the tropical conditions to bring us an artificially augmented paradise. Condominiums went in like cockroach colonies, multiplying by the month.

    They worked fervently to overcome the inhospitable jungle terrain. Shortly thereafter the tourists arrived -- sun seekers and beach bums from all across North America and beyond. Bringing with them their foreign currencies and buying power.

    The hotels, resorts and gated communities evolved to give them what they wanted and expected from their packaged tours and vacation properties. The buffet lines formed, the nightly entertainment, a mockery of the local and national culture, set a certain expectation that was mimicked repeatedly until these vacations became formulaic. Soon Cancun was a hub of debauchery and budget-friendly holidays for merrymakers.

    But what lies beyond Cancun is a treat for the traveling family in search of luxurious accommodation, five star service and tropical flora and fauna. The cheerful turquoise waters beckon at the following destinations:


    For the family looking for discreet and thoughtful lodgings, opt for a sanctuary pool villa at the Banyan Tree Mayakoba. This luxury resort located down a windy cobblestone drive, amidst jungle fauna, feels miles away from Cancun and Playa Del Carmen, but that's exactly the point. Your kids will enjoy the privately chauffeured golf carts that collect guests from their rooms and the elegant boat ride to and from the beach. The walk-in closets are roomy enough to accommodate a crib so that mom and dad can bask in the luxury of the stunning bedroom privately. Spend the morning by your private piscina, sipping espresso while your kids watch cartoons on the big screen tv in the designated living room that opens onto the private pool and courtyard. If you can tear yourself away from the lounge chair, be sure to book a family cooking class led by one of the resort's celebrated chefs.


    There is something for the whole family at the Fairmont Mayakoba. Book a signature casita overlooking the lagoon, with a huge bathroom that easily accommodates a crib or rollaway cot for your little(s). Special touches will make this a memorable getaway for everyone, but your children will enjoy the miniature versions of standard hotel issue slippers and robes, fresh-baked chocolate chip muffins and milk before bed and a full-service discovery club (ages four to 12). Think epic adventures in the sacred Mayan jungle and hands-on opportunities to create locally-inspired handicrafts. Children of all ages (and mom and dad too) won't want to miss the eco tour by boat to discover all the wildlife who call this intricate channel of waters surrounding the resort home.


    Originally a coconut plantation, the elegant Maroma Belmond is the only historical property along the Riviera Maya. It's rooms and suites are all built parallel to the ocean so no guest need walk any further than 60 metres to arrive at their pristine beach front (awarded best beach by Travel + Leisure). Families will appreciate small details like the anti-chamber off the master bath that can be used to safely accommodate your littles or tweens. Also on offer are age appropriate toys for the kiddos to enjoy throughout their stay, a healthy menu created by award winning chef Juan Pablo Loza who is himself a father of three, and a bike tour through the jungle to behold the natural beauty of their 200 acres. The spa is a favorite of Condé Nast, be sure to book in for one of their unique treatments even if you are staying down the beach. Same goes for their themed evenings - taco night, mezcal tasting in the Mexican Cantina, and even a bbq beach party.


    The grand entryway definitely sets the tone for the grand property and epic stay that is sure to follow. For families in search of a luxurious and relaxing beach resort vacation, the Grand Velas is a sure bet. Part of The Leading Hotels of the World, the service and amenities are top! The family concierge is a nice touch - in charge of everything from your dinner reservations (5 restaurants to choose from) to your daily itinerary (all beach activities are complimentary) and questions around childcare (no problem, thanks to their roster of in-house, certified babysitters). The rooms are large which make accommodating a crib or rollaway cot a breeze. Plus, poolside popsicles, wine carts at dinner (chock full of every varietal you could possibly desire), and special events like a seafood beach bbq will all help to make your stay even sweeter. And speaking of sweet, your kids won't want to miss the cupcake decorating workshop hosted by some of the resort's chefs as part of the amazing roster of events held in their kids club.


    If you don't mind heading further south along the coast, you will be rewarded for your effort with an epic beach that has more of a local feel, Xbu-ha, the only stretch of coast along the Riviera Maya that has not yet been developed. Among a few properties here, you will find the ultimate hideaway, Hotel Esencia. In the former private home of an Italian Duchess, where the guiding principle is still to provide a place of leisure for nobility (or those who feel they deserve the same treatment), book a suite or villa (only 29 in total) and check-in for a memorable family escape from reality. Be sure to take your afternoon tea (complimentary) or book a babysitter so you can enjoy the sunrise yoga.


    Slightly farther afield (80 miles south of Cancun) but well worth the effort, you will find a small family-run beachside hotel that feels more like tree-house living than a resort stay. An intimate property deep in the jungle, Sueños Tulum, meaning 'dream', was and continues to be a labor of love conceived, designed, built and updated over the past 10 years by it's warm hotelier family. Along this stretch of beach, a lack of air conditioning and electricity are huge selling features to the gypset traveler attracted to this chic little beach town. At night, fall asleep to the sound of the crashing waves from your perch in the trees. With bamboo shades on the windows, the morning light will peek through to rouse you at dawn, just in time to take in a glorious sunrise with a steaming cup of coffee. With several friendly dogs on the property and lots of beach toys for your kids, this is the perfect place to unplug and reconnect as a family.

    You can see some of our family photo album from our Riviera Maya frolicing on the blog.

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    Family Day is right around the corner and is, of course, all about spending time with loved ones and taking advantage of the long weekend. What better way to do that then to take a quick mini-vacation!

    I checked our most popular domestic destinations for the coming Family Day weekend and wasn't surprised to see that many Canadians are planning to travel to popular nearby destinations. With prices around $75/night, it's the perfect time to head to the city and spend the weekend concentrating on one thing--spending time with loved ones. No chores, no appointments, just family.

    Here's a look at the top five most popular domestic destinations over the holiday weekend, along with some fantastic things to do in each city.

    Toronto - $60/night average

    As the country's largest city, it's no surprise that Toronto is the most popular destinations for this three-day weekend. The city offers a wide variety of affordable activities the whole family can enjoy together and is a great place to spend the long weekend. The weekend-long Family Fun Fest in Downsview Park is the perfect place to entertain those of all ages with more than 30 rides, activities and attractions including jumping castles, giant slides and carnival games. Also, over the short holiday many families choose to travel with their pets -- Family Day at Purina PawsAway Winter Funderland on the waterfront is a great place to bring your four-legged friends.

    Montreal - $75/night average

    I'm a huge fan of skiing with my family! Montreal offers some of the best snow sports in Canada. Grab your skis, snowboard, or sled and head to one of Montreal's magical ski resorts. If you're looking to escape the cold, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is the perfect way to warm up while taking in the arts.

    Ottawa - $86/night average

    Ottawa is another great place to celebrate the last of winter sports during this three-day weekend. Fishing is a great family activity and spending the day on the ice with Ottawa River Guided Fishing is even more rewarding when you enjoy a lunch of fresh fish you caught yourself! After a day on ice hot chocolate and freshly baked treats are a great way to warm up after a long day of outdoor activities with the family. I'm a fan of adult spiked hot cocoa and a movie by the fire to end the day.

    Niagara Falls - $62/night average

    Niagara Falls is obviously known for its beautiful waterfalls but also offers many fun options for locals and travellers alike and some big hotel savings. With a climate controlled Ferris wheels, indoor waterparks, butterfly conservatories and Family Fun Day at the Niagara Falls History Museum you'll soon forget that it's the middle of winter. Don't forget to check out Winterfest 2015, where the kids can learn wilderness skills and make crafts while enjoying a hotdog by the campfire.

    Halifax - $77/night average

    Halifax is arguably one of the snowiest destinations on this top five list, but you can take advantage of great savings in this winter wonderland. The city offers sleigh rides for the whole family at Hatfield Farms, and visitors can warm up at Neptune Theater, which offers a mix of new hits and adored classics that attract up to 80,000 visitors a year.

    *Average prices mentioned above are based on hotel bookings made on on January 28, 2015 for travel between 2/14-2/16/15.

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    When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. When Whistler gives you slush, wear a wetsuit.

    Poking fun at (and having fun with) the poor snow conditions in Whistler, a group of skiers and snowboarders donned some unusual gear and hit the slushy slopes. In a video posted to Vimeo, the group slip-slide around the water to the beachy tune of "Surfin' Safari."

    It hasn't been the whitest of winters on B.C.'s mountains. Cypress Mountain closed earlier this week due to lack of snow, and Grouse Mountain recently issued an open letter to Mother Nature asking for a snowfall.

    Until things get back to normal it looks like it's surf's up, snow dudes.

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    Richmond, B.C. is busier than usual around February as the suburb buzzes with families celebrating Chinese New Year at any number of its fine restaurants.

    The Canadian city with the largest Chinese population obviously boasts some superb Chinese cuisine, but Richmond's dining landscape is much, much more than that.

    To navigate the best of Richmond's more than 800 restaurants, we rounded up some insiders for their expertise.

    First we turned to activist, athlete, and longtime resident Rick Hansen; he and his wife raised their three daughters in Richmond. It's also where his foundation, which helps people with disabilities, is based. Hansen said he has many favourite restaurants in Richmond and Steveston, where he recently moved.

    His criteria? They must have great food and, of course, be wheelchair accessible!

    rick hansen

    And no one knows the newest and best restaurants in Richmond better than The Three Gourmigos. Deborah Moore, William Ho, and Kim Bosco Mo may each host different programs for Fairchild TV and radio, but their love of food brings them together. The social butterflies can be relied on to sniff out the most notable dishes in the city.

    three gourmigos

    Lastly, we asked Bhreandáin Clugston, who has been editor of The Richmond Review since 2000 — so it's safe to say he knows a thing or two about hidden gems in the city. Though he admits he hasn't been to every Richmond restaurant, he agreed to share a few of the eateries he visits most often.

    Check out their picks for best Richmond restaurants:

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  • 02/15/15--22:55: Simply Put, Portland Rocks
  • A weekend in Portland, Oregon, provides a thorough winter escape -- mild weather and a whole different attitude await.


    stay: Cool hotels abound in Portland, like the Ace, where the second floor has a cabinet-nook full of notes to rifle through and read, or the Caravan, where your room is a tiny house. Or, nab an airbnb full of records and gnarly cacti, with hosts who'll tell you what's up in their town.

    start: Orient/lubricate yourself with a brewery bike tour from Pedal, which will cascade you down boardwalks, over and under Willamette-spanning bridges and to breweries like Burnside (cedar IPA plus a fried-cauliflower snack) and Cascade, which specializes in sour brews and has plentiful outdoor seating perfect for enjoying unseasonable warmth (try tart fruit beers in flavours like fig and elderberry). Your guide's gluten-free, so pit-stop at Groundbreaker to share a pint brewed from chestnuts and sample the vanilla coffee cream pale ale (it's a beer frappuccino). If you're not drinking beer in Portland, you're drinking coffee. Try Case Study or Heart, where we wanted to cosy up and write in our notebook but were cowed by a neighbour writing on a napkin. Portland, 1.

    shop: Portland's citywide ethos of good taste and character makes for truly fun shopping, with spots like Solestruck, which feels like a contemporary museum of footwear coolness, and Frances May, which stocks a dreamscape of niche-luxe labels (Raquel Allegra, Opening Ceremony, Common Projects). Those who like to hunt vintage in the wild will thrive at House of Vintage but, if you prefer to choose from a cut of the best, go to Vintalier, where we found a black leather pencil skirt for $40.

    Reading Frenzy is a cute li'l bookshop counterpoint to the heart-stoppingly well-stocked Powell's, and Cacao chocolatiers provides ritzy sweets (refuel with peanut butter-salt-milk chocolate bars by Alma). For Pacific Northwestern stylings, visit Tanner Leather Goods and Danner (gorgeous Portland-made hiking boots); the latter's tucked into the Union Way Shopping Arcade, where you'll also find Spruce Apothecary, the world's most assiduous beauty boutique, that's collaborated with Portland perfumers Imaginary Authors to create Mosaic, a unique fragrance that smells mineral-y and fresh, like a spa in the Alps.


    eat: Promise to eat prodigiously in Portland. Moroccan chicken breakfast hash at Tasty n Sons is a heap of roasted cauliflower, potatoes, red pepper and green olive. Soul food like biscuits with gravy and fried chicken piled over waffles make Screen Door a priority. For a causal-cool dinner, go to Mexican joint ¿Por Que No?, where ceviche and tacos are served in a colourful atmosphere, or Fuego de Lotus, a Venezuelan ex-food cart with primo arepas.

    Our top suggestion, though, is new Russian restaurant Kachka. The room's not kitschy, but warmly babushka-ish, and the food is phenomenal. Try the farmer's cheese, the fried cherry dumplings and julienned black trumpet mushrooms atop potatoes Anna. Dill-laced chicken Kiev is a luscious cascade of butter over buckwheat, and there are four kinds of caviar and five kinds of pickles. Sip the Baba Yaga cocktail, which uses chamomile-infused vodka, and eat oreshki cookies, shaped like walnuts and filled with caramel, for dessert. You might cry.

    nightlife: With more than 1,700 bottles and bartenders willing to whip up bespoke drinks based on your ambiguous preferences ("floral tastes and campfire and grapefruit"), Multnomah Whiskey Library will do for a post-dinner quench. Never been to a strip club? Sassy's is entry-level: neat and friendly with dancers who pick tracks by Kendrick Lamar. We caught local bands Grandparents and Fox & the Law at Alberta Street Pub, which has a great bar/patio/music hall trifecta going on. End late at the perfectly divey, 1950s-vibing Florida Room, where there are pinball machines and pool tables and a black-and-white photo booth to make DIY souvenirs with your new friends.

    Even with that litany of glorious eats and activities, ultimately it's Portland's super-warm populous that'll have you coming back. --Adrienne Matei

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    On the last part of our U.S. road trip (see Escape Route to Florida #1 and #2) we tuned into country music, Southern rap, and two different cities:

    Raleigh, N.C.

    Raleigh was the dark horse of our trip. There's an undercurrent of excitement in the air that gives this state capital the allure of a city on the brink.

    With a mix of creative and entrepreneurial activity focused on art and design, restaurants and craft breweries, it's emerging as a go-to destination. Our friend Cathy Burrows, who shuttles between Toronto and Raleigh, had tipped us off to the art scene and suggested the perfect hotel.


    Photo: Lin Stranberg

    A great hotel
    Sometimes the difference between a good trip and a great one comes down to the hotel you stay at, and The Umstead was one of the great ones. It's like a next-gen Four Seasons that's more personal and intimate -- subtle but sumptuous décor and surroundings, ultra-chill spa (hotel-owned and operated) and VIP service that makes you stand taller and feel glad you came: "Such a pleasure to have you with us here tonight..."

    A bike ride away from Umstead Park (the hotel has bikes for guests), The Umstead is on 12 acres of woodland bordering the campus of the SAS Institute, the largest privately held software company in the world. CEO James Goodnight and his wife, Ann, have created a beautiful hotel in a natural setting and filled it with American art, from Chihuly sculptures to North Carolina pottery, that soothes and inspires.


    Photo: Lin Stranberg

    After breakfast at Herons, the hotel's main restaurant, we drove to the Duke University Chapel in Durham, then back to the North Carolina Museum of Art. We toured the admission-free permanent collection, lunched at Iris and circled back through the Rodin sculptures in the courtyard. With time running out, we skipped seeing Chapel Hill, the third triplet in the Research Triangle, and hit the streets of Raleigh.


    Art, denim and chocolate
    We passed on the craft breweries and their taprooms as we are not really beer geeks. In fact, our favourite bars are the ones made of chocolate. So we headed to Videri, the bean-to-bar factory in the Warehouse District, and watched baristas sort, grind, heat and pour fair-trade and organic cacao beans into dark and delicious chocolate.


    Photo: Lin Stranberg

    Around the corner, we visited the "non-automated jeansmiths" at the Raleigh Denim Workship + Curatory . Husband-and-wife team Victor Lytvinenko and Sarah Yarborough design the jeans, made onsite with vintage machines and denim from the oldest American mill in Greensboro. They attribute their success to Raleigh itself: "The community at large wanted this to happen. Everybody wanted it to work, and it did."


    Photo: Lin Stranberg

    Next, we dropped by Lucettegrace to pick up owner-chef Daniel Benjamin's fresh takes on traditional pastries "uniquely realized for Raleigh today."


    Photo: Lin Stranberg

    Our last stop was to see the work of regional artists like Jimmy Craig Womble at Adam Cave Fine Art. In an historic building just blocks from the capital, gallerist Adam Cave shows the work of about 25 contemporary artists. "The galleries and art in a given town can tell you a lot about the tone of creative culture there," he said. "Raleigh, which is on the rise in so many ways, draws people in the arts."

    Savannah, Georgia

    There's more to Savannah than the historic district but it's the marquee attraction -- one of the most beautiful downtown areas in the U.S.A. We wanted to stroll through it, but the last day of 2014 was closing in with chilly temperatures and gusty winds, so we took a ride with Old Town Trolley Tours instead.


    Photo: Lin Stranberg

    Founded in 1733, Savannah was America's first planned city, with a geometric layout like no other. It has 22 of its original 24 squares; at the centre of each is a statue of a governor or general from Savannah's past. The squares are like miniature parks, lined with live oak trees draped in Spanish moss, and each has a different flavour. They are ringed by restored mansions, townhouses and row houses behind wrought iron fences. The district's resident college, Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), is one of only two schools in the U.S. offering degrees in Historic Preservation.

    Despite the blustery weather, Savannah was intensely atmospheric. If we'd had more time, we'd have at least toured the Mercer Williams House described in Midnight In the Garden of Good and Evil. As it was, our only brush with the past was climbing down a narrow, centuries-old staircase that connected with the river walk and our hotel, the Savannah Marriott Riverfront.


    Photo: Lin Stranberg

    Bottoms up
    Millions of people visit Savannah each year, and New Year's Eve is the biggest blast of all. In the historic district, it's legal to drink on the go from containers 16 oz. or under. The "Up the Cup" party on the Savannah riverfront attracts huge crowds until after midnight, when a six foot to-go cup is raised with fireworks to ring in the new year.

    Before the fireworks, we watched container ships go by and enjoyed super service in the hotel's concierge lounge, admiring the retro 80s atrium charm. The Marriott Riverfront is a little dated but it works -- it's right on the Savannah river, and the staff is right on that warm Southern hospitality.

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    Most of Canada is shivering and shovelling its way through Family Day — except for British Columbia.

    B.C. celebrated its February holiday last week, and is basking in temperatures so warm that people are actually swimming...

    vancouver swimming february
    (Deep Cove, North Vancouver)

    Frolicking on beaches...

    white rock

    (Crescent Beach, White Rock)

    And not wearing socks!

    socks no socks
    (Yaletown, Vancouver)

    They're relaxing on patios...

    vancouver patio
    (Olympic Village, Vancouver)

    And enjoying the cherry blossoms in full bloom.

    cherry blossoms victoria
    (Beacon Hill Park, Victoria)

    But don't you fret, rest of Canada — gardening this early in the year, and coughing up all that cash to live in paradise, is a lot of hard work. Besides, it'll be raining again sooner or later.

    Check out more photos of "winter" in B.C.:

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    We know it's bad in Ontario with blistering windchills and major travel hurdles.

    But it's pretty awful in Atlantic Canada too, where as much as 64 centimetres of snow has fallen on some regions.

    Just take a look at some of the incredible photos shared on our Facebook page, and on social media, from people trapped (sometimes literally) by walls of snow.

    Fredericton, N.B.:

    fredericton snow

    Memramcook, N.B.:

    memrancook nb snow

    Saint John, N.B.:

    Holy snow in the back entrance! #snow #storm #saintjohn #newbrunswick #maritimes #drift #door

    A photo posted by Sherry (@theermens) on

    saint john nb snow

    Shediac, N.B.:

    shediac nb snow

    Charlottetown, P.E.I.:

    charlottetown pei

    charlottetown pei snow

    charlottetown pei snow

    charlottetown pei snow

    Dieppe, N.B..:

    More P.E.I.:

    East Gore, N.S.:

    east gore nova scotia snow

    east gore nova scotia snow

    Lunenberg, N.S.:

    More Nova Scotia:

    Tunnel or walkway? #blizzard2015 #storm #novascotia #winter #weather #wintryday #colddays

    A photo posted by ilonkavera (@ilonkavera) on

    nova scotia snow

    Newfoundland and Labrador:

    Downtown snowy streets

    A photo posted by taylorbartlett (@taylorbartlett) on

    Fleeing the #blizzard #newfoundland #canada #bonnebay #ship #see #friggincold #trawler #winter

    A photo posted by billydolphin (@billydolphin) on

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    Take a walk down Cartier Avenue in historic Québec City, and you may find yourself gazing up at an art gallery — in the sky.

    Lightemotion, a Montreal-based lighting firm that illuminates interiors and exteriors around the world, has installed a series of giant lampshades in the provincial capital's Montcalm area.

    The spectacular fixtures display images by Québecois artists Fernand Leduc and Alfred Pellan.

    Story continues below slideshow:

    The artworks are lit up using LED strips and displayed on shades that are five feet high and eight feet across, according to a news release.

    Lightemotion aimed to create a light display that would capture the "warmth of a neighbourhood life characterized by a strong community spirit." So it created an "art gallery floating in space" as part of a larger project that aims to light up major boulevards throughout the city.

    The shades are intended to give the street the "cozy warmth of a residential interior."

    "Our major challenge was to respect the soul of Cartier Avenue, while being bold enough to create a world-class project that would help make Québec City a true international winter capital," Lightemotion founder François Roupinian said in a press release.

    The firm proposed the project to The Office du Tourisme de Québec in 2013, and now it's producing it with the help of the Montcalm neighbourhood's business improvement association, as well as the city and the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec.

    The lampshades are expected to remain in place until the end of March, though it's possible to mount new art on the existing structures.

    This isn't the only spectacular display that Lightemotion has produced in Canada. Other projects have included the stunning public concourse at Montreal's Place des Arts and interior lighting at the Cosmodôme in Laval.

    The giant lampshades remind us somewhat of the "Starry Night"-inspired bike path in Nuenen, the Netherlands, a tribute to Theo van Gogh that was unveiled last year.

    We've heard word that a similar project could come to Toronto. And we can only hope that more projects like these find their way across Canada.

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    andy warhol

    Lower Mainland fans of famed artist Andy Warhol will get a chance to see some of his work up close when it displays at a downtown Vancouver warehouse.

    The pieces have never been under one roof as a collection before. Presented by MAISON AI and Revolver Gallery Beverly Hills, the exhibit's works come from the private collection of a Los Angeles businessman and The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

    "Warhol — A Different Idea Of Love" is a free pop-up exhibit featuring over 80 of the pop-art visionary's original prints and paintings.

    andy warhol vancouver

    warhol vancouver

    "To have a portrait painted by Andy Warhol carried incredible prestige and in many circles was considered the ultimate form of social validation," MAISON AI’s Christopher Dohm said in a press release.

    "The subjects of the portraits in Andy's 'Socialites' series, for example, were members of the social elite who wished to be elevated to the status of his other subjects — globally recognized icons, but Warhol did more than just iconify his subjects; he immortalized them."

    The exhibit, located in a Yaletown warehouse at 1280 Homer St., will be open to the public Monday to Saturday from March 1 to March 31.

    warhol vancouver

    warhol vancouver

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    Located in the Atlantic ocean and a short flight away from mainland Portugal, these nine islands create a world of their own. Each island is known for a colour, with the biggest one being San Miguel.


    Where to Stay
    Sao Miguel is well served with hotels. There is a hotel at almost every turn in Ponte Delgada. We, however, suggest getting away from the capital city, and venturing to a resort that we fell in love with: Caloura Resort Hotel.

    Located in a place, (Caloura is a not big enough to be called a town or a village) near Aqua de Pau (translated to water from the stick), it is the definition of a hidden gem.

    Set against the stunning backdrop of coastal bluffs, the resort offers amenities such as a pool, and fitness centre, much needed privacy, and easy access to the rest of the island.

    All year round, you can find families having picnics at the local parks, but in the summer, Caloura is a vibrant place, with travellers and locals drawn to the beautiful beaches and parks.

    For looking to stay in Ponte Delgada, we would suggest Hotel Marina Atlantico facing the marina. It has easy walking access to pretty much everything in the city centre.

    What to Do

    It's hard to narrow down everything you can do on the island. There is something to do for almost everyone, and it all depends on how much time you have to stay.

    Here are some suggestions if you have at least a few days on the island:

    A walking tour of Ponte Delgada, the capital city of San Miguel and a maze of narrow streets comprised of yellow stately facades, and white houses with black asphalt masonry known as pedra de lavoura.

    The city welcomes all newcomers through the Portas de Cidade. You'll also find Senhor Sento Cristo Church which welcomes thousands of pilgrims coming to worship God's image in the streets.

    Hiking: Nature lovers will most certainly enjoy the abundant amount of trails and lakes to discover, scattered along the volcanic island.

    Can't miss sights include the Lagoa de Fogo crater, a huge mass of water sheltered by forest and sand.

    Lagoa de Fogo is translated in English to Lake of Fire because of it's volcanic roots, and it's picturesque, blue/green waters will provide a beautiful backdrop for photos.

    Surfing: With its strong winds, you'd be hard pressed to find better surfing conditions than at Costa Norte, and Areais de Santa Barbara, on the North side of the island.

    No matter where you are on the island, you'll see people belly boarding on the coast.

    Pineapple plantation: One of the leading exports of the island, pineapples are a staple at almost every meal, but what makes it better is knowing that it takes nearly 2 years to grow each fruit.

    Be sure to visit a planation to get first hand knowledge of the entire process- a must do for all pineapple lovers!

    Tea Museum: One of the two active tea factories in all of Europe, it's amazing to see the process of making tea from start to finish.

    The tea plantation and museum is located on the hillside with a stunning view of the tea fields.

    The entire tour takes less than 30 minutes, and leaves your with a better understanding where the stuff that you drink comes from.

    Whale and Dolphin Watching: Due to the physical location of the island in the Altantic ocean, marine life can be seen close to shore so get your bingo and see how many species you can spot.

    There are dozens of species of whales, dolphins and fish, and you might even be able to spot a sea turtle.

    We suggest being the company of a marine biologist such as those working at Picos de Aventurato guide you on your quest.

    Hot Springs: Head to Furnas to find Terra Nostra- a private, natural swimming pool which is perfect for those visiting in spring, winter and fall.

    There are many natural hot springs throughout the island, so head out and soak up the minerals and get some R&R.

    Where to Eat

    There is no shortage of great restaurants on the island. Some of our favorites include:

    Cais 20 (Ponte Delgada)- A favorite among the locals, be sure to make a reservation as it fills up really quickly. We suggest trying the fried octopus, but the steamed vegetables and garlic bread make a great vegetarian alternative.

    Anfiteatro Restaurant (Ponte Delgada) - This restaurant is where students of the local culinary program come to gain practical experience. Near the harbor, it's hard to imagine a better backdrop for a restaurant, and the food is delicious.

    Terra Nostra Garden Hotel (Terra Nostra): Be sure to try the house specialty, cozidos de la portuegese.

    How to Get Around

    The public transit is amazing for an island this size - you can get pretty much anywhere on the island easily. Although if you're not into having public transit dictate your schedule, you can easily rent a car at the airport.


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    They outran an avalanche.

    They held canoe races on a frozen river.

    ice canoe race

    ice canoe race

    They went for a (mighty brief) swim beneath the ice ...

    And did gymnastics in the snow.

    They built an amazing cave ...

    And the biggest snow maze anyone has ever seen.

    They climbed (CLIMBED) Niagara Falls ...

    Dodged falling icicles to reach new heights ...

    And braved sub-zero temperatures to ride bikes.

    They strapped on skates and took on frozen streets ...

    And slept in ice hotels fit for Princess Elsa.


    A photo posted by @neha_1405 on

    Quebec and Valentines Day sounds #IceHotel #HotelDeGlace #canadaiguess #Quebec

    A photo posted by Em (@em_maserati) on

    They turned hot water into a cloud ...

    And made the most Canadian "Star Wars" spoof we've seen yet.

    When winter gave them a storm ...

    They ate #Stormchips, dammit!

    They endure an ugly season like champions, as only Canadians can.

    So hang in there, Canada! And just remember that the snow will melt away eventually.

    Brave Canadians, we salute you.

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    My earliest memories of Chinatown are of picking oranges under a red canopy, the smell of citrus staining my fingertips. A splash of fishy water on my face, as my aquatic friend and soon-to-be-dinner slaps its cold, lean body against the currents trying to escape an incoming net. The flesh of a juicy lychee on my tongue as I beg my mother to bring home a bunch -- a sweet dessert after a hot summer day in Toronto. Grocery shopping on a Sunday with my family.

    I didn't grow up in Chinatown. Neither did my mother and father. My ancestors didn't come to North America to pan for gold or build the railroad. No one in my family paid a head tax. Chinatown was just a place we visited every weekend to stock up on supplies.

    Even still, this neighbourhood, this community, this place we call "Chinatown" has become very near and dear to my heart.

    Wherever I am in the world -- whether its San Francisco, New York, Paris, Milan, Barcelona, or Vancouver -- I cannot resist its pull. Like the temptation of a juicy pork shiu mai calling to me on a hungry Sunday morning, I gravitate to this place at every opportunity.

    When I'm a tourist, I scan the constellation of roads and landmarks on a map and make certain I've set aside a day for exploring Chinatown. At home in Vancouver, my partner and I recently settled into a home within walking distance of the city's historic Chinatown so I can visit whenever I want.

    What draws me to this once-thriving but now gritty neighbourhood marred with poverty, drug use, dilapidated housing, and stinky sidewalks?

    Recently I've been having to explain myself to a lot of people, including my good friend Hanna, a recent immigrant to Canada from Beijing. Hanna told me she was so frightened by her first experience in Vancouver's Chinatown that she actually went and bought pepper spray in case she'd one day be forced to walk through the neighbourhood again.

    Vancouver Chinatown's main strip, Pender Street. (Photo by Xicotencatl)

    "It's nothing like China and it doesn't resemble Hong Kong at all," Hanna told me. "I was chased down the street by a man my first week in Vancouver. I don't feel safe there."

    I understood why she felt that way. While Vancouver's Chinatown remains a popular tourist attraction and one of the largest historic Chinatowns in North America, it has been in decline for decades ever since the Chinese community dispersed to other areas of the city.

    But I've come to see Vancouver's Chinatown very differently. Like many ethnic enclaves in North America, Chinatown is a place that enlivens my senses, sparks my curiosity, and tempts me with the promise of good food. It's a place that brings me comfort yet oddly tests my boundaries.

    I always explore Chinatown on foot, even in the rain. I say "zhou sun" (good morning) and exchange pleasantries with the aging waitresses who have been working at the same restaurant on Pender Street -- Chinatown's main strip -- for decades. My husband and I sip oolong tea and share a table full of bamboo steamers; we are the youngest people in a rabble of Cantonese-speaking seniors. I wander in and out of stores, listening to the drums rumble from the open balcony of a martial arts training centre and for the laughter of children when the doors burst open, freeing them of Saturday morning Chinese school lessons.

    By early afternoon, my two-wheeled cart is bulging with goodies when my nose leads me to a nearby café for a cup of lemon tea and a pineapple bun, a soft buttery taste of heaven baked with a crunchy yellow sugar topping.

    The next time Hanna is in Chinatown, I tell her to look up. Pender Street is lined with several storeys of historic tenement buildings. Some of them are crumbling and they are all very old, but take a look at those pillars, those balconies, those colourful facades. Aren't they beautiful? Many of them are chiseled with the year they were erected and Chinese characters tell us the names of numerous clan associations, benevolent societies, and schools.

    But what if this history isn't your history? Why should you care?

    A student at the University of British Columbia once interviewed me for a project about Chinese-Canadian history. She admitted she found it difficult to connect with stories about early Chinese migrants. Her family, like mine, had come to Canada much later and she felt unattached to the history lessons in her textbooks: Early Chinese migrants to Canada were not permitted to reside outside of Chinatown or hold professional jobs. In B.C., employers were punished for hiring Chinese workers and the Chinese were forbidden to vote in provincial elections. And in Vancouver, a curfew was imposed on the Chinese population after sundown.


    The Wing Sang building, one of the oldest buildings in Vancouver's Chinatown, is now an art gallery and office. (Photo by Marc Kuo)

    I told the student we should care because it's important to learn about the origins of community. It's important to recognize what so many before us endured, so that we can enjoy our present-day freedoms. Canada is what it is today because of them, and we need to remember that history to appreciate the present.

    Recently I took a tour of the Wing Sang Building, one of the oldest buildings in Chinatown, and learned that the Chinese built secret lane ways and tunnels so the community could continue to interact and thrive after the imposed curfew. The only curfew I was ever subject to was one set by my own Tiger Mother when I was a young student. How inconsequential my protests now seem when I think about the inequality and institutionalized racism early migrants faced.

    On a recent night, I brought Hanna to a screening of Julia Kwan's documentary "Everything Will Be" -- a beautiful film that captures Chinatown's transformation through the intimate perspectives of new and long-time residents, merchants and entrepreneurs. The screening was held at the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden in Chinatown (one of my favourite spots in the city) and when we arrived, Hanna was surprised to see such a diverse audience fill the room. Most of the people there were not Chinese.

    At the end of the screening, Kwan asked someone in the audience to share a memory of Vancouver's Chinatown with the group in exchange for a prize.

    A woman of Italian descent raised her hand and talked in vivid detail about how her grandmother liked to celebrate every single family occasion at an old restaurant in Chinatown. That restaurant has been closed for years now, the woman said, but she was left with wonderful, warm memories of a neighbourhood she considered her own.

    "You see, Chinatown isn't just for the Chinese," I told Hanna as we left the screening that night. "Chinatown belongs to all of us."


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    You know you're a hipster-road-trip-junkie nerd when you walk into the car-porn extravaganza that is the Canadian International Auto Show (CIAS) and the first vehicle that catches your attention is a Volkswagen Camper.

    That camper, part of a local 99.9 FM Virgin radio contest, is certainly not designed to compete with the heavy hitters on the floor of the Metro Toronto Convention Centre but I didn't care -- I'll always be a big fan of the VW camper. I said it two years ago and I'm saying it again today.

    Three Reasons to Love the Auto Show

    Visiting CIAS is fabulous for three reasons. First, you see vehicles like the Camper, as well as cool gadgets and concept cars that many people in your circle probably won't appreciate.

    Second, it's an outstanding tourist attraction and a must for people who love cars or even just like them a little. It doesn't hurt if you're a shameless gearhead with oily hands and lugnuts falling out of your pockets. The good news is you don't have to be a gearhead -- one of the remarkable things about this show is the number of families that show up just to see the different vehicles. It's big business. Make no mistake -- this is a show where millions of dollars are on the line, deals are made and reputations are secured. With that being said, there is something at this show for all ages and most people who come to CIAS just want to be close to the action and get a glimpse of a really cool automobile -- especially eye-catching up-and-comers like Ford's new GT1, which was unveiled at the show.

    Third reason? You can see some of the coolest trends in the industry, and there have been many over the years. One of the most important ones that has driven the market is the push for cleaner cars. CIAS is not only a splendid opportunity to get a first look at some of the environmentally friendly advances made by the automotive industry, but also a chance to check out other interesting and innovative developments.

    Canadians Demand Green Vehicles

    This year's show kicked off with the Canadian Green Car of the Year competition, where the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) announced the award's four finalists: Honda Fit, Kia Soul EV, Subaru Legacy and Toyota Camry Hybrid. The winner will be announced at the Vancouver International Auto Show in March.

    While not a finalist for the award this year, one manufacturer that has a great record for clean cars is Hyundai. Michael Ricciuto, director of product and corporate strategy at Hyundai Auto Canada, was on hand for the launch of the Tuscon Fuel Cell.

    "The Tuscon Fuel Cell, is the first mass-produced fuel-cell vehicle ever in the world, and we're launching it here in Canada this year," said Ricciuto, adding that the vehicle is only going to be sold in the Vancouver area because hydrogen fuelling is only available in that market right now. "It's incredible technology where you combine oxygen that's in our atmosphere with hydrogen, there's an electro-chemical process through the fuel cell itself that creates electricity and drives the electric vehicle."

    Story by Rod Charles, Writer. To read the full story on, click here.


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    CALGARY - Our ski hill is bigger than yours.

    It's a point that Tourism Alberta is making to American skiers who may be mistaken about the size of their slopes.

    What matters is the "relief size" of a mountain and its "wow factor," not altitude, the province's official marketing agency explains.

    "While the peaks in Colorado, for example, top out at 14,000 feet (about 4,270 metres) and ours at 11,000 feet (3,350 metres), we have more visible vertical since our valleys were carved deeper," Tourism Alberta says in a press release.

    That makes the Canadian vertical more impressive, unless you were planning to ski all the way to sea level in Colorado.

    In seeking to lure Americans to Banff-Lake Louise and Banff National Park, the agency is also highlighting the plentiful snow, advantages of being in a national park and its No. 1 selling point: the recent decline in the Canadian dollar.

    "Not only are you getting a 25 per cent discount off everything, but the colourful bills make you feel like you are paying with Monopoly money."

    Ski-and-stay packages are currently available for US$72 per person per night, Tourism Alberta says.


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    While the experiences of our fellow travellers (good and bad) can make or break some travel plans, keeping an eye out for reviews is also becoming second nature when booking a vacation. decided to use this feedback to find out just which cities around the world are keeping tourists the happiest at night.

    Based on aggregated ratings from the booking sites compared on trivago's website, the global list was dominated by Asia, but cities in Europe, Latin America, Africa, and the United States also joined the Top 10. Whether exploring an ancient city, or taking in beach-side spas and world-class street food, this eclectic mix of spectacular cities should be on every 2015 travel itinerary.

    1. Sanya, China
    Source: Alamy, Expedia

    Located at the southernmost tip of China's Hainan Island, the city of Sanya is surrounded on all sides by golden sand beaches, rugged mountains, and a tropical rainforest. Once the home of China's political exiles, Sanya has since become a popular holistic sanctuary from the choking pollution and urban grind of mainland China.

    City's average hotel rating: 86.94/100

    2. Hanoi, Vietnam

    Sino-Vietnamese pace meets French cosmopolitanism in Hanoi, Vietnam's thousand year old "city of lakes." Traffic through the Old Quarter's labyrinthian 36 streets is a chaotic dance between hawkers, pedestrians and motorbikes, but the city calms for a short time at dawn for synchronized t'ai chi on the shores of the Hoan Kiem Lake.

    City's average hotel rating: 84.76/100

    3. Sorrento, Italy
    Source: Sorrento Foundation, by C. Alfaro

    Serene Sorrento, set on sea cliffs securely between mountains and the Mediterranean, is the perfect place to look over the azure blue waters of the Bay of Naples to nearby Naples, Mt. Vesuvius, and the Isle of Capri. A gateway to the Amalfi Coast, this beautiful little resort town is dotted with lemon and olive groves and is famous for producing Italy's famed Limoncello digestif.

    City's average hotel rating: 84.70/100

    4. Fès, Morocco
    Source:, by Maman voyage

    Morrocco's independence movement was born in the streets of Fès, which is also the country's cultural and spiritual center. Visitors can visit the famous medina of Fes el Bali, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and watch old and new collide within the warren of bazaars selling everything from satellite dishes to livestock.

    City's average hotel rating: 84.64/100

    5. Suzhou, China
    Source: Shutterstock, Expedia

    Known as the "Venice of the East," Suzhou is famed for its traditional waterside architecture and Classical Gardens -- which are collectively a UNESCO Heritage Site. During the Imperial era Suzhou produced high-quality silk for the Chinese royal family, and the city's silk markets and factories still produce gorgeous handicrafts.

    City's average hotel rating: 84.54/100

    6. Cuzco, Peru
    Source:, by Pedro Szekely

    Gateway to the Sacred Valley and Peru's Historical Capital, Cuzco is a unique mix of Spanish colonial construction and ancient Andean architecture. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is set snugly between the Peruvian Andes and Amazon Basin, making it the ideal spot to begin a journey up the Incan Trail to Machu Picchu or an exploration of the Andean peaks, cloud forests, and wild raging rivers surrounding the city.

    City's average hotel rating: 84.43/100

    7. Sedona, USA
    Source:, by Wes Honeycutt

    Sedona's cooler temperature makes it a haven from the rest of Arizona's blistering heat, and a scenic respite from the hectic pace of city life. Visitors can hike Sedona's red rock canyons, slide or wade through Oak Creek in Slide Rock State Park, and explore the surrounding Verde Valley all year long.

    City's average hotel rating: 84.39/100

    8. Kraków, Poland
    Source:, by moniko moniko

    Legend holds that the city was founded by slaying a dragon, and Kraków's charming Old City -- a UNESCO World Heritage Site -- and towering Wawel Castle hint at that mythical medieval past. Known as the city of churches, Kraków is home to more than 120 cathedrals and the ancient Kazimierz, the historic Jewish quarter, which held most of the city's 90 synagogues and large Jewish population before World War II.

    City's average hotel rating: 84.23/100

    9. Dresden, Germany

    Though largely destroyed during World War II, Dresden has painstakingly restored the Baroque spires, towers, and domes that inspired the pre-war name of "Florence of the North." Visitors may walk along the bank of the Elba River to fully appreciate Dresden's striking skyline, and plan for a night on the town with an evening spent in the city's artiest district, the countercultural hub Äussere Neustadt (Outer New Town).

    City's average hotel rating: 84.20/100

    10. Dubrovnik, Croatie
    Source:, by Tambako The Jaguar

    Fans of HBO'S Game of Thrones may better recognize Dubrovnik as King's Landing, but the "Pearl of the Adriatic" is also one of the best-preserved medieval walled cities in the world. Once the capital port city of the wealthy Republic of Ragusa, the distinctive terracotta city overlooking the clear blue waters of the Adriatic is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that belongs on every bucket list.

    City's average hotel rating: 84.20/100

    Click here to view the Top 100 cities.
    The Reputation Ranking was calculated and based on 140 million hotel ratings aggregated from 31 booking sites.

    For more travel inspiration, check out our blog trivago checkin!


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    Hold onto your hats, B.C. — Drizzy is coming to town.

    The 2015 lineup for this summer's Squamish Valley Music Festival was revealed on Thursday, and headlining the event are Canadian rapper Drake, British crooner Sam Smith, and British rockers Mumford & Sons.

    Other notable names include Alabama Shakes, Porter Robinson, Of Monsters And Men, Odesza, The Kills, and Hot Chip.

    The festival, in its sixth year, takes place Aug. 7 to 9 at the Logger Sports Grounds and Centennial Fields in Squamish. Located up the beautiful Sea To Sky Highway and surrounded by mountains, the Squamish Festival is known as much for its scenery as its musical guests.

    Over 105,000 people attended the 2014 festival, which saw the event increase its size from 32 acres to 81 acres.

    See photos from last year:

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    Winter is hanging on with all its might this year. Pictures of the snow ravaged Northeast remind me that Spring is still far away.

    Wondering where to go this year to get your fun in the sun? Here are a few family friendly options that will leave you refreshed, warm and give your family memories that will last a lifetime.



    While Bali may seem like a looooong way to go, it is worth the flight. Many think of Bali as a romantic escape only, this just isn't true. It is also a very family friendly destination.


    Hiking through terraced rice paddies, learning to surf, snorkeling, exploring Hindu temples, visiting coffee and spice plantations, looking into the top of a volcano and attending cultural dances are just a few of the opportunities at your fingertips in Bali. Add in wonderful hotels, inexpensive food and the amazingly friendly Balinese and you have a family trip that you won't forget. Have questions about taking kids to Bali? Here's a post that answers all your questions!

    Mayan Riviera, Mexico


    Mexico is one of our favorite places to visit for fun and sun. It's a short flight from almost anywhere in North America and it is home to many, many all-inclusive resorts. All-inclusive resorts are great when you are traveling with children because you don't have to worry about planning or cooking meals. Most also have amazing pools and are close to the beach. We prefer to book resorts with kids clubs that are relatively small so that there are lots of activities and the walk to the beach is a short one. Two of our favorite resorts are the Azul Sensatori and Azul Beach


    While we are in Mexico, we like to get off the resort and visit one of their archaeological sites such as Coba or Chichen Itza. Another great option is to visit an adventure park like Xel-Ha for zip lining and more.



    Hawaii is on my bucket list of beach vacations. Reading all about Hawaii on Family Fun Canada last year made me want to go even more. From whale watching, lei making and boogie boarding at Ritz Carlton Kapalua Resort in Maui, to an amazing stay at The Fairmont Kea Lani Maui to living it up at the Grand Wailea, it left me yearning for Hawaii even more.

    Turks and Caicos


    Dewey and I visited Turks and Caicos in 2007 when we were expecting our little guy. We haven't been back since but it is definitely on our list of fun and kid friendly sunny getaways. Crystal clear waters and reefs that are super close to the beach means that kids and adults alike will love the easy snorkelling just offshore. There are many condo options on Turks and Caicos, but there is also an amazing Beaches all-inclusive resort which caters especially to families. In fact, here are 51 unforgettable adventures at Beaches Turks and Caicos.

    Where are your favorite places to enjoy fun in the sun with your family? I'd love to hear!

    Check out more travel posts on Merry About Town and follow our travels on Instagram.


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    cold water swimming

    When winter hits Canada, many people grab their skis or indoor gym passes and put away thoughts of taking dips outdoors. But not Marina Borodina, who continues with what she calls "year-round swimming."

    The North Vancouver woman grew up in Russia, where banya visits are popular. Like a sauna, people sit in steam baths — then cool off in cold water. They may even roll in the snow outdoors or take a plunge in icy lakes.

    “It was a normal part of healthy living,” Borodina explained in an interview with The Huffington Post B.C.

    marina borodinaMarina Borodina rolls in the snow last winter.

    In what's known as winter swimming in North America, Borodina takes a dip in Deep Cove two to three times a week with a handful of other women. She said there’s a warm-up and then they go into the water for about 30 to 50 strokes. Their outdoor swims get longer and become daily outings from May until October.

    Borodina brings a water thermometer with her and records the air and water temperatures. The coldest she’s swam in B.C. so far was December 2014 when the water was two degrees Celsius, and the air was minus two.

    Borodina sometimes posts photos of the winter swims to her Instagram account. The images were particularly striking this week when temperatures in the Vancouver area reached 10 degrees Celsius, while the rest of Canada was buried in snow and chill.

    marina borodinaBorodina has a background in holistic health and fitness. She found cold-water swimming particularly therapeutic when she moved from London, England back to Canada in 2012.

    “I found myself in a very low emotional state. I was very nostalgic. I lived there [London] almost 12 years. My kids grew up there. And that helped me immensely,” said Borodina, who had previously lived in Vancouver from 1994 to 2001.

    “This is my therapy. I go there, I do a little bit of yoga — sunshine if you're lucky — and the swim, and honestly you're good for several days."

    Winter swimming, which shocks your system, is not recommended for people with heart or respiratory conditions or high blood pressure, nor for young kids or the elderly.

    However, a study has found that suitable swimmers tend to have better memory and general well-being. Another report suggests winter swimmers are less likely to get sick.

    cold water swimmingA few other women, seen here, regularly go winter swimming with Marina Borodina.

    “I don't want to jinx it. My kids are never sick and neither am I. Same goes for the ladies who swim with me. You might have an occasional runny nose but it never goes on,” said Borodina, who likens post-swim endorphins to a “runner’s high.”

    Her two children, aged 13 and 15, are competitive swimmers who train daily indoors. But they go for outdoor dips with their mom on the weekend.

    There are other people, usually of Eastern European descent, who also cold-water swim in the Vancouver area, including some Russians in their 70s who “aren’t on social media," Borodina said.

    “If you see a group of old people in English Bay, that's them."

    But don’t get this confused with the throngs of often costumed people who show up for polar bear swims every New Year’s Day.

    “Polar bear swim is a different kind of thing. I don't like the exhibitionism,” said Borodina. "I don't believe in giant crowds of people, it has to be small. It's a holistic experience. It's stress relieving."

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    There are probably hundreds of things that go through our heads when we fly, because for most people, it may be one of the rare occasions in life when you're surrounded by complete silence.

    In the video above, Buzzfeed goes through the various common and random thoughts people have both at the airport and while on the plane. From worrying about hunting down good airport food to wondering where people are going, we learn that we're not all that unique in what we think about while in travel mode.

    But there can be plenty of negative thoughts as well. Missing luggage, flight delays, long hours of sitting and even annoying passengers are all reasons people may avoid flying in general. Others, however, may have a fear of flying, but experts suggest knowing your odds (for instance, there is an 11 million to one chance you will get into a plane crash) can make flying a lot less uneasy.

    Watch the video above to get lost in your own thoughts. And don't forget to stick around for the videos right after that, which include everything from what you think about in the shower to what goes through your head while taking a selfie.

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