Preston Travel Centre's Blog

Happy Birthday Canada! Celebrating Canada's Travel Treasures

Canada celebrates 150 years of Confederation on July 1, 2017.  Of the many celebrations, events and legacy builds taking place in Canada this year, one of our favorites is the free admission to Canada's National Parks and historic sites for the entire year.

Parks Canada is inviting Canadians and visitors from around the world to celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary at national treasures from coast to coast to coast with free admission to all Parks Canada locations.  You can order your pass online or pick up in person at certain locations.

Here is our curated collection of Canada's National Parks and historic sites and nearby experiences that might help inspire you to include the 'true North, strong and free' in your travel plans this year.

L'Anse aux Meadows

In a clever line on the Newfoundland & Labrador Tourism web site, 'even the Vikings came here to get away'. 

If you thought Columbus was the first European to reach the Americas, think again.  L'Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site and UNESCO World Heritage Site on the northern tip of the island of Newfoundland contains archeological evidence of a Viking settlement dating back to around the year 1000 – hundreds of years before Columbus and his first 1492 expedition.

Sod and wood buildings were found, with artifacts that showed the residents involved in smithing iron, knitting, weaving, and carpentry for boat building or repair. It's believed dozens of Viking men and women resided here, but harsh conditions made it unsustainable and the site was abandoned.

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While you're in Newfoundland, don't miss…Cape Spear. The rocky cliffs jutting over the North Atlantic waters make Cape Spear feel like the edge of the world – and it nearly is.  This is the eastern-most point of North America.  Standing on Cape Spear, you are closer to London, England than you are to Vancouver on the other side of the continent! 

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Old Town Lunenburg, Nova Scotia

From the harbor, the almost cartoon-bright painted houses look like an artist's interpretation of an historic town.  But it's real.  The town is both National Historic Site and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  It's considered the best surviving British colonial town on the continent, with its 18th century planned, gridiron streets, unique shops, restaurants in preserved buildings leading away from the harbor that was the focal point of rich a fishing and shipbuilding economy.

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You can still see majestic and romantic tall ships moored on the town's waterfront, and hear the stories. Especially about the fabled Bluenose. This is the homeport of the Bluenose II, the replica of the original local fishing boat that was undefeated in 18 years as a racing schooner.

While you're in Nova Scotia, don't miss: The Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo. It's a week-long event held every summer in Halifax celebrating Nova Scotia's Scottish and military traditions. It began to mark the visit of the Queen Mother to Nova Scotia for the first International Gathering of the Clans with bagpipes, highland dancers and military traditions. Hundreds of Canadian and international military and civilian performers makes it the world's largest annual indoor show; granted Royal status by the Queen.

Bay of Fundy National Park

The Bay of Fundy is the site of a record-breaking marine phenomenon, part of the UNESCO Fundy Biosphere Reserve, and a Dark-Sky Reserve.  The tides in the Bay of Fundy are the highest in the world – as high as a 5-storey building! Local Mi'kmaq folklore attributed the dramatic tides to a giant whale splashing; it's actually a result of the bay's particular shape.  The twice-daily tides see a flow of 115 billion tonnes of water flowing in and out of the bay.

You'll also want to experience local dinosaur fossil finds exposed by the extreme tides, hiking, sea kayaking, tidal rafting, and whale watching, including the rare right whale.

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While you're in New Brunswick, don't miss…Confederation Bridge, part of the Trans Canada highway, connecting mainland New Brunswick to Prince Edward Island since 1997.  You'll be driving 13 km across the largest bridge in the world that crosses ice- covered waters.

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Prince Edward Island National Park and Green Gables

Canada's smallest province has one of its most beloved sites.  60 km (37 miles) of Prince Edward Island's signature red rock and sand shoreline. Seven swimming beaches, hiking and cycling trails, and camping grounds join protected white sand dunes, freshwater wetlands, salt marshes, and nesting areas for endangered coastal wildlife.  

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While you're there, don't miss... Green Gables, the house that was the childhood inspiration for the internationally beloved Anne of Green Gables stories by local author Lucy Maud Montgomery.

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Quebec  City

Many people say walking through Old Quebec is like a visit to Europe without the jet lag. The only walled city in North America and the oldest city north of Mexico, the historic district of Quebec City, dating from 1608, is a National Historic Site and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, first city in North America to receive designation.

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Although the magnificent hotel Chateau Frontenac dominates the skyline, perched in Upper Town's 100 meter high cliffs overlooking the St. Lawrence, it is a mere hundred or so years old compared with Upper and Lower Towns' 17th century walls, fortifications, Citadel, winding cobbled streets with shops, restaurants, Plains of Abraham.

While you're in Quebec City, don't miss… The Winter Carnival, one of the biggest in the world, and all the more dramatic in snow covered historic streets.  There are masquerade balls in the grand ballroom of the Chateau Frontenac, an Ice Palace, snow sculpture parks, a bikini snow bath, day and night parades led by 'Bonhomme' de Neige ('snowman') the ambassador and mascot of the festivities with his red cap and early voyageur knit belt.  And plenty of French joie de vivre.

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Rideau Canal, Ontario

This feat of incredible engineering in the early 1800's began with military intent, but nowadays has become a top recreational boating destination. Following the war of 1812 with the United States, British military engineers came up with plans to forge a vital water route for over 200 km (126 miles) from Kingston on Lake Ontario north to Ottawa. Workers labored to carve the waterway through dense wilderness and solid rock of the Canadian Shield. They also built 45 locks to take vessels up and down elevations in the terrain along the way through rivers, lakes and man-made canal.

The Rideau Canal is a glorious boat trip through pastoral plains, cottage communities and remote, sheer rock cliffs all the way to downtown Ottawa and past Canada's majestic Parliament Buildings.

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Don't miss… Boating the length of the canal in the summer months, taking a canoe tour of  the Ottawa portion of the canal, or skating on it in the winter.  In downtown Ottawa, in the shadow of historic hotel Chateau Laurier and Canada's Parliament buildings, 8 km of the canal becomes the world's longest skating rink every winter.

Wapusk National Park

It's over a 2 hour flight or two days by train from Winnipeg to Churchill, Manitoba, the gateway to Wapusk. For anyone who makes the trip in mid winter, it's worth it to reach one of the last places in the world to see tiny polar bear cubs getting their start in the world. 

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Wapusk means 'White Bear', and this part of Canada is known the world over as the polar bear capital.  Nearly three million acres of the park are the seasonal home of a thousand polar bears returning from summer roaming through the tundra back to new Arctic ice, joined by moose, wolves, foxes, and herd of thousands of caribou. Polar bears are gorgeous but dangerous; access to the park is only through licensed operators of guided trips to this famous refuge.

While you're in Manitoba, don't miss…Winnipeg's Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Opening in 2014 to national and international attention, the museum is architecturally compelling, with geometry and colors based on images of the Canadian landscape. It's also intellectually challenging, highlighting personal stories and stimulating debate about how to define its subject matter.

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Wood Buffalo National Park

The largest of Canada's National Park straddles both Alberta and the Northwest Territories for nearly 45,000 acres – it's bigger than Switzerland!  It needs to be that large – it provides enough territory in its muskeg and tundra for the long term preservation of the world's largest herd of free roaming Bison. 

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The park is also a UNESCO world heritage site and the world's largest Dark-Sky Preserve. And in spite of its remote location, the park can be reached and visited by car.

Banff National Park – Alberta

Canada's first National Park dates back to 1885, and scenes of the turquoise waters of Lake Louise surrounded by a distinctly Canadian alpine landscape have been famously depicted on postcards sent around the world ever since.  Snow topped mountains, glaciers and icefields, the western resort town of Banff, endless all-season outdoor activities and the hot springs that started in all keep visitors coming back to this park in the Rocky Mountains year round.  The breathtaking Icefields Parkway connects Lake Louise to Jasper National Park further north.  

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While you're in Banff, don't miss… a cocktail at the Banff Springs Hotel in the lounge with picture windows over Lake Louise.  The view really does make a perfect custom cocktail taste even better!

Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, National Marine Conservation Area Reserve, and Haida Heritage Site

Spearheaded by the Haida Nation to stop destructive logging on their historic lands, Gwaii Haanas now protects an archipelago of 138 (formerly Queen Charlotte) islands off the coast of British Columbia.  It totals 5000 square km of land and sea – one of the only places in the world protected from the depths of the ocean in deep fjords to rugged mountain tops.  90% of the land is forest, with mountains draining into dozens of freshwater lakes and salmon-spawning streams. The seas are a 'primary feeding habitat' of humpback whales; Gwaii Haanas is remote and only accessible by boat, sea kayak, or floatplane.

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While you're in British Columbia, don't miss… Victoria Harbour, one of the most picturesque harbors in the country.  Originally used by First Nations, the harbor now bustles with recreational vessels and small cruise ships, mooring in the center of this scenic heritage city famous for its continuing British tone. Historic buildings frame the lively waterfront and line the walkable streets. The harbor is the epicenter of thriving eco-tourism and whale watching tour activities.

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Top 5 Souvenirs from Canada

Among the many pleasures of travel is the opportunity to bring home mementos of your journeys, even doubling your pleasure by giving some to loved ones (and the dog sitter.)  It works the same in reverse; taking symbolic, beloved, or impossible-to-find-elsewhere local treats when you travel abroad to thank friends and hosts for their hospitality. 

BestTrip.TV's producer/host Lynn Elmhirst is Canadian, and here is her list of her most-loved gifts she takes abroad, and recommends as souvenirs to people traveling in Canada.

1. To Satisfy a Sweet Tooth –Maple Syrup

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The maple leaf is of course Canada's national symbol and maple syrup can safely be considered the national food. Canada is the world's top producer of maple syrup.

Visitor's Tip: Spring skiing and maple syrup festivals in 'sugar shacks' in rural communities in Quebec and Ontario are probably the two most beloved early spring Canadian activities. 

I got to help tap trees! (You use the back of the axe to tap the spiles into place).  Photo BestTrip.TV

It astonishes me when I go abroad that there are people willing to eat a pancake without maple syrup.  Imagine that: with a different syrup. In our family, the pancake is really just a delivery vehicle for maple syrup. Only the good stuff will do. 100% pure, and ideally from the source: a local producer at farmer's market.  If you've been used to eating maple 'flavored' syrup your taste buds will flinch at the onslaught of deliciousness!

Syrup isn't the only way to enjoy the authentic taste of Canada. Other firm favorites are maple candy, and the maple cookie: a sandwich cookie made of two, maple leaf-shaped shortbread-type cookies with a maple cream filling in the middle. 

Tip: Pack them deep in your luggage or I know you will eat them before you get home.

2.  To cuddle – A Hudson's Bay Company Blanket

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Founded in 1670 to serve the fur trade, the Hudson's Bay Company is North America's oldest continuously operating corporation.  

Visitor's Tip: These days, 'The Bay' is a department store with nearly a hundred outlets in communities across Canada, including flagship stores in historic downtown buildings in major cities like Toronto that are shopping destinations.

The Hudson's Bay Point Blanket harkens back to HBC's roots in the fur trade.  High quality wool blankets were traded for furs from First Nations communities, and the blanket, with its vivid, color-fast stripes: green, red, yellow, and indigo on a white background, became rooted in early Canadian culture.

Early Bay blankets have become collector's items, and the Bay now has a whole department dedicated to a line of products in its iconic striped design.  Heavy, 100% wool HBC blankets are an investment piece.  Like me, you may want to save them for wedding gifts.  But the store also carries a line of other HBC products with the iconic stripe pattern that includes fleece throws, wraps, scarves and mittens, totes, house wares like mixing bowls, coasters, and more.

Tip: You can also buy a 7500$ HBC canoe, but you'll have to really plan ahead to get that souvenir home.

3. To Find your Way Home – An Inukshuk

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I think of Inukshuk as like leaving a candle burning in the window for those coming home.

Above the Arctic Circle, the tundra offers few natural landmarks.  So from ancient times, Inuit erected stone Inukshuk as landmarks along travel routes, as way finding for hunters, indicating good places to camp, and generally signaling 'we were here' to those who came later.

They may have begun as upright large, single stones (remind you of any other ancient cultures the world over?) But Inukshuk along the way acquired a monolithic human form and deep resonance in Inuit culture.  On Baffin Island, there are over 100 inukshuk, and the site has been designated a National Historic Site of Canada. 

More and more, inukshuk are a warm symbol of Canada at home and abroad, second only to the maple leaf.  It was the symbol of the Vancouver Winter Olympics, and it's on the flag of the territory of Nunavut.

Visitor's Tip: Keep your eye out for powerful and graceful Inukshuk that have sprung up in public spaces across Canada, and also in Canadian spaces abroad; in embassies and consulates, and Canadian projects as a symbol of home.

Tip: Don't just give table-top sized inukshuk as gifts.  Making your own and talking about inukshuk is a wonderful and memorable craft day with children and teens.

4. To Warm You Up - Ice Wine

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Ice wine is a case of making lemonade when life gives you lemons.  Freezing winters may not be everyone's thing, but when grapes freeze on the vine, life gives enterprising vintners ice wine. 

Ice wine can only be produced in countries with wine regions where it gets sufficiently cold. Germany and Austria have a history with ice wine, but Canada's much younger wine industry, with its predictably sub zero temperatures every winter, has become an international ice wine superstar.

For natural ice wine, grapes must fully ripen on the vine, then undergo a hard freeze (−8 °C (17 °F) or colder).  It's risky business.  Grapes can be lost before harvest, and then the moment it freezes, pickers have to work at night harvesting all the grapes in a few hours before the sun warms them up again.  

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Visitor's Tip: If you're in an ice-wine producing region of Canada in the New Year, get in on the action of a local ice wine festival.  Sometimes you can even be part of the midnight frozen-grape picking, which is more fun than it sounds.

What makes ice wine special? When the grapes freeze, the sugars and other solids don't freeze, just the water content. So the juice extracted from the frozen grapes is very concentrated. That has two results: a very sweet wine with a balanced acidity - that can only be produced in small quantities. And it's priced accordingly. 

Tip: Ice wine's best friend is a simple cheese plate served as a dessert course.  Canada has some amazing cheeses too.

5. To Entertain Friends: Anita Stewart's Canada Cookbook

I have a whole bookshelf devoted to cookbooks I've picked up around the world; browsing through them, I can almost trace my travels over the years. They are among my most treasured souvenirs that recall meeting talented and passionate chefs, food producers and foodies, and of course, all those memorable meals.

If that sounds like your relationship with cookbooks and travel too, Anita Stewart's Canada cookbook is one you'll want to add to your destination cookbook collection or give to a favorite foodie. 

Anita Stewart is not just a cookbook author, she's also a food activist, founder of Food Day Canada, the largest national culinary celebration in Canadian history, and a Member of the Order of Canada.  This cookbook is about local food – where 'local' means the diverse regions, seasons and cultural heritage across the second biggest country in the world.  Canada's culinary traditions are centuries deep and rooted in cultures around the world and this book is as good a read as it is a visual indulgence and recipe reference.

Tip: Have a Canadian dinner party where every guest makes one course from a recipe from Anita Stewart's Canada cookbook.  And toast your success with ice wine!

 

Canada's Northwest Passage: An Epic Arctic Journey with Adventure Canada

Following a route less traveled in the footsteps of intrepid explorers and today's First Nations in one of the last frontiers: the Arctic.

Story and Photographs by travel and sailing journalist Elizabeth Kerr

Knowing that I was setting out on the same route that Franklin took in 1845 somewhat intimidated me. After all, he didn’t make it home. However, once aboard Adventure Canada’s Ocean Endeavor expedition ship surrounded by 110 like-minded adventurers, 30 experts in every field and a crew that went above and beyond, intimidation quickly transformed into exhilaration.

Needless to say, Franklin did not have access to advanced navigational equipment, cool linens, hot showers, three delicious meals and a variety of entertaining and educational distractions to battle the cold, the boredom, the frustration, the mutiny and his inevitable doom. But I did.

Ocean Endeavour anchored outside Ilulissat.

Finding Our Arctic Footing in Greenland

Franklin started in England. Our adventure started in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, where, en route to our ship, I saw my first musk ox!

Although cold and somewhat damp throughout our walk on our first stop, Sisimuit, the sight of Arctic huskies – chained to rocks – and this town of 6,000 quickly reminded me how far I was away from my reality. Striped and polka-dotted dog sleds leaned against porches and dilapidated shacks waiting for passengers.

Ilulissat offered a completely different perspective. Its wooden boardwalk – built to protect the wetlands – provided spectacular views at every turn – and led us to the Icefjord, now a UNESCO World Heritage site and the fastest moving glacier in the world.

This is a view from the boardwalk that takes us to the Ilulissat Icefjord

On an afternoon jaunt, I just happened to turn my head at the right time to cathch this humpback whale entertaining the town of Ilulissat.

Although the trip so far was awe-inspiring, it was Karrat Fjord that welcomed me into its embrace. I felt at peace here and could have happily lingered all day looking out to sea for humpbacked whales or inland to the garden of icebergs that reminded me of a gallery Lauren Harris paintings.

Karrat Fjord reminded me of visiting a live Lauren Harris gallery.

Sightings of Arctic hares at both Kap York and Etah pleased John Houston, a member of the expedition crew, but my takeaway that day was the memory of our singer/songwriter/zodiac driver Kevin Closs singing a sea chanty to distract us from the bitterly cold wind and waves.

It’s been quite a while since we had seen the sun but it certainly boasted it glow on this iceberg somewhere near Etah.

Here we are in Foulks Fjord, lead by John Houston, determined to spot an Arctic hare.

We depart Greenland with its Craylola-coloured houses and majestic icebergs to cross Baffin Bay and head back to Canada.

Following in Franklin’s Footsteps 70 Degrees North

It’s Day 8. We are halfway through the Northwest Passage; there are still lessons to learn and stories to tell. Bad weather prevented a visit to Aujuittuq – Canada’s northernmost civilian community – so we ventured on with a revised itinerary thanks to Denise Landeau, our tireless expedition leader. And so it goes in the Arctic. Expect the best, prepare for the worst. It is an expedition after all.

Over the next few days, I learned more about Canada’s north than any high school history class could offer.

Dundas Harbour, on the south coast of Devon Island, housed one of four abandoned RCMP detachments. For three years, RCMP officers lived with no radio contact and a yearly delivery of provisions. Today, the dilapitated building remains standing along with three graves.

Beechey Island was living proof of Franklin’s demise. The four graves there brought an uncommon silence among us that was thankfully broken by the voice of Ken McGoogan regaling his story of the Northwest Passage.

I can’t begin to describe the emotional wave that comes over you as you stand quietly at the foot of these three graves of Franklin’s crew (Petty Officer John Torrington, Royal Marine Private William Braine, and Able Seaman John Hartnell) on Beechey Island.

After a rather sombre walk through snowflakes and a bitter breeze, we reloaded ourselves into the Zodiacs, ready to go home. Ree Brennin-Houston had other ideas. Heading away from the ship (where warmth, a cup of hot tea and biscuits were waiting), many of us found ourselves surrounded by a flote of beluga whales, disguised so well as to be confused with the low-lying icebergs around them. At one point, we counted 13.

It was hard to tell the difference between the icebergs and the belugas.

Fort Ross was home to the last Hudson’s Bay Trading Post built in the Arctic. After 11 years, it was closed due to ice restricting travel and trade. The main building still stands and is sometimes used as base camp for research scientists and some very brave sailors.

Oh Where, Oh Where are the Polar Bears

It felt important to cross off my Arctic’s Big Five (polar bear, humpback whale, Arctic hare, muskox and beluga) and compare it to my Africa’s Big Five (which I accomplished in 2009). There were high expectations of seeing a polar bear, but they were few and far between, however in the end, we did spot 12, mostly from afar. Check!

This trip also offered sightings of several other mammals including minke whales, harbor seals and a single lemming. Bird-lovers on board spotted nearly 40 species from Arctic terns to Thayer’s gulls. Check, check!

Fort Ross was home to the last Hudson’s Bay Trading Post built in the Arctic.

A Gem from our Past. Hope for the Future.

Every day, geologists, zoologists, naturalists, historians, photographers, documentarians, authors, biologists, and scientists would teach us with immeasurable passion about the region we were so very blessed to explore.

A leader and political activist, a culturalist, an educator, a musician, and two archaeological mentees, all from Nunavit were also present to share their stories and teach us more about the way of life as it is today at 70 degrees north of the equator. Their stories came to life during day visits to Uqsuqtuuq (Gjøa Haven) and Cambridge Bay.

Our visits to Gjoa Haven and Cambridge Bay were history lessons in themselves. It is truly hard to imagine how people can live, let alone thrive, in these desolate places so far from the many services we take for granted on a daily basis.

Our 17-day itinerary with Adventure Canada was designed to maximize our Arctic experience, jam-packed with knowledge-sharing, story-telling and entertainment. This journey is not for the faint of heart, however for anyone who cares to dare, it will expand your horizons, warm your heart and leave a lasting impact on Nunavit and on you.

Qakuguttauq (See you again soon!)

Why Canadian Gardens Rock

Not all of Canada's natural wonders are wilderness. Communities across Canada have cultivated oases of trees and greens, colorful flowers, fresh air and serenity in the heart of busy urban centers.

Tara Nolan is a garden and travel writer, author of the best-selling book Raised Bed Revolution and co-owner of popular gardening website Savvy Gardening.  She shares her list of favorite Canadian gardens, from west to east.

You don't have to be an avid gardener to appreciate Canada's public gardens.  Gardens give residents and visitors a different perspective and experience in a city.  The popularity of visiting gardens is astonishing: in any given year, more people visit public gardens in America than go to Disneyland and Walt Disney World combined! Canada's gardens are just as appealing, with engaging activities including some special programming for Canada's 150th birthday.

UBC Botanical Garden – British Columbia

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Not only does the UBC Botanical Garden play host to fabulous food and alpine gardens, the GreenHeart TreeWalk, a highlight of my trip to Vancouver last summer, takes visitors through the treetops of 100-year-old trees along canopy walkways, the highest of which is 23 metres above the forest.

The Butchart Gardens – British Columbia

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Magnificent Butchart garden draws a multitude of tourists, but it’s worth the visit to see the lush, colourful displays, from the Sunken Garden, which is beautiful through every season, to the Night Illuminations throughout the summer. I’ve visited in the fall when the dahlia walk was in full bloom.

The International Peace Garden – Manitoba

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Though a little remote, this garden is unique because it straddles the border with the United States—North Dakota on one side, Manitoba on the other. The message of this garden is one of contemplation and peace. You can even book a campsite to stay for longer than a day. This garden is on my list for a more rugged, outdoorsy trip that involves hiking and biking.

University of Alberta Devonian Botanic Garden

This 240-acre gem, 15 minutes from Edmonton, features a lovely Japanese garden and a Tropical Plant and Butterfly Showhouse. I made sure to visit the Herb and Sensory Gardens, as well as the Native Peoples Garden to learn more about what indigenous people foraged for and used for medicine, meals and ornamentation. When you visit this garden, time it so you can lunch at the Patio Café.

Toronto Botanical Garden

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This urban garden, nestled among leafy neighbourhoods, is looking at expansion to up its garden game even further. In the meantime, check the schedule for weekly entertainment, visit the bustling farmers’ market on a Thursday and sign up for a yoga class in the garden—it’s good to de-stress while on vacation, right?

Royal Botanical Garden – Hamilton, Ontario

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Not only does the Royal Botanical Garden have multiple sites (the RBG Centre, The Rock Garden, etc.), it also has multiple hiking trails that take you through the wilderness of Hamilton and Burlington and make you forget you’re in a city. Take the kids to the LEGO exhibit and check the schedule for jazz, blues and country music nights in Hendrie Park.

Gatineau’s Jacques-Cartier Park – Quebec/National Capital

A special exhibit has been built to celebrate Canada’s sesquicentennial: MosaïCanada 150. Expect massive, living sculptures packed full of plants and flowers. There will be 40 on display, representing the country’s history. And admission is free!

 

Reford Gardens/Jardins de Métis

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This inimitable garden above the shores of the St. Lawrence River will appeal to especially arty types because of the International Garden Festival that invites landscape architects from around the world to design spaces based on a theme. The garden also features a fantastic culinary program. Visit the Estevan Lodge Restaurant to see what chef Pierre-Olivier Ferry, Gold Winner of the Canada Good Food Innovation Award, is concocting from his plant collection.

The Halifax Public Gardens

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If you’re wandering around Halifax, this is an easy garden to get to on foot for a visit—I strolled through last year for the first time and loved its proximity to shops and restaurants. Like Canada, it’s celebrating its 150th birthday. A special website has been put together—check it out for theatre and music events, special tours and more.

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Falling for Small-Batch Spirits in Niagara

Plan a trip to Ontario’s Niagara region, and your list may include the iconic Falls (top photo credit), world-class theater at the Shaw Festival, fine dining inspired by the region’s orchards, most definitely a wine tasting, especially Niagara's famous ice-wine.

Visitors have another way to taste the fruit of those vines in a most unexpected way.   BestTrip.TV's Lynn Elmhirst Meets the Maker: Master Distiller Geoff Dillon.

Local small-batch distiller Dillon’s Unfiltered Gin 22 is a true product of Niagara: grape-based, and enhanced by the flavors of 22 other botanicals.  Silky smooth, intriguingly complex, using it, my simple gin and tonic was reborn as a sophisticated summer sipper.

But wait… a grape based gin? 

Unfiltered Gin 22 is one of three signature spirits Dillon’s launched when they opened their Niagara-region distillery in 2012, along with their Method 95 Vodka, White Rye, and a line of 6 bitters.

Only a year after opening, all three spirits were awarded medals (bronze, silver, and gold respectively) at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, ‘the highest you can go’ says proud Master Distiller Geoff Dillon, who seems bashful about such rapid success.

Dillon’s is riding the concurrent waves of a cocktail revolution and the local and crafted food movement.  But Geoff attributes innovation – a willingness to experiment to make unique products, like gin from grapes instead of grains – to the attention their spirits and bitters are attracting.

That innovation is at the heart of the Dillon’s distillery.  Geoff’s father, Peter, is the botanical expert and experimenter.  It’s a natural extension for the environmental chemist and life-long ‘foodie’.

Geoff started a career in finance, but then took a fork in the road to attend the esteemed Artisan Distilling Program at Michigan State University and study with whisky distillers in Scotland in preparation for launching Dillon’s.

‘The science of distilling is pretty easy.  The art is hard. Every day is an experiment.’

To craft their award-winning spirits, the father-son team combines the benefits of old school pot stills with modern technology – and source the best ingredients.  

Niagara – best known for its wine -- was the ‘ideal’ place to launch a small-batch distillery. Fruit, grapes and botanicals can all be sourced locally.

The grapes they distill come from growers who have surplus. Dillon’s and local vintners are mutually supportive in other ways too. There's long-established wine tourism in the Niagara region. Existing local wineries have embraced the 'new kid on the block'.  Dillon's and wineries send visitors to each other, and the result is an even richer Niagara wine and spirits experience.

Tasting

With its stylishly designed tasting room and stacks of ageing barrels, Dillon's is right at home among the area’s scenic vineyards. If you drop by for a distillery tour and tasting, you may well get to meet Geoff yourself.  He often conducts the tours.

‘I love the tours, having so much fun with people, educating them… most people don’t even truly know what a distillery IS! It blows people away every time!

‘This opens a whole new world for them.’

Dillon's shared a couple of their favorite cocktail recipes. I added my own tips and serving recommendations to complete your taste-of-Niagara cocktail party.

Dillon’s Spiced Pear Collins

For each drink:

• 1 ½ oz Dillon’s Unfiltered Gin 22
• 1 ½ oz pear puree
• ¾ oz rosemary & clove simple syrup
• ¾ oz lemon juice
• Soda water
• Sprig rosemary

Over ice, combine Dillon’s Unfiltered Gin 22, pear puree, simple syrup, and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker. Shake until chilled. Pour into a highball or rocks glass. Top with a small splash of sparkling wine or soda water and garnish with rosemary.

Rosemary and Clove Simple Syrup

• ½ c sugar
• ½ c water
• 1 oz whole cloves
• 3 sprigs rosemary

Combine in a saucepan over low heat. When it reaches a boil, remove from heat and let sit for 30 minutes. Strain into a jar and store in the refrigerator. Should make enough for approximately 5 cocktails. 

Pear Puree

• 2 pears, peeled and pitted

• 1 ½ oz lemon juice
• 1 ½ t fresh rosemary

Slice the pears and combine with lemon juice and rosemary in a blender. Blend until smooth; gently strain mixture through a fine-mesh sieve and discard any solids. You will have roughly 1 cup of puree, which makes about 5 cocktails.

Tip: the puree can be frozen in an ice cube tray and then stored in an airtight contained in the freezer to be used for individual cocktails in the future.

Serve this cocktail with room temperature brie and toasted walnuts drizzled with local honey; a magical combination with pear!

Dillon’s Mulled Rye Cider

For 4 Servings:

  • 30 oz apple cider
  • 24 dashes Dillon’s DSB bitters
  • ½ T whole allspice
  • ½ T whole cloves
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • Zest of ½ orange
  • 1 ½ inch thick slice peeled fresh ginger
  • 6 oz Dillon’s White Rye
  • Fresh apple for garnish

Combine cider, bitters, and spices in a pot on the stove; bring to a simmer and keep on low.
Pour 1 ½ oz Dillon’s White Rye per serving into 4 favorite mugs or cocktail glasses and fill with the mulled cider. Garnish with an apple slice and serve.

Tip: Cut thin discs of apples through the center – equator – of an apple.  The resulting slice features the lovely star shaped centre of the apple core.

Serve on game night with a casual supper of ribbons of ham, sliced apples, and Vidalia onions all sauteed together with salt and pepper on fresh buns smeared with coarse mustard.

Cheers!

In colorful Newfoundland turn of phrase, you might say that Fogo Island is far away from far away.  The island is remote; only accessible by ferries and helicopter flights that defy dramatic weather and waves to drop visitors on a a rocky outpost in the North Atlantic that until recently was a centuries-old, declining fishing community.  This is not where you might expect to find a hotel that has won world-wide acclaim for its architecture, experience, social responsibility, and design.

Designer Karen Sealy and BestTrip.TV visited the extraordinary Fogo Island Inn to see what happens when local maritime craftsmanship meets 21st century global design.

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Vancouver may be Canada's most famously 'outdoorsy' major city. Even in a city that drives Canada's vast Asia-Pacific business, athletic wear is more common than pinstripes!  Nature thrives right on the city's doorstep: a gorgeous, picturesque harbor and bay, snow-capped mountains surrounding the city, and breathtaking Stanley Park, one of the world's top urban green spaces. For vacationers and cruise travelers in Vancouver, outdoor activities top the list of things to do.  Even if you're traveling to Vancouver on business, if you don't take the opportunity to get outdoors, you've missed essential Vancouver.

Luckily, it's not only one of the most enticing big cities to be outdoors, it's easy to get outdoors and get active on a trip to Vancouver.

BestTrip.TV's Ryan McElroy 'test drives' Vancouver luxury harborfront hotel Westin Bayshore's active travel program. With cycling, run concierge, superfoods, yoga, and fitness equipment loan programs, Ryan discovers there is no excuse to miss enjoying the great Vancouver outdoors.

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The 'Height' of Luxury: Train and Stay in Peru's Andes

South America has its first luxury sleeper train. The Belmond Andean Explorer pioneers a new way to discover Peru on its two-night journeys at altitudes of up to 4,800 metres climbing in the Andes en route from Cusco to Arequipa.

It's one of the world's highest rail routes, and you'll be glued to the large picture windows as the elegant carriages take you through some of the most breathtaking scenery on our planet.  Expect to see vast, uninterrupted views of snow-capped mountains, never-ending skies, majestic lakes and herds of alpacas, llamas and vicunas grazing on the altiplano.

Peruvian Touches

The design of the sleeper cars reflects Peruvian culture, mixing vibrant colors with natural tones and large picture windows offering the perfect vantage point of the ever-changing scenery as the train winds its way through the Andes.

The observation car with an outdoor terrace becomes the social hub of the train by night; a place for the train's up to 48 guests to enjoy a pisco sour and dance to live Latin music.

Culinary Heights

Peru's famous chef and culinary ambassador, Executive Chef Diego Muñoz, has been tapped to develop menus. His cuisine takes guests as they travel through the mountains on a simultaneous culinary journey of discovery of Peru’s abundant traditional natural ingredients: fresh fish from the Moquegua coast, trout from Lake Arapa (located in the Puno region), broad beans and lemons from Cusco, mushrooms, beets and corn from the Sacred Valley, Peruvian native potatoes, and quinoa from the Altiplano.

The culinary team transforms them into sensational mouthwatering dishes that carry Muñoz’s signature style, like Alpaca Tortellini, Banana and Pisco Tatin, Arequipean Paw Paw Mostarda and Lima Bean Cappuccino.  All enjoyed from the comfort of elegant dining carriages overlooking the region's spectacular scenery.

Exclusive Exploration

The train takes guests from Cusco to Arequipa via Lake Titicaca, on a two night/three day ‘Peruvian Highlands’ itinerary, priced fully inclusive of all meals, an open bar and scheduled excursions, including visits to the archaeological Inca site of Raqchi and the ancient Sumbay Caves.

Stepping off the train, experiences include a private tour of the floating islands on Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable water in the world, and lunch on a private beach with views across to the glacial peaks of La Paz, Bolivia, truly one of the most exceptional locations on earth.

Train and Stay in Peru

In addition to the Belmond Andean Explorer, the company has also opened another hotel in Peru: Belmond Las Casitas, a 20-room property located in the Arequipa region of Southern Peru is set amongst the tranquil beauty of the Andes.

Blending effortlessly with the natural environment, and nestled amongst lush gardens, each individual casita features a private terrace with a heated plunge pool and sweeping views across the canyon. The Samay Spa, built around the energy of the canyon rock, offers treatments using natural ingredients from the hotel’s kitchen garden and hypnotic views of the surrounding canyon, inspiring deep relaxation. Belmond Las Casitas also offers one of the most unique guest experiences in the world – a chance to view the flight of the Andean condors in their natural environment.


Belmond Las Casitas and Belmond Andean Explorer further enhance Belmond’s luxury travel experiences in Peru, now with six hotels and two luxury trains: Belmond Miraflores Park, the stylish city hotel in the quiet neighborhood of the bustling city; Belmond Palacio Nazarenas and Belmond Hotel Monasterio in the heart of ancient Cusco; Belmond Sanctuary Lodge, the only hotel at the entrance of the Citadel of Machu Picchu and Belmond Hotel Rio Sagrado, a complete escape in the Sacred Valley. Plus, Belmond Hiram Bingham taking guests from Cusco to Machu Picchu with typical lively Peruvian hospitality.


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The Bicycle's Big Birthday

This month marks a big milestone for the bicycle. We've had two hundred years of two-wheeled travel. 

On June 12, 1817, German inventor Karl von Drais took a little ride on his new invention, the 'Laufsmaschine'. His first reported trip, from a castle courtyard in Mannheim to a coaching inn 5 miles away on Baden's best road, took a little over an hour – and changed travel forever.

Reproducing Karl von Drais' First Ride.  Image courtesy of City of Mannheim

Von Drais' 'Laufsmaschine' was heavy, awkward, had no pedals, and riders moved it with uncomfortable running/ skating motions of their feet. Laufsmaschine even means 'running machine'.

This does not look fun to ride.  (Photo credit)

Travel Game Changer

But it was the start of something that literally moved the world.  The patent that Drais filed in 1817 for the earliest form of the bicycle fulfilled the saying 'Necessity is the Mother of Invention'.  A volcanic eruption in Asia in 1815 had sent so much ash into the skies that the following year the sun in Europe was blocked, causing crops to fail, and widespread famine.  People were forced to slaughter their oxen and horses to feed their families, leaving them with no form of transportation. 

In this sad scenario, the earliest form of the bicycle was a game changer.  For the first time, humans were their own form of faster-than-walking propulsion. It was the first form of land transportation without using an animal, and set the stage for all future mechanized personal transportation. It not only increased the speed at which humans could travel on their own, it was even faster than available transportation!  Drais' first, 5-mile, one-hour trip in Mannheim was twice as fast as it would have taken a traditional horse-drawn coach.

You've Come a Long Way, Baby

Happily, Drais' invention evolved through the 19th century and the bicycle spread from Germany across Europe and overseas.  There were some bumps along the way – literally.  Terrible rutted dirt and cobbled roads sent early cyclists onto crowded sidewalks (a controversy that continues today), endangering pedestrians.  That resulted in bans of bicycles in its birthplace, Germany, as well as Great Britain, the US, and even cities in India!

Hard to imagine, when today, the bicycle has become such a fundamental part of the local culture and lifestyles of people around the world.  The bicycle is the answer to the need for inexpensive, effective transportation in some of the most fascinating, densely populated cities in Asia, where seas of bicycles have become the very image of local lifestyle. And Northern Europe's health and eco-friendly culture is symbolized by city bikes.

The Netherlands has more bicycles than people!  Photo: BestTrip.TV

More and more travelers are also choosing to experience destinations by bicycle.  The relaxed pace, off-the-beaten track, and health features of cycling journeys answer the call for active, authentic travel experiences.

Cycling tour of Peterborough & the Kawarthas, Canada. Photo: BestTrip.TV

And innovations like E-bikes and power-generating bicycles will keep Karl von Drais' invention moving us into the future.

Celebrating 200 Years of Bicycles

Mannheim and the region have a year-long calendar of activities commemorating the bicycle's birthday, with concerts, exhibitions, bicycle tours, shows and much more. Visit Mannheim's Technoseum for a special exhibition, "2 Wheels - 200 Years," which brings to life the technical development of the bicycle since Karl Drais, to the present cycling culture and the future role of the bicycle in cities.  (Top image courtesy Technoseum).

Courtesy City of Mannheim

Courtesy City of Mannheim

And get outdoors and bike! SouthWest Germany is a bicycle rider's paradise, with hundreds of bike routes that pass through beautiful landscapes, from vineyards to castles and the Black Forest to Lake Constance. The ADFC (German Bicycle Club) notes and rates cycling routes; don't miss the region's five-star "Liebliches Taubertal - der Klassiker".  The route is one of the oldest in Germany and travels by castles, monasteries and fortresses for 100 beautiful kilometers.

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MSC's 'Wonder' at Sea

There's a new Wonder at Sea.  The MSC Meraviglia.  If your language skills are rusty, that's Italian for 'wonder', and this European cruise line's new flagship is a wondrous destination at sea for five thousand guests. The MSC Meraviglia is the biggest ship to be built by a European ship owner, and also the biggest cruise ship to come into service in 2017.

The 13th addition to the MSC Cruises fleet brought wonder to the northern French port of Le Havre for her christening in a glittering event. Italian screen legend and fleet godmother Sophia Loren, accompanied by a parade of the ship's officers, cut the ceremonial ribbon in a time-honored crescendo of champagne and fireworks.

The MSC Meraviglia is the first of six new ships for MSC's between 2017 and 2020, a massive fleet expansion giving the cruise line the opportunity to introduce innovations in technology, design and experiences. 

Here are a few of the unique features on MSC Cruises’ newest flagship we love most:

Entertainment:

Cirque du Soleil's first cruise line partnership: Cirque du Soleil at Sea.   The world-renowned entertainment company has created two exclusive shows just for MSC Meraviglia.  With two performances six nights a week, guests can enjoy a unique show and dinner or cocktail & show experience.

Design:

The longest LED Sky Screen at Sea in the Meraviglia's Galleria: 262 feet of LED sky creates an awe-inspiring atmosphere in a stunning 315 foot long Mediterranean-style indoor promenade, designed to become the social hub of the ship.  It's a round-the-clock display of stunning visuals and effects.

Technology:

The MSC for Me suite of smart features that enhance your cruise: navigation and geo-located wayfinding, a digital concierge for on board, real-time bookings, planning schedules, and tailor-made recommendations to your preferences.

The Emotions immersive gallery is a tunnel of oversized video and photo walls. As you move through the tunnel, you're surrounded by cruise events and you can interact with the walls, searching for you and your loved ones amongst the imagery and experiences.

Family:

MSC shows its roots as a family-owned company in its commitment to kids’ activities and a dedicated family deck area. Furthermore, the technology that is a signature of the ship extends to its youngest guests too: Kids get to participate in MSC for Me, too, with wristbands that enable parents, crew and staff to locate and monitor their kids as they participate in their own programs and activities on the ship.

Luxury:

The cruise line's 'luxury ship within a ship' MSC Yacht Club formula appears on the Meraviglia too, with new features and premium accommodations spanning three decks, with private facilities, available amenities, and butler service round-the-clock.

Dining:

Widest range of dining options and bars on any MSC Cruises ship to-date with 12 dining venues and 20 bars: you'll be delighted to find an authentic American steakhouse, Teppanyaki and Sushi restaurants, and a continued partnership with Italian eatery Eataly.

Accommodations:

Configurations for every type of cruise traveller, including modular staterooms, accommodations for solo travelers and suites in the MSC Yacht Club.  The Meraviglia is designed for multi-generation family travel where everyone is comfortable and feels at home.
 

Following her christening, the MSC Meraviglia departed on her maiden voyage from Le Havre to Genoa, Italy. She spends the summer of 2017 sailing Mediterranean itineraries, including popular Western Mediterranean ports of call Genoa, Marseille, and Barcelona and as well as more unique ports like Naples, Messina in Sicily and Valetta in Malta.

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Sometimes we think that the best travel experiences can only be found in distant, exotic destinations. And they're waiting for you right in your back yard. 

Kieran Andrews of Wild Rock Outfitters leads cycling tours in some of the most famous and storied locations in the world.   But when BestTrip.TV's Ryan McElroy asked him about one of his favorite places to cycle, it was at home in Canada in Peterborough & the Kawarthas. 

In this BestTrip.TV video, Kieran takes Ryan in a two-day cycling journey across rolling hills and scenic vistas to waterfront in cottage country. Ryan gets an insider's introduction to local cycling community favorite trails, views and 'energy stops' (that is, fabulous restaurants!) as well as its network of passionate, connected cyclists.

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Grocery Delivery Program makes Hotels more like Home... or an Apartment Rental

Imagine a knock on your hotel door. Instead of a voice saying 'Room Service', you hear: 'Grocery Delivery'. Long stays at hotels just got better for families, business road warriors, and anyone who wants the health, comfort, choice, and even cost benefits of cooking in your hotel rather than relying entirely on restaurants or wasting time trying to find a grocery store in an unfamiliar city.

According to research done by Hawthorn Suites, Wyndham Hotels' extended stay hotels, 2/3rds of us want to cook in hotel rooms.  If you're a Millennial, that rises to nearly 90 percent who think it would make hotels feel more like home. 

Hawthorn Suites by Wyndham, Rome, GA

So they've partnered with Instacart, a retail delivery service, and Peapod, the leading online grocer in the U.S., to launch a program delivering groceries straight to you in your hotel through a few easy clicks online or on your mobile. Through the hotel's Homemade@Hawthorn site, you can get someone else to pick up your staple breakfast items, your child's must-have snacks, the energy foods you need to stay up late working on the updates for tomorrow's presentation, the ingredients to cook a meal you know your whole family will eat, that vegan dinner for all your friends, or to stay on your own healthy regimen when you're away from home at one of their long stay hotels.

The handy service – currently piloting at eight Hawthorn Suites hotels in the Chicago, Philadelphia, Raleigh and Charlotte, N.C.; Hartford, Conn.; and Orlando areas – is the brand's newest offering developed to help long-term guests maintain their routines and feel at home away from home.

Grocery delivery is the next and natural step of an in-suite culinary program that started with curated, chef-selected featured recipes on the Homemade@Hawthorn site. It was designed for hotel living, serving up seasonal, home-cooked recipes from award-winning chefs that can be easily prepared in a fully equipped in-suite kitchen.

Acclaimed culinary minds Chef Hari Nayak – a New York-based chef, restaurateur, author and culinary consultant – and Chef James Rigato – former Top Chef competitor and owner of the award-winning The Root Restaurant & Bar and Mabel Gray in Michigan – were tapped to create a new, summer season of exclusive, easy-to-make recipes designed for hotel living.

Each home-cooked dish – like a decadent pub cheese and ham sandwich, colorful summer pasta with vegetables, and a refreshing watermelon salad – was designed to be easily prepared in 30 minutes or less. And although you may be inspired by the recipes on the website for your travels, they will taste just as good when you also make them at home!

This innovation could tip the scales in favor of hotels over 'sharing economy' apartment rentals that come with fewer amenities and more hassles. Grocery delivery gives travelers access to fresh, familiar, healthier and cost effective food you can prepare yourself in an environment that includes the safety, amenities, locations and conveniences of a hotel.

We think this is a winning travel recipe for long term business travelers, groups of friends and families planning extended stays during the summer holidays or throughout the year.

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Face to Face with the World's Largest Solid Gold Buddha

Most of the time, breaking an historic religious icon does not turn out well. But when workers moving a large and very old but otherwise unremarkable plaster statue of Buddha in Bangkok in 1955 dropped their load, they got lucky. The accident revealed an amazing secret: the plaster with modest inlaid glass decoration was a decoy shell concealing the world's largest solid gold Buddha.

By Lynn Elmhirst, Producer/ Host, BestTrip.TV

Hidden in Plain Sight

The design of the Buddha suggests it dates to the 13th or 14th centuries.  It's believed when dangerous times were at hand during Burmese invasions in the 1700's, the solid gold statue was plastered over to cleverly hide the magnificent religious treasure in plain sight.  In the confusion, dynastic changes, and moves that followed, the Golden Buddha's secret was lost to time. And so it sat under a simple open air roof in the unremarkable Bangkok temple Wat Traimit for hundreds of years – until it was dropped moving it to an indoor location.

Rather than hiding this phenomenal – and phenomenally valuable – discovery, temple officials have kept the Golden Buddha available for public worship at the temple. In 2010, they even opened a new, gold-leaf trimmed chapel to house this priceless treasure.

All photos: BestTrip.TV

That put Wat Traimit at the top of our film crew's must-visit list among the 400 temples in Thailand's capital city.  Gold features prominently in Thailand's vivid national palette and design, but being face to face with the world's largest solid gold Buddha is heart-stopping. In ways we didn't expect.

Record Breaking – but Humble

It weighs 5.5 tons. And it's about 83% pure gold.  That makes the gold in the statue alone worth about $250 million. The Golden Buddha's seated figure rises 15 feet above kneeling worshippers.

On arrival at the temple, you climb 4 stories of white marble steps leading to the chapel perched at the top overlooking the Bangkok skyline. Once inside, you might expect bristling guards, high tech security, crowds marched past with barely time to take a quick pic. But for a treasure of its worth and historic significance, the Golden Buddha's existence is almost humble.

The author (left) at Wat Traimit. No bare shoulders, no bare knees, and shoes off.  Respecting Thai temple etiquette.

The marble and gold leafed chapel sounds extravagant, but it's quite restrained and no more spectacular than many other temple structures in Thailand. The Golden Buddha may be a tourist attraction, but not a tourist trap. Monks, local worshippers and visitors mingle. Instead of a vast hall to maximize visitor numbers (and revenue), the massive statue occupies a small room.

For visitors, that intensifies the experience. The deep reddish gold almost pulses in the way it catches dim light and warms the nearby cool white marble walls. Only a couple of dozen visitors and worshippers are able to fit inside the chapel at any given time.  Worshippers place offerings and visitors can join them on a single carpet only a few feet in front of the Buddha.

It may be solid gold, but the temple monks and fellow worshippers interact with the Golden Buddha as they would any other neighborhood temple Buddha.

That might be the most remarkable part of our visit to Wat Traimit.  We were expecting to be – as one of our production team said – 'wowed by the bling'.  Instead, we experienced a space of beauty and almost simple serenity.  As if the Golden Buddha were still hiding behind its plaster mask.  Simplicity and serenity, mainstays of Buddhist practice, in the presence of what might be the most valuable and storied piece of solid gold in existence, might be the real treasure of the statue.

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Paul Gauguin Cruises Named Top for Honeymooners

Small ship, South Pacific luxury cruise line specializes in romance.

Brides magazine has named Paul Gauguin Cruises '#1 for Honeymooners'.   The cruise line operates the longest continually sailing luxury cruise ship in the South Pacific.  The 'Paul Gauguin' is a 5+ star, 332-guest idyllic ship that sails to some of the most exotically romantic locations on any honeymoon couples' list: Tahiti, Fiji, French Polynesia, and other once-in-a-lifetime destinations in the South Pacific.

Honeymooners receive a complimentary honeymoon package when sailing with Paul Gauguin Cruises, which includes a special Polynesian blessing ceremony aboard the ship performed by Les Gauguines and Les Gauguins and hosted by the Cruise Director, an in-stateroom celebratory bottle of Champagne, one 8" x 10" photo portrait, and an exclusive pillow gift. 

Why wait for the honeymoon?  Would you love an unforgettable vow renewal?  Or a cruise wedding?  For those celebrating a romantic special occasion, Paul Gauguin Cruises also now offers wedding ceremony and renewal of vows packages in a dreamy setting amid the turquoise lagoons and exotic islands of French Polynesia at Motu Mahana, the cruise line's private islet off the coast of Taha'a, or at the InterContinental Bora Bora Resort & Thalasso Spa, with tasteful, romantic, and inspiring touches of local French Polynesian culture that ensure a one-of-a-kind ceremony.

The 'Number 1 for Honeymooners' distinction is another in a long list for Paul Gauguin Cruises; other awards for the cruise line include: voted #2 in the category of "Top Small Cruise Lines" in the Condé Nast Traveler 2016 Readers' Choice Awards and recognition on the publication's 2016 "Gold List." In addition, the line was voted by Travel + Leisure readers "#1 Small-Ship Cruise Line" and "#1 Small-Ship Cruise Line for Families" in the Travel + Leisure 2014 World's Best Awards.  Recently, readers voted Paul Gauguin Cruises "#1 Midsize-Ship Ocean Cruise Line" in the Travel + Leisure World's Best Awards 2016.

Carnival Vista 'Taps' into Home Port Flavors for American Craft Beer Week

The first brewery on board a North American-based ship introduces Miami Guava Wheat Beer.

Carnival Vista's RedFrog Pub & Brewery gets into the spirit of American Craft Beer Week with a limited edition brew inspired by its home port.

Miami Guava Wheat Beer is a uniquely local flavor inspired by tropical South Florida. The beer's light body and palate-pleasing notes of tangy pink guava are not only tropical and refreshing, but include the primary ingredient in Miami’s ever-popular guava pastries.

Carnival Vista's brewmaster Colin Presby, inspired by Miami's access to tropical fruit and thriving Cuban culinary scene to create the brew, tapped into the first keg in a ceremony to launch the beer. Guests can enjoy their favorite beverage and at the same time celebrate the Vista's home port, as well as the American craft brewing tradition and the latest brewing trends.  

If craft beer is the beverage you prefer to whet your whistle, but you miss Miami Guava Wheat Beer's limited run at the Vista's RedFrog Pub & Brewery on your next cruise, you can always try one of its three other craft beers. ThirstyFrog Port Hoppin’ IPA with aromatic, floral and hoppy notes and tropical and citrus overtones; ThirstyFrog Caribbean Wheat, an unfiltered wheat beer with flavors of orange and spices; and FriskyFrog Java Stout, a take on a traditional stout, rich and creamy with hints of coffee, are all brewed only on board the ship.

The craft brewery experience joins the cocktail pharmacy-themed Alchemy Bar, the New England-inspired Seafood Shack, Far Eastern cuisine at JiJi Asian Kitchen, traditional high-end steakhouse dining at Fahrenheit 555, and family-style Italian culinary experiences at the ship's Cucina del Capitano.

The Carnival Vista isn't just breaking ground in at-sea brewing.  It's also home to a one-of-a-kind SkyRide airborne bicycle ride and also the first cruise ship IMAX Theatre.  

Plenty of new experiences to toast with one of those craft beers.

 

The Ship that's Changing River Cruising

How do you revolutionize river cruise ships? River cruise ships are limited in length by the navigational requirements of rivers... like the sizes of locks.  The design for the AmaMagna, launching in 2019, is game changing.  It's twice the width of traditional European river cruise ships.

What makes the double-width river cruise ship a game changer? 

The concept has been 'floating' around for a while (pun intended), but AmaWaterways is the first cruise line to pull the trigger on building a double-width river cruise ship.

That opens the doors wide to re-interpret the guests' experience on a river cruise ship.  So with the debut of the concept of a double-width ship, AmaWaterways design team has aimed high at maximizing the two times more space available than on a single ship.

The AmaMagna will include:

  • River cruising's first open-water sports platform, complete with zodiac boats, canoes and recreational equipment.
  • Only 194 guests in 97 large staterooms - that's only 30 guests more than single-width ships.
  • Expansive public spaces, including:
  • Dedicated multiple dining spaces including an al fresco, glass-enclosed restaurant.
  • A large heated sundeck swimming pool with whirlpool and sky bar.
  • Expanded spa and fitness area and wellness offerings that will complement AmaWaterways' popular biking and hiking programs.
  • And they're even able to double the ship's width while doubling down on eco-friendly innovation with a more fuel-efficient engine that's also quieter.

Sound familiar?  What we're seeing is the best of small-ship/ yacht, luxury ocean cruising... brought to rivers.

Construction on the AmaMagna began in early 2017 and the ship launches in 2019 on Danube itineraries.

Get your (Science) Geek on in Switzerland

If you, or someone in your family, has an inner science nerd, Switzerland is where you can feed your appetite for exploring the mysteries of the universe (as well as your appetite for chocolate and cheese  - but you already knew that!)

Did the song 'Rocket Man' immediately jump into your head?  There may be no better sound track to a story about science destinations, so here's a link to Elton John's classic so you can play it while you read on about the best ways to tap into your own inner geek in Switzerland.

CERN

Professional scientists, enthusiasts, and even your favorite TV comedy physicists all have Switzerland's CERN (pronounced 'Surn') on their travel bucket lists.  CERN is the world's largest physics laboratory.   The site straddles Switzerland and France outside of Geneva. Thousands of scientists from member European countries work together at CERN on questions of matter, anti-matter, the particles that make up all things in the universe, and the forces that link them.

It's best known for the Large Hadron Collider, a ring 27 kilometres around and 100 metres under the earth's surface.  The LHC accelerates particles into extremely high energies, making them smash into each other.  Scientists use very precise instruments to collect information about what happens during those collisions. 

Visitors can discover the mysteries of the Universe and the work of the world's biggest physics laboratory as a group, with friends, individually, on foot, on your bike, or virtually. CERN's 2 permanent exhibitions are free to visit.

(Above photos courtesy CERN)

CERN's gigantic Globe of Science and Innovation is a symbol of the Earth, and, at 27 metres high and 40 metres in diameter, bigger than the dome of St. Peter's in Rome!  Inside, the 'Universe of Particles' exhibit takes you on a journey of the building blocks of the entire Universe, where those particles come from, how they behave, and the questions of modern physics that scientists are exploring at CERN.  The 'Microcosm' exhibit allows you to discover the wonders of CERN's monumental experiments using the Large Hadron Collider, and meet the people who built and operate it.

(photo credit)

The Sphinx Observatory

From underground to 'The Top of Europe'.  Jungfraujoch is a UNESCO World Heritage Site: a glacier 'saddle' at the top of Europe's largest glacier, connecting two four-thousand meter peaks.

Take the historic Jungfrau railway from Interlaken to Grindelwald, a scenic glacier village that is one of Switzerland's oldest and most popular resort areas at the base of snow-capped mountains.  The view gets even more breathtaking from there to Europe's highest train station at Jungfraujoch.

(Photo credit)

Don't settle for the  spectacular views here.  Do what scientists do and aim higher.  The Sphinx Observatory dates from the early 1900's and is named after the 'Sphinx' peak of a breathtakingly steep ridge where it's perched at a height of 3572 metres (11, 719 feet). The Sphinx Observatory is the highest construction on the continent.  Amazingly, there's an elevator tunneled into that rocky mountain peak connecting the Jungfraujoch railway station to the observatory.  The observatory serves researchers in fields as diverse as glaciology, medicine, cosmic physics and astronomy, with multiple laboratories, weather observation station, a enormous telescope and even electricity, water, phone and internet! 

Check your vertigo at the door and inhale pure mountain air, as well as unmatched views of the Alps, the glacier, the scenery over 11,000 feet below, and sometimes, all the way to Italy and Germany.

Stay in a 'Space Suite' in Zurich

Zurich's Kameha Grand Zurich boutique hotel is in up and coming Glattpark.  The growing neighborhood is a new business center in Switzerland's global city of banking and finance, so business travelers who value lifestyle have a place near their meetings with solid design credentials.  And its proximity to the Zurich airport makes it perfect for a stay on leisure travelers' way into or out of a wider tour of the country.

The hotel's design creativity extends to themed suites.  If you were the little kid who wanted to grow up to be an astronaut, or you're traveling with that little kid, the Kameha Grand Zurich's space suite is the hotel equivalent of sleeping in your favorite space hero pajamas.   The little kid will love the treat.  The little kid inside you will grin at the tongue in cheek design.  It leans on 'space age' without being kitsch.  

Designed by artist Michael Najjar, the Space Suite transports you to the stars with silver, black and moonscape textures, a gravity-defying, sleek. floating bed, pictures of galaxies, hovering astronauts and models of rockets, together with curated selections of literature, music and films about space travel, as well as original works by the artist.   The perfect place for your inner 'Rocket Man' to recharge.

 

 

What is a Music City? Tips for the Best Music Travel Experience

The term ‘Music City’ once meant Nashville, Tennessee. Now, it's so much more than the cradle of country music.  'Music City' is a new worldwide movement of destinations with vibrant – and dedicated - music scenes. 

Dozens of cities globally are getting serious about and collaborating to ensure their music scenes thrive for their residents and visitors using Music City guidelines; and a roadmap has been published to guide local leaders and artists in pursuit of a Music City.

Our friend Amy Terrill, Executive Vice-President of Music Canada, shares her tips to discovering Music Cities when you travel.

The Sydney Opera House, Australia. Photo Credit

If you're a music lover, you know you can find music almost anywhere you go.

Music festivals draw visitors who travel thousands of miles to attend; cruises are themed around music; wineries incorporate it; cities build identities around music.  Who doesn't think of the Beatles when you think of Liverpool? The Fab Four is one of the top reasons people say they visit the city, and in 2013, travelers spent £3.64bn there.  Spizget festival in Budapest, Hungary, attracts almost half a million fans from more than 100 countries.  A Florida company charters cruise lines for music-themed experiences like The Groove Cruise and Shiprocked.

Maybe you travel to marquee events based on artist lineups and unique experiences, to experience iconic spaces like Graceland in Memphis, the Red Rocks natural stone amphitheatre in Colorado, the symbol of the Sydney skyline, the Sydney Opera House, or to make sure you don't miss major events on an artist’s tour schedule.

Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Colorado. Credit

But Music Cities allow you to immerse yourself in experiences anytime you visit, 365 days a year.  Great Music Cities have: 

  • A critical mass of active artists and musicians;
  • a strong music ecosystem of all the professionals and businesses who support artists in their careers;
  • spaces and places needed for creation, rehearsal, education and performance;
  • a great live music scene with a variety of venues, ranging in sizes to accommodate artists at all stages of their careers;
  • and an appreciative core audience that shows up to live music events large and small.

The Hitsville U.S.A. Motown building, Detroit, MI. Motown's headquarters from 1959 to 1968. Photo Credit

In addition, some Music Cities are blessed with deep historical roots – and ideally if they’ve got remarkable music history, they protect it and promote it as an active music experience to locals and visiting music lovers. (Think of the Opera House in Vienna, original jazz venues in New Orleans, the east-coast music hub of George Street in St.John's, Newfoundland, or Motown's roots in Detroit.)

Are you traveling to one of the world’s Music Cities soon?  Here are some tips about how to experience the best the local music scene has to offer:

Jackson-Triggs Winery Amphitheatre, Niagara, ON

  1. Seek out unusual spaces where live music is performed, not just the advance ticketed events.Look at local wineries, micro-breweries, restaurants, museums, even bowling alleys. Local record stores can be a great way to learn about this type of under the radar gigs.
  2. See what local tastemakers are saying about live events in the city when you are there.Look at local media publications, blogs and portals.  Go where the locals go.  This can be a great way to discover an artist that you wouldn't find in an ordinary 'search' on your computer.
  3. Take the time to sample an artist's music online if you’re unsure of the genre. Listening to local artists as you explore a new city can add a soundtrack to your travel memories.
  4. Take risks – that’s how you’ll find a gem of a musician, band or music experience that you never otherwise would have discovered.
  5. Read up on the music history before you go and look for walking tours or historical society installations.Calgary's new Studio Bell, home of the  National Music Centre includes an unparalleled collection of working music artifacts and instruments, educational elements, and performance spaces as well.

Studio Bell, home of the National Music Centre, Calgary.  (Photo used with permission from Calgary Municipal Land Corporation)

Top image: Inside the Made in Canada stage. Photo: Leblond Studio Inc

Music Cities, small and large, obvious and hidden, dot the globe.  Chances are, the city you’re next visiting offers some unforgettable musical experiences.  Venture out of the ordinary and you will build more amazing memories with an experiential sound-track of your travels.

Where's the Largest National Monument in the U.S.?

It's one of the biggest protected areas on Earth.  Two times the size of Texas. And you could fit the entire country of France inside more than twice. It's larger than all the US National Parks combined, encompassing 582,578 square miles of the Pacific Ocean.

Hawaii's Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument is a double dose of global riches: a mixed UNESCO World Heritage Site designated in 2010 for both its natural and cultural significance. It is the first mixed UNESCO World Heritage Site in the United States.

Efforts to preserve the natural and cultural treasures in the remote region northwest of Hawaii have grown incrementally for over a century.  In the early 1900's, conservationist President Theodore Roosevelt sent the Marines to the Midway Atoll to stop the wholesale slaughter of seabirds for eggs and feathers.  Since then, state and national authorities, including several presidents since Roosevelt, have stepped up, increasing the size of the monument and its protections.  In 2016, the official reserve size was quadrupled to its present record-breaking size when its border was expanded to include the exclusive economic zone that had been surrounding the marine monument.

Red Pencil Urchin.  Credit

Natural Heritage

The marine monument includes both land and sea areas.  7000 marine species call Papahānaumokuākea home, and a quarter of these are found only in this region. Extensive coral reefs – which monument experts call 'rainforests of the sea' – as well as islands, deepwater, and shallow water environments are vital – and now that fishing is banned – protected habitats. 

Boobies. Image credit.

The marine monument provides a sanctuary for rare and threatened species like blue whales, green sea turtles, Hawaiian monk seals, 14 million seabirds representing 22 species including local Laysan finches, Laysan ducks and Laysan albatross, Pritchardia palms, and crustaceans like the spiny lobster.

Cultural Heritage

Remote Papahānaumokuākea has deep significance for living Native Hawaiian culture.  The Hawaiian concept of kinship between people and nature, of life's origins and the return of spirits to the earth after death, is memorialized in the ancestral environments of the protected area. Two of the islands contain significant archaeological remains. One, the island of Mokumanamana, has the highest density of sacred sites in Hawaii, and has spiritual significance in Hawaiian cosmology. (Top image: Mokumanamana. Credit)

Midway Memorial. Image Credit

Later cultural significance now memorialized in Papahānaumokuākea include the history-changing World War Two Battle of Midway, and its earlier position in 19th century commercial whaling industry.

Visiting Papahānaumokuākea

Public access to the distant and restricted marine monument is limited.  All vessels must report entering and leaving the monument.  Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge and Battle of Midway National Memorial are only open for visitation if staffing permits. 

You can check on visitation status at www.fws.gov/refuge/Midway_Atoll/.

Try these experiences on your next trip to the main Hawaiin islands to appreciate America's biggest National Monument:

Kaʻena Point
This State Park on the North Shore of Oahu shares similar ecosystem, plant and animal features as Papahānaumokuākea.  It's used as an accessible-to-the-average-visitor interpretive site for the Monument.

Visit:
www.friendsofkaena.org
www.hawaiistateparks.org/parks/oahu/index.cfm?park_id=19

Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park

Interpretive signs provide visitors with information about the geology, ecology and cultural history of Papahānaumokuākea and the origins of the entire Hawaiian archipelago in the context of the same hot spot that continues to produce new land at Kilauea volcano.

Visit: www.nps.gov/havo.

Spinner Dolphins. Credit

Kīlauea Point National Wildlife Refuge
This is one of the best places on the main Hawaiian Islands to view wildlife. Visitors have the opportunity to see some of the largest populations of nesting seabirds, spinner dolphins, Hawaiian monk seals, and Hawaii's state bird, the endangered Hawaiian goose.

Visit http://www.fws.gov/kilaueapoint/.

 

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Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee... Ahhh

If you were asked to name the top coffees of the world, would Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee be on your list? It should be.

When he brought a few Arabica coffee plants to the island in the early 1700's, it's unlikely that Jamaica's British Governor Sir Nicholas Lawes realized the phenomenon he was starting. The plants, which had been sent originally to Martinique by King Louis XV of France, would in time become a claim to fame for Jamaica. By the early 1800's the beverage they produced had already gained a reputation as one of the world's most coveted gourmet coffees.

Fast-forward to today, and Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee is one of the country's signature, premium, globally-known products. 

What is Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee?

Your morning cup of joe is likely a blend of commodity-grade beans from multiple sources.  When you drink Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee, it's not a blend.  It's pure, estate/single origin coffee. 

And like wine, 'terroir' counts.  So does hard work.

In eastern Jamaica, the Blue Mountains rise high into cool, misty air, peaking at 7,402 feet.  Above 5,500 feet, it's Forest Reserve. In a specified zone, from 3,000 feet up to the Forest Reserve, authentic Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee thrives.

The altitude, the reduced sunlight due to forest cover, the cool air, the clouds, the rain, and volcanic soil all combine to make a dense bean that takes almost twice as long as many other regions' beans to mature.  They're hand-picked on steep slopes only at perfect ripeness, requiring pickers to return to the same plants to harvest again and again. Terroir plus high-touch production translates into a smooth, silky, complex, full-bodied, balanced, bright coffee with virtually no bitterness.

The Jamaican government protects the appellation globally, monitoring the growing region, bean quality, single-origin composition and taste before certifying authentic Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee.

Where can you taste real BMC?

Of course you should try Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee at the source.  We recommend traveling into Jamaica's coffee producing areas, where, like wineries, coffee producing houses offer tours and tastings to the public. 

Take some home! Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee makes an excellent souvenir, allowing you to continue to savor your trip to Jamaica long after your tan has faded. (And don't forget gifts for your friends, family, house sitter… bags of BMC will make you everyone's favorite person.)

Rumor has it Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee is the preferred java at Buckingham Palace and even the White House, so if you get invited for coffee at either of those famous homes, you can confirm if it's true.

Or you can buy it online from accredited authentic sellers.

Special mention:  BMC is used to make the liqueur Tia Maria, so, morning, noon, and nighttime, your day can be brightened by a taste of Jamaica's famous Blue Mountains.

 

8 Facts About the Panama Canal

Panama's beaches are drawing more and more resort travelers, and itineraries that take cruise passengers through the Panama Canal are growing in popularity. But how much do you know about this Man-Made Wonder of the World?

1. It's a short cut for ships between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

The Panama Canal cuts across the Isthmus of Panama in a narrow land bridge between North and South America. Prior, ships had to sail around the tip of South America.  It takes about 8 hours to cross the Canal's 50 miles (77km). That saves days. If a ship had to navigate down and around Cape Horn at the tip of South America and back up the other side, it would have to travel nearly 12,500 miles (20,000 km).

2. It's over 100 years old.

2014 marked the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Panama Canal.   Columbia, France, then later, the United States controlled the land surrounding the canal.  In 1999, control passed back to Panama.  In 1881, the French started building the canal, but progress halted due to engineering problems and high worker mortality.  The US took it over in 1904 and completed the project with newly available technology ten years later at a cost of $400 million USD.

3. It also cost over 25,000 lives.

At times, more than 43,000 people were working on the Panama Canal.  Workers had to deal with heat, jungles, swamps - and all the creatures in them, including rats that carried bubonic plague.  Plus mosquito-borne diseases like yellow fever and malaria. Over 20,000 workers died during French building efforts. After the scientific links between the insects and disease had been discovered, Americans undertook intensive anti-mosquito initiatives.  Even so, another more than 5000 workers perished during the American building phase.

4. It's considered one of the Man-Made Wonders of the World

The American Society of Civil Engineers has also dubbed the Panama Canal one of the 7 Wonders of the Modern World. It's one of the largest and most difficult engineering projects ever undertaken.

A system of locks at each end of the Canal lifts ships up 85 feet  (26 meters) above sea level to an artificial lake. Ships traverse the artificial lake, as well as a series of improved and artificial channels, and then are lowered again in more locks to sea level at the other side. 

The locks are 110 feet (33 meters) feet wide and 1000 feet (300 meters) long. About 30-MILLION pounds (1,400,000 kilos) of explosives were used to help clear the land for the canal.

5. Over 1 Million vessels have crossed the canal since it opened.

In 1914, the year it opened, about 1000 ships used the canal. Today, nearly 15,000 ships transit the Isthmus of Panama through the Canal annually. The 1 Millionth ship crossed the canal in 2010, 96 years after it opened.

In 1934 it was estimated that the maximum traffic of the canal would be around 80 million tons of shipping a year, but by 2015, canal traffic exceeded 340 million tons of shipping – over 4 times the original maximum estimate.

6. $2 Billion in tolls are collected annually

Every ship that passes through the canal pays a toll based on its size, type and volume of cargo. Tolls are set by the Panama Canal Authority. Tolls for the largest cargo ships can run about $450,000. Cruise ships pay by berths (number of passengers in beds).  The per-berth fee set in 2016 was $138; a large cruise ship can pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to sail through the Canal. 

The smallest toll recorded was paid by American Richard Halliburton in 1928, who paid 36 cents to swim the Canal.

7. The Panama Canal was expanded for bigger ships in 2016

The original canal locks are 110 feet (33 meters) wide and ten times as long. For a century, they accommodated shipping, and the term 'Panamax' ships was used to describe ships built to fit through the canal.  But ships kept getting bigger, and in 2007, work began on a multi-billion dollar expansion of the Canal.  In 2016, a third, wider lane of locks opened for commercial shipping, capable of handling 'Post-Panamax' ships that can carry 14,000 20-foot shipping containers (nearly 3 times Panamax ship capacity).

In spite of that giant leap forward in 2016, the world's largest container ships - that can carry 18,000 shipping containers – can't pass through the Panama Canal.

8. Tourists can visit the Panama Canal by land or water. 

There are 2 options.  Cruise lines offer actual Panama Canal itineraries that sail through the canal in the approximately 8 hour passage to their next destination in the opposite ocean.  But you don't have to sail through the canal.  Whether you're in Panama City, or on a resort / beach vacation in Panama, you can take a land trip to see the canal in action. 

The Miraflores Visitor Center is on the east side of the Miraflores Locks, which are close to the Pacific end of the Canal. Like the canal, the Visitor Center is open daily.  The Visitor Center has large balconies designed for you to get a great view as the lock gates are opened and closed for ships to start or complete their journey through the Panama Canal. 

Engineering buffs and even children will be thrilled at the up-close-to-the-action perspective on this man-made Wonder of the World. 

(Photo credit)

Start your Trip!

 

Top 5 Souvenirs from Newfoundland, Canada

The immense iceberg that's been parked in 'Iceberg Alley' on the coast of Canada's rugged Newfoundland and Labrador has reminded a lot of people it's time to book that trip to North America's eastern-most coast.  

You can only take a picture of an iceberg, but here are 5 unique, interesting souvenirs you can take home that you'll actually use, or give as gifts - and support local artisans and businesses. 

We've given you tips about each one, plus a high/low rating to help you decide where to save or splurge.

Labradorite is magical: moody, blue / grey / green with striations and life, with the appearance that light is playing inside the semi-precious stone - it's easy to see why it's said to be an incarnation of the Northern Lights. Labrador is the mainland part of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. It was there Europeans first saw and named the stone in the 18th century, although labradorite was part of Inuit lore long before.

(Photos: BestTrip.TV)

Tip: movement of the piece is the key to the mythical play of color in labradorite, so choose jewelry to get the most motion and bring out its best.

High /Low: Pieces set in silver start at around $50, and depending on the setting and the artist, can be worth many times that.

'Trigger Finger' Mittens:  Hunting is a way of life in Newfoundland; just about everyone we met, including 'Townies' (people who live in 'town') fishes, AND hunts. With so much time spent outdoors in any weather, trust some clever Newfoundland knitter to come up with 'Trigger Finger Mittens'. So you don't have to take off your mitts to get the job done. Handy even for people who don't use firearms, too.  Who wants to take off a mitten to use your index finger in cold weather?

Tip: We found lots of big mittens, but searched high and low for trigger finger mittens that would fit women's hands.  A friendly local recommended someone who made them who could supply them in women's and children's sizes.

High/ Low: in the range of $15-20 per pair.

Savoury: Yes, the herb.  No one I spoke to seems to know how savoury became so indispensable to Newfoundland cooking, but it's a staple seasoning.

Savoury is found in bread at restaurants, on iconic Newfoundland cod, and especially, as the key ingredient in dressing (aka 'stuffing'). In Newfoundland, 'dressing' is an everyday food, not just for Thanksgiving.  You'll find it on menus as a side to upscale cuisine and even fish and chips.  It's usually served along with gravy, and called 'D + G'.

Tip: Use Newfoundland savoury in easy-to-bake biscuits. And definitely in dressing! A wonderful gift for a foodie friend.

High/Low: under $10.

Sea Salt: One producer of sea salt in Newfoundland said it best: why should an island surrounded by the briny sea have to import salt?

There are now a couple of businesses in the province who extract salt from the icy North Atlantic waters, and for any traveling foodie, a local sea salt is a treasure.

Tip: use on lightly flavoured items like eggs or fish, where the salt's unique characteristics can stand out.

High/Low: low, perfect for a foodie's stocking stuffer, maybe along with a bottle of Newfoundland savoury.

Newfoundland Music: Perhaps the greatest export from Newfoundland, and contribution to Canadian culture, is its music.

It seems every Newfoundlander you meet is a talented musician, and even casual parties feature live music and singalongs. While you're in Newfoundland, don't miss it: from festivals to kitchen parties to every bar on famous pub-lined George Street, live music is part of the Newfoundland experience. Don't forget to take some one-of-a-kind music home!

Tip: Fred's Record Store on Duckworth Street in St.John's has been selling and supporting Newfoundland artists for nearly 50 years. If you've forgotten what a record store feels like, don't miss it! Fred's also has free live music at times, so drop in and enjoy!

High/Low: Low, $15-25, and what's easier to pack than a few CD's?

Special Places to Shop in Newfoundland:

Duckworth Street, St. John's

Although there are many places to buy Newfoundland souvenirs, Duckworth Street in St.John's is a sure thing. Running parallel and close to the waterfront, Duckworth street is in the heart of downtown. It's not only lined with shops, the streets running up the hill are charming examples of Jellybean Row, the brightly colored 'saltbox' houses that are iconic images of the city.

Quidi Vidi

This impossibly picturesque fishing village just outside St.John's (pictured top) is well worth a visit - for the scenery, its craft brewery, Mallard Cottage which one of the top rated restaurants in Canada, AND the Quidi Vidi Village Plantation. This dockside building houses artisan workshops, where you can meet the artisans, learn about their crafts, and buy souvenirs of your trip to Newfoundland.

- Lynn Elmhirst, BestTrip.TV

We Need This: Recharge App Lets you Book Hotels By the Minute

No, not for that. Well, sure, maybe for that.  If you and your sweetheart get inspired for some spontaneous romance, there's a new app that let's you be that much more spontaneous.

This is not the business of the world's oldest profession booking shady hotel rooms by the hour. 

The Recharge app gives you billed-by-the-MINUTE access to a luxury hotel room.  You pay for your room for exactly as long as you need it, and not one minute more. Tested originally in San Francisco, and now expanded to New York, where any luxury hotel room easily rings in at $500 a night, Recharge can make many travelers' experiences better. In New York, Recharge's by-the-minute prices range from $0.83 to $2 a minute.

Whether your goal is to relax or be productive, we (and the app's developers, who worked with JetBlue's tech incubator) think this will change your travel life.

Wardrobe malfunction?  No more stress of struggling to get that stain out of your shirt or deal with a burst diaper in a random coffee shop bathroom.  15 minutes in a private, spacious bathroom with a sink and facecloth and a hand-held hair dryer rings in from $12.45 – $30.

Need a power nap? 20 minutes of a bed better than the one you have at home and silence will cost you between $16.60 and 40 bucks.

Foot sore and weary from pounding the pavement / museum galleries, and no time to go all the way back to your hotel at the other end of town?   60 minutes to deal with those blisters, put your feet up, make a cup of coffee, even take a quick shower for $49.80 to $120 seems worth it.

Two and a half hours in silence to catch up on mission-critical email or update your presentation using reliable WiFi – or put over-stimulated (that is: cranky) kids down for a nap/ quiet time so the whole family gets to truly enjoy the rest of the day – or reset after a red-eye and before your day officially starts?  As they say, priceless.

Once you start thinking about it, you realize you don't know how you ever traveled without an app like this. Nursing moms. A quick change from day to evening business meetings. Who doesn't need on-demand, affordable access to a luxury hotel refuge to make your trip better?

There are other web-based hotel day-use options, but they tend to give you designated morning or afternoon time-slots. This is more like a parking meter app.  You can start any time you pull in, and only pay for as long as you're in that space.

Photos: Recharge

The app will locate the hotel closest to you, and you hit 'book now'.  Your actual billing starts 30 minutes later or once you pick up your key, whichever comes first, then ends when you hit 'check out'.   That minute.  If it's 49 minutes later, you're billed 49 minutes, not an hour.  You don't have to feed or worry about the meter.

At the moment only available in San Francisco and now New York.  But we're looking forward to 'Recharge'ing globally in the future.

Mind, Body, Soul: Wellness on Shore Paired with Spa on Board Regent Seven Seas Cruises

Does the idea of returning from vacation healthier, more centered, spiritually uplifted than when you left appeal to you?   Regent Seven Seas Cruises and its shipboard spa partner Canyon Ranch SpaClub have introduced Seven Seas Wellness, a new collection of wellness-themed shore excursions paired with on-board spa and wellness experiences.

The initiative, that integrates ship and shore, is all about providing guests with one-stop-shop holistic well-being programming for their holidays.   It debuts this summer on sailings of the Regent Seven Seas Voyager in the Mediterranean, a region whose healthy lifestyle sets a global benchmark.

(Tour the Canyon Ranch SpaClub on Regent Seven Seas Explorer in the video above).

Guests who choose a Seven Seas Wellness experience first choose a wellness-themed excursion from a collection of more than 10 options in some of the most exciting Mediterranean destinations.

Seven Seas Wellness Shore Excursions Include:

Marseille, Old Port. Photos: BestTrip.TV

Tai Chi

 

  • Provence (Marseille), France – De-stress and unwind with the ancient Chinese martial arts in a 19th century palace on Tai Chi in the Imperial Garden.
  • Palma De Mallorca, Spain – Enjoy fresh sea air and breathtaking scenery as guests center their chi from either the Illuetta Bay or Can Antoni Pere Beach on Mallorca Meditation in Motion.

 

Yoga

  • Corfu, Greece – Experience Corfiot filoxenia, a concept not adequately defined by the word “hospitality,” and learn about local culture, before practicing yoga and deep meditation in one of Greece’s most beautiful estates on The Generosity of Spirit.
  • Monte Carlo, Monaco – Guests will calm the mind, increase focus, strength, and stamina, in the fast-paced, dance-like style of yoga that synchronizes breathing, while enjoying  the spectacular Mediterranean panorama on Vinyasa Yoga on Monte Carlo.
  • Taormina, Sicily – Guests take in the dramatic and contrasting coastlines, cliffs, and Mount Etna, as they practice poses from a high perch overlooking the charming seaside town on Taormina Terrace Yoga.

Hydrothermal Therapy

  • Rome (Civitavecchia), Italy – Soak in the restorative mineral-rich, thermal springs, which has been visited by Popes and Kings throughout its thousand-year-old history on Thermal Baths of Popes.
  • Sorrento, Italy – Enjoy a sprawling spa complex built on the site of an ancient Roman prototype, consisting of warm and cold thermal springs with rock grottos, mineral baths, pools and genuine Roman sauna rooms on Roman Baths and the Burning Fields.

Aromatherapy

  • Venice, Italy – Visit the exhibition at the palace-turned-museum, where one room recreates a 16th century perfumer’s laboratory and guests can learn how to create their own perfume to take home on Venetian Scents at Palazzo Mocenigo.
  • Amalfi/Positano, Italy– Be inspired and invigorated by the island’s calming presence, inherent spirit, and many natural gifts on a highlights tour, before visiting Carthusia, the famous and exclusive perfume laboratory on this full-day Capri for all Senses.

Walking and Laughing

  • Palma De Mallorca, Spain – Enjoy the benefits of lower-impact, body-toning Nordic walk up the hill to the 14th century Bellver Castle on Nordic Morning Walk.
  • Palamos, Spain – Unlock the many health benefits of this atypical Laughter Therapy session, where guests giggle and laugh for a full-scale workout to release stress-busting endorphins on the Wellness of Laughter.

 

Then, to complete the distinctive, body and soul-enriching experience, you select one of 5 curated Canyon Ranch Spa services on the ship to pair with your shore wellness experience.  

Shipboard Spa Experiences Pairing Menu Includes:

  • World of Relief Body Buff
  • Tangle Me Up Wrap
  • Ocean Scrub
  • Sole Rejuvenation
  • Vitamin Infusion Facial

So you're able to create your own invigorating, and customized, transformative wellness program in the practices that appeal to you most.

Furthermore, you'll be able to enjoy a robust menu of Canyon Ranch SpaClub and Fitness Center activities like

  • Reiki,
  • acupuncture,
  • fitness classes,
  • personal training,
  • educational presentations and workshops and more. 

Plus eat right at a new healthy breakfast bar at the Pool Grill and Canyon Ranch Balanced dinner selections appetizers, mains, and desserts with full flavor, full nutrition, and satisfying portions for maximum health and energy. 

For more and more people, pursuit of well-being is an essential part of a life well-lived, even, or especially, when we take time off to travel.  From eating right and exercising to practicing ways to reduce stress and experience moments that uplift the spirit, wellness is quickly becoming the ultimate luxury.

We know guests are going to love making this innovative Seven Seas Wellness program part of their fulfilling journeys.