Big City Tales

Boston Strong All Year Long

September 17, 2013
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In the aftermath of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, a city reeling from tragedy found comfort in a short, simple rallying cry.

“Boston Strong” perfectly captured the stalwart spirit of Bostonians on display for the world to see that fateful April day, and while springtime in Boston will forever be associated with the genesis of the powerful mantra, it’s a sentiment that has since been embraced by many of the city’s other heralded institutions/events held throughout the year.

No matter the season, no matter the month, Boston is truly strong all year long.

Image of Charles River Esplanade

The Charles River Esplanade in all its springtime glory.

Spring

You don’t have to be a sports enthusiast to know that in Boston the advent of spring and third Monday of April (Patriots’ Day) is synonymous with thousands of runners descending upon the city to participate in the aforementioned Boston Marathon.

The 2013 edition attracted over 20,000 participants from around the globe, of which some 5,000+ were unable to finish the race owing to the bombings, and featured an Ethiopian winner in the men’s event and a Kenyan in the women’s.

With early invites already extended to those non-finishers who completed at least half of the 2013 race, next year’s marathon promises to be bigger and better and STRONGER than ever.

Image of Boston Marathon runners

Every year, the Boston Marathon attracts thousands of runners eager to pound the city pavement en route to the finish line at Copley Square.

Summer

Given Boston is the site of many important events associated with the American Revolution, it comes as no surprise that the city spares no expense with Independence Day celebrations.

In addition to a 4th of July parade, residents and visitors are treated to a Boston Pops concert along the banks of the Charles River and one of the country’s best fireworks displays set to a fantastic musical score, culminating in the playing of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture with its booming cannon section.

The summer months are also an ideal time to check out Boston’s Freedom Trail and National Historical Park that features properties such as the Bunker Hill Monument, Paul Revere House, and Faneuil Hall where many pro-independence speeches were held.

Image of Boston skyline/harbour

It looks peaceful now, but come July 4th the Back Bay district is one of the busiest harbours in America.

Fall

When the dog days of summer make way for the  cool, crisp days of fall, baseball fever in Beantown takes on a heightened sense of fervour – especially since 2004 when the “Curse of the Bambino” was finally lifted with the Boston Red Sox winning the World Series after an 86-year drought.

As one of Major League Baseball’s oldest and most-decorated teams, taking in a Bo Sox game at Fenway Park is a must for diehard sports fans, but will also appeal to those who appreciate historic landmarks and quirky architecture, such as the Green Monster in left field so named for its vivid green colouring and towering height of over 37 feet.

Image of Fenway Park

Fenway Park is the oldest major league ballpark, and is home of the massive Green Monster wall looming larger than life out in left field.

Winter

There’s no denying the fact that Boston is a hub of winning sports teams (they don’t call it Titletown for nothing!) and after the athletes of spring/summer/fall hang up their cleats and jerseys, it’s time to head indoors to TD Gardens for some classic action in the hockey arena with the heralded Bruins, and in the paint on the basketball courts with the equally beloved Celtics.

As one of the Original Six franchises in the National Hockey League, the Bruins are the third oldest league franchise and oldest in America, and have won five Stanley Cup championships. Meanwhile, with 17 championship titles and 21 conference/division titles, the Celtics are a perennial powerhouse team in the National Basketball Association.

The winter months may be long and cold in NE Massachusetts, but having winning teams who share a common winning cheer sure helps to take the sting off…Boston Strong All Year Long!

Boston Strong image

The “Boston Strong” sentiment extends to the city’s many sports franchises.


The Magic and Magnificence of Montreal & Quebec City

August 30, 2013
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Image of Canadian and Quebec flags

To stay or not to stay…that is the question that has plagued Quebec voters for years.

While the politics of separatism may divide the people of Quebec (and Canada); one thing everyone can agree on is that when it comes to cities in Canada offering a sense of urban chic with a touch of old world charm, Montreal and Quebec City are at the top of the list.  Magic and magnificence abounds in equal measure in these two cities, and it doesn’t take long to fall under their respective spells.

Image of Notre Dame Basilica

Notre Dame Basilica across from Place d’Armes square in historic Old Montreal.

Image of Plains of Abraham

A lively re-enactment of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in Quebec City.

MONTREAL

City of Islands – Situated along the Saint Lawrence Seaway, the city of Montreal is named after Mount Royal, a prominent three-peaked hill first documented by the great French explorer Jacques Cartier. The downtown core is built upon the Island of Montreal, but the city’s borders extend to surrounding islands such as Saint Helen’s and Bizard.

Iamge of downtown Montreal skyline

The skyline of downtown Montreal as seen from a distance at Parc Jean-Drapeau on Saint Helen’s Island.

Summer Festivals – Be it comedy, jazz, fireworks or film, Montreal is known for its wide array of festivals and every summer the city is inundated with throngs of people eager to soak-up Montreal’s unique cultural flare. If you’re looking for a hearty chuckle, check out the Just for Laughs festival; or if you want to be amazed with a kaleidoscope of spectacular fireworks displays, the Montreal Fireworks Festival will be sure to dazzle.

Image of Montreal Jazz Festival

The annual Jazz Festival attracts internationally renowned performers, and standing-room only crowds.

Olympic Dreams / Sports Dynasties – When Montreal was selected to host the 1976 Summer Olympic Games, it was a major triumph for the city, province, and entire nation of Canada.  Despite soaring construction costs and ongoing maintenance issues with the primary venue, it was a point of pride for organizers that the games were a resounding success and produced some new sports heroes, notably Greg Joy who earned a silver medal in the high jump competition.

Canada may not have many elite track and field athletes, but the country does excel in other sports such as hockey and football and the city of Montreal is home to two heralded dynasties. The Montreal Canadiens are part of the National Hockey League and have won a record 24 Stanley Cups; while the Montreal Alouettes play in the Canadian Football League and have won the Grey Cup a total of seven times. During the 2000s, the Alouettes amassed an impressive win-loss-tie record, eight regular season first place finishes, and three Grey Cup wins.

Image of Olympic Stadium

Over-budget and plagued by ongoing repairs, Olympic Stadium is still a marvel of architecture!

QUEBEC CITY

Old World Charm – In the historic district of Old Quebec, cobblestone streets and quaint, colourful storefronts are reminiscent of small European towns. Everywhere you look, proprietors are happily at work and visitors share their glee in wandering around at leisure and enjoying the casual, laid back atmosphere. Be sure to sample some sucre a la crème, a traditional Québécois fudge that is especially prevalent during the Christmas season.

Image of Old Quebec City

Looking for a taste of Europe? Check out the old world charm in the historic district of Old Quebec.

Winter Carnival – Nothing makes the winter more palatable like a good old-fashioned festival, and Quebec City’s annual offering certainly does its best to chase the winter blues away! Typically held in February, the festival’s star attraction is Le Bonhomme Carnaval, a jovial over-sized snowman who spreads Québécois joy wherever he goes. In addition to a winter amusement park, other attractions include a snow sled slide, ice sculptures and various outdoor shows. When in Quebec City in the heart of winter, a rendezvous with Monsieur Bonhomme is highly recommended!

Image of Bonhomme

Bonjour, Monsieur Bonhomme! Vous etes tres beau, joyeux et plein de fun!

Chateau Frontenac – Sitting high on a hill overlooking the Saint Lawrence River below, the mighty and majestic Chateau Frontenac is a breath-taking sight at any time of day.  Designated as a national historic site in 1980, the hotel is noteworthy for being the most photographed in the world and is truly a wonder to behold!

Image of Chateau Frontenac

The regal and rustic Chateau Frontenac basks in the glow of a golden sunset.


Taking the Tarnish Off of Toronto

August 19, 2013
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Image of Toronto skyline

One of the fringe benefits of working in downtown Toronto is the close proximity to Lake Ontario.

From its boisterous and belligerent mayor to its beleaguered police force, the city of Toronto has been in the news for all the wrong reasons this summer, but don’t let these public stains tarnish your image of what is otherwise one of Canada’s safest and most vibrant urban centres. Indeed, despite the recent bad press, the city has many redeeming qualities and boasts multiple world-class amenities that are worth a look-see time and time again.

The CN Tower

Situated along the shores of Lake Ontario, Toronto’s downtown core is an eclectic mix of modern and historical buildings with the iconic CN Tower being the star attraction. Rising over 1800 feet into the air, the tower remains the tallest free-standing structure in the Western hemisphere, and attracts in excess of two million visitors each year.

While many patrons prefer to take in the 360 degree view of the city from the inner observation deck, the thrill-seeking crowd were delighted when the EdgeWalk feature was added in 2011 allowing access to an exterior platform at 1168 feet. As TV personality Rick Mercer and singer/songwriter Jann Arden discovered, even being tethered to an overhead rail system and accompanied by a trained guide doesn’t put the butterflies at bay, but there’s no denying the spectacular views!

Image of CN Tower

With its sleek design and mammoth height, the CN Tower dominates the Toronto skyline.

Museum Central

Those looking for a break from the stress of a Toronto traffic jam on the 401 or mass of humanity on the crowded streets can seek refuge in one of the city’s peaceful cultural institutions. The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), Hockey Hall of Fame, and Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) are all found in the general vicinity of the downtown core and each has unique offerings:

  • ROM is well-known for its Egyptian, Japanese and Chinese exhibits, as well as its extensive collection of natural history artifacts numbering in the millions.
  • Fans of the National Hockey League will enjoy a stroll down hockey’s memory lane at the Hockey Hall of Fame where the exploits of Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Orr, Maurice Richard and others greats of the game are celebrated in typical Canadian fanfare. The Hall of Fame is also the permanent exhibition site of the Stanley Cup and other significant league trophies.
  • AGO is one of the world’s largest art galleries and features an impressive array of works from Canadian artists, and a number of sculptures from Britain’s Henry Moore. AGO is also known for its many building expansions, with Frank Gehry being among the famous architects who have put their design stamp on the gallery.
Image of Royal Ontario Museum

It may have a modern exterior, but the Royal Ontario Museum interior is all about natural history and celebrating ancient cultures.

Theatre District

As the world`s third largest English-speaking theatre district there are plenty of plays, musicals and festivals to take in on a regular basis in Toronto`s Theatre District. Be it a flashy West End or Broadway touring show production, or an uncensored Fringe Festival offering there is bound to be something that appeals to live theatre buffs. Canada`s Walk of Fame is also located in this area and the annual induction ceremony is a highlight on the Toronto high society calendar.

Image of Royal Alexandria Theatre

The Royal Alexandria Theatre is the oldest continuously operating theatre in North America.

Yonge Street

As main streets go, Toronto has one of the longest in the world and one of the most culturally significant with Yonge Street playing host to street parades, performances, and demonstrations. The corner of Yonge and Dundas streets is often the site of free concerts and other public events at Yonge-Dundas Square, and is akin to the function and ambience of Times Square in New York City. Yonge Street is also a major transportation artery with the Yonge subway line running almost the full length of Toronto and connecting with most feeder routes.

For the city at the centre of the Canadian universe, Toronto often faces a lot of scrutiny from outsiders who delight in any blemishes that surface. It is a tall order to maintain a perfect complexion and it should be noted that the recent outbreak of unsavoury public activity is not a true reflection of what this city has to offer. Rather, Toronto is a dynamic and savvy metropolitan hub full of a palpable energy that fuels an air of excitement with every visit to its inner core – tarnished image or not!

Image of Yonge Street

Yonge Street a.k.a. Main Street Ontario.


Venice: Veni, vidi, vici

August 9, 2013
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Image of Grand Canal in Venice

Vessels of all shapes and sizes navigate the choppy waters of Venice’s Grand Canal.

When travelling in Italy it is hard not to harken back to the glory days of the Roman Empire and the many conquests of its illustrious leaders.  Chief among the lost list of conquerors is Julius Caesar, whose epic battles at home and abroad contributed to the demise of the former corrupt republic and the establishment of a new noble state.

During his reign, Caesar was known for famously crossing the Rhine and the English Channel as part of his expansion efforts, and for coining the phrase “Veni, vidi, vici” following his triumph in Britain.  Given Caesar’s connection to the water, his immortal words are a fitting reference to how it feels as a tourist coming to Venice for the first time.

Being surrounded by water and an abundance of narrow, winding channels can be unnerving, but once your bearings are straight navigating this unique terrain is a breeze, and you’ll find yourself feeling like the mighty ruler himself. Yes, when it comes to visiting Venice, it is entirely possible to say: “I came, I saw, I conquered!”

The Grand Canal

A good place to start your conquest of this ancient marine city is on the Grand Canal where traditional gondolas can be found side-by-side with modern water taxis (vaporettis) and luxury yachts. Whatever your preferred mode of transportation, you’ll definitely need your sea legs to be in shape to get around Venice. The charm of a crooning gondolier will appeal to couples out for a romantic tour of the Venice lagoon waterways; while the speed and efficiency of vaporetti operators will attract those wanting to get from point A to B in short order.

Image of gondolas in Venice

When in Venice, do as the tourists do: take a traditional gondola ride!

The Rialto Bridge

As the most photographed bridge in Venice, the Rialto Bridge has the added distinction of once being the only way to cross the Grand Canal on foot. As beautiful as it is functional, the bridge owes its unique design to architect Anthony da Ponte who constructed a higher than usual arch to allow passage of galley ships common in the 16th century. Other notable features include three walkways, a decorative portico, and merchant shops on both sides.

Image of Rialto Bridge

Opened in 1591, the Rialto Bridge is a busy crossing point between the San Marco and San Polo districts.

St. Mark’s Square / Bell Tower

Anchoring one end of the Venice promenade, St. Mark’s Square is home to the Bell Tower, St. Mark’s Basilica, and the Doge’s Palace among other must-see sights. The large open square provides ample space for outdoor concerts, as well as milling about with the plethora of pigeons who happily make their home here. Stylized street lanterns highlight the master skills of local glass-blowers, who demonstrate their craft and sell their wares nearby, but the main attractions in the square are the opulently designed/decorated basilica and palace that are as equally beautiful on the inside as they are from the outside.

Image of the bell tower in St. Mark's Square

The bell tower in St. Mark’s Square is one of Venice’s most recognized and visited landmarks.

Detail of column in St. Mark's Square

One of the decorative columns in St. Mark`s Square that serve as the gateway to Venice.

The Promenade

Known as the Riva degli Schiavoni, the world-renowned promenade along the Venice waterfront starts at the Doge’s Palace and stretches to the Arsenal, Venice’s ancient shipyard area. The area is typically full of tourists eager to shop, eat, and soak up the Italian sun, which on a summer’s day may see temperatures approaching 40 degrees Celsius. The promenade is thus the ultimate hot-spot in Venice in more ways than one, and it’s not uncommon to see luxury yachts of the rich and famous anchored along its pier.

For those who prefer a little history and culture over a bunch of tourist traps, the Vittorio Emmanuele II monument and La Pieta church will satisfy your cravings. The former pays homage to the first king of Italy; while the latter was the home parish of Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi, who composed and performed many of his early Baroque pieces here.

Detail of Vittorio Emmanuele II monument

Detail of Vittorio Emmanuele II monument located at the centre of the Venice promenade.

The Arsenal

Established in the 12th century, the Arsenal quickly rose to prominence as one of the most unique and efficient ship-building facilities in the world. At its peak in the 1500s, the facility employed up to 16,000 skilled workers who could turn out a ship’s galley in less than 24 hours, a remarkable feat that was due in part to a production line technique that was far ahead of its time.

Nowadays, the Arsenal is not accessible to the public but the main entrance gate can still be admired, and is a worth a trip to do just that!  Considered to be Venice’s first Classical Revival structure, the gate was built in 1460 and its ornate façade ultimately provided the inspiration for other buildings under construction at the time to take on similar stylistic elements.

Image of the Arsenal in Venice

The Arsenal was once the world’s largest shipyard.

With its numerous winding canals, charming gondoliers, and jaw-dropping gorgeous architecture, it’s easy to be inspired by all that Venice has to offer and it truly is a place to come, see and conquer!


All Hail to the Halifax Regional Municipality

August 2, 2013
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Image of Purdy's Wharf towers in Halifax

A tall ship sails by the iconic Purdy’s Wharf towers along Halifax Harbour.

As the largest urban centre in Atlantic Canada, Halifax has a lot of things to rave about. Not only is the city a hub for East Coast businesses and government/private enterprises; it is also a haven for students who descend from near and far to attend some of the oldest, most well-respected universities in North America. Halifax is also a hotspot for those who enjoy everything from fine dining to sailing the high seas.

Yes, there is much to hail about the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM), and one of the best places to start is along the harbour.

Halifax Harbour

With the downtown business district as a backdrop, the harbour boasts a number of large office towers, trendy restaurants, historic sites, public markets, and other shops spread out over many blocks.  Long stretches of open water views add to the charm of this part of the HRM that draws people in no matter what the weather is. OK, so it’s not busy when remnants of a tropical hurricane make landfall, but when the conditions are just right this area is teeming with people from dusk ’til dawn.

Image of Halifax Harbour

Outdoor restaurants draw large crowds along the Halifax Harbour and pier district.

Citadel Hill

Also referred to as Fort George, Citadel Hill is a defensive fortification originally built in 1749 to protect protestant settlers from enemy raids by the French, Acadians, and Wabanaki Confederacy.  Over the centuries, a series of four different citadels have been constructed on the hill`s summit that overlooks the Halifax Harbour and provided an ideal defensive position to protect the region from various enemy parties.

Today, Citadel Hill is a national historic site and has been restored to the Victorian period, which is known as the Fourth Citadel. Attractions at Citadel Hill include tours of the grounds, re-enactments of daily life in 1869, and the daily firing of the ceremonial noon hour gun.

Image of Citadel Hill

Citadel Hill is a national historic site overlooking Halifax Harbour, the perfect defensive spot!

Spring Garden Road

With a freshwater spring running beneath it, Spring Garden Road comes by its name naturally but don`t let the name fool you…this is not a nature haunt! Rather, it`s a chic, boutique type area that attracts culture-seekers, but  also caters to the pub-crawling and java-drinking crowds, so there`s a little bit of something for everyone to feast on.

One of Spring Garden Road`s most famous landmarks is the Lord Nelson Hotel, which is situated at the corner of Spring Garden Road and South Park Street.  During the 1960s, the hotel was a popular gathering spot for hippies and artists to cultivate their causes and launch various protest efforts from the grounds. Nowadays, it`s still a hip place to be, but for a good night`s rest only!

Image of shop along Spring Garden Road

Unique shops, cafes and other amenities abound along Spring Garden Road.

Halifax Public Gardens

Established in 1876, the year of Canada`s birth as a nation, the Halifax Public Gardens is a 16-acre public park space that features a Victorian-inspired landscape. The gardens are a popular setting for wedding and graduation photos, but also draw in hordes of horticultural enthusiasts and amateur photographers alike looking to enjoy colourful vistas chock full of vibrant flower beds blooming at every turn.  But it`s not just flowers being admired, the gardens also include statues, fountains, bridges, ponds, and a large open-air bandstand area that hosts free public concerts on Sunday afternoons during the summer months. If you`re not allergic to pollen, the gardens are a heavenly place to escape and get lost in the wonder of one of Canada`s finest national historic sites.

Image of Halifax Public Gardens

During the summer, the Bandstand at Halifax Public Gardens features free concerts on Sunday afternoons.

Point Pleasant Park

Located at the southern end of the Halifax peninsula, Point Pleasant Park attracts nature lovers with its many forest walks and harbour views. The park also hosts the annual Shakespeare by the Sea summer play series where fans of the Bard can revel in his illustrious prose that seems to become even more glorious when delivered in a beautiful natural setting.

Other attractions at the park include various naval monuments and the Shilling Ceremony that takes place rain or shine every year to mark the anniversary of the 999 year lease negotiated in 1866 between the British Crown and the HRM.  The lease is now held by the Government of Canada but the terms remain unchanged, so Haligonians have many more years ahead to enjoy this treasured public space.

Image of anchor monument in Halifax's Point Pleasant Park

The HMCS Bonaventure anchor monument at Point Pleasant Park honours the lives of men and women who died in the service of the Canadian Navy during peacetime.

Beyond the HRM

When visiting Canada`s East Coast, a stop in Halifax is a definite must and the must-see sights are plentiful…but don`t stop there! Once you`ve had your fill of the HRM, the rest of Nova Scotia beckons with Peggy`s Cove to the south, Truro to the north, Digby to the west, and Cape Breton to the east.  Adventure awaits no matter the direction, and you`ll find yourself wanting to return more than once to this much heralded and much-loved region of Canada.


On A Sunny Day Nothing Beats Vancouver

July 28, 2013
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Aerial view of Vancouver

An aerial view of Vancouver shows off the city`s abundant natural beauty.

For a city that ranks amongst Canada`s most wettest locales, Vancouver is also one of the warmest major centres.  When the sun is shining, the sky is blue, and the temperature is rising, nothing beats spending a day enjoying the sights and sounds of what is without doubt one of the most livable cities in the world.

Take in the Natural Beauty

Situated on the western half of the Burrard Peninsula in British Columbia`s Lower Mainland, Vancouver is blessed with an abundance of waterways and green spaces that locals and visitors alike flock to in droves…Stanley Park being the jewel in Vancouver’s parks crown!

With the downtown core in close proximity, Stanley Park is frequented by the business crowd along with nature lovers who relish in over 1000 acres of luscious land and a perimeter seawall that offers breath-taking views at each turn. Over 8 million people visit the park each year, with 2.5 million making their way around the seawall. Following an invigorating run, walk, bike ride or other mode of getting around the 22-kilometre paved path, it`s time to enjoy a well-deserved break at another water-based city attraction: Granville Island.

Image of Stanley Park

The seawall around Stanley Park, with downtown Vancouver in the distance.

Take in the Arts

As a local hotspot of shopping and entertainment, Granville Island boasts a large public market and licensed buskers can be found in their appointed areas. The island caters to an eclectic mix of artisans eager to demonstrate their crafts and sell their respective wares. Glass-blowers, print-makers, potters, jewellers, and boat-builders are just a few of the crafts people who add to the artsy-feel of this popular district.

If the crafty crowd isn’t your cup of tea, head on over to Robson Street to mingle with the rich and famous (and the wannabes!).

Take in the Urban Vibe

Stretching from BC Place Stadium to the Lost Lagoon in Stanley Park, Robson Street serves up one guilty pleasure after another. Whether you have a hankering to consume an overly high-priced cup of coffee, or are feeling the need for some high-end designer shopping, Robson is the place to satisfy your cravings.

And, it’s a great place to do some serious people watching.  With the most expensive retail rental rates in the city, the likes of Hermes, Louis Vuitton, Burberry, Tiffany & Co., and other upscale retailers attract the jet set along with the curious average Joe window shoppers eager to catch a glimpse of who’s out shopping and what they are buying.

Image of Robson Street signs

Robson Street is a place to eat, drink and be merry!

Take in the Views

From any direction, Vancouver is a photographer`s dream and with so many vantage points to choose from, it`s not hard to obtain an incredible shot.  True, on an overcast, rainy day the view isn`t that grand, but when gray skies clear and Mother Nature kindly serves up ideal conditions, what is revealed is a city that is brilliant by day and spectacular at night. A city like none other that draws people back time and time again to experience all it has to offer, and then some!

Image of Vancouver skyline

At dusk, Vancouver starts to sparkle!


Feast Your Eyes on Florence

July 22, 2013
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Image of David statue in Piazzale Michelangelo

The statue of David in thoughtful repose agrees that the Piazzale Michelangelo offers the best views of Florence, Italy.

Nestled high in the Tuscan hills, the city of Florence offers up one idyllic scene after another.  Be it the incredibly detailed and delicate exterior of the massive Duomo di Firenze (Florence Cathedral), the grandeur of the larger-than-life statue of David in the Galleria dell’Accademia, or the breath-taking panoramic view of the city from the Piazzale Michelangelo, there is plenty to feast your eyes on in Florence.

An Artist’s Haven

Despite the fact Florence may not be Italy’s largest or most famous city, at the peak of its development during the Renaissance the city was a mecca for the great artists of the day who served as patrons of the powerful Medici family.  Eager to demonstrate and show-off their incredible wealth, the Medici spared no expense in commissioning a series of buildings, public landmarks, and works of art that remain to this day amongst the most splendid examples of Italian craftsmanship.

Detail of Duomo dome

Detail of Brunelleschi’s massive dome that crowns the Florence Cathedral.

The Duomo and David

The handiwork of two famous Italian artists, Brunelleschi and Michelangelo, is on display throughout Florence; the most famous of the former being the Duomo dome,  the latter being the David statue.

Mammoth structures in terms of size and artistic impact, the dome and statue dominate their respective landscapes and are amongst the most visited city attractions. While the dome is fully accessible and photographable (you can even climb to the top and take a walk around the exterior), the statue of David is less so with it being housed in a museum meaning that viewing hours are restricted and pictures are prohibited in order to safeguard the integrity of the marble. That said, two replicas of the statue are located in outdoor venues (one in Piazzale Michelangelo, one in Piazza della Signoria) and provide plenty of photo opportunities to capture the splendor of Michelangelo’s sculptural masterpiece.

Detail of David statue in Piazza della Signoria

Detail of Michelangelo’s statue of David in the Piazza della Signoria.

A Sculptural Garden

Along with the replica of the David statue, the Piazza della Signoria features the Neptune Fountain, which symbolizes Florence’s status as a naval power in the mid-to- late 1500s; an equestrian statue of Cosimo I de’ Medici, who is proudly shown on his mount making a triumphant return to the city as its ruling power in 1537; and an imposing statue of Hercules, the mythical hero who is thought to have filled in the swampland Florence was founded upon.

The piazza is also in close proximity to two buildings of historical significance: The Uffizi Gallery that houses the most extensive collection of Italian Renaissance art, and the Palazzo Vecchio (Old Palace) that has served as city hall since the 1300s.

Statue of Cosimo I de' Medici

A triumphant Cosimo I de’ Medici stands proudly in the Piazza della Signoria.

A Famous Burial Ground

Not far from the Uffizi and Palazzo Vecchio, the Basilica di Santa Croce (Basilica of the Holy Cross) is noteworthy as being the largest Franciscan church in the world and the final resting place for some of Italy’s most famous citizens, including Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, and Rossini. Given the celebrated status of the dearly departed buried here, the building is also referred to as the Temple of the Italian Glories.

Image of Santa Croce in Florence, Italy

The Santa Croce is the burial place of some famous Italians (e.g. Michelangelo and Galileo), earning it the moniker: Temple of the Italian Glories.

A Bridge Like None Other

Crossing the Arno River, the Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) is the oldest bridge in Florence and has the unique distinction of having houses/shops built into its design and a pedestrian walkway (the Vasari Corridor) that runs over the tops of the shops. Since the 16th century, the bridge has been the home of goldsmiths and jewellers catering to a wide range of clientele. The Vasari Corridor bustles from dawn ’til dusk with tourists enjoying a myriad of entertainers and some of the prettiest views of the river.

Image of Ponte Vecchio

The Ponte Vecchio is a bridge like none other…shops on the inside and a walkway over its top.

View From the Top

While the Piazza della Signoria is the heart of old Florence, the Piazzale Michelangelo is the city’s prime viewing location where one of the Michelangelo’s replicas of David enjoys an incredible view from the top for all eternity.

Perched high above the city, David overlooks the Arno River with its series of beautiful bridges, and the mass expanse of the city lying just across the river banks. From this vantage point, the Duomo di Firenze, the Palazzo Vecchio, and other historical sites take on a new perspective revealing the full breadth and glory of these ancient, awe-inspiring structures.

Florence is truly a city of fabulous views and if you’re looking for a place to tantalize your eyes, look no further.

View of the Duomo Cathedral from Piazzale Michelangelo

View of the expansive Florence Cathedral from Piazzale Michelangelo.


New Zealand’s Treasure Trove of Cities

April 4, 2013
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Image of Hobbit shire

The Shire may be the home of fictional hobbits, but in reality most New Zealanders live in big cities.

If you thought New Zealand was just a land of shires, sheep and seashores, it may come as a surprise that the country is actually heavily urban-based.

In fact, over 50 percent of the population resides in the country’s four largest cities (Auckland, Christchurch, Wellington and Hamilton) that have historically ranked amongst the world’s most livable places, and there is nary a shire (or hairy-toed hobbit) to be found!

What you will discover, instead, is a treasure trove of cities boasting modern amenities and beautiful panoramas that rival the picturesque pastures outside of their municipal borders.

Of course, no trip to New Zealand would be complete without venturing out into said rural pastures, but to get a sense of what life is like for the vast majority of people be sure to head to the cities for a Kiwi-style urban experience.

Auckland

According to the Maori, New Zealand’s indigenous people, Auckland is a city desired by many and full of riches to be had. Little wonder, then, that it is the country’s largest urban centre and a major tourist destination.

Auckland also has the distinction of being the yacht and launch capital of the world, earning it the nickname ‘City of Sails’. Indeed, with one in three Aucklanders owning a boat, it is sometimes hard to see the water in Waitemata Harbour through the sea of boats bobbing on its surface.

The city’s mild climate and sheltered harbour contributes to boating being a popular leisurely activity, but Aucklanders also enjoy other outdoor pursuits such as rugby, cricket, soccer and netball.

Image of Waitemata Harbour in Auckland, New Zealand

Waitemata Harbour in Auckland hosts many nautical events throughout the year.

Shopping is also a favourite pastime with a number of upscale markets and mega malls providing a myriad of options to purchase goods at. Queen Street, High Street, and Karangahape Road are the main retail areas in the central business district drawing the socialite crowd; while those looking for more affordable wares head to the suburbs. Auckland’s three largest malls are: Sylvia Park, Botany Town Centre, and Westfield Albany.

Aucklander’s love of shopping is matched by their love of cultural activities. The Auckland Art Gallery boasts a collection of over 15,000 works and is considered to be the home of visual arts in New Zealand. In the realm of music, the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra performs its own repertoire of concerts as well as accompanies visiting artists.

Yes, when it comes to things to see and do in Auckland, the Maori had it right…there’s truly an abundance of riches in a city of abundant natural beauty!

Image of Auckland, New Zealand

The “City of Sails” earned its nickname for having more yachts per capita than any city in the world.

Christchurch

Famous for its historic Cathedral Square area and its one-time status of ‘Garden City of the World’, in recent years Christchurch has been in rebuild mode following a series of damaging earthquakes.

Despite the destruction and loss of some significant heritage buildings in Cathedral Square, the city remains a garden oasis with Hagley Park and the Christchurch Botanical Gardens being two of the largest and most popular green spaces.

Christchurch’s inner city is also noted for the Avon River that winds through its midst, offering long stretches of tree-lined banks where people can commune with nature in all its glory.

Given the city’s mild weather and close proximity to the ocean and nearby mountain ranges, Christchurch has the added perk of offering a diverse array of outdoor activities.  From skiing to hot-air ballooning to whale watching, there’s much to enjoy be it on land, in the air, or at sea…all of which can be accomplished within a two-hour drive of the airport!

Image of Cathedral Square

Although damaged by major earthquakes in recent years, Cathedral Square is still the geographic centre and heart of Christchurch society.

Wellington

As New Zealand’s ‘Capital of Cool’, Wellington’s appeal lies in its hip cafe culture, arts scene, ‘Wellywood’ film district, and eclectic architectural styles.

The Wellington Cable Car is another of the city’s iconic features, taking passengers from the Lambton Quay shopping area out to the suburbs. With a total length of 612 km and rise of 120 m, the cable car offers a great city view and a peaceful, gentle ride.

Along the waterfront, the Museum of New Zealand (Te Papa Tongarewa) is world-renowned for its interactive exhibits celebrating the country’s natural history. Meanwhile, just outside the city core is Zealandia, a protected wildlife sanctuary home to birds, lizards and other rare creatures unique to New Zealand’s landscape.

Whatever your pleasure, it’s hip doing anything in the ‘Capital of Cool’.

Image of Wellington Cable Car

The Wellington Cable Car is a recognized city symbol.

Hamilton

With its large student population, Hamilton boasts a vibrant entertainment scene along its main street with bars and eateries that rival similar offerings in other New Zealand cities.

Outside of the city, the Matamata region attracts legions of Lord of the Rings and Hobbit fans to the Hobbiton Movie Set. From Bilbo Baggins’ house to the Party Tree, a tour around the Shire is a treat for everyone.

Back in town, Hamilton Central is where most of the action takes place, but other attractions include:

  • The Base – New Zealand’s second largest shopping centre with 190 stores.
  • Hamilton Gardens – A series of public gardens designed around the theme of ‘the story of gardens’.
  • The Waikato Museum – Exhibits tell the story of Hamilton’s history from its visual art to Maori traditions.
Image of Hamilton, New Zealand

Hamilton is New Zealand’s fastest growing urban area.


Every Day is a G’Day in the Land Down Under

April 2, 2013
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Collage of Australia

Crikey, there’s A LOT to see and do in Australia!

Ah, Australia!

What’s not to love about this country/continent dual entity where natural wonders abound on land and sea, and one glorious city after another populates its coastlines?

Indeed, the stomping grounds of koalas, kangaroos and Crocodile Dundee is also renowned for its world-class metropolitan centres where wildlife and people are learning to live in peaceful co-existence.

From the cricket grounds in Melbourne to the coral reefs in Cairns, to Sydney’s iconic Opera House and Brisbane’s famous Australia Zoo, there is much to explore (and enjoy!) in this corner of the world.

Melbourne – The Culture Capital of Australia

As the birthplace of the Australian film and television industries, Melbourne also lays claim to the place where Australian rules football, the Heidelberg School of Australian Impressionism, and the Melbourne Shuffle and New Vogue modern dance styles came to be.

The city’s creative energy is palpable and is especially evident in the network of laneways, alleys and arcades that make up the central business district. At Centre Place, for example, patrons are treated to an array of shops, restaurants and bars that are enhanced by the unique street art/graffiti showcased in this district.

Cultural images in Melbourne

Melbourne is a cultural hot spot where you can wine, dine and enjoy all things fine.

Sydney – History, Harbour, and Hinterland

Established by the British in 1788 as a penal colony, Sydney has come a long way from being a barren wasteland for criminals to waste away in. Back then people were not clamouring to Australia’s first port of call, but nowadays the city ranks as one of the country’s top tourist destinations, and a “long stay” in Sydney is definitely not a bad thing!

Even if you’re not a fan of the arts or the water, a trip to the harbour is a must to see the highly unusual designs of the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge. These iconic structures have contributed to the city’s reputation as a world-class arts, entertainment and architectural centre.

Equally awe-inspiring is Sydney’s hinterland region that is blanketed with national parks, and its coastal region famous for attracting the world’s best surfers to ride the waves at Bondi Beach. In particular, the “Backpackers’ Express” is a notorious stretch of rip current located along the beach’s southern side that continues to draw visitors to its shores despite its high hazard rating.

Images of Sydney, Australia

From penal colony to one of the world’s most visited cities, Sydney has come a long way, mate!

Brisbane – Home of Kangaroo Point Cliffs and Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary

Australia’s “New World City” offers up the thrills of outdoor pursuits in the heart of its central business district. Adventures are many to be had along the Brisbane River, where tour boats, kayaks and beach balls are perfectly at home alongside city streets and skyscrapers.

Thrill-seekers will relish in the opportunity to cascade down Kangaroo Point Cliffs, Brisbane’s 20 million year old natural wonder that also is a great city vantage point.

Meanwhile, wildlife lovers will delight in the chance to cuddle up close with koalas and other species native to Australia at the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. This haven for abandoned and misplaced animals allows visitors to hand feed kangaroos, wallabies and lorikeets, and photo ops are a plenty holding your favourite homegrown creature.

Image of Brisbane River

More than business is conducted along the shores of the Brisbane River…it’s also a place for all sorts of outdoor fun!

Cairns – Gateway to the Great Barrier Reef

The locals “Love It!” and you will, too!

With its tropical climate and close proximity to the Great Barrier Reef, the north-eastern based city of Cairns is a mecca for tourists who enjoy a host of marine activities above and below the surface.

From sailing to scuba diving and snorkeling, whatever your favourite water pursuit you’ll find ample opportunities to splash about in nearby inlets and bays, as well as further offshore in the Coral Sea.

Image of coral reefs

The Great Barrier Reef is a marvel of colour, texture and exotic marine life.

Sing a Happy Song for Australia

When it comes to singing the praises of Australia, there’s really no end to the chorus of happy refrains about its vast beauty and endless wonders. So, grab your mates and get ready to have a “Waltzing Matilda” good time and “Advance Australia Fair” for every day is a g’day when you’re in the land down under!


Fall in Love with Life (and Colour!) in Lima

March 29, 2013
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Image of traditional Peruvean dancers

A parade in downtown Lima features traditional Peruvian dancers and costumes.

Bustling with life and full of colour at every turn, there’s a lot about Lima to fall in love with!

From its rich cultural heritage to its modern-day status as the Gastronomical Capital of the Americas, the city oozes with energy and excitement, and good eats are easy to find.

Sample a mouth-watering ceviche offering (raw fish, spices and lime juice), lovingly prepared by top chefs at local cevicherias, top it off with a punchy pisco sour, then set out to soak up the rest of Lima’s vibrant atmosphere.

Historic Centre of Lima

One of the best places to capture the city’s essence is at the Historic Centre of Lima where lavish colonial architecture celebrates the influence of Spanish royalty from centuries gone by.

Thousands of elaborately decorated balconies add to the unique look and feel of this district, along with the abundance of historical buildings and monuments. Some of the most popular to visit include:

  • The Archbishop’s Palace – Built in the 1500s, the palace is home to the Archbishop of Lima and its patron is Saint Rosa of Lima.
  • The Basilica and Convent of San Francisco – Beyond its pretty yellow baroque-style stone exterior, this building is known for its extensive underground catacombs.
  • The Cathedral of Lima – Visited by Pope John Paul II on two occasions, the Cathedral is also the burial-place of Francisco Pizzaro, the Spanish conquistador who established the city of Lima in 1535.
Image of Cathedral of Lima

Flowers and fountains add to the splendor of the Historic Centre of Lima.

Miraflores

For the best city views, shopping and eating areas, head to Miraflores where the shores of the Pacific Ocean are lined with beaches, hotels and walkways. While enjoying the ocean view, be sure to stop by the shops in Larcomar or the pubs in Pizza Street.

Miraflores is also a district to explore history and contemporary culture in. The Huaca Pucllana is a pre-Inca pyramid constructed of adobe and clay that was used for ceremonial games and administrative purposes by the earliest members of the Lima Culture between 200-700 AD. Jump ahead to modern times, the theaters, cinemas and art galleries of Miraflores are where tourists and locals still come out to play.

Speaking of places to play, Lima also has its fair share of parks and pathways to enjoy.

Image of Miraflores district in Lima

Miraflores is a major tourist hub in Lima.

Park of the Reserve

Lima is known as “The Garden City” for good reason. The Miraflores district is chock-full of elaborately landscaped green spaces and expansive parks, but many happen to be located in the downtown core.

One of the largest and most visited is the Park of the Reserve. A main attraction in this park is the Magic Water Circuit, which features a series of 13 fountains that are fully lit up and best viewed at night.

For daytime water fun that offers a similar cascade of colours, check out the Lima beach scene.

Image of Rainbow Fountain in Lima

The Rainbow Fountain is one of thirteen installations making up the Magic Water Circuit.

The Beach Scene

While Lima’s climate is not overly hot, in the summer months the place to be is the beach. That is, of course, if you can find a spot to lay your towel, raise your umbrella, and wade out into the Pacific surf.

If a mass of humanity is not your idea of a “day at the beach,” refuge can be found south of the city at remote white sand dune beach areas that are less-populated and more peaceful.

Image of crowded beach in Lima

A sea of people, umbrellas and towels makes up the Lima beach scene.

Where Life and Colour Collide

Aptly described as a “mosaic” of smaller towns that makes up a larger megacity, the landscape of Lima glimmers with an array of natural attractions and manmade enhancements that seemingly contradict, yet complement each other. Contrasting  styles aside, what is crystal clear about Lima is that it truly is a city full of life and colour that inhabitants and visitors alike have come to know and, yes, love!

Image of homes on the hill of Cerro San Cristobal

The colourful hill of Cerro San Cristobal.


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