Big City Tales

Rocking it out in Rio de Janeiro

January 31, 2013
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Talk about a crowd…Rio’s annual Carnival celebration is the largest and most widely attended in the world.

The city of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil conjures up many images, and at this time of year nothing is more top of mind than the upcoming Carnival festival season. The start of Carnival is eagerly anticipated for it means that days on end of uninhibited fun “rocking it out” in the streets is in store.

Dubbed by locals as “The Greatest Show on Earth,” the festival is a hallmark of Brazilian culture, with the Samba School parade being a key highlight. Filled with a seemingly unending array of elaborate floats, exotic costumes, and energizing music — all equally tantalizing — Carnival is probably best known for this visually stunning and vibrant display!

The parade primarily showcases the talents of regional Samba School performers, but anyone can pay an entrance fee to don a costume and shake their Samba booty along the world-famous Sambodromo exhibit space. And pay they do! It is not uncommon to see local TV/movie personalities sauntering side-by-side with adventurous tourists, both fully decked out in sequins and showing off what their momma’s gave them!

Without question, Carnival is one of Rio de Janeiro’s greatest attractions, but there are many more things to marvel at.

Observe Exhibit A below:

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It is little wonder that Rio de Janeiro is known as the ‘Marvelous City!’

From the towering Christ the Redeemer statue to the scenic tram ride up to Sugarloaf Mountain, to the raucous Maracana Stadium and the historic Copacabana Beach district, Rio de Janeiro serves up one delightful sight after another. And there will likely be a host of new attractions to take in over the next few years as the city prepares to host major events such as World Youth Day in 2013, the 2014 FIFA World Cup, and the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Clearly, Rio de Janeiro’s nickname — Cidade Maravilhosa or ‘Marvelous City’ — is highly fitting and with millions of visitors descending to this South American hot spot every year, the numbers surely attest to the validity of the designation.

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Trazer em Rio (Bring on Rio)!

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Every City Has A Silver Lining

January 24, 2013
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Prior to visiting Philadelphia in the fall of 2010, a friend of my sister’s had this to say:

“Why do you want to go to Philly?  It’s a dump!”

Not exactly a ringing endorsement for a city of incredible historical significance to the American people, and one that is equally proud of its rich sporting traditions, renowned cheese steak sandwiches, and refined arts community.

Undaunted by the less than favourable review, we decided to keep Philadelphia on our list of East Coast historical cities to see and made it our mission to discover the beauty within this Pennsylvania landmark.

Truth be told, the beauty was at first hard to find.

Approaching the city from the north where industrial plants are abundant, my sister and I looked at each other in a moment of utter defeat for Philadelphia did, in fact, look like a “dump!” Further, it appeared to be a veritable barren wasteland. Granted, it was a rainy, overcast day so the grey of the dimly lit sky was not helping matters, but we still couldn’t help but think we may have been a tad overly optimistic about uncovering any hidden pearls in the midst of this less than awe-inspiring scenery.

Such was our mindset as we exited left off of the interstate and headed for the inner city. With each passing mile, our spirits were buoyed and even though the rain was still pelting down with a vengeance, the city’s silver linings were nonetheless all around us shining in all their splendor.

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Feeling the LOVE in Philadelphia!

Here is a sampling of what we took in:

On the city’s south side, Wells Fargo Center, Lincoln Financial Field, Citizens Bank Park, and the iconic, still-standing at the time Philadelphia Spectrum formed the impressive cornerstones of the South Philadelphia Sports Complex.

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The Philly Fanatic is the well-known and much-loved mascot of the Philadelphia Phillies baseball team.

In the city’s core, the downtown skyline beckoned with the resplendent and expansive City Hall complex as its prime showpiece.  Another feast for the senses was the Reading Terminal Market, a large farmer’s market boasting everything from Amish specialties to more urban street fair.  The Market is definitely the place to grab a bite to eat, but be prepared to have a tough time choosing from the many diverse options.  Of course, you can’t go wrong with a classic cheese steak, whichever way you prefer it prepared! 

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Until 1987, City Hall was Philadelphia’s tallest building.

Just east of downtown, despite being in the midst of a restoration at Independence Hall, the historical district glimmered as the clouds eventually cleared on day two of our visit and the sun cast a warm, welcome glow. There’s nothing like walking the grounds where the founding fathers toiled over the United States Constitution. And you can’t miss paying homage to the Liberty Bell or visiting the National Constitution Center.

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The Signer statue sits outside Independence Hall, where the U.S. Constitution originated.

To the north, sights along the picturesque, Champs Elysees-like feel of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway included Logan Square (where the famous LOVE statue is located),  the Franklin Institute, the Rodin Museum, and la creme de la creme, the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

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Yo, Adrian, now that I’m champ we should climb those stairs and go see the Museum of Art!

Yes, things may have initially looked very bleak from the outskirts of Philadelphia, but the ‘City of Brotherly Love’ opened its arms and we heartily soaked up what it had to offer.

Fast forward two years and the release of the new hit movie, Silver Linings Playbook. Based in Philadelphia, the film is more than just an exploration of recovering from mental illness, it is a celebration of a great city that does, indeed, have its fair share of silver linings.  Check it out and be your own judge!

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Independence Hall was the home away from home for America’s founding fathers.


Taking A Bite Out of the Big Apple

January 18, 2013
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NYC has something to offer for everyone!

New York City is just one of those places I never get tired of seeing pictures of, and will never get tired of going back to!

So far, I’ve been to the Big Apple twice and have managed to see a fair bit of Manhattan, including most of the places shown in the montage above. I’ve even ventured out to Flushing Meadows in Queens and Old Yankees Stadium in the Bronx to take in some classic sporting events. But when I consider the mile long list of attractions that I have yet to see, the reality is that I have only taken small bites out of what this juicy destination has to offer.

Here is just a sampling of things I would still like to chomp into in NYC:

  • Baseball game at the new Yankees Stadium
  • Football game at the new MetLife Stadium (NY Jets)
  • Hockey game at Madison Square Garden
  • Basketball game at Madison Square Garden
  • Visit the Guggenheim Museum
  • Visit the Museum of Modern Art
  • Visit the United Nations
  • Visit the 9/11 Memorial
  • Visit One World Trade Center (a.k.a. 1 WTC, or Freedom Tower)
  • Eat an ice cream sundae at Serendipity
  • Sit by the Bethesda Fountain (Angel of the Waters statue) in Central Park
  • Go to the Prospect Park Zoo in Brooklyn
  • Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge
  • Visit all five boroughs
  • See the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
  • See the lighting of the Christmas Tree in Rockefeller Center
  • Go ice skating at Rockefeller Center
  • See more Broadway shows
  • See a concert at Lincoln Center (Carnegie Hall)

And so on, and so on, and so on…here’s hoping for MANY more visits to one of my favourite big cities!


Shanghai Surprise

January 10, 2013
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Shanghai’s concrete jungle is transformed into a kaleidoscope of brilliant colours at night.

With its extensive waterways and magnificent Lujiazui skyline featuring some of the tallest and most unique buildings, little wonder the city of Shanghai, China is a popular destination point in SE Asia.

Not only does the city attract throngs of tourists year in and year out, it is also a haven for Hollywood movie producers eager to film their action-packed blockbusters in an exotic, dynamic and economic-friendly location. In the last 10+ years alone, the city has been featured as a setting in over 20 major motion pictures, among them the likes of Skyfall, Looper, Mission Impossible III, Transformers, and the Fantastic Four.

Other points of interest include: The Bund, a waterfront district offering an eclectic mix of European-inspired architectural styles, and the Oriental Pearl Tower, a 1,535 foot tall radio and TV tower complete with five observation decks.

Described as the “showpiece” of mainland China, Shanghai is a global city to be reckoned with and is definitely one port in the Far East that beckons me to explore.


Dazzlin’ Dallas

January 3, 2013
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The distinctive and distinguished logo of the Dallas Cowboys – you can’t miss the bright blue star!

All Hail to the Sacred Stomping Grounds of “America’s Team”

Growing up with a future sports broadcaster in the house, my sisters and I watched our fair share of football, hockey, baseball, basketball, and other assorted games on TV. While I certainly did not share my brother’s aptitude for citing team and player statistics off the top of my head, I did share his appetite for getting behind a winning team and being a boisterous, supportive and committed fan.

In those days, the NFL was just starting to gain a serious viewing audience in Canada and the Dallas Cowboys were the team of choice for many national broadcasts. With a star-studded player’s bench and Super Bowl championships in tow, “America’s Team” marched straight into this Calgary girl’s heart.

It didn’t hurt that the silver, blue, and white uniforms were among the nicest in the league; not to mention the iconic star on their helmets, which was a fitting emblem for this up-and-coming franchise. Even the team’s original stadium in Irving, Texas had a special aura about it, with some players quipping that the partially enclosed roof was done intentionally so that “God could watch his favourite team play!”

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“America’s Team” in action on Thanksgiving Day 2012…the Cowboys offense looked REALLY good on the first drive of the game. After that, NOT SO MUCH!

But the stylish uniforms and impressive stadium were really just the eye candy.  Beneath the surface was a team dripping with raw talent on both sides of the ball: offensive power coupled with defensive might made for a winning combination and legions of fans got on board.

“America’s Team” had me at the first snap of the ball and it’s been a football love affair ever since. Needless to say, when my sister and I were planning our trek to Texas, prime on the agenda was attending a Cowboys’ game. As luck would have it, we would be in Dallas during Thanksgiving and we very much looked forward to seeing the new stadium (a.k.a. “The house that Jerry [Jones] built!”), as well as the team’s latest crop of top players in action against the Washington Redskins.

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The MASSIVE and AWE-INSPIRING Cowboys Stadium is located not far from Dallas in Arlington, Texas.

Ann Wilson, lead singer of the rock band Heart, sang the national anthem; Kenny Chesney, super-star country crooner, performed at half-time; Former President George “W.” and First Lady Laura Bush were in the house. Welcome to the world of the Dallas Cowboys and Jerry Jones, the team’s charismatic, charming owner, and official number one cheerleader!

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The family that cheers together stays together! It also helps when everyone dresses the same – even grandma was clad head-to-toe in Cowboys colours!!

Redskins Play Spoilers on Thanksgiving

While the fans heartily appreciated all of the special ‘bells and whistles’ that came with the annual Thanksgiving contest, the one thing they wanted most of all — a win by the home team — alluded the good guys in blue.  Yes, the Cowboys staged a valiant comeback effort in the second half, but in the end the Redskins’ defense held strong, sending disappointed fans home with a serious case of indigestion prior to their turkey meal!!

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Kenny Chesney and a VERY large supporting cast perform at Cowboys Stadium, marking the kick-off of the annual Salvation Army Kettle Campaign.

Fort Worth – A ‘Worthwhile’ Trip to the Suburbs

Still reeling from the Cowboys’ loss at home, we hoped to salvage our stay in Dallas by checking out local hot spots, including a trip to the suburbs.

Located a short half-hour drive away along the I-30 West, the city of Fort Worth beckons students, foodies, farmers, tourists and the like to partake of its infinite bounty. Among its valuable treasures, the Trinity River flows through the heart of the city offering locals an extensive and impressive trail system with plenty of places to visit along the way.

The patio of Chef Tim Love’s restaurant, The Woodshed Smokehouse, overlooks the river and patrons can enjoy a true feast for all of their senses while they sample Chef Love’s unique and exotic BBQ cuisine.  A little bit of pit fat soaked up with fresh tortillas never hurt anyone, nor did a rack of goat ribs or other wild game!

In the city’s downtown core, Sundance Square attracts shoppers, art lovers, and history buffs eager to experience a quaint slice of the Texas good life. On this day, preparations for the annual Thanksgiving/Christmas Parade were well underway with patrons showing up hours in advance to stake their front-row seats awaiting some BIG Texas fun.

When in Dallas, a jaunt out to Fort Worth is time well spent!

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The Woodshed Smokehouse in Fort Worth serves up some tasty and unique Texas-style BBQ!

Downtown Dallas – A Weekend Ghost Town

Notwithstanding the fact it was the Thanksgiving Day weekend, as we strolled around on a bright, sunny Saturday morning it was surprisingly quiet on the streets of downtown Dallas. Sure, there was a line-up to get into the Sixth Floor Museum and there was a crowd around the JKF Memorial, but aside from those paying homage to the presidential assassination the people traffic downtown was pretty much non-existent.  All the easier to get around one could argue and, yes, this was most certainly the case.

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The Hyatt Regency Dallas and Reunion Tower glitter in the morning sun – pretty as a postcard!

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The city of Dallas dazzles in the bright morning sun!

In short order, we managed to visit all of the major attractions situated in roughly a 10-block radius, including a stop at Neiman Marcus on Main Street, the store’s flagship location.  On the first floor of the ladies department, a spiralling tower of holiday pumps attracted our attention. In particular, one ornately jewelled pair on sale for a mere $1395.00 caught our eyes.  Very pretty, but oh so pricey – maybe next year!

Before our window-shopping side trip, we admired the view from Dealey Plaza and marvelled at the accomplishments of its namesake, George Dealey, as well as other fine citizens of Dallas who lobbied over the years to revitalize the city’s core.  Dealey Plaza is unfortunately also infamous for being the site of the JFK assassination. It thus attracts a fair share of eager tourists in search of the ‘grassy knoll’ and book depository building, now known as the Sixth Floor Museum.

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X marks the approximate spot of where JFK was shot in downtown Dallas.

Other points of interest in the downtown corridor include the Old Red Courthouse, the Main Street Garden, Pegasus Plaza, the JFK Memorial, and a highly original stone sculpture garden called Pioneer Plaza.  There’s nothing like coming across a group of rugged cowboys shown in action rounding up a rambling herd of longhorn cattle to make you stop and take notice! The plaza takes up a good couple of blocks and is a fitting piece of art work celebrating the reality of the rustic cowboy life.

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The Old Red Courthouse is home of Red Museum, documenting the full history of the city of Dallas.

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Cowboys round up a large herd of longhorn cattle at Pioneer Plaza, a VERY cool outdoor sculptural exhibit.

All told, three days in Dallas is a good introduction to the city but to really get to know the home of “America’s Team” more time is needed to explore every nook and cranny.  A return visit to this grand southern city is definitely in order and, who knows, maybe on our next visit the much beloved (and equally bemoaned!) Cowboys will be back to their winning ways!

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“MOO!” Translation: Y’all come back now, ya hear!