Big City Tales

Belles of the Southern City Ball

April 24, 2018
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When it comes to the culture and history of the Deep South in the United States, I “ain’t just whistlin’ Dixie” when I say that some of the finest belles of the southern city ball are found in the Carolinas and Georgia.

Granted, these states and their municipalities are regrettably also synonymous with the dark side of Dixieland, but a past tainted with slavery, segregation and racial tension has made way for a present and future based on freedom, integration, equal representation, and harmony.

Ethnic diversity is a definite hallmark of these regions that is reflected in opulent and grandiose architecture, quaint public squares and gardens, and succulent and delectable lip-smacking cuisines drawing upon European, Native American and African influences.

Visually stunning seaside and mountain locations and picturesque back road country trails also add to the southern charm.

Here’s a look at three of my favorite spots in the American South: Asheville, North Carolina; Charleston, South Carolina; and Savannah, Georgia.

Asheville, North Carolina

With the Blue Ridge Mountains providing a majestic visual backdrop and serving up a pleasant climate, the city of Asheville, North Carolina has long had a magnetic effect on its visitors. It certainly captured the imagination of businessman and philanthropist, George Vanderbilt II, who basically fell in love with the place at first sight and subsequently set about to acquire a significant chunk of land to build a one-of-a-kind country home.

Vanderbilt envisioned a chateau-style French Renaissance estate complete with 250 rooms, formal gardens, water features, and a working village to support the day-to-day operation of the home and contribute to funding the family’s philanthropic efforts. He came up with the name Biltmore, which is derived of “Bildt,” the Vanderbilt’s place of origin in Holland, and “More”, Anglo-Saxon for open, rolling land.

Built in the late 1800s, Biltmore Estate remains the largest privately-owned home in the United States and features four acres of living space with 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms and 65 fireplaces, along with an indoor heated swimming pool, bowling alley and a gymnasium. The lushly furnished and elaborately decorated interior was matched by the expansive grounds that originally encompassed 125,000 acres and included a large terrace to house the Vanderbilt statue collection, an Italian-themed formal garden, a bowling green, a conservatory for orchids and palm trees, and an outdoor tea room.

Following Vanderbilt’s death in 1914, his widow found it difficult to manage the estate on her own and her daughter and son-in-law stepped in to assist. At this time, a section of the grounds was sold to the government and turned into an undisturbed national forest. Later on during the Great Depression, the family was persuaded to open the estate to the public to help further defray operational costs and encourage tourism to the area. The idea worked and today Biltmore Estate is a cherished national historic landmark, and is one of Asheville’s most popular attractions.

Charleston, South Carolina

Founded in 1670, Charleston is the oldest city in South Carolina and is known for its rich history and unique culture and cuisine that draws upon English, French, West African, and regional southern influences. The city is home to America’s first landscaped gardens, first museum, first theater and first municipal college. Charleston is also where the first shots of the Civil War were fired.

Historical landmarks include the United States Custom House, the Market Hall and Sheds, the Exchange and Provost, the Dock Street Theatre, the Calhoun Mansion, and Rainbow Row.  More recent city attractions include Waterfront Park and the Pineapple Fountain, and the Arthur Ravenel, Jr. Bridge, which is the longest single cable-stayed bridge in North America.

Arts and architecture feature prominently in the city and Charleston prides itself that its skyline is laden with steeples vs. skyscrapers, earning it the nickname of ‘Holy City’. Some of the most well-known churches include the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, and the French Protestant Huguenot Church.

Charleston hosts many annual festivals, the most famous being the Spoleto Festival USA that is held in late spring and is internationally recognized as the best performing arts event in America.  The festival provides a venue for established and emerging artists to showcase their talents in the realms of opera, dance, theater, classical music, and jazz.

Southern comfort food is served up morning, noon and night in scrumptious dishes such as shrimp and grits, buttermilk biscuits, fried chicken, and She Crab Soup all washed down with a glass of sweet tea. Some brunch establishments also provide live Gospel music to entertain diners and allow time for proper digestion before indulging in the next southern treat.

Savannah, Georgia

Fans of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil will undoubtedly be familiar with some of Savannah’s hot spots and quirky characteristics. It’s a city where cemeteries, voodoo priestesses and ghost stories come to life within the confines of America’s first planned city, and one of its most beautiful.

Part of what makes Savannah a ‘pretty city’ are the 22 squares that are located in the historic district. These mini-parks each have a distinct look and vary in size and purpose with some being playgrounds and others being home to monuments or fountains. Larger parks also add to the city’s green appeal. Forsyth Park consists of 30 acres and contains a Confederate Memorial statue, and a large French-inspired fountain. There are also plenty of walking paths, sports facilities and playing fields.

Other European influences found around the city include Bonaventure Cemetery, the Telfair Museum and the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, the latter of which is dubbed the ‘Sistine of the South’ and is lauded for its French Gothic architecture, massive murals and eye-catching stained glass windows.

Situated on the Savannah River, the city’s waterfront area brims with restaurants, shops and offers opportunities for a stroll along the cobblestone on River Street or a riverboat cruise aboard the grand old Georgia Queen. One of Savannah’s most famous statues, Florence Martus (or the ‘Waving Girl’) is located in Morrell Park along the waterfront. During her lifetime, Martus was known as the unofficial greeter of all ships coming into and leaving the Port of Savannah, and apparently did not miss a single vessel in 44 years of service.

Paula Deen is another of Savannah’s formidable females who made her mark in the culinary field, first as a lunch delivery and catering service provider and later as a restaurant owner. Lady & Sons on West Congress Street offers a daily Southern Buffet complete with fried okra, fried green tomatoes, fried chicken, black-eyed peas, shrimp and grits, crab cakes, soft-shell crab gumbo, among other mouth-watering fixin’s.

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Experience the World in Fabulous Las Vegas

April 10, 2018
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If you have been longing to travel the globe but the prospect of ever having enough time or money to do so seems like a pipe dream, not to worry. Even if you only have two days to spare and you’re on a tight budget, you can truly experience the world in fabulous Las Vegas!

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The World Awaits on the Vegas Strip

Technically located in the the towns of Paradise and Winchester, Nevada, the Vegas Strip sits just south of the Las Vegas city limits and is a little over four miles long.  Flanked by the Stratosphere Tower to the north and Mandala Bay to the south, the strip is home to some of the world’s largest resorts and casinos.

City-themed properties are popular along the Vegas Strip and no expense has been spared to recreate iconic landmarks such as New York’s Statue of Liberty, Paris’ Eiffel Tower, Rome’s Forum, Venice’s St. Mark’s Square, and Luxor’s King Tut’s Tomb.

Yes, within just a short distance, you can travel from the heart of the Nevada desert to the bright lights of the United States’ East Coast, then hop the Atlantic Ocean to exciting and exotic points afar in Europe and North Africa. Bonus: No fear of jet lag and, unless you’re gambling up a storm and not winning, no fear of breaking the bank.

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New York

Evoking the familiar sights of the Manhattan skyline, Ellis Island and other well-known aspects of New York City boroughs, the New York-New York Hotel & Casino is a bite-sized replica of the ‘Big Apple’ that also features a roller coaster ride. The cars of the roller coaster look like traditional New York City yellow cabs, and the ride includes loops and drops guaranteed to please thrill-seekers. Unlike New York City, it’s not hard to hail a cab during rush hour and you’re assured of getting to your destination in no time at all.  Inside the hotel, rooms and eating areas are named after well-known New York City tourist attractions such as Times Square and Greenwich Village; the casino’s playing cards also feature apples instead of hearts.

Paris

With its miniature replicas of the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe, and an entrance that looks like the Paris Opera House and Louvre Museum, the Paris Las Vegas Hotel & Casino is oh so chic and stylish. If, however, glitz and glamour is not your style, the resort also offers a quaint, low-key interior boulevard of French shops and patisseries. Try on a beret and snack on a croissant as you soak up the Parisian ambiance. C’est magnifique!

Rome

As one of the first mega-hotels on the Vegas Strip, Caesars Palace is famous for its monumental tributes to the glory days of the Roman empire. From fresco-painted ceilings to marble columns and cascading fountains, the entire complex oozes in opulence and grandeur. The Forum Shops feature high-end boutiques and is the highest grossing shopping mall in the United States. Since it opened in 1966, Caesars Palace has hosted numerous sporting events such as championship boxing matches, and numerous A-list entertainers have performed concerts including Frank Sinatra, Liberace, B.B.King, Diana Ross, Celine Dion and Shania Twain. The luxury hotel also offers the best buffet and weekend brunch at the newly reinvented Bacchanal Buffet. As the saying goes, ‘When in Rome, do like the Romans do’ and be sure to hit the buffet table!

Venice

Formerly the Sands Hotel, the Venetian Resort Hotel Casino takes its inspiration from the canals, plazas and sights of Venice, Italy. Guests can walk across a replica of the famed Rialto Bridge, take a relaxing gondola ride complete with a singing gondolier decked out in a straw hat and striped shirt, or flock with the pigeons in a scaled-down St. Mark’s Square. Along with the adjacent Sands Expo Convention Center and Palazzo Hotel Casino and Resort, the Venetian is the world’s second largest hotel complex. Similar to the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace, the Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian offer an upscale shopping atmosphere with incredible art and architecture, especially the painted ceiling of the main entrance hall. The hotel’s gondola canals also flow from outside right into the mall offering shoppers a unique way to get from shop to shop.

Luxor

Named after the city of Luxor in Egypt, the Luxor Las Vegas features a pyramid-shaped hotel, twin ziggurat towers, an obelisk, a replica of the Great Sphinx of Giza, and a sky beam. The Luxor Sky Beam projects at night and is operated from a lamp room situated 50 feet from the top of the pyramid. The Sky Beam is the world’s strongest beam of light and when the skies are clear it can be seen hundreds of miles away by aircraft cruising at altitude. The Luxor is connected to the Excalibur and Mandalay Bay resorts via a two-track tram service that is free of charge for guests and the general public.

Big, Bright and Bold

Today’s Vegas Strip is bigger, brighter and bolder than ever. Perhaps the best way to describe what a visit to ‘The Entertainment Capital of the World’ feels like is to quote the movie character Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery who channeled his inner Elvis Presley and gleefully shouted, “Viva Las Vegas, baby, yeah!” when he arrived in the city. Yeah, baby, indeed…Las Vegas puts on quite a show 24/7/365 and delivers the world on a sparkling 24-carat gold platter.

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Everything is Spic’n’Span in Salt Lake City

April 6, 2018
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Without a doubt, the city that hails itself as ‘The Crossroads of the West’ is one of the cleanest places on the planet. From its pristine parks to spotless streets, everything is spic’n’span in Salt Lake City, Utah and the phrase ‘cleanliness is next to godliness’ takes on added meaning in the world headquarters of the Mormon church.

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Temple Square

When Brigham Young and followers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints first arrived in the Salt Lake Valley in the 1847, there were no permanent settlements in the area. That quickly changed. After a few days of scouting locations, Young had declared the spot where the Salt Lake Temple would be built and ultimately become the showcase centerpiece of a broader Temple Square area.

Encompassing a total of 10 acres, Temple Square also includes the Salt Lake Tabernacle, the Salt Lake Assembly Hall, the Seagull Monument, and two visitors` centers. The  complex was designated as a National Historic Landmark District in 1964 and is the most popular tourist attraction in all of Utah.

Temple Square marks the geographical center of Salt Lake City and was used as the prime reference point when the rest of the city was laid out in a grid pattern around it. Along with the grid layout, a significant amount of land was designated for garden plots and Young was insistent on wide streets that could accommodate a team of horses being able to easily turn while pulling a wagon.

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Salt Lake Temple

The Salt Lake Temple ended up taking 40 years to build and is the largest Mormon temple in terms of floor area. As it is considered to be the sacred house of God, there are no public tours offered and its use is limited to special ceremonies and meetings conducted by high-ranking church officials. The grounds, however, are open to all and authorized photos of the interior were released in 1912 and 1938 to give the faithful a glimpse at the temple’s glory.

The temple’s exterior features many symbolic elements that hold great meaning for Mormons. For example, the golden angel statue atop the church is meant to signify the Second Coming of Christ who plays a horn to announce the arrival. There are also many carvings of suns, moons and stars that represent the celestial kingdom, terrestrial kingdom and telestial kingdom referred to in the Mormon doctrine pertaining to the three degrees of glory.

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Salt Lake Tabernacle

For over 100 years the Salt Lake Tabernacle (also known as Mormon Tabernacle) was the main gathering place for weekly Mormon services and the semi-annual general conference. The ever-growing numbers of church goers and conference attendees resulted in the construction of new, larger facilities to accommodate the masses. Today, the building is the home to the world-famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir and one of the world’s largest pipe organs.

The tabernacle is renowned for its incredible acoustics wherein visitors can literally hear a pin drop at a distance of 170 feet away (from the pulpit to the back of the seating hall). The unique turtle-shaped roof was also designed with no interior pillars or posts to obstruct the view for the audience, which was a specific request of Brigham Young.

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Utah State Capitol

Although it’s not a Mormon-specific building, the Utah State Capitol shines as bright and lovely as the structures that occupy Temple Square, which are also made of the same Utah granite mined from the Little Cottonwood Canyon.

The Capitol’s Neoclassical/Corinthian style is reminiscent of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. and evokes a strong sense of order and awe. 52 columns surround the front, east and west sides and provide ample support for the 250 foot high central dome. The interior features five floors that are elaborately decorated with marble floors and numerous paintings and sculptures that tell the history of Utah and pay tribute to its outstanding citizens.

Situated on a 40-acre plot of land at the top of Capitol Hill, the grounds of the Capitol Complex include memorials and monuments, as well as plants native to Utah. The complex overlooks downtown Salt Lake City and also offers good views of the Salt Lake Valley and municipalities located along the Wasatch mountain range.

Clean Cut City

With its Mormon origins, neat and tidy landmarks, and fresh mountain air Salt Lake City is the essence of a clean cut city just waiting to be breathed in and enjoyed.

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Culture with a Capital ‘C’ in Cleveland

April 4, 2018
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When it comes to words associated with the city of Cleveland, Ohio “culture” may not immediately jump to mind for non-residents but tried and true Clevelanders know otherwise. Yes, culture with a capital ‘C’ is alive and well in Cleveland and can be experienced around the city in many different ways.

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University Circle

Home to the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Cleveland Institute of Music, the Cleveland Botanical Garden and other attractions, University Circle (also known as ‘The Circle’) has the distinction of being the densest concentration of cultural sites and performing arts venues in the United States. Located on the city’s east side, the region also includes thousands of students attending Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland School of the Arts, and Montessori High School/Elementary among other educational institutions. The Circle encompasses 550 acres and features abundant green space that makes for a peaceful and picturesque drive between venues. Other notable landmarks in the area include the community of Little Italy and historic Lake View Cemetery, which contains the James A. Garfield Memorial built to honor the 20th President of the United States who was assassinated in 1881.

Downtown

Eclectic architecture and a vibrant arts and entertainment scene reigns supreme in downtown Cleveland. The city skyline can be admired from many vantage points, one of the best being from the Lake Erie waterfront. The view from The Flats located on the western banks of the Cuyahoga River also offers an interesting perspective. Downtown Cleveland consists of a number of distinct districts such as Public Square, Historic Gateway and North Harbour.

Public Square

As the city’s historic center, Public Square dates back to 1796 and includes notable structures such as Terminal Tower, once the world’s second-tallest skyscraper when it was completed in 1930, and Key Tower, currently the tallest building in Ohio. The square also contains some important historical monuments including statues of city founder, Moses Cleaveland, and former city mayor, Tom L. Johnson.

Historic Gateway District

Thanks to a major revitalization project during the 1990s, the Historic Gateway District has become a popular spot for sports, entertainment, restaurant and shopping outings. The area is home to Progressive Field where the Cleveland Indians play and Quicken Loans Arena where the Cleveland Cavaliers play. Music lovers flock to Cleveland’s House of Blues and foodies enjoy the many eateries along East 4th Street. The Cleveland Arcade, one of the first indoor shopping malls in the United States, is located along the ritzy Euclid Avenue and was financed by wealthy Clevelanders such as John D. Rockefeller when it was constructed in 1890.

North Coast Harbor District

The major landmarks in the North Coast Harbor area along the Lake Erie shoreline include the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Great Lakes Science Center, Cleveland Browns Stadium, and the Steamship William G. Mather Maritime Museum. It is the primary tourist hub of the city and there are many terrific photo opportunities be it during the day or at night when many of the buildings light up.

Go Browns! / Go Indians! / Go Cavaliers!

Okay, sports isn’t typically considered to be a ‘high-brow’ activity but cheering on the home team is very much ingrained into Cleveland’s cultural identity. The city’s world-class stadiums are filled with die-hard fans, even when the teams aren’t doing well (sorry, Dawg Pound lovers of the Browns!), and especially so when the teams make the play-offs. Both the Indians and Cavaliers have won their respective league championships in recent history, and back in the day the Browns have been close so there is a strong and proud tradition of winning franchises.

Go Cleveland!

With so many ways to appreciate amazing art, be in awe of incredible buildings and cheer on talented athletes, Cleveland is a definite go-to destination for culture seekers, architectural buffs and sports enthusiasts alike.


Pomp and Circumstance in Ottawa

March 8, 2018
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When it comes to global capital cities, Ottawa, Canada is still a relative “young pup” next to the likes of London, England or Paris, France. 2017 was a significant milestone year, however, and there was no lack of fanfare to mark the occasion of Canada’s 150th birthday, especially in its capital region. Indeed, the pomp and circumstance in Ottawa on Canada Day (and throughout the year) extended from the heights of the iconic Peace Tower to the far reaches of the Rideau Canal and beyond instilling a strong sense of pride within the hearts of all Canadians in our nation’s symbols, institutions and its historic landmarks.

The Maple Leaf

Canada may have declared itself a country in 1867 but its national flag, known as the Maple Leaf, wasn’t unveiled until nearly a century later in 1965. True, debate over using the maple leaf had been going on since 1895 when the idea was first suggested but subsequent committees struck to broach the subject in more depth could not reach a consensus. It wasn’t until Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson was in office during the 1960s that the contentious matter was finally resolved and the maple leaf has been flown high and proudly worn ever since.

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Parliament Hill

The primary venue for Canada Day celebrations on July 1 is Parliament Hill (commonly referred to as ‘The Hill’), an area of Crown land located on the southern side of the Ottawa River. The Hill features a suite of three modern Gothic Revival buildings that make up the Parliament of Canada.

The main building of Canada’s parliamentary complex is referred to as the Centre Block. It contains the House of Commons and Senate chambers, as well as the Library of Parliament, administrative offices and ceremonial areas such as Confederation Hall and the Hall of Honour. The Centre Block is one of Canada’s most recognizable buildings, particularly because of the Peace Tower that fronts the building and dominates the downtown skyline. Standing nearly 100 metres high, it is both a focal clock and bell tower, as well as a memorial to Canadians who died during World War I.

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The other two buildings on The Hill are the East Block and West Block that contain offices for ministers and senators along with meeting rooms and other general administrative spaces.

The grounds surrounding The Hill cover close to 90,000 square metres and include a quadrangle where many public events are staged, a gazebo and a series of English-style gardens featuring statues and monuments mostly of famous politicians and monarchs.

Confederation Square

Located to the east of Parliament Hill, Confederation Square is noteworthy for its association with the City-Beautiful Movement that was prevalent around the turn of the 20th Century, as well as its central location and proximity to landmark historical buildings such as the Chateau Laurier Hotel, the National Arts Centre, the Central Post Office and Langevin Block, the Office of the Prime Minister and Privy Council.

The square is considered to be the second most important ceremonial centre in Ottawa, after Parliament Hill, and is the proud home of the National War Memorial that commemorates all Canadians killed in past or future conflicts, as well as the Valiants Memorial.

The main features of the National War Memorial are a tall granite arch, bronze sculptures, and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The bronze figures underneath the arch represent the branches of the Canadian forces called into war and who subsequently helped to forge peace, which is symbolized by the figures shown in movement emerging through the arch from war on one side to peace on the other.

The Valiants Memorial commemorates fourteen of Canada’s key military heroes and consists of nine busts and five statues. The figures chosen to be memorialized date back as far to conflicts that occurred when Canada was part of New France, and more recently to participants in World War II.

Rideau Canal

Operated by Parks Canada, the Rideau Canal is a waterway that connects Ottawa to Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. The canal uses a lock system to transport boats through it between mid-May and mid-October. As the oldest continuously operated canal system in North America it was registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007.

When the water freezes during the winter, a portion of the canal is transformed into an outdoor skating rink, the world’s largest in terms of width and second longest. The skateway is the focal point of the annual Winterlude festival that takes place in February.

Tulip Festival

Tulips may be the symbol of Holland and Amsterdam but Canada has also become famous for this beautiful bulb. The Canadian Tulip Festival held annually each May in Ottawa displays over one million tulips of all colours at five theme sites around the city:

  • Lansdowne Park – The Art & Culture Tulip Experience
  • Commissioners Park/Dow’s Lake – The Garden Tulip Experience
  • ByWard Market – The Urban Tulip Experience
  • Garden Promenade – The Community Tulip Experience
  • Zibi Gatineau — The Culinary Tulip Experience

Of note, Canada’s association with tulips dates back to World War II when the Dutch Royal Family sought refuge from the fighting in Ottawa, and Canadian troops helped to liberate the Netherlands from Nazi occupation. As a show of thanks after the war, the Royal Family sent a gift of 100,000 tulips and has continued to do so to this day. The Canadian Tulip Festival was established in 1953 to acknowledge this generous gift and showcase the flower as an ongoing symbol of friendship and peace.

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Victoria’s Crown Jewels

March 7, 2018
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Named after Queen Victoria of England, the city of Victoria, British Columbia has its fair share of crown jewels to boast and brag about. From historical buildings to a picture-perfect postcard worthy inner harbour and glorious gardens, the city attracts people of all ages eager to soak up its beautiful landscape and relaxed pace of life.

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British Columbia Parliament Buildings

Whether it’s being used for celebration or protest purposes, one of the premier spots for people gatherings in Victoria is at the parliament buildings.

Commissioned in 1893 and opened in 1898, the Neo-Baroque design of the British Columbia Parliament Buildings features a large central dome, two end pavilions and numerous historical and allegorical sculptures carved into the stone exterior. The main dome is topped with a golden statue of Captain George Vancouver, the famed British British Royal Navy officer who explored and charted the Pacific Northwest between 1791 and 1795.

In addition to a regal statue of Queen Victoria that graces the front lawn, a soldier’s monument honors British Columbians who served and died in World War I, World War II and the Korean War.

At night, the building’s exterior is lit up by over 3,000 bulbs that cover its full width and height.

Royal British Columbia Museum

Adjacent to the parliament buildings is another gem of a building that is of prime importance to British Columbians.

Containing three permanent galleries and the provincial archives, the Royal BC Museum is comprised of approximately 7 million objects.  The three galleries explore natural history, modern history, and local First Nations’ history.

One of the most popular exhibits in the Natural History Gallery is the life-sized woolly mammoth that roamed the Fraser Valley region in prehistoric times.

The Modern History Gallery features the Old Town exhibit that showcases what life was like in Victoria between 1870 and 1920.

Many of the artifacts in the First Peoples Gallery come from the Haida nation, as well as other communities such as Kwakwaka’wakw, Heiltsuk, Nuxalk, Gitxsan, and Nuu-chah-nulth. Along with Totem Hall, the central exhibit that showcases a variety of indigenous carvings, the gallery depicts technologies, ways of life and First Nations art. A traditional longhouse (residential building) where Chief Kwakwabalasami lived in the community of Tsaxis (Fort Rupert) can also be found in the gallery along with masks, garb and other ceremonial items.

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Thunderbird Park

Located behind the Royal BC Museum, Thunderbird Park contains many totem poles as well as other First Nation monuments. One of the most elaborate monuments is an authentic Kwakiutl house created by Mungo Martin, the famed chief, artist, singer and songwriter from the Kwakwaka’wakw community.

As part of the museum’s ‘Cultural Precinct’ district, the park also contains other historical sites and monuments such as an old schoolhouse (St. Anne’s built in 1844) and Helmcken House, one of the oldest homes in British Columbia that was built in 1852.

The Empress Hotel

Occupying prime real estate on Government Street that faces the inner harbour, the Empress Hotel is one of Victoria’s oldest and most iconic buildings. Recognized as a National Historic Site of Canada since 1981, the hotel has been in operation since 1908 and over the years has hosted monarchs and celebrities along with general tourists.

Known for its spacious rooms and suites, many offering a lovely view of the waterfront, the hotel is also famous for its Victorian-era afternoon tea service. Offered during the summer months, ‘Tea at the Empress’ will cost you a pretty penny but it’s an experience not to miss from the formal china to the sandwiches, scones and clotted cream that are served in the Tea Room to over 400 daily guests. Reservations are recommended well in advance to guarantee a seating.

Chinatown

Heading north of the inner harbour, another National Historic Site of Canada is soon encountered. Victoria’s Chinatown has the distinction of being the oldest of its kind in Canada and the second oldest in North America after San Francisco.

The neighbourhood dates back to the late 1850s when the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush resulted in a mass influx of immigrants. An estimated one-third of newcomers to Victoria at this time were of Chinese descent who were seeking not only wealth, but a more safe and secure environment than their war-torn and natural disaster riddled homeland.

Some of the main attractions in Chinatown are the old Chinese School, the Gate of Harmonious Interest, Fan Tan Alley, and other well-preserved buildings and Chinese businesses.

Craigdarroch Castle

From one end of the social ladder spectrum to the other, Craigdarroch Castle reveals what life was like for the privileged elite in the late 1800s. In stark contrast to the trials and tribulations of Chinatown’s poor immigrant population, the wealthy Dunsmuir family lived a life of ease and elegance in their Scottish Baronial mansion located high atop a hill in the prestigious Rockland district.

With 39 rooms covering 25,000 square feet, the mansion (referred to as a “bonanza castle”) features an eclectic array of building materials and architectural styles. From sandstone, granite and marble to wrought iron, slate and terracotta tile, no material expense was spared. Per the bonanza castle/symbol of success mentality of the day,  the more costly and opulent the better in an effort to show off and flaunt the family riches. Design-wise, the exterior is noted for its steep roof, spires and gables towering four stories high; the interior for its lavish furnishings, elaborate stained glass panels and ornate wood carvings.

When the house was first built, the grounds totaled 28 acres and its formal gardens were immaculately attended to.

Today, Craigdarroch Castle is a house museum and is a designated National Historic Site of Canada.

Victoria Harbour

All roads lead to the waterfront in Victoria and whether you’re interested in an aquatic or land-based adventure, the harbour is truly the place to be.

Discovered by Captain James Cook on the last of his Pacific Ocean voyages in 1778, one of the harbour’s showcase pieces is the Monument to Captain Cook that stands high above the water on the boardwalk looking toward the Empress Hotel.

In addition to several docks and marinas, the harbour is a seaplane airport and serves as a cruise ship and ferry destination.

The boardwalk offers indoor and outdoor shopping and dining options, as well as a variety of buskers showing off their talents. On a warm, sunny day it’s an idyllic place for catching some rays while people watching.

The harbour is also a popular place for whale watching. Offshore tours run from spring until early fall in Victoria, but for those who can’t stomach the idea of being tossed about in choppy waters to catch a glimpse (or not!) of magnificent killer whales and other large marine species, the next best thing is enjoying creative artistic renditions. Photo opportunities of Orca statues along the boardwalk and in the inner harbour area are guaranteed and you can get as close as you want without fear of being splashed or upsetting a mother with her offspring.

Butchart Gardens

Victoria is known as “The Garden City” and one of the best examples of its fertile soil and long growing season can be viewed at Butchart Gardens.

Located 30 minutes from downtown, the gardens are open year-round and offer visitors a spectacular array of flora, fountains, rock formations, arches and bridges among other features. Each of the six main areas has a unique theme and design: admire the view of the Sunken Garden from the lookout; visit the Wishing Well in the Rose Garden; follow the streams in the Japanese Garden; or nuzzle the snout of Tacca, the boar statue in the Mediterranean Garden. Along the way, the kaleidoscope of colourful flowers will dazzle your senses and linger long in your memories of one of Victoria’s loveliest crown jewels.

 


A Wonderful Winnipeg Walkabout

March 6, 2018
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For a city known for its long, cold winters and short, mosquito-plagued summers, trying to figure out when to visit Winnipeg, Manitoba can be a challenge. As it happened, the end of August/beginning of September turned out to be a good time for a wonderful walkabout.

Truth be told, Winnipeg is actually my place of birth but, aside from a short pre- and post-delivery stay with my mom and my twin sister at the Women’s Pavilion (now Women’s Hospital), I technically never lived in the city. It was thus a real treat to have the opportunity to explore it as an adult and yet see it with somewhat of a bright-eyed kid’s perspective.

So it was on a slightly overcast, but warm late summer morning that my eagerly anticipated foot tour of Winnipeg began at the provincial legislative building.

Manitoba Legislative Building

Standing 77-metres in height and sheathed in limestone, the building is known for its Beaux-Arts Classical architecture and its ‘Golden Boy’ dome topper, which denotes Manitoba’s eternal youth and progress.

The statues around the grounds reveal some of the colourful and charismatic characters that have contributed to Manitoba’s and Canada’s storied past, including Queen Victoria, Louis Riel, and the Famous Five.

Another noteworthy statue is the ‘Bitter Memories of Childhood’ monument that commemorates the survivors of forced starvation in the Ukraine between 1932 and 1933 who emigrated to Manitoba.

Also located on the grounds is Government House, the official residence of the Lieutenant Governor of Manitoba and the place where members of the monarchy and other dignitaries often stay when visiting Winnipeg. The large, stately mansion is approximately 20,000 square feet in size and features a series of manicured gardens, one known as the ‘Queen Elizabeth II Gardens’ complete with a statue of Her Majesty.

Bears on Broadway

While there is a polar bear exhibit at the Assiniboine Park Zoo, I was pleasantly surprised to come across a collection of inanimate, but colourfully painted polar bears behind the legislative building.

Part of the ‘Bears on Broadway’ fundraising project that commemorated the 75th anniversary of CancerCare Manitoba back in 2005, each pre-cast bear measures 7-feet tall and boasts a particular theme designed by a local Winnipeg artist. The bears were ultimately sold to bidders from the corporate and government sectors, raising over $500,000 in the process.

Downtown Business and Shopping District

Heading due north of the legislative building, Portage Avenue was my next destination. Home of Portage Place Shopping Centre, Bell MTS Place (formerly MTS Centre) and the corporate headquarters of Investors Group and Manitoba Hydro among others, Portage Avenue is a major east-west thoroughfare and is part of the Trans-Canada Highway.

Inside the Portage Place shopping mall is the towering Edmonton Court Clock that is the centrepiece of the 100-foot tall glass atrium. One of the unique aspects of the clock’s bell system is that in addition to traditional hourly chimes, a keyboard can be connected to it allowing for custom tunes to be played such as festive Christmas carols or Top 40 pop music from current and past Winnipeg-born artists. Burton Cummings, Randy Bachman, Neil Young and Chantel Kreviazuk are just a few of the singer/songwriters who hail from Winnipeg.

Portage and Main

No visit to Winnipeg is complete without a pilgrimage to the intersection of Portage and Main, a.k.a the “Crossroads of Canada” because it is roughly the longitudinal centre of the country.

The intersection is also notorious for being the coldest and windiest in Canada, and has often been used in song lyrics. While the temperature outside wasn’t cold, the wind was certainly whipping the flags about as I passed by en route to the Museum for Human Rights.

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Canadian Museum for Human Rights

As the only national museum to be located outside of Canada’s capital region in Ottawa, the Museum for Human Rights explores the broad spectrum of global human rights issues from a Canadian perspective.

Fittingly, close to the museum is a bronze statue of Mahatma Ghandi, the eminent political leader who lobbied for pacifism and peaceful protest versus violent action. Ghandi is shown in his typical simple attire and demonstrates a humble attitude while out for a stroll among the people.

Heading north of the Ghandi statue, the pathway leads to the Esplanade Riel river crossing, a side-spar cable-stayed bridge design that is cantilevered on one side only.

Esplanade Riel

Named in honour of Louis Riel, the famous Metis political leader known for mounting two rebellions against the Canadian government, the Esplanade Riel is a pedestrian bridge that spans the Red River and connects Winnipeg with the city ward of St. Boniface.

The bridge offers a wide walkway and large open plaza area to host events at, and also includes a restaurant with an eastern river view.

St. Boniface

As its name suggests, St. Boniface is home to Winnipeg’s Franco-Manitoban community and landmarks such as the St. Boniface Cathedral, the Tache Promenade, and Pont Provencher. The Royal Canadian Mint is also located in St. Boniface.

The grounds of the cathedral include a Roman Catholic cemetery where Louis Riel is buried along with other famous citizens of the Red River district such as Joseph-Norbert Provencher, the first Roman Catholic Bishop in the Canadian West.

The Tache Promenade is a scenic riverfront pathway that offers a self-interpretive walking tour of historical sites in St. Boniface. The area is also one of the most popular places to view the Winnipeg skyline from.

The Forks

After crossing the Esplanade Riel back to downtown Winnipeg, my next stop was The Forks. Designated as a National Historic Site of Canada in 1974, the area is the most visited tourist destination in Winnipeg and appeals to both young and old.

The Forks celebrates over 6,000 years of human history from the earliest Aboriginal peoples to the European fur traders, Metis buffalo hunters, Scottish settlers, riverboat and railway workers, and thousands of immigrants that followed.

In addition to the riverfront park, there is a traditional Oodena Celebration Circle, a large market area, an historic railway bridge and several other interesting attractions to keep you happily occupied for hours on end.

The Wild Blue Yonder

With the day quickly winding down and turning to night, I headed back to where my Winnipeg Walkabout journey began at the Manitoba Legislative Building.

As the cloudy conditions had now cleared, the vivid electric blue sky provided the perfect backdrop for my final pictures of the building and the Airman Training Monument located in Memorial Park. Like the airman gazing into the sky above, I was filled with an equal sense of wonder about Winnipeg and its wild blue yonder…truly wonderful!


Along the Banks of Cincinnati’s Beautiful River

March 2, 2018
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When it comes to cities with interesting and expansive riverfront development, Cincinnati ranks right up there with the best of the best. There is truly much to please the eyes along the banks of its beautiful river, the mighty Ohio, and the views are fantastic be it day or night.

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John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge

For anyone who has flown to Cincinnati and stayed in a downtown hotel, they know that the road from the Cincinnati Northern Kentucky (CVG) airport in Hebron, Kentucky to Cincinnati’s city centre travels across the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge. They also know that when the river valley and city skyline suddenly appear as you proceed along the interstate, it is a breathtaking sight to behold.

The John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge, formerly known as the Cincinnati-Covington Bridge, spans the Ohio River and was once the longest suspension bridge in the world. To this day it is still an impressive structure, especially when lit up at night from end-to-end.

Along with its heavy automobile traffic, the bridge is a popular pedestrian route particularly when Cincinnati’s professional sports teams have home games at Paul Brown Stadium, Great American Ball Park, or U.S. Bank Arena. Fans living in or staying at hotels on the Kentucky side of the river can enjoy a leisurely stroll to and from the games instead of being stuck in a log jam of pre- and post-game vehicle traffic. They can also take advantage of a vibrant bar and restaurant district called Roebling Point, which is located at the foot of the bridge on the Kentucky side.

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Smale Riverfront Park

With its prime location and pristine scenery covering 45-acres, there’s something to satisfy everyone’s interests at Smale Riverfront Park. Kids gravitate to the splash parks to cool off in on hot summer days; adults congregate on porch-like swings to rest their weary feet and enjoy the river view.

Other attractions include an old-fashioned carousel with brightly painted animals of historical significance to Cincinnati, a memorial that honors African American volunteers who protected the city during the Civil War, and numerous gardens and green spaces along the Ohio River Trail.

Great American Ball Park

Home of the Cincinnati Reds, Great American Ball Park is named after the Cincinnati-based Great American Insurance Group. The company’s corporate headquarters overlooks the stadium and both are impressive structures.

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As baseball’s first professional franchise, the ball park and Hall of Fame Museum is full of historical references to the great players, coaches and sports media personalities of the past. For example, a rose garden was planted in the area where the ball from Pete Rose’s record-breaking hit landed when the Reds played in the old Riverfront Stadium. The ball park also features two large smokestacks in right-center field that pay homage to the steamboats that used to regularly travel along the nearby Ohio River.

National Steamboat Monument

Located in the riverside park known as Sawyer Point & Yeatman’s Cove, the National Steamboat Monument is an exact replica of the original red paddle wheel from the American Queen riverboat.

Standing three stories in height and weighing 60 tons, the monument highlights the historical contribution of the riverboat trade in Cincinnati. At its peak, Cincinnati was one of the largest ports in the region and was known for manufacturing companies that produced quality steamboats.

In addition to the paddle wheel monument, there is also a series of 24 metal smokestacks that are found in the area known as the Dan and Susan Pfau Whistle Grove. The smokestacks demonstrate the importance of steam technology that powered the earliest steamboats.

The Whistle Grove is an interactive display that is controlled by synchronized computer motion sensors that are activated as people walk by. Along with the emission of steam, other sounds are offered including an old-fashioned calliope steam organ, a steamboat whistle, and the voices of riverboat workers talking about the trials and tribulations of the trade.

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Purple People Bridge

It’s purple and it’s all about people!

The Purple People Bridge connects downtown Cincinnati to the city of Newport, Kentucky across the Ohio River. Beyond its unique color, its other notable characteristic is that it is pedestrian-only.

The primary purpose of the bridge is to make it easy for people to cross the river and access the myriad entertainment options and open park spaces in both regions that are minutes away from the bridge off ramps.

For those not in a rush to get from one side of the bridge to the other, there are festive floral displays, cheery benches and clear views looking west toward Cincinnati’s football and baseball stadiums.


Racing Through Indianapolis on Foot

February 28, 2018
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While it’s mostly known for the annual Indy 500 motorsport event, the city of Indianapolis, Indiana has some other interesting claims to fame that are best discovered racing around on foot versus fast cars.

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White River State Park

Encompassing 250 acres in the heart of downtown, White River State Park contains multiple attractions on both sides of the river. To the north is a scenic walkway and  White River Gardens that is part of the Indianapolis Zoo; to the south is the Central Canal and series of museums that stretch along 1.5 miles through the inner city.

Butterfly Bonanza

Featuring 40 species of butterflies flitting and floating about as they please, the indoor section of White River Gardens is the place to see the daily dispatch of hundreds of new butterflies.  The eye-catching exterior is just a hint of what to expect inside.

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NCAA Hall of Champions

There are 24 sports played at the collegiate level in the United States and the heroics of individual student athletes and teams are celebrated in the Hall of Champions. The main floor area is called Arena and includes team rankings and school artifacts. The second floor area is called Play and is an interactive area offering both virtual and hands-on opportunities to shoot some hoops in a gymnasium or hit the slopes on a ski simulator.

JW Marriott “Big Blue”

One of the most recognizable buildings in Indianapolis is the JW Marriott Hotel, also known as “Big Blue” for its bright, bold exterior of blue tinted glass. The hotel is connected to the Indiana Convention Center and Lucas Oil Stadium via an enclosed sky-walk bridge, and is across the street from White River State Park making it one of the most desirable places to stay at in the city.

Lucas Oil Stadium

Fans of NFL football will want to check out Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the Indianapolis Colts. In addition to its retractable roof and stellar views of the city skyline, the stadium has an impressive Pro Shop and is also just minutes away from other downtown attractions.

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Monuments & Memorials

As state capitals go, Indianapolis has its fair share of government buildings and stoic statues of famed political leaders. What is interesting to note is that aside from Washington, DC, Indianapolis has more monuments and memorials than any other city.

The Soldiers and Sailors Monument honors all veterans who served in wars prior to World War I. It stands 284 feet tall and is located in Monument Circle in the heart of downtown. An observation deck at 275 feet provides a 360 degree view of the skyline.

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Canada’s Gateway to the West Rolls Through Thunder Bay

February 27, 2018
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Situated on the banks of Lake Superior in Northwestern Ontario, the city of Thunder Bay has long been an important region and natural wonder in the heart of Central Canada. From its early beginnings as a First Nations gathering place to its emergence as a fur trading post and eventual shipping and railway transportation hub between Eastern and Western Canada, there is much to experience and enjoy in “Canada’s Gateway to the West.”

Mount McKay

Offering a gorgeous view of the city and western shore of  Lake Superior, what better way to begin exploring the city than a visit to the Mount McKay Scenic Lookout where the Thunder Bay eagle looms large and majestic. Located on the Fort William First Nation, the lookout includes a walkway and other tributes to the city’s indigenous people such as the Mountain Chapel and Memorial that honours those who died in the world wars.

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Chippewa Park 

After soaking up the views on high at Mount McKay, head on down and take a short drive along City Road to one of Thunder Bay’s grandest and oldest lakefront recreation spots.

Chippewa Park features an old-fashioned carousel and other rides along with a dance hall, picnic areas and long stretches of sand along Sandy Beach looking out toward the famous Sleeping Giant located on Sibley Peninsula.

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The Legend of the Sleeping Giant

While there are a few versions of how the Sleeping Giant land formation came to be, one of the most common centres around an old Ojibwa story.

Legend has it that the spirit figure, Nanabijou, was turned to stone and fell into his final resting place in the waters of Thunder Bay after the secret location of a silver mine known as ‘Silver Islet’ was revealed to white men.

The mine and its riches were intended to be a reward to the Ojibwa for their loyalty and peaceful way of life provided the mine’s whereabouts was safeguarded. Unfortunately, the consequences of its discovery meant instant peril for Nanabijou and the Ojibwa tribe; the great Spirit of the Deep Water was frozen in stone for all eternity and the silver treasure was lost forever.

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Prince Arthur’s Landing at Marina Park

From the winding shores of Sandy Beach at Chippewa Park a good spot to check out next is Prince Arthur’s Landing, a large waterfront complex located in Marina Park.

Whether you fancy a stroll along the boardwalk or a sail on the lake, there is plenty to keep you happily occupied. Public art installations are prominently featured along the pier area, as well as a splash pad/wading pool and skateboard/BMX park for all ages to utilize.

Marina Park is also home to The Anchorage Memorial that honours naval veterans from World War II and the old C.N. Station which was designed in the popular “Railroad Gothic” style of architecture that was popular from the 1880s to the 1930s.

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Fort William Historical Park

The early economic history of Thunder Bay comes to life at Fort William, the world’s largest fur trading post where employees of the North West Company alongside the Ojibwa conducted their business centuries ago.

A large native encampment on the fort’s perimeter showcases traditional wigwams and fur drying techniques along with other crafts and cooking.

Inside the fort over 30 historical buildings depict the day-to-day life of the fur trade industry representatives.

For its time the fort was a grand undertaking and reflected the wealth and success achieved by the North West Company. All necessities were provided including a hospital, apothecary, powder magazine, observatory and jail.

Finlandia

In addition to the intrepid French voyageurs and British settlers who traveled across the Atlantic Ocean to participate in the fur trade, Thunder Bay also has a large Finnish population. Migrant workers from Finland were instrumental in fostering positive labour practices in the early part of the 20th Century.

The Finnish Labour Temple was built in 1910 and proudly flies the flag of its adopted homeland. Right next door you can get your fill of Finnish pancakes at Hoito Restaurant.

Kaministikwia River Heritage Park

More commonly referred to as Kam River Park, the area features a long walkway and scenic views of the Kaministikwia River.

Historical structures such as the 100-year-old James Whelan Tug boat and a vintage VIA Rail train can be found here along with newer public art installations such as the beautiful Animikii – Flies the Thunder sculpture.

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Thunder Bay Museum

Before it was a museum, the building was first known as the Donald Street Station, which was the police station and courthouse for the historic City of Fort William.

Covering the periods of early native life through to modern times, the museum features three floors and six galleries of permanent and rotating exhibits. It’s a wonderful place to get a sense of the local, regional and national influences that contributed to Thunder Bay’s development.

“Superior by Nature”

Thunder Bay’s “Superior by Nature” corporate tagline reflects two equally important aspects about the city: its location in proximity to Lake Superior; and its beautiful natural environment that can be enjoyed year-round.

From lakes and rivers to mountains and forests, the diverse terrain provides the perfect landscape to explore the great outdoors in myriad ways.

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