Big City Tales

One Town That Won’t Let You Down

October 23, 2017
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With all the wind blowing through my hometown of Calgary this fall, it’s reminded me of another great city south of the border that also starts with a ‘C’ and also has its fair share of blustery days! The winds of Chicago, Illinois may knock you down, but the town itself won’t let you down…

Yes, if there’s one thing you can count on in Chicago, it’s the ever-present wind that is either welcomed or shunned depending on the weather conditions. In the heat of the summer, a gentle breeze off of Lake Michigan cools the masses; but in the dead of winter it freezes their toes! For tried and true Chicagoans, it’s just part and parcel of the charm that comes with living in the ‘Windy City’ and many wouldn’t want it any other way.

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As the sun begins to set, the Chicago skyline begins to glimmer, shimmer, and gloriously GLOW!

Architecture

One of the redeeming qualities in this fine mid-western city, and indeed adding to its charm, is the wide array of architectural styles in the downtown core that is best observed either on a walking tour or a river cruise. Chicago is the birthplace of the skyscraper and you’ll have to look up, WAY up to see the tops of the John Hancock Center and the Willis (formerly Sears) Tower, two structures that, in the past, have both held the distinction of being the world’s tallest buildings. Although not nearly as tall, the iconic Wrigley Building located on Michigan Avenue along the Chicago River is nonetheless just as eye-catching and holds its own as a beloved city landmark. From modern, innovative designs to classical and Art Deco treasures, there are plenty of spectacular marvels of construction to behold and admire.

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Gather with the throngs underneath the Cloud Gate Sculpture (a.k.a. ‘The Bean’) and enjoy an altered perspective of the city’s skyline.

 

Culture

When you’re done surveying the exterior of the city’s superstructures, you’ll be equally ‘blown away’ (pun intended!) with what Chicago has to offer by way of arts and culture. Public art includes The Bean, The Picasso, Flamingo, Buckingham Fountain and Agora to name but a mere few of Chicago’s popular installations that now number over 500 and are spread out across the city. Museums such as the Art Institute of Chicago, the Field Museum of Natural History and the Museum of Science and Industry are world-renowned for their collections. The Art Institute is the second largest museum in the United States and includes pieces by Monet, Chagall, Rembrandt and Dali among other treasured artists. Both the Art Institute and the Field Museum are part of ‘Museum Campus’ in beautiful and peaceful Grant Park that also features the Adler Planetarium and Shedd Aquarium.

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Baseball fans in Chicago rejoiced when the Cubs FINALLY won the World Series again in 2016.

Sports 

Not unlike other large American cities, Chicago sports fans have the luxury of many teams to throw their support behind, including two baseball franchises. While the city has had its fair share of champions, there have been some lean years, most notably the Cubs baseball team that, up until 2016, sadly held the distinction of the longest National League pennant and World Series droughts in the history of Major League Baseball. Other heralded teams include the Chicago White Sox (winners of the World Series in 1906 and 2005, representing the American League), the Chicago Bears (winners of the Super Bowl in 1985, representing the National Football Conference), the Chicago Blackhawks (winners of six Stanley Cups in 1934, 1938, 1961, 2010, 2013 and 2015, representing the Western Conference), and the Chicago Bulls (winners of six NBA Finals in 1991, 1992, 1993, 1996, 1997 and 1998, representing the Eastern Conference). More recently, Major League Soccer has been added to Chicago’s sports offerings and the Chicago Fire made the playoffs in 2017. Chicago also boasts a team in the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) and the Chicago Sky appeared in the 2014 finals.

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Ahoy, it’s Navy Pier…the Midwest’s number one tourist attraction located on the shores of Lake Michigan and home of the Centennial Wheel.

Entertainment

If watching sports isn’t your idea of a good time, there are other ways to have fun and be thoroughly entertained in Chicago. With its prime lakefront location, Navy Pier is open year-round and includes more than 50 acres of parks, gardens, shops, restaurants, family attractions and exhibition facilities. The area is currently undergoing a major upgrade with the Phase 1 “Centennial Vision” project completed in 2016 adding  amenities such as a new fountain and plaza at the pier’s main entryway; a greener and modernized promenade at the south dock; an authentic Chicago Food Experience featuring deep dish pizza, Chicago-style hot dogs, rainbow ice cream, etc.; and the grand new Centennial Wheel, the only one of its kind in the United States.

Chicago also has great appeal for fans of live music, theater and comedy productions. Musical genres associated with the city include the blues, Dixieland jazz (Chicago style), gospel, and house (electronic dance). From large Broadway shows to small local productions, there is something for all theater goers to enjoy. For those just looking for a good laugh, Chicago is home to The Second City, the well-known comedy club that has brought fame to the likes of Tina Fey, Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell, Bill Murray and others who honed their skills and tickled the funny bones of Chicagoans before launching their careers on the national and world stages.

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Be it by the slice or by the whole pie, Chicagoans really, REALLY love their deep dish pizza!

Food

Considered to be one of America’s best food cities, it’s not just Chicago-style pizza and the classic ballpark hot dog that have critics raving. From fine dining in Michelin star restaurants to grabbing a bite on the fly from trendy street food vendors, the Chicago food scene has something to satisfy every palate and food craving. Local celebrity chefs include Rick Bayless whose specialty is Mexican regional cooking, Stephanie Izard whose passion is casual international cuisine, Art Smith who puts his heart and soul into southern comfort food, and three star Michelin superstar, Grant Achatz, who has skyrocketed to the top of the modernist cooking movement. Not to be overlooked are other staples such as Chicago-style popcorn, the original rainbow ice cream cone, and Bertha’s famous brownie. Can’t decide what to eat? Try out one of Chicago’s food tours where you can sample the best bites at the best digs in no time at all.

My Kind of Town

In the words of songwriters Sammy Cahn and Jimmy van Heusen and as sung with such incredible vim and vigor by Frank Sinatra, Chicago IS my kind of town and I think you’ll like it too!

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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.

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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.

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Every year, the Boston Marathon attracts thousands of runners eager to pound the city pavement and sweat up a storm 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.

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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.

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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!

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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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Quebec Separation

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.

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The altar inside of Notre Dame Basilica in Montreal.

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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.

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The skyline of downtown Montreal.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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The regal and rustic Chateau Frontenac basks in the glow of a clear, bright sky.

 


Taking the Tarnish Off of Toronto

August 19, 2013
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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!

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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.
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It may have an ultra-modern exterior, but the interior of the Royal Ontario Museum celebrates classical civilizations and timeless natural history artifacts.

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.

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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!

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

 


All Hail to the Halifax Regional Municipality

August 2, 2013
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A tall ship sails by the iconic Purdy’s Wharf towers.

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.

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Outdoor restaurants and food stands 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.

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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!

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Unique shops, cafes and other amenities abound along always bustling 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.

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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.

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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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An aerial view of Vancouver shows off the city`s abundant natural beauty and some of its unique architecture.

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.

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

Take in the Arts

As a local hot spot of shopping and entertainment, Granville Island boasts a large public market and licensed buskers can be found in their appointed areas. Access to the island is as easy as taking a walk across the Granville Bridge or hopping on a mini tugboat ferry and chugging on over across False Creek.

Granville 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.

The island also features a large indoor public market that is a haven for foodies that are seeking fresh produce and seafood to prepare themselves, but there is also a food court area and plenty of restaurants to choose from.

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Granville Market is a great place to eat, drink and be merry!

Take in the Urban Vibe 

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

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 an ideal 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.

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!

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At dusk, Vancouver starts to sparkle!

 


Far More than Fine: San Diego is Truly Divine

March 6, 2013
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Ahh San Diego…birthplace of California, home of the world-famous San Diego Zoo, land of beautiful beaches and copious amounts of sun – this is truly a city that lives up to (and surpasses!) its nickname. Yes, ‘America’s Finest City’ is no misnomer, San Diego is truly divine!

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The lily pond is one of many lovely sights at Balboa Park.

Come for the Weather, Stay for the Fun

With an average daily mean temperature of 64 degrees Fahrenheit, San Diego is one of the world’s warmest climates and the city also enjoys over 200 sunny days, making it a popular year-round travel destination.

The temperate climate facilitates plenty of outdoor activities, including sailing, golfing, surfing, and cycling–to name just a few–and San Diego’s public beaches and parks are the perfect spots to enjoy the great outdoors.

Whether it’s taking in a baseball game, sailing along the harbor, walking around Balboa Park, or admiring the city’s naval fleet and historic hotels, San Diego is a city that offers up plenty of fun!

A Who’s Who of Wildlife in the San Diego Zoo

Renowned for its conservation efforts and progressive animal care, the San Diego Zoo also boasts a highly diverse range of species – much to the delight of visitors of all ages.

Frolic with flamingos, trek with pandas, monkey around with gorillas, or engage with elephants in wide-open spaces that allow you to observe animals in carefully crafted habitats intended to create as natural an experience as possible.

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The San Diego Zoo is home to more than 4,000 animals, covering 100 acres in Balboa Park.

Soar with Shamu at SeaWorld

If creatures of the sea are more your cup of tea, SeaWorld San Diego is the place for you to be!

Open year-round, SeaWorld offers its patrons such unique experiences as diving with sea turtles, feeding and petting dolphins, snuggling up with belugas, and watching killer whales soar through the air in the ever-popular Shamu show.

There are also a host of amusement park rides that add another level of thrills and chills for guests to experience, including Journey to Atlantis, Shipwreck Rapids, Wild Arctic, and Manta, a multi-media roller coaster that mimics the motions of a manta ray in full flight.

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The Shamu show at SeaWorld thrills viewers with high-flying killer whales displaying their amazing moves!

Soak Up Spanish History at Old Town

Thirsty for a margarita? Hungry for a fresh tortilla? Longing for a mariachi serenade? The best place to satisfy your cravings for all things Mexican is at Old Town.

After you’ve had your fill of Mexican fare, you can work off your calorie intake with a jaunt through no less than 17 museums and historical sites, a haunted house, as well as art galleries and boutiques.  If you’re just too stuffed to walk around, hop on the Old Town Trolley for one of San Diego’s best sight-seeing experiences.

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Enjoy some Spanish fare at Old Town, one of San Diego’s quaintest historic districts.

More Blasts from the Past in Gaslamp Quarter

The Victorian era is on full display in the Gaslamp Quarter, where historic buildings hold their own against modern skyscrapers and the multi-level outdoor mall, Horton Plaza.

You can see the sights and shop by day, or grab a meal and see a show at night. The Gaslamp Quarter combines the best of the past with the best of the present in a true cosmopolitan experience that should not be missed.

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History meets the present in the Gaslamp Quarter.

 


One Golden Memory After Another

March 5, 2013
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An early morning fog blankets the expanse of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California.

The City by the Bay

For a city known more for its fog than clear blue skies, it may come as a surprise that San Francisco ranks amongst the most popular tourist destinations in ‘sunny’ California, and the world for that matter!

Indeed, despite being tagged with ‘Fog City’ as one of its nicknames, there are plenty of other aspects about San Francisco that keep people coming in droves to experience the city’s charm. And, like me, wanting to come back to experience one golden memory after another all over again…

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The City by the Bay basks in the glow of evening light.

Take a Ride on the ‘Wild’ Cable Car Side

San Francisco’s cable car system has the distinction of being a national historic landmark that is still operational. The three lines that run intersect with the city’s other mass transit options and are adjacent to neighbourhoods such as Fisherman’s Wharf, Nob Hill and Union Square. Propelled by cables underneath the city streets, the cars chug along at a whopping nine miles per hour, making for a very different kind of ‘wild’ ride!

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Nearly 10 million people ride San Francisco’s historic cable car system every year.

Wind Your Way Down Lombard Street

If a series of hairpin turns on a steep one-block stretch of road is your idea of a fun driving experience, Lombard Street is calling your name.

Designed by city planners to make the road more navigable for cars through the Russian Hill district, Lombard is one of the world’s most crooked streets and is also noted for being paved in red bricks and elaborately landscaped.

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The long and winding road of Lombard Street.

While the Day Away at Fisherman’s Wharf

Eat your fill of fresh seafood, frolic with the seal lions, hop on a cable car or board an old-fashioned ship…so much to cram into a day at the wharf! And don’t forget about the bounty that lies offshore in the bay. Alcatraz Prison and Angel Island are just a short boat ride away, offering some of the most panoramic views of the San Francisco skyline.

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So many fun memories waiting to be created at Fisherman’s Wharf of San Francisco.

Take a Ghost Tour at Night in Chinatown

San Francisco’s Chinatown is the oldest and largest in North America, and is one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions. Amble through the streets and alleys, sample delectable delights, or find the perfect Chinese herb to cure what ails you. Meanwhile, keep a lookout for the spirits that are known to haunt the area at night – Boo!

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San Francisco’s charming Chinatown district is festive by day, frightful by night!

Where the Golden Sun Shines for Everyone

As Tony Bennett crooned in the closing lines of his classic 1962 hit song “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” there is a lot to love about this city and “coming home” is all the more sweeter when greeted with a golden sun.  True, the sun may not shine as much as some would like, but when it does it there’s no denying the magic it casts across the glorious city by the bay!

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“When I come home to you, San Francisco, your golden sun will shine for me.”


To the Sea and Beyond in Seattle

March 4, 2013
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Seattle’s downtown skyline overlooks Elliott Bay.

As a teenager visiting Seattle back in the day, my most vivid memories of the city were the Space Needle, the Kingdome and, of course, the super mall out in Tacoma!

Some many years later, while the iconic landmarks and shopping amenities still garner my attention, I have developed an appreciation for some of Seattle’s other fine offerings that have me craving to go back and check out the sea and beyond.

Foodie Culture

Seattle may be the queen of corner coffee shops and is, in fact, where the Starbucks franchise got its start, but the city also has a thriving restaurant industry. And it’s not just seafood joints that foodies are clamouring to eat at.

With ready access to fresh fish and seafood, along with organic meats and produce, Seattle’s food offerings are endless and cater to multiple tastes. From Caribbean fare at Paseo to French/Cajun-Creole creations at Toulouse Petit Kitchen, foodies can enjoy exotic flavours from around the world.

For the Top Chef aficionados out there, Seattle was the host city for Season 10 that featured visits to a fresh oyster farm, Pike Place Market and Canlis Restaurant, among other notable city and surrounding area food establishments.

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The always entertaining and crowd-pleasing tossing of the fish demonstration at Pike Place Fish Market.

Arts Scene

If exotic, elaborate, and elegant glass-blown art is your cup of tea, the place to get your fill of it at is the Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibit. Located near the Space Needle in the Seattle Center district downtown, the exhibit showcases the work of Dale Chihuly, a local Tacoma-based glass artist who has made a name for himself in international circles for his highly unique, colorful and inspired creations.

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The Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibits glistens in the sun at the base of Seattle’s Space Needle.

Seattle also boasts an array of art galleries, particularly in Pioneer Square, and its opera company and symphony orchestra are recognized as world-class.

Additionally, fans of 1960s garage-rock and 1990s grunge will know that Seattle was the place where these popular musical genres first gained prominence on a wide-scale level. To this day, the local music scene continues to have a presence and is progressive in moving the industry forward.

Game On

The Seattle Seahawks of the National Football League (NFL) experienced a resurgence in the 2000s, making the playoffs seven times, winning the division championship five times, and ultimately playing in the Super Bowl in 2005.

The team’s solid play continued in the most recent season (2012-13), nearly upsetting the league’s top team, the Atlanta Falcons, in a thrilling, down-to-the-wire divisional playoff game.

With a solid core of young players and a committed coaching staff, football fans should have a lot to cheer about for years to come.

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Three Cheers for Seattle

Whether you are a foodie, an artsy-fartsy or a sports fan, Seattle is a city where you can satisfy all of these guilty pleasures. For me, I can’t wait to indulge in all three!

 


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!