Big City Tales

Double the Fun in Minnesota’s Twin Cities

April 25, 2018
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No matter the time of year and no matter how long the stay, visitors to Minneapolis and St. Paul are guaranteed to have double the fun in Minnesota’s twin cities. The cosmopolitan heart of the state serves up the glitz and glamour of urban living all within a gorgeous natural landscape surrounded by parks, rivers and lakes. Yes, city meets country in Minneapolis-St.Paul and the twin cities offer the best of both worlds with copious amounts of things to see and do.

Minneapolis

Situated on the banks of the mighty Mississippi River, Minneapolis is the largest city in Minnesota and is home to many Fortune 500 companies, including Target, U.S. Bancorp and Xcel Energy. The downtown skyline features skyscrapers, high-rise buildings, museums, and sports stadiums that delight by day and dazzle by night.

The IDS Center and Capella Tower are the tallest buildings in Minnesota and are part of the Minneapolis Skyway System. The Skyway is the world’s longest continuous system of enclosed footbridges that connects buildings in an area encompassing 80 blocks and offers pedestrians a year-round climate-controlled environment.

Museums are plentiful in Minneapolis and art patrons can take in classical and contemporary offerings. The Weisman Art Center, designed by famed architect Frank Gehry, showcases early 20th century American art, as well as ceramics and contemporary art. The Minneapolis Sculpture Garden contains 40 installations, most notably the Spoonbridge and Cherry fountain.

Minneapolis is a haven of professional sports teams and there are three major stadiums in the downtown core: U.S. Bank Stadium, home to the Minnesota Vikings; Target Center, home to the Minnesota Timberwolves & Minnesota Lynx; and Target Field, home to the Minnesota Twins. Go Teams!

While technically located in the suburb of Bloomington, the Mall of America is only a 15 minute drive from downtown Minneapolis and minutes away from the international airport. With 520 stores and 60 restaurants, an amusement park and aquarium, and a mini-golf course, Mall of America is the largest shopping and entertainment complex in the United States and is visited every year by millions of people.

St. Paul

St. Paul is the capital of Minnesota and the State Capitol Building was modeled after St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, Italy, and also inspired by the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. Atop the south entrance sits a magnificent gilded sculpture called The Progress of the State that features a quadriga, an ancient chariot drawn by four horses abreast. The horses represent earth, wind, fire and water. The women leading the horses symbolize civilization, and the man driving the chariot represents prosperity.

Similar to its twin city located across the Mississippi River, St. Paul offers plenty of arts, entertainment and sporting options. The Ordway Center for the Performing Arts offers theater and opera productions; while some of the most-frequented museums include the Minnesota Museum of American Art, the Science Museum of Minnesota and the Minnesota Children’s Museum. The Xcel Energy Center is home to the Minnesota Wild of the National Hockey League, and the city will soon be cheering on the Minnesota United FC when the new soccer pitch is finished.

Other city attractions include the Como Park Zoo and Conservatory that is open year-round, and James. J. Hill House, a National Historic Landmark that was built in 1891.

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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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Chillin’ Out in Portland

March 4, 2018
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It’s no big secret that Portland, Oregon is a haven for easy-going, young (and older!) cool hipster types who enjoy nothing more than chillin’ out at their favorite specialty coffee cafe, farmers market or green space. Even having only once briefly visited the city, its funky, “keep it weird” vibe and strong environmental consciousness was very palpable and highly appealing. Yes, this is a city you want to hang out in.

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Counterculture Movement

In the 1960s, the influence of the hippie scene in nearby San Francisco began to infiltrate Portland society. Within a decade, the city became known for its progressive outlook and social activism that was evident in the establishment of numerous food cooperatives, publicly funded radio stations and media outlets, and places like the Crystal Ballroom that catered to the psychedelic drug, music and beat poetry crowd.

During this time issues such as Native American rights and the environment were a major focus, as well as urban development initiatives to keep sprawl to a minimum, maximize land use, and provide optimum park space.

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Environmental Efforts

With over 10,000 acres of public parks, Portland is often recognized as one of the best city park systems in the United States. City planners have long placed an emphasis on acquiring and safeguarding its natural spaces, which include the largest wilderness park located within city limits and the smallest park in the world.

From the riverfront and downtown core to the most outlying neighborhoods, parks dominate the landscape meaning that a high percentage of people live within close proximity to accessible green space.

In recent decades, Portland has also been lauded for its sustainability initiatives that have frequently earned it the “Greenest City in America” designation. Be it offering plenty of public transportation options or enabling a thriving walking/cycling community, there is no doubt that it’s all about being “green” in Portland.

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Public gardens are also prevalent and one of the most popular is the Japanese Garden that has been recognized for its authenticity and variety of features.

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City of Roses

Portland’s temperate climate makes it an ideal place to grow roses; hence one of the city’s nicknames is “Rose City”.  The International Rose Test Garden attracts throngs of visitors every year. There are more than 8,000 varieties of roses on display with prime viewing months being May to September.

Foodie Scene

Even before the food truck/cart craze descended on major urban centers, Portland was known for its street food cuisine and farm-to-table dining options. Micro-roasteries and micro-breweries are also very prevalent, along with farmers markets. Stumptown Coffee Roasters and the Portland Farmers Market should not be missed.

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Anything is Possible Attitude

As the city’s recent tourism campaign proudly boasts, Portland is a place where you can basically “be, do, eat or drink” whatever you want. With such a positive mantra, Portland is a place worth revisiting and soaking up its unique and infectious ambiance.


Vivid Memories of Vienna

January 27, 2018
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For a mid-October day, it certainly felt more like summer when I arrived in Vienna making for ideal sightseeing and picture-taking conditions. With the temperature expected to climb over 20 degrees Celsius, and nary a cloud in the brilliant blue sky with just a hint of a light breeze, my first vivid memory of the home of the Habsburgs, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and wiener schnitzel was forever etched in my mind. Thankfully, more than just the weather enthralled me…here are some highlights of a quick day tour through one of Europe’s most glorious and grand cities:

Schonbrunn Palace

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Before the Palace of Versailles in France came Schonbrunn Palace in Austria, the imperial summer home of the Habsburg royal family for hundreds of years. The palace consists of over 1400 rooms and its Baroque design evokes awe beyond its distinct golden yellow exterior. The word Schonbrunn means “beautiful spring” and refers to a large, natural well on the grounds that supplied the palace occupants with a plentiful water source and allowed for an expansive garden.

In keeping with other residences of great European monarchies, the Schonbrunn property covers nearly 200 hectares and consists of expansive, immaculately kept lawns, flower beds and shrubs. I could not have chosen a more wonderful way to take in a splendid day in Vienna than wandering the grounds of one of its most popular attractions.

First up was admiring a series of marble statues that line the perimeter of the lower level garden in the area known as the Great Parterre, the space between the palace and the immense Neptune Fountain. Located at the foot of a hill, the sculptures of Neptune and his entourage were certainly impressive, but Gloriette, the crowning jewel of the palace garden took my breath away, literally and figuratively!

– Great Parterre

The Great Parterre includes over 30 life-size sculptures that represent mythological deities and virtues. The statues were carved over a period of seven years between 1773 and 1780 under the direction of a German artist and garden designer.

– Neptune Fountain

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The centre-point of the Neptune Fountain is, of course, Neptune, God of the Sea, and his entourage that includes a nymph seated on his left and the sea goddess, Thetis, kneeling on his right. Neptune holds his trusty trident high in the air and his stance is imposing as if to strike a sense of fear into any person or sea creature that attempts to block his path. A group of four tritons (half man-half fish beings) also adorn the base of the sculpture with each holding a conch shell trumpet to herald Neptune’s dominion.

– Gloriette

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Ironically, the root word of gloriette (gloire) means “little room,” but there is nothing little about the building that Queen Maria Theresa intended to be a symbol of Habsburg power and the Just Wars it carried out in the name of securing lasting peace and prosperity. The Schonbrunn Gloriette sits at the top of a 60-metre-high hill overlooking the Neptune Fountain, the Great Parterre, the Schonbrunn Palace immediately below it, and ultimately the city of Vienna beyond the palace complex borders. The Gloriette is thus both a focal point and a lookout, and was also utilized as a large dining hall and a venue for hosting festive events. It is well worth taking the time to make the trek from the palace, which can be done via two pathways: one is straight up; the other curves its way up the hillside. Either way, there are rest stops to take in wonderful vistas and sit and enjoy the company of ducks that flock to the many water features and grassy banks.

 

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Hofburg Palace

Having surveyed the splendor of the summer residence, my tour continued on to Hofburg Palace, the winter residence of the imperial family. This palace is located in the centre of Vienna and was originally built in the 13th century followed by many expansions. The palace was the seat of power of the Habsburg rulers for centuries, and today is the official residence and workplace of the President of Austria.

 

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The palace consists of a series of wings and overlooks the Heldenplatz (Heroes Square), a large, public green space where two notable statues stand honoring great military leaders of the past: one of Prince Eugene of Savoy; the other of Archduke Charles of Austria. The Austrian Crown Jewels are also kept in the Hofburg’s treasury.

St. Stephen’s Cathedral

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Inside the Hofburg Palace gate lies the heart of Vienna’s Old Town district, the Innere Stadt, where there are numerous places of interests to take in along with experiencing a vibrant market/food scene. I highly recommend trying out the local fusion food carts that offer delicious offerings like duck schnitzel with thick noodles and vegetables.

As the most important religious building in Vienna, St. Stephen’s Cathedral with its colourful tiled roof is also one of Old Town’s most recognized sites. The cathedral is more commonly referred to as Stephansdom and is the mother church of the Catholic Archdiocese in Vienna, as well as the seat of the Archbishop of Vienna. Stephansdom has hosted many important events in Habsburg and Austrian history, including the weddings of Mozart and Haydyn, and the funeral of Vivaldi; its crypt contains the remains of Habsburg royal family members and other notable Austrian figures.

Austrian Parliament Building

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Across the street from Hofburg Palace and located along the picturesque and majestic Vienna Ring Road (Ringstrasse), the Austrian Parliament is a shining example of the Greek Revival style. With towering Corinthian pillars and numerous allegorical statutes, including the Athena Fountain and Horse Tamer in the images below, as well as bronze and marble statues on the roof and within the pediment, the building’s artistic details were intended to capture the attention of the masses, which they still do to this day. The image above shows the series of four statues along The Ramp that consist of Greek and Roman ancient historians intended to remind politicians of their responsibility to be mindful of history.

Mozart Monument

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Last but not least, no trip to Vienna is complete without paying homage to one of classical music’s greatest composers. A lovely monument of Mozart is found in the Burggarten (Imperial Palace Gardens). As a child, Mozart was a keyboard and violin prodigy but he also possessed a penchant for composing, which dazzled the royal court. Although born in Salzburg, Mozart was a restless lad and longed for the fame and glamour of the city life. While visiting Vienna in 1781, he made the decision not to return to his country roots and make the city his new home. A wise choice…Vienna is indeed wunderbar!

 


Chicago Truly Is 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!


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!

Boston Strong

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.

Plains of Abraham

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

MONTREAL

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

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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.

 


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