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We’re funny (usually), controversial (sometimes) and insightful (always!). Our travel experts share their experiences below in hopes of hearing back from YOU. So read, comment and enjoy!

Posts from December, 2012

Hiking in Vancouver

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Hiking in Lynn Valley

Vancouver has some of the best places to go hiking in Canada. This is mainly due to the availability of trails for all skill levels and interests – from seaside hiking to mountain hiking to urban wilderness hiking. Let's have a look at some of the interesting hiking places:

Stanley Park Seawall: The most famous place in Vancouver, Stanley Park is famous for its recreational facilities and its natural attributes. It attracts 8 million visitors a year – including locals and tourists. The Seawall stretches 8.8km and loops around Stanley Park, running along the park's northern, western and southern coastlines. The Seawall is fully-paved and is an ideal pathway for hikers of all skill levels. Its route is undoubtedly beautiful with views of the city, northern mountains, and Lion's Gate Bridge.

Lynn Canyon Park: The park has lots of free activities for all ages, including the suspension bridge, waterfalls, mini hikes, and a swimming hole – all connected by hiking trails. Its most famous feature is of course, the Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge. The Suspension Bridge stretches 50 feet above the churning waters. The park also boasts of the popular Twin Falls, where a wooden bridge stretches over the river in view of the two gorgeous waterfalls. Another popular feature of the park, the 30 Foot Pool swimming holes is an ideal spot to keep cool in the summer months.

Burnaby Lake: A home to a large variety of wildlife – at least 70 species of birds making it their home – the lake occupies 3.11 square kilometres of land. The lake also has a 10km hiking path that loops around the entire park area.

Deer Lake: Located in the east of Vancouver is Deer Lake that offers nice scenery, a viewing tower, a beach area and pier. It is popular with locals walking dogs as well as for an afternoon stroll through the park. In the summer you can rent a boat, launch your own canoe or sailboat/rowboat on Deer Lake or enjoy sunbathing on the beach. There are also hundreds of rhododendrons blooming every spring.

Baden Powell Trail: Named after Lord Baden-Powell, the founder of the world Scouting Movement, the trail is about 48 kilometres long and has lots of switches. It extends from Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver to Deep Cove in North Vancouver. The hike takes you through an amazing range of vegetation – Oaks, Jeffery pines, Sugar Pines, Incense Cedar, White Fir and Limber Pines etc.

Iona Beach Regional Park: Located north of Vancouver International Airport, the park is made up of a long, narrow jetty of sand and grass along the mouth of the Fraser River. You will have a fairly unobstructed view of the Georgia Straight. Sea birds are visible throughout the area as well.

So there, you have our best hiking places in Vancouver. What about yours? Do share us your favourite hiking places.

Happy Hiking!

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Make Your New Year’s Resolution to Visit an Island!

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Islands are small, but that does not mean that there is not a plethora of activities to do while there. But don’t get lulled into the idea that each island is the same, either. Each island – whether it’s in the Pacific or Atlantic – has its own culture and feel. So I challenge you to visit an island, any island, this New Year! (As a side note: they’re also great places to escape the cold of the winter season.)

Hawaiian islands

This famous string of islands in the Pacific is best known for its volcanic activity. In fact, the islands were created from volcanic activity- over time, the various underwater volcanoes built up the islands to what they are today. The best part? The islands still aren’t finished. The volcanoes on the islands, especially on the Big Island, are still active. Visiting these island-shapers is a must when you’re on Hawaii- it was on the top of my list when I finally got there!

Fiji islands

This small collection of islands near Australia is an exotic destination that reaches the top of anyone’s list. With over 330 smaller islands around the main island of Fiji, this destination will not fail to entertain. The water in the Fiji islands is absolutely stunning, and you cannot help yourself from spending time in it- or above it. Kayaking in the Fiji waters is spectacular and lovely. The peaceful waters make it perfect for this activity, and the clear quality of the water enables you to see almost to the sandy bottom.

Jamaica

Jamaica in the Caribbean is one of the most colourful islands, in a region where each island is colourful in its own way. The birthplace of Bob Marley and reggae, Jamaica is a great combination of beautiful sandy beaches and cool rainforests. There is always something to do on this island, whether it be laying on the beaches, hiking through the forests, trekking to a waterfall or swimming with dolphins, Jamaica will always promise to be a great holiday spot!

These three that I have highlighted is barely the tip of the iceburg. In the Hawaiian and Fiji islands alone there are a plethora of islands to discover, with their own distinct histories, traditions and cultures. The same goes for the Caribbean islands. Jamaica is just one in a whole line of beautiful islands, each with something unique to offer. Wherever you decide to go, I promise you will not be disappointed!

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Minimalist Packing

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(How to pack only the bare essentials into a backpack)

Aah! The backpack! One of the greatest inventions for travellers – after the aeroplane, that is. Travel is great fun and the backpack a great travel convenience but it’s the packing that gives the biggest headache. The veteran traveller knows this problem and has devised and found his/her solution.

In this world of overweight charges and limited space, packing for a three week trip can give you that dull pain between the eyebrows. What do you pack? How much do you pack? Finally, how do you pack a backpack?  It suddenly seems so small and inadequate.

In the immortal words of MAD magazine, ‘learn from the mistakes of others, you don’t have time to make them all yourself.’ Going by that sage advice this piece is an attempt to help the first-time traveller or others figure out the maddening intricacies of packing a backpack and not make those mistakes.

Make a List: This is simply a must because it helps you realise what you need and what you don’t. It is then you are able to cut out what is unnecessary. Do this regardless of the length and type of your trip or your destination.

Choose the Right Bag: There are so many backpacks to choose from with each one having its selling points. We suggest you go with either of these two options: a carry-on-size convertible backpack/suitcase with zip-away shoulder straps or an internal frame backpack.  Our choice would be to go with the latter as they are good for times when you have long walks ahead of you. Besides, the convertibles are more expensive and the wheels add weight to your back and on the airlines’ scales.

Pack Outside your Bag:  One of the best tips I can give on packing light is to place everything on your list on the bed before actually placing them in the bag. That will give you a visual of what you will be packing.  t is one the best ways of eliminating non-essential items.

Pack Tight: There are a couple of ways you can do this. Rolling or bundle-wrapping are great ways to compact your clothes. The tighter you roll or bundle your clothes, the more space you will have in your backpack for other stuff.

Backpack

Multipurpose clothing: Your travel wardrobe should be multi-purpose and interchangeable.  Dark or neutral colours are ideal. Khakis or dark jeans can do double duty as hiking and dinner wear. Denim shirts, olive or brown khakis go with most or any other shirts or trousers. Dark also hides stains and food drippings, which always seem to happen on travels.  Remember you can do laundry along the way so you don’t need a different shirt or underwear for every day of your trip.

Think Small: Toiletries, detergents, toothpastes should all be of the travel or mini varieties. You don’t need the large-sized containers. Also you could go with the ‘buy it there’ philosophy. Toothpastes, soaps and shampoos from universally known brands are now available all over the world so you could pick them up at your destination. Cheap, disposable shaving kits are also a good idea.

Keep it Light: While overweight airlines charges are a good incentive to keep your luggage weight down, remember that most of the time you will have to lug the knapsack on your own back. So pack light and keep in mind the dictum, ‘What to leave out trumps over what to put in – every time.

Once you have packed your knapsack sling on your shoulders and go for a short walk, you will then get a good idea of how it will feel when you have to carry it for longer periods.  Believe me; doing this will inspire you to remove some things you earlier thought were indispensible.

It is also practical and good sense to pack light because you can travel happy, cheap and enjoy the freedom of mobility. You will not be at the mercy of porters and other luggage issues on the trip. Happy Trails!
 

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Cruise Through Europe

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Many cities in Europe are laced with rivers and canals, and some are at the edge of the Atlantic or Mediterranean Oceans. So why not make time for some cruises, featuring gorgeous sights in some of the most beautiful cities in the world?

Prague, Czech Republic

One of my favourite cities in Europe, Prague has a perfect combination of Neo-classical charm and modern attractions. It is one of the few cities that as just as beautiful during the night as it is during the day. This tour takes you through an informative and insightful trip through the city, stopping at some of the most notable places. It then proceeds to a picturesque glide down the Vltava River, giving you a wonderful view of Prague’s skyline by night. Food and drink are provided on the cruise, as well as live entertainment.

Amsterdam, Netherlands

A wonderful combination of a canal and city cruise, this Amsterdam tour takes you past some of the most prominent landmarks of the city, like the Royal Palace and the Skinny Bridge, as well as some of the iconic sights of Amsterdam, such as the windmills and 17th Century Merchant Warehouses. Enchanting and informative, this cruise crosses off two must-do’s in Amsterdam.

Frankfurt, Germany

This activity brings together a tour of the city with a dinner cruise by one of the most scenic parts of the city, the Rhine! The tour begins on an open-top bus, and stops twice: at Romer Square and Sachsenhausen. The cruise takes you through the Rhine Valley, which has inspired many poets and artists. Enjoy dinner with this picturesque backdrop in a charming waterside restaurant.

Venice, Italy

When you think of canals, you think of this Italian city. Out of the many Europeans cities I have visited, Venice is my favourite because of its quaint houses and built-in charm. Venice is famous for its myriad of twisting and connected canals, but that is not all there is to this loveable city. The islands close to Venice are just as remarkable, with unique aspects of their own! Visit Murano to see how its distinctive and beautiful glasswork is made, Burano for the wonderful lacework and Torcello for Venice’s first cathedral.

Budapest, Hungary

A defining aspect of Budapest is the river that runs through the city. The Danube used to separate two separate cities – the Buda side from the Pest side – but history has brought these two cities together into the one we all know. So slide along this historic and beautiful river to the many other towns along its edge. This cruise is extremely lovely and allows you to appreciate the beauty of river outside the bustling city of Budapest.

Whichever cruise you decide to try out, a good time and beautiful scenes are guaranteed!

 

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Helping Hurricane Sandy Victims

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Hurricane Sandy Relief

With the festive period upon us, I was just thinking ways with which we could make a difference to fellow human beings. After all, the festive period is all about that – being generous, giving gifts, cherishing bonds and the like.

And what better way to show you care than help Hurricane Sandy Victims? It’s been close to two months now that the super-storm washed away dreams and hopes, along with houses and properties; but rebuilding from the disaster has only begun. Residents are still struggling and are in desperate need of shelter. The truth and the extent of the damage are sinking in now.

Read up on the multiple ways with which you could give to those affected by Hurricane Sandy. Here’s our collection of various charity organisations – where you can donate/contribute – who help provide food, shelter, and other supplies to the victims of the super-storm.

Provide emergency supplies

 World Vision, AmeriCares, Catholic Charities USA, Direct Relief International, Feeding America and Operation Blessing International all provide food, medical supplies, emergency kits and support.

The Salvation Army has dozens of mobile feeding units and shelters along the East Coast that are working to serve thousands in the most heavily-hit areas.

Help children in need:

Save the Children pays special attention to the needs of children affected by the storm.

Attend to animals:

The Humane Society of the United States, the American Humane Association and ASPCA help rescue stranded pets and give pet food to those in need. They have also been going door to door looking for abandoned animals.

Sean Casey Animal Rescue group also has been taking in a lot of rescued and abandoned pets including dogs, turtles, birds, cats and snakes.

Volunteer:

Team Rubicon and Samaritan's Purse are asking for volunteers to help the storm victims, as well as for cleaning and rebuilding. 

Concert for Sandy Relief:

12.12.12 – The Concert for Sandy Relief will take place on December 12, 2012 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Various television channels in the US and other international TVs will air the four-hour concert which is expected to reach over 1 billion people worldwide. The concert will feature performances by such artists as Bon Jovi, Eric Clapton, Dave Grohl, Billy Joel, Alicia Keys, Chris Martin, Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Roger Waters, Eddie Vedder, Kanye West, The Who.

NOTE: When planning to donate to a non-profit (in the wake of any disaster), make sure you verify that it is legitimate and that your funds will go where it is intended. Charity evaluators like Guidestar and Charity Navigator are good ways we recommend to check that the organisation you're donating to is established and legitimate.

Today, when you are thinking of festive period and holidays, spare a thought for ones who could not think past – how to stay warm, what to eat, and how they are going to survive. They have no heat, no running water, no power…and they are hurting.

Make a difference this season of goodwill.

Have you donated to Sandy relief efforts yet?

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Winter Wonderland Spectacular!

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 Rides, ice skating, a Christmas market and mouth-watering food can only mean one thing: Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park, of course!  This is the absolute best way to get into the holiday spirit and there is so much to do that will have you wanting to come back for more. 

You don’t have to be an Olympian to go ice skating at the Ice Age 4 skating rink.  Glide through the glittering rink that is illuminated by over 100,000 lights to make every moment magical.  You will want to book your session in advance, as this event is very popular!

Created specifically for Winter Wonderland, the Magical Ice Kingdom is a breath-taking experience through ice and snow.  As you walk through Stalagmite Forest and Ice Castle, admire the beautiful woodland ice creatures including bears, wolves and even unicorns.  There is timed entry for this event, so you will want to choose a time slot before entering!

Going to the circus is fun, but seeing a Christmas circus is even better!  Back by popular demand, the Zippos Christmas Circus is a perfect treat for the whole family.  Watch jugglers, aerialists, and clowns as they entertain the crowd with comedy and thrills.  Even the little ones will have their attention held!

In contrast to the family-fun oriented Christmas Circus, Zippos also presents Cirque Berserk for the evening crowd.  Following a gothic storyteller, the show takes inspiration from exciting tales of the brothers Grimm.  Crazy high-wire acts, acrobats and motorcycle spectacles will illustrate tales in ways you’ve never seen before!

Soar sixty metres into the London sky on the Giant Observation Wheel. For fifteen minutes, take a ride to see the beautiful London skyline.  Private pods are available to give you an uninterrupted 360 degree panoramic view

Like to feel the adrenaline? Well there are plenty of rides to please everyone from thrill seekers to relaxing riders.  Carousels, fun houses, and crazy coasters add to the excitement of the atmosphere!

Another attraction to the wonderland is the Christmas market.  Over 150 vendors are there, selling everything from handmade crafts to winter wear to make your Christmas shopping experience even better. 

And of course, what is a Winter Wonderland without the big man himself?  Watch the little ones faces light up at the chance to meet Santa himself in his grotto. Watch Santa and his elves preparing for the big day in Santa’s factory. 

This event is free of admission, so take advantage of London’s spectacular Christmas destination! 

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10 Fast Facts about Sydney

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Sydney Harbour

Sydney, the capital of New South Wales is the largest, oldest and most cosmopolitan city in Australia. The city, which is also home to the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge, has some interesting facts about it. Read on for our collection:

1. Sydney is the 73rd most populous city in the world. It is also the 21st most-expensive city in the world.

2. The local nickname for the Sydney Harbour Bridge is the ‘Coat Hanger’, because of its arch-based design. The Bridge is 1511.3 feet wide; and took over 8 years to build it.

3. The Rocks in Sydney is one of the most-visited sites. Called the “birthplace of Sydney”, some of Sydney’s oldest pubs can be found here. You’ll also find a maze of cul-de-sacs and courtyards, with historic buildings sitting next to vibrant modern cafes.

4. Sydney Tower is the city’s tallest building. You can have a great view of the city at the top of the tower.

5. Sydney Opera House holds 5 theatres. You can take a guided tour that’ll take you backstage to learn more about this world-renowned landmark. Approximately 4.5 million people visit the Sydney Opera House a year.

6. A resident of Sydney is known as a Sydneysider.

7. In terms of variety, the Fish Markets of Sydney rank as the 2nd largest in the world.

8. The main languages spoken in Sydney are English, Chinese and Arabic.

9. The Sydney Funnel web spider is considered the world’s most deadly spider. It is the only spider that has killed people in less than 2 hours.

10. Being Australia’s first and largest city, Sydney – also known as ‘Sin City’ – was wanted to be the capital of Australia, but its convict stigma counted against it.

What other interesting or weird facts have you got about Sydney? We would like to hear from you!

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Revisit the Olympic Park!

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Olympic Stadium Even if you didn’t get a chance to see the 2012 Olympics live in London, you don’t have to worry about never being able to see the venues! The Park is still open for tours even now, and the venues will be reopening in 2013 for public use! The Olympic Park, to be renamed the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in 2013, was built not only for the 2012 Olympics but also so be used in legacy. This is in keeping with the London Commission for Sustainable Development’s goal for the 2012 Olympics to not only be “the greenest games ever” but also to be used after the Olympics, so that the venues do not become behemoth eyesores, like some Olympic venues have in other countries.

The Olympic Stadium and the Copper Box will reopen in the summer of 2013 for public use. The Aquatics Centre will not be reopened until 2014, but that is because a crèche, family-friendly training centres, café and a new public plaza will be added. The Water Polo stadium that was erected for the Olympics was merely temporary, so the Aquatics Centre will be used for Water Polo events as well. The renewed Eton Manor will feature a tennis centre with four outdoor and two indoor courts, and a hockey centre. In fact, this will be the only permanent 2012 Paralympics venue. The Velodrome and BMX track will be joined with a new mountain bike and road bike tracks to form the Lee Valley VeloPark. These will be modified to suit bikers of all ages and abilities.

Not only will the venues be reused, but they were also constructed using recycled materials or with the idea of sustainability in mind. For example, the Copper Box was constructed with water fittings designed to reduce the water consumption, its copper covering is made of 60% of recycled copper, and the use of skylights reduces the need for artificial light. The Velodrome’s cable roof reduced the steel usually needed for a roof that size, and the timber used for the track was sustainably resourced. The ring beam that supports the fabric roof on the Olympic Stadium was made of reclaimed gas pipes, and the whole stadium used less than half the steel than other stadia, making it one of the lightest stadia in the world.

I personally love the idea of reusing the venues for future use. The idea to build these venues using recyclable materials and to reduce the carbon footprint was commendable, and the effort into making that part of London – which was a heavily industrialised area – into a greener place, bringing back wildlife and planting up to 4,000 trees and 300,000 other types of plants, was excellent. The Olympic Park is now a beautiful place, and you would have never guessed what it looked like before they began construction. I would highly suggest visiting the Olympic Park and checking out all these venues for yourself!

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