Tag - canada

Winnipeg’s Winter Wonderland

In Winnipeg, they don’t hibernate in the Canadian winter, they get out and enjoy it. Travel Brigade visits Manitoba’s biggest city where, when the rivers freeze over, people gather to skate and play hockey on them. This is a city where people actually ice skate to work! We’ll learn about local dining and fun hotels, places to keep warm, and Manitoba’s own version of “The Da Vinci Code” in the legislative building. We’ll also go from the outdoor cold indoors to a hot experience at a Turkish-style hamam. Enjoy the trip!

winni 3

winni 2

winni 1

winni 4

Discover Travel Internet Radio with Travel Brigade on BlogTalkRadio. Follow us on Twitter @TravelBrigade.

Why a Houseboat Rental Is Perfect for Your Next Lake Adventure

Houseboat Rental

Houseboat Rental

by Ramona Newman,

Just about all of us love being out on the water—until nightfall. The vessel that was so great for zipping around the lake earlier in the day now seems cramped. Even crafts with a galley and berth space down below can feel awfully snug over extended periods of time. More than one well-intentioned skipper and crew have been forced to cut their nautical adventure short on account of too little personal space. Besides getting a yacht, what can you do for an on-the-water adventure that doesn’t scrimp on the accommodations?

A houseboat is the answer. Today’s pleasure crafts offer room to walk around above and below decks, areas to cook and eat, and space to spend the night without banging your head in tight quarters. Houseboats aren’t going to be as zippy as a speedboat, but who cares? You’re not on a schedule, so sit back and enjoy your surroundings at a relaxing, slower pace.

Get Started

Smaller vessels are great for families and larger models work for groups like family reunions, corporate retreats and churches. Any marine or lakefront community can give you information about houseboat rental options, which can be done for a day, a week or longer. In most cases, some basic nautical knowledge is required.

Canada requires an AAA Pleasure Craft Operator Card, which you can receive by passing a Transport Canada-approved boating safety course. Details on this certification are available at boatoperatorcard.ca.

In the U.S., you don’t necessarily need formal nautical certification to pilot a houseboat, but individual boat owners may require renters to be familiar with the controls or at least basic water safety procedures. Most also require some kind of security deposit.

3 Lakes for Houseboat Fun
  • Shasta Lake. Start with the community that calls itself the houseboat capitol of the world. This northern California location in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest is home to more than 500 private houseboats and has about 450 available to rent. The scenic mountain lake spans 370 miles, with plenty of channels to explore and great opportunities for fishing and seeing wildlife.
  • Lake Pend Oreille. If Cali is too far of a drive from Canada, consider Lake Pend Oreille, Idaho, which is only an hour south of the British Columbia border. This fifth-deepest lake in the U.S. offers plenty of room for houseboats to ply the water, and the scenic countryside and the community of Sandpoint are enjoyable any time of year.
  • Lake of the Woods. The communities of Kenora, Morson, Nestor Falls and Sioux Narrows in northwestern Ontario surround this impressive and dramatic lake. The 105,000 km-wide lake can be especially enjoyed by houseboat, as there is plenty to explore, including 14,000 tiny islands. Drop anchor near one and walk around. Watch wildlife or try to catch some. Or just take it easy.

Maid of the Mist: A Classic Attraction Gets a Makeover

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls

For generations, the Maid of the Mist has been Niagara Falls’ top attraction, and a “must-do” on any visitor’s list, whether they are visiting for the first time or the 51st time. There’s really no better way to experience the thundering power of the Falls than aboard a ferry boat that brings you right to their base.

While visitors have always been able to board one of the Maid of the Mist ferries from either the American or Canadian side of the falls and have essentially the same experience, beginning in 2014, there will be a significant difference between the two Maid of the Mist operations.

A Historic Attraction, And Modern Business

The first Maid of the Mist boat launched in 1846 as a ferry between the U.S. and Canadian sides of the falls. But when the first Niagara Falls Suspension Bridge opened in 1848, there was no longer a need to cross the river by steamship, and by 1854, the Maid of the Mist was a tourist attraction, giving the ever-increasing numbers of visitors to the area a chance to see the majestic American, Horseshoe and Bridal Veil Falls up close. Service was discontinued between 1860 and 1895, thanks in part to the American Civil War and dwindling interest, but in 1895 the Maid of the Mist Steamboat Company restored the service with two brand new boats.

In 1971, the Maid of the Mist Steamboat Company was purchased by New York businessman Terry Glynn, who modernized the fleet with several new ships, including the Maid of the Mist IV, V, VI and VII. Maid of the Mist IV and V each carry 300 passengers, while the latter two carry 600 passengers each. These are the boats that visitors enjoyed for nearly four decades, donning the signature blue rain jackets and sailing toward the Falls for a drenching and exhilarating experience — one that is the second most popular water-based excursion in the U.S. after only cruises past the Statue of Liberty.

However, Glynn’s lease on the Maid of the Mist boat operations expired in 2011, and after competitive bidding, the Niagara Parks Commission awarded the contract for tours leaving from the Canadian side to San Francisco-based Hornblower Canada, the same company that operates the cruises of New York Harbor and Alcatraz Island in San Francisco. This marks the first time that any company other than Maid of the Mist Steamboat Company will operate in the Niagara Gorge since boat service began in 1846.

A New Experience
Maid of the Mist

Maid of the Mist

In many ways, the Maid of the Mist experience from the Canadian side of the Niagara River won’t change. The boarding area and docks will remain in the same place, easily accessible from plenty of Niagara Falls hotels. The boats will still pass by the American and Bridal Veil Falls, and sail through the dense spray mist of Horseshoe Falls.

However, according to Hornblower, that’s where the similarities will end. The company plans to launch the 2014 season with brand new, modern vessels featuring amenities that have been lacking in the past, including onboard restrooms, a snack bar, indoor areas where passengers can stay dry and seats for those who cannot stand for the duration of the cruise.

The company also plans to make a significant change to how passengers purchase tickets for their adventures. While in the past, passengers needed to purchase a ticket and then wait in line for the next available cruise — a wait that could be several hours during peak season — passengers departing from the Canadian dock will now be able to purchase timed tickets. This will allow them to more effectively schedule their time in Niagara Falls, and experience more attractions that they may not have otherwise been able to if they were standing in line.

Hornblower also plans to offer additional types of cruises near the falls in the future. Currently, all Maid of the Mist tours are fifteen minutes long and depart and return to the same dock. Under the new management, passengers on the Canadian side may have additional trip itineraries to choose from, including sunset tours, something that has never been offered before.

Tourism officials on both sides of the Gorge are optimistic that having competing tour operators for Maid of the Mist tours will increase ridership. If nothing else, visitors will have plenty of options for planning their Niagara Falls experience, and the iconic boat trip will remain the best way to see Niagara Falls.

7 Wild Adventures to Have in Canada

Niagara Falls, Canadian side

Niagara Falls, Canadian side

The vast terrain of Canada is as diverse as the country’s people are friendly. Most of Canada is untouched wilderness, pristine and sometimes daunting. There is no shortage of forests, lakes and rivers to explore — along with their resident wildlife. For the adventurous spirit, Canada is a wonderland. This article lists and briefly explains seven Canadian adventures for the more intrepid of heart.

Survive Niagara

This thundering waterfall on the Canada-U.S. border is a destination that offers both exciting and easy activities for travelers. While Niagara Falls package deals are often popular among newlyweds and families, they can also be a good source of fun for adventure tourists interested in kayaking, jet boating or hot air ballooning.

Ski Steep Slopes

Take the plunge at Banff’s “Delirium Dive.” You’ll need to have a beacon, a shovel and a partner for this drop-in ski experience. It’s billed as the country’s most extreme off-piste skiing, and the danger of avalanches is high. Skiers will need to register with the snow patrol, and they’ll turn you back if you’re not prepared.

Hike a Rainforest

The Pacific Rim National Park Preserve in scenic British Columbia has a trail for every level of hiker, from day trippers to serious trailhounds. This area of the country is covered by temperate rainforest, so you’ll need all-weather gear to make sure you stay dry on the go. If you’ve got the time and the inclination, the West Coast Trail, which extends 45 miles between Port Renfrew and Bamfield, takes hikers through diverse terrain. It was originally made to aid sailors shipwrecked on the shore of Vancouver Island, but now you’ll just find outdoors lovers enjoying their week-long journey through the wilderness.

Join the Calgary Stampede

Experience Canada’s Wild West with the rodeos and exhibitions of the Calgary Stampede. Held yearly in July, it combines horse and cattle handling events with markets, a carnival-type midway, chuckwagon racing, and musical performances by international stars. Similar events have been held in Calgary since 1899, and it’s been called a “stampede” since at least the 1920s. The festival has grown a lot since its beginnings though — now it’s one of the top western-themed events in the world and attracts about a million people annually.

Visit Kelowna, the Heart of the Rockies

Kiteboarders love Okanagan Lake, which also provides excellent windsurfing and swimming. The nearly 220-square-mile body of water is ringed by beautiful beaches and easily accessed parks, many of them right in Kelowna’s downtown. If you do play in the water, watch out for Kelowna’s own Loch Ness Monster—the Ogopogo. Ogopogo has been spotted by First Nations people for at least a hundred years, and in 1926 there was an alleged mass sighting of this serpentine “monster.” For those who’d prefer not to get wet, visit Kelowna in the winter, when nearby ski resorts offer snowy pursuits for visitors.

Visit the Polar Bear Capital of the World

Churchill, Manitoba, is a small town for most of the year, but when polar bears migrate in October and November, humans come too — to see the bears navigate the frozen Hudson Bay in search of ringed seals. Polar bears can also be seen in the off-season. There are other animal encounters in the area: in the summer, beluga whales calve near here, and birdwatchers have recorded hundreds of species of birds between May and August.

Enter the Yukon on Dogsled

Learn how to mush over the snowy tundra in the Yukon. Between November and April, book a guide to combine a dog sledding lesson with an outdoors tour and camping experience. Arctic dwellers have been using sled dogs to help them traverse distances and haul heavy loads for thousands of years. During the Yukon Gold Rush of the 1890s, many prospectors used dog teams to help them reach their claims, and the art of dog sledding has not been lost in the region. There are many guide companies throughout the territory, but you might start by looking in Whitehorse, the starting line for the Yukon Quest 1,000-mile dog sled race. The race is held every February, and ends in Fairbanks, Alaska. Enjoy what Canada has to offer.

About the Author: Pauline Roberts is a ski instructor at Banff. In her free time she studies for a master’s degree in education and enjoys writing about Canada’s Great Outdoors.

Living In The Past In Quebec City

By Judith Fein,

Every time I visit a historic town and see visitors dressing up in period costumes to have their pictures taken, I run as fast as I can in the opposite direction. Call it a character defect, but I loathe dressing up as someone else. When Halloween comes around, I pretend not to have received email party invitations because they involve the “c” word—costumes.



I was pretty confident when I received an invitation to Fêtes de la Nouvelle France (New France Festival) in Quebec City that I could stand on the sidelines and be an observer.  I had heard the festival was a huge party with brains: folks in Quebec City celebrate their French heritage, which goes back to the time when Champlain settled the city and France ruled the St. Lawrence region (1608-1759). Many locals are extremely knowledgeable about and proud of their heritage, and they dress, act and speak with remarkable historical accuracy. For visitors, it’s a total kick to encounter noblemen and women, petty criminals, wags and wenches, dolts and dandies, clergy and cooks—all in period clothes. I relished the opportunity to learn, snap photos, and participate in the raucous revelry.

And then I found out that I was expected to be in costume! A form appeared in my inbox: I had to measure parts of myself and mail back the stats. I couldn’t do it. I had such resistance to dressing up, that I couldn’t figure out exactly where my hips were (I mean, of course I could find them on my body, but I couldn’t decide whether to measure the top, middle or bottom), and the same went for waist, legs, bust, and, most probably my brain. With great reluctance, I sent back my measurements with a note informing my hosts that they didn’t really need to bother with dressing me. I could happily attend the festival in my own clothes.

But that was not to be. Once in Quebec, I was whisked away to meet a dresser, who proudly held up the green-tinged costume of a noblewoman, and told me to put it on. I did as instructed, and then refused to come out of the dressing room. I huddled in a corner, hoping she would forget about me. I peeked through the curtain at the other folks having their fittings. They all reveled in dressing up.

French, Indian, English, Photo Credit Paul Ross

French, Indian, English, Photo Credit
Paul Ross

The costume was speedily altered and delivered to my hotel room. I hung it in the closet, avoiding it every time I went to fetch a pair of shoes, hat or pants. And then, it was time for the opening street parade of the festival, and I couldn’t avoid it any longer. I retrieved the garb from the closet, stepped into it, and bade my husband to lace up my bodice from behind. I grabbed the little lacey purse-thing the dresser gave me, and stumbled out of the room, tripping over the hem like a noble klutz.

When I arrived in the hotel lobby, a harried tourist asked me a question about where to find a restaurant, and…..to my utter surprise, I answered him in French. Not only did I speak French, but I spoke l7th century French, including the accent. I could understand speaking in French, because I am bilingual, but not French from the Champlain era.

I cannot tell you what happened next, because it’s all a blur of costume memory, but I adopted the gestures of a noblewoman, nodding and clicking my tongue and smiling demurely. Pretty soon the transformation was complete. I became that high-born lady, with a tinge of naughtiness. Instead of tripping, I walked trippingly. And, until the end of the festival, I never dropped my character for a moment. I strode, dined, interacted as though I were she. And she were I.  We were one and the same.

People photographed me in the street. They asked me for directions. Other costumed participants from Quebec waved and smiled, as though I were one of them. And, in truth, I was. When I doffed my costume at the end of the festival, I left the noblewoman behind. I actually thanked her, and then resumed being me.

I am not sure that I would ever get costumed again, or have another transformative role-playing moment, but now I understand a little better why people dress up and act like other characters. It’s liberating. It’s surprising. It’s expansive. It’s creative. And yes, mes amis, bon voyage because it’s great fun.

Ski Kicking Horse in the Canadian Rockies

Kicking Horse - Michelle Barrow

Kicking Horse – Michelle Barrow

by Ben Blewett

Going on a ski vacation in the Canadian Rockies? Consider Kicking Horse in British Columbia and experience something breathtaking.

Above the town of Golden in British Columbia sits the spectacular ski resort of Kicking Horse. The skiable terrain on offer is approximately 2,800+ acres with a maximum elevation of 2,450 meters (8,033 feet). Kicking Horse also boasts 120 runs; however, the whole mountain is accessible, which broadens the total amount of runs available. If you are a beginner, there is plenty on offer even though 60% of the runs are for advanced or expert skiers.

So don’t be put off on the face of it. The longest run (Its A Ten) is a green run (the easiest grade, blue for Europeans) which begins at the top of the Golden Eagle Express gondola and ends at the lodges at the base – after circling past the resident bear’s enclosure.

A day pass for the mountain is $73 for adults and $35 for children. Discounts are available for a half-day pass and for senior citizens. If you don’t have all your own equipment, or just fancy trying it out for the day, then the rental shop at the lodge will be able to fit you with quality gear. Low ticket prices and affordable ski equipment ensure that you will have a spectacular day on the hill.

Staying at Kicking Horse

If you decide that one day is simply not enough to see the natural beauty and tranquil nature of the mountain, then why not stay the night in one of the impressive and affordable lodges. The Glacier Mountain Lodge is situated right at the base of the gondola, enabling one of the few authentic ski-in ski-out locations in the Rocky Mountains. The room rates are exceptional considering its location and amenities offered. The Highland Lodge, placed a little further back from the slopes and a couple of minutes walk, is one of the more luxurious lodges at Kicking Horse. With a Scottish-themed restaurant (The Local Hero) and Jacuzzi baths in the rooms it is definitely worth considering booking into.

Being able to sleep in a ski-in ski-out resort is priceless, as you needn’t worry about waking up extra early to drive in, or how late you crawl into bed at night. Whatever your choices, you will wake up to stunning panoramic views either down the valley into Golden or up the groomed slopes of the mountain. Perfect for easing the mind and relaxing your senses from the stresses of everyday life.

Après Ski

Should you be inclined to indulge in the activity of ‘après’ (which is when the restaurants and bars are open for socializing and the drinking of alcohol) then you will be pleased with Kicking Horse. At the base of the gondola is the Whitetooth Grill, offering reasonably priced pitchers and table service. In the day lodge you can also purchase beers before 3 p.m., when they close for the day. During the spring months, when the weather becomes extremely pleasant on the mountain, it is certainly comparable to the Alps with lively music, sun, snow and social drinking.

Other Winter Activities

Should you feel like something different then there are plenty of other options open to you. Snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, telemark skiing, tubing and dog sledding are but some of the attractions. Kicking Horse is one of the most diverse resorts in the Rocky Mountains and has something for everyone. It is also one of the few resorts to offer heli-skiing, a sure way to get fresh tracks in all the powder lying up in the mountains.

Whatever your position on skiing, Kicking Horse is a spectacular resort that offers unrelenting panoramic views of the valley below. With the mountain holding a vast terrain and the lifts running smoothly, you infrequently queue and can experience tranquility and pleasure from chairlift to piste every single run.

Travel Tips for Canada



Canada is one of our planets most scenic countries and has been the favorite place for adventurers and vacationers alike for generations. Canada is a country filled with diverse beautiful landscapes, wonderful friendly people and classy cities and is a tremendously beautiful country. It is a land of vast distances and rich natural beauty and is home to Spiky Mountains, glinting glaciers, spectral rainforests and wheat-waving prairies. If you have missed out on good deals to flights to Canada due to lack of planning, then you do not have to worry, as you can always count on Last Minute Flights deals which are offered by many travel sites. Read down to know some tips for planning your Canadian vacation.

*Start the passport application process early and if you are traveling to Canada with your kids then you also need passport for them if they are over 15 years. Kids below that can gain entry with their birth certificate. Make sure you are carrying all documents when bringing a child into Canada.

*The province of British Columbia has a very strict rule on alcohol, one must be 19 years of age to consume and purchase alcohol in Canada. Drinking alcohol in public is strictly prohibited in all of Canada.

*If you are planning a road trip to Canada, you will have to keep in mind a lot of things. The speed limit is designated in kilometers per hour rather than miles per hour and the temperature is measured in Celsius instead of Fahrenheit. Don’t forget, Seat Belts are compulsory.

*Canada has a mixed culture and the language spoken here is a mix of English and French, but you can usually get by with English in most of the tourist spots.

*In Canada it is customary to tip for services such as restaurants, bars and pubs, taxis and hairdressers. The server is required to tip out and by not doing so you may actually cost the server money from his/her own pocket.
*Accommodation rates can vary a lot depending on which city you have chosen to stay. Expect to pay around $60 USD for a budget hotel room. During the winter season severe snow storms are a regular occurrence and it’s highly recommended that you monitor local news and weather reports.

Planning is very essential before any trip, whether it’s out of the country or not. Use your sources and internet to bring out all the essential details you need to know about the place you are visiting.

Copyright © STI

Snowshoeing at Vermillion Lakes in the Canadian Rockies

The lakes offer beautiful views, tranquility and charm. The Vermillion Lakes in the town of Banff, within the Canadian Rocky Mountains are worth a visit.

The Vermillion Lakes, are three lakes within 100 metres of each other, on the outskirts of the town of Banff in the Rocky Mountains. These lakes are enclosed on three sides by the mountains, Rundle, Sulphur and Norquay and have the Trans-Canada Highway 1 running parallel to them on the west side.

Access to the lakes is simple either on foot or by car, however parking is limited at the site. On the drive in, you are treated to spectacular views across the waters to the mountains lying due south. A number of viewpoints and benches along the road are placed for you to stop at and to take in this area of outstanding natural beauty. At one stop, don’t be confused if you can smell rotting eggs. It is the sulphur from the hot springs, flowing from underground into the lakes.

During the winter the entire area is under a few feet of snow, entirely untouched by man-made tracks. That is, until you don your snowshoes, or cross-country skis if you prefer, and create some tracks of your own. In wintertime, you can step onto the frozen river in the town and walk towards the lakes themselves, a truly new concept if you’re not used to walking down the center of a river.

Once you are ready to step off, you can head in any direction that takes your fancy. With snowshoes, you can traverse over the snow with minimal effort. You can go where it will be inaccessible (or arduous) to others; this takes you to see some very impressive views. Moving through the frozen and wintry undergrowth, an abundant marshland in the summer months, is at times quite entertaining. One moment you can be in an inch of snow, step too far from the undergrowth and you could be in a few feet of snow – and perhaps stumbling to your knees! It may help to look at the tree lines while trekking through the marshes, should you decide to leave the frozen river that connects the lakes, to help guide you to a clearing.

When you decide to walk over the frozen lake, an initially cautious prospect where you may wonder whether the ice will take your weight, the snow is much thinner and easier to move over. At the edge of the woodland, before the frozen lakeside, take care to move slowly. If you do, you will be far more likely to spot some of the wildlife native to the area, most notably elk.

With no one else around, the Trans-Canada Highway quiet, and no buildings to be seen anywhere, you are able to capture some incredible photographs of the mountains; frozen lake-sides; cold and desolate locations; anything you can imagine and interpret. Take along a picnic and a thermos of hot chocolate, you will be hard pressed to find a better location for a quick break or long walk.

If you go to Banff in the Rocky Mountains, be sure to go snowshoeing at Vermillion Lakes. You won’t be disappointed.

Best History and Culture Vacations

    Bus for rental

Bus for rental

If you want to go out for a vacation to visit historical places this time then here is a list of top places/cities which are known for their culture and history.

Jerusalem, Israel

Jerusalem city is among the oldest cities of the world and it has culture and history related to Jerusalem’s religious beliefs. This is capital city of Israel and must visits places are Wailing Wall, Dolorosa, Dome of the Rock and Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

 Boston, United States

Boston city is also known as ‘The Athens of America” and it is one of the important places in American history. Other than New York City it is the only place in United States known for history and culture. The most popular places you must visit are Fenway Park, Boston Public Library, USS Constitution, the Kennedy Library and the Faneuil Hall.

Hong Kong, China

At this city in China you will see a combination of old tradition and history with modern traditions. It is a place with this kind of rarest combination. The main attractions in the city are Peak Tower, Man Mo temple, Hong Kong Museum of History and Po Lin Monastery with largest outdoor bronze Buddha.

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

This is one of the best cities in the Netherlands with old rich history. Every visitor visits the Anne Frank House. Other historical places in the city are Royal Palace, Dam Square, the world class Rijksmuseum and the chilling story of Anne Frank House.

Prague, Czech Republic

If you want to visit a place with streets full of historical architecture then Prague is the best place for that. You will find the Gothic and Medieval period history here in the city. The main attractions are Prague Castle, Saint George’s Basilica, Old Town Hall, Prague City Museum and the Wenceslas Square.

Washington DC, United States

If you love the political history and want to visit such place this vacation then Washington DC is the best city to visit. This city is full of debate, democracy, politics, scandals and such history. The main attractions in the city are the White House, Lincoln Memorial, Capitol Hill, Washington Monument and the Smithsonian Institution. This is one of the most political cities in the world.

Florence, Italy

Florence has lots of Roman’s history and this city is full of art galleries and historical structures that are still able to survive. You will love the culture of the city and the main attractions in the city are Florentine Church, Renaissance art work and the Duomo. If you are an artist then this is the right place for you.

Montreal, Canada

This place was a village and after the 1535 it has emerged as a big city in the Canada. The history of its development from village to a city is the main attraction to watch. Other attractions are Notre-Dame Basilica, Botanical Gardens and Parisian style streets.

Berlin, Germany

The Berlin city in Germany has been changed a lot in the last 50 years which is now the part of history. This city is among the world’s most interesting cities and the main attractions are Berlin Wall, Potsdamer Platz, Checkpoint Charlie, Brandeburg Gate and the Reichstag.

Useful info:



Butchart Gardens – A Wonderful Holiday Excursion

    Butchart Gardens

Butchart Gardens

In the city of Victoria, British Columbia, a trip to Butchart Gardens during the winter holiday season is an annual event for our family. I don’t have to worry about remembering to schedule our visit. My daughter Nikki, who is now 8, each fall comes to me and says “don’t forget we want to go see the lights in the garden.” We first took the family when Nikki was 4, and she fell in love with the winter wonderland that is Butchart. To watch Nikki and her younger brother Jason gaze in amazement at the lights, and explore the park while all bundled up for winter, is one of our favorite and most delightful adventures.

The Christmas Light-Up Ceremony on December 1st is our preferred date, when they have free rides on the carousel and turn on literally tens of thousands of colored lights. Evergreen swags and wreaths of holly and winter berries line walkways and festoon lamp posts. We don’t always make it for the lighting because of holiday scheduling conflicts (school plays, things like that), but we stay at the Accent Inns Hotel in Victoria (lovely and inexpensive) and get to the Gardens sometime during the holidays, because the kids love it! We start by walking around and just absorbing the visual spectacle, the magnificent light displays, and discover the displays depicting the Twelve Days of Christmas tucked into the landscape at various points. Then we stop at the Piazza for the caroling and traditional holiday music. The kids haven’t tried ice skating yet, but it’s coming soon, so we stop by and watch the skaters each year. It’s a wonderful, magical time – no wonder this is one of the top attractions in Victoria BC.

Of the many gardens in BC, one of the most famous is Butchart Gardens, a world renowned garden occupying 55 acres, with stunning floral displays. To answer an often asked question, it is pronounced “Butch-art” Gardens. The Butchart Gardens history always fascinates me. Robert Pim Butchart manufactured cement, and came to the west coast of Canada because of rich limestone deposits essential to cement production. He and his wife Jennie built their home near his quarry on the Tod Inlet. Jennie began to shape this magnificent landscape in 1904. She established, in the style of the grand estates of the period, several distinct gardens to
evoke a range of aesthetic experiences.

The original estate, which the Butcharts named “Benevenuto” (“welcome” in Italian), is now a National Historic Site of Canada. The residence, one of the prime attractions in Victoria BC, is still privately owned by Butchart heirs, and the family’s commitment to horticulture and hospitality continues to this day. In 1909, when the limestone was exhausted, Jennie set about transforming the quarry into the dramatic Sunken Garden, a reflection of the early 20th century beautification movement, and an exceptional achievement in Canadian gardening history. The Butcharts later replaced their tennis courts with an Italian Garden, and their kitchen vegetable garden became an impressive rose garden. Through successive generations of the Butchart family, the Gardens has retained much of its original design, and continues the Victorian tradition of seasonally changing its outstanding floral displays. During the summertime, Saturday nights include the spectacular Buchart Gardens fireworks.

When we go, the kids invariably start at the Rose Carousel, the only one on Vancouver Island, and one of their favorite things to do in Victoria. It is comprised of a menagerie which includes bears, horses, ostriches and zebras. I overheard one visitor from New Zealand comment “we love this beautiful carousal, it’s so much fun!” The Carousel is housed within the Children’s Pavilion, with its high dome, full-fronted glass façade, and a roof planted with native plant species. We really enjoy spending time at the Pavilion when we visit – to watch the wonder in my children’s eyes makes the whole trip worthwhile.

When we get a bit chilled, we love – my wife loves – to stop into The Dining Room and have a bit of tea, (she really likes the Garden Peppermint, made with slow dried peppermint leaves). The kids get impatient and haven’t learned to appreciate the Cornish pasties, but I’m trying to educate them, and though our stop is short, it’s one of my favorite elements of the park. A stop for evening tea is a great way to pace the kids so they don’t burn out too quickly running around. Located in the original Butchart Family residence, it has spectacular views of the Private Garden, the Italian Garden, and Tod Inlet.

With the lights, displays, and wonderful atmosphere, for a holiday excursion, you can’t beat the Butchart Gardens.

Margaret (Maggie) Weiss is a high energy, adventure seeking, travel-holic.  She has traveled the globe looking for her next great expedition.  She’s also a mom of 3 beautiful girls and wife.  She loves to write about things to do in Victoria and her favorite places to stay and visit with her family.  Follow her on twitter @missmaggieweiss

All Inclusive Family Fun at West Edmonton Mall

    West Edmonton Mall - Santa Maria

West Edmonton Mall – Santa Maria

When putting together a family vacation, parents will be looking for a fun hotel to stay in, a great pool area, lots of fun activities for the kids and good places to eat. What’s unique about a family trip to the West Edmonton Mall is that all of the above can be found in one place, and it can take days to experience the whole thing. This article will focus on all of the fun things kids will enjoy at the mall, but adults will also enjoy visiting for the shopping and restaurants.

Better yet, the mall sits surrounded by Canada’s Festival City, which hosts over 70 different festivals per year and has plenty of other fun activities for a family. For more information on other places to visit in this fun city, check out the Edmonton Economic Development Corporation. (800-463-4667)

West Edmonton Mall

West Edmonton Mall(780-440-5200, 1755, 8882 170 Street) is the largest mall in North America and the fifth largest mall in the world. The 800-plus stores and restaurants alone are amazing, before even getting to all of the attractions such as a water park, theme park, two miniature golf course, sea animal exhibit and more. It’s even got its own hotel on site.

Since there is so much to see and do, a good place to start at the mall is at the Guest Services office on Level 1, Phase II, to look into a “Multi-Play Pass” that will allow a family to pay one fee for access to the many different activities available. It’s also a great time to pick up a “Super Savings Coupon Book” full of great deals throughout the mall.

Fantasyland Hotel

The Fantasyland Hotel (780-444-3000, 17700-87 Avenue, fantasylandhotel.com) sits right in the mall, so it has the advantage that guests simply need to walk out of the elevator and past the front desk to be where everything is.

However, Fantasyland is also a great option because of the many different themed rooms that kids will love. They can sleep in a luxury igloo, or the bunk beds that are the “County Jail” in the Western-themed rooms, or enjoy the aura of being in the Polynesian or Roman themed rooms.

World Water Park

The world’s largest indoor wave pool is found in in World Water Park, along with 17 different water slides and 24 different activities spread out over a five-acres that are kept at a balmy 82 degrees regardless of the weather outside. The slide options range from the tame to the “Cyclone,” which drops the rider over 50-feet straight down before taking them on a 360-degree loop and back down again.


The world’s largest indoor amusement park sits in the mall at Galaxyland. There are over 24 rides and attractions, including the Mindbender coaster, which is 145 feet-tall.

Other Attractions

While Galaxyland and World Water Park can easily take up two days worth of activities, there’s still so much more in the mall. For those up for a little friendly competition, there is a bowling alley, two miniature golf courses – including one that is glow-in-the-dark and the “Deep Sea Derby” where everyone gets to captain their own bumper boat equipped with a squirting device that lets them try to soak the other drivers.

The adventurous will enjoy the Ropes Quest course which allows guests to walk across ropes high above the ground. The less adventurous will enjoy the fact that they are harnessed to bars all over the course so they won’t fall. The physical activity can continue at the Ice Palace, a glass-domed rink that is open for visitors to skate on but also hosts many events.

Children will be enchanted by the creatures at the Sea Life Caverns, an underground aquarium that is home to over 100 species of fish, turtles, penguins and more. After coming out of the Caverns, guests can go right next door to Sea Lions’ Rock to watch the amazing animals perform in a show.

There are many different things that come together to make for a great family trip. At West Edmonton Mall, those things are already together in one place.   

Edmonton: Canada’s Festival City

    Festivals Folk Music Festival

Festivals Folk Music Festival

How many festivals do you need to host before you can claim to be your country’s “festival city?” Ten? 20? More? Whatever the official number is, Edmonton has hit it and then some as “Canada’s Festival City.” The official list numbers in the 30s, the actual list pushes 70. During most of the year, you can pick any month and find at least three festivals. During the summer months, you can pick pretty much any day and find something going on.

Being a festival city is about more than just numbers. There has to be a feel about your town that it’s a place where everybody’s welcome. There has to be a certain sense of fun that permeates the place. Edmonton has all of that as well. One thing that impressed us when we were able to attend some festivals during our visit was that there was a place for everybody at the festivals. Young and old, singles and families, everybody seems to find a way to hang out together. To hear more about how much we enjoyed it, listen to the Edmonton Episode of the Travel Brigade Radio Show.

A full list of the official festivals is available by clicking here. Since there are so many, here are a few of the highlights.

Deep Freeze: A Byzantine Winter Festival – January:

Think of something that’s fun to do in the snow, and you can find it on Alberta Ave. Ice and snow carving, skating, curling, street hockey and even “Deep Freezer Races” – a large freezer set on skis that people sit in and race down a hill on.

Global Visions Film Festival – early March:

Canada’s longest running documentary film festival celebrated its 30th birthday in 2012. The four-day festival operates with an overall theme that we are all interdependent citizens of a global village.

International Children’s Festival – late May, early June:

Originally launched in the downtown area over 30 years ago, this gathering focusing on children’s theatre is now held in the small, historic community of St. Albert. Performers from across the globe come to perform on five indoor and outdoor stages over five days.

Servus Heritage Festival – early August:

This festival takes over an entire city park as every national, ethnic or cultural group that has found a home in Edmonton puts up a pavilion highlighting its history, arts, clothing and, best of fall, food! There are an astonishing 62 pavilions representing 85 different cultures, including those from Africa, Asia and South America.

Edmonton Folk Music Festival – mid August:

This would qualify as one of the top music festivals based on its lineup alone as top performers take to multiple stages over the course of four days of concerts. What really puts it over the top as a music experience is that the main stage sits at the bottom of a grass hill. Audience members bring blankets and sit on the hill in the pleasant summer evening air and get a view not only of the stage, but across the river and onto the downtown skyline of the city.

Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival – late August:

This celebration of “Fringe” has been going strong for 30 years, brings half a million people to Edmonton, and has helped turn the Old Strathcona neighborhood into a fun and thriving arts district. The 10-day street festival highlighted by theatre people experimenting with entertainment has become the model for fringe festivals around the globe.

Edmonton International Film Festival – late September, early October:

Now in it’s 26th year, the EIFF has been a place where directors such as John Waters, Werner Herzog and Norman Jewison have premiered new work. Entries from all over the world are on the roster.

Edmonton Comedy Festival – mid October:

Two dozen top stand-up comedians from across North America come to Alberta to do shows on a six different stages. The 2012 lineup includes Jay Mohr. Whatever the season, whatever your interest, you’ll find that Edmonton has a festival that’s right up your alley.

Van Gogh in Ottawa: Crazy About Flowers

    Iris by Van Gogh ... courtesy of National Gallery of Canada

Iris by Van Gogh … courtesy of National Gallery of Canada

Vibrant colors, designs that undulate like flickering flames and the somewhat unstable compositions of Impressionist painter Vincent Van Gogh have given the world a unique perspective on nature.

As Marc Mayer, Director of the National Gallery of Canada said at a press preview in November: “Vincent Van Gogh’s profound love of nature has often been taken for granted, but has rarely been studied.” This changes with Van Gogh: Up Close, the first major Canadian exhibition of works by the famous Dutch artist in more than 25 years. The exhibit will be on view at Ottawa’s National Gallery from May 25 to September 3, 2012, the only venue for the exhibition in Canada.

Mayer continued, saying that this project will give us fresh insight into Van Gogh’s thinking, placing him in a new and unexpected light. Notes from the National Gallery explain that visitors to the exhibition will be able to see the Dutch painter’s genius from “an entirely new perspective by exploring the artist’s approach to nature through his innovative use of the close-up view.” Van Gogh experimented with depth of field and focus, zooming in on one tuft of grass or wheat, or a single iris and provided shifting perspectives of a farmer’s field or perhaps just one corner of a garden in Provence.

The exhibition, in collaboration with the Philadelphia Museum of Art, was curated by Dr. Cornelia Homburg, Independent Scholar and Guest Curator and Dr. Anabelle Kienle, Assistant Curator, European and American art (1850 to 1980) at the National Gallery of Canada. It was made possible by the presenting sponsor, Sun Life Financial. A total of 45 paintings will be on view as well as some 50 additional works, including Japanese prints, drawings from the 16th through the 19th century and 19th century photographs.

In 1888, in Arles, Van Gogh wrote: “If we study Japanese art, then we see a man, undoubtedly wise, who spends his time – on what? – studying the distance from the earth to the moon? (…) – no, he studies a single blade of grass. This blade of grass leads him to draw all the plants – then the seasons, the broad features of landscapes, finally animals, and then the human figure. He spends his life like that, and life is too short to do everything.”

Van Gogh paintings from the collection of the National Gallery include Iris, 1889 and Bowl with Zinnias and Other Flowers, 1886. International lenders include the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, which lent Almond Blossom, 1890; the Kunstmuseum in Bern; the Musee d’Orsay in Paris; the Kroller-Muller Museum in Otterlo and the National Gallery in London. Other lenders: The National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC; the Cleveland Museum of Art; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Cincinnati Art Museum and the Honolulu Academy of Arts which allowed Wheat Field with Sheaves, an amazing painting dating from 1888 to be included.

For more information go to www.gallery.ca/vangogh

Hockey, Biking, Jetting the Rapids and Star Wars: A Guy’s Guide to Montreal

2010 12 Janvier- Shooting Musée (Brochure Marketing #1)

2010 12 Janvier- Shooting Musée (Brochure Marketing #1)

Montreal is a place where everybody can find something they like. Family activities, fun for kids, girlfriend getaways, free concerts for music fans – this city has it all, including things guys will like. Here’s a list of activities for guys to try while in Montreal.

Canadiens Hall of Fame and Bell Centre Tour – The first thing most men think of when they hear Montreal is the history-making hockey team. Since 1909, the Canadiens have been the premiere team in the NHL, winning 24 Stanley Cup titles along the way. That’s a lot of history, and it’s all packed into the Canadiens Hall of Fame (514-925-7777), which combines lots of old equipment, uniforms and other interesting things with 21st Century technology in the form of huge touch screens where fans can look up Montreal legends.

The Hall is connected to the Bell Centre where the Canadiens play their home games, and tours take you to the locker-room, press box and even right down to ice level. The Hall and Bell Centre are open year-round, so even if you go to Montreal in the off-season, there’s still time for hockey. To hear more about about the Canadiens Hockey Hall of Fame, click [here] to listen to our interview with the Hall of Fame and the Bell Centre.

Jet Boating the Lachine Rapids – Pack a towel and a change of clothes when you go on this tour with Saute Moutons (514-284-9607) because the boat drivers don’t hesitate to go right into the waves to create maximum drenching. They provide all sorts of clothing and equipment to protect you, but no matter how much you put on, you will get wet.

Bike Tours – Riding a bike is a great way to get out and explore a city, and having a tour guide along to explain where you are and where you’re going makes it even better. Montreal is an especially bike-friendly city, with lots of two-way bike lanes on the major streets. My Bicyclette (877-815-0150) provides tours and does rentals. Their tour takes you on a three-hour adventure through Montreal’s different neighborhoods, with stops along the way to tell about the history and get tastes of great food from local shops. Montreal also has a BIXI bike system. Bikes are stationed around the city, and you can walk up and use a credit card to rent one, take it to another BIXI station and drop it off. The cost is minimal as long as you only use the bikes for short trips.

Star Wars Identities – Every guy has some geek in him, and you can geek out at the “Star Wars Identities” exhibit, housed at the Montreal Science Center (877-496-4724) through Sept. 16, 2012. Visitors are asked a series of questions throughout the exhibit and at the end are given the identity of an intergalactic character. Most importantly, you get to find out if you ended up on the “dark side.” Montreal and Edmonton are the only two cities where this exhibit will run.

From hockey, to adventure in the water, to outdoor activities, Montreal has something for every guy.

You can also listen to Kathleen Curry and Geoff Griffin on the weekly Travel Brigade Radio Show at TravelBrigade.com. 



Top 10 Activities in Quebec City

    Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac / Provided by Quebec City Tourism

Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac / Provided by Quebec City Tourism

With over 400 years of history, Quebec City and its surrounding areas are loaded with things to see and do. We’ve tried to perform the impossible task of narrowing it down to a mere 10. To hear more about these and other activities, listen to our Travel Show on Quebec. Below, in no particular order, (because they’re all so fun) are our favorite top  10 activities.

The Old City

The combination of buildings and streets dating back centuries, a walled city and people speaking French (don’t worry, the locals are mostly bilingual and very nice about speaking English) gives you the feeling of being in Europe. Stop by the Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac (866-540-4460, 1, rue des Carrieres), an incredible hotel sitting high on a cliff above the St. Lawrence River that has become the symbol of the city. The boardwalk in front of the Chateau offers amazing views of the river below.

The Lower City

This crescent right below the cliff that holds the Old City, has plenty of history and beauty in its own right. A great way to learn the history of the area, and the city as a whole, is to explore it on a bike tour with Cyclo Services Bicycle Tours (877-692-4050, 289, rue Saint-Paul).

The St. Roch District

This area, pronounced “ Saint Rock,” has been revitalized over the past decade to become the city’s hip new neighborhood filled with restaurants, clubs and boutique shopping. Stop by Les Bossus Restaurant (418-522-5501, 620, St.-Joseph Est) for great food and atmosphere, or stay at Hotel Royal William (888-541-0405, 360, boulevard Charest Est) for a location convenient to a variety of areas of the city.

The Citadel

his fort in the Old City has played an important role in the history of the city, and the Citadel (418-694-2815, 1, Cote de la Citadelle) is still an active military facility for the Royal 22e Regiment of the Canadian Forces. A 60-minute tour is both interesting and very valuable for learning the history of the area.

The Plains of Abraham

After taking the Citadel tour and learning about the 1759 Battle of Quebec, walk right over to where it took place on the Plains of Abraham, which is now a huge, beautiful park with its own exhibits, concerts and things to do.

Aquarium du Quebec

Kids will love seeing polar bears, seals, walruses and a variety of other animals is the Aquarium du Quebec (418-659-5264, 1675, avenue des Hotels). Parents may want to call ahead and find out about a program that allows children to assist the animal keepers, and even learn to teach the animals tricks for the shows.

Whale Watching

If the seals and walruses interest you, go see the biggest animals in the ocean by doing a whale watching trip. Cruises AML (866-856-6668) runs whale watching trips out of Tadoussac, Baie-Sainte-Catherine and other ports that are a bit of a drive out of the city, but well worth the trip for the chance to see a variety of whales, including belugas.

Grosse Ile

A fascinating piece of Canadian history can be found at the island of Grosse Ile (888-773-8888) not far from Quebec City. Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, the island was used as a quarantine station for immigrant ships, and today it is a beautiful national park where many of the buildings have been preserved to use in a historical tour. Take a fun boat trip on Croisieres Lachance (1-888-GROSSE ILE, 110, de la Marina, Berthier-sur-Mer) to get there.

A Sauce Like No Other

Visiting L’Entrecote Saint-Jean (418-694-0234, 1080, rue Saint-Jean) is an opportunity to try “Entrecote Sauce,” a delicious combination of curry, mustard and other secret ingredients poured over steak and fries. The restaurant claims to be the only place to find this sauce in North America.

Summer Arts

The arts are in full bloom in the summer. Cirque du Soleil puts on an outdoor show only performed in Quebec City, “The Image Mill” turns the giant grain silos in port into a huge outdoor screen, or try the festival celebrating French heritage or music festival.

For more information on these, check out the tourism offices for both Quebec City (877-783-1608) and the Quebec Province (1-877-BONJOUR).

Quebec City is full of great things to see and do, picking just 10 is hard to do.

What to Do in 24 hours in Vancouver

by G. Eliot,

Lost Lagoon in Stanley Park, Vancouver - Geraldine Eliot

Lost Lagoon in Stanley Park, Vancouver

Explore some of Vancouver’s top attractions, restaurants and night spots while spending the perfect 24 hours in the city. The “green lung” of Vancouver is its 1,000 acres of Stanley Park. Start the day exploring the 6.5 miles of sea wall along the perimeter of the park,with exquisite views of the city; catch a horse-drawn carriage tour to the famous Totem Poles, and wander through the rain forest to Lost Lagoon and Beaver Lake. For kids there is The Children’s Farmyard, a miniature railway, playgrounds, a water-park, outdoor pool and the Vancouver Aquarium to enjoy.

Exploring the Granville Island Market

From Stanley Park, head to one of the Aquabus Ferry docks and hop on board to Granville Island. The Island, tucked under the Granville Street Bridge, boasts a vibrant public market with arts and crafts, souvenirs, clothing, First Nations craftwork and plenty of fresh foods and tasty treats, perfect for a lunch stop. The Island is also home to the Granville Island Brewing Company and while adults enjoy a beer tasting, kids can explore the sights, sounds and colors of the Kid’s Market. There are restaurants, a theater and various art studios and galleries to visit, including those at the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design.

Strolling Through Historic Chinatown and Gastown

Totem Poles at Stanley Park, Vancouver - Geraldine Eliot

Totem Poles at Stanley Park, Vancouver – Geraldine Eliot

From Granville Island, it is easy to get to downtown Vancouver. The best way to explore the area is on foot. Visit historic Chinatown with its fascinating shops selling anything from bubble tea to dried seahorses, and the Dr Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Gardens and Chinese Cultural Center. Stroll into Gastown, one of the oldest areas of Vancouver that mixes cobbled streets, gas lights, historic buildings and the world’s first steam clock, with trendy shops, bars and restaurants. It is a short walk from there up to the Five Sails of the Vancouver Convention and Exhibition Center for beautiful views and to catch a show at the IMAX Theater. For some up-scale shopping and perhaps some celebrity spotting, head to Robson Street. Close by is the Vancouver Art Gallery that has a permanent collection of local and international artists, as well as traveling exhibitions.

Fine Dining with a View of Vancouver

Before it gets dark, head to the iconic Harbor Center Tower. Take the glass Sky-lift Elevator 130 meters up to the Observation Deck where visitors can enjoy 360° views of Metro Vancouver, the North Shore Mountains, the Pacific Ocean, and depending on the weather, even Vancouver Island. Finish off a day in Vancouver at the Top of Vancouver Revolving Restaurant. Enjoy delicious food and drink while the restaurant completes one revolution every hour.

Hitting the Hotspots After Dark

The Vancouver nightlife is rich and varied and ranges from karaoke bars and sports bars to dance clubs, comedy clubs and live music venues. The Granville Street strip downtown has plenty of choice, from casual Irish pubs such as Doolins, to chic cocktail bars like The Granville Room, or dance clubs like Caprice and Crush. On Davie Street in the Westend, you can dance the night away at gay clubs like Celebrities or Numbers, or relax in a casual lounge setting. There is also gambling at the Edgewater Casino, live music venues like The Cellar, The Media Club and The Plaza Club, live theater, big concerts, live sports, and comedy clubs such as Yuk Yuks. There is definitely something for everyone, regardless of age or taste.

There is so much to see and do in 24 hours in Vancouver, no matter the season. However, this is just a small assortment of the types of attractions this world-class city has to offer, so make sure to come back for more.