Friday, June 29, 2012

Montreal Update

A recent visit to Quebec and Montreal reminded me how unique this part of Canada is.  With only a few days in the townships, and a week in the ‘Paris of North America’, it underscored my belief that to truly appreciate this country, a Canadian need visit the West Coast, the East Coast, and Quebec. Better still, add the Prairie Provinces to that list and you’ll get even more punch to the WOW impressions this country delivers.

French First, eh?
Virtually every urban Quebecer speaks English. Unlike Parisiens who seem to revel in their disdain of English, Quebecers will take their cue from you as to which language to engage. In Montreal, the post Renee Levesque generation flips from one language to the other with cosmopolitan ease; only in the countryside – surprisingly close to the city, are you likely to find folks whose only language is French. In one store, I actually dived into my purse for change only to despair when I found no francs. Then I realized I was still in Canada. True story!

Vin & Frommage
Meandering through the pastoral countryside is somewhat like central France but without the chateaus, small cars and stacks of just-hewn wood squatting on forest floors. Cyclists pedal the backroads, vineyards nestle against slopes, and cheese is an important item on every menu. Order steak ‘rare’ here, though, and it will be cooked pink to North American tastes, not blue-raw to French preference.

City Vibes
Quebec City doesn’t seem to change through the decades. Like Victoria in British Columbia, Quebec trades on its history, charm and quaintness all of which is emphasized with bonspiels and the world-renowned Winter Carnival complete – think ice hotels, dog sled races and horse-drawn sleigh rides.

Montreal is far sassier with culture, art galleries, museums and festivals being as much of its everyday lifestyle as commuting via the Metro. Even in tough economic times, there’s money to fund all of these ventures, which certainly gives pause for thought. Montreal has always yearned to be a significant cultural capital in North America; and its arts focus is so stridently constant, it’s as if the city is still building a case for Quebec’s independence from the rest of Canada. That said, youthful Vancouver, hard-edged Toronto, and even easy-going Halifax can’t hold a candle to what Montreal offers – and that includes its most famous export: Cirque du Soleil. The city has the rich, multi-dimensional, and historic vibe of its sophisticated European counterparts.

Old Quarter
Some of the most dramatic changes in Montreal –in just the last few years – is the revitalization of the city’s Old Quarter. I remember the area as seedy, unsafe, and with narrow, cobble-streets and alleys. The latter are still there but today, they lead to renovated warehouses; funky hotels such as St. Sulpice; hidden-away personality-plus restaurants, and designer boutiques. The waterfront, too, has all been opened up for public use with promenades and grassy parks that in summer are the venues of numerous activities. Montrealers know how to have a good time so if happenings are your thing, schedule a visit during events such as the Montreal Jazz Festival. And check out to see what’s happening at Montreal Science Centre; Indiana Jones and the Adventure of Archaeology is one of the most fun learning museum tours I’ve ever had. The Musée des Beaux-Arts Montreal is a sure bet with exhibitions that might include China’s Terracotta Army or as the latest venue for Chamber Music concerts. Pointe-à-Callière is another new, must-see museum. It is, quite literally, built on the original city foundations (some 350 years old) that you can watch being excavated.

Hmm, when you consider that Vancouver only celebrated its 125th birthday in 2011, you begin to understand the depth of Montreal.

Apprécier et bon chance

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Theatre by Bicycle in Victoria

Well for someone who's into theatre as much as travel, it can't get much better than this ....

As part of Victoria, B.C.'s 150th celebrations and Victoria International Cycling Festival, Theatre SKAM will present their annual mobile menu of live performance called Bike Ride 150th Anniversary Edition . And with all the hype of Victoria cyclist, Ryder Hesjedal, winning the Giro d'Italia (and that coveted pink jersey), this couldn't be more appropriate.

Cycle from Show to Show
On the weekends of June 16 to 17 and June 23 to 24 at 3:30 p.m., Theatre SKAM will perform new, independent and local live theatre along Victoria's Galloping Goose Regional Trail while audiences ride their bikes from show to show. With bike decorating, local food and surprise bursts of entertainment, the bike ride will have something for visitors of all ages. 

This year, new work commissioned by Theatre SKAM will uncover the unique stories and heritage of the Galloping Goose Trail and the neighbourhoods surrounding Victoria's Selkirk Waterfront. 

Even without Theatre Skam, the Galloping Goose is one of Victoria's treasures.  Built on abandoned railway tracks and trestles and named after a 1920s rail car, the Galloping Goose is a 55 km (34 mi.) linear park that follows part of the Trans Canada Trail. The trail surface is wide, mostly flat and leads through a wonderful diversity of landscapes from urban to rural. 

Oh yes, did I mention that (according to the Government of Canada), Victoria is rated the cycling capital of Canada, with more people per capita commuting by bicycle than any other Canadian city. 

And if you're heading over that way, check out my books: Frommer's Guide to Vancouver Island, Gulf Islands & San Juan Islands, or Frommer's Vancouver & Victoria.  Better still, buy my i-app guide to Victoria: 

Friday, June 1, 2012

Facebook Addiction?

For someone who is only just now getting into Facebook and social media ..... yes, resistance I've found is futile ..... I was amused to receive this article re: Facebook's addiction factor ...

Norwegian researchers recently developed a test for networking sites, called the Bergen Facebook Addiction Scale, which likens inordinate amounts of time spent on the networking site to drug and alcohol abuse. The test measures how often people use the site, if they do so to forget their problems and how using the site negatively affects their personal and working lives.

Researchers found the following groups of people most at risk for Facebook addiction:
 Women, who are more social than men,
• Young people, who are more tech savvy than older people
• Anxious or socially insecure people
“Social media, and the new emphasis on the importance of ‘multitasking,’ have helped drive a wedge between family members,” says psychologist Gregory L. Jantz, author of #Hooked: The Pitfalls of Media, Technology and Social Networking (

Ironically, people become less social the more time they spend on social sites, and they tend to get less done while multitasking because they do not focus on completing one task at a time, he says.

“When people abuse drugs and alcohol, they are trying to feel better, yet they are worsening their situation. We’re finding this is also true for those who spend excessive amounts of time on social networking sites,” he says. “Perhaps the hardest hit from social media addiction is the family unit.”

Parents should monitor their own time online to ensure it’s not further limiting the already shrinking amount of time available with their children, Jantz says. And they need to safeguard their children by monitoring their time, as well. 

“Technology continues at its accelerating pace, and we are in unchartered territory,” Jantz says. “Increasingly, social networking infiltrates our personal lives, but we need to remember that it is created to serve us, and not the other way around.” 


Hmmm, food for thought ..... I say, as I plough through my newly interconnected world

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

10 Green Ways to Experience Vancouver

Having just organized a Vancouver itinerary for a very eco-conscious, overseas visitor with only days in my fair city, here are some of the whirlwind suggestions I made:

1. Rent a bike or a pair of rollerblades and self-propel your way around Vancouver's Stanley Park seawall, marveling at Vancouver's green, urban, ocean-wrapped sanctuary.

2. Get a view of the city from the water; grab a kayak from Ecomarine and paddle your way through the waters of False Creek. If you're lucky, you'll spot some of the seals, otters, eagles and fish that make this urban waterway their home.

3. See Vancouver from the highest point possible atop Grouse Mountain's new wind turbine, the Eye of the Wind. The turbine has the capacity to produce enough energy to supply the needs of 400 homes over a year.

4. Eat sustainably on fresh, sustainably-harvested seafood; choose a restaurant that participates in the Vancouver Aquarium's Ocean Wise sustainable seafood program.

5. Take a guided walking tour with Rockwood Adventures and explore Vancouver's rainforests -- one of the world's most primitive ecosystems.

6. Sleep green at one of Vancouver's hotels that has made a commitment to the environment, such as the Coast Coal Harbour Hotel. Known for its zero waste management program, the hotel has a Green Key rating of four out of five. 

7. Travel by a 25-foot, First Nations canoe through the waters of Burrard Inlet and Indian Arm, while guides from Takaya Tours - an Aboriginal eco-tourism company - share legends, songs and stories from their rich history and culture.

8. Take transit - Bus, SkyTrain or SeaBus - around Vancouver's neighbourhoods and attractions. The diversity of views on water, on ground and on elevated rail, is the 'inside' way of seeing the city. Best of all, present your transit pass at a number of Vancouver's top attractions and you'll receive a discount on admission.

9. Indulge in the 100 Mile Tasting Menu at Raincity Grill where all dishes are inspired by sustainable aquaculture, local farmers and the book 100 Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating written by Vancouver-journalists Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon.

10. See what makes Vancouver a top city for green building and design; tour some of its state-of-the-art LEED gold-grade buildings, including the Vancouver Convention Centre, the Vancouver Aquarium's Aquaquest building, and the Olympic Village neighbourhood.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

San Francisco Revisited

Having not been to San Francisco for some 12 years, it was a delight to rediscover a city that I first visited in the seventies. I thought a stroll down memory lane would be a fun way to spend an afternoon but what I found was so much more.

Gentrifying Character
There`s an air of gentrification happening around many of the once-seedy backstreets near Union Square. Many neighbourhoods have also spruced up their picturesque homes and BART feels cleaner, too. Incidentally, BART makes for a very easy (and the cheapest) trip between the airport and downtown is less than $10 and takes about 30 minutes.

In Chinatown, laundry still hangs from fire-escapes Hong Kong style to dry in breezeS that can tunnel UP quite a force from the water; my favourite restaurant (the Far East Café) is still there but has cleaned up so well that I barely recognized it; and the jazz clubs seem to have shape-shifted appearances, the music is as great as ever. However, too many non jazz locales simply pound with incessant techno-beat music. I call it lazy-DJing – give the crowd an ecstasy pill and just keep blasting sameness.

The best re-discoveries were along the waterfront where former grunge is a distant memory. People and activity is everywhere – including an outdoor Sunday ministry for the homeless that really had unexpected `good vibrations` of friendship and decency. Pier 39 has settled into a pleasant stroll-shop-experiential destination. My biggest giggle came from experiencing Vitality, a Coney-island style spa. Pretty wild with everything from a flavourful oxygen-bar to electronic massagers.

Newest Top Draws
Away from the water, I really loved the attractions such as the amazing California Academy of Sciences and Walt Disney Family Museum.

The California Academy of Sciences is a showcase of our world's three dimensions: sea, earth and sky. In the basement (as in 'sea level') lies an amazing aquarium plus a swamp where Claude, one of only 45 albino alligator lives. Fabulous natural wildlife displays are on the main floor (as in earth), and a steamy, light filled dome contains a rainforest reaching for the sky. Everything`s geared to interaction. I loved the Science Tarot Cards – yes, you read this right. They were designed by intuitive artists especially for the Museum - I picked an image depicting a telescopic view of two stars, one slightly smaller than the other. They looked very real and while the scientific explanation was something about how stars can converge to create a new stars, the parallel tarot reading had something to do with choices.

Disney Family Museum is a wonderful revelation about Walt Disney himself. His family. Background. Early efforts. Failures. The creation of Steamboat Willie – one wall is covered with hundreds of images making up only seconds of film. Snow White. Fantasia. The working model of Disneyland … and so on. His daughter was the driving force behind telling the `real` story about her father, and it really is a delight to discover.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Dayton Boots Kicks It Up on Granville Island

Established in 1946, Dayton Boots have garnered quite a reputation for hand-crafted boots - first for their logging boots, then for hell-bent-for-leather biker boots, and need to have heavy-duty construction and oil-rig boots.

Then Daytons got fashionable as in the hand-crafted, hip foot apparel for the likes of Johnny Depp, Angelina Jolie, Robin Williams, Cindy Crawford, Sharon Stone, Kurt Russell, Lou Diamond Phillips, Harry Connick Jr., Brendan Fraser, Lorenzo Lamas, Darryl Hanna, and Alyssa Milano to name but a few.

So opening up a retail outlet on gentrified Granville Island is news --it's always sold boots out of its gritty workshop space on the city's East Side -- and is bound to create a stir for 'those in the know'.

The new store carries a complete line of Dayton Boots rugged performance footwear -- specifically designed for specialized motorcycling, riding, and walking footwear.

It's not uncommon to see Dayton boots still in use after 25 to 40 years. They're THAT good!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Georgia Hotel Soon to Re-Open

Work and travel - rediscovering Montreal, has kept blogs on the back-burner but here I am again, prompted with the soon-to-re-open iconic Hotel Georgia as a Rosewood Georgia. The entire building has been under tarps and scaffolding for so long, it's great to see it finally returning to the Vancouver scene.

When the hotel first opened its doors in 1927,the location became the social, cultural and business heart of the city, as well as a hang out for celebrity guests including Frank Sinatra, The Rolling Stones, Ginger Rogers, Elvis Presley, Nat "King" Cole, The Beatles, Katharine Hepburn, Laurence Oliver and HRH Edward Prince of Wales.

The hotel's new Managing Director, Steve Halliday, is also a prominent Vancouver hotelier, remembered best for his opening of the five-star Pan Pacific Hotel.

Because of the hotel's illustrious history, Rosewood Hotel Georgia is inviting past guests to share their memories in a contest that launched this weekend and will run until June 18th 2011.

The best and/or most captivating story will win a grand price of a night in the Lord Stanley Suite (one of the hotel's two penthouse suites with private rooftop terraces and hot tubs), dinner at Hawksworth Restaurant, a decadent room service breakfast.

Check them out at
Me? I'm interested in trying the new Sense A Rosewood Spa so I can review in for my spa site on Bella-On-Line .....