Wednesday, November 10, 2010


If ye break faith with us who die, we shall not sleep,
though poppies grow in Flanders Fields

The haunting words of Canadian Lt.-Col. John McCrae were never more powerful than today.
He penned them to conclude his epic poem, In Flanders Fields, shortly before his death near the end of the First World War.

Sadly, only a handful of veterans fo the Great War remain with us. Those who served in the Second World War and Korean War are not far behind. So it falls upon us and our children to tell the story and remember ......

To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high

McCrae was writing those words for future generations.
And it must be within our moral compass to give them voice and heart.

Monday, November 1, 2010


Travel writers are a curious breed ….. independent adventurers each trying to up the other for the obscure story hook and eye-catching photo angle. When they converge on a destination, as we did for the recent international gathering of Society of American Travel Writers, organizers of the event must have felt like they were herding cats!

But the generous hospitality of Lufthansa, which enabled flexible travel schedules, German Tourism, which extended programs throughout the country, and our hosts in the Saxony region, a good time was pursued by all. I’ve never seen so many clicking cameras, bloggers, tweeters, scribblers, and Dictaphones running amok under one roof – metaphorically speaking.

Dresden and Leipzig were the primary destinations and really strutted the best of their stuff. Although virtually decimated after the Second World War, both cities have risen from the ashes to remember their glorious heydays. Dresden in particular is filled with architectural splendor and has a fabulous countryside to explore. Leipzig is music central as in the footsteps of Johann Sebastian Bach, Mendelssohn, Schumann and Richard Wagner. Add Mozart into the mix and Saxony becomes an unrivalled destination for its historical and cultural landscape.

And the hospitality of the German people is undisputed.

Since many of us spread our wings to other parts of Germany and Europe, you can expect a slew of stories to hit the media waves. Until then, read my tweets for travels beyond, to Prague, Budapest and Garmisch-Partenkirchen.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Alaska - still the edge of the Frontier

Traveling the length and breadth of Alaska sounds like a daunting task, especially since the majority of the state is still very much untamed wilderness. There's a raw beauty about Alaska that breeds independence of mind and spirit. The landscapes still invite homesteaders and pioneers to carve out a self-sufficient lifestyle here which, from any urbanzied perspective, looks pretty darn inhospitable at the best of times.

But ifyou're willing to roll with whatever the day might bring, have a dry pair of socks, and an all-weather jacket, Alaska should be on everyone's bucket list. Besides, the Alaska Railroad is legendary and one of the few remaining trains in the world that you can still flag down.

The harshly beautiful environments have engendered a kind of no-nonsense culture and it's easy to see how they've formed the backbone of Sarah Palin politics. Interestingly, Alaskans are divided towards their former governor, it part because they feel she left them after only two years in office -- during which time she tookon a currupt establishment, and won. Did she sell out for a book deal? Were establishment lawsuits making her ineffectual? Did she feel that she could make a bigger difference on a bigger stage?

Whatever you believe, one thing is true. Today, as a private citizen,and cheerleader for a back-to-founding priciples Americanism, she is widely considered one oof the most influential women in politics. It's been a meteroric rise from relative obscurity to the world stage which, when all is said and done, can only be good for Alaska. And SP wouldn't have it any other way.

Catch up with my tweets for other Alaska perspectives.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Frommer's Travels Complete

Islands' travels are over, at least for the time being, and in essence, I was delighted with what I found. Yes, tourism is down. Yes, some businesses have faltered. But far from doom and gloom, I found a resilience that was heart-warming. Perhaps it's the population make-up of the islands: artists who are accustomed to creative ways of living; retirees with a set income; and families with a logging and fishery heritage who have already learned how to multi-task different careers, and reinvent themselves all together to weather the storm.

The islands are still happening places. Now that a beautiful September is on the horizon, now's the time to really enjoy them at their very best.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

On the road for Frommers

Updating my Frommer's guide to Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands and San Juan Islands is always a fabulous excuse to roam the roads. Sure, I clock up the mileage but in a Mazda Miata convertible, with glorious sunshine, it doesn't always feel like work.

In May, when I traveled the length and breadth of Vancouver Island, the miserable weather certainly didn't encourage hanging around a beach with an ice-cream cone. But it kept my nose to the grindstone. I wanted to see how the island had managed the recession, and is the reason why I'm visiting the San Juans and Gulf islands with such a keen eye, and tuned-ear.

Tourism is such an important economy for all these islands, and nothing beats finding out the 'state' of the nations', first hand. We all know that Americans are staying closer to home and, in spite of what the current US Administration is touting, unemployment and taxes are up; opportunities and optimism are down. And when you're away from the city cores, you're more than likely to witness a growing disaffection to the BO reality of promised change.

That in itself makes for interesting talk. But I digress. It's time to get movin'

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Thailand Teaser

Have just spent the last while touring Thailand from the less traveled roads of Ko Lanta in the south to the northerly hills towards the Burmese border. Slash-burning and little rain made the atmosphere somewhat claustrophobic but never distracted from my time with the elephants.

There are many tourist-style elephant activities to enjoy but they can leave me cold - much like making caged, 'tamed' tigers into a visitor attraction, but to learn and participate in elephant care at Patara is quite a different matter. Taking apart elephant dung and brushing their long eyelashes is a bonding experience like no other.

Look out for my articles to come. Until then, suffice to say that the charm of the country and its people is as gracious as ever; and the impact of highways and a skytrain in Bangkok has really shifted the smoggy chaos that once so characterized this city.

If you've not 'done' Thailand is the last 10 years, put it on your agenda

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

NBC says thanks, for the memories

Before continuing on with my own observations, and in case you missed this, I'm posting it as a feel good read. It was written rather graciously by Brian Williams, anchor and managing editor, NBC ..... with an outsider's perspective with an insider's knowledge.

After tonight's broadcast and after looting our hotel mini-bars, we're going to try to brave the blizzard and fly east to home and hearth, and to do laundry well into next week. Before we leave this thoroughly polite country, the polite thing to do is leave behind a thank-you note. Thank you, Canada:
For being such good hosts.
For your unfailing courtesy.
For your (mostly) beautiful weather.
For scheduling no more than 60 percent of your float plane departures at the exact moment when I was trying to say something on television.
For not seeming to mind the occasional (or constant) good-natured mimicry of your accents.
For your unique TV commercials -- for companies like Tim Hortons -- which made us laugh and cry.
For securing this massive event without choking security, and without publicly displaying a single automatic weapon.
For having the best garment design and logo-wear of the games -- you've made wearing your name a cool thing to do.
For the sportsmanship we saw most of your athletes display.
For not honking your horns. I didn't hear one car horn in 15 days -- which also means none of my fellow New Yorkers rented cars while visiting.
For making us aware of how many of you have been watching NBC all these years.
For having the good taste to have an anchorman named Brian Williams on your CTV network, who turns out to be such a nice guy.
For the body scans at the airport which make pat-downs and cavity searches unnecessary.
For designing those really cool LED Olympic rings in the harbor, which turned to gold when your athletes won one.
For always saying nice things about the United States...when you know we're listening.
For sharing Joannie Rochette with us.
For reminding some of us we used to be a more civil society.
Mostly, for welcoming the world with such ease and making lasting friends with all of us.

Loved it, Miss it but glad to have my city back!

What do I miss?

  • The roving packs of national teams exploring the downtown core; hundreds foreign accents always within an earshot or two, and media cameras always positioned to catch the latest street colour.

  • The innovative broadcast venues such as NBC atop Grouse Mountain, the Swiss on Granville Island and the Russians in Science World (a local radio station enabled nations to broadcast in mother tongue to local immigrants – Cool because it reflects Vancouver’s remarkable ethnic diversity.

  • The pedestrian-only streets; I can only hope that city-forefathers will take heed and at least try to recreate the sculptural and busker entertainment zones for periods in the summer.

  • The nightly firework and pulsating laser light shows.

  • The unparalleled camaraderie between visitors, everyone who sported anything red and/or white, the palpable buzz which in truth NEVER let up so there’s something to be enjoyed about claiming the city back!

And a concluding comment:
The British Press started off in a snipey mood (most notably The Guardian newspaper), but grew somewhat more conciliatory over the two week period. Well, it’ was good politics since they’re next in the firing line.

Having just returned from London I have a comparison to where Vancouver was two years out.

Vancouver is a much smaller city but it’s all relative, and I don’t envy London's already crowded metropolis trying to host a games three times the size, three times the headaches and many more times that in terms of accessibility to tourists and terrorists.

Londoners are bemoaning the expense (being somewhat nearer the financial brink than Canada), as well as the unnecessary location of certain events such as moving horse jumping to Greenwich Park when there are spectacular facilities at Windsor and other near-to-London communities.

At least Vancouver held a plebiscite and could wave a ‘yes’ flag in front of the naysayers. I’m not sure Londoners would give the same support. But we’ll see.

Anecdotal Olympic Legacy Items

A smart new transit line from an expanded airport, a faster and safer road to Whistler, community venues such as the Richmond Oval, improved social housing and emergency units for the homeless (an issue always inflames debate), and an expanded convention centre are among the most written about legacies.

Here are some others:

  • Apprentice craftsman made the medal-ceremony podiums; many were First Nations earning their way to a career while inspiring their peers to vision self-responsible lives outside of reservation lands.

  • The XXI Games was the first true social media Olympics embracing online debate via Facebook, Blogs, Twitter and other social vehicles. It has set the stage for how all future games will be seen.

  • Opening ceremony artists lead iTunes downloads – Hallelujah by k.d. lang (who only agreed to perform if she could sing it LIVE – other artists lip-synched) and Nikki Yanofsky’s I Believe

  • The circular flags that were installed along Vancouver downtown sidewalks ( representing the 80+ participating nations. Still a tourist attraction, catch them while you can since many of finding their way into suitcases – honest!

  • Post Olympic polls increased numbers from 63% to 86% of those who felt the Games were good for the province.

  • One developer claims to have sold $50 million of condo real estate during the Games including one Coal Harbour (downtown) at $22 million.

  • As a result of a tent city that sprung up during the Games in Vancouver’s poorest district, the East Side, 46 homeless were found space. Amazing what can be done when under a world lens.

What I miss? see next blog ...

For the Olympic Anecdotal Record

            Who would believe some of these figures .....?

          • Public Transit welcomed some 200 articles a day including an average of four passports/day, the majority of which are Canadian. Go figure?

          • Vancouver International Airport processed a record breaking 39,000 travelers in one day vs its daily average of 26,000. Small numbers for some big cities but a major stepping stone for YVR.

          • Within a few days of opening, traveling the Zip Line over Robson Square meant an eight hour wait with many a hopeful zipper starting the line-up at 2:30 AM!

          • The Molson Hockey Pavilion served at least 5,000 (large) glasses of beer during the Canada/USA games. Heard that the Heineken pavilion served a shade more than that a day.

          • In addition to pin trades, costumes and revelry, the next most common sight were ticket buyers/sellers wearing neck-boards advertising their desire to pay $1,000 for any Canada/USA hockey tickets. Top price was reported in excess of $10,000 for the Gold Medal Hockey finals.

          • In TV viewership numbers, the Gold Medal hockey game in the US was second only to those who watched the Obama election; it was the largest in Canadian television history.

          • Considering the above (and let’s remember the TON of security personnel too - see earlier blog), it’s little wonder that crime figures during the Games period plummeted, especially B&Es that went from 46 percent to 37 percent.

          • Whistler’s two, 80-metre-long composting tunnels swallowed up to 35 tonnes of bio-solids (per week) and are now churning it out the other end as rich, black loam for landscaping.

            Legacy thoughts to come ….

          Post Olympic Musings

          The XXIWinter Olympic Games is history. Or is it?

          It certainly looks as if the afterglow is seeking an intrinsic value into a more outward-going Canadian psyche -- but I’ll leave that discussion for the pundits. After all, something’s gotta justify the costs of our hangover.

          I’ll simply share some random thoughts, observations and anecdotes that might not have made it into the mainstream media – some of the things that transformed our city either physically with traffic diversions and street closures, or emotionally as the city celebrated its time in the world spotlight.

          • The Games opened during the city’s warmest 31-day stretch of winter weather on record. Yes, several events were postponed which is actually not unusual for a winter Olympics. Did anyone report that chilly Calgary had to postpone 70 events to accommodate weather variances?

          • Participants in both Opening/Closing Ceremonies couldn’t use hairspray lest the pyrotechnics set heads aflame.

          • Canadian flags created a landscape of red and white: draped on roundabouts, hung in windows, covering the stone paws of the legendary Lions Gate Bridge lions, portrayed as eyeglass lenses, converted into Superhero costumes, painted on cheeks …. Everywhere, on young and old, on tall and stout people, buildings and animals. The Games seemed to quench an unparalleled thirst to demonstrate a unity of patriotism. GO CANADA GO.

          • 2,000 official vehicles catered to 2730 athletes; watch for deals when they (the cars not the passengers) are sold across Canada as end-of-lease vehicles only these ones will bear the Vancouver Olympic logo.

          • A round of applause for hot-country, one-athlete teams who managed to qualify: Senegal, Portugal, Taipei, Bermuda, Columbia, Morocco, Ghana, Hong Kong, Pakistan, Mexico, Jamaica, Cayman Islands, Albania, Algeria and Ethiopia.

          • Shoppers usually had to endure a four-block line up around the Hudson Bay to get their hands on Olympic gear. VISA reports they spent nearly US $5.2 million on Opening Day alone.

          • The Athletes Village is North America’s greenest community; the second in the world to earn LEED platinum certification; some units were converted from containers; students at Emily Carr/UBC art programs designed and made the outdoor furniture.

          • The simple strategy of closing liquor stores four hours early meant that partying rarely turned into rowdy gatherings. When police asked selected revellers to pour drinks down drains, they did without fuss. Had Canada lost the Hockey Gold to the USA, perhaps things would have been different that last night.

          • Overall Games costs’ are $6 billion and counting. In most instances, we shone but shame of the $10 million spent on the Canada Pavilion. Half the cost was for the architecturally-uninspired, US-provided tent (huh?); the other half went to uninspired touch-screen exhibits geared to the under-10 crowd. Government trying to do kids’ fun is an oxymoron.

          • Miss the roving packs of national teams exploring the downtown core and media cameras always positioned to catch the latest street colour. And miss the innovative broadcast venues such as NBC atop Grouse Mountain, Swiss on Granville Island, and the Russians in Science World.

            More random anecdotes to come……

          Monday, March 1, 2010


          I'll be blogging some catch-up observations on the Great Olympic event soon, but meanwhile, in case you've missed this in your web meanderings .... this is kinda cool:

          So We're Not Perfect!

          Do you believe?
          We never claimed to be perfect,
          That means we’ve learned to be humble.
          We say excuse me and I'm sorry…as well as please and thanks,
          Even when its not our fault we apologize.

          Sure one arm of the torch didn't rise,
          But when the earthquake struck Haiti,
          Canadians raised their hands to say…”We’ll help.”

          And yah, there is a fence around the torch,
          But you can walk right up and shake hands with our prime minister and most famous Canadians. We put Gretzky in the back of a pick up, in the rain, not surrounded by police…and he was okay,
          And by the way... the great one is Canadian…and HE wasn’t complaining!

          We do have security at the games, of course, but most people don't even have a gun they have to leave at home.
          The medals ARE under lock and key, but our doors and our hearts are open to the world.

          It has been pointed out that some buses broke down last week…but let’s not overlook the fact that our banking system didn't.
          We didn't get the "green ice maker" right this time…but we will, eventually,
          Just like we did when we invented the zamboni.

          Citius altius fortius
          If you don't reach higher how do you get faster and stronger?
          Was the first quad jump perfect?
          Should we not have given snowboarding to the world "in case" it didn’t take off?
          So big deal…one out of four torch arms didn't rise.
          Good thing we had three more!
          It’s called contingency planning!
          But remember…the Canadarm works every time…in outerspace…and insulin turned out to be okay.

          We couldn't change the weather, but maybe we can help to stop global warming.
          We don't have the tax base of the US or the power of the Chinese but, per capita, we ponied up for some pretty kick-ass venues in the worst global recession ever.

          Sure, some folks couldn't afford tickets, but our health care is universal.
          We have shown the world that we can raise our voices in celebration and song, but moments later stand in silence to respect a tragic event...together...spontaneously…and unrehearsed.

          What's more, we don't need permission from anyone to have a slam poet, fiddlers with piercings and a lesbian singer tell our story to the world while our multilingual female haitian-born, black head of state shares a box with her first nations equals.

          We’ve shown the world that it doesn’t always rain in Vancouver, that you can strive for excellence, but not get hung up on perfection.

          And we’ve learned what it feels like to be picked on by some no-name newspaper guy and we don’t have to take it lying down!

          So the point is not the snow, or the hydraulics or a couple guys being 5 minutes late to a ceremony,
          We know we’re lucky that these are the biggest problems we've had to deal with in the last couple weeks.
          So take your cheap shots…Guardian newspaper and cynics of the world,
          We're bigger and better than that.
          What's more we're finally starting to believe it!

          Do you believe?

          Sunday, February 14, 2010


          I would be remiss if I didn’t write something during the biggest event Vancouver has ever hosted. After all, in addition to the longest (and most creative) torch relay in Winter Olympic history, Vancouver`s Opening Ceremonies succeeded in pulling together a national pride that even instilled a patriotism into the hearts of disconnected naysayers.

          Weather Woes

          Weather continues to be as ‘iffy’ and ironically, despite concerns of balmy temperatures on the city’s local mountain, Cypress, it was the one to open without hitches … which cannot be said for Whistler`s alpine skiing program where fog and slush ruled the track.

          Feeling the Vibe

          At sea level, the weather swings between drizzles, downpours and warm, spring sunshine with cloudless blue skies. Regardless, crowds in the downtown core just seem to flow through it all. They wait with the patience of Job to enter the various international pavilions, circle around impromptu buskers and entertainers on steps, plazas, and sidewalks; and meander down roads that during the Games,have become pedestrian only celebratory areas. Watch for actors dressed as British Columbia historical figures; endure a wait of up to five hours to catch a zip-line ride from one hi-rise tower to another across the downtown core below; hang around until 10:30 pm to see a pyrotechnic show at Robson Square (above a public ice-rink) or in Coal Harbour near the Olympic flame and Convention Centre -- home-base to 10,000 international media that range from a team of 35 for Slovakia TV to 1500 for NBC from the United States.

          $900 million worth of safety

          There is a gaggle of anti-Olympic protesters who make the odd appearance (sadly, they managed to break a few windows of the sponsor store carrying Olympic clothing and paraphernalia) but with some 15,000 security personnel prowling around, everything remains pretty safe and peaceful. In fact, it’s really quite a sight to see so many RCMP officers from across Canada; some with gold stripes to their uniform, others with red (from Saskatchewan), some wearing woolly hats (from the Atlantic provinces) and others speaking with a charming French accent. You see them hanging out at the local Starbucks, kitted out with dogs, diving gear, in patrolling helicopters overhead and in plain clothes. This gig in Lotusland must be a dream. Nowhere else in the country are the daffodils in bloom and cherry blossoms are a sun-ray away from bursting into colour. Oh yes, did I mention that NORAD has had a couple of intercepting flights out of the Vancouver International Airport and the bomb squad was called in to explode a stray bundle? Both incidences proved to be non-issues but the security contingent here is alert to every possible nuance.

          Feet First

          Downtown is remarkably quiet of cars. Vancouverites have taken heed to the preambles to leave vehicles at home and use public transit. Road closures and diversions are all par for the course and with no-stopping allowed in the many designated Olympic lanes (taxis are having a heck of a time picking up passengers), walking really is the best mode of transport. Besides, stopping in these lanes carries a hefty fine and/or a tow away. No excuses accepted.

          And so the Olympic transformation continues.

          Wednesday, January 13, 2010

          OLYMPIC BUZZ

          It’s pouring with rain, the snow is melting and the temperature is uncharacteristically warm for this time of year. But is there panic in my hometown that all these elements could undo the greatest party this city’s ever seen?

          Not a chance.

          As the city gets dressed for the ball, the excitement for the 2010 Games is palpable. Banners are emerging on streetscapes, colourful marquees now line the waterfront, flags are beginning to appear in windows, Christmas lights are still up (only now, many flicker red and white), and signs pepper the highways and byways, flashing messages of upcoming road closures and diversion.

          Retailers still can’t keep up with the demand for wooly red mitts, emblazoned with the Canadian Maple Leaf in the palm – which is just as well because the weather folks are as optimistic for a chilly February as in-the-know sports enthusiasts are that Canada will own the podium this Olympic Games.

          Although many Vancouverites are choosing to escape the scramble of hosting the world on their doorstep, I’m staying put. So what if there’s a traffic jam or two? I say, “Just chill in the cooler climes to come, and enjoy”.

          And in case you are wondering? Yes, there are still rooms to be found. Check out the listings at