Royal City Carlson Wagonlit Travel's Blog

There's a New Tallest Building West of the Mississippi

With a hotel. And the highest open-air bar in the Western Hemisphere.

The Wilshire Grand Center on famous Wilshire Boulevard towers 73 stories over downtown Los Angeles' historic, entertainment, financial, arts, and sports districts and added new texture to the city skyline.

The tower is spectacular. A glass-clad skyscraper topped with a spire that makes it 1099 feet (335 meters) tall, more than 80 feet higher than the US Bank Tower it has overtaken for top spot in the West. (But nowhere near the height of America's tallest building, One World Trade Center in New York, that's a U.S. record-breaking, symbolic 1776 feet (541 meters) tall).

In a nod to its status as a landmark of America's West, the skyscraper's silhouette is inspired by Yosemite’s Half Dome, with an iconic sail for the West's pre-eminent oceanfront city. (Top Photo Credit). Programmable LED lighting illuminates the peak and down the spine of the building for a riveting and changeable evening cityscape.

Inside, take a high-speed, double-decker elevator for a 50-second ride, and you're transported into the breathtaking setting of the InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown's Sky Lobby on the 70th floor.

Magnificent panoramic views and L.A. –inspired design in the Sky Lobby set the scene for your visit to the 900-room hotel, restaurants, bars, open-air observation deck and rooftop pool where global travelers and locals can mingle amongst some of the city’s new and most coveted venues – with the best view in town.

Each hotel room has floor-to-ceiling windows for panoramas of the West Coast sunsets and the City of Angels.

Restaurants make the most of the one-of-a-kind scenics, with VIP booths, floor-to-ceiling privacy screens and private views of the L.A. skyline – as well as foodie features like a cheese atelier, a charcuterie cave and a 1200-label curated wine list.

And at the very top of the tower, imagined as a 'city in the sky', the highest outdoor perch in the country and even the hemisphere. On top of the 73rd floor is Spire 73 – the tallest open-air bar in the Western Hemisphere. This rooftop lounge offers surreal views of the entire city, chic fire pits, signature cocktails and a wide selection of whiskey, and culinary experiences to rival the view.

Plus, in eco-friendly California, sustainability take center-stage, and the building is LEED Gold certified. It was constructed using recycled, locally sourced materials, hotel guest room pods were fabricated off site to reduce waste materials, and on an ongoing basis, building orientation, lighting and thermal energy storage reduce energy use, water-efficient landscaping and storm water collection used for cooling ensure the smallest environmental footprint for the tallest building in the West.

Ideally located in the heart of a revitalized, dynamic downtown, the Wilshire Grand Center and InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown have added a new and spectacular way to experience the United States' second-largest city.

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Travel 'Game-Changer' for Sports Mega-Fans

How far are you willing to go to support your team and get your professional sports fix? Do you plan your free time around your team's schedule, paint your face, wear your team's jersey, or drive crazy distances to see the game live?

There are a lot of ways to support your team, but we've found the ultimate mega-fan travel experience.

Chicago-based Big Game Air provides same-day round-trip travel on private jets to major sporting events across the USA.

Its tarmac-to-stadium transfers and same-day returns mean no luggage, no hassle, no parking, no hotels, just a day rather than an extended long weekend of navigating crowds, and all the adrenaline of being at the game – plus all the perks of private aviation.

Like many innovations, the idea arose to solve a problem: one of the company founders didn't want to miss a big game – but also didn't want to leave his wife and newborn overnight. With help from his co-founder, they put their aviation and hospitality backgrounds to work, roped in some buddies, booked a private jet, left in the morning for the game… and arrived home 12 hours later - with a new luxury sports travel business plan.

Pardon the pun, but we think this is a 'game changer' for sports experiences and sports travel.

If you can get yourself a game ticket, they can get you there in style.

  • Fans can purchase individual seats on 8-30 seat flights scheduled to the highest-demand games throughout the year - up to 24 hours in advance of the game date. (So if you score a last-minute ticket, you can still make the game).
  • There are no membership fees required (unlike some other private jet programs).
  • Ground transportation is included to and from the sporting event.
  • You'll have all the amenities and conveniences of private air travel, plus
  • Group and charter options, including:
  • Ways to really celebrate a corporate team win, a bachelor party, or any other group event with add-on perks including custom jet hangar parties, tailgate parties in the sporting destination, professional athlete- or celebrity-hosted flights and premium onboard catering.

In its first year, Big Game Air flights flies from Chicago, New York, Columbus, and Detroit; in 2018, the company adds Dallas and Atlanta as originating cities; and in 2019, you can depart from Los Angeles and San Francisco to join your team's big day.

Flights are already scheduled to marquee sports events like the SuperBowl and major NFL games, College Football championships, NHL, the Masters Tournament, the Kentucky Derby, as well as major game dates on the calendar that run the gamut of team sport in the USA.

The company subcontracts a fleet of private jets, making the ultimate game day trip more affordable than other private options. Flights still cost in the $1200 – 2200 USD range for a round trip, so it's not the cheapest way to get to the game. (But it still might be less expensive than your seats at center field).

For time-pressed executives and groups of friends willing to splash out on their sports adventure, Big Game Air seems like a big win for big fans on game day.

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Where's the Coolest Place to do Yoga in Vancouver?

It's where stand up paddleboard meets downward dog – in a South Beach-style pool overlooking Vancouver's seawall and mountains.

The latest trend in West Coast wellness lifestyle, the stand up paddleboard (SUP), is well established in Vancouver. And yoga? Well that's a no-brainer.

But it took local SUP pioneer and yoga instructor Kristy Wright Schell to bring the two together and introduce them to Vancouver. And the Westin Bayshore's programming team to take notice and make Kristy's 'Liquid Yoga' part of the hotel's pool lifestyle.

The stunning hotel pool gives participants an opportunity to practice yoga in the open sea air, embracing the quintessential experience of Vancouver's West Coast lifestyle but in the security of a pool as an aquatic yoga studio, rather than the open sea like SUP yoga.

We tried it and we think it's inspired.

On a fair summer day in Vancouver, British Columbia, the locals joke it's like 'British California'. And it seems that somehow, every resident and visitor in town is outdoors or on the water.

This program gives hotel guests – and the general public – a unique way to be part of the local wellness and outdoor culture, even if you're in town, like we were, with a packed business schedule.

Liquid Yoga sessions take place in the morning, while the pool is still quiet. Kristy, who's the Owner/Founder of Just Add Water Yoga Ltd and Standup Paddle Vancouver, discovered made-in-Canada Aquamats (Kristy's on the center mat below). She and the Westin Bayshore team decided on six, so every session is intimate and there is plenty of space around each mat in the pool.

Photos: Above, Westin Bayshore; Top, BestTrip.TV

Unlike yoga on SUP's, Aquamats have squared corners and are stable left to right, but, here's the 'twist', they do tend to rotate.

Getting wet can be intentional… or accidental. Participants either mount pool-side dry, or have the option to swim to their mats, and some of the poses involve options to dip in the water, or even dismount and remount, adding that challenge and direct interaction with water. Kristy says about 1 in the 6 students every session will end up in the drink without meaning to. Luckily the pool is warm!

For Liquid Yoga, Kristy uses a lot of Vinyasa 'flow' - the water environment lends itself quite literally to a fluid practice, where participants need to bridge the gap between effort and surrender to stay balanced on the mat in the water.

As a result, you gain a new awareness of your body in the pose, and new awareness of your yoga practice. Control freaks usually intent on the perfect pose will find they need to let go a little and relax in response to the elasticity of the water. While yoga slackers will need to bring more consciousness to their practice to literally 'stay afloat'.

Even though Kristy keeps to relatively simple poses. A class that done on the floor in a studio would be quite basic takes on a new challenge in the water, requiring you constantly engage tiny core muscles for balance.

But in case you were thinking it all sounds very serious… it's not. Let's face it: we are primed for pools as places to play, and Liquid Yoga brings a playfulness to yoga practice too. We almost wanted to fall in!

It's like taking a 'mini yoga retreat' completely outside a usual yoga environment that reconnects and reinvigorates your yoga practice.

We recommend wearing your bathing suit under layers of yoga or workout wear that will wick water away from you in the open air. Didn't bring workout wear? We love that guests can take advantage of the Run Westin's gear lending program.

Classes fill up, so we recommend advanced booking through the hotel concierge or Kristy's web site. The sessions are open to both hotel guests and the general public.

There are two morning sessions of Liquid Yoga at the Westin Bayshore 6 days a week (except Mondays) from May- September whenever the pool is open. They are considering moving it to the indoor pool once the outdoor pool closes.

Liquid Yoga is a terrific way to enjoy the Westin Bayshore's gorgeous, 'make an entrance' circular pool, with its new South Beach style cabanas and indoor/outdoor terrace restaurant. But it's also an inspired addition to Westin's wellness cuisine and activity programming, with a uniquely Vancouver spirit, enhanced by the Westin Bayshore's incomparable views of Vancouver's harbor, seawall and mountains.

By: BestTrip.TV's Lynn Elmhirst with Ryan McElroy

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A New Place for the Best Views of Old Havana

The Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski La Habana has opened in Havana. It's the Cuban capital's first five-star luxury hotel, located in the heart of the UNESCO World Heritage site of Old Havana. And it is the first foray into the Americas for Europe's oldest luxury hotel group Kempinski.

The hotel is a revival of an historic six-story colonnaded building begun in the late 1800's. It lived through various incarnations as Cuba's first European-style department store, a silent film theater, and later, government offices, slowly decaying like much of the historic architecture in isolated Cuba. Its re-imagination as a luxury hotel brings the Manzana building back to its glory days… and then some.

Now as a 246-room urban lifestyle hotel, the Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski La Habana, with its whitewashed façade, is again a landmark and beacon of style in Old Havana. A cool, pale color palette, with vivid tropical hits of pinks, teals and purples, cements its design hotel credentials.

Rooms all have ceilings 4-6.5 meters ( 13-20 feet) in height, contemporary furnishings and many have large French doors/windows perfect for admiring the patio and city views. Worth mentioning is the air conditioning and wi-fi, which, along with truly luxury levels of service, you can't take for granted in the up-and-coming tourism destination of Cuba.

A 100 square meter (10,000 square foot) spa by Resense, and a business center round out amenities that include six bars and restaurants covering every whim of entertaining around the clock.

When in Cuba, as they say… so of course there had to be a cigar lounge. You are guided through a Cuban cigar experience by a cigar sommelier who also suggests a perfect beverage pairing – with Cuban rum, naturally.

And the spectacular roof top bar is the best place in the city for incomparable scenic vistas day or night over Old Havana’s Parque Central, and El Capitolio (a replica of the U.S. Capitol). The panoramic rooftop views are icing on the cake of this hotel that is at once majestic, high-style, and fun.

The Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski La Habana has reclaimed the building's position as a hub in the centre of the Old Havana. As Cuba continues its upward trajectory towards full-fledged modern tourism, it provides an international urban lifestyle hotel experience for that luxury group of travelers, visitors to its bars, restaurants and spa. It also sets a high bar for new arrivals on the luxury travel scene in Cuba's capital.

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Paris Landmark Hotel Re-Opens after $200-million Renovation

When you renovate a palatial, historic landmark on one of the most famously elegant squares in one of the most fabled travel destinations in the world, there's a lot at stake.

The Hotel de Crillon has dominated Paris' storied Place de la Concorde since the 1700's. Originally the Parisian home of the illustrious Count de Crillon, the palace has been the site of world-changing events, where Marie Antoinette had music lessons, international treaties were signed (including French recognition of the American Declaration of Independence), and a hotel since 1909 where celebrities, aristocracy, royalty, politicians and artists continued to make history. Now after its 4-year renovation, its latest re-invention has been revealed.

We aren't disappointed. With incredible vision and work by world-renowned architects, designers, artists and artisans - even an artistic director – the Hotel de Crillon is back, a palace reinterpreted for the modern day luxury traveller. Imagine the challenge: to strike a balance between conservation and transformation. But the hotel has emerged as an elegant expression of the spirit of Paris and a celebration of French art de vivre.

The opulence remains. It is awe-inspiring, bridging the 18th and 21st centuries – and still oh so very Parisian: exquisite, elegant and a bit irreverent.

The exquisite Neoclassical façade and grand reception rooms on the second floor are classified heritage landmarks, so designers were working with a heritage building. But everywhere you can discover a fresh and modern twist, even as beloved and unique objects, that are symbols of the hotel’s history, can still be found throughout the property, from the amethyst chandeliers to gold and crystal Baccarat decanters.

Today's Hotel de Crillon features:

124 Guestrooms: 78 Rooms, 36 suites, and 10 signature suites elegantly decorated with bespoke furnishings, beautiful antiques and carefully chosen objets d’art.

  • The hotel’s 10 signature suites are the crown jewels of Hôtel de Crillon, and considered among the very finest in Paris. The Louis XV boasts a stunning private terrace with picture-perfect views of the Eiffel Tower, while the Marie-Antoinette suite reflects a regal, feminine spirit with pearl-gray décor and touches of rosy pink.

  • Karl Lagerfeld, renowned designer of the house of Chanel and a great 18th century admirer, decorated the two exceptional suites on Place de la Concorde which embody his personal vision of French chic and modernity.

3 heritage landmark salons for meetings and functions:

  • The salons are listed heritage landmarks, with soaring six meter ceilings dating from 1775-1776; French interior palace design of adjoining rooms allows them to be opened and joined for larger events.

5 distinct dining and drinking venues including:

  • Gastronomic restaurant L’Ecrin, where you can savour bold, unexpected, creative dishes of the young and Michelin-starred chef in the intimate 18th century décor of the Salon des Citronniers;

  • La Cave's intimate wine room;
  • Brasserie d’Aumont with an eclectic, quintessentially Parisian atmosphere complemented by revisited brasserie classics;
  • Jardin d’Hiver, casual garden-style gathering place, one of the hotel's most historic spaces, where you can relax at teatime, sip post-shopping champagne, or indulge in exquisite sweets;

  • Les Ambassadeurs, the chic 60-seat bar that is the new place to see and be seen in Paris. A festive vibe animates the heritage setting (the ceiling is a registered landmark) thanks to live music nightly, meticulously crafted cocktails, and an exclusive carte of prestigious champagnes.

Whimsical courtyards by a renowned French landscape architect.

A newly created swimming pool graced by a mural by a noted ceramic artist, fitness studio, and full-service Sense, A Rosewood Spa for wellness-conscious and stylish guests.

Sophisticated style and grooming venues for men and women, including Hair Salon by David Lucas, Barber by La Barbière de Paris, and Shoecare by Devoirdecourt.

Hôtel de Crillon has long since secured its iconic status as a one-of-a-kind hotel destination, a living testament to the very best way of life France has to offer. Its rebirth radiates timeless, chic contemporary French lifestyle in an undeniably luxuriant historic setting.

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Putting on the Ritz... At Sea

The Ritz-Carlton is the first luxury hotel chain to take to the seas with its new yacht collection.

The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection launches in 2019 with the first of three cruising yachts. If you're already a fan of the Ritz-Carlton hotel experience, you'll feel right at home: legendary service, luxury amenities and beautifully designed spaces… now on board a specially designed, small capacity ship. It makes parent company Marriott International the only luxury hotelier on both land and sea.

Each of the three custom-built yachts in the fleet features 149 suites, each with its own private balcony, several lavish duplexes, a spa, a signature restaurant and a bar with on-board entertainment. Mirroring the hotels, the yachts feature modern craftsmanship and style; the interior finishes are being jointly designed by The Ritz-Carlton and a leading cruise ship design firm to achieve the best of both worlds.

At 190 meters (623 feet), Ritz-Carlton yachts will be able to call at ports not accessible to larger ships, from Capri and Portofino to St. Barths and the old town of Cartagena. The first ship will cruise a wide variety of destinations depending on the season, including the intimate and signature ports of call in the Mediterranean, Northern Europe, the Caribbean and Latin America. Upcoming 7- and 10- day itineraries aim to combine the lifestyle of The Ritz-Carlton’s luxury resorts and the casual freedom of a yachting vacation.

Expect a relaxed pace that includes both daytime and overnight ports of call, as well as one-of-a-kind, uniquely-curated, customizable destination experiences through collaborations with local chefs, musicians and artists, allowing you to experience the locations in unique and personal ways, both onboard and ashore.

Throughout your journey, you'll enjoy a cruising style that sets a new standard for ultra-luxury cruise and private yachting. The Ritz-Carlton yachts feature a restaurant by Sven Elverfeld of Aqua, the three Michelin-starred restaurant at The Ritz-Carlton, Wolfsburg; a signature Ritz-Carlton Spa; and a Panorama Lounge and wine bar, offering a wide variety of on-board entertainment.

It's these amenities that tip the scales in favor of the Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection experience even over private yachting options, ideal for independent travelers, small groups, or a full-ship group charter to celebrate one of life's milestones.

We're excited about a development that blurs the lines between yachting and cruising. We think the Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection ushers in a whole new way of luxury travel and global discovery: a relaxed, casually elegant and comfortable atmosphere with the highest level of personalized service. The Ritz-Carlton hotel branding also naturally lends itself to pre-and post-cruise stays at ports of embarkation/debarkation in one of the 90 Ritz-Carlton hotels in 30 countries to seamlessly extend your trip under one beloved brand umbrella.

But we also see these intimate, 300-guest yachts as a boon to corporate travel, too. Imagine company sales / incentives aboard a Ritz-Carlton chartered yacht!

It's a cruise/ travel innovation that is both ground-breaking, but at the same time an obvious evolution in shaping the way we experience luxury travel.

Reservations open May, 2018, but no surprise! there have already been charter inquiries.

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Canada's Top Travel Treasures

Canada celebrates 150 years of Confederation on July 1, 2017. Of the many celebrations, events and legacy builds taking place in Canada this year, one of our favorites is the free admission to Canada's National Parks and historic sites for the entire year.

Parks Canada is inviting Canadians and visitors from around the world to celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary at national treasures from coast to coast to coast with free admission to all Parks Canada locations. You can order your pass online or pick up in person at certain locations.

Here is our curated collection of Canada's National Parks and historic sites and nearby experiences that might help inspire you to include the 'true North, strong and free' in your travel plans this year.

L'Anse aux Meadows

In a clever line on the Newfoundland & Labrador Tourism web site, 'even the Vikings came here to get away'.

If you thought Columbus was the first European to reach the Americas, think again. L'Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site and UNESCO World Heritage Site on the northern tip of the island of Newfoundland contains archeological evidence of a Viking settlement dating back to around the year 1000 – hundreds of years before Columbus and his first 1492 expedition.

Sod and wood buildings were found, with artifacts that showed the residents involved in smithing iron, knitting, weaving, and carpentry for boat building or repair. It's believed dozens of Viking men and women resided here, but harsh conditions made it unsustainable and the site was abandoned.

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While you're in Newfoundland, don't miss…Cape Spear. The rocky cliffs jutting over the North Atlantic waters make Cape Spear feel like the edge of the world – and it nearly is. This is the eastern-most point of North America. Standing on Cape Spear, you are closer to London, England than you are to Vancouver on the other side of the continent!

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Old Town Lunenburg, Nova Scotia

From the harbor, the almost cartoon-bright painted houses look like an artist's interpretation of an historic town. But it's real. The town is both National Historic Site and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It's considered the best surviving British colonial town on the continent, with its 18th century planned, gridiron streets, unique shops, restaurants in preserved buildings leading away from the harbor that was the focal point of rich a fishing and shipbuilding economy.

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You can still see majestic and romantic tall ships moored on the town's waterfront, and hear the stories. Especially about the fabled Bluenose. This is the homeport of the Bluenose II, the replica of the original local fishing boat that was undefeated in 18 years as a racing schooner.

While you're in Nova Scotia, don't miss: The Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo. It's a week-long event held every summer in Halifax celebrating Nova Scotia's Scottish and military traditions. It began to mark the visit of the Queen Mother to Nova Scotia for the first International Gathering of the Clans with bagpipes, highland dancers and military traditions. Hundreds of Canadian and international military and civilian performers makes it the world's largest annual indoor show; granted Royal status by the Queen.

Bay of Fundy National Park

The Bay of Fundy is the site of a record-breaking marine phenomenon, part of the UNESCO Fundy Biosphere Reserve, and a Dark-Sky Reserve. The tides in the Bay of Fundy are the highest in the world – as high as a 5-storey building! Local Mi'kmaq folklore attributed the dramatic tides to a giant whale splashing; it's actually a result of the bay's particular shape. The twice-daily tides see a flow of 115 billion tonnes of water flowing in and out of the bay.

You'll also want to experience local dinosaur fossil finds exposed by the extreme tides, hiking, sea kayaking, tidal rafting, and whale watching, including the rare right whale.

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While you're in New Brunswick, don't miss…Confederation Bridge, part of the Trans Canada highway, connecting mainland New Brunswick to Prince Edward Island since 1997. You'll be driving 13 km across the largest bridge in the world that crosses ice- covered waters.

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Prince Edward Island National Park and Green Gables

Canada's smallest province has one of its most beloved sites. 60 km (37 miles) of Prince Edward Island's signature red rock and sand shoreline. Seven swimming beaches, hiking and cycling trails, and camping grounds join protected white sand dunes, freshwater wetlands, salt marshes, and nesting areas for endangered coastal wildlife.

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While you're there, don't miss... Green Gables, the house that was the childhood inspiration for the internationally beloved Anne of Green Gables stories by local author Lucy Maud Montgomery.

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Quebec City

Many people say walking through Old Quebec is like a visit to Europe without the jet lag. The only walled city in North America and the oldest city north of Mexico, the historic district of Quebec City, dating from 1608, is a National Historic Site and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, first city in North America to receive designation.

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Although the magnificent hotel Chateau Frontenac dominates the skyline, perched in Upper Town's 100 meter high cliffs overlooking the St. Lawrence, it is a mere hundred or so years old compared with Upper and Lower Towns' 17th century walls, fortifications, Citadel, winding cobbled streets with shops, restaurants, Plains of Abraham.

While you're in Quebec City, don't miss… The Winter Carnival, one of the biggest in the world, and all the more dramatic in snow covered historic streets. There are masquerade balls in the grand ballroom of the Chateau Frontenac, an Ice Palace, snow sculpture parks, a bikini snow bath, day and night parades led by 'Bonhomme' de Neige ('snowman') the ambassador and mascot of the festivities with his red cap and early voyageur knit belt. And plenty of French joie de vivre.

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Rideau Canal, Ontario

This feat of incredible engineering in the early 1800's began with military intent, but nowadays has become a top recreational boating destination. Following the war of 1812 with the United States, British military engineers came up with plans to forge a vital water route for over 200 km (126 miles) from Kingston on Lake Ontario north to Ottawa. Workers labored to carve the waterway through dense wilderness and solid rock of the Canadian Shield. They also built 45 locks to take vessels up and down elevations in the terrain along the way through rivers, lakes and man-made canal.

The Rideau Canal is a glorious boat trip through pastoral plains, cottage communities and remote, sheer rock cliffs all the way to downtown Ottawa and past Canada's majestic Parliament Buildings.

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Don't miss… Boating the length of the canal in the summer months, taking a canoe tour of the Ottawa portion of the canal, or skating on it in the winter. In downtown Ottawa, in the shadow of historic hotel Chateau Laurier and Canada's Parliament buildings, 8 km of the canal becomes the world's longest skating rink every winter.

Wapusk National Park

It's over a 2 hour flight or two days by train from Winnipeg to Churchill, Manitoba, the gateway to Wapusk. For anyone who makes the trip in mid winter, it's worth it to reach one of the last places in the world to see tiny polar bear cubs getting their start in the world.

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Wapusk means 'White Bear', and this part of Canada is known the world over as the polar bear capital. Nearly three million acres of the park are the seasonal home of a thousand polar bears returning from summer roaming through the tundra back to new Arctic ice, joined by moose, wolves, foxes, and herd of thousands of caribou. Polar bears are gorgeous but dangerous; access to the park is only through licensed operators of guided trips to this famous refuge.

While you're in Manitoba, don't miss…Winnipeg's Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Opening in 2014 to national and international attention, the museum is architecturally compelling, with geometry and colors based on images of the Canadian landscape. It's also intellectually challenging, highlighting personal stories and stimulating debate about how to define its subject matter.

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Wood Buffalo National Park

The largest of Canada's National Park straddles both Alberta and the Northwest Territories for nearly 45,000 acres – it's bigger than Switzerland! It needs to be that large – it provides enough territory in its muskeg and tundra for the long term preservation of the world's largest herd of free roaming Bison.

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The park is also a UNESCO world heritage site and the world's largest Dark-Sky Preserve. And in spite of its remote location, the park can be reached and visited by car.

Banff National Park – Alberta

Canada's first National Park dates back to 1885, and scenes of the turquoise waters of Lake Louise surrounded by a distinctly Canadian alpine landscape have been famously depicted on postcards sent around the world ever since. Snow topped mountains, glaciers and icefields, the western resort town of Banff, endless all-season outdoor activities and the hot springs that started in all keep visitors coming back to this park in the Rocky Mountains year round. The breathtaking Icefields Parkway connects Lake Louise to Jasper National Park further north.

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While you're in Banff, don't miss… a cocktail at the Banff Springs Hotel in the lounge with picture windows over Lake Louise. The view really does make a perfect custom cocktail taste even better!

Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, National Marine Conservation Area Reserve, and Haida Heritage Site

Spearheaded by the Haida Nation to stop destructive logging on their historic lands, Gwaii Haanas now protects an archipelago of 138 (formerly Queen Charlotte) islands off the coast of British Columbia. It totals 5000 square km of land and sea – one of the only places in the world protected from the depths of the ocean in deep fjords to rugged mountain tops. 90% of the land is forest, with mountains draining into dozens of freshwater lakes and salmon-spawning streams. The seas are a 'primary feeding habitat' of humpback whales; Gwaii Haanas is remote and only accessible by boat, sea kayak, or floatplane.

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While you're in British Columbia, don't miss… Victoria Harbour, one of the most picturesque harbors in the country. Originally used by First Nations, the harbor now bustles with recreational vessels and small cruise ships, mooring in the center of this scenic heritage city famous for its continuing British tone. Historic buildings frame the lively waterfront and line the walkable streets. The harbor is the epicenter of thriving eco-tourism and whale watching tour activities.

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Look up!  Tips from an Interior Designer to Take Travel Home

The inspiration we get from the new spaces we experience is one of the reasons we travel.  It's even better when we can translate that inspiration from our travels into our own homes.

Karen Sealy is principal designer of Sealy Design Inc. and TV design expert on Cityline.  She's also an avid traveler, who shares her love of travel and design expertise with us.  Here's her take on stunning 'Fifth Walls' and how you can take that travel inspiration into your own home.

Ceilings can create the overall feeling of a space as much as, if not more than, many other decorative details.  Truly inspired design includes ceilings as a 'Fifth Wall'.  Too often, it's more like a 'Forgotten Fifth Wall'.  So many ceilings end up with default crown moulding – not very inspired!    Here are some of the most inspired ‘fifth walls’ I’ve encountered on my travels, and how you can take these uplifting design tips from magnificent places you can visit… into your own home.

Fallingwater, Pennsylvania

Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural masterpiece Fallingwater was once a private home, but is now a destination preserved for future generations of design lovers to visit.  It is an entire lesson in the use of ceilings to set the atmosphere of a room. 

 

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Cathedral ceilings create a sense of grandeur and openness, perfect for great rooms or other large spaces, but used in a smaller space where you might want a cozier appeal it will feel like you are sitting in an elevator shaft. Frank Lloyd Wright famously used ceiling heights to create moods.  It’s not always about lofty ceilings. In many cases, lowering the ceiling to offer a space to rest was a design device he used to make people in the space feel safe and secure.

Frank Llyod Wright’s Fallingwater- Living room, looking south.  Photo: Robert P. Ruschak, courtesy of Western Pennsylvania Conservancy

As someone who has always been inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright’s design it struck me how different it felt to be at Fallingwater, rather than to just see it in print.  Even large open rooms had a sense of intimacy and the entire space worked as a cohesive unit as you moved from one space to the next.  I adopted many of these techniques in my own home.  Opening the ceiling in the living room and adding wood clad collar ties, with subtle lighting above created drama and interest and then in the neighbouring dining area, I specifically lowered the ceiling over the wrap around banquette to create an intimate area for lounging and conversation. 

King Edward Hotel, Toronto

There’s been a great revival of the coffered and tray ceiling. We often associate these details with a more traditional aesthetic (which is where these ceilings have their roots) but modern choices, such as linear, less “fussy” details and painted versus natural wood, work in most transitional homes. 

This ceiling (top photo and below)  in the historic King Edward Hotel, in Toronto, is majestic and elegant, and even feels current. By painting it white it has a more reflective quality that bounces light from the both the magnificent, traditional chandeliers and the very modern uplights creating an airy and ethereal feeling. 

It's a great example of achieving the best design by creating tension between elements.  Imagine you’ve bought a lovely century house with beautiful coffered ceilings and while you want to honor the history of the home, your personal taste is more modern.  How do you marry these things successfully?  In broad strokes, my trick is to keep (or even add) more authentic primary components of the house, such as: restoring the original baseboards, doors, ceiling details, architectural features… any part of the house itself.  Then the way you fill the house, such as: lighting details; furniture; cabinetry; plumbing fixtures can be more modern. 

Of course playing with this formula also allows some creative license that can create some very dramatic spaces like the King Eddie ballroom.  Aside from dramatic effect, functionally speaking coffered or tray ceilings can offer some practical purposes to like providing a clever way to hide structural beams, ductwork or plumbing.  These also serve to delineate zones in open concept spaces.  

Hawksworth Restaurant and Bar, Rosewood Hotel Georgia, Vancouver

The ceiling at Hawksworth cocktail bar feels like a sculptural piece that might have well been inspired by 'starchitect' Frank Gehry.  Its organic flow has a feminine appeal that plays well against the very structured masculine clad walls and dark wood floor.  But what makes this ceiling really sing, is the use of lighting to accentuate its sensuous folds.

The Pearl Room at the Hawksworth, which is adjacent to the cocktail bar, employs an entirely different ceiling technique.  The linear lines created by the applied moulding acts to frame the enormous contemporary crystal chandelier.  The color palette in both rooms is the same – rich chocolate brown and cream, so the flow between the rooms works, but the experience is each is unique in large part due to the ceiling design.  

We are experiential beings interacting with our built environment.  Inspiration is all around us. When you travel around the world or around the block, look around – and up! – for inspired design.

(A version of this article was published previously;  Cruise and Travel Lifestyles Magazine).

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Hanami Tips: View Cherry Blossoms Like the Japanese

Springtime cherry blossom viewing has become one of the best-known Japanese festivals around the world.

BestTrip.TV's Producer and Host Lynn Elmhirst shares her experience of 'Hanami', and some tips if you are lucky enough to travel to Japan during those magical few weeks every spring.

I'm a tree hugger.  I love nature, woods walks, gardens and flower shows, making fresh bouquets for my home… I've even studied Japanese flower arranging (ikebana). So imagine how excited I was to be in Japan during the season when their famous cherry blossoms are in bloom.  And to be invited to join a 'Hanami' party. (Top image credit).

'Hana' means flower in Japanese, and in this context, means almost exclusively cherry blossoms (sakura), although it can also mean other flowering fruit trees, especially plum (ume). 'Mi' is from the verb to see or view.

So Hanami is just a simple Japanese word 'Flower blossom viewing', but it has become one of the most revered Japanese traditions.

Hanami as a custom is believed to go back over a thousand years, even as far back as the 700's, during a time of tremendous cultural growth in Japan.

At that time, the practice was more closely related to agricultural and divining purposes, to announce the rice-planting season and predict the harvest.  Naturally, offerings were made to the spirits in the fruit trees.  This eventually evolved into including sake drinking in the offering.

Well you know where it went from there.  Parties.

Image Credit

Once an Emperor in the Heian period started holding flower-viewing parties with sake and feasting beneath the blossoming trees, he set the scene for centuries to come.  Poetry was written about the lacy, delicate flowers, seen as a symbol of the short-lived beauty of life itself.  Masses of plantings in full bloom appear from a distance like fluffy pale pink clouds, inspiring generations of artists. Paintings, wood block prints, and tapestries celebrated the barely-pink blossoms and their increasing meaning to Japanese society.  Where royalty and artists set a trend, the rest of society follows.  Soon, even common people were planting cherry trees and taking picnic meals and drinking sake under the boughs of blossoming cherry trees.

Fast-forward to today, and that custom remains.  I had some vague notion in my head that we'd stroll in awe under bowers of blossoms in the castle grounds, perhaps ending the uplifting Nature experience with some tea.

Instead, one member of our group went out at 6 am that morning with plastic picnic sheeting to lay out and stake a claim to a prime picnic spot under a particularly beautiful tree with a broader view over the park. By the time we joined him late afternoon, other parties had clearly been going on for hours.  And the sake, beer, and shochu (sometimes called 'Japanese vodka') had been flowing. 

The blossoms were breathtaking, but they didn't seem to be the star of the show.  Cherry blossoms were just the set. It was all about the party.  Barbecues, drinks, portable karaoke machines created a raucous scene – in an admittedly pretty magical atmosphere.  In many places, hanami viewing starts after work – is even a work /colleague event – and continues late into the night. Some parks hang paper lanterns to light the trees. 

Night Hanami. Image credit

The contrast between the charm of the blossoms and trees and twinkling lights and the noisy parties below is shocking to a first timer like me.   I found myself trying to block out the noise to find a sense of the wonder and spirituality of the earliest Hanami participants.

And for all the seeming irreverence, the Japanese take viewing very seriously.  People past the age of enjoying raucous parties still do hanami, often more in temples, where they follow prayer rituals.  TV news and papers forecast the 'cherry blossom front', following the season from the warmer south to the cooler north, only a couple of weeks in each place, and only a few days of truly prime viewing.   In the big cities of Osaka and Tokyo and the ancient capital Kyoto, cherry blossom season normally takes place at the end of March and early April.

A blossom forecast with the predicted dates of blossoms. The numbers are for dates (3.22 is March 22). Note the "cherry blossom front" moves from South to North. Image credit.

If you are traveling to Japan on pleasure or business any time near cherry blossom season, find a way to participate in a party.  If you do 'hanami', there are some etiquette rules to follow:

Tips for Hanami in Japan:

  • Be respectful of the mass of blossom admirers and the cherry trees themselves; don't shake branches, step on roots, or pick blossoms.
  • Many blossom parties and venues can be rowdy, but not always. If most admirers are in prayer or quiet contemplation, a loud foreigner can wreck that experience for them AND the reputation of foreigners in Japan. Don't be that guy.
  • Although parties with sake, beer, shochu (sometimes called 'Japanese vodka') are part of the modern ritual, be warned that not all parks permit alcohol; hopefully, you're going with Japanese friends, a guide, or colleagues, and they'll know if you can toast the blossoms with spirits.
  • Similarly, not all parks permit barbecues, so your packed Hanami picnic may have to be cold and pre-prepared.
  • Some parks don't have garbage collection capacity for the huge flow of Hanami traffic; be prepared to dispose of your garbage in your own bags.

The Japanese National Tourism Organization publishes a list of the best places to view cherry blossoms. You can find it here:  http://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/location/interests/cherry.html

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Warm Up Indoors with 12 Days of Christmas Cocktails in Canada

InterContinental Hotels in Canada are warming up a cold Canadian winter with 12 festive cocktails through the month of December.

You can celebrate or commiserate over the winter weather while enjoying flavors of the holidays in style at all three InterContinental hotels in Canada: Toronto Centre, Toronto Yorkville and Montreal.

Barchefs at the hotels have created a dozen cocktails marrying seasonal herbs and spices such as cinnamon, rosemary and thyme with the delightful yuletide tastes of cranberries, lemons and apples, pairing them with specially selected rums, gins, liqueurs, vodkas and other spirits. So whether you travel to Toronto or Montreal for business, family, or a winter holiday escape this month, there's a seasonal cocktail in town calling your name.

In the spirit of the season, the barchefs have even given us the recipes, so you can warm up your guests at home in style! Here are three of our favorites.

Cheers!


 

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Great News if You Collect Air Mileage. One of the Longest Flights in the World is Back.

Singapore Airlines has resumed flights to San Francisco, one of the longest non-stop flights in aviation.

The new service serves San Francisco twice daily. These flights are the longest in the Singapore Airlines network and among the longest in duration in the world.

Depending on winds, direction, and time of year, your flying time between northern California and the south-east Asian city-state will be between 14 1/2 and nearly 18 hours. That rivals other longest-of-the-long-haul flights by other airlines: the same San Francisco to Singapore route on United Airlines that also just launched, as well as other carriers' flights from Toronto to Hong Kong, Dallas to Dubai, and New York to Johannesburg.

In a double milestone, the plane to make this trip also happens to be Singapore Airlines' sixth Airbus A350-900 – the 10,000th Airbus delivered to the company since 1979.

Singapore Airlines ceremoniously took delivery of the plane this fall from Airbus and flew it from Toulouse, France, to the West Coast for the San Francisco-Singapore service. The same aircraft is being used for Amsterdam, Dusseldorf, and Johannesburg long haul flights.

You'll be happy to hear it has an extra-wide body, and other features that make the flight easier, like higher ceilings, larger windows, and lighting to reduce jetlag, along with technological advances and superior operating efficiency that benefit all 253 souls flying in the plane's three classes, with 42 in Business Class, 24 in Premium Economy Class and 187 in Economy Class.

Do you think that's just too long to be on a plane?

Well, for many people, that's 'just' a work day and a full night's sleep. See? Productive.

But no fun. How about this? Over the course of your flight you couldn't even get through a marathon viewing of the box set of Harry Potter movies! So, not so long after all, right?

Flights this long are broken up by a lot of food service, too. Singapore Airlines has a 'Book the Cook' service that lets some passengers plan and select your meals before your flight, so you can choose carb-heavy courses for when you think you'll be wanting to sleep, and lighter courses when you want to get some work done.

If you're still finding it hard to picture yourself on a flight this long, there are even longer ones coming down the pipeline.

In 2018, Singapore Airlines will take delivery of the first of a variation on this Airbus, the A350-900ULR, which stands for 'Ultra Long Range'. The airline is planning on using this upcoming aircraft for the world's longest non-stop flights: between Singapore and New York - tacking at least a couple more hours onto the current flights from San Francisco.

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