Text Size
Make Text Bigger Make Text Smaller

  Westworld       AMA
 
analyze this

by Shauna Rudd

April 2014
Lane Change

This spring, new bicycle lanes will be sprouting up across the province as municipal cycling plans come to fruition. The City of Edmonton plans to install 23 kilometres of bike lanes this year, while Calgary’s first bicycle track is scheduled to open in July. Red Deer recently won a 2013 Sustainable Communities Award from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities for its two-year bike-lane pilot project, and even Lethbridge and Grande Prairie have plans to create a network of commuter bike lanes.

Some 70 per cent of participants in a recent AMA member opinion survey voiced support for this new infrastructure, due to one overriding factor: bike lanes make roads safer. That’s as long as cyclists and drivers use them correctly, cautions Don Szarko of AMA Advocacy and Community Services: “We’re asking motorists and cyclists to adhere to a new set of protocols. Education is absolutely paramount.”

Here are a few of the bike-lane types you’ll encounter in Alberta, along with some tips on how to interact with them, whether you’re horsepowered or muscle-powered.


Bicycle Track
This type of bike lane is physically separated from moving and parked vehicles by a concrete barrier. Come July, the only two-way cycle track in Alberta will run along 7th Street in downtown Calgary - but it’s the first of several being planned.
Tip: Bike tracks involve little interaction with motorized traffic, so cyclists should simply observe the usual protocols (see p. 65 for some cycling safety tips) and be alert at intersections.




Dedicated Bicycle Lane
The most common type of bike lane, these are marked with a solid white line and a bicycle symbol. They’re usually found on city streets with high traffic volumes.
Turning with bike lanes in the mix can be tricky for cyclists and drivers. When cyclists want to turn left, they have to cross traffic to wait with turning motor vehicles. Before doing so, cyclists should check for traffic behind them, then hand-signal, shoulder-check again and position the bicycle to just right of the centre line. If you’re not comfortable with this manoeuvre, says Christopher Chan, instructor with Can-Bike, a national cycling safety program, just stay in the bike lane until you reach the intersection, then dismount and walk, don’t ride, your bike across as a pedestrian.
For drivers, right turns can be nerve-racking because one has to cross the bike lane. Drivers should check their side mirrors and blind spots carefully for cyclists before moving to the right, remembering that straight-flowing traffic always has the right of way.




Buffered Bike Lane
These offer a step up in safety from the single painted line, thanks to a buffered zone - delineated by wide, diagonal lines - that creates extra space between cyclists and motor-vehicle traffic. Edmonton has proposed buffered bike lanes along parts of 106th Street, 132nd Avenue and 40th Avenue, and Red Deer converted a few traffic lanes to buffered bike lanes last year. 
Tip: Buffered lanes are used the same way as dedicated bike lanes. Just remember: cyclists using them can still be clocked by a car door.
“Getting ‘doored’ can be lethal for a cyclist,” says Chan. If you’ve parked a vehicle along a bike lane (or any road), open your driver’s side door with your right hand to force yourself to shoulder-check for oncoming cyclists.




Shared-use Lane
These lanes are shared by motor vehicles and cyclists - they sometimes sport a stenciled bicycle symbol topped with a pair of arrows. Of course, all roads can be considered shared-use.
“As a cyclist, you have as much of a legal right to be in any lane of traffic as if you are a car,” says Szarko. Shared-use lanes are the least desired type of bike lane, according to the AMA member cycling-opinion survey, because they provide the least amount of separation from traffic.
Tip: When in a shared-use lane, motorists should regard cyclists as they would any other vehicle and give them their space—at least one metre on all sides. Cyclists have a responsibility to follow the rules of the road, use proper hand signals and behave as predictably as possible.




Bike Box
You may have noticed a sizable green square with a white bike symbol painted onto the intersections of 116 Street and 87 Avenue in Edmonton and 10 Street and 5 Avenue in Calgary. The boxes, part of a pilot project to make intersections safer for cyclists (with more to come in both cities), designate a space for cyclists to pull in front of vehicles and safely make turns.
Tip: If the light is green, cyclists and drivers should turn normally. If the light is amber or red, drivers should come to a stop at the white line behind the box, and cyclists should hand-signal and position themselves in front of vehicles. (No right turns are allowed on red lights where there are bike boxes.) When the light turns green, cyclists make their turns first - then drivers can proceed.

Europe

By: Janet Gyenes

February 2014
Getting Around Europe

Wing Your Way
Despite fuel surcharges and airport taxes, no-frills flying is still an efficient and affordable choice for time- and cash-strapped travellers. But do your homework: budget-priced carriers such as easyJet (UK), Transavia (France), RyanAir (Ireland) and Airberlin (Germany) often fly between lesser-known hubs. Case in point: on flights to Barcelona, RyanAir flies to Girona airport, 75 km from the city. Plus, budget airlines levy fees on everything: checked baggage, extra carry-ons, food, assigned seating, boarding passes printed at the check-in desk, credit card usage and possibly more.

Ride the Rails
Train travel allows you to save euros and skip airport hassles, and can be almost as quick as flying in some cases. Planning to travel frequently or to multiple countries? Consider a rail pass that allows unlimited travel within a set period of time: Eurail covers 28 countries in various regional combinations; BritRail covers most of the U.K. Alternatively, you can book train travel on a one-off basis. Just remember: early booking, for example through AMA Travel, often nets discounts.

Cruise by Coach
Bus travel can save you a bundle, with few limits on what cities or countries you can visit. Coach passes can cost 30 to 50 per cent less than a comparable rail pass. Add to that plenty of options such as long-haul routes (Eurolines), point-to-point trips (Megabus) and flexible or pre-set loops (Busabout), plus generous luggage allowances, Wi-Fi, A/C and toilets. Bring snacks and reading material and arrive early to snag a good seat.

Hit the Road
Renting a car is the answer to avoiding tour groups and getting off the beaten path. Picking up a rental in one city and returning it to another within the same country usually doesn’t cost extra, but a premium-location fee may be charged, depending on where you pick it up (airports, usually around $10 a day; train or hotel, $3 a day). Inter-country (one-way rentals) will put a larger dent in your wallet. The one-way fee for renting a car in Amsterdam and dropping it off in Zagreb, for instance, is about $200.

Europe

By: Staff Writer

February 2014
What Type of Traveller Are You?

Beach Bum
Where there’s sun and sand, there’s you: the French Riviera, Greece, Portugal’s Algarve region. You’ll rent a cabana and stake a spot on the beach for days or weeks at a time.

Urban Sophisticate
You’re on a beeline to Europe’s culture capitals: Paris, London, Rome, Berlin. You’ll take in an opera, buy next season’s stilettos on the trendiest shopping streets and scene it up in local cafes - all while dressed to the nines.

Gourmand
You want to devour it all. You’ll seek out the best eats in cities like Paris, Madrid and Vienna, but also travel to spots like San Sebastian, on Spain’s north coast, or Tuscany, Italy, to take cooking classes.

Authenticity Seeker
You immerse yourself in other cultures. You’ll settle down for an embedded stay in, say, Reykjavik, Iceland, or head for other areas that are off the main tourist track: for example, Ireland’s north coast instead of Dublin.

Super-Saver
You’re doing it on a shoestring. You’ll seek out destinations that have a reputation for affordable - preferably sub-$100-a-day - living, like Lisbon, Portugal. You might even book overnight transport to skimp on accommodation costs.

History Buff
You go to places with big stories to tell. And in Europe, that’s pretty much everywhere. You can trace the path of two World Wars; stand on the soil of Napoleon’s birthplace; gaze at Roman ruins - you’re spoiled for choice.

Outdoor Adventurer
You steer clear of bustling boulevards in favour of natural and rural wonders. And you’re into active sightseeing, whether it’s cycling among lavender fields in Provence or skiing in Austria’s mountainous Tirol region.

Arts and Architecture Aficionado
You’ll visit the landmark galleries - the Louvre, the Tates, the Van Gogh - and well-known architectural landmarks like Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona - but also places with edgier art cultures, like Antwerp, Belgium, and Glasgow, Scotland.

No-Fuss-No-Musser
You want to tick Europe’s big sights off your bucket list, but you’d like someone else to do the heavy lifting. So it’s travel agents and package tours all the way. You’re on vacation, after all.

Still not sure where you fit in?
Download our iPad edition and take the fun, interactive quiz!

Europe

By: Janet Gyenes

February 2014
The Un-Hotel

Castles: Scores of castles throughout Europe, especially in the U.K., Germany and France, have been transformed into stately hotels and manor houses. Mod-cons and period furnishings are the norm, although rooms may be small. Since most castles crown hilltops, they have commanding views, but tend to be far from city centres. Burg Wernberg, which occupies a 12th-century castle in Germany’s Bavarian Forest, even has a moat and drawbridge.

Caves: Located primarily in southern Spain and Greece, cave accommodations are carved right into an area’s natural stone. The cool, often-whitewashed rooms offer creature comforts at reasonable prices. At Aspa Villas Santorini in Greece, for example, suites carved into a pumice-stone slope capitalize on views of the brilliant blue sea.

Farms: Many European countries have caught on to the farm stay, a hands-on way for overnight guests to experience rural life. For the price of a stay in a hostel or B&B, you can feed fallow deer in Denmark. Or, head for an Italian agriturismo, such as Terre Bianche Holiday Farm, near Padua in the north, which offers farmhouse rooms set among grapevines and centuries-old olive trees.

Guest Houses: It’s easy to get overwhelmed in grand old cities, so staying in a family-owned B&B, guest house or pension, as they’re often known in Continental Europe, adds a welcome personal touch, and may save you some euros. The front-desk clerk might be the owner, who’ll happily show you to your room, suggest sights and teach you a few phrases of the local language.

Monasteries: Seeking solitude? In France, Italy and Spain, among other countries, working convents and monasteries welcome overnight guests - religious or not - at heavenly rates. Expect fuss-free rooms, typically with twin beds, and be prepared to obey house rules such as curfews. There is a guest house at Paris’s famed Basilique du Sacre-Coeur; however, most religious retreats are located in rural areas.

Europe

By: Staff Writer

February 2014
Three Tastes of Tuscany

Italy’s Tuscany region offers plenty to tempt a flavour-craving gourmand: olives and Sangiovese grapes ripening on sunbathed vines, rich cheeses lining the shelves of corner-shop delis and tiny trattorias serving up antipasto, bruschetta and wild-boar stew. Fly into Florence and head straight for the green-carpeted countryside to get your manos on the local delicacies, right at the source.

1. Live the culinary dream in the Val D’Orcia
Settle in at a restored 18th-century farmhouse on an estate near the medieval city of Siena, for six days of cooking classes, farm tours, wine tastings, market shopping and relaxing in the rolling countryside. At Ecco la Cucina cooking school, students learn to prepare such regional mainstays as panzanella (bread and tomato salad), cantucci (braised meat), risotto, roasted meats, traditional Tuscan ribollita (vegetable soup), stuffed crepes and fruit crostata.

2. Sip, Stay and Dine at a Chianti Winery
Castello di Fonterutoli, just south of Castellina in Chianti, has been producing Chianti wines for 600 years. Go beyond the basic cellar visit by staying overnight in one of several country homes on the 117-hectare vineyard. The houses are just steps away from the Enoteca di Fonterutoli, where tastings are held (quaff the deep-and-spicy Chianti Classico), and the winery’s Osteria di Fonterutoli Restaurant, which prepares mouthwatering dishes paired with the house vino. Try the pici (thick noodles) with breadcrumbs and crunchy pork cheek, or the spicy guinea fowl, a special recipe of the Mazzei family, who own the winery.

3. Savour the Pecorino in Pienza
The Renaissance-era town of Pienza, between Montepulciano and Montalcino, is the destination for the salty sheep’s milk cheese, pecorino. Start by visiting a dairy farm, such as Podere Il Casale, an organic operation on the outskirts of town, for a tour. Then head to one of the many cheese shops lining downtown Pienza’s cobblestoned streets, such as Remo Monaci, which pairs a huge variety of pecorinos with local honeys for tasting. The cheese darkens and hardens as it ages and comes fresco (fresh), semistagionato (semi-aged) or stagionato (aged).

Hands-On Harvest
Italy is known for its agriturismi, or agricultural stays. The countryside is dotted with farms where visitors can overnight and help with the work. If you want to participate in harvesting local produce, time your visit:

Mushrooms: June through September

Fresh Fruit and Berries: July and August

Grapes and Saffron: October

Olives and Chestnuts: November

Side Trip: Basque-ing in Culinary Spain
Learn to cook and eat like a Basque native with a daylong culinary immersion in the city of San Sebastian, on Spain’s north coast. The Basque region has a rich culinary heritage featuring grilled fish and meats, and distinctive dishes such as pintxos - small bites on bread - and marmitako, or tuna pot.

Europe

by: Westworld

February 2014
The Real Iceland


With a population of just 300,000, Iceland still feels unspoiled - perfect for an authentic-experience seeker. Fly into Reykjavík and settle in for an embedded stay.

Learn some Icelandic. Most locals speak English, but they’ll appreciate you learning basics such as hallö (hello) and takk (thank you). The Reykjavík Intercultural Center, on Laugavegur Street, offers one-hour courses, as well as in-depth lessons

Get artsy. Reykjavík has a vibrant arts culture. Iceland Airwaves, Nov. 5-9, 2014, features Icelandic musical talent, but also international acts such as The Shins and The Rapture. The Reykjavík Arts Festival, May 22-June 5, 2014, showcases hundreds of visual and performance artists in museums, libraries and streets across the city.

Go elf spotting. Many Icelanders believe in huldufölk, even building tiny houses for them in gardens and fields. In the town of Hafnarfjördur, a 10-minute drive south of Reykjavík, a clairvoyant gives tours of local elf and fairy colonies.

Visit a Lutheran Church. Iceland is known for them. Reykjavík’s Hallgrímskirkja, a 75-metre-tall stone building, looks a bit like a rocket ship but is actually a modernist take on basalt lava flows. Ride up to the observation deck for views of brightly coloured rooftops, and the ocean beyond.

Chow down like a local. If you dare, try hákarl, fermented shark meat (celeb chef Anthony Bourdain dubbed it the worst thing he’s ever eaten); and Brennivín, a.k.a. “black death,” a caraway-flavoured schnapps served cold in a shot glass - Iceland’s national tipple. When you’re ready for something less palate-pushing, downtown grill house Grillmarkaurinn will set your taste buds sizzling with farm-to-table fare like lamb T-bone with beet salad.

Spend your króna. (Icelandic crowns). Buy a chill-defying parka from Icelandic outfitter 66℃North, named for the latitudinal line that touches the country’s northern tip. Then head to Kolaporti flea market, which runs weekends in a warehouse near Reykjavík’s harbour. The tables are stocked with everything from fresh licorice to vintage clothing and antiques.

Attend a réttir. Farmers ride out on horseback each September to bring home sheep and horses that have spent the summer grazing in the surrounding highlands. Head out to the countryside and watch the herding over cake and coffee; pet and photograph the animals.

[Side Trip]
Dining with Danes
The most authentic way to learn about a people? Sit across a table from them. The Dine with the Danes program gives visitors to Denmark a chance to eat supper with a local family in their home.

Europe

by: Westworld

February 2014
Europe Cruising & Coach Touring


Want it all done for you? Cruising and coach touring are two of the best ways for no-fuss travellers to hit multiple European destinations with minimum exertion - and maximum enjoyment.

Coach Tour Advantages

  • You’ll reach inland areas that are less accessible to cruisers.
  • Meals and accommodation are diverse, and change with each destination.
  • A tour guide rides along, sharing insider experiences while ensuring a hassle-free trip.

A Bucket-List Coach Tour: Insight Vacations Country Roads of Bavaria, Switzerland and Austria
This 13-day tour departs from Munich, Germany, and includes mostly two-night stops - with a mix of rail and river-cruise side trips. You’ll wind your way through the Alps and visit some of Europe’s most stunning cities: Salzburg, Vienna, Innsbruck, Lucerne. Highlights include a visit to Germany’s Neuschwanstein, a fairy-tale clifftop castle, a Danube River cruise through Austria’s village-lined, castle-dotted Wachau Valley, a private tour of Vienna’s rococo Schönbrunn Palace, where Mozart performed as a child, and an ascent into the Swiss Alps, aboard the Glacier Express, for heart-stopping views of sparkling lakes and glaciers. To book, phone1-866-667-4777 and visit AMA Travel


Cruising Advantages

  • Your transport and accommodation are sorted out in one easy package.
  • Travel periods are relaxing. You can swim, dine or take in a show as your floating chariot moves you to your next destination.
  • You can take a day - or days - off.  Don’t feel like schlepping along cobblestoned streets? Spend a morning at the onboard spa and join the tour later.
  • You only unpack once.

A Great Europe Cruise: Holland America’s European Jewels
This 11-day cruise departs from Dover, England, with a stop in Portland for a glimpse of Stonehenge, before heading south, to Spain. In northern Spain, you’ll visit A Coruna, site of the Christian pilgrimage destination Santiago de Compostela. From there, it’s on to Leixoes (Oporto), Portugal, with its baroque architecture and plentiful Port wine, and then Portugal’s capital, Lisbon, home of World Heritage Sites Belém Tower and Jer&#243nimos Monastery. You’ll also visit Cadiz (Seville), Spain, the sherry capital of the world, Gibralter, Malaga and Cartagena. Wrap up in the Spanish capital of Barcelona, site of Antoni Gaudi’s architectural masterpieces and more than four kilometres of beaches. To book, phone 1-866-989-6594 and visit AMA Travel

feature

by: Meghan Jessiman

February 2014
Don’t Mind the (Age) Gap

“We will get into this,” says Kathleen over her shoulder as we burst through the doors of the ridiculously chic downtown flat, near Buckingham Palace, that we’re calling home for the week. “But first we need our dressing gowns!”

It has become a late-night ritual during our weeklong London adventure: fluffy terry cloth robes, a bottle of wine and fits of laughter as we recount the events of the day - often after a visit to one of the city’s stout-soaked pubs. The 30-year age difference between my friend Kathleen, a 50-something professional engineer, and me, a 20-something writer, has proved surprisingly, and pleasantly, irrelevant when exploring the Queen’s city. We’re an odd pairing on paper, though. When Kathleen and I first met at a gym in Calgary’s Mission neighbourhood, neither of us guessed that we’d become friends, never mind international travel companions. But four years and as many countries later, it seems our relationship is the real deal. I benefit from the wisdom that comes with her age, while she reaps the rewards of my hipster-generation knack for the up-and-coming. As it turns out, girls really do just want to have fun - at any age.

Culture Crawl
Taking in a proper London theatre show tops our to-do list. With a few clicks of the mouse, we score tickets, at around £30 each, to a performance of Wicked at the Apollo Victoria in the West End. At first, I’m a little skeptical about this musical extension of The Wizard of Oz, but I take the word of my worldly travel companion, who has seen it before. And she’s right: the experience - amid the circa 1930 theatre’s art-deco-style columns and scalloped flowers - is, well, pretty wicked. (Also thanks to her: I’ll never again fail to pre-order my intermission champagne.)

Next up: Secret Cinema. Launched in 2007 by filmmaker Fabien Riggall, these thrice-annual events are part live theatre, part dining, part movie screening and 100 per cent entertaining (secretcinema.org). Armed with only an “employee number” and a “no-nonsense” dress code obtained on a website, Kathleen and I arrive in the early evening at a generic, 13-floor office building in the London suburb of West Croydon (it’s an adventure). We quickly realize that we’re about to be part of a live-action revival of the 1985 Terry Gilliam film, Brazil - a satirical look at bureaucracy in the industrial world.  From the get-go, we’re berated by a bowler-hat-wearing “boss man” for queuing incorrectly. Inside “G.O.O.D. corporate headquarters,” we interact with performers and other guests in faux offices and other recreated scenes from the movie. The event culminates with Brazil’s final scene being projected on the outside of a building across the street, while actors bring it to life by rapelling down the building’s exterior dressed as a S.W.A.T. team. As we exit the building, we both agree that we’ve never experienced - or even heard of - anything else like this, anywhere.


Hitting the Pavement
Though it’s not everyone’s cup of tea - especially in a country known for real tea parties, complete with crustless sandwiches and bone china - Kathleen and I like to break a sweat from time to time. Plus, we know we need to do something to counteract all of the fish and chips and bangers and mash we’ve been eating - or risk returning home mushier than English peas. Enter City Jogging Tours, the active tourist’s answer to London sightseeing. Our guide, the extremely fit and Lady Guinevere-esque Denise Sofia picks us up, so to speak, and we proceed to trot a solid eight kilometres back and forth over six of London’s bridges on the Riverside jogging tour. We hit all the highlights: Downing Street, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, the London Eye. As we jog across Blackfriars Bridge, Sofia regales us with the tale of Italian banker Roberto Calvi, who was found hung from the bridge’s arches in 1982, with $14,000 in various currencies stuffed in his trousers. Grisly, but the pause gives us time to catch our breath. At our final destination, Tower Hill, just northwest of the Tower of London, Kathleen says she’s happy that my “energetic youngster self” pushed her into seeing the city in a new and active way, but now she’s more than ready for a refreshing pint of Guinness. Me too.

To Market, to Market
The differences between the way a 20-something and a 50-something shop don’t always lie in style - Kathleen and I own a few of the same pieces of clothing, in fact - but rather in the socio-economic factors that dictate where I, the 20-something freelancer, can afford to make purchases. Sure, it’s fun to pop into designer boutiques and ogle the craftsmanship of clothes that I can’t afford - like the striking Balmain skirt suit we spot through a window while wandering down posh Bond Street. But after a while, I start itching to spend my limited funds. This is when we discover the splendour that is London’s market scene.

For both antiques and affordable, on-trend items, Notting Hill’s lively Portobello Market can’t be beat. Within 10 minutes of wandering, I’ve picked up a handcrafted silver ring, a polka-dot pocket square for my dad and the perfect newsboy cap for myself. Kathleen is enamoured with the locally spun wool products and cashmere “jumpers.”

Camden Market, on the northwest side of the city, offers even more eclectic fare, such as hand-tooled leather goods, artisan bath products, upcycled vintage fashions and a hearty assortment of raver gear. While I enjoy the eclectic crowd, it’s a tad edgy for my shopping buddy.

Borough Market, a bustling food fair in Southwark, central London, captures both of our hearts, or, more accurately, our stomachs, with everything from traditional roast dinners and sangria to Croatian delicacies. Pungent-smelling Neal’s Yard Dairy, on the market’s west side, off Park Street, sells more than 50 kinds of cheese. “It’s amazing really, the endless possibilities of gone-off milk,” jokes one of the mongers. After a few luscious bites of the Cashel Blue, we couldn’t agree more.

Following Our Bliss
We cap off our girlfriends’ trip with the girliest of indulgences: a spa day. Chuan Spa, in the palatial, circa 1865 Langham London hotel, just north of shopping mecca Oxford St., is a cross between a Chinese medicine centre and a traditional Western spa. Reclining on chaise lounges, we sip green tea and nibble on fresh berries as we fill out questionnaires to determine which “elemental oil” will be used during our hour-long Harmony massages. Whether it’s the incense or the muscle-melting properties of those herb-infused warm oils, after the rubdown, Kathleen and I feel as if we’ve been healed of ailments we didn’t know we had. And while I’m not usually one to linger after a spa treatment, Chuan’s health club is too good to pass up. We spend the next two hours alternating between a Himalayan rock-salt sauna, a lavender-bordered plunge pool and a 16-metre swimming pool with icicle-like crystal chandeliers dangling overhead. Extravagant? Absolutely. But blissed-out bonding experiences, like perfect travel companions, are few and far between. 

Europe

Staff Writer

January 2014
The World War Tour

There are two World War anniversaries on the horizon: the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War, in August 2014, and the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy, France, on June 6, 2014. So it’s a great year for war-history buffs to head for Europe and visit some of the 20th century’s most poignant places.

England
Make your landing in London, a city that endured bombings in two World Wars - by German zeppelins in the First and Luftwaffe in the Second. Signs marking bomb shelters still appear on brick walls around the city.

Keeping calm and carrying on: London is home to three of Britain’s 20th-century Imperial War Museums (IWMs). The Churchill War Rooms are located inside the original bunker, below Whitehall, where gritty prime minister Winston Churchill directed the “blood, toil, tears and sweat” of Allied troops during the Second World War. Head over to Morgan’s Lane and HMS Belfast, a 614-foot-long cruiser from the Second World War - today a floating war experience. Chow down on the mess deck, lie down in the sick bay or even simulate a firefight in the gun turret. IWM London, on Lambeth Street, displays hundreds of weapons, war vehicles and aircraft - such as a 1938 Spitfire fighter plane.

Head south to the D-Day Museum, in Southsea, to learn the story of Operation Overlord, the Allied Invasion of France in the Second World War. The centrepiece is the Overlord Embroidery, an 83-metre-long textile tribute to the defeat of Nazi Germany.

France
Skip the Chunnel and hop a ferry across the choppy English Channel to Caen, France, to experience the journey the way traversing troops would have. Just north of Caen, at Courseulles-sur-Mer, you’ll find the famed D-Day beaches of Omaha, Arromanches, Gold and Sword - as well as Juno, where the Canadian forces landed on June 6, 1944. There are dozens of museums in the area, but prioritize Juno Beach Centre, a Canadian museum presenting films and exhibits on Canada’s war efforts, and tours of windswept Juno Beach Park.

Northern France is dotted with First World War battle sites and memorials. Two of the most moving are the 1916 Somme Battlefields, near Thiepval, where a gruesome four-month trench battle played out, and Vimy Ridge, farther north, which marks the spot where the Canadian Corps stormed and defeated enemy troops between April 9 and 12, 1917. Today, it’s considered Canadian soil, and Canuck students give tours of the 30-metre-tall monument that’s inscribed with the names of 11,285 lost Canadian soldiers, as well as the preserved battlefield, which is still marked with shell holes, craters and trenches (some restored to wartime realism), machine-gun emplacements, listening posts and more.

Belgium
Make time for a stop in the Flemish city of Ypres, site of some of the First World War’s bloodiest battles. Today it’s a charming, canalled community whose streets are lined with medieval architecture, as well as First World War-themed attractions.

In Flanders Fields Museum, located in the turret-topped, circa 1304 Ypres Cloth Hall (rebuilt after its First World War destruction), aims to expose the consequences of war through interactive terminals, audio clips and more.

A white-gloved team of fire-brigade buglers perform a reverberating Last Post Ceremony daily at 8 p.m. under Menin Gate, an arched war memorial on the east side of town.
Just north of Ypres, at Essex Farm Cemetery, Canadian Lt. Col. John McCrea wrote his world-famous poem, In Flanders Fields. Stop by and pay your respects to the 1,204 soldiers commemorated there.

The Netherlands
Just across the border lies Arnhem, where in September 1944, British, Canadian and Polish paratroopers fought, in vain, to secure several bridges on the Rhine River as part of Operation Market Garden (dramatized in the 1977 film A Bridge Too Far.) The National Liberation Museum 1944-1945, in the Dutch countryside, offers bicycle and bus tours of the battlefield grounds.

Head northwest, around 100 km, to Amsterdam, a city the Nazis occupied between 1940 and 1945. The Dutch Resistance Museum, in the downtown Plantage District, explores the central dilemma facing the population of the time: adapt, collaborate or resist.

Next, head to the Anne Frank Museum, in the Amsterdam home where the young Jewish diarist and her family lived in hiding. The secret annex that concealed them is on display, along with family photos, letters and other artifacts.

Side Trip: WWII from the Other Side
Munich, Germany, was the birthplace of the Nazi party. Take a Third Reich Walking Tour of the city to see once-infamous spots such as the Hofbrauhaus beer hall, where Hitler delivered the party’s first manifesto, and Konigsplatz square, the spot where the regime held many of its early rallies.

Around Alberta

by: Robin Schroffel

January 2014
Home-Made to Order


We’ve all bought something from a mail-order catalogue, but what about an entire house? Turns out it was a common practice for rural Albertans back in the 1910s and 1920s, when retailers such as the T. Eaton Company and Canadian Aladdin Company published catalogues of homes. You’d simply choose the style you wanted, and a kit would arrive at the nearest railway station, blueprints, lumber, paint, nails and all. For a peek at five surviving catalogue homes, spend a few hours on a self-guided driving tour near Medicine Hat. Two of them - Prairie Bells B&B and the 1918 house at the Oyen Crossroads Museum - are open to the public.

Worst Driving Habits

by: Annalise Klingbeil

January 2014
Hey Speed Racer

Forest Ohneck holds a heavily creased slip of pink paper in his hands. It’s a speeding ticket from five years ago. He keeps it in an old ski-goggle box in his bedroom, along with coins, keys and memorabilia. Sitting in the living room of the southwest Edmonton home that he shares with his cousins, the 27-year-old slowly unfolds the paper and, extending a tattoo-covered forearm, lays it on the coffee table. “I’ve been meaning to get it laminated and I’ve actually been thinking about getting it framed,” he says.

Ohneck is a volunteer speaker and race-car driver for the Youth Initiatives & Education in Lifestyles & Driving Association (YIELD), a not-for-profit group of RCMP and civilians dedicated to road-safety education. He speaks about the dangers of speeding and street racing at high schools, car shows and community events around Alberta and spends his summers at Alberta tracks - often Castrol Raceway in Edmonton - driving a tricked-out 2000 Chevy Camaro owned by YIELD.

But he’s proud of what that ticket represents.

He got it on a Thursday night back in November 2008. Ohneck, then 22, and a buddy had been driving from Spruce Grove to Stony Plain for a weekly game of pool with friends - Ohneck in his Honda Civic sedan and his friend in a Chevy pickup. They’d pulled up, side by side, at the last set of lights in Spruce Grove, on Parkland Highway, and decided to do something Ohneck had never done before.

“Just like out of the movies, we looked over at each other and we decided on green we were going to go,” he says.

And go they did, ripping along five kilometres of two-lane rural highway. At one point, Ohneck remembers looking at his speedometer - it read 165 km/h. The limit was 80 km/h. They didn’t stop until the next set of lights, in Stony Plain. When they were revving up to race again, Ohneck suddenly saw red and blue lights flashing in his rear-view mirror. It was a police cruiser. He froze. A voice - the provincial traffic sheriff - boomed out over a megaphone, ordering them to pull over.

After that, he had to go to court. The potential penalties were stiff: he could have had his vehicle impounded, his licence suspended or a fine of more than $2,600. In the end, he got lucky: he was sentenced to 250 hours of community service working for YIELD. It was the first time such an agreement had been made with Alberta Justice, says RCMP Const. Gord Buck, who runs YIELD.

So Ohneck began taking time off from his job as a sheet metal worker to travel around the province. Through his story, and photos of a friend who was injured in a high-speed collision, he tried to convince the kids to make better decisions than he had. And they listened.

“At schools, he’s able to break down barriers because he’s not some old crusty policeman,” says Buck. “Having Forest along, it’s almost peer to peer. They listen to him because he’s got tattoos, he’s a young fellow and he speaks very well.”

Ohneck says he came to enjoy the positive influence he had on the kids. But the work changed him, too. He started to follow speed limits and think before acting - something he says he wasn’t doing on that November evening in 2008 when he got his ticket.

“I wasn’t thinking of the ‘what ifs’ down the road, I was thinking of the here and now,” Ohneck says. “I firmly believe that I might have ended up in the ditch or [hit] a power pole; the possibilities are endless. I definitely hold firm to the belief that the YIELD Association saved my life.” And the lives of anyone he might have crashed into.

It took Ohneck two years to complete his 250 community service hours. At the end, he asked if he could stay on as a volunteer with YIELD, and Buck gladly said yes.

After many more hours with the organization, Ohneck earned a spot behind the wheel of the association’s Camaro. He attended more than 63 events with YIELD during the 2013 racing season alone - many of them street-legal races, in which drivers can race street vehicles safely, under the watchful eye of RCMP and emergency officials. He says he’ll continue volunteering as long as he’s able.

He marvels at how a bad decision and a ticket changed his life for the better:  “What started off as a nasty pink piece of paper has actually started a whole whirlwind of good in my life.”

Polynesia

By Lucas Aykroyd

January 2014
Exploring Tahiti’s Bounty

It’s April 28, 1789, and mutiny is brewing on HMS Bounty in the South Pacific. Commanded by tyrannical captain William Bligh, the ship is transporting breadfruit plants obtained in Tahiti as cheap food for West Indies slaves. But first mate Fletcher Christian and 18 other sailors are sick of Bligh’s insults and floggings. Memories of the warm Tahitian weather, tropical food and beautiful women they’ve left behind are too much to resist. Christian leads an armed revolt, forcing Bligh and his loyalists off the 28-metre, 215-ton armed merchant ship and into a small open boat. The mutineers sail back to Tahiti and whoop it up. Some later decamp to remote Pitcairn Island to escape justice, but wind up fighting one another. Meanwhile, Bligh and his men survive a gruelling 47-day voyage to Timor, some 6,700 kilometres away in the Dutch East Indies.

It remains the most famous mutiny in naval history. I grew up reading the 1930s-penned Mutiny on the Bounty novel trilogy by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall. I wrote and recorded a radio play based on the books in high school. I thrilled to the 20th century’s multiple movie versions. Hollywood’s quintessential bad boys have played Fletcher Christian, including Errol Flynn (1933), Clark Gable (1935), Marlon Brando (1962) and Mel Gibson (1984). Next year (2014) marks the 250th anniversary of Christian’s birth, which has inspired me to travel to Tahiti and compare my experiences to those of the mutineers. As Brando stated in his 1994 autobiography: “The happiest moments of my life have been in Tahiti.” How could I resist?

The eight-hour Air Tahiti Nui flight from Los Angeles to Tahiti is certainly more comfortable than the Bounty’s 10-month slog from England. Instead of seasickness and salt pork, I get striking stewardesses with aquamarine eyeshadow that matches the decor, minimal turbulence and tasty meals graced by white tiare flowers. Even before landing, I can see why the word “jealous” invariably popped up when I told someone I was going to Tahiti, the largest of French Polynesia’s Windward Islands. Papeete, the capital city, greets me with a pink sunset and humid 29 C weather. The laid-back port city, mingling French colonial architecture with cheerful, ramshackle modern buildings, is home to 26,000 of the 274,000 inhabitants of French Polynesia, which covers more than 4,000 square kilometres. (Nineteenth-century French Catholic missionaries were clearly more influential than 18th-century British sailors: Tahiti’s been a French colony since 1880.)

My room at the Manava Suite Resort features seashell-adorned walls and a king-size bed beneath a ceiling fan. After breakfasting on a chocolate croissant with coffee, I stroll down Avenue du Generale de Gaulle to admire the Bounty wall mosaic by Italian artist P. Volpatti. Measuring eight metres by four metres, it portrays sailors and natives exchanging greetings and gifts in vivid hues. The tension between Bligh - stiff and Napoleonic - and Christian - brooding and powerful - is palpable. Farther down the street is the 1875-consecrated Notre Dame de L’Immaculee Conception, a yellow Catholic cathedral that’s partly made of coral. Inside the front door is a wooden statue of the Madonna and Child, with Jesus gripping a breadfruit - historically implausible but culturally sensitive, and something that might have resonated with the Bounty’s breadfruit-gathering crew. Tahiti grows more than 200 varieties of this starchy plant.

During their idyllic five-month stay, the sailors feasted on roast hogs, plantains and coconut milk. Similar delicacies abound at Papeete’s nearby two-floor Municipal Market. I inhale every savoury scent while passing tables full of mangoes and bananas, bakers hawking coconut bread and pineapple pie, and women in pink tank tops selling glistening slices of tuna. Upstairs, I browse through mother-of-pearl necklaces, handcrafted ukuleles and carved tiki idols, sacred human forms common to many Polynesian cultures. These stone statues reputedly have mana (intangible power), and families still keep them for protection.

For lunch, I drive to Chez Nous, a small restaurant with a pandanus-thatched roof. Not only do I get poisson cru - a hefty platter of white tuna cooked with lime juice and coconut milk and served with fresh vegetables - but I also taste my my first bottle of Hinano, Tahiti’s signature beer, with its lovely red-clad island maiden on the label. That primes me for a visit to James Norman Hall Museum, 15 minutes away in Arue. Visiting this replica of the Iowa-born Mutiny on the Bounty co-author’s Tahiti home fulfills a childhood dream. As requested, I remove my shoes before entering the green-painted house, which is surrounded by tropical foliage. A scale model of the Bounty greets me. A warm, middle-aged Tahitian woman named Hina gives me a personal tour of the place, including Hall’s First World War veteran memorabilia, portraits of the captains who presided over the 1792 court martial for the captured mutineers, and Hall’s study, with his original desk and Royal typewriter, plus bookcases brimming with translations of his 20-plus books. In the gift shop, adorned with a huge Brando movie poster, I buy a $15 biography of Hall and Nordhoff. Hina kisses me on both cheeks before I leave. To wrap up my day, I drive to the Fa’auruma’i Waterfalls. Vaimahutu, the highest, cascades majestically down a greenery-strewn basalt cliff. Then, heading to the seaside, about a kilometre north, I marvel at the Arahoho blowhole. Its ocean spray, produced by compressed air, is so powerful that it once blasted a hole in the now-closed road that runs overhead.

At nearby Point Venus, a Bounty memorial erected in 2005 marks the ship’s 1788 arrival here, in Matavai Bay. (Captain James Cook, with whom Bligh sailed on Cook’s final voyage, observed the transit of the planet Venus from this lighthouse-graced peninsula in 1769.) A bronze plaque lists the Bounty crew’s names. Ironwood trees and coconut palms rustle in the wind as the sun sets, and young families wade in the warm water. A flotilla of outrigger canoes passes outside the distant reef.

Tahiti’s ability to feed both body and soul is becoming evident. My cross-cultural dinner on the pier of the upscale Blue Banana restaurant later in the evening - escargots in garlic butter and shrimp in coconut curry sauce - is succeeded the next day by an unusual breakfast at the free, inaugural “Festival du Uru,” or Breadfruit Festival, at Papeete’s Maison de la Culture. I quickly tuck into hearty, nutty-tasting bread made with breadfruit flour at the Bounty-themed stall of Swiss-born Beni Huber. Huber is spearheading plans for an annual Bounty festival and a touring replica of the ship. Even more delectable is popo uru, sun-dried breadfruit soaked in sugar, lemon juice and vanilla. An old woman tells me, “We need to preserve these traditional recipes before they’re lost. This is what mothers gave their children before we had candy.” Intense drumming by heavily tattooed Marquesan Islanders (hailing from a Polynesian island cluster north of Tahiti) reinforces the sense of history and pride.

A bumpy midday drive brings me to Marae Arahurahu, a restored Polynesian temple constructed from black volcanic rocks between the 15th and 18th centuries. Although nestled in a lush valley that’s alive with birdsong, its sacred courtyard, decorated with unu (wooden sculptures), is less than comfortable for worshipers due to the rough rock surface - not to mention the pigs still sacrificed here. After a lunch of delectably flaky parrot fish in lemon butter sauce at the waterfront Captain Bligh Restaurant and Bar, I decide to view something that Bounty boatswain’s mate James Morrison described in 1788: “At this diversion both (blank) are excellent and some are so expert as to stand on their board till the Surf breaks.” Morrison was referring, of course, to surfing. At Taharuu Beach, more than 40 local young men are braving big waves on surfboards and boogie boards, laughing and whooping in the sunshine. It’s a scene of pure escapism. No wonder the mutineers shunned cold, conventional England.

By now, I’ve soaked up so much history that I’m ready for some escapism of my own, on the neighbouring, paradisiacal island of Moorea. I bid farewell to Papeete with one more scintillating dinner - grilled swordfish with green beans at L’Estanco, one of the popular roulottes (food trucks) in harbourside Place Vai’ete. The next morning, I sail 17 km northwest on the Aremiti 5 ferry to Moorea. After settling into the luxurious InterContinental Moorea Resort, I soon figure out why the 1962 and 1984 versions of Mutiny on the Bounty were mostly filmed on Moorea. It’s nearly unspoiled, as the lush, green vista from the 240-metre-high Belvedere viewpoint, facing sacred Rotui Mountain, reveals.

I spend the next four days here. If I’m not snorkelling with stingrays and black-tip reef sharks (reaching out to touch the velvet-skinned former but not the toothy latter), I’m guzzling pineapple liqueur like a hard-partying mutineer at the Jus de Fruits de Moorea distillery. Later, I participate in a traditional javelin-throwing contest at a local school, then devour roast pork and gawk at dramatic fire-dancing at the Tiki Village - where, coincidentally, Dustin Hoffman and his wife renewed their vows in 1994. Yes, things have changed since the Bounty’s day.

Relishing the ocean spray as I zoom around Opunohu Bay on a jet ski in glorious sunshine, I reflect that this would have been an effective getaway vehicle for the mutineers. Of the original 19, 10, including Christian, would die in the South Seas by or before 1800. Just one survived till 1829, on Pitcairn Island. The others were captured: three drowned in a shipwreck en route to England, three were hanged and two were pardoned. Yet the Bounty’s legacy lives on in Tahiti, and it’s well worth exploring.

Around Alberta

by: Shauna Rudd

January 2014
Vintage Flavour at Tavern 1903

For a taste of chic that’s anything but shabby, look to Edmonton’s Alberta Hotel and its stylish watering hole, Tavern 1903, which opened last fall. When the circa-1903 hotel was dismantled in 1984 to make way for Canada Place, its valuable pieces - such as the conical cupola on its roof, its cornice and sandstone from the facade - were stored in warehouses across the city. That is, until architect Gene Dub came along and spearheaded the hotel’s reconstruction at 96 Street and Jasper Avenue, just 15 metres west of its original location. The bar’s decor blends the salvaged artifacts with expert reproductions. “We only had part of the original ceiling, so we hired a specialist to recreate it in plaster. It’s a perfect replica,” says Dub. Likewise, nine out of 10 lighting sconces are faux, but we’ll bet you a Remy Sidecar that you can’t spot the real deal. With the owners of Hardware Grill at the helm, the menu is suitably legendary. Try the “Mozzarella Bar,” which offers mozzarella cheeses paired with tasty complements such as bacon jam, fig-onion jam and fennel marmalade.

Around Alberta

by: Shauna Rudd

January 2014
Iron Horse Trailblazers

When you join the hikers, cyclers, snowmobilers, ATVers and, yes, horses on northeastern Alberta’s Iron Horse Trail, you’re travelling on 300 km of living history. Trodden by Red River carts in the mid-1800s and used by CN trains from the ‘20s to the ‘90s, the trail has three legs that connect 17 communities from its centre at Abilene Junction ("Mile Zero"). One runs southwest to Waskatenau, one northeast to Cold Lake and one southeast to Heinsburg. “Because the trail is on the old railway bed, it goes through boreal forest, parkland and natural wetlands virtually untouched since the 1920s,” says Marianne Price, administrative coordinator. The trail leads to campsites, fishing, golf courses - even a UFO landing pad and exhibit, with photos of what appear to be UFOs and crop circles, in the town of St. Paul. Plus, Iron Horse is Canada’s longest geocache “power trail,” with more than 1,400 caches. Until recently, trail-goers could catch wheelwright Roy Scott hand-building Red River carts in his yard, which backed onto the trail. He’s now retired, but one of his carts is on display at Metis Crossing, near Smoky Lake.

Around Alberta

by: Robin Schroffel

January 2014
The Cars of the Fabulous Fifties

In the 1950s, gleaming chrome and space-age tail fins symbolized a new way of North American life: individuality, freedom and prosperity. The Reynolds-Alberta Museum in Wetaskiwin celebrates mid-century car culture with its Fabulous Fifties exhibition, featuring 25 vehicles - including a 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air Nomad restored onsite by the museum’s shop. The exhibits also include a “drive-in” theatre that screens vintage film trailers and car commercials; ‘50s toys such as Mr. Potato Head, the Slinky Dog and Barbie; and a hula hoop station. For head of marketing and communications Cynthia Blackmore, the drive-in sparks happy memories of cruising down to double-feature nights in her pajamas with her family: “It was a part of my growing up,” she says. 

Worst Driving Habits

by: Westworld

January 2014
Alberta’s Worst Driving Habits

Bad Habit #1: Speeding
Most drivers admit to speeding at least occasionally: seven in 10, according to Transport Canada. It may seem like it isn’t such a big deal - dropping a little lead onto the pedal to clear an intersection, or “just” exceeding the limit by 15 km/h to pass another vehicle on the highway. But speeding is still a major factor in collisions on Alberta roads.

Speeding Gives You Less Time to React
The faster you’re driving, the longer it takes to stop (see the graphic on the right). Speeding also gives you less time to react to and avoid hazards, such as a vehicle ahead of you losing control on black ice or a mule deer bounding across the centreline.

Speed Makes Collisions Worse
The faster you’re going, the greater the force of a collision, and the less effectively safety features such as seat belts and airbags perform. Why? If you go from a high velocity to a standstill - say, from 100 km/h to wrapped around a tree - in just seconds, all of that kinetic energy has to go somewhere. Speed turns a broken leg into a shattered body. Or worse.

Bad Habit #2: Tailgating
It’s no secret that aggressive driving is a problem on Alberta roads. Media stories about road rage seem to crop up almost monthly in the media. In a landmark case last summer, for instance, the RCMP seized the vehicle of an Edmonton driver who had allegedly been in nine road-rage incidents within a few years - the first time such an extreme enforcement measure was ever taken.

Tailgating is a common precursor to other aggressive road behaviours. It’s also the driver error that contributes to the most crashes in Alberta: 28.3 per cent of all 2012 collisions in the province involved drivers “following too closely.”

Tips for Dealing with Tailgaters

  • Stay calm and focus on your own driving.
  • Communicate your intentions clearly by signalling early.
  • Hold steady at the speed limit, and don’t give in to pressure to speed or drive unsafely.
  • Politely ignore rude or aggressive gestures from the other driver. Switch your rear-view mirror into the nighttime position if someone is flashing high beams from behind.
  • Note the other driver’s licence plate number, if he or she is driving dangerously, and report it to the police. Don’t confront the individual yourself. 
  • Don’t be a part of the problem. If you’re driving more slowly than other traffic on a four-lane road, move to the right lane and allow faster traffic to pass. Or pull over, if you can do so safely, so that the aggressive driver can pass. Getting into an adversarial situation isn’t worth it.

Don’t Be a Tailgater

  • Leave yourself enough time to get where you’re going.
  • Maintain a safe following distance. In normal, dry conditions, that’s two to three seconds; in poor weather, it will be more - always drive according to conditions.
  • Remember: riding someone’s bumper won’t get you there faster. But it will create frustration on the road and increase your chances of a collision. And if that happens, you’ll be really late.

Bad Habit #3: Impaired Driving
Despite the risks, and what seems like universal condemnation, Albertans are still drinking and driving.

Bad Habit #4: Distracted Driving
Just think of all the ways you can be distracted behind the wheel today: cellphones, GPS devices, tablets, e-readers, laptops, onboard computers, built-in DVD players. And that’s in addition to old “classics” like fast food, hot coffee, makeup and bickering kids in the back seat.
Since Alberta’s distracted-driving law went into effect in September 2011, there have been around 2,000 convictions per month - mostly for cellphone use behind the wheel, but also for other prohibited activities, such as reading, writing and grooming. And that’s despite some creative enforcement and high-profile awareness campaigns by local authorities (Crotches Kill, anyone?)

The Risks of Distracted Driving

  • You’re 4-6 times more likely to be involved in a crash if you’re driving distracted.
  • 20-30% of all collisions are due to some form of driver distraction. In Alberta, that’s approximately 100 deaths and 5,000 injuries - nearly 40,000 collisions each year.
    Avoid the Temptation
  • Review your directions (or pre-program the GPS), and adjust your seat, stereo and temperature prior to driving.
  • Pull over to eat or drink.
  • Store reading materials, makeup and electronic gadgets in your trunk, or well out of reach.
  • Keep the inside of your vehicle neat and free of loose objects. If something falls on the floor, leave it there.
  • Prepare children with everything they need before you get on the road.
  • Secure pets properly prior to driving.
  • Put your cellphone in airplane mode so that calls go to voicemail.
  • If you must make a phone call, pull over in a safe spot to do so.

Bad Habit #5: Misjudging Personal Ability
Everyone thinks they can drive. Heck, according to one AMA survey, most people think they’re pretty good drivers - yet believe the majority of others are not. Obviously we all have some blind spots when it comes to our own skills. Trouble is, the abilities we need to drive safely, like eyesight, hearing, physical strength and cognitive ability, can deteriorate as a result of injury or illness, or due to aging. We all need to take stock of our abilities regularly, and drive - or not - accordingly.

  • Eyesight: Our eyes gather 90 per cent of the information we process behind the wheel. But at middle age, vision starts to deteriorate - often so gradually that we don’t notice: The amount of light we require to drive safely doubles every 13 years; Eyes’ focus speed slows down; Sensitivity to glare increases; Colours lose their brightness and become harder to see; Peripheral vision narrows.
  • Hearing: As we age, the sound-detecting hair cells in our inner ears begin to die, and they don’t grow back. Hearing loss affects a driver’s ability to react to warning sounds outside and inside the vehicle.
  • Strength and Flexibility: It takes arm and leg strength to accelerate, shift gears, brake and steer; grip strength to make sudden turns; and flexibility to do a proper shoulder-check - all of which can be compromised by injury or aging.
  • Cognitive Ability: We use our brains for everything from braking to making left turns. But as our brains age, our ability to process information and make decisions slows down.

Worst Driving Habits

by: Westworld

January 2014
Want to Lose Your Licence? Just Add Demerits

Every time you’re convicted of a traffic-safety infraction, you ‘earn’ demerit points

8-14:  You receive a notice from the government notifying you of your demerit count. If you’re a new driver, your licence is automatically suspended at eight demerits.

15:  Your licence is suspended for one month. Add a second demerit suspension in the same year and you can say goodbye to driving for three months. A third, and you lose your licence for six months, and you may have to appear before the Alberta Transportation Safety Board.

Ouch:  Once a demerit-point suspension has been served, your licence is reinstated with seven points. These “leftover” points remain on your record for a full two years.

1 in 3 Alberta drivers involved in fatality collisions were driving at unsafe speeds.

1 in 10 Alberta drivers involved in injury-causing collisions were driving at unsafe speeds.

Source: Alberta Transportation Traffic Collision Statistics, 2012

Worst Driving Habits

by: Annalise Klingbeil

January 2014
Taking the Wheel

Rain was pounding the windshield on the September day when Dominica Witt took her driving test. It made her nervous: she wasn’t used to driving in wet weather. Plus, just a week earlier, she had failed her road test because of a few minor errors.

So when the examiner looked up from his clipboard and told her she’d passed, 23-year-old Witt breathed a deep sigh of relief. Then she called her fiance, James, to tell him the news. And her mom. “I was so proud of myself,” she says. “It was a huge step.” She went for sushi to celebrate with James, her best friend and her two sons, Valontine, 3, and Cyrus, 1.

Witt lost her younger brother in a crash with an impaired driver nine years ago. She and her family had been driving home after a day of shopping. She and eight-year-old Lukas were in the back seat of the family’s Honda Civic, holding hands and reciting lines from a pizza commercial, when a one-tonne flat-deck truck crossed the centre line on Hwy. 1A, just west of Chestermere, and hit them, propelling the Honda into oncoming traffic, where it was T-boned by a taxi. Witt, her 25-year-old sister and their mother were seriously injured. Lukas died almost instantly.

“He was holding my hand. When we got hit, he squeezed it,” she says. “He said ‘mom’ and he let go. That was the last thing he ever said.”

The 65-year-old man behind the wheel of the truck was more than five times over the legal blood-alcohol limit.

Witt was rushed to the Children’s Hospital, where she stayed for three weeks. The joint connecting her hip bone to her tailbone was torn; her bladder punctured, her liver lacerated, her right lung deflated and her left collarbone broken. She spent two months in a wheelchair.

In the subsequent years, she was, understandably, frightened of car travel. She managed to get her learner’s at 17, but only drove a couple of times, and only on rural highways. “When it came to city driving, or driving around other vehicles, I was really, really uncomfortable. I was paranoid,” recalls Witt, sitting in her northeast Calgary home, dressed in black and sporting pink hair, facial piercings and a tattoo of what was once her brother’s favourite Lego man on her upper arm.

Witt’s parents made her take a driver-education course at age 18, but she used every excuse to put off taking her driver’s test. At 19, she moved out. She made an effort to live close to public transit and postponed for several more years. But last fall, her learner’s was about to expire. So she decided it was finally time and signed up for an AMA Driver Education course.

It wasn’t easy at first. She would tense up around traffic and big trucks. Flashing lights from emergency vehicles stirred up memories of the collision.

“My priority was to make her confident because she was so nervous behind the wheel,” says AMA driving instructor Sukhijnder Singh, adding that he would purposely distract her from thoughts of the crash by asking her about her sons and fiance. With plenty of practice and coaching, she came around. And, on that rainy day in September, she finally passed her road test.

“Having my licence is awesome,” she says. Now she drives her sons to school every day - and herself to local high schools, where she speaks on behalf of MADD.

In the five years Witt has been volunteering, she has spoken to thousands of students. She says she tries not to be preachy - just talks about her brother and the challenges she still faces nine years after the collision, like nerve and muscle damage in her right leg.

Her message obviously hits home. Once, she says, she gave a presentation to a group of juvenile offenders in Calgary. After hearing her speak, a 16-year-old who had been caught drinking and driving came up and tearfully told her he would never do it again. Two years later, she ran into him at a mall. He hugged her and introduced her to his girlfriend with the words: “This is the person who saved my life.”

“Drinking and driving is an incredibly self-centred thing to do,” says Witt. “There are a bunch of other options.” Like taking a taxi or a bus. Or asking a friend for a ride - anything rather than risk depriving the world of someone like Lukas, a perennially happy kid who loved to bike and play with Lego. Family, friends, communities, schools, workplaces, emergency workers and other drivers all feel the ripples when someone chooses to drink and drive. Adds Witt: “It’s never just the people in the vehicle who are affected by impaired driving.”

Moving

by: Westworld

January 2014
Smoother Moving


Let’s be honest: nobody looks forward to packing everything he or she owns into boxes. Start early to ensure it goes smoothly, packing up lesser-used items (like books and pictures) until you’re closer to the move date. As you go, number each box and keep a written inventory of the items that go into it. Clearly note, on all four sides, which room it should be delivered to.

For fragile items, fill any hollow spots (the inside of a teacup, for instance) with a wad of packing paper. Then wrap it in several layers of bubble wrap. Label the box you place it in “fragile,” and make sure any gaps between items are filled in with packing paper.

Try to fill every box to capacity, but don’t overload with heavy items (you’ll need to pick them up at some point). Mixing in some blankets, towels and other soft stuff can offer extra cushion for the rest of the contents. You can save some money on boxes by using your own luggage to pack up clothes and toiletries.

Of course, you can also leave all of this to the movers - many offer packing services in addition to transport. In that case, you’ll just need to comb through the house before they arrive, putting any valued items into boxes you’ve labelled “do not move.” That includes things like jewellery, medication, photo albums, personal documents and delicate electronics, all of which you’re better off transporting yourself to prevent loss or damage.

Also remember to set aside one box of items that you’ll need right away and will move yourself. That could include Band-Aids, toiletries, toothbrushes, floss, toilet paper, your shower curtain, your kettle and coffee pot, a hammer, a screwdriver, landline phones, a few plates, mugs and utensils, pet food, sheets and towels. And perhaps a bottle of wine, to toast your new digs.

Find a Trustworthy Mover

Another way to keep moving headaches to a minimum? Entrust your possessions to the right people. Before committing to any moving company, ask for a business address and drive by to take a look at the operation. Then it’s time for a closer inspection.

“You definitely want to go and look at their warehouse,” says Doug Jasper, general manager of moving company AMJ Campbell’s Calgary branch. “You want to make sure it’s clean, neat, organized, it’s got 24-hour security, a gated parking area for their trailer. You want to confirm the basics - a sprinkler system is in place, alarm system is in place, they do regular inspections for mice and things like that. . ..”

Ensuring that they’re affiliated with a major van line (like Atlas or Allied), and asking for references from clients, are prudent measures as well.

Whomever you end up choosing, ask for a binding quote, with a guaranteed date of delivery, upfront in writing. This will ensure that the price you agreed upon doesn’t mysteriously creep up over the course of the move. And don’t forget to ask about any hidden fees that could be tacked on for things like transporting appliances, long-haul journeys or stairs.

Finally, don’t be in a rush to hire. Interview two or three companies to make certain you’re getting the best deal. Be wary of any mover who only deals in cash and, as with any transaction, don’t be tempted by an offer that’s too good to be true.

Decluttering Before the Big Move
Leaving a home behind brings out the nostalgic side in all of us, but if you can resist that impulse and say goodbye to some lesser-used items, the process will be much easier (and cheaper).

“The first thing we like to tell people is make sure they purge,” offers Doug Jasper of AMJ Campbell. “Make sure you’re only moving the items that you need to move, because obviously it will have an effect on the price.” The best advice is to start early and small. Pick one room and, as honestly as you can, take stock of every single item within. Ask yourself, will I use this at my new home or will it just collect dust?

Some people find it helpful to approach the process with a firm decluttering goal in mind - dumping one of every four items in each room, for instance. An easy place to begin is with clothing and books - two items we tend to keep far beyond their usefulness. For long-distance hauls, consider donating all of your food (even the non-perishables) as well as your houseplants.

Once you’ve identified the dead weight, hold a garage sale; or, for a better deal on the more valuable stuff, consider selling on Craigslist and eBay. Finally, if you want to go the philanthropic route, non-profit groups such as the Alberta Association for Community Living accept donations of clothing and household items.

Keys to a Successful Garage Sale
1. Check local bylaws and consult your homeowner’s association, if you have one, for any rules governing garage sales.
2. Hold the sale on a Saturday early in the month; avoid long weekends.
3. Paper the neighbourhood with eye-catching flyers and post details on Facebook, Craigslist and any community association websites.
4. Make your sale area presentable, ensuring your goods are as clean as possible and organized by category.
5. Be sure to price every item - typically around 20 to 30 per cent of what you originally paid (less if it’s noticeably worn).
6. Be aware that items such as cribs, cosmetics and helmets must adhere to modern safety regulations and may not be legally possible to resell.
7. Offer or sell refreshments and play some tunes.
8. Be prepared to haggle. Garage-sale junkies love a bargain.




Around Alberta

by Shauna Rudd

November 2013
Best in Snow

How did small-town Didsbury, an hour south of Red Deer, become one of the top dogs on the dog-sled racing circuit? “It’s only because some fool like me decided to do this nonsense,” chuckles Bill Windsor, president of the Rosebud Run Sleddog Society. Windsor has dedicated his own 46 hectares of land, a former farm, to the sport. Mushers come from all over Western Canada to compete in the Rosebud Run Sleddog Classic, set for this December 7 and 8. “When I started this nine years ago, I knew nothing about it,” says Windsor, adding that he’d fantasized about dog teams made up of purebred Siberian huskies. But there actually aren’t many Siberians on the racing circuit. Most dogs are in the “open” class, which includes any breed that can run and pull. Spectators can watch the races, mingle with participants at the track or join the mushers for dinner ($15) the first evening.

Behind The Wheel

Shauna Rudd

November 2013
3 Winter Driving Challenges

1. Skidding On Ice
Prevent a skid by noting where ice is likely to form - intersections, low-lying and shaded areas, spots near bodies of water, bridge decks - and braking gently in advance. If that fails and you find yourself sliding, here’s what to do:

Brake smart. When you feel a loss of control over your vehicle, instinct tells you to hit the brakes hard, but this could lock up your wheels before the ABS mechanism can kick in. “The brake could be your best friend or worst enemy,” cautions Rick Lang of AMA Driver Education. The trick is to apply gentle but firm pressure to the brake pedal and steer smoothly.

Look toward a safe spot. In a moment of panic, the direction your eyes go is the direction your vehicle will go. “If you see a telephone pole and think, ‘I don’t want to hit it,’ yet you’re looking at it, that’s where you’re going,” says Lang. So be sure to fix your gaze on a safe area, such as a gap in traffic, and you will instinctively steer toward it.

2. Stuck in the Snow
Many drivers, on finding their vehicles buried in the white stuff, hop inside and put pedal to metal, only to spin the wheels and sink in deeper. Instead:

Dig before driving. Shovel snow from around your tires and “create a nice runway to get some momentum up,” says Lang.

Create traction. You can use anything gritty, but cat litter has advantages over sand - it’s lighter, it provides good traction and the bag is usually re-sealable. Spread it in front of all four tires.

Rock out. Rock your vehicle free by gently accelerating forward and in reverse to make a clear path. Avoid spinning your wheels and take pauses to let tires cool for better traction. “All a hot tire’s going to do is melt the snow to ice,” says Lang.

3. Driving in Low Visibility
Blowing snow, freezing rain, glare and fewer daylight hours can wreak havoc on visibility. Here’s how to cope:

Take it slow. “Drive at the appropriate speed for conditions. That might be at the speed limit, or that might be half the speed limit,” says Lang. And if you’re driving in darkness, “don’t overdrive your headlights.”

Pass on passing. “In low visibility, you can’t see if there is an obstruction in the other lane until you’re right on top of it,” says Lang. A worst-case scenario: trailing a snowplow. The white cloud they kick up is virtually impossible to see around. Most plows stop every five to eight kilometres to let people go by, but other vehicles won’t necessarily oblige. So decide: what’s more important, your safety, or getting to your destination a few minutes quicker?

Rethink your game plan. Before heading out, check AMA Road Reports, including the real-time traffic-camera footage. Ask yourself, “Do I really need to make this trip?” If conditions are poor, you probably have your answer.

Heading for the Hills

Shauna Rudd

November 2013
Bring this Look Home: Buffalo Mountain Lodge

Fireplace: The stone fireplace is the heart of this room. Pay attention to size, scale, tone and texture: here, large-scale natural river rock makes a bold statement. Proportion is key, though. If you want to size up your hearth’s presence, try a taller mantel, as was done here.

Mantel: Natural wood warms the space and makes it feel rustic. You’ll find that light-toned woods create a casual cottage feel, whereas darker woods lend an old-world look. This expansive wood mantel balances the oversize chandelier, and is ready-made for family photos and heirlooms if you don’t have a trophy head kicking around.

Trophy Head: The trophy head feels at home in any lodge-type look, but in this case, it also pays homage to the chandelier above, bringing a sense of unity to the space.

Wall Colour: Look to nature for colour inspiration for paint, as well as fabrics and leather finishes. Choose sage and grey-greens, warm merlots, and earthy browns.

Armchairs: Angling two armchairs near the fire creates a cozy, inviting enclave.

Table and Serving Tray: This vintage-looking cart is charming, but any small table or ottoman topped with a serving tray will do the trick. Apart from function, this table serves much-needed contrast - black (or rich brown) accents ground the light palette and give your eye a place to rest.

Floor: A great addition to a home fireside would be a generous area rug. An animal-hide, fluffy flokati (high-pile shag rug) or double-knit wool rug are all ideal choices.

Chandelier: The oversize chandelier draws your eye up while balancing the large mantel. Natural (in this case, found) antlers give the fixture a timeless quality. For a trendier, cabin-chic esprit, go for finishes in chrome, gold, black or white.

Design tips provided by C. Marie Hebson of Interiors by Design, Edmonton

Heading for the Hills

Tracy Hyatt

November 2013
Mountain Road Smarts


  • Watch for wildlife. Deer, moose and elk are common sights on mountain roads.
  • Check avalanche warnings before you depart, along with other road conditions. Pay attention to avalanche-warning signs and don’t stop in these areas.
  • Many mountain collisions are caused by icy roads. Black ice forms in shaded areas, near open bodies of water, on bridge decks and in areas where drivers frequently brake and accelerate, such as curves.
  • Avoid moving to the centre of the road when driving alongside a drop-off. Stay in the middle of your lane.

Heading for the Hills

Staff Writer

November 2013
Prep Your Vehicle for Winter: A Checklist

  • Pack a winter emergency kit
  • Inspect your tires for wear and check tire pressure (don’t forget the spare)
  • Take your vehicle to a qualified mechanic for a checkup
  • Replace worn-out wiper blades
  • Have lights, belts and hoses checked for cracks and other signs of wear
  • Have the antifreeze levels in your radiator checked, and switch to winter-grade windshield washer fluid
  • Have your block heater checked and your battery tested, especially if the battery is more than three years old
  • Change your oil and switch to synthetic
  • Visit ama.ab.ca/repairmaintain for more tips on inspecting and maintaining your vehicle
Heading for the Hills

Shauna Rudd

November 2013
Winter Driving Self-Help


AMA service vehicle operator Martin Selezinka: “As soon as the temperature drops, AMA gets more calls for boosts. Those vehicles would have started just fine if they’d been plugged in. When the temperature dips to -15 C, that’s the time to plug in.”

When it comes to winter driving, “Be Prepared” is the best motto. But as the high volume of AMA Roadside Assistance calls shows, Albertans aren’t always putting this into practice. Here are a few not-so-great judgement calls you could be tempted to make this winter, and how
to talk yourself out of them:

“I have all-season tires, and my car is running fine. I don’t need to rush in for a winter checkup.”

Don’t be so sure: Your vehicle feels the onset of winter well before the snow arrives. Dropping temperatures affect your battery, fluids and even the air pressure in your tires. Testing your battery for charge, switching to synthetic motor oil for engine efficiency and optimizing the air pressure in your tires for good handling and traction are just a few things that help ensure a safe winter ride. And it doesn’t hurt to switch to winter tires (especially
if you drive in rural areas) before the first snowfall, when temperatures drop below -7 C.

“This isn’t my first time driving in winter. I know where I’m going and I know the shortcuts, so I won’t need extra time.”

C’mon, you know better: Each time you go out, it’s a new journey, no matter your level of experience. “Your 20-minute drive to work could take 30 or 40 minutes, or more, in winter,” says Rick Lang of AMA Driver Education. You could encounter cautious new drivers, snowplows, stalled vehicles - all leading to delays. Prepare yourself mentally by anticipating delays and allowing extra time before you set out. And do yourself another favour: check current road conditions and plan your route in advance using AMA Road Reports.

“I drive an SUV, so I don’t need to worry about snow or ice on the highway. I can get through anything.”

Think again: Just because your vehicle is heftier than others, or has four-wheel drive, that doesn’t mean it can handle higher speeds on snow and ice. “I see a large number of SUVs and 4x4s in ditches after every snowstorm because drivers overestimate what their vehicles can do,” says Lang. When a driver feels his or her vehicle sliding, the tendency is to panic and hit the brakes. And because that big SUV is heavier than the average passenger vehicle, you’ll be skidding with more mass behind you, making it tougher to come to a safe stop. Regardless of your vehicle’s size, drive at a speed appropriate for conditions - which may be well under the speed limit if the roads are slick.

Heading for the Hills

Staff Writer

November 2013
Meet: Catriona Le May Doan

What have you been up to?
I just returned from the Canada Games in Sherbrooke - I was broadcasting for TSN there - and I’m also on various sport boards, such as the Canadian Sport Institute, the Winter Sport Institute and the Canada Games Council, which keeps me busy.

What do you and your family like to do in the mountains?
My kids love to ski. They’re nine and six. I am officially the worst skier in the family. They laugh because I’m such a chicken.

You live in Calgary - where do you ski?
Panorama and Sunshine, mostly. We have a place in Invermere, as many Calgarians do. We took the kids to Lake Louise this past winter and they just fell in love with it.

How else do you spend time in the Rockies?
We love Grizzly House in Banff - the fondue place. We like to stop at Banff Hot Springs, as well. And Radium Hot Springs, on our way to Invermere. We skate on the lake in Invermere, and around the lake a lot of little shinny games get going, so we play shinny, too.

What’s on your family’s mountain to-do list?
I really want to try snowshoeing. And I want to take the kids up to Canmore to try cross-country skiing. We also haven’t done the skate on Lake Louise. Now that I’m back on hockey skates - because I play ringette - we need to go do that. You know, I can’t wait for winter. As much as I enjoy summer, I’m a Prairie girl and I love the winter. A crisp, cold day to me is just the most beautiful thing in the world.

Heading for the Hills

Staff Writer

November 2013
Best Mountain Hotel Firesides


Buffalo Mountain Lodge

1. Buffalo Mountain Lodge, Banff, Alta.
Banff’s natural environment inspired the interior of 108-room Buffalo Mountain Lodge. The rustic lobby fireside has two big “wows”: an elk-antler chandelier, designed by a Montana artisan, and a bison head from the owners’ own game ranch. The stone-and-wood mantelpiece, vintage books and old-school snowshoes complete the cabin-cozy feel.
Bring this lodge look home with a few simple-to-follow decor tips!

2. Rimrock Hotel Banff, Alta.
This elegant CAA four-diamond property overlooks the town of Banff from a 1,580-metre-high perch on Sulphur Mountain. Its Larkspur Lounge fireside is downright posh: nailhead-trim chairs, a white marble mantel and dark wood panelling make for an upper-crust-study vibe.

3. Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, Alta.
Visitors never fail to mention the 1953-built stone fireplace that towers over the lodge’s great hall, drawing the eye up to a peaked glass skylight. Cushy armchairs, twig furniture and bar service from nearby Emerald Lounge invite extended lounging.

4. Adara Hotel, Whistler, B.C.
The lobby fireside at this hip boutique hotel centres around a four-metre-wide, hand-knotted rug depicting a cross-section of a log. Custom-designed round sofas add a pop of vermillion against the flagstone floors, wood panelling and granite fireplace.

5. Lizard Creek Lodge, Fernie, B.C.
A nine-metre-tall, 360-degree fireplace, built in 1999 from local river rock, radiates warmth to all corners of Lizard Creek’s Great Room. A chunky wood mantel mirrors the structure’s timber framing. Overstuffed leather chairs beckon after a slope-tastic day at Fernie Alpine Resort.

Heading for the Hills

Staff Writer

November 2013
16 Cool Mountain Adventures

1. Horse-Drawn Sleigh Ride, Banff, Alta.
The stuff of which carols are made. The sleigh departs from Warner Stables, southwest of downtown, gliding through white-blanketed meadows - with you tucked in snug under wool covers. 45 minutes; from $29.

2. Kananaskis Country Snowshoeing, Alta.
Rent snowshoes at a local outfitter (around $20 a day) and get in touch with your inner coureur de bois, trekking along the surface of the snow. Alberta Parks’ snowshoe-designated trails are perfect for beginners.

3. Ice Skating on Lake Louise, Alta.
Take a twirl on the glinting, frozen surface of Lake Louise - cleared of snow daily - as you gaze at towering Victoria Glacier and the Rockies. Then head for the heated shelter to warm up by a fire. Rent blades at Chateau Mountain Sports (around $6 - $15) or bring your own. Skating runs December to mid-April, depending on conditions.

4. Helicopter Tour, Canmore, Alta.
Sure, you’ve driven into the Rockies. Skied the slopes and maybe even hoofed a few trails.
But if you’ve never seen the vast stretch of jagged, white-capped peaks from above, you’re missing a bucket-list view. The chopper takes off from Canmore heliport near Stoney Nakoda Resort and Casino and offers 20-, 30-, 42- and 55-minute tours over Bow Valley, Mt. Lougheed, Mt. Sparrowhawk, Mt. Allen and Mt. Assiniboine. From $205.

5. Rockies Snowmobiling
For those who prefer adrenalin-spiking engine power to muscle power, there’s snowmobiling. The Highwood/Cataract area of the Kananaskis Valley, about 170 km south of Banff, is a prime spot, offering around 15 designated trails for snowmobilers. Don’t have the hardware? Local tour operators cater to all skill levels, conducting half- and full-day tours daily from Banff, Canmore and Golden, B.C., to the Paradise Basin, Kicking Horse Canyon and Columbia Valley. Prices vary.

6. Johnston Canyon Ice Walk, Banff, Alta.
Where Johnston Creek approaches the Bow River, rushing water has carved out a canyon over thousands of years. And winter turns the spot into a frosty, sparkling tableau. A guide will lead you along steel walkways built into the canyon wall, past blue-tinted, frozen-solid waterfalls - offering up tidbits about the history, wildlife and geology of the canyon as you go. Four hours; from $68.

7. Jasper in January Festival, Alta., January 17 to February 2, 2014
This winter’s shindig marks 25 years of icicle-melting fun. Whoop it up at the street party, showcase your stewin’ chops at the chili cook-off, flash-freeze your buns at the polar bear dip or go cold-weather warrior at the winter pentathlon. Plus there’s live music, wine tasting and snow sculpting and, of course, skiing and boarding at Marmot Basin. 

8. Belvedere Ice Room, Bearfoot Bistro, Whistler, B.C.
Take a seat at the carved ice bar in the world’s coldest - and coolest - vodka tasting room
(-32 C). Don a Canada Goose parka and taste a flight of four vodkas as your savvy barkeep dishes on the nuances of distillation and filtration. The menu boasts about 50 selections from Russia, Poland, France, Canada and elsewhere. Stick around to dine at the award-winning bistro.

9. Mt. Norquay Snow Tube Park, Banff, Alta.
Get your downhill fix bottom-first: slip-sliding down a groomed track on an inflatable tube.
From $22.

10. Dog Sledding, Spray Valley Provincial Park, Canmore, Alta.
Do your backcountry touring the extra-old-fashioned way, whizzing past the snowy forests, lakes and fields of Spray Valley behind a tongue-lolling, tail-wagging team of huskies. Try a two-hour, half-day or multi-day mushing. Prices vary. snowyowltours.com; howlingdogtours.com; maddogsexpeditions.com

11. Rossland Winter Carnival, B.C., January 24-26, 2014
This town-gripping celebration features a snowboarding jam, ski races, an ice-sculpting competition, a parade, fireworks, a pancake breakfast, snow volleyball and more. Plus: the famed Sonny Samuelson Bobsled Race, in which teams of four race homemade sleds down iced-over Spokane Street, reaching speeds of 85 km/h.

12. KurSpa Cold Sauna, Sparkling Hill Resort, Vernon, B.C.
Now this is chilling out. KurSpa at Sparkling Hill Resort - next to the Monashee and Pinnacle Mountains, overlooking Okanagan Lake - is one of North America’s top spots for cryotherapy. Spa-goers spend three minutes in a chamber chilled to a breath-sucking -110 C. Sounds perilous, but the short exposure, protective garments and low humidity mean the body’s surface temperature only drops to a bearable 5 C, giving the nervous and circulatory systems a boost. Check in with your doctor before you go. From $45. 

13. Sun Peaks Winter Okanagan Wine Festival, Kamloops, B.C., January 11-19, 2014
Wine tasting is a must-do for any Okanagan summer escape - but you’ll find it pairs pretty well with winter, too. This vino-centric sendup packs in 19 tastings, meals, seminars and parties. Among the 2014 roster additions are wine basics and blending seminars, a grilled-cheese-and-wine tasting and a “Snowshoes, S’Mores & Mulled Wine” moonlight snowshoe tour. The signature event remains the Sun Peaks Progressive Tasting, where hundreds of attendees stroll the alpine village from venue to venue, tasting selections from 24 B.C. wineries. From $149 per person.

14. Canmore Nordic Festival, Alta., November 29 to December 24
This multi-week event kicked off last year as a companion to the Alberta World Cup cross-country skiing championships, staging outdoor Christmas-movie showings, a display of kid-size gingerbread houses, a fun run and more. This year’s lineup is still in the hopper, but look for late-night shopping on Canmore’s quaint Main Street, community carolling, a family pond skate with Santa and a visit from the CPR holiday train - as well as two world-class ski events: the Para-Nordic World Cup December 9-17 at the Canmore Nordic Centre and the Ski Cross World Cup December 6-7 at Nakiska Mountain Resort.

15. Cat Trax Snow Groomer Ride, Sun Peaks, Kamloops, B.C.
Ride along as these “mountaintop Zambonis” smooth out the runs for the next day’s skiing. One passenger per groomer. 45 minutes; from $40.

16. First Tracks Breakfast, Sun Peaks, Kamloops, B.C.
Want dibs on pristine powder? A First Tracks ticket clinches exclusive access to Sun Peaks’ Crystal Chair runs until 9 a.m. and includes breakfast at Sunburst Mid-Mountain Restaurant from 9-10:30 a.m. Adults from $25; children from $20.

roadside

by: Robin Schroffel

November 2013
Our Lady of the Prairie

From the highway, a high mound of stone and earth rising up from flat prairie is at first a disconcerting sight. But get close enough to gaze up at the dove-white Virgin Mary statue, tranquil in her recess of wax-stained stone, and you’ll sense the serenity that blankets Skaro Shrine like a goose-down quilt.

A legacy of Lamont County’s early Polish homesteaders, the shrine at Skaro - 80 kilometres northeast of Edmonton - was hand-built by parishioners of adjacent Our Lady of Good Counsel Catholic church using some 600 cartloads of stones. They modelled it after the Grotto of Lourdes in France, a shrine built on the spot where the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to a peasant girl in 1858.
Skaro is one of a handful of turn-of-the century shrines across the province (there’s another at nearby Mundare and one farther west, in Lac Ste. Anne). It was completed in 1919, just in time for
the August 15 Feast of the Assumption, the Catholic celebration of Mary’s ascension into heaven. Thousands, from as far away as Calgary, flocked to the first event and the tradition has held strong for 95 years, with around 3,000 making the pilgrimage in 2013.

Lifelong church member Rose Twardowski visits the shrine often. “Even in the wintertime, we have people trekking through the snow to come and light candles at the grotto, praying,” she says. “It’s a sacred place to me - holy ground.”

column

by: Westworld

November 2013
Fill Our Fleet, Fill Their Hearts

Lending a helping hand to Albertans in our community is at the heart of what we do at AMA. This holds true even more during the holiday season, as the spirit of giving is in all of us. AMA is pleased to announce its second “Fill Our Fleet, Fill Their Hearts” campaign. We will be filling our flat-deck tow trucks with food and toy donations for local charities to help make the holiday season more heartwarming for Alberta families. From November 12 to December 6, AMA will be accepting new, unwrapped toys and non-perishable food items at all of its centres. Donations will be distributed to Alberta families through local charities in time for the holidays.

In addition, AMA will match the value of each gift membership sold from November 12 to December 6.* The money raised will be used to purchase food and toys to support our local charities.
Members are also invited to join AMA December 6 at several centres across the province for a fun-filled event to help Santa fill the AMA fleet and head off to his workshop. For more information, visit: ama.ab.ca.
*To a maximum of $75,000.

10 Easy Ways

by: Matt Currie

November 2013
10 Easy Ways to Improve Your Life in 2014

1 Get rid of stuff you’re not using
Easier said than done, we know. But a 2009 study conducted by Princeton neuro-scientists found that clutter inhibits your mind’s ability to focus and process information. Prime items for removal: clothing that hasn’t been worn in a year, outgrown toys, old textbooks, duplicate kitchen tools; broken items that cost more to repair than repurchase. And probably more. Donate usable items you don’t need; recycle or safely dispose of the rest.
While you’re busy clearing out those rooms, bring a spreadsheet along and make an inventory of your possessions.
“A home inventory is essential because when something like a break-in occurs, your insurance company will want an itemized list of your belongings,” says Karen McDougall, insurance sales manager at AMA. “Knowing what you have and how much it’s worth will also help you figure out how much coverage you need from the get-go.” Go room by room, jotting down every item therein, along with details such as price, brand, model number and cost of replacement. Don’t forget easy-to-overlook items, such as curtains, flooring and cabinets. Take along a camera or video camera to create a visual record as well. The Insurance Bureau of Canada recommends knowyourstuff.org, free online home inventory software with supporting phone apps.

2 Take your vacation time
We know. You’re very important; your workplace will fall apart without you. But studies have shown that a minimum of two weeks’ holiday (that’s time away from work) reduces stress, weight and blood pressure, and improves sleep. So do yourself a favour and leave the grind behind, whether in Aruba or amid the ample beauty of your own province. Book your holiday online at AMA Travel.

3 Pay off your credit card balance
Around half of Canadians carry a balance on their credit cards. Unfortunately, being late on a bill payment by even one day can leave a mark on your credit score, which doesn’t come off for at least six years. And everyone, from mortgage providers to prospective employers and landlords, uses your credit history as an evaluation tool.

4 Check your credit report
According to the Policy and Economic Research Council in the U.S., as many at 19 per cent of credit reports contain some kind of error. Check yours for accuracy regularly by obtaining it free from credit bureau Equifax or TransUnion (just be aware that these companies offer both free and “pay” reports, and it can be a bit confusing. Report any errors to the credit bureau. Don’t like what else you see printed there? Boost your credit health by paying your debts and bills on or before their due dates and using one or two credit cards regularly and responsibly.

5 Buy life insurance: you’ll sleep better.
Most don’t put much thought into this type of policy until a life-changing event like marriage, a home purchase or a new baby - but the truth is, even the young and single have debts and expenses that would have to be paid by those they leave behind. Your insurance agent will help you pick the right coverage level, compiling your annual salary, monthly debts and expenses, and current savings to tell you how much your loved ones will require. Another prudent measure is critical illness insurance, which can help pay for expenses such as special needs care or a spouse’s leave of absence in the event of a life-altering illness.Talk to an AMA life advisor to learn more about health and life insurance plans. Phone 1-877-822-5433 or visit AMA Insurance online.

6 Be smarter with your mortgage.
Finances are a leading source of stress for couples and families and a mortgage is a hefty financial commitment. So it pays to make sure you have the right plan for your situation. Renewal is a good time to reassess your options, such as an open or closed term and prepayment plans. A “closed” mortgage will come with an attractive low rate, but you’ll be locked into it for the duration, having to pay a steep penalty if you want to refinance or even repay early. Would a more flexible “open” mortgage be better for you? You should also look closely at the myriad smaller measures that impact what you’ll pay. For instance, switching from monthly to bi-weekly payments can save you interest over the life of the mortgage.

7 Offer to be a designated driver.
Impaired driving is the number-one criminal cause of death in Canada.
Police pulled over more than 90,000 impaired motorists in 2011, and the numbers tend to spike over the holidays. Do your part to keep yourself, your family and all of Alberta safe in the New Year and volunteer to be a designated driver - for your own family and friends, or for an organization such as Keys Please or Operation Red Nose. Check out AMA’s handy list of safe-ride services to offer your services or find a DD: ama.ab.ca/DesignatedDrivers.

8 Put your cellphone away for an hour. Or three.
Remember the days when you weren’t reachable every single second? When you actually talked to family and friends instead of texting, and you weren’t perpetually distracted by buzzing and beeping? Every once in a while, we all need to recharge by powering down. Try the popular phone-stack game when you’re out for dinner with friends: everyone puts their gadget in the middle of the table; first one to grab picks up the tab. One essential time to hit the power-off button: every time you climb into the driver’s seat. It’s estimated that 20 to 30 per cent of all collisions are due to some form of driver distraction. In Alberta, that’s nearly 40,000 collisions each year.

9 Volunteer your time
Now that your 2014 is going so well, think about sharing the wealth. Not sure where to start? There are seniors in your own neighbourhood who need help getting around, and volunteer groups that offer rides. Check out AMA’s Driving Angel website for a list: ama.ab.ca/DrivingAngels. Or, think beyond your backyard and take a volunteer vacation. It’s a chance to immerse yourself in a new culture while you coach a kids’ volleyball team in Bolivia, monitor elephants and hyenas on a game reserve in Africa, help plant rice in Cambodia - the list of worthy opportunities goes on. Projects Abroad Canada is a good place to start: projects-abroad.ca.

10 Spend less time worrying about your car
Plenty of suggestions we could make here (AMA is an auto club, after all), but how about plugging in your vehicle when temperatures drop below -15 C? One of AMA’s most common Roadside Assistance services is boosting. Plugging in means less wear on your vehicle, better fuel mileage and fewer mornings spent shivering on the side of an icy road while you wait for a tow truck. Plus: you’ll have more time to think about all of those other ways to start improving your life.

Polynesia

by: Barb Sligl

November 2013
Hawaii’s Best Hikes

Sunbathing, surfing, snorkelling, slurping shave ice, sipping mai tais: all maika’i, or good. But for an up-close glimpse of Hawaii’s diverse landscape - from remote waterfalls to the crusted surfaces of lava lakes - see it on foot.

MAUI: OVER AND UNDER THE VOLCANO
HaleakalA, the long-dormant volcano that dominates Maui, Hawaii’s second-largest island, is more than 3 km high. Drive to the top at dawn to watch the sun come up over the rim before walking into the crater itself. Take the Keonehe’ehe’e (Sliding Sands) Trail for 3 km to the Ka Lu’u o ka O’o cinder cone, then return. Ambitious hikers can attempt the full hike: a 15-km, 1,000-metre descent amid silversword plants and a burnt-red volcanic landscape. Down the volcano’s backside is lush HaleakalA National Park, accessible from a road south of Hana on Maui’s east coast. Here the lush Pipiwai Trail (6.4 km return) tunnels through towering stands of bamboo and fords streams to reach crescent-shaped cliffs and 120-metre-high Waimoku Falls.

KAUAI: CLIFF-SIDE AND CANYON SIDE
Steps from the resorts on the sheltered southern Poipu shore of Kauai is a cliffside walk that may just start with a monk seal sighting on Shipwreck Beach. From there, the Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail (6.4 km return) meanders past dunes, petroglyphs and an ancient heiau, or temple. Inland, there’s Waimea Canyon, which Mark Twain dubbed the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. Take the Canyon Trail (5.4 km return) along the north rim in Koke’e State Park, stopping above the 250-metre-high Waipo’o Falls and then at Kumuwela lookout for a cross-canyon view through the belly of Kauai.

OAHU: NORTH AND SOUTH
Just southeast of the cosmopolitan shores of Honolulu and Waikiki is the iconic Diamond Head crater. Trek 1.3 km up a steep trail built in 1908, passing old bunkers, to the top of the crater for a surf-and-skyscrapers vista. Do a 180, geographically and culturally, to the North Shore, where access to Ka’ena Point State Park is along a flat 4-km coastline walk (8 km return). At the northwestern tip is Ka’ena Point, another side of Oahu: sleeping monk seals, breaching humpback whales, nesting albatross and, as legend tells, the jumping-off point to the spirit world for ancient Hawaiian souls.

THE BIG ISLAND: VOLCANIC HEAT AND COASTAL COOL
Hawaii’s largest and most diverse island boasts a volcano that’s still churning. Walk across what seems a moonscape on the crater floor of Kilauea’ki Trail (a 6.4-km loop), as steam vents spew a surreal haze and ohi’a trees reclaim a crusted-over lava lake with a pink pop of lehua blooms. Head north to the steep, 1.2-km Pololu Valley trail through hala, hau and ironwood trees to a black-sand beach. East of Hawi, you’re on the wet side of the island, amid sheer cliffs and the first of seven valleys that run east to Waipi’o.

MOLOKAI: HIGH AND LOW PARKLAND
Gaze at the highest sea pali, or cliff, in the world (more than 1,100 metres and taller than the White Cliffs of Dover) from a serpentine, 4.6-km trail that leads to a former leper colony on Molokai’s north shore. Make the trip down (and back up) 26 switchbacks by foot or on mule-back. At the bottom, take a poignant tour of the historic settlement that’s now Kalaupapa National Historical Park. Topside, take in Kalaupapa Peninsula, the island’s northern tip, from the 300-metre elevation of Pala’au State Park (a 15-minute walk from the parking lot). Another half-kilometre takes you to phallic rock formations revered by ancient Hawaiians.

column

by: Janet Gyenes

November 2013
The Spirit of Aloha


Culture runs deep in the Hawaiian Islands, where the rhythmic sounds of the ukulele accompany the undulating movements of the hula. Cowboys still ride the range and remnants of royalty endure. Not to mention a volcano goddess with a red-hot temper.

HAWAII, THE BIG ISLAND
Kailua-Kona
Before it became the staging grounds for the Ironman World Championship triathlon, Kailua-Kona was home to another kind of elite: ali’i (Hawaiian royalty). King Kamehameha I, who united the Hawaiian Islands, lived on the Kamakahonu lands and worshipped at Ahu’’na Heiau, where he died in 1819. On these hallowed lands, retreat inside the King Kamehameha Beach Hotel to explore its collection of photographs, feathered helmets and gourd rattles (later, enjoy the hotel’s Island Breeze luau).

South of Kailua-Kona
More than 400 years of history are on display at Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park, an ancient sanctuary. This home to Hawaiian royalty features remnants of farming and fishing villages, along with three hōlua slides, royalty’s tropical answer to tobogganing.

Volcano Village and Hilo
Kilauea Caldera is the still-pumping heart of Volcanoes National Park, where lava has been flowing continuously since 1983. Some say the eruptions are the wrath of the fire goddess Pele, who makes her home at Halema’uma’u Crater. Head to the Jaggar Museum at nightfall to see Pele’s feisty spirit in action: a glowing lava lake the size of a football field.

Kohala
Detour past Upolo Airport, to the northern tip of the island, to visit Kamehameha I’s birthplace and nearby Mo’okini Heiau, a 1,500-year-old temple. The artisan village of Hawi, just to the southeast, is the starting point of the annual Kamehameha Day floral parade in June.

Waimea
Wake up to the rooster’s song in Waimea (also called Kamuela) and you’ll likely spot some paniolos - Hawaiian cowboys - working on the range at the still-active Parker Ranch, which covers more than 52,000 hectares and has around 26,000 cattle. Delve deeper into cowboy culture at Dahana Ranch, 14 km to the east, and help drive a herd of cattle.

KAUAI
On Kauai’s south shore, visit some of the 43 historically significant spots in Hanapepe Town, an old Second World War outpost. On Fridays, working artists open their studios from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Cross single-lane bridges over taro patches to Kauai’s north shore and you’ll arrive in Hanalei, a surfer’s paradise where the traditional sounds of slack key guitar and ukulele can be heard at concerts held at the local community centre. Portuguese immigrants who came to work the sugarcane fields crafted the first “uke” in the 1880s.

MAUI
While away the day in lively Lahaina. The former whaling village is home to 62 historic sites, from plantation settlements and missionary homes to a jail built out of coral blocks. Then head east to Makawao, which showcases the rough and refined sides of Maui, with rustic ranches and galleries exhibiting local arts and crafts. The city hosts a Fourth of July rodeo that’s been running for 50 years.

MOLOKAI
You won’t find a building taller than a coconut tree on the island of Molokai, birthplace of hula. Visitors can learn more about this ancient storytelling dance at Moloka’i Ka Hula Piko, a three-day celebration held each May. As the legend goes, the goddess Laka first performed hula on a sacred hill in Ka’ana before sharing the art with the other islands.

OAHU
You barely need to budge from Waikiki Beach to witness hula dancing - just head to the hula mound on Kuhio Beach. Add a lei to the statue of Duke Kahanamoku, the father of modern surfing, or learn how to make Hawaiian leis and quilts at the nearby Royal Hawaiian Center. Visit the Polynesian Cultural Center, on the north side of Oahu, for an in-depth look at island culture, and then indulge in the centre’s luau, where you can feast on traditional Hawaiian foods such as kalua pork cooked in an imu (underground oven), lomi lomi salmon, poi (taro) and more. Hula and fire dances round out the entertainment. 

feature

by: Lucas Aykroyd

November 2013
Exploring Tahiti’s Bounty

It’s April 28, 1789, and mutiny is brewing on HMS Bounty in the South Pacific. Commanded by tyrannical captain William Bligh, the ship is transporting breadfruit plants obtained in Tahiti as cheap food for West Indies slaves. But first mate Fletcher Christian and 18 other sailors are sick of Bligh’s insults and floggings. Memories of the warm Tahitian weather, tropical food and beautiful women they’ve left behind are too much to resist. Christian leads an armed revolt, forcing Bligh and his loyalists off the 28-metre, 215-ton armed merchant ship and into a small open boat. The mutineers sail back to Tahiti and whoop it up. Some later decamp to remote Pitcairn Island to escape justice, but wind up fighting one another. Meanwhile, Bligh and his men survive a gruelling 47-day voyage to Timor, some 6,700 kilometres away in the Dutch East Indies.

It remains the most famous mutiny in naval history. I grew up reading the 1930s-penned Mutiny on the Bounty novel trilogy by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall. I wrote and recorded a radio play based on the books in high school. I thrilled to the 20th century’s multiple movie versions. Hollywood’s quintessential bad boys have played Fletcher Christian, including Errol Flynn (1933), Clark Gable (1935), Marlon Brando (1962) and Mel Gibson (1984). Next year (2014) marks the 250th anniversary of Christian’s birth, which has inspired me to travel to Tahiti and compare my experiences to those of the mutineers. As Brando stated in his 1994 autobiography: “The happiest moments of my life have been in Tahiti.” How could I resist?

The eight-hour Air Tahiti Nui flight from Los Angeles to Tahiti is certainly more comfortable than the Bounty’s 10-month slog from England. Instead of seasickness and salt pork, I get striking stewardesses with aquamarine eyeshadow that matches the decor, minimal turbulence and tasty meals graced by white tiare flowers.

Even before landing, I can see why the word “jealous” invariably popped up when I told someone I was going to Tahiti, the largest of French Polynesia’s Windward Islands. Papeete, the capital city, greets me with a pink sunset and humid 29 C weather. The laid-back port city, mingling French colonial architecture with cheerful, ramshackle modern buildings, is home to 26,000 of the 274,000 inhabitants of French Polynesia, which covers more than 4,000 square kilometres. (Nineteenth-century French Catholic missionaries were clearly more influential than 18th-century British sailors: Tahiti’s been a French colony since 1880.)

My room at the Manava Suite Resort features seashell-adorned walls and a king-size bed beneath a ceiling fan. After breakfasting on a chocolate croissant with coffee, I stroll down Avenue du Generale de Gaulle to admire the Bounty wall mosaic by Italian artist P. Volpatti. Measuring eight metres by four metres, it portrays sailors and natives exchanging greetings and gifts in vivid hues. The tension between Bligh - stiff and Napoleonic - and Christian - brooding and powerful - is palpable.

Farther down the street is the 1875-consecrated Notre Dame de L’Immaculee Conception, a yellow Catholic cathedral that’s partly made of coral. Inside the front door is a wooden statue of the Madonna and Child, with Jesus gripping a breadfruit - historically implausible but culturally sensitive, and something that might have resonated with the Bounty’s breadfruit-gathering crew. Tahiti grows more than 200 varieties of this starchy plant.

During their idyllic five-month stay, the sailors feasted on roast hogs, plantains and coconut milk. Similar delicacies abound at Papeete’s nearby two-floor Municipal Market. I inhale every savoury scent while passing tables full of mangoes and bananas, bakers hawking coconut bread and pineapple pie, and women in pink tank tops selling glistening slices of tuna. Upstairs, I browse through mother-of-pearl necklaces, handcrafted ukuleles and carved tiki idols, sacred human forms common to many Polynesian cultures. These stone statues reputedly have mana (intangible power), and families still keep them for protection.

For lunch, I drive to Chez Nous, a small restaurant with a pandanus-thatched roof. Not only do I get poisson cru - a hefty platter of white tuna cooked with lime juice and coconut milk and served with fresh vegetables - but I also taste my my first bottle of Hinano, Tahiti’s signature beer, with its lovely red-clad island maiden on the label.

That primes me for a visit to James Norman Hall Museum, 15 minutes away in Arue. Visiting this replica of the Iowa-born Mutiny on the Bounty co-author’s Tahiti home fulfils a childhood dream. As requested, I remove my shoes before entering the green-painted house, which is surrounded by tropical foliage. A scale model of the Bounty greets me. A warm, middle-aged Tahitian woman named Hina gives me a personal tour of the place, including Hall’s First World War veteran memorabilia, portraits of the captains who presided over the 1792 court martial for the captured mutineers, and Hall’s study, with his original desk and Royal typewriter, plus bookcases brimming with translations of his 20-plus books. In the gift shop, adorned with a huge Brando movie poster, I buy a $15 biography of Hall and Nordhoff. Hina kisses me on both cheeks before I leave.

To wrap up my day, I drive to the Fa’auruma’i Waterfalls. Vaimahutu, the highest, cascades majestically down a greenery-strewn basalt cliff. Then, heading to the seaside, about a kilometre north, I marvel at the Arahoho blowhole. Its ocean spray, produced by compressed air, is so powerful that it once blasted a hole in the now-closed road that runs overhead.

At nearby Point Venus, a Bounty memorial erected in 2005 marks the ship’s 1788 arrival here, in Matavai Bay. (Captain James Cook, with whom Bligh sailed on Cook’s final voyage, observed the transit of the planet Venus from this lighthouse-graced peninsula in 1769.) A bronze plaque lists the Bounty crew’s names.

Ironwood trees and coconut palms rustle in the wind as the sun sets, and young families wade in the warm water. A flotilla of outrigger canoes passes outside the distant reef.

Tahiti’s ability to feed both body and soul is becoming evident. My cross-cultural dinner on the pier of the upscale Blue Banana restaurant later in the evening - escargots in garlic butter and shrimp in coconut curry sauce - is succeeded the next day by an unusual breakfast at the free, inaugural “Festival du Uru,” or Breadfruit Festival, at Papeete’s Maison de la Culture. I quickly tuck into hearty, nutty-tasting bread made with breadfruit flour at the Bounty-themed stall of Swiss-born Beni Huber. Huber is spearheading plans for an annual Bounty festival and a touring replica of the ship. (See the sidebar.)
Even more delectable is popo uru, sun-dried breadfruit soaked in sugar, lemon juice and vanilla. An old woman tells me, “We need to preserve these traditional recipes before they’re lost. This is what mothers gave their children before we had candy.” Intense drumming by heavily tattooed Marquesan Islanders (hailing from a Polynesian island cluster north of Tahiti) reinforces the sense of history and pride.

A bumpy midday drive brings me to Marae Arahurahu, a restored Polynesian temple constructed from black volcanic rocks between the 15th and 18th centuries. Although nestled in a lush valley that’s alive with birdsong, its sacred courtyard, decorated with unu (wooden sculptures), is less than comfortable for worshipers due to the rough rock surface - not to mention the pigs still sacrificed here.
After a lunch of delectably flaky parrot fish in lemon butter sauce at the waterfront Captain Bligh Restaurant and Bar, I decide to view something that Bounty boatswain’s mate James Morrison described in 1788: “At this diversion both (blank) are excellent and some are so expert as to stand on their board till the Surf breaks.” Morrison was referring, of course, to surfing. At Taharuu Beach, more than 40 local young men are braving big waves on surfboards and boogie boards, laughing and whooping in the sunshine. It’s a scene of pure escapism. No wonder the mutineers shunned cold, conventional England.

By now, I’ve soaked up so much history that I’m ready for some escapism of my own, on the neighbouring, paradisiacal island of Moorea. I bid farewell to Papeete with one more scintillating dinner - grilled swordfish with green beans at L’Estanco, one of the popular roulottes (food trucks) in harbourside Place Vai’ete. The next morning, I sail 17 km northwest on the Aremiti 5 ferry to Moorea.
After settling into the luxurious InterContinental Moorea Resort, I soon figure out why the 1962 and 1984 versions of Mutiny on the Bounty were mostly filmed on Moorea. It’s nearly unspoiled, as the lush, green vista from the 240-metre-high Belvedere viewpoint, facing sacred Rotui Mountain, reveals.

I spend the next four days here. If I’m not snorkelling with stingrays and black-tip reef sharks (reaching out to touch the velvet-skinned former but not the toothy latter), I’m guzzling pineapple liqueur like a hard-partying mutineer at the Jus de Fruits de Moorea distillery. Later, I participate in a traditional javelin-throwing contest at a local school, then devour roast pork and gawk at dramatic fire-dancing at the Tiki Village - where, coincidentally, Dustin Hoffman and his wife renewed their vows in 1994. Yes, things have changed since the Bounty’s day.

Relishing the ocean spray as I zoom around Opunohu Bay on a jet ski in glorious sunshine, I reflect that this would have been an effective getaway vehicle for the mutineers. Of the original 19, 10, including Christian, would die in the South Seas by or before 1800. Just one survived till 1829, on Pitcairn Island. The others were captured: three drowned in a shipwreck en route to England, three were hanged and two were pardoned. Yet the Bounty’s legacy lives on in Tahiti, and it’s well worth exploring. 

feature

by: Westworld

November 2013
Westworld iPad Edition

The iPad edition of Westworld Alberta magazine is published four times a year and available FREE to AMA members. Get the entire print edition of Westworld Alberta plus bonus content that includes, expanded picture galleries, videos, interviews and more.

How to read Westworld Alberta on your iPad

1. Download the free Westworld Alberta App from the Apple App Store.  Click here to download the Westworld Alberta app.

2. Open up the Westworld App, and follow the instructions in the blue banner to log into or open up a new AMA My Account.

3. Once you have signed in with a valid account, you are entitled to download Westworld issue for free. Press the iCloud button underneath the desired issue.

If you are not an AMA member, you can purchase an annual iPad only subscription (four issues) for $9.99. Click here to purchase an annual subscription.

iPad Edition Support

For all Westworld Alberta iPad edition questions, please contact support at .

Other Ways to Read Westworld

Don’t have an iPad? You can still read Westworld Alberta at ama.ab.ca/Westworld. You can also read the flip edition of the magazine on all devices at westworldmagazine.ama.ab.ca.

FAQs

How do I cancel my print subscription and receive only the digital edition of Westworld Alberta?
Email with your full name, membership number and current address to cancel your print subscription. Then download the free Westworld Alberta magazine App from the Apple App store. Click here to download the Westworld Alberta App.

How do I change my mailing address?

Click here to update your contact information, manage your AMA email subscriptions, AMARewards and billing preferences. You can also sign up for a membership renewal reminder.

How do I join AMA?

To become a member of AMA and learn more about AMA, click here.

Westworld iPad

by: Westworld

November 2013
Westworld Digital

The iPad edition of Westworld Alberta magazine is published four times a year and available FREE to AMA members. Get the entire print edition of Westworld Alberta plus bonus content that includes, expanded picture galleries, videos, interviews and more.

How to read Westworld Alberta on your iPad

1. Download the free Westworld Alberta App from the Apple App Store.  Click here to download the Westworld Alberta app.

2. Open up the Westworld App, and follow the instructions in the blue banner to log into or open up a new AMA My Account.

3. Once you have signed in with a valid account, you are entitled to download Westworld issue for free. Press the iCloud button underneath the desired issue.

If you are not an AMA member, you can purchase an annual iPad only subscription (four issues) for $9.99. Click here to purchase an annual subscription.

iPad Edition Support

For all Westworld Alberta iPad edition questions, please contact support at .

Other Ways to Read Westworld

Don’t have an iPad? You can still read Westworld Alberta at ama.ab.ca/Westworld. You can also read the flip edition of the magazine on all devices at westworldmagazine.ama.ab.ca.

FAQs

How do I cancel my print subscription and receive only the digital edition of Westworld Alberta?
Email with your full name, membership number and current address to cancel your print subscription. Then download the free Westworld Alberta magazine App from the Apple App store. Click here to download the Westworld Alberta App.

How do I change my mailing address?

Click here to update your contact information, manage your AMA email subscriptions, AMARewards and billing preferences. You can also sign up for a membership renewal reminder.

How do I join AMA?

To become a member of AMA and learn more about AMA, click here.

Caribbean

by: Westworld

September 2013
Recipe: Jamaican coconut steamed snapper

Jamaican coconut steamed snapper
Prep 35 min, serves 4

Can’t escape to the Caribbean this year? Create the flavour at home. This traditional Jamaican, easy-to-make recipe comes to us from Juan Morrison, executive sous-chef of Sandals Resorts in Montego Bay. Perfect for a chilly autumn evening.

4 170-gram (6-ounce) red snapper fillets (or other firm white fish, such as cod or haddock)
60 mL (4 Tbsp) butter
1 large onion, sliced
4 garlic cloves, minced
4 stalks of scallion
1 carrot, julienned
2 tomatoes, seeded and julienned
4 whole okra, sliced into 0.6-cm-thick (1/4-inch) rings
Half each red, green and yellow bell peppers, julienned
1 whole Scotch Bonnet pepper,* seeded and minced (or half, to reduce heat)
5 mL (1 tsp) allspice
1 415-mL (14-oz) can coconut milk
60 mL (1/4 cup) coconut water
1 large sprig of thyme
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

*Chef’s note: Scotch Bonnet peppers are extremely hot. After handling them, wash your hands and cooking implements in hot, soapy water and avoid touching your eyes.

Rinse the snapper fillets in cold, running water and pat dry with paper towels.

Season with salt and black pepper. melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat, then add the onions, garlic, scallions, carrots, tomato, okra, bell peppers, Scotch Bonnet pepper and allspice, and saute for about 4 minutes, until the onions are translucent and the other vegetables start to soften.

Pour in the coconut water and milk, add the thyme and simmer for 3 minutes.

Lay the fish fillets in the pan and simmer uncovered for another 7-10 minutes, until the fish is firm and cooked through.

Remove the fish and place on plates. Top with the vegetable-coconut mixture and serve immediately. Tasty mon!

Caribbean

by: Shauna Rudd

September 2013
5 Great Jamaica Excursions

1. Jamaica’s Spirit of Reggae
The Bob Marley Experience Walk in the footsteps of the King of Reggae with a tour of his childhood home, now a museum, in the village of Nine Mile. You’ll gain insight into Marley’s upbringing, stand on Mt. Zion Rock, the very spot where he would meditate, and rest your head on the actual stone that was his “pillow” in the song “Talkin’ Blues.” Tours leave from Montego Bay; 7 hours; from US$87.

2. Luminous Lagoon Night Cruise
If you think a moonlit cruise is romantic, try a moonlit cruise on glowing water. The lagoon, in the parish of Trelawney, gets its blue-green luminescence from harmless micro-organisms and is one of only a few in the world. Tours leave from Montego Bay, Ocho Rios and Negril; durations vary; from US$59.

3. Green Grotto Caves and Shopping in Montego Bay
How many shopping trips start with a peek at caves that harbour stalactites, stalagmites and a “bottomless” lagoon? You’ll meet a guide at the port, then head to the town of Discovery Bay in the parish of Saint Ann and descend into the Green Grotto Caves. Next up is a wander in Whitter Village, an island shopping and dining complex, for souvenir scouting. Tours leave from Port of Montego Bay; 5 hours; from US$53.

4. ATV Off-road Adventure to Sandy Bay
Hop onto a four-wheel ATV and zip along the scenic terrain of Sandy Bay - from a
former sugar cane plantation to the community of Cascade - reaching heights of 670 metres above sea level. It’s a rugged ride, but newbies needn’t fear: the tour begins with a safety briefing and a run in a practice ring to make sure you’re ready to ride. Tours leave from Montego Bay and Negril; 2 hours; from US$99.

5. Dunn’s River Falls and Horseback Riding Tour
Made famous by the movies Cocktail and Dr. No, Dunn’s River Falls are considered to be a “living” phenomenon because they continuously rebuild with calcium carbonate and sodium deposits from the river. The misty, stepped falls are a must-see for visitors to Jamaica- but first, a guide will whisk you away to explore the lush hills of St. Ann on horseback. Tours leave from Port of Montego Bay; 6 hours; from US$115.

feature

by: Andrew Findlay

September 2013
Port Town Revival

Ladonna Findlater and I walk among the weathered headstones and tombs surrounding the austere ramparts of William Knibb Memorial Baptist Church. This cemetery would be fit for a gothic thriller if it wasn’t for the reggae music floating on a soft Caribbean breeze from a nearby house, which is festooned in the black, yellow and green of the Jamaican flag. Here, in 1838, on the steps of this church in historic Falmouth, the crusading minister and abolitionist William Knibb shouted to a euphoric crowd gathered on the grounds: “The monster is dead!” His emphatic declaration heralded the end of slavery and the emancipation of Jamaica’s black population. Today the churchyard is peaceful and quiet. Findlater, my vivacious, impeccably attired young tour guide, knows her history. Falmouth, 37 kilometres east of Montego Bay, is where slaves were freed and ships docked to fill their holds with sugar cane at what was once the busiest port in the Caribbean. It’s a town that had running water before the city of New York did. It’s also a living museum of classic Georgian architecture, a symmetrical style that proliferated throughout colonial Great Britain between roughly 1720 and 1840; characterized by meticulously planned town squares and fountains, two-storey stone manors and civic buildings detailed with elaborate cornices and decorative moldings. Falmouth is also the capital of Trelawny parish, at one time the most productive district on the island for sugar cane. Today, it’s better known as the birthplace of sprinting superstar Usain Bolt (legend has it that there’s something special in the yams grown here that produces sprinting sensations like Bolt).

I have come to Jamaica’s north coast to explore a fascinating past, when sugar cane was king and Falmouth was the cultural and economic powerhouse of the Caribbean. The town’s Georgian buildings are in various states of restoration, thanks to the ongoing efforts of the Falmouth Heritage Renewal society. After leaving the Baptist church, Findlater and I wander together along bustling streets. Two young men pass by and share an inside joke with my guide.

“Friends salute me because they think I look like a police officer,” she says.

We pause across from Franco’s Nice Time Bar, whose whitewashed exterior is punctuated by rickety wooden shutters on the windows. The dark interior has seats for a dozen or so souls.

“It’s the oldest bar in town. Upstairs there was a special room where sailors would go to sober up,” Findlater says.

Farther on, we pause outside the old military base, Fort Balcarres. An interpretive sign explains the fort’s function to protect Falmouth “from Spanish and drunks.” Next stop is the commanding courthouse. Though it’s a replica of an original 1815 structure that was destroyed by fire in the 1920s, with its impressive four columns above the grand entranceway and mustard-yellow-and-white paint job, it remains the pride of Falmouth.

“The courthouse was the centre of Falmouth society,” Findlater says as we climb the stairs for a view over the port. It still is. A trio of lawyers congregate on the steps, engaged in heated conversation, before Findlater distracts them from serious business.

“Yeah mon,” one of them says to Findlater and I, deploying that characteristic, laid-back, gender-neutral Jamaican greeting.

They chat in colourful Jamaican patois, to which my ear is slowly becoming accustomed. When the lawyers step back into the courthouse, Findlater reverts to an idiom I can understand.


Standing here in the early 1800s, one would have gazed out upon a harbour crowded with ships provisioning for the return voyage to the Old World. In modern times, a different kind of mariner is arriving - cruise shippers. In 2012, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines commenced docking at Falmouth after the completion of a US$220-million joint venture with the Port Authority of Jamaica to build a cruise ship terminal, complete with shops and boutiques meant to emulate the Georgian style of the town’s architecture. Today, a massive ship is in port and has just unleashed its complement of thousands on the duty-free zone and the less polished streets of Falmouth beyond the gates. Vendors and touts are doing brisk trade. Opinions on the arrival of such behemoth cruise ships in tiny Falmouth vary, but there’s no doubt the approximately 10,000 passengers per week are having a significant impact on the town’s renaissance and its efforts to leverage history into tourism.

Early in the afternoon, I leave Findlater and the bustle of Falmouth, chauffeured by my friendly fixer from the Jamaica Tourist Board, Wayne Sterling. He sings along cheerfully to some synth-heavy dancehall music playing on the radio, exuding that gregarious Jamaican charm, rhythm and confidence. We’re headed for Good Hope Plantation.

Plantations are as integral to the history, landscape and culture of Trelawny as Falmouth is to the country’s former colonial might. At the height of the plantation era, the parish was home to more than 80 great houses, each one a hilltop jewel in the plantation owner’s crown. Today they are at once symbols of a troubled slaving past and lovely pastoral monuments to a different time.

At the town of Martha Brae, we branch off the north-coast highway A1 and then follow a potholed road that winds toward Cockpit Country, the rugged, sparsely inhabited interior of Trelawny and neighbouring St. James Parish. The Martha Brae River flows languidly next to the road, and riotous hedges of blossoming bougainvillea surround tidy homes. Soon we arrive at Good Hope and are greeted by host Odette Hawthorne.

Sun filters through big leafy trees and a diesel truck chugs past packed with oranges, now the primary crop grown on the plantation. After meeting Hawthorne, we drive through a gatehouse flanked by huge limestone blocks inscribed with the words “Good” and “Hope.” From there, a gravel road spirals up to the elegant centrepiece of this 809-hectare estate, Good Hope great house, built more than 250 years ago from limestone blocks that came to Jamaica in the form of ship ballast. A small statue of the Buddha sits on the edge of the front lawn, incongruent with its history but indicative of the current owner’s spiritual leanings and the building’s modern repurposing as a venue for artist and yoga retreats, as well as other private functions. As oxymoronic as it sounds, one of the original plantation owners, John Tharpe, was a slave trader with a heart. He earned a reputation for kindness and compassion in an era that for people of colour didn’t have much of either. At its peak, 3,000 slaves toiled at Good Hope. Tharpe built a 300-bed hospital for their care.

“Even though he was very exhausted at the end of the day, Mr. Tharpe would try to shake the hands of as many slaves as he could. That’s why the great house was spared during the slave rebellion,” Hawthorne says as we explore the airy rooms of the manor, stopping to observe the two-metre-long, lead-coated, wood-fired bathtub where Tharpe soaked to soothe his arthritis. “He may have been the first person in Jamaica to have hot and cold running water.”


The following day, Sterling and I drive serpentine country roads to the former Hampden and Long Pond sugar estates, which date back to the mid-1700s and are now owned by Everglades Farms. The air is ripe with fermentation. Not far away is another vestige of Jamaica’s colonial past: 567-hectare Braco Estate. On the way there, we drive through the sleepy hamlet of Duncans, home to a severe-looking stone Methodist Church dating to 1882. Goats graze in the shade of the belfry. Jamaica has many claims to fame, among them reggae music, world-class sprinters and rum. Sterling informs me of another one: the country supposedly has more churches per square mile than anywhere else, a claim that’s on full display in the parish of Trelawny. When family patriarch, the late Winston Parnell, purchased Braco in 1920, it had already evolved from sugar cane farming to cattle ranching. Parnell was an entrepreneur. Before he died in 1992, he converted an idyllic seaside portion of the property into a resort, and his grandson Adorjan Fitzroy later returned from teaching in Hungary to help further develop tourism with horseback riding, cycling and historical walking tours.

I find Fitzroy and one of his employees, Garey Kenlyn, at the reception building. They offer to take me on a mountain bike ride through the estate.* It’s mid-afternoon and sweltering, prime time for beachside cocktails - not physical activity. But we ride uphill along a bumpy road that’s shaded, to my relief, by dense forest. In 20 minutes, we break out into open pastures dotted with pimento trees, the source of fragrant allspice seasoning. Fitzroy pauses and stoops down to pinch a handful of greenery between his thumb and forefinger.

“Lemongrass,” he says, holding it up for me to smell.

Eventually the road ends at a small shelter overlooking Maria Buena Bay and a scene of Caribbean geographic cliches that encapsulates Trelawny; leafy trees, rolling deep green hillsides and scythes of sandy beach lapped by turquoise sea. Kenlyn, not a natural cyclist, leans his bike against the fence and lights a smoke while Fitzroy shares some of Braco’s history.

“Recently we found a record book in the great house from the 1830s. It showed who was working on the plantation and how much sugar cane was cut. They took meticulous records back then,” Fitzroy says.

Late in the afternoon, after another long day of exploring Trelawny, I check into my hotel suite. It’s a warm, seductive evening when I sit down for a cappuccino, listening to the boisterous chatter of recent hotel arrivals planning a night out on the faux town, which for a contrived resort setting is surprisingly quaint. A family of four, skin as white as snow on an Albertan prairie, poses for a photo in front of a Winston Parnell bust erected on the steps of the replica courthouse. At the hotel restaurant, a talented band lays down note-perfect Bob Marley covers and the dance floor is already filled, mostly with resort staff. Jamaicans love to move.

Early in the evening I again meet up with Wayne Sterling of the Jamaica Tourist Board, and we return to Falmouth for the Pirates of the Caribbean nighttime extravaganza that was somehow pencilled into my final night’s itinerary. I surrender. But when we drive into Falmouth I convince Sterling to make an off-script detour to Franco’s Nice Time Bar for a frosty Red Stripe.

“Yeah mon,” the bartender says to me and then turns to Sterling for a quick exchange
in that lyrical Jamaican patois I never tire of hearing. I imagine the drunken sailors of 250 years ago being carted upstairs to sober up while their ships were filled with sugar cane down at the port. Afterward, we stroll the evening streets of Falmouth, along the Albert George Market, through the town square, where palm trees rustle in the wind accompanied by the sound of maracas, and past the courthouse. We walk through the gates to the duty-free port, where a massive cruise ship looms above old Falmouth, its cabin lights twinkling like Christmas ornaments against the darkening sky. Soon Sterling and I are lined up to board a pseudo pirate ship, next to a cruising couple from Lethbridge.

Pirate ships and Falmouth? Historically it’s a stretch. No doubt the firebrand preacher William Knibb would have scoffed at such frivolity. But why not wrap up my trip into Falmouth and Trelawny’s fascinating past with a little lighthearted fun?

After all, Sterling seems excited, as we’re led by a young woman with the lithe physique of a sprinter, dressed absurdly in pirate garb.

“I hope you like to dance mon,” Sterling says, already swinging his hips.

*Editor’s note: at press time, Braco Estate was no longer open to visitors.

Caribbean

by: Jeff Bateman

September 2013
Escaping en Masse

Group travel has evolved into a science over the last decade as travel agents arrange all manner of collective getaways: family reunions, destination weddings, girlfriend getaways, team outings to sports tournaments and more.

“It’s reached the point where we’ve got specially trained group experts in every one of our offices in the province,” says 34-year travel veteran Mary Male-Bowers of AMA Travel in Calgary. Here are a few things to keep in mind when planning group trips:

1. Use an agent
Organizing a pack of individuals with varied needs and preferences, some living in far-flung parts of the country, is a daunting task. Pros can handle the tricky paperwork and legwork. They call suppliers and secure quotes, send out customized invitations, field questions, collect payments, book airport transfers, ensure pre-travel documentation
and insurance are in order and serve as a point person back home in case anything goes amiss.

2. Book early
The early bird catches the choicest deals and destinations. Think a year or even 18 months ahead when looking at popular resorts and primetime travel (Christmas and spring break).

3. Choose a point person
The immediate family calls the shots for weddings, naturally. In other scenarios, coordinators are advised to seek consensus with their prospective travel companions. Does the majority long for a poolside holiday in Ixtapa, a shopping spree in Manhattan or a Caribbean cruise? And what matters more: price point or quality of experience?

4. Don’t over-extend
Plan one group activity and one group meal - at a spot where the menu can accommodate a variety of tastes and dietary restrictions - per day. If you have a choice, travel with the like-minded and like-budgeted. If not, be flexible. Be willing to try activities and visit spots you might not normally choose, and others will allow you the same courtesy.

5. Take turns babysitting
It takes a village, right? If children are part of your group, corral them and have each adult couple commit to one night of babysitting so that others can socialize. Or, see if the hotel or resort offers child-minding services.

Caribbean

by: Deb Fong

September 2013
Caribbean Detour: Disney World

Lake Buena Vista, Fla. - home of Disney World - is about a four-hour drive from the Caribbean port of Miami. It’s a tempting side trip to a cruise. But with four theme parks covering 127 square kilometres, the place is no small world. AMA travel counsellor and Disney specialist Deb Fong comes to the rescue with a few time-saving tips.

Best ways to avoid lineups
At select Walt Disney World hotels, guests receive an Extra Magic Hours pass, which allows access to the theme park before and after regular opening hours. You can also grab a complimentary Fastpass at certain rides, which allows you to book a ride time and come back. Also look for Disney’s Rider Switch program, which lets parents trade off in lineups.

Best nighttime show
Head to the Hollywood Studios theme park nightly for Fantasmic, a 25-minute fireworks-and-water show, with all your favourite Disney characters, like Mickey Mouse, Cinderella and Aladdin. To fast-track the long lineup, book a package that includes dinner at one of three restaurants and admission to the nightly show.

Best spots to cool off
The whole point of Splash Mountain, in the Magic Kingdom, is to get wet - really wet. Grab a seat at the front of the car and get ready to plunge five storeys down a watery track. Over at the Animal Kingdom, get dunked again at the Kali River Rapids ride, as you float alongside a gushing geyser and through spraying waterfalls. 

Best baby and tots service
No need to lug bags of diapers to the park. You can buy disposable diapers, pull-on rubber pants and even teethers at Disney’s Baby Care Centers. Moms will appreciate the private nursing rooms.

Best ride for speed demons
Rock music and screamin’ speed collide at the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster in the Hollywood Studios theme park. As you zoom down 1,036 metres of track, travelling with the g-force of an F-14 fighter jet, your car’s stereo system pumps out Aerosmith tunes.

Best venue for grown-up time
When the sun goes down, head to Jellyrolls on the Boardwalk, an entertainment, dining and shopping area built to look like Atlantic City in the 1920s. Jellyrolls’ duelling pianists perform a huge repertoire of classic-rock hits, such as Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” and Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin.’”

Best munchies
At Disney World, America’s ubiquitous corn dog takes second billing to jumbo turkey legs. At about $10 a leg, the massive drumsticks are cured with sugar and salt, then slow-roasted until the meat practically falls off the bone. Disney sells more than 1.6 million legs a year at food carts all over the park. 

Caribbean

by: Katelyn Cross

September 2013
Sun Holiday Rx

What if you could enjoy your dream vacation and come back healthier than when you left? Follow these tips and you’ll be jumping into the conga line feeling hot, hot, hot!

Sunscreen: apply, re-apply and apply again
Experts advise avoiding the sun between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the UV index exceeds three. Caribbean rays reach an alarming 14 on the UV index, so apply a broad- spectrum sunscreen liberally at least 20 minutes before heading out and again every two hours. Some research suggests that sunscreens containing the ingredients Mexoryl, Tinosorb and Helioplex break down more slowly in the sun and require less frequent reapplication (follow the label’s instructions).

Stay hydrated
In hot climates, you lose water faster than can be replaced by your usual food intake and the standard eight glasses per day. So keep a bottle of water with you at all times and stock up before heading to the beach or pool for the day. If you must have something flavoured, try coconut water. Low in sugar, high in potassium and consisting of 95 per cent water, it’s a delicious and natural way to hydrate.

Get your sea stomach
Alberta Health Services recommends drinking ginger tea, a traditional Chinese treatment, for stomachache and nausea. Wearing anti- nausea wristbands (like the ones we recommend on p. 27) can help, too, by stimulating acupressure points believed to prevent queasiness and vomiting. Alternatively, you can take an over-the-counter drug like Histantil or Gravol - or see a doctor pre-cruise about Transderm-V, a waterproof patch applied behind the ear three hours before you go out on the water.

feature

by: Curtis Gillespie

September 2013
Cruising with a Brood


Day 1: At Sea
My wife Cathy and our daughters Jessica and Grace are still asleep as I slip out of our Deck 7 cabin and softly close the door. When our Royal Caribbean International ship left Miami last night, bound for stops in Haiti, Jamaica, the Cayman Islands and Mexico, it held 3,634 guests and nearly as many staff. But this morning the passageway is silent; the stairs to Deck 11 empty. This pleases me, since I’m hoping to sneak in an hour’s exercise as a preventive strike against the copious amounts of food and drink the week ahead is sure to hold. At the door to the Shipshape Fitness Center, I pause briefly to secure a lungful of the morning’s temperate saline breeze. The sun is making itself new against the Caribbean’s eastern horizon. The soft breeze caresses. The sea is vast and calm. I can’t recall what a snowbank looks like. I pull on the Shipshape door, ready to introduce some endorphins into my day.

“Stop! Now!”

I freeze. But the order isn’t directed at me. In a boxing ring a few metres away, a female trainer is loudly instructing a ragtag gang of obvious non-boxers. “Punch it! I said punch it!” A matronly retiree gives the swaying heavy bag a limp fist bump. “No, nail that bag - like this!”

The sergeant coils an avocado-shaped bicep and delivers maximum force to the bag. Just past the ring, techno-pop spills from an aerobics studio. Inside, a dozen or so Lululemon-clad women are trying to follow a buoyant instructor who is calling directions above the din. I finally locate the bicycles, near the front windows facing out to sea, and begin pedalling. I pass the trainer on my way out. She is sipping some kind of dark green shake through a straw, and although it’s possible that a wheatgrass-based liquid would be good for me, I decide instead to seek out the breakfast buffet.

My family is up and ready to go when I reach the stateroom, and together we head to the Windjammer Cafe on Deck 11. The food appears almost endless in diversity and volume (this will be the case throughout the cruise). In fact, onboard provisions are available everywhere, all the time. You can’t batten down a hatch on this ship without running into a buffet.

Jessica and Grace hit the buffet line first and return with stacks of cinnamon buns. Cathy and I get eggs, toast, bacon and fruit. Somewhat to my surprise, breakfast turns out to be as good as it is plentiful. Undoing the effect of the additional calories may require some serious time with the trainer over the next week.

Later, on the aft outer platform of Deck 13, we line up for the FlowRider wave simulator. Imagine a miniature “ski” hill on which water is pressure-hosed uphill at a serious clip. The setup allows even the desperately uncoordinated to boogie-board and surf while effectively standing still. Jess and Grace quickly become expert and make it look so easy that some middle-aged guy decides to give it a shot. He scoots onto the wave and gets riding on his knees. Then he showboats, waving his arms and giving a thumbs-up. At this point he loses his balance, separating spastically from his board - and is shot back up the slope as if released by catapult.

The FlowRider has taught me that I must examine my own limits. So, while Cathy and the girls are trying out the climbing wall on Deck 13, I instead opt to recline in our stateroom, noting how nicely it’s appointed: a shower, beds for four, a comfy couch and a little plasma TV with satellite. Hey, things are looking up.

Day 2: Labadee, Haiti
The ocean is warm, the bright coral close enough to touch, the water brimming with exotic creatures. We are snorkelling in the Caribbean just off Haiti, at Labadee. In 1986, Royal Caribbean International leased 105 hectares of land from the Haitian government on the island’s north shore, just over the mountains from Cap-Haitien. The private port features seven “neighbourhoods,” a 90-metre-long waterslide, a roller coaster, an artisan market, an aquatic park, private beach clubs and a litany of other made-for-cruisers attractions.

Jess easily adjusts to the snorkel. She gets to hold a tiny octopus and is so smitten with the water and sea creatures that she surfaces halfway through, strips off her mask and snorkel and declares, “I’m going to be a marine biologist!”

Next, we focus our attention on the Dragon’s Breath Flight Line. After a long wait and an orientation session, Jess and I are soon zipping down a wire slung from a 150-metre-high peak, across the bay, to a small peninsula 790 metres away. Strapped in tight, with nothing but air beneath us, we hurtle headlong down the line. It’s a rush, and I scream wholeheartedly in the soprano of a little girl. I look over at Jess. She isn’t screaming. And then, all too soon, we’re back on land. Later, back on the ship, we sit down to another gourmet dinner, where the menu options are wide and truly international, ranging from curries to Japanese to standard North American fare.

Day 3: Montego Bay, Jamaica
Montego Bay, on the northwest side of the island, is a common port of call for cruise ships making their Caribbean rounds, and for all-inclusive-resort guests, who fly in by the multiple planeloads daily. The city is packed with restaurants, tour peddlers and attractions that cater to the quick-stop crowd - but we have our own plans.

I mention to the ship’s South African concierge, whose name is Pretty Shamu, that we are planning to skip the sanctioned shore excursions in Jamaica and rent a car, so as to explore the countryside on our own. She furrows her brow. “Oh.”

“Is that not a good idea?”

“Well, if that’s what you want to do . . . .”

Once we’re on the road, the reason for Shamu’s hesitation makes itself known. I’m speeding a tad myself as we set out on the 76-km drive southwest to Negril. But Jamaicans scorch by us, happily waving and smiling as they pass.

We arrive at Rick’s Cafe ready to watch the cliff diving we’ve heard about. We’re amazed by the sight of the clear, deep water meeting the high craggy rock face, which is topped by a restaurant and bar. On the cliffside diving platforms, we meet dreadlocked divers Spider and Tigger. They give Jess and Grace fist bumps. “Respek. Peace and love, girls, peace and love.” Later we watch them plunge, surprisingly gracefully, into the water.

Driving back along the Jamaican highways (relying heavily on “Ja’Map” provided by the rental company), we stop at a large roadside market replete with little warrens and alleyways emptying straight out on the beach. It looks promising until we see that virtually every shop is selling the same “Ja Mon” T-shirts and Bob Marley carved masks. Incredibly, every single piece of merchandise in the market is available for US$15. But we negotiate.

“I give you dat one for $12. Or . . . “ the seller pauses. “Two tank tops for $25.”

Grace thinks for a minute and wisely decides against it.

Day 4: Georgetown, Grand Cayman Island
Grand Cayman Island is so clean and orderly - and chockablock with banks - that it feels like Switzerland with beaches. The girls want to swim with dolphins, an activity that induces mild ambiguity in me but thrills of ecstasy in Jess and Grace.

The dolphin sanctuary, it turns out, is a large pen where four dolphins are kept, though it would be inaccurate to say they are “held” here, since they could easily leap the half-metre fence any time they chose. Jess and Grace get kitted out with life jackets and then, along with the other swimmers, get in with the dolphins. All eco-guilt aside, it sure looks like fun, kissing the dolphins on the nose, catching a ride while holding a dorsal fin.

Another bonus of the dolphin swim is that Jess and Grace make friends at the sanctuary: Sarah, Ashley and Jordan from Savannah, Georgia. Later, around 10 p.m., back on the ship, they all spend an hour exploring and “making more new friends.” Cathy and I decide not to investigate precisely what this entails, and clink wine glasses in our stateroom instead. Hey, we’re on holiday, too.

Day 5: San Miguel, Cozumel, Mexico
Cozumel is a tiny seed-shaped island off the eastern shore of the Yucatan Peninsula, in the state of Quintana Roo. Besides the cruise port, the place is world-renowned for its white-sand beaches, balnearios (seaside resort towns), scuba diving and snorkelling. Its southwestern side touches the second-largest reef system in the world.

Our stop here will be brief, though, so we decide to catch a taxi to the island’s largest town, San Miguel de Cozumel. Our cabbie is engaging and delivers us to the Mercado - just off the commercial centre, which, with its Senor Frog’s and Starbucks, looks more like Phoenix than Mexico. During our aimless and highly pleasurable wanderings around the Mercado, away from the touristy main drag, we come across numerous little clothing and craft shops, where the prices are low and the goods of a decent quality. After shopping, we camp out at a beach restaurant, where the sand is velvety, the water warm, the food tasty and the beer cold. Viva Cozumel! Viva Mexico! Viva cerveza!


Day 6: At Sea
Cathy and the girls are getting some pool time, so I set out from the top deck, vowing to explore every possible spot on the ship, allotting myself two hours. I find 14 public decks. I find theatres, skating rinks, mini-malls, chapels. I find more bars than a Vegas hotel. I find the “King of the World” lookout on the prow, near the helicopter landing pad, where you can literally lean into the wind. Three hours later, I am back in our cabin, exhausted, stunned at how big the ship truly is. My guess is that I have walked 20 km.

It’s late at night. Everyone else is in bed. I am sipping a martini in the Olive or Twist Lounge on Deck 14 and finding it hard to believe we are actually going to be back in Miami when we wake up in the morning. There are a handful of passengers in the lounge, some sitting reading books by lamplight, a few couples canoodling. The mood is more relaxed now, as if folks know the ride is over, that the urgency to “play” can be put to bed.

What Royal Caribbean sets out to do - which is to provide plenty of good food and drink, friendly service, a clean and safe environment and a sampling of tourism and entertainment options - is very much what it delivers on.

Day 7: Miami, U.S.
Our final buffet in the Windjammer. We sit by the window gazing out at the Miami skyline. Grace returns from the buffet with six cinnamon buns on her plate. “Can I take these with me onto the plane?” she asks.

“No,” says Cathy. “We’re not allowed to take food off the boat. The customs people would just throw it out.”

Grace seems at peace with this. “OK . . . I’ll just eat them all now, then.”

Finally, it’s time to go. We walk one last time to our cabin, to get our hand luggage. Jess and Grace say goodbye to their friends. We head down the gangway and toward customs. As we stand waiting, Jess turns back to the ship. “That was so much fun,” she says. “I loved that. But . . .” She hesitates.

“What is it?” I ask, curious.

“Well, I was just thinking that that was so much fun, it really was - the Caribbean and all. But,” she says, putting a forefinger to her chin. “I’m just trying to think of where we should go on our next cruise.”

Step Ashore, Maties!

Around Alberta

by: Shauna Rudd

September 2013
Munich in Lougheed

Until the Hentschel family, owners of Haus Falkenstein restaurant in the Lougheed Hotel, 185 km southeast of Edmonton, arrived from Germany in 2009, Oktoberfest was a new concept for them. “We are from the Ruhr District and we had nothing to do with Oktoberfest because that’s a Bavarian thing. But our Canadian customers insisted that we do it,” says Micha Hentschel. Haus Falkenstein now hosts one of Alberta’s most popular Oktoberfest celebrations - set for October 26 this year. Attendees tuck into a buffet-style meal of Bavarian sausage, sauerkraut and other German nibbles, which go perfectly with a cold Erdinger wheat beer, the restaurant’s top-selling brew. “Two years ago, we had 109 customers and sold 538 bottles of that beer. That’s 2.5 litres per head. At Oktoberfest in Munich, 1.1 litres of beer per head were sold. So the sales guy from Erdinger Brewery joked that he wanted to apply to change our village name from Lougheed to Erding,” says Hentschel.

Around Alberta

by: Shauna Rudd

September 2013
Munich in Lougheed

Until the Hentschel family, owners of Haus Falkenstein restaurant in the Lougheed Hotel, 185 km southeast of Edmonton, arrived from Germany in 2009, Oktoberfest was a new concept for them. “We are from the Ruhr District and we had nothing to do with Oktoberfest because that’s a Bavarian thing. But our Canadian customers insisted that we do it,” says Micha Hentschel. Haus Falkenstein now hosts one of Alberta’s most popular Oktoberfest celebrations - set for October 26 this year. Attendees tuck into a buffet-style meal of Bavarian sausage, sauerkraut and other German nibbles, which go perfectly with a cold Erdinger wheat beer, the restaurant’s top-selling brew. “Two years ago, we had 109 customers and sold 538 bottles of that beer. That’s 2.5 litres per head. At Oktoberfest in Munich, 1.1 litres of beer per head were sold. So the sales guy from Erdinger Brewery joked that he wanted to apply to change our village name from Lougheed to Erding,” says Hentschel.

Behind the Wheel

by Shauna Rudding

May 2013
Steering the Way

It seems like only yesterday you were taking the training wheels off his bike, yet here is your teenager in the driver’s seat of your family car, awaiting direction. Even if your teen is registered in driver education, AMA recommends 30 to 50 hours of supervised in-vehicle coaching on top of course instruction. So where do you start?

First, you should be fairly confident that you could pass the learner’s test yourself. If you’re anything like the majority of Albertans, you probably couldn’t. In 2010, the AMA Foundation for Traffic Safety and the University of Calgary asked more than 1,000 Albertans to take the learner’s exam. Only 11 per cent passed. So it’s a good idea to review the Alberta Driver’s Handbook before you begin. Then hone those skills not so easily gained from a handbook - patience and communication. Below, some tips on how to be a patient, effective driver coach. 

1. Talk about what you both hope to accomplish during the driving session before you hit the road, and set clear expectations. The more you keep the discussion open, the less chance there will be for misunderstandings, which is when things tend to go south.

2. Make your trip a short one - 15 minutes or so - especially for the first few sessions.

“If you try to go any longer, patience just goes out the window,” says Rick Lang of AMA Driver Education. Also, choose a familiar route - say, to school or the grocery store.

3. Set out to practise one skill at a time, such as starting and stopping, or turns. Trying to cover too much in one session can be overwhelming and lead to frustration.

4. Have your new driver communicate what she plans to do before she does it. For instance, if you’re practising a left-hand turn across traffic, have her tell you when she’s going to turn ("after the yellow car, I’m going to go"). This way you can judge whether the manoeuvre is a good idea - maybe your new driver didn’t notice a cyclist coming up alongside that yellow car.

5. Stay out of parking lots. You might think they’re an ideal place to start because of the open space, but this is precisely why they’re not. Beginners need to practise scanning and driving in a straight line. “If you’re on a quiet residential road, where they can look forward two or three blocks, they can focus on where they want to go,” says Lang.

6. Finally, be a good role model. Take stock of your own behaviour when you’re behind the wheel. We’ve all developed a few bad habits over time - perhaps we use colourful language or creative hand signals. Be aware of these things and try to correct them. The truth is, driving instruction starts much earlier than the teens, says Lang. “As soon as you turn that rear-facing car seat forward, you’re teaching your son or daughter how to drive.”

feature

by Malwina Gudowska

November 2012
10 Best Girlfriend Getaways

They are our confidantes, sisters, mothers, bosom friends, kindred spirits, besties and BFFs. Whatever we call the women in our lives, nothing compares to the no-boys-allowed quality time we spend with them. Whether you’re looking for a full week of bonding or a quick weekend escape, here are 10 ideas that will have you planning a girlfriends’ reunion in no time.

1. Spa in Style: Sparkling Hill Resort, Vernon, B.C.
Diamonds may be a girl’s best friend, but after a trip to Canada’s largest spa and the Okanagan’s only CAA four-diamond resort, forget the baubles: you’ll be sparkling from the inside out.

Why you’ll love it: This 80-hectare property at the base of the Monashee and Pinnacle Mountains overlooks Okanagan Lake - and Predator Ridge golf course is right next door. Plus, Swarovski crystals accent every aspect of the resort’s design, from glass fireplaces to crystal “stars” over the soaker tubs. Try the Girls’ Wellness Getaway package, which includes a two-night stay, cocktails, a treatment at the 40,000-square-foot KurSpa, dinner and access to the seven steam and sauna rooms, indoor and outdoor pools, fitness studio and water therapy and relaxation rooms.

2. Shop the Big Apple: The AMA Diva Style New York Tour
This quintessential New York experience, perfect to share with the other divas in your life, includes a guided tour of the Garment District, where participants get to shop in private showrooms, as well as a Broadway show and a Harlem Gospel tour. And likely plenty of Cosmopolitans in between.

Why you’ll love it: It’s New York! Brenda Strueby, 55-year-old nurse and Calgary AMA member, did the six-day self-guided tour last November with a girlfriend. “When we walked into the hotel, ‘Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire’ was playing and it was like a clich from a movie,” she says. “Everything was perfect.” The tour gave them a well-edited overview of a city that can often be overwhelming for a first-time tourist. And with a 24-hour Hop-on, Hop-off bus pass, they were able to get around the city on their own schedule.

Although there’s plenty to do and see on the tour, the main focus is shopping, an activity that Strueby and her girlfriend embraced to its full potential. “We stocked up on presents at Macy’s and shopped at Tiffany’s, and because of the tour, we knew where to go, so we could just shop whenever and however long we wanted,” says Strueby.

3. Run in the Sun: California
Doing a 10-kilometre run or half-marathon with friends is a great way to spend quality time together, pre-race and on the big day. Crossing the finish in sunny California, which hosts hundreds of organized runs each year, combines a personal triumph with a well-deserved escape.

Why you’ll love it: The setting: gorgeous beaches, wine country and that mellow West Coast lifestyle. Well worth a few months of training!

“With three babies under the age of three, it was time to give myself a break,” says Calgary’s Aneta Donhuysen, who did the annual, harvest-themed Healdsburg Wine Country Half Marathon in Sonoma County, California, with her friend Catherine Cooke this past October. The route winds among vineyards, with stunning views of the Dry Creek and Alexander Valleys.

“The race was a perfect goal and getaway: some running, some wine, some shopping and great company,” says Cooke. The wine-themed events, including a pizza-and-Pinot welcome reception and a finisher’s party at the Clos du Bois winery, didn’t hurt when it came to motivation, either, she adds. The two friends plan on continuing the California race-getaway tradition with next year’s Nike Women’s Marathon in San Francisco (October 2013), where each participant receives a necklace from Tiffany’s when she crosses the finish line. For a full listing of organized runs in the Golden State, visit: runningintheusa.com.

4. Party in the Big Easy: New Orleans, Louisiana
Sometimes, girls just want to have fun (sorry, we had to). Vegas and Miami are the go-to spots for stagettes and general-purpose carousing, but here’s a cultured twist: New Orleans.

Why you’ll love it: This city knows how to party (think Mardi Gras), but it’s also a perfect spot for women who like a little bit of everything: nightlife, culture and history. Explore the city’s main attractions by day - the French Quarter, gallery-dotted Arts District, area plantations and decadent St. Charles Avenue mansions. Then take in a cocktail walking tour of the city (several companies offer them), before hitting the town in earnest. Bourbon Street and the Arts District are packed with nightclubs. Just don’t do anything we wouldn’t do!

5. Flop on the Beach: The Nolitours NoliZONE, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
The sprawling beaches and forested mountains of Puerta Vallarta, Mexico, are just a five-hour flight away, as are its hundreds of no-fuss all-inclusive resorts. Choose a resort in the Nolitours NoliZONE, a group of hotels that cater to travellers looking for a balance of relaxation, socializing and exploring.

Why you’ll love it: The NoliZONE combines the effortlessness of an all-inclusive vacation with chances to step off-resort and meet vacationers from nearby hotels for activities such as sightseeing, golf and whale watching. Try Samba Vallarta, a NoliZONE resort that’s close to the shopping and dining village of Bucerias. In the evening, meet up with your girls - and any new friends you’ve made - and hit the town for dinner and dancing. The next day, repeat.

6. Eat Your Way Through Santa Fe: AMA’s Culinary Tour for Women
This five-day tour brings women from across North America together in Santa Fe, New Mexico, for a taste of the city’s vibrant culinary scene, which features Native American and Spanish traditions, a focus on farm-to-table dining and an abundance of world-renowned chefs.

Why you’ll love it: In addition to daily - yes, daily - chocolate tastings, the trip includes a farmer’s market tour with a local food expert, a walking tour of the city, several restaurant meals and a tamale-making class at the Santa Fe Cooking School. “At the cooking class, we had to work together, so that really bonded us with this group of women we just met,” says Pat Awmack, who participated in the tour with her daughter last year. “You really learn about a place when you experience the ‘buy local, eat local’ way.”

7. Take the Trip of a Lifetime: Morocco Women Only Tour Morocco.
The name conjures up palaces, mosques, exotic spice markets and scenes from the movie Casablanca. But many women might feel intimidated travelling here alone. Enter the Women Only Morocco tour, an 11-day excursion led by a local female tour guide.

Why you’ll love it: Starting in Casablanca and winding up in Marrakech, you’ll tour ancient cities and ornate palaces, ride camels in the desert, sleep in a Bedouin tent, shop in souks and create Moroccan dishes with a female chef. And that’s in addition to a daily woman-inspired highlight (a visit to a local women’s textile centre, for example).

Azi Shahidi, a program manager who participated in the Morocco tour in November 2010, says her fondest memory of the trip was meeting Nawal El Moutawakel, minister of sports and the first Moroccan woman to win an Olympic gold medal. Because the emphasis of these tours is the female point of view, El Moutawakel was only one of the many incredible women Shahidi had the pleasure of encountering during her trip. “You experience what a local woman in a Moroccan city is doing, and what a woman living in a small Moroccan village is doing,” says Shahidi.

8. Learn Photography in Paris: The National Geographic Photography Workshop
See the City of Light in, well, a whole new light, with this seven-day Paris photography workshop. You and your friends will bond through the shared experience of learning a craft, immersed in a setting that has inspired innumerable artists over the centuries.

Why you’ll love it: From your base at the Hotel du Pantheon in the Latin Quarter, skilled National Geographic shooters will help you perfect your photos as you snap images of street life, markets, architecture and cultural sites such as Notre Dame Cathedral and Versailles. There’s also plenty of downtime for exploring - with your camera and your best girlfriends, naturally.

9. Live it Up in the Live Music Capital of the World: Austin, Texas
With more than 200 live-music venues, Austin, Texas, is an ideal getaway for music lovers and the music-loving womenin their lives. Grab your girlfriends and plan a trip around one of the city’s many music festivals - Austin City Limits, South by Southwest, Pachanga Latino Musical Festival, the Austin Urban Music Festival and Fun Fun Fun Fest, to name a few. 

Why you’ll love it: From honky-tonk and blues to jazz, folk and rock ‘n’ roll, you’ll find every genre of music here. Depending on your tastes, obligatory stops on the legendary club circuit include Antone’s (blues), the Continental Club (honky-tonk), Cactus Cafe & Bar (acoustic), Elephant Room (jazz) and The Broken Spoke (country). Or, work in a few guided tours, like Austin’s Cowboy Cosmic Tour, which takes participants to all the secret spots where local musicians hang out, or the Rocket Electric Austin Live Music Capital of the World tour, guided by a local musician and concluding with a private performance on the shores of Lady Bird Lake.

Keep the music going with a stay at the historic Driskill Hotel, which hosts an eclectic array of live performances nightly. The hotel also offers a girls’ getaway package that includes accommodation, cocktails, spa treatments and breakfast.

10. Go Cowgirl: Sierra West Cabins and Ranch Vacations, Alberta
Get back to the land, the Western way, with the gals at a log cabin on Lonesome Pine Ranch, a working cattle operation 18 km north of Lundbreck, Alta., in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.

Why you’ll love it: Rolling countryside, open sky and the serenity of being one with nature. And, of course, the
opportunity to play cowgirl: guests can participate in cattle drives, trail and open-range horseback riding, camping, hunting and rodeo sports.

“It was exactly like living on a ranch,” says Karine Roy, who celebrated her 40th birthday at Sierra West with her daughter and two sisters. The foursome spent five days of quality time together, riding horses during the day and retreating to their cozy private cabin at night. Roy plans on returning to participate in the ranch’s two-day Frontier Cattle Drive next summer.

feature

by: Craille Maguire Gillies

November 2012
The Life Adriatic


We are supposed to catch a ferry. It is mid-morning and our bus is rolling through the highways and side roads of Hungary, on our way to Croatia. The landscape is green and hilly and there is a brilliant sun overhead - the kind that makes you sleepy. Our plan is to hop the six-minute boat ride across the narrow part of Balaton Lake, the largest lake in Central Europe and a popular summer resort spot, and then make our way to Zagreb, the Croatian capital.

“We are in Hungary,” our guide, Beata, says, “which means there is a ferry. Or there might be a ferry.” She pauses. “There will probably be a ferry.” No one else is terribly concerned. We have a lot of ground to cover, but a lot of time to cover it. Over 16 days, our group of 33 is making its way by bus through Austria, Hungary and Croatia, where we will spend the bulk of our time among vineyards, farmland and villages hugging the Adriatic Coast. We’ll briefly traverse Bosnia to reach Dubrovnik, in southern Croatia, and then, after a side trip to Montenegro, head north to Slovenia.

The trip, organized by Insight Vacations, has attracted a diverse group: several retired baby boomers from Australia, a family with three college-aged sons from North Carolina (who miraculously all get along), a teacher from Los Angeles, a few South Africans and the odd Canadian to boot.

On this early-summer day, just outside Budapest, we pass blooming white acacia trees. Brahman cows graze in fields not given over to vineyards or vacation homes. Bulrushes stand sentinel along the water’s edge. We arrive at the tiny, prosaic ferry terminal with just enough time to board. We might be on vacation, but with five countries to cover, there’s a schedule to abide.

Twenty years ago, it would have been unthinkable to drive a bus through this region. The Bosnian War and the Croatian War of Independence following the breakup of Yugoslavia brought violence to the area. And scars from that time - physical and emotional - remain.

But many here hope to put the past far behind them. Croatia, for one, is set to join the European Union next July. “The first decade of the new millennium let people settle down with their past and look forward,” Beata tells us. She has travelled these roads for more than two decades and seen the region’s transformation first-hand.

That transformation has brought visitors. The New Yorker called 2011 Croatia’s “best year for tourism,” and the number of foreign visitors is up six per cent in 2012. In recent years, the coastal city of Dubrovnik, where we’re headed in a few days, and its environs have become known as a sort of Dalmatian Riviera (Dalmatia being the historical name for the region of Croatia that runs along the Adriatic Coast).

Despite these changes, you can’t miss the past in Zagreb, which we approach under a light rain that lifts to sunshine. With a population of around 800,000, Zagreb is the largest city in Croatia and was an economic centre in the former Yugoslavia. The humourless facades of Communist-era buildings sit alongside the pale yellow of restored structures from the Hapsburg era.

This juxtaposition of Communist severity and classical grandeur repeats itself through the city. On our way to dinner, we pass the Regent Esplanade, a palatial art nouveau hotel built in 1925 for guests of the Orient Express. Walking back to our hotel (a Sheraton in central Zagreb that is basic but comfortable - like most of the accommodations included in this tour package), I wander under plane trees through King Tomislav Square and catch a glimpse of the city’s neoclassical railway station, lit up at night. A few blocks along, I take photos of art graffiti.

In the morning, we walk 15 minutes to the Upper Town to see the Stone Gate, in the medieval heart of the city. In the 13th century, King Bela IV granted special rights to the community of Gradec to build fortifications as protection against the Mongols. This included four gates connecting the upper and lower towns. The Stone Gate is the only one that remains.

The gate holds special meaning for the city’s faithful (close to 90 per cent of Croatians are Catholic) because, as legend has it, a 1731 fire destroyed the wooden parts of the gate, but not, miraculously, a painting of the Virgin and Child. Today it’s a shrine where locals come to pray. Someone tells me today is the Day of the Virgin Mary of Stone Gate. As I walk through the gate, singing rises from the crowd that has gathered to light candles.

Up the cobblestone road, I hear another soulful voice - this one coming from the Museum of Broken Relationships, a small art space in what the clerk describes as a former palace, but is more akin to a maisonette or row house. “I’m ready for you, I hope you’re ready for me,” Muddy Watters sings as I enter. Two former lovers created the museum four years ago, displaying relics of their relationship. Soon friends and strangers began donating objects. One display case holds a national identity card from France, donated by a woman from Ljubljana, Slovenia (a city we will soon visit). “The only thing of great love,” she wrote, “was citizenship.”
Farther along the road, an old man plays Dalmatian folk songs on an acoustic guitar. We make our way to the centre of town, weaving through a farmer’s market full of woven baskets, flowers and strawberries. We have two days in Zagreb - ample time to explore by foot before we hop back on the bus and leave the north for the coast.

Travelling overland hundreds of kilometres, a place reveals itself gradually. We pass the long stretches on the bus listening to historical primers from our guide, Beata, napping or chatting with our fellow travellers. At the outset, I worried that I’d get cabin fever holed up on a bus for hours at a time, but I find I appreciate the balance between activity and reflection. The long hours travelling give me the chance to learn more about the region.
The other passengers chat about children and grandchildren back home, or places they’ve travelled. Several are bus-tour veterans. Some form new friendships and break into small groups to explore during free time (which we have plenty of, even though there are organized activities most days).

On the drive to Split, a seaside city about 400 kilometres from Zagreb, the landscape becomes hillier. Tiny farms occupy the valley and terraced vineyards dot the coast. In small lakes and bays I notice the bobbing floats of oyster and mussel farms.

We arrive in Split in the afternoon. Our stay will be short, so we start our sightseeing with a quick tour of Diocletian’s Palace, a fortress-like structure built in the late third century as a retirement home for the Roman emperor. Today it is part museum and part housing, and it anchors the old part of the city. After a jaunt up the boardwalk, we freshen up at the Atrium, our sleek, modern hotel, which wouldn’t be out of place in New York or Calgary.

We’re soon thrust back into the country, with a short drive to a konoba (tavern) on a small bay, where a trio of musicians in striped T-shirts serenades us between courses of fish, soup and potatoes (roughly half of our suppers are included in the tour package). There is another busload of Insight travellers at dinner, mostly Australian, and they quickly get into the spirit. As the pitch rises - lubricated by shots of herb brandy, a local specialty - someone starts a conga line. The musicians play to the mood and shout, “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie,” and everyone else shouts back, on cue, “Oi! Oi! Oi!”

By now we are on day seven and have eased into the rhythm of bus travel. Having made our way along the coast, we’re headed for one night to tiny Korcula, an island that claims - but can’t substantiate - Marco Polo as a native son, before we tour a winery in the Peljesac Peninsula. Then it’s on to Dubrovnik, where we’ll spend two days.

The landscape becomes subtly more Mediterranean the farther southeast we go, and after several hours we arrive in Dubrovnik, Pearl of the Adriatic. We emerge from the bus at 3 p.m., blinking in the brilliant sun. In the Middle Ages, this city matched Venice as an eastern European seaport. One afternoon, when the heat of the day has lifted, I make the two-kilometre trek along the thick medieval wall that separates the old city from the new. The fortifications, flush with the Adriatic, were a hedge against invaders such as the Venetians, who ruled these parts in the 13th and 14th centuries.

One morning, we walk from our sprawling luxury hotel, Rixos Libertas, which is built into the side of a hill not far from the old city, to meet our walking-tour guide, Duska.

“If you put your finger in the seawater,” she tells us, “you are connected with the whole world. Not long ago, however - in October 1991 - Dubrovnik was cut off from the world by a siege during the Croatian War of Independence. The Yugoslav People’s Army surrounded the city and some 30,000 residents, including Duska, had to flee to escape a three-month bombardment. Much of the city was destroyed. Duska escorts us to the Memorial Room of Defenders of Dubrovnik, a museum in the old city, where we see photos of the bombing. Local fighters who died appear in portraits along the wall.

For dinner, we board a wooden boat and ride out to a quiet bay. The city is aglow with lights, reflecting off the limestone walls of houses and the karstic hillside. As we dine on our meal of red snapper, rocket salad and apple strudel, we sip Croatian white wine and brandy and gaze up at the bright white orb of the full moon, which hangs as if strung on a wire between the peaks of two hills.

Over the next few days, we take a tour to Montenegro, an optional side trip that takes us south, along the coast, through the community of Kotor, the 3,500-year-old town of Budva and the resort islet of Sveti Stefan. By now we are on day 11. We make our way north to overnight in a Communist-era hotel in Plitvice Lakes National Park, in central Croatia. The accommodations are spare but clean. Encased in glass in the lobby is a taxidermied bear, upright on its back legs.

The park quickly becomes a highlight of the trip. Founded in 1949, it is the largest national park in Croatia and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In the morning we discover why. We walk the perimeter of small lakes linked by a boardwalk and fed by endless waterfalls. There are 16 interconnected lakes, all shades of emerald and aquamarine. When we get to a series of cascading falls that shroud a small chunk of rock face, our young Croatian guide, Blanka, says, “This is what we call the Croatian Niagara Falls.”

Throughout the walk, Blanka throws out snippets about the region’s natural history: the 800 varieties of mushrooms, the forests of beech, fir, maple and hornbeam that surround us, the travertine dams where fallen tree trunks calcify over many, many years into stone. Occasionally she stops to point out a rare orchid or the holes in a beech tree made by dormice. Near the end of the walk she becomes serious. “You hear about Croatia rebuilding itself quickly,” she says. “That was the will of the people.”

By lunchtime we are on our way. We alight, briefly, in Karlovac, near Zagreb, to see bullet-riddled houses, still unrepaired from the war of the 1990s, and an outdoor museum of tanks and artillery. As we continue on to Slovenia, I recall Blanka’s words.

The scenery becomes greener and less populated as we exit Croatia and drift north. Slovenia is at the northern edge of the Balkan Peninsula, “squeezed between the Alps and the Adriatic Peninsula,” Beata says as we roll toward the capital, Ljubljana.

On the long drive, I practise my pronunciation: Lube-lee-yan-ah. Though the Slovenes arrived in these parts around the seventh century, Slovenia itself is a young country, established in 1991 when it broke away from Yugoslavia. As for the capital, it isn’t much older than its roughly 300,000 residents (the average age is early 30s), and we quickly see evidence of that youthful energy in the city’s cafe culture and markets.

An 1895 earthquake destroyed many of Ljubljana’s buildings. These were replaced, our walking guide Spela tells us the next morning, with art nouveau and modern buildings - such as the “skyscraper” that was the tallest building in the Balkans when it was built in the 1930s. We peer up: it is no more than 12 storeys high.

Spela leads us on a brisk walk around town - you can see most of it in an hour or two - and then I break away from the group to visit Ljubljana Castle, the best place in town for photos. A funicular takes me to the top of Castle Hill, where I wander the medieval grounds and climb a tower for sweeping views of the green city. Here, from the highest point in the city, I can see how far we’ve come. Just a few days ago we were more than 600 km away, sailing in the sea outside Dubrovnik and gazing at the moon. And soon we’ll hit the road for our next adventure.

Road Trip

by Jim Sutherland

November 2012
The Real Oahu


There’s irony afoot in Hawaii, except don’t look for it in the tiki bars. It lies in the popular perception of Oahu as the “touristy” island. But the reality is as different as Five-O and Hang 10. Outside Honolulu, residents of Oahu have actively resisted turning over too much of their home to outsiders. So in a way, Oahu’s the most “natural” island, where people have real lives and jobs. It’s just that most of us never venture far from the resorts and high-rises of Waikiki and have no idea what Oahu’s really about. Fortunately, closing this perception gap is only slightly more difficult than lying in the sand and letting the waves lap at your sunburn.

Leg One: Waikiki to Turtle Bay (100 km)

Depart Waikiki via the Lunalilo Freeway, merge onto the Kalaniana’ole Highway and then hula around Oahu’s South Shore and Windward Coast. Drive right by Diamond Head and Koko Crater - even Hanauma Bay and its famous snorkelling. All can be reached easily from Waikiki via any number of day-tour outfits. Around kilometre 19, stop at Sandy Beach, which is widely regarded as the best bodysurfing spot in the world. Before diving in, note that it’s also among the most dangerous, due to a shore break that can literally toss you onto the sand. Roughly one in every 3,000 swimmers here requires an emergency response. Now look up. Those things soaring above you are hang-gliders, launched from nearby Kamehame Ridge.

Having skirted the Ko’Olau Mountain Range, wind down into Kailua, a beach town and Honolulu bedroom suburb that also serves as U.S. president Barack Obama’s annual Christmas vacation spot. Detour a few blocks to the more sheltered Lanikai Beach, with its fine white sand and looming mansions. Indulge in the snorkelling you passed up at Hanauma Bay.

By km 50 or so, you’ve found your way onto the Kamehameha Highway, which soon leaves suburbia behind on its way up Oahu’s northeastern coast. Here, vines entangle roadside ruins, and machete-wielding native Hawaiians sell coconuts and pineapples at rickety stands.


Around km 90, pull into the Polynesian Cultural Center. Catch one of the tours that wends through what is essentially an interactive amusement park with performances instead of rides, each one hosted by citizens of seven different Polynesian islands. Stay for the elaborate luau, with traditional song, dance and food, then drive the 15 minutes to Turtle Bay Resort. After checking in, marvel at the waves pounding outside your balcony. You’ve reached Oahu’s north shore, the world’s pre-eminent surfing destination.
Good eats and sleeps: With 443 rooms and two golf courses, the venerable Turtle Bay Resort is reinventing itself as a hotel that celebrates local surf culture. There are several bars and restaurants at the resort, but the evenings-only 21 Degrees North is extraordinary, putting stylish new twists on local ingredients and dishes.

Leg Two: Turtle Bay to Ko’olina (65 km)
After reluctantly checking out of Turtle Bay and aiming the car southwest on the Kamehameha Highway, park anywhere you see lots of other vehicles - a sure sign of a beach. If you’re visiting between December and March, only consider testing the waters at Banzai Pipeline, Sunset Beach or Waimea Bay if you’re an Olympic-calibre swimmer or ultra-expert surfer. From April to November, the water is quite calm.

Around km 20, turn into Haleiwa. Decades ago this was that rarest of burgs, a seaside farming town. But the sugarcane and pineapple industries are mostly gone, and the tractor dealerships and dry goods stores survive as surf shops and burrito joints. Spend an hour or two strolling the streets, perhaps spotting a sign also common on Maui’s north shore, but rarely tested on either island: “No Clothes, No Service.”

At km 30, explore a bit of that lost farming economy at the Dole Plantation. Is it touristy? Yes, indeed, but perhaps a miniature train ride and pineapple sundae suit your vacation style better than interpretive displays on the eclipse of Hawaii’s agricultural economy.


Back on the road, head south and prepare for that rarest of Oahu driving experiences, a half-hour or so of not much to look at as you cross the island via the Kamehameha Highway and Queen Liliuokalani Freeway. (Hawaiian language tip: pronounce all of those vowels. For example, another major Oahu route is the Likelike Highway. Call it the “licky-licky” and you’re close.) Soon you’ll arrive inside the gated complex at Ko’olina, site of not one but two hotels, the original Marriot Ihilani Ko Olina Resort and Aulani, a newly opened Disney extravaganza.

Good eats and sleeps: Disney’s Aulani, which opened in 2011, shares one of Oahu’s most sheltered beaches, to go along with a Hawaiian-themed spa, kids’ and teens’ activities and an evening luau that adds Disney characters to the traditional-Hawaiian mix.

Leg Three: Ko’olina to Waikiki (45 km)
You’re less than an hour from Waikiki, so there’s time to enjoy some of the resort trimmings, which include a golf course that plays host to the LPGA Lotte Classic. Or take advantage of the Wai’anae Coast’s wintertime calmness and book an excursion departing from one of the local marinas to swim with the dolphins and turtles. This also provides an excuse to choose the road not taken, at least by most tourists, up the Farmington Highway toward the island’s northwestern tip. Austere but beautiful, this coast is mostly the domain of native Hawaiians, including hundreds who can be described as homeless, even though their homelessness happens to be carried out on one of the most alluring tropical beaches anywhere.

On the spin back to Waikiki, pass right by Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial, since a visit takes several hours and you can easily arrange a day tour from Waikiki. Instead, pay homage to another spot, the La Mariana Sailing Club, on Honolulu’s western approach. This is Oahu’s original tiki bar, dating from 1957. Haunted almost exclusively by locals, it’s practically the only tiki bar left on the island - and that, you’d have to say, is ironic.

upfront

by Tracy Hyatt, Natasha Mekhail and Caitlin Rooney

October 2012
Stompin Around Alberta


Glad Tidings
by Tracy Hyatt
Edmonton, Calgary, Pigeon Lake
Between the mad dash to decorate your tree, hang the lights and brave the crowded shopping malls, sometimes you hardly feel like you’re having any fun during the holidays. Our prescription? A swig of ‘nog and a visit to one of our favourite Alberta Christmas events:

Spruce Meadows International Christmas Market presented by Telus, Nov. 16 to 18 and Nov. 23 to 25, Spruce Meadows, Calgary: Here you’ll find more than 200 vendors selling gifts and handmade crafts from around the world. Once your money’s spent, head outside to the courtyard and take in ice-carving demonstrations and holiday entertainment.

Christmas at the Village, Nov. 23 and 24, Pigeon Lake: You don’t have to be a wide-eyed, rosy-cheeked kid to enjoy an good old-fashioned hayride at this village celebration. While you’re there, check out the nightly firework show. Stay overnight at Village Creek Country Inn for more fun, including home decorating demonstrations, yoga and a Christmas gala dinner. 

Christmas Reflections, Dec. 6 to 23, Fort Edmonton Park, Edmonton: You’ll feel like a character from the pages of a turn-of-the-century storybook at Fort Edmonton Park’s Christmas Reflections. Chat with costumed interpreters on 1905 and 1920 streets, tour the park by horse-drawn wagon and make the requisite stop at Reed’s Bazaar to buy Christmas decorations. On Dec. 5, AMA members get a sneak peek of the event and save 20 per cent.

The Exhibition Strikes Back

by Natasha Mekhail
The original Star Wars film introduced us to Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia and Yoda; The Phantom Menace to Anakin Skywalker, Padme Amidala and Jar Jar Binks. Get to know them all again at Star Wars Identities, on now to April 1, 2013 at Edmonton’s Telus World of Science. This exploration of people and life forms who hail from planets such as Tatooine, Hoth and Endor is partly a memorabilia collection - puppets, props, costumes, models and artwork from the films and spinoff TV series, Star Wars: The Clone Wars. But it’s also an educational journey into human identity. Interactive displays on evolution, upbringing and culture explain, through the mythos of Star Wars, how nature and nurture combine to shape every aspect of our being. How could Luke Skywalker and his father Anakin grow up on the same planet but turn out so differently? How can the loner Hans Solo and his Wookiee co-pilot Chewbacca be from such distinct worlds yet get along so well? Create your own Star Wars character to find out. Choose one of 15, from Ewok to Rodian, then work your way through 10 stations, where your choices determine your character’s destiny. As in life, the factors that imbue you with the Force - or let you to slip to the Dark Side - are one part decision, one part roll of the dice.

Kananaskis Mush
by Tracy Hyatt

If skiing or snowmobiling isn’t your winter activity of choice, there are other ways to explore the snow-covered hills. All you need do is learn a few dog commands - gee means turn right and haw, left - and let a faithful pack of canines lead the way. Canmore-based Snowy Owl Sled Dog Tours offers a range of packages, from a two-hour ride to a two-day overnight adventure, which includes winter camping. The popular two-hour tour winds its way through the forested Spray Lakes Valley, with a midway pit stop on Ghost Pond for photos. By then, you should be on a first-name basis with your new four-legged friends, who consist of Canadian Inuit Huskies, Alaskan Malamutes, Canadian Indian Huskies and Siberian Huskies. At the end of the ride, warm your toes beside a roaring fire, sip hot chocolate and snack on cookies prepared by your guides. 

Thunder On The Plains

by Tracy Hyatt
In the 1600s, more than 40 million bison covered the plains of North America. By the mid-20th century, their numbers had dwindled to 3,000 as a result of overhunting. Recalling the Buffalo, by City of Edmonton historian laureate Ken Tingley, tells the story of North America’s largest native land mammal with brevity and clarity. One local highlight: in a later chapter, Tingley unearths an American Bison Society report that documents the successful 1897 introduction of three Texas bison to Banff National Park. The report describes the bison as “ the most interesting attraction to the thousands of tourists, who from year to year were drawn to Banff by the fame of its natural beauties and its hot springs.” The bison thrived, and by 1909 the captive herd had increased from 19 to more than 100. The park removed the bison paddock in 1997 to allow free movement of other wildlife, but there are current plans to reintroduce a roaming herd. Recalling the Buffalo doubles as a biography of American cowboy, conservationist and artist Martin Garretson, who dedicated his life to saving the buffalo from extinction. While some may find the book’s content sparse, Garretson’s sketches, paintings, correspondence, articles and clippings - all carefully curated by Tingley - bring the buffalo, and the efforts to restore them - charging back to life.

Remembrance Day at the Alberta Aviation Museum

by Caitlin Rooney
This November 11, commemorate Canadian war heroes in the very building where Commonwealth air troops trained during the Second World War: the Alberta Aviation Museum in Edmonton. A parade of around 70 veterans and troops kicks off the museum’s annual ceremony at 10 a.m., followed by presentations on the history of Remembrance Day, prayers for Canadians lost in conflicts past and the customary moment of silence. Organizers expect a crowd of nearly 1,000, including families, veterans and service men and women.
After the ceremony, tour the museum to gain an even greater appreciation of the world’s air forces. You’ll learn about the hangar’s history as a British Royal Air Force facility, handle manual and electronic flight simulators and get up close to more than 50 aircraft - a 1943 de Havilland Mosquito, a 1937 Avro Anson II, a 1943 Douglas C-47 and a 1952 Canadair CT-133 Silver Star fighter jet, among others. 

Sentimental Bric-a-Brac

by Tracy Hyatt
On the stretch of Nanton’s main street that’s dotted with curiosity shops, you could easily drive right by the nondescript Keeley Building. But it’s worth a second look. The two-storey brick structure, built in 1909 as a hardware store, is nearly as old as the town itself. Today it’s home to Sentimental Journey Antiques, one of the largest antique shops in Alberta, If not the Prairies. Owner Terry Dixon has amassed a mind-blowing collection of Shelley china, which she displays amid furnishings, art deco lampshades, vintage signs, wooden skis and Western Canadian kitsch. Upstairs, Dixon has filled a series of tiny interconnecting rooms and narrow hallways - once apartments used by the Canadian Air Force - with more antiques. Set aside at least a couple of hours to rummage for vintage treasures. 

weekenders

by Kristine Kowalchuk

October 2012
Weekenders: Grande Cache

Grande Cache didn’t exist as a town until 1969 - it was established along with the Smoky River Coal Mine. The town’s name, however, is a reference to the elevated log huts that trappers of the area would use for storing furs (stilts kept the pelts away from rodents). A model hut next to Hwy. 40 welcomes visitors, who arrive to find themselves surrounded by pristine mountain forests and a trove of jaw-dropping vistas: Grande Cache and Victor Lakes to the south, Smoky River to the north and Sulphur River to the west. Grand cache, indeed.

The Hideaway
Misty Mountain Suites is smack in the middle of town, within walking distance of restaurants and shops. It’s a quiet, comfortable spot to relax after a day of skiing on local trails or ice fishing on the lake. The suites are appointed with gas fireplaces, jet bathtubs, large-screen TVs with satellite, full kitchens (perfect for frying up freshly caught fish), balconies with mountain views and easy access to Grande Cache’s new Wellness and Recreation Centre. Be sure to ask for a room in the new wing. 

Rockin’ view: Visit Sulphur Gates, the majestic rock cliffs at the confluence of the Smoky and Sulphur Rivers. Get there by rafting in summer or hiking on the frozen river in winter; either way, contact Wild Blue Yonder for a guide. Egg up: Devour a superb omelette at the Bistro Cafe in Acorn Plaza Mall (780-827-5134). Morning glide: Cross-country ski along groomed trails at Pierre Grey’s Lakes Provincial Park, 30 km south of town. Fix ‘n’ flicks: Sip a latte at Noelle’s Cafe in Shopper’s Park Mall. Then take in a movie in the attached 30-seat cinema (shoppersparkmall.com). Go wild: Try to spot mountain goats and bighorn sheep at Willmore Wilderness Park - almost 20 per cent of Alberta’s populations are found here, along with bears, caribou, cougars and wolves. No vehicles are allowed in the park, though - you’ll have to hike, ride, cycle or ski. Stop by the Willmore Wilderness Foundation to learn more.

roadside

by Kevin Brooker

October 2012
Boardwalk Beacon

Though hardly endemic to the prairies, the Sylvan Lake lighthouse has been as much a part of the resort town’s boardwalk atmosphere as the fish-and-chip joints and waterslides. It teeters on a spit next to the marina, where it was built by the local sailing club in 1988 as a 75th birthday gift for the town. If it looks familiar, it’s because they based it on plans from the nation’s most famous lighthouse - the one in Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia. Alas, the structure, which cost just $32,000 to build, was recently declared unsound and is slated to be torn down this year, joining other vanished Sylvan Lake landmarks, such as three swing-era dance halls and the circa 1947 Central Steam Baths, which burned down in 2007.

The town council did a Facebook survey this August to ask residents what they’d like to see in place of the lighthouse after demolition. Council’s suspicions were quickly confirmed, says Town of Sylvan Lake spokesperson Joanne Gaudet: “We got 38 replies in the first 10 minutes and every one of them said ‘another lighthouse.’” With the town’s centennial looming in 2013, it’s an obvious time to rebuild. Here’s hoping the next version is seaworthy for many years to come.

money matters

by Tracy Hyatt

October 2012
Five Ways to Improve Your Credit Score

Something to consider if you’re planning on buying a home or taking out a loan for a car: your credit score. This ranking of the risk you represent to lenders is one of the main tools they use to decide whether to give you credit. It can even affect your auto insurance premiums. So don’t wait until it’s too late - here are five easy ways to raise your credit score now.

1. Pay your bills on time
Even if you pay a bill one day late, your credit score suffers. Late payments fall into several categories ranging from less than 30 days to 120-days-plus. If you’re a day late, you’re already in the first category, and your score takes a hit.

The good news is, the longer your history is blemish-free, the more likely it is that your credit score will improve. But improvement might be slow - a single credit transaction affects your score for six years.

“If you are having trouble paying off your balance, at least try and make the minimum payment,” says Scott Sanders of Bridgewater Bank, the AMA subsidiary that manages the CAA MasterCard. Then talk to the credit card company about your options or seek credit counselling.

2. Don’t be afraid to use your credit card
This may go against conventional wisdom, but it’s good to exercise your plastic. Stashing credit cards away in a drawer and not using them might actually lower your credit score, because you won’t build enough credit-management history for creditors to know whether you’re a risk.

3. Check your credit report regularly
A credit report is a snapshot of your credit history, at a particular point in time. You can obtain it free from Equifax (equifax.ca) or TransUnion (transunion.ca), Canada’s main credit-reporting agencies. According to the U.S.-based Policy and Economic Research Council, about 19 per cent of credit reports contain errors, so check yours at least once a year. Report any mistakes to the credit bureau and the creditor in question to resolve any errors.

4. Keep your credit utilization rates low
One-third of your credit score relates to your total amount of debt. So keep your utilization low - 30 to 50 per cent of your total available credit is ideal, according to the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada. If you draw on a larger percentage, your credit score could suffer, because creditors might conclude that you rely too heavily on debt - even if you pay off your balances on time. “And in the mind of a creditor, a low balance shows that you’re fiscally responsible,” says Sanders.

5. Have more than one credit card
You might pat yourself on the back for having only one credit card, but that isn’t the smartest move. You should have at least two: one primary and one backup - for security and to build positive credit history. But don’t go applying for credit cards willy-nilly. If you have access to heaps of credit, there’s an increased risk of getting yourself in trouble.

member story

by Patty McGuire, AMA Member since 2012

October 2012
Three Cheers for Mom

As a single mom of two, I’m no stranger to a hectic schedule - or adversity, for that matter. So when my family awoke one Saturday morning to the biggest snowstorm of the season, I wasn’t about to change our plans.

My son Blaise had a hockey game in our hometown of St. Albert and my daughter Mason had a cheerleading competition in southwest Edmonton. So I brushed the snow off my car, got Blaise to his game and then drove, cautiously, along Anthony Henday Drive to Edmonton with Mason. When we arrived, safe and sound, at the school where the event was taking place, the snow was about 25 centimetres deep.

After an exciting day of watching the WD Cuts cheerleading team win second place, I was ready to go home. But when I reached into my bag, I couldn’t feel my car keys. I pulled out the lanyard they’d been on. The keys were gone. We slogged through the parking lot and, clearing the snow from the car window, saw them: hanging in the ignition. I started to panic, envisaging the school shutting its doors and us being locked out in the cold for the night.

Then I remembered I’d just joined AMA. I could call them! I dialed the number and got an operator right away. She told me someone would be there within 45 minutes. I couldn’t believe it - I’d expected to be hanging around for hours, especially in that weather.

And indeed my saviour arrived within the appointed time. It took him 12 seconds to open my car door. I was his last call of the day. I assumed he would want to get the job done and go back to the safety of his own home as quickly as possible. But he hung around and helped me clear the snow off my car. I couldn’t believe how caring he was. Within an hour of placing the call, I was able to get in my car and drive my daughter safely home.

As for my story, it doesn’t end there. There was an incident two weeks later with a flat tire - just another day in the life of a single mom! But that’s a tale for another time.

analyze this

by: Paul Sinkewicz

October 2012
Anatomy of a Collision

How easy it is for us to feel safe as we beetle around in our busy lives, comfortably ensconced in a sophisticated system of electronics, glass and metal. But as around 150,000 Albertans are reminded each year (the annual number of collisions province-wide), to get behind the wheel of a vehicle is also to take on the very real risk of a crash. 

What happens in a collision?

Mass and velocity create momentum. And when two objects collide, momentum doesn’t dissipate: it transfers. The heavier an object and the faster it is going, the greater the momentum - and the greater the force of the collision.

The destructive force of a collision isn’t just reserved for metal and plastic, however. A second “collision” occurs when the forward momentum of a vehicle’s occupants propels them against the seatbelts, airbag or dashboard (which all stop suddenly in a crash), possibly causing external injuries. And a third collision - inside the body - can take place as internal organs continue in the direction they were travelling while the rest of the body comes to a sudden halt. This can result in internal organ and tissue damage, or even concussion, as the brain impacts the interior wall of the skull.

How to prevent a crash
According to Ron Wilson, manager of operations for AMA Fleet Safety Services, many collisions result from poor driving habits, such as inattention, not checking mirrors, not checking blind spots, bad road positioning, backing up too fast and driving too fast for conditions. Fortunately, simple strategies can cut the risk. Know what’s going on around you at all times and keep your focus on driving, says Wilson. “When you’re sitting at a red light, scan the intersection left, right and back to left. Identify any potential hazards and make a plan for how you might react safely.”

“The most common collision in Alberta is the rear-end crash,” adds Wilson. “Prevent it by giving yourself a safe following distance [a three-second minimum, increasing as conditions deteriorate]. And to prevent yourself from getting rear-ended, always signal your intentions well in advance, and keep your lights clean and visible.”

Making the best of a bad situation

If, despite your best efforts, you can’t avoid a collision, it’s best to hit something with give. “You’re better off hitting a small bush than a bridge pillar, for example,” says Wilson. “Always look and steer for an out. As a general rule, dodge trouble by steering to the right, away from oncoming traffic.”

If you’re sitting in traffic and it looks like someone is going to hit you from behind, apply your brakes so that you’re not pushed into traffic, and press your head firmly back on the head restraint to minimize the chances of injury. If you’re about to get hit from the side (a T-bone collision), keep two hands on the steering wheel and try to turn so that the other vehicle hits you with a glancing blow.
“If it looks like you’re going to get hit from the front, again, try and steer for a glancing blow, because that minimizes damage,” says Wilson. “Also, in any type of collision, if you can reduce your speed, you’ll reduce the force of impact.”

What to do post-collision
If possible, safely move the vehicle or vehicles off the road and switch on your hazard lights. If anyone is injured, call 911 immediately. If you have emergency hazard markers, put them out. And remember: in Alberta, you must notify the police of a collision if there is damage over $2,000, if there are any injuries, or if there is any damage to traffic control devices.

Wilson advises drivers involved in a collision to take a few deep breaths to collect themselves, and to not get into a discussion about fault. “Fault is really not for you to decide at that point,” he says. “Give the information to the police and the insurance company and let them work it out.”

Collisions in Alberta
In 2010, there were 344 fatalities and 18,253 injuries resulting from collisions province-wide, according to Alberta Transportation.

Top driver errors resulting in casualty collisions
1.  Following too closely: 31.3%
2. Running off the road: 14.6%
3. Performing a left turn into the path of another vehicle: 11.7%

Top driver errors resulting in fatalities
1. Running off the road: 95 fatalities
2. Crossing the centre line: 49 fatalities

When collisions occur
Most crash-prone time of year: Fall. 
The highest number of casualty crashes occur in October and the most property damage from collisions results in November.
Most crash-prone day of the week: Friday.
And the worst time of day is the afternoon rush hour.

Collision Avoidance: The ‘SIPDE’ Procedure
Proactive driving is the best way to avoid a crash. Follow these steps continually when behind the wheel to maximize your chances of a safe ride:

  • Scan: Make a visual sweep of the view ahead, to the sides and in your mirrors.
  • Identify: Note any potential hazards.
  • Predict: Anticipate what could happen in the next few seconds.
  • Decide: Based on your prediction, select a course of action to safely avoid the hazard.
  • Execute: Carry out that course of action.

24 Hours

by Steve Burgess

October 2012
24 Hours: Tokyo

Much of Tokyo’s appeal lies in the sheer urban intensity of the place. It doesn’t get more intense than the neighbourhood of Shibuya. Try to grab a second-floor seat at the world’s busiest Starbucks (it has a streamlined menu to keep the line moving), overlooking the Shibuya Station intersection, which is essentially Tokyo’s Times Square. You’ll also be looking at Hachiko Square, which features a statue of a dog famous for its faithfulness - it waited here for its master every day for nine years after the man’s death. From there it’s a short train ride to Harajuku, the hip shopping district that offers a constant and often bizarre fashion parade.

Located on the edge of the lively Shinjuku district, 100 Stay Tokyo Shinjuku Serviced Hotel and Apartments offers well-appointed rooms and, if you’re lucky, a lovely view of Mount Fuji, all at a mid-range price (hundredstay.com).

Budget hotel rooms in Tokyo range from small to bed-in-a-cupboard. Business hotels are usually clean and well run. Chisun Inn Asakusa (solare hotels.com) is a solid example - and just blocks from Sensoji Temple. This must-see Buddhist temple, built in 645, is Tokyo’s oldest, and just a five-minute walk from Asakusa subway station.

For an old-school shopping experience, get off at Ueno Station and head for bustling Ameyoko Market, where fishmongers and fruit sellers share space with restaurants, raucous pachinko parlours and mysterious gentleman’s clubs.

Eat like a sumo wrestler! It’s tasty and, believe it or not, non-fattening. Former sumo superstar Wakanohana launched the Waka restaurant chain, specializing in chanko-nabe, the traditional hot-pot meal eaten by sumo wrestlers. Waka has Tokyo locations in Roppongi and Shinjuku districts.

Naturally there’s plenty of great sushi in Tokyo, but for something different try okonomi-yaki, a thick pancake of cabbage, egg and flour, usually topped with meat, seafood, a slightly sweet sauce and Japanese mayonnaise. It’s hearty and inexpensive. Many places grill it at your table. Fugetsu and Kiji are popular chains.

travel smarts

by Jeff Bateman

October 2012
Agent Versus Internet


Back before Web 2.0 made us virtual masters of our own online destiny, few apart from road trippers ever left home without connecting with at least one flesh-and-blood travel rep. Now it seems like a breeze to reserve flights, hotels and tour packages online. But can the Internet really beat the human experience?

In a recent competition - staged by Westworld Alberta - to find the best price on a two-week Maui vacation for two, Teresa Schile, manager of AMA Travel in Medicine Hat, came in more than $400 lower than Calgary AMA member Adrianne Lovric. Lovric used her favourite online booking sites, Travelocity and Expedia. Schile leveraged wholesale rates.

The biggest savings were on the hotel stays - just one of the many advantages of working with an agent, says Schile.

“Naturally I’m biased,” she adds, laughing. “But there’s no question that the right agent is essential in booking trips that are more complicated than, say, a simple Calgary-to-Vancouver return. Agents can do the heavy lifting in terms of multiple connections, airport transfers, group travel, accommodations and essential documentation. One big bonus is that you’re getting an advocate who has your back every step of the holiday.”
Schile counts off the other ways in which agents trump the online experience:

  • Research Assistance: Thanks to familiarization trips and frequent holiday outings, most agents have travelled extensively. Schile herself goes to the Mediterranean once a year and has led tours to Chile, Peru, South Africa and the Ukraine, among other destinations. This been-there expertise can help clients separate wheat from chaff. (Every holiday property looks great on the web, of course. As Lovric, who normally books hotels based on web reviews, notes, “I have no idea where I’m staying, but the photos look nice.")
  • Itinerary Building: Challenge agents and watch them shine at putting together day-by-day agendas complete with multiple reservation confirmations. That’s days of research and poring over tourism websites - off your plate.
  • Insider Advantages: Agents spend their lives writing their own renditions of the Hank Snow classic “I’ve Been Everywhere.” Each has their share of hot tips in their areas of specialization, whether it’s the scoop on a new cruise ship, a great restaurant in San Diego or the latest exhibit at Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum. And when it comes to bottom-line pricing, agents can call on their industry clout, volume discounts and knowledge of seasonal policies to deliver affordability.
  • Information Central: Paperwork is make-or-break for stress-free holidays. It’s a surprise to many AMA clients, for instance, that European and Asian countries require that Canadian passports be valid for three to six months following a trip’s conclusion. Agents take the guesswork out of visas, medical/cancellation insurance and international driving permits, and they’re go-to authorities on currency, customs, safety, airline schedule changes and immunization requirements.
  • Emergency Assistance: If things go haywire, agents serve as troubleshooters who can guide clients through cancelled reservations, missed flights and lost baggage. In the wake of recent disasters like the Japanese tsunami and the New Zealand earthquake, AMA agents immediately got busy tracking down clients and ensuring they were safe - to the relief of friends and family back home.

No question the Internet is a miraculous tool for R&D, says Schile. “It’s great when a client walks in having done some preliminary research and has a pile of questions,” she says. “The wonderful thing is that these first encounters can be the start of a collaborative relationship that endures through many years and holiday adventures.”

working for you

by: Tracy Hyatt

October 2012
The Alberta History of the Trans-Canada Highway

On September 3, 1962, Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker delivered a moving speech to 3,000 spectators who had gathered at Rogers Pass in Glacier National Park for the opening festivities of the Trans-Canada Highway. The event had begun under inclement skies, but by the time Diefenbaker delivered his nation-building speech, the sun was shining.

“This highway, may it serve to bring Canadians closer together. May it bring to all Canadians a renewed determination to do their part to make this nation great,” he said.

In the crowd, looking on, were a teenage John Carruthers and his family. They’d been on their way home to Calgary, from their annual summer vacation in B.C., when John’s father remembered that the Trans Canada was set to open that day. They’d arrived just in time for the speech.

Little did Carruthers know that 50 years later, as an AMA board director, he would be repeating Diefenbaker’s fateful words. The occasion: the CAA-sponsored Trans Canada Trek - a cross-Canada drive by auto journalist Mark Richardson to celebrate 50 years of the Trans-Canada Highway. Under sunny Calgary skies, Carruthers welcomed Richardson, who was partway through his journey from St. John’s to Victoria. The day before, he’d been welcomed to Medicine Hat with fanfare at an AMA-hosted ceremony at Medalta Potteries.

“This is an incredible journey on a highway that connects us all as Canadians,” said Richardson at the ceremony.

Richardson’s trek marked another anniversary as well: 100 years since the first road trip across Canada. At the turn of the century, there were fewer than 50,000 automobiles in the country. So, needless to say, road building wasn’t a top priority. Others saw the need, and they were willing to go the extra mile to make their case. In 1912, Albert E. Todd, president of the Victoria Automobile Association, offered a gold medal to the first person who would drive across the country on only Canadian roads. It would take 13 years for this ocean-to-ocean feat to be completed. The trailblazer was Perry Doolittle, who had founded the (CAA) in 1913. Doolittle made the journey travelling through bogs, swamps and roads that today would be considered impassable.

It would be 50 years from the time Doolittle finished his celebrated road trip to the day the Diefenbaker officially opened the Trans-Canada. During that time, AMA played a key role in pro-highway lobbying efforts. At a 1948 national convention attended by provincial and federal politicians, an AMA representative declared, “It is a dumbbell proposition for Canada to be found without at least one Trans-Canada Highway.” By the end of the conference, the feds agreed to partially fund the project and allow the provinces to choose their own routes. Ultimately, two highways were completed in the western provinces: the Yellowhead Highway and the Trans-Canada. In Alberta, the Yellowhead passes through Lloydminster, Edmonton and Jasper. The Trans-Canada passes through the southern communities of Medicine Hat, Calgary and Banff. 

money matters

by: Westworld

October 2012
Free Report

Check your credit report regularly
A credit report is a snapshot of your credit history, at a particular point in time. You can obtain it free from Equifax or TransUnion (transunion.ca), Canada’s main credit-reporting agencies. According to the U.S.-based Policy and Economic Research Council, about 19 per cent of credit reports contain errors, so check yours at least once a year. Report any mistakes to the credit bureau and the creditor in question to resolve any errors.

All About You

by: Westworld

September 2012
Beer goggles on screen

AMA reached out to young driver with a new ad campaing that hit Alberta Cineplex screens this summer. We strapped “beer goggles” (alcohol impairmentsimulating glasses) on football players and fashionistas to show how even a few drinks compromise coordination. If you can’t put on makeup or catch a ball, just imagine how drinking affects your driving. Visit the None for the Road YouTube channel to view more videos. 

feature

by: Alisa Smith

September 2012
Slow is beautiful

My partner James is a fan of living fast, not Slow - so “vacation” is not his favourite word.

“What are we going to do for a month?” he grumps, as I’m hatching a scheme for a four-week stay in southern Spain’s Andalusia region. We’ve spent the past few years writing and doing speaking tours (for our book, The 100 Mile Diet), and I’ve found myself dreaming about a peaceful place to think through a new project.

“We’ll work in the morning, swim in the afternoon and eat tapas at night,” I say. When he hears the word “work,” he peps right up. He’s a workaholic, and thanks to the Internet we’ll be able to keep in touch with our writing contacts. Besides, I tell him, a long stay in Spain will be a lesson in another way of life: we’ll learn to take it easy. Amped up on North America’s go-go-go culture, you really do need a whole month to adjust.

So, after giving up our apartment and putting our furniture in storage (after Spain we’ve planned a few months in New York), we’re off.  The seaside city of Sanlcar de Barrameda (pop. 67,000), at the mouth of the Guadalquivir River in Cdiz province, is popular with ocean-seeking Spaniards, but off the tourist map otherwise - which is exactly why we chose it for our cultural immersion. And the culture is ancient: the Moors had a fort in Sanlcar in 1000 AD. In the age of Spanish exploration, the city was an important port. Columbus set sail from Sanlcar on his third voyage to the New World, in 1498.

Through a Spanish real estate website, we’ve arranged a rental: a one-bedroom suite on Calle Descalzas, “Barefoot Street,” in the city’s oldest quarter, Barrio Alto (for around 1,000 euros). It’s at the top of a hill, five minutes’ walk from downtown and 15 minutes from the beach.

The kindly apartment owner, a dentist named Carlos from nearby Seville, meets us at our new digs around noon. (Fresh off a 12-hour flight and an hour-long bus ride, we’re good and ready to settle in.) The building is one of those classic white-plaster Spanish structures with a windowless wall, flush to the sidewalk, that conceals an interior courtyard. Carlos pushes open the wood-plank double doors - large enough that a horse and carriage could pass through - to reveal a hallway with a mahogany-beam ceiling and a blue-and-white tile staircase.

Built in the early 1800s, this was once the summer home of a president’s wife, Carlos tells us. It has since been divided into apartments, mostly occupied by locals. Though our suite has a modern sleeping loft and kitchen, it retains plenty of character, with thick stone walls, high ceilings and Moorish-style lattice window screens. In the airy courtyard outside our door, there is a massive palm tree and, we soon learn, a resident chameleon. Over the weeks, we take to sipping manzanilla, the local wine, here of an evening as the cicadas hum.

We chose September to visit, thinking it would be cool enough to work comfortably. But it’s 35 C on the first afternoon, so we decide to walk down to the beach.Medieval town design, it turns out, is chaotic. Why build a road in a straight line when you can use three curves and two dead-ends instead? As I blindly trust to James’s better sense of direction, we stroll through Barrio Alto (High Neighbourhood), crossing plazas lined with little restaurants and bars and wondering why everything is closed. (We’ve yet to figure out the patterns of Spanish eating - but more on that later).

Leaving behind the fragmented stone wall of the medieval city, we pass into Barrio Bajo (Low Neighbourhood). Here the buildings, appointed with Victorian flourishes such as decorative plaster trim, depart from the earlier, more severe Spanish style. The flat stretch leading to the beach, farther along, was rebuilt with low, boxy buildings in the 1950s, when the modern concept of the Spanish beach holiday was born. A short distance to the north, there is a burst of antique character in the port district, the Bajo de Gua, where a former ice warehouse is now a museum and other historic buildings house seafood restaurants.

We pass a 15th-century fortress, a duke’s palace and several historic churches as we make our way down to La Calzada beach, where we retreat into the blessed shade of a cabana bar to soak up views of the sea and Doana National Park. The park, on the northern shore of the Guadalquivir, where the river empties into the Atlantic, harbours flamingos and endangered Iberian lynxes. Lounging among the crowds of locals by the seaside, we feel we’ve taken our first step toward living like Spaniards.

Besides seafood, Sanlcar’s specialty is manzanilla, a variant of dry fino sherry made from locally grown white Palomino grapes. The looming white-plaster bodegas, or warehouses, that produce the beverage are so numerous as to be the city’s most distinctive architectural feature - with the largest taking up an entire city block. The buildings are situated on rises or along windy corridors to catch the salty sea breezes that give manzanilla its distinctive tang as it ages.

About halfway through our stay, in a little bar on Don Romn street, we notice the bartender pouring manzanilla between two oak barrels. He tells us that one always mixes a little from the previous vintage to keep the flavour consistent from year to year. I ask for a glass of La Cigarrera brand. They have it, says the bartender, but there is none in the fridge. “That’s okay, I’ll drink it as it is,” I say.

“Very good,” says the bartender, nodding, pouring me a glass straight from the cask. “That is the traditional way.” And I feel strangely proud, as if I’ve passed some sort of cultural test.

In a month, we have time to compare all the makes: Barbadillo, San Pedro, Argeso and many more. Each has at least three styles, ranging from pale yellow to dark gold. By the end of our stay, I start to feel like a connoisseur - which isn’t the kind of thing you achieve on a seven-day tourist blitz through a country.Same with flamenco. Tourists tend to see it in theatres in well-known Seville, yet Sanlcar is in many ways a superior place to see the dance.


Flamenco was born in bars and in Sanlcar it is still performed in the bars, intimate and less choreographed. When we come across some handmade posters downtown for a show at Contratiempo, a cabaret in Barrio Bajo, we know we have to go. Flamenco’s origins are shrouded in medieval mist, but it’s rumoured to have originated among the gypsies of Andalusia. Characterized by staccato stamping and expressive arm movements - set to soulful singing and percussive guitar - the dance is renowned for the passionate intensity of its performers.

Contratiempo turns out to be a tiny place, with only about 30 people seated at the tables. The performance, scheduled for 11 p.m., doesn’t start until after midnight. But this is tradition: the dance does not start until the performers feel moved to begin. Tonight’s singer, Mara Mezcle, is young and pretty, with long black hair and a thrilling, deep voice. She and the guitar player stand on one side of a small stage while a succession of female dancers performs, posing their arms in the air, just so, then flipping up their long, flounced skirts to display their stomping feet. But the lone male dancer is a revelation. His rapid-fire footwork bears a resemblance to tap dancing. But unlike a tap dancer, his attitude is absolutely serious. He throws off his suit jacket mid-dance, sweating through his shirt as he storms back and forth across the stage.

The best part of a long stay is becoming part of the rhythms of daily life. Most mornings we work in the apartment - James sets up his computer in the loft and I’m stationed at the dining room table until around 1 p.m., when it gets too hot. In the afternoons, we go down to the mouth of the river, where the vacation condominiums along the seawall give way to brush, trees and cliffs. The whole city - and half of all Andalusia - seems to gather here to sunbathe and watch their children play in the sand. The strong current at the river mouth makes swimming here the ultimate workout. Though sometimes, I confess, I only swim the easy direction. James revels in the hard way.

Every week, our friendly dentist drives down from Seville to see how we’re doing. One day, he brings his family along. “I wonder if you could go even a month without Coca-Cola?” he says to his teenage daughter, teasing, making her blush. Online, he found our book, which is about eating local food for a year. While Canadian parents might worry about teens partying, Spanish parents seem more concerned about young people losing ties to traditional life, which centres on food and drink.

Since we’re talking about food, an obsession of ours, I ask Carlos about the fishing boats we see coming into port each day, and the types of fish they normally bring to market. Sanlcar’s fish and produce market, built in the 1500s, is the largest in Andalusia - and just a few blocks from our apartment. We’ve been shopping there daily and cooking most of our meals at home: fried mackerel, bean stews, local pine nuts on pasta, tomato salads - or simply fresh baguettes with olive oil, cheese and cured ham.

“You can’t get tuna anymore,” Carlos says. “The Japanese buy it all the moment it hits shore.”

“That’s too bad,” James says. “But at least the vegetables stay close to home.” He tells Carlos that the other day we asked a vendor if a tomato was local and the vendor replied, “No, it’s from Chipiona.” James laughed, because Chipiona is about 10 km away. “That would definitely be local in Canada.”

Carlos smiles. As he leaves, he tells us that this month, September, is his favourite time in Sanlcar, except perhaps for August, when the city stages horse races on the beach. James’s eyes sparkle at the thought of all that speed, despite our newly mellow lifestyle. To distract him, I suggest we go eat - a leisurely pastime in these parts. In Spain, you have three hours for lunch, and dinner is an eternity, so “slow food” is necessary to fill the time. One does not eat supper, but tapear (the verb form of tapas) from 8 p.m. until close to midnight. And if you’re hungry at 6 p.m.? Forget about finding a meal. The Spanish keep long, but strictly contained, hours. If a Spaniard is hungry at that time, he orders ice cream. Yes, before dinner. And while in Canada you might be secretly annoyed when your friend orders the same dish as you in a restaurant, in Spain you always order what your friend is having: the house specialty. So, at bustling Casa Balbino on the main plaza, we have the shrimp omelets, while at Los Caracoles (The Snails), the little bar at the end of our block, we order cups of tiny snails boiled in broth and eaten with the shells still on. Strange. But this is the sort of thing you become brave enough to do after weeks of immersion.

Near the end of our visit, we come across some posters advertising a Saturday night religious festival to honour Our Lady of Charity, the patron saint of Sanlcar. It isn’t a tourist event, and there is little other information. So come Saturday evening, we walk around Barrio Bajo until we find crowds of locals lining a historic street, Calle Ancha, and stand among the hundreds, waiting for whatever it is they’re waiting for. Everyone is decked out in their Sunday best, right down to four-year-old boys wearing suits. First we hear trumpets. Then we see a procession approaching. Burly men in T-shirts emblazoned with the Virgin’s image are taking turns bearing a painted wooden statue, heavy with silver, of her likeness on a platform. The statue normally resides in her namesake basilica, in Barrio Alto. Up, up, up the old cobbled streets to the height of the city, the men bear their glittering burden, as a brass band plays and young men in surplices wave silver censers, leaving a smoky trail of incense. The crowd moves to follow the statue. Children with candles scamper alongside. We follow, watching as they file into the basilica, returning the Virgin to her home, now that she’s made the circuit of the old town.

The next morning, out our window, we see a crowd carrying the statue back down the hill for another tour. This procession is more sombre, and now the women wear the traditional black mantilla, or lace veil, held aloft by an ornamental comb. As they pass down our street, our neighbours throw rose petals from their balconies while troupes of boys tap away on drums.  We later learn that this procession happens every year, and the statue is 400 years old. I’m awed by the history, and moved at having witnessed the beauty and grandeur of everyday life and faith in this place. I close my eyes and picture the pink torrent of rose petals, knowing I will return to Sanlcar one day because it feels like home.

feature

by: Joe Wiebe

September 2012
The hoppiest place on Earth

I can hardly keep my balance. I’m standing on a bench, bouncing and bucking with a dozen men and women, most of whom I’ve just met, some of whom speak languages I don’t know. I take another big swig from the giant Makrug (litre mug) of beer clenched in my hand and look around once more at the mind-boggling scene.
Our table is just one of hundreds, all jammed with happy, beer-guzzling dancers - many in lederhosen (Bavarian leather breeches) or dirndls (colourful, corseted dresses) - filling a building the size of a hockey arena. There is a large, raised stage in the centre of the room with a large band on top - easily 20 musicians along with three singers in Bavarian garb - playing a medley of pop rock tunes and traditional German drinking songs. Green cascades of aromatic hop plants hang down from the ceiling and the hall’s huge support pillars. We’re at Munich’s Oktoberfest, in the heart of the action. 

I catch the eye of my buddies, Shawn and Hughe, who are grooving to the beat across from me, and raise my giant beer mug for a toast. They grin back at me and lift their glasses in response.

“We made it!” I shout over the din as we clink our glasses together, beer sloshing on the table. Before they can respond, the music changes, and suddenly everyone at the table has lifted their mugs along with ours. With free arms draped over neighbours’ shoulders, we all start swaying to the music, singing the lyrics that we’ve learned through repetition:
“Ein Prosit, ein Prosit
Der Gemtlichkeit.
Ein Prosit, ein Prosit
Der Gemtlichkeit.”

And then the music stops and everyone counts in the Bavarian dialect: “Oans, zwoa, drei, g’suffa!” We all crash our Makrugs together and drink deeply of the amber elixir. We made it indeed.

When Shawn invited Hughe and me to celebrate his 40th birthday in Munich, it was a no-brainer. Oktoberfest was an adventure I’d dreamed of ever since I first travelled to Europe on a backpacking trip 20 years ago. The stars aligned when we learned that Shawn’s birthday would fall on the final day of the festival.
We fly into Frankfurt Monday, planning to be in Munich by Friday. After spending a couple days in Frankfurt, and visiting a German family Hughe once stayed with on a high school exchange, we drive south to check out the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart. We stay overnight in a Schwarzwald (Black Forest) cottage, amid low mountains carpeted with a patchwork of farms and forest. Our final stop before Munich is Neuschwanstein, the famous castle built in the late 1800s by Bavarian King Ludwig II, which later inspired Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty castle. After a tour, and a bratwurst and pilsner in the shadow of the castle, we head north to Munich and the festival.

More than six million people attend Oktoberfest each year, consuming more than seven million litres of beer - making it the biggest beer festival in the world. It’s also a giant fair, with amusement rides and food stalls. The first Oktoberfest, in 1810, celebrated the marriage of Prince Ludwig (the castle builder’s grandfather) and his bride, Therese. It lasted six days, culminating with a horse race. Nowadays, the fest ends on the first weekend in October, beginning in mid-September to take advantage of warmer weather.

But autumn beer festivals were common in Bavaria long before Ludwig and Therese’s nuptials. In those days, brewers couldn’t make beer in the warmer months, so they produced one final, special batch of beer in March (called Mrzen, after the month), which they stored in cool, ice-filled caves for consumption in spring and summer. Brewed extra-strong, with more hops than usual to help preserve it, the result was a dark, malty beer that matured well. Following the late summer harvest, brewers needed to empty their remaining casks for the new brewing season, so it made sense to throw a big party.

For the modern-day incarnation of the festival, 14 Festhallen (beer “tents” that are actually semi-permanent wooden structures) are erected in the heart of Munich, on the 0.42-square-kilometre fairgrounds known as Theresienwiese (Therese’s field), or the Wies’n for short. These massive structures hold up to 10,000 people apiece, and each one is affiliated with one of six Munich breweries: Augustiner, Hacker-Pschorr, Hofbru, Lwenbru, Paulaner and Spaten. Each tent serves only Mrzen from its own brewery.

Accommodation during Oktoberfest is expensive and hard to find: book early or be prepared to stay on the outskirts of the city and commute on the U-bahn (metro) or S-bahn (aboveground train). We’ve booked a hotel in central Munich, a couple blocks from the Wies’n. Not cheap, but the location is perfect.

It’s Friday night, and we’ve hooked up with Peter, a German friend I met in Canada five years ago. Joining the throngs headed for the Wies’n, we walk through the main gates to see that the grounds are jammed with thousands of people, shoulder-to-shoulder in some places. About half the crowd is wearing lederhosen or dirndls, which you can buy for around 200 euros. But we’re saving our cash for the tents, where beer is a pricey nine euros per litre (elsewhere in Germany, it’s usually around 6 euros).

We wander between garishly lit carnival rides, food stands and souvenir booths, towards the Festhallen. One of the rides is simply a conveyer belt that pulls people up a steep slope. Another, a giant spinning top with swings hanging from it, catches Shawn’s eye. “I’m going to try that out for sure,” he says. Since when do 40-year-old men ride swings? (He does ride it, and survives. I, on the other hand, avoid all such craziness.)

I ask Peter, who is wearing jeans and a T-shirt, why he isn’t wearing lederhosen. He scoffs and says, “I am not Bavarian.” Though he lives in Munich, he grew up close to Hamburg, in the north.

Each of the Festhallen has its own character, epitomized by its decorative style. The cartoonish, swirly red-and-yellow

Hippodrom, topped with statues of rearing horses, is trendy among younger singles, while the more traditional Lwenbru

Festhalle features classical murals and a mechanical statue of a lion that actually roars and drinks from a mug of beer. Hacker-Festzelt is nicknamed “Himmel der Bayern” (Bavarian Heaven) because of its ceiling painted with clouds and stars.

We discover that the tents, as big as they are, fill up quickly in the evenings. (Plus, tables can be reserved several months in advance.) After trying in vain to talk or bribe our way in, Peter suggests we instead go to the nearby Paulaner Bruhaus for dinner and come back later. The place is only a 10-minute walk away and turns out to be a brewpub with a beer garden, where we devour a meal of schnitzel washed down with Paulaner’s Oktoberfest Mrzen, the same as the one served in their tent on the Wies’n. The brew is delicious: dark amber in colour, medium-bodied and slightly sweet.

Peter proclaims Paulaner the best of Munich’s brewers and we Canadians don’t quibble. Per capita, Germans drink more beer than anyone in the world, except for the Czechs and Irish. The country boasts more than 1,200 breweries crafting 5,000 brands. Every town seems to have its own unique brew, and beer halls, pubs and
Biergartens abound.

In southern Germany, you find a trio of beer styles at nearly every pub, beer garden and restaurant: Helles, Dunkel and Weisse. Helles lager is light in colour, but flavourful, with a sweet maltiness and slightly spicy hop finish. Dunkel, a darker, maltier lager, is the original German beer, dating back hundreds of years, before the advent of clear glassware and newer brewing techniques made lighter coloured beers more popular. Some have a toffee/caramel sweetness, while others a roasted quality. Both Helles and Dunkel are generally brewed to about five per cent alcohol. Oktoberfest Mrzen was originally a souped-up version of Dunkel, but nowadays it falls between the two styles, a little darker and more flavourful than a Helles, but brewed a little stronger, at around six per cent alcohol.

Weisse is an effervescent wheat ale that can be clear (Kristallweizen), but is more often cloudy with yeast (Hefeweizen), giving it a unique clove or banana/bubblegum flavour. Another popular style, although more prevalent in northern and eastern Germany, is the Pils (or pilsner), which is similar to the big brewery lagers produced in North America.

After supper, we return to the Wies’n and manage to get into the Hofbru tent. Outside, a two-metre-tall gold crown (Hofbru’s logo, dating back to its origins as Bavaria’s royal court brewery) outlined in neon looms above the hall’s white-painted facade. Inside, it’s a cacophony of music, singing and shouting. Tables stretch as far as the eye can see, under huge baskets of hop plants hanging from the green-and-white ceiling. At first, we can’t find an empty spot, which is a problem, because you can’t buy beer anywhere but at a table. But then a black-aproned server, balancing several Makrugs full of beer, recognizes our plight and seizes Shawn’s arm, pulling him along with her to a table in her section. The people seated there squeeze over to give us room. She promises to return with more beer, and before long, we are swigging our first official beers at Oktoberfest -
Hofbru’s Mrzen, which is similar to Paulaner’s, though slightly lighter in colour and body. The young men at our table speak as little English as we do Spanish, but there’s plenty of beer to toast each other with, and we all learn the German drinking songs quickly enough, so we get along just fine. We stay until closing, quaffing beer, singing and soaking up the ambiance.

We spend the weekend exploring Munich by day - the beer gardens (of course), but also the many churches and postwar architectural gems - and visiting the festival grounds at night. On Sunday, we even manage to take in a soccer game at Allianz Arena, which was built for the 2006 World Cup.

On Monday, which is Germany’s Day of National Unity, a holiday, and Shawn’s birthday, we head to the Oktoberfest grounds around lunchtime. We’ll stay a while, we figure, then leave to explore Munich some more before returning to the fest in the evening. We pick the Schottenhamel tent, the festival’s largest, where the mayor of Munich taps the first keg at noon on the opening day of the festival each year. (It’s only after he calls out “O’zapft is!” ["It’s tapped!"] that the other tents can begin to serve beer.)

Unlike our first evening, when the tents were plagued by long line-ups, today the doors are wide open and we walk right in. The tent is more than half full, but the vibe is calmer than at night. Families with young children are seated at many of the tables around us. They order food and beer (soft drinks for the kids), stay for an hour or so, and then leave.

We end up at a table with a 40-something couple from California who are more than happy to toast Shawn’s 40th and sing “Happy Birthday.” They’ve been travelling around Germany, too, so we swap stories. Two young sisters on a backpacking trip around Europe, also American, are delivered to our table by the server, so we order a second Spaten Mrzen (it’s hard to distinguish the breweries’ different versions of Mrzen at this point, but it doesn’t matter, because they all taste great).

Pretty soon, it’s time for a third round. Some young German guys join our table, probably attracted by the American sisters, and when the California couple leaves I realize we’ve been here the whole afternoon. 
More people join us. Language barriers are no problem - it’s too loud to hold a conversation now anyway. We just smile and toast each other and sing. The tent fills up. The front doors are closed now and the crowds outside are barred from entry until some of us lucky insiders deign to leave. The families with children are long gone, and we’re surrounded by 20- and 30-somethings. It’s our last night at Oktoberfest, and it’s Shawn’s birthday, so we admit to ourselves that we aren’t going anywhere. And as the band breaks into “Ein Prosit” for the umpteenth time, we laugh, raise our glasses and sing the words one more time.

road trip

by: Tracy Hyatt

August 2012
A road trip through southwest Nova Scotia

Austere lighthouses, salt-of-the-earth people, 17th-century colonial towns suspended in time - these are the things that draw travellers to Nova Scotia. And although the Maritime province is Canada’s second smallest, you’d hardly know it in the southwest. You can drive for days through the Fundy Shore, Annapolis Valley, Yarmouth and the Acadian Shores, stopping every few kilometres to explore. Follow the parallel and sometimes intersecting Hwys. 3 and 103 to witness the best of this Atlantic destination.

Leg One:  Halifax to White Point (Approx. 220 km)
About an hour’s drive southwest of Halifax lies Peggy’s Cove. Inhabited by fewer than 100 residents, this tiny fishing village is frozen in time, thanks to a 1962 provincial act that prohibits commercial development. Lobster traps, tiny timbered buildings and fishing nets line the narrow road that leads to iconic Peggy’s Point Lighthouse, at the eastern entrance of St. Margaret’s Bay. Pay a visit to the lighthouse, then leave behind the rugged outcropping of granite at Peggy’s Point and follow Hwy. 103 west to the seaside town of Western Shore and nearby Oak Island. The 57-hectare island, just 200 metres offshore, has attracted treasure hunters for more than 200 years - including Errol Flynn and Franklin Roosevelt. No one knows exactly what is buried there, but some locals speculate that 17th-century privateer Captain Kidd left behind a precious bounty. Permission is needed to visit the private island, but you can still immerse yourself in the mystery at the Atlantica Hotel & Marina Oak Island, at the south end of town. The hotel houses a small interpretive centre focusing on the island.


Continue 27 km along Hwy. 3 to Old Town Lunenburg, a designated UNESCO site. The town, established in 1753, remains largely as it was when the British prescribed its original grid layout - supposedly necessary for the smooth operation of colonial towns. A distinguishing feature of the sea-facing homes here is the widow’s walk, a small, second-storey platform where sailors’ wives would stand and gaze at the ocean, awaiting the return of their husbands. 

Take in centuries worth of shipbuilding and fishing history at the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic on waterfront Bluenose Drive (museum.gov.ns.ca/fma/en). The road is named after none other than the circa 1921 racing and fishing schooner depicted on the Canadian dime. Head to the Lunenburg Shipyard, at the harbour, to see the Bluenose II, a 1963 replica that is currently under repair. Overnight in White Point, 74 km west on Hwy. 103.

Good eats and sleeps: With waterfront cabins, a stretch of sandy beach and paddleboats that patrons can use gratis, White Point Beach Resort is the perfect place for families tounwind.  Choose from a selection of Nova Scotia wines with your meal at the resort (1-800-565-5068; whitepoint.com).

Leg Two:  White Point to Yarmouth (Approx. 165 km)
From White Point, head 20 km west on Hwy. 103 and turn left on St. Catherine’s River Road. You’ll eventually reach the tongue-twisting Kejimkujik ("Ke-jim-koo-jik") National Park Seaside. (Locals call it “Keji” for short.) Keji Seaside is an adjunct to the larger Kejimkujik National Park, which is 100 km inland. The Harbour Rocks Trail at Keji Seaside (5.2 km return) rewards morning hikers with glorious views of grey and harbour seals basking on the rocks.

From here, drive around 45 km west on Hwy. 3 to Shelburne. This community was a loyalist outpost in the 1700s, when thousands of Americans who opposed the revolution arrived on Canada’s shores. The town’s preserved buildings have been sets for period Hollywood films such as The Scarlett Letter and Moby Dick.

Continue 100 km west on Hwy. 103 to Yarmouth. Arrange a boat tour of the Eel Lake Oyster Farm in Ste. Anne Du Ruisseau, 20 minutes east of Yarmouth, to see how the meaty Ruisseau oyster is farmed. At the end of the tour, you’ll sample these raw delights.

Good eats: From Yarmouth, follow Cape Forchu Scenic Drive as it winds along the coastline, through tiny fishing villages, to Cape Forchu Lightstation (around 11 km). At the station’s Mug Up Tea Room, munch on lobster sandwiches and seafood chowder. Call ahead to confirm off-season hours.
Good sleeps: Bed down at Yarmouth’s MacKinnon-Cann Inn, where each room is decorated in the style of a decade between 1900 and the 1960s (mackinnoncanninn.com).

Leg Three: Yarmouth to Port Royal (Approx. 155 km)
Leaving Yarmouth, drive 60 km east to Church Point on Hwy. 1 or 101. As you travel, you’ll notice many homes displaying a blue, white and red flag with a yellow star. Welcome to Acadia, a former colony of New France. Learn about Acadian and Mi’kmaq culture at Rendez-vous de la Baie, the Acadian Interpretive and Culture Centre, a requisite stop in Church Point. Then drive 44 km along Hwy. 101 to Digby for lunch. This seaside town overlooking the Annapolis Basin is home to the famous Digby scallop. Chef Dale Nichols at Digby Pines Golf Resort and Spa serves up some of the tastiest. If time permits, unwind at the spa or play a round of golf at the resort’s Stanley Thompson-designed course.

From Digby, drive about 45 km along Hwy. 1 to Port Royal. Established in 1605 by Samuel Champlain, this history-rich town was one of the first permanent European settlements in Canada. Fort Anne National Historic Site and the surrounding lands were the site of many battles between the French and British for control of Nova Scotia. Just to the east are the seven-hectare Annapolis Royal Historic Gardens, which feature collections of heritage flowers such as the apothecary rose. Overnight in Hillsdale House, a luxury B&B run by former Edmontonian Val Stackhouse (877-839-2821). In the morning, expect to be woken by the town crier, who makes a morning stop at the inn. It’s a fitting send-off to this historic town and journey.

weekenders

by: Colleen Biondi

August 2012
Weekenders: Diamond Valley


Poring over a map of the province, you won’t find a dot marking Diamond Valley. This southern Alberta region - known for its rolling foothills and spectacular mountain views - consists of four small towns clustered along the Cowboy Trail (Hwy. 22): Millarville, Black Diamond, Turner Valley and Longview - all fewer than 10 kilometres apart. Most Albertans know the area as ranch country. But it’s also a perfect place to learn about the province’s 19th-century beginnings and early settlers.

At Bar U Ranch National Historic Site in Longview, hear the epic tale of John Ware, a black cowhand hired in 1882 to help bring 3,000 head of cattle to the ranch. In Turner Valley - once a hub of oil and gas activity - purchase an oilfields self-guided-tour booklet from the town’s administration office and check out famous wells and other historic sites. Then stroll Black Diamond’s main street and take in its turn-of-the-century boom-town architecture - elaborate wooden false fronts attached to otherwise modest buildings. This style was typical of the many towns that popped up, almost overnight, in the area as a result of the emerging coal and
gas industries.

The Hideaway
Diamond Willow Artisan Retreat, just west of Turner Valley, next to Lineham Creek, is a bed and breakfast with a soul-stirring twist. In an attached studio, guests create watercolour landscapes under the instruction of local painter Karin Huehold. In a studio downstairs, certified instructor Kim McNeil conducts yoga sessions. The B&B also boasts 4.5 hectares of field and forest, a wraparound deck - perfect for afternoon tea or curling up with a good book - a great room with a fireplace and a hot tub to soak weary muscles at day’s end. When birdsong signals morning, join other guests for coffee, seasonal fruit, scones and omelets at the communal kitchen table. 

Get yer beef: Wrap your hands around Southern Alberta’s best burger at Turner Valley’s Chuckwagon Cafe and Cattle Co.

Chill like Archie Andrews: Sip a chocolate malt at Marv’s Classic Soda Shop in Black Diamond

Say awe: Be inspired by the artwork at Black Diamond’s Bluerock Gallery.

roadside

by: Cheryl Mahaffy

August 2012
Strange herd

Many a traveller stops to gawk at these 18 painted threshing machines, lined up in a field 20 kilometres south of Smoky Lake.

Ex-farmer Metro Presisniuk started collecting the threshers -which date from the 1930s and ‘40s - on a lark 15 years ago and parking them at his family’s cattle farm. “When you drive down the highway or country roads, you see threshers all over the place,” he says. “I thought, let’s get them together . . . . I got most of them for free.” Once the apparatus of choice for separating grain from chaff, threshing machines were supplanted by combines over the 20th century.

Metro’s brother Stanley took over the farm 10 years ago. He used some extra paint from his Edmonton sign shop to coat a few of the machines in silver. Pleased with the results, his family spray-painted the rest bright orange, yellow and green.

Accolades rolled in. One admirer sent a card proclaiming the collection “farmer’s art,” and the family has received photos and notes from as far away as Quebec and Vancouver. Now faded to pastel, the threshers are due for a refresh, says Stanley. Each will take about four gallons of paint.

“It’s a great landmark for us,” he says. “I don’t have to give anybody my location - just mention the machines.”

24 hours

by: Kerry Banks

August 2012
San Diego: West coast electric

Explore Balboa Park’s magical mix of Spanish architecture and fragrant gardens. The 486-hectare green space is home to more than 15 museums, such as the small but impressive Timken Museum of Art, which features works by Rembrandt and Rubens. The park also houses the San Diego Zoo and its amazing menagerie of 4,000 beasts, including rare giant pandas.

Head to the harbour and soak up the view from the aircraft carrier USS Midway which, at the time of its launch in 1945, was the biggest naval vessel in the world. The Midway saw action in Korea, Vietnam and the first Gulf War, and now serves as a naval aviation museum.

A city landmark since 1910, the US Grant a swank downtown hotel named after former U.S. president and Civil War general Ulysses Simpson Grant, has 47 suites and 223 rooms, and a fine art gallery on site. From here, it’s a short stroll to the Gaslamp Quarter, a 16-block heritage district packed with more than 160 restaurants, bars and nightclubs. Chow down at Croce’s (croces.com), a red-brick diner that combines live jazz and contemporary cuisine. Or party with the in-crowd among three-storey waterfalls and translucent staircases at Stingaree.

Take the trolley to Old Town, a state-protected enclave that preserves and re-creates the city as it existed during the Mexican and early American periods, from 1821 to 1872. Watch cavorting sea lions at Sea World. Occupying 76 hectares along the shore of Mission Bay, this marine theme park is famed for its spectacular animal shows, aquariums, rides and dining facilities.

Ramble through Hillcrest, a trendsetting neighbourhood known for its quirky boutiques, vintage-clothing shops and cozy wine bars. Find hipster, retro-cool sneakers at Mint; Provencal ceramics and table linens at Maison en Provence Sip cocktails on the terrace of George’s at the Cove in the seaside suburb of La Jolla, then slip away for a romantic seafood dinner at the Marine Room where the ocean surf pounds against floor-to-ceiling windows.

behind the wheel

by: Westworld

August 2012
Pre-season conditioning

AMA’s two most common Roadside Assistance calls in the snowy season are for boosts and unlocking doors - both preventable. Take a few steps this autumn to make sure you’re ready for winter on Alberta’s roads.

Make a spare key
Make sure you have an extra key, or fob (common on newer vehicles), tucked away at home, in case you lock yourself out. Keep in mind that getting a replacement fob from a dealership can be time consuming - be sure to order well in advance of winter.

Check your lights
See and be seen! Inspect your headlights, tail lights, brake lights, indicators and hazard lights and replace burnt-out bulbs immediately.

Test your battery
If your battery is older than three years, have it tested by a qualified mechanic before the winter weather arrives. -Call AMA Roadside Assistance to book a battery test, or take your vehicle to any of 19 Lube City locations.

Change your oil
Switch to synthetic, which flows better than non-synthetic in cold temperatures. Not only will your vehicle start faster, but there will be less wear and tear on the engine. You should generally change your oil every 5,000 to 6,000 kilometres - but your owner’s manual will
note the recommended frequency for your vehicle.

Check your air pressure
Maintaining the correct air pressure in your tires is essential for handling, traction and durability. Your owner’s manual will note the right pressure for your vehicle (or check the sticker on the driver’s side door or glovebox). Remember: cold weather decreases the pressure in your tires, so be sure to check them regularly.

Plug it in
When temperatures drop to -15 C, it’s time to put your block heater into action. Plugging in keeps your engine at its ideal operating temperature, which eases starting and improves fuel economy.

Shop for winter tires
Have winter tires ready to install when temperatures drop below 7 C. Their softer rubber retains elasticity down to -40 C, while the chunkier tread channels ice and water away, improving stopping distances, traction and handling in cold weather.

working for you

by: by Patty Milligan

August 2012
Where the wild things cross

Conservation biologist Dale Paton and a team of wildlife experts were heading out to Hwy. 3 this summer when they got a call: not too far away, a car had just hit a mule deer.

The conservation officer in the group rushed off to assist. The car’s driver and his wife had been on their way to Kelowna for a holiday, when a deer bounded into the road - so quickly that they couldn’t avoid it. The collision killed the deer and knocked out the car’s radiator. The car had to be towed. The wife had bruises from the passenger-side airbags.

Ironically, Paton’s group had been intending to examine a section of the highway where a high number of wildlife collisions occur, and discuss installing a fence to keep animals off the road.

“It was an unfortunate coincidence,” says Paton.

Paton is part of the Highway 3 Corridor Project, a joint undertaking of AMA, the Miistakis Institute, the University of Calgary and the non-profit Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative. The project aims to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions on Hwy. 3 (a.k.a the Crowsnest Highway). Every year there are around 200 wildlife-vehicle collisions along the route, which runs east from Hope, B.C., though the Rocky Mountains to Medicine Hat, Alta. - cutting across the seasonal range of lynxes, wolves, badgers, bears, cougars, deer, elk, moose and bighorn sheep. Around 7,500 vehicles travel the highway daily.

The project has pinpointed six high-collision sites where it proposes that the government install animal overpasses, underpasses, fencing and sensors - among other measures - as part of a planned twinning of the highway. The team is also working on short-term improvements, such as better wildlife signage at Rock Creek and roadside fencing near Crowsnest Lake, where bighorn sheep often come in search of salt. A campaign to educate drivers about wildlife collisions is in the works.

One of the project’s biggest achievements to date, says Paton, is a cost-benefit model that proves, without a doubt, that the societal cost of wildlife-vehicle collisions is higher than the price of preventative measures. The model may ultimately be used in other parts of the country - or even the world.

At home, it shows potential for big savings: wildlife-vehicle collisions cost Albertans more than $250 million each year. The cost per collision can range from $6,000 to $30,000, depending on the animal and factoring in towing, cleanup, repairs, ambulance costs and insurance deductibles. Not to mention injuries, loss of work, trauma and stress for drivers and passengers - who deserve to feel safe driving Alberta’s highways.

Get Involved Did you see an animal crossing Hwy. 3? At rockies.ca/roadwatch, drivers can use an interactive mapping tool to record wildlife sightings in the Crowsnest Pass. Alternatively, visit the Road Watch in the Pass Facebook page and make a comment, or contact program coordinator Rob Schaufele at 403-564-5154. The Highway 3 Corridor Project uses Road Watch data to identify wildlife-crossing areas.

How You Can Help Prevent Wildlife Collisions

  • Slow down. Speeding extends your vehicle’s stopping distance and leaves you less time to steer around an animal.
  • Watch for road signs that warn of wildlife activity and use extra caution in those areas.
  • Limit travel at dawn and dusk, when animals are most active.
  • Expect to see wildlife where creeks intersect roads, and on long stretches of road through field or forest - prime habitat zones.
  • At night, look out for glowing eyes on or beside the road. Headlights and roadside reflectors that appear to flicker in the distance might also signal the presence of wildlife on the road.

Click here for more tips.

analyze this

by: Paul Sinkewicz

August 2012
The idle stopper

Myths about idling abound. Have you heard this one? It takes more gas to restart a car than to leave it idling. Not true, according to Natural Resources Canada. Idling for longer than 10 seconds actually uses more gas and produces more carbon dioxide than restarting the engine. So do you want to save money on fuel and help the environment, too?

Stop-start technology can lend a hand.

What is it?
A stop-start system shuts off your vehicle’s engine when you’re stopped in traffic (or in a drive-through lineup), and turns the engine on again, automatically, when it’s time to go. Just like that: no more idling. While the technology has been around for decades in Europe, and it’s long been a component in North American hybrid vehicles, it’s just now becoming widely available for vehicles with standard internal combustion engines in Canada. Global production of stop-start-equipped vehicles is expected to grow from three million to 35 million by 2015. 

How does it work?
The vehicle’s computer sends a signal that cuts the engine when the wheels come to a complete stop. As soon as the driver releases the brakes or applies the clutch, an electric generator takes power from the battery to quickly crank the engine back to life. Manufacturers tout the restart process as almost imperceptible (though at first drivers might find the engine silence at stoplights a bit unsettling).

Tough tickers
If a vehicle’s computer is the brain of a stop-start system, the battery is the heart. And stop-start vehicles need a strong heart. Most use absorbed glass mat (AGM) batteries instead of the standard lead-acid variety. (AGM batteries have saturated glass-fibre mats in place of a gelled or liquid electrolyte.) These are more costly, but capable of supplying the extra juice required for frequent start-ups and running a vehicle’s electrical systems when the engine is inactive.

Idling: it all adds up
Even seconds of engine downtime, a few times per day, can add up to fuel savings and reduced carbon emissions. According to Transport Canada, vehicles with stop-start systems save up to 11.5 per cent in fuel over vehicles without the technology, in typical city traffic. That’s $5.75 on a $50 fill-up. If every driver of a light-duty vehicle avoided idling by three minutes a day, over a year, we would collectively save 630 million litres of fuel and keep more than 1.4 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions out of the air.

In the showroom
A growing number of automakers are offering stop-start technology on their combustion-only models. BMW has been including stop-start in Minis since 2007 and is now rolling the technology out to more of its product line. And starting this fall, Ford will be offering stop-start on its Fusion SE 1.6-litre EcoBoost-engine models for $150 in Canada. The company estimates that the technology will save drivers more than $1,000 on fuel within the first five years of ownership. Other companies, such as Toyota, Mazda, Honda and Nissan, haven’t introduced stop-start in North America outside of hybrids. But it’s likely only a matter of time.

Fair-weather friend?
Most stop-start systems won’t operate at temperatures below -7 C because they depend on the engine maintaining an “optimum operating temperature,” says Brendan Magee, general manager of Club Assist Canada, which supplies vehicle batteries to CAA. For many of us, that means the benefits of stop-start won’t be realized for a good chunk of the year. However, most Canadians will still save enough on fuel, over time, to make the initial outlay worthwhile. “Canadians will see emission reductions and fuel savings for the better part of the year,” Magee says. “As with all technology, if it saves consumers money, it will be adopted.” In this case, consumers are also getting the opportunity - for a low premium - to reduce their carbon footprint, he adds. “I look forward to the day when all engines are operating in start-stop mode in the lineup at Tim Hortons.”

you're covered

by: Caitlin Rooney

August 2012
Winter-proof your home

In Alberta, the white stuff can make an appearance as early as September. Follow this to-do list and spend winter indoors, warm and cozy, rather than outside making repairs in the frosty air - or worse, calling your insurance agent to make a major claim. 

1. Clean leaves and debris out of eavestroughs, window wells, gutters and downspouts to keep water from pooling and freezing.
2. Clear ground clutter such as sticks and lawn ornaments - tripping hazards come snowfall.
3. Install screens on exterior vents and pet doors to keep rodents out. Make sure garage doors close completely, too.
4. Trim shrubs and trees to keep branches from breaking and blowing onto the house
5. Turn off water taps and bring in hoses (water inside hoses might freeze and expand, causing damage).
6. Ensure stairwell handrails are sturdy and secure. When it gets slippery, you’ll want to grip them.
7. Clear the chimney of obstruc-tions, such as birds’ nests, and any built-up (and flammable) creosote.
8. Check the roof for loose or broken shingles or flashing, and patch if necessary.
9. Remove window screens and install storm windows for better insulation.
10. Redo caulking and weatherstripping around doors and windows, and fill any remaining gaps with insulation foam, to seal heat in.
11. Check the attic, basement, windows and doors for air leaks. Darkened, dirty spots in insulation, or a candle flame wavering in a draft, may signal a leak.
12. Have your furnace checked by a professional. Change the filter if needed (do this every 3 months, or sooner if the filter looks dirty).
13. Install carbon monoxide detectors. The risk of carbon monoxide poisoning increases when furnaces are in frequent use and leaks more likely.
14. Move flammable materials and electric appliances away from heating devices.
15. Reverse ceiling fans to a clockwise spin to push warm air down from the ceiling, for improved heating efficiency.
16. Change outdoor lightbulbs and set automatic light timers for earlier hours of darkness.
17. Test downspouts to ensure proper drainage from the roof.

Are You Covered for Winter?

Cold weather can take a toll on your house, so make sure you have the right home insurance for the season. Here’s how:

Do inventory. Make a list of what you own and the value, including as much information as possible - brand, model, serial number, purchase date and receipts, if you have them.
Review your policy. Go over your inventory and current coverage with your agent. And ask him or her to explain all of your policy options. For example, some policies offer cash-value coverage (which reimburses you for the depreciated value of the good), while others cover full replacement cost (replacing your property with items of “like kind and quality").
Add sewer backup coverage. This is a crucial precaution for the spring melt, but not all home policies include it.
If you go away, have someone check on your home. You should do this year-round, but particularly in the winter, given the risk of freezing and bursting pipes. For some policies, it’s an obligation: if you don’t do it, you could lose your coverage.

travel smarts

by: Westworld

August 2012
Nothing but the Truth

Travel medical insurance is one of the most important things to take on a trip outside the province or country. Yet recent media reports have left some consumers questioning whether buying insurance is really worthwhile - and if their claims will be paid.

According to a recent survey, almost one in five Canadians has not been completely truthful, or has omitted information, when applying for medical insurance.

“We want to make sure that people purchasing travel insurance understand the product they are buying and the coverage provided - and that they are entering into a legal contract,” says Carrie-Lynn Cota of AMA Travel. So it’s important to provide complete and accurate information upfront - or the insurer will not pay any claim, even if the claim is unrelated to your medical history.

Travellers over a certain age must fill out a medical declaration form to qualify for travel medical insurance. At AMA, for example, those over the age of 60 will be asked to fill out the form, to determine which insurance product they qualify for and the premium they will pay. Other insurers require this information for travellers as young as 55. “By filling out your application form correctly, you can travel with peace of mind knowing you’re protected,” says Cota.

Filling out a medical declaration form may seem intimidating. Here are some tips to help you through the process.

How much information do I have to disclose about my health?
Disclose everything about your health and medical history to ensure you’re covered, no matter how minor you may think it is. This is not the time to withhold information or be embarrassed about your medical history. If you suffer from minor asthma and have been prescribed a puffer, even if you rarely use it, for example, and you don’t check off lung condition on the form, any claim will be denied - even for something seemingly unrelated, like a broken arm.  The policy is void the minute you don’t disclose accurate information about your medical history.

“Some people don’t reveal a pre-existing medical condition because they think they won’t be eligible for health insurance,” says Cota. “But omitting parts of your medical history is the wrong thing to do, because if you have to make a claim, the insurer has full access to your medical records and will review the last five years of your medical history. You may have to pay a few more dollars for coverage, but it’s better than the alternative - a denied claim resulting in financial and emotional hardship.”

What is “a change in a medical condition?”
A “change” is any increase in symptoms, new symptoms or the deterioration of an existing condition - or any required investigations, changes in the frequency or dosage of medications, changes in treatment, hospitalization or medical consultations (other than routine examinations).  “People mistakenly believe that if their health is on the mend or the dosage of medication has been lowered, they don’t have to mention anything to their medical insurance provider,” says Cota. “You need to disclose all changes to ensure your coverage is not affected.”

What if I was prescribed medication, but didn’t fill my prescription?
If you were prescribed a medication, it’s considered used - even if you never filled the prescription or opened the bottle. A common mistake people make is not disclosing a prescribed puffer that they may throw in a drawer and take out just once a year when they have a chest cold.

If my condition changes after I’ve purchased my medical insurance, what should I do?
Call your insurance specialist immediately to report the change and discuss any impact on your coverage.

What should I do if I don’t understand a question on the medical declaration form?
Don’t guess. Take the form and consult your doctor or insurance underwriter for help. Most underwriters have nurses on staff to discuss medical questions. Remember, a travel medical insurance declaration form is a legal contract between you and your insurance underwriter.

Can my travel or insurance specialist help me fill out the form?
Travel or insurance specialists can assist with the application process, but they can’t help you answer questions because they do not know your personal medical history. Take the form and consult your doctor.

How soon before I leave should I purchase travel medical insurance?
Start the process early to avoid delays. Though travel medical insurance can be purchased up until the time of departure, it’s a good idea to allow enough time to consult your doctor if need be. Extra time may be required for travellers with medical conditions that require special underwriting. For example, a person who has taken and/or been prescribed six or more prescription medications may need special underwriting to be covered.

The most important thing to know about the travel medical insurance declaration form is that you must be honest and upfront. This will give you confidence and peace of mind that you have the proper insurance coverage when you travel.

member story

by: Karin Haugan

August 2012
Sign of a leader

When I was 12 years old, living in tiny Coaldale, Alta., I didn’t really see myself as a leader. I was just a kid, after all. Or so I thought, until I became a crosswalk patroller.

It was 1973 and I was in Grade 6 at John Davidson School, with about 200 other students. My teacher, who championed the AMA School Safety Patrol program, had encouraged me to volunteer. I was thrilled that she trusted me to look out for the younger kids. For the first time in my life, I got to step up and lead.

At that time, pretty much all of us, even the littlest ones, walked or biked to school on our own (it was a different era). The patrollers were always busy. The school had two crosswalks - one where the buses pulled in and another on a main street. You didn’t fool around while you were standing on that corner, holding a stop sign. I took the job so, so seriously. I remember polishing my belt and carefully folding and putting away my sash each evening. And I never missed a day, no matter how bitterly cold it was. At the end of the year, I won a trophy for top patroller.

As a thank-you to the patrollers, AMA took us to movies, skating parties and camps. We’d meet up in Lethbridge or Red Deer - the big city, to me, back then - with other patrollers from rural areas. I also got to go to the 20th Annual School Safety Patroller Jamboree in Ottawa, after writing an essay and doing an interview about my patrolling experience. We travelled in May (I have vivid memories of the tulips being in bloom), chaperoned by an RCMP officer and his wife. There were 12 of us, all wearing tailor-made jackets in blue-and-green Alberta tartan.

I still have the jacket and the trophy, and I bring them out to show my kids sometimes. Their first opportunity to lead was the patrol program, too - my son Everett several years ago and my eleven-year-old triplets - Nickola, Erika and Karli - this year at Bow Island Elementary School. They tease me because I’m so passionate about it, but they’re every bit as proud as I was. And I’m incredibly proud of them. 

toolkit

by: Marzena Czarnecka

August 2012
Bringing up savers

They can read. They can do math. But are your children financially literate? The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada defines financial literacy as “having the knowledge, skills and confidence to make responsible financial decisions.” It’s a no-brainer that you want your kids to have those skills. Yet current research suggests that most Canadian adults could use a booster course in finance. So how do you give your kids a leg up in this area - especially if you need a bit of a refresher yourself?

Start early Most government financial education programs target high school students and young adults. That’s too late for first exposure, says Peter O’Neill, chief operating officer of Bridgewater Bank. “I hesitate to use an age, but as soon as children are articulate enough to talk about money - as soon as they’re curious about what is happening at that cashier’s till when you’re buying a coffee, groceries - whatever - that’s when you start,” he says.

Put money into their hands So how do you start kids on the path to financial literacy? Help them understand money in the most practical, tactile way possible. It’s a lesson Ted Flitton, Bridgewater Bank’s corporate communications advisor, has taken to heart with his seven-year-old daughter Zoe. He started with the basics, showing her coins and bills and quizzing her on their names. “I wanted her to get comfortable with them,” Flitton says. “I don’t want her to be afraid of money.”

Next, let kids see money in action Take them shopping for school supplies or groceries and have them observe money changing hands. Then, as they get older, trust them with the entire transaction. Send them to the counter and stand a metre or two away. “They learn the value of money by seeing that a $10 bill can get you a $7 shirt and change,” says O’Neill.

Keep it real Is it difficult to teach children about money in a cashless society? It can be challenging, says O’Neill. Many children have grown up seeing debit and credit cards in action - so they understand currency in its virtual form, but not necessarily its real-world function or value.

“I can tell you without hesitation that at one point, each of my children thought that if you needed more money, you just had to go to the ATM,” says O’Neill. “When you start getting those signals - when your children think the ATM is this bottomless pit from which you just get money - boy, it’s time for a sit-down talk.”

But if you’ve had that talk, the cashless, online world offers a wealth of learning opportunity. “We’re a very techie, online family and my children don’t handle a lot of actual cash,” says Calgary mom Gemma Kelsall. Instead, her daughters, aged seven and five, use threejars.com, an online tool in which parents are the “bank” but children manage their virtual money through saving, spending and sharing (charitable giving) jars.

Give them allowance When is the right time for a child to have an allowance? “The day you want them to understand money,” says O’Neill. “It doesn’t have to be $25. It can be $1.” Or, for a very young child, even less. Cathy Ward, a mother of three kids aged 15, 12 and nine, and an AMA member of 12-plus years, agrees. She started each of her children with an allowance of $1 a week at age six. By seven, they were getting $2 a week, and at age 10, they got a raise to $5. Her 15-year-old-daughter now gets a respectable $20 a week.

Ward’s “raises” reflect her children’s changing needs and evolving responsibility. The allowance of the eldest takes into account her increasing transit use and more active social life, and frees Ward from constantly doling out small amounts for bus fare or movie tickets. “She has to budget for all of that from her allowance,” Ward says. “And if she spends her allowance, well, she either has to wait - or earn more money through babysitting.”

When Ward hands off the allowance, she relinquishes all control of what her children do with the money. This allows the kids to learn the difference between needs and wants for themselves. “It’s theirs,” she says. “And frankly, I want them to make mistakes. Lots and lots of mistakes. I want them to have a week when too much goes into whatever - candy, caffe lattes - so they can’t go to Teen Night [at the swimming pool] or buy something that they want. I want them to make bad choices now so that they make good choices later.”

Cultivate the saving habit O’Neill suggests introducing the concept of “habitual saving” to children as soon as they start managing “serious” amounts of money. What that entails will vary from family to family - he suggests anything over $10. “That’s a good amount for the parent to say, ‘Let’s take a piece of that and put it into savings.’ Directing some of that money into the bank repeatedly over several years makes saving a lifetime habit,” he says. Start by taking the kids to the bank and walking them through the process of opening their own savings account. 

But let them determine the ratio of saving to spending money. Too often parents make the mistake of paying an allowance of, say, $20 and then clawing back $10. That’s forcing saving, and it doesn’t teach anything. “In order to learn, the child needs to have more control over the action,” says O’Neill. Parents can help by suggesting a realistic saving goal, such a new bike or summer camp.

Give them credit With the latest numbers from Statistics Canada pegging the Canadian household debt ratio at more than $1.50 for every $1 of disposable income, teaching children about debt and credit is top of the agenda for many parents.

Start talking about credit cards in the tween or early teen years. Explain what happens when you charge something on a card, and why you should pay the bill on time. Also touch on aspects such as service fees, rewards and security features.

“The best way to learn to handle credit is to, in the teenage years, get a very small credit card account with a parent,” O’Neill says. The credit limit can be as small as the parent deems appropriate. The parent can be privy to all the transactions and able to cancel the card if necessary. “Yes, it can be a scary device in the hands of a teenager,” O’Neill says. But by this time, your child should have a solid foundation - an understanding of what not paying that bill will cost her. “Credit cards can be a great educational tool,” he adds. “Only by using something can someone really understand how it can help or hinder them.”

Walk the talk If your own finances are in a mess, it doesn’t matter what you say to your kids about money and financial responsibility. They’ll model their behaviour after yours. So put your own habits under the microscope. Are you an impulse shopper? Do you spend more than you earn? Sit down with a financial advisor and make sure that your financial plan is as solid as you’d want your children’s to be.

Also consider creating a household budget, as a family. Though the word “budget” sometimes has negative connotations for adults - conjuring up images of austerity or sacrifice - it can actually be a great learning opportunity for kids and parents alike. “Budgeting is not sacrifice,” says O’Neill. “Budgeting is actually complete control.” The concept is simple: money goes in, money goes out, and the two amounts have to match. Or, if you’re saving: what goes in has to be bigger than what goes out. Your budget can include allotments for groceries, activities, clothing, bills, taxes, mortgage payments and other monthly expenditures, as well as bigger-ticket items, such as a vacation or a new vehicle. The exercise will show your kids how seriously you take your family’s financial health. And together, you can watch your savings grow toward your goals.

Financial Education Resources for Parents
Threejars.com: An online tool that allows kids aged five to 13 to manage virtual money through saving, spending and sharing jars.

TVOKids.com: A website featuring educational games for kids 11 and under. Keyword-search “money” to find the finance content.

It’s My Life, PBS Kids An American website packed with articles, games and exercises on money for kids aged nine to 12.

Your Money for Students: Resources for teens on budgeting, saving, investing, borrowing and credit from the Canadian Banker’s Association.

A Parent’s Guide to Raising Money-Smart Kids: An excellent primer on raising financially savvy children, written by CA Robin Taub and published by the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountant.

roadside

by: Omar Mouallem

June 2012
Neon on Whyte


In the 1950s, neon was today’s LED. Glowing signs lit up Edmonton’s commercial streets, advertising shops, delis and pubs in pink, blue, crimson and violet script.

Today, most of these luminous landmarks have disappeared. But a smattering still stand along Whyte Avenue, west of 105 Street in Old Strathcona — remnants of a post-war building boom in the area. The neighbourhood is best known for its turn-of-the-century architecture, but these mid-century pieces of history endure, too, thanks to the preservation efforts of local business and citizens, the Old Strathcona Foundation and the Old Strathcona Business Association.

Among the surviving is a 10-metre-tall Jetsons-style oval on stilts at 104 Street, inherited by Shoppers Drug Mart when it took over the property from IGA in 2005. The six-storey Southpark Motors sign at 106 Street (pictured here) once marked the area’s Cadillac dealership. Until this June, the space was a used-car lot owned by the Don Wheaton group, whose Chevy operation up the street also showcases vintage neon signs, such as a blue-and-white “Oldsmobile” spire on its roof. But now that Don Wheaton has vacated the 106 Street lot, the fate of the Southpark sign is, at least for the time being, up in the air.

24 hours

by: Joe Wiebe

May 2012
What do to in Whistler


Whistler, B.C., is one of North America’s top destinations for snow-seekers, but what about after the slopes close? Summer brings a whole new energy to this alpine village, as the focus shifts from ski slopes to bikeable mountain trails, artisan shops and farm-to-fork feasts. 

Whistler’s upper village hosts a popular farmer’s market Sundays from mid-June to Thanksgiving, selling produce from the nearby village of Pemberton and beyond ( Whistler Farmers Market). Many of the Village’s restaurants embrace the farm-to-fork concept. Gourmet “mountain cuisine” purveyor Araxi Bar and Restaurant even hosts long-table dinners in local farm fields. In the off-season, Whistler hotels slash their prices, making a stay at the luxurious Fairmont Chateau Whistler ( Fairmont Chateau Whistler) or boutique Nita Lake Lodge (featured on The Real Housewives of Vancouver) more affordable. Sticking to a budget? Try the Alpenglow, a condo-style hotel (book at Enjoy Whistler) and use the difference to relax and recharge at Spa Scandinave, an outdoor spa in a spectacular forest setting.

Take the ride of your life at Whistler Mountain Bike Park, open mid-May to early October and offering more than 200 kilometres of chairlift-accessible, cross-country trails for all skill levels (whistlerbike.com). Advanced riders, try the breathtaking new Top of the World trail, high atop Whistler Mountain ( Whister Mountain). Valley Trail is a less intense option. Perfect for families, this 40-kilometre paved route meanders among forests, lakes and beaches, with playgrounds and picnic spots along the way.

If the trendy franchises in the Village make you yearn for something local, drive 10 minutes south to Function Junction. Over the past decade, local artisans, eateries and entrepreneurs have set up shop here, creating a funky, cultural community that most tourists pass on the Sea-to-Sky Highway. For lunch, try Pat’s famous pulled pork at the Cracked Pepper Café ( Cracked Pepper Cafe). Shop for local paintings, photography, jewellery and other arts and crafts at the Art Junction ( Art Junction) or White Dog Gallery ( White Dog Gallery). Then take a tour of the Whistler Brewery and sample handcrafted beers, such as Black Tusk Ale or Bear Paw Honey Lager ( Whistler Brewery). When it’s time to go, fill your picnic basket at Purebread bakery ( Purebread): try the hazelnut fig loaf or Disfunction Ale bread, made with spent grains from the brewery.

road trip

by: Lucas Aykroyd

May 2012
A roadtrip through Alberta’s David Thompson Trail

Southern Alberta’s east-west Hwy. 11 takes its nickname from legen-dary English cartographer and fur trader David Thompson (1770-1857), who surveyed nearly four million square kilometres of North America for the Hudson’s Bay Company and the North West Company. Today’s voyageurs-by-car will discover vintage trains, trading posts and trail rides along this more laid-back alternative to the Trans-Canada Highway (Hwy. 1).

Leg One:  Stettler to Big Valley and Back, Via the Alberta Prairie Railway (Approx. 70 km)

The trail begins in Stettler, a down-home, compact agriculture and oil-services centre a three-hour drive northeast of Calgary. First, ride the rails with Alberta Prairie Railway Excursions (1-800-282-3994; APRE). Vintage railway cars fitted out with wood panelling and brass lamps chug south along a century-old line to the village of Big Valley. Escape a “train robbery” with horseback-riding actors, shop for pumpkin fudge and oil paintings and devour a community-hall roast beef dinner. It’s about six hours round-trip.

Good eats and sleeps: Stettler’s Phoenix B&B (403-742-3602), in a 1916 home restored by owners Dave and Barb Goodwin, serves up blueberry pancakes and award-winning gardens.

Leg Two:  Stettler to Rocky Mountain House (Approx. 180 km)

Before forging westward, potter around the Stettler Town and Country Museum (403-742-4534). With 26 historic buildings, including a courthouse, school and church, the eclectic collection features two Model T Ford cars, a huge 1905 spinning wheel and Estonian immigrant artifacts. Then drive 20 km west on Hwy. 12 and turn left on Hwy. 11. Another 55 km through gently rolling farmland leads into Red Deer, where aspen trees flourish by the Red Deer River. Equidistant between Edmonton and Calgary, the city offers respite at Waskasoo Park (Waskasoo), an outdoor playground with more than 80 km of trails, fishing, a bird sanctuary and log-walled Fort Normandeau.

From downtown, head to the west end of 43 Street, which becomes Cronquist Drive, and check out the park’s Heritage Ranch (403-347-4977; Heritage Ranch).

Looking to emulate David Thompson and his wife Charlotte, who had 13 children together? Modern couples can spark romance with a horse-drawn carriage ride along a forested road.

Follow the signs back to Hwy. 11 and continue 85 km west through a carpet of farmland and forest to the town of Rocky Mountain House, which was originally established in 1799 as a fur-trading post.

Squeeze in a day-ending visit to the Rocky Museum (403- 845-2332; Rocky Museum) at the town’s visitor centre. It’s easy to spot across the highway, thanks to its forestry lookout tower. Highlights include counterfeit money plates, logging exhibits and a working 1916 player piano that rocks everything from the Beatles to “Blue Danube.” Also, learn the story of the Trail Blazers, a group of Rocky Mountain House men who forded streams, chopped down trees and hauled their cars up a 305-metre-tall ridge in the 1930s and 1940s (to refute the Alberta government’s assertion that the terrain was impassable) while lobbying to extend Hwy. 11 west to Nordegg.

Good eats: Grab a steak, or mix it up with teriyaki salmon and yam fries, at Grillers (403-844-4430).

Good sleeps: Just south of town, serene isolation reigns at the Prairie Creek Inn (403-844-2672; Prairie Creek Inn), where sumptuous lodgings on 60 hectares reflect themes from fishing to western Canadian history.

Leg Three: Rocky Mountain House to Saskatchewan River Crossing (Approx. 260 km)

Take a quick morning stroll along Main Street’s Walk of History, where titled plaques commemorate Thompson’s anti-alcohol attitude (“Evil Spirits”) and his wife’s willingness to travel 25,000 km with him (“Unsung Heroine”), among other historic episodes and events.

Next, turn left on 52 Avenue/Hwy. 11A and drive to Range Road 75, continuing to Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site (403-845-2412). At the visitor centre, watch a film on the archaeological remains of four fur trading posts, handle beaver and fox pelts and admire a native horse headstall made with dyed porcupine quills. Outside, a play fort beckons kids and adults with miniature gardens and a puppet theatre. Impassive bison roam near a Métis camp with a traditional Red River cart (a two-wheeled wooden cart used to transport furs and other goods of the time). Birds and mushrooms flourish on trails by the North Saskatchewan River.

Questing onward, like Thompson himself, return to Hwy. 11A. Head 2 km west before turning right to rejoin Hwy. 11 after 4.5 km. It’s another 80 km west to Nordegg, a former coal mining town in the rugged foothills of the Rockies. Meet up here with Bear Baker, owner of Wildhorse Mountain Ranch (403-729-2910; Wild Horse Camp), for horseback riding on wagon and game trails. Trotting through aspen clearings dotted with native prayer cloths and abandoned sweat lodges, this authentic backwoodsman spins tales of Sasquatch sightings and the Western outfitter lifestyle. Time permitting, detour to the stupendously deep Bighorn Canyon with its sandstone walls and gushing green river.

The final 92-km stretch of the trip is pure, single-lane solitude amid snowcapped peaks. Continue west on Hwy. 11, curling majestically around the glacial blue waters of man-made Abraham Lake, beneath 2,545- metre-tall Mount Michener. For a bird’s-eye perspective, try Icefields Helicopter Tours (888-844-3514; Helicopter Tours) at adjacent Cline River. The Kootenay Plains ecological reserve, with 76 species of birds and 49 types of mammals, is a worthwhile stop, long sacred to natives. When you reach Saskatchewan River Crossing and Hwy. 93, pick your Banff National Park pleasure: north to Jasper or south to Lake Louise and Banff.

member story

by: Roberta Foley, AMA Member since 1986

May 2012
Member story: June 2012

One of the happiest days of my life was the day I got my driver’s licence. I was in my 30s, and it gave me such freedom – I could go anywhere, any time. I never imagined the day would come when I’d stop driving. But this December, I got into a collision on my way to church. The road was icy and I lost control, hitting a streetlight. I was slightly injured, but the car was a write-off. I was so shaken by the experience that I stopped driving.

To help me regain my confidence, a neighbour who works for AMA arranged a driving assessment for me. James Schenk, an AMA driving instructor, came to my house and we drove around the neighbourhood for an hour. After evaluating my skills, he told me, “There’s nothing wrong with your driving; you just needed a few pointers.” He also recommended that I take a winter driving course. That did help my confidence, but I still haven’t bought a new car.

Fortunately, I have wonderful friends and neighbours, who have been taking me grocery shopping, to medical appointments and wherever else I need to go. I call a taxi when they’re not available, or when I don’t feel like asking, and I’ve figured out how to take the bus to the church where my quilting group meets. So I haven’t lost my independence – I’m just rethinking the way I get around.

In April, I had another visit from AMA. This time it was Caroline Gee, who works with community groups that help seniors stay mobile after they retire from driving. Over a cup of coffee, we looked at AMA’s Seniors Transportation Information Guide, which lists community groups, transportation options and services that come to your home (everything from groceries to dog grooming). We chatted about my experience, and I told her how important it is for me to have access to theskinds of resources so that I can stay in my home as I age.

I may still decide to drive this summer, but if not, at least I know – thanks to AMA – that I’ll have plenty of ways to get around and get things done. And that’s my idea of independence.

feature

by: Andrew Findlay

May 2012
Five volunteer vacations that bring deeper meaning to travel

Four years ago my wife and I volunteered in Costa Rica, a country blessed with postcard-ready coastlines, surfing beaches, jungles and national parks. We signed on with Habitat for Humanity in the town of Rio Claro, a dusty, southern agricultural community that for most tourists is little more than a gas-and-food stop on the way to iconic Corcovado National Park or the expansive sands of Playa Zancudo. As part of a contingent of North Americans who had forgone the usual surf-and-sand holiday, we were treated to a genuine hospitality that is sometimes lacking in places where the human exchange is reduced to a monetary transaction between tourist and local. We lifted cement cinder blocks and mixed mortar under the subtropical sun, building simple houses for people who otherwise might never have had a roof overhead. We worked alongside the locals, or “Ticos,” as they call themselves, broke bread and shared jugs of water, as well as a few laughs. In so doing, we enriched our lives, and in a small but no less profound way, those of the local people we encountered.

Which is the whole point of “voluntouring” – it allows travellers to leave behind something other than dollars in the destinations they visit. It also gives them access to the B-side of a country, the gritty soul that may not be fit for glossy brochures, but is closer to the authentic character of a destination. The opportunities are as diverse as the needs that exist around the world in the fields of environmental, social, humanitarian and cultural development. Here are a few ideas for your next volunteer vacation.

Cycle Africa

Traversing Africa from tip to tail, participants in the annual Tour d’Afrique travel from Cairo to Cape Town, passing through 10 countries and cycling nearly 12,000 kilometres in 120 days. It’s an incredible opportunity to experience Africa’s astounding natural and ˛ cultural diversity from, as the Toronto-based organizers say, “the best seat in the house – the seat of your bicycle.”

The tour launched in 2003 with a few dozen riders. Today some 400 cyclists tackle the demanding continental ride. Entry fees support efforts to donate bicycles to community health and development groups in Africa, and the riders serve as ambassadors for the bicycle as a viable means of transport. Furthermore, these intrepid riders are encouraged to raise funds for the charity of their choice. Since Tour d’Afrique’s inception, participants have raised more than 700,000 euros ($910,000 Cdn.) for non-profits such as the Canadian Foundation for AIDS Research, the Aga Khan Foundation Canada, Equiterre and WaterAid.

In an effort he has dubbed H20pia, Edmonton resident and AMA member Michael Paull is raising funds for Hope International Development Agency, a Canadian organization that delivers potable water to communities in Ethiopia. When reached by email in Malawi, the halfway point of the journey, he’d already raised $67,000 for his cause.

Paull underwent a gruelling routine in preparation for the tour: running six days a week, spin class five days a week and weight training three times a week, plus stationary-bike riding and aerobics. And it paid off – the days in the saddle are long, he says, and the searing sun takes a toll. But the experience is infinitely rewarding. “Each country is so unique, and there are constant hellos from everyone you pass by,” Paull says. “Sometimes . . . they’re not used to seeing people like us on bikes. But when we stop and try to communicate with them, the open arms and the friendliness are amazing.”

Botswana reminded him of home: “Think of a perfect summer day in Alberta and that is what it is like to ride through Botswana,” he wrote on his blog (h2opia.ca). “The temperature was 28 degrees and there was a nice tail wind and tall grass as far as the eye [could] see.” But later that day came a reminder of the difference between there and home: an elephant came to camp and “slowly passed several tents with a glare of ‘don’t mess with me’ as he walked by.”

Paull estimated he was burning a whopping 5,500 to 8,500 calories per day on the journey. Luckily, the tour package includes four hearty meals a day, centred around starchy energy-makers such as porridge, sandwiches, soup, pasta and rice. Accommodation is self-provided, in the form of tents – the group sleeps in campgrounds and bush camps (a.ka. roadsides) along the route. Tour d’Afrique’s ride-along staff always includes at least one nurse or doctor to deal with health issues – most commonly sunburn, sores, blisters and stomach ailments. A fee of $13,900 covers meals, lodging and ground support (flights, cycling and camping equipment, travel visas and food on rest days are the rider’s responsibility). Aspiring participants without the time or ambition to tackle the entire route may enter at various stages, starting at $1,400. tourdafrique.com

Do feed the elephants

The people of Thailand revere the symbol of the elephant – its image appears in the modern and ancient art of Siam, on T-shirts and the labels of ubiquitous Chang beer bottles. However, this iconic species is under threat. Historically, the Karen and other hill tribe people of northern Thailand have used domesticated elephants for logging or as trekking animals in tourist camps. Sadly for the elephant, life after this (often dangerous and abusive) service is even less kind, with many of them ending up abandoned or neglected. Which is why, in 1999, Sangduen “Lek” Chailert, an idealistic Thai woman, decided to do something about it and opened the Chiang Mai Elephant Nature Park, where elephants are adopted into a caring environment. Volunteer opportunities exist for both professional veterinarians and ordinary travellers wanting to experience these wonderful animals up close.

“The work was easy, fun and relaxing,” says Kara Sorensen, a 47-year-old massage therapist from Victoria, B.C., of her January 2010 visit. “We spent time preparing their food, washing pesticides from produce, shucking corn, collecting pumpkins, hacking down corn, and picking oranges. We also collected and bagged sand as bedding for baby elephants.”

Accommodation at the nature park is rustic – simple thatched, open-air huts with mosquito nets – but the camaraderie among staff and volunteers is heartening and the food delicious. The highlight for Sorenson was a hike with other volunteers into the nearby hills for a camp-out with a couple of elephants, giving the animals the opportunity to graze on plants and trees in a natural setting. A local woman who has worked with the elephants for many years leads the group. “She cooks a great Thai feast and tells a wonderful story,” says Sorensen.
A fee of $400 per week covers volunteers’ food and lodging and also helps fund the elephant park. elephantnaturepark.org

Care for Guatemalan orphans

Guatemala’s stunning volcanoes, ancient Mayan ruins of Tikal and El Mirador, rainforests and Spanish colonial treasures have long made it a favourite among travellers to Latin America. However, the country, where indigenous Mayans still account for more than 50 per cent of the population, has had a troubled modern history of civil war and enduring poverty. Sadly, children often suffer the most. Though Guatemala has enjoyed peace for more than a decade, youngsters are still in need. Since 1977 Casa Guatemala, a remote facility on the banks of Rio Dulce in the heart of Guatemala’s steamy eastern lowlands, has been a home and sanctuary of support, education, health care and healing for around 250 orphaned, abandoned and abused children. The facility relies on volunteer support to meet the needs of its young charges.

Canadian Heather Graham was planning a trip to Central Guatemala 11 years ago and was drawn to a volunteer stint after researching Casa Guatemala. She stayed three years, assisting with management of the orphanage’s farm, butcher shop and Hotel Backpackers (which supports the facility and houses short-term volunteers), eventually getting involved in the administration of the whole project. She loved it so much it became her career; she now works for the non-profit as communications and fundraising director.

“At first it can be overwhelming. There is such mixed emotion. You feel sad for the children as you learn about their pasts and the sometimes horrible experiences that brought them all to Casa Guatemala. But as you make your way through the project, it becomes apparent that they are all very happy and well-loved,” Graham says.

The orphanage has two volunteer programs: short-term and long-term. Short-term volunteers (who must be 18 or older), stay at the hotel and travel to and from the orphanage to help with daily activities. Long-term volunteers live onsite and must commit to a minimum of three months, speak basic Spanish and be over 24 years old. They can work as house supervisors, or as teachers alongside local, paid educators. Others help on the farm or with coordinating the children’s activities during free time. The short-term volunteer program costs $250 per week and includes lodging and lunches. The long-term program costs $300 and includes food and accommodation at the orphanage. casa-guatemala.org

Channel Indiana — Jones, that is

Hollywood blockbusters such as Raiders of the Lost Ark tap a natural human fascination with the esoteric and unknown. Luckily, opportunities abound for travellers wanting to be on the leading edge of archaeological discovery. Romania was shrouded behind the Iron Curtain until dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was overthrown in the country’s tumultuous 1989 revolution. Since then, archaeologists have pored over the country’s rich history, peering back to the time of 15th-century ruler Vlad the Impaler, on whom Bram Stoker’s gothic 1897 novel Dracula was based. Projects Abroad has multi-week opportunities in Romania for volunteers with a penchant for historical discovery.

“I spent a month in Romania where I worked on different archaeological projects,” says Jacinda Bottomley, a 23-year-old anthropology student from Winnipeg who travelled to Romania in 2009. “We excavated an ancient pool, a wall and a well, which was thought to be where the Romans would offer sacrifices to Hades. We found lots of artifacts and animal bones.”

Volunteers live and eat with host families in the city of Brasov, while working with archaeologists at the Museum of History, classifying artifacts and restoring ancient tools and pottery. They may also partake in expeditions throughout the Transylvania region, helping with digs and studying ancient ruins, such as spectacular fortified Saxon churches.

“It was a great experience and confirmed for me the fact that I want to become an archaeologist,” Bottomley says.

Two-week archaeology volunteer vacations start at $3,295 and include food, lodging, heatlh insurance and in-country transport and logistical support from local Projects Abroad staff. Projects abroad.ca/destinations/Romania

Muck in at an organic farm

If you’ve ever wanted to get dirt under your fingernails, pound fence posts or sheer sheep, there’s a farmer – actually thousands of farmers – around the world looking for your labour. World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, or WWOOF, emerged in 1971 from the imagination of London secretary Sue Coppard, who realized that office-bound urbanites needed a way to get back to the country. The idea exploded into a global network of organic farmers willing to swap room and board for farm labour. These days WWOOFers, young and seasoned alike, alleviate the costs of travel while gaining hands-on agricultural experience and hanging out with independent-minded farmers. Green thumb Jordan Marr WWOOFed in the Yukon, New Brunswick and British Columbia before he decided to make a living from the land.

“My partner Vanessa and I found out about a WWOOFing opportunity in Knowlesville, New Brunswick. We slept in the spare cabin, and took our breakfasts and lunches in the main communal house where all the employees ate. That was a cool aspect of that particular stay,” Marr says over the phone from Summerland, B.C. “The work was varied. It was mid-fall so there was a lot of putting the garden to bed for winter.” Generally WWOOFers can expect to put in 25 hours of physical work per week. Marr says a solid work ethic and a willingness to get dirty will serve you well. So will an open mind. More than 90 countries now have WWOOF organizations, each with hundreds of host farms. (There are 63 WWOOFable farms in Alberta alone.) To participate in a particular country, you must register with that country’s WWOOF organization. You pay a registration fee to gain access to the host listings. Each WWOOF host farm sets its own schedule and rules (for example, some welcome families with children and some are adults-only).

Tips for voluntouring

“Decide what your interests are and where and when you want to travel, then search for a volunteer opportunity that meets your needs,” says Rob Levine, director for Projects Abroad Canada.

Before choosing an organization, ask yourself: are you able-bodied enough to do physical labour and work outdoors? Are you comfortable with shared or spartan accommodation — or boarding with a local family? Will you be volunteering alone or as part of a family or group? Do you have any specialty skills, such as nursing, architecture, early childhood education, mapping, teaching or animal care that you might be able to contribute? Is there a particular skill you might like to acquire in exchange for contributing your time and energy? The answers will help narrow your search.

Next, research any prospective organization’s background. Ideally, the organization will have been in existence for a minimum of five years and have support staff on the ground to problem-solve and help volunteers integrate with host organizations and locals. Before you commit, ask what’s included for food, lodging and transportation. Be sure you know the full cost of participation, including program fees and any extra costs or required equipment.

If possible, contact a past volunteer for an opinion on the experience. And when you arrive, be outgoing and engaging with locals, advises Levine: “Those are always the people who have the most positive experiences.”

feature

by: Steve Burgess

May 2012
Singapore Zing

Chowing down on the city’s eclectic street food



Taking on a crocodile is never going to be anyone’s idea of fun. But if you must do so, your best option is probably a braised one. Still pretty scary. But the bowl of tasty broth helps.

My mano-a-mano showdown with a bowl of claws, bone and pebbled skin is taking place in Singapore, at a hawker’s market on the edge of Little India. It’s a confrontation that could easily have been avoided. Singapore offers high-end cuisine the equal of any city in the world – there’s even an outpost of renowned French chef and restaurateur Daniel Boulud’s db Bistro here, at the swanky Marina Bay Sands Hotel.

But to find the true spirit of Singapore you have to look elsewhere. Down at ground level, the city is a meeting place of culinary cultures: Malay, Indian, Chinese, the Malay-Chinese hybrid known as Peranakan, Indonesian influences such as Padang and even Japanese. These are best sampled in the places where locals dine, such as the popular food courts known as hawker’s markets. Singapore street food is inexpensive, tasty and often surprising. Even without the toothy reptiles.



Once upon a time, the world was full of city states. Of the few that remain, Singapore surely ranks first in power and prestige. Established as a British port in 1819 by Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, it was briefly part of Malaysia before separating in 1965. The new state, isolated on a 700-square-kilometre island and lacking resources, wasn’t exactly considered Most Likely to Succeed. But it surprised the world by transforming itself into a manufacturing powerhouse and, by some measures, the world’s busiest port. Today, thanks to the country’s long history of Chinese and Indian settlement and its location in the very heart of Southeast Asia, Singapore has a vibrant culinary identity.

One of the surprises is just where good food is found. The Geylang area, four or five stops east of downtown on the East West train line, is popular with foodies. It’s also Singapore’s red light district, where little side streets called “lorongs” are lined with government-licensed brothels. (With its strict rules on gum chewing and litter, many visitors make the mistake of thinking Singapore is a moralistic nanny state. In fact, the government is obsessed with order. Gum chewing can be stopped, so they stop it. Prostitution cannot, they reason, so they license it.)

Geylang eateries are usually bright and open to the street, with the sort of modest decor one associates with 10-minute oil-and-lube jobs. Many offer cafeteria-style displays of ready-made food, but I prefer the spots that cook to order. On Geylang Lorong 9, I find one, with large, round tables spread out to the neon-lit sidewalk. Groups of friends, working girls on break and communally seated strangers fill the plastic chairs.

Unable to read the Chinese name on the sign, I order something at random before my tablemate intercedes. He introduces himself as Wei, a local importer/exporter. The restaurant’s name, which he translates for me, is “King of Char Kway Teow,” referring to the house specialty, a popular dish of broad noodles fried with sliced beef.  So I order that. It’s savoury, it turns out, but not spicy – a sort of Asian beef stroganoff. And at 9 Singapore dollars (about $7 Cdn.), cheap. Not Asia cheap – in Bangkok you could eat for three days on that – but pretty good for a town that can be Southeast Asia’s most expensive destination.

The next evening I stumble across a happening spot just a few Geylang lorongs away. According to the menu, No Signboard Seafood acquired its name when the owners, Mr. and Mrs. Choo, started selling crab in a hawker’s stall that had no sign. Today there are six Singapore locations, including a Geylang branch. Still busy at 10 p.m., it’s a bright, lively outdoor plaza, featuring a central covered area with outdoor carpeting, ceiling fans, metal chairs and actual waiters. It’s so popular that the staff is busy rolling out extra tables, and I’m seated off to the side on a plastic chair, open to the elements, near the entrance to a parking garage. But the Singapore elements are kind, and it’s still a step up from the King of Char Kway Teow esthetic. Step up in price, too – pepper crab, a signature Singapore dish, costs 50 Singapore dollars a kilo; crayfish 80. I decide to branch out, ordering deer meat with ginger and spring onions (around $12 Cdn). Also kang kong. This local specialty is made by plucking a giant gorilla off a skyscraper and slicing it into a pan with garlic and ginger . . . or not. Kang kong is actually a leafy green, and the name translates to “water spinach.” It’s typically stir-fried with sambal, a chili, garlic, ginger and shrimp paste. And as prepared at No Signboard Seafood it’s a real discovery – tender and just nicely spicy. The venison, stir-fried in a thick brown gravy with green onions, is just as good.



Hawker’s markets, popular in Malaysian destinations such as Penang and Kuala Lumpur, are essentially open-air food courts, streets or plazas full of independent stalls, each offering a different specialty and clustered around a common seating area. While Malaysian hawker markets are usually located on streets or in large, open-air lots, the Singapore variety is typically a self-contained shopping plaza dedicated entirely to food vendors. And unlike a typical food court, a hawker’s market can draw customers who are serious about their cuisine.

Tekka Centre is a big one in Little India.  I arrive in the morning to find that crowd has already converged on the centre’s wet market, which specializes in crab and other seafood. The hawker’s court, where rows of kiosks offer the likes of tandoori chicken and Indian vegetarian dishes, is right beside it. Garbage receptacles overflow with empty coconut shells that once held cold, sweet coconut milk drinks. I prefer to order a hot beverage: teh halia, or ginger milk tea, something I’ve never been able to find in Indian restaurants back home. Made from water boiled with ginger, the tea is sweetened with condensed milk. The result is creamy, with a solid kick of ginger that leaves a warm after-burn.

Time for lunch. Not too far across town from Little India is the beautiful Sultan Mosque, heart of the area called Arab Street or Kampong Glam, just east of Raffles Hospital. In a way, Kampong Glam, sometimes called the Muslim Quarter, sums up the city. It’s pretty, displays its heritage proudly and yet seems so tidy and orderly that you might think you’ve wandered into some sort of Singapore Disneyland. The narrow streets are lined with restored old shop houses containing carpet and souvenir stores and offices. Restaurants, too.

Kampong Glam is the place to go for nasi padang, an Indonesian Muslim culinary tradition that combines Asian and Middle Eastern influences and makes heavy use of coconut milk and spices. It’s represented in the Arab Street area by restaurants such as the legendary Warong Nasi Pariaman. This afternoon it’s my bad fortune to arrive as they are washing up, five minutes after closing early for a holiday. Disappointing, but there are other options. Encouraged by the crowd across the street at a deli-style restaurant called Sabar Menanti II, I head in. At the back, a glass case displays rows of dishes, most swimming in savoury curry sauces. Soon I am engaged in one of those acts of faith and surrender that are an unavoidable part of overseas dining. I don’t recognize any of the dishes on display and no one can really explain them to me. So I turn myself over to the man in charge. “Spicy OK?” he asks. I nod, trying to look confident, and he serves up my plate.

I recognize one dish as rendang beef curry, often featured on Malaysian menus in North America. (This illustrates the polyglot nature of North American Asian restaurants, where different regions and traditions are often rolled together under one banner.) My plate also holds chicken and vegetable curries, plus a side that includes banana peppers. Taking a seat beside a family (communal seating is one of the pleasures of solo dining in Singapore), I dig in. And in fact the spice hit is rather mild. In Malaysia and Singapore they don’t go in for butt-kicking Thai chilies – the sambal chili paste favoured here tends to be a little milder and sweeter, making Malaysian cuisine seem a little kinder and gentler overall.

My tablemates include Yusef, a young local man eating with his parents and wife. Is this his favourite spot, I ask? Yusef shakes his head. “My favourite restaurant is home,” he says. “Nothing beats Mom’s cooking.” On my way out, I remember that Kampong Glam the neighbourhood also features Kampong Glam the restaurant, at the corner of Baghdad and Bussorah streets. Which means I must return to the area tomorrow – I know and love this spot from past visits.

I line up with a crowd the next day as planned, to order a couple of Malay favourites, lontong and gado-gado. Gado-gado is a local classic, typically vegetables and boiled egg covered in a warm peanut sauce. As for lontong, the name can refer to what I have before me – a dish containing cabbage, bean curd, sliced egg and green beans, topped with a dollop of chili paste and swimming in coconut milk curry. But more specifically, lontong refers to the main ingredient, a sort of rice cake that’s been cooked for five or six hours, then cut into cubes or slices. Seated at a table beside locals, I’m told that lontong has a special role in Malay Muslim culture. “Traditionally, this is a New Year’s dish,” explains my dining companion, a trim, 50-ish Malay man in a blue short-sleeved shirt. “But these days, people eat lontong all the time.” Lontong dishes have also become an integral part of Chinese New Year festivities, the kind of cultural crossover that makes Singapore what it is.
Singapore’s most famous cultural hybrid is the Malay-Chinese blend known as Peranaken. In the local legends, it’s a little unclear whether Peranaken culture resulted from Chinese immigrants absorbing Malay influence, or whether it represents a more literal crossbreeding. But it’s now a distinct local tradition that finds its fullest expression in food. 

One example is laksa, a coconut milk curry with short rice noodles. A number of laksa shops in Joo Chiat, on the east side of the city, claim to have been the first to serve this dish. But 328 Katong Laksa (yet another small, basic, open-front diner) seems to be winning the current retail war. Walking down Still Road from the Eunos MRT station on my second-to-last day in the city, I realize to my dismay that I’m down to only 6 Singapore dollars. But it’s enough. A bowl of savoury, slightly sweet, slightly spicy laksa sets me back 4. I’m forced to skip the side of fish paste everybody else is ordering – I need train fare back to my hotel.



Singapore is a great place to find Japanese snacks, as long as you’re not a purist. Stopping by Wow Tako! in the basement of the four-storey Bugis Junction shopping centre (near City Hall downtown) could be a shock for a Tokyo tourist. The little stand sells tako-yaki, the Japanese national snack, which is typically a chunk of octopus in a ball of fried batter (yaki means fried and tako is octopus). It certainly doesn’t mean pineapple and cheese, or mushroom and cheese, or beef and cheese, or scallop – which are all proudly served here. Japanese desserts such as daifuku and tai-yaki (respectively, rice-paste dumplings filled with sweet red beans and waffle cookies shaped like cutesy fish) are also on the menu – some with durian filling.

Durian is a fact of culinary life around here. The spiky fruit is a Chinese staple that has never caught on in the West, and frankly is unlikely ever to do so. The reason can be deduced from local hotel elevators. Frequently there’s a little sign beside the door picturing a durian overlaid with a red circle and a slash. In terms of etiquette, cracking open a fresh durian in an elevator is the equivalent of lighting up a Cuban cigar. The stuff stinks. There are a few different varieties ranging from sweet to bitter, but they’re all an acquired taste. My attempt to acquire it in Singapore’s Chinatown a few days ago – with a durian crêpe – proved a miserable failure. The musky, acrid taste stayed with me for blocks.

Nor do I have much success with my final big Singapore meal. I first spot the sign while wandering through the Burseh Food Centre on the edge of Little India – a big pictorial menu offering both stewed turtle and braised crocodile. I have nothing against turtles. But my youthful attempts to keep them as pets mean I have enough turtle blood on my hands. Crocodile it is.

Braised crocodile doesn’t look any more appetizing than you’d expect. It’s served to me in a hot stone bowl, with a tangy broth to distract from the pale pebbled skin and single white claw emerging from the mix. Once I’m past the bone and gristle, the old cliché proves itself again – the meat does indeed taste like that mild-mannered bird that made a fortune for Colonel Sanders. Overall it’s not bad. But at 18 Singapore dollars (45 for a whole paw) it’s the most expensive hawker meal I’ve ever had, and certainly not the tastiest.

The next day I get the rest of the bill. Crocodiles, I discover, can also attack from within. Next time I’ll try to remember my place on the food chain.

feature

by: Adam McCulloch

May 2012
Jungle Sleeps

I’ve stayed in my fair share of hotels around the world, but I’ve never needed a life jacket, helmet or paddle to get to a check-in desk before. But travelling via raft on the whitewater Pacuare River is the only way for guests of remote Pacuare Lodge to reach their destination.

My guide Jorge assures me that if the raft flips, there will be no reason for panic (easy for him to say), and then we push off from the polished-pebble bank. “This is no ordinary river,” he informs me proudly. “It’s one of the great rafting rivers on earth.” And with that, we venture into the heart of Costa Rica, one of the last great wild places on the planet. 

Not only is this country stunning – as I’m able to discern once our group of three gets the hang of navigating the rapids – it’s also one of the most conservation-oriented in the world. With good reason: while Costa Rica is a mere speck of land, covering only 0.03 per cent of the earth’s surface, more than 500,000 unique plant and animal species (that’s four per cent of all life) are found here. In addition to Caribbean and Pacific coastlines, and a spine of tall mountains, the country’s borders harbour more than 70 lizard, 120 snake and 890 bird species, along with crocodiles, vampire bats and monkeys – and (though more difficult to spot) tapirs, deer and jaguars. It’s no wonder this is an eco-tourism hot spot. And while the rest of the world is struggling just to recycle bottles, Costa Rica is committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2021. With 80 per cent of its electricity already originating from sustainable sources, it’s well on track.

There are four popular eco-tourist areas in the country, mostly preserved through splendid isolation. Tortuguero National Park, on the far-north Caribbean coast and home to thousands of endangered turtles, can be reached only by small boat. Monteverde Cloud Forest (famous for strange orchids and stranger birds) is perched high among the cumulonimbi in the northwest and accessed by four-wheel drive. The third, the Arenal Volcano, in the northern lowlands, is accessible by car. The fourth, of course, is the Pacuare River.

“Left, back!” shouts Jorge. It’s my cue to paddle backward to prevent us from broadsiding a slab of rock. We careen past towering, moss-softened canyons, as unseen monkeys screech from the treetops. After a few more hours of spray-soaked, rock-dodging fun, we arrive at Pacuare Lodge, my home for the next three days. The resort lies beyond the rain shadow of the Cordillera de Talamanca mountains, east of the capital, San José, toward the Caribbean coast.

The hub of the resort is a two-storey restaurant and lounge overlooking the river. A smattering of private villas is scattered among the trees, through which floats a confetti of iridescent butterflies. My room, a short walk through an Avatar-like landscape, is breezy and open-plan, with a net-draped bed, polished hardwood floors and a claw-foot tub with a view of the river. Outside there’s a natural-stone freshwater plunge pool, expansive deck and outdoor solar-heated shower. The only thing missing is electricity. After a brief moment of First World panic, I realize that all I need is candle- light (amply supplied) and a book. The thick timbers and screened walls frame a view of the treetops, which are atwitter with hummingbirds and twitching with insects whose bodies articulate in ways I didn’t think were possible. When evening falls, we guests head with moth-like predictability toward the electric glow of the lounge for cocktails and to trade stories of zip-lining, rafting and hiking – just three of the adventures the resort can organize for guests.

The following morning, I take a tour with Andreas, Pacuare’s general manager, to see first-hand the extent of the environmental credentials that have earned the lodge five leaves, the top accolade of the country’s Certification for Sustainable Tourism authority. At the bottom of a leafy ravine, a small turbine shed hums energetically as water plunges 55 metres to a paddlewheel generator. The six kilowatts it produces is just enough to power the 100 garden lights, kitchen, lounge and office or the single power-hungry air conditioner for the wine cellar. (I suppress a pang of guilt at having enjoyed a glass of Pinot Noir with last night’s meal.) To round out the tour, Andreas points proudly to a bio-digester they are testing: soon it will turn septic waste into methane cooking gas. It’s not often that beauty and practicality go hand-in-hand, but this place is the whole package.

While organized nature tours are the lodge’s specialty, these also occur spontaneously. I follow a blue morpho butterfly a short distance into the dense jungle, coming upon a foot-long stick insect and a false fer-de-lance (a harmless snake whose defense mechanism is to resemble the country’s deadliest). In the dense canopy above, a troupe of howler monkeys (relocated from farmland by lodge staff) call happily across treetops bejewelled with hummingbirds and toucans. The following day, I backtrack upstream, via a road more treacherous than the river, and kayak the Pacuare in an inflatable canoe. After rafting, the autonomy of the canoe adds to the excitement – although when I flip it end-over-end I have no one to blame but myself.

After taking my reluctant leave from the lodge – which, of course, entails donning that helmet and life jacket again – I meet with Emilio Zúñiga. The co-owner of a three-leaf (and, rather impressively, carbon neutral) tour agency and travel outfitter based in San José, he will drive me to my next lodge. Zúñiga has worked hard to create an environmentally sustainable business. “Eco-tourism in this country is the result of three big events,” he tells me. “The Nobel Peace Prize, the volcano and the World Cup.”

As we descend into a verdant valley, Zúñiga relays the story of how, in 1948, rebels led by José Figueres overthrew the reigning political dictatorship. Figueres amended the constitution, abolished the military and set the country on an uncertain but resolutely peaceful future. He paved the way for President Óscar Arias, who in 1987 brokered a peace deal to end the civil wars raging in Central America, earning himself a Nobel Prize.

Then came the 1990 World Cup. Costa Rica didn’t host, mind you – it simply competed.  But this sparked a national pride that in turn fuelled a desire to protect the whole country, environmentally and socially. “The most important thing that kick-started eco-tourism, though, was the volcano,” Zúñiga continues, explaining that Costa Rica literally exploded onto the tourist map in the 1990s when long-dormant Arenal became one of the most active volcanoes on the planet. Rustic lodges replaced cattle ranches and Arenal, where we’re headed now, became a hot spot (excuse the pun) for volcanologists and outdoorsy types.

It’s dark by the time we arrive at Nayara Hotel, Spa and Gardens, and the cluster of restaurants on the main “street” are abuzz with alfresco dinner activity. At first glance, Nayara’s coveted three leaves are a little hard to spot. On inserting my key card into a socket on the wall, the room jumps to life like a small carnival: pot lights and wall sconces fill the room with brilliance and two air conditioners chirp melodiously. There is also a TV, a DVD player, a phone and ample towels and robes – in short, it resembles any luxurious hotel. On the nightstand, a card informs me: “Water is life. Only use the necessary,” but the two indoor rain showers, outdoor shower, double vanity and Jacuzzi give me ample opportunity to squander it. (Not that I’m complaining: it all looks delightful after a day on the road.)

Costa Rica’s genius is that well-run eco-lodges can offer guests every luxury and still be mindful of the environment. Nayara composts all of its food scraps (or sends them to farms for pig feed), uses low-wattage LED lighting and biodegradable cleaning products, monitors water use, recycles wastewater and avoids using pesticide and fertilizer in its verdant native gardens. I revel in the opportunity for a truly hot shower, a good movie and some air conditioning and resolve to spend the following day lazing in my room, scrutinizing the steaming volcano (visible from my window) for any sign of eruption (the last big ’un was 1998). While there are many tours on offer involving hiking and horseback riding on the volcano’s flanks, I’m still sore from rafting. So after lunch I stroll into town and deposit myself at the Eco Termales Hot Springs, one of scores of natural thermal pools in the area. I soak in the steaming water and, later, tuck in to a traditional dinner of beef with rice and refried beans before heading back to my comfortable bed.

The next day I rise early and head two hours north to Rio Celeste Hideaway Hotel. En route, my driver comes to an abrupt halt and beckons me from the car. While I marvel at the girth of a 500-year-old Ceiba tree, he rummages among the damp leaves, emerging triumphantly with a bright-red strawberry poison dart frog. (How exactly he was able to handle such a toxic creature unharmed, I’ll never know.) If in Los Angeles everyone is a budding actor, in Costa Rica everyone’s a naturalist.

When we arrive at the lodge – two sloths, three frogs and a dozen exotic birds later – I’m pleased to find that it feels utterly remote, as if it has just been hacked from the jungle. It has many of the same comforts as three-leaf Nayara (TV, air conditioner and plentiful hot water) but something about it feels even closer to nature: maybe it’s the giant koi pond in the centre of the lounge, or the compact size (just 24 suites).

The newly finished resort should have opened three years ago. The delay was due in part to the fact that they had to plant a new tree for every single one they cut down. The result is a delightful community of bungalows set on the edge of virgin rainforest.

At dawn, I realize just how close to nature I am. I awake to what sounds like a murderer at my door. Leaping from my bed and sneaking outside through a side entrance, I see with some relief that the unwelcome wakeup call is courtesy of a howler monkey. He purses his lips like a tenor and lets out a deep bark, then saunters off in the direction of his companion, who is howling in the treetops.

Now wide awake (thanks Mr. Monkey), I head to the breakfast buffet (snaring an extra serving of treacly teacake for my journey) and then into the forest to explore while the canopy is atwitter. Compared to the Pacuare area, it’s a little drier here. I scan the undergrowth, ever hopeful of spotting one of those elusive jaguars. I meander past a spring (the source of the hotel’s water) and over a few bridges until I arrive at the namesake river, Rio Celeste. I strip down and immerse myself in the surreal blue water. Coloured by minerals, the Rio Celeste is one of the main attractions of the region. But at this little-known bend, I have it all to myself.

As I soak, I wonder what will stay with me most about my journey. It strikes me that I’ve learned a lot, in this place so abundantly blessed by Mother Nature, about human nature. Costa Ricans – a people without a military – have discovered that you don’t need to fight for the environment, you just need to respect and love it. And really, what’s not to love?

behind the wheel

by: Wendy Goldsmith

May 2012
Roadsharing advice for motorists and cyclists

Last spring, CAA gathered more than 100 cycling, infrastructure and public policy experts in Vancouver for Changing Lanes, a conference that examined the relationship between bicycles and motor vehicles on Canadian streets. The consensus: bike traffic is on the increase across the country – and both cyclists and drivers are uncertain about how to share the road.

“Because we could all use a refresher on road rules, we sometimes have disagreements about how we ought to behave,” says Scott Wilson, AMA senior policy analyst. A 2010 AMA study showed that fewer than 40 per cent of motorists would be able to pass the current learner’s exam. Cyclists are guilty, too, sometimes switching back and forth from vehicle to pedestrian roles, or not riding defensively enough.

Following is a summer refresher on road sharing – whichever wheels you favour.

Cyclists: Follow vehicle rules.

A cyclist is never “sort of a pedestrian, sort of a car.” By law, bicycles are vehicles and adult cyclists have to ride on the road (not the sidewalk) in the direction of vehicle traffic and obey traffic lights and signs. They must yield to pedestrians and indicate stops and turns with hand signals, and can only occupy sidewalks and crosswalks while walking or pushing their bikes.

Drivers: Give cyclists their space.

“The motorist also has to realize that cyclists are vehicles; they deserve their spot on the road,” says Rick Lang of AMA Driver Education. “If you’re going to pass, bikes get the full-lane width, same as cars. So do a shoulder check, then change lanes and go around.” If it isn’t possible to change lanes, motorists should leave a gap of 1.5 to two metres while passing and reduce speed.

When following a cyclist, stay two to three seconds back. Remember: bikes don’t have tail lights to warn of sudden stops. Also keep in mind that riders may swerve to avoid gravel, debris, potholes or rail tracks. When parked, always check side mirrors before opening doors.

Cyclists: Be visible, ride defensively.

“Give motorists a break,” says Lang, especially at night. No matter how vigilant, a motorist simply can’t see black-clad bikers in the dark. Wear bright, reflective clothing, and equip your bicycle with front and rear lights and reflectors.

Some precautions apply night and day: ride single file, except when passing another cyclist. Keep both hands on the handlebars (except when signalling) and don’t carry more people than your bike is designed for. Also make sure your bike is in good working order. Wheels secure? Tires fully inflated? Brakes working? Chain oiled and tight?

Drivers: Watch out for bike lanes.

These painted routes run along the right-hand side of the road (to the left of parked cars) – and sometimes beside the left lane, for cyclists turning left. Take extra care when turning across one. “Do your normal signal, your normal shoulder checks, but before turning the wheel, look in your right-hand mirror and do a strong shoulder check to make sure there is no cyclist coming up on your right,” says Lang. And remember that left-turning cyclists wait in the middle of the road (bike lane or no bike lane) with left-turning cars – only without the attention-grabbing blinker!

Cyclists: Don’t assume motorists are checking their blind spots.

After all, the consequences of a bike-car collision are more serious for a cyclist. “The cyclist may be in the right, but who wants to be dead right?” says Lang.

analyze this

by: Daneda Russ

May 2012
What’s driving auto insurance rates?

Still think a red car will cost more to insure than a blue one? Suspect you’re paying more than you should for your policy? Separating fact from fiction can help you save – and set your mind at ease.

Vital statistics

It’s a numbers game: drivers under the age of 25 and over 85 have a greater probability of collisions and traffic violations, and their higher insurance rates reflect that. Female drivers under age 25 have better driving records on average than their male counterparts and may qualify for better rates. (For instance, in 2010, there were 1,971 men aged 20 to 24 involved in casualty collisions in Alberta, but only 1,250 women in the same age bracket.) Under-25 married drivers of both (blank) usually net better rates than their single male counterparts for similar reasons. Hear that, guys?

After age 25, as a driver’s experience increases, rates tend to go down. But there’s hope for new drivers: completing an Alberta Transportation-licensed driver-training program, such as AMA Driver Education, can earn them a certificate that gives them experience credit toward a better rate category.

“If you’re teaching your kids to drive yourself, you’re actually missing out on an opportunity for some savings,” says Bob Hillman, AMA Insurance vice-president of finance.

Location, location

If you call Calgary home, you’ll pay more for insurance than you would if you lived in Black Diamond – for the same vehicle. Why? In the city, you’re statistically more likely to get in a collision because of higher population and traffic density. More risk means paying more. “On the liability side, there are way more claims in urban areas, though in the rural areas, you usually pay a little bit more for comprehensive insurance, because you get collisions with animals,” says Hillman.

Make, model and year

Quick, what costs more to insure: a red, souped-up two-door or a grey, four-door sedan? Many people would point to the bright-and-sporty two-door because it’s more likely to be driven fast and furious.
But colour and number of doors don’t figure into the equation. Make, model and year are factors, though. And the hierarchy may surprise you. For example: based on AMA’s rate index, the cost of comprehensive insurance on a 2010 Honda Civic Si is more than double that of a 2010 Nissan Sentra 2.0, a vehicle of comparable size and value. This is because Honda Civic models hold three of the top 10 spots on the Insurance Bureau of Canada’s list of most stolen vehicles in Alberta (among models manufactured between 1998 and 2010 – see IBC). Number one on this dubious-honour roll? The 2006 Ford F-350. Second place goes to the 1990 Dodge Neon. (blank) sports cars don’t even crack the top 10.

Vehicles that are expensive to repair or replace also command higher premiums, so ask your insurance agent for rate quotes before you go car shopping. Safety features such as anti-lock brakes could also save you money if those features have been shown to reduce claims on your particular vehicle.

On the record

Every at-fault liability claim you incur will raise you five notches on the province’s auto insurance-premium grid, which could translate to a five per cent premium increase or more. Repeated traffic safety violations such as speeding tickets – or even a single impaired- driving charge – can jack your rates up even further. If your driving history isn’t perfect, don’t despair. Every year of claim-free driving may drop your rate by five per cent.

Mandatory coverage

If you own a motor vehicle in Alberta, you’re legally required to have third-party liability and accident benefits. Third-party liability covers the other guy when you’re at fault for a collision. Coverage of $200,000 is the bare minimum, but Hillman recommends $2 million. “It doesn’t raise your premium that much – it might only be an extra $7 a month in some cases – but it gives you a big increase in protection,” he says. Accident benefits cover non-vehicle-related costs resulting from a collision (regardless of fault), such as medical care, rehabilitation and funeral costs. The Alberta Insurance Rate Board sets the premiums for these mandatory forms of coverage (see Alberta Insurance Rate Board.).

Optional coverage

Collision and comprehensive insurance are optional, and you can adjust your policy to suit your needs. Collision reimburses you (right away) for damages to your vehicle in a collision or rollover, regardless of who’s at fault. Comprehensive covers vehicle damage from causes other than collisions and rollovers – such as hail, fire and theft. While it can make sense to drop or reduce collision on older vehicles, remember: even if you’re not at fault in a crash, you won’t receive immediate coverage for repairs without collision insurance.

Add-ons and deletions

Increasing your policy’s deductible (the amount you agree to pay upfront toward a claim) can decrease your monthly premiums. You can also look into policy add-ons that specify coverage only for certain kinds of damage (say, limited payouts for windshield damage). If you need to insure a second vehicle, or your home, you might qualify for a multi-policy discount. Shop around. Also review your policy when something changes, says Hillman. “Adding a driver, changing vehicles, moving – that’s when you should review the whole policy.”

weekenders

by: Kristine Kowalchuk

May 2012
Weekender: Camrose

The getaway

Camrose has always been a pretty spot, but lately it has new energy, thanks to its Main Street Rejuvenation Program. The program restored 16 heritage buildings downtown, culminating in the grand reopening of the Bailey Theatre -– Alberta’s oldest performing arts theatre – in spring 2011. With its now-burgeoning arts scene, well-kept heritage sites, extensive trails and boutique shopping, Camrose makes for a great weekend getaway. Pack good walking shoes and grab a map at the visitor information centre in Bill Fowler Centre.

The hideaway

Spend a night at the picturesque Haselwood Inn, 18 kilometres west of the city. The property was originally the site of a flour and feed mill built by English immigrant Alfred Haselwood in 1900. The mill operated until 1964 and was something of a meeting place for farmers, who came from miles around to have their grain cleaned and ground. A fire destroyed the original structure in 1932, but the “new” mill, erected the same year, is still standing and today houses an antique shop. The inn, built in 1919 as a dwelling for the Haselwood family, now serves as a bed and breakfast. Its traditional foursquare construction allows for just five cozy rooms, which are comfortable and tastefully decorated with antique furnishings and paintings.

The Inside Track

Reflective stroll: Stretch your legs and gaze at trumpeter swans on the scenic trail around Mirror Lake.
Rail ’n’ Roses: Camrose Railway Station and Park commemorates the city’s historic role as a railway hub. The old station houses a café, while the grounds include a heritage flower garden and railroad paraphernalia.
Tractor time machine: Centennial Museum exhibits historical buildings, vehicles and farm machinery – including a locally invented model of plow.
Lefse lunch: Get your fill of lefse (Norwegian flatbread), Swedish meatballs and sandbakkels (butter cookies) at The Lefse House.

working for you

by: Patty Milligan

May 2012
Keeping seniors mobile

Twelve years ago, Roy Ponte retired from a 28-year career with Motorola. Since then he’s made more than 1,500 trips to hospitals, medical clinics, dentist’s offices, eye doctors and blood labs. And he’s enjoyed every minute of it. Ponte is a volunteer driver with the Calgary Seniors’ Resource Society (CSRS) Escorted Transportation Program (ETP) – one of 50 drivers who provided a combined total of 1,571 round trips for the society’s nearly 700 clients last year. But Ponte does more than just drive his clients. He greets them warmly and walks them to and from their doors. He puts on music they like and chats amiably while shuttling them from point A to B and back again.

“I like to get them talking,” he says. “Many are repeat clients and by now we have a personal connection.” Ponte remembers a favourite passenger who was 102 and still lived in her own home. “She was amazing, so sharp. She loved sports and wanted to talk golf and football.” Around half of his clients still live at home and half reside in seniors’ apartments or lodges. Most are mobility-limited, having voluntarily given up their drivers’ licences.

The CSRS established its ride program 17 years ago to help seniors in just this kind of predicament. “We are the last resort and seniors are often desperate for help by the time they get to us,” says Annastasia Sommer-Stevens, CSRS community relations and volunteer services manager. Seniors can register with the ETP for free. Then, when they know they’ll need to go grocery shopping, run an errand, visit the doctor, attend a social function – whatever they need to do – they call two weeks in advance to book a lift. The coordinator puts the request into a scheduling system and email updates go out to the volunteer drivers, who log into a website and, as Ponte puts it, “fill their dance cards.” Seniors pay $10 per round trip. Drivers get gas cards. They also receive training that’s provided in partnership with AMA. Many of the drivers are retirees who have experience with elderly parents, notes Sommer-Stevens.

It’s a system that works, and one that AMA is hoping may serve as a model for other Alberta communities, particularly rural ones where non-driving seniors are essentially stranded, without access to public transportation (or, in some cases, even taxi or private bus services). “We know that social interaction later in life promotes good health, but many Alberta seniors are isolated by a lack of mobility,” says Caroline Gee, AMA program coordinator for aging drivers. “We’re developing strategies to meet the mobility needs of seniors in both rural and urban communities.”

Meanwhile, programs like the ETP, and dedicated volunteers like Ponte, are helping seniors conquer their mobility limitations. Ponte has won several awards for his work, including a Minister’s Seniors Service Award in 2010. He has also been recognized as an AMA Driving Angel. While he admits he’s pleased by the recognition, he says it isn’t the only reward. As his dad always told him, “You get out of this life what you put into it.” And Ponte is paying it forward: “I’m a senior myself. Someday I’m going to need a ride, too.”

toolkit

by: Wendy Goldsmith

May 2012
How safe is your home?

Summer may be a time to relax the reins – chill out in your yard, go barefoot – but you may want to think twice before completely dropping your guard or leaving that screen door wide open (and not just because of the flies). Read on to learn how to protect your home from crime this summer.

Shut the front door! And the rest, too

Some of us slow down during heat waves, but thieves are often spurred to action. Windows and doors left open for airflow provide easy access for bad guys, says Acting Sgt. Stu Simpson of the Calgary Police Department. Doors are thieves’ most common entry point, adds Simpson, so your first step should be to install deadbolts. Deadbolt kits are available at most hardware stores. If you must have a door with a window, be sure the glass is far enough away from the knob that an intruder can’t smash the pane and reach through to open the door. And don’t forget to shut and lock garage doors, especially those attached to the house (even when you’re inside or working in the yard). This guards expensive tools and cuts off easy routes into the house.

Windows should have strong locks and be resistant to prying crowbars. Reinforce basement and ground-floor windows with quality steel bars that unlock and swing open from the inside in case of fire.

Be a hard target

To further deter thieves, Simpson recommends leaving a gap in landscaping for “natural surveillance.” Limit shrubbery to a height of one metre and trim tree branches to a maximum of two metres long. Leave outdoor lights on from dusk until morning and attach timers to indoor lights when away. Install an alarm system with 24-hour monitoring. Simpson calls these techniques target hardening. “You want criminals to say, ‘Wow, this house has low bushes, lights on, an alarm, good quality doors – there are easier targets.’”

“Good neighbours are the best security systems,” adds Simpson. “Get to know each other. If something seems suspicious, listen to instinct and call the non-emergency police number.”

Tenants on guard

It’s a bit tougher to protect your home when you’re not the one paying the mortgage. Home-owners don’t need permission to install a security system, upgrade their windows or switch out locks. But renters do, and it’s a problem that policing organizations, apartment owners and building managers across Alberta are trying to address with the Crime Free Multi-Housing Program.

Under the program, buildings can become Crime Free certified by fulfilling security requirements determined by the local police agency. Building owners and managers must also complete crime-prevention training provided by police. Tenants do their part by agreeing to abide by the rules of the property and signing a Crime Free Multi-Housing lease addendum. More than 240 Crime Free certified buildings are now listed on the Edmonton Police Service website. “The program empowers tenants, managers and owners to keep illegal activity out of their rental properties,” says Const. Reid Nichol of the Edmonton Police Service.

The AMA-supported program also runs in Lethbridge, and other communities are considering it. “The benefits are many – from increased property values to improved personal safety for residents,” says Nichol.

Is your home safe when you’re away?

Heading out of town this summer? Here’s your pre-trip security checklist:

• Leave lights on or attach lamps to plug-in timers.
• Install outdoor motion-sensor lights.
• Lock up bicycles and any other recreational equipment.
• Cancel newspaper subscriptions and stop mail delivery temporarily (See Canada Post for details).
• Install an electronic security system.
• Keep a record of all credit card, personal and banking information in a separate, secure location in case any of this information goes missing.
• Shred old bills, receipts and other documents that contain personal and credit information before recycling or throwing them away.
• Have your electronic equipment and other valuables marked by the local police department so that these items are readily identifiable if stolen.
• Remove shrubbery and other outdoor objects that could be used to conceal or aid intruders.
• Remove valuables from vehicles parked outside your home and put an “all valuables removed” placard in the window.

Nine Steps to a Safer Home

Lessons from Edmonton’s Crime Free apartment complexes

Though the security requirements listed below are intended for rental buildings in Edmonton’s Crime Free Multi-Housing Program, tenants, managers, homeowners and building owners across Alberta should take note of these preventative measures.

1. Deadbolts: Suite doors must have deadbolts with 2.5-centimetre (1-inch) or longer throws. This way, if someone hits, or throws something at, the door, the bolt won’t retract on impact.
2. Deadbolt screws: If the door frame is wooden, the deadbolt strike plate has to be secured with 7.5 cm (3-inch) screws. The screws must be long enough to penetrate the first and second studs so that the plate remains secure on impact.
3. 180-degree peepholes. The view-finder must be horizontally centred on the suite door, at eye height, to allow for maximum visibility.
4. Hallway lighting: Interior hallways must be lit well enough that residents can identify facial features, such as hair, clothing and eyewear, from six to 7.5 metres away.
5. Street address: The building address must be clearly legible and comply with any municipal bylaws relating to address identification. In Edmonton, for example, number characters must be at least
7.5 cm tall. Rear building addresses are also strongly recommended.
6. Accessible windows and patio doors: These must have added security features, such as locks, that prevent them from being popped out or slid open. A dowel, hockey-stick handle or broom handle also works well.
7. Foliage: Trees and other foliage around the property must be pruned so that visibility of the building is unobstructed. Trees should be trimmed to 2 metres from the ground and shrubs should be no taller than 1 metre.
8. Outdoor lighting: The building exterior must be well lit, preferably with metal halide or LED lights, which
render colour well.
9. Graffiti zero-tolerance: Any graffiti must be removed immediately.

Don’t get burned

In the rush to fortify your home against intruders, don’t forget about another common home-safety hazard: fire.

Cut the risk

Despite the best efforts of Canadian fire-prevention groups, the leading cause of household fires is still unattended cooking. So don’t leave the room with that stovetop turned on. If you do have to answer the phone while cooking, hold onto your spatula, suggests Mark Hoveling, officer with Lethbridge’s Fire Prevention Bureau, so you’ll remember the stove. And whether it’s the oven or the microwave emitting black smoke, don’t introduce oxygen by opening the appliance’s door. The roast is ruined already. Turn off the heat or unplug the microwave, open the window and wait for cool-down.

Know the drill

Do you have a fire evacuation plan? Because you need one – on paper and posted somewhere visible in your home. It should take no longer than three minutes to execute and include, at minimum, the fire department’s emergency number, a safe meeting place outside the home and a floor plan identifying two exits from each room (see 3-minute drill). People can be overcome by smoke and toxic fumes within three minutes, says Mahendra Wijayasinghe, research and analysis manager in the Office of the Fire Commissioner of Alberta Municipal Affairs, while the average response time for fire crews is seven minutes. So get out immediately, and call 911 from your neighbour’s.

Most fire deaths occur at night, so practising evacuations (once or twice per year) in typical conditions is key. “People wake up groggy, perhaps after taking medication, and they can end up in closets because they get disoriented in the dark,” says Wijayasinghe. He suggests pressing the alarm button when your family is sleeping. Roll out of bed and crawl (where air would be clearest) out in the dark, for a more realistic estimate of distance to exits.

travel smarts

by: Jeff Bateman

May 2012
What NOT to do when travelling abroad

One of the best reasons to travel is to experience the quirks, peculiarities and fascinating every-day normalities of life far from our own comfort zones. Such differences can be measured in tastes, language, interpersonal communication, codes of social conduct and simple gestures. Though blending seamlessly into a foreign culture is next to impossible for the short-term traveller, one can make an honest effort to adjust. Do some homework ahead of departure to prevent embarrassing faux pas.

The U.K.-based International Centre for Responsible Tourism has developed a code of ethics for tourists that begins with the suggestion that we “travel in a spirit of humility and with a genuine desire to learn more about the people of your host country.” Better this than bumbling in and expecting things to be done as they are back home.

Gestures can be very different from one country to the next, as the late author and etiquette specialist Roger Axtell outlined in tremendous detail in his book The Do’s and Taboos of Body Language Around the World. In the U.K., offering up an inverted peace sign with your palm facing inward is the equivalent of flipping the bird here at home. Sticking your thumb out (as in hitching a ride) is an equally rude gesture in Nigeria. In much of Latin America, the North American gesture for “come here” – hand palm-up with index finger curling in and out – denotes a romantic “come hither” that may bring unwanted attention.

Behaviours, too, may differ. In India and Muslim countries, the long-standing tradition is to always use your right hand for eating and the left when using the toilet. In many Asian countries, locals never touch the top of another person’s head (considered the highest or holiest part of the body), or point their feet (the lowest part) at others. In Japan, people cover their mouths when laughing and greet each other with a short bow, though the western tradition of shaking hands is becoming more commonplace there and in China. Let local citizens make the first move and then mirror them with awkward good grace.

Other etiquette differences centre around money. For instance, while tipping is good manners in North America, it’s often unnecessary in European countries, where waiters might roll their eyes at a diner who slaps down the Canadian-standard 15 per cent – especially if the bill expressly notes “service inclus.” Though rounding up by a couple of euros for excellent service is usually fine.

Language is a starting point. It’s always wise to learn a few key phrases that can be trotted out in everyday situations, even if the person you’re interacting with has a smattering of English at his or her command. Saying “per favore” and “grazie” to a gelato clerk in Florence will earn more cultural merit points than “please” and “thank you,” even if you mangle the pronunciation. Again, it’s the effort that counts, according to Mary Murray Bosrock, author of European Business Customs & Manners. Either carry a pocket-sized glossary of key foreign words while learning the basics or choose from a range of translation apps for your smartphone. Mastering “hello,” “goodbye” and a short list of numbers when exchanging money is essential.

Wherever you are destined, there will surely be a book available that provides clear and concise tips on how to bridge the culture gap. The leading travel guides all dispense valuable insights into cultural norms in their “need to know,” “before you go” and “survival guide” pages. Fodor’s Italy, for instance, notes that strangers traditionally shake hands, though new friends can exchange air kisses – first on the left cheek, then the right. Bare arms and shoulders are not welcome in European churches, so carry a pull-on sweater when sightseeing.

Finally: “There is one form of human communication that everyone understands: the smile,” according to Axtell. Sure enough, a toothy grin combined with a humble attitude and eager curiosity are great starting points for travelling Canadians. 

you're covered

AMA Insurance

May 2012
50 Years of AMA Insurance

It’s been half a century since AMA Insurance opened its doors, and more than 80 years since AMA came into existence. In that time, much has changed in the way we protect our homes, ourselves and our property. “AMA has always been about protecting the things our members care about most,” says AMA Insurance vice-president and COO Robert Katzell. “Over time our members’ needs have changed and AMA has been there to help. Whether it’s protecting your home, your vehicle or your personal information, we have continually evolved to meet those needs.” Follow the timeline for a few highlights.

1926
AMA officially incorporates, with the merger of the Edmonton Automobile and Good Roads Association and the Calgary Auto Club.

1933
The Alberta government estab-lishes the principle of financial responsibility for drivers. In other words, everyone who owns a vehicle now needs insurance.

1935
AMA’s first foray into personal liability auto insurance. The organization offers a $1,000 group accident policy for members, provided by a U.S. broker, the Maryland Casualty Company of Baltimore.

1959
AMA becomes a licensed insurer and begins underwriting its own personal accident insurance.

1962
AMA Insurance sets up shop, with sales agents across the province selling AMA’s own automobile insurance.

1970
AMA introduces homeowner and tenant insurance for members, offering a trusted way for Albertans to take care of their property and — in the case of homeowners — their biggest investments.

1974
AMA Insurance incorporates as a wholly owned subsidiary of AMA.

1982
A massive hailstorm hits Calgary; AMA Insurance loses more than $500,000 due to property damage.

1987
Black Friday. A tornado devastates Edmonton. AMA helps more than 5,000 clients rebuild, with claims totalling $5.7 million.

1996
Cloud seeding begins in Alberta. After a string of devastating hailstorms, 112 Alberta insurance companies, including AMA, form the Alberta Severe Weather Management Society and sponsor the first privately funded hail suppression program in the world.

1997
AMA starts selling farm insurance. Alberta is Canada’s second-largest agriculture producer.

2007
With Albertans becoming more aware of — and concerned about — their privacy and personal information, AMA begins including identity theft insurance with home policies (in 2007 alone, 1.7 million Canadians were victims of identity theft, according to one study).

2012
Happy 50th birthday, AMA Insurance! The company now offers auto, home, business, travel, life and health insurance, among other policies. “We’ve certainly come a long way since we sold our first auto policy in 1962. There have been many changes since then, which have led to the variety of products and services AMA Insurance now offers. We’ll continue to evolve to meet the needs of Albertans and we look forward to learning more from our policyholders to help us do that,” says Katzell.

feature

by: Brian Payton

April 2012
Path to Prague

I recall the effort it took to tear myself away from the brooding allure of Prague. Having just fallen hard for the city, I thought I should get a little perspective. So in the winter of ’94 I bought a roundtrip train ticket to the other end of a nation still known as The Former Czechoslovakia. On that day away, I had an unforgettable sidewalk lunch in the city of Brno. I stood in a queue behind a middle-aged woman with a violet coat and hair dyed to match. When my turn came at that Soviet-era servery, I pointed with relief to a familiar word on the two-item menu: pizza (I had recently exceeded my capacity for goulash). Soon, a slice of rye toast with a zigzag of ketchup was pushed in my direction. When I finished laughing, I ate it standing on the frozen curb next to Violet. I already knew I’d be back for more.

Of course it had little to do with food. I was young and single and all too willing to live on pilsner, that venerable Czech invention and font of national pride. Back in Prague, I finished touring the Cubist architecture, sampling the absinthe, chasing Kafka’s ghost. And before I left the country, I heard the rumour of an ancient path leading all the way from Vienna to my new favourite city. This, I vowed, was how I would one day return. Seventeen years later, I’m ready at last to hit the trail – and introduce my wife to an old flame.

Someone should thank Czech farmers for planting their fruit within such easy reach. It’s late August in Moravia, the eastern half of the country, and I can literally pluck a plum, pear or apple from the seat of my rolling bike.

A few kilometres north of the Austrian border, we pedal along a country road suspiciously traffic-free. Stretching between the small villages is a patchwork of sunflower, poppy and wheat fields. In the distance, corduroy hills grow a variety of grapes, from Müller-Thurgau, Riesling and Frankovka to Cabernet Sauvignon. Wine has been produced here since the arrival of the Roman legion, though Czech wine remains little known outside the country. We find no hint of suburban sprawl. Farmers work the fields and vineyards during the day, then return to compact villages where they keep traditions and community alive. Back in the 1880s, a new trend sweeping Europe was quickly adopted by the Czechs. It became known as na trampu, or “hiking for pleasure.” Soon, the Czech Hiking Club was born, a network of trails spread throughout the countryside and everyone was setting off for a picnic. These “new” trails often traced ancient amber, salt, silver and gold trading routes – paths trod for centuries. Hiking and biking for pleasure grew in popularity, enduring even two world wars. Following the communist coup and construction of the Iron Curtain, however, this intimate link between Vienna and Prague was broken.

Forty-five years later, the idea of reviving the trail between former imperial rivals struck Lubomir “Lu” Chmelar while walking Spain’s Compostela Trail. The Czech-born civil engineer had travelled the world before finally settling in New York, where he helped build Manhattan highrises. Since the 1989 Velvet Revolution, though, he’d been wondering what he could do to help his homeland. “At the time, tourists were completely focused on Prague,” Chmelar explains. “I thought this would be a natural way to lure people out of the city and into the regions to help spread the wealth around.”

A successful model was found in New York’s Hudson River Valley Greenways, a trail system linking 242 communities from Saratoga County to Manhattan’s Battery Park. Together with a group of American and Czech partners, Chmelar then established a non-profit organization mandated with helping rural Czech communities make their own greenway a reality. Since 1992, the Friends of Czech Greenways has worked to preserve the nation’s cultural and environmental heritage and introduce it to visitors from around the world. Today, there are more than 38,500 kilometres of marked hiking and biking trails in the Czech Republic. Our eight-day, self-guided greenways tour covers some of the best of them.

Along quiet roads and forested trails, it is possible to sense the depth and weight of history. We explore a baroque chateau, the ruins of a neo-Gothic castle and a primeval forest of oak and beech. Imposing roadside crucifixes and intimate shrines to the Blessed Virgin outnumber stop signs along the way.

Each day, we pause for lunch near the steps of a village church or column commemorating the end of a plague. We pack hermelín (Czech brie) and parenica (Slovak sheep cheese), crusty rolls and soft mild rye, bars of chocolate, whatever fruit we’ve harvested along the way. Other times we visit the village pub for bramboráky (potato pancakes), sauerkraut and smažený sýr (breaded and deep-fried edam) to pair with the local beer. Czechs have always produced some of the world’s most remarkable beer, and many towns brew their own. Not surprisingly, the country is ranked number one in the world for beer consumption: the annual equivalent of 160 litres per person. I observe a personal half-litre limit before climbing back on the seat of my bike.

Few regions can claim to have lent their name to a way of life – Bohemia is one. Covering the western half of the Czech Republic, Bohemia reached its zenith of wealth and power in the 13th and 14th centuries. Soon after, its brand became synonymous with “gypsies” (who were erroneously thought to have originated here) and heretics, of which there were plenty. As an epithet, “bohemian” soon evolved to represent all writers, artists and freethinkers who lead unconventional lives.

As we roll into this fabled land, our thighs still burn with yesterday’s series of ascents. We coast past remnants of medieval walls and Gothic gates into the town of Slavonice, one of the most beautiful Renaissance towns in all of Europe, and immediately dismount to wander agape at the burghers’ houses lining the town square. The richly decorated facades are covered with allegorical sgraffito tales scratched into the plaster. Brightly attired cyclists rest and try to decipher the stories over mugs of Bohemian pilsner.

One of the last Czech regions to be settled, Slavonice was already growing rich in the 10th century by charging tolls and sheltering travellers. But this town, they say, never really recovered from the 30 Years War (1618-1648). Then in 1730, Slavonice was almost completely abandoned when the postal route between Vienna and Prague was changed, and in 1945 its German-speaking inhabitants were sent packing. For the next 45 years, it was all but a ghost town between border patrols. Since the revolution, however, Czech artists and craftspeople have rediscovered the place and are steadily making themselves at home. 

Beyond Slavonice, a series of ancient fishponds and lakes still teeming with carp provide a series of reflecting pools for the residents of Telč (pronounced Telch), a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here, fanciful and tightly packed merchant houses sport cinnamon-, peach- and cream-coloured facades – Renaissance marzipan confections. This architectural unity is due to a disastrous fire in 1530, after which the entire town was rebuilt under the direction of Italian craftsmen; even the Gothic castle got the Renaissance treatment.

After breakfast, the cooing of doves is disturbed by the drawl of an English-speaking tourist, the first we’ve encountered. We’ve passed hundreds of hikers and cyclists, but the vast majority are vacationing Czechs; North Americans are noticeably absent. The Czech Greenways remain little known outside Central Europe.

Contained within a horseshoe bend of the Vltava River, Český Krumlov, another UNESCO World Heritage Site, is dominated by an enormous 13th-century castle – a castle old enough and big enough to contain Gothic, Renaissance, baroque and rococo elements in a unified whole. Preserved inside its vertiginous walls is also a rare baroque theatre, complete with original stage machinery and props – one of only two such court theatres in existence.

As one of Europe’s largest castles, Český Krumlov seems the archetype for any bedtime story featuring a princess, jousting or swordplay. A quick stroll through old town leaves little doubt that tourism fuels the economy. Multilingual menus are on display and souvenir shops are open late. One popular restaurant – packed with Czechs – features surprisingly flavourful medieval fare made from original Bohemian recipes, including cabbage and daisy soup, smoked rabbit, buckwheat gruel and a selection of meads. Most restaurateurs, however, seem well aware they are serving the view. And for sheer, panoramic satisfaction, Český Krumlov gives Venice a run for its money.

For a returning visitor to declare that the ancient city of Prague has changed would be an obvious conceit. The experience is, however, like renting a DVD of a favourite black-and-white film only to discover it has been colourized and digitally remastered. Still, the crowd shifts and adapts as the past and present merge. One look into my wife’s eyes tells the tale. She’s bedazzled by the city described by Goethe as “the most exquisite gem in the world’s stone crown.”

Visiting Prague’s architectural riches, we happen by the 1912 Municipal House near Staré Mesto (Old Town Square). I remember it as a shabby, faded edifice. An $80-million renovation has put an end to that. Perhaps the most remarkable example of Czech art nouveau, it houses a magnificent concert hall, parlours, salons, a bar, two restaurants and a café. Throughout, it is richly appointed and detailed with work by the most prominent Czech artists of the day. Shuttered by the Nazis, victim of communist neglect, it has re-emerged as an architectural homage to the spirit of the Czech nation.

Our last night in the city is a candle-lit dinner of mild sausages, rich and creamy mashed potatoes, sharp mustard and spiced walnut cake served in a now-trendy 12th-century cellar. Dinner is followed by a nightcap on a terrace overlooking Old Town Square, where we sip Becherovka and tally illuminated spires and the finer points of journey vs. destination. I have waited many years to order this drink, a herbal bitters concoction flavoured with cinnamon and anise. Invented by a Czech pharmacist, originally sold as a medicinal tonic, it has become the national cocktail. An acquired taste, perhaps – but one my wife and I now share.

feature

by: Marie Belmont

April 2012
London Off the Map

I ascend from the evening rush of the London Underground into a dark, warm evening, and, like any disoriented traveller, I pull out a map. Here I am at Victoria Station, a splash of pale red on a salmon-pink background, the name etched in wobbly handwriting. “Can I help ya at all?” asks a com-muter, over honks and the grind of bus engines. I want Rubens Hotel, near Buckingham Palace – is it a right turn? I point to my map and the Londoner does a double take: “What’s that, then?” A map of London, I say, straight-faced, unfurling the four-by-three-foot tract. “Are you havin’ a laugh?” he snorts, and turns away.

I am, in fact: it’s a vintage 1891 map of London. When I first unearthed one of these, at my favourite old-book haunt back home in Canada, it made the quest of my next trip to London clear. I would see what I could learn about the city as it is today, at a time when the Olympics are about to descend on the regenerated East End (a former industrial wasteland that is literally off my Victorian map), by viewing it through layers of history.

I find the location of my hotel, on Buckingham Palace Road, just a few blocks away. Walking there, I try to imagine these busy streets in Victorian times. The reign of Queen Victoria (from 1837 until her death in 1901) was a time of growth, peace, wealth and much building in London. By 1891, Victoria was already a longtime widow and much-beloved queen. This was the time of Dickens and Darwin, and the first World’s Fair. (This year is the bicentenary of Dickens’s birth – see dickens2012.org for details on exhibits, performances, festivals and activities around London.) Many iconic London landmarks, including the Houses of Parliament, Royal Albert Hall and the Victoria Embankment promenade, were built during this era, along with much of
the invisible infrastructure – subway lines and water, gas and sewage systems – that still exists today.

If this were 1891, I would be a high-society girl returning home after a glittering evening at an aristocratic ball: what is now Rubens Hotel was built in 1882 to house debutantes. Feeling decidedly unglamorous after my long flight, I retire early: I have a morning meeting with my very own Blue Badge guide, the elite rank of tourist guides responsible for this summer’s Olympic walking tours and other “official” tours of London, such as visits to the Houses of Parliament. (Anyone can book a Blue Badge guide almost anywhere in Britain, through touristguides.org.uk.)

In the morning, I recognize Sophie Campbell by her bright red scarf and sturdy boots. “Are you ready for some walking?” she asks brightly, intrigued by my old map quest. She suggests we start here, in the City of Westminster, the central borough that encompasses Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament and 10 Downing Street, the prime minister’s office and residence. Strolling Buckingham Palace Road, we pass the Royal Mews, where the Queen’s horses are kept, and the nondescript, unmarked door that is actually the prestigious ambassador’s entrance. After a few minutes, we stop in front of the familiar, white-columned facade of Buckingham Palace, where the statue atop the Victoria Memorial glitters in the sun. I glance at my 1891 map, confused. On it, The Mall is nothing but a narrow green-lined park lane, not the regal, red-surfaced road it is today. There is no roundabout in front of the palace, circling the golden statue. The boulevard, traffic circle and memorial were erected in 1911, Campbell tells me, a decade after Victoria’s death.

We walk down The Mall, and she points out a nondescript building on our left, behind the walls of the palace complex. Its small, dark brown bricks belie its Tudor heritage. “That’s St. James’s Palace, built by Henry VIII,” says Campbell. Once the home of monarchs, it lost its lustre when Victoria became queen and moved to then-Buckingham House. She points out Friary Court in the courtyard at St. James’s Palace, where new monarchs have always been announced. Nearby is stately white Clarence House, in my map’s era the home of Victoria’s son, Alfred, and today the home of another royal son, Prince Charles, and his wife Camilla.

As we continue along The Mall toward Charing Cross tube station, Campbell points behind us, to the Horse Guards Parade on the northeastern corner of St. James’s Park. In Victoria’s time and for more than two centuries before, royal ceremonies, including the annual Trooping of the Colour on the monarch’s birthday, have been celebrated here. This summer, it will be covered with sand for beach volleyball during the Olympics, which delights some and causes traditionalists to frown. These landmarks are all on my Victorian grid, but their uses, and importance, have changed dramatically since 1891.

Just a few Tube stops to the east, but a world away from the genteel Westminster area, we emerge in the ancient City of London. Campbell points to a jagged red line on my map – the border of the City and roughly the footprint of the Roman settlement that founded London. (You can still see a bit of the Roman wall just outside Tower Hill Tube station.) This was the original port of London and its first and current financial centre. Bankers in perfectly tailored dark suits walk briskly past, nimbly dodging the black Hansom cabs that zip through the narrow streets.

As we walk down Eastcheap Street, Campbell points out Pudding Lane, where the great fire of 1666 started, devastating the oldest part of London. By 1891, the time of my map, the affluent had long since moved away from the burned city core, creating stately homes and pleasure gardens to the west. I’d always wondered why the lively theatre and tourist district of London was known as the West End, even though it’s quite central in the modern metropolis: it’s because it’s west of The City.

We head to the West End next, to a Victorian landmark made lively again today. Just a few short years before Victoria took the throne, Covent Garden was a notorious red-light district. Transformed by the addition of stately new buildings in the Victorian era, it became as popular a market area as it is today. Under the arched-iron ribs and glass roofs of the century-old (restored in the 1980s) food halls is a modern shopping centre, now swirling with tourists and shoppers carrying lattes and fashionable totes from boutiques such as L’Occitane. 

We duck into the old floral hall, now the London Transport Museum. Here I learn about the infrastructure underpinnings of Victorian London. By the time my map was drawn, trains were replacing horse-drawn carriages and many of the major Underground lines still in use today had recently been built. The well-known streets of this district would have been just a few years old at that time. Planners had carved new streets into the existing grid to relieve traffic congestion (already a problem in Victorian times!) and to break up some of the most overpopulated and unsanitary neighbourhoods, which had become slums due to overcrowding.

When we emerge from the museum, I say goodbye to Campbell, who has taught me more in a half-day than I’ve learned on all my previous trips to London. I pull out my trusty Victorian map and wend my way up Charing Cross Road, across Shaftesbury Avenue and then up Regent Street. With just my old map to guide me, I discover some off-the-beaten-path spots. While meandering northeast to the British Museum, another great Victorian building, I come across a shop that ladies and gents of the time might have visited. “James Smith and Sons Established 1830,” the old-fashioned lettering on the flatiron-shaped storefront proudly declares. The store, which relocated here to New Oxford Street in 1857, still makes some of its umbrellas and walking sticks right in the basement, as they would have in 1891. I wander into a tiny, ancient-looking courtyard tagged Pied Bull Yard on my map. Today, it’s a tiny oasis of calm, just a block away from the tourist hordes, where diners sip on the patio of Truckles wine bar. Enjoying the quiet of this spot hidden from modern life, I feel as if we’re all sharing in a century-old secret.

The next day, as I wheel my little suitcase across Green Park on my way to the tony Mayfair district, I remember what Campbell told me about Victorian green spaces. They were private, largely closed to everyone except royals, who used them for hunting. I approach Hyde Park Corner, where the noblest Victorian stomping ground used to be – Rotten Row (slang for the French rue de roi, or “road of kings”), a kilometre-long track running west from Hyde Park Corner to Serpentine Road. When my map was published, Rotten Row was the place for upper-class Londoners to see and be seen, promenading in horse-drawn carriages and their best finery. Today, the Row is nothing but a wide, sandy path along the south side of Hyde Park, but the place to see and be seen still exists, right across the street: the Metropolitan hotel, where I’m checking in. It’s around noon, and beautifully dressed men and women are streaming into Nobu, the hotel’s posh in-house sushi joint, for lunch.

After dropping off my bag, I head out again, this time southeast, toward the River Thames, to investigate one final curiosity from my map. Just where the river elbows south, on the west bank, there is a large black hexagon labelled Millbank Prison. In Victorian times, convicts were held here before being shipped off to Australia. The year before my map was drawn, it was shuttered completely, having been tarnished by epidemics and overcrowding.

Today, it’s a totally different scene. Colourful banners flap in the breeze promoting the Tate Britain, the respected museum that occupies an 1897 building on the same site. Students with hip, chunky eyeglasses, likely from the neighbouring Chelsea College of Art & Design, stroll the nearby streets. In the water, a sleek Thames Clippers ferry, the so-called Tate to Tate Boat, takes visitors up and east on the Thames to the Tate Modern, London’s hulking museum of modern art. In less than 15 minutes’ time, you can make the journey from this spot, one-time site of a Victorian prison, to the bustling centre of all that is modern – including the giant London Eye

Ferris wheel and sleek Millennium Bridge. It’s a journey that is a metaphor for this city itself, where the past is never far behind you.

feature

by: Craille Maguire Gillies

April 2012
Inside Antwerp’s art scene

Through the wavy glass walls of Antwerp’s new Museum aan de Stroom (Museum by the River), the city has a dreamy quality, as if you’re viewing it from under water. Blurry sailboats bob in the neighbouring harbour. From the outside, the building resembles a slightly askew stack of shipping containers separated by facades of corrugated glass. Touring the inside is as much a visual experience as viewing the 400 years of art tucked within its walls. I follow a stream of visitors onto an escalator, starting the trip up 10 storeys to the rooftop lookout. Rising, I see Antwerp’s industrial heart to the north. On another floor, I face the city’s cultural centre to the south – the grand buildings and church spires of the Old Town. On either side are the city’s oldest docks, Willemdok and Bonapartedok, the latter’s construction ordered in 1811 by Napoleon during his tenure in Belgium. Emerging at the top of the building, I see the lights of a Ferris wheel glowing in the dusk. Suburbs stretch across the lowlands beyond the river. To one side, three statuesque cranes sit near the port like outdoor sculptures.

Here, near the still-bustling dockyards of Europe’s second-largest port, it’s easy to see how the city’s artistic heritage and marine history are interwoven. In the 16th century, Antwerp’s location on the River Scheldt, whose waters originate in France and pass through Belgium on their way to the North Sea, made the city a European centre of commerce and culture. Over the years, Antwerp’s fortunes have ebbed and flowed, but the cultural touchstones have remained. The city’s curious creative microclimate has produced a remarkable number of artists, from genre-defining baroque painters Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony van Dyck to 20th-century heavyweights such as provocative multimedia artist Jan Fabre, figurative painter Luc Tuymans, installation artist Guillaume Bijl and the legendary fashion designers of the Antwerp Six. And, as I will soon discover, Antwerp’s artistic past is very much alive – right alongside its avant-garde present.

Located just north of Brussels, Antwerp resides in the Dutch-speaking northern region of Flanders. To the south is the smaller, French-speaking region of Wallonia. Coming by Eurostar train from London for a long weekend (under the English Channel and across the tip of northern France), I arrive on a Friday afternoon at Centraal Station. The airy stone building with its iron-and-glass train shed has earned the nickname Railway Cathedral for its grandeur. The smell of chocolate wafts from a nearby kiosk.

In the domed waiting area, I come across a spiegeltent (mirror tent) – a travelling dance hall constructed from wood and canvas. The inside, now empty, boasts an enormous disco ball and clubby intimacy only a few shades from kitsch. In a couple of weeks, the spiegeltent will be replaced by another temporary attraction (tango dancers once put on a show here, and, another time, 200 people performed a flash-mob dance to the song “Do-Re-Mi” from the Sound of Music).

Outside, in front of the city’s only Starbucks (Belgians excel at chocolate but haven’t quite mastered coffee, I learn), a woman dressed in black balances two large bags and a bouquet of flowers against her retro-style omafiets, or “granny’s bike.” She pauses, staring at her haul as if to determine how she’ll carry it.

The day is mild and clear. My guide for the day, Vera, who is pleasant and direct, meets me nearby. She seems to know every corner of the city and leads me through the diamond-trading district – the world’s largest, deserted for the weekend – toward the Old City. Soon we are on the Meir, a wide street lined with European clothing shops and small boutiques. Trash bins sport paintings by local artists. A sheet-like ghost sculpture by the late Polish-Belgian artist Albert Szukalski peers down from a building top on busy Komedieplaats. Outside a restaurant on Huidevettersstraat, a man in a long white apron shucks oysters.

We turn down Wapperstraat and come upon Rubenshuis, a striking house that looks as if it was transplanted from Renaissance-era Italy. It once belonged to Peter Paul Rubens, the famed 17th-century Flemish painter, sometime diplomat, businessman, intellectual and man-about-Antwerp who returned here in 1609 after almost a decade in Italy. Attached to the house is a studio where his apprentices helped him turn out his lush, sensuous paintings. Rubens, one of the most popular and influential baroque-period artists, was fond of religious and mythological stories, as evidenced by some of his most famous works: The Three Graces, Venus at the Mirror, The Adoration of the Christ and Venus and Adonis, among others. The Massacre of the Innocents, currently on display at the Art Gallery of Ontario, was sold to late Canadian businessman and art collector Ken Thomson for £49.5 million in 2002 – the highest price ever paid at auction for a painting by an Old Master.

Rubenshuis has the cloistered feel of a monastery. Here hangs Rubens’s The Annunciation, a rich and ethereal work that portrays the Archangel Gabriel visiting the Virgin Mary, who is resplendent in her lapis lazuli robe. On another wall hangs Two Dogs in a Pantry, a vicious, disturbingly realistic painting of dogs baring their teeth, by Rubens’s contemporary Frans Snijders.

Beyond the dark, restrained rooms we find a quiet, formal garden. I can almost picture the painter, hundreds of years ago, entertaining diplomats, artists, scientists and public figures here. We stare over the walls at the modern buildings crowding in. To the left, a large, modern condo with a picture window steals views of the courtyard. “If I won the lottery,” Vera says, gazing up at the condo, “I would buy that apartment.”

I don’t have to look far for more signs that Antwerp is an artistic incubator. I’m staying in a small guesthouse run by Olga Dengo, a 30-something painter from Mozambique, and her Belgian husband, Wouter. Olga’s large, colourful paintings hang on the walls of the guesthouse and fill her ground-level studio and gallery.

The guesthouse is in a neighbourhood known as Het Eilandje (The Island), which bears all the marks of gentrification in progress. Cute espresso bar? Check. Intriguing restaurants? Check. Pop-up concept stores? Ja. I instantly feel at home.

Borrowing Olga’s bicycle, I detour around construction equipment that developers are using to convert old warehouses into apartments. Nearby, a young man coasts toward a row of bicycles stamped with Velo Antwerpen logos. (In 2010, Antwerp started a bike-sharing program, joining cities such as Paris, Montreal and London.) He swings his leg over his seat, skids to a stop and returns the bike to the stand.

A riverside path takes me toward the Old City, where I arrive at Grote Markt, the wide, pretty, 16th-century town square presided over by the regal Our Lady’s Cathedral, a gothic gem, and Antwerp’s imposing staduis, or city hall (torched during the 1576 Spanish Fury, just a decade after its construction, but later rebuilt). Pedestrians wander in from narrow side streets and crisscross the square, pausing in the midday sun.

Not far away is Kloosterstraat, a street full of cafés, antique stores and shops selling bric-a-brac. A quartet of musicians entertains a small crowd, while diners in a nearby bistro listen on the terrace. It brings to mind a coloured gravure of an Antwerp street scene I saw at the museum. The image showed the Old City as it had been in the 16th century. Now, almost 500 years later, I watch a man with a black top hat and matching suit sing merrily in Dutch and English while guitarists and a banjo player accompany him. The music sounds vaguely Cajun – a sonic discord amid the old buildings and monuments with their patina of age.

I have an appointment to meet Ria Van Landeghem, teacher by trade and “gallerist” by night, so I head toward trendy Zuid (South), a neighbourhood of wide streets and pretty row houses and restaurants. I pass by tailors’ and designers’ ateliers and the grand Royal Museum of Fine Arts (under renovation until 2017). This neighbourhood is home to several notable galleries, including the well-regarded Fotomuseum and the M_HKA, the city’s museum of contemporary art. But I’ve come for something more unorthodox.

In 2006, Van Landeghem created Error One, a transient art project that exhibits work by local and international artists in spaces throughout Antwerp, such as a vacant office building, Middelheim Castle and the Royal Museum of Fine Arts. Over the past five years, it has held 18 shows. The latest is here, in Zuid.

The cobblestones are damp from a light rain. I find myself on Leuvenstraat, facing a large screen that looks like a mini version of a drive-in theatre. Viewers are intended to pass on foot and stop for a few moments to watch Loopool, an abstract video by German artist Max Sudhues of a hose in a swimming pool. Soft electronic music wafts from unseen speakers. A few steps farther, I look to the broad white side of M_HKA and see a projection of Moroccan-born artist Mounir Fatmi’s ornate animated illustration of turning gears, some inscribed with Arabic calligraphy.

“We use words too much to explain art,” Van Landeghem says when I find her inside one of the borrowed buildings. A video plays across two large walls. “You just have to look at it. Complex things can be made visible in one image.” We walk through the space as flickering lights from screens peek around corners. She calls Error One “a nomadic art experiment.” “We bring art to people instead of people going to the art,” she says. It’s part of what has become a sustaining contemporary art scene in the city. Later she tells me, “Antwerp has an international open-mindedness, like most harbour cities.”

I head back outside. Across from the museum, in a grassy patch surrounded by a chain-link fence, I discover another art piece: a white camper van. The van faces the River Scheldt, which is just a short distance away, invisible in the night. A film by Belgian artist Line Boogaerts plays on the outside of the back window, depicting a family at the beach. It’s a clever trompe-l’œil illusion that makes it seem as if I’m staring through the windows of the van out to the sea. It’s a bit like the city itself, I realize – always looking outward. Toward the river, toward the sea.

up front

by: Westworld

April 2012
Out and about around Alberta

Ghostbusters, converge!


by Catherine Melnyk
No less than nine spirits haunt Red Deer’s downtown corridor. Visitors who dare to venture east of Gasoline Alley can tiptoe through a self-guided tour of the town’s so-called Ghost Collection, a series of nine life-size bronze statues commemorating events and characters from Red Deer’s colourful past. One beloved town hero immortalized in bronze is Francis the Pig, who, back in 1990, was destined for the slaughterhouse. But he escaped by jumping a fence and spent five months as a fugitive in local parklands. Other statues depict historic events, such as the great fire of 1904 (which almost consumed the town) and the startup of credit unions in Alberta. A 10th monument, commemorating the beginnings of public transit in Red Deer, will be unveiled later this year. Maps of the “ghost town” are available at Tourism Red Deer. In the summer months, the city offers organized walking and biking tours.

Return to Eden


by Tracy Hyatt
While other restaurants have ditched their white tablecloths and crumbers to feed the growing public appetite for casual dining, Eden Dining Room at the Rimrock Resort Hotel in Banff — the only CAA/AAA five-diamond restaurant west of Toronto — remains steadfastly luxe. Those seeking haute touches will not be disappointed with the exquisite dishes, many of which are near-theatrical in their extravagance. Take the arctic char tartare with blue spruce essence and bourbon-and-orange-blossom gelée. Served in a glass bowl on a bed of smoking spruce needles, this culinary masterpiece gives off a subtle, woodsy scent as the diner eats. The pedigree of executive chef Ralph Wolmann, who has helmed coveted Michelin-starred kitchens in Europe, shines through in even the humblest menu items. His nose-to-tail main features Black Aberdeen Angus beef tongue, tail and tenderloin served with rutabaga sauté, ice-wine mustard and licorice pickled onion. Equally impressive is the restaurant’s stylish dining room, with its 180-degree view of the Banff valley. A visit to Eden always leaves you salivating for more.

Mellow your vibe


by Catherine Melnyk
“Stress, what stress?” utters even the most tightly wound workaholic after a visit to the Enjoy Centre in St. Albert. The centre’s greenhouse is a go-to destination for gardeners, but the 25,000-square-foot shopping and wellness complex is also the town’s primo place to unwind. At the Water Garden Spa, visitors can choose from a full menu of spa and body therapy services, including acupuncture, massages, pedicures and facials – then loll on one of the circular daybeds suspended from the ceiling. When hunger sets in, the freshly de-stressed can head to Prairie Bistro, where the best seat in the house overlooks Lois Hole Centennial Provincial Park. The restaurant’s menu features local fare, such as beef from Sandy View Farms in Spruce Grove and goat cheese from The Cheesiry in Kitscoty. This spring, try the roasted chicken club sandwich with basil aioli, bacon, tomato and smoked cheese. For dessert, head to the Prairie Baker for macarons and take home some fresh sourdough or ciabatta loaf. Elsewhere in the complex, shopaholics can peruse the shelves at kitchen accessory, home decor and furniture stores. There’s even a liquor store, Liquid Harvest, that caters to discerning oenophiles. The all-season Enjoy Centre also pays homage to past Alberta lieutenant-governor Lois Hole, whose family owns and operates the facility. Photos of the Hole family and their original greenhouse line the centre’s walls – showcasing the real roots of the operation. Take a lunch tour to learn more. 

Trophy caseload


by Tracy Hyatt
Alberta’s small-town museums tend to be depositories of odd collections, and the Barrhead Centennial Museum is no exception. On first glance, it appears to house a typical assortment of objects that paint a picture of pioneer history. Faded photos of early settlers line the walls. Early 1900s furniture pieces, such as a rare butternut china cabinet likely hauled from eastern Canada, grace the displays. And, of course, there’s the requisite farming equipment representing the town’s primary industry. Unknown to most, however, the museum contains one of Canada’s largest collections of animal trophies and skins. The family of Barrhead resident Albert Werner donated the 28 pieces in 1999, a year before his death. Albertans may not bat an eye at the mountain goat and wolf heads, but the African beasts will likely draw some amazed stares. A donation at the museum’s door gives visitors a close-up look at a water buck, a python, a warthog, a kudu and a zebra, to name a few. While the collection is not for everyone, it is, ironically, a valuable reminder of the world’s shrinking animal population and the effects of humankind on the natural world.

Early risers

by Tracy Hyatt
Only a handful of planes land each week at the Camrose City Airport. But once a year, for a few hours, it’s one of the busiest airports in Canada. Around 100 small aircraft descend into the city each spring to take part in the Camrose Flying Club fly-in breakfast. In addition to being one of the first pleasant weekends weather-wise (for pilots who favour open-cockpit planes), the event gives aircraft enthusiasts the chance to see rare combat airplanes, such as de Havilland Mosquitoes and Russian Yaks. It’s not all history, though. Bizarre homemade flying machines and ultralight planes get their fair share of onlookers.  At 50-plus years old, the event is the longest running fly-in breakfast in Western Canada. It attracts more than 1,000 attendees every year. Arrive early May 27 to check out the machines and tuck into the morning’s spread of pancakes, sausages, eggs and coffee – because shortly after noon, the planes take to the skies, homeward bound. 

roadside

by: Peter Worden

April 2012
Boler nation


“It’s like a classic car show for fibreglass trailers,” says Wayne Armstrong of the annual Prairie Egg Gathering, also known as Bolerama, which celebrates the all-Canadian, fibreglass Boler travel trailer. He and his wife, Bev, proud owners of this 13-foot fire-orange, 1972 trailer and matching 1950 Pontiac street rod, are members of an elite but growing camp of western Canadian Boler aficionados. They join 50-odd other “Bolerites” at the gathering each year to mingle, swap parts and — most important — show and tell.

Legend has it that the egg-like Boler hatched from a mould first used to make septic tanks. Winnipeg inventor and car salesman Ray Olecko produced the first 100 in 1968, choosing the name because the design resembled the round-brimmed bowler hat. And what is a Boler if not a fashionable and practical accessory that keeps the rain away? Despite, or perhaps because of, production ceasing in 1978, the Boler’s popularity has only increased.

Fewer than 10,000 Bolers exist today. Yet come spring and summer, it’s hard to miss these diminutive, roundish oddities with retro-bright paint jobs scrambling down Alberta’s highways.

road trip

by: Liz Bryan

April 2012
Dream of Tuscany


Tuscany is a place for dreamers. Its great rolling hills and valleys are carpeted with fields, vineyards and olive groves; its winding roads stitched in with dark cypresses; its fairy-tale, turreted towns rich with history, art and wonderful food. It is a landscape so beguiling that slow travel becomes not only a necessity – most of the roads are steep and narrow – but also a preference. It could take all day to drive a mere 100 kilometres. And all night to dream about the places one has seen.

Leg One:  Orvieto to Monticchiello (Approx. 100 km)
Begin in Orvieto, near the freeway Autostrada 1 and the main north-south railway from Rome. This walled town dates back to the Etruscan era of 600 BC. Here the main draw is the magnificent 13th-century cathedral, striped in black-and-white marble, with a multicoloured gothic facade. Inside, there are priceless frescoes, some by Fra Angelico.

Heading north, drive the main highway (S2) if you’re in a hurry, or choose the far-slower side roads, many of which are unpaved (those with white gravel surfaces are known as strada bianchi, or white roads). Blissfully barren of traffic, these will lead you on a meandering daylong journey through unfrequented villages.

Branch off Hwy. 2 northwest of Orvieto onto Road S74 to Castel Giorgio (about 30 km), turn north and take the road to Monterubiaglio. Then it’s on to the small hill town of Allerona, with its ruined castle and impressive town walls. The surprise here: vivid frescoes in the tiny 12th-century church. About 12 km beyond, turn right and drive to Casciano, a village with hot-spring baths in use since Etruscan times. Then take winding Road 321 north to Sarteano (about 25 km), which has a wonderful 10th-century castle. From here, head west for about 3 km, then take a sharp right on a tiny road that leads to Castiglioncello and La Foce, originally a 14th-century pilgrims’ inn and now a private estate with a world-famous garden. Look for the zigzag road lined with cypresses, a view seen on many postcards. Cut across the main road and continue, looking out for a left turn to Monticchiello, a tiny, intact medieval village, perfectly situated for touring. Plan to stay at least two days.
Good eats: By the town gate, Osteria La Porta’s terrace offers a wonderful view. Good sleeps: Residenza le Maribelle for its fully equipped apartments.

Leg Two: Monticchiello and back via Montepulciano and Pienza (Approx. 60 km)
For a long day-excursion, one can visit Montepulciano and Pienza, both popular hill towns well endowed with history and art, architecture and feastings. To reach nearby Montepulciano, the locals take a shortcut – a winding lane that leads left, downhill, from Monticchiello. Less than 10 km, the narrow road climbs through hills and vineyards to the grand old walled town known for one of Italy’s most famous wines, Vino Nobile. Drive around outside the town walls to the north end and park near the Porta al Prato.

Start with a stroll down the long, steep main street to the Piazza Grande in front of the 16th-century cathedral. Here is the tourist office and that of the Strada del Vino di Nobile, which has info on wine tours. For tastings, try the Cantina del Redi in the Palazzo Ricci.

Pienza is a short drive west. This Renaissance gem is crammed with palaces, churches, fine squares and curving cobblestone streets. Everything is clustered around the main square: the cathedral, the Palazzo

Piccolomini, with its lovely formal garden, the town hall and the Palazzo Borgia. Stroll along the main street, Corso il Rossellino – redolent with the sharp pecorino cheese of the region – for gourmet food and wine shops. Take the north road to the monastery of Sant’Anna in Camprena (about 8 km from Pienza), where scenes from the movie The English Patient were filmed. Return to Monticchiello for night two.

Leg three: Monticchiello to Siena (Approx. 50 km, plus detours)
The city of Siena is only a short drive north on Hwy. 2. But make a day (or two) of it, as there are several compelling side trips. One drive leads across the Orcia River to the town of Castelnuova dell’Abate. Take the (only) road down the valley to the Abbazia di Sant’Antimo. A Benedictine monastery for centuries, it was abandoned until the 1990s when the monks moved back in, worked hard at restorations and now say prayers in wonderful Gregorian chant. Visitors can buy CDs.

From the monastery, it’s 10 km north to Montalcino, famous for its Brunello wines. Head for the fortezza, the 14th-century fortress that dominates the town. Here, you can sample wine in the enoteca and climb up to the ramparts for a view.

Drive east from Montalcino to Hwy. 2, then south 6 km to San Quirico d’Orcia, another fortified medieval town that huddles within ancient walls. The main building of interest is the eighth-century Collegiate Church, famous for its Romanesque doorway. The sculpted 16th-century Leonini Gardens provide a shady spot for a picnic – or stop for gelati on the terrace of the Bar Centrale.

Hwy. 2 leads directly north to the Porta Romana, the main south gate of Siena, 50 km away. A quintessential walled medieval Tuscan city, Siena is worth a day of quiet exploration before you scoot off to Florence, or across into the Chianti hills. Start with the elegant town hall, which dominates the foot of the square, where the Museo Civico occupies a series of grand rooms. Don’t miss the (strenuous) climb to the top of its bell tower, Torre del Mangia, for a bird’s-eye view. Also visit the black-and-white-striped cathedral; exquisite works of art in the Museo dell’Opera Metropolitana next door; the 13th-century churches and Fortezza Medicea, the bastion raised by Cosimo de’ Medici in the 16th century. In July or August, stay to take part in Il Palio, a grand medieval festival that fills the streets with colour and pageantry and turns the square into a racetrack as horses and riders from the 10 cantons of the city compete for the coveted silk banner or palio – a dream-like immersion into history.

Weekenders: Canmore

by: Tracy Hyatt

April 2012
Weekenders: Canmore

Slideshow photos by Tracy Hyatt

Nothing keeps Canmore residents awake at night more than the thought of their little mountain town turning into the next Aspen. Indeed, the town has plenty of swanky shops and restaurants. The air of luxury runs as deep as the pockets of the town’s well-heeled visitors. But there’s another side of Canmore that few urbanites ever explore.

Five minutes west of downtown, the Canmore Nordic Centre is the ideal starting point for discovering the region’s lesser-known side. This former Olympic venue offers 70 kilometres of double-track trails perfect for those who want to discover mountain biking. Visitors can rent bikes at the centre and even sign up for lessons from professional instructors.

Driving southeast from the centre, you’ll pass Quarry Lake, a favourite local swimming hole that’s lined with sandy beaches. Here, you’ll be treated to picture-perfect views of Ha Ling Peak, the region’s most famous mountain. But like most mountain lakes, it’s cold – best to brave the water in July or August when temperatures are most tolerable.

The Getaway
Those who require a trip to the physiotherapist after hiking, take note: Mount Engadine is one of few backcountry lodges in the Rockies where you can drive right up to the doors. Though technically in Kananaskis country, the lodge is best accessed from the Canmore Nordic Centre via the Smith-Dorrien Trail. Upon arrival, swap your shoes for a pair of hand-knitted slippers and enjoy a hot cup of tea. Then tuck into a complimentary hiker’s afternoon tea of cheese, charcuterie, finger foods and desserts, which does not disappoint. Nor do the six spacious rooms in the main lodge or the three rooms in a separate chalet (though your meals may be interrupted by moose, coyotes, deer or elk grazing in the meadow below). All summer long, the lodge holds its Music in the Meadows concert series, featuring an impressive lineup of singers and songwriters, many of them Juno-nominated. And Mount Engadine is an especially enjoyable stay thanks to the care of husband-and-wife management team Chris and Shari-Lynn Williams.

The Inside Track
Shopaholic’s delight: Indigo Bay is a hipster enclave that stocks women’s clothing, shoes and jewellery. Look for labels such as Free People, Nougat and Ted Baker. Eat streets: Canmore natives flock to Crazyweed Restaurant on Railway Avenue. Menu highlights include a steamed Alaskan sablefish served with chile lemongrass fried pork belly. On Eighth Street, Gaucho Brazilian BBQ grills up meat in the churrasco tradition. Chopper hop: Book a helicopter sightseeing tour with Alpine Helicopter for memorable views of the emerald-tinted Spray Lakes and surrounding valley.

analyze this

by: Ian MacNeill

April 2012
Wheels across the border


A strong dollar is tempting more and more Canadians to shop for their next set of wheels in the U.S. In 2011, with the Canadian dollar at or near par with the greenback, Canucks imported 140,000 motor vehicles from the U.S., compared with only 60,000 in 2004, when the loonie was limping along in the 70-cent range. Cross-border car shopping has its pros and cons – and doing a little homework has the potential to you save you a lot of coin.

The short answer is . . .

It depends what you’re buying. Higher-end vehicles tend to cost less in the U.S., but mid-range and low-end vehicles sell for around the same or less in Canada. Take the Honda Civic – Canada’s most popular economy car, according to 2011 sales figures. The starting manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) of the Civic DX sedan is $14,990 in Canada and $15,805 in the U.S. So there’s really no point in crossing the border to buy one.

The BMW M3 Coupe, on the other hand, a popular luxury sedan, starts at an MSRP of $74,470 in Canada, while Americans enjoy a lower starting MSRP of $60,100 – a difference of $14,370 if the dollar is near par.

Why are there price differences at all?

Part of it has to do with the cost of doing business in Canada, says independent automotive industry consultant Dennis DesRosiers. Canada is a geographically large country with a relatively small market (3.2 million vehiclessold in 2011). The U.S. market is more than 10 times that size, which reduces manufacturers’ costs for marketing and distribution. And then there’s the supply-and-demand equation. In addition to Canadians being “less price-sensitive,” says DesRosiers, vehicle manu-facturers and dealers can charge what they want based on model availability and whether there’s any competition. Luxury SUVs, for example, make up only 7.2 per cent of the new vehicle market in Alberta – so they cost more here than in areas with greater demand. Canadian and American auto dealers also operate in different tax and regulatory environments, which can affect how much the consumer pays.

Then there are the vehicle specs. Among other differences, Canada and the U.S. have their own headlight, speedometer, seatbelt and bumper standards (Canadian bumpers are typically more resilient in low-speed crashes). This can result in differently equipped – and priced – base models. And, most important, any vehicle brought into Alberta from the U.S. will likely require the expensive installation of a block heater.

The how-to

If you find a vehicle in the U.S. at a price you like, the adventure begins with checking the Registrar of Imported Vehicles (RIV) to see if it is even admissible to Canada (riv.ca). The RIV also has a list of modification and inspection requirements, and a checklist for importers.

If you’re buying used, obtaining a Carfax or CarProof Verified report can help determine a vehicle’s financial and damage history, and whether the odometer may have been tampered with. Make sure there aren’t any outstanding liens or recalls. If you’re buying new, ensure the dealer will even sell to Canadians, since some are prohibited from doing so. Keep in mind that many U.S. warranties aren’t honoured in Canada – in which case you’d have to border-hop to get warranty or recall work performed.

Once you’ve made your purchase, you’ll have to present the following documents to U.S. Customs at least 72 hours before the vehicle arrives at the border: a recall clearance letter issued by the manufacturer or authorized dealership; a certificate of title issued by the dealer; the bill of sale; the vehicle registration and a statement of compliance label (usually affixed to the vehicle).

Import fees and conversion costs

The base price and exchange rate aren’t the only costs to consider when cross-border shopping for a vehicle – be prepared to pile on taxes, duty and fees.

If you pick up that BMW M3 in Idaho Falls at the U.S. base MSRP of $60,100, the dealer will automatically add on a handling fee of $895 and a “gas guzzler” tax of $1,300. The manufacturer’s recall clearance letter that you need to cross the border will cost you another $500.

Then Canada Customs will hit you with the following when you cross the 49th:
• Registrar of Imported Vehicles fee – $205
• Air conditioning tax – $100
• GST – 5% of the purchase price, or $3,005
• Duty -– 6.1% for vehicles not manufactured in North America, or $3,666

Your total after taxes and fees: $69,771. So far, a healthy savings over the Canadian base price of $78,194 (including GST).

But then there’s the cost of converting to Canadian Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. When you and your new vehicle are back in Canada, you’ll receive an inspection form in the mail detailing modification work that has to completed by an approved mechanic and inspected at a designated facility within 45 days. On our BMW M3, this would include replacement and programming of an instrument cluster to allow for daytime running lights; approximately $2,560 for parts and labour. Grand total: $72,331 – a savings of $5,862. Not too bad for a few days’ work. But perhaps not as much as you thought.

Honda Civic DX Sedan
In Canada you pay: $14,990*
In the U.S. you pay: $15,805
Difference: $815

Dodge Ram 1500
In Canada you pay: $26,770
In the U.S. you pay: $21,475
Difference: $5,295

BMW M3 Couple
In Canada you pay: $74,470
In the U.S. you pay: $60,100
Difference: $14,370

member story

by: Leona Bobik, AMA Member since 2000

April 2012
Member story: April 2012


Having grown up in a small town (Daysland, AB), my sister Marianne and I had never travelled overseas. So we were both a bit unsure when we first walked into the AMA Kingsway centre 10 years ago. With no idea what to expect, I asked the smiling woman at the desk, “We want to go to Europe, where do we start?” Her name was Aida, and she regaled us with tales of exotic attractions, architecture, food and culture. We were inspired.

Since we were novice travellers, Aida started us off with an organized tour of Europe. We visited more than a dozen countries. In Athens, we wandered among the ruins of the Acropolis. In Paris, we left our autographs at the top of the Eiffel Tower. In Venice, we spent a rainy afternoon drinking wine and mixing with the locals.  In Austria, we paraglided over the Tyrol. And in London, we were in the front row for the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace.

From that point on we were hooked. Now we book a big trip every year with Aida. We’ve been everywhere from the Kremlin in Moscow and the pyramids of Egypt to the D-Day landing beaches in Normandy. With every trip, we’ve become more confident and adventurous. Last year, we actually rented a car and spent an exciting month exploring France, Spain and Portugal.

If any problems come up, Aida is always just a phone call away. And boy, can she solve problems. In 2008 we booked a vacation to Cuba. We could hardly wait to go. But then we had a family emergency and had to cancel the trip. It looked as if the insurance company wasn’t going to give our group a refund, so we called Aida. She told us not to worry about it; to leave it with her. A month later we got cheques in the mail.

Aida has become like a sister to us, and we never imagined that our encounter would lead to the best of friendships. We get together all the time for lunch, to swap stories, flip through our photo albums and plan future trips. Her passion for exploring the world is contagious – and we’re so glad we caught the bug!

toolkit

by: Jodie McKague

April 2012
Tips for travelling with kids


Way to go!  You’ve managed to pull the entire family together for a hard-earned vacation. You’ll want to be sure the trip is a happy addition to family folklore, recounted for years to come. So before you go, check out our tips for traveling with kids in tow.

On the Road

Get with the program
Kids feel more secure when they know what to expect, so sit down at the kitchen table as a family and plan your route ahead of time. Allow for 20-minute stops every two hours at playgrounds, restaurants and roadside attractions – even just open spaces where the kids can run around and let off some steam. These “mini-vacations” give your backseat passengers something to look forward to along the way.

Pack in piles
Pack suitcases the way you’d pack a lunch box. Organize like items in piles and then put them in Ziploc bags to keep everything tidy and easy to access. Daily outfits can be bagged, too, making it easy for kids to dress themselves without rifling through the entire suitcase. Keep baby wipes and an extra change of clothes outside the suitcases, within easy reach. That way the kids will be clean and comfortable if you arrive at your hotel early and have to go out again before checking in.

Pack to distract
Besides individual suitcases, each child should have his or her own backpack stocked with snacks, a water bottle and distractions such as handheld video games or crayons. Look at the “boring” drive as a rare opportunity to listen to an audio book together or play old-school group games like I Spy and Hangman. Alternatively, Hasbro makes miniature, travel-friendly versions of its classic games, such as Battleship, Clue and Mastermind. For more bump-proof family fun, check out Go Play magnetic games (backgammon, Chinese checkers, Sudoku Kids and more). Or, find hundreds of excellent road trip games and activities (road trip bingo!) at MomsMiniVan.com

If you decide to break out the portable DVD player, AMA member and mother of two Donna Nygren suggests establishing rules in advance to avoid bickering. “We invite our kids to pick out their own movies to bring along. Then they can each take turns or choose movies to watch together,” she says. 

Book early for a sound sleep
When choosing a hotel, look for one with a pool or waterslide. It may save you from having to plan an outing right away when you reach your destination. Plus, these hotels are usually packed with other kids and equipped to handle families. Remember that most hotels have only a certain number of adjoining rooms (if any), so be sure to book early if this is a requirement. To avoid noise, request quarters away from elevators and ice machines. You’ll also want to call ahead if you need a baby cot or a fridge in your room. And note that some hotels and resorts provide onsite babysitting or can recommend independent child-minders if child care is required. Ask the concierge when you check in.

Eat and run
To save money and time, Nygren and her family choose hotels where breakfast is included. “If it’s one of those places with a buffet, the kids have fun making their own waffles or choosing their own breakfast before we head out,” she says. You may also consider bringing along a cooler for the back of the car. It’s an economical way to prepare healthy meals on the go, and you can stop at grocery stores as supplies run low. If you do eat out, consider skipping the chain restaurants and seeking locally owned diners. You’ll get a taste of local culture and, possibly, some tips on sights that are off the beaten track.

In the Air

Fly mid-week and save
When travelling by air, plan as far in advance as possible to avoid stresses that can arise when travelling with a crew. Look for flights that leave during non-peak times – Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. These are typically less crowded and cheaper. If you can, select flights that fit into your child’s regular meal and sleeping schedule and choose direct flights to avoid the hassle of transfers and layovers. If you do have to break up the trip, try to build in an overnight so that you can all get some rest.

Providing you’re OK with having your baby on your lap, children under two years old can usually fly free domestically (though you may still have to pay taxes). On international flights, Air Canada charges 10 per cent of an adult fare for children under two. If you do decide to purchase a seat for baby, he or she must be properly secured in a Transport Canada-approved child restraint device (details on most airlines’ websites).

Ditch the excess baggage
All your bags are packed, you’re ready to go – but is that suitcase a bit heavy? Before you jet out the door, make a pit stop at the bathroom scale (or grab the portable luggage scale) to ensure you haven’t exceeded your baggage allowance. Most major airlines allow one carry-on bag and one checked bag per person (prescribed weights vary) for free. Extra charges apply to overweight baggage, ($50 and up), so pack carefully. Diaper bags for infants are usually permitted, over and above the carry-on limit.

Carry-on bags should contain toiletries and a change of clothes in case there’s a spill or your luggage is lost or delayed. Also be sure to pack snacks, especially on short-haul domestic flights, which have limited or no food available to purchase. Sandwiches, crackers, fruit, carrots, trail mix and bagged cereal are healthy and travel well. While current security protocols only permit fluids in amounts of 100 ml or less (up to a total of one litre), formula, food, juice, water and other items intended for babies are allowed in amounts over 100 ml (with no ceiling) as long as you’re travelling with a child under two years of age.

Get I.D.’d
Remember, it doesn’t matter if you’re two months old or 72: all air passengers require identification. Check whether the family’s passports are up to date well before you leave and keep them all in one accessible spot. If you’re travelling outside the country with someone else’s child, or with your own child but without the other parent or guardian, you require a letter of consent from the absent party. Visit voyage.gc.ca for information on how to prepare a letter of consent.

Take your seat
The family that checks in early together sits together. Which means you should take advantage of your airline’s online check-in service. Both Air Canada and WestJet allow you to check in and choose your seats online up to 24 hours before departure. Better yet, pay a small fee to secure your seats at the time of ticket purchase. If you forget, it’s worth a try to let the gate agent or flight attendants know, as they’re usually accommodating if space is available. As for pre-boarding privileges intended for families – use them! Ask flight attendants to help you store diaper bags and handle strollers. Kids under the age of two travelling without their own seats must remain on your lap during take-off and landing, and whenever the seatbelt sign is illuminated. 

Family Fun Along Highway 1

Road tripping on the Trans-Canada this spring? When the kids start getting antsy in the back seat, pull over for one of these activities, sure to please (and tucker out) your tiny travellers:
• Ride the Super Jet roller coaster or go bumper boating at Calaway Park, 26 kilometres west of Calgary.
• Cuddle Husky puppies and meet the amazing wolf-dog Shama on a tour of a sled-dog kennel in Canmore. snowyowltours.com/?page_id=73
• Do a scavenger hunt, solve puzzles and investigate a mystery artifact using a family activity pack at the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies. AMA members save 50% on admission.
• Fly down zip lines or clamber through a jungle gym at Sky Trek Adventure Park in Revelstoke, B.C.
• Stage a puppet-theatre masterpiece, play dress-up or just chill in the space-themed reading area at the Kamloops Children’s Museum, B.C. 
• Grab some fresh fruit at a farmers market in Medicine Hat and have a picnic under the giant Saamis Teepee.
• Get up close and personal with gangsters — maybe even Al Capone himself — on a theatrical tour of the
Tunnels of Moose Jaw (Sask.), which were used for rum-running to the U.S. during Prohibition. 

Fur-Covered Family Members

Travelling with pets has never been easier, as tourism professionals across North America now recognize Fido and Snowball as legitimate members of the family. This means that hotels and airlines are becoming increasingly pet-friendly, so long as you follow a few simple rules to ensure the safety and comfort of your pet and other guests.

Small lap dogs and cats are now permitted to fly in the cabin in ventilated, soft-walled carriers under the seats. Larger dogs must travel with the cargo in kennels, so check ahead for size regulations and make sure you bring up-to-date health certificates and reserves of any necessary medication.

In the car, position your pet carrier or harness in the back seat to avoid distractions while you drive. Install rubber mats and washable, waterproof seat covers in your vehicle. And remember: a parked car quickly becomes an oven, so don’t leave your pet unattended in a vehicle.

Finally, pre-book pet-friendly rooms at hotels, and make sure to inquire about hotel rules regarding pets so that you don’t disrupt other guests. It’s a good idea to write your cellphone number and hotel information on your pet’s tags in case you get separated.

travel smarts

by: Jeff Bateman

April 2012
Rx for a healthy holiday


Nothing turns a vacation into a pity party faster than a bug of the mild, moderate or intensely unpleasant variety. Whether it produces tummy upset, flu-like symptoms or worse, an illness drains precious hours from beach and sightseeing time. But knowing the risks and exercising caution can go a long way toward maximizing holiday health.

Travel, especially air travel, is exhausting. Avoiding caffeine, alcohol and heavy meals when flying can minimize the effects of jet lag. Veteran travellers adjust to their new sleep schedule immediately upon arrival. And they know fatigue can lead to illness, so they pace themselves rather than indulging too deeply in the holiday spirit(s). Staying hydrated (with water, not cerveza) and washing one’s hands frequently are also essential.

On arrival, travellers want to sleep tight – so they definitely mind when the bedbugs bite. These tiny bloodsuckers can be found in all corners of the world (including right here in Canadian homes and hotels). Before accepting a room, inspect the seams and welts of mattresses, and behind the headboard, for evidence of these reddish-brown critters about the size of an apple seed. Keeping bags off the bed or floor will deter microscopic hitchhikers. If you’ve got your suspicions, ask for another room in a different wing of the hotel or move on to other lodgings.

Another risk for those holidaying in tropical climes is the sun. Though it’s common knowledge that UV rays damage skin, Canadian travellers may not realize just how searing the tropical sun can be. The UV index in popular vacation spots such as Cuba and Mexico ranges from 10 to 12 at the hottest times of year – “very high” to “extreme,” according to the World Health Organization. Skin can burn in minutes. So be sure to repeatedly slather on sunscreen (minimum SPF of 15), limit direct sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. and make a relaxed fashion statement with sunglasses and a floppy hat.

Beaches and pools are also prime spots for cuts, scrapes and infections. Solution: don flip-flops or water socks for swimming, avoid walking barefoot and sterilize any cut or scrapes immediately. Shower before and after leaving public swimming facilities and hot tubs. Two positive signs: the smell of chlorine and the rumble of a filtration system.

Stomach upsets and diarrhea are two other common travel health complaints. Each year, an estimated 10 million people come down with travellers’ diarrhea, according to the Canadian Centre for Disease Control and Prevention. Often the problem resolves itself in a few days – though more severe intestinal ailments, such as norovirus, can last longer. A few common-sense practices aid in prevention. Purchase brand-name bottled water (ensuring the original seal is still in place) instead of drinking from the tap, and avoid beverages with ice cubes. Raw shellfish, undercooked meat and already-peeled fruits should be red-flagged as well. Take special care with foods purchased from street vendors and know that hot, freshly cooked food is the safest bet.

Destination is a factor in such health hazards, of course. The continental U.S., Scandinavia, Australia and much of Europe boast Canadian standards of drinking water, sanitation and food sources. Anyone headed to Mexico, Central America, South America, Africa, India or Southeast Asia should drop into a travel health clinic four to six weeks ahead of departure. For a nationwide list of pre-travel medical health centres, plus immunization fact sheets, brochures and travel health advisories, visit the Public Health Agency of Canada website

There’s always a risk of some – usually mild and temporary – health issue cropping up while one is on holiday. But as one anonymous sage famously noted, “The rewards of the journey far outweigh the risk of leaving the harbour.”

behind the wheel

by: Paul Sinkewicz

April 2012
We need to talk

Owning a vehicle comes with a whole new set of ABCs: alternators, brake pads and camshafts, to name a few. A non-motorhead, daunted by the jargon, can easily feel intimidated walking into a garage. But your vehicle is a big investment, so it’s important to talk about it openly. Read on to learn how to communicate with the mechanic in your life.

First of all, be pleasant and patient. Ask plenty of questions so that you appear engaged and you understand what’s going on. If you’re bringing your vehicle in because of a problem, make sure you’ve noted the circumstances under which that problem occurs. When the vehicle is moving or idling? Travelling above a certain speed? Turning? Braking? If you’re hearing a strange sound, prepare to describe it as clearly as possible. Once the mechanic has looked at your vehicle, but before repairs occur, get a detailed explanation of what’s wrong. The shop should provide a list of the required repairs, a clear cost estimate and a timeline for completion.

“There are some examples when, unfortunately, you take a vehicle in for one problem, the mechanic discovers more damage and more parts are needed – that kind of thing. So it’s important to keep the lines of communication open,” says Randy Loyk, manager of technical services for AMA.

Also find out whether the repairs need to be completed right away. Are they immediately critical to the safe operation of the vehicle or could they be done down the road?

If you’re going in for regularly scheduled maintenance, the same communication guidelines apply, says Loyk. Ask for a list of the services to be completed, a cost estimate and schedule, and be clear that if the mechanic discovers any problems, he or she should contact you for a go-ahead before carrying out repairs.

While you’re chatting, ask when your next scheduled maintenance should be. “It’s really important, especially with newer vehicles, that drivers follow the maintenance schedule the manufacturer sets out,” says Loyk.

“There are certain things you have to maintain to prevent serious engine failure.” A good example is the timing belt, which manufacturers usually recommend changing every 90,000 to 110,000 kilometres. If you fail to do this, a belt could break – costing you your engine.

Getting regular oil changes is another key part of the manufacturer’s schedule. This keeps contaminants from damaging the engine and promotes a good relationship with your garage. “Mechanics can often see wear and warning signs in advance of real trouble,” says Loyk. And that advance warning is a boon to budgeting for maintenance.

But don’t be naive about the price of owning a vehicle, says Loyk. “There are costs associated with properly maintaining a vehicle. You can’t just get in and drive and hope to spend nothing on it.”

Four Traits of a Top-notch Garage

1. Years in business. The more the better. If the garage is doing things right, it will have a loyal customer base and positive word of mouth.
2. Affiliation with an association.  Look for an AMA Approved Auto Repair Service centre in your city. At these facilities, most parts and services have a one-year, 20,000-km warranty. A stamp of approval from the Better Business Bureau, the Alberta Motor Vehicle Industry Council or the Canadian Motor Vehicle Arbitration Plan also means the operation is trustworthy and gives the consumer an avenue to pursue complaints should something go wrong.
3. Convenience.  Is the shop close to home or work? Does it offer courtesy cars or shuttle service?
4. Evidence of pride in the operation and good customer service. Telltale signs include cleanliness and amenities such as complimentary beverages and a comfortable waiting area. 

you're covered

by: Patty Milligan

April 2012
Coping with a soaking

When Cody Wallbank arrived at the McTaggarts’ St. Albert home last spring, Sylvia McTaggart* was anxiously directing her teenage sons as they hauled up salvageable items from a flooded basement. Sylvia had come home earlier to find half a metre of water downstairs – the result of a failed sump pump. With clipboard, camera, measuring tape and moisture meter in hand, Wallbank, an AMA home insurance claims adjuster, headed down to assess the damage: water was lapping at the cushions on the leather couch. Some of the family’s fitness equipment was entirely submerged. Boxes of Christmas decorations and memorabilia were wicking up moisture.

The McTaggarts had started cleaning up on their own – which was fine, says Wallbank (some people worry that cleaning before the adjuster arrives might void their claim, but this isn’t the case). “Anything they can initially do to mitigate the damage is great,” says Wallbank. “The main thing is to call your insurance company as soon as possible.” Shut the water off at the source right away, he adds, and snap a few photos for your records. Then you can begin sucking up water with a shop vac and moving possessions to drier ground. “You can set up fans to start the drying process, but any more than that should be left to the restoration contractor,” says Wallbank.

The McTaggarts had done a few other things right, he recalls. The basement was relatively free of clutter and boxes were stored on shelves, so only the items on the bottom were damaged.

After taking photos and making notes, Wallbank gave his OK – the damage would be covered by insurance and repairs could proceed. The McTaggarts contacted a contractor right away (Wallbank was able to recommend one) and made an appointment for the following day. “In these types of cases, emergency repairs and any tearing down required for dry-out happen right away,” says Wallbank. “Then there is a three- to four-week drying period before construction starts, to ensure mould won’t develop.”

During this time, the adjuster works with the family to compile a list of items to be replaced. In the McTaggarts’ case, they made a list and then paid out of pocket to replace their belongings and cover repairs, submitting receipts to Wallbank for reimbursement. (The process varies by policy and insurer – some provide cash up front; some will allow retailers to bill them directly.)

So is home insurance worthwhile when it comes to water damage? You bet, says Wallbank – even though home policies only cover damage from water inside the home (burst pipes, sewer backups and the like). Damage caused by exterior water, a.k.a. seepage, is not insurable in Canada. “But something like a dishwasher malfunction could result in a few thousand dollars’ damage, when you start to look at replacing items such as flooring and insulation,” says Wallbank. “The McTaggarts’ incident could have cost them tens of thousands without insurance.”

But, fortunately, it didn’t. In September, Wallbank sent out the final payment to the family. By then, they’d recovered from that stressful day and were fully enjoying their repaired – and comfortably dry – basement. 

*Names changed to protect client confidentiality

Avert a Water Crisis

Homeowners can reduce their chances of water damage with a few simple measures:

• Slope the ground or any pathways away from the house.
• Clear away snow two to three metres around the house.
• Divert downspouts away from the house and clean eaves troughs regularly.
• Inspect sump pumps and replace them according to the manufacturer’s instructions, or every five years, even if they’re working.
• Have the hot water tank inspected regularly and replace it according to the manufacturer’s instructions, or every 10 years, even if it’s working.
• If drains aren’t emptying well, call a plumber right away.
• Install p-traps to prevent backups.
• Keep basement storage boxes off the ground. Invest in plastic tubs and keep an inventory of what’s inside for easy reference. 

analyze this

by Shauna Rudd

April 2014
email to a friend

Lane Change

This spring, new bicycle lanes will be sprouting up across the province as municipal cycling plans come to fruition. The City of Edmonton plans to install 23 kilometres of bike lanes this year, while Calgary’s first bicycle track is scheduled to open in July. Red Deer recently won a 2013 Sustainable Communities Award from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities for its two-year bike-lane pilot project, and even Lethbridge and Grande Prairie have plans to create a network of commuter bike lanes.

Some 70 per cent of participants in a recent AMA member opinion survey voiced support for this new infrastructure, due to one overriding factor: bike lanes make roads safer. That’s as long as cyclists and drivers use them correctly, cautions Don Szarko of AMA Advocacy and Community Services: “We’re asking motorists and cyclists to adhere to a new set of protocols. Education is absolutely paramount.”

Here are a few of the bike-lane types you’ll encounter in Alberta, along with some tips on how to interact with them, whether you’re horsepowered or muscle-powered.


Bicycle Track
This type of bike lane is physically separated from moving and parked vehicles by a concrete barrier. Come July, the only two-way cycle track in Alberta will run along 7th Street in downtown Calgary - but it’s the first of several being planned.
Tip: Bike tracks involve little interaction with motorized traffic, so cyclists should simply observe the usual protocols (see p. 65 for some cycling safety tips) and be alert at intersections.




Dedicated Bicycle Lane
The most common type of bike lane, these are marked with a solid white line and a bicycle symbol. They’re usually found on city streets with high traffic volumes.
Turning with bike lanes in the mix can be tricky for cyclists and drivers. When cyclists want to turn left, they have to cross traffic to wait with turning motor vehicles. Before doing so, cyclists should check for traffic behind them, then hand-signal, shoulder-check again and position the bicycle to just right of the centre line. If you’re not comfortable with this manoeuvre, says Christopher Chan, instructor with Can-Bike, a national cycling safety program, just stay in the bike lane until you reach the intersection, then dismount and walk, don’t ride, your bike across as a pedestrian.
For drivers, right turns can be nerve-racking because one has to cross the bike lane. Drivers should check their side mirrors and blind spots carefully for cyclists before moving to the right, remembering that straight-flowing traffic always has the right of way.




Buffered Bike Lane
These offer a step up in safety from the single painted line, thanks to a buffered zone - delineated by wide, diagonal lines - that creates extra space between cyclists and motor-vehicle traffic. Edmonton has proposed buffered bike lanes along parts of 106th Street, 132nd Avenue and 40th Avenue, and Red Deer converted a few traffic lanes to buffered bike lanes last year. 
Tip: Buffered lanes are used the same way as dedicated bike lanes. Just remember: cyclists using them can still be clocked by a car door.
“Getting ‘doored’ can be lethal for a cyclist,” says Chan. If you’ve parked a vehicle along a bike lane (or any road), open your driver’s side door with your right hand to force yourself to shoulder-check for oncoming cyclists.




Shared-use Lane
These lanes are shared by motor vehicles and cyclists - they sometimes sport a stenciled bicycle symbol topped with a pair of arrows. Of course, all roads can be considered shared-use.
“As a cyclist, you have as much of a legal right to be in any lane of traffic as if you are a car,” says Szarko. Shared-use lanes are the least desired type of bike lane, according to the AMA member cycling-opinion survey, because they provide the least amount of separation from traffic.
Tip: When in a shared-use lane, motorists should regard cyclists as they would any other vehicle and give them their space—at least one metre on all sides. Cyclists have a responsibility to follow the rules of the road, use proper hand signals and behave as predictably as possible.




Bike Box
You may have noticed a sizable green square with a white bike symbol painted onto the intersections of 116 Street and 87 Avenue in Edmonton and 10 Street and 5 Avenue in Calgary. The boxes, part of a pilot project to make intersections safer for cyclists (with more to come in both cities), designate a space for cyclists to pull in front of vehicles and safely make turns.
Tip: If the light is green, cyclists and drivers should turn normally. If the light is amber or red, drivers should come to a stop at the white line behind the box, and cyclists should hand-signal and position themselves in front of vehicles. (No right turns are allowed on red lights where there are bike boxes.) When the light turns green, cyclists make their turns first - then drivers can proceed.

(0) view/add comments
Westworld wants to hear from you!
Check out the comments page and let us know what you think of the article you just read.
Europe

By: Janet Gyenes

February 2014
email to a friend

Getting Around Europe

Wing Your Way
Despite fuel surcharges and airport taxes, no-frills flying is still an efficient and affordable choice for time- and cash-strapped travellers. But do your homework: budget-priced carriers such as easyJet (UK), Transavia (France), RyanAir (Ireland) and Airberlin (Germany) often fly between lesser-known hubs. Case in point: on flights to Barcelona, RyanAir flies to Girona airport, 75 km from the city. Plus, budget airlines levy fees on everything: checked baggage, extra carry-ons, food, assigned seating, boarding passes printed at the check-in desk, credit card usage and possibly more.

Ride the Rails
Train travel allows you to save euros and skip airport hassles, and can be almost as quick as flying in some cases. Planning to travel frequently or to multiple countries? Consider a rail pass that allows unlimited travel within a set period of time: Eurail covers 28 countries in various regional combinations; BritRail covers most of the U.K. Alternatively, you can book train travel on a one-off basis. Just remember: early booking, for example through AMA Travel, often nets discounts.

Cruise by Coach
Bus travel can save you a bundle, with few limits on what cities or countries you can visit. Coach passes can cost 30 to 50 per cent less than a comparable rail pass. Add to that plenty of options such as long-haul routes (Eurolines), point-to-point trips (Megabus) and flexible or pre-set loops (Busabout), plus generous luggage allowances, Wi-Fi, A/C and toilets. Bring snacks and reading material and arrive early to snag a good seat.

Hit the Road
Renting a car is the answer to avoiding tour groups and getting off the beaten path. Picking up a rental in one city and returning it to another within the same country usually doesn’t cost extra, but a premium-location fee may be charged, depending on where you pick it up (airports, usually around $10 a day; train or hotel, $3 a day). Inter-country (one-way rentals) will put a larger dent in your wallet. The one-way fee for renting a car in Amsterdam and dropping it off in Zagreb, for instance, is about $200.

Go with AMA!
Visit AMA to apply for an International Driving Permit, and AMA Rewards to save up to 10% at Hertz.

(0) view/add comments
Westworld wants to hear from you!
Check out the comments page and let us know what you think of the article you just read.
Europe

By: Staff Writer

February 2014
email to a friend

What Type of Traveller Are You?

Beach Bum
Where there’s sun and sand, there’s you: the French Riviera, Greece, Portugal’s Algarve region. You’ll rent a cabana and stake a spot on the beach for days or weeks at a time.

Urban Sophisticate
You’re on a beeline to Europe’s culture capitals: Paris, London, Rome, Berlin. You’ll take in an opera, buy next season’s stilettos on the trendiest shopping streets and scene it up in local cafes - all while dressed to the nines.

Gourmand
You want to devour it all. You’ll seek out the best eats in cities like Paris, Madrid and Vienna, but also travel to spots like San Sebastian, on Spain’s north coast, or Tuscany, Italy, to take cooking classes.

Authenticity Seeker
You immerse yourself in other cultures. You’ll settle down for an embedded stay in, say, Reykjavik, Iceland, or head for other areas that are off the main tourist track: for example, Ireland’s north coast instead of Dublin.

Super-Saver
You’re doing it on a shoestring. You’ll seek out destinations that have a reputation for affordable - preferably sub-$100-a-day - living, like Lisbon, Portugal. You might even book overnight transport to skimp on accommodation costs.

History Buff
You go to places with big stories to tell. And in Europe, that’s pretty much everywhere. You can trace the path of two World Wars; stand on the soil of Napoleon’s birthplace; gaze at Roman ruins - you’re spoiled for choice.

Outdoor Adventurer
You steer clear of bustling boulevards in favour of natural and rural wonders. And you’re into active sightseeing, whether it’s cycling among lavender fields in Provence or skiing in Austria’s mountainous Tirol region.

Arts and Architecture Aficionado
You’ll visit the landmark galleries - the Louvre, the Tates, the Van Gogh - and well-known architectural landmarks like Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona - but also places with edgier art cultures, like Antwerp, Belgium, and Glasgow, Scotland.

No-Fuss-No-Musser
You want to tick Europe’s big sights off your bucket list, but you’d like someone else to do the heavy lifting. So it’s travel agents and package tours all the way. You’re on vacation, after all.

Still not sure where you fit in?
Download our iPad edition and take the fun, interactive quiz!

(0) view/add comments
Westworld wants to hear from you!
Check out the comments page and let us know what you think of the article you just read.
Europe

By: Janet Gyenes

February 2014
email to a friend

The Un-Hotel

Castles: Scores of castles throughout Europe, especially in the U.K., Germany and France, have been transformed into stately hotels and manor houses. Mod-cons and period furnishings are the norm, although rooms may be small. Since most castles crown hilltops, they have commanding views, but tend to be far from city centres. Burg Wernberg, which occupies a 12th-century castle in Germany’s Bavarian Forest, even has a moat and drawbridge.

Caves: Located primarily in southern Spain and Greece, cave accommodations are carved right into an area’s natural stone. The cool, often-whitewashed rooms offer creature comforts at reasonable prices. At Aspa Villas Santorini in Greece, for example, suites carved into a pumice-stone slope capitalize on views of the brilliant blue sea.

Farms: Many European countries have caught on to the farm stay, a hands-on way for overnight guests to experience rural life. For the price of a stay in a hostel or B&B, you can feed fallow deer in Denmark. Or, head for an Italian agriturismo, such as Terre Bianche Holiday Farm, near Padua in the north, which offers farmhouse rooms set among grapevines and centuries-old olive trees.

Guest Houses: It’s easy to get overwhelmed in grand old cities, so staying in a family-owned B&B, guest house or pension, as they’re often known in Continental Europe, adds a welcome personal touch, and may save you some euros. The front-desk clerk might be the owner, who’ll happily show you to your room, suggest sights and teach you a few phrases of the local language.

Monasteries: Seeking solitude? In France, Italy and Spain, among other countries, working convents and monasteries welcome overnight guests - religious or not - at heavenly rates. Expect fuss-free rooms, typically with twin beds, and be prepared to obey house rules such as curfews. There is a guest house at Paris’s famed Basilique du Sacre-Coeur; however, most religious retreats are located in rural areas.

(0) view/add comments
Westworld wants to hear from you!
Check out the comments page and let us know what you think of the article you just read.

Book your dream stay with AMA Travel

Europe

By: Staff Writer

February 2014
email to a friend

Three Tastes of Tuscany

Italy’s Tuscany region offers plenty to tempt a flavour-craving gourmand: olives and Sangiovese grapes ripening on sunbathed vines, rich cheeses lining the shelves of corner-shop delis and tiny trattorias serving up antipasto, bruschetta and wild-boar stew. Fly into Florence and head straight for the green-carpeted countryside to get your manos on the local delicacies, right at the source.

1. Live the culinary dream in the Val D’Orcia
Settle in at a restored 18th-century farmhouse on an estate near the medieval city of Siena, for six days of cooking classes, farm tours, wine tastings, market shopping and relaxing in the rolling countryside. At Ecco la Cucina cooking school, students learn to prepare such regional mainstays as panzanella (bread and tomato salad), cantucci (braised meat), risotto, roasted meats, traditional Tuscan ribollita (vegetable soup), stuffed crepes and fruit crostata.

2. Sip, Stay and Dine at a Chianti Winery
Castello di Fonterutoli, just south of Castellina in Chianti, has been producing Chianti wines for 600 years. Go beyond the basic cellar visit by staying overnight in one of several country homes on the 117-hectare vineyard. The houses are just steps away from the Enoteca di Fonterutoli, where tastings are held (quaff the deep-and-spicy Chianti Classico), and the winery’s Osteria di Fonterutoli Restaurant, which prepares mouthwatering dishes paired with the house vino. Try the pici (thick noodles) with breadcrumbs and crunchy pork cheek, or the spicy guinea fowl, a special recipe of the Mazzei family, who own the winery.

3. Savour the Pecorino in Pienza
The Renaissance-era town of Pienza, between Montepulciano and Montalcino, is the destination for the salty sheep’s milk cheese, pecorino. Start by visiting a dairy farm, such as Podere Il Casale, an organic operation on the outskirts of town, for a tour. Then head to one of the many cheese shops lining downtown Pienza’s cobblestoned streets, such as Remo Monaci, which pairs a huge variety of pecorinos with local honeys for tasting. The cheese darkens and hardens as it ages and comes fresco (fresh), semistagionato (semi-aged) or stagionato (aged).

Hands-On Harvest
Italy is known for its agriturismi, or agricultural stays. The countryside is dotted with farms where visitors can overnight and help with the work. If you want to participate in harvesting local produce, time your visit:

Mushrooms: June through September

Fresh Fruit and Berries: July and August

Grapes and Saffron: October

Olives and Chestnuts: November

Side Trip: Basque-ing in Culinary Spain
Learn to cook and eat like a Basque native with a daylong culinary immersion in the city of San Sebastian, on Spain’s north coast. The Basque region has a rich culinary heritage featuring grilled fish and meats, and distinctive dishes such as pintxos - small bites on bread - and marmitako, or tuna pot.

(0) view/add comments
Westworld wants to hear from you!
Check out the comments page and let us know what you think of the article you just read.

Book a mouthwatering adventure by visiting AMATravel.ca/Voyager or call 1-866-667-4777.

Europe

by: Westworld

February 2014
email to a friend

The Real Iceland


With a population of just 300,000, Iceland still feels unspoiled - perfect for an authentic-experience seeker. Fly into Reykjavík and settle in for an embedded stay.

Learn some Icelandic. Most locals speak English, but they’ll appreciate you learning basics such as hallö (hello) and takk (thank you). The Reykjavík Intercultural Center, on Laugavegur Street, offers one-hour courses, as well as in-depth lessons

Get artsy. Reykjavík has a vibrant arts culture. Iceland Airwaves, Nov. 5-9, 2014, features Icelandic musical talent, but also international acts such as The Shins and The Rapture. The Reykjavík Arts Festival, May 22-June 5, 2014, showcases hundreds of visual and performance artists in museums, libraries and streets across the city.

Go elf spotting. Many Icelanders believe in huldufölk, even building tiny houses for them in gardens and fields. In the town of Hafnarfjördur, a 10-minute drive south of Reykjavík, a clairvoyant gives tours of local elf and fairy colonies.

Visit a Lutheran Church. Iceland is known for them. Reykjavík’s Hallgrímskirkja, a 75-metre-tall stone building, looks a bit like a rocket ship but is actually a modernist take on basalt lava flows. Ride up to the observation deck for views of brightly coloured rooftops, and the ocean beyond.

Chow down like a local. If you dare, try hákarl, fermented shark meat (celeb chef Anthony Bourdain dubbed it the worst thing he’s ever eaten); and Brennivín, a.k.a. “black death,” a caraway-flavoured schnapps served cold in a shot glass - Iceland’s national tipple. When you’re ready for something less palate-pushing, downtown grill house Grillmarkaurinn will set your taste buds sizzling with farm-to-table fare like lamb T-bone with beet salad.

Spend your króna. (Icelandic crowns). Buy a chill-defying parka from Icelandic outfitter 66℃North, named for the latitudinal line that touches the country’s northern tip. Then head to Kolaporti flea market, which runs weekends in a warehouse near Reykjavík’s harbour. The tables are stocked with everything from fresh licorice to vintage clothing and antiques.

Attend a réttir. Farmers ride out on horseback each September to bring home sheep and horses that have spent the summer grazing in the surrounding highlands. Head out to the countryside and watch the herding over cake and coffee; pet and photograph the animals.

[Side Trip]
Dining with Danes
The most authentic way to learn about a people? Sit across a table from them. The Dine with the Danes program gives visitors to Denmark a chance to eat supper with a local family in their home.

(0) view/add comments
Westworld wants to hear from you!
Check out the comments page and let us know what you think of the article you just read.
Europe

by: Westworld

February 2014
email to a friend

Europe Cruising & Coach Touring


Want it all done for you? Cruising and coach touring are two of the best ways for no-fuss travellers to hit multiple European destinations with minimum exertion - and maximum enjoyment.

Coach Tour Advantages

  • You’ll reach inland areas that are less accessible to cruisers.
  • Meals and accommodation are diverse, and change with each destination.
  • A tour guide rides along, sharing insider experiences while ensuring a hassle-free trip.

A Bucket-List Coach Tour: Insight Vacations Country Roads of Bavaria, Switzerland and Austria
This 13-day tour departs from Munich, Germany, and includes mostly two-night stops - with a mix of rail and river-cruise side trips. You’ll wind your way through the Alps and visit some of Europe’s most stunning cities: Salzburg, Vienna, Innsbruck, Lucerne. Highlights include a visit to Germany’s Neuschwanstein, a fairy-tale clifftop castle, a Danube River cruise through Austria’s village-lined, castle-dotted Wachau Valley, a private tour of Vienna’s rococo Schönbrunn Palace, where Mozart performed as a child, and an ascent into the Swiss Alps, aboard the Glacier Express, for heart-stopping views of sparkling lakes and glaciers. To book, phone1-866-667-4777 and visit AMA Travel


Cruising Advantages

  • Your transport and accommodation are sorted out in one easy package.
  • Travel periods are relaxing. You can swim, dine or take in a show as your floating chariot moves you to your next destination.
  • You can take a day - or days - off.  Don’t feel like schlepping along cobblestoned streets? Spend a morning at the onboard spa and join the tour later.
  • You only unpack once.

A Great Europe Cruise: Holland America’s European Jewels
This 11-day cruise departs from Dover, England, with a stop in Portland for a glimpse of Stonehenge, before heading south, to Spain. In northern Spain, you’ll visit A Coruna, site of the Christian pilgrimage destination Santiago de Compostela. From there, it’s on to Leixoes (Oporto), Portugal, with its baroque architecture and plentiful Port wine, and then Portugal’s capital, Lisbon, home of World Heritage Sites Belém Tower and Jer&#243nimos Monastery. You’ll also visit Cadiz (Seville), Spain, the sherry capital of the world, Gibralter, Malaga and Cartagena. Wrap up in the Spanish capital of Barcelona, site of Antoni Gaudi’s architectural masterpieces and more than four kilometres of beaches. To book, phone 1-866-989-6594 and visit AMA Travel

(0) view/add comments
Westworld wants to hear from you!
Check out the comments page and let us know what you think of the article you just read.
feature

by: Meghan Jessiman

February 2014
email to a friend

Don’t Mind the (Age) Gap

“We will get into this,” says Kathleen over her shoulder as we burst through the doors of the ridiculously chic downtown flat, near Buckingham Palace, that we’re calling home for the week. “But first we need our dressing gowns!”

It has become a late-night ritual during our weeklong London adventure: fluffy terry cloth robes, a bottle of wine and fits of laughter as we recount the events of the day - often after a visit to one of the city’s stout-soaked pubs. The 30-year age difference between my friend Kathleen, a 50-something professional engineer, and me, a 20-something writer, has proved surprisingly, and pleasantly, irrelevant when exploring the Queen’s city. We’re an odd pairing on paper, though. When Kathleen and I first met at a gym in Calgary’s Mission neighbourhood, neither of us guessed that we’d become friends, never mind international travel companions. But four years and as many countries later, it seems our relationship is the real deal. I benefit from the wisdom that comes with her age, while she reaps the rewards of my hipster-generation knack for the up-and-coming. As it turns out, girls really do just want to have fun - at any age.

Culture Crawl
Taking in a proper London theatre show tops our to-do list. With a few clicks of the mouse, we score tickets, at around £30 each, to a performance of Wicked at the Apollo Victoria in the West End. At first, I’m a little skeptical about this musical extension of The Wizard of Oz, but I take the word of my worldly travel companion, who has seen it before. And she’s right: the experience - amid the circa 1930 theatre’s art-deco-style columns and scalloped flowers - is, well, pretty wicked. (Also thanks to her: I’ll never again fail to pre-order my intermission champagne.)

Next up: Secret Cinema. Launched in 2007 by filmmaker Fabien Riggall, these thrice-annual events are part live theatre, part dining, part movie screening and 100 per cent entertaining (secretcinema.org). Armed with only an “employee number” and a “no-nonsense” dress code obtained on a website, Kathleen and I arrive in the early evening at a generic, 13-floor office building in the London suburb of West Croydon (it’s an adventure). We quickly realize that we’re about to be part of a live-action revival of the 1985 Terry Gilliam film, Brazil - a satirical look at bureaucracy in the industrial world.  From the get-go, we’re berated by a bowler-hat-wearing “boss man” for queuing incorrectly. Inside “G.O.O.D. corporate headquarters,” we interact with performers and other guests in faux offices and other recreated scenes from the movie. The event culminates with Brazil’s final scene being projected on the outside of a building across the street, while actors bring it to life by rapelling down the building’s exterior dressed as a S.W.A.T. team. As we exit the building, we both agree that we’ve never experienced - or even heard of - anything else like this, anywhere.


Hitting the Pavement
Though it’s not everyone’s cup of tea - especially in a country known for real tea parties, complete with crustless sandwiches and bone china - Kathleen and I like to break a sweat from time to time. Plus, we know we need to do something to counteract all of the fish and chips and bangers and mash we’ve been eating - or risk returning home mushier than English peas. Enter City Jogging Tours, the active tourist’s answer to London sightseeing. Our guide, the extremely fit and Lady Guinevere-esque Denise Sofia picks us up, so to speak, and we proceed to trot a solid eight kilometres back and forth over six of London’s bridges on the Riverside jogging tour. We hit all the highlights: Downing Street, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, the London Eye. As we jog across Blackfriars Bridge, Sofia regales us with the tale of Italian banker Roberto Calvi, who was found hung from the bridge’s arches in 1982, with $14,000 in various currencies stuffed in his trousers. Grisly, but the pause gives us time to catch our breath. At our final destination, Tower Hill, just northwest of the Tower of London, Kathleen says she’s happy that my “energetic youngster self” pushed her into seeing the city in a new and active way, but now she’s more than ready for a refreshing pint of Guinness. Me too.

To Market, to Market
The differences between the way a 20-something and a 50-something shop don’t always lie in style - Kathleen and I own a few of the same pieces of clothing, in fact - but rather in the socio-economic factors that dictate where I, the 20-something freelancer, can afford to make purchases. Sure, it’s fun to pop into designer boutiques and ogle the craftsmanship of clothes that I can’t afford - like the striking Balmain skirt suit we spot through a window while wandering down posh Bond Street. But after a while, I start itching to spend my limited funds. This is when we discover the splendour that is London’s market scene.

For both antiques and affordable, on-trend items, Notting Hill’s lively Portobello Market can’t be beat. Within 10 minutes of wandering, I’ve picked up a handcrafted silver ring, a polka-dot pocket square for my dad and the perfect newsboy cap for myself. Kathleen is enamoured with the locally spun wool products and cashmere “jumpers.”

Camden Market, on the northwest side of the city, offers even more eclectic fare, such as hand-tooled leather goods, artisan bath products, upcycled vintage fashions and a hearty assortment of raver gear. While I enjoy the eclectic crowd, it’s a tad edgy for my shopping buddy.

Borough Market, a bustling food fair in Southwark, central London, captures both of our hearts, or, more accurately, our stomachs, with everything from traditional roast dinners and sangria to Croatian delicacies. Pungent-smelling Neal’s Yard Dairy, on the market’s west side, off Park Street, sells more than 50 kinds of cheese. “It’s amazing really, the endless possibilities of gone-off milk,” jokes one of the mongers. After a few luscious bites of the Cashel Blue, we couldn’t agree more.

Following Our Bliss
We cap off our girlfriends’ trip with the girliest of indulgences: a spa day. Chuan Spa, in the palatial, circa 1865 Langham London hotel, just north of shopping mecca Oxford St., is a cross between a Chinese medicine centre and a traditional Western spa. Reclining on chaise lounges, we sip green tea and nibble on fresh berries as we fill out questionnaires to determine which “elemental oil” will be used during our hour-long Harmony massages. Whether it’s the incense or the muscle-melting properties of those herb-infused warm oils, after the rubdown, Kathleen and I feel as if we’ve been healed of ailments we didn’t know we had. And while I’m not usually one to linger after a spa treatment, Chuan’s health club is too good to pass up. We spend the next two hours alternating between a Himalayan rock-salt sauna, a lavender-bordered plunge pool and a 16-metre swimming pool with icicle-like crystal chandeliers dangling overhead. Extravagant? Absolutely. But blissed-out bonding experiences, like perfect travel companions, are few and far between. 

(0) view/add comments
Westworld wants to hear from you!
Check out the comments page and let us know what you think of the article you just read.

Save up to 20% at Sheraton Hotels and Resorts in London and save 10% on a London Pass, for discounts at more than 50 sights. Visit AMARewards to learn more about these offers and more.

Europe

Staff Writer

January 2014
email to a friend

The World War Tour

There are two World War anniversaries on the horizon: the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War, in August 2014, and the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy, France, on June 6, 2014. So it’s a great year for war-history buffs to head for Europe and visit some of the 20th century’s most poignant places.

England
Make your landing in London, a city that endured bombings in two World Wars - by German zeppelins in the First and Luftwaffe in the Second. Signs marking bomb shelters still appear on brick walls around the city.

Keeping calm and carrying on: London is home to three of Britain’s 20th-century Imperial War Museums (IWMs). The Churchill War Rooms are located inside the original bunker, below Whitehall, where gritty prime minister Winston Churchill directed the “blood, toil, tears and sweat” of Allied troops during the Second World War. Head over to Morgan’s Lane and HMS Belfast, a 614-foot-long cruiser from the Second World War - today a floating war experience. Chow down on the mess deck, lie down in the sick bay or even simulate a firefight in the gun turret. IWM London, on Lambeth Street, displays hundreds of weapons, war vehicles and aircraft - such as a 1938 Spitfire fighter plane.

Head south to the D-Day Museum, in Southsea, to learn the story of Operation Overlord, the Allied Invasion of France in the Second World War. The centrepiece is the Overlord Embroidery, an 83-metre-long textile tribute to the defeat of Nazi Germany.

France
Skip the Chunnel and hop a ferry across the choppy English Channel to Caen, France, to experience the journey the way traversing troops would have. Just north of Caen, at Courseulles-sur-Mer, you’ll find the famed D-Day beaches of Omaha, Arromanches, Gold and Sword - as well as Juno, where the Canadian forces landed on June 6, 1944. There are dozens of museums in the area, but prioritize Juno Beach Centre, a Canadian museum presenting films and exhibits on Canada’s war efforts, and tours of windswept Juno Beach Park.

Northern France is dotted with First World War battle sites and memorials. Two of the most moving are the 1916 Somme Battlefields, near Thiepval, where a gruesome four-month trench battle played out, and Vimy Ridge, farther north, which marks the spot where the Canadian Corps stormed and defeated enemy troops between April 9 and 12, 1917. Today, it’s considered Canadian soil, and Canuck students give tours of the 30-metre-tall monument that’s inscribed with the names of 11,285 lost Canadian soldiers, as well as the preserved battlefield, which is still marked with shell holes, craters and trenches (some restored to wartime realism), machine-gun emplacements, listening posts and more.

Belgium
Make time for a stop in the Flemish city of Ypres, site of some of the First World War’s bloodiest battles. Today it’s a charming, canalled community whose streets are lined with medieval architecture, as well as First World War-themed attractions.

In Flanders Fields Museum, located in the turret-topped, circa 1304 Ypres Cloth Hall (rebuilt after its First World War destruction), aims to expose the consequences of war through interactive terminals, audio clips and more.

A white-gloved team of fire-brigade buglers perform a reverberating Last Post Ceremony daily at 8 p.m. under Menin Gate, an arched war memorial on the east side of town.
Just north of Ypres, at Essex Farm Cemetery, Canadian Lt. Col. John McCrea wrote his world-famous poem, In Flanders Fields. Stop by and pay your respects to the 1,204 soldiers commemorated there.

The Netherlands
Just across the border lies Arnhem, where in September 1944, British, Canadian and Polish paratroopers fought, in vain, to secure several bridges on the Rhine River as part of Operation Market Garden (dramatized in the 1977 film A Bridge Too Far.) The National Liberation Museum 1944-1945, in the Dutch countryside, offers bicycle and bus tours of the battlefield grounds.

Head northwest, around 100 km, to Amsterdam, a city the Nazis occupied between 1940 and 1945. The Dutch Resistance Museum, in the downtown Plantage District, explores the central dilemma facing the population of the time: adapt, collaborate or resist.

Next, head to the Anne Frank Museum, in the Amsterdam home where the young Jewish diarist and her family lived in hiding. The secret annex that concealed them is on display, along with family photos, letters and other artifacts.

Side Trip: WWII from the Other Side
Munich, Germany, was the birthplace of the Nazi party. Take a Third Reich Walking Tour of the city to see once-infamous spots such as the Hofbrauhaus beer hall, where Hitler delivered the party’s first manifesto, and Konigsplatz square, the spot where the regime held many of its early rallies.

Members Save More!
Save on adult admissions to In Flanders Fields Museum. Plus, save 20% on day tickets for the Amsterdam Canal Bus. Visit AMARewards.

(0) view/add comments
Westworld wants to hear from you!
Check out the comments page and let us know what you think of the article you just read.
Around Alberta

by: Robin Schroffel

January 2014
email to a friend

Home-Made to Order


We’ve all bought something from a mail-order catalogue, but what about an entire house? Turns out it was a common practice for rural Albertans back in the 1910s and 1920s, when retailers such as the T. Eaton Company and Canadian Aladdin Company published catalogues of homes. You’d simply choose the style you wanted, and a kit would arrive at the nearest railway station, blueprints, lumber, paint, nails and all. For a peek at five surviving catalogue homes, spend a few hours on a self-guided driving tour near Medicine Hat. Two of them - Prairie Bells B&B and the 1918 house at the Oyen Crossroads Museum - are open to the public.

(0) view/add comments
Westworld wants to hear from you!
Check out the comments page and let us know what you think of the article you just read.
Worst Driving Habits

by: Annalise Klingbeil

January 2014
email to a friend

Hey Speed Racer

Forest Ohneck holds a heavily creased slip of pink paper in his hands. It’s a speeding ticket from five years ago. He keeps it in an old ski-goggle box in his bedroom, along with coins, keys and memorabilia. Sitting in the living room of the southwest Edmonton home that he shares with his cousins, the 27-year-old slowly unfolds the paper and, extending a tattoo-covered forearm, lays it on the coffee table. “I’ve been meaning to get it laminated and I’ve actually been thinking about getting it framed,” he says.

Ohneck is a volunteer speaker and race-car driver for the Youth Initiatives & Education in Lifestyles & Driving Association (YIELD), a not-for-profit group of RCMP and civilians dedicated to road-safety education. He speaks about the dangers of speeding and street racing at high schools, car shows and community events around Alberta and spends his summers at Alberta tracks - often Castrol Raceway in Edmonton - driving a tricked-out 2000 Chevy Camaro owned by YIELD.

But he’s proud of what that ticket represents.

He got it on a Thursday night back in November 2008. Ohneck, then 22, and a buddy had been driving from Spruce Grove to Stony Plain for a weekly game of pool with friends - Ohneck in his Honda Civic sedan and his friend in a Chevy pickup. They’d pulled up, side by side, at the last set of lights in Spruce Grove, on Parkland Highway, and decided to do something Ohneck had never done before.

“Just like out of the movies, we looked over at each other and we decided on green we were going to go,” he says.

And go they did, ripping along five kilometres of two-lane rural highway. At one point, Ohneck remembers looking at his speedometer - it read 165 km/h. The limit was 80 km/h. They didn’t stop until the next set of lights, in Stony Plain. When they were revving up to race again, Ohneck suddenly saw red and blue lights flashing in his rear-view mirror. It was a police cruiser. He froze. A voice - the provincial traffic sheriff - boomed out over a megaphone, ordering them to pull over.

After that, he had to go to court. The potential penalties were stiff: he could have had his vehicle impounded, his licence suspended or a fine of more than $2,600. In the end, he got lucky: he was sentenced to 250 hours of community service working for YIELD. It was the first time such an agreement had been made with Alberta Justice, says RCMP Const. Gord Buck, who runs YIELD.

So Ohneck began taking time off from his job as a sheet metal worker to travel around the province. Through his story, and photos of a friend who was injured in a high-speed collision, he tried to convince the kids to make better decisions than he had. And they listened.

“At schools, he’s able to break down barriers because he’s not some old crusty policeman,” says Buck. “Having Forest along, it’s almost peer to peer. They listen to him because he’s got tattoos, he’s a young fellow and he speaks very well.”

Ohneck says he came to enjoy the positive influence he had on the kids. But the work changed him, too. He started to follow speed limits and think before acting - something he says he wasn’t doing on that November evening in 2008 when he got his ticket.

“I wasn’t thinking of the ‘what ifs’ down the road, I was thinking of the here and now,” Ohneck says. “I firmly believe that I might have ended up in the ditch or [hit] a power pole; the possibilities are endless. I definitely hold firm to the belief that the YIELD Association saved my life.” And the lives of anyone he might have crashed into.

It took Ohneck two years to complete his 250 community service hours. At the end, he asked if he could stay on as a volunteer with YIELD, and Buck gladly said yes.

After many more hours with the organization, Ohneck earned a spot behind the wheel of the association’s Camaro. He attended more than 63 events with YIELD during the 2013 racing season alone - many of them street-legal races, in which drivers can race street vehicles safely, under the watchful eye of RCMP and emergency officials. He says he’ll continue volunteering as long as he’s able.

He marvels at how a bad decision and a ticket changed his life for the better:  “What started off as a nasty pink piece of paper has actually started a whole whirlwind of good in my life.”

(0) view/add comments
Westworld wants to hear from you!
Check out the comments page and let us know what you think of the article you just read.
Polynesia

By Lucas Aykroyd

January 2014
email to a friend

Exploring Tahiti’s Bounty

It’s April 28, 1789, and mutiny is brewing on HMS Bounty in the South Pacific. Commanded by tyrannical captain William Bligh, the ship is transporting breadfruit plants obtained in Tahiti as cheap food for West Indies slaves. But first mate Fletcher Christian and 18 other sailors are sick of Bligh’s insults and floggings. Memories of the warm Tahitian weather, tropical food and beautiful women they’ve left behind are too much to resist. Christian leads an armed revolt, forcing Bligh and his loyalists off the 28-metre, 215-ton armed merchant ship and into a small open boat. The mutineers sail back to Tahiti and whoop it up. Some later decamp to remote Pitcairn Island to escape justice, but wind up fighting one another. Meanwhile, Bligh and his men survive a gruelling 47-day voyage to Timor, some 6,700 kilometres away in the Dutch East Indies.

It remains the most famous mutiny in naval history. I grew up reading the 1930s-penned Mutiny on the Bounty novel trilogy by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall. I wrote and recorded a radio play based on the books in high school. I thrilled to the 20th century’s multiple movie versions. Hollywood’s quintessential bad boys have played Fletcher Christian, including Errol Flynn (1933), Clark Gable (1935), Marlon Brando (1962) and Mel Gibson (1984). Next year (2014) marks the 250th anniversary of Christian’s birth, which has inspired me to travel to Tahiti and compare my experiences to those of the mutineers. As Brando stated in his 1994 autobiography: “The happiest moments of my life have been in Tahiti.” How could I resist?

The eight-hour Air Tahiti Nui flight from Los Angeles to Tahiti is certainly more comfortable than the Bounty’s 10-month slog from England. Instead of seasickness and salt pork, I get striking stewardesses with aquamarine eyeshadow that matches the decor, minimal turbulence and tasty meals graced by white tiare flowers. Even before landing, I can see why the word “jealous” invariably popped up when I told someone I was going to Tahiti, the largest of French Polynesia’s Windward Islands. Papeete, the capital city, greets me with a pink sunset and humid 29 C weather. The laid-back port city, mingling French colonial architecture with cheerful, ramshackle modern buildings, is home to 26,000 of the 274,000 inhabitants of French Polynesia, which covers more than 4,000 square kilometres. (Nineteenth-century French Catholic missionaries were clearly more influential than 18th-century British sailors: Tahiti’s been a French colony since 1880.)

My room at the Manava Suite Resort features seashell-adorned walls and a king-size bed beneath a ceiling fan. After breakfasting on a chocolate croissant with coffee, I stroll down Avenue du Generale de Gaulle to admire the Bounty wall mosaic by Italian artist P. Volpatti. Measuring eight metres by four metres, it portrays sailors and natives exchanging greetings and gifts in vivid hues. The tension between Bligh - stiff and Napoleonic - and Christian - brooding and powerful - is palpable. Farther down the street is the 1875-consecrated Notre Dame de L’Immaculee Conception, a yellow Catholic cathedral that’s partly made of coral. Inside the front door is a wooden statue of the Madonna and Child, with Jesus gripping a breadfruit - historically implausible but culturally sensitive, and something that might have resonated with the Bounty’s breadfruit-gathering crew. Tahiti grows more than 200 varieties of this starchy plant.

During their idyllic five-month stay, the sailors feasted on roast hogs, plantains and coconut milk. Similar delicacies abound at Papeete’s nearby two-floor Municipal Market. I inhale every savoury scent while passing tables full of mangoes and bananas, bakers hawking coconut bread and pineapple pie, and women in pink tank tops selling glistening slices of tuna. Upstairs, I browse through mother-of-pearl necklaces, handcrafted ukuleles and carved tiki idols, sacred human forms common to many Polynesian cultures. These stone statues reputedly have mana (intangible power), and families still keep them for protection.

For lunch, I drive to Chez Nous, a small restaurant with a pandanus-thatched roof. Not only do I get poisson cru - a hefty platter of white tuna cooked with lime juice and coconut milk and served with fresh vegetables - but I also taste my my first bottle of Hinano, Tahiti’s signature beer, with its lovely red-clad island maiden on the label. That primes me for a visit to James Norman Hall Museum, 15 minutes away in Arue. Visiting this replica of the Iowa-born Mutiny on the Bounty co-author’s Tahiti home fulfills a childhood dream. As requested, I remove my shoes before entering the green-painted house, which is surrounded by tropical foliage. A scale model of the Bounty greets me. A warm, middle-aged Tahitian woman named Hina gives me a personal tour of the place, including Hall’s First World War veteran memorabilia, portraits of the captains who presided over the 1792 court martial for the captured mutineers, and Hall’s study, with his original desk and Royal typewriter, plus bookcases brimming with translations of his 20-plus books. In the gift shop, adorned with a huge Brando movie poster, I buy a $15 biography of Hall and Nordhoff. Hina kisses me on both cheeks before I leave. To wrap up my day, I drive to the Fa’auruma’i Waterfalls. Vaimahutu, the highest, cascades majestically down a greenery-strewn basalt cliff. Then, heading to the seaside, about a kilometre north, I marvel at the Arahoho blowhole. Its ocean spray, produced by compressed air, is so powerful that it once blasted a hole in the now-closed road that runs overhead.

At nearby Point Venus, a Bounty memorial erected in 2005 marks the ship’s 1788 arrival here, in Matavai Bay. (Captain James Cook, with whom Bligh sailed on Cook’s final voyage, observed the transit of the planet Venus from this lighthouse-graced peninsula in 1769.) A bronze plaque lists the Bounty crew’s names. Ironwood trees and coconut palms rustle in the wind as the sun sets, and young families wade in the warm water. A flotilla of outrigger canoes passes outside the distant reef.

Tahiti’s ability to feed both body and soul is becoming evident. My cross-cultural dinner on the pier of the upscale Blue Banana restaurant later in the evening - escargots in garlic butter and shrimp in coconut curry sauce - is succeeded the next day by an unusual breakfast at the free, inaugural “Festival du Uru,” or Breadfruit Festival, at Papeete’s Maison de la Culture. I quickly tuck into hearty, nutty-tasting bread made with breadfruit flour at the Bounty-themed stall of Swiss-born Beni Huber. Huber is spearheading plans for an annual Bounty festival and a touring replica of the ship. Even more delectable is popo uru, sun-dried breadfruit soaked in sugar, lemon juice and vanilla. An old woman tells me, “We need to preserve these traditional recipes before they’re lost. This is what mothers gave their children before we had candy.” Intense drumming by heavily tattooed Marquesan Islanders (hailing from a Polynesian island cluster north of Tahiti) reinforces the sense of history and pride.

A bumpy midday drive brings me to Marae Arahurahu, a restored Polynesian temple constructed from black volcanic rocks between the 15th and 18th centuries. Although nestled in a lush valley that’s alive with birdsong, its sacred courtyard, decorated with unu (wooden sculptures), is less than comfortable for worshipers due to the rough rock surface - not to mention the pigs still sacrificed here. After a lunch of delectably flaky parrot fish in lemon butter sauce at the waterfront Captain Bligh Restaurant and Bar, I decide to view something that Bounty boatswain’s mate James Morrison described in 1788: “At this diversion both (blank) are excellent and some are so expert as to stand on their board till the Surf breaks.” Morrison was referring, of course, to surfing. At Taharuu Beach, more than 40 local young men are braving big waves on surfboards and boogie boards, laughing and whooping in the sunshine. It’s a scene of pure escapism. No wonder the mutineers shunned cold, conventional England.

By now, I’ve soaked up so much history that I’m ready for some escapism of my own, on the neighbouring, paradisiacal island of Moorea. I bid farewell to Papeete with one more scintillating dinner - grilled swordfish with green beans at L’Estanco, one of the popular roulottes (food trucks) in harbourside Place Vai’ete. The next morning, I sail 17 km northwest on the Aremiti 5 ferry to Moorea. After settling into the luxurious InterContinental Moorea Resort, I soon figure out why the 1962 and 1984 versions of Mutiny on the Bounty were mostly filmed on Moorea. It’s nearly unspoiled, as the lush, green vista from the 240-metre-high Belvedere viewpoint, facing sacred Rotui Mountain, reveals.

I spend the next four days here. If I’m not snorkelling with stingrays and black-tip reef sharks (reaching out to touch the velvet-skinned former but not the toothy latter), I’m guzzling pineapple liqueur like a hard-partying mutineer at the Jus de Fruits de Moorea distillery. Later, I participate in a traditional javelin-throwing contest at a local school, then devour roast pork and gawk at dramatic fire-dancing at the Tiki Village - where, coincidentally, Dustin Hoffman and his wife renewed their vows in 1994. Yes, things have changed since the Bounty’s day.

Relishing the ocean spray as I zoom around Opunohu Bay on a jet ski in glorious sunshine, I reflect that this would have been an effective getaway vehicle for the mutineers. Of the original 19, 10, including Christian, would die in the South Seas by or before 1800. Just one survived till 1829, on Pitcairn Island. The others were captured: three drowned in a shipwreck en route to England, three were hanged and two were pardoned. Yet the Bounty’s legacy lives on in Tahiti, and it’s well worth exploring.

(0) view/add comments
Westworld wants to hear from you!
Check out the comments page and let us know what you think of the article you just read.

Experience Polynesia for under $2,700. Includes return airfare from Calgary, 5 nights at Le Maitai Polynesia Bora Bora and inter-island air transfers. Call 1-877-989-8436 or visit AMATravel.ca

Around Alberta

by: Shauna Rudd

January 2014
email to a friend

Vintage Flavour at Tavern 1903

For a taste of chic that’s anything but shabby, look to Edmonton’s Alberta Hotel and its stylish watering hole, Tavern 1903, which opened last fall. When the circa-1903 hotel was dismantled in 1984 to make way for Canada Place, its valuable pieces - such as the conical cupola on its roof, its cornice and sandstone from the facade - were stored in warehouses across the city. That is, until architect Gene Dub came along and spearheaded the hotel’s reconstruction at 96 Street and Jasper Avenue, just 15 metres west of its original location. The bar’s decor blends the salvaged artifacts with expert reproductions. “We only had part of the original ceiling, so we hired a specialist to recreate it in plaster. It’s a perfect replica,” says Dub. Likewise, nine out of 10 lighting sconces are faux, but we’ll bet you a Remy Sidecar that you can’t spot the real deal. With the owners of Hardware Grill at the helm, the menu is suitably legendary. Try the “Mozzarella Bar,” which offers mozzarella cheeses paired with tasty complements such as bacon jam, fig-onion jam and fennel marmalade.

(0) view/add comments
Westworld wants to hear from you!
Check out the comments page and let us know what you think of the article you just read.
Around Alberta

by: Shauna Rudd

January 2014
email to a friend

Iron Horse Trailblazers

When you join the hikers, cyclers, snowmobilers, ATVers and, yes, horses on northeastern Alberta’s Iron Horse Trail, you’re travelling on 300 km of living history. Trodden by Red River carts in the mid-1800s and used by CN trains from the ‘20s to the ‘90s, the trail has three legs that connect 17 communities from its centre at Abilene Junction ("Mile Zero"). One runs southwest to Waskatenau, one northeast to Cold Lake and one southeast to Heinsburg. “Because the trail is on the old railway bed, it goes through boreal forest, parkland and natural wetlands virtually untouched since the 1920s,” says Marianne Price, administrative coordinator. The trail leads to campsites, fishing, golf courses - even a UFO landing pad and exhibit, with photos of what appear to be UFOs and crop circles, in the town of St. Paul. Plus, Iron Horse is Canada’s longest geocache “power trail,” with more than 1,400 caches. Until recently, trail-goers could catch wheelwright Roy Scott hand-building Red River carts in his yard, which backed onto the trail. He’s now retired, but one of his carts is on display at Metis Crossing, near Smoky Lake.

(0) view/add comments
Westworld wants to hear from you!
Check out the comments page and let us know what you think of the article you just read.
Around Alberta

by: Robin Schroffel

January 2014
email to a friend

The Cars of the Fabulous Fifties

In the 1950s, gleaming chrome and space-age tail fins symbolized a new way of North American life: individuality, freedom and prosperity. The Reynolds-Alberta Museum in Wetaskiwin celebrates mid-century car culture with its Fabulous Fifties exhibition, featuring 25 vehicles - including a 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air Nomad restored onsite by the museum’s shop. The exhibits also include a “drive-in” theatre that screens vintage film trailers and car commercials; ‘50s toys such as Mr. Potato Head, the Slinky Dog and Barbie; and a hula hoop station. For head of marketing and communications Cynthia Blackmore, the drive-in sparks happy memories of cruising down to double-feature nights in her pajamas with her family: “It was a part of my growing up,” she says. 

(0) view/add comments
Westworld wants to hear from you!
Check out the comments page and let us know what you think of the article you just read.
Worst Driving Habits

by: Westworld

January 2014
email to a friend

Alberta’s Worst Driving Habits

Bad Habit #1: Speeding
Most drivers admit to speeding at least occasionally: seven in 10, according to Transport Canada. It may seem like it isn’t such a big deal - dropping a little lead onto the pedal to clear an intersection, or “just” exceeding the limit by 15 km/h to pass another vehicle on the highway. But speeding is still a major factor in collisions on Alberta roads.

Speeding Gives You Less Time to React
The faster you’re driving, the longer it takes to stop (see the graphic on the right). Speeding also gives you less time to react to and avoid hazards, such as a vehicle ahead of you losing control on black ice or a mule deer bounding across the centreline.

Speed Makes Collisions Worse
The faster you’re going, the greater the force of a collision, and the less effectively safety features such as seat belts and airbags perform. Why? If you go from a high velocity to a standstill - say, from 100 km/h to wrapped around a tree - in just seconds, all of that kinetic energy has to go somewhere. Speed turns a broken leg into a shattered body. Or worse.

Bad Habit #2: Tailgating
It’s no secret that aggressive driving is a problem on Alberta roads. Media stories about road rage seem to crop up almost monthly in the media. In a landmark case last summer, for instance, the RCMP seized the vehicle of an Edmonton driver who had allegedly been in nine road-rage incidents within a few years - the first time such an extreme enforcement measure was ever taken.

Tailgating is a common precursor to other aggressive road behaviours. It’s also the driver error that contributes to the most crashes in Alberta: 28.3 per cent of all 2012 collisions in the province involved drivers “following too closely.”

Tips for Dealing with Tailgaters

  • Stay calm and focus on your own driving.
  • Communicate your intentions clearly by signalling early.
  • Hold steady at the speed limit, and don’t give in to pressure to speed or drive unsafely.
  • Politely ignore rude or aggressive gestures from the other driver. Switch your rear-view mirror into the nighttime position if someone is flashing high beams from behind.
  • Note the other driver’s licence plate number, if he or she is driving dangerously, and report it to the police. Don’t confront the individual yourself. 
  • Don’t be a part of the problem. If you’re driving more slowly than other traffic on a four-lane road, move to the right lane and allow faster traffic to pass. Or pull over, if you can do so safely, so that the aggressive driver can pass. Getting into an adversarial situation isn’t worth it.

Don’t Be a Tailgater

  • Leave yourself enough time to get where you’re going.
  • Maintain a safe following distance. In normal, dry conditions, that’s two to three seconds; in poor weather, it will be more - always drive according to conditions.
  • Remember: riding someone’s bumper won’t get you there faster. But it will create frustration on the road and increase your chances of a collision. And if that happens, you’ll be really late.

Bad Habit #3: Impaired Driving
Despite the risks, and what seems like universal condemnation, Albertans are still drinking and driving.

Bad Habit #4: Distracted Driving
Just think of all the ways you can be distracted behind the wheel today: cellphones, GPS devices, tablets, e-readers, laptops, onboard computers, built-in DVD players. And that’s in addition to old “classics” like fast food, hot coffee, makeup and bickering kids in the back seat.
Since Alberta’s distracted-driving law went into effect in September 2011, there have been around 2,000 convictions per month - mostly for cellphone use behind the wheel, but also for other prohibited activities, such as reading, writing and grooming. And that’s despite some creative enforcement and high-profile awareness campaigns by local authorities (Crotches Kill, anyone?)

The Risks of Distracted Driving

  • You’re 4-6 times more likely to be involved in a crash if you’re driving distracted.
  • 20-30% of all collisions are due to some form of driver distraction. In Alberta, that’s approximately 100 deaths and 5,000 injuries - nearly 40,000 collisions each year.
    Avoid the Temptation
  • Review your directions (or pre-program the GPS), and adjust your seat, stereo and temperature prior to driving.
  • Pull over to eat or drink.
  • Store reading materials, makeup and electronic gadgets in your trunk, or well out of reach.
  • Keep the inside of your vehicle neat and free of loose objects. If something falls on the floor, leave it there.
  • Prepare children with everything they need before you get on the road.
  • Secure pets properly prior to driving.
  • Put your cellphone in airplane mode so that calls go to voicemail.
  • If you must make a phone call, pull over in a safe spot to do so.

Bad Habit #5: Misjudging Personal Ability
Everyone thinks they can drive. Heck, according to one AMA survey, most people think they’re pretty good drivers - yet believe the majority of others are not. Obviously we all have some blind spots when it comes to our own skills. Trouble is, the abilities we need to drive safely, like eyesight, hearing, physical strength and cognitive ability, can deteriorate as a result of injury or illness, or due to aging. We all need to take stock of our abilities regularly, and drive - or not - accordingly.

  • Eyesight: Our eyes gather 90 per cent of the information we process behind the wheel. But at middle age, vision starts to deteriorate - often so gradually that we don’t notice: The amount of light we require to drive safely doubles every 13 years; Eyes’ focus speed slows down; Sensitivity to glare increases; Colours lose their brightness and become harder to see; Peripheral vision narrows.
  • Hearing: As we age, the sound-detecting hair cells in our inner ears begin to die, and they don’t grow back. Hearing loss affects a driver’s ability to react to warning sounds outside and inside the vehicle.
  • Strength and Flexibility: It takes arm and leg strength to accelerate, shift gears, brake and steer; grip strength to make sudden turns; and flexibility to do a proper shoulder-check - all of which can be compromised by injury or aging.
  • Cognitive Ability: We use our brains for everything from braking to making left turns. But as our brains age, our ability to process information and make decisions slows down.

(0) view/add comments
Westworld wants to hear from you!
Check out the comments page and let us know what you think of the article you just read.
Worst Driving Habits

by: Westworld

January 2014
email to a friend

Want to Lose Your Licence? Just Add Demerits

Every time you’re convicted of a traffic-safety infraction, you ‘earn’ demerit points

8-14:  You receive a notice from the government notifying you of your demerit count. If you’re a new driver, your licence is automatically suspended at eight demerits.

15:  Your licence is suspended for one month. Add a second demerit suspension in the same year and you can say goodbye to driving for three months. A third, and you lose your licence for six months, and you may have to appear before the Alberta Transportation Safety Board.

Ouch:  Once a demerit-point suspension has been served, your licence is reinstated with seven points. These “leftover” points remain on your record for a full two years.

1 in 3 Alberta drivers involved in fatality collisions were driving at unsafe speeds.

1 in 10 Alberta drivers involved in injury-causing collisions were driving at unsafe speeds.

Source: Alberta Transportation Traffic Collision Statistics, 2012

Knock three points off your licence by passing AMA’s online Demerit Reduction Defensive Driver Course.

(0) view/add comments
Westworld wants to hear from you!
Check out the comments page and let us know what you think of the article you just read.
Worst Driving Habits

by: Annalise Klingbeil

January 2014
email to a friend

Taking the Wheel

Rain was pounding the windshield on the September day when Dominica Witt took her driving test. It made her nervous: she wasn’t used to driving in wet weather. Plus, just a week earlier, she had failed her road test because of a few minor errors.

So when the examiner looked up from his clipboard and told her she’d passed, 23-year-old Witt breathed a deep sigh of relief. Then she called her fiance, James, to tell him the news. And her mom. “I was so proud of myself,” she says. “It was a huge step.” She went for sushi to celebrate with James, her best friend and her two sons, Valontine, 3, and Cyrus, 1.

Witt lost her younger brother in a crash with an impaired driver nine years ago. She and her family had been driving home after a day of shopping. She and eight-year-old Lukas were in the back seat of the family’s Honda Civic, holding hands and reciting lines from a pizza commercial, when a one-tonne flat-deck truck crossed the centre line on Hwy. 1A, just west of Chestermere, and hit them, propelling the Honda into oncoming traffic, where it was T-boned by a taxi. Witt, her 25-year-old sister and their mother were seriously injured. Lukas died almost instantly.

“He was holding my hand. When we got hit, he squeezed it,” she says. “He said ‘mom’ and he let go. That was the last thing he ever said.”

The 65-year-old man behind the wheel of the truck was more than five times over the legal blood-alcohol limit.

Witt was rushed to the Children’s Hospital, where she stayed for three weeks. The joint connecting her hip bone to her tailbone was torn; her bladder punctured, her liver lacerated, her right lung deflated and her left collarbone broken. She spent two months in a wheelchair.

In the subsequent years, she was, understandably, frightened of car travel. She managed to get her learner’s at 17, but only drove a couple of times, and only on rural highways. “When it came to city driving, or driving around other vehicles, I was really, really uncomfortable. I was paranoid,” recalls Witt, sitting in her northeast Calgary home, dressed in black and sporting pink hair, facial piercings and a tattoo of what was once her brother’s favourite Lego man on her upper arm.

Witt’s parents made her take a driver-education course at age 18, but she used every excuse to put off taking her driver’s test. At 19, she moved out. She made an effort to live close to public transit and postponed for several more years. But last fall, her learner’s was about to expire. So she decided it was finally time and signed up for an AMA Driver Education course.

It wasn’t easy at first. She would tense up around traffic and big trucks. Flashing lights from emergency vehicles stirred up memories of the collision.

“My priority was to make her confident because she was so nervous behind the wheel,” says AMA driving instructor Sukhijnder Singh, adding that he would purposely distract her from thoughts of the crash by asking her about her sons and fiance. With plenty of practice and coaching, she came around. And, on that rainy day in September, she finally passed her road test.

“Having my licence is awesome,” she says. Now she drives her sons to school every day - and herself to local high schools, where she speaks on behalf of MADD.

In the five years Witt has been volunteering, she has spoken to thousands of students. She says she tries not to be preachy - just talks about her brother and the challenges she still faces nine years after the collision, like nerve and muscle damage in her right leg.

Her message obviously hits home. Once, she says, she gave a presentation to a group of juvenile offenders in Calgary. After hearing her speak, a 16-year-old who had been caught drinking and driving came up and tearfully told her he would never do it again. Two years later, she ran into him at a mall. He hugged her and introduced her to his girlfriend with the words: “This is the person who saved my life.”

“Drinking and driving is an incredibly self-centred thing to do,” says Witt. “There are a bunch of other options.” Like taking a taxi or a bus. Or asking a friend for a ride - anything rather than risk depriving the world of someone like Lukas, a perennially happy kid who loved to bike and play with Lego. Family, friends, communities, schools, workplaces, emergency workers and other drivers all feel the ripples when someone chooses to drink and drive. Adds Witt: “It’s never just the people in the vehicle who are affected by impaired driving.”

Plan ahead for a safe ride home. Visit ama.ab.ca/DesignatedDrivers. Plus, download the TaxiGuy app or program 1-888-TAXIGUY into your phone to connect with a local cab company.

Download the AMA Driver Education Practice Exam app for your iPhone or Android device.

Trouble with vision, hearing, strength or quick thinking? Get a driver assessment or take a brush-up lesson with AMA Driver Education.

(0) view/add comments
Westworld wants to hear from you!
Check out the comments page and let us know what you think of the article you just read.
Moving

by: Westworld

January 2014
email to a friend

Smoother Moving


Let’s be honest: nobody looks forward to packing everything he or she owns into boxes. Start early to ensure it goes smoothly, packing up lesser-used items (like books and pictures) until you’re closer to the move date. As you go, number each box and keep a written inventory of the items that go into it. Clearly note, on all four sides, which room it should be delivered to.

For fragile items, fill any hollow spots (the inside of a teacup, for instance) with a wad of packing paper. Then wrap it in several layers of bubble wrap. Label the box you place it in “fragile,” and make sure any gaps between items are filled in with packing paper.

Try to fill every box to capacity, but don’t overload with heavy items (you’ll need to pick them up at some point). Mixing in some blankets, towels and other soft stuff can offer extra cushion for the rest of the contents. You can save some money on boxes by using your own luggage to pack up clothes and toiletries.

Of course, you can also leave all of this to the movers - many offer packing services in addition to transport. In that case, you’ll just need to comb through the house before they arrive, putting any valued items into boxes you’ve labelled “do not move.” That includes things like jewellery, medication, photo albums, personal documents and delicate electronics, all of which you’re better off transporting yourself to prevent loss or damage.

Also remember to set aside one box of items that you’ll need right away and will move yourself. That could include Band-Aids, toiletries, toothbrushes, floss, toilet paper, your shower curtain, your kettle and coffee pot, a hammer, a screwdriver, landline phones, a few plates, mugs and utensils, pet food, sheets and towels. And perhaps a bottle of wine, to toast your new digs.

Find a Trustworthy Mover

Another way to keep moving headaches to a minimum? Entrust your possessions to the right people. Before committing to any moving company, ask for a business address and drive by to take a look at the operation. Then it’s time for a closer inspection.

“You definitely want to go and look at their warehouse,” says Doug Jasper, general manager of moving company AMJ Campbell’s Calgary branch. “You want to make sure it’s clean, neat, organized, it’s got 24-hour security, a gated parking area for their trailer. You want to confirm the basics - a sprinkler system is in place, alarm system is in place, they do regular inspections for mice and things like that. . ..”

Ensuring that they’re affiliated with a major van line (like Atlas or Allied), and asking for references from clients, are prudent measures as well.

Whomever you end up choosing, ask for a binding quote, with a guaranteed date of delivery, upfront in writing. This will ensure that the price you agreed upon doesn’t mysteriously creep up over the course of the move. And don’t forget to ask about any hidden fees that could be tacked on for things like transporting appliances, long-haul journeys or stairs.

Finally, don’t be in a rush to hire. Interview two or three companies to make certain you’re getting the best deal. Be wary of any mover who only deals in cash and, as with any transaction, don’t be tempted by an offer that’s too good to be true.

Decluttering Before the Big Move
Leaving a home behind brings out the nostalgic side in all of us, but if you can resist that impulse and say goodbye to some lesser-used items, the process will be much easier (and cheaper).

“The first thing we like to tell people is make sure they purge,” offers Doug Jasper of AMJ Campbell. “Make sure you’re only moving the items that you need to move, because obviously it will have an effect on the price.” The best advice is to start early and small. Pick one room and, as honestly as you can, take stock of every single item within. Ask yourself, will I use this at my new home or will it just collect dust?

Some people find it helpful to approach the process with a firm decluttering goal in mind - dumping one of every four items in each room, for instance. An easy place to begin is with clothing and books - two items we tend to keep far beyond their usefulness. For long-distance hauls, consider donating all of your food (even the non-perishables) as well as your houseplants.

Once you’ve identified the dead weight, hold a garage sale; or, for a better deal on the more valuable stuff, consider selling on Craigslist and eBay. Finally, if you want to go the philanthropic route, non-profit groups such as the Alberta Association for Community Living accept donations of clothing and household items.

Keys to a Successful Garage Sale
1. Check local bylaws and consult your homeowner’s association, if you have one, for any rules governing garage sales.
2. Hold the sale on a Saturday early in the month; avoid long weekends.
3. Paper the neighbourhood with eye-catching flyers and post details on Facebook, Craigslist and any community association websites.
4. Make your sale area presentable, ensuring your goods are as clean as possible and organized by category.
5. Be sure to price every item - typically around 20 to 30 per cent of what you originally paid (less if it’s noticeably worn).
6. Be aware that items such as cribs, cosmetics and helmets must adhere to modern safety regulations and may not be legally possible to resell.
7. Offer or sell refreshments and play some tunes.
8. Be prepared to haggle. Garage-sale junkies love a bargain.




Members Move Better
If you’re looking to buy a new home, AMA can do a land title search for you. Request the forms online. Once you have your new address, update it on your membership, AMA insurance, vehicle registration and Alberta Health Care documents at any AMA centre.

Moving is also a good time to make sure your membership level still suits you. Has your daily commute become shorter or longer now that you’ve moved? Do you have any new drivers in your household? 1-800-222-6400; ama.ab.ca/WhichLevel

Save 12% on Penske local truck rental rates, moving supplies and accessories.

Earn $100 reward dollars on long-distance moves at AMJ Campbell. Plus save 40% on packing supplies.

Moving? Make sure you have the right insurance coverage for your stuff. Free quotes online.

Save 10% on refuse removal at 1-800-GOT-JUNK?. They’ll load, clean up and recycle for you. Use promo code “AMA.”

(0) view/add comments
Westworld wants to hear from you!
Check out the comments page and let us know what you think of the article you just read.
Around Alberta

by Shauna Rudd

November 2013
email to a friend

Best in Snow

How did small-town Didsbury, an hour south of Red Deer, become one of the top dogs on the dog-sled racing circuit? “It’s only because some fool like me decided to do this nonsense,” chuckles Bill Windsor, president of the Rosebud Run Sleddog Society. Windsor has dedicated his own 46 hectares of land, a former farm, to the sport. Mushers come from all over Western Canada to compete in the Rosebud Run Sleddog Classic, set for this December 7 and 8. “When I started this nine years ago, I knew nothing about it,” says Windsor, adding that he’d fantasized about dog teams made up of purebred Siberian huskies. But there actually aren’t many Siberians on the racing circuit. Most dogs are in the “open” class, which includes any breed that can run and pull. Spectators can watch the races, mingle with participants at the track or join the mushers for dinner ($15) the first evening.

(0) view/add comments
Westworld wants to hear from you!
Check out the comments page and let us know what you think of the article you just read.
Behind The Wheel

Shauna Rudd

November 2013
email to a friend

3 Winter Driving Challenges

1. Skidding On Ice
Prevent a skid by noting where ice is likely to form - intersections, low-lying and shaded areas, spots near bodies of water, bridge decks - and braking gently in advance. If that fails and you find yourself sliding, here’s what to do:

Brake smart. When you feel a loss of control over your vehicle, instinct tells you to hit the brakes hard, but this could lock up your wheels before the ABS mechanism can kick in. “The brake could be your best friend or worst enemy,” cautions Rick Lang of AMA Driver Education. The trick is to apply gentle but firm pressure to the brake pedal and steer smoothly.

Look toward a safe spot. In a moment of panic, the direction your eyes go is the direction your vehicle will go. “If you see a telephone pole and think, ‘I don’t want to hit it,’ yet you’re looking at it, that’s where you’re going,” says Lang. So be sure to fix your gaze on a safe area, such as a gap in traffic, and you will instinctively steer toward it.

2. Stuck in the Snow
Many drivers, on finding their vehicles buried in the white stuff, hop inside and put pedal to metal, only to spin the wheels and sink in deeper. Instead:

Dig before driving. Shovel snow from around your tires and “create a nice runway to get some momentum up,” says Lang.

Create traction. You can use anything gritty, but cat litter has advantages over sand - it’s lighter, it provides good traction and the bag is usually re-sealable. Spread it in front of all four tires.

Rock out. Rock your vehicle free by gently accelerating forward and in reverse to make a clear path. Avoid spinning your wheels and take pauses to let tires cool for better traction. “All a hot tire’s going to do is melt the snow to ice,” says Lang.

3. Driving in Low Visibility
Blowing snow, freezing rain, glare and fewer daylight hours can wreak havoc on visibility. Here’s how to cope:

Take it slow. “Drive at the appropriate speed for conditions. That might be at the speed limit, or that might be half the speed limit,” says Lang. And if you’re driving in darkness, “don’t overdrive your headlights.”

Pass on passing. “In low visibility, you can’t see if there is an obstruction in the other lane until you’re right on top of it,” says Lang. A worst-case scenario: trailing a snowplow. The white cloud they kick up is virtually impossible to see around. Most plows stop every five to eight kilometres to let people go by, but other vehicles won’t necessarily oblige. So decide: what’s more important, your safety, or getting to your destination a few minutes quicker?

Rethink your game plan. Before heading out, check AMA Road Reports, including the real-time traffic-camera footage. Ask yourself, “Do I really need to make this trip?” If conditions are poor, you probably have your answer.

(0) view/add comments
Westworld wants to hear from you!
Check out the comments page and let us know what you think of the article you just read.
Heading for the Hills

Shauna Rudd

November 2013
email to a friend

Bring this Look Home: Buffalo Mountain Lodge

Fireplace: The stone fireplace is the heart of this room. Pay attention to size, scale, tone and texture: here, large-scale natural river rock makes a bold statement. Proportion is key, though. If you want to size up your hearth’s presence, try a taller mantel, as was done here.

Mantel: Natural wood warms the space and makes it feel rustic. You’ll find that light-toned woods create a casual cottage feel, whereas darker woods lend an old-world look. This expansive wood mantel balances the oversize chandelier, and is ready-made for family photos and heirlooms if you don’t have a trophy head kicking around.

Trophy Head: The trophy head feels at home in any lodge-type look, but in this case, it also pays homage to the chandelier above, bringing a sense of unity to the space.

Wall Colour: Look to nature for colour inspiration for paint, as well as fabrics and leather finishes. Choose sage and grey-greens, warm merlots, and earthy browns.

Armchairs: Angling two armchairs near the fire creates a cozy, inviting enclave.

Table and Serving Tray: This vintage-looking cart is charming, but any small table or ottoman topped with a serving tray will do the trick. Apart from function, this table serves much-needed contrast - black (or rich brown) accents ground the light palette and give your eye a place to rest.

Floor: A great addition to a home fireside would be a generous area rug. An animal-hide, fluffy flokati (high-pile shag rug) or double-knit wool rug are all ideal choices.

Chandelier: The oversize chandelier draws your eye up while balancing the large mantel. Natural (in this case, found) antlers give the fixture a timeless quality. For a trendier, cabin-chic esprit, go for finishes in chrome, gold, black or white.

Design tips provided by C. Marie Hebson of Interiors by Design, Edmonton

(0) view/add comments
Westworld wants to hear from you!
Check out the comments page and let us know what you think of the article you just read.
Heading for the Hills

Tracy Hyatt

November 2013
email to a friend

Mountain Road Smarts


  • Watch for wildlife. Deer, moose and elk are common sights on mountain roads.
  • Check avalanche warnings before you depart, along with other road conditions. Pay attention to avalanche-warning signs and don’t stop in these areas.
  • Many mountain collisions are caused by icy roads. Black ice forms in shaded areas, near open bodies of water, on bridge decks and in areas where drivers frequently brake and accelerate, such as curves.
  • Avoid moving to the centre of the road when driving alongside a drop-off. Stay in the middle of your lane.

(0) view/add comments
Westworld wants to hear from you!
Check out the comments page and let us know what you think of the article you just read.
Heading for the Hills

Staff Writer

November 2013
email to a friend

Prep Your Vehicle for Winter: A Checklist

  • Pack a winter emergency kit
  • Inspect your tires for wear and check tire pressure (don’t forget the spare)
  • Take your vehicle to a qualified mechanic for a checkup
  • Replace worn-out wiper blades
  • Have lights, belts and hoses checked for cracks and other signs of wear
  • Have the antifreeze levels in your radiator checked, and switch to winter-grade windshield washer fluid
  • Have your block heater checked and your battery tested, especially if the battery is more than three years old
  • Change your oil and switch to synthetic
  • Visit ama.ab.ca/repairmaintain for more tips on inspecting and maintaining your vehicle

AMA members save more! Check your block heater quickly and easily with a Plug Alive tester available at AMA centres: $14.99 for AMA members; $19.99 for non-members.

(0) view/add comments
Westworld wants to hear from you!
Check out the comments page and let us know what you think of the article you just read.
Heading for the Hills

Shauna Rudd

November 2013
email to a friend

Winter Driving Self-Help


AMA service vehicle operator Martin Selezinka: “As soon as the temperature drops, AMA gets more calls for boosts. Those vehicles would have started just fine if they’d been plugged in. When the temperature dips to -15 C, that’s the time to plug in.”

When it comes to winter driving, “Be Prepared” is the best motto. But as the high volume of AMA Roadside Assistance calls shows, Albertans aren’t always putting this into practice. Here are a few not-so-great judgement calls you could be tempted to make this winter, and how
to talk yourself out of them:

“I have all-season tires, and my car is running fine. I don’t need to rush in for a winter checkup.”

Don’t be so sure: Your vehicle feels the onset of winter well before the snow arrives. Dropping temperatures affect your battery, fluids and even the air pressure in your tires. Testing your battery for charge, switching to synthetic motor oil for engine efficiency and optimizing the air pressure in your tires for good handling and traction are just a few things that help ensure a safe winter ride. And it doesn’t hurt to switch to winter tires (especially
if you drive in rural areas) before the first snowfall, when temperatures drop below -7 C.

“This isn’t my first time driving in winter. I know where I’m going and I know the shortcuts, so I won’t need extra time.”

C’mon, you know better: Each time you go out, it’s a new journey, no matter your level of experience. “Your 20-minute drive to work could take 30 or 40 minutes, or more, in winter,” says Rick Lang of AMA Driver Education. You could encounter cautious new drivers, snowplows, stalled vehicles - all leading to delays. Prepare yourself mentally by anticipating delays and allowing extra time before you set out. And do yourself another favour: check current road conditions and plan your route in advance using AMA Road Reports.

“I drive an SUV, so I don’t need to worry about snow or ice on the highway. I can get through anything.”

Think again: Just because your vehicle is heftier than others, or has four-wheel drive, that doesn’t mean it can handle higher speeds on snow and ice. “I see a large number of SUVs and 4x4s in ditches after every snowstorm because drivers overestimate what their vehicles can do,” says Lang. When a driver feels his or her vehicle sliding, the tendency is to panic and hit the brakes. And because that big SUV is heavier than the average passenger vehicle, you’ll be skidding with more mass behind you, making it tougher to come to a safe stop. Regardless of your vehicle’s size, drive at a speed appropriate for conditions - which may be well under the speed limit if the roads are slick.

Exclusive Member Benefit! AMA will test your battery for free and replace it on the spot if necessary. 1-800-CAA-HELP (ask for the CAA Battery Service)

(0) view/add comments
Westworld wants to hear from you!
Check out the comments page and let us know what you think of the article you just read.
Heading for the Hills

Staff Writer

November 2013
email to a friend

Meet: Catriona Le May Doan

What have you been up to?
I just returned from the Canada Games in Sherbrooke - I was broadcasting for TSN there - and I’m also on various sport boards, such as the Canadian Sport Institute, the Winter Sport Institute and the Canada Games Council, which keeps me busy.

What do you and your family like to do in the mountains?
My kids love to ski. They’re nine and six. I am officially the worst skier in the family. They laugh because I’m such a chicken.

You live in Calgary - where do you ski?
Panorama and Sunshine, mostly. We have a place in Invermere, as many Calgarians do. We took the kids to Lake Louise this past winter and they just fell in love with it.

How else do you spend time in the Rockies?
We love Grizzly House in Banff - the fondue place. We like to stop at Banff Hot Springs, as well. And Radium Hot Springs, on our way to Invermere. We skate on the lake in Invermere, and around the lake a lot of little shinny games get going, so we play shinny, too.

What’s on your family’s mountain to-do list?
I really want to try snowshoeing. And I want to take the kids up to Canmore to try cross-country skiing. We also haven’t done the skate on Lake Louise. Now that I’m back on hockey skates - because I play ringette - we need to go do that. You know, I can’t wait for winter. As much as I enjoy summer, I’m a Prairie girl and I love the winter. A crisp, cold day to me is just the most beautiful thing in the world.

(0) view/add comments
Westworld wants to hear from you!
Check out the comments page and let us know what you think of the article you just read.
Heading for the Hills

Staff Writer

November 2013
email to a friend

Best Mountain Hotel Firesides


Buffalo Mountain Lodge

1. Buffalo Mountain Lodge, Banff, Alta.
Banff’s natural environment inspired the interior of 108-room Buffalo Mountain Lodge. The rustic lobby fireside has two big “wows”: an elk-antler chandelier, designed by a Montana artisan, and a bison head from the owners’ own game ranch. The stone-and-wood mantelpiece, vintage books and old-school snowshoes complete the cabin-cozy feel.
Bring this lodge look home with a few simple-to-follow decor tips!

2. Rimrock Hotel Banff, Alta.
This elegant CAA four-diamond property overlooks the town of Banff from a 1,580-metre-high perch on Sulphur Mountain. Its Larkspur Lounge fireside is downright posh: nailhead-trim chairs, a white marble mantel and dark wood panelling make for an upper-crust-study vibe.

3. Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, Alta.
Visitors never fail to mention the 1953-built stone fireplace that towers over the lodge’s great hall, drawing the eye up to a peaked glass skylight. Cushy armchairs, twig furniture and bar service from nearby Emerald Lounge invite extended lounging.

4. Adara Hotel, Whistler, B.C.
The lobby fireside at this hip boutique hotel centres around a four-metre-wide, hand-knotted rug depicting a cross-section of a log. Custom-designed round sofas add a pop of vermillion against the flagstone floors, wood panelling and granite fireplace.

5. Lizard Creek Lodge, Fernie, B.C.
A nine-metre-tall, 360-degree fireplace, built in 1999 from local river rock, radiates warmth to all corners of Lizard Creek’s Great Room. A chunky wood mantel mirrors the structure’s timber framing. Overstuffed leather chairs beckon after a slope-tastic day at Fernie Alpine Resort.

Have a favourite spot to warm up in the mountains? Tell us about it on Twitter and Facebook.

(0) view/add comments
Westworld wants to hear from you!
Check out the comments page and let us know what you think of the article you just read.

Book any of these hotels at AMA Travel. Plus: save 50% at the Sawridge Inn Jasper November 1 to December 19, 2013.

Heading for the Hills

Staff Writer

November 2013
email to a friend

16 Cool Mountain Adventures

1. Horse-Drawn Sleigh Ride, Banff, Alta.
The stuff of which carols are made. The sleigh departs from Warner Stables, southwest of downtown, gliding through white-blanketed meadows - with you tucked in snug under wool covers. 45 minutes; from $29.

2. Kananaskis Country Snowshoeing, Alta.
Rent snowshoes at a local outfitter (around $20 a day) and get in touch with your inner coureur de bois, trekking along the surface of the snow. Alberta Parks’ snowshoe-designated trails are perfect for beginners.

3. Ice Skating on Lake Louise, Alta.
Take a twirl on the glinting, frozen surface of Lake Louise - cleared of snow daily - as you gaze at towering Victoria Glacier and the Rockies. Then head for the heated shelter to warm up by a fire. Rent blades at Chateau Mountain Sports (around $6 - $15) or bring your own. Skating runs December to mid-April, depending on conditions.

4. Helicopter Tour, Canmore, Alta.
Sure, you’ve driven into the Rockies. Skied the slopes and maybe even hoofed a few trails.
But if you’ve never seen the vast stretch of jagged, white-capped peaks from above, you’re missing a bucket-list view. The chopper takes off from Canmore heliport near Stoney Nakoda Resort and Casino and offers 20-, 30-, 42- and 55-minute tours over Bow Valley, Mt. Lougheed, Mt. Sparrowhawk, Mt. Allen and Mt. Assiniboine. From $205.

5. Rockies Snowmobiling
For those who prefer adrenalin-spiking engine power to muscle power, there’s snowmobiling. The Highwood/Cataract area of the Kananaskis Valley, about 170 km south of Banff, is a prime spot, offering around 15 designated trails for snowmobilers. Don’t have the hardware? Local tour operators cater to all skill levels, conducting half- and full-day tours daily from Banff, Canmore and Golden, B.C., to the Paradise Basin, Kicking Horse Canyon and Columbia Valley. Prices vary.

6. Johnston Canyon Ice Walk, Banff, Alta.
Where Johnston Creek approaches the Bow River, rushing water has carved out a canyon over thousands of years. And winter turns the spot into a frosty, sparkling tableau. A guide will lead you along steel walkways built into the canyon wall, past blue-tinted, frozen-solid waterfalls - offering up tidbits about the history, wildlife and geology of the canyon as you go. Four hours; from $68.

7. Jasper in January Festival, Alta., January 17 to February 2, 2014
This winter’s shindig marks 25 years of icicle-melting fun. Whoop it up at the street party, showcase your stewin’ chops at the chili cook-off, flash-freeze your buns at the polar bear dip or go cold-weather warrior at the winter pentathlon. Plus there’s live music, wine tasting and snow sculpting and, of course, skiing and boarding at Marmot Basin. 

8. Belvedere Ice Room, Bearfoot Bistro, Whistler, B.C.
Take a seat at the carved ice bar in the world’s coldest - and coolest - vodka tasting room
(-32 C). Don a Canada Goose parka and taste a flight of four vodkas as your savvy barkeep dishes on the nuances of distillation and filtration. The menu boasts about 50 selections from Russia, Poland, France, Canada and elsewhere. Stick around to dine at the award-winning bistro.

9. Mt. Norquay Snow Tube Park, Banff, Alta.
Get your downhill fix bottom-first: slip-sliding down a groomed track on an inflatable tube.
From $22.

10. Dog Sledding, Spray Valley Provincial Park, Canmore, Alta.
Do your backcountry touring the extra-old-fashioned way, whizzing past the snowy forests, lakes and fields of Spray Valley behind a tongue-lolling, tail-wagging team of huskies. Try a two-hour, half-day or multi-day mushing. Prices vary. snowyowltours.com; howlingdogtours.com; maddogsexpeditions.com

11. Rossland Winter Carnival, B.C., January 24-26, 2014
This town-gripping celebration features a snowboarding jam, ski races, an ice-sculpting competition, a parade, fireworks, a pancake breakfast, snow volleyball and more. Plus: the famed Sonny Samuelson Bobsled Race, in which teams of four race homemade sleds down iced-over Spokane Street, reaching speeds of 85 km/h.

12. KurSpa Cold Sauna, Sparkling Hill Resort, Vernon, B.C.
Now this is chilling out. KurSpa at Sparkling Hill Resort - next to the Monashee and Pinnacle Mountains, overlooking Okanagan Lake - is one of North America’s top spots for cryotherapy. Spa-goers spend three minutes in a chamber chilled to a breath-sucking -110 C. Sounds perilous, but the short exposure, protective garments and low humidity mean the body’s surface temperature only drops to a bearable 5 C, giving the nervous and circulatory systems a boost. Check in with your doctor before you go. From $45. 

13. Sun Peaks Winter Okanagan Wine Festival, Kamloops, B.C., January 11-19, 2014
Wine tasting is a must-do for any Okanagan summer escape - but you’ll find it pairs pretty well with winter, too. This vino-centric sendup packs in 19 tastings, meals, seminars and parties. Among the 2014 roster additions are wine basics and blending seminars, a grilled-cheese-and-wine tasting and a “Snowshoes, S’Mores & Mulled Wine” moonlight snowshoe tour. The signature event remains the Sun Peaks Progressive Tasting, where hundreds of attendees stroll the alpine village from venue to venue, tasting selections from 24 B.C. wineries. From $149 per person.

14. Canmore Nordic Festival, Alta., November 29 to December 24
This multi-week event kicked off last year as a companion to the Alberta World Cup cross-country skiing championships, staging outdoor Christmas-movie showings, a display of kid-size gingerbread houses, a fun run and more. This year’s lineup is still in the hopper, but look for late-night shopping on Canmore’s quaint Main Street, community carolling, a family pond skate with Santa and a visit from the CPR holiday train - as well as two world-class ski events: the Para-Nordic World Cup December 9-17 at the Canmore Nordic Centre and the Ski Cross World Cup December 6-7 at Nakiska Mountain Resort.

15. Cat Trax Snow Groomer Ride, Sun Peaks, Kamloops, B.C.
Ride along as these “mountaintop Zambonis” smooth out the runs for the next day’s skiing. One passenger per groomer. 45 minutes; from $40.

16. First Tracks Breakfast, Sun Peaks, Kamloops, B.C.
Want dibs on pristine powder? A First Tracks ticket clinches exclusive access to Sun Peaks’ Crystal Chair runs until 9 a.m. and includes breakfast at Sunburst Mid-Mountain Restaurant from 9-10:30 a.m. Adults from $25; children from $20.

(0) view/add comments
Westworld wants to hear from you!
Check out the comments page and let us know what you think of the article you just read.

Members save 10% on ski rentals and lessons at Marmot Basin and 15% at the hot springs in Banff and Radium. 1-866-667-4777; AMARewards.ca

roadside

by: Robin Schroffel

November 2013
email to a friend

Our Lady of the Prairie

From the highway, a high mound of stone and earth rising up from flat prairie is at first a disconcerting sight. But get close enough to gaze up at the dove-white Virgin Mary statue, tranquil in her recess of wax-stained stone, and you’ll sense the serenity that blankets Skaro Shrine like a goose-down quilt.

A legacy of Lamont County’s early Polish homesteaders, the shrine at Skaro - 80 kilometres northeast of Edmonton - was hand-built by parishioners of adjacent Our Lady of Good Counsel Catholic church using some 600 cartloads of stones. They modelled it after the Grotto of Lourdes in France, a shrine built on the spot where the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to a peasant girl in 1858.
Skaro is one of a handful of turn-of-the century shrines across the province (there’s another at nearby Mundare and one farther west, in Lac Ste. Anne). It was completed in 1919, just in time for
the August 15 Feast of the Assumption, the Catholic celebration of Mary’s ascension into heaven. Thousands, from as far away as Calgary, flocked to the first event and the tradition has held strong for 95 years, with around 3,000 making the pilgrimage in 2013.

Lifelong church member Rose Twardowski visits the shrine often. “Even in the wintertime, we have people trekking through the snow to come and light candles at the grotto, praying,” she says. “It’s a sacred place to me - holy ground.”

(0) view/add comments
Westworld wants to hear from you!
Check out the comments page and let us know what you think of the article you just read.
column

by: Westworld

November 2013
email to a friend

Fill Our Fleet, Fill Their Hearts

Lending a helping hand to Albertans in our community is at the heart of what we do at AMA. This holds true even more during the holiday season, as the spirit of giving is in all of us. AMA is pleased to announce its second “Fill Our Fleet, Fill Their Hearts” campaign. We will be filling our flat-deck tow trucks with food and toy donations for local charities to help make the holiday season more heartwarming for Alberta families. From November 12 to December 6, AMA will be accepting new, unwrapped toys and non-perishable food items at all of its centres. Donations will be distributed to Alberta families through local charities in time for the holidays.

In addition, AMA will match the value of each gift membership sold from November 12 to December 6.* The money raised will be used to purchase food and toys to support our local charities.
Members are also invited to join AMA December 6 at several centres across the province for a fun-filled event to help Santa fill the AMA fleet and head off to his workshop. For more information, visit: ama.ab.ca.
*To a maximum of $75,000.

(0) view/add comments
Westworld wants to hear from you!
Check out the comments page and let us know what you think of the article you just read.
10 Easy Ways

by: Matt Currie

November 2013
email to a friend

10 Easy Ways to Improve Your Life in 2014

1 Get rid of stuff you’re not using
Easier said than done, we know. But a 2009 study conducted by Princeton neuro-scientists found that clutter inhibits your mind’s ability to focus and process information. Prime items for removal: clothing that hasn’t been worn in a year, outgrown toys, old textbooks, duplicate kitchen tools; broken items that cost more to repair than repurchase. And probably more. Donate usable items you don’t need; recycle or safely dispose of the rest.
While you’re busy clearing out those rooms, bring a spreadsheet along and make an inventory of your possessions.
“A home inventory is essential because when something like a break-in occurs, your insurance company will want an itemized list of your belongings,” says Karen McDougall, insurance sales manager at AMA. “Knowing what you have and how much it’s worth will also help you figure out how much coverage you need from the get-go.” Go room by room, jotting down every item therein, along with details such as price, brand, model number and cost of replacement. Don’t forget easy-to-overlook items, such as curtains, flooring and cabinets. Take along a camera or video camera to create a visual record as well. The Insurance Bureau of Canada recommends knowyourstuff.org, free online home inventory software with supporting phone apps.

2 Take your vacation time
We know. You’re very important; your workplace will fall apart without you. But studies have shown that a minimum of two weeks’ holiday (that’s time away from work) reduces stress, weight and blood pressure, and improves sleep. So do yourself a favour and leave the grind behind, whether in Aruba or amid the ample beauty of your own province. Book your holiday online at AMA Travel.

3 Pay off your credit card balance
Around half of Canadians carry a balance on their credit cards. Unfortunately, being late on a bill payment by even one day can leave a mark on your credit score, which doesn’t come off for at least six years. And everyone, from mortgage providers to prospective employers and landlords, uses your credit history as an evaluation tool.

4 Check your credit report
According to the Policy and Economic Research Council in the U.S., as many at 19 per cent of credit reports contain some kind of error. Check yours for accuracy regularly by obtaining it free from credit bureau Equifax or TransUnion (just be aware that these companies offer both free and “pay” reports, and it can be a bit confusing. Report any errors to the credit bureau. Don’t like what else you see printed there? Boost your credit health by paying your debts and bills on or before their due dates and using one or two credit cards regularly and responsibly.

5 Buy life insurance: you’ll sleep better.
Most don’t put much thought into this type of policy until a life-changing event like marriage, a home purchase or a new baby - but the truth is, even the young and single have debts and expenses that would have to be paid by those they leave behind. Your insurance agent will help you pick the right coverage level, compiling your annual salary, monthly debts and expenses, and current savings to tell you how much your loved ones will require. Another prudent measure is critical illness insurance, which can help pay for expenses such as special needs care or a spouse’s leave of absence in the event of a life-altering illness.Talk to an AMA life advisor to learn more about health and life insurance plans. Phone 1-877-822-5433 or visit AMA Insurance online.

6 Be smarter with your mortgage.
Finances are a leading source of stress for couples and families and a mortgage is a hefty financial commitment. So it pays to make sure you have the right plan for your situation. Renewal is a good time to reassess your options, such as an open or closed term and prepayment plans. A “closed” mortgage will come with an attractive low rate, but you’ll be locked into it for the duration, having to pay a steep penalty if you want to refinance or even repay early. Would a more flexible “open” mortgage be better for you? You should also look closely at the myriad smaller measures that impact what you’ll pay. For instance, switching from monthly to bi-weekly payments can save you interest over the life of the mortgage.

7 Offer to be a designated driver.
Impaired driving is the number-one criminal cause of death in Canada.
Police pulled over more than 90,000 impaired motorists in 2011, and the numbers tend to spike over the holidays. Do your part to keep yourself, your family and all of Alberta safe in the New Year and volunteer to be a designated driver - for your own family and friends, or for an organization such as Keys Please or Operation Red Nose. Check out AMA’s handy list of safe-ride services to offer your services or find a DD: ama.ab.ca/DesignatedDrivers.

8 Put your cellphone away for an hour. Or three.
Remember the days when you weren’t reachable every single second? When you actually talked to family and friends instead of texting, and you weren’t perpetually distracted by buzzing and beeping? Every once in a while, we all need to recharge by powering down. Try the popular phone-stack game when you’re out for dinner with friends: everyone puts their gadget in the middle of the table; first one to grab picks up the tab. One essential time to hit the power-off button: every time you climb into the driver’s seat. It’s estimated that 20 to 30 per cent of all collisions are due to some form of driver distraction. In Alberta, that’s nearly 40,000 collisions each year.

9 Volunteer your time
Now that your 2014 is going so well, think about sharing the wealth. Not sure where to start? There are seniors in your own neighbourhood who need help getting around, and volunteer groups that offer rides. Check out AMA’s Driving Angel website for a list: ama.ab.ca/DrivingAngels. Or, think beyond your backyard and take a volunteer vacation. It’s a chance to immerse yourself in a new culture while you coach a kids’ volleyball team in Bolivia, monitor elephants and hyenas on a game reserve in Africa, help plant rice in Cambodia - the list of worthy opportunities goes on. Projects Abroad Canada is a good place to start: projects-abroad.ca.

10 Spend less time worrying about your car
Plenty of suggestions we could make here (AMA is an auto club, after all), but how about plugging in your vehicle when temperatures drop below -15 C? One of AMA’s most common Roadside Assistance services is boosting. Plugging in means less wear on your vehicle, better fuel mileage and fewer mornings spent shivering on the side of an icy road while you wait for a tow truck. Plus: you’ll have more time to think about all of those other ways to start improving your life.

(0) view/add comments
Westworld wants to hear from you!
Check out the comments page and let us know what you think of the article you just read.
Polynesia

by: Barb Sligl

November 2013
email to a friend

Hawaii’s Best Hikes

Sunbathing, surfing, snorkelling, slurping shave ice, sipping mai tais: all maika’i, or good. But for an up-close glimpse of Hawaii’s diverse landscape - from remote waterfalls to the crusted surfaces of lava lakes - see it on foot.

MAUI: OVER AND UNDER THE VOLCANO
HaleakalA, the long-dormant volcano that dominates Maui, Hawaii’s second-largest island, is more than 3 km high. Drive to the top at dawn to watch the sun come up over the rim before walking into the crater itself. Take the Keonehe’ehe’e (Sliding Sands) Trail for 3 km to the Ka Lu’u o ka O’o cinder cone, then return. Ambitious hikers can attempt the full hike: a 15-km, 1,000-metre descent amid silversword plants and a burnt-red volcanic landscape. Down the volcano’s backside is lush HaleakalA National Park, accessible from a road south of Hana on Maui’s east coast. Here the lush Pipiwai Trail (6.4 km return) tunnels through towering stands of bamboo and fords streams to reach crescent-shaped cliffs and 120-metre-high Waimoku Falls.

KAUAI: CLIFF-SIDE AND CANYON SIDE
Steps from the resorts on the sheltered southern Poipu shore of Kauai is a cliffside walk that may just start with a monk seal sighting on Shipwreck Beach. From there, the Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail (6.4 km return) meanders past dunes, petroglyphs and an ancient heiau, or temple. Inland, there’s Waimea Canyon, which Mark Twain dubbed the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. Take the Canyon Trail (5.4 km return) along the north rim in Koke’e State Park, stopping above the 250-metre-high Waipo’o Falls and then at Kumuwela lookout for a cross-canyon view through the belly of Kauai.

OAHU: NORTH AND SOUTH
Just southeast of the cosmopolitan shores of Honolulu and Waikiki is the iconic Diamond Head crater. Trek 1.3 km up a steep trail built in 1908, passing old bunkers, to the top of the crater for a surf-and-skyscrapers vista. Do a 180, geographically and culturally, to the North Shore, where access to Ka’ena Point State Park is along a flat 4-km coastline walk (8 km return). At the northwestern tip is Ka’ena Point, another side of Oahu: sleeping monk seals, breaching humpback whales, nesting albatross and, as legend tells, the jumping-off point to the spirit world for ancient Hawaiian souls.

THE BIG ISLAND: VOLCANIC HEAT AND COASTAL COOL
Hawaii’s largest and most diverse island boasts a volcano that’s still churning. Walk across what seems a moonscape on the crater floor of Kilauea’ki Trail (a 6.4-km loop), as steam vents spew a surreal haze and ohi’a trees reclaim a crusted-over lava lake with a pink pop of lehua blooms. Head north to the steep, 1.2-km Pololu Valley trail through hala, hau and ironwood trees to a black-sand beach. East of Hawi, you’re on the wet side of the island, amid sheer cliffs and the first of seven valleys that run east to Waipi’o.

MOLOKAI: HIGH AND LOW PARKLAND
Gaze at the highest sea pali, or cliff, in the world (more than 1,100 metres and taller than the White Cliffs of Dover) from a serpentine, 4.6-km trail that leads to a former leper colony on Molokai’s north shore. Make the trip down (and back up) 26 switchbacks by foot or on mule-back. At the bottom, take a poignant tour of the historic settlement that’s now Kalaupapa National Historical Park. Topside, take in Kalaupapa Peninsula, the island’s northern tip, from the 300-metre elevation of Pala’au State Park (a 15-minute walk from the parking lot). Another half-kilometre takes you to phallic rock formations revered by ancient Hawaiians.

(0) view/add comments
Westworld wants to hear from you!
Check out the comments page and let us know what you think of the article you just read.
column

by: Janet Gyenes

November 2013
email to a friend

The Spirit of Aloha


Culture runs deep in the Hawaiian Islands, where the rhythmic sounds of the ukulele accompany the undulating movements of the hula. Cowboys still ride the range and remnants of royalty endure. Not to mention a volcano goddess with a red-hot temper.

HAWAII, THE BIG ISLAND
Kailua-Kona
Before it became the staging grounds for the Ironman World Championship triathlon, Kailua-Kona was home to another kind of elite: ali’i (Hawaiian royalty). King Kamehameha I, who united the Hawaiian Islands, lived on the Kamakahonu lands and worshipped at Ahu’’na Heiau, where he died in 1819. On these hallowed lands, retreat inside the King Kamehameha Beach Hotel to explore its collection of photographs, feathered helmets and gourd rattles (later, enjoy the hotel’s Island Breeze luau).

South of Kailua-Kona
More than 400 years of history are on display at Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park, an ancient sanctuary. This home to Hawaiian royalty features remnants of farming and fishing villages, along with three hōlua slides, royalty’s tropical answer to tobogganing.

Volcano Village and Hilo
Kilauea Caldera is the still-pumping heart of Volcanoes National Park, where lava has been flowing continuously since 1983. Some say the eruptions are the wrath of the fire goddess Pele, who makes her home at Halema’uma’u Crater. Head to the Jaggar Museum at nightfall to see Pele’s feisty spirit in action: a glowing lava lake the size of a football field.

Kohala
Detour past Upolo Airport, to the northern tip of the island, to visit Kamehameha I’s birthplace and nearby Mo’okini Heiau, a 1,500-year-old temple. The artisan village of Hawi, just to the southeast, is the starting point of the annual Kamehameha Day floral parade in June.

Waimea
Wake up to the rooster’s song in Waimea (also called Kamuela) and you’ll likely spot some paniolos - Hawaiian cowboys - working on the range at the still-active Parker Ranch, which covers more than 52,000 hectares and has around 26,000 cattle. Delve deeper into cowboy culture at Dahana Ranch, 14 km to the east, and help drive a herd of cattle.

KAUAI
On Kauai’s south shore, visit some of the 43 historically significant spots in Hanapepe Town, an old Second World War outpost. On Fridays, working artists open their studios from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Cross single-lane bridges over taro patches to Kauai’s north shore and you’ll arrive in Hanalei, a surfer’s paradise where the traditional sounds of slack key guitar and ukulele can be heard at concerts held at the local community centre. Portuguese immigrants who came to work the sugarcane fields crafted the first “uke” in the 1880s.

MAUI
While away the day in lively Lahaina. The former whaling village is home to 62 historic sites, from plantation settlements and missionary homes to a jail built out of coral blocks. Then head east to Makawao, which showcases the rough and refined sides of Maui, with rustic ranches and galleries exhibiting local arts and crafts. The city hosts a Fourth of July rodeo that’s been running for 50 years.

MOLOKAI
You won’t find a building taller than a coconut tree on the island of Molokai, birthplace of hula. Visitors can learn more about this ancient storytelling dance at Moloka’i Ka Hula Piko, a three-day celebration held each May. As the legend goes, the goddess Laka first performed hula on a sacred hill in Ka’ana before sharing the art with the other islands.

OAHU
You barely need to budge from Waikiki Beach to witness hula dancing - just head to the hula mound on Kuhio Beach. Add a lei to the statue of Duke Kahanamoku, the father of modern surfing, or learn how to make Hawaiian leis and quilts at the nearby Royal Hawaiian Center. Visit the Polynesian Cultural Center, on the north side of Oahu, for an in-depth look at island culture, and then indulge in the centre’s luau, where you can feast on traditional Hawaiian foods such as kalua pork cooked in an imu (underground oven), lomi lomi salmon, poi (taro) and more. Hula and fire dances round out the entertainment. 

(0) view/add comments
Westworld wants to hear from you!
Check out the comments page and let us know what you think of the article you just read.
feature

by: Lucas Aykroyd

November 2013
email to a friend

Exploring Tahiti’s Bounty

It’s April 28, 1789, and mutiny is brewing on HMS Bounty in the South Pacific. Commanded by tyrannical captain William Bligh, the ship is transporting breadfruit plants obtained in Tahiti as cheap food for West Indies slaves. But first mate Fletcher Christian and 18 other sailors are sick of Bligh’s insults and floggings. Memories of the warm Tahitian weather, tropical food and beautiful women they’ve left behind are too much to resist. Christian leads an armed revolt, forcing Bligh and his loyalists off the 28-metre, 215-ton armed merchant ship and into a small open boat. The mutineers sail back to Tahiti and whoop it up. Some later decamp to remote Pitcairn Island to escape justice, but wind up fighting one another. Meanwhile, Bligh and his men survive a gruelling 47-day voyage to Timor, some 6,700 kilometres away in the Dutch East Indies.

It remains the most famous mutiny in naval history. I grew up reading the 1930s-penned Mutiny on the Bounty novel trilogy by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall. I wrote and recorded a radio play based on the books in high school. I thrilled to the 20th century’s multiple movie versions. Hollywood’s quintessential bad boys have played Fletcher Christian, including Errol Flynn (1933), Clark Gable (1935), Marlon Brando (1962) and Mel Gibson (1984). Next year (2014) marks the 250th anniversary of Christian’s birth, which has inspired me to travel to Tahiti and compare my experiences to those of the mutineers. As Brando stated in his 1994 autobiography: “The happiest moments of my life have been in Tahiti.” How could I resist?

The eight-hour Air Tahiti Nui flight from Los Angeles to Tahiti is certainly more comfortable than the Bounty’s 10-month slog from England. Instead of seasickness and salt pork, I get striking stewardesses with aquamarine eyeshadow that matches the decor, minimal turbulence and tasty meals graced by white tiare flowers.

Even before landing, I can see why the word “jealous” invariably popped up when I told someone I was going to Tahiti, the largest of French Polynesia’s Windward Islands. Papeete, the capital city, greets me with a pink sunset and humid 29 C weather. The laid-back port city, mingling French colonial architecture with cheerful, ramshackle modern buildings, is home to 26,000 of the 274,000 inhabitants of French Polynesia, which covers more than 4,000 square kilometres. (Nineteenth-century French Catholic missionaries were clearly more influential than 18th-century British sailors: Tahiti’s been a French colony since 1880.)

My room at the Manava Suite Resort features seashell-adorned walls and a king-size bed beneath a ceiling fan. After breakfasting on a chocolate croissant with coffee, I stroll down Avenue du Generale de Gaulle to admire the Bounty wall mosaic by Italian artist P. Volpatti. Measuring eight metres by four metres, it portrays sailors and natives exchanging greetings and gifts in vivid hues. The tension between Bligh - stiff and Napoleonic - and Christian - brooding and powerful - is palpable.

Farther down the street is the 1875-consecrated Notre Dame de L’Immaculee Conception, a yellow Catholic cathedral that’s partly made of coral. Inside the front door is a wooden statue of the Madonna and Child, with Jesus gripping a breadfruit - historically implausible but culturally sensitive, and something that might have resonated with the Bounty’s breadfruit-gathering crew. Tahiti grows more than 200 varieties of this starchy plant.

During their idyllic five-month stay, the sailors feasted on roast hogs, plantains and coconut milk. Similar delicacies abound at Papeete’s nearby two-floor Municipal Market. I inhale every savoury scent while passing tables full of mangoes and bananas, bakers hawking coconut bread and pineapple pie, and women in pink tank tops selling glistening slices of tuna. Upstairs, I browse through mother-of-pearl necklaces, handcrafted ukuleles and carved tiki idols, sacred human forms common to many Polynesian cultures. These stone statues reputedly have mana (intangible power), and families still keep them for protection.

For lunch, I drive to Chez Nous, a small restaurant with a pandanus-thatched roof. Not only do I get poisson cru - a hefty platter of white tuna cooked with lime juice and coconut milk and served with fresh vegetables - but I also taste my my first bottle of Hinano, Tahiti’s signature beer, with its lovely red-clad island maiden on the label.

That primes me for a visit to James Norman Hall Museum, 15 minutes away in Arue. Visiting this replica of the Iowa-born Mutiny on the Bounty co-author’s Tahiti home fulfils a childhood dream. As requested, I remove my shoes before entering the green-painted house, which is surrounded by tropical foliage. A scale model of the Bounty greets me. A warm, middle-aged Tahitian woman named Hina gives me a personal tour of the place, including Hall’s First World War veteran memorabilia, portraits of the captains who presided over the 1792 court martial for the captured mutineers, and Hall’s study, with his original desk and Royal typewriter, plus bookcases brimming with translations of his 20-plus books. In the gift shop, adorned with a huge Brando movie poster, I buy a $15 biography of Hall and Nordhoff. Hina kisses me on both cheeks before I leave.

To wrap up my day, I drive to the Fa’auruma’i Waterfalls. Vaimahutu, the highest, cascades majestically down a greenery-strewn basalt cliff. Then, heading to the seaside, about a kilometre north, I marvel at the Arahoho blowhole. Its ocean spray, produced by compressed air, is so powerful that it once blasted a hole in the now-closed road that runs overhead.

At nearby Point Venus, a Bounty memorial erected in 2005 marks the ship’s 1788 arrival here, in Matavai Bay. (Captain James Cook, with whom Bligh sailed on Cook’s final voyage, observed the transit of the planet Venus from this lighthouse-graced peninsula in 1769.) A bronze plaque lists the Bounty crew’s names.

Ironwood trees and coconut palms rustle in the wind as the sun sets, and young families wade in the warm water. A flotilla of outrigger canoes passes outside the distant reef.

Tahiti’s ability to feed both body and soul is becoming evident. My cross-cultural dinner on the pier of the upscale Blue Banana restaurant later in the evening - escargots in garlic butter and shrimp in coconut curry sauce - is succeeded the next day by an unusual breakfast at the free, inaugural “Festival du Uru,” or Breadfruit Festival, at Papeete’s Maison de la Culture. I quickly tuck into hearty, nutty-tasting bread made with breadfruit flour at the Bounty-themed stall of Swiss-born Beni Huber. Huber is spearheading plans for an annual Bounty festival and a touring replica of the ship. (See the sidebar.)
Even more delectable is popo uru, sun-dried breadfruit soaked in sugar, lemon juice and vanilla. An old woman tells me, “We need to preserve these traditional recipes before they’re lost. This is what mothers gave their children before we had candy.” Intense drumming by heavily tattooed Marquesan Islanders (hailing from a Polynesian island cluster north of Tahiti) reinforces the sense of history and pride.

A bumpy midday drive brings me to Marae Arahurahu, a restored Polynesian temple constructed from black volcanic rocks between the 15th and 18th centuries. Although nestled in a lush valley that’s alive with birdsong, its sacred courtyard, decorated with unu (wooden sculptures), is less than comfortable for worshipers due to the rough rock surface - not to mention the pigs still sacrificed here.
After a lunch of delectably flaky parrot fish in lemon butter sauce at the waterfront Captain Bligh Restaurant and Bar, I decide to view something that Bounty boatswain’s mate James Morrison described in 1788: “At this diversion both (blank) are excellent and some are so expert as to stand on their board till the Surf breaks.” Morrison was referring, of course, to surfing. At Taharuu Beach, more than 40 local young men are braving big waves on surfboards and boogie boards, laughing and whooping in the sunshine. It’s a scene of pure escapism. No wonder the mutineers shunned cold, conventional England.

By now, I’ve soaked up so much history that I’m ready for some escapism of my own, on the neighbouring, paradisiacal island of Moorea. I bid farewell to Papeete with one more scintillating dinner - grilled swordfish with green beans at L’Estanco, one of the popular roulottes (food trucks) in harbourside Place Vai’ete. The next morning, I sail 17 km northwest on the Aremiti 5 ferry to Moorea.
After settling into the luxurious InterContinental Moorea Resort, I soon figure out why the 1962 and 1984 versions of Mutiny on the Bounty were mostly filmed on Moorea. It’s nearly unspoiled, as the lush, green vista from the 240-metre-high Belvedere viewpoint, facing sacred Rotui Mountain, reveals.

I spend the next four days here. If I’m not snorkelling with stingrays and black-tip reef sharks (reaching out to touch the velvet-skinned former but not the toothy latter), I’m guzzling pineapple liqueur like a hard-partying mutineer at the Jus de Fruits de Moorea distillery. Later, I participate in a traditional javelin-throwing contest at a local school, then devour roast pork and gawk at dramatic fire-dancing at the Tiki Village - where, coincidentally, Dustin Hoffman and his wife renewed their vows in 1994. Yes, things have changed since the Bounty’s day.

Relishing the ocean spray as I zoom around Opunohu Bay on a jet ski in glorious sunshine, I reflect that this would have been an effective getaway vehicle for the mutineers. Of the original 19, 10, including Christian, would die in the South Seas by or before 1800. Just one survived till 1829, on Pitcairn Island. The others were captured: three drowned in a shipwreck en route to England, three were hanged and two were pardoned. Yet the Bounty’s legacy lives on in Tahiti, and it’s well worth exploring. 

(0) view/add comments
Westworld wants to hear from you!
Check out the comments page and let us know what you think of the article you just read.
feature

by: Westworld

November 2013
email to a friend

Westworld iPad Edition

The iPad edition of Westworld Alberta magazine is published four times a year and available FREE to AMA members. Get the entire print edition of Westworld Alberta plus bonus content that includes, expanded picture galleries, videos, interviews and more.

How to read Westworld Alberta on your iPad

1. Download the free Westworld Alberta App from the Apple App Store.  Click here to download the Westworld Alberta app.

2. Open up the Westworld App, and follow the instructions in the blue banner to log into or open up a new AMA My Account.

3. Once you have signed in with a valid account, you are entitled to download Westworld issue for free. Press the iCloud button underneath the desired issue.

If you are not an AMA member, you can purchase an annual iPad only subscription (four issues) for $9.99. Click here to purchase an annual subscription.

iPad Edition Support

For all Westworld Alberta iPad edition questions, please contact support at .

Other Ways to Read Westworld

Don’t have an iPad? You can still read Westworld Alberta at ama.ab.ca/Westworld. You can also read the flip edition of the magazine on all devices at westworldmagazine.ama.ab.ca.

FAQs

How do I cancel my print subscription and receive only the digital edition of Westworld Alberta?
Email with your full name, membership number and current address to cancel your print subscription. Then download the free Westworld Alberta magazine App from the Apple App store. Click here to download the Westworld Alberta App.

How do I change my mailing address?

Click here to update your contact information, manage your AMA email subscriptions, AMARewards and billing preferences. You can also sign up for a membership renewal reminder.

How do I join AMA?

To become a member of AMA and learn more about AMA, click here.

(0) view/add comments
Westworld wants to hear from you!
Check out the comments page and let us know what you think of the article you just read.
Westworld iPad

by: Westworld

November 2013
email to a friend

Westworld Digital

The iPad edition of Westworld Alberta magazine is published four times a year and available FREE to AMA members. Get the entire print edition of Westworld Alberta plus bonus content that includes, expanded picture galleries, videos, interviews and more.

How to read Westworld Alberta on your iPad

1. Download the free Westworld Alberta App from the Apple App Store.  Click here to download the Westworld Alberta app.

2. Open up the Westworld App, and follow the instructions in the blue banner to log into or open up a new AMA My Account.

3. Once you have signed in with a valid account, you are entitled to download Westworld issue for free. Press the iCloud button underneath the desired issue.

If you are not an AMA member, you can purchase an annual iPad only subscription (four issues) for $9.99. Click here to purchase an annual subscription.

iPad Edition Support

For all Westworld Alberta iPad edition questions, please contact support at .

Other Ways to Read Westworld

Don’t have an iPad? You can still read Westworld Alberta at ama.ab.ca/Westworld. You can also read the flip edition of the magazine on all devices at westworldmagazine.ama.ab.ca.

FAQs

How do I cancel my print subscription and receive only the digital edition of Westworld Alberta?
Email with your full name, membership number and current address to cancel your print subscription. Then download the free Westworld Alberta magazine App from the Apple App store. Click here to download the Westworld Alberta App.

How do I change my mailing address?

Click here to update your contact information, manage your AMA email subscriptions, AMARewards and billing preferences. You can also sign up for a membership renewal reminder.

How do I join AMA?

To become a member of AMA and learn more about AMA, click here.

(4) view/add comments
Westworld wants to hear from you!
Check out the comments page and let us know what you think of the article you just read.
Caribbean

by: Westworld

September 2013
email to a friend

Recipe: Jamaican coconut steamed snapper

Jamaican coconut steamed snapper
Prep 35 min, serves 4

Can’t escape to the Caribbean this year? Create the flavour at home. This traditional Jamaican, easy-to-make recipe comes to us from Juan Morrison, executive sous-chef of Sandals Resorts in Montego Bay. Perfect for a chilly autumn evening.

4 170-gram (6-ounce) red snapper fillets (or other firm white fish, such as cod or haddock)
60 mL (4 Tbsp) butter
1 large onion, sliced
4 garlic cloves, minced
4 stalks of scallion
1 carrot, julienned
2 tomatoes, seeded and julienned
4 whole okra, sliced into 0.6-cm-thick (1/4-inch) rings
Half each red, green and yellow bell peppers, julienned
1 whole Scotch Bonnet pepper,* seeded and minced (or half, to reduce heat)
5 mL (1 tsp) allspice
1 415-mL (14-oz) can coconut milk
60 mL (1/4 cup) coconut water
1 large sprig of thyme
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

*Chef’s note: Scotch Bonnet peppers are extremely hot. After handling them, wash your hands and cooking implements in hot, soapy water and avoid touching your eyes.

Rinse the snapper fillets in cold, running water and pat dry with paper towels.

Season with salt and black pepper. melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat, then add the onions, garlic, scallions, carrots, tomato, okra, bell peppers, Scotch Bonnet pepper and allspice, and saute for about 4 minutes, until the onions are translucent and the other vegetables start to soften.

Pour in the coconut water and milk, add the thyme and simmer for 3 minutes.

Lay the fish fillets in the pan and simmer uncovered for another 7-10 minutes, until the fish is firm and cooked through.

Remove the fish and place on plates. Top with the vegetable-coconut mixture and serve immediately. Tasty mon!

(0) view/add comments
Westworld wants to hear from you!
Check out the comments page and let us know what you think of the article you just read.
Caribbean

by: Shauna Rudd

September 2013
email to a friend

5 Great Jamaica Excursions

1. Jamaica’s Spirit of Reggae
The Bob Marley Experience Walk in the footsteps of the King of Reggae with a tour of his childhood home, now a museum, in the village of Nine Mile. You’ll gain insight into Marley’s upbringing, stand on Mt. Zion Rock, the very spot where he would meditate, and rest your head on the actual stone that was his “pillow” in the song “Talkin’ Blues.” Tours leave from Montego Bay; 7 hours; from US$87.

2. Luminous Lagoon Night Cruise
If you think a moonlit cruise is romantic, try a moonlit cruise on glowing water. The lagoon, in the parish of Trelawney, gets its blue-green luminescence from harmless micro-organisms and is one of only a few in the world. Tours leave from Montego Bay, Ocho Rios and Negril; durations vary; from US$59.

3. Green Grotto Caves and Shopping in Montego Bay
How many shopping trips start with a peek at caves that harbour stalactites, stalagmites and a “bottomless” lagoon? You’ll meet a guide at the port, then head to the town of Discovery Bay in the parish of Saint Ann and descend into the Green Grotto Caves. Next up is a wander in Whitter Village, an island shopping and dining complex, for souvenir scouting. Tours leave from Port of Montego Bay; 5 hours; from US$53.

4. ATV Off-road Adventure to Sandy Bay
Hop onto a four-wheel ATV and zip along the scenic terrain of Sandy Bay - from a
former sugar cane plantation to the community of Cascade - reaching heights of 670 metres above sea level. It’s a rugged ride, but newbies needn’t fear: the tour begins with a safety briefing and a run in a practice ring to make sure you’re ready to ride. Tours leave from Montego Bay and Negril; 2 hours; from US$99.

5. Dunn’s River Falls and Horseback Riding Tour
Made famous by the movies Cocktail and Dr. No, Dunn’s River Falls are considered to be a “living” phenomenon because they continuously rebuild with calcium carbonate and sodium deposits from the river. The misty, stepped falls are a must-see for visitors to Jamaica- but first, a guide will whisk you away to explore the lush hills of St. Ann on horseback. Tours leave from Port of Montego Bay; 6 hours; from US$115.

(0) view/add comments
Westworld wants to hear from you!
Check out the comments page and let us know what you think of the article you just read.

Choose one of these tours, or discover more Jamaican adventures at AMA Travel.

feature

by: Andrew Findlay

September 2013
email to a friend

Port Town Revival

Ladonna Findlater and I walk among the weathered headstones and tombs surrounding the austere ramparts of William Knibb Memorial Baptist Church. This cemetery would be fit for a gothic thriller if it wasn’t for the reggae music floating on a soft Caribbean breeze from a nearby house, which is festooned in the black, yellow and green of the Jamaican flag. Here, in 1838, on the steps of this church in historic Falmouth, the crusading minister and abolitionist William Knibb shouted to a euphoric crowd gathered on the grounds: “The monster is dead!” His emphatic declaration heralded the end of slavery and the emancipation of Jamaica’s black population. Today the churchyard is peaceful and quiet. Findlater, my vivacious, impeccably attired young tour guide, knows her history. Falmouth, 37 kilometres east of Montego Bay, is where slaves were freed and ships docked to fill their holds with sugar cane at what was once the busiest port in the Caribbean. It’s a town that had running water before the city of New York did. It’s also a living museum of classic Georgian architecture, a symmetrical style that proliferated throughout colonial Great Britain between roughly 1720 and 1840; characterized by meticulously planned town squares and fountains, two-storey stone manors and civic buildings detailed with elaborate cornices and decorative moldings. Falmouth is also the capital of Trelawny parish, at one time the most productive district on the island for sugar cane. Today, it’s better known as the birthplace of sprinting superstar Usain Bolt (legend has it that there’s something special in the yams grown here that produces sprinting sensations like Bolt).

I have come to Jamaica’s north coast to explore a fascinating past, when sugar cane was king and Falmouth was the cultural and economic powerhouse of the Caribbean. The town’s Georgian buildings are in various states of restoration, thanks to the ongoing efforts of the Falmouth Heritage Renewal society. After leaving the Baptist church, Findlater and I wander together along bustling streets. Two young men pass by and share an inside joke with my guide.

“Friends salute me because they think I look like a police officer,” she says.

We pause across from Franco’s Nice Time Bar, whose whitewashed exterior is punctuated by rickety wooden shutters on the windows. The dark interior has seats for a dozen or so souls.

“It’s the oldest bar in town. Upstairs there was a special room where sailors would go to sober up,” Findlater says.

Farther on, we pause outside the old military base, Fort Balcarres. An interpretive sign explains the fort’s function to protect Falmouth “from Spanish and drunks.” Next stop is the commanding courthouse. Though it’s a replica of an original 1815 structure that was destroyed by fire in the 1920s, with its impressive four columns above the grand entranceway and mustard-yellow-and-white paint job, it remains the pride of Falmouth.

“The courthouse was the centre of Falmouth society,” Findlater says as we climb the stairs for a view over the port. It still is. A trio of lawyers congregate on the steps, engaged in heated conversation, before Findlater distracts them from serious business.

“Yeah mon,” one of them says to Findlater and I, deploying that characteristic, laid-back, gender-neutral Jamaican greeting.

They chat in colourful Jamaican patois, to which my ear is slowly becoming accustomed. When the lawyers step back into the courthouse, Findlater reverts to an idiom I can understand.


Standing here in the early 1800s, one would have gazed out upon a harbour crowded with ships provisioning for the return voyage to the Old World. In modern times, a different kind of mariner is arriving - cruise shippers. In 2012, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines commenced docking at Falmouth after the completion of a US$220-million joint venture with the Port Authority of Jamaica to build a cruise ship terminal, complete with shops and boutiques meant to emulate the Georgian style of the town’s architecture. Today, a massive ship is in port and has just unleashed its complement of thousands on the duty-free zone and the less polished streets of Falmouth beyond the gates. Vendors and touts are doing brisk trade. Opinions on the arrival of such behemoth cruise ships in tiny Falmouth vary, but there’s no doubt the approximately 10,000 passengers per week are having a significant impact on the town’s renaissance and its efforts to leverage history into tourism.

Early in the afternoon, I leave Findlater and the bustle of Falmouth, chauffeured by my friendly fixer from the Jamaica Tourist Board, Wayne Sterling. He sings along cheerfully to some synth-heavy dancehall music playing on the radio, exuding that gregarious Jamaican charm, rhythm and confidence. We’re headed for Good Hope Plantation.

Plantations are as integral to the history, landscape and culture of Trelawny as Falmouth is to the country’s former colonial might. At the height of the plantation era, the parish was home to more than 80 great houses, each one a hilltop jewel in the plantation owner’s crown. Today they are at once symbols of a troubled slaving past and lovely pastoral monuments to a different time.

At the town of Martha Brae, we branch off the north-coast highway A1 and then follow a potholed road that winds toward Cockpit Country, the rugged, sparsely inhabited interior of Trelawny and neighbouring St. James Parish. The Martha Brae River flows languidly next to the road, and riotous hedges of blossoming bougainvillea surround tidy homes. Soon we arrive at Good Hope and are greeted by host Odette Hawthorne.

Sun filters through big leafy trees and a diesel truck chugs past packed with oranges, now the primary crop grown on the plantation. After meeting Hawthorne, we drive through a gatehouse flanked by huge limestone blocks inscribed with the words “Good” and “Hope.” From there, a gravel road spirals up to the elegant centrepiece of this 809-hectare estate, Good Hope great house, built more than 250 years ago from limestone blocks that came to Jamaica in the form of ship ballast. A small statue of the Buddha sits on the edge of the front lawn, incongruent with its history but indicative of the current owner’s spiritual leanings and the building’s modern repurposing as a venue for artist and yoga retreats, as well as other private functions. As oxymoronic as it sounds, one of the original plantation owners, John Tharpe, was a slave trader with a heart. He earned a reputation for kindness and compassion in an era that for people of colour didn’t have much of either. At its peak, 3,000 slaves toiled at Good Hope. Tharpe built a 300-bed hospital for their care.

“Even though he was very exhausted at the end of the day, Mr. Tharpe would try to shake the hands of as many slaves as he could. That’s why the great house was spared during the slave rebellion,” Hawthorne says as we explore the airy rooms of the manor, stopping to observe the two-metre-long, lead-coated, wood-fired bathtub where Tharpe soaked to soothe his arthritis. “He may have been the first person in Jamaica to have hot and cold running water.”


The following day, Sterling and I drive serpentine country roads to the former Hampden and Long Pond sugar estates, which date back to the mid-1700s and are now owned by Everglades Farms. The air is ripe with fermentation. Not far away is another vestige of Jamaica’s colonial past: 567-hectare Braco Estate. On the way there, we drive through the sleepy hamlet of Duncans, home to a severe-looking stone Methodist Church dating to 1882. Goats graze in the shade of the belfry. Jamaica has many claims to fame, among them reggae music, world-class sprinters and rum. Sterling informs me of another one: the country supposedly has more churches per square mile than anywhere else, a claim that’s on full display in the parish of Trelawny. When family patriarch, the late Winston Parnell, purchased Braco in 1920, it had already evolved from sugar cane farming to cattle ranching. Parnell was an entrepreneur. Before he died in 1992, he converted an idyllic seaside portion of the property into a resort, and his grandson Adorjan Fitzroy later returned from teaching in Hungary to help further develop tourism with horseback riding, cycling and historical walking tours.

I find Fitzroy and one of his employees, Garey Kenlyn, at the reception building. They offer to take me on a mountain bike ride through the estate.* It’s mid-afternoon and sweltering, prime time for beachside cocktails - not physical activity. But we ride uphill along a bumpy road that’s shaded, to my relief, by dense forest. In 20 minutes, we break out into open pastures dotted with pimento trees, the source of fragrant allspice seasoning. Fitzroy pauses and stoops down to pinch a handful of greenery between his thumb and forefinger.

“Lemongrass,” he says, holding it up for me to smell.

Eventually the road ends at a small shelter overlooking Maria Buena Bay and a scene of Caribbean geographic cliches that encapsulates Trelawny; leafy trees, rolling deep green hillsides and scythes of sandy beach lapped by turquoise sea. Kenlyn, not a natural cyclist, leans his bike against the fence and lights a smoke while Fitzroy shares some of Braco’s history.

“Recently we found a record book in the great house from the 1830s. It showed who was working on the plantation and how much sugar cane was cut. They took meticulous records back then,” Fitzroy says.

Late in the afternoon, after another long day of exploring Trelawny, I check into my hotel suite. It’s a warm, seductive evening when I sit down for a cappuccino, listening to the boisterous chatter of recent hotel arrivals planning a night out on the faux town, which for a contrived resort setting is surprisingly quaint. A family of four, skin as white as snow on an Albertan prairie, poses for a photo in front of a Winston Parnell bust erected on the steps of the replica courthouse. At the hotel restaurant, a talented band lays down note-perfect Bob Marley covers and the dance floor is already filled, mostly with resort staff. Jamaicans love to move.

Early in the evening I again meet up with Wayne Sterling of the Jamaica Tourist Board, and we return to Falmouth for the Pirates of the Caribbean nighttime extravaganza that was somehow pencilled into my final night’s itinerary. I surrender. But when we drive into Falmouth I convince Sterling to make an off-script detour to Franco’s Nice Time Bar for a frosty Red Stripe.

“Yeah mon,” the bartender says to me and then turns to Sterling for a quick exchange
in that lyrical Jamaican patois I never tire of hearing. I imagine the drunken sailors of 250 years ago being carted upstairs to sober up while their ships were filled with sugar cane down at the port. Afterward, we stroll the evening streets of Falmouth, along the Albert George Market, through the town square, where palm trees rustle in the wind accompanied by the sound of maracas, and past the courthouse. We walk through the gates to the duty-free port, where a massive cruise ship looms above old Falmouth, its cabin lights twinkling like Christmas ornaments against the darkening sky. Soon Sterling and I are lined up to board a pseudo pirate ship, next to a cruising couple from Lethbridge.

Pirate ships and Falmouth? Historically it’s a stretch. No doubt the firebrand preacher William Knibb would have scoffed at such frivolity. But why not wrap up my trip into Falmouth and Trelawny’s fascinating past with a little lighthearted fun?

After all, Sterling seems excited, as we’re led by a young woman with the lithe physique of a sprinter, dressed absurdly in pirate garb.

“I hope you like to dance mon,” Sterling says, already swinging his hips.

*Editor’s note: at press time, Braco Estate was no longer open to visitors.

(0) view/add comments
Westworld wants to hear from you!
Check out the comments page and let us know what you think of the article you just read.
Caribbean

by: Jeff Bateman

September 2013
email to a friend

Escaping en Masse

Group travel has evolved into a science over the last decade as travel agents arrange all manner of collective getaways: family reunions, destination weddings, girlfriend getaways, team outings to sports tournaments and more.

“It’s reached the point where we’ve got specially trained group experts in every one of our offices in the province,” says 34-year travel veteran Mary Male-Bowers of AMA Travel in Calgary. Here are a few things to keep in mind when planning group trips:

1. Use an agent
Organizing a pack of individuals with varied needs and preferences, some living in far-flung parts of the country, is a daunting task. Pros can handle the tricky paperwork and legwork. They call suppliers and secure quotes, send out customized invitations, field questions, collect payments, book airport transfers, ensure pre-travel documentation
and insurance are in order and serve as a point person back home in case anything goes amiss.

2. Book early
The early bird catches the choicest deals and destinations. Think a year or even 18 months ahead when looking at popular resorts and primetime travel (Christmas and spring break).

3. Choose a point person
The immediate family calls the shots for weddings, naturally. In other scenarios, coordinators are advised to seek consensus with their prospective travel companions. Does the majority long for a poolside holiday in Ixtapa, a shopping spree in Manhattan or a Caribbean cruise? And what matters more: price point or quality of experience?

4. Don’t over-extend
Plan one group activity and one group meal - at a spot where the menu can accommodate a variety of tastes and dietary restrictions - per day. If you have a choice, travel with the like-minded and like-budgeted. If not, be flexible. Be willing to try activities and visit spots you might not normally choose, and others will allow you the same courtesy.

5. Take turns babysitting
It takes a village, right? If children are part of your group, corral them and have each adult couple commit to one night of babysitting so that others can socialize. Or, see if the hotel or resort offers child-minding services.

(0) view/add comments
Westworld wants to hear from you!
Check out the comments page and let us know what you think of the article you just read.
Caribbean

by: Deb Fong

September 2013
email to a friend

Caribbean Detour: Disney World

Lake Buena Vista, Fla. - home of Disney World - is about a four-hour drive from the Caribbean port of Miami. It’s a tempting side trip to a cruise. But with four theme parks covering 127 square kilometres, the place is no small world. AMA travel counsellor and Disney specialist Deb Fong comes to the rescue with a few time-saving tips.

Best ways to avoid lineups
At select Walt Disney World hotels, guests receive an Extra Magic Hours pass, which allows access to the theme park before and after regular opening hours. You can also grab a complimentary Fastpass at certain rides, which allows you to book a ride time and come back. Also look for Disney’s Rider Switch program, which lets parents trade off in lineups.

Best nighttime show
Head to the Hollywood Studios theme park nightly for Fantasmic, a 25-minute fireworks-and-water show, with all your favourite Disney characters, like Mickey Mouse, Cinderella and Aladdin. To fast-track the long lineup, book a package that includes dinner at one of three restaurants and admission to the nightly show.

Best spots to cool off
The whole point of Splash Mountain, in the Magic Kingdom, is to get wet - really wet. Grab a seat at the front of the car and get ready to plunge five storeys down a watery track. Over at the Animal Kingdom, get dunked again at the Kali River Rapids ride, as you float alongside a gushing geyser and through spraying waterfalls. 

Best baby and tots service
No need to lug bags of diapers to the park. You can buy disposable diapers, pull-on rubber pants and even teethers at Disney’s Baby Care Centers. Moms will appreciate the private nursing rooms.

Best ride for speed demons
Rock music and screamin’ speed collide at the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster in the Hollywood Studios theme park. As you zoom down 1,036 metres of track, travelling with the g-force of an F-14 fighter jet, your car’s stereo system pumps out Aerosmith tunes.

Best venue for grown-up time
When the sun goes down, head to Jellyrolls on the Boardwalk, an entertainment, dining and shopping area built to look like Atlantic City in the 1920s. Jellyrolls’ duelling pianists perform a huge repertoire of classic-rock hits, such as Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” and Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin.’”

Best munchies
At Disney World, America’s ubiquitous corn dog takes second billing to jumbo turkey legs. At about $10 a leg, the massive drumsticks are cured with sugar and salt, then slow-roasted until the meat practically falls off the bone. Disney sells more than 1.6 million legs a year at food carts all over the park. 

(0) view/add comments
Westworld wants to hear from you!
Check out the comments page and let us know what you think of the article you just read.
Caribbean

by: Katelyn Cross

September 2013
email to a friend

Sun Holiday Rx

What if you could enjoy your dream vacation and come back healthier than when you left? Follow these tips and you’ll be jumping into the conga line feeling hot, hot, hot!

Sunscreen: apply, re-apply and apply again
Experts advise avoiding the sun between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the UV index exceeds three. Caribbean rays reach an alarming 14 on the UV index, so apply a broad- spectrum sunscreen liberally at least 20 minutes before heading out and again every two hours. Some research suggests that sunscreens containing the ingredients Mexoryl, Tinosorb and Helioplex break down more slowly in the sun and require less frequent reapplication (follow the label’s instructions).

Stay hydrated
In hot climates, you lose water faster than can be replaced by your usual food intake and the standard eight glasses per day. So keep a bottle of water with you at all times and stock up before heading to the beach or pool for the day. If you must have something flavoured, try coconut water. Low in sugar, high in potassium and consisting of 95 per cent water, it’s a delicious and natural way to hydrate.

Get your sea stomach
Alberta Health Services recommends drinking ginger tea, a traditional Chinese treatment, for stomachache and nausea. Wearing anti- nausea wristbands (like the ones we recommend on p. 27) can help, too, by stimulating acupressure points believed to prevent queasiness and vomiting. Alternatively, you can take an over-the-counter drug like Histantil or Gravol - or see a doctor pre-cruise about Transderm-V, a waterproof patch applied behind the ear three hours before you go out on the water.

(0) view/add comments
Westworld wants to hear from you!
Check out the comments page and let us know what you think of the article you just read.
feature

by: Curtis Gillespie

September 2013
email to a friend

Cruising with a Brood


Day 1: At Sea
My wife Cathy and our daughters Jessica and Grace are still asleep as I slip out of our Deck 7 cabin and softly close the door. When our Royal Caribbean International ship left Miami last night, bound for stops in Haiti, Jamaica, the Cayman Islands and Mexico, it held 3,634 guests and nearly as many staff. But this morning the passageway is silent; the stairs to Deck 11 empty. This pleases me, since I’m hoping to sneak in an hour’s exercise as a preventive strike against the copious amounts of food and drink the week ahead is sure to hold. At the door to the Shipshape Fitness Center, I pause briefly to secure a lungful of the morning’s temperate saline breeze. The sun is making itself new against the Caribbean’s eastern horizon. The soft breeze caresses. The sea is vast and calm. I can’t recall what a snowbank looks like. I pull on the Shipshape door, ready to introduce some endorphins into my day.

“Stop! Now!”

I freeze. But the order isn’t directed at me. In a boxing ring a few metres away, a female trainer is loudly instructing a ragtag gang of obvious non-boxers. “Punch it! I said punch it!” A matronly retiree gives the swaying heavy bag a limp fist bump. “No, nail that bag - like this!”

The sergeant coils an avocado-shaped bicep and delivers maximum force to the bag. Just past the ring, techno-pop spills from an aerobics studio. Inside, a dozen or so Lululemon-clad women are trying to follow a buoyant instructor who is calling directions above the din. I finally locate the bicycles, near the front windows facing out to sea, and begin pedalling. I pass the trainer on my way out. She is sipping some kind of dark green shake through a straw, and although it’s possible that a wheatgrass-based liquid would be good for me, I decide instead to seek out the breakfast buffet.

My family is up and ready to go when I reach the stateroom, and together we head to the Windjammer Cafe on Deck 11. The food appears almost endless in diversity and volume (this will be the case throughout the cruise). In fact, onboard provisions are available everywhere, all the time. You can’t batten down a hatch on this ship without running into a buffet.

Jessica and Grace hit the buffet line first and return with stacks of cinnamon buns. Cathy and I get eggs, toast, bacon and fruit. Somewhat to my surprise, breakfast turns out to be as good as it is plentiful. Undoing the effect of the additional calories may require some serious time with the trainer over the next week.

Later, on the aft outer platform of Deck 13, we line up for the FlowRider wave simulator. Imagine a miniature “ski” hill on which water is pressure-hosed uphill at a serious clip. The setup allows even the desperately uncoordinated to boogie-board and surf while effectively standing still. Jess and Grace quickly become expert and make it look so easy that some middle-aged guy decides to give it a shot. He scoots onto the wave and gets riding on his knees. Then he showboats, waving his arms and giving a thumbs-up. At this point he loses his balance, separating spastically from his board - and is shot back up the slope as if released by catapult.

The FlowRider has taught me that I must examine my own limits. So, while Cathy and the girls are trying out the climbing wall on Deck 13, I instead opt to recline in our stateroom, noting how nicely it’s appointed: a shower, beds for four, a comfy couch and a little plasma TV with satellite. Hey, things are looking up.

Day 2: Labadee, Haiti
The ocean is warm, the bright coral close enough to touch, the water brimming with exotic creatures. We are snorkelling in the Caribbean just off Haiti, at Labadee. In 1986, Royal Caribbean International leased 105 hectares of land from the Haitian government on the island’s north shore, just over the mountains from Cap-Haitien. The private port features seven “neighbourhoods,” a 90-metre-long waterslide, a roller coaster, an artisan market, an aquatic park, private beach clubs and a litany of other made-for-cruisers attractions.

Jess easily adjusts to the snorkel. She gets to hold a tiny octopus and is so smitten with the water and sea creatures that she surfaces halfway through, strips off her mask and snorkel and declares, “I’m going to be a marine biologist!”

Next, we focus our attention on the Dragon’s Breath Flight Line. After a long wait and an orientation session, Jess and I are soon zipping down a wire slung from a 150-metre-high peak, across the bay, to a small peninsula 790 metres away. Strapped in tight, with nothing but air beneath us, we hurtle headlong down the line. It’s a rush, and I scream wholeheartedly in the soprano of a little girl. I look over at Jess. She isn’t screaming. And then, all too soon, we’re back on land. Later, back on the ship, we sit down to another gourmet dinner, where the menu options are wide and truly international, ranging from curries to Japanese to standard North American fare.

Day 3: Montego Bay, Jamaica
Montego Bay, on the northwest side of the island, is a common port of call for cruise ships making their Caribbean rounds, and for all-inclusive-resort guests, who fly in by the multiple planeloads daily. The city is packed with restaurants, tour peddlers and attractions that cater to the quick-stop crowd - but we have our own plans.

I mention to the ship’s South African concierge, whose name is Pretty Shamu, that we are planning to skip the sanctioned shore excursions in Jamaica and rent a car, so as to explore the countryside on our own. She furrows her brow. “Oh.”

“Is that not a good idea?”

“Well, if that’s what you want to do . . . .”

Once we’re on the road, the reason for Shamu’s hesitation makes itself known. I’m speeding a tad myself as we set out on the 76-km drive southwest to Negril. But Jamaicans scorch by us, happily waving and smiling as they pass.

We arrive at Rick’s Cafe ready to watch the cliff diving we’ve heard about. We’re amazed by the sight of the clear, deep water meeting the high craggy rock face, which is topped by a restaurant and bar. On the cliffside diving platforms, we meet dreadlocked divers Spider and Tigger. They give Jess and Grace fist bumps. “Respek. Peace and love, girls, peace and love.” Later we watch them plunge, surprisingly gracefully, into the water.

Driving back along the Jamaican highways (relying heavily on “Ja’Map” provided by the rental company), we stop at a large roadside market replete with little warrens and alleyways emptying straight out on the beach. It looks promising until we see that virtually every shop is selling the same “Ja Mon” T-shirts and Bob Marley carved masks. Incredibly, every single piece of merchandise in the market is available for US$15. But we negotiate.

“I give you dat one for $12. Or . . . “ the seller pauses. “Two tank tops for $25.”

Grace thinks for a minute and wisely decides against it.

Day 4: Georgetown, Grand Cayman Island
Grand Cayman Island is so clean and orderly - and chockablock with banks - that it feels like Switzerland with beaches. The girls want to swim with dolphins, an activity that induces mild ambiguity in me but thrills of ecstasy in Jess and Grace.

The dolphin sanctuary, it turns out, is a large pen where four dolphins are kept, though it would be inaccurate to say they are “held” here, since they could easily leap the half-metre fence any time they chose. Jess and Grace get kitted out with life jackets and then, along with the other swimmers, get in with the dolphins. All eco-guilt aside, it sure looks like fun, kissing the dolphins on the nose, catching a ride while holding a dorsal fin.

Another bonus of the dolphin swim is that Jess and Grace make friends at the sanctuary: Sarah, Ashley and Jordan from Savannah, Georgia. Later, around 10 p.m., back on the ship, they all spend an hour exploring and “making more new friends.” Cathy and I decide not to investigate precisely what this entails, and clink wine glasses in our stateroom instead. Hey, we’re on holiday, too.

Day 5: San Miguel, Cozumel, Mexico
Cozumel is a tiny seed-shaped island off the eastern shore of the Yucatan Peninsula, in the state of Quintana Roo. Besides the cruise port, the place is world-renowned for its white-sand beaches, balnearios (seaside resort towns), scuba diving and snorkelling. Its southwestern side touches the second-largest reef system in the world.

Our stop here will be brief, though, so we decide to catch a taxi to the island’s largest town, San Miguel de Cozumel. Our cabbie is engaging and delivers us to the Mercado - just off the commercial centre, which, with its Senor Frog’s and Starbucks, looks more like Phoenix than Mexico. During our aimless and highly pleasurable wanderings around the Mercado, away from the touristy main drag, we come across numerous little clothing and craft shops, where the prices are low and the goods of a decent quality. After shopping, we camp out at a beach restaurant, where the sand is velvety, the water warm, the food tasty and the beer cold. Viva Cozumel! Viva Mexico! Viva cerveza!


Day 6: At Sea
Cathy and the girls are getting some pool time, so I set out from the top deck, vowing to explore every possible spot on the ship, allotting myself two hours. I find 14 public decks. I find theatres, skating rinks, mini-malls, chapels. I find more bars than a Vegas hotel. I find the “King of the World” lookout on the prow, near the helicopter landing pad, where you can literally lean into the wind. Three hours later, I am back in our cabin, exhausted, stunned at how big the ship truly is. My guess is that I have walked 20 km.

It’s late at night. Everyone else is in bed. I am sipping a martini in the Olive or Twist Lounge on Deck 14 and finding it hard to believe we are actually going to be back in Miami when we wake up in the morning. There are a handful of passengers in the lounge, some sitting reading books by lamplight, a few couples canoodling. The mood is more relaxed now, as if folks know the ride is over, that the urgency to “play” can be put to bed.

What Royal Caribbean sets out to do - which is to provide plenty of good food and drink, friendly service, a clean and safe environment and a sampling of tourism and entertainment options - is very much what it delivers on.

Day 7: Miami, U.S.
Our final buffet in the Windjammer. We sit by the window gazing out at the Miami skyline. Grace returns from the buffet with six cinnamon buns on her plate. “Can I take these with me onto the plane?” she asks.

“No,” says Cathy. “We’re not allowed to take food off the boat. The customs people would just throw it out.”

Grace seems at peace with this. “OK . . . I’ll just eat them all now, then.”

Finally, it’s time to go. We walk one last time to our cabin, to get our hand luggage. Jess and Grace say goodbye to their friends. We head down the gangway and toward customs. As we stand waiting, Jess turns back to the ship. “That was so much fun,” she says. “I loved that. But . . .” She hesitates.

“What is it?” I ask, curious.

“Well, I was just thinking that that was so much fun, it really was - the Caribbean and all. But,” she says, putting a forefinger to her chin. “I’m just trying to think of where we should go on our next cruise.”

Step Ashore, Maties!

(0) view/add comments
Westworld wants to hear from you!
Check out the comments page and let us know what you think of the article you just read.
Around Alberta

by: Shauna Rudd

September 2013
email to a friend

Munich in Lougheed

Until the Hentschel family, owners of Haus Falkenstein restaurant in the Lougheed Hotel, 185 km southeast of Edmonton, arrived from Germany in 2009, Oktoberfest was a new concept for them. “We are from the Ruhr District and we had nothing to do with Oktoberfest because that’s a Bavarian thing. But our Canadian customers insisted that we do it,” says Micha Hentschel. Haus Falkenstein now hosts one of Alberta’s most popular Oktoberfest celebrations - set for October 26 this year. Attendees tuck into a buffet-style meal of Bavarian sausage, sauerkraut and other German nibbles, which go perfectly with a cold Erdinger wheat beer, the restaurant’s top-selling brew. “Two years ago, we had 109 customers and sold 538 bottles of that beer. That’s 2.5 litres per head. At Oktoberfest in Munich, 1.1 litres of beer per head were sold. So the sales guy from Erdinger Brewery joked that he wanted to apply to change our village name from Lougheed to Erding,” says Hentschel.

(0) view/add comments
Westworld wants to hear from you!
Check out the comments page and let us know what you think of the article you just read.
Around Alberta

by: Shauna Rudd

September 2013
email to a friend

Munich in Lougheed

Until the Hentschel family, owners of Haus Falkenstein restaurant in the Lougheed Hotel, 185 km southeast of Edmonton, arrived from Germany in 2009, Oktoberfest was a new concept for them. “We are from the Ruhr District and we had nothing to do with Oktoberfest because that’s a Bavarian thing. But our Canadian customers insisted that we do it,” says Micha Hentschel. Haus Falkenstein now hosts one of Alberta’s most popular Oktoberfest celebrations - set for October 26 this year. Attendees tuck into a buffet-style meal of Bavarian sausage, sauerkraut and other German nibbles, which go perfectly with a cold Erdinger wheat beer, the restaurant’s top-selling brew. “Two years ago, we had 109 customers and sold 538 bottles of that beer. That’s 2.5 litres per head. At Oktoberfest in Munich, 1.1 litres of beer per head were sold. So the sales guy from Erdinger Brewery joked that he wanted to apply to change our village name from Lougheed to Erding,” says Hentschel.

(0) view/add comments
Westworld wants to hear from you!
Check out the comments page and let us know what you think of the article you just read.

Haus Falkenstein hosts one of Alberta’s most popular Oktoberfest celebrations - set for October 26 this year.

Behind the Wheel

by Shauna Rudding

May 2013
email to a friend

Steering the Way

It seems like only yesterday you were taking the training wheels off his bike, yet here is your teenager in the driver’s seat of your family car, awaiting direction. Even if your teen is registered in driver education, AMA recommends 30 to 50 hours of supervised in-vehicle coaching on top of course instruction. So where do you start?

First, you should be fairly confident that you could pass the learner’s test yourself. If you’re anything like the majority of Albertans, you probably couldn’t. In 2010, the AMA Foundation for Traffic Safety and the University of Calgary asked more than 1,000 Albertans to take the learner’s exam. Only 11 per cent passed. So it’s a good idea to review the Alberta Driver’s Handbook before you begin. Then hone those skills not so easily gained from a handbook - patience and communication. Below, some tips on how to be a patient, effective driver coach. 

1. Talk about what you both hope to accomplish during the driving session before you hit the road, and set clear expectations. The more you keep the discussion open, the less chance there will be for misunderstandings, which is when things tend to go south.

2. Make your trip a short one - 15 minutes or so - especially for the first few sessions.

“If you try to go any longer, patience just goes out the window,” says Rick Lang of AMA Driver Education. Also, choose a familiar route - say, to school or the grocery store.

3. Set out to practise one skill at a time, such as starting and stopping, or turns. Trying to cover too much in one session can be overwhelming and lead to frustration.

4. Have your new driver communicate what she plans to do before she does it. For instance, if you’re practising a left-hand turn across traffic, have her tell you when she’s going to turn ("after the yellow car, I’m going to go"). This way you can judge whether the manoeuvre is a good idea - maybe your new driver didn’t notice a cyclist coming up alongside that yellow car.

5. Stay out of parking lots. You might think they’re an ideal place to start because of the open space, but this is precisely why they’re not. Beginners need to practise scanning and driving in a straight line. “If you’re on a quiet residential road, where they can look forward two or three blocks, they can focus on where they want to go,” says Lang.

6. Finally, be a good role model. Take stock of your own behaviour when you’re behind the wheel. We’ve all developed a few bad habits over time - perhaps we use colourful language or creative hand signals. Be aware of these things and try to correct them. The truth is, driving instruction starts much earlier than the teens, says Lang. “As soon as you turn that rear-facing car seat forward, you’re teaching your son or daughter how to drive.”

(0) view/add comments
Westworld wants to hear from you!
Check out the comments page and let us know what you think of the article you just read.
feature

by Malwina Gudowska

November 2012
email to a friend

10 Best Girlfriend Getaways

They are our confidantes, sisters, mothers, bosom friends, kindred spirits, besties and BFFs. Whatever we call the women in our lives, nothing compares to the no-boys-allowed quality time we spend with them. Whether you’re looking for a full week of bonding or a quick weekend escape, here are 10 ideas that will have you planning a girlfriends’ reunion in no time.

1. Spa in Style: Sparkling Hill Resort, Vernon, B.C.
Diamonds may be a girl’s best friend, but after a trip to Canada’s largest spa and the Okanagan’s only CAA four-diamond resort, forget the baubles: you’ll be sparkling from the inside out.

Why you’ll love it: This 80-hectare property at the base of the Monashee and Pinnacle Mountains overlooks Okanagan Lake - and Predator Ridge golf course is right next door. Plus, Swarovski crystals accent every aspect of the resort’s design, from glass fireplaces to crystal “stars” over the soaker tubs. Try the Girls’ Wellness Getaway package, which includes a two-night stay, cocktails, a treatment at the 40,000-square-foot KurSpa, dinner and access to the seven steam and sauna rooms, indoor and outdoor pools, fitness studio and water therapy and relaxation rooms.

2. Shop the Big Apple: The AMA Diva Style New York Tour
This quintessential New York experience, perfect to share with the other divas in your life, includes a guided tour of the Garment District, where participants get to shop in private showrooms, as well as a Broadway show and a Harlem Gospel tour. And likely plenty of Cosmopolitans in between.

Why you’ll love it: It’s New York! Brenda Strueby, 55-year-old nurse and Calgary AMA member, did the six-day self-guided tour last November with a girlfriend. “When we walked into the hotel, ‘Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire’ was playing and it was like a clich from a movie,” she says. “Everything was perfect.” The tour gave them a well-edited overview of a city that can often be overwhelming for a first-time tourist. And with a 24-hour Hop-on, Hop-off bus pass, they were able to get around the city on their own schedule.

Although there’s plenty to do and see on the tour, the main focus is shopping, an activity that Strueby and her girlfriend embraced to its full potential. “We stocked up on presents at Macy’s and shopped at Tiffany’s, and because of the tour, we knew where to go, so we could just shop whenever and however long we wanted,” says Strueby.

3. Run in the Sun: California
Doing a 10-kilometre run or half-marathon with friends is a great way to spend quality time together, pre-race and on the big day. Crossing the finish in sunny California, which hosts hundreds of organized runs each year, combines a personal triumph with a well-deserved escape.

Why you’ll love it: The setting: gorgeous beaches, wine country and that mellow West Coast lifestyle. Well worth a few months of training!

“With three babies under the age of three, it was time to give myself a break,” says Calgary’s Aneta Donhuysen, who did the annual, harvest-themed Healdsburg Wine Country Half Marathon in Sonoma County, California, with her friend Catherine Cooke this past October. The route winds among vineyards, with stunning views of the Dry Creek and Alexander Valleys.

“The race was a perfect goal and getaway: some running, some wine, some shopping and great company,” says Cooke. The wine-themed events, including a pizza-and-Pinot welcome reception and a finisher’s party at the Clos du Bois winery, didn’t hurt when it came to motivation, either, she adds. The two friends plan on continuing the California race-getaway tradition with next year’s Nike Women’s Marathon in San Francisco (October 2013), where each participant receives a necklace from Tiffany’s when she crosses the finish line. For a full listing of organized runs in the Golden State, visit: runningintheusa.com.

4. Party in the Big Easy: New Orleans, Louisiana
Sometimes, girls just want to have fun (sorry, we had to). Vegas and Miami are the go-to spots for stagettes and general-purpose carousing, but here’s a cultured twist: New Orleans.

Why you’ll love it: This city knows how to party (think Mardi Gras), but it’s also a perfect spot for women who like a little bit of everything: nightlife, culture and history. Explore the city’s main attractions by day - the French Quarter, gallery-dotted Arts District, area plantations and decadent St. Charles Avenue mansions. Then take in a cocktail walking tour of the city (several companies offer them), before hitting the town in earnest. Bourbon Street and the Arts District are packed with nightclubs. Just don’t do anything we wouldn’t do!

5. Flop on the Beach: The Nolitours NoliZONE, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
The sprawling beaches and forested mountains of Puerta Vallarta, Mexico, are just a five-hour flight away, as are its hundreds of no-fuss all-inclusive resorts. Choose a resort in the Nolitours NoliZONE, a group of hotels that cater to travellers looking for a balance of relaxation, socializing and exploring.

Why you’ll love it: The NoliZONE combines the effortlessness of an all-inclusive vacation with chances to step off-resort and meet vacationers from nearby hotels for activities such as sightseeing, golf and whale watching. Try Samba Vallarta, a NoliZONE resort that’s close to the shopping and dining village of Bucerias. In the evening, meet up with your girls - and any new friends you’ve made - and hit the town for dinner and dancing. The next day, repeat.

6. Eat Your Way Through Santa Fe: AMA’s Culinary Tour for Women
This five-day tour brings women from across North America together in Santa Fe, New Mexico, for a taste of the city’s vibrant culinary scene, which features Native American and Spanish traditions, a focus on farm-to-table dining and an abundance of world-renowned chefs.

Why you’ll love it: In addition to daily - yes, daily - chocolate tastings, the trip includes a farmer’s market tour with a local food expert, a walking tour of the city, several restaurant meals and a tamale-making class at the Santa Fe Cooking School. “At the cooking class, we had to work together, so that really bonded us with this group of women we just met,” says Pat Awmack, who participated in the tour with her daughter last year. “You really learn about a place when you experience the ‘buy local, eat local’ way.”

7. Take the Trip of a Lifetime: Morocco Women Only Tour Morocco.
The name conjures up palaces, mosques, exotic spice markets and scenes from the movie Casablanca. But many women might feel intimidated travelling here alone. Enter the Women Only Morocco tour, an 11-day excursion led by a local female tour guide.

Why you’ll love it: Starting in Casablanca and winding up in Marrakech, you’ll tour ancient cities and ornate palaces, ride camels in the desert, sleep in a Bedouin tent, shop in souks and create Moroccan dishes with a female chef. And that’s in addition to a daily woman-inspired highlight (a visit to a local women’s textile centre, for example).

Azi Shahidi, a program manager who participated in the Morocco tour in November 2010, says her fondest memory of the trip was meeting Nawal El Moutawakel, minister of sports and the first Moroccan woman to win an Olympic gold medal. Because the emphasis of these tours is the female point of view, El Moutawakel was only one of the many incredible women Shahidi had the pleasure of encountering during her trip. “You experience what a local woman in a Moroccan city is doing, and what a woman living in a small Moroccan village is doing,” says Shahidi.

8. Learn Photography in Paris: The National Geographic Photography Workshop
See the City of Light in, well, a whole new light, with this seven-day Paris photography workshop. You and your friends will bond through the shared experience of learning a craft, immersed in a setting that has inspired innumerable artists over the centuries.

Why you’ll love it: From your base at the Hotel du Pantheon in the Latin Quarter, skilled National Geographic shooters will help you perfect your photos as you snap images of street life, markets, architecture and cultural sites such as Notre Dame Cathedral and Versailles. There’s also plenty of downtime for exploring - with your camera and your best girlfriends, naturally.

9. Live it Up in the Live Music Capital of the World: Austin, Texas
With more than 200 live-music venues, Austin, Texas, is an ideal getaway for music lovers and the music-loving womenin their lives. Grab your girlfriends and plan a trip around one of the city’s many music festivals - Austin City Limits, South by Southwest, Pachanga Latino Musical Festival, the Austin Urban Music Festival and Fun Fun Fun Fest, to name a few. 

Why you’ll love it: From honky-tonk and blues to jazz, folk and rock ‘n’ roll, you’ll find every genre of music here. Depending on your tastes, obligatory stops on the legendary club circuit include Antone’s (blues), the Continental Club (honky-tonk), Cactus Cafe & Bar (acoustic), Elephant Room (jazz) and The Broken Spoke (country). Or, work in a few guided tours, like Austin’s Cowboy Cosmic Tour, which takes participants to all the secret spots where local musicians hang out, or the Rocket Electric Austin Live Music Capital of the World tour, guided by a local musician and concluding with a private performance on the shores of Lady Bird Lake.

Keep the music going with a stay at the historic Driskill Hotel, which hosts an eclectic array of live performances nightly. The hotel also offers a girls’ getaway package that includes accommodation, cocktails, spa treatments and breakfast.

10. Go Cowgirl: Sierra West Cabins and Ranch Vacations, Alberta
Get back to the land, the Western way, with the gals at a log cabin on Lonesome Pine Ranch, a working cattle operation 18 km north of Lundbreck, Alta., in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.

Why you’ll love it: Rolling countryside, open sky and the serenity of being one with nature. And, of course, the
opportunity to play cowgirl: guests can participate in cattle drives, trail and open-range horseback riding, camping, hunting and rodeo sports.

“It was exactly like living on a ranch,” says Karine Roy, who celebrated her 40th birthday at Sierra West with her daughter and two sisters. The foursome spent five days of quality time together, riding horses during the day and retreating to their cozy private cabin at night. Roy plans on returning to participate in the ranch’s two-day Frontier Cattle Drive next summer.

(0) view/add comments
Westworld wants to hear from you!
Check out the comments page and let us know what you think of the article you just read.
feature

by: Craille Maguire Gillies

November 2012
email to a friend

The Life Adriatic


We are supposed to catch a ferry. It is mid-morning and our bus is rolling through the highways and side roads of Hungary, on our way to Croatia. The landscape is green and hilly and there is a brilliant sun overhead - the kind that makes you sleepy. Our plan is to hop the six-minute boat ride across the narrow part of Balaton Lake, the largest lake in Central Europe and a popular summer resort spot, and then make our way to Zagreb, the Croatian capital.

“We are in Hungary,” our guide, Beata, says, “which means there is a ferry. Or there might be a ferry.” She pauses. “There will probably be a ferry.” No one else is terribly concerned. We have a lot of ground to cover, but a lot of time to cover it. Over 16 days, our group of 33 is making its way by bus through Austria, Hungary and Croatia, where we will spend the bulk of our time among vineyards, farmland and villages hugging the Adriatic Coast. We’ll briefly traverse Bosnia to reach Dubrovnik, in southern Croatia, and then, after a side trip to Montenegro, head north to Slovenia.

The trip, organized by Insight Vacations, has attracted a diverse group: several retired baby boomers from Australia, a family with three college-aged sons from North Carolina (who miraculously all get along), a teacher from Los Angeles, a few South Africans and the odd Canadian to boot.

On this early-summer day, just outside Budapest, we pass blooming white acacia trees. Brahman cows graze in fields not given over to vineyards or vacation homes. Bulrushes stand sentinel along the water’s edge. We arrive at the tiny, prosaic ferry terminal with just enough time to board. We might be on vacation, but with five countries to cover, there’s a schedule to abide.

Twenty years ago, it would have been unthinkable to drive a bus through this region. The Bosnian War and the Croatian War of Independence following the breakup of Yugoslavia brought violence to the area. And scars from that time - physical and emotional - remain.

But many here hope to put the past far behind them. Croatia, for one, is set to join the European Union next July. “The first decade of the new millennium let people settle down with their past and look forward,” Beata tells us. She has travelled these roads for more than two decades and seen the region’s transformation first-hand.

That transformation has brought visitors. The New Yorker called 2011 Croatia’s “best year for tourism,” and the number of foreign visitors is up six per cent in 2012. In recent years, the coastal city of Dubrovnik, where we’re headed in a few days, and its environs have become known as a sort of Dalmatian Riviera (Dalmatia being the historical name for the region of Croatia that runs along the Adriatic Coast).

Despite these changes, you can’t miss the past in Zagreb, which we approach under a light rain that lifts to sunshine. With a population of around 800,000, Zagreb is the largest city in Croatia and was an economic centre in the former Yugoslavia. The humourless facades of Communist-era buildings sit alongside the pale yellow of restored structures from the Hapsburg era.

This juxtaposition of Communist severity and classical grandeur repeats itself through the city. On our way to dinner, we pass the Regent Esplanade, a palatial art nouveau hotel built in 1925 for guests of the Orient Express. Walking back to our hotel (a Sheraton in central Zagreb that is basic but comfortable - like most of the accommodations included in this tour package), I wander under plane trees through King Tomislav Square and catch a glimpse of the city’s neoclassical railway station, lit up at night. A few blocks along, I take photos of art graffiti.

In the morning, we walk 15 minutes to the Upper Town to see the Stone Gate, in the medieval heart of the city. In the 13th century, King Bela IV granted special rights to the community of Gradec to build fortifications as protection against the Mongols. This included four gates connecting the upper and lower towns. The Stone Gate is the only one that remains.

The gate holds special meaning for the city’s faithful (close to 90 per cent of Croatians are Catholic) because, as legend has it, a 1731 fire destroyed the wooden parts of the gate, but not, miraculously, a painting of the Virgin and Child. Today it’s a shrine where locals come to pray. Someone tells me today is the Day of the Virgin Mary of Stone Gate. As I walk through the gate, singing rises from the crowd that has gathered to light candles.

Up the cobblestone road, I hear another soulful voice - this one coming from the Museum of Broken Relationships, a small art space in what the clerk describes as a former palace, but is more akin to a maisonette or row house. “I’m ready for you, I hope you’re ready for me,” Muddy Watters sings as I enter. Two former lovers created the museum four years ago, displaying relics of their relationship. Soon friends and strangers began donating objects. One display case holds a national identity card from France, donated by a woman from Ljubljana, Slovenia (a city we will soon visit). “The only thing of great love,” she wrote, “was citizenship.”
Farther along the road, an old man plays Dalmatian folk songs on an acoustic guitar. We make our way to the centre of town, weaving through a farmer’s market full of woven baskets, flowers and strawberries. We have two days in Zagreb - ample time to explore by foot before we hop back on the bus and leave the north for the coast.

Travelling overland hundreds of kilometres, a place reveals itself gradually. We pass the long stretches on the bus listening to historical primers from our guide, Beata, napping or chatting with our fellow travellers. At the outset, I worried that I’d get cabin fever holed up on a bus for hours at a time, but I find I appreciate the balance between activity and reflection. The long hours travelling give me the chance to learn more about the region.
The other passengers chat about children and grandchildren back home, or places they’ve travelled. Several are bus-tour veterans. Some form new friendships and break into small groups to explore during free time (which we have plenty of, even though there are organized activities most days).

On the drive to Split, a seaside city about 400 kilometres from Zagreb, the landscape becomes hillier. Tiny farms occupy the valley and terraced vineyards dot the coast. In small lakes and bays I notice the bobbing floats of oyster and mussel farms.

We arrive in Split in the afternoon. Our stay will be short, so we start our sightseeing with a quick tour of Diocletian’s Palace, a fortress-like structure built in the late third century as a retirement home for the Roman emperor. Today it is part museum and part housing, and it anchors the old part of the city. After a jaunt up the boardwalk, we freshen up at the Atrium, our sleek, modern hotel, which wouldn’t be out of place in New York or Calgary.

We’re soon thrust back into the country, with a short drive to a konoba (tavern) on a small bay, where a trio of musicians in striped T-shirts serenades us between courses of fish, soup and potatoes (roughly half of our suppers are included in the tour package). There is another busload of Insight travellers at dinner, mostly Australian, and they quickly get into the spirit. As the pitch rises - lubricated by shots of herb brandy, a local specialty - someone starts a conga line. The musicians play to the mood and shout, “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie,” and everyone else shouts back, on cue, “Oi! Oi! Oi!”

By now we are on day seven and have eased into the rhythm of bus travel. Having made our way along the coast, we’re headed for one night to tiny Korcula, an island that claims - but can’t substantiate - Marco Polo as a native son, before we tour a winery in the Peljesac Peninsula. Then it’s on to Dubrovnik, where we’ll spend two days.

The landscape becomes subtly more Mediterranean the farther southeast we go, and after several hours we arrive in Dubrovnik, Pearl of the Adriatic. We emerge from the bus at 3 p.m., blinking in the brilliant sun. In the Middle Ages, this city matched Venice as an eastern European seaport. One afternoon, when the heat of the day has lifted, I make the two-kilometre trek along the thick medieval wall that separates the old city from the new. The fortifications, flush with the Adriatic, were a hedge against invaders such as the Venetians, who ruled these parts in the 13th and 14th centuries.

One morning, we walk from our sprawling luxury hotel, Rixos Libertas, which is built into the side of a hill not far from the old city, to meet our walking-tour guide, Duska.

“If you put your finger in the seawater,” she tells us, “you are connected with the whole world. Not long ago, however - in October 1991 - Dubrovnik was cut off from the world by a siege during the Croatian War of Independence. The Yugoslav People’s Army surrounded the city and some 30,000 residents, including Duska, had to flee to escape a three-month bombardment. Much of the city was destroyed. Duska escorts us to the Memorial Room of Defenders of Dubrovnik, a museum in the old city, where we see photos of the bombing. Local fighters who died appear in portraits along the wall.

For dinner, we board a wooden boat and ride out to a quiet bay. The city is aglow with lights, reflecting off the limestone walls of houses and the karstic hillside. As we dine on our meal of red snapper, rocket salad and apple strudel, we sip Croatian white wine and brandy and gaze up at the bright white orb of the full moon, which hangs as if strung on a wire between the peaks of two hills.

Over the next few days, we take a tour to Montenegro, an optional side trip that takes us south, along the coast, through the community of Kotor, the 3,500-year-old town of Budva and the resort islet of Sveti Stefan. By now we are on day 11. We make our way north to overnight in a Communist-era hotel in Plitvice Lakes National Park, in central Croatia. The accommodations are spare but clean. Encased in glass in the lobby is a taxidermied bear, upright on its back legs.

The park quickly becomes a highlight of the trip. Founded in 1949, it is the largest national park in Croatia and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In the morning we discover why. We walk the perimeter of small lakes linked by a boardwalk and fed by endless waterfalls. There are 16 interconnected lakes, all shades of emerald and aquamarine. When we get to a series of cascading falls that shroud a small chunk of rock face, our young Croatian guide, Blanka, says, “This is what we call the Croatian Niagara Falls.”

Throughout the walk, Blanka throws out snippets about the region’s natural history: the 800 varieties of mushrooms, the forests of beech, fir, maple and hornbeam that surround us, the travertine dams where fallen tree trunks calcify over many, many years into stone. Occasionally she stops to point out a rare orchid or the holes in a beech tree made by dormice. Near the end of the walk she becomes serious. “You hear about Croatia rebuilding itself quickly,” she says. “That was the will of the people.”

By lunchtime we are on our way. We alight, briefly, in Karlovac, near Zagreb, to see bullet-riddled houses, still unrepaired from the war of the 1990s, and an outdoor museum of tanks and artillery. As we continue on to Slovenia, I recall Blanka’s words.

The scenery becomes greener and less populated as we exit Croatia and drift north. Slovenia is at the northern edge of the Balkan Peninsula, “squeezed between the Alps and the Adriatic Peninsula,” Beata says as we roll toward the capital, Ljubljana.

On the long drive, I practise my pronunciation: Lube-lee-yan-ah. Though the Slovenes arrived in these parts around the seventh century, Slovenia itself is a young country, established in 1991 when it broke away from Yugoslavia. As for the capital, it isn’t much older than its roughly 300,000 residents (the average age is early 30s), and we quickly see evidence of that youthful energy in the city’s cafe culture and markets.

An 1895 earthquake destroyed many of Ljubljana’s buildings. These were replaced, our walking guide Spela tells us the next morning, with art nouveau and modern buildings - such as the “skyscraper” that was the tallest building in the Balkans when it was built in the 1930s. We peer up: it is no more than 12 storeys high.

Spela leads us on a brisk walk around town - you can see most of it in an hour or two - and then I break away from the group to visit Ljubljana Castle, the best place in town for photos. A funicular takes me to the top of Castle Hill, where I wander the medieval grounds and climb a tower for sweeping views of the green city. Here, from the highest point in the city, I can see how far we’ve come. Just a few days ago we were more than 600 km away, sailing in the sea outside Dubrovnik and gazing at the moon. And soon we’ll hit the road for our next adventure.

Linda Cramer
AMA Travel Specialist, Europe

Coach touring may not be for everyone, but it’s one of my favourite ways to travel. My first experience was in Israel and I was immediately hooked. I had a fabulous time visiting places that I had only read about and would have taken me hours to research. I’ve since travelled all around Britain and Western Europe by coach. The relaxed pace of coach touring allows travellers to cover more ground than they would by other means—train, for example. Another plus is the chance to meet and explore with a diverse group of people, young and old, from around the world. Despite the slow pace, there’s lots to do
on these tours. Tour buses generally stop every few hours at attractions. Your admission is taken care of for you. No need to worry about standing in long lineups—you’ll spend your precious time learning about the local culture and history instead. The guides on these trips are virtual encyclopedias of information. But some of my most memorable moments on coach tours have happened when the bus makes an unscheduled stop. Perhaps there’s a local selling fruit by the side of the road or a sunset that’s too good to pass up. Still wavering on coach travel? Consider starting with a leisurely tour that
allows for more than one night at each stop and plenty of free time. I promise, you’ll love it!

Need help planning or booking a coach tour? Contact Linda at 1-888-989-8423 or email

(0) view/add comments
Westworld wants to hear from you!
Check out the comments page and let us know what you think of the article you just read.
Road Trip

by Jim Sutherland

November 2012
email to a friend

The Real Oahu


There’s irony afoot in Hawaii, except don’t look for it in the tiki bars. It lies in the popular perception of Oahu as the “touristy” island. But the reality is as different as Five-O and Hang 10. Outside Honolulu, residents of Oahu have actively resisted turning over too much of their home to outsiders. So in a way, Oahu’s the most “natural” island, where people have real lives and jobs. It’s just that most of us never venture far from the resorts and high-rises of Waikiki and have no idea what Oahu’s really about. Fortunately, closing this perception gap is only slightly more difficult than lying in the sand and letting the waves lap at your sunburn.

Leg One: Waikiki to Turtle Bay (100 km)

Depart Waikiki via the Lunalilo Freeway, merge onto the Kalaniana’ole Highway and then hula around Oahu’s South Shore and Windward Coast. Drive right by Diamond Head and Koko Crater - even Hanauma Bay and its famous snorkelling. All can be reached easily from Waikiki via any number of day-tour outfits. Around kilometre 19, stop at Sandy Beach, which is widely regarded as the best bodysurfing spot in the world. Before diving in, note that it’s also among the most dangerous, due to a shore break that can literally toss you onto the sand. Roughly one in every 3,000 swimmers here requires an emergency response. Now look up. Those things soaring above you are hang-gliders, launched from nearby Kamehame Ridge.

Having skirted the Ko’Olau Mountain Range, wind down into Kailua, a beach town and Honolulu bedroom suburb that also serves as U.S. president Barack Obama’s annual Christmas vacation spot. Detour a few blocks to the more sheltered Lanikai Beach, with its fine white sand and looming mansions. Indulge in the snorkelling you passed up at Hanauma Bay.

By km 50 or so, you’ve found your way onto the Kamehameha Highway, which soon leaves suburbia behind on its way up Oahu’s northeastern coast. Here, vines entangle roadside ruins, and machete-wielding native Hawaiians sell coconuts and pineapples at rickety stands.


Around km 90, pull into the Polynesian Cultural Center. Catch one of the tours that wends through what is essentially an interactive amusement park with performances instead of rides, each one hosted by citizens of seven different Polynesian islands. Stay for the elaborate luau, with traditional song, dance and food, then drive the 15 minutes to Turtle Bay Resort. After checking in, marvel at the waves pounding outside your balcony. You’ve reached Oahu’s north shore, the world’s pre-eminent surfing destination.
Good eats and sleeps: With 443 rooms and two golf courses, the venerable Turtle Bay Resort is reinventing itself as a hotel that celebrates local surf culture. There are several bars and restaurants at the resort, but the evenings-only 21 Degrees North is extraordinary, putting stylish new twists on local ingredients and dishes.

Leg Two: Turtle Bay to Ko’olina (65 km)
After reluctantly checking out of Turtle Bay and aiming the car southwest on the Kamehameha Highway, park anywhere you see lots of other vehicles - a sure sign of a beach. If you’re visiting between December and March, only consider testing the waters at Banzai Pipeline, Sunset Beach or Waimea Bay if you’re an Olympic-calibre swimmer or ultra-expert surfer. From April to November, the water is quite calm.

Around km 20, turn into Haleiwa. Decades ago this was that rarest of burgs, a seaside farming town. But the sugarcane and pineapple industries are mostly gone, and the tractor dealerships and dry goods stores survive as surf shops and burrito joints. Spend an hour or two strolling the streets, perhaps spotting a sign also common on Maui’s north shore, but rarely tested on either island: “No Clothes, No Service.”

At km 30, explore a bit of that lost farming economy at the Dole Plantation. Is it touristy? Yes, indeed, but perhaps a miniature train ride and pineapple sundae suit your vacation style better than interpretive displays on the eclipse of Hawaii’s agricultural economy.


Back on the road, head south and prepare for that rarest of Oahu driving experiences, a half-hour or so of not much to look at as you cross the island via the Kamehameha Highway and Queen Liliuokalani Freeway. (Hawaiian language tip: pronounce all of those vowels. For example, another major Oahu route is the Likelike Highway. Call it the “licky-licky” and you’re close.) Soon you’ll arrive inside the gated complex at Ko’olina, site of not one but two hotels, the original Marriot Ihilani Ko Olina Resort and Aulani, a newly opened Disney extravaganza.

Good eats and sleeps: Disney’s Aulani, which opened in 2011, shares one of Oahu’s most sheltered beaches, to go along with a Hawaiian-themed spa, kids’ and teens’ activities and an evening luau that adds Disney characters to the traditional-Hawaiian mix.

Leg Three: Ko’olina to Waikiki (45 km)
You’re less than an hour from Waikiki, so there’s time to enjoy some of the resort trimmings, which include a golf course that plays host to the LPGA Lotte Classic. Or take advantage of the Wai’anae Coast’s wintertime calmness and book an excursion departing from one of the local marinas to swim with the dolphins and turtles. This also provides an excuse to choose the road not taken, at least by most tourists, up the Farmington Highway toward the island’s northwestern tip. Austere but beautiful, this coast is mostly the domain of native Hawaiians, including hundreds who can be described as homeless, even though their homelessness happens to be carried out on one of the most alluring tropical beaches anywhere.

On the spin back to Waikiki, pass right by Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial, since a visit takes several hours and you can easily arrange a day tour from Waikiki. Instead, pay homage to another spot, the La Mariana Sailing Club, on Honolulu’s western approach. This is Oahu’s original tiki bar, dating from 1957. Haunted almost exclusively by locals, it’s practically the only tiki bar left on the island - and that, you’d have to say, is ironic.

(5) view/add comments
Westworld wants to hear from you!
Check out the comments page and let us know what you think of the article you just read.
upfront

by Tracy Hyatt, Natasha Mekhail and Caitlin Rooney

October 2012
email to a friend

Stompin Around Alberta


Glad Tidings
by Tracy Hyatt
Edmonton, Calgary, Pigeon Lake
Between the mad dash to decorate your tree, hang the lights and brave the crowded shopping malls, sometimes you hardly feel like you’re having any fun during the holidays. Our prescription? A swig of ‘nog and a visit to one of our favourite Alberta Christmas events:

Spruce Meadows International Christmas Market presented by Telus, Nov. 16 to 18 and Nov. 23 to 25, Spruce Meadows, Calgary: Here you’ll find more than 200 vendors selling gifts and handmade crafts from around the world. Once your money’s spent, head outside to the courtyard and take in ice-carving demonstrations and holiday entertainment.

Christmas at the Village, Nov. 23 and 24, Pigeon Lake: You don’t have to be a wide-eyed, rosy-cheeked kid to enjoy an good old-fashioned hayride at this village celebration. While you’re there, check out the nightly firework show. Stay overnight at Village Creek Country Inn for more fun, including home decorating demonstrations, yoga and a Christmas gala dinner. 

Christmas Reflections, Dec. 6 to 23, Fort Edmonton Park, Edmonton: You’ll feel like a character from the pages of a turn-of-the-century storybook at Fort Edmonton Park’s Christmas Reflections. Chat with costumed interpreters on 1905 and 1920 streets, tour the park by horse-drawn wagon and make the requisite stop at Reed’s Bazaar to buy Christmas decorations. On Dec. 5, AMA members get a sneak peek of the event and save 20 per cent.

The Exhibition Strikes Back

by Natasha Mekhail
The original Star Wars film introduced us to Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia and Yoda; The Phantom Menace to Anakin Skywalker, Padme Amidala and Jar Jar Binks. Get to know them all again at Star Wars Identities, on now to April 1, 2013 at Edmonton’s Telus World of Science. This exploration of people and life forms who hail from planets such as Tatooine, Hoth and Endor is partly a memorabilia collection - puppets, props, costumes, models and artwork from the films and spinoff TV series, Star Wars: The Clone Wars. But it’s also an educational journey into human identity. Interactive displays on evolution, upbringing and culture explain, through the mythos of Star Wars, how nature and nurture combine to shape every aspect of our being. How could Luke Skywalker and his father Anakin grow up on the same planet but turn out so differently? How can the loner Hans Solo and his Wookiee co-pilot Chewbacca be from such distinct worlds yet get along so well? Create your own Star Wars character to find out. Choose one of 15, from Ewok to Rodian, then work your way through 10 stations, where your choices determine your character’s destiny. As in life, the factors that imbue you with the Force - or let you to slip to the Dark Side - are one part decision, one part roll of the dice.

Kananaskis Mush
by Tracy Hyatt

If skiing or snowmobiling isn’t your winter activity of choice, there are other ways to explore the snow-covered hills. All you need do is learn a few dog commands - gee means turn right and haw, left - and let a faithful pack of canines lead the way. Canmore-based Snowy Owl Sled Dog Tours offers a range of packages, from a two-hour ride to a two-day overnight adventure, which includes winter camping. The popular two-hour tour winds its way through the forested Spray Lakes Valley, with a midway pit stop on Ghost Pond for photos. By then, you should be on a first-name basis with your new four-legged friends, who consist of Canadian Inuit Huskies, Alaskan Malamutes, Canadian Indian Huskies and Siberian Huskies. At the end of the ride, warm your toes beside a roaring fire, sip hot chocolate and snack on cookies prepared by your guides. 

Thunder On The Plains

by Tracy Hyatt
In the 1600s, more than 40 million bison covered the plains of North America. By the mid-20th century, their numbers had dwindled to 3,000 as a result of overhunting. Recalling the Buffalo, by City of Edmonton historian laureate Ken Tingley, tells the story of North America’s largest native land mammal with brevity and clarity. One local highlight: in a later chapter, Tingley unearths an American Bison Society report that documents the successful 1897 introduction of three Texas bison to Banff National Park. The report describes the bison as “ the most interesting attraction to the thousands of tourists, who from year to year were drawn to Banff by the fame of its natural beauties and its hot springs.” The bison thrived, and by 1909 the captive herd had increased from 19 to more than 100. The park removed the bison paddock in 1997 to allow free movement of other wildlife, but there are current plans to reintroduce a roaming herd. Recalling the Buffalo doubles as a biography of American cowboy, conservationist and artist Martin Garretson, who dedicated his life to saving the buffalo from extinction. While some may find the book’s content sparse, Garretson’s sketches, paintings, correspondence, articles and clippings - all carefully curated by Tingley - bring the buffalo, and the efforts to restore them - charging back to life.

Remembrance Day at the Alberta Aviation Museum

by Caitlin Rooney
This November 11, commemorate Canadian war heroes in the very building where Commonwealth air troops trained during the Second World War: the Alberta Aviation Museum in Edmonton. A parade of around 70 veterans and troops kicks off the museum’s annual ceremony at 10 a.m., followed by presentations on the history of Remembrance Day, prayers for Canadians lost in conflicts past and the customary moment of silence. Organizers expect a crowd of nearly 1,000, including families, veterans and service men and women.
After the ceremony, tour the museum to gain an even greater appreciation of the world’s air forces. You’ll learn about the hangar’s history as a British Royal Air Force facility, handle manual and electronic flight simulators and get up close to more than 50 aircraft - a 1943 de Havilland Mosquito, a 1937 Avro Anson II, a 1943 Douglas C-47 and a 1952 Canadair CT-133 Silver Star fighter jet, among others. 

Sentimental Bric-a-Brac

by Tracy Hyatt
On the stretch of Nanton’s main street that’s dotted with curiosity shops, you could easily drive right by the nondescript Keeley Building. But it’s worth a second look. The two-storey brick structure, built in 1909 as a hardware store, is nearly as old as the town itself. Today it’s home to Sentimental Journey Antiques, one of the largest antique shops in Alberta, If not the Prairies. Owner Terry Dixon has amassed a mind-blowing collection of Shelley china, which she displays amid furnishings, art deco lampshades, vintage signs, wooden skis and Western Canadian kitsch. Upstairs, Dixon has filled a series of tiny interconnecting rooms and narrow hallways - once apartments used by the Canadian Air Force - with more antiques. Set aside at least a couple of hours to rummage for vintage treasures. 

(0) view/add comments
Westworld wants to hear from you!
Check out the comments page and let us know what you think of the article you just read.
weekenders

by Kristine Kowalchuk

October 2012
email to a friend

Weekenders: Grande Cache

Grande Cache didn’t exist as a town until 1969 - it was established along with the Smoky River Coal Mine. The town’s name, however, is a reference to the elevated log huts that trappers of the area would use for storing furs (stilts kept the pelts away from rodents). A model hut next to Hwy. 40 welcomes visitors, who arrive to find themselves surrounded by pristine mountain forests and a trove of jaw-dropping vistas: Grande Cache and Victor Lakes to the south, Smoky River to the north and Sulphur River to the west. Grand cache, indeed.

The Hideaway
Misty Mountain Suites is smack in the middle of town, within walking distance of restaurants and shops. It’s a quiet, comfortable spot to relax after a day of skiing on local trails or ice fishing on the lake. The suites are appointed with gas fireplaces, jet bathtubs, large-screen TVs with satellite, full kitchens (perfect for frying up freshly caught fish), balconies with mountain views and easy access to Grande Cache’s new Wellness and Recreation Centre. Be sure to ask for a room in the new wing. 

Rockin’ view: Visit Sulphur Gates, the majestic rock cliffs at the confluence of the Smoky and Sulphur Rivers. Get there by rafting in summer or hiking on the frozen river in winter; either way, contact Wild Blue Yonder for a guide. Egg up: Devour a superb omelette at the Bistro Cafe in Acorn Plaza Mall (780-827-5134). Morning glide: Cross-country ski along groomed trails at Pierre Grey’s Lakes Provincial Park, 30 km south of town. Fix ‘n’ flicks: Sip a latte at Noelle’s Cafe in Shopper’s Park Mall. Then take in a movie in the attached 30-seat cinema (shoppersparkmall.com). Go wild: Try to spot mountain goats and bighorn sheep at Willmore Wilderness Park - almost 20 per cent of Alberta’s populations are found here, along with bears, caribou, cougars and wolves. No vehicles are allowed in the park, though - you’ll have to hike, ride, cycle or ski. Stop by the Willmore Wilderness Foundation to learn more.

(0) view/add comments
Westworld wants to hear from you!
Check out the comments page and let us know what you think of the article you just read.
roadside

by Kevin Brooker

October 2012
email to a friend

Boardwalk Beacon

Though hardly endemic to the prairies, the Sylvan Lake lighthouse has been as much a part of the resort town’s boardwalk atmosphere as the fish-and-chip joints and waterslides. It teeters on a spit next to the marina, where it was built by the local sailing club in 1988 as a 75th birthday gift for the town. If it looks familiar, it’s because they based it on plans from the nation’s most famous lighthouse - the one in Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia. Alas, the structure, which cost just $32,000 to build, was recently declared unsound and is slated to be torn down this year, joining other vanished Sylvan Lake landmarks, such as three swing-era dance halls and the circa 1947 Central Steam Baths, which burned down in 2007.

The town council did a Facebook survey this August to ask residents what they’d like to see in place of the lighthouse after demolition. Council’s suspicions were quickly confirmed, says Town of Sylvan Lake spokesperson Joanne Gaudet: “We got 38 replies in the first 10 minutes and every one of them said ‘another lighthouse.’” With the town’s centennial looming in 2013, it’s an obvious time to rebuild. Here’s hoping the next version is seaworthy for many years to come.

(0) view/add comments
Westworld wants to hear from you!
Check out the comments page and let us know what you think of the article you just read.
money matters

by Tracy Hyatt

October 2012
email to a friend

Five Ways to Improve Your Credit Score

Something to consider if you’re planning on buying a home or taking out a loan for a car: your credit score. This ranking of the risk you represent to lenders is one of the main tools they use to decide whether to give you credit. It can even affect your auto insurance premiums. So don’t wait until it’s too late - here are five easy ways to raise your credit score now.

1. Pay your bills on time
Even if you pay a bill one day late, your credit score suffers. Late payments fall into several categories ranging from less than 30 days to 120-days-plus. If you’re a day late, you’re already in the first category, and your score takes a hit.

The good news is, the longer your history is blemish-free, the more likely it is that your credit score will improve. But improvement might be slow - a single credit transaction affects your score for six years.

“If you are having trouble paying off your balance, at least try and make the minimum payment,” says Scott Sanders of Bridgewater Bank, the AMA subsidiary that manages the CAA MasterCard. Then talk to the credit card company about your options or seek credit counselling.

2. Don’t be afraid to use your credit card
This may go against conventional wisdom, but it’s good to exercise your plastic. Stashing credit cards away in a drawer and not using them might actually lower your credit score, because you won’t build enough credit-management history for creditors to know whether you’re a risk.

3. Check your credit report regularly
A credit report is a snapshot of your credit history, at a particular point in time. You can obtain it free from Equifax (equifax.ca) or TransUnion (transunion.ca), Canada’s main credit-reporting agencies. According to the U.S.-based Policy and Economic Research Council, about 19 per cent of credit reports contain errors, so check yours at least once a year. Report any mistakes to the credit bureau and the creditor in question to resolve any errors.

4. Keep your credit utilization rates low
One-third of your credit score relates to your total amount of debt. So keep your utilization low - 30 to 50 per cent of your total available credit is ideal, according to the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada. If you draw on a larger percentage, your credit score could suffer, because creditors might conclude that you rely too heavily on debt - even if you pay off your balances on time. “And in the mind of a creditor, a low balance shows that you’re fiscally responsible,” says Sanders.

5. Have more than one credit card
You might pat yourself on the back for having only one credit card, but that isn’t the smartest move. You should have at least two: one primary and one backup - for security and to build positive credit history. But don’t go applying for credit cards willy-nilly. If you have access to heaps of credit, there’s an increased risk of getting yourself in trouble.

Stay Tight with Your Bank
Constant communication with your bank makes good financial sense. Why? A credit score is a computer-generated number that doesn’t necessarily reflect behavioural trends. So if, say, you’ve worked diligently over the past year to improve your financial habits, your score might not reflect that. But a flesh-and-blood banker might recognize and appreciate the changes. In other words, while a computer might turn you down for a mortgage based on your credit score - a human being who knows you and trusts your intentions might not.

(0) view/add comments
Westworld wants to hear from you!
Check out the comments page and let us know what you think of the article you just read.
member story

by Patty McGuire, AMA Member since 2012

October 2012
email to a friend

Three Cheers for Mom

As a single mom of two, I’m no stranger to a hectic schedule - or adversity, for that matter. So when my family awoke one Saturday morning to the biggest snowstorm of the season, I wasn’t about to change our plans.

My son Blaise had a hockey game in our hometown of St. Albert and my daughter Mason had a cheerleading competition in southwest Edmonton. So I brushed the snow off my car, got Blaise to his game and then drove, cautiously, along Anthony Henday Drive to Edmonton with Mason. When we arrived, safe and sound, at the school where the event was taking place, the snow was about 25 centimetres deep.

After an exciting day of watching the WD Cuts cheerleading team win second place, I was ready to go home. But when I reached into my bag, I couldn’t feel my car keys. I pulled out the lanyard they’d been on. The keys were gone. We slogged through the parking lot and, clearing the snow from the car window, saw them: hanging in the ignition. I started to panic, envisaging the school shutting its doors and us being locked out in the cold for the night.

Then I remembered I’d just joined AMA. I could call them! I dialed the number and got an operator right away. She told me someone would be there within 45 minutes. I couldn’t believe it - I’d expected to be hanging around for hours, especially in that weather.

And indeed my saviour arrived within the appointed time. It took him 12 seconds to open my car door. I was his last call of the day. I assumed he would want to get the job done and go back to the safety of his own home as quickly as possible. But he hung around and helped me clear the snow off my car. I couldn’t believe how caring he was. Within an hour of placing the call, I was able to get in my car and drive my daughter safely home.

As for my story, it doesn’t end there. There was an incident two weeks later with a flat tire - just another day in the life of a single mom! But that’s a tale for another time.

(15) view/add comments
Westworld wants to hear from you!
Check out the comments page and let us know what you think of the article you just read.
analyze this

by: Paul Sinkewicz

October 2012
email to a friend watch video

Anatomy of a Collision

How easy it is for us to feel safe as we beetle around in our busy lives, comfortably ensconced in a sophisticated system of electronics, glass and metal. But as around 150,000 Albertans are reminded each year (the annual number of collisions province-wide), to get behind the wheel of a vehicle is also to take on the very real risk of a crash. 

What happens in a collision?

Mass and velocity create momentum. And when two objects collide, momentum doesn’t dissipate: it transfers. The heavier an object and the faster it is going, the greater the momentum - and the greater the force of the collision.

The destructive force of a collision isn’t just reserved for metal and plastic, however. A second “collision” occurs when the forward momentum of a vehicle’s occupants propels them against the seatbelts, airbag or dashboard (which all stop suddenly in a crash), possibly causing external injuries. And a third collision - inside the body - can take place as internal organs continue in the direction they were travelling while the rest of the body comes to a sudden halt. This can result in internal organ and tissue damage, or even concussion, as the brain impacts the interior wall of the skull.

How to prevent a crash
According to Ron Wilson, manager of operations for AMA Fleet Safety Services, many collisions result from poor driving habits, such as inattention, not checking mirrors, not checking blind spots, bad road positioning, backing up too fast and driving too fast for conditions. Fortunately, simple strategies can cut the risk. Know what’s going on around you at all times and keep your focus on driving, says Wilson. “When you’re sitting at a red light, scan the intersection left, right and back to left. Identify any potential hazards and make a plan for how you might react safely.”

“The most common collision in Alberta is the rear-end crash,” adds Wilson. “Prevent it by giving yourself a safe following distance [a three-second minimum, increasing as conditions deteriorate]. And to prevent yourself from getting rear-ended, always signal your intentions well in advance, and keep your lights clean and visible.”

Making the best of a bad situation

If, despite your best efforts, you can’t avoid a collision, it’s best to hit something with give. “You’re better off hitting a small bush than a bridge pillar, for example,” says Wilson. “Always look and steer for an out. As a general rule, dodge trouble by steering to the right, away from oncoming traffic.”

If you’re sitting in traffic and it looks like someone is going to hit you from behind, apply your brakes so that you’re not pushed into traffic, and press your head firmly back on the head restraint to minimize the chances of injury. If you’re about to get hit from the side (a T-bone collision), keep two hands on the steering wheel and try to turn so that the other vehicle hits you with a glancing blow.
“If it looks like you’re going to get hit from the front, again, try and steer for a glancing blow, because that minimizes damage,” says Wilson. “Also, in any type of collision, if you can reduce your speed, you’ll reduce the force of impact.”

What to do post-collision
If possible, safely move the vehicle or vehicles off the road and switch on your hazard lights. If anyone is injured, call 911 immediately. If you have emergency hazard markers, put them out. And remember: in Alberta, you must notify the police of a collision if there is damage over $2,000, if there are any injuries, or if there is any damage to traffic control devices.

Wilson advises drivers involved in a collision to take a few deep breaths to collect themselves, and to not get into a discussion about fault. “Fault is really not for you to decide at that point,” he says. “Give the information to the police and the insurance company and let them work it out.”

Collisions in Alberta
In 2010, there were 344 fatalities and 18,253 injuries resulting from collisions province-wide, according to Alberta Transportation.

Top driver errors resulting in casualty collisions
1.  Following too closely: 31.3%
2. Running off the road: 14.6%
3. Performing a left turn into the path of another vehicle: 11.7%

Top driver errors resulting in fatalities
1. Running off the road: 95 fatalities
2. Crossing the centre line: 49 fatalities

When collisions occur
Most crash-prone time of year: Fall. 
The highest number of casualty crashes occur in October and the most property damage from collisions results in November.
Most crash-prone day of the week: Friday.
And the worst time of day is the afternoon rush hour.

Collision Avoidance: The ‘SIPDE’ Procedure
Proactive driving is the best way to avoid a crash. Follow these steps continually when behind the wheel to maximize your chances of a safe ride:

  • Scan: Make a visual sweep of the view ahead, to the sides and in your mirrors.
  • Identify: Note any potential hazards.
  • Predict: Anticipate what could happen in the next few seconds.
  • Decide: Based on your prediction, select a course of action to safely avoid the hazard.
  • Execute: Carry out that course of action.

(14) view/add comments
Westworld wants to hear from you!
Check out the comments page and let us know what you think of the article you just read.
24 Hours

by Steve Burgess

October 2012
email to a friend

24 Hours: Tokyo

Much of Tokyo’s appeal lies in the sheer urban intensity of the place. It doesn’t get more intense than the neighbourhood of Shibuya. Try to grab a second-floor seat at the world’s busiest Starbucks (it has a streamlined menu to keep the line moving), overlooking the Shibuya Station intersection, which is essentially Tokyo’s Times Square. You’ll also be looking at Hachiko Square, which features a statue of a dog famous for its faithfulness - it waited here for its master every day for nine years after the man’s death. From there it’s a short train ride to Harajuku, the hip shopping district that offers a constant and often bizarre fashion parade.

Located on the edge of the lively Shinjuku district, 100 Stay Tokyo Shinjuku Serviced Hotel and Apartments offers well-appointed rooms and, if you’re lucky, a lovely view of Mount Fuji, all at a mid-range price (hundredstay.com).

Budget hotel rooms in Tokyo range from small to bed-in-a-cupboard. Business hotels are usually clean and well run. Chisun Inn Asakusa (solare hotels.com) is a solid example - and just blocks from Sensoji Temple. This must-see Buddhist temple, built in 645, is Tokyo’s oldest, and just a five-minute walk from Asakusa subway station.

For an old-school shopping experience, get off at Ueno Station and head for bustling Ameyoko Market, where fishmongers and fruit sellers share space with restaurants, raucous pachinko parlours and mysterious gentleman’s clubs.

Eat like a sumo wrestler! It’s tasty and, believe it or not, non-fattening. Former sumo superstar Wakanohana launched the Waka restaurant chain, specializing in chanko-nabe, the traditional hot-pot meal eaten by sumo wrestlers. Waka has Tokyo locations in Roppongi and Shinjuku districts.

Naturally there’s plenty of great sushi in Tokyo, but for something different try okonomi-yaki, a thick pancake of cabbage, egg and flour, usually topped with meat, seafood, a slightly sweet sauce and Japanese mayonnaise. It’s hearty and inexpensive. Many places grill it at your table. Fugetsu and Kiji are popular chains.

(55) view/add comments
Westworld wants to hear from you!
Check out the comments page and let us know what you think of the article you just read.
travel smarts

by Jeff Bateman

October 2012
email to a friend

Agent Versus Internet


Back before Web 2.0 made us virtual masters of our own online destiny, few apart from road trippers ever left home without connecting with at least one flesh-and-blood travel rep. Now it seems like a breeze to reserve flights, hotels and tour packages online. But can the Internet really beat the human experience?

In a recent competition - staged by Westworld Alberta - to find the best price on a two-week Maui vacation for two, Teresa Schile, manager of AMA Travel in Medicine Hat, came in more than $400 lower than Calgary AMA member Adrianne Lovric. Lovric used her favourite online booking sites, Travelocity and Expedia. Schile leveraged wholesale rates.

The biggest savings were on the hotel stays - just one of the many advantages of working with an agent, says Schile.

“Naturally I’m biased,” she adds, laughing. “But there’s no question that the right agent is essential in booking trips that are more complicated than, say, a simple Calgary-to-Vancouver return. Agents can do the heavy lifting in terms of multiple connections, airport transfers, group travel, accommodations and essential documentation. One big bonus is that you’re getting an advocate who has your back every step of the holiday.”
Schile counts off the other ways in which agents trump the online experience:

  • Research Assistance: Thanks to familiarization trips and frequent holiday outings, most agents have travelled extensively. Schile herself goes to the Mediterranean once a year and has led tours to Chile, Peru, South Africa and the Ukraine, among other destinations. This been-there expertise can help clients separate wheat from chaff. (Every holiday property looks great on the web, of course. As Lovric, who normally books hotels based on web reviews, notes, “I have no idea where I’m staying, but the photos look nice.")
  • Itinerary Building: Challenge agents and watch them shine at putting together day-by-day agendas complete with multiple reservation confirmations. That’s days of research and poring over tourism websites - off your plate.
  • Insider Advantages: Agents spend their lives writing their own renditions of the Hank Snow classic “I’ve Been Everywhere.” Each has their share of hot tips in their areas of specialization, whether it’s the scoop on a new cruise ship, a great restaurant in San Diego or the latest exhibit at Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum. And when it comes to bottom-line pricing, agents can call on their industry clout, volume discounts and knowledge of seasonal policies to deliver affordability.
  • Information Central: Paperwork is make-or-break for stress-free holidays. It’s a surprise to many AMA clients, for instance, that European and Asian countries require that Canadian passports be valid for three to six months following a trip’s conclusion. Agents take the guesswork out of visas, medical/cancellation insurance and international driving permits, and they’re go-to authorities on currency, customs, safety, airline schedule changes and immunization requirements.
  • Emergency Assistance: If things go haywire, agents serve as troubleshooters who can guide clients through cancelled reservations, missed flights and lost baggage. In the wake of recent disasters like the Japanese tsunami and the New Zealand earthquake, AMA agents immediately got busy tracking down clients and ensuring they were safe - to the relief of friends and family back home.

No question the Internet is a miraculous tool for R&D, says Schile. “It’s great when a client walks in having done some preliminary research and has a pile of questions,” she says. “The wonderful thing is that these first encounters can be the start of a collaborative relationship that endures through many years and holiday adventures.”

(2) view/add comments
Westworld wants to hear from you!
Check out the comments page and let us know what you think of the article you just read.

LEARN MORE AMA Travel’s knowledgeable and friendly travel specialists are there for you before, during and after your vacation. Whether you’re planning a weekend in the Rockies or a dream vacation, AMA Travel will help make your experience unforgettable. Call1-866-667-4777 for an appointment.

working for you

by: Tracy Hyatt

October 2012
email to a friend

The Alberta History of the Trans-Canada Highway

On September 3, 1962, Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker delivered a moving speech to 3,000 spectators who had gathered at Rogers Pass in Glacier National Park for the opening festivities of the Trans-Canada Highway. The event had begun under inclement skies, but by the time Diefenbaker delivered his nation-building speech, the sun was shining.

“This highway, may it serve to bring Canadians closer together. May it bring to all Canadians a renewed determination to do their part to make this nation great,” he said.

In the crowd, looking on, were a teenage John Carruthers and his family. They’d been on their way home to Calgary, from their annual summer vacation in B.C., when John’s father remembered that the Trans Canada was set to open that day. They’d arrived just in time for the speech.

Little did Carruthers know that 50 years later, as an AMA board director, he would be repeating Diefenbaker’s fateful words. The occasion: the CAA-sponsored Trans Canada Trek - a cross-Canada drive by auto journalist Mark Richardson to celebrate 50 years of the Trans-Canada Highway. Under sunny Calgary skies, Carruthers welcomed Richardson, who was partway through his journey from St. John’s to Victoria. The day before, he’d been welcomed to Medicine Hat with fanfare at an AMA-hosted ceremony at Medalta Potteries.

“This is an incredible journey on a highway that connects us all as Canadians,” said Richardson at the ceremony.

Richardson’s trek marked another anniversary as well: 100 years since the first road trip across Canada. At the turn of the century, there were fewer than 50,000 automobiles in the country. So, needless to say, road building wasn’t a top priority. Others saw the need, and they were willing to go the extra mile to make their case. In 1912, Albert E. Todd, president of the Victoria Automobile Association, offered a gold medal to the first person who would drive across the country on only Canadian roads. It would take 13 years for this ocean-to-ocean feat to be completed. The trailblazer was Perry Doolittle, who had founded the (CAA) in 1913. Doolittle made the journey travelling through bogs, swamps and roads that today would be considered impassable.

It would be 50 years from the time Doolittle finished his celebrated road trip to the day the Diefenbaker officially opened the Trans-Canada. During that time, AMA played a key role in pro-highway lobbying efforts. At a 1948 national convention attended by provincial and federal politicians, an AMA representative declared, “It is a dumbbell proposition for Canada to be found without at least one Trans-Canada Highway.” By the end of the conference, the feds agreed to partially fund the project and allow the provinces to choose their own routes. Ultimately, two highways were completed in the western provinces: the Yellowhead Highway and the Trans-Canada. In Alberta, the Yellowhead passes through Lloydminster, Edmonton and Jasper. The Trans-Canada passes through the southern communities of Medicine Hat, Calgary and Banff. 

AMA MEMBERS SAVE MOREThis summer, award-winning auto journalist Mark Richardson drove across Canada to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Trans-Canada Highway. Now you can save on a few of the things Richardson did in Alberta:
Fuel up at Husky and dine at Husky House Restaurant. AMA members earn CAA Dollars on fuel, restaurant, automotive and in-store purchases. Some conditions apply.
Zipline and bobsled at Winsport Canada Olympic Park. AMA members save on the summer bobsleigh and zipline adrenaline combo; $99 plus GST. Members get two-for-one mini golf.
Whitewater-raft along the Kananaskis River with outfitters Inside Out Experience. AMA members save up to 15% on outdoor adventures, including snowshoeing and whitewater rafting.
Go to AMARewards.ca for more information. 

(21) view/add comments
Westworld wants to hear from you!
Check out the comments page and let us know what you think of the article you just read.
money matters

by: Westworld

October 2012
email to a friend

Free Report

Check your credit report regularly
A credit report is a snapshot of your credit history, at a particular point in time. You can obtain it free from Equifax or TransUnion (transunion.ca), Canada’s main credit-reporting agencies. According to the U.S.-based Policy and Economic Research Council, about 19 per cent of credit reports contain errors, so check yours at least once a year. Report any mistakes to the credit bureau and the creditor in question to resolve any errors.

(7) view/add comments
Westworld wants to hear from you!
Check out the comments page and let us know what you think of the article you just read.
All About You

by: Westworld

September 2012
email to a friend

Beer goggles on screen

AMA reached out to young driver with a new ad campaing that hit Alberta Cineplex screens this summer. We strapped “beer goggles” (alcohol impairmentsimulating glasses) on football players and fashionistas to show how even a few drinks compromise coordination. If you can’t put on makeup or catch a ball, just imagine how drinking affects your driving. Visit the None for the Road YouTube channel to view more videos. 

(0) view/add comments
Westworld wants to hear from you!
Check out the comments page and let us know what you think of the article you just read.
feature

by: Alisa Smith

September 2012
email to a friend

Slow is beautiful

My partner James is a fan of living fast, not Slow - so “vacation” is not his favourite word.

“What are we going to do for a month?” he grumps, as I’m hatching a scheme for a four-week stay in southern Spain’s Andalusia region. We’ve spent the past few years writing and doing speaking tours (for our book, The 100 Mile Diet), and I’ve found myself dreaming about a peaceful place to think through a new project.

“We’ll work in the morning, swim in the afternoon and eat tapas at night,” I say. When he hears the word “work,” he peps right up. He’s a workaholic, and thanks to the Internet we’ll be able to keep in touch with our writing contacts. Besides, I tell him, a long stay in Spain will be a lesson in another way of life: we’ll learn to take it easy. Amped up on North America’s go-go-go culture, you really do need a whole month to adjust.

So, after giving up our apartment and putting our furniture in storage (after Spain we’ve planned a few months in New York), we’re off.  The seaside city of Sanlcar de Barrameda (pop. 67,000), at the mouth of the Guadalquivir River in Cdiz province, is popular with ocean-seeking Spaniards, but off the tourist map otherwise - which is exactly why we chose it for our cultural immersion. And the culture is ancient: the Moors had a fort in Sanlcar in 1000 AD. In the age of Spanish exploration, the city was an important port. Columbus set sail from Sanlcar on his third voyage to the New World, in 1498.

Through a Spanish real estate website, we’ve arranged a rental: a one-bedroom suite on Calle Descalzas, “Barefoot Street,” in the city’s oldest quarter, Barrio Alto (for around 1,000 euros). It’s at the top of a hill, five minutes’ walk from downtown and 15 minutes from the beach.

The kindly apartment owner, a dentist named Carlos from nearby Seville, meets us at our new digs around noon. (Fresh off a 12-hour flight and an hour-long bus ride, we’re good and ready to settle in.) The building is one of those classic white-plaster Spanish structures with a windowless wall, flush to the sidewalk, that conceals an interior courtyard. Carlos pushes open the wood-plank double doors - large enough that a horse and carriage could pass through - to reveal a hallway with a mahogany-beam ceiling and a blue-and-white tile staircase.

Built in the early 1800s, this was once the summer home of a president’s wife, Carlos tells us. It has since been divided into apartments, mostly occupied by locals. Though our suite has a modern sleeping loft and kitchen, it retains plenty of character, with thick stone walls, high ceilings and Moorish-style lattice window screens. In the airy courtyard outside our door, there is a massive palm tree and, we soon learn, a resident chameleon. Over the weeks, we take to sipping manzanilla, the local wine, here of an evening as the cicadas hum.

We chose September to visit, thinking it would be cool enough to work comfortably. But it’s 35 C on the first afternoon, so we decide to walk down to the beach.Medieval town design, it turns out, is chaotic. Why build a road in a straight line when you can use three curves and two dead-ends instead? As I blindly trust to James’s better sense of direction, we stroll through Barrio Alto (High Neighbourhood), crossing plazas lined with little restaurants and bars and wondering why everything is closed. (We’ve yet to figure out the patterns of Spanish eating - but more on that later).

Leaving behind the fragmented stone wall of the medieval city, we pass into Barrio Bajo (Low Neighbourhood). Here the buildings, appointed with Victorian flourishes such as decorative plaster trim, depart from the earlier, more severe Spanish style. The flat stretch leading to the beach, farther along, was rebuilt with low, boxy buildings in the 1950s, when the modern concept of the Spanish beach holiday was born. A short distance to the north, there is a burst of antique character in the port district, the Bajo de Gua, where a former ice warehouse is now a museum and other historic buildings house seafood restaurants.

We pass a 15th-century fortress, a duke’s palace and several historic churches as we make our way down to La Calzada beach, where we retreat into the blessed shade of a cabana bar to soak up views of the sea and Doana National Park. The park, on the northern shore of the Guadalquivir, where the river empties into the Atlantic, harbours flamingos and endangered Iberian lynxes. Lounging among the crowds of locals by the seaside, we feel we’ve taken our first step toward living like Spaniards.

Besides seafood, Sanlcar’s specialty is manzanilla, a variant of dry fino sherry made from locally grown white Palomino grapes. The looming white-plaster bodegas, or warehouses, that produce the beverage are so numerous as to be the city’s most distinctive architectural feature - with the largest taking up an entire city block. The buildings are situated on rises or along windy corridors to catch the salty sea breezes that give manzanilla its distinctive tang as it ages.

About halfway through our stay, in a little bar on Don Romn street, we notice the bartender pouring manzanilla between two oak barrels. He tells us that one always mixes a little from the previous vintage to keep the flavour consistent from year to year. I ask for a glass of La Cigarrera brand. They have it, says the bartender, but there is none in the fridge. “That’s okay, I’ll drink it as it is,” I say.

“Very good,” says the bartender, nodding, pouring me a glass straight from the cask. “That is the traditional way.” And I feel strangely proud, as if I’ve passed some sort of cultural test.

In a month, we have time to compare all the makes: Barbadillo, San Pedro, Argeso and many more. Each has at least three styles, ranging from pale yellow to dark gold. By the end of our stay, I start to feel like a connoisseur - which isn’t the kind of thing you achieve on a seven-day tourist blitz through a country.Same with flamenco. Tourists tend to see it in theatres in well-known Seville, yet Sanlcar is in many ways a superior place to see the dance.


Flamenco was born in bars and in Sanlcar it is still performed in the bars, intimate and less choreographed. When we come across some handmade posters downtown for a show at Contratiempo, a cabaret in Barrio Bajo, we know we have to go. Flamenco’s origins are shrouded in medieval mist, but it’s rumoured to have originated among the gypsies of Andalusia. Characterized by staccato stamping and expressive arm movements - set to soulful singing and percussive guitar - the dance is renowned for the passionate intensity of its performers.

Contratiempo turns out to be a tiny place, with only about 30 people seated at the tables. The performance, scheduled for 11 p.m., doesn’t start until after midnight. But this is tradition: the dance does not start until the performers feel moved to begin. Tonight’s singer, Mara Mezcle, is young and pretty, with long black hair and a thrilling, deep voice. She and the guitar player stand on one side of a small stage while a succession of female dancers performs, posing their arms in the air, just so, then flipping up their long, flounced skirts to display their stomping feet. But the lone male dancer is a revelation. His rapid-fire footwork bears a resemblance to tap dancing. But unlike a tap dancer, his attitude is absolutely serious. He throws off his suit jacket mid-dance, sweating through his shirt as he storms back and forth across the stage.

The best part of a long stay is becoming part of the rhythms of daily life. Most mornings we work in the apartment - James sets up his computer in the loft and I’m stationed at the dining room table until around 1 p.m., when it gets too hot. In the afternoons, we go down to the mouth of the river, where the vacation condominiums along the seawall give way to brush, trees and cliffs. The whole city - and half of all Andalusia - seems to gather here to sunbathe and watch their children play in the sand. The strong current at the river mouth makes swimming here the ultimate workout. Though sometimes, I confess, I only swim the easy direction. James revels in the hard way.

Every week, our friendly dentist drives down from Seville to see how we’re doing. One day, he brings his family along. “I wonder if you could go even a month without Coca-Cola?” he says to his teenage daughter, teasing, making her blush. Online, he found our book, which is about eating local food for a year. While Canadian parents might worry about teens partying, Spanish parents seem more concerned about young people losing ties to traditional life, which centres on food and drink.

Since we’re talking about food, an obsession of ours, I ask Carlos about the fishing boats we see coming into port each day, and the types of fish they normally bring to market. Sanlcar’s fish and produce market, built in the 1500s, is the largest in Andalusia - and just a few blocks from our apartment. We’ve been shopping there daily and cooking most of our meals at home: fried mackerel, bean stews, local pine nuts on pasta, tomato salads - or simply fresh baguettes with olive oil, cheese and cured ham.

“You can’t get tuna anymore,” Carlos says. “The Japanese buy it all the moment it hits shore.”

“That’s too bad,” James says. “But at least the vegetables stay close to home.” He tells Carlos that the other day we asked a vendor if a tomato was local and the vendor replied, “No, it’s from Chipiona.” James laughed, because Chipiona is about 10 km away. “That would definitely be local in Canada.”

Carlos smiles. As he leaves, he tells us that this month, September, is his favourite time in Sanlcar, except perhaps for August, when the city stages horse races on the beach. James’s eyes sparkle at the thought of all that speed, despite our newly mellow lifestyle. To distract him, I suggest we go eat - a leisurely pastime in these parts. In Spain, you have three hours for lunch, and dinner is an eternity, so “slow food” is necessary to fill the time. One does not eat supper, but tapear (the verb form of tapas) from 8 p.m. until close to midnight. And if you’re hungry at 6 p.m.? Forget about finding a meal. The Spanish keep long, but strictly contained, hours. If a Spaniard is hungry at that time, he orders ice cream. Yes, before dinner. And while in Canada you might be secretly annoyed when your friend orders the same dish as you in a restaurant, in Spain you always order what your friend is having: the house specialty. So, at bustling Casa Balbino on the main plaza, we have the shrimp omelets, while at Los Caracoles (The Snails), the little bar at the end of our block, we order cups of tiny snails boiled in broth and eaten with the shells still on. Strange. But this is the sort of thing you become brave enough to do after weeks of immersion.

Near the end of our visit, we come across some posters advertising a Saturday night religious festival to honour Our Lady of Charity, the patron saint of Sanlcar. It isn’t a tourist event, and there is little other information. So come Saturday evening, we walk around Barrio Bajo until we find crowds of locals lining a historic street, Calle Ancha, and stand among the hundreds, waiting for whatever it is they’re waiting for. Everyone is decked out in their Sunday best, right down to four-year-old boys wearing suits. First we hear trumpets. Then we see a procession approaching. Burly men in T-shirts emblazoned with the Virgin’s image are taking turns bearing a painted wooden statue, heavy with silver, of her likeness on a platform. The statue normally resides in her namesake basilica, in Barrio Alto. Up, up, up the old cobbled streets to the height of the city, the men bear their glittering burden, as a brass band plays and young men in surplices wave silver censers, leaving a smoky trail of incense. The crowd moves to follow the statue. Children with candles scamper alongside. We follow, watching as they file into the basilica, returning the Virgin to her home, now that she’s made the circuit of the old town.

The next morning, out our window, we see a crowd carrying the statue back down the hill for another tour. This procession is more sombre, and now the women wear the traditional black mantilla, or lace veil, held aloft by an ornamental comb. As they pass down our street, our neighbours throw rose petals from their balconies while troupes of boys tap away on drums.  We later learn that this procession happens every year, and the statue is 400 years old. I’m awed by the history, and moved at having witnessed the beauty and grandeur of everyday life and faith in this place. I close my eyes and picture the pink torrent of rose petals, knowing I will return to Sanlcar one day because it feels like home.

(0) view/add comments
Westworld wants to hear from you!
Check out the comments page and let us know what you think of the article you just read.
feature

by: Joe Wiebe

September 2012
email to a friend