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Istanbul Insider Tips from a Local Expert

25 May

Licensed tour guide Cem Balsun has been leading tours in Istanbul, Bursa, and Canakkale for five years, offering personalized tours and transportation around his home and showing visitors the effusive hospitality found in Turkey. Offering insight into the culture, history, religion, and economy of Istanbul and Turkey, he also loves to help tourists to discover what daily life in Istanbul is really like.

We asked Cem for an insider look at his favorite things in Istanbul, and here’s what he had to say:

One of the best things about visiting Istanbul is that in one city you can visit two continents, Asia and Europe, all in the same day.

Take a Bosphorus cruise.

Take a Bosphorus cruise.

To save money, I recommend that all visitors who come to Istanbul buy one “Istanbulkart” (It is a transit pass card for all vehicles of public transport in Istanbul; bus, tram, metro, funicular, metrobus, ferry). You must use this card especially for buses because cash payment is not accepted on a bus. Traffic is a serious problem in Istanbul. So, to travel, it will be better to use tram, metro or metrobus to not waste your time in traffic.

Many people don’t know about the terrace of Sapphire Istanbul (the highest building of Turkey) but I recommend it for the largest panoramic view of Istanbul. Another great thing to try is the “Skyride” (4D Helicopter simulation).

It is very difficult to recommend just one thing from Turkish Cuisine but a few of my favorite local foods are Manti (Turkish Ravioli with yogurt sauce), Hunkarbegendi “Sultan’s favorite,” and Baklava (Turkish sweet).

Istanbul night life

Istanbul night life

If you only have one day in Istanbul, divide it into three parts; in the morning check out the Sultanahmet area and Grand Bazaar, then do a Bosphorus Cruise, and end your day discovering Istanbul’s night life.

Istanbul Insider Tips from a Local Expert

#FriFotos: Space Oddity

25 May

The view down the tunnel of CERN's Large Hadron Collider. (Photograph Rainer Hungershausen, My Shot)

This week’s #FriFotos theme.

#FriFotos: Space Oddity

Traveling CLEAR: the secure ID program for travelers

25 May

Clear skies: The CLEAR security program has expanded to four airports.

Within the past two months, airports in Dallas/Fort Worth and San Francisco became the latest facilities to introduce CLEAR, the secure ID program that allows members to pass through their own security lanes. That brings the service to a total of four U.S. airports, including Denver and Orlando. And in late June, CLEAR received Safety Act Certification from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. But what exactly is this program, and how can it help travelers?

Some travelers may recall that in 2009, the CLEAR program declared bankruptcy and closed completely, leaving some 200,000 members without benefits. But new investors have bought the company and relaunched it, with plans for continued expansion. The new owners are even crediting former members of the company’s earlier incarnation, for the amount of time left on their original memberships.

Given its limited reach so far, the CLEAR program will help you most if you frequent the four airports where it’s currently offered. Billed as the “nation’s pre-eminent biometric secure ID program,” CLEAR is a privately-owned company.  Travelers who sign up can use members-only lanes to go through security, presenting a CLEARcard ID and confirming their identity with the touch of a finger, with an average processing time of five minutes or less, according to company officials.

CLEAR membership costs $179 for a one-year membership with unlimited use. Members can add their spouse or significant other to their account with the family plan, for an additional $50. Children under the age of 18 can use the CLEAR lane free of charge when accompanied by an adult member. Corporate discounts are also available.

At Dallas/Fort Worth, CLEAR lanes are located at Terminal E, which serves Alaska, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue, Spirit, United, US Airways and Virgin America. The program operates in every terminal at San Francisco International Airport.


Traveling CLEAR: the secure ID program for travelers

Off the Beaten Path

25 May


Like many of us seniors, I am no longer interested in scrambling into uncharted territory just so I can view something most everyone else hasn’t already seen and photographed. I prefer the attractions that are easily reachable, even though thousands have been there before me. But I have also come across a good sampling of lesser-knowns that have been well worth exploring.

Devils Tower in Wyoming, for example, is overshadowed by such nearby wonders as Yellowstone National Park, the Grand Tetons and Mount Rushmore, so it’s not as popular as the others. It is, however, well worth a relatively short drive from any of its peers. The huge rock formation towers over pristine forest areas where, if your timing is right, you can spot a mother deer nursing its fawn.

The Presidential Palace in Warsaw, Poland, isn’t high on the list of “must sees” but those who take the time to go there are well-rewarded. The building is an architectural delight; the surrounding grounds are perfectly manicured, divided by a small stream and dotted with excellent statuary.

Budapest is a premier destination for both European and international travelers, and most gaze in wonder at the ornate Parliament building on the Pest side, then cross the Chain Bridge to visit St. Matthias Cathedral and the Fisherman’s Bastion on the Buda side. But a short distance away, the Budapest Opera House sits as a monument to the nation’s love for fine art and its ability to withstand enemy occupation. Both the interior and exterior are spectacular, worth extended gaping and countless camera clicks.

The city of Albuquerque, New Mexico, is home to an excellent variety of museums, but my favorite is the Unser Racing Museum. Although it’s not in the Old Town area as are most of the others, those who find it, especially those who like the roar of high-powered engines, will pat themselves on the back for their determination. The building is built in the shape of a tire, and the interior houses an excellent collection of memorabilia associated with the famous racing family.

Among my most pleasant memories is one of a lunch hour spent on the Marienplatz in Munich, Germany. I was among thousands who gathered there that day, and still meet there every day, to watch the glockenspiel at the New Town Hall go through its motions. With a giant beer stein in one hand and a camera in the other, I viewed this spectacular array of mechanical genius with undisguised awe. The soldiers marched, the bell clanged, the ladies danced, just as they have been doing for decades. Although it’s not really an off-the-beaten-path attraction, it is not well-publicized outside of Munich so you’ll be rubbing elbows and quaffing lager mainly with the locals. Off the Beaten Path

Urban Safari Adventure in San Francisco

25 May
Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge

In a city as diverse and exciting as San Francisco, the idea of going on “safari” through this hilly jungle is actually sort of perfect. Each neighborhood has its own distinct landscape, character, and, yes, even “wildlife” to see and learn about. And on the Urban Safari Adventure tour, you get a unique glimpse of the City by the Bay that you don’t necessarily get on other city tours.

Urban Safari bus

Urban Safari bus

This “unique” glimpse is made possible by the character and vibe that goes along with these tours. The Urban Safari is a small tour company with a big personality. With zebra-striped vehicles, safari hats for each guest, a driver who’s been growing out dreadlocks for 30 years, and enthusiastic tour guides armed with plenty of knowledge and corny jokes, this is a tour that is just as much about the experience as it is the sites you’ll see.

With Mfalme, the driver

With Mfalme, the driver

You’ll see plenty of San Francisco sites; on the Urban Safari, you can expect stops at the Palace of Fine Arts, Fort Point to view the famous Golden Gate Bridge up close, Twin Peaks for some awesome views out over San Francisco, and the quirky Castro District for lunch.

Palace of Fine Arts

Palace of Fine Arts

The tour also drives through the North Beach Italian neighborhood, past Chinatown, through the Presidio and Golden Gate Park, past the impressive City Hall building, and down streets lined with Victorian houses in Alamo Square. You’ll soon realize that San Francisco is about so much more than just Fisherman’s Wharf.

Castro District

Castro District

What the Urban Safari does a good job of is mirroring San Francisco’s strong personalities with its own. This is the type of tour where you have to tuck away your pride and embarrassment before boarding the safari vehicle—in the best way possible.

Near Alamo Square

Near Alamo Square

Your guide will have you singing “That’s Amore” as you drive through North Beach, posing for silly “falling-off-a-cliff” photos at Twin Peaks, and jogging with him at Fort Point as you learn about Hopper’s Hands. At lunch, you’re likely to meet the company’s owner, decked out in a fez and perhaps a smoking jacket, and this is exactly the sort of thing that helps set the Urban Safari apart.

Twin Peaks

Twin Peaks

San Francisco may be a jungle, but it’s fun and easy to explore with these guys.

Note: Lunch is not included in the price of the tour, but the corny jokes and sing-alongs are.

Urban Safari Adventure in San Francisco

The Men Who Jump Off Cliffs

25 May

I never want to witness a suicide, but I think I just did.

My hands are shaking, my knees wobbly. I am too scared to look over the edge—not only because of what I might see but because the edge of the cliff is nearly 2,000 feet high.

One minute there were five of us up there, a bunch of guys laughing and joking on a precipice of grey rock. The next minute, I am alone—the air silent, only my heart thumping in my chest.

My toes rustle an inch closer, and pebbles tumble from the edge. My eyes follow, and squinting I can see them all down there, four swirling skirts of color—neon orange, fluorescent pink, ink black, and then bright yellow. The parachutes spin down at different heights, then collapse like falling flower petals onto the green farmer’s field so far below.

It is all very beautiful—I almost want to jump down after them. I want to be a part of what just happened—men diving from the edge of this cliff like it’s the highest high dive on Earth, falling from the sky, soaring out over the valley and then, one by one, the colorful bouquet of parachutes exploding into life.

It is so beautiful because they are all alive. So am I, but I am still on the edge of a cliff and must take the long way back—uphill on foot for twenty minutes and then by cable car back down to the Alpine town of Lauterbrunnen.

The village of Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland.


“This is a BASE jumping mecca,” explains Justin Miller, an avid skydiver and BASE jumper from my own hometown of Washington, D.C. I ran into Justin the day before when he was walking back from a jump and he and his friends were kind enough to let me tag along for a day.

Justin claims that Switzerland is one of the best places in the world to BASE jump.

“You have at least 40 exit points in this valley alone,” says Justin. An exit point is a determined spot where jumpers can launch from a cliff and the landscape of Lauterbrunnen is one-of-a-kind. Vertical cliff walls hang on either side of this narrow glacial valley in the Swiss Alps, just outside Interlaken.

Adding to the perfect topography is the bonus of public transportation. The wide-reaching system of cable cars and trains allows jumpers to practically ride to the exit points. Nowhere else on earth offers that kind of access—typically BASE jumpers must first climb any mountain they hope to launch from.

That explains why Lauterbrunnen is a dream destination for BASE jumpers. Official numbers suggest there are at least 25,000 jumps per year in this valley (unofficial estimates peg it closer to 35,000). The jumpers come from all over the world and they form a rather strange and close-knit brotherhood.

“Everybody knows everybody,” says Justin. “We all get along because we have the same thirst for life.”

At night, the jumpers take over the Horner Pub in the middle of tiny Lauterbrunnen. Some are younger—almost teenagers it seems—and some are much older. They come from Australia, France, Belgium, Russia, and Spain. They come from America and they come from Canada, too.

“I live in Canada, which is extremely beautiful, but this place is just breathtaking,” says BASE jumper Gabriel Hubert, from Edmonton, Alberta. He is on vacation with his wife—after a week or so of jumping off cliffs in Switzerland, they will head to Paris for a “more romantic trip.” The couple have young children back home and I wonder what that’s like for them. My own dad likes to oil paint, but their father jumps off cliffs.

Another Canadian jumper, Kris Watson, explains the balance of his home life and what participating in one of the most dangerous sposrt on earth. “I have two young children and a wife and a home—a real life. But this is what I love to do. So I’m careful, I’m very conservative.”

Kris is not who I expected to find jumping off cliffs—an engineer from Calgary, one might quickly explain his BASE jumping hobby as a typical male reaction to turning forty, but watching Kris jump shows me that it’s more of a mid-life celebration than a crisis.

For Kris, BASE jumping is a ritual, from beginning to end. He packs his parachute with the scrupulous care of—well, an engineer—and checks and double checks every line, strap, flap and fold. As we ride up the cable car and train towards the exit point, he is already in another world, listening to jubilant and outdated pop music on his headphones, closing his eyes and imagining the jump to come.

High up on the cliff, he sings along to his headphones and mimics his launching pose—a stationary dive into nothingness.

“It’s about accepting one’s vulnerabilities,” he explains, and at the edge of this 2,000 foot-high jump known as “the High Nose,” Kris readily shows his fear. All of them do—their voices tense, their movements become careful. In a way, I am comforted to see that every single one of these BASE jumpers is a little bit terrified. Feeling the fear is part of the sport.

“There are no beginner cliffs here,” says Justin, “So you have to put yourself in a category.” Good BASE jumpers assess their own ability and stick to jumps within their range. Overestimate your skills and you might die.

“My goal was to come to Switzerland and fly my wingsuit,” admits Gabriel, “but I didn’t feel comfortable with it yet and I don’t want to risk my life for it. The cliffs are here forever. I can always come back.”

“It’s not like skydiving where there’s a regulating body,” Justin pipes in. Like most BASE jumpers, Justin is a very experienced skydiver who first completed about hundreds of jumps from an airplane before he ever attempted parachuting from a stationary object.

Posters in Lauterbrunnen promote BASE jumper awareness. (Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic Traveler)

“BASE jumping in Switzerland is self-regulated—everyone here plays by the rules.” Then he shakes his head, “I wish back home was more like this.”

Back home (in the USA), BASE jumping is mostly illegal with a few noted exceptions. The sport is only a few decades old and because of the obvious dangers and history of fatalities, BASE jumping is not without controversy.  In a place like Lauterbrunnen though, the community welcomes the jumpers and asks only that they abide by local rules. This includes purchasing a 25 CHF “landing card” and calling in for clearance to fly before each jump.

“Everyone shares this airspace, “explains Gabriel, as he phones the local air service for clearance. “There are tandems [skydivers], helicopters, and paragliders—and us BASE jumpers.”

The “B.A.S.E.” of BASE jumping is an acronym listing the objects the parachutists can jump off: Building, Antenna, Span, and Earth. Once a jumper has completed successful jumps from all four categories, he or she writes a letter to some of the veteran practitioners of BASE, who issue an official number. Justin Miller’s BASE number is 1,511, which reveals exactly how limited a band of brothers this is.

For the record, there are plenty of women in the sport, but the presence of female enthusiasts does not change the underlying testosterone that is inherent to BASE jumping. Up on the High Nose, staring at the guys dressed in their purple and orange wingsuits, its hard not to see a resemblance to the superhero dream every one of us had as kids.

I think all of us want to fly deep down inside—and BASE jumpers have come about as close as humans ever will to real flight. From the 1,910-ft High Nose, a jumper can expect about ten seconds of freefall before pulling his chute.

“It’s reasonable to pull at about 300 to 400 feet—that’s about average,” says Gabriel. Wingsuits are relatively new to the sport and the gear continues to evolve, allowing jumpers to become human aircraft that zip across the landscape. In a wingsuit, a jumper might increase his airtime to around 45 seconds.

BASE jumper Gabriel Hubert shows his “Tracking” pose. (Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic Traveler)

So what’s it like? Jumping off a cliff?

“You go through a series of feelings,” Gabriel ponders. “A bit of nervousness and anticipation on the exit to when you launch—you get a surge of confidence,” he smiles for a moment, then explains the science of falling objects. “When you jump off you start at zero speed, then you freefall and you build speed as you go—you speed up exponentially. One of my favorite parts is when the speed builds up, you instinctively start tracking or flying. It’s business time—you gotta get away from that wall. That wall is your number one obstacle.”

Tracking—or projecting forward in freefall—is critical when BASE jumping from cliffs. The large majority of BASE fatalities occur on cliffs, since jumpers must compensate the slope of the cliff and clear lower ledges. The attraction to jumping in Lauterbrunnen are the cliffs are relatively vertical—some even inverted with overhanging shelves.

But despite the optimal cliffs, several people have died jumping from this very spot.

“The cliff I jumped off today has killed people before,” reflects Gabriel. Not one of the BASE jumpers I talk to ever flinches at the mention of death in their sport.

About 30 BASE jumpers have died jumping in Lauterbrunnen—a sobering statistic, yes, though 65 mountain climbers have died attempting to scale the north wall of the famed Eiger, a nearby mountain in the Bernese Alps.

“I had a good friend who died,” says Justin, explaining how the man’s gear malfunctioned on a jump. Even with all the technical preparation that goes into BASE jumping and the special attention that goes into a jumper’s “pack job,” accidents still happen.

Gabriel frankly points out that, “Mistakes in BASE jumping are not very forgiving.” One small oversight or mishap can be fatal. Nearly every BASE jumper I speak with knows someone who has died jumping, or had a few close calls themselves, yet they all accept the risk of what they do.

“Sometimes one of them dies, and that’s just part of it,” shrugs local athlete Phillip Bohren, who lives in neighboring town of Grindewald. Although he’s never done it himself, he views BASE jumping as just another of the many adventure sports that people practice in the Alps.

In the nearby mountain village of Mürren, I ask tour guide Anne-Marie Götschi what she thinks of all these people traveling to her valley to jump off the cliffs.

“We like the jumpers!” she exclaims—it’s become part of the valley’s identity. Then she points out how more and more Swiss are taking up the sport.

“You know, our lives are so regulated nowadays, I think is this is how they choose to spend their free time—by being totally free.”

Whatever the reason, BASE jumping is becoming more popular. Chris Mort, also from Washington, D.C., is fairly new to the sport, but sill prepared for many years before coming to jump in Switzerland.

“After a lot of skydiving, I went and got instruction in BASE. I began jumping off bridges, because those are the safest.”

BASE jumper Chris Mort prepares to launch from the 1,910 ft “High Nose” in Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland. (Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic Traveler)


This trip to Switzerland marks Chris’s first time Europe and he says he loves it. Part of the fun is that all the jumpers in Lauterbrunnen knows everyone, at most by one degree of separation. “We’re all brothers now,” says Gabriel, then points to his forearms, “That just gave me goosebumps.” Indeed, these BASE jumpers are brothers, and call each other just that: brother.

A minute before he jumps off the High Nose in his bright purple wingsuit, Kris Watson explains the strong and mysterious bond that ties BASE jumpers together.

“Sharing vulnerabilities causes this deep connection,” he says. Kris cannot hide the fact that he is afraid. Neither can the other jumpers waiting to jump from the High Nose. Each one has his own style of launching himself off the cliff: some wait poised at the edge, inhaling deeply, bending slowly at the knee and then slowly pushing off into a swan dive. Others countdown quickly and just go.

“I’m actually afraid of heights,” confesses Gabriel. “I don’t like to hang around on the ledge—once I’ve jumped, I’m fine, I feel in total control.”

The four men jump, Chris and Justin separately, then Kris and Gabriel together. I am still afraid for them, suffering the anxiety off negative possibilities as I listen to the whistle of bodies in the air, the instantly relieved when I hear the snap of parachutes opening far below.

After they’ve landed, the men are giddy and swearing like schoolboys—like a high school football team that just won a game. Less than one minute has passed, but in those few seconds, these men have sped through the cycle of mortality: the great fall, the sureness of death, and just at the point of no return, a sudden second chance of life—the thrill of rebirth, the radical joy of being alive.

I don’t think any of us can really understand BASE jumping until we try it, and most of us will never try it because we wouldn’t be very good at it. But after spending a day with these men who jump off cliffs in Switzerland, I can report that they are not insane lunatics with a death wish. On the contrary, these guys love life.

Suicidal maniacs don’t pleat their parachutes with the precision of a nurse making hospital corners. They don’t plan out their survival in such great detail and check one another again and again to make sure every little thing is in order.

Real lunatics do not chase life downhill—They do not thrill at the joy of flight, and they do not smile and rejoice when life rushes at them like the hard earth below, slowing down just in time for them to float gently back down and land on two feet.

Now I am alone on the High Nose, still terrified of the precarious edge, yet deeply content. After hearing so much about this thing—I have finally witnessed a real BASE jump. More importantly, I feel like I have witnessed the miracle of life.

All four jumpers are alive.

All of us are alive.

The Men Who Jump Off Cliffs

Bryce, Zion & the Mystery of Earthquake Hill

25 May

From Jackson, Wyoming I made my way through Salt Lake City, down to Bryce Canyon National Park with its iconic Hoodoo formations, then through the Narrows in Zion National Park.

Both parks were stunning, and on a tip from a local in the Bryce area, I took the less-frequented Bryce Point Loop and connected it with the more traversed Navajo Loop to see the Hoodoos. As promised, I didn’t see a soul until I got to the Navajo.

Me holding up my backpack in the Narrows.

Zion was a different story. The Narrows, where the river is the trail visitors hike along below towering canyon walls, was packed.

Everyone had the same thing in mind that blistering hot day: cool water. The crowds left me craving something…less obvious.

Two young rangers at the Visitor Center recommended the Bit and Spur Restaurant & Saloon in Springdale, a little town adjacent to the park, for post-hike sustenance.

I was feeling a little tourist-ed out, so I welcomed the chance to be alone, and enjoyed some baked polenta with sautéed mushrooms and an icy pint of Zion Canyon Brewing Company’s Jamaican Style Lager at the n0-frills watering hole.

“There’s only one thing left for you to do,” my waitress, Alicia, said. “Go see Earthquake Hill.”

“Just remember to look out for rattlesnakes — they’re all over the place right now.”

“So what is this place, exactly?,” I asked.

“There’s four mansions up against the canyon wall that got screwed in an earthquake back in ’92,” she said. “I remember the year, cause I’d just moved here from California, and I wondered if I’d brought the earthquakes with me.”

She described how she and her friends would walk up the mansions’ still-intact stairs and sit out on the edge of the buildings with a cold beer, soaking in the unadulterated views.

I liked the sound of that, so I jotted down her directions — drive back towards the park, turn left after the Spotted Dog Café, look for a dirt road off to the right, and hike up the hill — and took off.

I parked and, ignoring the “No Trespassing” sign, hopped over the chain barrier. An older woman who was watering her garden eyed me suspiciously, but I just made my way up the hill until I was out of her line of sight.

As the “road” melted into the natural landscape of brush and poky shrubs, I took slow, deliberate steps, looking and listening for rattlers. No mansions yet.

My friend and tour guide up on “Earthquake Hill.”

I came up over a small hill, hoping they would appear.

Instead I saw a deer.

She stared at me with her big doe eyes, then calmly turned and walked to the right. My instincts told me to follow her.

That’s when I saw the remnants of a stone fireplace.

But, there were no intact mansions inviting me to alight on their frame and enjoy a desert sunset. Just rubble and debris.

The sun was hanging lower in the sky, and I still had a three-hour drive to Las Vegas, so I stopped by the Bit and Spur on my way out of town.

“Hmmm. I guess I haven’t been up there in a while,” Alicia said. “I can’t believe they’re not standing anymore.”

I thanked her for the unexpected mini-adventure, and snickered to myself when I realized that sometimes it takes a curious outsider to update insider knowledge.

Bryce, Zion & the Mystery of Earthquake Hill

Food Fridays: A Slice of Heaven in Salamanca

25 May

Thin slices of Jamon Iberico. (Photograph by Yosoynuts, Flickr)

In a country where ham is king, Spain’s jamón ibérico reigns supreme.

Though other dry-cured Spanish hams abound, the pricey, rosy-hued, and deeply flavored Ibérico ham comes from a unique source: native Iberian pigs raised in Salamanca province and two other regions in Spain.

Sold throughout the country, the hams are on full, delectable display in the historic heart of Salamanca city at the Mercado Central, a 1909 public market next to plaza Mayor. Here, 17 butchers carve thin, off-the-hoof slices from a range of Ibéricos, including top-of-the-line bellota hams from free-range pigs on an acorn diet (about $59 per pound). For the best selection, locals recommend the counters of Javier Vicente or Hijos de Nicolás Hernández.

One block away, in the modern dining room of Restaurante Tablanca, chef Carlos Barco goes whole hog—literally—offering ham by the slice but also Ibérico pork dishes like an entire roast suckling pig and slow-cooked cheeks flavored with vanilla.

Thirty miles south, the faint fruity and nutty whiff of ham on the streets of Guijuelo is one clue that Ibérico production happens in this workaday town. During Spanish-language tours of ham-maker Julián Martín ($40, reservations required), you’ll enter a virtual cathedral of ham suspended in dark cellars, try your hand at carving, and sample bellota ham—washed down with good Spanish red wine.

Food Fridays: A Slice of Heaven in Salamanca

Calgary Stampede: Here we come!

25 May

A3.jpgThe countdown has been on for months in my house as we get set for a fantastic summer vacation in 2012. We are heading to Calgary this afternoon to start a nine-day getaway with lots of action.

The first cool point is the “we”. Leaving from Toronto are my wife, Ruth and I with our two kids, daughter Caira who is nine and my son, Ethan who is 8 along with my mother-in-law, Mary. We are meeting up with my Mom and Dad in Calgary and my sister and her family. She has two girls, Alicia who is 4 and Julia who is almost 2. My Aunt and Uncle are also in Calgary, so for some of the events there will be thirteen of us!


Next noteworthy point is the “where”. Our itinerary is awesome! We arrive later today in Calgary and have tickets for opening parade of the 100th anniversary of the Calgary Stampede first thing tomorrow morning! We stay in Calgary for 4 nights and I am super excited for my inaugural stay at a BEST WESTERN PREMIER! We are staying at the BEST WESTERN PREMIER Freeport Inn and Suites and it looks amazing! The kids are salivating about the indoor pool with a water slide. I can’t wait to see the spacious rooms complete with a fridge and microwave. I have also been working to get back in shape and the fitness facility looks great and will go a long way to help me stay on track.

A4.jpgAfter four days of Stampede parties and events we leave Calgary next Monday and are heading to Banff. Banff is consistently voted the best destination in Canada and it really is breath taking. I hope we have time to also take in Lake Louise, which is about 30 minutes from Banff.

Tuesday we head further north to Jasper to two nights. We have lots planned there too. Thursday we start to make our way back to Calgary but will stop in Canmore for a night and for me hopefully a round of golf in Kananaskis!

A2.jpgFriday we return to Calgary for a final night before heading home on Saturday!

I will be blogging as we go and look forward to sharing our experiences with you!
Stay tuned! Any tips for me as we make our way West?

Calgary Stampede: Here we come!

Tips For Luxury Travel In Jamaica

25 May

Jamaica’s superior service and amenities have earned it a place among the Caribbean’s premier luxury travel destinations.

But spending more on your stay does not a guarantee a better value, which is why we’ve come up with this list of tips to ensure you have a great vacation – VIP style…

Make Yourself At Home

Like most North Americans, you’ve probably worked very hard all year and your significant other has convinced you to finally take a vacation.

The best way to get the most out of your precious vacation time and get some serious undisturbed R&R, is to rent a villa.

While nightly rates are typically higher than a single hotel room, villas offers a great value for groups of friends and large families, and will often be cheaper than renting cramped hotel rooms for the whole group.

Besides, the vast majority of villas in Jamaica include staff, gourmet kitchens and some even are located directly on the beach.

And as for couples, it’s hard the beat the romance factor of your own private pool ;)

Look For The Extras

Instead of staring yourself blind comparing prices, compare the value and the extras that each villa provide.

If you’re a boat enthusiast, you might want to consider a villa that has private boat slips allowing you to use the boat as much as you like.

Other extras and bonuses villas often offer is a private beach, tennis court, bicycle, car etc.

Also ask yourself if you will use what’s included, and if you need something which isn’t.

Hire A Driver

Jamaica is one of the largest islands in the Caribbean which means there’s plenty to see.

After a few days on the beach with a Red Stripe or Appleton and coke in hand, you’ll probably want to venture further afield and see what life in Jamaica is really like.

You can basically go about this two ways:

a) Rent a car which will cost roughly $600 US / week plus gas and insurance.

b) Hire a driver for roughly $800 US / week which includes airport transfers and one tank of gas. Most drivers are available for up to 10 hours / day – yes, that’s a lot of exploring!

When it comes to your valuable vacation time, every minute counts.

Next time you’re in Jamaica, I hope these three luxury travel tips will help you make the most of your stay!

BIO: a Montreal-based blogger and entrepreneur, Jazz Poulin is a regular contributor to the Luxury Retreats travel blog – when he’s not writing about villas in Jamaica you’ll most likely find him traveling or on the rugby pitch. Tips For Luxury Travel In Jamaica