Friday, September 29, 2006

Cheaper Ways to Tour Australia Than This!

A notice from a public relations company just landed in my inbox. It's promoting family tours to several destinations, including Australia, at a price that seems a tad high to me. This is what is says, in part:
For family travel Australia . . . experiences ranging from kangaroo and koala sightings on Kangaroo Island to snorkeling along the Great Barrier Reef to tramping through the stunning UNESCO World Heritage Daintree Rainforest site searching out crocodiles and colorful kingfishers; the kind of animals you've dreamt of seeing since childhood. Due to Australia's location in the southern hemisphere, December travel falls in perfectly with the kick-off to summer. Land costs start at $300 per person per day/double for beyond-the-ordinary lodging, meals, transport and private guide.
This boggles my mind! That means a mom and dad and two kids would pay upward of $1200 US/per day! And still, your Air Costs are ADDED to this price. The whole holiday would cost the same as a new car! Sure, their price includes meals, but golly gosh-gee-willikers, how much can the little tykes eat!

That's fine for millionaires, but the rest of us? Way too costly. Go have a look at some of the tours/packages listed here (
Australia tours and package deals) and see if you can't get a better price in less than 10 minutes.

Nursing Moms and Rodeo Cowboys . . . What a Weekend for Mississauga's Trash Collectors!

It's not often I get to mention nursing moms and rodeo cowboys in the same blog, much less the same blog post, but here we go! Both are descending on my little corner of the world (Mississauga, Canada) this weekend.

And given that these (expected) several thousand nursing moms with babes attached will be within a few blocks of my home, in the traffic-congested former village of Streetsville, I for one intend to lie low, remote in hand, and wait for them all to leave before I venture out.

These nursing moms are amassing in an attempt to break the world record for Most Moms Nursing Babies For One Minute At One Location on Saturday, September 30, 2006. The current record, set last May (not clear if this means 2005 or 2006) by The Philippines, stands at 3,738 mothers, and an equal or greater number of babies. (The mind boggles trying to compute the number of soiled nappies.)

And as for the cowboys and the rodeo, that's a few miles east of here: The Hershey Centre hosts the 4th Annual Dodge Rodeo Tour Mississauga Championships. Luckily, there's just 150-200 cowboys currently registered. (The attendant livestock -- bulls and horses -- present their own variety of 'nappy' issues.)

I only hope our garbage collectors can rise to the occasion!

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Cathay Pacific Buys Out Dragon Air Today

Effective today, Hong Kong Dragon Airlines (Dragonair) becomes a wholly owned subsidiary of Cathay Pacific, and aside from feeling bad for those Dragon Air employees made redundant, I couldn't be more pleased.

I have flown both airlines (Cathay to Hong Kong, Dragon Air to Haikou, Hainan and Kota Kinabalu), and found them both very good.

Two years ago,
when a change of Dragon Air flight times meant I would miss a connecting Cathay flight to Bangkok, Dragon Air staff met me at the Hong Kong airport to escort me to Cathay counter to make the necessary changes and absorb the added costs PLUS put me up at the wonderful Regal Airport Hotel.

Dragon Air and Cathay Pacific have long been affiliated. Today's move serves to increase consumer confidence in the stability and reliability of both airlines.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Allowable Airline Carry-Ons :: The Series

(August 9, 2007 : This year's travel security story posted.)

November 3, 2006 Britain Allowable Carry-on rules Update
October 21, 2006 :: This information (below) is still valid.
* For U.S. security specifics, see
* For Canada, see

Travel Sizes, if you please, say the powers that be! Read on to find an easy way to take your toiletries and more, or have them shipped to your hotel (in the USA).

Further to the post yesterday, on September 25, 2006, the US and Canada relaxed regulations for allowable airline carry-on items to permit gels, lotions, etc but
only for small travel sizes.
Travelers will be able to carry through security checkpoints travel-size toiletries (3 ounces or less) that fit comfortably into one, quart-size, clear plastic, zip-top bag.

At the checkpoint, travelers will be asked to remove the zip-top bag of toiletries and place it in a bin or on the conveyor belt, where it will be X-rayed separately. This will allow TSA security officers to more easily examine the declared items.

Monday, September 25, 2006

And Still More Airline Allowable Carry-On Info !!

(If you reached this page via search engine, there is a current post on carry-ons here)

Man! I no sooner post the blog below than this news breaks! It's getting to the point of silliness, yanking us hapless passengers back and forth.

Here's the latest 'yank' on our security chain. (Source Transport Security Agency in the USA; In Canada, it's the Transportation Safety Board).

This is only a partial list, so see the posted web sites for full details. Those outside the US and Canada, check your local sources. I am done!

More on Allowable Airline Carry-Ons

Update January 5 2010
See Air Canada re flying to USA

(See also post on this page).

On August 1, I wrote about how varied and inconsistent were the latest round of allowable airline carry-ons, and the whole situation is still just as 'fluid'. (See
Allowable Carry-ons)

In early September, my mom was flying within Canada (ie on a domestic flight), from Winnipeg, Manitoba, to Mississauga,Ontario, a fairly short, direct, non-stop flight. She'd gone by road from Toronto to Winnipeg (a whole 'nother story!) and had planned to fly home. This flight would be her first encounter with the new stepped-up security regulations vis a vis carry-on liquids, gels, etc.

So there she is at the security check-in in Winnipeg, with her lunch packed (they don't feed you on internal flights -- you can buy stuff but it's costly and gross!) and ready to travel.

Mr. Security Guard makes her empty her small back pack. Uh Oh! That orange has to go -- it's just full of liquid, a no-no. And then there's the matter of her water bottle. Thrifty senior that she is, she fills her bottle the night before, pops it in the freezer, and the next day, it's frozen solid. The idea is, the melting ice makes for nice cold drinking water.

Nope, can't trust ice, says Security Guard. Since her water bottle has an indented middle making it easier to grasp, and since the contents are solid ice at this point, there's a bit of a dilemma. She's not about to throw out her perfectly good water bottle for anyone. Mr. Security Guard's Supervisor (MSGS) is called, and he saves the day: MSGS takes her ice water bottle into a nearby washroom (restroom, toilet), turns on the hot water tap and runs it into the bottle for some minutes. After some long minutes, all the ice is melted, and the bottle is as squeaky clean and empty as the day she bought it.

She also had in that same back pack a plastic baggie full of cucumber salad swimming in vinaigrette, much like a bag of pickles in juice, left over from from last night's dinner. She was not about leave perfectly good food at the hotel when she knew she would need lunch on the flight. But even though the cucumber salad had three times the liquid that the orange did, security didn't bat an eye and she carried it with her all the way home.

The moral of this story is A) There is no rhyme nor reason for security yays and nays, B) Airline security staff know you can make exploding oranges and ice but not exploding pickles, or C) if my mom WAS a terrorist, and so inclined, she could have blown up an Air Canada flight!

How safe in the air are we, really? How many flights have been brought down from shampoo, oranges and nail clippers? None? Wow, I guess all this stepped up security really pays off!!!

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Streisand Concert Added Date :: Oct 20, 2006 at the Air Canada Centre

Apparently Barbra's Detroit concert didn't sell well (go figure!), so another date has just been added to Toronto's share. If you want to check for tickets, be aware that numerous counterfeits are out there already, so your best bet is to go right to Ticketmaster.

Out of my price range. The closest I ever got to a Streisand concert was in Melbourne, Australia, in 1998. Her concert venue was in a stadium near the train station, where I was waiting to board an overnight train to Sydney. Good times!

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Toronto-centered Events :: Check It Out

As always in Toronto, there is a lot going on, sometimes too much to fit it all in, but here's a quick look at what's on, and what's on tap, if you're in this area.

September 24, 2006 :: Word On the Street :: Venue - Queen's Park
Everyone who loves books, mags and reading should go at least once. I paid homage a decade ago when I was a journalism student, and that's been it for me. Have a look at this year's theme and exhibitors.

November 21-December 3, 2006 :: Chicago :: Venue - Princess of Wales Theatre
Tickets for this hit musical returning to TO for a limited run go on sale
Monday, Sept. 25.

September 30, 2006 :: Scotiabank Nuit Blanche :: all Night Art Thing in Toronto
Check the site for all the artists, galleries etc for this one-night, all-night event.

Me? I am on deadline for West of the City magazine, so I'd better get back to writing!

Friday, September 22, 2006

Two Good Resources :: Natural Phenomena

Are you the type of person who prefers to avoid thinking about bad things that may never happen? Or are you the type who'd rather know about possible perils so you can be prepared? I fall into the latter category. I hate to get blindsided or look foolish, though I manage to do both with distressing frequency.

Nothing's worse than anticipating a sunny Caribbean vacation and wind up spending much of it huddled in a hotel lobby for days on end. But Know Your Hurricane Season and this won't happen to you. If you are planning a trip between June and the end of November, check the National Hurricane Center (US) (it's available in Spanish, too) and you can track current storms, and see what storms are brewing off west Africa. The same dates apply to typhoon season in Asia. Follow the links for that information.

The United States Geological Survey's (USGS) site Earthquake Hazards Program, 'part of its effort to reduce earthquake hazard in the United States', is my go-to site for checking how prone an area is to shaking and rolling. (This is another reason why Australia is such a safe destination -- no major fault lines!)

Both these sites are easy to navigate and intuitive, so go have a look, but only if you're the type of person who likes to know stuff like this.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Niagara Grape & Wine Festival :: Sept 22-Oct 1 2006

If you are anywhere near Niagara Falls (Ontario or New York), do yourself a favor and take in some of the Niagara Grape and Wine Festival events on the Canadian (Ontario) side over the coming 10 days.
The events -- parades, tastings, winery tours, gala -- take place on various days and times, so check with their website (above) for specific details.
While winery pros and tourism types are involved in promoting and running parts of the festival, much of the work is courtesy of dedicated volunteers.

And food, wine and harvest parades? Hey, that's the recipe for a good time! For some pictures of Niagara and the Falls, check my website at

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Volunteer Vacation Travel Sale Ends Soon

If you are still trying to decide on a Volunteer Vacation, then check for trips and destinations soon. Until the end of September (just a week away!), there's a sale on. Have a look at an earlier blog :: Ever Considered a Volunteer Vacation?

Save 10.5% on i-to-i travel experiences. Get in touch, get inspired, get out there.

Ngong Ping 360 on Lantau Island Open for Business!

The Ngong Ping 360 Sky Train officially launched on Lantau Island on September 18, 2006. (I took this photo of the tower under construction from the Giant Buddha in May.)This marvel of engineering means that visitors can now take a cable car from the Hong Kong Airport to the Giant Buddha, and other sights and shopping ops. You can find the rates and more information on the Discover Hong Kong :: Ngong Ping 360 page. Those of you who are traveling to Hong Kong, go check it out!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Amazing Race 10 :: At The Great Wall of China

On the first episode of the televison show The Amazing Race 10, the first pit stop was at Juyongguan, part of the Great Wall of China. I watched the background closely, as this section of the Great Wall was new to me. In the footage, much of this ancient 'wall' looked pretty darn new to me.
I've been to the
Great Wall at Badaling two times now, and although some of the access approach there had been newly restored, much of the wall was very old. For me, that's the appeal. From the rather limited footage shown, I had the impression that the Great Wall at Juyongguan (guan means mountain pass) was more theme park than historic site. I look forward to a return trip to China next year, so I can get a closer look before I decide which section I prefer.

The picture here shows the new development around the valley just below the stairway. You can see yourself how much building is going on.

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Worst Journey In The World!!!

The Worst Journey in the Worldis one of my absolutely all-time favorite books!

The reason I am using exclamation marks is because I am thrilled!! This book has been out of print for some time, and has now been released again! (I found it on!) So I can buy a copy!! Of my own!! And not be forced to resort to stealing a copy from the Mississauga public library!!

This book is written (several decades after the fact) by an English chap named
Apsley Cherry-Girard from his diaries of his trip with Scott to the South Pole. It is a fantastic story!

If you loved The March of the Penguins (DVD), you'll love the added detail and insight this book will give you!

Friday, September 15, 2006

Niihau Island Shell Jewelry :: Uniquely Hawaiian

Yesterday, I met several members of the Maui Visitors Bureau at a luncheon they were hosting for travel media at Oro in Toronto.(Photo ::

Our hosts, including Shelley of the Ka'anapali Beach Resort demonstrated the laid back, natural and relaxed attributes of their home islands -- Maui, Lana'i and Moloka'i -- part of the Hawaiian Islands.

Shelly was wearing one of the loveliest necklaces I have ever seen, and when I told her so, she explained to me how special it is. Made by craftsmen on the privately-owned Forbidden Island of Niihau, this jewelry is made of tiny shells unique to that island's waters, and is sold in island jewelry stores and those in Honolulu.

The more shells making up the necklace, the more costly, she said, being quick to point out that the necklace was not hers, but on loan only. Another of our hosts told me that each necklace comes with a certificate of authenticity for insurance purposes.

I found some photos of this tiny-shell jewelry online at Niihau Island, so pop over and have a look. Scroll down to the 36-inch lei, which is similar to the necklaces I saw yesterday. (Click on an image for a close up).

I had first read about Forbidden Island in The Happy Isles of Oceania, by Paul Theroux (see Books), which coincidentally I am currently re-reading. After meeting with the Visit Maui reps yesterday, I will plan to stop in for a visit on my next trip to Australia.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Two For Two :: Canucks RULE on Rockstar !!!

Well there will be no living with us Canadians now that another Toronto rocker has taken top spot of the reality show/endless audition that is Supernova.

Last year, Toronto's J.D. Fortune got the job fronting INXS. Last night, it was Lukas Rossi (my personal favorite) who will front the new band temporarily called Supernova (has to change since another band has that name).

Lukas and Dilanna both appeared as gobsmacked as I was when the judges said 'See Ya, Mate' to Australia's Toby Rand (who we all thought was the front runner). A few minutes earlier, the band told Iceland's Magni to Scoot! And Dilanna? Just too high maintenance (all those mood swings and propensity for nasty comments she labels Just Being Honest bode ill for band harmony). But she is a great singer and performer, so like the other finalists, she's looking deep into the eyes of a stellar career.

And if you've never seen Rock Star, then next summer, do yourself a favor. This is no largely-amateur IDOL show. These guys are all pros at the outset. And to be able to tune in these great concerts week after week is a privilege and a really cheap date!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Finding Good Travel Guides and Books about Travel

With so many books about travel and travel guides on the market, or even books in general, it can be hard to sort out the wheat from the chaff, so to speak. Many of us base our selections on the recommendations of others -- friends, book reviewers, Oprah. And so, I offer for the benefit of other travelers, armchair or active, my list of book about travel.

My criteria? Excellent writing and/or information, uniqueness of destination (for some destinations, books in English are hard to come by). But the number one requirement to get me to buy a book is the answer to this question :: Would I Read It Again? The answer must be a resounding YES! before I hand over my money.

I confess I have not read a few of those listed, mainly because I could not find them before I traveled (as happens when the local bookstore is out of stock and I am leaving before Amazon can ship them). These are the books on Haiti Creole, the Sinhala phrasebook and Sri Lanka travel guide.

The Hong Kong travel guide, listed on the Lantau Island page (rather than under China on the Shop for Books page), is another one I couldn't get before my trip. And I have still to list my books for Canada and Chile.

And as I mentioned in an earlier blog post on august 1/06, remember that guidebooks will never be totally accurate.

Good books about travel tell me the experiences of other travelers to a destination. A good guidebook can explain where I am going. Sometimes, even more importantly, it helps me to understand a place where I have already been.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

T & T Supermarket Mississauga Ontario Canada

Update: July 25, 2009
Today's Toronto Star reports that T&T taken over by a Loblaw subsidiary. I am not really happy about this, though I imagine T&T must be.

In my own experience, western grocery stores raise and lower prices at whim (my preferred brand of milk fluctuates between $4.69/2L to $5.19/2L every few weeks at the same neighborhood Loblaw store).

So I will have to keep an eye on what happens to our beloved T&T (T&T Toronto Store near Docks, photo) over the coming months.

Should it morph into the usual western grocery store, then I will keep shopping at the Asian supermarkets like Ming Yuan (googlemap).

Original Post: How T&T Web Site Hard to Find
To perhaps 99.95 percent of the general population, the name of this Chinese grocery store in Mississauga (T&T) means nada nothing zippo zilch. To the other point oh five percent, however, this is apparently big news, since many of them have been visiting my Mississauga Chinese Centre
page, eager for food news.

The new 'T & T Supermarket' reference on that page is part of a quote about shopping for Chinese grocery items in the area west of Toronto. Though I had not even remembered the quote, the search engines certainly did.

As with all company names that include characters such as the ampersand (&) in print, they are tricky to locate in directories like phone books and search engines. And so for some months, I had many visitors to this page, which I attributed to a keen interest in Chinese lifestyle. That is, I did until I actually looked at the search term used.

Then I realized that, rather than my brilliant story, the big draw was this 'new' Chinese grocery store in town. Then I felt bad for the frustrated searchers. Imagine coming to this page, skimming through the contents and maybe even missing the T & T reference in all the other words.

So one day a month or so ago, I drove by the location and saw that construction was nearly completed and I posted a note to that effect on that page. Then our community paper ran a full-page ad (with the website name) announcing the Grand Opening. Turned out that the actual website for this company is Now who would stumble upon that one? Looks like a shop for explosives, no? And these people were looking for food, not fireworks.

I'm mentioning this on the blog so the search engines will have yet another way to direct people to this Chinese grocery. It can also serve as a cautionary tale for anyone planning to name a web site or a business. Think about it long and hard before you plunk down the money to register the name. Make sure it's easy to spell.

And in case you are wondering if, perhaps, given the hyphenated name of my blog, that I am a bit hypocritical, well, this doesn't apply to blogs. Most of you get here by clicking the blogger scroll, a search engine link or hot link from my site or email signature. I'll bet real money that the only two people in the world who actually ever TYPE my blog name are me and my friend Teena in Australia.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Good Price on U.K. to Canada Flights May 2007

British airline flyglobespan will begin operating daily flights from London Stanstead, Manchester and Glasgow to Hamilton International in Ontario in May, 2007.

I mention this now because, i
f you are planning to travel between the U.K and Ontario, Canada, next summer, one-way fares (including taxes and fees) start at $259 CAD for economy class ($230 US/124 GBP), which is an incredible price.

The airline will begin taking bookings for these low introductory fares this October.

I've never flown this particular airline, so I leave it to you to look into it. What I can tell you, though, if you are considering this trip and wondering where the heck Hamilton is, is that it's about half an hour drive west of Toronto Pearson airport, midway between Toronto and Niagara Falls.

If you are planning to visit the Canadian west, though, internal flights from Toronto to Vancouver in the busy summer season (June-August) will cost about $600 CAD return economy. The VIApassenger train is much more costly, but makes for a great scenic trip once you get past the miles and miles of miles and miles that are the Prairies.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

V Fest :: Virgin Music Festival in Toronto This Weekend

Richard Branson is bringing his V Fest (the huge music festival) to Toronto this weekend (Saturday Sept. 9 and Sunday Sept. 10). The Toronto venue marks the first time V Fest been held outside the U.K.

I just read about the festival this morning, but it's been overshadowed by all the TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) coverage the past week or so.

V Fest venue is on the Toronto Islands, and gates open at noon and close at 11. Dedicated ferries leave every 15 minutes from Queen's Quay to Centre Island and Olympic Island (two stages) and transportation is included in the ticket price.

Rather than me re-inventing the wheel, check The Toronto Star V Fest for list of bands etc.

September 8 Update :: One of the scheduled bands, Massive Attack, has cancelled due to U.S. visa delays for the U.S. part of this tour.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Ever Considered a Volunteer Vacation?

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to spend a week or more of your precious holiday time working on projects in a foreign country? Paint a school, teach kids English, plant some trees. Just lend a hand to those who need one. You get to pay your own way, you may not understand the local language, and you get to work.

But you'll also get a behind-the-scenes look at life in a foreign land, away from the glittery resorts. Most likely, you will be off the beaten tourist track, and working with like-minded travelers of all ages from around the world.
Not all projects are in disadvantaged countries. You could decide to work in the U.K. Lake District, or with the wallabies in Queensland, Australia. Nor are you limited to any one part of the world. There are projects available in the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Peru, Bolivia, Kenya, South Africa, Brazil, Sri Lanka, Thailand and China, Nepal and Honduras. I know there's more but that's all I can remember for now.

I have friends (both of whom I have visited abroad) who are working for NGOs (non-government organizations) long term in Haiti and Ethiopia and know first hand how challenging and rewarding they find their work. (Click those links for my stories about their work.)

But the rest of us can get a taste of what's involved. All it takes is your holiday time and your money. And believe me, it's money well spent!

Me? I am thinking
Peru in the Spring!