Friday, March 30, 2007

U.K. Contemplating Travel Limits, Tax on Flights

A traveler in the U.K. alerted me to a somewhat disturbing article appearing in the Telegraph a few Sundays ago.
Harsh new taxes on air travel, including a strict personal flight allowance, will be unveiled by the Conservatives tomorrow as part of a plan that would penalise business travellers, holidaymakers and the tourist industry.

No question that airlines need to use cleaner fuel, and better maintained planes.: the clear skies and lack of storms in the days immediately following nine-eleven illustrated the degree of pollution air traffic spawns. But my first impression is that this is a typical 'kill the mosquito with a tank' reaction so common in politics, and I for one, hope they think it through.

The irony -- well, one of them -- is that frequent fliers are to be targetted by the proposed new tax, and I cannot think of any fliers who travel more frequently than politicians.

Hell's Gate Fraser Canyon B.C. Landmark

Those heading to southern British Columbia (Canada) this summer, especially inland from Vancouver, might like take in the Hell's Gate Airtram. It's located in the Fraser Canyon, a 2-3 hour drive east of Vancouver and about the same driving time from west from Kamloops.

A B.C. native myself, I'm old enough to remember when the Fraser Canyon highway (Trans-Canada) past Hell's Gate was the only route between the coast from Hope to home in Kamloops. The Fraser Canyon highway passed through a series of recently built tunnels, a novelty at the time. (And yes, my dad always honked the horn as we passed through. There wasn't much else available to amuse young children on a long car trip),

The twisty mountain-hugging highway unnerved drivers from the flatland Prairie provinces -- Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Alberta -- and held them to a top speed of about 30 mph (even slower if they were driving RVs or hauling travel trailers). Their snail's pace meant they were soon leading a parade of irritated B. C. drivers who were champing at the bit to pass them as soon as possible.

When the Coquihallla highway opened in 1986, it meant drivers had a choice at Hope: North via the slower though more exciting and scenic Fraser Canyon, or east, via the more direct though higher elevation Coquihalla into Merritt and then north to Kamloops or further east to the Okanagan.

And so drivers, especially those heading to Kelowna or fast-tracking it to Kamloops, opted for the faster, shorter Coquihalla, bypassing natural wonders like Hell's Gate. I think this is a shame, since the historical Fraser Canyon is very much worth visiting.

So if you're planning to be in southern B.C., you might want to travel the Fraser Canyon highway, and take in one of Hell's Gate's man-made attractions -- the Hell’s Gate Airtram.

The tram opens for the 2007 season on Thursday, April 5th. And if you're in the vicinity on the weekend of May 5 and 6, it's a free ride.

February 1, 2008 News From Vancouver Coast & Mountains tourism:

Whoever imagined a festival where barrels are thrown off a bridge and into the mighty Fraser River sure knew how to have a good time. The Fraser River Barrel Race is the Fraser Canyon’s not-to-be-missed family-friendly festival.

Festivities begin Sunday, May 4, 2008 with breakfast at Hell’s Gate, where each family member can enter the Barrel Race Draw to try their luck at picking the winning barrel. After breakfast, the barrels are launched into the Fraser River to begin their journey down the wild canyon waters to the finish line at Yale.
The event ends with a festive BBQ, where the winners are announced and prizes are awarded!

See above link for info.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

How do I pack a suitcase for a trip ?

I'm asked this question with perplexing regularity. I say perplexing, since I don't know how to answer it. And I am supposed to be the Travel Lady!

The short but admittedly flippant answer is: Get a suitcase, get your stuff, put your stuff into the suitcase, then close it.

Perhaps they want to know specifically how to fold clothes and place them in a suitcase. That depends on how fussy they are about getting wrinkles in their clothes, which items of clothing they are taking, and the size of the suitcase.

I've written at some length (see What to Pack and related pages) about the optimum number of clothing items needed, recommended fabrics, luggage styles and much else, and discussed how travelers tend to pack too much stuff and why (see June 27 2006 post).

So when I was asked today 'What do I pack for a trip to China?' ** I was again perplexed as to how to answer it. Where in China? Northerly Beijing or Hainan in the south? What time of year? What type of trip - business or personal? Are you planning to trek in the mountains or tour around Hong Kong?

I guess the only answer is there are no easy answers to 'What should I pack and how should I pack it?'. I wish there were. I love to help other travelers. That's why I started this blog and my websites: To share information with other travelers.

** February 2008 :: New page on the web site for How to pack for a trip to China.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Subtropical South America Dengue Fever Alert

Travelers heading to parts of Uruguay, Paraguay (Feb 2008 yellow fever alert - read more) and Argentina should have a look at the CDC site (Center for Disease Control for current information about an outbreak of dengue fever. This outbreak underscores the importance of consulting a good travel clinic before setting out on any trip. Local conditions can change fairly rapidly, so it's good to be prepared for the usual suspects.

Most countries will issue travel advisories for their citizens (see post January 20, 2007 ) so check the links there for current information.

As I understand it, the virus that gives you dengue fever is transmitted by mosquitoes, and found in subtropical areas around the world. Dengue can be deadly, and unlike malaria, there's no vaccine or prophylactic treatment, so travel safe, travel smart! Check with a travel clinic before heading south.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Hiking in Ontario, Biking in Quebec

Visitors to Eastern Canada who prefer a more active holiday, but with a bit of comfort, might like to have a look at the offerings of two tours, selected more or less at random, that fit the bill.

In Ontario, Something's Afoot has a good selection of walking tours. My mom took one of their day trips, and really enjoyed it. A nice balance of countryside, moderate exercise and good food, and a tour guide who knew her stuff.

In Quebec, you can Bike Inn to Inn where each of the inns offers luxe accomodations and great food, and your luggage is sent on by van. I don't know about you, but the idea of being to be able to cycle through the countryside and not give a thought to having to retrace my route appeals to me. Add to that a few good meals and I'm a happy camper without having to set foot in a tent.

Both sites have details about dates, pricing etc. so check there for specifics and photos (new page will open). For more photos of southern Ontario, you can check my photo site at Snapshot Journeys Canada.

Monday, March 12, 2007

It's Maple Syrup Time in Canada!

With the onset of Spring's daytime temperatures above freezing, and night temperatures below, the sap is starting to flow in the sugar maple trees. Though many sugar bush farms are too busy now to host tour groups, other groups step in to show how to collect maple sap, boil it down and make delicious syrup and maple candy.

In Mississauga (where I live), there's Maple Magic; a half hour's drive west is Oakville's Bronte Park, and the grandaddy of them all, billed as the World's Largest, in Elmira, Ontario. Last spring, I went to the Mississauga festival. If you'd like to see how old timers collect and process the sap, see my story and photos posted at There are also links to some of the local festivals for dates and times.

If you DO plan to head out and take in the fun, bundle up: It's still pretty nippy in this part of the country. But once the maple sap starts flowing, we know Spring is not far off.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Airlines Restricting Free Checked Baggage Limits

This morning's inbox brought an alert from a friend in Australia who is planning to travel to France this summer. She'd just read an article in her local media about a firm now offering to deliver travellers' luggage. The idea is that you contract this firm to pick up and transport your luggage for you, and have it waiting for you at your destination. This is supposed to save you the hassle of actually taking your bags to the airport, checking them in and then reclaiming them. Theoreticially, this service also lessens the likelihood of lost bags enroute.

Such luggage delivery services have been offered in North America (and likely elsewhere) for some time now. And while these delivery fees seem high to budget / economy travelers such as myself, I suppose this convenience might have an appeal for some.

But what set off the money alarms is this part: ". . . if you fly with
a major Australian airline with a 32kg bag in economy, where luggage restriction is now a mandated 20kg, you could be up for an extra $576 [AUD] in excess fees." Now, if you added the value of my bag and its contents, and tossed in a hundred dollar bill, it wouldn't amount to $576, so you can imagine my concern.

Apparently, British Airways made recent changes (Feb. 13, 2007) to free checked baggage limits. The British Airways site clearly shows fees and limits, and the effective date(s) for implementation, and the exceptions.

QANTAS (the 'major Australian airline'?), too, is changing its bag limits (see QANTAS) Call me blind, but I couldn't see any effective date for the QANTAS fees and limits, so I cannot tell if this is a recent change or not.

For friends in Ethiopia (who usually fly BA on annual trips to Canada, and who are on a non profit budget and use these annual repatriation trips to stock up on items not available there), these additional fees could be a real concern.

Seasoned travelers to destinations such as Canada's north or Puerto Montt, Chile know that flights are handled by smaller planes, meaning lower baggage limits, and so pack accordingly, but others might find themselves facing hefty fees.

My best advice to those planning to fly, as always, is to travel light. (See the Travel Tips section). And no matter where you are traveling, or what carrier you are using, please make extra sure that you fully understand the baggage allowances and fees.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Hard-Sided Trendy Luggage ? No, Thank You!

update January 2010: Hard-sided trendy luggage might not be suitable for travellers but as a friend discovered, it works really well as a computer case for the office! If your laptop and files, etc are getting pretty heavy to tote back and forth to the office or to meetings, this hard--sided Heys bag works a treat - see bottom of page for details. 
New Hard-sided bags

Hard-Sided Luggage - New Style

I saw this style of luggage at a store in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada just before I traveled to Costa Rica. And at the baggage claim at airports during the course of this trip, I saw several suitcases just like this (colors varied but they were just like this in pattern and style) coming down the baggage carousels. And let me tell you, they showed lots of dirt marks - grease? scrapes? - couldn't tell. The sides may have stood up well, but the bags looked really marked up.

now back to the original post :-)
When it comes to luggage and packing for travel, I have very firm opinions and strict requirements. I always travel light, yet carry everything I am likely to need, whether a trip is for one week, or four or more. So my heart sank when I was gifted a shiny new hard-sided Heys carry-on size suitcase.

Oh, at first glance, it would seem to meet my criteria for small, lightweight wheeled bags. With its hard sides, it would have the added advantage of being waterproof. It had the requisite sturdy wheels and a rapid-release button for, and in, the handle, which itself was also sturdy and not given to twisting when being pulled fully loaded. And it is so pretty, in a royal blue color, with a snappy silvery pattern and black accents, with chrome wheels.

But when I went to pull the zipper to open the case for closer inspection, the stiff rubber zipper guards rimming each side of the zipper proved so stiff that opening the bag is a real chore. And with the hard sides, the bag must be fully opened to access anything packed within. With soft-sided fabric bags, you can sneak your hand into a partly opened bag to pull out something you need, or to stuff something else in.

The interior of the bag is very small, since much of the interior space is used for the wheels and handle, and the odd overall shape. The interior pockets are fixed to a divider placed in the center of the bag, thus further restricting the size of 'stuff' you can put in it. In short, although this bag has the same overall dimensions as my trusty soft-sided bag, it only holds a limited number of items.

Ultimately, a bag that holds little and is hard to open does not deserve to go on a trip. But keeping an open mind, I cast about for an alternate use for this bag. Perhaps I could use it to transport papers, brochures etc to local meetings, or my camera equipment for local tramps through the woods or along the lake, I thought. I tested it out with a trial load. This bag will not even hold my very modestly sized camera bag, a camera bag that fits easily into the bottom third of my back pack.

So I now have a smart looking small wheeled suitcase that will only hold a modest sized toiletry bag and a few items needed for an overnight trip. Since said toiletry bag fits into my back pack, on top of the camera bag, with room to spare for a few items of clothing, too, I know in my heart I will never use this bag to go anywhere.

I have just spent some 10 minutes on the Heys web site trying to find the price and a picture of this specific bag, but cannot find this particular model. Odd, since commercials touting this particular bag were shown regularly during the last series of The Amazing Race (whose contestants, incidentally, do NOT use suitcases, but backpacks).

I'm sticking with my present small suitcase, thank you very much. Perhaps I can re-gift this Heys bag to someone who uses a lot of makeup and needs to take same on the road when they travel. (Paris Hilton: Call Me! I have just the bag for your assistant to haul your cosmetics.)

You can see all my luggage tips (and a photo of my bag and backpack) at my travel site,
Snapshot . Happy packing!

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Birthday Lunch at Apricot Tree Cafe, Mississauga

We didn't have to travel far from our home in Mississauga for today's trip -- just a few kilometers down Erin Mills Parkway to Dundas Street, then a block east to Sherwood Forrest (sic) Plaza to the Apricot Tree Cafe. 

It had seemed a tad pretentious to call ahead for a reservation for a table for four, but with no time to hang about or look elsewhere should this busy cafe be overfilled on this, a Saturday afternoon, we did. Good thing, too, as tables were indeed at a premium.

Adding to the usual Saturday busy-ness is the popularity of the Apricot Tree's Crepe Festival (Feb. 22- March 10) when a dozen or more luscious dessert crepes are a special added offering. 

 The menu has enough items to make choosing difficult: Sandwiches, mains, salads, pastas, seafoods. I kept to the crepe theme, and after starting with a bowl of curried lentil and chickpea soup, I had the Chicken Tarragon Crepe. Dee-lish-us!

We four shared two crepes for dessert. The Romanoff (strawberry sauce, fresh strawberries, caramel, bananas, and a hint of vodka -- a very tiny hint -- and a scoop of vanilla ice cream and the Crepe Souffle (chocolate crepe filled with chocolate souffle, baked, then served with toffee ice cream.

Both styles (there may be others) need a half-hour preparation, so let your server know in advance of your intentions. If the kitchen is to busy, they may elect not to make them.

I mention the ice cream served with each style, as it is homemade on the premises. The Apricot Tree is an 'open-kitchen' restaurant, so you can, should you wish, watch the food being prepared.

Sandwiches and salads, too, were very tasty, with good hot pots of White Tea -- proper tea leaves and cups, too. Prices are reasonable: Lunch for four, including an assortment of cappuccinos and teas, taxes and tip (just under 20 percent) rounded out to $100 (CAD). Add wine (there's a good list of reds and whites) and specialty coffees, and your bill will run a bit higher.

Better still, you can check the menu for yourself at Apricot Tree Cafe.

And some of my more detailed Mississauga restaurant writings are posted at, or use the search feature to search archived blog posts for other restaurants in Mississauga.

As for the birthday, it was a belated (by one week) celebration for our matriarch. No candles were harmed in this event.

Update May 9, 2009
Just got back from a very delicious lunch at the Apricot Tree, an early Mother's Day celebration. I had the special -- Split Yellow Pea Soup, Baked Tilapia with lots of very good veg, and Cappuccino Mousse ($12.95) -- while the others had a Seafood Salad (shellfish on mixed greens, with Asian style dressing, Potato-Leek soup, Chicken, Mushroom and Tarragon Crepe, Three Cheese Quesadillas with mixed greens, and another crepe (can't recall last one as too busy eating).

Had a very good double espresso, while others had tea, cappuccino or latte. All in all, we all enjoyed our lunch. The Apricot Tree was packed, as it tends to be on weekends. A friend comes here during the week and says it's not as busy then. Noticed a small patio outside but passing downpour kept us snug indoors. 

Update October 2010
LOL as I see from re-reading this post that I again had the Chicken Tarragon crepe on October 1, another BD but this time mine, and for dinner. It was great. Good vegetarian options, too. BUT this time, I did take two pictures of the desserts:

 Birthday Cake Compliments Apricot Tree Mississauga ON

Tasted as good as it looked - actually, free cake has a great taste all its own!

 Dessert Pie Apricot Tree Cafe - Mississauga ON

And for good measure, we ordered another dessert - this nut and fruit pie with whipped cream medallions and raspberry coulis - and shared both among the 6 of us. A great finish to a great dinner!

Friday, March 02, 2007

Canada Passport Online Application Faster and Easier

UPDATE April 13, 2009
Canada online passport renewal system is not working and will be terminated effective May 1, 2009. And as of June 1, 2009, most Canadians going by land or sea to US will need a passport. (Air travellers already need a passport). Canadians see this link for details.

US (Americans) see this link for details.
Original post Backgrounder:
'Canadians 16 years of age and older who are applying for a passport can speed up the process by completing an online registration application that gets them in and out of the passport office, new document in hand, in about 10 minutes.

While I haven't had to use this method myself, several contacts have informed me of this short time span, and how pleased they are to have a once-dreaded chore turned into a surprisingly painless experience.

So Canadians, listen up: Go to Passport Canada Online and follow the steps listed there. You will still need your passport photo certified in the usual way, and then taken with you to the passport office.