Daily travel links for 2015-07-22: Demanding tourists, nature walks and obscure road trips

Daily travel links for 2015-07-21: Epic road trips, map reading and worst airport security

Tweet digest for June 29: On Adventure travel, using a concierge, summer dangers and more

Here is a roundup of my travel tweets for Monday, June 29, 2015 linking to several interesting travel stories worth sharing:

Have you been everywhere?

Canadian singer Hank Snow changed the words to the Australian song I’ve Been Everywhere to list the many places he’s visited in “this here land.”

The Johnny Cash version of the song is a staple on our road trip playlists. Whenever I hear it, I try to identify places that I’ve been in an effort to ascertain whether I’ve been everywhere, too.

I recently took the time to look at the lyrics and found that there are 90 places listed and realized that I’ve been to only a fraction of them. How about you? Here’s the list. Check the box for each place you’ve been, hit the submit button and let it tally up how many places you’ve visited and how you compare to the average visitor. Let us know in the comments how you fared.

What places from the song I've Been Everywhere have you visited?

Be sure to click Submit Quiz to see your results!



Name

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Hotels where your family can keep learning

 

I have travelled with my kids since they were infants, taking them from one end of the continent to the other in a series of marathon road trips that have exposed them to all sorts of people, places and experiences.

On a recent road trip, I realized that they had become travellers. They easily coped with long hours in the car, helped seek out interesting restaurants and knew the difference between a good and a bad hotel.

We tend to visit a lot of museums and historical sites on these trips, all teaching moments that bring some of the things they learn in the classroom to life, assuming some of this stuff is ever even taught in schools.

When spring break comes or summer vacation, travel is a great way to keep learning, not just for the kids, but for the grown-ups, too.

The folks at Booking.com (which bills themselves as the world’s #1 accommodation website) have pulled a list of what they believe are the top accommodations in Canada for an unforgettable and educational outdoor field trip during March break or whenever school is out.

Here is their list, in their own words:

Hotel-Musee Premiere Nations, Quebec

booking.com

Take your kids on a history lesson they’ll never forget at Hôtel-Musée Premières. This boutique hotel draws inspiration from Quebec’s First Nations people and resembles traditional Iroquois longhouse. On site, discover the rich history of the Aboriginal community at the Huron-Wendat Museum where you’ll learn about local plant life and examine authentic artifacts and art. The hotel offers several exciting packages that include winter activities like skiing, snowmobiling and dogsledding however, the standout is the snowshoeing package. On this excursion, guests are taken back in time to 1850 and get to participate in a caribou hunting expedition.  Wrap up the evening by the campfire or with a drink from the ice bar at La Traite, (the hotel’s restaurant) while the kids sip on a hot cup of cocoa.

The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, Alberta

booking.com

This luxury mountain resort, located in Jasper National Park, is surrounded by majestic trees offering stunning panoramic views of the Rockies. On-site you can enjoy a wide variety of winter activities like ice skating, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, tobogganing and even curling. If you’re looking to explore and discover the natural landscape, rent a fat-tire bike (one of Canada’s fastest growing winter sports) and ride along the marked trails. The whole family can enjoy a unique scavenger hunt across this property that uses clues and GPS technology to help locate hidden hieroglyphs around the resort.  After an active day outdoors, kick back by the fire pit and make your own s’mores or relax at the luxurious Fairmont Spa.

Yourte au Domaine O Naturel, Quebec

booking.com

Have you ever even heard of a yurt let alone stayed in one? Traditionally yurts were used by nomads in Central Asia as their living quarters but today these modern re-creations are fully equipped with all of the living essentials including wood heating and electricity, refrigerators, electric stoves and beds. If you’re looking for a unique experience, stay at the Yurts at Youtre au Domain O Naturel where you and your family can become one with nature in a 20 foot yurt. This resort offers all sorts of winter activities to keep the kids busy including skiing, dogsledding, snowmobiling, snowshoeing and Quad ATVing.

Big Bar Guest Ranch, British Columbia

Big Bar Guest Ranch

If you’re seeking a relaxed and cozy environment look no further than the historical Big Bar Guest Ranch. Situated on the hills of the Southern Cariboo in Clinton, this accommodation offers several activities during the winter months. Guests can have a go at ice fishing or get active ice skating and cross-country skiing.  For those looking to explore the area, grab some snow-shoes and discover the majestic wintery trails.

Rimrock Resort Hotel, Alberta

Rimrock Resort Hotel

Situated on Sulphur Mountain in Banff National Park, expect comfort, luxury and a truly extraordinary experience at this resort. Take in Banff’s natural beauty on unique excursions like a horse drawn sleigh ride along the scenic Bow Public Ride or while being pulled by a group of huskies on a dog sled. For those seeking more adventure, try a snowmobile tour in Kicking Horse Valley or plan a day of heli-skiing in these magnificent mountains. Just moments away from the resort, relax and rejuvenate at the natural Banff Upper Hot Springs or take a spectacular ride on the Banff gondola. The concierge team at this hotel can help plan all the details to ensure you have the perfect itinerary during your stay.

5 books that changed how I travel

Libraries full of books have been written on travel, most of them forgettable, but a few remain timeless. I’ve only sampled a tiny portion of the world’s travel books, but there are a few that changed the way that I travel and how I think about travel. Here are five books that were important to me:

1. The Art of Pilgrimage by Phil Cousineau
Today, we mostly travel for pleasure, but there was a time that people did it for very specific purposes. Trade and migration were common reasons, but spiritual travel in the form of religious pilgrimage was another powerful motivator. Cousineau discusses how we can use our travels today to recapture that spirit and bring meaning to our wanderings. I often find myself thinking deep thoughts in the long hours spent alone while travelling. This book brought some clarity to me and made me realize that perhaps there was a meaning for why I was driven to travel and explore the world.

 

2. The Traveler’s Eye by Lisl Dennis

Photography has always been an important part of my travels. I love capturing images of a place to help me remember what I saw and to communicate that vision to others. I have always wanted to go beyond the typical snapshots and take the kind of photos that make a place come alive to the viewer. I think I’ve gotten better at it over time, but am still a long way from where I would like to be. I have read many photography books, but this one was geared specifically to travellers and the author’s philosophy of focusing on small details and getting closer to capture the best shot resonated with me and changed how I take photos and how I see the world. It is less a technical manual than it is a manifesto on how to observe things around you.

3. Sons of the Moon by Henry Shukman

A million travelogues have been written. I’ve read some great ones and have even been bored by a few, but this one about a man’s journey in South America’s Andes stands out. His descriptions of the people and the landscape of the Altiplano transported me there like few other books have. His words made me want to visit this land so I could see it for myself. Unfortunately, I’ve yet to get there, but the power of this book is such that I still want to go. I was also moved by the author’s inner struggle about writing about this unspoiled place and how it might attract future travellers and how that could transform it to become unrecognizable.

4. The Beach by Alex Garland

This book is a fictional account of a backpacker’s adventures in Thailand that transport him to an island that is a traveller’s paradise, one that is off the Lonely Planet trail. It seems like heaven, but things go terribly wrong. This book reminded me of the silly debate about what is a “real” traveller. It made me get over myself and realize that any kind of travel is good for you and that there is no use for labels like travellers and tourists. (Even though the critics hated the Leonard DiCaprio movie version of the book, I thought it was great.)

5. Falling Off the Map by Pico Iyer

In the late 1990s, I wrote a regular travel column for the Montreal Gazette and called it Off the Map. The name was inspired by the title of Iyer’s book, but I only wish I was half the writer he is. This book chronicles Iyer’s witty and accurate observations of several of the world’s “lonely” places such as North Korea, Iceland and Bhutan. Ironically, many of the countries he wrote about two decades ago have become fairly mainstream destinations, a byproduct of our constant desire to seek out places that others haven’t visited. Iyer’s prose is outstanding and forced me to think about being more observant when I travel and made me want to become a better writer.

Honorary mention: Looptail by Bruce Poon Tip

This book is partially a biography and partially a business manual by the founder of G Adventures. The overall message from the book by Poon Tip is that he believes travel can make the world a better place by putting money in the hands of people in the places we visit and it can bridge cultures to help foster world peace. It made me realize that travel can be a transformational force and not just a pleasant activity.

What are the travel books that you found inspirational? Let me know in the comments.

Orientalism exhibit at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is a magic carpet ride

A century ago, before we had photos on Facebook and Instagram to transport us to exotic lands, people relied on paintings like the ones at a new exhibition at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts to take them there.

Marvels and Mirages of Orientalism is a collection of 19th-century works from European painters that depict romanticized visions of the Near East that were partially based reality, but mostly on imagination.

Much of the work on display until May 31, 2015 is by Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant, a master of the Orientalist genre. The exhibition document’s Benjamin-Constant travels in Moorish Spain, Morocco and the Maghreb and how those voyages informed his work. He would invite aristocrats to his studio which was staged with exotic souvenirs purchased in bazaars and thrill visitors with stories of his travels, especially of the harems that fascinated Europeans.

The Montreal exhibition is beautifully presented and some of the canvases are massive, room-sized paintings that are absolutely stunning. The colours and realism of the art draws you in to examine every detail. The paintings were made at a time when photography was emerging as an art form so care was made to present scenes realistically.

Paintings like these doubtless inspired a generation of Europeans to travel to distant places to see them with their own eyes. It’s not much different from the inspirational photos we see online that make us want to experience those places for ourselves. What’s amusing to realize is that while Benjamin-Constant’s paintings are considered to be idealized visions, how different is that from the Photoshopped and filtered travel photos we see every day?

IF YOU GO …

Marvels and Mirages of Orientalism
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
1380 Sherbrooke Street West, Montreal, Quebec
514-285-2000
1-800-899-MUSE (6873)
Admission: $20, 13-30 yrs pay $12, children under 12 are free. $5 discount for Opus card holders.

https://www.mbam.qc.ca/en/exhibitions/on-view/marvels-and-mirages-of-orientalism/

Why do we love to travel?

“I only work to travel,” an ex-colleague told me at lunch recently. Another person across the table said he measured his life in trips. It made me wonder what it is about travel that we love so much.

There are probably as many reasons as there are people, but I think it is because we form so many positive memories from our travels. They stand out from the routines of our lives where mundane details flow together and are quickly forgotten. The times that we travel stand out in our life stories because we remember so many of them.

Some of my earliest travel memories are from road trips with my family as we drove across Canada and the United States and as far as Mexico, visiting national parks, famous landmarks, small towns, big cities and all the dots and spaces in between. No longer were they just names on a map, but places in my mind that I still recall.

As I grew up, I began taking trips of my own, exploring obscure corners of the world, open to all the new experiences I could find. I made friends with many travellers along the road, intense friendships that burned briefly and brightly, but were based on shared experiences that will always be remembered.

I made many of my biggest life decisions when travelling, proposing marriage to my wife at the Taj Mahal, getting her pregnant in the shadow of Mount Sinai in Egypt and making the decision to take up journalism while marvelling at the view of the Himalayas in Nepal.

Freed from our everyday duties, travel is a time when our minds are open. A lot of travel consists of long hours of waiting or moving from place to place in planes, buses, boats or trains. All that time doing nothing, gives us a chance to think and it lends itself to self-reflection allowing us to make big decisions. It is also a time where we are aware of our surroundings and it elevates our powers of observation to levels that we don’t use back home, searing those memories into our minds.

All of this is powerful stuff for forging memories. In the end, we are our memories. They are the story of our lives that we tell ourselves. Travel helps us write that story and helps make it just a little more interesting.

Why do you travel?

Remembering my first travel story

A few months ago, I found an inter-office envelope with a clipping of my first ever travel story, written way back in 1988 for Concordia University’s alumni magazine. There was no note with it, so I have no idea who sent it to me, but reading it was a nice trip into the past.

I wrote the story for free, mostly because I felt guilty after pranking the editor a few months earlier. I had sent a postcard for the alumni notices stating that I had started herding yaks in Nepal and was selling yak butter and wool. The editor took it seriously and was badgering my family back home on how to get in touch with me so that he could write a story about my new career.

When I finally returned, I had to confess that it was a joke. He took it well, but asked if I could write something about my travels. Here is what I wrote. It still holds up after 27 years.

Pilgrimage to India
By Mark Stachiew
Concordia University Magazine, January 1988

Every year after graduation, flocks of students spread their wings and fly off to distant lands. Some are just looking for a last fling before facing the job market. For others, the experience turns into a pilgrimage of self-discovery that teaches lessons more valuable than any university education.

My friend and I went on such a voyage, picking India and Nepal as our destination. I can’t speak for my friend , but I wanted to get as far away as home in Dollard des Ormeaux and work in Senneville. I needed a change of scenery to refresh myself. I had to escape.

I had graduated with a biochemistry degree two years earlier in 1985, and had been unable to find satisfying work. I spent a year and a half as a technician with a clinical research company that tested drugs on paid human volunteers. These volunteers didn’t care anything about advancing scientific knowledge, of course. All they wanted was their pay when It was over. After a few months, I was beginning to pick up the same attitude.

I tried to find better work that I could feel was constructive and beneficial to society, even in a small way. But after receiving a mountain of rejection letters, I began to have feelings of self-doubt. It was time to examine what I was -doing with my life, and I felt 1 could do that better by getting far away from things.

We arrived in Bombay after an exhausting 24 hours of travel. Although it was only four in the morning, the air was hot and humid. I remember waiting in line to pass through customs with my shirt plastered to my back with sweat. When I went to get my baggage, I discovered that it bad been sent to West Germany. Welcome to India, I thought.

Few lands present such contrasts as India, with images of poverty in the shadow of splendour. The images of India are seared in my memory. When I first saw the Taj Mahal in the distance, it was like a beacon on the horizon. As long as it’s in sight, you can’t take your eyes from it. It is the most beautiful object I have ever seen.

Standing in the shadow of the Himalayas in Nepal is equally awe-inspiring. Their jagged peaks are like an endless row of rocky cathedrals reaching into the sky, all the more majestic because you know that they are forever safe from human domination. Only a few mountain climbers will leave fleeting footsteps in their eternal snowfields.

But the images of beauty can be quickly dispelled. Smelly shanty towns sprawl endlessly on the outskirts of Bombay, where millions live in flimsy shacks or on the sidewalks. Pitiful beggars descend upon you regularly in the cities. I remember one woman holding her baby in one frail arm and tugging on my shirt with the other. She pleaded with her starving eyes for a coin. The beauty and horror of India will not leave you unscathed.

India moves at its own controlled pace. You have to learn to slow down in order to cope with the crush of the crowds. It’s like standing in a crowded shopping mall on the last Saturday before Christmas. Dealing with endless line-ups and Indian bureaucracy taught me a degree of patience I never thought possible.

The dizzying din of the crowds and the delicious smells of the bazaars awaken your senses while you travel. Your awareness operates at a heightened level in India, and you don’t want to miss anything. For the three months that my friend and I travelled by rickshaw, taxi, bus and train, we savoured the experience. We didn’t just visit India. We smelled it, touched it and tasted it.

Travelling on the hot and dusty trains is when you see the real India. It’s also when you do most of your thinking. The cars are packed to bursting with people sitting on shelves and hanging out the doors. As the train plods along, images of the country and its people take over your mind.

Your meditations are punctuated by shouting vendors who get on the train at station stops and go from car to car hawking their wares. Blind boys sing for money, while other children want to sweep the dust from under your feet. Men go by selling from crates of oranges or giant pots of tea.

It’s when night comes on the train that you start thinking about what the whole experience means. The vendors are gone and the passengers are quiet. There is nothing to be seen outside the window except the occasional glow of a gas lamp in some farmer’s hut. I started searching for the real reasons I was there. What was I looking for?

People in India struggle to survive. A visitor gets the impression of them pushing and shoving in cutthroat competition to get by and maybe improve their lot. But the best that many of them can hope for is the worst that we dread. For that reason, many of them seem fatalistic about the future.

In Canada, many of us start out with advantages that Indians will never have, but we’re told from an early age that it’s not enough. Our society Is success-oriented to a degree that seems obscene after you see the poverty and suffering children in India. India brings the world’s reality to your eyes , and you can’t return to your normal life unchanged. You come back ready to be satisfied with fewer of our society’s success symbols. You discover there’s more to life than hoping for a BMW and a big job in the corner office .

I returned to the snows of Canada less possessed by ambitions I bad once thought important, and grateful for the good fortune I had had. The experience taught me as much as I had learned in all the years that preceded it. I hope the lessons will last a lifetime. But if I do ever find myself hankering for a BMW of my own, I know where to fly to for a refresher course in humility.

A PDF of my first travel story, Pilgrimage to India.
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