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Hockey, Poutine & That Funny Accent

With 13 provinces and territories, Canada has it all. Coastal towns renowned for incredibly fresh fish and seafood, never-ending fields offering the perfect background for amazing landscape photos, snowy peaks that are famous around the world are only some of the varieties of landscapes Canada has to offer.

July 1st is the day Canadians get hyped up on Tim Horton’s coffee, paint the town red, embrace their passion for hockey and fall in a maple syrup induced coma. In other words, July 1st is Canada Day. So beyond that funny accent and a love/hate relationship with Celine Dion, here are some purely Canadian things that make us proud to be Canucks.

Timmies

Forget Starbucks; Canada’s own coffee chain is as popular, if not more, as its’ American counterpart. Never had a double-double before? Head to Tim Horton’s to indulge in this Canadian favourite. Odds are you won’t have to look far to find one and you’ll feel right at home with the coffee-loving Canucks. The best part is, Timmies is slowly making its way into the U.S. market; one small step for coffee shops, one giant leap for this pillar of Canadian pride.

Passion for hockey

I’m not going to lie; I’m not a fan of hockey (shock, gasp, horror) but like most Canadians I know, once the playoffs start, I know it’s all about the game. Some people do take that passion a little far, as recently witnessed in Vancouver, but most of us are just extremely supportive of our teams and let’s be honest for a moment; there simply are no greater fans than the fans of the Habs.

Poutine

Is it a healthy meal choice? No. Is it appealing to look at? Not exactly. But combine fries, cheese curds and gravy and you get the ultimate decadent meal. For the original (and best!) poutine, the province of Quebec has you covered and while more and more restaurants around the country offer this gooey guilty-pleasure, it’s always best to go with the original.

Seafood

Being surrounded by two of the biggest oceans and having a strong fishing industry in several provinces means that no matter if you’re visiting the west coast or spending time in the Maritimes, fish and seafood are easy to find and always fresh. Besides, you’ve never actually lived until you’ve had a chance to ask for a side of lobster with your lobster club.

A genuinely good nature

Yes, jokes are made and yes, we may in fact apologize even when we aren’t at fault but we also have a reputation as one of the country with the nicest people. We know we’re not perfect and we know we could take notes from other countries on several things but as generalizing as this may be, I do believe we take pride in knowing what the world thinks of Canadians and we’d rather poke fun at our funny accent than get angry aboot the situation. Besides, it’s a lot more fun that way, eh?

Unexpected Expenses

Budget should always be a very important part of planning for a trip, a holiday or an extended period of travel but no matter how much planning is done, unexpected situations and events can occasionally arise and throw a wrench in all that careful planning. Just like planes can be delayed and social unrest or protests can disrupt cultural visits, a single event like the ones below can lead to a pretty drastic increase in your expenses and burn a massive hole through a budget.

While some events simply cannot be avoided, there are some steps to work around those situations or at least minimize the impact they will have on your plans (and your wallet!)

Sickness, illnesses and meds

While being sick might not break the bank, unless you need meds or a visit to the hospital, it can impact your plans and prevent you from going on tours that are already paid for which forces you to either book the same activity twice or simply give up on something you had planned on doing, without necessarily getting your money back.

Keep in mind that medical consultations and medication can become rather expensive, even if they seem rather minor, if you don’t have some kind of travel insurance and while some people feel that paying for insurance in case something happens is a waste of money, I definitely see it as one of those “rather be safe than sorry” moments. You can also get a year long protection for a reduced rate with quite a few different companies, which means you’ll never have to worry about your coverage expiring while on the road.

Lost or misplaced luggage

Although most airlines try their best to return any misplaced luggage to its rightful owner in under 24 hours, there is no guarantee that your beloved suitcase will be at your side the next day. Delays happen, and they often happen at the worst possible time, which can lead to some additional expenses if you need to buy some clothes or toiletries while waiting for your belongings to be returned to you. While there’s not much you can do to avoid this, unless you pack light and manage not to check any luggage, you can take a few pictures of your luggage and its content, in case you need to file an insurance claim later and keeping a few basic necessities in your carry on luggage is always a good idea. Don’t forget the rules for liquids and gels still apply if you choose to travel with toiletries in your carry on and not check in any luggage.

Passport (and other travel documents)

As a rule, you should never leave your passport out of sight when traveling but since that can sometimes be hard to do, it is always a good idea to either carry a photocopy of your passport (and all important travel documents) or scan them and keep a copy in your inbox. That way, should they get stolen, lost, misplaced or damaged while you travel, you’ll have a backup available. Granted, a photocopy of your passport or IDs will not get you far, it will make things a lot easier to get an emergency passport processed at the embassy, as they require two forms of ID. Having an idea of where your country’s embassy is located is never a bad idea as they can offer a lot of support in cases like this.

Although I wouldn’t go as far as to suggest getting a money belt to keep all your important documents safe, I would definitely suggest not keeping everything in the same place. The odds of losing all your belongings at the same time are rather slim but if your documents are all in your trusty day bag, things can do downhill very fast if a thief manages to separate you from it.

Accidents

Many places around the world make renting cars, bikes, motorcycles and many other means of transportation very easy and while the rates can be tempting, insurance is an absolute must-have. Basic car rental will offer some minimal insurance but it will most likely not cover a lot of damage in case of an accident, especially if you are responsible. Sorting out an accident while in a foreign country can also become a hassle as you don’t have the confidence of having home field advantage. It can be difficult to tell your side of the story, even though you might be completely innocent in the incident, especially if you don’t speak the local language, which is why travel agents and airline representatives in many Caribbean hotspots will advise against renting scooters and motorcycles as the risk of accident is high and the odds of being ruled “not responsible” for an accident are very slim.

Safety is obviously the first step to avoid getting in trouble on the road but since you can only control your own actions and not other drivers’, making sure you’re insured for accidents while driving in a foreign country is the responsible step to take before leaving the country.

Missed flights

So your alarm didn’t go off and you make a mad dash for the airport but the plane was on time for once and you end up missing your flight? You can try your luck with the airline and see if they can’t assign you on the next departing flight to your destination. Since the flight wasn’t delayed or cancelled and not making your flight falls on your shoulders, airlines aren’t required to put you on a different flight for free, but they might be able to do it for a small fee; which is definitely better than buying a new ticket at full price.

My only real advice if this ever happens is don’t panic, even though you’ll want to scream at the top of your lungs or throw a tantrum in the middle of the airport, your best bet to get on the airline’s good side is to be as nice as you possibly can. I’m guessing some tears probably don’t hurt either, but I’ll leave that up to you.

The Perfect Hoodie

If there’s one thing I always pack, no matter where I go and how long I travel for, it’s a hoodie. I have a habit of flying with one and bringing at least an additional one in my luggage at all times. They’re just so comfortable and practical that it actually feels weird not bringing one when I’m on the go.

I stumbled upon this Burton hoodie and at first glance it seemed a little on the expensive side but when you take a look at the description of the product, it becomes the best thing since sliced bread. Besides, with a name like the Sleeper Premium (and nicknamed The Redeye Master), it really feels as if it was created specifically for travelers.

You may wonder what makes a hoodie a “travel hoodie” and aside from the obvious comfort factor, I would go with these 5 little particularities to name this my discovery of the year in travel clothing.

burton sleeper
Creative Commons License photo credit: inju

Custom luggage tag

I can’t be the only one who seems to lose luggage tags half the time I travel. These tags come in every shape and form but are often the first casualty of badly handled luggage so the custom tag can always be used as a replacement if your original one doesn’t make it through the entire trip.

Passport & ticket zippable pockets

Since money-belts are oh-so fashionable, those hidden pockets specifically designed to keep passport and tickets safe from wandering hands will also keep you cluster free and make it literally impossible to forget those documents when you’re on the move.

Removable inflatable neck pillow

Sure, they may make you look awkward but who hasn’t been slightly jealous of a fellow traveler wearing an inflatable neck pillow on a long flight? There’s no actual need to bring a separate one; the hoodie comes equipped with one.

Sound pocket

This may be the most common “feature” in clothing these days as a lot of coats and jackets offer that pocket designed specifically for iPods so it’s an obvious feature of a hoodie designed with travelers in mind.

Toothbrush & ear plugs

That’s right, the hoodie actually comes with some goodies and not any either; quite probably the most often forgotten, lost or misplaced travel items. So if you do lose your toothbrush or ear plugs, just dig in one of those mystery pockets to solve the problem instead of buying new ones!

I’m curious; do you have some clothes you always travel with, either for comfort or out of habit? What’s your favourite clothes when you travel?

Banning the Hand That Feeds You

When in Rome, do as the Romans do, the old saying goes, but say it ain’t so according to new legislations by the Dutch government. The Dutch, it turns out, are moving forward with a plan to restrict access to their famous “coffee shops” as part of a movement to tighten the rules surrounding what is often known as “drug tourism”.

Although very liberal on their policies involving “soft” drugs such as marijuana, Dutch politicians brought up the idea of limiting access to the coffee shops to locals and even bringing forward a registration program that would be mandatory for those seeking membership to one of the Netherlands’ many coffee shops. The plans are part of a nationwide program targeting crime and promoting health; those particular restrictions aiming to reduce the risks of avoidable criminality surrounding the country’s current policies.

While the introduction of restrictions isn’t unexpected due to the country, and particularly its Capital’s desire to revamp themselves and appeal to tourists for reasons other than the Netherlands’ infamously open soft drugs policies, the complete exclusion of any and all tourists is the true head-scratcher.

The parallel between acceptance and legality seems to be behind these changes as it comes down to what the Dutch government tolerates for their people as opposed to what they wish to offer tourists visiting the Netherlands. This brings up an ethical concern though as it creates a double standard which could easily get out of hand in the future. After all, would a lot of people go to Vegas if casinos were illegal to anyone who didn’t live in Nevada? There’s no real difference between gambling in Nevada and the liberal policies surrounding soft drugs in the Netherlands; either these things are illegal or not, but they cannot be both.

As a rule of thumb, anyone who travels must obey any and all local laws and will be prosecuted accordingly if those laws are broken. For example, the legal drinking age in Quebec is 18 while our neighbors in Ontario cannot legally drink until they are 19. That being said, the law goes both ways and an 18 year old Quebecer cannot purchase liquor in Ontario while an 18 year old Ontarian can drink in Quebec.

It all comes down to the fact that those liberal views are very attractive to some tourists and it’s hard to pretend that tourism won’t be impacted when we know that over 90% of the customer base of those coffee shops is foreign. Coffee shops are valuable tax-paying businesses and denying service to tourists is discriminatory, in a way, as it labels tourists as careless idiots who have no idea how to act decently if put in contact with products sold in coffee shops. On a financial standpoint, the loss of tourism looming over the Netherlands because of those changes should definitely not be ignored as a percentage of the current 20-something backpackers, travelers and general people who will “try it once” visiting Amsterdam will probably end up spending less as a direct result of these changes.

Socially, while the idea behind the new policies makes sense and follows the rest of the world’s views on the use or purchase of soft drugs, it remains to be seen if the double standard used in this situation will impact the way other countries view area-specific situations and create a precedent. Will tourists all of the sudden be unwelcomed from Mass at the Vatican? Will the Great Wall of China be limited to Chinese people only? Is it fair to look at tourists as being different and “unworthy” of being part of specific situations?

ETA; How timely; the Associated Press just posted something about how Thailand doesn’t want tourists getting ‘Bouddha’ tattoos when in Thailand.

6 Cool Facts About the Netherlands

Beyond things that you probably didn’t know about Amsterdam; here are some cool facts about the Netherlands.

1. Orange is the official color of the Netherlands because of the name of a powerful family that assisted the Dutch in fighting off Napoleon’s troops and even today’s royal lineage of the current dynasty are related to the powerful House of Orange.

2. The current queen of the Netherlands, Beatrix, was born in Canada, during the German occupation of the Netherlands. An entire hospital wing was declared Dutch soil in order for her to be eligible to be queen.

3. 50% of books published in the 17th century were published in the Netherlands.

4. Only 9% of Dutch people have used marijuana in the past year.

5. Tulips, a well-known symbol of the Netherlands, were the first commercial bubble (and the first crash); the highest priced bulb sold for more than the price of a medium-priced house.

6. While you can legally have sex with a prostitute, buy and use drugs or marry someone of the same sex, it is illegal to ride a bike without a light in the front and one in the back.

10 Things You Didn’t Know About Amsterdam

Most of us have a very precise vision of what Amsterdam is supposed to be like but beyond the drugs and sex, here are 10 things you probably didn’t know about the capital of the Netherlands.

1. Amsterdam’s Royal Palace was not only known as the center of Europe 400 years ago, it was seen as the center of the world!

2. Amsterdam had a revolution after the French occupation ended; effectively revolting against no one.

3. There are roughly 250 windows in the Red Light District and they are all privately owned.

4. The highest street in Amsterdam is roughly 1.5 meter above sea level

5. Amsterdam was once known as “The Second Jerusalem” for its acceptance of Jewish people.

6. Amsterdam is non-officially known as the world’s capital of multi-culturalism. There are 197 nations represented in the city.

7. Amsterdam has more canals than Venice

8. Coffeeshops are taxed by the government, although selling and buying marijuana is not technically legal.

9. Non-Jewish people in Amsterdam were the only ones to stand up against the Nazis in 1941 when they began deporting Jews.

10. Women who work in the Red Light District rent their window at a rate between 150 and 200 euros, depending on the location, for an 8 hour shift.

International Museum Day

On May 18th 1969, Apollo 10 was launched and Elizabeth Montgomery, the actress famously known for the role of Samanta on Bewitched passed away on May 18th 2005 but did you know that since 1977, the 18th of May is known as the “International Museum Day”? The event is celebrated around the world and this year’s IMD, “Museum and Memory” literally has thousands of partners doing their part in the project. The entire list of participating museums can be found on the World Museum Community website, which I will link at the bottom.

While I didn’t get to visit the lone Dutch museum taking part in IMD, I do have to admit that museums have been a guilty pleasure of mine for the longest time. With school, I visited a good amount of Canadian museums in Quebec City, Montreal & Ottawa and that definitely triggered some kind of an interest later in life as I tend to hit at least one museum everywhere I go. My discovery of international museums began with the British Museum and The Louvre, which are arguably two of the biggest, most famous museums in the world; setting a very high standard for the future museums I visit.

Strictly speaking about museums, in the classic sense of the word, those two still have a very important place in my head and although they hardly need more publicity, I thought highlighting a few points for each of them was a good way of celebrating International Museum Day.

The British Museum

I could not have set the bar any higher on my first day in England and even today, looking back at the pictures I took seven years ago, I still feel the exact same way I felt when I stood in front of the impressive building. The sheer size of the museum is surprising and the fancy interior is absolutely breathtaking. It’s no wonder people wander around the lobby and take pictures before even being inside the museum.

The most famous piece inside the actual museum is arguably the Rosetta Stone; which is the tool originally used to translate hieroglyphs. The museum’s key piece is easy to find although a little on the small side, which means there is very little chance of managing to snap a picture without a random tourist, or at least a body part, in the way.

In terms of collections, the museum has a very impressive amount of Egyptian pieces, ranging from tiny sharps of stone to gigantic vases, sarcophagi and statues.

Scheduling a day at the British Museum certainly isn’t a bad idea as there are so many different rooms and exhibits that you will end up having to pick and choose if you don’t want to spend your entire vacation in the museum.

The best part of it all is that admission to the museum is always free so, in the likely event that you feel like splitting your visit in two, you won’t hold back simply because you won’t have to pay for admission twice.

The Louvre

Think of it as France’s answer to the British Museum and following the French tradition, they made it bigger and better. The museum, made even more famous by Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, is certainly the museum to see while in France and unless you plan on rushing through it to have a few pictures to bring home with you, a whole day is barely enough to see all there is to see.

If I have a single advice when visiting the Louvre it’s; be selective. You can’t see it all. Try and take a look at the website before you visit or grab a map at the entrance and head for the exhibits that you actually want to see. Also, don’t forget that you’ll surely want to spend some time in the famous inner courtyard to catch the perfect picture of the famous glass pyramid before going inside to snap a photo of it’s inverted counterpart.

The famous Venus de Milo, along with Da Vinci’s many paintings, including the always popular Mona Lisa, are some of the very popular pieces in the Louvre so you should expect crowds; especially if you plan to visit on a Friday night when admission is free for those under 26 or on the first Sunday of each month, when it is free for everyone. Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa used to be guarded by security to prevent the painting being damaged by people taking pictures but rumor has it the guards are gone and people can take pictures now.

In a way, there is really nothing like actually visiting either of these museums at least once in your life and if you aren’t a fan of museums to begin with; you are bound to find something you’ll enjoy through the many different exhibits available.

International Museum Day
British Museum
The Louvre