Monday, November 15, 2010

The Festival of Lights in Niagara Explodes Over The Falls

Photo courtesy of Kenzie
The Niagara Falls annual Festival of Lights had its big opening on Nov. 6th, with a Disney fest to kick off the season. And what a season it will be. In addition to the traditional illuminations along the Parkway, the lighting of the Falls, and the fireworks and concerts, this year there will be a skating rink at the brink of the Falls. Visitors will be able to have an evening skate, watch the Falls in all their blazing glory and see the many illuminations fallside.

Photo by Raistlins Ghost
Illumination of the Falls has been ongoing, more or less regularly, for 140 years. In 1860, a spectacular illumination of the falls celebrated a visit by the Prince of Wales.
Currently a total of twenty-one xenon lights, each with a 76-cm (30 in) diameter, are used to illuminate the Falls in a rainbow of colours. Eighteen are located at the Illumination Tower, beside the Queen Victoria Place and three are located below street level in the gorge opposite the American Falls.
The fireworks over the Falls during the Festival of Light are amazing, boasting two of the largest flags ever reproduced in fireworks, the Canadian and the American.

Photos courtesy of grilled cheese
From now until Jan 6th, visitors to the Falls can enjoy the illuminations, the light displays and the concerts and most of the activities are free. It would be very romantic to go skating by the light of the Falls, or even to snuggle up on a cosy sofa in front of the fireplace in R5 at the Fallsview Casino and have a martini while watching the illuminations. However you want to design your visit during the Festival of Lights - family style, romance style, adventure style - any style will work.

photo courstesy of digital sextant
Watch this clip to see some of the highlights of last year's Festival of Lights.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Bottoms up for the Duck Fart: Alaska has produced some real charmers - there's Sarah Palin, and then there's the Duck Fart! Recipe from

The Duck Fart
By Amy Wisniewski
An Alaskan original created more than 20 years ago at the Peanut Farm in Anchorage, this layered cocktail is said to be named for the sound you’ll make after drinking one.
Total Time: Under 5 mins
Makes: 1 drink

1 ounce Kahlúa
1 ounce Baileys Irish Cream
1/2 ounce Crown Royal Whisky

  1. Pour Kahlúa into a 3-ounce shot glass.
  2. Using the convex side of a bar spoon, slowly pour Baileys over the Kahlúa, making sure not to disturb it, to create a layered effect.
  3. Using the same technique, layer the Crown Royal over the Baileys.

Friday, September 17, 2010

It's All For The Birds At Ruthven This Weekend

(Photo courtesy of Ruthven Park)
Ruthven Park is a beautifully preserved Greek Revival mansion on the banks of the Grand River. It stands above the river, elegant, dignified and evocative of times past.

It is a fascinating house to visit, and the grounds offer walking trails through field and forest, past the remains of a town now long gone, and two cemeteries. It's a place worth visiting anytime, but it is particularly attractive this weekend, when the estate celebrates its importance as a birding centre.
When war devastates a country, what happens to the birds? Major Randel Rogers will talk about Birding From the Trenches, discussing his experiences in Iraq. David Brewer will talk about his adventures banding birds in Kazakhstan, and Darryl Edwards will discuss the sex life of shorebirds.
The well known author Dr. Bridget Stutchbury will be speaking about her new book, The Bird Detective. Dr. Stutchbury, a professor of biology at York University, has been studying the behind-the-scenes details of the social live of birds to understand why females cheat on their mates, what makes males attractive, why some pairs divorce and what all this means, not just for the avian world, but for ours. Her talk on Sunday evening will be part of a dinner catered by D&D’s Fine Family Diner in Jarvis.

Other speakers will explore the issues of birds at risk, and various elements of the bird world.
But the weekend is about more than lectures.

On Friday evening, the satirical folk band, The Arrogant Worms, will perform in the Coach House. There will be a beer tent, too.
Saturday sees hikes and guided walks through the park grounds and bird banding demonstrations. There will be as show of live birds of prey by the Mountsberg Raptor Centre, and bird making crafts for young children. Throughout the weekend, exhibitors, like The Royal Botanical Gardens and Wild Birds Unlimited will be available and there will be tours of Ruthven on the hour.
It’s a busy weekend at this historic home, with something for everyone. Ruthven is about a forty minute drive from Hamilton, and sits on the banks of the Grand, near Cayuga.
Visit the website, or call (905) 772-0560 for details.
Spend a weekend, or just an afternoon, with family and feathered friends, at one of Ontario’s most authentic historic properties, Ruthven.
Admission is by donation ( suggested $15)
Ruthven Park
243 Haldimand Hwy #54

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Rome Lives Forever in the Hearts of Travelers

In the Heart of The Eternal City, A Classic Within Reach

It’s not fashionable these days to indulge in luxury. The zeitgeist has made conspicuous consumption unpalatable. But surely a little hard-earned indulgence is permitted, as long as you don’t make it a habit?

My room in the Hotel Hassler in Rome is perfect. It has everything I want in a hotel room. The bed is large, with fat pillows and quality linen. Although the room is smallish, cream colours, high ceilings and classic design make it seem larger. The bathroom is elegant, with marble walls and floor. There is free wireless internet connection and Herald Tribune is at my door in the morning. There is fresh fruit and two tiny pastries perched on a plate on the desk by the window. There are fresh flowers in a clear glass vase. It is quiet, and the air is fresh.
Everything I value in a hotel room is very well done.
But the bonus is the window that opens to a view of the Spanish Steps, the apartments across the way where Keats stayed to write some of his best poetry, and the sun setting over the hills of

I know that there is merit to staying in small intimate pensions to absorb the local flavour, but there is a definite local flavour at the high end too. This hotel has been the Roman address of so many famous people that it has absorbed some of their glamour. Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn waltzed through this lobby on their way to film Roman Holiday. U.S. Presidents John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon, Pierre Elliot Trudeau (with Margaret), Grace Kelly, and in more recent times, Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, have used this 5 star hotel as their place to stay in Rome.
The one thing that the lagging euro and the escalating Looney has done is to move some of the classics of European travel out of the stratosphere and into more sensible pricing territory. And that means that an unforgettable trip to Rome, the Eternal city, is now a possibility.
The best is never cheap, but right now, the high end is more affordable than it has been in decades. My single room at the Hassler, which last summer would have cost 550 Euros ($ CAD approx. 880 at the 2009 exchange rate) is now in the 410 euro ($ CAD 514 ) range. Not bargain basement, but you won’t be sleeping in a bargain basement either.
Even more important, if you stay at the Hassler, in the morning you will step out at the top of the Spanish Steps, with the Plaza D’Espania below you, the Via Condotti a few steps away, and the Borghese Gardens a short walk off to the right. The treasures of ancient Rome are within easy reach.
I walked to the Trevi Fountian in less than ten minutes, then along the Via di Muralti to the Temple Adriano, the Pantheon and then the Piazza Navone. In the nearby Campo di Fiori, I searched for the little bakery where my local breadmaker stayed for six weeks to learn how to make Roman pizza. I found, on a small side street, Il Forniao, with six foot slabs of pizza they cut to order. Not Mark’s place, but delicious none the less. Then I headed out along the Corso Vittorio Emanuel, stopping at the Area Sacra to watch the cats that live there. It has become a cat sanctuary, and scores of felines sleep in the sun on top of excavated Roman walls. Next was the Vittorio Emmanuel Monument, then the Coliseum and the Palatine.
The metro took me back to the Spanish Steps at the end of the day, and I spent a few quiet moments enjoying the beauty of the Triniti de Monti Church next to the Hassler before calling it a day.
At the cocktail hour, I met with Roberto Wirth, the handsome owner of the Hassler, whose crisp white shirt, classic tie and pinstripe suit make me feel rumpled. He has a shock of pure white hair and an easy smile. Talking to him, I glimpse a Rome that I am sure few visitors ever get to see. He has hosted memorable characters, and, when he learns I am Canadian, reminisces about Trudeau and how our Prime Minister had entertained many friends in his suite during his stay. Deaf from birth, Roberto nevertheless speaks flawless English and lip reads in four different languages.
Later, enjoying a late dinner at an outdoor cafe just across from the Hassler, I watch Roberto come out of the hotel. The doorman raises his arm and a black Mercedes limo slides up to the door. Roberto salutes his doorman, climbs in and disappears into the dark roman twilight. I imagine him pulling up to some secluded villa in the hills, with another uniformed attendant waiting, perhaps with a glass of champagne on a silver tray - but that is just imagination.

Currencies change, times change, opportunities come and go. There’s talk of the Euro being at par with the US dollar within the next year, which would mean that the treasures of Rome would be even more affordable.
But the opportunity is here now, and my advice is to seize the chance to savour the best of Rome while you can. Who knows which way the currency cat will jump next?

Hotel Hassler Roma
Piazza della Trinità dei Monti, 6
00187 Rome, Italy
066 99340

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Fireworks Season Begins over Niagara

If you thought seeing Niagara Falls was spectacular, wait till you've seen them lit up by fireworks. From now until mid October, on every Friday, Saturday and holiday evening, there will be a fireworks show startng at 10 pm and preceded by a free concert that starts at 8. So come early, find a comfortable spot beside the river, enjoy the music and thrill to the colurs and noise of a great fireworks display.