Canadian Wanderer

Travel plans, thoughts & lessons

Month: February 2016

Much more than poutine; a food writer celebrates Quebec cuisine

Montreal’s food scene has a special place in the hearts of residents and visitors alike. Public markets, such as Jean-Talon, bistros and food trucks, and ‘fast foods’ like bagels, poutine, smoked meat and steamies are well-loved culinary contributions. But the specialties of regions such as the Gaspésie or the Charlevoix are lesser known outside la belle… Continue reading

Taking the plunge in Budapest

With the increased popularity of river cruising in recent years more travellers are visiting Budapest as it is one of the main ports for Danube itineraries and among the scenic city’s ‘must see’ sights are the thermal baths that have soothed travellers since Roman Times.

With some 123 natural springs and two dozen baths dotting Budapest there’s no shortage of places to take the plunge but a good place to begin is with one of the two largest and most well known bath complexes: the Gellért Baths and the Széchenyi Thermal Bath. Having a limited amount of time I chose the Gellért Baths as it was just across the river from my hotel and left my visit until the day before flying home so I’d be refreshed and relaxed for the journey.

The Gellért Baths were built between 1912 and 1918 in an opulent Art Nouveau style and are part of the adjoining luxury Hotel Gellért on the Buda side of the Danube.

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Photo by author

The main entrance features an intricately tiled fountain with statue and stained glass that unfortunately wasn’t in operation for my visit but was worth admiring nonetheless as was the gilded glasswork on the domed skylight.

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Photo by author

Gellért Baths

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Photo immediately above “Entrance hall to the Gellért Baths complex” by Thaler Tamas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

The interior is as impressive as the lobby with the main pool lit by a clear glass skylight giving the feeling of being outside. Off to the sides are a number of mineral pools of varying temperatures and benches to take in the sheer opulence of the facility while commending yourself for having the good sense to experience it. 

Gellért Budapest

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Photo immediately above Gellért Gyogyfurdo by Roberto Ventre is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 International License.

At both Széchenyi and Gellért men and women bath together and swimsuits – normally tiny Speedos for the men as this is Europe after all – are worn in all but a few clothing optional locations. Expect prices for an afternoon of relaxation in the baths to be around CAD$20 with locker rental but extras such as massage, admission to the outdoor naturist (read nudist)  summer sundeck, or something called a chocolate treatment will all add to the overall price.

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Budapest health spa’s by Alex S. Gabor is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

After an enjoyable visit to the Gellért Baths I’d recommend a visit to Budapest’s Market Hall which is directly across the river and a sprawling indoor commercial hub with three levels and dozens of shops selling handicrafts, fresh fish, wines, and inexpensive meals from the food stalls. A bratwurst and a beer was my break from city sightseeing although the borscht was as cheap as, well, borscht!

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Seoul, the biggest unknown city

In helping someone plan a Seoul stopover recently I drew upon my experience exploring the South Korean capital several years ago to offer sightseeing suggestions and was reminded how little is known about the city despite it being among the largest cities on the planet. When asked for the biggest metropolitan areas most people would likely offer Mexico City, São Paulo, or Shanghai as answers and while sprawling megapolis’ that are among the world’s largest cities all are smaller than Seoul’s 25.6 million residents leaving it only behind Tokyo’s 36 million. Of course it goes without saying that population statistics can be dissected dozens of ways depending upon measurements such as metropolitan areas or only city boundaries but it’s safe to say when including urban and suburban areas Seoul is the quiet giant.

Despite Seoul’s size the masses are moved efficiently thanks to an extensive and relatively inexpensive public transit network which includes a subway system with recorded station announcements in English, Mandarin, Japanese and Korean. This easy access to different parts of the city allows visitors staying for more than a few days to explore all the city sights but for those travellers limited to a short stopover the most important landmarks including Gyeongbokgung Palace are conveniently clustered within a compact city center corridor.

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With mountains ringing the city Seoul offers some scenic vantage points including N Seoul Tower on Namsan Mountain.  The picture below was taken from Namsangol Hanok Village which is a recreated traditional Korean village that offers residents and visitors alike the chance to create wood block ink prints of your name, watch artwork and handicrafts being made in age old ways or peer into clay pots used to make kimchi.

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Photo by author

As many Korean restaurants cater to groups of friends & family who share their meals as a single traveller I quite enjoyed the tasty if spicy street food on offer after dusk. When this vendor warned me the chicken and beef skewers were hot I thought he meant temperature-wise but soon discovered a mouth-tingling moment later he meant hot in terms of spiciness but was hooked and devoured several more that visit and others later in my visit. It was a real treat to wander the city center sampling local delicacies like a moveable feast.

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Photo by author

Seoul Incheon Airport is a major Asian aviation hub and home of Korean Airlines so many North American travellers connect through the airport on their way somewhere else but sadly the few who do opt to build a stopover into their itinerary allot only a brief break which while better than no time at all hardly does this amazing city justice. If you ever get the chance stay a while in Seoul I’d recommend it as there are so many facets to the city it is well worth taking the time to explore and experience them.

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Little Secrets of Seoul by iflymagazine is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

 

 

One airport, no reservations

I counted myself fortunate my name found its way onto the guest list of a travel industry business luncheon hosted by Delta Airlines and KLM Royal Dutch Airlines and EIA (Edmonton International Airport) held at the Renaissance Edmonton Airport Hotel and had jumped at the opportunity for a number of reasons including enjoying a free meal on a Friday afternoon at a luxury hotel and a behind-the-scenes tour of airport facilities offered to our small group.

I’d toured this Renaissance, the only one of the brand in the world connected to an airport terminal, shortly after it’s grand opening in August 2014 (more here) and like its unique décor and light, contemporary colour schemes.

Airport staff at the luncheon were in high spirits as days earlier EIA’s 2015 passenger statistics were released showing it was the second busiest calendar year ever with almost 8 million passengers transiting the airport. While U.S. passenger numbers were down due to the dropping Canadian Dollar international traffic soared almost 20% thanks in part to KLM’s inauguration of non-stop service between Edmonton and Amsterdam, the airline’s main hub and a major international airport serving almost 55 million passengers in 2014.  Sales staff representing Delta, KLM, Air France and Alitalia were joined by EIA airline station managers for a brief product update before an escorted tour lead by EIA executives.

After a security check the central baggage handling facility was the first stop and having toured it previously recalled how sprawling yet cramped a space this is with a canopy of overhead conveyer belts directing checked bags with an automated efficiency monitored by computers.

EIA screens

We watched as bags were guided on to different whirring belts or through a mini-van sized X-ray machine for a closer look at the contents. Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) staff are on hand to manually inspect suspect bags if necessary.

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The facility was completed in 2012 as part of the last major airport expansion and doubled EIA’s baggage handling capacity.

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It was interesting to watch the checked bags complete their own journey but all the while I was trying not to smile like a Cheshire cat as a confirmed carry-on only passenger who bypasses all this machinery.

The Central Tower, which opened in 2013, is a ten storey office building topped with an air traffic control tower that replaced the airport’s original tower on the right of this photo which taken from the EIA eighth floor boardroom. Notice the Renaissance Edmonton Airport Hotel in the background.

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The view to the south on a sunny January afternoon was equally as memorable.

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The Central Tower was designed to be a distinctive local architectural landmark with its undulating sculpted steel exterior mimicking wind driven prairie snow drifts but the shape allows for catching the most winter sun while shading the interior from long sunny summer days.  EIA is pursuing LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Silver Certification for the new Central Tower.

My thanks to the EIA and KLM, Delta, Alitalia and Air France staff for hosting the luncheon which allowed this incorrigible traveller a brief afternoon escape with neither boarding pass nor baggage.

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Unique airport attractions

We tend to think of airports as placed to be endured rather than enjoyed but there are a growing number of airport authorities out to challenge that perception with unique and interactive attractions.

Los Angeles International Airport has gone to the dogs, literally, as it has pioneered a program to bring volunteers and their pets into the airport terminal to help ease travellers connection through LAX. The Pets Unstressing Passengers (PUP) dogs are registered with Therapy Dogs Inc. and flyers are welcome you to visit, hug, kiss and take pictures with the PUPs when traveling through LAX. There is a photo album of all the dogs on the organization’s website and Serjio is my favorite:

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It should be noted Edmonton International Airport has conducted a trial project along the same lines in conjunction with the Pet Society of Northern Alberta over this past Christmas holidays.

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Hidden from the active shopping and dining areas of the Singapore’s Changi Airport is the Sunflower garden,  a quiet oasis open day and night and filled with the airport nursery’s variety of sunflowers. Given the city state’s location one degree from the equator the tropical climate allows year round enjoyment of this space which is especially scenic at night with special lighting.

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Sunflower Garden Changi Airport by Rudy Herman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Asia’s largest 4-D projection screen is at the Hong Kong International Airport at the UA IMAX Theatre @Airport and passengers with time on their hands can not only enjoy the latest blockbuster but feel a part of the movie thanks to 3-D glasses and extreme real-life special effects—wind, water, and murky fog like clouds. The last effect may be experienced beyond the theatre as Hong Kong’s climate is often murky and fog like thanks to industrial pollution from massive factory complexes just over the border in Shenzhen, China.

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Airport UA IMAX (Hong Kong). by Mk2010 is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Passengers with long enough layover at Hong Kong International Airport can also avail themselves of a fairly unique attraction nearby as Hong Kong Disneyland is also located on Lantau Island.

San Francisco International Airport, or SFO using its three letter aviation code, is a major west coast hub to Europe and Asia hosting 51 million passengers per year but few explore the facility’s hidden gems such as the SFO Museum which is located pre-security on the Departures Level of the International Terminal Main Hall. The museum offers accessible art which is my term for modern pop art and culture exhibitions, local art and photography and aviation related retrospectives that can usually offer enough to interest a broad spectrum of travellers. SFO Museum is open daily except Saturdays and public holidays and admission is free so arrive a little early for your next flight from their airport and catch one of the engaging exhibitions.

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What could be more natural for an airport than to offer a behind-the-scenes tour of the inner working of the facility? Given modern security considerations not as natural as many aviation enthusiasts would hope however one global gateway going against the grain and offering tours to the public is Toronto’s Pearson International Airport whose 2016 “Airside Tours” can be confirmed in advance over the summer season.

YYZ terminal

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Tic Toc by Faramarz Hashemi is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 International License.

If you’ve encountered a unique airport attraction or facility your enjoyed please comment and let me know!

 

 

 

 

Don’t let the low loonie clip your wings

Here are the top destinations for Canadian travellers

You always dreamt of attending the Olympics? Now is your chance and the Canadian dollar might help the fantasy along. The cross-continent odyssey that this family took to Florida, all to save their travel points There are direct flights, and then there are lengths this family went to in order to use up their stagnating Air… Continue reading

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