Suffering from the Monday doldrums? For everyone out there facing the beginning of another work week, here’s a little jolt of wanderlust to brighten up your morning. Each Monday, we offer a photo of a spectacular place to spark ideas for your future travels.
This week’s shot is of a polar bear chilling (no pun intended!) in the wild in Churchill, Manitoba, Canada.
When’s the last time you transferred from an airport into the heart of downtown without paying a dime? And when’s the last time you got drinks and snacks at an airport — for free?
I did both of these things on a recent trip to Toronto via Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport. Unlike the much larger Toronto Pearson International Airport, which is about 17 miles outside of town, Billy Bishop is located in the heart of Toronto — specifically, on an island across a narrow strip of water from downtown. It’s currently served by only two carriers, Porter Airlines and (in a more limited capacity) Air Canada.
I flew Porter from Newark to Toronto and back, and was struck by how different this airport felt than any other I’d ever flown into. First off, you get there via the world’s shortest ferry (the ride is just 90 seconds across a 132-yard stretch of water), after riding a free shuttle bus to the ferry terminal from downtown. No need to take a pricey cab.
Following a quick trip through security, you settle into a lounge with couches and cushy chairs arranged around coffee tables, looking out through large windows at the Toronto skyline. The Wi-Fi is free (albeit slow), and you can help yourself to complimentary bottled water, soft drinks, tea, coffee and snacks. All in all, it’s a pretty decent place to wait out a flight delay.
Of course, such a small airport has its drawbacks. This isn’t the place to go if you want to browse a bookstore, shop for duty-free goodies or eat a full-service meal; there are no stores or restaurants, just a quick-stop cafe. And you can forget about fun extras like massage chairs or play areas for kids.
Billy Bishop isn’t the world’s most entertaining airport. But after my last flight through New York JFK — where the service was sour, the customs line stretched for miles, and I had to shell out $10 for a measly bottled water and yogurt — I’d go back to that laid-back lounge in a heartbeat.
A big blue tour bus that could probably hold some 60 people waited outside the pier for us — all five of us. We were three passengers off of a Crystal cruise ship, one crew member and one “host.” While other passengers headed off for a tour of Halifax, we were all here with a different goal in mind.
We were all volunteers for the line’s You Care, We Care voluntourism excursion to the Feed Nova Scotia food distribution center in Halifax. Feed Nova Scotia is a private charity that helps hungry people throughout the province by collecting and distributing food to more than 150 member food banks and meal programs.
Our job at the food bank was to unpack boxes full of food and household items, sorting them and repackaging them by category. Once we had a full box of a sorted item, like a box of grains or a box of condiments, we had to weigh it, label it and then put it on a pallet for shipping.
Most of the boxes were heavy and dusty, and I ended up on the “wrong” side of the sorting table. My job was to lift the boxes onto the table. I was, after all, the youngest volunteer. I then unpacked the boxes, while our guide and Margie, another cruise passenger from Tennessee, sorted the items into their appropriate categories.
As we sorted, I was shocked to discover how much junk food (sorted as “snack” food) was donated. In the two hours we were there, we unpacked and repacked more soda, chocolate bars (Lindt chocolate!) and other varied snack items than any other category. I don’t think we ever filled a single canned meat box or dairy box, but the hungry people of Nova Scotia certainly won’t be wanting for Coke.
We didn’t talk too much as we worked, other than to consult on whether a six-pack of peaches was real fruit or a snack item (fruit if no added sugar; snack, otherwise), or which box olive oil should go into (baking, not condiments). But later, as we waited, hot and sweaty, for our bus to take us back to Crystal Symphony, I asked Margie and her husband Phil why they had decided to volunteer.
“We didn’t really like any of the other excursions,” Phil said. “But, back home, we believe strongly in giving back to our community.”
To them, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to try out one of these options. On previous Crystal cruises, they’d seen the voluntourism offerings but never tried them. (Editor’s Note: Crystal offers a free voluntourism excursion on almost every sailing.)
Would he do it again? “No promises,” Phil said. It would depend on what the other excursion offerings were.
As for me, after two hours of lifting heavy boxes, standing around a sorting table and going through hundreds of food and household items, my lower back ached and my hands were filthy. I was ready to return to the ship. We were thanked enthusiastically for our time and though I was never going to get to see the end result of my work, I left feeling I had at least done a little something for someone else.
Until I did this excursion, I had never really considered volunteering some of my time while vacationing. If I’ve got five or seven days in a destination, giving up three hours really isn’t a big deal. Though I had come to the food bank through the cruise line, I am sure any tourist visiting Halifax who offered to donate some time would be welcomed warmly.
I am equally sure that every city has an abundance of nonprofit organizations that could use an extra pair of hands for a few hours. And the next time I travel somewhere for five days or longer, I’m going to look into it. That’s a promise.
Newfoundland may not be the first place that comes to mind when you think about traveling somewhere for its music. Instead, you might think Ireland for its Celtic sounds or New Orleans for great jazz; Nashville is world-famous for country music, while Salzburg and Vienna resonate with loves of classical.
But for me the city of St. John’s, Newfoundland ranks near the top of my list of for destinations I want to visit for their rich musical heritage. The city and island are steeped in maritime traditions including a love of rollicking sea shanties influenced by the Irish, English and Scottish sailors who alit on its shores centuries ago.
Want a taste of what Newfoundland has been known to serve up, musically speaking? Check out this clip from a Newfoundland & Labrador Folk Festival.
Other places high on my list of must-visit musical destinations include Ireland and Cape Breton.
I have yet to make it to Newfoundland or Cape Breton, but I’ve been to Ireland four times. One of my favorite trips included two nights in the small town of Doolin, where impromptu seisiúns popped up nightly.
Have you ever traveled somewhere just because of its musical traditions or history? Which cities call to you because an artist or music movement was born there?
There are certainly reasons to avoid leaf peeping in its usual incarnation. You could easily overdose on quaintness while choosing the plumpest pumpkin or dearest antique. If you shy away from scores of children wielding candied apples while running wild through cornstalk mazes, you may want to skip the season altogether. Understood.
But you’d be missing some glorious sights, whether you go simply for the visual treat or allow the colors to enhance a trip with an entirely non-related agenda. Don’t allow the scarecrows to chase you away. Indulge. Here are some places we wouldn’t mind visiting during the autumn months. We may even enjoy a crisp apple or some pumpkin ice cream along the way.
Take the Shin-Hotaka Ropeway up the Hotake Mountains, near Nagano, Japan. From both the double-decker gondolas and the observation deck, you’ll enjoy a glorious view.
Explore the monasteries of Echmiadzin, Armenia. Perhaps sight a few khachkars, outdoor stone slabs carved with detailed motifs, which can still be found although many have been destroyed.
Drive the 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway through the beautiful Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains. This National Scenic Byway, which runs through Virginia and North Carolina, is bordered with deciduous trees, such as oak, dogwood, hickory, buckeye and ash.
Skip Paris in the springtime and visit in autumn. The fall foliage in Jardin du Luxembourg easily rivals its colorful May blooms.
For more lovely landscapes in autumn, don’t miss the Butchart Gardens, just north of Victoria on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. You’ll find a serenity impossible to locate in a corn maze.
Every Monday, we’ll post the answer to the previous week’s Photo Friday quiz. Play along with future photo guessing games by subscribing to our blog (top right).
The correct answer to last Friday’s photo guessing game is Montreal! The building with the green roof is Montreal’s 1870’s-era city hall, located in the part of town known as Vieux Montreal (Old Montreal). Nearby is Place de Cartier, a popular square that bustles with street performers and sidewalk cafes in the summertime. Learn more about the city in Montreal Essentials.
Check back this Friday for another photo guessing game!
When I realized just how cold it was going to get in the Canadian wilderness that night (less than 40 degrees Fahrenheit after the sun set), I layered on nearly everything I had packed. My makeshift camping pajamas consisted of leggings, yoga pants, sweatpants, several pairs of socks, a T-shirt, a flannel shirt, a sweatshirt, a fleece, gloves and a hat. Were a wild animal to sink its teeth into my leg as I waddled to the bathroom in the dark that night, I wouldn’t feel a thing.
Despite my armor of cotton and fleece, I woke up in shivers more than once throughout the night. I had gone to bed with wet hair, my head soaked from a full-moon whitewater rafting excursion on the Ottawa River. Curled up on a cot in a tent at Horizon X base camp in Bryson, Quebec, I dreamed of hair dryers and warm laundry. This experience was, I had been told, “glamping.”
Like “staycation” or “tourist-tastic,” the term “glamping” is one of those awkward pop culture word fusions that people either love to state or love to hate. Clearly, it means “glamorous camping.” But beyond that, its definition is vague. Does it involve butlers? Gourmet meals in deluxe heated cabins? Pedicures under the stars?
My luxuries at Horizon X included cots, tented cabins with wood floors, hot showers in non-potable water (which could be no longer than four minutes or there wouldn’t be enough water for the rest of the camp!), and, thankfully, a Jacuzzi. There were beds in a few of the tented cabins, but I was not ruthless enough to claim one. This was a step up from conditions at some other campsites, many of which don’t even offer tents or cabins. Was I glamping?
I looked into some luxury camping options to compare. Tour company Abercrombie & Kent houses travelers on African safaris in mobile tents with king-size beds and en-suite private bathrooms that have running water. Multi-course meals are served to guests in a candlelit dining tent. Global Expeditions in Arizona offers tents with queen beds and daily turndown service in the Rockies and other U.S. destinations. Turndown service in the great outdoors — surely this is glamping.
Spending a night in the bush on a fancy king bed sounds amazing, but I wouldn’t trade my stay at Horizon X for a thing. A hot, albeit short, shower, a cot and good company were sufficient for me. The campsite was rugged and beautiful. The full-moon whitewater rafting excursion was an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime experience. And after spending two chilly nights in the remote Canadian wilderness, my own bed at home, my private heated bathroom and that leftover slice of pizza in the fridge never looked so glamorous.
New England and Canada are immensely popular autumn destinations — but that doesn’t mean there aren’t fall deals to be found in these parts of the world. You just have to know where to look. We did some travel deal detective work and unearthed several exceptional bargains in harvest-time havens from Maine to Montreal. Travelers can look forward to blazing foliage, crisp autumn weather and fun fall festivals when visiting these regions in September and October.
Third Night Free on Maine’s Coast
This October, get a free night’s stay at Cedarholm Garden Bay Inn, an oceanfront property located in the Camden, Maine area. The inn’s guest cottages, which start at $225 per night, all have private decks overlooking the water. Guests wake up to a complimentary Continental breakfast served each morning.
7-Night Canada/New England Cruise from $549
Pay less than $80 per night — that’s roughly half off standard fares — for a week-long Caribbean Princess cruise sailing roundtrip from New York on September 18. This leaf-peeping cruise stops in scenic ports including Halifax, Bar Harbor and Newport.
Save 25% in Montreal
Receive 25 percent off weekend stays at the Hotel Omni Mount-Royal, a centrally located Montreal hotel set in the city’s popular Golden Square Mile neighborhood. Discounted nightly rates start at $104.25 CAD for travel before December 30.
U.S. Fares from $44 OW AirTran‘s latest systemwide sale includes low-priced flights to fabulous fall destinations like Boston; Portland, Maine; Rochester; and Buffalo. These sale fares are valid for travel through mid-December, and must be booked by August 24.
Save 25% on Northeast Regional Train Travel
Travelers departing from New York, Washington D.C., Boston and Philadelphia can get discounted Amtrak tickets to lovely New England towns like Providence, New Haven and Stamford. Discounted tickets start at just $10 each way when booked 14 days in advance.
Save 30% on Boston Hotels
For a limited time, travelers heading to Beantown this autumn can take advantage of reduced rates at dozens of local hotels. Book with Hotels.com by August 30 and save up to 40 percent on accommodations in Boston. This deal features nightly rates as cheap as $58 (for the Westgate Hotel and Conference Center), plus discounts at upscale properties including the Copley Square Hotel and the Langham, Boston.