A return visit to the New Your capital: Albany offers fun food, good shopping and historic sites

By Mike Cohen

The New York Capital in Albany.

ALBANY, NEW YORK – The last time I was in the United States for a getaway was just a few months before the pandemic shut down the world. We had gone for a change of scenery to the New York capital of Albany, where you can count on good shopping and fun restaurants.

Four years later, while I was on holiday from my day job for March Break, I figured that a few days in Albany (https://www.albany.org/)   would be a good idea and I was right. Between the two large malls,  meals at some of my favorite restaurants and a terrific hotel I did indeed come back feeling refreshed.

Albany is a 400-year-old city on the banks of the Hudson River. Discovered in 1609 by Henry Hudson, this city is the oldest continuously chartered city in the country — that means it’s older than New York City or Boston! Albany is a great city to explore because it’s full of so many engaging attractions and must-see sites! But Albany is also a city of storytellers, who want very much to welcome visitors and acquaint them with our fun and quirky history. Let us tell you about this quintessentially American city! 

From museums and historic sites in downtown Albany to scenic views and outdoor adventures in the Helderberg Hilltowns, Albany County boasts a variety of must-see attractions. Tour top landmarks, explore the rich landscape, or visit one of the world-class museums for a trip that is beyond conventional.

Albany lies at the foot of the Adirondacks and Catskill Mountains and is at the tip of the historic Hudson Valley Region

Be sure to check out the Million Dollar Staircase, the awe-inspiring “Egg” at the Empire State Plaza and many diverse examples of historic house sites and public spaces such as the Pruyn House and the first Shaker Meeting House. You can visit the magnificent Gothic structure, now the Administrative Center of the State University of New York, the Delaware and Hudson, and the Albany Evening Journal Buildings, located at the base of State Street.

There is an abundance of professional theatre, music, dance, sports, and a backyard full of recreational splendors. As the crossroads of the northeast, Albany is easily accessible by car, train, and plane and is located less than three hours from New York and Boston. 

The master bedroom is in the one-bedroom queen suite.

WHERE TO STAY: On my previous trip here I noticed that a dual-brand Homewood Suites  & Tru by Hilton had just opened. Wow, one of my favorite hotel brands is literally in the parking lot of Crossgates Mall. I jotted that all down for future reference and we were most fortunate to get a beautiful one-bedroom suite on the Homewood side. A big shoutout to front office manager Bonnie Bevilacqua. We arrived late due to traffic and some other circumstances and she came to our room to set us up and resolve a few minor issues. Throughout the next three days, she worked the lobby, checking to see if any guests needed anything.

This 192-room extended stay facility was the first dual-branded Homewood Suites and Tru by Hilton in the USA when it debuted in 2018. It features two separate areas designed for each brand, unique public spaces designed to promote social connectivity, a 24-hour fitness center, an indoor pool, outdoor grills, sports courts and an airport shuttle. The hotel offers a meeting room and a business centre. The different lobby and dining spaces are extremely large and offer all of the comforts of home and more. There is 24-hour complimentary coffee and tea in the Tru by Hilton lobby.

Our room had a kitchen, stovetop, fridge, dishwasher,  microwave, coffee maker and all of the necessary dishes and cutlery. There were two televisions, two queen-sized beds in the master and a safe (always a must for us) as well as  a pull-out couch in the spacious large living room area

I was beyond impressed with the complimentary hot and cold morning breakfast, from the neat pancake machine to the array of bagels, English muffins, cereals, yogurts and hot and cold drinks. Next to the front desk, there is a small market to purchase refreshments and light bites.

The breakfast area at Homewood Suites Crossgates.

The hotel is conveniently located at the intersection of Interstates 87 and 90, offering guests access to numerous dining, retail and entertainment options within walking distance. It is a six-minute drive from Albany International Airport and a 30-minute drive from Saratoga Springs leisure attractions. In addition, the property is proximate to renowned universities and research centers such as the University of Albany, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), Siena College, Union College, and SUNY Polytechnic College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering.

A view of the dual-brand hotel property.

For more information or to make a reservation, visit Homewood Suites By Hilton Albany Crossgates Mall or Tru by Hilton Albany Crossgates Mall or call +1 (518) 704-4040 or +1 (518) 704-4010.

Log on to www.albanycrossgatesmall.homewoodsuitesbyhilton.com

or www.albanycrossgatesmall.trubyhilton.com

GREAT SHOPPING:  Over the last few years the team at Crossgates has been sending me press releases about the property. Let me say that this mall has always been one of the draws for me when visiting Albany. The vast majority of entrances are ADA accessible with ample parking distributed throughout the site. You can rent wheelchairs.

Dave & Buster’s at Crossgates.

Crossgates (https://www.shopcrossgates.com/)  is the largest shopping, dining, and entertainment destination in New York’s Capital Region. The center is anchored by Macy’s, JC  Penney, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Primark and Best Buy, while offering more than 180 retail shops, including Apple.  Crossgates offers 10 entertainment venues and over 20 on-site eateries, such as Dave & Buster’s, Get Air, Billy Beez, Apex Entertainment, The Standard Restaurant & Lounge, Maggie McFly’s and Regal Cinemas with IMAX. You can also relax at their award-winning day spa, Spa Mirbeau.   Dave & Buster’s, with its fun food and endless array of games, is always a draw for people of all ages. I spent a good hour there until my power card ran out. You collect points for every game you experience. At the end, the power cards are tabulated at the gift shop and you can pick a prize. I also could not resist a visit to Antie Ann’s Pretzels, a big American chain that has been around since 1988. A homemade pretzel and an original pretzel dog certainly hit the spot.

Dave & Buster’s at Crossgates.

 See this nostalgic 1984 video of the Mall: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Nm9WHBp3Lg 

“Crossgates has a lot going on, and we are so grateful for it,” said Marketing Director Jen Smith. “We have over 240 apartments and townhouses being built adjacent to our property, and we are in the final stages of the approval processes to build a Costco on the land, just west of the hotel. Last year we opened the international retailer Primark in the center and this year we will be welcoming the very sought-after REI, amongst many other tenants. Big things are  happening!” 

Colonie Center (https://shopatcoloniecenter.com/), a 1.3 million square-foot enclosed two-level, regional shopping center with over 100 specialty stores, is at the heart of New York’s Capital Region. The center is anchored by a three-level Macy’s. The center boasts the only Cheesecake Factory Restaurant and P.F. Chang’s China Bistro in the Capital Region and a state-of-the-art all-digital Regal Cinema with a newly renovated RPX theater. Additional sit-down eateries include Five Guys Burgers & Fries and Moe’s Southwest Grill as well as the second-level food court. The center sits at the intersection of Wolf Road and Central Avenue, is just five minutes from the Albany International Airport and major hotel chains and is accessible from Interstates 87 and 90.

We also came across a unique shoe store called Fleet Feet at 155 Wolf Road. It carries comfortable, high-quality performance footwear and gear for running and walking. When we arrived two young sales persons took care of us,  T.J. and Jessica. You are first asked to step onto their 3D Foot Scanning Technology. Their state-of-the-art fit I.D. scanner captures 12 precise data points to construct a 3D image of your foot. Measurements like foot length, width volume, and arch height help them select the best shoes for one’s unique feet.  Log on to www.fleetfeetalbany.com

The author at Red Lobster.

RED LOBSTER: As people who read my articles regularly are aware, I have been a big fan of the Red Lobster restaurant chain for many years. Unfortunately, it disappeared from the Quebec dining landscape in the late 1990s.  There are two locations in Ottawa, but when we visited Albany, New York we made a bee-line for the Red Lobster at 170 Wolf Road.

Red Lobster is the world’s largest and most-loved seafood restaurant company, focused on serving the highest quality, freshly prepared seafood that is traceable, sustainable, and responsibly sourced.

I was greeted by the manager on duty, Daniel Rogers. Upon learning that I was from Montreal, he began speaking French to me. He’s from Atlanta but picked up the language in school. In addition, he comes to Montreal often

It was nice to connect with  General Manager Crystal Franchi and   Beverage and Hospitality Manager Dean Stringfellow. This location can seat about 230 people in a very large dining room, separated by a bar in the middle. They also have a seasonal patio for about 20 people. The parking lot is quite large, a good thing since it tends to fill up before dinnertime. 

We ordered the Lobster Lover’s Dream and the Lobster Lover’s Duo with two sides and their trademark cheddar biscuits.  Both meals include  Roasted Caribbean rock and Maine lobster tails. The Dream is also paired with lobster-and-shrimp linguini. For sides, we chose the orzo rice and the creamy lobster mashed potatoes.  I could not resist a bowl of New England clam chowder,  piping hot. We were too full to take advantage of any dessert choices.

My greatest wish remains that Red Lobster returns to Montreal one day. I’d eat there once a week for sure. There is no place like it here right now. Montrealers travel to Albany frequently, either for a long weekend like us or on the way to or from New York City, Washington, or Florida. So indeed this is a must-stop. And given the fact Daniel already speaks French, here we have an experienced Red Lobster official who could get the first franchise up and running.

The very first Red Lobster opened in Lakeland, Florida in 1968.  

This Red Lobster is located at 170 Wolf Road. It opens at 11 am each day. You can call 518-459-1040. To learn more about Red Lobster go to www.redlobster.com

CHEESECAKE FACTORY:  The  Cheesecake Factory also ranks as one of my must-stops in cities like Albany. Of course, Quebec does not have one of these franchises either. The Albany location opened on August 29, 2006, at the Colonie Centre. This 10,800-square-foot locale seats 300 diners and you can always expect a lineup at the door. You will be handed a beeper and an estimated wait time. 

In Albany, Senior General Manager David Albert runs a well-oiled machine.  He has been at the helm of this busy location for 18 years and has an uncanny memory for customers. I had not been there for four years, yet I did not have to reintroduce myself to him or his assistant GM Richard Harris.

The service here is always impeccable and the food is superb.

Cheesecake Factory manager Richard Harris.

The Cheesecake Factory (www.thecheesecakefactory.com) is known for its extensive menu, generous portions and legendary desserts. In fact, there are more than 250 menu selections and this includes more than 50 lower calorie “SkinnyLicious®” selections- all handmade, in-house with fresh ingredients – and more than 50 signature cheesecakes and desserts. Favorite choices include appetizers, pizza, seafood, steaks, chicken, burgers, pasta, specialty items, salads, sandwiches, omelets and desserts.

I know many people who stop here on purpose just to enjoy the experience.  Toronto has one too now yet  Montreal continues to be left out in the cold. Perhaps there is a fear that the language police here would insist it be called La Fabrique de Gâteau au fromage.

We began our meal by sharing a crab wonton meal as a starter, along with a cheese flatbread pizza. For the main courses, the SkinnyLicious offerings, notably the grilled turkey burgers which we can report are out of this world, always top our list. For us, the latter came with a side salad. In addition, our order included a filet mignon medium rare with rice and magnificent mashed potatoes with gravy on the side.

There are multiple fish, pasta and beef options, meal-sized salads and a whole lot more. Give the menu a look online.

As for dessert, well this place is called  The Cheesecake Factory. The window display of pies kind of knocks your socks off when you enter the premises. After dinner, you can review the menu one more time, which includes a calorie count. Favorites include the Godiva chocolate cheesecake, the Oreo Dream Extreme cheesecake, the ultimate red velvet cheesecake and the Reese’s peanut butter cheesecake. This is one dessert menu where I don’t even think about the calorie count.

This Cheesecake Factory remains a real winner in our books and I highly recommend you stop by. You can call them directly at 518-453-2500. There is a large Barnes & Noble bookstore in the mall, a great pre or post-dining stop and the movie theatres.

Yes, Albany remains one of my favorite stops!

Broadway hit Be More Chill to close on August 11

By Alexandra Cohen

The Broadway hit Be More Chill has been the “little show that could’” since its premiere almost four years ago at New Jersey’s Two River Theater. It ran in 2015 for only one month and its only legacy was a cast album. This was ultimately the spark that ignited a flame, turning the show from a regional theatre production into a viral sensation.

The manner in which Be More Chill gained its popularity, years after its brief regional production, is utterly unprecedented. Prior to even opening on Broadway, the original cast album had been streamed over 250 million times, with the show being the second-most talked about musical on Tumblr, following only Hamilton.

Be More Chill, based on a 2004 novel of the same name by Ned Vizzini, tells the story of high school student Jeremy Heere, a self-proclaimed “loser” whose life is transformed when he spends his bar mitzvah money to buy a Squip, a pill that implants in his brain and teaches him how to be cool. Being popular, Jeremy learns, however, comes at a cost, which involves leaving behind his best friend and sacrificing his own moral code.

The show’s fan-favorite moment comes in the form of the song “Michael in the Bathroom,” performed with gusto by actor George Salazar, who fulfills the role of Jeremy’s aforementioned best friend. Michael in the Bathroom, the ultimate Broadway underdog song, should be relatable to anybody who has ever felt even a moment of social anxiety or abandonment in their lives—the song is so beloved that when I attended, only seconds after the intro music began to play, the audience began to scream with excitement. This was before the singing had even begun. As Salazar signed autographs following the show, nearly one 100 theatergoers could be heard belting out the entire song from beginning to end, much to his amazement.

Lead actor Will Roland, previously seen in the Broadway smash hit Dear Evan Hansen, delivered a fantastic performance, alongside the rest of the 10-person cast, who all provide highly energetic and nuanced performances of the traditional high school trope characters.

When Be More Chill opened on Broadway, The Wall Street Journal called it “one of the strongest new musicals of the past decade.” True to this review, Be More Chill is chock-full of both humor and heartfelt moments, featuring other earworm songs penned by Tony-nominated composer Joe Iconis, including “I Love Play Rehearsal”, “Two-Player Game”, and “More Than Survive.” The Original Broadway Cast Recording is available digitally on all streaming platforms.

Be More Chill closes its Broadway run at the Lyceum Theater on August 11, 2019, so hurry up and catch it while you still can!

For more information about the show log on to www.BeMoreChillMusical.com.

A new Homewood Suites by Hilton opens in Poughkeepsie, NY

When traveling to New York City, our family has become fond in recent years of stopping over in the Town of Poughkeepsie for the night in order to make the most of our first day in the Big Apple. It is just over 90 minutes from Manhattan.

Poughkeepsie, nestled in the majestic Hudson Valley, is home to 45,000 residents. The town is rich with culture and steeped in history and is the home of such prestigious institutions as Vassar and Marist Colleges as well as Dutchess Community College. Along with these institutes of higher learning, they also have Locust Grove, the former home of Samuel F.B. Morse (the founder of Morse Code).  The 180-acre estate of Samuel F. B. Morse includes an Italianate villa designed by Alexander Jackson Davis containing extensive collections of American and European decorative and fine arts. Three miles of carriage roads wind through landscaped grounds, romantic gardens and a shady grove.

The 22 parks in the area offer recreational activities such as hiking and walking trails in  Peach Hill Park. Fine dining is abundant, while art exhibits, festivals, fairs and farmer markets are bountiful.

Poughkeepsie is situated in Dutchess County (https://www.dutchesstourism.com).

Covering 800 square miles, there’s an abundance of natural scenic beauty, outdoor recreation, historic landmarks, restaurants, festivals and more. Activities range from strolls across the Walkway Over the Hudson, treks through the Appalachian Trail, and sips along the Dutchess Wine Trail. Tours of the FDR National Historic Site spins on the Dutchess County Fair Ferris Wheel, and tastes of the Culinary Institute of America restaurants are also highly popular as are cruises down the Hudson River, bushels of pick-your-own apples, and contemporary art from modern masters.

WHERE TO STAY:  There is a fantastic new hotel in Poughkeepsie that opened in May 2019, Homewood Suites by Hilton (Hwpoughkeepsie.homewoodsuitesbyhilton.com)  made that decision a lot easier. This is a beautiful property. The suite we had was very spacious and comfortable.

Conveniently located off Route 9 and I-84 at 900 Thomas Watson Drive, the hotel is within walking distance of IBM and is minutes away from the Culinary Institute of America, Vassar, Bard and Marist Colleges. The hotel also places guests close to Poughkeepsie Galleria Mall, rich historical sites and a variety of great restaurants, breweries and wineries.

The property is owned and managed by Briad Lodging Group, LLC, the hotel division of Livingston, New Jersey-based The Briad Group.

 “Situated in the heart of the Hudson River Valley, Homewood Suites by Hilton Poughkeepsie is the perfect location for our newest property,” said Hans Kleinganz, general manager. “Our spacious suites offer all of the comforts of home, and we look forward to welcoming guests and ensuring they enjoy their stay with us.”

This hotel offers a combination of spacious studio and one-bedroom suites, featuring fully-equipped kitchens and separate living and sleeping areas. Guests are also provided all the essentials needed for a smart, reliable and convenient stay including complimentary hot breakfast seven days a week, evening social with complimentary beer and wine* served Monday to Thursday, complimentary shuttle service within a five-mile radius and complimentary advanced Wi-Fi.

The hotel makes it easy for travelers to unwind with an outdoor patio area, featuring multiple fire pits, an outdoor kitchen under a large pergola and a putting green. The property boasts a 750-square-foot fitness center with state-of-the-art equipment, including a Peloton bike, an indoor saline swimming pool and an outdoor sports court. The property also offers more than 1,000 square feet of flexible space that is ideal for meetings and social events.

Homewood Suites by Hilton Poughkeepsie is part of Hilton Honors, the award-winning guest-loyalty program for Hilton’s 14 distinct hotel brands. Hilton Honors members who book directly through preferred Hilton channels save time and money and gain instant access to the benefits they care about most, such as an exclusive member discount and a flexible payment slider that allows members to choose nearly any combination of Points and money to book a stay. Members can also redeem their points for free nights, to gain access to unique events through the Hilton Honors auction platform, or to make purchases at Amazon.com with Amazon Shop with Points. For more information or to make reservations, visit Hwpoughkeepsie.homewoodsuitesbyhilton.com or call 845-462-0030.

Briad Lodging Group was formed in 1997 when Briad became a Marriott franchisee. Five years later, the company added Hilton to its portfolio. Since obtaining these franchise rights, Briad has developed more than $600 million in real estate, concentrating on focused-service and extended-stay hotels, including the Courtyard, Residence Inn, Springhill Suites, TownePlace Suites, Hilton Garden Inn and Homewood Suites brands. During the past decade, Briad has developed, operated and managed 34 properties and has built more than 3,800 hotel rooms in the tri-state area.

WHAT TO DO: With an assist from Wikipedia here are some details of what Poughkeepsie has to offer in terms of a number of notable institutions for arts and entertainment. The Bardavon 1869 Opera House, located on Market Street just below Main Street, is a theater that has an array of music, drama, dance and film events and is the home of the Hudson Valley Philharmonic. The Mid-Hudson Civic Center, located down the street from the Bardavon 1869 Opera House, hosts concerts, professional wrestling, and trade shows and has an ice rink next door for hockey events. From July 1984 to August 5, 1986, the Civic Center was the location for filming WWF Championship Wrestling, the World Wrestling Federation’s nationally and internationally broadcast weekly television program of the time

The Chance, located at 6 Crannell Street in downtown Poughkeepsie, hosts live rock concerts with local as well as major artists. The collections of the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center at Vassar College chart the history of art from antiquity to the present and comprise over 15,000 works, including paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, photographs, and glass and ceramic wares. The Barrett Art Center at 55 Noxon Street offers exhibits, classes, lectures, and demonstrations focused on the visual arts. Twice yearly it presents nationally acclaimed shows, juried by curators of notable museums. It also operated Barrett Clay Works at 485 Main Street, with studio spaces for individual artists, and a street-level space devoted to instruction in various methods of “working clay” for children through seniors.

For shopping and movie theater entertainment, the Poughkeepsie Galleria is located in the town of Poughkeepsie. The mall, which opened in 1987, consists of two floors with 250 shops and restaurants to enjoy. The Regal Cinemas theater has 16 screens. Current anchor stores within the mall include Macy’s, J. C. Penney, Target, Best Buy, H&M, and Sears. The Galleria is owned and managed by The Pyramid Companies, a group that manages and owns other sister mall complexes.  We love dining at the Ruby Tuesday restaurant there, home to a great salad bar.

The Mid-Hudson Children’s Museum, located at 75 North Water Street, serves the city and region as an educational resource center, family destination, and tourist attraction. The Cunneen-Hackett Arts Center at 9 and 12 Vassar Street provides venues for both professional and amateur artists to showcase their talent in music, dance, and the visual arts. Bananas Comedy Club is a comedy club that presents comedians such as Jim Norton, Rich Vos, Patrice O’Neal, and Nick DiPaolo. Jimmy Fallon started his career performing at the club  Joseph Bertolozzi’s Bridge Music is a sound-art installation on the Mid-Hudson Bridge, allowing listeners to hear it played like a musical instrument. A recording of the results, the 2009 CD Bridge Music (on the Delos label DE1045), entered the Billboard Classical Crossover Music Chart at #18 and has been released globally. The Bridge Music Listening Stations (which play selections from the CD) are located on the pedestrian sidewalk of the Mid-Hudson Bridge, at each of the bridge’s towers. They are open from dawn to dusk from April 1 through October 31. Additionally, Park Radios on 95.3FM play the same music year-round, in Waryas Park, Poughkeepsie and Johnson-Iorio Park, Highland.

In 2011 Empire Cruise Lines began the operation of the first dinner and tour boat to call Poughkeepsie homeport in nearly two generations. The M/V Mystère is a 60-foot (18 m) double-decked tour boat that departs from Waryas Park, 29 North Water Street.

Sprout Creek Farm is an educational farm that rents out a cottage for weekend trips.

Richmond, BC: River Rock Casino

I have been to Vancouver many times. On my most recent visit I was actually based in the suburb of Richmond just by the airport, the site of an animal welfare conference I registered for.

Richmond (http://www.tourismrichmond.com) is actually the fourth largest city in BC, just 25 minutes south of downtown Vancouver and 25 minutes north of the United States border – a city of stunning mountain vistas, beautiful waterfront sunsets and vibrant urban living. It is also where they shoot my favorite television series, once Upon a Time – more specifically the seaside village of Steveston.

I was fortunate that the National Animal Welfare Conference was being held at the amazing River Rock Casino Resort (www.riverrock.com). The casino itself has 90,000 square feet of game floor, 115 table games, 1,100 slot machines, a dedicated poker room and high limit rooms.

RR-2014-Exterior-02-LR

The resort has a swimming pool with big Jacuzzi and 70 foot waterslide, a spa with six private treatment rooms, a work-out gym and weight room, a very popular show theatre presenting some of the top modern artists in music, comedy, theatre and more. There are seven bars, restaurants and lounges spread throughout our property as well as live music with no cover charge four nights a week at Lulu’s, a beautiful marina and boardwalk overlooking the Fraser River and a heated waterfront patio. There is a 24-hour food court, as well as Java Jack’s, a convenient stop for quality artisan coffee, smoothies, soft drinks, pastries, sandwiches and more.

Back to the casino for a moment. Some slots are games of pure chance, such as penny and quarter slots like Wheel of Fortune, while others will test your skill, such as video poker. You can choose to play a progressive bank like Casino Cash, or try your luck to win a brand new car at Race to Win.

RR-2014-Casino-03-LR

There certainly have been some good Montreal connections at the resort. The Lara Fabian Greatest Hits Tour just appeared there while April Wine was also on the list.

River Rock is centrally located between two major shopping districts: the diverse, world-class shopping centres and niche neighbourhoods in Vancouver, and the bustling and uniquely Asian-Canadian Richmond area shopping attractions. You can reach downtown in no time at all by taking the Skytrain, which also brings you directly to the airport.

RR-2014-Resort-1BR-01-LR

As for the rooms, we stayed in a lovely 525 square foot one bedroom suite. This featured a luxury Euro-top cashmere King bed, with 300 thread count sheets and down/feather (60/40) duvet. There is a sofa bed with seven inch mattress in living room , a 42 inch TV in the living rooms and a 32 inch model in the bedroom, am iPod dock and speaker with alarm clock, quality bathroom amenities, a mini fridge, 24 hour room service and upon request a crib, a humidifier and microwave. It was very spacious and comfortable.

HANDICAPPED ACCESSIBLE: Several accessible parking stalls are available on each level of the parkade near the elevators. The sidewalk leading to the hotel entrance is accessible, with curb cuts to parking surfaces. The main entrance has three sets of double swinging doors (one set is powered. There are two elevators from the lobby to guest room floor, both accessible and with control panels featuring tactile and Braille). As for the guest rooms, five are fully accessible, including wheel-in showers. Five other rooms are also available featuring light alarms, for visitors with impaired hearing.

WHERE TO DINE: While there are certainly some fabulous restaurants in Richmond, we could not resist the temptation of once again experiencing our favorite dining establishment in the heart of Vancouver – Joe Fortes Seafood & Chop House (www.joefortes.ca) on Thurlow Street. We were a party of four on the night we chose to eat there and this was an extraordinary dining experience from the moment we were seated. This is indeed one of the city’s finest restaurants.

FortesBistro warm

Our waiter Jamie, who has worked at Joe Forte’s for many years, gave us a very good presentation of the specialties.

One of Joe Fortes many unique qualities is the immediate sense of character and personality that guests recognize the moment they step inside. The large, bright room feels instantly powerful yet inviting, and it’s no coincidence that these qualities were also embodied by the legendary figure that the restaurant takes its name from: Seraphim “Joe Forte. In 1885, this burly seaman landed upon Vancouver’s shores and settled into a cabin in English Bay. There, Joe quickly became one of Vancouver’s most popular citizens, serving Vancouverites in a variety of ways first as a bartender and later as Vancouver’s first official lifeguard. Today, he is remembered by a monument near the site of his home, and his popularity lives on inside the welcoming walls of Joe Fortes Seafood & Chop House.

With a commitment to freshness, the Joe Forte’s kitchen receives daily local deliveries, ensuring that you’re guaranteed to find the freshest ingredients on your plate every day.
The restaurant is owned by noted restaurateur David Aisenstat. Born and bred into the restaurant industry, he first learned his chops from his father Hy Aisenstat, founder of the famous Hy’s Steakhouse chain. His ability to recognize and retain talented people, and his passion for art and design, combine for what have been consecutively successful ventures in the industry. He has since continued on to become a legendary restaurateur in his own right, as the owner of The Keg Steakhouse & Bar, Hy’s Steakhouse Cocktail Bar, Gotham Steakhouse, The Shore Club, Ki, and now Joe Fortes.

Scott Garrett is the general manager. For seven years he ran the Walt Disney Resorts in Florida’s food and beverage programs as the restaurant guest services manager, receiving AAA’s coveted Four Diamond Award for service excellence during his tenure.

The main dining room is anchored by a soaring horseshoe oyster bar. This Grand Room boasts large, cozy booths, perfect for hosting a high-powered lunch or dinner meetings, as well as intimate dinner dates. From the mezzanine, diners enjoy a bird’s eye view of the action and live musical entertainment below.

The mahogany-walled wine room offers guests a unique and discreet setting in which to enjoy an intimate lunch, or a private corporate celebration. The more casual side of Joe’s is experienced in the bistro and bar area where locals and out-of-towners alike mingle, soak up the live music and keep their eyes open for visiting celebrities.

For a breath of fresh air, guests can step up to Vancouver’s most desirable roof garden and into an urban oasis featuring a living green wall, cozy outdoor fireplace and bustling horseshoe bar.
Joe Fortes Seafood & Chop House has been specializing in classic, American cuisine since 1985. It is a tribute to Executive Chef Wayne Sych and his dedicated kitchen staff that Joe’s has maintained its unparalleled popularity with both locals and tourists alike for more than 20 years – an astonishing feat in the restaurant business. But even a cursory glance at the menus reveals why Joe’s stays at the top of our customers’ minds and, quite literally, at the tip of their tongues.

The Joe Fortes kitchen prepares each dish with a focus on natural flavours and features the finest ingredients collected from Pacific Northwest farmers, fishermen and food artisans. Serving more than 50 kinds of fresh fish, including their legendary three-tiered Seafood Tower on Ice, premium oysters and succulent chops, their signature dishes have become a favourite of locals, celebrities and tourists alike.

We decided to share the magnificent Seafood Tower, featuring Atlantic lobster, chilled crab, local oysters, clams, mussels, scallop ceviche, smoked local albacore tuna and poached jumbo prawns. Not too many restaurants anywhere I have travelled in the world can make something as appetizing as this. It is $59.95 a tier. We also started off with a small order of scallops – cooked to absolute perfection.

For drinks, members of our party had some prosecco, bitter sweet bliss, sparkling pear and Joe’s cranberry cocktail.

One member of our party vividly remembered the mouth-watering miso marinated sable fish from our visit two years earlier so there was no question what was on her list to order. It came with baby bok choy, mushrooms, ginger scallion butter and jasmine rice. She was not disappointed. The appetizer version of the scallops prompted another to order the Jumbo scallops as her main course – a wise choice. We rounded out our selections with the nine ounce filet mignon center cut filet, with café de Paris butter, scallop potatoes and market vegetables and a sensational bone-in rib steak (14 ounces) for myself with bacon, horse radish, mashed potatoes and market vegetables. To say this was the best steak I have had – well since I last dined at Joe Forte’s – would be accurate.

Save room for sweet indulgences. We shared the Dessert Trio – a Tahitian vanilla crème brulee, tiramisu, chocolate raspberry truffle tart, brandied cherries, biscotti and vanilla gelato. What a treat! In addition, we somehow found room to try the Pavlova crisp meringue, with fresh fruit, lemon curd and cream.

Reservations are required. Call 604-669-1940 or email info@joefortes.ca. They are open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

SPECIAL NEEDS: Upon arrival at the Vancouver International Airport (YVR), located in Richmond, visitors with mobility or agility challenges will appreciate innovative features such as tactile guidance maps of the terminal building, information kiosks equipped with closed-captioned decoders, and ticket counters with amplified hand-sets. YVR is connected to Richmond city centre by a fully-accessible transit system that includes the new Canada Line rapid transit system. From the city centre, getting around Richmond is easy because of the city’s flat, mostly sea-level topography and its many wheelchair-accessible walking trails.

More than 110 Richmond hotels, restaurants, retailers, attractions, and other tourism businesses have made it easy for visitors to identify their level of accessibility by displaying icons on doors, windows, websites, and marketing materials. The level of mobility, hearing and visual accessibility was assessed by 2010 Legacies Now and nearly half of Richmond’s participating businesses rated four or higher out of five. Twenty-four of Richmond’s brand-name hotels now offer wheelchair accessible rooms, and the city’s five modern shopping centres – Richmond Centre, Lansdown Centre, Aberdeen Centre, Yaohan Centre, and Parker Place – are all fully accessible options for convenient one-stop shopping.

The city also encourages full participation of citizens with disabilities. Richmond is the long-time home of Canada’s Man in Motion Rick Hansen, who has won six medals as a Paralympian since being paralysed from the waist down in a car crash at the age of 15. The Rick Hansen Foundation, which operates out of the BCIT Aerospace Campus in Richmond, helped to fund three newly opened playgrounds in Richmond that are specially designed to meet the needs of children with disabilities. These fully-inclusive play spaces along the Middle Arm Waterfront Greenway enable the children to play side-by-side with their friends and families.

Adjacent to the Middle Arm Trail is the Richmond Olympic Oval, which exceeds national standards for accessibility. It features standard ramps, wheel chair accessible washrooms, automatically opening doors, and oversized main elevators that can comfortably transport multiple athletes in wheelchairs. There’s also a wheelchair-accessible indoor rowing and paddling centre. The Richmond Olympic Oval plays a key role in its legacy phase as a multi-sport venue for sport hosting for people with accessibility needs.

Richmond has already successfully hosted the Canadian Wheelchair Rugby championships in May 2009, the World Wheelchair Basketball tournament in August 2009, the 2010 Canada Deaf Curling Championships, the 2010 World Wheelchair Rugby Championships and of course they played a key role in the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Las Vegas

By Mike Cohen with files from Ilana Spector
LAS VEGAS – Is Las Vegas (www.lasvegastourism.com) truly the most exciting and entertaining city in the world? Consider the fact it is home to luxurious casino hotels, fine dining, wonderful live entertainment and state-of-the art convention and trade show facilities and it probably deserves such a ranking.

Las Vegas Strip shot from the Trump Tower. 2/23/10

Recognized all over the world for its famous Las Vegas Strip, visitors can get a glimpse of amazing world famous re-creations like erupting volcanoes, the Eiffel Tower and the Sphinx of Egypt in front of the various hotels and casinos. There is top quality entertainment, including headliner shows and concerts, attractions, shopping and world-renowned resorts. Las Vegas nightlife is known to keeping visitors up until dawn.

PHRC_Hotel_Exterior2

WHERE TO STAY: Looking for a place to stay? We took the advice of Mitch Garber and chose the fabulously located Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino (www.planethollywoodresort.com) to make reservations. Garber is the President and CEO of Caesars Acquisition Company (CAC). He oversees the entire operation, which includes their group of hotels and casinos. Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino is one of the newest additions to the Caesars Entertainment family in Las Vegas and is a full partner in Total Rewards™. It has 2,500 beautifully designed guest rooms and suites showcasing some of the best views in town and encompasses more than 100,000 square-feet of gaming, several lounges, 10 restaurants, including Gordon Ramsay BurGR, KOI, Strip House, the award-winning Spice Market Buffet and LA’s Pink’s Hot Dogs and the Planet Hollywood Spa by Mandara. The resort is also home to one of pop music’s biggest superstars Britney Spears and her show, “Britney: Piece of Me.” The property is encircled by Miracle Mile Shops with more than 170 specialty stores and restaurants.

Previously known as Aladdin Resort & Casino, Caesars officially acquired the property on February 19, 2010. The property features a three-acre casino floor full of traditional gambling machines like slots, table games and The Playing Field Race and Sports Book. This features 33 plasma screens, two jumbo screens and a section for VIP. Planet Hollywood is the first Las Vegas resort to offer table games dealt by young ladies in “chic lingerie.” The Pleasure Pit is a section of the table games where this happens with go-go dancers entertaining the gamblers at the side.

The Mezzanine can be accessed by taking an escalator in the casino or the elevator. Here, guests can relax on comfy chairs overlooking the casino. The space was designed to be quieter than the main areas of the casino, where guests come to lounge and smoke. The area is rather spaced out with room to walk and includes a place for shooting basketball hoops. It includes a “Living Room” with sofas to be accessed by the guests.
The Planet Hollywood showroom is located on the mezzanine. It features several different live shows.

Accommodations here are fit for the celebrity A-List, and perfect for Hollywood buffs. Every one of its rooms and suites features one-of-a-kind movie memorabilia set against a backdrop of stylish, modern luxury.

If you’re a hardcore Hollywood fan, the Panorama Suites will truly feel like heaven on earth. Measuring 1,255 square feet and offering a 180-degree view of the Strip, each Las Vegas room features its own Hollywood theme which vary from James Bond, Marilyn Monroe, Batman, Star Trek, Will Smith, Back to the Future, The Wizard Oz and much more. Ours featured actress Demi Moore. The 1,255-square-foot floor plan includes a master bedroom with a 36-inch plasma television and separate living area, a master bathroom with oversized soaking tub, a separate dining area with refrigerator and wet bar, and a 52-inch plasma television in the living area. An additional bedroom and bathroom with 500 square-feet can be added to any Panorama Suite –something we opted for. Our party of three really appreciated the individual privacy this arrangement facilitated. In fact we could have fit more than double the amount of people comfortably. There were three, count them “three,” bathrooms. You can connect two WiFi devices at no charge. There is a fee if you go over that amount. The connectivity is fast and reliable.

While The Pleasure Pool is closed for the winter season, the Paris Pool next door remains open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., weather permitting. Located on the resort’s rooftop, Pleasure Pools offers two separate pool decks, two pool bars, live DJs, 15 cabanas with poolside bottle service, daybeds and a pool café.

Right outside the door you can go on an all-out Las Vegas shopping spree at Miracle Mile Shops, featuring the glitz and glam of Hollywood. Located inside Planet Hollywood Las Vegas, the 1.2 mile retail mecca is beyond amazing. Here, you can have your retail therapy and a workout.
Featuring 170 specialty stores, Miracle Mile Shops includes live entertainment at the Saxe Theater and V Theater, plus mouth-watering dining at 15 restaurants ranging from quick and casual to gourmet.

Shops at Planet Hollywood Las Vegas include coveted brands like GUESS, GAP, DC Shoes, Urban Outfitters, Steve Madden, H&M, White House/Black Market and more. Dining options include Pampas Brazilian Grill, La Salsa Cantina, Todai Sushi Buffet and more great Las Vegas restaurants.

BOOKING A SHOW: My family has become a big fan of Viator (www.viator.com). Their team of travel insiders are obsessed with finding the best things to do everywhere folks travel. From Paris to Phuket to Perth, from traditional tours to once-in-a-lifetime experiences, they have something for every kind of traveler. They have been around for 17 years now. From their offices around the globe, a team of travel insiders handpick the best local tour and activity providers. Viator officials pre-vet them all to make sure you always have an exceptional experience.

Over three million people have traveled with Viator and they have opinions you’ll want to hear. With Viator you can get the royal treatment, including behind-the-scenes access, private viewings, VIP tours – with no lines and no crowds! If you want to pre-book your trips at home from a laptop or do so on the go, with Viator you get insider access.

Viator has evolved from its founding in Sydney in 1995 as a technology company building websites for other travel companies, to emerge as the leading insider resource for researching and booking destination activities around the world. At the time when other companies were honing in on airline tickets, hotels and rental cars, Viator focused on an untapped niche in the young online travel market—destination activities—or the “things you do when you get there.” Today, Viator is the industry leader in the tours and activities space, with an unprecedented portfolio of thousands of hand-picked tours and activities, and unmatched relationships with a global network of local tour operators.

Viator is not a paid listing or advertising site nor a simple aggregator. Viator’s team of travel experts around the world has built close relationships with local tour operators over the past 10 plus years. Each operator is pre-vetted for quality and service so only the best and most memorable experiences are featured on the site, and the steady stream of verified customer reviews (500,000 and counting) keeps them honest; providers that don’t meet expected service levels are removed. Through a collection of more than 60 consumer-facing websites, mobile apps and mobile sites, Viator reaches more than nine million travelers a month. Its global affiliate network of more than 2,000 active partners expands the company’s reach to even more travelers through affiliate sites like American Airlines, British Airways, Lonely Planet, Trip Advisor and AAA.

"Michael Jackson ONE" Sneak Peek

We discovered Viator last summer while in Europe and took advantage of its amazing list of options, so when it came to booking a trip to Vegas we turned them again. Viator made our job of selecting a live show so easy. There were simply too many options and going through their website really helped us narrow down our choice which was the Cirque de Soleil’s incredible Michael Jackson ONE (http://www.cirquedusoleil.com/en/shows/michael-jackson-one/show/about.aspx), a sonic, tonic fusion of acrobatics, dance and visuals that takes the audience on an immersive journey through the music and spirit of Michael Jackson. Shows take place at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino Friday, Saturday, Monday and Tuesday at 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m., and Sundays at 4:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. Dark days are Wednesdays and Thursdays. Driven by the late King of Pop’s powerful, multi-layered music – heard like never before in a riveting, state-of-the-art surround-sound environment – ONE takes the audience through a series of seamless visual and musical tableaux, at the heart of a world that is in turn majestic, playful, magical and heart-warming. Jackson’s spirit is channeled through the vibrant energy of the cast of 63 dancers and performers, underscored by aerial performance, driving acrobatics, and vivid choreographies that use the urban/hip hop idiom as a springboard for exploration.

This new show captures the essence, soul and inspiration of the King of Pop, celebrating a legacy that continues to transcend generations. You’ll be captivated by an array of aerial acrobatics and special effects during this unforgettable performance, which incorporates Jackson’s most popular songs and iconic dance moves.

Cirque du Soleil strives to make it as easy as possible to purchase accessible seating tickets for venues across the country. Availability and the type of accessible seating will vary based on each venue’s policies and/or the type of event taking place. Go to the Viator website and book your tickets and at the same time check out all of the other Vegas options they offer. When the day comes for a return trip, we are eager to experience some of the other live shows they offer, helicopter tours, big bus and city tours, monorail tickets, airport transportation in style, Grand Canyon adventures and much more. Log on to http://www.viator.com/Las-Vegas/d684-ttd.

 

Paris Exterior

EIFFEL TOWER EXPERIENCE: The Paris Hotel, right next to Planet Hollywood, is also a Caesar’s property. Each member of our party had been to Paris, France and went to the top of the real Eiffel Tower. We just had to do the same in Las Vegas. An icon of the city skyline, the high-altitude Paris Hotel Eiffel Tower Experience attraction is located 46 stories up and is a half scale replica of the world-famous Paris landmark. The observation deck features 360 degree city views and knowledgeable ambassadors point out Las Vegas landmarks. A popular spot for weddings, the Eiffel Tower Experience is especially romantic at night. The views of the bright, colorful lights and the lit water show are unmatched. Double the romance with dinner a few stories down at the 11th floor Eiffel Tower Restaurant. This place is known for marriage proposals. You can stop by Kodak’s Total Snap Shot kiosk to purchase a commemorative photo of your “France in Vegas” experience in the sky. Admission prices range from $10 to $19 depending on the day and time you visit. This was a surreal experience to be sure. Close your eyes for a moment and you will truly believe you are in Paris, France. The Tower is open Monday to Friday from 9:30 a.m. – 12:30 a.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 9:30 a.m. to 1 a.m. You can call 1-888- 266-5687 for more information or log on to http://www.parislasvegas.com/things-to-do/eiffel-tower.

This attraction is handicapped accessible. Individuals in wheelchairs who wish to visit the Tower are escorted to the elevators on the Casino Floor and are either taken to the Bridge for pictures or straight to the top.

While on site check out The Arc de Triomphe, The Louvre. The Paris Opera House and Hôtel de Ville.

Maverick Feb 2013 TD 194 of 260

HELICOPTER JUST MAVERICK: Here is an experience we strongly recommend. The Eiffel Tower is one way to see Las Vegas. Climbing aboard a helicopter is another. Maverick Helicopters (www.maverickaviationgroup.com) offer an unforgettable 12 to 15 minute ride, departing from the Las Vegas terminal. A complimentary shuttle provides transportation to and from hotels within five miles of the Strip, so that was incredibly convenient for our party. Make sure to bring a camera, photo ID (for anyone 18 years or older). The cost is $124 a person. Upon arrival you will enjoy a fabulous glass of champagne. Their big draws are trips to the Grand Canyon, something which is at the top of our “to do” list for any future visit.

Guests are treated to the plush interior of Maverick’s ECO-Star helicopters, as well as personal narration by highly qualified pilots. We have high marks for Jonathan, our man in the sky. “Our pilots serve as your concierge/tour guide in the sky and,” says Bryan Kroten, Maverick Aviation Group’s vice-president of marketing. “They are there to narrate, answer questions and make sure you have a good time.”

Maverick attracts customers from around the world. For the busiest six months of the year, summer and fall, they literally have to turn customers away. Says Kroten: “Most people in the world have not been on a helicopter. So in Las Vegas people have the chance to take a 15 minute flight on a $3.3 million helicopter over one of the most exciting cities in the world or a 45 minute trip to the Grand Canyon, one of the seven wonders of the world.”

The helicopters are equipped with seven leather passenger seats plus one for the pilot. The seating arrangement is determined by the pilot based on the passengers’ weights. Maverick’s VIP check-in lounges are located on the Strip, only minutes away from the hotels, and at the Henderson Executive Airport, just 15 minutes from the city.

Each helicopters has an exterior camera, as well as an audio system that captures the pilot’s narration and the interaction between guests during the flight. This video keepsake is a great way to share your experience with friends and relive your excursion for years to come. Photographs are also taken prior to departure and are available in a custom plaque. Photo and DVD packages are available only on the same day of your trip and can be purchased before or after your flight.

Those in wheelchairs can enjoy this experience To fly and be accommodated, you will need to have a collapsible wheelchair with removable wheels. You must also be accompanied by someone who can assist you with boarding and disembarking the aircraft. Maverick is ADA compliant. Guest in wheelchairs fly with Maverick often.

Maverick Helicopters was recently named Concierge Choice Award winner for Best Tour Company in Las Vegas by the Southern Nevada Hotel Concierge Association (SNHCA). The 2014 win marks the fifth consecutive year that it has received this prestigious award.

“We are thrilled to receive this award from the Southern Nevada Hotel Concierge Association,” said Greg Rochna, CEO of Maverick Aviation Group, parent company of Maverick Helicopters. “We strive to provide first class helicopter experiences for our guests. Receiving this award means our team’s hard work is paying off.”

Maverick is in expansion mode, opening a new division in Maui, Hawaii in the spring of 2015.
For more information you can call 1-888-261-4414, 702-261-0007 or log on to www.flymaverick.com.

A model Titanic The Artifact Exhibition in Las Vegas shows wha the ship looked like when it was discovered

BODIES AND TITANIC EXHIBITIONS: We strongly recommend you take the time to visit two spectacular visits at the Luxor in Las Vegas: Bodies and the Titanic.
Experienced by more than 15 million people worldwide, Bodies…The Exhibition offers an intimate and informative view into the human body. Using an innovative preservation process, the Exhibition allows visitors to see the human body’s inner beauty in educational and awe-inspiring ways. The Exhibition features over 200 actual human bodies and specimens meticulously dissected and respectfully displayed, offering an unprecedented and wholly unique view into the amazing body.

ATL bodies

The Exhibition takes visitors through galleries providing an up-close look inside the skeletal, muscular, reproductive, respiratory, circulatory and other systems of the human body. Many of the whole body specimens are dissected in vivid athletic poses, allowing the visitor to relate to everyday activities. In addition, authentic human specimens illustrate the damage caused to organs by over-eating and lack of exercise. A healthy lung is featured next to a black lung ravaged by smoking in a vivid comparison more powerful than any textbook image. The Exhibition will change the way people see themselves. It is designed to enlighten, empower, fascinate and inspire.

The human body specimens in the exhibition are preserved through a revolutionary technique called polymer preservation. In this process, human tissue is permanently preserved using liquid silicone rubber that is treated and hardened. The end result is a rubberized specimen, preserved to the cellular level, showcasing the complexity of the body’s many bones, muscles, nerves, blood vessels and organs. The full-body specimens can take more than a year to prepare.
There is also a more sensitive section of the exhibition showing fetal development. Guests can see different stages of a baby’s development, from eight weeks old to eight months, as well as fetuses with various birth defects, such as conjoined twins. This exhibit is located in its own private area, so those who feel uncomfortable viewing it can skip to the next section.

It is both startling and informative to see so many body parts and inner organs out in the open when they are usually tucked safely away under your skin. One wouldn’t expect such an intricate part of the nervous system, like the spinal cord, to resemble a clump of seaweed. The tongue, meanwhile, looks a bit like a small, thick cut of steak (Would you like that medium-rare or well-done?).

One of the more startling sights in the exhibit is the display of a smoker’s lung in the respiratory section. Visitors can see and compare a healthy lung to a blackened smoker’s lung. There is also a brain on display here from a person who suffered a stroke — ironically it looks a bit like the inside of an ashtray. After reading some scary, mind-opening facts (like a single pack of cigarettes takes three hours and 40 minutes off your life), you may think twice about puffing. For the guests’ convenience, there is a cigarette disposal bin nearby.

This is a definite lesson in authentic learning and we would strongly advise parents to bring their children of a proper age. They will be able to go back to school and tell their teachers and classmates what they saw.

Meanwhile, if you loved the 1997 movie “Titanic,” then the Titanic exhibit at the Luxor will blow you away. Featuring more than 300 artifacts, as well as breathtaking replicas from the famous ship, the Titanic exhibit truly brings history to life. The exhibit features 20 never-before-seen artifacts including gaming chips, passenger papers and even decorative sections from Titanic’s famous Grand Staircase. In addition, there are many personal pieces within the exhibit. Our party was completely blown away by the fact they could mount such a large exhibition indoors. For anyone who has seen the movie, this is a “must,” visit. If you have not seen the film, this will prompt you to do so.

One of the most heartfelt elements of the exhibit is the personal stories of the passengers. During the tour, the exhibit’s staff shares personal tales from the passengers. Some stories have a tragic, yet romantic ending. For instance, some wives chose to stay behind with their husbands instead of climbing onto the lifeboats.

At the beginning of the exhibit, patrons receive a boarding pass of an actual passenger on Titanic. On the back of each boarding pass is the age and the itinerary of that person. At the end of the tour, patrons find out if he or she survived the Titanic by finding the name on the wall memorial. The exhibit also includes passenger quotes. One of the most poignant sayings came from Jack Thayer, a first-class passenger: “There was no moon and I never seen the stars shine brighter,” he said. “It was the kind of night that made one feel glad to be alive.”

In addition to the passengers’ stories, other fascinating details include their belongings. From a diamond and sapphire ring to a platinum pendant with diamonds, some of the most beautiful pieces recovered from the Titanic are sparkling jewelry. The jewels were conserved — not restored — and many of the dazzling gems managed to keep their original luster.

Aside from jewelry, plenty of the Titanic passengers brought their own china and silverware. Each cup, plate, pitcher and bowl has its own interesting, distinct look. One of the exhibit’s unique pieces discovered is the au gratin plates set, stacked neatly in rows. The au gratin dishes were found lined up inside of a wooden crate that had deteriorated over time — an image that is recreated in the exhibition. Other artifacts include ship tools, postcards, currency, a pipe, a spittoon and playing cards.

While the tiny pieces leave behind a lasting impression, The Big Piece — a huge piece of the ship’s hull — definitely stands out. This piece is currently the largest Titanic artifact ever retrieved. It weighs an astounding 15 tons and measures more than 26 feet long. Bringing it inside was a 48-hour process, involving cranes and a special team of people. It’s considered the crown jewel of the collection and something one must see to believe.

In addition to the artifacts, the exhibit also features amazing replicas from the Titanic. One of these includes the staircase replica. Most remember the staircase scene from the movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. This is where first-class passengers met, mingled and admired each other’s outfits. The intricately-detailed staircase replica includes iron, bronze and even the stained glass dome. Visitors have the option of having their picture taken and purchasing it at the end of the tour.

Other noteworthy replicas include the promenade deck (which features the sounds of waves crashing and a starry sky) as well as an iceberg, which guests are more than welcome to touch. Since the iceberg was specifically created for the exhibit, it contains its own cooling system to prevent it from melting.

Make sure to stop and take a look at the third-class and the finely decorated first-class sleeping quarters. Adorned with burgundy colors, elegant décor and mahogany accents, the first-class suite was considered more luxurious than any hotel room on land in its time.

From young to old, visitors of all ages will enjoy this exhibit. There is also gift shop for those who want to take a piece of Titanic home with them. Visitors can purchase everything from T-shirts, stuffed animals, captain hats for kids, cups, key chains and much more. Hours of operation for both exhibits are daily from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. at a cost of $32 per person. The last admission is sold at 9 p.m.

WHERE TO DINE:
Having previously experienced TAO Restaurant in New York City, our party had only one dining spot in mind for Las Vegas and that was the 40,000 square foot, $20 million design-driven dining and entertainment complex TAO at The Venetian-Resort-Hotel Casino (www.taolasvegas.com). TAO opened in New York City in 2000 and has retained its status as a hot spot, attracting celebrities and sports figures and catapulting the restaurant and lounge to iconic status. TAO Las Vegas, which debuted in 2005, is a multi-faceted and multi-story “Asian City” housing a restaurant, banquet facilities, ultra-lounge, nightclub and a seasonal beach.

The restaurant features a twenty-foot Buddha that “floats” peacefully above an infinity pool complete with Japanese Koi. It is a frequent hot spot for A-list celebrities and culinary connoisseurs.

TAO LV_Interior 3_Warren Jagger

Corporate Executive Chef Ralph Scamardella showcases a menu incorporating culinary components from China, Japan and Thailand, along with a full sushi bar and perfectly paired cocktails to complement the authentic Asian cuisine. Signature dishes include offerings from sea, sky and land, including Chilean Sea Bass Satay with Wok Roasted Asparagus, a preparation of Peking Duck that consistently receives accolades and Kobe Beef Shabu Shabu along with a full sushi bar. TAO Beach offers an abbreviated version of TAO Asian Bistro’s dinner menu throughout the day, as well as a brunch menu that boasts specialties like Sesame Berry Pancakes with tempura banana and mandarin butter, Fortune.

Service starts when the server delivers two china bowls, one empty, and the other filled with chilled edamame. The edamame is tossed with mustard oil, thinly sliced shallots, and black sesame seeds.

Our group considered this to be beyond exceptional, sampling a good portion of items on the menu. We recommend the following: Roasted Shishito Peppers with Yuzu; Edamame; Satay of Chilean Sea Bass, with Edamame Hijiki Salad (shitake mushroom plus seaweed); Spicy Tuna Tartare on Crispy Rice; Chinese Five Spice Short Ribs (beef); Salmon Sashimi, with Avocado and Crispy Onions and Sweet and Spicy Sesame Sauce; Shrimp Tempura; Spicy Tuna; Avocado and Soy Paper Roll; Yellowtail Sashimi, with Jalapeno and Ponzu Sauce; Crispy Snapper in the Sand; Vegetable Fried Brown Rice; Spicy Hoi Yin Eggplant; a Giant Fortune Cookie (white and dark chocolate mousse); and Yuzu Sugar Dusted Doughnuts with a trio of dipping sauces. As for alcohol, consider the TAO-tini , Orchid and Sake flight. Our waiter Yorke convinced us to try the restaurant’s three most popular sakes: DY-50; Drunken Snapper; and Demon Slayer. A big shout out to Assistant General Manager Name Eli Micaiah and his extraordinary team.

At TAO Beach, they offer a range of frozen cocktails, like the signature Par-Tee with Tito’s, iced tea and frozen lemonade, in addition to updated classics like the Citrus Blossom Mimosa with Ketel One Citroen, sparkling yuzu sake and lemongrass.

Guests are transported from the City of Sin to the Pacific Rim with TAO’s lush velvets and silks, waterfalls and century-old woods and stones. A Monk Bar is decorated with a wall of almost 300 hand carved monks and candles. TAO Beach’s outdoor oasis features luxury cabanas, daybeds and a 30-foot bar within its 18,000 square foot space.

Since its opening, TAO Asian Bistro and Nightclub has garnered worldwide acclaim as the hottest restaurant, lounge and nightclub in Las Vegas. TAO Beach’s debut in April 2007 increased capacity to over 60,000 square feet of space to host both indoor and outdoor events. The venue consists of seven full service bars, four fully equipped DJ booths, and multiple areas that can be utilized both separately and collectively for corporate parties, product launches, weddings, birthday celebrations, bachelorette/bachelor parties, CD Release Parties, holiday receptions, movie premieres and more.
Co-owners of TAO Las Vegas are Scamardella, Marc Packer, Richard Wolf, Noah Tepperberg, Jason Strauss, Paul Goldstein, Bill Bonbrest, Kim Kurlanchik Russen and Louis Abin.

There is complete wheelchair access at TAO Las Vegas.

For reservations call 702- 388-8588 for special events email sales@taogroup.com. The restaurant, which is wheelchair accessible, is open Sunday through Thursday from 5 p.m. to midnight and Fridays and Saturdays from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m.

Paris: France

Exactly 28 years after my last visit to Paris, I recently soaked up the experience again of the French capital with all it has to offer. We began planning for this trip to the City of Lights seven months earlier by booking flights and hotels. That was followed by the rigorous process of trying to fit an endless array of activities into only seven full days. Websites like http://en.parisinfo.com/discovering-paris and www.rendezvousenfrance.com, which via its Atout France French government Tourism Office in Montreal, served as a big help. So was any human being I knew who has ever been there.

EiffelTower alllit M.CHAZEAU

I am providing a guide of the itinerary we followed so that hopefully it will save many travelers the endless hours of research we put it in. When you are in Paris for a week, you cannot do everything so one must prioritize when planning and be prepared to drop some intended activities if necessary.

WHERE TO STAY: Seven months before we even left for France, we began the challenging task of looking for a hotel. Upon recommendations from friends we targeted Les Jardins du Marais (www.lesjardinsdumarais.com). Located only blocks away from the famous Marais district, this beautiful hotel has 263 rooms and suites, an intimate restaurant and bar and excellent customer service. Hats off to front office manager Nady Hatem and his team.

lesjardinsRoom

This is part of the Preferred Hotel Group (www.preferredhotelgroup.com), which if you check out their website you will see has quite a nice collection to choose from around the world. Our package included a beautiful and spacious deluxe suite. It had a king size bed with a solid sliding door leading to a living room and a most comfortable sofa bed. We had an extra sink, a hairdryer, a microwave oven, a minibar/fridge, a dishwasher, a pantry cabinet, a stovetop burner, a working desk, a small table and very comfortable chair.

The story of this hotel all began in 1987 when the owner was wandering through the oldest part of the city and discovered a little alleyway surrounded by buildings and studios home to famous sculptors and artists in the 1960s. He was instantly captivated by the place’s quaint ambiance and 18th and 19th century historic landmark exteriors. And so was hatched a wild idea to turn this magical place into a charming hotel so thousands of guests could enjoy the same dream.

From Mitterrand and Sarkozy to Jerry Lewis and Johnny Hallyday, countless celebrities have since joined other tourists who are mad about Paris and revelled in the setting steeped in history that has been transformed with a modern and sumptuous touch into a glamorous trendy spot that is above all oh-so Parisian. Originally opened as the Home Plazza Bastille, this exclusive site was fully renovated in 2004, earned its fourth Michelin star and became Les Jardins du Marais.

Les Jardins du Marais has been branded a “Great hotel of the world” and become a one-of-a-kind lifestyle hotel. Carefully shaping the hotel’s destiny, the general managers wanted to give the hotel back its radiance and contemporary flair. They decided to breathe new life into this exceptional locale in the Marais district by bringing their love for contemporary art into the hotel.  Your eyes will be astounded before you even reach the lobby. When you open the historic carriage doors to a mind-blowing display you will see the largest open-air hotel gardens in Paris. The lobby extends to reveal a dramatic 1,500 square metre backdrop of courtyards and gardens. You can only reach this exclusive and exotic locale after crossing the extremely secluded threshold of 74 Rue Amelot.

hotel courtyard

Nestled in the heart of Paris, the hotel transcends you through time the moment you step inside. Innovative use of space and light tricks create an extraordinary setting that approaches intimate sophistication – this is the opposite of flashy opulence. Gardens reminiscent of the Mediterranean and outdoor lounges ringed with palm trees genuinely entice you to relax, enjoy the change of pace and the brief sensation of being in more exotic climes. The hotel further delights its guests with a collection of contemporary art.
The gardens are encircled by seven historic buildings with the 263 rooms. They include 86 Superior rooms and 120 Executive rooms that offer guests unparalleled tranquility in the middle of Paris.

In the über-hip Marais district, from shops and restaurants to museums and monuments, you are at the footsteps of Paris all its splendour. A stone’s throw from Place des Vosges and the Bastille Opera, the hotel is perfectly located near trendy spots, leisurely activities and tourist attractions.
The Saint Sébastien Froissart station on Line 8 of the metro is two minutes on foot from the hotel and it will lead you to any place you wish to go. There is also a direct connection to the Paris airports on the RER B and you are only 15 minutes away from Gare du Nord and Gare de l’Est on metro line 5. A private car service is available for guests as well. They will also order a mini-van to bring you to the airport.

Free Wi-fi is available in all rooms and common areas. There is a workout room and even in-room massages upon request. Just a short walk from the front desk is a Carrefour grocery store.
Email: info@homeplazza.com.

THE MARAIS: Long the aristocratic district of Paris, the Marais hosts many outstanding buildings of historic and architectural importance. It spreads across parts of the third and fourth arrondissements in Paris. At the end of the 19th century and during the first half of the 20th, the district around the rue des Rosiers, referred to as the “Pletzl,” welcomed many Eastern European Jews (Ashkenazi) who reinforced the district’s clothing specialization. But, during World War II, the Jewish community was targeted by the Nazis who were occupying France. The rue des Rosiers is still a major centre of the Paris Jewish community, which has made a renewal since the 1990s. Public notices announce Jewish events, bookshops specialize in Jewish books, and numerous restaurants and other outlets sell kosher food. We took a walk there and saw a very lively area. The synagogue on 10 rue Pavée is not far from rue des Rosiers. It was designed in 1913 by Art Nouveau architect Hector Guimard, who designed several Paris Metro stations.

THE PARIS METRO: Considered a leading tourist attraction in its own right, the Paris Metro system is absolutely superb and so easy to navigate. I must admit that I was intimidated by the prospect of getting around the city before I left, but there is no need here to take taxis. Almost every square block you walk there seems to be a station. They are kept clean and you feel safe because of the large crowds, even late at night.

The first line of the underground subway system (still called Line 1) began operation in 1900 and today the Paris Metro has grown to include 14 lines that connect Paris via its subterranean tunnels. With over 300 stations, it’s easy to travel anywhere within the city limits.

Make sure to purchase a Paris Metro Pass, something you use at the turn styles to gain entrance to the metro or the buses. It begins its validity the first time you use it, then works for the next consecutive one, two, three or five days after that. All you choose is the validity period and the zones in which you would like to travel!

BATEAUX MOUCHES:
For our first night in Paris, we opted to experience the Bateaux-Mouches (http://www.bateaux-mouches.fr/en). Their fleet of nine boats are all enclosed in glass and bathed in light to cast off and accompany you on a journey through time. There are daily departures throughout the day and in the evening. You can choose the dinner or simple tour options. We chose the latter and did so on a gorgeous evening. The experience allowed us to discover all of the magic of the banks of the River Seine, which are enhanced, in no predictable order, by the most prestigious monuments which have marked history.

BIG BUS TOUR: In the first day or two of your trip be sure to proceed to get tickets for the famous hop-on, hop-off bus tours (http://eng.bigbustours.com/paris/home.html), operated by the Cars Rouges. This allows you to explore the city’s top tourist attractions at your own pace. From the breath-taking heights of the Eiffel Tower to the historic grounds of Le Louvre, no visit to Paris would be complete without taking in the city’s sights by bus and via the two day package we chose. The Big Bus sightseeing tour took us to iconic buildings such as Notre Dame and the Arc de Triomphe. We also discovered a myriad of other historic sites, which could easily be a centrepiece in any other city. There was ornate, elegant architecture at every turn, but what we found most impressive was the way striking landmarks were connected and aligned through wide boulevards and open spaces, delivering some magnificent views. Throughout the ticket validity period, you can hop-on and off the buses at any of the Big Bus stops. A third of their fleet has wheelchair access on the lower deck, and they try to run these vehicles evenly throughout the service. It is best to buy your tickets online, but you Can also do so on site at any bus stop from a uniformed agent.

NOTRE DAME: Notre-Dame de Paris (http://www.notredamedeparis.fr/-English), a masterpiece of faith, art and history, is the cathedral of the Catholic archdiocese of Paris. It is one of the best-known symbols of the French capital, and the most-visited monument in France, ahead of the Eiffel Tower. The cathedral is on UNESCO’s World Heritage List and attracts 13 million believers, pilgrims and visitors each year. It is stage to major celebrations for the diocese and the French republic. Access to the cathedral is open and free of charge every day of the year, during the opening hours. Parts of the cathedral are accessible to reduced-mobility individuals: the nave, side aisles and transept, more than two-thirds of the building. There are three steps to access the choir and the Treasury. There is a small step at the entrance portals to access the main floor.

ARC DE TRIOMPHE: Located at one end of Paris’s most famous avenue, the Champs Elysees, the Arc de Triomphe Paris (http://www.arcdetriompheparis.com) triumphal arch is older than the Eiffel Tower, but is somewhat new in the tradition of building arches to celebrate victories. The Romans did it much earlier. In fact, the Arch of Titus had inspired Napoleon to build this 19th-century tribute to his “Grande Armee.” The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was added in 1921. The ‘eternal flame’ is re-lit every evening at 6:30 p.m. You can admire the arch from below at the ground level – either on foot while you’re window-shopping on the Champs Elysees – or by automobile if you’re lucky enough to get caught in the swirl of traffic that plays dodge around its base. If you choose not to brave the crowds visiting the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe is a great alternative. It’s also less expensive if you’re traveling with students or children. Kids and teenagers, age 17 and younger get free admission. The top can only be reached by climbing up its 40 stairs. But before you get to the stairs, you have to get to the monument itself (which isn’t as simple as you’d think). Do not try crossing the traffic circle. There is an underground tunnel on the Avenue de la Grande Armee side of the circle. You can access this tunnel from the Wagram exit of the Metro. This structure was built between 1806 and 1836. Even though there were many modifications from the original plans, reflecting political changes and power struggles, the Arch still retains the essence of the original concept which was a powerful, unified ensemble. The Arc de Triomphe stands at the centre of the Place Charles de Gaulle, also known as the “Place de l’Étoile.” It is located at the western end of the Champs-Élysées. The arches whole decorative style is entirely of the tradition of sculpture from the first half of the nineteenth century. The triumphal arch is in honor of those who fought for France, in particular, those who fought during the Napoleonic Wars.

The Centre des monuments nationaux has almost 100 historical monuments all over France open to the public. Its properties include Abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel, Château of Azay-le-Rideau, Arc de Triomphe, Sainte-Chapelle, Pantheon and Abbey of Thoronet. The diversity of sites, from abbeys to châteaux, prehistoric caves, and archaeological sites, and more, is testimony to France’s incredibly rich heritage from all eras. With nine million visitors, 400 events per year, the Centre des monuments nationaux is a unique operator in the cultural tourism sector. Log on to www.tourisme.monuments-nationaux.fr/en.

THE WORLD FAMOUS OPERA HOUSE: Everyone told me not to leave Paris without at least taking a tour of the Palais Garnier (http://visitepalaisgarnier.fr), a magnificent 1,979-seat opera house, which was built from 1861 to 1875 for the Paris Opera. It was originally called the Salle des Capucines because of its location on the Boulevard des Capucines in the 9th arrondissement of Paris, but soon became known as the Palais Garnier in recognition of its opulence and its architect, Charles Garnier. We visited on a Saturday afternoon. The cost is 10 and six Euros for adults and children/students respectively. You can also rent an audio guide, which comes on an Ipad and is good for two people. We were mesmerized by what we saw. This is said to be the most famous opera house in the world, partly due I am told to its use as the setting for Gaston Leroux’s 1910 novel The Phantom of the Opera and, of course its subsequent adaptations in films and musical stage productions. This facility also houses the Bibliothèque-Musée de l’Opéra de Paris (Paris Opera Library-Museum). Although the Library-Museum is no longer managed by the Opera and is part of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, the museum is included in unaccompanied tours of the Palais Garnier.

garnierceiling

THE LOUVRE: The Louvre Museum, a former residence of the kings of France, has for two centuries been one of the biggest museums in the world. Its collections are spread over eight departments: Near Eastern Antiquities, Islamic Art, Egyptian Antiquities, Greek, Etruscan and Roman Antiquities, Paintings, Sculptures, Decorative Arts, and Prints and Drawings dating from the Middle Ages to 1848. The Louvre in figures: 35,000 works of art in 60,600 square metres of rooms devoted to permanent collections, with 2,410 windows, 3,000 locks and 10,000 steps.
The Louvre is open every day (except Tuesday) from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. On Wednesdays and Fridays you can go until 9:45 p.m. This place is gigantic and takes a long time to visit. It is best to do your research first so you have a game plan.

The museum collections are grouped into eight curatorial departments: Egyptian Antiquities; Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities; Near Eastern Antiquities; Islamic Art; Paintings; Sculptures; Decorative Arts; and Prints and Drawings.

On their first visit to the Louvre, people often want to see the museum’s three great ladies — the Venus de Milo, the Victory of Samothrace, and Mona Lisa.

LouvreMonaLisaVinci_La Joconde
The Louvre is universal both in terms of the wealth of its collections and the great diversity of its visitors. Of the nearly 10 million people who visited the Louvre in 2012, 69 percent were of overseas origin, with 15 percent from the United States of America, seven percent from China, and six percent from Brazil. To adapt to the diverse nature of this public, the Louvre continually strives for greater accessibility. To this end, its initiatives include the progressive widespread use of labeling in two or even three languages to describe the 38,000 artworks exhibited; the revamped numbering of exhibition rooms; the development of a new, more user-friendly floor plan; and the fostering of art education. In addition, the Louvre website (www.louvre.fr/en) offers various visitor tips on planning a visit, gaining in-depth knowledge, and teaching art history to children.

More than 2,100 people, including 166 curatorial staff and 1,200 security officers, work on a daily basis in service of the collections and visitor reception. In addition, there are many external players (including technical maintenance, external monitoring, laboratories, conservation professionals, and cultural contributors). Furthermore, the Louvre has thoroughly modernized its financing methods and developed its own resources. In 2009, the museum created an “endowment fund” styled on English and American models, to finance its long-term projects. In 2012, the Musée du Louvre revenue amounted to 216 million euros, 116 million euros of which were state subsidies (54 percent) and 100 million euros self-funded. These self-funded resources can be broken down as follows: 58 million euros from ticket sales, 16 million euros from sponsors, and 15 million through the enhanced visibility and profitability of the Louvre offering as a whole.
The Louvre also manages the Musée Eugène Delacroix (as of January 1, 2004) and the Tuileries garden (as of January 1, 2005). Over the years, the Louvre has remained true to its missions of promoting encounters between art collections and the public. More than just a meeting place, it is now clearly a forum for sharing, open and generous, where the exceptional is accessible to all. You can pre-search the entire collection online, including the famous Mona Lisa. This portrait was doubtless painted in Florence between 1503 and 1506. It is thought to be of Lisa Gherardini, wife of a Florentine cloth merchant named Francesco del Giocondo – hence the alternative title, La Gioconda. However, Leonardo seems to have taken the completed portrait to France rather than giving it to the person who commissioned it. It was eventually returned to Italy by Leonardo’s student and heir Salai. It is not known how the painting came to be in François I’s collection.

The history of the Mona Lisa is shrouded in mystery. Among the aspects which remain unclear are the exact identity of the sitter, who commissioned the portrait, how long Leonardo worked on the painting, how long he kept it, and how it came to be in the French royal collection.

The portrait may have been painted to mark one of two events – either when Francesco del Giocondo and his wife bought their own house in 1503, or when their second son, Andrea, was born in December 1502 after the death of a daughter in 1499. The delicate dark veil that covers Mona Lisa’s hair is sometimes considered a mourning veil. In fact, such veils were commonly worn as a mark of virtue. Her clothing is unremarkable. Neither the yellow sleeves of her gown, nor her pleated gown, nor the scarf delicately draped round her shoulders are signs of aristocratic status.
The Mona Lisa is the earliest Italian portrait to focus so closely on the sitter in a half-length portrait. The painting is generous enough in its dimensions to include the arms and hands without them touching the frame. The portrait is painted to a realistic scale in the highly structured space where it has the fullness of volume of a sculpture in the round. The figure is shown in half-length, from the head to the waist, sitting in a chair whose arm is resting on balusters. She is resting her left arm on the arm of the chair, which is placed in front of a loggia, suggested by the parapet behind her and the two fragmentary columns framing the figure and forming a “window” looking out over the landscape. The perfection of this new artistic formula explains its immediate influence on Florentine and Lombard art of the early 16th century. Such aspects of the work as the three-quarter view of a figure against a landscape, the architectural setting, and the hands joined in the foreground were already extant in Flemish portraiture of the second half of the 15th century, particularly in the works of Hans Memling. However, the spacial coherence, the atmospheric illusionism, the monumentality, and the sheer equilibrium of the work were all new. In fact, these aspects were also new to Leonardo’s work, as none of his earlier portraits display such controlled majesty.

The Mona Lisa’s famous smile represents the sitter in the same way that the juniper branches represent Ginevra Benci and the ermine represents Cecilia Gallerani in their portraits, in Washington and Krakow respectively. It is a visual representation of the idea of happiness suggested by the word “gioconda” in Italian. Leonardo made this notion of happiness the central motif of the portrait: it is this notion which makes the work such an ideal. The nature of the landscape also plays a role. The middle distance, on the same level as the sitter’s chest, is in warm colors. Men live in this space: there is a winding road and a bridge.

There is free and priority access for disabled individuals and an accompanying person upon presentation of written proof. For the visually impaired, there are touch and descriptive tours, information in Braille and audio guides. The Touch Gallery is designed for the blind and sight impaired. It allows all visitors to share a touch perception experience. You will discover 18 moulds of Antiquity art work from the 19th century, giving you an idea of the different ways childhood was represented over the centuries. For the hearing impaired, tours in French sign language, lip reading or cued speech are offered.

For more information about adapted activities in the Louvre as well as an accessibility guide, visit http://www.louvre.fr/accessibilite. The contact number for disabled visitors is +33 (0)1 40 20 59 90. You can email: handicap@louvre.fr

MUSEE D’ORSAY: Internationally renowned for its rich collection of impressionist art, the Musée d’Orsay (http://www.musee-orsay.fr) also displays all western artistic creations between 1848 and 1914. Its collections represent all expressive forms, from painting to architecture, not forgetting sculpting, decorative arts and photography. You’re sure to be dazzled by the beauty of the place: a palace-like station, launched for the 1900 Universal Exposition. At the end of 2011, the museum reopened all of its entirely renovated spaces as well as some new rooms: an additional 400 square meters for the Pavillon Amont, post-impressionist artists at the heart of the museum, the restructuring of the Galerie des Impressionnistes, a new space for temporary exhibitions, and a new aquatic decor in the Café des Hauteurs, designed by Brazilian designers, the Campana Brothers. The museum is open every day but Monday. You can check out a 90 minute guided tour for those aged 13 and up. We rented three Ipods for five Euros each. Through a very simple system one needs only to punch in the number of selected paintings and an interesting commentary will be provided.

There is free entry for disabled people and an accompanying person on presentation of written proof. Adapted activities and workshops take place and wheelchairs can be loaned. There is priority access without queues at entrance C. The museum is entirely accessible and the auditorium designed to welcome up to three people in wheelchairs. For the visually impaired, guide and assistance dogs are allowed around the collections in the museum and exhibitions. The museum does not have tactile walk ways All year round, there are visits available in sign language and the auditorium is equipped with a hearing loop.

Bookings can be made at http://www.musee-orsay.fr/fr/espace-particuliers/particuliers/visiteurs-handicapes/bienvenue.html and by calling + 33 (0) 1 40 49 48 14

When we visited, the Carpeaux exhibition was on. Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux was the son of a stonemason and a lace maker from Valencienne. He built an exceptional career closely linked to the “fête impériale” of Napoleon III’s reign. Standing out vividly in the artistic milieu of his time, he was also one of the most perfect embodiments of the Romantic idea of the artist cursed by the brevity and brilliance of his career, concentrated into around 15 years, and by the violence and the passion of an unrelenting struggle with subjects chosen or commissioned (the Pavillon de Flore in the Louvre, The Dance for Charles Garnier’s Opera). The sculptor of smiling subjects, painter of movement, outstanding portraitist, familiar artist of the Cour des Tuileries, attentive observer of the realities of street life and also a sensitive admirer of Michelangelo, Carpeaux was constantly immersed in sombre melancholy, using broad brushstrokes from his earliest days, for the tragedy of Ugolin eating his own children, and, later, for the ghostly flashes of a religious feeling imbued with anxiety, the violence of shipwreck scenes and for sorrowful self-portraits.

The first retrospective since 1975 devoted to his works as a sculptor, painter and illustrator, this exhibition will explore the varied work of a major figure of French sculpture in the second half of the 19th century who, according to Alexandre Dumas, was “more alive than life itself”.

MOULIN ROUGE: I did go to the Moulin Rouge (www.moulinrouge.fr) 28 years earlier and there was no question that a return trip was in order. Established in 1889, the Moulin Rouge is quite simply the most famous cabaret in the world! Located in the Monmarte District, it was immortalized by Toulouse-Lautrec and was the cradle of the music hall with the famous Mistinguett. Since it opened in 1889, it has dazzled the whole world. The room is magnificently decorated in belle époque style and red velvet, with typical burlesque frescoes. This is a wonderful place to enjoy gourmet French food by the Maison Dalloyau, served with champagne – the official drink of the cabaret. But show only options are also available and that is what we opted. We did get a fresh bottle of bubbly to our table upon arrival. And what show! This is a “can’t miss” stop for any Paris visitor. You will be entertained by a troupe of 80 artists, including 60 Doriss Girls recruited world-wide; 1, 000 costumes of feathers, rhinestones and sequins, made in the most famous Parisian workshops; sumptuous sets in shimmering colours, uniquely designed by Italian artists; and outstanding international acts. On the night we were in attendance, a male and female acrobatic team astounded the audience and there was also the most marvelous and humorous ventriloquist. When one of the dancers dropped into a swimming pool which emerged from the floor and began to swim with snakes, the packed room applauded loudly. This revue, called “Féerie,” is performed twice a night.

Moulin Rouge Fac¦ºade nuit -®Moulin Rouge-« - S.Bertrand

Elegant attire is required (tie and jacket not necessary), but no shorts, short-pants, sport shoes or sportswear. The dinner and show package starts at 7 p.m.: the first show at 9 and the second at 11. It is recommended your arrive around 30 minutes prior. When we departed, there was a massive line to get in for the second presentation.
The Moulin Rouge’s Brigade consists of 120 maître-d, headwaiters and waiters. The legendary hall accommodates up to 900 guests. A team of 25 cooks prepare the meals while champagne is the official drink, with 240 000 bottles opened a year!

THE KOFF DINING OPTION IN MONMARTE: I must have spent hours looking for just the right restaurant to “sandwich” in before the Moulin Rouge and the Koff Delicattessen (www.koff-paris.fr) at 15 Rue la Vieuville won out.

Koffoutsiide2

I would strongly recommend Koff. The husband and wife team of David and Jade designed this place like a New York deli. The menu features bagels, burgers, quesadillas, nachos, sandwiches, smoked salmon, Ashkenazi specialties, Russian dishes and a nice variety of salads. It is open for lunch and dinner. The Sunday brunch includes coffee or tea, orange juice, muffins, scrambled eggs, pancakes, sausage and smoked salmon. I must say that I very much enjoyed the pastrami club sandwich, accompanied by delicious hash browns. Friendly servers Matlilda and Marvin offered us their homemade cheesecake or banoffee pie for dessert, but we were full form the main course. Koff is just one minute’s walk from Abbesses métro station (line 12). The décor here is very American, in terms of canvases, signs, metallic advertisement placards and other paraphernalia. Each of the chairs represent an iconic American figure (real or fictional) staring back from the seat such as Bugs Bunny, Batman or Marilyn Monroe. There are even some kosher items on the menu, identified with a big “K.”

BREAKFAST IN AMERICA: Here is one more unique restaurant you will want to try. First off, Breakfast in America (http://www.breakfast-in-america.com) does not take reservations. There are two locations: in the heart of the historic Latin Quarter, not far from the Sorbonne and Notre Dame and in the Marais district, near rue des Rosiers, the famous Jewish quarter. It is owned not surprisingly by an American, Craig Carlson. We experienced the Marais locale known as BIA2, with charming manager Julien Chameroy and floor manager Sarah-Rose Giudici (from Chicago).

BIA2

Originally from Connecticut, Carlson first came to France as a student and instantly fell in love with the country. It was in Paris — thanks to the numerous art house cinemas — that he developed his love for film and decided to pursue it as a career. After attending USC film school in Los Angeles, he worked as a screenwriter and short filmmaker and then landed a job in Paris working on a TV show. During this time, the only thing he missed while living in Paris was a good ol’ American breakfast. Realizing the only thing the French knew of American cuisine was fast food, Craig became convinced that the time was right for an authentic American diner in Paris.

After nearly two years in the making, BIA finally opened its doors in January 2003 (BIA 2 opened in February 2006). Thanks to his friends in the film industry who came on as investors, Craig was able to bring together two of his loves under one roof – the cinema and diners. Some of BIA’s supporters include the director of the film “Runaway Jury,” (starring Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman), the writer of “Con Air”, a director of “Friends”, the director of “Invincible” (starring Mark Wahlberg) and French animators working at Dreamworks Studios in California. All of them can’t wait to find an excuse to come to Paris where they know a steamin’ stack of pancakes and a bottomless mug o’ joe are always waiting for them…

Breakfast in America is famous for breakfast, but also known for being one of the best places in Paris for burgers! What dishes are the most popular? At BIA, some favorites include: blueberry pancakes with real maple syrup, the Connecticut omelet, two by two, locally-baked bagels, their own “BIA Burger” and “Super BIA Burger,” California chicken wrap, vegetarian wrap, home-made chili con carne, club sandwich, cheesecake, real milkshakes and much, much more! There are toasters at each booth.

Another familiar restaurant for North Americans is the Hard Rock Café (http://www.hardrock.com/cafes/paris) at 14 Boulevard Montmarte.
The Hard Rock Cafe Paris offers more than just great food and service. The café is a museum of popular culture, with authentic memorabilia from rock ‘n’ roll legends covering our walls, 21 screens showing videos, and an unbelievable sound system. In our restaurant and famous cocktail bar all is done to give our international clientele an American experience.

The Hard Rock Cafe Paris is centrally located next to the Opera and the Grands Boulevards, not far from famous places such as Musée Grévin, les Etoiles du Rex or the Theathre of Varietes. Hard Rock Cafe Paris offer its guests the finest all-American food and great music. There is also a retail store where you can purchase limited edition and collectible Hard Rock t-Shirts, jackets and souvenirs.

DINING ATOP THE EIFFEL TOWER: On May 15 1889 the Eiffel Tower (www.tour-eiffel.fr) opened its doors to the public, several days after the inauguration of the Universal Exhibition, of which it was the undisputed star and the most spectacular attraction.

Unquestionably the Eiffel Tower represents a “must” on every tourist’s list, notably for its remarkable view over Paris. The opening times vary according to the time of year. It is open every single day of the year, from 9 a.m. to midnight from mid-June to early September and from 9:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. the rest of the year. During Easter weekend and Spring holidays, there are extended opening hours to midnight. The ticket office at the foot of the Eiffel Tower is open every day, but I strongly recommend you purchase your tickets online and do so at least six months in advance if you want to gain immediate entry and go all the way to the top. You can also climb the stairs to the second level, which must be quite the exhausting experience.
Without advance tickets, prepare to face a lineup as long as two hours. The electronic ticket, which you can print out at home or save on your mobile, means that on the date and the time you’ve chosen, you can go straight to the queues for people with tickets. We did not know about this, but found a way to reach the second level quickly and enjoy a memorable dining experience with the view of a lifetime. This was all made possible by securing reservations at The Jules Verne Restaurant (http://www.lejulesverne-paris.com). This is part of the Alain Ducasse culinary empire (http://www.alain-ducasse.com). Not only did we enjoy a five course meal, but we had a private door to enter and exit the viewing platform whenever we wished. Upon arrival at the South Pillar, we gave our names to the host who sent us up on a private elevator 125 metres above. While regular patrons had to wait seemingly endlessly to go back down at the end of the night, we did so in minutes. In order to get the window table we had, one needs to reserve at least three months in advance. We could have bought tickets from there to go to the very top, but frankly take my advice – it is really not worth the long wait.

Jules Verne - Table de nuit (c) Pierre Monetta

There is now a “tasting” menu, allowing you to experience the full Jules Verne sensation. For dinner it is 185 euros for five courses (meat or fish) or 230 euros for six. It takes you on a journey of discovery and surprises, in a voyage of five or six dishes depending on your desires. We chose the former and it included Bellevue Style blue lobster, with gold caviar; preserved duck foie gras; roasted marinated baby artichokes; seared sea bass or free range chicken fricassee; and some delicious desserts. There are a number of servers per table.
In late 2006, SETE, which operates the Eiffel Tower, selected L’Affiche (Groupe Sodexo) and Alain Ducasse Entreprise to modernize the Eiffel Tower’s restaurant services. Champion of the offering, Le Jules Verne was unveiled on December 22, 2007.

Le Jules Verne’s unique location makes it the Parisian venue par excellence. The wine list at Le Jules Verne, created by Gérard Margeon, chef sommelier of Alain Ducasse Restaurants, features a selection of the finest French wines from the country’s greatest regions, with long-standing names sharing the limelight with young winegrowers who symbolize the dynamic nature of contemporary French wine-making. The opening of the “new Jules Verne” was the accomplishment of an incredible adventure. It was also a real challenge due to the highly symbolic nature of the venue, but also for very concrete reasons: space on the second level of the Eiffel Tower is limited, and the weight of all the materials and equipment used had to be monitored with painstaking exactness, not to mention the safety constraints involved. Renovation works also took environmental issues into account, all within a tight 120-day schedule.

The place and name set the tone: the Eiffel Tower, a universally recognized icon, and Jules Verne, the visionary novelist. For someone like Alain Ducasse, who wants his restaurants to tell a story, one couldn’t dream of a better point of departure. They brought in the best experts in the field and their teams rallied together with exceptional enthusiasm.

LIVE MUSICAL THEATRE: I strongly recommend an evening at the Mogador Theatre (http://www.stage-entertainment.fr/theatre-mogador). Founded in 1913, the Mogador is a performance venue of 1,00 seats located a few steps from Paris’s department stores and Palais Garnier Opera House. It has a number of facilities for the comfort of the audience: lounges, foyers, bars, and eating areas. Since 2005, the place has been run by the Stage Entertainment group and the eclectic program favours musicals: The Lion King (1,300,000 spectators), Mamma Mia! (2011 and 2012), Sister Act (2013) and most recently the French version of Beauty and the Beast (La Belle et La Bête). We were fortunate to see one of the final shows of the latter’s highly successful nine-month run. First of all, we of course knew the storyline already. However, coming from Montreal we had no trouble understanding the dialogue. I would recommend that every tourist – even those who do not understand French – check out one of their presentations. Chalk it up as a good cultural experience. The theatre itself is lovely and located near a lot of trendy places to eat. Next on the agenda will be Le Bal Des Vampires (http://www.lebaldesvampires.fr) , starting in October For Montrealers who do speak and understand French, it seemed logical for us to seek out a production en Français. Five spaces are reserved for individuals with mobility issues.

LMogador  la BelleetBete

VIATOR TEEN SHOPPING EXPERIENCE: As we were planning this trip it became abundantly clear that a company named Viator (www.viator.com) could really come in handy when booking certain tours and excursions. Their team of travel insiders are obsessed with finding the best things to do everywhere folks travel. From Paris to Phuket to Perth, from traditional tours to once-in-a-lifetime experiences, they have something for every kind of traveler. They have been around for 17 years now. From their offices around the globe, a team of travel insiders handpick the best local tour and activity providers. Viator officials pre-vet them all to make sure you always have an exceptional experience.

Over three million people have traveled with Viator and they have opinions you’ll want to hear. With Viator you can get the royal treatment, including behind-the-scenes access, private viewings, VIP tours – with no lines and no crowds! If you want to pre-book your trips at home from a laptop or do so on the go, with Viator you get insider access.

Viator has evolved from its founding in Sydney in 1995 as a technology company building websites for other travel companies, to emerge as the leading insider resource for researching and booking destination activities around the world. At the time when other companies were honing in on airline tickets, hotels and rental cars, Viator focused on an untapped niche in the young online travel market—destination activities—or the “things you do when you get there.” Today, Viator is the industry leader in the tours and activities space, with an unprecedented portfolio of thousands of hand-picked tours and activities, and unmatched relationships with a global network of local tour operators.

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For the youngest member of our travel party, the Teen Shopping and Fashion Accessories Tour in Paris ended up being the first choice. For girls who are you looking for something that just screams “I got this in Paris,” this is a great choice. Make your best friends green with envy when you arrive home from your trip to Paris with the latest, funkiest fashion. You’ll visit places known only to the savviest Parisian teenagers, and find the hippest French brands on this three-hour shopping tour. It’s no wonder this tour is such a hit with teenagers and moms!

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Sandra Hoyois, from Not A Tourist Destination Tours, leads this Paris shopping tour and shop for fabulous bags (everyday handbags, dressy handbags, funky handbags, backpacks, side packs), terrific shoes (tennis shoes, dressy shoes, flat shoes, heels, boots, sandals) and the greatest jewelry ever (delicate necklaces, unique earrings, funky bracelets, gorgeous rings) in the world’s most stylish city. Noted American actress Angeline Jolie and some of her kids were part of a past tour, during which you discover the favorite leisurewear of thrifty Parisian teenagers on a budget, and attend sample sales where the most fashionable brands sell last year’s collections at discounts of up to 70 percent.

Sandra is qualified to work with teenagers and carries a cell phone at all times. Parents are more than welcome to join the fun of this shopping tour…and usually book the tour for themselves! Our tour began and ended at a centrally located Starbucks Paris café. You can book this online or do it by the telephone via a toll free number. You will then receive a voucher by email, print it out and make sure to reconfirm your booking a few days in advance. Often a smaller number of tour members ensures a more personalized experience.

THE ORIGINAL GRÉVIN: While there has been a Grévin (www.grevin.com) at Montreal`s Eaton Centre since April 2013, this place is the original. In fact, only one other exists in the world – in Prague, Czech Republic. This is a fabulous wax museum, with a specific French feel in terms of many of the actors and historical figures featured. I nonetheless got to pose with the likes of Elton John, Angelina Jolie, Nicholas Cage, Barack Obama and many other familiar faces. Your visits starts off with a unique sound and light show. I am now ready to visit the museum in Montreal. Aurélie Gombert, the communications director in Paris, said that plans call for a new Grévin to open every year or so. I would think that the United States would be next on the list, not to mention places like Toronto and Vancouver in Canada.

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Amidst the crackle of photographers’ flashes, the celebrities in the headlines all meet at the most Parisian of addresses. Discreet atmosphere and evening dress mandatory for a cocktail party with the stars of showbiz, top international singers and the piano at an impromptu jam session, or a relaxed environment to share a friendly glass at the brasserie with the big names of the French cinema industry; the Grevin creates the illusion of an interactive meeting in its new decor. During the visit, a fashion show podium, a dance studio, or a box at the theatre give visitors a unique opportunity to meet their favourite artists and to glimpse the Spirit of Paris.

From the Middle Ages to the 21st Century, with the Renaissance and the Second Empire along the way, the Grevin conjures up the great events of History. Joan of Arc burning at the stake, Louis XIV and his court in Versailles, or the assassination of Henri IV, are some of the all-important historical events that visitors are invited to experience. The 20th Century is shown as a sequence of snapshots, like 3-D photographs; from the first step on the moon to the fall of the Berlin wall, each picture is a part of history. There is an Italian style theatre, constructed in 1900, with a slew of wax figures spread about.

Monaco

THE PRINCIPALITY OF MONACO: When we decided to spend a few days in Nice, friends told us to take the train one night and experience dazzling Monte Carlo in Monaco.

The principality of Monaco (http://www.visitmonaco.com) has a colorful and fascinating history filled with barbarians, kings and even a movie star. It is a story of castles, epic battles and untold riches. In 1997, Monaco celebrated the 700 year reign of the Grimaldi dynasty. It all began on January 8, 1297 when the Guelf François Grimaldi dressed as a Franciscan monk, seized the fortress protecting the famous rock of Monaco and the port of Hercules. Surmounting the trials and tribulations of history and throughout the dark periods of foreign domination, the Principality has managed to affirm its identity and preserve its independence throughout the centuries due to the wise guidance of its Princes.

The Grimaldi dynasty has bequeathed Lords and then Princes to the Principality, illustrious in their many domains, who wrote the most enticing pages in the history of Monaco. To cite but a few: Rainier I, General Admiral of France; Honore II, the first Prince of Monaco at the origins of the most important treaties with France; Louis I, Ambassador to the Holy See under Louis XIV; Antoine I, grand patron of the arts; Charles III, founder of Monte-Carlo; Albert I, renowned as the father of oceanography; Louis II, the soldier Prince; and Rainier III, the builder Prince.
Since 2005, H.S.H. Prince Albert II – already known as the green Prince for his interest in the environment – has been leading the Principality into the 21st century with the support of His sisters H.R.H. The Princess of Hanover and H.S.H. Princess Stephanie. In 2011 Prince Albert married. Charlene Wittstock.

Monaco enjoys a privileged location at the heart of Mediterranean Europe. The Principality is nestled between the Alps and the Mediterranean Sea, bounded by the French Riviera to the west and the Italian Riviera to the east. This is the second smallest country in the world, after Vatican City -three miles long by one-half miles wide (about the size of New York’s Central Park). While Monaco is the name of the country, Monte-Carlo is a district within Monaco.

Monaco is a constitutional monarchy ruled by Prince Albert II. One commune – Monaco – is divided into four areas: Monaco-Ville, the old fortified city on the Rock which includes the Prince’s Palace, Cathedral and Oceanographic Museum; the Condamine, or port quarter; Monte-Carlo, the business and recreation district; and Fontvieille, a man-made waterfront area for recreation and light industry.

Any person of foreign nationality who wishes to enter Monégasque territory and stay there for a period not exceeding three months must have the document (passport, travel or identity document) required for entry into French territory.

Monaco’s climate is ideal throughout the year. It enjoys mild winters, with 48 degrees minimum, and pleasantly warm summers with July and August temperatures hovering around 78 degrees. On average, the Principality enjoys over 300 days of sunshine a year.

French is the Principality`s first language, but some natives speak the ancient Monegsque. English and Italian are also widely spoken.

Monaco has a population of just over 32,000.

The Automobile Club of Monaco organizes a Grand Prix race each year. There are more than 3,000 seats available for sale on the circuit.

The size of Monaco allows speedy and easy commutes between the various districts of the Principality. Walking in the Principality is facilitated by public lifts and escalators that operate 24 hours a day, every day, to help overcome different altitude levels. Public transportation includes a bus shuttle service that includes five different routes. Departures are every 10 minutes from 7 am to 9 pm.

DINING OUT: The highlight of our evening in Monte Carlo was a remarkable dinner at the Salle Empire (http://www.montecarlosbm.com/restaurants-in-monaco/gourmet/salle-empire) at the gorgeous Hôtel de Paris (http://www.hoteldeparismontecarlo.com). We took the train from Nice to Monte Carlo and enjoyed a pleasant 10 minute walk through town to this most breathtaking facility where we were seated on a gorgeous terrace overlooking the entrance to the grand casino. This was “people watching” at its best. A musical trio serenaded us with soft songs and a group of servers provided us with sensational service, starting things off with champagne, soft lemon rolls and their signature potato chips.

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It is in the Salle Empire that haute gastronomy is served during private dinners catering for up to 350 guests, and concerts and shows are organized for invited audiences. Spectacular celebrations also take place in this setting, unique in Europe. It is part of the Alain Ducasse enterprise. We had already tasted his culinary excellence earlier on in the trip at Le Jules Verne Restaurant at the Eiffel Tower.

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Home to chic galas, refined dinners and the Principality’s most sophisticated soirées, the Salle Empire – a classified historical monument — underwent careful and meticulous restoration in 2004. Eight hundred thousand gold leaves (the equivalent of a gold bar) for its ceiling, five French windows opening out to the terrace overlooking the Place du Casino (a distinctive feature which astonishes guests), swathes of silk and precious trimmings… nothing has been forgotten to glorify its style and its beauty.

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We experienced an extraordinary nine course meal which lasted nearly two and a half hours. Every item on the menu was explained in great detail and if something did not meet our dietary requirements a substitute was easily arranged. First was an interesting and nutritious drink, a concentrated healthy extract of bio vegetables. This was followed by raw and cooked vegetables from the hotel’s own garden, with tangy juice. We then enjoyed some amazing eggplant ravioli with fresh goat’s cheese and thyme lemon. Next was a cook pot of Brittany lobster, with coral juice. The main course was a roasted lack of lamb from prealps rubbed with summer savory and summer vegetable. It was beautifully prepared.

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There were no less than three separate desserts: home-made delicacies and chocolates from the Hôtel de Paris; red fruit, strawberry juice and vanilla ice cream; and a traditional chocolate soufflé. The servers made a hole in the middle and poured hot chocolate sauce inside. We each got a side plate of whipped cream. This was so light and beyond delicious. The final serving was a moka coffee.

The Hôtel de Paris falls under the auspices of the Group Monte-Carlo SBM (www.sbm.mc), which oversees four casinos, four luxury and top quality hotels (Hôtel de Paris, Hôtel Hermitage, Monte Carlo Beach and Monte-Carlo Bay Hotel & Resort), 30 restaurants and bars, the Thermes Marins de Monte-Carlo (one of Europe’s finest spa and thalassotherapy centres), the mythic city hall “Salle des Etoiles” and La Rascasse and Sea Lounge.

Widely regarded as one of Europe’s finest grand hotels, the Visitor’s Book reads like a copy of Who’s Who? Originally built with 100 rooms, the property was designed by the architect Dutrou on a model of the Grand Hôtel on the Boulevard des Capucines in Paris. In the summer of 1878, the Monte-Carlo Opera and the new gaming rooms designed by Charles Garnier were built. The Hôtel de Paris immediately acquired an international reputation, hosting numerous society events including balls and charity galas. A succession of high profile guests, including artists and financiers such as Rockfeller, Rothschild, Vanderbilt and Gordon Bennett, would base themselves at the hotel. At that time the amount of food eaten daily was astronomic. The 127 cooks of the hotel were preparing each day 1, 534 pounds of beef, over 200 chickens, 150 game animals, 14 lambs, 150 dozen of oyster and over 1,400 bottle of wines.

At the beginning of the new century , the Russian dukes used to stay at the Hôtel de Paris renting wall floors of the hotel and organized extravagant dinners. The “Grand Duc Dimitri” invited one night a few friends of his. On the menu: caviar, salmon pojarsky and 60 magnum of champagne most of them ending against the marble column of the dining room after an enthusiastic toast. The First World War dampened the sparkle of life in Monaco but when peace returned, the Hôtel de Paris once again became not only the meeting-place of the international elite, but, also, the headquarters of Diaghilev, Lifar and Kochno who created the great moments of the Ballets Russes de Monte-Carlo. During this time, lavish dinners hosted by the King of Sweden, Gustav V, at the Hôtel de Paris were the talk of Europe’s high society.

The Second World War saw the Hôtel de Paris become a shelter for political refugees. At the end of the hostilities, the victory of the Allies once again allowed the Hôtel de Paris to welcome its international clientele including the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Winston Churchill and Errol Flynn whose wedding in 1952 attracted the Hollywood glitterati. The Hôtel de Paris has hosted many other historical events such as the 20th wedding anniversary of His Serene Highness Prince Rainier and Princess Grace of Monaco in 1976 and the 100th birthday of General Nicolaieff, the hotel’s oldest guest. In May 1974, the 25th anniversary of the accession of His Serene Highness Prince Rainier was honoured at a lavish dinner which was also the first official function attended by the young Prince Albert, Heir to the Throne of Monaco.

On the Place du Casino, opposite the entrance to the Hôtel de Paris, the car valets appear to perform a ballet as they park the prestigious automobiles. The tone is set. Up a few steps, a few strides, and visitors arrive in the great lobby with its majestic ceilings that never fail to stir emotions. The equestrian statue of Louis XIV has a very shiny knee because of an old tradition – gamblers believe that rubbing its knee will bring them good luck. To the right, the entrance to the celebrated restaurant “Le Louis XV-Alain Ducasse,” on the left the famous Bar Américain where the Monaco elite gather, a little further on are the entrances to the Salle Empire and other salons, the luxury boutiques are at the end, the reception desk and concierge service are opposite. First contact, first smiles, attentiveness and immediate efficiency, the extremely courteous welcome from the director who makes a point of greeting all guests, in particular those on their first visit to the Hôtel de Paris. The magic works, the Hôtel de Paris is like a great symphony orchestra playing only for you.

October 6, 2014 will be one of the outstanding dates in the 150-year history of the l’Hôtel de Paris with the launch of a vast program of renovation and restructuring that is scheduled to last for four years. The hotel will continue to operate throughout this period on a reduced scale. Nevertheless, in order to enable guests to be welcomed in the best possible conditions, a short two-month phase of preparatory work will be necessary, leading to a total closure from October 6 to mid-December. The hotel will reopen for the Christmas period until January 18 2015, when the first main phase of work will begin. The complete reopening of is scheduled for September 2018. An exhibition presenting images of the renovation program is set in the “Sporting d’Hiver. During all of this time the Salle Empire will serve as the main restaurant.

Vaudreuil-Soulanges, Quebec

The West Island Montreal communities of Vaudreuil -Soulanges continue to gain notice as cost efficient and quality place to live. Located on Montreal’s West Island, extending to the Ontario border, the Municipalité régionale de comté (MRC) de Vaudreuil-Soulanges has a population of nearly 140,000 people throughout its 23 municipalities.

During frequent trips to and from Ontario over the years, I have always noticed the landmark Chateau Vaudreuil Hotel (www.chateau-vaudreuil.com). The increase in development here has been obvious, both commercial and residential. There are plenty of restaurants to choose from, shopping, car dealerships and the largest family entertainment centre in Canada called Woohoo (www.woohoofun.com). The AMT commuter train has a stop here. A new $25 million sports complex has opened and there is talk of a hospital being constructed by 2018, a Costco and possibly a movie theatre complex.

The Vaudreuil-Dorion Regional Museum, located at 431 St. Charles, features a collection of 7,500 objects representative of the daily life of craftsmen and artists from the 17th to the 20th-century. Among one of the first regional museums opened in the early 1950s, it stages over 50 events annually, including exhibitions, concerts and workshops.

The city of Vaudreuil-Dorion recently broke ground on phase two of a project to expand construction on St. Charles Avenue. Mayor Guy Pilon says the project involves building two new overpasses to replace the current deteriorating. They’ll also be adding two more lanes to the access ramp that leads to the Eastbound 40. Construction is expected to be completed in September 2015, at which point a bike path will be built.
The mayor says that 55 percent of the people who work – the work force of MRC Vaudreuil-Soulanges – go to Montreal every morning
I recently chose to spend a little extended time there to explore the area more thoroughly.

WHERE TO STAY: The five star Château Vaudreuil Hotel (www.chateauvaudreuil.ca) at 21700 Route Transcanadienne is extraordinary. It is not only a wonderful choice for tourists, but Montrealers should consider this place for an easy weekend getaway.

Chateau exterior

Benito Migliorati is the owner. He is presently marking the 25th anniversary since this palace of a facility first opened. This is very much a family affair. His charming wife Carole serves as vice-president while their two daughters, Melanie and Sonia, work at the hotel as well. Benito purchased the land on the scenic shores of the Lac des Deux Montagnes in 1986 and began building the Château Vaudreuil. In March 1989, the hotel opened its doors for business. It boasts the Pavillon sure le Lac (a magnificent standalone banquet and meeting facility), Villa d’être Restaurant and 116 suites on 25 acres of gardens. A large terrace and covered tents allow activities to expend outdoors, weather permitting.

Their executive suites offer a view of the calming waters of the Lac des Due Montages, 800 square feet of living space, a fireplace and Italian marble bathrooms equipped with Jacuzzi and bathrobes. The main bedroom has a double bed with a bench at the end, a comfortable sitting chair with a footrest, another two chairs, a work desk, a large flat screen TV and a clock radio with stereo sound. There is separate living room side, divided by French doors. Here you will also find a work desk, a sitting chair with footrest and a large LCD TV. You also have a comfortable table for four to eat at, a sofa-bed, a convenient in-room safety deposit box, a mini-bar and coffee machine. The room has extensive cupboard and storage space. A bit more on the bathrooms. These deserve the “Wow” factor. Besides being very large, there are two separate sinks, superb counter space, and a shower, the Jacuzzi, a bidet, a small stool to sit on, a telephone and even a television with a remote.

The hotel offers spa service, a fitness room, a beautiful indoor pool and whirlpool, an in-season tennis court and fantastic banquet facilities for weddings and corporate functions. This is indeed a picturesque locale for a couple to say their vows and the hotel can accommodate groups from 20 to 500 guests. Some ceremonies and receptions occur lakeside.

Outdoor

Over the last few years, the Chateau Vaudreuil has become a very popular for Jewish weddings. It has a kosher kitchen, partnerships with two prominent kosher caterers (Tradition/Romano Giorgi and Black Tie/Ernie) and hosts other Jewish functions and business meetings. The Villa d’Este Restaurant even goes the extra mile. Guests requiring kosher meals need only provide 24 hours notice. Breakfast will be brought to your room, with lunch and dinner served in the dining room. This option has greatly increased the number of Jewish guests choosing the hotel, especially those coming by car from Ontario. For more information call (800) 363-7896.

JEWISH HISTORY: People might be surprised to learn about the area’s fascinating Jewish history.

Historian Elaine Steinberg has done extensive research on this subject She recently shared her findings with the Jewish Genealogical Society of Montreal.

Forty years ago Steinberg moved her family across the Ile aux Torte Bridge and never looked back. There are 24 municipalities in the MRC. Steinberg says she moved her family off-island to accommodate her lifestyle. “The Hudson area was well known for its horsey activities,” she says. “I was a young mom with a stable of horses, a menagerie of dogs, a passion for gardens and was teaching half days at Jewish People’s and Peretz Schools in Montreal.”

Given that Steinberg was the first Jewish member of certain clubs associated with Hudson, people assumed that the Steinbergs were one of the first Jewish families throughout all of Vaudreuil-Soulanges. That was until two years ago when Jean Luc Brazan, archivist at Centre d’ histoire de la Presqu’ile in Vaudreuil, chanced upon an early nineteenth century notarial will of a Jew living in the region. It was the sign she needed to begin doing some research.

Descendants shared photos and family lore while village storekeepers had stories to tell as well. Stephan the butcher turned out to be the guardian of the oral story, maintaining a tradition of handing down stories from one generation to another. “Villagers showed me photos, opened their homes and told stories of a Jewish pedlar,”

For reasons unknown, Vaudreuil -Soulanges Jewish history was left unattended, says Steinberg. “When I returned to reclaim it, our history was in a strange state,” she noted. “Sometimes other cultures had claimed it, or it was edited out; or it became a myth by virtue of unresolved facts.”

Despite living in various villages on different dates, the pioneer families shared certain tendencies. They affiliated with a synagogue, stimulated the village economy, were figuratively embraced by their rural community and educated their children to the benefit of Montreal at large and the Jewish community therein.

Steinberg still lives in Vaudreuil West, on the doorstep of Hudson where her children grew up “Although Jewish homes are dotted throughout the region, I think the St. Lazare municipality is the new Jewish frontier,” she says. “It has the highest density and a Chabad rabbi since 2010. Rabbi Nechum Labkowski. It is not far from Dollard des Ormeaux, about 20 minutes, where a lot of Jews live.”
In fact, there are some 200 Jewish families who affiliate with the St. Lazare Chabad

“Strong communities grow on the foundation of stories, of having a sense we stand on the shoulders of ancestors,” Steinberg says. “Heritage gives us pride of place, a right to be and the right to return as we say in Israel. The ‘past’ and ‘future’ make good partners. The younger generation need to hear this. Recently a youngster from the Jewish community indicated to me that she stored greater value in the future than the past.

DEVELOPMENT: Vaudreuil–Dorion continues to gain notice as cost efficient and quality place to live. Developments like Les Perles de la Gare at the corner of Emile Bouchard (formerly André Chartrand) and Les Perles sur le Parc on Toe Blake Street are attracting a lot of attention.

A sophisticated contemporary complex designed by architect Karl Fischer, Les Perles de la Gare includes three, six storey buildings all interconnected underground in one large indoor parking garage. The first phase of the project, a 58 unit mix of one, two and three bedroom units with private balconies, is complete and fully occupied. Developpement Diamant has broken ground on the second phase while work on the third will come soon after. The latter two will have 50 units. A special amenity building is open now and includes a magnificently large indoor pool, a modern gym, a changing room, a party/play room. The roof top will be fully landscaped as an outdoor garden.

The units range from 717 to 1609 square feet, not including the balconies. Each building has two elevators. Prices range between $181,900 and $399,000, including taxes, indoor parking and lockers.

Project manager Ariel Yudelevich says the response from those already residing in the project and others stopping by the sales office has been exceptionally positive. “You really could not ask for a much better location,” he reasons. “We are 200 metres from the AMT commuter train station, so for anyone who works in Montreal it could not be more convenient. Thus far we have seen many seniors who wanted to downsize from a home to newly married couples and singles from the West Island and the city who cannot afford the price of a condo where they live now.”
The complex is also right next to the Trans Canada Highway, a new $25 million sports complex, and ample shopping options. The main CLSC complex of Vaudreuil-Dorion, a mere 100 metres walking distance from the project, is under construction and expected to open in October 2014.
The project encompasses 50,000 square feet of court yard space, including pave-uni walkways, grass, trees, plants and a gazebo. It is all adjacent to the city bike path.

Partnering with Yudelevich, a civil engineer, are experienced property developers Joe Levine and Amos Sochaczevski. They have already worked together on another project close by called Les Perles Sur le Parc, a grouping of eight and 16 plexes built right on Emile Bouchard Street in the new section of Vaudreuil-Dorion. Each of the buildings is immediately across or a few steps away from a local green space outfitted with a new park. A hundred condos in previous phases have all been sold and occupied while in the new phase of 16 plexes on Toe Blake Street, the first building (125-127 Toe Blake) has also been sold and occupied while in the most recent phase at 131-133 Toe Blake, 30 percent is already sold and ready for delivery now. Prices in this project start at $179,900, with taxes and include exterior parking.

It was Sochaczevski who came up with the novel idea of naming many the streets after Montreal Canadiens greats. Besides Blake and Bouchard, there are Sylvio Mantha, Lorne Worsley, Claude Provost, Maurice Richard, Elmer Lach, Aurele Joliat, Howie Morenz, Jacques Plante and Jean Beliveau.

Vaudreuil-Dorion is recognized as Canada’s fastest growing municipalities.

The sales office for Les Perles de la Gare, located at 5 Edouard Lalonde, is open Monday to Thursday from noon to 7 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m.and the sales office for Les Perles Sur Le Parc, located at 125 Toe Blake Street, is open on Saturday and Sunday from Noon to 5 p.m. and on weekdays by appointment.

At the present time Developpement Diamant is offering an amazing spring promotion at Les Perles sur le Parc on Toe Blake: no condo fees for two years! Meanwhile, at Les Perles de la Gare on Edouard Lalonde, free air conditioning and much more.

For more information call 450-424-3888, email info@developpementdiamant.com or log on to http://www.developementdiamant.com.

Buffalo, New York

My family and I recently spent some time in Buffalo, New York to visit friends. Buffalo (www.visitbuffaloniagara.com) is the commercial, political and entertainment hub of an eight-county region of western New York State consisting of nearly 1.6 million people. Located at the easternmost end of Lake Erie, overlooking the Niagara River, Buffalo is just across the Peace Bridge from Ontario.

Buffalo is only a 20-minute drive to and from Niagara Falls and its array of world class tourist attractions, including the Maid of the Mist sightseeing boat and the Cave of the Winds, a web of wooden catwalks and staircases accessed through a tunnel in the rock behind the American Falls that provide spectacular up-close views of the cataract.

WHAT TO DO: Retail destinations include malls like the Walden Galleria, Boulevard Mall, Eastern Hills Mall, Fashion Outlets of Niagara and the McKinley Mall, as well as eclectic and charming shopping districts such as Buffalo’s Elmwood Village, Hertel Avenue, Williamsville, Clarence Center and the village of East Aurora. If you want to check out a quaint little town, take a drive to Hamburg with its neat downtown area of shops and one big movie house.

How much time do you have? The Buffalo area has outstanding theatre, a world-class orchestra, architecture tours, nightlife along the resurgent Chippewa Street and one of the world’s top collections of modern art at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. Sports lovers will find Buffalo Bills football, Buffalo Sabres hockey and Buffalo Bisons baseball, as well as major college football, basketball and hockey. For people with an appetite, there are a wealth of charming bistros and restaurants serving local specialties such as “Buffalo” chicken wings, as well as truly affordable fine cuisine.

Nearby attractions include Darien Lake, New York State’s largest amusement park; the “Grand Canyon of the East” at Letchworth State Park; the internationally-renowned Victorian village at the Chautauqua Institution; the Erie Canal; the oldest buildings on the Great Lakes at Old Fort Niagara; the Seneca Niagara Casino and the Genesee Country Village and Museum, the country’s third-largest living history museum.

Among some of the family attractions to look out for are the Buffalo Zoo, the Buffalo Museum of Science, Explore ‘n’ More Children’s Museum, the Amherst Museum, Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum, Martin’s Fantasy Island Amusement Park, the Aquarium of Niagara, Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours, Old Fort Niagara and the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park.

We saw a movie at the Regal Transit Center Stadium 18 & IMAX at 6707 Transit Road in Williamsville, a mere 10 minutes from our hotel. I always enjoy seeing a movie at the Regal chain (www.regmovies.com). As the name of the complex says, this is stadium seating. There is a large parking lot and very friendly staff.

For special needs patrons, most of the movies shown offer closed captioned equipment upon request. There are listening devices for the hearing impaired and wheelchair access. Go to their website and at the bottom of the homepage under Theatres, click on the Captioning and Descriptive Video link. This page will provide you with a list of theatres, sorted by state. Click on the state in which your theatre is located. This page will provide a list of what movies are being shown that offer the captioning and descriptive audio, as well as their show times. If you go online to Fandango.com and locate the theatre, movie and showtime the website will list if closed captioning is available for that performance. Upon arriving at the theatre location, printed materials are available that explain how to use the closed captioning system. Staff members and managers are knowledgeable on the closed captioning system and can assist with any specific questions you may have.

Regal Entertainment Group (NYSE: RGC) operates the largest and most geographically diverse theatre circuit in the United States, consisting of 7,342 screens in 576 theatres in 42 states along with Guam, Saipan, American Samoa and the District of Columbia.

WHERE TO STAY: In terms of accommodations, we were very fortunate to come across the brand new Staybridge Suites Buffalo Amherst, at 1290 Sweet Home Road, adjacent to the University at Buffalo –SUNY North Campus. Resting on the eastern shore of Lake Erie, the suburb of Amherst provides great access to entertainment, restaurants and attractions. Buffalo Niagara International Airport (BUF) is eight miles away. It turned out to be an excellent location. Having only opened on November 11, 2013, general manager Shannon Ruth, assistant GM Sarah Esposito and their team really provide a welcoming atmosphere.

This is an extended stay pet friendly hotel, which offers studios, one bedroom and two bedroom/ two bathroom suites, as well as an indoor saltwater pool, a fitness room, an in-season BBQ Pavillion with grills and complimentary guest laundry. You also get a full hot breakfast each morning, along with evening social receptions Tuesday through Thursdays. We chose the two bedroom option and for three of us it offered the kind of personal space one is not normally accustomed to during a family stay in a hotel. With a king size bed (and one amazingly comfortable reading chair) in the master bedroom, two double beds in the other and a pullout couch in the living room two families could happily share the premises. We also appreciated the 24 hour free coffee, tea, hot chocolate, milk, juices and soft drinks, the “Great Room” where you can hang out with business associates and the “Den,” filled with books, games and lots of comfy little nooks.

Each hotel room is furnished with a 42 inch flat screen HD TV, DVD players, IPod docking stations, alarm clocks and fully equipped kitchens, complete with pots, pans and utensils. There is good workspace and wireless internet. This property even has additional storage units available on each floor.

This is the eighth property opened by the folks at Ellicott Development and over the next couple of years they plan many more. You can see the others at http://www.ellicottdevelopment.com/portfolio/hotels. They range from luxury boutique to other extended stay locales. You can call 1 877 660 8550 for reservations or do so online at www.staybridgesuites.com/amherstny.

The Staybridge Suites is well equipped for guests with special needs. This includes the public entrance, guest rooms, the registration desk, the dining area, the exercise facility, the pool and the business center. In fact, both the pool and whirlpool are furnished with lifts for the handicapped.

The hotel provides accessible self parking, van accessible self parking, communications kits with visual alarms and notification devices, TTY for guest use and closed caption televisions

DINING OUT: There are no shortages of places to dine in the area. Busy Maple Road and Niagara Falls Boulevard are minutes away and features a slew of restaurants, from Denny’s and IHOP to Red Robin to one of the USA’s great seafood chains the Bonefish Grill (www.bonefishgrill.com), That was on our “to do” list for this trip, but we were not able to squeeze it into the schedule so I will wait until we visit another town where one of their 300 plus locations exists. For kosher restaurants, log on to http://yibuffalo.org/food.html. At the Tops grocery store on Maple there is a full kosher section, including food you can take back to the hotel and enjoy.

SPECIAL NEEDS: Here is something I did not know. Buffalo is home to the only “bricks and mortar” museum in the U.S. dedicated to the history of people with disabilities called The Museum of disABILITY History. It is located at 3826 Main Street. Visitors and those who see its travelling exhibits, enjoy wide-ranging topics like disability and pop culture, the wide world of disability and sports, and the evolution of adaptive equipment, among many others, illustrated by photos, rare books and historic artifacts – truly a unique experience. Group tours are available. To schedule a tour, call 716-629-3626, 716-629-3626 or log on to http://museumofdisability.org.

Toronto Downtown

There is no question about it. Toronto (www.seetorontonow.com), Canada’s largest city, is a great place to spend time at any point during the year. My family and I go there at least once a year, generally staying in the downtown area. Between the multiple attractions, live musical theatre, great shopping and fine dining opportunities there is never a dull moment.

HOCKEY HALL OF FAME: For more than two decades I have been visiting Toronto (www.seetorontonow.com) at least once a year. There were times that for work purposes I’d be there as often as once a month, yet for some reason I never made it a priority to visit the Hockey Hall of Fame (www.hhof.com). During my most recent stop, I made it a priority to place this on my agenda. It is located downtown in Brookfield Place at the corner of Yonge and Front Streets.

Visitors are told to pretty much allocate several hours to explore Toronto’s premier hockey attraction and I did just that. Montreal fans will enjoy experiencing a replica of the Canadiens dressing room at the old Forum, complete with sweaters of such greats as Ken Dryden and Guy Lafleur. There are small and large TV monitors in various sections and the Habs room you can hear the golden voice of our very own Dick Irvin narrating a film about Stanley Cup dynasties.

Guests can take shots at real-time goalies (I scored on one of five shots), stop the shots of legends Gretzky and Messier, call the play-by-play of some of hockey’s greatest goals (I chose a Guy Lafleur goal to describe), view hockey flicks like Stanley’s Game Seven, (hockey’s first 3D film and 30 minutes of great entertainment) in one of two theatres, get up close and personal with the Stanley Cup and explore the largest collection of hockey memorabilia in the world. There are separate sections for international hockey, the old World Hockey Association and vintage jerseys from teams which no longer exist. If you are a student of the game, you will spend a lot more time here. There is so much history to read and analyze, such as the space allocated for Hall of Fame inductees. This is a museum and entertainment destination like no other, one suited for the whole family and kids of all ages!

The Hockey Hall of Fame was established in 1943 to honour and memorialize individuals who have brought special distinction to the game of hockey and those who made outstanding contributions to the development and advancement of hockey anywhere in the world, and to collect, research, preserve, exhibit and promote objects, images and other historical materials connected with the game at all levels.

On June 18, 1993, the Hall opened the doors of its current home in Brookfield Place (formerly BCE Place). The new $35 million facility comprised 57,000 square feet, including 10,000 square feet in the magnificently restored Bank of Montreal building, with the balance in the Shopping/Food Court Concourse level at BCE Place. This quickly established a reputation as a world-class sports and entertainment facility and one of Toronto’s prime tourist attractions, with over 500,000 visitors in its first year.

General admission is $17.50. It is $11 for youth (four to 13), $13 for seniors (65 and over) and free for children under three. The entrance is conveniently located right next to a large food court.

CANADA’s WONDERLAND: During the summer make it a point to visit Canada’s Wonderland (www.canadas-wonderland.com), this country’s premier theme park with over 200 attractions, 68 thrilling rides, North America’s greatest variety of roller coasters, and Splash Works, a 20-acre water park featuring over two million gallons of heated water fun.

ONTARIO SCIENCE CENTRE: Also check out the Ontario Science Centre (www.ontariosciencecentre.ca), home to interactive experiences with science and technology. This place not only develops and sources the world’s best exhibitions – supplemented with relevant programming to provide engaging experiences – but it aims to make a fundamental difference in the lives of visitors by providing them the skills and attributes to create a better future for the planet.

The Science Centre aims to enrich people’s lives and their understanding by engaging them in science that is important on local, national and global scales. They do this by offering top science experiences, memorable exhibitions, engaging programs and breathtaking films so that visitors can do far more than observe. They can interact and participate.

Built into the slope of the Don Valley, the Science Centre contains an array of inspiring spaces. The Weston Family Innovation Centre puts discovery, literally, in the hands of visitors – and in spring 2012 evolved with all-new, fascinating exhibits. KidSpark is the extremely popular hall designed for children under eight to learn, explore and create.

In Space, find the wonders of the galaxy, the quests of astronauts and a state-of-the-art planetarium. A Question of Truth challenges beliefs and Mindworks delves into the mysteries of the human brain. Living Earth delivers natural wonder, including a simulated tornado and a full rainforest environment. The Science Arcade is a fan favorite with a complete hands-on science experience that includes the famous electricity demo. A rich variety of programming is presented throughout the year. And of course, they have what is still Ontario’s only IMAX® Dome theatre – reason in itself to visit.

NEW SHOPPING EXPERIENCE: Premium Outlets held its grand opening in August 2013 and became the first Premium Outlet mall in Canada. With 79 centres internationally, this upscale outlet mall features over 85 stores including Kate Spade, Coach, and Michael Kors. Simon’s Premium Outlets are centres where shoppers can expect impressive collections of high quality outlet stores from the finest brands in unique outdoor settings and savings of 25 to 65 percent every day. torontopremiumoutlets.ca

King Tours operates a daily shuttle service from Toronto’s Union Station to the new Premium Outlet Shopping Centre. The $30 roundtrip ticket includes a VIP Coupon Book and schedule information. torontotours.ca/vip. Meanwhile, Vaughan Mills outlet mall and shopping centre has an $87- million redevelopment and expansion project. Once completed, Vaughan Mills will
feature 19 major tenants and 250 stores, creating an unprecedented retail mix in Canada within 118,000 square metres (1.27 million square feet) of retail space. The east side of the property will accommodate 50 new retailers and the centre’s interior and exterior architectural appeal will be enhanced. The opening of the expansion in 2014 will mark Vaughan Mills’ 10-year anniversary. Log on to www.vaughanmills.com.

THE ACQUARIUM: Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada opened its doors to the public on October 16th, 2013. I did not see it on my most recent trip, but heard good reports. The 135,000 sq. foot (12,500 sq. metre) interactive attraction showcases more than 16,000 marine animals and over 450 species. Features include a musically accompanied jelly fish exhibit, Planet Jellies; the Dangerous Lagoon’s underwater tunnel showcasing sharks, sea turtles, and stingray; touch pools with horseshoe crabs, stingrays, and bamboo sharks; rare and unique lobsters and daily live dive shows. Log on to www.ripleyaquariums.com/canada.

MUSICALS: Thanks to the presence of Mirvish Entertainment (www.mirvish.com), Toronto is the envy of every city in Canada as it regularly has Broadway calibre productions on tap at its numerous venues in the downtown area.

WHERE TO STAY: I like to stay downtown when visiting Toronto and for my family nothing beats a two bedroom suite at The Grand Hotel and Suites (www.grandhoteltoronto.com), located at the corner of Jarvis and Dundas. This is a great area to select as a base for it is in such a dynamic location. First and foremost, the amazing Eaton Centre (www.torontoeatoncentre.com) is just a few blocks away. Besides its endless array of stores and kiosks, there is an Indigo bookstore, a number of restaurants and the busy urban eatery food court, which can serve your dinner needs at good prices on a daily basis. Dundas Square, across the street, is Toronto’s answer to Times Square and always full of action. The Theatre District is nearby. We took advantage of the hotel’s daytime shuttle service, which took us door to door wherever we wanted to go.

The Grand Hotel and Suites is only 14 years old and still looks spanking new. It features 177 extraordinary guest suites. For families, the junior two bedroom suites feature spacious living room/work areas separated from the two bedroom areas by sets of double French glass doors with vertical blinds. The bedrooms areas contain king and queen size beds, LCD TVs and dual-line telephones with data port. A separate living area contains a double sofabed, TV, DVD Player, CD Player and a work desk with a dual-line telephone. There is a fully equipped kitchenette with a microwave, fridge, coffeemaker and cutlery. We got one of the recently refurbished second floor rooms.

You can slip into a plush bathrobe, use the iron and ironing board and enjoy the convenience of the laptop size in-room safe.

There is complimentary wireless internet access in each room. Indeed this place has all of the comforts of home and more, which is why many guests capitalize on the options of extended stay packages for 21 consecutive days or more. The kitchenette is a definite bonus and something kosher guests in particular will find useful as they can prepare some of their own meals. A very large Metro supermarket is just a block and and a half away. The suite has ample cupboard space to pack away the groceries.

All guests get to enjoy a splendid breakfast buffet, free of charge, with an extensive array of items to choose from. There is also a fitness centre, the two-storey neo-classical pool indoor pool (surrounded by exquisite hand painted murals) and two whirlpools on the rooftop garden, which provides a panoramic view of Toronto. The latter is a real plus and an area guests take advantage of year-round, even with below zero temperatures. When darkness falls, movies and television shows are piped on to a large white screen.

There is 24 hour room service, twice-daily maid service, valet and underground parking , a friendly concierge, a restaurant, 10,000 square feet of meeting space and a fully equipped business centre. Shuttle services are available to anywhere in the financial core. Make sure to bring your Aeroplan card in order to earn 500 miles per night.

Having the two distinct bedrooms and the middle area was a bonus I would recommend for a family spending multiple days together in a hotel room, providing just the necessary privacy.

DINNER: The Shore Club (www.theshoreclub.ca) on Wellington Street turned out to be a real treat. It is owned by noted restaurateur David Aisenstat, who was born and bred into the industry. He first learned his chops from his father Hy Aisenstat, founder of the famous Hy’s Steakhouse chain. His ability to recognize and retain talented people, and his passion for art and design, combine for what have been consecutively successful ventures in the industry. He has since continued on to become a legendary restaurateur in his own right, as the owner of The Keg Steakhouse & Bar, Hy’s Steakhouse Cocktail Bar , Gotham Steakhouse and Joe Fortes Seafood & Chop House (www.joefortes.ca) in downtown Vancouver

A vibrant restaurant and cocktail bar offering up lively ambiance, The Shore Club (which also has an Ottawa locale) is memorable for its atmosphere, professional service and outstanding cuisine. Located in the new RBC Dexia Centre, the restaurant is situated in Toronto’s bustling Entertainment District and is just steps away from prominent cultural venues such as Roy Thomson Hall, David Pecaut Square and TIFF Bell Lightbox, making it an ideal pre-performance dinner destination. It’s also within walking distance of the financial district, Rogers Centre and the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.Valet parking is available next door at the Ritz Carlton.

My family and I had dined at Joe Fortes last summer, so we knew we were in for an outstanding culinary experience. We started off by sharing an amazing Single Tier Seafood Tower featuring a king crab dip, won ton, oysters, clams, mussels and jumbo shrimp while also opting for the grilled marinated wild mushrooms. The menu includes numerous other sumptuous choices such as fried calamari, steamed clams, dungeness crab cake, apple cider smoked salmon and vanilla-battered prawns. There are a number of soups and salads. As for the main courses, you have a choice between seafood specialties such as salmon wellington, maple-glazed king salmon, smoked Alaskan black cod, herb-dusted sea bass and stuffed rainbow trout and steakhouse favorites like the New York strip, filet mignon, braised short ribs and double-cut lamb chops. As for sides and add-ons, there are no less than 21 selections from mashed potatoes and steakhouse fries to tempura-battered onion rings, fresh asparagus and braised fennel. We all went the steak and lobster route, enjoying every morsel of each. Yes, we saved just enough room for some of the home made desserts : a spectacular Black Forest cake and some keylime pie.

With its luxurious, contemporary décor, The Shore Club elevates dining to a true feast for the senses. The interior, curated by renowned designer Elaine Thorsell, pays homage to art deco ocean liners, boasting soaring ceilings, a palette of cool blue and green hues and stunning original artwork.

An interesting collection of artwork adorns the wood panel and suede walls. Whether guests are in the cocktail bar, main restaurant or dining room, beautiful works of art complement the ambiance, impeccable service and classic surf and turf fare.
The lounge features a spectacular work by celebrated Canadian artist David Bierk, whose paintings incorporate both eclectic and well-known works by masters such as Vermeer, Ingres and Manet. In this case, he draws inspiration from ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ by Vermeer, altering the scale of the original and juxtaposing it with his own moody, turbulent landscape that evokes similar scenes by connoisseurs of the genre such as Turner.

Meanwhile, if you are looking for a really fun place to spend the evening, then head to Dave & Busters (www.daveandbusters.com) at 120 Interchange Way in Vaughn. This gigantic restaurant/arcade/bar had a $3 million renovation last summer and added several hundred new seats for dining, meaning it can accommodate close to 3,000 people at a time. Enjoy the fun menu and then head out to test out the endless array of games. At one time there was reportedly talk that a D&B would surface at the downtown Pepsi Forum in Montreal. We are still waiting.

Burlington, Ontario

During the course of my life I have visited Burlington, Vermont many times, while never setting foot in Burlington, Ontario (http://www.tourismburlington.com). That all changed recently when en route to Buffalo, New York, we decided it would be nice to stop over somewhere on the way.

Burlington is conveniently located between Toronto and Niagara Falls, at the centre of southern Ontario’s “Golden Horseshoe” and has a population of 175,000.

There are some people I know who base themselves in the Burlington area when visiting Toronto. The Royal Botanical Gardens are a draw, so is hiking on the nature trails, bird watching, museums, and the galleries at the Burlington Art Centre and presentations at the Burlington Performing Arts Centre. Spencer Smith Park is the large waterfront park where the pier, discovery landing (pond, rink, and restaurant) and major festivals are held.

Looking ahead, the sweetness of Mother Nature launches spring in Burlington with the Maple Syrup Festival at Bronte Creek Provincial Park and Mountsberg Conservation Area. It’s the season to engage your sense of smell and sight with the effervescent lilacs, daffodils and more than 100,000 tulip blooms, all bursting into colour at the Royal Botanical Gardens.

In the summer the waterfront and downtown come to life with the annual Sound of Music Festival. Canada’s largest free music festival kicks off summer festivities the week leading up to Father’s Day. Stroll the downtown streets, lakeside boardwalk or Waterfront Trail; enjoy an invigorating mix of acclaimed Canadian and international performers, and emerging performers on bistro patios and the waterfront stages. There is also rock, jazz, folk, roots, pop, blues, Celtic, country and children’s entertainment – musically something for everyone. And there are many other festivals: watersports, boating, golf and outdoor activities to enjoy at local parks and beaches. Burlington also has a swimmable and sandy beach, something which really intrigues me for a future summer visit. The Beachway Park Pavilion provides change rooms, outdoor showers, seasonal concession facilities featuring the snack shack and year round washrooms. Amenities at the beach include the pavilion, parking, a pay phone, a playground, and lots of sun, sand and water. Yes, I will have to make a return trip.

Go to www.tourismburlington.com for more details.

WHERE TO STAY: I am a huge fan of the Homewood Suites brand of hotels, having stayed there on trips to Washington, Chicago and Dover (New Hampshire). Well we were fortunate to find one in Burlington at 975 Syscon Road, right next to a Hilton Garden Inn owned managed by the same Westmont Hospitality Group. There is free outdoor parking.

The spacious suites come complete with fully equipped kitchens, including a two-burner stove and full-size refrigerator. Guests can choose between studios or one or two-bedroom suites featuring separate living and sleeping areas. You can relax with a coffee in front of the fire in the hotel lodge area and grab any last-minute items at their 24-hour convenience store. Pets up to 25 pounds are welcome here. There is complimentary high-speed wireless internet access and a heated indoor pool.

Mornings start out with a hot full breakfast while complimentary evening dinner and drinks are offered as well Monday through Thursdays between 5:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. which proved to be very convenient when we checked in. They even offer a complimentary grocery shopping service.

Easily accessible from the Q.E.W (at Burloak Drive) and near Highways 403 and 407, the hotel is located in downtown Burlington right on Lake Ontario, minutes away from an extensive selection of restaurants, boutique shopping and popular attractions such as the Lion Safari Ontario.

The hotel has a mobility and hearing accessible non-smoking one bedroom suite featuring one King bed and a roll-in-shower. This suite also has a visual alarm and notification devices for the doorbell or door knock and incoming telephone calls. The kitchen, built to lower scale, is fully equipped down to utensils, and includes a full-size refrigerator, microwave, dishwasher and twin burner stove. The dining area can easily double as workspace. This suite provides a private bedroom with a HDTV and a separate living area features a full-size sleeper sofa, chair and HDTV.

DINING OUT: When looking for a good restaurant look no further than next door and the Hilton Garden Inn where the Great North American Grill has much to offer. It serves authentic American cuisine for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Located in the main floor pavilion, the restaurant offers an array of cuisine that changes with the seasons. The chef offers a “daily special” which includes a unique three-course dinner. You can choose from the extensive wine menu or enjoy a cocktail in the lounge area, complete with plasma television, or during warm periods relax outdoors on one of the patios, just off the restaurant. Not far from the hotel, on Burloak Drive, I discovered Pizza Nova (www.pizzanova.com). This is part of an Ontario chain. The thin crust large pizza we ordered was out of this world.

Albany, New York

Shopping in Albany, the capital of the State of New York, has always been a joy for my family. Crossgates Mall and the smaller, but equally impressive Colonie Center, can keep you busy for a couple of days.

We recently spent four days in Albany. With a great place to stay, excellent restaurants to choose from and, of course, the endless shopping experience, it proved to be the perfect getaway.

Albany Skyline Rejuvenate

Albany has attracted visitors for 400 years with historic sites, fabulous attractions, family-friendly amenities, and entertaining events. World-class museums, unique galleries, stunning architecture, those enticing restaurants, and welcoming accommodations can indeed keep you busy for days.  Enjoy everything from boating to skiing and biking to snow-shoeing. Albany lies at the foot of the Adirondacks and Catskill Mountains and is at the tip of the historic Hudson Valley Region. Within a short ride are neighboring Cooperstown and Saratoga Springs.

Be sure to check out the Million Dollar Staircase, the awe inspiring “Egg” at the Empire State Plaza and many diverse examples of historic house sites and public spaces such as the Pruyn House and the first Shaker Meeting House. You can visit the magnificent Gothic structure, now the Administrative Center of the State University of New York, the Delaware and Hudson, and the Albany Evening Journal Buildings, located at the base of State Street.

There is an abundance of professional theatre, music, dance, sports, and a backyard full of recreational splendors. As the crossroads of the northeast, Albany is easily accessible by car, train, and plane and is located less than three hours from New York and  Boston. I have also heard very good things about the Albany Aqua Ducks & Trolleys (www.albanyaquaducks.com), an amphibious tour and trolley tour company featuring historic tours of Albany. The Ducks offer unique, educational and fun-filled tours. You can see the historic sites and then Splash into the Hudson River for a mariner’s view of the city’s skyline and others who call the Hudson “home” including the USS Slater and Dutch Apple Cruises. The Trolleys operate a seasonal Trolley loop tour and are available year round for charters and events. The Ducks and Trolleys are available for parades, festivals, family reunions, bar/bat mitzvahs, corporate events or any special occasion that needs to be “Just Ducky!” Info: Bob Wolfgang at 518-858-9690

The Crossgates Mall is home to 250 stores, restaurants and kiosks, including big box tenants Macys, Sears, Dick’s Sporting Goods and JC Penny (now called JCP).

The vast majority of entrances are ADA accessible with ample parking distributed throughout the site.  You can rent a wheelchair at the information desk near the Macys entrance.

The Dave and  Buster’s restaurant and games and arcade chain will open its first Albany location at the Mall soon. We spent nearly seven straight hours there on a first day and went back for another three the following afternoon.

ACCOMMODATIONS: When in Albany we enjoy staying at the Cresthill Suites (www.cresthillsuites.com), an extended stay hotel located at 1415 Washington Avenue. It turned out to be most convenient for us. There were large Hannaford’s and Price Chopper grocery stores nearby, as well as plenty of restaurants, the Crossgates Mall, the Colonie Center and two movie theatre complexes. Cresthill is in fact part of a small chain, with other locales in Syracuse, NY and Wichita, Kansas.

albany sandbox world

I would strongly recommend this place for families. Our spacious two bedroom suite had all of the comforts of home, including a fully equipped kitchen with a fridge and appliances and free wireless internet. We had a comfortable living room, with a couch, chair, table and chairs, three flat screen TVs and plenty of cupboard space.  Whether you’re staying for a night or a month in any one of these suites, the hotel offers an array of services to accommodate your travel needs. In the morning, you can enjoy a complimentary breakfast, and in the evening, a light fare reception and social hour is available every Monday through Thursday.  There is daily housekeeping, same-day valet service, a grocery shopping service, free guest laundry, a fully equipped fitness center and a seasonal courtyard with a pool, patio and grills. General Manager Lisa Druckreier notes that the 10 year old property has a regular clientele who stay there for long periods of time,  be it people working on big projects in town and in construction, those relocating, fire victims and of course vacationers who want to enjoy all of the comforts of home.  The hotel has a number of handicapped accessible rooms and handicapped parking spots at the front door. There is elevator access to each floor and level crossings in the hallways.

The hotel is currently replacing sofas, chairs, ottomans and carpets in all rooms.

I found the staff at the front desk exceptionally helpful. While the room was very comfy, I also enjoyed spending time in the large lobby area and sinking into the big sofa in front of a TV.  A self service coffee, tea and hot chocolate is available 24 hours a day. For more information call 1.888.723.1655 or email info@cresthillsuites.com. You can also register online.

WHERE TO DINE:  We had a marvelous meal at Simpson’s Grille, where five chefs have shared 83 years of experience to create menus for breakfast, lunch and dinner to tantalize even the most discriminating taste buds.  This is the type of place where sole Françoise and grilled Atlantic salmon meet New York sirloin and filet mignon. The restaurant is located at The Desmond Hotel & Conference Center, a magnificent facility at 660 Albany Shaker Road.  The Desmond is also home to the AAA four diamond-rated Scrimshaw Restaurant and The Tavern, an English style pub. There is free parking.

sandbox world albany

I started off with a warm bowl of New England clam chowder. For the main course, we selected three different items:  the seafood penne alfredo, a combination of Alaskan crabmeat, jumbo gulf shrimp and Georges Bank sea scallops tossed in a garlic cream sauce; pesto herb sea scallops, coated with basil pesto and fresh herbs, broiled and finished with tomato vinaigrette; and a char grilled ribeye, 14 ounces, well marbled and full of flavor.  All main courses come with a signature house or Caesar salad, choice of potato or rice pilaf and the chef’s fresh vegetable of the day.

The menu also includes chicken, different fish entrees, prime rib of beef, filet mignon and veal piccata.

The hotel entrance is perfectly wheelchair accessible and so is the entire restaurant, located right by the front desk. This is a pretty venue, featuring booths and tables, and popular with tourists and locales.

After dinner I took the opportunity to explore the property. One section of rooms are located in an area that was once outdoors and makes for a pretty interesting view.

Not only can you log on to the restaurant’s website (http://www.desmondhotelsalbany.com/wine-and-dine/simpsons-restaurant.html) to download the menu, but you can also book your table here, which is very convenient. Simpson’s Grille is open Monday to Fridays from 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m.to 10 p.m.  On weekends they are open from 6:30 a.m.  straight through 10 p.m.

Take the time to walk around the facility before or after dinner.  It includes 323 guest rooms   and suites, complimentary Wi-Fi internet access, free parking and airport shuttle service, a newly renovated fitness center, indoor pool with Jacuzzi, 24 hour business center and two beautifully landscaped all-season atria. The conference center offers 22 unique meeting spaces and over 24,000-square-feet of flexible function space and an amphitheatre.

The Tavern is cozy, warm, inviting and considered “a place to relax and unwind.” Here folks tend to   sink into one of the leather sofas by the fireplace or root for their favorite team while watching the big screen televisions.  Cocktails, cordials and an endless line of beer taps accompany a lite fare menu of appetizers, salads, sandwiches and burgers.

Scrimshaw at The Desmond is the only AAA Four Diamond Award winning restaurant for three consecutive years in the Capital Region. It recently introduced a newly renovated fine dining room and exquisite new menu. New Chef de Cuisine Stephen Fratianni and Director of Restaurants Frank Rivera have teamed up to combine classic favorites with unique new menu offerings, including market fresh seafood options which change monthly and select table-side preparation to create a truly memorable and one of a kind fine dining experience.

The P.F Chang’s  at Colonie  Center  in Albany is top notch. We strongly recommend it to anyone passing through.

Each dish on the P.F. Chang’s  (www.pfchangs.com) menu is prepared to order using the freshest and highest quality ingredients. The environment at each location combines  influences of Chinese and American cultures. A panoramic, hand-painted mural depicting 12th century China, is visible from the main dining room and commands attention as the restaurant’s centerpiece, while several terra-cotta warriors stand guard. The majestic 11 foot  tall horses grace the entrance to many of the restaurants. This horse symbolizes the original Forbidden City in China, which was built for China’s first emperor Qin Shi Huangdi.

The Albany location has been  in operation for five years.  This was our second time there and we remembered the excellent and quick service. The menu is tantalizing and features a much appreciated calorie count next to each item. So what can Montrealers look forward to? Well, first of all the prices are very reasonable and it is highly recommended you share a few dishes. On this night my two dinner partners and I started off with some won ton and egg drop soups. The former includes pork wontons, mushrooms, fresh spinach, water chestnuts, chicken and shrimp in a savory chicken broth; the latter is the P.F. Chang’s version of the traditional soup, with egg, julienne carrots and green onion.

You really must start off with the P.F. Chang’s signature chicken lettuce wraps: wok seared minced chicken, mushrooms, green onions and water chestnuts served over crispy rice sticks with cool, crisp lettuce cups.

Select your sharing dishes wisely. My recommendation is the Mongolian beef (tender flank steak wok-cooked then quickly tossed with scallions and garlic), crispy honey shrimp (lightly battered and tossed in a sweet and tangy honey sauce with green onions), double pan-fried noodles (crisp egg noodles stir-fried with mushrooms, bok choy, carrots, celery and onions and comes with a choice of beef, pork, chicken, shrimp or vegetable) and a bowl of steamed rice.

You can check the full menu out online, including a full selection of gluten free items, lunch specials and kids choices. There is also a delicious array of signature desserts.

The sidewalk leading to the restaurant, the entrance and the entire restaurant is handicapped accessible.

AT THE MOVIES: The Albany area has some wonderful movie theatre complexes, each operated by the Regal Entertainment Group (www.regmovies.com). We have a particular fondness towards the Regal Colonie Center Stadium 13. This four year old movie complex encompasses around 64,000 square feet, with more than 2,800 seats in a total of 13 auditoriums. It is right next to two of my favorite restaurants, PF Chang`s China Bistro and the Cheesecake Factory and a huge Barnes &  Noble, great to know when you are planning an outing. The seats at this theatre are very comfortable as they swivel. We actually stopped by the evening before our show to pick up tickets in advance. You can also purchase them online at fandango.com.

Once in the theatre we were entertained by a feature called First Look, which included previews of upcoming film and DVD releases and a series of very amusing commercials. You can also log on to www.fandango.com and purchase your tickets online.

Hearing impaired devices are available upon request and the complex is very wheelchair friendly, with elevators at every level, ramps in each theatre and handicapped seating.

New Hampshire: Dover

Well this was a new stop for our family. While we originally looked at staying in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, getting a booking there was no easy task. Most of the rooms were already spoken for by government personnel attached to the Naval Shipyard and these individuals tend to stay there for extended periods of time. Always a fan of the Homewood Suites chain, I found one in the suburb of Dover (www.dovernh.homewoodsuites.com). This is part of the Lafrance Hospitality Group (www.lafrancehospitality.com), which also owns a Comfort Inn and Suites and a Hampton Inn nearby.

Dover is about 15 minutes from Portsmouth and 25 from beautiful Rye Beach. You are also only a 30 minute drive from the Maine beaches.

As Michael Bolduc, head of the Greater Dover Chamber of Commerce notes, the city has a well earned reputation for thriving businesses, an expanding arts and cultural scene, a wide selection of dining establishments, a notable history, a strong sense of community and beautiful scenery. The city’s waterfront district is currently undergoing an intense beautification and revitalization effort that will only add to the quality of life. Residents and visitors alike enjoy the city’s parks, trails, and outdoor activities. For example, the self-guided historic walking tours lead to the renowned Woodman Institute Museum and other historically relevant locations that underscore the significance of New Hampshire’s first permanent settlement.

This New Hampshire Main Street community offers exceptional shopping and dining opportunities—and with no sales tax in this state, shopping dollars go so much farther. Dover’s tree-lined downtown is brimming with quaint shops, boutiques, and restaurants of all types. Dover’s cultural scene is strengthened by fine art and craft galleries, arts collective at One Washington Center, a variety of music venues (including the Rotary Arts Pavilion in Henry Law Park) and the Garrison Players theater group. Dover is also home to the Children’s Museum of New Hampshire and the Woodman Institute Museum.

The Greater Dover Chamber of Commerce presents a number of community events throughout the year, including the award- winning Cochecho Arts Festival. This free, outdoor, summer-long family concert series features an array of acclaimed entertainers and comprises the Tuesday Liberty Mutual Children’s Series, the Thursday Luncheon Concert Series, and the Friday Evening Concert Series. Apple Harvest Day, held on the first Saturday in October, draws more than 35,000 people to downtown Dover to enjoy more than 120 hand crafters, children’s activities and games, food, and more.
Dover is easily accessible from all directions. Take the I- 95 to Route 16 and use Exits 6 through 9 (8E is recommended for access to downtown). For more information visit www.dovernh.org.

WHERE TO STAY: I have always enjoyed my stays at The Homewood Suites. In Dover this was no different. Located in the heart of the business district, at 21 Members Way, this hotel is just minutes from downtown Dover and many fine restaurants and shops. It is the perfect place for short and extended stay accommodations. We were there for five days and it proved to be a great base for our activities. Their sister properties, the Comfort Inn and Suites and the Hampton Inn, also have solid reputations. General Manager Scott Goldberg has a decade of experience in the industry and he is only 29.

This Homewood Suites Dover only opened in 2008 and still looks spanking new. It offers all of this on a complimentary basis: a daily Suite Star hot breakfast buffet; dinner and beverages Monday through Thursday evenings at a Welcome Home Reception; parking; high-speed internet access; shuttle service providing transportation to the surrounding area, including downtown Portsmouth; a business center, with print, photocopy, and fax capabilities; Neutrogena bath products; a fitness center, indoor heated pool, whirlpool and outdoor patio. There is also a 24-hour Suite Shop convenience store.

With its spacious suites, fully equipped kitchens, and separate living and sleeping areas, this hotel is perfect for families who need some space and naturally a good choice for the corporate field and travellers looking to remain productive while on the road.

We really appreciated the fully equipped kitchen in our one bedroom suite, complete with full-size refrigerator, microwave oven, two-burner stove top, and coffee maker. There were two televisions with a video player, two telephones with data ports, an iron, ironing board and hair dryer. Pets are allowed here (maximum 50 pounds) for a fee of $50 a night. The third floor of the hotel is reserved for this. Just up the street are a number of restaurants, grocery stores, a Target, Walmart, TJ Maxx and more.

WHERE TO DINE: The Orchard Street Chop Shop (www.orchardstreetchopshop.com) gets my vote for the top dining option in Dover. The magnificent dining room is one of the most elegant on the seacoast. It seats 78 people at the main level, 100 upstairs and 32 on the seasonal patio. The restaurant features floor-to-ceiling stone fireplace, oversized booths, Brazilian Cherry wood floors, bronze chandeliers, and wines scattered around the open-grill dining room. This room can be separated for private dining rooms or the entire room can be booked for any special occasion.

Open Monday through Saturdays at 5 p.m. for dinner, The Orchard Street Chop Shop is housed in the original Dover Firehouse. Built in 1865 for the horse-drawn fire trucks, it is one of the oldest historic landmarks in the city. It was used as the firehouse up until the 1970’s when it was converted to the Firehouse I restaurant. It has been a dining establishment ever since.

On Easter Sunday 2003, a fire gutted the kitchen and did extensive smoke damage to both the first and second floor. The Firehouse I closed its doors for good. In January 2004, Chris Kozlowski, better known as “Koz” and owner of the famous Crescent City Bistro and Rum Bar, had the opportunity to purchase the building and began rebuilding the interior. After four short months and close to $1 million later, Koz opened up the new Orchard Street Chop Shop, a prime steakhouse. The Chop Shop is touted among the top steakhouses in northern New England, specializing in dry-aged USDA Prime steaks and an extensive all-American wine list with many older vintages.

“We get people from all over New Hampshire, Maine and northern New England,” says Koz. “The furthest reservation we have ever gotten was from Iraq. They were coming back from being stationed there and decided to call for a reservation because she wanted a big steak. That was pretty neat.”

Koz got his start as a prep cook at a small camp in Wolfeboro, NH in 1989. A few years later he then went to work in the kitchen for Hart’s Turkey Farm in Meredith, NH, a local favorite. Working there for a few summers while attending college, Koz moved up the ranks and became a kitchen supervisor by the early 1990’s. While attending college at Colby-Sawyer College, Koz studied business management with a concentration in hospitality. He soon became class president both his junior and senior years. During the summer of 1994, Koz moved down to St. Croix, U.S.V.I. and completed his internship for the Chart House restaurant corporation as one of the managers there.

During his senior year at college, Koz was accepted at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY where he started in 1996. At the CIA, Koz developed a liking for home brewing and founded the CIA Home brewers Club. Soon after, Koz got heavily involved in extracurricular activities and was elected president of the Ale & Lager Educational Society, one of the most popular clubs at the CIA. Finally, he joined the Student Council during the final year there and was voted President, the most celebrated position a student could have at the school. Koz graduated in early 1998 with the Student Council’s “Distinguished Service” award.

After graduating, Koz was offered a position brewing beer at Federal Jack’s in Kennebunkport, ME, Shipyard Brewing Company’s pilot brewery. After working there for a few months, Koz moved up the ranks and became head brewer before leaving there in the winter of 1998. He then went back to work as sous chef for the William Tell Restaurant in Campton, NH under the highly acclaimed Swiss-chef, Franz Dubach. This is where Koz completed his CIA externship as well. Chef Dubach is one of Koz’s greatest culinary influences to this day.

During the summer of 1999, Koz packed his bags and moved out to Calistoga, CA to learn how to make wine at Vigil Vineyards, a small boutique zinfandel producer in northern Napa Valley. This is where Koz picked up many contacts in the wine world and rounded out his education on the beverage side of the hospitality industry.

In the winter of ’99, Koz moved back to New Hampshire and took over at the helm of the kitchen at the Governor’s Inn in Rochester. He became the youngest executive chef in the State and brought the restaurant up to a four-star establishment. After garnering many accolades at the Inn, it was time for Koz to move on and open up his own place. In September 2001, Crescent City Bistro and Rum Bar opened its doors to a very enthusiastic following. After being open for only nine short months, the restaurant had to expand to more than double its size to accommodate the following he had built.
After a few successful years, the opportunity arose to buy the Firehouse I restaurant in January 2004 after being gutted by a fire the previous year. After a number of months completely refurnishing the inside with a brand new state-of-the-art kitchen, cigar lounge, glassed-in wine room, and two new dining rooms, the Orchard Street Chop Shop opened its doors in April, 2004.
Koz has been credited with starting the new culinary renaissance in Dover and restaurateurs from all over the country are now following in his footsteps.

The Chop Shop Orchard offers the finest selections of meats and seafood, skillfully prepared with a stunning assortment of traditional steakhouse sides and sumptuous desserts – all house made. We started off our dinner with some salads (wild field green and Tuscan caprese). Two members of our party chose the eight ounce petit filet mignon while I opted for the 14 ounce Delmonico steak. Each main item comes with your choice of two sides. The smashed potatoes won us over.

WHAT TO DO: The Children’s Museum of New Hampshire (www.childrens-museum.org),The Woodman Institute Museum ( www.woodmaninstitutemuseum.org), the Jenny Thompson Swimming Pool (http://www.ci.dover.nh.us/rec_jtpool.htm) represent popular stops for visitors. There are also walking tours and jaunts on trails and at parks to consider. Check out dovernh.org/things-to-do for more details.

SHOPPING: Fox Run Mall is a one level enclosed regional shopping center located in Newington, 15 minutes from Dover. It is the only regional shopping center within a 40-mile radius and features national tenants including Macys, JC Penny, LOFT, Abercrombie & Fitch, PacSun, Express, Victoria’s Secret, Bath & Body Works, Gap, Men’s Wearhouse, American Eagle Outfitters, Pandora and Hollister Co. New Hampshire does not have a sales tax which draws shoppers from neighboring states of Maine and Massachusetts.

Maine: Portland

Three years after our first family vacation to Maine, we returned recently and once again chose Portland (www.portlandmaine.com) as our base. We really enjoyed the accommodations at the Embassy Suites last time, so that certainly helped with our decision when they had availability and the spacious two bedroom suite we had our eyes on. This was a significant upgrade for my family. The large living room in the middle was perfect for me to work late into the evening or early in the morning without disturbing anyone.

Portland is Maine’s business, financial and retail capital and the largest city in the state. Seascapes and cityscapes blend harmoniously in Portland, perched on a peninsula, jutting out into island-studded Casco Bay. The metropolitan hub of Maine’s south coast region, Portland is a progressive, lively city incorporating the character of yesteryear into a modern urban environment. Historic architecture blends gracefully with the new as you stroll along her working waterfront or the cobblestone streets of the restored Old Port section of the city.
With a metro population of 230,000, the Greater Portland area is home to almost one quarter of Maine’s total population. The city itself has 64,000 residents. Their economy is strong and bumper-to-bumper traffic and gridlock are unheard of. Portland is an easygoing city, with friendly, hardworking people. Ranked nationally as one of the ten safest, culturally most fascinating US Cities and one of the top cities for doing business, it is no wonder 3.6 million tourists a year visit, including 41,000 cruise ship passengers.

In the Old Port, great brick buildings, once warehouses for local merchants, now hold a myriad of original shops, galleries and restaurants. Its history intricately bound to the sea, Portland remains proud of its working waterfront and the celebrated beauty of its rock-bound coast. The waterfront provides access to the sea for commercial shipping and a host of pleasure activities.
Portland boasts a thriving arts scene and an exclusive Downtown Arts District. As one of the premier cultural centers in northern New England, Portland’s visual and performing arts rival those of regions much larger in size. Stroll through the world-class Portland Museum of Art, or wander the cobblestone streets in search of local galleries. Shop for gourmet foods in the bustling Public Market and in the evening dive into a nightlife that features award-winning local brews and a flourishing live-music scene. From classical to cutting-edge, performing and visual arts are vibrantly alive in Portland and infuse the region with a surprising sophistication.

WHERE TO STAY: The Embassy Suites Portland, Maine hotel (www.portland.embassysuites.com) is centrally located and right next to the Portland Jetport. It is just four miles from the famed Old Port. Moreover, the hotel is just a few miles from Maine’s beaches and scenic walking, hiking, and biking destinations. What I like best is the easy five minute drive to the beautiful Maine Mall and known chain restaurants such as Ruby Tuesday’s, IHOP, Pizza Uno Chicago Grill, Friendly’s and even a Tim Horton.

All accommodations feature two flat screen televisions, a refrigerator, microwave oven and coffee maker, complimentary wireless high-speed internet access, two telephones and a comfortable work area with desk. There are 119 suites in the hotel. Only five are of the two bedroom variety so book those early. KTB Hospitality owns this hotel and five others in the state.

You can start your day here with a complimentary cooked-to-order breakfast, including omelettes and pancakes. Grab a bagel and coffee on your way to a business event or to Portland’s attractions. In the evening, the atrium lobby is the site for the complimentary Manager’s Reception. Here you can sip a cocktail or refreshing beverage and enjoy a variety of snacks. You also have the option of savouring fresh local seafood and American cuisine at Café Stroudwater, their casual restaurant.


Looking to stay in shape? Work out in the state of the art fitness center or swim laps in the indoor pool, which as of this writing is about to get a facelift. The BusinessLink Business Center enables you to remain productive and manage work-related tasks. This is a popular spot to host a business conference or special event for up to 100 guests in one of their flexible meeting spaces. There is complimentary outdoor parking, always a bonus.

The hotel is located at 1050 Westbrook Street. For more information call 207-775-2200 or 1-800-Embassy.

DINING: Greater Portland offers a robust selection of restaurants, specialty foods and brewpubs, totalling over 200 dining choices. The amount of money spent in restaurants per capita ranks third in the country, behind San Francisco and New York. Local foods are featured at century-old outdoor farmers’ markets, a new year-round public market, and at a variety of smaller specialty stores that offer a blend of prepared, imported and local foods. The microbrew industry is well represented in Greater Portland with nearly 20 breweries, some recognized nationally.
We were directed towards David’s Restaurant (www.davidsrestaurant.com), located at 22Monument Square in the Arts District. Owner David Turin is an award winning chef and artist in residence.
David’s has a pretty extensive menu, from an array of soups, salads and appetizers to meat, seafood and pasta dishes. There are also daily specials. One member of our party chose the open faced lobster “ravioli” which included Maine lobster, day boat scallops, Gulf shrimp, herbed ricotta and sherried lobster cream. Given the fact that the other two individuals at the table were having a very difficult time making any selections, we were offered a tasting menu. This was indeed a treat. It started off with some greens (arugula, spiced pecans, blue cheese, shaved red onion and black currant vinaigrette). I actually substituted that portion for a delicious blend of David’s clam chowder, containing thyme, brown sugar and bacon. A sampling of lobster was next, butter poached, with chanterelle risotto cake, citrus truffle and micro salad. This was followed by tuna (pepper crusted sushi rare, sesame peanut soba noodles, Szechuan citrus sauce and asparagus), sorbet (honeydew with cucumber vodaka), ravioli (forest mushrooms, leeks, shallots, oven dried tomatoes, goat cheese, arugula and Madeira truffle sauce), duck (crispy skin, garlic, ginger and soy with sesame spinach and mushroom risotto) and finally some ice cream (sea salt and caramel, chocolate sauce and crumbled chocolate cookies).

BEACHES: As far as beaches go, our original plan was to commute to Old Orchard Beach. But then our hotel recommended Scarborough and Crescent Beaches. Both are popular family swimming beaches with fine sand, picnic tables, snack bars and washrooms. There is parking, albeit of a nominal fee, but it is fine spot to relax and take in the sun.

Maine:Cape Elizabeth

Extending 12 miles into open ocean, rimmed by craggy shores and sandy beaches, the Maine town of Cape Elizabeth (www.capeelizabeth.com) marks the entrance to spectacular Casco Bay.

We were lured to Cape Elizabeth by a beautiful resort called The Inn by the Sea (www.innbythesea.com). Voted a World’s Best Hotel by Travel + Leisure Magazine, 2011, this very pet friendly venue is located on a mile of sandy beach and just 15 minutes from Portland. There are 61 guest rooms, suites and cottages making the property the perfect luxury Maine beach hotel for couples or family travel. Rauni Kew, the head of public relations and green programs, gave me a tour of the property. Rauni gave me a peek at some of the extraordinary and spacious rooms, including one of 10 new ocean view, luxury one and two bedroom suites. Meanwhile, she also showed me a stylish loft one bedroom suite. They both had nice outdoor balconies, full kitchens, lavish bathrooms, gas fireplaces, flat screen TVs and ipod docking stations.

The Sea Glass restaurant offers panoramic views of Crescent Beach from its intimate dining room or al fresco deck. Chef Mitchell Kaldrovich features the best of Maine’s oceans and farms in his seasonally appropriate menus. Here you can enjoy signature cocktails or selections from an award-winning wine list. Both the hotel and the restaurant are involved with an underutilized seafood program orchestrated by the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, (GMRI)- which includes local fishermen, regional talented chefs and GMRI’s research to interest restaurant diners to enjoy lesser known, but delectable seafood fresh from the Gulf of Maine.

“By eating underappreciated fish, that are both delicious and abundant, we help the sustainability of Maine’s fishing industry, the fishermen, and the health of the Gulf of Maine,” explains Rauni.

Chef Kaldrovich marries the freshest regional ingredients with his Argentine roots to create a unique and memorable culinary experience. Sea Glass serves breakfast, lunch and dinner year-round and an all-day light fare menu in the lounge. Hours vary by season and reservations are recommended by calling 207.799.3134 or booking online. It is open to the public. We enjoyed a delicious lunch by the lovely salt water heated pool, sharing some pita and hummus, a grilled chicken Caesar salad and a Maine lobster roll.

This venue has been nationally recognized for its green and pet-friendly hotel practices. It is a particularly popular spot for weekend getaways, wedding celebrations at the beach or group meetings.


Spa at Inn by the Sea offers a full complement of beach inspired body treatments, massages and aesthetics. Here you can unwind and be soothed by luxurious facials, massages and treatments. There are six elegantly appointed treatment rooms and private spaces for men and women, featuring relaxing steam and experience showers. The Spa offers a full array of natural and maritime-inspired massages, facials and body treatments. A room-for-two can be reserved for treatments with that special someone and men’s and women’s sanctuaries allow for quiet repose before and after spa services. The spa was designed and built with eco-friendly materials and offers treatment products that specifically complement our reputation for environmental responsibility while offering natural chemical-free ingredients to promote wellness. One member of our party enjoyed an extraordinary relaxing massage while raving about the therapist. The Spa is open to the public, but try to make a reservation as far in advance as possible.

The hotel is just around the corner from the Portland headlight, commissioned by George Washington. This is one of the oldest and most famous lighthouses in the country and its small museum represents a fun stop. The lighthouse has been painted by numerous artists. There is also a wonderful nature walk around the 125 acre Great Pond behind the Inn.

The boardwalk that leads to the beach is 150 yards long. Pool attendants walk umbrellas and chairs to and from the beach and set them up for guests. They will also help carry beach toys and other items.

RECREATION: Inn by the Sea and the surrounding area is rich in scenic and recreational opportunities. Outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy a hundred outdoor activities like fishing, boating, sports of many kinds, and exploring nature. Culture vultures will find music, theatre, museums and more just a few minutes away in Portland.

Crescent Beach State Park opened in 1966. Sandy oceanfront beaches, saltwater coves, wooded areas, and rock ledges provide seashore recreation for beachgoers, fishing and water sports enthusiasts, and nature observers. Crescent Beach State Park is a classic saltwater beach park with beach grass-studded sand dunes, ocean breezes, herring gulls, picnic areas and views of fishing boats and an offshore island.
The park’s signature feature and namesake is a mile-long, crescent-shaped beach ideal for strolling and sunbathing, where relatively warm waters and light surf make swimming and boating a pleasure. A few feet from the crowded summer sands are trails for walking and nature watching. In the off-season when the park is closed to vehicles, walkers are welcome to enjoy the tranquility of the beaches and trails. In the winter, visitors can hike or cross-country ski on paths under a canopy of snow-covered evergreen boughs.

Maine: York and Perkins Cove

YORK MAINE AND PERKINS COVE: From our base in Dover, New Hampshire recently, we spent a day in York Harbour, Maine (www.gatewaytomaine.org) – a mere 30 minute drive and moved over to Perkins Cove in the Ogunquit area for the evening.

York is considered the Gateway to the Maine Beaches. We were there a few years ago to visit their wonderful zoo –York’s Wild Kingdom. This time we decided to spend the day at the Stage Neck Inn (www.stageneck.com), a complete boutique resort in the New England tradition. The Inn is situated at the mouth of the York River, with breathtaking ocean and harbor views at every turn. Resort facilities include a fitness room with sauna, indoor atrium pool with Jacuzzi, sandy beach, oceanside fresh-water pool with snack bar, seasonal clay tennis courts, spa treatments at The Spa at Stage Neck and 18-hole golf privileges at two of the area’s finest courses: the Ledges and the Links at Outlook. Other renowned courses are nearby.

Stage Neck Inn is on the ocean’s edge, adjacent to York Harbor Beach. This is a beautiful sandy beach with a gradual incline, making it ideal for wading. The tides vary throughout the day. You’ll enjoy the sound of the waves on the sand, as well as on the rocky peninsula upon which the Inn is situated. The crannies and nooks of the cliffs are an excellent spot for beach combing for shells and for other treasures. Beyond the beach is a scenic cliffwalk which takes you past the “summer cottages” of York Harbor. About a mile from the Inn is Long Sands Beach which offers a long expanse of sandy beach with views of the Nubble Lighthouse. York is also home to Short Sands beach, which offers a beach-resort atmosphere with an arcade, band stand, playground as well as restaurants and shops.

The Stage Neck Pool and Tennis Club features a gorgeous, oceanside fresh water swimming pool. It is open in the summer months only. The area includes lounge chairs and tables with umbrellas for those who don’t want to get too much sun. The pool offers harbor views, ocean views, and views of the Inn and stately seaside “cottages.” They also have a nice lunch menu, with a unique ordering formula. All you need to do is take a red flag and stick it in the ground near your poolside spot. A server then comes over and takes your order. This is one place my family and I hope to explore more of at a future date.

PERKINS COVE: Perkins Cove (http://www.ogunquitmaine.com/Perkins-Cove.html) is a small but popular artist colony and tourist area in Ogunquit, with shops, restaurants, lodging facilities and breathtaking views of the ocean. It is also known for its historical trail known as the Marginal Way. Once recognized as a fishing village, Perkins Cove is now an outdoor mall of shops and boutiques. It has been a favorite place for artists, painters and tourists for generations and represents a great place to spend a day and or evening strolling the shops, the Marginal Way and having fresh seafood at area restaurants. It’s even better to spend a few days or a week exploring the entire area, including Ogunquit and nearby towns like Wells and other nearby coastal towns. Somehow I never even stepped foot in the area during my last visit.

I must confess that during my previous trip to Ogunquit I never even knew Perkins Cove existed. It was Israeli-born neighbor Chaim who sang the area’s praises, insisting that we visit the next time we traveled to Maine.

We had an amazing dinner at MC Perkins Cove (www.mcperkinscove.com), which I must recommend as “the spot” to dine there. It offers spectacular ocean views with contemporary American food created by James Beard Award winning chefs Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier of Arrows Restaurant. The upscale casual setting offers a raw bar, lounge, two bars, two beautiful dining rooms, and a private dining room all overlooking the crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean. MC offers lunch and dinner as well as a bar menu throughout the evening, a full bar and extensive wine list.

Hats off to their manager, Norman Dufour. On the night we visited the lineup to get in was out the door. Despite the hectic pace, Norman handled the anxious diners with style and made sure everyone got seated and served. Members of our party started off with the Caesar Jai Lai Palace Salad and an amazing clam and haddock chowder, with potatoes, yams, saffron and tomato cream. For the main course there was so much to choose from: shrimp, lobster, fish (rainbow trout, plank roasted Atlantic salmon, swordfish brochette), chicken, steak and hamburgers. Well two of us had the steamed whole Maine lobster, served completely out of the shell in garlic butter with delicious jasmine rice on the side. The other order was an MC lobster “mac and cheese” elbow macaroni with cheddar, lobster and herb bread crumbs. We had just enough room to share an amazing homemade dessert, warm Maine blueberry and peach crisp with vanilla ice cream. Be sure to make reservations in advance at 207-646-6263. Arrive early, park and explore the area.

New Hampshire: Manchester

Recognized as New Hampshire’s commercial and industrial leader, as well as its largest city and the home of nearly 10 percent of its population, Manchester (www.manchestercvb.com) is only 58 miles from Boston.

My family and I often make a point of stopping in Manchester, either on the way to or back home from a destination either elsewhere in New Hampshire or somewhere in Maine or Massachusetts. We usually head right to the Mall of New Hampshire

SHOPPING: The Mall of New Hampshire, which has 125 specialty stores, four full-service restaurants and a 550-seat Food Court. Macy’s, JC Penney, Sears, and Best Buy serve as the anchors and a Ruby Tuesday Restaurant pleases our taste buds. There is now a new attraction in the suburb of Merrimack as Premier Factory Outlets has set up shop there. There are 100 amazing outlets here and let me tell you, this is enough of an attraction to add at least another full day for your stay.

HISTORY: Manchester first gained national fame in the 1800s as the home of the massive textile mill of the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company. Nearly five million yards of cloth were shipped weekly from the mill, which employed thousands of workers and covered more than eight million square feet. The mill thrived until the 1920s, when competition from southern mills and obsolete technology took their toll. In 1935, Amoskeag went bankrupt. Despite losing its major employer, Manchester rebuilt itself as a commercial and industrial center by diversifying industries.

Today Manchester is home to a melting pot of high tech companies, banks, business services enterprises, retailers, manufacturers and health care professionals. Commerce is just one part of Manchester’s appeal. The city is also the focal point of the state’s cultural community and home to many of the region’s eight colleges and universities. Cultural institutions such as the Currier Gallery of Art and Palace Theatre join with the new Verizon Wireless Arena and outdoor concert venues to attract world-class performers and exhibits to the city. Performances, exhibits, classes, workshops and lectures are offered to the general public at many of the area’s institutions of higher education. Other city attractions include the Manchester Historic Association, Franco-American Centre and the SEE Science Center.

The region is made up of Manchester, the state’s largest city, and nine surrounding communities, each with a unique personality. The delight of living in the Manchester region is that you don’t have to sacrifice country living to work in the city, or vice-versa. From city apartments and historic row houses, to farms and country homesteads, the Manchester area has something to offer everyone.

ACCOMODATIONS: On our previous trips to Manchester we always stayed at a place called the Highlander Inn. Well, when I called recently to book a room the line kept ringing. When I could not find the website I knew something was wrong, so I googled the hotel name and sure enough it had closed – not due to bad business. The nearby airport needed the land.

While the Highlander may have closed, a brand new La Quinta Inn and Suites recently opened at 21 Front Street in the former Clarion Hotel. Ironically, sales manager Steve Morabito previously held the same post at the Highlander. Located in the historic Millyard district, this hotel and conference center (that part known as the Falls Center) overlooks the beautiful Amoskeag Falls. There is a convenience store in the lobby, free high-speed wireless Internet access throughout the hotel, a fitness center, business center, seasonal outdoor pool, meeting facilities, an airport shuttle and pets are welcome. Guest rooms are furnished with La Quinta’s signature pillow top mattresses, microwave, refrigerator and coffee maker, iron, ironing board, hair dryer, as well a 32 inch flat panel HDTV with over 35 HD channels from which to choose. Breakfast here is free, including waffles, hot and cold cereals, bread and muffins, fresh fruit, coffee, juice, pastries, bagels and milk.

This four floor facility has 109 rooms, including three suites. It is located off of Exit #6 of the I-293. You can call 603-669-5400 or go to www.lq.com. Rooms can start as low as $79 a night. Following a multi-million dollar year and a half renovation, Alta Properties in partnership with Roedel Companies (roedelcompanies.com) officially opened the hotel in April 2012, complete with a ribbon cutting ceremony featuring the mayor, the head of the Chamber of Commerce and La Quinta executives.

Morabito shared with me the fact that this is actually the only hotel in Manchester with an outdoor pool and a beautiful one it is, complete with comfortable lounge chairs and tables with umbrellas. We happened to be there on a very hot day and ended up extending our stay just to enjoy the pool. As of this writing work was underway to add a conference centre and restaurant to the facility.

As for guests with special needs, the hotel is fully compliant. A ramp to the pool can be accessed via the fitness room. There are five ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) accessible rooms, two with roll-in showers. All rooms/areas have smoke detectors for the hearing impaired.
David Roedel, a partner of Roedel Cos., explained that the improvements for The Falls Center and La Quinta Inn and Suites met the organization’s original objective of improving the building’s overall functionality. The site also offers the Greater Manchester community and those visiting the Queen City a completely revitalized option.
“Designed as a sister property for our award winning Hilton Garden Inn Manchester, The Falls is virtually a brand new hotel with contemporary architecture and interior design,” said Roedel. “It provides exceptional price value and excellent service that our guests will really enjoy.”

AIRPORT : Centrally located in the heart of the region’s primary business and financial district, Manchester Airport is less than an hour’s drive from the region’s most popular ski areas, scenic seacoast beaches and peaceful lakefront resorts. Easy access, ample, inexpensive parking, competitive airfares and a growing schedule of non-stop and direct jet service to leading U.S. cities make Manchester Airport a grand first impression of our city and state.

Manchester Airport is served by Air Canada, American Eagle, Continental Airlines, Continental Express, Continental Connection, Delta Air Lines, Delta Connection-COMAIR, MetroJet, Northwest Airlines, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, U.S. Airways and U.S. Airways Express.

ACCESSIBILITY: The State of New Hampshire and businesses and organizations throughout the state have made an effort to make New Hampshire accessible to all. If you are using the www.visitnh.gov website to locate lodging properties or attractions that are accessible for people with disabilities, go to the Advanced Search option from any of the search pages. You can then select « Accessible » as an option to narrow your search.
The New Hampshire Governor’s Commission on Disability is an excellent resource for information on the many services, laws, and regulations that affect citizens or visitors with disabilities. They also keep a list of recreation resources in New Hampshire that people with disabilities may be able to enjoy alone or with their families and friends. For winter sports, the Commission on Disability also maintains a list of New Hampshire ski resorts offering adaptive ski programs.

Mike Cohen’s e-mail address is info@mikecohen.ca. Log on to his travel files at www.sandboxworld.com/travel.

New Hampshire:Portsmouth

For years I have heard people speak glowingly about Portsmouth, New Hampshire (http://www.portsmouthnh.com), a city of roughly 21,000 people that sits near the mouth of the Piscataqua River, which divides New Hampshire and Maine. Settled in 1623, Portsmouth claims to be the nation’s third-oldest city. It served as a focal point on the Eastern seaboard until the late 1800s when rail travel did in the shipping industry. John Paul Jones’ ship The Ranger was built in Portsmouth, and the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard (which lies across the river in Maine) was established in 1800 as the country’s first of its kind.

The geographic location, historic past and cultural strength of Portsmouth regularly lands it on various “best places to live” lists. Prevention Magazine named Portsmouth one of the top 100 walking cities in the America for 2008. The region as whole is noted for its many restaurants, attractions and shopping opportunities, which include downtown Portsmouth, outlet malls in nearby Kittery, Maine, as well as the large Fox Run Mall in Newington.

Funky shops, elegant inns, varied restaurants and fun clubs make Portsmouth’s historic brick and cobblestone downtown one of Northern New England’s most popular tourist destinations. Anywhere you land in downtown Portsmouth, you’re never more than a 10-minute walk from your diversion of choice. From early summer right through the dead of winter, people stroll the narrow, colorful streets, watch the tugboats guide huge freighters out of the harbor, take in free outdoor by-the-sea performances at scenic Prescott Park, or just people watch in Market Square over a cup of high-octane coffee. Twice a year – Market Square Day in June and First Night Portsmouth on New Year’s Eve – the quaint downtown becomes a giant pedestrian mall dotted with street performers, vendors, musicians, and parades, and always, lots and lots of food.

There’s a lot to do in Portsmouth besides eating and shopping. Music fans can hear live bands in downtown clubs. Local theaters and the non-profit Prescott Park Arts Festival produce plays throughout the year. The historic Music Hall attracts nationally prominent performers. Local cinemas feature hard-to-find independent flicks.
The beaches of Rye, North Hampton and Hampton in New Hampshire and York/Ogunquit in Maine are a short drive out of Portsmouth. Boat cruises, deep-sea fishing trips and whale watches run daily from Portsmouth and Rye harbors during the warm weather.

Portsmouth is steeped in history. The Strawberry Banke Museum and historic mansion tours replicate life in Portsmouth throughout its 300-plus-year history. There are many different tours in Portsmouth including: the Black Heritage Trail; Ghostly Lighthouse Walk; Historic Portsmouth Legends and Ghost Walk; and the Portsmouth Harbour Trail featuring 10 National Historic Landmark buildings.

Portsmouth is intricately tied to its maritime history and working seaport. Summer visitors are missing out if they do not take a cruise out to the Isles of Shoals, nine miles off the coast, or experience a kayak tour. The white sandy beaches from New Castle to Hampton are a traditional summer destination for many Canadians and those from around New England and farther.
Visit portsmouthchamber.org and click on the downloadable Seacoast Guide for pictures, lists of hotels, restaurants, shops, historic homes, calendar of events, attractions, activities and a map of the downtown that might help you get the lay of the land.

WHERE TO STAY: Take my advice and stay in nearby Dover, a mere 20 minute drive from Portsmouth via Highway 16. We loved the accommodations at the Homewood Suites (www.dovernh.homewoodsuites.com). The Lafrance Hospitality Group operates this property, as well as the nearby Hampton and Comfort Inns. The Homewood Suites is just off Highway 16, near plenty of shopping and restaurants and really has all of the comforts of “home.” With 88 suites, there is plenty of space for a few family members. We loved the full kitchen, terrific drawer space, the morning breakfast and weekday manager’s reception. You can cool off in the indoor pool (leading to an outdoor patio) and relax in the jacuzzi. Parking is free. Just so you know, most hotels in Portsmouth tend to be costly and during peak season rooms are not easy to find.

WATER COUNTRY: A trip to Portsmouth during the summer months is certainly not complete without visiting Water Country (www.watercountry.com). This is New England’s largest water park, featuring signature thrill rides for a full day of fun for the entire family. Situated at 2300 Lafayette Road, daily admission is $37 for those 48 inches or taller and $24.99 for those under that height and seniors. Children two years old and under enter free.

Water Country is one of the few amusement parks in the US to allow and encourages its guests to bring picnic lunches into the park. A number of large picnic areas are available for free at various points throughout the park so guests can eat without having to leave. Owned by Palace Entertainment, Water Country tests the limits on Double Geronimo or Thunder Falls and allows one to take a break in the relaxing Adventure River. The slide we liked the best is called the Screamer. It is lightning fast, but too quick for one to be scared by the steep drop.

There are over 26 acres of fun here. We went on a busy Sunday, opting for the preferred parking option ($15). This represented a very short walk to the front entrance. We rented a locker, which had plenty of room for the three of us to store all of our gear. The wait in line for different slides was not exceptionally long. Staff here are on the ball and take all safety precautions necessary.

The newest attraction this year is Dr. Von Dark’s “Tunnel of Terror,” the first water ride of its kind in New England. Two people at a time descend in a two-person tube into a twisting 40-foot plunge through a totally enclosed, totally dark tunnel. Along the way, a wicked tornado funnel leaves your head spinning and your fears in your throat! It’s a 300 foot trip into the dark side of thrills, their website reads.

The park does pay close attention to guests with special needs. I saw many people in wheelchairs the day of our visit. Pathways leading to every part of the venue are very much wheelchair accessible.

Says Marketing Manager Danielle Barry: “We’ve had guests with physical limitations who were unable to enjoy certain attractions in the park with our standard ride tubes, so for these guests we allow them to use a ‘double tube’ to comfortably accommodate their needs where safely permissible to do so such as the Wavepool, Adventure River and the Whirlpool. We have some pools with a sloped entrance that will allow a guest in a wheelchair to enter the water axel deep – at that point they are submerged enough that they can easily transition from their chair to a tube.”
You can rent cabanas here, available for up to eight people. Guests with special needs may contact Guest Relations at (603) 427-1112 for information regarding admission, locker accessibility, and wheelchair usage.

SEACOAST REPERTORY: We were fortunate to be in town recently when the musical Chicago was playing at the Seacoast Repertory Theatre (www.seacoastrep.org), located 125 Bow Street and better known as the Rep.
The Rep is a not-for-profit arts and educational institution and has been in business since 1988. Until the 1970s the facility actually served as the warehouse for the Portsmouth Brewing Company. This is the Seacoast’s only professional, year-round live theater. It is dedicated to enlightening and entertaining the broadest possible audience through professional Main Stage productions and programs that expose all ages to the experience of live theatre. The Rep’s Main Stage season selections blend musical and drama, the familiar and the classic-to-be, the thought provoking and the just plain fun. In addition to this, The Rep supports engagement at all age levels through hands-on programming and performances designed to entertain the very young.

Locally and regionally, I am told, people plan their summers around their productions and travel to the Seacoast to experience live theatre. In the winter its year-round subscribers engage in a dialogue around compelling and high quality work including packed pre-show symposiums and post-show discussions. The local community has ownership of the theatre as a vital component of its social fabric and the transient community supports the theatre for the dynamic, provocative and yet entertaining element to their summers and weekends.

The presentation of Chicago was first class, featuring an excellent cast, great sound and terrific use of a small stage space. I loved the cozy layout of this oval theatre. There is truly not a bad seat in the house. Artistic Director Craig Faulkner opened the show with some words of welcome. He even sold snacks at intermission, interacting with the audience. There are clearly many regulars here, but this is also a popular spot for tourists.
Over the past two and a half decades, more than 300 Main Stage and youth productions have been presented. Chicago had been preceded this season by Ain’t Misbehavin’, Things We Do For Love and the Full Monty.

THE OAR HOUSE: With more than 40 restaurants in downtown alone, Portsmouth is one of the eating capitals of New England.
The perfect spot for a pre-show dinner turned out to be the Portsmouth Oar House (www.portsmouthoarhouse.com), located at 55 Ceres Street in the historic Merchant’s Row building at the edge of Portsmouth’s old harbor. This spot serves fine food in a setting filled with mementos of the city’s long and proud maritime heritage and features live music inside on Thursdays through Saturdays. The waterfront deck is open in summer and there is on-site valet parking. This turned out to be a real bonus for us. We were able to leave our car here for the evening and walk a few minutes down the street to the Rep.

We were thrilled to see one of our favorite New England dishes, the Lazy Man’s Lobster Pie, on the menu. The seven ounce Maine lobster, completely cut up, featured sherry butter and seasoned crumbs. Owner Raymond Guerin takes pride in the many appetizing choices available. The Lobster Bisque turned out to be a delicious appetizer as did the Caesar and Caprese salads. As for the homemade desserts, do not leave without trying the key lime pie. You can also sample shrimp, grilled pizza, a variety of seafood options (pan seared salmon, broiled Atlantic Haddock, scallops) as well as meat and poultry dishes.

The Oar House is located in Portsmouth’s Old Harbour area, which in the late 1700s and early 1800s was a thriving seaport. In December, 1802, 120 buildings burned in Portsmouth’s most disastrous fire, including the wooden mercantile structures that occupied the restaurant site. The citizens of Portsmouth rebuilt almost immediately, in the early months of 1803, using brick to eliminate future fire hazards. The buildings on Ceres Street, including the one now occupied by the Oar House, were constructed at this time. Owner Raymond Guerin has many historical photos on the wall of historical ships in Portsmouth’s history.

Maine: Old Orchard Beach

Old Orchard Beach is a great place to spend the day or evening, but I would strongly suggest for accommodations purposes you stay 25 minutes away in Portland, as we did at the Embassy Suites (www.portland.embassysuites.com).

It’s almost impossible not to have fun at Old Orchard Beach. The low surf makes this a favorite spot for swimming, sunbathing, and making new friends. When the kids get hungry they can explore the boardwalk for pizza, french fries, hot dogs, cheeseburgers and even poutine, or you can choose from the many family style restaurants around town. Try your luck on the video games, jump on a ride, treat yourself to an ice cream or a cold soda. Thrills, chills and frills-take your pick or do it all.

Catering to tourists and families is a way of life in Old Orchard Beach. The beach, the arcades and amusement rides, nightly entertainment, auto races and harness racing are favorite activities in the Old Orchard Beach area. Old Orchard’s Pier is the center of the recreational activities. Extending nearly 500 feet over the Atlantic Ocean, it features shops, fast food, and games of skill. During the summer many special events are planned to entertain and mesmerize everyone in the family festivals, fairs, free concerts, street dances, and fireworks most Thursday nights. Besides the Pier, the beachfront businesses offer gift and souvenir shops, restaurants, nightclubs, and arcades.

Old Orchard Beach is easy to reach by the major highways in Maine. Exits 36 and 42 off the Maine Turnpike (I-95) take you quickly into our popular seaside resort, as does the access from U.S. Route 1.
South along Route 9 lies the quiet seaside area of Ocean Park, a historic cottage community noted for its religious, educational, and cultural programs. The Ocean Park Association sponsors numerous lectures, concerts and other events. At the southern end of Saco Bay lies Camp Ellis. Here the mouth of the Saco River meets the sea, and memorable sailboat, whale watching expeditions, or deep-sea fishing trips await. You will also find several interesting shops, a couple of restaurants, and a long breakwater to walk.

The cities of Biddeford, Saco and Scarborough are immediate neighbors, offering a variety of services and shopping. The Southern Maine Medical Center in Biddeford provides quality medical care for the region. In nearby Prout’s Neck is the Winslow Homer studio where the artist worked at the turn of the century. New England’s largest salt marsh is off Route 9 in neighbouring Scarborough with guided walks and canoe tours.

WHAT TO DO: While Old Orchard’s seven-mile long stretch of wide sandy beach is understandably the major attraction, there is a full range of other things available to see and do in and around the area. Palace Playland (www.palaceplayland.com) is New England’s only beachfront amusement park. It features a giant arcade, beautiful carousel, a kiddieland, a new ferris wheel and the galaxi coaster. It is open Memorial Day to Labor Day and features fireworks every Thursday night by the Pier. What’s great about this place is that you do not have to pay for admission, just for the rides. This can be done by buying tickets or a wrist band for unlimited access. There is no particular entrance or exit, so you can take a break anytime you want and explore the Old Orchard beach strip of shops and restaurants or take a walk on the Pier.
The park is owned by businessman Joel Golder. His son Paul serves as executive vice-president and his brother Fred handles business affairs.
Paul’s wife Silvia works with him at the park. So do his mom Harriet, sister Stacey and Fred’s wife Caron. His Aunt Carole operates two food stands as a tenant in the park. Her son, Adam, works with her, with his wife Thea.

Every effort is made to accommodate special needs patrons. The park itself is easy to navigate in a wheelchair. Individuals with a physical handicap will be given special access to rides when possible.

In 2012 the park added two brand new rides, Riptide and an upgraded kiddie Frog Hopper. Another new addition for the kids is called Dizzy Dragon. It was previously operated at an indoor entertainment center. The new ferris wheel offers a spectacula light show. I was happy to reconnect with Paul, who is very hands on where this park is concerned. We met during my last trip in 2009 and have since corresponded via Facebook. Let me tell you that Palace Playland is a real “upper” on a nice evening and fun for all ages. My favourite experience of the night was Cascade Falls, in which you are pulled up to two steep hills and then dropped down through a stream of water. Be prepared to get soaked. On a warm night, it is an amazing way to get cooled off. There is plenty of parking on adjacent streets for about $5. Take some time to walk the touristy streets where you can buy souvenirs ,beach girl and sample a lot of fun food.
Palace Playland is the perfect place to spend the evening with family and friends. In the summer you are sure to hear a lot of French being spoken as Quebecers travel to this particular part of Maine in drov es.

HISTORY: The earliest records of the Old Orchard Beach area date back to 1653. The first settler, Thomas Rogers, established “Garden by the Sea “in 1657. A few years later ten militiamen repelled 150 attacking Indians near the beach, but a relief party of townspeople coming to support the malitiamen were killed in an ambush, and Roger’s home was burned. The “old” apple orchard, from which the town took its name, a landmark to sailors for many years, was on high land above the long sand beach. In 1820 Maine, formally part of Massachusetts, became a State by act of Congress. In that same year the first Publick House (inn) was opened serving coach travelers and other transients year round. In 1837, E.C. Staples was coaxed into taking summer boarders at his farm for $1.50 per week. Convinced of Old Orchard Beach’s potential as a summer resort, Staples built the first Old Orchard Boarding House near the top of today’s Old Orchard Street. 1842 brought the first steam railroad from Boston to Portland with a station just 2 miles west of town. The first restaurant to sell seafood treats and “shore dinners” opened in 1851 near Staples Street. The Grand Trunk Railroad opened in 1853 connecting Montreal to Old Orchard Beach, enabling Canadian visitors to flock to this closest beach to Montreal and avoid the long carriage trip.The Civil War began in 1861 followed by years of growth and building of homes, streets, stores, livery stables, and beachfront hotels. 1873 brought the Boston & Maine Railroad passing right through Old Orchard Beach and stopping on the site of today’s Chamber of Commerce. In that same year a group of Methodists formed the Old Orchard Campground Association. The Ocean Park Association built “The Temple” in 1881, and nationally known speakers were heard every Sunday all summer.
In 1892 electric trolley cars replaced horse cars to Biddeford and Saco. 1898 proved to be an unfortuitous year to complete the first Pier. Built of steel and measuring 1,770 feet long and 20 feet above the tides, their Pier was severely damaged in November of that same year. 1900 brought the first town hall and 1902 the first amusement area complete with roller skating, merry-go-round, rides, games, and refreshment stands. The Portland to Old Orchard Beach Electric Railway opened in 1903 where 14 miles of track were traveled in under one hour for $20.00. The great fire of 1907 destroyed the entire beachfront as firemen from Portland, Biddeford, and Saco rushed to the beach but struggled to contain the blaze, hampered by low water pressure. Rebuilding began at once, and one project “the standpipe” assured adequate water for all. March 1909 brought another damaging storm destroying “White City” at the end of the Pier and reducing the Pier to 700 feet. An international auto race was held on the beach in 1910 with Dave Lewis winning the 100 mile race. The 1920′s and 30′s were the Big Band era. All the famous dance bands, Guy Lombardo, Rudy Valle, Duke Ellington, and more visited the Pier Casino each summer, and thousands danced over the waves under the revolving crystal ball.

Sparked by Lindbergh’s daring flight, many Trans-Atlantic flights took advantage of Old Orchard Beach’s long stretch of wide hard packed sand to attempt their own crossings. The storm of February 1978 almost demolished the Pier, and a new pier was immediately planned. Today’s Pier opened in June 1980.

Lake Placid, New York

Over the course of many years my family and I passed the exit for Lake Placid, New York on Highway 87 and wondered when we would actually visit the former Olympic Village. Well, over the recent holidays that day finally arrived – several days in fact.

On our way back from New York City, Lake Placid was added to our itinerary and I can now strongly recommend others do the same. This is a four season destination. We got a taste of the winter experience and now we are tempted to go back in the heat of the summer. I cannot say enough about the personnel at the Lake Placid Convention and Visitor’s Bureau/Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism (www.lakeplacid.com), who really helped point me in the right direction.

In Lake Placid, winter brings the sparkle of snowflakes, the twinkle of lights reflecting on Mirror Lake and the soothing glow of crackling fireplaces in Lake Placid. The area boasts a world-class array of trails for skiing and riding Of course things were a bit different this year. Not much snow had fallen up until early January, when we departed. Therefore the lake was not frozen and automatic snowmaking machines had to work overtime.

For those readers already looking for good March Break options, pencil in Lake Placid. By then you should be able to slide down the toboggan chute on frozen Mirror Lake, go ice skating, take an invigorating dog sled ride, and revel in the beauty of the Adirondack wilderness by snowmobiling, cross-country skiing or ice climbing. There is also the option of exploring the endless Adirondack snowshoeing trails to see the forest from a whole new perspective.

Whether you’re an expert, or it’s your first time trying a new winter sport, Lake Placid is the perfect place to enjoy a winter getaway.

ACCOMMODATIONS: We stayed at the 92 room Northwoods Inn (www.northwoodsinn.com), situated right on Main Street, a short walk to the Olympic Arena and Oval, a public beach, numerous restaurants, a movie theatre and quaint shops of Lake Placid. The hotel offers a sidewalk café, two restaurants and “The Cabin,” a warm and cozy fireplace bar overlooking Main Street. Their rooftop bar presents a majestic view of the entire town plus the High Peaks and Whiteface Mountain. The breakfasts and gourmet burgers here have been voted “The best in Lake Placid.”

This is an all suite hotel and includes extended stay spots with kitchenettes and affordable rates. The lakeside rooms offer great views of Mirror Lake and the Adirondack mountains while others include balconies where guests can sit outside and enjoy the fresh mountain air. All of the rooms feature air conditioning, cable TV and separate sitting areas. There is complimentary onsite parking for overnight hotel guests only. Parking is limited, and in high demand periods, overflow spots are available, for a nominal fee, in the Lake Placid Municipal Parking Lot, one block from the hotel.

The Inn features the Tempur-Pedic “Weightless Sleep” mattresses, coddling you as no other mattress can. The revolutionary pressure-relieving material conforms to every point on your body, with relaxing molecular memory that gives you the best night of sleep you’ll ever have.
The Northwoods Inn is a hotel with lots of character and an interesting history. Since the 1800s, Lake Placid has been a destination to tourists and outdoor enthusiasts. By 1900 the village was recognized as a resort destination with seven major hotels and several smaller inns and cottages. A hotelier named Frank Swift had the dream to build a modern, fireproof hotel, where he could host high profile guests with all of the luxuries and comforts of a city hotel. In 1926 he achieved this goal with the construction of the Hotel Marcy. It was named for Mount Marcy, the grandest mountain in New York. In addition to the new building, the Hotel Marcy included several former summer homes to be rented as cottages and the old Northwoods Inn, which was used for housing staff, storage and kitchen facilities. In total, the hotel included 160 guest rooms, 125 bathrooms, a dining room and meeting space.

The Marcy was unlike anything else in Lake Placid and it immediately became popular with both local residents and visitors. It was a choice location for weddings, parties and community events. The hotel also attracted many tourists, including celebrities George Burns and Gracie Allen, Kate Smith, and others from that bygone era.

The Northwoods Inn was purchased by the Smith family five years ago. Gary Smith has handed the day-to-day operations to his son Garrett, who has innkeeper spends a lot of time mixing with guests and getting their feedback. He is working hard at building the property Free WiFi was recently added to all guestrooms and public areas. The renovation of guest rooms is next. For more information you can call 518-523-1818 for special packages, group rates or to make a reservation.

The hotel is well suited for guests in wheelchairs. The parking lot leads to the back entrance of the hotel, where there is a ramp bringing you to either the lobby or the elevator to your room. Door entrances are large and the suites themselves have a nice passageway when you first enter. The elevator will also take you to the street level, where both sides of the street offer some lovely shops and restaurants to explore.

MEALS: From traditional American cuisine in a family-friendly atmosphere to a delicious buffet dinner, such as we were treated to on New Year’s Eve at the Northwoods Inn, you’re sure to find something to satisfy your craving. We discovered Milano North (www.milanonorth.com). Modeled on its Albany cousin, this 110 seat, Northern Italian bistro features a dynamic open kitchen design, wood-fired oven pizzas, freshly-prepared homemade pastas and entrees using only the finest of ingredients. Located one block from the Northwoods Inn, Milano North offers a warm and contemporary Adirondack ambience. We absolutely loved our meals: a piping hot and delicious tomato soup, delicious salads and beautifully prepared entrees of grilled scallops, the best veal parmesan I can remember having (with some linguini on the side) and a grilled shrimp dish with fettuccini.

The restaurant offers a nice second floor view of the charming downtown. You can also catch your favorite game at the bar in its relaxed and inviting atmosphere. Head Chef Ryan Preston oversees a very impressive menu and general manager David McKenty greets everyone with a smile and some Lake Placid trivia.

Milano North is fully handicapped accessible from the upper tier of the municipal parking lot. There are a number of handicapped parking spaces located just outside the front entrance to the restaurant and everything inside is all on one level.

WHAT TO DO: Visit Lake Placid and invent your own perfect day. Sheltered among the Adirondack Park’s six million acres, the alpine village offers endless opportunities for outdoor recreation, unique attractions, shopping, dining and a variety of fun. There are mountains to climb, rivers to fish, serene lakes to kayak and vast evergreen forests to explore. Bring your bike and cruise through the region’s dramatic landscape, from quiet country roads to scenic mountain passes. Or pack your clubs and play a round on some of the beautiful Lake Placid golf courses—the region boasts 13 including five signature championship layouts. You can also attend one of the many enriching events at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts or catch a movie at the old-fashioned theater on Main Street.

OLYMPIC PASSPORT: Lake Placid was the proud host of the 1932 and 1980 winter Olympic Games. In all of the four seasons, this celebrated history can be experienced with a full range of activities from ORDA – the Olympic Regional Development Authority (http://www.orda.org/corporate). Make sure to purchase the Olympic Sites Passport, which gives you access to every one of the Olympic venues—from Whiteface to the Olympic Sports Complex and everything in between. Sold for $29 at the ORDA Store and all of their ticket offices, the passport saves you time, money, and gets you into the venues at a good value.

ORDA was originally created by the State of New York to manage the facilities used during the 1980 Olympic Winter Games at Lake Placid. ORDA operates the Whiteface Mountain ski area located in the Town of Wilmington, just 15 minutes outside the Village of Lake Placid; the Olympic Center; the Olympic Jumping Complex and Olympic Sports Complex; and Gore Mountain ski area located in North Creek, New York — 80 miles south of Lake Placid.

Whiteface’s Adaptive Snowsports Program is for adults and children with disabilities who want to learn how to ski and snowboard. First-timers needn’t worry; lessons range from “Never-Ever” to the advanced skier/snowboarder. Lift ticket, lesson and rental adaptive equipment are included. The duration of the lesson is usually two hours, depending on the student. Payment is required at the time of reservation.

ACTIVITIES: Fun in the Adirondacks takes on a whole new meaning when shared with the family. With Lake Placid’s storybook setting, it’s no surprise that this quaint alpine village offers unrivaled thrills, unforgettable adventures and historical exploration for all who visit. From museums and theater performances to classic family amusements such as bowling and miniature golf, the Adirondacks have an array of activities and attractions for moms, dads and kids of any age.

For sports fans, be sure to check out the Olympic facilities including the Lake Placid Olympic Museum and the various sports venues such as the hockey arena, home to the 1980 “Miracle on Ice.” If you’re seeking an adrenaline rush, take a ride on the bobsled run or ski or ride down the highest vertical drop in the East at Whiteface Mountain. For some history and culture, visit the nearby Wild Center Museum or plan on catching one of the family friendly shows at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts.

SKIING: As America’s very first winter resort, Lake Placid has skiing and riding covered. Whiteface, the only ski area in the East to have hosted the Olympic Games, boasts the highest vertical drop east of the Rockies with terrain for any skill level. The mountain’s 86 trails are serviced by high speed lifts and the Cloudsplitter Gondola—and with terrain parks, slides, glades and miles of groomed runs, you’re sure to find something that suits you. Whiteface is open generally from the very end of November until the middle of April

TOBOGGAN CHUTE: The Lake Placid Toboggan Chute (www.northelba.org/html/toboggan_chute_.html), located on Parkside Drive, adjacent to the Post Office, has been in operation since the 1960’s. The North Elba Park District currently operates the slide. A 30 foot high converted ski jump trestle sends toboggans down ice covered chutes onto frozen Mirror Lake. Depending on weather conditions, toboggans can travel over 1,000 feet once they reach the frozen lake surface. To insure the safety of riders, only one sled is sent down at a time. Families have always said that their visit to the Toboggan Chute was a highlight of their winter vacation.

Since the actual outrun of the slide is the frozen lake surface, the official opening day for operation varies from year to year. They have been open as early as December 26 and one year it wasn’t until February before they were in operation. A good 10 to 12 inches of good solid ice is necessary to insure the safety of the guests.

Admission prices allow guests to slide as much as they can during the scheduled time. Toboggans are rented and can hold two to four people. During Christmas and President’s week lines are often long and the wait can be 15 to 20 minutes between rides. Info 518-523-2591

OLYMPIC JUMPING: See firsthand the ramp that ski jumpers launch from before flying over the length of a football field. Take the chairlift alongside the jumping hills to the glass enclosed elevator to the observation deck of the 120K jump. At the top you will find a panoramic view of the Adirondack High Peaks as you stroll through the ski jumpers preparation room. Then get a bird’s eye view of what the jumpers see as they start to accelerate towards the end of the ramp. Nearby, aerialists will spring off steep kickers on the freestyle hill in a flurry of twists & turns.
Please log on to http://www.whiteface.com/activities/index.php.

You can also ride the 26-storey elevator to the top of the tower and view the world from a ski jumper’s perspective while you take in the panoramic view of the beautiful Adirondack High Peaks and other Olympic Venues.

TUBING: The newest attraction at the Olympic Jumping Complex goes downhill fast. Ride a tube down their newly constructed chute for over 700 feet of fun under the lights. With every tubing ticket purchased, funds go to support USA Ski Jumping. This is opened December 26 through March 20 (or as weather permits). The rate is $9 per hour. Log on to http://www.whiteface.com/activities/tube.php

OLYMPIC SPORTS COMPLEX: Home to the combined bobsled, luge and skeleton track – the only one east of the Rockies – as well as 50 km of groomed cross country ski trails and a biathlon shooting range, the Olympic Sports Complex is a study in extremes. If you’ve ever wondered what it feels like to be a comet, this is the place to start. Bobsled rides, with a professional driver and brakeman, begin at the half-mile point on the track (the same one used by Olympic racers) and wind through Shady, Labyrinth and The Heart–turns known by racers the world over.
You’ll feel the rumble of the sled’s blades passing over the track’s iced surface, slide through one turn, bank high on the next one and pick up speed on the straightaway. You’ll go faster than you’re allowed to drive a car through town. Then you’ll get to the bottom and want to do it again. That is the way the one daring member of our family described the experience. For your bravery, they give you a bobsled lapel pin, a four by six commemorative team photo, t-shirt, a Lake Placid Bobsled Experience sticker and membership in the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton

SKELETON: At the Olympic Sports Complex, you’ll have the chance to try the sport of Skeleton. This is your childhood sled on overdrive. Thirty miles per hour never seemed as fast as when you are lying on your stomach rocketing down an icy chute. Your experience includes: sliding from Start five, a four by six photo of you and your sled, a team t-shirt, a one year membership to the United States Bobsled and Skeleton Federation.

OLYMPIC CENTRE AND MUSEUM:
The site of the historic 1932 and 1980 Olympic Games, including the legendary “Miracle on Ice” hockey game in 1980, the Centre houses three ice surfaces, the Convention Center at Lake Placid and the Lake Placid Olympic Museum. This unique venue is active year round. The Olympic Center hosts numerous international and national events, youth and adult hockey tournaments, and Figure Skating Championships throughout the year. Log on to http://www.whiteface.com/activities/museum.php.
ARTS: It’s no surprise that the Adirondacks have such a thriving arts community—the region’s vast forests, peaceful waterways and scenic mountains have long served as a muse for the creative. The region’s striking landscape offers an inspirational backdrop more beautiful and more vivid than one can imagine—and it changes with each new season. Today, artists and musicians of all genres are inspired by the natural setting and sheltered solitude of the mountains. Lake Placid boasts several venues for the arts and hosts a variety of performances — from classical music, to family-friendly shows, to rock concerts and community plays and musicals.

The Adirondacks are home to professional and community theaters, studios and renowned music schools. Likewise, museums and historical societies dot the region, preserving Lake Placid history and displaying artifacts of the Adirondacks’ storied past.

The Lake Placid Center for the Arts offers programs in the areas of music, theater, dance, art and film in addition to galleries, exhibitions and workshops. Similarly, the Lake Placid Institute works to enhance and celebrate cultural life throughout the Adirondacks. Working with other regional art organizations, the Institute develops and presents programs including chamber music seminars, roundtable discussions, and poetry and photo contests, among others.

SHOP: Saunter down Lake Placid’s Main Street and prepare yourself for a singular shopping experience. At first glance, it may seem like Main Street, USA– from the local bakery to the old fashioned movie theatre to the public library. But if you look closer there is a discernible cosmopolitan flair as Lake Placid’s Main Street fuses the special character of the region with the goods, sundries and cuisines of the rest of the world.As you wander in and out of this retail menagerie you may notice that many of the shops’ owners can be found behind the counters. Strike up a conversation—and be sure to take a piece of the Adirondacks and your perfect day in Lake Placid home with you. Whether you’re looking for a fun souvenir, rustic Adirondack furniture, handmade keepsakes, high-tech gear or designer clothes, shopping in Lake Placid offers the full spectrum of unique gifts, necessities and must-have mementos. There are a number of excellent outlet stores , Gap and Van Heusen to name a couple.

Plattsburgh: New York

Q: Can you tell me about Plattsburgh, New York?

A : Plattsburgh is a small Amercian city located on the western shore of Lake Champlain in the northeastern part of the state of New York. It is only 60 miles from Montreal.

Plattsburgh was founded by Zephaniah Platt in 1785 after he was granted the land for it by George Clinton. The city government was established in the former Village of Plattsburgh in 1902. With its significant location on a major water thoroughfare and close to the US-Canadian border, Plattsburgh has been the site of a number of historic events including the Revolutionary War’s Battle of Valcour and the War of 1812’s Battle of Plattsburgh. In more recent times, the city has been distinguished primarily by its United States Air Force base and the State University of New York (SUNY) at Plattsburgh, although it is also a node for tourists headed to the Adirondack Mountains. The city beaches and camp grounds are packed all summer long. It is also a spectacular place for boating, wind surfing, or fishing. There are some fun dining spots as well.

Plattsburgh has great shopping, including the large Champlain Centre North with anchor store JC Penny. There are a lot of Montreal Jews who have country homes here. Many Jewish students attend SUNY. I know many Torontonians visiting Montreal who wakeup with a desire for a change of pace from trips to Niagara Falls and Buffalo and check out this type of New York experience. The Olympic village of Lake Placid is less than an hour’s drive offering you world-class recreation and relaxation year round.

On June 19, 2007 the Plattsburgh International Airport (PBG) opened its doors for passenger service. The tiny facility remains very much a work in progress. But it is easy to get to and offers free parking for however long you are away. It is already touting itself as “Montreal’s U.S. Airport.” Delta and Allegiant Airlines presently fly out of there. Allegiant, a Las Vegas based carrier, is presently offering well priced direct flights to Fort Lauderdale and Orlando.

ACCOMODATIONS: Given the backups at customs these days due to the strong Canadian dollar, I would strongly recommend you head to Plattsburgh the day before your flight. We did just that, staying at the Comfort Inn and Suites (plattsburghcomfortinn.com) at 411 Route 3. It worked out exceptionally well. There was no need to wake up especially early. Waiting for us was a generous hot and cold breakfast absolutely free. If you sleep in, a new Perkin’s Restaurant is attached and it serves breakfast 24 hours a day. There is also a Boulangerie Café, a lobby coffee shop featuring Starbucks™ Coffee and fresh baked pastries. And Legends Sports Bar is the place to catch the latest game on the tube.

You might want to find time to check out the hotel’s health club and fitness center, entertainment room, indoor heated pool complete with a waterslide. It was so nice, we wanted to stay longer. Of their 114 rooms, 28 are suites. They come complete with fridges, microwaves and a kitchenette sink. A gigantic Wal-Mart Super Store is literally in the parking lot while the Champlain Mall and Price Chopper supermarket are a short walk away.

Owner Jim Murray and his partner Terry Meron opened the locale in 1988. Murray was a teacher by profession. Meron owned an Italian restaurant. He wanted to get into the hotel business and asked Murray to come aboard. Before you could say “reservation” they had a Comfort Inn franchise, which they have expanded substantially over the years. It has a games room, party room and banquet facilities. They secured the Perkin’s franchise in 2006 to give customers another reason not to have to leave the facility. Canadian clients come to Plattsburgh for the great merchandising deals. One guest bought four winter tires for his car. “They cost him $240,” said Murray, “compared to $700 in Canada.”

Rooms range in price from $69 to $99 per night. And if you forgot to bring along any necessities, the front desk has a magic drawer complete with toothbrushes, toothpaste, shaving cream and razors.

For more information you can log on to their website at www.plattsburghcomfortinn.com, e-mail info@plattsburghcomfortinn.com or call (518) 562-2730.