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Hello From Nova Scotia - Part 10 - Victorian Heritage In Yarmouth

Another long and exciting day was coming to an end: from my early morning interview with Patrick Redgrave, the owner of the Garrison House B&B in Annapolis Royal to my learning experiences at the Bear River First National Cultural and Heritage Center to my drive along the Evangeline Trail with a quick stopover in Digby, a drive through the Acadian communities in Clare County and a quick peak at the unusual Yarmouth Lighthouse, I had finally made it to my destination for the e...

Nova Scotia, Halifax, Acadian history, Lunenburg, Yarmouth, Annapolis Royal, Peggy\\\\\\\'s Cove

Another long and exciting day was coming to an end: from my early morning interview with Patrick Redgrave, the owner of the Garrison House B&B in Annapolis Royal to my learning experiences at the Bear River First National Cultural and Heritage Center to my drive along the Evangeline Trail with a quick stopover in Digby, a drive through the Acadian communities in Clare County and a quick peak at the unusual Yarmouth Lighthouse, I had finally made it to my destination for the evening: Yarmouth, a town of about 8,000 souls on the southwestern tip of Nova Scotia.

The weather had taken a turn for the worse, fog had rolled in off the Atlantic Coast and rain was surely going to fall tonight. From the Yarmouth Lighthouse I drove along coastal roads and causeways into town and was able to locate the tourist information office on Main Street. Although it was closed the map on the outside gave me an opportunity to locate my abode for the night: the MacKinnon-Cann Inn, a historic bed and breakfast.

I located Willow Street and parked my vehicle in the gravel-covered courtyard behind the large mansion where I was going to stay tonight. Two friendly gentlemen welcomed me right away and helped me carry my luggage inside:Neil Hisgen and Michael Tavares, both co-owners of the MacKinnon-Cann Inn.

Neil graciously helped me carry my suitcase upstairs to my room. All seven guestrooms at the McKinnon-Cann Inn are named after a 20th century decade and decorated accordingly: there is the 1900s Room, the 1910s Room, the 1920s Room, and the decades of the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s and 1960s are represented as well. I parked my luggage in a superbly appointed and beautifully decorated guestroom and headed downstairs to chat a bit more with the owners.

Michael, wearing simple jeans, a sweatshirt and a backward-facing baseball cap, looked like he had just finished painting something as evidenced by the paint splatters all over his clothing. He was just taking a break from working on a renovation project next door: a Victorian house he had just recently bought which he was in the process of restoring. I found out that both Michael and Neil are originally from the United States, and they also own another large Victorian brick mansion, the Charles C. Richards House literally up the street. Michael and Neil just purchased another recently restored blue-coloured Victorian mansion that is still empty and will be turned into a private home in the near future.

Now, not only am I a travel writer, but I also have a strong interest in real estate, heritage buildings and architectural preservation. I was excited when Michael told me he would have some time tomorrow to sit down with me to tell me more about the four properties that he and Neil had purchased and restored right here in Yarmouth. He went on to say that he does most of the work himself and loves getting right in there and getting his hands dirty.

I wanted to get a lay of the land of the Town of Yarmouth and Michael was so kind to draw me a map for a wonderful local walking tour which would allow me to capture some of the beautiful well-preserved and recently restored Victorian architecture of Yarmouth. So off I went with my hand-drawn map and indeed the Collins Heritage District features an extensive concentration of beautifully restored Victorian properties.

Along streets with names such as Collins, Clements, Park, Forest, Willow and William Streets I was admiring beautiful properties featuring unique Victorian architecture. Some of the distinguishing elements include widow’s walks: lookout rooms at the highest point of the house which would allow wives of sailors to look out for the husbands’ ships in the age of sail. Ornately carved and painted verandas are another typical decorating feature of the late 19th century. Windows with intricate wood work and ornamentation are also a characteristic feature of this era.

After my brief architectural tour I walked down on Main Street which features many business offices, retail stores and a few dining establishments. Most of the restaurants and bars are located along Water Street. Yarmouth was a major ship building centre in the past during the Golden Age of Sail. Today it is still a local hub of the fishing industry, but tourism is playing an increasingly important role.

Yarmouth serves a community of about 70,000 people located in the three counties of Yarmouth, Digby and Shelburne. One of Yarmouth’s major attractions is the ferry service to Bar Harbor and Portland, Maine. “The Cat” is North America’s largest catamaran and a high speed connection between Yarmouth and Bar Harbor, Maine – a three hour journey, while the route between Yarmouth and Portland, Maine, takes six hours.

Outdoor adventurers will also find lots to do in the Yarmouth area: from hiking to fishing to various seafaring adventures there are abundant recreational activities in the area. Culture lovers will find a variety of music, theatre and crafts events, interspersed with a few museums including the Yarmouth County Historical Museum and the Yarmouth Firefighters Museum, enhanced by a smattering of galleries and historic architecture.

After a long, exciting and action-packed day I was rather exhausted and just picked up a little snack before I headed back to my welcoming home at the MacKinnon-Cann Inn for the night where I relaxed in my beautifully appointed guestroom, watched some TV and took advantage of the in-room high-speed Internet connection. I would need a good rest for tomorrow for the biggest day of five-day Nova Scotia whirlwind tour: a trip along the Lighthouse Trail to the historic town and UNESO World Heritage Site of Lunenburg.

For the entire article including photos please visit


Hello From Nova Scotia - Part 11 - The Mackinnon-cann Inn: Where Home And Garden Television Meets The Travel Channel

I had spent a wonderfully rejuvenating night wrapped up in the soft high-thread-count sheets and comforters of my temporary home at the MacKinnon-Cann Inn in Yarmouth. After an exciting drive down the Evangeline Trail yesterday that included a very informative tour of the Bear River First Nation Heritage and Cultural Centre, followed up by an early-evening walking tour to admire Yarmouth’s Victorian heritage areas, I had definitely needed a good rest. But a new day had broken...

Nova Scotia, Halifax, Acadian history, Lunenburg, Yarmouth, Annapolis Royal, Peggy\'s Cove

I had spent a wonderfully rejuvenating night wrapped up in the soft high-thread-count sheets and comforters of my temporary home at the MacKinnon-Cann Inn in Yarmouth. After an exciting drive down the Evangeline Trail yesterday that included a very informative tour of the Bear River First Nation Heritage and Cultural Centre, followed up by an early-evening walking tour to admire Yarmouth’s Victorian heritage areas, I had definitely needed a good rest. But a new day had broken and I was ready for more adventures.

First on the plan was of course breakfast, so I got myself ready and walked downstairs into the tastefully decorated dining area of the MacKinnon-Cann Inn. Neil Hisgen, one of the co-owners, was working in the kitchen to prepare breakfast and occasionally dropped by to see how the guests were doing. I caught him for about ten minutes to find out more about this property and his own personal background.

Neil is originally from Racine, Wisconsin, and hails from a family with six children. He spent six years in the navy following which he briefly returned home, only to move to Fort Lauderdale in Florida where he started his hospitality career. He started working at the front desk at the Marriott Hotel and for the next 18 years worked in various hotels and restaurants, gaining experience at the front desk and in the kitchen. He capped his employed career after 15 years with a general manager’s position of a major hotel.

Neil met his business and life partner Michael Tavares at the end of 1997. Neil had made a good return on the sale of his first house and decided to invest it in a bed and breakfast. At the time Michael owned a 200-acre property on a peninsula near Yarmouth which they used as a Holiday, Vacation & Tour home. Michael had invited him to spend about a month at his farm near Yarmouth and Neil loved it. Being from the mid-west, he had always enjoyed the change of the seasons.

Neil and Michael were thinking about what they wanted to do and decided they were ready for a change, so they went ahead and opened a bed and breakfast in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia where there was a beautiful Victorian residential district waiting for them with many restoration opportunities. At this point Neil unfortunately had to go back in the kitchen to continue working, but Michael, his co-owner, joined me at my table to give me a more in-depth overview of their projects and his own life story.

Michael is originally from Boston and grew up in the southern part of the city. During college he majored in education, but after school he went into real estate and started his own brokerage firm. He was always fascinated by old buildings and illustrates this with a story from his childhood: at 12 or 13 years of age there was an old farm house nearby, and Michael always wondered who had owned it and lived there. So he talked to his mother about it and she took him to the land registry office to do a title search, obtaining a record of all previous owners of the property.

With these documents in hand he approached the current owners and gave them the historic ownership records of the property. They absolutely loved it, and from that point forward Michael was hooked on the mystique of historic properties. In his words, he loves to “peel back the layers of time” and started to buy and restore his own historic buildings. Over several years he completed eight restoration projects in the south end of Boston.

After Boston he moved to Key West and became a tropical landscape architect. He spent five or six years living and working in Key West, completing many garden design projects for the local gay community. In the 1980s he finally bought a 200 acre farm as a Holiday, Vacation & Tour property in Nova Scotia together with several friends. This was when his love affair with Yarmouth began. Michael moved his permanent residence from Key West to Fort Lauderdale where he met Neil in 1997 at a fundraising event. They lived together for a year and Neil helped Michael in his landscaping business. In the summer of 1998 Michael invited Neil to his property in Nova Scotia because he wanted Neil to share this part of his life. So for the last eight years Neil and Michael have been residing in Nova Scotia. Their first Yarmouth property was a run-down Victorian brick mansion which they lovingly restored in 1999 and turned into the present Charles C. Richards House, a historic bed and breakfast with three guest bedrooms decorated in the 1930’s Art Deco Period. Each room at the Charles C. Richards House features a private bath, cable TV with DVD players and period furnishings.

The MacKinnon-Cann Inn where I was staying was built in 1887 and is an example of the Italianate Victorian style. The house was built as a duplex for two female cousins, and to this day the inn features two staircases side by side. Michael and Neil rescued the property in 2000 and took it from a condemned state to the stunning mansion that it is today. All seven guest rooms are uniquely decorated in a style reflecting a different 20th century decade, from the 1900s to the 1960s. The main floor features five lavish parlours and Michael pointed out the beautiful patterned wood floor that was installed at great expense throughout the dining area. Neil is a talented glass artist, and many stained glass windows throughout the MacKinnon-Cann Inn and the Charles C. Richards House feature Neil’s artwork.

Michael explained that he is very active in Nova Scotia’s heritage community and mentioned that he is a member of two historic organizations: he serves on the Board of Directors of the Heritage Trust of Nova Scotia whose mission it is to preserve and protect the heritage properties in the province. Both the MacKinnon-Cann Inn and the Charles C. Richards House are provincially registered heritage properties. Michael is also a member of the Provincial Heritage Owners Association of Nova Scotia which encompasses 265 provincial heritage properties. Both inns have won several awards, including the 2005 Restoration Award from the Yarmouth County Historical Society and the L.B. Jenson Award as a contribution to the development and economic health of the Yarmouth Heritage Community.

In addition to the two inns, Michael is also currently renovating the property right next door to the MacKinnon-Cann Inn, another Victorian heritage property which he is thinking of turning into a restaurant that will serve the tourists and local community of Yarmouth. The fourth recently renovated property owned by Michael and Neil is a blue-coloured Victorian heritage property located right between the MacKinnon-Cann Inn and the Charles C. Richards House. In essence, Michael and Neil have single-handedly transformed an entire street block, rescued four historic properties and turned them into stunning examples of architectural revival.

As an astute tourism marketer, Michael Tavares is also the President of the Nova Scotia Association of Unique Country Inns, a collective marketing and branding group that promotes upscale heritage tourism in unique historic properties. Michael is generally responsible for the inn’s marketing while Neil’s responsibilities focus more on hospitality and innkeeping.

Michael’s restoration mindset is based on a commitment to the preservation of buildings and a respect for the historical integrity of the property. He approaches his projects with a certain humility which he says many renovators today are missing since they are only looking for the highest return on investment. He is a strong believer that the cultural renaissance and economic revival of a town begins with heritage restoration and then trickles down to Main Street.

At the same time he also recognizes the need for protecting his investments, and as a member of the local Yarmouth Town Planning Council he has a chance to participate in shaping the future of this town. Michael and Neil have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars and countless thousands of hours in their heritage properties and business ventures. Their efforts make a significant contribution to the economic well-being of the town.

The beginning was not easy since Michael was an outsider with new ideas in a town with long-standing traditions and established power structures. He was the new kid on the block. In addition, it took some time to gain acceptance, particularly as a gay couple in a rather conservative community. Conflict arose originally since Michael was also very outspoken and questioned the old ways of doing things.

However, his commitment to the community became evident in his renovation projects. Michael would call together all the contractors for each project, such as electricians, plumbers, carpet layers, etc. and told them that he would deal exclusively with them as local merchants instead of choosing a big box home renovation store as his main supplier. This commitment to local merchants has earned him a lot of respect and goodwill in the surrounding community, and today many people call him for his opinion before a debate of important issues that will affect the town.

After I completed my delicious fruit salad and omelet breakfast, Michael took me on a tour of all four properties. We started off with the smaller Victorian house currently under renovation where the entire first floor has currently been stripped down to the bare walls. As with his other projects, Michael is going to do the vast majority of the project himself and will call in specialized contractors only where needed. He is one of those people who have that special gift of spotting a diamond in the rough and taking it from a derelict hovel in danger of collapsing to a stunningly updated and stylish historic jewel with all modern conveniences.

We then went over to the recently restored blue Victorian mansion that was renovated by the previous owners according to Michael’s recommendations since Michael and Neil were going to purchase the property. We capped the visit off with the Charles C. Richards House, a stunning Victorian brick mansion with gorgeous architectural details, built for a wealthy local businessman. It was started in 1893 and took two years to finish and was the first brick house of this class to be built in Yarmouth. Most of the special building materials, i.e. the brownstone, granite and brick, were imported from the United States and make this house unique. Michael told me that it took him a whole season to strip the many layers of paint on the ornately carved porch and 32 weeks to repaint it, using eleven different colours.

I admired the wonderful details and stylish décor of the various rooms, including the flower-filled conservatory. Michael and Neil posed for me in front of the intricately carved wooden staircase that leads to the upstairs bedroom and this was the fitting ending for my introduction to architectural preservation and heritage tourism in Yarmouth. I thanked them both for their welcoming hospitality and got ready for my next item on the itinerary: an exploration of Yarmouth history at the Yarmouth County Historical Museum, located right across the street from the Charles C. Richards House.

For the entire article including photos please visit


Hello From Nova Scotia - Part 16 - The Town Of Lunenburg - A Unesco World Heritage Site

A delightful rest at the Lunenburg Inn after a very compressed and hectic day along the Lighthouse Trail yesterday got me ready for another day of adventures. At about 7:30 I made my downstairs in anticipation of a filling breakfast. Sure enough, a freshly baked morning glory muffin was served to quench my immediate hunger. I had two breakfasts to choose from: a hot breakfast featuring poached eggs with bacon or turkey bacon, or a cold breakfast featuring a choice of two item...

Nova Scotia, Halifax, Acadian history, Lunenburg, Yarmouth, Annapolis Royal, Peggy\\\\\\\'s Cove

A delightful rest at the Lunenburg Inn after a very compressed and hectic day along the Lighthouse Trail yesterday got me ready for another day of adventures. At about 7:30 I made my downstairs in anticipation of a filling breakfast. Sure enough, a freshly baked morning glory muffin was served to quench my immediate hunger. I had two breakfasts to choose from: a hot breakfast featuring poached eggs with bacon or turkey bacon, or a cold breakfast featuring a choice of two items of either cereal with fruit / fat-free yoghurt / fresh toast with jam or stewed rhubarb. I opted for the cereal with fresh fruit and the stewed rhubarb which was delicious. The breakfast at the Lunenburg Inn was so generous I wasn’t even able to finish my entire portion. Appropriately strengthened I was now ready for a full day of discoveries.

At about 8:30 I made my way on foot into the town of Lunenburg, an extremely charming and scenic settlement that is home to about 2500 full-time residents and many thousands more during tourist season. Lunenburg is one of Nova Scotia’s favourite travel destinations, and for good reason. In 1995, Lunenburg was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in recognition of its unique architecture and civic design as it represents one of the best preserved examples of a planned British colonial settlement in North America.

The town was founded in 1753 and earlier inhabitants included the Mi’kmaq Natives as well as Acadian settlers. Lunenburg was named in honour of the Duke of Braunschweig-Lunenburg who had become the King of England in 1727. The settlers brought in by the British Crown were known as the foreign protestants, mostly farmers who had been recruited from areas in the southern and central parts of Germany, Switzerland and France. They were deliberately chosen for their potential loyalty to the British Crown. Over the years this farming community turned into a successful seaport and shipbuilding centre, and even today High Liner Foods still has a fish processing plan in town.

I strolled down to the waterfront on Bluenose Drive on a brilliant early fall morning, with not a cloud in the sky. Several restaurants and inns line the street on the north side, and the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic which houses the popular Old Fish Factory restaurant is located on the south side of the street. The little town stretches up from the water on a fairly steep hill with long streets running east west, and shorter streets connecting straight up to the crest of the hill.

This was a quiet Friday morning, and the locals and tourists alike were still lying low. As I strolled up the hill I started to see shop-owners who were opening their doors and putting out their merchandise for sale. Lunenburg has a myriad of antique stores, small galleries and craft stores, and most of the houses are in excellent repair and colourfully painted.

The town presents a very unified image of clapboard covered homes, and the historic local architecture includes a charming range of styles including the Cape Cod Style, Neo-Classical or Georgian homes, a Scottish style which includes five-sided Scottish dormers, Gothic Revival, Second Empire and Queen Ann Revival styles. A typical feature of Lunenburg architecture is the “Lunenburg Bump” which features a projecting Scottish dormer, also referred to as the bump.

Lunenburg is an extremely charming town. The centre of the town is located near St. John’s Anglican Church, the most well known ecclesiastical structure in town. This church was built in 1754 and gothicized in 1870 to 1875. Just recently, on Halloween night in 2001, the church was gutted by a spectacular blaze under mysterious circumstances. The community was dismayed, but they raised the money and the church was rebuilt in its entirety.

Further up the hill is Lunenburg’s most prominent landmark: the Lunenburg Academy, an elementary school for grades one to five, is located at the top of Gallows Hill, overlooking the town. It was built from 1894 to 1895 and each floor has six entrances, six classrooms and six staircases connecting up to the next level.

From the top of the hill I walked back into the town’s centre and came across a monumental red brick building, the town’s courthouse and city hall. A beautiful park located on an upslope is adjacent to city hall and just outside the building is a memorial commemorating Norwegian soldiers that were trained here as gunners in Lunenburg during World War II. Norway had the third-largest ocean going merchant fleet in 1940 with 1100 ships, and when the Nazis invaded Norway, the King and government ordered these ships to proceed to allied ports. From 1940 to 1941 Norwegian whaling and sealing vessels ended up in the port of Lunenburg when Norway was occupied by the Germans. More than 1000 Norwegians were trained here for military service at Camp Lunenburg, and many of their vessels were converted into naval vessels and armed freighters.

Strolling further down the hill I arrived back at the waterfront where I decided to pay a quick visit to the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic. Lunenburg historically was a proud shipbuilding centre, and the world famous schooner Bluenose as well as her daughter, the Bluenose II, were built here. The Bluenose was a fishing schooner as well as a racing ship and was launched in Lunenburg in 1921. Fishing schooners had become obsolete after WWII and despite efforts to keep the Bluenose in Nova Scotia, it was sold as a freighter in the West Indies. In 1946 finally it ran aground on a Haitian reef.

The Bluenose II was launched at Lunenburg in 1963 and built to original plans by many of the same workers who had worked on the original Bluenose. The costs of $300,000 were financed by a local family as a marketing tool for their brewery operations in Halifax and Saint John. As a result of her popularity, the Nova Scotia government bought the vessel, and it has become a goodwill ambassador and symbol of the province. The Canadian ten cent coin features the Bluenose and the Nova Scotia license plates also feature this famous vessel.

I entered the Fisheries Museum and was lucky to just catch the 10 am lobster presentation in the aquarium. A resident expert was demonstrating the various body parts of a lobster and talking about the lifecycle of these crusty creatures. Fortunately this specimen had its pincers tied since it did not seem to be too happy about being included in this presentation. The presenter went on to educate us about lobster fishing, demonstrating the different types of lobster traps in use.

Following this educational presentation I went outside and set foot on two different vessels that are permanently moored in front of the Fisheries Museum. The Theresa E. Connor is a schooner that was built in Lunenburg in 1938 and fishing the banks for 26 years until technology changed from hook and line fishing to fishing with big trawler nets.

The Cape Sable, built in 1962 in Leiden, Holland, is anchored right next to the Theresa O’Connor. It is a steel-hulled side trawler, the generation of boats that replaced the old-style schooners. The Cape Sable retired from service in 1982 and now teaches visitors about the lifestyle of fishermen.

I then went inside the museum which features a myriad of displays about the fishing industry on three different levels. The second floor holds a Fishermen’s Memorial room, paying tribute to all the fishermen who lost their lives at sea. Fishing is one of the most dangerous occupations and many fishermen have made the ultimate sacrifice.

The first floor features the Aquarium, the Gift Shop as well as a Fish Demonstration Room, the Hall of Inshore fisheries, a Marine Engine Display, an exhibit about Whaling and Whales as well as a Boatbuilding Shop. The Second Floor holds the Bank Fishery Age of Sail Exhibit as well as a Vessel Gallery and the afore-mentioned Fishermen’s Memorial Room.

The Third Floor has an exhibit on Rum Runners, individuals who daringly smuggled alcoholic beverages during the prohibition years from 1920 to 1933. Other exhibits on businesses related to the fishing industry and life in fishing communities round out the informative displays. The Ice House Theatre has a capacity of 85 people and offers a variety of films related to the fishing industry.

Every day the Fisheries Museum presents an extensive program that includes a lobster presentation, fishermen’s stories on the Theresa E. Conner and the Bluenose Saga. Practical skills such as net mending, trawl rigging and rope work, rope splicing and knots are demonstrated. Presentations such as “A Whale of a Tale” and “The Scoop on Scallops” are also held on a daily basis.

This was an extremely interesting experience, but if I wanted to make my way back to Halifax in time, I would have to leave the museum and make my way back to the Lunenburg Inn where I would have a chance to sit down and chat with the owners prior to continuing my drive along the Lighthouse Trail towards Peggy's Cove and Halifax..

For the entire article including photos please visit


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