Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

ASK JOURNEYS: Fun and excitement aren't far away

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Perhaps it's nature's way of playing an April Fool's prank on us, making us believe we might have a right to expect weather warm enough to play golf at this time of year, as occurred two years ago.

Even as we experience some signs of spring, it's clear the snow and ice on the lakes will not disappear for quite some time.

We might not be able to hit the links or launch boats onto our beautiful lakes, but in an era when short escapes have become more and more popular, there are a number of exceptional choices for us with excellent flight options.

-- Consider Canada first. Toronto and Vancouver have non-stop service and each offers excellent variety to satisfy any tourist, but if you have not been to Montreal, make it a priority.

This is the one big city in Canada that is so different from the others.

While French may be the language that dominates the bars, restaurants and shopping centres, it is a wonderfully cosmopolitan city, with the voices of many lands commanding their own presence.

Don't believe you will be insulted and not served because you don't speak French. While you may occasionally encounter this rudeness, it just hasn't happened to me. If you really want a quick response, try speaking your broken French and they will quickly jump to your rescue with English conversation.

This is a major tourist city, and for the most part, economics has no language barriers.

Old Montreal is worth a day's visit all by itself. The casino, renovated a long time ago from the Expo 67 French pavilion, was one of the largest in the country for a long time.

Visits to the popular streets and neighbourhoods of Boulevard St-Laurent, Crescent Street and the many substantive ethnic regions that dot the city make it a complete tourist package.

-- A short flight to Chicago. Behind its reputation as the Windy City, Chicago is the home of the best in sports, onstage entertainment and a plethora of quality restaurants that should be expected in a city that can rival New York for its many attractions.

Air Canada code-shares with United Airlines, with at least four daily flights of just over two hours.

It is the home of the Second City comedy club, the upscale shopping district known as the Magnificent Mile, the Art Institute that is one of the best anywhere and a waterfront shoreline that makes for a gorgeous walk or relaxing rest when you tire of the big-city atmosphere.

Still near the centre of the city is the casual shopping and dining development known as Navy Pier. As the weather warms, there is nothing like sitting in an outdoor restaurant with the lake waters lapping around you.

Be sure to take the tourist on-and-off bus when you are there. It's more than transportation. The drivers are accomplished guides who enjoy giving you the history of the city as well as the ins and outs of getting around.

You can fill more than a day visiting the sites associated with Chicago's major stops -- a steal of a deal to get to know your way around the city as well.

At night, you will have no problem finding bars with quality entertainment, or restaurant choices for both the budget-conscious and discriminating diner.

-- Fly or drive to Minneapolis. Delta airlines will take you there in an hour, but most Manitobans who go there for weekends tend to drive.

Given the occasional 120 km/h speed limit on exceptional highways, it is perhaps no wonder. When it comes to wandering around, Minneapolis and its twin city, St. Paul, offer loads of excellent options.

For shopping, the Mall of America, with its many integrated entertainment attractions, is a must. Only slightly beyond the city boundaries and kind of on the way in or out are the shops of the Albertville Outlet Mall. The usual mega-brand names are there, with some real bargains from time to time.

The Twin Cities have excellent theatre and sports offerings and a mix of restaurants to satisfy the desires of most travellers.

St. Paul has its own trendy areas, and a unique visit is a walk through the Wabasha Street Caves, once the haunts of '30s-era mobsters such as John Dillinger, Ma Barker and Baby Face Nelson.

On the legal side, a visit to the historic James J. Hill House in St Paul should be a must. Just a few steps from the equally historic Cathedral of St. Paul, the James J. Hill mansion is a testament to this former Canadian who became one of the richest men in America through connecting its many regions by rail service.

The other aspect of a Minneapolis-St. Paul visit is many consider the people there, perhaps more than anywhere else in the U.S., just like us and as friendly as can be.

So while the snow here may leave many somewhat depressed in spirit waiting for the final thaw, a trip away to visit our some of our conveniently close neighbours might be just the cure.

Forward your travel questions to askjourneys@journeystravel.com. Ron Pradinuk is president of Journeys Travel & Leisure SuperCentre and can be heard Sundays at noon on CJOB. Previous columns and tips can be found on www.journeystravelgear.com or read Ron's travel blog at www.thattravelguy.ca

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 29, 2014 E5

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