G Adventures Unfiltered Contest Giveaway

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In November 2015, I took a G Adventures escorted tour of Japan and enjoyed my experience (I booked and paid for my spot). So, when I received a notice about their latest contest giveaway, I wanted to share it with you. It’s also has a fun way to enter – by showing a side of traveling that might not be so picture perfect.

G Adventures is asking you to share your best #AdventureUnfiltered photo or video for your chance to win a G Adventures tour of your choice (valued at $12,000 USD) for you and a friend. As their employees have put it:

Here is more of a description:

“We’ve all seen those typical, beautiful travel photos all over social media. But now we’re looking for something different. We want to see the photos that are anything but perfect – the messy, ugly, honest moments you hardly see online.”

There are two ways to enter. Click on this link to learn more and directly submit. Also, be sure to follow contest rules; in particular, their do’s and dont’s. Entries must be received no later than 11:59PM EST (time) EST on July 26, 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

Applying for a Travel Visa

 

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Credit: Jon Rawlinson / Flickr Creative Commons

 

2017 marks a travel first for me: getting a visa. Up until now, I haven’t traveled to a country that requires one. My work trip to China is changing that. In order for me to attend an excursion to Suzhou, I had to apply for a visa. I had to fill out and mail in paperwork for review and then wait on getting an approval (which I succeeded).

Overall, a visa is a government document that temporarily gives you the permission to be in the country you’re visiting. It grants you entry for a certain period of time.

Depending on what country you’re a citizen of, and where you’re planning to visit, visa requirements can vary. For example, as of this writing, U.S. citizens have to obtain a visa in order to enter and exit destinations like India, China, Russia, Turkey, Australia, Brazil, Cuba, some Asian countries like Bhutan, and most African nations. Some visas can be acquired on arrival in the destination, others might be done ahead of time through an online processing system, and others require sending in documents like your passport to embassies. Yet they all can involve paying fees.

Don’t let the process scare you. With the right approach and application materials, a visa application can be completed easily and effectively. Here are five general tips to keep in mind when applying for a visa.

Check on your destination’s visitor status. Visa needed or not, always research and confirm what your country of interest requires for visitors. Oftentimes, if a visa is required, you’re the one required to obtain it. And you have to make sure it’s done right. Check what categories your visit falls under and what your length of stay will be permitted. In some cases, based on politics or other reasoning, there are additional requirements such as written proof of a hotel stay or vaccination records. Also, your visa application might ask for specifics like a certain category your visit falls under – tourist, business, etc. – so see what your type falls under.

Read and re-read your requirements. Little mistakes in your paperwork can cost you in many ways, so thoroughly go through documents and their directions. Along with obtaining the right form(s), scan them with your eyes very carefully, so that you understand everything from what size your headshot should be, to what additional documents you need to submit (most likely your passport). Print out more than one copy, so if you can “practice” filling out a test form and then have the other one as the final version. Or if it’s done online, carefully fill out forms or get a copy or get screenshots to refer to as a guide beforehand.

Give yourself extra time. Procrastinators, be forwarned. Usually, visas can take about a week or so for processing, but waiting until the last minute to submit an application could cause you some agita over getting approved in time. Plus, in the case your paperwork has errors or other problems come up like slow service, you want some buffer time to have these issues solved. And if you need your passport for something else in the meantime – like a pre-trip trip – then you’d definitely be hustling. Also, submitting your paperwork is often done by mail, so you don’t want to have to rush to extra expedite your envelope. Or, if possible, see about going to a consulate.

Invest in a quality headshot. While major drugstore chains offer passport/visa photo services, perhaps think about spending a little extra on getting your headshot. Headshots for China visas have a unique set of measurements, so I chose to go to a photography studio to get it right. And make sure you also understand the guidelines for your pic so you can explain them to your picture-taker, if needed. My first photographer decided to touch up my tired-looking face (A BIG NO NO!) so much that I went somewhere else for a retake (which was accepted despite my weary appearance).

Consider using a visa processing service. If filling out detailed forms sounds daunting, don’t be shy about getting, and paying for, help. Visa processing/application centers deal with these applications daily and can guide you through the process. For my China visa, I used CIBTvisas, which has offices in major U.S. cities like New York. For a processing fee, with additional options, I was able to speak to their customer service department have reps by phone, mail in my documents for review and submission, and then opt to have my visa picked up in person or mailed back to me.

Have you applied for a travel visa before? Tell me about your experience in the comments section.

Exploring Philadelphia’s Old City District

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Last week, Philadelphia welcomed in a new museum that’s really fitting for its location in Old City district – the Museum of the American Revolution. For work, I got to see a pre-opening preview of the museum and spent some time revisiting locations significant to our nation’s founding.

During our country’s Colonial days, Philadelphia was a big deal. In what’s now the Historic District, which Old City belongs to, there are buildings still standing from that era and plaques marking areas where once located structures once have their respective ties to our legacy. But it’s not all history here in Old City. This neighborhood’s present-day scene is really buzzing with restaurants, nightlife, and galleries.

Here are my suggestions for exploring Old City.

First, check out these museums and attractions.

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Museum of the American Revolution
As a 2.0 American history lesson, this redbrick building goes beyond dates and facts. It’s designed to bring visitors directly into the growing conflicts that would have the 13 British colonies deciding to break away from English rule and develop a new republic. And, of course, there are many sides to the story. In a chronological format, the museum delves into not just the main characters like General George Washington, but also other individuals whose voices often may be overlooked – women, freed and enslaved African peoples, and the Native American Oneida nation. Artifacts are on view too. In particular, see Washington’s headquarters tent that’s enclosed in a glass casing – where he made crucial battlefield decisions.

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The President’s House and Liberty Bell
Maybe you know this already or you don’t. Before the White House was built in and D.C. would become our nation’s capital, our country’s first two Presidents George Washington and John Adams resided in Philadelphia. While their presidential home – known now as The President’s House – is long gone, an outdoor display marks its spot where you learn about the African Americans who served Washington and his family. Adjacent to this area, take the time to view the Liberty Bell. It once was a working bell, before getting its now signature crack, and has become a symbol for civil rights.

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Benjamin Franklin Museum
Most of what we think of this Founding Father is from his later years in life. But he’s got his place in our history, and it’s definitely noted. With fun videos and well-described objects, this museum is based on a lower level of a building and tells overall about his life story. For example, Franklin is actually not originally from Philly, came to live here at a young age and went on to be prosperous and influential. Afterward, head to Christ Church Burial Ground, where he’s buried and find coins placed on top of his tombstone.

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Independence Hall
You need to walk over to the Independence Visitor Center first to get your timed entrance ticket to visit the interior of this landmark and step into the room where the Declaration of Independence was signed. While waiting in line for your turn inside the East Wing, go visit the West Wing to view original copies of documents like um…. the Declaration of Independence.

Now, as for dining, here we go. My picks include:

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– 2nd Story Brewing: This brewery/restaurant/ bar was started by a local farmer (who still owns it) and her beer-brewing son-in-law, with bar grub that’s healthy too (as shown here).

– The Little Lion, located right across from the Museum of the American Revolution, centers on fine, Southern-inspired comfort food with brunch, lunch, and dinner selections within a casual setting.

– Zahav, an Israeli restaurant featuring small plates, tasting menus, hummus and other traditional dishes with a modern twist, and an at-the-bar happy hour specials like half-off on hummus.

– Khyber Pass Pub: This dive-looking, dark wooden interior bar with a side gastropub is touted for its Southern food and beer selection plus has vegetarian-friendly options. Some unique choices include popcorn that can suit vegans or carnivores (the latter version features bacon grease).

– Han Dynasty: The Old City location of this chain does a contemporary yet still authentic take on Sichuan cuisine. One of their best dishes is their Dan Dan Noodles, and you’re given a choice on the spice level by calling out a number.

– Fork: This sophisticated New American restaurant that’s said to have jump-started Old City’s restaurant scene about 15-20 years ago. With an elegant interior and a push for seasonal ingredients, lunch/dinner choices can feature handmade pastas and high-end starters.

– The City Tavern: Yes, it can seem touristy with the wait staff dressed in historic attire, but it provides a fun intro to what the Colonials ate and drank with choices based on authentic period recipes.

– The Franklin Fountain: An ice cream parlor bringing you back to the time of soda jerks with bow-tied waiters and quite the list of flavors.

Have you been to Old City? What do you recommend?

Have you been to Old City? What do you recommend?

What to See in Dallas, Texas

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The last time I was in Dallas, Texas was about 30 years ago, so I was excited about making a return visit. Of course, since that time length, Dallas has been undergoing a boom in growth and development. Even a short stay like mine offers much to see and do. There are museums showcasing artistic wonders and artifacts spanning the centuries, plus two presidential legacies are recognized here. Other interests cater to dining, nightlife, and shopping. So, based on my recent three-day trip, here is a suggested list for exploring Dallas.

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Dallas Arts District
Dallas Arts District is said to be the country’s largest, continuous urban arts district. It’s got a number of cultural attractions within an easy walking distance. Some are just across the way from each other.

With general free admission, the Dallas Arts Museum is a treasure trove of over 24,000 works spanning across centuries, continents, and cultures. In all, the museum’s collection incorporates 5,000 years of creativity! A signature spot within one museum wing replicates a villa in the south of France, originally built by fashion designer Coco Chanel and once owned by a couple who were museum benefactors.

Another venue to visit is The Nasher Sculpture Center. It holds more than 300 modern and contemporary masterpieces by artistic greats including de Kooning, Matisse, Rodin, Picasso, and Miró. It also contains a really nice outdoor garden area, with sculptures and seating areas.

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Klyde Warren Park
This green space place is a central gathering spot for locals and food trucks. Built over a six-lane freeway, this 5.2-acre park has enough room for running around, laying down a blanket, or starting a Frisbee game. Free daily programming is also scheduled. Besides food trucks, there’s a snack area and a restaurant called Savor Gastropub that has a sleek floor-to-ceiling window setting, inventive cocktails and New American-style lunch, brunch and dinner choices.

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Dallas Farmers Market
For a meal or look around, this market in the downtown area will fill you up. It’s got various sections that operate throughout the week or only on weekends. The Market, a 26,000-square-foot food hall and artisan vendor marketplace, is a cornucopia of anchor restaurants and specialty food booths. Do a complete walk around this place and you’ll spot coffee shops, taquerias, ice cream stands, or seafood shops. Go for Taqueria La Ventana, an authentic Mexico City eatery that’s casual and a bit eclectic. While street tacos are their specialty, their menu also offers breakfast versions of tacos and quesadillas pairing egg and cheese with bacon, chorizo, or potato. From Friday through Sunday, see The Shed, an open-air pavilion where regional vendors and craftspeople sell what they grow or make.

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Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza
Based in the former Texas School Book Depository, the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza chronicles the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas. While educating visitors about what happened on November 22, 1963 in Dealey Plaza, and its aftermath, the museum also focuses on Kennedy’s overall legacy. News footage, historic images, and artifacts further enhance this chronological exhibit. After seeing this museum, walk over to Dealey Plaza. Now a U.S. National Historic Landmark, a ground plaque marks its place in time.

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Deep Ellum
A commercial district dating back to mid-19th century, Deep Ellum has a modern-day feel described as New Orleans meets New York City’s SoHo district. Nowadays it’s a hotspot for live music venues, art galleries, unique stores, breweries, and eateries.

Deep Ellum Brewing Company, a restaurant/taproom, makes creatively named suds such as their American Blonde Ale, Dallas Blonde. Braindead Brewing has both indoor and outdoor sections with craft brews and a pub menu with choices like their hefty-named Coma Burger.  At Pecan Lodge, a popular barbecue joint, it’s possible to encounter a waiting line but your patience will pay off.  Place your order, get a ticket, listen for your name, and then head up to the pickup counter to obtain your meal tray. Get a two or three meat plate with a choice of brisket, sausage, ribs or pulled pork paired with one side like their crowd-pleasing mac and cheese.

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Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden
Built on the ground of two former mansions, this well-manicured, 66-acre oasis blossoms with 19 various named gardens graced with different landscapes and flower beddings. A children’s adventure garden connects youngsters with nature by offering over 150 kid-friendly activities. Anticipated to open in fall 2017, a two-acre food garden called “A Taste of Place” will include an orchard, vineyard, and edible plantings. A teaching kitchen will hold tastings, cooking demos and classes, and other events relating to “garden to table” cuisine.

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George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum
Located on the campus of Southern Methodist University, the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum touches on our 43rd U.S. President’s life and time as Commander in Chief. Find a chronology of Bush family photos (including his dad, George H.W. Bush), a replica Oval Office, and a multi-media retrospective on the events of September 11, 2001. In the center of the building, look up at the walls to see a revolving projection on the American spirit. Temporary special exhibits also take place. Displays have included a collection of Bush’s oil paintings of military veterans from his “Portraits of Courage” book project. There’s also a farm-to-table café, named “43,” on the premise.

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Bishop Arts Center
South of downtown, in the North Oak Cliff borough, Bishop Arts Center is a historic shopping district that now incorporates an eclectic selection of art galleries and independently owned boutique stores with their respective offerings. Bishop Street Market is stocked with unique gift ideas, and Epiphany carries boho chic and contemporary styles for men and women’s clothing. Ordering a slice from Emporium Pies is a must. Selections rotate with the season, but these handmade treats could range from fruit-filled to chocolaty. If in need of caffeine, go to The Wild Detectives, a cool coffeehouse/bookstore combo. Then, have dinner at Tillman’s Roadhouse, a chic Texan-style eatery with regional favorites. End your evening outing at Bishop Cider Co., a tasting room featuring usually six flavorful cider varieties on tap.

Where to Learn About the Irish in New York City

 

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Creative Commons Flickr photo / Ritchie S

 

Even being of full Irish heritage, as both a first- and third-generation Irish American, I’m embarrassed to say that I seem to forget to acknowledge St. Patrick’s Day. For shame! But in New York City, there are many reminders of the legacy of the Irish around me. Along with St. Patrick’s Day Parades and Irish pubs throughout its five boroughs, there are noted locations that can put you directly in touch with Irish culture and history – all the way up to the present day.

Here is my list of suggested places to learn more about the Irish in New York City. While most of these locations can be seen by the general public, it’s best to check their websites for hours of operation and ticket prices.

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Credit: NPS photo

Ellis Island
From 1892 to 1954, 12 million immigrants came through this immigration inspection station, arriving via boats. Did you know that the first passenger to be processed through Ellis Island was said to be Irish? Annie Moore, a young woman from County Cork, was that person was initially registered through. Part of the National Parks Service, visitors can head to Ellis Island on daily cruises and walk through its great hall that once had clerks interviewing and inspecting new arrivals. Make plans to spend time in its immigration museum and sign up in advance for a guided hardhat tour, offered through Save Ellis Island, of an area that once functioned as a hospital.

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Photo by Liz Clayman, courtesy of the Lower East Side Tenement Museum

Lower East Side Tenement Museum
This former tenement turned museum on Manhattan’s Lower East Side is a prime example of how immigrants such as the Irish settled in and built new lives in their new homeland. In fact, an Irish family once resided in this building, a former tenement at 97 Orchard Street that had housed nearly 7,000 working class immigrants. In 1869, the Moores came to live here. Their restored home inside this museum can be visited on guided tours. This tour, called “Irish Outsiders,” also delves into some of the hardships the Moore family faced. (Note: Ticketholders meet at the Visitors Center at 103 Orchard Street.)

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Credit: Merchant’s House Museum Facebook page

Merchant’s House Museum
As for finding work, the Irish took on various labor-intensive jobs, one of them being as household servants. Between what’s now the Bowery and Lafayette Street, the prominent Tredwell family owned this 19th well-preserved rowhouse on East 4th Street for nearly a century (the last member lived here until her death in 1933 at age 93). While the Tredwells are much discussed, their Irish servants also get attention. Most information known about these four female employees is from census records. However, it’s common knowledge that their hours were long and pay was low, but they definitely were instrumental in running a household. On St. Patrick’s Day 2017, the museum will host guided tours relating to these servants throughout the day, plus a candlelight version at night.

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Creative Commons Flickr photo / Ken Lund

Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral
Most people know about St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue in Midtown, but its older cousin is set in NoLita. On the corner of Mott and Prince streets, this minor basilica once surrounded an improved Irish neighborhood but now caters to a multicultural congregation. During the mid-1800s, at a time when Irish Catholics faced much backlash and bigotry, the church got an outer brick wall for protection after an attempted ransacking and the threat of being burnt down. The church’s history also states that young Irish lads from the neighborhood also provided security as a militia that would become New York’s 69th Regiment (also known as the Fighting Irish). The cathedral has underground mortuary vaults and a cemetery, featuring a who’s who of prominent Catholic New Yorkers from the 16th through 18th centuries. You’ve also may have seen the church in “The Godfather” and “The Godfather Part II” movies.

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Creative Commons Flickr photo / Ana Paula Hirama

Columbus Park
The surroundings of this public park in Chinatown were once adjacent to the Five Points, a rough neighborhood slum known for its portrayal in the film version of the book, “Gangs of New York.” Conditions were so bad here, that photographer/social reformer Jacob Riis made an entire chapter about the Five Points in his book, “How the “Other Half Lives.” At one point in its history, the Five Points had an Irish population that was referred to being the largest outside of Dublin. Other ethnicities that came to live here throughout the mid-to-late 19th century included African Americans, German Jews, and Italians (who would go on establish another neighborhood, Little Italy). In the early 20th century, the area around the Five Points was consumed by a growing Chinatown. The area got some new life too, with plans to replace tenements with trees and flowers within a park setting. A developed green space called Mulberry Bend Park (what Columbus Park was once called) opened in the summer of 1897. Columbus Park got its present-day name in 1911; it’s for Christopher Columbus.

Irish neighborhoods within Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx
Irish culture in NYC goes beyond Manhattan, as past and present communities developed. So definitely put extra money on your subway card for trekking to these areas in the outer boroughs. For starters, The Bronx section of Woodlawn, nicknamed “Little Ireland,” has a hearty Irish population, with pubs like Behan’s Pub and the expansive Van Cortland Park. Queens has Rockaway Park, Woodside, and Sunnyside, and Brooklyn’s got Bay Ridge, Windsor Terrace, and Gerritsen Beach, plus Vinegar Hill has a lengthy Irish history.

Warwick Hotels and Resorts Unveils ‘Warwick Journeys’

 

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Warwick Hotels and Resorts unveiled “Warwick Journeys” at their NYC location.

 

Recently, Warwick Hotels and Resorts unveiled “Warwick Journeys,” a guest recognition program with a twist. Instead of giving points, the loyalty program will reward frequent guests with personalized benefits, starting with its hotel properties within North America and Europe.

Available for immediate enrollment, “Warwick Journeys” not only gives credit for every completed stay within the program but also features what’s called a cross-stay accelerator benefit. This benefit works by allowing Warwick Journeys members to progress through benefit tiers quicker by staying at multiple Warwick locations rather than just a single one.

 

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Outdoor patio area of a Warwick New York suite, once used by Cary Grant

 

Here’s how it happens. With enrollment, introductory members will receive complimentary Wi-Fi during their first stay and can book Warwick Journeys exclusive member offers. Purple level members will have completed two to three visits at a participating property and receive perks such as continued free Wi-Fi access.

Warwick New York was once a residential building owned by William Randolph Hearst, which he built for his associates and, in particular, his mistress Marion Davies.

Upon completing a stay at two separate Warwick hotels or between four to 15 stays at one property, gold status members get additional bonuses such as guaranteed availability with 72-hour advance notice of arrival, when booking the member-exclusive rate, and a late checkout at 4 p.m. Then, upon completing a stay at four different participating hotels or 16 plus nights at one property, black-level members will get both gold-level amenities and additional bonuses, including guaranteed availability within 24-hour advance notice.

The unveiling of the program took place at Warwick New York, a property with a special history. Publishing giant William Randolph Hearst had the building built in 1926 as a residential tower to accommodate his friends in Hollywood as well as for his long-time companion, Marion Davies. She had her own specially-designed floor in the building. Other noted occupants include actress Jane Russell and actor Cary Grant.

Experiencing Quebec City and Carnaval de Quebec

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Hilltop views of St. Lawrence River, adjacent to Quebec City

As with other travelers, a pre-Valentine’s Day snowstorm changed my plans to fly up to Quebec. Originally I was to visit both Montreal and Quebec City, but I ended up getting to Canada a day late but still with enough time to see Quebec City. I was there for Carnaval de Quebec, also known in Quebec Winter Carnival, an annual festival celebrating the season.

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Quebec City has had on and off variations of a winter carnival since 1894. Carnaval de Quebec, its contemporary version, began in 1955. Taking place from late January through early February, Carnaval de Quebec features parades, children’s activities, an ice sculpted palace, and parties. There are culinary offerings like caribou, a warm alcoholic beverage, and the opportunity to enjoy maple taffy, a syrupy treat freshly made upon a large ice block.

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Carnaval de Quebec even has an official mascot. It’s a snowman looking creature named Bonhomme Carnavale, a friendly fellow with a red hat and a red tuque and arrow sash (a winter scarf/belt). The carnival opens with Bonhomme Carnavale being presented with the key to the city, making Bonhomme king of the festivities and overall public representative.

While Carnaval de Quebec is a great time to visit Quebec City, this destination has much to offer in all seasons. Founded as a French settlement in 1608, Quebec City has sections that still hold onto an Old World feeling, while also having trending districts. I spent much of my time exploring Quebec City’s Old Quebec area.

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Certified as a UNESCO World Heritage site, Old Quebec is said to have the only remaining city wall fortifications in North America, north of Mexico. It’s divided into two sections: Lower Town (also known as Basse-Ville, where the original Quebec City settlement once stood) and Upper Town (also known as Haute-Ville, with views of the St. Lawrence River). You’re able to pass through the ramparts of this fortified section, with 4.6 kilometers (or roughly 2.86 miles) of walls, and walk along cobblestone streets and modern shops housed inside centuries-old buildings. Here’s what I saw and recommend you head to.

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Château Frontenac
A key landmark here is Château Frontenac, a grand hotel facing the St. Lawrence River that has had quite the guest list of celebrities and world leaders (think Charles Lindbergh and Ronald Reagan). Technically called Fairmont Le Château Frontenac, this circa 19th-century luxury property can both be stayed in and/or seen on public tours. Or take a stroll along its surrounding Terrasse Dufferin.

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Citadelle of Quebec
An active military installation for Canada’s Royal 22e Régiment, this three-century-old fortress contains a ton of history. Those walking up the long and steady way to reach this hilltop area will be rewarded with photo-taking views of the St. Lawrence River and Quebec City. Take the time to go on a guided tour of the vicinity, around the outside and a bit happening indoors. Inside the visitor’s center, there are display exhibits relating to the history of the Royal 22e Régiment. During June through September, catch a daily morning changing of the guard.

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Petit Champlain & Place-Royale
These two areas have their ties to Quebec City’s beginnings. Place-Royale is referred to as where the city’s founder, Samuel de Champlain, marked its roots. Nowadays, shops are found in this plaza as well as an impressive building surface mural called Fresque des Québécois. Located on Côte de la Montagne, this mural displays Quebec City’s history with inclusions of prominent references and visual nods to its fortifications. Petit Champlain is a narrow cobblestone street district with period homes holding cafes, boutiques, and galleries where a nice treat or souvenir can be bought. You’ll also want to have your camera ready, as you’ll find the street scene to be postcard picturesque.

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Cathedral of the Holy Trinity
This small Anglican church has some lovely stained glass windows and is also known for its two members – a donkey named Aldo and his companion, Holly. Holly came on the scene in August 2015 and stays with Aldo in the garden of the Bishop, next to the Cathedral. You can spot the twosome outside at times.

Old Quebec Funicular
What visitors will notice about Old Quebec is that there are staircases for getting to certain sections between Lower Town and Upper Town. There’s another option. Since 1879, this Old Quebec Funicular provides an easier and efficient way to get between these sections without having to walk up flights of steps. This funicular railway travels up and down between Quartier Petit Champlain and Dufferin Terrace near up to Le Château Frontenac. Buy a ticket and step inside one of these box-shaped cabins to go up.

As for eats, you’ll find a good mix of options from fine dining to more casual fare. If you appreciate something sweet or filling, go to Café Boulangerie Paillard. On Rue Saint-Jean, this eatery has eye-catching and even mouth-watering pastries, breads, soups, and sandwiches. Try their Gallette de Rois, a pastry with an almond creme filling. Yum!