Whistler Olympic Tour...Ablonczy embarrasses Canada...Jim's Deal of Day...
WHISTLER – I’m here for a GO Media conference of Canadian travel folks, put on (and quite well) by the Canadian Tourism Commission. The conference is being held at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler, a lovely property at the foot of Blackcomb Mountain in the so-called upper village.
The Peak-to-Peak Gondola ride (see yesterday’s post) was great. Tuesday morning there was a breakfast sponsored by Saskatchewan, with some wonderful older folks playing piano and fiddle and singing old-timey tunes like Red River Valley. Quite delightful.
After breakfast there was a choice of activities in Whistler, from golf at Chateau Whistler golf course to ATV’ing or ziplining through the forests. I chose an Olympics venue tour, being an Olympics guy, and it was quite nice.
Got to see the bottom of the towering ski jumps, where they’re still doing a ton of work to build the temporary spectator seats and make room for the TV and media folks (see my story in today’s sports section for more on the status of construction and the 2010 Winter Olympics in general).
Also visited the athletes’ village, where the units will be turned into badly needed housing for Whistlerites (Whistleronians?) after the Olympic and Paralympic flames are extinguished. Market homes will cost about $900,000, but profits from those are helping others get subsidized houses for about one-half that, and that’s a remarkable deal in super-heated British Columbia real estate. It’s a great deal to get a subsidized unit, but authorities smartly made it so that you can only re-sell your unit and raise the price by the cost of inflation. In other words, no buying at $450,000 and then selling it double the price a month later. Or a year.
Anyway, that was the morning. After our tour came a lunch put on by the CTC. I got there a little late and sat down to hear someone giving a quite lengthy speech about what I think was every single tourist attraction in Canada. The speaker touched on Newfoundland, Gaelic and Celtic culture in Nova Scotia, the joys of the ice hotel in Quebec, the multiculturalism of Toronto, the joys of the prairies and Great Slave Lake, as well as Dinosaur Provincial Park in Alberta, the wide expanses of the north and the scarcity of traffic signs and, of course, all the great things to see in British Columbia. Many folks said she skipped New Brunswick and put Great Slave Lake in the wrong part of the country, but I can’t confirm that. And if she mentioned Banff, Lake Louise or Jasper, I didn’t hear it. She went off on a tangent about how you can drive in northern Canada for hours and see nothing, but she made it sound pretty dull instead of free and open.
On the other hand, we did get to hear about her husband’s love of trains and the remarkable train trips she’s taken. Lots of people drone on for way too long in public speeches and talk about nothing and bore audiences to death, but this happened to be Diane Ablonczy, Canada’s Minister of State (Small Business and Tourism).
I've covered politics for 15 or 20 years of my political life, and it was possibly the worst speech I've ever heard. There were reporters from Japan, Germany, England and other markets that are important to Canada, and she had no clue what to say or how to say it. The speech was Tuesday at lunch, and it was still a huge topic of conversation at breakfast Wednesday morning.
It's no reflection on the CTC, which is doing a great job at the conference. But it's a shame the minister had to put a temporary shadow on the Whistler sunshine.
CANADIANS ARE CHATTY? TRY FLORIDA
Not unlike Vancouver, there are tons of coffee choices in Whistler village. There are two Starbucks and a Second Cup. But I opted to stop into Moguls Coffee the other day and wolfed down (actually it took me two breakfasts to finish it) a wonderful blueberry-cinnamon muffin. Linda Ingversson, a Swedish immigrant, makes them by hand every morning and they’re killers.
I was chatting with Ingversson about a controversy regarding a memo put out by the Resort Municipality of Whistler (ROMW for short in the local papers, just FYI) that urges locals to decorate their homes with red and white Christmas lights, sing "Oh, Canada" in a loud voice when Canadian athletes win a gold medal and to otherwise throw off their emotional shackles and get loud come 2010. She told me she thinks Canadians are chatty as can be, at least compared to the Swedes.
“If you go to a grocery store here, people in line will chat with you,” she said. “I like that. It would never happen at home.”
She thinks Canadians are chatty in line? She ought to go to Florida. I can’t get out of a grocery store in the Sunshine State without the checkout girl giving a running commentary on what’s in my cart.
“Oh, multi-grain Cheerios? I’ve never tried those. My kids love the Honey Nut ones. I know they’re bad for them but they just love them so much. What about you? What about Apple-Cinnamon? Aren’t those good? Remember when there only plain Cheerios? What about those? And how about those Devil Rays? Do you like baseball?”
Geez, I just want to buy my food and get back to my condo, and they want to rattle on like a Tourism minister or something...
While we're on the subject of Florida, VISIT FLORIDA today said a record 2.9 million Canadians visited the Sunshine State in 2008, a 15.6 per cent hike over the 2.5 million Canadian visitors the year before.
JIM'S DEAL OF THE DAY
Jamaica’s Half Moon has extended its Fourth Night Free promotion until Oct. 31. This deal also comes with a guaranteed room upgrade and free accommodation for kids under 12 when sharing a room with two adults. Half Moon offers suites and cottages as well as villas with anywhere from four to seven bedrooms, geared to larger groups and extended families. The villas also have their own private pools and include the services of a butler, cook and housekeeper. On-site diversions range from a Robert Trent Jones, Sr.-designed 18-hole golf course to Fern Tree, the Spa at Half Moon, an equestrian centre, water sports and children’s village. See www.halfmoon.com.