Traveler’s Spotlight


By Amy Arden



Fourth of July: think picnics, hot dogs, fireworks. Main Street parades and flags in the breeze. A tradition that rolls into the American calendar as easily as Black Friday shopping and summer road trips.

Of course, this wasn’t always the case. Two centuries and some change separate us from an audacious piece of paper and the 8 years of insurrection that followed. Eight years of uncertainty. Eight years of hardship. Eight years of violence and espionage and deep, sometimes fatal divisiveness.

On the quiet, tree-lined streets of Colonial Williamsburg, visitors are invited to place themselves in a time when America’s emergence as a separate, sovereign nation was far from a foregone conclusion. Here is a place to ask questions about America’s beginnings, and just as importantly, her present.

I first visited Colonial Williamsburg as a child: it held two of my great loves, history and animals, in plentiful supply. I wandered the streets enthralled by the historical interpreters clad in period clothing and by the horses, sheep, and cattle that were never far away. On a house tour our guide explained colonial cuisine and the practice of keeping pigeons so that the young birds could be harvested and eaten. I was horrified as only a seven-year-old could be, and saw that history could be frightening as well as fascinating.

Still, history was easy for me then. It was easy to see the American revolutionaries as the good guys, and the red-coated British as the bad guys. Over the years, and particularly during the election of 2016, my ideas about America have grown more nuanced. Where better to wrestle with that then the place close to where some of the most powerful ideas about America began?

Walk Colonial Williamsburg and you’ll walk on streets paved with crushed white oyster shells as you stroll beside neat wooden houses and shops, many of them with tidy gardens. It is quiet. It is orderly. It lends itself, if such is your inclination, to reflection. Williamsburg’s streets offer not the indulgence of a beachfront resort, or the pampering of a luxury hotel, but serenity of a different kind.

There is movement, too. There are blacksmiths, printers, gardeners, gunsmiths, carpenters, and coachmen. Shopkeepers sell wares that would have made life in the 18th century more comfortable as well as souvenirs for today’s tourists. A step inside any of the workshops for the skilled trades reveals a technical knowledge and dexterity difficult to conceive of now that so few of us are called to make anything for ourselves, or for anyone else. I look at the roof of a building with new appreciation and think of how in a pre-industrial world, every wooden shingle had to be made by hand. Every turn of the stairway, every pane of glass in the window, every brick in the fireplace.  I begin to calculate the labor hours that must have gone into constructing even a modest home and quickly admit defeat.

Food preparation as well was no small feat. Over a period dinner at the Shields Tavern I’m served hot rolls and curried chicken and a bowl of wine punch that bears more than a passing resemblance to sangria. The other guests and I are entertained by a woman who sings popular tunes of the era, including a funny women’s drinking song, and it takes me a moment to realize why the atmosphere of the room has a stillness to it despite the activity. There are no electric lights. We have daylight, and candles, and I find that they are more than enough.

Beyond the main thoroughfares lie secluded paths, such as those behind the governor’s mansion. A dirt trail circles a pond where a solitary heron fishes, and turtles bask in the sun. The trees are a mix of native species: oak, holly, beech, hemlock, interspersed with a few glossy-leaved magnolias. Here the air smells like a Southern pine forest, of soil and needles and resin. The sulphur of the blacksmith’s forge and the brown scent of manure are only a few streets away, but they have disappeared.

Yet despite the manure on the streets and the stocks in plain view and other less-than-pleasant reminders of the realities of the past, Williamsburg is still a selective slice of history. The narrative is still mainly white, mainly male. And though this was an age when slaves were shipped in chains across the Atlantic, when married women’s property and income belonged to their husbands, when people of different political beliefs could be tarred and feathered, sometimes fatally, such things are rarely visible in Williamsburg. They are indirectly acknowledged; as one interpreter put it, when describing the fact that over half of the colonial city’s population was made up of slaves, “Our history isn’t all positive.”

Sometimes how we choose to remember the past is just as telling as the facts themselves. What gets commemorated? What is left out of the story, and why? Whose stories are being told, and whose are not?

I came to Williamsburg searching for answers to questions about what America was, and what it wasn’t. I found none. But I was reminded that the flawed and visionary people who founded this nation had no answers either, only ideas. From where we stand more than two centuries later, we are left with the same.

© 2017 TORO Media, LLC

Christmas in Quebec City

Traveler’s Spotlight


Where to Stay

Hotel Cap Diamant


Hotel Cap Diamond is located on 39, Avenue Sainte-Genevieve, Quebec QC G1R 4B3.  This intimate boutique style hotel is perfect for travelers seeking privacy and amazing customer service.  I felt welcomed the minute I arrived and the other guest I spoke with felt exactly the same.  The hotel is in the oldest building on the street and has a rich history.


The rooms were spacious, clean, and well lit.  Walking into my room, I felt as if I was taken back to the Victorian era.


Chateau Frontenac


It is no surprise that Chateau Frontenac is the most photographed hotel in the world.  The hotel was built by Cornelius Van Horne, a railroad tycoon.  Check out Sam’s bar inside the hotel for some amazing drinks and bar food.  This is a high end hotel, but well worth your money.


Where to Eat

Aux Anciens Canadiens

Aux Anciens Canadiens is located in the upper town of Quebec City.  I ate here twice and was ready to go back a third if I had more time.  The first night I arrived, I sat at the bar and ordered Poutine, which was first created in Quebec City.  I highly recommend you make reservations to avoid a long wait before you are seated.




Situated in the lower part of Old Town, you will definitely want to eat here.  Try their amazing appetizers, mouth watering breakfast, or their delicious steaks.


73 Rue Sault-au-Matelot/Quebec City, Canada  Phone: (418) 692-1299


Cafe du Monde

While in Quebec City, find your way to this modern restaurant with views of the St. Laurent river.  Well, I saw nothing but ice, but I am sure it is a more pleasant view during the Spring or Summer.

84 Rue Dalhousie/ Quebec City, Canada Phone:  (418) 692-4455

Other Things to Experience 
  1. La Citadelle
  2. Musee de la Civilisation de Quebec
  3. Place Royale
  4. Place de l’Hotel de Ville
  5. Sanctuaire Notre-Dame du Sacre-Coeur

If you have other recommendations or would like to discuss your Quebec City experience, please share below.

Safe travels!

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©2017 TORO Media, LLC

Travel Security

Jim Sutton






By Jim Sutton


Thinking about the intersection between travel and security is nothing new. A 2011 column ( ) on the topic asked:

“How does it draw the line between technology and personal service? There is no doubt that technology plays an important role in tourism and travel. Most of us are now used to booking our airline reservations on line, dealing with telephone trees and other cost saving devices. These technological advances have allowed corporations to save on manpower while at the same time empowering customers to make their own decisions.”

Since those comments, where are we now and what can we anticipate for the foreseeable future? Five technological trends are already evident:


As enterprises become more data-driven, it’s not the hardware or the infrastructure that’s at issue. Instead, technology professionals with the skills to organize, analyze, and secure data are increasingly hard to find. Furthermore, the volume of data is growing significantly.

The Cisco® Visual Networking Index (VNI) predicts that the annual global IP traffic will reach 2.3 ZB per year by 2020. For travelers, this means potential data saturation and the inability to process all that information. Most of the connectivity will be carried by smartphones and other portable devices.

2. Velocity

The traffic from wireless and mobile devices will account for two thirds of total IP traffic by 2020. Likewise, global fixed broadband speeds are anticipated to increase. Travelers and other users can find out about violent incidents within minutes of their occurrence, nearly anywhere in the world. This trend can only accelerate in the future, unless there is some sort of global technological catastrophe that degrades the system worldwide.

3. Veracity

Coupled with the preceding trends, the issue of veracity and reliance on electronic media for reliable information becomes increasingly tenuous. The recent furor over false news reveals immediate and future challenges that face cybersecurity and digital governance. Damaging attacks are simpler to imagine and execute, using commonplace tweets, emails, and domains. Stolen identities and socially engineered data can also pose risks. Trustworthiness of information remains paramount, and travelers must remain vigilant about fake news and the potential for criminal imposters.

The Canadian firm Brand Protect provides clients with relevant, actionable information about cyber threats that can affect an enterprise’s customers, business, and reputation. Their weekly publication, Cyber Threat News Digest, keeps clients informed about macro-level cyber threats and related issues.

4. Validation

Individuals, whether traveler, government officials, or corporate executives, are responsible for validating the information they encounter. Remember to carefully consider the potential results of any decision or action that you take based on the information you’re given.

5. Internal Threats and Sabotage

No one knows our weaknesses and vulnerabilities better than our intimate companions, including family, friends, and close colleagues.

Complex systems such as social media are vulnerable to sabotage and may be used by individuals to cause harm to others, be it their families, colleagues, innocent people, or even the organizations they are working for. While social media has great utility as the source of useful information, recent events highlight the importance of trusting curated content over unproven or unverified data. Ill-intentioned individuals increasingly use social media to create, distribute, or perpetuate false information, exaggerating or distorting actual events.

Intel Security’s Eric Peterson cites CEO fraud (the FBI calls it business email compromise) – where individuals in companies are targeted through social engineering, and manipulated to fraudulently transfer money to criminal-controlled bank accounts. There have been instances where the attacks have coincided with business travel dates for executives, since this increases the chances of the attack’s success.

“Looking to 2017 and beyond, we might even see purveyors of data theft offering ‘target acquisition as a service,’ built on machine learning algorithms,” Peterson says. “We expect that the accessibility of machine learning will accelerate and sharpen social engineering attacks in 2017.” 

Social media platforms enable two-way interaction between all sorts of people and have become a game changer in personal, social, and political communication. Conventional media has arguably become less influential.

Don Peppers observation that most people don’t fully realize how social networks actually operate, and the important implications this has for how we use (or abuse), noted in a 2012 article on LinkedIn, remains true today. We are often surprised by social media functionalities and vulnerabilities that few outside industrial, technical, or academic environments fully anticipated. For example, one of the most influential members of Reddit in its early days was a man named Adam Fuhrer – who turned out to be a 12- year-old-boy living with his parents in Toronto.

“Multiply this by the hundreds of millions of social media participants’ around the world and we get an idea of the challenge faced by travelers relying on non-curated sources of travel security information.”

Staying Safer While Traveling

As the number of airport-related criminal and terrorist events proliferate, security precautions at airports are likely to undergo substantial changes in terms of configurations, operations, and procedures. Staying current on these changes wherever you travel and planning ahead to meet these changes is highly recommended.

Make back-up plans in case your mobile devices are lost or stolen. Many of us rely on smartphones for managing air travel, car rental, and even checking into and out of hotels. This increases our level of exposure and leaves us open to having emerging vulnerabilities exploited. Manual approaches might be less convenient, but they are also safer and more reliable.

Developing a degree of redundancy – a back-up plan – in the event portable devices are lost, stolen or quit working, is prudent practice and common sense. On a recent visit to the traffic-jammed metropolis of Mexico City, my host proudly mentioned he had a GPS device in his car. Everything went according to plan until the GPS device failed! The map function on my smart phone proved to be of little value as I had failed to buy the Mexico travel package. After visiting multiple gas stations in search of a map, I ended up purchasing the rather costly “Mexico City Travel Guide” (Guia Roji, Spanish Edition) which included far more information needed for our immediate needs, but proved to be invaluable for subsequent local travel.

Whether making trips for personal or business travel, or a blend of the two, we need to plan ahead to ensure our personal safety. Contingency plans should include how to safeguard information and maintaining reliable access to our portable devices.

The future has arrived. Smart travelers need to not only watch out for current threats, but anticipate a future where pressures will evolve faster than we are capable of adjusting to them. Situational awareness, technological flexibility, and personal adaptability will be key for security.

©2017 TORO Media, LLC

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Traveler’s Spotlight




By Amy Arden



Describing Pittsburgh, PA as magical would likely be a stretch of the imagination for most people. But I grew up in western Pennsylvania, often within sight of cows and cornfields, and whenever I left the farmland behind and entered the bustle and busyness of Pittsburgh, it did feel like stepping into a different world.

I recently revisited that world for a weekend. It had been over 15 years since I last spent time in the Steel City. I was curious to see if the old places were as I remembered them. I wondered if my former neighborhood had changed, if I would still know my way around. If the pancakes at Pamela’s Diner were still the guilty pleasure that I longed for even from 300 miles away, if the 61C Café in Squirrel Hill still had sunflowers blooming beside its patio, if the Strip District was still an eclectic mix of street vendors and shops.

I started in Squirrel Hill on Pittsburgh’s East Side. The neighborhood boasts a thriving business district as well as residential areas, and I eagerly picked my way along Forbes Avenue searching for landmarks I recognized. The Squirrel Hill Café still stood in neon glory on the corner (last time I was in the ‘burgh, I’d been too young to drink there) but many other business had disappeared. In their place were fusion restaurants, boutique bike shops, and artisanal bakeries. The used record shop where I purchased Rush’s Greatest Hits now served craft beers and a chef-curated menu.

I was unanchored, adrift. I struggled to navigate a world I could not recognize. Hungry and tired, my husband Vince and I plopped down at Sukhothai Bistro for a restorative lunch of steamed dumplings, beef and broccoli, and spicy eggplant on their sidewalk patio. From there, I continued my quest to find the neighborhood I remembered.


I’d forgotten Pittsburgh’s hills. They are everywhere, even in the streets I’d walked with ease all those years ago. At Independent Brewing Company, we stopped to take advantage of their afternoon specials for some liquid refreshment. I tried a pumpkin stout that was smooth, creamy, and entirely without bitterness, while Vince’s Belgian-style beer had a light, mildly hoppy and pleasant flavor reminiscent of citrus.

After turning the corner onto Murray Avenue, I at last came to something I recognized: the 61C Café. Named for a local bus route, the café has been a neighborhood staple and anchor for decades. I stepped inside and was immediately awash in memories – the white mugs of coffee, glass jars of cookies and biscotti on the countertop, the paintings and photographs on the walls, me sitting at one of those tables with a spiral-ring notebook, writing. The 61C was a cool coffee shop before coffee shops tried to be cool. I smiled and walked to the counter, half-expecting my frequent customer card to be waiting inside one of the tiny wooden boxes.

Outside on the patio, I sipped my latte and slowly, slowly, began to feel at home. Tall sunflowers bloomed in wooden boxes alongside the patio, just as I had remembered. The afternoon sun was warm, the patio quiet, and for a moment, I could step inside my much younger self.

But places don’t stay the same, much as we may wish them to, and nowhere in Pittsburgh did that truth become clearer than downtown. Pittsburgh has always been a great city for food, mostly of the uncomplicated and unpretentious kind. There is a special love for fries – the overflowing baskets of fries plunked unceremoniously onto trays at the O, fries stuffed into sandwiches at Primanti Brothers, fries sprinkled on salads pretty much anywhere in Pittsburgh that served salad. So naturally, when we ate dinner that night, it included fries, but of a rarified kind in a setting that seemed at once both industrial and chic.


The Commoner is popular and trendy, exactly the kind of place I would have avoided in my cheeky youth. But it proved the perfect spot for dinner – prompt and friendly service, throwback cocktails, and well-executed and generous dishes. Everything from my Pink Lady (yes, a Pink Lady…something I could imagine Joan Holloway drinking) to butter lettuce salad to fish and chips was amazing, but there is a special place in my heart for the Brussels sprouts and bacon, which may be the best thing I’ve ever eaten. Ever.

From there, no visit to Pittsburgh is complete without a trip up Mt. Washington to take in stunning city views. My original plan was to take the Duquesne Incline up the slope so we could enjoy the ascent and ride back down. But our GPS took us under the incline instead of its Carson Street terminus, and we ended up with a classic “Pittsburgh experience” of finding ourselves on a one-way road, on the wrong side of the river, going in the wrong direction, and unable to turn around. Eventually we got to the top of Mt. Washington, found that the parking gods smiled upon us by providing a spot almost immediately, and joined dozens of other pedestrians strolling between observation platforms on the unseasonably warm autumn night. The moon was nearly full, and the views were both otherworldly and glorious.

The following morning we walked to the Strip District. I’d loved shopping these stores as a kid, experimenting with imported foods and buying up sweets from a wholesale candy store. With disappointment I discovered that many of the old wholesalers were gone. Even the Starbucks – the Starbucks where I had my very first encounter with the now ubiquitous brand – had closed and been out-gentrified. Upscale restaurants now tipped the balance of the Strip from commerce to leisure.

I had to admit that I’ve changed too. Catching my reflection in the hotel lobby that morning, I saw that I looked exactly like the person that my college-age self would have mocked. Outfitted in technical gear although I was going no farther than a local market, Starbucks in hand, and tiny dog in tow, I’d become the spitting image of the stereotype I feared.


One glimmer remained – Pamela’s Diner. The pancakes were still huge, the coffee still bad (though now diners can spring for a French press), and I loved it. President Obama had eaten here while in Pittsburgh for the G20 summit in 2009. There’s a saying at Pamela’s that “There has never been a sadness that cannot be cured by breakfast food” and after a few bites of their classic crepe-style pancakes, I was ready to believe it.


In Pittsburgh, the old and the new are co-existing, for now, and that gives me hope. At Phipps Conservatory, a spectacular series of greenhouses gifted to the city by industrialist Henry Phipps in the 1890s, several of those Victorian-era buildings remain. Visitors can sign up to take Tai chi classes in the conservatory, and then drink a homegrown Iron City beer in the café. Pittsburgh has one of the strongest senses of place that I have ever encountered, and I hope that never goes away.

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©2017 TORO Media, LLC

Photos by:  Amy Arden

Traveler’s Spotlight


Nestled along the St Lawrence River is the world’s most famous winter slide, the Toboggan Slide Au 1884.  It sits in front of the famous Chateau Frontenac and is visited and photographed by millions of visitors each year.

The desent was much faster than I imagined and I had a hard time trying to hold my camera steady and also hold on to the rope.  You can reach up to speeds of 70km/h.


Open mid-December to mid-March.


Single:  $3.00 (Canadian)

5 Rides:  $10.00 (Canadian)

Seasonal Pass:  $35.00 (Canadian)

Enjoy and Merry Christmas!

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©2016 TORO Media, LLC

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