Planning travel with the web is so helpful, you can almost skip the trip!

Lonely Planet was, and is, the gold standard for travel books. Want to know a $45 a night hotel in Paris that's safe and clean -- spend $25 on Lonely Planet Paris.

But, frankly, reading such a book is not a very rich experience. You can't really tell if your wife would prefer Paris' Marais district over Saint Germain des pres. And you have no idea whether the information is up to date.

Flickr & Youtube
Today, I still plan travel with a Lonely Planet guide, but I go beyond. The photo management site Flickr, sold as a tool to store and share photos, doubles as tagged photographic evidence of everything on Earth. Want to see an Andalucian Villa? Do a Flickr search. The key I've found is to search for both a place name and an activity. Searching for "paris" is too general. Do "Paris" and "Shopping" or "Seville" and "yelling." If you're going outside the tourist season (when most photos are taken), throw in a month or season name. Before booking a hotel room, search for that ... most often than not, I've found one person has taken the obligatory room and window shots.

Flickr is enjoyed by photo snobs, so there are plenty of beautiful shots. Not so much with youtube. But by searching for videos taken within a town or street -- even if they're of two kids doing skateboard tricks -- instantly immerses you in the overseas environment. Seeing the action can make what is at first foreign come to be natural.
These guys seemed to get very smart in the past year -- or, like fax machines, they only became useful after they become popular. Either way, it seems that even the most remote hotel is now reviewed by multiple people, with detailed written reviews, a quantitative survey and even, occasioannly, amateur photographs. In many cases, by reading individual reviews, you can reconcile wildly different review scores. For example, one person may give a hotel 5 stars and comment that it was very clean and friendly, while another would give it 2 stars and add that the towels were sub-par and it room service was slow; the first person may have splurged on a rare, nice hotel, whereas the latter may be used to extravagance and found this place lacking.

Expedia also has hotel reviews, and I believe they are tied to actual reservations made through Expedia, so they're much more likely to be authentic -- that said, as a writer, I like to think I can spot a bullshit review.

Booking and other sites often have very good special prices. They key here is to check every day for weeks in advance of a trip. Furthermore, it's worth it to call the hotel to confirm the reservation within a few hours of making it through one of these sites.

Finally, if I can't find some information anywhere else, I use Yahoo Answers. Here I can post a question and categorize it narrowly -- often, within 2-3 hours I have multiple responses. Typical questions may be: how much is a taxi from XX airport to the centre of town.

Outremont is different than the Montreal I once vistited

One week before I started undergrad, I took off with two friends to the Laurentians and Montreal to drink and toast a point of inflection. In Montreal, Rue St. Catherine was the only rue, and it was debauchery.

Thirteen years later, I brought two travelling companions of a different sort -- my wife and daughter -- to promenade the rue's of Outremont; sort of a muted fusion of Le Marais and Dufferin Street.

I love young Quebecois -- they're confident and sophisticated. I love old Quebecois -- they're kind and complex. For a brief moment, looking at a fleur de lis, I thought about being a nationalist. Being proud of a singular race/state. The blue was compelling -- so bright compared with the maple leaf that is like one's front door. But I cannot be a true Israeli, even if the old Levine blood counts for something. I am 32 and have never lived as a Jewish person. And I cannot be Quebecois of any degree for the same reason. But maybe that's beside the point.

What's better about pluralism? It's not an easy answer. There's complexity in the system and in the answer. But pluralism is right. I think I know that with certainty.

We met an amazing Senegalese man on a bus on route 80 Friday night. He was with his family. We liked talking to him -- it was small talk, but there was something underlying. He was leaving Montreal for one year, then returning -- I think for good. Is he Quebecois? His french was perfect, I think. I liked him more than any hoser; more than a bourgeoisie wine-sipper in North Toronto. Within the "scoring" of pluralistic complexity, perhaps he is more Quebecois than me, and less than others.

Ontario is orange. That's our fleur de lis. And everyone else is a grade of orange, or not orange, but living in it like marshmallows in hot chocolate.

We'll return to Quebec. Get a bit better at french and do the small towns where you can't revert to English. Then we will see ...

post script: Jan Wong was censured by the Parliament of Canada. It was wrong.

Juggling well

Narrative worked for cirque de soleil ... and this guy's pretty good too.