Archive for Travel

Can Shiatsu Rub Out Hay Fever and Allergies?

Sinus Sister is all thumbs

At my wits’ end from serial sneezing, I accepted a generous offer from Shiatsu Masters in Toronto for a free treatment. “It’s no quick fix,” warned Ross Oakes, who works at the affiliated Shiatsu Academy of Tokyo. “But the results speak for themselves.” Ross should know. He’s an ex-sneezer we met in an earlier post. Arriving at the Broadview Street clinic, a sweetie named Marie ushered me into a cozy treatment room with a brick fireplace . There was a futon-cum-wrestling mat on the ground, and absolutely no clutter.

“I’m from Japan, but I didn’t know about Shiatsu!” laughed Marie, her eyes twinkling. “I started here as receptionist. When I saw the look on everyone’s face after a treatment, I knew it worked and started my training.”

Marie arranged my limbs into the beginning position: lying on your side, bottom arm extended, top leg draped over and bent at the knee—the way pregnant women sleep. With the faint sound of rain outside, I was ready to doze off when she began pressing her thumbs into my neck and throat. It’s an odd sensation, but not unpleasant. Then she worked methodically down the entire body, leading with her two thumbs.  Sometimes the pressure was a bit painful, but it was for the greater good. No pain, no gain. Marie asked me to tell her when to ease up (She isn’t into the pain-gain theory). An hour later, I was reborn, loosey goosey. Did I feel it in my sinuses? Yes. When Marie did my head massage and stretch, I felt a pop and an easing of pressure. Was it miraculous? No, but I suspect the bigger impact will be long term, from a stimulated immune system. Ross is right, there’s no quick fix.

Top 10 Worst Fall Allergy Cities (in the USA): No Threat to Your Bucket List

September 30, 2011  |  Travel  |  ,  |  1 Comment

Sinus Sister and her Sneeze Map

Thanks, Tim, for sending this hit list of the worst American cities for people with fall allergies. Ummm, how do I say this delicately?…There’s no need to change your bucket list. If you were planning a trip south to spend our colourful Canadian dollars, my guess is your weren’t heading to any of these cities—unless you’re making a pilgrimage with your book club to see where The Help was set in Jackson Mississippi. Carry your Claritin!

Here are the pollen hotspots to avoid:

1. Greensboro, N.C.
2. Greenville, S.C.
3. Little Rock, Arkansas
4. Raligh, NC
5. Jackson, Miss.
6. Knoxville, Tenn.
7. Grand Rapids, Michigan
8. Wichita, Kansas
9. Oklahoma City
10. Madison, Wis.

Magic Chinese Lanterns at the Botanical Gardens: Sneezer’s Hell?

September 13, 2011  |  Travel  |  , ,  |  No Comments

Sinus Sister risks a sneeze fest




A sprawling garden devoted to all things horticultural? That’s no place for a sneezer. But Sinus Sister braves the pollen to see The Magic Lanterns when they arrive at the Botanical Gardens each fall. This year, the 20th anniversary, is a blowout, with over 200 lanterns designed to pay tribute to China’s First Emperor, Qin Shi Huangdi, and his cavalry. Another 700 lanterns set the mood. It’s dazzling, with illuminated guard towers, military chariots, gongs, bells and storks, tigers and drums. Are they made of silk? Probaby not, but it doesn’t matter. Brilliant colours flood the little lake in middle of the garden, reflecting in ripples. The lantern display is arranged in a big loop, along a pathway that isn’t easy to navigate with a stroller or a toddler, yet many try. To avoid the crush of baby carriages, visit the Chinese Lanterns at 8:30pm, for the last hour. It’s quiet, with no flashbulbs and great sight lines. It’s easier to gape, in awe, in the quiet. My visit was sneeze-free, which only fed into Handsome Manling’s theory that half my allergies are psychosomatic: “If I can’t see flowers, I won’t sneeze”…..Balderdash. Pollen is released in the morning. The enemy was simply asleep.

The Magic of Lanterns is well worth the $16.50 for adults ($2.50-$8.25 for kids), but bring a few extra bucks to buy a tea and cookie. If you drive, bring $10 for parking.

The Lanterns in Music – Tuesdays (drum and gong) and Saturdays (guzheng), from September 9 to October 31, 2011: at 5:15, 6, 6:45, 7:15 and 8 p.m.

Beijing Opera under the Lanterns – September 22 and 28, 2011 at 6, 6:30, 7:15 and 8 p.m.
Excerpts from the Beijing Opera (song and dance)

Guided Tours of the Lanterns – Daily, at 2 and 6 p.m. (30 min), from September 9 to October 31, 2011
Learn all about the Garden and China’s First Emperor

Photography Workshops and Tips (Photo Lozeau) – October 14, 15 and 16, 2011, from 6 to 9 p.m.

Light up our Lanterns (BIXI) – from September 9 to October 31, 2011
Transform yourself into a source of renewable energy and light up our lanterns.

Until October 31, 2011.

Rating: ★★★★½ 


Sex & the Sinus

September 7, 2011  |  Travel  |  , ,  |  No Comments

Sinus Sister flees the City

Hightailing it out of town seemed like the perfect way to escape urban ragweed. Little did Sinus Sister know that the countryside has its own villain—a yellow menace called goldenrod. There are fields and fields of goldenrod circling Montreal. With the car windows rolled up and the air vents shut, I held my breath until arriving at the Fairmont Chateau Montebello for a mini-break. Exhale. Ahhhh. No ragweed on these pristine grounds and no goldenrod in sight.

The Château is made of 10,000 red cedars logs. Thankfully, it looks rustic without actually being rustic, so the bathroom didn’t send me into a girly meltdown. The Montebello was perfection, with well-groomed tennis courts, running trails and swimming pools. All that outdoor activity put Sinus Sister in the mood for her Handsome Manling. Making their way onto the king-sized bed, she suddenly reached for a tissue. ACHOO! Oh no! Feather pillows—my kryptonite. Many a dirty romp has been spoiled by fluffy down filling. Nothing kills the mood more than serial sneezing, while pointing at a duvet like it’s a murder weapon. Plus, it’s really hard to hold in your stomach while sneezing, wearing a negligee and high heels.

Housekeeping must’ve taken rapid-response training, because a bellhop named Charles knocked on the door only four minutes after our call to reception. He held foam pillows, looking sheepish, like it was somehow his fault. I was the one who neglected to ask about the bedding. Excited to escape the ragweed, I forgot about indoor enemies.

“Oh, we have an entire wing of rooms without feather bedding,” said Charles, tactfully ignoring any X-rated products that may or may not have been on the bed-side table.  But Handsome Manling was done with the chit-chat. He grabbed the pillows, gave Charles a twoonie and shut the door. He dodged my last sneeze, then handed me a high heel.


Hyatt: Hypo-Allergenic Hotel Rooms

August 22, 2011  |  Travel  |  , , ,  |  2 Comments

Sinus Sister leaves her hazmat suit at home

Respire by Hyatt

“May I have a quiet room, away from the elevator, ice machines and street noise? Oh, and can you burn the bedspread and dip the entire room in disinfectant before bringing my luggage up?”

That’s how I book a hotel room….That’s why I’m hated. I tell myself it’s unrealistic to expect hotels to replace the duvet after every guest, but they can clean the air. Sinus Sister tips her hat to the Hyatt for creating a new class of hypo-allergenic room. The rooms are called Respire by Hyatt. According to the press release, 98% of airborne viruses and bacteria, including pollens and other irritants, are eliminated. How? Thanks to the good people at PURE Solutions, who created a seven-step process to reduce airborne particles and minimize the presence of potential irritants. This process includes an air purification system and treatment of all fabrics (note to self: safe to sit on bedspread) and surfaces. To please us sneezers even further, the following steps were taken:

  • One-time shock treatment to minimize irritants. (How can we do this at home?)
  • Disinfection of Air Handling Unit and Installation of removable tea tree oil cartridge to maintain these conditions.
  • Installation of hypo-allergenic mattress & pillow encasings. (I’d hope so)
  • Installation of a powerful air purifier by Healthway. (The Lexus of air purifiers)
  • Recertification every six months. (Good governance always turns me on)
Respire rooms cost approximately $25 extra per night. Is it worth it? That depends on whether you like to travel with your hazmat suit.

Halls for Hay Fever

August 12, 2011  |  Drug Reviews, Travel  |  , ,  |  No Comments

Pulling up to an American gas station, Sinus Sister feels the squeeze.

The clever marketers at Halls are nosing into the hay fever market. That’s what I discovered while pumping gas, of all things, over the border. There was a video screen at the pump, where I saw an ad for Halls cough drops, followed by the day’s pollen count (Thanks to the gurus at Accu.Weather). Apparently cherry, honey-lemon and Mentho-Lyptus are the go-to allergy flavours–although they should consider making Long Island Iced Tea and Mojito… They’re more summery.

Sucking on a cough drop is really more of a winter thing, to me, but I felt the ad working its subliminal magic. Maybe a Halls would combat the dry air conditioning in the car? Maybe it would help whisk some of the phloem down my throat? Maybe it’s just easier to justify than a pack of Starburst on a road trip? Yes, that’s it. Who’s the sucker, you ask? Good question.

Sneezing Doesn’t Pay the Rent

July 21, 2011  |  Travel  |  ,  |  1 Comment

When she isn’t scouring the city for hay fever cures, Sinus Sister makes a living writing things like this….

A project to replace infamous Belfast murals comes under fire

Something a can of paint can’t fix? by Joanne Latimer on Wednesday, July 6, 2011 9:20amSomething a can of paint can fix?

Photographs by Rob Durston


Is Belfast whitewashing its troubled past?

In an attempt to put more distance between today’s uneasy peace and the Troubles—that 30-year-period of bloody sectarian violence that pitted Catholic Republicans opposed to the British presence in Northern Ireland against Protestant Loyalists—the city has been embarking on a face change. One of its most infamous murals,“You are now entering Loyalist Sandy Row,” depicting a balaclava-clad Protestant gunman protecting his turf, is due to be replaced soon. Softening the imagery on such an aggressive mural is considered an important step forward for reconciling the two sides, and comes after five years of tense negotiations between former Loyalist area “gatekeepers”—now known as community representatives—and development workers. Funding the new mural is the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, which is in charge of the Re-imaging Communities Programme that works with artistic and local communities to tackle the signs of sectarianism and racism.

With a $6-million budget to date, the program has shepherded through 150 art projects since 2006. Its first major success was replacing the famous Grim Reaper mural of a paramilitary gunman in a pro-British area of Belfast. “We haven’t moved from the Grim Reaper to Andy Warhol quite yet, but re-imaging Sandy Row is a big step,” notes Nóirín McKinney of the Arts Council. “We came to an agreement on a new painted image of [Loyalist hero] King Billy and a garden.”

Meanwhile, two menacing paramilitary murals were recently replaced with images of First World War soldiers and female munitions workers. “It’s important that the likes of myself are involved with Re-imaging, because I put up the murals in the first place,” says artist David Dee Craig, who is busy this summer replacing aggressive Loyalist murals with celebrations of C.S. Lewis, Flanders Fields, the Titanic and the Battle of the Somme, where Northern Irish soldiers—mostly Protestants—were slaughtered defending the Crown in the First World War.

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Belfast Counts

Is Irish pollen more intense–like their rock stars and tea consumption? , wonders Sinus Sister

Belfast is no longer a city under siege, but it’s a city surrounded by grassy hills. Where there’s grass, there’s pollen. Sinus Sister stepped off the plane, gripped her umbrella and awaited the inevitable sneezing fit….and waited.

Flying over Ireland, the green-green fields looked suspiciously enhanced by Photoshop. It was impressive, but it set off my worry alarm. Would I sneeze my way through my sister’s wedding? Would Irish pollen be more intense–like their rock stars and tea consumption? I couldn’t recall having wild allergic reactions while visiting Northern Ireland in the 1970s and 1980s, but my memories have been wiped clean when it comes to the horrors of childhood hay fever (Mom claims I got allergy shots every week and ate crushed antihistamines on a cookie). The revisionist history ends at university, when there’s no denying that my ivory-covered residence on the banks of the Thames River gave me bloody sneezing fits.

Back in Belfast,  I booked into a swanky hotel that would certainly have a good air filter and an adjustable thermostat, among other comforts (Correct, it turned out, on both counts).  The Merchant Hotel easily catered to the demands of my sinuses. “You’ll not be sneezin’ yur head aff this week,” offered the doorman,adding, “Since it’s bucketin’ down out there.” [translation: because of the rain]. Of course! Saved by the rain, which supposedly cleans the air of pollutants. Allegedly, pollen sticks to wet grass and trees, rather than getting blown up your nose.

The doorman added another wee bit of news: “The Uni [translation: Queens University] just rigged up a system on the roof to read the pollen count each day. Before, the closest pollen count came from Edinburgh.” Good to know. The new, more accurate pollen count for Belfast was, officially and truly, low.

Unconcerned with blowing my nose all week, I was free to enjoy Brendan at the Chelsea, a play at the newly rebuilt Lyric Theatre. I shopped at the quirky boutique-cafe Acova, visited the new Titanic Museum, and toured town in a black taxi with the irrepressible Billy Scott. Trying to wrap my head around The Troubles of olden day, I viewed the political murals with Belfast Attractions (Thanks Gerard McGlade, you charmer!) and decided it was too complicated for a blow-in like me to understand. Best to just enjoy a pint of Magner’s cider cider with the other clueless tourists, then comb the stores for a fascinator to wear to my sister’s wedding (If you can’t wear a fascinator in 2011, the year of The Royal Wedding, when can you?)

Leaving the pub after two pints, Sinus Sister blinked at the mid-day sun and blew a kiss toward the new pollen counter at Queen’s University.