Chatting with Canada's travel guy
Celebrity chef Massimo Capra talks about food as Canadian traveller Frank Greco listens. (DAVE JOHNSON/QMI Agency)
PORT COLBORNE, ONT. -- Did you know you can spend the day as a guard at the Citadel in Halifax or that some taxi drivers in Iceland start the meter as soon as you make a call to them and don't turn it off until your luggage is out of the cab?
How about the fact it's illegal to import or wear camouflage clothing in St. Vincent and the Grenadines?
These are just some of the things you should Know Before You Go, which is the motto of The Travel Guy television show hosted by Port Colborne, Ont. native Frank Greco.
Greco's show, in its second season, premieres on Discovery World HD on Tuesday, June 21, at 7 p.m. Discovery World HD is available on digital cable and satellite across Canada.
If you tune in on Tuesday, you'll see Greco visit the Caribbean islands of St. Vincent and the Grenadines where he'll explain the camouflage rule. "Only the police on the islands wear camoufl age ... they don't want anyone else wearing it and be confused as police," said Greco during an interview in Port Colborne.
Tips like that are just some of what you'll see on the half-hour show, a 13-part series that airs until late September.
In his first season, Greco visited Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, Bora Bora and Rangiroa, Croatia, Czech Republic, Dominican Republic, Greece- Athens, Hawaiian Islands, Malta, Rome and Amalfi, Florence and Pisa, Tahiti and Moorea and Toronto-Niagara Falls.
Season 2 sees him visit St. Vincent and the Grenadines, N.S.; Ireland; Iceland; Viti Levu Island, Fiji; Vanua Levu Island, Fiji; Wales, St. Augustine, Fla.; Cyprus, Charleston, S. C; Bonaire, Switzerland, and the Yukon.
"They're all new destinations, new adventures, new experiences and new people. I try so many new things."
One of those new things is spending a day as a guard at the Citadel in Halifax, complete in period-costume, in this case a kilt. "I had a great guy teach me everything I needed to be a guard and I was in an authentic uniform."
Greco asked what was worn beneath the guard's kilt. "He told me 'Nothing' and I thought he was kidding. There was a gust of wind and sure enough he wasn't kidding. I'm not that daring," said Greco, adding he wore something under his kilt.
Spending the day as a guard is something any tourist visiting the Citadel could do, he said. All people have to do is ask. Greco wants to show viewers they can have all kinds of fun and different experiences while on vacation, they don't have to stay inside resorts or visit just the 'tourist' spots.
"You don't have to stay by the pool or hang out on a beach."
He'll try just about anything on a trip -- like snorkeling inside caves in Bonaire, an activity not found in any tourist guide. "You had to climb down this rope into the cave ... it was so black below. It was beautiful, it was like an oasis inside. The water was a little chilly, but you got used to it. You could see stalactites under the water when you pointed your flashlight in the water ... it was a phenomenal experience."
He's zip-lined through rainforests, fed sharks and crocodiles and snowmobiled on a glacier which happened to be on the volcano that erupted in Iceland, just the week after. "Some of what I do may seem extreme, but it's not. If I can do it, anyone can."
Greco isn't a fan of heights, but has learned to overcome that fear through the things he does on the show. "If you get out and explore, you'll leave with a greater experience."
Though his show and what he experiences make look more "high end," its not said Greco. "I don't talk about prices on the show, but everything is affordable."
The show is not high-end like some travel shows and not a show about its backpackers travelling on the cheap. He said the show is more "middle of the road."
Before he and the film crew head to a location, he'll conduct his own research online. He doesn't rely on guidebooks because they don't always have all the information, may be outdated or not have what he's looking for.
"I pick an area and look at things of interest to me and what I think the viewer would like to see. I'll then contact the local tourist board and talk with them."
Because he's shooting a television show, Greco works with the tourist board to let them know what he and the crew need to shoot.
Tourist boards, he said, are a great source of information on a country or city and people should utilize the resource. Tourist boards aren't going to steer people wrong because they know a bad experience could hurt tourism in their area, he said.
"Ask at the front desk of a hotel," he said, adding that's how he found out about the caves in Bonaire. "People that work at the hotels know what's out there. They're there daily and they know people."
During his travels, if he or the crew spot something interesting, off they'll go. It might mean a change in what they were going to shoot, but it can lead them to something new, interesting, fun and memorable.
The show isn't just about a location and things to do, for Greco it's about learning the history of a place and meeting people. "I'm still a student of history and always learning things."
In Fiji, where the people are extremely friendly, he had to match chiefs drink for drink with the local drink called kava. Because Greco is the head of his company, he's the 'chief' and every time the local chief drank, he had to as well. Kava, made from the kava root, is a mild analgesic, diuretic and stress reliever that can leave a person all 'tingly.'
To even sit with the chief, Greco had to bring a gift to him, which was the kava. "I fuelled my own drinking habit," he said with a laugh.
In St. Augustine, Fla., he met a woman who was injured in the 9-11 attacks in the U.S. The woman, he learned, spent a week in the hospital before her family knew she was alive. The woman also revealed she'll never wear a dress again, something she enjoyed before, because of the scars on her legs that came from her injuries.
While in Northern Ireland, he met a woman who cooked for Queen Elizabeth and a man who told stories about the fairies.
Greco also likes to "get involved in what people are doing," and leaves his beliefs behind in Canada. It's the only way to truly experience things.
In Fiji he learned to spearfish and catch octopus and crabs. "It's an every day occurrence ... it's what they eat that day."
In Iceland, besides making a dessert with liquid nitrogen and cooking an egg in a geyser, Greco ate parts of a sheep -- the testicles and head -- because that's what Icelanders do at a certain time of year.
Asked where his love of travel came from, Greco said his parents. Though his parents don't travel, it was the first trip the family ever made that set Greco on his path to travel and television.
"We came over from Italy when I was about eight or nine ... my parent's came here for a better life for them, myself and my sister."
He still has to call his mother when he lands in another country and arrives back home to let her know he's safe. If not, he'll catch some grief when he comes back home to visit.
His sister, Teresa, has helped him with his show and production company, as has his wife Julia.
"She's a Godsend," he said of his wife.
When she travels with him, she's the production director and makes sure he and the crew stick to their schedules. She makes sure he pronounces names properly.
"She's very creative and gives us a lot of input."
To date, he's been to 23 countries and wants to see as many as he can.
When he first started the show, many trips were
paid out of his own pocket. Tourist boards, who will fly in TV crews, weren't sure of him and his company because they had no reputation and were just starting out. He didn't even have a deal with any television distributors when he started filming season one. "I knew the show would be picked up."
The show was picked up for distribution and broadcast, Sun TV broadcast all of the first season shows in Canada. Discovery World HD picked up the second season of the show.
"My distributor in Montreal called me one day and asked if I was sitting down. When someone says that, it's either good news or bad news.
"I told them I was sitting down and they said it was good news, that Disovery World HD had picked us up."
All of the shows hadn't been shot at the time, so Greco and his crew went and finished the series and made sure everything was edited and delivered to Discovery's specifications.
Now known, Greco can plan out a season, contact tourist boards and work out a schedule to film.
"We're not always travelling in the high season. We go when we can."
That means the crew may have to deal with bad weather when they get somewhere. If it's raining, or they happen to get hit by a hurricane, they'll keep filming.
During the first season, they wanted to film in the Caribbean, but a hurricane hit. They headed to Belize, but when there, another hurricane struck the coast and wiped out plans to visit coastal islands. Instead, they filmed inland and produced a good show.
People, he said, need to deal with whatever weather is handed to them when they are on vacation and still have a good time.
Oh, and for the bit about the taxi drivers in Iceland, Greco said it took until the fifth trip for him to realize what was happening. He's not sure if all taxi drivers in Iceland start the meter before even arriving to pick up passengers, but the ones he ran into did. His recommendation? When you call, tell them to leave the meter off until they arrive and once at your destination, ask for the price as soon as the car stops. The drivers have to turn off their meters at the point and you'll pay less, he said.
It's one of those things you have to Know Before You Go.
firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @DaveJTheTribune
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THE TRAVEL GUY
Air dates on Discovery World HD
June 21: St. Vincent and the Grenadines
June 28: Nova Scotia
July 5: Ireland
July 12: Iceland
July 19: Viti Levu Island, Fiji
July 26: Vanua Levu Island, Fiji
Aug. 9: Wales
Aug. 16: St. Augustine
Aug. 23: Cyprus
Aug. 30: Charleston (South Carolina)
Sept. 6: Bonaire
Sept. 13: Switzerland
Sept. 20: The Yukon