Category Archives: Travel

Cruising in Europe: After Thoughts

As the crow flies the distance from Budapest to Amsterdam is just over 1200 kilometers. The winding route of our river cruise from Budapest along the Danube River to the Main River and then on to the Rhine River would be well in excess of that distance. It gave us an interesting view of European culture.

At every turn history was on display. Centuries old  castles and their surrounding walls and narrow cobblestone streets all exuded a permanence that is difficult to compare with anything we’ve experienced here  in North America. Homes and businesses occupied buildings that in some cases were built 500 years ago.

Three memorials  particularly caught our attention. The Shoes on the Danube Bank Memorial in Budapest, The  Anne Frank House Museum in Amsterdam and the ‘Stumble Stones’ Memorial Plaques in a number of cities, all commemorate  Jewish persecution during the WWII in Europe. The memorials were riveting, poignant and thought provoking to say the least. Rather than write about  each I’ve linked them to websites where descriptions are more complete. And within the gallery of some of my favourites below I’ve included an image of Anne Frank, one of the memorial shoes and another of three Stumble Stones. 

We had never experienced the European culture. The food, art, architecture and life in general is so interesting. The landscape was just plain beautiful.  In all of our walks, tours and interactions we found the local residents to be friendly and very helpful. Now that we have an understanding of how to get around and what we would like to see more of,  I’m sure another European adventure will be planned for the not so distant future.

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Amsterdam: Canals, Narrow Streets and Bicycles

At the end of the dock our taxi, a large black BMW sedan, was waiting. The driver, neatly attired in a white shirt, black tie, suit and shoes, had already loaded our bags into the trunk. With sunglasses he could easily have been mistaken for a foreign operative.

Accelerating smoothly away from the dock we drove towards our new address, Bilderdijkkadje 18. The drive was not long but our eagerness to get out and explore was only heightened by Amsterdam’s sights and sounds. The next phase of our European adventure was about to begin.

We were left standing at the top of a narrow steel staircase. Below was  a float home on a quiet canal. This would be our home for 3 days. Linda, our host was waiting on deck. She had been in this location for 40 years in 3 different house boats. She raised her family here.

Linda gave us a brief orientation then we gathered ourselves and headed out.  We had no idea where we were going.  She had marked the location of her house boat on a map and outlined relevant trolley routes. That was it. We began to explore. It was 11:30 am.

Our days were long. For the next 2 and half days we returned well after dark. We ate in small cafes and ethnic restaurants, walked narrow streets, figured out how the trolley system worked and signed up for a canal cruise. We could have visited any number of galleries and museums but chose only to visit the Ann Frank museum. Oh, and the Red Light District Museum. What really interested us was Amsterdam life.

The tall narrow buildings in most areas we visited fascinated us. The oldest building still standing is the Old Church which was consecrated in 1306.There are only two wooden building remaining in Amsterdam. One of these was built around 1425. Most of these had disappeared by the 16th century replaced by brick construction.

It was amazing to walk streets and pass buildings as citizens of Amsterdam did centuries ago. Some of the buildings we passed displayed plaques designating the year in which they were built.  The most interesting to me were located in the Canal District. They were narrow and tall. The narrowest that we saw looked to be about 3 meters wide. I loved the character of these buildings. Some seemed to be tipping over. Each had a distinctive facade and street presence. 

Our favourite area of Amsterdam was the Canal District. Amsterdam started out as a small fishing village in the 12th century. In the 17th century canals were built to facilitate trade and commerce. Today,  Amsterdam, due to its large number of canals which now form a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is sometimes referred to as the “Venice of the North”.

Everyone rides bicycles in Amsterdam. Bicycles transport lone riders, two riders, small families and packages. There are regular two wheelers and large bicycles with up front cargo containers. Riders dress casually or in their ‘going out to dinner’ finest. Poor weather doesn’t stop people from riding. There are bike parkades and of course bike paths and bike traffic rules.

 But the most important rule is for the pedestrian. Don’t linger in the bike lane! Riders don’t slow for pedestrians. We had to be careful. More then once when I was concentrating on my camera, Ellen had to tug me away from oncoming bicycle traffic.

 The images below are just a slice of the many sights that can be seen in Amsterdam. There is just so much to photograph there. 

All too soon it was time to leave Amsterdam. We loved each chapter of our European trip. But next time in Europe I think we would spend more time exploring. The cruise was fantastic. A great introduction to Europe. But getting to know a community or neighborhood is what we like to do.

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Cruising in Europe: Rhine Gorge to the Sea

The Rhine Gorge fell behind us as our ship, the Scenic Opal, made its way past the town of Koblenz, Germany. The high hills and cliffs above the winding river were replaced with a more rolling pastoral landscape. It was our second last day on the ship.

Farms, small towns and as we sailed closer to our destination, Amsterdam, industrial sites dotted the river banks. Groups of travelers gathered in the lounge to share last visits and later in the evening a gala supper and party with the staff. What fun we had!

The next morning we awoke to a very busy river. It was an amazing sight after so many kilometers where it seemed no other boat was on the river. We were close to our destination. At first glance it appeared to be very disorganized but in reality it almost seemed to be choreographed with each ship, boat or barge knowing  what the other was doing and where they were going.

Just before noon on our last day the Opal docked near Amsterdam’s Central Station. An early lunch then we boarded busses for our ‘free choice’ tour. Since we would be spending the next three days in Amsterdam we chose to tour  Zaanse Schans,  a neighborhood in the Dutch town of Zaandam and the small town of Edam. Both are  about a 30 minute drive north of Amsterdam.

Zaanse Schans is renown for its windmills and distinctive green wooden houses which were relocated  to recreate the look of an 18th/19th-century village. The working windmill we toured is the only one  of its kind in the world that still produces chalk powder for centuries old paint recipes. It was so interesting to watch wooden gears and their supports that were made in the 1700’s actually performing the the task they were designed to do. A windmill nearby which we didn’t tour seemed to be set up as a saw mill. 

Artisans demonstrated the rare skills of wooden clog carving, barrel making and pewter casting. Today, clogs are made on a ‘pattern’ lathe but the artisan still has to roughly shape the block of wood before it is attached to the lathe. 

Edam was  founded in the 13th century. It was known for ship building and fishing and is the original source of the cheese with the same name. A canal system in this region serves to keep homes and fields dry and ready for the raising of cattle. 

As darkness fell our busses returned us to our ship for our last night aboard. It was a quite evening with the usual scrumptious dinner. Good memories of the last 14 days were shared and hopes expressed that  paths would again cross. 

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Cruising in Europe: The Main River to the Rhine River

The Danube Main Canal with its long  series of locks has enabled the connection of the south flowing Danube River to the north flowing Rhine River. It is an astounding engineering feat. This route allows river traffic to travel over the European water divide with  cargos of coal, fertilizers, building materials,  fuel and of course passengers.

It is not always smooth sailing though. High or low water levels can render sections impassable. Accidents can also reek havoc with the system as happened earlier this year when the lock at Regensburg was damaged by a river cruise ship.

Low water levels in the upper reaches of the Danube River resulted in our ship being held up. We had the option of continuing the trip by bus or sticking with the ship and accepting a reorganized schedule once predicted rain had raised the water level. We stayed as did everyone else. I wanted to see the beautiful and historic Rhine Gorge. I was hopeful for  a daylight passage.   

Only a few centimeters of water were required to move us to an acceptable level for safe transition through this part of the river. The ship waited while busses transported passengers to some of the planned city and Christmas market tours.

The Danube Main Canal part of the cruise is dotted with beautiful old cities dating back through the 13th century. Bamburg, Germany is my favourite. Its complete Old City is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Others, also in Germany, such as Rudesheim, Rothenburg and Nuremburg exhibit stunning architecture that on more than one occasion I exclaimed,”How were they able to build that?” The skyline in Cologne is dominated by the elegant twin towered Gothic Cathedral. It too, is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Most important for our river cruise were the Christmas Markets. Ever popular with local citizens,  tourists also flocked to them. It was not uncommon to see crowds of people, shoulder to shoulder move slowly up and down city streets. Set up along cobblestone streets and central squares vendors offered for sale a wonderful array of Christmas decorations and souvenirs. But the festive atmosphere would not be complete without  the tasty offerings of street food and local variations of gluhwein. Each city had created a unique cup in which to serve its particular gluhwein. We managed to collect 10 of these which miraculously survived the flight home. 

 At some point our captain decided to make an attempt at getting through the impass on the river. Water levels had stabilized.  He was successful but from what our cruise director opined, just barely. We were on our way again. 

The Rhine Gorge was placed on the list of World Heritage Sites in 2002. It is a 65 kilometre section  of the upper middle Rhine Valley. Castles, some intact others in ruins, occupy high, strategic ridges above the valley. At one time it was the core region of the Holy Roman Empire and was the centre of the Thirty Years War. It is truly a magical area. 

After breakfast, on the second last day of our cruise,  I positioned myself on a window seat in the main lounge where I could observe our progress through the Rhine Gorge. It was too cold to stay outside on the upper deck. This would do nicely. And I was close to the coffee machine. As castles and ruins appeared on the landscape I moved  outdoors to either the port or starboard deck to make my images.

We arrived in Amsterdam anticipating chapter three of our journey. Having never been to Europe we were having the time of our lives.  The history, architecture and customs were so interesting.  And we met some new friends. Hopefully, our paths will one day cross again.

Also posted in Education, My Work

Cruising in Europe: Along the Danube

Sixty Eight locks allow our cruise ship the Scenic Opal to transit the south flowing Danube River over the continental divide to the north flowing Rhine River via the Main River Canal on its voyage from Budapest to Amsterdam. And while these rivers, canals and locks are popular with travelers they are major transportation routes for barges carrying everything from new cars, bulk commodities and fuel.

We are at the half way point in the cruise section of our trip, all so far on the Danube River. Weather has become a concern for our cruise director. A lack of rain in the upper reaches of the river has resulted in low water levels. Our ship and others are stopped in the small town of Vilshofen in Germany waiting for a weather system to drop some much needed rain. It seems that the river cruises in Europe can be susceptible to the mercies of high or low water levels. And so we wait.

In the meantime, our cruise director has utilized the fleet of 4 luxury busses that Scenic owns to transport us to a variety of beautiful little towns and villages. Christmas markets are extremely popular not only with tourists but with local citizens. Central squares and side streets are clogged with tiny booths that are decorated for Christmas and exhibit a wide range of traditional and popular ornaments and souvenirs.

Our favorites though are the markets where local artisans display their own creations. There is something very special about an original piece created locally by a talented craftsman.

Also very popular at all Christmas markets is traditional food such as bratwurst, pretzels and strudels. One cannot forget the popularity of gluhwein (mulled wine) of which there seem to be many different varieties each served in a mug representative of the local area.

The images I’ve included here were made in and around Vienna, Durnstein, Melk and Salzburg in Austria and Regensburg, Germany. To my eye the beauty of the street scapes and architecture is breathtaking. The crowds in Vienna in the central square around St. Stephen’s Cathedral and in the various Christmas markets that we were able to visit were astounding.

Early last Sunday morning I enjoyed the quiet solitude of Durnstein’s cobble stone streets. It was a great opportunity for me to get a feel for the history and layout of this old Austrian village and capture a few scenes of interest.

Also posted in Education, My Work

Cruising in Europe: To Budapest

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Road Trip Continued: Down the Island to Victoria

It was a clear, crisp day when Ellen and me walked Rathtrevor Beach near Parksville two weeks ago. The tide was so low that the beach seemed to disappear into the far distance. The low angle of the sun accentuated the sand’s ripple like textures left behind by the receding tide. We weren’t the only ones on the beach but the wide open space gave us the feeling that we had the whole beach to ourselves.

In early August when I last visited French Creek, the wharf was alive with activity. Fishing boats were coming and going, the fish cleaning table was busy and the shreaking of sea gulls was incessant. On this visit it was quiet. Prawn and tuna sales on a lone fishing boat and maintenance activities on others kept a few people busy. That’s all! Sadly, some of the larger boats displayed ‘for sale’ signs, an indication perhaps of the fishing industry’s poor health.

After spending a few days in the Qualicum Beach and Parksville area we headed down Vancouver Island to Victoria. We were both looking forward to visiting my sister and her husband and our wonderful friends.

This trip to Victoria would be our first without having Ellen’s dad to visit. For over 5 years we had made regular trips to be with him in his declining years. It is so different now without him but there are many memories to cherish.

I love to take long walks in Victoria. My camera is always with me. Usually, I start or end at one of my favourite coffee shops, the Oak Bay Marina Café or the Breakwater Bistro and Café. Often I spend time in these coffees shops working on my iPad drafting future blog articles.

The Oak Bay Marina Café overlooks a colourful collection of pleasure crafts and commercial fishing boats. With a backdrop of Mount Baker in Washington State it is a beautiful place to make images. The Breakwater Bistro and Café overlooks the cruise ship terminal at Odgen Point. Its an active and colourful place especially during cruise boat season.

The collection of images above was made on two separate camera walks. One started at Ogden Point and the other in Oak Bay. On both occasions my camera was equiped with a 35mm prime lens.

Near my sister’s home is the Gowlland Tod Provincial Park. A mid morning hike through the park brought us to Todd Inlet, a branch of Saanich Inlet. There we found the remains of a cement plant and wharf that was closed in 1919. In the day, cement was manufactured and shipped from this location. The quary from which the rock was taken to make the cement was reclaimed and developed into the now world famous Butchart Gardens which opened in 1929.

Not much is left of the cement plant facility. Concrete pilings are still in place, a stack of concrete pilings that were never installed and building foundations show the signs of decay, rot and the touch of graffiti artists. Bird houses have been nailed to some of the old wharf’s wooden pilings. Even a crumbling chimney still reaches above the trees.

 

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Boys Will Be Boys: The Way It Used To Be

Following the memorial service for Ellen’s dad we headed to Qualicum Beach to visit with her sister, Diane and brother in law,  Pete. On the way we stopped in at Canvas Plus in Ladysmith, B.C. to pick up the prints that I will have on display at this year’s Art Walk in Lake Country. As with last year they did a great job.

While in Qualicum, I made an early morning visit to Rathtrevor Beach in Parksville. The tide was low and the beach seemed to stretch out forever. After making some images of beach textures and a few landscapes I drove to the government wharf at French Creek.

Fishing season is in full swing for commercial and recreational fisherman. It was very busy at the French Creek wharf. I love the colour and action as fishermen unload their catches while others clean their fish at the fish table. Gulls screech in frantic excitement as they clamour for castoff bits and pieces.

As I poked around the wharf I noticed a crowd gathering at the fish table so wandered over. A proud fisherman held up a 31 pound Chinook salmon. He was joined by another who sported a 19 pounder. As they cleaned their fish interest grew not only from other fishermen but from the gull population. Entrails and fins were washed down the sluice into the water below. In a screeching  frenzy gulls tried to snag  pieces  of the enticing smorgasbord.

But the basis of this story occurred on a return trip to the wharf two days later. Again, it centred on the fish table.

My focus was to capture action and colour around the fishing boats but the screeching and clamour of gulls near the fish table distracted me. Passing a fisherman carrying a huge salmon filet I headed in that direction.

Two boys, likely about 12 years old, were working at the fish table. Their bikes complete with backpacks and fishing rods were lying on the ground. They appeared to be cleaning a large salmon. Instead they were working on the remains of a fish left behind by a previous fisherman. I inquired about what they were up to. “Bait!” they exclaimed together. Obviously, they were on their way to their favourite fishing spot and needed bait for their hooks.

As we chatted they flung bits and pieces into the water to the great approval of the gulls and a lone otter who managed to grab a huge chunk before swimming to a safe haven under the wharf.

I was reminded of my childhood as I asked them a few questions. How wonderful it was to be able to ‘cruise’ my neighbourhood in Victoria when I was their age. Unsurpervised, me and my friends spent long summer days playing scrub softball, swimming at the old Crystal Pool or fishing off the end of the Breakwater. After a few daily chores and giving Mom a rough idea of where we would be we were off. The only stipulation, “Be on time for supper!”.

In today’s modern world with so many technical gadgets to grab our attention such stories seem few and far between. These boys on the wharf in French Creek in my opinion were living the dream.

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Moments in Time: The Henry Ford (Part 2)

In a previous article I wrote about Greenfield Village the outdoor museum associated with the Henry Ford in Dearborn, Michigan. The indoor museum at the Henry Ford is just as captivating as Greenfield Village. It too, is a wonderful place to reminisce and of course to make photographs.

Beginning as Henry Ford’s personal collection of historic objects the indoor facility is housed in a building of over 500,000 square feet. Antique machinery, ordinary household utensils, pop culture items, automobiles, aircraft and locomotives are housed in this wonderful building. It opened in 1933. A careful examination of the images I’ve included below reveals that this building is absolutely stunning.

The Henry Ford complex is advertised as a museum of American history and innovation. I like to think of it as applying to both Canada and the United States. Old photographs of my grandfather’s farm in Saskatchewan show tools, machinery and modes of transportation that were commonly used in both countries and that are now on display at the Henry Ford Museum. In one of my first visits to the Henry Ford my mom accompanied us. She pointed out numerous appliances and utensils that were in use in her family’s home in the early 1900’s.

The Ford name is associated best with the automobile industry. Within the museum is a huge collection of beautifully restored vintage cars, representations of vintage fuel company signs and even early recreation vehicles.

The aviation display is also impressive and features a 1925 Fokker F VII triplane, a 1939 Sikorsky VS 300A helicopter and a Replica of the 1903 Wright Flyer. A 1939 Douglas DC-3 hangs from the ceiling.

The inventions of Thomas Edison and the growth of the electric power grid are well displayed but to me the most dominant display can be found in the museum section devoted to railroad history. Foremost in this exhibit is the 600 ton Chesapeake & Ohio Railway’s massive Allegheny steam engine. It was introduced into service in 1941. It was one of the largest steam locomotives ever built and could pull 160 fully loaded cars each loaded with 60 tones of coal. By the early 1950’s diesel locomotives had replaced these steam giants but the romantic period of steam is indelible in our history.

It would take many visits to the Henry Ford Museum to really appreciate the scope and meaning of the artifacts that are on display. There is so much to see and to photograph. Certainly, I will be making a return visit the next time we are in Michigan. 

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Coastal Experience: Deep in the Forest

My first encounter with B.C.’s old growth forests occurred in the mid 1960’s. I was employed by John Motherwell, a B.C. land surveyor and engineer. We were working on a project in Holberg, B.C. a logging community on northern Vancouver Island.

I distinctly remember the size of the ‘off road’ logging trucks that plied the gravel roads we travelled to access our job site. They were huge. One morning a loaded logging truck approached us. It was carrying just one log, a section of an ancient old growth tree.

A few years later in the spring of 1968, Ellen and I packed our Volkswagen Beetle and headed off to Long Beach for a long weekend camping trip. Now, it is a very popular tourist destination located between Tofino and Ukuelet on the west coast of Vancouver Island. Back then the road to the coast was fairly new and rough. In poor weather conditions the trip was difficult. Now, it is part of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve and easily accessible.

Passing Kennedy Lake on our way to the coast we were stunned by a devastated forest. What had been an ancient old growth forest was gone. It had been clear cut. Stumps and logging rubble littered the landscape. Protests by indigenous and environmental groups eventually lead to an outright ban in some areas of cutting old growth trees and certainly a more sustainable forest practices code. But, the damage had been done.

Fifty years later, those clear cut areas look refreshed. Seedling that were planted to replace the old trees have grown into a vibrant ‘second growth’ forest. Interestingly, hikes through these renewed forests reveal the huge stumps left behind by the loggers who felled the old growth giants half a century or more ago. Today, they are just rotting relics but serve as a reminder of what had once been a magnificent ancient forest.

In the last year, I’ve made two trips to Port Renfrew, B.C. and to sections of the wild west coast that reflect the reality of today’s coastal forests. There are several areas where blocks of second growth forest have been logged. Even here, the stumps of the original ancient forest remain in start contrast the most recent cut.

For the most part though the forest, right down to the ocean edge, is thriving. Streams bubble through small valleys and cuts bringing the essence of life through the forest and down to the ocean.

It is interesting to witness how ‘Mother Nature’ heals the land after it had been reduced to rubble. Slowly, the old stumps are being returned to the earth. New growth finds small nooks and crannies even in the bark of an ‘ancient, to find life sustaining nourishment.

I remember the hike to Sombrio Beach where the second growth trees are flourishing. But just before the beach the path passes through a campsite and a grove of ancient trees. They seem to reach to the sky. Magnificent!

Avitar Grove, about a half hour’s drive from Port Renfrew is an example of an Ancient Old Growth forest that has been preserved. Huge ancient old trees, new trees, deciduous and evergreen as well as some that have fallen cover the landscape. Here the presence of the ‘Ancients’ is felt. Its almost mystical and to my eye, beautiful.

Also posted in Education, My Work