A Word A Week Photograph Challenge – Mother

A holler back to this blog, where the Word a Week photo challenge originates.

Mom was just a tad chilled.
Leeds Castle, 2008

Since my dad died nearly seven years ago, my mother and I have taken a few trips, mostly short road trips.  In 2008, I persuaded my mom to come to London with me for a 10 day trip. She’s been that far before, but only within Canada. We live on the east coast of Canada and the west coast is about as far away from here as England is in the other direction.  She’d never been over the ocean and isn’t a really confident flyer  but she decided she’d wear her big girl pants and just do it.

When I first proposed the trip, she wasn’t sure there would be a lot that she’d be interested in. London. Really? I lent her my lovely Eye Witness London guide, filled with lovely pictures. She emailed back a list of things she might like as long as my arm!

I wanted to make sure we’d stay somewhere central, easy for busses since she didn’t like the idea of going on the underground and I wanted to make sure it was a nice hotel, somewhere she’d remember. I decided on the Strand Palace and it was a good choice for us. We shared a twin room for the first 5 days and then over the Easter weekend, Graham joined us and she moved to a sunny single room down the hall from our double room.

But the trip had a rocky start, with a jolt that scared the wits out of me. We landed on a drizzly Sunday, St. Patrick’s day and after checking into the hotel, we went out walking around Covent Garden, stopping at an old pub for Sunday lunch. We arrived in Trafalgar Square which was packed out with party people. There was a big stage set up for concerts and the parade had just finished so there was a lot of people walking around in green silly hats, bow ties, scarves, you name it.

There was so much to look at and we headed down into Trafalgar square and the next thing I know, she’s on the ground in front of me across the shallow stair case! Oh my sweet god/dess I thought she’d broken a hip or knocked herself out!!! A couple of people helped me get her on her feet. No blood. No unconciousness. She was bruised and shaken but ok. Even her camera survived! I thought we should walk a bit more just to make sure she didn’t stiffen up but it was cold and damp so we walked back towards the hotel which wasn’t too far, got some hot tea and a snack at Starbucks and went to our room. After a hot shower we tucked up into bed for the evening to keep warm.

Mom was bruised  and a bit sore the next day but an Advil kept her going and she had her cane with her just in case so used that as well.  She was a trooper all week and we saw a lot. St. Paul’s, Kensington Palace, Harrod’s. We went to two West End shows, we shopped, we took the double decker bus tour so she could get an overview of the city.  We took a train to Brighton and shopping in the Lanes and were wowed by the Royal Pavillion. After Graham joined us, we three had a day trip booked to Leeds Castle and Canterbury Cathedral with a photo stop at the White Cliffs of Dover and an afternoon tea at a lovely country pub.

That day trip to Leeds Castle and Canterbury was the coldest day I’ve ever experienced while in the U.K. and I’ve been there over New Year’s in the past. It was cold, damp, with a bitter wind. It even snowed just a little at one point. The photo with this article shows Mom at Leeds Castle. As you can see by her lovely blue eyes, she’s full of fun and wasn’t about to let the weather keep her down! I think I whined more than she did about it! She and Graham stood on the harbour beach at Dover in the blustery wind singing “There’ll be Blue Birds over the White Cliffs of Dover” while I huddled in the tour bus!

I was going to post more photos relating to the challenge word but once I started writing, I decided this should be about us, my  mom and me.

Countdown – Four sleeps

The Colosseum, Rome

It’s really three sleeps until I leave but four until I get there after an overnight flight. I do love to travel. I just hate getting there. Flying is not all that comfortable for me and I can’t usually sleep sitting up. I may doze a bit but I get into that zone where I could be asleep but I can still hear everything that’s going on. Or it seems like it. I avoid caffeine and alcohol on the flight over and try to drink water or juice. It doesn’t really help much. I won’t take a sleeping pill. I just suffer the sleep deprivation the next day.

I’ve got my laundry done and most things packed. It’ll be the dregs of the wardrobe the rest of this week for me. Phone’s charged, but I’ll give it another shot of juice because it’s old and doesn’t really hold a charge too long anymore. That’s on the list to purchase. I’ll pick up a cheap phone when I’m over there, I think. Just last minute stuff to put in the carry on.

Got tickets booked and printed from TicketItaly.com for the Colosseum and the Vatican. The Colosseum now offers tours that will take you into the lower levels and upper level of the walls. Down where they kept the animals, slaves and props and up for a great view over the city. You can only do that with a tour and I think it’s worth it! Vatican museums tour takes in all the usual plus the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s.
Here’s the list I made for Rome: The “Bucket” List

Roman Forum
Trajan’s Markets
Gladiator School (near the Colosseum)
Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s
Profondo Rosso store (Near Vatican City, Owned and run by horror film director Dario Argento, apparently there’s a little horror museum there as well)

Piazza Navona
Church of Sant’Ignazio Di Loyola (painted dome)
Trevi Fountain
Spanish Steps
Santa Maria della Concezione Ossuary

Napoleon musuem
Arc Pacis
Ostia Antica
Castel St. Angelo
Boca de Verita (near Tiber)
Tiber Island

We make our lists and make the effort to do the most important things on it. After that, we may pick more from the list or we could just as easily get side tracked and do something completely different. You never know where you’ll end up.  There’s a pretty good chance we’ll do everything above the “Maybe” list since we have the tickets for some things and the things in the second section are mostly fairly close together.  We don’t want to overdo churches, but maybe Santa Maria Maggiore if we are in the area.

Rome is one of those cities that you’ll never get to see everything that interests you in one visit that only lasts 4 or 5 days. We always wear ourselves out and we always say we’ll go at a slower pace. We never do.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Foreign

Graffiti and public art in Chinatown, Toronto

When most people think of the word “foreign”, they think of countries other than their own, countries where the language is not the same as they speak and the culture is different.  They travel to a foreign country or someone comes from a foreign country or they speak a foreign language. Foreign can also mean something that’s unknown to you, like a “foreign concept”.

Canada is a multi cultural country and there’s lots of “foreign” right within our own borders. Neighbourhoods where there were large immigrant settlements bear the names of the country of origin. Little Italy. Polish Town. And the ubiquitous Chinatown. There are a good number of them in Canada and in the U. S. and even in many other non-Asian cities. Vancouver, B.C. has the largest Chinatown in Canada, seconded by the one in Toronto. There are also small Chinese/Asian neighbourhoods in Montreal and Victoria and maybe more I don’t know about.

Chinatown, Toronto

I’ve been to all four as well as Chinatowns in London and Manchester and walking the streets you are surrounded by a culture that, for me at least, is most definitely foreign. Undecipherable signs, that may or may  not have English translations. Markets with unidentifiable foods, spices and goods. Even the graffiti is in Chinese! The neighbourhoods in Vancouver and Toronto in particular are almost like being in a different country because they are peopled by Asian residents where the others I’ve been to in Canada are mainly shops and an arch type gateway.

I don’t know what they are, but I bet they make food taste good!

I visit Manchester in the U.K. every year, staying in the sister city of Salford and there’s one area that we often drive through where there is a large Hasidic Jewish population. We often see men and boys in long black coats, tall hats and sporting the long curls at their sideburns walking together, with the conservatively dressed women behind them.  It seems “foreign” to me since I rarely see that here where I live.

In the office tower that I work in, there is an English Second Language school and the elevators are often filled with young people, students, of various “foreign” cultures chatting to each other in their own languages. I always think they should be practicing their English even on their lunch break! And speaking of lunch, the food court in my building has a number of different kiosks,  most of them are independent food sellers, not the usual chain type fast food you usually get, though there’s a few of those. We’ve also got Korean, Indian, Italian (well, pizza and kebabs), Lebanese, Japanese (sushi), Chinese and Turkish. That’s pretty cool!


Fab Photo – Flowers for Carole

Seeing flowers when I travel always reminds me of my good friend Carole. She was an avid gardener and when we traveled together, you could tell which photos she took and which were mine. Hers were of flowers and gardens and mine were doors, windows and architectural details. I do like flowers too and take more photos of them these days.

Esperanza roses on the Amserdam floating flower market

I love tulips. We went to Amsterdam in early May a few years ago and I was hoping to see tulips. The floating flowermarket had loads of them but they were all buds, not fully bloomed. Apparently I missed prime tulip season by about 3 or 4 weeks! There were many other speciments like these Esperanza roses but Oh I do wish I’d seen the market full of tulips!

Bouquets in Bury

These lovely blooms were on sale at another market, the Bury market in the Greater Manchester area in the U.K. I loved the red of the paper swirling around the red, white and fuschia bouquets.

Outside a flower shop in Montmartre, Paris

Another of my favourite photos. I found tulips but they were in Paris in a flower shop in Montmartre. In November! Such gorgeous vivid colours!

Flower festival in St. Bartholemew’s in Lostwithiel

And finally, two years ago we visited Cornwall and Devon and stopped in the little town of Lostwithiel. We spotted an old church with a pathway lined with small shoes filled with posies. We had stumbled on a Floral Festival with the proceeds benefiting a hospice and the church. Some of them were quite inventive or had items in the arrangement that represented the sponsor’s business such as a microscope and little antique medicine bottles for the pharmacy. All were so beautiful! The scent inside the church was not overwhelming, surprisingly but it was the essence of spring!

There were flowers outside, too, in the porch, representing the nearby river and a medieval bridge and another around the base of an old Celtic cross. Outside there were a couple of tables with chairs and you could buy tea or coffee and cake, which we did, as the sun was more or less out by then. Besides, it benefited the charities!

I’ve seen wildflowers growing out of cracks in a stone wall around a castle in Ireland. My first impressions of England included wonder at the multitude of flower baskets hanging outside the windows of shops and pubs. Houses with even just a couple of feet of concrete outside the front door had a potted plant in it.  The historic botanic gardens in Annapolis Royal here in Nova Scotia has types of roses that date back 300 years,  something that might have been presented to Maria Antoinette, perhaps.

Since my friend Carole died, five years ago, I find myself looking closer at flowers, seeking them out. I suppose it’s my way of remembering her on my travels.

Weekly Writing Challenge – How do you feel about children in adult-oriented places?


I am childless by choice. I admit I don’t have as much tolerance for badly behaved children whatever the cause. I know sometimes kids are tired and hungry but I find it hard to tolerate their high pitched cries especially in small places like the bus or on an airplane. That’s not to say I think they should be banned from adult oriented places or from traveling with their parents on public transportation.

I know it must be difficult for parents when the child is upset and misbehaving in public. Some people immediately blame the parent but often you really can tell they are at the end of their ropes. You can’t leave the child home all the time and there is the argument that they need to learn to interact socially.

But here’s the thing. And it’s not going to be pretty. In my experience and observation, there are increasing numbers of parents that don’t deny a child anything and never say No to them. The child then feels entitled and throws a holy tantrum when denied or any attempts at discipline are applied. And it seems to occur more and more these days.

I’ve had people say to me that saying No to a child stifles their creativity. They have said it’s disrespectful to the child. No it’s not. It’s teaching them right from wrong. It’s teaching them that they can’t have anything they want, there has to be limits.

And then there are parents that just shouldn’t have children. That sounds hard, I know. But I think back to a flight I took between Heathrow and Toronto about 10 years ago maybe. Two women in their 20s or thereabouts were sitting in the bulkhead section, each of them with a child. One child was about 3 or 4 and the other was a little boy about 2 and a half. The two women took their shoes off, put their bare feet up on the wall of the bulkhead in front of them, slouched back and gossiped the whole way.

Meanwhile, the older of the two children wandered around the plane by herself, or tried to crawl up on her mother’s lap and was pushed away. The other younger one half heartedly wandered the aisle, but was cranky and fractious. He smacked people on the legs. He tried to get up to his mother’s lap but he was pushed away and told he was being annoying. It was clear to me that little boy was unhappy, and I later heard his mother mention to the flight attendant that the boy had an ear infection! No wonder he was fractious and that woman wouldn’t even pick up her sick child for a cuddle!


Luckily, that’s generally the exception. Even though there are usually some children on most overnight flights I’ve taken, my fears for a noisy night have always been soothed aside from once. Most of the time the children fall asleep quickly. One flight, I could hear a small child grizzling on and off all night and nobody in the general area slept. But it was also clear that little one wasn’t having a temper tantrum or misbehaving, he was probably unsettled due to the traveling and strange place he or she found themself in.

I still prefer to be in a place without children if possible and when around them, pray to the gods that they are well behaved. Most are, some are not and it’s hard to take even when it seems like the parent is doing their best. Harder to take when it seems like the parent is letting the child run rampant.

Traveling with a child on planes and trains must be very difficult. Getting them  used to it young is ideal if you can. The routine isn’t strange to them after awhile and they know what’s expected and what happens. In this blog post, there are some very good arguments for all sides, regarding kids in public places. Keeping kids from getting bored is probably paramount when traveling longer distances. Finding kid friendly places to eat means they’ll be more likely to find food on the menu they will like.

A Word A Week Photograph Challenge = Dog

I’ve discovered this person does photo challenges on her blog so I’m jumping in on this one:

Once a week I will dip into my old English Oxford dictionary and pick a word on the page that it falls open at.  The challenge is to post a photograph, poem, story – whatever the genre you like best to describe of what that word means to you. Put a link back to my challenge page so others can take part if they wish.

A  Word a Week Challenge – Dog

This little guy was sitting in a shop doorway in Brugges. Don’t you just want to give him a hug?

Feeling low in Brugges

I don’t own dogs. I never did. I always felt they were too high maintenance whereas a cat is low maintenance, doesn’t take a lot of attention except for what it demands, of course. Cats are discerning, independent and if they ever evolve with opposable thumbs and can open their own food packets or tins, we’re all in deep trouble.

Dogs are quite useful, of course. They can be trained to do some pretty awesome things. Have you ever watched a dog herd sheep? It’s amazing. One I saw in Ireland was trained so well, he tried to herd one that was walking around inside a barn. On the other hand, I saw a full sized poodle being used as a guide dog for a blind woman and it kept walking her too close to telephone poles!

You can’t really train a cat unless it’s something it wants to do. My mother’s cat will fetch if she’s in a playful mood. Seriously. You can throw her toy down the hall, she’ll run after it and bring it back to you to throw again. She does *not* think she’s a dog. Heaven forbid.

A cat will only eat a little bit until it’s satisfied. They graze at the food bowl all day. A dog inhales the dish of food and is always ready for more should you think he’s starving because he ate so fast. Some dogs are known to eat themselves to death, or would if you put them in a room full of food.

To bring this back to travel, I’m not usually on the lookout for random dogs or cats though we did sit in a cafe in Amsterdam only to notice a cat curled up alongside us on the bench seat. Another time, in a pub in the Lake District in England, we noticed a couple of people come in out of the chill with their dogs on leashes. That’s common in the U.K. where dogs are usually welcome in the pub even though food is served there. Little lap dogs often are seen in French cafes as well, accompanying their owners.

Evening in Paris

Pont Des Artes, Paris


Another random photo from the stash. This one is one of my favourites and shows the Pont des Artes in Paris. It was the only sunny day we’d seen out of the three we were in Paris. We spent most of the day in Montmartre and were heading back by bus to the Louvre for evening opening before later taking a night time boat ride on the Seine. The sun was edging low just as we got off the bus so we walked over to the river before entering the museum to take some photos.

November in Paris. We shouldn’t really have expected better weather. For one thing, November…not really conducive to warm, sunny days and for another thing, every time we go somewhere it rains. We might be lucky enough to get one day with the sun shining, possibly two if we’re there long enough. Haven’t seen it fail yet. It doesn’t bode well for Rome!

The photo above was a telephoto shot which gives it that somewhat compressed feeling. The photo below was taken with no zoom at all.

The Seine looking towards the Pont des Artes and Notre Dame


Staying in London on a budget

It’s well known that London is one of the most expensive cities in the world but it’s also one of those cities where it doesn’t have to break the bank. The hotel might well be the most expensive part of your stay. You may pay more than you’re used to for even a budget hotel, but you don’t have to pay in gold bricks either.  I don’t pay huge amounts for a hotel in London but I also don’t go to the cheapest end of the scale either so though I would class the hotels I use as “budget” they aren’t “shoestring” type budget hotels.

Strand Palace Hotel


I’ve stayed at a variety of hotels but almost always in a budget range between 65 and 100 pounds a night. Now, 65 pounds is probably not going to be common these days though I did get a really good deal on a Hilton for that 2 or 3 years ago.  It is possible to walk into a bargain now and then, especially if you travel outside of the high tourist season (summer), which I generally do.

You don’t have to pay a huge amount for a hotel in London and you don’t have to sleep in a hostel if you don’t want to. That’s not my scene but plenty of people don’t mind. Some of the universities let out rooms in the summer. There are lots of websites where you can often find good deals.  Even Bed and Breakfasts in London aren’t overly cheap,with prices from 70 t0 100 pounds a night, a similar range to the hotels I book.

You should decide on the amenities you must have in a hotel and room. If you don’t mind sharing the toilet and shower facilities, you can save money. There are older hotels and B&Bs that don’t have elevators (“lifts”) which may be cheaper.  The hotel star rating is based on things like that. The higher the star rating, the more you’re going to pay regardless of whether the hotel deserves that rating or not.

The official tourism site for London, Londontown.com, has served me very well in the past for good deals on hotels at times and discounted theatre tickets as well though with the tickets through their broker you don’t have a choice of where you sit.

London Nights has also been a good website to book with. You don’t have to prepay your stay either. Another good site with a decent reputation, though I’ve not used it, is Smoothhound, good for finding bed and breakfasts.

Another service that a lot of people use to get cheaper rates on nice hotels are bidding sites. The top three are Priceline, Kayak and Hotwire. I’ve never used them but I’ve heard all good things about them. You choose the area of the city where you want to stay, pick a star rating and input how much you want to pay. You may or may not get it, or you can change your criteria by upping the star rating or lowering it or choosing a different location. These sites also book hotels directly without the mystery element. The cost will be a little more than if you played the bidding game but still good, I think.

A few of the general travel booking sites like Expedia and Travelocity are also booking “mystery” hotels, where you don’t know what the hotel is until you book it and you can get decent discounts that way. I’ve not used that either, as I prefer to know what I’m getting ahead of time but lots of people do and are happy with the results.

When you use  hotel booking sites and the same goes for booking from the hotel site directly, MAKE SURE you check the Cancellation rules. Some of the hotel broker sites do not charge fees for changing or cancelling your reservation but the hotel itself may still insist on a fee. Prepaid rooms are usually not refundable. This is why cancellation insurance is good to have.

Some other reputable hotel booking sites are:


Generic travel sites include:


The budget site Frommers has a decent rating of some of the sites here, worth reading for what you don’t want in a booking site as well.

Good areas to find hotels with reasonable prices are the Paddington and Bayswater road area, Notting Hill which is close to that,  also the triangle  between Euston station,  King’s Cross station and Russell Square are a lot of bed and breakfast and larger tourist hotels. You will often find some of the ones on Russell Square as part of a package deal with air fare which can work out quite well for your wallet.

Currently the Canadian dollar is quite cheap against the pound so I’ve been paying up to 100 pounds and getting a nicer room than I used to for 65, paying the same money after the exchange rate is factored in. It seems like the room prices haven’t fluctuated as wildly overall as the currency rate. The highest rate I remember paying was $2.60 to a pound about 10 or 12 years ago. I bought £100 the other day for $162 and change, Canadian funds. That’s excellent and makes the U.K. more affordable.

Find a hotel that includes breakfast, that’s always useful to get you started, even if it’s just cold cereal and toast, rather than a full cooked breakfast. If you have a hotel with a mini bar, find out if you are allowed to keep your own items in it. Some hotel rooms might even have a small fridge and you definitely can use that to keep things like bread, muffins, juice and snacks in. For families, hotel suites that are like little apartments probably make more sense.

I’ve had some good hotel rooms and one or two bad ones, mostly rooms that were decent, not too small, clean and comfortable. These days, reviews on travel websites are good to have under your belt but you still need to take them with a grain of salt. Overly negative or overly positive always makes me suspicious unless all or most of the reviews are along the same lines.

Best Western Corona, London

And in case you wanted to know the hotels I’ve used in the past that I would recommend: (Prices are from their current websites, you may get better deals by calling direct or through some of the general hotel booking sites)

London Guards Hotel – Around £100 a night for a double, average, using London Nights.com for a low season weekend. They’ve got family rooms and are on a quiet cul de sac behind Bayswater Road. Close to Paddington station for Heathrow Express and several tube stations within a couple of blocks either way. Would stay here again. Told a friend about it and he and his family really liked it too.

Paddington Hotel – a couple of streets away from the London Guards, same company owns it. No elevator/lift. We had a large room and it had a little fridge. Very nice. In partnership with the Royal Court Apartments across the street. Seems to averag about 70 pounds a night.

Best Western Corona – close to the Pimlico tube stop in the Victoria Station area, a bit of a walk to VS though the bus goes right by. Room was very nice, breakfast adequate. We got this room using Aeroplan points. Best Western rates are usually not too bad, though.

Tavistock Hotel – close to Russell Square and Euston Station. Stayed here a long time ago but I think it’s still decent. Not fancy, but it was clean, if a bit worn down at the edges.

Thistle Euston – next to Euston train station. Might be a little higher priced these days and there’s an Ibis just next to it by the station that may be a bit cheaper. My sister stayed in the Ibis and was satisfied with that one.

These next few were ones I got a really good deal on but are usually a little more pricey than I budget for.

Hilton Islington – Not too far from Kings Cross/St. Pancras, close to the Angel tube station with lots of busses. It’s off the main road so it’s quiet and is next to a convention center of sorts and probably fairly empty on the weekends. I booked this one off Londontown.com for 65 pounds a night, on a weekend, including full breakfast. I think that was a real steal!

Melia White House  – next to Regent’s Park. Also a bit more pricey than usual but I got a good deal booking through Air Canada’s hotel booking site (which, by the way, often has some pretty good deals though you must prepay the room). The hotel felt quite posh and our room was really nice except it was beside the elevator which clattered in the walls into the night.

Strand Palace hotel – My mother and I stayed here. It was affordable because we split the cost of a room but even then, it was a bit higher than I usually pay but I wanted her to be in a great location, central, and good for the bus routes. She loved it!

New York Minute

I randomly dive into my folders of travel photos and come up with one that might inspire a post. This one is tonight’s memory, the New York Metropolitan Museum, or The Met. I love museums, big and small. I especially love weird and wonderful ones like the Dog Collar Museum in Leeds Castle, England. That sort of thing.

But the Met is one of the big ones on the scale of the British Museum or the Victoria and Albert. You can’t dip in and do it in an hour. You could be there all day with a stop in the cafe to reenergize but I find that after a few hours, I burn out and it all becomes a blur.

Setting the Wayback Machine to the summer of 1998, I was taking a course for work in nearby Parsippany, NJ. There isn’t much there in the area where the hotel and training centre was but we were close to the main road and a bus into Manhattan. Several of us students took the bus into the Port Authority one evening and we walked across and down to the Empire State Building and went to the top just as dusk was settling over the skyscrapers on a hot and hazy evening.

After, we walked back to Port Authority, thinking it was probably a bit late to look for a restaurant and still make a late bus back to the hotel, a journey of an hour from the bus station. We didn’t know how late that particular commuter bus would run so we walked back to the terminal and, crossing 7th Ave. we could see the lights of Times Square blazing up into the night a few blocks distant. I actually stopped in the middle of the street (in a crosswalk, I’m not *that* kind of tourist!) to take photos!

On the weekend, I had a Saturday to spend on my own before my flight home on Sunday so I took the bus into the city again and went to the Met. I spent the whole morning there and it was bliss! Pre-Raphaelites, Tiffany, and even better, the medieval Unicorn tapestries were on display from the Cloisters which was undergoing renovations.  I got to see some Impressionist paintings, too, paintings I had only seen in books…Renoir, Monet, Manet, Sisley, Degas, the list goes on. Their collections are more extensive in the Impressionist schools than any I had seen up to then.

Leaving there, I soon found myself near St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Rockefeller Center before meeting a penpal and his wife at Sak’s where she worked. We had lunch and we walked around in the oppressive heat and humidity for an  hour or two, crossing Times Square mid-afternoon.

Times Square, August 1998

When I am asked what I thought of New York, my first answer is “Colourful”!  I don’t just mean it’s inhabitants either.  I mean there is a lot more colour than you would expect for a city consisting of so much concrete, steel and flesh!  The streets are filled with endless streams of bright yellow cabs.  There are big, bright billboards on and between buildings.  There are brightly coloured advertisements in shop windows.  There are flags and banners hanging from stores, museums and public buildings.  Many people are dressed in bright colours and the sidewalks are dotted with news agents selling newspapers and magazines.  There is, of course, colour overload when you reach Times Square. Garbage bags are pink, the police station has a neon sign!  And let’s not forget the frequent food vendors and fruit and vegetable markets with their bright canopies and umbrellas.

My second impression is the constant smell.  Now, it’s not a bad smell.  Well, not all the time.  As you walk the streets, you are constantly walking in and out of one smell after another…perfume from people or stores, garbage, diesel fuel from busses and subway vents, food cooking, people, freshly cut grass, the scent of a flower bed and car exhaust.

The pace of the city is so much faster than I am used to, too and you find yourself speeding up to keep up!  Not too many cars use signal lights… the car horn seems to be the weapon of choice but traffic lights seem to be more than just a suggestion.  You will see a few cars run the red when it first turns but then, generally, the cars hold back and let the cross traffic take their turn.

I only had that day and a few hours in an evening in New York but my partner and I have decided that our next side trip when he next visits me is probably going to be New York. I haven’t really seen much of it and he’s never been at all. It’s not a long way from here, a couple of hours’ flight. We might see a Broadway show, maybe take a tour bus, go on the Staten Island Ferry for a good view of the skyline. We’re always planning one or two trips ahead of the one we’re about to go on.

Always dreaming of where we can go next.

And that’s how it should be!


Fab Photos – Irish traditions

A Galway Hooker

This, my friends, is a Galway Hooker. It’s a traditional fishing boat that you would have found in Galway Bay on the west of the Republic of Ireland. It has reddish sails and is black because it’s coated in pitch. These little boats are still being lovingly made or restored.  Here in Nova Scotia, Halifax sees a Tall Ships festival every few years and while many of the ships are converted from steel hulled boats, some are antique and restored and somehow have far more elegance than the big monsters that everyone gawps at. There’s a little town on the south shore of Nova Scotia called Mahone Bay and they have a wooden boat festival every year as well.

Killarney Jaunting Cart

Killarney in the south of Ireland is often the start or end point for the Ring of Kerry, a picturesque drive around the Kerry peninsula off the southwest coast of the island. Killarney is most definitely a tourist town, some might even say a tourist trap. It certainly wasn’t overly impressive to me. They also have a traditional form of transportation, however. It’s called a Jaunting car and it’s a kind of buggy or carraige  with little seats along the sides, enough for about 6 people.  Originally the seats were back to back with the passengers facing outwards, with little footrests over the wheels but this style in the photo here is much more conducive to tourists having a conversation. It’s pulled by a horse with a driver well versed in local lore for the tourists.  They do tours through the lovely natural Killarney National Park on the edge of the city.

A Waterford Crystal master craftsman

Another city in Ireland steeped in tradition is Waterford, home of Waterford Crystal. The crystal is still hand blown and etched by hand by masters who have to memorize hundreds of patterns.  It was founded in 1783 by brothers George and William Penrose.

The craftsmen have a minimum 5 years apprenticeship and normally 3 more for the masters in the various fields of glass blowing or cutting  and engravers do 3 years at a local cottage before training for 10 more.  Most of the blowers and cutters seem to be men when I toured the factory 10 years ago, and the guide said it wasn’t a reflection on women, it’s just that women rarely seem to choose this field. There are women that work in other support roles in the factory, quality control etc.

Ireland is full of traditions and appreciation for those traditions is enjoying a resurgence. Not long ago, the Irish language, a form of Gaelic, was dying out. Now children learn it in school and the country is proudly and officially biligual. All the public signage is in both languages.

There’s one tradition that the Irish wish would just go away, however. That little sprite, the Leprechaun! The word “Leprechaun” means “little people”. The origins are hazy but one theory goes that when the tall, dark, warlike and aggressive Celts invaded, the natives were small, peaceful folk who lived in ring forts which probably became the fairy rings of legend.

These people seemed to disappear at will through perhaps they just fled the intimidating invaders. The cute little leprechauns we see today were invented for the English tourists and it just got out of hand. Now they are out of fashion and considered tacky.  Ireland to me is not the cartoon pot of gold and frisky, naughty little men in green coats. It’s a place of history, and a people who are easy going, traditional, open and friendly.

And the beer ain’t bad either!