Traveling through the movies – Whale Rider

Today’s movie takes us to New Zealand. These days when people think of movies filmed in New Zealand, they think of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the more recent Hobbit. Whale Rider was a little indy film, not a big Hollywood production.

It’s about a 12 year old girl, Pai, who wants to buck tradition and be the tribe leader but her grandfather is unreservedly a traditionalist and refuses to teach her any of the traditional warrior ways because she is a girl. Her father has left her in the care of her grandparents and isn’t inclined to take up the tradition either so Pai eavesdrops on the lessons the boys get and gets her uncle to teach her as well. This leads to a falling out between her and her grandfather.

The tribe’s culture is based around the whale and one of the tasks a potential leader must do is dive for a whale’s tooth thrown in the sea by the teacher. None of the boys are successful but Pai is. The ancestor she’s named after was said to have been able to ride whales and after a pod of whales becomes beached nearby, the villagers try desperately to keep them alive and urge them to return to the water when the tide comes in. The grandfather sees their failure as a personal affront to his own failures. Pai finds an affinity with the whales as well and manages to coax one of them back to the water to lead the others and by doing so, Pai eventually proves her worth to her grandfather.

Whale Rider was filmed in a village called Whangara on North Island which is also the village where the novel was set. The scenery isn’t as dramatic as the mountains and lakes of South Island but the reason I enjoyed this movie so much was how it featured the Maori culture. The vastness of the beaches and the area here is lovely in a remote and wild way. I would love to drive around the coast and the mountains of the North and South Islands and find out more about the fascinating culture of the Maori.

There is another movie made in New Zealand featuring modern Maori culture called Once Were Warriors and it’s about an urban family experiencing violence and tragedy.  It’s set in Aukland and you see bits and pieces of that but mainly the lower income areas, not the spots the tourists generally go.  It’s a very hard movie to watch, with brutality and desperation but it’s very good and ends on a note of hope.

Food Photos: UK

I’ve been looking at some of the photos on WordPress that accompany recipes and I’m reminded of my own food photos. I like to take photos of some of the food I order when I go out, especially when I’m traveling. They don’t always turn out due to poor lighting conditions in some of the restaurants but I try.

Do you take photos of food and restaurants on your travels? I also belong to a few review type websites where you can submit your own tips for things like hotels and restaurants so that’s another reason I take photos of where and what I eat. And sometimes the food is so nicely presented that it’s a work of art in itself!

Here’s a few I’ve taken over various trips to the UK.

Classic British food: Fish, chips and mushy peas From a local chippie in Salford

Asian food vendor, Camden Lock market, London

Jams, preserves and honey
Keswick, Lake District

Dessert, pre-theatre. Restaurant: Salieri. London

Spitalfields Market bread stall, London

Dessert buffet
Red Hot World Buffet, Manchester

More cheese, Grommit?
Bury Market, Greater Manchester

A Word a Week Challenge: Action

Sue’s Word a Week Challenge this week is Action.

The word brings to mind speed, events, movement, something’s going on, something’s about to happen. Lights, Camera, Action! This is where the action takes place. Now, in the business world, “action” has become a verb as well, which irritates me to no end. “Who’s going to action this action item?” Grr….

Lights, Camera, Action. On the set at ITV Studios, Coronation Street

Juggling in Covent Garden, London

Montreal Canadiens vs the Atlanta Thrashers. Montreal, 2009

Rowing a traditional longboat. Roskilde, Denmark

Loop the loop… Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen

Playing in the mud. Chester Zoo, Chester, England

Hammer to fall! Highland Games, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia

Practice makes perfect

Pride of Baltimore crew member. Tall Ships festival, Halifax, Nova Scotia


Bird Action


Fab Photo Friday – Paris

My nephew and his partner are in Paris as I write this. It’s his first visit anywhere in Europe and he was hugely excited to go. His partner has been there at least once before and his partner has a friend there that is going to show them around as well. I am excited to hear all about his travels when he returns so in honour of Justin’s first foray to the city of Light, here’s a few photos from Paris, things I hope he and Zach do and see. I hope their experience is every bit as great as mine was.

Watch the sun set over Notre Dame

Watch the sun set over Notre Dame

Yummy pastries and cakes!

Yummy pastries and cakes!

Paris is for lovers.

Paris is for lovers.

Arc de Triomphe

Arc de Triomphe

A detail on the Arc de Triomphe

A detail on the Arc de Triomphe

The Grande Roule in Place de la Concorde. There's a great view over the city from top, even on a rainy day, in my experience

The Grande Roule in Place de la Concorde. There’s a great view over the city from top, even on a rainy day, in my experience

He said they were going to kiss while up the Eiffel Tower.

He said they were going to kiss while up the Eiffel Tower.

Check out some fun souvenirs in Galleries Lafayette

Check out some fun souvenirs in Galleries Lafayette

Institute de France is one of the grand buildings along the Seine

Institute de France is one of the grand buildings along the Seine

Check out the Louvre.

Check out the Louvre.

Sit in a sidewalk cafe and watch the world go by for a bit

Sit in a sidewalk cafe and watch the world go by for a bit

Cobbled streets of Montmartre can lead you anywhere.

Cobbled streets of Montmartre can lead you anywhere.

Where in the world is Newfoundland

Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland

I’m always thinking about my next trip, and the one after that, and sometimes the one after that. And I often think about where I’d love to go if I had the time and money though will probably never get to those places, miracle lottery win aside.

This year is New York City in May and a road trip around Scotland in October. We’ve already talked about a couple of destinations for next year. If Graham can manage to get the vacation time for the end of August for my niece’s wedding, then we talked about maybe a few days in Iceland. IcelandAir flies from Halifax through the summer season and they do decent packages with hotels. Everyone I know that’s been there enjoyed it.

If that doesn’t work out, he asked about Newfoundland. The easternmost province of Canada only became part of this country in 1949, having remained a British colony long after the rest of the territories joined Canada.

The province of Newfoundland is mostly remote and rural. It is sparsely populated by the most wonderful people you will ever meet. The city of St. John’s is the oldest English-founded city in Canada, even in North America according to Wikipedia. It’s purported to have been discovered by John Cabot. Here’s the rest of a potted history of the city quoted from Wikipedia:

Newfoundland was claimed as an English colony in the name of Elizabeth I in 1583, temporarily captured by the Dutch in 1665, and attacked three times by the French who captured and destroyed its settlements in 1689 and 1707. St John’s was retaken each time and re-fortified. British forces used St. John’s fortifications during the Seven Years’ War in North America, the American Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. St. John’s served Allied needs in World War ll by providing an air base for the US Army Air Corps and a harbour for antisubmarine warfare ships.

Colourful houses on the steep streets of St. John's

Colourful houses on the steep streets of St. John’s

The City of St. John’s is very hilly, some streets are so steep that there are stairs built into the sidewalks! The City that’s there today really only dates back mostly to the beginning of the 20th century. There was a devastating fire that wiped out a lot of it so it was rebuilt. There’s a couple of nice cathedrals, a Catholic and an Anglican one and there are a couple of old neighbourhoods that are intetresting to explore, the Battery and Quidi Vidi.

There are a couple of nice museums and some nice parks to enjoy the outdoors. There are also more bars and pubs per capita than anywhere else in eastern Canada!  It isn’t a city of skyscrapers and the tallest building has only about 12 or 13 floors. The provincial legislature is here and there are some interesting old buildings and houses open to the public as well so there are good reasons to visit the city.

View from Signal Hill over St. John's

View from Signal Hill over St. John’s

Another claim to fame for St. John’s is Signal Hill. On this spot was received the first transatlantic wireless signal in 1901, sent from England by Marconi. There’s a tower built to celebrate the 400th anniversary of John Cabot’s discovery of the province back in 1497 and there are excellent views and hiking around the hill.

Outside the city, there are plenty of little coastal towns and villages to see. Most of Newfoundland’s population lives around the coastline since fishing was the mainstay of the economy for centuries. It’s suffering now and there’s a lot of unemployment since the cod stocks have been depleted. That’s a whole other issue that I’m not getting into here.

There are not a lot of roads around the province so it often feels like you have to drive the long way around to get places but you will see some spectacular scenery while you do it.

There are some great national parks and there’s a national historic site where they’ve found remains of a Viking settlement, at L’Anse aux Meadows which is on the northernmost tip of the western “arm” of the island near Labrador and the mainland. That kind of kicks John Cabot to the curb for discovery! There’s a national heritage park there and you can see the excavations. It’s a long way to go to get there, though not quite so bad if you fly into Cornerbrook or Deer Lake and drive from there, but it’s worth it.

caribouAs I said, the people of Newfoundland are warm and friendly. You won’t find nicer! It would be a different sort of holiday in Newfoundland. There’s a bit of urban living but most of the attractions are outside the city. Bird watching, whale watching, fishing, hiking and camping. You need to watch out for moose on the highways, though, especially at night. In a confrontation between a 1 ton 7 foot tall moose and your car, the moose will probably win.

There are two main ways to get to Newfoundland. You can fly into St. John’s, Gander, Deer Lake or Cornerbrook or you can catch a passenger ferry from North Sydney, Cape Breton. There are sailings to Port aux Basques and Argentia, both on the south coast of the province. There are also ferries from Labrador in the west. If you aren’t restricting your visit to St. John’s, you’ll need a car to get around though there are some bus tour companies available. Cruise ships also dock in the small harbour through the summer season.

Another place you can visit is France. Oh yes. There are a group of small islands near the towns of Grand Bank and Fortune called St. Pierre and Miquelon and they still belong to France. They are small villages and there isn’t a lot there but they’re quaint and peaceful. You can take a ferry there from Fortune and stay overnight though there are a few day returns through the summer for a one day visit. I haven’t had the chance to do that because I wasn’t there on the days that the ferry came back the same day. (My cousin lived in Grand Bank and later in St. John’s so I’ve been to Newfoundland a couple of times).

Newfoundlanders have a distinct accent. It’s strongly reminiscent of an Irish accent for the most part. That’s one of the non-native groups that settled here.

Oh, one last thing. Pronounciation. I’ve found that most people that are not from Canada pronounce the name of the province as “New *FOUND* Land”. Canadians know it’s “NEWfunland”. Just so you know.

A Word a Week Challenge – Hats

This week’s challenge is Hats.

Hats can be a fashion accessory. They can be functional to keep your head warm. They can be part of a uniform or costume or a traditional head covering from a costume from your heritage. Hats seem to finish off what you’re wearing.

There are expressions… Home is where you hang your hat. Someone that wears more than one had does multiple jobs. Hats off to someone is a nod in their favour. You can tip or doff your hat in greeting. Taking off your hat is a mark of respect at a funeral.

Here are a few hats and head-gear from my photo archives:

The Hat Museum, Stockport, UK

The British are Coming. Halifax Waterfront during the Tall Ships 2009 Festival

The British are Coming. Halifax Waterfront during the Tall Ships 2009 Festival

And the soldiers' uniforms from behind

And the soldiers’ uniforms from behind

Here’s an iconic hat.

Napoleon's Hat. Musee des Beaux Arts, Montreal.

Napoleon’s Hat. Musee des Beaux Arts, Montreal.

Kensington Market, “Exile”, Toronto, Ontario

Basket weaving, Fortress Louisbourg, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia

Cheap Trick in concert. Robin Zander

And finally, from the Mawio’mi of the east coast Mi’kmaq bands. The word means ‘gathering’ and is a celebration of the Mi’kmaq culture.


Travel Magazines


I mentioned National Geographic Traveler the other week and I thought I might talk a bit about some of the travel magazines that I like.

I’ve been buying them and/or subscribing to them for a long time. It was armchair traveling for a long time and I was also drawn to the photography as that has been a lifelong hobby for me. I subscribe to three at the moment and pick up others if they feature something that I think I’d find interesting.

I don’t get any of them in digital format because I don’t have a tablet and they don’t really make them for a PC or laptop yet. I wish they would. Even the ones that are for a Kindle don’t work through the Kindle app on a PC, only on a tablet. I do have an iPod touch but I find that magazines on that are just not suitable. It’s too small a screen. I think the tablet digital versions would be lovely, though and if I ever get one, I will probably switch reading the magazines to that format. Most of the magazines with digital format also offer bonus content for those versions.
Here, then, is a little run down of some of my favourites.
Favourite Travel magazine –

National Geographic Traveler

Excellent photography
Interesting stories from all over the world
Good online blogs and bloggers

Digital format: Has an iPad app
Subscriptions: 8 issues/year, Approx. $20 CAD per year. Occasional special deals for renewals. Currently seems to be $10 US for a subscription to US addresses.

Second favourite :
Conde Naste Traveler

Very good photography
Good stories, can be a bit America-focused during several issues over the year
Top 100/Top X/Reader’s Choice/Gold List type issues a bit redundant
Only one blog, Wendy Perrin but she’s informative.

Digital format: Exclusive content on digital app versions (iPad, Kindle Fire, Samsung Galaxy, Nexus 7, Nook Colour
Subscriptions: Usually has very good deals for US subscriptions. A bit more for Canadian and international but I’ve had some good deals there too.  Slightly more for digital + print. Not sure if the digital is available outside the  U.S.

Not that keen on their current website, it’s a bit in-your-face with the big black headlines but there are subscribe links displayed prominently and it’s easy enough to find your way around.

I sometimes buy the U.K. version as well, depending on content. I can get it at some of the better news stands here.

Travel + Leisure

I pick it up sometimes if there’s something I want to read
Not quite as polished,  the website a bit similar in feel to CNT above.

Subscriptions: Good value for Canada/US subscriptions, $24 US for a 24 month subscription.
Subscription links on website not prominently displayed.
Digital format: Doesn’t look like they have a digital version.


I love the U.K. so this has lots of articles on many aspects and all areas of Britain.
Great photography
Big, glossy magazine
More expensive than the others, is an import.

Subscriptions: 6 issues/year for $29.99.
Digital format: iPad version $20.99 and they have a digital version that will work on a PC, a Mac, and Android tablet as well as the iPad. It’s through a company/viewer called Zinio and going by their sample on their site, it’s a bit fussy, having to zoom in and out to view things at a readable level. The table versions would likely be nice.
I have this on print subscription at the moment, too. Even the ads are good, with lots of website links for things to look up.

Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel

Good for those of us that don’t spend a mint traveling
Lots of online resources
Lots of good, practical information.

Digital format: Multiple digital versions available. Looks like they’re in the middle of a change. I wonder if they’re going all digital or they’re changing their print production or something. Their current version is available online only and is a zoomable one that works on a PC at least.

National Geographic

This is the classic travel magazine.
The photography is world class with lots of exotic locations and long, informative stories. It’s not just about travel, it’s about our world in general. It’s about the environment, nature, travel and great adventures.

Subscriptions: You can get a digital only, print only or a combo for a little more. Digital version is available for Canada as well as the U.S.
Digital format: iPad and Kindle Fire with access to the online archives.
They also produce editions aimed at kids and younger people. Top quality. No wonder they’ve been around over 100 years.

There are others but these are the ones I read either regularly or occasionally.  There are also ones on the news stand that focus on regions such as Italy, or Spain, several for people that like to go on cruises, and theres one on Islands in general. Which ones do you like?

New York, Here We Come

When last we spoke of our trip to New York, I had nothing booked and was searching for hotel possibilities and making lists of things to do. Last week, I booked the flights using Aeroplan points. They still charge us taxes and fees but two tickets to New York cost us a total of $280 CAD, far better than nearly $1000 it would have cost. The fees really kill you! We’re flying in and out of Newark, though the return flight includes a change in Boston Logan.

After much searching and angst, I thought I had a short list of 2 or 3 Holiday Inns when I found another couple hotels that looked good too, one called Hotel Grand Union and one called King and Grove.

An aside. I’ve belonged to a travel email list for years called Travelzine. It’s a great resource. You can ask anything and get some really useful replies from lots of travelers.

So anyway. I had just sent an email to the Travelzine to see what people had to say about my shortlist of hotels. I went to to re-check the addresses and guess what? There was a sale on  a few of the Holiday Inns! Well now… that makes a big difference. I decided to book the one near Times Square. It’s got free WiFi and a buffet breakfast, also a good savings. Their non refundable rate was about $220 CAD per night but they had a refundable rate of $240 and I decided it could be worth it to get that. Free cancellation is always good if you can get it. An extra $80 for the week is about what it would cost for Cancellation insurance anyway. I think it’s still a prepaid amount but that’s fine. My credit card gives me Aeroplan points and the credit card gives you additional peace of mind. I’m not sure but I think the gold card may even have trip interruption/cancellation included. I must look that up.

There now. Flight and hotel booked. Now we can *really* start planning. I’ll get the Empire State Building tickets online to save one of the queues. I’ll probably get the Hop On Hop Off bus tickets online too. We still haven’t decided on a show but there’s time for that. I’ve been perusing the Timeout New York site.

Great website, by the way, if you’re visiting any city they cover. They had a good theatre section and lots of ideas on museums, popular and lesser known, and a list of free or cheap ones. I discovered one that’s on an aircraft carrier, the Intrepid and is a sea, space and aviation museum and I think my fella would really like that. I would as well. I really enjoyed the War Museum in Manchester last year  and how often do you get to walk on the flight deck of a carrier! There’s a Skyscraper Museum that might be cool.  There’s also the Society of Illustrators, with an exhibit that’s on the week we’re there about the artist behind MAD Magazine. We have talked about taking the Staten Island Ferry if it’s a nice day, very good for views of the Statue of Liberty and the city skyline.

If I make a list, we’ll probably manage to get to see some of this though probably not all. We’re also going up the ESB and I want to visit the Frick Collection and the New York Public Library. We’ll be there the best part of four days. I’ll be paying closer attention to that NYC blog post  I mentioned the other week, too.  I’ve looked into the New York Pass that gets you into most of what I’ve already mentioned for free, but the problem I’ve always had with these types of passes is that you really need to pack in lots of things each day to realize the savings. I never can keep up that pace so we would end up losing money. Buying tickets online to the things you definitely are going to do can at least get you past the ticket purchasing lineup and that’s good enough for me.

I’m excited now!

It feels good to have the hotel decision made and booked. The rest is gravy. We always pick a few Must Do items and then see where the wind takes us. I know there will be a lot of walking, there always is. I’ll look into transport passes or tickets.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Lost in the Detail

WordPress’s weekly photo challenge this week is about details. Getting up close when you take a photo, getting more than just an overall picture. The Big Picture is great but it’s the details that make it far more interesting. Fortunately I’ve got lots of examples because it’s something I do a lot.  In particular, I really enjoy taking photos of buildings. I love the structures, the lines and curves, the doors and windows, the flourishes and embellishments, the older the better, but modern architecture is interesting as well, sometimes.

There’s an expression: “God is in the details” and when it comes to cathedrals, it’s particularly appropriate. Modern cathedrals and the ones we have in North America in general are not very old and tend to be plainer. But in Europe, when I travel, I love to visit these old cathedrals and churches. I’m not religious but the architecture and the detail in these buildings is amazing. I’m awed by these massive structures, and can hardly imagine the resources and effort to build them when you think they were constructed from the 11th century onward with nothing but ropes, scaffolding and a lot of manpower and yet the towers and spires soar to the heavens.

I’ve been to a number of cathedrals in the U.K. and Italy and scattered ones elsewhere. My favourite is probably the Glasgow Cathedral dedicated to St. Mungo. I’m not sure why. It’s not very big and not all that elaborate, but there’s something in the quiet dimness that speaks to me. Another one that’s really beautiful and steeped with history is Canterbury Cathedral which soaring fan vaulting over the nave and a dim blue-lit quire.  I don’t love all of the ones I’ve seen, there are a few that left me cold but usually I enjoy exploring them.

A few years ago we visited the small Cathedral city of Wells in Somerset, the “west country” part of England. The catheral is stunning. It’s west front is covered in carved statues and inside, the fan vaulting is superb and it’s got a “scissor” arch to support the towers. Very unique. Here then, is a photo essay of the Wells Cathedral and some of the details.

Wells Cathedral

Wells Cathedral, the west front. This will be the Big Picture

Wells Cathedral

A little closer. Wells Cathedral west front.

Wells Cathedral. Closer still, focussing in on some of the exterior detail

Wells Cathedral quire

Let’s go inside. This is the quire of the cathedral.

The scissor arch in Wells Cathedral.

The scissor arch in Wells Cathedral.

Fan vaulting detail in Wells Cathedral

And finally, the sun creating shadows through a window that overlooks the catheral cloisters

A Word a Week Challenge – Dance

This week’s Word a Week challenge is “Dance”. Most of the photos I have of dance were taken here at home. One of the videos below was taken at a First Nations gathering on our Halifax Common, and they had dancing and drumming, some amazing traditional costumes and music. Even the smaller kids could dance and all generations participated.

My only nod to travel was a video I took while we spent some time in Piazza Navona in Rome just as the dusk was settling in. There are buskers and artists all over the square and after a delicious gelato, we were making our way out to the street when we heard music and spotted the couple dancing. So atmospheric!


Dancin’ the blues away