Travel Theme – Stone

This week, Ailsa wants to challenge us with Stone.  The earth is covered with stones and rocks of every kind. If it isn’t cover in water that is, and beneath the water, you’ll find it too. Third Rock from the Sun, right? Stone has been used to create weapons, tools, shelter, fences,  and artistically for statues and sculptures.

There’s a little fishing village about an hour and a half from where I live, called Blue Rocks. The geological composition of the rocks there in layers is quite unusual apparently.  I was approached by a company that publishes geology textbooks and this next photo was published in it.

Blue Rocks, Nova Scotia

In the far north of Canada, the inhabitants there have been known to make little piles of rocks, often resembling a human. They call them Inukshuks.  We used to have an “info” type ad about them. The grandson of the Elder woman that built one translated her explanation: “Now the people will know we were here”. This little one was spotted at Blue Rocks during our visit.

Now the people will know we were here. Inukshuk, Blue Rocks, Nova Scotia

Rune Stones from Scandinavia. Seen at the Royal Danish Museum, Copenhagen

Stone marker at the border of Exmoor, Somerset

Stone Circles are mystical and nobody really knows what they were for. Most of them are smaller or thinner stones than the best known, Stonehenge.

Castlerigg Stone Circle, near Keswick, England

Ruins of Rieveaulx Abbey, Yorkshire

Stone fences criss cross the English countryside. This one overlooks Lake Windemere and Ambleside.

The famed stones of Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia

Indian Harbour, Nova Scotia

Nominated for Versatile Blogger

I’ve been nominated with this lovely Versatile Blogger award by Public Transit User’s blogger for which I am quite pleased, thank you very much!


Display the Award on your Blog.
Announce your win with a post and thank the Blogger who nominated you.
Present 15 deserving Bloggers with the Award.
Link your nominees in the post and let them know of their nomination with a comment.

Post 7 interesting things about yourself.

Seven things about myself:

1. I’m in engaged to someone who lives in the U.K. (I’m in Canada)

2. I love Coronation Street and my fiance and I were part of a Canadian documentary called Corrie Crazy.

3. I created my own website (and now this blog) because I love to write travelogues when I travel.

4. I am not very musically talented at all. Can just barely carry a tune. Most of the time.

5. Organizing a trip is half the fun!

6. I’m not one of the world’s most graceful people! My scarred knees can testify to that.

7.  I’m a fan of Shakespeare.
versatile-bloggerAnd to nominate 15 blogs to pay it forward:
1. Liberated Travel is new to me but her Paris blogs  have drawn me in and I really enjoy the Travel Journey of the week challenge, even if I can’t join in because I’ve not been to a destination!

2. Cee’s Photography – fun challenges and great photos!

3. Cinema Parrot Disco for great movie reviews.

4. Ese’s Voice for photography and interesting musings.

5. Photo and Tour for her amazing photos.

6. Road Tripping Europe for their interesting travels on the back roads and towns of Europe!

7. Postcards from Scotland because it’s one of my favourite countries too.

8. Canadian Travel Bugs – Canadians living and traveling in China

9. Janaline’s World Journey – She’s been everywhere!

10. Tranquil Dreams – foodie, travel, photo challenges and movies!

11. Life: A Scot in Norway – Norway, another country that I’d like to see sometime.

12. Lonely Travelog: A Sanctuary of Photography & Travel

12. The London Historian for my love of British history.

13. The Habitual Runaway – great adventures from Canada

14. Museum in a Bottle because I love museums!

15. Where’s my Backpack also for some good travel adventures

Weekly Photo Challenge – Horizon

The visible spot where the sky meets the land. It doesn’t really, but it’s as far as we can see. We know that the earth is round and the sky is the atmosphere over it, miles over it, but it looks like they meet in the distance. You wonder what is past that point where you can see.  People used to think if they ever got to the horizon it would be the end of the world as they knew it. Maps would have illustrations “Here Be Dragons” and the ships would just fall off.

If you’re a science fiction/fantasy fan, and you’re familiar with the Discworld series, you will know that on that planet, the world *is* flat. A big flat disc that rides on the back of a turtle. You really will fall off the horizon there!

What’s over the horizon? What’s in our future? You could follow the horizon forever, really.  WordPress’s weekly challenge is Horizon this week.

The Yorkshire moors

Toronto and it’s island airport on Lake Ontario.

A bench with a view. North Wales, near Llandudno

Cape St. Mary’s, Nova Scotia

Sunderland lighthouse, Northeast England

Travel Festival Webcast on Saturday

I’m a fan of Rick Steves’ travel shows and his travel advice. Yes, he and his company conduct tours in Europe and no, tours aren’t for everyone, as I’ve just finished explaining earlier today. But if you’re a fan, and can work out the time difference, there is a day of web-seminars today. They start at 9 a.m. Pacific time, noon on the east coast of America, 1 p.m. Atlantic time where I am, and so on. I’m reblogging the details from Liberated Traveler here for those interested.

Liberated Traveler

Rick Steves is hosting another live travel festival tomorrow.  The webcast begins at 9:00 AM Pacific Time and can be found at this link.  What seminars will he be offering?

  • 9:00 a.m. European Travel Skills
  • 11:30 a.m. Packing Light and Right
  • 2:00 p.m. France
  • 4:30 p.m. Italy
  • 7:00 p.m. Europe 101: Art and History for Travelers

I enjoy letting the webcast play as I dream about my next travel plans.  Have a great weekend!

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To Bus Tour or not To Bus Tour

Guide Bill, Driver Tony and the bus. Ireland, 2002

Guide Bill, Driver Tony and the bus. Ireland, 2002

This is a blog about touring regions and countries on an organized coach or bus tour. Day trips on a bus with a guide are a different animal.  Overall, I like bus tours and have taken several in the past when I’ve traveled with a friend or alone.

I may have mentioned in past blog entries that I have taken several bus tours in my time. The very first time I went to the U.K. was one of those times. I had finally been able to save up enough money to afford to travel and the first place I was determined to go was to the U.K. I had long had an affinity for the British culture and history and there was no contest as to my first international destination.

I decided to take a bus tour with a co-worker. That started off with a hiccup (read what happened here) and I ended up on the tour bus on my own. It didn’t matter. The bus was full of people so I wouldn’t get lonely. There was always someone to talk to and eat with and hang out with if I wanted to. There were several other women traveling on their own, too. The guide was Irish and he was excellent, lots of fun and very informative. He traveled with a briefcase full of papers and notes (this being before the days of laptops for easy storage!) He told stories, recited poems, cracked jokes and was good fun to have on board!

The next tour I took was for nearly 2 weeks around much of Italy, with another friend. This friend stayed with me! We started with a few days in London and ended in London overnight as well. We really enjoyed it but felt that the 2 weeks was a bit much. By the end we were feeling a bit burned out. I can’t imagine how people take bus tours that last a month! My aunts did this for 21 days, covering 6 or 8 countries across Europe and were exhausted by the end. I can well imagine! The one disappointing aspect of this tour was that our guide was clearly inexperienced. He didn’t come across as enthusiastic or relaxed and read most of his information straight from his books and papers without embellishment.

I have two more tours under my belt, one around the Republic of Ireland and one around just Scotland, both with the same friend and we enjoyed those as well. They were both a week long and just the right length and luckily, both guides here were great with lots of experience! The first one back in 1993 was still the best, though.

Bus tours have advantages and disadvantages. Some people regard them with horror, feeling like sheep herded around from attraction to attraction, unable to go your own way. That’s kind of true but most tour companies also give you free time to do your own thing. You get to see the main highlights and you can then decide where you’d like to return on a future trip if you get to come back. For many people, they may not be able to travel very often and they can at least see the highlights. Transportation and accommodation are never a problem and they even schlep your luggage in and out of the hotel for you. You always get breakfast and often the evening meals are provided when you are not in a major city. The guide is usually very organized and very informative, often very entertaining, too! You often get the expertise of local guides and if an attraction is included in the price, the entry fee is as well and you don’t have to wait in the ticket queue.

Touring has an advantage for people traveling alone. Not everyone is an adventurous traveler willing to strike out on their own if they are not traveling with someone else or even if they are. Touring this way is a great way to see other countries and get a taste of other cultures. It might not be as in depth or “real” as interacting with the people that actually live in your destination, which is a point that some people make when deriding bus tours, but everyone has their own way of doing things and everyone has their own comfort zone. I figure that if it takes a bus tour to get out of your home and you get to see new and different things, then do it! Travel covers a lot of different definitions.

Tours can also be useful if you are in a country where you don’t speak the language. The tour guides will be speaking your language, English if you’re me. They often speak other languages so can negotiate their way around menus, shops, and even other co-tourers who may not speak English very well.

See the people in the yellow caps? That's a tour group! Piazza Rotunda (outside the Pantheon). Rome, 2012

See the people in the yellow caps? That’s a tour group! Piazza Rotunda (outside the Pantheon). Rome, 2012

Disadvantages are the aforementioned group “herding” though I was on a tour once where some of the passengers used the bus merely for transportation and did their own thing entirely, armed with guide books and made sure to be back at the bus by departure times. Most bus tours also include visits to various shops or factories and the fact is that the guides will get a kickback on the percentage of sales. Most of them will not or should not push you to spend your money, in my experience. Most of the visits for demonstrations will likely be interesting. I’ve never bought anything at any of those places as I found the prices were more expensive than at other shops.

Another disadvantage if you are traveling with a budget tour company will be the hotel locations. Often in major cities, the hotels that the budget companies use will be outside the city or in a less central area. They will usually be near public transportation so if you want to be out in the evening on your own, a bus, underground or short cab ride will get you back safely. Not always though. And if you don’t speak the local language, many people are a bit intimidated to try the transportation or try to communicate with a cab driver on their own. The tour company always provides the bus as a way of getting back to the hotel but you’re restricted to one departure time. If you aren’t ready to go back, you may your own way to the hotel that evening.

Many tours include dinner in the evening, either in the hotel or at a designated restaurant, usually with a set menu. But if you find that restrictive, you can always go out on your own and find somewhere else to eat, but it’s then at your expense. You can always request a special meal, say, vegetarian or Halal. When staying in major cities, the companies don’t generally include the evening meal. The reason for that is twofold. One, they can then sell you a fancy meal and entertainment and Two, there are so many opportunities in a major city to find a variety of restaurants and entertainment for the evening and it gives you a break from the activities and provides flexibility.

And evening of entertainment at Bunratty Castle, Ireland 2002

And evening of entertainment at Bunratty Castle, Ireland 2002

Ah yes, the “optional” extras. When reading the itinerary, if you see a sentence that starts with “you have the opportunity to…” or “Why not try….” then the chances are good that you will pay extra for that. These optional excursions and entertainment can really add on to the cost. Are they worth it? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. I’ve opted in for some that were excellent value and some that were not in the end. Your mileage may vary, literally! If it’s something you really want to see/do, it will probably be worth it. If your budget is tight, no worries, it’s not required.

One of my friends recently returned from Paris where she paid quite a lot for an evening excursion but it included dinner in the Eiffel Tower’s restaurant, a night cruise on the Seine and a ticket to a show at the Moulin Rouge, including transportation to and from the hotel and between all of the events. She thought it was amazing! You’ve got a budget, you’ve got the descriptions on paper and from the guide so you can judge whether it’s something you want to do or not.

Many tours will take you to shops and factories to see how regional specialties and crafts are made. They’re hoping you will purchase something but you are in no way obligated and they should not pressure you. If they do, complain loudly. If you think the item is worth the higher cost they generally charge, fine. But be aware you can often get the same thing elsewhere in the region for less. It can be interesting to see the demonstrations. One that stays in my memory is how cameos are carved. We were shown this on a stop in Sorrento, Italy. Watching the glass blowers and etchers in the Waterford Crystal Factory was fascinating, too.

Would I take another tour? Yes, I might  if I ever had the opportunity, although my partner isn’t as keen. He finds the motion of a long bus journey bothersome and prefers to do the driving himself though he’s ok on a one day excursion.  Be that as it may, in spite of some disadvantages, I like a bus tour. They aren’t for everyone and I like traveling independently as well, but I’ll defend that type of traveling.

Our tour group from the UK tour 1993

Our tour group from the UK tour 1993

Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge – Wheels

Another photo challenge, this time from Cee’s Photography.  The topic this week is “wheels”. Your first instinct may be to think about transportation but there’s more to the word than meets the eye. Behold:

Le Grand Roule, Paris

Steam engine wheels whirring around. Manchester Museum of Science and Industry

Ancient festival wheel Museum of Witchcraft, Boscastle, Cornwall UK

The Roseway. A ship’s wheel. So many possibilities

Steering Wheel

And one node to Transportation. Homemade Bicycle, Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia

A Word a Week Challenge – Favourite

The “word a week” challenge from A Word in Your Ear is a year old so Sue has asked people to post their favourite photos.  Very difficult to do when you have thousands of photos taken on many trips and locally!  I’ve picked out some, a few of which I’ve posted on this blog before using them for other challenges or travelogues but since they’re favourites of mine, they bear displaying again!

At the Open Air Museum in Arnhem, Netherlands. There’s a print shop in a little shack on the other side of the pond

Little Shop in Venice… an older photo scanned from film. There are shops all over Venice selling masks. This view with the little girls always makes me smile

Looking down the spiral staircase in Fortnum and Mason, London

Mom at Leeds Castle, England. It really was cold that day!

A shrine in the side of a building in Assissi, Italy

At the Louvre, Paris

Playful young elephants, Chester Zoo, England

And a few that I’ve taken locally here in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

1801 Duke Street, Halifax

This next photo was a really lucky shot. The Alexander Keith’s brewery in Halifax dates back to the mid 1800s and in the old brewery building, they offer tours. The guides are dressed in period costume and the exit from the tour is through this dark tunnel out into a sunny courtyard. As we followed her, I took a photo without flash and this is what came out. It really did look eerily like a ghost from the past! It would have been even better had the lights on the wall been in fixtures that looked like lamps or gaslights!

Ghost in the Brewery

This last photo was taken just a couple of months ago during the Pride parade in Halifax. Seeing how happy people are, and how excited that one lad is, makes me smile. The Pride parade is such a feel good event, with everyone relaxed and happy. It’s wonderful to see people of all ages and all types walking the streets or standing on the sides watching and dancing and cheering and it’s full of bright colours which also makes me happy.


A Word a Week Challenge – Fur

This week, Sue’s challenge word is Fur. That pretty much means animals for the most part. It’s odd, as I look through my photos, though most mammals are covered in fur, we don’t really think of it as “fur” when it’s an animal like a cow, horse, or other non-domesticated animal that has a covering that’s not long, shaggy and soft. I don’t even think of a cow as having fur but of course it does.

We shared our table in Amsterdam with this kitty

We shared our table in Amsterdam with this kitty

In Scotland, there's a type of cattle with long shaggy fur to keep them warm, a "hairy coo"

In Scotland, there’s a type of cattle with long shaggy fur to keep them warm, a “hairy coo”

The fur of a tiger is so vividly orange when you see one “in person”. It never photographs as bright as it really is. Chester Zoo, England

Macaque monkeys in the Trentham Monkey Forest Near Stoke, England

Sad looking little fellow in a doorway in a shop in Bruges, Belgium

This guy is a Dall Sheep, Nova Scotia Wildlife Park

Ginger was a very soft, fluffy cat.

Travel Journey of the week: Florence

Ponte Vecchio, Florence

Ponte Vecchio, Florence

The Liberated Travel’s weekly Travel Journey is Florence. This is another place that I’ve visited, albeit very briefly. Florence was the last stop on our nearly two week bus tour around Italy in 1996.

Because we were using a budget company (Cosmos, a subsidiary of Globus travel), our hotel was actually 30 minutes away by train, probably the worst location of any of the cities we stayed in. You don’t mind so much when it’s a small town overnight visit but if you are in a larger city like Florence, it would be nice to wander on your own and be able to easily make your way back to your hotel. “Easily” being the operative word here.  When we were in Rome, we were in the suburbs and there was a public bus nearby. We took that once, and took a taxi one other time. With Florence, we were not taking any chances. More on that later.

Florence!  Too bad in a way that it was the end of our trip because I know I didn’t appreciate it as much as I would have had we started there.  It was a case of information overload and homesick as well.  Three weeks away (this included nearly a week in London at the beginning before the tour) is a long time with so much to do and take in.  As a first impression, I liked the feel of Florence even though on our initial arrival we weren’t in the city centre.  We headed straight to the Piazza Michelangelo which is on a hill that affords an amazing view over the city. There is a reproduction of Michaelangelo’s David and we had a group picture taken.

Then to the center of town where we had a look in a leather factory first (one of those factory visits where they encourage you to buy and the tour guide most likely gets a kickback). We then met a local guide for a walking tour around the main squares of Florence, the political centre and the religious centre by the Duomo and saw the amazing bronze doors on the Baptistery which  are only reproductions as the originals are being restored.

Michaelangelo's David in the Accademia, Florence

Michaelangelo’s David in the Accademia, Florence

D. and I escaped before seeing the Duomo museums (where the walking tour ended anyway) so we could go to the Accademia to see Michelangelo’s David which is so beautiful and so real looking you would think he would take a breath and step right down off the pedestal.  Very very large too!  We left there, found a bar and had a light lunch and made our way past the San Lorenzo market to the Uffizi Gallery about 1 p.m.  Good timing as we didn’t have to stand too long in line.  We bought our tickets and a lovely book on the gallery.

We went through the Uffizi Gallery although the best rooms are closed  for restoration.  The gallery was bombed 3 or 4 years before so maybe that section had more damage. This meant we didn’t get to see the paintings by Michelangelo, Raphael, Rubens, among others.  We kept missing Rafael because the quick tour through the Vatican in Rome bypassed the Raphael rooms as well!  We did see Botticelli and one beautiful one by Leonardo da Vinci though his main room was closed.

There was a couple other art galleries I would have liked to see, the Bargello and the San Marco but we did go into the Santa Croce church which has a lot of tombs and memorials to Italy’s top geniuses like Leonardo, Rossini (composer), Michelangelo, Galileo and I also saw one small one to Marconi.  Santa Croce is quite old in its origins too.

D. was really getting tired and though I felt like I might have my second wind,  I didn’t want to leave her alone to go wandering and go across the Ponte Vecchio so we found our meeting point for the bus and waited for about an hour, resting our feet and chatting to the other tour members as they arrived back as well.  By the time the bus came, I was losing what was left of my energy too. And really, after two weeks of it, I really didn’t want to see another church, painting or statue. We had classic burnout and were tired of living out of a suitcase.

Most of us went back to the hotel tired that day.  The meals in that hotel were cafeteria style and we felt rushed.  There were several groups in the hotel and the staff in the restaurant seemed a bit cranky trying to move everyone along so the next group could get on with things.  We just wanted to go home by this time! We had a very early start the next morning to drive cross country and fly out of Treviso airport near Venice and the bus was very quiet with most of the tour group having a nap.

Florence is a city I’d like to see again with fresh eyes and more energy. We thought about going to Florence along with Rome last year but decided that we always try to do too much and never see enough of one place. I’d rather take my time and have more than a couple of days there, even if it’s just 3 or 4. It’s on the list.

Bell tower of the Duomo, Florence

Bell tower of the Duomo, Florence