Cee’s Fun Photo Challenge – Numbers or Letters

Signs are everywhere. Numbers, Letters, Words, Symbols, in every language. Information, Directions, Announcements, Advertisements, or even just “I was here”. Everyone likes to make their mark one way or another. We all need to communicate something. This week’s challenge is numbers or letters….

Clock in York, England.

Ceiling in Edinburgh Castle. The date marks the year that James Stewart, future James VI of Scotland and I of England was born

Lombard Street, London, Elizabethan era. This was the banking area of old London, where moneylenders set up shop before modern banks and insurance companies existed.

“Chinatown” section of Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen


Off the Great Orme, Llandudno, North Wales


Bury Market, Bury, England

I wonder who C.S. was?

Cee’s Black and White Challenge – Sculptures, Statues, Carvings

This week’s challenge from Cee is a black and white photo challenge of sculpture and artwork. I think Black and white shows off sculpture and carving really well, with the edges, curves and texture of the material used. Here’s some of my favourites:

Inside St. Paul’s Cathedral, London

Seen along a canal in Copenhagen

Statue of Oscar Wilde and his mother. Dublin.

Rome Trevi detail

Trevi Fountain detail. Rome

Weekly Photo Challenge – Unexpected

Unexpected things that pop up when we travel – delays, unplanned stops to discover something different, seeing what’s down a little road or alley, or odd things seen on the streets or in shops….

Cappucin crypt in Rome. rooms and chapels decorated in the bones of thousands of dead monks.

All kinds of weird in the decor of Bankerat cafe in Copenhagen. Good food, though.

In a shop window in Amsterdam. Naturally.


A collection of airline sick bags. Open Air Museum, Arnhem, The Netherlands.


Zombie walk. Halifax, Nova Scotia

WordPress’s weekly challenge is here.

A Word A Week Challenge – Lines

This week’s Word a Week challenge on A Word in Your Ear is Lines. Lines are found everywhere, straight and curvy, intersecting and converging. I tried to find a photo of people lined up for something but all I had are photos of crowds in general so here’s some of the lines I did find in the archives:

Hand hewn, Port Royal, Nova Scotia. A reproduction of Samuel de Champlain’s settlement in Annapolis Royal in 1605

Guard rail on the Empire State Building deck, New York City

Lines of light. Black Label Society performing in Halifax

Tudor York, England

Lines that tell the time. Historic Annapolis Royal’s Gardens

Scaffolding coming down post-Edinburgh Tattoo

Scaffolding coming down post-Edinburgh Tattoo

The Urbis building, built at the millenium, now housing a Football museum,  and the Victorian Corn Exchange housing designer shops

The Urbis building, built at the millenium, now housing a Football museum, and the Victorian Corn Exchange housing designer shops

Travel journey of the week: Belgium

Grand Place, Brussels at night

Wahey, this is my 200th blog post!

Liberated Travel’s theme this week is Belgium. Their one experience was in Bruges. As it happens, I’ve only just mentioned my short visit to Brussels here  but there’s a bit more to fill out on that stay.

We stayed at the Ibis St. Catherine, near a large square with St. Catherine’s church in it. The square is filled with restaurants, primarily seafood oriented as this used to be the fish market apparently. This caused a bit of a problem as my partner is not all that keen on seafood so we wandered a bit away from the square and found a small Chinese restaurant which, it turned out, was cheap, cheerful and quite tasty. When looking for hotels in Brussels, we did find the prices a bit high for our usual budget and even the Ibis, at about $200 CAD a night without breakfast was on the steep side (that was before I started looking at hotel prices in New York City!!!)

We got to Brussels about 5 o’clock so we headed to Grand Place after settling in though stopped and had a meal at a restaurant on the main road first, before following the narrow cobbled lane in. As you would expect, there are lots of little souvenir shops, restaurants, and shops selling Belgian chocolate and beer and lace in this area. You come out of there into the square and your jaw drops. The Stadhuis (town hall) spire soared over us and the buildings all around the square had gilded touches and decoration. Many of them are from the 17th and 18th century. The large structure facing the Town Hall is the Maison du Roi and the stone work almost looks lacy!

There are a lot of restaurants on the square though they’ll be expensive. Our first view of the square was at night with all the buildings lit up. Very impressive! We went through again in daytime as well, the morning after our day trip to Bruges so we could see the buildings properly. That was the morning we went to the very interesting Musical Instrument Museum and took a bus tour around most of Brussels, getting a good view of the atomic looking Atomium, built for a World’s Fair. We did notice one thing in particular about Brussels. There is graffiti *everywhere*. There’s always graffiti anywhere you go but it seemed that here it was on absolutely everything, even the bases of statues were defaced and most of it wasn’t really what you’d consider artistic. It felt rather disrespectful.

From the canal in Bruges

On to Bruges:

It took us about an hour by train to get to Bruges from Brussels Centraal station. We did get all day bus tickets at the train station but really only used them to get into the centre and back to the station later. Bruges has a main market square similar to Brussels with a high spire dominating the area and lots of guildhouses and a law court building and lovely architecture to gawp at. It was quite busy with tourists. Bruges used to be the most important city in Flanders but as the canals were filled in and trade went elsewhere, it floundered. Now, tourism is the major source of income for the city and it shows. The streets have a lot of touristy shops, souvenirs as well as chocolate and lace which draw in the tourists as well.

We found a Dali exhibit in the Market building and had a half hour look in there. I’m not really a Dali fan though my partner is. There was also an exhibit there by an artist Amanda Lear who was one of Dali’s muses and I actually did like one or two of her paintings.

There’s a small street that leads through to the other large square, the Burg where the Stadhuis/Town Hall stands and a few other buildings including the Basilica of the Holy Blood in one corner. Lots of the usual souvenir shops and restaurants in the area. We wanted to go into the Basilica but it was closed until 2 so we went out of the square and searched for a restaurant with a menu that appealed to both of us. Again, there are lots for seafood lovers here (in addition to the traditional mussels that are so popular in Belgium). We found one across the canal nearby that looked good and indeed we were both quite happy with our meals. I did try the mussels which were excellent and we shared a Belgian waffle for dessert.

En route back to the other square, we spied the dock where the canal tour boats were loading. Hm…. Sounds like a good idea now that the sun has come out. It was cheap too, in a town or even country where prices are high, less than 7 euro per person. The tour took about a half hour and you got a great view of the lovely canalside houses and old, old bridges. It’s a very nice way to see the city.

We still had just enough time to see the Basilica which is absolutely gorgeous! (more history of the Basilica here)It’s very colourful and gilded inside with a dark and peaceful crypt. I did sneak a few stealthy photos though you aren’t supposed to. Some of the tourists were quite blatant about it, using flash as well. That’s something I don’t do and if the photos don’t turn out, c’est la vie. Buy a postcard. I always feel that’s often why they forbid photos because this church, at least, didn’t seem to have any light sensitive paintings or tapestries. It’s all marble, gold and silver and wood. It’s stunning.


We thought we would try to find the Chocolate Story, a museum about chocolate but by the time we got there they were just closing. Ah well. We walked back through the little streets and stopped in a chocolate shop that had a cafe in the back. The tea room was elegant and most of the patrons seemed to be older women, dressed very chicly, with snobby looks on their faces. One even had a posh little lapdog! We didn’t actually buy any chocolate here though, we later found Dumon, a chocolatier that I remembered seeing mentioned in Rick Steves’ show about Bruges. It’s a small brick building just off the Market square. The shop is on two levels with the showcase of all the really tempting chocolates on the entry level. I’d like a small assorted box, please. “Yesssss……” she answered, as if to say “and what else?” We were out of cash so had to buy 20 Euro worth to use the credit card. We succumbed to temptation. Not really a difficult decision!

We got the bus back to the station, found a bank machine and had about 20 minutes to wait for the train which was air conditioned, nice and cool after a day out in the sun. Brussels and Bruges city centres are full of cobblestones, both the streets, squares *and* sidewalks. Let me tell you, that’s a killer on your feet and legs even with good shoes! My legs just throbbed that night!

Bruges is very pretty. I’m sure it’s even nicer at night when all the tourists have left. Restaurants are a tad pricey in the centre but you can walk a little further afield. It was busy when we were there and that was only May. I imagine it must be heaving with people in the summer! Brussels is like any large city really. There are lovely buildings, some very good museums. If we’d been there longer, I think we’d have gone out to the Waterloo battlefield area and taken in one of the larger museums as well. I’ve got a friend who really likes Belgium though she and her husband tend to go outside of the cities. I’m not sure I’d make the trek again at this point but who knows? I’m never really sure where the wind or whim will end up taking us when we talk about where we want to go next.

Graffiti on a Belgian train

Travel Theme: Short

Grand Place, Brussels

Where’s My Backpack’s weekly travel theme this week is “Short”. Do I talk about short things? Do I talk about short visits? How about short as it applies to a short time period, such as, not a lot of time to connect terminals or catch a flight or train? Let’s pick short visits, shall we?

Some might say a short visit to somewhere is less than a week. In that case, most of my traveling is short visits. When on a bus tour, everywhere is a short visit since you’re stopping at several places through the day and usually only one or two nights at most overnight in any given spot.

No, let’s put bus tours aside as well as day tours while staying somewhere which are, by definition, short visits. Many of our jaunts out of Manchester or Halifax are three or four nights so consider that, for me, a short visit must be one or two nights or two full days somewhere. That narrows the field down considerably.

Brussels was definitely a short visit. We arrived there one afternoon from Amsterdam. We walked to Grand Place, had dinner and saw it again lit up at night. The next day we took the train to Bruges so didn’t see much of Brussels. The day after, we visited the Musical Instruments museum and  took part of a city bus tour in the morning but couldn’t finish it because we had the Eurostar to catch to London. Done and dusted.

We’ve visited London several times for just one or two nights, as have I on my own. But since I’ve been there so many times, I’m not entirely sure it counts! Sometimes, G.’s flights to Canada are through Toronto either arriving from or departing to the U.K. Once, I flew up to meet him there and we stayed over for two days, flying home here to Halifax on the third morning. We met up with friends and he got to see a bit of the city on a bus tour and took a trip up the CN Tower. I’ve also flown to Toronto on my own for a travel photography seminar, arriving on Friday night and coming back on Monday morning.

About 10 years ago, I spent a raucous weekend in Dublin with a group of friends whom I met online via the Coronation Street fandom. Each night we hung out, ate and drank into the night and in the daytime, spread ourselves across the city in groups of 2 and 3 to explore with stories to share when we met up later.

There have been many overnight or long weekend road trips, sometimes to visit friends or family, sometimes just seeing new things *with* friends or family. It’s all good. Short visits are sometimes just the right thing, sometimes they’re just not long enough but it’s better than not going at all!

Traveling through books

Brighton Pier, Brighton, UK

Brighton Pier, Brighton, UK

I love to read and I always have. In fact, my whole family were readers. Both parents, my sister and I always had our noses into a book. When I was a teenager, I discovered Harlequin Romances. They were short novels, written to a formula and always had a happy ending. I really liked them because of the storylines but also because they took place in locations all over the world. Even then, I loved to read descriptions of different places and I still do.

Since I am a self-confessed Anglophile, with British and Irish genes, my favourite book locations are anywhere in the U.K. and Ireland, city or village or countryside.  I read books by English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish writers frequently. It’s even better when I’ve actually been to the location and can pictures some of the areas described. It doesn’t really matter, however. It gives me glimpses of a place I might like to visit sometime, just like seeing movies or television shows filmed in a foreign location does. I even like historical novels that give a good sense of place. Edward Rutherfurd’s books detail the history of a city or location through the eyes of a number of families and there are great descriptions. You really gain an appreciation for how a city developed over time and if and when you do get to visit, you can search out various neighbourhoods and buildings for yourself.

Obviously, I’m not going to list all the books I’ve read that I’ve enjoyed for the locations in addition to the story itself. There are far too many! Through books, I’ve enjoyed visiting such far flung countries as Japan, Russia, Sweden, Australia and New Zealand, among others. City “visits” have included Rome, Paris, Moscow, London (of course!), Dublin, New York, Oslo, Cairo and Berlin. I’ve gained a recent interest in some of the crime novelists from Scandinavia in recent years, due to rising popularity after the “Dragon Tattoo” books by Stieg Larsson. In fact, there’s a website devoted to authors from that part of Europe so there will be lots of suggestions and recommendations I will be looking at. Scandinavian Crime Fiction is being added to my Favourites right now! Authors such as Jo Nesbo and Camilla Lackberg give a wonderful feel for the location as well as the story. I’m very impressed by the translation to English too, it seems to really pick up the feel and atmosphere of what the original novel is probably like in its native language.

Another of my favourite authors is Diana Gabaldon. She has written a series of books based on time travel. They’re historic, they’re romantic, they’re really well researched and absolutely amazing. The first in the series is called Outlander and the first few books are based in the Scottish Highlands during the final Jacobite uprising and the years after, the rest are based in North Carolina and the east coast of American in the years leading up to and during the War of Independence. So far! She’s also got another few books that are mysteries with one of the side characters from the main series, the Lord John Grey books.

As for the type of book I like, I can read almost anything if I’m in the mood for it, though favourites include historical fiction, crime novels, general fiction and sometimes a taste of fantasy, autobiography/biography, history (non-fiction),  comedy, romance (but not the “bodice rippers” as a rule), and I do like what might be classed as “women’s” fiction, “chicklit” and the like. I’ve chosen the photo for this post because I’ve recently discovered an author, Peter James, who writes about a detective, Roy Grace, who works and lives in Brighton, England. I’ve been to Brighton for a visit and the first book that I read had some of the action going on inside the Royal Pavillion, which I’ve also visited so could picture clearly. I’ve just picked up a couple more of his books to enjoy.

If you have a book recommendation and if it features great locations, Please do comment!

Travel Theme: Connections

Where’s My Backpack’s travel theme this week is “Connections”.  Anyone that travels makes connections, whether it be for transportation, or for the people you meet. You might make a spiritual connection to a location as well, a place in which you really feel at home. Connections can be made on an emotional level as well.

Piccadilly Station concourse (via the Manchester Evening News)

Piccadilly Station concourse (via the Manchester Evening News)

I met the man I’m currently engaged to in an online chat room for fans of Coronation Street, a British serial, the longest running on television today. He lives in Salford, UK which is in the Greater Manchester Area. We really made a connection over the airwaves and when we met up face to face, on July 12, 2004, it took a plane and a train connection to get there. I flew to London and a few days later, took a train (though I missed the first one because the signs at the platforms weren’t obvious as to which was the arrival from Manchester and which was the departure) to Piccadilly station. We met in the concourse. It really felt like time stood still. A cliche, yes, but that’s what it seemed like.

He still lives there and we travel back and forth, trading visits alternately. For me to fly to Manchester, I have to make a connection in London Heathrow most of the time though have had to route through Toronto once in awhile. That’s frustrating when you have to fly 2 hours backwards to go forwards, whether I fly past Halifax to come back or fly west to Toronto to fly east to London. It’s a connection we gladly do without if we can help it. We then usually travel somewhere onward, by car, train or plane.

Speaking of Coronation Street, in addition to a fiance,  I’ve made many, many wonderful connections with new friends who are fans of the show. We have fan gatherings, called “pings”, and if someone travels to your home town, often there is a ping organized so you can meet and chat with the local fans, many of whom you may know from the various boards and forums.  There have been international gatherings organized in Manchester, the home of Coronation Street, where fans/friends who connected via the internet have met up and enjoyed hanging out together and even been lucky enough to visit the television studio where the show is filmed. Good times!

Corrie fans at the Cafe (Roys Rolls, Coronation Street set, 2010)

Corrie fans at the Cafe (Roys Rolls, Coronation Street set, 2010)

Traveling through the Movies – Notting Hill (London)

Hugh Grant wanders Portobello Road in Notting Hill

London is one of my favourite cities and it’s where lots and lots of movies are filmed. Recently I caught most of Notting Hill on television. Another romantic comedy, another chick flick and another one of my favourites. This one is mainly filmed in the Notting Hill district of London just to the northwest of Hyde Park. It’s famous for the Portobello Road antiques market and for the annual Notting Hill Festival every summer. The area has a large West Indian population but in the movie, Notting Hill, you might be forgiven if you thought it was very white.

There are lots of scenes of the streets in and around the neighbourhood including Portobello Road itself. Of course, the shops and restaurants you see in the movie are fictitious but some of the storefronts used are still there. The gardens can also be found in the area but as in the film, are also private so you can’t go in them.  There are also some other locations elsewhere in the city including a stately home in Hampstead, the Ritz Hotel, the Savoy Hotel and Leicester Square.

The movie is about a man, William, who runs a little travel bookstore. He runs into a famous American actor, Anna Scott. He is smitten instantly. She likes him too, because he’s genuine and charming and while he’s star struck at first, he’s not in it for the celebrity. He just likes her for who she is, not for her image on the screen. He has a zany sister, and nice, yuppified friends who also treat her like ordinary folk once they get over the shock of meeting her. She has a truckload of complications that come along with her, including a dolt of a boyfriend and all the media attention on her which makes things difficult.

The cast is excellent, with Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts taking the leads and supported by the most excellent and wacky Rhys Ifans as “William’s” flatmate. Most of the actors that play William’s friends and his sister are familiar faces to those of us that watch a lot of British movies and series. There’s great chemistry on screen between them all.

Julia Roberts in the travel bookshop in Notting Hill

It’s a love story and it’s standard issue, you know they’ll get together in the end. Will they live happily ever after? Who knows? But if you want to see this part of London, it’s got lots to look at. All the times I’ve been to London and I’ve not yet managed to get myself to the Notting Hill area to investigate the little shops and the pretty terraces. Maybe next time!

Meanwhile here’s a closer look at the locations used.

London has been the scene for filming a lot of romantic comedies that I like including  Love Actually, Bridget Jones’ Diary, Four Weddings and a Funeral,

A Word a Week Challenge – Behind

I’m usually a bit shy taking photos of strangers face on unless it’s from a distance and they don’t know I’m aiming the camera at them. I rarely take photos of children I don’t know because I figure their parents wouldn’t be too pleased but sometimes I do if the child is facing away from me, depending on the photo. Nobody likes to see the backs of heads in your photo, though, so I try to avoid or crop out those if I can.

Photos from behind a subject might not seem to be interesting but it’s all in the interpretation and how creative you can be with it.

Here’s a few “behind” shots for Sue’s Word a Week challenge this week.

Looking at Palatine Hill, Rome

This is Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, from behind, with a little bit of atmospheric photoshopping.

Notre Dame, Paris

What’s behind the shutters? Taken in Amsterdam.

Backfield in motion. Chester Zoo, England

The 78th Highlanders’ Regiment was posted to the bastion at the Halifax Citadel. They still maintain a presence today and are ceremoniously handed over the keys to the city every summer. You will see them if you visit the Citadel and also in local parades and events.

78th Highlanders drill. Halifax, Nova Scotia.

In the summer of 2012,  Halifax hosted the Tall Ships and in conjunction with that, a commemoration of the centeniary of the War of 1812 with reenactments and costumed people and soldiers on the waterfront.

1812 reenactment, Halifax

The back of most cars and vehicles isn’t usually all that interesting but a classic Chevy with an impressive set of tailfins begs to be photographed!

Antique tram, Open Air museum, Arnhem, The Netherlands