The Golden Rule of Travel

In a travel email newsletter from Bite-Sized Travel this week, there was a link to a blog post at Outside Online telling Americans to stop telling people that they’re Canadian when they travel. You can read that here. The gist of it urges American travelers to stand up for themselves and their country to Make America Great again. Be proud of where you’re from. They say it makes the traveler lie to people they meet right from the start and it doesn’t fool anyone. (Krista at Bite-Sized Travel says the easiest way to tell an American from a Canadian is to pronounce the letter Z!) It certainly won’t make you any safer traveling abroad.

American travelers pretending to be from Canada is nothing new. It might be an urban myth but I remember hearing that American travelers and backpackers have been sewing the maple leaf on their jackets or luggage even back when I was young, in the 60s and 70s. I’m from Canada so it wasn’t an issue for me. I am what I am. American tourists had a reputation as “ugly”, that is, loud and rude when they travel so people from other countries allegedly didn’t care for Americans. From my limited experience, I can tell you there are loud and rude travelers from pretty much every country, *including* Canada.

Having said that, Canadians do tend to be polite and friendly on the whole. I have a small number of experiences with the perception of where I’m from by someone in a European country when they discover I’m from Canada and not the United States.

The first time came when I was on a school trip to Paris. A few of us were trying to explain to someone in a cafe that we wanted hot dogs but couldn’t quite manage the French needed to make the waiter behind the counter understand. He seemed dismissive and we were getting frustrated. Our French teacher arrived and within the space of a minute, after she explained where we were from and what we wanted, the waiter was all smiles. “Oh, les Canadiennes!” What we got wasn’t quite a hot dog, more of a sausage in a bun but it was served with a smile.

Because the general Canadian English accent isn’t really that different from many of the American regional accents to the foreign ear, I often get mistaken for American and I’m always pleasantly surprised when someone recognizes my accent as Canadian straight off but I do think that my East Coast Canadian accent is a bit more recognizable. I do remember someone asking me a question about products on a shelf in a pharmacy in London that we were both perusing and when she heard my accent, immediately expressed her sympathy. It was about 2 weeks after Sept. 11, 2001. It was very kind of her but I did tell her where I was from but that it was quite frightening to have something like that happen so close to home and there were some Canadians that had died in the towers.

I’ve taken a few bus tours over the years. Most of the time, at least half of the passengers have been from the United States with various other countries represented as well. Sometimes, there have been fellow tourists that have been loud and opinionated and yes, they were from the USA. But there have also been some very lovely passengers from there as well. One older single lady traveling on her own complained through the whole trip. Everyone else sympathised with the other single traveler that was paired with her to share a room (saving that single supplement cost) and the tour guide must have had his work cut out for him. She was from Canada. In stereotypical response, most of the rest of us Canadians on the bus always felt like we should apologize on her behalf! (Canadians have a reputation for apologizing a lot and it’s true, we do!)

One last anecdote: On another bus tour through Italy, a group of 5 or 6 Canadians from Montreal kept themselves to themselves and didn’t join in at all with the rest of the passengers. They used the bus for transportation only and went off on their own all the time while the rest of us mingled and chatted with each other about our own cultures where our respective native languages made it possible. For most of us taking a bus tour, the camraderie between tourist from different countries is part of the fun. So, you see, tourists of all stripes and attitudes can come from any country.

Mainly, though, I haven’t really experienced any difference in attitude in people when they learn where I’m from, one way or the other, though I have had a friend say she’s noticed a thawing from a frosty service person when she’s self-identified as Canadian. It is true that there are a few countries on this planet where the USA is not welcomed and perhaps some travelers feel safer pretending to be Canadians out on the streets. For me, I wouldn’t travel to a country where I wouldn’t feel safe but I’m not an adventurous traveler.

I have had it (smugly) suggested that I am still considered an American because I’m from North America. That person happened to be from Scotland. Right. So, I suggested, it’s perfectly all right to call you European because the U.K. is part of Europe or perhaps I could refer to him as British because he was from the British Isles? That person’s national identity raised his hackles and he insisted that no, he was Scottish. I made my point. He conceded. (In fact, you won’t find anyone from the U.K. agree that they are European, in my experience, and even moreso now since Brexit.)

I think the writer of the Outside blog post is right, American travelers, (or travelers from anywhere) you should be proud of where you’re from and when you travel, just remember the Golden Rule. It all comes down to respect, doesn’t it? If you treat people with respect and use good manners, they’ll respect you in return. Don’t get cranky because things are not the same as at home. You aren’t home! You travel to experience new things. Why would you want them to be the same? If you find that people from other countries assume Americans are rude and obnoxious travelers, prove them wrong and change that reputation.  Travel, enjoy, come home with wonderful memories!

You can see what Krista at Bite-Sized Travel is up to here, and she does a great weekend mailing list with loads of interesting finds about travel, packing and planning and you can also read her blog posts about all the places she’s been and is planning to go.

Wendy Perrin, Travel Guru

Wendy Perrin in Egypt copyright http://www.mccooltravel.com

I first became aware of Wendy Perrin though the Conde Nast Traveler magazine. Most of the magazines I read are travel-related and CNT had some very good regular contributors. Wendy Perry wrote a fantastic column focused on practical matters to do with all aspects of travel called the Perrin Report. She’s also been an Ombudsman for the magazine where she investigated complaints and tried to get the best resolutions. She’s branched out and now has WendyPerrin.com and she is also a travel advocate for Tripadvisor, that giant in the travel industry.

Wendy has given me a lot of inspiration and ideas over the years, adding to my wish list of destinations many times. Her website is one of the first places I go to see what she’s written about a destination I’m planning to visit. She posts articles about practicalities, good deals, connects people to top notch travel agents and specialists, (the “WOW” list) who will charge for their services but you’ll get an unforgetable dream trip.

There is a whole section on tips and advice, you can email Wendy directly if you have specific questions, a newsletter to get the heads up on deals and pointers and lots and lots of destination information. It’s true, though, the deals and prices may only apply if you are from the U. S. because it’s an American-based site/business but the advice and the information is all free and definitely worth losing yourself on the website.

Wendy’s been in the travel industry the better part of 30 years. There are loads of websites in the world that can provide information, links to sponsors, etc. Of course there are. Wendy Perrin is one of the travel gurus that I find comes across very sincere and that means, for me, she’s trustworthy. I don’t really have the budget for the WOW list but her advice is truthful and doesn’t gloss over the critical side of things.

The articles she publishes on WendyPerrin.com will most definitely inspire you. They certainly did inspire me not two weeks ago. I followed a link posted on Twitter about Newfoundland on the east of Canada via one of Perrin’s travel experts and it pointed me to the small town of Twilingate, in the middle of “Iceberg Alley”. Icebergs! Something I’ve always wanted to see and now we’re planning to take a trip to Newfoundland in the near future to see them. Coincidentally, one of my friends in the UK has just returned from a trip to Newfoundland that pretty much mirrored the one I thought about taking, similar locations and everything.

There’s a very good travel profile about her here on McCool Travel (from where I nicked the photo above)

I’m going to dig in there and see what I can find to add to the list for our upcoming trip to British Columbia and Oahu. I may be some time.

Wendy on Twitter and here on Facebook

 

20 Best Cities in Europe: Countdown #10 to #1

Looking towards Santa Maria della Salute on Venice's Grand Canal

Looking towards Santa Maria della Salute on Venice’s Grand Canal

(Last week) I posted the first 10 cities that Conde Naste Traveler considered the Best Cities in Europe (out of a list of 20). I’ve been to some and would love to go to some of the others. Heck, if I had the opportunity, I’d probably go to them all. Time and money, folks, time and money.

Here, then, are the top 10 in reverse order, with photos and notes:

10 – Venice, Italy

Conde Naste cites “meandering streets and romantic canals” in defence of choosing Venice as it’s number 10 best city. There’s a lot of argument out there against it. It’s crowded and expensive and there are a lot of cities with canals if that’s the attraction. I’ve been there once for a brief visit and it was lovely. The first day was sunny and we walked and walked. The second morning was bucketing rain and that wasn’t so much fun but it was interesting to see how St. Mark’s Square floods. They put up low tables all around so the tourists can stand on them while waiting in line to get into the basilica. It *is* very touristy but if you can go off season, it’s not too crowded.

9 – Nuremberg, Germany

Nurmemburg has a “distinct blend of old and new.” It’s an “early capital of science and invention” and now has a lot of museums and markets with some lovely medieval architecture. It’s modern claim to fame is the post-WWII war trials but there’s a lot of history here.

8 – Rome, Italy

Rome is famed for “La Dolce Vita”, the sweet life, and Rome is as much an attitude as it is an experience. Where Conde Naste cites Florence’s history as an attraction, and it is,  I’d argue that Rome is far more historic than Florence. To me, Florence is the centre of art and culture, the cradle of the Rennaissance. There was power in Florence, of course, especially with the commanding Borgia family but Rome’s power reached across much of the known world at one time. It still does if you consider the reach of the Catholic Church even if that technically comes out of Vatican City, a separate country but still considered part of Rome for most of us.

I’ve been to Rome three times over my lifetime, with gaps of almost 20 years between the first and second visit, and about 15 years between the second and third. Tossing a coin in the Trevi Fountain for a quick return to Rome didn’t quite work as swiftly as promised! We visited a few of the big name attractions and enjoyed walking the streets and taking in all the atmosphere. I don’t know as there’s any time to go where it’s less crowded though we did find the crowds tolerable when visiting in November.

I like Rome. It’s a very big city but it’s historic centre really isn’t that vast. The traffic and drivers are a bit manic, mind you, so keep a sharp eye out. I think, though, of the three Italian cities on this list, I do prefer Florence.

7 – London, England

My favourite city of all,  for the history even  more so than the architecture though the new modern architecture is exciting, too. A sprawling city with a massive transportation network that works ok, though a bit bottle-necky on the surface in the tourist centre. The underground can be stodgey too, with line closures. Just get out and walk! It’s full of neighbourhoods that are all different from each other and each has a totally different vibe. It really is true that you can never get tired of London. Everyone will find something they enjoy here. Another city that’s crowded most of the year but worse in summer and on holidays. We made the mistake of going to the Tower of London over an Easter one year. Even though the rain was heavy at times, the queues were long and people were wall to wall!

I’ve been to London more times than I can count on two hands and I still haven’t seen areas of it that are on my list. I’ll be back.

6 – Paris, France

For Paris to be fairly high on the top 10 list is pretty much self explanatory. Paris is a beautiful city, loaded with history, art, architecture and romance. It’s vast but the transportation network is pretty efficient. You will never run out of things to do or see and there are lots of day trips you can take as well to go further afield. I’ve been there twice and it’s a city definitely worth repeat visits because there’s way too much to take in. I have a bit of French vocabulary sticking around from my high school years and I got along more or less ok but in the tourist areas, it’s generally not a problem. Menus are usually bilingual and most staff seem to know English. It doesn’t hurt to brush up on Merci and Excusez-moi and S’il vous plait, though.

Vienna at night (photo from insightguides.com)

Vienna at night (photo from insightguides.com)

5 – Vienna, Austria

Conde Naste says it’s “Artistic, exquisite, and largely shaped by its musical and intellectual foundations”. I think that means it’s a cultural hotspot, and they have great coffee, pastry and chocolate, too! I always think of it as an elegant city and I’d like to visit to see if that’s true.

Barcelona and the Familia Sagrada towering over the city. It's been under construction for over a century. (photo from blog.iese.edu)

Barcelona and the Familia Sagrada towering over the city. It’s been under construction for over a century. (photo from blog.iese.edu)

4 – Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona, by the account of quite a few people I know that have been here, is a hip and exciting city with fantastic architecture in the classic “fantasy” meaning of the term. Gaudi and other modern art, museums, beaches and mountains,  it’s a hot spot and probably a bit overrun with tourists much of the time. I do think it would be a very cool place to visit.

Salzburg (photo from wannabemagazine.com)

Salzburg (photo from wannabemagazine.com)

3 – Salzburg, Austria

Salzburg’s claims to  fame are  Mozart and the Von Trapp family, It is a city with an older section on one side of a river and  19th c. newer bit  on the other. A picture book city that would be a really charming place to visit.

Lucerne in winter

Lucerne in winter (photo from myswitzerland.com)

2 – Lucerne, Switzerland
It was never really on my list of places to go but for one person. My cousin Eddie went on a cross-Europe tour with his mother about 10 years ago I think. He saw a lot of places but he told me that he loved Lucerne, with the old medieval wooden bridge and the cafes at the edge of the water overlooking it. I promised him that if I ever got there, I’d sit at the cafe and have a drink and remember him. He died about a week later.

florence Piazza signorina1 – Florence, Italy

Probably not what you expected to be the Number 1 city in Europe, right?  I get it, though. The history, the charm, the cradle of the Renaissance. Florence is a much more manageable size of a city than London or Paris or Vienna. You can walk everywhere, it’s got a world class museum or three and a stunning cathedral or two. It’s in the heart of Tuscany and I found that it had a really welcoming and charming feel in the atmosphere. I only had a day to spend in Florence at the end of a bus tour. I was tired and ready to go home but I really wished we had started the tour here instead of ending it. I would have loved to have spent more time and really would like to go back again. Rome or Venice might be the big attractions of Italy, but Florence is where you’ll really end up leaving your heart, if that’s not too cliche to say.

Here’s a slideshow of some photos I’ve taken in London, Paris, Florence, and Venice.

The whole slide show  at Conde Naste Traveler is here.

20 best cities in Europe: Countdown #20 – #11

I recently saw a link to an article on Conde Nast Traveler’s website with a slide show of the 20 Best Cities in Europe. Curious, I went to look. How many of the cities had I visited? I anticipated some of the most obvious choices but kind of figured they would make some obscure choices. Turns out, of the 20, I’ve visited nine. Several of the others are cities I would really like to see some day. Whether I will or not is anyone’s guess.

Now. Do I blog them all at once, with notes, and a montage of the photos I’ve taken in the cities I’ve been to? Or do I blog them one a day or half and half in two posts?

I think I’ll post the bottom 10 first, then in another post I’ll do the top 10, so here goes, counting backwards from 20 to 11:

Prague at sunset (photo from erhansasmaz.deviantart.com)

20 –  Prague, Czech Republic
Conde Nast says “Picturesque Prague beats with a bohemian heart”. Everyone I know that has been there says it’s a really beautiful city and it’s definitely one that I’d love to see someday.

19 – Copenhagen, Denmark
Conde Nast calls it “a capital of Nordic cool, expensive but free to walk around and soak in the atmosphere.”. I’ve been to Copenhagen and I liked it quite a lot. I didn’t really expect much of it and it surprised me. The historic city centre is beautiful, flat, cobbled and there are loads of shopping, cafes, and historic sites with some lovely galleries as well. Transportation seems pretty good and easy to use. There’s a theme park in the middle of the city, too! (Tivoli). Yes, it’s definitely expensive but I’d go back anytime. We were there for 5 days and barely scratched the surface.

18 – Edinburgh, Scotland
I’ve been here, a couple of times. Edinburgh is an elegant old city steeped in history. The Old Town, higher up and cobbled, with touristy shops, galleries, cathedral, narrow streets, and the castle on the cliff with awesome views are part of the attraction and the Georgian New Town with more shopping and restaurants and beautiful architecture and a public garden below the castle cliffs are more reasons to go.

View of Zurich. Photo from http://podroze.onet.pl

View of Zurich. Photo from http://podroze.onet.pl

17 – Zurich, Switzerland
Zurich is on a river and surrounded by dramatic mountains, what’s not to love? I haven’t been here but have been told that Switzerland is a gorgeous and very clean country. Apparently it’s also close enough to Alsace or Venice for day trips by train as well.

16 – Madrid, Spain
Madrid is the capital of Spain and though I think I’d prefer Barcelona, Madrid does have one major bonus that could sway me, the Prado museum, one of the world’s best.

15 – Bruges, Belgium
Another place I’ve visited and liked a lot. There are a few small cities in Belgium with canals and cobbles. Bruges is probably one of the best known and most visited. We took a nice canal cruise which I would definitely recommend and admired the gorgeous architecture in the main squares. There are lots of little places to investigate on and off the beaten track. The old historic city centre is very well preserved and full of really old buildings.

14 – Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Conde Naste says “Windmills, cycling, Van Gogh, and canals are all part of Amsterdam’s storied charm”. Amsterdam *is* charming though it is also a larger city and it can be crowded. It’s very pretty, with the canals and the stately gabled houses lining them, with bridges and houseboats, and bicycles. Oh yes. You need to be aware because they sneak up on you without warning! We spent a few days here and saw a bit though there were a lot of things we didn’t have the time to get to see.

A view of Istanbul (photo from www.thestregisistanbul.com)

A view of Istanbul (photo from http://www.thestregisistanbul.com)

13 – Istanbul, Turkey
I haven’t been here, this enormous city on the border of Europe and Asia. It’s a very old city, known in Roman days as Constantinople for the Emperor Constantine who was fundamental in bringing Christianity to the wider Roman Empire. It has also been called Byzantium which dates back to ancient Greek days. The Istanbul we know is from the Ottoman empire and is now a Muslim based city. There are some spectactular religious buildings and famous markets. I think it would be a very interesting city to visit.

Lovely BudaPest (photo from www.inyourpocket.com)

Lovely BudaPest (photo from http://www.inyourpocket.com)

12 – Budapest, Hungary
Another city I would love to see and which I’ve been told is really beautiful, with old buildings and a lovely cathedral. There are actually two cities, Buda and Pest, one on either side of the Danube river. Best known for Art Nouveau architecture and a plethora of spas.

Stockholm at sunset (photo bestbarseurope.com)

Stockholm at sunset (photo bestbarseurope.com)

11 – Stockholm, Sweden
Yet another city built on islands and canals, this one in the north of Europe. Stockholm has become very hip and has long been known for it’s sleek designs. Since the release of the Millenium Trilogy books (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo et. al.), a lot of Swedish crime thrillers have become popular and Sweden seems to be even more of a destination. Definitely one I’d like to see though it’s even more expensive than Copenhagen!

Below is a gallery of a few photos I’ve taken of Edinburgh, Copenhagen, Bruges, and Amsterdam


If you can’t wait to find out the rest, then the slide show is here.

Goodbye Virtual Tourist

vtFebruary 27 will be a sad day on t’interwebs. It’s the day we lose a top travel website, Virtual Tourist, and that makes me sad. In the old days, it was a great place to find tips from real people, the good and the bad about the majority of locations around the world when you were researching a trip. You could post your own reviews and photos. You could connect with other travelers and make friends. It was about more than just hotel and restaurant reviews. It was about all the things that make a trip great. You could find tips about things that were off the beaten track, packing tips, sports tips, tourist traps, someone’s favourite things, general tips, travelogues, and forums for questions about thousands of locations as well as a technical help forum for the site itself.

People organized huge VT get togethers in fun locations. Dozens of VT members would travel and meet up for a weekend of food, drink and they all had the love of travel in common. While I never went to a “meet”, I did meet one lovely man from VT in person. He had come to Halifax several times on business and we usually tried to have a meal together and a visit when he was in town. My partner and I met up with him and his wife in the Netherlands for a lovely day out, as well. That’s the beauty of making all these connections, you often have someone with whom you can touch base if you’re on the road.

Then VT was sold to Trip Advisor. Little by little it changed. Many changes were for the good, mind you. Better photo quality, the opportunity to save your reviews in draft form until you wanted to finish them, creating itineraries. But content from TA was creeping in as well including TA hotel reviews. Some upgrades in the look and feel and functionality of the site seemed to make things more complicated instead of easier, at least for me. But the VT staff did a great job trying to be more things to more people and they were always helpful and friendly.

Trip Advisor was changing, too. It was originally about hotels and restaurants, the place you’d go to find out where you should go and where to avoid. It became a bit of a beast, though, with people posting vindictive reviews on purpose, business rivals posting lies, exaggerations. It became a victim of it’s own success. And it became about more than just hotels and restaurants. Now you can review tourist attractions, other things to do like sports and shopping. It is emulating what VT had already been doing for years and doing well. Maybe Virtual Tourist was also a victim of it’s own success. The little engine that could, if you will.

The writing was on the wall.

I guess TA didn’t want to own two sites that did the same things and since TA seems to be the site that rose to the top, it gets to stay while this lovely site and community of travelers has to go. I’ll be spending the next few weeks saving my VT content and deleting it as I get through the pages. This content represents years of work and traveling, I need to keep those memories! Maybe I will post my VT tips from my travels here on occasion, or at least the tips that haven’t become out of date.

I shall miss VT. I shall miss the wonderful help and knowledgable travelers on this site and I shall miss reading about all the journeys, seeing the photos and being envious of the great trips everyone is planning! February 27 will be the end of an era. I have posted reviews on Trip Advisor but it’s not a personal experience like Virtual Tourist is/was.

Quirky Travel Related Bits and Pieces

Reindeer-on-the-rocksI was perusing a summation of 100 things that you didn’t know, something the BBC news published online, and a few links jumped out at me that could be travel related (some at a stretch, admittedly).

New York City always had a reputation for having a few neighbourhoods that were rather scary for non-residents but in recent years, most areas of the city have been “gentrifying” a lot of formerly low-income areas into chic neighbourhoods that are attracting up and coming businesses, galleries, restaurants and visitors. Oh, and all with higher rents. It’s getting more and more difficult to find an affordable place to live in the Big Apple if you are not making buckets of money but there are still three places left you might try. They are Carnasie and Bay Ridge, both in Brooklyn and South Shore, Staten Island. You can read more about that here.

If you are planning on a trip to Norway, do be aware that recent television trends are for “slow” events, including a knitting marathon. Now they’re looking at televising a reindeer migration. You might want to watch out for that if you’re a fan of nature or, you might want to watch out for that to avoid that particular day. Having said that, after a long day sightseeing, it might be just the thing you need to relax and fall asleep. The migration takes weeks but even the broadcasters recognize that’s a bit much and would restrict the televised event to about a week. More about that here

There are a lot of destinations in the world where hordes of mosquitos might have a negative effect on your enjoyment of the great outdoors, depending on the time of year that you visit. Here’s an idea for a great repellant that will be kinder to your skin than the usual DEET filled solutions. After testing a variety of natural alternate solutions, Victoria’s Secret’s perfume called Bombshell was found to be very good at keeping the little critters away for more than 2 hours. The drawback is that it has to be fairly highly concentrated and the perfume is not cheap. But if you use it, it might be worth a try! More details on the experiments herel

Anybody that travels for business knows about all the paperwork they need to do for travel expenses and reimbursments. Here’s one of the more unusual claims. Astronaut Buzz Aldrin was reimbursed $33.31 for a “business trip” to the moon in 1969. Yes, *that* trip to the moon. Aldrin has published the claim form though it isn’t specified what he was reimbursed for, though likely some sort of transportation expense transferring between airports en route between Texas and Cape Kennedy. He also published a customs declaration form that all three astronauts had to sign on re-entry and arrival in Honolulu airport!

It’s not out of the realms of possibility that you might have to do the same. Apparently, a company called Space Adventures plans to send tourists to a private visit to the moon starting some time after 2018. You won’t get to land on the surface but you’ll do a turn around it and the trip will include a visit to the International Space Station to acclimatize yourself to being in space. They have already taken a few people up into space and there are other companies that plan to do the same including Virgin Galactic. It will cost you, though, so start saving now!

If you’re a football fan (soccer for North Americans), this might be just the ticket. There’s a new hotel in Salford, UK overlooking the Old Trafford football stadium. Most fans will know that’s the home of Manchester United. The 133 room hotel is owned by a group of former United players. It’s filled with memorabilia and there’s even a football pitch on the roof where they also have pre-match barbeques. The views over the city are amazing and there’s easy transport nearby into Manchester city centre. Obviously, it’s convenient if you’re going to be attending one of the games but I would expect it would book up pretty quickly far in advance of those. It’s called, what else? Hotel Football. Here’s the kicker (see what I did there?), the rooms, normally costing about £95 for a double, nearly triple the cost for the game days to £250.

And finally, if you are a gay man, it looks like some of the best places you might want to live or visit are the Scandinavian countries, with Iceland being ranked as the best one. Canada is ranked number 6, I just thought I’d mention that since it’s my country! Uganda and the Sudan are ranked at the bottom of the scale. The Planetromeo.com survey is based on 115,000 men all over the world and the website has quite a few interesting statistics and results.

Go inside the British Museum with Google

Closeup of an Egyptian Sarcophegus, British Museum, London

Closeup of an Egyptian Sarcophegus, British Museum, London

Google has done it again. They’ve sent the Google camera inside the British Museum and now you can use the Street View feature in Google Maps to visit the museum without leaving your house. It’s pretty cool, too. You can “walk” through the rooms or jump from floor to floor.  I think it would help if you had a map from the British Museum’s website, though. You can drop the little gold “man” onto a place on the museum map and there’s a series of numbers on your right that says what level you are on. If you click a different level, you find your self in a different room or gallery but you might also find yourself in a hallway or in a staircase, in which case, that map might prove useful.

Google map of the British Museum, London

Google map of the British Museum, London

It’s also possible to read a lot of the large information signs on the walls by the various displays. I think this is a great thing. I hope a lot of the major museums and sites in the world will be mapped out like this. They’ve done Machu Picchu as well. I think a site like Pompeii would be another good one to do with Street View and please, Google, do some more of the major museums and galleries in the world like the Smithsonian, the Vatican, and the Louvre.

This first photo is a screen grab from Google Street view of the Egyptian gallery with the mummies and sarcophegi. Below that are a few photos I’ve taken in the museum on visits in the past. (The photo at the top of this post is also mine, a closup of one of a sarcophegus)

British Museum Egyptian Mummies, London

British Museum Egyptian Mummies, London

Neried Monument, British Museum, London

Neried Monument, British Museum, London

Greek Helmet, British Museum, London

Greek Helmet, British Museum, London

One website you’ll want to save

MapHappy

It’s not often I’ll blog about a specific website but every now and then I come across one that’s really good and has a lot of useful information for travelers.

map happy is a travel website that’s full of interesting and useful information. It seems to be run by three women (there are three mentioned on the “About” page) but they have a lot of contributors. The site is one where you can spend a lot of time getting lost while browsing the many interesting and informative articles. It’s all good information, tips and tricks, gadgets, and general tech geekery. They aren’t selling anything, either. Also, I think it’s American based so some of the tips are geared towards Americans traveling but for the most part, anyone will find a lot of useful and interesting reading there.

The range of the topics is quite broad, varying from practical advice on passports, public transportation, hotels, rental cars to the mundane but entirely useful like how long a travel sized shampoo bottle might last you, how to say basic numbers in a half dozen or so languages, or how to get Amazon packages delivered while traveling.

You can create a login but that’s really only necessary if you’re going to want to comment on articles. You can read and browse all through the site for free. Note, I don’t work for them and I don’t write for them, and I gain nothing by plugging them, either. I have just spent about an hour happily clicking from one article to another when I should be doing other stuff!

Christmas in London from LondonTown.com

Somerset House, London

So far, London is my favourite city. It’s probably obvious considering that I’ve been there over a dozen times. With my fiance living in Manchester, we often take the opportunity to go “down south” to London or stop over on the way back from somewhere else. Even before I met him, I had been to this world class capitol city a handful of times. As I blogged the other day, I’ve not been in London during the Christmas season too often, just a couple of times.

One of these years, that’s going to change. Currently, I get a monthly newsletter from the official London tourist website, Londontown.com and this month, it’s about fab things to do in London over the holidays, as you would expect, and there really are a lot of things to do, many of them free.

Skating in London has always been popular. There’s always been outdoord skating at Somerset House on the Thames/Strand but did you know there are also outdoor rinks at Alexandra Palace, Hampton Court, Canary Wharf and beneat the London Eye, just to name a few?

There are Christmas markets, which would certainly be a draw for me!  There are the big ones in Covent Garden and on the Southbank Centre and Hyde Park has a huge Winter Wonderland with markets, skating and events. But you know, sometimes the smaller ones are even better. I see there’s one in the Chelsea Physic Garden and I bet that would be really special.

There are special West End shows and I’d also be taking in one or two of them! It’s not all family friendly, though. I see something called Grotto Outre which looks to be a club or some kind of week long event party for adults only. I have a feeling I’m probably a bit long in the tooth for that!  It would definitely be different! I think probably Alice in Wonderland would be more my speed after all but there’s a huge list of theatre, dance and other shows.

Grotto Outre

Back to traditions, though. The cathedrals and churches have choirs and carol singing. The shops and streets of London are decorated and lit up. Shopping, oh yes, the shopping is epic if you can handle the crowds. Smaller shops and neighbourhoods might be a better bet than Oxford Street or King’s Row and you’ve got a better chance of getting something made locally or something unique.

Does all this sound like a tourist advertisement? Yeah, pretty much. But, loving London as much as I do, I could spend hours on the Londontown Christmas website making lists of things I’d love to do if I had the chance to spend a week in London in December and one day, I am determined to do it.

Christmas in London | LondonTown.com.

The journey of a tree – Thank You, Boston

New Glasgow's Town Crier

New Glasgow’s Town Crier

It’s a bit early to be talking about the Halifax Explosion on one hand. The anniversary of that isn’t until December 6 but there’s a 13 metre (43 foot) Christmas Tree en route to Boston today. It was cut down from a tree farm in Anitgonish, NS yesterday and will be driven to Boston in time for their annual tree lighting ceremony on December 4.

Today there was  a send off in the Grand Parade Square with music from The Stanfields (always worth a listen) and with a “Thank You” book that was available to be signed as well in gratitude the good people of the City of Boston. The tree was blessed with a First Nations ceremony and there were Town Criers from a few places in Nova Scotia there as well, though the one from the town of New Glasgow near where the tree was cut was the one to give the proclaimation. For the first time in over a week, the sun came out and the temperature was lovely and warm for this time of year.

BostonTreeStanfields

The Stanfields rock the Parade Square

BostonTree

The Nova Scotia tree, to Boston with thanks

Why?

An actual photo of the Halifax explosion

An actual photo of the Halifax explosion

On December 6, 1917, two ships collided in Halifax harbour. One, a Belgian ship,  was carrying relief supplies as a WWI effort and the other, a French ship, was carrying munitions and explosive materials, also for the war effort. There was a miscommunication about which channel the ships were supposed to be in, one entering the harbour and one leaving it, and the munitions ship was t-boned. Sparks flew and the barrels of TNT on the deck went up. So did the rest of the ship. It was the larges man made explosion before the nuclear bomb and it levelled the north end of the city. 2000 people died and thousands were injured and made homeless. The day after all this, there was a winter blizzard. The army set up huge tents for people to stay in and schools and churches were used as mortuaries. Dishes rattled on shelves from the impact of the  blast 100 miles away in towns like Truro and New Glasgow.

Within that first day, the City of Boston loaded up a train of supplies, medical gear and doctors and nurses and sent it on its way to Halifax.  Since 1971, Nova Scotia has sent Boston a Christmas tree for their city hall square in the centre of the city as a thank you.

Halifax Explosion Memorial. Fort Needham Park.

Halifax Explosion Memorial. Fort Needham Park.

Halifax remembers the explosion and the victims in a ceremony every year on December 6. There are only 2 or 3 surviors left to attend, all of whom were small children at the time of the explosion. There is a memorial on the top of a hill in a park that overlooks the site in the harbour where they have the main ceremony but there’s also a smaller one just around the corner from where I live in North End Dartmouth, across the harbour. Nearby, a twisted cannon from the munitions ship landed, nearly 2 miles from the harbour and it’s been set up on a cross roads with plaques and information. There’s also a twisted ship’s anchor that’s on display in Dartmouth near the McDonald harbour bridge. That was found 3 miles away across the other side of Halifax. The city really was devastated but with help, pulled together and rebuilt the north end of the city.

Life goes on.

CBC has a good website with lots of information here.