Wi-Fi in the Sky

I notice more and more airlines are allowing wi-fi service on board the flight. That’s pretty cool. You won’t be able to access it until the plane rises over about 10,000 feet or close to that, so you can’t go online on the way up or down but hey, on a long flight it’s especially handy.

I remember the old days when you couldn’t use anything electronic. Then you could, but only after the seat belt sign went off but you still had to have things like phones in “airplane” mode, that is, so it isn’t getting a signal. I don’t know if that’s still the case with these wi-fi enabled planes. If you are allowed to get a wi-fi signal, wouldn’t you be able to use your phone? (if you could get a phone signal, that is) Actually, I hope you still can’t use the phone. Haven’t you noticed that when people are on mobile phones, they speak a lot louder? Dozens of people in an enclosed space shouting on their phone would be utter cacaphony.

Anyway. Wi-fi. Don’t everyone jump up and down and cheer just yet. It’s available but it’s not free. Of course it’s not. I discovered this week that Air Canada Rouge (the no-frills category) is installing Wi-Fi on some of their jets starting this summer.You actually buy a pass from Gogo. A one hour pass is $7 which is next to useless, really. If you’re on a short flight, you’re barely up in the air and down again. The 24 hour pass is $19 which isn’t too bad but if there are two or more of you in your group and you all want to use it at the same time, that’s one per person. Add to the fact that, if you aren’t flying in Premium, you’ll have to buy any food you want (Canada, U.S. flights). Pricey.

Still, it’s available and it will be appealling, especially for long flights. Rouge does have an onboard entertainment system that they stream over smart devices via the Air Canada app. You can rent an iPad for $10 if you don’t have something that will pick up the streaming service. Premium passengers get the iPads for free. We don’t have a tablet but we have our phones. I don’t think there’s a laptop-compatible app (unless you have a Chromebook or possibly a Mac Air).

I don’t know how good their streaming service is, probably fairly decent, so there should be enough there to keep you occupied without a connection to the internet. Once the novelty of checking in to Facebook at 40,000 feet wears off, and email isn’t all that popular anymore, anyway, you’ll probably go back to streaming the movies anyway. I would imagine someone flying for business will take advantage and they can right off the expense.

Air Canada’s 777-300, Not as big as the double decker planes but pretty frigging big all the same

Air Canada has had wi-fi on their regular service flights already, with a different plan again for flight duration. They have a short, one hour pass and the next one they offer is for the duration of a one way flight. It doesn’t say if it includes connections. It’s $21, a bit more than Rouge’s 24 hour pass. Both Rouge and Air Canada offer a monthly pass for those of you up in the air often.

Air Canada’s nearest competitor, Westjet, also has a streaming service and on board wi-fi. They stream through the Westjet app, naturally, and their wi-fi prices seem cheaper than Air Canada’s. No surprise there, actually. Their passes are 30 minutes, 3 hours and flight duration for the longer journey. I think that’s quite sensible, actually though if you have a lot of transfers to get where you’re going, the price of Air Canada’s 24 hour service is better.

Again, I’m sure business travelers would find the wi-fi service handy but for me, I think I’d be just as happy with the in flight streaming service. The regular Air Canada flights mostly have the touch screens on the seat backs for the streaming service and I think they have or are upgrading that.

I’m not pushing people to pay for wi-fi passes, I’m only putting it out there that it’s available and what it’s going to cost you. I’m pretty sure most other major airlines have or will soon have similar services. It’s a bit of a cash cow. The no-frills airlines already make you pay for pretty much everything.

I was particularly interested to research this topic because our flight to Hawaii from Vancouver will be on Rouge and it’s a 5+ hour flight. I think I’ll more than likely stick to the streaming service. It’s a far cry from the days when there was one movie playing (maybe two if it was a really long flight) on overhead screens that you couldn’t always see depending on where you were sitting.

 

I’m a Tourist

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

“Tourist trap”
“Too many tourists”
“I’m a traveler, not a tourist”
The word “tourist” seems to have a lot of negative connotations. The definition of a tourist is one that travels for pleasure. Where did the negative come from? There’s a long tradition of people traveling from their homes to far off places. Maybe the religious pilgrimages could be considered early tourists. In the glory days of empires such as the Romans, Egyptians and Greeks, it’s likely people went to the major cities and centres to see the sights, perhaps get a glimpse of the ruler. These ancient sites continued to draw visitors all through the centuries. Explorers could be considered tourists, too, even if they didn’t know what they were going to find before they got where they were going.

The word “tourist” was first used in 1772. That’s just about the time that wealthy gentlemen began taking Grand Tours around Europe and some of the sites of the more ancient civilizations. They became tourists. Baedeker published guide books and maps to assist building an itinerary. At first, tourism was mainly something that you did if you had money or if you were poor and wanted to go on a pilgrimage. But soon, there were more means of transportation available which got cheaper and cheaper, chiefly train travel which linked widespread destinations. Organized tours companies sprung up. Local people made money guiding visitors. The industry flourished.

The crowds became thicker. And it seemed people in them started to be less inquisitive, more interested in the status of being able to say “I’ve been to…”. They were rude to the locals, didn’t try to speak even a few words of the local language or observe some of the customs. They complained because things weren’t the same as they were at home, as if they should be. That one always baffles me. Even today you hear people whine. If you want things to be the same as they are at home, stay home. The tourist gained a bad reputation even if it’s the case of a minority ruining the reputation for the whole because let’s face it, there are millions of tourists. They aren’t all rude and they don’t all complain. The crowds can be off putting. The attractions and the souvenirs become tacky, with too much corporate influence. But sometimes, corporate sponsorship is the only thing that helps keep them open. That’s not always a good thing but mostly, it is, especially in the case of historic sites. And “tacky” is often a personal opinion. Others might call it kitchy or fun. Everyone has different tastes.

Our tour group from the UK tour 1993

Our tour group from the UK tour 1993

People are becoming proud of bragging that they are a traveler, not a tourist, and they go to places that are less popular, more remote, and “live like the locals” as much as they can. That’s great if it’s what you want to do. If you want to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Great Wall of China, or the Pyramids of Giza and elbow your way through the crowds, that’s great, too. There’s always a way to avoid the more crowded times if crowds give you the heebie jeebies. You can still living like the locals and see the famous sites, visit the galleries and museums, shop and enjoy a wonderful meal with local wine. Locals do that, too.

As for me, I’m a tourist. I really enjoy historic sites, museums (especially quirky small ones, but any will do), galleries, cathedrals and other religious buildings (because the art is usually superb). I shop a little, take a huge amount of photos and like to try local beers and wines along with my food. As far as the major class “attractions”, I find a large majority of them are over-hyped, over-expensive and end up a disappointment. “Is that all there is?” I pick and choose, depending on the value that I perceive it to have for me.

The White Tower, Tower of London

The White Tower, Tower of London

The Tower of London is expensive, but it’s very historic. The Crown Jewels? I’ve seen them but I found the armoury and museum far more interesting. I’ve been to the Eiffel Tower but I haven’t gone up to see the view, which is a bit odd for me because I usually like going up high places like that. I do, however, think it looks amazing now that there’s a sparkly light show at night every hour. The Roman Colosseum was all the better because we booked a tour and heard about the history behind it. That really added to our experience.

It really does come down to personal taste as far as what you would enjoy, what you feel is worth the money and effort. Be polite, be curious, be open minded and be flexible. Go with the flow and be on your toes, too, because another down side to being a tourist is that you might be a target for petty crime, especially in crowds.

Whether you consider yourself a tourist or a traveler, you’ve journeyed away from home to experience new things, different cultures, or just a change of scenery. Whether it’s around the world or a day trip to a nearby location, being a tourist means new memories. That’s never a bad thing.

More views on being a tourist on WordPress’s daily challenge, here.

 

 

Edinburgh vs Glasgow

Edinburgh Castle from the Castle Gardens below

National Geographic Traveler, issue 32:8 (December 2015/January 2016) has a feature on top 20 “Must See” destinations. One of them is a short piece on Glasgow, the second city of Scotland. The author of the piece, Kimberly Lovato, opens with “If Edinburgh is the blue-blooded aunt at Scotland’s tea party, then Glasgow, just 45 miles to the west, is the T-shirt-clad cousin kicking over the kettle on the way out.

That made me chuckle but it’s pretty close to the truth when embodying the spirit and personality of the two cities. I’ve been to both, not for lengthy visits but several times each over the years though my last visit to Glasgow was in 2003 and Edinburgh in 2000. I’m overdue. That aside, though I like both cities, my overall feeling was that I preferred Glasgow.

Edinburgh is beautiful, with a newer section of tidy Georgian architecture nestled at the feet of the volcanic ridge that housed the older city, crested with a jaw dropping castle on the top of the cliffs. The old part of the city is now mainly hotels and tourist attractions, with the university and student population thrown in. The Royal Mile stretches from the castle at one end to Holyrood Palace and the remains of the abbey at the other and it is quite interesting to explore with mysterious narrow “wynds” or lanes, small museums, a cathedral and lots of places to have a drink or a meal.The new Georgian section has great shopping, parks, bigger museums and galleries and also lots of edibles and potables.  It’s also the seat of the government both historically when it was the seat of Kings and in modern days, the home of the new Scottish Parliament. You’d find a lot to hold your interest within the inner city of Edinburgh.

A Mausoleum in the Glasgow Necropolis

A Mausoleum in the Glasgow Necropolis

Glasgow was the largest sea port in Britain and was a huge transatlantic trade hub.  The Industrial Revolution expanded the wealth in the area and it was a more important city than Edinburgh as far as finance goes.  There are two universities and a cathedral and a reknowned art college.  An industrial city means there’s a lot of working class folk in addition to the student population. All of this booming industry generally ends up faltering and that’s what happened to Glasgow in the 1960s but by the end of the 1980s, things were looking up again and today, Glasgow is a vibrant city again, with a thriving arts scene. It’s not really lost that working class atmosphere, I think.

For me, Glasgow feels more “down to earth” and everyday, where the city as a whole is striving to put their best foot forward and bloody proud of their achievements, something that it feels like Edinburgh takes as it’s due. Edinburgh feels more “touristy” in the city centre than Glasgow, maybe because Glasgow’s tourist attractions are a bit more spread out between the city centre and the newer west end. Glasgow certainly has great museums,  theatres,  shopping, eateries, pubs and clubs, and a cathedral of it’s own.

In fact, on that last point, the old cathedral in Glasgow is one of my all time favourites of the ones I’ve seen and even nicer than the one in Edinburgh, it’s far more atmospheric though it’s not very large. Rising on a hill behind it is a Victorian  Necropolis Cemetery with wonderfully interesting memorials. Also very atmospheric to trod around on a foggy, overcast afternoon like I did.

The Garage, Sauchihall Street, Glasgow

The main thrust of the National Geographic Traveler piece spoke about 2016 being a Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design so there will be a lot going on there this year and the writer also enthused about the music scene in Glasgow. From the street performers to the club scene to the concert halls, it seems there’s something for everyone. One of my favourite memories of Glasgow was a gig in a club on Sauchiehall Street, The Garage. It was an impromptu night out and the band was 3 Colours Red, a punk band from the late 90s and early 00s and they were fantastic!

Some do say that the local Scottish accent is nearly untranslateable and it’s true that a strong accent here is tough for our North American ears but for the most part, we didn’t have a problem. We found the people working in the shops and cafes to be very friendly, with a great, albeit cheeky, sense of humour. Anyone that I deal with in a shop, hotel, pub or anywhere else who greets me with a smile and a little joke has my vote. I haven’t encountered that in Edinburgh where I’ve found the people polite, perhaps a bit more business-like but by no means rude. They don’t seem as glad to see you as Glaswegians do, however. Perhaps that’s due to the higher tourist count in Edinburgh, I don’t know. They get on with things because there’s usually someone waiting in the queue behind you or at the next table.

Glasgow has it’s share of tourists, too but Edinburgh seems to get more of the glory. It’s not that it isn’t a nice city to visit. I think everyone should enjoy what Edinburgh has to offer which is a lot. Edinburgh Castle really is interesting and worth the money you’ll pay to see it, plus the views over the city from the ramparts are boggling. The majesty of the Edinburgh Tattoo is something you’ll never forget (along with the heaving crowds of the Edinburgh Festival! But there *will* be great theatre, too!) Edinburgh perhaps has the more glamourous history to show off but Glasgow has lots of that, too.

I really want to see both cities one more time and I think if we manage to get there, we’ll probably have our base in Glasgow. You can take the train between the city centres in under an hour making for a great day trip.

12 Cities in 12 Months

I recently read a great blog post from the Travelettes called 12 Cities in 12 Months. The post was inspired by a German book about a woman that won some money in a lottery and spent a year living in different places, one per month. In her case, she was a writer and could continue to do her job from remote locations so she didn’t have to use a lot of her winnings. It was just the push she needed to get out the door.

Feeding a giraffe in the Vancouver Zoo, 2003

Feeding a giraffe in the Vancouver Zoo, 2003

The writer of the Travelettes post, Annika, wrote about her choices and there are a few of hers that I might pick too, including  Venice, Barcelona and she also chose Nairobi. While I wouldn’t have really thought about anywhere in Africa, the lure of the Giraffe Manor is too much to resist! (Though, I *have* actually fed a giraffe, in the Vancouver Zoo!)

So which 12 cities would I like to live in for a month? That would take some thinking. I would probably take into consideration location as it relates to where else I could visit easily from that city so I could take in more of the area.  I should also pick one or two more exotic locations, places I might not normally choose for a vacation but which might be interesting even if there’s a culture shock! This is a “money is no object” journey and I would likely want an apartment or apartment-hotel for convenience in each location.

Here’s a list after some consideration: Paris, Barcelona, Florence, Bangkok, Japan (maybe not Tokyo, perhaps Kyoto), Shanghai, Aukland, Sydney, New York, Buenos Aires, Copenhagen or a city in Sweden, maybe Gothenburg, Nairobi

Why not London? Yep, my favourite city (so far). Not London because it is exactly that, my favourite city. There wouldn’t be a culture shock. While there are plenty of parts of London I haven’t seen, I’m still familiar enough with it that it wouldn’t have that fresh, new feeling of exploring a new city’s vibe. I’ve been to some of the others in the past, for short visits, enough to know I’d like to spend more time there.

Without a daily job, though, I guess you are basically a tourist in each city for a month. I’d spend my days with my camera, writing about what I’d seen and done, what I liked and didn’t like. I’d try to document my own view of the culture and surroundings.

passport_leafParis: I’ve been there and it’s a wonderful city. I think that I would love to live there for a month, experiencing the vibe of the city and soaking in the history and culture. I speak a little French, not a lot,  so it would help improve that, I think.

Barcelona: I’ve never been to Spain but I know a number of people that have been to Barcelona and all are wowed by the city, the architecture and the people. That’s good enough for me!

Florence: Another city full of history and art, Florence impressed me when I visited as part of a bus tour of Italy. I immediately liked the look and feel of it and wished we could have stayed longer. I had learned a little Italian before the tour so I would want to pick that up again, maybe take some Italian cooking lessons, too.

Bangkok: I used to be fascinated by Singapore. I traded postcards with a woman there for awhile and I loved the views I saw. I think, though, to live in that area, I’d want something a bit more exotic. Thailand seems just the ticket. And.. Thai food is awesome!

I thought perhaps somewhere in Japan would be very interesting but Tokyo just seems way too large and unwieldy so my choice here is Kyoto, the historic capital of Japan. I think there would be more of a deep-rooted historic feel to the city, even though it’s still a very large one.

I used to really want to visit Hong Kong. I think I still would but I don’t know as I’d want to live there for a month. Shanghai seems more historic, more Chinese if you will. And I could visit Hong Kong from there, anyway!

The Maori culture would be fascinating to discover

I’d love to spend a month either in Australia or New Zealand, too. Sydney is a good central point for a lot of Australia on the east and south which would not be too far by plane for a few days visits. New Zealand would be a beautiful country as well, with both having fascinating native culture with the Aborigines and Maori respectively.  Aukland would be a good base here.  I guess I’ll have to have a month in each!

If I’m going to try to touch all of the continents, I’ll have to have a month in Africa. I would probably go with Nairobi here because the lure of that Giraffe Manor is irresistable. I don’t know much about Nairobi so that might be a good thing. It would be a completely new experience. Many of the other cities, even ones I haven’t visited before, would still be new, but only a few would be so radically different from my Canadian home. Nairobi, Bangkok and Shanghai would tick that box.

Buenos Aires would be the city in South America. I hear it’s fairly sophisticated and has a lot of culture. The added bonus here is the availability of cruises to Antarctica, the final frontier so to speak.

One more in Europe, heading north now. I was thinking of Scotland but as it’s more familiar, I would probably go with Northern Europe. Copenhagen or Gothenburg since it has a friendlier feel than Stockholm. I don’t know why I feel that way but it is also closer to Copenhagen which would definitely be interchangeable. It was a difficult decision to choose. I really like Copenhagen but thought I’d pick somewhere I hadn’t been. Gothenburg it is.

42nd Street at night

42nd Street at night

Rounding off the list, back in North America, I thought I’d choose New York City.  I initially considered San Francisco but it’s too hilly! New York has everything you’d want for a month and then some and it’s close to quite a lot of interesting cities for weekend breaks, like Boston, Washington and Philadelphia.

I dropped a city in Scotland and one in Ireland that had made the first cut because they were too “safe”, if you know what I mean. I thought, if this is something I ever get to do, why pick locations that are familiar or at least that are well inside the comfort zone? If I went that route, I could spend the whole year in various cities around Europe including some of the ones in Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean. You gotta be adventurous!

So there you go. A fantasy year spending a month in 12 different cities. The next time I make this list, they’ll probably change!

When plans change

passport_leafOff to the UK on Friday night and I’m not looking forward to the flight. I do love to travel but the process of getting there is not a lot of fun. There’s small, cramped seats. I can’t afford to go business class and these days, what you get there is a little individual “pod” which doesn’t really look that comfortable, either, except it can recline and there’s nobody squashed up beside you. The width of them doesn’t look all that much wider than a standard seat. Before these came out, business class seats were like big comfy lazy-boy chairs!

And I’m getting a cold. I have the sniffly stuffed up nose stage at the moment. If the travel gods are with me, it might not get worse than that, but I doubt I’ll be that lucky. Flying with a head cold will be awful and I figure I’ll end up spreading the germs and making a number of other passengers ill too, even though I try to keep it to myself. All that recycled air, though, isn’t condusive to health.

The other reason is that my plans have changed. We have had to cancel Paris. My partner’s father is very ill and we really can’t be out of the country. We don’t know how much longer we’ll have him so every day counts. We might get to London on Easter weekend depending on how things go but as I’m due to fly back out of London, I will have to go. If he comes with me, at least he can be back in Manchester by train in a couple of hours if need be. That’s easier than trying to get home from Paris.

Again, though, that still depends on the situation. I may need to change my ticket and extend my time in Manchester. I did get cancellation and interruption on my flight to the UK so any costs incurred in changing should be covered by that, at least. I didn’t get insurance on anything else because I’ve been burned on the “pre-existing condition” clause before and even though his dad seemed to be stable when I booked the France part of the trip, he did have a “condition” and I more or less figured a doctor could cite that when filling out a form.

That’s what happened to me the last time I tried to recover the cost of a cancelled flight. The doctor said the patient (my father) was not stable at the time I booked the ticket. That was news to me! While he was recovering from major surgery, we all thought it was just a matter of time. Turns out it was, but not what we thought. Looking back, the doctor was right, and looking back, we can see it but at the time, we didn’t know any different. We thought he was just longer recovering than expected. So after that, I’ve been reluctant to trust buying the insurance. I did this time because everything seemed like things would be ok to get to the UK and back. And this time, if I have to use the insurance, it will only be about changing the return date and those costs associated.

Having said that, I did or will get 3/4 of the money back for the pre-paid hotel in Paris and that will cover the cost of the flight and Eurostar which were also prepaid. That’s a break-even there. There are a few other things that got cancelled that were non-refundable but they won’t add up to a lot. Extending the rental car in Manchester an extra week didn’t cost me double, either, which was a nice surprise, it’s only costing another 50% and that wasn’t prepaid.

This will be a vacation from work, and we’ll be spending our two weeks together which is important when you live 3000 miles apart for the moment. I hope we’ll be able to get out for a day trip or two just for a drive somewhere. We’ll need that to recharge our batteries.

It’s the way life is. We help each other, support each other, and get through it. Paris can wait.

Worst Travel Advice

London from a different perspective. Looking up!

London from a different perspective. Looking up!

I read an article this morning written by a Lonely Planet journalist called “The World’s Worst Travel Advice”.  It was actually published a few months ago but I hadn’t seen it before. In a nutshell, the list goes like this:

1. Women shouldn’t travel alone
2. Don’t eat the street food
3. Take traveler’s cheques for emergencies
4. Italy has the best pizza in the world
5. Plan everything/Don’t plan anything
6. You can’t get on Facebook in China
7. Bringing more clothes means less laundry
8. Bring enough contact lens solution/sun block/tampons/over-the-counter medicine for the entire trip
9. Bring a knife for protection when you travel to (xxx)
10. Don’t bother with a travel guide, you can find what you need online.

The author goes into a bit of explanation on each one. Some of these are common sense, some are myths busted, and the one about Facebook and China doesn’t even seem like terrible travel advice at all, just a statement of more or less fact.

Is this the “worst” travel advice? I probably wouldn’t classify it as such though number 9 might be kind of sketchy. Bringing weapons anywhere in this security conscious day and age will probably bring you a lot more trouble than safety. If you’re worried about your safety somewhere, don’t go!

My own opinions of most of these:
1. I would travel alone to places where I think I’d feel comfortable. I don’t tend to go out at night when on my own though could if it’s a bright, busy place like a tourist area. You take precautions no matter where you are, with or without someone else.
2. I would be cautious about street food as well but apparently in most places, it’s perfectly fine. Maybe I’ll bend on that one a bit. As the author pointed out, you can get sick from food in perfectly good restaurants just as easily.
3. I don’t take traveler’s cheques with me anymore. I take my ATM card and two different credit cards. If the ATM card doesn’t work, one of the credit cards will and most banks will give you cash advances on credit cards like Visa and Mastercard. If you make a payment before you go, putting the card into a credit amount, you won’t pay interest on the cash advance. It’s an option.
4. Does Italy have the best pizza in the world? Maybe, and I’ve had some pretty good pizza there. I’ve also had some “meh” pizza there. It’s like anywhere, I’d say.
5. Now this one speaks to me. I do a lot of planning. I like to know where I’m staying. I like to make sure the rental car is booked and I like to pre-book things like theatre tickets. I know reservations and bookings can still be messed up but at least I’ve got the proof I made the booking. I make lists but I’m also willing to jump off them if something interesting shows up as far as things I want to do.
6. China is bound to be very interesting, even without Facebook. Seriously. Yes, the government there has cracked down on internet access. That shouldn’t stop you from going.
7. It stands to reason, the more you bring, the heavier your bags are. Soap weighs a lot less.
8. Yeah, I agree with the author on this one, you can get most of your basic needs and over the counter meds most places you go or you’ll find something similar. It might not be a familiar brand but a pharmacist won’t steer you wrong and it’s an adventure trying to cross the language barrier. Now that sounds like it adds an element of risk but if it’s really something you need to be careful of, see a doctor.
9. Knife? No, If I feel that uncomfortable, I won’t be visiting there.
10. The author does have a bit of a conflict of interest here. He writes for Lonely Planet, after all. I do love travel guides, though, and I like to buy them for new destinations. There’s so much information, history, hints and tips and it’s all in one place. Scouring the internet can be pretty overwhelming sometimes. I generally use both.

I don’t think I’ve ever been given terrible advice aside from someone once telling me not to eat pasta when I went to Italy. Their reasoning had to do with my taking a bus tour, and the garlic in the pasta would recirculate through the air system on the bus and offend others. My reasoning is that everyone else on the bus would be eating the same thing! Problem solved!

Have you ever been given advice for travel that turned out to be unfounded or untrue? Mythbusting? Or given great advice? Pass it on!

Canadian Passport-to-go

passport_leafI’ve been the owner of a Canadian Passport continually since the early 1990s. I would take it with me into the United States even before they insisted Canadians must have a passport to enter the U.S.A. Up until recently, we had to renew our passport every five years which always seemed ridiculous to me. Most other countries’ passports were good for 10 years and for an adult, that’s sufficient. I’ve always said I’d pay a little extra for a 10 year passport and now it seems I’ve finally got my wish!

My coworker is renewing hers this year and told me that we now have the option to renew for either five or ten years! The current passport fee is a stinging $120 (it was just under $100 last time I renewed, about 3 and a half years ago) but for only another $40, it’s good for ten years (plus the cost of the photo, of course, so you can add another $20 on top of that.). That’s great news and about bloody time, Canada!

Little by little, over the years, the Canadian government has started changing their requirements to make it simpler to get or renew a passport. You used to have to have a guarantor that could only be someone of a specified list of professions like doctors, lawyers, politicians, teachers, dentists, pharmacists, clergy, etc. who have known you for two or more years to certify that you are the person who is applying for the passport. Now, the guarantor just has to be a Canadian Citizen who has a valid passport or one that has expired less than a year, though the two year familiarity rule still holds.

The next change was not really for the better though it’s an understandable one. The technology is changing and many aiports now use retinal recognition so now, if you wear glasses, you must take them off for the photo or ensure that the frame doesn’t cover any part of your eye or eyebrow whatsoever. Easier just to take them off. Avoids glare as well. The part I really hate is that you can’t smile in the photo anymore. I really hate that. Passport photos are bad enough without being able to at least attempt to soften the “Prixoner in Cellblock B” look with a smile. I suppose, again, it’s to do with your eyes needing to be completely visible. Still sucks though.

My passport isn’t expired until, I think, next year so I will definitely be going for the ten year option.

Online forms to download here
Canadians should probably register here before they travel out of the country. Helps if they need to contact you in an emergency.
Here’s a general “dashboard” for links and resources for Canadian travellers.

Do you Museum when you travel?

An exhibit in Profundo Rosso,  A museum about the Italian horror movies of director Dario Argento

An exhibit in Profundo Rosso, A museum about the Italian horror movies of director Dario Argento

I came across a link to an article on The Economist about museums and how they’re attracting new visitors. Museums: Temples of delight. The premise of the article is based on how museums are changing. These days, you can find out about pretty much anything on the internet. Why would people want to go to museums to see and learn about things? But they certainly are. According to the article, 3/4 of all Swedish adults visit a museum once a year. That’s amazing! But it doesn’t really explain what the attraction is.

One theory is that as more people are getting better educations, they like to visit museums as an extension of that education. The next two paragraphs, quoted from the article, are the ones I find particularly interesting.

In developed countries museums are being championed by a wide variety of interest groups: city fathers who see iconic buildings and great collections as a tourist draw; urban planners who regard museums as a magic wand to bring blighted city areas back to life; media that like to hype blockbuster exhibitions; and rich people who want to put their wealth to work in the service of philanthropy (“a way for the rich to launder their souls”, as one director put it). For young people they are a source of something authentic and intriguing when their electronic entertainments start to pall.

In the more affluent parts of the developing world, too, museum-building has flourished, driven mainly by governments that want their countries to be regarded as culturally sophisticated (though wealthy private individuals are also playing a part). They see museums as symbols of confidence, sources of public education and places in which a young country can present a national narrative. Visitor numbers in such countries are also rising fast, boosted by a growing middle class. Some hope to use cultural offerings to attract many more foreign tourists. In Qatar and Abu Dhabi, for instance, a clutch of new museums under construction is meant to turn the Gulf into a destination for visitors from Europe, Russia and South Asia. Chinese museums received more than 500m visits last year, 100m more than in 2009.

Tourism, urban development, philanthropy, cultural status and a reality check? These days museums are not just about reading information boards beside the exhibits. They incorporate multi-media, encourage participation, making a visit to a museum an experience. And while I often find the “Experience” more of a tourist trap than a true overall feeling, in many cases, museums especially, it really can add to the visit. In order to keep people coming and attract new visitors, especially younger people, you gotta entertain them to keep their interest and I say, what’s wrong with that? If being interactive and entertained teaches someone about any subject, isn’t that a good thing?

I love museums and when I travel I always plan to take in at least one or more. I may not have the stamina to spend hours and hours in the big ones but I will still take in highlights or areas of it that interest me the most. I like museums, large ones or small, unique ones. Sometimes the smaller and more unique, the better though these are the ones that are struggling to stay open! I like museums because I’m interested in history and art and where it all  comes from and how things evolve to what they are today, in many cases.

One of my favourite museums is the Museum of London that traces the history of the city back to the Romans.  Another similar one is the Glasgow People’s Museum. Social history museums of just one period in history or the history from the beginnings to current day of an area or city are really interesting and also important to help you relate to how the past shaped the present.  What was life like 200 years ago? Are there similarities in how people lived then to how they do now?

In that article from the Economist, there are a few icons for oddball museum topics and at least one of them, ‘dog collars’ is one I’ve been to. It’s in Leeds Castle in Kent, England and is just a couple of rooms of glassed cases but it’s fascinating! Other interesting smaller museums include the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, the Sir John Soan Museum in London and the Fan Museum in Greenwich, London, just to name a couple. I love these odd and unique museums even if just because they can be so bizarre. The Museum of Witchcraft in Boscastle was awesome and the Crypt for the Cappuchin Monks in Rome, with chapels decorated in bones of thousands of monks is superbly strange!

British Library, London, with the Victorian St. Pancras Hotel behind it

British Library, London, with the Victorian St. Pancras Hotel behind it

I’ve also been to special exhibits in locations that aren’t strictly museums but which do have displays on a revolving or semi-permanent basis. The British Library has a display of some of their treasures and a few years ago, we got tickets for a fantastic exhibit on Henry VIII. That had many multi media aspects including audio, video, and even a hologram of Henry in his armour. Very cool! It made the hair on the back of my neck stand up to see the letters he wrote and notes he wrote in the margins of books.

On our next trip, we’re going to Paris and I’m hoping to see the Musee Carnavalet which tells some of the story of Paris. We’re also planning to see the Military Museum and Napoleon’s tomb at Les Invalides. We are even doing a day trip to see the Bayeux Tapestry on display and will probably take in something about Joan of Arc in Rouen and stroll through Monet’s garden and house at Giverney.

What’s  your favourite museum? Do you prefer the big ticket ones or small, intimate ones? Do you seek out a particular topic or type of museum?

Traveling through books: London and the UK

You’ve probably noted my series of posts about movies shot in locations that are great for armchair traveling. I’ve read a couple of non-fiction travel books lately and it put me in mind of several others I’ve read on the same subject, my favourite city, London and of the UK in general. A couple of them are true “travel” type books, and a couple more are more historical facts but equally interesting and one is fiction that describes the  history of the city through the eyes of several families and their descendants. I like that because it describes how various familiar sites and areas of London developed and changed over the centuries. Makes me want to visit those sites on my next visit!

The city of London has changed and grown considerably around St. Paul's Cathedral, and there's no end in sight.

The city of London has changed and grown considerably around St. Paul’s Cathedral, and there’s no end in sight.

Move Along, Please – Mark Mason

This man has undertaken the journey between Land’s End and John O’Groats, the southern and northernmost points of the main island of the U.K. He’s doing it by local busses, not long distance “coach” and thus meanders along the countryside meeting local people who take the bus for work or shopping or school. By avoiding the main motorways where long distance coaches travel, he’s seen more of the “real” everyday Britian. He’s armed with several books written by people who have done this journey in the past by various means and meets up with others along the way who have local knowledge in various stopping points.

Bizarre London – David Long

This is a book of facts about London, the weird, wonderful and little known facts and events. Read about a cross dressing highwayman, a licensed brothel on Whitehall, read about architectural features that tell stores of the past, odd museums, murders, and all sorts of things.

Tales from the Tower of London – Daniel Diehl

A series of stories about the goings on in the Tower of London over the centuries from it’s establishment by William the Conqueror to the 20th century. Mainly it’s about various people that were incarcerated there and includes historical events such as the Gunpowder Plot and the Peasants’ Revolt. Not bad and if you’re interested in the history of London you will probably find it worth a quick read. Not really in depth but easy to read.

London: The Biography – Peter Ackroyd

It did take me quite awhile to read this book but it’s easy to pick up and put down. Each chapter tells about an aspect of the social history of London and it all comes together over centuries to become the city it is today. Crime, poverty, theatre, economics, architecture, neighbourhoods, strengths and weaknesses. It doesn’t read like a textbook, it’s quite interesting.

London – Edward Rutherfurd

Rutherfurd writes long involved fictional histories of an area or city starting, usually, with very early civilization up to the present day. The story he’s written about London starts just before the Roman invasion and ends after World War II. He introduces a handful of familys and traces the stories through them and their ancestors over the centuries. It’s life from the every day people’s point of view. The stories get briefer in the more recent century and a half, with the updates from the 20th century past WWI being just touched on. The best bits are the early to medieval and Tudor/Stuart eras. There’s a family tree at the start to keep them all straight though you can’t see it very well if using an ereader.

UK: Icons of England – Bill Bryson

Bryson edits a collection of contributions from other people who write about their favourite bits of England. They aren’t exactly icons in the traditional definition of the word but they do give a broad feeling of different aspects, such as weather, various nature, seaside, and a lot of them are recollections from the writer’s past. The book was originally a coffee table type with photographs and was a fund raiser. I read it as an ebook and it was not bad. Not always interesting but everyone’s taste is different. You would probably get more out of it if you’d lived there.

Notes from a Small Island – Bill Bryson

Bill Bryson is a very good travel writer, lots of dry humour in his observations which has reduced me to weeping giggles often.This was the first of his books I had read and I reread it last year and giggled just as much. He travels around Britain, mainly by public transportation on busses and trains, to towns, villages and cities as well. He’s an American but has lived in the U.K. for quite a number of years. He has the point of view of a non-native and yet is spot on in many of his observations. Thoroughly enjoyable.

These are the books that I’ve read that can give a reader a great look at London and some of the UK. They give more than just dry historical facts or a generic travel guide “things to do and see”, they show you the past and the present in ways you might not think to look for.  Most of them are available as ebooks from your favourite site (Kobo, Kindle etc.) and you library or a second hand bookstore will have many of them as well. Feel free to comment and suggest others I or other readers might enjoy about London and the U.K.

Adding interest to travel photos

Feeding the pigeons in January in London’s Green Park.

I had a comment on a recent post regarding this photo of a woman feeding the birds in Green Park, London. She said that she loved to watch people feeding birds in parks and watching the reactions of children. My response was “It’s for moments like this that I try to keep my camera in my hand as much as possible even when just walking through a park or down the street. These are the photos that add more memories and more interest to the travel photos than just buildings or famous sites which I take in abundance, of course, and I realized I had a good topic for a blog  post.

I take lots of photos of lots of things when I travel. I like to take photos of the famous things I see like the Eiffel Tower or the canals of Amsterdam or the Colosseum in Rome. I take photos of nice buildings or beautiful landscapes. I also like to take photos of close up details like doors and windows, carved moldings and details on statues, the overall and the in detail views. My trips are full of memories of architecture, gardens, landscapes, sometimes people.

But the thing is, people do add so much to a photo. It can really help tell the story. Most photographers that give you tips on how to take great travel photos advise you to take photos of local people and ask first, of course, offering to give them a copy if you can. I have done it but rarely. I have to admit, I’m a bit shy to ask to take a photo of a person in a shop or a market stall or other similar situations. When I have photos of people in my travel pictures, they’re generally taken from a distance, an angle or from the back, with the zoom lens rather than as a portrait face-on. I don’t take too many photos of children where their faces are identifiable because I know parents aren’t comfortable with that.

Travel photos of buildings and statues or landscape vistas, etc, are only half the story. The random photos of something in a market stall, or a shop window display, a funny sign, an odd looking vehicle, the night lights, or of someone feeding the birds in a park, people flogging merchandise to tourists on a bus, those are all travel memories, too. Performers, someone demonstrating a craft, a guide, people in parades, all of those expect their photo to be taken and I do. I do try to take photos with people in them, even if just anonymous crowds on the street. I’d love to take portraits of a colourful market stall owner, or a friendly restaurante server, but I never seem to have the nerve to ask them outright. Thus, the clandestine shot from 20 or 30 feet away which isn’t always as good, even cropped in closer.

The other thing I do is try to keep my camera, a point and shoot style, in my hand or in an outside pocket as much as possible when we’re out walking around. Moments like the bird feeder shot come up quickly as you stroll by. P&S cameras can take a pretty good photo quickly rather than  having to stop and fuss with the exposure and focus and lose the moment. If at an event with action like sports or a fast moving street performer I will sometimes put my camera on the setting that will take multiple shots in a row. You might get a lot of motion blurry ones but it can also get a shot of something that you might otherwise miss. And having a bit of motion blur in the photo can add to it, not take away from it. Don’t discard it just because of that.

Here is a gallery of some of my people shots. Some are street performers or craft demonstrators and thus were aware of the camera. Some were candids. The one of the lady serving tea outside the church in Lostwithiel could have been so much better had a asked her if I could take her photo. She would have been looking at the camera and, one would hope, smile, surrounded by her tea cups and silver urn and cakes. Maybe next time.