Visiting Canada with Will and Kate

Wall painting in Niagara Falls, Ontario
Wall painting in Niagara Falls, Ontario

Canada is a nice place to visit even if you you happen to be traversing the country at  the same time as the royal couple’s visit. By coincidence my leisurely three-week journey from Montreal to Thunder Bay, just to happened to occur at the same time that Will and Kate made their nine-day visit to the former British colony. When they first landed in Ottawa, I was making the rounds in Montreal. This included sampling a smoked meat sandwich at Schwartz’s and then sipping a tasty pale ale at a nearby microbrewery.

Colors of the Plateau, Montreal
Colors of the Plateau, Montreal

But by the time they had left the country, I was anchored down in Thunder Bay, a colorful town located near the western end of Lake Superior. In the mean time Will and Kate, made it to Montreal, Quebec City, Prince Edward Island, Yellowknife and the Calgary Stampede. All in all it was a small cross-section of Canada, but most people up here glad that the famous duo spent so much time in the country.

Canadian Greyhound Bus
My main means of crossing the province of Ontario

What really impressed me about the visit of the royal couple was first of all how much time was spent in the country and secondly what a large cross-section of the country they were able to visit. Of special fascination was the trip to Yellowknife, where they received a chance to paddle a canoe and explore the backcountry.

Bus station graphic, Schreibner, Ontario
Bus station graphic, Schreibner, Ontario

The only missing thing was a chance to visit Niagara Falls, but I’m sure they’ll hit that natural wonder on their next visit.

MY Empty McDonald's Sundae Dish, Toronto
MY Empty McDonald's Sundae Dish, Toronto

Next stop on the royal couple’s North American tour is the good ole USA, where I will be arriving in the near future. Not to be outdone the two visitors from the UK will spend nine days in the former colony. Though the history between the US and Great Britain differs significantly from that of Canada, I’m sure they will have a busy and eventful journey across the states. By the way this is the first British royal visit to the US since 1939.

Tainted Cup of Tea

K2 is a mountain on the China-Pakistan border, from Wkikpedia
K2 is a mountain on the China-Pakistan border, from Wikipedia

Fiction Or Non-fiction

As of late, 60 minutes is becoming a regular visitor on the literary scene. Their latest excursion into the literary world occurred this Sunday night and concerned one of the best-selling non-fiction writers in the English language.  The writer of concern is Greg Mortenson who has written the best-seller, Three Cups of Tea. If just some of the things that Mortenson’s critics claim are true, Mortenson might have to re-classify his popular travel and humanitarian story as fiction. Does anybody remember James Fry and the controversy that erupted over A Million Little Pieces? Seems that Greg Mortenson might have problems of a similar nature.

Add Fraud

Unfortunately, Mortenson’s problem may not be limited to telling a few tall tales in a non-fiction venue. You see Mortenson has developed a whole network of schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan that are operated from funds provided by philanthropists from around the world. Some of the more notable benefactors include Jon Krakauer and Barrack Obama, both of whom are successful authors in their own right. According to the reporters at CBS 60 minutes, Mortenson has participated in several questionable practices with his fundraising activities. These include misuse of non-profit status to promote a private enterprise, funding schools that don’t exist or are no longer in service and fabricating facts.

Deeper Problems

Just for stretching the facts in his memoir,  James Fry in conjunction with his publisher had to refund dissatisfied customers, plus give large sums of money to several deserving charities. Still, Fry was able to complete and sell a follow-up novel that has enjoyed good sales. So when all is said and done, the inaccuracies in “Million Pieces” may boil down to some very expensive advertising for the next novel. Events may not turn out so well for the author of “Three Cups of Tea”.For even if only half of what 60 Minutes reports is true, Mortenson could be in much deeper trouble.

Brief History of St. Patrick Day

Irish Clover
An Seamrog is e seamair Eireannach

Today is Saint Patrick Day, which is a feast day that celebrates his memory and is observed on the day of his death, sometime in the fifth century. Although born in Britain and/or Wales, most of his life is associated with Ireland and the Christian Church.

Croagh Patrick is a mountain in Ireland

Croagh Mountain is a coastal mountain in Ireland, where it is believed the popular saint fasted for forty days during Lent. Currently, pilgrims gather at the summit on the last Sunday of July to honor the Irish Saint. The mountain is located in County Mayo and is just over 2500 feet high. The chapel at the summit is referred to as the Croagh Patrick Oratory. By the way the gaelic word, croagh, is similar to the English stack.

 

Slemish in County Antrim as seen from Buckna. Photo by Albert Bridge.
Slemish in County Antrim as seen from Buckna. Photo by Albert Bridge.

Saint Patrick first came to Ireland after being captured by raiders. It is believed he spent his first six years on the island herding sheep near a place called slemish. During this time he was able to learn the Gaelic language.

 

Happy St Patrick's Day
Happy St Patrick's Day

So long for know. Happy St. Patrick’s day.

Old Venice

Footbridge In Venice
Footbridge In Venice

Today is Mardi Gras, also known at Fat Tuesday or Shrove Tuesday. All around the world Mardi Gras celebrations are taking place. Since I am pretty much in seclusion here in the Mid-Atlantic region, I thought I would post some photos from a two-day stopover I made in Venice, not too long ago, while I was touring the continent. These images were made in October, but it might be of interest to see what an old world city looks like after the party is over.

Venice Doorway
Venice Doorway

Venice is a place of constant decay. It is unavoidable, especially if you consider the old city sits just a few feet above sea level. I love the many visual possibilities that the old architectural decay can create. In my short time that I was there I spent many hours wandering the back alleys and side streets searching for places like this.

Storefront Window in Venice, Italy
Storefront Window in Venice, Italy

From what I’ve read Carnival celebrations in Venice are not the wild street party that occurs in so places around the western hemisphere, such as Rio de Janeiro, New Orleans and Trinidad. Instead, it is a more formal and controlled masquerade involving elaborate costuming and masks that hides the identity of the participate. Perhaps, this storefront picture made in October carries that spirit with it.

Boats in a Canal, Venice
Boats in a Canal, Venice
Gondolas on a Venice canal
Gondolas on a Venice canal

Venice is all about the water. The canals run everywhere and crisscross each other in a network of waterways. A few are quite large, while others are just narrow backwater alleys.

Truck Transport in Venice
Truck Transport in Venice

Cars and trucks are not allowed in old Venice. So merchants must bring in their goods and produce by water transport. This is the most efficient way of transporting a large amount of freight to anyplace located in the canal district. There is also a newer portion of Venice that is located old solid ground. Lacking are the vast network of canals and the throngs of tourists that characterize the tourist zone.

 

Sunset in Venice Italy
Sunset in Venice Italy

For some sunset is not an end but a beginning. The nights in Venice are often warm and full of activity. Restaurants are busy and the humid atmosphere created by the moist sea air waits to be explored and enjoyed by all who wish to partake in a leisurely stroll.

Quebec Road Signs

 

Waterfront Warning In Gaspe Region Of Quebec
Waterfront Warning In Gaspe Region Of Quebec

This summer I had the privilege of making a solo bicycle journey from Boston, Massachusetts to Ottawa, Canada. However, I should mention that I did not take a direct route, as this picture from the Gaspe region demonstrates. As far as cycling goes, I have not encountered a more scenic route than the coastal highway 132 that runs from Sainte-Anne-des-Monts east towards Madeleine. Not only is the road very scenic, but also the route is flat, a definite plus for cyclists. The only drawback is a rare storm or rogue wave that might wash moving vehicles into the ditch. Here is a close-up of the sign.

Warning Sign In The Gaspe
Warning Sign In The Gaspe

I while I’m at it, here are some other similar signs that I encountered on my trip. The next one was found just south of Quebec city and was intended as a warning against a bump in the road, not low-flying balloons.

 

Ambiguous sign near Quebec City
Ambiguous sign near Quebec City

And finally last but not least, here is a tractor warning sign that was observed in the Petite Nation of Quebec, a small rural region, located just north and east of Ottawa.

 

Tractor Warning Sign In Le Petite Nation of Quebec
Tractor Warning Sign In Le Petite Nation of Quebec

Turmoil In The Land of the Pharaohs

 

Pyramids at Giza, photo by Ricardo Liberato from Wikipedia
Pyramids at Giza, photo by Ricardo Liberato from Wikipedia

With all the strife that is currently unfolding in Egypt, I thought I would take a quick look around the internet and see what I could learn about this fascinating country. I was especially interested in what kind of literary writing I might find on the subject. The results were quite revealing; for it seems that many fiction writers, when dealing with this large and populous North African nation are very much influenced by colorful history that goes back to the ancient population that flourished here long before the birth of Christ.

Many writers have chosen to set a story along the Nile, as did Agatha Christie, when she penned Death On the Nile, a mystery that was first published in 1934. This is one of her classics that features Hercule Poirot, as the main character, and is usually included with  “Murder On the Orient Express” and “Murder in Mesopotamia” as part of a mystery trilogy.

From here the list takes an interesting  journey into the past, including such titles as Memoirs of Cleopatra (by Margaret George), Nerfititi (by Michelle Moran), Palace of Desire (by Naguib Mahfouz), Crocodiles on the Sandbank (by Elizabeth Peters), Egyptian Art (by Cyril Aldred) and River God (by Wilbur Smith). All of these stories focus on either the near or distant past. Mahfouz is the one native son of the group. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1988 and died in 2006. Overall, he is one of the most recognized of Arabic writers. Incidentally, his trilogy is set in the early twentieth century and not during the time of the pharaohs.

For a look at a more modern setting in contemporary, readers might want to take a look at The Yacoubian Building, a novel by Alaa Al Aswany, a modern Egyptian writer. The title for this book was found at a Lonely Planet forum site that was posted several years ago. Aswany, who also writes in Arabic, has been described as a social realist.

It should be noted that these titles come from a short period of web surfing. I have not read any of these titles, but the titles did catch my eye and I actually came away from the searching process with a tiny bit more of knowledge than before. Whether any of these titles will shed any light on the major story in the day is a mystery to me.

Two Brits Visit Toronto And Get In An Argument

Outdoor Advertising in Toronto
Outdoor Advertising in Toronto

This weekend was the last in a planned series of public discourse, called the Munk Debates. An initiative of the Aurea Foundation, the Munk Debates occur twice a year and are featured on CBC, the Canadian Broadcasting company. Having the past Prime Minister of Great Britain, participate in this event, probably heightened  exposure for the occasion. For as it turned out, the debate was widely covered by the press, both in the US and Great Britain. (I think live viewing was restricted to Canada)

According to a poll of attendees, Hitchens won the exchange with his premise that religion is a destructive force in the world. Tony Blair, who has converted to Catholicism since leaving public office, took an opposing view that religion can be a powerful force for good.

The public appearance of Hitchens was noteworthy as he is currently undergoing chemotherapy at present for cancer of the esophagus. Presently the noted man of letters has a bit of a ghostly appearance due to his frequent medical treatments. Reportedly, Mr. Hitchens had cut back on his chemo, so as to be mentally awake for the debate. My only wish, is that it’s a shame the two could have taken opposite sides on the most recent Iraq War that still lingers on, even to this day.

Toronto Skyline at Dusk
Toronto Skyline at Dusk
Downtown Toronto
Downtown Toronto

First Snow In Montreal

Winter Mural in East Montreal
Winter Mural in East Montreal

Our first snow fell today in Montreal, leaving two to three inches of the white stuff all over the city. The extra few degrees of cold temperatures is a bit of a shock, to the system, but the snow looks very stately as it fills the city parks and covers the cars.

However,  the wind that whips down the cold canyons in the downtown area takes some getting used to, for it chills your right down to your bones. Actually, a warm-up is on the way, but that means all the snow will melt. Life is finished trade-offs, even among the little things.

My departure date from Montreal back to the states is getting nearer everyday. It is not an event that I wish to undertake, for I would be quite happy remaining here at the border of French-speaking Canada. I like the metropolitan area, especially the abundance of art which can be seen everywhere, such as the mural on the side of the building that is the subject of the photograph. Take a close look at the tree in the foreground of the picture, for it is not part of the painting, but a real tree growing on the street. Still, my departure my Montreal has a good side to it, for I will be in warm and sunny South Carolina for December and January. I’ll still miss the friendly city.

The Baie at Night
The Baie at Night

Montreal’s Underground

An Entranceway To Montreal's Underground

I signed up for a tour of “Urban Montreal” the other day, just for something to do. Actually, there’s plenty to do in Montreal, but the tour, which took place this morning, turned out to be an informative and fun event. We even got to see Leonard Cohen’s childhood home and enjoy a very tasty smoked meat sandwich at one of the city’s more famous eateries, Schwartz’s.

However, the main emphasis of the tour was the vast underground network of stores, plazas, restaurants and coffee shops that can be found underneath Montreal’s downtown skyline. On a cold windy November day, these heated tunnels and walkways were a welcome relief to the downtown streets and canyons that often act like a wind tunnel, even in a mild breeze.

Our walk began at noon and as a result the underground areas were backed with office workers enjoying their noontime repast. The amount of eateries and shops that were available to the general public was astounding.

Empty Walkway In Underground Montreal
Empty Walkway In Underground Montreal

The guided walking  tour took us past the Montreal Hockey Arena to the city train depot, then underneath some of the city’s ritzier hotels, including the Hotel Queen Elizabeth, where John Lennon once wrote the music and lyrics to “Give Peace A Chance”. At McGill University, which may well qualify as Canada’s number one academic institution of higher learning and party school, we came out of the vast tunnel system to the world of sunshine and light. From that point on the pedestrian excursion became an art tour.

After viewing the facade of several old churches we got to hang out in front of Raymond Mason’s, The Illuminated Crowd. This 1988 bronze sculpture has turned into a real crowd-pleaser, especially among tourists and out-of-town visitors, who love to be photographed mingling with the metal figures. It may seem tacky at first glance, but somehow Mr.Mason has managed to create a truly interactive piece of public art.

After leaving the McGill area, we entered a building filled with art galleries and studios and then headed towards the Latin Quarter, where much “grafitti-styled art” could be seen. This wasn’t the free variety that outlaw taggers provide at night, but rather public art commissions awarded by public and private entities. On the surface the colorful expressions might somewhat resemble genuine guerrilla grafitti, but upon closer examination and appreciation, it is easy to see the complex visual nature of the outdoor undertakings that Montreal chooses to display in public. Included below are a couple of pictures of the art.

Official Street Art Executed In Black and White
Official Street Art Executed In Black and White
Outdoor Painting In Color
Outdoor Painting In Color

Montreal At Night

Night Lights on a Rainy Night In Montreal

I love walking around this city at night. So much that I often stay up to the wee hours of the morning, walking for miles on end and then stopping at an all-night internet cafe so I can communicate online. The Christmas season is rapidly approaching so by now all the stores are all decorated and waiting for Christmas shoppers. And for the most part they are not disappointed, for the Christmas shoppers are already out and about.

For you see- up here in the provinces there is no roast turkey and pumpkin pie at the end of November. That’s because Canadian Thanksgiving falls right on October 123. That’s right Columbus Day. I’m not sure I like the implication, but the home country sure doesn’t mind for the October is a long holiday and feast day not at all unlike our own Thanksgiving.

Well, anyway with no November Thanksgiving, there can be no “Black Friday” and so as a result the Christmas spirit doesn’t have to wait for the end of November to get rolling. And overall the transition is more gradual because it begins earlier.

Green Wreath At DesJardin Center

The Green wreath hangs above the entrance to the DesJardin Center. This place contains tons of glass and open space as well as a large Food Court with a free Wifi connection. It is good place to go in the morning where you can buy a cup of coffee or some sort of similar refreshment, take a seat and write meaningless blog material, just like I’m doing now.

Poissonnerie in Montreal
Poissonneriein Montreal on Sherbrooke Street
Night Lights in Montreal

And finally we come to this nocturnal explosion of color. Basically, the digital age has been a boon to nighttime image making. These cameras are not only very sensitive to night time shooting conditions, but the final image can be easily adjusted to create a more realistic color scheme.  I use a cheap Kodak Easy Share CX7430.

The camera has been good to me as it is a good nighttime shooter. However the images are not real sharp and a wicked paralax has developed so I can no longer shoot a daytime picture with a distant horizon line, for a wicked series of blobs develops towards the horizon when I do. As a result I shoot a lot of wall scenes and close-ups. I have my eye on a Panasonic Lumix with a Leica lens, but it may be awhile before I can afford one.

Hope you liked the images.