Category Archives: Victoria

Active Pass, British Columbia

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It was gorgeous that June 24th 2007 as I made my way by ferry through Active Pass. It brought back dreamy memories of Canada when I lived there. Our ship, a Spirit class, was operating under the BC Ferries company name and magnificent she was too.

The pass is famous for its narrow, windy channel that is flanked to the south by Mayne Island and Galiano Island to the north. As you enter the straits from the eastern side, you come from open the open waters of the Strait Of Georgia and what follows is an amazing experience.

You’ll pass by the green and hilly northwest tip of Mayne, typical of British Columbia scenery. The West Coast Cedars may practically be smelt from the ship, a few hundred metres into the strait. You can feel the breeze as the ship effortlessly glides over glass-like surface.

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Suddenly, the passage alters course and now the captain has to put the wheel hard to starboard to negotiate the twists and turns. As the vessel eases out of its turn, you observe another Spirit class headed in the opposite direction. What a rush!

It was as wonderful that day as it had ever been when I lived there. The steep cliffs that straddle the channel, combined with a strikingly green environment plus the sheer beauty of it all really makes my spine tingle, even now.

If you visit this area, be sure to take the Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay ferry run. You’ll never forget it. Plus the company is very reliable, serves decent food and keeps the crossings short. 🙂

A lonely night in Stratford

English: The Broadway of Stratford, London.

English: The Broadway of Stratford, London. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Two a.m. in the morning is never a good time unless you’re partying or asleep. But when you’re in the middle of a closed, open-air shopping complex in London’s Stratford area, its not good at all. I was here having come back from Copenhagen on a late-night flight. It took until past midnight to get through customs and then there was a wait for the bus. But I got there o.k.

I just had to wait here until the underground opened, then travel across London to get the bus home to Gloucester from Victoria station. It was going to be a long night, “so just wrap up  warm on the bench and sit tight tight!” I thought to myself.

Londoners and Olympics fans intermingle on the...

Londoners and Olympics fans intermingle on the Tube (Photo credit: AndyRobertsPhotos)

Anyway, about three a.m., these two guys come up and start chatting to me. They weren’t threatening,  just  “night owls”. They were ushered on by a security guard but not before they asked if I was Australian, because of my accent. I said “you got it!” and smiled. After they left, I had a giggle. I’m Canadian!

Maltese Margherita

Courthouse, Valletta, Malta

Courthouse, Valletta, Malta (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Mediterranean warmth, it is easy to get carried away with yourself. I wasn’t. I was stuck in Sliema, Malta, with no Euros. Plenty of money if you counted the Pounds Sterling. This happened for a simple reason.

After being deterred from transferring my money into Euros three days later, I had decided to wait too long. Now I was there with no money.

This wasn’t going to be solved easily either. It was a Sunday, when businesses are closed, and I had arrived on the day, of all days, when the Labour Party won over the Nationalist party for the first time in twenty-five years.

That meant that the following day was a bank holiday. Great. This meant that I would have a hard time finding a place to transfer money the next day.

But, for now, all I needed was to eat. Eventually, I found a pizza hut where I ate a Margherita and was able to have another customer put the meal on their tab, later transferring the pounds sterling they received. That was really nice of them!

Pastries in Valletta

Republic Street, Valletta, Malta 1

Republic Street, Valletta, Malta 1 (Photo credit: John Drinkwater)

Valletta was lovely that day. It was the last full day of my holiday and it going to be made the most of. As I chose a particular bench in the city’s main square, I heard a voice from over my shoulder.

a nice old maltese man

a nice old maltese man (Photo credit: S.H.CHOW)

It was a little old man asking if I was from Denmark. It took me a second to realise why. Of course, it was because of the pastries! “No”, I smiled, “I’m from the United Kingdom“.

We began to chat and he asked me what I was doing in Malta. I told him that I was sampling it so I could write a blog about it.

He said he liked to have sweet food as well. He had his eye on my pastries! I kindly offered him one and he took it.

It transpired that he had worked in the UK when he was young, as a waiter for three years, returning to Malta after that.

Apparently, his mother would not stop nagging him. He asked if I had any kids of my own or a wife. “No”, I said, “not yet”!

Old London Town

The clock tower of Big Ben at dusk. The north ...

The clock tower of Big Ben at dusk. The north end of the Houses of Parliament London, with The London Eye in the backgound. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here friends, old and young, crowd the bars of taverns in the wet winter evenings and “going for an Indian” happens every other night. This is the place where you may find coffee stalls close to arches of marble and bells named Big Ben strike every hour. 

It’s where you can view a radio recording and see such exhibits as the tea clipper Cutty Sark, rebuilt wonderfully after an arson attack, in addition to sampling Greenwich in its subtle charm.

Where the wafting smell of fish and chips is as familiar as that of the curries. It is, of course, old London town!.

English: This photo was taken in September 1997.

English: This photo was taken in September 1997. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s one of those cities where, if you have somehow super-humanly exhausted all the museums, art galleries, theatres, parks, architecture, famous sights and countless other venues, you may simply sit by the river and sip on a beverage with the fantastic views of this metropolitan kaleidoscope.

Thats the UK’s capital.The lore of this city precedes it. It is the most visited city on earth.

The memories I have of this gem of gems are varied and long, even in grey London mist.

These memories are but a ten-thousandth of all there is to do within its boundaries.

This is a city quite unlike any other.

It is an odd blend of geography, culture and heritage welded by modernity as much as the midst of time.

Sociology, fashion, culture and practicality play a part like in no other city, a place whose history could only be that of the capital of what was once the largest empire the world had ever seen.

A nation whose history of an island race, the trade routes and colonies of whom spread the circumference of the globe, thats what it is. London is a city that is described as being dull, grey and lifeless.

Anyone who says that hasn’t seen the Notting Hill Carnival or “Cats”. There is more colour and vibrancy in this city than is possible to comprehend.

Notting Hill Carnival 2006 (London, UK)

Notting Hill Carnival 2006 (London, UK) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Architecture? Fine as anything, what with the Natural History museum, the Victoria and Albert museum, the Gherkin and so forth.

Tower Bridge is my favourite of all. Its majestic shape may be seen all along both banks of the city and stand as a beacon of the United Kingdom. When it is lit up for special occasions, it is one of the great buildings of Europe.

Something about its elegance seem quintessentially English. Not just because we associate it with England, but its appearance is very anglo-saxon.

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The British Museum, seen below, is the building that holds some of the oldest artifacts in Britain. It is a magnificent building on the inside, a true feat of art. Also, it holds many items from other great empires such as the Greek and Egyptian ones.

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Ever seen St. Paul’s  Cathedral, designed by Sir Christopher Wren in the 17th century? Well, if not, you are missing out on a real treat. The legend of this building is an epic one. It was built in 1666 after the great fire of London.

English: St Paul's Cathedral, London. Designed...

English: St Paul’s Cathedral, London. Designed by Sir Christopher Wren, built 1677-1708. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

During the Blitz of the Second World War, it was barely scratched. St Paul’s underground stop, on the Central Line, is nearby. There’ll be a paved walkway on your left-hand side. Go down it in the opposite direction to the one you came out of the station facing in.

Then, there are the cubby-holes like The King’s Wardrobe. The heady sounds and sights of cloud-cuckooland will overwhelm you and you will find perfectly relaxed citizens reading, chatting and otherwise enjoying life in them.

We stumbled across this place quite by accident one day as we headed for the cathedral.

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One can observe Horse Guard’s Parade at 16:00. Where else do you get to see the sight. We did one year.

Fantastic it was too, seeing them in their parade dress and march up and down is absolutely terrific. This was the site of the beach volleyball during “the greatest show on earth”.

Thats right. What other city could possibly have been the site for the 2012 Olympic Games? I thought you wouldn’t argue with me. It could only be this way. It was the year when every Olympic team had at least one female athlete.

The year with the largest number of competing athletes. Terrific! And we came third in the medals. By Jove, old boy!

It has to be the greenest city in Europe as well. No shortage of parks. If you stroll in Hyde Park, for example, you’ll have the green trees in summer and The Long Water, the lake that almost completely separates it from Kensington Gardens, in the picture.

Now, about those coffee stalls I mentioned. You can usually find a few in these areas. They will charge a reasonable rate and the products are scrumptious!

Kensington Gardens

Kensington Gardens (Photo credit: edwin.11)

Turnpin Lane is in Greenwich and its here that you’ll find a quaint little market where Irish fiddles are played and many culinary goods may be devoured.

Although, if you’re a vegetarian like me, you may find the smell of meat undesirable. There is also a Wetherspoons restaurant nearby at The Gate Clock pub.

I remember a blazing hot day when I was fifteen and my mother and I decided to see the famous HMS Belfast, a second-world-war cruiser that lies on the south bank, the nearest tube station being Southwark.

The ship is the last of its kind and belongs to the Imperial War Museum group. They have preserved this ship perfectly. The stories of her battles are accurately told, the ship’s cafe is clean with palatable food and ship is spotless.

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A city of eight million people that probably has as many surprises. If you’ve ever wanted everything, it’s here. You’ll have a magical experience when you come to grey, wet London.

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British Columbia and the Prairies

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Late June. the time of sunshine, green grass, getting out of school…and…an attempt at crossing the nation. Imagine that. Us setting out from the southern tip of Vancouver Island and inching across the second-largest country on Earth.

From the fjords and inlets of British Columbia through the Rocky Mountains and their glaciers, across the great wide open spaces and golden wheat fields of the Prairies, through Ontario in early Autumn, the forests of Quebec and, finally, to the ruggedness of the eastern “Maritime” provinces of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.

Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the great nation of Canada!

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This was a family experience to behold. We got as far as Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. My sister, my mum and dad, our dalmatian, Daphne, and our Volkswagen camper. But it was great fun, we had two weeks on the road and they were an eye-opener for a ten-year-old.

The first day covered the always-scenic ferry route between Swartz Bay near the town of Sidney, B.C., where we lived, and Tsawwassen, outside Vancouver. The hour-and-a-half sailing conjured up a romantic image.

There was Active Pass between Galiano and Maine Islands, where the west and east-bound ferries would pass within a few hundred metres. It was always entertaining to wave to the other ship.

English: BC Ferries' Queen of Saanich navigati...

English: BC Ferries’ Queen of Saanich navigating Active Pass enroute to Swartz Bay, British Columbia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By dusk we were in the interior of the province, a place called Osoyoos, home to Canada’s one and only desert. It was a pleasant, green site in evening sunshine where we camped, and toasted to our journey with plastic cups and apple juice.

They were fun nights too. We would listen to the crickets croak. Just of think of that. Us sleeping amongst the wilds of the Pacific Northwest. It gave me goosebumps.

We would chit-chat into the small hours and awake, groggy, to a bright sunshine overseeing the mountains overseeing the valleys in high summer. I’d never wanted to get up early before that. I’ve done it ever since.

As we crossed deep into the Interior of British Columbia, we came across its unspeakable beauty. We stopped in the small town of Nelson, often seen in movies. This hillside town overlooks a lake of the same name and was a pleasant addition to our trip. It is notable not only for its scenery, but for its character.

English: Mount Robson, Mount Robson Provincial...

English: Mount Robson, Mount Robson Provincial Park, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It conforms to a grid system for its streets but it seemed not to have a false atmosphere. The campsite was spent amongst a campsite full of greenery and trees, occupied, in turn, by cute, fuzzy creatures such as raccoons and squirrels. It also had exquisite Lake Nelson as its backdrop.

Rocky Mountains

Rocky Mountains (Photo credit: The Brit_2)

Some pleasant memories lie in that campsite. My family were all together, my sister and I were able to run around unrestrained. As we walked our dalmatian on the gravel, dog-poo littered beach (I just ruined everyone’s pristine image of the my homeland), I felt the most joy I had done in many months…possibly even years.

The Fraser river! Many have chanced the rapids of this rushing torrent of water and lost. The whitewater rafting goes on all year and is not to be tackled by the faint-hearted.

There had been no deaths that year, to our knowledge, but we felt that we neither had the money nor time (bags of courage!) to brave the iciness and extreme, life-threatening cold that it had to offer.

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If you’ve never seen a glacier, then you should start with the Columbia Glacier. It is FANTASTIC!! One could see the thickness of it from our angle. It must have been a hundred feet thick at least! Wow, that took it out of me…Its too bad that we only saw it from the vehicle. But it will last with me forever.

Jasper was great, the national park where elk and man may co-exist. The park lies on the Albertan side of the provincial border. The creatures wander around freely and will even come up close and personal with your vehicle. They’re sweet mammals, too. Leave them alone and they won’t harm you. Here are some shots of the park…

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We spent two days here, swatting mosquitoes and other animals, namely elk and humans, before penetrating deep into Alberta true.

Alberta, as you may have presumed, is named after British royalty and has the amazing claim that one can sometimes drive for 10 miles with not even the slightest bend in the road, shuffle up to a closed train crossing and sit for several minutes while a train pulling more than a miles worth of wheat carriages goes by, and drive another ten miles with no bends again.

I scooped up  pile of dirt in a plastic cup labelled “Alberta”; a tradition that I followed through on in Saskatchewan.

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Canada is the world’s largest exporter of wheat and the fourth largest grower. It isn’t difficult to see why when you consider the distance between the Canadian Shield…a rocky, barren sub-tundra group of ice-age rocks…and the Rocky Mountains.

It is seven to eight hundred miles by road from Calgary to Winnipeg, depending on which road you take. As for the campsites in this part of the world, they’re o.k., except for when we stopped at a place called North Battleford, Saskatchewan.

It was run down, only offered a broken picnic table, stank of the brown stuff and had more mosquitoes than grass blades. It was around this time that we decided, due to our camper’s chronic engine trouble, that it was best to head as far as Moose Jaw.

We then witnessed an air show, and head home. This met with some disappointment, but we were running a little low on the ka-ching so it had to be done. Besides, this is what Saskatchewan looks like…

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As I recall, the show was pretty good for my dad and I, but purgatory for my mother and sister. I don’t blame them. I think of how much I used to hate clothe-shopping. Now it’s rather fun. We saw the famous Snowbirds there…just three passes, kinda dull.

Then there was the chance, which I took, to sit in the front cockpit of a “Tutor” trainer aircraft, the type used by the team, and flick switches! It’s a shame I have no photographs of this or the other two journeys, in the blog. We were glad, of course, to see our house again.

Once, we had an attempt, and failed again, at a four-day jaunt from our home on Vancouver Island to Calgary. Our little Honda Accord had ignition trouble. Great.

We did, however, get to drive through Hope, in Silver Lake Provincial Park, and other small communities such as Penticton and Revelstoke, where we aborted the attempt.

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Description unavailable (Photo credit: Magalie L’Abbé)

I remember us having to receive assistance from the ferry company when we docked to start our car again. Oh boy…they weren’t happy.

But it truly was a privilege to lose myself in the wilds of the Rocky Mountains.

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