Thursday, August 31, 2017

Crop Farming in Alberta

This video reassures me that Canadian farmers are following good agricultural practices. We are in good hands.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Gobbins

As I'm putting this post together at the beginning of May, I haven't even left yet on my English/Icelandic adventure, coming up in mere days. On this day (today!) this post appears on the blog I will be home and photos of that adventure will already have been shared in this space.

Meanwhile, I'm already looking forward to future adventures and maybe they will include this guided walk along the Gobbins in Northern Ireland on the Causeway Coast, not far from the beautiful city of Belfast. 

The Gobbins, a spectacular part of the rugged Irish coast has fascinated people since the 19th century when a path was first proposed. Completed in 1902, the trail was free for those who arrived by train (after a ticket inspection). All others had to pay a fee to take the walk. Alas, the upkeep of the Path was difficult over the years and eventually, it closed. Now it has been newly refurbished and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board is excited about the possibilities of a boost in tourism. 

Besides having a ton of interesting botanical specimens - ferns, grasses and tiny plants specific to this seaside habitat, this rugged coast is preferred nesting area for Puffins, Kittiwakes, Cormorants, Guillemots, Razorbills, and Shags. A noisy place during breeding season! The Walk is not open during this sensitive time, but once the nestlings are on their way, in early summer, you can book a day and a time online and enjoy a guided tour.


If you visit the Gobbins website you can see many historical photos and then page down on their homepage and take an interactive virtual tour of various parts of the Walk. How amazing is that! 

There are some restrictions, though, so check it out ahead of time if you want to go. Click here for restrictions. Regular adult admission is Ł10 with reductions for kids, seniors and families. Be aware that there's a steep climb back up to your transport. Totally worth it though! 

Aerial view:

Since you're already in County Antrim and you've already visited the Giant's Causeway and The Gobbins, why not also stop in at the famous Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge an exciting crossing of a chasm over the sea and particular fun on a windy day. More info here.

Image result for carrick a rede


Thursday, August 10, 2017

Knights and Snails

What? Knight and snails? What an odd combo, although we have to admit they both carry armour. 

It's a curious fact that in illuminated books (meaning books illustrated and handwritten, usually by monks assigned as scribes) dating around the turn of the 14th century (1290 - 1310 - did I get that right?) there are many instances of knights facing snails in armed conflict, particularly in the marginata. Of course, it's possible the books could date from an even earlier period, with later additions of marginata

Here's a short video illuminating the idea for us.

Quirky marginata seem to have been the street art of the Middle Ages, a bit subversive but always thought-provoking. It's something to look for if you are lucky enough to view the pages of one of these medieval tomes in the future.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Straws Suck

Confession: just recently I used a plastic straw to drink a smoothie. Then I discovered that there is a campaign on to eliminate or at least reduce the use of single-use straws except maybe in hospitals where they might be useful for patients.

Straws, being so lightweight, blow around easily. From the outdoor table, from the trash container, from the landfill before it gets covered over....straws blow around and often end up in fields, roadsides, streams, ponds, beaches and ocean. The health of animals, birds, reptiles and fish all put at risk because of straws and other plastics that we unthinkingly use and toss.

If we really need a straw, we could use a re-usable one. Glass straws of different shapes and sizes can be ordered from Strawesome. Made in clear or coloured, different lengths and bores and with or without a bend or decoration, they are a bit pricey, but if a straw breaks they will replace it (though not if you are using it as a drumstick, they say)

Colored Barely Bent Glass Straw Set

But if we can drink coffee and tea without a straw, why do we need one for our iced coffee/tea? If we enjoy a beer or a glass of wine without a straw, why do we need one for our cola? 

We've cut down on our use of plastic bags so why not cut out our use of plastic straws. I remember when straws used to be paper and would eventually get so wet, they'd start to unroll in your drink. Why not just drink without a straw?

This is so hard to watch. I cried.

What do you think now about the use of plastic straws? I think in the future I'll use a spoon instead of a straw in my smoothie.

The Last Plastic Straw

Thursday, August 3, 2017

A Bit More of England

Don and I spent our first week in the UK together before splitting up for our separate vacations - him to golf in Scotland with his buddies and me to walk across England along Hadrian's Wall with Wendy.

On arrival in Glasgow on May 11, we picked up our rental car and headed south. Our first hotel booked for that night turned out to be dark and deserted but we were directed by the friendly group playing whist in the next-door community centre to head down the M74 just a bit further to Moffat, a good-sized town with a couple of options for hotels and managed to score a "cottage", actually an annex to the main hotel that was a self-contained apartment with 2 bedrooms, a sitting room, kitchen and large bathroom. Perfect! And quiet! 

The next day we headed down to the Lake District, spent the night in Staveley and then headed over to Yorkshire, visiting the Yorkshire Downs, Skipton, Harrogate and York. 

We didn't take many photos. These are a few.

from Bolton Abbey, founded in 1154 by the Augustinians near Skipton in the Yorkshire Dales: It was pouring rain when we arrived, so photos are dark.

The priory. The west end is still in use as a parish church. The east end is in ruins from 1540 when the monasteries were no longer allowed to remain during the reign of King Henry VIII.

The Bolton Abbey grounds are extensive and on a better day, we would have looked around a lot more. This day, we retreated from the rain into this lovely tea room.

Then ventured outside again to admire the size of this tree

and some typically awesome English gardens

We drove through the Yorkshire Dales, but on dark and dreary days the photos were not inspiring. Our visit to Harrogate was interesting but also marred by rain. We managed to score a table at the world-famous Betty's for an afternoon coffee and watched the rain from inside. Breads, cakes, scones and chocolates, hot beverages and light lunches have been served here since 1919.

With 2 nights in Skipton, we walked up to see the castle, remarkably well-preserved and went on a canal boat for a short distance which was pretty interesting too. 

The rain was spottier in York and we took a Hop-on-Hop-off Bus for a city tour and did quite a bit of walking around. 

The narrow streets and unavailability of parking meant we had to leave our car outside the walls of the old city and trundle our bags about a kilometer across cobblestones into our accommodations.

Our hotel, Galtres Lodge, was just around the corner from York Minster Cathedral and just behind our window was the Cathedral School. We attended Evensong at the Minster to hear the choir. Wonderful!!

In the same courtyard as the Cathedral is the much smaller St. Michael-Le-Belfrey, with beautiful windows, though different from Yorkminster.

Constantine the Great hangs out just behind, keeping watch. He was the Roman emperor who converted to Christianity.

To Constantine's right, you can see part of York Minster where there are ongoing repairs.

 From York, we headed to Newcastle for one last night before parting ways. As you might expect, Newcastle has a castle. We were there after closing time but snapped a few photos anyway.

We walked about a bit before dinner but did not venture down the hill to the Tyneside since it meant having to climb back up and of course, I knew I'd have a close view of the waterfront in just over a week's time on the last day of our walk.

There was a pedestrian way with some sculptures. I liked this one.

 And that's about it for our trip. We had a great time exploring some of the Lake District and Yorkshire. Also enjoyed the North York Moor on the way from York to Newcastle. There's always so much to see and do in the UK. I hope to go back soon!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Iceland: The Last Morning

With a few spare hours before we had to head to the airport, we decided to go back to Hallgrimskirkje to look inside.

We waited at this door for the 9 am opening time.

These massive organ pipes are at the rear.

The sanctuary is a mixed-purpose space. The seat backs swing the other way when the room is to be used as a concert venue. 

 We took the elevator up to where there are more stairs to the top of the spire.

We saw the clock from the back and discovered there is one on each of the 4 sides.

There are portholes for viewing the city from above.

A lot of the homes we could see from up here are clad in brightly coloured corrugated iron, sort of like homes made from shipping containers. 


The other day on our walking tour our guide had mentioned the popularity of metal-clad houses in Iceland. In the mid-1800's corrugated iron was cheap as well as durable in the harsh Iceland climate and was readily available at a time when building homes, as well as other buildings, was a bit of a challenge in a country with very little left in the way of forests, thanks to Viking ship-building and extensive sheep grazing. The corrugated iron arrived on British ships that were looking to buy wool. 

Today these old houses, restaurants, supermarkets and churches are being spruced up on the outside with (often) bright colours, cute trim work around doors and windows, bright flowers and landscaping to help the curb appeal and are being renovated to modern standards on the inside. In fact, metal-clad homes with metal roofs are now very much in demand in the Icelandic real estate market. 

With some time still on our hands, we walked about visiting bakeries :)

 Busy places - customers were lined up and bakers were hard at work.

 I bought a sourdough loaf to bring home but that meant I had to ditch my dying hiking boots to make room in my backpack.

More walking - 

So many cats. Apparently, owners leave a window open for their cats year-round so they come and go at will. I'm not sure how this policy affects the urban bird population. 

You might wonder about wasting heat energy, but with geothermal energy, hot water enters the homes directly from the ground and heats homes very cheaply. Hot water from the tap, naturally potable, also comes from this underground source and has a distinct sulphurous odour. Cold water comes from a treatment plant. 

The other day on our walking tour the guide told us that one of the most popular activities in Iceland is the daily swim. Almost everyone heads to their favourite swimming pool, most of which are outdoor pools, for a daily dip or exercise. The pools, all warm, are filled with that geothermal water. 

School kids are required to learn to swim in order to graduate and there are a lot of pools to choose from. Even tourists are welcome to swim at any of the pools for a modest fee. It's a local secret that they are as good, if not better, facilities than hot springs. There is an etiquette around swimming pools, showers and locker rooms so it's best to read up on it before going. Nude bathing is not a thing, but naked and thorough showering is.

By now it was time for a morning snack so we stopped in at Sandholt Bakery.

My esteemed travelling companion

Lots of comfy seating.

Hmmm....what to choose? 

 A Danish and an Americano for me, please!

Of course, I'm chuckling, grimacing now that I'm home and my credit card bill has arrived. One thing to understand is that the Icelandic Krona is not easily understood when you're standing at the cash register:

1 Icelandic Krona = $0.013 Canadian Dollar

Everything in Iceland seems incredibly expensive. The fee for the public bathroom at Geysir the other day was 200.00 ISK.
The loaf of bread I bought was 890.00 ISK and my coffee and Danish were 1345.00 ISK

In Canadian $ that means I paid $2.79 to use the loo, $12.59 for the loaf of bread and $19.00 for the morning snack. The soup lunch at the airport? Also expensive - $30! Worth it though, when you're on vacation and sharing time with a treasured companion! Also, the bread was really tasty and lasted most of the following week, prolonging the Icelandic experience and helping a little with that fall in one's spirit that comes after a wonderful adventure.

There are ways to save, though, if you're planning on a trip to Iceland and that's by plate-sharing and buying a few groceries.

Finally, it was time to head back to our home-away-from-home to collect our 
bags and get to the meeting point for the Airport shuttle.

On the way back some military planes flew at high speeds over the old town. It was very loud and a bit disturbing since we had recently learned/been reminded that Iceland does not have a military, only a Coast Guard which is mainly concerned with illegal fishing and Search and Rescue. Wendy consulted her phone and quickly found the following information, dated May 22, 2017:

Canadian CF-18 fighter jets will begin patrolling Iceland's airspace today as part of Canada's contribution to NATO. The operation is intended to identify and intercept aircraft that approach NATO airspace in Iceland. About 180 members of the Canadian Forces will be involved in the roughly month-long operation that involves six CF-18fighter jets.

The aircraft will operate out of Keflavik Air Base near Reykjavik.

The campaign is part of Operation Reassurance, intended to reinforce the defence of NATO countries in Central and Eastern Europe. Operation Reassurance is also intended to ease concerns of NATO allies in the face of Russian aggression toward Ukraine.

Iceland is the only NATO country that does not have a standing military.

It was a grey ride to the airport

We were cheered at the airport by meeting the mother-in-law of our host who was on her way to visit Barcelona with her sister. The four of us ended up sitting together to eat lunch. 

On the flight back to Toronto, the skies cleared now and again so this avid window-watcher could snap some pics.

Thrilled to see Greenland! 
Apparently, the joke is that Iceland is green and Greenland is white.

 The entire cabin was treated to an ice-cream bar to celebrate Icelandair's 80th birthday that very day.

Perfect ending to a perfect holiday!

Our stop-over took place May 30 to June 3, 2017

On the blog:

Day of Arrival
Golden Circle Tour
A Walking Tour of Reykjavik
Whales and Puffins
Last Morning