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Maui

A friend’s wedding gave another excuse to fly to Hawaii! This time to the island of Maui.

Açaí bowls, how I missed you

Açaí bowls, how I missed you

Maui was explained to me as more of a rural experience than Oahu. Once you leave the suburban feel of the ‘big’ city of Kahului (box stores galore!) this is quite true.

We made our base of operations out of Kihei, which is relatively central on the island between the wedding location of Lahaina and the adventurous east coast of the island. Our AirBnB was very close to the ocean! And yes, I attempted and failed gloriously to paddle board while there. Apparently I can’t keep my balance. I blame the height!

Kahului to Kihei trek became very well known since I was the driver of the rental car and was ferrying our crew in and out of the airport all week.

The highlight of Maui, in my opinion, is the Haleakala volcano on the east side. It dominates the view and a windy, switchback-filled ride to the top reveals a beautiful vista above the clouds. Note that the crater is not actually volcanic but was formed through erosion.

The crater

The crater

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We were really high up

A popular tourist thing to do is paying for a trailer to pull you to the top and then mountain bike down the switchback (brakes are very important!). We didn’t actually do that, but we passed plenty of tourists who were.

We hiked into the crater for about 90 minutes but the employees at the park were quick to warn us not to go too far since you have to come back up. It was quite the jaunt, and yes, the back of our hands got burnt! Always a risk when you’re not thinking about the sun because it’s so windy and cool.

We hiked that!

We hiked that!

We spent a couple of days in and around Lahaina, the bigger tourist city on the west side of the island. The beaches (surrounded by resorts, of course) were probably the most quintessential idyllic beaches I’ve ever seen. We lounged and swam to our hearts content.

Tough life on Lahaina beaches

Tough life on Lahaina beaches

The tourist center of the town is dominated by a tree (or is it multiple trees?) which create quite the canopy over a central square near the docks.

Beautiful tree at the center of Lahaina

Beautiful tree at the center of Lahaina

We took a tourist submarine down to the bottom of the ocean! So many fish!

Fiiiiiish

Fiiiiiish

Dive! Dive! Dive!

Dive! Dive! Dive!

Sunset in Lahaina

Sunset in Lahaina

While there I tried a local specialty called the “loco moco” which is basically a hamburger, rice, gravy, and fried eggs. I thought it would be novel and mix well – it didn’t. Shaved ice, however, was delicious and we partook several times on that front.

A nearby bar hosted a parrot someone had taught to say curse words.

Dirty-mouthed parrot

Dirty-mouthed parrot

The wedding itself was on yet another day near Lahaina – a beautiful day at that.

Nice view to have a wedding

Nice view to have a wedding

The other grand trip on Maui is the east coast trip around the volcano’s base. A two lane (paved) road called the Hana Highway curls around the coast making for some fantastic, scary driving. It’s advantageous to leave the core of the island quite early to beat the rush, so we went as fast as our car’s crew could that morning.

Beautiful views at a highway overlook

Beautiful views at a highway overlook

One highlight is the Twin Falls Farm Stand, which really is an excuse to wade around waterfalls. (Editor’s note: we actually went here a different day and turned around before continuing on!). We also got to ford some rapid (though shallow) streams, which was exciting.

Note to self: when travelling to island paradises, bring water shoes with rubber soles. We made it to the falls but had to very slowly walk along extremely sharp rocks to the waterfall. It was fun otherwise, though!

Ow ow ow

Ow ow ow

One cool stop was the lava tubes – basically where lava made a roundish tunnel rapidly like a snake boring through the ground. There is private property that has a tunnel entrance down into the tubes. It has very unique geological qualities, none of which I remember of course!

Hello tunnel

Hello tunnel

Sunlight peeking into the tunnel

Sunlight peeking into the tunnel

Another stop along the Hana Highway was Kaumahina State Wayside Park which is a black rock beach. It looks beautiful but the water was dangerous so we didn’t get in too far. Awesome tunnel next to the beach, though!

Beautiful Kaumahina

Beautiful Kaumahina

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The tunnel at the rock beach

We did make a pit stop in the town on Hana which wasn’t much to look at but it, too, had a beach park. We had some interesting fried fish from a local fast-food style restaurant near the water while a local stray dog looked on with envy.

Obviously we needed to swim again, so we made a little detour to hit up Hamoa beach nearby. We spent a good hour frolicking in some significant waves under some grey skies.

Hamoa beach

Hamoa beach

The last part of the trip around the island is ‘not recommended’ by a lot of maps because the road is largely rough and unfinished. Most people turn back at the town called Hana and reverse direction. Our troop voted “no!”, though, so onward! We were also a little worried because we were warned to not be on the road after dark due to some muggings that occur sometimes with locals forcing you off the road. It was uneventful as far as that went, though.

As the driver, I had to reach into my Vermont road experience to make our way around narrow one-lane, blind corner curves. Lots of spots had rusted guardrails about to wash into the sea. We had a couple of standoffs and tucked-in side mirrors with other cars where one of us had to back up to let the other past. It was a little white-knuckled, but we made it.

We finally popped out of the cliffside driving and came to the volcanic field from the last eruption around 1790. It is a rather barren land of dark, cooled lava in all directions.

Cooled lava field

Cooled lava field

On the way back around the volcano we had a very surreal experience. A local popped out onto the road, screaming at us to pull over. I balked at first, but suddenly realized why – they were stampeding horses between fields! Suddenly we were surrounded by horses all around us – this brought a smile to our faces. Sadly I don’t have a picture.

We stopped shortly after to have some photos of the sunset, though.

Sunset over the valley

Sunset over the valley

Our final day we rushed out of Kihei for one last shot of Hawaii by getting to the lava fields south of Kihei to see the waves break against them. Once again, we ‘sort of’ off-roaded it with our rental car and made it there for a short hike. The water was beautiful, crashing against the rocks. We were shocked people were surfing so near the rocks, though!

Boom!

Boom!

Rocks and waves

Rocks and waves

After a very full week, it was a bittersweet goodbye. Hopefully I’ll be back to Hawaii some day to visit another of the islands.

Goodnight, sun!

Goodnight, sun!

The Emerald Isle

Another chase-the-brother adventure found us touring Ireland.

An overnight flight from Toronto found in Dublin airport mid-morning there. I don’t sleep on planes, so that trip is always tough. But I made it!

After the easiest possible customs/immigration process ever (I only had to endure the mocking inquiry of the customs agent as to why my girlfriend didn’t join us), we were out in the city.

Dublin

We bused from the airport to the docklands – a former warehouse district that has now become the business and tech hub. Google’s European HQ is located there along with many associated companies.

Docklands

Docklands

The Googlez

The Googlez

From the bus stop we walked north and found our AirBnb spot. The neighbourhood is entirely English-style homes (connected with small, fenced yards). This is the most common living arrangement from what we saw.

The outside of the house was nothing special. In fact, most of the outside of many of the buildings was a strange stoney-painted look. A local told me this was called ‘pebbledash‘, where they literally dash pebbles against the surface of the home covered in plaster. Most of the homes are built with concrete blocks since wood is at a premium on the island.

Inside the house, however, was an ultra-modern, newly renovated home which we enjoyed greatly.

The other thing that stood out immediately to me was that instead of having a security company sticker on the window like in North America, the homes with security systems have lit up alarm boxes somewhere above the door. Apparently they have no other function than to say ‘stay out!’.

Security device

Security device on a pebbledash house

The Irish also seem to like to hide their appliances behind cupboards. We were confused at our first place where the dishwasher was and at another where the refrigerator was! Those tricky appliances.

All the houses we stayed at also had weird water things. Usually it was that they don’t keep water hot all the time – you have to hit a switch and wait for it to warm up, unless you have a scheduled time for your appliance to turn on. Apparently heating gas is quite expensive there so they try harder to conserve.

As for initial impressions of the people, they are indeed incredibly friendly as the stereotype goes. A taxi driver in Belfast explained to us that mother’s would hit their kids if they weren’t polite – apparently that is effective.

They also really like their pet dogs like North Americans do. My feeling from visiting Paris and Berlin was that those kind of pets weren’t so prevalent in those cities, but in Dublin there were many, many dogs.

In the language department, all the signs are in both English and Irish Gaelic. The Gaelic side is a lot of anti-England sentiment, but I was told by locals it’s mostly not spoken but it is taught in school. On the western side of the country you can get into communities that use it everyday, though.

The Irish also have a few common phrases I heard over and over. They say “Thanks a million” a disproportionate amount of the time and the word “crack” means “fun”. It gives new meaning to getting some crack on a Friday night.

Other weird observations – they have a lot of billboards and signs preaching social correctness like “pick up your dog poop” and “don’t spit gum on the ground” as you can see in the picture below.

BIN YOUR GUM!

BIN YOUR GUM!

Food-wise, it was pretty much as you’d expect. A lot of Irish stew, lamb, and the such. We tried bread-and-butter pudding (an Irish dessert) at one stop and that was tasty. The pubs sometimes have a carvery inside, which is basically a line to get huge, hot plates of food. Oh, and there was Irish breakfast which included black and white pudding (think pork fat, oatmeal, and in the case of black – pork blood). Not my cup of tea.

Breakfast!

Breakfast! Also the best pancakes I think I’ve ever had

We started our time in Dublin with a historical walking tour. Our tour guide had a PhD in medieval studies and was actually from Ireland so she was very informative. She explained how England tried really hard to clamp down on Catholicism with limited success. Trinity College, for instance, was formed as a Protestant only school. You had to renounce Catholicism to attend! You also had to be a Protestant to be part of the parliamentary system they had. A lot of people ‘converted’ due to these hardships, but I’d doubt how genuine that was for many of them.

Along the way she pointed out how the city made plans to build a new city building a few decades ago and while digging discovered a full, intact Viking village under the soil. Historians desparately wanted to keep it for research but eventually they lost in court and they literally took wrecking balls to walls that were hundreds of years old! In memorial there are some markers of the structure outlines and example of things they found, but wouldn’t it be cooler to walk through an actual viking village? What were they thinking?

After the tour we wandered the nearby St. Stephen’s Green to see the ponds and apparently a very intoxicated individual destroying the gardens. Ah well.

Commemorating the Irish Famine at St. Stephen's Green

Commemorating the Irish Famine at St. Stephen’s Green

We headed back to Trinity College the next day to take a look at the Book of Kells in their museum library. The Book of Kells is an ancient, extremely ornate copy of the Gospels written upon animal skin from around 800 AD. Couldn’t take any pictures of them, but the wiki page will show you what I mean by ‘ornate’. The library hall itself is also incredible and was rumoured to be what the Jedi Library in Episode II was based on.

Library

Library

Nearby is the Little Museum of Dublin, which is a home converted into an eclectic museum of Irish history (including a room dedicated to U2!). Between that and the historical tour of Ireland we learned a lot about the fight for independence in Ireland. A major turning point was the Easter Rising in 1916 where the Republicans tried to take over by force while Britain was busy with WW1. This was actually very unpopular with the locals, it turns out, any anyhow the rebellion was squashed quickly by the British. However, the British cracked down harshly with executions and imprisonments. This got a lot of the Irish to side with Sinn Féin in the coming years.

The U2 room - looks about right

The U2 room – looks about right

When Britain tried to implement conscription in Ireland for WW1, it got even worse. Eventually this led to the Irish War of Independence. The Anglo-Irish treaty was signed in 1921 which established Ireland as a British Commonwealth country (similar to Canada or Australia) and the formation of Northern Ireland. This treaty got a lot of people very angry (since it wasn’t a truly independent state), however, and led to the Irish Civil War. The anti-treaty side eventually lost, but none the less Ireland effectively became a republic in 1937 and later officially so in 1949.

(We later made our way to the Kilmainham Jail where a lot of dissidents had to survive harsh conditions and many were executed over the years.)

The jail

The jail

Also of note in the museum was a discussion of the “Celtic Tiger”, which was the rapid rise of Ireland starting in the 90s (with much thanks to their lax corporate tax rules). However, this came crashing down and they’re still not completely recovered. On display was a symbolic art of gold dipped potato chips – shiny on the outside, but lacking substance in the middle. Ouch!

What trip to Ireland would be complete without Irish music and dancing? We booked a dinner show underneath one of the hotels which was definitely worth the money. Of course, it turns out a lot of the Irish music is quite, ahem, dirty, but it was well performed. And we had more Irish food, so no complaints!

Oscar Wilde's Home

Oscar Wilde’s Home

On our return to Dublin at the end of the trip we also made a stop at the Museum of Archaeology. The highlight here was the bog people, which are literally bodies of ancient people preserved in the bogs of Ireland.

Bog person

Bog person

Fossilized fishing nets

Fossilized fishing nets

Belfast

Berlin and Belfast are actually quite close to each other so we ensured we made the train trip to visit the Northern Ireland capital. I just want to note here that the trains were amazing the whole time in Ireland. I also appreciated that the stations all had their stats for reliability up all over the place. Keeps them honest, I guess. It would be nice to see that at ViaRail in Canada.

On the train ride north we saw plenty of the beautiful “Emerald Isle”, though there’s nothing really to distinguish the UK side from the Irish side except for our cell phones welcoming us to the UK.

The Emerald Isle!

The Emerald Isle!

It was interesting hearing more about the UK-Irish side of things while in Belfast (versus the Irish Republican side in Dublin). Way back England had transplanted a lot of English and Scottish non-Catholics (Presbyterians and Anglicans) in an attempt to dilute the Catholic influence. So when it came to a vote much later, the northeast side of the island voted overwhelmingly to stay with the UK, thus the split between Ireland and Northern Ireland. We were told that some people were so vehement about this that they signed their declarations of loyalty with their own blood!

When you this you're in Her Majesty's UK

When you see this you’re in Her Majesty’s UK

A lot of the worries of the loyalists was that Ireland would become too Catholic and that would affect the way they were governed. This actually turned out to be true, such as with things like birth control.

I also learned that athletes from Northern Ireland may compete for either country in the Olympics. Some celebrities, such as Liam Neeson, despite being from Northern Ireland, consider themselves Irish.

I had thought that the ugly violence/political battles were largely over , but just this year there have been a couple of murders related to the old fighting and the Northern Ireland parliament has completely shut down in protest. Life goes on, though. We were also told that basically everyone in Belfast has had someone in their family or friend group injured or killed from the fighting so it’s still on everyone’s mind.

But back to the city itself. The weather was glorious while we were there, which was actually extremely fortunate. Apparently it had been one of the most miserable summers in memory. The city is a little drab – probably dying slowly. They have a bit of a manufacturing base (Bombardier for instance, and the shipyards where they built the Titanic) but we all know how that goes. A lot of the young people move to London or Dublin.

Also of note is that the deLoreans were built in Belfast! We saw this model on display in honour of the Back to the Future year (2015 is the future they travel to in the second movie).

DSC00984

Back to the future!

After settling into our apartment, we meandered around Queen’s University which was quite nice. The gardens were beautiful and the hustle and bustle of students starting their new school year brought back my own memories.

A building at Queen's

A building at Queen’s

Belfast Gardens

Belfast Gardens

More gardens

More gardens

The Ulster museum is also on campus and is very well done.

Ulster museum

Ulster museum

Hello, my stuffed friend

Hello, my stuffed friend

Shrine of St. Patrick's Hand!

Shrine of St. Patrick’s Hand!

The next day we wandered in the opposite direction into the downtown area with the goal of checking out city hall. What an amazing building! We had a great tour of it (though the accent of the tour guide was quite hard to understand!) and it is one of the most impressive buildings I’ve seen. Sort of like a fancier Texas State Capitol building. It was explained that the previously dominant linen industry funded the construction.

Belfast City Hall

Belfast City Hall

Inside City Hall

Inside City Hall

Some of the highlights include memorabilia from the Titanic. One thing was a chess set made of people involved with the actual disaster.

Titanic Chess Set

Titanic Chess Set

Nearby we ate at a restaurant called Made in Belfast which made me feel right at home with its eclectic nature. It could have been right out of east Austin.

We ended the day at Belfast Castle, which is basically a fancy house up on the hillside overlooking the city. There’s a restaurant in the basement where we were served by the spitting image of Luigi (of Mario Brothers fame), complete with Italian accent and moustache.

Belfast Castle

Belfast Castle

We actually had a connection with someone in Belfast so we were able to get a personalized tour of the rest of Northern Ireland the next day. Again, these pictures are unheard of with the nice weather. As you can see, the coast is rocky and beautiful.

Northern Ireland on a beautiful day

Northern Ireland on a beautiful day

Beautiful views

Beautiful views

Even a (chilly) beach!

Even a (chilly) beach!

Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge was one of the highlights – a rope bridge spanning the ocean and rocks below. We also saw a pod of dolphins!

Rope bridge

Rope bridge

Northern Irish Church

Northern Irish Church

The highlight of the day is of course the Giant’s Causeway. The causeway is made up of these hexagonal pillars that look incredibly man made all stacked together. The myth around it is the Irish giant built a causeway to Scotland to fight the Scottish giant but after getting beaten he escaped back to Ireland, ripping up the causeway as he went. In actuality, the structure can all be explained by cooling cycles in the stone. Geology – ruining all the fun yet again.

DSC01094

The stones of Giant’s Causeway

DSC01098

Up close and personal

Galway

Galway is known to be the nicest city in the world in a recent poll. How convenient that we were about to visit that very place. A quick train ride back to Dublin (then a hop to a different station) and then on to Galway.

We again stayed in an AirBnb and discovered yet another Irish appliance oddity – an electric shower head. Weird – and incredibly loud! The host was very nice and even picked us up from the train station, though.

Electric shower head!?

Electric shower head!?

It turns out Galway is a university town – there are a couple of universities there. This made for a happening downtown area when we went exploring for food. There we found one of my favorite places to eat – a hole-in-the-wall that served only meat pies! Mmm, chorizo pie. Yum!

The next day we took a frantic bus tour of the area around Galway. Our first stop was the first of many castles scattered around Ireland. The first is amazing and after that you start getting blasé about it. Ho-hum, another big stone house, y’know.

You get a castle, you get a castle. EVERYONE GETS A CASTLE!

You get a castle, you get a castle. EVERYONE GETS A CASTLE!

We were also introduced to thatched roof houses. Some of the locals still keep up this tradition and it’s quite the trade if you can do it. It’s pretty much as you’d expect it to be – but they have to be replaced with some frequency.

Thatched roof

Thatched roof

Near Galway is the land known as The Burren – a rocky area with some tough farming. Lots of grazing sheep and some fields, though the soil had to be hauled in from elsewhere (or made from kelp from the sea!). There we visited an old abbey that was very beautiful (and still actively used for family burials), but it no longer had its roof. It was explained that the roof was burned during Oliver Cromwell’s assaults on Ireland. He apparently did everything he could to keep down the Catholics including burning their religious buildings. Not a very nice guy.

The abbey

The abbey

The coolest thing we saw that day was a megalithic tomb – over 5000 years old. It was explained that the rocks must’ve been put into place by people packing dirt up, placing the stones, then hauling the dirt away. The stones were far too heavy to place in other ways back then.

Heavy Stone Megalithic Tomb

Heavy Stone Megalithic Tomb

Also of note, in Ireland there are spots of what I might call the first ‘villages’ – permanent encampments where a few families would build dirt mounds and be able to defend with a good view of the surrounding countryside for defense purposes.

Our main reason for visiting Galway was taking a tour to the Cliffs of Moher. Harry Potter fans may remember these cliffs from the movies during the hunt for the horcruxes. Unfortunately, the weather was insanely bad when we got to the cliffs so we could only barely make them out before we were almost blown away. In fact, the tour guide explained to us how his bus had once flipped over in the high winds while he was there previously! Oh well, can’t win them all.

A bit of the cliffs

A bit of the cliffs

Killarney

After growing up hearing the song “Christmas in Killarney”, I knew we had to stop in Killarney on our tour of Ireland. We made a series of complicated train hops (4 different ones in all) to make it from Galway to Killarney. The train ride was fine except for the last leg as it was filled with hungover Irish football fans coming back from a tough defeat to the big city Dublin team. Rowdy! We also got confused about which train car we were on so we thought we had lost our seats and ended up standing most of the way.

It is real!

It is real! Stopped here on the way.

The town itself is pretty small. A little bit of industry outside of town but a lot of tourism it appears. It’s a good place to make your HQ if you’re going to visit the Ring of Kerry like we did!

More Killarney!

Killarney!

Killarney!

Killarney, too!

The Ring of Kerry is a loop around the coast that gives you spectacular views. We took another bus tour to see it. Side note: they were filming Star Wars: Ep. 8 a mere handful of days before we got there. So close!

On the way we drove through Killorglin, a town know for it’s weird Puck Fair. Basically, the locals kidnap a wild goat, put him in a cage for 3 days and treat him royally, then lead him back to the mountain after. Weird! There’s a statue of a goat in the middle of the town. (Apparently Puck is the Irish word for male goat).

We  learned more about peat on this trip. It was the most common fuel source and is still used frequently today. They slice it out of the marsh, dry it, and burn it. It’s ‘renewable’, but it grows back way slower than they cut it out.

Peat!

Peat!

One the coolest things we saw the whole trip was definitely the shepherd who uses whistles (i.e., just his mouth) and two sheepdogs to herd sheep around the hillside. The tour stopped to see this man perform.

He explained that he raises the dogs to have their own unique whistles that mean various things like left, right, and lay down. Because they are unique signals, he can control two dogs near simultaneously to herd sheep together. Also amazingly, the dogs have extremely good hearing – so much so he can speak at a low volume and they hear his voice commands all the way at the top of the mountain from his spot in front of the crowd at the base!

The shepherd and his sheep

The shepherd and his sheep

We also noted that the sheep in Ireland tend to marked with garish spray paint across their butts or back (think neon blue or red). The reason is the farmer wants to be able to spot his sheep way up on the mountain with binoculars! Each farmer has their own unique colour for the area.

Spray-painted sheep!

Spray-painted sheep (this one was in Northern Ireland)!

The rest of the day was spent looking at spectacular views as we traversed the Ring of Kerry.

View from the Ring of Kerry

View from the Ring of Kerry

Waterford

Our final stop of our loop was Waterford, home of the famous Waterford Crystal. These are the people who made the crystal in the Times Square NYE ball and it turns out they make basically all of the crystal trophies for events around the world.

'murica

‘murica

Crystal grandfather clock

Crystal grandfather clock

The facility in Waterford produces the trophies (the other one mass produces the dishes). The craziest part is it takes 7 years of apprenticeship to be a pro at ONE style of cut. These guys have to really know their stuff. I don’t think I’d have patience for it. Obviously, it’s all very beautiful but not for me. I also wouldn’t pay 40000 Euros for a crystal horse-drawn carriage – something they did have on display there.

Expert tradesman at work

Expert tradesman at work

Another interesting fact is that the Waterford Crystal logo is based off the City of Waterford crest – except it’s a freaky sea monster in the crest and a friendly sea horse in the Crystal logo. Marketing!

Waterford Crest

Waterford Crest

The town of Waterford actually has interesting history. It was a viking trading town and was walled for many years. There is one stone tower (Reginald’s Tower) remaining which is now a viking museum. It is also the only town to not fall to Oliver Cromwell – though it did fall to his son-in-law the next year.

Reginalds Tower

Reginald’s Tower

We also went to the Waterford Treasures Medieval Museum which was fascinating. It includes many religious relics such as one purporting to contain a piece of the cross of Christ and ancient ceremonial vestments (complete with the gold thread!). Most fascinating was a history of the English monarchy as they affect Ireland, written out in one long scroll of patchwork skins (the Waterford Charter Roll) – all except one monarch who was ripped out because he was likely gay.

Vestments in the dark

Vestments in the dark

The history of the monarchy

The history of the monarchy

Interestingly, next door to the museum is a Church Ireland (Anglican). Our museum tour guide is Catholic and likes to sing and he noted that he recently sang a solo inside that church. Apparently he wouldn’t have even been allowed in 10 years ago. Times they are a-changing.

From Waterford we headed back to Dublin and wrapped up our trip to Ireland. A friendly people and a land filled with history.

DSC01106

Sunset over Irish castle ruins

To the Far East (of Canada)!

In my ongoing journey to visit every state and province, I found myself landing in St. John’s, Newfoundland. As soon as I got out the airport, I could smell… Canada. It’s probably the trees and the mostly rural area around the airport, but I immediately noticed it. It felt great.

The grand plan: visit St. John’s, then travel along the TransCanada Highway across the island and all the way up to the northern tip near St. Anthony. Finally, return to St. John’s for the Canada Day celebrations before flying out.

The number one priority: see icebergs! When we arrived the newspapers pointed out that a couple of large icebergs were sitting right near the mouth of the harbour. We quickly made our way to to the top of Signal Hill, which is a Canadian National Historic Site at the edge of the city, to take a peak. When we returned another day we actually saw a whale leaping out of the water all the way along the coast!

Signal Hill

Signal Hill

Icebergs out the mouth of the bay

Icebergs out the mouth of the bay

For all you RF engineers out there!

For all you RF engineers out there!

Little did we know what how many more icebergs we’d see later in the visit.

A short time later we wound our way around the harbour and out to Cape Spear, the easternmost point of Canada! The lighthouse is another Canadian National Historic Site. You can see how the family there would have lived and some military remnants from the World Wars.

The Edge of Canada

The Edge of Canada

Light on the hill, y'all

Light on the hill, y’all

The city itself was quite nice – a mix of old town and new build. We spotted a few examples of the quintessential St. John’s multi-coloured row houses.

Up close and personal

Up close and personal

Pretty buildings

Pretty buildings

Cute!

Cute!

The harbour was definitely a working harbour – nothing touristy at all that we could see and boats coming in out with goods and fish. These days the fishing industry is mostly dried up but Newfoundland does have oil off the coast, which provides it some economic incentive.

DSC00448

The harbour

Lunch at St. John’s was our first taste of scrunchions: salted pork cut into bits and fried. It’s served on top of fish commonly. I was really confused when I ordered fish and got what I thought were croutons on it! Scrunchions proved to be common all along our journey.

It was also coincidental that the AHL championship had just completed and the Texas Stars had just defeated the St. John’s IceCaps in the finals. I took the opportunity to jokingly rub it in on one resident we met. He took it in stride and ribbed me right back.

Lots of these around town

We’d return later, but after a couple of night’s stay we headed out to explore the rest of the island. The Trans-Canada Highway runs along the island, connecting the major towns from St. John’s up to the northern tip through a couple of national parks.

The first such park is Terra Nova. Right on the coast, this park features wide expanses of trees and water. We only stayed long enough to drive through and make a few short hikes, but we got a few nice pictures. We also climbed what was probably a fire lookout tower to see the surrounding area.

Beautiful view

Beautiful view

Pretty lakes and trails

Pretty lakes and trails

Our first night outside of St. John’s we stayed in Gander. This town is famous for hosting 38 planeloads of passengers who were stranded during the 9-11 attacks when all air traffic was diverted from the US. The small town’s hotels were quickly overwhelmed and the local townsfolk volunteered their own homes to take people in during what was called Operation Yellow Ribbon.

Gander is also where we got to try some more traditional Newfoundland fare. I tried the brewis, which is cod mixed with wet hard tack biscuit and scrunchions. Salty!

Salty fish brewis

Salty fish brewis

Jigs dinner was also on the menu. This is basically salted beef served with boiled vegetables. A Sunday dinner would be a beef roast with all the fixings and salted beef on top. Weird!

Jiggs dinner

Jiggs dinner

From Gander we went off the beaten path a bit up to the central-north coast. Along the way we started noticing these weird boxes on the edge of the road. It took us a while to realize they were bear guards for garbage pick up!

Da bears

Da bears

We stopped in Twilingate, which calls itself the Iceberg Capital of Newfoundland. A lot of ice gets trapped there and if you climbed the cliffs you could see it in all directions!

Ice up close

Ice up close

Pretty view from the cliff

Pretty view from the cliff

More icebergs in the distance

More icebergs in the distance

This also was our introduction to another Newfoundland delicacy: cod tongues. Yes, they’re exactly that. They don’t taste any different than normal cod, though!

Cod tongues - yum!

Cod tongues – yum!

Gros Morne was next on our itinerary. It is a huge and beautiful National Park. Unfortunately, the day we schedule to do the boat tour of the cliffs was bad weather so we had to take a different boat tour out of Bonne Bay on the west side of the park. The boat guys were hilarious and made us feel welcome, despite the gloomy, cold weather. We trailed after a whale, saw a lot of bald eagles, Newfoundland towns from the shore, and got to ask a lot of annoying tourist questions which they patiently answered. It turns out a lot of artists and writers own homes in the towns but only live there in the summer which makes the makeup of these towns quite different from month to month.

Misty day at Bonne Bay (it rhymes!)

Misty day at Bonne Bay (it rhymes!)

We spent part of a second day driving through Gros Morne on our way north. One part of the park is actually exposed mantle – deep earth that has been forced up out of the crust. Due to the chemical content of the mantle, trees and shrubs don’t grow very well. Little stubs of trees can be decades old!

The mantle

The mantle

We did get to see our first moose, though. Fortunately, we saw it before it saw us on the road. Moose are actually not native on the island and have no natural predators. They were introduce to provide meat to the locals, but have since taken over. Because of this, the hunting rules are a lot looser in Newfoundland for moose; you can even hunt in the National Parks depending on the time of year.

Moooooose

Moooooose

In Rocky Harbour we stopped to get some food. This is where I tried moose burger (disappointing) to keep up my tradition of eating a new meat everywhere I go. We also had cheesecake with cloudberries, a Newfoundland specialty. They’re little yellowish berries individually collected from wild plants that grow there. They were served relatively intact in a glaze. Not my cup of tea either, unfortunately. Later we would have partridgeberry pie, though, which was delicious!

From Gros Morne we travelled north along the highway along what is known as the Viking Trail. Vikings was the second priority on my list so I was stoked!

Along the way we paused at the tiny Arches Provincial Park to see some cool rock outcroppings worn down by the water over time.

Arches in the water

Arches in the water

The coastal highway hugged the west side of the peninsula, so now we started seeing a lot more icebergs again coming down the west side. Icebergs take a couple years to come to Newfoundland from the arctic so it’s been quite a journey for them up to this point. On the far side you can see the mainland – Labrador!

Labrador in the distance

Labrador in the distance

A couple of things we noticed: there is wood cut and stacked neatly all along the highway and people have gardens right next to the highway, too. We asked, of course, why. The wood is because the government allows family a certain allotment from the public lands each year to heat their homes. Unfortunately, the wood doesn’t really grow back due to the poor soil (re: mantle). And secondly, the gardens are along the highway because when the government built the nice road, they dug up lots of fresh, good soil in the process. So the good stuff for growing is right next to the highway, whereas at home it might be too acidic. We were also warned that moose will raid your garden if you have anything good, even right in town!

Ultimately, we were headed to St. Anthony, a small town right near the northern tip of Newfoundland. Oddly, the hotel host was from Washington State – a long way from home! More seafood and icebergs awaited. We even used to have family who lived near there so it was cool seeing where the hospital where they were born.

Lighthouse in St. Anthony

Lighthouse in St. Anthony

St. Anthony is a former fishing town. The historical legacy of Dr. Grenfell looms large – a man who started a Mission to help both the fishermen and the aboriginal people. He even gets a Feast Day in the Church of England’s liturgical calendar!

Back to vikings, though. About thirty minutes north from St. Anthony is L’Anse Aux Meadows – something I have heard about since elementary school. For years people thought the vikings had come to North America long before any other explorers and eventually, through archaeology, they were able to show this was true. Carbon dating on artifacts shows it to be around 1000 AD.

The museum guides carefully explained to us that the camp was never permanent, but was probably used for about 10 years in different spurts. The area at the time had lots of trees for logging and of course fish and berries. In the Norse sagas they discuss a place called Vinland, which historians now think is a lot of eastern Canada including northern New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. The sagas include some tales of meeting both peacefully and otherwise with the First Nations people who lived in the area. Some trade went down, but it ended in conflict.

Our guide

Our guide squatting on the viking ruins

Interestingly, along with buildings ruins, there is evidence of metal work on the site, which the guides attribute to making nails for ship repairs.

Parks Canada recreation

Parks Canada re-creation

We were repeatedly also told that viking is a verb not a noun. These people were most likely normal farmers who would occasionally go “viking”, which could be a lot of things including raiding or bringing back resources such as logs. Also, horns on helmets was not a thing – disappointing, I know.

The historical site itself has some actors in character who would answer questions. Down the road, however, there was a for-profit site that included a full Norse town recreation. It also included a boat that was constructed to prove that the trip from Greenland to the Labrador could be done. Some brave souls made the trip on the second try! It’s a little crazy because there’s no deck to sleep under. If there were storms they’d take the sails down and cover themselves.

The actual boat

The actual boat

The boat's interior

The boat’s interior

Of course, the other thing at L’Anse aux Meadows is icebergs! We had a local fisherman take us out on his boat for about an hour, going round and round big icecaps. He explained that the ‘gunshots’ we occasionally heard were huge ice chunks cracking and falling off icebergs somewhere in the vicinity. They were beautiful and definitely one of the highlights of the trip.

Mammoth...

Mammoth…

...ice

…ice

And so began our return down the Viking Trail. We once again missed out on the Western Brook Pond boat tour due to the long trip, but we still stopped during the still-light evening and walked on the boardwalk across the spongy marsh to the shore to take some beautiful pictures. Those cliffs really seem like something out of Lord of the Rings.

Boardwalk across the marshes

Boardwalk across the marshes

Some LOTR level stuff going on back there

Some LOTR level stuff going on back there

We hauled it back to St. John’s very quickly, stopping of course at Tim Horton’s on the way. Our ultimate goal was to be back in St. John’s for the Canada Day festivities!

That day we went to The Rooms museum, which is a museum about the history and art of Newfoundland. There’s a lot of Irish influence, of course, and at least three different major First Nations groups. Sad stories about ships lost in ice were intermixed with exhibits on things like aprons from all across the province. And they had poutine in honour of Canada Day!

Fancy poutine

Fancy poutine

That evening we made our journey down to Quidi Vidi Lake to see the fireworks. Standing on the deck overlooking the lake singing “O Canada” definitely gave me a rush of homesickness.

The next day I dropped off my family at the airport and spent a few hours hiking around and driving by myself. My finale was visiting Parliament. Given that Newfoundland became a province relatively recently (1948), the building is pretty much an office building. Their website advertised tours at specific times, but when I showed up the security guards had to call to ask what I meant.

A friendly intern gave me a personal tour of the place and allowed me to ask all kinds of annoying tourist questions, such as what they can actually grow there (root vegetables), how harsh the winter was (not too bad in St. John’s, though long), and intricacies of the local politics.

Tiny Newfoundland parliament

Tiny Newfoundland parliament

With that I drove off to the airport, took my last gulp of fresh air, and started my journey to DC to celebrate July 4th (double fireworks!). It was a great trip and I’ll always remember it fondly.

The coat of arms

Coat of Arms outside Parliament

A Tale of Two Cities

TV Tower

TV Tower 

In search of the satisfaction of an insatiable desire for novelty, I forced my family’s hand to split our trip into two parts – one of which would be in Germany. After some Google-fu to figure out which area of Germany would be best to visit for a few days (and because I have a friend who lives there), we chose Berlin! (Side note: Munich is also a very popular destination!).

My first impressions of the city was that it is way more utilitarian than Paris – it lacks the artistic flair of the architecture, even though the buildings were still limited in height to 5 or 6 stories. There were also a lot of brightly coloured pipes above and around the streets in the main touristy areas everywhere. When we asked a tour guide, he said it was to deliver coffee in the mornings to the construction workers and beer in the afternoon (groan). Actually, when Berlin is doing a lot of construction they reroute the necessities over everyone’s head “temporarily”. I use quotation marks here because in some cases they’ve been there for years.

We had no idea what these were

We had no idea what these were

And since we got a bonus visit to a German hospital, thanks to my brother, we even saw one of the infamous Krankenwagens! Silly German language.

Yes! It's real! The Krankenwagon!

Yes! It’s real! The Krankenwagen!

In many ways the city reminded me of Austin. It has a rough east side that is gentrifying quickly, is less expensive then other large cities, has a strong hipster population, and generally feels up-and-coming like my Texas home.

The Reichstag

My first destination of choice was the Reichstag where the German parliament meets. The building itself has been through a lot – it was burned (presumably) by Hitler so he could blame the communists and rush through laws clamping down on freedoms and take full control. It was also shelled almost to pieces during WW2 and the Soviets sacrificed a lot of lives to ensure they could raise the hammer and sickle over it as both sides rushed Berlin. (Hilariously, when the US and the Soviets were drawing up districts, the Soviets messed up and left the Reichstag out of their territory in the drawings and didn’t realize it until everything was agreed to and signed).

From the front

From the front

In the current day, security is super tight – you have to make an advanced appointment to get clearance – but you can still visit. The dome has been rebuilt into quite the modern marvel and it allows you to look out over the city.

Inside the dome

Inside the dome

Most interesting to me is that the Germans try to make everything as transparent as possible to prevent another charismatic leader from taking over. This includes having the ceiling of the Bundestag below transparent to the dome so the public can keep a close eye on what’s happening inside with their politicians.

Pergamon Museum

In order to prevent ourselves from being museumed out, we asked what the best one to visit was in Berlin on their museum island.The Pergamon Museum was suggested and it did not disappoint. Most impressive to me was the actual gate to Babylon – as in the Biblical Nebuchadnezzar Babylon – the Ishtar gate. They moved it from what is today Iraq, brick by brick, and rebuilt it in the museum. It was mind blowing to see it.

Gates of Babylon

Gates of Babylon

The other major draw of the museum is its namesake: the Pergamon Altar. The museum was actually built originally to house it and a large portion of it was transferred from Asia Minor and rebuilt inside, though the frieze actually wraps around the room instead of around the altar if the full building was reconstructed. The statues depict a war between giants and the Olympic gods.

The steps

The steps

The statues

The statues

Berliner Dom

Located near the Pergamon Museum on Museum Island is the Berliner Dom, or Berlin Cathedral. We didn’t originally plan on stopping there but we were walking by and got sucked in!

Berliner Dom

Berliner Dom

It’s actually run by some sort of independent Protestant group, which is odd for such a fancy church, but it’s been passed between congregations several times. It was pretty much bombed out during WW2, so it’s mostly new construction. It also houses some German royalty remains.

Very impressive sanctuary

Very impressive sanctuary

Love the dove

Love the dove

Of course, the best part is that you can climb the whole structure and walk around the outer edge to get an excellent view of the city. Again, not many tall buildings, so it’s an excellent overlook!

View from the top!

View from the top!

And though a bit creepy, I appreciated being forced to walk through the crypt to exit the building. It’s one of those “hey, this is real life, remember?” moments.

Potsdamer Platz

This square lies at the approximate geographic center of the city of Berlin and is a focal point of a lot of the modernized rebuild of the city. We actually stayed nearby so this became the focal point of a lot of our time. It’s also the home of the Canadian embassy, so you know it’s gotta be good!

Canadian Embassy

Canadian Embassy

One of the biggest structures is the interesting Sony Center. It’s essentially a mall, but it has a cool (partial coverage) roof that lights up at night. It’s also the site of German movie premieres so we saw the red carpet rolled out for White House Down and took blurry pictures of Jamie Foxx and Channing Tatum.

Sony Center Roof

Sony Center Roof

Red Carpet

Red Carpet

The man, the legend

The man, the legend

Bonus: After hearing his interview, I learned the word ‘burgermeister’ means ‘mayor’ in German, which is just an awesome word in general. If you’re the burgermeister in Hamburg, then even better!

The Food

The fare in Berlin was pretty much your expected Germany food. Lots of sausage in all varieties, schnitzel, and also really tasty Berlin meatballs. While I didn’t have it, kebab is apparently from Berlin (probably started by Turkish immigrants). There’s one stall in particular where I was told if you see the line 10 people or less, you stop what you’re doing and just go no matter what. Apparently it’s the best!

The one new thing to me was currywurst – basically a big hot dog with ketchup mixed with curry powder. It seems to be the thing to have when it comes to street meat.

Oh yes!

Oh yes! Berlin meatballs. So good.

One of many apple streudels

One of many apple streudels

We also made it a to a ridiculous (and touristy) chocolate shop that had all sorts of large models made of chocolate (or at least coated in it!). Now I just want chocolate after writing this! Yum!

Chocolate Reichstag

Chocolate Reichstag

Oh, and for future reference, they really don’t like to serve you tap water at restaurants. One waiter stormed off when I said I demanded tap water or nothing!

The Wall

When people think of Berlin, they automatically think of the Berlin Wall, right? Most of it is long gone now, replaced only with a brick line identifying where it once divided a city into two different worlds.

The Berlin Wall line

The Berlin Wall line

There are bits and pieces of the wall around the city, but the largest continuous piece (approximately 1.3 km) is known as the East Side Gallery, unsurprisingly on the east side of Berlin. Many artists were given a chunk of wall to paint and some of the pieces have become quite famous, such as the Detour to the Japanese Sector below. In 2008, the artists were brought back to repaint their works after a renovation. Still lots of graffiti, though.

Detour to the Japanese Sector

Detour to the Japanese Sector

East Side Gallery

East Side Gallery

Seems appropriate

Seems appropriate

The Brandenburg Gate

Probably the other major monument everyone relates to Berlin is the Brandenburg Gate. Located a bit north of Potsdamer, it is a relic of the Prussian kingdom where it was a city gate. When Napolean defeated Prussia, he actually took the statue on top (called a quadriga) back to Paris with the spoils. When Prussia later took Paris, it was returned.

During the Berlin wall era you couldn’t even get to the gate! Now right next door is the American embassy (which was also one of the few places in Berlin we saw with flowering gardens).

The gate

The gate

US Embassy

US Embassy

Gendarmenmarkt

This square features two very similar churches on either end, the French Cathedral and the German Cathedral, with the Konzerthaus in between where the Berlin Symphony plays.

We explored the German church which is now a museum dedicated to the political history of Germany. I was very pleased to see how open they were about all the rough times in German history, including the kingdoms before. I left feeling like I knew more about German political history and lore than Canadian.

Plus they had a mini-Reichstag mock up you could sit in. That’s cool, right?

Inside, looking up

Inside, looking up

Checkpoint Charlie

There is a spot you can go in Berlin that was the third cross-over point between East and West Berlin (Charlie because it’s the third in army-speak).

Now's there's a McDonald's on the East side - take that, communism!

Now’s there’s a McDonald’s on the East side – take that, communism!

It’s basically a tourist thing at this point, but there is this “museum” nearby you can go to which is pretty crazy. It’s actually a private collection and it contains a lot of weird artifacts talking about the history of the wall, people’s successful strategies for escaping (including flying machines/balloons), and some discussion of where do we go from here. Unfortunately, the person who designed it went a little insane and almost every surface is coated in walls of text. It’s too overwhelming to spend much time in there.

Auf Wiedersehen

I really enjoyed my visit to Berlin – it was pretty much what I had hoped for. The history of the city is intense, tragic, and in many ways devastating. The future seems bright, though, and I wish them the best. Maybe I’ll be back one day and there won’t be so many neon pipes running overhead!

Sunset on the ruins

Sunset on the ruins

City of Lights

Ah, the return to Paris. It had been about 5 years since I’d last been. A family vacation made a good excuse to go back. (We also couldn’t help but quote Kent Brockman, while giggling, about the destruction of the Paris on the Simpsons: “The city of lights is no more. Paris has been forever snuffed out-” *click*). Considering last time we were hosteling it with an army of college students, an adult trip was sure to be a different experience.

In all seriousness, it’s a beautiful city. Since most of the center part is a standard number of floors it lacks some of the skyline of big cities, but it makes it quite appealing.

I was also reminded that my French is still terrible. Every time I spoke French, even when what I said was correct, the locals asked me to repeat myself. Being fully conversant seemed tantalizingly close, but always out of reach. My mother, however, performed admirably in dredging up her French training from 40 years previous. She was a bit shocked at how much English there is in Paris now. When she studied at the Sorbonne, there was basically zero English spoken except among expats.

Overall, it felt similar to my last visit.

Louvre

Since the first full day we were there it was rainy, we decided to take the necessary pilgrimage to the Louvre. This is where we learned having a brother with a busted foot has its advantages – handicap access to skip the line! Inside, of course, the apartments of Napolean III, the Mona Lisa, and many other fine works of art. I’ll spare you most of those photos and just leave a few interesting ones.

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In the moat hallway

The Venus de Milo statue also necessitates a Simpson’s reference – the “Gummy de Milo” and Homer’s escape from the candy convention: “I’ll see you in hell, candy boys!”.

Venus de Milo

Venus de Milo

Purrrr...

Purrrr…

Sainte Chappelle

On Ile de la Cité you can find the Sainte Chappelle. We had completely overlooked this last time I was in Paris so this was a treat. Floor-to-ceiling stained glass in a chapel attached to a large police station, commissioned by Louis IX.

Beautiful

Beautiful

Conciergerie

Of course, just on the north side of the same building is the infamous Conciergerie. Once a palace, it was a prison/dungeon during the Revolution and the Reign of Terror. Marie Antoinette herself was a prisoner there right before her execution. They now have a monument to her and a mock up up her cell from the time.

Altar in front of the Antoinette  shrine

Altar in front of the Antoinette shrine

Notre Dame

What would a trip to Paris be without a pilgrimage to the famous Notre Dame? Main thing that was different was a massive, wooden entrance way leading up to the building in honour of an anniversary. Inside, it was just as I remembered it.

The famous Notre Dame

The famous Notre Dame

Rose window

Rose window

The plaque seen below honours the British empire countries for helping the French during WWI. Newfoundland is still separate from Canada then!

Note Newfoundland is a separate colony at this time.

Note Newfoundland is a separate colony at this time.

A Search Through the Past

The main point of this whole trip was in fact to see where my mother had spent about 8 or 9 months in Paris, attending French cultural training and studying at the Sorbonne on exchange. We wandered around the Sorbonne (unfortunately, it was locked up) for an afternoon, walking up and down Boulevarde Saint-Michel next to it and going into book stores like where my mother used to shop.

Le Sorbonne

Le Sorbonne

We were, however, able to peak into the French culture center for foreign students which was under a remodel.

French culture! LEARN IT

French culture! LEARN IT

We even managed to get to my mother’s old neighbourhood and buy some pastries from the same shop she used to go to when she lived there. In the picture below you’ll see the one of the left called La Soeur (aka the nun) and the mille-feuille. I really want to try to make a mille-feuille now!

Yum!

Yum!

Even the metro by the Sorbonne was decorative!

Even the metro by the Sorbonne was decorative!

Crêpes! A few of many consumed

Crêpes! A few of many consumed

Musée d’Orsay

One key museum I had meant to get to last time but failed to do so was Musée d’Orsay. It is located right on the Seine in the structure of an old train station, Gare d’Orsay. It has a lot of famous works from artists such as Van Gogh, Monet, Renoir, and Manet.

Apparently it had been fully remodelled on the inside since the time I was last in Paris so it was quite beautiful inside. Technically, photos weren’t allowed but I snapped a few anyway.

Main hall

Main hall

Clock window

Clock window

Galaries Lafayette

After hearing a lot about the Galaries Lafayette, we had to make a sojourn to check it out. If you’re someone who doesn’t like crowds or shopping, stay far away. Imagine a mall where instead of individual stores each brand has an individual booth, crammed together as much as space will allow. Oh, and things are crazy expensive – I saw a T-shirt for 500 Euros.

The ceiling

The ceiling

Room of shoppes

Room of shoppes

Versailles

When in Paris, taking the train to the very ridiculous Versailles is definitely encouraged. It was fun seeing it again and remembering the great time we had the previous time around. I made sure to send an email to my previous travellers from the Versailles McDonald’s – as is tradition.

Versailles Gates

Versailles Gates

Versailles Chapel

Versailles Chapel

Hall of Mirrors

Hall of Mirrors

The inside is impressive, but I’d argue the gardens are more so. However, it means a lot of walking – but my gimped brother hauled around with his bad leg admirably. We even made it back to where Marie Antoinette’s Austrian hamlet right before everything closed – sound familiar, Team 2008?

One of many decorative pools

One of many decorative pools

A lot of walking...

A lot of walking…

There was also this weird art exhibit where trees were made of bronze holding up rocks. Not much further explanation provided.

No idea what's going on here

No idea what’s going on here

Le Jardin du Luxembourg

I have no idea how we skipped this last time (probably because we were metro hopping between stations and not seeing anything in between), but Le Jardin du Luxembourg was something that caught me by surprise. Sometimes home of the French monarchy, it features a large pool, expansive gardens, and plenty of walking paths.

Perhaps because it was summertime, there were a lot of families out enjoying themselves. There was a lot of intense play equipment for kids on the one side, sports facilities such as for tennis, and places here kids could rent pedal cars. Seeing all of it caused one of those weird moments where you suddenly remember, “Oh right, these people lead normal family lives, too.” It’s obvious when you stop to think about it, but it’s easy to keep the fantastical image of Paris in your head sometimes.

sdsdsds

Luxembourg Palace

In the above picture you can see the large pool. Kids could rent little boats featuring all sorts of flags that would randomly careen around the water. I, of course, spied the Canadian flag proudly!

Gardens as far as you can see

Gardens as far as you can see

L’Arc de Triomphe

Climbing the Napoleonic monument of the Arc de Triomphe is tradition, though we were once again able to take advantage of my temporarily handicapped brother and ride the secret elevator in one of the legs of the structure.

From below

From below

From above it spans out in all directions from the center of the hub. The most famous direction is down l’Avenue des Champs-Élysées as seen below. After we had to stop and eat lunch along it to complete the experience.

...and from above

…and from above 

Palais Garnier

While we didn’t end up seeing an actual operatic performance, the building itself, the Palais Garnier, was definitely worth a look. It’s not a particularly old building, built in 1875, but the interior is mighty impressive. Everything is highly decorated and often painted gold. Statues line the hallways.

Impressive ceilings

Impressive ceilings

Oh hai!

Oh hai!

This hallway rivalled the Versailles hall of mirrors

This hall rivalled the Versailles hall of mirrors

The one thing that was particularly interesting was within the main room the ceiling has a newer mural (1964) by Marc Chagal was apparently controversial. As you can tell, it is quite a harsh difference from the rest of the style. Somehow garish, right?

Chagal ceiling mural

Chagal ceiling mural

Eiffel Tower

I meticulously planned the trip so I could be on the top of the Eiffel Tower at sunset on my birthday (29!). It all went to plan! It sparkles after sunset, which we watched from a touristy café nearby.

Eiffel tower by day...

Eiffel tower by day…

...from above...

…from above…

...sunset...

…sunset…

...at night...

…at night!

Final Night

On our last night we made our journey along the Seine in a bateaux mouche – a tourist boat. It was approximately sunset so we were able to see a lot of the same sights we had seen during the week one last time – the Eiffel Tower, the Conciergerie, Notre Dame, and so on.

With that we headed back to the hotel in preparation of getting up early to get to our next destination – Berlin!

Until next time!

Until next time!

Hawaii

Anybody still out there?

I had the good fortune of visiting Hawaii for the first time! (Side note: this takes me to 6 remaining states to have visited all 50. Anyone have a good excuse to visit North Dakota?). I was able to stay with my friend and classmate from university who is conveniently getting his PhD at the University of Hawaii.

Arriving at the airport you are met by lush gardens immediately. This definitely sets the tone for the visit, assuming you leave Waikiki.

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Inside the airport

My friend lives a tough life on a ridge in the Manoa Valley north of Waikiki. Honolulu down by Waikiki is in a rain shadow caused by the ridges to the north so it actually stays pretty dry. However, in the valleys to the north, Manoa included, the clouds get stuck over the north edge of them. This means that the valleys are basically rainforest.

IMG_5462

Tough life

IMG_5464

Honolulu cityscape from the house

What I learned immediately, though, is that it will switch back and forth from rain to beautiful sun repeatedly through the day in the valleys. In fact, it can be sunny and raining at the same time when the clouds at the back of the valley are dropping rain and the wind blows it farther south.

That first afternoon we decided to hike up the back of the valley to see the waterfall there. On cue, it started pouring on the way over and didn’t stop raining the whole time. In an attempt to save my shoes, I ended up doing the hike through inches of mud in bare feet.

Muddy mud mud

Muddy mud mud

IMG_5461

Base of the falls

At least we got a rainbow out of it. I even saw a triple rainbow at one point, though I didn’t capture a good view of it.

Rainbow in the front, rain clouds party in the back

Other first impressions included that there are a LOT of very noisy geckos running around. They make a very obvious noise at night while they try to get it on. They are also in the house. While it seemed like there were fewer insects in general than Texas or Ontario in the summer, there were also a lot of flying termites that came out at a certain time of night. There is usually at least one house being tented in the valley at any given time.

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Hey “little” guy

The next day we started out easy stopping at the very popular blow hole just east of the city.

IMG_5470

Tourists everywhere here

Continuing on we picked up some Huli Huli chicken, which is basically a flavored BBQ chicken roasted on rotating spits, and ate it on the beach at Bellows Beach – a facility that is a military training ground some of the time. I learned very quickly that Hawaiians are really into “plate lunches” that usually include a lot of starch like rice or corn and some meat.

2013-05-26 11.09.06

Yum.

This beach was covered in Portuguese Man-Of-War jellyfish (also called blue bottles in Australia). Small, but painful if you get stung. Plenty of people were swimming, however.

For size reference

For size reference

The hard life continued with an afternoon of volleyball back in Honolulu at a beach just a bit away from Waikiki. The sand was hot, but the crowds were much reduced.

Kehena Point

This is the far west point of the island. We approached from the southeast, parked our car and hiked in. There actually used to be a road that ran along the shore’s edge but it has long since eroded away and they never rebuilt it.

There was some promise of seals at the point, but sadly none were around when we got there. We almost got stuck on the rocks due to the tide but we leapt to freedom!

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Looking east back from where we came

IMG_5493

Abandoned lookout point at Kehena near the water’s edge

IMG_5496

Lava rocks and ocean. Beautiful.

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Water animal life

Koko Head

East of Honolulu is an abandoned lookout point called Koko Head. There is an old rail track running up the crater’s edge that has been (more or less) converted into stairs. Excellent views! It was incredibly warm the day we were there so some people were taking it slow up the 1048 steps.

IMG_5512

Here we go!

At one point the steps became a trestle running across a gap. I was shocked that it wasn’t turned into a walking bridge, but I guess it’s just watch your step and don’t fall through!

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Trestle – don’t look down

I think this next picture shows the steepness of the climb as you can see the steps disappear over the curve. Some other Canadians were at the top, too.

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A long, steep way down. Looking south over the city.

'murica cactus

‘murica cactus at the top

Pearl Harbor

What trip to Hawaii is complete without a trip to Pearl Harbor? Turns out they sell tickets on a schedule to get to the Arizona Memorial and they were sold out when we got there after lunch. Ah well – off to the USS Missouri.

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Anchor from the USS Arizona

The Missouri was the battleship where the Japanese surrendered to the Allies while it sat in Tokyo Bay. An interesting fact was that the Japanese officials updated their wills and prepared for the end because they didn’t actually know if the Allies would torture and kill them or not. Instead, there were speeches of peace.

The other thing that is interesting is that the Missouri was actually a three-generation battleship. It fought in WW2, Korea, and the Gulf War. Battleships are also no longer used in the US Navy – everything is aircraft carriers.

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Rear guns

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The Japanese unconditionally surrendered on this spot on the ship

A kamikaze pilot managed to break through to the ship in one battle and his wing caught the edge of the boat and flipped the fuselage onto the deck, lighting a three story fire. The surrounding vessels thought the Missouri was lost but fire crews from the Missouri put out the fire in minutes.

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The dent is where a kamikaze pilot crashed into the boat

You’ll notice in the next picture it is a copy of the surrender. The Canadian representative messed up and signed below the line, so everyone had to shift down and re-write the titles by hand. Oops.

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Ya dun goofed

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The side of each set of guns shows how many shells were fired per war

This guy in the next photo is affectionately called R2-D2. It’s actually an anti-air defense system that shoot down incoming plans, missiles, and flocks of birds.

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R2-D2, is that you?

Diamond Head

The giant crater to the east overlooking Honolulu is of course the infamous Diamond Head, a popular tourist destination. I had to climb it while I was there, didn’t I? I ended up arriving with a minute to spare before they stopped people from climbing the thing for the day but after a week of hiking I pretty much flew up it.

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Looking north into the crater

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Hello, Honolulu

Food

Lots of fruit and nuts grown in Hawaii. The grocery stores are stocked with macadamia nuts in all forms and flavours. Yum! Also other macadamia-related foods!

Macadamia Chocolate Pie

Macadamia Chocolate Pie

I was also introduced to Portuguese donuts – malasadas! They’re made fresh and hot while you’re waiting with all sorts of fruit and chocolate fillings. The landmark of Leonard’s Bakery is the place to get them in Honolulu.

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Malasadas

Then there were the açaí bowls. Açaí berries are one of those so-called ‘miracle foods’, and some of the local shops make them into frozen fruit bowls. Basically, a huge amount of frozen, mashed açaí berries covered with bananas, strawberries, honey, and in this case, bee pollen. Delicious!

Delicious

Mmmm

On the north shore the big deal is shrimp. There are quite a few food trucks out there selling delicious versions. Giovanni’s is the classic and it was tasty.

Shrimp Scampi

Shrimp Scampi

Cloud Hike

Our last major hike was up the ridges to the north of Honolulu and up into the clouds. It was a crazy experience. It took about 5 hours round trip and we were completely soaked most of the time. Sadly, my cell phone didn’t make it out alive. A moment of silence, please.

We basically traced along the ridge line. We never saw another living soul and the path got more and more overgrown the farther we went. Eventually there were ropes to climb up at some particularly steep and slick rock faces. Thanks, random strangers!

Adventure beckons

Adventure beckons

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Misty goodness

I mentioned we were in a cloud, right?

I mentioned we were in a cloud, right?

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Doesn’t this picture just seem…moist?

Ferns. Ferns everywhere.

Ferns. Ferns everywhere.

It's grey - and wet - out there

It’s grey – and wet – out there

Hello, civilization

Hello, civilization. We’re coming back!

An Awesome Trip

It was definitely worth the visit – much thanks to my gracious host. There were a lot of other beaches, hikes, and waterfalls than I’ve listed here, but I’ll just say Hawaii is a great place. Until next time….

Honolulu!

Honolulu!

Boston Redux

I flew to Boston for Memorial Day to see some friends! I love Boston.

It was actually Game 7 vs the 76ers one of the nights so, while we didn’t get tickets to the game, we did watch it right next to the arena and float through the crowd as they excited victoriously.

Arches near the water

Chinatown Boston

Day trip! Rented a Kia Soul (which I found surprisingly nice) and toured up the coast. Quick stop at Salem – yes, that Salem!

Edge of a pier at Salem

Stopped at Rockport and at a bunch of delicious seafood. I love seafood. Clam cakes galore!

Rockport harbour

Anchors away

Gloucester beach! It wasn’t nearly hot enough (at least for someone coming from Texas) but we got in the water anyhow.

The beach! It was cold!

Yet another modern art museum! I am so predictable. I love their novelty. This is a wing of the Museum of Fine Arts. It was free on Memorial Day – bonus!

I do really like cheese…

On and on forever

On and on forever

A mirror with a black reflection sheet (racially motivated piece of work)

Mirror, mirror

And I leave you with this, also found at the museum outside the elevator:

Words to live by

…aaaand, we’re back!

Apparently this blog had fallen into disarray in my absence. Dreamhost support was very quick to help me out! Back in action.

Return to Boston post forthcoming!

Where Dreams Go to Die

I’m of course speaking of the city of Dallas. This is the city where JFK was assassinated, after all.

We went straight to the 6th Floor Museum, which is the museum dedicated to the assassination. Its name comes from the fact that Lee Harvey Oswald shot JFK while seated in the 6th floor window of what used to be a book company. They wouldn’t allow any photography in the museum so I only have a few from the outside. It turns out to be only a few days from the anniversary of the event.

The old book company

Big lineup for the museum

The whole thing is fascinating but incredibly sad. The Dealey Plaza where it happened hasn’t really changed much at all which makes it even more surreal. On the road outside the museum they have Xs that mark the locations where JFK was when the bullets entered his body. Interesting side fact: the first bullet went through JFK’s neck, through the shoulder of the governor in front of him, through the governor’s leg and into the floor of the car.

The things that stand out to me from the museum include the video of the live broadcast where the announcer is commenting on how expected violence never materialized in Dallas right before his motorcade turns to the eventual assassination spot and how Oswald was himself assassinated on a live NBC broadcast!

Xs on the road where the bullets hit JFK

Nearby is the JFK Memorial. It’s supposed to be like an open tomb to represent the freedom of his spirit and ideas.

The Open Tomb

From one depressing thing to a much happier one: the Leafs were in town so we caught the game from pretty good seats on the cheap. There were probably 40% Leafs fans in the building and “Go Leafs Go” was drowning out the Dallas chants. Bonus: shootout with the Leafs winning! I still haven’t caught a game in Toronto proper, but I’ll get there eventually!

GO LEAFS GO!

What Texas tourism trip is complete without the required trip to the Western store (in this case, Wild Bill’s)? No, I didn’t buy boots or a bolo tie – can’t say the same for my friend, haha.

THIS. IS. TEXAS!

This looks oddly comfortable, albeit creepy.

From there we made it to the Dallas Aquarium which actually has way more than just fish. It was like a big, jungle greenhouse with all sorts of animals.

Monkey Island

The Lone Penguin

These guys are a little lost

Come on in, the water's fine

Finally, we stopped by the Gaylord Texan. Gaylord is a company (a guy’s name) that owns a lot of stuff like big hotels in Nashville and the like. The Nashville Predators’ arena used to be called the Gaylord Center, for instance.

Anyhow, absolutely massive hotel. They had a crazy Christmas event going on so there were lights and giant Christmas trees and the like all through the big atrium. If you wanted to pay thirty bucks you could see a big room of ice sculptures, too. Not my cup o’ tea.

Jingle bells...

Texas star flying high amongst the Christmas lights

Candy store was covered in real gingerbread and candy...

...lots, and lots of candy.

In conclusion, Dallas/Fort Worth is a huge, huge city area. Kind of a boring place over all, but fine for a weekend. 6th Floor Museum and Aquarium highly recommended. Next trip needs to be somewhere cooler.

Android Recommendations Round 2

A few more Android app suggestions.

File Manager – One thing Android doesn’t actually include is its own file manager. This one works great.

Greedy Spiders – A great game where you have to cut/burn spider webs to protect your fly brethren.

Movies – Uses GPS to find out where you are and show you all the movies playing in cinemas around you. See the Rotten Tomatoes reviews and watch the trailers right on your phone.

Pinball Deluxe – Best pinball simulator.

ReadItLater – See a long article while you’re at work? Use ReadItLater Firefox plug-in to capture the article and have it sent to your phone in a nice, easy to ready format for your phone. Works great. www.readitlater.com

RunKeeper – Great application for tracking your exercise. GPS maps, etc.