World’s Most Boring Place

The Internet is rife with rumours that Prince Harry and the Duchess of Sussex are honeymooning in Jasper National Park.

Yeah, right. And I’m the Queen of England.

What I find most remarkable is that one of the online tabloids’ headlines said the couple were honeymooning in “the world’s most boring place.”

Canadians are known around the world as polite folks, typically slow to anger. But mock our icons — like one of our oldest, most spectacular national parks — and we sit up and take notice.

That headline got noticed. And ridiculed.

As for that most boring place? Here’s what it looks like.

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Yellow-headed Blackbird

We’ve just finished a second consecutive weekend of summer temperatures, so I am starting to believe that, just maybe, summer has finally arrived.

To celebrate, here is a photo of a Yellow-headed Blackbird — a new-to-me bird I saw the other day at Piper Spit on Burnaby Lake. These birds like freshwater wetlands, which is exactly where I found this fellow.

Wandering Through the Lake District

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
—William Wordsworth

The photo of daffodils I posted the other week had me thinking back to my lovely ramble through the hills of England’s Lake District. It was a sunny, autumn afternoon a couple of decades ago, and although it had been many years since I had studied English romantic poetry, William Wordsworth’s poem, “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud,” was firmly imprinted on my brain.

Likely because I was wandering. And alone. And in the middle of the Lake District (aka Wordsworth’s backyard). I believe I took this photo above Rydal Water on my walk from Dove Cottage to Rydal Mount.

I had arrived in Windermere around dusk the evening before and started off that morning intending to walk to Ambleside. All over England are public footpaths, known as right of ways, where anyone can walk, even if the land is private. The delightful thing about these footpaths is you can take a bus or train to the start of the trail, do your walk, and then hop on another bus or train to get to where you need to be.

To my memory, the paths are well marked. However, I was soon confused and turned around and, well, lost. I asked another walker for directions, showing him my tiny hand-drawn map bought that morning at the Windermere Tourist Information Centre for 20 pence. To his credit, he did not laugh, but he immediately pulled out his full-size Ordnance Survey map — at which point my map felt woefully inadequate and I felt like a silly tourist.

This gentleman set me straight, but it was not long before I was once again lost. I gave up on that path and made my way back to the road where I knew I could catch a bus to Ambleside.

After lunch, I tried another footpath and this time successfully found my way from one of Wordsworth’s former homes (Dove Cottage) to another (Rydal Mount). In the end, it all worked out for the better because by cutting short my morning walk I had more time for my afternoon walk — a walk so beautiful it turned out to be one of the most memorable walks of my life.

A walk so beautiful I started reciting poetry to myself. And, believe me, I’m not the reciting-poetry type.

Several of the English Romantic poets lived in the Lake District, so they are also known as the Lake poets. And the Lake District is truly one of the most spectacular parts of England.

Because I was there in autumn — a lovely time of year, for sure — I saw no daffodils. But someday, one day, I hope to go back in April and see me a crowd of golden daffodils.

Through My Lens: Daffodils

Is this not the wettest, coldest spring ever?

I know, I know. I have no right to complain considering how many parts of the country are experiencing their longest winter in decades. Southern Ontario is in the grips of an ice storm as we speak, Edmonton has broken a 44-year record with 167 consecutive overnight lows below 0 °C, and Calgary’s forecast is for 10 to 20 centimetres of snow.

I have absolutely no right to complain.

And yet, I am. See the dark clouds in this photo? That’s what the skies in Vancouver have looked like for the better part of this winter and our oh-so-cold spring.

I’m posting this photo because these daffodils have been the one bright spot for me this spring. They appeared about a month ago along the seawall in English Bay, a new addition courtesy the Vancouver Parks Board. I love that they were planted in the middle of the grass, rather than set off in some flower bed somewhere.

Nothing says April like a crowd of daffodils.

Except in Canada, I suppose, where nothing says April like one last blast of winter.

Happy Easter!

Ceiling of the Grote Kerk, Haarlem, August 2017

Through My Lens: Grote Kerk of Haarlem

It’s Palm Sunday, and I’m moving on from Amsterdam to Haarlem. This is the Grote Kerk, or Great Church. Dedicated to Saint Bavo of Gent, it is also known as St.-Bavokerk and has been Haarlem’s main church since the fifteenth century. It is enormous and dominates Haarlem’s skyline.

I like this photo because it shows all the goings on in the square outside the church. (This is actually the quiet side of the church — the Grote Markt, or Great Square, is on the other side and is much larger.) All the goings on include two of Holland’s national pastimes: cycling and afternoon coffee, which is always served with a tiny koekje (cookie) or chocolate. My friend and I parked ourselves at the very café you see in this photo in order to fuel up before we cycled the 20 kilometres back to Amsterdam.

Through My Lens: Inside the Oude Kerk

I chose this photo for today, the Fifth Sunday of Lent, because I love how the different features of Amsterdam’s Oude Kerk are visible in one shot.

There are the tall pillars, of course, And the pointed Gothic arches and windows.

What’s unique to the Oude Kerk is its wooden ceiling, which miraculously survived fires that swept through Amsterdam in 1421 and again in 1452 (after which wooden buildings were banned from the city). If you look closely, you can see the remains of the paintings commissioned by wealthy patrons.

And then there are the miniature ships. The Oude Kerk is steps away from the IJ and was traditionally a port church where the seamen came to pray for safety. The little ships are a testament to that history.

Through My Lens: Oude Kerk

My photo choice for the Fourth Sunday of Lent is Amsterdam’s Oude Kerk.

With Oude Kerk being Dutch for “old church,” this church is, as you’d expect, Amsterdam’s oldest. At 800 years, it is also the city’s oldest building. I wish I had thought to cross the canal to get enough distance for a proper photo because this one shows only a small part of the building, which has been extended many times since it was consecrated in 1306. Those are houses attached to the church — houses attached to the outer walls of a church seems to have been a common practice in the Netherlands.

The Oude Kerk stands in the heart of De Wallen — Amsterdam’s red-light district — which can take you by surprise if you’re not expecting it. Every tourist has a story about their first encounter with the red-lit windows in which the prostitutes stand. Mine was many years ago while on a walking tour of old Amsterdam with my much older, much more conservative Dutch cousin. She wanted to show me the Oude Kerk, but all I was noticing were the windows of women facing the church.

Which I pretended I hadn’t noticed. As difficult as that was.

Through My Lens: Inside the Westerkerk

Last week I showed you the Westerkerk, and for today, the Third Sunday of Lent, here is what it looks like on the inside.

European Protestant churches have quite a different feel on the inside than their Catholic counterparts, with the most noticeable difference being how much lighter they are. It’s refreshing in one way, but with fewer stained glass windows and no artwork, some might consider them a bit dull.

Initially there was no organ in the Westerkerk — the Calvinists frowned on musical instruments of any kind — but some 50 years later one was commissioned and installed in the church. In the summers, the Westerkerk offers free lunchtime organ concerts on Fridays, and for one week in August a concert series they call Geen dag zonder Bach (“No day without Bach”), consisting of a daily concert of music by my go-to organ guy: J. S. Bach.

Through My Lens: Westerkerk

For the Second Sunday of Lent, here is a photo of what is probably the best-known church in all of Amsterdam: the Westerkerk. (Westerkerk is Dutch for “western church.”) Built between 1620 and 1631 in the Dutch Renaissance style, it too, like the Noorderkerk, was built as a Protestant church and in the shape of the Greek cross, except its design consists of two crosses placed side by side. Because of this, it has a long rectangular shape similar to a Catholic basilica, but its transepts are wider than in a Catholic church, and there are two of them.

The Westerkerk is about a five-minute walk from the Noorderkerk. It too is situated on the Prinsengracht, and is right across the canal from the Jordaan neighbourhood. Like the Noorderkerk, the Westerkerk was built to fulfill the pastoral needs of that fast-growing neighbourhood, but it ended up being the church of the upper and middle classes, whereas the Noorderkerk was where the working classes tended to go.

The reason the Westerkerk is likely the best-known church in all Amsterdam? Because Anne Frank wrote in her diary how its bells used to reassure her, especially at night. The carillon chimes every quarter hour and today is the only carillon in the city to do so 24/7 (at the request of the residents of the Jordaan).

I listened to those same bells chime through the night my first week in Amsterdam, as I tossed and turned, trying to get adjusted to the time zone. I could see the tower of the Westerkerk from my bedroom window, and when you climb that tower, your guide will point out the Achterhuis (where Anne Frank and her family hid for two years during World War II) and the window from which Anne could see the church tower.