Archive | April 2014

Happy Birthday, William Shakespeare!

It’s his 450th birthday today ― the Bard’s, that is. I’ve been rummaging through my photos to see if I had any that link to William Shakespeare and I found this one. It’s of the Tower of London.

Tower of London

Richard III, considered by some to be one of Shakespeare’s greatest plays, was almost entirely set in London and several of its scenes take place in the Tower. You know the play. It’s the one that starts out with Richard talking about the end of his winter:

Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York

Richard doesn’t come off so well in the play. Shakespeare probably did more to malign his reputation than any historian. But never mind. It’s an entertaining play. And its setting gives me an excuse to post a photo.

Note the ravens in the photo. Six of them are kept at the Tower because legend has it that the Crown (Britain, too) would fall if the ravens were to ever leave the Tower.

Happy Easter!

St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City, October 2007

St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City, October 2007



I remember the exact moment I fell in love with cheese. The exact moment. Is that weird?

My family and I were enjoying a picnic lunch of sandwiches and fruit after a bike ride through the Amsterdamse Bos, a thousand-hectare park just south of Amsterdam. Mom handed me a sandwich, but I shook my head when I saw what was on it. I hated cheese.

“Taste it,” Mom said. “You’ll like this cheese.”

And ― whoa! That was the moment. I’d spent thirteen years pulling up my nose at fermented milk products, and all it took was a bit of Gouda cheese on bread to convert me to a wonderful new world. At that precise moment, cheese became my favourite food group. It seems, as was the case with me and beer, that I had to be in a country that knows how to properly make cheese (or beer) before I was able to appreciate its finer qualities. The discoveries you make when you travel.

And so, it was my love of Dutch cheese that brought me eventually (perhaps inevitably?) to the Alkmaar Cheese Market. (Dare I call it a pilgrimmage?)

Alkmaar Weigh House

Alkmaar Weigh House

Alkmaar’s centuries-old cheese market is held on Friday mornings from April to September in the Waagplein (that’s Dutch for “weighing square”) located beside the Weigh House. Alkmaar is only a thirty-minute train ride north of Amsterdam, so a visit to the cheese market is easily done as a day trip if you are based in Amsterdam.

Weigh House Close -up

There are always crowds, so get here early if you want to be able to see everything that goes on. Essentially, what you are watching is a tradition that goes back hundreds of years: the cheese makers bring their cheese to the market, the traders and buyers inspect it, and then the deals are made. All the while, men dressed in white carry the cheese using special carriers from the Waagplein, where the wheels of cheese are laid out in neat rows, to the Weigh House to be weighed and back again.

The following is a photo tour of what I saw and learned in Alkmaar. (Click on the first photo at top left to open the slide show.)

Back to the cheese epiphany I had at age thirteen. A few weeks after that momentous picnic lunch, our family settled in at the small Dutch town where we would be living for a few months. We soon got into a routine of going to the weekly outdoor market along the canal. Our first stop was always the kaas stand (cheese stand) where Mom showed us how it was expected that you always taste the cheese before buying. We’d each of us get a nibble of cheese, and then Mom would make her selection.

Oh, for the love of cheese.

Cheeses on Cart

Through My Lens: The Pantheon

Pantheon at Night

Today is Palm Sunday, and we’re moving on to Rome. Rome is also known as the Eternal City ― the ancient Romans called it that because they thought the Roman Empire would go on forever. (Look how that turned out.)

One of my favourite Roman churches is this one, the Pantheon. I like it simply because it is so ancient ― almost 2000 years old.

For more on the Pantheon, check out the photo I posted a couple of years ago.

Palais Garnier

Here’s one last opera house before I turn the channel and move onto other topics. This is Opéra National de Paris, commonly known as Palais Garnier. “Garnier” was the name of its architect. “Palais” is for all the bling.

Palais Garnier

Palais Garnier is located at Place Opéra. Six major boulevards come together at Place Opéra, and there’s also a major metro station. In other words: there’s lots going on here.

And did I mention the bling on Palais Garnier? Here’s a closer look.

Palais Garnier Detail

Vienna State Opera

Since I’ve been writing about some rather tenuous links between my travels and opera for the past month, I thought I’d rifle through my photos of opera houses.

And hey! Look what I found. This is the Vienna State Opera. (That’s “Wiener Staatsoper” in Austrian.)

Vienna State Opera

I’ve been debating with myself whether or not to post this photo as I don’t have a lot to say about this particular opera house. Other than I once took a tour of it. A very long time ago.

I like the photo, though. And I like the intersecting wires at the top of the photo. Usually I don’t like power lines in my photos, but they look all right here. I like the geometrical touch they add to the opera house. Appropriate, I think, since music is all about math.

Right. Enough with the tenuous links.

I read somewhere once that Vienna is London meets Paris. I can see it. Like London, Vienna was once the capital of a monarchy-ruled empire. It has that aura of imperialism that capital cities of empires tend to have. And, like Paris, it’s got those grand boulevards, which, I’d hazard a guess, were modelled after the ones that Haussmann built.

Through My Lens: Basilica Cattedrale Patriarcale di San Marco

San Marco

Basilica Cattedrale Patriarcale di San Marco ― that’s a mouthful, isn’t it? In English, it’s the Patriarchal Cathedral Basilica of Saint Mark, commonly referred to as Saint Mark’s Basilica. With features typical of both Italian and Byzantine architecture, this Venetian cathedral is east meets west.

I came across this photo last weekend while I was rummaging through the collection of black and white photos I shot on my last trip to Italy. It’s my photo choice for today, the Fifth Sunday of Lent.