Through My Lens: Galiano Evening

The best thing about living on the West Coast? You never tire of the view. I took this photo last weekend while on a Galiano Island mini-break.

To the Moon and Back

Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the moon. July 1969, AD. We came in peace for all mankind. — Neil A. Armstrong, Michael Collins, Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr.

I took this photo of our moon two years ago, during my summer in Amsterdam. At the time I set it aside, not thinking it would ever be an appropriate photo for a travel blog.

But with all the build-up this week to the anniversary of Apollo 11, it seems like an appropriate photo for today, the 50th anniversary of the day Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon. After all, isn’t space the ultimate travel destination?

I was too young in 1969 to remember much of Apollo 11. I have a vague memory of looking up at the night sky and asking my mom if the astronauts were on the moon at that very moment. “Maybe,” she said, but as I think about this memory, I know it was highly unlikely at that age that I was taking a walk outdoors after dark in the middle of July. And so, as we say in my family, I probably dreamed it.

As I watch all the documentaries on TV this week about Apollo 11, there are two thoughts that keep coming back to me. The first is that walking on the moon seems so very concrete compared to what we’ve seen of space travel in the past few decades. A man or woman taking a spacewalk from the Space Shuttle or the International Space Station leaves no trace. But a walk on the moon … there are footprints.

And the second thought is that, for a while at least, all of humanity was united in aiming for and achieving a common goal.

Would that all of humanity could be that unified again.

Raccoon at Scarborough Bluffs

I spent much of May gallivanting around the Eastern Time Zone, and most of June sorting through my photos and planning what blog posts I might write about my travels.

This photo though. Not your usual holiday snap, but it makes me laugh every time I look at it. I met up with this raccoon one evening in Toronto while exploring the Scarborough Bluffs with a friend.

For my non-Canadian readers, raccoons are known in this country as trash pandas. They’ve adapted remarkably well to urban living and are known for finding their dinner in our garbage cans. Toronto spent millions developing and purchasing raccoon-resistant green bins — only they turned out to be not so resistant.

Back when I lived in Toronto, I had a mom and her three kits hanging around my house for an entire summer. Every evening, like clockwork, they would amble along the fence in my backyard as I watched from my kitchen window.

Here in Vancouver, I see raccoons mostly in Stanley Park, although one hot summer afternoon, I noticed a hefty raccoon napping in the tree outside my window. The tree is long gone — it came down in a winter storm — but I thought the clever creature had found a innovative solution to the heat.

The raccoon got its name from the Anishinaabe word aroughcun, which means “one who rubs and scrubs and scratches with its hands.” Raccoons are known for washing their food before they eat it.

Anthony Bourdain

If I’m an advocate for anything, it’s to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river. The extent to which you can walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food, it’s a plus for everybody. Open your minds, get up off the couch, move. Anthony Bourdain

Turtles at Lost Lagoon

Everyone I talk to in Vancouver these past few weeks is gushing about the fantastic summer weather we’re experiencing. Yes, gushing!

Canadians can be pretty low-key except when it comes to (1) their sports teams and (2) the weather. We get absolutely patriotic when our teams win (sorry — I just had to get in at least one Raptors’ reference) and we get absolutely giddy when the summer temperatures kick in.

To celebrate the 16 hours and 15 minutes of sunshine that Vancouver experienced today on the first day of summer, here’s a photo I took of the turtles at Stanley Park’s Lost Lagoon.

They, like most Canadians, take their sun-worshipping seriously.

Happy Birthday, Queen Victoria!

Are you tired of all the royal baby talk? There’s been an awful lot of it this month. Bear with me though, because we should all take a moment to mark a significant anniversary of yet another royal birth.

Two hundred years ago today, Princess Alexandrina Victoria of Kent was born in Kensington Palace. With her birth, she became fifth in the line of succession to the British throne.

Fifth seems a long ways away from the throne these days. (Archie Mountbatten-Windsor is seventh at present.) But due to a series of monarchs and heirs to the throne dying without legitimate heirs, Princess Alexandrina Victoria ended up becoming Queen of the United Kingdom in 1837. She had just turned 18.

This statue of Queen Victoria stands in front of the Parliament Buildings in Victoria, British Columbia. Many places in the Commonwealth are named after Queen Victoria; Canada is the only country to honour her birthday with a statutory holiday. It falls on the Monday before May 24. I grew up referring to Victoria Day as the “May long weekend.” It wasn’t until I moved to Toronto that I first heard it called the “May two-four weekend.” For a long time, I thought that was because Queen Victoria’s birthday is actually on May 24.

But, no. It’s because beer is sold in cases of 24. I had never heard a case of beer called a “two-four” — that’s not a common term in Western Canada — and was completely oblivious to its link with beer.

And why is beer on the mind of patriotic Canadians during this particular weekend in May, you ask? It’s because the May long weekend is the unofficial start of Cottage Season in Ontario. (Don’t get me started on the whole cottage vs. cabin debate.)

Regional differences. Long may they reign. Just like British queens.

Through My Lens: Dunluce Castle (aka Pyke Castle)

Well.

It’s finally over. After months of build-up and hype, the series finale of Game of Thrones has aired. I can’t remember the last time a TV show was talked about as much as this one has been.

I’m not going to get into the what-ifs and wherefores of the finale — this is a travel blog, after all. But much of the series was filmed in Northern Ireland, where I have been to a handful of times.

Although my last trip to that part of the world predates Game of Thrones, it did occur to me that I may have inadvertently visited some of the filming locations long before anyone was talking about the show.

Turns out I have.

And so, this being a travel blog, here is a photo of Dunluce Castle in County Antrim, which dates back to the 1500s. It’s mostly ruins now, and to get to the rocky outcrop on which it stands, you have to walk across a narrow bridge.

On the show, with some help from CGI, Dunluce Castle served as the location for Pyke Castle, seat of House Greyjoy, rulers of the Iron Islands.

Northern Pintail

This elegant fellow is a Northern Pintail. I came across him while walking the seawall along Burrard Inlet about six weeks ago.

The Northern Pintail is rarely seen in my neighbourhood — this was my first-ever encounter — but Vancouver is on the Pacific Flyway and they are a migrating duck. And so, in honour of World Migratory Bird Day (that would be today), I’m happy to post this photo.

Walking and Drinking Our Way Through San Francisco

“San Francisco …
Bridges, fog, food …
It’s crunchy granola, but it’s also double martinis and thick slabs of beef.
A city of towns, neighbourhoods …
A tough town for a stick shift.” — Anthony Bourdain

So. What to do when you don’t know what to say about a new-to-you city?

Me? I turn to Anthony Bourdain. And as I did so, I had to laugh.

I laughed because he seemed particularly fixated on martinis while he was filming his San Francisco episode.

And I laughed because as my friend and I spent our week climbing the hills of San Francisco (hence, “a tough town for a stick shift”), we finished each day with an adult beverage. Or two.

Double martinis indeed.

This was my first one, which I sipped as we listened to jazz in a bar that time forgot at Haight and Ashbury.

Haight and Ashbury, of course, was the epicentre for the Summer of Love. With a little imagination, it seems like the entire strip is one that time forgot.

See what I mean?

We spent a morning strolling through Chinatown — one of the largest in North America, and certainly the oldest.

Then we hit the Castro, San Francisco’s gay village.

We finished our day in the Mission, enjoying cold beers in another bar that time forgot.

The Mission got its name from Mission San Francisco de Asis, one of the 21 Catholic missions established in California to convert Indigenous peoples. From Dolores Park, in the heart of the Mission, you have a great view of the entire city.

We also spent time in the Embarcadero, which is where my home exchange condo was located.

We bought fresh produce at the Ferry Building Farmers Market. (Being a ferry building, this is also where you catch any one of several ferries to get across the bay.)

And we ate sushi overlooking Alcatraz in the middle of San Francisco Bay.

We finished up our last day in North Beach, the Little Italy of San Francisco and home to the Beat Movement. We rested our aching feet at Francis Ford Coppola’s bar in the Sentinel Building (the green building) …

… and imbibed in yet another late afternoon cocktail.

San Francisco is known to be a foodie town (be sure to try the tacos), but during our short week, it was definitely the adult beverages that sustained us.