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Posts Tagged ‘Travel’

Scotch, whiskey, whisky or whatever you want to call it

Anne Gordon kindly offers this post as a special guest blogger, she is a national travel writer, having written for every major newspaper in Canada and many others across the world; she is also a member of TMAC. The following post is one on a subject that I find especially appealing – scotch!

“For centuries in the hills and highlands of Scotland, pure spring water, malted barley and yeast, together with the distinctive smoke of peat, have given the Scots an alcoholic experience finer than any other. Called ‘Uisge Beathe’ ( the ‘water of life’) in earlier days, Scotland’s most favoured drink is now more widely known as whisky.

Introduced to the country folk by Christian monks centuries ago, the art of distilling started out in hidden bothies (roughly made shelters) in the hills. It was a precarious operation. The distillers spent a great deal of their time dismantling the tubes and cans of their trade and fleeing whenever word reached them that the Customs men were close on their heels.

Today those small beginnings have flourished, providing Scotland and the Scots with an industry that has greatly enhanced the country’s economy. Worldwide whisky exports now exceed 1 billion bottles a year, an income of more that $4.7 billion.”

See more of Anne’s posts on her visits to various distilleries here

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P1040854, originally uploaded by Mic2006.

We were walking by the front of the National Gallery and this madman – unmoving until Maggie passed by, did this.

Well aside from the shock and obligation of dropping a pound in the box, our visit to the National Gallery was amazing.

In London, most museums and galleries are free (as it should be). Sadly I missed the “dead Italian guy” who was said to be on display in a museum near St. Pancreas. The security guard at the national library sent us in that direction as I declined to unpack my backpack for a search; he said it was nothing to be embarrassed about. I said I just could not be bothered to lay out my underwear and whiskey bottles to see the medieval manuscripts they had -honestly, the hassle vs. reward didn’t justify the effort (but I understand their need for security and they were very courteous as they were everywhere in London).

At the National Gallery we were immediately immersed in the fantastic paintings of Caravaggio, Van Gogh, Cezanne and others of their fame. there was nothing posted about not taking pictures, but I thought it safest to not try anything like that in case I got arrested. There are over 2300 paintings which are said to be one of the greatest collections of Western European paintings in the world. It was kind of odd standing about 2 feet from what I only usually see in books.

The National Gallery in London sits at one end of Trafalgar Square. You can get there quite easily from Charing Cross or Leicester Square – just walk toward the statue of Nelson, which rises up atop a column. If the gallery is not your thing, then people watching might be. I got some great photos of tourists posing with the lions.

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Life Guards – London

No visit to London is complete without some pomp and ceremony. I took this picture outside the building known as “Horse Guards”. These fellows in red are the life Guards – not the swimming kind (their cuirasses would drag them down). As one tourist in the know explained, “They stand there facing each other (blues and Royals vs Life Guards) for about half an hour and then they have changed the guard.”

As you can see it was a good picture taking opportunity.

The life Guards (in red and the blues and Royals in blue) both comprise regiments in the Household Cavalry, an actual functioning light armored formation of the British Army. When not on ceremonial duty, the Household Cavalry performs a reconnaissance function in a combat brigade; dress uniform is replaced by camouflage, swords by assault rifles.

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All we had left!

When you’re real tired and you need a shower, some food and a good sleep you really look forward to your hotel.

Maggie and I had traveled some distance out of London by tube to a suburb called Kenton. Not a bad place I suppose and the Premier Inn that we were to stay in was 76 pounds a night which was also not a bad price. We were relieved to discover that the Inn was a rather quaint looking building about 2 minutes walk from the station. Lugging our backpacks up to the receptionist’s counter I offered my VISA ony to be told “Your card has been declined.”

“Try it again.” I instructed slightly panicked.

“Declined”

“Phone the number on the back” I suggested to Maggie.

“It’s not working.”

We counted out our cash, every last pence – about 114 pounds. This would cover us for just a third of the time remaining in the UK

Well that’s a situation that just wasn’t what either of us wanted to deal with. Options were a park bench for at least 2 of the next 3 nights or sleeping on the station platform. I wonder if that guy with the Ferrari would mind if we crashed in his front hallway?

To cut a long story short we phoned one of Maggie’s relatives in Chester and they helped us by phoning in their VISA number to the hotel. The lesson here is to make sure you remember to phone VISA and let them know when you are going out of the country. My question is why could we not reach them by the phone numbers on the back of the card and also why does it take several days to reactivate your VISA and why when my brother in law phoned them from Canada could they not have been a little more helpful? WHY? WHY? WHY?

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Maggie and the Ferrari

In case you are wondering where I’ve been for the last week it has been in the UK visiting Maggie’s relatives.

I took this picture in downtown London somewhere around Lester Square. Second hand a Ferrari is worth somewhere between $150,000 (Canadian) and $250,000. Over the last decade sales have risen from 4000 to 6500/year. I’d be scared to drive one – especially in London. Check out what they’re selling in Canada right now – used Ferraris. I think this particular Ferrari is of the 458 Italia Variety – top speed 325 km/hr.

It becomes increasingly apparent that there are two kinds of people in London – those that are incredibly rich and those that are struggling to survive. I suspect people stratify themselves in concentric rings outward from the city core, those with the largest disposable incomes live at the center of the city and then as you move outward a compromise between what you are willing to spend on lifestyle and what you are wanting to save or spend on others occurs. Some people, who are too young to have already made their fortune are obviously living on the earnings of someone else – how else could they live here?

As London was once the center of the British Empire I suspect that there is still a lot of residual cash that will likely last a couple more generations – each generation being less capable than the last. It is hunger that drives a person to be successful, not a lifestyle of ease, nightclubs, restaurants and cocktail parties.

Anyway, London was a fascinating place – more to follow (including the “cash crunch” as my next post. Who would ever have imagined that my VISA would not work over there?)

Bet the guy who owns this car (A Ferrari) never has a problem with his VISA.

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Abandoned mine in Quebec – Bristol Mine

P1020339, originally uploaded by Mic2006.

Had an interesting time last weekend. I went to see the old abandoned Bristol Mine along the banks of the Ottawa River. The “town” of bristol mines still exists and the old mine property is still obvious for its enormous heaps tailings.

Bristol Mines had been opened in 1872 and by the mid 1950’s over 350 people were employed with shafts dropping down below 1200 feet (iron ore).

From the fence line you could see this piece of machinery, it is at the one end of a concrete building. I believe it is part of the “concentrator”. I suspect that there is still industry of some kind taking place on the property, the roads are plowed.

The day was incredibly cold and our time outside the car felt like were were on some kind of polar expedition – snow above the knees and icy wid that numbed the face. I think I will have to return in the summer and pay better attention to the whole area. We were on “Gold mine road Sud”. There has to be a reason for that name as well as a nearby lake “Lac de oro” and other well known mines and possible rockhounding sites (Moss mine etc).

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Lake of the Dahlias somewhere beyond

P1010079, originally uploaded by Mic2006.

Here it is – over the hump. I pressed through this low slot and on to the passage beyond – an elliptical tunnel that wound off into gloom. Its hard to imagine but somewhere further on the helictites become so dense and interwoven that it is impossible to go onwards without damaging them. I did not get much further than this, but I was shown a map that indicated the most fantastic formations were isolated beneath a military zone. After my little private jaunt I saw a 3D movie that the curators were making of what was deep within – unbelievable!

One General Frederico F. Gavada wrote in 1870 in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine of his experience in the Cuevas de Bellamar saying that he eventually reached an underground lake, 18 feet deep and 180 feet long. He called it the “Lake of Dahlias” for the crystals that looked like petaled flowers.

As the general wrote …

“These dahlias are formed by triangular, concave crystals, starting from a common centre, in layers one above the other, precisely as the petals of dahlias are arranged. They vary from three to five inches in diameter. Their greatest beauty consists in the exquisite manner in which they are tinted with veins of violet and blue and delicate yellow and pale crimson. These colors are probably due to the presence of mineral salts which filter down with the water from the overlying strata.

Here, then, we have an enchanted lake in which the most fastidious of naiads would not refuse to dwell. A lake with its surrounding landscape of fantastic, sparry forms and its beds of wondrous flowers, and with its own sky bending above it full of sparkling constellations – a lake on which the sun has never shone, and whose smooth and silver surface the light wings of the breeze have never rippled, nor the rage of the tempest ever maddened into foam”.

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