May 2018. The Galapagos Islands.
We went on a trip with my Sister-in-Law Irene and her husband Stephen to the Galapagos on the ship M/S Evolution and then continued on a trip through Ecuador while Stephen and Irene went on to Peru.
It was wonderful to see the Galapagos, which of course was always on our wish list. Interestingly, as is well known, one is markedly restricted by law as to where one can go and when. Ships can only land sight-seers on certain island on certain days and for restricted amounts of time and very restricted and categorized numbers of people so as to preserve these Islands. What I didn't realize was that even the parts of the islands that you do visit are a very tiny part of each Island, thus, the huge majority of the territory of the Galapagos is completely restricted and free of anyone. Which of course is a good thing. Visiting is a bit summer camp like for my taste; one is heavily escorted and supervised, constantly warned to keep with the group, don't step there, come over this way - but of course it's obvious and necessary why.
The islands are also much more barren than I had imagined and the number on animals actually more restricted - certainly there are iguanas, tortoises, sea lions and lots of birds but basically no mammals. Swimming and snorkeling, which one does daily, is very interesting: you swim close (very close) to sea lions, penguins, and if you are lucky, you see the famous marine iguanas actually munching on plants under water. Some fish but not large numbers.
Unfortunately my brother in law Stephen died unexpectedly shortly after we all returned to Canada.
India. Finally, after 40 years since the last two visits, we got back to India, principally Rajasthan which had always been our plan. The first time we had visited Udaipur, then a sleepy peaceful provincial town, and Jaipur, then touristy but certainly not crowded. Now Udaipur is a bustling crowded town with an abundance of tourists - mostly the hugely growing Indian Middle class, all taking "selfies" in front of famous sites! Gone are the picturesque town houses covered in frescos of elephants and horses, gods and goddesses - or at least almost gone. Now far more cars, motorcycles, noise and people. And also pollution and garbage. Still wonderful and interesting but changed.
We visited many more towns throughout Rajasthan - Mandawa - Bikaner - Jaisalmer - Jodhpur - Jaipur - the Thar Desert - villages and peoples, houses in the countryside, schools, - Udaipur - Rohet - and then on to Agra, Gwalior, Orchha, Khajuraho and Varanasi. Khajuraho in the 1970s was very isolated and difficult to visit - we certainly couldn't afford it - but now it is a staple destination on the tourist route, and justifiably so.
The Taj Mahal now is striking for the sheer number of tourists there! Well organized and still spectacular; in fact going in one wonders why one is bothering, given the crowds, but as soon as you enter you realize that it is still well worth seeing. Truly amazing.
India in 1977 was completely unwesternised. You couldn't have found a Coca-Cola or hamburger - certainly not a beef hamburger! Now there's a Dominos on Connaught Circle in New Delhi and MacDonald's as well as everything else that is found in Europe or North America
The "real India" remains in the countryside, and thanks to the planning of our excellent Guide Company - Uniktours, Montreal, and particularly Annie Durand - we were able to visit peasants houses, schools, walk through the countryside and talk to ordinary people and see how they live, which except for cell-phones, hasn't really changed. In many cases it hasn't changed in centuries.
When we went before as students with little money we stayed in very low-level hotels but this time we stayed in absolutely spectacular palaces, maharaja's homes and new hotels built like palaces. Staying in original palaces, like Mandawa, Gajner, one could feel a bit what life in the Mughal era must have been like - the labyrinthine palace, the gardens, the zenana and the servants.
One thing we noticed was the decrease the the feeling of the British Raj, still omnipresent in 1976, only some 28 years after independence, but now considerably less. Even the tourists seemed to be more French than Anglophone.
And of course that's typical of India: rulers come and go. The Marathas, the Moghuls, the British, and India reverts to its own essential character, part of which is not looking back; as someone said, "You know in India we burn our dead."
London. Eight days in London at Duke's & one night at the Stafford as I made a mistake in the booking. We saw the Queen in front of Buckingham Palace (she drove by returning from the Nov 11 ceremony), as we were trying to get to The Queen's Gallery to see an exhibition ("Portrait of the Artist"); also an Exhibition at the British Museum about a sunken Egyptian city; a Caravaggio exhibition (Beyond Caravaggio) at the National Gallery, a walk along the south bank to the Borough Market; Portobello Road market on Saturday morning, an exhibition on the History of Underwear at the V & A and lots of wandering and shopping. Also good theatre: "A Man of Good Hope", "The Red Barn" (National); "No Man's Land" with Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart; "Beautiful- the Carol King Musical"; "An Inspector Calls" and "The Tales of Hoffman" at Covent Garden (excellent!).
France. We flew to Paris, TGV toAvignon, then a week at Le Barroux in Les Dentelles de Montmirail but not able to hike as planned because of a cold. 4 great days at Les-Baux-de-Provence and then drove through a torrential downpour to the Dordogne to stay five days with friends and sightsee in the Perigord. An then Paris for a week. We saw a great Turner exhibition in Aix-en-Provence, a Van Gogh exhibition in Arles, a Rembrandt exhibition at the Jacquemart-André Gallery in Paris and the Picasso museum
We went on a trip through Poland, starting in Berlin and then up to Szczeczin where we stayed on the Baltic Coast near Międzyzdroje and then did a few nice hikes on the coast and through the forests. Then along the coast through Kołobrzeg to Gdania and to Gdańsk where we stayed for a few days; this turned out to be our favourite city in Poland. Very nice restaurants too! Then to Malbork Castle, an early Teutonic Knight brick castle and on east to Suwałki, way out in the countryside very near the Byelorussian border. Lots of biking and hiking and very pretty countryside.
Then to Warsaw visiting the Old Town, the Łazienki Palace and Gardens and lots of relatives of Barbara's. Then down to Kraków, Katowice and so onto Zakopane where we did some great hikes way up into the Tatra mountains just as Barbara's parents had done between the wars.
Brief visits then to Katowice (more relatives), Wrozław, Poznań and back to Berlin.
Went on a brief Salmon fishing trip to Campbell River and up Quadra Island, not catching a lot of salmon but seeing some beautiful landscapes in the early morning mists. These are posted under "British Columbia"
Started with 5 or 6 days in Cape Town, including climbing Table Mountain via Platteklip Gorge, about twice the height and duration of the Grouse Grind (we thought we were going to die!); also Kirstenbosch gardens, nice restaurants and the waterfront. Beautiful City.
We went to Namibia from Cape Town, heading straight up to "Desert Rhino Camp" where we went out with trackers to find rare White Rhinos (which we did) - you can't get close to them and you can only stay for about 20 minutes, so as not to bother them in any way. Then flew way up to the extreme north of Namibia to the Kunene River to Sera Cafema Lodge - a deluxe camp in the middle of endless desert and mountain, far away from anyone or anything, and bordering on Angola. Beautiful barren landscape and a brief opportunity to meet the Himba people who are truly nomadic people. They literally pack up on a moment's notice and move on, carrying everything they own with them.
Then to Botswana to three different camps; Chitabe Camp, Jao Camp in the Okavanga Delta and finally DumaTao on the banks of the Linyanti River, bordering Namibia and the Caprivi Strip. Fantastic for photography and we were lucky to have great sightings of a cheetah and of two separate leopards each with a cup and with a fresh kill. Not a lot of lion however, just two males (a "condominium of Lions"), one of whom simply couldn't wake up and the other who couldn't stay awake.
A bit of excitement with Air Namibia who lost our luggage for four days and couldn't have cared less about it - they simply didn't bother putting it on the plane, or that of about 12 other people! It's and example of "TIA" - "this is Africa!" You just shrug your shoulders and deal with it.
November 2014Just returned from a week in London, staying, as usual at Duke’s Hotel in St James – it’s a wonderful intimate, very English hotel specializing in quiet unpretentious luxury, and it has a great location tucked in a corner of St James within walking distance of everything, especially the West End and the theatres. The highlights of this trip were a visit to Spencer House, right around the corner from Dukes (and we never even knew it!), which is the best 18thC restored house in London, in fact probably the only restored town house of the great age of the aristocracy. Spencer House was built in 1756-66 for John, first Earl Spencer, an ancestor of Diana, Princess of Wales (1961-97). John, the first Earl Spencer and his wife Georgiana were prominent figures in London society, and during their lifetime Spencer House was often the setting for lavish entertainments. Also a wonderful exhibition at the British Museum called “Ancient Lives” using 8 different mummies from widely different Egyptian eras to give an intimate picture of life in Ancient Egypt. Beautifully done. At the National Gallery there was a wonderful exhibition of Rembrandt’s later works, and at the Natural History Museum a great Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition similar to the one we had seen in Sydney a year ago. Lots of good Xmas shopping and dining after the theatre especially at The Savoy Bar and Grill and Balthasar, one of our absolute faves! Theatre was Electra with Kristin Scott Thomas (excellent); King Charles III, The Cherry Orchard, Henry IV at Donmar (so-so), and Shakespeare in Love. Overall the level of theatre wasn’t as phenomenal as it’s been in past years with Tom Stoppard plays, and many super productions that we’ve seen.
September 2014In September we had a lovely holiday in Greece, again going mostly to the Greek Islands, this time Sifnos, Folegandros and Western Crete, and as usual beautifully arranged by Aegean Thesaurus Travel and their agent Sandra. We spent about 8 days in each island leaving lots of time for hiking, swimming and eating. Sifnos was new for us and justly famous for its cuisine and its pottery – we bought a lovely casserole – and it has lovely beaches though it is a bit more conservative as a lot of Athenians go to Sifnos. Our favourite beach was Apokofto with its excellent tavern “To Apokofto”. This beach is very near and in full view of the famous church of Chrissopigi which is apparently the most popular church for Greeks to marry in. We stayed in Apollonia, a great location close to Ano Petali, Kastro and Artemisia. Kamares is more touristy but great for restaurants. We then moved on to Folegandros, again staying at “Folegandros Apartments” and hiking to beaches every day. Lovely island, not so touristy with lots of good restaurants. Then we went to Chania in Western Crete. Crete is much more touristy with masses of Eastern Europeans who have cheap flights directly to Heraklion and Chania. None of the beaches were great because, although beautiful, they are mobbed with Russians and Poles. The town of Chania was great with wonderful markets and a lovely harbour. We hiked the 12-16 km Samaria Gorge and that was wonderful and not that difficult. Finally a day in Athens and a visit to the wonderful new Acropolis Museum and our favourite restaurant in Kolonaki, To Kefeneio.
Trip to Spain starting in Malaga and on to Granada, Cordoba, Ubeda, Almagro, Toledo and Madrid and then flew to Barcelona
Four nights at Whistler at the Arrhythmia+ Meeting and Skiing with old friends, David and Bren. Poor snow this year and endless sun and blue skies.
Just back from a brief trip to Paris and London. In London we saw "Strangers on a Train" with Laurence Fox and Jack Huston (very good with great staging reminiscent of Orson Wells film noir The Third Man (1949); then Henry V with Jude Law in the main role (excellent acting and great production); Romeo & Juliet, Prokofiev at Covent Garden, Billy Elliot, the Musical (not so great) and finally The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night which was excellent.
Great food as well including Tapas at Barafina on Frith Street; Balthazar twice. Went to the National Portrait Gallery and several small galleries. Great trip.
We've recently returned from a great trip to Australia. A few days in Sydney where we stayed at our favorite hotel - the old "Observatory Hotel" - now the Langham but just as nice. It's in "The Rocks" so a great base for Circular Quai, the Gardens, town and most importantly a lot of pubs like The Australian.
We flew to Broome for a few days with friends and then boarded the "Orion" for a cruise through the Kimberly: see the Gallery "Kimberly and Kakadu" for the photos. The ship had only 103 passengers and each day we would go out in Zodiacs to visit beaches, reefs, waterfalls and fantastic geology. Then to Darwin and onto the Kakadu park where we saw lots of birds, "salties" and had a taste of Aborignal life - really interesting.
I'm in the process of adapting to "the New SmugMug" in other words this new layout on the website so please excuse it if something isn't working properly - I am getting the hang of it slowly!