Saturday, March 31, 2018

Liverpool Reprise, 2017

We last visited Liverpool in 2011 and, at that time, had focused on cataloging some of the numerous city center pubs, visiting both cathedrals - Roman Catholic and Anglican, checking out China Town and marveling at the disappearance of 7-1/2 miles of dockland. In doing so, we completely overlooked the tawdry "birthplace of the Beatles" and the sorry little industry that has sprung up to exploit their fame. So, taking advantage of a brief stopover in this reinvented city, we decided to make amends. (Incidentally, if you ever find yourself in this interesting burg with a few hours to spare, a visit to each of the cathedrals is highly recommended to witness the dramatic differences in style.)
It is probably not possible to accurately separate fact from fantasy in the Mathew Street reconstruction that passes for the Beatles birthplace today. It is about sixty years since the group first appeared and, for a decade or two at that time, Liverpool had already been laboring under a painful transition from vibrant dockland to dereliction and latterly on to rebirth as a commercial center over the following decades.
Many years after hitting the music scene spotlight it was recognized that the Beatles were indeed an enduring phenomenon and that some kind of shrine marking their origin should be developed. In the interim however, buildings had changed hands, been re-purposed or even torn down and replaced, making the identification of many features impossible. In true huckster style and simply ignoring inconvenient facts, the entrepreneurs, intent on chasing their pots of gold, latched onto whatever property was available and developed a mishmash of make-believe and reality that continues to draw myriad tourists on a daily basis. Additional pictures here.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Rotterdam, Netherlands, 2017

Courtesy By Unknown Public Domain,
We stopped off in Rotterdam, Netherlands for a couple of days last summer. The sixth busiest port in the world and the largest in the western world, Rotterdam is a major conduit for the import and export of goods and materials for all of northern Europe.
During WWII, the Germans seized the port after bombing it into submission in 1940. From this moment on, the city became an Allied target for the remainder of the hostilities. By the time the war ended in 1945 all but two historical buildings remained salvageable in the city center with the rest of the area being reduced to a wasteland.
Post-war reconstruction gave rise to much experimental architecture during the latter decades - the eighties and nineties - some of which was somewhat over the top. Nonetheless, the city is again a vibrant cultural and commercial success albeit with a few questionable oddities on display and very little in the way of historical sights. For more images, click here.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Bergen, Norway

With it's current population approaching 300,000, Bergen is Norway's second largest city. It was, in fact, the largest city in Norway as recently as 1830 and actually served as the country's capital back in the 13th century. The current capital city, Oslo, is currently three to four times larger than Bergen. The city was founded in 1070 and, following steady growth, had become a bureau city of the Hanseatic League by the end of the 13th century ensuring great wealth for the many merchants in town. 
The area around the original quays, now a World Heritage Site, came to be known as Bryggen and is presented to tourists as a series of retail stores. Sadly, there are few historical building examples in the city owing to numerous fires over the centuries which burnt razed large areas.
Bergen Port continues to be Norway's busiest, both in terms of freight and passengers with more than 300 cruise ship calls bringing nearly a half a million passengers to Bergen each year. More pictures here.

Sunday, February 04, 2018

Alesund, Norway

Alesund is located in More og Romsdal county at the top of Norway’s Western Fjord country. With the Sunnmøre Mountains as a backdrop, the town of almost 50,000 people straddles several islands stretching out into the Atlantic and all connected by bridges. 
A fire in 1904 destroyed much of the town which was subsequently rebuilt in stone using a dramatic Art Nouveau style. This style flourished between about 1890 and 1910 throughout Europe and the United States and is characterized by the use of long, sinuous lines.
Alesund is also home to one of Norway’s largest fishing harbors, is a base for cod and halibut fishing trawlers and is also
the headquarters of the Arctic sealing fleet. Slideshow here.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Corner Brook, Newfoundland, Canada

A novel mode of transport into town
Corner Brook, population about 20,000, has the distinction of being the most northerly city in Atlantic Canada. It was our lot to stop by there for a few hours last August before launching east toward Greenland. 
What excitement!
The fifth largest city in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, Corner Brook is located at the mouth of the river Humber on the west side of the island. Fairly typical of small towns all across North America, it really offers nothing much for the typical cruise ship tourist beyond a bus ride into town, a stroll around the limited shopping and then back again. 
Most exciting sight was anchor
maintenance on the big boat
After the first modern survey by Captain James Cook in 1767 the area had only grown to about 100 inhabitants a century later but was eventually propelled into being by the arrival of the anchor for the present city, the Corner Brook Pulp & Paper Mill, a major employer in the region. The city now boasts the largest regional hospital in western Newfoundland, is home to a few federal and provincial government offices asa well as the Grenfell Campus, Memorial University


Sunday, January 07, 2018

Portree, Isle of Skye, Scotland

Last summer we paid a brief visit to the capital of the Isle of Skye, Portree, in the inner Hebrides of Scotland. Contrary to expectations, Portree is not an ancient hamlet with thousands of years of history but was created as a fishing village a scant 200 years ago. 
It is situated on the east side of the Isle of Skye and overlooks a sheltered bay boasting a pier designed by Thomas Telford, a notable Scottish Civil Engineer. Portee's population of about 2,500 souls, is largely supported by tourism. Click here for slideshow.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Orlando Christmas, 2017

Christmas day turned up as a somewhat brisk, but sunny morning, just right for a troll around downtown to see what was happening. Beginning at Lake Eola Park, we spiraled outwards taking in the sights. as we went.
Lots of people were about, all with similar notions of enjoying the relaxed atmosphere on a bright and festive day. Thrilled to report that the exclusive greeting heard from numerous strangers was "Merry Christmas" with nary a single PC "Happy Holidays" to mar the mood. Thankfully, Joe Public, at least, seems to have their act together. 
Overall, an Excellent Adventure! Click here for slideshow.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Sydney, Nova Scotia, Canada

Cape Breton Island is on the Atlantic coast of Canada and part of the province of Nova Scotia. Although geographically separated from the Nova Scotia peninsula by the 1-1/2 mile wide Strait of Canso it is physically connected to it by the Canso Causeway. 
Sydney, founded by the British in 1785, was the island's capital until 1820 at which time Cape Breton was merged with Nova Scotia and the capital became Halifax. The town enjoyed rapid population growth after the turn of the 20th century when it became was home to the Dominion Steel and Coal Corporation  and the town was incorporated as a city in 1904. Later, during both the First and Second World Wars, Sydney became a major staging area for England bound convoys and these activities also contributed to growth. 
Following World War II, however, the steel mill and mining industries declined and the port activity decreased overall culminating in the loss of city status in 1995. Although the local and national governments nationalized the steel mill in the mid-sixties it continued it's decline and was finally closed in 2001. 
Currently the economy is largely supported by a miscellany of customer support call centers and tourism. Also housed on the island are five reserves for the Eskasoni, Membertou, Wagmatcook, Waycobah, and Potlotek tribes of the Mi'kmaq Nation. See slideshow.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

My First Electric Vehicle...

With all of the clamor regarding diminished global reserves of  fossil fuel, the developing threat of bovine flatulence incinerating us all and the fact that I passionately dislike filling my car at the gas station, the time suddenly seemed right to explore an all electric vehicle. 

Now, unless you have a really, really long extension cord, it is necessary to install a battery to provide the motive power for any such form of transport. Two battery models were available, big, shown here and huge shown below.

This is the base vehicle, a magnificent tricycle in Toy Town Red with a dashing front fender and big shiny handlebars.

Here it is again with the battery installed. Exciting Eh? I chose the HUGE battery because the nice man in the bike shop said "With that battery, you will be able to ride anywhere without fear or favor"

Certainly, from my excursions so far, he was absolutely right! Now, if I could just get it to stay on the road...

Friday, June 16, 2017

Forza d'Agro, Sicily - much AGRO for not much

Fourteen hundred feet up in the foothills and with a current population of a scant 900 souls, Forza d'Agro developed in its present form around the start of the 14th century. Its history, of course, goes much further back - Greek settlers in the 8th century BCE, Roman conquest in 135 BCE, Byzantine domination from 536 to 827 CE, the latter interspersed by sundry Arabian incursions.
Forza D'Agrò remained loyal to the Spanish during the anti-Spanish revolution of 1674 and was later occupied by British forces in the early 19th century for defense against Napoleonic attacks. In the early 20th century, many of the inhabitants emigrated to America.
Fortunately, the area was fairly unscathed by the 20th century world wars and today, much of the town interior consists of traditional 14th century buildings and cobbled alleys largely unsuitable for vehicular traffic. This has led to the village being favored as a backdrop for several movies, including naturally, The Godfather trilogy. Following are a few pictures of the highlights of this forgotten burg.

Savoca, Sicily - another Hollywood has-been

Savoca is a small Sicilian village of 1,600 people or so, built 1,000 feet up on a rugged mountainside that looks out over the Mediterranean at the southern tip of the "toe" of Italy. One of hundreds of similar crumbling and near forgotten communes throughout Sicily, Savoca was used and abused by the Hollywood machine and, 44 years later, remains conflicted about its identity as a result of that visitation.
For good or bad, it was selected as a location for some scenes of the Godfather movie series and was invaded in 1972 by Francis Ford Coppola and his gang of users. Since the first movie's release, daily coach loads of tourists make the tiresome trek to the village and jump through the hoops set out by the tour companies and the natives. The inhabitants are split into two groups - the haves, including church managers charging admission, the Post Office, the coffee and souvenir shop, the enterprising owner of the three-wheeled taxi who offers rides to the church and, of course, the proprietor of Bar Vitelli that appeared in one or more of the movies. Remaining are the have-nots - residents, retirees and holiday-homers seeking the earlier tranquility and solitude, now hesitant to venture out between the hours of 10 am and 4 pm to compete with the visiting hordes straining the meager local services to breaking point.
We were dropped off at the Convento dei Cappuccini to gaze at a bunch of dead bodies in the catacombs as you can see here...

Sorrento, Italy - Come back we did

The Gulf of Naples, on the west coast of Italy, is a large bay about 10 miles across, with Naples at the north end and Sorrento at the south. In between is much interesting stuff like the semi-active volcano, Vesuvius, and the excavated remains of the city of Pompeii, buried under 40 feet of lava during the last major outburst in 79 CE. For us, the 1902 pop song "Come Back to Sorrento" was appropriate since our previous visit there, many years ago, had been less than stellar.
The town is perched securely atop a sheer 170 foot cliff partitioned in places by equally steep sided gorges that extend inland. Landing on what scant beaches there are, leaves a would be invader at a severe disadvantage. Fortunately, the natives are somewhat friendlier nowadays and a shuttle bus took us up a hair-pinned road cut into one of the gorge faces and deposited us right in the center of downtown. Following a pleasant plod around the old town, we caught the bus back to the tender dock and thence splashed back to the mother-ship for lunch...

More snaps here.

Civitavecchia, Italy - cruising with Roman roots

In 106 CE, the incumbent Roman Emperor Trajan ordered the construction of a port with the ability to handle deep water ships to service Rome. The result was the city of Centumcellae which was renamed centuries later to Civitavecchia, appropriately meaning "Ancient Town" in Italian. Subsequent to Trajan, the port city was controlled by a miscellany of popes and counts who, throughout the middle ages, constructed a series of defensive structures including Forte Michelangelo. The fort was built by Giluano Leno in the 16th century with walls about 20 feet thick and a central tower designed by Renaissance architect and painter Michelangelo.
Today, Civitavecchia, about 50 miles northwest of Rome, is the cruise terminal of choice for numerous shipping companies traveling to Turkey, Greece and the eastern Mediterranean beyond. Additional pictures.