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.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Livorno, Italy - a really old new town

Livorno, traditionally known in English as Leghorn, is a port city on the western coast of Tuscany and is the capital of the Province of Livorno. The city, more a fishing village at the time, was effectively owned by the Republic of Pisa from 1103 until 1284 at which time the Pisan fleet was destroyed in the Battle of Meloria. It was bought and sold a few times over the next 2-1/2 centuries until the Medici dynasty arrived from Florence in the 16th century and encouraged settlement in the area.
However, Livorno remained a somewhat insignificant coastal fortress until its redesign as an "Ideal town" during the Italian Renaissance. The plan was drawn up by architect Bernardo Buontalenti in 1577, and in the late 1580's, Ferdinando I de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, declared Livorno a free port, along with the introduction of laws ensuring a well-regulated market. Livorno subsequently developed into an enlightened European city and one of the most important ports in the Mediterranean Basin.
With the burgeoning of the cruise industry, Livorno has become a popular port of call, serving as the launch point for excursions to Pisa and Florence as well as numerous small villages and towns throughout Tuscany. We had visited these attraction several times over the years and were happy, on this occasion, to check out Livorno itself.
Incidentally, if you ever pitch up in Livorno and are faced with the choice of going either to Pisa or Florence, choose the latter. Compared to the wealth of sights and experiences available in Florence, Pisa is pretty much a one trick pony unless, of course, the day you are there the leaning tower actually falls over. More snaps of this interesting burg here.

Monaco - an unprincipled Principality?

Monaco, officially the Principality of Monaco, sits on the French Riviera bordered on three sides by France and on the fourth by the Mediterranean Sea. At a minuscule total area of 3/4 square mile and a population less than 40,000 it is the second smallest country in the world and the most densely populated, even after years of aggressive land reclamation which increased its area by 1/5. To squeeze the utmost out of the available space, many roads and most parking lots are now underground making double use of that land area. 

The latest upscale high rise apartments, available from as little as $7,500 per square foot, have solved their parking problem as follows. Approach your address and press a button on a remote control. A large door opens in the side of your building. Drive in and press another button. Aha! - this is not your garage it is an elevator which whisks you up to your apartment level, still in your vehicle. Another door opens and you drive into your garage right next to your living room. Cute. Known as a playground for the rich and famous it is estimated that around 30% of the Principality's population are millionaires.
Billed, somewhat laughably, as a loose constitutional monarchy, Prince Albert II, as head of state, essentially runs the place. In fact, Albert's family, the House of Grimaldi, have ruled Monaco almost without interruption since the late 13th century. Never a family to get along well with others, the Grimaldis were ejected from their original domicile, the Genoa region of what is now Italy, in 1297 or thereabouts. They traveled west along the shoreline until they came upon a monastery of affable monks who agreed to let them abide a while while they got their act together. The Grimaldis took a shine to the highly defensible location and decided instead to slaughter the monks and call the place home. Monaco became a full United Nations voting member in 1993.
Enjoying the good life for almost 5 centuries by taxing the folk in the locality, all went quietly until around the time of the French Revolution. Emboldened by events throughout France, the local uppity serfs said "No more" and Monaco began to fall on hard times. Eventually, after a false start or two, the dynasty was saved by the arrival of the railroad in the late 19th century along with the opening of a casino modeled on similar businesses flourishing in Germany at the time. The later stroke of declaring the country a tax haven sealed their recognition as a playground for the excessively rich and more or less famous, all with year round gorgeous weather. What's not to like?
Monte Carlo - literally Mount Charles in Italian - is the largest of the four administrative areas of Monaco and, near its western end, lurks the world-famous Place du Casino as well as the Hôtel de Paris, the Café de Paris, and the Salle Garnier, home of the Opéra de Monte-Carlo. The eastern part of the quarter includes Monaco's only public beach, the recent Grimaldi Forum convention center, and the Monte-Carlo Bay Hotel & Resort. More images, click here.

Saint Remy de Provence - sanitized history in rural France

The little boat bobbed on and shortly pitched up in Marseilles, France. The second largest city in France and the biggest commerce and freight port, the metro area is home to more than 1.8 million. Thankfully, this was not our destination on this visit but rather, the small village of Saint Remy de Provence, 30 miles or so inland, was in our future.
Saint Remy, once a walled city, is now ringed by a two lane road rendering the interior essentially vehicle free, with only residents vehicles going in and out. Less than half-a-mile across with a population of a little over 10,000, it would normally be an easy place to walk around but, we were there on market day at the tail end of the French vacation season. Busy, busy, busy.
As contemporary European markets go, this one was pretty good with a variety of meats, cheeses, vegetables and preserves on offer and, in less frenetic circumstances, would have afforded a pleasant toddle perusing the wares. As it was, we were pleased to escape from the thronging torrents of humanity and investigate some quieter areas of the village. In true French style, every street had been refurbished in accordance with Ministry of Culture specifications, an Orwellian compulsion born in France and spreading rapidly throughout continental Europe wherein bland conformity trumps character. Uniform cobbled streets, surface water drains running down the center, underground utilities, satellite TV antennas on every roof - a poor man's theme park village with no entry fee. A chance to enjoy history freshly manufactured on an industrial scale. See pictures here.