Vancouver Lights

Watching Vancouver

Irena and I took a trip to Vancouver, British Columbia to celebrate our first day of spring break and this is the view we were rewarded with from Stanley Park.  The CBD was lit up perfectly with stars overhead and the lights reflected in the bay.  It was a perfect early spring night, just cold enough for you to want to keep moving, but not windy enough to chill your bones.

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Looking south from Stanley Park

At 9:00 PM a cannon is fired from here (the lit up structure next to the person [Irena] in the first image).  The initial shot was startling, but hearing the blast’s echoes reverberating and bouncing off all the buildings across the bay was one of the neatest things I’ve ever heard.  The single shot would have to be audible from anywhere in the city with as much noise as it made.

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Vancouver, BC seen from across Vancouver Harbour

More small adventures like this will happen throughout this week (spring break 2013) in and around Bellingham, WA, so stay tuned.

New Book!

Hello all,

So as you know this blog is for a class at Western Washington University, entitled “From Tweet to Blog to Book”.  In this class we examined how literature is expanding into new forms of media with the internet, and how blogs and other social media can lead back to book deals (in rare instances like Orangette‘s) and other more traditional forms of media.  After running a blog for the quarter our final project was to take our blog to that next level, that is to say create some other form of media (whether a book, article, whatever) from our original content.  So that’s exactly what I did.  I used the website Mixbook to create a photo book, basically a coffee table book, showcasing pictures from my study abroad trip to New Zealand from June to November of 2011.  Once created you can purchase the book (which is shipped to you) or view it online for free, as is the case below.

I also bought an 8.5in x 8.5in copy of the book set to arrive on March 28th, which I am eagerly awaiting (I’ll let you know when it gets here).  I had always wanted a way to share my experience in New Zealand with my friends, and this project gave me the perfect opportunity to do just that.  I not only was able to create the book, but also organise and look at all my pictures, and remember many smaller trips that I had forgotten about in the past two years.  The programme can be a little frustrating at times, especially since it doesn’t allow special characters to be used in text boxes, but other than that it wasn’t to bad.

Enjoy the book and I look forward to making more for you all in the future.

What does the future hold…

Wow, another quarter is coming to a close, and I am only one quarter away from graduating. While the class that this blog was originally for is ending I would very much like to continue sharing my pictures and stories, but I need some direction.

I really enjoy a lot of things regarding travel, geography, and photography, and I am thinking of expanding my content to include interesting maps I find as well. Such as this map showing the British-Canadian/American border placed along the 49th parallel and the confusion over where the line should be placed through the San Juan Islands between the Washington mainland and Vancouver Island.

I also have some thoughts concerning my favourite souvenirs to bring home from my trips that I would like to share with you. Such as flags from various countries.

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Flags of various countries I (or my friends) have travelled to

That being said, I do really enjoy picking pictures out for you all and talking about the story behind them too. So here is my question for you…

1. Should keep doing the same style of larger post as I have been doing with many pictures, while adding in other content than just travel

or…

2. Should I post a single picture and talk briefly about the story behind the picture, while adding in other content than just travel.

Regardless, I plan on using the photo slider on the home page to post a few new pictures and then let you all (the readers) pick which one you want to hear the story behind.

Please comment and let me know your thoughts!  It will be good for all involved.

Wedding and Birds (Part III)

By / February 26, 2013

Now I know this one is a bit long but bare with me, it’s well worth it.  At least I think so.

July 28, the big day for our friends was finally here, but there was still a lot of preparation to do before a successful marriage could be pulled off.  Being in a campground anything that was needed for the celebration had to be constructed, mostly using PVC piping and plywood.  We also needed to hike around the general proximity of the campground to find a good location for the ceremony itself, with enough space for everyone, a more natural vide than the busy campground, and yet close enough that everyone could walk there without much difficulty.

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I think there is a movie reference in there somewhere…

They settled on a small clearing a little ways off, but this location had one small setback… getting there required crossing a small stream, which really was just a large muddy swath.  My dad and some of the others solved this problem by hastily building a “bridge” which was then thrown over the creek/mud.  Crisis averted!

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The makeshift bridge

Some of the younger girls felt left out during the whole building process and wanted to partake too, so they decided to construct a decretive arch to adorn the opening into the clearing.  Their material of choice was some large tree branches (more like saplings really) tied together with twine and spruced up with ribbon, paper lanterns, and beads.  I thought it really added to the wedding atmosphere out in the woods.

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The Great Wedding Arch

Now that everything was ready the march to the wedding began.  Since the location was close to the mud creek there were a few patches of soggy ground on the path out to the clearing.  As I had been out helping scout the area I ended up with the title of “Swamp Guide”, helping travellers navigate the few feet of treacherous bog.  Unfortunately a few of the well wishers didn’t heed my warnings and ended up covered in gunk, so I grabbed a tarp and laid it over the area to at least keep feet clean.  Keep in mind the whole time I was wearing my flip flops and shorts, as per usual, so my feet were a mess by the end of the ceremony.

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The march to the wedding as seen from my inherited swamp

The wedding itself was a simple, quick affair that included dogs and kids running around our feet.  It was a great ceremony and a great idea for a marriage, I’d love to do something similar out in nature.  So after getting everyone out to the spot we promptly turned everyone around and got them back through the swamp, over the mud bridge, and safely back to the campsite, where the band was getting set up under a hastily constructed sun-shelter.

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Testing sound for the bluegrass band.

While others were setting up tables with food, drink, flowers, and decorations I went over to a trailer to investigate some hummingbird feeders.  Hummingbirds are one of my favourite animals for a multitude of reasons; they are some of the smallest birds out there, can hover and fly backward, have the highest metabolism of all animals, and just plain look beautiful.

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Oh the shiny feathers, they get me every time…

I sat there for well over an hour, being extremely still so they would be comfortable enough with me to continue on with their normal activities.  At one point I had 5 birds on my fingers and arm, all trying to get to the feeder.  Here is a picture my mum took of one bird landing on my finger to get the sugar water out of the feeder.

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One on my thumb, and another coming in for a landing

After a good amount of time I realised there was a second feeder above me, and the lighting got even better, allowing me to take a bunch of really great shots with my telephoto lens (40-300 zoom).

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The lighting couldn’t have gotten any better!

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Landing… the feathers on the wings are very interesting.

I’ve never seen so many hummingbirds at once (there were at least 8 but probably more), all zooming around the trailer and me, leaving, and coming back with more friends.

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Four birds gathered at a feeder

After taking the pictures I felt like I learned a lot about the birds I didn’t know before, especially their anatomy.  For example, the feathers on their backs and necks almost look more like scales than feathers in direct light (at least on this species).

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What look like scales on the neck region

Many people came over to see what I was up to and were impressed by the show.  But by now everything was set up food, dancing, and celebrating, so the hummingbirds were bumped from the spotlight.  As with any wedding there were multitudes of flowers and foods to munch on.

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Flowers upon flowers

After stuffing ourselves with dinner (or lunch?) I helped get out the champaign and naturally had to take a picture of it in the glasses, as it was getting later in the day and the light was shinning though it, creating amazing colours and reflections on the tabletops and within the plastic.

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Little lights dancing in glasses

At last came the cake!  I’m sure some of you were waiting to see what it looked like, as was I. (I won’t lie that tv shows like Cake Boss fascinate me, it’s amazing to see how creative people can be, making such works of art out of cake that will only be devoured a few hours later.)  The cake was a simple chocolate one,

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A cake in the same maner as the wedding itself.

The entire day was amazing, and I can only imagine what it felt like for our two friends.  The thing that I remember most though is my time with the birds.  I’m not sure if being graced by hummingbirds means anything at a wedding, but at least it provided one more bit of beauty on such a special day.  I’m choosing to think so, and may there be many more hummingbirds in your future life together.

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These birds bring happiness with them.

On a side note, does anyone know what species of hummingbird this is?  It is indigenous to upper New Mexico/Colorado (unless its invasive but I dont think so), I’d love to know.

Photos taken with my Nikon D50 on July 28, 2012.

8 Tips for better Trips (and blogging too)

By / February 21, 2013

Some of my fondest memories come from my travels, but if it’s not done right things can be go dreadfully wrong.  These also happen to be applicable to blogging , There are many tips to avoid these disasters, and I have narrowed it down to my top 8.  Everyone has their own style so not all of these may apply to you specifically, but they are a good place to start in both travelling and blogging.  So here they are… along with some pictures to look forward to.

8. Make Lists – People love lists, whether traveling, writing, or reading.  It is a great method of organising top sites you want to visit or things you have (or still need to) pack in a succinct way so you don’t forget to go see something and regret mission out on it (or losing a shirt at a hotel).  In the case of blogging lists can help you get your point across quickly and have a faster paced flow to keep the reader interested (everyone wants to know what #1 is).  Food blogs such as Orangette’s tend to lend themselves to lists (with ingredients and instructions), but a list of the top countries to visit this month or top things forgotten on trips could work as well.

7. Ask questions of locals (and readers) – One of the best ways to get involved in a new culture is to ask questions of those that live there.  There might be a secret community watering hole down the street you would have passed by had you not asked a local.  Plus most locals love it when you take the time to talk to them, it shows that you respect them personally and culturally and are not just a tourist there to briefly see their homeland and leave.  With blogging, questions also build a sense of community, allowing your readers to become involved in the process, making them feel their voice/opinion is important (in much the same way the local would feel).  While I might not believe in everything said by Becky of Faith in College, she does a marvellous job asking questions, creating this sense of openness and community that makes the readers feel valued and important, whatever their beliefs.

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View of the French Alps near Col de l’Iseran, France (the highest paved mountain pass in the Alps) on July 13, 2008

6. Read and respond to comments – If a reader comments on your post, a response will make them feel even more important, and show that you did indeed read what they had to say, increasing the chances they return to your blog.  Furthermore, someone might have a completely different interpretation of something in your post, and their comment could affect your future thoughts related to your post (or trip), possibly broadening your horizons.  Bailey of Luscious Vicious does a good job engaging with her audience, responding to questions related to what she made last week and possibly drawing more readers in the process.  This is very similar to what could occur if you try to talk to a local in France using French and stay involved in the conversation.  They will recognise you making an effort and usually help you out, in the process raising their opinion of your own culture.

5. Travel (post) frequently – Once you have travelled somewhere exciting you won’t want to stop, but life can often get in the way or your great escapes.  Try to set aside a block of time to travel somewhere exciting, whether in your own country or abroad.  There are so many amazing places to see, and so little time to do it all.  If you hope to have a successful blog you also need to force yourself to set aside time (ever week or so) to write.  If you are posting regularly your readers can look forward to new content and will be more likely to keep reading, just as you can keep looking forward to your upcoming trips.  Heather of Chickaddie’s Nest does a great job of posting something every few days.

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Sailing through a pod of Orca Whales in Washington State’s San Juan Islands on June 13, 2011

4. Plan ahead of time – Don’t just up and leave (or start writing a post) with no forethought.  Some countries require tourist visas or have travel warnings, and you should have an idea of what you want to see/do and where you will be staying while you are there.  While writing a blog it is a good idea to plan out some key points you want to touch on in your post, instead of just babbling on because no one will want to read an incoherent post.  Sarah of Books, and Other Places I’ve Been seems to do a good job of planning out what she hopes to accomplish with each post and then stays on topic.

3. Be yourself – Go somewhere YOU want to and do the things YOU want to do.  If you don’t know (or want to learn) Turkish, don’t like semiarid climates, and don’t like large cities then you probably wouldn’t enjoy travelling to Istanbul or Ankara, Turkey.  The same principle is true with blogging.  Pick a topic you enjoy and write on that, don’t do something that you won’t enjoy writing on years from now.  The blog Truth and Cake has a very unique style, and while some might not like it as much as others (including me) she sticks to it and is herself.  That being said don’t be afraid to modify your theme (or trip) if your interests change (maybe hopping over to Turkey if you hear good things about it while travelling in Greece).

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Wellington, New Zealand’s CBD at dusk on July 19, 2011

2. Go outside your comfort zone – Anyone who travels a lot will tell you the best way to experience a new place is to try local things that you are not accustomed to, such as haggis in Scotland (you will never know if you like it unless you try it).  The same is true of blogging, some of most interesting stories you have deal with trying a new thing you normally wouldn’t have done, as Leah does with her friends every week on On Becoming a Sponge.

1. Add/take relevant visual aids – It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words.  Whether or not this is true depends on the picture, but if you hope to blog successfully (and remember your travels for years to come) it is a good idea to add/take pictures to break up a block of text.  Molly of Kickin’ it in the Kitchen does this extremely well, with a few pictures of her weekly cooking experience to help the reader feel more involved.  Furthermore, when I return from a trip I tend to forget everything that happened, and pictures are a great way to bring back those good memories.

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My first live NHL game, between the San Jose Sharks and Detroit Red Wings, in San Jose, California on March 17, 2012

Pictures taken with my Nikon D50, Alp picture taken with my Cannon PowerShot A560

Station Wagon Nomad: On finding Canaan Downs (A guest post by Sarah Reif)

By / February 19, 2013

This week I am postponing part three of my New Mexico/Colorado Adventure because of an exciting development…

One of my good friends (Sarah Reif of Books, and other places I’ve been) recently returned from studying abroad in New Zealand (one year after I studied abroad there) and agreed to tell a story from her experience.  Here is her account…

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Station Wagon Nomad: On finding Canaan Downs
Before going to New Zealand I had heard it said by many people: the best way to see the country is by motorhome. Prior to my NZ experience my Americanized perspective of motorhomes caused me to cringe at the thought. Nothing seemed like cheating more than driving to campgrounds in a big box-y monolith of fake camping. As it turned out however, these motorhomes people were talking about were actually little more than modified minivans with a mattress in the back. I never got my hands on one of the sleepervans but I did experience what makes campsite-hopping the best way to see NZ by spending two weeks living out of a station wagon with my friend Ellie.

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Me cooking dinner

I first met Ellie online through the WWOOF organization website. Like me, she was a 20-year-old from Oregon who had come to spend a few months in NZ. We met up on a farm on the South Island near Glenorchy where we planted trees for two weeks before going our separate ways (me back to the North Island and her south into Fiordlands) with plans to meet up a couple weeks later. True to our plans, twelve days saw me and my backpack arriving in Kaikoura where we loaded into Mushu, the station wagon that would be our home.

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Mushu the car

That first night we were overly ambitious and ended up driving well into darkness to find a campsite inland by Hamner Springs. We ended up paying 10$ each. Surprisingly, this was the most we ever paid to stay somewhere.
The plan was to head all the way across the country, see the pancake rocks on the west coast, head inland once more, only to move west again to see the entirety of Golden Bay (and Kayak!), then back east to Picton where we would take the Ferry across to the North Island. On the North Island we would stop in Wellington to see the Hobbit, loop east and down to see the Putangirua Pinnacles, zoom North to the Tongariro Crossing, head underground to the Waitomo Caves, then climb the last leg north to Auckland. All in fourteen days. Sounds Doable right?

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View from Kaikoura right before we set off

Armed with Department of Conservation (DOC) campsite guides, Ellie and I were able to sleep for free every night after that initial stop in Hamner Springs. We fought off hoards of Sandflies (evil in bug form*), we used biodegradable soap to wash our two pots clean in rivers, and we took showers when we could find them often convincing ourselves that a swim in the ocean “totally counts right?” At night we would put the back seat down flat, cover it with foam mats, cover those with two blankets, fill sweatshirts with other clothes to make pillows and crawl into our sleeping bags. It was the most fun I’ve ever had in my life.

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Sleeping set up

There are many perfectly wonderful bus companies that will get you to all the big name stops in NZ in a fun and fairly cheap manner but nothing compares to having complete control of your itinerary. See a sign for “old man rock?” Might as well go check out what it is (it looked so much like an old man it was unbelievable. You’re going to have to take my word for it though because my camera was out of batteries). I’m not going to put you through a play-by-play of our entire trip (that would be a task for a far longer entry than this) but I will leave you with a description of a place that has come to represent this adventure in my mind, Canaan Downs on the south end of Able Tasman National Park.

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To Old Man Rock

Ellie and I found Canaan down by chance, such was the nature of our trip. I was attracted the area because our map identified it as a Lord of the Rings filming location and there just happened to be a little blue campground symbol right next door. Getting there was an adventure itself: we had to make the long winding drive up Takaka hill and then turn off onto a small one lane dirt road for 11km (it felt longer though, we even considered turning back many times because we thought we’d missed it somehow). At the very end of the road we were rewarded with the best campsite ever: a big grassy field, two long-drop toilets, and a picnic table surrounded by hiking trails through sheep fields and dense beech forest. Furthermore it was the site of Harwood’s Hole, a giant cave with 50-meter round entrance that descends 183 meters it is New Zealand’s deepest vertical cave shaft. (Of course we ignored the “experienced cavers only” sign and went to have a look). We ate dinner with fellow car campers from Israel, France, and Germany during a beautiful sunset and by the time the next morning rolled around we had decided to spend all day there and one more night.

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Harwood’s Hole

Only through unplanned spur of the moment car/camping travel can you find places like this. I saw many places in New Zealand, all of them beautiful in their own right, but for some reason that little campsite exists in my mind with the highest regards. It feels like a secret, not the kind you lock away, but the kind that’s best shared with friends. It’s the place you pull someone aside before a trip to tell them about, “If you find yourself in Golden bay,” you’ll say, “drive up Takaka and follow the signs to Harwood’s Hole, drive until the road ends, and don’t forget to bring a book because you’ll want to stay there for awhile.”

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Canaan Downs view

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*She is not at all exaggerating, they are the literal worst.

Sweet as trip eh?  I had many experiences just like this in New Zealand, where you can stumble upon the most amazing scenery without trying.  You never want to leave, but when you do you only find another place you never want to leave the next day.  It truly is an amazing country.  Does anyone else want to share any good New Zealand stories?

Photos courtesy of Sarah Reif of Books, and other places I’ve been.

C&T Scenic Railway (Part II)

By / February 11, 2013
C&T Scenic Railroad train
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The Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad straddling the New Mexico and Colorado border.

Chama was originally a small rail town in upper New Mexico (see map), but fell upon hard times when the railway it lies on fell into disuse.  Eventually a section of the line, running form Chama, NM to Antonito, CO was purchased and turned into a historical tourist attraction, named the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad (we did Trip #5 if you are interested).

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The other C&T Railway train heading back to Chama after the lunch pitstop

The couple to be both had been on this train route before and wanted the wedding party to experience it as well, and for good reason.  Thus, almost everyone attending the wedding piled on the train for some sightseeing and socialising.

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Looking over the countryside from the C&T Scenic Railway

The first interesting sight we went past was the remnants of a water tower and stock pen that were used in the train chase scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (at the 3 min mark in this video) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZhK7mSnJyFg.

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Remains of the water tower used in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

From this point on the grade increased to about 4%.  Now that might not sound like that much, only a 4 foot (or meter) rise for every 100 feet (or meters) of length, but keep in mind that trains use steel wheels riding on steel tracks, meaning if the grade is any steeper the train will start to slip down the tracks due to a lack a friction.  To counter this, engineers throw sand on the tracks ahead of the train to add more traction.

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Chugging along

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Flying through the countryside

After making it over the Cumbres Pass, 10,015 ft (3,053 m), it was all downhill to the lunch site, and to allow the train to make down to steep slope some pretty amazing engineering had to occur.  One of these features was a loop where the track doubled back on itself (called Tanglefoot Curve), where it is said some of the crew would jump off the train and run down the hill only to jump back on as it passes again.

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Tanglefoot Curve: Supposedly named when an engineer almost missed his train after getting his foot tangled in the brush

Continuing down the valley we eventually arrived at our lunch location, at about the halfway point on the journey.  Lunch was provided to the passengers on our train as well as one coming from the other direction.

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They don’t mess around in the Southwest…

We were also able to walk around and take some pictures of the train engine and cars from the ground, providing some interesting opportunities.

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Good thing the train was stopped

Coming up were a few of the neatest locations on the line, a pair of tunnels (named Mud Tunnel and Rock Tunnel… you guessed it, one is bored threw mud, and one through rock), and a huge gash in the mountains known as Toltec Gorge.  Here the train overlooks the Rio de Los Pinos 600 ft (~180 m) below.

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Emerging from the aptly named Mud Tunnel

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Looking into the Toltec Gorge, the river is down there somewhere…

The final hour and a half of the train ride was not as eventful, with only pretty rolling hills and desert in the foreground and purple mountains in the distance.  Upon arrival at Antonito, CO we disembarked the train and hopped on tour busses to return us to Chama.  In total we crossed the New Mexico/Colorado border 11 times on the train, and one on the return bus ride.

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Closer view of the train. I spent almost the entire trip standing in the open viewing car (not shown) and was covered with little bits of coal by the end.

The entire trip lasted six and a half hours while traveling 64 scenic miles (103 km).  We experienced sun, rain, and hail and only a few of us braved the “weather”, which was actually quite refreshing.

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Beautiful stream/river just after the majority of the passengers were scared out of the gondola (open air viewing car) by a little hail and rain.

All in all was a great icebreaker before the wedding, and gave those of us not from the area the opportunity to see the land from a unique historical perspective.

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The campsite and location of the wedding on the Colorado/New Mexico Border

Next: Here comes the bride plus… birds?

 

Photos taken with my Nikon D50 DSLR camera on 27 July, 2012.

Northern New Mexico (Part I)

Last week I covered my various adventures in Belgium (hopefully you noticed the theme), and I would like to continue having a country theme each week; however, seeing as I have many stories for some countries and not that many for others we’ll just have to see what happens.  I would also like to mix things up by alternating stories from abroad and those I have in North America.

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Looking down Interstate 25 north of Albuquerque in the Rio Grande River Valley

So this week I’ll talk about a trip my family and I took to New Mexico and southern Colorado last summer.  The reason for our trip was a family friends wedding.  Our friend was originally from Arizona and her husband to be was from Colorado, but they met at college in New Mexico and both love the southwest and are very outdoorsy.

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Really pretty mural we saw depicting the desert on one side of the wall, and the green mountains on the other. Also shows the adobe architecture.

The wedding was set to be located at a campground straddling the New Mexico/Colorado border, just north of Chama, New Mexico, so I flew into Albuquerque from Seattle, and my dad and sister flew in from Reno.  I had no clue how high Albuquerque’s elevation was (I thought it was about like Reno’s, ~4500 ft.) and it wasn’t till we were around Santa Fe that I saw a sign for 6000 ft.  This meant the many of the ranges in the area had peaks above 10000 feet even though many didn’t look that large.

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Old fort near Taos, New Mexico

Anyway, we continued northward, first stopping in REI (the most amazing store ever, don’t even get me started) to get any camping supplies we couldn’t bring on the plane and a New Mexico and Colorado Atlases.  Yeah, we are probably come of the few people who still do buy these but they are so useful to have (and educational too!).  Then we stopped briefly in Santa Fe to take the obligatory tourist pictures, admire the adobe architecture, and get some souvenirs/wedding gifts.

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In the old town of Santa Fe with clouds building around us

Having just come back from Yucatan, Mexico (the state) a few weeks earlier it was very interesting to see the old town laid out like a traditional Mexican town (the large central plaza and church) but with an almost fake feel to it from catering to all the tourists.

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The central plaza with shops surrounding it, very much in the Mexican style but with a bit of a tourist trap feel

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Monument in the centre of the park, shade trees were a welcome relief in the sweltering heat

After driving another few hours we arrived at our destination for the evening, the lovely little town of Taos, New Mexico, at the base of Wheeler Peak.

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The town square in Taos at dusk, a much more authentic New Mexican town than Santa Fe

We purposely arrived a few days early so we could do some hiking and adventuring in the area before the wedding, and we planned to ascend the tallest mountain in New Mexico, Wheeler Peak with an elevation of 13,159 ft (4,011 m). Interestingly this is also the name of the Tallest Mountain in Nevada, which we climbed in 2009 (though NV’s is 100 ft shorter).  Mr Wheeler got around apparently.

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Starting the Wheeler Peak hike, note the blue sky…

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Now we are on the ridge, half of the sky is blue…

New Mexico is famous for its afternoon thunderstorms, so you have to start very early if you hope to complete your high elevation hike before the lightning starts.  We thought we started out early enough, but after about 90% of the way up we could tell we might be in trouble.  The clouds had started to build and it was getting darker over the next ridge, where we wanted to be.

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Our trail disappearing over the ridge with clouds on the far peak…

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And the view on the other side of that ridge. This little valley would become our home for a while…

Now we were trapped in a low area between two ridges with no way out.  We waited for a bit and then tried to continue on, only to have lightning strike WAY closer than we wanted, prompting us to turn tail and run back to our refuge.

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Ominous clouds are now all around us, things weren’t looking good…

We then wisely decided that our best plan of action would be to wait for a lull in the storm and head back down the way we came.  The peak was not worth one of our lives.

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Cows on the hillside, not worried about the storm at all

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HUGE thunderhead off in the distance, we made a break for safety while we could

Eventually we made it back down with no more close calls, hopped in the car, and drove through the massive storm in the valley on our way to Chama.  All in all it was a great way to start the trip, but the best was yet to come.

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Downbursts while driving through the valley, with lightning striking all around the highway

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Overlooking the Chama Valley, with the town of Chama located on the other side of the bluffs

NM-countryside

Highway 65 winding through the countryside, you would never know the elevation is about 9000 feet

Next stop… the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad in Chama!

Photos taken with my Nikon D50, 25-27 July, 2012

In Bruges

Icy Pond

Bruges, Belgium – February 17-18 2008

Bruges-Markt

The central square of Bruges with traditional buildings

The main destination on our trip to Belgium was actually Bruges, a small medieval industrial town on the northwest side of the country.  My parents were the ones adamant about going there for two days before we continued on to London.  I had never heard of this “Bruges” place, and wasn’t sure it sounded all that fun, even though my parents were rather excited.  Bruges is a place that is easily missed, easily mocked, and, it would appear, easily forgotten (I’ll get to this though).

Bruges-city-square

The city square (called the “Markt”) from the Belfry

After deciding to spend this week documenting my previous adventures in Belgium I naturally had to look through all of my pictures from Europe (which was quite the project in itself as there are thousands of them).  I did remember driving through the country and stopping a few places but nothing really stood out (save for the Atomium and the EU buildings in Brussels) until I finally got to my pictures of Bruges.

Brugge-houses

The traditional style of buildings lining the canals

Bruges has been called one of the “Venice’s of the North”, and for good reason.  The original town (home to about 20,000) is actually an island that is surrounded by a network of canals that are nearly as common as the cobbled streets.  I highly recommend taking a canal tour.  There is really no experience like it… well maybe in Venice… but I have yet to go there so this is one of a kind in my book.  You have no idea how relaxing it is to sit in a small boat and float in and around buildings that have been continually inhabited for over 900 years (the city received its charter in 1128).

Bruges-Tree

One of the old canals of Bruges

The Bruges Belfry, added in 1240 it is one of the tallest structures in the city center

The Bruges Belfry as seen from canal level, added in 1240 it is one of the tallest structures in the city center

Next we transitioned from looking up at the city from the canals to looking down on the city from the top of the Belfry.  I greatly enjoy going up tall structures in cities to get a good view of the region, and if you haven’t noticed that trend yet you will, trust me.

Bruges-Towers

The two other towers of Bruges as sen from the top of the Belfry

After spending probably much more time at the cramped top than we should have we descended and proceded to walk around town, seeing the parks, canals, and quaint buildings from the narrow streets.  Because we were there in the winter (the off season) we really only had to share the town with the locals, which gives you a much more authentic feel.  Furthermore, many of the ponds were partially frozen over, creating amazing reflections and adding to the peaceful setting.

Brugge-canal

A park in Bruges, the pond is mostly frozen and was perfectly reflecting the bridge

Bruges-Park

Trees in a park in Bruges… it was so peaceful

By this point it was dark, and the city at night had a completely different feel about it.  Some streets were very well lit, some were completely dark, and the canals added a new element that I wasn’t used to, roads ending in water with reflections of the buildings on either side staring back at you.

Bruges-Reflection-night

Reflections on the canals only become prettier at night

The following morning we awoke to the city shrouded in fog.  As you might know, fog muffles noise, and this is amplified when there are hardly any cars.  It was a very interesting feeling, seeing these medieval monoliths disappearing silently into the mist, and once again completely changed the feel of the town.

Bruges-fog

The Belfry disappears into the dense fog

Bruges-canal-reflection

some of the calmest water I’ve ever seen

I felt like two days in Bruges was not enough to fully experience the city (even though we saw it in three different settings), but we were already off to our next adventure in London.  Ironically about a week after we returned to Orléans, France (where we were living at the time) I saw a trailer for a movie titled “In Bruges” which was set to come out in a few months.  It is a British Black Comedy film, and 16 year old Ian really didn’t want to see it.  However, I did think it was really interesting that this movie about a place I’d never heard of was set to come out immediately after we were there.  While I was looking though my pictures I remembered the movie and decided I really should see it now, plus I figured it would have a lot of good views of the city centre… and it did!  Here is a Trailer for the movie.

Bruges-Belfry-fog

Much of the movie takes place in and around the Markt and Belfry tower (without the fog though)

I loved the movie (though it is rather crude and violent), and it really reminded me of the town as I recognised canals I had walked and trees/parks I had taken pictures of.  An ongoing joke within the film is how boring Bruges is, how no one knows about it or seeks it out, and how they want tot leave as soon as possible.  I thought this was pretty funny as I had completely forgotten I was even there until I started looking at my pictures again.

Bruges-Windmill

What trip to Belgium is complete without seeing a windmill!

Now that I remember my times there I would love the opportunity to come back with a better camera and take better versions of my pictures, it really is a beautiful place, though might not be for everyone (especially in the middle of winter).

All pictures taken with my Canon PowerShot A560 point-and-shoot camera.

A typical day in the capital of Europe

International District

Brussels, Belgium

One of the main reasons I wanted to visit Brussels and Belgium while we were living in France in 2008 was all of the European Union (EU) government buildings and offices.  Yeah… I know I was a weird kid who was interested in international/intergovernmental politics, and many would say this has only gotten worse (or better?) with time.  I also enjoyed architecture and just wanted to see where the EU, that great European governing body, was housed, even if we didn’t take a tour inside.

Buildings in the International District of Brussels

Getting closer to the EU buildings

So, after seeing Brussels from atop the Atomium I made my family drive through the Brussels CBD because I wanted to see the EU buildings in the International Sector.  We ended up getting slightly lost and my mum got out to look at a tourist sign on the sidewalk, it turned our we were only a tunnel (which changed direction) away from our destination.  When we emerged from the tunnel traffic was quite bad, which was kind of strange considering it was mid afternoon on the weekend, but more on the cause shortly.

International-Traffic

Abnormally large amounts of traffic

Now we were right smack dab in the middle of the Brussels with the EU Commission Building (The Berlaymont Building) just in view on the other side of a large roundabout.  We needed to get to Brugges that evening so due to the traffic we decided not to park (we were stopped in the middle of the road anyway).  My dad and I jumped out of the car and walked up to the top of the roundabout to get a good view of the buildings and see if we could learn what all the traffic was on about.  As we approached the summit we heard chanting and honking on the other side…

Kosovo-Protest

Protesters calling for the independent state of Kosovo

In fact there was a large protest happening.  At the time I had a feeling it dealt with the recent independence claims of Kosovo (partly from things I recalled hearing in my classes and on the news and partly because I thought I recognised the Albanian Flag waving amongst the people).  You might ask how 17 year old me would recognise the Albanian flag… I collect flags and know an obscene amount of random (and probable never useful) information about world geography.

File:Flag of Albania.svg

For most of the world’s population that doesn’t instantly recognise the Albanian flag

File:Flag of Kosovo.svg

The new flag of Kosovo chosen on February 17th, 2008 (the day after this protest)

These suspicions of mine turned out to be true once I looked up news reports when we got home after the trip.  The protesters ended up getting what they wanted, as Kosovo declared independence from Serbia the day after our visit to Brussels (and inadvertently the protest), though many nations still have not recogised its independence.  Most of the protest took place in sight of the European Commission, as to draw attention to the unfair treatment the citizens of Kosovo felt they were receiving.

Berlaymont-building

Berlaymont Building in Brussels, home of the European Commission (the Executive branch of the EU)

What started out as a fairly normal day of sightseeing quickly turned into one of my favorite European moments; epitomising the politics of the time and how everyday life in Europe can be disrupted by a protest at any time.

Photos taken with my Cannon PowerShot A560 on February 16th, 2008

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