We had a great morning seeing Revolution square and the Callejon de Hamel. Now it was time for lunch. We boarded the bus for the ride back to Old Havana. The streets of Old Havana are fairly narrow, not suitable for large buses. So here is where the walking tour portion of our excursion started. We exited the bus near El Malecon and walked about three blocks through the Plaza de la Catedral to La Bodeguita del Medio. La Bodeguita del Medio is probably the most famous restaurant and bar in Havana, maybe even all of Cuba. They claim to be the inventor of the mojito. It was Ernest Hemingway’s favorite place to have a mojito. Many other famous people made a point of stopping by when they were in Havana. There is a large painting of Ernest Hemingway and I think maybe the bartender or owner on the wall behind the bar. Back before the days of Hemingway, it became a custom to autograph the walls. Today there isn’t an inch of wall space that doesn’t have someones name on it. They reserved the whole second floor for our tour. They served lobster tail, plantains, rice and beans. Robbie and several others were vegetarians; they had a nice veggie plate. We washed it all down with a world famous Bodeguita Mojito. After lunch we were entertained by a Cuban band. The music was great, and in case we didn’t already know it, we were definitely in Havana! Our local Cuban/Mexican restaurant has artwork on the wall depicting La Bodeguita del Medio. Now every time I see it, I remember our lunch at Bodeguita. We also brought home a wooden wall art of the Bodeguita.
Our bus ride took us across town to the Callejon de Hamel, basically an ally named Hamel. The Hamel is a small two block long alleyway in the Afro-Cuban neighborhood. The ally is covered with the colorful, eclectic art of Salvador Gonzales. The buildings are covered in colorful murals. There are sculptures most people would probably call junk art. Salvador used old pipes, car parts, bike parts, bathtubs, and other assorted scraps of metal to make his sculptures. His use of bathtubs is particularly interesting. Some of them he cut in half and made benches from them. Others he put on pedestals or embedded in the walls. Salvador is self taught, he started with a few pieces in the ally near his home. He was encouraged by other residents and visitors to continue. He now has murals and art work all over the world. There is a small gallery of his art in the ally. These items are for sale, and I wasn’t allowed to take any pictures of them. You can walk up and down the small alleyway several times and see something new each time.
After learning about Salvador and seeing the artwork in the ally, we were taken to a small brightly colored room, decorated with more sculptures. There were chairs all along the walls, we all found a seat. Our resident Hamel Ally expert, who had told us all about the ally, started telling us about Cuban Rumba dancing. Rumba means party and this dance is certainly a party! It was created by freed slaves living in Cuba. It is a mixture of their African and Spanish heritages. The music, also called Rumba, is played with three different size conga drums. The beat is loud and lively. The dance is wild and exuberant. Some dances are showing off dance moves and skill. Other dances with a man and a woman, have sexual overtones. The man will make advances toward the woman and the woman will resist. This is not the Rumba that Robbie and I learned in ballroom dance class! They passed the hat at the end, a tip was well deserved. I wasn’t expecting the dance show and we didn’t have a lot of Cuban money left. I wish I would have been able to give a little more.
The Hamel was awesome! I did read about it when I was researching doing things on our own in Havana. It’s a little out of the way and I wasn’t sure if we would be able to get there or not. Even if we had been able get there, we would have missed the Rumba dancing. The dancing that we saw was done especially for our tour. The public dancing in the ally is only done on Sundays. It’s little things like this that can make doing a shore excursion worthwhile.
On our second day in Havana, Robbie and I chose to do the Art and Culture tour. This was sort of a hybrid tour that involved a bus ride, as well as a walking tour. We woke up early and ate a good breakfast. There is no shortage of food on a cruise. This tour included lunch, but we were not sure when that would be. Once again we met our group in the big showroom to wait our turn to exit the ship. Once we were off the ship we needed go through customs. They had several customs people, so the process went fairly quickly and smoothly. They just check your passport, visa, and make sure you don’t have any weapons, fruits, etc., the typical things you can’t take into another country. There is airport type scanning and off you go. We met up with our group at the designated area and boarded our bus.
The first stop on the tour was Plaza de la Revolucion, we call it Revolution Square. The square is outside of Old Havana, too far to walk. To see this on our own we would have needed a taxi or maybe one of those cool little yellow Cocotaxies. A Cocotaxi is a small, round, motorized rickshaw thing that looks like a coconut. They are rather cute, but being a three wheel vehicle they are prone to tipping over (I don’t think that happens too often). The bus ride from the port took us down Paseo de Pardo, this is a large tree lined boulevard with a promenade through the middle. If you have the time, a stroll down the promenade is recommended. We road past the Memorial Granma. The memorial houses the yacht Granma that Fidel Castro used to transport revolutionary fighters from Mexico to Cuba. The glass building that houses the Granma is surrounded by old military vehicles, the Granma is not visible from the road. We then passed by El Capitolio, the old capitol building. It was modeled after our own capitol building in Washington DC. Just past El Capitolio is Chinatown.
Revolution Square is a huge plaza where political rallies are held. Fidel Castro and other Cuban leaders address the people of Cuba from this plaza. A prominent feature of the plaza is the Jose Marti monument. It’s a tall star shaped tower along one side of the plaza. Jose was a Cuban hero from the late 1800s. There is a museum in the base of the tower, we didn’t have time to visit. Behind the monument is a large government building and the home of the Cuban Communist Party. On the other side of the plaza are two other government buildings. One has a large drawing in steel of Camilo Cienfuegos, who sort of looks like Fidel. We thought it was Fidel at first. The other building has a matching drawing of Che Guevara. They were both heroes of the Cuban Revolution and friends of Fidel Castro. As you can see in the parking lot one of the best ways to get to the plaza is in an old classic car. Due to not being able to buy parts from the US, most of these old cars have a Russian engine under the hood. All aboard for the bus ride back to Old Havana.
On our trip to Toronto Canada last spring my wife and I stopped by the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM). I saw some photos of the ROM when I was researching our trip. I really liked the geometric architecture, so I definitely wanted to photograph it. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to go inside and take a tour of the museum’s galleries. They have quite an extensive collection.
The original building is a stone Neo-Romanesque style, built in 1910. The modern aluminum expansion called the Crystal, was added nearly 100 years later in 2007. Most of the original building is still visible and the contrast between the two styles is quite dramatic. The public opinion of the new addition was quite dramatic. Like when the glass pyramid was added to the Louvre in Paris, lots of people hated it. I gave these images a dark dramatic look to emphasize all of the drama. Love them or hate them, I enjoyed photographing both the glass pyramid and the Crystal.
I really like all of the angles and geometric shapes of the Crystal. The large glass windows are at the perfect angle to reflect everything going on in the street below. I could have spent hours photographing the changing traffic patterns in the reflections.
Click on an image to see it full size.
No visit to Toronto would be complete without taking a trip to the top of the CN Tower. The tower was constructed by the Canadian National Railway, hence CN Tower. The tower is 1,815 ft. tall and it was the worlds tallest free-standing structure from 1975-2007. There are three visitor levels and a revolving restaurant. Robbie and I skipped the restaurant on this trip. We were visiting in the off season, so we just went right to the elevator. It looks like certain times of the year there can be a rather long wait to get to the top. The elevator ride is a short one. You are traveling at 20 ft. per second, the trip to the Indoor Lookout Level takes 58 seconds! The elevator shaft is glass so you get a nice view of the city on your way up. Oh, you may or may not want to look down, the floor is glass too. Your ride ends at the beautiful Indoor Lookout Level at 1,135 ft. It’s a large climate controlled area with huge glass widows. You get amazing panoramic views of Toronto and Lake Ontario. Don’t forget to look up at the mirrored ceiling, very cool. The friendly CN staff will happily take your photo with your camera.
Next you can visit the Outdoor Observation Terrace. Protected by wire mesh you can feel the wind in your face at 1,122 ft. get a 360 deg. birds eye view of the area. I think we walked around 3 times. Next visit the Glass Floor. There is an area inside on the terrace level that has a glass floor. The glass is super thick and super strong and super safe, but walking over the glass still made my tummy crawl! Standing on the glass and looking 1,122 ft. down is quite the thrill! You know nothing is going to happen but still, your seemingly standing on thin air! Your brain is telling you, this.is.not, a good idea!
I’m not sure if we were lucky or if this is an off season perk. On the day Robbie and I visited the tower, the trip to the Sky-Pod was free! There is normally an extra fee. Another short elevator ride takes you to the highest level of the tower at 1,465 ft. The pod has smaller glass windows and a great view of the area. For you thrill seekers, there is the Edge Walk. For $225ca you can strap on a harness, connect to a safety cable and walk around the outside of the tower and hang out over the edge! Maybe next time, NOT!
Our trip to Toronto was a vacation, not really a photography trip. However I did try to slip in a little serious photography where I could. One of my numerous favorite subjects to photograph, is architectural abstract photography. In-fact I started this blog as part of an architectural abstract portfolio assignment that I was doing for my Photography Certificate. See The final 10. Toronto is filled with loads of great architecture. As Robbie and I were taking our self-guided walking tour of Toronto, I was seeing some really nice architecture. I couldn’t help myself, I had to take a few architectural photos as we walked through the city.
One of the things I really like about Toronto are the many little parks scattered around the city. There seemed to be a small park along the way to wherever we were going. Sitting just behind the flatiron is Berczy Park. This was a particularly cute park. Robbie and I affectionately called it The Dog Park. More accurately I suppose it’s the park with the dog fountain. The fountain is adorned with statues of 27 dogs and 1 cat. It’s a really fun fountain. The park really does cater to dogs though. The water in the fountain is purified and dogs are encouraged to drink it. There is also a designated gravel area for dogs to release the water later. William Berczy was an architect and surveyor who helped to form early Toronto.
Toronto has loads of modern glass skyscrapers. Sitting among the monoliths of modern architecture a few remnants of the past still exist. One of the most prominent is the Gooderham Building, aka the Flatiron Building. The term flatiron building usually brings to mind a certain building in New York City. Torontonians are quick to point out that the Gooderham is ten years older. The building was owned by the Gooderham family of the Gooderham and Worts Distillery. It was the company’s main office for many years.
The Gooderham will be probably be on your way to or from the St. Lawrence market or the Distillery District. The Distiilery District is the old Gooderham and Worts Distillery that has been renovated into restaurants, bars and shops. The lower level of the flatiron contains a fantastic British pub.
The Flatiron Pub is a great place to stop for refreshments. I don’t think Robbie and I thought it was great only because we were very hot, tired and thirsty from sightseeing. It really is a nice pub! As I was relaxing with a pint of Canadian, I noticed that one of the windows behind the bar was open. As people were walking down the street, for a very brief moment their reflection could be seen in the window. I was having fun trying to catch the reflections in the window. The images didn’t quite live up to my vision of the scene, but it was fun. The pub has a nice menu and gave us an opportunity to try poutine, a Canadian delicacy. Poutine is french fries, sprinkled with chunks of a mild cheese and covered in brown gravy, very yummy! We had a wonderful time at the Flatiron. Oh, did I mention that Toronto is filled with art.
I like to get out at night to do some photography when I can. On our trip to Toronto we had full days with lots of walking. So by the time the sun went down I was pretty beat. Luckily the Strathcona Hotel, where we were staying, was a half block away from a pretty decent view of the CN Tower. So one night I grabbed my gear and walked down to the corner to take some photos. A woman was walking by and stopped to ask what I was photographing. She followed my lens and answered her own question. When she realized that I was taking a photo of the CN Tower, she said that she hadn’t noticed you could see the tower from this corner. I had to admit to her that the first time I walked by, I missed it too. We had a nice conversation, she was from New Brunswick CA. We were also right next to the Fairmont Royal York Hotel, the building with the flags. The Royal York is where Queen Elizabeth II stays when she comes to Toronto. Pretty much the whole royal family has stayed there at one time or another. This was the weekend of the big royal wedding, so none of the royals were there. Fun fact: the Royal York has 350,000 honey bees. They have a garden on the roof to grow veggies for the restaurant. The bees pollinate the garden and provide honey.
Toronto has a great park system. One of the biggest parks are the Toronto Islands. They are a chain of small islands in Lake Ontario, just off of the Toronto shoreline. My wife Robbie and I spent an afternoon on Centre Island. The islands are a short ferry ride from Toronto Jack Layton Ferry Terminal. You should stop by Longos on the way to the ferry terminal and pick up some picnic supplies. We were going to, but didn’t, and wish we had. The ferry terminal is tucked behind a Weston hotel. Just keep going around the right side of the building toward the back and you will see the terminal. Pick up your ticket at the ticket booth and go through the gate. Have a seat in one of the brightly colored Adirondack chairs for a short wait for the ferry. We went to Centre Island, there are two other options. We were there in the off season; there were not many people on our ferry. I think during the summer it can get quite crowded. The Toronto Islands are a popular recreational destination. Centre Island is a large green space, perfect for picnicking. There are a few public charcoal grills that you can use. Bring a blanket to spread on the grass for your picnic. Have fun sitting on the bright orange tulip chairs. Fold the seat down and enjoy the view of Toronto. Centreville is a small amusement park for the young ones, they will have a blast! It was just getting ready to open for the season when we were there. Centre Island is a great way to spend a relaxing afternoon walking, jogging or biking the paths around the island. Not to mention the awesome views of the Toronto skyline.
My wife Robbie had been wanting to see Niagara Falls, so we decided to plan a trip there. There are two main options when flying to Niagara Falls. One, you can fly into Buffalo NY. Two, you can fly into Toronto ON. CA. I decided that Toronto would be more interesting than Buffalo. Toronto Pearson International Airport is a fairly large airport. We had some difficulty finding our way from one place to the next. Top tip; “Study and download the terminal map onto your phone.” I’m looking at the map now and even after being there, I would still have trouble navigating. Downtown Toronto is about 15 miles from the airport. When I booked the trip I was able to get inexpensive tickets for the UP Train. The UP Train is a quick and easy way to get into Toronto. It takes you into Toronto Union station. Our hotel was a short one and a half block walk from Union Station. The Strathcona Hotel is a cute boutique hotel in the heart of Toronto. The rooms were a bit on the smallish side, but everything else was great. This is a fantastic location, we were within walking distance of almost every place we wanted to see. Tired, weary, thirsty and hungry from our journey we decided to try the Srath Pub, in the hotel’s lower level. The Pub, as it’s affectionately called, turned out to be pretty nice. Hotel guests as well as locals frequent The Pub. If a group of construction workers stop in after work, it must be a decent place.
Toronto is a very large bustling city, very comparable to New York City. There were people in business suits scurrying from place to place. Loads of horn blowing traffic in a hurry to get where they were going. We found Toronto to be a clean, friendly and very walk-able city. All around you crowds of people are going to their next business meeting or the next spot on their must see list, speaking many different languages. We are not sure, but we don’t think we met anyone actually from Toronto. The waitress from one of the restaurants that we liked was from Ireland. It’s a very international city. There are way too many things to see and do in Toronto. On our four day visit we barley scratched the surface.
One of the things you need to do for sure is take a stroll along Toronto’s waterfront. Toronto is right on the shoreline of Lake Ontario. There are miles of walkways along the lakes shoreline. It’s a very relaxing and scenic way to spend some time.
Toronto is a very artsy city as well. Just about everyplace you look there is some sort of art. It’s a bit hard to see in the photo but these workers are adding an eagle sculpture to the side of this building. You can see the eagles head on the building on the right edge of the photo. His wing is still on a flatbed about to be lifted into place. On our way back the eagle is perched with both wings attached.
There is architecture of all types downtown. I was constantly clicking away at one building or another. Everywhere you looked there were tulips. We found out later that Toronto and Holland have a history together and every year Holland sends thousands of tulips to Toronto. It was very beautiful and we were lucky to be there at the right time.
Longos, what would we have done without Longos! Longos is a great little grocery store. We stopped there several times for supplies. We got some great things for breakfast, lunch and snacks as well as soda and water. We also got some great maple cookies and maple syrup. Empty backpacks are great for transporting supplies back to your hotel. Oh, get the cashier to make a little handle for your 12pk of water, it works great! We found that we adapted pretty well to being big city dwellers. Speaking of backpacks everybody in Toronto has one. You will want to leave a little room in your backpack. Just above Longos on the right is the LCBO. This is where you get your wine and tequila.
Much more to see and do in my next posts on visiting Toronto.
Just some pinwheels from the Playalinda Festival of the Arts.
I was doing a little prep photography for my Take Your Camera Off of Auto class and my Nighttime photography class this week at the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival. Stop by the festival this week at EFSC in Titusville and learn about photography as well as birding and wildlife in the area.
It’s the beginning of October, time for the annual Scott Kelby’s World Wide Photo Walk. Each year, photographers all over the world gather on the same day to explore, photograph, share photos with one another, make new friends, and be a part of a great cause.
I once again joined a walk in Historic Downtown Titusville FL. Chris Wiley a local fine art photographer was our walk leader. Our group of walkers came from allover Florida. We had a great time walking around Titusville looking for things to photograph.
We took a similar route as last year, so I was trying to find different things to photograph. I did photograph some of the same things, but I photographed them differently. I had lots of fun and I think I may have even gotten a good image!
It was once again time for Scott Kelby’s World Wide Photo Walk. Each year, photographers around the world gather on the same day to explore, photograph, share photos with one another, make new friends, and be a part of a great cause. The Worldwide Photo Walk supports The Springs Of Hope Kenya Orphanage, an organization that feeds, houses, educates, and empowers young orphans so that they can grow up to not just survive but succeed. This year there were 24,336 walkers, walking in 1068 locations around the world.
I participated in a walk in Historic Downtown Tituville, Fl. Our walk was lead by Chris Wiley a local fine art photographer. We started our walk in the historic part of Titusville. There are many old turn-of-the-century buildings to photograph. We continued on past the monuments dedicated to space travel. (Titusville is located in close proximity to the Kennedy Space Center.) We ended our walk at the fishing pier under the Max Brewer bridge on the Indian River. Cloud cover thwarted our hopes of a nice sunset. There was, however, a sliver of color in the sky.
I was concentrating mostly on getting some nice architectural abstracts. I like to photograph old crusty, rusty things – something that Titusville has a lot of. It’s always great to get together with other photographers. We had lots of fun! I think I came out with a few good photos to boot. I need to pick one of these photos to enter in the World Wide Photo Walk competition. So it would be great if you could let me know which one you would pick?
click on photo to see larger.
Fall not only brings cooler weather (below 90 in our case). It also brings the start of the Fall Art show season. Central Florida hosts many fine art shows. Art collectors and artists from all over the country visit the area to buy and sell all types of beautiful art.
Historic Downtown Melbourne Fl. is host to one such art show. The historic section of Melbourne is a 6 to 7 block walk back in time. The streets are filled with historic store fronts, eclectic shops, boutiques, and restaurants. This makes a great backdrop for the Fall Festival and Art Show.
The Melbourne Fall Festival is filled with art of all kinds. A short walk through the historic streets of Melbourne you will find all types of paintings, sculptures, jewelry, photography, and arts &crafts. There is fun for all ages, face painting, arts & craft making for the kids, shopping and beer for the adults. Music is also a big part of the festival. The main stage was filled with local artists featuring all kinds of music throughout the day.
Here are some of my photos that I took for Main Street Melbourne.
Click on an image to see it larger and to read the captions.