Our cruise made a stop on the island of Crete, in the port of Heraklion, the capital of Crete. Heraklion is a nice city with lots of things to see. The port is fairly close to the city, but it’s not quite walking distance. Just outside of town is the archaeological sight for the palace of Knossos from the Minoan civilization. There was a city bus that would take you to Knossos and the city. Robbie and I thought it would be nice to see a little more of Crete. So instead of seeing the city, we booked a shore excursion from the cruise line called, the Villages of Crete. This was a bus tour that visited several villages. Disembarking the ship today was a breeze. We met up in the big showroom and our group was one of the first ones to leave the ship. The first village that we visited was Krista. It was a beautiful little Greek village surrounded by olive trees. There were narrow cobblestone streets. It was on a hillside with nice view of the valley below.
The next stop on the tour was a Byzantine church, the Church of Panagia Kera (Church of the Virgin Mary). The walls and ceilings are painted with beautiful 13th century frescoes depicting the life of the Virgin Mary. I didn’t think this little church was going to be very interesting. I was wrong about that. This was a very interesting little church, and I was glad we got to see it.
The tour continued to the village of Agios Nikolaos (Saint Nicholas). Here is our old friend St. Nick again. I’m not sure if he spent time here, but Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors and Greece. Agios Nikolaos was an important port with lots of sailors. Located in the center of town is lake Voulismeni. It’s said to be bottomless, but it’s probably just really, really deep. There is a beautiful stone walkway around the edge of the lake lined with shops, restaurants, and a small whitewashed church. There are lots of old wooden boats tied up along the way. We had a nice Greek lunch at one of the restaurants. After lunch we walked, well almost ran to the bus, to get back to the ship on time.
Bari Italy was our first port of call. A port city on the Adriatic sea on the heal of Italy’s boot. Bari has a nice little old town within walking distance from where the ship docked. Cruise companies offer lots of shore excursions for each port. For some ports a shore excursion is a good idea. Shore excursions, as nice as they are, can blow your budget out of the water! Especially on a long cruise with lots of ports, like this one. When we cruise into a port that’s very walk-able, we like to save some money and see it on our own.
Our day started with another huge logjam of people. I’m really not sure what the problem was. The only thing I can think of is that most of the passengers had the same idea we did and were exploring on their own. Normally more people take shore excursions and disembark at different times through a different exit. We were late getting to Bari for two reasons. One because of the late departure from Venice due to the fog. Second the ship was undergoing some scheduled maintenance and was unable to travel at top speed. So our time in Bari was cut short! Due to the maintenance issue, all of our other ports were cut by about an hour. Bari’s old town takes you back in time. If you take away the scooters and cars, it’s not hard to imagine being back in time a thousand years ago. I find really old places like this interesting and I enjoy visiting them. This cruise was full of really old places. We stopped by the ruins of the church of Santa Maria del Buonconsiglio, a byzantine church. All that remains are the roman style columns that held the church up.
One of Bari’s best known points of interest is the Basilica San Nicola. Below the basilica is the tomb of Saint Nicholas. It was interesting to see the resting place of the inspiration for, in fact whose spirit may be, Santa Claus. Nicholas was a bishop in the Greek church. It was interesting how he kept popping up on our trip. He had visited a lot of the places we were visiting.
Bari has a really nice waterfront area. You can walk along the water for miles. I really liked the small brightly colored wooden boats. We walked along the water back to the ship.
Authors note: We took this trip in Oct./Nov. of 2019. I took a gazillion photos. It takes me a long time to sort and edit my photos. My plan was to write most of the posts about this trip before I started to post them. I am not the fastest writer by any means. It’s surprising how long it takes to write 500 or so words when you choose your words carefully. So I knew from the beginning that it was going to take me a while to start posting about this trip. Anyway, I’m ready to start posting and BAMM!! We find our self in the middle of a global pandemic! Cruise ships are stranded at sea and people are dying onboard! That sort of took the wind out of my sails. I didn’t think this was an appropriate time to start posting about a wonderful cruise. So I shelved my cruise posts. Time flies when you’re not having fun. It’s now been a year since we departed on our trip. What a year its been! I’m not sure what the future holds for the travel industry. I was hoping to be traveling again in the spring of 2021. Now it may be longer and even longer yet for the cruise industry. For now I hope that you will enjoy reading about our Italian, Aegean Sea cruise.
It’s boarding the ship day! We had our bags all packed and ready to go. We checked out of the Ca della Corte. We really enjoyed our stay there; we didn’t want to leave. The cruise port is very easy to get to, at least for now. There has been a big push to move the cruise port out of Venice. The B&B was a short walk from Piazzale Roma. For a small fee, we could have had someone take our bags on a cart. But we just rolled them to Piazzale Roma from there we took the people mover to the port. The people mover is an elevated tram that takes you from Piazzale Roma to the port. We purchased tickets from a kiosk for 1.50€ each. You swipe your ticket and the gate opens. Robbie swiped and went through. I was rolling our two large bags. I swiped and got the first bag through and the gate closed! So I needed to push the second bag under the gate and then crawl under the gate myself. Well that was fun! It was a short ride to the port. If you are interested in the boarding process keep reading. It was quite the adventure. Otherwise feel free to stop here.
We were sailing on the MSC Lirica. MSC had a shuttle bus to take us from the people mover to the terminal. At the terminal we waited in our first line, to check our bags, show our passports, boarding passes, and enter the terminal. Once inside of the terminal we were given a group number and directed to a large room with lots of chairs. We waited and waited. We were looking for our friends and didn’t see any of them. We started to think we were in the wrong place. We got a message from Sandy and Jerry. It seems that there were two large rooms. Everyone else was in the other room. We moved to the other room. We found out that there was heavy fog earlier and the ship was unable to enter the Port of Venice. It had just docked. I would have been nice if they would have told us that on the way in. We should have already boarded the ship. Now we needed to wait until the previous cruisers disembarked. We were way late and still waiting. Finally, they started to call the numbers for each group to board the ship. Robbie and I were in the last group for our room, the other room was still waiting. Here is where things really went down hill. I’m sure the fog played a big part, but everything was a bit disorganized. After they called our group number we got into a line to show our passport for the second time and go through security. After security we were in another line to get onto the gangway to board the ship. Once on the gangway we waited in another line to board the ship. We had to show our passports and boarding passes again for the third time to get on the deck of the ship. Once on the ship we were in a huge logjam of people on the promenade deck. The ship is very long and the line was half of the length of the ship! The line moved very slowly. We finally entered a restaurant at the back of the ship, it was closed, they were just using the space. There was another line through the restaurant. At the end of this line they were collecting everyone’s passports. This was a bit strange to us, but apparently not unheard of for a European cruise. This was our first European cruise, but we have been on many Caribbean cruises. This was the hardest time we have ever had boarding a ship! Like I said, I’m sure being late due to the fog was a big issue. Still I think it could have gone a bit more smoothly. I think for one thing they called the numbers for the groups too fast. They should have waited until one group was almost finished before calling the next group. We would have waited in the big room longer, but we wouldn’t have been standing in lines forever!
We found our cabin and were able to freshen up a bit. We were happy with our cabin. Going the cheaper route, we opted for an interior cabin. This one was much roomier than our cabin on the Cuba cruise where we also opted for an interior cabin. Next was the mandatory safety drill. You must gather at your assigned lifeboat and they explain the emergency procedures. By then we were starving! It was too early for the dining room and the buffet was between lunch and dinner……… Grrrrrrr! Luckily the pizza station and the burger and fries station were open, Yeah! We were exhausted but on the ship finally!
Oh no, it’s our last full day in Venice! Robbie and I are on our own today. Everyone in our group is doing their own thing. We took a walk to the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute. The basilica is the beautiful domed church that stands out as you look down the Grand Canal from the Accademia Bridge. Along the way we stumbled onto the Venice Photo Lab. A photography exhibit of photographers that were chosen from Instagram. There were quite a few interesting photos on display. We stopped by the Accademia Bridge and found it fascinating that there was actually a phone booth. There were also public toilets or WC (water closet). If you need to use them, and we did, you will need 1.50€ in coins. They were clean and very nice. The basilica is right along a busy Grand Canal. It’s interesting to watch all of the boats zipping up and down the canal. From the top of the basilica steps you get a nice view across the canal toward St. Marks Square. We were getting hungry and started to look for a restaurant. The problem is, Italians eat early and then late. So lots of restaurants close for the afternoon. Unfortunately, when you’re out and about seeing the sights the time you think about getting something to eat is the time most restaurants are closed for the afternoon. There are many restaurants that do not close in the afternoon. We seemed to be in an area where most of them were closed or pricey. We found the Bar dell Accademia close to the Accademia Bridge. We had a very relaxing and tasty lunch. Robbie and I had a great day exploring a new section of Venice.
After dinner we walked back to Piazza San Marco to see the lights. There are several cafes in Piazza San Marco that feature live music. We stopped to listen for a while. San Marco is really pretty at night. We started the walk back to Piazzale Roma via the Accademia bridge. Robbie and I said goodnight to the group near our B&B. Everyone else continued on to the bus stop.
We found out the next day that there was a horrible incident on the bus ride back to Mestre. One of our friends had her purse stolen. She lost money and her passport! The cruise line would not let her on the ship without a passport. Unfortunately, she needed to go to Florence to get a temp passport, then a flight home. It was a very sad situation; we all felt so bad for her. Buses all over Europe are notorious for pickpockets.
After our time in Murano, we boarded an even more jam packed vaporetto to Burano, our next stop. Burano is a small village on an island in the Venetian lagoon. Burano is known for beautiful items made of lace and its brightly colored buildings. Burano may not be the most colorful place in the world, but it’s probably close to it. The lace is gorgeous and painstakingly made by hand. We walked through the village taking in the sights to San Martino with its leaning tower. It has a 5° lean, the same lean as the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Unfortunately, my camera is incapable of taking a bad photo, so it looks straight. It really was noticeably leaning. While the rest of the group was sightseeing, shopping, and drinking wine, I set out on my own to take some photos. I found an awesome residential area. I could not get enough of these brightly colored buildings. I loved the laundry hanging out to dry. When I was a kid we didn’t have a dryer and mom hung our laundry out in the yard to dry. I still remember the fresh smell of line dried laundry. Burano was great, I would like to spend a few days there. I’m sure there were some really great spots that I missed.
No trip to Venice would be complete without a visit to Murano, one of many small islands in the Venetian Lagoon. Murano is famous for making beautiful glass products of all kinds. There are many glass manufacturers and shops on the island. I’m not sure why Venetians started making glass but early on they recognized the danger of having glass furnaces on the main island. So the glass furnaces were moved to the island of Murano.
Murano is about a 40 minute vaporetto ride from Venice. Vaporettos are the public transportation for Venice and the islands in the lagoon. It is a large boat that is in effect a bus on the water. You can buy passes for one to seven days. During our four days in Venice this was the only day we used a vaporetto. We walked everywhere we wanted to go. In addition to visiting Murano we also stopped in Burano. So we purchased a one day pass for 20€. We used the 4.1 vaporetto from Piazzale Roma. The 4.1 also stops at the San Michele cemetery. Napoleon didn’t think it was a good idea to bury people on the main island so the cemetery was moved to another island. We didn’t visit the cemetery but it’s a nice stop. Murano is a popular place, the vaporetto was standing room only and jam packed full! There is a high probability that you may not get on the first vaporetto and need to wait for the next one.
We visited the Vetreria Murano Arte (Murano Art Glass) glass furnace and shop. We got to see a glass blowing demonstration and the beautiful glass items that they produce. It was a very interesting stop. We then took a walking tour of the beautiful island of Murano. We found a nice restaurant with outdoor seating for lunch. Oh by the way, the weather was awesome! For the end of October (2019) it was unseasonably warm. We made our way to the vaporetto stop on the far side of the island to continue on to Burano.
We had a great day in Murano and Burano. In Burano we boarded the #12 Vaporetto, there were a few seats this time. The sun was setting as we arrived in Piazza San Marco. I was able to get a few sunset photos. There was a woman posing in a wedding dress, I think it was a fashion shoot and not a wedding. We were getting pretty hungry by then, so we walked a few blocks away from the San Marco area. The San Marco restaurants can be a little pricey. We found a nice little out of the way restaurant and had a nice dinner.
Later on our first full day in Venice, we returned to our B&B. After we freshened up a bit, we decided we needed a few things at the store. We stopped at the Prix grocery the day before, so tonight we thought we would try Crai, another grocery store in a different direction. Both stores were nice but we liked the Prix better. Anyway, we took a few photos along the way.
Our friend Sandy found a great deal on this cruise and invited us as well as several others, there were 12 in all. On our first full day in Venice, we made plans to meet up with Sandy, Jerry and the rest of the group at the Campanile di San Marco. The large tower in St. Marks Square.
Robbie and I started our walking tour of Venice. First we needed to find our way to the Accademia Bridge. Venice is a maze of narrow walkways/streets. Some of them are very narrow and are covered. They look a bit dicey to say the least. Robbie was a little apprehensive about walking down some of them. I was able to convince her (sort of) that Venice has a lot of streets like this and we would be fine, and we were. We never had a problem in the streets of Venice, even at night. The buses, we later learned, were another story. We found our way to the Accademia without getting too lost. The best way to see Venice is to get lost! The Accademia Bridge is not only a Venice landmark but one of two bridges that cross the Grand Canal in order to get to St. Marks. You get a great view of Venice and the Grand Canal from the top of the Accademia. From there we continued on our way to St. Marks taking in the sights along the way.
We arrived in St. Marks and the Campanile to meet up with our fellow travelers. The time to meet had come and gone, but no sign of our group. We were only able to communicate with them when they had access to WiFi. We had international phone and data through Google Fi. It worked great everywhere; we always had service. No extra cost by the way, it’s the same as in the states. Anyway, we were unable to contact them. We took in the sights of the St. Marks area. We found the Bridge of Sighs, another famous Venice landmark. It’s quite a popular place and you need to wait your turn to get a good look at the bridge and a photo. The Bridge of Sighs is a small bridge, more of a covered walkway that crosses a canal between two buildings. One building was the courthouse and the other building was the prison. Convicted criminals would cross the Bridge of Sighs from the courthouse to the prison. They would look out of the window on the bridge, take one last look at Venice, and sigh.
We received a message from our lost friends. They stopped for lunch and were using the restaurant WiFi. Apparently public transportation had scheduled a one day strike, what?! So it took them a while to find a bus to get from Mestre to Venice. They were late but on their way. We found a nice restaurant and had out first pizza in Italy, it was great! After lunch we met up with our fellow travelers. Most of them we knew, a few of them we met for the first time. It was great seeing everyone and hearing about their travels. Some of the group wanted to do a tour, some wanted to do some shopping. Robbie, Jeanine, Barb and I made our way toward the Rialto Bridge, one of two bridges that cross the Grand Canal from St. Marks. We stopped for refreshments under the Rialto. A good way to have access to a restroom is to buy some drinks. After we were refreshed we continued on to Piazzale Roma where we all met up again with the rest of our group. We made some plans for the next day. Everyone else took the bus back to Mestre. They found out earlier that this was the only bus out of Venice due to the strike. So it was important to be on that bus. Robbie and I walked back to our B&B. We had an awesome first day in Venice.
Venice is on many travelers’ must see list. It was on mine for sure. So when we decided to book this cruise, I wanted to spend a few days in Venice before the Cruise. Our fellow travelers were planning to do the same. They opted to stay on the mainland in Mestre, a short bus ride away from Venice. Although you can save a few euros by staying in Mestre, I wanted the full Venice experience. I also wanted to be able to walk out of my door and start photographing Venice.
When you stay in Venice, you need to decide what area of Venice to stay in. Venice is a island, an island where the only vehicles are boats. When you come to Venice from the mainland by bus, train, taxi or any other form of transportation you will end up in Piazzale Roma. From Piazzale Roma you either hire a boat or walk to your destination. The most popular destination in Venice is Saint Marks Square. Everybody wants to be in Saint Marks Square. So the question becomes, do you want to stay close to St. Marks and hire a boat to take you and your luggage to St. Marks, or do you want to stay close to Piazzale Roma and walk with your luggage to your room. Venice is a very walk-able city you can walk to anywhere in Venice in about a half hour. I decided that rolling our luggage to our room close to Piazzale Roma was the better option. Although being close to St. Marks sounds convenient, the closer you are to St. Marks, the more expensive the rooms become. Also I thought that by walking to St. Marks from our B&B would give us an opportunity to see more of Venice. There is more to Venice than St. Marks.
I found several inexpensive B&Bs close to Piazzale Roma. They were all in classic older Venetian buildings adding to the Venetian experience. I chose the Ca’ della Corte, a very short walk from Piazzale Roma. The Ca’ della Corte was awesome! It was clean, comfortable, and the people were great. The breakfast was classic continental, with coffee, cappuccino, croissants, hard boiled eggs and other goodies, very tasty. Interesting to note, starting with our hotel in Miami, we ate hard boiled eggs every day of out trip. That was more hard boiled eggs than I have eaten in the past several years. We enjoyed our stay and would definitely stay there again. We were staying in the piano room. It was huge! The piano room features a baby grand piano. I wish I would have been able to play something on it.
Last night SpaceX launched a Falcon Heavy rocket from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. A normal Falcon 9 rocket has, 9 powerful Merlin rocket engines. A Falcon Heavy is three Falcon 9 rockets strapped together! SpaceX has been continually tweaking it’s Merlin engines. This Falcon Heavy is the most powerful rocket flying today. Boy was it powerful! This rocket was Space Shuttle loud. You could hear the rumble building as it got closer and closer. The sound started to reverberate off of the buildings, then the sound waves hit, you could hear and feel the rumble! It was awesome! The reason for all of that power, the Falcon Heavy was carrying 24 assorted satellites into space. Advances in technology have made it possible to build smaller satellites. This allows rockets to carry multiple satellites into space on the same rocket. Not only is this more profitable for companies like SpaceX. It should also be less expensive for satellite users. Night launches are always beautiful, and this one was no exception. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, this launch was at 2:30 AM! It was worth getting up early to see it though. A very strange phenomenon happened during the launch. Looking through the binoculars, as the two Falcon 9 boosters strapped to the side, separated, the glowing engines and vapor, created an image that looked very much like Voldemort’s dark mark in the sky!
My wife Robbie and I have been doing some cruising. I have not blogged about any of our cruises yet. I thought I would start with our cruise to Havana.
Update on Cuba. This is a multiple part post that I have been working on for a few weeks. As I finished writing about our first day in Havana, we learned of a US ban on travel to Cuba. This is very sad, we really enjoyed our trip to Havana. We were looking forward to going back and seeing more of Cuba. I not only wanted to share our experiences, I also wanted to inspire readers to visit Cuba. Sadly, posts like these may be the only way that any of us will be able to visit Cuba in the future.
There are many factors to consider when choosing a cruise. I could probably do a whole post just about choosing a cruise. You may choose a cruise because of the departure port, cruise line, specific ship, cruising days, dates, cost, itinerary, destination, probably many others. The two most important factors for us for this cruise were destination and itinerary. We definitely wanted to see Cuba! There were several cruise lines going to Cuba and a lot of those were spending one or two days in Havana. We picked this Royal Caribbean Cruise because it was going to be docked in Havana for the longest period of time. We were in Havana for two full days. Some of the other cruises were spending the night in Havana, but leaving early on the second day. Only staying in Havana for a day and a half or less.
The hard part done it was time to pack our bags. If your going to do some cruising, living in central Florida has it’s advantages. We are about 20 minutes from one cruise port and only a few hours drive from 4 others. Not needing to fly to a cruise port is a huge advantage. This cruise was sailing out of Miami. So we packed up the car and drove to Miami.
This cruise was a bit shorter than our other cruises. Other than Havana we only stopped in one other port, Key West. We have been to Key West before, but it’s always nice to go back. The sun was rising as we docked. Cruise ships going to Key West, dock at Mallory Square. This is good and bad. It’s good because Mallory Square is walking distance to almost everything Key West has to offer. It’s about two blocks to Sloppy Joe’s bar and Duval Street. From there all of Key West awaits you. So there was no real need to purchase a shore excursion from the cruise line. In some ports doing a shore excursion is a good idea. Whenever possible though, we like to explore a port on our own. I was looking for something different since we have been to Key West before. I found Nancy Forrester’s Secret Garden. Nancy runs a parrot rescue from her home. Since Robbie and I are parrot owners and enjoy visiting with parrots this was a great choice for us. We sat in Nancy’s beautiful garden chatting with Nancy and the parrots for quite a while. Nancy was telling us about her birds and we told Nancy about our birds. We were only a few months from a major hurricane that devastated the Keys and many other parts of Florida. Nancy was telling us about all of the hurricane damage. Key West and the Keys had recovered very well, but it had been a long few months. Nancy was great and we enjoyed our time in Nancy’s Secret Garden.
We walked from there to the Old Town Mexican Cafe for a nice lunch. After lunch we walked down to the Southern Most Point, the most southern point in the United States and only 90 miles from Cuba! From there we had a leisurely walk on Duval Street, taking in the sights on our way back to Mallory Square. We arrived in Mallory Square with enough time for a margarita before we needed to board the ship. The bad thing about docking in Mallory Square, is that it’s Mallory Square! Probably the most popular place in the country to watch the sunset. But who can see the sunset with huge cruise ships in the way. So the ships must be on their way before sunset. This somewhat limits your time in port and you miss the famous Mallory Square sunset. You should really see a Mallory Square sunset at least once. The sunset is the star, but there are lots of street performers and tons of people watching as well. The sunset is just as spectacular from the ship. We were excited to be on our way to Havana!
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.
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.
There was a unique thing that happened in January of 2018. The moon presented us with a “quadfecta” of events. First, this moon cycle was a super moon. (The moon was at its closest point to the earth) Second, there was a lunar eclipse. Third, the eclipse caused a blood moon. (It looked red during the eclipse) And fourth, this was the second full moon in January, making it a blue moon. (Not really blue, just means it doesn’t happen very often) Thus giving us a super blood blue lunar eclipse moon, phew!
OK, so the super lunar eclipse blood moon was early in the morning just before sunrise. I took a peek outside to see if I could see the eclipse. Besides being early, it was really low in the sky. It was low enough to be behind the other houses in the neighborhood. So I didn’t see the super lunar eclipse blood moon part. I did, however, get to see the full blue moon part later that evening.
I started early to take in the sunset. I met up with Chris Wiley from the Titusville Pro-Am photographers group. Our goal was to get the full moon rising through the Max Brewer Bridge. Unfortunately, there was a thick cloud bank along the horizon, so we could not see the moon through the bridge, disappointing. The moon eventually did appear once it made its way above the bridge. The thing about photographing the moon is that it’s so bright. You don’t really think about the moon being bright because it comes out at night. The moon, with the exception of the sun, is the brightest thing there is. The higher in the sky it gets the brighter it gets; this makes it very difficult to photograph. That’s why we wanted to photograph it below the bridge when it wasn’t quite as bright. Plus it would look pretty awesome through the bridge. Anyway, that didn’t work out. I was not happy with any of the photographs of the bridge and the moon. I did manage to get a few other decent images before the moon rise. I was pretty happy later though when a stray cloud covered the moon above the bridge for a short time. Wait for something to happen and it probably will.
For the past few months I’ve been in somewhat of a creative slump. Sort of a photographer’s block. I didn’t feel creative enough to take photos. The photos I did take didn’t end up looking the way I wanted them to. When I take a photo I get a vision in my mind of how I want it to look. My vision and my camera somehow become one. Lately though, my vision and my camera have been disconnected.
Creativity is like a muscle. You need to exercise it or it will get weak. My creative muscle was getting weak. This is the time of year when we get some nice fog in the mornings. I like taking photos on those foggy mornings. There were a couple foggy mornings that snuck up on me and I missed them all together. There was one I was ready for; I woke up early, and it was nice and foggy. I decided to go across the river to the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge. Big mistake, there was no fog on that side of the river. I took a few photos, but nothing I was real happy with. My creativity and my camera were disconnected still.
I kept my eye on the weather for more fog. The other day there was a chance of fog. I woke up early and looked outside, I didn’t see any fog. I went back to bed, and when I woke again there was fog. I guess I checked too early and the fog hadn’t formed yet. It was too late to get to where I wanted to photograph; I was very discouraged. I expected the next day to be foggy too. I decided to get out early and take some photos, fog or no fog. I needed to exercise my muscle. There was some fog, but it was very spotty. I drove over to the wildlife refuge. The first thing I came across were some black skimmers. They were skimming over the mirror smooth water. The sun was still below the horizon, but I didn’t want to miss the opportunity. I took a few good images, and LOTS of bad ones. As the skimmers moved on I was treated to a beautiful sunrise. I moved back across the river to the marina. I found a few nice images on the way to the marina. Once at the marina I found another one of my favorite subjects: reflections.
All in all, I think I was able to give my creative muscle a decent workout. My creativity is feeling stronger and I hope that my creative slump is waning!