Archive for November, 2013

Trains and Train Stations

I love trains and train travel. Here in Canada we have the big trans-Canadians, the likes of VIA Rail (for passenger traffic), CN Rail (commercial) and the special more touristy (but very elegant and expensive) train companies (like the Rocky Mountaineer). Being on Vancouver Island on the Pacific Coast unfortunately we lost our last Island train service a while ago, but in the process to re-establish a new VIA RAIL route from Victoria to Courtney, North Island.

When in Europe (or for that matter elsewhere, wherever I can find trains service) I always take the train. It is sort of an addiction. In Europe with those millions of passengers it is a very fast sort of exercise, run down, run up, run to the platforms, hopefully find quickly where the waggon is in which I had reserved a seat. My advice: Always reserve a seat in advance; and try to get special rates or tickets in the country you travel. Do not buy your expensive rail passes in North America. I always found somebody kind enough to help with suitcases in case the station has no elevator. When I grew up in Europe we travelled a lot by train (and of course there were also those wonderful city trams, now mostly replaced by buses).  In the 1960s I had to take the train from Munich all the way to Zagreb, at that time it was still Yugoslavia. [ NOTE. After World War II Zagreb stayed the capital city of the Socialist Republic of Croatia within Yugoslavia. ]. The Soviet presence felt everywhere. [ NOTE. The introduction of the railroad to Zagreb in the 19th century was a key factor in the development of Zagreb, as was the addition of Zagreb to the Oriental Express schedule. ].  One of the longest train rides I ever made during that period. Days, no seats, I had to sit on my suit case at one end of ,a waggon. Munich, Bavaria through Austria, Czech, Roumania, then Yugoslavia. Soviet presence at all of the train stations where the train stopped. Today the trip can be done overnight. Not during those days with the older regional trains. Comes to mind the real old traditional local trains out of London, UK, during the end of the 1950s, seats in plush velvet.

I put together several slide shows of train stations and trains for the period from 2001 until 2012. One of the most impressive trains today is the ICE 3, Germany’s DB high-speed trains. [ ] . VIA RAIL passenger service across Canada, little tip: put on some warm clothes and socks. The train between Montreal and Quebec has strong air conditioning, quite cold. One of the most beautiful train stations is the Gare Du Palais of Quebec Ville, Quebec, Canada. A veritable castle.  


Orca – Blackfish

Blackfish” is the English translation of a word Pacific Northwest indigenous peoples gave to killer whales or Orca, holding them in respectful regard while keeping a traditional safe distance. [ ]

Myths: (1) Orca or Killer Whales are fish. No. (2) Orca are aggressive enough to attack humans. NO. The only attacks on humans, some fatal, occurred by Orca’s in captivity. This, one has to understand. (3) The large back fin of the orca always flaps over. NO. Only in orca’s in captivity. (4) The orca has one of the largest brains within the animal world. YES.

I was privileged enough to meet these wonderful creatures in 1978 when I and my little son visited Victoria, BC in Canada NW Coast, when the Marine Park SEALAND OF THE PACIFIC – Oak Bay Marina – was still in operation. One of the major attractions has been Tilikum, a big beautiful bull whale. All whales, it should be remembered, were kept in captivity in cages. They were also at that time thrown together independent of their ‘family’ or pod relationship, a dangerous concept because of frequent infighting among the animals.

Tilikum (“Tilly”) had been involved in several deadly attacks on humans. While at Sealand of the Pacific, he with two other orca’s submerged the trainer Keltie Byrne who subsequently drowned. That tells you: “do not play with 12000 lbs of killer whale assuming that they are only song birds.” These whales were frustrated with their captivity, their stressful lifestyle (kept at night in 20×30 metal pens), and the unnatural acts they were asked to perform for the public’s enjoyment. [ ]

SEALAND closed down 1993. (This facility like similar others for large marine animals had a dark history of acquiring their whales: separating them with boats from their pods and chasing them into inescapable waters, to then trap them and move them into the facility.) It is heart breaking to see how many marine parks exist on the basis of such abuse to an extremely intelligent mammal.  

Where is Tilikum now ? SEAWORLD Orlando, Florida. His life ? He lives in isolation, deeply unhappy, an intelligent animal that craves companionship and a whale family to share. The only thing it seems he shares is his semen that is collected and frozen for breeding purposes. More shocking news in a new book with interviews by former trainers= Toolbar .