Category: EVENTS


Part II of Budget Travel blog. [https://renataveritashistory.com/2017/02/09/travel-on-a-budget/ ]

Home away from home. This post on cheap Transportation, excludes car rental. Besides standing by the road with your thumbs up referred to as hitch hiking (which I did in the past several times, long illegal and very dangerous); when on vacation transportation is one of the most important requirements. Even if someone rents a car.

Usually I research transport facilities prior to departing. Get my metro, bus, sky train maps, be prepared. In fact get my city maps immediately after my flight arrives. Of course if you go on a package trip with all included and some guide takes care of you, no worries, but I am independent and like to be prepared.

Example, Spain, Alicante, Arrive from Berlin, masses of travelers inside the arrivals hall of the airport, standing in line for car rentals. I walk out of the arrivals, across some street to the other side, there is the public bus. Cheap and no delay.  

Well, travel on a budget for me does not include Taxi for that matter. Too expensive, too unsafe. A few times I had nightmarish experiences with taxis. In fact, in many countries – even Europe – there are advisories against taking a taxi. Taxis only if there is (which is the odd times) a woman driver.

Good example, St. Martin, in the Caribbean, a tiny island shared by two countries Netherlands and France [ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Martin ]. I spent some time there shortly after the big volcano Montserrat eruped in the 1990s. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/oct/05/volcano-earthquake-caribbean-montserrat-maarten ]. I was in a resort on the French side of it. Wondering why there were so few tourists despite it was summer season. {Because of this major eruption.} One day, from St. Martin I tried a trip to the Dutch side St. Maarten, Philipsburg.

Went with a guy who gave me a ride in a truck. To get rid of that type, I simply slipped away inside a store. But needed a ride back to my resort hotel St. Martin. There was this very nice local cab driver lady who gave me a ride. I did not have much cash money on me. As I speak French, it was easy. I offered her all my French Francs for the trip, not much, she took it. What a decent thing to do ! When coming back, met some Americans who told me they spent US$20 the same trip that cost me couple of dollars. There you see !

Marrakesh, Morocco, took a taxi to the major Square and walled in Souks, Jemaa el-Fnaa, but had I not been able to speak French, they would have driven me to doomsday that day. If in Tunisia, or Morocco taxi drivers will drive you anywhere you do not want to go.

In Europe anywhere we have very good, efficient and reliable transportation systems. No need to do extensive research. Get a map, get costs for bus passes (cheaper than single trip), mostly also try to get discounts. I always do. Including train. I love trains. Always prefer the train to anything else. Cheap, fast, easy ! Any major airport to any town or city usually has an express bus system, but check for trains – they are much less expensive and usually reliable.

Except – can happen – when in Monte Carlo, Monaco, trains fell out, waiting hours, finally a special train from Prince Albert II, Principality of Monaco, was installed and all of us got back to Cannes, France. Things happen, not always only in London, when the Tube strikes.

Canada has a large rail system (close to 50,000 km to traverse). Primarily today for commercial freight transport: CN (Canadian National), CPR (Canadian Pacific) Railroad. VIA Rail is for passenger transport. A private corporation operates the Rocky Mountaineer rail system. After thirty years in Canada, in 2008 for the first time I took VIA Rail from Quebec City to Montreal. Late Fall. It was cold.

Mexico for long distance travel, their bus system was one of the best. Big comfortable coaches, separate washroom for ladies, gents, and each passenger got some lunch and water included in the price. TVs each isle. Local buses not so good, old and outdated suspension systems, watch your back.

Further back in time, I took the train from my hometown to Berlin, during the time of the Berlin Wall and the DDR (GDR). Berlin lies at that time in the Russian zone. All trains were special trains with special bars for windows and underneath the train also, to catch those who tried to escape the Russian zone into the West. At stops along the way, the VoPos/Volkspolizei came in to check passengers. At that time it was always a good idea to keep your mouth shut, else you end up being pulled from the train and put into a Soviet DDR prison.

Also during that time took the train from Munich to Zagreb, then Yugoslavia. Long trip, many countries to traverse. Was like in the movie Dr. Zhivago, passengers with all sorts of farm animals, no room, one had to sit on a suit case all that long trip. Usually in those Eastern States people speak also (besides Russian or Serb Croatia) German or French. When taking a train into the country side from Zagreb, I had a Serbo Croatian dictionary with me. Not realizing that most peasants could not read.

Good tip: Before travel to Europe best not to purchase any rail passes. They are cheaper on location. Plus, often rail lines have special deals. Europe, trains are a wonderful alternative. Locally Bus systems are preferred. Certain other countries outside of Europe, wait times can be very long. Never traveled to any country where I did not find public transit maps and schedules at the airport on arrival or any train station. Also check not only government trains systems, but also private companies operating trains (like in Italy).

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Seems to be quite common with major cruise ship lines that their big ocean cruisers are infected with outbreaks of the Norovirus. The latest incident: Star Princess sailing from Vancouver on September 19th, 2015 to several Hawaii Islands’ locations, then returning back to Vanvouver arriving Cruise Ship Terminal on October 4h, 2015. Of multiple posts on this particular voyage, this strikes me
[ http://www.cruiselawnews.com/articles/norovirus/ ] as underestimating the severity of a particularly nasty outbreak of respiratory and gastrointestinal disease on the Star Princess. Since I was on this same ship, here is the real story:
My cruise had been sold to me by Expedia CruiseshipCenters. These are experienced cruising experts who have access to all the necessary information sources to make their customers aware of a cruise line’s history of such outbreaks. And there is a history for this particular Princess Cruises’ ship. Soon after embarkation at Vancouver a number of passengers started coughing – the kind of cough that brings up your lungs. I had a balcony, my neighbor to my left was the first to cough. Couple of days later, my neighbor to the right of me started. Then more and more passengers got sick. What they gave them in the Sick Bay ? Tamiflu. This is a viral outbreak, possibly already arriving with the Star Princess from a previous voyage. I complained officially at the Customer Services Desk, request that I like to use my balcony without being coughed at by both sides. No reaction. Throughout this voyage a very large number of guests fell quite ill. Dining rooms started empty out.
On 27 September the first health advisory report was issued by Dr. Grant Tarling, Chief Medical Officer, referring to (simple) cold and fly symptoms,and giving out advice how to protect yourself. In addition to the hundreds of (Alcohol-based) hand sanitizing stations throughout the ship. On 30 September 2015 the second health advisory report was issued to all guests, strongly suggesting an outbreak of novorvirus.
[ http://www.cdc.gov/norovirus/about/overview.html ]. Measures were put in place to protect open food buffets, allowing the crew to handle foods with gloves.
On the ship throughout the voyage I was not sick. Arriving back in Vancouver and spending many hours by bus and ferry to finally return home, I was still OK. Until the next day, that nasty virus got hold of me. This type of virus is difficult to fight, because is is the immune system that needs to take care of it, as well as the most important prevention measures – cleanliness. Sanitation.
Question remains: Why cruise ship service agents are selling cruises for ships that are well known to have had multiple outbreaks of this norovirus in the recent past.
My observations on this ship: Guests were still coughing into their hands, using the Internet room and touching keyboards, or coughing freely into the air surrounding them. Or seafood and fruits being served which might or might not have been infected. Because of the fact that the disease started immediately upon embarkation, it can be strongly suspected that the Norovirus was already present when the voyage started. From a financial point of view, it is bad business to purchase a cruise for around $5,000 which includes not only a nice cabin with balcony, food, swimming pools, entertainment of all sorts, but also (hidden) a dangerous viral infestation.

{BTW – I never had any esperience like this in my life.} Rules of the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention:[ http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/vsp/surv/gilist.htm ]

This year 2015, it is exactly fifty years ago that I had left my Homeland. In fact, there is no Home- Land, because during WWII it has been completely destroyed. Now rebuilt to certain (more or less historic) standards, some like it – mostly tourists – others know that all rebuilding cannot recover any cities to what they were. Old historic cities dating back to many centuries ago. But more than that, it is not only buildings that make a country, a nation, a homeland, or a town. It is the people. Since WWII, which ended May 1945, not many who survived the war (like I did from start 1939 to end 1945) are still alive today. I was very young during the years of bombings, but still remember. Today’s population in my homeland are so different, mainly because they arrived from many countries to settle down. You could say: “we build it, and they come”.
The rebuilding – mostly in the beginning removing rubble – after 1945 re-started slowly and picking up pace, the first years single handedly done by women. Since there were not many men, they had perished at the Russian Front. The few civilians that were left after the many years of Allied bombings (killing off most of them), had to do the hard work. Now, after forty years in North America, I still do not consider where I am now, my HomeLand. I have no HomeLand.

International humanitarian law is based on three key principles.
• Distinction. All sides must distinguish between military targets and civilians. Any deliberate attack on a civilian or civilian building – such as homes, medical facilities, schools or government buildings – is a war crime (providing the building has not been taken over for military use). If there is any doubt as to whether a target is civilian or military, then it must be presumed to be civilian.
• Proportionality. Civilian causalities and damage to civilian buildings must not be excessive in relation to the expected military gain.
• Precaution. All sides must take precautions to protect civilians.
Amnesty International was founded in London in 1961 that is long after World War II. During which millions of civilians were deliberately killed and entire countries destroyed. [‘Barbed wire around a small lighted candle’ being the symbol of Amnesty International.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Amnesty_International_logo.svg ]
How does that look now ? In the light of the more recent wars, which it must be said are also conducted by the same nations (formerly called: The Allies – Britain, America and Canada), joined by other nations, which formerly had been occupied during WWII, nothing much has changed.
What was the military gain expected by totally destroying our home land ? by killing unarmed women and small children ? Protect civilians, how ? When the Allied tanks rolled into my home town which had been fire bombed for 4 years and left destroyed, first order of business was to erect barbed wire fences around our part of town, and set up their camp across in our city park. Afraid, that we small children were carrying guns and shoot at them ? That was probably the reason that when we went over looking for food that the fat American cook chased us out by setting his killer dogs at our heels.
So, I am asking Amnesty International to not knock at my door and ask for donations.
Food for thought: [ http://www.amnestyusa.org/our-work/countries/middle-east-and-north-africa/syria ], which armed forces are using Barrel Bombs ?? [ https://www.whitehelmets.org/ ]

MAPLE LEAF ADVENTURE

on their beautiful schooner sailing vessel The Maple Leaf, truly a gem among sail boats [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maple_Leaf_%28schooner%29 ].
In a south direction through the Johnston Strait. The entire north eastern area with its many little islands is within the Broughton Archipelago [ http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/explore/parkpgs/broughton/ ], a rich fishing marine park visited by many large whales, such as the Humpback Whale, and the Orca (or Killer whale), as well as dolphins, sea lions, and of course there are also the bears, waiting for the salmon runs. And many species of sea birds, mostly Bonaparte Gulls .  (Broughton Archipelago Park, B.C.’s largest marine park, consists of a collection of dozens of undeveloped islands and islets situated at the mouth of Knight Inlet on the west side of Queen Charlotte Strait near the north end of Vancouver Island).

October is usually the time of year when it does get cooler and there is more rain, especially up north on Vancouver Island [ http://www.hellobc.com/vancouver-island/popular-areas/north-island.aspx ]. Our adventure cruise started at Port McNeill, a small northern fishing community on Vancouver Island’s north eastern shore, Queen Charlotte Strait. [ http://portmcneillbc.com/ ] . Two ways to get there without driving: using the Greyhound Bus Service from Victoria, which makes multiple stop on the way and may take up to 12 hours to Port McNeill. Flying up there is the answer. Couple of hours (for me Victoria to Vancouver, Vancouver to Port Hardy). I was lucky meeting a lady whose sister lives in Port McNeill, offering me a ride to there.  October 11th, 2 PM embarking from the Port McNeill Marina. Most of the time around that time of year lots of rain. Teaches me to bring 100% water proof clothing next time. October 12 our Marine Biologist Jackie Hildering [ http://themarinedetective.com/ ] joined us on board (from Telegraph Cove) enlightening us with many educational presentations, mainly around the impressive comeback of the Humpback Whale, and the importance of respecting all species in this precious marine environment. Large boats and small kayaks are not conducive to offering the respect that these animals deserve.
Telegraph Cove has an impressive little museum with large exhibits of skeletons of sea mammals and one huge skeleton of a fin whale, the second-largest species of whale, with a maximum length of about 75 feet. All these are baleen whales who collect food – for the most part tiny krill and fish – through their huge baleen plates inside their mouths, hard plastic instead of teeth, through which food is filtered. Whereas toothed whales use their teeth for feeding, this would include the killer whale (orca), also the dolphin, among the 65 species of toothed whales.

This tour has been very educational, but also with commercial undertones. In fact the entire commercial side of what is known as adventure cruises, whale watching tours in boats, kayaks or specially outfitted zodiacs is overrated, often destructive to the precious marine life. The Pacific Whale Watch Association specifies a required distance of 100 yards (not closer, standing still) near an animal – this is too close. [ http://pacificwhalewatchassociation.org/guidelines ]; US is 200 yards.
What is 200 or 100 yards in the presence of humans, noise, taking photos, disturbing mothers and baby animals likewise. There is too much pressure on those whales. Yet, it seems that the Humpback has made an encouraging comeback.

Altogether there were six days, five nights of sailing south from our starting point. Sailing south along the Johnston Strait, more rain, more wind, gale winds even. Around many small islands, making stops on some with our zodiacs. Fantastic large number of dolphins that followed out sail boat for hours. Several Orca in the distance, and the usual sea lion colonies on the rocks. Interesting outings onto surrounding islands to observe the salmon runs. There are many species of salmon. Also, disturbing sightings of many commercial fish farms, managed by Norwegians, and the pollution to our wild salmon populations as a result. No bears. (NOTE. Viewing bears better further up north.)
Disembarking at the Cameron Island Marina, Nanaimo, Eastern Vancouver Island. From there I took the Greyhound Bus back to Victoria.
Interesting eye opener this entire adventure in terms of what I learned about animals and people. My primary objective has been to learn more of the marine wild life and – if lucky enough – to actually get a glimpse. Couple of video’s follow.

 

 

Reality of WWII

[ http://ww2db.com/battle_spec.php?battle_id=55/Bombing-of-Hamburg-Dresden-and-Other-Cities-World-War-II-Database ]

My home town – was right close to Berlin, right smack in the path of the major bomb corridor between England and Berlin – destroyed to 90 %. I was two year old when Canada declared war on me (I take this personally). And I was seven years old when the war officially ended, but unofficially continued with bombings still going on in certain areas. Hah ! Now, were those the same people who after all that destruction pretended to have invented all sorts of ‘Anti War’ symbolism ? In their little war mongering minds they may have thought that (He, it is now seventy years ago) we forgot ?
A victim never forgets ! And when I am a hundred years old I will still remember. After all, two year old babies did not start WW2, nor did they march with rifles slung over and shoot (uselessly, I might add) at the flying bomber aircraft in the air.
Of course, the bombings still continue, even seventy, eighty or who knows hundred years after 1945 [ http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/unexploded-wwii-bombs-pose-growing-threat-in-germany-a-859201.html ].
You can read into this whatever you want, published on the Web by historians, not by people who were actually right in the middle of those bombing raids – victims, little children. So, to all those who were inside those aircraft and dropping their loads onto civilians, do not come with stories of MAKE LOVE, NOT WAR.

Greek Fest 2014 Victoria BC, Canada

My recent visit to this year’s Greek Fest 2014 Victoria BC, Vancouver Island. There is an estimated 100 Greek families in Greater Victoria who keep the Greek culture and traditions alive. Of which, best of course, are their traditional dances and the wonderful food – authentic succulent roasted lamb (with rice and salad), souvlakis and the great many delicious Greek pastries like Baklava, Koulouria and more. Not to forget the original Greek Coffee brewed to old tradition like Turkish Coffee, using the brass briki (the pot) Greek coffee is a strong brew, served with foam on top and the grounds in the bottom of the cup. Although it can be made in a different pot, the traditional small pot is best because it allows the proper amount of foam , very tasty.

The day was hot and special attractions included the many Greek dance groups from Canada and Athens, Greece. I love the Greek music. Of interest were also all the old and original artifacts still in the possession of the Greek families, exhibited in the adjacent Heritage Centre.

Very enjoyable weekend and lots of sunshine. [I didn’t stay to the end because I was there by bicycle, around 12km ride one way and then back again to Victoria City.] My video clips show various popular and also widely travelled dance groups, including the ELKELAM Dance Group from Athens Greece, the Dionysos Greek Dancers from Edmonton and from Calgary, both Alberta, Canada, and Diaspora Greek Dancers from Vancouver.

Salt Spring Island visit

Visiting Salt Spring Island Saturday Market. [ http://www.saltspringisland.org/ ].These are the biggest market days with lots of entertainment, happening on the largest of the Gulf Islands between Vancouver Island and the mainland British Columbia. From Victoria BC Swartz Bay Ferry Terminal (see also my last post on BC Ferries – [ https://renataveritashistory.com/2014/08/16/bc-ferries-vancouver-island/ ]) take the smaller ferry (vehicles and foot passengers) to Salt Spring. As this is a weekend and despite the market day is big and promises lots of visitors to the island, the ferry was 30 minutes late to leave the dock. Resulting in – on the island side – missing the local bus from Fulford Harbour to Ganges (about 20 km) [ http://www.saltspringisland.org/fulford_harbour/fulford_harbour.htm ]. That is where the market unfolds. I was lucky in meeting a couple of nice ladies on the ferry who gave me a ride in their car from Fulford to Ganges. No parking there. Met them later again, they told me they did not find parking for almost one hour. So when you drive, it is quite expensive for ferry services (vehicle plus driver almost C$50), vs. walking onto Ferry (C$12). Secondly difficult to find parking anywhere near Ganges. The Market Days are always very busy. I decided early afternoon to take the bus from Ganges back to the Harbour for one of the ferries – that one also came in 30 minutes late. Lucky I had left my own car on the other side Swartz Bay Terminal (24 hr rate is C$12). To drive home to Victoria.

Why is it that in that community west of Victoria BC so many attacks are happening on cyclists enjoying a ride on the ‘Galloping Goose’ (name of our Western cycling trails) and also on folks just enjoying a peaceful walk on the same trails ?
Just yesterday I was on my bicycle in that same area around the time in the morning – it was after 10 AM – where close by another female cyclist was attacked on her mountain bike,  pushed off and the bicycle was stolen. [ http://www.cheknews.ca/langford-cyclist-attacked/ ].
Since this where the actual cycling trails are nearby is a distance from my home – downtown Victoria – I had taken the BC Transit bus out to the western communities (loading my mountain bike on the bus), then got off at Colwood, near Langford, and starting from there on my bike.
Not long ago there were some more attacks reported – cougars spotted around Langford and the ‘Galloping Goose’ (one of the big cats roaming there was eventually shot), [ http://www.timescolonist.com/news/two-cougars-spotted-in-saanich-1.6161 ] , and another female walking on that trail had also been attacked [ http://www.timescolonist.com/news/local/woman-sexually-assaulted-on-galloping-goose-trail-in-langford-1.1159284 ].
I cycle a lot, alone, and consider myself lucky to be still alive (with all that heavy traffic especially outside the city core areas, and the lonely Galloping Goose cycling trails going thru some pretty wilderness areas). So, what is the matter with that Langford ? When I cycle on the other trails going north of Victoria up to Sidney, always safe.

BC Ferries & Vancouver Island

Living on Vancouver Island [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vancouver_Island] , there is no other way to get off the island other than by ferry. BC Ferries [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BC_Ferries ] is one of the largest of such ferry operation in the world. The vessels are massive by any standard (I have seen other ferry operations in Europe, to compare). BC Ferries has a large fleet of different sizes vessels [ http://www.bcferries.com/onboard-experiences/fleet/ ].
Because Vancouver Island is mainly formed from rocks, above and under the water, negotiating large vessels requires good technology and expert handling. In addition, the presence of under water gas lines (see also Vancouver Island Pipeline marine rights of way, http://www.fortisbc.com.
Interesting points: It has happened in the past that a crossing has had its problems, either the vessel not being able to stop in time and hit the dock at the arrival area (example: [ http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/b-c-ferry-crash-shuts-down-terminal-for-months-1.1001810 ]. Or more serious, when in 2006 the Queen of the North (fifth largest in the fleet) collided with under water rocks and sank, with 101 people on board, mostly saved, two lost – never found. [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MV_Queen_of_the_North ].

I always enjoy taking a ferry trip to one of the Gulf Islands, Strait of Georgia, between mainland BC and Vancouver Island. Last weekend my trip to Salt Spring Island. (see also: next post on Salt Spring Island). Left my car at Ferry Terminal parking (cost of car on Ferry is C$35 + C$12 for passenger/driver, quite expensive for 35 minutes crossing). Disadvantage to not crossing with car is to have to rely on public transport at each end. That weekend the ferry was 30 minutes late both ways. Buses must run on schedule, meaning no ready transport from terminal harbour to town sites. Yet, the major ferries between Vancouver Island and the mainland (Vancouver) are usually on schedule.