A Memorable Day on Nova Scotia’s South Shore

A subject on the minds of many of us these days is the awareness of how everything in this world is connected…the key word being “everything”. It’s easy to grasp the premise that as human beings living on this planet we are all connected, but how about the idea we are also connected to all living things which would include our trees, plants, animals, insects and whatever else that grows? Now there is food for thought. Lately I have been hearing much about a book entitled The Hidden Life of Trees written by the German author, Peter Wohlleben. Seems this book has impacted many of my friends so I have put it on my immediate list of books to read.

The opportunity to learn more about why this book is capturing so much interest came knocking at my door while visiting a good friend on the South Shore last weekend. On the Sunday, Mother Nature blessed us with a clear day after a good rain the day before. Blue skies with fluffy white clouds and moderate temperatures made for a perfect day at the beach. We chose Hirtle’s Beach, not only because it just happens to be our favourite one, but because on that day the Kingsburg Coastal Conservancy was offering an added bonus: guided nature walks highlighting its rock formations and flora, bird watching, a talk on the history of Kingsburg, a local exhibit of art at Shobac, and boat rides to Ironbound Island where feral sheep reside. What more could we want?

Boardwalk leading to Hirtle’s Beach.

The rocky part of the beach.

I learned that this conservancy is a charitable, non-governmental land trust started in 1995 by a group of volunteers dedicated to protecting and preserving the Kingsburg Peninsula on Nova Scotia’s South Shore for all to enjoy now and into the future.

We arrived at the beach around 11 o’clock just in time for the home cooked lunch of seafood chowder and homemade pie. I have to say I had one of my best lunches ever while sitting on the rocks of the beach, and the best part was that it was all for free.

Yummy lunch on the rocks.

To walk off our lunch, we took a walk along the beach noting numerous sea birds darting here and there. We were delighted to see some plovers in the mix. Several years ago bird watchers noticed that their numbers seemed to be dwindling so a group of concerned citizens took great pains to protect their nesting sites from the beach traffic. Their efforts have paid off as more sightings of these little birds have been noted in the past few years.

Can you spot any plovers?

We noticed that most people were doing what we were doing which was just walking and paddling in the water. The wind was a little too chilly for those of us without wetsuits but not for the surfers. I settled for trying to get some action shots of them as they manoeuvred the waves.

Since Sunday was the last day of this special weekend, we had only two walks to choose from: a walk and talk about fungi or the history of Kingsburg. Without hesitation we both agreed that the fungi walk would be the most interesting. I was actually excited about learning more about how they contribute to a healthy forest. Would this be the opportunity I hoped for to learn about the hidden life of trees? In the meantime with an hour or more at our disposal before the walk got underway, we opted to take a short run over to see the local art exhibit in Shobac.

I discovered this special place several years ago when visiting my husband’s son who had rented a cottage there for his summer holiday. So, what makes it so special?

The Shobac of today is an architectural wonder. It’s located on the edge of the Gaff Point Cliffs overlooking the LeHave River estuary. First inhabited by the Mi’Kmaq as a camp ground, then sighted by Samuel de Champlain who named it Shobac, not long after established as an Acadian farming and fishing village, to be later settled by German, Swiss, and French Protestants, mostly abandoned in the mid 20th century except for a few fishing families, the land was finally bought and developed into what it is today by a Brian MacKay-Lyons, a talented Nova Scotian architect.

MacKay-Lyons bought this huge tract of land in 1988 with the vision of re-creating an agricultural village for use by the community and the visitors who come to this part of the South Shore which are many due to its proximity to the three towns of Lunenburg, a Unesco Site, Mahone Bay, and Bridgewater. It is also near three of Nova Scotia’s largest and most popular beaches: Risser’s, Crescent, and Hirtle’s, not to mention numerous smaller ones all around.

Commonly called a compound, the land has a fabulous north view with Hirtle’s Beach in the distance. The land is dotted with undulating hills called drumlins which are glacial deposits left by the ice age some 15,000 years ago. Waves beating against the cliffs have created lovely sandy beaches below as a result of erosion. Sheep and horses can be found grazing on the grassy hillsides. What makes the scene even more outstanding are the box like cottages and larger buildings all available for rent on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. MacKay-Lyons’ latest acquisition is an old schoolhouse dating back to 1830 which has been restored to incorporate both the old and the new as many of his buildings do. The Troop Barn where we found the art exhibit was found and rescued by him in 2009 near Bridgetown in the Annapolis Valley  This was the last of Nova Scotia’s octagonal barns and was slated for demolition because no one had stepped forth to buy it. Thanks to this man’s money and foresight, it’s been beautifully restored and is now used extensively by the community for all kinds of exhibitions and other community gatherings. Not surprisingly MacKay-Lyons has garnered many awards and much recognition for this architectural wonder so it’s worth a visit and definitely a great place to stay for a vacation.

View of Hirtle’s Beach from Shobac.

Box like buildings blending into the seascape.

Troop Barn where the art exhibit was held.

Some drumlins and sheep in the background.

After viewing the art and voting on the one we favoured most, as well as being fortified with some fresh lemonade and homemade cookies for our efforts, we drove back to Hirtle’s Beach for the fungi trek along the Gaff Point Trail Head.

Heading out for our fungi walk.

Into the forest we go,

Our guide gave us an excellent explanation of how nature has devised such an intricate system for keeping an old growth forest healthy and vibrant. Who knew that fungi (mushrooms) played such an important role in their health? Who knew that all that green moss we see on walks in the woods where there is an old and new growth of trees harbours a whole network of fungi threads in the soil underneath? Who knew that these fungi supply essential carbon and nutrients to each and every tree? The more fungi or mushrooms the healthier the trees.

This is my simplified version of how it all works. Hopefully I can gain a more scientific and clearer explanation from Wohlleben’s book. Apparently he goes so far as to say that trees have personalities and actually talk to one another by communicating below ground via a ‘woodwide web’. Willows, he claims, are loners and have relatively short lives compared to beeches and oaks which last for thousands of years and act as a family. He adds that trees have emotions and can feel pain. Who knew? Another ‘ah ha’ moment for me was the realization that perhaps all the clear cutting of our forests here in our province could be classified as a criminal act since it kills any new growth and turns old growth forests into dead zones. I think those who work in the Department of Natural Resources should be putting this book on their reading lists.

Our guide showing us old and new tree growth.

My memorable day at Kingsburg will stay in my mind for some time. I learned so much and it inspired me to do more reading about how Mother Nature has a clear plan for how all living things can live together harmoniously if every part of her is allowed to fulfill its purpose. As intelligent human beings, we have a responsibility to not only learn how we can fit into this system but also learn how to do this in a sustainable manner. Kudo’s to the Kingsburg Coastal Conservancy for their concern for preserving our beautiful province and for spreading the word to all those who are listening.

Looking out to Ironbound Island from Gaff Point.

The cliff on Gaff Point Trail.

How Our Changing World Is Affecting Our Travel

How Our Changing World Is Affecting Our Travel

Anyone who travels afar these days can’t help but wonder or worry….a little… about how our fast changing world is affecting how we travel. I know I am noticing some changes not always for the better. For me, who is in her senior years and often travelling alone, it’s becoming more of a challenge.

The rapid evolution of our technology which has had a drastic change in how we communicate has probably had the greatest impact upon how we now must travel. When I started my travelling in 2008 I did not have a cell phone or Smart phone. I did not have a computer or an E-reader. The only piece of technology I carried was my new digital camera bought the year before when I lost my Fuji camera with film while vacationing in Cuba.

Now I travel with a cell phone… which may soon have to be traded in for a Smart phone…. a tablet with and E-reader, a small laptop computer, and a camera, along with  other ‘must-haves’ such as, chargers, USP cords, adaptors and other technological gadgets designed to make my travel easier….or so I am led to believe. Frankly all these gadgets just make me more stressed. I admit I am a dinosaur when it comes to all the new technology, but I am forced to get on board with it all. If I don’t have a an app for this and that, I am often left up the  creek without a paddle. Internet cafes are fast disappearing the way of the Dodo so I can forget trying to find a place where I can get a copy of anything, such as proof of my booking at a hotel or an airline ticket. Folded paper maps that you can hold in your hands are scarcer than hens teeth. Now I am supposed to find my way around with Maps Me. A young man I met on my travels last year downloaded this app onto my tablet. I tried it out while in Viet Nam, but found it so confusing that I ended up going east instead of west for more than five kilometers before I discovered my mistake. I needed to see the whole picture of the area not just a partial one in order to get some proper orientation. I needed a map!

Today, changes in our climate are having some effect on where and when I travel. Our earth is definitely feeling the effects of global warming. Granted, we are noticing more weather extremes here in North America than the countries in SE Asia where I have been travelling to. Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Viet Nam are on or near the equator, making the effects of climate change more subtle. Nevertheless, I have noticed that the time period in Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand for comfortable weather with clear sunny days is getting shorter every year. Now we are lucky to get two months of this kind of weather before the intense heat and humidity set in. By mid February it’s getting too hot for me to stay any longer forcing me to leave for a more moderate climate. To arrive back in Nova Scotia before April is too soon since our winters are long so making a stop in one of the countries in southern Europe has helped to solve this problem. The downside to this is that it’s more expensive than any of the countries in SE Asia.

One of the many wats or temples in Bangkok.

Furthermore, it should come as no surprise that the cost of travel is creeping upward in most areas. What this means is that unless I have more money to increase my budget, I am compelled to limit my travel and opt to stay in one place. The more travelling and sight-seeing I do, the more I spend. Everyday living expenses in food and accommodations have increased over the years but not too drastically. It just takes more careful planning to keep my costs within my budget. In Thailand it’s still cheaper to eat out than it is to eat in. But, for how long? In Bangkok, the present government is cracking down on street vendors forcing them into markets or out of business entirely. This will definitely make a difference in the cost of meals for those travellers who thrived on eating authentic Thai street food at fabulous prices.

Street food in Bangkok.

Surprisingly, the cost of my airfare over and back has not increased by much, if at all, depending on when I make my bookings… the earlier the better… along with the help of a good travel agent. You can easily book a round trip fare from Halifax to Bangkok starting at $1200 and upwards depending on the class and flight times you prefer. However, if you break your flight up with short or long layovers as I do because I want to stay awhile in Europe, then you pay for the privilege. When doing this, it’s best to enlist the help of a travel agent.

Although the cost of flying hasn’t varied much, the days of leisurely air travel, which once travellers could look forward to, are fast disappearing. Most will agree that air travel is becoming more and more challenging. Increasing numbers of passengers, overwhelmed and poorly trained customer service personnel, more competition among the airlines, uncertain weather conditions, ever-changing technology, and strict security due to the threat of terrorism have all taken their toll on what used to be fun way to travel. We have all heard of the horror stories resulting from cancelled flights and missed connections. Just read the testimonials given by anyone who has experienced this, or better still talk to those you meet. Everyone has their story. I encountered all of the above when travelling westward over to Thailand with American Airlines, but since I changed my direction by heading east via Europe, I have had fewer problems. I have been lucky…so far.

Another reality…I hesitate to even mention this… is that I am not getting any younger. By eating well and remaining active, I have so far avoided having to rely on any medications, thus, eliminating the problem of carrying prescription drugs. Vitamins and other alternative health foods are available in most of the countries in SE Asia, and the ones that aren’t or are simply too expensive, I take with me. I confess I don’t get any kind of health insurance as the Thai medical system is not only inexpensive but in most cases very good. The other SE Asian countries are iffy and in some cases bad. I have accepted the fact that if I should need medical care, I will simply pay the cost because any type of medical insurance today would cost me more than the cost of my flight over and back. Taking extra caution on where I go within the countries I visit and limiting my movement by not trying to see it all, helps me keep my costs down and eliminate any possibility of getting sick or injured.

Despite the changes and challenges of travel today, it doesn’t seem to be affecting the number of people who are on the move. Tourism is up in most parts of SE Asia as it certainly is in Europe and here in North America. Many of us would agree that it’s the Chinese Effect. This huge country with its strong economy has put them on the move…young and old alike. I think it’s a good thing as it is the best way to gain an education especially for the young who will inherit the problems our world is facing. From my own experience, I count travel as one of my most valuable educators. However, now as an older traveller, I question just how it can contribute to my own personal growth.

Sunset in Laos

Supposedly with age comes wisdom gained through our long life experience, but does aging not also come with greater challenges to our capacity to be more resilient in our physical and mental abilities? If this is so, then am I not going to be affected more by the changes taking place in the world.

I can’t help pondering this dilemma after ten years of travel. The monumental changes in how we communicate, move around, and the increasing number of people travelling these days have all upped the ante to my own personal challenges. Travel was easier ten years ago. Was that because I was younger and more naive to its challenges, or was I simply that kid in the candy store exploring and savouring all the new countries and cultures I visited all the while relishing the new-found freedom that came with it? Perhaps now the time has come for me to turn my focus away from the fun and freedom of escaping our winters to concentrate on how to be of more service at home in this troubled world we find ourselves living in.

Early morning monk walk for breakfast – Luang Prebang.

Laos

 

 

Raising Sheep in Port Royal, Nova Scotia

Can you imagine being suddenly thrust into the role of parenting 80 newborn babies dependent upon you for their livelihood. Could you cope?

This spring Julia Springob and Lou Barta of Port Royal were faced with this surprise when their ewes presented them with this number of very hungry baby lambs, far more than they ever anticipated. The norm for a ewe is to birth one or maybe two lambs so imagine their surprise when many of them birthed three and even four babies. Since motherhood was new to many of their mothers, they simply couldn’t cope with so many offspring at one time. This is where Julia and Lou had to step in, resulting in bottle feedings every two hours. They were literally on call both night and day for those first weeks. Thankfully they were down to three feedings a day when I visited their farm.

I must backtrack here to explain how I got the idea to do an article on the subject of sheep farming here on my “special road”. If I leave my house to go anywhere further than walking distance, I must get into my car to travel to our nearest town of Annapolis Royal or any other place in Nova Scotia. This amounts to at least several times a week. If you take a look at my post entitled My Road Well Travelled, (click here) you can find more information on what makes this road so special, not just to me, but many others who live and visit here. Each time I travel this road I pass Julia and Lou’s sheep farm, and every time I can’t resist taking a peek at those little lambs…plus several goats… to see just how quickly they are growing. It’s a heart-warming sight.

I became so intrigued with the idea of finding out more about the owners and their sheep that I made an appointment to interview them, resulting in a piece I had published in the Valley Harvester, our local community newspaper. This is what I found out about raising sheep in Nova Scotia.

After taking me on a tour of their farm to meet the baby lambs, witness their bottle feeding, as well as to meet the goats and the sheep dogs, I quickly realized that this idyllic farm is being built with an abundance of hard work and dedication.

Just feed me.

At last. Thanks papa Lou.

Sheep farming in Nova Scotia is a challenging business requiring lots of know-how and cash. A lover of lamb meat, I have always wondered why it isn’t so readily available in our grocery stores and is more expensive than beef or pork. Well, now I think I understand why.

Julia and Lou have been at this for a year now having moved here from British Columbia where they farmed on a part-time basis for 16 years. They decided to immigrate to Canada in 2000 from Germany. Julia’s native country is Germany and Lou hails from what was once Czechoslovakia. Their B.C. farm was located in the northern, interior part of B.C. in the Bulkley Valley halfway between Prince Rupert and Prince George. There, Lou drove a logging truck while Julia stayed home to raise chickens, turkeys, some beef cows. She also maintained a large vegetable garden providing food for themselves  and their neighbours. Lou’s yearning to be his own boss and their growing desire to go into full-time farming compelled them to take the plunge and begin their search for more land. With land prices in B.C. escalating, they turned their eyes eastward and with the help of the Internet settled on a picturesque farm in Port Royal.

In their first year, they have increased their flock of sheep from 45 to 60, not counting the newborn babies. In addition, they have seven goats, three guard dogs, and one herd dog, still just a kid being diligently trained to take on his adult duties in the near future. I think it’s a miracle they all survived their trip east and their first winter. Now in their middle years, Lou proudly announced, “We haven’t lost a single animal to any disease, climate or predators. We have an electric fence and our guard dogs to thank for this.” I would add that he needs to give credit to himself and Julia.

When asked what their greatest challenge has been so far, they both agreed it was the task of transporting the animals in two large trailers driven by Lou and a friend followed by a back trailer driven by Julia from B.C. to N.S. in just seven days

“It was the most arduous task we have ever had to take on” said Julia. “The weather was heating up in June, making it difficult to keep the animals cool. We were worried about finding places where we could stop for the night and not be an annoyance to the folks around us. Our animals would always make too much noise around feeding time.”

However it turned out that most people, when they heard what they doing, were more than happy to lend a hand in providing a place to park their vehicles with enough water for the hot, thirsty animals.

As Julia pointed out, there was one other high point during their trip which presented itself once they got here… the birth of a baby lamb in November!

As for how they feel after their first year in Nova Scotia and whether they are optimistic about their future here as sheep farmers, their reply was passionate in their quest to raise healthy and affordable food for local eating. Eventually they hope to provide their products to the community as they did in B.C. by starting small and relying on word of mouth. They see a future in this province for the small farmer who wants to join the ever-growing need to become more sustainable in food production. However, Lou did seem concerned about the government and parents not doing enough to encourage young people to climb aboard to take up small farming.

When asked what joy they get from their new venture, without hesitation they said:

  • You can be your own boss.
  • You know where your food is coming from and what’s in it. I must add that they are living proof of this as both who are in their 50’s and look the picture of health.
  • You never can be bored with your work. Every day is different.
  • The challenges you meet present new learning through personal experience.
  • You can be outside as much as you want and have access to clean water and air.

For now they want to continue expanding their flock of sheep to the point where they can support themselves as well as their community. They also want to meet the standards as set by the province for producing healthy food products, which will mean obtaining all the necessary licences. Julia loves to make goat cheese, and she’s even thinking of the possibility of lamb pies and sausages.

However, in order to accomplish that she knows she will have to upgrade her huge kitchen to meet those food production regulations. Right now they are taking it all one day at a time, concentrating on increasing their flock to a sustainable level, and ensuring their lambs and goats are kept safe and healthy.

Julia, Lou, and herd dog.

Overcoming the Fear of Travelling Solo as a Senior

To escape the harsh Canadian winters of Nova Scotia, the place I call home, I do what more and more people are doing which is… to seek out some place that is warm. Florida is not the answer for me as has been the custom for many Nova Scotians in the past. For the last nine years, winters have taken me to the Far East, to such countries as Thailand, Viet Nam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Nepal, India, and, finally, last year to South America for the first time.

When I explain to friends, old and new, why I choose to travel to far off places by myself without my husband (Hubby), I get various reactions, such as: am I worried about getting sick, do I feel safe, how do I endure the long flights, or where do I get my energy? They might then end up by saying, “I could never do it.” Before addressing these concerns from the dubious, let me digress to the events leading up to my discovery of travelling solo as a senior female.

I never planned to do this kind of travel when Hubby and I moved to Nova Scotia from the big city of Toronto in 2006. It happened gradually. We kept meeting people in Annapolis Royal…the little town nearest to where we live in Victoria Beach… who had been to South East Asia. They helped perk my interest in the possibility of going there instead of to the south where we had gone previously. To my surprise I was able to talk Hubby into testing the Asian waters. We both realised it was so much cheaper to head east rather than south. For the same amount of money as we would spend to go to Cuba and stay at a resort for a week, we could stretch out our time away in Thailand, for example, to a month or more. Heck, after our second visit we realised we could stay for three or four months and live on a much smaller budget than we ever would if we stayed home. Home meant having to heat a century old house with oil and driving two cars.

Our home in Victoria Beach.

Annapolis Royal in December

After our fourth visit to SE Asia, Hubby announced that he was tiring of this part of the world and wanted to spend his next winter in Florence, Italy, where he had lived for a while as a young man. He also had friends in England he wanted to visit. The thought of spending my winter in either of these places left me cold (no pun intended). I was going back to Thailand again, not just for its warmth, but also because I wanted to shop. If you refer to one of my previous posts you will know why shopping in Thailand is my lure. Click on this link to read: Shopping the Markets in Chiang Mai.

Hill Tribe village in northern Thailand.

Night market in Chiang Mai

So now back to the concerns I have encountered from those who are interested in travelling solo as an older person. I say “interested” as I accept that not everyone wants to do this. We all have different ways of deriving satisfaction on our life’s journey. However, for those who would like to do it, but think it’s impossible to travel as a solo senior who is married, I want you to know it is… if you want it badly enough. You can convince your spouse or partner, if you have one, that it’s better for your relationship if you take time off from it and just trust. You can be safe if you use your common sense…this is where seniors have something that the younger set may not. You most likely won’t do anything crazy like walk around deserted streets late at night. You won’t get sick if you are careful of what and where you eat, and should you get sick there are tons of pharmacies with qualified staff and good hospitals in all the countries I have travelled to. Finally, you will survive the long trip overseas if you prepare yourself for the flight and take it easy for the first week by not eating too much spicy food and keeping a normal sleeping schedule. I have many tips for keeping in shape and staying healthy while travelling which I can address in a separate post if you want me to. For anyone who does decide to give solo travel a try, two things can happen:

  1. You will gain a thirst for more.
  2. Or if not, you will be glad you overcame any fear and just did it…once!

Either way you won’t regret it!

Fear of what disasters could happen are a huge concern for anyone starting off on a solo trip. When Hubby and I went on our separate trips in 2013, I was scared, but at the same time I was excited to be out there on my own. I could almost taste the freedom facing me. To deal with the fear factor, I started off with the familiar by travelling to Thailand first. I had friends there and was so familiar with this country that was becoming like a second home for me as Florence was for Hubby.

Viet Nam, however, was another story. My first night in Hanoi scared me to death when I was finally faced with the hoards of motorbikes and cars which seemed to be everywhere buzzing around like flies. With few traffic lights and police to direct the chaos, the Viet Namese drivers cope with a seemingly effortless charge ahead into the flow aiming for any spot that looks like a possibility. As a pedestrian, we must wait for a small gap or lull before heading out into the traffic. Then we pray the drivers see you and go around you rather than into you. I will be forever indebted to Mike and his wife, Diane, for helping me master the art of crossing the busy streets of Hanoi. Their presence was a gift because having been there many times, they were happy to not only be a guide for me, but to be my dinner companions. Aware that this was my first venture to a new place on my own, they kindly took me under their wing… or tried to. I can be awfully independent at times.

Hanoi traffic

My next leg of this solo journey took me to India and Nepal. This was the most daunting part of my whole trip. Any traveller will tell you that India isn’t easy…Thailand is a breeze in comparison. I was definitely put to the test by having to endure scams, pushy males, and sickness. You will come away from India either loving or hating it. By the end, I was somewhere in between. Should the opportunity arise to return, I would. If you want to learn more about my adventures in India you can click on my post Incredible India. 

This is Kerela in South India

Nepal came much easier to me, but it still had its challenging moments, such as my encounter with a bull who didn’t like what I was wearing. You can find out more about this adventure by reading my post Adventures in Nepal.

The Annapurna Massif – part of the Himalaya range.

What I learned from this trip was that any fear you might have about travelling on your own can be overcome by simply doing it. If you don’t have friends you can meet up with, you can always find fellow travellers willing to help you out at the places you stay or eat. Moreover, don’t discount the incredible helpfulness of the locals who in almost all cases will bend over backwards to help. Not everyone is out to scam you. Even in India which probably has one of the worst reputations for devising outlandish schemes to get your money, you will find incredibly helpful people.

So what I have learned about overcoming the fear that comes with travelling on your own is to gain all the information you can about whatever it is you need to know. And, of course, what better way to gain this information than by actually doing it. You can read all the guidebooks and talk to others who have done it, but the best teacher is your own experience. You will make mistakes, things will go wrong, you will get scammed, you will get discouraged, and sometimes feel very alone. However, look at these as the ingredients that make up the experience. Keep at it and you will get better at it. Fear will be replaced with love. Through your own growing, you will learn to not only love yourself more because you have done something you wanted to do and be proud because of it, but you will also become more accepting of all those you meet up with on your travels. You will become that better person where you will have gained a more open mind and be more compassionate towards those who have less than you. You will cease taking our wonderful country we call Canada for granted. This is what travelling solo has done for me, and I am so grateful that in my senior years I can still do it.

For more thoughts on my solo travels, you can refer to Travelling Solo or Not?

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” – Mark Twain

 

 

 

 

Look What’s Happening to Halifax

Look What’s Happening to Halifax

There are times I wonder if there is anything these days escaping the pursuit of constant change. Don’t get me wrong in thinking I am against change because I definitely am not. Change is good, but I do feel that we need to pursue it with some caution.

Lately there has been much talk about all the changes taking place in my birth city…Halifax… the capital of Nova Scotia. Human nature dictates that changes will result in two opposing sides: those who look to the past wanting to keep things as they are and those looking to the future willing to support any kind of change. Halifax is presently facing this problem, but from what I can tell they might be following another human reaction to change…. that of moving from one extreme to the other. “Let’s join the race to become a world-class city at all costs” seems to be the mantra. This is good, but let’s slow down a bit and try to do it with taste.

Historically, the city has shown an inclination to get stuck in the past right up until the early 1970’s when the urge to move forward began with the beautification of its waterfront. When I was growing up in Halifax, Water Street, down by the harbour, was a place to avoid. I always hated that fishy smell. The street was a series of dilapidated grey warehouses, the naval dockyard, seedy taverns, with some notorious ‘red light’ houses thrown into the mix. Then in the 70’s it all went through a huge metamorphosis resulting in the Historic Properties. Our waterfront suddenly had changed into not only a major tourist attraction, but also became accessible to all Haligonians. It had managed to preserve some of the old fish houses and wharves to produce a nice mix of the old and the new.

Other changes took place at that time and well into the 80’s. Some were good others not so. Spring Garden Road became a major shopping area to the detriment of Barrington Street which always had been. The old Capitol Theatre, which my grandfather helped engineer, was demolished resulting in much hue and cry to be replaced by the Maritime Centre, a large modern complex at the bottom of Spring Garden Road. Many of us kids, and adults too, were upset at how the ‘powers that be’ could have torn down such a unique theatre as the Capitol which resembled the inside of a grand old castle.

Perhaps this flurry of changes was too much for conservative old Halifax because for the next few decades, primarily under the mayoralty of Peter Kelly, the city showed little forward movement. Under his leadership any wise planning and growth had come to a screeching halt. Barrington Street became more derelict as retailers moved out to swanky suburban malls, affordable housing became a scarcity as evidenced by the increasing numbers of homeless on the sidewalks of Spring Garden Rd., and few construction sites and cranes were to be seen anywhere.

However for the past several years, the construction tap has been turned on full blast under the leadership of Mike Savage, Halifax’s present mayor. This began with the regional council’s decision to go ahead with the construction of a new convention centre, after many years of wrangling on whether the city should or shouldn’t take the risk of pumping millions of dollars into a new one when they already had one… albeit a small one. Located in the heart of downtown, the Nova Centre has caused traffic chaos and scores of disgruntled restaurant and store owners. Whole streets have been closed for a year or more as the structure endures one delay after another. To satisfy my curiosity, I just had to go see for myself what all the fuss has been about and have to admit I was blown away by what I saw. It’s stunning and should put Halifax up there on the list of world-class cities. It’s definitely had a ripple effect as nearby buildings in the downtown core are either being spiffied up or torn down to be replaced by more modern buildings. I couldn’t help wondering if this really was the staid old city I was so eager to leave 40 years ago?

On a whim, I decided to wander further down to the south end of Barrington Street where my father lived for most of his adult life, and where I spent my first three. I wanted to see if #315, a stately old house where he had his apartment, was still standing. It was… but barely! A huge sign was posted next to the main door indicating that this house and the one next to it is slated for demolition. But hold on… this decree was issued in 2015 and the house is still there because there was another smaller sign stating that these premises have been declared ‘heritage’ houses. It’s not just for personal reasons I want to see these houses saved, but also because they represent an old style of architecture from Halifax’s past which is too rapidly disappearing. I hope the city councillors will consider this and support the Heritage Society rather than another greedy developer.

As I continued to search out other changes in the city, harkening back to my early years, I decided to pay a quick visit to where once my old high school was located. Queen Elizabeth High (QEH) was demolished ten years ago and been replaced with an unusual project called the Common Roots Urban Farm which supports community and marketing gardening for the purpose of promoting health and wellness in the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM). This is the acronym used for the city of Halifax and the outer regions including Dartmouth…another change which has occurred since I left. Nevertheless, here is a wonderful example of how a prime piece of land in the midst of one of the busiest parts of the city can be used to introduce some rural living into that of the urban.

In case you are wondering what happened to QEH, well the good news is that a gleaming new high school uniting protestant and catholic students under the same roof now stands nearby. When I was a high school student, St. Patrick’s and Queen Elizabeth were rivals just a few blocks away from each other. St. Pat’s has also faced the wrecking ball, leaving a piece of prime land vacant until a decision is made on what its fate will be. Let’s hope it will be a wise choice that will bring more country into the city and be of benefit to all people.

These days my visits to Halifax invariably end up in a quick stop at the new Central Library. This building has garnered accolades and awards for its architecture from all parts of the world. It’s an environmentally sustainable building which can boast of a rooftop terrace growing native plants, and toilets that are flushed with rain water.  An abundance of windows strategically placed on all levels allows the sun to pour in to control the indoor temperature and help reduce electrical costs. All the materials used in its construction are natural. You can really notice the difference when you spend time in this building. For this reason alone, I could spend days there instead of just a hasty stop for a cup of delicious coffee and a home-baked pastry at the Pavia Cafe on the roof top overlooking the harbour.  This library is truly accessible to all citizens providing cultural activities and small rooms which are rented out for other varied purposes. The acoustics are fantastic because no matter how many people pass through its doors or what is taking place inside, the place still feels and sounds like a library…quiet and peaceful. Halifax can be proud of this building.

Yes, the attitude and the look of my home city has certainly changed for the better. Where once it was conservative and rather dowdy, it’s now bright with a positive vibe prevailing. It is fast becoming a ‘world-class’ city and a more desirable one to live in as far as I can see. My one hope is that it doesn’t become too obsessed with trying to outdo other cities. Having lived in Toronto for many years, I certainly don’t want it to make the same mistake that city did by erecting tall office towers and condos, as well as a hideous express way that not only obscures the view of the lake but also cuts it off from the rest of the city. This has left the best part of the city mainly for the enjoyment of the well-heeled and the tourists when a waterfront needs to be accessible to everyone. Halifax, if you truly want to be a world-class city then learn from the mistakes of others by being a leader for what can be better.

To make a slideshow of these pictures, left click on the first one and follow the arrows.

A Brief Trip to Rome

A Brief Trip to Rome

Rome is now toted as one of the world’s most exciting places to visit…according to Trip Advisor. Their recent reviewers have urged readers and prospective visitors to put it on their bucket list instead of by-passing it as many tend to do. It fact, it came in as the second best place to visit managing to beat out Paris! I suspect that one of the reasons for this is because it’s cheaper. For example, a cappuccino is usually 2 euros compared to five in Paris. Of course, Rome has many other lures,too… history, art and architecture, location, good public transit, Roman ruins everywhere, and the food!

This was a second visit for me having made my first in 1970. With that trip rapidly becoming a fading memory, I was eager to take a few days at the end of our stay in Gaeta and have Hubby act as my tour guide. He has returned to Rome at least eight times so I knew I would be in good hands.

Three days didn’t give us much time to see all I wanted to see. Not keen on standing in line ups to see the Sistine Chapel or St. Peter’s Basilica, I was content to settle for a quick visit to the square to take some pictures and feel sorry for all those who were enduring the line ups. I may live to regret it unless I can return again.

St. Peter’s Square

Because we happened to be there at Easter…one of their busiest times of the year… I agreed to attend a performance of the St. John Passion on the outskirts of the city in the Parco de Musica, a park with three modern theatres devoted exclusively to the arts. We attended this event on our first night, to be followed by an overly long, two hour Easter service next Sunday morning. This was enough for me, so from then on it was primarily my choice of what to do and see.

The performers for St. John Passion taking their bows.

Rome is a terrific city for walking. The centre of the city with its numerous piazzas, churches, and famous Roman ruins can easily be done on foot. Places to see are clearly signed and, wonder of wonders, I didn’t find the traffic too chaotic. If you tire of walking or want to go to the outer parts of the city, you can take an easy to manoeuver subway, or a tramcar that runs from one end of the city to the other, or tons of buses which all seem to end up at the Centro Termini where all the trains throughout the country meet up, too. Our hotel was near the station which was convenient for us to get anywhere in the city and out to the airport.

A good deal of our remaining time was spent simply walking and sight-seeing, and most importantly, lapping up the ambience of this eternal city. When our feet and legs began to protest, we had no trouble finding a cute cafe for a drink or for a sample of that delicious Roman food. A favourite ‘pick-me-up’ was an Aperol Spritz in the afternoon. Romans don’t drink cappuccinos after ‘noon’ so feeling obligated to ‘do what the Romans do’ we opted for the spritzers.

One of our first stops was the Spanish Steps…a wonderful Baroque masterpiece designed by that prolific sculptor, Bernini, and constructed in 1726. Next to it, was the one-time home of those two famous English poets…Keats and Shelley. At the top of the steps, I was rewarded with a great view of the city spread out before me. In case you didn’t know Rome is built around seven hills and the Tiber River with no high rises in the centre…. they are all out in the suburbs. There are over 3 million people in all of Rome with over two million in the burbs. The centre has only 80 thousand residents. The crowds of people you encounter are tourists.

View from the top of the Spanish Steps.

Rome has over 336 fountains which can be found in every piazza, large or small. The Fountain at Trevi is one of the most famous. Immortalized in song and movies, it’s here where visitors flock to throw in a coin or two to ensure that they will return again. I heard that they can haul in up to 2,000 Euro a day!

Another beautiful fountain crafted by… you guessed it…Bernini that great Italian sculptor appears in the Piazza Navona. There are two fountains here, but the more significant one is his Four Rivers masterpiece with an Egyptian obelisk in the centre. This plaza dates back to the 1st century A.D. when the early Romans congregated to watch their games. Later on in the Baroque period, they went to see theatrical events. Now it is used for a Christmas market and, of course, for tourists and residents alike to simply rest and have a drink at one of the numerous cafes. It has been featured in many movies: for example “Angels and Demons” written by Dan Brown and starring Tom Hanks.

The Piazza Navona

Bernini’s masterpiece.

Next to the piazzas in large numbers are the churches. There are many and they are all beautiful. Most of them are now a blur in my mind, but the one which stands out for me is the St. Louis de France boasting three Caravaggio paintings.

Inside St. Louis di France

Caravaggio painting.

The building which most impressed me was the Pantheon, founded in 27 B.C., destroyed in 80 A.D., and restored by the Emperor Adrian in 118. In the 7th century it was converted to a church. The ancient Romans used it as a meeting place. Over the centuries it became a burial spot for the remains of the Italian kings. Today it can proudly claim to be one of the finest preserved buildings in our modern world. Not only this, it’s one of the few famous pieces of ancient Roman architecture that you can visit for FREE…and there wasn’t a huge line up! Once inside you will be awed by its structure. The huge domed roof with a hole in the centre is made of unreinforced concrete to let the rain in. But where does the water go, and how does this help explain why it is so well-preserved today?  The answer is thanks to the foresight and clever thinking of the builders who put in a sloping floor with small holes for proper drainage so we can enjoy this wonderfully preserved building today.

You can’t visit Rome and not visit the Colosseum, if not to enter at least to go and gawk at it. It is the largest amphitheatre ever built. Construction began in 72 A.D. and was completed in 80 A.D. In its day it could hold up to 80,000 spectators who would come to witness drama, concerts, games of all kinds, animal hunts, and the ever popular gladitorial fights.  Again we opted to forego the line up and the crowds to simply admire its grandeur from the outside. Both of us had seen it on our previous visits when it was mostly under construction. Today it is all spruced up and looking awesome. One thing we noticed here, as is true for most of the important ruins and piazzas drawing huge crowds, was the soldiers and sometimes tanks standing guard just in case….

Nearby the Colosseum is the Forum with ruins of temples and monuments scattered here and there. Both of these famous spots are located in what we know today as Ancient Rome. Construction is ongoing and what has been accomplished so far is truly commendable….and it helps bring the tourists! Tons of money has been poured into these restoration projects over the years, not only by the Italian government, but by organizations around the world. The question is how much is enough?

At the Forum with Temple of Minerva.

This mosaic wall looks like a recent find and still is in great shape.

The Temple of Peace built in 70 A.D. after a succession of wars.

In between the piazzas, churches, and ruins, we found time to visit two villas both housing wonderful collections of art. Our first one was the Farnesina Villa. To reach it, we had to cross the Tiber River. The Tiber is a beautiful river which the Romans don’t give enough credit to. Like the Seine in Paris, it’s spanned by numerous small bridges… all walkable… with a bike/pedestrian path running along it. Strange that not many people use it. Could it be that the steep stairs leading down to the river are a hindrance? Our walk to the villa took us to small cobblestone streets and a world far removed from the frenetic pace of the centre. This area definitely had a village feel to it. The Villa de Fernesina and grounds were absolutely lovely. Antonio Chigi owned this villa and to satiate his passion for the arts became an avid collected of fine paintings by Raphael, Peruzzi, and Baldassairre.

Ralphael’s “The marriage of Psyche and Cupid”

Our second choice was another small gallery in the Villa Doria Pamphily facing the Piazza Navona…back to the centre again. This villa was once the home of Innocent 10 who was proclaimed, not only the pope, but the king of Italy in 1644 or thereabouts. He was one powerful man as was his family. In fact, the family to this day is still involved with running the gallery. Innocent’s cousin, Camillo, was the avid art collector so it’s thanks to him that we can view sculptures by Bernini, and, once again paintings by that very famous artist, Caravaggio, who broke all the rules of his day by insisting on using prostitutes for his models. He really pushed the envelope by using one to portray Mary Magdaline!

Here she is.

A room in the Pallazzio Doria Pamphily.

Rome is facing the same problems, if not more, as most large cities these days. Parking and transportation are and always have been a huge problem, as is housing. There is a whole city underneath the city above waiting to be unearthed. The question is does more money go into that, or should it go towards building a present day city that will provide for the needs of the people living there? Romans seem to be divided on this. The one thing we kept hearing was that they don’t much like change, yet they like to complain about all its ills. It remains to be seen just which direction they will head in. They hated their previous mayor so have elected a young woman. Could she be the answer to helping wake them up to what is facing them down the road? Rome has faced many hard times over the centuries yet it has managed to endure. Surely it will continue to  live up to its reputation as ‘the eternal city’.

In and Around Gaeta, Italy – Roman Ruins and Beautiful Beaches

Spending a month in the town of Gaeta in central Italy has catipulted me back to my high school studies in Latin. At that time, I questioned my choice to study a dead language but was encouraged by the fact that with it came the revelation of how our English language was built on it, and my discovery that Roman history was far from boring. These past few weeks have certainly sparked a renewed interest for me in all things Roman.

Overlooking the harbour in Gaeta.

In their hey day, the Romans spread their empire to many parts of Europe, Asia Minor, and Northern Africa. Most historians today would agree that they were master builders as evidenced by their remains which people have been flocking to for centuries. The Coliseum in Rome, the Pantheon, and the ruins of Pompei and Herculaneum are a few of the notables which have been well-preserved and draw hoards of tourists every year from around the globe.

You could say that the legacy of the Romans is broad enough to cover almost all facets of our life today. Its influence can be traced to the spread of Christianity, the basis of our law system, and our democratic form of government. Other things which come to mind are roads, aqueducts, baths, temples to various gods and goddesses, forums or sports stadiums, coliseums, amphitheatres, and beautiful homes with their *atriums and *peristiles. And, let’s not forget to thank them for a myriad of smaller necessities such as, our newspapers, our calendar, and our public toilets, to name just a few.

In the atrium of a Roman house.

Rome and its environs were the centre for this ancient civilization. However, it was the towns and cities further to the south on the western sea coast sheltered by the Aurunci Mountains, which provided valuable places for trade and places of refuge for emperors and those of the upper class who wanted to escape the clamour of the city. All have their Roman remains with stories to tell of their time spent here.

The Tyrranean Sea and the Aurunci Mt. range.

Gaeta was one of those towns, along with Sperlonga, Formia, and Terracina. These are coastal towns located midway between Rome and Naples. Picture the Almalfi Coast…Capri and Sorrento. This will give you an idea of what this area has to offer: sandy beaches, weird and wonderful rock formations, grottoes, and mountains. No wonder the Romans loved it! Modern day Italians and northern Europeans still flock here in the summer months. March and April are ideal for visitors like Hubby and me because we can not only avoid the crowds and get cheaper prices for just about everything, but also enjoy the sun with moderate temperatures. Nights are cool but days are usually around 18 degrees centigrade.

Overlooking Gaeta

Gaeta, with a population of about 40,000, is divided into two areas: the old and the new which is typical of all the towns we have been….Sperlonga, Terracina, Formia, Itri, and Naples. If not situated on the coast offering beautiful beaches, they can be found further inland on a hilltop in the mountains. All of them have an old and new part, and all of them have Roman ruins scattered here and there. The old parts of town often reveal their Medieval influences with narrow, cobble stone streets, and piazzas or squares usually dominated by a cathedral, town hall, or museum. Larger towns and cities are linked by bus or train running at an affordable cost. A rental car would be the best bet to get to hard to reach places in the mountains but is more expensive. Gasoline isn’t cheap in Italy. We have relied on the bus to get to most places except for Naples when we took the train.

The highlights of our travels in and around the area have been Itri, a small mountain town which lies on part of the Appian Way, the Archeological Museum and the Cavern in Speralonga, the Circeo Promontory and the Temple of Jupiter in Terracina, and Herculaneum near Naples.

The Appian Way was built by the Romans beginning in 312 BC to give their capital a link to the south extending as far as Brundisi. Cutting the rocks, paving the road, and constructing the temples and cisterns must have required careful planning, great expertise and super human endurance. Over the centuries reconstructions have been carried out making it still a viable road even today for automobiles, bikes, and pedestrians. We stopped near the town of Itri to walk on a part of the Appian Way dating back to its beginning. The thrill of our walk was slightly marred by the hordes of mountain bikers who were using the road for racing, a popular sport in Italy.

Watch out, the race is on.

Our walk along the Appian Way.

Itri was the only town we visited that wasn’t on the sea. It’s a small village sitting atop a mountain 170 meters above sea level dominated by a Medieval castle. Being fairly remote from any discernible public transport, we were thankful to have friends with a rental car and an excellent driver to manoeuver the incredibly narrow streets of the Old Town. Here we witnessed the bonfires which are set every year on March 19th to honour St. Joseph. People come out in droves from all over the region to dance, sing, and prepare “zappole di San Guieseppe” a fried dough made of sugar, eggs, and coated with honey. We would have liked to have joined the fun and sampled some of their food, but because there were so many cars leaving no spots to park, we decided to head back to Gaeta for a bite to eat.

A narrow street in Old Town Itri.

This house is for sale.

Sperlonga’s Archeological Museum and Cavern was my top choice for a delightful tour of Roman ruins. The museum portrayed sculptures and artifacts depicting the mythology relating to the battles between Ulysses and the Scylla, leading archeologists to believe that the discovery of this collection in 1957 actually dates back to the Greeks. Over the centuries most of them were reconstructed by the Romans during the reign of the Emperor Tiberius. Not far from the museum is the remains of a village, the villa where Tiberius lived in the summers, and the cavern where his sculptures were hidden. With such an idyllic setting by the sea and the mountains , no wonder Tiberius fled Rome’s heat to spend his summers in Sperlonga.

Sculpture of Ulysses and his men fighting the Scylla.

Ruins of the village where Tiberius lived.

The Grotto where the sculptures were discovered.

Terracina is another coastal town situated near a gigantic rock promontory jutting out into the Trryhanean Sea with the Aurunci Mountains on one side and a fertile plain on the other. The rock was split in two for the construction of the Appian Way, and there are remnants of Roman rule everywhere. On top of the promontory sits the ancient Temple of Jupiter. In the Old Town on the slope of the mountain, narrow, cobblestone streets lead to a piazza which is built on a Roman forum. Presently, the site is undergoing more excavations to unearth an amphitheatre.

The Temple of Jupiter on the Promontory overlooking Terracine.

Unearthing more Roman treasures.

Formia is the closest town to Gaeta. Bus service runs on a regular basis every hour so we took advantage of this for a change of scenery…to try a new cafe for coffee and pastries… and to explore. Formia claims to have a several notable ruins but we discovered that some simply were not accessible. For example, Cicero’s villa is located on a private property. However, we were successful in finding his Mausoleum located near the Appian Way. Cicero was one of the better Roman Emperor’s; however, his reign ended because he was too outspoken, resulting in his death which was common in those days.

Cicero’s Mausoleum

Another indulgence!

Herculaneum was well worth another trip back to Naples for us. Since we had both visited Pompei many years ago on separate trips, Herculaneum was our undisputed choice. Both of these ancient cities were destroyed when Mt. Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD. Pompei gained its notoriety from the body of the little boy covered in a coat of lava. This image, becoming so embedded in our minds over the centuries, caused people to flock to Pompei and bypass Herculaneum. However, in recent years Herculaneum has been gaining popularity because it actually reveals a closer look at ancient Roman life. Their almost intact buildings, pottery, and art are in much better condition. Apparently reconstruction was started soon after an earthquake in 63 AD. It has been ongoing so the whole site is much better preserved. Moreover, Herculaneum was a more compact city with narrow streets and layered buildings ….their version of our present day high rise…which makes it an easier site to walk and do in a day. I remember how spread out Pompei was with its wide streets making it difficult to see everything in one visit.

Ancient Herculaneum with Mt. Vesuvius in the background.

A pub and eatery with the pots used for cooking.

A two layer boarding house.

Many school groups visit to learn their history.

An excellent example of Roman artwork.

The men’s bath house.

The peristile at the House of Argus.

  

Gaeta is the last place on my list for finding Roman ruins because it seems to have the least amount that are visible. Bits and pieces are scattered around the Old Town in the columns of some of the churches reconstructed during Medieval times. The Italians are very proud of their Roman heritage so wanting to preserve some of it, they became masters of incorporating pieces of what was left into their reconstruction efforts.

An arch in Old Town Gaeta which has some parts probably dating back to the Romans.

The most complete Roman structure in Gaeta is a mausoleum located somewhere on top of Mount Orlando, overlooking the beautiful Serapo Beach. It’s not visible from down below. It was built by the Romans in honour of Munatius Plancus, a Roman senator who spent time in Gaeta. We tried walking up to see it but never made it. The path wasn’t clearly signed, and we had no way of knowing just how far we had left to go. However, what we accomplished was worth our effort. On the way, we got a close up view of the Turco Grotto which comes with a religious story mentioned in the book of Matthew. The story goes that the rock jutting out to the sea was split into two pieces forming the grotto at the exact time of Jesus’ death. We also stumbled upon some rocks, which upon closer look, resembled a small Roman bath and some type of fortification. Our third reward for this strenuous walk was a fabulous view of Serapo Beach which is the longest (1.5 km) and most beautiful beach in this area. This is the beach that is only a 10 minute walk from our apartment, and where we have been working on our tans on those sunny days when the breeze was warm enough.

The split rock named the Turco Grotto.

Can you guess what these ruins are?

Gaeta and its environs are primarily noted as a tourist area today….as a place to escape from the larger cities… as it was in the time of the ancient Romans. That much hasn’t changed, thank goodness. The beaches we have seen are clean with crystal clear waters. There are ample apartments and hotels to stay for as long as you want. Fish, artichokes, strawberries, pears, olive oil, buffalo cheese made from the milk of water buffalo, rustic sausage, and chickling peas (like beans) are some of the foods the area is noted for. All are readily available at good prices in the numerous markets to be found in every town and village. Gaeta’s location between and not far from both Rome and Naples is another plus if you want a reprieve from small town living and fancy the buzz of the large city for awhile. Most importantly, if you are at all interested in the history of the Romans and how it has impacted our present day life, this would be an excellent area to brush up on that, as I have discovered.

That’s Gaeta and its Serapo Beach.

Watching the sun set over the Gulf of Gaeta.

*atrium – the open area of a dwelling surrounded by rooms on all sides as in Roman days. The concept is very popular today.

*peristile – an open garden surrounded by a colonade of porticos.

*triclinium – a formal dining room lined on three sides by reclining benches familiar to the Roman house a wealthy family.